Dgtziea's Spring Thing 2023 (and 1 SeedComp) Reviews

I played one SeedComp game, so here’s a review of that while I delve into some Spring Thing entries! (Wowee I started with a couple there that I need to mull over a bit)

His Majesty’s Royal Space Navy Service Handbook

(I didn’t really look into all the seeds, or what the time constraints were. I’m just treating it like a normal game)

This is a office bureaucracy satire set in space. Light puzzles, written in Inform. You’re a middle manager type in HR for the space navy, working in a typical cubicle hell. Your character loves it though; they revel in their petty tyrant role. Your specific goal is, your department has been putting together a handbook, and the lieutenant (your boss) has asked you to go and gather all the chapters your co-workers have written, totalling nine. It’s Friday night though, and you seem to be the only person left in the office. And they want it on their desk by Monday morning.

The specific strain of office humour sort of warped me back to the 90s, to the time of Office Space and Dilbert cartoons (uh maybe don’t look up why that cartoonist has been in the news this year if you don’t already know). And it’s not just the sense of humour, but also the sort of office setting itself that’s mired in the 90s more than what you’d see today, let alone in any sort of spacefaring age. No open office layouts or Zoom; we got cubicles and meeting rooms, coffeemakers, snippy lunchroom notes on the fridge, fax machines. Nothing more tech-advanced than email. Do the spaceships outside the window count? I guess Roombas might be post-90s? (Wikipedia tells me 2002) It feels quaint, kind of nostalgic, even, and almost definitely deliberately so. By the time we reach a 2000s comedy like The Office, I feel we’re seeing a different sort of office setting and tone had emerged. Here, almost every room and thing has an office bureaucracy joke or observation when you examine it.

What struck me as I played is that this feels almost like a detective game, like this a really good framework for one. What you’re trying to do is track down where everyone could’ve left their chapter of their handbook, so you’re exploring the office, examining things and searching for clues about where everyone was hanging out on Friday afternoon. It’s a puzzle parser game that neatly avoids the usual medium sized dry goods focus, with almost no inventory outside of the handbook chapters you collect when you solve a puzzle; I think there’s maybe like one thing you have to take one room over to solve one of the puzzles, but other than that, it’s not a game about filling your inventory with stuff and carrying it around everywhere. Instead, you’re looking for information, and then you follow those breadcrumb trails to other rooms, and then perhaps search in a specific spot or interact with something to find a chapter. If you haven’t found the info that you need that points you to the right spot for a particular coworker yet, you won’t be able to find the chapter even if you search there beforehand.

This also has the best line break choice I’ve ever seen.

Very enjoyable! A couple references in the meta commands to some sort of time crunch for the competition, but the game seemed scoped well nevertheless, didn’t see any bugs or typos, well polished, certainly felt like a fully formed game, one that would taken me ages to code if I tried to replicate it. There’s a VERBs command, and a MISSION one (are meta commands like these becoming more and more common? I feel like I’m seeing them more).


A Single Ouroboros Scale: My Postmortem Review


I’m a rebel, so I read this without playing the original work.

A nonfiction entry, basically an essay in Twine, reflecting on the author’s reasons for writing A Single Orouboros Scale last year for Spring Thing. Some of it is about their relationship with the IF Community, and about confronting their own mortality (the author wrote it while they were going through some health issues and thought they were about to lose cognitive functionality). Other potent ideas include the idea of seeking validation and self-confirmation through creative work, and the human desire to leave some sort of mark on the world to signify that you ever existed. This is stuff that I think most people are afraid to come out and directly express. Even in confessional IF works, you cloak it in fiction. (Then reviewers can come and safely poke holes in that cloak, and try to miss any vital organs. Oh except for the HEART of the thing wait uh this metaphor isn’t working–

No graphics (I remember the Mouse had graphics), no music. Choices are reflective and I, as the player, mostly get to choose to either keep reading or to skip chapters. Very readable, propulsive, a bit rambley; interactivity is low; grammar is solid; the punctuation is immersive and compelling; choices do not matter, why don’t they matter?? the player should always matter (I should always matter)

I’d say this is worse than Wizard Sniffer, better than Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die, .5 percentage points better than Even Cowgirls Bleed, and exactly the same as Pong.

