Lucian's IF Comp 2022 Reviews (Latest: One Final Pitbull Song)

Traveller’s Log

This game cracked me up in its sheer audacity. It’s a python script that vaguely simulates a dungeon crawl. There is no picture. The ‘content warning’ is “please do not use file upload or cheats”. Cheats. Right. Over half of the source code is dedicated to describing different irrelevant backstories for your character. There are multiple misspelled words, in a game with very very little text. Answering “y” to a yes/no question is interpreted as ‘no’; you have to type “yes”. I met a locked box, hit it with my sword, and it joined me.

The Hitchhiker’s quote “Ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking” haunts me. This is, of course, a terrible game. It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t do what it set out to do well, and whether it should have set out to do it in the first place is an open question. But I can’t help admiring the chutzpah of ‘Isaac’ for entering this in the comp. They obviously have a long journey ahead of them in the design and coding departments. But I can just imagine the coder, relentlessly typing up yet another backstory that nobody will see. There’s a compelling story here, and it’s not the game you play.

Did the author have something to say? : No. The author had someone to be, and was that person.
Did I have something to do? : Honestly, typing ‘walk’ endlessly into this thing was still more interactivity than ‘click the link to continue’ in some other games in this comp. And you sometimes had to decide when to type something other than ‘walk’! A branching storyline!

8 Likes

Arborea

This game’s opening puzzle locked almost the entire game out of reach for me. I futzed with what I could for a while, and things seemed competent, but I couldn’t seem to do anything in the bit of the game I had unlocked.

Specifically: the game starts off in a ‘simulation’, where you’re in a forest. You have to search the forest for a particular type of tree, and each type you find unlocks a game area in each compass direction. There is no list of trees to search for. From the available corpus of tree types, you have to guess the eight trees that the author was thinking of. I got two right away, then my next two weren’t recognized. I mucked about in the two areas that unlocked. I came back to the forest, and tried a couple more. No luck. I looked up ‘list of trees’ on Wikipedia. Six more types, and got one. I tried thirteen more, with no hits. So for 23 different tree types, three of them worked, and I still had five more to go.

Finally, I had about given up, went to write this review… and finally thought to try something new. And, of course, there were the hints after all: the game didn’t expect me to guess eight types of trees ex nihilo; there was an in-game way to find them.

I feel like this is partly my own fault and partly the fault of the puzzle: if I hadn’t tried two tree types successfully initially, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to just guess them, and I wouldn’t have been stuck so long.

Once I actually could access the rest of the game, I made reasonable progress. It turned out to be no surprise that I couldn’t do much before: many if not most of the puzzles involve using an item from one area in a different area. I never reached the end, but I’m stopping for now: I’ve played a good amount of the game, have probably invested the requisite two hours or so, and more importantly, it’s the sort of game that feels to me like you need to take breaks when playing it; one of those games where you mull the puzzles in the back of your mind a while, and finally think of something new to try.

However, while the game was quite functional and competently coded, something about the writing felt a bit off, for me. The box text promised more than was delivered, for one, and in general, it seemed like there was a lot of cursory dealing with issues that I felt deserved more care or attention. I wasn’t super keen on the ‘it’s a simulation’ framing story, either; it kind of felt like a cop-out. (Though I can’t think of a better one for the game design on display here.)

The game also stymied me for a long time—I’m trying to play these comp games in fits and starts when I have time, and I kept bouncing off of this one, which stopped me (perhaps unwisely) from playing something else instead. Anyway: competent game, some reasonable puzzles and one big on that stopped me cold for unfortunate reasons, but also a little off-putting for hard-to-define reasons.

Did the author have something to say? : I felt like the author wanted to say some things about trees, but this didn’t come through very well, and that they could have said things about some of the other elements in the game, but didn’t, or only dealt with them very superficially (i.e. as puzzle pieces, not as anything real).

Did I have something to do? : Yes; it was a honest-to-goodness puzzle fest. A somewhat lifeless puzzle fest, but there were some satisfying solutions in there that I appreciated.

6 Likes

Thank you very much for the review.

