Andrew's Spring Thing reviews (what I can)

So I’m treading a fine line here about being in the comp and providing useful feedback without being too fluffy. But I want to highlight things I enjoyed, with tips for quick improvements for post-comp releases or whatever.

I don’t suspect I’ll do many. And I don’t have time for long games right now. Or, more precisely, I can’t make blocks of time. So I can’t help with the spreadsheet goals of minimum games–I’m assuming the ones with fewer reviews are longer! But I want to do what I can.

If your entry appears here, it means I genuinely liked it, but please don’t assume your entry not appearing here implies disapproval. Time issues, again.

I already put something in the general thread for Leon Lin’s Insomnia.

Reviews likely in the hopper: none right now, but I’m very open to suggestions of what might be a good fit to achieve milestones on the review sheet e.g. entries with under-average reviews and that aren’t too long/don’t deal with horror. Sorry, horror writers, but I’m in triage mode!


Beat Me Up Scotty, by Jkj Yuio

Aha, so that’s what it’s like to be on the other side of a parser wordplay game! I like how what to do is clearly indicated, not just in the introduction, but in the title itself.

Technically, this is a gauntlet of 17 total word puzzles where you need to say “b[a-z]+ me up scotty.” But the story is a jaunt through impossible and weird and funny situations that lurch all around. There’s obligatory meta-humor that I found fit the game’s tone well. Because of course someone is wearing a red uniform and, quite frankly, I would’ve been disappointed if there wasn’t! And I found no need to recall detailed Star Trek trivia in there, though–if you know how Spock and Scotty generally behave, you’ll get the jokes.

You can also PASS to move to the next puzzle, which is a relief for the tough ones. It’s no problem to come back later! The only penalties are 1) missing some story and 2) getting locked out of the “best” ending.

Which I enjoyed–it’s a nice subversion of content warnings that doesn’t mock them. I mean, content warnings are important, but occasionally there’s been that very rare game that just tries to go to the salad bar and activate one of each, and it tends to stick in my memory more than I like, which feels slightly unfair. The “best” ending turned that on its head much less cruelly than I, sadly, have been tempted to.

There’s a game-show feel to BMUS with the sounds that I found effective and not too intrusive (I actually found myself whistling Build Me Up Buttercup, which despite the lyrics is not a tune you whistle when unhappy,) and I’m really pleased to see the author’s 2nd game in Strand be so different from The Tin Mug yet equally approachable.

Also, props to them for including the source! It’s neat to know there are alternate solutions. I forget if this was specifically mentioned in the introduction, but I am glad it was there, and it’s neat to see that Strand’s language is pretty simple and logical.

Whenever an author includes source, it’s fun to page through & can often rescue a game I dislike or, here, give me more nice laughs, where I found a few alternate solutions, often to puzzles I’d gotten quickly.

This was a fun game to feel like I was participating in, like a parlor game but without having to deal with people. I spent time after finishing it looking for alternate solutions. I wrote in some below, not to be all “AUTHOR YOU MISSED THIS” but hopefully to share with others who enjoyed or might enjoy the game.

So here goes. I’m interested what other people may’ve found. This feels like I’m giving a transcript report, but – well, I know I quite enjoyed getting additional suggestions for my rhyming game, and I hope the author finds that I got more out of this than “okay, just want to guess all the right answers, here.” And BMUS feels like a fun game to socially brainstorm a bit and say “oh, hey, that would be funny too.”

The trickiest one for me was the synonym for kludge – I really flailed and the best I did was backport, though bludgeon also came to mind!

In the bar, bourbon and brandy were guesses I tried–there’s a ton of possibilities beyond the obvious and clear one! I’m guessing brand names should be out. This had several solutions I just completely missed.

I thought too hard on the traditional instrument and got balalaika though Scotty’s nationality really should have clued me in.

This may be more UK English than American, but I also thought the word bung could be used in two places: both the bar fight and when you need money.

Since BMUS has a few 80s shoutbacks, I thought the way to deal with the werewolf was belladonna, because I remembered that item and castle-quest from Might and Magic I–I remember looking that up in the dictionary!

Suggestions? Well, I think it would be neat to use Strand’s capabilities to have general rejects or maybe even let the player know, for good guesses, that that might work later. Or maybe they could really drill down and give different texts for alternate solutions! The downside might be, it’d be hard to alert the player to them, or track which ones we’d gotten.

I’m asking a lot, as I often do with games I liked that were intended to be a short bit of fun. But the main purpose of my asking is really just to take a swipe at helping tip off neat and new different things for the author’s next project.


