Dgtziea Spring Thing Impressions

Ahoy! We’ll see how many entries I get to this year, but one can dream…

Starting off with:

Bullhockey 2: The Return of the Leather Whip , by B F Lindsay

Gonna skip too much description of this really large, 90s-style puzzler. Its own entry blurb describes it very well, so I think you should have a decent idea going in whether this is your cup of tea.

It’s generally well implemented, especially (especially!) considering how much of it there is. There’s some stuff that gives responses I might not have expected it to, which is always surprising and fun.

Story’s straightforward. Some odd overuse of some punctuation: ellipses, double question marks, em-dashes. There was a coffee pot that’s described as empty in my inventory even though it had coffee in it, but also there were these swinging doors that actually takes a couple turns to stop swinging, which felt random but again, fun!

I’d say the map is large, and the rooms are well described, but it’s large enough and implemented in a way that meant I had to focus a lot to navigate. There’s a mountainous area where room exits don’t match (east -> west won’t take you back), and I dunno if I really need to be sold the winding nature of the area in that way. Room exits also aren’t listed in a consistent part of the room descriptions, and the descriptions are long enough that it takes some scanning to pick them out (same with objects). It’s… I dunno, there are some games where those are easy to skim, and this game makes you work for it a bit. The words themselves are okay though, with some fun quips, and the exits are listed at the top right which was very useful.

I stopped at 139/316 points (>1300 turns), hitting a point where, not sure if it was an unwinnable state (UNWINNABLE doesn’t work, I don’t recall the ABOUT/HELP type commands saying anything), but I couldn’t follow the walkthrough anymore because an armchair wasn’t there anymore. And that was after another puzzle where I didn’t really know what combinations I needed for some dials. There’s a THINK ABOUT command which is a hint system, but it didn’t help in either case, though its understandable. Considering the scope, it’s impressive how much I’d seen that was implemented. I felt like I was starting to get some backstory, but it maybe came at me too quickly to fully absorb; I was sort of distracted by just a general sense of confusion about what I was trying to do at that point. All the 139 points of stuff before that, I had fairly clear intermediate goals and was chugging along fine, the puzzles all felt logical enough, but once inside the mansion, I just lost some steam.

Hey, I never finished Jigsaw or say, Perdition’s Flames either!


The Ballroom, by Liza Daly

Writing’s great, as expected. Not a puzzle game, but a “mutable story” as the blurb says.

You’re entering a ballroom at the start, and it’s sort of a Jane Austen/social soiree type of setting. Your wallflower ways aren’t going to get you noticed, though, not unless something changes.

Really, if you’re interested in a short, well written storytelling experiment and not some elaborate puzzle box, then go try it out.

I think at the start, I thought this was a story about social norms. Wear this dress, and people react to you differently. See what changes, your social standing rising or falling, gender roles at play, etc.

Then I thought this was shifting to a comparison between old social restrictions and new, as we drew parallels to a coworker gathering and corporate ladders.

But it kept changing.

The end became sort of a memorisation puzzle, as I finally had to start paying attention to how the variables changed the scenario.

The last scene didn’t quite seem like it revealed a huge sort of revelation, a key to unlocking the whole narrative, but that was probably expecting a bit much. Curious if each decision was supposed to represent a completely different person (in the same ‘world’?), or if some were alt-histories.

Cool structure and idea, made me think about how it could be applied to different types of stories.

Porter Cave Adventure, by Cam Miller

So the desc says this was for a games history course. What that means in practice is several winks to some classic IF, and a structure where a handful of game studies quotes are illustrated to you through some short scenarios. They can be interesting, but this definitely isn’t meant to be challenging (which I imagine their prof appreciated). The nostalgic font choice is nice, and it’s implemented without noticeable bugs or typos or anything – I did have some trouble figuring out the command for a keyboard – but I’m not entirely sure what type of person I’d recommend this to, if you’re not interested in walking through some games studies excerpts. It isn’t really teaching the stuff, but it’s also fairly basic if you do have an academic background I imagine. It’s just showing what they learned. Picked ‘submission’ at the end. I hope the author got a good grade!