It’s a funny thing about puzzles and that first one in particular. You’re the second person who concluded that they were expected to google lists of trees and guess one after the other. To me, that wouldn’t have seemed like a very fair puzzle, but then obviously you don’t know me so you don’t know what to expect.

My aim for the puzzzles in Arborea was to follow the Infocom “guideline”. I mean, what I set out to produce was something Infocom-like, and having played a number of them myself I tried to gauge the puzzles on what might I expect to see in an Infocom game of standard difficulty.

With this in mind, what unwritten rule which seemed to apply in all but the infamous baseball puzzle in zork 2 was that the answers to all the puzzles in an adventure should appear within the adventure. Ie you shouldn’t rely on external knowledge.

I hope you enjoyed it in the end.

All the best.

Richard

6 Likes

Exactly! It would have been a terribly unfair puzzle, but, as you say, since the author-player relationship was only just getting established, I truly believed it was designed that way on purpose. Amusingly, I also thought of the Zork II baseball puzzle in this regard, and Graham Nelson’s ‘no outside knowledge’ rule that went with it.

I feel like this sort of problem would only come up in beta testing, and if you didn’t happen to catch it there, you weren’t going to be able to catch it anywhere else. Here’s a few of the ideas I had to make it work a bit better:

  • Make all the trees obscure. I tried ‘pine’ and ‘oak’ right away, and the fact that they both worked set me on the ‘just guess’ path. If I had to enter more specific types of pine and oak, perhaps I would have gone looking for an in-game clue sooner.
  • More personalized error messages: Instead of the ‘I dunno if that’s a tree’ message, perhaps have some sort of ‘just guessing isn’t going to work’ message. “You scan the forest for [maples] but can’t seem to find any. The trees you do see are very particular, but seem to fuzz in and out of existence when you look closely. If you knew what you were looking for, that would probably help.” (This could be the place where you look up tree types on Google to steer people in the right direction.)
  • Have the puzzle appear later in the game. Obviously this wouldn’t work with the design you have here, but in general, you can get away with seemingly-unfair-but-actually-fair puzzles dropped later in the game, after author-player trust is more established.

At any rate, thanks for the reply, and for the game! I’ve set it aside for now so I can rate the other games, but it seems worth coming back to.

4 Likes

Good suggestions. I shall revisit Arborea once the competition is finished with all of the feedback I get.

And I’m glad you enjoyed it. If you do go back to it, let me know how you get on with it and any other feedback you want to give.

All the best

Richard

1 Like

A Chinese Room

This was a solid, solid game. I only played through once; it claims to have multiple other options for how to play, and you can even play through other stories. But the story I played (the suggested story for first-time players) was very well put together.

Strongly-characterized protagonists are, I feel, always tricky for IF games. The stronger the characterization, the less leeway the player has to insert their own characterization. The best games (and I include this game in the list), encourages the player to participate as an actor with a script, where they’re there to bring nuance and humanity to the role. You might have a certain amount of flexibility in your portrayal, and specific decisions may (as they do here) lead to different branching plot points. But the character you play should feel real, and the decisions you make should feel like choices you are making as an actor, bringing the protagonist to life.

After debating with myself for some time as to how much of our protagonist’s story (and how I played her) to share, and finally decided on a minimalist approach: not nothing at all, but not many details, either. Our Hero is a very very careful and precise housewife, with two just-grown children and a husband in politics. The game itself never mentions that you’re in Russia, but the extra-game materials do, and in retrospect it seemed obvious, though as I played my hypotheses wandered from thinking we were supposed to be in Asia, to some fictional country, and finally to Turkey. Over the course of the game, you meet a foreign dignitary, and work with him as a guide. The game, then, lets you interact with your husband, your kids, the foreigner, and (a bit) with an odd character from the government. I felt keen empathy with the woman’s family situation, with two kids of my own about to make my own wife and I empty nesters ourselves, and keen sympathy with the woman’s constrained place in the world, taking freedom where possible, but never overstepping any bounds she found important.

