Dgtziea XYZZY 2021 Catch-up Reviews

*Reviewed so far:
Fish & Dagger
The Song of the Mockingbird
The Weight of a Soul
The Best Man
Mean Mother Trucker
Dr Horror’s House of Terror

Well I see I missed all of this year’s IFComp. Congrats to all the participants!

My backlog grows larger. :frowning:

Here’s a couple of 2021 release reviews. I’ve played some of the XYZZY nominees over the past year and written down notes for some of them, and I’ll try to finish those up. I’m also playing more nominees now, and this thread will serve as good motivation. These probably aren’t going to focus as much on the recommendation side of things (what’s the game about, what’s the story, what type of players would enjoy this, etc). But I played most of these because they placed highly in various 2021 competitions, so they’re generally going to be quite good anyways.

Fish & Dagger

Well, this was an easy contender for best multimedia. Graphics, music, lots of text and font effects, all well done.

Written (mostly) in Twine. Bursting with energy, it starts off with you as a sort of secret agent, going off on a mission to infiltrate a super-villainous fortress base to rescue Mirvil, your <you choose your own backstory at the start>.

This keeps switching things up throughout, with lots of clever semi-experimental mechanics and story shifts. Really liked a flashlight implementation near the beginning, where your mouse turns into a beam of light you use to “look around” and read pieces of text scattered on the screen. I did meanwhile have a bit of trouble on my phone when I had to tap some very small links. It didn’t feel like there was any visual feedback there so I wasn’t sure if I was doing it correctly and if I really was supposed to just repeatedly have to keep on tapping the small links.

I do feel it’s a bit whiplash-y because of the frenetic pace. It feels like there are these larger more planned out game sections, but then the stuff that happens in between (like when you’re supposed to be taking down a bunch of guards) just fly by. It’s a roller coaster where I’m just enjoying the wild ride, but (do I want to keep going with the metaphor or should I abandon it now? Keeping with the spirit of this game, I’m going to keep going) a good roller coaster also has its lulls and points to breathe, and you should be able to see the loop-the-loop coming up and anticipate as you approach, right? This doesn’t settle into the secret agent setting long enough to deliver a larger impact in subverting it, and it tips its hand early on not to take anything seriously. The thing with the “twist” is, the secret agent genre is already something I feel like is more parodied and subverted than played straight already nowadays, and meta-narrative comedy stuff might be even more in vogue than secret-agent-supervillain stories. So it doesn’t end up anywhere more substantial. But hey, it’s still fun, over the top and irreverent.

What I thought at the start was some overly snarky, cliche-ridden trope writing turned out to be… snarky, cliche-ridden trope writing with a purpose. It lands some good jokes. Especially appreciate the ones that play with the choice format and some of its more game-y conceits.

The Song of the Mockingbird

Puzzly Inform game. Western. You’re a singing cowboy, your love Rosa’s been kidnapped and you’re tracking down the nefarious Black Blade and his outlaw posse to save her.

Majority of this takes place on a ranch. Three gunmen are covering the area you want to cross to reach the main house where Rosa is. So you have to figure out a way to take each of them out. This will involve ropes and pulleys, cattle and horses, branding irons and broken wagons. You lost your gun, and all you’re armed with is your trusty guitar, and (as expected for this sort of game) your wits.

The large middle part of this game (which ends up long, more than 2 hours) is almost all focused on puzzles on that ranch, but there’s a surprisingly grounded sense of history woven into the story, and a bunch of interesting end notes once you finish, detailing all the research and historical background done for this. I can’t say I necessarily cared about Rosa too much, nor much of the other characters, but I understood the story beats anyhow, and it’s a more-than-fine wrapper for all the challenging puzzles.

I think this teeters on the harder side for me. I had trouble visualizing some of the puzzles, and needed to look at hints. If you like puzzles, I mean you should go and play this, you’ll likely love it. The puzzles tend to be more on the mechanical side; figuring out how something works, and involving fairly realistic mechanical solutions to things.

