dgtziea Reviews

Another review thread!

I’ll try to avoid spoilers: if the blurb doesn’t mention it and I think that may be for a reason, I’ll try not to mention it here. These aren’t super-polished or structured, but hopefully they’re useful to someone, and constructive. I might bring up specific issues that could seem nit-picky; the amount of words I spend writing about something doesn’t mean that mattered a lot to the game, it just means I wanted to write about it. At the end of each I’ll highlight aspects or mechanics that I think stand out the most.

Notes on me:
I’m comfortable with both parser and choice. I’m okay at puzzles.
I do sometimes get lost in larger parser maps.
If I’m confused about what I (or my character) am supposed to be doing, I hope it’s for a reason, and that reason becomes clear pretty soon.
I really like when a small neat premise is explored well.
I like strong characterisation more than elaborate world-building.
I did better in high school English with literature than poetry, so…

Also, if you missed it, there was a discussion in Marie’s Reviews thread ([url]https://intfiction.org/t/marie-reviews/10537/1]) about whether also having game-specific threads in this forum was a good idea. I do wonder if having solely reviewer-centric threads here might be discouraging more discussion from people, but I don’t want to push it further if no one else thinks so, so you can comment here if you think it’s worth discussing and if it is, maybe I’ll start a new thread for that instead of cluttering Marie’s (sorry!).


Zigamus: Zombies at Vigamus

[spoiler]A light-hearted, short, easy, parser game: you’re in a video game museum in Rome that’s been invaded by zombies from the (fake I’m assuming?) game “Zombies Attack!”. The credits indicates there is a real museum called Vigamus that this game’s a tribute to, and all the NPCs are real too, and I imagine that the game museum is trying to replicate the layout of the real one.

Fairly old school feel; the overall game structure is definitely a throwback to 80s text adventures. The zombies really aren’t the focus here, they’re just obstacles in the way.

Most of the game consists of going through the various rooms, picking up the items relating to different video games, and using them to take out zombies blocking your path to go between NPCs. The NPCs aren’t too interesting, and even the video game references aren’t used in particularly cool ways. The game’s more of a hunt for straightforward ways to dispatch zombies than it is anything in-depth puzzle-y (the museum seems to have a lot of memorabilia that explodes after a while for some reason; seems like a safety hazard!).

The game guides you along most of the way, so you’re not likely to get stuck. It was originally written in Italian and then translated into English, and as you might imagine, just writing something trying to be funny is hard, then having a different person translate it into another language? Man. As it is, most of the humor doesn’t quite land, but the tone and pacing is brisk. The writing does come off as slightly coming from a different language background, but that did lend a bit of charm to the proceedings (I could imagine a version of this written in more utilitarian English that would be a lot more boring).

Best thing: enthusiasm which came through in the writing[/spoiler]


[spoiler]A fairly short twine game. You’re a squid travelling in a pack along the sea, and as you’re swimming along you come across various things that catch your interest: prey, glints of light. Other things happen later: chases, scientists. The writing’s very minimalist and spare, at least initially, which works well enough. Later parts open up into more of a traversable map with items to examine and interact with, and obstacles. The writing’s fine, but it’s in search of something more interesting to describe after awhile.

Lots of use of delayed and timed text. Some interesting effects. It does feel… a bit directionless, though. I didn’t get a feel for the plot or character motivation until most of the way through, when the plot comes in hard. Before the map opens up the writing’s a bit looser, but then it becomes just a bit too distanced, especially noticeable in the action-y parts.

There are passages later where there are no links and you’re forced to use the twine undo arrow, which is awkward (especially when you have to undo a couple passages back). Some of the later links, after it opens up, feel arbitrarily chosen and not contributing much, and it felt like it needed some more playtesting to smooth out some of the timing events, and some of the link choices, and some of the traversal. Basically, it feels like a person trying everything they can think of with Twine, so there’s a variety of things going on in different sections, but it also feels unfinished and underdeveloped in a couple parts as well. But the concept and overall structure are there, and both are decent enough to hold it together okay.

Best thing: Experimentation with different twine effects and gameplay structures. Timing-based links to click on are interesting.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Waste of time. But you could probably guess that from the title. Whatever point the author’s trying to make, you don’t have to play it to find out.

Best thing: no[/spoiler]

The Queen’s Menagerie

[spoiler]A short game made in Texture, where you’re given some words in each passage and you can click and drag them onto other words in the passage to activate them… It makes sense if you try it. Your queen likes collecting exotic beasts from around the world. Your job as zookeeper is to manage them. There’s not so much a plot to this, so much as it’s just a tour of, well, the Queen’s menagerie.

Writing’s confident and vibrant. There’s a sort of PT Barnum, old school world-of-wonders type of vibe, and there’s a conversational personality to the narrative voice describing things to you, even the character you sort-of control: this is third person and not second.

Is there enough “there” there? I dunno; some people might think there’s neither enough interactivity nor story, but the writing carries things along well enough. Even with how short it is though, it still felt a bit repetitive; I would’ve liked to have seen more world building, or more of a twist with the, if I’m remembering correctly, the third feeding room, which is where I got a bit restless. But it’s mostly successful, I think, in what it set out to do.

Best thing: Writing, narration, imagery all very inventive[/spoiler]

Thaxted Havershill And the Golden Wombat

[spoiler]Twine game, super short. Basically, you’re an adventurer in search of a treasure called the Golden Wombat. I imagined a Nathan Drake from Uncharted type. The writing’s good enough, way too many ellipses though, font colors sort of clash.

The first room’s “puzzle” is the sort of one that I can imagine could’ve worked well in a parser game in terms of what your character actually does, but the way its implemented here I just sort of stumbled into it instead of solving it. The rest of the game devolves into a bunch of CYOA-style choices, and you playing Russian roulette with them, with one choice progressing forward and the other two literally dead dead ends which just restart you from the beginning, and that’d be fine (better) if there was a logic through which to decide, but I certainly didn’t find any. That’s not great; then there’s the fight which is just waiting for the computer to play the Russian roulette for you. The author knew that was an especially bad idea, but left it in anyway, and just had an option to turn off the randomness. Which is a solution, but not a good one.

The constantly restarting was a drag, and the mechanics really could’ve been thought through a bit more; as it is, it seemed like maybe the author really just want to put something out there for the Comp and rushed it, and that’s unfortunate. Hopefully they’re more familiar with twine now and their next game they can put more consideration and time into it.

Best thing: The title![/spoiler]

I played everything in this post before October 3rd.

How to Win at Rock Paper Scissors

[spoiler]Short. Pretty awesome premise of a mechanic for a parser game. Now, it doesn’t really iterate on that mechanic too much, but the writing’s sharp enough to carry it along.

I will say I was kind of confused for awhile as to what I was actually wanting to do, exactly, but once I figured it out it was a nice shock. It’s not too difficult; near the beginning I was getting points through trial-and-error, which you can do with the puzzle mechanic, but other puzzles take one more step. There’s no real characters or story here, but that’s not what this is about. It’s wry and doesn’t take itself seriously, and it’s implemented well. The ending was kind of abrupt and short; it felt like it could’ve been more rewarding, but maybe that was the point?

Best thing: The cavaliar underselling tone that the premise is treated with in-world.[/spoiler]

The Mouse

[spoiler]A twine work that veers much more on the story side of things structurally; mostly a click-to-proceed story, with some illustrations, and music. Pretty heavy, about a punk-outcast college kid in a small town, an elderly women they run errands for, and the punk kid’s roommate. Reminiscent of My Father’s Long, Long Legs structurally (but don’t expect horror; actually, maybe think Life is Strange for the feel).

The author really wanted links to be unobtrusive; they’re the same color, and they barely stand out, just a different font, and bolded as opposed to italicized like the normal text.

With the focus on storytelling, you’d expect more of an emphasis on prose and pacing and theme, and that’s what you get. Because the protagonist is not tremendously forthcoming on details of their college life and issues, and most of the game is spent outside of that setting, I felt it did make it harder to connect with their issues emotionally and specifically, when things start coming to a head. The best written parts are the intro and the ending dialogue, and I also liked the glimpses into the setting. The beginning, speaking of which, seemed to set up a thematic premise which I couldn’t neatly connect to the rest. The game provides more choices as you your character has to start making pivotal decisions, which is a really neat effect; it causes you to slow down a bit, and consider your options, and it communicates the situational mindset well, although again, my understanding was more general and not filtered through the specifics of the protagonist’s, which may be intentional. The presentation is also nice; some use of images, music, careful use of font (okay, the line-height might’ve been a bit much?).

(I did also get a “Error: <>: no track by ID: First Step Inside”)

Best thing: The beginning was strong, and the ending parts communicated what it wanted to well in terms of emotional state of protag. Presentation.[/spoiler]

Hill Ridge Lost & Found

[spoiler]A long parser game in TADS. I had to use a walkthrough after a point. It’s a sleepy countryside setting, and an encounter reminds you of a local recluse that hasn’t been seen in a while, so you decide to investigate and pay a visit to the recluse’s farmland.

Narrative voice is strong, and things are described in very good detail. Lots of front-loaded dialogue, in countryside accents. Different colors for each person’s dialogue, which I though was an interesting choice. Narrative voice is strong.

The game is very un-directed, meaning I wandered a lot. The map isn’t too large, but it makes the farm feel quite large. It works for a while, but later on, after completing the initial goal, I really wasn’t sure what I was trying to do, or where I was trying to go. Trying to puzzle out how to do something can be rewarding, but this was puzzling out what to do next instead. Maybe it was suppposed to mimic personal revelations? The “what to do next” issue is tied directly into who the protagonist is and their background and motivations, so I feel like, even if it didn’t spell out exactly what to do next, I would’ve liked to see more of a reactive protagonist, and an exploration of their thoughts a bit more.

The puzzles all seem conceptually solid, but I didn’t know what I was working towards all the time during latter parts.

With just a bit more direction, and a bit more from the protag, I think this would be quite good.

Best thing: Narrative voice, descriptions[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Light-hearted, really well written twine game, relatively longer for twine. Maybe… Half-hour to an hour-ish? You’re a bear – the coolest of bears. I think that’s enough to go on, right? Basically it’s structured in scenes, back and forth between different locales and viewpoints; lots of dialogue, and CYOA choices, between actions and what to say at the end of each “page.”

