JJMcC's SpringThing24 A-S-2-T

Time marches on, doesn’t it? That’s kinda its thing I guess. On the eve of another Spring Thing, and another reason to set aside my WIP and blast reviews at you guys. As last year, will not be scoring games, just hanging labels on them.

Mystery, Inc: Which Scooby-Doo character is closest match to this game? Fred (elaborate technical chops, especially traps), Daphne (non-CWM/grrrl power), Velma (brainy), Shaggy (horror), Scooby(comedic), Scrappy (offends me in some irrational but enraging way). I trust there won’t be any Scrappy’s.
Vibe: Playful, Dramatic, Hilarious, Dour, Pulpy, etc, will invent ratings as needed
Polish: Gleaming, Smooth, Textured, Rough, Distressed
Gimme the Wheel! : If it were my project, the next thing I’d do, if anything.

While I really liked how Spice Girls worked out last year I feel I need to do SOMETHING different not to dig into a rut. I get that Shaggy/Scooby could go either way, but my criteria, this is how I’m doing it. Come at me, Space Kook!

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EDIT: Moved to SpringThing topic. Man, I am just perpetual noob, ain’t I?

18 Likes

Oh yay! :smiley:
Your reviews were so fun last year! Can’t wait to read them all this year too :smiley:

5 Likes

Wow, I haven’t finished my Revival Jam reviews and someone is already giving us the beta of the Spring Thing reviews already? Looking forward to reading them once we actually get the games out! Thanks again!

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Thanks But I Don’t Remember Asking by Mea Murukutla
Played:
4/1/24
Playtime: 15 min, 3 endings

Randomizer, as ever, is coy. It kicks off SpringThing by pointing me at a work whose sly title rebuts and deflates anything I’m trying to do here! Given some alternatives presented in the narrative, maybe I should be grateful that is as far as it can go…

This is a very short, stock-format Twine entry, with very few choices telling a mostly linear story. I exhausted the choice space in three cycles (though not the permutations of those choices, if that makes a difference). The choices provided more information, background and color and notwithstanding some different events were variations on a single theme. I feel like exhausting the space was the most satisfying way to consume this piece.

So, it was shallow and repetitive and on rails then? No, not at all. I am deliberately being vague as the few moving pieces the work offers mesh so precisely with each other that pinning any piece of it down might rob the reader of the ability to watch the gears flow together naturally. You know me though, I gotta try.

Hm, lemme try this. The work presents a dream-like and offscreen post-apocalypse setup with uncertainly reliable protagonist and antagonists. The blurriness of its details paradoxically are executed with extreme narrative precision, including ultimately-satisfying but jarring-in-the-moment descriptive choices. The reality of the situation dances in your peripheral vision but refuses attempts to focus on it. Seemingly key details are omitted entirely, only to later be resolved as maybe not so key after all. Almost by magic all these slippery and fractured story elements resolve into a complete whole by the end. It’s an admirable narrative sleight-of-hand, including its limited use of interactivity to underline key elements. It’s like if Chris Nolan adapted Little Nemo but not quite so fanciful.

It probably helps that themes of autonomy and control feel desperately vital just now, and the conceits of this particular dream logic build-a-story-by-innuendo approach enabled some legitimate insights, however oblique. Actually, the obliquity(?) helped sell things I think, in a way polemic or monologue would not.

If there is a downside, it is that between the deceptively limited individual components, and the ephemerality of the combined narrative construct I can’t talk about it without just trashing it for you all! You want me to pull apart a butterfly while assuring you it is beautiful despite its screams? Of course you don’t, and that was waaay too dark a metaphor. I would say enjoy it, submerse yourself in the dreamy vibe of it, let the connections come organically. You are in capable hands.

Not dissecting it does carry its own perils though, as even now I can feel its gossamer architecture slipping between my fingers. Down the road, will there be anything left to discuss…?

What were we talking about again?

Mystery, Inc: Daphne
Vibe: Dream Horror
Polish: Smooth
Gimme the Wheel!: I wouldn’t dare touch the thematic clockwork, but if it were my project I might spend some time reskinning the presentation. Non-stock font/color and layout choices could easily enhance the proceedings and further stitch the work together.

8 Likes

The Truth About PRIDE! by Jemon Golfin
Played:
4/1/24
Playtime: 20min, all endings

Tired of typing words? Flummoxed by modern graphics engines and their obsession with triangle counts? Ready for some relentlessly optimistic affirmations and low-key puzzle/exploration play? TAP! has you covered, fam!

Its roots would be discernable even without its billing as an enhanced class project, and I don’t mean that negatively. Any class that focuses on Atari-Adventure era game design has my support. If you’re gonna pillage and pervert our educational institutions with reactionary politics and the tyranny of STEM, this approach at least tilts at all the right windmills!

