Encorm's En-corner: Ectocomp Edition

I’ve been in a bit of a reviewing slump re: IFComp so I’m going to move over to Ectocomp to give myself a break and hopefully get my mojo back. I’m going to start with the Petit Mort games first!

Not promising to play everything, and also these are going to be a lot shorter and informal than my IFComp reviews.

(Also, I can’t let everyone else have all the pun fun so I’m joining in! You’ve all been so encouraging.)

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The Enigma of the Old Manor House

A small parser game, about breaking into the haunted house on the hill because your friends called you chicken (Marty McFly, is that you?). It’s very well fleshed-out for a Petit Mort game, with several rooms in the mansion and a whole checklist of tasks to complete. Not much in the way of story, but a fun and spooky experience. I did end up stuck at a certain point, but it’s a 50-50 shot that the problem is me and not the game. (If the author sees this, what am I supposed to do with the ladder?)

Restitution

We’ve started to get adaptations of public-domain works entered into IFComp recently, but this is the first one that I know of entered into Ectocomp. I can see why it’s tempting to pick an existing work for the Petit Mort (the text is already written! Genius!) but I’m not about to short-change the author for this, since the process of adaptation is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. An in truth, it seems to have been tough to properly adapt in the required time, since the interactivity is minimal. Still, I’ve never heard of the original story so I’m glad to have read this.

Something Blue

This came up third in my random shuffle, but as I am a completely biased party I’m not going to write a real review. (The author is my partner, and while I didn’t actually contribute to this game I did participate in some good old fashioned ideas ping-pong during the writing process.) That said, I think I’d love the final product anyway as EJ is very talented, beautiful, and knows where I sleep.

Zombie Eye

I’m always impressed by people who submit parser-based games into the Petit Mort. Zombie Eye is in Adventuron to boot, which means that in addition to whatever parser-wrangling magic the author had to perform there’s also limited art, and even sound! How Dee Cooke fit all this into four hours, I have no idea. To make matters more impressive, there’s both a verb list and a walkthrough available! Since as mentioned before I am not good at parser games this makes me very happy. I was even more delighted when I turned out to not need the walkthrough since the game is fairly straightforward. It’s a quick experience but just the right amount of unsettling. A+!

There Those Dare Doze

I have a confession to make: I desperately want to adore Andrew Schultz’s games, but I am simply too dumb to make any progress in them. I love puzzles and wordplay, and in fact I’m on a puzzlehunt team as a hobby. (I suspect some of my team members would love these, as an aside. I’m better at spatial and logic problems but weak at wordplay.) So as usual, I couldn’t get past the first puzzle on this one. Someday!

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You can move it around: PUSH LADDER SOUTH, for example.

Specifically, you’ll need it in order to get a light source into the northwest part of the map.

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ZIT

Oh jeez, this one was visceral. Not just the horror of the titular zit (although it is described in a way that is both deeply relatable and deeply awful), but all the window dressing. The protagonist is alone. None of the people she calls can give her much, if any, advice or even emotional support. The glimpses of her life we get are depressing in a grimly realistic way. The problems of her life have come to an ugly and painful head, just as the zit has done. I hope that she can get some catharsis from popping them. This is an excellent game that I absolutely will not play again, which is the sign of a horror game well done.

HSL Type Ω MEWP Certification Exam

If you want to engineer the perfect way to get my attention, “Spooky Scissor Lift Safety Test” is a good place to start. I’m a big sucker for absurd fiction about the mundane, and while I’m not scissor lift certified I’ve taken enough workplace training to know what I’m in for. And honestly, this game is hilarious! (At least if you have the right background.) I’m tempted to write my own unauthorized sequel, “Haunted Lockout-Tagout Training”. I’m also going to dig into the manual later because this is, as mentioned, exactly my speed.

Nightmares Within Nightmares

This game does an excellent job of making you feel trapped in a nightmare - looping through your subconscious over and over again. I also liked that it played with a few different kinds of horror (we’ve got visceral body horror and the terror of your lover disappearing, among other things). I spent quite a while looping through, and while there’s a decent amount of story to uncover I couldn’t seem to find a real ending. I’ll come back to this one.

BLACKOUT

Having been through some family emergencies recently (since resolved! everyone is OK, do not worry) I’m well aware that the worst part is always the waiting. Eventually you reach a point where it’s out of your hands and there’s nothing to do but wait the hours, days, weeks until it’s over. That’s the conceit of BLACKOUT, with the added bonus of all electronics being off limits. (How would I cope with the end of the world without my laptop? Not well, let me tell you). I thought it was a good representation of this kind of thing, and about trying to make the best of what you’ve got. Didn’t like the weird fuzzy text effects though.

