IntroComp 2014: "Hornets' Nest" by Jason Lautzenheiser
Hornet's Nest teases its slice-of-life situation lightly and with wild comedic abandon. The humor seems fresh and interesting as a divergence from the traditional dry-and-wry comedic voice found widely to varying degrees in many parser-IF games. Channeled through the narrator, the humor integrates well with the slice-of-life scenario, creating a strong sense of idealized everyday life without explicitly evoking nostalgia.
A traditional parser game, the implementation makes use of parser best practices such as allowing a single-command shortcut for performing a complicated action that the game first requires the player to figure out in multiple steps. The implementation isn't perfect, but the few areas where it falls short are so natural to the parser format that seasoned IF players might barely feel them. Somewhat surprisingly given the game's very traditional feel and IF's great propensity for self-parody, nothing in the game comes across as either critique of or homage to established IF tropes or the classic text adventures.
The four main puzzles in the game appear to be playable in any order. The situation leads the player in a clear progression of trial-and-error that feels rewarding. These puzzles are also all solutions to the same ultimate problem, which gives the game a very simple structure. The game's greatest weakness is that one of these four puzzles seems poorly clued, although it is also the hardest even apart from cluing. Still, the response from finally solving this puzzle is sufficiently entertaining.
Despite not being dry or subtle, the humor never feels desperate or overbearing. Instead, the humor feels naturally integrated into the narrative voice. The entire narrative, in turn, works to characterize the player character and the setting -- a middle-aged man with a conventionally naggy wife and a first-world problem. (It should be noted that the naggy wife doesn't seem much like a sexist caricature, partly because she never appears on-stage as an NPC and also because the stereotype is used intentionally with other stereotypes as part of the genre.)
Comedic metaphor and exaggeration cause the narration to feel slightly unreliable. This subtle use of an unreliable narrator is the truly clever achievement of Hornest's Nest, the one feature that unifies the whole game and makes the entire work feel natural. The effect feels like a folk-tale, with the player character being the faux-hero of his own exaggerated and personified narrative.
Despite notifications saying that the game is still incomplete, in its current state the IntroComp entry feels very unified and playable. There actually doesn't feel like there could be much room for more content, since the existing puzzles feel very unified around the central concept. Still, this version of the game does lack an end. This proved to be one of my favorite IF comedies, and it can only improve with further development.