IFComp 2009 review: Trap Cave by Emilian Kowalewski

To me it seems like a bad idea to submit a CYOA to the IFComp. It's a competition for interactive fiction, as in text games with a parser. People expect a parser, and a CYOA will be judged against games with a parser. It's like bringing an orange to the annual apple fair. Even if you had the best orange in the world it would still fail people's expectations set to the standards based on apples.

It seems like a really bad idea to submit a CYOA to promote your new CYOA authoring system. How is getting terrible reviews and placing last or next-to-last going to promote the system? "Now even you can write games like the classics from the bottom tier of IFComp!"

Now that we're talking about bad ideas, the author of Trap Cave had the worst idea ever. He submitted a CYOA that's half English and half German. Or maybe half English and 1.5 German, since there's an all-German version and a half-translated English version included.

I haven't played every game yet but I'd be extremely surprised if this placed higher than 20th place. What was the grand plan behind all this? Hoping that those who don't know German would just skip this and not rate it? That seems unlikely, given that then there wouldn't be the half-English version included at all. Was the idea that people would get some grasp of the story from those parts that they could read? Or is it just a highly elaborate trolling attempt?

The most likely explanation I can find is that the author has submitted for review not a game but an authoring system. It's easy to get blinded to what the players will perceive when the author has worked on it from a completely different perspective. The author sees the code and the workings of the system (especially when a new authoring system is also made in the progress), but the background is competely opaque to players. They judge what they play, oblivious or uncaring of how it works under the hood. The authoring system might be super good but you can't judge a system based on the games it produces. You can make excellent games with crappy authoring systems and vice versa.

As to the game itself, well, enh. It's basic cave exploring with little to no story attached. The german version renders umlauts and estsets wrong and I couldn't find a way to change the character set. I found a locked door from one end of a tunnel and a key from the other end, but there wasn't an option for turning back after I had picked up the key. There's no walkthrough included so I can't check but it looks broken.

All I can say to the author is this: good luck with the authoring system you're building. I bet it'll be a hit with the CYOA crowd, but you're looking for your audience from the wrong place. My hunch is that energy spent on the IFComp is something that could be more fruitful if directed to other areas.

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