Brad's IFComp 2023 Reviews

The Sculptor

Another Texture entry! I wonder how many there are this year.

:man_artist: :man_mechanic: :woman_office_worker:

Thoughts

This is the story of an artist colliding with the pressures of capitalism.

What worked for me

There’s a strong arc to this short work: A bargain, a furious labor, a choice. The sculptor’s obsession with his work comes through, and is backed up by the actions we’re given: Do we stop our work to eat with Ricky, or dismiss him in our hurry? Do we greet or lash out at the suits when they visit our studio? In moments between work, we contemplate.

The prose is compact and effective. The work seemed bug-free - maybe a couple of grammar issues but not enough to be distracting. Also, despite some complaints below, I like this piece!

What worked less well

I had a funny experience early in this story: The baroque de Ribera (1591-1652) painting as the cover image, and the first couple pages describing an old man sitting in front of a block of marble, primed me to think I was in a 16th or 17th century story. That assumption was upset on the third page:

Ricky, the owner of the run-down garage you work in calls for you.
“There’s a fancy suit asking for ya.”

This probably reveals the mood I was in while reading, but it took me a beat to move from annoyed to amused. In retrospect it feels intentional, a rug-pull out of the PC’s musings into the inciting incident - I like it, and I’m struggling to put my finger on why it didn’t quite land for me. Something about the comic timing being off - it happens in the middle of a passage without enough change in style or spacing to give me the reader a matching “jolt.” I’m curious how it landed for others.

The ending felt a bit abrupt to me. We make the critical choice (sell our work and tarnish its perfection by turning it into a commercial product? Or destroy it, letting it live unblemished in our memory?) and get one more page - a very brief postscript, so brief that it leaves consequences of the choice to our imaginations. I feel like it needed one more beat - the sculptor’s own satisfaction, and then the moment that reality rushes in.

Also, I’m going to allow myself to be a bit cranky about the choice itself. There is a real tension between pursuing one’s artistic vision and making money. The reduction here to “total sellout vs. better to destroy it” is a caricature - it risks reinforcing a “no compromise starving artist” stereotype that condescends on real artists struggling to make a living on their work - particularly because destroying the sculpture feels like the “right” choice to me, as written here. So I found myself wishing for more nuance, in a short story where it might be out of place.

There might be a longer reflection to write on this in dialogue with Sunday in the Park with George? That work also draws a jarring contrast between the pursuit of art and the pursuit of art-as-business.

Overall it’s a good sign when a story has me complaining about the theme. This was tidy and punchy and had something to say (even if I disagreed with it). Thank you for sharing your work, Yakoub!

9 Likes

Have Orb, Will Travel

Another custom engine already? Bring it on!

:ice_cube: :ice_cube: :ice_cube:

Thoughts

I read all the help text, played for a while, restored to hints, quit in frustration.

What worked for me

I had more fun with HOWT than I did with previous entries, even though I didn’t get terribly far. I deeply admire all the work that went into this custom engine, which is generally quite full-featured. Implementation seems very solid throughout. The help text is many pages long, including bindable hotkeys for common commands! It’s also charming, and colorful, and some light but effective ASCII art really made the game pop.

Good use of sound effects! I actually felt these were additive to the experience, which is rare for me.

Also, there’s a good hint system! Which I turned to a few times.

The objective was clear, thanks to a letter: Go find the Orb! And some of the actions are immediately fun, we get to do wizardy things (appropriately mundane wizardy things, even).

What worked less well

A lot of the text here wants an editing pass. In several places I thought cutting half the words would have tightened up the writing. This sentence that sets up your bad day:

The first thing was when your horse, which hitherto had calmly been grazing on the grass which carpeted the forest floor, took it into his head to make a bid for freedom and bolted between the trees and out of sight.

…could be “First, your horse bolted” without losing any plot-relevant detail. Or once inside the cottage near the start:

You seem to be in the lower part of the cottage, a narrow stairway leading up in one corner to a higher level, presumably into the tower from which at an earlier point you saw the bird take flight. On the floor in the centre of the room stands a large table which looks as if it is make of oak, while just above it, attached to the wall, there is a stout-looking shelf. To the north there is one other exit leading into what appears to be a garden.

…perhaps, “You are in the cottage. A narrow stair probably leads into the tower you saw earlier. A large oaken table stands in the centre of the room, beneath a stout shelf. You can exit into a garden to the north.” There’s hesitation and qualification in the text - extra clauses for every statement - that makes it difficult to scan. Nevermind that you have to examine the table to see if something is on it!

