Billy Mays Reviews the IFComp 2016

Sigil Reader (Field)


My biggest complaint with this game is that it was too short, I felt as though it was an intro to a much larger project, and I would like to play that larger project, but I need to vote on what was presented.

I got the gist of what the big reveal was going to be fairly early on, and then the game just ended as soon as it felt like it should have opened up.

I found it annoying that the author inserted “I should talk to her.” after encountering the ghost, and telling me that I can read stuff that I just examined. I know I can do those things, and informing me of that is disruptive to the story.

I thought “DRIP” was a silly acronym or name for an agency, it just sounds really silly.

I felt the writing was a bit static and dry, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t amazing at the same time. If the point of that was because you are a ghost, then give me something else instead, ghosts are pretty cool. Here was one of my least favorite lines in the game:

“A reception desk took centre stage, a bastion of sense against whatever the public had to offer.” Mainly I don’t like “centre stage” and “bastion” in this sentence, they are overused so much in writing that it’s very unpleasant to read unless they are used to describe the actual center of a stage or in relation to a physical fortification.

This sentence felt clunky: “This room was built not to have weaknesses.” Also, no rooms are built to have weaknesses, rooms are built to have purposes. It is also awkward since that area of the game was actually riddled with weaknesses (from a designing a quarantine perspective).

The rest of the writing was ok for the most part. I enjoyed this line the most:

“But where the lines of the sigil were to be straight, they were curved. Sharp angles became soft. All this, even though they were carved into the wood of the reception desk!”

This was nice. I didn’t like the exclamation mark at the end, I felt a period would have been better here since the mood is more confusion than surprise.

The “remember Gladys” part was a bit anticlimactic.

The story of how the super murderer killed me when I was alive just sounded like everyone there was really careless, not that he was anything special.

I liked what little of the game there was, the sigil idea is interesting, the main reason for the score is how short it was, and it didn’t really leave me with any lasting impressions.[/spoiler]

The Skull Embroidery


I love RPGs, and the author made one, it is really as simple as that. I then deducted 1 points from the maximum score because the author implemented a hunger system, and hunger systems are really lame.

I felt the writing and story were really enjoyable in a beer and pizza sort of way.

I would have liked it better if combat dialogue was a bit more streamlined so you didn’t have to keep hitting the space bar so many times after declaring an action.

From my experience roaming the world, and reading the provided documentation, the game is really well thought out on a gameplay and mechanics standpoint. Action points, dice rolls, stats, levels, crafting, it was all very nice.[/spoiler]

The Skyscraper and the Scar

[spoiler]A zombie apocalypse game centered around a community built up inside a skyscraper. In this game I chose the path of being a total bast@^# to people and then allowing myself to become a zombie at the end because why not? The writing was ok at best, and there was probably a deeper message somewhere hidden in this game, but I couldn’t be too excited to look for it because in these scenarios while you can suspend your disbelief on the zombies, the problem is everything else. You wouldn’t have to worry about the zombies directly because if government agencies aren’t able to quickly take control of the situation then that means you have a total collapse of society, and within a few weeks without sanitation, the water company, agriculture, communications, transportation infrastructure, a failed electrical grid, hospitals, law and order, etc, etc, the whole of humanity would be reduced to fossils for the next species to discover 65 million years from now. Even the people who are clever enough to live off of the land would quickly die off from the environmental repercussions. That being said, I can not look at this game as anything more than just going around and blowing away zombies, and sometimes that alone is good enough.


*****update: my original review did not discuss what the authors could have done to improve their game. Based on my experience, the game could have been significantly improved by implementing a ton more zombies to blow away as long as they could avoid making this tediously repetitive.[/spoiler]

Snake’s Game

[spoiler]Nailed it.


This game exemplifies perfection on every conceivable level. My initial impression was that while the writing demonstrated the work of a master storyteller, the actual interactivity of the game left much to be desired, and then the author seamlessly and appropriately broke the fourth wall within the body of the game before dropping the mic in a display of confidence that mocked any doubts I originally had about this game. I then voraciously consumed additional stories that are part of the same story but are not at the same time, intertwined but not, building up into an experience that is hard for me to properly put into words right now.[/spoiler]

most recent update: some 10s may get turned into 9s, they won’t drop below that. Some games I scored too high, and many games I scored too low. most of the low games will get raised a little bit, and very few of the high games will get lowered a bit. I need to do this to maintain consistency in my scoring. Sorry…


When I posted this I hadn’t got to the part where the flying carpet takes you way up into the clouds, but it seemed to me that that was a dream sequence.