This quickly put me into the un-reality of a puzzle environment. You have three gunmen that want to kill you, but they will never move from their spots or routines and they’ll wait there forever, even though you’re unarmed and alone. You, unarmed cowboy, are wandering around a fairly open ranch with those three people that want to kill you. Nothing happens until you find solutions to things. These cowboys are puzzles waiting to be solved. That’s absolutely fine; it’s just a specific mindset I’m put in. I’m not allowed to leave, and it’s an enclosed space with a bunch of mechanical puzzles all open at once. So I’m exploring, looking at everything, picking stuff up, figuring out all the potential parts of the puzzle.

Emily Short wrote about a thing she called explorability in puzzle design (Emily Short on Best Individual Puzzle | The XYZZY Awards) and playing this and trying to solve its puzzles made me recall it:

Explorability. Does the puzzle respond well to failed attempts at a solution? Is it fun to work on even before it’s solved? Is it a good toy as well as a good puzzle? If the player doesn’t immediately understand how the puzzle works, is the implementation responsive enough to help her learn what to do? Suveh Nux is a classic example of the highly explorable puzzle, offering the player lots of entertaining Easter egg rewards for playing with the mechanic while simultaneously helping her more thoroughly understand what the magic syllables do. An entertaining narrator can also improve puzzle explorability: the personality of Grunk in Lost Pig adds charm and humor to the exploration moves required in that game.

The feeling I get (and I could be wrong) is this is a game that never wants the player to get an unrecognized command response, which feels like it should generally be a good thing. But it casts really wide nets to do that. For example there’s a barn with one gunman perched in the hayloft above. There’s a detailed description of the hayloft, but trying to examine a lot of the things in the hayloft just re-routes me to the same description.

Other scattershot spoilery examples:

There’s a wire fence. I tried “cut wire” early on which didn’t work. Apparently wire gets re-routed to “fencing tool” (presumably wire was a synonym for wire cutter?) so in that command I was trying to use a tool to cut itself. Oops, my bad.

There’s a handheld casket device you get early on. I guessed what it was used for (there’s good context clues for that), but there’s a “jumble of disks” that just short-circuited my brain. I was trying to turn the disks. Briefly starting over the game to look at the desc again, the first time you examine the object you get a special one-time description which would’ve helped a lot, because I was visualizing the disks all wrong. But I guess I missed it, oops.

You can throw the rope. Throwing the rope gives you the same response as throwing anything else (I couldn’t use it like a lasso to grab far away things, and I hadn’t found that lasso yet). Few more commands and I figured it out, but I threw a lot of stuff around, and it turns out the responses I was getting was just the default and I wasn’t getting any closer to the solution.

I never really understood out how the mechanism at the windmill worked, even after solving it. I could examine more things there, but the descriptions didn’t really paint the picture for me.

Some of that’s maybe my fault (or not my fault, but not my inclination). But it did made me think back to what Emily wrote about explorability, and what I like about parser-based puzzles: looking at a complex machine, then examining parts of that machine to understand it more and pin-pointing all the important parts of the puzzle is fun! Some of the puzzles here felt more like riddles posed to me, and I couldn’t always work my way closer to the solution. It also made me think about how maybe “unrecognized” responses can be helpful in a way, because those can also help tell the player which solution tracks are worth following and which aren’t.

Yet the puzzle that eventually used that rope? I got that satisfying “aha!” moment where everything clicked into place and I figured it out. It’s a great feeling, and it’s something that no other IFComp entry I played this year gave me. The underlying puzzle logic was extremely sound.

Anyways. Polished puzzle parser game. Those are not easy to make, and this one is very good. Nice semi-historical story wrapped around it.


The Weight of a Soul

An incomplete version of Weight of a Soul was entered into Spring Thing 2017, and I liked it so much then that I wanted to nominate it for XYZZY best story/best setting that year. But incomplete works are ineligible, alas. Still, I hoped that the author would finish it someday.

