IFCOMP2014: The Secret Vaults of Kas the Betrayer review

The Secret Vaults of Kas the Betrayer by A. E. Jackson placed 33rd in the 20th Interactive Fiction Competition IFCOMP2014. You can play online at ifdb. This series of blog posts are mini-reviews I wrote as a fellow author to document my impressions of other games.

Spoilers below

As I started to play I got the strong feeling of a Fighting Fantasy novel - nothing to do with the author's surname. Cool - I have boxes and boxes of FF books in my garage so count me as a genre fan.

There's an interesting enough back story with enough depth for a FF story. The room-with-options-that-you-return-to is common enough in FF stories but SVKB gives too much freedom to move backwards and forwards. FF generally made the PC move the narrative forward as a general rule with only the occasional looping room. The looping room having to repeat text is a limitation of dead-tree format. In SVKB looping text felt nostalgic at first but quickly became annoying. I like computer based IF because it frees me from too much looping text. I wanted a short-cut back to the poem from puzzles. Eventually I just opened the poem in another browser window.

The writing could do with edits. Coding generally well crafted. Parchment styled CSS was nice enough though the default Responsiv storyformat grey header/footer should've also been brought into theme.

I think basing the game on tightly built rooms with options made the game feel small. There are 66 Twine passages though the density of <<if>>s make comparison with a FF400 not exactly useful. However, Fighting Fantasy made the 400 paragraph limit feel like large world because the decisions had a mixture of actions that had large and small effects. FF covered a lot of ground in passages like: you walk for a few hours and ...." or "you pass through a village of nondescript buildings that look much like each other."

At times I was a bit confused which links would examine things and which would perform actions on those things. Typically an examination action does not change state (except time, or triggering something as you walk to the NOUN). FF made this clear by usage; usually clear verb phrases. I like the style where links embedded in text examine / think (don't change state) and links at the bottom of passages DO things (change state). There isn't a correct answer though; do something that makes sense!

I keep coming back to the genre thing. I wonder if a tightly woven room puzzler with freedom to move back and forth might have better suited Inform. As it stands emulating the rooms in Twine worked well enough.

I did enjoy myself. That FF nostalgia was too strong for me to resist.