Megapost of art/blurb reviews

I haven’t done reviews for the comp for a couple years, the simple reason being that I am extremely short on spare time. But this year, I thought I’d do something, at least: if I can’t review the works in the comp themselves (which I can’t), I can at least review the art and blurbs.

A lot of authors leave these to the last minute, which is tempting but a mistake. With 50–100 games in an average comp these days, they are your way of standing out from the proverbial slush pile. If people aren’t using a randomized play order (many don’t), they can determine whether you’re played at all. If you have any plans to re-release your game, host it on or other services, submit it to festivals, showcases, or award committees, or basically do anything at all with it beyond the comp, they will heavily influence how successful that will be. Collectively, they influence how the Comp is viewed by an increasing outside audience. For your sake and everyone else’s, you want them to be great.

For these writeups, I’m using a rubric slightly modified from Sam Kabo Ashwell’s: 5 points for the art, 5 points for the blurb—if there’s no art, that category is dropped, i.e., the total score is out of 5 points rather than 10—and up to 1 point more or fewer based on intangibles: subjective things, personal preferences, small comments. I do not claim or promise these intangibles will be fair. Feel free to mentally drop them from your score.

Disclaimer: I’m basically happy with every piece of cover art I’ve done myself (I’m happy with the art on Broken Legs and Human Errors too, but one was a commission and one was in-house at Sub-Q) but am not a professional graphic designer. (Technically, I have a degree that’s part graphic design; it is very much a technicality.) I am not happy with my blurbs and am bad at writing them. I would give every blurb I’ve written a 2.5/5 at most. Do as I say, not as I do, etc.

Other disclaimer: These are scores for the effectiveness and presentation of the blurb and cover art; they are first impressions, which may turn out wrong. They are not scores for the entire piece, nor are they the scores I’m going to put on the ballot. Please do not confuse one for the other. I’ve tried to indicate scores where I suspect the packaging may be seriously underselling the work, but by nature that’s hard to predict.

(Conversely, it’s possible for excellent artwork and blurbs to go with a mediocre or bad game. That’s less common in my experience—good art and blurb-writing is heavily correlated with thinking deliberately about and putting effort into the final product, which is heavily correlated with the final product indeed being good. But it’s not impossible.)

Final disclaimer: Night Guard / Morning Star is not rated, since I tested it and specifically helped out with the blurb. That said, if you want a benchmark for what I consider excellent art and blurbiage, that is one.

Abandon Them

Art: Has a slapdash feel—the uneven sizes of the borders and shapes on the side elements, the general pixellation and weird artifacts (noticeable around the M, and in the “Start” box). Also, this seems like a screenshot, to its detriment; there’s no reason for there to be a “Start” button on a non-interactive cover image.

Less nitpicky: The theme the art seems to be going for is “nostalgic retro medieval pastiche,” a theme that is thoroughly represented, some might say overrepresented, in games in general and the comp specifically. But that doesn’t seem to be the genre of the game! This is a “Hansel and Gretel” story, played as drama. You want dark woods, enticing-yet-sinister architecture, over-luscious fruits and candies—or perhaps something not quite that literal, but still evocative, and not this. 1/5

Blurb: (Note: All this applies to the original blurb, not the newly appended disclaimer: unfortunate situation, but you do what you gotta do.)

Disneyfication aside, fairy tales are already heavily psychological, and often already allegories about things like starvation and abandonment. There’s also, again, a thoroughly populated subgenre of deconstructed, gritty and/or subversive fairy tales, so it’s no longer striking (arguably hasn’t been for centuries) just to say “this is a subversive fairy tale.” I do get the sense, from the writing, that this will be basically competent; I also get the sense it will present its concept as more novel than it actually is.