The descriptions aren’t great at calling your attention to what is or isn’t important. The game will sometimes describe something as “unusual” but won’t say in what way, and it turns out to be inconsequential scenery.

Around you stretches a dank dim forest whose floor is carpeted by dense and varied undergrowth, the main component of which is an unusual type of fern. […]

> X FERN
They’re of a type you’ve never before seen.

> TAKE FERN
You can’t take the fern.

Then, there are some conveniences missing:

After a short delay, the door opens with a soft creaking sound.

> IN
A direction would seem more appropriate.

> X DOOR
The door is open.

> ENTER DOOR
How do you propose to enter the door?

> WALK INSIDE
Please put that another way

> GO INSIDE
Please put that another way

> INSIDE
You appear to have omitted a noun.

> ENTER COTTAGE
[Works!]

For some folks there may be an oldschool charm to this. I find it frustrating. There are other examples of frustrating interaction design: READ BOOK shows me the cover, OPEN BOOK then READ BOOK shows me page 1, TURN PAGE then READ BOOK shows me page 2, and so on. I’ll admit this was convenient when I needed to consult the same page over and over, but I’d almost rather it had a simpler interface and expected me to take notes. Spells seem to be an unlimited resource but must be LEARNed again every time they’re used. A secret switch could be PUSHed but TOUCH didn’t work or hint that I was close.

The cube-room maze I understood immediately, but it was a bit tedious to enter all of the commands to get through it (even entering many on a line). When I was eventually returned to the starting cottage and realized I’d have to go through the maze again, I quit because I didn’t want to type out the twenty-odd commands again. (I’ve been spoiled by Hadean Lands for this sort of thing.)

Overall I might be missing the point of this game - it advertises itself as an ‘old-school’ style game, and it’s possible my complaints above are exactly the sort of thing that makes this appealing to a certain audience. I found some of the puzzle design frustrating too, but I’ve largely left that out of the review because it feels very intentional, and is something I can bounce off of. Super conflicted on this one - obviously so much work went into it, but I’m also very frustrated with it. I’d love to see a few of these experience things changed up while keeping the oldschool puzzles and pace.

12 Likes

We All Fall Together

Third Texture story already, wow!

:tornado: :two_men_holding_hands: :skull:

Thoughts (CW: suicide)

I’m likely misinterpreting the metaphor in this piece, but what I read was a memento mori in a surreal story about everyone falling through a great void. The dark storm below might be home or hell, but we’re all headed there. We only control how we feel, and how fast we fall.

What worked for me

The best thing: It took a little time after reading for this to sink in, but there is a lot of character motion in this very short story. The PC passes through disorientation, fear, doubt, empathy, and courage. The Rock Star presents nihilism that slowly peels away to reveal regret, cowardice, ego, terror, and finally some resolve.

It’s also well-written and funny! There’s an interaction that reveals the second line here, which caused a chuckle:

“What the hell is wrong with you!” the person yells. Good question. Everything is still spinning.

“A lot! Actually!” I shout to my new sky diving buddy.

I also found it funny when the characters speculate that the storm below might hide Purgatory, since they seem to be in a kind of Purgatory already.

I don’t remember the last time I went skydiving in IF, and I liked how many of the verbs were “Grab” and “Dive” - it was appropriate to the setting and added some consistency that I miss in other Texture works.

For a moment I felt like the ending was abrupt, but on reflection it’s savvy to cut before we reach the cyclone without even a hint of what waits. It drives home the idea that the story was about deciding to approach the threshold, not the threshold itself.

What worked less well

I feel like this piece is trying to say something, but I’m a little uncertain what that is. I’m choosing to go with the read that we should live a life empowered by our embrace of mortality, rather than slowed by fear and avoidance of the inevitable. I think the title “We All Fall Together” supports the idea that it’s a universal narrative. And I’m on board with that message! But a number of other interpretations came to mind that might endorse different values.

The one that bothers me is that it’s almost about choosing an earlier death - a pro-suicide parable. The Rock Star saying “we belong down there” and then being challenged on why he hasn’t taken the dive yet struck me as a very uncomfortable moment, like saying “go ahead and do it then” to a suicidal friend. Then, we die together in the end? I don’t like this read, but I worry it fits the story as written better than my preferred interpretation.

Other takes I tried to fit to the story:

  • This could be a story specifically about people near death, and how they choose to face it. But the characters seem middle-aged and healthy enough, and if this was the intent it didn’t feel like it.
  • This could be a story about people who are already dead - maybe it really is Purgatory - in which case there’s a much softer “go into the light” read on the ending but I think it has less power and relevance to my life, too.
  • Bringing death into the picture could all be an over-read - perhaps the author meant to generically address fear of the unknown, or some other specific fear. But I don’t think so. There are enough little nods to an afterlife to push me away from this theory.

