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The 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition

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Alias 'The Magpie'
Alias01.png
Bogeyman
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Flowers of Mysteria
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Junior Arithmancer
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Six Silver Bullets
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Terminal Interface for Models RCM301-303
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by Herr M. (2018-10-08)

It is that time of the year again: The 24th Interactive Fiction Conpetition has started! So pull up keyboard and mouse – or if you are one of those trendy touchscreenusers, make sure that your batteries are fully charged – and get ready for some heavy reading and typing. With a list of 77 titles there is lots of adventuring to do.

Actually there is so much of it that I guess I will not have a chance to take a thorough look at each and every one of them. Mostly I will stick to my personal shuffle list and take some notes. The more interesting ones might get a full review sooner or later.

I do take wishes for comments and/or reviews though. Just contact me via the forum.

Last update: 17.11.2018

Last Minute Update

Now we are closing in on the deadline, the final votes will be cast in just a couple of hours. What is there left to say?

First of all a big THANK YOU to all the authors, organizers, reviewers and judges. It was immensely fun going through the games and I had more fun with them than with most commerical titles these days. Contrary to my initial fears more quantity did not mean less quality. There were so many pearls in this bundle of games, but only very few less stellar games (and even those had something to them). There was only one game I could not finish because of technical difficulties, most games ran right out of the box and needed a lot of effort to get crashing or bugging out on me. Yet what must be the biggest seal of approval must be the fact that I kept going from start to finish with no off-time. I always found a game to my liking to pick up.

This might be due to the big variety, which admittetly might come at little surprise considering how many titles there were. Still it was interesting to see how many different engines were used, how many ways there are to present a story, how broad the term 'interactive' can be interpreted.

And no competition without betting on who is going to win. So here is me reading the tea leaves and coming up with the following candidates for the first place:
Alias 'The Magpie', Bogeyman, Dungeon Detective or Tethered.

The rest is waiting for the results. And to be honest I am quite excited to see the results.

Finally some statistics:

Out of the total of 77 games…
… I rated 60, with the lowest score being 2 and the highest 10.
… I commented on 40, which is more than I had hoped for.
… I fully reviewed 6, which is less than I had hoped for.

The Results

And the results are in! My guess about Alias 'The Magpie' winning the competition was just spot on and Bogeyman just on the second place was also a lucky guess. Well, in my opinion both games definitely deserve it, because they were quite exeptional and that in a year with some very strong contenders. Animalia on the third on the other hand was a bit of a surprise to me, but I must admit that it is also a good game, just one that rubbed me the wrong way. Anyway: Congratulations to the winners!

Here is the top 10:
1.) Alias 'The Magpie' by J. J. Guest
2.) Bogeyman by Elizabeth Smyth
3.) Animalia by Ian Michael Waddell
4.) Grimnoir by ProP
5.) Erstwhile by Maddie Fialla, Marijke Perry
6.) The master of the land by Pseudavid
7.) Junior Arithmancer by Mike Spivey
8.) Ürs by Christopher Hayes and Daniel Talsky of [[Rabbit, Rabbit]]
9.) Cannery Vale by Hanon Ondricek
10.) Lux by Agnieszka Trzaska

(the full list can be found on the IFComp site)

One thing of note: There were only two parser based games in the top 10. But then again I think only one third of all of the games were parser based, so things almost balance out.

My personal Hall of Fame

The following is a list of the top 10 games I enjoyed playing the most. They get my definitive recommendation.


My Awards

I also decided to award a couple of games that stood out to me one way or the other. Please do not interpret this as a comment on the games quality. ;)


Regrets

With so many games there had to be some omissions – some of them deserved, others less so. Here is a short list of games which I think to hold a lot of promise and which I really wanted to try (more seriously) but did not find the time to:


Games I played

Dynamite Powers vs. the Ray of Night! - Parser

A very pulpy sci-fi space adventure. The exclamation mark in the title says it all…
+ Pitch perfect pulp prose: It gets no cheesier (in a good way!) as this
+ Mad science! With death rays, transmutation machines and deathtraps
+ Excellent cover art, looks like the real thing
+/- Brutally tricky brain-teasers: Some very hard puzzles that take careful observation, thinking and planing
- Colour puzzles in a black and white medium = tedium
- It is very likely that you will land in several dead man walking scenarios
= *melodramatic voice* Who can help Dynamite Powers stop the sinister Lord Infamous?