But we have a complete version now, and the full game lives up to the promise of that demo, and you bet this is getting some nominations from me.

This is an extremely world-building-and-narrative-focused Inform piece, fairly longish, mostly centered around a mystery, with a focus on exploring and moving about the city while tracking down leads, and set in an elaborate fantasy setting.

You’re a young doctor’s assistant working late at the clinic when a goblin staggers in and collapses, suffering from a mysterious illness. They are unresponsive, and despite the best efforts of yourself and Doctor Cavala, the goblin eventually succumbs. The next day, you’re tasked with delivering news of the death to their next of kin, and also reporting it to the authorities. But soon you find yourself asking some bigger questions. Whatever this illness is, it could put the whole city in jeopardy.

And this city is a marvel. Moving through, it feels expansive and lived in. The sense of world-building feels different from most other parser IF. Maybe because many of the locations describe different sections of the city as opposed to a specifically localized “room” (Living Room, or The Cockpit, or In Front of Gas Station), and there’s a sense of history, and locations are described in relation to other parts of the city. It goes beyond just a visual description. And It does this while keeping the word count low.

Via Terminalis, West End
You stand in the terminus of the Via Terminalis, a cul-de-sac of steel spires and buildings aspiring to the heavens. From here the street-lamps and shop windows line the great spine of the Channelworks District until, shrouded in the mists of the canal, it curves out of sight.

The white cross of Doctor Cavala’s clinic is to the west, the dormitory block where you live lies to the north, and a gap between buildings hides an alley entrance to the south. The great Via Terminalis continues to the east.

The story generally keeps you moving through this city on different errands and objectives. You talk to people. Good sense of a building mystery throughout. It maybe feels structured more like graphic adventure games like Siberia or Broken Sword.

The second half does bog down slightly. There’s a part that uses a lot of text passages with a silent press a key to continue in between for pacing. It’s a more emotional, inner monologue-heavy sort of scene, and it just went on slightly too long. You also lose a lot of the more open city exploration you got earlier, as the story approaches the end, which I think would be fine–it makes story and tonal sense–but then I also reached the single puzzle in the game. And the puzzle was fine, but it also felt a bit out of place, and unnecessary.

The ending is interesting: it’s a dialogue scene with multiple possible endings depending on how you steer the conversation, and those conversations delve into different story themes. The discussions are all rich and thoughtful, and I played the scene a couple times and saw maybe three different thematic threads. But at least one, maybe two of them felt not fully supported by what came before.


One of them was based on the premise that my character was loyal most of all to the Hippocratic oath they’d sworn, and to me, my position at the clinic felt ancillary to what I was actually doing throughout the game. I felt like a detective more than I ever felt like a doctor, so making that a central tenet of my character’s identity was sudden. Another thread was about the decaying, unequal social structure of the city, and that worked better for me, though again I’m not sure how much that felt like a focus while I was playing. Once they started talking about it, I could see how that stuff was always in the background of what was going on, but as the central point of the story? Maybe…

All the themes are extremely thoughtful, and the writing almost convinced me of their significance, just by the strength of the words. But then I played the scene again. Can a story really function with a choose-your-own-theme at the end? It feels like it shouldn’t quite work, but this comes so close I might not even have mentioned any of this if I hadn’t re-played that part.

So, minor pacing issues, rewrites for theme cohesion? It almost feels like I’m asking for a paid experienced book editor to look over this. It’s good enough to deserve it. Really high quality.


The Best Man

A story about Aiden, who finds himself the best man at the wedding of his unrequited love Laura to the supposedly bland John. We learn more a bit more about Aiden as it moves along. Told in chapters, in Twine (Sugarcube). Lots of dialogue exchanges, some flashbacks, more internal monologues later on.

