Lucian's IFComp 2023 Reviews (latest: Tricks of Light in the Forest)

There’s even an exploit with those if you’re really being sneaky: when you’re fumbling with the keyring and you don’t get it the first time, you can just flick back/forward and it rerolls, which can save you a scary encounter. I thought about hiding the save bar, but left it in because cheats and warp zones are fun!

Very glad you enjoyed the game, @lpsmith! If it felt like the ending ran long, you must have gotten the really good ending. The good and okay-ish endings are a lot shorter; I wanted players to really feel rewarded for going the extra mile. Which you did! Thanks for spending so much time with my puppet pals.


Thanks very much for your time on this Lucian, and apologies that this was your first comp experience this year!

I’ll definitely be taking at look at the job interview and father passages where the minute of angle stuff is explained. There’s probably more I can do to make the “clicks” clear there.

Ditto where you swap rifles at the end of the mission, I could probably use the word swap in the choice rather than just in the text and clarify for the reader.

Having played a few games in the comp so far I’ve no doubt that you’ll have a much better time going forward, there’s some cracking stuff in there this year!


There actually is an undo - those back and forward arrows in the sidebar about the save and load buttons are undo/redo.

There’s even an exploit with those if you’re really being sneaky

Aha! I actually played this one while travelling, and was on my phone, so maybe those arrows were hiding. And if not, I’m an inveterate not-noticer-of-GUIs, too; my default assumption tends to be that anything non-text is fluff, to the point where its existence won’t even register in my head. Which is definitely more a me thing than a game thing :wink:

I did indeed get the you-did-everything ending. For me, there was never any doubt that I would rescue everyone, though I did worry that there would be two human-sized puppets I’d have to decide between, which sounded like it would be sad.

Thanks for writing the game! Again, I just loved your imagination and worldbuilding.


Thanks very much for your time on this Lucian, and apologies that this was your first comp experience this year!

No apologies necessary! These things happen. You had a story you wanted to share, and you shared it!

To be more specific about the puzzle design: my main problem was that as far as I could recall, the word ‘clockwise’ was never used in the ‘minute of angle’ explanations, and then suddenly showed up in the choices. I thought I understood that there were two things you had to adjust: angle and distance, and I thought distance was measured in ‘clicks’, but then the choice came up and it seemed to conflate the two, like, ‘two clicks clockwise’. What did that mean? ‘clockwise’ is not a measurable angle by itself, and if ‘two clicks clockwise’ means ‘an angle of about 10 minutes’ or something, then there wasn’t anything for the distance.

Regardless of the explanation, though, the other thing that could have helped is a scene where I-the-player could learn what I-the-PC knew; where I could test out what I thought the explanations meant in a ‘safe’ environment. (I mean, there were those scenes, but nothing where I could try things and get feedback in the same ‘x angle, y distance’ context that came up later.) Maybe this would have messed with the pacing of the story you wanted to tell? But I think something like this where you teach the player how to solve the puzzle is necessary in the puzzle-track through the game.


That’s really well explained and something I can take forward. You’re absolutely right that I never mentioned clockwise or anticlockwise in the tutorial sections. To my knowledge none of the options in the shoots ask you to choose between the two, I’d deliberately avoided asking players to choose direction, only to calculate the number of clicks.

I’d also ensured that, outside of some dialogue options, calculating wind and range never played into it. Id felt that asking for more than the clicks might be too deep off the bat.

It seems in this regard we’re absolutely aligned, and I’d imagine at least one person reading this now will appreciate the clarification if they come to try it later. And I’ll certainly be keeping it in mind when I make revisions, so thank you again.


For Eternity, Again and Again (TheChosenGiraffe)

I played through this game. I backed up and made all the other choices. I started over from the beginning and made a different initial choice, which started me down a completely different path, and visited all the nodes in that branch. I think I probably saw all the writing in this game.

I still don’t know what’s going on.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I understood the plot, such as it was. There are two entities who get reincarnated into pre-existing lives, somehow, but this is now ending because of ‘the universe’ during the game. It seems like you could make that premise into an interesting story, but all I got out of this was the premise. So maybe it’s not that I didn’t know what was going on so much as I didn’t know why it was going on. Why these two? Why now? Why do I care?