The Sacred Shovel of Athenia, by AndyG

It’s hard for me to turn down a game where you wind up making friends with a cat. I have some experience with this. My first ever cat was from a barn in Iowa. He seemed like he really wanted an owner, but the people most likely to adopt him had another cat, and he didn’t get along with them. But he got along with people. Well, not me for the first day. When I brought him back home in his cat carrier, he immediately slipped behind the toilet and stayed there. He didn’t seem to want to be petted. He wasn’t growing or anything. He had just been moved around a whole lot in the past week, and he needed space. So I laid out a litter box, some food, and some water. I think I put some toys out, too. Within 24 hours, I remember playing Pooyan on MAME and I think he liked the music, because he walked in and just jumped on my lap and then on top of the hard drive. He was at home! (I still remember switching from a CRT monitor to a flat-panel one. I felt sort of guilty, giving my cats one less place to sit.)

SSoA approximately follows this arc but with some wrinkles. There are some genuine puzzles–nothing too arduous. There’s a cat you need to befriend, and you have a catometer, which is just a fancy name for a bracelet telling you how friendly the cat is at the moment. It starts at red and goes to green, through the rainbow. It’s a neat variation on scoring with points, because in relationships, keeping score leads to lots of suspicion. Perhaps even among animals who don’t care much about arithmetic. They understand emotions! Also, “0 out of 4” makes the game feel a bit small and technical, but SSoA is deliberately trying not to be technical. So this is a neat innovation. It says you don’t have to do too much to gain the cat’s trust without leaving you feeling “there’s not much to this game.”

The puzzles are not too hard. There’s a key on the other side of a keyhole, with a different solution than you’d expect. Looking through other reviews, I think others found the potential game-breaking bug which was intentional on the author’s part–here, though, it seems like they have a neat loophole which could make sense out of things.

There’s some suspension of disbelief in the store, from being kicked out when the cat is following you (here it seems like the nice old lady proprietor could/should reject you a lot more softly) to–well, kind of stealing for the correct solution. I’m not sure how to get around the second bit, but I spent a lot of time wondering how to fish for another coin, and I think it’d be acceptable for the vendor to say “Oh, that’s a nice cat, here, have the mouse–it’s been around forever!” Or even have the cat scrounge up another coin as an alternate solution if you, say, walk through all the rooms and come back. All sorts of things come near to disappearing inside a shed, and cats are good at finding stuff!

I think this all is just me getting into the story, though. There’s surreal drama at the end when you actually get the shovel–it does make me smile how it is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge substitute for, say, Excalibur. The drama feels primarily directed at kids, which was the intended audience, but I liked it all the same.

This brought back memories of making friends with various cats across my life, including one who didn’t like me for a few years until I took care of him off and on for a few days and fed him. Then he liked me just fine! His first owner was apparently pretty mean. And I think SSoA’s subject matter is great for a first work–those that feature pets (such as The Big Blue Ball last year) seem to have a high floor, if the author is competent, which they are. It has all the basic elements of an adventure game and does not feel too basic, and at seven rooms it doesn’t try to do too much.

I attached a transcript and included nitpicks I noticed in future runthroughs (I made more than one) so, yes, a few things are there if the author chooses to fix them for a post-comp release. Some feel like interesting small projects well within the author’s ability. But they seem inappropriate to a review, and they did not spoil my enjoyment.

sacred-shovel-andrew-schultz-transcript.txt (42.7 KB)


Repeat the Ending, by Drew Cook

Disclaimer: I didn’t get through much of RtE, but I did do minimal testing for it and disassembled to find the text, so I saw what it was about. Also, this may talk about myself more than RtE. But – I tossed this all around in my mind, and I think it’s valuable enough that I’ll at least write an outline of my thoughts. It feels like I am writing more about myself than Drew Cook or RtE! So, fair warning.

And so when I thought of writing this, I wondered, why should I bother? Isn’t it a waste of time? Not really. Because RtE is definitely something I would encourage you to go back to. As I’ve chipped away at it, even though it’s about feeling helpless and trapped, it’s reminded me of so much I really wanted to look into, stuff I have since Drew PM’d me the beta. I can’t say if it offers workable concrete solutions, but that may not matter.

We have many voices saying “Depression/mental health is a national/global health emergency.” We have many other voices with quick-fix “positive thinking” which asks you to ignore things you can’t deny. But I value anything that helps me accept things as they are without feeling trapped. So I can move on or maybe even feel good about how I’ve moved on and can afford to take certain things for granted.