(Also contributing to this sense: the “what sorts of choices will you make” bit. This is a choice-based game; choices are expected and intrinsic.) 3/5

Intangibles: (Again, this was written before the disclaimer, although its existence does sort of prove my point.) Windows executable only. I do think downloadables in the comp are experiencing a bit of a pendulum shift, from being the only things in the comp to being rare and rarely played outliers to being OK again, thanks to the existence of Itch, Electron, etc. But it’s still going to limit your audience. -0.5

TOTAL: 3.5/10

Alice Blue

Art: Basically good. The symbols at the top and bottom seem a bit haphazardly spaced, and the text could do with some light drop shadow, or if not that, something else to make it stand out. Nevertheless, competent. 4/5

Blurb: This, however, is not so good: the sort of vague koan that leans less profound than pseudo-profound and says very little about the story. My best guess is that there will be some sort of fictional character who gains sapience? 1.5/5

Intangibles: Very few people are going to be playing this on a Linux-based system. Maybe that’s why the Play Online link goes to the walkthrough instead. -1

TOTAL: 4.5/10

Arram’s Tomb

Art: The drawings are fine: not great, but fine. The text is not fine: near-impossible to read, off-center, and awkwardly splayed over the axe. The background seems to be going for a foreboding Dark Soulsy tomb effect, which clashes tonally with the cartoonish drawings and, more importantly, kind of just looks like pilling fabric. 2/5

Blurb: Bland, often clunky, but at least gets across the idea. 2/5.

Intangibles: That said, there are thousands of games exactly like this, accumulated over decades. I’m not getting a sense of value over replacement D&D. -1

TOTAL: 3/10

Bad Water

Art: This seems like it wants to be an app icon, not a cover image: transparent background, vector image, simple shape and color scheme. Which is fine! Let the icon be an icon! Don’t sacrifice kerning, letter heights, and whatever is going on with “An Interactive” to try to shoehorn in text. Or if you must have text, make the bottle wider—you have plenty of space to work with, just call it 2-liter bad water—and get rid of “An Interactive Puzzle Refresher” since that’s what the subtitle field is for. (Also, “Refresher” should be capitalized. Attention to detail suggests a polished piece, and vice versa.) 2/5

Blurb: First impression: “A surprising new spin on _____” and “a tribute to an obscure 2000s indie game” seem to be, if not antonyms, at odds with one another: one suggests novelty, one nostalgia.

Not having heard “wander-and-wonder” used to describe a genre and not a Christmas carol, I assumed the authors were trying to call this a walking simulator without saying the words “walking simulator,” but then I Googled harder and discovered it’s a phrase used fairly infrequently, usually to describe A) Myst, and B) the aforementioned obscure 2000s indie game, which I have not played, but apparently involves FMV puzzles and experimental mechanics and weird art—all of which would be really great selling points if one happened to be writing a blurb. I am now A) extremely sold on that game; B) when the blurb should make me extremely sold on this game. (Spoiler: It’s Bad Milk.) 2/5

Intangibles: I am also C) kind of wondering whether it’s going to be a thinly-veiled port like that Stanley Parable entry last year. Normally I would ding a half-point for that, but I am generally happy to see weird experimental obscurities in the comp. +0.5

TOTAL: 4.5/10, but the kind of 4.5/10 with a chance to be severely underselling the work.

Black Sheep

Art: White text on a black background; specifically, the default Twine font. It’s certainly not a bad font, and not glaringly incompetent, but… it’s also white text on a black background. 1.5/5

Blurb: Does its job: establishes setting, establishes character, establishes conflict and a basic plot direction. I do think—and I’m going to say this a lot—that it could lean less on the generic tropey elements and lean more on its own distinctive elements. What is a line cook’s life like in this world? How exactly is the ritual “ominous-sounding”? What makes this cyberpunk world different than any other cyberpunk world? 3/5

Intangibles: N/A

Total: 4.5/10

A Blue Like No Other

Art: When you title your work A Blue Like No Other, you set high expectations for your blue. This blue is nice enough, and while dark blue in general has been run into cliche by web companies, Duke University, and many others, this one doesn’t obviously resemble any common logos, #0000CCs, etc. But: the bar set is “a blue like no other.” This blue—particularly as a solid block of color and nothing else—does not clear the bar. And even if it did, it’d still need a different text color against it. 1/5

