Saturday, October 05, 2013

[IF Comp 2013] "Mrs. Wobbles & The Tangerine House" by Mark Marino

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.

Mrs. Wobbles & The Tangerine House is a CYOA-type game written in Undum and apparently aimed at older children. It features child protagonists with a difficult past, who are coming to live with mrs. Wobbles in the tangerine house. Their exploration of the mysterious house, and their coming to terms with mrs. Wobbles, will undoubtedly be a metaphor for the healing of their emotional wounds.

I'm using the future tense, because Mrs. Wobbles & The Tangerine House is not a finished fiction, but merely a preview (though quite a substantial one). It consists of one section that frames the other narratives, two introductory narratives (one about the protagonists and one about the house they arrive at), and the first part of one of their adventures.

Why do people believe that it is fine to enter unfinished works into the IF Comp? One could argue that Mrs. Wobbles & The Tangerine House is supposed to be a short story collection, and that there is nothing wrong with submitting one story to a competition, even if you are planning to write more. But that argument wouldn't hold water, for several reasons. First, the short story is not even finished -- it just suddenly ends when the protagonists meet a scary pirate captain. Second, the introductory material doesn't make sense in the context of just this one story. The tale about the magic book seems especially irrelevant. I suppose it will become an integrated part of the final work, but it isn't that yet.

Luckily, the story is a good one. It combines serious themes -- loss of trust, the costs of justified betrayal -- with a wild imagination, and presents this in carefully crafted prose. Marino can write stories.

But Marino hasn't convinced me that his stories need to be written as interactive fiction. Almost every choice in Mrs. Wobbles & The Tangerine House is, well, not a choice at all, but merely clicking on the one available link. When there are more links, they often only change the order in which you read parts of the story ... but the story has been written in such a way that it is almost necessary to read the parts in order, and Marino even feels the need to point this out to us. There are few occasions where our choices matter, and I didn't feel particularly eager to explore them by returning to make the other choice, mostly because they consisted of an evident "right" and "wrong" choice. The relevance of the numerical scores tracked by the game never became clear to me.

Rating a game like this is tough. Based on just the writing and the story, it would score quite highly. But I'm not convinced about its use of interactivity, and that weighs heavily for me in the interactive fiction competition. The fact that it is an unfinished piece weighs even more heavily -- I find that unacceptable. So without wishing to disparage the author's obvious talents, I'm going to score his game 5 out of 10.

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