The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

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Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by bryanb » Sat Dec 05, 2020 4:02 pm

Results are in. Winners are The Impossible Bottle by Linus Akesson and Tavern Crawler by Josh Labelle (tie). Once again, I failed to play the winning game (games in this case). The Impossible Bottle can be played either as a parser game or as a point and click -- you click the verbs you want to use in the latter case. Tavern Crawler is Twine. Edge of Chaos finished 25th which means Robb improved a spot since last year (Enceladus finished 26th). Not bad by any means considering there were over a hundred entries. It was the best comp game I played this year personally.

Other notes: comp voters went out of their way to get the games I thought they might not be able to handle. Ryan Veeder's Rope of Chalk finished 7th while Captivity was tied for 16th and finished as the top TADS game in the competition. Two games that underperformed in my opinion were Deelzebub (53rd) and Dr Ego and the egg of Man-Toomba (44th). I was surprised to see that Vampire Ltd finished 13th because I would have thought Dr Ego would have appealed to a similar audience. Maybe the disparity was caused by Vampire getting 29 more votes cast. Weirdly, more people voted on Vampire Ltd than voted on either of the two winners. If putting vampire in a game title can attract twenty or thirty extra voters to your game, I think Robb's future Western game ought to incorporate a few bloodsuckers so Robb can take advantage of this phenomenon.

Nick Montfort's Amazing Quest didn't finish last! It finished 98th and beat out five other games which makes me wonder just how bad those were. If Ben ever wants to get back into reviewing IF, I think we know now where he should start.

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by Ice Cream Jonsey » Sat Nov 28, 2020 12:37 pm

If I remember correctly today is the last day you can vote for games in the comp.

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by bryanb » Tue Nov 17, 2020 5:50 pm

Are there any other games I haven't reacted to yet that are must plays? I got overwhelmed with work (plus plumbing problems) so the coverage isn't exactly where I'd like it to be, but I still want to play the best games before the comp officially ends. Also, I'm at the very least going to finish the review I started writing over a month ago for RFTK with hopefully a few more reviews to follow though they may come after a winner has already been announced.

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by Ice Cream Jonsey » Sat Nov 14, 2020 10:47 am

Jizaboz wrote: Sat Nov 14, 2020 12:09 am Hm. Thought I was gonna tap out of participation at all this year to even be fucking bothered (too busy) to play a small selection..

So yr saying there’s a chance?
Yes, there is time and opportunity for this community to not let the text adventure community down as it has done so many times before. That is accurate, yes.

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by Jizaboz » Sat Nov 14, 2020 12:09 am

Hm. Thought I was gonna tap out of participation at all this year to even be fucking bothered (too busy) to play a small selection..

So yr saying there’s a chance?

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by Ice Cream Jonsey » Fri Nov 13, 2020 5:34 pm

There are, I believe, 16 days left to vote!

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by pinback » Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:19 pm

bryanb wrote: Thu Oct 29, 2020 11:34 am In Alone, you play a man who is...well, alone. ... YK6Ku.copy

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by bryanb » Thu Oct 29, 2020 11:34 am

Game: Alone by Paul Michael Winters (Inform/Glulx)

PMW appears to be a man on a mission: he is absolutely determined to keep parser-based horror interactive fiction on the competition map. Alone by all accounts is a stronger offering than his first game The House on Sycamore Lane (reviewed by Flack last year) which finished 50th in last year's event. In Alone, you play a man who is...well, alone. In a disease-ridden world, you've found no safer option than to keep driving the nation's highways and byways, stopping only to scavenge for supplies. The game begins just as you've run completely out of gas. Luckily, there is a gas station nearby...of course, it's not going to be that easy.

I haven't played any other competition game so far that has referenced illness or pandemics. That's been a welcome relief, but Alone is interesting because of how topical it feels. We all are trying to survive this disease in our own way. Covid-19 hasn't left the world as empty and desolate as the illness in Alone, but avoiding contagion and scavenging for supplies are basic aspects of all of our daily lives now. Yeah, we're doing the scavenging on Amazon and Instacart (also Ben is going to Kroger every single day), but it still counts, dammit. The idea of getting in your car and just driving to escape the hellscape your town has become doesn't seem that outlandish. Not talking to anyone for weeks is reality for millions of under-connected introverts around the world right now. Alone is a game that totally fits the moment.

