Mathbrush's 2023 Ectocomp reviews (Done reviewing)

Taller Tech Mauler Mech

This game has me at a bit of a loss. I’m a big fan of Andrew Schultz and probably have had more total fun playing all his games than almost all authors over the last decade.

But this one just doesn’t do it for me. It has an amusing start (reminding me of Five Nights at Freddies), but then it got bogged down.

It uses rhyming pairs; each room name has two words in it, and you must find things that rhyme with those two words and which also are alliterative.

There were two problems for me. The first is that progress seemed to require hitting all of the rhyming pairs the author thought of (at least, some enemies weren’t counted as ‘defeated’ until you had done so), and second, the game didn’t recognize a very large number of rhyming pairs that would logically work. This is almost certainly due to the short timeframe of the game (4 hours), so as a speed IF this game is actually quite remarkable, but as a game in general I found it less successful.

The second thing is bugs; the downloaded and online versions acted differently, with the downloaded version not accepting the command that gives access to the east and west areas. The online version didn’t accept one command in the walkthrough, and the final area could be accessed directly from the beginning of the game if guessed correctly.

Outside of those issues, the game is pretty great; I love the idea of having a showdown with multiple mech monstrosities. Literally the one thing that could take this from a (for me) two star game to a 4 or 5 star game is more polish, but, alas, that is exactly what this specific competition proscribes.

1 Like

Shattered Fortress

This is a relatively brief visual novel written for Ectocomp in the Grand Guignol competition.

It’s a tale about a creature from Hell (a tiefling maybe?) and a paladin who dispute over an apprentice called Strider who apparently was captured by a shapeshifter (or replaced?), although this is never mentioned again.

I’ve struggled to review it, so I’ll use my arbitrary 5-star criteria:

+Polish: The game has no bugs that I can see and looks visually well-put-together.

+Descriptiveness: There is some vivid imagery around things like snakes and eyes.

-Interactivity: You have choices, but it’s not clear what effects they have, and the narrative lurches from scene to scene with little connection. I’m all for disjointed or dream like narrative, but I feel like there was no connecting thread binding this together.

-Emotional impact: Because of the ‘jumpiness’ of the story, it was hard to get invested. They are at a bar…then there is a fight…once the fight is done an abbess enters the same room to condemn a character…but maybe this room is in hell?

-Would I play again? Not at this time. I’ve played at least one other game by this author in Gruescript, which was interesting, and I would play more in the future, but this one kind of went over my head.

1 Like

The Labyrinthine Library of Xleksixnrewix

This game was pretty difficult but rewarding. It was entered in the La Petite Morte part of Ectocomp, which is surprising given its complexity.

In it, you have a large rectangular grid of a dungeon, and you have to make a map for adventurers to wander in. You have to destroy adventurers, but to reach the weapons you need to hit them, you have to make a path that adventurers can also take, and if they get the weapons, they win.

I was baffled at first, and had no clue what I was doing. I found that the adventurers follow close behind you and can kill you the instant they have line of sight. I also found that you can’t throw the killing weapon unless you have line of sight.

So I was truly baffled until I read the hints on the Psionic weapon, and then things became a lot more clear.

Overall, this was pretty fun. My only sticking point was how hard it was to get started, but after that I liked the puzzle.

My final labyrinth:

Summary

Your victorious labyrinth design, to share with the world:

+   L      M      N      O      R      S   +
A   ·    (A.M)──(A.N)    ·      ·      ·   A
          ⋰      ⋰                        
                                          
B   ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·   B
                                          
                                          
C   ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·   C
                                          
                                          
D   ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·   D
                                          
                                          
E   ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·   E
+   L      M      N      O      R      S   +
 
    L      M⋰     N⋰     O      R      S    
A (A#L)──(A.M)  (A.N)──(A.O)──(A.R)──(A.S) A
    │                                  │  
    │                                  │  
B (B@L)    ·      ·      ·      ·    (B.S) B
       ╲                               │  
        ╲                              │  
C   ·    (C M)    ·      ·      ·    (C.S) C
              ╲                        │  
               ╲                       │  
D   ·      ·    (D N)    ·    (D*R)──(D.S) D
                     ╲             ╲      
                      ╲             ╲     
E   ·      ·      ·    (E O)──(E R)──(E!S) E
    L      M      N      O      R      S    
 
 
4 Likes

Haunted House for Social Phobics

This is an altgame, like Depression Quest or Will Not Let Me Go, a game that seeks to bring understanding to a mental illness or other aspects of life that need awareness.