Worst thing about it: dialogue that’s progressed one sentence at a time. That’d be a good effect in shorter bursts, but there’s a lot of dialogue, in fact most of the game maybe, and a lot of snappy back and forth, and thus a lot of clicking. It felt like a hindrance; I started thinking about how loud my mouse’s left button was, at one point. I do figure a need for comedic timing might’ve played into why it’s like this, though.

Oddly enough, the story is told in a sort of… second person omniscient? That’s not right… You’re the bear, but you’re also shown the conversations and actions of some facility workers somewhere else, and you’re aware of what they’re discussing, basically.

What else? So the workers tend to be ELSEWHERE IN THE FACILITY, and that’s emblazoned in a heading above each passage, but if a scene spans multiple passages, that heading gets wiped and re-displayed again, and for a bit I was confused because I thought that was an indication we actually were moving to somewhere else in the facility, not that we were in the same setting and scene still. Also I felt like some of the timing stuff made my wait a little too long (but I’m a fast skimmer).

The mid-part dragged a bit with the facility workers and when the focus left Bear, but there’s also a ramping up of pacing, as we reach the apexes of the, basically, the end of the second and third acts, that there was a lot of attention paid to, which paid off. I do also think the flashbacks were well written and broadly resonant as written, but thematically I didn’t quite see what it had to do with the scenes it was intercutting with, or how really, it illuminated anything in particular about anything else that happened in the story. The bear is likeable, but it’s a second person story with all the broad personality strokes that can entail, so introducing an emotional core at the end, was, I dunno… it didn’t actually tie up any ends? Most of the time with bear seemed focused on getting him out of the facility, you know, not wondering what his family life was like. But it was surprising path for this to take, and that made it work in the moment.

This was nit-pickier than some of my other reviews, but I think that’s because this game’s playing with some different effects and story beats that made me think about them more.

Best thing: Comedy that transitions into heart-felt ending; focused pacing[/spoiler]

I think I played everything here before the 4th

Cinnamon Tea

[spoiler]Twine game, using the default look. Super short, even going down every branch. Writing’s not bad, although I do have higher standards for non-puzzle works (or, y’know, the focus should go somewhere). It’s basically three highly emotionally charged vignettes, and if there’s a throughline, I don’t quite see it. The Rolf one is least effective, the burn one the most evocative because it does well in hinting at a world and characters that seems like it’d be worth going down. I would’ve liked to have seen a piece centering around that scenario. But as it is, there’s not enough here for me to really grasp.

Best thing: The burn choice is the best written[/spoiler]

You are standing in a cave…

[spoiler]Heh. Amnesia start. Well, it does seem to be a throwback type of text adventure. At this point, I do feel modern parser games should have ABOUT/HELP/X ME implemented though. Lots of things, really, I felt like should’ve been implemented weren’t, or that were implemented incorrectly; descriptions, item locations, verbs. Found a way to keep raising my score by repeating an action. I got stuck after a point, needing a light source or the way to use a rusty gear, and there’s no hints or walkthrough. Too bad, because the design doc for this would’ve been solid. The descriptions tend to be pretty good, the puzzle premises are fine, the imagery is strong; basically, I think the author just needs more experience and time with Inform, and more playtesting, and then they could crank something really good out. Even this could be pretty decent, if more time is spent on fixing implementation.

Best thing: Thought that went into the puzzles and the game structure[/spoiler]

The Shoe Dept.

[spoiler]Twine game, with a nifty inventory system. You’re a teenage employee at a shoe store, working over summer break.

Very much a map-based game; it’s a great example of how to translate parser/graphic adventure type inventory puzzles and maps into the Twine format. You get a little symbol at the bottom which you can click to bring up and then try to use your inventory (The text displays for those looked odd though).

The map was a bit hard to navigate at times if I just wanted to get somewhere quickly. I had to slow down to figure out where to go, then. Should games like this with backtracking locations have less exits, or more specific names for locations to refer to them, or is there another solution to this?

There were some links that I wasn’t sure what would happen when clicked. Like “You’d explore further but might lose your way.” where “might lose your way.” is highlighted.

The story is straightforward and coherent but not meaningful (not that it’s trying to be). The stakes are in-story high, but emotionally low.

The dialogue sounds normal, which is… it isn’t very interesting, but that does work kinda for the work environment. Same with the prose: nothing showy at all.

The pacing was quite good: just long enough for you to get the point, and then cliffhanger, fade to black, part 2 (the game’s split into three parts); I think it knows when to offer puzzles/exploration, and when to keep the story going.

The puzzle where you have to construct a sentence out of sentence parts that you click to cycle through was also amusing.

Best thing: Inventory system + map-based twine game[/spoiler]

The Skyscraper and the Scar

[spoiler]Twine, fairly short. Bleak. Very pretty, with a beautiful illustrated background and everything. It’s very CYOA (like Ink or Choice of Games style, as in at the end of each passage).

The beginning seems to be intentionally a bit vague, same with the blurb.

The writing leans on stunted sentences a lot I felt, and maybe it could’ve varied that to better effect at points. The short sentences do feel terse, but they also feel like someone writing down notes for the day. I think short sentences work better if there aren’t too many of them, like you shouldn’t have paragraphs of them.

The first branch I went down seemed a bit abrupt ending-wise, seemed like it could’ve set it up better. But it was well told, and the choices made me envision the type of protagonist I was inhabiting, and their circumstances and experiences.

The second playthrough, I was curious to test the limits of the choices a bit, after playing very withdrawn the first time, and I went with the cold-blooded options, and that time a few of the consequences did feel rail-roady. Now, I was going through a completely different branch, so there are definitely some pivotal choices in this. But there was also a choice where it was immediately obvious, even without knowing what’d happen with the other choice, that the game was converging branches immediately (it involved a gun), and the first time picking a choice, I don’t think it should be that noticeable. The first playthrough didn’t have this issue and felt much more thoughtful, because I was picking more thoughtful options instead of aggressive ones. Going down the second path further, the latter half of the game didn’t quite make as much sense with the first-half story as the first playthrough’s choices did, though that may be because I didn’t have any sort of mental image of the motivations of my character like I did the first time through.

And the setup for the ending sequence seemed a bit more action thriller-ish than seemed appropriate.

Should say, though, the bleakness, and exhaustion, and the deprivation of the setting definitely sets into you, and loneliness isn’t the angle I typically see used in the genre (although I’ve intentionally missed a lot, including the big one, so what do I know?).

There does also seem so to be some sort of choice tracking here, which at the very least effects what choices you get later, and it might be doing other stuff, but on first blush the latter half stays the same.

Well put together.

Best thing: Tone.[/spoiler]

I played everything here before the 6th or 7th.

Ariadne in Aeaea

[spoiler]Parser game. Felt medium length? “Light-hearted” and “well-written”, I’m thinking now, are not good enough differentiators for this competition, but they apply here. Straightforward puzzles; not the point. Semi-historical, you’re a young member of the royal family (the unruly one they might say) hoping to be ordained as priestess to the Goddess (I’m fuzzy on a lot of the Greek terms used) despite the sniping of your aunt and sister as you move about your small theocratic island kingdom. It is wordier than some of the other entries I’ve played so far, but it does a good job earning those words with personality and vaneer.

The dialogue is excellent; you quickly get a handle on each of the characters, their relationships, and their motivations. You’re also given a good sense of your own character early on (this is not a faceless/nameless adventurer you’re controlling here). This all helps in making the game feel purposeful (which of course not every IF needs to be striving towards necessarily).

Puzzles are honestly pretty simple: Talk to this person, find this item here, show it to this other person, etc.

Maybe some of the descriptions, say with the harbor town NPCs and the boy, are a bit hand-holdy in terms of guiding the player; I think having other characters tell you what they need or having your own character express goals is great, but having descriptions say pretty much what to do next seems like hand-of-the-creator reaching down and pointing something out. I think some of them were one step more explicit than they needed to be. But hopefully that does help other players.

I’ll also say I did find the map hard to keep straight, because I have trouble remembering where diagonals go, and this game uses quite a few.

Best thing: dialogue, distinctly drawn characters/personalities.[/spoiler]

Rite of Passage

[spoiler]Twine, nicely presented. This one’s immediately more novelistic than many of the other entries, reading sort of like the YA (or younger, whatever tween lit is called) that is presented like a kid’s personal diary with dates and everything; things are described specifically from the POV of the protagonist, instead of just objectively, and I could imagine descriptions being said in the protagonist’s inner thoughts (again, I sort of imagined Life is Strange). The entries skip a lot; they’re not just day by day, but months pass between passages.

Every time you meet someone, you can click on their name, and their name or an entry gets added to notes you’re keeping on each of the characters you know, where you can click on the characters to get a brief bio. That’s a good effect: really got across how the protagonist was trying to track all of the new people they were meeting, and emphasized the social aspects of those years. Most of the game is just in how you act and react to your classmates, but the game also makes sure that everything doesn’t just center around your character, but that your peers form relationships as well. It feels like things are happening with your peers when you’re not looking, and you’re scrambling to catch up and write everything down.

There seems to be stat tracking based on your choices, that limits what things you can do later. Sort of like Birdland. There actually seems to be a lot going behind the scenes.

There are quotes between “chapters”, from people such as George Orwell, which are… odd. They seem out of place?

The story didn’t really end up being a story; it wraps, sorta, but if you just picked one branch, there’s no real plot to it. Instead, it was engaging following the classmates’ arcs, and how you’d effected them.

Did tween stop being a word people used? I haven’t heard it in a while.

Best thing: Choices centering around social standings.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Twine. Very surreal. Long, or felt long, because… I feel like a lot of people wanted to play around with delayed text in their pieces in the comp, but man, it’s showed up a lot… This one’s trying to do it for a more specific effect, at least.

The writing is fractured, too much. Comma splices and fragments are used liberally, and they make it hard to read. I’m not the best judge for overly abstract or poetic writing, but I think this might be a bit too florid, to the point where I was taken out, and then other parts just don’t say anything.

Interesting effect with dialogue: it shows what you want to say next as a link, then when you click that it’s replaced with their response. It makes immediate intuitive sense and is really easy to follow.

Less successful; sentence that cut off, that are gradually built by clicking on successive links in each revealed fragment. This can work, but when the link is in the middle of the fragment, and then a new passage is shown, that becomes hard to follow, and I lose the sentence thread a bit. Maybe that’s an intentional effect.

I think I needed some more distinct and recognisably something passages to keep me moored; as it is, it’s hard not to drift. I didn’t know why I was clicking on certain links, so I was just picking them randomly. The writing doesn’t draw me in, it pushes me away, repeatedly and agonisingly slowly, and I can’t find a way back in.

