Linus' ramblings

This year I managed to play almost all entries, and what a total blast it was! My overall impression is that we had an extraordinary lineup this time around, both in terms of quantity and quality!

While playing, I made notes, as I usually do. But this is the first time that I’ll attempt to convert those notes into short reviews. So, you know, I might not be very good at it. Please bear with me if I occasionally sound grumpy and focus too much on the negative.

I’ll be quoting quirky passages or amusing bugs that I ran into. Those quotes have been cherry-picked out of spite; as a rule, they won’t be representative of the work as a whole.

Let me emphasise upfront that I absolutely applaud the effort of every participant in this competition! You are all winners in my book, just by merit of sending something in. As a matter of fact, I had some plans to participate myself, and I didn’t make it. So if I write bad things about your entry, keep in mind that in comparison, my own failure was greater.

There will be spoilers all over.

Sounds great! Thanks for adding these reviews.

Untold Riches

[spoiler]A by-the-book adventure game.

    This game aims to be a fun diversion rather than serious literature. It features a solid implementation, good writing and a nice happy atmosphere.

    I found some of the in-game hints to be a bit too concrete, or even heavy-handed. At one point, I knew I had to dig somewhere, and the game suggested a good place to dig. When I dug there, the game provided an explanation for why I dug there, and only then did I realise how I had been expected to think.

    The text is littered with small anecdotes. Sometimes they are funny, and sometimes they are trying too hard.

    I think preventing the player from passing through the waterfall with the map qualifies as pesky inventory management. Still, in the Infocom era, the action would have been allowed, but the map would have silently turned into pulp, rendering the game unwinnable. So that's OK.

    Delightful, harmless, conventional, fun.[/spoiler]

A Figure Met In a Shaded Wood.

[spoiler]“the vagabond glances to the sky, one foot in front of the other”

    A recurring theme this year (at least two other games do it) seems to be to mess with the RESTART mechanism. This would normally be considered off-limits. But I think this game shows that, occasionally, tampering with the game-hosting environment can be an effective way of deconstructing the fourth wall. In this case, the technique seems to be used to make a point about fate.

    And yet, the work only manages to make a point about fate inside the particular fictional world that makes up the setting. This has no bearing on the question of fate in, say, the real world. Now, if the work had introduced some well-developed fictional characters, and made us care about those characters, then perhaps it would have been interesting to learn something about the nature of fate in their world. But in its current form, the work portrays a game world that the reader really has no incentive to care about.[/spoiler]

Capsule II - The 11th Sandman

[spoiler]Some elements of this story were engaging, and the overall mood is established pretty effectively. But the world and character building lacks depth. The text manages to be graphic, but not disturbing.

    The story is mostly on rails, with a few decisions sprinkled around. Of these, some appear to be of little consequence. For instance, I can change the gender of Sandman #10. Does this choice really influence the story? If so, how can I make an informed decision here?

    Also, at one point the text was unexpectedly speeding ahead on its own accord, too quickly for me to read it.[/spoiler]

Darkiss - Chapter 1: The Awakening

[spoiler]You wake up.

    This is a dark horror game about death and vampires, betrayal and revenge. It is also a game where, "Rather unusually," a painting comes to life and gives you a pop quiz.

    The world model is simple yet solid, and several puzzles are well-designed. In particular, I liked the way in which some items both served to reveal the backstory and were part of puzzle solutions.

    My only gripe is with the prose. After all, this is a translation of an existing game, so as judges we should perhaps focus primarily on the quality of the translation. I am not a native English speaker myself, and I do appreciate the difficulties involved, but in my opinion, the writing in this game is quite uneven and doesn't really keep a consistent tone.

    Also, "the gipsies which were at your service"? In just the first three words, there's a spelling mistake, a cultural faux-pas and a grammar error. I think this entry would have benefited from a few more rounds of proofreading.[/spoiler]

Laid Off From the Synesthesia Factory

[spoiler]I had high hopes for this, as it seemed like a fresh and original concept.

    I liked the writing at first, although at times it got a bit wordy, going on at length about emotions and whatnot. And I got the impression that the story proceeded on rails whenever I typed something that wasn't parsed successfully.

    And then it suddenly happened: "This is the end of the floater story text. If you are testing or playing (hopefully not!) and reading this, something is wrong and you should bug report it." After this, the game appeared to be broken in many ways.

