Kastel's IFComp 2023 Reviews [All Reviews Done]

Thank you for this kind review!

You’re not the first to find some of the gameplay tedious–believe it or not, the amount of suggested topics was significantly cut down during testing! I expect to cut it down a little more in a post-comp release. I’m also planning on updating the walkthrough to list every topic you can ask each character about, suggested or not, for the sake of the curious.

I also want to thank you for engaging with the game’s themes in such a thoughtful way–you’re maybe the first to recognize (out loud at least) several of the more obscure ones.


This is wonderful to hear. Concision might be of great benefit to this game — or at least, I think some topics and answers can be combined with each other. I find it strange that topics like soul are even a thing when we’ve broached the subject elsewhere.

I would also like to suggest that the mechanic with the barista be toned down. I didn’t mention it in the review, but I had to quickly restart the game because I had nothing to buy to placate her. I already bought the water bottle for an achievement. I couldn’t talk to her and since I wanted to see all of the game’s content, I had to restart. Indeed, I wonder if the quasi-softlocks in the game are necessary.

And I suppose it’d be nice if people are able to encounter the final scene without completionism. My partner was interested in the game after learning it’s about an artist they studied in multiple classes and they seem to like that you’ve brought up the more taboo parts of his life, but they were bogged down by the topics and parts of the gameplay. I know I had to tell them you can talk to the characters, a fact I only realized by reading the achievement list. They might return to the game at least.

I think this is a game people would love and appreciate if there was a bit more quality of life.

Thank you for making this lovely title! It definitely made me rethink how art affects us in interesting ways. I look forward to sharing the post-comp release.


There actually is a way without buying anything (and I’ve updated the walkthrough to indicate it)—You can apologize to her and she’ll re-engage, albeit a bit more reticent.


One King to Loot Them All by Onno Brouwer

High-octane action doesn’t lend itself well to adventure game engines designed for exploration and puzzles. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to imagine parser games without some exploration and puzzling.

But this game presents an alternative and perhaps more exciting approach to interactivity. Originally made for the Single Choice Jam, its spartan design allows no room for superfluous commands for players to get stuck on. You are a barbarian who’s taken over the kingdom, not some lowly adventurer. You have no need for the standard Inform 7 verbs: you don’t open chests, you loot them. You smite any instances of downtime, regard the rich textual descriptions, and march toward the antagonist for one final showdown. And if you simply want to indulge in the spectacle, you can switch on and off the story mode at any point in the game.

You are the One King to Loot Them All.

Your interest in this game begins and ends in how interested you are in the spectacle of sword-and-sorcery stories. The game abandons any pretense of more conventional interactive fiction sensibilities; it instead revels in the genre as a pastiche. Love it or hate it, all the cliches are there. It will not attempt to subvert the genre or go beyond. The game simply asks for your commitment to roleplaying as this barbarian king.

This straightforward approach to storytelling may be too old-fashioned for many people, but adapting it to a parser work makes the story refreshing to me. Like Plundered Hearts, the game seems uninterested in IF works before it – the implementer was unaware of Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom weeks after they started developing the game and the only influence it had was on the help system – but it’s definitely infatuated with the sword-and-sorcery genre and is more than happy to learn from it. The stories of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry are all about escalating tension. They’re always in danger, but once they’ve killed their enemies, more will appear – and there will be more bloodshed. Only when they’ve slain everyone will they finally put down their swords and axes. I can’t imagine how much effort it would take to adapt these conventions to the Inform 7 engine, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Scenes feel seamless as you encounter one obstacle after another. Your actions are always purposeful and move the story forward. And the descriptions feel authentic to anyone who’s read their fair share of sword-and-sorcery works. Playing it brought back fond memories of immersing myself in the world of pulp fiction.

But it’s more than that: when I type in the words and read the player character swooping the corpses away, I feel like I’m actually interacting with the story. I’m brought into the power fantasy not just as a macho hunk, but as someone who can meaningfully change the state of the game world. To borrow from Jimmy Maher’s appraisal of Plundered Hearts, it’s close to the “Infocom ideal of interactive fiction” because there’s a “narrative urgency” that pushes players and events to move forward. It’s interactive and fiction the way I thought of those terms: there’s a lot of action going on and we, the players, have to interact with it.

