IntroComp is a yearly IF competition for just the beginnings (or, in this case, just an excerpt) from a longer work, allowing authors to test the waters and get feedback about how well their concept is playing. You too can participate, if you wish, by trying out the games and then voting before August 31.
Of the intros I’ve had time to sample, these are the ones that most intrigued me:
Onna Kabuki by Victor Ojuel had the best story hook of the intros I tried: a protagonist with a clear identity, in a dire situation, with lots of reasons to have strong feelings about what happens. As the name suggests, this piece is set in Japan, among warring nobility and traveling monks. In parser IF, feudal Japan is a rarely used setting with just a handful of examples.
The implementation was a bit rockier, unfortunately: I several times got the game into a state that didn’t seem to be anticipated, and in one case that prevented me from making progress at all and I had to restart.
So the introcomp version is not in a very high-polish state. But fans of Ojuel’s historical settings and large-scale plot concepts will probably share my interest in seeing this finished and more deeply tested.
Meanwhile, for mechanical inventiveness, two contenders:
The Adam and Eve Project by Brian Kwak (How to Win at Rock Paper Scissors, among others) is a dual-protagonist game with the option to switch between viewpoints and command either PC. This is an intriguing approach for parser IF, allowing for characters who describe the same environments in different ways (Suspended, Exhibition, Common Ground) or who have to collaborate somehow using different powers or tools (Max Blaster…, the Earth and Sky series). In this variant, the protagonists are in constant communication after the very beginning of the game, so you always have the other character commenting on what you run into.
So far, at least, this is very much in the Mostly Puzzle genre, similar to How to Win… or the works of Arthur DiBianca. In its current state, The Adam and Eve Project also missing some scenery, and a couple of prominently mentioned exits give “you can’t go that way” responses: maybe that’s meant to indicate the borders of the introduction, but it would have been nicer to get some kind of response that that area is beyond the limits of the current implementation, rather than just an error message.
I also felt that the opening could have been a bit streamlined: after a simple intro puzzle, there’s quite a bit of dialogue dump. That’s personal taste about pacing of parser intros, perhaps. At any rate, I got stuck before reaching any official conclusion to the introcomp sample, and I’m not sure whether that is because I ran out of currently-available content or whether I was just being dense about a couple of the clues.
And also in the “interesting mechanics” category: Brian Rushton’s Sherlock Indomitable is game of mystery and conversation that implements Sherlock’s memory palace as a visitable location, and handles conversation with an inventory of possible clues for discussion. Rushton has worked before with conversation mechanics — an area always dear to my own heart — and clues that could be combined.
Sherlock Indomitable promises to continue exploring those possibilities, in the process implementing the content of some of the classic Doyle stories. I can see the appeal of using the originals, since you can’t get more authentically Holmesian. And the game uses a number of specific phrases from the original — including a bit about rousing the “snakish temper” of a creature at a certain point — which makes the prose more distinctive.
But it’s a tricky strategy. For one thing, you run the risk that the player will have already encountered the original stories and know their outcomes. For another, not everything in Doyle makes a comfortable transition to the modern day. In the adaptation of the speckled band story, Rushton imports the “band of gypsies” from Doyle’s original version, where they are treated as inherently suspicious individuals. That portrayal of Roma people feels rather uncomfortable. (Edited to add: the author is not allowed public comment during the IntroComp judging period, but got in touch to let me know that he’s decided to rework the story to remove negative references to the Romani people — so this should not be an issue in the final release.)
At the same time, the content here is pretty substantial and well-implemented, and I found it enjoyable to play. The linking of concepts and actual real-world movement makes the experience a little more open than the (also excellent) Sherlock game Toby’s Nose, while the tone is more serious and less pastiche-like than the Victorian Detective series; and the chains of logic are a bit simpler than in the Peterkin Investigates games. So this promises to be a solid entry to the genre of detective parser IF.
Honorable mention: Duckman, by Peregrine Wade, describes its protagonist thus: “Let’s face the facts: you are a giant, anthropomorphic duck wearing a weatherworn trenchcoat and a black sombrero.” I enjoyed the implication that I’d been trying to conceal this unhappy truth from myself until I finally broke down and typed X ME.
All of these are parser games. There are also several Twine pieces in this IntroComp, but it just happens this year that the entries that most caught my imagination were all parser samples.