To overgeneralize, depression is at the center of it, but the author mentioned that any interpretation was valid and interesting to him. This got rid of a big worry for me, as I approached things from a different angle as if to say “No, depression isn’t what matters to me most right now, but X!”

So what is that X and how does it relate to depression? X is, simply, people in your life who hold you back from being all you can be. I got hung up on the critic NPCs in the game. Why?

Well, I had an experience similar to the author’s, years ago. In college, I had to take writing-intensive courses. I forget why I feared them at first, but then I took one, and I wanted to take more fiction-writing courses. It felt unfair to be enjoying myself that much! I wondered if I belonged there. I was surprised how many people laughed at what I had to write. And there was one theme throughout my works: likely straw men who shook their head at whatever the narrator, usually a thinly disguised autobiographical fellow, was doing. The critics reminded me of this. I called them The Evaluators. Of course, you want to listen to other people’s wisdom. But it’s so easy to guess wrong or to say “well, I don’t want to listen to yes-men.” Well, for me, at least.

not really about RtE. I hope the author understands, and so do you

I didn’t want to give these straw men names–a sort of loyalty to some people that gave me sober, yet misleading advice. But they were there! And I wanted to say a lot, and yet I couldn’t, or I felt it would be disrespecting authority in just the wrong sort of way.

There were some writing majors. One of them, Mr. Z., was gay or, at the very least, persistently gay-baited in high school. He wrote a story about getting beaten up on the way home from school. I felt mad, suddenly, saying “that’s not how I’d do it.” There was a part of me that said, yes, this is awful, but it felt as if it were saying “hey, I was gay-bashed worse than you, deal with it.” He and a few others had off-hand comments and nitpicks about one thing I wrote. I was somehow shocked that the person in the class giving the main critique, who was in a fraternity, found one thing I wrote hilarious.

It was called The Transgendered Freak and it was about a guy who committed an unforgiveable sin. His roommate, Mike Sudz (a name I’m still proud of even if it’s unsubtle–and yes, I envisioned him as someone who joined a frat, and I am glad I didn’t slip that detail in the story,) had caught him in the act. What was that act?

It turns out it was just watching women’s college basketball. Re-reading the story, it may be a bit crude, but it does the job to take down certain expectations people have that males be macho, et cetera. And it had The Evaluators supporting Mike Sudz, trying (in bad faith) to make sense of the narrator’s act and, of course, failing. At the end, Mike Sudz rifled through his roommate’s desk to find incriminating evidence, indeed: a copy of Anne of Green Gables. Everyone shook their heads, speechless.

Mr. Z hammered the point that “Transgendered” was exactly the wrong word to use there. Years later, I concede it wasn’t the right one. But I wanted to get across the unfair judgement meted out.

I had a bunch of stories I wanted to write but somehow I felt discouraged enough writing them and settled for something second-rate. It cost me a straight A. I guess I felt The Evaluators in back. I let the despair pull me back, first by not taking writing classes early, then by saying, nah, I don’t have the skill to write those stories yet.

Well, perhaps not to the best of my ability. But they were worth writing!

A coda to the story: I went back through my writing notes. I’d long forgotten Mr. Z’s real name. In fact, I remember a coworker, Steve, who looked like Z but was nicer. So I thought of Z as not-Steve when I thought of him off and on. I remembered him writing out his real name, which I found horridly pretentious. Unfair of me, of course! But I laughed once I saw his name, and I realized I’d forgotten a lot about him and the two or three other people who–well, they didn’t like me, and they didn’t see why a math major should think he could write, and MY writing about being an outcast sucked compared to theirs!

When I thought about him off and on, I imagined what he would say to my writings since then. It was something I wanted to shake but never quite could. RtE helped with that. I felt that much more ready and justified focusing on the really good bits in those writing classes.

I just wish I’d been able to get to that stage years earlier! Though I am also grateful for all I’ve written despite this sort of thing flaring up.

He was far from the worst offender. And just seeing his name, I was able to say “yeah, geez, that guy,” and move on. I realized I’d put certain Evaluators off to the side, and there are more I can and should, for myself. And reading the names of other people in my class I’d just written–I remember feeling “why bother, this is silly” – I walked away being able to remember the good parts. Which was valuable.

