Dgtziea's IFComp 2023 Reviews (Please Sign Here)


A lot of people seem to write little introductions for their review threads. Do I need one? Okay. Let’s see–

Oh here’s one thing: in previous years, I’d really try to give entries a thorough look. So I’d try to reach the ending, or maybe try multiple paths if it seemed like that type of game. If I didn’t finish something I’d hesitate to review it, and if I got stuck I might bang my head against it for quite a while. This year I’d like to just try more entries, so I think I’ll be slightly looser on all that. We’ll see how it goes though. I’ve played a couple entries already and I’m just going back and reviewing them now (so these first couple might be out of date).

And if you’re one of the authors who finished and entered something to IfComp this year, congrats! Just finishing something is an accomplishment, especially if it’s your first project or comp entry.

Reviewed so far:
The Library of Knowledge
The Witch
Beat Witch
Lake Starlight
Last Vestiges
Trail Stash
All Hands
The Vambrace of Destiny
Barcarolle in Yellow
My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition
Milliways: The End of the Universe
How Prince Quisborne the Feckless Shook His Title
The Finder’s Commission
One Knight Stand


The Library of Knowledge

Prose-focused story written in Ink. You have just initiated a magical ritual to summon a powerful, ancient elder being. They’re in charge of a vast repository of knowledge (some might call it a “library”). They ask you why they’ve been summoned, and you start to have a conversation with them. Eventually you start asking to learn more about various things, and their assistant will lend you books on those subjects (you can ask to learn more about yourself, or the world, or the being, etc).

Or at least that’s the path I took. You’re asked why you summoned them; I answered that I wanted to seek knowledge (power was another answer). Of the various topics, I asked to learn more about my world first, and between east and west I wanted to learn more about the land of the east. I’m handed a book that very briefly details its history, its religion and culture. After that I asked to learn more about myself, and I got my life story in a book: An adventure-filled story of pirates and a quest to find a mystical shrine. At this point I should say that the books are just passages of text; you can “keep reading” different chapters or just stop reading the book, and that’s the interaction you have for those. After finishing with a book, I asked the assistant about what they thought about the book each time, and after asking after the 2nd book it didn’t give me any more things to click on, which I’m guessing is a bug. I restarted and read the two books in a different order (and I stopped reading them immediately) and then I still ran out of things to click on, and I got some links I think I shouldn’t have at certain points. So the “seek knowledge” branch of this, at least, seems like it might have a few bugs. I don’t know where the story goes afterwards, or how this finishes. (Presumably I could’ve read through a book about the elder god as well, and then maybe some sort of final sequence?)

This is writing focused, so it’d be remiss not to talk about it. The author does obviously love writing and their enthusiasm and a general level of craft shows. I did notice an overabundance of adjectives in early passages where every noun had to have an adjective tacked on, but that issue settled down later on. Those early passages also skirt close to being overly florid, but I think it works; there’s some good evocative descriptions, and it definitely, confidently sets a particular tone. Then we get to the books, and the “land of the east” I read about first turns out to literally just be China. From what I can tell it sort of smushes a bunch of different periods and mythologies together into a singularity, so it’s a land of dragons and phoenixes, complicated government politics, and religion that includes both celestial beings and yin and yang. Magic exists and is commonplace in this world. There are nine provinces in this land, which are just actual modern Chinese provinces, same name, same general backstory. The world lore does quite a good job synthesizing existing histories and facts into a succinct whole, but it’s still a literal lore dump in the end, and presented to me before I’ve been given any real idea about who “I” (the character) am, what I’m doing there, or what the actual story is, so it was hard to be invested as I was reading through all this. My guess is also that lot of it isn’t going to be particularly relevant to the rest of the story either, in the parts I didn’t get to. But that’s just a guess.

The next book, which is about yourself, is also written decently well. With the thing being that it just goes over your life story, mostly focusing on your adventure to get to the shrine. You-the-player learn about your character’s birth, your parents, a lifelong quest, and your various adventures, which is all well and good. Your character doesn’t learn anything new though. It also sort of reads and is presented like a fable or parable, or at least–perhaps because it explicitly already happened and that was the storytelling style it was presented in–that’s the mindset it put me in (or maybe it was just because I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman recently!). The story also delves into a lot of detail into certain conversations and specific side adventures, too much to read quite like a parable. It’s actually a short adventure story, but it kept going on longer than I expected, and at some point it becomes evident that the story isn’t going to have any big revelations or twists, but that it’s just going to end with… you, at the shrine, enacting the ritual, right where you started. There are lots of stories that start in the present and then flash back and start from an earlier point, but in the present there’s maybe some sense of peril (e.g. Monkey Island 2, you dangling over a bottomless pit), or some question about how the character found themselves in that situation, some questions raised, some sense of drama. There’s no urgency in your present self, and no question about where you end up during the story flashback, so it all lacks any big story hook. This life story part I think is quite decent and invigorating viewed by itself (pirates, swashbuckling, skulduggery, a sense of peril and time running out), though the story just couldn’t get me too invested in my actual quest (I couldn’t care that much about a dying goat sorry to say). If it was something more like immediately resonant like you were trying to save your father, or your sister or your village or something, I could maybe get more on board, but it isn’t. So it’s not as much the writing part, so much as the overall framing structure that isn’t quite there, I think. Some more dramatic stakes, some more judicious editing would help this. The writing though, treated separately just as a lore book and then just as a short story, are very decent starts, and there’s are parts of it that are quite strong: world-building, some of the more vivid imagery, the swashbuckling adventure parts.