There is a central plot point (not truly revealed until the very end of the game) that deals with the eponymous ‘Chinese Room’ thought experiment. As a story beat, I didn’t really buy it, which is an odd accusation to make of a piece I generally thought was excellent. “Great story; pity about the plot” “Back to the Future was great, but the time travel element was silly.” I suppose I felt the premise was indeed silly, but that it felt embedded in a real, vibrant world. Knowing (after the fact) that it was supposed to be set in Russia also felt slightly off to me—from what I myself know of Russian history and character, I didn’t quite buy that this story was really set there. But that doesn’t change my opinion of the strong characterization of the unnamed nation in the story, just that it doesn’t quite line up with my own instincts of What It’s Like to live there.

This review feels disjointed, and I apologize. Consider this a definite vote of confidence in the game. Excellent at conveying both the character and the story of a sharply-defined protagonist.

Did the author have something to say? : Absolutely. What the author had to say about Chinese Rooms was, I felt, a bit hackneyed, but what the author had to say about a particular woman living in a particular time and place was very strong, and very well conveyed.

Did I have something to do? : Yes. Somehow, this game made even the click-the-single-link-to-continue bits feel engaging, interspersed with genuine branching elements where I felt like the actual protagonist, making what constrained decisions I could.

7 Likes

Thank you so, so much for such a generous and thought through review. It really means a lot, thank you.

2 Likes

A Walk Around the Neighborhood

A light-hearted, fun little one-room game. It’s goofy; it’s charming; it knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be, and sets out to be exactly that. The edges of the simulation are well crafted, with plenty of give for player mistakes or misconceptions, with clear guides to get you back on track.

One of the things it did very well was accept more general verbs to do things that didn’t require performing all the steps by hand, and did that in way that I naturally tried out the verb anyway (despite that sort of glossing-over stuff not often working in parser IF), and it was always pleasant when it happened. It meant that I could focus on figuring out the correct approach to solving a puzzle, without getting bogged down in the details. (This stymied me in the post-game extra puzzle scene, where a simple ‘make’ verb suddenly didn’t work for the extra thing I wanted to do, and I couldn’t figure out the syntax to do it the step-by-step way! But I’ll forgive it that, because it’s a bonus puzzle anyway; I didn’t feel too bad about not being able to solve it.)

If I’m going to nitpick anything, it’s that there’s an in-game hint system, of sorts, where you can talk to your spouse about the puzzles you haven’t solved yet, and they’ll give you clues. However, they also will talk to you about other things, and talking to them is actually required to solve one of the puzzles! At least as far as I could tell. This meant that when I was treating ‘chatting with your spouse’ as a hint system, I would avoid it until I was stuck, at which point I’m already mildly frustrated. And then I discovered that talking to them was the actual solution! It was a weird code-switching thing—if I had known that ‘using the hint system’ wasn’t actually always ‘using the hint system’, I might have thought to use it to solve the puzzle. And who knows; maybe there was another non-spouse method of solving that puzzle. But it was weird.

At any rate, a very solid game that was a delight to play.

Did the author have something to say? : Not particularly, but there were also no pretentions of wanting to do so and failing: it was very clear from the opening text what sort of game this was, and ‘the author has something profound to convey’ was never going to be part of that.

Did I have something to do? : Yes! And the game made it particularly easy for me to do it, which was even nicer.

7 Likes

Witchfinders

This was a pretty slight choice game, but was reasonable enough. Some fairly glaring spelling errors, revealed in the post-game ‘about’ to be because English isn’t the author’s first language. Fair enough, but beta testers? Also, Twine needs a spellcheck.

The author also revealed in the ‘about’ that they had done some research into what life was like in 19th century Edinburgh, which is nice, but somehow it didn’t feel very real–the place descriptions were sparse and functional, but not terribly evocative. The premise itself was oddly teased in the intro: it tells you about witchfinders, whose job it is to, well, find witches, and then tells you, “I bet you thought you’d be a witchfinder, didn’t you? But no, you’re a witch!” And… the exact reverse is true: I assumed I’d play a witch, because come on. Playing a witch is interesting, while playing a witchfinder would be deeply uncomfortable.

I played through once and got a score of 60/100, replayed and happened to solve a puzzle I didn’t know existed by accident (I bought something on a whim which turned out to be critical), and ended up with a score of 110/100, so yay me. (I think I got the extra 10 points from buying something twice, he said vaguely.) The puzzles weren’t difficult at all, but it was kind of nice going through and solving them, so hey.