    I gave the game a second chance and managed to reach an ending. There was a single command issued where I felt in control. For the most part, I was fumbling in the dark.[/spoiler]

Pit of the Condemned

[spoiler]“They say it’s possible to find a way out of here, if you can kill the beast.”

    Who are they, and how would they know, since the beast obviously hasn't been killed before?

    Anyway, the strength of this game is the large map. Clearly some thought went into its design. The room descriptions are rather sparse, but nevertheless I find that by exploring, I'm gradually discovering a backstory. That's good! I also got to learn some new words.

    But the game itself is lackluster. For one thing, I found the few puzzles to be too heavily hinted. It's more fun if you are presented with a problem, and need to figure out how to approach it, than if the game just tells you that you need to obtain item X and bring it to location Y, which feels more like a simple chore.

    There is one great exception to the above: Figuring out how to lure the beast. The solution to this puzzle was cleverly hinted at the very beginning of the game, so that you had forgotten all about it by the time it was needed.[/spoiler]

Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box

[spoiler]This was a delightful diversion!

    I like mechanical toys and puzzle-boxes, and this game (wait for it...) managed to push all the right buttons.

    The implementation felt solid, the writing was good and humorous. Overall, this work achieved what it set out to do in an enjoyable way![/spoiler]

Second Story

[spoiler]> e
You go north.

    Despite the quote, this is really a well-implemented game. The language is fine and the setting is fresh, but the story doesn't really engage me. I'm on a fetch quest for a MacGuffin, and most of the interaction is on rails.

    A gripe with the plot: The only place I deem safe to drop the can is my own apartment? Which they would obviously search first?

    Mostly harmless.[/spoiler]

Koustrea’s Contentment

[spoiler]> x wall
Which wall do you mean, the marble wall or the marble wall?
> the marble wall
That was not one of the choices.

    The ABOUT text says that it's probably not possible to complete the game in the allotted two hours, which is a fair warning.

    The opening text is a bit opaque, but overall the writing is good, and the descriptions are thorough. I especially liked when the narrator suddenly made a passing reference to my wingspan. That kind of confirmed my little limbo interpretation.

    And the tabletop puzzle was really nice![/spoiler]


[spoiler]I have a mantle, but also wings underneath it?

    Anyway, this work has an intriguing premise, good writing and a solid implementation. The narrative is action driven: The story is one long ride, but there's no sense of home or navigation. Occasionally, there were sequences where I got to explore my surroundings, but irritatingly, before I had a chance to explore all options, I was interrupted by more action.

    The interface is slick and interesting, but sometimes it's annoying that the scrollback isn't set in stone.

    The randomly generated click-to-change options taught me something about myself: I always return to the initial version. That's the power of first impressions for ya.

    But why would the laptop remain on the crimescene long after the shooting?[/spoiler]

Kane County

[spoiler]Here’s the thing: I don’t like stats maintenance. So perhaps I’m just not in the target audience for this work.

    As literature, the writing is very "functional", and not really engaging. It is also somewhat clumsy, with occasionally dubious grammar and a rather strange ending that doesn't really fit with the overall tone established earlier.

    "Look at the other area or choose a site" looks like a single choice, but is actually two.

    Still, the implementation seems solid enough, and I suppose the game works as a simple wilderness-survival simulator.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]> bless you
The yourself is unworthy of the blessing.

    First, the gameplay aspect. This game is kind of on rails, with one small puzzle leading to the next. It's nice that certain items, such as the mask and the ambergris, play a part in the solution of multiple puzzles. My favourite puzzle was getting the lunatic to eat the raw meat.

    Navigation in the gameworld is fairly clumsy, with misleading exit descriptions and messages that do not change when they ought to.

    Then there's the writing. This is an interesting mix between purple prose and grammatically dubious terseness (In boat is sailor). There are several in-jokes that are refreshing in a sense, but definitely break the fourth wall. For instance, the tincture/colour joke, in which two identical shields are described very differently, and the bit where the lunatic plays IF.

    I liked the way that this work explored large-scale gameplay events, both in terms of time and space. There are very few parser games in which waiting for a single turn causes the rice fields to yield their harvest. I also enjoyed the timeloop ending.

    And "kiss knight" was implemented![/spoiler]

The Speaker

The blurb had me intrigued, but the game itself turned out to be kind of simplistic. The first half is on rails, with mock branching. Then there are some actual choices to explore, but I found the various outcomes to be unsatisfying. Perhaps the the story is a bit too abstract, dealing with philosophical concepts directly, and that something would be gained by fleshing them out into concrete examples.