I’ve played games before that felt more like an interactive sculpture more than an interactive story, and maybe that’s what’s going on here? If so, though, it wasn’t nearly as well signposted this time 'round than in those other games I’ve played.

Did the author have something to say? Not… really? There was a premise to convey, I guess.

Did I have something to do? No, none of my choices meant anything; I could just decide to read more or stop.


I love this so much. :slight_smile: Man what a great way to put it.


Death on the Stormrider (Daniel M. Stelzer)

This was a very clever puzzly game that I wasn’t quite clever enough to match. The worldbuilding was fun, the characters were distinct, and the mystery had a satisfying conclusion.

The game is definitely weighted on the ‘solve puzzles’ side of things, and it rewards careful and lateral thinking. All of the puzzles are seamlessly integrated into the setting and story, and solving them was always satisfying… when I could manage to actually solve the puzzle. I often could! But there were several I floundered about.

And nigh-disastrously, I came this close -><- to thinking I was done with the game when I was not. There’s an unfortunate but understandable pattern that comes with hints, where every time you turn to get a hint, your bond with the author goes down–you believe more and more that the two of you are simply on a different wavelength, and you will not be able to solve the next puzzle, either. Every time you do solve a new puzzle, that bond gets rebuilt. I ended up going pretty far with a reasonable bond with the author, but it kept getting chipped away as I got stuck several times, and by the end, the bond was almost shot. This was the point where I had unanswered questions, but had reached an ending, and I thought that was all there was! You can see my thought processes at the end of my transcript (stormrider2.txt - Google Drive) though of course there are huge spoilers at that point.

I think the hint system itself may be partly to blame here–the hint topics didn’t match the ‘tasks’ list you have in-game, so figuring out what to reveal was somewhat a matter of guessing. But more importantly, if one of the topics had been ‘How can I tell who the killer is?’ and another had been ‘How can I tell what the killer’s motivation was?’ (or something similar) I would have known there was an answer in-game about the killer’s motivation, and could have at least attempted to follow up accordingly.

It’s also possible that the description of the packets led me astray, or at least could have provided a clue as to exactly what sort of thing I was dealing with here, too?

I’m spending too much time vaguely complaining. Instead, I should tell people that there is indeed a satisfying conclusion to the game, and it involves solving all of the tasks on your list, even the ones that don’t seem relevant to anything. You might need hints, but stick with it: the author will come through for you in the end.

Did the author have something to say? Yeah, more or less! Mostly interesting worldbuilding and a crime setup for you to discover.

Did I have something to do? Absolutely. Lots of puzzles to solve, well-integrated into the world and setting.


I had the same problem when I turned to the hints; I was worried I was going to accidentally spoil some of the puzzles for myself by clicking the wrong thing!

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Thank you so much for the review! I don’t want to say too much in public while the judging is going on, but suffice to say—you raise good points about the hints, and I’m going to look into reorganizing those a bit. My goal has been to conceal the fact that there are several separate crimes being concealed on this ship but I don’t want that to hurt the play experience.


Ribald Bat Lady Plunder Quest (Joey Acrimonious)

This game was a deeply sincere, deeply ridiculous sex farce, and I cannot emphasize enough how well the sincerity blended with the ridiculousness to create something truly beautiful. Our protagonist, Zorklang, is the ribald bat lady foretold in the title, and not once in the entire game does she act out of character. She knows exactly who she is, she knows exactly what she wants, and she is absolutely relentless in her pursuit of her objectives. She has a character arc! Not the character arc where you start off thinking one thing, then the universe conspires against you to teach you a lesson, you learn the lesson, and use your newfound knowledge to overcome the final challenge. It’s the character arc where you start off awesome, the universe conspires against you to beat you down, and you respond by doubling down on your own awesomeness to rise up and overcome the final challenge. The emotional climax of the story finds our heroine bedraggled in the water, and the resolution was beautiful and heartwarming.

