Draconic ECTOCOMP Reviews: 2023 Edition

I haven’t had much time this past month between teaching and research, but there are a lot of games in this comp which haven’t gotten many ratings yet. So in the last few days of November, I want to get a handful of reviews in.

I’m going to be focusing specifically on Petit Mort games with low numbers of ratings at the time of writing.


Taller Tech Mauler Mech by Andrew Schultz

This is the seventh (and apparently final?) entry in Schultz’s Prime Pro Rhyme Row series. The core conceit of these games is that you’re given a phrase, and need to find alliterative phrases that rhyme with it—which is why you start out trapped in a Hall (er, heck!) trapped by a Taller Tech Mauler Mech.

In other words, the core of these games is guessing rhyming phrases, and seeing what amusingly surreal results they get. Which means that this one really suffers from the four-hour limitation. With so little time, the author wasn’t really able to implement amusing responses to wrong answers, turning it into a very straightforward guess-the-verb puzzle. Either you figure out exactly which phrase the author implemented, or nothing happens.

For example (spoilers), early on you’re caught in a BLIGHT BLIZZARD. The first step is to summon a WHITE WIZARD…and then I got completely stuck. LIGHT LIZARD isn’t the answer, and I can’t think of any other things that rhyme with “blizzard”…something GIZZARD? FIGHT FISSURED?

Worse yet, if you use the right phrase at the wrong time, you also just get a “nothing happens”. When fighting a TOUGH TANK, my first thought was ROUGH RANK, which doesn’t work…until after you’ve put in the right command.

I love the wordplay concept of these games, and the author truly has a gift for these rhymes, but I think the four-hour limitation really hurt this one. The fun of guessing bizarre rhymes is thoroughly dampened by the fact that almost all of them get a plain “nothing happens” response.

I very much hope it gets a post-comp release so that the series can end on the high note it deserves, because every criticism I have at the moment could be resolved with a little bit more time. But as it is, I deadlocked early on and wasn’t able to finish; I don’t want to resort to the walkthrough on the final entry in the series, so I’ll be shelving it until after the comp.


The next on the list is THAT WHICH IS EXEMPT FROM RESURRECTION by swanchime, which I can’t play on my laptop without an emulator, so I’m skipping it for now. Not a fair criticism by any means, but with only two days left I’m very conscious of how much time I have.

The next on the list is The Labyrinthine Library of Xleksixnrewix, which is my own entry, so I’m skipping that one too.

But anyone reading this thread—these ones are sorely in need of reviews! Play them if you have a chance!


Bonfire Night: The Black Dog by Carter X Gwertzman

This is a short parser piece written in Inform 7. It’s Bonfire Night, and the town needed a sacrifice. You were chosen. They tied you up, threw you into the basement of the church with a single candle for light, and barred the door behind you. When the candle burns out, the grues will claim another victim.

As expected for a Petit Mort entry, there are only a few puzzles, but they’re fun and make sense. You need to escape from the cellar, escape from the church, and get the equipment you need to flee the town and start a new life. They all fit the story, and the writing keeps up a very nice feeling of breathless tension. The terse descriptions really work in its favor.

The big issue is the implementation. Four hours doesn’t leave much time to implement scenery, hints, or alternate solutions, but this means that any actions beyond the Inform standard set are really difficult to guess. I was stumped in the very first room, and without the walkthrough I would never have guessed that the answer is USE SAW—in a room with only three implemented objects!

So while I enjoyed the story, I didn’t really enjoy the gameplay side of things. There simply isn’t enough time within the Petit Mort limit to properly hint at commands outside the standard set, so I would recommend either sticking to the standards that players expect, or explaining the commands in a README (which can be written outside the time limit).

That said, while I might have found the mention of grues a bit incongruous, I otherwise loved the short story. Gwertzman definitely understands how less can be more, in terms of word count, and the writing does a good job of sketching out an outline and leaving you to fill in the details.


A Study of Human Behavior by Earth Traveler

You are a human who’s been abducted—not by aliens, but by your government on behalf of the aliens. You were delivered to the aliens as part of some kind of nefarious deal, and you’ve been their prisoner and test subject for the three and a half years since. Today, they want to study your behavior using a game (in the game theory sense—think prisoner’s dilemma sort of game).

You’re first presented with three quotations from philosophers, two human (Cicero and Nietzsche) and one alien, and prompted to say if you agree or disagree. Then the game begins: you’re put in a room with three other humans, and each person is given ten chances to make a choice. Each time, you can either kill the others and get a reward, or let the game continue.

Now, I find game theory fascinating, and I think IF is a great medium for experimenting with it! Unfortunately, this game didn’t really catch my interest. You’re given the same choice every time, without any flavor or new description. You know nothing about the other players, or their thoughts on the different philosophies. Your only choice is whether to kill them or let the game continue, and this choice is repeated verbatim until you’ve chosen “continue” ten times or “kill” once.

