Dgtziea IFComp 2021 Reviews

Reviewed:
Ghosts Within
Goat Game
The Libonotus Cup
A Paradox Between Worlds
Unfortunate
How the monsters appeared in the Wasteland
Closure
After-Words
Walking Into It
The Golden Heist

Ghosts Within

You awaken in a forest at night. Your head hurts, your clothes are muddy and torn, and you don’t remember how you got there. There’s a hut nearby, a white building to the west, and a village to the south…

Ghosts Within is a long parser game set in contemporary-ish times written in TADS, which actually feels like two different types of games put together. There’s an item hunt across a large map, and also a village with talkative people and also a tragic past.

The sprawling item hunt makes me think of parser stuff from the mid-90s (Oh, a key, now I can unlock that shed from earlier! Oh, a shovel? I can dig in that patch of dirt outside!).

Then there’s an equally sprawling cast of characters that will happily chat to you (through an ASK/TELL system) about each other about the history of the village, and about the unfortunate death of a local girl some time ago.

More details

That this is all in one game is mighty impressive, especially since this is apparently from a first time author. This is something with a lot of care put into it. The NPCs respond to a decent amount of topics, the setting and characters are well established, and the parser also catches a lot of commands and shortcuts (ASK x about Y works, but just ASK about Y also works!).

There is one thing about putting both those two halves together in the same game. A lot of those mid-90s item hunts tended to take place in: empty caves, forests, abandoned houses or spaceships, etc. Or at least I feel like that was the case. Here, I’m wandering around looking for, say, a light source, or digging tools, and I’m walking right past a bunch of very accommodating, very talky, seemingly very helpful folks, folks who live in houses or work at building full of all matter of tools and appliances. And you can’t just ask! There’s a couple things they’ll help you with, but also some other stuff they won’t. And when I was on my third lap combing through the map looking for a something-or-another, it’s hard not to slightly resent the smiling person RIGHT THERE, willing to talk your ear off about the local lighthouse but unable to lend you a pair of scissors (that’s a fake example).

They’re really happy to tell you a bunch of lore though. Near the beginning I thought the puzzles would get me closer to finding out about the local girl’s death. A murder mystery! Except a lot of the puzzles you encounter early on didn’t really seem to get you any closer to that. They’re about find an item, to find another item, to find another item. So what this feels like is a game that’s more… player-driven, as in, I-the-player am playing this, finding items and solving puzzles, for the sake of wanting to finish the game. The protagonist’s motivation is pretty vague. What I think my character should want to do is: seek medical attention, get some sleep (it’s night time!), find out who they are. None of that is stuff you can talk to anyone about in any detail. Why your character is doing any of this isn’t clear.

But those are relatively small quibbles. I could still buy in. They’re just things I thought about while wandering around the map, which I did a lot, because my biggest issue is that I sometimes found the map hard to navigate. I think the issue could just be more than anything, too many diagonal room exits (NE, NW, SE, SW)? But there were items I missed that were just lying around in plain sight, in rooms I’d overlooked the first few laps around, and it seems like more than one player missed them. There’s a web of interconnected rooms in that area, then another area with a couple diagonal exits that you cross more than once which I think were the two problem areas I had. I’m curious why that first area was confusing to multiple people, because it doesn’t seem too brutal if I’m just mentally picturing it.

Meanwhile, the village’s history is laid out very well. Actually that’s the other motivation for me, which is talking to the people, it’s evident that there’s a deeper web of events, and although the smaller puzzles didn’t contribute much to that, I felt like there was a story there to uncover if I just kept playing. Just talking to people about that stuff is interesting, and there’s a TOPICS command that was extremely useful. I did reach an ending that answered a few questions, but not everything, at 42/50 points.

As far as writing goes, the characters all feel distinctive even if don’t always talk like people. There’s some odd phrasings and word choices here and there but everything is described well, and the only really glaring issue is a misunderstanding of how to punctuate quotes. Other thing I’d like to point out is that this uses a lot of background events (things rustling in the undergrowth, cats running around) as you wander, and those really helped to make the environments feel alive. There were also so many that it signified to me that I should be able ignore interacting with any of them, that I wouldn’t ever have to chase the fox that just ran past me in the forest to get an item.

Oh, conclusion… I enjoyed Ghosts Within! I did put much, much more than 2 hours playing it, after all. Lot of work put into this, and it shows. The map is sometimes confusing, but there’s a deep story here to explore. You might just have to walk around a bunch to find it.

11 Likes

@dgtziea thanks a lot for your thorough and positive feedback. I especially appreciate the fact that you acknowledged the effort put into creating this game, and you also understood the true intentions behind it.
That said, I have to inform you that a newer version of Ghosts Within has been uploaded at the If Comp, which corrects a lot of the linguist errors and quotation typos.
Last but not least, if you get the time since you already scored 42/50, I suggest you pay another visit to Foghelm, because you might already own something that will help you explore a bit further! Just think out of the boxes! :wink:

  • Kyriakos
5 Likes

Goat Game

Well first off, this seems likely getting a nomination from me for XYZZY best use of multimedia this year. Some gorgeous animated illustrations accompany each passage, and the text is eye-pleasing too, with some nice font and color accent choices. This looks great.

This is written in Twine, short with multiple endings, set in a sort of fantasy world full of anthropomorphic goats. You’re a researcher who just recently moved into the city, but then there’s an incident at the lab you work at, and you have to decide where your priorities lie.