I think this might be default Sugarcube looks-wise? The focus is on the writing, which is good. I don’t know if its like this by default or not, but the paragraph spacing does seem very far apart. It’s not too bad when its just paragraphs, but when it’s doing more literary things like trying to present one long paragraph followed by a one-liner sentence that’s supposed to be emotionally impactful, it doesn’t land quite as well because the timing feels off when I read it. Sometimes I did lose briefly track of where I am after I click something and more text appears underneath (default Ink also does this inline text effect, but it does it more smoothly). Also there were sometimes (and this appeared more in earlier chapters) parts where a bunch of different phrases and words would be links, and I wouldn’t really know what I’d want to click on or what action they were supposed to represent.

There’s a decent amount of dialogue throughout. From Aiden, we see him talking to other wedding guests, his “friends.” The dialogue parts were fine, and they flowed quite naturally, but they sometimes felt a bit long.

The passages I liked the best were generally the flashbacks, which show how Aiden and Laura met and are interspersed throughout. They moved along more briskly and were very well written. And they were punctuated with a couple of smart, sometimes quietly devastating one-liners.

We also get some passages from the perspectives of other people in the town. I liked the ambition of the POV changes, but I didn’t always quite see why they were there. There are some neat little mini-stories in there (the pianists were lovely to meet, the couple was nice) but they’re all barely tied together by Aiden passing through. Chapter 3, for example, had several (dog walker, the couple) but they barely provided any sort of different perspective on Aiden. They all seemed to help paint a picture about the small little seaside town (where the group all travelled to for the wedding, but not particularly significant to Laura or Aiden unless I missed something), but this wasn’t a story where the small little seaside town matters at all. It’s a story about Aiden. From the townfolk’s POVs, he’s just a man wearing white, one of the people in town for the wedding, and he’s indistinct, not in any way standing out from the lot of them. Which might be the point(?).

Aiden is interesting, but I couldn’t fully get a handle on him. He generally converses normally with people, even throwing in jokes, and he’s not setting off too many alarm bells there (he seems to have some social awareness). But then there’s the handful of suddenly overly formal, flowerly things he says later on (scene with Laura’s younger sister Lisa for example), and they don’t feel quite like the same person. His inner monologue is obsessive and also sometimes gets overly evocative and writerly. He opines early on about “the power of storytelling,” which seems like something only a writer would care about; he starts trying to imagine camera directions and scripting in a scene he’s fantasizing about later on, like he wants to make movies. But the only thing (hobbies, etc) we really learn about him outside of all the Laura obsession is in college he took a Mechanics class, and that he specialized in Engineering later on. Is he supposed to actually be a frustrated creative type? I can understand a character that gets obsessed with “their story” and who’d extrapolate out a predestined happy ending for themselves. Aiden though takes it a step further, not just obsessed with his story but with Storytelling. Also I know Aiden is supposed to be quite extreme of a personality, so maybe his headspace wouldn’t make sense, but he thinks of himself as the hero of his story, but all of his thoughts are about Laura, and he never really has thoughts about himself in any specific way. I couldn’t get all of it to fully coalesce into a portrait of a person, though the broader strokes of their relationship, how they met, the pining, most of the direct conversations with the bridesmaids and Laura and John, those parts were very well done.

Overall? There are some really strong parts, good prose, some interesting characters, though I’m guessing from how high it placed I found this slightly more uneven that other people did.


This is a cool project, thanks for posting these!

FWIW, my sense of the non-Aiden sections of the Best Man is that they’re there to provide a contrast by illustrating what a real, non-obsessive life looks like - and to deflate Aidan’s artistic pretensions by demonstrating his inability to recognize other people as anything other than bit players in his “romantic” psychodrama. Admittedly the game doesn’t draw either of those points out very much, though, so I definitely understand finding them overly tangential.


I agree with Mike bouth about Aiden and also about the reviews here. (And if you have more, I look forward to them too!)

And I’d like to add a term I recently heard. Maybe others heard it before me, but I heard it now, and I’ve gotten good mileage from it in the real world and with The Best Man.