One King to Loot Them All is therefore not just an orthodox version of sword-and-sorcery fiction. It may open up new avenues for interactive fiction as a medium, perhaps taking a cue from a recent review of Plundered Hearts that brought up the notion of “story-forward games” from another review. We can seize these opportunities if we dare to break this paradigm and try something different. They don’t have to be a minority. The promise of interactive fiction is still great, and I look forward to seeing more works with action-heavy plots like this terrific game.


I’d question that. Obligatory disclaimer: I haven’t played One King myself yet, so I could be off base here. But your review leaves me with the strong impression that this is a game which takes inspiration from Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom, which also features a pillaging barbarian with a custom verb set (also including regard and seize).


@Kastel, thank you for your review of my game. The Single Choice Jam inspired me to try to tell a story in the way the game presents it, and make the player participate in it. I hoped the momentum of the story would be strong enough to pull the player in and maybe forget they are being pulled along, and just enjoy the story.

@JoeyAcrimonious, I became aware of Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom a few weeks after I started writing my story and building a game engine to run it. I wanted to create a game for the Single Choice Jam and wanted to use a limited verb set (instead of the 70+ verbs Inform7 has by default), to avoid the “verb hunting” which might ensue if I would stick to the default, slowing down the game progress for the player and losing momentum. I discussed it here:

In fact the very existence of this game almost caused me to abandon the entire project. If I had known of it beforehand, I might have picked a different theme instead of the swords and sorcery theme I used here. Instead I chose to take it in as a coincidence and borrowed its help menu style for my own help menu. That is the only influence it had on my game.

The only Conan-related game I was aware of which also has a more or less linear storyline is The Tower of the Elephant - Details (ifdb.org), based on another Conan short story by Robert E. Howard.


I was aware of the context that Breuwer was writing in because he talked about it on Discord, but I probably should’ve mentioned this in retrospect. People will probably ask the same thing once I cross-post this review onto IFDB. Thanks for pointing it out.


My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition by Naomi Norbez

(cw: abuse from parents and institutions, mental health, suicide)

Bez realized he’s having difficulty remembering things.

This made him feel like he wasn’t in control of his life. After an unspecified traumatic incident (“my mother did something terrible to me (which I am not ready to discuss fully yet)”), he tried to end his life. He was sent the ER, later psych ward, and finally through several residential treatment facilities for a total of 14 months. During his time there, he learned that he was suffering from pseudodementia, a range of psychiatric conditions that results in symptoms similar to dementia but is thankfully reversible on treatment.

But 14 months is a long time. This game – or shall I say, museum exhibition – charts his time in these facilities as he struggles to recover from pseudodementia and the abuses of mental health institutions.

In lieu of memoir conventions where we simply read scenes like a novel, Bez has selected notebooks, a few photographs, rants scribbled on notebooks, young adult literature, and so on for all of us to see. They are mundane items, but they mean a lot to him. Each object has a powerful history that is detailed on the plaques. Unlike most museum exhibitions, the plaques offer a deluge of text and sometimes hyperlinks to a .txt file explaining the significance of the item to Bez. After we’re done contemplating, we move onto the next room and read more text.

As we navigate through this curated history of objects, we learn that Bez was unable to return home after his time in residential care because his abusive father refused to allow him to return. He was reluctantly moved between different residential facilities and each exhibit room represents the length of time he spent in each one. Every step brings him closer to the “real world”, but the facilities differ in quality. The first residential facility allowed Bez to connect with a neurologist who believed he had pseudodementia and even tried to accommodate his gender identity. The second consistently misgendered him. There are also different levels of care that he must undergo, resulting in limbo and long waits.

In return, stickers declaring his pronouns become more prominent on his notebooks and folders. More and more objects clarify and deepen his own understanding of who he is, but the end of the exhibition reminds us that there’s still a long way to go: “Recovery is not a destination you can reach; it’s a mountain you can choose to climb.”

After writing my thoughts on the guestbook, I thought I had little to say about this game. It was a sweet and poignant time capsule. But I kept returning to it because this autobiography has emotional weight. The objects have so much potency that they feel as important as the historical artifacts I’ve seen in museums; Bez’s folders are just as compelling as a cannon recovered from the Battle of Waterloo. And like other exhibitions, this game has taught me about the inner workings of mental health institutions in the US and how patients are treated especially in regards to gender-affirming care. I really appreciate how honest Bez’s depictions are.