The other thing - which is less of a complaint, and more a wish - is that I liked the amount of character development and I liked the actions, but I wonder if they could have been tied together better. A lot of the interaction is (thought and dialogue) exploration, and some of it is specific actions that affect the Rock Star. Is there a design that would have helped me feel more like I chose the character development that happened, without derailing a fairly linear story? Maybe not. I’m going to chew on it for a while though.

Bugs

Just a couple of spelling issues, but not enough to be very distracting. For example, this should be “too:”

“Reach to high, and that happens,” the rock star says besides me.

Overall An original and thought-provoking short story. Thank you for sharing, Camron!

7 Likes

Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head

:japanese_goblin: :movie_camera: :family_man_woman_girl_boy:

Thoughts

Hey, listen! PYHITPH is an unequivocal recommendation. Put it on your must-play list!

With that out of the way, I’ll admit that I wasn’t very good at this game, and only retrieved seven of the fourteen Handfuls. In particular, I never engaged with learning the guard routines, which significantly limited what I could achieve on my first playthrough. But I still had a great time!

What Worked For Me

First: To my mind, this is an amazing sweet spot for mechanical depth in a Twine story: A navigable and stateful world, a limited inventory, more than a dozen characters, and the combinations of these into a huge possibility space full of bespoke content. We’ve seen “crunchier” Twine games that go full-roguelike, perhaps working against the grain of the engine to create large experiences. But this feels like the very deep end of working with the engine’s strengths. At times I forgot I wasn’t playing a parser game. I’m sure it was a staggering effort to build and test.

Second: What a great concept! I love the Muppets, something this game captures beautifully is how that love extends to the people and process that brought them to life.

It also captures how vividly alive these characters are, in the semi-surreal way the Handfuls are brought to life: It’s fairly clear that the player character is puppetting them and providing their voice, but they’re written as fully autonomous persons, whose actions and opinions can surprise the PC, much as we’d see Kermit or Elmo come alive for a child even though we know the child must see the puppeteer just off-camera. (And in a great bit of magical realism, the Handfuls do know things the PC doesn’t, and even speak in Mal’s voice later in the story.) This wouldn’t be possible without some excellent writing.

Third: I was constantly surprised by the depth being revealed in the game, and enjoyed digging through character backstories and reading the dialogue revealed by bringing two Handfuls together on a run. And I clearly missed a lot of this content! I need to go back.

What Worked Less Well

I did not guess that the guards’ movements would be predictable, and I lost Ernest (who is one of the hint systems) to a guard fairly early in the game. So I did a fair bit of running into buildings and hoping I’d be lucky enough to not get caught. Fortunately there is another hint system (the getaway driver) but I also struggled with some of the hints. For example, the one about looking near air vents for taken Handfuls never made sense to me - I only found the air vents in one building, and visiting them never seemed to help me retrieve a Handful. There was also a bit of dialogue about one of the Handfuls scaring away the guards, which didn’t seem to work in practice - I was captured anyway. Given more time I’m sure I could get to know the systems at play better, but it was a challenge while playing for the comp.

Overall What a lovingly-crafted thing. Easily worth your time.

9 Likes

Once again I have to give credit to my absolutely dedicated crew of testers, who played through the whole game far more times than I would have asked them to, and dutifully catalogued everything from game-breaking bugs to missing line breaks and spaces. (There’s still plenty of those though, I’m sure!) They’ll all be happy to know their work paid off so well for you!
Thanks so much for the thoughtful review; I do hope you find the time to try for the best ending!

6 Likes

All Hands Abandon Ship

:rocket: :toilet: :socks:

Thoughts

We’re in the bathroom, on a spaceship. Neat! Let’s find out who we are and what’s going on.

The only escape from this sterile, functional purgatory appears to be an exit to the aft.

> X ME
As good-looking as ever.

Okay, wrong first command. That’s on me.

> AFT
You might have an easier time if you stand up first.

Awww, c’mon game. That’s on you! Or is this a joke?

Expectations set: This might not be the most polished experience.

What Worked For Me

There’s some great writing in this piece! The room descriptions are terse and clear, and manage to evoke a distinctive, sterile-yet-sloppy USS Icarus. And the standout is the alarm voice, which grows more urgent, and then more personal, over the course of the game, saying things like:

The overhead voice continues. “I’m beginning to think you don’t want to find your muster station. Have I said something to upset you?”

…and later:

“All crew should proceed immediately to… You know what? Fine. Go down with the ship. See if I care. You always were a stubborn so-and-so.”

