Josh Grams's Spring Thing 2023 thoughts


Back Garden. Twine.

A collection of four games written to the prompt of “Mirror” by four different people. From a creative writing class (?) in Slovakia.

These are all very short beginner works. All (naturally) imperfect english. All focusing on the words and structure, rather than messing about with styling.

My personal favorite of the lot was Lilian Lalonder’s: a simple time cave with 8 endings. This feels like about the right size for this kind of structure. But the choices and their results felt well-designed: not the unfairness of the old CYOA books (turn left? oops, you died; should have turned right!) but results that made sense while still being a little surprising or surreal or absurd. Well done!

James wrote a small “gauntlet” (this name comes from the article linked above for “time cave”). The story of this one followed more usual adventure-game or fairy-tale tropes, and didn’t grab me as much as Lilian’s, but it wasn’t badly done. I especially liked the branches of the choice with the scissors. At the end it says “Now you can quit or go back to the start and try a different ending,” which I found a little misleading because, in true gauntlet fashion, it feels like there’s only one “good” ending and the others are short dead-ends to the side of the main path. Some of them are interesting in their own right, but I think they were all clearly marked as “bad” endings?

Mihi picked a single small-scale choice structure and used it repeatedly, although not one of the ones in Emily Short’s well-known blog post. The structure here (giving the player a choice and then taking it away) isn’t one I’m particularly fond of. I think it’s best used sparingly and for a particular dramatic effect. But it was an interesting exercise: points for choosing a choice shape and then sticking to it and experimenting with it thoroughly.

And finally, Dr John’s was the most technically ambitious but I didn’t personally find it as satisfying. It has a bunch of state tracking that reports where you’ve been, but it wasn’t clear to me what to do with that information. The piece is built around a central riddle, which you have to solve to get the “good” ending but it wasn’t clear to me what the riddle even was. The overall structure was complex and looped back on itself enough that it felt very disorienting and maze-like, so I thought I was supposed to find my way through the maze rather than finding the answer to the riddle. An interesting idea, but I found it unclear what you were supposed to do. I wonder if this would play better in the author’s native language?

Anyway. These are probably only about 15-20 passages each, and it’s always interesting to see what people do when they’re experimenting with interactive narrative in such a small space. Worth a quick look.


The Sacred Shovel of Athenia

A parser puzzle game about befriending a cat and then…uh… fighting an ogre for some reason? Nothing spectacular, but short and fun.

I… wasn’t too comfortable with the descriptions of the ogre’s ugliness…

It feels like it could have used another round of play-testing: it’s very inconsistent about which actions it just narrates for you and which you have to do for yourself because they’re simulated in more detail; when you have to supply an object (“hit ogre with sword”) and when supplying an object gives an error message (“open tin with opener”); there were some disambiguation issues; descriptions that don’t update to match the game state; the description of taking the sword at the beginning caused me to be completely stumped at the very end…

And it is both poking fun at a traditional adventure-game solution to one problem, and seems unaware of some other traditions? I had to look at the hints a couple times and would never have thought to try the necessary actions because you usually can’t do that kind of thing at all.

So it’s a charming short puzzle game, but a little rough around the edges. Watch the action descriptions carefully: you may not have succeeded in doing what you thought you did. But it has a full graduated hint menu if you get stuck, so it’s not a big deal.


Structural Integrity

I was looking down the list of games, wondering if I could muster the energy to tackle another tonight. Comedy: “You’re quite accustomed to adoring peasants shouting your name” … gothic horror: “You have saved your family–but at what cost?” … sci-fi: “The Solar System’s Greatest Hero” … thriller: “avert a disaster that threatens to shake the world” … sci-fi: “everything you know is a lie” … “loss, mental illness, and the second law of thermodynamics” …

I’m too tired for saving the world or drama, drama, drama right now, can someone just tell me a nice story about regular people? And…

Structural Integrity is a lovely little gay romance. Based on the novella of the same name, it says. Skillfully told; well-drawn characters; smoothly switches between the viewpoints of the two characters. You’re growing apart: Yaan has been distant, buried in work, not paying attention; Kel is feeling used and ignored. Will you (both of you) work to re-build your relationship, or give it up as a bad job and walk away?

