Hanon Checks out the 15 minute Choice Narratives

I have not had opportunity to dive headlong into the IFComp entries. I’ve been playing the “Manage Healthcare for Two Elderly Parents” game for most of this year, which is why I didn’t enter myself.

I took some time to check out the short choice games, and I don’t feel as though I’m really good at reviewing. As an author primarily, I’m more of a brain-stormer who wants to suggest “here’s what you should have done…” instead of reviewing what’s there. None of these games hooked me expertly, so here are some of my thoughts and impressions in general.

  • Note: Be aware I am notoriously difficult to hook into an IF. I have a poor attention-span and am easily confused if not expertly led by the hand somehow: by a solid concept, compelling writing, a great vibe - and am put off by immediate walls of text that want to explain the backstory before letting me do something… “Show, don’t tell” is tricky in IF. If I bounce off a game it often isn’t the fault of the author specifically.

The short games tend to be mood-pieces or an extended joke or comedy routine. I’m seldom expecting much agency in a small piece. If it does offer significant-looking branches I don’t trust them - unless it’s built around one choice like a trolley-problem game - it’s got to end and that choice can’t have much effect unless we’re in a very short time-cave.

One game bounced me out immediately due to typos, grammar, and spelling errors in the first paragraph which continued with the first few choices. For this I will just re-iterate authors should really proofread and have someone else proofread and test their IF. Especially if it’s the case where the author is writing in a different language from their own. In a Comp against games where people have fine-tooth-combed their prose to a polished sheen, that really can’t hold up.

Your Gender is a Fish is a gentle musing on gender, structured like a fortune-telling or character-class choosing episode. Based on your choices, the game assigns you a gender. And apparently I’m not a fish, but an egg! Quick and replay-able, this isn’t too bad at all.

Smart Theory is a game in Ink, which is excellent for complicated conversations. This game is a decently-written comedy monologue where occasional choices pace the delivery. The reader often gets to respond to a speaker during a lecture, which apparently doesn’t bother the rest of the audience. The prose is competent and has some things to say about knowledge and social media, but there is very little agency for the player other than seemingly heckling the speaker and making one decision at the end.

This Won’t Make You Happy feels like a piece by Crows, Crows, Crows. There are snarky choices like eating rocks and then getting ridiculed for making such a choice. Arguing with the narrator ensues and - I’m in a cave with subtle piano music and I guess I’m done? This feels like thing I would write to prototype a new system. Lots of transition effects and slow fades and delayed text makes this feel the author is just playing around with options and media in Harlowe.

The Miller’s Garden has ambient sounds and mosaic/pixellated photos of lovely scenery. I’m to shore up the river and…nothing much else happens? Unless I gave up too early, but repeated choosing didn’t seem to affect anything.

Enveloping Darkness I believe is done in Squiffy and it’s one of those games that feels like choices were forced into a pre-existing narrative. Lots of “You can do [this] or [this]” decisions lead to sections where I’m railroaded “you should probably go to the [dock].” At one point I have a choice to save a baby or attack a golem about to step on it. Saving the baby is a death end, attacking the golem results in the baby’s death anyway so…not very meaningful choices.

Writing a short game can’t take advantage of developing a long-term narrative and choices, so rarely am I going to feel like an epic quest or solving a mystery is a full experience. For this format, taking advantage of the brevity and building one good scene or “punch line” works best. That doesn’t mean backstory and world building can’t be implicit and done well, but picking the parameters of the narrative in a short format is key.


If you loop through a few times then the game asks if you want to carry on. If not, you restart and if so, you continue. Not sure if something else unlocks after a few more cycles but I didn’t have the patience to pursue it. It’s fine, though - as far as it goes.


Even if you keep on going, you still wind up in the same place in the end.