In this case, the topic at hand is social anxiety. You sign up for a haunted house tour that can result in cash prizes. Along the way, though, you encounter several social situations that cause you extreme anxiety.

The situations do seem well-designed to cause a lot of anxiety. I don’t have social anxiety, but two of my close relatives do, and this really reminded me of them.

The game is fairly short, though, and I didn’t get a feel that the ending was strongly connected to the rest of the game; it felt abrupt, perhaps due to the 6 hour time frame for the game? In and of itself, I thought the ending was effective, though.

Other than that, I found the game well-written, thoughtul, and interesting.

3 Likes

Put-Peep ™

This game is (hopefully partially) autobiographical, describing a long career in a game company. A lot of it was familiar to me; my father owned a video game company growing up and I spent a lot of time at work. The arcade games, chill out areas, lots of sketches and endless cubicles, mixed with frustrating bugs, all sounded about right.

The main point of the game is two-fold: fix a bug, and find a ‘peep’ to hide in someone else’s office.

There is a lot of narrative momentum, with parts like fixing the bug being an effective story, and the strange happenings beyond the janitor’s closet…

On the other hand, I often found myself fighting the parser, especially when dealing with a certain unreachable thing I found.

Overall, there is a good haunting story here.

4 Likes

Among the Haunted

This is a medium-length Twine game about a family that lives in a haunted house…but all the monsters in it are friendly with them, from the voices in the basement to the ghost children.

It has a nicely written and pleasant atmosphere, and kind of reads like books I’d read as a kid. I liked the homey feeling and the way the monsters worked together.

There was some real agency, where you could choose between different paths.

However, the game ends in the middle of the story; I would have given a higher rating if it were finished. Also, many of the background images had large patches of white, which made it moderately difficult to read some of thee white text.

Otherwise, cute family, nice worldbuilding, fun monsters.

3 Likes

Dark Communion

This is a brief but replayable Twine game. To me, it felt like a speed-IF that was polished up and made nice, and from the About page that’s exactly what it was.

The styling is really nice, with a dark textured background and legible light grey serif text.

The writing has a thoughtfulness to it I appreciated. You play as a non-believer exploring an abandoned church, and a lot of people would just put random thoughts in about how the person hates religion and so on, but this game provides a more balanced approach; the narrator is an interested outsider, looking in but aware they will not ever take part.

Storywise, the game is brief, so much so that its narrative arc felt underdeveloped, which is the main drawback I found; I liked the story, there just wasn’t much of it. You are investigating the church with a loved one, and things go wrong in a bad way.

The interactivity has quite a bit of depth, with many endings and achievements despite its short length. I wondered how they could fit so many results into such a short game, until I realized that the game underneath is tracking more variables than you’d think.

Overall, an impressive effort, but one I’d have liked more of.

3 Likes

Thank you for the review, I appreciate it!

1 Like

Sunny-side Up

This ectocomp game was written using Twine.

It’s a fairly short game about a man who has kidnapped a woman and a child and hurts them repeatedly. The game indulges in his verbal and physical abuse, almost reveling in it.

There is a slight supernatural element to the game which is stronger in some endings, but mostly this game just seems to serve up unpleasantries, and not in the service of some greater narrative; the torture seems to be the point.

It is polished and descriptive. However, the interactivity is a little bit weird; after one ending I looked around at the code, and it’s pretty hard to figure out which action will lead to which result.

Emotionally, it was affecting, as I had a strong negative reaction to it.

I believe this author has a good writing talent, but different people have different tastes, and I’m not the target audience here.

2 Likes

Latter-Day Pamphlets

This Ectocomp game takes the form of a series of pamphlets which describe the current state of the British Empire.

Each one presents a conundrum, which you can solve in several (usually 4) ways. At first, your options are to Acquiesce (which guarantees a moderate stat loss) or to attempt to fix it using one of your strengths (which gives either a slight stat loss or a strong stat loss). Eventually the option to acquiesce disappears.

There doesn’t seem to be any way to improve stats; it seems to be a simulator for the long death and decline of the British empire.