The Insect Massacre

[spoiler]We are zapping between rooms, listening in on dialogue in the form of paragraphs that appear one line at a time. To me, this realtime aspect created a sense of uneasiness, a fear of missing out on important clues spoken elsewhere at the same time. Making the reader uneasy could be desirable, of course. Although in this case, in hindsight, I don’t think the zapping order actually affected what information you could obtain on a given playthrough.

    Text appearing one line at a time gets on my nerves pretty quickly. It's even more irritating during replays.

    I was thankful for the ability to UNDO back to the pivotal point.

    Overall, a nice little detective story, albeit on rails.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This was probably fun to make, but in my opinion it’s not very fun to play. You get to combine concepts into other concepts. Sometimes the combinations make sense, as in identity + mind = ego. Swap the terms, however, and you get mind + identity = mystery. That’s not even insightful, it’s just random.

    This is one of a number of games this year that subvert the RESTART mechanism. But in this case I would have recommended against it, since it's not an essential part of what the work is trying to say.[/spoiler]

Midnight. Swordfight.

[spoiler]This was one of my absolute favourites from the comp. I managed to find eight endings in two hours.

    Interesting concept, good and funny writing, and a solid implementation. I totally loved the complete disregard for gender in this story! Sure, it's kind of gimmicky that you can obtain such a jarring result merely by starting with stereotypes, and then switching names and pronouns around. But just calling attention to that fact is worth something.      

    I was thrilled to be able to move around in time, although a bit disappointed when I realised that it was just the cardinal directions with fancy names. Still, I was impressed by the way in which the author manages to present a self-consistent (but completely wacky), navigable world structure comprised of rooms that exist in different timeframes. I don't think any writer could pull that off.

    Hints for the puzzles were handed out in subtle ways. For instance, when you don the pig carcass, the game responds that the sky is no longer the limit. At first, I just saw that as a colourful way of saying that my confidence increased with a new, snazzy outfit. Several moves later my brain suddenly made the leap to "pigs can fly".[/spoiler]

Hi – thanks for the review. I’ve mentioned this in the postmortem, but from your note I assume you have played the zipped version. To the best of my knowledge and all collected transcripts, this bug has been completely fixed online.


[spoiler]Did I mention my dislike for stats management?

    Looking beyond that, this is a solidly implemented piece of choice-based IF, with good language. The illustrations are nice too!

    There's just one thing that nags me, but it is kind of central to the whole work. And it's this:

    The work is trying to tell us something important about gender roles and children. And I think it fails spectacularly at that. In my view, boys and girls should ideally be given equal opportunities. This means, among other things, that all children should get to play with dolls if they want to, and Transformers if they want to. I would expect my choice, as protagonist in this story, to wear practical clothes and not brush my hair, to be based on inner factors such as laziness and my desire to run around a lot while playing---especially now that I have legs! It has nothing to do with how I pee. And yet the game punishes me for not trying to adapt to traditionally girly behaviour, for the only reason that I now have the body of a girl. And I find that problematic in a game that specifically sets out to talk to children about gender.[/spoiler]

Life On Mars?

[spoiler]This game requires a terminal that is at least 160 characters wide. As it happens, I prefer my terminal windows even wider, and this caused the game to crash. So apparently there was an upper limit too.

    Out of my two hours, I first spent 40 minutes watching the backstory scroll by in slow motion. This was irritating, to put it kindly. But the backstory was good, so I endured.   

    We learn that in this setting, all the furniture is constructed from a set of basic building blocks, that you could in principle recombine into any structure you wanted. But this is not implemented in the game. A chair is a chair is a chair. That kind of felt like a missed opportunity. If you're going to hint at a certain mode of interactivity in a piece of IF, why not go all the way and make a puzzle out of it?

    But I digress. We're looking at an existing work that was translated, so we should primarily judge it by the quality of the translation. And I think the writing works very well in this one, creating an appropriately dark mood and sense of depression and paranoia.[/spoiler]

To Burn In Memory

[spoiler]On the very first page, and also throughout the gameworld, are some paragraphs that are very hard to read, and clickable links to “activate the memory”. These links did not do anything in my browser. So I assumed that the paragraphs represented suppressed or locked-off memories that could somehow be activated later in the game. This never happened, however, so I gradually realised that it was probably a bug, and a pretty game-breaking one at that.