Steam and Sacrilege


The author opened up with both barrels in the opening sequence of the game, this is what I like to see, hit the player with everything you’ve got early, get them hooked, and then proceed from there with how you want to pace the game. This could mean a lot of different things, in this situation the author set the backdrop of the hotel in its prime, a building of wonders that showcased humanity’s greatest technical achievements in this alternative steampunk universe, the fire of creativity coinciding with the passions of the couple.

Now for the bad. The author nailed the pacing out of the gate, and then it stalled fast, and never really returned. Many, many words and synonyms were not implemented which made the experience very clunky for me. Here is one example after the mechanical bellhop was introduced:

">give suitcase to mechanical bellhop
You can only do that to something animate.

give suitcase to bellhop
You give the suitcase to the bellhop."

And then you flash forward to a kitchen scene where you are introduced to the actual protagonist of the game. It’s a breakfast scene, you have to wait for you don’t know what, your husband doesn’t sound too talkative, so you try asking him about your business:

“>ask derek about paper paradise
Derek is humming to himself, likely composing some new melody in his head like he does. You can talk to him later.”

So now that even your spouse is blowing you off, you try to leave to go to work and are told that you haven’t had your caffeine yet, so you drink the coffee, try and go to work, and you get:

Not so fast. You can’t start the day without the proper dose of caffeine.

drink coffee
There is no coffee left."

Well, now you just have to wait around for whatever reason you don’t know with captain talkative until some mysterious stranger you weren’t even expecting knocks on your door to drop off a pamphlet.

Hooray you can finally leave your house and go to work!

You go to work and have to wait around because I guess as the owner of a business you don’t have any other responsibilities while waiting for customers. One arrives, you are in the process of selling her a wreath and then you see this:

“…glimpse of Derek walking to work. As he passes by the ally across the street you see him stop. An old homeless man stumbles to his feet and talks to him. Derek rummages for some change. Then there’s a blur of motion. Derek stumbles and falls out of sight. You lean to look, but your customer shifts and blocks your view.”

Oh my! I hope my spouse is OK I think to myself, so as a player I:

But you just got here. You should probably put in a little time in the store before gallivanting off.”

Forget making sure my spouse isn’t hurt, gotta make that sale first I suppose.

Then you call the police, to which they say you need to wait 24 hours before filing a missing persons report.


This is just completely absurd.

First, it is your spouse, not a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time. The fact that it is your spouse makes it an elevated level of concern for the police. So the first logical question they would ask you is “What is your full name?” followed by “What is your husband’s full name?” and then “What did you see?”, to which you would respond something like: “I was working at the shop I own, I saw my husband walking to work, there was some sort of confrontation that I didn’t quite see, it was all so fast, like a blur, I ran out as fast as I could to check on him, and he was gone! He was on foot, and he was just GONE! Officer, I am so worried, I haven’t heard from him, and I don’t know what to do!”. To which the officer would probably respond with something like “Did you try calling his job to see if anybody saw him come in today, or if he mentioned something about having to leave work early, or if he was going somewhere?”. To which the wife would respond “No, I haven’t tried that yet”, and the officer would say “Why don’t we start there then”, and then it would progress to either some reasonable explanation for where the husband is at, or there would be a serious concern on the part of law enforcement to investigate things right now and in the immediate, starting with first calling into dispatch to see if a report was filed by the husband, and then a drive over to the last place the person was seen, which is right in front of that hotel, followed by some serious police work. Instead you get a nonchalant promise to drive by the hotel, no big deal, whatever answer from the police.

So the police just blow you off for no reason like your husband did at the breakfast table. So you go to investigate yourself, and what do you find?

You find some locked room where your husband is unconscious and hooked up to a bunch of machines. So you wander around the hotel trying to figure out some way of freeing him. One of the rooms I tried going through a door to the south and got some message along the lines of you can’t leave now because your husband is in danger, and the police would just think you are nuts if you tried explaining the situation to them…?


You tell the police you found your husband, the man you tried filing a missing persons report on earlier, locked up in a room in that abandoned hotel, he is unconscious, you believe him to be drugged, you can’t seem to get to him, and then watch how quickly the police station erupts into a flurry of footsteps, bright flashing lights, and loud sirens.

An author has a tremendous amount of freedom to craft the story however they want, but in doing so there are many rules that need to be followed, and when these rules start getting broken: It disrupts the player’s experience unless also presented are some graceful subtleties to regain their trust in the narrative.

