With October comes once again the start of the annual IFComp, this being the 14th competition. It’s hardly breaking news at this point, of course, what with the bevy of blogs and websites reporting it to the world and already posting early game reviews. We’re not even a week into October and I feel like I need to catch up.
Comp time is a sweet time, though, because once it arrives we get a huge bolus of new IF games to play, and who knows what we might discover in the collection. The IFComp is where we got Vespers, and some really fantastic games have won over the years. But unless you keep up with it you can miss some really entertaining games that don’t necessarily finish that high. Aaron Reed’s “Gourmet” finished 5th in 2003, and Andrew Plotkin’s “Delightful Wallpaper” finished 6th in 2006; both were games that I thoroughly enjoyed but might never have gotten around to playing had I missed the Comp and returned after the fact.
But there’s also a lot of chaff to sift through, which can be tedious at times. There have been some real winners in the past, and this year’s “The Absolute Worst IF Game in History” by Dean Menezes sounds like it’s positioning itself well for 2008.
One of the problems people (like me) seem to have with the IFComp is that there are usually too many games to play and evaluate before the end of the competition, and far too many that just aren’t worth the time and effort. So it got me to thinking: what about just rating the games for their introductions, for their ability to draw me in and make me want to play further? That’s what books are supposed to do, and the same is often said for IF. So over the next few days or weeks I’ll try to make it through all of this year’s games with the purpose of evaluating how well each one “captures” me with just the opening passage. And nobody has to worry about spoilers, either.
To do so, I’ll provide my “capture score” for each game, on a scale from 1 (great opening, definitely worth playing) to 4 (forget it, don’t even bother). If there’s still time, I’ll try to go back and play through any games that score 1 to see how well they follow through.
Just to start things off, I’ll throw a couple out there. These are the first two games I opened up at random.
“Piracy 2.0 – A Text Adventure in Space”, by Sean Huxter.
The title “Piracy 2.0” is a bit unusual, and I don’t recall ever playing Piracy 1.0 or anything else by Huxter in the past. This game opens with a space military theme, complete with captured space pirate prisoner, hints of an inside job, and an ambush:
“After the brief battle your ship was boarded, and, as far as you know, your crew completely wiped out by the ruthless marauders. They might have murdered you too if they hadn’t thought you would be useful to them.”
Sure, not the strongest writing, and not the most original idea, but it seems harmless enough. Still, the intro ends with this awkward passage:
“Now, Whitehall, with a key code for the Brig he must have tortured out of your Security Officer, escorts you personally to the cell and shoves you in. He laughs as the door locks behind you…”
I wasn’t terribly hopeful for this one, but due to the title I did quickly check out the ABOUT screens, and in fact Huxter’s “About the Author” pages are gems. I’m not exactly sure why, but I really enjoyed reading them, and I’m more inspired now to give the game a try. And what can I say, I’m a sucker for space pirate games.
Capture Score: 2. Would have been a 3 without the “About the Author” screens.
“The Lighthouse”, by Eric Hickman & Nathan Chung.
The opening of this game contains this passage: “You walk up to the lighthouse. It’s large wooden frame creaking in the wind. You then step in front of the door and knock. Silence. Then the door opens and reveals the face of Mr Webster.”
Not to mention this gem: “With that comment he mounted his trusty steed and rode off into the rainy abyss.”
It took two people to come up with that. Typing ABOUT returned “That’s not a verb I recognise.” ‘Nuff said.
Capture Score: 4. Mount your trusty steed and head the other way.
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This is, frankly, a horrible metric. Instead of judging the works on the merit of their content, you’re specifically judging them on the merit of their marketing, which Emily Short has gone to great pains to show is a severe and chronic problem in their amateur creations.
Without a doubt, the authors do need to step back and consider their works from the context of selling them to a general audience, but these contests, really, are cooks making new batches for other cooks, and deciding the taste of the batch based on the quality of the container art and brand name is shortchanging them.
Well, can I at least say it’s cool to see you actually stop by here, Jason? Love your blog and the BBS Documentary was stellar.
I certainly agree that using something like this as an overall metric for a game is not the soundest plan. Judging an entire game based only on its introduction is neither fair nor adequate. But then again, that’s not exactly what I’m trying to do.
You call it marketing, I call it the “hook.” There are too many games to play, and not enough time to play them all. So I’m probably only going to play a few games. I could do it a couple of ways — pick games at random and play them until I either finish them or can’t take them anymore (which means I’ll get through a handful), or wait until other people play and review them and just play the ones that other people like (which doesn’t appeal to me or my tastes).
Or, I could look at all of the intros, and pick the ones that draw me in right from the start, with their writing, setting, and setup. Then I’ll play those, and see if the overall game matches my impression from the intro. Sure, it’s not fair to the games that start slowly and finish strong, but that will be reflected in the final Comp judging, and I can go back and see why that might have ben the case.
Bear in mind that I’m not saying these are my overall reviews of each game. These are my reviews of the openings of the games to see which ones do a good job of intriguing me and making me want to play them more. And that’s an issue with a lot of games these days — too many games, too little free time. It might be a lot to ask of a game to draw me in only from the intro, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
My contemporaries at the event I went to last night made sure to let me know I’m a putz for implying you were judging the whole game this way. If you’re rating openings with the intention of then going in later to look at the “came on top” ones from the consensus, have at. Makes sense.
I certainly wait for the winners to arise before sending them to friends to play. Sadly, I do not play these games at all right now, because I’m too busy making a movie about them.
No worries, I appreciate the reconsideration. And I have to say, you’d better be working on that movie. Your previous work has certainly raised expectations and I’ll be all over it when it’s ready. If there’s any chance to get my name in the queue early, let me know…