And parts of the game resonate with me because my life changed after I contracted COVID-19. While I never suffered memory loss, I was (and still am) constantly tired and could only maintain a “normal” life by following certain routines. I 100% share Bez’s thoughts on recovery.

My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition is a gorgeously personal exhibit that is worth visiting at least once. Although it deals with some painful subjects, it hugs you and reminds you to keep living beyond your doubts. And as you learn to recover, every object you interact with along the way is special and important – you should take note of it.


There is also Conan Kill Everything, though it is questionable if it really qualifies as Conan-related, as the author admits to never having read a Conan story and not knowing much about him.

EDIT: It is kind of interesting as a one-room, limited-verb game, though.


Citizen Makane by The Reverend

Citizen Makane may be the best deckbuilding adventure game based on The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane.


After an eerily familiar dream, you have awakened to a world where the male sex has been wiped out. Students, milkwomen, passersby – they’re all eager to find out how stiff Stiffy Makane really is. Even scientists are interested in your sexual prowess because it may provide insights into human evolution.

Just one small problem: you haven’t worked your genitalia in at least 267 years.


To get you back up to speed, the game gives you some simple adventure game objectives. You help (and bang) people: a librarian wants to expand her collection of taboo books; a priestess believes the chalice has been stolen by a beloved philanthropist; and the milkwomen want to extract your male milk and sell it on the market. These tasks may or may not be available depending on the day, but there are no deadlines in the game.


However, some missions are gated based on your sexual stamina level. If you try something intense from the start, you’ll only make a mess and embarrass yourself. You gotta start slow: wait for a woman to look at you as you travel between town, engage in a conversation, and bring out your deckbuilder. Much like real sex, the game involves collecting and using cards that are scattered around town and hidden in quests. You can wield three cards at a time during an encounter; each card can be submissive or dominant and there are ratings that indicate the amount of pleasure you versus what your partner get. The goal is to simultaneous orgasm (and maybe a little more!), but the beginning is an exercise on humility – you may have to ejaculate before your partner even feels anything. As long as you don’t make a mess of yourself, you’ll earn EXP. The more skilled you are at pleasuring each other, the more EXP – just like how I remember my RPGs.


The entire game had me laughing and enthralled from start to finish. I really enjoyed the witty writing: it never gets old because it keeps juggling different kinds of sex jokes and the comedic timing is varied enough. The prose is also clean and the plot always moves forward, especially if you know how to optimize the sex gains. Honestly, I can’t get enough of the raunchy and amusing writing.


But by the end of the game, I became somehow emotionally invested in this strange setting and the relationship between the two main characters. For a game that revels in bawdiness, I didn’t expect such tender and emotional writing. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense: this game has foreshadowed that it’ll be tackling uncomfortable misogyny present in the original Stiffy Makane and other adult games. No matter how many consenting women there are in this game, we cannot undo Makane’s shooting of Pamela. Not only do we see it in the introduction, but in certain sexual encounters, our player character tries to go on a date with one of his liaisons, only to be rebuffed because she’s only interested in his technology. He can only relate with a partner through sex and that’s why he’s so lonely. And the final action the player might be the best answer to his unquenchable longing because it respects him and the history of the Stiffy Makane games. Perhaps, the ribaldry makes the few nice scenes even sweeter. It adds emotional weight to the overall message about sex and turns the game into a fascinating character study of one of the best characters interactive fiction has to offer.

Citizen Makane is an incredible game that lives up to its name. I had so much fun that I wished the game was longer and more substantial, but I knew that brevity and polish made for the best stuff. Orson Welles would have been so honored to have such a wonderful game named after his mediocre movie.


(A few more spoilers please? :pray: Thanks!)

I ended up being unsure how to add spoilers for this review, so there you go lol.

EDIT: I’ve made plentiful use of the “more details” feature and spoilers to give readers more agency on what they choose to read. Hopefully, it’s much better.


Thanks for the review. Glad you enjoyed it!


It’s an unbelievable debut work. I had erroneously assumed a veteran had taken up a pseudonym and took the polished prose for granted. I’ve also just checked your Introducing Ourselves entry and I’m utterly flabbergasted how you subtly mentioned Citizen Makane there:

I’m excited to see what your next game will be!


