IF Comp 2015: Ether (Mathbrush)

The 21st annual Interactive Fiction Competition is currently on, through mid-November. Voting is open to the general public; the only prerequisite is that you not be an author, not vote on games that you tested, and submit votes on at least five games. (You emphatically do not have to have played them all! In a year with 55 entrants, it is very unlikely that most judges will get through anywhere near all of them.)

If you are looking for other reviews, this ifwiki page contains a list of places currently carrying them.

CoverEther is a short piece of surreal, lightly puzzly IF about being a magic-wielding nautilus creature. I played it to completion, which took me just a little over half an hour; I did not require any notes to play.

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A House of Many Doors (PixelTrickery)

City of knives screenshot

In A House of Many Doors you are an explorer, poet and spy. Mount an expedition to explore a vast dimension of procedurally-generated nightmare architecture. Assemble a dysfunctional crew, build their morale, uncover their secrets, and try desperately to keep them alive. Travel in a train that walks on mechanical legs, and write procedurally-generated poetry about the things you encounter.

The House is a parasite dimension. It steals from other worlds, and can contain almost anything within its endless walls. The player’s journey is a process of constant discovery – there’s always something strange around the next corner.

Kinetopede screenshot

Harry Tuffs is a member of the Oxford/London IF Meetup, and currently using incubation space at Failbetter Games. He’s just launched a Kickstarter for House of Many Doors, an IF + exploration game. The screenshots are a bit (or, in some places, strongly) reminiscent of Sunless Sea, but this is not a roguelike. I asked him for a bit more detail about the game, and he was kind enough to fill me in.

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The Island of Doctor Wooby (Ryan Veeder)

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 1.44.37 PM

All around you, huge white ribs slice out of the ground like angry grabbing chthonic fingers, and from the center of this ossified ampitheatre a colossal pointed skull looks up at you with toothy indifference. This is a macabre location.

The Island of Doctor Wooby is a short, friendly piece of parser IF, with the chatty narrator, solid parsing, and lightweight puzzles familiar from a lot of Ryan Veeder’s work. It’s somewhat shorter than Dial C for Cupcakes and probably a bit easier than Nautilisia. The premise is that you’re exploring a toy-like island covered with felt dinosaurs sewn by Doctor Wooby.

As for the dinosaurs, their names and characteristics are procedurally generated, giving them different colors of felt and different physical attributes, as well as a range of cute behaviors. You can pet them, feed them, and interact with them in a few other ways — which makes sense considering that Island of Doctor Wooby was an entry in PetJam.

Several of the puzzles turn on recognizing that you’re dealing with artificial things rather than real ones, and therefore you can deal with them differently than you might initially have expected. The game acknowledges its own status as an artificial construct, too:

The sand isn’t diggable in this game. This may be because its components are too securely joined. Maybe it is intended to be a sympathetic character, and digging it would violate the contract of nonviolence implicit in this game’s player-parser relationship. Or perhaps “digging a sand” is just bizarre concept.

In one spot, a river scene is described as “Edenic”; elsewhere, a description of a garden is supplied by a substantial quote from Paradise Lost, though the things described in the quotation are of course not really present, and an attempt to interact with them provokes a disambiguation asking if you’re referring to “the literary flowers”. The setting is thus both childlike and prelapsarian, and yet neither the felt nor the poetry is quite real. In this respect it’s a little reminiscent of Delphina’s House, though DH allows the player to swap between realities rather than making them simultaneously present as Veeder does.

Ultimately the effect of all this remains primarily playful. Gentle, charming, took me about 10-15 minutes to play.