The Witch

puzzle parser game. You’re an elf that woke up just outside your village after drinking a bit too much last night. You wander back into your village and… where is everyone? Perhaps there’s a… a witch to blame for this?

This seems like it could be a solid game, less forgiving and guided than is more standard nowadays. This does bill itself as a “text adventure game” at the start which is a clue. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get very far; I wanted to play something a bit more relaxing and immediately engaging at the moment. Normally might put off reviewing it because of that… But I dunno, I think this could still be informative.

The puzzles do seem interesting, I’ll say, even if I had trouble getting on the same wavelength. Like they seem thoughtful, and there’s good variety to them. Example: there’s a chairlift that’s not working, there’s a mechanism involved, and there’s references to someone’s greenhouse at the top of the hill. That’s quite enticing!

The starting village is large, laid out basically as a single street. You’re basically given free reign. I went through every building and initially I tried to leave stuff alone instead of robbing everyone since I didn’t know what was going on yet, but as the street stretched on I started collecting stuff. There were a couple of seeming obstacles at a few locations. And here’s perhaps another clue about the type of game this is: I hit an inventory limit and had to start dropping stuff. What else? I encountered a maze! So I got through the maze, checked the walkthrough and realized I didn’t have an item I needed at the end because I’d lost it already earlier, then I wondered if I could even get that item back or if I’d have to restart the game, then I realized I had to go back out through the same maze which I’d just brute forced my way through the first time. A minute into trying to find my way back out, I stopped. I hadn’t made any puzzle progress yet, hadn’t encountered much backstory, and I didn’t really feel like restarting right now.

If you’re someone who, presented with a game that has a maze and an inventory limit, thinks “well I might be interested as long as it’s done well,” then maybe try this game out! I know there’s an audience for this sort of game. The download includes a map, a transcript, and a rot13 invisiclues file (all appreciated), so there’s help there if you want it.

So I’ll try to detail where I stopped (in a spoiler-y way). So okay, what are the seeming puzzles after a quick wander around? An uncrossable river, a drawbridge that needs to be lowered, a non-working chair lift? Moved the stone in the watermill, couldn’t really tell from description what else wasn’t working, assumed that whole mechanism was tied to the chair lift. No ideas with the drawbridge yet. I found a tree, sort of brute forced the maze part. And yeah, at that point I wanted to get through at least one real puzzle, make some progress to see if it could hook me, and I glanced at the walkthrough. It said I needed birdseed but birds had already eaten that. I also had something I wanted to give the beaver (my thinking was I could maybe lure the beaver over to that tree further upstream, and the beaver would maybe gnaw through the base and knock it down, and I could use that to cross the water?) but the beaver was gone when I’d gone back to it, and that was the only other real idea I had about what I might have wanted to do to solve anything. And now I was stuck up the tree. I spent a bit more time trying to brute force my way back down the tree maze, wondering if I’d already put the game in an unwinnable state because I’d lost the birdseed and I’d have to restart. I stopped there.

transcript: witch.txt (116.8 KB)


I had a similar take on the Witch, but FWIW, you can type SCORE and it will tell you if you’ve made the game unwinnable (I’m pretty sure you had).


Hmm you know everyone disables SCORE now, I don’t think I ever tried that!

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Beat Witch

I saw two games with “witch” in their titles close together while looking through the entries, and thought, hey why not play both?

I’ll try not to directly compare entries too much, but this is pretty close to as much a diametric opposite of the Witch (reviewed above) as you can get. The Witch is puzzle-focused with a decently sized map, and gives little guidance or any huge story. Beat Witch is extremely story and dialogue focused, gives a really intriguing set-up right at the start, and is extremely guided in lieu of any real exploration.

Story: you’re a beat witch! It’s post-apocalypse, baby, and you’re sort of like an energy vampire. You can drain (or give life to) people. Everyone’s scared of you; they think your a monster. But you’re a good monster, you see, and you’re trying to defeat this other Actually Evil beat witch even as mobs of people are trying to chase you down. And when they do, they’ll… play music at you to bring you down. Because that’s your big weakness: music.

There’s two major tones mixed here, with both extremely nonchalant humour and then also some slightly graphic body horror descriptions, so warning there. I didn’t find it scary or anything, it’s moreso a bit over the top and absurd. But probably not very kid friendly.

The other thing to know going in is, I said the Witch sort of lacked a distinct hook for me before I stopped. Beat Witch has hooks, and boy does it have a premise! But it’s sometimes long passages of premise, and lore, and conversations, with little input asked of the player. A lot of it takes place in and around a single tall office skyscraper, so you’re moving up and down and through offices a lot. The text is well written; it’s quite easy to read through, and though there’s quite a lot of it, it’s mostly snappy dialogue and not reams of paragraphs. At the start I thought some of the jokey dialogue between characters could be cut down: let me know what I need to know, and let me start playing! But it soon becomes evident that there’s no point where the “game” begins, where it opens up and you start exploring the world. The text cut-scenes are actually just… scenes, and they’re the main attraction here. The game is expository throughout; a lot of explaining, maybe one or two or a few moves of freedom (a few of the times it wants you to move, but it doesn’t list out room exits, so I just had to keep trying directions), then another extended conversation, then some heavy prompting of whatever action is needed for you to trigger the next bit of story. There would be passages of dialogue long enough that I’d often have to scroll back up to read from the start of the action that triggered it. Also the game often takes the Photopia-working-from-your-home-office-scene tack of giving you some fairly high guardrails as to what if wants you to do after those scenes, and in certain situations it only gives you a small number of turns for you to do what it wants, before you get a game over. It’s all coded fine enough, and the small interactive bits show that the author is aware of what interactions a more conventional parser game might have. As it is, the story never fully hits a regular rhythm because of the small bits of player involvement which need to be set up. It’s like a series of confrontations to give the player something to focus on, and then also lots of exposition introducing different tools and devices and people that seem important for you to use to defeat the witch–what’s the term? Chekhov’s guns?–but then they’re “used” extremely quickly, and it’s immediately onto the next bit. Your character is constantly being propelled (and chased, and dragged) along the events of the story. There’s not a lot of build up. You start with a notepad because you can’t talk, which seems like a great possible setup for communication problems or puzzles. But you lose the notepad really early on, and it doesn’t really factor in save for a few for-laughs scenes. You’re introduced to an IPhone too with music on it, chased around with it by the unruly mob, and it feels like that could be a good setup where later on you’ll need to find another source of music to defeat the villain, and that could be a whole thing. But later on you’ll find the IPhone near you. And you’ll pick it up and have it with you.