Did the author have something to say? : Not much! Not everything has to be profound, but even the slice-of-life-with-vague-danger scene the author tried to set up left me a little cold.

Did I have something to do? : A few things. The accidentally-solved puzzle was not good design, but everything else was competent.

6 Likes

Thanks for taking the time to write up your feedback!

On the engine side: I’ve been working on beefing up the “classic IF” commands that Perplexity understands and it has come a long way since the last IFComp, but you’ve given a good summary of what I’ve got left there. I’m curious what you felt like it was missing for getting a transcript? The upper section allows copy and paste, is there something more you wanted?

I agree that for garden variety examining of things, plain old IF commands work fine. And I am definitely exploring what is the best game form to exploit what it can do. You can see some examples of game play that I think exploits it more in the spoiler section of what I wrote here.

On the game side: thanks for writing up your thoughts, always appreciate unvarnished feedback.

3 Likes

I could be wrong, but I thought I remembered times where some command would clear the page, like when you got to a new section. Am I wrong? If I am, then yes, you could just copy the whole page and get the whole transcript. Even this seems a little clunky, though, as I have to remember to do this by hand when I’m done with the game, instead of just typing ‘script’ at the beginning and forgetting about it. (The latter also is good for debugging when there’s the possibility of the game crashing–if you’ve saved things as you go, you have a better record of what caused things to go wrong.)

This is definitely something that most browser-based games do not do, but I complain about those systems for the same reasons, too, because transcripts are useful, darn it! :wink:

Your example of what your engine could potentially do is interesting, though by itself it isn’t quite compelling yet. For one, the particular abilities seem like they could be implemented as an I7 extension, and for another, it’s hard to imagine someone thinking to interact with the game that way, or, if they did, what they would be hoping for. Would you reveal characteristics of items in locations not seen? Would there be adjective synonyms? I feel like it could be pointing to something useful and interesting (and I applaud you forging out in that direction); I just can’t make out where you’re going yet.

Lazy Wizard’s Guide

This was a reasonable puzzle game, marred a bit by missed implementations (‘hit’ not working but ‘break’ working, for example), but mostly marred (for me) by not having anything in particular to say, and not having strong enough puzzles to make up for it. I’d compare this to the first puzzle-fest I played in this comp, Into the Sun. Both have a spartan aesthetic, a bit of atmosphere, and rely on puzzles. But while Into the Sun had a focused, whole-map-one-puzzle play experience, this game had a more standard fetch quest design. Which is fine, but does mean that you need to bring a bit more to the table: particularly clever and/or intricate puzzles, great and/or funny writing, an interesting place to explore, or something.

I did like a lot of the puzzles! There was a lot of excellent item re-use, and even foreshadowing (the paintings scattered around the school; another student revealing what happened in their own exam). I felt clever many times while playing the game, which is exactly the sort of feeling you want your puzzles to inspire. I also only rarely felt like I was performing actions for the sake of performing actions–instead, I usually knew what I wanted to do, and after a bit of wandering, often was able to formulate a plan to do it. All that was great! I guess I just still wanted more.

Part of the problem was that I didn’t quite buy the premise: you’ve been in school for years, but haven’t learned any spells… but to graduate, you only need to learn a handful of them that are easily obtainable by reading the right books. The implications are that literally everyone else going to the school are chumps, and our protagonist is correct to put in two hours’ worth of work at the very end to obtain what everyone else worked on for years. One thing that could have made things more enjoyable for me would have been to imbue the game (in writing and design) with a sense of desperation from Our Hero, being insanely clever/lucky at the end in order to make up for a long series of bad decisions. Or if not that, then some sort of stronger engagement with the premise. Instead, the premise felt a bit tacked-on to a pre-existing set of puzzles, and it wasn’t a great fit, or at least it wasn’t a very interesting fit.

Did the author have something to say? : Not really! Any sort of sparkly writing or characterization would have gone a long way to making the game more enjoyable.