    But I explored the world as best I could, and squinted my way through the exposed parts of the inaccessible memories.

    This must've been a nice world-building exercise for the author, but I have to admit that the writing fell short of drawing me into the world. As a veteran IF player, I'm kind of blasé about wandering around an abandoned maze-like city with random keys strewn around. Even if I normally enjoy exploring and discovering a backstory bit by bit. Perhaps the prose was a bit too purple.

    One novelty was that the locations were referred to by several different names, like people in a Russion novel. Drawing a map helped.[/spoiler]

TOMBs of Reschette


    Looking over my notes for this game, I realise that the author achieved something quite remarkable: Making a really bad first impression, and then gradually turning that into a positive experience as the humorous angle became apparent.

    For instance, you get to read some quite elaborate backstory about the mystery of the Zambapta, in mounting anticipation of all the great plot twists and puzzles that this will surely involve. And then you just click to slay it.

    I also really enjoyed reading the bat disease sequence.

    I'll give TOMBs of Reschette 97 points out of a possible 71. Although I don't know if that is good or bad.[/spoiler]

Much Love, BJP

This is presented in the form of a collage, which I personally found a bit disorienting. It is essentially hypertext. The subject matter is moving, but it feels more like browsing a wiki than reading a story.

The Sueño

[spoiler]“Go ahead and climb into bed, Benji.” He says.
>climb into bed
You can’t see any such thing.

    This game has an interesting premise, and is ambitious in scope. Unfortunately, it is littered with small blemishes like success messages that should have been inhibited because the action was cancelled, errors in spelling and grammar, pesky do-obvious-things-in-the-right-order puzzles and weird inconsistencies like having a wall-to-wall carpet that you can look under.

    There are also several nice things. Most of the puzzles are fair. I really liked the one where you have to get somebody out of the shower! And the in-world hint system was fine (even if some of the hints were a bit too heavy-handed for my taste, and the topic suggestor would occasionally blurt out spoilers). The game also features a 5.25" floppy disk and a Commodore 64, which was neat!

    One thing that frustrated me was the lethal dentist's chair. I had figured out that while dreaming, I could teleport by dreaming about a location. So I thought my way out of the chair, into a different room. Two moves later, I was killed by the probe anyway. I eventually had to resort to the walkthrough to learn that I was supposed to dream about the probe. In one sense, that is consistent with the game world, because DREAM acts like a swiss-army-knife verb. But I still think my approach was better, and should have been supported as an alternative solution.

    The walkthrough says you may have to UNDO at one point to complete the game. That's a bit weak in my book.

    A note on dreams: Electrical switches are extraordinarily unreliable when you are dreaming. The TV in the game had a working on/off switch. In my opinion, it would have been much more convincing if the TV were on all the time, the switch did nothing, and even unplugging the TV from the wall wouldn't turn it off.

    And I kind of expected the parser to understand FLY in a lucid dream simulator.[/spoiler]

Sub Rosa

[spoiler]>close east door
(first ignoring unnecessary text “door”)
You must name something more substantial.

    This is a surrealistic yet self-consistent, solid and well-written game. I ran out of time playing it, partly because I got stuck on the somnuliser puzzle, and partly because I was enjoying the library too much. But this is a game that I'll be happy to return to.

    I totally adore the puzzle mechanic of the rug!

    There are some flaws, nevertheless. There is a note to betatesters included in a default response, and this kind of breaks the fourth wall. Sometimes the parser discloses new information in passing, e.g. "(first opening the brick wall)" when trying to go west, even though the brick wall hasn't been mentioned yet. In an early puzzle, "just a nudge would send it down", but NUDGE isn't recognised by the parser.

    But those are minor gripes. Overall, this is one of my favourite games in the comp.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]The blurb didn’t put me off. The first warning was in the filenames, that I happened to glean at. Luckily, I habitually play without sound, and felt no urge to make an exception this time.

    The horrors!

    I get the general idea, and there's some shock value in it I suppose, but it's absolutely not enjoyable to play.

    Interestingly, the same author wrote one of my favourites in the comp, Midnight. Swordfight.[/spoiler]

Final Exam

[spoiler]You wake up, everything is strange and there are no people around.

    However, this is a game where we get to explore a world and gradually discover a backstory. That is something I enjoy quite a lot, especially when the backstory has some fodder for thought in it.

    Sometimes the writing strays too far and breaks the fourth wall. Quoting Pratchett on an official sign in the Serious Government Museum, for instance. And "the washbasin is just scenery".

