The 22nd Annual Interactive Fiction Competition

by Mr Creosote (2016-10-05)

The 22nd IF Comp (warning: extremely bandwidth intensive website)… My standards for what makes a good game have, I believe, been covered in sufficient detail in previous years. Though times change, so here are a couple of general remarks which these days seem necessary:

What I do care about is your game. Though with respect to this:


On the forums!

The Games


Oh, boy, does the randomizer love me! We used to have tons of these intentionally bad “satire” games about 15 years ago. It has not become any funnier since then to implement virtually nothing, print lots of TODOs on the screen, use incorrect spelling and capitalization etc. No recommended.


Tries to be too surreal for its own good. Not recommended.

Pogoman GO!

I haven't played Pokemon GO myself, but people have told me about it. From what I can tell, this is a pretty close emulation of the concept, with a lot of simulated technical failure thrown in for humorous measure. Cute and well-written, but in the end, it strikes home maybe a little too closely. At its core, this is nothing but “catching” randomly appearing creatures by applying always the same method (with randomized success) and grinding at certain places to restock the necessary supplies in between. No matter how funny the names or descriptions are, this gets boring fast. If I wanted to play Pokemon GO, I would play Pokemon GO.

Knowing the authors' history, there is probably a way to “hack” the virtual, simulated phone in the game in order to do all sorts of funny meta stuff. Though given the foundation, I didn't manage the patience to figure it out (if you do, let me know!). Nevertheless, recommended for a quick laugh.

Inside the Facility

In line with the author's speciality, this game uses an extremely reduced command set. Where his first one, two years ago, made this somewhat interesting by putting the activity in a context, last year's game was just too meta.

This year, we can't even USE anymore. Just move about, wait and look. How does this work, then? Well, you pick things up and use them automatically when needed. So what you get is a game of exploration, which is clearly stated in the and supported by instructions as well as in-game. The setting is interesting insofar that things are happening in this facility. Gameplay challenge is better than expected. Apart from exhaustively searching all branches, there are somehlwhat clever timing puzzles. This is clearly this author's best game yet. Recommended.

P.S. What you need to remember when you reduce the available command set is that you shouldn't disable useful meta commands, such as SCRIPT.


An (almost) one-room game set in a hotel room where the protagonist gets into a deadly fight with a murderous ventilator. The main thing about such humorous games in confined spaces is that they need to account for as many obvious and non-obvious player actions as possible. I.e. experimenting is key.

Ventilator does a very good job of this. Most player actions are met with appropriate and often funny responses. There are a number of well-done in-jokes as well as multiple endings appropriate to the setting and tone. Don't expect it to keep you occupied for hours – recommended!

Slicker City

Gameplay-wise, this is one of the most conventional ones I've seen from Andrew Schultz. Movement is based on standard means, there are locations, objects, characters and puzzles to solve. Though it wouldn't be an Andrew Schultz game if it didn't drive me crazy nevertheless. In this case, it is the crushing symbolism he puts into everything.

As usual, that everything is intricately constructed, every word carefully selected and implementation is beyond the shadow of a doubt. The social commentary is strong, but simply too acute for me.

Theatre People

Frustration can make for great comedy. Theatre People puts you in the shoes of an anonymous stage hand at a theatre production. The show is about to start, but the star has had a nervous breakdown and the mechanism to open the curtain is broken. Time to get to action.

Citing 2010's The People's Glorious Text Adventure as influence, this game doesn't do much wrong. The tasks at hand are clear and the ways to get there are fairly straightforward as well. It's just that this isn't a particularly fleshed-out game.

The implementation is focused on the solution path, leaving vast room for comedy untapped. The characters, which hint at much room for caricature, remain sketchy. The location descriptions are sparse. The puzzles' main driver are two very well hidden objects, finally found in places where there is little cause to search extensively.