*I played to the short ending, and didn’t feel motivated to try the longer one, but based off of GlassRat’s review I did. That one lifts the veil off a bit more. My feeling though is that, if you’re trying to communicate frustration and bewilderment for a period at the start, I have to have a feeling it’s intentional, or else you’re at least going to lose me. I don’t think the short game is very satisfying, but the longer one does communicate a story. Not worth the hoops, still, but it’s trying for something.

Best thing: dialogue effects, sound design.[/spoiler]

The Skull Embroidery

[spoiler]Custom Ruby program? If anyone else is confused, I got it working in Windows by extracting the win32 folder and then going to the command line to run the .bat file. Maybe there’s another way.

It’s a text-based fantasy combat RPG. Which is great; computer-based RPGs have a long history with text; some modern (well, throwback modern) RPGs are still using text descriptions, even. Now, I personally didn’t love too many of those DnD influenced isometric RPGs that I’ve played, and I definitely actively disliked their combat, but they were well regarded.

It’s a menu based fighting system where you just type in letters and numbers to choose (“a” for attack, “st” for status, etc), and this is one of those games where a choice-based system (say, buttons to click) might’ve made more sense than a parser thing. It works, but it’s harder than it could be.

Sometimes awkward words are used in the writing, but for the most part it’s fine, if somewhat cliched.

I managed to die to the first enemy! Restart, and died again! Third time was the charm; I think RNG was bad, because I landed three 4-damage attacks in that last try, while I was only landing 1s and 2s on the first two. I died to a second enemy shortly afterwards, so… this one’s tough. The damage seems to vary too greatly in terms of both what you take and what you give out (anywhere from 0 to 4, maybe more). Your health starts at 12, and that seems about right for what the first enemy has. So that’s a lot of the fight factoring on luck, with too much variance. It’s not like there’s a lot of strategy that you can employ, at least at the beginning. You can inspect the enemy for weak points, or you can attack… or you wait if you’ve temporarily run out of Action Points. There’s also (d)efend, or ©onsume… But you have nothing for that first fight.

I know what the author’s going for, but having the attack and the response roll on separate lines takes too much space.

The Skull Embroidery seems very much more interested in building the system out, and beyond that it follows fantasy tropes faithfully from what I saw of it. I don’t know if maybe the author was treating this like a programming exercise?

Best thing: custom built text RPG.[/spoiler]

I played everything here before the 7th.

Hey thanks for the review of my game The Skull Embroidery! I think you used the older version of the game with the mass download. I don’t expect you to try any new version on the ballot (you got a lot of other games to try), but I did update the thing; it includes some minor tweaks to make easier if you are interested beyond…

I rolled the engine myself, and am definitely interested in expanding it to add other sterio-typical rpg features/mechanics, kinda like a single player mud. Your suggestions are great, particularly I like the idea of making more of a link-based interface. Do let me know if you have any other suggestions that come to mind. It’s my first text-based game (actually my first ‘complete’ game), so I got a lot to learn!

Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed your stay in the skyscraper, even replaying it! Thanks!

I hope my review was helpful, Ruber.

Hi Jeron. I was trying to check for updated versions before I started playing everything, but I must have missed that with yours. Sorry!

I also seem to have forgotten to keep noting roughly when I played these.

MUDs are probably a good place to check to see what works and what doesn’t with your type of game. I’ve played like, 10 minutes total, but maybe parser can work then, because those made it work.

I did used to play a java browser RPG called Dragon Court which used the mouse to choose actions, which is now apparently not working anymore. Aw… It looked like this http://www.lloydofgamebooks.com/2016_03_01_archive.html. But it depends on what your focus is: I feel parsers are a more purposeful type of interaction that aren’t as good maybe for actions that are repeated a lot.

I’ll see if I have time to try your game again before the comp is over. Good luck!

The Game of Worlds TOURNAMENT!

[spoiler]Parser, though there’s a browser wrapper version that looks nicer. It’s a seemingly very well thought-out, turn-based card strategy game. I won’t explain the rules too much, but basically, you and your opponent control civilisations sharing a world, the objective is to wipe their’s out, and the cards you play can change or apply modifiers to various aspects of the civilisations – growth rate, army strength, traits, rate of technological advancement, etc. You also get five counters to block your opponent’s cards, but they can also counter your counters. A lot of strategy comes through knowing when to play cards, and devising on-the-fly strategies based off of your hand and the board to enact.

There’s a couple numerical comparisons that I needed to consult as I went along to see which of us was ahead, some of which are displayed per turn, and some of which you can see if you type x life, and it was hard to compare them at a glance once the numbers got larger. I’m talking lines like “Your population grows by . 's population grows by .” Maybe those numbers could be tabulated so they’re easier to read at a glance (dunno if Inform would do that well).

I wonder if there’s a way to make countering more strategic? Couple times when we’d just trade counters for a while until I gave up. Spitball suggestion is something like being able to sacrifice two cards to counter instead, but then I’m ridiculously unqualified to even begin to balance such a game, so ignore me.

I really don’t have much to compare this to, in terms of how deep it is strategically. I do think that a simple graphical user interface makes more sense for this, or even something just more click-based. It’s not hard to navigate this way or anything, but it doesn’t seem to gain much from the parser. Still, it seems really well done.

I didn’t get too far into it, but Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake had a satirical trading card game in a dystopic future where you swapped historical atrocities or… something like that, and I’m pretty sure the reader was supposed to find it horrifying? I don’t know if that’s at all the purpose with GoWT, but it reminded me of that (review of Oryx and Crake: bad). War, plague, and peace that’s only ever temporary in a zero sum world… but playing this isn’t that bleak, honest.

The writing is quite good. The card descriptions are clear, and the flavor text is appropriately flavorful.

Best thing: strategic card game, card text.[/spoiler]

Not Another Hero

[spoiler]A Choicescript game. It reads sort of like YA about superheroes, although it isn’t just a power fantasy. It’s also been thoroughly proofread, and it shows. You don’t have powers yourself, but you’re part of a government-backed task force created to deal with super-powered people: “abnomalies.” The basic concept addresses limits and the distribution of power, the greater good, public perception, etc, and the government vs superpowered folk has been played around with in X-Men, Civil War, and the Iron Man movies, but Not Another Hero can cover different ground because it puts you in the shoes of those hunting the super-people down.

There’s a fairly busy flashback at the start that feels like it could’ve slowed down and put you in the moment a bit more, but I understand if the author wanted to put their focus later in the story.

I’ve had a bit of an issue with Choice games that maybe frontload “who are you/what would you do” choices too much at the beginning; I like that Not Another Hero establishes a base first without delving into questionnaire territory immediately.

There is an every-person veneer to your character at least initially that I thought was at odds with specifically being recruited out of college to join the force for no seeming reason, but not that important.

It’s hard not to think about the recent debates over US police shootings/brutality while playing through this, and that’s something that this particular concept can and does delve into more, and differently, than a super-hero centered one could (even though you have to be careful not to go too far with the analogues). But you’re still given the choices of how to approach.

Actual sort-of spoilers:
[rant]I decided after I noticed the above to choose the most aggressive options just to see how the game would handle those, and although it went with the intent of my actions the first couple chapters, around chapter five the plot took my role-played character to places they probably wouldn’t go. I’m not to bent up not being able to play a full-blown prejudiced character, but I do wonder if there’d be a way to put a more nuanced one onto the thread with the Irregulars in a more character-sensible manner. It’s not like chapter five forces you to team up with them to stop a greater threat, or they save your life, or anything, so there’s no real reason for you to necessarily come around to working with these people so quickly, or, especially, them with you. Especially since you’re just a regular person without a suit then, right?[/rant]

Not Another Hero is a bit more interested in presenting a specifically calibrated thematic trajectory (although it’s not a finished arc) than maybe some of the other Choice games I’ve played (not too many) which actively present more of a “this is your story!”. The scenarios are laid out in a reasoned order, and the game has a good pace to it as a result.

I don’t know if the superhero nicknames were necessary in this case. They’d make sense in a superhero deconstruction type of thing, but this isn’t that. I don’t know if the concept of fictional superheroes exists in this in-game universe, but without the mythologising or the vigilante justice/injustice sort of background to justify them, the nicknames just made it hard for me to keep track.

Not the author’s fault (I don’t think), but I was playing this on mobile from the comp site across several days, and that worked well, but I accidentally tapped the make your own games in choicescript hyperlink, and that sent me to another page (w/o a new window) and wiped my progress.

On a super-quick second playthrough, after finishing my first one, the choices apparently can diverge a lot in certain chapters. This run makes a lot more sense character-wise than the first run.

Best thing: more narrative focused Choicescript game.[/spoiler]

To the Wolves

[spoiler]Twine. Running through the woods, pursued by wolves, it doesn’t look good for you…

It’s not just running; there’s also survival, and dialogue, and mystery, and the mystical.

I’ve said about other comp twine games that they feel like they’re experimenting with different things, and this one’s no exception; it always keeps moving forward narratively, but there are certain sections where you have to explore a bit and pick something up to use elsewhere, so there’s still map-and-inventory elements here in addition to more narrative propulsive parts with choices of action, and dialogue, and even more Choice of Games type what-do-you-think-about-this/what-type-of-person-are-you type decisions. It was coherent and nothing was out of place, but it didn’t really seem like these gameplay switches were made for a specific reason having to do with where the story was.

Prose in paragraphs, with good sentence variance. The vocabulary is simple, but used effectively. Really effectively; the text still feels evocative and exciting even though it seems like it’d be perfectly understandable to maybe, a fifth grader, and I think that’s a pretty nice accomplishment. I would drop the semicolon from the first sentence because really, it’s pretty early to spring that on the reader, but regardless…

At one point it made me think about how few novels and static fiction use second person, because this piece uses a lot of the style of writing that you’d expect in a book, and there was a point where, I dunno, it was just so odd reading so much prose told to you in the second person, prose that sort of happens at you. I don’t think it’s the fault of the game. But I didn’t feel this way about Not Another Hero for example… Hmm. Is it because it’s so action? Maybe there’s too much second person description of actions at once?

The dialogue links are a bit inconsistent, in terms of what clicking on an option does (new passage, inline, continue the story…), and there were links I would choose amongst several which proceeded to the next passage, which I didn’t intend.

