Billy Mays Reviews the IFComp 2016

500 Apocalypses

I really didn’t enjoy this game at all, I didn’t enjoy reading any of it, and I didn’t enjoy playing any of it. That being said, I still plan on giving it an above average or higher score?! Why would I do that?

[spoiler]Because it was written into the body of the game that you can send your own stories for worlds to the author, and they could get written into the game! This is about as interactive as interactive fiction could get in my opinion! There is a lot of writing that went into this game, and if you don’t like any of it, you can always shape the world into something you would enjoy! And given how many entry slots are available, you could get a large number of the IF community’s authors and fans into one single game! This is a magnificent idea in a game I really didn’t enjoy that much.

*****update: After careful consideration, the final score I gave to this game is an 8. I had to take into consideration that despite the fact I did not enjoy much about it: The author did exhibit quality writing (not my cup of tea, but I can still respect it.), and mainly the idea I had mentioned in my original review was a huge factor.[/spoiler]

16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds

[spoiler]I gave this game an 8. I can think of at least half a dozen vampire mythologies off the top of my head, and the one thing they all have in common is that the vampire is cunning. In this game the vampire you are hunting is stalking a cashier at a McDonalds, and doing so from the lobby. This does not make him cunning, this makes him a boob. I played the game to three different conclusions, and in these three games, the female protagonist cobbled together different strategies which included moving an air sanitizer and making crosses out of drinking straws. I am pretty sure she brought nothing with her specifically designed to hunt vampires. While I appreciate the MacGyver aspect of this game, the end result is that the protagonist seems weak and ill prepared. Even if she was not expecting any conflict at the McDonalds, as a hunter of the supernatural, she should always have some sort of contingency plan. There may have been a typo or two in there as well, I am not sure, I am probably the least literate member on this forum, and I just give authors a lot slack unless the typos are way out of control and all over the place. My final impression is that the author attempted to make a comedic vampire hunting game with some degree of John Carpenter style elements that missed the Carpenter feel in the writing.

******update 10/27/16: I originally gave this game a 6, but decided to award it two additional points for a final score of 8 after some consideration. Despite my original criticisms, the game did some pretty impressive things, especially for a choice game. There is over 16 (I think?) endings. I saw three of them, I can only assume the 16 victories alluded to in the title is accurate based on how much was going on, and then also the death endings. There was also a surprising amount of freedom in the game, an inventory system, and crafting. The writing was also pretty good.[/spoiler]

To any mod or admin: this is my first go at this, if I totally missed something here in what I am doing, could you please forgive me and put the kibosh on my topic? Thank you.

Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles

I gave this game a 6. The author combined two of my favorite genres, space opera and Greek mythology, into something that I just felt slightly indifferent towards, and I am pretty sure the spaceship was a physical manifestation of the human condition somehow. Some things I enjoyed reading, and others I did not, I really felt this game was a mixed bag for me. Overall the writing was nice, and it was interesting how the author adapted Jason and the Argonauts.

All I Do is Dream

I will be giving this game a 2, I played for maybe about 5 minutes, until I got to the “Maybe tomorrow you’ll play it again?” option which I clicked, and then clicked, and then clicked, and it was registering it as a response because the command became underlined when I highlighted it, and would disappear and then reappear as I clicked on it, so I was thinking at the time that the author is really trying to drive this one message home, and then I clicked on it for like 50 or 60 times, at which point I decided that this is just becoming unreasonable, or the game may be bugged, or that is as far as the author got before the deadline. I then hit the restart button, replayed it down a different (not really because it is pretty linear) path, and got the same result.

Mirror and Queen

Since I am prohibited from casting a vote for this game in accordance with the rules of the IFCOMP, I am not even sure if I can write a review about it until after the competition is over. Therefore, I decided this would be a good time to review the author. The author is an incredibly pleasant person to work with, thanked me on multiple occasions for my assistance, and addressed all of the concerns I had with my experience of the game, and I am really rooting for the author on a personal level. If an opportunity presents itself to playtest one of the author’s games, I would highly recommend you do so, I know I will.