A lot of horror IF is either Lovecraft-influenced (think tentacles + a foreboding and oppressive atmosphere) or very spare and austere. Alone definitely falls into the latter category. There isn't a lot of description, and the PC's inner world is largely unexplored. That's clearly a stylistic choice because the introduction is well-written and immediately makes you empathize with your character. While the spare and austere approach helps keep the tension up, I found myself wishing there was more to this game: more emotion, more substance, more color. It's a little too barebones for my taste. I would say the game doesn't work as a thriller in part because it is so empty and desolate. You feel more alone than in danger which is probably why it's called Alone. For the type of game it is, I think it needs more substance and development to really shine. I'm still interested enough to finish the game largely out of curiosity about the nature of the illness and what caused it.

Download link: Alone by Paul Michael Winters

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by bryanb » Sat Oct 17, 2020 8:45 pm

Game: Vampire Ltd by Alex Harby (Inform -- Glulx)

This is a whimsical game set in a world where vampires freely mingle in the upper echelons of human society. You are an unsuccessful vampire businessman who is seeking revenge against your archrival and former employer who is also a vampire. Your revenge plot involves infiltrating your rival's business and disrupting his plans for his latest invention. As a vampire game, Vampire Ltd lacks the darkness of Vampire: The Masquerade or the bloodthirstiness of Rich Pizor's Strangers in the Night. You can feed, but it's optional and you start the game carrying a blood pack so you don't actually need to bite anyone. You tend to be reminded of our vampireness only in those moments where your nature poses an obstacle to game progress such as when you have to cross water in order to enter an important building.

The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition featured at least two games that absolutely nailed dialogue trees. In Edge of Chaos and Captivity, conversation options are suggested but you generally can interact with NPCs in other ways that aren't directly presented as well. As a result, the player feels like they have more freedom and control over their character and the NPCs seem more dynamic and unpredictable. In Vampire Ltd, however, the choice trees completely take over the early game. Every time you try to use a device or talk with someone, you're limited to choosing a presented option. It just so happens that in the first part of the game most of what you will be doing is using devices or talking to people so the balance between menu choices and free actions is very much lacking. Sadly, you might feel more like a passive spectator than an active participant at times.

If you do persevere with this game (it is quite short), you might find yourself in agreement with a line in Ecclesiastes: "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof." In the closing, Vampire Ltd begins to lean more on the player's capabilities and less on menu choices. There are basically two puzzles in this game, and they're both near the end. The first uses adventure game logic and wouldn't work out too well in the real world, but it is at least creative and theoretically requires some use of your vampire powers. The second puzzle involves figuring out how to win a fight against your nemesis. This fight scene is pleasingly tense and memorable. It feels something like a superhero-supervillain clash in a comic book, and not just because there's a little too much explanation and plot tidying up going on in the final dialogue. This is a much too generous comparison, but the fight also reminded me a little of Anchorhead's big showdown. You get that same sense that this is IT. This is the end, the big battle, the final clash. This is what the whole game was leading up to. What's the one thing I need to do to stay alive and defeat my enemy? Suddenly, the stakes seem a lot bigger, and this doesn't just feel like a cutesy vampire game any longer.

Download link: Vampire Ltd by Alex Harby

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by pinback » Sun Oct 11, 2020 11:40 am

Why did he do it? Get him on the show.

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by Flack » Sun Oct 11, 2020 9:47 am

It's a bummer that people may walk away from Nick's game thinking that the C64 is not capable of playing advanced IF games. There have been at least three different interpreters released over the past year or two for playing Inform games in the C64 (I even converted one of ICJ's games to play on the 64).

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by bryanb » Sun Oct 11, 2020 4:40 am

Yeah, when I saw Nick Montfort's name that definitely made me want to play the game more and raised my expectations. Oh well. Nick's still a good guy who is very knowledgeable about IF and someone who has made quality games in the past. I'd still play a Nick Montfort game in next year's competition if he chooses to enter one. Amazing Quest is just an experiment that didn't work or a joke that didn't land.

Meeting Robb Sherwin is a much, much better game than AQ, but that doesn't always matter when it comes to the voting. Still, I'd be shocked to see AQ finish in the top 50. I'm not exactly sure who the primary audience for AQ would even be. Is there a constituency out there going, "Yesss, finally, IF with only binary choices! No more shades of gray, no more maybes. Ooh, and I'm a space pilot!" that has been waiting for years for just this kind of game to be released? I think with MRS people just assumed it was a game only for those who actually knew Robb and his friends. They just didn't realize what a transcendent, universal figure our guy Robb really is.

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by Jizaboz » Sun Oct 11, 2020 1:31 am

Ah ok. Unless I am mistaken this guy is actually quite sharp. He is in Get Lamp of you need reference. Surprisingly he is the guy that made the c64 yes or no game. He.