    It also bothered me that everybody was male in this story, apparently for no good reason.

    Before long, the game veers into puzzle territory. I found some of the puzzles to be highly uninspiring. For instance, several involved reading a number scratched somewhere, going to a machine to type that number, and then learning that some apparently unrelated change had occurred in the gameworld. But some other puzzles were fair, and I particularly enjoyed one part of the network cable puzzle, where I had to draw conclusions based on hints that had been provided as part of room descriptions.[/spoiler]

Seeking Ataraxia

[spoiler]I ran into several continuity problems, such as seeing references to a mess after cleaning it up. There’s also a picture of an analogue clock, but the text refers to a digital one.

    And then I somehow got to a blank todo list and couldn't proceed.

    Maybe I had found ataraxia.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Yay, I have a fishstomach now! Always wanted one of those. This is gonna be good.

    I really liked the writing in this extraordinary story. It seems to be an allegory of the folly of striving for a distant goal while life happens elsewhere. It is also deliciously surrealistic.

    That being said, I also found it frustrating that the text was delivered in very tiny pieces, always with a little fade-in effect, and that I had to click my way through various random symbols just for pacing.

    Still, story-wise one of my favourites this year.[/spoiler]

The King and the Crown

[spoiler]Neat, a bit arbitrary, solidly implemented, but mostly a diversion.

    For a game that you have to restart multiple times, there are perhaps too many small snippets of text that you have to space through during the opening sequence.

    The error messages were funny, and I liked the premise of a very minimal game world with lots of hidden compartments and features.[/spoiler]

The Man Who Killed Time

[spoiler]The game is online only—with ads. Ads for other works of interactive fiction, but still.

    This was a long story on rails, not particularly well-written, with Capitalised Nouns for Emphasis and sometimes bad grammar and spelling.

    I liked the cover image though.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]You are close enough to touch the eye.
>touch eye
You are not close enough.

    This is a nice experiment, a bit gimmicky perhaps. The writing is ok, and you actually get to think about some of the puzzles (rather than just being told to fetch item X).

    Part of the challenge in designing interactive fiction is to construct dynamically generated text that flows naturally. This game fails at that. For instance, there is some "red glowing red ice", and "The temperature is pleasant and mild. You feel a mild breeze."

    Overall, the game's a bit "meh", but in a creative way, and after all I did get to be a flying cephalopod![/spoiler]

The Problems Compound

[spoiler]Great fun! The wordplay is delightful, but unfortunately quite unrelated to the plot and the puzzles.

    During conversations, some options appear too early, referring to information that hasn't been properly exposed to the reader.

    And I was a bit disappointed with the cutter cookie that forced me to speed through the second half of the game, spoiling the experience. But on the other hand, this was probably necessary to complete the game in the allotted two hours.

    But overall, this was an enjoyable ride, mostly because of the charming wordplay. Some of the what's-thats were a bit crude, like the titular problems compound. Others were pure gold, like the absence of leaves.[/spoiler]

Arcane Intern (unpaid)

[spoiler]Ahem, the ancient computer is running Windows 95? Oh you young whippersnappers with your DVD-writers and blog-o-spheres.

    Anyway, this was a nice little story, mostly on rails, with a bit of choice at the end.

    There was a continuity bug allowing me to use the sigil before learning it. But mostly, this was a solid affair, and well written.[/spoiler]

Forever Meow

A cute little cat simulator with a simple plot. Quite heavy-handed at the end.


[spoiler]The purpose of the story is to portray fictional human beings involved in activities pertaining to a narrative. The author of the story makes use of literary devices to establish a sense of enjoyment in the human being referred to as the reader.

    The story contains an interactive element. The interactive element comprises ordinary choice points, as well as dream-induced stats management. The purpose of the interactive element is to add a sense of agency to the experience of consuming the story.

    The story is referred to as Birdland. Enjoying the story is mandatory.[/spoiler]

5 Minutes To Burn Something

[spoiler]Insurance fraud it is!

    This would have been a great game if it had been tested properly. I liked the premise and most of the puzzle structure, and thought the writing was fine and humorous. But again and again, I got stuck trying to find solutions to puzzles, and when I eventually gave up and sneaked a peek at the walkthrough, the solution was often one that I had thought of, and tried, but failed to get across to the parser. 