So if you’re mostly looking for puzzles and a world to explore, this isn’t that. What this gets you instead is some fun writing–good dialogue, some evocative imagery–in a comically gory, irreverent roller coaster ride. It’s not too long, and it never becomes dull. The story ends here on a… cliffhanger isn’t quite right, but it doesn’t conclude here, and more series entries are promised.

There’s brief snippets of music that will play. Lectrote couldn’t play them, so I played this in browser.


Thanks for playing Beat Witch and taking the time to post your thoughtful review! I’m glad you enjoyed the writing and at least tolerated the weird humor. :grinning:

The “where’s my exit?” issue will be fixed in the next update, which is coming soon. (I’m assuming you were in the 32nd floor corridor.)


Lake Starlight

YA coming-of-age fantasy story, Twine. Post-apocalypse (actually, maybe that’s not quite right; more of a looming apocalypse?), with a focus on eco-apocalyptic concerns. Your character’s a teenager, of the strong-willed semi-rebellious semi-malcontent type. (Quick, what do you think about a story where the teenage protagonist describes their bedroom as “cringe?” If you’re recoiling, then just know that’s the sort of tone going in). But the narrative voice is distinct and immediate, and put me in the right headspace. Your mother has passed, you still have fond memories of her. There are cults at school, mad dogs running the streets, natural disasters are becoming more common, and the planet is dying. True Name Day is coming up, but you don’t know what you’re doing with your life. The teachers don’t care! No one cares!

Structurally this is linear with a couple of keywords you can click on within the text and a few bigger choices at certain story points. Note I did hit an early ending and stopped there (which I get into in the last paragraph) so this is all based off what I saw.

Some minor typos. Some possibly unnecessary but fun sort of made up terms and naming in this near-apocalyptic world (ecocide, terraquake. You live in “Commerceville”) This isn’t quite living out in ruins or bomb shelters, though; it’s more of a, the-world-outside-your-bedroom-is-falling-apart. There’s a sort of vagueness as to what level of tech this society actually has. But soon you find out you have some magic powers, woohoo, and you’re offered a chance to go to Camp Starlight, a camp for people with magical powers like yourself! The magic seems to be a bit more spiritual and inner-self focused, instead of the magic wands and flying broomsticks type.

So there are a few choices, and for the first major one, I chose… not to go to camp immediately. Because although embracing your magic gift seems to be the fun and story-correct thing to do, the writing also made it evident that you were being very suddenly pushed to go to this magic camp and you were a bit uncomfortable with that, and a lot of the advice the story seems to emphasize is about staying true to yourself, not being told by anyone else what to do, etc, etc. So it didn’t seem quite right to just go along with it. I thought I’d maybe have a chat with my friends before deciding to go, but I chose… wrong I guess, and it shunted me into a fairly drawn out bad ending. I do appreciate it giving me a whole extended epilogue. But it also didn’t let me undo far enough to make the other choice, which sort of feels like the game telling me to stick with what I picked. Normally I’d just restart and go down the other path. This year, I’d like to try more entries. So onto the next for now! Actually I’ll write a bit more about this: because I’d like to judge this for the comp, I’ll probably play it again later. But if I were just playing this normally in my free time, I wouldn’t go back. The lack of undo or easy way to go back and make the “right” choice is just enough of a hurdle, plus the story wouldn’t quite be novel enough to give me enough incentive to want start the whole thing over. Otherwise I would’ve pretty happily kept playing.


Last Vestiges

I recognize the author’s name from seeing their reviews of various detective games on IFDB. Good to see them making games! So this one’s, yes, a detective game. Inform, murder mystery, one room–the victim’s apartment–and two NPCs; even the dead body’s already been removed from the scene.

There’s some basic detective-y questioning to do and the normal looking around and examining things you would expect. And you do actually have to use some deductive reasoning to figure out who did it in the end. When you’ve put the pieces together, you can trigger the ending and tell the inspector a tale about what happened, and I did enjoy that sequence. The inspector asks you a couple of questions, you get a few things to choose from, and it made me have to make me pause and think for a bit, and then make an educated inference. There’s no confession note, no silver bullet, and having to make even that tiny leap was pretty enjoyable.

You also get some logic puzzle type things you need to solve to get to a combination lock, for example. That’s sort of the brunt of your sleuthing. There’s perhaps a slight question about WHY the murder victim would devise all these weird little puzzles and code things to solve that just gives out the combination code to their drawer… But moving on.