Not that the protagonist isn’t flawed. Her commitment to being in control is more than a little obsessive, and I worried for most of the game that her intended present was not going to be appreciated, as it didn’t really seem to me to be the sort of thing he would like. But this served for me to make Zorklang more real; more vibrant. And when her present was appreciated anyway at the end because it was from her, it made me cheer the happy couple even more.

That all this takes place in an over-the-top, sex-obsessed world, with a protagonist who is herself over-the-top and sex-obsessed was hilarious, due in no small part to the game taking this world completely seriously. Nothing that we-the-player find funny is funny at all to the inhabitants of the world: that’s just how the world works. The world is inherently ridiculous, and nobody knows this but us. So with every new ridiculous situation, with every new overly dramatic sex scene, with every new overwrought way of phrasing a simple description, there’s the initial surprise of the ridiculous, followed immediately by the realization that of course it had to be that way, that’s just How Things Work Here. It’s entirely character-based comedy, where one of the main characters is ‘the very universe’.

The game is not perfect. It needed some more beta testing, to smooth out some of the rougher edges, particularly ‘phrases the player will try that really should work’. Totally fixable. I was totally befuddled by the lack of room exits being listed in the descriptions until I finally realized that the room exits were listed in the status bar instead. (This will make it difficult to play on status-bar-less platforms like Floyd on ifMUD. Maybe an ‘exits’ command?) The ‘follow someone around’ puzzle can go on too long. Most generally, the game needs more gentle pushes for people who are on the wrong track to get them righted again. I highly recommend asking someone for hints if you get stuck–the hint page provided with the game will often help, but sometimes is spoil-y and sometimes not spoil-y enough.

A few of my favorite moments:

  • The reason the assassin escapes the first time
  • The ‘reward’ for helping a libidinous couple
  • Any time modern slang crept into the faux-historical overwrought prose.
  • The phrase ‘[The children] were in their beds, as foretold.’
  • The subsequent story we tell
  • The scene in the cistern
  • The final scene. It was beautiful. (Also, ‘splint of sumptuous mahogany’.)

Did the author have something to say? Yes! A wonderfully constructed world, and a wonderfully constructed protagonist, with a plot where she stays true to herself to accomplish her goals.

Did I have something to do? Yes! The puzzles were a bit weaker than the other parts of the game, for me, but when they worked, they worked well, and I feel like even the ones that didn’t work for me could be made to work better with a little more polish. Amusingly, the game this most closely reminded me of was last year’s ‘The Princess of Vestria’ where one of my favorite things to do was ‘behave in genre-appropriate ways’. The same was true here, in a very very different genre!

EDIT: a link to my transcript.


Thanks for playing and for taking the time to review my game! I’m glad you appreciated it. :slight_smile:

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Who Iced Mayor McFreeze? (Damon L. Wakes)

Hey, it’s a sequel to last year’s ‘Who Shot Gum E. Bear’! Last year, I thought the game was delightfully off-beat, but that it suffered a tonal shift in the final puzzle, from being a ridiculous setup that took itself seriously, to a ridiculous setup with a ridiculous conclusion. This year, to my delight, I felt it took itself seriously the whole way through! This game is, essentially, the game I had thought I was playing last year: a hard-boiled detective mystery where all the characters are anthropomorphized candies and sweets.

I am somewhat amused that this is the second game in a row for me (after ‘Ribald Bat Lady Plunder Quest’) where the setting is intentionally ridiculous, with inhabitants who don’t know they’re in a farce. Which makes it funnier!

My favorite example of the world taking itself seriously in a surprising-to-us way is that it’s a vital clue to the mystery is that a candy cigarette has a blueberry flavor on it from the last person who smoked it. One might assume that this is the titular blue Mayor McFreeze, a blue slushie, but if you >TASTE MAYOR (their dead corpse!) you discover that he’s blue raspberry! It’s a great situation where the rules of the world push you to do something unthinkable in a regular setting, because it makes sense to the protagonist.

On the other side of the coin, I was disappointed that you are told several times that “It’s always night in Sugar City”, which would mean logically that (somehow) the scheduled demolition of the taffy factory tomorrow ‘at 9:00 AM’ should never take place. But this never came up, which I felt was a missed opportunity.