The game takes place on a black background with white text, and there are parts where in a movie, it’d fade to black, which I sort of miss here for the scene transitions. Right now they go from one passage to the next, and it felt too abrupt. The skips also do feel maybe a bit disorientating, and it maybe undermines the danger of the setting a bit, basically implying that nothing interesting happened in between. But I can understand the author’s rush to keep going, because some of the individual scenes that do happen are fully formed, surprising, and quite gripping, even if the larger story arc is a bit vague.

Also: both a save system with save slots, and an achievement system, and two endings!

Best thing: Shows how to write prose well without needing to use a vast vocabulary.[/spoiler]

Not Another Hero would’ve been played over the course of days, maybe the 6th or so to the 9th. The other two were played before the 9th.

Fallen 落葉 Leaves

[spoiler]So… refer to where I talk about my own tastes in the first post (I don’t hate poetry; we just generally don’t see eye to eye and I can’t even find where its eyes are). This one’s all twine poetry. You get to pick an action and a manner, which generates a sonnet with slight variations, it seems like. Then you do that again, and get another one, and again, and so forth.

Picking fast calmly twice in a row at the start immediately gave me an error (here’s the html):
Error: <>: bad conditional expression in <> clause (#1): Unexpected identifier

And, yeah, third sonnet still has this error. I’ll restart.

The grammar is intentionally, it has to be, wrong at places. I think it’s using randomness, at points? There are subtle differences, but reading 100 of these, as the intro suggests, seems like a big ask. The changes it’s making each turn don’t seem particularly impactful, in injecting any sort of overarching meaning or just in terms of how each sonnet itself reads.

Some of the phrasings and individual lines can be nice, if I don’t focus on parsing meaning. That was hard to do, though, because the repetitions made me focus more on small word changes and details, and less on broader emotional currents.

And… the second restart also gave me this $loverWill error after 6. You know, I think a really good, really bad idea is if an experimental twine game could intentionally display these errors to the reader for a fourth wall-breaking effect.

Anyways, the errors are going to keep me from wanting to play too much more. I stopped at 10, on the third try. I hope people who’re more poetically inclined can give more useful thoughts.

Best thing: Willingness to try something different[/spoiler]

The Labyrinth of Lanci

[spoiler]Game built in Unity, button (and door) choices to click, text descriptions, some graphics, music. I think the title gives you some idea of the genre (fantasy, but not just stock).

The game is basically a series of rooms, seemingly randomized, some with traps, some with treasure, some inhabited, some magicked. It may be a labyrinth, but you don’t have to worry about that. You’re given two doors to choose from, and you can pick choices of interactions with whatever you find inside, and then if you don’t die you get another two rooms. You pick from traits at the beginning, and those traits might give you different options in rooms. Also there are some inventory items, not many.

The sentence rhythms here are comfortable and well laid out. The prose is elevated at the start, but that’s the genre I guess. I can quibble over some of the word choices ("…did you seek out the secrets and wisdom…", choice between “perception” and “luck” and not “perceptive” and “luck”) but that’s probably not what I should be focusing on.

The guitar music sounds like it should be in an indie film (I’ll refrain from referring to Life is Strange again, even though I just did) where there’s a voice-over and like a female protagonist walking through wet autumn leaves. I dunno, that doesn’t seem quite appropriate. The music itself is nice.

I chose the dwarven door, spoke to the NPC there, chose doubt (I was a faerie) and that just immediately sent me to another set of doors? I don’t think that was what was supposed to happen?

Then I went into a room that gave me two choices, [strong will] and [eat], and the responses didn’t seem any different (I was probably failing a strong will check, but I think that should be made clearer).

Third door, darkness. I understood pretty quickly what was happening and what I should do (and I’ve liked the premises of the rooms so far, which are inventive), but repeating the verbs here doesn’t seem to accurately convey what “grab” actually continued doing. I’d have liked a better description for the action.

Speaking of which: many action buttons seem to want to be one word long. I don’t know if there’s a good reason for this, but they seem blunt and mismatched with the nice descriptions above, and I wonder if writing more of them out wouldn’t be better.

The writing kept me restarting for awhile, but the character-level desire to keep exploring was obscured. I’m not told why I’m there, and that’s fine. But the labyrinth doesn’t seem too enticing to my character. There aren’t enough rewards, or trait changes, or items gained, or anything that would keep me going past the traps. Does the lore help the character, or is it only there for me; are they interested in knowledge? Gems seem inherently like traps in this sort of setting (folly of greed, and what gameplay use would I have for a gem?). Do I want money? There are weapons. Do I have a need to kill, here? My character might, but I don’t. If those are questions I have to answer myself for the character, then I would’ve chosen to leave. If there was a bigger goal I knew of, maybe, I would’ve felt it made more sense to stay.

The traits feel overly key-like in practice, like inventory items more than defining the character.

I said I wasn’t as into world-building in the first post, and that includes not being into heavy lore. Maybe some of it tied into other things in the labyrinth?

I did play through maybe six or seven times, and I got one decent ending. I’d keep messing with it, but I’m getting repeat rooms, and that seems like it’d be against the spirit of things.

Best thing: The rhythm of the writing, the concepts for the rooms.[/spoiler]

I played both of these before the 9th.


[spoiler]Twine CYOA; other entries have been sort of CYOA, but this one even has prompts. Which did tend to regurgitate the choices, so they didn’t seem necessary (they just slowed down reading).

You’re part of a police squad of twelve, sent in to quell a riot in the downtown core. I don’t think it’s ever made clear what they’re protesting.

There’s some word and sentence structure repetition, and grammatical quirks that distracted. It did use parantheses in dialogue at one point, and I had fun imagining how you could communicate those out loud. The dialogue sounds at time unnatural ("…And who has yet to give me any evidence to the contrary."). That makes sense written, but few people speak like that; maybe that character did, but they also spoke pretty colloquially later on. Sarge also had some unnatural dialogue. I don’t consider “shoulder-check” to be a verb unless it’s hockey. One major typo I noticed: “You see the construction sight where you just slept.”

The POV actually changes for brief scenes, and I thought those were effective in broadening out what we know of the situation at hand. There’s a lot of chaos that this story is trying to introduce. The name transitions (the fade in affect) used for the POV switches were quite lovely as well.

I think the beginning was a bit rough, but later parts in Riot were smoother as it kept rolling. There seems to be a focus on characterisation through dialogue, although some lines don’t read right because everything uses periods and there aren’t any exclamation marks. The amount of dialogue also means these characters don’t end up seeming to do much. These characters do have personalities and backgrounds, although we only really get enough time to get to know them, more than we get to see them change or adapt or anything like that.

There are parts here, about innocents, about cameras and recordings, that could’ve been interesting paths to develop more into themes. The rioters remain a nameless mass of violence and chaos throughout, and your police squad isn’t much more fleshed out, but the story focuses on some of the people you encounter throughout the… afternoon? The ending almost feels like it was written and spit-polished first, and then everything was written up to it; it presents an endpoint for everything that seems like it needed a longer story to set up, because we don’t spend enough time with the characters and we don’t see them face quite enough adversity together to quite sell it, but it’s a game attempt.

Best thing: POV switches, and parts where it’s just dialogue back-and-forth flows fairly smoothly.[/spoiler]

I played this on the 9th.

And I’m caught up! That’s everything I’ve finished so far.

Theatre People

[spoiler]Parser game: you’re a behind the scenes theatre person trying to get things ready before the big production that night. I don’t think its puzzles are tough necessarily, but I did get stuck on them.

The room descriptions are kind of sparse. That did cause me trouble with one of the puzzles, which required interacting with some scenery, because I’d been sort of primed not to focus on those, and I was looking solely at people and objects for the solution. But the actual puzzle solution makes logical sense. The other puzzle also makes sense broadly, but it didn’t occur to me to SEARCH something I was already holding in my hands, even though I’d also EXAMINED them.

Mandy, an NPC in the first room, doesn’t have a lot to say. (Generally, honestly, I’m probably most likely to try interacting with everything in the first room of every parser game, just so I can get a feel for the level of implementation I expect and figure out from that the type of commands and interactions I might use later. So it you want to fool me at least you can spend more time on everything in the first room or two, and skimp on some of the later ones).

There’s a decent cast of characters here, and although they’re not too interactive, they do each have some personality, and some opinions on each other as well; that helped convey a sense of realness to everyone. It did feel sort of like everyone was just standing around, waiting for you to bother them about their respective parts in the puzzles though, and that staticness also meant that it didn’t really seem like we were a theatre troupe rushing to get everything ready before the big performance. Maybe if these people all just had two or three random busywork things they’d cycle through doing, that’d help sell the atmosphere a bit, and also explain why they don’t answer or respond to you all too much outside of their set puzzle piece convo topic. And I’d loved to have seen more interactions with these characters too.

There was a description of a sound coming from a room (Lily’s), and so I expected LISTEN to work there. I also had trouble figuring out when to use ASK ABOUT versus GIVE TO ; a puzzle sort of used one for one object and one for another.

Anyhow, this does convey a sense that these people and the setting is based off of real experiences. The puzzles make sense, but I was thrown off by some assumptions I’d made (I don’t know how much trouble other people had).

Best thing: NPCs have things to say about each other. Map is logical and setting feels based on a real place.[/spoiler]

Take Over the World - or at least Cleveland

[spoiler]Twine! Quite non-serious little romp, which looking at the news, is sorely needed. Oddly enough, that’s also the starting premise for the game: you take a look at the news and are so disgusted by it that you decide to take over the world, which, sure, And so you gather all you need: a lair, minions, a drink in hand, the whole lot!

The intro is short and to the point, great! The inventory mechanic was introduced right afterwards though, and that took me out of the story just as it was getting started, so I’d have liked to have seen all the rest of that stuff moved to a second page; instead we get a bunch of line breaks.

There are some charmingly low-fi colored illustrations used. Make sure to check Your Stuff (which is your inventory) intermittently too, there’s good Stuff there!

A couple typos. I finished the game no problem the first time through, but encountered some bugs later on.

I think the author hadn’t figured out some of the more advanced aspects of Twine like, for example, how to have the link text display something other than the passage name, so there are parts where you might click on something and then get “Return to Start Your Global Domination” instead of just “Back”, which was a bit clunky (or maybe there was a reason for it). It is doing some sort of, at the very least, inventory/stat checking. Also parts where, say, I could choose coffee or tea, where other authors might have used… cyclinglink? (I’m not too familiar with Twine Sugarcube) Although I do sometimes find those cyclinglinks to be overused, and the way it’s implemented here is actually clearer (You click on coffee, get a short description, and you get a link to change to tea and a link to go back without changing anything).