Details

The writing is confident, and the beginning parts are sometimes figurative to a playfully over the top extent at times: “Your stress approaches high tide as you leave work, follows you home to lap at your doorstep.” I was entertained by that sentence, at least! This begins with a prologue which describes the city in evocative and compact prose.

Following that though, you’re settled into a life in the city of housing leases and stressful work concerns, and the tone becomes a lot greyer. The choices and story that follows generally are about establishing whether you’re happy with your lot in life, and about your relationship with your workplace. The most interesting parts are the bits of fantasy world-building, which are imaginative and vivid. Then just as I felt like things were picking up, I was given one fairly big choice… and then suddenly, an epilogue.

There was a discussion thread recently (How do you "show" choice in choice-based IF?) on how authors could communicate meaningful choices to the player, which I thought about while playing this, because two of the big suggestions people had were numbering different endings and surfacing stats. This does both, and while I definitely did understand that my choices were changing things because of those two features, the choices still felt disconnected.

About half your choices are near the beginning where it feels like you’re establishing a character (are they enjoying work or not? Do they socialize with coworkers?) and then a few scenes with some bigger choices but also a lot of things happening around you, and then suddenly there’s a time skip to an epilogue. Pacing wise, it felt like it needed one more climatic scene to bring the story home. In the time you do spend with your character, they’re fairly passive, as things mostly happen around them, instead of them feeling central. There are different endings, but I played through a few times, got some repeats, and for the most part the choices barely change the main story, and the epilogues are well written, but they’re just quick summations that all end on melancholy notes.

As I replayed it more, my character stopped feeling like a coherent being since I could pull their allegiances so far this way or that in each run, and it all started to feel like more of a binary switch puzzle I was solving, where I’m flipping choices on and off to see how they affect the stats to see how that affects the ending I get. But there’s just too much of the same text to get through for me to want to do that too many times. It felt like I’d need to start taking notes.

I feel like there’s some commentary on our relationship with work here. Unionization, power dynamics, what we owe to our workplaces, support networks… I could see some of that. Maybe some of other endings explore some of those themes more. It just seems difficult to reach them.

The graphics and presentation then are great, and the setting and writing are generally strong, so it’s not a bad time. But a single playthrough’s narrative is brief and ends abruptly, and the way the choices were set up didn’t necessarily make me want to repeat the game to see every single ending. I saw 4 out of 15 of them, and taken as a whole, the ones I saw still didn’t quite cohere into any larger story either. I’m curious how this is supposed to be experienced. If seeing every single ending would show something more.

4 Likes

The Libonotus Cup

I played Pumpkin Pie for your soul which was a small EctoComp entry by this author a couple years ago, and based off that I was quite looking forward to playing this. Happy to say this warranted my optimism!

In this short-to-medium length, lightly puzzly, parser/choice hybrid game, you’re a pirate (Jenny Weigh’s the name!) and there’s a big race coming up for the Libonotus Cup. You’ve made a bet on the outcome, but your ship is in dire need of repairs before it even gets to sailing condition.

Details

The HELP text made me think this was maybe an optimization game like Sugarlawn, The Prongleman Job, or Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder, since it mentions the player having to balance between collecting plunder or winning the race. That isn’t quite what’s happening; instead of repeatedly playing through the game to figure out an optimal set of actions within a time limit, this has you solving a couple parser standard puzzles, and then the actual race is choice-based. The puzzles are fairly compact and satisfying to solve. There’s one involving repairing your mast which I especially enjoyed, and navigating the swamp also had a nice aha! moment.

Then the race itself switches to a choice-based model with links to click on, and that part reminded me a bit of the Inkle Sorcery! games. You’re presented with different scenarios (there’s a ship with a distress signal, say), and depending on what items you have and what knowledge you’ve obtained, that effects the options you have and the effectiveness of some of the options. This part manages to be decently surprising, and I really did have to weigh my options once or twice for what I thought was the best approach, and like the puzzles, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The writing is light when it needs to be and lightly thrilling in its more adventure-filled moments. There’s not much in the way of character personalities; they all have (fun) names, and that’s enough.

I placed 4th in the race with 1020 doubloons, which felt like the minimum “win” I could’ve gotten. But I also feel satisfied with my playthrough, without too much of a compulsion to replay it immediately to get a better placement. I can think of only one thing I could do better on in the beginning preparation part (which actually, when I saw one of the shops had different options on what to buy for my ship, was also made me think there’d be some sort of optimization factor). The game also doesn’t seem as set up for repeated playthroughs as all those optimization games I mentioned before; a single playthrough of this is longer, the puzzles aren’t the kind that are built for replay once you know the solution, and the fun of the choices is NOT knowing what’s behind each option.

Easy recommend with this. Just a fun, satisfying time on the high seas.

Race Results I got

1st Charlotte Noire
2nd Cap’n Quartz
3rd Purplebeard
4th Jenny Weigh
5th Calico Sammy

You arrived fourth and receive 250 doubloons and a copper medal. You sell the rum you looted from the Spanish for 150 doubloons. You also get 500 doubloons from Sammy for winning your bet. You pay back 303 doubloons (including interest) to the Crimson Permanent Assurance.

As you are sitting with your friends in the Portobello tavern you reflect on how much fun it all was. But of course the real treasure is the booty you looted along the way.
You ended the race with 1020 doubloons.