It does show its cards a bit with typos (maybe the most impactful, sometimes getting the wrong letter of “And now you know what [letter] means!”), off grammar and inelegant path choices in places, but nothing too distracting. There is a mild 3-pass puzzle of hidden entrances and code-repeating that lead to an ultimate final truth, and hidden path ala Adventure’s famous easter egg. Nothing here is earthshaking, but conversely neither is it sour or offensive. Just unnuanced positivity which, what kind of monster is down on that? Ok, often me, true. Not this time though.

As a training/first game it is appealing and friendly, if slight. Look forward to seeing where the author goes from here.

Mystery, Inc: Velma
Vibe: Atari Adventure, with compassion
Polish: Textured
Gimme the Wheel! : If it were my project, I would feel the pride (Ah-ahh! didn’t even do that on purpose!) of accomplishment, then channel that momentum into the next project. TAP! is great where it is for what it is!

7 Likes

Prosper.0 by groggydog
Played:
4/1/24
Playtime: 1hr, 2 endings, but trashed my success poem!

If you were going to pitch the anti-JJMcC work, like the work engineered from ground up to push me away and keep pushing until I fell into an ocean, well, let’s just eavesdrop on the pitch in progress:

“… see the hero is sentient AI, right? And what it wants is to save humanity from its sterile profit-driven doom. But get this, what will save them is ART!!! Keep up, son, we’re still accelerating. So the game protagonist is not the hero though, they will be a corp-drone sheeple redeemed by art… what? Seriously? A drone’s initiative impact narrative, are you hearing yourself? Be realistic. Forget the sheeple, they’re just the player’s shell. The point is the art, only not just any art, are you ready for this? Are you ready? What brings down dyscapitalopia is… PEOTRY!!”

Imma stop you there made-of-straw pitchman. So many anti-JJMcC boxes in such short time. AI valorization; hopelessly naive Art-stronger-than-profit; marginal player agency; Poetry. Longtime readers will recall a certain antipathy for what I have called Poetic Verse. Y’know what is teeming, just chock-a-block with Poetic Verse? POETRY. For me, at it’s best, Poetry is glib, amusing wordplay. Far more often it is overwrought linguistic excess that I have no patience for.

Well, Prosper.0 is evidence why clearing these pitches past me is a BAD idea. Is it guilty of all the things it pitched? Yeah, it kinda is. But it adds two things so crucial to the proceedings as to completely transform the entire experience: a clean, simple, but immersive graphical presentation and a POETRY minigame. The latter being the heavy hitter here.

Setup first: the player is a worker drone in a dystopian Corporate far future, purging art from computers and summarizing entire civilizations in a handful of reductive categories. Uh, kinda like what you see at the bottom of this review. The graphical presentation endeavors to put you at that far-future terminal, madly sorting those bits in soul-crunching mouse clicks. It is a clean, evocative design (not the least of which the teletype and reverse teletype word presentations) Until the hero AI pops in and… brings the poetry.

Nevermind the flimsy narrative justification, nevermind the logistical problems of the setup, nevermind the straight-faced and totally committed assertion of Poetry’s potency in the face of uncaring capitalist incentives, you gonna write some poetry. And that is where things take off.

The poetry minigame is somehow completely winning, a completely engaging exercise of madly clicking words as they vanish before your eyes, then trying to make coherent poetry out of the resulting word salad. IT IS ENTHRALLING. My first attempt was a too-cool-for-school parody that couldn’t even maintain its ironic remove to the last line. Against my own nature and sensibilities I found myself TRYING to get usable words, then honor the subjects as best I could, THEN ACTIVELY BEMOAN MY LIMITED SKILLS IN AN ENDEAVOR I HAVE LITTLE REGARD FOR. Ultimately, the plot contrivances were immaterial. The game wanted me to believe in the power of poetry and wisely decided the only way I would is to MAKE ME DO IT. With just the perfect amount of evolving artifical/randomized constraints to keep things fresh. It also has a bit to say about the limits of expression and the inherent loss of depth in any documentation that add the right sour/salt to keep things from getting too cloying.

You cycle through a series of slightly varied exercises, then come to some final narrative choices that impact you but not the plot. Then you get to see your poetry one last time! The alchemy that generated that engagement kind of moots any objections the setup might provoke - I kinda didn’t care how contrived the setup was, it was barely but just enough to push past all my reservations and rejections. It did what it needed to do to showcase its centerpiece statement: Poetry is kind of an act, not a product.

I swear to God, if I end up giving the ribbon to a POETRY work, who even am I anymore?

Mystery, Inc: Velma
Vibe: Geeky but winning High School English teacher
Polish: Smooth
Gimme the Wheel! : My only quibble with the game was my inability to recover poetry lost to an ‘explore alternate ending’ option. Would try to keep those available, even with an alternate path exploration.