Did I have something to do? : Yes, and the puzzles were competent. As mentioned, a few missing synonyms that unfortunately had me turn to the walkthrough, since the in-game hint system wasn’t very helpful.

5 Likes

The Thirty Nine Steps

This was a rollicking adventure! There were puzzles, but none that bogged down the pace of the story at all, by dint of having every branch reconverge at the beginning of the next section, but with different states, each of which the player could have an opinion about, but none of which impeded further progress entirely (merely cutting off some options in some cases). This design, combined with the option at the end of each chapter to replay it from scratch, puts the player completely in control of the pacing of the story: they can barrel ahead with whatever they’ve achieved so far, or they can try multiple times, tweaking things as they go.

Overall, I’m a huge fan of this design: it gave me full control of the story and the puzzles, and (critically) made all of my possibilities fun to experience! At times, I was directing the protagonist, and at times I was directing the flow of the story itself, and was given just enough leeway to discover interesting nooks and crannies of the story, but not so much that I could ruin the experience for myself.

I think I would have appreciated the addition of a few status markers here and there that make a difference in what your choices are, and/or what the results of your choices are: your current outfit, perhaps, or the current status of how much you’ve deciphered a particular code. I also think I might have appreciated being told if I was correct or not after my opportunity to say my piece on what I thought was going on. But those are guesses; I know I felt a little lost when my guesses weren’t commented on, but I don’t know if being told ‘you were [wrong|right]’ would have actually helped that feeling, or if tracking my clothing would have made me feel more confident in my choices, or annoyed at the hand-holding. Or both!

Side note: I really liked the fact that in Chapter 3, what seems like a sub-optimal path on one hand can actually be beneficial in the end, as it gives you time to do a particular action you can’t do otherwise. Replaying that chapter, I figured out how to avoid the ‘bad’ path, only to realize that it meant I couldn’t do the other thing, and it was a fun moment of mental frission :wink:

Oh, and I loved the music. It was wonderful.

Did the author have something to say? : Yes: the author had a story to tell, and was bound and determined to make you a willing participant in it.

Did I have something to do? : Yes, in several different ways: the choices of the protagonist (both material and philosophical (the three ‘approaches’)), the pacing of the story, and the final stage (if desired) of piecing everything together and working out the deeper mysteries of the plot.

7 Likes

The Thick Table Tavern

This game has three basic parts: the framing story, the mixing-drinks minigame, and the main story and storylets. So, I’ll talk about all three!

I didn’t particularly care for the framing story. I found the ultimate (hinted-at) identity of the ‘Watcher’ and of the creator to be a bit cliché, but more importantly, it didn’t feel like anything was done with that premise. The Watcher just showed up and was mysterious. The final choice was a bit weird: normally, I’d be happy to replay a game to explore alternatives, but in this case the offer to replay was given to the protagonist, not the player. And as such, I strongly felt that the protagonist had no business replaying his own life and giving himself a potentially worse outcome and even a different backstory; that would have betrayed, in some way, his whole life. So I just said ‘no thanks’ and quit. And now I feel I can’t replay the game separately, either :wink:

The mixing-drinks minigame was also not particularly my style. There’s a list of things to click and you find and click on them, and then you get a new list. And…that’s it. I did discover that grenadine is a syrup, I guess. I feel like there are aspects of actually mixing drinks that could be interesting to explore in a minigame, but those would be things like mixing things in a particular way, in particular ratios, or making clever substitutions, all based on the patron you’re serving, or based on your knowledge of how drinks mix. But none of that was in the game; it was just ‘click this recipe’. You could set the difficulty level so that instead of just ‘click this recipe’ you could instead ‘click this recipe with added stress’, which did not sound like it would add anything to the experience, so I stuck with Easy mode. There was a time or two when the game didn’t recognize that I had clicked something, which on the harder modes would have made me angrier, so I didn’t get to experience that, I suppose.

