Tightening the World-Plot Interface: or, Why I Am Obsessed With Conversation Models

framed

Framed is an interactive comic game in which you move around the panels of the story, reordering events in order to change what happens in the story. It looks really attractive, too.

Forgetting is a graphic novel with CYOA-style branching when you click on certain panels.

Forgetting is a graphic novel with CYOA-style branching when you click on certain panels.

When I first heard of this game, I was hugely excited about it. There aren’t that many entries in the interactive comic space, and this seemed to offer a slightly different set of mechanics to go alongside Dan Benmergui’s (unfinished but, to judge by the demos, awesome) Storyteller or Troy Chin’s Forgetting or the somewhat over-difficult Strip ‘Em All.

When I actually played Framed, though, I had essentially the same reaction described at The Digital Reader:

While Framed is based on a clever dynamic, the actual game is repetitive to the point that I am bored… Rather than have the user solve puzzles with different goals and different solutions, the vast majority of the levels I played all had the same goal: avoid the cops. Other than setting things up so the protagonist can either bypass cops or sneak up behind cops and hit them over the head, there’s not much to this game.

I’m maybe a little less harsh than this — I did feel that Framed was worth playing, and I know that some people did enjoy the puzzles — but nonetheless, I was hoping for something that did new work in telling an interactive story, rather than just setting up a bunch of puzzle levels. In that area it fell short. All of the puzzles are about a similar problem — one set of characters escaping another — and the stakes don’t alter much either. This makes for boring story.

The problem occurs at the world model-to-plot interface. That’s a challenging area for parser IF, too — and indeed for any game in which the player cannot influence the plot directly, but has to change the world model in order to move forward. Choice-based games vary in this regard, but probably more of them are of the directly-influence-plot variety than of the indirect-influence variety.

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Shift Escape

Shift_escape_square

Shift Escape is an abstract puzzle game for iOS by Toby Nelson. Toby’s also maintainer of the Inform 7 IDE for Mac OS, and (non-coincidentally) my brother-in-law. So my remarks should perhaps not be viewed as wholly impartial, but I’m enjoying it. The interface has a cheerfully hand-drawn look; the puzzles themselves are elegant if occasionally fiendish.

The aim is to move your character to eat all the dots on each level before leaving, with the restriction that your motion can only be stopped by walls, so if you head in one direction, you’ll keep sliding along willy-nilly. The geometry of some levels means it becomes possible to lock yourself out of ever reaching certain dots, but even if you don’t do that, there’s the challenge of optimizing your number of moves.

The slide-til-you-hit-something rules make the floor-plate-activated flippers a significant complication:

redblueshift

It doesn’t all take place on a square grid, either…

shift_escape_hex

And here I am losing, because every time I try to get that dot in the lower right corner I have to pass over the blue diamond and that moves the blue flipper out of the way and I overshoot and argh

shiftmany

Choice-Based Multiplayer IF: Bluedorn (Ryan Veeder), Salvanas (Andrew Plotkin)

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.05.49 AM

Seltani is Andrew Plotkin’s Myst-themed multiplayer universe riffing on Twine, in which authors can add their own explorable Ages. It’s been around for a bit over a year now, and includes the Barbetween age, which I’ve written up before. It just recently picked up a couple of new ages: Ryan Veeder’s interactive museum experience Bluedorn, and Andrew Plotkin’s own puzzle age Salvanas. It’s a timely development, given the considerable interest in multiplayer IF that turned up during our recent discussion on new directions in IF.

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Hadean Lands (Andrew Plotkin)

map-nolabel-500

Hadean Lands is Andrew Plotkin’s massive parser IF game about an alchemy-driven spaceship. It’s been several years in the making, after a substantial Kickstarter. And it’s now available.

I backed the initial drive, I’ve been following the dev blog since, and I spent probably upwards of 20 hours beta-testing it, becoming (to the best of my knowledge, anyway) the first person to finish the game other than Zarf himself. (Yes, I am bragging. Play it and you’ll see why.)

So I can’t really claim any sort of unbiased reviewer status at this point. Nonetheless, I would like to talk about some things that I thought about the game.

The discussion below will be mildly spoilery for information found in the very beginning of the game and in the ABOUT text. It will reveal no significant puzzle secrets, but if you want to experience the game entirely free of such preconceptions, then don’t read on.

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IF Comp 2014: Fifteen Minutes (Ade McT)

fifteenminutes

Fifteen Minutes is a parser-based puzzle game with light narrative elements; while I wouldn’t say it’s super hard, it takes some focus and is not for the puzzlephobic. You’re likely not to win on the first try, though I also wouldn’t quite put it in the replay-to-win category, because once you’ve started making real progress, you probably won’t need to restart again.

I played it all the way through.

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