The game actually seems to provide quite a lot of choices. That’s sort of the game: you deciding on your lair, who to hire, how to deal with local authorities, and your earlier choices do affect some of your later ones too. I imagine this twine would have a pretty gigantic node map even with its short playtime, because it feels like it keeps branching out up to the end and presenting new ideas, and that’s actually a feeling few other twines in this comp do; this sort of felt like it kept expanding along with the author’s imagination, which fits well.

The writing’s loose, maybe a bit uneven/first drafty at spots due the aforementioned huge node map, but as it is, I found it a really charming to play through, with some fun cartoon villainy you get to preside over.

Best thing: irreverent and charming style.[/spoiler]

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

[spoiler]A “graphic memoir.” Short scenes, of memories of different conversations and moments between a couple in a relationship. At the end of each scene it freezes, and you get various objects or sounds or memories from the still, and then it switches to a different scene that contains that object that you clicked on. And through this, you get a sense of their relationship, and their personalities. After four scenes, the breakup.

Many of the scenes are from very, very small moments: these are not the big revelations, the dips and the peaks; these are blips. The scenes don’t necessarily follow a set order, and you can reach a scene through different objects in other scenes.

Graphics and sound, both fine. Graphics are mostly silhouettes on a background, sometimes with different poses. Background noises are piped in, and it helps with the story its telling. This would have a vastly different feel without the graphics (although… A hypertext only version of this would be an interesting contrast. Hmm.)

The dialogue is having to convey tone solely through what’s being said, and that’s really difficult – there were some parts where they didn’t read the way I think they were supposed to. But there were also other conversations which felt real.

I’m thinking this was meant to be played “through” more than once, because it cycles back to the beginning after the end, but I found it kind of monotonous to do so; the scenes are skippable after you’ve watched them once, but the intro part isn’t, and the text bubbles also come up one at a time. and. text. scrolling. speed. is. slow. as. well. I was itching for a way to speed it up, or ideally have clicking speed things up a bit. There’s pacing involved in these scenes, sure, but it still dragged on repeats. But I also think this doesn’t work if I only saw four scenes and stopped; I felt like I needed more fragments of memories than that, although at some point I felt more obligated to try to build a bigger picture than compelled.

The objects don’t always feel like pivotal parts that a person would necessarily have noticed at the time, and the scenes they link to don’t always feature them prominently (there were times where I’d forget what I’d clicked on to reach a scene). The whole interface just felt like a bit of an impediment, and I could understand what it was trying to communicate on a sort of high level (on the nature of memory, etc), but I couldn’t y’know, feel it; it didn’t convey anything more narratively playing it then it would just described to me like in the first paragraph above.

I said earlier that some conversations feel “real,” and I think that’s what it’s going for throughout. But storytelling, of all sorts, it doesn’t often just go for real; it goes bigger than that. And this, this is pretty much as majorly condensed as you can get, and the moments are so small that I had to really reflect afterwards to see what the scenes were trying to show about these characters. It felt muted. It felt mundane. But yeah, it did also feel real. And maybe that’s the point, that it’s hard or incomplete, but in the end, I just couldn’t make the connection.

Best thing: graphic style, concept[/spoiler]

Played before the 16th.

The God Device

[spoiler]Twine. A crash over the desert, a sealed envelope, a dying wish, and armed thugs after you… Prose, and, pretty unconventionally for IF, third person past tense.

The choices though are all presented in present tense, as if you hadn’t made them yet. That was odd.

Very action-oriented narrative here, with a dash of mystery to the proceedings. You don’t get a strong sense of the protagonist Tanya, but the story’s more situation-focused, and has you focusing on the choices that fall out of that instead.

I’ve noticed more than one author writing dialogue while being adverse to all punctuation other than periods, and I don’t know why. Like the following really could’ve used an exclamation mark: ‘I surrender,’ she shrieked, doing her best hysterical voice.

The dialogue came across as a bit monotone too often, because of the punctuation thing, and also because of a low number of dialogue or action tags. A lot of said, not a lot of description of what the speaker’s tone is or what they’re feeling or what their body language is saying. The actual dialogue isn’t bad, but there’s quite a bit of it, and it all hits the same as a result.

Nit-picky, but there was this sequence: “As they got close, she could see the eponymous pyramid. Made of the ubiquitous turquoise stone…” which, eponymous and ubiquitous by themselves seemed out of place with the rest of the writing, but that close together?

I did find that a longer branch kind of dragged, mostly because I was starting to more feel like it was just a series of events happening, and I kind of lost the plot for what Tanya’s goal was. Just, running, and thriller-y situations. If this were a movie, I think some of this would be smoothed over somewhat, with actors and a soundtrack and visuals, and this does read a lot like an action movie type of story, one that generally keeps things going along.

The game has multiple endings, and it rates how good of an ending you get, which was entertaining. The endings are pretty telegraphed as to which actions are bad ideas, but I still liked trying all the ones I came across anyways. I did find a 10/10 ending which seemed ah, abrupt. I saved the galaxy just like that? Yay, I guess! There’s supposed to be at least one better ending, but I didn’t find it.

Best thing: multiple endings which are rated. Action/thriller twine.[/spoiler]

Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending

[spoiler]Parser game, written in browser-based Quest (I’ve played only one Quest game before). More about exploration than puzzle-solving. The title might make you expect something sitcommy, but that couldn’t be more wrong; it’s very much a somber piece-together-the-backstory type of game. You wake up, memories lost, on a spaceship, and you go around and interact with things: computers, radios, things in drawers, and slowly, you REMEMBER. And you make a decision.

The writing conveys the clinical atmosphere of the ship well; I could imagine what it’d look like in a movie. The pace is slow, and unsettling. There is no danger, but there’s a sense of errie not-all-rightness. It’s only you, picking through things; uncovering.

The morality at play here isn’t exactly presented as a dilemma; it’s pretty stacked towards a right and wrong decision. I might have liked a bit more nuance to the proceedings (The EA seemed a bit straightforward)? But the game isn’t really about the decision you make, so much as the why.

I liked the pacing, and the way objects are carefully laid out to be discovered. It’s just spread out and gated enough that it feels like you’re exploring, even though it’s a very contained space. There’s also just enough on the ship to play around with that it felt rewarding interacting with all the on-board systems, while also establishing the technological surroundings (I do wonder if there’s a better way than dumping a bunch of manuals in the starting room). Everything felt deliberate, so it made me want to be more deliberative.

Best thing: the layout of how things can be discovered and interacted with on the spaceship.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]So I’ve read… The Raven. I think that’s it, in terms of my exposure to Edgar Allen Poe works, unless that Simpsons parody of the Tell-tale Heart counts. I imagine if you’re a fan of Poe, you’re more likely to be tickled by this, which draws heavily from his writings. The author certainly seems like they had a blast!

I did find the writing incredibly taxing to get through at the start, like, here’s a semi-random sentence so you get an idea of what you’re in for: “And by the aid of that ghastly light which, even at midnight, never fails to emanate from a vapory and pestilential atmosphere, you discern, lying in the by-paths and alleys, and rotting in the windowless habitations, the carcass of many a nocturnal plunderer arrested by the hand of the plague in the very perpetration of his robbery.” I went back and re-read the Raven, and that at least didn’t seem to be nearly as thesaurus-y and labyrinthine. It’s a stylistic choice maybe, one that takes a while to settle.

…Woah, this got gory.

Okay, this is more than just prose and imagery that Evermore riffs on from Poe; story branches also seem to follow along. As the story continues and choices dissipated, the rhythm also picks up as the writing becomes less taxing, and I’m enjoying this more. I’m guessing now the beginning is drawing from a different Poe work than the branch I went down later, and that might explain the shift in writing. Following each other, they don’t really cohere as a greater narrative, but it all flows well enough.

There are words that sent me scurrying to Google. Like bas: “As if graven in bas relief upon the pale grey-brown surface of the tree’s trunk”

Another branch plays with sound and text effects, and includes more choices. This seems like a pretty substantial work.

The writing is mysterious and twisted, with offbeat characters and a deathly pallor. I don’t know how regular Poe reads, but the way it’s presented here, there isn’t actually any sort of plot to ever follow; it’s all CYOA style situations. The parts which got away from the thesaurus were more enjoyable. I sort of want to pick up a Poe book at some point now, just to compare.

Best thing: an enthusiastic pastiche of Poe.[/spoiler]

Played everything before the 16th


[spoiler]Twine. You are looking through different letters send to you by your friend Cadence, and click keywords to bring up more. Sometimes there’s a bit of your own inner commentary as well.

These are characters with personalty: Precocious, a bit melodramatic, but then that’s kind of what you get with teenage protagonists like these; you need that sort of perspective to drive things. The letters span a bunch of times, different topics, different moods, and Cadence pours herself (or versions of herself) into them.

Each letter has a couple keywords you can explore, and those keywords take you to another letter or moment about that. The starting letter’s keywords all lead to branches that address a different topic or event.

The writing… the writing is quite good, good enough that it makes me want to settle in, and treat it like a novel. That’s the mode my mind switches to. But those have professional editors and countless revisions, and I hit these minor typos, or places where the sentences are too short, or some other small thing… They’re all minor, but they feel just slightly disruptive, and it’s not fair to compare it with an actual novel, probably – Twine’s a great tool, but the lack of spell checker means people should consider running their text through Word or something.

The writing’s generally better in the letters than in the third person stuff, which sometimes didn’t flow as well, or which were phrased slightly abnormally; as an affectation in written letters, they work well, but in third person, slightly distracting.

This is planned out. This has a structure, and the letters are revealing, in different ways, and build, in different orders. The branches eventually hit an end, and you have to start over, and I think that reasonably gets across the idea of you poring over these letters and re-reading them for clues, haphazard and disorganised. You can set a system for how to go through the letters and you can go down the line, or you can just click whatever draws your attention first. This works either way.

This is good; I liked the characters, and I liked this.

Best thing: Epistolary twine with strong characters[/spoiler]

Steam and Sacrilege

[spoiler]Parser. Takes place in a steampunk hotel. Puzzly with a huge map, and I did get stuck; needs more play-testing.

The descriptions and the longer bouts of text are decently written; in the beginning, there’s a good sense of wonderment to the workings of the hotel as you first get introduced to it. Even with some under-implementation and some severe guess-the-verb issues, I was kinda into that first section.