Not flashy, or elaborate, but a neat little case. If this is the author’s first game, then the modest scope would make sense for someone making their first foray into parser game development. (Hmm maybe that’s not an assumption I should make… Well it’s their only listed game on IFDB at least). The characters aren’t particularly developed, object descriptions are pretty plain, but everything is understandable. There must’ve been a decent amount of testing and polishing, since it includes a few hints at the start (about its ASK system), and also a good hints system (which I used once). Not a hard game though, outside of me missing one thing. I just didn’t find the little box that needs to be unlocked.

One of the puzzles, I think, does possibly get into “needs relevant cultural knowledge to solve” territory, and that triggered a vague memory of reading in some manual or discussion thread, a warning against making parser puzzles that rely on that (something about a baseball diamond? Ah, Googling does tell me about a Zork II puzzle). I’m curious if anyone had trouble with the puzzle here, or if it’s universal enough for everyone to get. Can most people recognize music notes? I just barely got a glimmer of recognition from school music classes. I did also need to Google the notes to figure out what the letters are.

Writing gets what it needs to, across. Slight grammatical quibbles, or maybe it’s more specifically the punctuation could just be placed better during the intro (how it uses commas and periods is slightly off, rhythmically. But maybe subjective). I think it’s trying to be terse, but it doesn’t quite nail that.

Minor bugs which may have been fixed already (my file says Last_Vestiges_091023): not getting a response to trying to drink the mug liquid (also tried smelling and tasting the liquid to no response), same with eating the pills. Door and window saying they lead nowhere if you try exiting the room.

This disables the undo command, interestingly enough. So just before the part where you can talk to the inspector and say who killed the victim, it urges you to save first. You can’t undo to try again. Don’t have some huge earth-shattering thoughts on this design choice, but found it interesting. Doesn’t seem like the type of game which would have a particular reason to disable (unlike in a game where you want players to commit to their actions, or in a game where there’s an explicit time limit)

It’s all pleasant, working through it all, but after finishing the game and reflecting on it now… How much were you needed? I think your primary contribution is finding the will, which should save the estate a lot of headache I’m sure, but all the puzzles you solve don’t actually… help to solve the case, all that much; they’re more for backstory. In my playthrough, I got all the important clues right at the start, before I got into any of the puzzles, so it stood out more. The inspector’s already found the item and already knows all the same information you’ll use, so the solution doesn’t seem to need you anyways; it seems way more like the nurse and doctor’s line of work to make the last fairly straightforward inference to cause of death. I did enjoy being able to make that final step in logic myself, but it’s still not fully proven until they check the body anyhow. The autopsy presumably might’ve revealed it also? But, I suppose, where’s the fun in that? If everyone was competent and diligent then a detective’s job would be way harder!

transcript: last.txt (37.0 KB)


Thanks for the review! :slight_smile: Will improve on the game based on the feedback provided. Glad it was a pleasant gameplay for you.



Vampire Ltd. is a short, charming, comedic puzzle parser game from IFComp 2020 which I really enjoyed. Honk! is from the same author, but bigger, with a larger cast, map, and a set of puzzles which are both more ambitious and more satisfying.

You’re the clown at a traveling circus. There’s a mysterious Phantom figure that is running around, sabotaging all of your other fellow acts, and the ringmaster asks you to take a look. Otherwise the whole circus could be in jeopardy! Oh no!

Three different acts to help out, so a three-pronged quest. You might recognize that sort of quest structure from something like Monkey Island 1, and this also shares the same vein of humor as those 90s LucasArts adventure games, and does it very well! If there was a best joke category in the IFDB awards, I’d immediately nominate the answer to what I asked here:

setup to a joke

“Well, yesterday I was preparing to perform as normal. And when I checked on the before the show… do you know what the Phantom had done? Can you guess?”

  1. “Sedated it?”
  2. “Blindfolded it?”
  3. “Kidnapped it?”
  4. “All of the above?”

This also uses menu-based conversation trees, and builds a lot of jokes into that structure to great effect (I remember Vampire Ltd was also extremely good at this). There would be a really funny dialogue choice that’d make me laugh while reading it, and which would make me extremely eager to see what the other character would respond with.

Each of the acts is performed by a specific character (a strongwoman, an animal tamer, and a magician), each with a distinctive personality. There was a recent thread about how authors could make good characters in their games. Here, the personalities come through not just in what they say or how they’re described when you examine them, but even just in how they stand around:

Descriptions of two different NPCs when in the same room:

Ken Lawn, the carnival’s resident Animal Tamer, is brooding here.

or in another room:
Adagio lounges here, idly shuffling a deck of cards.

So even the verbs chosen there starkly differentiate them. They also do something random every couple turns while idling around, stuff like “Lawn watches you, as if daring you to try any funny business.” Which again is a small touch, but it all adds up because the characters are well sketched out, so you can differentiate them in how they act, how they treat you, in what problems they face and how they’re reacting to their act being sabotaged, in how they ask for help, all of that.

The puzzles in Vampire Ltd were fun, but not particularly hard as far as I recall. Here, the three main puzzles are much more elaborate, involving multiple steps and multiple objects. Not too difficult (I think anyone with familiarity with puzzle parsers can probably figure all this out without breaking out too many hints) but there’s just enough there that some thought is required, and they all proved quite fun to solve.

There were two occasions which were felt a bit too explicit in helping the player out. It’s a hard balance, trying to figure out how helpful vs how subtle you want to be while guiding the player toward the solution. One of them is a hint after one of the acts fails a performance, and it’s where I might’ve preferred some more gradual hinting; perhaps after a third time through without solving it, it could’ve gotten more explicit.