For example, figures of authority not believing you when you are in a helpless and grave situation is a common theme that runs through most of Hitchcock’s films. One of the things that Hitchcock did was implant certain subtleties, maybe a camera technique, an abnormality shown in the eyes, a facial gesture, a word, or line, or absence there of, or bit of sound, something discreet to cue the audience in to the fact that something is just not right here, and this strengthens your bond with the protagonist because you are now in this together with them. In this game you just need to take it on the chin that nobody is going to help you for no good reason.

You make it the caretaker, ask him a bunch of questions, get a bunch of silly answers about how the hotel is some sort of prison or something for the angel of death somehow, and it needs a caretaker for some reason, and it’s the current caretaker’s job to shanghai unsuspecting future caretakers, it was all really bad honestly. And then I tried asking some logical questions that weren’t implemented, and then I get zapped with a needle, and wake up zip tied to a wheelchair. I then broke one of the zip ties with a burr which pretty much never exist on wheelchairs because you don’t want to further injure people who already are unable to walk. I couldn’t get the other zip ties freed despite having a ton of stuff that could easily work through a zip tie, and I got stuck, and I was getting close to running out of time, so I resorted to the walkthrough which told me I need some scissors which I didn’t have, couldn’t find, maybe I forgot to bring them? I don’t know, this game had lost me by this point anyways.

My experience with this game in how it was presented is a 6. It wasn’t the worst thing I ever read, and there was quite a bit going on, there was many locations that were all different and interesting, the hotel design was really cool in particular, and I liked the classical grab a bunch of items and solve some puzzles parser feel to the game. If the author cleans up some sloppy mechanics, and straightens out the story a good bit, this could be a really good game. If the author did that, and added a lot more puzzles it would be an outstanding game.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]not a game


Is my review so far…But I can’t help but wonder if the author made this terrible game as a lighting rod to attract criticism away from the other entries. So that this game is the meaning of a 1 so that other games could at least get a 2? But that would be pretty magnanimous of the author to do that, and that would make this game better than a 1, which would make the other games better than a two…I have to mull this one over for a bit…or not…I am not sure yet.[/spoiler]

Stone Harbor


I enjoyed how the game opened up, it was pretty amusing being a boardwalk psychic swindling tourists out of their money, and the author managed to achieve this in a very lighthearted way which was nice, and then you unlock some real psychic powers, that was pretty cool. The detective shows up, the mechanic of reading the psychic energy off of items surrounding a murder case was a pretty interesting idea, and I also enjoyed tapping into the items to remote view a point in time from the past that they were linked to. I was pretty entertained for the first few chapters or so. Then the writing kind of seemed to dry up, it was just going from one point to another, connecting the dots, the tarot cards was a neat thing to throw in, but by this time I was really not engaged in the story very much. I felt like working with the detective was a silly thing to do early on, and that thought just kept dragging through the entire game. Essentially everything I was doing would be inadmissible in court, would get the detective locked up, and any guilty parties let go. I kept playing, there was some sort of conclusion, but I had lost interest long before. Basically my problem is with how far I am willing to suspend my disbelief. I found a fake psychic developing real powers more believable than a detective seeking the assistance of a psychic in the first place, and then letting that psychic contaminate evidence, confront suspects, question witnesses, I just couldn’t get past it. It would be like a game where you are a surgeon and you develop actual magical powers that you use to heal or bring your patients back to life, that would make sense because it is in the surgeon’s nature to do so. But if that same surgeon decided to allow an accountant to operate on one of their trauma patients just on a hunch, this would be infinitely less believable than the prior example even though it could actually happen where the other one couldn’t. Absurdity is fine, but you either have to set the stage for it in being a comedy, or you have a lot of work to do in justifying it to the player, and I don’t feel that was done here with just the ‘I promised somebody I cared about a long time ago’ explanation.

It would have worked if the detective was the one with the actual psychic powers because it could just be explained away as having a keen instinct, and who in a court would dare make the argument that the reason the detective was so thorough is because of psychic powers? They’d get disbarred. This premise has been done a lot though…

Another major complaint of mine was how linear the story was.

I also didn’t like the chapter breaks, they work well in a book, but were very distracting here. I didn’t take any points away for this because it wasn’t that big of a deal.

The pictures were a nice transitional element.[/spoiler]

I have been pretty harsh in some of my reviews. Going back to reexamine them, with my remaining time, I feel my initial impression was the correct one in many cases. Sometimes it hasn’t been, so I add or subtract a point to fix the score. And in an ever fewer amount of cases, in the spirit to fairness, I feel it necessary to tip my hat and place your game on the list of:

Games That Made Billy Mays Eat Crow

  1. Black Rock City
  2. Letters
  3. The Shoe Dept.

Stuff and Nonsense


The author demonstrated exceptional writing in this game. The thing I enjoyed the most is how accurately the author captured the steampunk genre. It is critical in good steampunk that the lines between fantasy and history are blurred, that it is difficult to determine if something is just the result of the author’s wild imagination or it it really did exist, did occur. This was done perfectly, and I really enjoyed how the author set up the story by listing a series of ridiculous things that could never of happened in the past…except they did. That was a really nice touch.