I only played through once, to possibly the happiest ending (?), but the choices felt consequential and well-designed (cued? foreshadowed? at any rate, I never went “wait, that wasn’t what I meant when I chose that!”), and a quick glance through the story graph shows that a bunch of events are called out in the endings, and that there are endings where they break up or are still together, but just waiting for that last incident to push them over the edge. So it’s worth playing again, if you’re someone who does that. I imagine I will.

I did find the “You are Kel”, “You are Yaan” introductions just slightly blunt and fourth-wall breaking. Hmm, actually I pointed this out in Lady Thalia when I was helping playtest that too. I’m not sure what to do about it though. What do novels with multiple PoVs do? Maybe just little headings or chapter titles? Kel. Yaan. That way it’s already outside the story but not as obtrusive by trying to be halfway-within the world? Dunno. This one already has different backgrounds for each character, so it probably doesn’t need much of a cue (though of course colored backgrounds aren’t any help to screenreaders, so you do need something).

Anyway. Just what I needed to wind down the day. 'Night all!


Hmm. I’ve been pretty scattered: played (or at least started) a bunch of games but nothing has really grabbed me. I think… these are all decent games, but they’re just making me want to go off on vaguely related design hypotheticals… So have a long grumbly post.

I feel like The Roads not Taken is recognizably Manon’s work. Interesting technical experiment; enthusiastic use of adjectives; fancy UI. I’d be interested to see further development in using a parser like this: no “get lamp; go north” but more (at least in my playthrough) just invoking single words to see more about the object or advance the story. Which was both an unusual feel that I liked, and a nagging uncertainty: “what else could I type that I’m missing? I have no idea.”

As with Thick Table Tavern (IFComp) and The Rye in the Dark City (SeedComp), I didn’t quite click with this one. It feels a little like a technical solution in search of a story problem to solve rather than one that grew out of a story wanting to be told in this particular way. Compare Bez’s work: I like to think my chat interface adds something to Hidden Gems, Hidden Secrets, but the feeling of online conversation shines through just as strongly in the writing of The Dead Account: you don’t need a high-fidelity rendering; your brain will fill in the gaps just fine.

Similarly the UI is undeniably pretty, but is every element there for a reason, to enhance a theme, or just because “why not? It looks cool.” A number of words were helpfully highlighted to indicate that you could type them for more description, but then some were highlighted because…I have no idea. Some beginnings of sentences were highlighted, but not all? So I’m sitting there thinking, “It doesn’t seem like there’s any meaning to derive from this very ordinary-seeming phrase, but what if I’m missing some really cool secret?” and it’s a little distracting. And maybe it was my browser, but it wasn’t scrolling down when it added new text to the end of the transcript. And I would have liked it to clear out the input field when you entered a command so I didn’t have to delete it before entering another.

And the prose makes me think of the part in Emily Short’s The Annals of the Parrigues on the amount of potentially surprising variation you should allow in your procedural text (page 95):

A goatherd named Leofrick the Seditious hears the voice of a flaming mare who was
defecating while standing in shaft of moonlight on a hilltop—and that was Too Much.


Therefore I hypothesize that the number of [surprising] elements that should exist in any given sentence is maximally two, and in a longer conceptually-continuous passage, maximally three or four.

The prose in The Roads not Taken is a little too much for my personal taste, and feels like some of it is there because why not put it in, it sounds cool, rather than because it’s necessary to the vibe or the theme. But that’s my “growing up reading Zinsser and Strunk & White” preference for prose that packs more punch into fewer words, and the Blaise Pascal Lettres Provinciales bit about “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had the time to make it shorter”–I like it when people take the time to make it shorter. I’m sure other people will have more fun with the abundance of imagery.

Anyway. Random tangents aside, The Roads not Taken wasn’t quite my thing but I thought it was a reasonably solid piece. The structure of the story worked for me, and the extra descriptions that I found added to the mood. And even with the unconventional command structure there was only one guess-the-verb bit (I somehow managed to miss all the synonyms for what to say at the very end). An interesting piece, and worth checking out.

I usually don’t play Andrew Schultz’s games because they’re never my thing, but I was curious about Write or Reflect? so…

I don’t know what it is, but while I never mind the thin frame stories in, say, Arthur DiBianca’s work (The Wand, or Sage Sanctum Scramble, or whatever), Andrew Schultz’s pieces tend to feel like two very separate parts and I find myself going “Why are these two things together?” This one especially so. Decent writing? I think. Interesting musings on writing process, interesting mathematical puzzle, but I’m still completely unconvinced that they belong together.

