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

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.








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.


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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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.


Who Shot Gum E. Bear?

This was a totally reasonable and amusing game, and then I got stuck, and there weren’t hints or a walkthrough. It seemed like it had a reasonably tight design, too! I guess I’ll… wait for someone with a hint? I hate to mark a game down for having no walkthrough, but gluing the second half of your book closed is not ultimately a great strategy. It seemed fun; I’d recommend it once there are hints out there. For myself as well as any hypothetical reader :wink: [Redacted: see below]

UPDATE: I got a hint. And it was not the second half of the book that had been glued shut, but simply the last paragraph. It felt like there was a lot more to the game, but there just wasn’t.

The failure here is really quite interesting to me: the game knew exactly what it was and set about being exactly that: a small vehicle for jokes about personified candies in a murder mystery setting. Usually, I love this to bits. Here, one bit was, crucially, missing: the author forgot to tell me what kind of a game it was and how it was going about being that game.

The problem is that this game could have had all the same jokes, but still have an actual murder mystery underneath; a bedrock over which to slather goofiness. I’ve seen this sort of approach before, and the serious/goofy contrast can really work sometimes.

So, somehow, the author managed to not convey that there was no serious side of this story: it was entirely a medium for jokes, and the mystery, such as it was, was not solvable in any of the standard murder-mystery ways (interviewing people, collecting clues, analyzing them, checking for alibi discrepancies, getting attacked by a goon and managing to escape, etc.), but instead you just skip to the end, and read more jokes.

That would be fine if I had known! Heaven knows there are slighter games in this comp. But the disconnect prevented me from finishing the game, and even with the hint, the whiplash of realizing what kind of game this actually was, was unsettling and disappointing.

Mind you, I have no solutions here: I’m as clueless as anyone as to how to fix this particular design issue. But it ended up being kind of a big deal, and I wish it hadn’t.

Did the author have something to say? : Yes: jokes and a funny premise.

Did I have something to do? : Simultaneously too much and too little: maybe with fewer things to do, I would have twigged to the game’s actual genre earlier? And with more things to do, it could have been the game I thought it was in the first place.


The Archivist and the Revolution

I enjoyed this work a lot, but I’m going to start this review with a digression.

I worry about apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic works of art. I feel like the genre can contain good works, but that there can be something seductively and dangerously reductive about them, that can bring out unhealthy ideas and mindsets. Those problems are on heightened display in works like the ‘Left Behind’ series, but it’s a problem that can transcend conservative/liberal biases. Zombie apocalypse works are particularly susceptible to the thin veneer they pull over the fantasy of ‘shooting other people is good actually’. There’s just something oddly seductive to the human psyche of being able to start over from scratch where you can deal with The Incorrect by blunt measures instead of the messy difficult hard work of convincing Incorrect people over time to be better. Even post-apocalyptic works where The Incorrect won can be seductively reductive: you also don’t have to worry about fixing anything, because everything is irreconcilably broken.

All this to say that I can’t actually point at ‘The Archivist’ and say anything specific about any traps the author may or may not have fallen into, here. But to have the themes so overwhelmingly tied to the trans experience… just makes me nervous, in somewhat ineffable ways. I worry about the author, and I worry about the authors of other surprisingly-prevalent works of Queer Apocalyptica I’ve seen out there, particularly in the gaming world.

I would be very happy to discover that my worries are unfounded, and that this niche actually fulfills a vital and positive role for the community, and for its outreach. But I do worry. End of digression.

The Archivist and the Revolution presents a deeply imagined world and a deeply sad protagonist. The story has a well-balanced design where you’re given an immediate goal (get enough money for next week’s rent), and then draws you into longer stories and themes as you try to accomplish that goal. There’s a lot you discover over the course of this game: about the world, about your job, and about your relationships.