The biggest wasted oppportunity, however, lies in the ending, which actually does make the protagonist into a hero. The classic comedy twist would have been to have him jump through (many more) hoops, but finally still leave him unrecognized and even more frustrated.

In spite of everything, though, this is a sympathetic first attempt at creating a text adventure. Looking forward to the next one which I'm sure will be quite recommendable.


Has its own review.

Hill Ridge Lost & Found

Didn't get far in this one. First step was to restart the interpreter with colour support switched off – aaaah, finally the text is readable! Then I was greeted by a humongous text dump spanning more than three screens. Even all that text did not really communicate any goals or plot; rather, it's quite unspecific stuff of unclear relevance.

The only thing to hold on to is that the protagonist wants to visit some old acquaintance whom he hasn't seen for more than 10 years. He drops in on the guy's farm unannounced and finds nobody there.

So I stumbled around aimlessly a little. The game's verbosity continues to be a major burden, it's really laborious to idenfity the relevant parts of the lengthy descriptions. Absolutely nothing is happening, apart from me picking up a couple of scenery objects which really shouldn't be picked up. I decide to end this visit, go home, stop playing and forget about this friend.

You are standing in a cave

This is a severely underimplemented cave crawl which doesn't even have the decency to clearly name the directions which the numerous tunnels branch off to. Bugs noticeable without even scratching the surface make me believe this game has not been properly tested, either.

Game of Worlds Tournament

Has its own review.

Color the Truth

Has its own review.

How to Win at Rock Paper Scissors

An over-the-top revenge caper about a protagonist who desperately wants to win a rock-paper-scissors competition at his high school. He goes as far as sacrificing absolutely everybody around him to the gods of this game in order to then use the powers gained through this piety to beat the champion.

Gameplay revolves around exploring the school and meeting various characters, all of which only serve one purpose: you need to (unwittingly) get them into a rock-paper-scissors pose and then quickly strike a winning symbol against theirs. Which causes them to be sucked in by a vortex and you growing in power. Hapless victims include the protagonists best friends.

Of course, the whole thing ends with a simple moral about friendship being finally more important than winning or attaining power. However, this is hardly important, as the way to get there is the really relevant part. The tone makes it clear that none of it should be taken even remotely seriously.

The challenge remains one-dimensional and fairly simplistic. Implementation is good, but not excellent (a number of quite logical actions are not recognized corrently and generally, the world is rather sparse). An entertaining game, but probably not one that will be remembered for years to come.

Zigamus: Zombies at Vigamus!

Games are sometimes created to be played in a very specific context. In this case, it appears this one was made as a genre showcase for an Italian video game museum, which also happens to be the setting of the game.

The plot concerns an otherworldly zombie invasion taking place there. The player has to find ways to beat the different zombies by using items found in the exhibits and finally defeat the evil mastermind behind it all. A couple of nods to other games appear.

The game is pretty linear and its implementation is thin. Especially for a museum, the world isn't particularly rich. It does not do a great job of making the place appear interesting, worth a visit, since the exhibits mentioned all so briefly are all rather bland.

Nevertheless, it's sort of a fun diversion, made on a serviceable level of quality. I guess it fulfils its purpose.

Mirror and Queen

Really annoying “experimental” piece in which a fairy tale queen converses with her mirror. Bland and tired symbolism: mirror = reflection. Yawn!

Ariadne in Aeaea

This is definitely a step forward compared to last year's Pilgrimage with respect to plot, setting etc. being tight instead of unnecessarily sprawling. Nevertheless, I still have to go back to the basics to criticise it: exits are unlisted, too many empty locations, too wordy. A passable game, but nothing fancy.

Sigil Reader (Field)

The disoriented protagonist with partial memory loss – one of the text adventure clichés. There is a strong sense of hopeless sadness in this one, foreshadowing some catastrophe which may have happened in the past, but which the protagonist isn't fully aware of anymore. Though it all remains sketchy and quite brief.