I didn’t pick up on the initial cuing that this was a mathematical puzzle, and I thought the part of the prompt that shows the previous part of your sequence was offering me a third command to type instead of offering status information. Those things didn’t help. But…I don’t know. I’m left going huh? Sure…? I guess?

I like both parts. I’m not sure it does either of them any favors to put them together like this.

I think Andrew and Manon’s stuff tends to not quite work for me because I’m pretty sure if I tried writing IF I’d be like: here, have a cool tech/UI thing! And a neat math/physics/farming/whatever concept! And…uhhh… I guess I have to wrap a story around it somehow? So I’m probably projecting “things I’d want to avoid but don’t know how to do better” onto their work…

I started Nothing Could be Further From the Truth. I don’t know. It’s very clear up front what kind of game it is, so you’ll know if it’s your thing or not. Judging by the beginning, if it were a choice game it would be a gauntlet structure: a main throughline with short dead-end spurs everywhere. You turned left rather than right? Here, have an amusing death and try again. But also…initial info-dump, walls of text, custom directions instead of the usual compass points (thankfully “left/right” are fixed and not relative to the player’s facing, but still), a bit uneven with some things being over-cued and some you have to look in just the right place to see it. Dunno. It’s a very particular kind of parser game: some people are going to thoroughly enjoy this one.

I’m guessing that Secret of the Black Walrus is in the Back Garden as a matter of author choice rather than being especially experimental or unpolished: I only played the beginning but it seems pretty smooth. But there are a number of things that jolted me out of it, so I took a break. Viv Dunstan described the writing as “strong” but to me it reads as cheesy B-movie Victorian and my reaction so far is “please step away from the thesaurus.”

“As a tall, pale, gaunt Englishman, he possessed superior skill in looking dour.”


“Ha, ha.” Gould was hardly pleased. “One day I shall be most glad to ascertain how you have come to be aware of my whist habits, or my associates, as Underwood is a private gentleman’s club.”

“You’re at a loss, as I have never entered the club myself, for I am no gentleman.”

I found the transitions painfully long and slow, and the adaptive UI layout meant that zooming the text and resizing the window didn’t do what I expected and I couldn’t get it to display in a way that I liked.

It did seem like an interesting premise, and I suspect it’s going to be a well-constructed mystery.


Thank you for reviewing my game, Josh! Really appreciate your input!

Always, hehehehe.

Totally! The project started more as trying to make a parser in Twine on a whim than realising the story would fit a parser-style game more than a choice-based one. So, I totally understand the feeling :slight_smile:

That was a bit of the reason why the start of the added text was highlighted. To warn players of the added text. I didn’t manage to implement a solution to have the scrolling start at the new passage by the deadline (I’m currently testing something, hopefully it works!).

This has actually been fixed earlier today :smiley:

EDIT 22Aprl: I’ve just sent a new version to Brian (should be online on itch now in the meantime), the scrolling has been fixed! (:crossed_fingers: it should work as intended) and the going back to the last passage choice too!


It’s always so interesting to see other players’/reviewers’ takes. I adored the initial info-dump and the walls of text… it gave me a really strong sense of the world and my character. In fact, if they are well-written I always like story-heavy, writing-heavy games, although I also like games with efficient, short descriptions. Is it a general thing for you to dislike lots of text, or did you just not like it here?

I certainly fell down on the execution of the puzzles in this game though.


Thank you for reviewing my game! I had a lot of fun making it.

This assertion is correct—I wrote an engine to make this game because I couldn’t get Twine or any other Choice-based engine to do what I wanted it to. Thus, I put it in the Back Garden as I was nervous about putting a new game engine in a comp. I am grieved, however, to hear that you’ve struggled with the reactive layout system; that is most unfortunate.

My friend, I am sorry, but if you don’t like purposefully ridiculous Victorian camp, you will hate this game. I would stay awake nights dreaming up phrases like “a stupendous apothecary of most rancid villainy” and “a mayor of wickedness even amongst the filthiest scoundrels.” That’s ok—this game is definitely not everyone’s cup of strong-brewed tea.

Perhaps next time I shall flag unprofitable diatribes of antiquated and fantastic language as a content warning.


Now that I have some free time over the ‘Easter’ break. I though I would check reviews on my ‘game’. Firstly, thanks Josh for the time you spent to play, and review my game. I thought it only fair to respond to some of your ramblings (although all your observations are extremely valid ones).

