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 Post subject: Ectocomp reviews
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 2:42 pm 
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(Mostly very brief, because the games are too, and because I should really be finishing off IF Comp reviews instead.)

Blackness
Spoiler: show
The problem with this is that no cheesy hospital horror can compare to Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, so I just spent all my time reading the lines in Garth's voice. Otherwise, this is about what I'd expect of an Ectocomp entry: it's functional, the writing's fine, there's one trivial puzzle, the horror is pretty much A RANDOM SPOOKY THING ATTACKS.


You Are A Blob!
Spoiler: show
More satire on Twine! Roughly, 'because Twine doesn't feature a world-model or consistent actions, and because Twine games are often fragmentary and surreal, you don't get an adequate idea of what the story's about and player agency is often effectively arbitrary.'

Or, to put it another way, 'you couldn't do The Gostak as a CYOA'. To be fair, it's not as though we make games like The Gostak very often. But it does point to a general underlying principle of IF: that interaction should give you a grasp on the world, that this is crucial to understanding and inhabiting it. This isn't really a parser/CYOA distinction: lots of CYOA games arrange their choices to reflect some consistent mechanic by which their game works. (In Katawa Shoujo, you consider every choice in terms of which girls will find which actions attractive. In most Choicescript games, you weigh your choices in terms of the stats you've already developed and which ones you want to develop further.) Rather, it's a distinction between games with more consistent structure (which typically means substantial state-tracking) and games with less.


Boogle
Spoiler: show
This is a dating-site parody about how Big Data is insidious and 'personalisation' is, in practice, really just a matter of trying to force you into a tidy demographic. It doesn't work awfully well as persuasive satire, because when people aren't troubled by big data, it's not generally because they're unaware that the data-gathering stuff exists, it's that they don't think it's likely that it might be used against them. The answer here is 'Google will try to date you and then make you dress up in a creepy dress and then stab you', which isn't very convincing.


Chemistry & Physics
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Seems like a winner. Plausible attackers are more scary than bugaboos or random-ass serial killers, and there's some good, detail-oriented setting work here.

It seems as though it's transposing a standard kind of trad adventure-gamey puzzle into a CYOA format; but the problems with this puzzle don't have much to do with interaction method. The CYOA format doesn't deal with the problem of not being sure about one important detail of a puzzle; I knew I had to set up an explosion to catch Murdery Ex, but I didn't get that this was simultaneously meant to get the door open, so I only found the right spot by process of elimination. For a while I was wondering whether fire was a dead-end and I should try to explore a pressure trigger, since the text mentions that as another way that explosive can be set off.


Crater Creek, 2113
Hill of Souls
Spoiler: show
Two games by the same author. I wasn't able to finish either. They're both strong on atmosphere, but part of that atmospheric effect is a surreal, indefinite sense of who you are, how the world is put together, and what your goals are. This is not an inherently bad effect to try to accomplish, but making it work is kind of an advanced challenge. Because in order for the player to take part in a game to any meaningful extent, they have to have an idea of what they should be doing. I figured out one thing that I could do in Crater Creek, but other than that I was pretty much entirely stumped. So there's some lovely imagery here, but more work's needed on making the interaction work as interaction.

Also, naming choices pedantry! Aiden is a really generational name, one that was very rare until twenty years or so ago, but since then has absolutely exploded. My basic assumption is that anybody named Aiden/Aidan is young - probably born after 1994 or so. So, to my ear, this makes it an odd choice for a name from an otherworldly setting: it's a bit like going into a high-fantasy kingdom and finding that the women there are all named Jessica, Jennifer or Heather.


Dead Pavane for a Princess
Spoiler: show
There's a hell of a tone-shift between calling your game Dead Pavane for a Princess and mentioning zombies in the first sentence. Zombies are not classy! Zombies are the cheeseburger-and-Tang of horror. And that's pretty much the entirety of the game's schtick: you are Maurice Ravel fleeing from zombie Claude Debussy. Apart from this, it's a pretty straightforward exercise, but points for being weirder than I expected.


Ice House of Horrors
Spoiler: show
This is a game about being a fish that has been caught by a fisherman and is trying to escape; given that, it's about what you'd expect. (My main response to it was wishing that I still lived in a place where I could catch rockfish. Seriously, game, I am hungry now.) The moral is that you should gill your fish properly, because otherwise they will flap around in a disturbing manner and then spoil more quickly once they're dead.


Jack
Spoiler: show
You are a pumpkin-headed scarecrow on a rampage. It's no worse than any number of first-time speed-IFs, but running around and killing dudes for no reason is not as entertaining in IF as it is in other game forms.