4 Likes

A Paradox Between Worlds

Hear me out here: a large swath of interactive fiction (edit: heck, all games. All media?) is just fanfiction, but for form instead of content. While fanfic authors play around with set characters and settings, IF authors instead play around with the genre conventions they fell in love with when they were younger. You want to emulate/improve/supplant those works of your yesteryear, whether it was 80s Infocom games or Emily Short or Porpentine or what have you. But in the end it’s just a different type of sandbox.

Hmm? No? Oh. Moving on…

A Paradox Between Worlds is built (mostly) in ChoiceScript, another entry that impresses me with its scope and heft. This one’s about fandom, fanficdom, and how we define ourselves, both to ourselves and to other people online. And about a lot of other things.

In A Paradox Between Worlds, there’s a very famous series of YA sci-fi novels called “Chronicles of the Shadow Nebula” that you’re a huge fan of (it seems like Harry Potter in a lot of ways). You’re such a fan that at the beginning that you’ve decided to start both a blog and a very ambitious fanfic that will involve travelling across multiple alternate universes.

There’s quite a bit of defining yourself at the start (which you can skip): what’s your handle? What’s your home life like? And maybe most important of all: what’s your ship? (Does everyone know this term? It means rooting for a romantic relation’ship’ between certain characters.) The character creation section is actually maybe my favorite part! It was fun seeing these glimpses of the “Nebulaverse” lore which seems extremely sketched out, and figuring out how I wanted to fit into all of it.

After that this switches around a lot, giving you small scenes and throughlines of a couple things: excerpts from the actual Chronicles books, bits from other fanfics, and also the most major sections: working on your fanfic, and looking through your blog feed which is tumblr down to its hashtags and subculture. I’m pretty sure the “real” book excerpts didn’t have choices (because how could they, they’re already written!), but you do direct where your own fanfic a bit, and then there’s the whole blogging interface. You’ve got a series of online friends you follow, and you scroll through each of their blogs and you can like or reblog their posts.

More words

This blogging section is relentlessly, tortuously true to life. You’ve probably experienced something similar if you use social media. One post is a silly joke, the next a plea for donations for a hospitalized aunt followed by someone shyly trying to share a deeply personal creative endeavour of theirs, followed by another silly meme that gets way more attention than that creative endeavour ever will, followed by something sad followed by something that’s really serious followed by–

There’s a follower count. It’s affected by what you reblog. People seem to pay attention to what you like. This is all A LOT. I skimmed posts, just like I do in real life. I weighed the effects of each button press. (I’ll like this silly post, but that isn’t something I’d want to reblog, because that isn’t the “me” I’m trying to cultivate.) (Hmm, have my reblogs been too one note today? Maybe I should reblog something a bit more upbeat for my followers.) (Ooh fanart, that’s something everyone likes.)

You don’t have to read through every single post; you can stop reading at a certain point, and skip to the next section. But I mean, I’d be missing Content! Game Content! Characterization! Maybe my friend’s relationship stat with me will go up if I find one more thing of theirs to reblog! Spookily effective, especially as this delves into more serious territory.

A major theme in all this is about identity, and gender and sexuality is certainly included in that. Your friend circle includes a bunch of LBGTQ+ people, and your fanfic also has choices surrounding how Galileo Nova (the main character of the books, and btw what a name!) thinks about themselves and their own gender. This is a topic that is explored throughout, in a manner I thought was really effective, especially in how it’s filtered through this world of fanfiction. Because of course you relate to certain fictional characters, and you do have/own(?) your own version of them within yourself, defining them through your own lens and your own life. And that’s why it hurts so much more when the later events start occurring, and you see your friends get attacked for who they are, and how they relate to the characters. The whole blogging arc is done very well.

Slight discussion of the ending in here... eventually

Now, at the beginning, I defined myself (“xing”) as a Capella/Galileo Nova shipper (Ellanova). There were some “Sorting Hat”-esque personality quizzes I took with an eye towards trying to answer as a certain type of person who’d want to write fanfic (thoughtful, insular, sensitive), and I ended up as an “Augur” of “Wind,” just like the character of Capella who happens to be very popular in the fandom. And Cappella/Gali was the most popular ship in fandom too. Great, I thought! As I play through this, I’ll imagine xing as someone who uses Capella as a self-insert, and who has a crush on Galileo and wants them to get together. All the pieces seemed to fit!

Except the fanfic I wrote was from Gali’s point of view, which okay, I just had to re-think Xing into someone who wanted to write as Gali and not Capella. But Capella never really made their presence felt all that much, in my fanfic or in any blogs. I kept looking for Capella/Gali stuff to reblog, but there wasn’t much of any. Some of that hope maybe isn’t realistic; with five or so defined book characters, I perhaps can’t expect this to prominently include every single pairing and character. But at some point @lunanova (I think) your close friend expresses disappointment in a chapter I wrote being Bruno/Gali ship focused, so I think I can be disappointed for a similar reason.

(There’s also a chance that since I chose to take a break from my fanfic at one point, I skipped a chapter or got some different ones too.)

Okay, so my Ellanova heart went unfulfilled. What’s there in my fic instead? Hmm. What you’re writing is a multi-universe fanfic. And a lot of the kernels of ideas that were there in the fanfic sections in the first half sort of got dwarfed by all the extremely important stuff happening in the blogosphere, so it’s all a bit fuzzy. And the blogging and fanfic parts never particularly seemed to intersect with each other; I didn’t really get the sense of feedback for the fanfic that I did from my blogging. Which ring true; of course your fanfic languishes in the public. Near the end, there’s a part where you can actually choose self-critiques of your own fanfic, and yes: the fanfic doesn’t quite feel like it gets going, and I do have to squint a bit to get something out of it. But after all, this is a first time writer with an overly ambitious set of ideas, and it’s genuinely difficult and overwhelming to write while your friends, your livelihood, your identity are under attack. And that’s the point. The fanfic felt more conceptual than real.