Completely true: I was limited in ‘play testers’ as I only had my two sons and my wife to ‘test’ the game (none of which have had much exposure to IF before) : I did feel like I should have reached out to the community for ‘assistance’ but other things (not IF related) took precedence and by the time I came to revisit the deadline was almost upon us!

Again, a trait of limited play testing (there maybe a theme here!) : I had not tried the perfectly valid ‘open tin with opener’ command (and neither had my testers) - I have fixed this in my copy with a new rule - Could possibly release a ‘end of spring thing’ fixes release?

This one worried me, had I put something offensive in there! : I had another look and the responses in that section are random. Some of those ‘responses’ could possibly be classed as ‘near the knuckle’ at best. I have removed one in my copy that I think definitely could be construed as mildly ‘offensive’ but I am not sure if that is the one you encountered during your play through. Do you mind messaging me with the exact response - or if you have a transcript of your play through I could check? This was supposed to be a light hearted ‘kid friendly’ game and was not in anyway meant to offend.

Once again, really appreciate the feedback : AndyG


Ah, given that, you did well. It all worked; it was mostly inconsistent levels of how much you had to do manually: you automatically pick up the key (I think?) vs. having to do every step by hand in the shop, even some that most games elide.

I wouldn’t go so far as offensive, I don’t think? It just… given that there were places where the room descriptions or events weren’t responsive to the game state (like the meadow, where the cat scratches at the gap under the door even if it’s open), it stood out that there were seven jokes of the form

“He’s ugly, he’s so ugly that…”

…he went to a haunted house and came out with an application form.

…when his mother went into labour, his father went into shock.

…when he was born the nurse slapped herself.

…when he goes in a shopping store they switch off the cameras.

…he makes blind kids cry.

…he gives Freddy Krugger nightmares.

…he has a job modelling for death threats.

Personally I’d be leery of teaching that sort of humor to a kid unless I was sure they were mature enough to understand how easily it slips over the line into being mean-spirited, and when it’s ok to do it (tell them to the person’s face; when you’re sure you have the relationship/trust and they enjoy that kind of funning; when there’s no one around who might take your behavior as a model, etc.). You can teach that fairly young, of course. I don’t know your kids.

And there are plenty of kids’ shows that are built around this kind of humor, so not everyone feels that way. It mostly stood out by being nearly the only place with variations, when some other places felt like they could have used them for more mechanical reasons.


Thanks Josh - the only other ‘variation’ in the game really is the ‘describers’ of certain scenery objects (the meadow, the village, the path etc.) : If you replay the game you may notice that they may subtly change with each new play through. That wasn’t intended to ‘enhance’ the story - My son was writing a game in his I.T. class at school (in python!) and just wondered if the mechanics to change ‘adjective’ descriptions, and then refer to the described object only by that adjective and not by any of the others previously seen for that object, was possible. I therefore ‘tried’ to implement it in this game, but not sure that fully worked either (especially the ‘sun’ as pointed out by another reviewer :slight_smile: )


Red Door, Yellow Door

I’m not sure what to think of this. I liked the writing. I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be more to it than wandering through a dream sequence and then either sensibly cutting it short or doing all the things that you’ve been warned not to do. The game seems to tell you that there’s supposed to be one more ending, and I think I know how it’s supposed to work but I’ve had no luck figuring out the commands.

where I'm stuck

I’m guessing the meat is supposed to go in the bag and then you use it to lure the fly. But I can’t touch it, I can’t get it with the bag, I can’t put the bag under the meat or on it, can’t wear the bag.

Other things… there are two doors that I can’t get into: the swinging doors in the restaurant and the sturdy door just to the west. The hollow skeleton of a building also doesn’t seem to have anything to do there.

You can lock the front door of the house but there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to it.

The help suggests that we should need to go under something but I haven’t found anything to go under. Well, I’ve found plenty of things to try to go under but they’re all too gross. Or dangerous, in the case of the crashed cars.

The radios appear to give previews of the bad ending. I haven’t found any use for the bicycle (although I’m amused that you can apparently ride it through a revolving door with no problem). You can go in the two cars involved in the accident but there doesn’t seem to be anything to do there.


There’s something in the kitchen cabinets that you need for the thing you’re trying to do.


Aaah! I thought I’d looked at everything in all the rooms. How did I completely miss one in the house? Thanks.


