More JIGComp

The Jay is Games IF competition is now over, and winners announced. I got to disappointingly few of the games before the end.

I did play both Hoosegow and Roofed before the end, though, and Dual Transform I beta-tested, so that means I actually lucked into playing the top six games. Some thoughts about those games after the cut (mildly spoilery, but the real specifics are rot13’d).

Dual Transform is an example of the kind of puzzle I associate with zarf, and I like to think I would have recognized its authorship even if I hadn’t known to start with. There’s a common thread in his games of manipulating concepts or mental states as represented by physical interactions, and Dual Transform makes that all the more explicit — though the lack of a stronger framing story made that less emotionally affecting than in some of his other works.

Hoosegow and Roofed are the last two games I played, and they made an interesting pair, because in a lot of ways they’re quite similar: strong writing and sense of place; comedic strand centering especially on a less-than-brilliant sidekick who nonetheless is both a functional aid in puzzles and a source of hints; tight implementation; physically complex objects to manipulate; a few surprising verbs/actions. Some of the puzzles felt a bit too hard to me, at least for a casual game context — which is to say, I went in expecting something easier (especially in the case of Hoosegow), ran out of ideas, and looked at the walkthrough, then realized that if I’d been playing in a more hardcore way I would probably have gotten the solutions. (By that I mean: at home and expecting to spend an hour or two on the game, rather than from work and trying to fit it into a lunch break.)

I think ultimately I found Hoosegow the more satisfying of the two, though also the more difficult. Satisfying because the story seemed to come together with a louder clunk at the end, whereas Roofed (perhaps intentionally) seemed more like a piece of a larger whole.

But Hoosegow also had a few puzzles I’m not sure were quite fair. There are a lot of cases in the game where you know generally what you want to accomplish, and you’ve got the game pointing out a couple of important items to you via heavy hinting in the text (it all but bold-faces gur ihygher’f gnvy, for instance), but it’s not totally clear how those items relate to the general goal, because the specific thing you need to accomplish is sufficiently baroque. It didn’t help that V gubhtug gur oreel jnf sbe cbvfbavat gur qbt, naq gevrq nyy fbegf bs pbagbegvbaf gb trg vg vagb gur objy, naq fb unq tvira hc ba vg orsber vg bppheerq gb zr gb chg vg va gur phc vafgrnq.

Roofed was in general fairer, but it threw me off with a couple of specific decisions and flaws. An implementation flaw: guebjvat gur irtrgnoyr ng gur tenssvgv unq ab hfrshy erfhyg, fb V nffhzrq vg pbhyqa’g or hfrq ba gur puvzarl ng nyy, naq tbg ba pbzcyrgryl gur jebat genpx. More of a design flaw: gurer jnfa’g dhvgr rabhtu gurer gb fhttrfg V fubhyq or znavchyngvat zl oebgure rzbgvbanyyl; V gubhtug gur ernfba ur jbhyqa’g gnxr gur cynax jnf orpnhfr vg jnf whfg n gval ovg gbb fghpx naq gung V jbhyq arrq gb svaq fbzrguvat gb ybbfra vg jvgu svefg.

All the same, I felt like Roofed was much closer to being a game I could have solved without a walkthrough.

So… yeah. Both fun, but in both cases I would like to have solved more on my own. Some of that had to do with the expectations and time allowance I came in with, but some of it had to do with puzzle structure. They have those things in common, actually, with some other recent games that were rich in NPCs and events. Broken Legs and Party Foul both come to mind here. All these games have strong personality and a clear narrative voice, and a definite sense of story — and I found all of them just a bit too arbitrary with the solutions.

Still, I’d rather glance at the walkthrough sometimes during an otherwise compelling game than glide comfortably through a tedious one. And kudos all around on the memorable settings and characters. Good stuff.

