Feline Fine future plans, posting now because kitten pictures have occurred

Back in 2015 I entered “Scarlet Sails” in the IF Comp. It did well, and then I added a bunch of content before publishing it as a Hosted Game via Choice of Games, where it continues to do well.

So before I even entered “Fine Felines” (which I obviously HOPE will do well this year) I knew that after the comp I’d be doing a massive expansion (adding two more breeds—Siamese and Sphynx— and two more love interests, plus at least one more major ending option).

And continuing to just add… stuff.

Yesterday the owner of http://canberraRagdolls.com let me come and take a bunch of photos of a new 4 week-old litter. It was soooo cooooool!!!

So here are some pictures that are not (yet) in the story:








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I am happy to hear Fine Felines is getting an expansion! Good luck with all the cats and code :slight_smile:

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On the Rheology of cats answers the question of “Are cats liquid?”

I find the liquidity of cats to be an interesting question, worthy of Ig Noble prize.

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Sidebar: I have carefully not said a word to any of my reviewers (I am overcompensating in the “don’t scare the reviewers” stakes this year and already regretting it but now I feel like I need to remain silent for consistency), but I REALLY REALLY appreciate them all and will thank them properly after the contest is over.

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Phew! It’s 13 November here and I finally wrote my fifth review and submitted all the ratings. As always I feel like my answers aren’t QUITE right and I’m not qualified to judge anyone. Presumably most people feel the same.

Very early on in the judging period, someone mentioned a bug in “Fine Felines” that they had three kittens but sold five. Oopsie. I had been working on the Chapter 5 and 6 coding section for about fifty hours and I knew that it would be risky to tinker with it further so I crossed my fingers and left it alone. Another reviewer found the same bug later in the contest (d’oh!), but I think keeping my hands off was the right choice for me. I feel proud that I didn’t do a single update in the judging period. The (almost) lack of bugs is 1000% due to my beta readers, one in particular who played it something like 10 times in ten days, finding new bugs every time that gradually decreased from game-breakers to quirks. This game has more little bits of boolean coding (eg do your cats wake you up in the morning, and if so how?) than anything else I’ve written.

I reckon I’ll adjust the code slightly so that people always get at least five kittens. Apart from anything else, with the number of kittens randomised and currently ranging from 3 to 10, the game is a little unfair. While arguably realistic, it’s fun escapism rather than realism I’m going for (which is why no kittens die—in reality, quite a few newborn kittens don’t make it).

I have fully written and coded Chapter One of the expanded version of the story, including image descriptions, Sphynx and Siamese cats, and two more potential love/friendship characters. Of course, Chapter One is the easiest to write by a factor of a billion or so Eg in Chapter Two there are currently 11 possible combinations of cats, and in the new version there will be 25. I can feel my future self glaring at me from here.

But I’ll get it done eventually—maybe by the end of this year?—then do a public beta, then submit it as a Hosted Game via Choice of Games. So it might be available around this time in 2022.

Here are some more photos:

This is Periwinkle Chukwu. He is owned by the excellent writer Nnedi Okorafor, who writes Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism, among other things. I’ve read her “Binti” series, which was excellent and which also let me know her tone is too dark for a delicate flower such as myself. So I mostly admire her from a distance, including being a FaceBook friend—where she frequently posts pictures of her lynx point Siamese. She has written for Marvel comics and at least one of her book series is being adapted for the screen.

Here is Periwinkle Chukwu:

And here are two Sphynx kittens:

And my own cat Zipper (aka Taylor Swift):

I shall now start attempting to contact all the reviewers to ask if it’s okay to thank them in the credits (and what name to use), and once the judging has passed I’ll copy and paste all the reviews into this thread with my comments.

Maybe with a few more pictures of kittens, to break up the wall’o’text.

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Here’s the new version of Chapter One… sorta. I haven’t added to the Cheat Sheet, or list of reviewers, and I plan to make the Dad character less supportive at the start so he gets to evolve during the story. Note to self: I should make an achievement for “Won Dad Over”.

Persephone will only be a romance-able option for women and non-binary characters. Jeremy will only be romance-able for men and non-binary characters.

The Siamese won’t be allowed to mix with other breeds (because there are already 25 combinations, and because Jeremy insists).

https://dashingdon.com/play/Felicity_Banks/fine-felines-post-comp-beginning-only/mygame/

This is definitely NOT something that should factor into anyone’s ratings! It’s just for the curious.

Fun Fact: Nnedi Okorafor gave me permission to use photos of her cat Periwinkle Chukwu, but on the condition that I kept his name and gender. So that’s what inspired the new options for the player character to be able to start their business with their own stud cat.

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Judging is finished, so now I shall review my reviewers! Just the public ones though (unless I screw it up), so if you’re an author and you don’t mind me posting your review publicly, let me know!

@WidowDido:

Browsing thru #IFComp submissions, I knew that @FBanksBooks
game would be my first to play. A fun game: good prose with an odd combination of weighty life events and quirky (but not too fanciful) humor. And most imp, adorable photos of Fine Felines. Time well spent

This was the first in-comp feedback I received, and as you can imagine the sheer relief was like diving into a cool pool on a hot day.

One of the biggest surprises for me this year was how many people were immediately drawn to my name. I’M SO FAMOUS YOU GUYS!

Josh Grams:

A game about cat pictures! And fibromyalgia, to balance out the overdose of cuteness.

ChoiceScript, took me about half an hour to play through the first time. Clearly intended to be replayed.

Good storytelling, > lots of cute cat pictures. This is very much what it says on the tin.