Red Door, Yellow Door

(now that I’ve finished it)

It’s a little hard to tell the difference between “dream-logic” and “slightly unfinished.” The fridge seems interesting but then there’s no description of the inside. Ditto the cars involved in the accident. I rode the bicycle everywhere because that seemed fun but the game didn’t acknowledge it in any way. You can lock the front door of the house but then it doesn’t do anything (like keeping the not-friends out or whatever). There are two doors in town that you tantalizingly can’t go through.

Those things were both interesting for what they added to the dream-like only-half-existent reality, and a let-down when the game didn’t acknowledge them with any results (or just distracting red herrings). I definitely liked the door that was bulging under the weight of the water, but otherwise I’m torn as to which effect was stronger for me.

I thought the characters were well-drawn.

Dunno. I had fun with it but I’m not sure I know what to make of it. Unresolved feelings about your father’s death: maybe the game is left slightly ambiguous/unresolved as a parallel to that? I guess it’s sort of supposed to be horror? I never understand horror; it rarely does anything for me either way, so…yeah. It seemed fairly well-done, as far as I could tell…

Secret of the Black Walrus

I went back and finished this. It’s pretty short. It’s a decent choice-based mystery. The mix of “we won’t let you move forward until we’ve shown you the necessary clues” and “if you didn’t write them down we’ll just let you be stuck” feels kind of unusual. But I think it works for a mystery: it gives you some work to do by hand without being technically unfair.

There were a bunch of dead-end choices that felt like they were unnecessary padding, and not interesting enough to add much of anything to the atmosphere. Right at the beginning you can choose to wait as many times as you want (at least I tried a dozen or so) while the Inspector bangs on your door fruitlessly. Why’d you give me the choice? There are plenty of places where you just have “click the arrow to continue.” Ditto at Astley Circus, you can try the door, but it’s just locked. I’d have just left that out.

Typing in locations for the cab driver to go (and…what was the other thing you type? oh, research topics) was a nice touch that fit well with the “you need to write down the clues yourself” design.

The engine worked pretty well. Some minor niggles. I found the page transitions painfully long, to the point where I edited the code and styles to make them near instant. As I said before, the reactive layout was a little annoying on desktop: I launched it in a full-size window, thought, huh, that’s a nice layout: 80-character-ish line wrapping is a little longer than I prefer but perfectly reasonable, and the font is big enough that it doesn’t look ridiculous with short lines. That layout will fit perfectly in a half-screen column and I can have a note file on the other half of the screen, and I’ll zoom the text slightly to make the lines a little shorter… And then I put it in a half-screen-column window and the text got significantly shorter and the line length went up to about 115 characters, and the buttons went full-width which wasn’t as pretty as the ones that fit the text. And I fired up a screenreader at one point, and it starts reading at the first choice on every page. So you have to tell it to start reading from the top of the page every single time, which is irritating, but probably easily fixable.

I still think the writing lets this down: it varies wildly in tone and regard for grammar and so on. The first few passages are a good indication of this, I think: the first is fairly serious, maybe lightly tongue-in-cheek, sort of Victorian detective noir? And then the inspector comes in and it jumps straight to “As a tall, pale, gaunt Englishman, he possessed superior skill at looking dour” and Madame Soo saying out loud to him “You’re at a loss, as I have never entered the club myself, for I am no gentleman.” And it goes on bouncing back and forth like this, from fairly serious and straight, to “is every tall pale gaunt Englishman good at looking dour?” and “that would work as a descriptive beat, but who would talk like that; did you try reading this line out loud?” and “It’s clear what you mean and how you got there, but that’s… not how that word works” lines like “Each was flourished with a signature black India-ink scrawl of a walrus.”

Obviously it’s supposed to be campy, but for me it fell in a bland middle-ground; neither consistently “bad” enough to feel like amusing parody nor exuberant enough to feel like an endearingly over-enthusiastic imitation of Dickens or Disraeli, Wilde or Carroll or the Brontës.

But it’s a fun little detective story.


Interesting. I need to learn more about css to determine how to get the layout right between desktop and mobile. There is no “one size fits all” approach that’s for sure.

And thank you for the kind review!


Thank you so much for the lovely review of my game, I’m glad you enjoyed!!


I Am Prey

(I had direct-messaged Joey with what I had to say, but since I looked at the review spreadsheet and this one only has two public reviews?!)