Apart from the lovely setting, this is a pretty short puzzle adventure, with (for me) slightly uneven puzzles–several where I felt clever and solved them, others where I needed a hint. All of them made sense in retrospect, which means that a little extra nudging (and implementing actions like ‘untie’) would probably push more people like me into being able to solve everything.

Did the author have something to say? The shortness of the game made it a little lightweight, but I still have to go with a solid ‘yes’ to this question. The worldbuilding was the main gimmick, and was done well, with the mystery being reasonable within the rules of the world.

Did I have something to do? I did indeed have puzzles to solve, some that I appreciated more than others. But more than that, just being able to inhabit the world itself for a bit was delightful.

Transcript: iced.txt - Google Drive

EDIT: forgot to blur the spoiler! Ack! Sorry.


The Vambrace of Destiny (Arthur DiBianca)

This was a very satisfying puzzle game! It lies in the liminal space between a parser game and a choice game (and, I suppose, graphic adventures) that Mike Russo called ‘limited parser’: your interactions are restricted to directions, help, and spells that you gather as you traverse the dungeon. The whole map is displayed in the lower right corner of the screen. Each spell does one thing, like create a gust of wind, and you run into various obstacles, like (to make something up) a swarm of gnats that can be blown away by a gust of wind. As you go, the obstacles become more involved to solve, so you might need to (say) first blow the dust off a mirror, then shine a light in it (to make something up again).

It was a really satisfying series of puzzles! And happily, the hints are complete, and encoded in rot13, which is just awkward enough to decode that you spend a little time thinking about each one before zooming on to the next. In the middle of the game, I and the hints got out of sync a bit, and I started leaning on them a little too hard. Fortunately, I then took a bit of a break, figured out what the problem was, realized I was going to the hints too much, and managed to back off again (which is usually very hard!) From there, I got to the end, solved the final puzzle on my own, then went back through all the optional puzzles, and solved about half of them completely on my own, and the other half with some but not all the hints for each one. Highly recommended if you like puzzles!

Did the author have something to say? Not really, at least not in the way I usually define things in these reviews. There was no particular attempt at a deep narrative or character development or even much worldbuilding.

Did I have something to do? 100%! The game was super focused on making sure I was solving puzzles all the time, and I appreciated it.

Transcript: vambrace.txt - Google Drive


Eat the Eldritch (Olaf Nowacki)

I enjoyed this game, but felt it was kind of uneven, like the mundane and the fantastical had a weird relationship that didn’t quite work for me. I think in order to talk about this game at all, I’m going to have to go full-on spoiler mode, so before we get there, I’ll just say that the setting was reasonably interesting, the puzzles were hit-or-miss for me, in that I solved a few and needed solutions for the rest (I didn’t find anything that I felt pushed me partway to the solution). There were creepy bits and there were funny bits. So, overall pretty good! But a bit disappointing in perhaps-ideosyncratic ways.

[thus beginneth the spoilers]

So! The game is, as one might surmise from the title, a Lovecraftian game of discovering eldritch horror(s). What I would normally expect from a game like that is to have it start off grounded in the mundane, and then transition to the fantastical as weirder and weirder things start happening. But instead, the boat we start on is itself weird from the get-go. There’s the freezer, which somehow is a land of mist that you get lost in. There’s the engine room, which you cannot get to no matter how many times you type >DOWN. It’s… supposed to be my boat? Was it like this when I bought it? I do get that the cook starts off already involved in some sort of Eldritch weirdness, but I didn’t see any connection to what the cook was doing and what was going on with the freezer or the engine room. And the protagonist didn’t comment on either, making it seem like this was just The Sort Of Thing That Happens on this boat.

The weirdness of how the cook cooks my fish-sticks did indeed step things up a notch in a believable way, so that part I enjoyed. Then there’s the tidal wave, which is another nice step, and then the emergence of the Creature, which is another nice ramp-up. And you see the cook out on the deck, clearly having summoned the thing, and then… well, let me show you my transcript:

A look through the window makes you realize what the Tataki is stranded on here. This is not an island born out of the sea by an undersea earthquake, this is a something. This something does not move and yet seems to breathe, deep and heavy. This something lies there like a mountain, composed of shimmering endless sausages, oily like intestines, but with hair and dark glittering balls in them that look like the eyes of a bloated spider. This something gives off an indescribable strange scent, you can even smell it all the way into the bridge. A scent not of the sea, salt and seaweed, nor of rotten wood or decaying floaters, but rather of burnt steel and vomited cinnamon.


