Response to IFcomp 2016

This year’s IFcomp just ended. I played some of the entries to see the different tools out there and how people are using them. The most striking realization I had was how much the visual layout and styling impacted the appeal of the game for me.

More than the content itself, especially in the beginning of the story, the visual ambiance drew me in, made me curious, set the tone, placed me in the world of the story, and made it enjoyable. On the flip side, I found myself not giving the standard themed games (across multiple tools) their deserved attention.

A few excellent examples include Abigail Corfman’s 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds, and Astrid Dalmady’s Cactus Blue Motel (and especially her previous Tangaroa Deep) among others. Interestingly, these finished in the top 5 places.

Also, very interestingly, Robin Johnson’s Detectiveland won first place. The story and writing quality is very good, but what is particularly noticeable is the completely custom engine – a “no-typing” parser and custom layout. This fresh style of interactive fiction seems to have been very well received. In fact, PC Gamer called it “one of the best interfaces [they’ve] come across in IF.”

My takeaway

What I learned is that being able to offer unique, custom presentation options is very important, and something that I want to be sure the Elm Narrative Engine handles. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I have plans to allow for this, but the competition confirms this feature, and even pushes me further in allowing for complete visual customization, not only in the styling, but in the entire layout.

I am working on some very exciting proof-of-concepts taking advantage of this, which I will be sharing soon with the next release of the engine. Hopefully I can continue to help push IF to the next level, and my dream is to have at least one story made with the Elm Narrative Engine place in the top three at next year’s IFcomp!