I had expected it to be very videogamey, but the writing isn’t half bad either and (depending how you play) there are a fair number of little story nuggets tucked away here and there.

But it is mostly about the game mechanics. And it’s clearly supposed to be tense. But it only takes an undo (or a few of them) to get you back out of the places where you get yourself killed so it’s not that bad. I did save several times but I never needed them.

I played very conservatively so I never tried half the mechanics in the game (I never tried any of the “tricks” listed in the guide, except slamming the door once by accident). But honestly once you learn all the extra map connections and that you can just undo out of anything and try a different route, I suspect the chase bits are probably the most fun part of the game (I have to go back and play again and try this to be sure, but I’m guessing that’s the case).

So. I suspect the manual is overly intimidating: think of it as a limited-parser hide-and-seek board game in a maze with lots of secret exits to find. Your commands are:

  • N/S/E/W (and a few ordinal directions)
  • LISTEN and then PEEK <dir> (to see if it’s safe).
  • CLOSE DOOR quietly behind you so the automatic door closers don’t give your position away.
  • JUMP TO <thing> or CLIMB <thing> (the guide lists lots of other synonyms, but these suffice for everything. I think you can even abbreviate them to JM and CL but I never tried that). And there’s one place in the game where you have to RUN, so if you think JUMP should work but it doesn’t…
  • SEARCH <thing> (you can say open/look in, but this is faster. And it also tells you if you can climb or jump on it).

And then you get to go explore. Check all the containers for parts of the spacesuit you need to escape: shelves, lockers, cabinets, chests, fridges… I think that’s all the kinds? There are a few things to look under as well. You can hear doors closing a few turns behind the Predator, so you can play cautiously and try to stay mostly on the other side of the map from him (this is what I did). Or you can hunt for the “secret” exits so you can just leave another way if he’s blocking the normal door: there are only a couple rooms where you’re really trapped. And at least one of those has a locker, chest, or fridge that you can hide in until he goes away (I’m pretty sure you can hide in chests and fridges: I only tried a locker the once. And if you do hide and then he comes into the room you get to hear him monologue, and I gather he has a bunch of those: hey, story!).

And…that’s pretty much the game. In the “extras” folder in the download there’s a graphical map which doesn’t show a few of the secret rooms or any of the secret connections (or the cubicles in the Admin section) but gives you the whole main layout. You’ll want to download this and have it open while you play. Or if you prefer to make your own maps you’ll (probably) want to play as the cat (safe mode). Or hey, just live dangerously: there’s always undo.

Yeah. I feel like there are still occasional rough spots, but it’s a pretty good thriller digital board game, if you’re into that kind of thing.


What else have I played that I enjoyed? A lot of these were perfectly good but not my thing and I knew perfectly well that they weren’t and I played them anyway so I have no one to blame but myself.

The Familiar

This is a cute little story in Adventuron. I’m not usually a big fan of pixel art, and yeah, the font was kind of annoying, but the header art actually fit the game pretty well. A short adventure about being a crow and trying to save your witch from the hex that’s killing her. Limited-parser: I think you can move and PECK and CAW and that’s about it? Oh, I guess you can GET and DROP too. The puzzles aren’t hard: I was never too stuck, but it was fun finding the solutions. I think at least one of the obstacles had multiple solutions (?) which is cool: I found one and then realized there was probably a less drastic way.

The dialogue design was a nice touch: choose from a menu of differently-flavored caws. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t branch much but the adverbs always made me chuckle appreciatively: they were chosen such that it often wasn’t quite clear what thing you were going to “say” but they all sounded like interesting ways to respond.

The only things that struck me as a little off are that when you first land at the witch’s cottage, there are three exits but you’re forced to go into the cottage. So that felt like an extra room and an “oh no, I have to make a choice and the story is clearly telling me which one to make, but is this one of those games where it’s not really urgent and it might be more fun to go explore first?” And then I found out on my second playthrough that it’s not actually a choice. So I might have just gone straight from the sky into the cottage at the beginning. And then it was a little odd that you started off flying over the treetops but then for the rest of the game you’re under the trees on the walking paths through the woods (though I guess you’re still flying). A minor thing, and changing it would mess up a bunch of the story beats, but it struck me as a little odd.

The Kuolema was fun too, though it’s basically an escape-room-esque gamebook, and Google Forms requires two clicks for every action which feels a little clunky, so I still think this would have been better in a tool that allows a little state tracking and regular links to do things.