“Main Character Energy” is one of those phrases without a perfectly clear meaning, but once I heard it, I realized how much I’d like to run away from anyone who boasted of “main character energy” if at all possible.

Aiden falls into this category. I can have some sympathy for him being pushed around, and of course you should best focus on your life, but the other characters don’t need Main Character Energy and are, well, more interesting for it just for being themselves. Aiden is interesting in a clinical way.


Thanks. The idea of the non-Aiden scenes being there for contrast makes some sense. And yeah, main character syndrome/energy is a good term for what Aiden has.

Also that reminds me: the starting conversation with Laura makes a big deal about the flower bouquet. I thought what that was setting up was, this would be a story mostly about going to get the flowers and deliver them, like a quest basically. Especially since there was conversation about where the shop was, what to say, where to deliver it, what Laura’s parents looked like… I tried to memorize those details because I thought they’d be important. So the perspective changes (which aren’t teed up, you sort of pick up context on whose thoughts you’re inhabiting as they go) where I lost agency over Aiden and veered off into these other side stories disoriented me a bit. That also impacted how I viewed those scenes.

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Mean Mother Trucker

I like the premise, and the setting. Small environment, a truck stop in the middle of nowhere. Clear objectives. It sort of brought to mind the cartoony-logic 90s Lucasarts point-and-click adventures, maybe just because a lot of the characters feel like exaggerations. You meet them, and they’ll immediately make sure to hint at the one quirk they have which lets you figure out what you need to do to solve their little piece of the puzzle. Might not work in certain games, but works fine here, with how the game is presented.

The author wrote a lot of stuff in Quest before. This is in Inform, and feels much more compact than a lot of those. Maybe this was kept smaller because they were trying to acclimate to a new authoring system (or maybe they’ve done other Inform stuff that I missed); there’s a handful of small implementation things that slipped through, also a few typos on what the cop utters for example, and what seems like a minor bug with the armadillo (it blocks me the first time I pick it up, but not if I just try to pick it up again).

The author’s experience meanwhile shows through in the puzzles, which generally flow well, even if there’s nothing mind-blowing here. A couple which stretch into cartoon logic, but the environment is kept small enough that I figured it all out.

The writing is also confident. You get a good sense of all the bold characters both from the descriptions and from what they have to say. It’s easy to overlook this sort of writing, and I’m not talking tone wise (this one’s is slightly toned down from how zany I remember the author’s Guttersnipe games being), but in utility; it’s easy to digest, engaging, and communicates everything it needs to in all its descriptions. This communication aspect is actually really nice; I always know which things are worth interacting with. Locations don’t feel dry, everything has personality, and the writing isn’t obtrusive.

Enjoyable little game.


Played this last month, just before voting ended.


A fan wiki (written in Twine) for a fictional 80s sci-fi TV series. BBC lost the original tapes, so the series lives on now through the valiant efforts and faulty memories of a bunch of dedicated fans. And their efforts are consolidated on this wiki, with a bunch of pages you can browse around in (the search functionality isn’t working, so you can only click links).

I voted this for best innovation; I’m fascinated by what this was going for. If I can read the wiki articles in any order, or even not see some of them at all, then how can something like this cohere into a narrative? Is that even the goal?

The only thing I can really compare it to is something like “Her Story” which also has a sort of database for the player to browse through as they wish (there’s a bunch of interview snippets, and you do a keyword search to bring up video clips to view). And there’s probably other text games that have tried to tell stories through wiki-likes as well (resisting the urge to get sidetracked here…).

Firstly, the enthusiasm and fun all the authors must’ve had concocting and planning this shines through. There’s episode summaries and character and cast bios, all lovingly crafted. Dig further, and there’s a lot of wild little details and glimpses into both the chaotic, messy dynamics behind the production of the series, and also the arguments, crackpot theories, and overly meticulous wanna-be historians trying to run fanzines and conventions and the fan wiki itself. Wikis–that’s too broad. Most wikis–are basically attempts to gather info on some slice of culture, or some slice of the world, and store it into a living document. And this Excalibur wiki sketches out its own little world really well.