Blurb: The kind of out-of-context sentence that’d perhaps work OK as a line from the work, but isn’t strong enough to stand alone. (Also, if someone were to hypothetically be in a snarky mood while reading it, it might prompt that hypothetical person to mutter “…I’m going to guess blue.”) 2/5

Intangibles: I am a bit biased, as the premise of the blurb veers a little close to Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory, as in I have notes somewhere detailing colors and connotations. I never said these wouldn’t be subjective. -0.5

TOTAL: 2.5/10

Bradford Mansion

Art: The background is fine, though the perspective is less “mysterious imposing mansion” than “ok, back up a step, back up a step, get it all in the shot,” and the fog is less “spooky smoke” than “nice, misty 6 a.m. morning.” The graves recede into the background, generally not what you want from a mystery or horror game.

The text is… itself. It also—this is another thing I’ll say a lot—tonally clashes with the art: the bloody-pulpy, saturated red makes the mansion seem, by comparison, soft-focus and quite pleasant actually. If I had to choose, I’d make the text more like the photo, then make both more ominous, as above. 2.5/5

Blurb: Yet another thing I’ll mention frequently: The first paragraph should be cut. “Investigation/mystery” is covered in the genre tags, and “what could ever go wrong in an old mansion?” is pat. Similarly, the last paragraph can be cut, as it is all covered by the format tags. (The system requirements technically aren’t, but they’re not picky enough to need special mention.) The remaining text isn’t great—there’s a lot of repeated information, it’s fairly generic trope, the !? is too wacky—but on their own, they’d be stronger. 2/5

Intangibles: I’ve probably been reading too much McMansion Hell, but the building here sort of looks more like a newish suburban house, or maybe like a shopping center, than an old mansion where things go eerily wrong. -0.5

TOTAL: 4/10

Break Stuff

Art: I am in favor of photography as cover images. (Although in my case, it’s because I can’t draw worth a damn.) This particular photo, I’m not sure about: It doesn’t suggest smashing things so much as “I found this really weird rusted-out antique by the side of the road, check it out.” I also think I’d prefer it either without text, or (more difficult, riskier) with some kind of torn/broken canvas styling to it (see Night Guard for an example of what I mean). Nevertheless, this suggests an author who has deliberately thought about the message they want their art to convey, which already puts them in the top third. 3.5/5

Blurb: Nothing wrong, per se. It’s actually a rather succinct blurb, if a bit unclear on tone. My primary concern—colored a bit by having played part of it—is that the short, slightly upbeat blurb, paired with a lengthy (and warranted, it turns out) content warning and suicide hotline number—leave me a little unsure of how heavy an experience this will be. For a lot of people who use content warnings, level of heaviness/specificity is as important as individual topics, if not more. 3.5/5

Intangibles: N/A

TOTAL: 7/10

The Call of the Shaman

Art: N/A

Blurb: Generic fantasy stuff with some awkward phrasing (“a far land,” “the poison is a very rare one”). The names “Alaric” and “Bronwynn,” while not as obviously wrong as 2017’s “Princess Grardobeth,” nevertheless have just different enough origins that they come off as “OK, just pick some fantasy-sounding names.” That part, though, isn’t really fixable, as this is a game in a pre-existing series. I imagine if one were familiar with it, that would fill in some of the details, but I’m not, so it doesn’t. 2/5

Intangibles: I’m not happy about this, but we’re at a point where it looks really conspicuous not to have cover art. -0.5

Total: 1.5/5 (scaled: 3/10)

The Chieftain

Art: Decent-enough weapons, not quite photorealistic but close enough (if I’m quibbling, the blades blend into the background); then a huge wad of MS Paint text and background. Even just getting rid of the black inset would improve matters, though you’d need to darken the text, and it still wouldn’t be particularly exciting. 2/5

Blurb: A whole lot of words to say “this is a resource management game,” with some departures for “this is how you play one” (your target audience probably knows or can figure it out). All this could be cut by just putting “a resource management game” (or something more interesting) in the subtitle. The text is fairly long and unbroken, with some awkward phrasing (“luxurious good that has its unique characteristic” and “chieftain of a village you created”). 1/5