I meant to get another review in but I’m tired and the next game in my shuffle is a parser game. I’ll tackle it tomorrow when I’m more capable of giving it the attention it deserves.

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I don’t think there is one; being trapped in an endlessly recursive nightmare is, I think, the point. (That aspect of it didn’t quite land for me, but I should probably write my own reviews if I want to get into that.)

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That’s what I thought, but the author replied in my thread that there was indeed an ending, although I didn’t find it either.

And thanks for the review, @Encorm ! It is a nasty little game. I was hella grumpy over my own zit and decided to take it out on the world.

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Oh, oops, I missed that! Good to know.

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Thanks for your lovely review! It required a bit of planning to fit it all into the four hours, and there were some manic moments at times! Really glad you enjoyed it.

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Thanks, Encorm, for reading through Restitution!

And you’re right about adaptations. So, while your impression of the interactivity was that is was minimal, thank you for recognizing that the implementation of that interactivity was not minimal on my part. I’ve tried three different approaches to fitting together the stateful and stateless frames, and all three have been fun challenges to try to solve.

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Thank you so much for your review! I’m flattered. I would definitely look forward to a sequel if it’s something you wanted to write. Man, yeah, haha… those OSHA trainings… this one I took had 83 pages on ladder safety and didn’t even get to the process for safely ascending or descending a ladder until like page 62.

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Buggy

This game is sure a ride! I could describe what’s happening in the game plotwise if I wanted, but that’s much less important than what it’s actually doing, which is gleefully murdering the fourth wall. There’s hints of a very occult story in the background, yes, but it takes a backseat to your in-game companion reacting to everything you type into the parser as if you were saying it to him. I get the impression that the author had almost as much fun writing this as I did playing it.

MARTYR ME

Well, that was nasty. I regret playing this while I was eating dinner.

This game is all about being lovingly dismembered by a serial killer, and boy do I mean lovingly. The prose waxes lyrical over every single injury to the player character, and timed text makes sure that you, the player, have to linger over the gore much the same way as your murderer does. It’s all very effective at what it wants to do, which as far as I can tell is to unsettle the audience as much as possible. I’m not sure there’s a point beyond the gore and horror, though? I made a big deal earlier about how “the sign of a good horror game is that I never want to play it again”, but I don’t think that’s the only criteria. This game feels more like a slasher movie than anything else, and I’m not a huge fan of works that are solely about the gore - I prefer allegory over regular gory, to be quite honest.

Reg and the Kidnapped Fairy

A more accurate, if less snappy, title for this game might be “Punching Simulator 2022”. Punch an undead gorilla into space! Punch the bad fairy into space! Punch everyone! I saw in another thread that this was at least partially written by a seven-year-old, in which case I think they have excellent taste.

You Are A Zombie Yelp Reviewer

Another short and sweet game. There’s no surprises here: you are a zombie, writing a review of your latest hapless victim, er, meal on Yelp. The zombie does most of the work here, with the player character picking lines that describe the most crucial parts of the meal - the location, the “acquisition”, and of course, the brains themselves. Funny and light-hearted. (That said, I really need to stop eating while playing these games.)

One More Page

Boy, timed text is popular this year! It’s a shame I have a gnat’s attention span. Even given my particular failings, I think it could have been a bit faster. That aside - the story here is absolutely worth being patient for. There’s not much interactivity here, but I enjoyed myself anyway. (I also have to admit, the slow pace of the text did a great job at building tension! The speed could have used a little tweaking, but hey, four hours).

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Hey, thanks for the review! There is an allegorical point to the game, but it may be too buried in viscera to come through clearly. I’ll def be writing an author’s note when the comp ends.

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I look forward to reading it! I’ll admit I started skimming so if I missed stuff that’s on me.

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THROW. MARIA. OVERBOARD.

It’s always a delight when the scariest thing about a work of horror isn’t the supernatural bits. Instead, the true horror here is quite mundane, concerning religion, redemption, and the horrible things people will do when they’re in a bind.

I know the author mentioned he wanted to add more endings and ran out of time, but I think in a way the inevitability of the singular ending is scarier. In a way, it puts the captain in a similar position as Maria was all those years ago - making a horrible choice, but the only choice he sees available to escape a situation he’s in through no fault of his own. Highly recommend this one.

Starlight Shadows: Ectocomp Edition

Starlight Shadows is a game in the scariest genre of all: the horror of trying to navigate social situations. You’re a girl with superpowers, and you get an inconvenient premonition about impending doom at a party. Now it’s up to you to convince your friends to help you out via the magic of dialog trees! If you slip up and offend a friend, you’re down one ally for the final battle. Luckily you’re psychic so you can get a read on people before you talk to them, which cuts down the difficulty somewhat. Even with that I ended up losing two allies so I’m interested in playing again and seeing if I can recruit them all. (I play video games to do things I can’t in real life, like take back all the times I annoyed my friends.)

