Lucian's IF Comp 2022 Reviews

So, it’s been yonks since I’ve played any IF, but I got pulled back into things a bit when I joined the Cragne Manor project, and then got pulled onto this forum when Mike Russo did his ‘Let’s Play’ of it. And then I had some spare time, so I figured, why not?

I assume that these reviews are going to be sort of old school in their outlook (I mean, my one major game was written in 1997), which mostly means two things: one, I’m going to be looking for more interactivity rather than less, and two, I am WAY TOO OLD for angst. Even when I was young enough for angst it was never particularly my jam. Hmm, maybe this is less about being old school and more about me being me. Anyway: anything angsty is going to have a harder hill to climb to get me hooked, and anything with limited interactivity is going to have me asking ‘why am I not reading this in short story form?’

But even those are, I feel, somewhat minor biases: both would probably adjust my own score up or down a couple points max.

More important to me are two things:

  • The author should have something to say. Ideally, it will be something interesting and/or novel.
  • I should have something to do. Ideally, that activity should help draw me in, and be enjoyable.

So that’s the perspective I’ll be starting from as I write the reviews! I’ll try to be fair and honest, but if I say something mean about your game, you should ignore it because I don’t know what I’m talking about and the game wasn’t written for me anyway. I’m just trying to explain my own perspective.

Also, I’m going to be circumspect when I can, but generally, I’m not going to worry about spoilers, so consider all of these reviews to contain spoilers. Ahoy!

(Also, I’m playing the games in the order the randomizer gives them to me, as this is the One True Way to judge the comp don’t tell me otherwise la la la la la i can’t hear you.)

To Persist/Exist/Endure, Press 1
Into The Sun
January
Headlights
U.S. Route 160
Under The Bridge
Low-Key Learny Jokey Journey
Prism
Inside
Traveller’s Log
Arborea
A Chinese Room
A Walk Around The Neighborhood
Witchfinders
Lazy Wizard’s Guide
The Thirty Nine Steps
The Thick Table Tavern
Nose Bleed
Chase The Sun
Admiration Point
Lost at the Market
Glimmer
Who Shot Gum E. Bear?
The Archivist and the Revolution
Lucid
Zero Chance of Recovery

At this point, the comp ended. But I’m still playing and reviewing things, so onward!

The Princess of Vestria
Hours
Jungle Adventure
The Hidden King’s Tomb
Approaching Horde
The Alchemist

14 Likes

To Persist/Exist/Endure, Press 1

I felt like this game had a slightly clever/slightly annoying interface: you would click and drag a verb, and one or more nouns in the text would light up that you could drag it to, so, for example, you could drag ‘break’ onto either ‘down’ or ‘phone’, to break down or break the phone. Cute, but on my high-res monitor, the actual dragging was a little obnoxious, and the sensitivity was a little high, meaning I sometimes had to get the word exactly positioned before it would take.

However, I probably would have easily forgiven and appreciated the interface if the game itself had something I could enjoy. The plot, such as it is, is that you’re navigating an existentially-terrible phone tree, and you yourself are a ball of angst. There’s no indication whether the world itself is existentially terrible, or if your own angst makes it seem that way. There’s no indication why you are a ball of angst. There’s no indication whether the company you’re calling actually exists, or why. There’s no indication why you’re calling them.

In general, I felt like it didn’t have anything to say about our protagonist’s situation, merely that it existed. And ‘some people are pretty angsty’ is something I’ve known for quite some time. Having grown out of my own angsty phase several decades back, it’s no longer something that resonates with me by default, which I felt like the game was relying on: if you want to pull people into an experience, you have to hook them and draw them in to the perspective you want to share.

So, technically competent, reasonably expressive, but ultimately lifeless, for me. I feel like I’m probably not the best audience for it, however.

Did the author have something to say? : Not really.
Did I have something to do? : Again, not really. I kind of liked the Polish joke, though.

6 Likes

Into The Sun

There are a lot of nits against this game: the basic premise is highly reminiscent of " Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder" by Ryan Veeder, another game where you’re scavenging stuff from a sinking ship. The text is spare but not very evocative, with several grammatical errors scattered throughout. The setting is explicitly stolen from a famous movie without adding anything in particular to it. An alien starts smashing things on the ship just after you arrive, despite having been on board for several decades. Meeting the scary alien in person is not scary in the slightest; you mostly just wander where the alien isn’t.

All that said, the puzzles and overall goal of the game is kind of charming! It follows the tried-and-true pattern of discovery → understanding → mastery, which is always inherently satisfying, and I never had to use any hints. My first playthrough consisted of wandering around the ship, gradually putting together what’s going on and how the landscape is changing, and solved a few puzzles. Then I restarted with a plan, altered the plan a bit as I went, and finally escaped with a good amount of loot and a positive ending.

I felt like there might have been a bit more to the game than I was able to discover: I never figured out what to do with a few fixed-in-place items (the battery, the handcart, and the keyboard), and got the vague sense that it might have been possible to deal with the alien in some permanent manner–though if I abandoned it on the ship, I guess it would die anyway? In the end, I was reasonably happy with my ending, though perhaps I’ll troll online and see if there were other things I missed.

