Dunc's Spring Thing 2022 Review Thread

OK well I guess I’m going to start up a review thread of my own now. I’ve played a few games from Spring Thing 2022 at random and have some thoughts written out but not yet posted (I will probably continue to fiddle at them a bit before posting anything). I’ll be posting my reviews on IFDB, but using this thread for review discussion should any come up and for dropping in a link to my reviews when I post them on the off-chance some people might be interested. I’m also currently holding off on posting reviews of entries that I helped with some beta-testing/editing/etc. I’m also also holding off on some reviews I’ve written where I wouldn’t say the reviews are mean-spirited or “bad” and I’ve tried my best to make them constructive, but they might still be taken by the authors as less than great news.

I’ve already posted one review and that’s for The Fall of Asemia. The review is here. I doubt that all of my reviews (or even necessarily any) will have the same level of detail as this one, unfortunately. I have a little art background and I just happened to’ve finished reading the relevant book I cited in my review recently, so it was fresh in my mind and I was compelled to write it. The author’s background with museums and stuff seemed to suggest that he would appreciate this sort of review. Probably not what everyone’s looking for though.

If you’re an author in this comp: “Hey, what are you looking for?” I’ll try to bring a unique perspective to whatever reviews I write (I’m also trying to guard against making my reviews About Me, which I notice they sometimes drift into, so I go back and cut a lot where I can), although they might still end up being redundant with other reviews. Who knows? I don’t.

I haven’t assigned star or number ratings to any of the reviews I’ve written for this comp yet, but I will if that’s something authors would be into. I would probably also have to go back and add one for The Fall of Asemia, too, if that’s the case.

I’ll note at the risk of devolving into self-indulgent rambling that I’m still kinda trying to sort out my own critiques apart from my depression and anxieties and stuff too (the recent plague years haven’t made any of them better, haha). I hadn’t always made that connection in previous reviews. I try to keep it in mind when scribbling something up these days, but maybe a good thing to keep in mind when reading them too, I 'unno. Sometimes I’ll be like, “Did I like that? Ehhhh…” When really looking back I’ll be like, “Man, that was like a serious, solid 9/10. I just felt like I maybe didn’t like it because really, really wanted it to fit this other impossible criteria that would make it a 10.” I hope that makes sense.

So… uh, yeesh I’ve already gone on too long. Discussion of my review of The Fall of Asemia to follow in this thread if anyone wants to. Or else I’ll update here when I’ve posted another review. Thanks.

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I haven’t played Fall of Asemia yet but based on this post, I’m looking forward to doing so and then reading your review!

I know tastes vary, but personally I don’t mind if reviews have a fair bit of personal context to them – it helps me understand how the reviewer’s coming at a game, and I often find it more interesting to hear about the personal, idiosyncratic stuff that a game sparks in a player rather than just having a drier, more scare-quote objective end-scare-quote assessment.

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Sweet, OK. That is cool and good to know. Or: reassuring is probably the word I’m looking for. Thank you.

Not to cut off any conversation about The Fall of Asemia, but I’ve posted a review of Crow Quest now. It is here. I’m a little afraid now that I’ve re-read it for the thousandth time that my review comes off as disappointed when really it’s a fine, fun game and I enjoyed it for what it is. But I guess we’ll just have to see.

EDIT: revised my review to add a bit about how it has two levels of difficulty built into it.

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I think your intended assessment came through in the review, but I’m mostly commenting to say I had the same response to the gag with the name you fill in being preempted, except that I only came up with “The Incrowdible Hulk” which is much less funny than “Aleister Crowley”.

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Ha! Oh, man, I dunno. The Incrowdible Hulk made me laugh. But maybe I’m just the kind of dude who will always laugh harder at someone else’s joke. Unless, like, I just thought of a joke and I’m in the middle of trying to tell it. haha

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OK, I’ve now posted reviews for Good Grub! and Wry. They are here and here, respectively.

EDIT: While I did say in my review of Wry that I didn’t experience any significant GTV issues (which is still true), I did get one weird response that might be worth mentioning. When from atop the sofa I tried “>stand on floor”, the game said I couldn’t stand on the zebra skin. Granted, my next move was “>get off sofa”, but if I was a player who was more used to “>get” being used for picking things up, I might not have made that connection. Since I’d used “>stand on” to get atop the sofa, one might expect that verb to be used for repositioning in general.