The Missing Ring, by Felicity Drake

This was very well done! It’s a light mystery; you play as Sadie, a teenager who brought a bunch of Sherlock Holmes books with her on the yearly family gathering at Christmas. Her Gran’s engagement ring has gone missing, and she takes it on herself to find the culprit. But the only suspects are in the house: her family members, and the housekeeper.

It’s a twine game with rooms and an inventory and dialogue. It’s not terribly hard; I don’t think you’re likely to get stuck anywhere, but your actions are still purposeful. Generally, Sadie thinks through what her next steps are, so you-the-player don’t have to figure that part out, you just have to go do it.

There’s a helpful notes section which shows you all your objectives, and a lot of this is about questioning people and establishing alibis and motives. But the mystery isn’t really the central thing; the story is actually about your family, and uncovering various threads involving each of them.

They’re all very well drawn, feeling three dimensional, reacting to your probing questions in different ways. They change, too, as you get deeper to truths; they’re not static and they’re not flat. You’re maybe less multi-faceted; you’re mostly just Nancy Drewin’ it up out there, which makes sense with this structure, and instead there’s a lot of her interior thoughts in this. But we’ll get to that.

Definite recommend!

So this game makes me think about complicity. Other games have tackled this. There was a military-themed shooter called Spec Ops: The Line released in 2012 which was all about making you question the whole concept of its own genre: why were you revelling in its violence, why were you enjoying play-acting war? I never felt compelled to stop though. (It was okay. Just like a lot of other militaristic gun-toting games you can only press forward… but I won’t get into it).

Interactive fiction, I can think of has tackled more peripherally things like powerlessness or subversion. Yep, thinking about Rameses, like I often do. Complicity though? Uh, harder to think of examples; that cat ritual game by Chandler Groover? De Baron… No, not quite. (Hey, there’s a complicity tag on IFDB! Floatpoint? huh.)

The Missing Ring felt like a slow motion car crash. I wanted to keep playing, but with covered eyes, peeking through my fingers. Sadie’s actions felt SO invasive, so prying, picking at so many wounds, and I was the one performing them, egging her on. I was expecting at least one more big overstep at the end, and so the ending actually felt less wrenchingly awful than I was expecting. Like, I wasn’t expecting a sad ending, but I did think there would be some real hurt feelings, a scene of healing, and for Sadie to learn some boundaries, y’know? I thought that was the running theme. Her actual takeaway seems to be that she’s grateful that she learned all her family’s secrets, that it makes her feel closer to them. And to be fair, she keeps some of the bigger, more family-shattering revelations she unearths in her pocket. She’s not a bad person, but still, she’s playing detective with some aspects of the lives of her family that they’re trying to keep to themselves, and some of those confrontations could’ve gone way worse. It made me think about a This American Life episode which definitely colored my perceptions a bit, about a granddaughter who plays pop psychiatrist to her grandmother, all proud of herself for her revelations until she ends up irrevocably damaging their relationship (https://www.thisamericanlife.org/293/a-little-bit-of-knowledge/act-four).

At the end, you get to accuse someone, and although I had a good idea of the two answers I would’ve seriously picked (which sort of was biased by how they were ordered), I did just stomp all over the gravity of the situation by saving there, then proceeding to SHATTER the trust people had in me, going down the list starting with the less likely to see what everyone’s reactions to being wildly accused would be. That was cruel. And fun! As was the rest of the game.


Founder’s Mercy, by Thomas Insel

Founder’s Mercy is a game set in a space station. Your parents passed away a thousand days ago, leaving you the sole person left in your tiny space colony, and you’ve finally decided it’s time to try to move on.