I had a couple of sticking points with the game. There were several typos; I myself am prone to them, but if this is in Twine you can print out a ‘proofing copy’ with the ‘proof’ button and run a spellchecker on them.

The other issues were mainly taste; I would have liked the stat decrease to remain on the screen a lot longer, as I couldn’t even see it as first, with my eyes near the top of the screen. Second, it’s hard to figure out what true effect your losses have. I ran through part of it a second time and there didn’t seem to be any changes in the pamphlets that depended on my earlier failures, although perhaps there were subtle differences here and there that escaped the eye.

In any case, turning the many negative actions of the British empire into a horror game by just printing what happened is pretty amusing.

4 Likes

Youngblood, Yellowbelly

This game was entered in Ectocomp.

It’s essentially a long villain diatribe, first discussing how Christianity justifies cannibalism, then going off on a very long message with slow timed text that explains how they use traditional Vietnamese recipes to cook what is implied to be human meat.

The game has some great music in the background, and a cool (albeit somewhat busy) visual background.

It’s hard to identify with straight-up villain stuff like this. When something is one-note, it’s hard to feel invested. There is some variation in emotion; it swings between sadness, gruesomeness, and mundanity, but I think having a spark of light or hope, or some indication of true happiness, could have increased the contrast with the horror.

I didn’t get frustrated by the timed text because I downloaded the file and edited it out.

The Vietnamese food and culture were the best aspects of the game, for sure, along with the music. Also I’d love to have this quote framed in my kitchen:

ANYTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING RESEMBLING “BREAD” IS BEYOND MY CAPACITY, NOT AS A CHEF BUT AS A “HUMAN BEING” WITH “LIMITED PATIENCE” and “THINGS TO DO, VASSALS TO KILL.”

2 Likes

Vampire Gold

This game was an attempt to make a dungeon crawler in 4 hours, and I think it did a pretty good job in that timeframe. I used UNDO a lot, and had to peek at the string dump to get the tiny key, but it might be fun to go back through without UNDO at some point.

You have weapons and armor, and you fight enemies in randomized combat, with damage and hit/miss chances affected by your weapons and armor. Defeating enemies gets gold (which doesn’t seem to have an in-game use) and more weapons or armor. There’s one puzzle that doesn’t involve fighting.

As a game, it’s okay, but as a prototype, it seems you could build something fun out of this. In a larger game I’d like some way to heal and more to do with the gold. But it can be fun to prototype systems in Ectocomp; I did that my conversation system and have used it for years, so hopefully the author got something out of this game.

3 Likes

Zombie Eye: Campfire Tales

This is a neat little Adventuron game that is highly constrained but manages to fit a real puzzle in.

You are at a campfire with three friends, and you are about to tell spooky tales. One camper tells the tale, and everyone else participates, including you.

The other campers and a book serve to add complexity to the game, each giving you more options to edit the final tale. Only one tale gives a good ending…

This was highly polished (bug-free as far as I can see) and, though slight, was enjoyable, especially seeing the effects of your actions on the story.

4 Likes

A Study of Human Behavior

This parser game was written for Ectocomp.

In this game, you have been abducted by aliens for 3.5 years and are currently being held prisoner by them. They require you to do 2 tests: one with yes/no questions about historical views on morality, and then a practical test.

The yes/no questions are about scenarios from Cicero and Nietzsche, with a fictional viewpoint thrown in.

The practical involves a tense conversation between four characters pitted against each other.

The conversation in this game uses ASK/TELL, but I had trouble knowing what topics could be asked or told, and mainly just asked people about themselves.

Apparently it is possible to win, but I had difficulty doing so.

Interesting concept. It is a speed-IF, and could use more polish, and it is a little depressing, but it’s also thoughtful.

2 Likes

Forever and Ever

This is an Ink game entered into Ectocomp, written in 4 hours or less.

It’s story-focused, with a well-written tale about a father who has to get up in the middle of the night to help his son get to sleep.

The emphasis in this story is on details and emotions. Little reactions from people, the way that your mind picks out different things, the emotions that don’t quite match up with what you’d expect.

There are multiple endings, which is interesting, but I didn’t replay because I found mine satisfactory.

A sad game, but a good game.

