ParserComp is a competition for parser-based IF games only, run by Carolyn VanEseltine and continuing through the 14th of March. It is designed to encourage this form of game, and also to provide detailed feedback: games are ranked on multiple categories, and judges must submit textual feedback along with their scores. More judges are welcome, so please check it out and share your own thoughts as well.
A Long Drink (Owen Parks). You’ve just left the police force and gone for a drive when your car goes off the road. You struggle out of said car and are rescued by someone named Val, though your relationship to her is unclear. She drives you to a cabin where there is a dead man. You must now investigate.
I’m having trouble with this one. The story has left out a lot of context: why did I leave the force? Who is Val, and how did she know to come looking for me exactly at the moment that I was struggling out of the wreck of my car back to the road? (I have a cell phone with me, but I hadn’t used it; maybe the author’s intent was that you would have called Val for a pickup before you get back to the road, and I just happened not to have done that?) Why does Val take me to a cabin?
The world model is similarly sketchy, and this is really problematic in a game that presents itself as a search-for-evidence mystery. I’m shown a crime scene and invited to study it for clues, but a lot of the things in the room description aren’t implemented, or else the implementation is a bit fumbled. There’s a fair amount of this sort of thing:
> x papers
I thumbed through the pile on the desk, finding term papers and dissertations, collections of academic journals. Underneath most of it was something that caught my eye, a document with dollar signs on it and more zeroes than I’m used to seeing on paper.
> x document
I couldn’t see any such thing.
> search papers
I found nothing of interest.
This object is actually here — it’s a bank statement, and it shows up when next you LOOK — but the transition feels broken; and this is somewhat typical. Similarly, I tried five different ways to unbuckle my seatbelt before figuring out the command formation the game wanted.
I get the feeling that the author has big ambitions for this piece, but that they were just too big and complex to pull off in the available time. I spent a while wandering around the house and looking at things (and trying to look at other things that turned out not to be implemented). I did not finish.
Down, the Serpent and Sun (Chandler Groover). Points to this one for presenting a highly unusual setting: the body of a feathered serpent that has just (I think per Aztec mythology?) swallowed the sun. Gloom and gore abound.
There are some puzzles; I initially had some trouble with them because it wasn’t clear to me which things in the setting were insuperable obstacles and which I could resolve with a bit more work, and I died horribly on the first try without solving very much. A second attempt worked better, but even that time, it turns out that I missed either of the two main endings the author had in mind; I didn’t find those until I turned to the walkthrough, and in one case the solution involved interacting with things that I hadn’t realized were interactive. I think this is a case of the descriptions not doing enough to direct your attention (or mine, anyway) towards the aspects of the scene that might be useful.
Aside from this issue of direction, the prose is ambitious and a little undisciplined, using plenty of adjectives and plenty of 25-cent words to sell its descriptions: chunderous, diluvian, stygian. There are crimson geysers of blood and lakes of rotting corpses and rivers of cloacal sludge. This is so over the top that it actually undermines the horror a bit.
Or take this phrase, from the opening: “the moon dripping like fat from some roast animal spitted above a pit.” I came up short trying to envision this. What is the moon dripping from? Or in SAT parlance:
And if the moon is quickly dropping from the sky, as that sentence seems to imply, then should we even say “is dripping” as though it’s holding some kind of continuous state? Or are we instead supposed to imagine that the moon is melting like spitted fatty animal, the main body holding its position while a portion of it renders away? I rather like the latter image, and it makes a lot more sense, but that’s not actually what the sentence says.
There’s some vivid stuff here, in other words, but I felt like it could have used a ruthless edit: pick the most important modifiers and get rid of the rest. Rely on clear imagery rather than fancy vocabulary, where there’s a choice between the two.