[Review] WackyComp games

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Paul O'Brian

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Apr 16, 1999, 3:00:00 AM4/16/99
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Last year, Lucian Smith had this idea. He thought it would be cool to have
a "mini-comp", where a bunch of people wrote games based on the same
initial premise. There would be no prizes, but there would be voting, and
rankings. So he announced his idea (actually, in the announcement, he
attributes the idea to "someone on the ifMUD", but in the absence of that
anonymous genius, I'm giving Lucian the credit) on rec.arts.int-fiction,
and generated quite a bit of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, when he announced
the premise and the rules around it, they were so amazingly specific,
picky, and difficult to achieve, that he only ended up getting four
entries, some of those after his deadline. If the voting or the rankings
ever happened, I never saw it. He tried to scale back expectations by
announcing a "micro-comp" ("Submit one or two scenes from a mini-comp
entry!"), but by then it was too late: apparently the contingent of
possible entrants wanted their mini-comps to *really* be mini. The main
result of Lucian's backpedaling was to produce a proliferation of goofy
"meta-comp" ideas, each of which seemed to somehow incorporate all the
others that preceded it.

Into this morass waded Adam Cadre, who had a simpler idea: write a short
game that involves, in some way, a chicken crossing a road. It was dubbed
the Chicken Comp, and it was a big success, garnering 19 entries, most of
which were good, and many of which were wonderfully, hilariously funny. I
still crack up anytime I recall Rob Noyes' "The Lesson of the Chicken",
with its memorable piece of monologue, "Ah, Wang Chung. Everybody will
have fun tonight." The chicken-comp games were the highlight of the
summer, and set the stage nicely for the established IF comp in the fall.
There was still no official competition between the games except, as Cadre
put it, the inevitable "discussion of which ones r001 and which suck."

So along comes spring 99, and suddenly mini-comps are popping up like
mushrooms. There was the Xcomp, for paranormal games, the I-Comp, for
games without an inventory, and even the execrable Roadkill Comp, for
games that involve dead animals. Most of the spring mini-comps garnered
responses which made Lucian's mini-comp look swamped in comparison, and
David Glasser's WackyComp was no exception. The WackyComp stipulated short
games, each based on one of a list of quasi-aphorisms. The list's contents
don't matter, because there were only two games submitted, both ALAN
entries that based themselves on the first choice: "No knot unties
itself." I've tended mainly to review competition games, not spending much
time on mini-comps, but the author of one of the WackyComp games asked me
to take a look at the two entrants and provide a little feedback, so here
it is:

The shorter of the two entries is by "Jess Kiddon" (another of the
WackyComp's conditions was that its authors don't use their real names on
their submissions), titled "Knot to be Undone." The title is one of the
game's many puns on the word "knot." This is not to suggest that the game
is a huge mass of puns -- it's not a huge mass of anything. I'd be shocked
if anyone spent more than 10 minutes solving this game. There is virtually
nothing to do except for the actions to win the game. You play Weava
Knottersdaughter, professional knotter, though really what this means is
that you're a professional detangler -- the "knot shop" where you work
offers a knot-untying service. Anyway, in walks "the Body Adventura", a
stock adventurer type whose cryptic name, as far as I can determine, is a
really strained pun on the name of Minnesota's governor. He's gotten
himself stuck in a knot and your job is to untangle him, or better yet
keep him entangled and somehow become the Body Adventura yourself.
Luckily, this is no trouble, and then the game ends. That's it. This is
about as "mini" as a game can get, and still be considered interactive
fiction. For what it is, it's fine, but rather unsatisfying, kind of like
eating just one potato chip.

A rather more substantial entry is "Skipping Breakfast", by "Dunnin
Haste." In this game you're a rabbit (though this is not immediately clear
unless you examine yourself), who is tied to a tree and about to become a
wolf's breakfast. The wolf is off gathering more wood for the campfire
over which he plans to cook you, so now's the time to make your escape.
Unfortunately, there's the small matter of the knotted rope which binds
you to the tree -- you can't untie it, and it won't untie itself. Or will
it? This game's puzzles are fun and rather clever, despite the fact that
there's a bit of "guess-the-noun", and that the conversation syntax is
sometimes too restrictive. The writing is charming, and the nature of the
puzzles is quite well-integrated with the game's fairy-tale atmosphere.
Though it's not quite as bare-bones as "Knot", "Breakfast" is still a very
brief game, with three points to be scored, relatively few objects, and
only one location. That's OK, though. It was fun while it lasted.

