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October 26, 2008

IFComp: Adventures in Capture

Venturing ever farther with the next batch of IFComp entries, as I review my initial impressions of each game's opening (introduction, "About" screens, and the first location), 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.

Games covered here include "Grief", "April in Paris", "Ananachronist", and "LAIR of the CyberCow".


"Grief", by Simon Christiansen

This game starts by asking me if I'm male or female. I like when games do this, given the extra amount of work that this typically requires, although I don't yet know how well this is incorporated into the game or what kind of impact it might have on the narrative. Still, it's the kind of thing that could give the game some extra replay value.

The game begins in a dream, at least so I'm told, and there doesn't appear to be much to the experience. "It's just a bad dream. There is no need to do anything," I tell myself, and "All you have to do is wake up and everything will be fine." Listening to the sounds doesn't help, and there is nothing in particular to see. Eventually, regardless of what I do, I wake up and find myself in bed, reminding myself that whatever that was, it was just a dream. I seem to have the belief that it was a bad dream, but there's no real indication why. I can't help but feel the experience, whatever its importance, was lost on me. I trust that will become clearer as the game progresses.

I give the game a bit more since the opening location was so brief, but there isn't a great deal more to explore right off the bat. It seems that I have a goal of waking my child Thomas and getting him prepared for school, although I expect that, given the bad dream and the title of the game, there is likely much more to this than meets the eye.

The ABOUT screen tells me that Grief is a short game, meant to be replayed several times in order to reach "the final ending," which I imagine is the most desirable ending. I enjoy that format, as long as the short experience is worth replaying multiple times. I don't get a good feel for that from the opening, however; there's little to go on except a bit of suspicion and expectation.

Capture Score: 2. Has some good qualities, but doesn't quite grab me right away.



"April in Paris", by Jim Aikin

Aikin, who previously brought us "Lydia's Heart" and "Mrs. Pepper's Nasty Secret", now brings us this piece that takes place at a cafe in Paris while on vacation. Subtitled, "An exasperating social difficulty," it's a highly polished work with quality writing and a playful tone. The opening scene, in which I begin sitting at a cafe with the goal of somehow attracting the attention of the French waiter, is skillfully laid out with good atmosphere and an interesting cast of characters. I get the impresson that it is more of a lighthearted game, one that will likely provide some pleasant entertainment.

There is not much additional information in the ABOUT screen. Aikin includes a small map of the cafe in a PDF file, which is a nice touch. My impression is that the implementation of the NPCs in this game will be key, but given Aikin's previous efforts I have reason to believe it will not disappoint.

Capture Score: 1. Should be entertaining to play.



"Ananachronist", by Joseph Strom

This is a curious entry. It has an interesting, but fairly confusing, premise; as the subtitle suggests ("A puzzle in four dimensions"), it is a game that involves time travel and the altering of time lines. My role in the game is apparently as one of the "ananachronists", the individuals whose job is to repair the "magical time bombs made by a wizard dabbling in the arts of temporal manipulation." It's not a bad premise, generally speaking, although the presentation is hampered a bit by vagueness and complexity.

Even the title is a bit confusing; I can't tell if it's supposed to be "ananachronist" or just "anachronist" -- the latter is used in the introduction, and the name of the game file is "anachron.zblorb", but the former is used is most places. The introduction tries to be witty and entertaining, succeeding in a few places and faltering in others, but the humor does serve to make the confusing background a bit more acceptable. And although the writing in general is good, it is sprinkled with typos and/or spelling mistakes.

Capture Score: 3. Has some promise, but not as much as others.




"LAIR of the CyberCow", by Harry Wilson

I can't really say much about this game, to be honest. No extra information is included with the game, and the ABOUT screen is minimal. I start at a bus stop, with the only exit up a hill to the south, where there is a chapel and a small cottage. I am carrying nothing. No introduction, no background. The writing is terse and purely descriptive, with little embellishment.

No glaring issues or problems, just not much to attract me.

Capture Score: 3. Needs more of a reason to play it.



Still more to come...

October 19, 2008

Monks, Manuscripts, and Modern Technology

And now for something completely different.

