IF Beginner’s Comp games

Spoilery, IF-Comp-style comments on the games for the IF Beginner’s Comp. If you haven’t played these and you intend to play them, you should do so before reading these reviews.

The Sleeping Princess: This is very short and simple, which I suppose is the point. I felt the instructions went on rather long, though possibly these are a standard TADS 3 library; I’m not sure about that.

Some flaws in the conversation flow: for instance, after you give Willy the coin, you can still ask him about his coin collection and be told that he’s missing the rare 27-cent French coin.

Overall, there was nothing about this that I’ll likely remember a month from now, but it wasn’t unpleasant, either. It’s also considerably better than the IF I tried to write when I was a kid. (In BASIC. Not a pretty sight.)

Germania: I want to like this, seeing as it’s set in the Roman Empire and there’s surprisingly little classics-themed IF, but the implementation is just not sufficiently polished. Lots of sticky interaction, even if you’re already familiar with IF convention: you’re told there’s something shiny in/near a bush, for instance, but none of EXAMINE THING or LOOK UNDER BUSH or X SOMETHING gets you any closer to finding out what it is. Similarly, ENTER CAVE doesn’t work, even though you’re being told to go inside. The writing also does not read very well, and while I’m sympathetic to the challenges faced by a non-English-speaking author, that doesn’t actually make the game very compelling to play.

I did not complete this one, and do not really think it would be at all a suitable choice for novice players.

Limelight: An implausible and implausibly-told story of being on the run from paparazzi at a local mall. Partly this needs some better beta-testing — there are lots of oddnesses and inconveniences, ranging from the way the parser deals with things to the narrative of the player running from thugs. For instance, at one point it produces the text

You see a pipe, workbench, Nasty thug, Mean thug, Mr Owen, yourself, debris and thugs.

— not apparently distinguishing between things that ought to be scenery/unlisted (like the debris, the plural representation of the thugs, and yourself) and things that ought to be mentioned; giving inexplicable capitalizations; and leaving off articles in some places where articles should be.

But even cleaned up, it wouldn’t be a great game. I want to say this gently, because the game has that aura of being a first-time production by an enthused and earnest author; but the story it has to tell is really a pretty strange one, which doesn’t make much sense, doesn’t realistically depict the behavior of the sorts of people involved (either celebrities or FBI agents), and doesn’t pace itself very well. So the author needs to develop his story-telling skills as well as his programming abilities.

Connect: Definitely the most gripping of the games I’ve played so far. I very much enjoy the different perceptions provided by the Connection, as well as finding this a pleasing puzzle strategy.

However, since the aim here is to write for novice players, I’m a little more strict on polish than I would normally be. Here are some things I think could really be improved for a future version:

1) After the player has unlocked the blast door once, future attempts to go through it could be automated. (“You press the switch again, then head east…”). It would also be good if other doors that could casually be opened also worked this way.

2) One sentence introductions, like “you see a warden here”, might be expanded to a less generic initial appearance.

3) I am not sure where I was supposed to find the name of K3 division.

4) There’s a bug here:

>x south

*** Run-time problem P10: Since the south is not allowed the property “known”, it is against the rules to try to use it.

Verdict: I like the concept and world setting. Needs some more time in QA, especially for its intended audience. This is not surprising, really: I think many games that are troublesome to newcomers are so because they don’t have quite enough polish.

Mrs. Pepper’s Nasty Secret: I kept expecting this to turn out as a sweetly cliche parable about having sympathy for old people, whose lives are stranger and unhappier than we know. But no! Mrs. Pepper? She’s not a nice person!

Overall, this is a polished piece of work, certainly the most polished in the competition; I wouldn’t really expect otherwise from these authors. It’s also quite a bit more substantial than the other entries, with a number of solid puzzles to solve. It relied a fair amount on some stock types of puzzle — Repair Machinery With Tool, Learn Functions of Buttons, Stand On Thing to Reach Other Thing, and of course the absolutely inevitable Find Lost Set of Keys — but the nice thing about newbie players is that they don’t know which puzzles are old standbys.

It didn’t, perhaps, have quite the quality of interesting otherness that I enjoyed in Connect, but it is certainly the best piece here in terms of game design. At its best moments, it reminded me of Wishbringer (for the need to combine specific objects to do spells) and also of a Diana Wynne Jones novel: the use of cheap wigs to control magic spells seemed rather Jones-esque. Only, I think, in the Diana Wynne Jones novel there would have been some moment of revelation, some hint of insight into the whys and wherefores of the villainess.

Well — maybe I’m looking for too much. This is a fairly charming and smoothly constructed game and it entertained me. And I did like the reward of the orange: that was a nice touch, an appropriate gift from the elf.

7 thoughts on “IF Beginner’s Comp games

  1. (In case you don’t know, I authored Limelight)

    I appreciate your review. The game really wasn’t what I had hoped, but I felt good that I finished (at least until Victor shredded it to little tiny particles on the IF boards). The game for me was more a learning experience than what I felt would be a really polished, great (or even that good) game.

    If you have any more constructive feedback on the game and what types of things I did that I should avoid, and what I did right and should do more of, I’d love to hear from you. I’ve already got another game in mind, far far different, and hopefully far far better.

  2. I just want to say that I posted a more constructive story about your game on the newsgroup. I don’t think I was too harsh on the present incarnation of the game, but I should have done more to make it clear that I wasn’t being harsh on either the author or the potential of a post-competition version of the game. So sorry about that.

  3. Thanks for pointing out the conversation flow bug for The Sleeping Princess. It has been fixed in v2.0. The latest version also comes with an interactive tutorial. Are there other IF games that come with an interactive tutorial or is this a new concept?

  4. It’s not new. The Dreamhold is almost entirely tutorial at the beginning, unless you turn that feature off; Nine Points is an older interactive tutorial. There may be others.

    My own Bronze and Floatpoint, and Jon Ingold’s Dead Cities, all have modes in which the game offers the player hints about what might be productive to type in at any given turn, though these are not tutorial sections separate from the main game.

  5. Thanks for the pointers to the other games. I just checked out Nine Points, and although it was a trivial game, I wouldn’t call it a tutorial (same old standard instructions as any game). Dreamhold seems like a more relevant suggestion, and now that you mention it, I remember Bronze’s beginner mode. Those are definitely all related.

    The main difference is that the Sleeping Princess tutorial is separate from the core game, and aims to be a drop-in alternative that any (TADS) game could use to introduce a novice to the basic set of IF commands in a way that’s more engaging than a long screen of text.

    So, a slightly different emphasis. But it’s good to be reminded of other related approaches. Thanks!

  6. aims to be a drop-in alternative that any (TADS) game could use to introduce a novice to the basic set of IF commands in a way that’s more engaging than a long screen of text

    That’s an interesting idea. Is it released as a library?

  7. Right now, we’re waiting to see if we get comments about the tutorial. If there’s interest, in a couple weeks we’ll make it available as a library.

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