Last year in my IF Comp roundup I did a recommendation list for different tastes, and that was pretty well received. So here’s something similar for the Spring Thing crop. If you like…
…old-school parser games: The Xylophoniad. It’s a good-natured accessible puzzle game with a charming sense of humor and some stylistic debts to Scott Adams.
…new-school parser games: Three-Card Trick keeps the pace moving and the stakes high, and plays with narrator reliability and NPC personality.
…school of Ryan Veeder: a lot of Ryan Veeder’s games don’t fall easily into either new- or old-school categories. They tend to have more story and NPC development than old-school games, while still implementing fairly lightly (so there are relatively few objects per room and an emphasis on modeling only what is necessary for the story).
Foo Foo is written as a Veeder homage, so it’s not surprising it has this form.
Veeder isn’t the only person to do this, though, and indeed Harmonic Time-Bind Ritual Symphony is doing a few of the same things. I’m not sure we have good terminology to refer to this particular style: fairly sparse, broad setting implementation; relatively easy puzzles, few of which involve prolonged fiddling with any one set-piece; a narrative armature that keeps the story moving at a fair clip, guarantees a certain amount of plot shape, and gives the NPCs fresh, contextually-relevant dialogue. (Is this a thing that comes in with Inform 7 and Scenes? Is it a parser-based response to the plot focus of choice-based fiction? Does it arise for some other reason?)
…hardcore wordplay puzzles: Fourdiopolis is Andrew Schultz’s sequel to Threediopolis. The author is remarkably consistent and prolific, so if you’re interested in this subgenre and you follow IF, you probably already know whether you like Andrew Schultz’s game style and can in fact probably form a pretty good guess of what this one will be like. It is indeed exactly like that. I confess that it was straight-up more difficult than I had the stamina to unpack, this time around.
…experimental parser games: Harmonic Time-Bind Ritual Symphony employs a surprising structure to present the experience of mania and drug use.
…ChoiceScript-style tales that let you shape your own protagonist in detail: Nocked is just the intro to an eventual longer game, and it’s not in fact implemented in ChoiceScript — but it presents the story of Robin Hood in a way that lets you construct your character, your reputation, and the amount of bounty on your head.
…stories from perspectives not often seen in games: Evita Sempai is the tale of an Argentinian woman infatuated with Eva Perón. Harmonic Time-Bind Ritual Symphony portrays an unusual mental state in detail from the inside.
…experiments in the rhetoric of hypertext: Ms. Lojka invests heavily in its illustrations and sound effects; Sisters of Claro Largo explores holographic storytelling; Dr. Sourpuss Is Not A Choice-Based Game delivers some alternate interaction formats beyond the straight link, including points where the player is selecting multiple question-answers at the same time.
…horror: Three-Card Trick is an effective and disturbing parser piece; Ms. Lojka proposes an alternate history haunted by persistent darkness. Tangaroa Deep experiments with how far you’re willing to push yourself, and straddles the line between horror and light-hearted exploration, depending on what you decide to do.
…comedy: Dr. Sourpuss Is Not A Choice-Based Game is satire, The Xylophoniad pastiche, Superhero Stress an over-the-top riff on superhero genre tropes. Foo Foo remixes the content of games by Ryan Veeder, to curious new effect.
…pirates: Shipwrecked; Rough Draft; a prop in Foo Foo.
…references to discordianism: The Xylophoniad, Harmonic Time-Bend Ritual Symphony.
…games set in a spacious geography: Tangaroa Deep, Harmonic Time-Bind Ritual Symphony, The Xylophoniad. Fourdiopolis arguably counts as well, though its locations are performing a very particular function.
…game mechanics focused on narrative shape/structure rather than on the content of the story: Rough Draft is about exploring a narrative possibility space, trying to find a viable sequence of events. Sisters of Claro Largo makes the text itself its map, in the sense that it’s expanding at different points depending on where in the timeline you’re currently learning new information. Standoff is a tabletop storygame with rules intended to keep a scene twisting and turning.
…procedural elements in IF: Famous Baby uses procedural text elements in a riff on Begscape; Fourdiopolis abounds with randomized room descriptions and passers-by; Dead Man’s Hill offers a trench warfare simulation with a range of weaponry, a little reminiscent of Battle of Walcot Keep:
>kill frenchmanI fired the automatic at the Frenchman.The Frenchman received a moderate wound in the stomach.The Frenchman struck Keller with his spade.Keller received a bad wound in the arm.Keller collapsed on the spot.The Frenchman equipped the automatic.Becker struck a Frenchman with his grenade.The Frenchman received a light wound in the leg.A hand grenade exploded in a nearby section of the trench.
Meanwhile, Tangaroa Deep sort of looks as though it’s mixing up the animals you encounter from one dive to the next, but when I replayed it seemed like I found the same ones. So perhaps that’s one to count as “procedural aesthetic” even if it’s not actually randomized.