I give this 3.41/5 stars // In a theoretical IFComp I would place this 11th place out of 97

A Single Ouroboros Scale: My Postmortem Review Postmortem


Okay so obviously “reviewing” this isn’t the point.

I guess I have two trains of thought.

The couple games I’ve made, I’ve really tried to have internally validating goals for them. I wanted to finish a game, I wanted to try to finish a conventional parser puzzler, I wanted to make a slightly alienating game and see if at least one or two people would “get” it, I wanted to play around with Ink and figure out what it could be used for. I’ve tried to keep expectations from getting too high. I’ve placed slightly lower than I hoped.

I’ve also thought about whether I should focus less on reviewing first-time authors, maybe more on people that signed up for the forum at least. I’ve tried to avoid reviewing people more than once, before, in favor of new people. What would be better for the community, I’ve wondered?

I wonder how much the “IF community” can really provide external validation. More and more people are entering the major competitions each year and I don’t think we’re seeing that same growth in the people reviewing. More people making IF games is great! Dev tools are more readily available, so more people are trying their hand at creative expression. But making IF games to get recognition? To get discovered? (To get acknowledged?) I guess it depends on your expectations. But then, that’s a large part of what the ASOS Postmortem talks about, coming to terms with that. It’s all a part of sharing your work with the world.

And actually that’s not as true as before. A thing I find nice is that there seem to be more reviewers posting that are coming in more from the choice-based side of things now, or a mix. There’s more voices, I feel. Like for this Spring Thing! Thanks to everyone who’s reviewing, or playing. And actually it also looks like the IFComp entrant numbers did level out a bit these past couple years. So ignore everything I said!

A thing I’ve sort of idly wondered about before: why didn’t there seem to develop more of a Twine community SPACE? I’m not saying it has to be separate from here or they’re not a part of this “IF Community.” Circles can overlap, and I want them to. But certainly a lot (the vast majority) of Twine stuff is created by people that have never heard of intfiction.org or even IFComp, and all that stuff seems oddly ethereal. I remember looking at the twinery forums, and it seemed like mostly tech questions. What are the big Twine games of each year outside of what gets entered in “IF Community” competitions? Where’s that history, that recollection of the shared alt-spaces that Twine created? I remember trying to look for it before, and finding it elusive. Is it because Twine was a vital tool that a lot of burgeoning game developers and writers used, but it’s a tool and not a shared interest? Like it’s just game developers using that tool, sometimes marginalized developers using that tool, but the tool didn’t matter so much? I’ve seen the influences from Porpentine, and Depression Quest maybe, reverberating through the years. Choice of Games has their own little community, right? There’s an adventure games community. I can point to them, point to where they live. Or maybe because Twine came up in a post-web 2.0 world, it’s just as ethereal as all of social media is. The Twine Revolution was a whole, real, living thing. But maybe it all got disseminated on Tumblr, Twitter, Discord now, and those are third party platforms built to promote immediacy and not permanence. Or maybe I just looked in the wrong places. Shrug. Should I delete this part?

I think we’re in The Dead Account and ASOS territory now, about social media impermanence and who gets to decide what gets remembered. I think… I’m always a bit scared about having a life on the internet, in the age of Big Data and doxxing. I can’t choose to just be a scale on a snake (that was the metaphor in ASOS) if the snake is the IF community, because the snake is constantly being consumed by other bigger snakes, with their armies of crawlers. That’s Google, and then that’s also people who might disagree with you, or even just your existence, and who might do so in violent and invasive ways. You can’t control the scale you grow online, as in how big or how small you get or how seen you are, or how you are remembered in an Amazon data server. Google+ Circles didn’t work, doesn’t even exist anymore. And being seen by the wrong person can be dangerous, someone who you might never even have directly interacted with, who might not even have an account on the same sites as you.