Your mom died, you’re dealing with that and the exhaustion of being her caretaker: you’re a little lost, and you decide to jump into breeding cats. Along the way you get diagnosed with fibromyalgia and have to learn to balance caring for yourself with your other responsibilities and activities.

The simulation got a little wonky > toward the end (I think I sold five of the three kittens that my cats had), but that seemed like a minor issue since it felt much more about the cat pictures and storytelling.

And I didn’t realize until the very end that I could hit> the “Show Stats” button to see how much money I had: the prose only mentions it occasionally and usually after you’ve made a purchase. Which, again, not a big deal. If I’d gotten seriously into the accounting I would have looked harder. But I steered a fairly middle-of-the-road approach to spending money and was more invested in the story.

Has a lot of the hallmarks of a Choice of Games piece: a fair bit of stat-based branching, optional romance, etc. But a more cozy manageable size than some of the monster CoG novels. Well

worth a playthrough or two.

Aaargh! The second review and there’s a bug. I spent a LOT of time testing things in the last two chapters. Most players get the option to choose a kitten to keep, which got VERY complicated fast and there were still game-breaking bugs within a week of the due date. The only reason it still made it into the comp is the heroic work of beta testers.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I made the choice to do no updates during the comp, because (a) It would almost certainly introduce more bugs, and (b) I liked the idea of having a game that was so functional that it didn’t need a single update.

I had no idea it was a “cozy” size of around 30 minutes (as is obvious by my blurb prediction of one hour—which I brought down from the wildly incorrect estimate of one and a half hours). It’s 100,000 words, even though a lot of that is scenes that are almost but not quite identical. Many mini-scenes have been cut and pasted and then adjusted eg if you get cats from two different breeders they need to ‘meet’. If you’ve ever tried this with real cats it’s a huge deal. Most of them do get on, or at least tolerate one another. Two of the possible combinations don’t work at all.

Viv Dunstan:

Ok first up this tale of cat breeding and much more. This is a choice based web piece of interactive fiction. Often enhanced by gorgeous photos of cats!

It has a one hour estimated playthrough time, but I rattled through it happily in about half an > hour. The game played through the year until July, when it ended for me - I’m not sure if another option might have kept it playing for longer. I had opted to merge my business with Briar’s.

Ostensibly the game is about managing a cat breeding business, > with suitable use of stats - especially the cash total! - to show how well the business is doing, as well as the story playing out on screen. But really it’s a bigger life simulator, touching on issues such as grief, ill health and disability, friendships and acquaintances, and even romance. Of these the ill health and disability aspect was probably the main one in terms of frequency of appearances. Though I might have picked up on that more due to my own circumstances in that respect.

Early on the player is asked to make a gender choice. I opted for one reflecting me, but it would be nice to replay with other options. As for the wider consequences of this choice they pan out more as how you choose to interact with other characters, alongside building up your new business.

Juggling the finances could easily be a recipe for disaster, but I didn’t end up bankrupt, despite not being careful or prudent! For me the game seemed quite forgiving, though I could imagine if I’d spent more in other areas earlier I might not end up so well.

How the game pans out will depend on the numerous choices the player makes throughout. I was happy with the ending I reached, with a successful business, a new romance, happy cats, and managing my health problems well. In fact I’d have been happy to play for longer. It was an absorbing world.

A choice piece like this always depends on the quality of writing. This was cheerily and briskly written, never too long between significant choices, and yes those gorgeous cat pictures popping up was a big bonus! So thanks to the author.

A fun breezy piece, especially recommended to those with a fondness for felines.

Not everyone is given the option to merge their business with Briar, so I was happy that came up.

I felt very much that I got away with a lot, because the choice of gender makes no difference to the story whatsoever (except for the character’s pronouns) as all the romance options are bisexual (in the post-comp version the two new romance options are not bisexual—although also not straight), and the finances barely matter due to the ‘friendliness’ of the game and the sales of the kittens.

‘Fun’ and ‘breezy’ was precisely what I was going for. I tend to write fantasy, which almost always has some kind of physical confrontation (battle, duel, etc), mostly because I was a novelist before I wrote IF and conflict is essential. And sure, conflict can be internal, or emotional—but physical conflict is so simple that it’s instantly satisfying. The IF community and culture is teaching me to think more about my violent choices… and so with this story, I knew I had something that was more G-rated than my norm, and happier too.

Paul S

A short-ish choicescript pieces about launching yourself in a career as a … cat breeder. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some sort of choice-based tamagochi? In fact, it’s a rather gentle story about independence and recovery. Although described as kid-friendly, it’s most certainly not a story for children, though they might enjoy some of the pictures.

Execution

The execution seemed very polished. It’s apparent from the “cheat sheet” that this is tracking quite heavily, but it never seemed to put a foot wrong. I didn’t notice errors in the text. The most striking thing it does is produce photographs of various cats. The photos were good. Three people are credited for supplying photos, so it looks as if they have been specifically obtained for the game, and it shows. It doesn’t look like a random harvesting of google images. 4.

Writing

The writing keeps itself out of the way, for the most part. It’s a bit bloodless. We are in the realm of “good” writing, with all the things that might be encouraged if one were teaching someone how to write clear prose: short sentences, carefully controlled, rather understated. The early sections tend to dump quite heavy doses of information. One feels a writer who puts a high premium on clarity, and is certainly not going to leave anything to chance or allow the reader to be even momentarily confused. Nothing to complain about, but I don’t think this is a game you play to be blown away by the quality of the prose. 3.

Craft and use of medium

This feels very “mainstream” Choicescript: selecting your gender, romance options, accessible stats. It’s not doing anything innovative, but it’s thoroughly competent. I thought myself that the game was a bit short. I’d have liked to see rather more: longer digressions and side-stories; perhaps a chance to raise some further litters, to learn from mistakes a bit more. Slightly higher stakes? 3.