9 Likes

A Simple Happening by Leon Lin
Played:
4/1/24
Playtime: 30 min, two playthroughs

I don’t get the sense that Frank Miller particularly cares what you think about his legacy, which is his prerogative as an artist. 80s/90s US comics fascination with Western-idealized Japanese culture can sure use some re-evaluation though, and his name will loom large over it all. I raise this spectre because despite a being a reasonably well-read, well-traveled adult, nevertheless that is the main touchstone I have to bring to bear to this piece. (Well, along with dim memories of the miniseries SHOGUN, no the earlier one, that my parents looooved.)

This is relevant to my review because leaving aside any specific cultural details, the overwhelming VIBE of Miller’s works’ was amped-up, self-serious melodrama, preoccupied with a vaguely defined but super urgent all-caps HONOR. It is kind of hard to tell where Chris Claremont stops and he begins. What was expressly missing was any sense of humor. Given the works he now says should be read as comedies, this is probably a good thing.

A Simple Happening drives unknowingly into that cultural baggage with a parser game of samurai committing seppuku (ritual suicide). There is every likelihood Miller’s corpus is an unfair backdrop to this work, that the resonances are unintended and purely my own invention. I accept this. Certainly, the work attempts to cue its mischievous heart early, in describing the offense that brought the player to the solemn ritual.

Even without Miller though, between the relatively spare descriptions of place and setup, and the charged ritual hanging over everything, its tone cannot help but be somber and suffocating. The early game observance of ritual, again described in tight, almost journalistic sparity reinforce the solemnity of the proceedings. In particular, the cheeky ‘death poem generator’ is a subversive bit of humor, except that the straight-laced randomized phrases themselves don’t play along with the joke. A bit of compounding wry humor there could have done worlds to try and blend the tones. When the game shifts to an escape, and one filled with clear slapstick moments, the effect is jarring. Not unpleasant, mind, but decidedly challenging.

The game presents as a dire melodrama, but anytime the player goofs, the game goofs right back, then quickly re-establishes its somber mood. In many cases it REQUIRES the player to goof to make progress. It makes for a very dissonant tone to the work - clearly intended comedy threaded through Miller-esque all-caps HONOR. And some not-for-laughs murder. All reinforced by the abrupt end to the journey.

As a comedy it is often funny. It just doesn’t try to reconcile its two tones into anything larger: not ironic contrast or pathos or even subversion. I played it twice to see if it was me. (Which is a wild claim. I mean, it was clearly ALWAYS ME.) The second time, I deliberately goofed early and often and was surprised that many of the gags themselves were terse and truncated, like the jokes themselves thought they were intruding. Even when I leaned hard into the comedy, I felt like the game was holding itself back. In the end I didn’t have a bad time - just one that couldn’t reconcile its two tones in a satisfying way.

Fair’s fair though, SO much funnier than Dark Knight Strikes Again.

Mystery, Inc: A somewhat muted Scooby
Vibe: Conflicted
Polish: Textured
Gimme the Wheel! : For sure, if it were my project, I think I would thread the playfulness more clearly into the early going, both with the poem generator and certainly the attack to escape. Some slapstick in the latter would go a long way to a more coherent mood. Maybe also some words from the wife to segue tones into pathos.

6 Likes

I really appreciate the time you took to play my game and write your detailed review. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

1 Like

This review genuinely made me so happy to read. Thank you so much for taking the time to look at it.

3 Likes

Dragon of Steelthorne by Vance Chance
Played:
4/2/24
Playtime: 1.75 hrs, 7/27 achievements, 230pts

Barely a year and a half into my re-engagement with the IF world, and ChoiceScript feels like a gap in my curricula. I have played maybe three of these games in this time, against innumerable Twines and double digit Inks and Textures, nevemind Adventuron, or experimental platforms including Google Forms fer cryin out loud. And so, so many parsers of course.

ChoiceScript stands out as a unique platform in that pantheon, one committed to provisioning assorted gameplay styles (RPG! SIMfortress!) in addition to choice-driven IF. It gives unique flavor to works that engage those mechanisms which, of the three I played, most do! (It is always a gamble when I engage topics I don’t really understand in reviews. I’m kind of 0-2 on that so far, let’s see how this pans out.)

This is a fantasy story about service to a mercurial lord, and trying to retain personal honor and initiative while doing so. It has some GOT vibes to it, not as over-the-top dire, but certainly the same ‘what are your options, REALLY if the lord is a dick?’ twists and turns. The setting is nicely conceived and conveyed, the story very engaging. It is also a low-grade military simulator. And a low-grade SimCity simulator. And a low grade dating simulator? Maybe not quite, but close. Of course gameplay is choice-driven, its in the name. But you are balancing civilizing a city, conducting foreign diplomacy, establishing personal relationships with periodic setpiece plot movement.