7 thoughts on “More JIGComp”

  1. About your second comment on Roofed:

    svaqvat fbzrguvat gb ybbfra gur cynax jvgu svefg qbrf jbex, va n jnl; vs lbh guebj gur irtrgnoyr ng vg, lbh pna gnxr vg lbhefrys. Npghnyyl, znavchyngvat Nagba rzbgvbanyyl jnf jryy phrq sbe zr — vg fnvq fbzrguvat nobhg ubj ur pbhyq gnxr rirelguvat ncneg jura ur jnf natel. V bayl gubhtug bs guebjvat gur irtrgnoyr ng gur cynax orpnhfr V’q nyernql guebja bar ng uvz, juvpu jnf npghnyyl fbzrguvat V zvtug unir qbar rira jvgubhg gur phr gung trggvat uvz natel jnf n tbbq vqrn.

    That was the only puzzle I actually solved.

  2. I’ll certainly concede that the puzzles were not easy. The solutions required a somewhat bent sort of logic, which hopefully serves the comedic intent of the work.

    Although was pitched towards a casual gaming crowd, my assumption was that casual gamers would be more willing than IF diehards to look at the hints — less proud, more pragmatic.

    In the days of ordering invisiclues through the mail, gamers were more likely to sleep on a puzzle, but with the perception of “more things to do and less time to do them”, presumably, it’s more acceptable to use the clues to get past a sticking point and explore the rest of the game.

    From my perspective, it’s liberating to be able to put difficult puzzles in a game, and know that it won’t ruin the game for players who would otherwise get hung somewhere in the game flow. I don’t think that hints should replace careful clueing of puzzles and extensive beta-testing, but even after optimizing every systematic puzzle issue in a game, players are still likely to be stumped by idiosyncratic puzzle issues. So, I think it’s respectful of the player’s time to provide hints written in a spoiler-minimizing sequence.

    Maybe the hints section should be prefaced by a number, from one to ten, indicating the appropriate shame level that players should feel for consulting the hints. For Hoosegow, I would set the Shame Factor(TM) at around a two or a three.

    1. The difference between the Invisiclues days and now is interesting — I remember Ben commenting on it in his retrospective on Rover’s Day Out. I wasn’t around for the Invisiclues days, but maybe one difference is that (so I hear) back then there were only a few games, they were big things that you’d paid a fair amount of money for, they were mostly made by a few companies — and so you expected to spend more time on them (to get your money’s worth, and because you couldn’t so easily move on to the next), and also the familiarity of the company meant you were more likely to trust that it was worth spending your time on. Does that sound right?

      Whereas now there are a huge number of games that are usually smaller, free, and made by someone you may never have heard of, and many people’s playing time coincides with a huge flood of games released in one competition or another. So an hour of trying everything to see how you can [insert frustrating puzzle here] is an hour you don’t get to spend on other games, plus you may not have much confidence that it’ll be worth spending your time on it, or that you haven’t hit something unclued or even bugged. Which may be another way of saying “more things to do and less time to do them.”

      Or maybe part of the difference is that back in the day, people who weren’t willing to sleep on a puzzle didn’t play these games. Part of the reason I wasn’t around then was that I quickly got stuck on all the games I did try. Who knew the thing your aunt gave you could do anything?

      Anyway, I completely agree about hint systems, and hint systems that gradually zero in on the solution are especially nice — sometimes I just need to see a restatement of the puzzle to say “Oh! I didn’t examine that yet!”, sometimes I need the whole solution. Jim Aikin is especially good at this (as Jenni said, “I am starting to suspect he only writes games to showcase his marvellous hint systems.” The Usher had a great hint system in this comp. (And, as Jack knows, one of the big reasons for my frustrations with Hoosegow was that I broke the hint system.)

  3. Yeah, that implementation flaw was a doozy. It’s fixed in the new version, which hopefully Jay will post soon.

    I’ve never liked hint systems myself, they’ve always undercut my enjoyment of the game. In-world systems (like the AGS game Nanobots has) feel better to me, but I’m excited about working on an approach that is adaptive to the point where the player won’t even know they’re being helped.

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