Did I enjoy it

I feel slightly indifferent. This was happily not the cat-raising simulation of my nightmares; it had more going on in the way of story. But it seemed rather low temperature. A story of a person putting a rather difficult and dreary life into some sort of shape is moderatly heart-warming, but it’s not going to set anyone’s world on fire, and it didn’t set mine on fire. It’s cosy. Safe. But a little bit dull. 3.

Overall

Overall then, a safe and rather conservative game. Definitely well-made in every way. Thoroughly competent. Sometimes charming. But not a thrill. I get to 6 or 7, and I’ll reserve judgment on that.

“Most certainly not a story for children” is interesting.

First, because I briefly forgot how much my life as a disabled person SUUUUCKS in so many ways, and that not everyone (and particularly not every child) is used to that experience. Luckily two of my beta readers were like, “Uh… this is not the light and fluffy tale you seem to think it is.” Thanks to them, I altered the blurb. It really, really needed it.

And second, because… disabled children exist. There are small children with similar chronic pain conditions to my own, and those kids probably need stories like this (this particular one is probably suited to a late-teens audience, especially those wondering if they can ever have an independent life).

It was fascinating to have my writing described as “bloodless”, and I understand the comment completely! I was indeed aiming for clarity and simplicity above all, actively thinking of my just-getting-into-reading kids as an audience.

This review was the closest to a negative review I received in the whole comp. Feel free to be jealous if you’re a writer—my past self definitely would be! I’m still pleasantly gobsmacked that it was so universally liked—even here, where it was grudgingly given a clean bill of health for bugs and writing. I am extra grateful for this review, that threw up several genuine flaws, and gave some great suggestions for that post-comp version.

Kara Goldfinch

A game where you get to breed cute kitties, which was my main reason for playing.
There’s more to it than cats, though. The player character is also adjusting to having fibromyalgia, and you have to find the right Ballance so you’re not overdoing things.
I feel I should be writing something more substantial than ‘yay cute kitties’, but when I played this that was the main thing my brain decided to focus on. As I’m blind I couldn’t see the pics, but going off the text descriptions, ragdolls seem utterly adorable.
I fully intend to play this again. Hopefully then I will concentrate more on the other aspects of the story.

So grateful to Kara for pointing out that this game isn’t accessible to many players, and I’m working on adding descriptions to every single picture (which will be annoying sometimes, but also a lot of fun—I won’t put them in an ‘optional’ version, because I think they’ll add to the story).

People seemed to universally say that the disability stuff was handled well (which makes sense, since I used my own chronic fibromyalgia as the main medical issue). That is very good news, because I’d feel awful if I made the world worse with bad representation.

Joey Acrimonious

I’d be curious how many players can actually answer yes to that question, right off the bat? Admittedly, such a thought had never crossed my mind before playing the game. But after being bombarded with a massive quantity of gorgeous, professionally-photographed cat pics over the course of this game, I’m starting to see the appeal.

In this business/life sim, you’ll juggle the sometimes competing demands of being a cat breeder; maintaining your relationships; and looking after your own mental and physical wellbeing.

The life of a cat breeder is surprisingly dramatic, and Fine Felines takes a bold, go-big-or-go-home approach to it. Everything begins with investments in cats and equipment, and even the most frugal player will end up spending a big chunk of their life savings just to get started. The potential rewards are great: the promise of seeing happy, healthy kittens enter the world and helping them find the perfect owners… which is extremely remunerative if you have enough kittens to sell. But because the rewards are so precious, the stakes of your decisions are high. If your cats’ needs go unmet, they’re less likely to produce a lot of kittens, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to recoup your initial investment.

I enjoyed the fact that the player character can develop a set of attributes (creativity, respectfulness, etc.) depending on how they navigate social interactions and adapt to their fibromyalgia diagnosis. Especially in the late game, having the right attributes is important for being successful in certain decisions.

I think that Fine Felines is very successful at what it attempts. My only criticisms worth mentioning would be that it would be more convenient if the money/attributes could be displayed on every page rather than being relegated to their own page; and that I’d rather it was four or five times longer, though this concern is somewhat mitigated by the replayability factor.

This is the review that made me decide I needed to publicly respond to reviews. “I’d be curious how many players can actually answer yes to that question, right off the bat?” says Joey.

“That question” is the game’s subtitle: “Have you ever wished you could breed cats for a living?”

I was shocked (SHOCKED I tell you) to realise, via Joey’s review, that less than 100% of the population shared my fantasy of breeding cats.

I mean, sure, technically there are dog people. I know they exist, I just believe on a profound instinctive level that they’ll… you know, recover from the delusion that any given dog could possibly be as worthwhile as any given cat.

That sounds like a joke, and I do believe it’s funny. But it’s also true. It genuinely didn’t occur to me that there could possibly be people out there that had never once thought, “Oh, I wish I could breed cats.”

The game was 100% born out of my own fantasy cat-breeding life. So much so that the entire plot about fibromyalgia is born out of my need to self-insert into this story. I have fibromyalgia, so my cat-breeding daydreams must allow for that. More than my fantasy stories, more than any magical power or wealth or beauty—the fictional world I want is the one where I get to breed cats.

Note to self: Joey has assumed that the treatment of the player’s breeder cats alters how many kittens they have. That’s a really good idea that I definitely should do in the post-comp version.

Enrique/Datalexic

The life-simulator Fine Felines deals with the ups and downs of a protagonist juggling a new and exciting cat breeding business with the grief of a parent passing away and the dawning realization that they’re suffering from a chronic illness.