It’s a good setting for this type of puzzle-focused parser game. You get a sense of the small, close-knit lives that were here before as you look around and assemble a way to leave; it evokes a certain sort of rural, semi-insular religious community, with its few houses, a school, a church, and farmland. There’s an optional world-building sidequest which taught me the community’s modular tech which serves the brunt of the game’s puzzles, and the reward for that is a bit of backstory. (I did have some issues juggling all the similarly named modules.)

There’s (now failing) tech sprinkled throughout the surroundings, augmenting the simple, low-level livelihood of everything else. Another world-building aspect is the removal of standard directions; instead you move port, starboard, spinward and anti-spinward, and also the layout of the station, which is split into functional sectors. All nice touches.

Descriptions are sparse, but functional. Going in, the blurb/intro felt like a bit of a red flag: the odd use of “awake” as a verb in “you awake,” and the monotone of “You are lonely, so lonely.” But the writing seemed fine everywhere else.

I think there could be reading of this as a person leaving behind/escaping their religious upbringing to see the world (there’s a lot of those types of stories floating around), but that’s maybe looking too deep into it? Nothing really indicated to me that these people were particularly repressed or unhappy.

The simple story’s not going to surprise you, but the puzzles are solid and decently sign-posted*. So yeah, solid. Feelies were also cool.

*Although I’m seeing someone else’s request for a hint here, and maybe there could’ve been a way to indicate the matching functions of the red handle and the lever?


I loved reading your review; I’m so so glad you enjoyed the game!

Your comments about complicity are really thought-provoking, and that podcast is phenomenal. That’s going to stick with me for a while.

Thoughts on complicity and the endings: (spoilers)

I wanted the “Accuse no one” ending to address some of these issues. I worried that it might be kind of obscure or insufficiently hinted at, but I hoped that people would choose that ending thinking either, “I don’t want to accuse any of these people,” or, “I know Gran did it, and I don’t want to expose her.”

That ending is the player’s opportunity to keep secrets instead of exposing them. Sadie even gets a little reward for her discretion; it’s the only ending where she receives the ring (and Gran’s gratitude!).

There’s no way to avoid snooping in the first place, though, you’re right… I wonder if I could or should have handled it differently?

A previous Twine game of mine, Lost and Found, is even more explicitly about making choices like, “How far am I willing to go?” It allows the player to choose to push boundaries, or to act sensibly, or to bail out entirely. I’m happy with the way it worked in that case, but I think it’s less feasible in a larger game (where you really don’t want the players to hit the eject button ten minutes in!).


I also enjoyed The Missing Ring very much! However, I disagree with the author about the last ending.

Specifically, I would argue that it is a very bad ending.

Here’s the thing: Everybody was convinced that the ring was stolen. At dinner, Sadie proclaims that it wasn’t stolen, but had simply gone missing. Without any evidence, that’s a rather tenous explanation, and while the other guests appear willing to let the matter slide, surely nobody is truly convinced.
When Gran gives the ring to Sadie, she also gives her a horrible secret, for life, that must be protected at all costs. Sadie can never wear the ring in public. It must be stashed away in a secret hiding place where nobody can find it, because if they do, it’ll be clinching proof that she was the thief all along.
What’s more, Sadie can’t tell anybody about her predicament without violating Gran’s confidence. She can’t destroy the ring, for fear of hurting Gran who might ask to see it later. If the ring is discovered in Sadie’s possession after Gran passes away, there will be nobody around to corroborate her story. Sadie is smart enough to realize all of this, and will gradually descend into paranoia and madness.
Gran’s idea of losing the ring was an honest mistake. But her decision to give it away, in this ending, is criminally irresponsible.
I think it’s a masterstroke to guide players towards this “bury the truth” ending, because it adds a lot of depth to the story once you realize what the full ramifications are.

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This does almost feel like a plucky teen detective wandering into the sort of family-focused literary fiction where secrets either gnaw or tick for a while before exploding. Because of who Sadie is (framing-wise), I was treating this more with YA stakes, so paranoia and madness would seem a bit much. But there are some interesting ramifications to think about if you think more in those terms. I hadn’t thought through the ending like Linus had!

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