Slicker City

This is another instance in which I am prohibited from casting a vote on a specific game, and will use it to review the author. I found this author to be incredibly pleasant to work with as well, this author also thanked me on multiple occasions for all of my assistance, and was very receptive to my concerns and suggestions, it was a very positive experience for me. I would also highly recommend that you take any opportunities to playtest one of the author’s games in the future, I certainly will. I am also rooting for this author on a personal level.

A Time of Tungsten

[spoiler]This game is a 10

I loved everything about it. The writing, characters, and locations all felt alive. The plot was evocative. I rated this game a 10 as soon as my 2 hour time limit was up, and then went back to complete the game. I quickly became enraged after picking it back up, this was due to the artificiality of the husband’s distress beacon, it felt completely forced, it felt like a cheap plot element. I began to bemoan the 9 I had given it based on time restrictions, this most certainly did not feel like the experience the author had promised, then I thought about it, then I realized…the significance of it being “artificial” in its introduction, and how the author is telling multiple stories, and only one of those stories is what you are reading. Now I am glad I was forced to render judgement after two hours, because this game is easily a 10. I wrote several paragraphs elaborating on my theories, and attempting to unwrap the onion that is this very complicated game, but then reread those paragraphs, and found what I wrote to be completely terrible, and possibly insane. You may PM me if you want to listen to complete gibberish from a nobody in the IF community, for everyone else: suffice it to say that I feel this game is outstanding.[/spoiler]

*****update: I still feel strongly about how I originally reviewed this game, I just thought it pertinent to also point out how exceptional the author’s music selection was in this game. Every sound, every instrumental, all went a long way towards enhancing the atmosphere of this game, and none of it disrupted from the reading.

Ariadne in Aeaea

[spoiler]I gave this game a 10. At this point I was contemplating if I was getting to be too generous in handing out the elusive 10, a score that some would believe should only be handed out to the most outstanding, once in a generation, ground breaking games of all time…

So I thought about the game…and I concluded that I absolutely loved everything about it, I loved the story, I loved the writing, I loved how the author seamlessly inserted a very fictional island into the politics and culture of a very real era. I loved the characters, the protagonist had more vices than a golden age Hollywood film star, but still came across cunning, resourceful, and strong. Everything about it was so realistic, I swear I could smell the salty Mediterranean Sea, and the decadent bitterness of olive oil. I also laughed a lot and laughed hard at the author’s strong comedic style, sharp jabs paired with absurd scenarios that never crossed the line into buffoonery.

And then there were the typos…a couple I may have noticed in the first third of the game, I wasn’t really sure, and I didn’t feel like looking anything up to confirm my suspicions. Plus they were spaced out enough, and I give a lot of slack to authors until things start getting out of control…and then things got out of control: there were a couple of sentences that described one location that had 2-3 (I can’t remember the exact number now) blaring typos! One every once in a while is one thing, this many in one spot felt like I was getting attacked by a swarm of angry bees! I was at the point of getting ready to exercise my judicial authority on the game when something magical happened, something that caused me to happily ignore this score deducting offense: I did something very stupid in the game (nothing magical about this), and then the game presented me with this line:

“Let us hope this is not what the poets will remember you for…”

This line, with its exact wording, the tactical use of ellipsis, in the context it was presented, and the imagery it provoked in my mind was genius. Granted it was nowhere near as soul grabbing as “And thus they buried Hector, tamer of horses.” -Homer, but I was unable tell the differences at the time due to my ribs painfully contorting as my lungs struggled to prevent me from loosing consciousness from all of the uncontrollable laughter I was experiencing. In all honesty, I am having a difficult time even typing out this review as my hands are still trembling with pure glee. I am pretty sure there was a sentence towards the end that was really awkwardly written/grammatically incorrect, but I don’t know, I didn’t reread it, plus it wouldn’t have mattered anyways because I was thoroughly in the author’s camp at this stage, and was buying anything that was getting sold.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]I felt I shouldn’t be here, I’m an outsider, this is all too personal, I don’t belong in this room, in these minds, I want to leave, I want to go anywhere and do anything that isn’t here, but I can’t, someone is preventing that, something is preventing that, an emotion demands to be shared, everything is out of my control. As my eyes pan from the door over to the child, I am no longer a stranger, I am that child, the words I am reading are my words, the feelings are my feelings, the experience is all of our experiences, that which unites all living things is also that which is most violent, most unforgiving, most necessary, most natural. Reminding you of what you lost, and what you will become. This struck a nerve in me. It is both painful and beautiful at the same time.