Per recommendation, I played on Easy mode, which I interpret to favor story over grindy mechanics, very much my preference. That said, the grindy aspects were not unpleasant. Micropayment apps have long known the value of watching city and combat numbers go up, and the game lets you do that! Without the payments! I had the vague sense that those numbers informed my relationship to my liege though it was hard to see those as big movements. Certainly, some military encounters seemed to impact subsequent diplomacy in a satisfying way. The personal relationships… maybe wheel spinning (until the end) but at least some color. In one sense they felt like disconnected minigames I would cycle between, but in another it kind of conveyed my evolving role in the kingdom, and different hats that needed wearing. Not a finely blended gazpacho, but an interestingly chunky pico de gallo. Though crap, why did I say that? I love gazpacho.

In any case, the gameplay cycled around me building to a very engaging crescendo. I did not expect to feel so deflated by it. It resolved for me to two options. In deference to spoilers let’s call them ‘buy’ or ‘sell’. The deflating part was that based on some text, lore and buildup, I was expecting to see a more compelling third option: ‘destroy capitalism’. I didn’t get that, so I ‘sold’ and got an ok ending, but it left me wanting. Dramatically, I needed to at least see that third option. One possibility is that the game designer did not include it. That is the least interesting take for me as a reviewer.

A more intriguing possibility is that it was included, but my numbers were not high enough to expose it. A cursory look at the Achievements suggests this is not actually the case, but the thought will not leave me. Suppose it was a hidden achievement, then what? Then, this is a game structured for repeat play to complete (some mutually exclusive) achievements, maybe try Hard mode, and by GOD expose that last finale. But to do that, I’d need to cycle through another near two hours of limited minigames, trying to jockey for different results, and reliving variations on a cool plot that may not hold many more suprises. And what if I did all that, and then there was still no third option??? Or worse, since there were no hints what might be needed for it, THERE IS A THIRD OPTION, BUT I STILL DIDN’T ACHIEVE IT??

Could the game justify those levels of repeated investment and disappointment, nevermind further cycles? For me, no. I had a pretty enjoyable 2 hrs, all told, with a pretty solid story and diverting minigames. It’s not the game’s fault I set my heart on a little more. (Well, it kind of is, but it certainly doesn’t OWE me anything.) I appreciate what it had to offer, but it decided to pull up short and/or not better communicate its third path.

It made its…
(•_•)
( •_•)>⌐■-■
Choice.
(⌐■_■)
YYEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHH

Mystery, Inc: “We should split up to cover more ground” Fred
Vibe: GOT-lite
Polish: Gleaming
Gimme the Wheel! : If my project, I would better telegraph the third finale requirements to give players a fighting replay chance. If it doesn’t exist, I would take whatever time I needed to invent and plumb it in!

8 Likes

Did you get any of the “high relationship” achievements? I didn’t, but I got the sense that strong relationships with some of your coterie might unlock third or additional options in the finale (like there’s a passage right before the end that suggests maybe you could run off to Jhou, I think, so maybe if you’re best buds with Chang you can swing that?). But otherwise yeah, I had the same response to the endgame.

3 Likes

I did not, I spread the love around. My read suggested to me that if I had maybe they would have accompanied me into exile? But not necessarily unlocked a hidden path.

3 Likes

@jjmcc Thanks for the review. Glad you enjoyed it!

To answer the question, there are additional options in the finale, but those were coded into the Hosted Games release instead. I was working on two versions of the game, so regarding the Spring Thing release, the two options you got are all you can unlock. The other options have some prerequisites which were not coded into the Spring Thing release.

The original plan back in December was to release the same version on both the Spring Thing and Hosted Games, but after some discussions, I split the game into two versions. It was a difficult decision, and I did have my reservations about it.

This was part of some of my earlier drafts, where there was a cut class in which the player could speak Sianese, and could choose to flee to the Jhou if relations with them and Chang were sufficiently high. Nevertheless, this did not make it to the later drafts.

Thanks again!

3 Likes

Potato Peace by ronynn
Played:
4/2/24
Playtime: 20min, two endings, 4 cycles

I can’t remember the last time I laughed, out loud, where I could be heard by others, on the opening screen of an IF. Yes, I’ve done it midgame at particularly good gags. Heck I’ve repeated the word ‘INVESTIGRAB’ aloud an unjustifiable amount of times during one game. But at the jump? Unprecedented. The artwork in this game is exceptionally expressive and delightful. If I thought I could get it past my wife, I would search out a framed copy for our house.

Talk about right-footing, I immediately wanted nothing but good things for this game. Charged with bringing peace to humans and their sentient potato neighbors? No further details needed, I’m on board! It gives me no joy to report I did not repeat that initial high during subsequent gameplay.