En Garde - Unique Button Interface

You wake up hungry and confused… finding something to eat might help
+ Great and uique characters in a very unusual combination
+ Witty writing, especially the dialogues are fun
+ Brings some new life and ideas for a slightly overdone genre
+ Tries something new with the controls…
- … yet it feels a bit gimmicky clicking to somply click coloured buttons until something happens.
- Needs to be run from an online server
- Very personal opinion: The ending is a tad bit too generic to my liking
= Eating brains has never been as fun!

Dream Pieces 2 - Parser

Sequel to a game from 2013's IFComp which I quite liked back then
+ Nice word puzzles: break and remix words, easy as rebuilding LEGO models… in theory
+ Interspersed text has a dreamlike quality and lightens up the mood
+ Gets rather creative with the wordplay
+ Good length, just the right amount of puzzles
- Still gets a bit repetitive
- Some puzzles with a limited word count are a tad bit too easy
= The idea is still great, here is hoping for Dream Pices 3!

Campfire Tales - Madlibs

Come, sit at the campfire and listen to a story
+ Nice backdrop: very cozy pixel-campfire almost worth starting up the game on its own
+ The tone of the stories suit the chosen genre just right
+ You get a picture of your story
- Wanted to access my microphone for no apparent reason
- Although the game asks you a couple of questions there is no obvious influence on the story whatsoever
- I started the game four times and got the same story each time with only some very minor (names) variations… but I guess it is supposed to tell you different stories?
= Promising attempt at recreating the atmosphere of campfire stories, sadly it falls a bit short

Murder at the Manor - Hypertext

Living in an English Manor turns out deadly yet again
+ Just about the right length to keep you interested
+ You can read all the necessary texts at once without following tedious continue links
- Still, all you have to do is visit four places and talk to four people
- Basically there is just one puzzle
= Very classic guess the murderer game

Alias 'The Magpie' - Parser

Full review

Be the Magpie, gentleman thief extraordinaire, and steal a prieceless Egyptian piece of art
+ Colourful and very detailed background
+ Wonderfully neurotic characters
+ Clever setup for a nifty chain of events
+ Best use of a cucumber in a video game ever
+ Had me laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes at times
- Some of the puzzles could have used a bit more or better hinting
= Just like playing a Pink Panther movie.

Stone of Wisdom - Parser

Find the eponymous artefact in a fantastical mine
+ Nice and clear cut scenario
+ As classic as the story gets at times the puzzles are original
+ You can actually lose the game and the game has the decency to tell you
+/- Rather on the easy side and somewhat linear
- Relatively many empty rooms
- Even for a fantasy scenario slightly unrealistic, eg.: Enemies living only a couple of 'rooms' apart, getting the stone so easily
= A good old treasure hunt

Ostrich - Hypertext

Be a goverment censor during a regime change
+ Have some fun with text manipulation in a fitting context
+ Make lots of choices, decide how you would react to the situation
+ And live with the consquences: There are many different outcomes
+ Topical topic: Some thought for food on the current political and medial landscape
- Things get a bit repetitive after a while, might be intentional, but seems a bit straining nevertheless
- Might be nagging but allthough I cannot think of anything else to say against the game, it still left me a bit cold and unengaged
= What would you do when 1984 really comes around? What could you do?

Six Silver Bullets - Parser

Full review

Escape the nameless city in a thrilling spy story
+ Ambitious scope, elaborate background
+ Distinct characters, lots of interaction
+ Mysteries within mysteries, multilayered story
+ There is a greater secret which is worth unravelling
+ Multiple endings with very different outcomes
- The blurb slightly undersells the game
- Stingy parser
= Warning Spoiler! : Just like playing an interactive Philip K. Dick novel… and one of the better ones to boot!

Writers are no Stranger - Hypertext

Part meta storytelling, part teenage angst, part coming of age
+ Some interesting reflections on how writing influences lifes
+ Fittingly the texts are probably some of the best of the competition
+ Pulls some nifty tricks to keep the player interested
+ Not only are there different outcomes but also several branchings in the story line
+ Characters with personalities, relationships, ideas, hopes and motivations
+ There are several layers to the story and each of them unfolds in an organic way
- Has to be played on a seperate site, cannot be played offline
- Some not so subtle hints at the IFComp and judging itself?
= The rocks falling from the sky are just the tip of the meteor

Railways of Love - Hypertext

Two people riding on a train into an uncertain future
+ Concise writing that says so much with so little words
+ Interesting scenario with a dilemma: Should they have an affair or not?
+ You play as a kind of cupid that decides where the train is going, what is going to happen and watch how the story unweaves
+ Different endings
- Maybe a bit too short
- It is not really clear on how your choices influence the plot, at least not the first time around
= It is up to you: Romance story or strangers on a train.