It evokes Eddie the Shipboard Computer in a great way, which kept me entertained as I struggled with the central puzzle.

What Worked Less Well

This really should not have confused me, but the voice kept telling me to follow the chevrons to my muster station - not to actually get in the escape pod. And then I spent some time at the start poking around at what was implemented, hoovering up dozens of objects. As a result, enough in-game time passed that I’d hit the lose condition before I went looking for a way into engineering. Oops!
There are quite a few red herrings - it turns out the critical path is pretty short! But honestly I’m glad I was distracted because otherwise I might have missed the best dialogue as the timer runs down. There are also quite a few descriptions not implemented that seemed like they should have been, like the smelly gym socks you can’t smell, or the holographic doctor that is “nothing special” upon examination.

Overall Some good writing, and a smart way of getting it into the game. I’d love to see more of the details implemented, and a few more puzzles. Thanks for sharing David!

7 Likes

Citizen Makane

:man: :peach: :flower_playing_cards:

Thoughts

I’m not familiar with the game this is based on, but from a quick read it sounds… problematic. “Citizen Makane” twists that source material to say something healthier about sex. It’s so relentlessly horny that it wraps around to absurd, and then manages to land a heartfelt moment. I couldn’t recommend it to just anybody, but it’s great if you have the appetite for it.

The player begins the game explicitly bad at sex - you’re literally the last man on earth, and still your advances are rebuffed by the women in town until you can track down three “Big Deck Energy” cards. Over the course of the game you climb a power curve until you literally have sexual superpowers. The way you do this is by having lots of sex, via a push-your-luck minigame with a scoring system that prioritizes mutual pleasure. An unsatisfied partner is a major embarrassment to the character.

The writing doesn’t shy away from describing these sex acts. In a great touch, it slowly grows more over-the-top throughout the game. So while I was skipping over much of this by the end of the game it was from sheer volume, rather than because it had gotten repetitive.

Elsewhere, the player character is constantly on the back foot - perpetually outmatched in a world full of women. I like the running joke he keeps trying to say quippy things and backing down. For all the sex, the game won’t ever let you really be suave. Which is perfect.

Overall it manages to celebrate sex, and poke fun at it, and in the end ask a question about the role of sex in a healthy life.

10 Likes

Thanks for the review!

1 Like

The Ship

:sailboat: :framed_picture: :rocket:

Thoughts

“The Ship” is a well-structured suspenseful story with an early twist into science fiction and a number of well-done mini-games. I made it all the way through once, and I think I got most of the achievements and optional content. It’s a substantial work. For some reason it didn’t hold me, and I was impatient by the end.

What worked for me

I’m here for the two entangled time periods thing. For a while I wondered if we were in a Cloud Atlas scenario. There’s some surreal and underexplained connections between the eras, like adding the painting to the captain’s quarters. I like these weird details and actually wanted more of them!

For a moment I was skeptical of the loudly announced relationship changes, even before I’d met some of the characters, but they quickly grew on me as I recognized them as more of a scoring system and less of a diplomacy simulator. It was satisfying to see one of those boxes pop up.

The maps are small and easy to memorize and navigate; likewise the medium-sized cast of characters in 1719. The way the game gradually unlocks UI features, including the ability to jump between eras, is well-done.

I enjoy the fusebox and navigation minigame puzzles! I’m guessing these wear out their welcome for some people, and while I never found them terribly difficult I did think they got just complex enough to not feel trivial anymore.

I quite liked the visual trick at the climax of the piece, where we get a collision of three realities in three columns of dialogue. It captured that “the mothership lands” moment from the end of a Close Encounters. And the twist ending I got was a good chilling moment too.

What worked less well

The prose gets in the way. Examples include this verb-preposition mismatch in one of the first lines of the game:

The Captain woke up violently by the repeated pounding on the door of his cabin.

Much later, this description of the 1719 Captain’s thoughts took me out of the moment. “A couple of thingies” felt oddly modern to me; I think “thingummy” or “whatsit” might feel more period, even though they would also be anachronisms for so early in the 18th century.

Someway, somehow, in all this absurd nonsense, the Prisoner made him feel at peace. He had something small and reachable to focus on - bringing him that warm bowl of soup -, and something small and reachable to wait for - a couple of thingies and his potential help.

And at the climax of the story, I think this is just the wrong word? From context, I think it was supposed to be “Are you content with…”

The Light: “ARE YOU CONTEMPT BY WHAT YOU FOUND IN YOUR JOURNEY?”

There is a lot of text, and plenty of it is good, but there are enough of these moments mixed in to be distracting - so one more tester who was a great proofreader would help.