I found the parts that were really fun to read was the fandom based stuff, so the fan theories, and all the ways they cobbled together information about the episodes (the tapes, especially all the stories of the tapes that got lost), all the fan in-fighting, also the trivia, that stuff is fantastic.

The type of articles I stopped reading through fully were the cast and crew bios and the episode summaries, because there was so many. The episode summaries seem like well done approximations of a real, low budget sci-fi series, but I also wouldn’t want to read through a season’s worth for any real TV show either. I still liked having all the episodes there even though I didn’t read all of them though; it was cool to dip into a couple random ones just to get a feel for the show. And just seeing all the episode titles and the really well done grainy screenshots was great too.

Eventually I did feel a bit lost about what else I wanted to click on. The ABOUT spoiler indicated I should read through all of the episodes to unlock more things, so I ended up just quickly clicking through all the ones I missed. And most of the episodes seemed fairly straightforward; the only thing I really noticed was maybe that there was more episode-to-episode story continuity than I might’ve expected, since I would’ve thought this type of show would be more episodic. Maybe I should mention that I haven’t really watched any TV sci-fi shows, and the closest thing I’ve seen is the Galaxy Quest movie. So there’s probably a bunch of loving references I missed.

There’s also a couple stories of the tensions behind the production of the show (a director that some others look down on for example, actors being replaced or written out or leaving and then having to come back, etc). These types of interpersonal conflict stories maybe didn’t seem to fit as well in the wiki format; it leans heavily on quoting from interview snippets, and there’s some neat stories there. But all the interviews seem like they come from after the production of the show ended. We have a bunch of examples of how these behind-the-camera stories can be told through TV and movies: acted out, told in real-time and face-to-face, and that feels more natural. In book form it’d be scenes of dialogue. In IF, I can remember The Play tackling this sort of thing (You’re directing a play during rehearsals).

The fan theory stuff and everything surrounding the fandom, meanwhile is something that feels truly at home on an internet wiki. I do wonder how hard it would’ve been to integrate more of that stuff into some of the episode or cast pages. I thought maybe there’d maybe be a central mystery or something to uncover (an early fan theories page I thought pointed at some mysterious goings-on), but there isn’t; it was fun to flit through pages, but there isn’t quite a breadcrumb trail I could follow. I’d be interested in if a wiki game that didn’t provide narrative closure could work, where you could just read until you had your fill and there wasn’t a set ending (500 Apocalypses was maybe a bit like that?). But here, there are a couple of pages that unlock at the end. Without them (if I hadn’t seen and followed the HELP page) my experience would’ve petered out a bit, but with them, it leads a poignancy to this whole endeavour, with all these fans trying to work together (or sometimes separately) towards; to keep a cultural memory alive, of a thing that meant so much to all of them.


Thank you so much for writing this lovely review! I’d been looking forward to hearing your thoughts ever since you started this thread and I’m really glad you enjoyed exploring the world of Excalibur! Thanks also for the Best Use of Innovation vote!


Okay, so now we’re delving into murkier territory, because I played the following three a long while ago but I didn’t write down any notes on them then…

I’ll be focusing on getting through 2022 games for the next while now.

Dr Horror’s House of Terror

The author, Ade, might be the most restless genre-hopping IF author out there. From fiendish puzzle games (Hard Puzzle series, never finished any of them) to puzzleless family narratives about choice and regret (Map), to elaborate world-building games (Worldsmith)… It’s pretty remarkable of the breadth of catalogue this author has explored.