The world is a post-apocalyptic setting (essentially), with the most fascinating aspect of this being your job: you pull out messages encoded in bacterial DNA by past generations. This is a real idea (though not, so far as I know, actually implemented yet), and it’s fascinating to imagine a world with hidden knowledge literally living with you, awaiting your ability to unencode the information once more. The game posits several cycles of use, loss, and regaining of the technology, meaning that any given message/information you may receive may be from a wide variety of sources, both in terms of subject matter and in terms of era. It’s a very interesting take on the ‘wisdom of the ancients’ motif you see a lot in both sci-fi and fantasy, and I loved the egalitarian spin on things: the idea that with the right bit of knowledge/technical expertise, anyone could call up a random entry in a vast encyclopedia. This was particularly relevant to the world Our Hero lives in, too: it’s an oppressive regime, where some facts are simply considered heretical. But they have no way of stopping the truth from existing, living in the very bacteria all around them.

There are two relationships to explore, both former co-spouses, both doing better than you, and both radically different from each other. I had my protagonist still be in love with both, but personally favored K, the one more on Our Hero’s level, with a kid we learned to be a parent to over the course of the story. I also chose this person as the centerpiece of the end-game, which was quite satisfying, enough that I didn’t really mind not seeing the other endings. Though I did lament the lack of ‘undo’, because I could have seen several endings quite easily with it, and it would have taken a half-hour slog otherwise. Hey, I’m digressing again.

The other former co-spouse, A, had a very interesting relationship with the protagonist, which I don’t think I’ve seen before, and which rang true for me: someone who was in the same oppressed subgroup as you, who chose to deliberately leave that subgroup, and is now doing quite well for themselves. Still cares for you, and still dabbles in your subgroup, but without real fear of reprisal or consequences. Nothing is explicitly said about this, but geez, that’s got to be inherently galling, even for someone you do care about. You want to feel happy for them. And you kind of don’t. And you kind of resent yourself for feeling that way, and kind of resent them for ‘making’ you feel that way. And again, I got all that without anything explicit in the text! It was a deft bit of relationship characterization.

[Edit: reversed K and A. Woops!]

Did the author have something to say? : Yes, quite a bit. An imaginative world with interesting speculative fiction chops, well-realized characters, and a presentation of what it’s like to be understatedly but overwhelmingly oppressed.

Did I have something to do? : Yes! There was a resource-management game, of sorts, that was deftly woven into the stories the world had ready for me.


I have a hint though it might be somewhat unsatisfying:

I think the game is designed such that you should start randomly accusing people at this point; there’s no moment where the player character figures things out and the clue to who the culprit is is both quite oblique and entirely obvious once you’ve gone everywhere and talked to everyone, so there’s no advantage to drawing things out.

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Ha ha, wow, I was one move away from the end, having accused literally everyone else and having even thought to accuse the actual culprit, before I forgot again. OK, then! Guess I’ll update the review :wink: Thanks!

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But it is! The most basic of all detective skills is keen observation. Careful reading of the descriptions of all the characters gleans the information that only one of them has fingers ! So only this character is anatomically capable of squeezing the trigger!

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Well, right, I mean, I read the end, too. But it’s another joke, not really a deduction, and it doesn’t quite hold up under the rules of a different game that had a serious side to it. Namely, why do we think those are the only suspects? What was the killer’s motivation? Might the killer have been working for someone else? I’ll grant you it’s possible (though, I believe, unlikely) that someone could have noticed the clue on their own. But I do think that in order to do so, you had to be looking for another joke, and not a clue, per se.


This was not my game. I generally have a low tolerance for poetry, and this game is nothing but poetry, like, reams and reams of it. Its attempts to be metaphorical, for me, fall over the line to unintelligible, instead. As I played, I realized I was mostly just clicking the first un-visited link, and thought, “This is not a great design, because there’s no reason to pick one thing to click over another; any of them have a roughly equal chance of being just as interesting as anything else.” Then as I progressed, it became clear that the order of clicking the links actually matters, and you have to do some things before other things, and I thought “Geez, this is terrible; now I have to keep track of which nonsensical thing is behind which nonsensical link.” Then I realized the inherent contradiction in those two thoughts, and decided that my actual problem was simply that I Didn’t Like It, and no design was going to overcome that basic problem.

In the abstract, I can appreciate the design: it’s essentially the classic exploration->understanding->mastery chain, where first you bumble around finding out stuff, then gradually come to understand what’s going on, then apply that knowledge to Do A Thing. But not one single line that I read resonated with me in any way, shape, or form, so I actively resisted moving to the ‘understanding’ phase. In the end, I decided to save us both the trouble, and quit. I had managed to obtain two weapons, for some reason, if that’s any help for you in trying to figure out how far I had gotten.