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OK, here’s my review for The Hole Man.

EDIT: Noticing I didn’t mark anything with spoiler tags in this one. I do discuss some of the game’s content, structure, and themes, but I don’t think overall it’s exactly spoilery? If you really want to come to this one with no preconceived notions, skip my review before playing. Unfortunately I have to go return a library book and get to work, so I won’t be adding spoiler tags if they are needed at least until I get home again. Thanks for understanding.

EDIT 2: I have revised my review of The Hole Man again, to clean up a bit of the wording where it was jumbly (it’s probably still a ramble overall), link to a definition of “crazy quilt” since I was using the term so much, and to add some spoiler tags where I thought necessary.

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My review of Sweetpea is now up here.

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Thanks so much for the review!! I’m glad that you enjoyed the story getting weird with it, as it were- that’s probably my favourite part about how the story came out, since I do love a good body horror moment. Writing Michael in particular was probably my favourite aspect of the story. That the ending felt earned is also really lovely to hear- I did worry it felt a bit cheesy, since most fans of horror don’t really like happy endings. And yes, it was written without state tracking! Bit of a doozy wrapping my head around that while writing, hence the mistake near-abouts the study.

You were right on the non-supernatural interpretation of the story- that particular aspect comes from my own experiences growing up, so I’m glad that it came across, even in the muddle of archangels and doppelgangers and naps. Another review mentioned that it draws from the tradition of exploring some mundane fear through dramatized heights, and I think you nailed keying in on what that everyday occurrence was.

Speaking of- pacing and plot structure has always been my weakest point as a writer, whereas imagery and metaphors and all that sort of thing are more my strong suit- hence, I suppose, my moonlighting as a poet. It appears most people were also very confused or jarred by the sudden sleeping, which I suppose is an instance of life being less elegant than fiction: I often would just go back to sleep during one of those nightly rampages, kitchen knives and kicked in doors and all.

The content warning for church-y stuff was more so out of being overly cautious- as sometimes I’ve had very strange reactions to the sort of irreverent way I write about elements of Catholicism- both very positive (if disappointed it wasn’t explored more) or very negative (and disappointed it was included at all.) The way I write Michael in particular tends to raise eyebrows, so I popped on a headsup. My childhood was a multi-faith one, and I might consider myself spiritual, not religious now- so the sort of loosey goosey handling of archangels and rosaries matches up with that more relaxed interpretation of faith.

But yes- thank you for playing, and for sharing your thoughts! I’m glad you had a fun time with all of Sweetpea’s antics, and that you liked the cover. :blush:

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Still kind of slow going for me over here. I’ve tied my brain into some knots, you see. I’m sitting on five reviews for the moment because I’m not sure they’re exactly positive. At least two of them I would like to read as positive but I’m concerned I’ve gone on far, far too much my own little critical world than really seems necessary. Yet I don’t want to rewrite them and I don’t think that what I’ve written isn’t at least a fair and considered opinion, so I’m kind of hung up on whether to post them now. I feel like maybe I should err on the side of releasing them post-comp. Also two are certainly negative reviews, or at least ones that conclude I can’t recommend the work in question. I’m trying not to just trash someone’s hard work. Also also, since I’ve mentioned my dilemma I don’t want to leave any placeholder marks in the spreadsheet for these at this time.

What are people’s thoughts on this? Maybe just time to contact the organizer?

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I understand your concern, but if it’s your conviction that your reviews are fair, considered and constructive then I think you ought to release them. It’s not good practice to hold back fair criticism of a work of art for fear of offending the creator of it, and it’s a valuable skill for artists to learn to receive negative as well as positive feedback.

Just my opinion - I also get that some people have a thinner skin than I do!

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Since you don’t have a work in the comp (I think? I’m not the best at remembering everyone’s forum names) the limitation on negative reviews doesn’t apply to you. So I’m not sure reaching out to the comp organizer will give you much feedback one way or the other, unfortunately.

Personally I would say that I think you should post them, especially if they’re for works that have already garnered a decent number of reviews. Criticism will sting less if there’s positive feedback to balance that out, and there’s been no shortage of that this year! (Mostly because this year is full of really good games).

