Interactive Fiction Competition: Results and Final Review

The IFComp 2013 results are out. I only found the time to play nine games, and for the most part I was disappointed in what I saw. I’d expected that this would be similar to two years ago, when it turned out that my random list mainly focused on the middling games. This time, though, I played the fifth and eight best out of the thirty-five, and I was disappointed to see that there were seven rated at least as bad as the two I disliked. I suppose that the influx of new games did include a lot on the low end of the scale. On the other hand, Coloratura is the highest-scoring winner in years, so there was apparently some great stuff on the high end as well. I’ll have to check that out.

I see that my impressions largely matched the consensus. Saving John is the only one I was way off on. Yes, searching through scattered memories is already a Twine cliché, but I thought there was an evocative personality behind it all. On the other hand, I’m happy that Machine of Death did well; I’d worried that my interest in the general MoD community made me overrate it. The game I still need to review, Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life, came in at #5. I’ll just go ahead and review it now.

Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of LifeTex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life by Truthcraze

Tex Bonaventure is an old-school puzzle-fest, which was a surprisingly rare treat this year. Even more surprisingly, the writing is excellent. It’s a fast-reading tale of a cocky adventurer exploring an ancient temple full of death traps, and the prose is clear, thorough, and full of corny jokes. A lot of effort went into that, including all the descriptions of items you find. Examining related items will give you similar but not identical descriptions, and looking at one item will frequently lead you to notice another and another. This is one of those things that’s expected from games in the Infocom tradition, but most fall short. Tex Bonaventure is outstanding in this regard, and between that and the frequent references to classic text adventures, I can see why it was scored highly.

I got frustrated by the puzzles and some aspects of the implementation, though. It seems that a lot more effort was put into the writing than the programming. The first few puzzles I ran into were fair and interesting, and it does take some skill to make a timed death trap feel fair. But then I ran into a few bugs. One action told me it had an effect but didn’t, leaving me confused. (However, that action did give me points, and I could do it repeatedly, so I ended up with hundreds of points more than the intended maximum. That seems only fair, since many of the points are for arbitrary side things – like saying “xyzzy” – so you can finish the game well short of a perfect score.) A couple descriptions of actions referred to things that hadn’t happened yet, and I didn’t enjoy playing “guess the verb” with one object. (The walkthrough told me that the proper action was “USE ____ WITH ____”. “Use” is a vague verb that I never expect to need in a well-implemented game.) And I missed one important object because when I examined something similar, I got a default “nothing unusual” response. Unfortunately, one of the least fair puzzles is the one at the very end, which involves a magical item working in a way I’d never expect. I don’t think there were any clues to that, either.

This is a fun game. Strangely, I think I would have appreciated it more in a competition a few years ago. When most of the games were filled with puzzles of varying quality, the very fun writing would have made it stand out. This year, the feeling of being stuck was more unusual, and I didn’t respond well when I realized that it was the game’s fault. Still, I enjoyed this one. It’s one of the text adventures that’s best played with the walkthrough at your side, though.

Grade: B-

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