And as you look at this thing-something in a daze, one of these sausage-tentacle intestines rises on the port side of the Tataki and begins to move across the upper deck in eratic convulsions, like the tail of an annoyed cat.

Upper Deck

A giant worm sweeps apparently aimless across the upper deck.

The pentagonal rug lies unrolled in the middle of the upper deck. Rudolf Carter sits on it and does strange gestures with his hands.

>talk to carter
You can’t think of a topic to talk about with Carter right now.

>[Nothing at all. Nothing comes to mind. Nope. No relevant topics to bring up, really. It’s been a boring day.]

This is perhaps a bit unfair; it’d be easy enough to add a new topic to the Carter Conversation Table, but it does signify the moment everything started crashing back to the mundane again. Things started off weird, then they steadily got weirder, and then we zipped right back to the mundane, where I had all the time in the world I needed to figure out how to stab the tentacle and pull it down into the fish processor to turn it into fish sticks. This is the joke of the game! Which would be fine; it’s a reasonable joke… except that the punch line was given away in the title of the game itself! So I was expecting something–anything–more involved or some other twist or something, but nope, it was just the joke that the cook summoned a Eldritch Horror from the Depths of the Sea to make very tasty fish sticks out of it.

Again, that’s a pretty good joke, but somehow it didn’t land for me, and I think my main problem was the protagonist’s relationship to the whole thing. I could have seen a plot where we were in on the plan the whole time (which is how the last bit of the game played out to me), but to sell that, I would have needed hints from that earlier on. Alternatively, our actions at the end could be the result of a descent into madness, but again, that wasn’t signposted either. We just kind of… did stuff to push the plot forward. And what was up with the weird geometry of our boat from the get-go? Was I surprised to see it transformed in this way? Was that what I was expecting? Did it make me go mad?

I kind of feel like I’m overthinking things. It’s just designed to be a silly game where you fish for Cthulhu. That’s funny! But the game had just enough substance beyond that to make me wish it went the extra step to ground the joke in some sort of ridiculous reality, and when it didn’t, I was left at a bit of a loss.

Did the author have something to say? In a sense, this game was kind of a big shaggy dog story, which I can respect. I wanted it to take the joke more seriously (so it would be funnier), which it didn’t, but I sort of feel that’s more on me than the author.

Did I have something to do? There were puzzles, and I was engaged in running around the ship trying to do stuff. In the end, a few too many of the puzzles failed for me, but it was a solid attempt.

Transcripts: eldrich.txt - Google Drive, eldrich2.txt - Google Drive, eldrich3.txt - Google Drive


One King to Loot them All (Onno Brouwer)

This game was fun, ambitious, super frustrating, and contained my favorite moment in the comp so far. It’s another game that turns out to be aiming to be a ‘limited parser’ game, with only a selected list of commands available, delightfully themed for a barbarian king protagonist.

This turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because a constrained parser can help people who otherwise are not really parser-folk, and if you get stuck, you know that there’s only so many commands available to lawnmower through. But a curse because the particular choices made to constrain the game dropped enough core standard-Inform features as to become (to me) extra unintuitive, instead of simpler. There were many times when I knew what I wanted to do, but nothing I tried worked, and the old error messages I was used to that would have told me what was wrong had been dropped as well. The overall effect for me for this game was that my experience oscillated wildly from delight to despair and frustration. Which I much preferred over a consistently average experience! And with more work, I feel like all the frustrating parts could be solved, making this game in particular a ripe target for an improved release.