I have a bunch of other stories and notes I wrote about The Evaluators, who are good at pointing out what you do wrong but not big on helping you get better. I have no clue how malevolent or real-world Drew Cook intended his critics to be. But I think their effect is undeniable–perhaps they are the sort of people who greet you with a hearty good morning, but they get down to the critiques, straightforward and backhanded. They wish people would just listen more, but the actual problem is that people who do tend to internalize some pretty bad stuff. And they wonder why they always have to be the ones to try to lift the mood!

RtE was a catalyst for me to bury many things and try a few that I’d put off. So it’s a personal success, even if I didn’t get through it all. I’ve read a lot about depression through the years and coping with it, and I think it’s added up. That I got a lot from only part of RtE speaks well. I can’t say whether I have had clinical depression but I do know certain things that make everyone happy don’t, for me. Thankfully, it works the other way, too!

another digression on bad books about depression

I remember reading a book but thankfully not its title. The crux seemed to be someone very self-absorbed who had depression who said, well, why did it have to happen to me, presumably as opposed to someone less interesting? His depressive rages seemed tailored to note they were still, like, full of life and stuff. Perhaps even “well, I deserve treatment for depression because I have more hope of snapping out of it for good. Not like those quiet spacey weirdos.” This is projection, but it exists.

And it struck me that people who never got the chance to seem full of life because of worse depression deserve a helping hand, too, as do people who just have everyday good things to offer. Mental health doesn’t have the stigma it used to. I remember in HS “Dude, are you mental” was quite a cut-down. Now people at least give lip service to mental health services after, say, the latest gun massacre. Which is morally dishonest, but it’s something.

The flip side of “but I’m an exciting depressive” is going all in on the “my lousy apartment I’m so alone” trope, and it’s tough to find something that get to the core and helps me say “Yes, and.” RtE is more on the lousy-apartment side, but it often made me say “Yes, and.”

I hope it’s not a backhand compliment to say “well, I only got through so much, and I’ll get through with it later.” I’d like to offer this analogy. Recently I bought two courses at Chessable. There was a sale for the World Championship. I really, really wanted to get to each one. But after a week or so, here is my progress:

I’ve put off some of this for easier courses. There’s stuff I don’t want/need to learn yet. For instance, you can respond to the French Defense 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 by taking the pawn, moving your knight, or moving your c-pawn. The course covers all three. But I know which one I want, and I’ll focus on that, and I’ll study the other sidelines later, when I’m in the right mood! Through it all, I have confidence I’ll be learning more. And I don’t have to learn it all now, and I’m glad I spent the money and time so far. I chip away a bit each day, confidence I’ll find long stretches when the time’s right to learn or do a ton.

I feel that way about RtE. (Well, spending time only. Hooray free stuff!) It has sidelines and the main stuff I want to read. I[ll get around to it all. RtE feels very comprehensive, and I felt bad as a tester saying “I’d like to put that off for now,” and when I ordered the two courses above I realized my approach made a good deal of sense, given my life circumstances and my immediate needs.

how RtE relates to my own entry

There’s one more thing, one I’ve wrestled with successfully, and it had to do with my own entry. I was sort of left wondering “why bother” for a bit after playing RtE. Which wasn’t Drew Cook’s fault. It was worth working through and gave me a lot of writing sessions I can’t post here–I’ve gone on long enough!

And they can’t quite make it in the postmortem, either. But it really helped me ask why such a silly math problem from a math contest years ago left such an impression on me. And what if I’d never seen it? Would my life really be different? And so forth.

The TLDR is that it helped me search for more meaning than just, hey, this is a neat number puzzle if you look at it right, and hooray for intellectual curiosity. And, yes, however much the reader may want to understand a proof of the pattern they should see is great, and I want to give them as much help as they want!

But there was more. I thought of people who had encouraged me and discouraged me with what I wanted to learn, whether it was practical or not. I thought of people likely quite successful who wondered why I bothered with that weird stuff. People who gave me advice that seemed actual-factual but I just said … no, no, not quite like that. People both excessively sober and Mister Gives 110%.

And I realized how much it hurt back then, and in some cases it was intended to. But I also realized either way, I had a duty to myself to clean that up, and over the years I’ve found resources that helped, like RtE. And not only that, but I’ve gotten faster at letting certain incidents bounce off me.


@aschultz Thanks a lot for your excellent review of Beat Me Up Scotty. It’s a bit of fun and was intended to play like a quiz show. Also, an experiment to try out the idea of a “Catchphrase game”. Not sure if this is already an IF thing.

Anyhow, people are continuing to come up with good ideas for responses I didn’t think of. Many of the one’s you’ve suggested ought to be valid. Indeed, I will try to add them. I added a few more only this week suggested from other people.