3 Likes

Into Darkness

I enjoyed this poem-based choicescript game that was entered in Ectocomp, and was made in 4 hours or less.

The poem is written in verses of 4 lines each, with the 2nd and 4th lines rhyming.

The topic is a haunted wood with a deep and evil pond. You can get various achievements by delving into the pond’s mysteries or exploring the woods.

I found deciphering the meaning of the poetry added an extra layer of interaction with the game, which I liked. A lot of poem IF games are very obtuse, but here the meanings were clear enough to understand.

The meter of the poem kept throwing me off; at times it seemed like it had a pattern, so my brain would set it up, but then it’d go off pattern. The number of syllables and the emphasis of syllables varies a lot. Here’s an example:

Deep must the pool be,
For its exterior to be black as pitch
Strange the wind does not disturb,
The mirror smooth surface that seems to bewitch.

And another:

What lies 'neath the water,
Where the wind fitfully blows,
Undisturbed and dark with an algae scudded facade,
Surface unreflective in the sun’s dawn glow.

There aren’t any rules in poetry, of course, and I liked this quite a bit. But I wonder if it might have been good to either lean in harder to a rhyme scheme or meter or to just toss out the rules and go full free verse. But, given that I liked the game, I’m not sure either of those are necessary. Pretty fun!

4 Likes

The Dying of the Light

This game is based on the emotional true story of the author’s mother having deep dementia, causing her to lash out at those around her.

I can’t even imagine what that would be like. When I was young, I lived with my great-grandmother in her 90s who had dementia, but she was rarely violent, just forgetful, sometimes thinking she was a little girl, and only occasionally lashing out. I remember it being scary as a kid, but she seemed nice. Now, as an adult, thinking of that for my parents, and much more violent, is terrifying.

As a game, the mechanics are simple. You explore the world around you, which is hostile, and you try to get rid of that which is causing you pain.

I immediately came in planning on giving a score of 5 just from the opening scenes, and despite the typos and the difficulty with implementation, I thought of keeping it there. But I had more and more problems interacting with the game; many commands repeat text that doesn’t make sense; many commands return nothing at all, especially when the darkness covers the door. I tried to find a guide, but everyone’s comments only talked about the story, so I had to decompile it to find what to do.

In a way, the difficulties with typing commands can simulate the frustration and unfamiliarity of dementia, but I don’t think it was intentional.

Storywise, of course the game deserves a really high rating, but this author is of such a high caliber I think that she would prefer a rating that reflects the whole experience (but feel free to message me if I’m wrong, author!). I think this game could be helpful to others in the future who have similar experiences, and smoothing out a couple of the bugs could enhance their experience.

The pdf at the end was moving and heartfelt. I feel sad for everyone who has had to go through such an experience!

2 Likes

Ah Lim’s Chicken Rice, #01-08A

This short Twine game was entered in Ectocomp in the Petite Mort division.

It features a father running a food stall who sees his daughter after a long separation. There are supernatural elements, as well as LGBTQ elements.

The food stall descriptions are delightful, with sounds, smells, and sights described with a complex preparation for a meal. The supernatural elements are varied and interesting as well.

There seems to be an Ah Lim Chicken Rice in Singapore, but other aspects could place it in Malaysia, perhaps. There are names that sound Cantonese and names that seem to have Muslim origins.

Overall, a nice blend of culture and human emotion.

3 Likes

Always. It’s tricky having something this personal, because then people feel like they can’t criticize the game for fear I’ll think it’s like criticizing my mom or something. But writing personal stuff does not exempt me from the conventions of a comp. It’s true that I thought that the basic nature of the game might cover a multitude of sins because error messages and confusion are the dementia experience. But since the game was completely untested due to that evil time constraint, I was pretty sure it would be a disaster.
Thanks for the review!

6 Likes

Your Body a Temple, or the Postmodern Prometheus

I like short, ritualistic Twine games like this. You progress, in any order, through five different sets of body parts, choosing how you will present yourself to the world.

The choices are both physically meaningful and symbolic. Tree arms, for instance, are bad for physical defense, but all growth through painful pruning.

The styling is nice, with a background that is both visually interesting but non-distracting, and good color choices.

Overall, I found the writing strong. I didn’t feel a strong need to revisit it, but my personal experience was positive and I would happily recommend the game to others.

4 Likes