More detail on the puzzle hinting, mostly spoilers in this part (I think this review is going long, so I'm just hiding some stuff in these summaries so there's less scrolling

One of them was in a story one of the characters will tell when you talk to them: Adagio, when you talk to them about the rabbit. The hat swap tipped me off that the rabbit would be important. The question was, would the rabbit chew through the rope, or would I have to lure the rabbit up there and then do something else? Talking to Adagio, she tells the yacht story, which confirms not only that the rabbit’s teeth are strong, but which explicitly tells you that it can chew through ROPE. I dunno how other people feel, but I just need to know the rabbit can chew through tough material, it didn’t have to the exactly the same material. Other overly obvious hinting: animal tamer, after the first failed performance, explicitly tells me not just to find other ways to get the goose to act, but to go out and find other things to HONK! I’d already figured out the gist of what the goose puzzle needed already so it didn’t really spoil it, but seemed a bit strong. So that’s where perhaps more ideally, more gradual hinting could’ve come in after perhaps a few more failed performances without the player solving it, and not just the first time through.

On the ending

The ending sequence also does end a bit abruptly. It feels like it’s trying to culminate in something; there’s a sort of action-fueled part in there like there’s going to be this huge explosive finale, the phantom gets revealed, but then you only really need to do a single action during that whole part. The way the story sets it up, especially since all the people start following you, it feels like all of the other performers should somehow get involved as well, get their own revenge since they’re the ones who were really wronged.

Like each of them could use their particular acts to defeat the phantom. Which might be asking for a lot, but like I said, the game seems to set up that huge showdown involving everyone; a simpler ending wrapping up after talking in the ring would’ve been fine too. Come to think of it, the way you help each act does also seem to invalidate their own sets of skills, didn’t it? The way each sabotage is solved isn’t so much you removing the sabotage so much as you doing the act for them: the goose gets manipulated to do all the right moves without being trained for any of it, the strongwoman does lift a person, but also… doesn’t the difficulty of that act depend greatly on the volunteer? The magic trick, well, it’s a magic trick, so any rope cutting method is fine (although yours seemed like it could’ve been a bit conspicuous?). Anyhow that’s not really a problem that came up while playing, just an observation after thinking back on it.

Another thing I’ll highlight is this catches a lot of the fun more edge case things I tried and gives unique responses to them, the type of stuff that ends up in the AMUSING command at the end. Of course this game has that command, and the ones I found while playing were all delightful. There’s a person that will start following you, and other equally diligent authors might catch the edge case of leading them to certain places but then just have them refuse to do that thing with you (getting on the ride), this game lets you go through it, and gives you a rewarding little sequence. There’s a lot of other mechanically more complicated scenes and interactions here–the burger must’ve caused headaches during testing since its description comes with disambiguation instructions!–but all that hard work and attention to detail certainly pays off.

Go and play this! It’s not a hard puzzle game so I suppose if you’re only interested in a challenge then you won’t get too much of one here. But I greatly enjoyed my time with it.

transcript: honk.txt (337.3 KB)


Thank you for this incredibly nice review! I’m really pleased with your comments here because they’re pretty much exactly what I was shooting for. Critiques have been noted for post-comp edits (I don’t mind saying that I’m already planning to rework the hints).


Thanks for your hard work making the game!

I cut the following graf from the review last minute instead of fixing it, because it rambles and felt overly prescriptive, and it also… talks more generally about confusing map design than is really applicable to Honk! in particular. But maybe still interesting to some people regardless?

On map layouts in Honk!:

Map layouts seems like a fairly fuzzy and subjective art in parser game design, doesn’t it? (Is there writing or a lot of discussion on the topic that I might’ve missed? Maybe I’ll do a forum search later) As far as my general conception of how this game’s map was laid out goes, it felt like there was the Big Top tent in the middle where all the performances happen, and then a ring of carnival locations encircling it with a couple more single rooms branching out from that, and all the circus staff area stuff was more to the east. All the rooms around the outside connected to the big tent in the middle. I don’t think the map was super confusing to the point it was a big problem, but I also didn’t have a good handle on the layout while navigating, and later on I had to wander around a slight bit to find a particular room I was looking for. I think there’s a question about whether “realistic” map layouts are important, because I feel like it might have been laid out this way because it makes intuitive sense for the big top to be in the middle and for a carnival to surround it. But I personally do have trouble mentally mapping a game if I enter multiple rooms in a row with multiple exits each. This one isn’t even too bad for that! Maybe if the big tent only had one main entrance and one staff exit, instead of branching out in all directions? Maybe some of the rooms could be combined, or they could just be dead ends, because a few of the carnival area rooms just have one thing to pick up, or one puzzle to solve, so once I finish them then I could’ve mentally crossed them off in my head instead of having to keep track of all of them. I think some authors like to create a sense of scale by making huge sprawling maps too. This is turning into a whole map treatise, but there’s also some games that have more central hub locations: an important junction with distinct areas going off in different directions that the player can use to centralize themselves. The Big Tent doesn’t quite work like that, because it’s most of the time just an empty room without anything to do, and also the tent itself has a couple rooms inside, and it doesn’t really tell you where all the exits in the tent go. The staff area part of the map felt more intuitively easier to navigate, possibly because there’s more of a hub there, possibly because I spent more time there since that area is important throughout.


I thought this was interesting, and a completely fair criticism. I’m trying to avoid talking about my game in much depth until after the comp, but I’m happy to come back to this once judging is over and talk about how I tried to design Honk!'s map if you’re still interested.


Trail Stash

This seems conceptually fairly similar to some of author Andrew Schultz’s other wordplay-based parser games, but this one’s in Twine. In those you might need to puzzle out the specific parser command you need to enter in a certain location, while here you just need to figure out the right object to use, of the many scattered all over the place. But the objects and location names all have wordplay attached to them which you have to figure out in other to match them.

