Archive for the ‘ Adventure Game ’ Category

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.

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Interactive Fiction Competition: Machine of Death and Trapped in Time

There are only a couple days left in IFComp 2013. (You can always play the games, of course. That’s the deadline to participate in the voting.) I have a couple more reviews today, and fortunately they’re more positive than last time.

I don’t expect to have time to post again by Friday. Even if I do, I’ll probably write about something else. I want to write my last IFComp article after I can see the full results.

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Interactive Fiction Competition: Mazredugin and Our Boys in Uniform

I thought that the big story of IFComp 2013 would be all the Twine-based games, but now I’m wondering if I was wrong. Admittedly, I’ve only played through six entries, but so far the dominant theme seems to be that they aren’t very good. Hopefully this is just bad luck on my part, as I used a randomizer to choose the order I’d play them in. It’s worrisome, though. Today’s two are the weakest yet. With one using Twine and the other using a traditional text adventure engine, it’s clear that the problem isn’t just one technology or community.

I should also say that I was hesitant to talk too much about these. Giving bad reviews is always a little weird, especially here when I’m talking about freely-released amateur works. Both of these entries had a sympathetic purpose, and I don’t want to insult the authors. On the other hand, they were submitted into a contest which relies on ratings from anyone who wants to participate. Besides, my good reviews don’t have any meaning if I don’t talk about the things that disappointed me as well. So here is a discussion about two IF games that didn’t work well at all.

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Interactive Fiction Competition: Saving John and Who Among Us

Continuing very slowly through the IFComp 2013 games, I’ve tried two of the web-based entries. These are both Twine games, a hypertext system that has become common in the past year. Think of it like a classic Choose Your Own Adventure, though the computer can track variables and make more complex choices than “turn to page 45”. This is very different from the more free-wheeling text adventure format.

Below the fold, I discuss Saving John and Who Among Us.

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Interactive Fiction Competition: The Wizard’s Apprentice and Further

IFComp 2013 is a little more than halfway over, and despite my intentions to focus on it, I’ve only had time for a few entries so far. But it’s time to check in and give an update. So here are reviews of the first two I played. There’s no intentional theme to this article, since I haven’t played enough to group them into categories. But these were both traditional text parser games, and unfortunately, both were disappointing. They were also both very short. I guess that will have to do for the theme.

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IFComp 2013

IFComp2013It’s October, and that means that IFComp is live once again! It’s been two years since I last tried to play through any of this, but I’m going attempt it again this year.

A quick refresher: This is the biggest event in the IF (Interactive Fiction) community every year. The high profile and low barrier to entry means that you’ll see everything from unplayable messes to works of genius. They are all designed to be playable in two hours at the most (sometimes much less), and if there are puzzles that may keep you from finishing it in time, the game will come with a walkthrough or hint system to help you along. “Interactive fiction” can refer to any non-linear story, but in practice generally means the aesthetic that was created by text adventures in the 1980s. Don’t think that these are limited to the arbitrary puzzles of Zork, though. The best of these free works have much more depth and narrative power than most people ever imagined when text adventures were popular.

I’m excited to see what the competition has to offer this year. For one thing, I enjoyed it a lot in 2011 even though I missed the best games. For another, the community seems to be evolving quickly. Over half of the thirty-five games in this year’s competition are web-based. (In 2011, only three were.) This means that they weren’t built around the traditional engines that grew out of text adventures, and from what I hear they do bring a very different approach to interactive fiction.

The competition runs until November 15. Realistically, I’ll be happy to get through about ten games, and I may need to cut back on my blogging to make time for it. Since I’ll be submitting scores to the competition, I’ve randomized the list of games to make sure there’s no bias in the subset that I choose. Expect me to take at least a couple weeks before I start posting reviews, since I like to take some time to get a feel for multiple games before I comment on one in a vacuum.

Hopefully some of you will try out the competition as well. Have fun!

Thoughts about Neil Gaiman’s Wayward Manor, and General Storytelling in Games

By now, you’ve surely heard last week’s announcement that Neil Gaiman is working on a video game named Wayward Manor. As he puts it, “I’m a storyteller. What I tend to do is try and find the right medium to tell the right story.” That’s worth a lot of attention on its own, because historically, games have not been known for very good writing. Most gamers love the idea that there are things that make their medium right for stories, but there isn’t a lot of evidence yet to demonstrate that. I have to wonder how this new project is going to work out, myself: I love adventure games, and I love Gaiman’s sensibilities, so I expect to like this game. (Though admittedly, I had similar thoughts about Starship Titanic.) But, even though Gaiman has excelled in many different genres and mediums, I don’t know whether he appreciates the unique challenges of storytelling in a game.

Most stories in games have been static. When you reach a certain point, you see the same cut-scene that every other player does. Maybe there are slight variations, or a few different endings available, but none of that impacts on the gameplay or overall experience. If there’s no interaction, and they only meaningful way for the player to impact the events is to die and restart, then how is that really “part of the game” instead of a split up movie or novel? (And if your answer is that it wouldn’t be very good as a stand-alone movie, then is it really any good in the game either?)

The other problem is pacing. Traditional stories are meant to be read in a way controlled by the author. Games are meant to give the player a challenge that they may not be able to overcome for a while, if ever. I mean, I’ve never made it to the last cut-scene in Ms. PacMan. That’s not a big deal because I didn’t care about the story, but I sure would be upset if I couldn’t unlock the last third of American Gods. The specific genre that Gaiman is writing for is especially notorious for this, because each puzzle in an adventure game will stump some people for longer than others. If you are moving through the game quickly, but then you get stuck for three days on a puzzle right at an interesting part of the story, then it probably won’t seem as interesting once it resumes. The easy way to prevent this is to make sure that each puzzle happens in between concrete chapters of the story, but then we’re back to this being a serialization that feels separate from the game itself.

I’ll admit that I haven’t kept up with most recent games, so I can’t comment on the ways that they are trying to overcome this. I also haven’t been very active in the interactive fiction community, whose main focus is on the literary potential of games. But these are the three major approaches that I can come up with:

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