IF Comp is here! The biggest outpouring of interactive fiction all year, and a ton of people writing about it. I’m going to try to write reviews of the comp pieces this year, so here’s an initial preamble inspired by Bruno Dias and Cat Manning before I put down my initial impressions of the blurbs for posterity.
I won’t review everything in the comp, partly because I don’t have the time and energy, and partly because a couple of games contain subject matter that I’m not the target audience for.
I am not a professional reviewer, nor do I think reviewers (professional or otherwise) have a duty or ability to be unbiased. My plan is to show my impressions, my preferences, and my recommendations to players based on such. Where I make recommendations, recommendations with caveats, or negative comments, I’ll do my best to illustrate why.
I am a social creature, and have friendly chats with many of the authors of this year’s entries. That said…
I am reviewing the games, not the authors. If you feel I’ve made a personal attack on you, please get in touch, but my aim isn’t to be snarky or tear anyone down.
With all that in mind, on with the blurb-judging! To summarise if you don’t have time to read the reams below:
- Please make sure title and author text are clearly visible on cover art. There are a lot of games where you can barely see the title, which spoils the cover rather.
- Please don’t be self-effacing in blurbs. It turns me off the game right away.
- Less is often more. A strong few sentences that say a lot about a protagonist, setting or dilemma can be more effective than overloading the reader with ingame lore, especially for an SFF game.
- …That said, sometimes it can be too minimal. I want to know what gives the game its spark, vim and vigour. If the art can coordinate with the blurb content to reinforce tone, that’s all to the good.
- I’m genuinely impressed with the blurbs: although some appeal more than others, I can for the most part see their appeal for other players.
- To make me instantly want to play something, set it in a desert because I am all over that.
16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds. The cover art is on the nose, but that works perfectly with the lackadaisical tone of the blurb. Which is short, funny, and to the point. And I’m in the mood for low-level urban fantasy, so I’m excited for this one.
500 Apocalypses. Neither the art nor the blurb tell me much about what the game will be like to play, but both intrigue me. What will the collapsed civilisations look like? Did Phantom Williams write all 500 of the entries? I foresee a low-key elegiac tone.
A Time of Tungsten. The cover looks nearly black, which I suppose goes with the feel of being in a hole, but isn’t very evocative. The shift from present to past tense in the last sentence confuses me: is the game about surviving, or is it set after survival?
Aether Aepeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles. Another abstract cover image, I assume it’s a representation of the moon involved. This feels more like a novel prologue than a game blurb, and I’m not sure why it’s not just from Zephyra’s point of view.
All I Do is Dream. It’s hard to see the text on this cover: I would have liked to have the title more emphasised. I’m interested what the tone will be in the game: self-consciously quirky, melancholy, or something else? Either way, naps are close to my heart.
Ariadne in Aeaea. The colours on the cover are a little too bold for my liking, but the symmetry is appealing. Classical mythology is something I’m very into so this intrigues me, although there’s a bit too much information in the blurb for it to flow really nicely.
Ash. The art is lovely and the delicate colours work with the title. I’m unlikely to play it due to the subject matter – kudos to the author for mentioning it in the blurb.
Black Rock City. Spooky evocative art and a pithy, unselfconscious blurb. Between the desert, the storm and the snappy description, I’m eager to get my teeth into this one.
Cactus Blue Motel. The art and the blurb are just my thing. Stars, the desert, neon, road trips and teens doing (probably) unwise things are all my jam. The neon title looks gorgeous, and based on Astrid Dalmady’s previous work I imagine the game will be very pretty too.
Cinnamon Tea. The art and blurb aren’t very polished, but looking into the future sounds like it could be interesting. Maybe it’s a Groundhog Day situation. The content notes make me wonder whether the blood and nudity are pictured or just in text…?
Color the Truth. The art works with the concept and the colour theme, though it doesn’t leap out at me. It sounds like murder mystery via psychometry, which does sound an interesting concept. I appreciate the notes about walkthroughs and hints, since solving puzzles isn’t my forte.
Darkiss! Wrath of the Vampire – Chapter 2: Journey to Hell. Props to the author for doubling down on the long chapter titles. I haven’t played the first chapter, and suspect that this may be too grim for my liking.
Detectiveland. Gorgeous cover evoking pulp noir; I hope that the contents leave the more distasteful aspects of noir behind. I like the tongue-in-cheek chapter titles and confident tone: it feels like the author is secure in his style.
Eight characters a number, and a happy ending. Quite a generic scifi cover, and the blurb takes a while to get to the meat of the game. Amnesia plus not much information makes for a less-than-compelling blurb.
Evermore. Well put together artwork with a cheery cartoon style. I wonder whether this is going to be something in the vein of To Be Or Not To Be and Romeo and/or Juliet. Could work really well, or could fall flat.