The writing and choices here brim with compassion, creating space for the player to consider their character’s needs and those of others: close friends with active children, a budding romantic interest, a neighbor who worries about the presence of cats, and, of course, the cats themselves! I love that the cats have their own personalities, and each delivers their own laughs and adorable moments.

I was surprised when the ending seemed to arrive abruptly, perhaps because I assumed the story would last a full year (it ends halfway through). Some of the plot threads, like the relationships with the dad, friends, and romantic interest, are appealing but don’t feel resolved; I was left wishing for more of an arc structure to them.

4 stars

“The writing and choices here brim with compassion” is the kind of compliment that stays with you—so thank you, Enrique.

Abrupt endings are a major weakness of mine, so that was discouraging (but oh so valid). I think it might help if I started the tale in July instead of January—because breeding cats are only allowed one litter per year I don’t want to continue the story after the first litter is sold (because it would be super boring after that).

Giving more of an ‘arc’ to the various NPCs is a great idea.

Alianora La Canta

The premise is good. There are some lovely turns of phrase in the text, my favourite being the no-Starbucks town. It is a beautifully sweet and kind-hearted game, with many adorable illustrations of cats that seemed in-character for the cats they illustrated. At several points, I found myself laughing enough that one of my relatives got curious about the game. (He was put off when he realised the game was at least partly about raising cats - his loss). I say partly because the protagonist must also look after their health and finances.

If you’re looking for a fairly light game with a big heart, this is an excellent choice.

Love that final line. Excellent description. Once I realised the game was less violent than my usual offerings, I thought of it as a “holiday” for readers. I’m so glad that effect worked.

Mathbrush on ifdb: Cat breeding, dating and disability simulator in Choicescript

This game is a polished Choicescript cat breeding simulator.

You have $10,000 and a small monthly income, and have the opportunity to buy several different varieties of pedigree cats while buying different supplies and living areas for the cats.

Simultaneously, you have to deal with a new disability, which costs money and takes up your time.

I had remembered hearing before that buying pedigree cats was unethical, and you should get them from pounds. But looking it up, it seems like the main reason people say that its bad is because they have puppy mills or cat mills where animals are stored in unhealthy conditions. Even ‘backyard sellers’ can be problematic, with one website offering these red flags:

-The seller has many types of purebreds or “designer” hybrid breeds being sold at less than six weeks old.
-Breeders who are reluctant to show potential customers the entire premises on which animals are being bred and kept.
-Breeders who don’t ask a lot of questions of potential buyers.
-No guarantees-responsible breeders make a commitment to take back the pet at anytime during the animal’s life, no matter the reason.

Anyway, the point of the long digression is that my character did none of these things; quite the opposite in fact! So I was happy to do some ethical cat breeding.

The biggest strength of the game is, absolutely, its cute cat pictures. I like cats, but I spend very little time looking up pet pics online and don’t really feel interested in such pictures in general. But the cats in this game are very cute, especially since you follow their story.

There are also several romantic options. It was actually a bit too easy to romance people; I thought I was picking a ‘be nice’ option but my character ended up asking the person out.

Overall:
+Polish: The game was smooth and looked good.
+Descriptiveness: The game had plenty of detail.
+Interactivity: It was clear what different options I had and how it could affect my strategy, without being too easy
+Emotional impact: It was pretty cute
+Would I play again? Sure

5 stars

I approached several breeders to ask permission to use their photos, and one in particular was extremely helpful, answering my questions and talking cat breeding for well over an hour (I also did basic internet research). I’ve bought several cats myself (and of course looked after them their whole lives) so I’m reasonably aware of the ethics involved.

And I think Mathbrush makes a good point about romance being too easy :slight_smile: Something to keep in mind for the post-comp version.

Mike Russo

I’ve heard various theories for how to do well in IF Comp posited over the years, but Fine Felines cuts the Gordian knot with an outside-the-box strategy that’s obvious in retrospect: jam a game chockablock with kitty pictures and wait for the 10-out-of-10s to roll in. That’s not all this ChoiceScript entry has going for it, since I found the economic side of the cat-breeding system engaging, the potentially-twee premise is leavened by some more serious themes, and the writing is assured too, sketching in four different romanceable NPCs and juggling the different subplots with aplomb. But despite trying to maintain critical distance, I still spent a disproportionate amount of my time with Fine Felines cooing over photos of kittens – I’m not made of stone!

The main thrust of the game is as advertised: in the wake of the death of your disabled mother, for whom you’d been the primary caregiver, you’ve decided to use your inheritance to set up as a cat breeder. I know nothing about the specifics of the business, but Fine Felines goes into just enough detail to be fun, making sure you need to consider things like license requirements and the characteristics of different breeds of cat but providing enough info and context that I never felt like I was in over my head. The game’s roughly divided into two phases: in the startup portion, you meet different cat-breeder NPCs and decide which two (of six) cats you want to use to seed your stable, while spending your nest egg to keep the kitties healthy and happy, with options for food, exercise equipment, and more, as well as the advertising and overhead every business needs. Based on your decisions here, you’ll eventually wind up with a number of kittens, and the second phase > is about caring for them and hopefully selling them to their lucky new owners.

These systems aren’t tuned particularly harshly – without agonizing over my decisions, I wound up with a successful business that was swimming in cash by the end. But the choices still feel meaningful, and it’s satisfying to see the main character’s life get better. It helps that this isn’t a dry management minigame – all the decisions you need to make on how to run your business are embedded in the narrative, and many of your choices aren’t made in the abstract, but also let you engage with the cast of NPCs. When you pick the breed of cats you want to purchase, for example, you’re also picking which of the breeders you want to spend more time with, and potentially check in with when crises hit.

