Dugg_funny's IFComp 2021 Reviews

I’m getting a very late start on writing and posting these, so I won’t write up many games, but I’d like to post what I have.

One note: I have a tendency to criticize games that almost get there more than ones that largely miss, but may have some good ideas. In the past, I’ve considered trying to ground my comments by adding the score I gave each game, but that always seemed overly explicit. I like LavaGhost’s method of ranking the games, though, and will be doing that this time around.

Additionally, in someone else’s review thread, they noted that they have a preference for threads by game, rather than by reviewer. I’d second that. I generally only read reviews of games I played, and would probably be more likely to post in a discussion about a game I don’t have much to say about if I could write a few sentences about it, rather than trying to encapsulate all of my feelings in a few paragraphs.

And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One
The Best Man
You are SpamZapper 3.1
Smart Theory
The Dead Account
This Won’t Make You Happy


You are SpamZapper 3.1


I wish this game was half as long as it was. That’s unfortunate, because much of the narrative and mechanical complexity comes in the second half of the game, after Laurie is kidnapped, and you begin your quest to rescue her. But that quest, and the associated complexity feel meandering and overlong.

The spam zapping is really fun. The emails capture well the feel of early internet (or, at least, what I imagine it to be–I was too young to experience it), the characters are well defined and pleasant to spend time with (I especially liked Dad, including Zap’s commentary and his WordArt email; and alice, whose anti-consumerist grounchiness speaks to me), and the spam is genuinely funny. The game astutely observes that much of the corporate or consumerist messaging we sign up to read is essentially just spam we decided we’re interested in, and there’s a natural climax with the email worm.

I figured the worm storylet was the end of the game, and was disappointed it had ended–though that’s usually a good feeling to have at the end of a comp game. Instead of concluding, however, the game transitions into a substantially different experience: a rescue mission to get your Human’s friend’s father to return her computer.

This second half largely did not work for me. There are some bright spots: hiding clues in past emails and then testing the player’s memory is a smart bit of puzzle design that works well within twine’s natural limitations. Getting to read one of the Human’s emails is exciting, since you haven’t heard their voice for the whole game, and the ephemeral representation of the inside of the computer does a good job turning the functional, amorphous realm of a program into a setting.

What happens in that setting is less enjoyable. The programs are essentially two dimensional characters: they have a personality trait loosely related to their function (wizard is refined, chime is bubbly, zapper is neurotic), and they’re servile. This is perfect for the first half of the game–you want Zap to have a voice, but you don’t want him to be too defined, since the focus is on the emails. Unfortunately, when he becomes the main character, he doesn’t have enough personality to hold a dramatic role. The game wants you to care about these programs’ emotions and relationships, but I found it hard to empathize with programs that were ultimately fairly shallow.

The lack of character depth also causes some focus issues. The game wants the player to care about Laurie’s plight, but much more attention is paid to Zap, Wizard, and Chimes’ remorse at being unable to help her. They come off as self-centered, and sort of pathetic. Possibly their angst was meant to convey the seriousness of the situation to the player, and ramp up the dramatic tension, but since the focus is more on their discomfort than Laurie’s, and I find their discomfort unmoving, it, ironically, makes me take Laurie’s situation less seriously.

The nous concept may have been a good place for the author to include more definition to the characters. If these programs are just one incarnation of many, they can be more defined; they can have diverse experiences, memories, opinions, and personalities from their past lives. But the nous concept is fairly insubstantial, and doesn’t affect the characters much. It mostly just states that everything has a soul, including computer programs, and you can distill and/or manipulate that soul if you analyze it deeply enough and know the magic words. That’s a fine enough justification for why these plugins can think and talk, but the game spends paragraph after paragraph talking about it without saying very much, and its impact on the story is small. This is illustrated by the Fulcrum, an imperfect nous copy of Laurie, that the game treats as incredibly important, but does little besides prophesy. Perhaps I’m missing something here–maybe the Laurie/Wizard relationship is the first human/program relationship, and sets the stage for the bonding that you see in the tomagachi future?–but it feels very extraneous.

What’s unfortunate about this is that it could almost entirely be solved by cutting things out. The writing and mechanics are good, and the plot’s interesting. If you trim all the theorizing and fretting, I still don’t think I would’ve liked the second half as much as the first, but it would’ve been a fun bonus instead of an anchor.