Intangibles: Another well-populated genre, and again, I don’t get a sense of value over replacement Civ, Dwarf Fortress, Rimworld, etc. -0.5

TOTAL: 2.5/10

Chuk and the Arena

Art: Basically competent, though the arena is so crowded the fight gets lost, and the bare gray background feels like a lost opportunity when our source material involves something called a Grand Galactic Tournament. The art’s busy as it is, but there could be some outlines of an audience, or surrounding spacescape, or something. 3/5

Blurb: Gets across the basic idea, both space opera and Space Opera. A lot of blurbs could be cut down, but this is one where I want a little more; I suspect this game is worldbuilding-heavy, but little of that is surfaced in the blurb. 3/5

Intangibles: I really like Space Opera and anything that even slightly hints at perhaps reminding me of it. +0.5

TOTAL: 6.5/10

Citizen of Nowhere

Art: Three out of four panels are very good; the coasters are a nice bit of quirk and detail. The top right panel isn’t bad on its own, but the haziness and gradient background clashes with what’s otherwise a very cohesive, restrained design and color scheme. (Something also seems off about the text styling—I think it’s that, by necessity but still, it introduces more transparent, hazy elements onto what’s otherwise a stark, high-contrast design. But I suspect editing the top-right panel will mitigate that effect a lot, and I can’t really think of an obvious improvement.) 3.5/5

Blurb: This is not so good. The land of “Nowhere,” forces from “Somewhere,” a detail about the newly formed republic of Nowhere that comes off as a non-sequitur, a throwaway sentence about this being a puzzle parser game, and little of the personality of the artwork. 1.5/5

Intangibles: A “dry sense of humour” is both something that’s very easy to get wrong, and something ideally shown, not told. -0.5

TOTAL: 4.5/10


Art: Not hugely ambitious, but OK enough: a simple, uncluttered picture that, while it has a bit of a stock photo feel, does benefit from stock photos’ inherent minimum professionalism. The text could use some work; it doesn’t glaringly get in the way or clash, but it’s also hard to take in text and image at once. 2.5/5

Blurb: Again, nothing glaringly wrong with it, but the tone is both internally inconsistent (mysteriously disappearing housemates, but also a talking mongoose) and inconsistent with the art (a staid, portentous image, and also a talking mongoose). This is particularly an issue when, as here, there’s nothing but tone. 2.5/5

Intangibles: The phrase “it happens to be” is one of those “this needs a redraft” tells; 90% of the time, it can be cut. -0.5

TOTAL: 4.5/10

De Novo

Art: Basically a well-designed interface: good color scheme, stock but readily parsed symbol, basically looks like a professional mobile-friendly indie interface. I have nitpicks—the bottom panel is kind of awkwardly situated a few pixels away from the edges of the image, the dark font doesn’t work at all, and the whole bottom fourth would be better as a bottom third—but all of these improve at large size. (Except the edges, definitely fix that.) The larger issue, though, is that this makes a much better interface than cover. 3/5

Blurb: Does its job and gets out: stylistic inspiration, setting, mechanic, done. That mechanic does seem, at least based on the blurb, that it might turn out to be either too thin or too obviously Papers, Please; but at least it’s clear. 4/5

Intangibles: Capital punishment… is still in practice today. In some places, like parts of the US, it is extremely still in practice today. The designers are Canadians, so this might be a cultural difference—the US is the only Western country to still have the death penalty—but as an American, it’s noteworthy to say the least. -0.5

TOTAL: 6.5/10

Dull Grey

Art: A lot of IF cover art could be improved by removing the title; this is a perfect example. The image wouldn’t be hurt by text, depending on the text, but it also doesn’t need any. On its own, it’s already a striking image: a color scheme with just enough tint, a definite mood it wants to convey. My one quibble is that at full size the trolley cars in the middle right seem just a tad stark and undersketched, but that’s so incredibly minor it hardly is worth mention, let alone penalty. 5/5