Beyond this main thread, there’s an additional subplot involving your character being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and having to use some of their financial and emotional resources to protect their health while running a successful business adds an additional, more serious tone – though again, I found that the game’s difficulty was easy enough that this became an upbeat story of adjusting to life with a disability, while not sugar-coating the challenges that the disease poses.

All in all, Fine Felines succeeds at what it sets out to do. If I have a critique, it’s that the various NPCs, while endearingly drawn and refreshingly diverse, didn’t for me take on a life of their own beyond their somewhat-tropey initial presentation. Given the game’s relatively short running time and the broad range of potential interactions, though, this is a minor fault. > And did I mention that it’s lavishly illustrated with cat pictures? 10/10, wins the internet.

Highlight : look, I hate to be superficial, but again, these are adorable kitties, and despite the fact that I’m primarily a dog person, I still found the choice of which cats to pick super hard because they were all so adorable!

Lowlight : I wound up choosing a matched pair of cats from the same breed, since the game seemed to present that as the default option – going with two different breeds requires clicking through to a second set of choices, and also seemed like it required rolling the dice on whether these cats who didn’t know each other would get along. But this choice made me feel like I missed out on interacting with two of the main NPCs, since it was hard to come up with reasons to talk to them rather than the one who was an expert on the breed I selected. True, this design means replays will be more rewarding, and Fine Felines seems like it’s meant to be run through more than once, but I still think it’d be more fun if I’d been pushed more aggressively towards the mix-and-match option.

How I failed the author : again I’m going to mark this down as a secret success, since in the last few weeks I’ve gained a new appreciation for the joys of caring for a helpless but cute little creature.

“I’ve heard various theories for how to do well in IF Comp posited over the years, but Fine Felines cuts the Gordian knot with an outside-the-box strategy that’s obvious in retrospect: jam a game chockablock with kitty pictures and wait for the 10-out-of-10s to roll in.”

That’s extremely funny, and slightly disturbing (I have joked that the entire story is a collection of cat pics loosely linked by a narrative, but I did a bunch of writing work, I swear!). Perhaps we’ll get 22 IF Comp games next year featuring adorable animal pictures…

I wouldn’t mind, honestly.

Although I’m glad they immediately follow up with, “That’s not all this ChoiceScript entry has going for it…”

Notes to self: flesh out the NPCs, and think about adjusting the crucial “Which two cats to buy to start your business” choice so players feel freer to pick two breeds at once.

The “How I failed the author” section is a brilliant innovation that I absolutely intend to steal for future reviews.


Okay wow, this post is getting super long. I’ll do the rest of my review comments in a few days.

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Well, it wasn’t 30 minutes for me. I’ve realized most people seem to take Choicescript games at a much faster pace than I do, and I don’t understand why. Are they speed-reading? Making snap decisions?

Anyway, just to provide a counterpoint to the “this is really a half-hour game” messaging you seem to be getting!

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From my limited experience of watching people play CS games, a heck of a lot of them do this:

  1. New page loads; then
  2. Swipe down to look at the choices; then
  3. Scroll back up and skim the body text; then
  4. Scroll down and make the choice.

As a result, some of the body text gets only partially read (especially if there are lots of cat pictures :cat: ), and thus, the progress of the game story is much quicker.

I think this is a fairly natural way to “play” most CS games because the principle “game” element for the player is in making the choices.

Therefore, by first reading the available choices, it helps the player better skim/analyze the body text to find the critical information needed to make an informed (or better informed) choice at the bottom of the screen.

It’s not too terribly different a strategy than the one used by people taking multiple-choice tests in school. However, I think some folks more used to linear writing (such as books) or parser games go more slowly and read at a consistent speed from top to bottom.

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I was reading fast - with my gigantic browser font I need for my progressive neurological disease - but reading everything, not skimming. I am also quick at making decisions, but that’s just how I am personally. It is normal for me to play choice based games in half the estimated time, because I’m such a fast reader.

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Yeah, I’ll second that: I read quite fast, and mostly make snap decisions rather than agonising over things (I’ll use the time saved to come back and play again instead). Half the estimated time for non-puzzly things isn’t unusual. OTOH you have to watch your book budget very carefully when you rarely take more than a single sitting to read a novel…it gets expensive fast.

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I think I’m up to 30,000. I could have bought a really nice house, had I been more selective with my books.

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I more or less hit the quoted time; I read fast (though not as fast as Viv) but take a long time to make decisions on a first run, especially when it’s plain that the choices matter.

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Huh. I’m glad to hear that my estimate of one hour of play time wasn’t so far off after all (and that I never did get around to changing it).

More reviews!

Er… I just realised that I’ve clicked on everything hidden by a spoiler space, so proceed at your own risk.

Lava Ghost

Spoilery Review

The Choice of Games house style (which Felicity Banks mostly embraces in her ChoiceScript work, even work which isn’t hosted by Choice of Games) is well-known for embracing player-defined PCs. One can have any gender, all love interests are presumptively pansexual so the player can have any romantic experience they want, and most games give you a list of names to choose from of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. This fits with the general CoG approach of emphasizing the player’s freedom to decide what sort of story they’re playing.

This approach breaks down, however, when it comes to disability, because it is impossible - not merely inadvisable, but impossible - to erase the ways a disability will affect a PC’s relationship to the world. Most CoG games are genre excercises and thus assume the player will be involved in a fair amount of physical activity. Providing options for a PC with a disability would require a lot of extra writing, so it usually isn’t done. You can try to emulate a disability by dumping a stat hard, I guess, but that lacks specificity. Choice of Games, by default, assumes that all protagonists are fully able-bodied. This is probably bad!