This has nothing to do with the IF Comp. Nor does this have anything to do with adventure games, interactive fiction, or indie game development. It does, however, concern a medieval European abbey and the intersection between monks, manuscripts, and modern technology, and if you haven't noticed I just can't help but be drawn to juicy stuff like that.

I caught this story in the NY Times while traveling on a cross-country flight, and thanks to the miracle of the web you, too, can partake. John Tagliabue reports that a vast collection of handwritten medieval books and manuscripts, one of the oldest and most valuable collections in the world, is going online with the support of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. (Link may require a login to the NY Times web site.)

The monastery in St. Gallen, Switzerland, is so old that it was dissolved over two hundred years ago, in 1805. However, the abbey library (Stiftsbibliothek) still houses a huge collection of handwritten manuscripts, including 350 that date before the year 1000, and is an understandably popular destination for visitors. The St. Gallen project's goal is to digitize all of the library's manuscripts using high-resolution digital cameras and video recorders; 200 are already in the database, and 144 of them are available online, right now, on the project's web site at www.cesg.unifr.ch. Even for everyday shmucks like me to stare at in awe while sitting at my computer in my underwear.

It's all part of a larger project to digitize all of Switzerland's roughly 7000 medieval manuscripts, similar to what Google is trying to do with entire libraries here. But where Google's project involves high-speed scanning of printed books, this is the slow, careful, page-by-page scanning of incredible works of art.

The results so far, at least to this completely untrained eye, are impressive.

The web site, which is in Swiss German (and translates well enough with babelfish), has images in four resolutions, from small, low res previews to very high res shots that enable up-close examination of some of the smallest details. The same goes for the front and back covers, and the spines.

It's perhaps no substitute for scholars who might benefit from examining the original manuscripts, certainly. But this represents a phenomenal increase in accessibility for these rare documents, and the doors that a project like this opens might be prodigious. It embodies all that is awesome about technology and the internet.

Plus, it's just so damn cool.

Images are © 2005-2008, Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen. Story is © 2008, The New York Times Company.

October 18, 2008

IFComp: Capture Me This

Onward with the next batch of IFComp entries, as I review my initial impressions of each game's opening (introduction, "About" screens, and the first location), 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.

Hard to believe, but with this next set I find myself only halfway through all of this year's entries -- and I'm only reporting my initial impressions.

Games covered here include "Dracula's Underground Crypt", "Search for the Ultimate Weapon", "Cry Wolf", and "Snack Time!".


"Dracula's Underground Crypt", by Alex Whitington

Upon opening the game, I'm notified immediately that this release may be less than ideal because of the author's recently discovered requirement for a social life. Later, after typing HINT, I come across the FAQ list (well, more precisely it's the QTIWBFAIAEAMQATG list, but never mind that), the first entry of which is the uninspiring Are you actually planning on fixing the problems in this game? I'm tempted to proceed no futher. Nevertheless, I do.

I've made better choices. The text is riddled with typos, spelling errors, and questionable grammar. It might be a secondary language issue -- and then again, maybe not. It comes across as sloppy and inadequately tested or reviewed; perhaps this was rushed to get it done in time for the Comp, perhaps not. It's a comedy about Dracula's crypt. It has potential, I suppose, but my expectations have already been lowered.

Then I'm hit with phrases like, "He carefully prizes open the pages of the book..." and, "Some sort of melding of english medieval folklore and hindu iconography? Or a cheap device to make the game harder? It's up to you..."

Capture Score: 4. Yes, it is. I'll just wait for the promised "deluxe" version.


"Search for the Ultimate Weapon"

This appears to be a Windows-only game. There are no instuctions for running this on a Mac. That's unfortunate.

Capture Score: 4.


"Cry Wolf", by Clare Parker

I believe this is Parker's first work of IF, which apparently has been in production for "an embarrassing amount of time" and right up to the Comp deadline. Still, it has some polish to it, certainly much more than other entries in this Comp. The author does a decent job setting up the opening scene, as I am awakened during the night by a creature (likely a wolf) that was just injured on the porch outside my bedroom. A relationship with a woman named Celia has recently ended, and I presume the exploration of this relationship will be a main focus of this game.