Glad you liked it!


Thanks for the review, Andrew. I am glad you enjoyed the game and the comments here will certainly help with my ‘post comp’ version (which I definitely intend to do). As I have said, I am grateful for any reviews of my game. It was my first attempt at a comp and have found all reviewers to be helpful - with useful comments and walkthrough transcripts to assist. - AG

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I think people would be glad to assist with a bit of testing! Keep us posted when it comes out, too.

Also, more generally, I will be posting these to IFDB in short order, after proofreading. But 1) it helps to have a strong first draft and 2) I do love seeing how orange the post count turns once it gets above a certain number!

Stygian Dreams, by Giorgos Menelaou

This was in the back garden, but I think it would have been at home in the main festival! It’s experimental, with AI-generated text, and it’s much better than what I’ve seen. There is more discussion of what I felt on and after playing than of the work itself. But I think that’s because, if you’re as lucky as I was, SD will remind you of things, so to speak.

This is going to get a bit political, but – well, in this case, I recall reading two very bad AI-generated poems praising Elon Musk and Donald Trump. They had minimal value for ironic humor, at least. But I was able to forget the words and not that, well, AI-generated art or stories can be mind-numbingly painful and little more than a checklist of details. (I couldn’t tell if any text was strictly AI-generated, which is a good thing. I suspect the author had a go-through and punched it up.)

And there’s another angle. Right-wing trolls’ mantra is “Donald Trump is in your head, and you can’t get him out of it.” But we’d like to, because it would clear things up for what we want to do. (Never mind that certain people are certainly in Trump’s head without trying to get there!) How do we get Trump, or anyone, out of our heads? And how can we be sure that if we do, we’re not just cutting out legitimate opposing views, period?

SD is not specifically about this, but it helps address these questions. And it’s a nice change of pace from works over the years where you have a long quest to enlightenment. Now, many are very worthy indeed. There are some where you decide your eternal fate, such as Michael Hilborn’s The Life and Deaths of Dr. M. And there are some where you try to get someone out of your life. And there are others with a big, horrible realization at the end. Sometimes I’m not ready for that. But I can get a lot of mileage out of them, too. See AmandaW’s What Heart Heard of, Ghost Guessed. And, of course, there is the whole “you have amnesia” subgenre. Pieces fit together, and actions you made or things you saw or thought that didn’t make sense, do. Some stories work well, and some don’t. And, in Spring Thing this year, we also have Repeat the Ending, which deals more directly with emotional issues and drowning in one’s thoughts.

But this is the first I’m aware of where forgetting is a quest! At the end, after meeting some other spirits, you drink from Lethe. This is a gross oversimplification, and SD provides no outright solutions, but it’s a short mythological story that brought up questions I had and gave me enough partial answers to old questions I had. It remnided me briefly of things I let weigh me down, of things I hadn’t quite let go of, and of things I let go of enough that when they popped up, I was able to push them back off the front burner. There were even a few people I remembered who couldn’t let go of things they should’ve, people who seemed very with-it and attuned to society’s faults big and small, and the semi-tortured souls you got to talk to near the end reminded me of them, and I saw some of those real-life people were just babbling. So that was big for me. I tend to place very high value on “what does this entry do for me,” and with SD, this worked. But it can’t be too forcing!

And I’m glad, for instance, the souls in the underworld have no grand description. Dante’s Inferno–well, I loved it, but I’m just not up to that sort of thing right now. And the souls are simply a former warrior, etc., and they will tell you about themselves, and they ramble on, but not too much. The contrast of “don’t you know who I am” versus “I was nobody and didn’t really even try” (which to me implied “I don’t deserve to try until I square away X”) struck me as very important indeed. Both parties deserved to forget who they were or what they did, at least partially–the one, to become better people, and the other, to reach their potential. Although the powerful types reminded me of people who told me I’d better remember or forget. Perhaps they told me I was forgettable, and I shouldn’t forget why. (Spoiler: these people probably don’t remember me and have probably done this to others, sadly.)

SD is not a huge game, and if it were, that might deflect from its central element. You have an ethereal guide. You meet people who can’t forget bad and good things. You learn about yourself a bit, but then you see you get to forget, and you can forget at your own pace, and though there’s no Lethe in the physical world, you can go on quests to help you forget things. Said quests are best achieved with more than “PUT THE PAST BEHIND YOU! TODAY IS A NEW DAY!” or “THINK POSITIVE OR YOU’RE SCREWED” books and mantras that tell you, the heck with any awful things you did, live in the now! I’ve long since seen their faults, even if they accidentally helped me in some ways. And I’ve searched for better, and things like SD generally help.