    You can't open the door of the dryer with the knife, you have to open the dryer itself with the knife. You can't tie the stockings into a lasso, you have to MAKE LASSO. Instead of touching the beard with the battery, you have to touch the battery to the beard. PUSH FUTON NORTH doesn't work, you have to DRAG FUTON. And for all of those, the error messages from the parser are totally unhelpful or even misleading.

    >scratch eyes on photo with shard
    Which do you mean, Ash's eyes or your eyes?
    You can't see any such thing.
    >scratch my eyes on photo with shard
    I only understood you as far as wanting to scratch your eyes.

    (And then the magic incantation turned out to be SCRATCH YOUR EYES WITH SHARD.)

    There is a nice hint system, with progressively more obvious hints for the various puzzles. It would have been nice if the final hint had spelled out the actual command you needed to type, especially with such a finicky parser.

    Also, anything with Ash's initials on it means bad luck? I was supposed to draw that conclusion on my own, without hints?

    Still, I had a lot of fun playing this game despite the shortcomings of the parser. Props for the subtle reference to a Prodigy T-shirt![/spoiler]

Nowhere Near Single

[spoiler]The premise says wish fulfillment all over, and when the main character accidentally bumps into Sneery Popular Rival, we’re dangerously close to shallow teen drama territory. But then the story begins to take shape, and the characters turn out to have some depth, and the writing is really good.

    I do have a complaint, and it has to do with the level of interactivity. Most of the story is on rails, but the reader gets to influence the main character at certain plot points, essentially selecting among various branches in the narrative. That's all fine in principle, but in this game (and others like it) I often get frustrated with WHAT plot points I'm allowed to affect. Sometimes it feels as though I'm not allowed to to take the big decisions, but I'm forced to make up my mind about trivial matters. For instance, I can't decide how to react to things being said, when to respond in an angry manner, or even whether to take drugs---arguably the single most important plot point in the entire narrative.

    I'm not advocating a completely open sandbox. The author has a story to tell, and that story may involve the main character voluntarily making a bad decision at a critical moment. Fine. But then, I think a better approach would be to somehow tempt the player into making that choice, while still allowing another option. That other option could of course lead to some equally regrettable situation. The press could still get their juicy snapshot in both branches of the narrative. I suppose my point is that the more effort you spend in carefully building up an illusion of player agency, the less cavalier you can be about shattering it later.

    That said, the story got me hooked, and I enjoyed the ride. This is a work where the characters come alive, and we start to really care for them, and get invested in the story emotionally. By comp standards, that's some top notch authorship![/spoiler]

The Baker of Shireton

[spoiler]Checking inventory… I have a song in my heart! How awesome is that!

    I really liked this game because of the premise and the funny writing. In particular, I enjoyed the epiphany when I realised that I was an NPC in a mud, along with the gradual realisation that the scope of the game was so much bigger than what the first impressions had suggested.

    Alas, I did not manage to leave the bakery during the two-hour time limit, because I had kind of adapted my speed of exploration to the original scale.

    This is one of several games in this year's comp that mess with RESTART. Here it works well, in my opinion. An auxiliary file is used to store state information, so quitting the game and starting it again works just like the modified RESTART. And the technique serves the story, by creating an illusion of a game server with a life of its own.

    At one point, the glulx interpreter crashed. I still don't know whether that was intentional or not.

    Story-wise, however, I didn't find the work to be particularly engaging. But overall, it is a nice, well-crafted experimental parser game to challenge our assumptions about the medium.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]>push play
You take the play messages button, but there’s really nothing you want to do with it, so you put it back where it was.

    I liked this game, but there were some irritating flaws in its implementation. Missing object descriptions, a lack of synonyms, exits that weren't mentioned in the room descriptions, guess-the-verb, the usual stuff. The sparseness of the implementation often spoiled the illusion of being inside the game world.

    That being said, I love games where I get to explore a world while also gradually picking up a backstory, and in this case the story was engaging and well written. I liked wallowing around in the utterly depressing subconscious of the main character. There's a funny Douglas Adams homage that doesn't quite fit, but otherwise the tone is pleasantly consistent. Perhaps somewhat overdone, such as when there's a barometer that has never worked, with the needle forever stuck between rain and drizzle.

    An interesting thought experiment is to consider this not as escapism, where we go back in time to change regretted decisions, but as a kind of foresight: The flashbacks are the here and now, and the framing story---the house, with all its surreal hallmarks of fantasy---is a potential future that is imagined at the time of the decision.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This game crashed my browser, and when I finally got it to run elsewhere, it was very slow, and there were some graphical bugs. This seems to be a vexingly inefficient way of implementing a text game.



