IFComp 2016: You are standing in a cave…

Spoilers follow the break.

In the few past Comps where I’ve tried to post about every single entry, there were always some distressingly buggy and poorly-designed ones that I complained about at length. I had resolved to skip over such things this year, but such a resolution has scarcely proved necessary: now that the Comp is mostly choice-based instead of parser-based, the egregiously buggy stuff has more or less disappeared. This game is an exception.

Its most commonly-observed bug is that the start room has a secret passage that you can go through before you’ve found and opened it, just by going west. The text you get when you do this makes mention of your torch, which you probably don’t have, because you have to build the torch first, and the only accepted command for that is nigh-unguessable. There are other instances of text that makes unwarranted assumptions about what you’ve seen and what order you’ve done things in. There are repeatable actions that shouldn’t be repeatable, some of which score points.

All of which would not be worth posting about, except that we have some inkling of how it got this way. Two years ago, before this was an adventure game, it was a pseudo-adventure-game run tabletop-RPG-style by the same author, Caroline Berg, in a forum thread. And I find that kind of interesting.

One of the canonical pieces of advice for people trying to write IF (or at least parser-based IF) is to start by writing a sample transcript, like the ones that Infocom used to include in the documentation of their games — a fake play-through showing how it should respond to an anticipated sequence of commands. The idea is that you can write a transcript in more or less the same way as you write other prose, and thereby get your ideas into concrete form before starting to worry about details of implementation. The failure mode of this technique is a game that correctly handles the sequence of commands in the transcript and not much else. And so it is here. The original forum thread is the transcript from which this game was written. Except it wasn’t written as a transcript! The whole thing was far less formalized than that; the players knew that there was a human being interpreting their commands, and Berg’s replies were similarly freeform. From the summary she posts at the end, it seems that she basically had the scenario planned out in advance, but improvised somewhat in reply to player actions. The impulses of that specific group of people are thus canonized as the official way to play the game.

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