I could ramble on a bit about what SD helped me remember for quite a while. Those times I didn’t realize I’d been a place before right away, and if I had, I’d have remembered some unfortunate idees fixes. Maybe it was something as simple as approaching a park from the west instead of the north, as I did ten years ago. SD reminded me, too, forgetfulness comes in layers–you realize you took longer between sessions when something awful hammered you. And it made me ask, what else did I put aside, or work to put aside? Perhaps it was a high school classroom where I did not enjoy myself. I took pictures of how different it looked and deleted them from my phone mistakenly. Then it occurred to me I didn’t really want or need to keep the pictures. And I remembered how I had some memories in place trying to neutralize other bad memories, but the defensive memories weren’t even that good.

We mortals don’t have a magic bullet to forget things. At least, not without potentially proving our mortality. So we have to make do. We find something that lets us back-bench the worst of our thoughts, and if we don’t forget them, we put them where they can be recalled instead of forcibly remembered. We can say, okay, I’ve accounted for enough, I can put that aside.

The cheap jokes just write themselves. They’d obviously be unfair, but somehow they helped with putting things in perspective. “I had something brilliant but I forgot it.” “This game is about forgetting, and it’s true to its colors by being forgettable.” “I forget the most relevant detail, but in the spirit of the game I don’t want to go back and read it and remember something long-term.” None of these zingers are fair, emotionally or logically, but they were fun thought experiments and got me wondering what I felt I had to remember or wanted to. I felt okay quickly remembering and forgetting some bad things from my life, and I felt confident others would not stay. And i have to admit, I forget some parts of SD already! And I know sometimes certain writings can stir up personality-cult-like “oh, this is what life is about.” But I believe SD stirred up things legitimately worth writing about for (looks at word count) 1000-2000 words.

So: forgetfulness is a complex thing. It’s scary, because you know forgetting certain things would diminish yourself. But using it to lessen emotional baggage can be a way to grow. And SD reminded me of that. But perhaps it’s better to riff on two lines from the Eagles’ Hotel California, with its own dreamlike qualities:

  1. “Some dance to remember, some dance to forget” Playing SD, I realized things I wanted to remember and forget, and I picked and chose according to my own arbitrary standards.
  2. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” In SD, though, you can check out from memories, AND you can leave them behind.

Or to mention a more technical, practical example. We all have our “Hello World” lessons for coding. And we learn stuff and forget it. I’ve felt guilty having to look up something that seems simple twice, or something I learned early that helped stuff click, as if that proves I don’t have real mastery. But the truth is–I’m making a calculated decision to say, I believe I can put X aside to learn Y, which will have greater long-term impact. And holding onto the trivial knowledge for X gets in the way. It’s different from, say, ditching friends who helped you when you hit rock bottom now you’re successful.

I got a lot out of SD, enough that I planned to write a review before Spring Thing ended, and two days later I finally sat down once my thoughts settled. And it was almost scary to have someone pop up on another forum who hadn’t posted for 13 years. I had forgotten them, but then I remembered (positive) stuff they said in a different context. Perhaps this is a crazy coincidence or, perhaps, I can say without getting too swell a head–if you ask questions and look for answers enough, and stumble across enough good works like SD, things are bound to happen together, and it feels like lightning struck, but really, it’s just a form of the birthday paradox, where two neat things will be unexpectedly close, and you can learn a lot from that, and you don’t have to worry why it happened.


The review itself is much more fundamentally comprehensive that i could have possibly expected. In fact I’m feeling a bit exposed right now, as it stands, considering it’s a direct reflection of my own thoughts while writing the piece. I don’t like not knowing, regardless of the situation. Oblivion is only bliss after one chooses it, when the decision is made in an informed fashion. The game itself, is rough, yes, and the reason it was released in the back garden is the fact that it’s a proof of concept. Training a neural network, an assistant tool to look through your own prose and try to emulate it, breaking it down in its most basic, trite components. It’s frankly a rather humbling experience, only truly surfacing well after the matter has been coldly sent in for a grade. Let’s not even talk about using words, to generate an image. There’s a reason a picture is worth a thousand of them, and during the process of using a tool that is not as exacting, you quickly learn to compromise.