    Then suddenly, there's a style change for the better, also accompanied by a change into small letters. But now the story is on rails, and it turns out to be an elaborate death message. There's another one that's even better, if you die at a later point in the story. I don't know if there are more than two, because I managed to get stuck in the framing story, with no way to progress.

    In conclusion, this game is only enjoyable when you die in it. That may be intentional and symbolic and deep, or it might just be the consequence of a crappy design.[/spoiler]

Scarlet Sails

I don’t like online-only games, and I don’t like stats management. So I suppose this wasn’t really a game for me. It’s well written, and the implementation appears to be solid. But as with so many other ChoiceScript games, I feel like I’m just fumbling along on branching rails.


[spoiler]Hey, my pockets were picked! And I didn’t notice because I was too busy being a parser-game hero and examining all the scenery. I was blown away by that ingenious opening! Perhaps it would have been even better if the event itself were announced covertly, e.g. a passer-by bumping into you and mumbling an apology.

    Anyway. The writing is good, the atmosphere convincing. The puzzles are a bit uninspiring, especially the one where you have to go back and forth between your boss at the delivery company and their client, being a proxy for their petty little struggle. Normally, in an adventure game, that's a signal that you need to solve the problem on your own instead. Twice I had to resort to the walkthrough, only to learn that I was supposed to keep it up for a few more turns, and then I would be able to proceed. I also disliked the mechanism whereby new items would suddenly appear in the second hand shop, right when they were needed.

    Finally, the money system and the haggling thing. I couldn't get the funds for a train ticket on my first playthrough, and I didn't have time for a second attempt, so I was about to give up. Then I stumbled over a bug: After you've completed your deliveries, it's possible to go back into the delivery company any number of times, and receive your payment over and over. So I was able to leave town after all, and even rescue the poor girl and buy a fancy outfit.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]… you can see your breath …
>x breath
You can’t see any such thing.

    You wake up, everything is strange and there are no people around.

    Here's a simple, minimalistic ghost story, but it's not particularly great. The writing style is quirky, the implementation is half-hearted with lots of missing object descriptions, and the whole thing is so bare and alien and nondescript that I had a hard time getting emotionally involved with the story at all.[/spoiler]


Standard twine fare. The writing is ok, but the subject matter wasn’t my cup of tea. The narrative appears to be highly branching.


[spoiler]This is some kind of RPG fight, with story fragments as spells. I found myself mostly fumbling around cluelessly, and after a few tries I got to the point where I wasn’t really motivated to go back and find the unlocking sequence, so I just gave up.

    Having to click my way through the entire opening sequence for each try was a bit irritating.

    But, I have to say that the concept is novel and intriguing! I'm all for the idea of making a fighting mechanic based on story fragments, kind of like the sword fighting in Monkey Island 1 but more sophisticated. So maybe this particular game broke new ground, and another game will come around in the future and perfect the art.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]This is on rails. It just goes on and on until it suddenly ends.

    I liked the epiphany I got when a parcel meteor from the devs appeared. And the fact that logging off didn't lead to reality as we know it.

    But apart from that, oh I don't know. MMORPGs just aren't my thing.[/spoiler]

The War of the Willows

[spoiler]The blurb is purple, and in that sense highly representative of the in-game text.

    At one point the game logged some debugging information right in the middle of the poetry. Perhaps it was intentional, but I doubt it.

    There was also a part of the narrative, some kind of fight I think, where the game would say "Fuck" in response to every command I entered, before dealing with the command. That felt a bit random.

    The final line was "Something you don't understand..."

    Which about sums it up.[/spoiler]

In the Friend Zone

[spoiler]Here’s a tribute to self-pity if ever I saw one.

    The intro is on rails, but gradually the player gets more freedom to roam, and to go looking for questions.

    In the beginning, the player gets to fill in some pronouns to customize the story. When doing this, I had to type "her" twice, which felt a bit silly, almost suggesting that I would have to do that for every occurrence of "her" throughout the game. Later on, there was some scenery in the likeness of human organs, and gender-specific mythological references, and I couldn't help wondering if those would change based on what pronouns were entered at the start of the game. That would have been a redeeming feature, but somehow I doubt it.

    The game does have a Kafka-esque quality, especially the part where the Nice Guys reason about the merits of trading in your identity for a number, even though no numbers have ever been called out. 