The Profile
Spoiler: show
This has a sort of Spider & Web-type premise, with perhaps a little bit of Make It Good thrown in - if considerably less crunchy than either. You're a police profiler, trying to recreate the circumstances of a murder. It's not a bad idea, but I think it needed more time than was available to do it justice. For this sort of story to be interesting, more details about the crime need to emerge over the course of play - and this didn't really happen, since the police chief tells you all the evidence you'll ever get on the first pass. The muddy-shoes puzzle was also a bit confusing; some solutions that should have worked, like leaving the shoes on the front porch to retrieve while leaving the building, weren't recognised, and it wasn't fully clear why not. I think it could have taken a lot more advantage of its frame-story; at least after the first pass, it might have been more interesting to have your audience comment on your actions as you did them, rather than summarising at the end.

Anyway. This is a pretty impressive effort for a three-hour game, but it's also got the most unrealised potential.


A Slight Problem With Zombies
Spoiler: show
My slight problem with zombies is that people keep making games about them. It's only a slight problem, because I don't actually have to play these games. Also, this is a CYOA of the sort where all the choices but one will kill you. For that to be entertaining, you need to write some awesome death scenes, and these are mostly 'then the zombie eats you.'


The Cenric Family Curse
Spoiler: show
This suffered a great deal from guess-the-verb: I had some holy water, and there was an undead skeleton, and obviously the next step involved dealing with the latter with use of the former, but I couldn't figure out how to go about it.


The Voodoo You Do
Spoiler: show
I tend to be a bit wary of voodoo in fiction, because pop depictions are generally about as accurate as the idea that Christians worship a death-god and believe that all sins can be forgiven through ritual cannibalism. (Actually, I'd be a lot more cool with that.) This has done a modicum of research, but it's still very much in the 'voodoo = evil magic' vein.

Anyway. This is going for a pretty serious, dark tone, which is challenging to pull off even when you don't have such tough time constraints. In the event I think it needed either more richly evocative language or a bit more space for characterisation - its basic premise is 'you want to do something horrible to your ex because she dumped you', my basic response to that is 'no I fucking well don't', and it takes some pretty sturdy motivation to overcome that. But, yeah, that's a big-ass job for three hours.

Also, I felt it might have been stronger if it hadn't felt the need to stick quite so explicitly to the Hendrix song.


The Horrible Pyramid
Spoiler: show
This is one of those games where you do something that is obviously going to turn out really badly, because it's the only thing you can actually do. As you wear the queen's stuff, you become more and more subsumed in a creepy mind-control thing where she thinks she's the dead pharoah's queen and everything is wonderful. This is less creepy than it might be, because there's not much time to establish the protagonist before she gets creepily possessed, but and also because metagame-wise it's super-obvious that wearing the regalia will lead to identity shenanigans. It's all rendered in pleasantly perky and over-the-top Veedery writing - the diamond abs particularly amused me. I got a little stuck towards the end, I think because the bracelets on the skeleton weren't mentioned in every description.


The Nessa Springs Slasher
Spoiler: show
A slasher-horror thing: somewhat like Snatches, you play a series of characters, switching to a new one whenever the current one gets killed. I'm not sure whether this is meant to be winnable, either as individual scenes or as a sequence; there are some small obvious self-defence things you can do, but they don't seem to have any effect.


Trick Or Treat
Spoiler: show
This was written by an eight-year-old, so it has a sort of Axe Cop quality where people's motivations are all weird. I giggled a good deal at "After an hour of kissing the ground," which is worth a bonus point or two.


Wisp
Spoiler: show
This looks to be one of those figure-out-the-navigation-trick not-actually-a-maze things. I didn't figure out what the trick was.


Zombie Dating.zom
Spoiler: show
This consists of essentially one extended joke, and it didn't really click for me. (Also, I need a very strong incentive if I'm going to put up with zombie games. I'm not sure that can be accomplished within the scope of an Ectocomp entry.)


Personality Rights
Spoiler: show
This is a very brief visual novel kind of thing, making prominent use of graphics and music from Creative Commons sources. It's aiming to be a meditation upon death or something along those lines. It's tough to tackle serious themes at the best of times, and attempting it in a tight time limit is pretty brave. But I think that the game bites off a lot more than it can chew; a lot of the writing seems mad-libbed from the images, interaction is kind of disconnected from content, and it seemed as if the story was relying upon characters that it didn't have the space to really establish.