I’m happy this silly little foray into writing has given you this much food for thought and I’m honored you took the time to write these thoughts out. It’s hard to admit that what started as a ‘work’ project turned into a small passion, which was then obligated to be born prematurely, to meet exacting time schedules. I’m hoping to do this proper justice later on.

Thank you very, very much Andrew.


Thanks for pushing through with Stygian Dreams despite your doubts! I was very glad to have played it. Perhaps it’s the sort of thing that you don’t want to over-think while writing it.

My own experience tells me how hard it is to feed words to AI and produce an image. I tried that for cover art for last year’s IFComp entry, Low-Key Learny Jokey Journey. I got a hockey player, somehow!

I’m trying that image again this year with a more concrete title.

I would be scared to put my writing through AI and see what came out. So congrats there being brave enough!

I’m glad we were thinking about the same things. I worried I was rattling on. But I’d thought off and on about the different kinds of forgetting (from Tony Soprano’s demeaning “Fuhgeddaboutit” to someone saying hey, it was nothing, forget about it) and, yes, how not wanting to forget one detail when writing blocks me from doing general stuff.

And of course there is the point all strong chess players make of “you have to have a short memory” after making a mistake you should not have, but of course you don’t want to, you know, have a short memory about your opening lines.

I’d love to read more about your planning for SD. I think a postmortem would help a few people wavering about trying it to, well, try and enjoy it.


A Single Ouroboros Scale: My Postmortem, by Bez

This is another autobiographical-feeling review. I don’t want to do too many of these! But something like ASOS felt like it gave me leeway to share what I hope are important general thoughts based on my own experiences. I feel it ties in well with Stygian Dreams because of the focus on forgetting, ASOS with a more autobiographical perspective and SD more general. Of course I could just be linking up two entries I went through next to each other!

So Bez and I obviously approach our entries from very, very different perspectives. I use parsers a lot, because I enjoy not having to set up graphics, etc. I like puzzles, because figuring puzzles has been part of my growth, and I’ve often fallen back on certain puzzles and re-solving them when I am frustrated with other things, whether they have a concrete or subjective solution. If I have trouble dealing with someone, I can say–well, I remember this puzzle I solved, which isn’t the same as dealing with people, but it reminds me I’m not helpless.

Of course you can wallow in that too much, but in general this feels like good value for time for me, whether or not a puzzle lasts. Though over the years I’ve seen some parser puzzles as “been there done that” and want more. Or perhaps some parser games, I realize, could’ve been done better as Twine or choice! And so some parser stuff isn’t the good value for time they once were. In fact I’ve even switched from parser to Twine-ish with two Python entries, where it may as well have been choice except for meta-options, and I realized it’s probably best to shorten commands so they’re easy to remember.

So I’ve seen myself integrate some choice-ish conventions, so they make a whole ton of time. Yet at the same time, if something is too linear, I maybe don’t feel a sense of accomplishment working through it. I like that–it fuels me to try and risk the next thing.

That said I didn’t need to feel Accomplishment working through ASOS. Given that I’d seen the works the author mentioned, and I do think about these things, I often wonder: what if this is my last one? The probability/possibility increases with each work I write!

I can’t imagine people NOT thinking this through COVID. Certainly it rattled me enough that I was just glad to have written stuff, and I didn’t have the emotional energy left to properly test my 2020 IFComp entry. (Still glad I wrote Under They Thunder, for all its flaws. I had a much smaller and under-control sequel planned for a while. It may not get written. I feel grateful that the main reason is, I have something better to write. Well, to me, anyway.)

And I do want people to care, but I don’t want to force it on people, and I don’t want to do things for attention, and at the same time … I want to find ways to spread the word about what I found and what I enjoy, if I can! I sort of want to make sure I’ve written everything I can, and it’d suck to not get stuff written down, but it’d also suck to run out of ideas. I doubt the universe will let me hit the sweet spot between the two, and even if it did, I probably wouldn’t want to die just yet, because reasons.

These are questions that don’t go away! But fortunately they’ve never been super pressing, yet. There’s been growth, and there’s been a decline from placing in the top 10 of IFComp, but I’m glad for what I have done and, hopefully, continue to do.

And I also realized something else while going through this all. Studying and learning chess, my mood often dictates what I can do for the day. Sometimes I want a lesson with more concrete choices, even one that says “memorize these opening moves, sort of, well–not quite memorize them but organize your mind so you see which occur and why.” Other times, I want one where I’m just thrown out there and read “come up with a plan for the position.” I’m glad to have that variety and choice, and they correspond roughly to choice (tactics) and strategy (parser) – it’s not a perfect analogy, but I’m well aware of how my daily wants and needs change, and I’m glad they do, because it helps push me to a wider variety of learning than I’d have had otherwise. For the record, even though I’m a parser author, the tactics/choice puzzles I see (this also extends to games well-annotated) often push me to ask questions I’m glad I did.