Fair. Both the artwork and the blurb are no-nonsense and say what needs to be said; I could foresee this being charming and comedic. I wonder how snarky it’ll be about the characters, and how Hanon Ondricek will pull off the characterisation of the children.
Fallen Leaves. I’d have preferred to see cover art here, because the blurb doesn’t give much away. Poetry is hard to pull off competently, and the themes are pretty generic, but it could be an interesting, unusual experiment.
Hill Ridge Lost & Found. The cover art makes me think of a postcard or motivational poster, and the text is very hard to read. Still, sepia-toned American empty landscape, plus the blurb’s promise of a cowboy protagonist, piques my interest.
How to Win at Rock Paper Scissors. I find the art and blurb alarming: the art evokes a slightly cult-logo feel, while the intensity of the wording plus the divine intervention makes me worry about the protagonist. This could be very odd or very wacky, and I’m not sure I’m into either.
Inside the Facility. The art style and mention of “your friend Mike” and the game being family-friendly make me think this has children or teens as protagonists. Probably a hijinks adventure sort of game, which isn’t necessarily my thing but it evokes it well. (Thanks to Arthur DiBianca for providing a map and specifiying it in the notes!)
Labyrinth of Loci. There isn’t much to grab me in the cover art or the blurb; the text pretty much says “this is a piece of interactive fiction” and doesn’t say much about what the game itself will be like or what it’s concerned with. Also a Windows executable doesn’t inspire me with confidence.
Letters. The artwork isn’t all that thrilling, and the blurb suggests the protagonist will be a passive figure in the story – I wonder if it is possible to literally find the writer? Still, if the voice of the letters is strong and the protagonist is interesting, this could work nicely.
Manlandia. The cover art’s disconcerting enough, which makes me think the blurb isn’t meant to be taking itself seriously – I think the blurb needs to be more overtly comedic though, to make that clear, because based on what’s there the game could well have a weird and unpleasant tone.
Mirror and Queen. Lovely gothic font makes it clear that we’re in fairytale land, if it wasn’t clear from the title. Based on Chandler Groover’s previous work, and the ominous single-sentence blurb, I feel I’m in for something beautiful and disturbing, and am looking forward to it.
Moonland. Who is Kim, what is their love, and what’s going on? Surrealism can certainly work, but the vagueness of the blurb plus the apostrophe error make don’t convince me that the voice is going to be strong enough to pull it off.
Night House. I almost wish the cover artist had cut the house out of the picture altogether and just had the pretty tree branches, or maybe had chosen something to evoke the things going bump in the night. The blurb is less spooky than I’d have liked: I’m not entirely convinced that the game is going to be as atmospheric as it claims.
Not Another Hero. I’m not sure most people really think of superheroes uncomplicatedly saving the day in these gritty-superhero-laden days, and I’m wondering what the surges of power were that created the superpowers. I’d like something a bit more sparky in the blurb to say something more specific about the protagonist or the world.
Pogoman GO! Between the Nyan Cat and Pokemon references, this looks like a meme made flesh. Probably not quite my kind of humour.
Quest for the Traitor Saint. The island’s doom-laden nature intrigues me. The blurb is a little lore-overloaded, but the cover art is appealingly colourful and put together. Having played Rites of a Mailmare by the same author, it makes me think there’s going to be similar graphics inside.
Riot. The title and colours are gorgeous, as is the city silhouette, though the author name could be clearer if it has to be included. I’m cautious about the subject matter given current events: it could go either way.
Rite of Passage. Hard to read the title, and although the blurb references comedy, wits and childhood the cover art doesn’t convey any of this – it more makes me think of an idyllic, peaceful setting. Set in childhood, but “not necessarily for children” makes me cautious about content.
SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD! This one frustrates me. The cover art is fabulous, I love the bear’s expression, and the blurb includes elderly women in attack helicopters and suggests a fun level of absurdism. But as its content notes include themes I don’t want to play (thank you Xalavier Nelson Jr for including the notes!) it’s unlikely I’ll play it, unless I can ferret out spoilers about the content that will put my mind at ease.
Sigil Reader (Field). The cover art is a little busy, but puts across a institutional/bureaucratic feel – which makes sense since the sigil reader is a public official. There’s interesting worldbuilding going on: what is the Station? Where are we based? Is this SF, fantasy, or something in between?
Slicker City. Without cover art, and not having played The Problems Compound, there isn’t much to be gleaned from the blurb alone. I’m quite interested in seeing how a sequel would work for separate parser games, but needing to play a whole other game on top of the rest puts this one at a lower priority.
Snake’s Game. How does the snake have hands? I can’t get past that question. I suppose that goes with the psychadelic-experience aspect. As I’ve said elsewhere, surrealism can work if the voice is strong enough, but it’s hard to pull off well.
Steam and Sacrilege. On one hand, I’m not hugely fond of steampunk. On the other, you have a husband in distress. On one hand, there’s political unrest and an interesting-sounding setting. On the other, there’s a typo in the blurb. Very nice cover art, but an unattractive watermark. I feel ambivalent about this one.
