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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Toby’s Nose

By Chandler Groover (Parser; IFDB; play here)

A murder most foul has been committed and Sherlock Holmes is on the case. You are his dog.

– IFDB blurb

Groover presents a game in the best tradition of the locked-room murder mystery, featuring a canine protagonist. As with other games featuring canine protagonists, the sense of smell is tremendously important. In fact, in Toby’s Nose, >SMELL acts like how >EXAMINE does in Lime Ergot. In fact, the author’s note acknowledges the contribution of Lime Ergot and Pacian’s Castle of the Red Prince in his coming up with the game’s core mechanic.

Toby’s Nose is generously and lavishly written; almost everything is implemented and written in vivid, eye-catching detail. As with other games using ‘telescopic’ observations, the parser remains a uniquely flexible tool to shift the PC’s focus from objects distant both geographically and conceptually.

There are generous hints provided, but the writing gave clear enough hints to allow the reader to figure out what’s going on. That brings us to another thing unique about this game: the reader has the responsibility to make the observations and deductions. Unlike many other mystery games, the game reveals nothing of the correct answer (i.e. whodunit), not in the form of a notebook, not in the form of a list of clues, leaving any explanation of the crime to the end. Shifting the responsibility to the reader to figure out what’s going on invests the reader much more in the game.

As with other dog-PC games, this game remains lighthearted, even when the PC is recalling other characters’ sordid details, and maintains a gentle sense of humour throughout. A comment about the ending is below, but overall, I found Toby’s Nose a very charming and highly polished game, featuring excellent writing and a good use of the core mechanic.

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Snow

By Erika Szalkowski.

Having discovered the resident assistant in your dorm dead- murdered, clearly!- you immediately take on the role of amateur detective!

For a whodunit, though, there was not much in the way of finding things out, more of just finding things. The PC’s motives were also not very clearly explained, which was sorely needed to justify the story and suspend disbelief.

There are multiple endings, so some thought went into the branching of the story, but I still found the events a tad puzzling, even with the revelation at the end. It’s not a bad beginning; I hope the author continues to write games and hone her writing skills!

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The Axolotl Project

By Samantha Vicks. Playable here.

You are Casey Cama, an intern in the moon base of Sadler Labs. You just realise that one of your test subjects- a moon salamander- has escaped and if you’re fast, you can get it back before your egomaniac of a boss, Bill Gallo, catches it. But the computer system is behaving strangely, and as you go on the trail of your salamander, you discover evidence of a devastating cover-up.

Despite some slight inaccuracies and misspellings here and there, the story was engaging and well-written. The puzzles were mostly straightforward, with clear textual and contextual hints; this kept the story going at a brisk clip. The heart of the story, however, emerged fully only in the later half, and especially in the endgame.

This Twine game was smoothly and cleanly implementated, with only a few bugs and boasts a navigation system more often seen in parser-based games.

The Axolotl Project is moderately long and fully enjoyable, but with  enough emotional content to veer the game away from frivolity.