Also, this kind of reminded me of Social Lycanthropy Disorder, which is an Ectocomp game EJ wrote a few years back. The party structure is something Autumn Chen has used before and could have come from anywhere, but the fact that each game has a character named Cassiopeia (Cassie for short) made me wonder if it’s deliberate. (If not, I’m tickled by the coincidence!) Either way, this is a great game with meaningful choice and a well-rounded cast of characters - no mean feat for the Petit Mort.

Cell 174

Wow! Another nasty one, but this time it’s all about the dark, brutal underside of human nature. This is a character study of a truly messed up person, and is all the more horrifying for being extremely realistic. Not going to go too much into this one to avoid spoilers, since this one is best experienced blind. Go play it.

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origin of love

Homoerotic vampire poetry! Fractal homoerotic vampire poetry, even! (The author has done a good job adding interactivity by allowing the reader to access poems-within-poems that expand upon a word or point being made). A very different game from most in the Petit Mort, and I mean that as a sincere compliment.

Trick or Treat or Trick or Treat or Trick

If Ectocomp had Spring Thing-style ribbons I would definitely award this one “Best Tongue-Twister”. Which I’m a fan of, of course, and as the title implies you’re stuck in a time loop of trick-or-treating and have to figure out how to end it. I unfortunately found the turn limit on the looping a little too punishing, and I gave up before I was able to solve the game. Sorry, little Timmy*! I’ll rescue you next time.

*The player character is not actually named in-game, so I apologize if they’re not actually supposed to be a Timmy.

Untitled Ghost Game

This game is exactly what I hoped it would be based on the title. You are a horrible ghost, and you have six hours to spook up this house badly enough to scare out the new occupant. You can use your time on various spooky tasks, which have a varying ratio of time to Spooky Points, and at the end you’ll see how you did. As in keeping with Untitled Goose Game, the writing is hilariously irreverent and some of the things you can do are more funny than spooky. I kept playing until I got what I assume is the best ending, although there’s at least three depending on your score. This one has a high time-to-fun ratio, I gotta say.

And that’s all the Petit Mort games! Up next, the Grand Guignol.

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Thank you for the really nice review! Interactivity had been one of my worries heading into Petite Mort, since I knew I’d be offering quite the slim pickings in terms of word count/total screens shown, and I certainly wasn’t brave enough to try stabbing at multiple branching pathways in that session- so I’m happy to hear the formatting worked for you here!

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No problem!

I didn’t really get into it yesterday, but I have a lot of thoughts about interactivity in IF, and they mostly center around how there’s so much more you can do with it beyond “branching stories/Your Choices Matter!™”. As such I’m always really happy when someone tries something different in that space.

To dig more into it, I think your game worked for me because it turned “enjoying a poem” into an interactive experience. Everyone always has their own unique experience when reading a poem, of course, but having the little recursive poems really makes that true here. Whether someone reads each poem in full and then goes back to dig further, or expands each word as they get to it, or even gets choosy about which words they click on - all of these will mean they have a different experience reading the same poem as the next reader. At least for me it also makes it way easier to stay engaged instead of just passively reading.

Obviously these are just my opinions and someone else may feel differently, but hey - I liked it! A lot!

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OMG it’s a total coincidence! I named all of the characters in this game after stars and constellations. I did play Social Lycanthropy Disorder and liked it a lot, but I don’t remember Cassie. Maybe it was a subconscious influence though…

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The Haunted Help Desk

The Haunted Help Desk has the scariest real-world premise yet: dealing with your company’s IT department. (I kid, I kid!) The conceit is that the IT department is haunted, but you really, really, REALLY need to get your tablet to connect to the wifi, so you’re willing to brave the horrible IT maze to find someone who can help you. (Which, minus the haunting, sounds like every IT experience I’ve ever had).

The game squeezes as much out of the concept as inhumanly possible, with the ghoulies and ghosties of the maze all still happy to help you find the one guy who can fix your tablet. Of course, Haunted IT is a lot more dangerous than regular IT, so there’s pitfalls waiting for you at every corner. Luckily, the author has mercifully enabled the back button here, changing your numerous deaths from something frustrating to a comedy punchline.

Overall, this game feels like playing through a Halloween SNL sketch, and I mean that in the best way. Great job!