I'm told this game employs a somewhat different menu-based conversation system, one that is intended to discourage lawnmowering; SAVEs are disabled during conversation, and UNDO will retract the entire conversation back to its beginning. I don't recall playing a game with this type of system before, and it sounds interesting. I'm also told that "If you are particularly sensitive to descriptions of surgery, perhaps this is not the game for you." I wasn't expecting that; now I'm intrigued.

There appear to be a few rough spots in the first location that seem like they should have been caught easily through testing. PUT ON CLOTHES actually only performs a TAKE CLOTHES action; I have to PUT ON each individual piece to actually dress myself. EXAMINE BOOKCASE returns, "The bookcase is made of dark, carved wood and is full of novels. The works of James Herriot are on the bottom shelf," while SEARCH BOOKCASE returns, "In the wooden bookcase are books and James Herriot."

Although I'm not immediately captured by it, this game seems to have enough good qualities to put it high on the second-tier list.

Capture Score: 2. Looks like a worthwhile first effort.


"Snack Time!", by Hardy the Bulldog (with help from Renee Choba)

Every year there are a few Comp entries that employ an alternative perspective for narration, and "Snack Time!" is one of those. The player takes on the role of a dog (a bulldog, I assume), and the game is narrated in second person. The human is described as my pet, and the rooms are described by their functions (the Sitting Room, Sleeping Room, and the Food Room). I'm a dog lover, so this is a Good Thing.

The writing is smooth and the voice fits well with what I imagine a dog's voice might be. I like the descriptions of objects like "the thing you can't scratch" and "the long soft thing." I tried LICK PET and got back "You love on your pet with some little licks," which is just terribly cute. I can also SCRATCH, CHEW, and BARK AT things, which should make things interesting.

No issues came up as I tried this one out, although it seems a little strange that I have to use the object name "the thing you can't scratch" instead of "the thing I can't scratch," which would have made for better consistency. Still, it's only a minor quibble. This looks like a lighthearted, fun game, and one that I look forward to completing.

Capture Score: 1. Hard to go wrong with dogs.


Still more to come...

October 13, 2008

IFComp: EnCaptured

Continuing yet again with the next batch of IFComp entries, as I review my intial impressions of each game's opening (introduction, "About" screens, and the first location), 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.

Games covered here include "Violet", "The Absolute Worst IF Game in History", and "The Ngah Angah School of Forbidden Wisdom".


"Violet", by Jeremy Freese

"Violet" is a game that begins with a more minimalist approach; no long introduction, just what sounds like an initial conversation between two people. And I'm apparently a procrastinating writer; the ABOUT screen notifies me that I am the boyfriend of the character (Violet) narrating the game. It's an interesting and not often used perspective, and it's a nice touch to see everything, including the ABOUT screen, narrated in this voice. It is effective at making me feel like I'm playing along with another. The fascinating part is that the opening scene informs me that Violet is not actually physically present with me; I'm merely pretending that she is.

I also like that the ABOUT screen is written as a letter from Violet to me. It gives the character additional personality while performing a typical game meta-function ("I'll be desolate if you QUIT."). An intriguing option is that you can change gender by typing FEMALE (which seems easier than the accepted HETERONORMATIVITY OFF), although it's not clear what impact that would have on the narrative of the game. Even the CREDIT screen is written in this style, effectively separating Violet and "the game" from its author, Freese.

The writing is solid and stylish; there are many small touches that make the experience feel dynamic. Given how much appears to take place in the initial location, I played for a few minutes only to get a good feel for the game, and I left impressed and intrigued. Really looking forward to playing this more.

Capture Score: 1. This game "gets it."


"The Absolute Worst IF Game in History", by Dean Menezes

I have to admit, I'm not looking forward to this one. I highly doubt that the title is wry or satirical, given some of the Comp entries we've seen in the past. The introduction is brief, the initial location described only as "Entrance" with reference to a nearby maze. There is no ABOUT, HELP, or HINT screen, and no readme file. Just to be sure, I head toward the maze, and I'm met with twisty little passages. No more need be said.

Capture Score: 4. Is it the worst in history? I'm not sticking around to find out.