Still, the fanfic sections did more to establish ideas like “maybe multiple versions of you exist” and “wouldn’t it be nice to escape into another world” and what I didn’t get was a real sense of enthusiasm towards just playing around with the Nebulaverse and its characters. The broad intense fandom for the Nebulaverse is established elsewhere, and your own specific love of the series just seems to be assumed through your very presence in the community.

(What I think I’m really asking is: where’s my space Prom chapter??)

In the last chapter of my fanfic I got to define what my fanfic meant, and I ended up arguing that stories maybe don’t need neat endings to have meaning since real life doesn’t have endings. But over on my tumblrlike, multiple bloggers seem to sense that their own character arcs were nearing the end, as they seem to try to wordily sum up each of their own experiences and interpretations of what happened. Does that clash? Maybe not. A Paradox Between Worlds certainly tries to wind down better than xing’s fanfic did; maybe it doesn’t want to wrap everything in a neat bow, but it hits some strong closing notes.

Also in a pivotal emotional scene an achievement popped up, and I don’t know if it was intentional but wow was that bleak.

Also also there are quizzes that are hosted on a separate site which added a lot, and it makes me sad that in like five years those are going to become dead links and that part the experience is going to be gone.

Ambitious! Explores a lot of themes. A love/hate letter to online fan communities. I’m a bit curious how this comes off for someone who doesn’t know any of this world at all.

Results at the end

You have unlocked three out of eighteen possible achievements, earning you a score of 25 out of a possible 200 points.

Still Sane: Ending: Luna (10 points)
It feels so scary, getting old: Finish the game. (5 points)
Never think about death: Help a friend in a key moment. (10 points)

Personal

Online Name: xing @beautyinthemoonlight

Follower count: 162

Mage class: Augur of Wind

Blog alignment:
Gen: 18%

Shipping: 16%

Meta: 11%

Sympathy: 23%

Discourse: 24%

Shitposting: 19%

Top characters:
Gali: 6%

Bruno: 5%

Astra: 7%

Capella: 18%

Tycho: 5%

Top ships:
Astrapella: 5%

Brunova: 0%

Ellanova: 15%

Astranova: 0%

Brunastra: 0%

Tychonova: 0%

Brunotycho: 0%

6 Likes

Thank you for the very thorough review!

Comments about doubly fictional ships

The amount of content for the ships is very unbalanced, and I should have done a better job of cluing that in. Brunova is the most popular ship overall in the fandom which is mentioned in the choice I think (just because ellanova is canon-adjacent doesn’t make it popular, and of course the gay subtext ships are more popular than the canon straight ships). Brunova and Astrapella are the ships that are most present in the blogs. Luna and Sofia and Stella are into astrapella, while Lux and Claire are into brunova. The only one who likes ellanova is Karla @ trappedinspace, and she doesn’t really post much shipping content. If it isn’t obvious, I had kind of a bias towards Astrapella, even though it’s not really the kind of ship that would be extremely popular in a “real” fandom.

Comments about fictional fanfics

I agree that the fanfic is the weaker part of the story, compared to the blogging portion. IMO it doesn’t really capture much of what is most interesting about actual fanfic, which is deep emotional exploration of the characters as they’re placed in different situations. And there isn’t enough freedom to explore the extended nebulaverse. Stuff for the post-comp release…

The third fanfic chapter was the Capella-centric one (“wind”), which might have been the one you skipped.

A lot of the in-game commentary about the fanfic (y/n’s thoughts on it and their self criticisms) is really a commentary on my process of writing the game. And the process that y/n takes in writing the fic is kind of analogous to how I wrote APBW (sometimes you just want to quit writing!). So when you talked about a “first time writer with an overly ambitious set of ideas”, I thought you were literally talking about me! Technically I’m not a first time writer but it’s my first time here.

Random spoilery things

Has anyone done Claire/Sofia’s route? Has anyone found the imposter yet?

So far every review has mentioned the h p connection, but when can we talk about the homestuck connection?

3 Likes
Chapter skipped

I think it actually might’ve been! I think Capella starts talking to me at the chapter I quit on. Oops.

Fanfic as commentary

Yeah, I think that story-wise, the fanfic-in-progress just existing does serve its purpose as commentary on the nature of creation and ownership. Just having a fanfic that I could even consider abandoning contributed a lot to me-the-player having some stakes and being able to express something in regards to what was going on.

Ships

Honestly I mostly read straight ol’ Ron/Hermione in the short time I was into fanfic. I feel like that must’ve been the most popular HP ship? I wasn’t on tumblr at all though so that’s maybe the difference. I know Harry/Draco slashfic was popular too…

Spoiler(?) connections

I think I’ve missed the boat on Homestuck which is too bad bc I think it’s supposed to do some wild storytelling stuff. I’ve heard it’s a huge commitment at this point.

1 Like

Unfortunate

This is a short parser game with a neat premise and a need for some more testing.

You’re an amateur fortune teller at a (contemporary) house party, and you’ve been challenged to show your skills. Seven people at this party, and your goal is to have every one of the fortunes you give them come true. Great!