But that falls away after a bit. The map gets bigger, but it also feels emptier. The steampunk stuff goes away too, for the most part.

There are less things to interact with, and the things that can be are sometimes oddly under-described. If I see an object that I think is worth interacting with (that isn’t obvious scenery), then I’m going to examine it, and prod it, and try to do whatever feels sensible with it, and maybe some things that aren’t, and for some amount of those actions, I’m hoping for a response that tells me what I’m doing wrong, and some amount of implementation. Here’s a mild example: there’s a nightstand; the description tells me that it has an upper and lower drawer. OPEN UPPER doesn’t work; neither does OPEN DRAWER, I think, as in: parser doesn’t recognize it. Only OPEN UPPER DRAWER does anything.

Later on, I was trying to cut some zip ties, and all of my sensible cutting objects were in my bag; I could get my bag, but it wouldn’t let me get out those tools. On reload, I took the implement out of my bag first, then was able to retrieve them later.

I wanted to see more of these characters; they aren’t really introduced too much. I could get my protagonist’s general goal for the latter half of chapter two and beyond, but I didn’t know how anything I was doing was helping find what I was looking for, and I was just picking things up, doing things, because that’s what you do in text adventures, but I felt directionless. It didn’t make sense, any of what I was doing. I think there’s backstory here, but I couldn’t get much, out of say the caretaker.

I tapped out and looked at a walkthrough at a machine with dials in the machinery room; the dials definitely seemed important, but I couldn’t figure out how to interact with it. Dial and dials weren’t recognized, and I couldn’t set or turn the machine to anything, and this was the only remorelt promising thing I’d even found so far after going through every accessible floor, and –

The walkthrough(s) didn’t seem to mention this machine at all. I followed the walkthrough to an ending, and there’s a part that definitely tells me there seems to be some sort of huge revelatory storyline I missed, but I have no idea where it is.

Also I have no idea what was going on with the room directions, which don’t always seem to lead back into each other (going north than south doesn’t take you back to the first room).

So implementation issues, and more playtesting needed, and more time, to flesh out the possibly promising world better.

Best thing: The hotel check-in system, and some of the writing, especially descriptions of some of the environment and more elaborate objects.[/spoiler]

Sigil Reader (Field)

[spoiler]Parser, short. You are… a Sigil Reader. Or at least that’s what your ID says. Sort of like a law enforcement type of deal, but for magic. Something has gone wrong. You fear you are responsible.

This is again, more about exploration than puzzle. Piece together what happened.

This isn’t a standard fictional place or world; there’s just subtle unfamiliarities, enough that you want to get acquainted with them.

The writing is quite good: tense, composed, restrained. The descriptions say a lot without too many words.

The paste tense really threw me, deliberately.

(Huh, “high-ceilinged” looks pretty odd written like that.)

I do think… there were maybe too many rooms with too many things that you could only look at. I could imagine how this type of IF would translate to a graphical game, where this might work a bit better, or at least different. As it is, I couldn’t help feeling like a… a ghostly observer, wandering through rooms and examining things but unable to do much with them; that might be what the author was going for? There are only a couple things to pick up, and one standard IF puzzle, but those were still things I encountered through examination. With an actual 3D space, with you able to look around and admire the scenery and spot things to examine more closely and just focus, on whatever’s in front of you – the thing with text-based room descriptions is, you don’t really “look around” in the same way as that, or at least I don’t; I’m always, in the back of my mind, keeping tabs, a mental list of “Things I Might Want to Examine/Read Next” I’m adding and ticking off from as I scan descriptions. And there isn’t too much to keep me from always having that as a constant in the back of my mind, as I travelled further into the facility and hit every room I came across (which was another mental list).

Also, I’m not sure with the setup and the short length how else it could be done, but there were a lot of people introduced (some of the people you worked with), and it felt like a lot. Your thoughts on each were nicely done, but it’s hard to see them as people and not bios when there are so many, or to really get a feel for any camaraderie without a bit more interaction seen; on the other hand, they did, taken as a whole, sort of evoke a sense of distance, and the past.

The author does a good job keeping the atmosphere charged, in a sort of calm-before-the-storm (or after) type of tension, with things shifting and events happening in other rooms. Your character is both familiar and unfamiliar with the locale, and the writing communicates both well. It’s a very specific experience this game is calibrated to provide, and that focus shows.

Best thing: restrained writing, paced story/world reveal[/spoiler]

Played above before Oct 22nd.

Oh also, if you haven’t tried them yet, I recommend Letters and Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending . They’re both entries that I think could get overlooked, from the ones I’ve played so far.

Snake’s Game

[spoiler]Short Inkle game, so as you might expect, this has quite a bit of dialogue and is prose-y. Not CYOA style here, more a couple focused, divergent story branches.

The first sentence is a good opening salvo, promising and intriguing. The rest of this can be a bit uneven. Tense switching, comma splices, some of the details contradict, the tone wavers – it needed a bit more overall polish.

For example:
“Uh, nevermind. You’ll see later, maybe. Say, why is our guest so quiet?” it asks as it points towards the window.
The “it” refers to what has so far been a disembodied voice from what I could tell, and this voice is now suddenly pointing out windows?

The prose reads a bit noir-ish, a bit chip-on-its-shoulder street level; I think actually I found there to be just too much mood-setting and detail between plot/action, and I found it it hard to concentrate.

The story goes to some really occultish places, and there’s some good imagination on display here. I found it a bit inscrutable, but your mileage may vary depending on your genre preferences.

The structure of the story asks something different of the player: after you reach an ending, it asks you to play other branches, to see other ways and other versions of the protagonist, and to build a bigger picture from that. If this structure has some sort of narrative/thematic meaning though, I couldn’t tell. The setting is more thought out than it first appears, and there are hints at a much larger world, with characters and agendas at play.

Best thing: Imaginative occult piece. Writing shows sparks. Story branches structured to all add up to a bigger picture.[/spoiler]

Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles

[spoiler]Twine. Greece/outer space? Interesting combination there. It’s like… if Greek culture had continued on and developed spacefaring tech, but they still fished in boats too?

The world-building is well done; lots of named things, lots of imagery, lots of slightly alien-ish things like “red proto-herring” alongside Greek terms and names, and it leads to a fun, deep setting.

The basic thing about this is… it’s not really a story; it’s a preamble to one. If this were a book, pretty everything that happens here would be the first thing I think an editor would cut; skip the the-way-it-was-before stuff, start after the actual inciting incident, and fill in the gaps or do super-brief flashbacks as needed later. I could see a slower novels that could briefly have a protagonist go about their daily life for a bit, to introduce a cast of characters to us, but the protagonist of this remains pretty vague, and in a book it’d be hard to get invested that way.

But this isn’t a book. In a parser game, we see blank-slate protagonists fairly often; we don’t need the defined personalities as much, because we can project ourselves. But in this twine, there isn’t that type of control. The game’s split into 7 parts, each with a broad task or scene our protagonist Zephyra is doing or experiencing, and with parser control, I could see these translating: for example, fishing is something that you could make into an inventory/fetch quest puzzle. But in this, in all the tasks, you’re following along as Zephyra does this stuff. Choice-based games might give you, if not direct control over performing Zephyra’s task, at least some choices about how to perform it, and we project onto the character that way. But that doesn’t happen here either.

This is a very map-based type of twine, where a lot of passages are at a specific place. All the links are descriptions of things happening there, or other places you can see (a garden, a spaceport, a residential district). But… they’re all just descriptions. There’s not real purpose to clicking on them, other than just world building, and these descriptions are very… objective: the stuff you find, more often, in again, parser games, or in a novel when you’re setting up a scene.

You start off in a crashing space ship, and – there are things to “examine,” basically, like how Twine games generally do it, links that describe something else happening on board, and then the link at the bottom that’s the action that obviously leads to the next passage. And those examine links feel like they undercut the immediacy of the situation, like I’m freezing time to listen to what the on-board computer is saying or whatever. Parser games might handle this sort of thing with a set number of turns before the ship crashes… I suppose you could do a timed game over in twine as well?

A really neat effect this twine uses for some of the description links is that they will change if you visit them more than once.

On the ship, some of the passages were a bit confusing, because they dont’t just lead forward or back, but they sort of loop.

Wow. 16 links on a page. That’s… overwhelming.

Chapter 4 noticeably had a bunch of typos.

The descriptions, I should say, are actually very lovely. The world building is strong, there’s a sense of place and city geography and architecture and culture, but it’s always peripheral, because you never visit those described places, you just look at them, and then you return to the linear main story path.

The writing in general is pretty good. This has parts of a good parser game, and parts of a good written story, and if the gaps could be filled and it could find a more suitable medium…

Best thing: Greeky/Spaceshippy Sci-Fantasy! Novel setting and world building[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Short, easy, parser game. Silly, pretty well implemented! Not really a story game (or at all a puzzle one), but you start off in a hot hotel room, a huge ventilator beckoning.

The game gives you tasks to do throughout, and the room’s got a couple things to look at.

Here’s an aside: so, there’s a bed. Examining it gives you this description: “Drenched with sweat.” Short, right? And maybe some authors look at that and might want to expand that into two, three evocative, detailed sentences. But I don’t think that’s necessary. That description, IMO, is enough; it tells me something about me, about what’s going on (I’m hot!), it tells me the bed isn’t all that important and that my protagonist isn’t interested in describing a bed right now. Because it’s a sentence fragment, it avoids feeling too generic (it reads more like in the protagonist’s voice than “the bed is drenched in sweat” would). And there’d been enough room description and like, ambience, and enough of a goal I’d already been presented with (which I was putting off in favor of looking around), that I could accept blunt descriptions without any issue. It feels in-tone, not under-implemented.

The writing has some good one liners, and is solid enough and short enough that I’ll point out some writing nitpicks: “your heart is in a mess” (take out in?) and “It is striking by its lack of character” (for instead of by); stuff like that.

I would’ve maybe liked to have seen a bit more about Steph, maybe? Although that might take away from the focus. Or I might have missed some stuff.

Maybe, like, one more mini-goal/task in the middle would’ve paced things better? It reminds me a bit of 9:05, in how it nudges you forward within a small space (don’t expect the plot to do the same thing though).

Couple jokey endings as well, which were fun!