Dr Ludwig and the Devil by SV Linwood

If someone asked me which parser games with puzzles would be good for beginners, I would wait until the clock struck midnight, laugh like a mad scientist on the Discord voice call, and point to this game.

Dr. Ludwig’s only goal was to create life, but his repeated failures had led him to seek help from the Devil. But as the Grand Grimoire warned, beware of the Devil’s contract and look for any loopholes! He’s not going to sell his soul right just when he’s on the verge of a new scientific discovery – that would suck.

Much of the comedy plays with the popular imagination of the mad scientist and the 1931 Frankenstein movie. For instance, the Torch and Pitchfork Society tried to make Dr. Ludwig sign a reasonable charter to be a less annoying and more cordial neighbor. But Dr. Ludwig refused, preferring to get excited about picking up shovels (“The shovel was mine! All mine!”). The problems the characters face are also very similar to our own: queer love, lack of free time, and the question of unionization for better working conditions. These playful gestures aren’t profound or anything, but they’re certainly very funny.

Not only is the humor quite enjoyable, but it also alleviates the usual frustration that comes with parser titles. It follows the wisdom of other beginner-friendly games like Lost Pig: instead of punishing you with error messages, it rewards you with some musings of Ludwig. The overall map is also quite small and the hint system is convenient and easy to use.

What makes the game stand out is how the game juggles conversational mechanics with puzzles. Most of the puzzles are classic object-hunting puzzles, but they’re gated behind conversation topics. The game is thus able to carefully drip the most relevant information to the player at appropriate moments. I find this approach refreshing since most new players feel overwhelmed by the many moving parts of parser games. Though it sacrifices mechanical depth, later puzzles build on earlier ones and this helps keep the story moving forward.

It’s impressive that Dr. Ludwig and the Devil has somehow managed to appeal to both the sensibilities of new and experienced players. Everyone will probably enjoy it because the puzzles, implementation, and writing are consistently high quality. It captures what makes puzzle parser games so much fun in a matter of an hour and a bit more.

I hope this isn’t the end of Dr. Ludwig. He’s such a compelling character that I would love to see him take on more genre movie cliches. As the youngsters would say, let him cook.


Assembly by Ben Kirwin

This game is a box of good ideas.

All of the puzzles revolve around following IKEA instruction manuals in interesting ways. They don’t test your general puzzle-solving skills but rather how well you understand the logic of the world. If you’re able to internalize it, solving the puzzles feels effortless.

Every eureka moment I had deepened my appreciation of this game. It understood and exploited the greatest strength of text-only games: the ability to conjure up truly strange images. The fact it was all my doing made it better. And I also thought the gimmick didn’t wear out its welcome either; it was explored just enough to feel satisfying and to keep the narrative moving forward.

While the game was never going to focus on the story, the writing and the action were quite engaging. I was curious about the world and the tantalizing little details we got seem to evoke a larger cosmology.

Assembly is a humble work of genius. For such a simple conceit, the game unfolds in so many surprising ways and I can’t stress enough how clever the game is. It’s a clean and refined game that’s easy to get into unlike the furniture it’s inspired by.


Good review, I had very similar thoughts!


I didn’t pick up on this! Glad I read your review.

Edit: Looking back, I’m not sure…it sounds a little to me like he’s on a phone call with the other person not visible, or something. Like a voice chat. I wonder if it’s ambiguous? She says:

What has gotten into you? Person on the other end, whoever you are, is my dad being like super-weird right now?

BTW I read your review several times because it helped me process my thoughts. Very well-written!

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Hmm, you might be right. I’m going to update this review because that’s an interpretation of mine and I want to make that clear. But I do wonder who we are. Assuming we are indeed on a call, are we just a close friend of Ed? Someone who shares the same hobbies of interactive fiction but much older than the protagonists of And Then You Went into a House? What is Ed trying to convey to us then by making us relive his trauma? I guess if we are actually real, it adds to the feeling that he made us undergo something that’s just unnecessary.

Anyway, I’m glad to hear that my review help you process your thoughts. I know the game did something to me and I had to write it in order to understand what I was feeling!


Thank you for your thoughtful review. I’m touched by how impactful the exhibits seem to be for you. I also didn’t consciously realize that I put my pronouns more on my notebooks/folders as things went along, but it makes a lot of sense!
I’m sorry to hear you also have post-Covid symptoms. But I’m glad my thoughts on recovery resonate with you.