IFComp 2017: Redstone

By Fred (Choice-based; IFDB; play here)

“A VIP’s been murdered at the reservation casino. As the deputy on call, it’s up to you to find the killer. You have until morning before the FBI turns up the heat.”

This murder mystery takes the form of a parser-choice hybrid, with an interface reminiscent of Robin Johnson’s Detectiveland. Settings are individually illustrated, and the system is more or less robust, with a separate conversation mode. It may not look the slickest of interfaces – it recalls, vaguely, flash web games; the illustrations are…

The stakes are not always made clear: there are hints about this being troublesome because it’s on reservation land, and about FBI involvement, but these hints never added any tension to gameplay.

I would have liked a little more flair, a little more panache in the descriptions, but overall this is a mystery which does what’s expected of it.

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IFComp 2017: The Very Old Witch and the Turnip Girl

By Megan Stevens (Choice-based, IFDB, play here)

You play a very old witch who’s not quite at the end of her life… and she feels like something is missing.

Witchcraft, here, runs along the lines of Pratchett’s practical, world-wise witches. Our witch is fully equipped with hexes and curses, but also browses mail catalogues for entertainment. Her attempts at plugging the gap in her life are quite old-style witch, though, including seeking out motherhood. Women finding their fulfilment in motherhood is not a new story. This game subverts it – though I would have been delighted if this had been lampshaded with a bit more of the spunk that the witch PC herself shows.

The Very Old Witch eschews anything more than a veneer of branching narrative, making this mostly a work of dynamic fiction. Nonetheless, it’s not too tedious to click through this linear story – and indeed I think I would have enjoyed this as a short story. There are areas where I would have appreciated a more biting wit – the titular characters don’t quite take things lying down, yet this isn’t always conveyed so well in their dialogue. Overall, The Very Old Witch reads with the simplicity of a children’s story, with some uniquely urban/modern twists.

The World Turned Upside Down

By Bruno Dias. (Parser; IFDB; play here)

[Time to completion: 10-15 mins]

A New Year’s Eve offering from Bruno Dias, set in the same world as Cape and Mere Anarchy.

When I played this for the first time, I had barely played the games referenced here, so why did it appeal so much to me? It’s something about being a refuge from chaos, a safe place where those who put things right can rest – for now. The characters are weary, but at peace.

Its size and scope are kept deliberately small: the verb set is pared down to three verbs; the setting, to one room. But that one room suggests an entire world – one the player gets to know through its people rather than its locations. For a New Year’s Eve story, The World Turned Upside Down doesn’t point so much to hope for the year ahead, as it does to the fixing of past wrongs.

Disclaimer: I identify, to a frightening extent, with one of the characters.

Wedding Day

By E. Joyce. (Parser; IFDB)

An Ectocomp game with the name of what is usually a joyous occasion gets the ominous mood started early. In this short game, you are preparing for your wedding day, and everything about the preamble suggests reluctance, hesitance; it is immediately clear that this is no consensual union. The wedding is a matter of practicality, as many are, and this affair was the best you were going to get.

The author’s light touch with world-building is not unlike watching a theatre backdrop: sketched out with just enough details for the reader’s imagination to fill in the gaps. Of course, this treads the line between minimalism and under-implementation, and one might argue for the description of this or that.

Like The Unstoppable Vengeance of Doctor Bonesaw (to compare ECTOCOMP to ECTOCOMP), Wedding Day seems at first to have a single path laid out, waiting for you to walk it. But the parser effectively masks the second ending hinted at in the ABOUT text, which gave it satisfying depth for a game with a carefully limited scope.

All Your Time-Tossed Selves

By Porpentine. (CYOA; IFDB; play here)

[Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

This game uses Google Forms, and why not? It sets up your own website for you, it allows you to make choices in various ways, it even can display text conditionally. It’s a blunt tool, obviously not suited for the task, but it… kinda works?

It is primarily dialogue-focused, taking on the feeling of an interrogation, an interrogation one who has brought on some unnamed catastrophe on the city. There is gentle, devastating rhythm.

Your Time-Tossed Selves explores the various ways there are to make choices, with a little surprise at the end.