"The Ngah Angah School of Forbidden Wisdom", by Anssi Räisänen

This game wins for most alluring title. This is Räisänen's sixth game according to Baf's Guide, although I haven't played any of the others, so I don't know what to expect.

The setting seems cliché, but still worth investigating: my female partner has left to pursue her studies at a school she could not divulge; after searching for her in pursuit, I have finally found the hidden Ngah Angah School of Forbidden Wisdom, with its notorious deadly entrance exam. I must pass this exam to be reuinted with my love, a test which consists of three trials. Hmm.

The setup promises a game with puzzles, and the opening would seem to confirm this. It's a challenge, and I'm tempted to take it up, but I'm just not sure the setting draws me in enough. The writing is fair; I cannot spot any obvious errors, but there's not the same polish as I've seen in other games. Some sentences are clumsily worded, and I just don't think the introduction gives me a clear enough visual of the scene to engage me.

I'm carrying a piece of paper with writing on it; READing it produces an empty response. I'm not sure if this is intended, a bug, or a problem with the interpreter. I'm just not sure. That about sums it up.

Capture Score: 3. Give some credit for a good title.



More to come...

October 10, 2008

IFComp: Searching For Capture

Forging onward with the next batch of IFComp entries, as I review my intial impressions of each game's opening (introduction, "About" screens, and the first location), 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.

Games covered here include "Nightfall", "Trein", and "Red Moon".


"Nightfall", by Eric Eve

This is the next game from Eve, another veteran IF author with previous notable works like "The Elysium Enigma" and "All Hope Abandon". I'm already biased, knowing the quality of his work, but even if I could evaluate the opening of this game objectively I'm sure it would score well. The quality and polish of his writing is quickly recognized, and the theme is strong and engaging: I begin on an empty train platform, in the early evening after the last train has left, taking with it the last remaining people in the city -- except for myself. Something important is about to happen at dawn, although I'm not sure what -- but the HELP section indicates that there is an important time limit on the game. Intriguing.

It looks like Eve tackles the distance between player and player character using a couple of interesting commands such as REMEMBER to see memories associated with different locations, RECAP to see all triggered memories, and GO TO to traverse the local geography to reach a destination that should be already familiar to the player character. The hint system sounds a bit different with the THINK (and THINK HARDER) commands, which sound interesting. Also, included with the game is a PDF file with a map of the city locations, which is reasonable (and helpful) since the player character is technically already intimately familiar with the city.

Capture Score: 1. Has the potential for another solid piece by Eve.


"Trein", by Leena Kowser Ganguli

This game jumps right into a lengthy introduction, which identifies me as a character named "Archer", trusted subject to the King who has been given the task of investigating the disappearances that have occurred in recent years on the night of the Blood Moon's rise, during the festival of the dead. It's a good deal of information to digest, but it is presented very well, with solid writing and an engaging setup.

I start in a small, broken down town with a suspiciously empty feel, and a tavern beckoning to the East. The game has a nice feel to it; a bit of fantasy with a bit of mystery, although no additional info since there is no ABOUT, HINT, or HELP commands. It's a shame, as I'd like to learn a bit more about the author and this piece, but it doesn't detract from my interest in seeing more. The only minor issue is an inventory item labelled "a Dark Clothing."

Capture Score: 1. Should be interesting to see this one through.


"Red Moon", by Jonathan Hay

I'm not sure what to make of this one. It starts with a mysterious introduction, as I'm apparently trapped inside a wooden room with unspeakable horrors beyond. A number of facts are presented, although it's difficult to know what to do with them or how to put them together: there is an unlocked door, which I would apparently be crazy to open; I have a sister with me, huddled and mumbling incoherently from insanity; my parents died in "the war"; a computer sits on a nearby desk, offering some suggestion of time period, but there is no plug.

There is little additional information, however -- even the opening suggests I don't know where I am or how long I've been there, and there is no ABOUT command. Perhaps a bit too much vagueness and confusion, and not enough of a background to hook me into wanting to know more. I sense there is a reason for the terseness, but I'm not sure how long I want to spend trying to figure it out.

The writing is fair enough; not quite as polished as other works, but no obvious typos. The TAKE ALL command lists everything, including the walls, floor, and ceiling, which is a bit odd.