    And while we're on the plus side: Text appears instantly, without the little irritating fade-in that has been a fad now for some time.

    Overall, I'd say the level of interaction is par for Twine, and the writing has some merit, but it is often just purple and/or uninspiring.

    And self-pitying.

    And asphault.[/spoiler]

Brain Guzzlers From Beyond!

[spoiler]Now that’s entertainment!

    With a solid implementation, good writing, fair puzzles and a witty tongue-in-cheek style, this highly polished game was one of my favourites in the comp. And apparently I wasn't alone.

    The game charmingly captures the feel of LucasArts point-and-click adventures, and even includes a reference to Monkey Island. There are gold nuggets scattered all over the writing, such as the Miss Human Compass award, and the reference to 2001 A Space Odyssey.

    On the negative side, the conversations are somewhat on rails, as is the overall plot. Many of the puzzles are a tad on the simplistic side, like the various fetch quests. Others are absolutely brilliant, such as the one involving a rock/paper/scissors gun.

    I was unable to complete the game in two hours. But that's a minor gripe of little consequence now that the comp is over, and the work has transformed from an inconspicuous entry on the ballot into a timeless classic.

    A worthy winner![/spoiler]

And that was the last bunch. Thanks for reading, and sorry again for any betrodden toes!

Yes, sir! Disambiguation problems don’t get any better than that, or any funnier! Hooray for me!

Yes, sir! Disambiguation problems don’t get any better than that, or any funnier! Hooray for me!

Ok, great that you were able to track it down! I’ll get around to the postmortems soon. Yours seems thorough, and I’m looking forward to reading it!

Yes, I always play the zipped versions during the judging period, partly on principle and partly because it is convenient to me.

hmm. i’d be really interested to know your platform/specs/browser/specific bugs. i very exhaustively bugtested, and had others do the same thing, and never had any issues with speed or graphics bugs. everything that’s being used is standards-compliant, vendor-prefixed HTML5, so i’m really not sure what the issue would be.

(p.s. it’s very intentional, but i wouldn’t necessarily say it was intentional for it to be not-enjoyable pre-death.)

Thanks for going through these. I think having 1 or 2 things for a possible post-comp release is really good and it blends well with the usual concepts.

As to your comments about just entering being big–I think that someone just giving good comments about 10 games is really good. And you got to almost all if not all of them. So, yes, this is MUCH appreciated.

Re: PC. Ouch on the cookie. You aren’t the first that wondered if it might be a bug. The thing is, I didn’t make it clear…

That’s a -bad- ending. There’s a more fulfilling ending (I think) but it has a few more puzzles and a lot more to do. It’s forced because Alec takes the easy way out and becomes a very nasty person, the sort who can cut down anyone who comes in his way, the sort who can cut down the person he was before he ate the cookie.

Also, spoiler for the post-comp release,

There’ll be another food item which presents a not quite as bad ending.

Well, in the bug bucket with the others it goes.

Re the “cultural faux-pas” you mention in Darkiss (which has been thoroughly exhausted elsewhere, a conversation I have no desire to rekindle) it’s worth mentioning that someone else brought it up and, in response, the author put out an update where “gipsies” is replaced with “minions”.

I don’t mind saying I remain stunned that anyone thinks this vampire would alter the language of his own time and context for no apparent reason when he has just crawled out of a coffin. Maybe 3 days later after he’s been in a progressive society and faced a bunch of reprimands, if he cared about those, and I’m not sure he would given his propensity for torture and rampant power fantasies… but he wouldn’t do it now.


Thanks for looking at my game amongst so many others.

Well, there is one character whose gender is never stated [emote]:)[/emote].

It would bother me more if the author had been forced into writing a female character that the author couldn’t write as well as the others. Because that would bring down the quality of the work.

I haven’t played Final Exam yet, but perusing it and its walktrough it seems to be a game so unpreoccupied with demographics and gender equality that pushing it into the work seems… mean. Or at least missing the point. Or at least creating a point that isn’t there and diverting attention to it.

But it’s interesting that as a player you actively felt bothered by it. No author wants that. It’ll be food for thought for some, I’m sure.

Oh and, “To Burn In Memory” was never meant to be played offline, which will account for your broken experience. The offline version was only made available because the author misunderstood, and at any rate, it doesn’t work properly. As you saw. FWIW.

Thanks for making the attempt, and for the bother of writing up your comments [emote]:)[/emote] I appreciate that.