Headless, Hapless
Spoiler: show
I think this would have been a lot better if the final twist hadn't required such specific phrasing. I guessed the correct answer pretty early on - that I was absent-mindedly carrying the head around the whole time - but the command to check that was so narrowly phrased that, even once I figured out that I had arms, I needed to be given the explicit wording to LOOK UNDER them. Moral: if your puzzle relies on an action that doesn't fit in smoothly with the patterns of conventional interaction, you had better give it a really robust set of synonyms. Otherwise, I liked this fairly well.


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 Post subject: Re: Ectocomp reviews
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:07 pm 
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The Profile
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maga wrote:
The muddy-shoes puzzle was also a bit confusing; some solutions that should have worked, like leaving the shoes on the front porch to retrieve while leaving the building, weren't recognised, and it wasn't fully clear why not.

I'll double check that for my post-comp update. What's supposed to happen is that you either (a) take off the boots on the porch, walk around back, and the recap fails due to dirty footprints in the house (the result of walking around to the back of the house with no boots on), or (b) entry from the front -- no footprints, but fails the recap due to the method of entry, or (c) carry the boots around with you, but with no choice other than to drop them before completing the bedroom scene, which will cause recap-failing boot prints anywhere but the kitchen. I thought it was working, so it's either broken or explained in a confusing way. :(


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 Post subject: Re: Ectocomp reviews
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:20 pm 
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Headless, Hapless
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maga wrote:
I think this would have been a lot better if the final twist hadn't required such specific phrasing. I guessed the correct answer pretty early on - that I was absent-mindedly carrying the head around the whole time - but the command to check that was so narrowly phrased that, even once I figured out that I had arms, I needed to be given the explicit wording to LOOK UNDER them. Moral: if your puzzle relies on an action that doesn't fit in smoothly with the patterns of conventional interaction, you had better give it a really robust set of synonyms. Otherwise, I liked this fairly well.
Yeah, I've been kicking myself about that. In my defence, three hours, etc, etc. I'm not usually that cruel! In the update X HAND and LOOK IN HAND will both work.


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 Post subject: Re: Ectocomp reviews
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:23 pm 
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Merk wrote:
Spoiler: show
I'll double check that for my post-comp update. What's supposed to happen is that you either (a) take off the boots on the porch, walk around back, and the recap fails due to dirty footprints in the house (the result of walking around to the back of the house with no boots on), or (b) entry from the front -- no footprints, but fails the recap due to the method of entry, or (c) carry the boots around with you, but with no choice other than to drop them before completing the bedroom scene, which will cause recap-failing boot prints anywhere but the kitchen. I thought it was working, so it's either broken or explained in a confusing way. :(

Spoiler: show
All that works, I think, but my method was to start on c), open the front door and leave the boots on the porch, go back inside for the murder,then leave by the front door - I meant to pick up my boots on the way, but the game ends before you can do that. That seems like a pretty natural solution to me: people leave their boots by the front door all the time!

I also think it'd be better to make it clear that dropping the boots leaves muddy marks at the time that you drop them - and possibly to make it a bit more obvious when the boots become muddy in the first place. I still like the idea of the other cops doing a commentary track as you do stuff: "All right, so it had rained pretty hard a few hours before. If he went that way, his boots would have gotten good and muddy."


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 Post subject: Re: Ectocomp reviews
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:26 pm 
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mostly useless wrote:
Headless, Hapless
Spoiler: show
Yeah, I've been kicking myself about that. In my defence, three hours, etc, etc. I'm not usually that cruel! In the update X HAND and LOOK IN HAND will both work.

Spoiler: show
I'd also like SEARCH ME, X/SEARCH SHOULDERS/NECK - maybe not as successful solutions, but as hints that you're on the right track.


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 Post subject: Re: Ectocomp reviews
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:28 pm 
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Jack
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maga wrote:
You are a pumpkin-headed scarecrow on a rampage. It's no worse than any number of first-time speed-IFs, but running around and killing dudes for no reason is not as entertaining in IF as it is in other game forms.

I'm definitely reworking this some post-comp. The story I was going for probably doesn't come across as well as I had hoped as the intent was deeper than just a run and kill fest. I'm hoping to expand this quite a bit to give more back-story and a reason for doing what you do and to give other ways to reach your goals other than just plowing through like the comp version does. Thanks for the feedback.

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 Post subject: Re: Ectocomp reviews
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:38 pm 
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maga wrote:
You Are A Blob!
Spoiler: show
More satire on Twine! Roughly, 'because Twine doesn't feature a world-model or consistent actions, and because Twine games are often fragmentary and surreal, you don't get an adequate idea of what the story's about and player agency is often effectively arbitrary.'