I initially didn’t want to post the score I gave this story. It didn’t feel right to do so, the story is too personal for everyone reading it, especially the author. I have concluded that since the author was brave enough to publicly share that experience with us, the least thing I can do is publicly post my rating.


Black Rock City


My initial experience with this game was an unpleasant one, I then decided to go back and figure out what it was specifically that I didn’t like about it.

My problem was how I had initially decided to experience the game, reading it like a book, nothing made any sense, everything all kind of blurred together into a series of quick incomprehensible images.

I then decided that now would be a good time to go back, replay it with the time I had left, and try to come up with something concrete that rationalized my original scalding reviews of this game. So I was playing it, reading it at normal speed, having the same unpleasant reaction to the game, and then I went back because a sentence didn’t quite make sense, I didn’t know why, it just didn’t feel right and I thought I could use it in my review as part of my criticism.

So I went back to reread it, I didn’t like it, reread it, I didn’t like it and I couldn’t figure out why, and then I reread it really slowly trying to break down why I didn’t like it and then…WHOA…it morphed into a completely different game! My problem from the start had been how I was approaching this magnificent game, I had been approaching it like a book, when I should have approached like a poem, or a cup of tea, slowly savoring and enjoying every word, every thought. The end result is instead of a blurred and disjointed fragmentation of stories, you get a clear and fluid depiction of many stories, our stories, stories that are not crammed together, but intersect, interact, evolve, collectively, and then it’s over seemingly before it even began, time for a new story, somebody else’s story.

This game represents life ifself: you are here, you meet some interesting characters, share some interesting times, and then you are not.[/spoiler]

Hey Billy,
I enjoy your reviews a lot. May I ask what the order of the games you’re playing is? :question:

Cactus Blue Motel

[spoiler]I scored this game a 10. Three young adults at a crossroad in their lives are forced to decide whether to escape reality by pursuing their base comforts, or if they are ready to accept the burdens of adulthood in order to achieve something much greater. But who cares? This story is not about them.

I felt the three characters, Maria, Becky, and Lex, to be awfully bland. There was some relationship issues going on, they were having a tough time trying to figure out which paths they should take in life, all very mediocre, all very unimportant, the author could have replaced these three characters with anyone and it wouldn’t have mattered.

The main character in this story is the Motel.

Where this game really shines (pun intended) is in the Motel. This is where the author demonstrated story craft mastery of the highest level! And I am capitalizing Motel because it was a very real, and very living character, at least in its importance to anyone who crosses paths with it sometime in their lives. The imagery was vivid, it changed physically, emotionally, and spiritually to reflect how the friends were changing, everything about it was so alive that I would swear that the walls had blood pumping through them. The tenants were unable to leave because they were actual parts of the Motel, like separate appendages autonomously grasping out for that which they desire now, constantly feeding but never being satiated, and all connected (imprisoned?) to one central body.

The game “implied” Dean was the leader, I believe the author was being intentionally deceptive here, not maliciously…just playfully(?). Dean was just as trapped as everyone else. He was the lone drifter, constantly looking for acceptance in a world more complicated that his casual brooding demeanor would betray, pleading with people to stay so that he wouldn’t feel so alone.

Don, the Motel manager, never able to find the monetary wealth in his past life, now finds value in human numbers, being part of a collective, never happy with just the people around him, he constantly craves for more and more people. It is all quantity over quality for Don.

The Smoking Lady, consumed by passions out of her control in a past that seems foreign to even her, she now consumes herself with the one thing she can control.

