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Post-IFComp Babblings

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Postby David Whyld » Mon Nov 19, 2007 1:30 pm

Total games in the IFComp this year: 29. Quite a downtown on last year’s total of 43, although from a quick glance (could well be wrong) there seem to be less obvious joke entries this time round. Across the various systems, the entries were broken down as follows:

Inform, 14 games
Windows, 5 games
ADRIFT, 3 games
Glulx, 3 games
TADS, 3 games
Quest, 1 game

So another good year for Inform which came very close to achieving half of the entire entries in the comp. ADRIFT came joint third with TADS and Glulx. Last year we had 5 ADRIFT entries so we’re definitely down there, but as one of them was a joke entry it’s true to say there were only 4 ‘proper’ ADRIFT entries last year, so we didn’t fare too badly this time around. The number of TADS entries was again low, perhaps indicating that the ease of use (at least initially) of Inform 7 is more desirable to potential IFComp authors than the complexity of TADS. Other than that, there was one Quest game and no ALAN games. What ALAN itself is like I couldn’t say (never tried to write a game in it myself and only played a handful of games written with it), but it certainly doesn’t seem to be a popular choice for the IFComp.

Five of the games were written without any of the standard interpreters and instead are just ‘Windows’ games written with custom systems. I always roll my eyes when I come across one of these. I mean, seriously, what's the point? If you don’t like coding, use ADRIFT or Quest; if you do, use TADS or Inform or HUGO. There's absolutely no point in writing your IFComp entry in a custom system that I can see because a) the ones that already exist are more than capable of handling anything you want to do, b) people are familiar with most of the existing systems and so don’t need to install any extra software or waste time configuring stuff and c) custom systems are generally cr*p. Sorry, but they are. Using one for the IFComp is akin to someone entering a short story contest and instead of submitting it on paper like everyone else, deciding he'd be different and inscribe it onto blocks of stone. Believe me, no one is impressed.

Funnily enough, one of the custom jobs wasn’t even a text adventure at all but instead a point ‘n’ click game with text elements. Does this even count as a text adventure? Could I repackage Morrowind and enter it in next year’s IFComp because it has text that you can click?

As it happened, I decided not to play any of these games for more than a few minutes. Three were by Paul Panks whose games I quit on a while ago, one was the point ‘n’ click game which isn't really a text adventure as far as I'm concerned and the other one required software I didn’t currently have installed on my computer so I didn’t bother with it.

This is the fourth year I've played the IFComp entries with the intention of reviewing them all afterwards. Each year, I've started the comp entries in a very positive frame of mind and fully intended to write lengthy and detailed reviews of them all… fully aware that I've yet to get through all the games in previous years but still determined that *this* year I’ll manage it. Ironically, each year I find myself becoming frustrated much more easily with games that seem buggy and haven't been tested properly. Whereas once I’d sit and doggedly play a game until either I’d finished it, got completely stuck and was unable to proceed any further, or was so utterly fed up with it that it was either quit or slash my wrists, I now find myself growing bored very soon into playing the game and looking for reasons to quit.

Pretty much any game that has an introduction riddled with spelling mistakes and/or grammatical errors will get a black mark against it. If I start playing and don’t have a clue what I'm supposed to be doing (unless this is intentional and the aim of the game is to figure out what’s going on), that’s another black mark. If I run into obvious errors (like a location where you can’t examine anything because the author hasn’t included descriptions for them, or I get stuck inside a door or I can carry around a tree), that’s a further black mark. Soon, the black marks start adding up and I'm quitting.

I'm aware how hard it is to get a game completely bug free and to cover all the possible responses people might think to try. No matter how carefully tested a game is, bugs still creep in and it’s impossible to cover everything (and I've found this out the hard way myself). Even so, it’s hard to summon up the enthusiasm to keep on playing a game that looks to have been written by someone who barely understands the English language or bothered testing his game prior to release.

As far as I was able, I played this year’s games with Gargoyle, an interpreter I'm growing more fond of now I've finally figured out how to customise the interface to look a little more pleasing to the ol’ eyeballs. While Gargoyle doesn’t play all of the games flawlessly – my own entry churns out a few weird messages on it – it does a decent job for most of them. The display is a little screwed up at times, but nothing that really spoils a game for me. The one Quest game didn’t work (is Quest not supported by Gargoyle?), so for that I used the standard Quest player. I also ran into problems with the Glulx games – constant crashes mainly – so I used the Glulx interpreter for these. I ran into similar problems with the winning entry from the IFComp 2007 (also a Glulx game). It seems Gargoyle and Glulx just don’t get on.

Some of the games here I played to completion. Others I didn’t. Generally speaking, if I finished the game it’s because I liked it; if I didn’t… well, I didn’t. The only games I finished that I didn’t like were those that, while they may have been bad games, were at least engaging enough to make me want to see what the ending was like, or those so short or easy that I’d finished them without really trying. The majority of the ones I didn’t finish (i.e. the ones I didn’t like), I didn’t play for the full two hours. If I've played a game for half an hour and decided it’s terrible, I don’t need to sit and grind my way through it for another hour and a half. Deadline Enchanter I only played for about five minutes but that was all I could stand.

Saying that, it’s altogether possible that some of the games I quit became better later on. I initially thought Lost Pig was a joke entry and The Chinese Room almost had me quitting to begin with due to the problems I had with getting out of the first location. Ironically, these two games ended up my favourite two in the comp so I’ll certainly be more careful in future not to outright dismiss a game just because the intro doesn’t blow me away.