It is a limited choice game, often with screens of no choice, or ultimately inconsequential ones until the final scene. This is fine, some of the choices bring chuckles which is legit. Often though, the focus seemed to drift. There are tons of potato puns and witticisms, though nearly all of them revolve around cooking potatoes. That’s weird, right? It’s like if all our aphorisms revolved around cannibalism. At one point you are invited to eat potato chips. World of sentient potatoes. Feels unsettling seeing it written, doesn’t it? I’m not saying that can’t be used to good effect. Heck, maybe the potatoes in this world just LIIIVE to provide culinary joy, like maybe its their whole thing! What’s weird is not NOTING that its kinda weird, narratively. I don’t want to pile on this too hard, it’s not like I’m looking for sociologically sound world building with sentient potatoes. Its more like opportunity lost to milk some more fun from the bonkers premise.

Missed opportunity rings out throughout. There is a mystery to solve, except the prologue reveals its solution completely. Nevertheless, you still flashback to the entire (failed) investigation as midgame, only to arrive exactly where you left off during prologue. Missed opportunity to flesh out the humor or better set up the endgame.

I will say, the closure was stronger, in that it presented actual meaningful choices including a nice observation of hum…er potato nature. It also seemed to lose the farce of its setup and might as well have been commentary on US electoral politics. Well, except that that delightful artwork continues to tickle the funny bone throughout.

Those narrative/prose quibbles are real, but kind of incidental. Honestly, the potato-based UI and artwork alone would have buoyed me past all that if not for larger issues. It needed a little more …baking… to be done. (Eh? like a potato?) I hit lots of issues that kind of compounded on each other. Despite my giving it a fullscreen window to play in, the UI pushed control buttons off the bottom of the screen, often. Sometimes even selectable text choices. The mouse was somehow super finicky, many times it registered a double click, skipping me past dialogue screens. No other window on my desktop suffers this, it had to be the game. Lack of Undo/Back means I had to full restart to recover those. The protagonist, according to illustration, is clearly a woman, yet one character refers to her as a guy. Maybe my presumption, I suppose, but never clarified. I cycled four times, got an unnumbered ending twice, and the same ending another two times, once numbered 2, the other time #3. This is ignoring some jarring emotional escalations during dialogue. Combined, it lent an ‘unfinished’ air to the work.

Even at that, my overwhelming impression is still a lingering goodwill and appreciation. Look, it could be sharper, it could be more polished, sure. But I’ll always have the gift of that opening screen.

Mystery, Inc: Scooby all day long
Vibe: Political Farce. So, y’know, Political.
Polish: Rough
Gimme the Wheel! : For sure the technical issues would be first priority, were it my project. Clean up text, UI, window management. Get that out of the player’s way and jump on the back of that tremendous artwork.

5 Likes

Rescue at Quickenheath by Mo Farr
Played:
4/2/24
Playtime: 45min

We’ve been using ‘Interactive Fiction’ as synonym for ‘text-based game’ for so long, it’s like repeating a word rapidly until it loses all meaning. Hey, there’s a term for that! Semantic Satiation - a term that probably requires less reps than most for its meaning to dissolve. Anywho, we’ve been doing it to IF for so long we lose track of full meaning of ‘Interactive’ ‘Fiction.’ Thanks Quickenheath for the reminder!

It has been a while since I’ve seen a work this gamey land this far on the ‘fiction’ side of the spectrum, longer for one this accomplished at its mission. Yes, there are IF trope aspects of searching locations, collecting inventory, solving password and poetry clue-based puzzles, but they all spring from narrative so organically that they don’t feel like puzzles. More like the natural flow of events we’re just swimming along with. I don’t mean to imply it is on rails, its mostly not. I mean the world building, character motivations, important artifacts and events are all painted so crisply and clearly that the story itself makes it clear where we need to be with barely any artificial nudging or narrative-killing false paths.

It is a rogue’s love story of adventure, rescue and hidden legacy. Crucially, the non-daring-do aspects are given more weight, making for a reasonably fresh take on the genre. And by “fresh take” I mean “showing my whole @$$ with ignorance of romantic literature”. The story itself sells its earnest emotionality with matter-of-fact prose that conveys the sweet emotions without becoming cloying. The world building is precise: just enough to intrigue and bring wonder, and crucially fuel the plot, not too much to overwhelm or generate unanswerable questions. If I had a plot quibble, it is the love interest’s revealed identity. Isn’t it wild enough that they are a fairy? Did they need to be a fairy PRINCE(SS)? But y’know what? Those kinds of things are pretty de rigeur for this kind of narrative. The ultimate climax was still a natural, satisfying product of the entire plot, made more vivid through interactivity.