Marie Waits was…huh. Also like an escape room, somewhat literally? A timed escape. And very parser-ish: you have to explicitly do every part of every action. Partly because it’s PunyInform, I think? But it also felt very in keeping with the theme of escaping with a tight time limit: “oh, you want to do this thing? You’ll have to do this other thing first. Oh, and then the other other thing first.”

> pull rope
You try to loosen the rope by pulling your arms upwards at the back
of the chair, but it’s difficult to pull it in that direction. Perhaps if 
you were able to tip the chair onto its side, you’d have a bit more 

> tip chair
Tipping the chair over would be a good idea, but first you’ll need to 
pull it away from the wall a little.

> pull chair
You press your feet against the ground and manage to nudge the 
back of the chair slightly away from the wall of the pit.

(although I only played once and I think I escaped by like 11:15 so I had nearly a quarter of the time left: guess it wasn’t that tight. Though it was a little annoying that “look” took a turn: I feel like in timed games it often doesn’t? I had to switch my habits to scroll back instead of just hitting l again.)

Horror just doesn’t do anything for me, so Etiolated Light wasn’t my thing. But I was intrigued by the juxtaposition in the title: spindly plants, ghostly white from lack of light, set next to “light”? And it was short and well-done: probably one of the best games in the comp if that’s your thing. I think the structure got fairly maze-like at the end and it felt like it could have used more work to make sure the text all made sense in all the paths through: in my playthrough a baby appeared that had never been mentioned before, and there were a couple other things that felt like references to other paths that I hadn’t seen, maybe?

Similarly, I’m not a poetry person: I like concise evocative text but not just words for words’ sake. So Protocol being basically a loong piece of poetry wasn’t my thing either. But there was a lot of really nice imagery: I kept seeing lines that I could have saved for later. There were a few jarring bits where the grammar was off in a way that was probably intentional but just felt like a mismatch for the smoothness of the rest of the prose. But mostly it was really solid, just too much for my taste.

The very first sentence was a little confusing to parse: my mind latched onto “constants” from the heading and then it took until the very end of the sentence to realize it was talking about conservation laws: personally I would have re-worded that as “A conservation law defines a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system that does not change as the system evolves over time.” But that’s nitpicking: I think this paragraph is intentionally alternating sentences between active and passive voice? It’s just that it was the first sentence so it stuck out that I had to look at it twice to parse it.

And then it just felt like it didn’t go anywhere quite enough for me? It starts off by making a big deal about how you’ve been stuck in a body that doesn’t belong to you (or maybe that’s just some form of dysphoria and not some form of cloning/personality injection/whatever) and then never quite does anything with it either way (that I saw?).

It repeats the pattern of long, long, lush paragraphs and then short, repeated, stuttering half phrases, which was really effective the first couple times but not so much after a dozen times.

I suspect from the feel of it that there’s a fair bit of branching at the end (and maybe a significant branching of perspective all the way through based on whether you choose to leave or to fix it at the beginning?) but then it was left (I thought) open to interpretation at the end rather than reaching a definite conclusion so I’m left wondering… what’s the intended point of the branching? What am I supposed to get out of this specific ambiguous ending versus one of the others?

Or, y’know, I could be completely wrong about the structure of this: I’m totally guessing. But that’s what it felt like to me. I suspect it works great as a long piece of speculative poetry for those who are into that: the writing seemed very well-done overall and there really were a lot of great individual lines in here.


First of all, thank you for taking the time to play and review these games. Thoughtful honest reviews are welcome as far as I’m concerned. With that said, it’s left me wondering something.

I’ve noticed certain types of games, for example poetic games with florid prose among others, seem to not be your bag, which, for the record, is totally fine. Romance games aren’t exactly my speed personally. What isn’t immediately clear to me is what exactly would knock Josh Grams’s socks off upon playing. For example, if someone were to enter a game into a future Comp with the solitary goal of delighting one Mr. Josh Grams, what exactly would this game look like and what would it prioritize? Honestly curious. It’d be like a personal achievement badge, like impressing Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay on the first try.



Thank you again for playing!! :grin: I’m really glad you liked it!

This is a spot-on description of the game! :smile: Most of the stuff I plan to release will lean really heavily into a sort of boardgame-esque, game-y experience! Perfect description!