It’s a fairly short set of puzzles (There are 12 puzzles you need to solve to find the 12 map pieces you need to end the game). Some of the solutions produce fun, surreal little vignettes, some did seem pretty obscure but it’s quite easy to just brute force; if brute forcing hadn’t been allowed, I wouldn’t have been able to solve some of them. Also had some issue wrapping my head around something like “tridents” where it transposes the “t” instead of the “tr.”

The limited verbs and the focus on matching object to location almost reminds me a bit of something like After-Words, or maybe even some of Arthur DiBanca’s games.

But short, silly, sometimes surprising, swift to play through. Doesn’t require quite as much brainpower since you can just brute force things unlike the author’s parser entries, which has both its pros (not frustrating) and cons (no real eureka! moments).


All Hands

It’s dark out. You’re walking along the beach. There’s a mysterious ship that’s been sporadically spotted just off the coastline for a couple months now. Tonight, it’s come to shore. And its siren song calls to you…

All Hands is a decently written spooky short story, with an appropriately eerie ambience. I especially liked its focus on several songs; you’ll hear several as the story proceeds, and it helps create a sort of campfire, folk tale atmosphere.

This is written in Texture, which is an interesting engine that’s been around for a while now. Texture seems to draw in slightly more contemplative mood pieces than other IF platforms; more poetic, more word-smithy. It can be used to make CYOAs that feel just a bit more distinctive because of its unique interface, which is what we have here with All Hands: a CYOA style story. I think part of the idea behind the Texture interface is it’s trying to give a sense of tactile interaction to your actions; you’re given a passage, a couple of words at the bottom (here, it’s REFLECT, APPROACH, TAKE, but it doesn’t have to be the same ones) and then you can click and drag those bottom words onto certain now highlighted keywords in the passage, to create an action to perform (you might drag “take” onto keyword lamp in the passage in order to TAKE LAMP). The interface tends to work fine; in the end it does lend a different… uh, texture to proceeding through works, rather than just clicking on links or typing stuff, though the dragging part (with a mouse at least) always feels just vaguely like a slight hassle. I’m pretty sure touch controls work with it as well, so I could see it feeling different on a touchscreen phone. But the drag-and-drop action does definitely feel more deliberate than clicking on a link.

The decision to keep all the verbs constant in each screen (always reflect/approach/take) is something most other Texture games don’t do; they’ll switch it up as appropriate. Sometimes here, you’ll get screens with nothing to TAKE; you’ll click and drag TAKE and no keywords will get highlighted, and you’ll have to drop the word, defeated, and have to choose another verb. When you’re trying to take an action, it sometimes doesn’t care to combine verb and keyword into a sensible command, so you’ll be trying to REFLECT “your family.” I’ve seen other Texture works which will add a preposition to the final command shown, so it’d change the command to “reflect ON your family” so it’s grammatically correct. Another thing this game made me think about is how, with the way Texture is designed, it feels like the decision point for the player is meant to be when I’m choosing which word to pick up at the bottom after having read the passage. But it isn’t; here, I need to pick up a verb, then look at which keywords I can match them with, then drop it and check all the other verbs as well first, before I make a decision now knowing each full command available. That’s a lot of the “slight hassle” I mentioned in the previous paragraph with Texture.

Later on, this uses Texture in a way that I’ve generally seen less often, which is with a world model. You can move around to different rooms, pick stuff up, and use them elsewhere. It’s not a lot of rooms here, just a handful, all interconnected, but it works. It does have the same thing–not necessarily a negative–that Twine/Ink/other link-based systems might have, which is that you don’t get any sense of spatial reference for all the rooms in relation to each other, like you might in a parser game.

There seem to be multiple endings (I got… I don’t think I wrote down the name of the ending I got, but I escaped the ship). This doesn’t give a ton of illuminatingly detailed backstory, so it felt like some things were unanswered in the end, but overall it does an effective job slowly ratcheting up the tension throughout, before releasing all of it at the right moment.


The Vambrace of Destiny

I’m not sure how many of Arthur DiBanca’s games I’ve actually reviewed, because even though I’ve played a bunch, I haven’t always finished them. Either that or I finish them after the comp is over. But I’m always happy to at least poke at them a little bit to see what their latest spin on minimalist/limited parser design is. That’s all of DiBanca’s games, an attempt to tackle that from every possible angle, and it’s produced some great games over the years. Inside the Facility felt like an interesting experiment early on (no EXAMINE?! what) with the whole physical mapping thing it encourages, The Wand is one of the most satisfying pure puzzle games I’ve ever played, and Temple of Shorgil still feels to me the most refined and confident, like the apex of this whole limited parser ethos. Prongleman Job was also a fun optimization game. I didn’t finish last year’s Trouble in Sector 471, but that felt like an attempt to make Inside the Facility 2 in a lot of ways, an attempt to improve on that basic room focused mechanic. Vambrace is somewhat similar, with a specific tweak on the controls, and presented with a different veneer. This time around it’s all fantasy stuff, with wizards, golems, goblins and the like. But you never go into this author’s games into these expecting deep story or characters; the focus is always on a series of escalatingly difficult, clever, limited parser puzzles.

The tweak on the controls? Well… Vambrace does bring up the question: what IS a parser game? This maps all your commands to single letter shortcuts, and you don’t even have to press ENTER afterwards, you just press the key. So really, if you re-mapped the NSWE directions onto the arrow keys or WASD instead, it sort of escapes parser and becomes a traditional turn based and text-based dungeon crawler. Is it even parsing anything? Not that it matters that much. But this change also makes sense for what this is; it’s not losing anything, after all. How important is pressing enter anyways? Limited parser, indeed!