This is on the more puzzle-focused side of things, although there’s also a save-the-world (kinda) narrative here. I’m not much of a schlocky (or maybe just old school) horror/monster movie fan, but if that sounds enticing to you, this seems like a loving homage to the genre. This all takes place on a studio lot. You’re an actor, and your director is maybe leading a cult to raise a demonic army. So you’re trying to recruit an undead army to stop him, and to save the world! Or maybe just your job. (I think that’s how the premise went, but some details might be off)

There’s a perilous situation mechanic that didn’t fully work for me; a lot of them come from guards walking around the sets, and you can hear them as they’re about to come into whatever room you’re in. The game announces you’re in a “perilous situation!.” But you just type hide and then wait for them to leave. Or if they catch you they kick you out of the area, and you can re-enter the area immediately. They patrol in a set route, and the way I navigate places I’ve been already (haphazardly blundering into walls and trying directions until I find the right exit or room) is a playstyle that doesn’t play well with the guards. There were other perilous situations (uh, I hope I got this mechanic name right, it was something like it) as well, but it’s mostly the guards which I remember the most. I’m guessing this mechanic might’ve gotten iterated on a few times?

I remember one puzzle required an item from another studio (most of the game is split into I think four or five studios, each of which has its own b-movie flick being filmed on it). And maybe I shouldn’t have assumed this but I thought maybe each studio would be self-contained, so that one took me a bit longer to figure out.

I remember finding the ghost puzzle really inventive. I liked the army mechanic at the end. I think I got stuck on the werewolf one the longest?

Really substantial, varied set of puzzles! Good writing, fun roller coaster story. Especially if you like campy horror B-movies, I imagine.

I did copy down my final results from my first playthrough (I tried the last section twice):


You built an undead army! It consisted of, the mummified Pharaoh Nefer-Kare and his shuffling ancient servants, a monster manufactured from body parts and brought to terrible life, a horde of shambling zombies led by an understandably annoyed Security Guard, a fearsome ravening werewolf, the Count, the Countess and their bloodthirsty vampire thralls.

You then abandoned your undead army and decided to lead the forces of Astaroth and his demonic hordes. You won a glorious victory!

You managed to survive eighteen perilous situations!

- You avoided the murderous attentions of the Cult of Astaroth!
- You managed to escape from the Cult's Lair!
- You killed a crazed Cultist with a wooden stake!
- You caused a poor security guard to fall into a pool of acid where he was immediately dissolved!
- You protected yourself from vampires with a simple golden crucifix!
- You courageously escaped from a horde of exceptionally slow zombies by running away.
- You managed to sort out a bunch of squabbling ghosts!
- A horde of shambling zombies stopped attacking you because you were holding a voodoo doll of power!
- You inadvertently led a horde of zombies to a poor Security Guard and they bit and infected her!
- You cleverly managed to not be holding a conductive electric cable when you created lightning!
- You cremated a young security guard in a huge oven!
- A writhing mass of snakes you released poisoned a nice security guard with their huge fangs!
- You tamed Nefer-Kare and his mummified servants with the ancient magic of his own bracelet!
- You pushed a decent hard-working security guard into a deep pit for some reason.
- You took to your heels and fearlessly fled from a ravening Werewolf!
- You loaded an ancient Blunderbuss with a handful of silver pocket-change and bluffed a Werewolf!
- You soothed the savage heart of a terrible Monster with some sweet music!
- You courageously escaped from a shambling Monster by running away!


Of course it’s extremely polished, with a bunch of pleasing, not too hard but still rewarding puzzles, it’s a mathbrush game!

There’s an amusement park framing device that was smartly conceived; since this is a tribute game for Chander Groover, it allowed for a bunch of vastly different, creative, impressively implemented set-pieces, based around different attractions.

I think I remember the creaking house and maybe the corn field (was there a scarecrow?) both had some really strong, evocative writing. Which is something I don’t think the author necessarily goes for in a lot of prior work (Maybe Swigian, oddly enough is another work with more of a stylized prose) but it’s well done here.

I remember Midnight Swordfight and the Managerie feeding both were puzzles that seemed extremely elaborate, and then at some point they turned out to be over almost before I realized it. Still very enjoyable because of how well set up they were, but it was almost startling when I solved them (the midnight swordfight one especially).