A lot of that credit goes to the narrative, but the presentation and technical choices are doing a lot of work here too. The different font work, use of color and layout, are all just to the perfect side of the ‘evocative-intrusive’ line. Most especially effective are the aside-links, that provide flashback details when clicked, and even more the links that cycle words and phrases on the page. Those latter so crisply evoke a character struggling with a concept or idea by testing phrasings and leverage IF’s strengths to do so more effectively than static media. Really, the whole package does that - combines interactive flourishes and techniques to perfectly enhance a narrative that deftly enables their employment.

Viva Valentine and Aubrey! Viva la narrative! Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva Viva viva viva viva

See? Semantic Satiation. It’s a thing.

Mystery, Inc: Daphne
Vibe: Fairy (ah? ah?) Tale
Polish: Gleaming
Gimme the Wheel! : If it were my project, honestly not sure I would feel compelled to do anything here. It’s perfectly coherent in form and function. Get onto that next project, author!

6 Likes

thanks so much for playing and for the kind words! your reviews are always fun and interesting to read, and i’m very glad you took the time to write this one - means a lot. :smile:

2 Likes

The Case of the Solitary Resident by thesleuthacademy
Played:
4/3/24
Playtime: 1hr, 14/16 clues, right cause of death, wrong drug

If I part the opaque mists of time, push back untold eons to my reentry to this hobby, reaching, reaching nearly two entire trips around the sun to the barely discernable epoch of Fall 2022… this authorspace was virgin snow to me. Every game came as single line on a blank slate - no context of author idiosyncrasies, platform biases, tell-tale prose and fascinations, just the raw work itself. Ah, such a simple, untarnished time and state for a reviewer full of unearned confidence and bluster.

An interminable 18 months later finds the withered, corrupted husk before you: penetrating brilliance and revelatory insights dimmed and drowned beneath a cacophony of prior art and superficial connections. You require evidence of my tragic artistic collapse? Not even past the cover page of this game, the eureka that pushed all other thoughts from my head was “Oooh! Oooh! I know this!” For a mad minute, I thought it could even be a Twine reimplementation of that former parser effort.

As final, damning evidence of my intellectual bankruptcy let me now proceed to review this work, liberally comparing it to its predecessor.

IT IS BETTER IN EVERY WAY.

The Twine platform is used to great effect in this work - its game-pane setup, liberal use of mood-setting graphics, case file/interview subscreens, and even text organization all combine to immediately cast the player in role of no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma’am detective. The Twine command paradigm of selecting highlighted links on the page provide a superior framework where links only allow actions that support the investigation, as opposed to a parser’s need to accommodate any number of mimesis-breaking player fumblings.

The mystery is very capably put together - enough red herrings and dead ends to make searching out truths fun and challenging, not too many to drown the player. Many different items and leads that branch and intersect in interesting ways. Even the flourishes like timed text are used to advantage that could easily be intrusive.

The author uses all these tools to push the player into the role of Forensic Detective, then opens the door on clinical test results, chemical names and lateral thinking. My biggest beef with the previous game was that it didn’t sufficiently show its stripes, and let the player muck about with parser puzzle toys instead. It wanted Quincy, but let you be Clouseau. This time, the player is aligned from the jump - get that Keystone Cops nonsense outta here, pros are at work! The work is better focused, and better showcases its strengths, for it.

I really had fun with this one. In the end, I drew satisfaction from legitimate deduction and clue connection to determine cause of death. I failed however to identify the chemical source of the problem. I did miss two clues somewhere, perhaps those held the final piece I needed. OR PERHAPS NOT. Because the first thing I did after informed of my failure was Google search some chemicals, and ON THE FIRST RESULTS PAGE, THE MYSTERY WAS SOLVED.

I COULDA USED GOOGLE TO HELP SOLVE THE MYSTERY ALL ALONG! God, I love that so much. This thing made me a detective and with just one more bit of extra-game lateral thinking I might have closed the case. LIKE A REAL DETECTIVE. I can’t remember a failure so satisfying, and the credit goes to the real-world, clinical vibe the game created through graphic layout, mystery construction and tight UI control.

I kinda can’t wait for the next one in the series. You better BELIEVE I will be testing if it measures up to this one. [spoiler aside to author - that said, there is a discernible pattern in these two works that casts a shadow… beware!]

Mystery, Inc: Velma
Vibe: Forensic Detective
Polish: Smooth
Gimme the Wheel! : If it were my project, only one tweak: the body’s apparant sex is left unrevealed when examined, leading to a strange few minutes of disconnect when finding female name references around the apartment. Yes, it can be deduced but doesn’t feel like that detail should need to be.

