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Showing posts from May, 2020

[IF Comp 2019] Chuk and the Arena, by Agnieszka Trzaska

This game is pretty clearly by the same author as Lux: we are navigating a map in a link-based system, collecting items, combining them in our inventory or using them on other items in the world, and solving puzzles. Typical parser activities, transposed to a link-based environment. But Chuk and the Arena works better than Lux, in part because its map is less complicated, and in part because there is so much more conversation. Links make a lot of sense for conversation; and so the entire interface feels far more natural to me than it did in last year’s game, where I kept feeling that it all would have worked better as a parser game.

The story is also much better than I had expected. You’re the wimpy little guy who has to use guile and careful planning to defeat several of the galaxy’s most famed warriors; which is fun, but then on top of that there is an overarching plot of betrayal and sacrifice to spice things up. Arena combat is, in fact, the least of it: you must win al…

[IF Comp 2019] Out, by Viktor Sobol

There’s by a now a subgenre of games that are built around a single verb, with the most famous example probably being Chandler Groover’s Eat Me, in which all you basically ever do is... eat. Out belongs squarely to this group of games. You can finish it by typing nothing but “out” all the time, the standard parser command for leaving the room, container or vehicle you are currently in.

Major spoilers follow. If you don't want to be spoiled, go and play the game: it is extremely short and certainly worth playing.

So there you are, and you type "out". The first time, this means getting out of your room. The second time -- and of course the player is suspecting something like this -- it means owning up to your homosexuality in front of your mother. Subverting all our expectations, this scene is handled as lightly as possible. No big deal is made of it. But a great weight has been lifted from the protagonist’s soul – and the rest of the game can be read as a metaphori…

[IF Comp 2019] Planet C, by Mark Carew

Planet C is a colony simulation game in which you have to generate enough food and power for a colony of 2000 people while keeping pollution in check. That last element doesn’t make too much fictional sense – how could such a small colony generate climate change, even if they were using the worst sources of power in the world? – but we can easily suspend our disbelief. The story is told in terms of alternating letters between the protagonist and his wife, who is back on Earth working for the ministry that coordinates the colonisation process. And so we have not just the fate of the colony to contend with; we are also watching the story of the protagonist’s family unfold.

The game is far less fiddly than I had anticipated. In fact, most of the detailed decisions – say, about how much power plants you should make – are made for you based on a small number of high-level decisions. I like fiddly simulation games, so I was slightly disappointed; but I understand the reasons f…

[IF Comp 2019] Skies Above, by Arthur DiBianca

Arthur DiBianca has been building up a sizeable oeuvre of well-regarded puzzle parser games. I played only one them, The Temple of Shorgil (2018), but have been given to understand that it was quite typical of Arthur DiBianca’s games. It was a limited-parser puzzle game based around a central puzzle mechanic that is developed in all kinds of interesting ways. Bonus points for very solid implementation, secrets to discover, and functional prose. So when I started Skies Above, I was expecting something in the same mould.

In a sense, these expectations were met; and yet, Skies Above is very different from The Temple of Shorgil. DiBianca has clearly drawn inspiration from Superluminal Vagrant Twin, giving us a world of free movement between lightly implemented locations, limited tasks that can be performed at each of them, and a grind towards a large amount of currency. There are differences with SVT too, the two most important of which are that Skies Above is based around minig…

[IF Comp 2019] Arram's Tomb, by James Beck

When you see this game -- the title, the cover art, the introduction -- you have a pretty good idea what you're getting into. Very traditional dungeon crawling, but as a choice-based experience. To be frank, everything about Arram's Tomb also suggests that it will deliver a rather unsatisfactory experience: it is all so clichéd that the characters are even called by their classes. And the image quality and font choice don’t do much to bolster one's confidence.

But I ended up being pleasantly surprised. Yes, it embraces the clichés of the genre. But it doesn’t embrace all of them; in particular, it subverts the idea of being an adventuring party. The constant bickering – reminding me of my first D&D group, from before we had realised how to set up a good RPG session – is what makes it fun, and then the end at which everything suddenly disintegrates is the cherry on top. Also, while some complained about dying frequently, I only realised that you could die by readi…

[IF Comp 2019] "The Surprise", by Candy Meldromon

(Note: Candy Meldromon is a psuedonym. I know who the author is, but I can't remember whether they made a public announcement of this, so I'll just leave the pseudonym in place.)

Ahw, congratulations! I’ve been there, which perhaps makes it more easy to relate to the situation. Well, not literally there, given that I’m biologically male, but as there as a biological male could possibly be.

Does The Surprise also work as a piece of fiction? Clearly, it’s very short. And the interaction is a bit fiddly, given that you have to find out which actions are possible in which sublocations. In fact, this is what most reviewers have complained about. However, this is definitely intentional? The way the interaction is set up makes you feel slightly disoriented, nervous, doing small things wrong all the time. It makes you ripe for the waiting-effect when you finally do the tests, which I found creates real tension. The phone call to your significant other is also well written; true t…

[IF Comp 2019] Flight of the Code Monkeys, by Mark C. Marino

As a formal experiment, I like Flight of the Code Monkeys. The idea of using a code notebook that you read through, compile and edit at the same time is interesting, and it works fairly well. Even those with little knowledge of programming will be able to get through all of it, and will perhaps be tempted to experiment with some of the simpler pieces of code along the way.

As a piece of fiction, I’m less convinced. For the most part, the fictional world consists of all too standard science fiction tropes: a world ruled by an AI, people used merely for mindless drudgery, a Resistance that attempts to break the power of the computer, virtual reality as the only form of fun… we’ve heard that all before. The characters are also not distinct enough to breathe life into the story: the protagonist is just an office worker, the personality of his love interest seems to consists of little more than exasperation at the protagonist's thickness, and the Resistance is, well, the …