This is, in some ways, a compliment to the game: it’s good enough to be dragged down by its weaker bits instead of brought up by its strengths. Overall, this will rank highly for me, but I wish the second half had been more aggressively edited.




Closure is a game about helping your friend snoop around her ex boyfriend’s dorm room. The game’s major twist on conventional IF is that the parser is explained in fiction as being a text message conversation between you and your friend.

The plot is straightforward. Your distraught friend has broken into her ex-boyfriend’s dorm room, ostensibly to steal a photo of her and him, but also to try and make sense of why they broke up. As a reader, that becomes obvious fairly quickly: she was self-centered, made fun of him a lot, and didn’t understand who he was. That’s nothing too outside of the norm, especially for a high school student, but it makes her seem clueless, and, coupled with her decision to remorselessly invade her ex’s privacy, narcissistic.

That wouldn’t be as much of an issue if I wasn’t cast as her friend. She’s not detestable; I was certainly self-centered as a high schooler. It’s hard not to be. But as someone who can now claim a higher level of emotional intelligence, it was supremely frustrating to not be able to actually communicate with her as she wondered again and again why her boyfriend, who she mocked and didn’t understand, dumped her.

Amusingly, that’s not a problem unique to this game. That’s a problem with parser fiction in general: unless the author is extremely good, you will likely do some wrestling with the interface, and butt up against arbitrary constraints. But eliminating that (relatively) impartial mediator put all of the frustrations I usually experience playing these sorts of games on the character of Kira. Kira refuses to immediately leave not because it would prevent the game’s story from being told, but because she’s recklessly committed to her bad behavior. She won’t listen to my explanations of why her boyfriend left her not because the author didn’t implement the most complex parser in IF history, but because she’s completely unwilling to take criticism or examine herself. As her friend, I’m stuck enabling her narcissistic behavior in an attempt to gently guide her to the truth.

The game does its best to soften this. Kira mentions at the end that she’ll never do something like this again, and the game tells you your unconditionally supportive actions are just what you do for your friends. But having my usual anger at the parser being directed at Kira made it difficult to be an empathetic partner on her journey.

So, for me, this game was mostly an experience of dealing with a beloved but frustrating friend. That said, the technical execution is good, the writing’s tight, and it moves along quickly, so I can’t fault it for much.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

Closure does a good job of weaving in personalized answers you provide at the beginning of the game. I was surprised and thrilled both times they came up because I didn’t immediately realize it was the game just parroting my words back at me. Uh, don’t forget, Kira’s the narcissist.

For being the character the plot revolves around, TJ is lightly sketched. A strange amount of focus is placed on his laundry, and, at the end of the game, I knew he liked sneakers, heavy metal, and history, but I didn’t have much of a sense of his personality. Kira and her journey are definitely the center of attention.

If you look under bed you find an “oblong plastic thing,” which the game refuses to describe in any more detail.

The game seems like it’s gearing up to reveal that TJ is gay, but the big twist is that he got married last week. Nothing in the game indicates that TJ is the sort of person to do that, so it feels sort of unearned.


Smart Theory

Smart Theory is an amusing jeremiad about online debate.


“Smart Theory” as a philosophy is coded as some version of left-leaning cultural analysis: it is apparently influenced by “postmodernism, poststructuralism…, post-postmodernism, even post-post-postmodernism,” is gaining popularity on university campuses, and places importance on Praxis and intersectionality. Additionally, there many parallels between how Smart Theory is described and how right leaning culture warriors describe left leaning culture warriors: your questioning of the ideology is characterized as “violent” while your classmates physically intimidate you, Paul criticizes “Individualism, liberal humanism, [and] consistent social values” as “relics” that have outlived their usefulness, and Paul’s ultimate goal is to silence people who disagree with Smart Theory.

I was worried Smart Theory would be an uncomfortable, thinly disguised rant against the left, but it ends up being a fun read. Paul Bother amuses as a manic buffoon, drawing endless energy from Smart Theory’s platitudes and parrying your questions with a true believer’s zeal. It’s a refreshing twist on the typical stereotype of culturally left activists as dour schoolmarms or hysterical harpies. Many absurd gags land, including one where you are advised to “listen to your heart” when considering a decision–literally listen, with one beat meaning ‘no’ and any more meaning ‘yes’. Tonally it reminds me a bit of the first half of Catch-22: there’s quite a lot of absurd reasoning, and though the overall direction is vaguely ominous, it’s too silly to feel threatening.