A Woman's Choice - Hypertext

Her choice being: Should she get children or not?
+ A very serious that topic certainly deserves more attention
+ The game does its best to remain neutral (with an ever so slight bias) which is a good idea considering its seriousness
+ Different outcomes with different takes on the matter makes for replayability and show how many 'right' answers there are
- It still feels a bit preachy
= Might give you food for thought

And you find yourself - Hypertext

Life is good. But is it real?
+ Gripping writing that creates a nice scenery, with just the right amount of mystery
+ There seems to be a bit of freedom on how to go through the scenario
+ Reminiscent of Philip K. Dick's best works: There seems to be something off, some greater mystery going on…
- … which you might never uncover in the game's current state because you will not be able to find your phone?
- Bugs and hang ups -> unfinishable… unless you count very abrupt and unexpected ending screen
= Very promising start that leads to a unsatisfying halt

The Addicott Manor - Hypertext

Are you brave enough to enter a house of horrors?
+ Feels like one of the better choose-your-own-adventures
+ Good horror story with great atmoshpere and some really creepy scenes
+ Quite inventive death traps and some nasty scares
+ Memorable chracters
+ Many endings with some drastically different outcomes
- While the writing is not really bad, there is room for improvement (typos, repetitions)
- A bit too much exposition and explaining
- Needs to be run on its own homepage
= Modern take on the good old gamebooks

Shakles of Control - Hypertext

An unusual school day
+ I have heard that there are many different outcomes
+ It lets me decide what to do…
- … and then heavily patronized me for ignoring the story
= Did not want to play it again

PS: I have read that this could be a hommage to The Stanley Parable and this might make me want to give it another try. Yet the narrator makes and breaks such a game and in this case I just felt very annoyed by the game moping about me not wanting to reveal its mysteries, simply because an actual narrator that reads the text is a lot more entertaining than reading such insults yourself.

Linear Love - ?

A good old love story
+ The writing is good: not too soppy for a love story and quite lifelike
- Needs to be 'played' online
- The gameplay is just scrolling through the text with the wasd-keys
- Gives me the feeling I am missing somehting… or really is super-simple
= Nice story, no game

LET'S ROB A BANK - Hypertext

The name says it all
+ You make a couple of choices at the beginning which leads to many different outcomes
+ There is a bit of replayability
- In the end it is just an optimisation task: simply chose the right people
- Too short, too easy
- You have too little influence on the actual action
= An interactive B-movie heist

Dilemma - Parser

Can you prevent an accident from happening? Or will you make things only worse?
+ Lots of different endings – actually the game is all about reaching different conclusions
+ Quick playthroughs with high replayability
+ Results ranging from down to earth to the truely bizzare
- Can only be played in a browser
- Laggy parser with weak grammar
- Most of the time you will not be able to guess what you are really doing
= Final Butterfly Effect to the Future

Bogeyman - Hypertext

Full review

You have been caught by every child's nightmare
+ Suitingly grim setting with a horrific atmosphere
+ Excellent writing that conveys the (very intense!) mood with just a couple of words
+ You can decide yourself on how to react to all those horrible things that happen
+ And you have a bit of influence on how things turn out…
- … though in the end it all boils down to maybe just one choice
- Some of the things happening to the children is beyond horrible, yet they act relatively normal
= Great horror story, best played late at night before going to sleep.

Junior Arithmancer - Parser

Full review

Take an exam in the mathemagical arts of Arithmancy
+ Great gameplay: Simple yet clever
+ Good learning curve from supereasy to fiendishly hard
+ Lots of content and Easter eggs
+ Does its best to aknowledge your successes
- Background story feels a bit tacked on at times
= Great puzzle game that invokes the magic of maths

Nightmare Adventure - Parser

The people of your hometown have misteriously fallen asleep. Can you save them?
+ Concise writing
+ A appropiatly weird dream world
+/- Selfmade parser which comes for many OSes
- Too easy
- Limited interaction (only a couple of items and actions)
- A bit bland
= Solid foundation which could (and should) be expanded upon

The Origin of Madame Time - Parser

Things are about to explode (big time!) when time stops and it is up to you to save everybody
+ Throws you right into the action and gives you the right amount of information
+ Still has a detailed and believable (as far as super heros go) background
+ Interesting puzzles which feel organic to the scenario
+ Many different endings
- Super hero fatigue
- Minor flaws in the game world's logic: some things can move, others not
= Astounding: An origin story which makes want you want to see more!