Did the author have something to say? : Not really.
Did I have something to do? : Yes! And it was enjoyable! I even downloaded a mapper just so I could create a map, and it enhanced my playing experience!

6 Likes

January

This is a sad post-apocalyptic story that meanders nowhere for a really long time, and I just about gave up on it–in fact, if I wasn’t trying to judge things, I’m sure I would have. But I pressed on despite not liking it, and then miraculously it came together and was somewhat compelling! Mostly because of the introduction of a cat. Always introduce cats to your post-apocalyptic worlds, people; you can’t go wrong.

There was a lot about the story that I didn’t understand even after everything was done, and I think this was because it was supposed to be Mysterious and that I was supposed to Ponder Things, but it didn’t really work for me on that level. Mostly it was just a kind of nice story about a guy with a sad backstory in a sad situation with a cat that made things a bit better.

The story is set up so that you get circled dates on a calendar you click on to see story vignettes, and when you’ve seen the vignette, the date gets crossed off. And then later sometimes the dates get un-crossed off and something changes about the vignette and literally every time this happened, I cringed and thought, “Argh, why” because the story is just so much of a downer that I didn’t want it to go on even longer but then I’d sigh and see the new bits and it was OK. Not all of the new bits were strictly worth it, per se, but that went for half the vignettes, too, so that was par for the course.

You supposedly can click on a few different dates to see the story in a sort of pseudo-random slightly restricted order, but honestly, why would anyone do this? And what difference would it make? I just always clicked on the earliest date available so that I could experience the story as chronologically as possible, and so I could read the newly-expanded vignettes as soon as I could so I had less chance of forgetting what it was about. So, technically interactive, sort of. I’m not going to complain that it was entered in the comp, but this level of interactivity is usually too low for me, all told.

Did the author have something to say? : Yes. Was it novel/interesting? A bit. The cat bits worked great, and that was the heart of the story, so definite points for that.
Did I have something to do? : No. And when I sort of had something to do, I always cringed, which isn’t a great sign.

6 Likes

Headlights

So, there’s two things to review here: the game itself, and the game system that was used to create it. For the system itself, it’s an attempt at being a natural language parser, which is a great goal, but of course it ends up being much worse than your standard Infocom/TADS/Inform parser: doesn’t understand ‘it’, crappy error messages, no scripting, annoying “I understood you to say ‘x the y’” messages every time you type ‘x y’, an inventory limit of two. I mean, come on. It’s impossible for me to know where the system ends and the game begins, and it’s certainly possible that some very different game exists or could exist that would actually make use of its purported ability to parse things like ‘what color is the rock I am holding’, but it’s hard to see how this ability actually would translate into a better game, when I can just say ‘x rock’ or maybe ‘x held rock’ and get the same information.

The game itself is, sadly, terrible. It’s not well implemented, the prose is short, stark, and aggressively unevocative, the puzzles are trivial, and the story is also trivial. Well, the puzzles were trivial until I found one I couldn’t solve. I could wash a bloody deer, leaving it ‘very shiny’, though, so there’s that. I assume it’s yet another ‘a bad thing happened and the protagonist retreats into a realm of fantasy and metaphor to deal with it’ story? I think? I didn’t quite get to that part, though. And the ‘box text’ didn’t really match the game text nor the gameplay, either.

Did the author have something to say? : No, the author had a not-very-great thing to show off.
Did I have something to do? : Technically? But it was awkward, and either simplistic or opaque. It would have been 20% better just using the Inform world model, but only 20%.

6 Likes

U.S. Route 160

The tags didn’t fill me with joy, but at least it’s the sort of game that should know what it’s about, so that’s promising. Not totally proof-read, with phrases like “So you made you like it too” which I think was supposed to be “So you made yourself like it too”? Or “Frusteration”. “You let the ultraviolence soothe your sunbitten skin.” Can I make Yet Another Plea to the gods of Twine that they implement the ability to create a transcript from a playthrough? You can’t properly test something you can’t record and peruse.

Anyway.

The game turned into Yet Another ‘protagonist retreats into land of fantasy and metaphor to deal with sadness’ game. Again, if angst is your jam, go you, but if you want to angst to be my jam, you’re going to have to do some work to pull me in, instead of just having Displayed Angst. That goes even more so for choice games, since my interaction with the game is limited, and even more so with choice games where the ‘choice’ is ‘click the single link’. At that point, you’re just writing a short story, and you have to make it compelling; there’s nothing else for me to engage with.

That said, I did get a reasonable sense of who the protagonist was in the end, and the struggles she was going through. And that’s really all the game tried to do, so it accomplished that!

Did the author have something to say? : Yes, though it was more a snapshot than a story or character portrait.
Did I have something to do? : No. There were somewhere around three actual-choice points in the whole thing, and I got something called ‘ending 3’, but was left with zero desire to find any other endings.