I also liked the alchemy system created where different metals enhance you with different magical properties that you could leverage to your advantage.

My only complaint about this game is that it was too short. You have multiple decisions to make, and five different characters to play, but they are all on the same side so it seemed like it was pretty much the same story just told from a slightly different perspective. I don’t think I noticed anything really ground breaking from the different perspectives.

You meet up with your companions, commit an act of disobedience and the Crown, and then you escape. I really wish there was more of this game to play, but what little there was, I was very impressed with.[/spoiler]



I really enjoyed this clever game. The player takes control of a futuristic gladiator with a computer built into their chest. It is a play on social media, and the one command you use for pretty much the entire game is “take”, but instead of taking the actual item, you give your take on it through commentary that is published around the world. You then have a health(?) indicator in the upper right hand corner of the screen that goes from the extremes of cold to hot to inform you of how successful your “takes” were to the billions of people reading, sometimes you would even read their “takes” on you. The takes were very entertaining to read on one level or another, with my favorite one being:

“>take adversary
You describe your adversary as if he’s in a film and not a battle. He is the hero. You are the wrecked scenery.”

I’m still chuckling over that one.

The “use” command was a very nice touch at the end, and I felt like it capped off the entire experience nicely.

I found it interesting how the author was able to take one command, turn that command into a pun, and keep it fresh throughout the entire course of the game. I feel the game could be improved with more takes, there was a small handful of words that were not implemented for “takes”. Overall a very enjoyable experience.[/spoiler]

Take Over the World


In this game I was able to take over the tomb of a US President, get thrown out by the police, build a giant robotic dinosaur to take back my tomb lair, use it to tare up somebody else’s city, and then use it to conquer my character’s city. In other words it was perfect in every sense of the word except for the fact that it was too short which limited the amount of evil and mayhem I could cause. There were four different options you could pick for lairs, 2 different personal assistants, and 3 different science minions, so there is a good bit of opportunity for replayability, but I prefer one long experience over many shorter experiences.

There is also a good path you could choose to go down…[/spoiler]



I enjoyed this entertaining sci-fiction/horror game. The author set the mood perfectly, swimming in the dark depths of the ocean as a squid was very believable, as was working in the lab. The monster was sufficiently scary, and the story was fairly well thought out. I am not entirely sure why the protagonist didn’t find it completely absurd why the guy he used to run experiments with is now working security detail at the front desk instead of just finding work somewhere else, and I don’t feel the explanation of “something frightened me” is a sufficient reason for the protagonist to believe that his ex partner would throw away his entire STEM career, but the fact that the protaonist did buy into it so easily made me even more curious as to what was going on, so that was a plus. The ending fight was interesting. I died a few times, and then ended up as the shrimp man at the end of it, I’m not sure if that was the good ending or not, but I was happy with it, something different, change of scenery. I then did a quick run through to get to the maintenance area to see if I could boil the monster alive, so I set the temp to 152°C just to be safe, fiddled with some stuff, and that didn’t seem to do anything, that’s fine, I probably missed something, it was still a fun game. I’m not really sure where the author could have improved, I really enjoyed this game, and I just felt like an 8 is about where it belongs.[/spoiler]

Thaxted Havershill And the Golden Wombat


This was a fun little castle adventure. I enjoyed the campy nature of the writing, I felt it worked really well within the context of the story, and I also thought it was pretty neat how the author broke the fourth wall, it fit nicely into the story. The randomness of options was pretty cool, in one playthrough the knife bounced off the guard’s armor and in another it killed him, and the random fight generator was interesting as well. After beating it, I went back to check out the walkthrough that was referenced in the intro and found it to only be a walkthrough, I felt this was a bit of missed opportunity for additional humor. My one big complaint with this game is how short it was. I felt the almost completely unclued randomness of many of your options, and the campy nature of the writing would have been a perfect environment to dramatically increase the size of the castle, and use all of the classical CYOA deaths as your inspiration, and the more absurd the better given how weird the story is, sucked out into space, fall into a a pit of cobras…etc…etc. I found this link with a ton of examples, it’s the internet, I looked through most of it, it seemed fine, but the internet is a weird place:[/spoiler]

Theatre People

[spoiler]Harder to sit through than Cats.