Did the author have something to say? : Probably? Maybe it was some sort of cancer metaphor or something.

Did I have something to do? : Sort of, and I didn’t like it.


Zero Chance of Recovery

This was a cute tiny game that managed to frustrate me. The basic schtick is that it’s a chess puzzle, and by playing around a little, I discovered two different ways to draw. And then… well, OK, spoilers:

At this point, the game kept going and asked me to ‘be clever’ and I truly believed that this meant there was a way to actually win the game using only the rules of chess. But no, there’s a bit of framing story I had completely forgotten about (because it isn’t mentioned in the play loop, only at the Actual Beginning Of The Game), so if I caused a draw in a particular way, the framing story kicked in and I ‘won’ even though it was Yet Another Draw. I mean, I also found a way to Actually Win Due To A Bug (S, P, P), which I think should also count. But as it was, I used the walkthrough in the end, after looking up (and finding!) the puzzle on chess forums.

So, I dunno. It’s very competently implemented, the interstitial commentary was fun but not overwhelming, and the final twist, in retrospect, was cute. But I spent so long barking up the wrong tree that the final impression the game left on me was one of frustration.

Did the author have something to say? : Not particularly, but also didn’t claim anything and not follow through.

Did I have something to do? : I figured out one puzzle (or two, kind of) and the third just defeated me.

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This was actually pretty funny. Thanks for giving it a go geez. If I had as little tolerance for the material as you did I’d never have got this far so fairplay to you. I honestly have no idea how you got to the cancer metaphor conclusion after struggling so hard to relate to the writing though.


Well, thanks for being a good sport in return. It definitely felt like while it didn’t work for me personally, there’d probably be others out there for whom it would. It’s pretty funny that I twigged to the cancer metaphor despite actively trying not to :wink: I think I probably saw the words ‘tumor’ and ‘growth’ somewhere suspicious.


Yeah your review does’nt seem mean or unfair at all- you said you dont like poetry. But you did get kind of hilariously far in it despite loathing the experience lol.


So! The comp is done, but I’m still enjoying playing the games, so I’m going to continue! I’ve been pretty good so far about not spoiling games before I play them, and at this point I’m going to allow myself to be somewhat spoiled, at least about General Perceived Quality, i.e. how the game placed overall. So that sort of information might start popping up in my reviews, and I might start reading other people’s reviews before writing mine if the situation warrants it: having a conversation about some games can potentially be more interesting that having Yet Another Fresh Perspective. So, we’ll see. And thanks to everyone who’s commented so far! It’s always great to get feedback.


The Princess of Vestria

In the same way that other games in this comp have started off at a disadvantage due to Not Really Being My Thing, and have to work to overcome that (which many of them have!), The Princess of Vestria is exactly the opposite: the very premise made me grin with delight.

And, happily, I felt it followed through and delivered on it’s promise! Our Hero this time is a plucky princess on a quest to save her brother from an Evil Curse. Along the way, you have many chances to do stuff that generally falls in one of three categories: Discover Backstory, Act In Genre-Appropriate Ways, and Do Something Clever. (These were not the actual stats that were revealed in the post-credits scene that the game tracked, mind you; they’re just generally how I felt about my options.)

The first (‘discover backstory’) is a time-honored IF staple, and the game handled it well. The backstory was interesting, I was involved in its revelation, and the pacing of the reveals was good. Some of the information was gated behind puzzles, particularly in the later parts of the game, so I was well motivated to solve the puzzle to figure out the information. (Also good: It was clear that ‘information’ was the reward for solving those particular puzzles.)