Anyways, the game: dungeon crawler, your I maps to the best innovation in a command seen in IF since… maybe Take, with “Investigrab” which just combines EXAMINE and GET into one command (Wait… why not investitake? Actually Investigrab is a more fun word, retracted). You pick up spells–things like G for Gust, which creates a gust of wind–and there are obstacles and monsters throughout the dungeon, guarding either treasure or doors or other spells, and you have to figure out the right spells or series of spells to proceed. A lot of puzzles, like a lot of in DiBanca’s work, center around the timing or the order of operations of your commands. It’s all fun, like the author’s works often are, and the most interesting puzzle I saw was at the end, with a clever multistage boss fight (I’m immediately penciling it in for consideration as my XYZZY 2023 best puzzle vote).

I did look at hints whenever I got stuck for too long, invisiclues/rot13 format. And this has optional harder puzzles like many of this author’s games has, of which I solved a few but not all of.

One small issue with the interface is that I didn’t necessarily remember every single spell’s key binding, and basically I was just often just going through all of them at each monster and in any room with suspicious objects. The game encourages this, I think; it wants the player to experiment, since with later puzzles it becomes much less obvious which spells will affect them. But I had to reference the “list of commands” command quite often(What was it, HELP, STATUS? one of those). There’s also a handy dandy mini-map to the side (this was played in Lectrote Windows) which was greatly appreciated. However the room abbreviations weren’t all that useful in jogging my memory; I did have to wander around a bit, and I did mildly wish that I’d pulled out paper and pen and made a map at one point. I think there was another DiBanca game (probably Sector 471) which also had a mini-map , but in a factory setting it’s easier to name rooms by their functions, and it was then easier for me to remember what puzzle it contains. Here, I might just be looking for “room with a golem in it” or “room with whirly ghostly creature” and how do you label that?

It’s a decently sized game, and I played through it fairly quickly; the puzzles are good fun as always, though they didn’t quite compel me to the full extent that some of the author’s other games did. But that would be entering into “some of my favorite IF games of all time” territory. Not quite up there, but still worth the investiplay.



(Okay, the review below morphed into a sprawling essay [or most of one]. Here’s a mini-review: this is a personal “day in the life” type story written in Twine, about a protagonist with a speech impediment. You’ll encounter and have to navigate several social situations as well as several flashbacks from when they were younger. I found it effective and thoughtful. It does uses timed text, which some people might find annoying)

More words

One of the cool things about Twine is how it emerged to become a broadly accessible tool for people to tell and share their personal stories with each other. see: Twine Revolution. I did say accessible there, by which I mean, for one thing: free. But also the barrier to entry to learn how to use it isn’t too high: you don’t need a deep understanding of coding, and you don’t need to know how to draw (that’s one of the strengths of lots of IF). It made it much easier to work on something that was solely your own. And as it became more popular and well known, it emerged as an easily understood format for a certain subset of people online, one that could also easily be shared: no downloading, no messy interpreters, no fuss.

But of course, Twine is also still a tool that heavily relies on a base level of text literacy in order to create with it, and if you want to try your hand at some more neat looking text effects–perhaps you were inspired by a Porpentine work?–then you might need to learn a bit more coding, maybe some javascript, maybe some CSS. Then there are all these different engines and versions to consider when starting out, which gives you options but can also be daunting in its own way. The different engines have different levels of support and documentation. And I’m unsure how much it supports other languages, and how possible it is to use if you don’t know any English whatsoever. Twine doesn’t necessarily play well with screen readers either. So yes, accessible in some ways. Not in others.

Dysfluent is about communication and understanding. It’s a story about what it’s like to live in a world where people presume a certain baseline of verbal communication exists, and what happens when someone comes along that doesn’t fully meet that expectation. Someone like you. At the start, you have a checklist of the things you’re doing for the day, and this checklist is displayed prominently in a sidebar throughout (e.g. Meet friends). Tasks are crossed off as you go proceed through the day. Prominently at the end of that list is a job interview, which is also brought up, a couple times during the day. It builds a mounting tension, because all the smaller social interactions throughout the day (talking on the phone, with your friends, to a bus driver…) are teeing up this big interaction that is much trickier, with much higher stakes (a face to face interview with a potential job on the line). Job interviews are anxiety-inducing enough without having to worry about a stutter!

One design choice this makes is to colour code the conversation choices with green, yellow and red. Harder choices (trying to explain yourself, trying to make a joke) are red, while “easier” ones are green (just letting things slide, staying silent). I did wonder about colour-blind players, but there’s a setting for that in options (do the replacement colours communicate the same thing as green/yellow/red which most of us already have strong associations with?). But one big thing this asks is what you’re giving up by picking those “easier” options. You’re communicating less. Are you staying true to yourself? I picked some easier options. I let things slide. Sometimes I did stand up for myself. Where’s the line?