In this game you are a junior crew member for a theatrical production, you need to get some rope to fix the curtains, everyone is either unhelpful or snarky while you try to work around their petty grievances. You manage to get the rope (which was being kept with some tape and blank forms in a locked room because those three things are high value targets for thieves), you fix the curtains, and then the game ends.

I had a lot of hope going into this game. I had hoped it would have been something along the lines of you actually being a crew member, you make some decisions, solve some puzzles, then you get to see how your decisions impacted an actual play with actors having to improvise your good and bad decisions, an actual story with a paragraph or so narrating the play, and it would go back and forth until the play was over at which point the audience would respond based on how well you did. Nope, you pretty much just get some rope and then a canned ending. There was a Fred subplot that I wasn’t interested in, it probably gave you a different ending, but it wouldn’t have improved my impression of the game. This game had a tremendous amount of potential to be something much more than what it was.


This is My Memory of First Heartbreak, Which I Can’t Quite Piece Back Together

[spoiler]The No Wonder Years.

There’s really no mystery here, the Jen character was a total downer, and the Sean character was a complete jagoff. It just wasn’t meant to be. The writing was a little unconvincing, and I was pretty thorough in going over everything. I did like how the game was set up where you would be shown a scene, and then you could click on items that were themed to unlocking other parts of the story.


To The Wolves


Your village offers you up as a sacrifice for reasons and politics that are out of your control, and you must now decide how to set things straight.

I really enjoyed this game. I am big into the outdoors, the game took place almost exclusively in the forest, and everything about the writing felt authentic to me. The plot was engaging, and the characters felt very lifelike. There was also a diversity of characters from spirits to humans to demons to animals and they all felt unique to what they were, and nicely depicted.

I really enjoyed everything about this game. You could choose the path of being a complete monster and burn and murder your way to a revenge ending, or you could play the good character and peacefully free the tormented spirits trapped in the woods. I chose being the monster, but I enjoyed my experience so much that I went back to play the good path, and that felt really nice as well. I also liked how both paths felt different, you get a different story, and a different feel for the characters depending on what you choose.

Your actions develop your two stats savagery and candescence which also impact your options and outcomes.

There was two things I noticed that the author utilized throughout the entire story that I really appreciated, and they stood out to me in these two examples early on and continued throughout the game. The first is when you examined the bench and noticed the marks on the top of it but couldn’t see underneath it, and then when you lit the fire pit and then went back and reexamined the bench you found a knife underneath because the room was now lit up. This was interesting because it made the entire world feel dynamic. The second thing I noticed was when I chose to feed a scrap of meat to the hungry wolf, and when I woke up the next morning, there was a dead rabbit left outside my cottage with fang marks in the neck, a surprise gift from my new wolf friend! I really appreciate stuff like this because it helps give the impression that there is a story happening behind the story. There were plenty of examples of these two techniques in this game, and there was also a lot of other interesting things occurring, this is just two that really came to mind.

There were also multiple endings and achievement which I thought were really cool.

There was one thing I would have liked to have seen changed. On my first playthrough when I was being an emotionless fiend murdering my way through the game, and I was offered the chance to become really powerful by the demon, I told it to go pound sand because I enjoy flipping the script in games for whatever reason I am not sure of, and that didn’t work out in my favor…I didn’t deduct any points because at the end of the day you reap what you sow, it would have been nice though…

Overall an outstanding game and story on every level.[/spoiler]

Yes, my mother is…

[spoiler]You play some kind of state funded councilor, people would come in, you would ask them some broad questions followed by a page or two of really tedious text, read some files that I could only imagine are pseudo-psychology at best, rinse and repeat until the game was over. There was clearly a back story going on with the multiple endings and the Psy is your mother thing, but after reaching the first ending, I was too bored out of my skull to pursue anything more. I would have liked it if you had more control over what you were asking rather than just one broad generalization followed by long barrages of lackluster dialogue between your character and the person you were helping, this would have broken up the monotony a good bit.


Judging updates. I have finished my [pending review] reviews. I still have 2 final games left to play which I will try to complete later on today. There are also 2 games that I am prohibited from voting on. Here are how the scores have broken down so far:



I will play, score, and review the final two games that I am allowed to judge before making any adjustments and coming to my final conclusions on the competition. Thank you.

*****update 10/20/16 After reviewing the numbers, my goal is to eventually pull many of the the abysmal scores into the low-mid ranges, move a few 5s into the 6-7 range, and pull a handful of 10s down to a 9. I am too tired to do this now, so I will be reviewing your art.