There’s also the whole IF archiving of competitions discussion. I want this community I’ve been a part of to not be forgotten. That’s the desire. But should/do individuals get a say over what they are subsumed by? What isn’t Saved (will be lost). But also the Right to Be Forgotten (Right to be forgotten - Wikipedia) doesn’t exist.

One more thought: years ago, another intfiction poster messaged me and asked me to consider copying my reviews from here over to IFDB. I still haven’t. A lot of that’s on procrastination, but I dunno, do I want my reviews to be read in that way? You (yes, you!) are reading this right now during Spring Thing 2023, and that’s cool. Do I care for this to be looked at in five, ten years? I don’t think too many people are looking at old forum reviews in five years–maybe you’re doing that, did you find this through a keyword search, were you looking for something specific?–but if I do decide to copy more of them over, it’d primarily just be to add activity to IFDB. Certainly not everything fits, and this “review” wouldn’t belong there IMO; there’s only like three sentences that even tell you anything about the ASOS postmortem and whether you’d want to read it yourself (Do it if you’re interested in the topics I mentioned at the top?). Different site, different contexts; I’d have to reframe a lot, and pick and choose. I’d feel obligated to attach a score to everything. But IFDB feels more permanent, where I expect to be put on record. This forum is for immediacy. It’s different, and it lives on in a different way. These forum discussions will have been experienced by and mean something to all the people in the community now, even if they’re never seen by people outside or after it. I’ve trawled a bit through rec.arts.int-fiction newsgroup archives on Google Groups before, in an anthropological dig sort of way. Do I want to be stored and studied in that same way though? I suppose it’s good if people still care. Assuming they care for benign reasons, and not malicious ones.

The ASOS Postmortem outlines very real, very human fears and desires. The protagonist is a very well realized character, very realistic, very well written, and I hope they are doing well.


Structural Integrity

Written in Twine, fairly short across a single playthrough but with multiple possible endings. The blurb says this is based off of a novella the author also wrote. Mostly revolves around the two main characters and their relationship. One of them has a stable government position while the other one is more lower class, a delivery boy. They fell in love fairly recently and they’re now living together, but there are still some gulfs between them, as we’ll soon find out. I’d almost want to describe this as a relationship simulator; it’s a well written branching story with mostly dialogue choices and a lot of decisions about whether to let things go, whether to speak your mind, whether to argue, whether to keep the peace. And you’re not just choosing for one character; you actually switch viewpoints between the two of them after every scene, back and forth, so you’re really seeing both sides.

The most immediate thing I noticed from the jump was just the nice, elegant presentation, with good work on the CSS front. We’re introduced to the characters, Kel and Yaan, and their differing backgrounds. The world-building did remain sort of fuzzy which I didn’t quite expect, just because I feel like often times when it’s based on an existing world, IF authors have often been extremely eager to share all the world-building they’ve already done. The setting feels vaguely fantasy, but it’s hard to tell the exact state of the world outside of Yaan’s cozy govt apartment where they both live. The characters are the focus here, well developed and sympathetic as we switch between them and tensions start to escalate.

This is an aside, but can a character be both earnest and cynical? Kel is described as both, but my kneejerk reaction was those were semi-contradictory, though maybe a really nuanced character could pull it off. I don’t quite think the story is long enough for me to get a sense of whether that particular description would ring true. On a more nit-picky level, I think both the dialogue and the range of choices I could pick from for each of them ended up feeling kind of similar. Both characters would waffle between pushing for the truth or letting things drop, or would consider speaking their mind or letting things go. Both characters could express their love quite openly, through gestures and actions. They like spending time together, they miss each other, they’re extremely sweet! The story gets a cohesive overall tone as a result. The characters are differentiated more by their socioeconomic backgrounds and their outlooks instead. Though I think part of this is, I tend to really like stories where a group or a duo have REALLY different personalities, and you can see how they contrast and clash. That isn’t always true to life though, and this is aiming to stay quite grounded.