Capture Score: 2. I might come back to this one, time permitting.


More to come...

October 9, 2008

The Winner: Frayed Knights

A few of the scattered individuals who stop by here every now and then might not be aware, but there was a year-long competition sponsored by MyDreamRPG.com, a group dedicated to developing tools to help indie developers create RPG games, including MMORPG games. The contest started in April 2007 and, I would assume, finished in April 2008, with the goal of creating the best CRPG game based on one of the Torque Game Engines. First prize was an impressive $10,000, and a number of groups entered.

I say that I assume it finished in April 2008 only because I never heard anything about a winner, and had completely forgotten about it. I do know that Jay Barnson of The Rampant Coyote had entered, and up until the April deadline was doing a fantastic job of grinding through the workload on his entry, "Frayed Knights", an RPG "of comedy and high fantasy." His frequent updates on the project were entertaining to read, especially from an indie developer's perspective, and put a very personal touch on the project.

I'm not sure why a winner took so long to announce, but on Wednesday night Jay and his team were announced the winners of the contest. A very deserving win!

Jay did an amazing job getting the community involved in the development and testing of his game, and was an inspiration for me to start this blog. Now he's got some serious bucks to take the game even further. Sweet!

For those of you interested in trying a humorous, creative indie-RPG game, I highly recommend stopping by the "Frayed Knights" site to download and play the pilot.

October 7, 2008

IFComp: Screening Capture

Forging onward with the next batch of IFComp entries, as I review my initial impressions of each game's opening (introduction, "About" screens, and the first location), 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.

Games covered here include "A Date With Death", "When Machines Attack", and "Berrost's Challenge".


"A Date With Death", by David Whyld

Whyld's game, subtitled "being the further adventures of the king who wished to die but whose subjects just weren't ready to let him go", is the third game in a series that began in 2004 with "Back to Life... Unfortunately" and continued in 2007 with "The Reluctant Resurrectee" (second place, Spring Thing 2007). I never played either one, but Whyld includes a short summary in the "About" screen of their bizarre premise: a king who had been assassinated and brought back to life by his adoring populace then seeks to kill himself in various elaborate ways because he preferred being dead. In the third installment, I'll be trying to avoid being killed instead. Not bad.

The intro is lengthy, but with that background I'm ready for it. The writing is good; a little awkward in places, but in all it is very entertaining with a nice touch of humor, especially with the Grim Reaper. You can tell Whyld's been at this for some time and has many games under his belt. The opening includes some hints -- checking the archives, for instance, and preparing best you can for midnight -- and I see it will keep track of locations visited and the rough time of day. The time limit promises to keep game play focused and brief.

Capture Score: 1. "Can Death be cheated?" I'll give it a try.



"When Machines Attack", by Mark Jones

This one strikes me as a little clumsy. The title is a bit blunt for my tastes, and the intro text is peppered with small typos and minor grammatical errors, as well as a few rough edges ("Pretty nice. It smells clean, and it is nicely spaced out with nice, leather chairs on one side of the room..."). I'm also told that I'm twenty minutes late for my appointment, even though the appointment was at 3:00 and it's now 4:30.

The premise is that I've been selected to work at the "Planetron Defense Laboratories" on a spacecraft project, which is supposedly a prestigious job that I am excited about. But I'm told about things that seem odd or suspicious about this appointment, even though I can't tell what is odd or suspicious. Then, even though I'm usually not late for anything, I show up extremely late for the exciting, prestigious job I've always wanted, and I have no idea why. The initial experience, particularly with the receptionist, purposely comes across as suspect, which does provide some intrigue -- but only a little.

The "About" screens provide little additional information. It was written intentionally for the competition, so anyone finding this game outside of the IFComp is effectively excluded in the help section. Also might want to change the "Contacting the Author" section to say "They benefitted me greatly" rather than "They benefitted greatly"...unless I'm misinterpreting. I hope not.

Capture Score: 3. Might end up having some good puzzles, but I'll likely pass.



"Berrost's Challenge", by Mark Hatfield

Transitioning back once again from futuristic science fiction to magical fantasy, I'm presented with this tale of the player character's journey from floor mopper to "proper" wizard. But is that what this is? The intro describes how the master, Berrost, is planning on kicking out the apprentice player character because he is "too vexing" to invest the time it would take to mold him into a proper wizard. So instead the plan is to kick him out, but after teaching him a few spells. What?

