IntroComp 2014: Mount Imperius, Going Down, 1st and Last of the Ninjas

Some thoughts follow on the IntroComp 2014 games I’ve tried so far. IntroComp is a long-running interactive fiction competition in which authors submit the beginnings of games and invite feedback and information about whether players would like to see more.

If you would also like to vote, you have through August 15 to try the entries and rate them.

Mount Imperius is a Twine game about a dangerous mountain ascent, where there are presumably going to be issues fighting with other members of your team and possibly making difficult decisions about when to press onward on a dangerous mountainside. What appears in the intro version is not especially technically tricky — this is a default Twine template without (as far as I saw) much macro intervention, just straight hypertext. That suggests that our attention is supposed to be on the story. Some parts of the narration hint that this game is going to dig in to the world of high-end mountaineering, and I often enjoy stories that at least somewhat accurately represent a culture or experience that’s new to me. (I’m not quite sure why there were eight peaks listed on the list of Seven Summits. Inside mountaineering joke?)

I’m tentatively interested, though the section supplied here is short enough that it’s hard to be really certain what the bulk of the gameplay will involve. I could see this going in several directions — as a serious manage-your-resources-and-optimize-your-climb challenge, or as something more personal and story-like rather than puzzle-like.

What would make it better from my point of view: a couple of the lines about Sherpas seemed to suggest that Sherpas were magic people totally unlike westerners, which made me nervous about how they were going to be portrayed in the rest of the story. I hope that is not actually an issue throughout. Also, I am a bit tired of the default Twine template and I find that I extend more automatic trust towards games where the author has gone to the trouble of customizing the CSS. (I know, I know, parser IF has looked pretty much the same for 30 years, I know. This is so subjective and totally my own personal issue, but I mention it because IntroComp judging is designed to be very subjective.)

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Going Down is an inklewriter story about trying to meet a date on New Year’s Eve, only something goes wrong and you wind up in an elevator even though you have phobic reasons to hate elevators. The warning at the beginning of the game promises that there will be violence and adult situations, though if so I think I chose the wrong sequence of choices to really experience the adultness of it all, because what I encountered was reasonably tame. Or maybe all the raunch has been reserved for the full version.

Would I play more of this? The writing was decent, but the core situation of waiting around to meet my date took quite a while in my initial playthrough, and then the big excitement seems to be that I’m in an elevator whose wiring is faulty. “Wouldn’t you like to play a game about being stuck in an elevator?” feels like an incomplete hook to me. My sense of what happens when you get stuck in an elevator is that you use the emergency call box and then you wait and it’s really boring, but eventually someone gets the elevator working again and then you get out and go about your life. So Interactive Elevator Mishap doesn’t sound like a very interesting game, but otherwise I don’t feel like I really know where the story is likely to go from there. Am I going to do MacGuyver things to get out of here? Come to grips with my fears? Seduce the other person in the elevator? It’s hard to say.

What would make it better from my point of view: There’s nothing really wrong with it as it stands, but I want a stronger sense of conviction about where this is all going and why I should care.

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1st and Last of the Ninja is a Choose Your Story game, Choose Your Story being a choice-based-game website I was largely unaware of until there were suddenly a big batch of CYS games submitted to Spring Thing. Here is a passage that kind of sums up my feeling about this game:

You raise an eyebrow as you walk inside your spacious living room. Looking up, you see a bunch of your clones in Anbu masks, staring at a none-existent TV.

“What the hell do you guys think you’re doing?” You demand.

One of them looks at you, pausing for a second, before nodding his head. “We’re meditating.”

You stare openly at them. “But why?”

“To find out the meaning of life.”

“Okayyyyy….” You slowly backs out of the room.

How is it that I have clones? Why are they in my living room? Why am I so okay with having clones? Who or what is Anbu? Why do I have this very modern-day living room when I was an orphan living on the streets in the last bit of story I saw? If there is a cultural context that would make this make sense, I am not familiar with it. I don’t know what would make this work better for me because I’m not sure I get what it’s trying to do in the first place.

That said, it seemed like this game also wanted to do a lot with inventory (okay) and stats (rather clumsy). I had to pick up physical objects that represented information about my in-game stats, which is just a bit weird and made me wonder whether something like ChoiceScript, which handles and displays stats automatically, might not be a better fit for the author’s concept. But who knows. Like I said, I’m not really sure where this wants to go.

8 thoughts on “IntroComp 2014: Mount Imperius, Going Down, 1st and Last of the Ninjas

  1. I think the critique on layout is totally appropriate in Twine; I always mention the layout, composition, and typeface, because it really isn’t very hard to change, and would infinitely improve most Twine games.

    There is just something that saps any desire to read out of me when I see 10 px typeface with 12 px line-height stretching 100% width of the screen, especially when the color contrast is off.

    I love the attention that some Twine authors put into formatting their text; it vastly improves the experience, and sets the ‘tone’ and atmosphere for the story.

    • Sure, though there’s also the fact that Twine is meant to be a very fast, accessible tool, and some authors use it precisely because they want to get their work out there without having to do exactly that kind of fiddly adjustment.

      • Joel Goodwin’s account of customizing the CSS for his Twine made me curl up in a ball and whimper, and I don’t even use Twine.

        (Per Wikipedia, there seems to be some controversy over whether Mt. Koscziusko or Puncak Jaya should be counted among the Seven Summits; Kosciuszko is the highest peak on the Australian mainland but Puncak Jaya, on Papua New Guinea, is higher, so the question is whether the island counts as part of the continent. The author appears to have included both.)

      • To be fair that article reads to me more like “I don’t know CSS very well” than anything else. Especially the CSS snippet; I don’t know if it’s deliberately horribly formatted to make a point or does he really write CSS like that. If the latter, I can understand why he’s having problems with it.

  2. “1st and the Last of the Ninja” appears to be Naruto fanfiction, which explains the Anbu reference (the Anbu are a sort of black-ops tactical squad within the anime). I’m not sure about the rest, but knowing Naruto, “making sense” may not be high on the game’s priority list.

  3. There is an online beta for Twine 2.0 (by online, I mean that the editor is online) and the default text output is nice and big, and in a much easier-on-the-eyes Serif font. It looks like Times but I’m not enough of a font-junkie to be able to tell for sure.

    This alone will make reading minimally developed Twines a whole lot easier.

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