Playing this reminded me of a This American Life podcast episode about stuttering. It’s act one: Time Bandits of episode 713, Made to Be Broken. Powerful story. The story can be found here: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/713/made-to-be-broken/act-one-11, and you could also listen to it or read the transcript there, but to summarize: the host explains that they were attending an on-stage poetry conference. There’s a speaker that starts talking (JJJJJerome Ellis). Halfway through their first sentence, they abruptly stop. The silence stretches on. The speaker starts making small, barely perceivable clicking noises. A few more stray words come out, with more long pauses. Then a flurry of Spanish. Then back to some more English, and gradually, they get through their talk. And what they have to say is that in Brazil, phone companies give a 50% discount to customers with speech impediments. They first read about it in a book where the author mocked the law. But what’s the intent behind it? When that speaker was first invited to speak at the conference, they were off-handedly told that there was going to be an allotted 2 minute time limit for their talk. They understand why the time limit is there: it’s to make things fair, to make an even hierarchy so every speaker gets the same time. But there’s another hierarchy introduced; for those for which timely communication is a factor, like people with speech impediments, they’ll have more trouble communicating in that same time. The silences during the talk were a bit confusing, a bit uncomfortable, but also engrossing, as time seemed to slowed down. In the end, their speech ended up being five minutes, three over the initial allotment. The host directly interviews that speaker after telling us that story, and the speaker says that though being on stage sounds like it might exacerbate the stutter, it can actually help, because on the stage… the speaker has the floor. They have the time. “The stage-audience relationship is a more temporally accessible environment than other environments of verbal-- verbal-- verbal-- verbal communication that I engage with,” they say (That was taken from the podcast transcript). In day-to-day life, people aren’t as willing to wait, and people don’t know, right? Like in some of the parts in Dysfluent, other people will get impatient with you. It’s interesting to compare the differences between audio story and text game, both trying to communicate about the same topic. Just like the poetry stage, Twine is its own environment, with its own sets of relationships and its own hierarchies. As is IFComp as well. The podcast makes you listen to the pauses; the experience feels intimate, as you wait with bated breath for the next words. But it’s a speech, within a radio story, and you know words will come. Eventually. That can’t quite be replicated in a text game… because it’s a game. The game isn’t real; it’s a series of design decisions, one that the designer, in this case, has power over. Dysfluent uses pauses in text to mimic the experience of stuttering. I know reviewers in the past sometimes have expressed venomous hatred for timed text, maybe more than I have (although I’ve definitely complained about it before as well). It can certainly be a valid complaint; a lot of times, games use timed text without an evident purpose. The IF author wants to control the pacing, maybe that’s the general thing, and that’s part of the push/pull between player and author. I do think it’s generally used well here in Dysfluent. But do people have the same patience for a design choice meant to evoke empathy, as opposed to a person trying to be heard?

I had an idea for an intfiction post that I never wrote, asking people what they thought about empathy mechanics. Maybe there’s an actual term for it, but I was trying to refer to games that intentionally try to have mechanics that frustrate or bore or confuse the player in certain sections, to mirror what the character is going through. Maybe it’s repetition of a menial task, maybe it’s shifting and confusing environments and descriptions, maybe it’s timed text that makes you wait. Because lots of games try to give the player “fun,” and sometimes they might even try for “sad” (but that sadness comes from the narrative, not from a mechanic). How else can games make you feel? We’ve sometimes seen experiments with all this in IF and other games. Are they successful? Are they worth it? (I’d get into examples, but I think I’m already going too far off-track). And: how much are players able to buy into the empathy part, versus how often are brought out of the game by it? For Dysfluent, I think the timed text effectively communicates the frustration that the character is facing. But more broadly, where’s the line between understanding what the mechanic wants to communicate, and how much does the player need to continue to experience it after they’ve gotten the point? The vital thing in this game is the introduction, I think, which very effectively communicates using timed text the experience of having a speech impediment. I don’t really know if any of the timed text after that necessarily communicated anything more about stuttering; is it still needed then? The timed text could have its other uses, still. Continuing to use it communicates to the player how it’s a constant issue, but one that could crop up at certain times. And it’d be odd for me to say that the author could remove it just because it inconveniences the player, as if that’s something people could do in real life.

The one part that didn’t make sense for the timed text was perhaps when I’m waiting for other people to speak (if you want time to almost stand still, it makes more sense for a doubting inner monologue to creep in instead). Though really, I think it was mostly the video game store part of the story where this was something I noticed. As you proceed through the rest of the tasks on your to-do list for the day, there are moments that explore and effectively communicate other aspects of stuttering (different methods of avoidance, balancing of social and emotional capital, old experiences like watching a movie with friends, or being interrupted or ignored…), especially the flashbacks to earlier moments in your childhood which were especially impactful.

The actual job interview at the end did feel… too summarized. It actually went by too quickly, and you don’t actually choose what to say exactly or really get a feel for how the conversation goes. You’re making more broad decisions about whether to try to commit to a full answer or try to give a shorter one in deference to your stutter. Stuff like this:

> You decide to disclose your condition before he starts asking his questions.
His reaction is polite but difficult to read, and you hope you made the right choice.

Here is a part where I really do think the story could stretch things out; not necessarily in terms of more timed text, but just in terms of making the conversation feel important by focusing more on it, and actually having to choose my words or feel the moments as time slows to a crawl. The interview felt like it actually went by quicker than some of the earlier scenes, which doesn’t quite feel correct in terms of narrative weight.

But overall, I think it does a really nice job communicating across a bunch of small social moments, and seeing how they add up. I quite liked it!

Ending I got, spoilers

I didn’t get the job. I did sometimes pick the more passive choices throughout, especially in the flashbacks. It felt a bit more realistic to have the younger self have a bit more doubt.

True to myself - Try to speak your mind.
Hold the line - Get hung up on.
Satisfied - Eat a delicious meal.


This is a really great review! But I wanted to reply to pick out one piece of it:

I think this would be a very interesting thread to start – I know I have lots of thoughts about it, and I suspect others do too. So please consider doing so (though selfishly I’d ask you to wait until after the Comp so I have time to participate :slight_smile: )


Thanks, I will!