On top of that, instead of teaching him the spells he has devised a challenge: the player must find the spell scrolls hidden in the village. That sounds like a pretty shaky premise for the game, but then who isn't up for a good easter egg hunt once in a while?

This one is also sprinkled liberally with typos and various spelling and grammatical errors, and the writing is awkward in many places. For instance, examining the murals in the opening room, I get: "Berrost spends a lot of flooglemids on ornamental junk that's primary function is to require constant cleaning," which is not exactly inspirational stuff. Also, in the intro: it's servitude, not serviture.

ABOUT produces a long list of commands, many of which are unique to this game. Spell success is apparently impacted by concentration, which is affected by hunger and fatigue; this can be turned off with the interestingly named CURMUDGEON command. Score is kept and ranges from 0 to a possible 100, altough it is framed as "wit." There are also numerical measures for "Manna" (which I assume pertains to spellcasting) and Concentration, as well as inventory bulk and weight.

Capture Score: 3. Could have been a 2 with some more polish, although I still might give it a go for the subject matter.



More to come...

October 6, 2008

IFComp: Capture Quest

After a brief intro yesterday, my filtering of this year's IFComp entries shifts into gear as I continue to walk down my randomly generated list of games. No spoilers here, just some initial impressions of each game's opening, which includes any introduction, "About" screens, and the first location, summarized by the Capture Score. The range is from 1 (intriguing; a definite play) to 4 (dreadful and forgettable).

Bear in mind that my intention is not to judge the the complete piece, only to report my first impressions of the entries to see which ones engage me enough to pull me in for more. I'll play the ones that do to see if the experience matches the anticipation, and afterward if any games that I pass on place high in the competition, I'll go back and see what it was that I missed.

"NerdQuest", by RagtimeNerd

So my random game list generator came up with this one first, and then I find out it's written in MechaniQue, with which I am completely unfamiliar. I have to slip into the Mac Terminal app, navigate to the directory, and run a Java interpreter from the command line. Already I know why it's called NerdQuest.

The title does not inspire me, and the opening appears to be an exercise in brevity. I'm locked in a server room being forced by my manager to fix a hacked system while potentially missing a date with my new girlfriend. The setup is simplistic and uninviting. Still, I'm slightly intrigued by the programming language and how this game might differ from the more traditional IF systems. But only slightly.

This summarizes my brief experience with the opening:


Server room, second floor.
Here is an old disused desk with a terminal on it.
To the north is the storage room. To the south is the
exit door.
==WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?==
>about
Not possible.
Server room, second floor.
==WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?==
>search desk
Not possible.
Server room, second floor.
==WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?==
>examine terminal
Not possible.
Server room, second floor.
==WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?==
>hint
Not possible.
Server room, second floor.
==WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?==
>quit
Not possible.


Capture Score: 3. "WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?" the game asks. The answer: play something else. I know that's possible.



"Recess At Last", by Gerald Aungst

"The daily school routine of going out to recess, transformed into an epic quest." I get to play a fourth grader, itching for recess outside during one of the only sunny winter days in as long as I can remember. But it turns out I can't join the others until I finish my missing assignment, and I'm stuck at my desk. There is an origami fortune teller here -- I haven't thought about those things in decades. There's also a closet, but for what purpose I'm unsure. Interesting, I'm intrigued. I have to figure out what this assignment is. Did I already complete it? Did I leave it at home?

The writing is pleasant and appropriate, and the setup is well done. "Almost in unison, twenty-four fourth graders sighed in relief, twenty-four fourth graders put away their math books, and twenty-four fourth graders began to line up." It comes across as light and fun. For some reason, I think of Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. This is a good thing.

Capture Score: 1. This one deserves some attention.



"Channel Surfing", by Mike Vollmer

This one starts out with some kind of cross between amnesia and jail cell tropes. You start out in a room called "Box" with featureless blank walls and only a chair, a table, and a huge, flat TV displaying plain white light. I don't know where I am or how I got there, or what it is I'm supposed to be doing.