7 Likes

Under the Bridge

OK, here we go. This game is short, but it contains almost exactly what I want out of a choice-based game. A strongly-characterized protagonist, a new setting/world to explore a bit, choices to make that create a meaningful conversation between myself and the author. “I think the world is like this, so I’ll act this way.” “If you act like that, this is what happens.” “Ah! OK.”

Honestly, I don’t have anything much more to say! The text was spare but evocative. The art was similarly simple and evocative, with slight animation that added to the spirit of the world without detracting or distracting. I found a pleasant ending my first time through, and decided to not try to find another, because for me, my questions were answered. I don’t care what happens if I’m a jerk; that’s not a question I have for this world or any other. I appreciated that those paths were available if I wanted to, because it made my own choices more meaningful, even though I didn’t know what, specifically, they might contain. Contrast this to other games where alternate endings seem like they’ll just be more of the same; more conversations I don’t care about.

Did the author have something to say? : Yes! And more to the point, the author had something to say to me, which is even better.
Did I have something to do? : Yes! I made a difference in the world as a direct result of clear choices.

11 Likes

Low-Key Learny Jokey Journey
The only thing I can say about this game is ‘what’. I don’t get it in the slightest. There’s something about rhymes, but the rhymes make no sense, and which rhymes are the ‘correct answer’ make no sense, either. I think I’m going to have to skip this one, and classify it as ‘experiment that failed for me’. I hope this game finds its audience!

5 Likes

Prism

Holy crap, this game is amazing.

It starts off really densely and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to keep up, but fortunately there was enough to hold on to as I worked out more about the world, who I was, and who I wanted to be. I also appreciated the way the author took my disparate choices and wove them into a coherent story—I truly felt like the protagonist of a forgotten Brandon Sanderson story, and significant events kept happening at a reasonable clip that all felt surprising, but recognizable. Like, I wouldn’t have predicted any of them, but in retrospect, they all seemed appropriate for the world and story in which they lived.

I decided to replay it and make different choices, since I liked but wasn’t 100% committed to the ending I found first, and I’m still trying to decide if that was a mistake or not. Replaying revealed some of the inner workings of the structure, and I could see that what I had thought was a completely branching tree was actually a bit more sparse than it seemed at first. But while I did miss the sense of ‘I could do anything and the author has a unique story for me laid on on just that path’, I still did find a lot more content along my new path, which informed the world in an interesting way and shed new details on my relationship with the game’s major NPC.

Overall, there was just so much I loved about this game. I loved the worldbuilding, which new crazy revelations coming thick and fast at me almost every time I clicked on a new option. I loved the protagonist, and his place in the world. I loved how the disparate plots came together and overlapped in surprising ways. I loved the overall theme of hope in the midst of trial, of people finding ways to make things better even when the world they were in conspired against them.

Did the author have something to say? : Yes! SO MANY THINGS. And like ‘Under the Bridge’, I felt the author had things to say to me, too.
Did I have something to do? : Yes! I felt like a protagonist making protagonist-level choices the whole time. Some of this was a bit of an illusion, as revealed my re-play, but that’s just good craft.

9 Likes

Inside

This game was…fine? The author had some things to say, and I had some stuff to do. Neither seemed terribly important, but not everything has to be earthshattering.

One thing that I kind of rebelled against was being given choices that changed the background of the story. And I’m not entirely sure why I disliked that so much. I guess the first reason is just that it seemed wrong; that there are defined roles for world-building in a computer game, and while I can take the role of bringing the protagonist to life, and perhaps adding characterization to them, that’s a role that should be formed in response to the world in which the protagonist finds themselves in, and not a role that is supplemented by building the world as well. Which doesn’t really explain why I think that, but at least to say it was a strong visceral reaction on my part. Pondering my own reaction further, I think it might have something to do with what I want out of an IF game: I want the author to have opinions about stuff, and to show me those opinions in response to my actions. Once I get involved in the worldbuilding side of things, I’m afraid I’m going to have to do the heavy lifting for the ‘having opinions’ side of things, too. I already know what my own opinions are! The whole point of art, for me, is to discover how someone else sees the world, and in an interactive piece, how that view meshes with my own view. So when I’m asked to pick a name for the main NPC, that gave me pause, but OK, text search-and-replace is a thing. But when I’m asked whether that NPC and I have done good or evil together, that makes me worry that the game author won’t be providing any commentary on that, and it seems like kind of a huge plot point to avoid entirely.

I didn’t replay the game to see what would have happened had I chosen ‘evil’, but I feel like my worries were, basically, justified. I went with a fairly light-hearted and jovial tone throughout (and even figured out how to feed a stray cat, so points for that), but then the ending showed up and the tone completely shifted in a way that seemed out of sync (sync, get it?) with the game I had been playing so far. Like the author had given me too much freedom of expression, and then didn’t have any response queued up for it, so just punted instead.

As for the interactivity, I remained engaged and clicking throughout, but in the end it seemed a little empty, like things were too easy or too slight or too inconsequential; that, again, I was being allowed to play around but also then ignored.

Did the author have something to say? : Sort of? But it was watered down too much to say anything truly meaningful or interesting.
Did I have something to do? : A bit. It was fine.

4 Likes

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