14: Sigmund's Quest
[Played furtively at work, as it didn't work on other browsers]
This isn't a full game, and was broken on most of the browsers I tried. As charming as the pixel art is, this doesn't belong in the Comp. First-of-a-series is fine, even if the game ends on a "to be continued" sort of note, but this didn't even get going first. Plus, if you're not going to claim it needs to be a particular browser, test more.
[Played furtively at work, since it said it didn't support Safari.]
First up: this had some technical issues -- it claimed not to run in Safari (I didn't try), it threw an undefined event error that said it might affect gameplay (but didn't appear to), and it took forever to load the game. But aside from that, it had a bunch of neat features -- a really nice hand-drawn map, a stats counter that made sense, good copyediting. I wasn't able to listen to the music since I was sneaking playtime at lunch at work.
This went down some of the same paths as Raik, doing a fantasy-world overlay on real social problems; I would, perhaps, have liked the items to all have a dual meaning. (The first one I found was the stilettos, which was part of the issue, especially since I'd just played One Night Stand and was cranky about inappropriate heel-wearing. Once I got where the game was going with the item choices, it made sense, but it was mimesis-breaking in a way the other items weren't. "High-heeled studded leather boots" or something would have worked better for me.) But that's minor -- I got what it was going for, and yet it didn't make the game stop being fun; sometimes issue-games stop being fun when their agenda becomes clear. I played for all four endings, though I didn't bother finding the secret every time. I wanted there to be a few more endings -- an early go-home and a neutral/both-paths ending, but I think that says more about me than about the game.
I did have a few implementation quibbles (rather than bugs): the stats could have been on the main page as in some of the other games rather than on a separate page, and there didn't seem to be a point to the "check for danger" option, nor did the treasure-hunt link ever have any effects other than yes/no on treasure -- if there was a point to making these clicks aside from pacing (which, granted, they did do -- I clicked them a fair bit even when I didn't need to), I missed it. But, again, quibbles. A fun, incisive little game.
36: Jesse Stavro's Doorway
[Inform, played in Spatterlight]
This also felt like it could be a first game -- it had some serious pacing issues. Started out with massive infodumps via a journal the PC had written and we could examine. And then we broke into a house and the inhabitants didn't care. Except for the dog, but I managed to evade it repeatedly before figuring out how to "solve" him. Yes, the inhabitants were mostly high, but still.
It was missing synonyms in a lot of places, and nouns for things in the room description. They just needed "this is irrelevant"-style descriptions; instead, it was like the scenery didn't really exist. (Deep, man.) There was a lot of guess-the-noun, disambiguators that were people's names before we'd learned them, conversation topics being explained as if we were in a different location, etc.
Time-travelling stoner hippies, though, kind of a novel concept. Time travel: been there done that. Stoners: been there done that. Both this comp. But together would be novel, if the game weren't so clunky. Alas, it's just not any fun, and it ends on an abrupt note that makes it feel like a bad ending, yet it's the only one the walkthrough gives you.
39: Paradox Corps
[ChoiceScript, played offline]
This is more interactive-story/Faction Paradox (a Doctor Who spinoff) fanfic. (It had enough serial numbers filed off that it's not straight-up fic, but it was close enough that I had my fanfic-fan goggles on reading it. And you can straight-up lose. I got a bad ending, and didn't want to go plowing back through mediocre fic to try to get a better one, although perhaps I should have put the easy-mode on so that I could see more of the game.
It was very reminiscent of actual book CYOAs, but I have more patience when I can tree-search with my fingers stuck between pages than for this format. Or if the writing were tighter -- if I really liked the story, I'd have happily run through it multiple times for the endings, but I found it too incoherent and lacking in actual narrative rather than time-travel hijinks. Needed beta-reading; there were no implementation bugs, but the writing needed polishing.
[Twine, played on iPad]
This game is tiny, and extremely simple, but that's the point. It's a bleak little musing on the human condition, and as such it works extremely well. The gamification of it and the complete randomness become philosophical points without needing more words, and the very plain aesthetics (especially compared to the author's other game in the comp) reinforce that.
Having played this, near the end (though not quite as far down the list as it's random ordering, since it was short and I could play it on my commute), I ended up thinking about how I'd bounced off of With Those We Love Alive at the beginning of the competition. Because this really worked for me, where that one didn't as much. I think it's a couple of things: one, the music meant I was playing with headphones on and constantly being pestered to take them off, but that's not the game's fault. two, the writing-on-self gig confused me because I didn't have enough context/expectations for it; I was still thinking puzzlefest and was wondering why the glyphs weren't given to me (and am not good at that kind of abstract representation in general). And three, the prose reminded me of China Mieville, although without the kind of creepy gender essentialism in Mieville, and one of his books is the first SF/F book I've returned to the library unfinished in a while because I just found it stultifying. But lots of people love it, and it's considered very good; it's just not for me.
[Twine, played on iPad]
This is also bite-sized, shorter to play than Begscape but containing more variety. I like longer games in general better, but this was a great little set-piece. It isn't making some grand statement, although it also does highlight how random life can be since the relationships between your choices and whether or not the outcome is "good" are pretty tenuous. The omniscient-vs-limited choice options don't, as far as I can tell, affect what outcomes you can get; the two characters' choices are linked, and whether you can pick which side you click doesn't matter.
We're never quite given an explanation for everything, but that didn't bother me; I went back and played through a lot of different paths, though far from all of them, and felt satisfied with the experience. A tiny little slice of life, neatly plated.
But it works both as a bite-sized game and as an exploration of parser mechanics; I can imagine the mechanic being used again where it's more pivotal to the story, and where perhaps the two sides aren't in lockstep, where it's a puzzle to figure out. (Actually, if you can switch modes back and forth in Twine, this setup could make a good puzzle set-piece to a longer normal narrative game.)
And now to score stuff; I am one of those folks who curves scores; I always give 10s to my favorite game(s) even if I don't think they're perfect, and I generally use the whole range; I will be giving a 1 this year. Basically I put them in order from Best to Worst and then start assigning numbers. The number of really small games in the Comp is throwing me a bit; how do I rate a very good, completely bug/issue free, very short game compared to a mostly very-good long game with one or two issues? Not sure, but I have a tentative list.
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