IF Competition: The Absolute Worst IF Game in History

Another IF Comp review, following my format for this comp. There is a cut, then any spoiler-free comments I have, and then spoiler space, and then more detailed feedback that assumes the reader has tried the game.

But first, we have some obligatory filler to try to make sure that the RSS summary does not accidentally contain any review. Filler, filler, la la la…

Okay. Here we go.

I’ve got a theory about this.

The obvious question is why this game was written and submitted at all. People who submit terrible games usually do so because they can’t tell their game is terrible; or because they set out to write a good game, realize the result is terrible, but can’t bear not to submit it anyway; or because they’re setting off to amuse, annoy, make a statement to, or have fun at the expense of the community. But none of those explanations apply here: it is clearly something that isn’t intended to be good, was never intended to be good, isn’t funny, doesn’t effectively parody anything, has no message, doesn’t sucker-punch the player the way Sisyphus did, and isn’t even that annoying. So I was confused for a while, until I thought about RAIF traffic during September. And here’s my theory:

Dean Menezes signed up to submit a game to the competition, but he didn’t get around to writing it (or didn’t get around to finishing it, or didn’t think the results were as good as he wanted, or whatever). Whatever the reason, he had an entry slot, but nothing he wanted to put there. But then there were two surveys about what people like in IF, which revealed that people especially dislike

1) total lack of plot
2) games where random elements determine victory or death
3) stories where the goal is something extremely banal (ie, the stakes are trivial)

…at which point a light went on over his head and he decided to put all these ingredients together scientifically to concoct the worst IF game ever. With a maze, of course, because everyone knows that mazes suck.

Except, as people have been pointing out, this is not actually the worst IF game ever. The paradox is that to be really, really bad, a game has to have something a little bit good about it. Amissville has this weird gonzo brilliance about the character observations, even though it’s too broken to play. Detective tries to tell a story. Westfront PC is totally earnest — and ambitious, given the technical limitations it has to work with. Press Escape to Save had a ludicrous plot and poor implementation and implausible dialogue and incomprehensible imagery, but the narrative voice somehow conveyed that the author was excited about his work, and thought you should be too. (I secretly enjoyed Press Escape to Save, actually.) The Annoyotron/Affrontotron series tempts the player to try to figure out how the game works, while making the process of finding out as excruciating as possible. However you come at the problem, there has to be something about the game that entices the player to keep playing despite his growing annoyance and/or boredom.

“The Absolute Worst IF Game in History” has no such good feature, and therefore does not even come close to being Worst.

Ah well. My theory may be totally wrong. But I like it, because without some such theory there is no reason at all for this game to exist.

15 thoughts on “IF Competition: The Absolute Worst IF Game in History

  1. I agree. The game was simply boring, in the way that a film of a brick wall is boring. There has to be something in the game to engage you for it to actually be awful.

  2. I’m inclined to think that the title is meant as a provocation, and that the point of the game is that the author gets to say, “Ha ha, I told you it was bad.”

    So I didn’t spend much time on this one, because doing so would just make me feel like a chump, and out of your list of bad game ingredients I noticed only item number 1. There’s definitely no plot. The game didn’t give me any reason to believe that there would be either victory or death in store for me, or anything other than pointless wandering in an empty generic maze, so I quit before encountering number 2. As for number 3, I’m not sure whether the “goal” you have in mind is the act of getting through the maze or the ostensible MacGuffin you’re promised for it–the Dung Beetle of Denigration, or whatever it is. The former is certainly banal, but I’d be inclined to lump that under ingredient 1; the latter is not so much banal as absurd, and represents the only faint hint of creativity I can detect in this game.

    Anyway, I agree that “this is not actually the worst IF game ever,” but maybe for a different reason. I wouldn’t say that any of the other examples you cite are worse, but it seems to me that calling this “The Absolute Worst IF Game in History” is a bit like writing the word “the” on a piece of paper and titling it “The Absolute Worst Novel in History.” (It has no plot! It has no character development! It has no descriptions! The author must be a master of awfulness, a brilliant subversive!)

  3. So I didn’t spend much time on this one, because doing so would just make me feel like a chump

    I considered just skipping it entirely based on the title, but… well, I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

  4. I considered just skipping it entirely based on the title, but… well, I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

    I figured I should give it a chance, just in case it turned out to be funny, or in case it was a good game about a bad game, or in case it was a good game with a bad title. But fortunately I didn’t get my hopes up too much.

  5. If the theory about the guy going “Ha ha I told you it was bad” is right, he must now be thinking he’s right, like “it’s so bad it’s not the worst’. If that is the case, we should retort “Dean Menezes is the Absolute Worst IF Writer in History”.

  6. I’m noticing a lot of… “joke” games, for lack of a better descriptor, this comp. Or at least games that seem to be intended as jokes. I’m not talking about the games that are genuinely challenging but have flaws.

    This puzzles me. It takes a lot of work to program even a small game, so why are people wasting it on being able to say “Ha ha, got you to play my game! Neener neener!”? Surely it couldn’t take too much more work to… I dunno, try?

    It’s just weird.

  7. I never got around to reviewing “Press Escape to Save” last year, but since you mention it I’d like to mention that my favorite exchange came as the ghostly figure was leading the protagonist towards the void:

    >x void
    You can’t see any such thing.

    That wasn’t so much a bug as a zen koan.

  8. This game got an extra point from me (bringing it to two out of ten) because, in addition to the obvious old-skool classic ways to be bad (maze, no descriptions, arbitrary death, etc.) it actually snuck in one very clever ultra-modern way to suck.

    Did you notice that “scarabaeus” isn’t actually a synonym for the McGuffin (er, scarabæus, I mean)? That you actually have to type that funky Unicode ligature? (Or cut-and-paste it, which is what I did)

    I thought that was clever.


  9. Hm. I assumed that because I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t refer to it. But you’re right: that is an inventive add-on.

    Which still doesn’t make this any less of a waste of time.

  10. Alternately, you can use “get it” or “get all” to avoid the ligature.

    And Emily, if you couldn’t see the scarabaeus, it’s because you never made it all the way through the maze. I suspect that most people didn’t, what with the random “You have won” messages casting doubt on whether the ostensible goal is even modelled. In fact, until I saw Bruce’s comment, I was starting to think that I was the only person who had bothered to map the thing out. Bruce, you are my brother in masochism!

  11. There’s a way out???

    Without anything to drop, it seemed endless. I spent several minutes figuring out that I could reach a dead end, hit the rightmost or leftmost edge of the “maze” and so forth, but I never ever found anything except a room, a dead-end, and the entrance. From that, I assumed there wasn’t a way out at all. Hmm.

  12. (Found my way to your reviews via the link from Gamasutra’s year-end.)

    It seems that every year there are a couple of games that, for lack of a better description, are intentionally offensive. For whatever motivation–“irony,” a desire to laugh at people wasting time–someone throws something up with no intention of making a good game, or even a decent game.

    Problem is, I’m one of those people who a) takes the judging guidelines seriously, and b) only really has time to commit to 5-7 games. So guess what always comes up randomly when I pull that lever? A few mediocre games is fine, but intentional sludge…ugh.

    I get very little enjoyment out of judging the comp. It’s tempting to not bother and simply wait for the results, then play the top 3.

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