The Forgotten Tavern - Hypertext

Flee from your past to a tavern in the woods
+ You get to make a couple of choices
+ RPG elements
+/- Weird scenario about hunting vegetables in a parallel dimension
- Patronizing writing style
- Game offers you to simply walk away from it, yet scolds, even kills you for doing so
- Boring characters
= Vegetable Hunter 2018

Tethered - Parser

Just one wrong step…
+ Puts you right in the middle of the action
+ Has some excellent narrative twists
+ Aknowledges lots of non-essential actions, actually relies on them
+ Everything is full of gravitas… in a good way
- You can not avoid your fate
= Interesting insights into relationships and how they shape us

Time Passed - Hypertext

Someone visits his highscool flame in order to finally confess his love to him
+ The writing is OK, not too pretentious, not too boring
+ Handles the situation rather natural, does not get preachy or too much teary eyed
- The scenario still feels slightly stalky
- The person that gets visited is adressed as you, while the protagonist is me, which makes it kind of hard to identify with either of them.
- It is almost a 'follow-the-next-link' game …
+ … yet there is one decision which does have a major influence
= Interesting read, horrible 'game'

Adventures with Fido - Hypertext

You are a Corgi in a sunny backyard
+ You can name your dog
+ Wonderfully stupid concept
+ Lots of different things to do
- Puzzles have almost no connection to the story
- Mental maths and trivia questions under time stress
- The protagonist does not feel particularily dog like
- Gets too fantastic too easily
= I am more of a cat person

Careless Talk - Hypertext

A short conversation piece about homophobia, marginalization and prejudices in a fantasy world very reminiscend of England
+ Good writing, not too wordy, not to obscure
+ Sounds like an actual dialogue
- Choices seem to have no effect
- At the most critical part you have four choices… and the game lets you pick only one, scolding you for trying to pick one of the others
= Interesting scenario with unused potential, almost just an intro.

Ailihphilia - Parser

Enter a world built of palindromes
+ Nice wordplays
+ Aknowledges unusual commands, comments on stupid actions
+ Very flexible hinting system
+ Lots of things to do…
- … maybe even too much.
- A bit too clever for its own good
- Overabundance of palyndroms makes the text weird and a bit hard to follow
= If you understand why rats live on no evil star you might like this game, if not it is still too hot to hoot.

+ = x - Hypertext

A text about a fortune machine
+ Nice background art
- Almost no interaction (dragging blocks onto the text is not interacting with it)
- Fragmented text
- Very short
= Like reading fortune cookies and thinking about possible deeper meanings

Diddlebucker! - Parser

Enter a game show featuring a modern day treasure hunt
+ Good writing: short yet vivid, to the point
+ Good puzzle design with appropriate hinting
+ Some nice touches: You can name youself, your team and pick a colour for it
+ Constant background action in form of competing teams makes the gameworld lively
+ Relatively free movement between different places suits a treasure hunt scenario very well
- Limited parser expects very distinct commands
- You can interact almost only with plot relevant objects, which makes solving the puzzles either too easy (because there is not much else to do) or very frustrating (if you manage to miss something)
- Too much waiting for things to happen
= At its best times you feel like watching a good game show … at its worst it feels artificial like mocking a game show

Terminal Interface for Models RCM301-303 - Parser

Full review

Take control of a labour bot on a rescue mission
+ Unusual scenario
+ Many different endings
+ Seems simple, is actually quite deep
+ Solid programming
- Just one, very chatty and obnoxious character
- No real ending?
= Slightly unrealistic scenario with a very talkative character which nevertheless can be very thrilling

H.M.S. Spaceman - Hypertext

A space soap opera
+ Used the word 'zest', which I like
+ Made me laugh a couple of times
- Extremely implausible scenario, even for Scifi
- Immature ramblings about sex and drug abuse
- Constant, bad innuendos
- Lots of typos (especially capitalisation)
- You need to visit a seperate homepage, cannot be played offline
- Inconsequential choices or simply clicking the text to advance
- Game seems to be bored with itself (lots of Zzzz, snoring and checking the watch)
= Adolescent power fantasy? Unfunny joke game? Ubercool stream of consciousness?

smooch.click - Hypertext

A kiss simulator
+ Each 'kiss' is different
+ You can choose the gender of your liking
- Basically it is just a random generated text with several set pieces
- Nothing you do seems to have any kind of influence, except for very minor variations of the text
- It is very short
= 'your lips meet. it's just a kiss.'

