Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

the end is nigh….

…of IFComp 2008. Voting ends today.

So this was kind of a weird IFComp. I don’t want to say it was an off year, as I think this was only my third year of playing and judging. But it felt off to me somehow.

The biggest thing that jumped out at me this year, and maybe this Comp was just the proverbial straw, is the severe lack of polish of most IF. Probably this has something to do simply with playing a lot more games in the last year or so, from hanging out at TIGSource. But for a competition which you have an entire year — hell, years — to prepare for, an unpolished game is, frankly, pretty ridiculous.

By polish I don’t necessarily mean implementation of game logic or spell checking or so on. I mean the stuff you see when you start the game and when you end the game, stuff like help and hints and credits screens. Some of this is tied to the presentation of interpreters it’s true. And I’m not saying people need to abandon interpreters and only bundle .exe’s with custom UIs or whatever. But a little effort goes a long way. I remember Deadline Enchanter from last year’s comp. Some people didn’t like that game at all (some did, including me), but that game was polished. You could tell the author cared about how that game came across to the player.

So I don’t mean to say this Comp was a total downer (I hate just saying that). So here are my must-plays of IFComp 2008:

Everybody Dies by Jim Munroe, illustrations by Michael Cho.

My highest rated game of the comp. I don’t remember how I stumbled across Jim Munroe’s homepage (a few months ago I think), but I was surprised and pleased when I saw a game by him in the Comp. Michael Cho was a serendipitous find through this game as well. Anyway, this game isn’t perfect in implementation, and I would have liked more options, but it really works as IF. More please.

Nightfall by Eric Eve.

Besides the fact of this being very well done, the thing I like about Nightfall is it feels like an Eric Eve game not written by Eric Eve. By which I mean, all of the trademarks of his games are here — solid implementation, good design, and so on — but it feels like he is really pushing himself as an IF author to do more ambitious works.

Violet by Jeremy Freese.

I’d certainly be remiss if I didn’t mention this game; though it’s not really my thing, it’s supremely well done.

There were many ‘almost there’ games this year, and a few which I’ll go back to at some point. And can I say I love the IFDB now? Thanks.

where are the mud developers?

While cleaning up the sidebar a little I kind of got down on the fact that there just isn’t a whole lot of mud design discussion happening in a public forum these days.

MudLab is quiet as can be, with it seems like one or two posts, maybe, a month. The Mud Connector and Top Mud Sites have the usual smattering of design discussion, but nothing really sustained or that diverse. Raesanos (or anyone else, really, you can’t put the weight on just one person’s shoulders) hasn’t posted to in six months, and so when I was trimming the sidebar I deleted the link.

So what you end up with are a few scattered posts among blogs and so on. Matt Adcock’s has had some good stuff lately, but you can hardly expect a critical mass of people to migrate to one blog all of a sudden.

I know that the mud developers are out there; I’m consistently surprised to run across people developing muds from scratch. So I don’t think that there isn’t enough people to have a discussion. Writing a mud is still an attractive, challenging project for designers and programmers (and the iconic programmer-designer). I don’t know if it’s that the existing mud discussion forums simply are unattractive, or under-publicized, or too fragmented among different sites, or that people writing muds are more focused on the mud and just not interested in discussion (not an uncommon characteristic I’ve noted among programmers in general). I wonder if learning about mud design is now in its archaeological period, where its students are more akin to alchemists re-reading ancient texts in solitary towers than philosophers lounging around the forum debating contemporary, as well as ancient, theories. There’s no lack of discussion for games being made now with the technologies of the last five years. For muds, a 30 year old genre essentially unchanged in its basic characteristics, has the design discussion gone on so long that this lack of a prolific current discussion is the natural state of affairs?

I feel that the time is ripe for mud design to take advantage of synergies with new platforms and genres; the latest post at PlayThisThing on the game Elven Blood highlighted that feeling for me this morning. Here is a game whose features wouldn’t look that out of place in a mud. Indeed there has been talk at MudLab about this kind of design, and some brightness on the horizon for possible implementations are out there too with some new muds in development.

In my mind muds shouldn’t lose their essential nature of live writing and reading. But maybe there is a new design discussion poised to flower, based on the possibilities found between the pure text of muds and the quasi-text of browser-based games and mobile games. Not to say that browser-based games and mobile games can’t or won’t stand on their own two feet as genres of their own. But I’d be curious to find out what a new kind of mud would look like alongside its brothers of old.