Notes on IFComp ’96

Fave by Far: Kissing the Buddha’s Feet

Where most games are exercises in combinatorics, this is more like algebra. Everything you need is available at the start of the game; every location is accessible; it’s up to you to take that chaos and simplify, reduce, and cancel things against each other to achieve your goal. In the meantime there are people staggering around, pestering you, throwing garbage — plenty of games have entertaining descriptions of static objects, but this one has entertaining situations that are yours to unfold.

Feeling: Aayela

While it lasts it can’t be beat for atmosphere. As a young knight sent on a fool’s quest by a distracted ruler, you become trapped in a cave and have to feel your way along.

On the Fence: Tapestry

This game manipulates you masterfully, which I can only admire. But I could never get past the title. “It’s called Tapestry, and there’s like this tapestry in the game that’s, like, a metaphor for your life.”

Best Title: Rippled Flesh

Unfortunately the game doesn’t have much else going for it. Next to Punkirita Quest, which conjured horrendous spelling errors from another plane, this one seems notably muted.

Ambushed by Quality: The Meteor, the Stone, and the Long Glass of Sherbet

What starts out as a reconnaissance mission in the guise of diplomacy turns into a breathless tale about the revival of magic. After an exacting opening sequence, the game opens up nicely and soon you’re moving through the underworld with an inventory full of useful and sundry items. Before long, however, the caverns, wights, and barrows all start to run together; you have to contend with an alchemy system and a magic system; and some of the later puzzles are frankly beyond me (even with hints, I’m ashamed to say). If you were weaned on the classics — as, in ’96, many were — this must have felt like a love letter. Someday I’ll sit down, make a map, and have another go. But until then Sherbet’s more than I can chew.

Hooray for: TADS

Where the best of the Inform entries were Accomplishments — in programming (Lists and Lists), writing (In the End), conceit (Piece of Mind), and structure (Tapestry) — the TADS entries were merely good, solid games.

Not to Slight, in the Inform Camp, Reverberations

An unassuming, good-humored story about an equally laid-back pizza dude who winds up foiling a town-wide conspiracy.

Delusions: Delusions

Would-be techno-thriller with multiple levels of reality. Your identity is yanked away from you before it’s established; you’re told that everything you know is a lie at a point where you hardly know anything. Solving puzzles is recast as “debugging,” but the inconsistencies you’re supposed to be rooting out are revealed by seemingly random courses of action. One of your chief tasks is interacting with a computer via commands like CLICK LEFT MOUSE BUTTON ON SYSTEM ICON. I’d be interested in a transcript of the ideal game.

Best Puzzle (Alternate Universe): Fear

At one point your path is blocked by a spider. Rather than swatting it out of your way with a plate, you have to use the plate to pry open a paint can, put the can under the spider, then throw the plate at the spider causing it to descend, in self-defense, all the way into the paint and become trapped. And that’s probably the simplest puzzle in the game. The rest, while technically related to the story — you’re afraid of the dark, so the block-pushing puzzle takes place in an unlit tomb — interfere by nature with its telling.

Best Scoring System: Small World

There’s only one point (“small world, small game”) and you’re awarded fractions.

But is it Art?

In the End casts you as a solitary node in a hyper-connected future. As a game, it’s disappointing and aimless once you leave the funeral parlor. But depression, to me, is not some accelerated sadness but rather the feeling that nothing in the world is worth doing — and that’s actually captured pretty well here.

Best Response: Piece of Mind


That’s not a scene I think I could get into.

Worst Response: House of the Stalker


That wouldn’t achieve anything.


Scrape the paint off with the sandpaper!

[Your score has gone down one point.]