But that brings us to the heart of the game; the ‘fiction’ part of the ‘interactive fiction’. And this I liked! Having the setting be ‘a place where interesting people stop by’ was great; it made what was essentially a one-room game feel like a normal full world. Sort of a B5/DS9 experience instead of a TNG game, if you will. The waitress character was fun (if somewhat objectified), and the owner character was also interesting, though I felt that characterization kind of abruptly flipped after his introduction, and I never did really figure out his backstory. And the parade of storylets of people coming through the bar were generally fun and well-written, though the obvious highlight was the older couple. I also liked the ritual of getting everything ready in the morning. Clicking on each of the bottles in turn when restocking the bar made me identify with the protagonist in a way I hadn’t expected: he was an excellent bartender, and always methodical in ensuring he had every tool he needed to do his job.

Did the author have something to say? : Not a ton; mostly simple NPC characterization with a touch of worldbuilding. The obvious place to have something novel to say would have been in the framing story, but I felt that was mostly a missed opportunity.

Did I have something to do? : Yes! Unfortunately, a lot of what I was given to do was the ‘click this list’ minigame, which wasn’t particularly engaging for me, but it was at least simple enough to get through without too much difficulty. The morning ritual was a lot more engaging for me, all told. Interestingly, however, these interactions made me not realize that my choices during the rest of the game were fairly limited. It wasn’t until I had to write this paragraph that I noticed, in fact! So that’s a pretty clever bit of game design; kudos!

4 Likes

Nose Bleed

Well, um.

This is where my low angst tolerance kicks in, because the game is pretty much nothing but angst, personified as a nose bleed. It was kind of effective, I suppose? But all I could think the entire game was basically, ‘You need help. Go get help. People will understand; it’ll be OK.’ But of course, the protagonist never gets help, and the one moment of hope at the end is where they realize that the imaginary person judging them also suffers from the same anxiety. And, you know, maybe? But there are people out there (ahem) who happen to not suffer from anxiety, whether by luck or genetics or coming from a loving home or something else or some combination of all of the above. Some of them will never understand, and some of them will understand immediately, and some of them can be made to understand (ahem). But for the love of all that’s holy, don’t just wallow in it and think you have to solve everything on your own! Find someone who will listen; who can help. Medicine works for some people; maybe it’ll work for you. Maybe as you get older, things will change. Something!

Sigh.

I mean, okay, the game was effective in conveying an emotion, as evidenced by that emotion completely annoying me. The metaphor seemed reasonably apt. I’m sure people feel like this. But why put your protagonist through this entirely on their own? With literally no actual NPCs anywhere, just figments of their imagination? Argh.

This is my second ‘drag the verb’ game, and it has served to let me know that I am officially Not A Fan of the mechanic, though it had a good five minutes of novelty before vague annoyance took its place and settled in.

Did the author have something to say? : Yes, they wanted me to know they were angsty.

Did I have something to do? : Other than ‘edit the HTML on the fly to solve a puzzle’, no.

5 Likes

CHASE THE SUN
My third drag-the-verb game! Still not a fan of that mechanic, and I was not a huge fan of the angst on display at the beginning, but then! Other people! And, gosh, after writing my ‘Nose Bleed’ review immediately before playing this game, it feels like vindication: if you’re going to get out of your angst, you need to find others and connect with them.

There are a couple principle NPCs in the game that you can reach from different playthroughs, and they’re both delightful in their own ways. My first playthrough, I met a Quaker woman, and happily the author of this game apparently shares my belief that Quakers are awesome. Our hero’s crisis of angst happens to coincide with a global extinction-level event (as always) and the Quakers are here to help people and enjoy their last days while they have 'em. And you can join! Another playthrough revealed a fellow traveler-from-the-apocalypse sheltering at the Quaker place, and after some flirtatious backstory-revealing dialogue, she joins the Quakers too, and invites you. Or, make some slightly different choices, and she’s decided to go into the apocalypse, and again invites you along.

The nice thing about all of these options (and even of the ignore-everyone-and-continue option) is that Our Hero is making a choice. They’re actively deciding to Do A Thing, and thank goodness they do.

Also, this is a great game for IF Comp 2022 Bingo, because you get to fill in the ‘apocalpyse’ square and the ‘escape your wedding’ square.

Did the author have something to say? : Yes! About running from your problems; about chaos; about making decisions; about people you meet along the way.