With only 29 games this year, I started out intending to play and review them all. Last year I’d decided against playing them all on account of there being so many that I’d never get through them in the 6 week judging period (it worked out at roughly 1 game per day which is a lot for someone who generally plays 3-4 a month), but this year, with less games I decided I’d play and review each and every last one of them… but in the end I didn’t. The games I didn’t review for whatever reason are:

“Adventure XT”, “Ghost Of The Fireflies”, “Vampyre Cross” by Paul Panks
Yes, more games by the notorious Paul Panks. I'm sure he has his reasons for continually entering games in the IFComp that almost no one aside from himself seems to like but I don’t know what they are. Don’t really care either. I decided to give up playing his games a few years back and haven't regretted the decision once. However, I notice from reviews of his games that I've read during the IFComp judging period that all three seem to suffer from the usual problems that have plagued his works in the past so by missing out on them, I suspect I'm not really missing much.

As a side note, “Vampyre Cross” later got disqualified from the IFComp for having been previously released. That’s the second time Paul Panks has tried to pull off this little trick. Maybe a permanent ban from future comps is in order…? (No, just wishful thinking there.)

“Deadline Enchanter” by Anonymous
Ah, good old Anonymous, the world’s most prolific author. I often wonder if people are too embarrassed by their games to release them under their real name or if it’s simply a case of them wanting the game judged purely on its own merits and not on who’s written it. For this one I kind of suspect the former applies. The intro was weird and the game itself reads more like a one-sided dialogue than a proper game. I can’t say I cared for it much. Actually I couldn’t stand it. Five minutes of the game’s mocking and snide tones and I was only too ready to quit.

“In The Mind Of The Master” by David Whyld
Yes, my game. I suspect any review I wrote of it would be a tad biased, though I dare venture it’s the best game I entered in the IFComp this year… :)

“Jealousy Duel X” by Alex Camelio
The aforementioned point ‘n’ click game that isn't really a text adventure. As this is a competition for text adventures, I decided to skip it.

“The Lost Dimension” by C. Yong
For some reason, this required the NET Framework version 2.0.50727 to be installed. I didn’t have it and didn’t feel like installing it. I'm always wary of installing extra software in order to play a simple text adventure, particularly when I have all the standard interpreters, as well as Gargoyle, installed anyway, and my past experience has tended to indicate that games written in custom systems are never much good anyway. Maybe this one bucks the trend and is a masterpiece waiting to happen, but if so it’s a masterpiece I’ll be missing out on.


The “Why Oh Why” Awards section…

“Why oh why do you keep entering games you know people don’t want to play?”
For Paul Panks. I can’t decide if he does it because a) he genuinely thinks his games are what people *do* want to play (which would be kind of scary considering how often he’s been told otherwise), b) he’s doing it for a laugh to see how many people he can sucker into playing and reviewing them even when they know the games are going to be bad (likely), c) he sincerely just doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing (also likely) or d) he secretly knows his games suck but figures that if he keeps writing them in a system everyone hates, he can convince himself that they're getting bad reviews because of the system and not because he doesn’t know how to write (we’ll call this theory number one). One day I’d actually like to see him write a game in TADS or Inform.

“Why oh why did you write a game with a custom system?”
For everyone who persists in writing a game in a custom system and then entering it in the IFComp, often without the slightest instructions on getting the game to run. (One of Paul Panks’ games was actually written for the Commodore 64 and so won’t run on any of the standard interpreters. If you're not familiar with the retro text adventure scene and know about emulators, you'd never be able to play it.) Wise up: you're not going to win the IFComp this way, you're not going to impress people that you put together a system on your own that’s almost 1/15th as good as any of the established systems and anyone who plays your game is just going to end up wishing you'd written it with a proper system. On top of that, your game will only do a fraction as well as if you'd written it with an existing system.

“Why oh why do you assume the player is a mind reader?”
For quite a few games, but A Matter Of Importance takes special honours this year. Crossing a road isn't simply a case of directional commands or even CROSS ROAD but instead you need to AVOID TRAFFIC. Beating a kid in a game of football requires you to UNDO LACES before kicking the ball. Solving any of the puzzles in this game requires either a) the player to be psychic or b) the player to continually type HINTS as there's no way of making progress otherwise. As I'm not psychic, that leaves the hints. As I don’t like cheating my entire way through a game, this one was never going to go down well with me.

“Why oh why didn’t you think it was a good idea to tell me what the game was about?”
Several different games vie for honours here but I think I’ll award it jointly to Eduard the Seminarist and Reconciling Mother, two games that alternatively made me want to slash my wrists and/or the author’s wrists. In particular for Eduard the Seminarist, don’t hide key items detailing the aim of the game under items that aren't event mentioned in the room description.

“Why of why didn’t you proofread your game better?”
For In The Mind Of The Master by… um… some chap who probably should have proofread a certain key part in his game a little better. Some people commented on this and were almost driven to the brink of suicide, others reflected on the sheer horrors it brought to them. In my defence, it was one word in a game of many thousands. But, yeah, I still should have proofread it more carefully.
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Postby Ren » Mon Nov 19, 2007 9:18 pm

Quest is not supported by Gargoyle.

I think you can fix the Gulux bug by replacing the gulux packaged with the last version of Gargoyle with an updated one.
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Postby ralphmerridew » Tue Nov 20, 2007 12:21 am

Even if Tor had included Geas, GiD uses a more recent version of Quest than Geas supports.
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