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Euphoria Brighter Than a Comet

So, just to establish where I personally am coming from in this review - I’m a gay cis woman. I don’t consider myself trans or nonbinary, so by necessity this is going to be an “outside looking in” type perspective, but I’m also not entirely a stranger to grappling with gender identity/presentation/etc. issues. Some of this is because the idea of gender and sexuality being different things is fairly recent and there’s still a lot of cultural baggage hanging around the concept that any queer person is going to have to deal with, but also because I have a complicated relationship with femininity. I could spend a while talking about it but I’ll leave it as I prefer to present masc of center but still feminine, and have spent a lot of my life figuring out exactly what that means. (I also work in a male-dominated field, which means I have “how do I present at work” as an additional confusing gender-related issue). So instead of having a fully outside perspective, I guess I have one arm hanging through an open window or something?

Now that I’m done talking about myself and torturing metaphors to death, let’s talk about the game. Euphoria Brighter Than a Comet follows Bekcj, an alien attending the uncomfortably-heteronormative St. Andrew’s College to get an Earthian college degree. Everyone already treats bem like an outsider because of beir alien experience, and also because as a Plutonian bey don’t conceive of gender the same way that we do. The only thing making beir time at St. Andrew’s bearable is their best and only friend Aaron. So when bey receive an invite to the biggest, hottest frat Halloween party (as the guest of honor, no less!) bey’re torn between wanting to fit in and having to navigate Halloween, “the most gendered of holidays”…

This is the first moment I came up short, since this assertion doesn’t like up with my experience for two reasons. One is mostly down to my personal experience, since most of the college parties I attended were populated mostly with theater kids. (In addition to being a very queer group of people, even the straightest cis theater kids are pretty comfortable with crossdressing so you can imagine what those Halloween parties were like). So I’m willing to chalk that one up to luck that I was able to have a college experience very much the opposite of St. Andrew’s, but my second gripe is a little less of a personal opinion. Isn’t the most gendered holiday Valentine’s Day? I think one certainly could make an argument for Halloween being the more-gendered holiday at least in certain contexts, so I was curious to see how the author would spin it, but the spin never came. Apart from some background comments from the party goers about Beckj’s gender presentation (ranging from ignorant to rude to cruel), there’s hardly any exploration of gender and Halloween to be found. Some of the meathead frat bros are described as wearing very masculine costumes, and Aaron’s more gender-ambiguous choice of party wear is good foreshadowing for the rest of their character arc, but that’s about it. (Surely there’s something to be said about female Halloween costumes, even? The game only gives us a look at the masculine side, which seems like a missed opportunity for a game about the gender binary). The frat boys also predictably have not invited Beckj to be their guest of honor for wholesome reasons and subject bem to public humiliation because bey’re a “freak”, but I didn’t get the sense that they found Beckj to be freakish because of beir gender or lack thereof, only because of their alien status. I think the author needed the “alien as metaphor for the nonbinary experience” to be more developed by this stage than it actually was, since this didn’t ring thematically sound for me even though I can see what the story is going for.

The rest of the game follows Beckj and Aaron dealing with the aftermath of the awful thing Beckj has just gone through, and opening up more to each other personally in the process. I found this part sweet but also kind of flat. Part of this is I don’t think the character writing is quite up to snuff - everyone in this story has a very similar narrative voice (minus the cartoonish frat bros) and Aaron’s characterization doesn’t stretch much beyond sweet, supportive of Beckj, and nonbinary. The other part is that the ensuing gender discussion frankly doesn’t go much deeper than it has elsewhere in the story. Beckj does give an interesting account of how gender works on Pluto, which I would have loved to hear more about, but then explains how Plutonian pronouns work in a way that doesn’t quite line up. (Plutonian gender is constantly reinterpreted throughout their life and depending on context, but Beckj then says the Plutonian pronouns are best translated as versions of English pronouns with the first letter changed to a B - his to bis, hers to bers, theirs to beirs. However, there’s no explanation of how or when a human would know which pronoun to use, which made Aaron’s vow to use Beckj’s correct pronouns in private seem like a Sisyphean task.) That said, the euphoria of thinking you’re alone in the world and finding out there’s someone else exactly like you is deeply relatable, which for me was the best part of this segment. (Full disclosure, I skipped the sex scene, an option for which I am grateful to have but I think needed a bit of extra writing to do a proper fade to back.)

As an addendum, I also found the white text on a light blue background hard to read, and the background image didn’t resize properly to my screen. The author did mention they intend to release a choice-based version of this game later, so I’m putting these out there in the hopes they’ll get tweaked for the next version.

There’s a lot of good ideas here, and quite a few things that rang authentic to my experience (the number of friends I made while closeted that turned out to also be closeted is way higher than it should be by random chance, so I deeply appreciated Aaron and Beckj’s pre-party relationship), but I think it needs stronger thematic cohesion and more attentive character writing to really work for me.

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