Did I have something to do? : Yup! I could guide my protagonist along a track that felt redemptive, and the game had pretty good replayability too, with different bits of the story coming out in different branches, making the whole better than the sum of its parts.

4 Likes

Admiration Point
This game did a really good job of making me uncomfortable. Which was its goal, I believe, so kudos to the game! I’m going to talk a lot about details, so consider the rest of this review to contain tons of spoilers. Which probably won’t spoil the game, I think! The game is a lot more about an experience than it is about surprise.

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So: it’s the near-ish future, and you play a married Mormon woman who has the potential, in-game, to become obsessed with an older Mormon man. The Mormonism is played as background; there’s not a lot of in-game specifics that talk about Mormonism, so it’s more to set the stage that both of you have foundational principles in your life that tell you that you shouldn’t have an affair with the guy. Then the game happens and you see how close you can get!

My first playthrough my thought was, “OK, it can’t be that hard to nip this in the bud,” and the game agreed! I got to ‘ending 5’, which I think was labeled something like ‘not obsessed’. (You can’t collect transcripts in Twine! It sucks! Ahem.) It didn’t even take that long. And, interestingly, the FAQ it shows you tells you right at the top that there is no path in which you have an affair.

So, OK, it’s possible to not be obsessed with the guy; I’ll go all-in the other way and see what happens. I restarted, picked opposite choices from my first playthrough, and not only did I not hit the ‘not-obsessed’ ending, but the game continued far beyond where I got the first time. I played a bit longer, decided to take a job at another company where I wouldn’t see the dude any more, and hit ‘ending 4’: ‘avoidance’. OK! Undo, don’t take the job, and the game continues even longer. I work closely with the guy, do a joint project that involves late-night working together and, ultimately, a trip out of state together. I get a lot of menus where the options are things like ‘kiss him’ ‘hold his hand’ ‘do none of those things’, and invariably I pick the ‘do none of those things’, and the game keeps going and going. And finally, I emerge unscathed at the other end of the story at ‘ending 1’: ‘friends’! Or, again, something like that, no transcript, complain complain.

And the reason I told you all this is that my claim is that, perhaps unwittingly, the very structure of the game is saying that ending 1 is the ‘best’ ending, because that’s the ending with the most content. Do normal stuff, early exit. Take a new job, early exit. My guess is that if you choose the ‘kiss him’ options, again, you get an early exit. The only way to get the most content out of the game is if you keep up a balance between being kind of obsessed with this guy, but never do anything untoward about it: only then does your obsession ‘fade with time’, and relaxes into a more healthy working relationship.

I’m diverging a bit from the game itself at this point, but this is the sort of thing that black people complain about white people in horror movies: stuff is obviously going wrong, but the (invariably white) character hangs around investigating, where the sane black-culture thing to do would be to nope on out of there. And I think part of this is because of the stories we tell ourselves: like this one, the claim is that if you nope out at the beginning, there’s no story. Only if you made bad decisions and try to deal with the aftermath do you get the story. (Am I remembering correctly that the same thing is sort of true of ‘A Change In The Weather’? ISTR that yonks ago I posted something like “Arguably, going ‘south’ at the beginning of the game is the best ending,” and zarf replied something like, “Ha, you think?” (Going south ends the game and tells you that you have a fun afternoon with your friends.)) Or the ending of one of the Prince of Persia games: you accomplish your goal, a sad thing happens, the credits roll, but you can keep playing and undo the sad thing that happens in a way that totally repudiates the goal you accomplished. “Ha, ha” the designers say, “You didn’t have to keep playing, but you did anyway! And look at the mess you made.”

So I feel like that design is the same thing going on with this game, writ large: the game tempts you with content to make bad decisions at the beginning, and then tempts you with more content again to make slightly better decisions later, because that’s where the story is. And honestly, it’s kind of unfair! ‘More content’ is 100% the designer telling you ‘you made the right decision’, and to pretend otherwise is, I feel, morally questionable.

