Introcomp 2011 is now on, and it has a record 13 entries. Five of those are ChoiceScript games, best played online, but usually taking a bit less individual time commitment than a parsed game might. So I had a look at them together: Of Pots and Mushrooms, Exile, Gargoyle, Choice of the Petal Throne, and Choice of Zombies. Mildly spoilery remarks follow the jump.
Of Pots and Mushrooms. “You’re a Chinese samurai imprisoned in Japan.” Er, really? Is that a thing? Warning text tells me that there may be historical inaccuracies, which I suppose is the author’s way of handwaving this, but that doesn’t explain why we have this odd setup in the first place. The more detailed premise is that you’re stuck (this time in a cell) and that you can’t remember what happened the night before. Eventually the guard lets you in on a bit of the backstory, which is useful, but should have happened earlier. Various things can happen then. What happened to me is that I allowed myself to be executed, For Justice. This was not a very interesting way for the story to end. Perhaps it’s my fault for selecting this ending, but I submit that the author should not include choices that lead to boring outcomes. (This is an area in which multiple choice games work a bit differently from parsed IF, I think. If the player forms the idea of typing JUMP OFF THE CLIFF of his own accord, he’s sort of asking for trouble, and you’re justified ending the game on him — though I still prefer it if the outcome is entertainingly written. But in a CYOA-style construct, the narrower range of options means that everything the player is given to do ought to be meaningful.)
Exile. Starts out with an amnesiac protagonist stumbling through a vast desert for no known reason, then gradually tries to gather steam by introducing a wise-cracking skull tattoo and a demon we need to summon. It’s tiresome because it starts some time before anything interesting is scheduled to happen. Conversations drift as the characters insult one another without getting to whatever point the scene is supposed to have. There’s no context for the choices we’re making. We have no stake in the story. Both this and Of Pots and Mushrooms have Some Guy Wakes Up Somewhere syndrome. Some Guy Wakes Up Somewhere syndrome is what happens when the author doesn’t know where the story is going, where it’s set, who the protagonist is, or what the conflict is about. He has no hook; he has no premise. He’s just writing as a way to prime the pump until he thinks of something exciting that could happen. That’s okay, if you find it useful as a writing exercise, but please for the love of your readers do not publish that part. Write until you get to the point where something interesting happens, sure. Then throw away everything before the interesting thing. In fact, ideally you start over once you know what the something interesting is going to be.
Gargoyle. By the same author as Exile, Gargoyle starts off a little better with the premise that you are a gargoyle able to move by night and that you’ve received some magical training. Nonetheless, there’s a similar feeling that the story has not been clearly developed in any particular direction — a lack of confidence in the storytelling voice.
Choice of the Petal Throne. More assured in tone and content than the foregoing, with a considerably deeper world; this one held my attention until the end. All the same, what is here so far is essentially the character-creation piece of the story, and it doesn’t leave me with a very strong sense of what the main storyline might be like.
Choice of Zombies. Here we go! Something is happening from the first page! The narrator has an attitude! There are characters! I mean, it’s a fairly standard premise and I have honestly had all the zombie fiction I will ever need in my life already; but the sense of humor, the forward movement, the interactions with other characters that develop gradually are all very welcome indeed. Moreover, the scope of the choices is well-defined: we’re generally asked to make decisions that have some sort of obvious bearing on the survival aspects of the story. There’s a coherent goal, to survive and rescue other people wherever possible. The horror aspects were, I’d say, no more than mildly suspenseful, but I did feel a little nervous about my riskier actions, which is about the level of suspense I felt this needed. (Maybe it’s ramping up to being more horrific later; maybe it means to stay more on the funny side. Either way is fine by me.)