I also didn’t feel like the individual good bits of this pulled together into a coherent whole.

I liked the mini-games. They do advance the plot in the “I need the thing on the other side of this combination lock” sense, but I wouldn’t say they help tell the story. They’re not particularly expressive, so I didn’t learn much about the characters. The style of them doesn’t tell us much that’s specific about the world. The mechanics don’t seem to reflect the story’s tone or themes; swapping out fuses was odd in this vaguely cosmic horror! Although I can imagine a variation on this story that uses Liar’s Dice as a motif! Both eras are operating with incomplete information story-wise, so suppose we underlined that by having both play some variation on the Liar’s Dice minigame - maybe rethemed in the future to represent the problem of navigation with malfunctioning sensors. Then what if, instead of the meeting of the two captains ending in a gunfight, they engaged in a sort of cosmic Liar’s Dice?

I also hit a scoring bug in my first round of Dudo, so I used the skip button every time it came up from the on.

Screenshot of bug


I mean, clearly Billy’s a cheat.

The ending felt very god-in-the-machine to me, and I found myself left with lots of frustrating questions and few interesting answers. Why was that poem present in both eras? Why didn’t it matter that the 1719 crew never got the full coordinates? What was the device we picked up? What is Ben’s deal? Who unlocked the crew’s quarters, and why? Why is there a giclee printer on the spaceship? And why does either captain trust the Light?

Overall I saw lots of good bits, but felt the story struggled to be more than the sum of its parts. Thanks for sharing Sotiris!

9 Likes

The Vambrace of Destiny

A-ha! I’m thrilled that the randomizer put the latest DiBianca so early in my list!

:gem: :door: :mage:

Thoughts

I’m pleased to report TVoD is an unequivocal recommendation. Put it on your must-play list!

Like last year’s “Trouble in Sector 471,” we’ve got a compact puzzle-fest with a helpful minimap and limited verbs. “Vambrace” takes the limited verb thing a wonderful step further by binding most actions to a single keystroke. It’s one of those innovations that feels obvious in retrospect - if you’re limiting the player to a dozen actions, why make them type the whole thing out? This results in a game with the breezy controls of a Rogue but granularity and puzzles more like conventional IF.

I should caveat that Rogue’s controls are only breezy once you’ve properly learned them, and here DiBianca’s MO shines because you begin with a simple set of commands, and earn more as you snap gems into the titular Infinity Gauntlet Vambrace, producing the appropriate learning curve. I’ll admit by the end of the game I was regularly mashing H(ELP) to review the available commands, but even this process was smoother than it would be in most games. (There might be room for a cheat-sheet above the minimap, though.)

I found the puzzles logical and well-clued (I found half the treasures on my run) - there’s a language to the goblins, orcs, elementals and other obstacles you encounter where earlier puzzles guide you towards solutions to later ones. Then the game ends with a great boss fight, which borrows a page from the book of insult swordfighting by asking you to apply your powers in familiar ways, and then gets unfair (in a fun way) exactly like a wizard fight should.

Another absolute gem! I expect to revisit this after the comp.

7 Likes

Assembly

:candle: :couch_and_lamp: :candle:

Thoughts

My spouse helped open an IKEA years ago, so I can say secondhand that “Assembly” nails the cosmic horror of that experience.

First of all bonus points for the perfect IKEA-themed status bar.

Screenshot 2023-10-09 105932

Second, this line is corny but also so freaking perfect.

You’re in a maze of twisty little passages, all showcasing various highlights of the Fall 2023 collection.

The plot has an elegant little hook about mass-produced chaotic geometry thinning the veil between us and the old gods, and therefore there are cultists using the local big-box furniture store to open a gateway to the other realm.

As a player we get to assemble (and disassemble) various furniture to thwart their plans. Huge credit to the implementation of this system: What could have - should have! - been an utter fiddly mess of disambiguation and verb guessing just worked 95% of the time for me, both early in the game when I followed the game’s guidance exactly, and later as I started abbreviating my intent. The other 5% of the time it might struggle to disambiguate the name of an object and its booklet, easy worked around. I worked through the game’s puzzles without ever resorting to the hint system (although there is one!) and for me, everything was balanced just right.

If there’s a criticism to leverage it’s only that this is a fun diversion, and not necessarily a masterclass in design or storytelling. It executes wonderfully on its rightsized ambition, and left me wanting more. Honestly, I was hoping for an EXTRAS command at the end! I’d have loved some more optional puzzles and easter eggs. Maybe we’ll get a director’s cut someday?