The third (‘do something cleverl’), was another time-honored IF staple: solving puzzles. Here again, the game was quite solid: the puzzles had interesting setups, interesting choices, and satisfying rewards. The only odd quirk of the system for me was the fact that you got ‘lives’ and ‘luck’, which would be spent by (presumably) failing to solve the puzzles. But the game also had a save/load system, so if you failed at something, you could just reload and try again. I used the save/load system several times over the course of the game, and of course, since this is a choice-based game and there’s only so many options you have to click, this meant that I solved all the puzzles. And this was the game’s one failure point, for me: for two big set piece puzzles (following the woman and dealing with the sheriff), there’s nothing in the game that hints (even in retrospect) that one approach will work and another will fail: all options seem at least somewhat plausible; the difference is only that one path leads to success and all the rest to failure. With the save/load system, this works out fine: it’s basically just a maze, and you try different directions until you find the exit. But the life/luck system tells the player that the author expects them to solve everything on their first attempt, and it’s dreadfully unfair to put maze-type choice puzzles where you can’t backtrack in a one-and-done scenario like that. It wasn’t even that the rewards made that much of a difference in the end, it’s that you’re punishing the player by holding back story, which makes them feel (correctly) like they’re missing out. Maybe some players are OK with this? But had the save/load system (or an equivalent like ‘undo’) not existed, I would have felt betrayed by puzzles like this in the game. But! Those puzzles were not super prevalent, and the save/load system did exist, so for me, everything was copacetic.

One note about the final puzzle: the game told me there were three ways to solve it, but I was only able to find two. Maybe the options for the third only appear when you don’t have the extra ‘stuff’ you need for the other two? It was weird. Also, the game lets you click on a ‘walkthrough’ button that in no way gives you an actual walkthrough. Similarly, the ‘walkthrough’ document you could download from the ifcomp website has a solution for a single puzzle in the game, and that’s it. Again, odd. Anyway.

This brings us to the second item on my list: ‘Act In Genre-Appropriate Ways’. This, for me, was by far the most delightful part of the whole game, and ultimately the reason why I loved it to bits. Just about every big scene felt like this to me: I’d see a familiar face at a tavern while in disguise, and think, “Oh! I bet it’ll turn out that…” and then I’d play through acting on that assumption and I was right every time! And every time I would cheer myself for being clever and the game for letting me be clever. And what’s more, all of the scenes, even though they were ‘predictable’ in the sense that I knew generally where they were going, still managed to run with the story in interesting ways or reveal bits of interesting setting details. (The revelation of why the guy wanted nuts was beautiful.) It was sort of like listening to a new song in a genre you love: the conventions of the genre are satisfied, but the particular song always brings its own spin to things.

Maybe I just really want to be a plucky princess when I grow up. There are worse fates.

Did the author have something to say? : I guess the author had a story to tell, in a genre I loved? I feel like the genre kind of constrains the sort of insight any author can bring to the table here (the overall message kind of has to be “go get 'im, girl!”), but the author did have something new to say about the character and motivations of the villain of the piece.

Did I have something to do? : You betcha; I got to be a plucky princess! Oh, and solve puzzles and discover a story; that was cool, too.


Thank you for the review! I think you have A and K switched, though.

Regarding post-apocalyptic stories, I have some of those same worries. I tried to avoid making this a pure black-and-white morality tale…

Using the save feature might be a way to see the different endings without going through the whole game every time.

Whoops! No transcript, so I couldn’t check :wink: Will fix!

My constant tunnel vision apparently caused me to not notice the side bars with the save/reload bits. The only issue there is that you have to actually remember to hit ‘save’ at some point. And I think the rest of the game seemed ‘safe’ in that I was generally following a path, and it didn’t seem like there was much danger of where I wanted to go being cut off suddenly. And that actually continued through the endgame; it just turned out that my path could have also encompassed some other options, and it would have been nice to see those, too. But by the time I knew that, I was watching the credits.

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A really short game that managed nonetheless to have bugs? The only ‘endings’ I got were ‘you fail’ and ‘I need useable code to be right of =.’ There was also a link that didn’t work near the end, that I’m guessing was supposed to lead to a better ending? Maybe?

The story was all over the place, but there was an undercurrent of amazing imagination at work. If you pick a few opportune choices at the beginning, you can discover that possessing magic in this world is viewed as a ‘Curse’, visited on you because of your sins. And the only way to pay for your sins is to use your Curse in service of the Empire. This is ridiculously evil and amazing.

Did the author have something to say? : The author had more Ideas than Twine Prowess, and the game suffered for the latter, but retained some spark from the former.

Did I have something to do? : Not particularly, other than to wander through the Choice Maze and try to avoid the bugs.

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