But it’s buggy. There’s stuff like a utility closet that is mentioned but not actually there, or a bedroom closet that I’m told is EAST but is actually IN. Then there’s the game-breaking stuff, like people who just seem to disappear from the party. Which makes it hard to win.

I do why this is buggy though, because after not really getting much done my first two tries, I wanted to really give this a go, so I started taking notes and paying more attention to what was going on. And this is actually pretty complicated.

Seven people, they’ve all got their own backstories and relationships with each other (X is dating Y, secretly admired by Z, who formerly dated A…). You choose from one of three fortunes for each of them, and the fortunes can vary quite a bit. So seven people, three potential fortunes each, I think different events are supposed to happen depending on what fortune you’ve given them, they move around to completely different locations, and although I barely solved anything, there are fragments of puzzle pieces around: an ice cube that melts, a locked jewelry box. A character constantly mentions “Bitter” which is the in-universe twitterlike.

Just trying to design this on paper seems like a challenge. Then implementing it? Testing it?

I hope the bugs get fixed. I’ve gotten 6/7 points, and the last point seemed to be another bug.
I like the premise. The writing seems solid during the prologue. Dialogue options feel somewhat robotic since you have the same conversation with everyone. The events I saw seem to indicate a lot could happen. There’s a good amount of work in this already.

(spoilers) What I've figured out

There’s a silver key in the tv stand, also a console. Record in the bedroom closet can be played, and trigger a reunion between lux and irene. I can give flowers to moses for an unfortunate reaction. I can create a bouquet with herbs and a ribbon (no use yet).

After taking everyone’s fortune, I can go into the kitchen to trigger a salsa mishap. After that if I wait in the sitting room I get a huge commotion in the dining room involving most of the people, and then after a while I get a countdown and the party ends. It’s hard to fully discern what happens in the dining room because there’s so many people, and it’s mostly them reacting to something by the time you get there. If I wait in the dining room after the salsa thing then the dining room commotion doesn’t happen, but some of the people seem to be gone and I can’t trigger the ending sequence. After the dining room commotion, I can play the record, and after taking some notes and a bit of trial and error, I could match fortunes to 6/7 people based off of just doing that sequence. The last point is really aggravating though, because the “incorrect” fortune I give at the end isn’t actually the one I gave Irene at the start (“Your love life is volatile and has the potential to wreak havoc.”). It somehow gets changed!

Lux - You will soon rekindle an old flame. - correct
Clark - Indecision will put a strain on your friendships. - correct
Kendra - Pushing your friends too hard will cause conflict. - correct
Irene - You’ll regain a feeling that you thought was lost for good. - false
Ramona - You’re in danger of losing everyone. - correct
Julio - Heartbreak is on your horizon. - correct
Moses - Trying new things may prove dangerous. - correct

2 Likes

This is pretty much as far as I got before giving up – couple additional small things that might be helpful, in case you’re still inclined to poke at it:

You can get into the utility closet – go IN from the kitchen – which has a mop and a dress. If you take the mop, it prevents someone (Ramona, if I remember right?) from cleaning up the salsa. And if you’re holding the dress, the person who gets hit with the salsa, maybe Irene, will grab that, instead of going into the bedroom to find something to change into (in same playthroughs I think Irene and Ramona started making out while in there together, though I don’t remember what I did to trigger that).

1 Like

So I was looking at the uquiz results, and I saw that someone wrote “Ellanova 4ever <3” in the comments, and I just thought, that person is going to be so disappointed :frowning: . I’m guessing that was you?

About Homestuck, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that HS was a big influence on APBW with both the Nebulaverse and the fandom, whereas HP was more used as a superficial aesthetic. Um, I’m not sure if I recommend homestuck exactly, but it was kind of a formative work for how I think about media. It’s also partly broken because of the end of flash as well as general internet decay and ownership changes; there’s an unofficial homestuck collection that’s much more comprehensive than the official website at this point.

Sorry if this is derailing the conversation…

1 Like

How the monsters appeared in the Wasteland

Ooh, multi-language options! Russian?

This is one of those CYOA-games-with-a-world-model (thread: Name for CYOA games with world-model?) that we haven’t settled on a better universal term for yet. I think this might be written in Twine, but if so it definitely did some tweaks to the interface. Relatively compact, includes an inventory system as well as the world model, and just extremely post-apocalyptic Action Movie.

The story is, you’ve been hired alongside your pal Doho to transport some cargo across the wasteland. You’re zooming along in a hovercraft when a convoy of nomads appears, intent on (murderously) hijacking your stuff. And now you’re in trouble.

This seems very Mad Max: Fury Road. Or at least its trailers, since I never saw the movie. But this is an extended car chase scene, and you’re scrambling around inside your vehicle trying to figure out how to survive. First order of business being, your vehicle takes damage which means there’s not enough power for the machine gun turret to work. You have to cut power to something else.

More words

The interface does some interesting things. It looks nice, with some background color changes to match changes in tone. Where other authors would just use a Continue link, here we get a downwards arrow to click on, and the next passage slides downwards into place. Which is a neat, possibly unnecessary effect!

You get the different inline links within location descriptions (world model, remember), but the standard Twine design choice would be to go to a different page, and here, the description of that thing gets appended into the same page, more like the Ink standard. If you can interact with that thing further, it’ll give you links of possible actions below that, so it feels a bit like you’re shifting focus between different objects in the environment. But all the text and links from before stay; I can click on “the system rack” three times and I’ll get the system rack description followed by the links to interact with it, printed three times. This does mean having to sometimes scroll up as I did more and more actions. The screen only refreshes when you switch locations (the hovercraft is split into cockpit, compartment, container). With this different interface I do feel a better sense of “place,” (as in, I’m always aware that I’m in the cockpit, more than if every click took me to a different page) but it also feels like it could be a bit smoother, as descriptions and links keep piling up on the page and scrolling it down.