The Lost Author, untapped genius hindered by his fear of criticism, he sabotages himself, presenting poorly written pages because the criticism of writing he doesn’t care about is less painful than that which he does. He will never be able to become a famous author hiding in his bunker, but that is what he wants, that is what comforts him, it is more comfortable to drift into obscurity, then it is to face any sort of criticism. The fact that his typewriter has a blank page is all the more appropriate because he knows nobody will ever read anything of his because he won’t allow it, he will not allow himself to feel vulnerable by pouring his true self onto sheets of paper.

The Band: “I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first’. See if that doesn’t cover most of it. There’s not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job.” - Bill Murray. They found this lesson out the hard way.

And finally the Jackalope…Now we are finally at the ringleader of this operation. A wall full of red herrings, sending Maria on wild goose chases that just debunk all of his trap theories ever so conveniently…very suspicious…I am not sure if what the Jackalope was doing was an act of deception to entangle victims further into its web, or if it needed on some individual or otherworldly level to make sure visitors had all of the information to make a decision on whether they wanted to leave or stay permanently, but the one thing I do know is: that bunny is running the show.


I am glad that you’re enjoying my reviews! I am enjoying the games, so thank you if you made one, or are even thinking about making one!

I am reviewing them in the default alphabetical order shown on the IFComp page:

I am going to review the entire competition of entries, and then write something about my experience as a whole at the end.

I haven’t been reading other peoples’ reviews yet because I don’t want them influencing my judging of the games, but you should consider playing them and writing your own reviews if you haven’t already: Everyone has something valuable to say, and it helps out all the people who worked on these games and organized the competition when people play, score, and write about the games! Plus, I am interested to see how other peoples’ opinions on the games compare and contrast with my own when I am finished.

Take care!

Cinnamon Tea

[spoiler]One bitter cup of tea.

The author used tea as a metaphor for meditation in a story revolving around love, loss, and self-discovery. The player was presented with three options for how the protagonist would perceive the tea, and based on that selection, would glimpse into another facet of the soul of the protagonist, and the wounds received in this “dreamworld” carried over into the real world because I guess the protagonist’ feelings are so intense, and you don’t understand them, or something equally trivial. To top it all off, the main character even discovered a new relationship at the end because I guess if you want something bad enough all you have to do is feel sorry for yourself long enough.

The main character was egotistical and arrogant, never caring about how others’ felt, always playing the victim card, and never taking any personal responsibility for how they themselves may have contributed to this outcome. I can’t even comment on the other characters in this game as they were nothing more than wallpaper for this dreadful soliloquy.

The writing was fine.


Color the Truth

[spoiler]I gave this game an 10. The plot was very engaging, I really enjoyed how the author structured the story, and the mechanics of the game are superb. You play the role of a detective questioning four persons of interest as they recount the last moments of their interaction with a recent homicide victim. You take the perspective of those individuals as they recount their version of the story, but something doesn’t stick and you need to uncover clues and cross-reference their version of things with that of the other potential suspects, you can then use this as leverage to gain a more accurate telling of the events without all of the deception that they added. This was all remarkable. Where the game fell apart for me a little bit was in the writing.

I enjoyed the writing for the most part, but I did find some areas to be a little lacking in their presentation. The impression I got was that the author wrote an overall solid structuring of the story that included inspirations when they struck, and then went back over it and jazzed up few areas with the “magical bag of infinite adjectives and obscure colors” that every author has clung to at one point or another. Here are two examples that are outside of that basic formula that I feel demonstrated some of the best and some of the worst this story offered:

“The dawn sun smiles on you as you stand in the parking lot, and you smile back.”

I enjoyed this line, it was pleasant to read, and is an insightful beginning to the secretary’s account of the day. You first get the impression that she is the always the optimist employee who is even cheerful at the beginning of their workday, and later as the mask is removed, it demonstrates that she is so arrogantly manipulative that she believes she can con even the sun. Bravo.

And then you get something like this in the room descriptions of a radio station:

“From the speakers, you hear the radio quietly playing I Love Rock And Roll.”

To demonstrate how poorly this missed the mark, allow me to present this video:

When this song comes on the radio in your car, you don’t think to yourself “the speakers in my car play I Love Rock N Roll”, you know the name of the song, but you are too focused on the epic guitar riffs and the thundering voice of Joan Jett hitting you harder than a boat full of vikings.