Best thing: short, surreal comedic game. Writing is brief but focuses attention well. Also: calling your list of contacts![/spoiler]

Thanks for the review! I really appreciated it (I’ll probably deal with the stuff you mentioned in a post-comp release…)

All I Do is Dream

[spoiler]Short twine. You’re in an apartment, your significant other is away. You think about cleaning, or sleeping, or your crippling inferiority…

The thing with such short text pieces like this is, I sort of expect more attention paid to pacing, and this one felt like the ramp up was just a bit abrupt. In this case, I’m not sure the second person helped, because it felt like I was being berated at one point about skills I didn’t even know I had, I-the-player and not I-the-character, and that took me out of the moment.

I also would’ve just liked to have seen more background about these characters, because it felt like I was still learning about them even up to when it ended, and I hadn’t inhabited the main character quite yet.

The writing is good enough, that I think this would be interesting if there were just more details in this to grab onto. The beds are a good example of this: we find out relatively a lot about these two characters from the description, and those passages are engaging.

Best thing: Glimpses of characterisation, description of the two beds.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Parser. One joke until expiration, the blurb says, but this isn’t really a joke, but a story. You’re a gladiator, getting ready for battle. It’s short, and not difficult.

Considering the premise, the writing is strong and inventive, and sells it.

I couldn’t figure out if there was an actual mechanical rhyme or reason to what things increase your status bar, and which ones lower it. So in the second scene, I was just fumbling a bit. But that might not be an issue, I don’t think, after going through a second playthrough.

It was a pleasure just looking around the environment and playing around and being surprised at the results, and discovering the story, step by step. This embeds small characterisation/world building details and hints well, within descriptions, which makes it worth looking around and taking everything in the environment in.

Without spoilers, I don’t have much more to say, but even with them, I think playing the game speaks for itself pretty well.

Best thing: Story as revealed through the actions you take.[/spoiler]

Pogoman GO!

[spoiler]Parser. Long, I probably went over the time limit to finish it? Not necessarily supremely difficult, but there’s a lot of exploring to find the, basically, the keys and locks – keeping note of all the obstacles you encounter and matching the objects scattered about needed to bypass them.

It’s a satire of Pokemon GO!. I haven’t played Pokemon GO!. I tried approaching this like Pokemon Red (the Game Boy game), and was supremely confused for a while; apparently you don’t actually fight the wild creatures you see in GO!? I’m guessing the actual version might explain the mechanics more, and that Pogoman is assuming the player’s played that beforehand.

The satire is on-the-nose, maybe a bit too much. Even without having played Pokemon Go!, I’d already just generally knew the issues people were having with it, and this hits all of them, but it sort of feels like well-trod ground. And Pogoman Go! was trying to tell me how sucky of an experience the real game is, but some of that’s by replicating that sucky experience, and even in the more “traditional IF” parts I started feeling a bit self-conscious about how jump-through-hoops-y it was. The character’s goals are pointless, and that’s kinda the point, but how was I supposed to feel then guiding them there, then?

What doesn’t help is the amount of backtracking and wandering I was doing, which wasn’t very interesting. It highlighted how kinda arbitrary the puzzle placements felt to me.

The game has some funny stuff; a bunch of the meme references are terribad, but there are a lot of clever little responses, details, and background stuff going on. A lot!

I also really liked the premise of the map, which is just a bunch of landmarks relegated to a disinterested grid.

The writing is quite good, and the first gym fight in particular is fantastic. This is very solidly implemented, and a lot of care’s been put in. I do definitely think there are people that are going to enjoy this.

Best thing: responses to things, especially going past the borders of the map.[/spoiler]

Quest for the Traitor Saint

[spoiler]Twine CYOA with illustrations. Fairly long for Twine.

There’s a chunk of backstory that you can go through before this really starts, but basically you’re a human diplomat on a planet shared by both humans and sentient horses. You have a horse friend who’s travelling with you, and you’re going to a small island to find the Traitor Saint in order to save your people, and… there’s some other backstory stuff, but that’s the basics.

The writing tone is informally conversational, with a lot of neat phrasings and imagery scattered throughout. There were some typos that slipped through, and things that might’ve been caught by proofreading like, say, an excess of repeated head-shaking during at least one conversation.

The journey isn’t really sold to me as particularly important, because of how far removed it is from the civilisation and lives at stake, which are mostly relegated to a sort-of recap link at the beginning, since all the time is spent on this lightly inhabited little island. This is sort of feels like a setup to an adventure story, but these characters don’t treat it like one: they’re bored, they’re wandering around because they don’t know where to even start looking, and there isn’t really a sense of danger or tension, so it feels instead sort of like a travelogue, since descriptions of vistas and wildlife is a lot of what’s on tap here, with a sprinkling of the mystical later on. There’s also sort of a road trippy element, because of your horse friend Silili, and your friendship feels more up front at stake than the worlds an ocean away.

There’s a bestiary on the left-side menu which is impressive, too; it shows the thought that went into a lot of the elements of the island. On the other hand, I felt like I wanted a bit more grounding for both the humans and the horses, just more of a general idea of what type of tech and background they come from. The world has movies and music, boats, research stations, diplomacy (but only intra-species?)… We get a lot of mythology and ecology, but not a lot of rudimentary history of either race, or between them.

The horses didn’t really seem to be all too different from what an alt-human civilisation would be like, but they do make for more interesting art.

There’s a deep-seeming mythology and thought that’s been put into the setting, and there’s a definite promise of a sequel at the end. I’d be interested to see where the story goes from here.

Best thing: world building of mythology, ecology[/spoiler]

I really appreciate how you include the “best thing” of every game in your reviews. :slight_smile:

Thanks, verityvirtue.

The Little Lifeform That Could

[spoiler]Short, chipper Choicescript game: reminiscent of Spore, and it also made me think of the Choicescript port of Alter Ego.

Spore was a game about taking a species through evolutionary stages from sea-dwelling organism to land-based village dwellers to spacefaring civilization, and the Little Lifeform that Could follows the same structure. A big issue with Spore (keeping in mind I never played it!) was that it seemed like a bunch of un-related games glued together: 2D arcade game, action-adventure, strategy, space exploration, one after the other. TLLTC feels more coherent stage to stage, partly because the gameplay mechanics are constant, and partly because instead of the scale of what you’re controlling changing, you’re following a single creature throughout, as they meet fellow members of their race, as they lead a village, and as they venture out into space. You see a progression in biology and technology that feels less abrupt, and it feels more like a story as a result. When I finally reached space, that really felt like a culmination of my species, and I actually stopped and thought about what I wanted to do in those sections.

As for Alter Ego, that was a game ported into ChoiceScript where you guide a human life from infancy to death. It, like this, doesn’t push the word count much. I recall it being fairly engrossing seeing how that game interpreted your choices and led you to become a different person, and TLLTC also manages to evoke that same curiosity to see what happens next. The one issue I remember having with Alter Ego was that there were these really abrupt time skips that’d happen, and suddenly my character would be in their middle ages and kind of sad, and it felt like someone had hit fast forward when I wasn’t looking. TLLTC doesn’t have that; it feels fairly smooth transitioning between phases, with things happening as a clear result of your choices, and the cartoony tone of writing and simplified story help to keep things light, and enjoyable.

Best thing: Kid-friendly ChoiceScript game about an evolving lifeform that plays like a cross between Alter Ego and Spore. The space sections were especially pretty fun.[/spoiler]

Stuff and Nonsense

[spoiler]Twine. Short. Steampunk, with a very adventurous heist-type story, including a ragtag group of rogueish types planning to sneak into an Exhibition Hall during the Queen’s visit to send a message of revolution.

This is a very action focused piece, as you follow in and make decisions on what type of approach to take, how to overcome guards, and so on.

I got enough of these characters to get the sense the author probably knows what each character is like (well, okay, there’s also the bio you get which’d also indicate that), but this story is so action-packed that there’s no room to really get to know them. You get to choose which one to play, and even that doesn’t give you to much insight even for the character you’re guiding through.

I’ve played Scarlet Sails by the same author, which was a ChoiceScript game, and this Twine feels very much structured like a ChoiceScript game, or the first chapter of one, with distinct mini-scenarios and stat-based decision making.

The writing is confident. There are small fragments of world building: you’re in alt-history steampunk Australia, chafing under the rule of the Brits, and there’s a magic system based around elements, but like the characters, that’s all barely introduced. The story takes place in an exhibition hall, and that allows for all manner of steampunky gadgetry, and I’d love to see how all of that interacts with lives more day-to-day. So this seems more like a teaser than anything else; as a standalone thing, it feels kind of underdeveloped by itself, but potential future stories in this world hold promise.

Best thing: Heist-like action story that’s well paced. The magic system and alt-world settings are promising; I especially liked the description for aluminium.[/spoiler]

Inside the Facility

[spoiler]Parser. Puzzle-focused, but not extremely difficult.

Basically, this takes place in a huge random facility with vaguely a science theme, and your job is just to visit as many rooms as possible. There’s no examining, no talking or pushing or searching: there’s movement, and there’s WAIT. Anything that needs picking up will automatically be added to your inventory automatically. And there are color-coded doors with matching keycards, which is generally what the game is structured around.

So I did say I didn’t like huge maps in the first post. On the other hand, this one helpfully gave me an actual map to print out, and I didn’t hate filling it out. Maybe I should do that for more games…

This one doesn’t have a story, nor did it want one; it’s a setup for a bunch of fairly straightforward puzzles. The only real verb you have other than movement (and looking) is WAIT, and I’m fine with that as long as it makes some sense for that to do something, and it doesn’t feel random, but there was at least one puzzle where it did seem random (the one tied to the salon). That made me basically wait around in every single room after that that had anything happening in it, a person or a machine or something making noise. Which isn’t too bad, but I’m used to doing Z and then G for multiple waits, and that doesn’t seem to work here.

The room descriptions aren’t elaborate, but they’re functional, and there’s a light sense of place and tone that’s set by just the rooms themselves, how they’re laid out, and the people that’re there and what they say and do if you WAIT around.

If I had more time, I would’ve wanted to see if later puzzles play with the focused mechanics in other ways; I barely visited 65 rooms in the allotted time, which is what you need to “win” the game, but there are 100 rooms total. And I wasn’t quite sure where to go next when I stopped. The last couple puzzles I solved involved codes, and they were decent movement-based puzzles that provided a good twist on the restricted mechanics.

Best thing: The world/tone that’s expressed through the tapestry of rooms and people. The code puzzle.[/spoiler]

Yes My Mother Is…

[spoiler]Twine. You’re a therapist, and over the course of the game you choose how to talk to various patients. Your relationship with your famous mother plays a prominent role in the story, as you might imagine from the title.