The way the park description changed throughout the game was also a really neat effect!


You are a grue. There are some adventurers wandering around your little dungeon area, and you want to lead them back to the surface. You can see in the dark, but the adventurers can’t, so the puzzles are built around creating light sources to lead them out (but then you also can’t see in the light, tricky!).

I speed-played through this again for the awards up until I got a bunch of adventurers wandering the main hallways and they started killing each other. I remember I lost at least one adventurer (I think maybe two?) my first playthrough as well. The sunglasses were just a bit annoying to take on and off (but I was rushing). I think I had trouble solving the lichen before. The fridge in particular is a really clever puzzle.

Lot of fun around the whole grue setup, especially around the “You are likely to be…” lines.

The NPCs are great! I think the best NPCs award might lean towards rewarding more in-depth types of characters (although didn’t the skeleton get a nomination?) but for how they’re deployed here, I think they’re really well done. You get recognizable traits for everyone, and a couple manage to be distinctive, even likeable in the extremely brief interactions you have with each of them. That’s all you’d probably want for NPCs in something like this.


I’m reviewing And Then You Come to a House now because I’m actually trying to review Spring Thing 2023’s Repeat the Ending. I referred to ATYCTAH in my review (draft) of that, and it doesn’t really matter, it’s a brief mention, you won’t have to have read this first, there’s no through-line except in my head. But now, it’s out of my head.

To tip my hand further, there are unwritten reviews also taking up space in my head for Lady Thalia (2021), You are Spamzapper, Sting, and What Heart Heard of… I finish those at some point, and then I’ll be done with 2021. Won’t that be nice? :sun_with_face:

And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One

First of all: fantastic! Great! Highly recommended! I considered this for my XYZZY 2021 Game of the Year, and voted it for Best Story. Riley is a likeable NPC (I think I considered her for best NPC), the setting and nostalgia shine through, light but still interesting puzzles, manages to keep surprising the player, heartfelt. Go play it!

That out of the way:

Despite all the more reality-bending stuff, the story is basically linear. More than that, I couldn’t say exactly why (I’m not a screenwriter) but it feels like the story is paced more like what you’d find in a film or book. It starts off normal, you get introduced to the premise, it starts getting weirder, you meet new people and spend time with them, there’s a falling out (a low point), there are major character beats…

I could be off here. But I don’t think most parser IF feels structured in this way, in terms of getting real character arcs. I think most parser IF is structured more around solving major puzzles, and those would be the type of progression beats you’d feel instead. So it feels different. Which is fine, great!

The part I really felt it was in the… middle (the 2nd act maybe?) when you’re delving into the other programs (the warrior, etc) and you meet and spend time with three new characters. They sort of felt like side plots, like the type you’d find in the middle of a movie. But I think these felt like they went by a bit quickly. In a movie or book, you’d have spent some meaningful time with each of them, but in this, it felt like their side stories flashed by too quickly. That’s the part of this structure that didn’t translate as well, for this specific length of game.

The other thing I do wonder about is the whole meta aspect. It’s a whole lot of fun, and that by itself is more than enough to justify it. But meta-narrative twists aren’t quite as novel anymore; we’ve seen quite a number of them, commentary in stories about free will, and pre-destination, and the power of storytelling, and the nature of storytelling, and complicity, and true love. Charlie Kaufman is making Hollywood movies, Dan Harmon is writing network television, Black Mirror is making CYOAs on Netflix, we’re seeing several more meta IF works every year now. So I’m wondering how the meta-twist stuff actually meaningfully contributes to the story, at the end of the day; like how much does it help our understanding of our characters? So Riley is avoiding confronting her emotions about moving, she’s escaping reality and playing games with you instead, and then reality and the virtual world start melding into each other. Does it say anything else with that? (So I played this on the last day of IFComp 2021. I know I had this basic sort of question after playing it, but I don’t remember enough of the specifics of the game to really interrogate it now).