Bugs/Wishlist

Okay, these might not count as bugs but some little missing implementations I’d love to see. First, given how shockingly smooth the rest of the assembly interactions were, I was hoping taking these plural-named booklets would work:

> open cabinet

You open the upper drawer, revealing two instruction booklets (titled POULSEN and SKATTKISTA, respectively).

> take booklets

You can’t see any such thing.

Second, and I know this is way into wishlist territory, it felt story-appropriate for my character to be losing his/her mind a bit late in the story, and I was disappointed my attempt to roleplay this didn’t work.

Sparks from the damaged lighting have caught in the scraps of cardboard that litter the floor. The splintered wood and fibreboard are ready tinder; within seconds, flames sweep across the breadth of the self-serve furniture area.

> laugh

That’s not a verb I recognise.

Ben, this was awesome. Thanks for sharing!

11 Likes

Gestures Towards Divinity

:framed_picture: :studio_microphone: :framed_picture:

Thoughts

Sometimes I feel like my reviews are mostly confessions that I didn’t “get” someone’s art. :sweat: That might be appropriate to “Gestures Towards Divinity,” a meditation on the art of Francis Bacon, an influential 20th century painter who I know nothing about.

I was a little lost at the start of the piece; I jumped into and out of paintings a few times before realizing I was supposed to talk to the subjects, and then I wasn’t sure what to talk about; I was probably three dozen commands in when I finally reached for the help text, which explained how important ASK, TELL and especially TOPICS would be. My bad for not catching this sooner, it’s not like these are unusual commands. After that it was off to the races.

There’s some subtlety here in convincing characters to open up to you, by raising topics in the right order. I was bad at this - I’m pretty sure I locked myself out of important interactions with the Barista (even though I apologized, and even though I got the achievement for exhausting the conversation). And with Dyer’s corpse I looped through topics a few times (which the story deftly acknowledged in dialogue) to get through his defenses.

Interviewing Dyer at two points in his life centered Dyer’s relationship with Bacon in my experience of the story. It certainly didn’t paint Bacon in a good light, and I was sympathetic with the Barista when she described the disappointment of discovering an artist you admired has done terrible things. Maybe this is part of why I don’t think GTD did much to illuminate my understanding of Bacon’s work. Looking up the triptychs after the fact, I still bounce off of them. If anything, I’m less interested in Bacon and his work after learning a bit about the themes I’m likely to find by digging deeper. Was that the intent?

Skimming other folks’ experiences with GTD, it also seems like I missed a lot of content. Someone mentioned there’s a character who is a fan of Bacon’s work, but I didn’t have that conversation so I bet that significantly changed my overall impression. I only got half of the achievements. I exhausted conversations with the Fury, Dyer, the Corpse, and (I think) with the Barista. I never figured out how to wake up the Guard, or get water for the plant, and I never saw the self-portrait. I thought to check the walkthrough, but it was 404ing for me. (EDIT: If this happens to you, refresh your ifcomp.org page! It’s fixed!) So it’s also likely I’ve failed to engage with the whole work.

When I visit an art museum, there’s a small fraction of works that just grab me, and another small fraction that I find compelling once I read placards and understand its context. But the majority of it doesn’t especially speak to me. Sometimes that changes later. I don’t doubt GTD belongs in the museum, and I admire the ambition, but today I read the placard and moved on.

6 Likes

Thank you for this review!

I have seen other people miss the “about” command as well–I’m planning to cue it more prominently in the post-comp release.

I’m wondering where you got the link–the more current one (here) is working for me.

2 Likes

Oh! It turns out I’ve had the IFComp page up with my personal shuffle in a tab for days, meaning I’ve been clicking a cached version of that walkthrough link from back when the comp first opened. Refreshing fixed it! Oof, I totally should have realized this on my own. Thanks for the nudge, I’ll go back and take another look!

1 Like

I cannot thank you enough for such a thorough review! You raise a lot of good points. If it’s okay, I’d like to address some of them:

I also hit a scoring bug in my first round of Dudo

Your screenshot from Dudo is not a bug. As explained in the rules, ones are wildcards. So Billy is right here, there are indeed 4 threes (3 “real” ones and a wildcard).

Why didn’t it matter that the 1719 crew never got the full coordinates?

They had the Prisoner; a guiding figure (and a result of “infinite” experimentation of the Light…) that may have even been the cause behind the space captain receiving the other half of the coordinates, as well as the pirate’s journal. So, having the Prisoner on board guiding the Captain was enough for them to naturally gravitate towards the intersection of the timelines.

What was the device we picked up?

It’s the Black Queen necklace, which the space captain loses when she lands. 2 of the 3 endings show how the space captain “merges” with the Prisoner, and that is also why you max out your relationship with the Prisoner by giving him the beacon.