Fine Felines is very welcome, then, as a Choicescript game that sits down and says, “The PC has fibromyalgia. Whatever else is true about the avatar you’re making for yourself, they have fibromyalgia. Whatever else this story is about, it is also about living with fibromyalgia.” That is, it takes the straightforward approach of simply writing a disabled main character, and allowing that to affect the plot as much as it needs to.

Representation aside, this isn’t only a game about living with fibromyalgia. First it’s a game about KITTIES!

This is a game about starting a cat breeding business, and Banks has illustrated it with photographs of beautiful cats (all cats are beautiful). Banks takes care to note that “This is NOT a guide to becoming a cat breeder”, but the depictions of cat-breeding logistics and challenges feel credible. The cats have distinct personalities, all lovable, and are very convincingly drawn as cats: often moody, neurotic, and demanding, but also capable of intense affection.

The prose itself is okay. I like details such as:

“Bukit Hill used to be a one-Starbucks town but no one went to Starbucks because they knew it’d put the local coffee shop out of business. So now it’s a no-Starbucks town, and people seem to like it.”

which not only establishes the setting effectively but also establishes the tone of ‘people will generally be nice to one another.’

I liked keeping my cats and my kittens, but I have to call out a bug. I had only three kittens, but I was given the opportunity (at least in the text) to sell more than that! This was confusing, and especially destabilising because I had been trained to take my kittens very seriously as individuals. The game’s apparent lack of attention to how many kittens I actually have undermined both its logistical and emotional focii.

Oh well! All the cats were lovely, and the decisions were engaging. I liked it.

I do like the ChoiceScript house style, although I’ve found through lengthy experimentation that I’m inevitably compelled to do something somewhere that makes each of my games unsuitable for the official label eg this game is suuuper merciful, when official “Choice of” games want about an 85% success rate to encourage replayability. Having said that, writing for the “Hosted Games” label (less advertising and editorial support and no advance, but still royalties and tech support) is overwhelmingly my jam, especially the diversity stuff.

I have consistently found that the IF corner of the gaming world is a kind, diverse, and welcoming place. I lurve it.

I have tried to write about disability before—most notably in
The Floating City, a tale set in a post-polar-ice Earth that’s about to get another disaster (but is, again, cheerful and light I SWEAR). It was pointed out mercifully early on in my planning process that making a player choose a disability was fundamentally problematic as it assumes that one disability is equivalent to another. So, again, that game’s player character has a disability whether the reader likes it or not. But the disabilities in that story were ones that I found interesting in the context (eg, living in a city made of transparent spheres on the ocean it’s natural to have some well-known signs to communicate while under water or while not bothering to open a hatch—so the best friend is Deaf but not impaired because everyone speaks sign language) rather than ones based on personal experience. Of course I researched, and used sensitivity readers (who seemed fairly happy on the whole) but it’s very clear that writing about my own experience was much easier and probably much better too.

And of course, although ChoiceScript supports pictures, ChoiceScript purists prefer a strictly text (and thus imagination-) fuelled tale. But the decision to include those pictures was a no-brainer, and obviously worth the time I spent sourcing and sorting photos. Plus the ragdoll breeder let me go and do a photoshoot with 4 week-old kittens, so THAT was a mighty fine side effect.

Truthcraze (permission given to share publicly here)

The food experience: Sugared home squeezed lemonade, the real stuff, with the bitterness from the rinds puckering the mouth. Alongside, a home baked oatmeal cookie, still warm from the oven.

It’s always, always fun to read reviews. I love seeing other people’s take on stories I have played myself, and I like “experiencing” the stories I’m too scared to try (due to horror/parser) via reviews too. But every so often you get a reviewer who’s super unique, and Truthcraze’s food reviews were an absolute delight.

This one was instantly understandable. The bitter and sweet, the home-made warmth? I read it and basically said, “Yes, exactly.” It doesn’t hurt that I regularly make both home-made lemonade and oatmeal cookies.

Fun fact: If you add about half a teaspoon of bicarb soda to your home made lemonade (after it’s finished), the alkaline takes away the bitterness (sugar takes away some bitterness, but is ultimately another acid) while also giving it a hint of fizz. It’s really really delicious.

SCIENCE!!

And my real-world oatmeal cookies also get all three types of choc chips added, plus a teensy bit of cinnamon and maple syrup giving them a dark and spicy allure.

Ann Hugo

I’ll start with Fine Felines.

Being that it’s been a while since I played this one; this won’t be a particularly detailed review. I found it to be a fun sort of simulation game, more than that, but that’s the first way of describing it which comes to mind. It made me nostalgic for games I enjoyed playing when I was younger, which I’m sure included some sort of dog breeding game. The nostalgia fun. That being said, that wasn’t my favourite aspect of the game. I’m admittedly not a big fan of cats and I was kind of uninterested in that part of the game. There was a lot more to it, which is why this game is in my top five for this year’s IFComp games. Mostly, I was drawn in by the autistic potential love interest (I’m autistic, so I pay a lot of attention to autistic characters). The moment she was introduced I was won over. The little bit of romance between her the protagonist was just lovely.

I’d definitely recommend this game. It’s wonderful.

9/10

Oh yeah, autism! There are actually a few autistic characters in this game, which once again came from real life.

Back when I was first researching disability stuff for “The Floating City” I heard the term ‘hyperfocus’ for the first time, and realised instantly that my daughter has ADHD.

My husband and his father both have Inattentive ADHD so I watched my first child closely for symptoms, and observed that she seemed to have amazing concentration skills, focusing on things that interested her for incredibly long periods of time, even as a baby. Of course that was actually hyperfocus, which sounds like the opposite of ADHD but is actually a symptom. Once she was in school, teachers asked if she had hearing problems or invisible seizures because she would zone out in such an extreme way.