Stone Harbor. Gorgeous art, delicate colours that coordinate well, clear title and author text. Clear characterisation and depiction of the issues at hand without overloading the reader with information. This is just what I like to see in a blurb. It doesn’t hurt that it contains a sad liar, one of my favourite fictional things.
Stuff and Nonsense. The lighthearted name and subtitle don’t quite go with the blurb content, which suggests political intrigue and serious business. It’s unfortunate that this game shares a name with a boardgame whose tone is highly tongue-in-cheek and causes further interference. Still, a game including a clash between two politically powerful women appeals to me, even if the cover art is somewhat unthrilling.
Take. This intrigues me in its minimalism, the cover art contains emojis, and I want to see whether TAKE TAKE is an option. I’m keen to see what’s what: the blurb is both mysterious and specific, which is tough to pull off.
Take Over the World. The art doesn’t quite appeal to me, but it has a cartoon-pulpy feel. I’m not sure whether the game’s going to be frustratingly wacky, or whether it’ll have some emotional heft as a counterbalance.
Tentaculon. No art and no blurb.
Thaxted Havershill and the Golden Wombat. No art. Comp authors often end up being self-effacing in blurbs, and I understand that it’s tempting, but for me it makes the appeal take a nosedive. I’d rather read about what’s fun about the game!
The Game of Worlds TOURNAMENT! The cover art is pretty though a little busy. Somehow the lore-heaviness of the blurb works better here than I’d expect – I think because everything is contextualised rather than thrown at the reader. I don’t expect I’ll be very good at the game, but it certainly looks interesting.
The God Device. The cover art is not particularly polished and doesn’t give much of a sense of the device. I’ve been saying that information-overload isn’t great, but I think here we could do with some more teasing out what’s going on. We may not know what’s in the envelope, but more pressing is what Tanya will do with whatever-it-is, and that could be more interesting to focus on.
The Little Lifeform That Could. I love the background photo, but I’m not quite sure about the text, though it’s clear enough to read. I know a little about this project so I’m not going in completely blind, but am wondering how the concept plays out in practice!
The Mouse. Spooky, ominous blurb. Slightly strange having such bright colours for the cover accompanying said blurb. The non-specificity of the dorm makes me wonder what the setting is: my first thought is a school, and that combined with the content notes make me unlikely to play (thank you to Norbez for including the notes).
The Queen’s Menagerie. I love the woodcut look and I love mythical beasts, so I’m expecting to enjoy this one. Like a lot of Chandler Groover’s other work, I foresee something disturbing but compelling, and probably some decadence along with it.
The Shoe Dept. The cover art doesn’t grab me, and I’m not quite sure how the blurb makes sense. With such a mundane central theme, greater specificity is needed to grip me straight off. Is this supernatural? A murder mystery? A realistic slice-of-life story?
The Skull Embroidery. Dungeon crawls don’t particularly appeal to me, and there isn’t much in the blurb that makes this one appeal to me more. Amnesia isn’t the most gripping of situations either. The most interesting part is the crash-landing: how did you crash? But I don’t know if that’s enough to carry the concept for me.
The Skyscraper and the Scar. The art is grim (though attractive) and so is the blurb (though prettily-written). I think I’ll need to be in a resilient mood before playing this, but it does pique my interest.
Theatre People. I wonder whether the knowing tone in the blurb carries over into the game, and whether it gets irritating? I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but it’s nearly impossible to read the title and author text on the cover.
This Is The Memory Of My First Heartbreak, Which I Can’t Quite Piece Together. Props for making this sound a melancholy indie song that I’d listen to on an autumn afternoon. My SAD is getting prodded by the cover art alone. I feel like this could be excellent or it could be overwrought, but I’d need to be in a good mood to play it for sure.
To the Wolves. I love the cover art: it reminds me of a novel cover and the blue flame stands out beautifully against the grey. The blurb is simple and straightforward, and makes it sound exciting. Also, I love wolves, so that’s a plus.
Toiletworld. Sounds like an injokey game that I’m not the target audience for.
Ventilator. The title’s hard to read and I can’t really tell what’s going on in the cover art. In fact, I can’t really tell what’s going on in the game much at all. The first sentence is gripping enough, but is the warning a Lionel Shriver reference? I don’t even know.
Yes, My Mother Is… I’m not sure whether the protagonist is the counsellor or the counsellee in this game. The cover art is appealing enough, but the blurb is a little unclear and I’m not sure where the question-answering leads.
You are standing in a cave… Amnesia again, which doesn’t work well for me, and possibly mazes and cave exploration which aren’t my cup of tea either. I wonder about the fancy restaurant, and whether the protagonist was alone, but the rest doesn’t entirely grab me.
Zigamus: Zombies at Vigamus. Lovely B-movie-esque cover art, but I’m not a massive zombie fan, especially in a text-only game.