Who unlocked the crew’s quarters, and why?

That is explained when you talk to Ben at the beginning of Chapter 5. Jack locks it every morning for safety reasons, but Ben stole the key from him so that the quarters remain unlocked and the Captain can go and investigate. It’s said again if the Captain speaks to Jack before entering the Crew’s Quarters (he is very frustrated that he lost the key the Ben actually stole from him).

Why is there a giclee printer on the spaceship?

Story-wise, TAAF offers it as a way to personalize the room of the Captain. Gameplay-wise, to max out your relationship with Eleanor, the cook (see updated walkthrough file for details).

And why does either captain trust the Light?

I believe this is the result of the development of both characters and the nature of their journeys. They reached a destination that their parents revealed to them. Everything seems crazy. But was it all for nothing? Should they just leave? Also, both of them hear their parents’ voices through the Light.

this description of the 1719 Captain’s thoughts took me out of the moment

The point was to have anachronisms, indicating the intertwining of the timelines, and I’m really sorry if that didn’t come through (the most pre-eminent of them being Jack saying “when the shit hits the fan” and, a bit later, two pirates talking and wondering what a “fan” is).

I think I got most of the achievements and optional content.

I updated the walkthrough with a list of the achievements and how to get each of them. Feel free to check it if you want to find out how you did :slight_smile:

Lastly, I’m really sorry for the mistakes in the text. You’re right, a couple of good proofreaders would be nice…

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As explained in the rules, ones are wildcards.

:man_facepalming: Ohhhhhhh I totally missed this! I made a bad assumption based on past experience with similar games. Sorry about that! It would be a nice quality-of-life thing to detect such a situation and have Billy say something like “The wildcards got ye again, Cap’n. Or need I remind ye o’ the rules?”

It’s nice to see some of the story logic I missed. I could have read more closely on some of these; I find one of my personal challenges with IF (and especially Twine, with no scrollback) is how often I as a reader go “wait, what?” and want to flip back a few pages to check what I read earlier. That’s especially pronounced on a work like this where I’m being asked to pull lots of threads and clues together into a coherent-yet-weird picture. Helping sloppy readers like me through that is tough! You could pile on more reminders and clues, but that can easily undermine the feel of the piece.

The anachronisms in particular are a nice touch. I do remember the “fan” joke, and it read correctly to me as a time-slipping moment, probably because there was someone nearby to question it. The “thingies” moment might have been clearer to me if it was more overt - perhaps a more future-y word like “gadgets,” or a second-guess of his own inner monologue.

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Thank you, once again you raise some important points, especially regarding the need to “flip back a few pages” in such a game. That was something I was worried too, but (obviously) didn’t manage to find a nice way to fix it that wouldn’t undermine the immersion I wanted to achieve. Hopefully next time!

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Shanidar, Safe Return

:mammoth: :mushroom: :mountain:

Thoughts

As a sequel, “Shanidar” jumps into its story without much introduction. I’ve never needed a dramatis personae list at the front of a piece so much - and there is one, that I missed! If you haven’t played yet, be sure to click the Cast of Characters link on the title page, and perhaps screenshot it for reference. I’d recommend funneling all readers through this cast list.

In my own play I counted nineteen named characters, and it’s difficult to make sense of the story without keeping track of which ones are Neanderthals and which are Cro-Magnon (also one is a dog and one is a doll); which are part of the separate tribes and which are members of the mixed-culture family traveling together; and the relationships between individuals. The characters are often referred to by name in a way that assumes the reader will know the above details; and text can be dense with lists of persons Having missed the cast list, I kept careful notes on the characters while reading, and still found myself occasionally lost.

There’s a fascinating choice architecture here - although the text says the reader is Haizea, the actual choices presented put the reader in more of an editorial role, deciding which characters to cut to next. And the choices often omit context, in a way that pushes us to follow our curiosity. For example, here’s the choices we’re given to begin the story:

  • Haizea leads Eneko, Esti and Oihana through the forest.
  • Alasne and Xuxa awaken.
  • Uda returns to the Neanderthal camp.

The opening text does explain who the four characters in the first option are, but it says nothing about the other three! And note, it feels like all three of these things happen, no matter what we choose - it’s just a question of where to point our camera. If I follow Uda returns to the Neanderthal camp we get get a brief intro to the injured Uda and learn that his goal is to find his son, Eneko. In another game, we might expect to guide Uda for at least a few turns. But instead, our choices are:

  • The mammoth hunters return to their camp.
  • Eneko drops the doll.
  • Alasne and Xuxa go into the forest.