Instruction Set - Parser with cutscenes

Puzzle your way back from the other side.
+ Some nice brain-teasers like the maze
+ Command line parser feels nicely nostalgic
+ Nicely framing storyline…
- … which still feels a bit detached until you reach the ending.
- Some rather generic puzzles like swaping water from different containers until you reach a set amount in each one
- Executing all the movements with text commands is a bit clunky
- You have to visit an external website
= A nice diversion if not all that revolutionary. Give it a try if you like logical puzzles.

Charming - Parser

Chaos in the witches' laboratory: Try to clean up the mess you made before the head enchantress turns up!
+ Cool cat familiar, who even helps you out
+ Good writing with the right amount of humour and lots of details
+ Spell casting system!
- Repetitive commands (put page 1 in book A, put page 2 in book B etc.)
- Too much reading in books and looking stuff up, almost none of the puzzles is solveable without doing so
- Speaking of puzzles: Almost all of them revolve around following instructions found in the books
- Long item names which have to be entered almost by the letter or have shorter version which are not that intuitive
= Funnily enough I think with all the looking up of different topics, this one might have been better with either hypertext or shorter commands for browsing the books. Still quite entertaining, maybe more so if you prefer searching for hints to doing some guesswork.

Flowers of Mysteria - Parser

Full review

Go on a quest to save a dying king.
+ Offers some solid programming (no bugs or crashes)
+ Feels nicely nostalgic
+ Finishable in one setting of moderate length
- Very generic setting
- Bland descriptions which offer almost no help
- Almost no explorations besides the main path
- Parser is a bit stubborn at times
= Exactly what it says in the subtitle: "An old fashioned text adventure" for better and for worse.

Grimnoir - Hypertext

A Monster hunt in a city where the rain never stops falling.
+ Atmospheric text which suits the genre nicely (could be right out of a pulp novel)
+ The 'monsters' are not just some brainless abominations, but show a bit of character
+ Believable dialogue with interesting characters
- Puzzlesolving = Guesswork re the monster's nature and breaks the reading flow to boot
- Too many feel-good moments, monster motivations are a bit too samey (spoilers: almost all of them just wanted to be loved)
- The pulp genre can get cheesy at times, this game is no exception
- The story is told from the detectives point of view, which makes the action uninvolving
= Nicely written urban fantasy with a noir touch, which makes you wonder whether this would not have been better off as a non-iteractive text.

Let's Explore Geography! Canadian Commodities Trader Simulation Exercise - Online forms

Drive around Canada in a truck and trade goods.
+ You might actually learn a bit of geography from this one
+ Different endings
+ Comes with a nice map of Canada
- The interface is clunky (just multiple choice question after multiple choice question)
- You need to go on a seperate homepage
- Could not find much to do aside from driving around
- Unrealistic and very simplistic economy
= Euro Canada Truck Simulator 0.013alpha

They Will Not Return - Hypertext

Become a household robot and clean you master's house. Again and again and again and… again?
+ Good, concise writing which neverthless carries a lot of atmosphere
+ Goes from a very strict routine to a very open ending, which suits the story really well
+ You can make choices and do not just follow the links (at least near the ending)
+ You decide how your robot thinks and feels about the things it sees
- Postapocalyptic robots feel overdone by now
- Contrieved at times, e.g. one of the robots felt less like a robot, but more as a plot tool or the author's voice
= Can be fun, terrifying or intense – however you want to interpret the texts – but will most likely be entertaining for some time.

Animalia - Hypertext

Pretend to be a couple of animals pretending to be a human.
+ Funny scenario with a nice meta-gaming aspect
+ Lots of choices… and consequences
+ Lively characters
+ Akward humor (in a good way)
- Torn animals: They fear and loath humans, yet they construct convoluted man-machines which feel less magical but very technological
- Double standards: Sacrificing human children is OK… but never ever let a snake eat a mouse
- Gender-neutral pronouns for animals… and even if you would do that: Ever heard of the little word 'it' which suits most mice, rabbits etc quite fine?
- Does not really feel like animals pretending to be a human, but humans projecting themselves into animals
= The cool scenario and flexible storytelling save this after all.

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