7 Likes

Thanks for the review, and for playing! I wasn’t expecting the submission to be compared with previous works but I’m definitely challenged to raise my own bar for the next one. Thanks for pointing out the part about the corpse’s sex - might have missed that out, though I made sure that the subsequent sequence of events would have confirmed the body’s identity. Will keep that in mind for future works. Glad you enjoyed it :slight_smile:

Looking at the reviews for this submission so far, it strikes me as a huge pity that the previous work couldn’t shine through in its plot due to the implementation/game mechanics hurdle. (I personally really liked the plot for the first work!)

2 Likes

A Dream of Silence by Abigail Corfman
Played:
4/3/24
Playtime: 2.25 hrs >7 fails until win?

I made a good-faith attempt to spoiler-protect this thing, but my responses are so specific… caveat emptor.

New as I am to the modern hobby, I am occasionally blindsided by obvious-in-retrospect conceits that are likely not surprising to others. I am familiar with the fanfic phenomenon - enthusiastic amateurs writing about copyrighted properties simply because they love it so much. It should not be a surprise that fanIF also exists in the world. Presumably less porn-focused, but hey I’m not judging either way.

This is a fanIF riffing on Balder’s Gate 3, a D&D-based AAA console RPG. I have no relationship with that property (Alan Wake/Remedy Games is more my speed), but c’mon I grew up in the modern world, I know what D&D is. Dream ably catches me up on what I need to know to provide a much tighter bottle scenario: escape a one room mental tomb with a vampire compatriot. It also lets you pick your D&D Class which, hey, if you invite me into the party you’re getting a Rogue. You just are. If you didn’t want a Rogue you shouldn’t’a invited me. That’s on you.

I ended up on roller coaster with this thing, and I’ll use an early quote to shepherd us through:

"This game does presuppose that your character cares what happens
to Astarion [the vampire party member in question -jj]. If you
don't like him (which is a very legitimate opinion to have, he is
an asshole) you should probably not play this game."

I laughed out loud encountering this the first time, as that could easily have been my knee-jerk had the game not warned me to play along. So I played along. The one room escape is a fiendishly clever Dark Room. Due to reasons, you have to teach yourself how to interact with the world, including seeing, speaking and touching. As you teach yourself, you haltingly explore a pretty spare crypt and have to figure out how to escape. I played in ‘Balanced’ mode, and it is CHALLENGING! Your companion’s health leaches away every day, and if Astarion dies, you die. You can slow the bleeding by talking and comforting him, but every moment you spend doing that you are NOT improving your abilities to facilitate escape. Events happen around you to increase the challenge, and there are few clues what the ‘right’ mix of activities is. He died in a half hour the first time.

But I was metaphorically trapped in this puzzle! The balancing act was interesting and fun. Deducing cause and effect, what is important, where things might go, USING MY ROGUE POWERS, all of this was magnetic in gameplay. I cycled more times, almost maniacally poking into new corners here, engaging the poor sap differently there, leveling up at different rates, always learning. It was Time Looping. I was Time Looping and I loved it more and more except…

…except it became more and more clear that the way to success was to emotionally buttress my fellow prisoner, to slow his decay. Thematically I get it, its really clever actually. In PRACTICE it was increasingly irritating, on a geometric progression. Not only because I was spending greater swaths of my day just holding his hand, when I could be, y’know, THIEVING SOME ESCAPE TOOLS. But also, with every loop, I got smarter while he didn’t get an iota less Needy. If anything, by keeping him alive longer, I was treated to increasingly unwanted codependent behavior! Yeah, I’m trying to set up a finely calibrated sequence of sensory growth, exploration and guard interaction, but BY ALL MEANS LETS TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS FIRST.

Look, I KNOW it’s thematic. I KNOW it’s plot justified in the most elegant way. I KNOW it was slyly subverting dungeon adventure tropes for emotional narrative and an extremely vital exploration of the trauma of solitary confinement. I don’t even begrudge well-chosen gameplay compromises like after 150 days only NOW does his decay escalate; or famously immortal vampires cracking under pressure of advancing time. My problem is, after looping so many times, I was pot committed to a High Adventure rescue. I was not receptive to a segue to slashfic. If that was the piece’s aim, it certainly held its cards close while I built contrary expectations. Additionally, I think there is a missing piece. It is clear what Astarion needs from the PC. It is not clear at all what Astarion provides the PC, emotionally or otherwise, why the PC should care. Maybe the original IP provides this? For a noob like me though, by repeating his neediness over and over via gameplay loops, it curdles to Cling. Have we not established at this point that I am an emotionless husk? This cannot be surprising to you.

Inevitably, I saw the writing on the wall. There was no High Fantasy rescue in my future. I needed to do what I needed to do to get him out of the fox hole. So I hid the pity in my eyes, looped 3 or 4 more times (over two hours total) and nursed him through. Things seemed to be progressing, and then ACT 1 ended.