So we’re forced to cut away, but might naturally follow Eneko since we now know how he’s connected to Uda. Also, notice that Alasne and Xuxa’s adventure has proceeded without us! Hypothesis: There are multiple stories advancing in “real time” and we’re jumping back and forth between them. That’s neat! Let’s follow Eneko drops the doll back to a brief passage that ends in these choices:

  • Your group is being followed.
  • Alasne and Xuxa awaken.

Hypothesis refuted! The first choice looks like it will stay with the current thread, and the second seems to take Alasne and Xuxa back in time. Now I feel more like I’m navigating a maze of vignettes, which I might not encounter chronologically. In fact, it turns out there are cycles in this graph, and you can return to moments that you’ve seen before. This gets even weirder in the second act when second-person language becomes much more prominent (because Haizea is more present) creating this split sense that I should be guiding the characters towards something, but also that I shouldn’t worry too much about directing the story. (I also realize this is a funny thing to complain about, since my entry last year was very loose about tying choices back to characters. But I suspect it’s more difficult to do this well with a large cast.)

All told, I struggled a lot with the first act. I’m not sure exactly how to fix this. I kind of wished for a more constrained prologue before the whole cast was introduced.

That said, by the second act I was enjoying the story quite a bit more. With the characters a bit more established and the stakes clearer as well, it was easier to sit back and experience something that reminds me of the IMAX films at the local science center. It’s rare to get this much of an ensemble cast in IF, and it lends a different kind of satisfaction to see the group reach their destination after various misadventures. While there are details that seemed odd to me (The Magnon elder gives a fairly competent description of evolution?) overall the story is well-constructed, the setting and characters memorable, and the presentation very polished. There are lots of illustrations that add personality to the work. I mostly wanted to turn the sound off, but that’s a personal preference. And to its credit, this feels very different from most IF I’ve played, so that’s neat. Thank you for sharing Cecilia!

7 Likes

The Little Match Girl 4: Crown of Pearls

:pirate_flag: :tophat: :t_rex:

Thoughts

This was my first encounter with Ryan Veeder’s “Little Match Girl” series. It’s great! A time-hopping pulp adventure with vampires and space pirates and dinosaurs. This felt “oldschool” to me in a Lucasarts adventure sense - quite player-friendly and well-clued, but very little handholding, with lots of poking at the edges of the map for unsolved mysteries. Jumping into the middle of something like this is a little like my experience with Doctor Who, where I’m never going to go back and watch all of it, but the size of the back catalog can enrich the newer stuff. The game does a great job with the small reminders to bring me up to speed as needed.

I absolutely love the Saul Bass-esque visual design - it centers typography, with big bold titles on solid colors setting the scene for each era, and a large and readable handwriting font for the plot-important journal you find.

There’s a great interactive comedy beat where you are hiding in a closet and trying to assemble a disguise by rummaging through the junk. Fortunately it fools the not-too-bright Pirates of Penzance (no jokes about being born in a leap year, but that’s probably for the best). I also liked the sidequest where you’re getting animals to sign a petition making a future goldfish their representative.

When I got stuck and turned to the walkthrough, the clue I needed was that I could burn the wall of brambles in 67M BC. Other burnable objects had clues about bring dry or brittle, while the bramble bush was a sturdy living plant thriving in a lava-filled landscape; and rather than switch into “try everything” mode I felt okay pulling up the walkthrough so I could see more of the game in two hours. I’m glad I did! It’s a great player’s guide with background and maps and clues, rather than a list of required commands. I recommend reading it even if you didn’t need it.

Amazing work!

5 Likes

DICK MCBUTTS GETS KICKED IN THE NUTS

:grapes: :tennis: :peanuts:

Thoughts

The first time I played, I got the “bad” version (the one with a 38.8% chance of appearing). It’s a short, non-branching story that yells in all-caps about the hero’s unfortunate fate of at the hands (er, boots) of various villains. It features shaking and rotated text over a flashing backdrop. It wants to be disliked.

But… what if I kind of like it?

The juvenile tone brings me back to middle school in 2002. This is exactly the sort of thing that was popular at the time with my peers. There’s an extra layer of humor in seeing the amount of time someone put into making terrible internet content. In this case: It’s ugly and offensive, but the CSS behind some of these effects isn’t trivial, and there’s some obvious care in the placement of novel misspellings throughout the piece.

Later I opened it on my phone, and got the “good” version, a more conventional Twine adventure where a steady stream of double entendres grace Dick’s efforts to avoid his fate. I enjoyed this too. It’s objectively better in many ways, but it doesn’t have the same middle school charm. Not sure what that says about me. :joy:

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