There are, however, some other devices: a remote, a letter, and a post-it note, enough to engage my curiosity for at least a little bit.

The "About" screen provides a little more information, and the letter confirms it; I'm a test subject for an experimental new television, which sounds somewhat intriguing except for the part where it goes on to confirm the amnesia thing. It's just tough to get very excited about the amnesia trope these days. I'm also made aware of multiple-choice dialog sequences to come. Not my favorite, but it's dealer's choice.

Still, aside from a minor typo, the writing appears to be a strong point. So while the setup is hardly inspiring, I'll probably give this one a few minutes and turns to declare itself.

Capture Score: 2. Worth at least a few more turns.


More to come...

October 5, 2008

And In Other News, Generalissimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead

With October comes once again the start of the annual IFComp, this being the 14th competition. It's hardly breaking news at this point, of course, what with the bevy of blogs and websites reporting it to the world and already posting early game reviews. We're not even a week into October and I feel like I need to catch up.

Comp time is a sweet time, though, because once it arrives we get a huge bolus of new IF games to play, and who knows what we might discover in the collection. The IFComp is where we got Vespers, and some really fantastic games have won over the years. But unless you keep up with it you can miss some really entertaining games that don't necessarily finish that high. Aaron Reed's "Gourmet" finished 5th in 2003, and Andrew Plotkin's "Delightful Wallpaper" finished 6th in 2006; both were games that I thoroughly enjoyed but might never have gotten around to playing had I missed the Comp and returned after the fact.

But there's also a lot of chaff to sift through, which can be tedious at times. There have been some real winners in the past, and this year's "The Absolute Worst IF Game in History" by Dean Menezes sounds like it's positioning itself well for 2008.

One of the problems people (like me) seem to have with the IFComp is that there are usually too many games to play and evaluate before the end of the competition, and far too many that just aren't worth the time and effort. So it got me to thinking: what about just rating the games for their introductions, for their ability to draw me in and make me want to play further? That's what books are supposed to do, and the same is often said for IF. So over the next few days or weeks I'll try to make it through all of this year's games with the purpose of evaluating how well each one "captures" me with just the opening passage. And nobody has to worry about spoilers, either.

To do so, I'll provide my "capture score" for each game, on a scale from 1 (great opening, definitely worth playing) to 4 (forget it, don't even bother). If there's still time, I'll try to go back and play through any games that score 1 to see how well they follow through.

Just to start things off, I'll throw a couple out there. These are the first two games I opened up at random.


"Piracy 2.0 - A Text Adventure in Space", by Sean Huxter.

The title "Piracy 2.0" is a bit unusual, and I don't recall ever playing Piracy 1.0 or anything else by Huxter in the past. This game opens with a space military theme, complete with captured space pirate prisoner, hints of an inside job, and an ambush:

"After the brief battle your ship was boarded, and, as far as you know, your crew completely wiped out by the ruthless marauders. They might have murdered you too if they hadn't thought you would be useful to them."

Sure, not the strongest writing, and not the most original idea, but it seems harmless enough. Still, the intro ends with this awkward passage:

"Now, Whitehall, with a key code for the Brig he must have tortured out of your Security Officer, escorts you personally to the cell and shoves you in. He laughs as the door locks behind you..."

I wasn't terribly hopeful for this one, but due to the title I did quickly check out the ABOUT screens, and in fact Huxter's "About the Author" pages are gems. I'm not exactly sure why, but I really enjoyed reading them, and I'm more inspired now to give the game a try. And what can I say, I'm a sucker for space pirate games.

Capture Score: 2. Would have been a 3 without the "About the Author" screens.



"The Lighthouse", by Eric Hickman & Nathan Chung.

The opening of this game contains this passage: "You walk up to the lighthouse. It's large wooden frame creaking in the wind. You then step in front of the door and knock. Silence. Then the door opens and reveals the face of Mr Webster."

Not to mention this gem: "With that comment he mounted his trusty steed and rode off into the rainy abyss."

It took two people to come up with that. Typing ABOUT returned "That's not a verb I recognise." 'Nuff said.

Capture Score: 4. Mount your trusty steed and head the other way.