Both games are written and coded pretty well -- I found neither bugs nor
spelling/grammar errors in either one, though in both there was a real
paucity of synonyms. Moreover, they both adhere faithfully to the concept
behind the WackyComp, and work creatively within its confines. Neither
succumbs to cliche, and both were fun. My main complaint is that each one
(though "Knot" more than "Breakfast") is over almost before it begins, but
I suppose that's the nature of mini-comps. Perhaps these tiny games could
become preludes to fuller versions -- I wouldn't mind playing the sequel
to either. It's also nice to see the ALAN language gaining some devotees,
and perhaps one of these authors (whose identities are pretty clear from
their choice of language and their postings before the WackyComp -- nice
job Mikko and Lelah) will be the one to write a major game which really
shows off the language's capabilities. It seems to be the pattern that IF
languages only gain a significant following once a really well-done game
has been completed in the language, like Inform's "Curses" or TADS'
Unnkuulia series. Now that's a knot that won't untie itself, but the
nimble fingers of the WackyComp authors may be just the ones to unravel
it.

--
Paul O'Brian obr...@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
"I don't find it fantastic or think it absurd
When the gun in the first act goes off in the third." -- Aimee Mann


Mikko P Vuorinen

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Apr 17, 1999, 3:00:00 AM4/17/99
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>to either. It's also nice to see the ALAN language gaining some devotees,
>and perhaps one of these authors (whose identities are pretty clear from
>their choice of language and their postings before the WackyComp -- nice
>job Mikko and Lelah) will be the one to write a major game which really

Erm. I must admit that I didn't write either game. I couldn't write such
good English, being a Finn and stuff. And my games look different too. But
if it's not me then who it is? And which one was written by Lelah?

--
)))) (((( + Mikko Vuorinen + mvuo...@cc.helsinki.fi
)) OO `oo'((( + Dilbon@IRC&ifMUD + http://www.helsinki.fi/~mvuorine/
6 (_) ( ((( + GSM 050-5859733 +
`____c 8__/((( + + Vuoden 1999 pistetilanne: 0

David Glasser

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Apr 18, 1999, 3:00:00 AM4/18/99
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Paul O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU> wrote:

> It's also nice to see the ALAN language gaining some devotees,
> and perhaps one of these authors (whose identities are pretty clear from
> their choice of language and their postings before the WackyComp -- nice
> job Mikko and Lelah) will be the one to write a major game which really
> shows off the language's capabilities.

You're right about Lelah, but Mikko did not write the other one.

My comment is that the games were fun. So I guess it's good that the
comp happened. Also, don't propose competitions after midnight.
Especially not after a long long play rehearsal.

--
David Glasser: gla...@uscom.com | http://www.uscom.com/~glasser/
DGlasser@ifMUD:orange.res.cmu.edu 4001 | raif FAQ http://come.to/raiffaq
'No, GLK is spelled "G L K". What is this Java you speak of?'
--Joe.Mason on that portable thing on rec.arts.int-fiction

Paul O'Brian

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Apr 18, 1999, 3:00:00 AM4/18/99
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On Sun, 18 Apr 1999, David Glasser wrote:

> You're right about Lelah, but Mikko did not write the other one.

D'oh! That's what I get for sounding too confident. Well, who was it then?

Lelah Conrad

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Apr 19, 1999, 3:00:00 AM4/19/99
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On 17 Apr 1999 15:52:18 +0300, mvuo...@cc.helsinki.fi (Mikko P
Vuorinen) wrote:

>... And which one was written by Lelah?"

"Knot To Be Undone".

Lelah "Jess Kiddon" Conrad

David Glasser

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Apr 19, 1999, 3:00:00 AM4/19/99
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Paul O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU> wrote:

> On Sun, 18 Apr 1999, David Glasser wrote:
>
> > You're right about Lelah, but Mikko did not write the other one.
>
> D'oh! That's what I get for sounding too confident. Well, who was it then?

"Also, if/when is David Glasser v2 coming out, and will it support
HTML-TADS? Version 1 is pretty buggy." --Steven Marsh on raif

sg

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Apr 21, 1999, 3:00:00 AM4/21/99
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Paul O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.Colorado.EDU> wrote:

>On Sun, 18 Apr 1999, David Glasser wrote:
>> You're right about Lelah, but Mikko did not write the other one.
>
>D'oh! That's what I get for sounding too confident. Well, who was it then?

'twas I, Dunnin Haste, of course!

Though that name may not be familiar to you as I usually hide behind a
pseudonym on the Internet. If you'd known a couple of salient facts,
though, you might've be able to deduce the link the back to my
pseudonym.

Not many people know that Dunnin is the ancient Celtic spelling for
Stephen.

I suppose that _is_ a pretty obscure fact.

I'm sure, though, that many more are familiar with the famous medieval
bloodbath 'The Battle of Haste Field' when that wild band of Welsh
warriors, the Clan Griffiths, routed the English forces. (Though I
guess not as many know about it as they should seeing as the English
tend to write most of the history books and they like to leave out
some of their more embarrassing historical moments.)

Regards,
Dunnin "Stephen Griffiths" Haste.
-----
(Remove the wrong bit from my
address if replying via email.)

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