I want to talk about my favorite moment, which of course is a huge spoiler…

So the most fun bit, for me, was using UNDO to go back past the beginning of the game. It was brilliant! UNDO is normally a system-defined function, but here it was lovingly implemented to describe doing the last important thing you did in reverse. My only complaint was that I couldn’t figure out the ‘now type UNDO’ puzzle until I was told explicitly. It would have been nice to have progressive hints that could have led me to that conclusion more gently, so I could have the fun of figuring it out. (Perhaps something like ‘Look at your list of available verbs. Do you see one that might apply?’ / ‘No, look at the entire list of available verbs.’) But even with that, the experience of walking backwards through the whole game, each move described in detail was, again, delightful. And then to go back to before the game even began was another unexpected surprise! And then to have to solve the puzzles from the first half of the game slightly differently was again great!

That whole sequence basically won me back to the game. You can see in my transcript that I got pretty testy at times, as I tried again and again to do various seemingly basic tasks to no avail. But after the whole UNDO experience, all was forgiven. And then I had to forgive the game again, because ‘SMITE CORPSE’ turned out to be different from ‘SMITE CORPSES’ which I thought was dreadfully unfair. But the game had goodwill to spare at that point, so, hey. It worked enough that I was in a good mood by the end of the game.

I did feel like the ending let me down a little? The sage guy reveal was a little out of left field, I felt, though it was cute. But the central dilemma set up in the introduction (‘You were a barbarian and now you’re a king, which kind of sucks.’) wasn’t actually addressed in any satisfactory way for me by the end, like the author forgot the premise by the time they got around to coding the last puzzle. But, enh. Not everything has to have a throughline; it was a fun romp all the same.

Did the author have something to say? Mostly! There were a few missed opportunities here to add a little depth to an otherwise straightforward romp, but overall there’s nothing truly wrong with a straightforward romp.

Did I have something to do? Yup! Solve puzzles, get mad at the parser, and experience my favorite moment of the comp so far!

Transcript: oneking.txt - Google Drive


Hi Lucian, thank you very much for playing my game and your thoughtful review. Also your transcript (including the comments!) will be very helpful in improving my game.
The one thing I regretted was to allow the enter command to act the same as pressing the ENTER key on an empty line, since I saw some people try that. I did not immediately realise they were actually trying to enter a portal. Now of course I can say “that was not one of the limited set of commands”, but I do want people to enjoy my game with a minimum of fuss. So in my next version I took it out and added enter and exit as alternatives to marching in or out, and added them to places where it would probably make sense (e.g. entering a portal, or the boat, and leaving the boat). Still without noun though, so just enter would suffice.
The other thing I should have given more thought was the present command where I see many people trying to tell the parser whom to present something to. So I added that as well, in the hopes of improving things (now present <something> will use a default second noun, but people will still be free to specify that second noun themselves, which is more in the standard Inform way of handling things.) That also meant allowing people to refer to the ferryman outside his boat and getting told they need to get into the boat to interact with him (also a big source of frustration).
Thank you again and I am very happy to hear that its “trademark feature” won you over!


Please Sign Here (XLEHX)

I had a very different experience with this game before and after reading reviews.

When I played through the game on my own, I didn’t get it. You play a barista with a rich friend and three regulars. There’s something weird going on outside with black cars and shadowy figures, but none of it seemed nearly as creepy to me as the game wanted it to be. The vast majority of links were ‘click to continue’, with a very light smattering of slight color variations on an otherwise identical story. Then at the very end, you get to accuse nobody or somebody of a crime, the story ends, and the save game system is broken, so if you want to make a different choice, you have to play through the entire game again. I accused someone who turned out to be clearly innocent, went back through the ENTIRE GAME to accuse someone else, who was probably also innocent, gave up, and thought, “I have got to find out what other people thought of this game because I am clearly missing something.” And I was! Spoilers! But the first a hint for people who, like me, are trying to figure out what more there is to this game:


To get the added information you need to make any sense at all of the game, you need to accuse nobody twice. Within that context, you can then go back and accuse Casey in the second round after accusing nobody in the first for a bit more information.


So, if you accuse nobody (twice), it turns out that by the end of the game you’re not playing the barista, you’re playing the rich friend who has killed the barista to take over her life. That’s a cool-if-disturbing premise! And, as Mike Russo says, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, either!