Or, to put it another way, 'you couldn't do The Gostak as a CYOA'. To be fair, it's not as though we make games like The Gostak very often. But it does point to a general underlying principle of IF: that interaction should give you a grasp on the world, that this is crucial to understanding and inhabiting it. This isn't really a parser/CYOA distinction: lots of CYOA games arrange their choices to reflect some consistent mechanic by which their game works. (In Katawa Shoujo, you consider every choice in terms of which girls will find which actions attractive. In most Choicescript games, you weigh your choices in terms of the stats you've already developed and which ones you want to develop further.) Rather, it's a distinction between games with more consistent structure (which typically means substantial state-tracking) and games with less.


That wasn't my take on it:

Spoiler: show
I thought it wasn't "satire on Twine" so much as "goofing around without meaning to mock anything except itself." I realize this resembles the "It's only a game, why are you reading so much into it?" move, which is the most annoying move ever, but it comes closest to being justified with a three-hour game whose express purpose was to be really terrible in order to bolster the confidence of an eight-year-old who was submitting a game to the same comp.

Also FWIW I was able to get a grasp on the world in many ways. To do so I had to lawnmower the choice tree by trying and dying, but in a game of this length that's a reasonable possibility.


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 Post subject: Re: Ectocomp reviews
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:45 pm 
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I'm Angela Shah. I submitted Hill of Souls and Crater Creek, 2113.

Thanks for the feedback. It's my first experience with releasing games.
I ended up choosing to create surreal settings over focusing on a linear story or puzzles in a few hours, and I am glad that part worked at least.

There is a large bug in the first Crater Creek puzzle. I'm mortified. (Zero beta testers.)
Spoiler: show
The candles don't light the first time. If he didn't give you something, try it again.


Hill
Spoiler: show
is weirder than I expected. Keep looking at things and check inventory.


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 Post subject: Re: Ectocomp reviews
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:46 pm 
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[quote="matt w"That wasn't my take on it:

Spoiler: show
I thought it wasn't "satire on Twine" so much as "goofing around without meaning to mock anything except itself." I realize this resembles the "It's only a game, why are you reading so much into it?" move, which is the most annoying move ever, but it comes closest to being justified with a three-hour game whose express purpose was to be really terrible in order to bolster the confidence of an eight-year-old who was submitting a game to the same comp.

Also FWIW I was able to get a grasp on the world in many ways. To do so I had to lawnmower the choice tree by trying and dying, but in a game of this length that's a reasonable possibility.
[/quote]
It's entirely possible that I've become over-alert to this general line of argument (as a result of hearing versions of it a dozen times in the last few weeks), and am overreading.


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 Post subject: Re: Ectocomp reviews
PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:49 pm 
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The Profile
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maga wrote:
All that works, I think, but my method was to start on c), open the front door and leave the boots on the porch, go back inside for the murder,then leave by the front door - I meant to pick up my boots on the way, but the game ends before you can do that. That seems like a pretty natural solution to me: people leave their boots by the front door all the time!

Ah, yeah, I get it now. And that's entirely my fault. I purposely kept that from happening, because I wanted the game to end immediately when exiting, afterwards. It's actually more work to do what you tried, and no reason not to allow it. What must have failed in the recap is that the boots were left behind. I'll just have the player auto-grab them on the way out. Shouldn't affect anything else, assuming you go in through the back and take the boots off afterwards, so that muddy prints are in the kitchen.

maga wrote:
I also think it'd be better to make it clear that dropping the boots leaves muddy marks at the time that you drop them - and possibly to make it a bit more obvious when the boots become muddy in the first place.

The boots are muddy before the game begins. Looking at them reveals it, but yeah, point taken. I was trying to avoid too much explanation of the consequences of what the player does, though, because...

Quote:
I still like the idea of the other cops doing a commentary track as you do stuff: "All right, so it had rained pretty hard a few hours before. If he went that way, his boots would have gotten good and muddy."

My original idea is that it wasn't supposed to be immediately obvious that it was a play-through of a police profile. I guess that was silly thinking, given that it's called "The Profile" and there are at least a couple pretty obvious profile-like descriptions early on. But that was the original intent. I also originally wanted the Chief to stop recapping at the first problem he finds, but felt that would be completely frustrating and call for way too much of a commitment to multiple replays, which would become increasingly un-fun. If I had just approached it for what it is, rather than trying to make it a surprise (which, obviously, it isn't), then having commentary and NPC participation would probably have made for a better game.

Even using the loophole of pre-planning before coding starts, it's still a nightmare trying to finish something in three hours. :)


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