Implementation is only so-so: mentioned objects are not implemented, lack of aliases, singular/plural confusion, weird implementation choices to prevent me from taking something leading to unwanted side effects etc. Needs more work to really get its intended ambience across.

Steam and Sacrilege

Starts out with an introductory text which is way too long. Only stock responses to my usual attempts at silliness after initial start of the game. Turns out this is due to only the main, narrow solution path being implemented. Not a single command is recognised left or right of that. Which, of course, isn't an issue, unless you expect your audience to actually try playing your game.

Often, what the game expects next is even entirely unclear. It is extremely picky about the phrasing of commands. Consider this:

“How many guests are in your party?” the clerk asks, one hand flexing and gesturing to the windows. Four small windows inset into the desk are lit from below to show numbers one through four painted on the miniature panes.

That's not a verb I recognize.

>say two
(to Theresa)
There is no reply.

>say two to clerk
You can't see any such thing.

>press two
It is fixed in place.

>push two
It is fixed in place.

>x windows
A series of small rectangular panes are set into the desk. Each one is lit from below, the l
ight outlining a number etched onto the glass. The windows are labeled 1 through 4.

>touch two
You feel nothing unexpected.

>x 2
You can't see any such thing.

>x two
You see nothing special about Window Two.

The solution was to put a paperweight, which had appeared in the room description out of nowhere, onto the “window” instead.

Similarly, but even more severe, the very next step, where you're supposed to sign your name (once again, a previously unavailable object – a pencil – had appeared out of nowhere):

I didn't understand that sentence.

>x window
(the signature window)
You see nothing special about the signature window.

>write on window
I didn't understand that sentence.

>sign window
I didn't understand that sentence.

>sign with pencil
I didn't understand that sentence.

>write with pencil
I didn't understand that sentence.

>write with pencil on window
I didn't understand that sentence.

>x pencil
You see nothing special about the wax pencil.

The solution: WRITE MARSHALL WORTHINGTON, because, you know, that's your name in that scene. Could be fair enough, if the game gave any indication that WRITE may even be a recognised command. It gave its best to give any possible indication of the opposite before.

There are also obvious state bugs, once of which broke the game during the second scene (called scene 1) when I couldn't get up from a loveseat anymore, because the game kept insisting I was suddenly held captive by some caretaker. Although before, I was only on my way to work and no caretaker had ever appeared.

Sorry, this game needs major work before it can be seriously played. Writing an interactive story is very different from writing a “static” piece of fiction.

Darkiss! Wrath of the Vampire - Chapter 2: Journey to Hell

Has its own review.

Wrapping Up

A big thank you to all participants for the fun time! There were some very enjoyable and interesting games this time. What really worked well was deciding a list of what to play upfront instead of blindly stumbling through the impossibly long list of entries. I recommend this approach.

Personal Ranking

1. Color the Truth
2. Fair
3. Inside the Facility
4. Darkiss! Wrath of the Vampire - Chapter 2: Journey to Hell
5. How to Win at Rock Paper Scissors
6. Ventilator
7. Pogomon GO
8. The Game of Worlds Tournament
9. Zigamus: Zombies at Vigamus
10. Theatre People
11. Sigil Reader (Field)
12. Ariadne in Aeaea
13. Hill Ridge Lost and Found
14. Steam and Sacrilege
15. You are standing in a cave
16. Mirror and Queen
17. Take
18. Toiletworld

Not Rated: Slicker City

As explained in earlier years, for the competition voting, I'm following a relativistic approach. The best game gets a 10, the worst one a 1. From there, I interpolate all the rest, trying to represent the relative quality distance between them all.

This is not the same approach taken on this website. I.e. my ratings posted for the full reviews here should not be taken as serious indication of my competition voting. Second, this means that, for example, an “8” from me this year does not have to be on par with an 8 of previous or future years.

What I Could Really Live Without™

Or, to summarise: keep it simple!

P.S. If you think I'm needlessly grumpy, here are some nice constructive pointers.