Spring Thing 2014 games are now available: 10 entries, with a mix of parser-based, Twine, and other formats. Capsule reviews follow for the entries The Adventures of a Hexagon, Bear Creek, and A Game of Life and Death.
The Adventures of a Hexagon (Tyler Zahnke): This works from the premise that polygons are able to move around as sentient beings, but it doesn’t go very far with this. It’s a CYOA HTML piece; most of the text nodes are very brief, and it’s hard to guess from the available evidence which choices will lead to sudden death and which to survival. It took me less than five minutes to reach a positive ending, but there wasn’t very much to the experience.
Bear Creek (Wes Modes): This is a period piece set in childhood in 1975. It’s a bit reminiscent of She’s Got a Thing For a Spring, and also a little of Six: the action is mostly innocent childhood activity like picking berries and looking at insects, set in an idyllic natural space that has been implemented with considerable care. It does manage to avoid being too saccharine, and it does a good job of creating spaces that you want to explore in a childlike way. The setting is strong: we get smells, sounds, temperature fluctuations, as well as sights. NPCs wander around and pursue their own concerns. The world state gradually shifts around you. There are some clues about Bad Stuff from the adult world, but they remain largely on the sidelines, not well understood by the main character and not a primary concern, either.
That said, this is unfinished — you hit a big old TO BE CONTINUED sign after a while — and it’s unfinished in a way that doesn’t deliver on the primary narrative drive of the chapter so far. It’s not even exactly a cliff-hanger, it’s just a stop that happens at a point where we’re expecting much more development. So that was frustrating. I also ran into a few implementation hiccups, but I’m inclined to be forgiving about that because the world model is a pretty ambitious one. I just wish it were more done!
A Game of Life and Death (Kiel Farren): This is a ChooseYourStory piece, one of several submitted to Spring Thing. I’ve played just a handful of things from this site in the past, and this is the first time I’ve noticed one in an IF competition. I played to several endings, so I can’t claim to have fully mapped the thing out, but it has a very time-cave-like approach to CYOA: different arbitrary choices you make at the beginning can direct the story towards being about very different things; though much of the content I encountered was at least loosely horror-themed, it wasn’t always based around the same premise. There are also quite a number of sudden death options, and at least one sequence that felt to me like a bug, where critical information I’d received turned out not to be reflected in subsequent narrations.
I have the feeling that this piece is most likely to appeal to people interested in reproducing the feel of classic CYOA books, including their unpredictability and arbitrariness, low player agency, and large chunks of text between choice nodes. I found it a little bit frustrating and after a few playthroughs was ready to set it aside; it wasn’t clear to me that replaying would solve the parts of the story I had actually developed an interest in.