Another interface design choice is, with certain inventory items you pick up, you can click on them and then use them, and that changes all the colors of the links to objects in the entire passage, and then you click on something to use your inventory item on that object. And that choice of interface also looks great and is quite smart. You also get quite a few distinctive responses to trying that to the wrong things, even though the actual use is pretty obvious.

What you’re playing while doing all this is a full-on action movie sequence. And I’m not kidding, I think you could actually just take this game, use it as a script and film it, and get a great scene. I can imagine the actor frantically looking around the interior, running back and forth, yelling into the cockpit at Doho, your buddy who’s driving the vehicle. Even the super-light puzzles are filmable. Everything is described in a way that I could very easily imagine. Now, it’s all Mad Max: Fury Road images in my head; the setting and story doesn’t deviate at all from that, besides Doho shouting exclamations in Russian sometimes. But outside of punctuating quotes slightly incorrectly, the writing is pretty good. Scenes are described well and paced decently overall.

I’m finding it hard off-hand to think of other just straight up action-movie inspired IF, but I think the action movie thing is pretty interesting, because one of the bigger hurdles has to be how to handle pacing with a high octane genre, when you’re doing a type of world model game where moments get drawn out as players figure out what to do (Mystery and horror seem like more natural fits). You don’t get the natural forward momentum of a CYOA narrative. This almost wore me out with the action, and I was hitting a point where I started wondering how much longer the chase was going to go on. The third scene (after you crash and wake up) really helped slow things down, and although the second half of that scene (where you’re following instructions) also felt a tad long to me, it overall introduced a lot more tension than anything before as it led into the ending, and I think that whole last part really helps vary things and round out the experience.

If a game version of a post-apocalyptic car chase sequence sounds fun, this does a pretty good job translating that. Quite fun, surprisingly tense.

Extra points for the DIY cover art!

4 Likes

Yep, that was me!

3 Likes

Closure

Short, more narrative-focused parser game with neat presentation. Your best friend has broken into her ex TJ’s dorm room to get back something of hers (she’s not handling the break up well). She tells you this over text, while in the room. She also says not to bother trying to convince her it’s a bad idea. Then she starts describing the room to you, and now she’s asking you what she should do next.

That’s the conceit. Instead of an invisible, objective, parser-narrator, it’s your best friend Kira describing everything to you. Your commands are instructions to her, sent over text. “Typo?” she’ll ask, if you try to give her an unrecognized command. And to really sell it, all of the parser’s (Kira’s) responses to you are stylized as SMS bubbles (or some sort of texting app at least). Genius! It’s really cool.

more words

Aaron Reed just covered Violet recently in his great 50 years of text games series (2008: Violet - by Aaron A. Reed - 50 Years of Text Games), and discussed at length what that did with narrative voice, so Violet came pretty quickly to mind as a comparison point to this. Kira isn’t nearly as precious and intimate as Violet was; there’s no in-jokes and she’s much more straightforward (of course Kira is texting stuff to her best friend, while Violet was an imagined voice inside the head of a writer suffering from the delirium of writer’s block). You do learn a little bit about Kira as this proceeds, but it’s fairly light characterization within a fairly short playthrough. And you’re going to spent most of that time having Kira look through drawers and closets.

I seem to remember that in Violet the focus was on an impending deadline, and also whether you would (or had) let Violet down. Violet’s presence was everywhere, as she gently chided or encouraged your actions. The focus here is on Kira’s goal, which is to find a picture and to hopefully get a sense of, you guessed it, closure. This carries through to how Kira describes things to you, generally geared towards just wanting to find the picture, with small bits of commentary from Kira on TJ and their relationship. Kira establishes some agency through refusing to do certain things; one of the things I intermittently tried was to get her to leave which she refuses, and also she won’t examine certain things further if she judges it’ll take too much time, or if she thinks it’d be an invasion of privacy. She’s not just your puppet.

It’s very light puzzle work, but all the stuff you’re doing feels unforced and natural for the story being told. Kira comes to some realizations as things move along, although it isn’t quite deep enough to be a character portrait. But this does all just work pretty well with each other, and it all adds up to a smooth, likeable experience.

I’m curious if anyone else forgot to look in a certain place until the end (for the combo lock). I knew what I was probably looking for, but didn’t know where it was, so I just tried x and it worked. Then thought about it some more and found where it was.

lol is recognized! brb isn’t (I just think it would’ve been a funny reaction). I quite liked the responses to x me and x you, which acknowledge the perspective change.

3 Likes

After-Words

The author entered Domestic Elementalism a few years back, which did quite well and which I really liked. Like that, this is a point-and-click, custom-engine browser game. This strikes a much different tone though.

You: RESOLVER. At the beginning, you walk through a portal into SKYCITY. There’s three gates that need to be RESOLVED before you return home: MOON, BLOOD, and SUMMER (VOID starts off RESOLVED). Along the way, you’ll meet DYNACROWS and REFEREES and PATIENT ROBOGULLS and ALGORITHMIC JUDGES.

It’s maybe medium length, with the specific writing constraint where everything is described in two or fewer words. Names, descriptions, items, rooms, everything. The writing is as terse as you might expect then, with a very surreal tone.