I wonder if it will bomb half as bad as Meeting Robb Sherwin.. which was also meant to be sort of a parody of Being Andrew Plotkin

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by bryanb » Sat Oct 10, 2020 3:26 pm

Game: Amazing Quest by Nick Montfort (C64 Basic)

In a word, disappointing. Amazing Quest is a barebones game which limits the user to yes or no inputs as you navigate your space ship back home. The text is minimalistic, boilerplate, and repetitive. You visit various destinations such as cities, moons, planets, and lands. They are assigned a characteristic such as brutal, pious, or diverse. At each location, you can choose to do or not do something such as speak, raid, or send gifts, but you can't choose between different actions at any one location. For instance, suppose you land on a luminous planet. The game might ask you if you want to seek out help. That's your only choice in that can't choose to speak or raid if the game has asked the seek out help question. At different locations, you might pick up items such as jewels or cattle or lose ships depending on your choices. However, I'm not sure the game even tracks the results of your choices. Can you lose all your ships or run out of food or become the richest man in the galaxy? That's unclear, but I LISTed the source code and based on a cursory peak it appears there's not much more to this game than initially meets the eye. In aggregate, your choices feel meaningless, and your probable victory feels as hollow as the lack of fanfare given in the victory message would suggest.

Perhaps I was foolish to let myself get excited to see a C64 game entered into the competition. The thing is the Commodore 64 was a great platform for text adventures and adventure games in general back in the day. You could play anything from Infocom to Level 9 to Dorothy Millard games, or you could design your own adventures with The Quill. People who play this game without any familiarity with the C64 are likely to think it's a really primitive platform that just isn't suited to text adventures which is a real shame. This isn't a good vehicle for nostalgia at all because it's bad for a C64 game and bad for a BASIC text adventure which is really saying something because I've played some really terrible BASIC text adventures in my time.

This game is probably meant to be a parody of both certain older adventure games and modern CYOA games. The introduction and strategy guide (linked to on the game page) feel tongue in cheek. You'll probably need to have a much better sense of humor than me to actually get a laugh out of any of this, however. I will admit as a disclaimer that I'm probably not the best judge of "funny IF" -- this is especially true when neither Douglas Adams nor Robb were involved in the writing as I believe is the case here. Honestly, I didn't even particularly enjoy picking up the telephone booth and dying.

Online play link: Amazing Quest by Nick Montfort

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by Ice Cream Jonsey » Wed Oct 07, 2020 8:16 pm

I clicked on the opening screens of a lot of games throughout the day and I should state that the average presentation of the average Twine game is greate. I don't think any of the authors will see this post, but each one looks cool in its own way as far as the ones I've started up go.

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by bryanb » Tue Oct 06, 2020 8:43 pm

Game: A Rope of Chalk by Ryan Veeder (Inform -- Glulx)

This game starts out as a relatively placid slice of life game set at a college sidewalk chalk art show and then gets more than a little crazy. As the game progresses, there are multiple shifts in perspective and multiple journeys to the center of the mind. It's more than a little chaotic, but it's very interesting too. I found myself getting very involved in seeing where the game would go and in trying to make sense of all that was going on. For much of the time, I wasn't exactly having fun or feeling entertained, but I was definitely engaged and couldn't turn myself away. As a game, it could do gamier things better. As an experience, however, I think it is exactly what it was designed to be.

The thing I found hardest to decide about this game is whether it was more than just a mindfuck. Ultimately, I decided it was. You get more than you bargain for when you play the game, but it does tell the story it set out to tell. It IS about a college sidewalk chart art contest and everything that went down there. Who knows, maybe it really is a true story. It is a wild ride, but the journey fees worthwhile; it might be a little like the original Beast roller coaster at Kings Island in that respect.

I could see this game finishing poorly in the competition and yet still getting nominated for an XYZZY. It's a creative and artistic triumph, but it's also a somewhat uncomfortable, disorienting experience at times. I'm curious to know what the comp voters will make of the chaos if they dare to venture in.

Download link: A Rope of Chalk by Ryan Veeder

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by bryanb » Sat Oct 03, 2020 7:57 pm

Game: Dr Ego and the egg of Man-Toomba by Special Agent (Inform)

This game is a true adventure game that hearkens back to some early classics of the genre. You play Dr. Ego, an archaeologist in search of treasure in Papua New Guinea. Is there adventure? Oh yes, there is adventure. There's a temple in the jungle, peaceful natives, and a thieving monkey for starters. Is there danger? Certainly! You've got a rickety bridge to cross and you've got to navigate the jungle without a compass for part of the time. Call me the Death Defier! Are there treasures? Yeah, well, there are supposed to be. Somewhere. You've got to search for them though.

