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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
+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
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 Something to keep in mind for the post-comp version.
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.