The interface is laid out with a map of rooms to the right, with arrow pointing to any reachable adjacent rooms which you can click on to move around (it’s only ever up/down/left/right). Small icons in squares represent each room. All the text is on the left hand side; within the rooms, you 'll have two-word description of something, and below that two clickable buttons, “LOOKING” and “INTERACT,” and if you click on either, that might reveal something or someone else in the room to interact with. Generally, in each room you’ll either get an item, or a clue for what item you might want to use there. There are blocked or locked pathways, and using an item (by clicking on it in an inventory section) in the right place with the right thing will unlock/unblock new rooms.

more words

The first thing that came to mind for me was Inside the Facility. Probably a lot of that is the grid of rooms; Inside the Facility encouraged players to print out a blank map and fill out rooms (and what you needed to do in them) themselves. This similarly is something where taking notes will help you out a lot.

Because this is a game based solely on moving items between rooms. Inside the Facility had more complex puzzles, but here that’s the only type of puzzle you’ll ever do; you go around collecting items, and then either finding people (or animals!) to give them to, or finding things to use them on. There’s sometimes more riddle-like descriptions of things which take a small bit of deciphering, because the items or the needs of a room’s occupants are more abstract. Sometimes (especially more at the beginning) it’s straightforward though. You might see some SCREAMING GUNFLOWERS that NEED OILING, and someone gives you OIL later on. Or maybe there’s a FROWNING BISHOPCLOUD on the SINGING BRIDGE, and you’ll NEED SIGN.

A lot of your mileage on this will probably depend on how you get along with the surreal tone. It’s a lot of clicking. I generally didn’t mind it that much, but it sometimes felt a bit mindless. Instead, what’s to be enjoyed is the world, which does definitely give some interesting and varied textures, and which feels more patchwork than cohesive.

Maybe my biggest issue was just sometimes missing the interactions that would give me items, and having to wander around brute-forcibly LOOKING and INTERACTING with everything to find it. The grid lends movement and the world a sense of regimented oversight, but it’s not that fun to move through mechanically, at least when looking for items. I think some of the rooms might require you to revisit them, or perhaps they might’ve require more interaction even after I’d unlocked a path forward. Or maybe I just missed the items the first time. Whatever the case, the actual match-the-right-item-to-the-right-room aspect was fine, but what item you might get from a given room isn’t necessarily something that can be deduced. There’s also a hint button that will tell you what to do next if you get stuck; I used it three times.

It’s a surreal setting with some imaginative bursts of text. You get a grid of rooms (make a map, or take notes) which you move through. Some paths are blocked, and you need to go around to get items to unblock them, but the puzzles are all similar and uncomplicated. I had an okay time working my way through it, just taking in the imagery.

1 Like

Walking Into It

Short game written in Python. It’s based around a sort of reverse tic-tac-toe; instead of trying to win, you’re deliberately trying to lose.

I remember as a kid being so excited when I figured out how to set up certain winning situations in tic tac toe. “If I go here then they move there, place that there, and I’ll have two lines to win and they won’t be able to block both at once!” Huzzah!

Your opponent here is also a kid, maybe around the age of what I was then. You’re not a kid; you’re someone coming home from the library, when the kid challenges you at tic tac toe. And you think back to your childhood, and you decide to let them win, without being too obvious about it.

It’s coded in Python, so you need to install that to play this. It’s all just standard output to a command line, with an ASCII art tic tac toe board, and a few lines of dialogue during and after games. There’s a screen reader version as well. You enter 1-9 to place an X in the corresponding square. You can choose to go first or second every game. The kid, I’m pretty sure, will always play optimally.

more words

Tic tac toe is a pretty straightforward game, with such a small board that the moves are fairly limited. That makes losing deliberately something that can be worked out without the need for too much brainpower. Just basic memorization, a tiny bit of strategy, and some brute forcing was enough for me to find all the ways to lose, which is your ultimate goal in this. It’s a short, satisfying little journey to get there; there’s a few comments from the kid, who is quite serious, and also a bit of reaction from nearby kids as your losses accumulate. That, plus some opening text, comprises the story. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough. Enough to feel complete, and enough to bring back some fuzzy memories of childhood.

Would this be better with a more expansive story? …I guess, maybe? More dialogue? Locking the tic tac toe ASCII art on a part of the screen instead of having it scroll alongside all the other text could make it easier to see what move was made perhaps?

But I dunno.

This is such a nice, modest thing that it feels like it’d become something else if it were too much more complicated. The simplicity in this case sort of reinforces the story, as does the simplicity of tic tac toe itself. For IFComp it’s sometimes hard not to want to reward sheer visible effort, at least a bit. How would you measure this against the multi-year passion projects or more complex thematic works? If this was just the reverse tic tac toe, I’d say this would just be a fun diversion. But I also do just like the core sentiment of the story, and how it’s presented with the game-within-a-game. Most other games aren’t necessarily less sincere, but few are this straightforwardly sincere.

2 Likes

The Golden Heist

CYOA written in Ink. Set in semi-historical Rome. Basically, you’re planning a big heist to steal from Emporer Nero. Your father was his former architect, so you have access to the palace floor plans. Why you’re heisting is also up to you; you get some control over your personality and your motivation. Greed, retribution, even revolution could all be what beckon to you.

It feels like heists are a popular genre for choice-based games (I looked up two I remember: Stuff and Nonsense, Lady Thalia and the Seraskier Sapphires). I can see why; there’s thrills and adventure, there’s a straightforward sense of progression towards an end goal, and there are a bunch of different possible scenerios that can be worked into the story and presented to the player, and they can choose what approach to take.