The upshot is that if you want the design of your game to not have opinions about what choice the player made, I feel you need to keep the amount of content (and interesting-ness) roughly equal in each branch. I don’t know what the author’s moral opinions of being in this situation are, but the design of the game says, “The best thing to do in this situation is go ahead and let yourself become obsessed, but don’t let it go too far: that’ll result in the best outcome.” And I appreciate a game with something to say, as my standard end-review questions indicate! I don’t know if I agree, necessarily, but it at least makes for an interesting discussion.

Another interesting thing I feel the author is saying through the design: that it’s possible to nope out of an obsession through decisions you make. Another interpretation is that you can make those choices because you’re not obsessed in the first place, but I think the first interpretation is more interesting, and more in line with the game. You’re making choices: you have power over your feelings though your actions. I kind of think this is true! And again, it’s an interesting discussion to have, which I appreciate.

I haven’t said anything about the worldbuilding yet, and this review is already super long, but I wanted to at least say that I felt the author did a good job of imagining a possible near future of social media and AI, and that future’s relationship with our own. I did find it a kind of ridiculous future and ridiculous relationship, but today is so ridiculous that it was definitely believable!

Did the author have something to say? : Yes! I’m not 100% convinced all the things the author said were intentional, but I feel like I should give them the benefit of the doubt. Definitely a lot of stuff going on, and a lot of opinions going on about why this was.

Did I have something to do? : Oddly, I kind of felt like my options were ‘find out what the author had to say’ rather than ‘guide this person through this situation’, precisely because most paths ended up with shorter stories, and therefore felt like ‘quick deaths’, or at least ‘exits’. So I didn’t feel like I was guiding what Our Hero did, but rather discovering what they could do. But this felt appropriate for the story the author was telling, overall.

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It doesn’t ever clear the page, so copy and paste should work. Having a nice file on disk so you don’t have to remember to do it is a good idea too, though. I’ll add to the list.

Yes, this is the challenge I’ve been struggling with too. It is too easy to fall back into the “x rock” “east” mode with the games we’ve shipped so far. I’ve got an idea for the next one that may work better, stay tuned…

Lost at the Market

My encounter with this game is a sad tale of woe. My very first impression of just looking at it was that visually, I didn’t like it. And this is from someone who very very rarely notices styling at all—there’s a long thread on intfiction right now about how ‘unstyled’ Twine games annoy some people, and I honestly have no clue what they’re talking about, because unless you do something quite out of the ordinary, I’m not going to notice it at all. Heck, I didn’t even notice that the sidebar in Admiration Point existed.

But the style of this game jumped out at me immediately, and I hated it. To me, it looks like an ungodly mashup of conflicting colors. And then you click a couple buttons and some (but not all) of the text is repeated, in different colors, in different windows, so I don’t even know where to read the story. And then the game itself confused me, and I stumble to some sort of ending by accident, with no clear idea of what I did nor why. It vaguely hinted at a better ending, but I was so lost and disengaged with the game that when I left it running overnight, thinking I’d perhaps try an undo or two in the morning, and then my computer decided to reboot itself with updates overnight, and all my progress was lost… reader, I confess I gave up.

I definitely feel like I’m on the lower end of the bell curve here, and I feel bad about that, but, well, bell curves exist, and sometimes you hit the lower end. Sorry, Lost at the Market! I hope you find a more receptive audience in another reviewer.

Did the author have something to say? : Possibly, but if so the message was entirely obscured by the format.

Did I have something to do? : I clicked around some, got lost, and randomly ended the game.

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Glimmer

OK, it’s… uncanny, I guess, that there are now two games I’ve played (this and ‘Chase the Sun’) that completely agree with my Nose Bleed review that you need other people to get out of your angst/sadness. I mean, it’s a very slight game. It’s not much more than ‘you need other people to get out of your angst/sadness’. But it’s sweet, if a bit on the nose, and is obviously heartfelt, and I smiled when I played it.

The small bit of interactivity it has is pretty much 100% illusion, but I replayed the game ‘leaning the other way’, as it were, and it did actually feel like a slightly different story, which was interesting. So hey!

Did the author have something to say? : Yup! Not much, but it didn’t drag things out to say it, either. The whole game can be played twice in about five minutes.

Did I have something to do? : Kind of! I could choose the protagonist’s response to their surroundings, and the resulting story felt different, depending.

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