Which is ideal for a fifteen minute comedy game that lampoons one side of the culture war. I’m generally inclined to side with the folks this game is ribbing, so it’s good bait: it quite aggressively goes after things that are left coded, but focuses on the most laughable bits, and carefully avoids actually saying anything other than “isn’t this silly?” If the author intended to do more than that, they’ve failed; as JoeyAcrimonious points out, the meta joke is that Smart Theory the game is as insubstantial as Smart Theory the ideology.

I wish this game had an artist’s statement. While writing this review, I found myself wanting to argue against what AKehon’s views might be, instead of what the game actually says. Perhaps that’s the lesson.


Hey, it’s always good to see a former entrant return to give reviews! (I hope to follow this example when it’s my time.) Don’t worry about too early or too late. As a small trivia point, your reviews just now officially increased the median # of public reviews from 7 to 8, which I was hoping would happen before comp’s end, because I like following silly numbers like that.

As for threads by game, maybe a suitable replacement is the reviews spreadsheet? You just start at a title and keep hitting the right arrow and click on any cell with a link in it. It’s worked well for me when I want to check my reviews have no howlers in them.


The reviews spreadsheet is super nice for that purpose, but if reviews are posted after I finish the game and read what’s been written, I often miss them, or don’t remember which I’ve already read. I’m sure the thread-per-game method has it’s limitations as well, it’d just suit my personal preferences better :man_shrugging:


Welcomeback and I want to tell you that I have enjoyed your reviews a lot.

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Yeah, it has a lot of good points, but it’s so tough to curate and organize!

Maybe a compromise would be a thread where once a day (Say around midnight Eastern) someone writes up and links reviews pasted into the review spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is great, but some legwork is necessary to track which reviews are new.

I definitely agree it’s good to have access to other reviews as resources because I know I miss a lot.

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When I write down a review, I actualize spreadsheet by myself.

It is interesant the point about one thread for any game, but this will grow up this year about 100 threads for ifcomp plus ectocomp games. This is a lot of them.

There are 54 public reviewers (not all at IF, some linked out) and 71 games this year. Games has between 2 to 18 public reviews.

This Won’t Make You Happy
This Won’t Make You Happy is a rumination about the hedonic treadmill, presented as a twine implementation of a very simple fantasy adventure game.


I was amused by the ever-present option to attempt to eat things, but the game is pretty lackluster, and, though it is jokily self-aware of the fact that it’s not very good, that didn’t endear it to me. It ends with an infinite loop where you reach forever for “the gem of happiness” without ever grasping it, which I thought was a little too on-the-nose, and denies the player any closure.


The Dead Account
The Dead Account is a compassionate story about a friend group dealing with loss.


You play as an moderator hired to investigate and delete dead users’ accounts on a furry community website. This frame primarily functions as an excuse to let you, the player, read through chat logs of four grieving friends.

This works pretty well. The group’s closeness feels authentic: they have similar outlooks, opinions, and interests, though they express themselves in different voices, and feel distinct. There’s a rawness to the chat logs that effectively conveys the hurt these people are experiencing, and it was interesting for me to get a look at what (I assume) is a fairly accurate portrayal of a few people in the furry community.

Your role as moderator raises some concerning questions, though, that aren’t explored very much. I would be horrified to learn that someone had been reading extremely personal messages I had sent to my dead friend, but the characters seem to take the invasion of privacy in stride. And, your job seems unnecessarily cruel–why do these accounts have to be deleted in the first place? You’re provided the option at the end of the game to not delete Mike’s account, but you don’t see the consequences of your choice. I think most people would have a hard time deleting dead people’s accounts, especially after the deceased’s loved ones ask them not to, but if you keep declining to do your job, presumably you’ll be fired. The game keeps the focus on the groups’ grief, which makes sense, but I was left uneasy about my character’s role. But the opportunity to act with compassion without it being a Hard Choice is a good fit, tonally, for the game.

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Re: Closure:

Thank God I wasn’t the only person who went down that mental pathway.

– Jim

TJ’s new love’s name seemed conspicuously gender neutral, and since the game seemed like it was building to some kind of big revelation, it felt like it made sense. Especially since the “ex turns out to be gay” is kind of a trope at this point. The actual twist is better, though I wish it had been foreshadowed more.

Thanks for commenting. I’m also glad I wasn’t the only one who thought that was where things were going.