I do find myself questioning the morality of some of the treasure hunts in adventure games from time to time. For instance, Dr. Ego is probably looting a third world country of priceless cultural items in this game. Don't get me wrong: it's certainly POSSIBLE that the stuff will be going to a museum in Port Moresby and we just haven't been informed of that yet. Most likely it's going up on eBay and the doc will be getting a new Mercedes when he goes home. The cool thing is that even if Dr. Ego is a greedy neocolonialist he is at least not a dick about it. You're actually pretty nice in this game. You can have a great conversation with Rom, the Papuan native who is taking you by boat to your destination at the beginning of the game. Really cool dude, by the way. You don't lose your composure even when a monkey steals from you. I hated doing it, but I have to admit I tried to attack the monkey at one point when I felt I was running out of alternative options. No one could be happier than I was to see that command fail. The game's solution is much nicer and more entertaining to play. There's even a friendly native village where I haven't had to massacre anyone for failing to fetch me treasures yet.

This game seems like a great choice for old school adventurers and Indiana Jones fans. I didn't need to type about to tell that Special Agent is a big fan of Indy. You start the game wearing a fedora and wielding a bullwhip so the tribute isn't exactly subtle. And the temple in the game could conceivably be called a Temple of Doom, but I wouldn't as I've actually found it a rather pleasant place so far.

Download link: Dr Ego and the egg of Man-Toomba by Special Agent

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by bryanb » Sat Oct 03, 2020 3:42 pm

It's great to see you here, Mike! I wish we could have found that bug a little earlier so maybe Captivity could have been fixed in time too. I pretty much assumed based on recent history that EoC would be the only TADS game in the competition. The good news is there's no particular reason to trigger the bug for gameplay reasons in Captivity...the bad news is the castle does have a lavatory where cleaning could theoretically take place. I would strongly advise everyone not to get too experimental in there unless you've saved recently.

I remember when Robb was dealing with a bug in Revenger he said something along the lines of, "Fire is the bane of an IF developer's existence." He probably said it in a much catchier way than that, but that was the jist of it. Maybe we should update that to "Fire and bathrooms are the banes of an IF developer's existence."

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by MSousa » Sat Oct 03, 2020 1:01 pm

Hi Bryan!
bryanb wrote: Thu Oct 01, 2020 8:02 pm The main reason is I found a bug while beta testing Edge of Chaos and Mike discovered it was applicable to many different TADS games. It no longer crashes EoC, but I now feel compelled to test it in every TADS game I play. So far, the score is 1-1: it crashes Captivity, but not Deelzebub.
The bug resides in the Adv3Lite library (from Eric Eve) and not the TADS library. Captivity uses Adv3Lite so the bug is in there, but Deelzebub uses native TADS and works just fine.

-- Mike

Re: The 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition

by bryanb » Fri Oct 02, 2020 5:02 pm

Game: For a Place by the Putrid Sea by Arno von Borries (Inform -- Glulx)

This game is a mixed bag. It's dark and pretentious and interesting and aggravating at the same. It is set in the fictional town of Gotomomi in a future or alternative Japan. You are Ayako, a resourceful young woman returning to town after some unspecified adventure in Manila that requires her to lie low for the time being. Von Borries has used Gotomomi in at least one previous game, and it's a highly diverse, grubby kind of place. I think of it as being less like Tokyo and more like Gangs of New York meets Hong Kong.

A good test to see if you can enjoy this game is to check your inventory early on. You find that you are carrying a 100 yen coin and a sensu, and wearing a grège dress, a pair of canvas top-siders, and a jipijapa. This is a good illustration of both von Borries' multicultural game world and one of the aggravating aspects of his writing. If he had said you had a Japanese fan, a raw silk dress, and a Panama hat, that would provide a reasonably clear picture to most Western readers, but he deliberately wants to take players out of their comfort zones and make them feel like they're in a foreign environment. Anthony Burgess undoubtedly did it better, but I do have some respect for von Borries' ambition as a world builder. I have less respect for some of his creative capitalizations that pop up occasionally: Tokyo bay, Seng Heng fish packing co ltd. There's nothing new about that and it gives the game some angsty teen vibes that don't really fit the atmosphere.

that said, it did remind me of michelle, someone i knew on a bbs a l0ng time ag0. she never capitalized anything, and she always used a zer0 instead 0f that letter between n and p. n0t 0therwise l33t as far as i can remember. she was c00l, though. i'd like to invite her to jc, but i have n0 contact inf0. i wonder if the writing style is the same after all these years.

d0wnl0ad link: For a Place by the Putrid Sea by Arno von Borries