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November 13, 2008

IFComp: Final Capture

With the IFComp voting period about to end, I'll now finish up with the last batch of entries. Here once again I present my initial impressions of each game's opening (introduction, "About" screens, and the first location or moves), summarized by the Capture Score from 1 (intriguing; a definite play) to 4 (dreadful and forgettable). Just a reminder, no spoilers here, just early impressions.

The final games covered here include "Buried in Shoes", "A Martian Odyssey", and "Freedom".

"Buried in Shoes", by Kazuki Mishima

As far as I know, Mishima has written only one IF game prior to this Comp, the short but poetic "Somewhere." I don't know quite how successful it was as an "interactive poem", particularly given how short it was, but I appreciated the novelty and the effort put into it. "Buried in Shoes," his new piece, bears some resemblance to his previous work, and I'm intrigued to see what Mishima might do with a longer form.

The ABOUT screen gives abundant information about the game, including a nice paragraph about the significance of the shoes. Having visited the Holocaust museum in Washington previously, I can relate to the impact the displays can have, and I'm interested to see what Mishima does with this content. Like "Somewhere," this game adopts a fairly minimalist style, which I think works well here too. In his comments for his previous game, Mishima said, "I think interactive fiction can be very poetic," and "Buried in Shoes" appears to be able to continue that thought process.

Capture Score: 1. Looks like an interesting experiment.

"A Martian Odyssey", by Horatio

This game is apparently accompanied by ambient music, but my interpreter (Zoom 1.1.2 for Mac, which is the latest version) doesn't seem to support it. I don't know if that will greatly impact my initial impression of the game, though; I guess it depends on the quality of the music I'm missing. Not much additional information accompanies this game; the CREDITS command notes that it is based on the short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum (don't know it myself), and the HELP command just gives a fairly terse list of valid commands.

The initial location description is about as bare as you can get, and it's not lost on me that two of the characters beginning the game on Mars -- myself and one other person -- are named Dick and Putz. Wandering around reveals more sparsely described locations and a fairly narrow narrative path. Perhaps the descriptions are intended to be as barren as the plains of Mars, but I can't say that does much to draw me in to play more. It's not even clear from the start that my character is moving around within a small space ship. Alas, the odyssey does not last long.

Capture Score: 3. Maybe the music would have helped after all.

"Freedom", by Anonymous

The author of this game wishes to remain anonymous, as it is a piece intended to replicate the "worst case scenario" of a person suffering from social anxiety disorder and, as such, is likely drawn from personal experience. The HELP screen informs me that I should probably play the game first before knowing this information from the ABOUT screen (to avoid preconceptions), but since I typically try ABOUT at the start of each game, I missed that opportunity.

Although I get the sense this piece is probably attempting to do something quite different from the typical IF simulation, I'm still struck by the distinct lack of simulation in the initial locations. Had I not read the ABOUT screen, I'm sure this would be even more jolting. My apartment has multiple rooms and objects, almost none of which are implemented in any rudimentary sense. Other locations have multiple exits, only one of which is actually usable, and it's clear I'm being led down a very narrow path. Although I think the subject matter might make for a fascinating piece, the initial implementation just leaves me notably underwhelmed. I may come back to it later to see where it tries to go -- or, perhaps more likely, I'll just wait and read the various Comp evaluations.

Capture Score: 3. Perhaps could benefit from more refinement.

And that should do it for my "capture score" evaluation of this year's IFComp games. Official voting comes to an end on Saturday, at which time I'll summarize the scores, my thoughts about the evaluation process, and put things in a bit of perspective. Later, I'll explore how the capture scores compare with the final grades and rankings of the games.

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