Long story short, she has both Inattentive ADHD and autism. And, like many parents of autistic kids, the more I researched autism (particularly the way it presents in girls) the more I saw my own life.

My son and I are not yet diagnosed, but it seems more than likely that we are both autistic. My daughter received her autism diagnosis at the beginning of this year—by which time I’d been researching autism for years, including connecting to autistic people both online and in real life.

Like the character in the story, I sometimes offend people without meaning to and I attempt to head off social landmines by telling people I’m autistic up front.

I used pics of my kids (with their permission) and amused myself by including “Poopy Butt-Butt Language”, which my son and I speak to each other every day (we also meow at each other several times a day, which I adore).

Aaand two more reviews, from IFDB:

/var/folders/n9/j7x_fc010s52834mr21m5st40000gn/T/com.microsoft.Word/WebArchiveCopyPasteTempFiles/blank.gif “One cat just leads to another.” – Ernest Hemingway , November 9, 2021

by Tito Valenz

Reading the tagline about becoming a cat breeder, I’m not sure I could have been any less interested in a premise. Turns out, I was thoroughly engrossed by this story. The author eases you in to the situation with just the right amount of detail to get you to care. Even if I wasn’t entirely won over by the cats, I had fun trying to get things to turn out as well as possible for the main character. You have some challenges to overcome, but things remained fairly upbeat and hopeful. I was a little disappointed, however, with my second playthrough, being that I tried to choose as differently as possible from my first try. It didn’t seem to make much difference, even when I intentionally selected what seemed to be the poorer choices. I was worried that I wouldn’t have a reason to keep replaying, until I looked at the “cheat sheet.” There is actually a lot of variety in what can happen. I would totally recommend giving “Fine Felines” a chance. I’ll bet you end up playing again and again!

Another review by a non-catlover that manages to still like the story (phew). The problem with having no bad endings is that most of the endings DO end up rather similar. I’m going to have to think about that some more. It’s all too easy for me to forget that the “Choose to keep a kitten” option, although enormous in terms of time spent and code written, takes about two minutes. The rest of the endings needs to also, you know, exist.

/var/folders/n9/j7x_fc010s52834mr21m5st40000gn/T/com.microsoft.Word/WebArchiveCopyPasteTempFiles/blank.gif A deeply human story, despite cats outnumbering humans , October 29, 2021

by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

In this game you play someone who just lost their mom after a long illness. After years of selflessly taking care of someone else, you are able to decide what you want to do for yourself again… and you decide what you want to do is breed cats. From there the game takes on a façade of being a cat breeding simulator (think Kitten Tycoon[TM]), but it is really much deeper than that.

At its core this story is about what makes us human, even as the focus is taking care of animals. This is a story about grief, love, friendship, pain and joy. About caring for others, caring for yourself and letting others care for you. You are faced with periodic business decisions - how much of your small inheritance to spend on various feline infrastructure - and ultimately you learn how profitable (or not) you become in the end. But it is the parts in between that give this game its heart and soul, and primarily the parts where you are interacting with the other humans in the story, making connections and caring for one another.

The PC in the game also struggles with a chronic disease, and I felt like this game really brought home how much something like that can affect your life and force you to make trade-offs that other people don’t have to make. This puts a sharp point on seeing beauty and the pain mixed together in a way that I think really illustrates what life is about if we are doing it right.

This author also writes non-interactive fiction and given the quality of the writing in this game I think those books would be worth checking out.

Finally, I can’t end the review without mentioning that this game is filled with cute pictures of cats that work as wonderful illustrations to help you connect with your non-human NPCs. And this is coming from someone who tends to be much more affectionate to canines than felines.

Well worth your time.

“This puts a sharp point on seeing beauty and the pain mixed together in a way that I think really illustrates what life is about if we are doing it right.”

I genuinely didn’t think all that much about what a bizarre combination cute cats make with chronic illness, and it seems to have worked really well with every reviewer.

“This author also writes non-interactive fiction and given the quality of the writing in this game I think those books would be worth checking out.”

I heartily agree.

Here’s my online store, if you want stuff signed and posted directly to you (heck, I can wrap if for you if you ask), but if you’re in the US or UK it’s cheaper to get the novels from the publisher
because they have printers nearer to you.

Wow! You made it (or skipped it) to the end.

Here’s one last cat picture—a newborn ragdoll kitten, that hasn’t been added to the story yet but will be in the post-comp version:

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I’m curious. It’s my understanding that fiction works pay 60% royalty and the publisher will do some kind of promotion for your book. ChoiceOfGames only pays 25% and IF is certainly much more taxing to write than straight fiction. Do I get that right?

Do you find it worthwhile to publish with ChoiceOfGames, instead of just going off on your own. Maybe with Kickstarter or IndieGogo where you can not only keep 100% revenue, but also choose the platform?

I meant no insult, but I am searching for avenues of extra income, especially at these trying times.

Yes! I get more cash from my IF than my books (and, FYI, my publisher is one of the good ones. There are lots of scams out there, and even more people who start publishing companies out of love and cause a lot of mess and pain due to not having the brains and/or funds and/or luck required to survive).

Which makes sense, because writing is fun and therefore lots of people want to do it. The teensy amount of code savvy required for IF is enough to put off 99% of writers, which means instead of competing with 10,000* other novelists, you’re competing with 100. And with “Hosted Games”, following a few basic guidelines and using ChoiceScript (which is an EXCELLENT engine) means you’re guaranteed to be published. And ChoiceScript has enough loyal followers that quite a few buy every single game.

