The 21st annual Interactive Fiction Competition is currently on, through mid-November. Voting is open to the general public; the only prerequisite is that you not be an author, not vote on games that you tested, and submit votes on at least five games. (You emphatically do not have to have played them all! In a year with 55 entrants, it is very unlikely that most judges will get through anywhere near all of them.)
If you are looking for other reviews, this ifwiki page contains a list of places currently carrying them.
Here I’m going to talk about two entries, Pit of the Condemned and TOMBs of Reschette, that riff on old-school dungeon-and-monster-fighting games.
Pit of the Condemned is more or less an avoid-the-wumpus game: as a mode of execution, you have been cast into a pit with a beast which wishes to kill you, and is able to move one space whenever you do.
The “pit” actually includes quite a large section of abandoned city, so there are many, many rooms to explore in the process of trying to avoid this thing. These rooms tend to be fairly sparsely implemented: scenery isn’t typically described, and few of them contain any objects of note unless you happen upon some useful tool. Often the room names aren’t capitalized, in fact.
This could be frustrating for parser fans who like a high degree of polish. Personally, I did not find it to be a problem once I understood what the expectations were for this piece. Games with uneven levels of implementation get really confusing; games that are consistently sparse can have their own kind of clarity. (See also ASCII and the Argonauts.) This particular game very rapidly communicated that there weren’t going to be detailed interactions within each room, and once I’d set my expectations accordingly, I was thinking more in terms of the map as a whole (which is large and detailed).
This bit gives a general flavor of the world building:
> x spectators
This rabble are the face of the society above: they’re unkempt, caked in mud, and they’ve come a long way to see you die violently in a pit.
Right. So… lovely people, then.
The beast is implemented to wander the map a bit and to follow you if it can, though there are various things you can do in order to put some space between the two of you. I found that on my playthrough, I initially had to move fast to get away from it, then spent some time exploring and collecting the means to trap it, and then finally started looking into ways to lure it where I wanted it to go. And that all worked fine. And I came away with a loose sense of a city that had been laid waste by monsters (or maybe by this monster in particular).
So a somewhat non-standard style for parser IF, but taken on its own terms, it did basically work for me, and came to a satisfactory conclusion before it had worn out its welcome. Just don’t go in expecting a strong narrative arc or a lot of scenery examination.
TOMBs of Reschette is a Twine piece by Richard Goodness, in which you navigate a small dungeon and dispose of a series of monsters. Each of the monsters has a particular vulnerability, and there is a helpful guide to monster lore that you can read to discover what these are.
Though it’s possible to for things to go wrong, this is one of those Twine games where the back button works as UNDO, rather than one of those where it does not. I greatly appreciate having some sort of BACK option in most Twine works, and I wish they were more consistently available.
The real charm of this piece for me, though, came from the alternate story endings that occur when you don’t deal successfully with a given monster or trap. I don’t know whether I saw everything that there was to see on this score, but two outcomes I saw involved the player turning into a monster of one kind or another. Those outcomes both felt richer and deeper than the ending in which the player succeeds as a human adventurer and goes on his way.
In that regard, I was reminded a little of Brendan Patrick Hennessy’s
KING OF BEES IN FANTASY LAND: both rather undermine the idea that the typical video game protagonist is doing anything especially noble, and suggest the gains to be had in considering the perspectives of those creatures generally considered hostile NPCs.