One interesting dynamic is that since you’re playing both sides, there’s no specific objective or goal, and there’s no one person to root for. You’re just exploring the branches you want to go down in their relationship. And this does branch quite heavily. Even though these are predefined characters, you’re still given a fairly large range of responses to choose from. Is the Kel that decides to confront Yann exactly the same Kel as the one that instead decides to stay quiet? In a book (a novella perhaps), regardless of how conflicted a character might be, this seems like the type of pivotal decision which could be an insightful piece of characterization depending on what they ultimately chose. Here, it’s up to you. Neither Kel seems wrong necessarily, but then how do you decide what’s right? The addition of an achievements screen at the end showing all the possible endings there are also complicates that, because in a lot of interactive narrative games, I could maybe feel some ownership over the decisions “my” protagonist made and perhaps feel more connected to my first “canonical” playthrough. SI doesn’t seem as interested in that though; this is more about allowing the player to explore all the ways these characters can respond to each other within a complicated and realistic relationship, which it does very well. Your role ends up being more like you’re directing all the scenes more than acting in them, if that makes sense.

I was trying to be a bit stubborn in my first playthrough, and got ending 5, which was a shorter path. I did quickly play it again after having written most of this review, and that time I got ending 1, which had a few more significant scenes. One moment in that second playthrough is the two characters bringing in their own relationship baggage into the conversation at one point. But this wasn’t baggage that was necessarily fully introduced before, except in passing, so it was hard for me to make a judgment call about whether to bring it up, whether it was fair, or how I felt about it. It’s an emotionally charged moment, and I assumed that everything they were saying was at least true to what they believed, so the scene still works, but there was a brief bit of uncertainty.

playthrough 1 results

5. Kel never tried to talk to Yaan

playthrough 2

1: Happy ending!
:classical_building: You saved the theater from demolition!
:family_woman_woman_girl_girl: You met Kel’s family


Marie Waits

Short little escape-the-captors sequence with a couple puzzles along the way and a ticking time limit. In PunyInform. This is the 2nd entry in a series which includes Pre-Marie (which I haven’t played), and this certainly ends on a note which indicates that more is planned. You’ve been investigating something, some people didn’t like that, they’ve tied you up and thrown you in a pit (actually thinking about this whole setup more, the steps your kidnappers would’ve needed to do to get you into a deep pit, in a hut, into a chair, tied you up, and then gotten themselves back out seems very involved!), and now you need to escape before they come back.

First time through, gotta admit, spent too much time futzing around in the first two rooms and I eventually ran out of time. The time limit does add tension as Marie started checking the time at the top of every hour (she knows something bad is going to happen in three hours, and for us that turns out to be a game over). On the other hand it does exacerbate any communication breakdowns I had with the parser. I don’t think my guess-the-wording issues were major, but it was enough that the time limit made them more noticeable than they’d normally be. A lot of the puzzles aren’t too difficult or time consuming (making sure to just examine everything is important), and the physical space that each puzzle takes place is always fairly constrained, like maybe two additional rooms at a time, and the locations aren’t lavish or cluttered with stuff. A lot of keys hidden in odd places though! The parser is also particular about making you choose the exact key to unlock a door with; it won’t make any assumptions for you.

The background story seems intriguing, and it makes me curious to know exactly what Marie is trying to track down which got her kidnapped, but that mystery doesn’t matter much in this particular slice of the series. All you’re worrying about here is the escape. It sounds like a decent idea really, if you can swing it, to plan out a series and then release parts as smaller games, and then bundle it together in the end so future players can play all of the chapters all at once. If I knew more about what Marie was looking for, it probably would’ve lent even more stakes to the whole escaping endeavor. But I still felt decently engaged with the escape, and with working through all the mini-puzzles before time ran out.


Thanks for playing and for your review! :slight_smile: