Kastel's Spring Thing 2024 Reviews

In the far, far lands of Southeast Asia, there is no spring. Instead, we have mosquitoes and floods. However, Mosquitos and Floods Thing 2024 may not be the most appropriate title of all time.

Nevertheless, I am looking forward to playing and reading about Spring Thing 2024. I’m not sure if I’ll write reviews for every game I play, but I want to give every game a fair shot and I’m excited to be a part of a contest that encourages experimentation as a reviewer.

Can’t wait to see what good stuff is out there now!

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Over here in Singapore, it’s the hottest time of the year, monsoon season being just over! :smiley: Anyway, two years ago I was in the UK, so Spring Thing seems fair. Anyway, I’ll see myself out…

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The Case of the Solitary Resident by thesleuthacademy

A police procedural from the creator of Last Vestiges in IFComp 2023, The Case of the Solitary Resident is a Twine mystery that explores police investigations in an edutainment kind of way.

The player can navigate through the victim’s apartment using hyperlinks and ask forensics to look at samples. Results come in as you get more clues and time passes. There’s a lot of clicking compared to other Twine titles I’ve played because objects and rooms have their own hyperlinks within them – it reminds me of other Twine games that try to mimic the look and feel of parser games.

The writing can be somewhat charming when given a chance to shine. I particularly like the description of examining camembert cheese and the narrator goes “It looks innocuous enough, but you cannot help but wonder… is there death in the cheese?” It’s a delightfully cheesy line that I kind of wish was more prominent in the game because I found the title too serious.

Indeed, the narrator doesn’t have the hardboiled cop vibe for me. Although the narration suggests that they’ve got experience and a desire to avoid wrongful convictions, I don’t think they have much personality. I realize that the character is simply an avatar for the player, but it makes for a rather plain reading experience. The text wasn’t engaging for me, and I found myself skimming lines to see what links to click on next.

The mystery itself isn’t that interesting either. Having played Last Vestiges, I thought the solution would be similar and it’s disappointing that there are no twists and turns in this game either. The interviews have very little interactivity since you only ask the suspects about the few clues that exist. And when the player is ready to make an accusation, they are presented with several options that look similar to each other and the jargon doesn’t help much. Unlike Last Vestiges, there is an attempt to help the player learn the jargon through books, but I find them very unhelpful and wonder if this is even accurate (kudos to the developer for adding a disclaimer that this may not be accurate for the two books you read). I didn’t get any satisfaction from solving the case as I found the general outline of events predictable; I just didn’t know the specific jargon needed to close the case.

Still, I find the game a pleasure to play because I like the mystery genre and exploring the apartment as an investigator is always fun. While it does feel like a chore at times, obsessively clicking through the hyperlinks and making sure you’ve asked the lab to check for fingerprints and hair is quite refreshing. The procedural work is fun to click through, so I wonder if the game would be more interesting if we were just looking for clues. The game falls apart for me once I’m in the solving stage; the investigative parts have more depth (and are perhaps more attuned to the expertise of the developer).

To put it another way, I think the ideal mystery for me may not be about inventive solutions or ingenious logical puzzles. Rather, what I enjoy most is roleplaying as an investigator looking for clues – the process, not the solution. Mysteries, even the great ones out there, tend to be sloppy in this regard and I can see games like The Case of the Solitary Resident correcting this trend.

I hope the developer continues making this game and polishing their craft.

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Welcome back! Good to see those reviews come up again!

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You Can Only Turn Left by Emiland Kray, Ember Chan, and Mary Kray

I don’t believe it is possible to discuss this title as a “Twine game” but as an experience: it creates visions of a state so unfamiliar to me that it invites me to wander alongside it and learn about it through iteration.

Nothing in this resembles the dreams I have: text blurs into other text, the narrator wakes up but finds himself dreaming again, pink hyenas appear, a plethora of images and roars clash with the player, etc. but there is a kind of lucidity to the narration. The narrator is awake but not quite because they are under the influence of drugs. It’s also not quite like what I think of as hallucinations because the symbolic imagery resembles the memories of the character. This state where the real and familiar become tainted with the nightmarish uncanniness of dreams is – as the game says – sometimes charming and sometimes horrifying. To be conscious in this state is to see the mundane disappear into the ether, to watch memories emerge as dreams manifest into reality.

While it may be comfortable for me to rationalize this as another example of the false dichotomy between dreams and reality, I think this work is trying to get at something more practical about how we experience the world:

The hypnagogic state can be defined as “spontaneously appearing visual, auditory and kinaesthetic images; qualitatively unusual thought processes and verbal constructions; tendencies towards extreme suggestibility; symbolic representations of ongoing mental and physiological processes; and so on” (Schacter, 1976, 452–453). Schacter noted that the most common factor of these phenomena was their occurrence in the drowsy interval between the waking state and sleeping.

(Source: The hypnagocic state: A brief update by Roman Ghibellini and Beat Meier)

I had never heard of hypnagogic states before playing this game and only looked them up after reading the game description on the Spring Thing website. But I find this description familiar to me now: as I followed the hyperlinks, I found myself meditating on the liminal state between waking and dreaming.

I can’t say that I’ve experienced this state, but I’ve wondered about other media that deal with this particular blurring of reality. The work of David Lynch comes to mind: his films don’t just have bizarre symbolic imagery, but they are ultra-sensitive to how sensory everything is. Reality in these kinds of works is ultra-phenomenal: every mundane sensation seems to matter a little too much, and the sensory overload the game evokes is frightening yet fascinating.

And all of this is achieved through decent writing, clever use of text effects, and some memorable background images that move around the screen. These effects create an otherworldly atmosphere, and I wonder if the fact that some text is unreadable (yellow-white text on yellow-white backgrounds) is one of the tools the game uses to disorient you.

You Can Only Turn Left is a deeply memorable experience for me. I can’t predict how other reviewers will feel about this title, but as for me, it gave me a few seconds to ponder about how the perception of reality is sometimes a bunch of dreams and fictions. A kind of mixed reality, if you will. I’m definitely biased as someone who enjoys reading about the philosophy and psychology of perception, but it really is a unique work and I hope people get to experience it.

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Do Good Deeds by Sissy

Well-intentioned, but this Twine title doesn’t feel great to play. There are a lot of typos that make it difficult to read, the text rendering/scrolling is quite slow, the interface feels awkward to navigate on my desktop Firefox browser, the music drones on forever, and the story and setting aren’t very engaging at all. I had a hard time playing through this title and wish there was better QOL as I imagine kids will have less patience than I do.

The TRUTH About Pride! by Jemon Goldin

This Bitsy game indulges in acrostics: each letter invites you to a passage that gives you interactable symbols that read out what the letter stands for.

However, I found it frustrating that the rooms and corridors were large. It meant a lot of tapping on the arrow keys to get from one place to another. You can hold down the arrow keys to move, but your character is very slow and cumbersome.

The game also seems to have a larger puzzle. Scattered throughout the acrostic are exclamation marks that reveal fragments of a sentence out of order. Put them together and you should get a solution to the puzzle. Unfortunately, I can’t tell if the solution is meant to be literal (it would be annoying if it were since it’s a lot of legwork for nothing) or if the game is bugged and I can’t trigger a secret ending.

As for the wisdom contained in the game, I don’t think it worked for me. It’s a pep talk about being proud of your identity, not just in terms of gender, but in terms of your own personality and other aspects. But it doesn’t question the things that are important to me about being queer. This is, of course, a desire I have that may not be shared by others. I want queer media that challenges what it means to be queer, what pride means, and so on. I recognize that this game isn’t going to be it as I play further, and it would be unfair to demand that the game engage in some radical queer theory.

But I think there’s something to be said about the word, “pride”. It makes me conflicted considering what’s happening in the world: we are both getting accepted and rejected at the same time and I often wonder about the tensions inherent in that word. It is, for better or for worse, a word that is worth defending, even if it has been coopted by corporations.

I wish we had a better word to describe why we are as vulnerable and human as other people though.

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A Simple Happening by Leon Lin

A samurai parser game is bound to raise some questions for me: will it be authentic to the historical figures, or will it play on the popular image of honorable brutes serving lords they dislike? The answer is clearly the latter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Orientalist premise makes it a foregone conclusion.

The protagonist is a samurai who has offended his lord and is sentenced to seppuku, the ritual act of honorable suicide. His lord is watching and Koji is waiting to behead him as soon as the ritual blade touches his flesh. This is all very stereotypical: after eating the mackerel and drinking sake, the player can compose random haiku as his last words. I found all of this a bit silly.

But the game gets interesting when the presentation breaks down. The player character realizes he wants to live and the game finally starts as an action-packed title. There are no puzzles, but there are intense descriptions that disorient the player as they try to find a way out of the section. There are fights in the game that remind me, for better or for worse, of the combat in Zork 1, but they are there to enhance the hectic nature of the game.

As for the ending, the game jokes that it’s a play on another work, but I’m reminded of the movie The Green Knight: both works are set in medieval times, deal with dream sequences of a dishonorable life, and inextricably link duty with figuring out a good death. Compared to the movie, this game falls short in fleshing out that connection, and that was something I was looking forward to.

The game also doesn’t question the roles of samurais and lords. The characters seem to behave more like concepts and archetypes than actual people within a system. For a game that revolves around the samurai code, it doesn’t seem interested in exploring the theme, and the ending feels rather abrupt due to this approach.

Still, I found this game exciting and enjoyable to play past the seppuku scene. I’ve always found parser games interesting when they delve into the language of action movies. The intensity of the prose there, the claustrophobia the player feels as he guides the samurai, and the sequence of events are all impeccable, and it’s something I wish the game did more of.

A Simple Happening is a short, tight game with a good mix of set pieces and decent writing. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the standard samurai movie setting, but everything else is pretty neat. I thought the core mechanics were pretty solid, and I wished there was a deeper interrogation of how honor and samurais work because I think the subject is actually more fascinating than the game lets on.

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Pass a Bill by Leo Weinreb

This game claims to be a satire of legislative bureaucracy, but I found it too juvenile and unspecific to work. For example, the game seems to acknowledge the existence of pork barrel, but it doesn’t follow how pork barrel bills are actually made. I also question the concept of an unaffiliated member of the legislature going to different parties like they’re joining fraternities. The developer also doesn’t seem to understand the importance of trigger warnings, which makes it hard for me to take the game seriously. All in all, this is a work of satire in search of a satirical subject, and I guess I can’t stand games like this anymore.

A Dream of Silence by Abigail Corfman

I’m not familiar with Baldur’s Gate 3, but I know that people like Astarion and playing the game made me understand why.

After a grueling battle at the camp, the player character searches for Astarion who is trapped in a never-ending nightmare. He’s trapped in a tomb and he’s losing his mind. You can only manifest as an incorporeal being and have to spend your precious ten energy points to learn Speech, Touch, and Spell to reassure Astarion that he’s not going mad and that there’s someone who still needs him. You can only tell him so much to make him remember that he’s not alone in this tomb. Astarion is starving and dying of loneliness, so every interaction you have with him is important. I realized I was enjoying this game when I saw him lose his guard and reveal his vulnerability to me. It confirms that not only did I manage my resources well but that I was able to connect with him as a person in need of companionship. The feedback loop feels rewarding and I feel closer to Astarion as a character.

I appreciate how much Corfman is able to express how much she thinks Astarion is a compelling character, but what I find particularly cool is that she’s able to show how lovable this asshole character is to non-BG3 players like me. It made me even more interested in the game (if only it weren’t so expensive and data hog) because I really like characters like that.

Unfortunately, it was a shame that the game ended early. What we have so far is an early access game that shows the first act. I wanted to read and learn more about Astarion. He’s the kind of character whose moody temperament is intoxicating and I can’t imagine the volume of interactions one could have in future acts. I trust Corfman to flesh out the mechanics and put him and the player in interesting situations that challenge how I’ve handled resource management and his trust.

I didn’t expect to like A Dream of Silence as much as I did. I was not the “right audience”, but I think Corfman’s approach to the character worked well with me. Her prose invited me into the world of Baldur’s Gate 3 in a way that few reviews can because she focuses on a specific character she adores and is able to express what she finds so fascinating about him. It is a passionate and infectious love letter to the character and I can’t wait to see the full version one day – maybe after I finally get to Baldur’s Gate 3.

Feedback for Corfman

Players who haven’t played BG3–do you understand what’s going on?

Somewhat, though I wonder if it’s too much for the player. I think it’s more important for the players to realize they’re entering a dream – no need to bring up the premise of the game.

  • Does the synopsis help?

It helps me ground myself at least. Would prefer only the essential details though.

  • Do I need to do more to introduce the cavalcade of fantasy characters in the Campsite intro?

Not necessary, unless they’re important in future acts.

I’m not sure the mechanics surrounding how much Touch Astarion is comfortable with work. It’s supposed to be a tricky thing, but I’m concerned it’s unintuitive.

Touch is strange, but then again when has human contact ever been not strange? I personally like its unintuitive nature since it makes him a more fascinating character and anyway, the “Trust” from the Sight skill tells you a lot anyway.

Is keeping Astarion alive too hard/too easy?

I think the default difficulty is quite tough and requires you to restart a number of times. I ended up using Explorer difficulty to finish the game, but I enjoyed my time figuring stuff out. I think what was pretty obscure to me is how Astarion’s health drops randomly and I recognize it’s related to the actions I do (like letting him know about the rat), but it seems opaque at best.

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Thanks for taking the time to play my game and write your review! I appreciate how thoughtful and in-depth it was.

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Thanks for your review. I have now updated the trigger warning so that the comedic pre-game note is entirely separate from the very real and necessary list of triggers. Apologies to anyone who might have thought I was making fun of the idea of trigger warnings – that was absolutely not my intention, but I can totally see how it could have been interpreted that way.

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Rescue at Quickenheath by Mo Farr

A swashbuckling tale of adventures and embassies led by two intrepid highway robbers deeply in love with each other, Rescue at Quickenheath is a thrilling Twine game with rich worldbuilding and memorable interactions.

You are Valentine and your mission is to save your beloved Aubrey from execution. But first, the game asks you for your gender and then for your love interest’s. I find the idea of “be gay, do crimes” appealing, so I made them a nonbinary x lesbian couple. With that out of the way, my player character arrives in Quickenheath ready to save their loved one.

The game feels like it has a big world, even though in retrospect the game is quite linear. It accomplishes this by having a few places to go that open up to newer places after completing a few puzzles. Progression feels great and you get more and more juicy worldbuilding details. By the time I finally got to the infodumps, I was already engaged with the world, so I was happy to learn more about the inner politics of fairies and humans.

There are a few contrived scenes that exist to keep the game moving, and I kinda like it. The fairy embassy scene where the ambassador decides to give you access to the fairy world is an obvious example and the game seems to recognize that, but I didn’t mind it as much as I would’ve thought. This scene, while inelegant, makes sure the player keeps engaged with the drama of the story, and I believe that a few scenes that don’t make much realistic sense is better than many dull scenes to make it work in a story like this. I’m glad that the author understands pacing so well and I think it adds to the atmosphere of an adventure-romance game.

The puzzles are a bit silly, but they are inoffensive and short enough that they are fine. The game will give you solutions if you mess them up too much anyway. And the Twine styling, while simple, is effective and easy to read. The fonts are easy to read on my phone at night and I just found it a breezy game to play.

Rescue at Quickenheath is the kind of game I’d be happy to recommend to newcomers of interactive fiction. It has enough drama, comedy, complexity, and most importantly gay shit that it can be a crowdpleaser. I personally want to see more gay interactions in this game, and that is always a sign of a good game.

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PROSPER.0 by groggydog

You have recently been hired by a generic dystopian science fiction corporation to filter poetry from an accidental merger of the Database of Subsumed Cultures. By filtering, they mean deleting these cultural artifacts from the database because they’re unnecessary and pointless.

At first, you’re preserving factoids and deleting poetry, but someone named PROSPER.0 comes into your interface, quotes some Shakespeare, and lets you “reclaim” words from the poetry you’re about to delete. And now you’re tasked with creating a poem based on the words you’ve recovered. You could create a poem commemorating the highs and lows of the ancient civilization you deleted, or you could create a poem expressing your desires – whatever you want.

The concept is quite interesting, but I found it awkward at best. I found myself hovering over a sentence and clicking endlessly to grab as many words as I could. The game does throw in a few curveballs like limiting the words you can grab as a creative challenge, but that’s about it. The game doesn’t test you in any way, and the individual words are so divorced from the specific cultural meanings of the alien civilization that they don’t really carry any weight for me when I write my found poetry.

(As an aside, the game reminds me of 18 Cadence by Aaron Reed where you reorganize sentences and paragraphs from an already constructed story to make something creative and personal. I wonder if PROSPER.0 would have benefited from preserving sentences instead of single words.)

As for the in-game poems written by the aliens, they were generated through a telephone game of public domain poetry and several rounds of Google Translate. I’ve seen reviewers say that this made the poetry sufficiently alien to them, but I was already familiar with some of the poems, and the experience was like reading a recitation by someone who had just forgotten how the lines went. I would prefer original poetry, but I also recognize that writing different poems in different voices is rather impractical. Still, it diminished the credibility of the alien poetry for me.

Now, I have to take off my reviewer’s hat for a bit and admit that artistic works that advocate the power of art and culture in a world that rejects them are becoming too superficial for me. Many works in this vein, including this game, advocate for artistic and cultural expression, but they don’t really have anything more to say after that. Works like this require you to believe that the plot, that art must be defended once again against the tyranny of dystopias, is enough. No critical interrogation of art or culture – just the notion of (poetic) injustice.

The game does lampshade this tension: the player character asks PROSPER.0 if their poetry will even memorialize these alien civilizations since the game doesn’t check if you do. It responds with a non-sequitur gotcha: you wouldn’t be able to summarize the civilization with all the words you have, so make do with what you have. Point taken, but it makes me wonder what the player character is supposed to be: a savior, an egotistical artist, or all of the above? We also don’t get much of a sense of PROSPER.0, even with the lategame reveals. I just view them as someone who’s way into Shakespeare sonnets and nothing else; their interest in poetry is intentionally superficial, but it’s not really explored or acknowledged beyond a few lines.

I’m partly sure that the intention of the game is to open up discussion, especially about the symbolic meaning of the player character and PROSPER.0. However, I found the oblique direction this game takes to be underwhelming: it doesn’t explore anything but the surface of the relationships between capitalism, art, and technology. I almost feel like I have to read more of my own theory and philosophizing into the game in order to make sense of the themes in the story because the game lacks any of that exploration.

Which is a shame because I think found poetry is one of the more unique genres that interactive fiction is predisposed to. It would be fascinating to play found poetry that follows the beats of narrative games in the same way that some photography games (like Umurangi Generation) have a narrative for players to engage with. That would make the poetry we make and share more meaningful. I didn’t feel like I was part of a movement that the game wanted me to be a part of, but I liked the idea of a movement.

I just wish it was a real movement.

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Thank you for playing and for the encouraging review! Glad you enjoyed the game and the cheesy line - I personally thought the cheese brand was rather corny but it just came to mind and it felt right :slight_smile: Suggestions duly noted. The point on focusing on process rather than solution leaves much for me to think about, so thanks!

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thank you very much for playing and for such a considerate review! i really appreciate it :smile: i’m particularly glad to hear the pacing worked for you, as that’s one of the things i find trickiest to control in if as opposed to standard fiction.

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Studio by Charm Cochran

This is the kind of horror that gives me nightmares. There are no supernatural beings in this story, just a diminishing sense of security in a world that is getting increasingly dangerous to sleep in.

For the avid (and paranoid) parser player, it pays to get to know your player character and what she’s like. In the first half of the game, she has to do her chores like emptying the dishwasher and remembering her new identity. As the game progresses, the web browser turns orange and gradually dims, imitating the sun going down. If the player snoops around with the right commands, they’ll learn about her backstory, why she has moved to a new part of town, and why she’s constantly exhausted but still aware of everything around her.

As the second half begins, the web browser goes dark and everything onward is written in the future tense. The inciting event hasn’t happened yet. All the parser input the player enters is the sequence of actions she will take to overcome the armed intruder.

Studio is a very tense game, especially when the player is starting out. The game reacts to your every command without hesitation and you can feel how precious every move becomes in this life-or-death situation. Every step feels like a step into the unknown and I have to remember the right numbers, where things are and where he is.

I’ve lived in studio apartments this small before, so it’s impressive how spacious this environment becomes when we add this obstacle to the mix. Navigating around the apartment, grabbing important items, and possibly creating distractions makes this living space feel a bit larger – but it’s still overwhelming because I have to remember that her smartphone is by the bed, her laptop is in the office area, etc. This game could have been set in a house, but the compactness of the studio apartment makes it more intense. In the parser game model, the player character and the obstacle are in different rooms. In the actual writing of the game, they’re just a few feet away from each other. This proximity overrides the way I usually map parser games in my head, and I find it thrilling, if not nerve-wrecking.

There are multiple endings to this game, which may not seem like much at first. However, the game only counts endings not by how we got there, but what the outcome is. There are multiple ways to kill the intruder as a quick example. This made me replay the game so many times to explore what other outcomes are possible and which one would be satisfying for the player character. Normally, I would find replaying a horror game less unnerving. However, the constant search for new things to do keeps me on edge, and I really like how the game encourages that experimentation.

If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have noticed that fleeing the apartment with everything you have is the same as fleeing the apartment without your valuables. After all, the armed intruder can still find you and kill you. Or how the armed intruder reacts to sounds and things that look off (he noticed the keychain was missing). Or how you can just turn on the radio and listen to some great hip-hop. This makes the setting very believable and grounded while creating a kind of sandbox environment for the player to play around in.

It took me a while to get the last two main endings, that is subduing and murdering the intruder while alerting the police. And I had to ask Cochran for help for that since they weren’t really smart ideas for the player character to have. But I do appreciate that these endings exist as they remind the player that every variable is in fact in check.

While I enjoyed the game very much, I have to admit that the game doesn’t go beyond its atmospheric horror roots. The way the game handles its themes doesn’t make me want to write an essay about it. I think this can be a downer for people who want more than just a sandbox horror game.

That said, I think its brevity works in its favor. Studio knows what it wants to do, and it delivers. I am extremely impressed with the title and how many secrets it has – I’m sure there are more to be found, even though I’ve spent hours on the game. It’s simply an effective horror parser game because it preys on something most people feel vulnerable to: our safety.

I remember wondering what the player character meant in the second half when she said that she was missing the weapon that kept her safe, and I restarted the game and searched the apartment as if I were burglaring her place. After a day of searching, I found her taser and time stopped for me. I thought about all the associations with the object, her backstory, and why she needs it.

The object, in my view, challenges how we balance safety with other needs while reminding us that one wrong step could be the end of everything. It is a symbol of how gender-based violence is everywhere and the police are useless. All she can do is fend for herself, and I think that’s the real horror of the story: she’s alone in a violent, violent world.

The studio apartment just happens to be a microcosm of that world.

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Thank you for this well-considered review!

And you know what? Same.

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Deep Dark Wood by Senica Thing

This is an anthology of micro IF written in Twine by seven elementary and middle school students from Senica, Slovakia. More information can be found here. Each work goes in different directions, but the framing narrative is always the same: the player is “entering a dark place full unpredictable twists and hostile creatures.” If they feel uncomfortable or have exhausted all the options found in these works, they can return “to the Main Crossroads and try another path”. The premise of a dark forest is more than enough to spark the children’s imaginations, and I like how the games are different from each other. It’s great that they’re collected in an easy-to-read anthology like this.

Some of the games have not been edited by adults, with zero or few changes at all (“The Land Owner left the path nearly untouched”). Others were redesigned (“The Land Owner had to redesign some parts of the story to balance the beginning and the ending and make the adventure sound bit more logical.”) for us unimaginative adults in mind. So all these games are written by kids whose creative voices are not drowned out by outside forces, and I like that.

Overall, Deep Dark Woods is an impressive anthology of children’s fiction. I own several anthologies of children’s poetry and fiction, and this would fit right into my library. It’s fun to read what kids have to say about the world they live in, what they find scary and exciting, etc. And I would say this is a step up from the anthologies I own because there is a common theme/setting. We can trace the imaginative journeys kids take from the premise here, and it’s quite enlightening for anyone interested in children’s education.

I’m going to go through each game because I think they deserve their own review and I agree with the project’s goal of giving feedback and encouragement to the kids.

Back to the City by David

The game begins with us standing in front of a log cabin. We are presented with three choices: join the party, leave the forest, or explore the forest. Each choice leads to other choices that may or may not help the character find their way back to the city.

Leaving the forest is a rather funny option as it’s the quickest way to safety. Joining the party doesn’t help us achieve our goals, but we are able to talk to some of the characters for a bit. It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to party with them for long because our character realized that it had little to do with getting home. That’s probably true, but maybe talking to these people in the party could give us some clues about how to get home, and we could have some fun and intelligent conversations with them.

In fact, I think we see that opportunity when the player character meets Steve the horse when we choose to explore the forest. Steve has a map to the city, and that means that our exploration of the forest is rewarded. It feels good to help someone and then find a way back to the town. This is my favorite path because we can lead Steve back to his owner by exploring the town.

So the best parts of the game involve the player character talking to other characters and working together to solve a common problem. I would have liked to see situations like the one with Steve in Back to the City. Steve is also a fun character and I think it would be great to see more scenes of him horsing around with the player character. All in all, a pretty good game.

Dark Dreams by Baily’s Sisters

The player character wakes up in an old house that has a table with a lamp, an apple, and a cup of coffee. The windows are closed. You have three choices related to the items on the table.

Without giving away the game’s secrets, the choices are excellent and lead to some incredible scenarios. I laughed at the hand-standing wolf and was engaged when I learned I was poisoned. The game knows that things have to happen to the player or they will get bored.

The best part of this game is how each ending reflects what the player has done while exploring the house. I like how it remembers what I did and what I didn’t do. It’s nice to play a game that remembers my actions and implies that I should have done something better. More games should do that.

This is a well-designed game that makes you think about the consequences of your actions. There are many satisfying endings, and there’s always something to do and think about on every page.

Halloween by Hailey and Milka

The game starts by asking us to enter our name and then welcomes us to the Halloween Hunt. There are many different paths the player can take, but I think there’s a bit too much.

I think the main problem is that the choices don’t feel connected to the previous scenes. I don’t feel like I’m in control of the world or my character, so the choices don’t feel as meaningful as they should.

Still, I am deeply impressed by how much text there is in the game and how much attention is paid to building a world full of surprises. I enjoy exploring every link and being surprised that there’s more to read and explore. I feel their energy and passion in their words.

I think developers should think about which branches are important for the player to reach. They should try to play the game at least once, so that they can imagine what the player will feel while reading through their game. It’s an ambitious game that could be even better if the developers considered how people will experience their title.

IXI in the Forest by Leontine

IXI wants to make friends in the forest and there seem to be two animals he can befriend: a doe or a bird. The doe turns out to be hostile, but choosing the bird gives us a story of friendship.

It’s a pity that the bird is “good and nice but lazy”. The choices in this game revolve around making the bird or the doe do things, so we need to make the bird not lazy.

I like the bird because she seems happy to help people out but only if we remind the bird what it should do. I also like the rabbits who can choose to invite the bird or not. I wish I could learn more about the bird, rabbit, doe, and IXI. They seem like interesting characters and I would like to know what each of them had for dinner. Animals do have interesting meals after all.

The game is short, but I think it has memorable characters and environments. I just want more because I think it’s very good.

Little Frogie by Natalie

You are a hungry frog, but you can choose not to buy food and starve. It will be a sad moment, but that’s how the game begins: it wants you to consider your choices to find the best moments a frog could have.

The mistakes the frog could make are mistakes many of us would make. On a personal level, I understand using salt instead of sugar for pancakes, or how a delicious cake could make my teeth hurt. We have to consider things like the time of day and our other needs if we want to help our frog friend.

So I think the game does a very good job of exploring how our actions and choices should be aimed at satisfying a need and nothing more or less. Why would we want to paint the Mona Lisa when we could paint a cool cat with funny sunglasses? Each page makes me think about what I should do next, and it’s fun to click on a choice I know is wrong to see the hilarious results.

This is my favorite of the Seneca Thing games because of the balance between gameplay and text. Looking for different endings always makes me laugh, and I like how Natalie finds ways to summarize the endings into moments. It’s an impressive game with a good sense of humor and a great understanding of interactivity.

Survive or Die by Unicorn Sisters

This is a real horror game. We are in an old house and we have to explore the creepy attic or stay in the hall.

The atmosphere of this game is really captivating. I didn’t know what to expect, so I was surprised that there was a monster running around. The descriptions of the attic and other rooms are very well done and make me anxious on what I should do next.

I also like how the good choices are the ones people don’t tend to do in horror movies. Sticking together is always the best idea, but movies don’t do that. This game does and I appreciate that it has some common sense, so when the scary stuff happens, it feels more believable.

The monster is also quite effective at spooking me. The game never describes the monster, so it’s up to my imagination what the monster should look like. My own imagination is scarier than anything the developer can come up with, so I’m glad I was given the space to come up with the scariest monster to crawl around the house.

The ending surprised me, but it made a lot of sense since the monster was hungry and we just happened to order pizza. That was a great twist and I think the ending is very clever. Scary yet hilarious, this game is a great example of how horror can be mixed with comedy to create something very special.

The Dark One by Mushroom

This game starts by talking to you and asking if you’d like some blueberries. It feels like you are talking to a friend who has come up with a fascinating story. However, this friend doesn’t seem to know much about you since you can’t swim and oops.

So I like how the narration has personality. The narrator doesn’t know everything about you, but they are friendly and helpful if you earn their trust.

That said, I want to know more about the narrator and why they wants to help me. Their lines are so funny that they make me curious. It would be fun to see scenes where the narrator and I hang out and do things together, like friends tend to do. I would also like to read what the narrator thinks of me, so that we can avoid the swimming accident from now on.

I’m also interested in the title. The game never mentions what The Dark One is. Is the Dark One the narrator? Or is there something lurking that I haven’t found yet?

There are a lot of mysteries in this game that will be fun to unravel and explore. I like mysteries, so it will be fun to solve a few and leave the rest for me to ponder about the world. I’m looking forward to learning more about The Dark One, the narrator, and the world this game takes place in because it feels like there’s a lot of potential here.


That’s a lot of writing, and I hope it’s useful to developers and readers alike. Writing all this was exhausting, but I’m glad I did it.

A rewarding moment.

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Rewarding it is, Kastel, and not only for you. Since not all authors are able to fully benefit from your english review, my translation of the text and placing it on our project website (quoted, of course) - with short quotes, again, printed on their diplomas - will hopefully redeem some of your invested energy (and the energy of all other reviewers likwise). I really appreciate your effort to address each author separately so that they can learn and grow. And I am sure some of them will. Big thanks again.

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Bydlo; or the Ox-Cart by P.B. Parjeter

Pictures at an Exhibition is a famous piano composition by Modest Mussorgsky that depicts a musical tour of an exhibition made by Viktor Hartmann. The ten numbers are all based on Hartmann’s works, one of which is called “Bydlo”, which imitates an ox slowly pulling its cart. Its slow tempo and repetitive nature echo the menial labor of the ox as it trudges forward, ceaselessly, painstakingly, without ever stopping. The music rises and rises as if the ox is approaching the listener, culminating when the listener is finally close enough to inspect the hard work of the passing ox. The instruments then soften, suggesting that the ox is receding into the distance – this song captures a moment of labor, both its ordinariness and its grandeur. It is boring, exhausting work for the worker, but it is also a kind of spectacle for the listener.

That is my interpretation anyway. We don’t have access to the paintings on which this composition is based, but most people tend to agree that it is a negative interpretation of labor. Patrick Bouchard’s stop-motion animation of the same name reanimates an overworked ox, which is then overwhelmed and eaten alive by miniature clay-like humans. The dread this track inspires makes it difficult for anyone to present work as something positive or meaningful.

This is where P.B. Parjeter’s Bydlo comes in: it is a Bitsy game where you play as a human who has to capture dots in a small farm while an ox moves across the screen. Each time the player collects all the dots, they are taken back to the beginning, but the layout of the farm has changed. More and more obstacles appear in the fields, turning them into a chaotic maze full of abandoned objects and bones. When the ox finally leaves the screen, the player can follow its trail and reach an orchestra with a conductor and the letters FIN.

The game describes itself as a Bitsy game about the triumph of art over drudgery, which left me a tad confused. I understand the game is trying to say something about labor. The repetition is meant to provoke boredom and ennui in the player, and the choice of music makes it clear that it’s meant to signal to the player to reflect on how tedious the gameplay is. However, it ends on a laudatory note: the tasks you have performed are actually quite meaningful and artistic – think about it, player, because you are just like the ox that worked its heart out and that labor is beautiful.

The message reminds me of the realist movements in painting: these painters reject their predecessors who painted historical and mythical figures in favor of ordinary laypeople working under the sun. When painters take their fine oils to paint a butcher’s shop or a woman cleaning turnips, they are making a statement that these people are as remarkable as the kings and symbols they once painted. There is beauty to be found in the people who break stones or people harvesting potatoes according to these realists and I think so too.

However, there are many tensions for those who subscribe to the realist dogma in the art world. These ordinary subjects will only be art if someone bothered to paint or photograph or make a video game about them, and that’s only relevant to the people involved in the art world. For the workers, they certainly want to be listened to and loved, but they also work to attain subsistence.

This usually doesn’t matter because there are plenty of grounded works of fiction in our world that follow and respect the lives of ordinary people doing ordinary things. (I like to think of myself as doing just that.) However, I think this particular game describes a realist philosophy of art in the abstract and implicitly valorizes work. This creates a tension with the imagery of the ox, an animal that is chained to our exploitative production methods, that the game does not resolve or tease out.

As a result, I find the ending particularly strange because the orchestra suggests that the way we produce goods, while exhausting and debilitating, is still artistic. And I think that’s a risky conclusion to arrive at: the rhythm of field work is always pleasant to listen to, but it does not negate the environmental and political implications of labor. Art does not overcome our dependence on labor. It can heal us from the drudgery of work, but that’s about it.

All that said, I think this game is an interesting, if not provocative, interpretation of a notable piano piece. I enjoyed thinking with this game a lot. If anything, it was fun writing this review and figuring out where to place this game in the contexts of labor discourses and people’s interpretations on the piece. While I disagree with the message of the game, I respect that the creator has written a love letter to the song and what it means to them in a language that may confuse most people unfamiliar with the song’s history. The language they’ve chosen is full of love and care and I’m glad they’ve stuck with it because it makes me engage with its themes on labor and art on its own terms.

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Thanks for the thoughtful review!

I share your frustrations when art only exists to valorize suffering, banal labor, drudgery, etc. and I don’t really consider my work realism.

One thing I’d note is that the transition from the field to the orchestra is surreal rather than realistic. In the context of the game and in real life, I don’t really consider art a practical result of labor/suffering/drudgery, but rather a partially successful escape from it.

You mentioned art as healing, which might be next door to the idea of art as escape.

Unfortunately, the possibility that the game endorses these non-realist views of art is probably undermined by the fact that it treats the ending as a reward.

I also don’t consider the mazes a representation of any specific form of work in the real world; I’d say the game only portrays manual labor incidentally. The simple mazes are meant to feel like a chore because they’re easy menial tasks — even easier than CAPTCHAs — not because they’re a representation of hard physical work. (Another reviewer said that the mazes were pretty engaging, so in a way I failed to portray an unpleasant task no matter how you look at it.)

I do find Mussorgsky’s Bydlo more inspiring than depressing for reasons I can’t fully explain. That has no doubt trickled into the game in some broader way, so I see where you’re coming from. Bydlo is more open-ended than most things I make, so I think there are a lot interpretations that make sense.

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