So that’s at least a little bit of money (say, $200) even if your game sucks (but people will remember your suckitude, and that lemon will be out there forever). As opposed to paying hundreds of dollars to stand behind a folding table and beg passers-by to risk $20 on your book, most of which doesn’t even go into your pockets.

*not a random number. That’s the number of unsolicited manuscripts a large publisher receives in a year. They accept less than 1 per year on average.

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Wow. That’s very enlightening and discouraging at the same time. Looks like I’d better stick with ebooks. I may only get a dollar profit a piece, but my costs would be near zero.

Thank you very much for your answer!

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I tuned into the twitch but didn’t think to log in and then when I tried to respond to my win it took too long. Then when I tried again to join the general chat at the end, the auto password (that I swear I saved) was wrong and I just… failed.

Which I share to say that (a) Thank you for all the kind comments from everyone!
and
(b) This is a handy illustration for anyone who thinks ChoiceScript is too hard to learn. If I can learn it, anyone can (okay, yes, I cried with frustration a couple of times—but for me that’s a low number).


I was hoping to crack the top 10 again, but 15th is still a mighty fine result.

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Ooh, anonymous feedback time!

I received several very nice comments (boooooorrrrrinnng! lol) and one super juicy one which I shall share here!

With bonus interspersed comments! Huzzah!

(Hmm, it seems my slightly-disappointed mood has swung back around. As it should! I got cocky with all the sweet reviews but still made my goal of hitting the top 20. And let’s bury the comment I made that, “If I make the top 12, that means I’ve improved as a writer in the last 6 years.” and never speak of the implications.)

Onwards!

Cat breeding issuefic. More of a story than a game.

You got me! My dark past as a novelist rears its ugly head. Aand… I’m mostly okay with that. Clearly I need more interactivity.

Not really about cat breeding at all, just pictures of cats with an unrelated story about disability.

If I’d had the energy to write a proper critique of the game I would definitely have said that about it. In fact many reviews commented on the unusual combo of disability stuff + pretty kitties so… yeah. I was surprised this comment wasn’t made elsewhere.

None of the game parts feel cohesive.

Yeah, that. That was the comment I was waiting for.

Also, ouch. This would have floored me if so many others hadn’t said that they thought the combination worked. Timing is everything. (And the most painful criticisms are the ones that are true.)

And with real world morality: cat breeding isn’t a neutral space, all three cat breeds mentioned are prone to genetic diseases such as Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The story doesn’t feel justified in saying why any of these people want THESE cats in particular either, and mostly seems to justify it by showing how cute these purebreds are despite their propensity towards horrible diseases that keep up the breed. Not to mention the number of cats in shelters that could have been used for whatever cat centers if it was actually about the cats’ or humans’ well-beings. Ignoring all of that to say how great it is as a job is feels irresponsible at best.

I definitely agree there are issues with purebreds. I discovered that Scottish Fold cats (super cute as their ears are permanently folded down) are definitely what I would consider an immoral breed—the ear fold is caused by a painful medical condition. The breed is currently falling out of favour, with their breeding getting declared illegal in more and more places. Which is good.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy seems to be pretty common in a lot of cats of any breed. I don’t know the stats on whether the breeds I chose are truly significantly less healthy than non-purebred cats.

In my home state, you need a licence to breed cats of any kind. As a result, we are NOT overflowing with unwanted kittens, which is excellent. It is still possible to get a non-purebred kitten, but you have to work at it a little bit.

One of my real-life cats was abandoned at a camp site. Another was sold to my by a backyard breeder in another state, and was definitely not responsibly looked after as a young kitten. The laws around cat breeding make purebreds have a decent life, which my two cats didn’t have as babies. So I’m okay with breeding purebreds, on the whole.

As a human, I think paying thousands of dollars for a cat is bonkers, but I do think cats should cost at least $500 and should go through desexing and assorted vet checks before being sold.

Was it immoral of me to buy off a backyard breeder at 6 weeks? Yes and no. I encouraged someone who shouldn’t be encouraged… but I also desexed a cat that might otherwise never have been desexed.

This all wouldn’t matter as much had this game not been so moralistic, with references to how these Taliban survivors lives were made just a little better by buying expensive purebred cats (what?) or how they were mentioned to be used in a support center for autistic children, as if there was any need for such places to spend thousands of dollars on a cat that looks extra cute.

Yep, the game definitely has a moralistic tone, and yes, any cat can be a comfort to refugees or to kids with special needs. So it is indeed a bit weird to pay so much for a cat. Although with purebreds comes a LOT of genetic knowledge, personality knowledge (many breeders stay in touch with new owners), and—above all—regulation.

As a whole, feels like someone’s idealistic cat breeding fantasy…

Uh, yes. Definitely.

that, yes, while it works out for the breeder, is a painted-on morality at best. That’s how I feel about the lackluster LGBTQ elements as well, as something that waves in the general direction of making a statement about something in an absurd way of saying “isn’t my cat breeding fantasy progressive?”

Every so often people take offence that my stories have bisexual people in them. This makes me feel both heroic (“I am a champion for gay rights!”) and intellectually superior (Bisexual characters aren’t there for virtue signalling*—they’re easier to code than straight people. Plus I’m bisexual, so… yeah.)

Sometimes a negative review is just more FUN than a positive one, don’t you reckon?

*Is it virtue signalling if I’m including gay stuff specifically for two groups? The gays themselves—hello! I love you and want you in my fiction!—and reviewers like this, who seem to be offended that LGBTIQA+ people exist (and that I hope will grow used to the concept over time).

In any case, someone who objects to the existence of LGBTIQA+ characters instantly loses my respect, so shrug.

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