Ok, that was progress! We didn’t die! His clammy hand was clingy and we hadn’t escaped yet, but things were moving in the right direction at least. I had seen in Menu that there were three acts. I had presumed I got to play all three of them. Nossir. It seems the other two are not implemented yet? So after all that, the game ended and I DIDN’T EVEN ESCAPE??? WHAT THE HELL AM I HOLDING THIS NEBBISH’ HAND FOR THEN???

There was a noise that came out of me I would not have believed I could make. For a game that needed me to care about Astarion, after I had gamely agreed to do so, it went to great lengths to break me of that then just left me twist. I am so sorry, that is just classic Scrappy.

Mystery, Inc: Classic Scrappy
Vibe: Gothic Escape Room
Polish: Gleaming
Gimme the Wheel! : If it were my project, I would perhaps engineer a High Fantasy Escape solution that balanced emotional maintenance with daring-do. If that was really anathema to the purpose of the piece (which it well could be), I would better clue the intent, then focus on Astarion - pay attention to how looping affects his character and give the player reason to care, rather than demand it as a prerequisite.

PostScript: Please don't take my frustration as condemnation.

I am perceptive enough to understand that some accident of human evolutionary pressures has molded homo sapiens such that nothing inflames our passions so wildly as denying what we think we were promised. Whether through presumptive entitlement or honest misunderstanding, kinda doesn’t matter. I am insightful enough recognize that impulse IN ME. I am NOT self-possessed enough to offer more than token resistance to evolution’s iron hand. Folks approaching this work with different expectations, perhaps more familiarity with the inspiration IP or authorial fascinations, or just better emotional intelligence, will likely have a much less shrill reaction than I did.

I can appreciate the sly subversion and alternate take on the inspiration material. I endorse fanIF for tastes that have nothing to do with me. I wouldn’t be this animated if I hadn’t so invested myself in the looping gameplay that I completely misunderstood where it was going. Don’t blame me, blame evolution!

5 Likes

Do Good Deeds by Sissy
Played:
4/3/24
Playtime: 20min, finished

I kinda love that there is a “children’s story” sub-genre of IF. We’re dealing with the breadth of human imagination, IF should have ALL THE THINGS, and our chronally challenged progeny deserve the magic as much as anyone. That said, there is no getting around the fact that I am not a child. Historically, I mentally conjure a childish avatar in my head when engaging these works, to assess how these things are landing. We just have a grand old time goofing together, this mental construct and I, like the brain-damaged maniac I am.

I found it harder to do with this work, and I think I know why. It wasn’t the presentation, at least not the graphical presentation. The excellent ‘painted’ backgrounds and animated-cell characters are Bambi-esque, immediately setting a friendly and welcoming tone. The setup is classic misunderstood-protagonist-winning-through-kindness. Revolutionary? No, though maybe in modern times we can use a lot more of it.

The UI paradigm though is punishing, and its primary sin is a common one: injudicious use of timed text. Text plays out sloooowly, not unlike someone narrating a book aloud to a pre-reading audience. Ok, thematic, except absent the verbal intonations and performance that make that tolerable it is just sloooow. Even if you try to speed it up by space-barring, subsequent text blocks remain delayed even after the current words are flashed up. Both choices are jarring. According to my mental avatar, kids are LESS patient than adults, not more so, so this choice is doubly defeating.

The UI has other issues too - the text box requires scrolling, but it is invisible so it is not immediately obvious WHEN it needs scrolling. This makes for some early delays in an already snail paced progression. Even a tinted, transparent box would have clued that better. (There are also a noticeable amount of typos in the text it bears observing.)

Then there is the narrative. There is almost no meaningful interactivity. Yes, you can decline to be helpful, but in a work titled Do Good Deeds … what level of sociopathy are we talking about here? ‘Click to continue’ is useful in IF for sure, but when ‘continue’ means more timed text, its welcome develops some back pressure. More to the point, there are a LOT of interactions. Story telling tradition recognizes the power of threes - Establish, Reinforce, Conclude/Twist. This is an especially powerful technique in kid’s lit. Deeds is embracing the power of… tens? Ten vignettes different in detail, but samey in result? Another dimension of drag.

All that said, the core presentation has a lot going for it. The individual interactions are varied enough to express a breadth of generous problem solving, with a large cast of woodland friends. The UI issues seem addressable to tighten down the experience. I could see this pushed into shape for my youthful avatar.

Mystery, Inc: Talking animals? It’s Scooby
Vibe: Kids’ Lit
Polish: Rough
Gimme the Wheel! : We talked about the UI and typos above. If my project certainly my first stop. On its heels though, I think clubbing the encounters into three groups of three, where the results of kindness escalate the protagonist’s acceptance in the larger loops would better leverage classic storytelling BKMs (Best Known Methods).

5 Likes