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.