The story here is quite interesting, with good attention to detail. I really appreciate the amount of research and care here and with a lot of the other entries I’ve played this year.

This seems to branch quite a bit. For example, near the start you get a choice of which companion out of three you want to take along. I chose the eccentric inventor (just seemed the most fun) and he seemed like a seamlessly integral part of the story throughout, with a genuine sense of agency over what’s happening. This isn’t just someone tagging along for quips and some extra dialogue options.

Many of the choices are like that, as in, there are a lot of interesting and pivotal choices to be made. Lots of variation in tone as well, with action, dialogue, even a mini-puzzle in the middle. Writing flows extremely well.

briefly going through the story (spoilers)

The beginning set up the backstory and stakes well. I picked my companion, then got a scene to get to know them. Then I got a thrilling action scene, with some choice over how to get in. There’s an extended party scene with a bunch of people to talk to with felt maybe a bit long (but then again, I could’ve stopped talking to them if I wanted, so that’s also a good indicator that I was still entertained). My character didn’t learn too much from that but it felt like I could’ve. Also importantly, you’re looking for a secret contact during this, which makes every conversation seem important. A puzzle followed which was alright (varied the pacing at least, also constant nudges that you had to HURRY which made it tenser). Vault scene followed which seemed short compared to dialogue scene. Into the scene where you’re starting your escape. Very nicely calls back to decisions I’d made before: guards that were more alert, partygoers that would recognize me because I’d made a scene earlier, so those choices seemed consequential). Ending gives a satisfying summary of events. Generally, I played my character as slightly overconfident. No second guessing, just taking from Nero for revenge and riches.

Other characters weren’t that notable but fine, but my companion was incredibly fun throughout. But uneven: Fabricius’ arc went like: eccentric absent-minded mad scientist that gets wrapped in in his work, proposes an audacious plan to get in, impatient while you’re talking to folks during party, you learn he made bad promises and owes people money, bit arrogant during the puzzle, bloodlusty during vault, suddenly very grateful during escape, extremely close to you in the epilogue. The character was extremely fun at each point, but his character arc did seem to miss some steps.

There’s some nice background music and sound. There also seems to be care put in the way the text slowly fades in, a sentence at a time. It looked nice, but the player can click again to load the whole passage at once, which is what I mainly did (The effect was just a bit too slow).

As far as a pure CYOA (with an emphasis here on the ADVENTURE part, always forward progression, moving things along quickly, not as worried about providing a whole bunch of role-playing options like the Choicescript games I’ve played before) goes, I think this stands as one of the best examples I’ve seen.

epilogue text I got (ofc spoilers)

You returned to your grubby dwelling without incident.

Then, the waiting began.

Hours became days. Days became weeks. Only then did your paranoia begin to subside and were you truly able to appreciate…

You’d done it. You’d got away with the greatest heist in the history of the whole flaming empire.

It’s almost a shame no one will ever write about it…

You don’t need history to remember you though. You’ve got something better than fame.

A story to tell!

And money, obviously. Mostly the money.

No longer do you live in a rickety tower that threatens to collapse on you at any given moment. Thanks to the loot you managed to sneak out of the Palace, (and particularly thanks to the lyre you stole from Nero himself,) you live in the Italian countryside, in a magnificent country villa – one you designed yourself, in your father’s style.

Verdant vines, fresh tomatoes, cool colonnades… Your days are a world away from the life you once knew.

As for Fabricius… Despite his protests, he became like a second father to you. Soon after the heist, he discovered a design that helped to fire-proof new buildings in Rome. His workshop now employs many craftsmen and engineers who are part of the new regeneration programme that is redefining fire and safety standards throughout the city. It’s not the most eye-catching work… But Fabricius says it’s the most important and proudest achievement of his career.

As for Nero, you weren’t the only one to discover how little money he had. His reign lasted little longer than the date of his birthday party, as his bankrupted Empire collapsed in on Rome’s golden centre. As revolts spread across the provinces and into Italy, Nero killed himself. The last of the Julio-Claudians – the great-great-great grandson of Augustus Caesar himself – died ignominiously; abandoned and alone.

The year that followed saw not two, nor even three, but four emperors! Galba, Otho, Vitellius. All briefly held Rome, but none succeeded in establishing themselves as Emperor. As for revolution, well… Any illusions about returning to government by Republic had been lost long ago.

Rome is now ruled by a man called Vespasian.

By all accounts, he’s one of the ‘good emperors’. And the empire is certainly recovering. The provinces are settling down to peace, trade is slowly returning to the cities and Rome’s citizens are starting to look less tired, less hungry. But already attention is turning to Vespasian’s children and whether this new prosperity will last. After all, as Nero showed, children cannot be always be trusted to inherit their parents’ desirable traits…

As for Nero’s palace, Vespasian has torn it down. He’s stripped the Golden House of all its jewels and finery, he’s paved over its lavish gardens and he’s drained the artificial lake. At the epicentre of where Nero’s golden colossus statue once stood, Vespasian is constructing an amphitheatre, the grandest Rome has ever seen. The politics of this choice has not been lost on the city. Unlike his predecessor, Vespasian builds his buildings for the people.

Locals are already calling the new amphitheatre, ‘The Colosseum’. It’s an affectionate nickname, but a pointed one. A reminder, lest the people forget what stood there before.

The End!

3 Likes