Thursday, 19 November 2015

IFComp 2015

This year's Interactive Fiction competition has now finished. My own game did better than I expected, and very possibly better than it really deserved.

Of the other games, I can recommend most of them. I think I'd suggest Birdland (4th) or Brain Guzzlers (1st place) to somebody new to games of this sort: they're both very accessible and fun to play. Birdland is so good that it has inspired some great fan-made artwork. Brain Guzzlers has illustrations by the author which are excellent.

There are many other interesting games here. Too many to go into detail. I particularly recommend Map (2nd place) which was nothing like I expected, given the cover artwork. In this game you get to rewrite the tragic personal history for an unusual protagonist, and see the impact of doing so on her future. I played this late at night, and then had trouble sleeping because I was still thinking about it. It is a serious, thoughtful work.

There are some really good games lower down on the list too, such as Spy Intrigue, a ridiculously amusing game, but presumably not to everyone's tastes as it picked up some low ratings. For a classical-style text adventure, there is Pit of the Condemned: my only complaint was that it was too short, and I wished the author had given the player more to do. Finally I'll mention Baker of Shireton, which is based on a great idea, and is most definitely not about baking bread. I feel that the players who gave it low ratings may have missed the point.

I enjoyed taking part and may do so again if I have time. It's a lot of work. But I'd wanted to enter for many years. I wanted to write a game like this since... well.. the 1980s I think, when I first played games like the Time and Magik trilogy. With my dad's help I attempted to write games in the same style, but we never got very far. We lacked game development tools such as Inform. I now know that adventure game development tools did exist then, but with no Internet, we had no way to find them, so we did everything from scratch in Modula-2, chosen (I think) as a good programming language for a beginner at that time. Nothing got finished. But I learned much about writing code. The time was not wasted.

The competition gave me a completion deadline, a good way to motivate work. And once it was underway, the competition website provided access to transcripts of game sessions, which really helped me to improve the game's ability to understand what the player wanted to do. I looked through all of the transcripts for commands that did not work, and if appropriate, I added support for them to my game. Any future player trying the same things would get sensible responses. So... all told, it was a good thing to do. It let me write something that I'd always wanted to write, and then improve it.