I liked the variety of patients you see; they all provide good, different, personalities and types. Your character, too, is not just a blank slate, and you see aspects of their background revealed throughout as well. The therapy setting gives all characters good reason to want to talk about their lives. And between sessions, you’re presented with some documents (articles, psychiatry reports) you can read through which provide further background. The world/culture, too, has some slight, interesting twists on it.

The diction of the dialogue is sometimes inconsistent. Basically, some of what the characters were saying came off a bit too much like non-fiction, essay-type writing; it didn’t read naturally. That style of writing worked better in the documents, which were revealing. Those, too, showed some thought and depth, although they could’ve been a step more subtle.

And between the pieces of back-and-forth direct dialogue, there’s an aside or commentary or a character action on a separate paragraph (“You try hard not to sigh.” “She gets your point.” “She cracks a baleful smile.”). It reads a bit oddly, separating them out like that; some were just again a bit too spelling-things-out, and others seemed a bit unnecessary, only there because something needed to be there, because that’s how the conversations were laid out.

At one point there were quotation marks within quotation marks; that didn’t seem right, so I looked it up, and apparently the way you’re supposed to handle them is to use single quotation for the inner one and double for the outer.

The way this uses choice is interesting. You’re not going to, I don’t think, be picking the options – generally, of what to say to the patients – using too much strategy, sweating them too much. But the ending uses these choices to try to tie up a revelation around the choices you’ve chosen nonetheless. And that’s a neat use of choice, not just as a bunch of small branching points, but also taken as a whole to try to create an overarching throughline, and one that works well with the setting and characters.

Best thing: The psychiatrist setting is utilised well to explore character backgrounds, and ties into your choices and endings.[/spoiler]

Slicker City
Played around Nov 13/14/15

[spoiler]Parser, fairly short. A sequel to the Problems Compound. Light, puzzles focused.

All the places and a lot of the objects are pun or wordplay based. The puzzles also generally work towards that motif. Story’s not that important; you go, you meet some people, but it’s a bunch of rooms and objects and puzzles. The game’s pretty straightforward about characters or objects telling you what you need to do in order to proceed, and it’s just a matter of figuring out the how. I honestly didn’t have any real idea why, story wise, I was doing anything after awhile, but I did still know what my goals were, generally.

Tone is informal, plainspoken. Example: when you check inventory, you get “You are carrying nothing. Well, nothing that’d help in an adventure. You didn’t, like, lose your keys or anything.”

There are some minor bugs here and there, but that’s because this game is trying to do quite a bit. This feels like it’s been playtested and revised quite a bit, with hints and alternate solutions and player guidance scattered throughout.

Also there’s some sentence structures that I needed to read more than once to figure out; here’s one that really threw me off, for example: “Knowing pop culture more than clueless bums and yet–and yet–realizing you deserve better than just pop culture, is always impressive.” (My brain wanted to read bums as a verb, and the comma feels out of place)

Lots of helpful meta commands and instructions are implemented, which is appreciated. There’s a meta explain command to get an explanation for the names of all the objects which a lot of work was put into, and I really liked reading some of them.

Although the first half asks you to do fairly conventional parser inventory puzzles, later on it suddenly switches to wordplay-based guess-the-verb puzzles, so the earlier puzzles don’t really set up my expectations for later ones. This happens once you enter the City, and I could see there being different rules there, but if there’s any specific signal for the switch, I didn’t see it.

But the game is fairly quick, and breezy. I never finished Problems Compound or Threediopolis from the same author, only getting far enough in where I thought I felt like I’d gotten the point of them, because these types of puzzles can grind you down; I knew the final puzzle in this from playing Battleship, but if you don’t immediately know it, then… I dunno, you just have to mentally go through the alphabet letter by letter in your head? I got tired of that in those earlier games, but I finished this, and could appreciate it more.

Best thing: helpful/explanatory meta commands, and some useful hints to wrong solutions to things.[/spoiler]

Stone Harbor
Played around Nov 15/16/17

[spoiler]Browser link-based, about a psychic who makes his living off of bilking tourists that gets embroiled in a mysterious murder. If you really require interactivity and player agency in your IF then this isn’t for you, but otherwise this is a marvellously written short story; actually it’s quite long, so it might, be by word count standards, more of a novella even (or… checks Google a novelette?).

As you might imagine from a sort-of murder mystery, you got a nice cast of characters here, with accompanying varied types and figures. If the story’s about anything, I’d say it’s about family, about the weights and balances that those shared histories burden, attach, and pull one with. The protagonist is a close-to-burnt-out cynic, sort of a standard type of detective novel main character, except his psychic showbiz background gives him flourishes that say, booze addiction and a disgraced badge don’t.

The interactivity generally comes at you like this: at various points, at the end of passages, you’ll be presented with objects that you can click on, and clicking on them will reveal the next passage, and might also do the Twine replace thing to change the description or tack on a comma and add more information. What comes across is that your protagonist is picking up on more details about these things, which fits in pretty well with his fake psychic background, where he’d have to take quick stock of his customers and their clothes, say, in order to pick up on contextual things he can “read” about them. It works quite well, and fits into his role in the story: as you might imagine this type of skill comes in handy in a murder mystery.

Around chapter three, I was feeling like the structure was getting repetitive: length of story, a plot object presented, flashback. But the author manages to change things up around then.

And chapter five? Chapter five is one of the more difficult structural chapters in the story, I think; not the most important plot-wise, but it’s a breather and ramp-up, and I think the author really nails it. The intro is cute and world-builds well, the follow-up is appropriately tension-filled, and even the mechanics are played with in fun surprising ways. Chapter seven is sort of having to do something similar but more expository, and that beat wasn’t placed as well I thought (and the chapter before just sort of felt anti-climatic).

The characters aren’t just discrete entities: what’s important isn’t just who they are, but the way they’re entangled with each other and what they do as a result, and the mystery is all about following all those knotted threads to their conclusions. The paragraphs are constructed very well, and the writing overall is just extremely polished and accomplished.

Best thing: Storytelling, pacing. Chapter five (I’m setting up expectations awfully high for this, aren’t I?).[/spoiler]

Played on Nov 15

[spoiler]Twine. Pulpy adventure story about a trio of explorers who venture into the deep jungles to find a secluded Amazonian tribe. But… the explorers are women and the tribe is all-male! Gasp!

I was hesitant to review this originally: I’d seen the discussion in StephC’s review thread (while looking for reviews of games I’d already played), and I’d also read the Manlandia poll thread, and then just felt that that knowledge would completely taint my experience with this entry. But that really doesn’t seem fair. So I’ll do my best.

I think the surface level commentary (what I think I would’ve gotten out of it without the foreknowledge) is straightforward, as an illustration of gendered language and norms: one character is described as a “woman’s woman,” the tribe is overly bubbly and mostly comes off as a sort of single amorphous blob, and just the “exotic” otherly feel that I think an all-female tribe is supposed to evoke takes an odd turn when it’s gender swapped. A tribe of men? So what?

The choices are basically arbitrary: sometimes you might get two at a time, but honestly you’re generally not going to have any idea what clicking on anything will actually product as a result. Or at least I didn’t.

The writing is good, decently engaging; it’s a throwback, with a pulpy adventurous tone, and the three explorers are decently characterised and sympathetic. But…

So the paragraph below won’t make sense without knowledge of what the game is about ([url]https://intfiction.org/t/steph-cs-reviews/10480/1]).

[rant]I’m willing to consider that the author was withholding the text source for a specific artistic purpose, and that lack of information is supposed to be a part of the experience. But I also don’t think I can really erase my brain to figure out how successful it was at that. I don’t know whether, presented with those two links at the end, I would’ve pieced together what this was about myself (or how much I’m even supposed to), although I found the minotaur piece to make a bit more sense as a target for this type of subversion than Manlandia’s, even if that text was also dryer and harder to make it through. The knowledge of roughly what this text was doing made me try to divine the original source text’s meaning while playing through it, to figure out if this was trying to be a commentary on the source text, at which point I’m trying to play chess three moves ahead, on a three turn delay. If you took Manlandia’s text and reverted it, I honestly don’t think I would’ve been able to tell it was written by a feminist, but I also didn’t remotely get any the themes listed on the Wikipedia page, even in retrospect, so those parts seems to have been cut out of this adaptation. Hmm.[/rant]

As an entry in a writing-based competition, in a competition for “authors”, it’d be pretty difficult to judge this. If the criteria’s that an entry should be text-based and interactive (okay, it falls down there) and fictional (?) though, sidestepping issues of implementation or disclosure, I at least like the thought experiment of how to approach text-based artistic statements like this, as a piece of IF. This doesn’t really seem like it hits its mark, but what if it had? Also I’ve read Reality Hunger by David Shields, and that also had something to say about sourcing, which is skewing my reaction.

Best thing: questions this raises about IF authorship/IF as art?[/spoiler]

Black Rock City
Played on Nov 20

[spoiler]Written in Texture. You’re someone making their way to the Burning Man Festival, and along the way you meet various people that you can decide to stop and talk to or help, and there’s an approaching dust storm as well.

The game comes off as a CYOA, just with click-and-drag mechanics instead of click-to-choose. I did like how examine verbs were used; say there might be a passage with two locations to go to. You could drag that examine action onto either location, and those would work like how replace links tend to be used in twine, giving you a bit more detail on each, and then you can use the other action to choose which one to head towards. That seemed like a novel type of interaction that’s different from other IF engines.

Outside of those examine actions though, I basically picked choices based on whichever one sounded most interesting; I can’t really say I got a grasp for my character, nor did a story ever arise. You’re on drugs, maybe, probably? I kept clicking choices, talking or not talking to people, and then eventually, abruptly, I’d get an ending, generally involving the dust storm arriving. And I could restart, and go down a different path.

Writing wise, things are described well, and sometimes surprisingly, and the dialogue there is is natural. You get sentences like “The wind whips by in a very realistic way, but when you put your arms out you realize you can glide towards the Man, arms held out to catch you, or towards the Temple, radiating soft welcome.” I like the phrasing, especially “radiating soft welcome.”

Across your various could-be journeys, there’s a texture of diverse characters you can meet, that creates a sense of communal nothingness. There’s almost no sense of concrete place, just an off-kilter hazy/pseudo-dreamy tone before the dust storm finally hits.

Best thing: dream-like unreality, odd cast of people you meet.[/spoiler]