The main problem is that the game has the potential to have an unreliable narrator, which is awesome, but then doesn’t actually commit to the bit, which makes it fall down in shambles. Who were we, exactly, when we were playing the game? Were we Rich Friend (Casey) being interrogated but Barista (Jackie) in the flashback? Were we Casey the whole time? If the former, what story did the police get during the interrogation? If the latter, did we just make up all the oddly-specific details that would be easily checkable and probably wrong? And in either case, why were the delivery people being murdered? Who, exactly, if anyone, has a suicidal ideation? The package suicide-baiting indicates it’s Jackie, but it’s Casey who has the wrist scars? At least, in the story? But not in the art?

With a premise like this, once you get the unreliable narrator schtick, you should be able to go back through the game and find all the clues, and maybe piece together more information about things. And I honestly can’t tell if the author tried to make that happen and just failed, or if they never thought about it at all. I sort of feel like the game began and ended at just that one moment of realization: it’s not Jackie after all! It’s Casey! Done; don’t think about it more than that.

The danger of the unreliable narrator is that, well, the narrator is unreliable. Without something objective for the reader to latch on to, they don’t know exactly how unreliable the story they’re being told is; is it a complete fabrication from stem to stern? Loosely based on reality? Entirely reality with a single change? Any of those could be true of this work, with the additional option of ‘most of the game is literally from Jackie’s perspective and 100% factually accurate’. It’s impossible to tell! Maybe there’s actually three levels here: the surface level of ‘wow, plot twist’, the deeper level of ‘but wait, nothing makes any sense, then’, but then an unknown-to-me even deeper level of ‘ah, OK, it all fits’. I didn’t even make it to level 1 when I played just on my own; the other reviewers I’ve seen were all at level 1 or 2. Doesn’t mean level 3 doesn’t exist, but it would mean the author has hidden it well. Maybe on purpose? Maybe accidentally? Maybe level 1 was the intended reaction after all? It is indeed a fun twist, and doesn’t have to be deeper than that. I suppose, like the plot, the full motivations of the author shall remain an enigma to me.

Did the author have something to say? They tried! It didn’t really work for me, but I always appreciate games that try something cool even when it doesn’t work for my own playthrough. It means that it probably worked for someone else, and that the next time they’ll likely do even better.

Did I have something to do? No, my only meaningful interaction with the game was to choose which ending I wanted with zero information about which to go with. If the save system had worked, this would have been mostly neutral, but having to click through the whole game just to make a slightly different choice at the end made this a negative, unfortunately.


Milliways: the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Max Fog)

I am astonished that this game exists. Picking up where Douglas Adams left off seems like a ridiculously daunting task. I am even more astonished that the game was allowed in the comp, as it clearly uses copyrighted material well beyond what I would naturally consider to be ‘fair use’. But, OK, it’s not my job to judge that sort of thing, merely the result. What did I think?

I suppose I will start by saying that I admire the sheer chutzpah of willing this game into existence, and writing it in ZIL, no less. I was, however, not expecting the game to be any good, because surely anyone who truly appreciated the mad genius of Douglas Adams would not be so foolish as to think they could actually pull off a whole game in Adams’ world that wasn’t either pure mimicry or a shallow extension of his highly idiosyncratic humor.

But I gave the game a shot, and at first was cautiously optimistic. Early on you find a ‘blue frob’. It has a ridge. It’s inscrutable! But hey, maybe the Guide has something to say?

>look up frob in guide
The Guide checks through its Sub-Etha-Net database and eventually comes up with the following entry:

A frob. Now what can one say about this object? The official definition of this
object is this:

FROB (plural FROBS)

A frob is classified as a small object which can be changed or manipulated in
form. The form you will generally find a frob in is when it appears as just a
colourful object. However, if you are lucky you may find one in its true form,
or be able to change it to that. The true form relates to a certain statistic,
such as wealth, knowledge, or charm. It is said that all the frobs were made
from the splintered remains of the 5 pieces of the Wikkit Key. Some true forms
include a knife, a perfect sphere, a complex shape, or a wiggly line in multiple
dimensions (whilst visible in 3D without needing an alternate entity, if that
makes sense, which it doesn’t).
Now, this may seem Like the premise of an epic hero film or something, but
frobs are known all across the galaxy as things which you might use every day.
Try looking for one! You can probably find a frob in the bathroom, or maybe in
the garden.