This is the obligatory chess stuff that seems to creep into my reviews a lot lately. But I’ve been drawing a lot of parallels there, and maybe you can do so with your own hobbies too.

As for the parser/choice divide? This is a tricky one. I’ve seen a lot more choice games on subjects I don’t have to deal with and don’t want to. And I have a right to say that. But I’m pretty disappointed in people who go beyond that and say “DUDE NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL PROBLEMS,” as if they can’t just avoid said works themselves. (It took me so long to realize, and be comfortable with, some people have this sort of rant prepared in advance! In-person or online.) And I’ve certainly had people say “why should I have to bother with puzzles” or “what’s with all the puzzles, just write stuff, you write okay?” Or … maybe I could make the puzzles easier? I recognize hearing “well, things have passed you by, why do you write parser games like that?” is an order of magnitude less than the unsolicited slop people get, but it’s something worth fighting through for me.

I have found some answers to why beyond “why not,” as the author does for their artistic decisions. If I can’t articulate them fully (I mean, I try to have normal and hard mode) then I hope they come out in some way. But I hope I can say, hey, yes, we do have a lot of things in common, without sounding too appropriational or both-sidesy or “gosh, we both have it the same” when I’m quite aware that worrying about losing your mental faculties is far more serious than “what if I run out of inspiration in general?”

The author notes some things they hope players would have found (I feel bad I didn’t pay attention!) as well as discussions of external and internal motivation. I have my own semi-answers to all this: if I am writing a creative work, that’s time not spent spending money trying to convince myself I’m happier than I am. I realized I’d found a lot of answers, too, and many were different ones from the authors, because of how we approach our writing, but hopefully they’re equally as valid.

We should have that constant spur to write, and if we maybe didn’t say quite what we meant to the first time, we deserve another chance to step up to the plate. Again acknowledging that my problems and issues are an order of magnitude or so less than the authors, this work is the sort of thing that helps me press through things from my past. I’ve certainly had annoying power struggles with cis white males, being one myself, most of which I lost.

I’m pretty sure the worst of them would laugh at me for writing parser games instead of moving ahead greatly in my career! (Note: if I did move ahead in my career, they’d say I didn’t deserve it. Powermongers are like that.) But works that address these issues often help me see–okay, yes, that’s where so-and-so argued in bad faith or warped the truth or sometimes even seemed conciliatory but was, in fact, being a jerk. In my case it’s more about not being a militant or aggressive enough cis white male that left me skinned. Many were quite disappointed I didn’t enjoy movies with explosions and cursing and what-have-you. Or I was able to tell jokes, but sometimes I just didn’t seem motivated to make them laugh that really loud laugh I couldn’t tell them I hated. I think this is well worth writing about, even if it’s not as critical as what many people write Twines about.

And like the author, I fear my voice dying once I’m gone, so I write a lot, and I write what I can. If I don’t have a degenerative brain condition, I still have run into people that have gotten in my mind and left me frustrating, and like the author, I’ve found the healing tiring but rewarding. Perhaps I’ve already seen my own stuff maybe die in popularity. I wrote a lot of guides for old Apple and NES games, but they seem to be eclipsed by videos and such, and for stuff written more recently. I don’t think about them much, and I don’t let their quality or quantity weigh me down either way.

Overall I’m glad I did what I could. I think I’m in tune with the author that my main regrets are not bothering better, but I hope I’ve bothered well enough, and consistently enough, so I haven’t copped out for too-long stretches.

Finally, some hidden themes from my own game seem to connect with ASOS, surprisingly–the big one being a variation on hearing “hahaha why do you bother my dude” from trolls past and present. Even, or especially, some folks in the “smart classes” from high school might say, why would you find any emotional value in–well, the central puzzle of Write or Reflect? Couldn’t you have done better? I realize they don’t think about me much at all, and – this sort of death of cognition is a relief.

Maintenance note: I may taper this thread off here, since I think I’ve managed to give some signal boost to the two entries that didn’t get ribbons, or chose not to display them. They are both worthy! (Also, the number of replies should now have changes to orange-ish. Thanks to all who fave. Don’t ever feel obliged to. But it is a nice boost, one I hope I can return!)