This generic sentence structure happened a lot in the story: the speakers [insert adverb] played [insert intellectual property]. This was very distracting for a game that mainly takes place at a radio station.

Normally what I see that works is some ellipsis, some onomatopoeia of the music, and a carefully selected handful of lyrics all appearing in italics.

In conclusion, this is a superb game that was slightly held back by modest deficiencies in creative writing skills.

*****update: I originally scored this game an 8 due to some minor deficits in creative writing. I then added a point because despite whatever I was feeling was wrong with some of the writing at the time I was playing it, many of the images are still stuck in my head. I most recently decided to upgrade this game to a full 10. This is because this game’s mechanics is probably the one that sticks out the most to me in terms of how much I enjoyed them, and while there were some misses in the writing, there were games that I scored a ten because I found them so well written despite having much simpler mechanics because of how powerfully they moved me on an emotional level. Therefore, I thought it’d be only fair to credit this game’s mechanics here…plus the writing was still pretty good.[/spoiler]

Update: no new updates.

I kinda liked Black Rock City. It was weird in a good way and gave me the same relaxed feeling as did Beautiful Dreamer by S. Woodson.

The PC doesn’t have any clear goals, they just have some time to spend before the storm. There are no right or wrong choices, no pressure; you explore different branches of the game, learn things about the bizarre city and its inhabitants, feel free to try even ill-advised things like jumping from the flying carpet.
I suppose many people would behave in a similar way if told that the end of the world is expected in an hour: walking streets, talking to strangers, ending the conversations abruptly and going away to find other things to do. There’s something apocalyptic, too, in the inevitable dust storm ending the game after 6 turns; since it’s clearly not set in our world, I guess a “dust storm” may mean a different thing there.

The scale of the work is rather impressive; as far as I understand, there are about 80 endings. I’ve seen about a dozen, and some of the stories I got seemed interconnected, adding to each other - but, yeah, I didn’t feel curious enough to see more. Maybe later I will.

Yeah, I feel you bring up a valid counter-argument to my review. I have been considering revisiting the two games I mentioned in the prior post, Black Rock City and Cinnamon Tea, because I still have way over an hour (realistically an hour and a half, but I will just say an hour to be safe) to play them.

I thought it was set in our world, at the Burning Man festival. (Gathering? Event? Whatever you call it.)


[spoiler]The most significant contribution to interactive fiction since Zork.

That’s a bold claim I just made there…but why?

Well, when I first saw the list of entries this year, my mind instinctively divided all of the games up into two categories: The first being games I am looking forward to playing, and the second one being what the hell is Ventilator?

So my original plan was to review the entire competition in alphabetical order, and while I’ll still be reviewing the full competition, I was beginning to have a difficult time concentrating on the games I was playing because I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the hell is Ventilator?

So now that I played it, what is Ventilator, why is it such an important game?

Quite simply what the author did here is invent an entirely new genre of fiction!

Do I mean like fiction as in the grand body of fiction, and not just the interactive fiction community?

I sure do.

Why, what makes Ventilator so special?

Well this is where things become difficult, trying to assign words to a completely new concept. It is like that timeless riddle: “What does an orange taste like?”, well it tastes like an orange, that is the word we have to describe what oranges taste like, “Without using the word orange, explain the flavor to somebody who has never encountered one.”, well there are over 50 common varieties of oranges currently in the world, not including all of the…“Just PicK ONE!”…I’m partial to the Valencia…“FINE! GREAT! HOW DOES A VALENCIA ORANGE TASTE?”, well there is a lot of complicated science that revolves around the chemical compound…And this argument would just go on for eternity between these two until the only reason they remain clinging to life is to watch the other one cave…but none of this helps to explain Ventilator.

What does an orange taste like?

It is sweet, refreshing, just tart enough to be exciting, and loaded full of body essential vitamin C.

Ventilator is these exact four things combined with a speeding, out of control, steam locomotive being piloted by a complete madman.