Possible uses of the word FROB:
- Old man, give me the frob
- “She took the frob and threw it in the test tube.”

So hey! Unless a frob shows up in one of the (few) unread-by-me works of Adams, this is a genuine extension of HHGG lore, and it fits reasonably well! The ‘possible uses’ are amusingly useless, and there’s an obvious tie-in to the Krikkit plot, and the whole thing seems set up as the probable MacGuffin for the game, and introduced pretty seamlessly. So, OK then!

But for me, this was unfortunately the high point, and the tone of the rest of the game and its attempts at humor just didn’t work for me. Instead of making me happy to wander around in the world of Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, Trillian, and Marvin again, it instead made me sad that those days were forever cut off when Adams died.

It started with the general tone of the game, which for me was desultory and mean/angry in a way that Adam never was (admittedly, ‘as I perceived it when I was 14’. But also for re-reads.) Even the blurb for the game hit me this way:

Should you hitchhike the galaxy, or stay home and drink beer?
Oh, right. Your home was destroyed ages ago. I guess there’s only one way to go then.

I feel like that’s not the way Adams would have put it, though I’m at a bit of a loss as to explain why. I’ve seen Adams describe the books as “A cheery little comedy that begins with the end of the world.” There’s a certain lightness he uses to describe horrible things, a half-parody half-loving take on the British ‘stiff upper lip’ culture. Saying “I guess there’s only one way to go then” is maybe too on-the-nose for me, in a somewhat ineffable way? Like it’s something a certain type of American would say, but not a British comedian? I felt the same way about the game’s various death scenes: that they lacked the lightness of Adams’ original: “Unfortunately, you don’t get to do much after that, because you trip up in the dark trying to stand, and impale yourself (in a very un-family-friendly way) on a shard of bone.” “[…] nobody really cares. Your ‘friends’ don’t. Your family doesn’t, because whatever is left of their bodies remain in orbit around the dust cloud once called Earth.” That’s… just kind of mean-spirited? Again, Adams would absolutely point out that situation, but while cheerily ostensibly talking about something else. And, you know, Ford Prefect is actually Arthur’s friend; he’s not a ‘friend’. He would care if Arthur died!

Or take even the bit of the frob entry: “(whilst visible in 3D without needing an alternate entity, if that makes sense, which it doesn’t)” Ending a line like that with a contradiction is indeed somewhat Adamsian, but the joke in that aside is claiming that the writing is poor, not claiming that the universe is insane. Adams never made fun of his writing; he made fun of the world.

[EDIT to make it clear that I’m not saying the writing is poor, but that the joke itself is making that claim.]

The moment in the game where my hope finally died was the introduction of the ‘first class idiot’ when you make it to Milliways. I am 100% convinced (fight me!) that Adams would never describe someone as ‘an idiot’, with no other characterization. He would absolutely describe characters that were idiots! But he would describe them in such a way as to make you draw that conclusion, not just tell you outright. (Side note: I was unable to find a searchable Adams oeuvre or even sample to test this hypothesis. He may have used that word at some point. But in this context, it struck me the wrong way.)

So it was with a somewhat sad sense of relief that I set the game aside when my time was up. I felt bad about it, and I almost just skipped over this game entirely and didn’t mention that I had played it or reviewed it at all, because, again, I am very impressed that someone took on this challenge. And I knew I was going to be impossible to please. I adored Adams at 14, and am now remembering the books through the haze of 35 years of nostalgia. How on earth could anything match that? This didn’t; is anyone surprised? That it had moments of being close is frankly amazing. I am happy the game exists. I hope (perhaps foolishly) that this review will be helpful to someone. And I am very glad (and relieved) that other reviewers didn’t have the same reaction I did, and were able to just hang out in Adams’ universe one more time with the author. I wish I could have joined them, but wish them well.

Did the author have something to say? ‘I am an overconfident madman.’

Did I have something to do? Press F to pay respects.

Transcript: h2.log - Google Drive


I understand your annoyances with the game. I guess the real thing here is not to put myself in that kind of position where I have a high expectancy and not even very good writing skills. Thanks for reviewing though.