Past IFcomp reviewers have invited people up to review their reviews, as it were, which might be something you’d be interested in. Once you’ve had your head deep in your own work it’s so hard to be objective so you might feel better about it if you know people will give you a heads up if you’ve gone too overboard with criticism.

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I agree with @ChristopherMerriner – I think it’s really helpful to recognize that you’ve written what’s on balance a negative review, and take the opportunity to step back and reread the piece to make sure you’re being fair in your criticism. When I’m in that position, I usually try (though sometimes fail!) to make sure I’m articulating what I see as the game’s goals, so I’m judging it on its own terms – or if I think those goals are bad ones, explaining why I think that – and also try to be really intentional about lifting up the positives about the game, of which there are almost always some, since that hopefully communicates that you respect the author and the work they put in.

Assuming you feel like your response is on solid ground after doing that check, I personally don’t think it’s bad form to share the review publicly during the course of the festival. Negative feedback can be just as helpful to an author as positive feedback – more so, sometimes! – so I don’t think it’s ultimately doing them any favors to hold back. And the same is true for prospective players – some will steer clear, saving them a potentially annoying experience and the author from yet more negative feedback, but a on-balance “bad” review can also allow other players to reset their expectations and wind up having a better time if they do ultimately wind up playing the game (if only to know that there are game-breaking bugs and they should save often!)

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Not everyone can like everything, and that’s OK. Maybe a game is just not for you, and it’s OK to say that. Also, maybe a game has problems, and it’s OK to say that, too. Constructive criticism is a good thing for writers. How else is anyone supposed to improve?

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I decided not to review games that I don’t enjoy. I’d rather just focus on the ones that I do. I also recognize that I have some pretty idiosyncratic pet peeves, and I didn’t feel like making philosophical arguments every time I had an objection to this or that thing.

I additionally didn’t want to treat the experience like a poetry workshop, trying to find two nice things to say for every negative thing.

It is harder to write a “good” negative review than it is a positive one. At least, that is my experience as an editor and a teacher. It can also come with a lot of cyclical self-interrogation: Was I kind? Was I helpful? Was I fair? Not everybody has the psychic energy for that.

The negative review is a constructive form of discourse. It can help people, etc. But there’s no ethical duty to tell people what you think about their art.

As for you, TC, I think the important thing is this: what is the intended purpose of your review-writing, and what would you like to get out of the experience? Depending on your answer, it may clarify your approach to negative (and positive) reviews.

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OK cool, thanks for the responses everyone. This helps. I’ll probably get to posting them, then.

As for the intended purpose of my review writing, I dunno. I’ve been out of the scene for a while and just wanted to visit again for a bit, maybe get back into it, get my brain working on some things. So I beta-tested some entries and now I feel kind of invested. I’ve been stuck on some writing of my own for a while (and of others, I know… I can be a pain sometimes) so I thought this might help get it unstuck a bit. Time will tell if it works or not.

Anyway, some reviews coming up in a minute then.

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Let me be blunt; a negative review is fine, even sincerely welcome. Input is objectively useful. I can separate myself from my game (knowing it doesn’t represent my worth nor my limitations, but is merely a snapshot of a fraction of my effort and experience). I can also acknowledge that I certainly didn’t write Hadean Lands and likely never will. Although, even works like those aren’t beyond criticism. Every author and creator I’ve met at any point in their career grimaces at parts of their earlier work. Eight years later, I’m sure there are elements of that game that now aggravate @zarf . It’s the nature of iterative improvement.

With that said, there is a difference between criticizing a game and directly criticizing its author. There is the very occasional review that directly takes an author to task and criticizes them rather than their work. It might be that this is warranted, but the threshold for this should be very high. I am not my work; my work is not me. You do not know me or what I’m capable of. If I am not harming others by the dissemination of my work (aforementioned threshold), please kindly limit your criticism to the work being reviewed.

/mount soapbox

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Phew, ok… uh, ya like hedges? If so, check out my review of fix it, which is here.

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Not sure why you’re nervous. The review is both self-aware and constructive. It keeps its focus primarily on the game and only mentions the author where relevant in the understanding of the game’s content. Every perceived shortcoming you address is party to the game and not the author. I have not a single qualm about this review.

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More incoming. Here is one for The Box.

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