So while I think the premise has great potential, I don’t think this game quite managed to stick the landing. I think adding just a bit more flavor—have the other humans talk about what happened to them, about the philosophical questions they were given, about the situation here in the testing facility—would work wonders. The choice of Inform 7 might also be getting in the way a bit; there are generally either one or two valid commands at each point, always explicitly laid out, so I wonder if something like Twine or Ink might have helped the author more. Four hours is not much time as it is; spending part of that time fighting against your tools certainly can’t help.

(I’m also left wondering what will eventually happen to Alice, and why the government is abducting its own citizens to give to the aliens. Surely it would provoke less outrage to make criminals and refugees disappear instead, people that the masses wouldn’t care about—what kinds of deals are going on behind the scenes here? It’s a fun premise, and one that can get a lot of imagination going with just a few paragraphs of description, which is absolutely what you need in the Petit Mort!)



I…honestly don’t feel qualified to review this one, under these circumstances. But given the low number of ratings, I’m going to try.

This one is basically a piece of poetry, presented with timed text set to music. Instead of a game, the itch.io page describes it as an “egg”; it’s the monograph-slash-recipe-book of a man named Amadeus Vu, who wants to consume God. It alternates between surreal imagery and the very mundane instructions of a recipe.

The main thing I can say about it is that I found the timed text excruciating. It’s slow enough that I kept getting to the end of what had printed, going and doing some other task, then coming back to read the next paragraph, which somewhat ruins the pacing; I read very quickly, and this current passage has been printing one character at a time for the past ten minutes and shows no signs of finishing any time soon.

I think the proper way to review this would be to get the entire text (as far as I can tell, there are no real choices to make—the only purpose of the “click to continue” links is to make sure you don’t just walk away while it prints and read it through once it’s done), then read it as poetry, analyzing the themes and the imagery.

Unfortunately, that’s not really feasible for me a couple hours before the deadline. So the only review I can really offer is that I found the user interface thoroughly off-putting. Not an especially fair review; but it’s what I have to offer.


Into Darkness by Jac Colvin

The list of least-ranked Petit Mort entries apparently has a sense of humor, giving me another poetic piece right after the last one! This is a ChoiceScript piece that’s specifically formatted to look poetic—the text is broken into stanzas, the second and fourth lines always rhyme. And yet, at the same time, the interface tells me there are four achievements to find? I’m intrigued.

It’s a story about exploring the woods. The descriptions are very dreamlike, without much concreteness to them, and I enjoyed the imagery; as mentioned above, I don’t have much time left to analyze themes and rhetorical devices before the deadline, but I can definitively say that I enjoyed it and it made me want to keep reading. If I had gotten to it before the last few hours of the comp, I would definitely be going back and trying to find all four endings before writing this review. (I am currently part of the pool, now and forever.)

The constraints of the stanza format also do a good job of maintaining a consistent tone, maintaining a balance of “concrete enough to understand what the choices mean” and “abstract enough to feel like a blurry-edged dream”. I have mixed feelings about the rhymes—without a consistent meter, they didn’t give me the song-like, rhythmic feeling that rhymes usually do—but I think having some internal rules about the form distinctly helped the writing.

I’m very glad I got to this one before the comp ended!


Zombie Eye: Campfire Tales by Dee Cooke

A moonlit night. A clearing in the forest. Four teenagers around a campfire, coming up with spooky stories to tell back and forth. A good premise for Halloween!

This is a short parser piece written in Adventuron—though “parser” isn’t quite an accurate description. There are only two verbs you can use, and the majority of the game is played through menus of choices. It’s effectively a choice game, but the retro styling of Adventuron definitely gives it some charm that Twine would lack. (Or rather, that could be replicated in Twine but would cost precious time from the four-hour limit!)

There’s only a single puzzle, but it’s a cute one. You have a book full of spooky stories to read, and then you collaborate with your friend Kimberly to tell a new one…which suddenly becomes terrifyingly real! The goal is to use your knowledge of monsters to tell the story in a way that lets you survive it. If you fail, the game just rewinds to before the story begins, so it’s easy to try again.

I had fun with it, and recommend it; it only takes a couple minutes to play through, and the tone of high schoolers inventing monsters to spook each other was great. My biggest criticism is that it really didn’t need the boilerplate at the beginning; for a game this short, asking if you want sound, asking if you’ve played parser games before, offering a HELP command, showing you the different types of prompts, and so on takes longer than just playing it through! I think the puzzle at its core can stand on its own perfectly well, and even if someone hasn’t played parsers before, the error message tells them everything they need to know.


Thanks for your review! Asking whether the player wants sound is an embedded part of Adventuron, unfortunately, but you’re probably right that it could do without the other stuff. Thanks again!


Thank you so much for the lovely review @Draconis!