IF Library Interactive Fiction Competition

These reviews are for the games in the IF Library Interactive Fiction Competition. I play/review as many games as possible depending on my current platform (windows or linux); this means tads, inform, hugo and usually also alan, adrift, quest, and windows/msdos executables. When I'm on a windows machine I use multimedia interpreters where appropriate.

I've sorted games into three categories, "highly recommended" (the best of the competition), "recommended" (worth the time spent playing), and "not recommended" (not worth playing); and then sorted the games alphabetically within those categories. I've put an asterisk (*) by some games that were difficult to categorize or when the categorization feels extremely subjective; you may want to read the review before deciding whether to play them.

Some of these reviews may contain minor spoilers. Unfortunately, for some games, even knowing that there is a spoiler in the review may itself be a spoiler. I don't know what to do about this short of the Magic Amnesia Stick. If you have the time and inclination, I recommend playing the games first, but if not, go ahead and read the reviews. Nothing major is spoiled.

If a game was entered by proxy or under a pseudonym, the actual author is listed afterwards in square brackets.

Recommended Games

Dwenodon (Gary Shannon) TADS 2:
This game is the first installment in a series of generic-fantasy-world games (or, as the intro puts it, "The First Element of the Cycle of Joining"), and that's both good news and bad news for its design. On the upside, the starting village is big, and Shannon clearly has it well-fleshed-out, at least in his mind. It's got a bunch of places you can wander around, things you can explore, people who are your friends, places you can't understand, etc. But this works against the gameplay when I'm trying to find anything in this huge-ass anonymous village. Having lots of shops doesn't really help me when virtually none of them are useful now. The same kind of broad-vision-limited-execution affects the rest of the game too. The magic system, for instance, is cool, but the opportunities to use it seem extremely limited. It's great to have this whole epic plot mapped out but it's annoying to be able to only interact with a fraction of it. Finally, the game's got some serious bumps, both in coding and in writing. Nothing fatal, but stuff like your buddy teleporting in to the same room as you, even when it's your bedroom; or the moneylender who runs in terror from you over and over again, between the same two rooms, tend to make it a bit tricky to get as into the story as I'd like. The game also has a hunger puzzle, which adds nothing to the game except tedium and a penalty for trying to explore.

Still, it's a good effort, and I'm looking forward to part 2 (or part 3, depending on how one finishes up this version).



Lazy Gods of Earth (Stark Springs [Stark Springs]) Glulx:
Hmm. First, let me say that Lazy Gods of Earth is a great title. Let me also say that the intro image of you turning the <spoiler> and the <spoiler> happening is also great. Everything else is kind of enh. There's these gods/immortals/space-aliens who have these powers, and they're supposedly kind of symbolic but they come off mostly as generic. There's this backstory between some of them that feels like it was stuck in at the last minute to explain things. Somehow this lack of details pervades the rest of the game, from the object descriptions (although the message in the clouds is cute) to the conversation. The game supports menu-based conversation, but there's no Pytho's Mask-style >TOPIC command, and hardly any of the choices you make seem to be significant ones. The menus come off as basically the information from a >TALK broken up into separate pieces, not as a way to actually have an interactive conversation. There's a plot quiz at the beginning of the game that shows up later, but, hrm, I'm not sure "the plot of this game is as good as Armageddon" is much of an advertisement. I think what it comes down to is Lord of Light did it earlier and better, and this isn't a developed enough game to stand on its own two feet out from under that kind of shadow. (Oh, and this game has a thirst puzzle, for which it should be kicked, especially since the water source is obscure enough that you will almost certainly die on the first few playthroughs.)



Passing Familiarity (Papillon [Papillon]) TADS 2:
This game starts off with the player being in a strange house, having woken up up with amnesia. But wait, don't quit yet. Papillon is the only one of the three entrants to have prior released games under her belt, and it shows. Somehow Passing Familiarity is much more solid than the other two, both from a coding and from a gameplay perspective. Unfortunately, it lacks the breadth of scope that they have. This may be just a matter of personal style, given that this is not unlike Papillion's earlier games, but I thought it was more apparent here than previously. What gameplay there is is reasonably interesting: I'm always fond of alchemy-esque stuff and this has you wandering around trying to find the ingredients to brew some weird potions. What results from the brewing I don't want to spoil, but I will say the game took a surprisingly uncritical stance on what is effectively rape. There is one ending where the PC can object but they're presented as being absurdly hysterical in that case. I'm not sure how much of this is due to the gender arrangement, but I suspect in a male->female situation this would have been done much differently.



And that's all. For other IF-related things, including many more reviews, you can go to my main IF page.