Blurb: Basically fine, with a lot of subtle worldbuilding, though not nearly as striking as the art, and vague on the major plot points. I might just not be familiar enough with the Soviet fiction cited, but what choice are they making? What is the dilemma? What are they trying to use? 3.5/5

Intangibles: It is very hard, and also a good sign, to pull off futuristic worldbuilding that doesn’t loudly announce I AM BUILDING A FUTURISTIC WORLD. This does. +0.5

TOTAL: 9/10

Dungeon Detective 2: Devils and Details

Art: Like the last Dungeon Detective game, it extremely knows its niche—paranormal furry detectives—and extremely commits to it. The whole image could be made just slightly brighter – preserving the contrast, but making the stuff around the perimeter a bit easier to see – but I would still believe this as professional work. 5/5

Blurb: I would also believe this as professional work. To its credit, the blurb doesn’t assume the reader’s played the previous game; but maybe as a consequence, it also doesn’t depart much from the previous blurb. The sudden appearance of the devil would seem to be an obvious point of departure. 4/5

Intangibles: Paranormal furry detectives = two out of three tropes I tend to bounce off hard. The last game was no exception. (I told you the intangibles were subjective and not always fair.) -0.5

TOTAL: 8.5/10


Art: Minimalist, but this is how you do minimalist while still demonstrating you know what you’re doing: photo and text that are both evocative in the same ways, that are deliberately styled and lit, and also both just a bit off, a bit suggestive that something may not be quite right about the horse and the situation**. 4.5/5**

Blurb: This is 80% of the way to a fantastic blurb, but the second sentence is a bit clunky and twice as long as it needs to be; it fumbles the landing. Change it to something like, say, “Sometimes adages lie.” and you’ll have an easy 5. As is: 3.5/5

Intangibles: I’m really happy to see a story by Jac Colvin (whom I know from her writing for Sub-Q and the Choice of Games site) in the comp. I suppose the fact that I’m not remotely sold on the title should go into intangibles, but the former outweighs that. +0.5

TOTAL: 8.5/10

Eldritch Everyday: The Third Eye

Art: Not totally there yet—an very obviously comped-in car (the lighting and border are giveaways), a squid and a sinkhole/Eye of Sauron competing for attention (I think it’d be fine if there were 50% less squid)—but the color scheme and mood are both right, and it’s a clear improvement over what was there before; see below. 3/5

Blurb: The subtitle really should be the blurb, or at least moved into the blurb; the rest is more of a description, and can be condensed. (Having a content warning at all is sufficient to tell people they should read the content warning; “the first in a series” and “most experimental” are better suited to about text; entering it in the comp at all implies a request for people to say what they think of it. However, again, it is very much better than what was there before. 2/5

Intangibles: Originally this had no art and no blurb; the art and blurb were added later, presumably after someone pointed it out. This does replace the goose egg I had here before, and I suppose the whole point of writeups like these is to produce improved presentation and art. But still. -1

TOTAL: 4/10


Art: Even if I weren’t familiar with Robb Sherwin I’d recognize this as the work of someone who clearly knows what they’re doing :good light/dark contrast, good composition, good vast engulfing of the spaceship (the full image has a red light on the ship; I assume it was removed because it’d look bad at small size). Not hugely unique, but no real flaws to speak of, besides the fact that… 4.5/5

Blurb: .…the blurb suggests wacky werewolf hijinks, which the art very much doesn’t. The blurb isn’t bad, if a bit terse, but it’s also like buying a ticket to 2001: A Space Odyssey and walking into Snakes on a Plane. 3/5

Intangibles: But authors whose voice is generally so strong and distinct to outweigh less compelling packaging = exactly what the Intangibles category is for. +1

TOTAL: 8.5/10

Extreme Omnivore: Text Edition

Art: A cohesive color scheme, font, and image, if just a tiny bit unbalanced at the top. In part because of that, it does feel thrown together in 5 minutes, but at least by someone who has a general sense of what they’re doing. 2.5/5

Blurb: The blurb, as a piece of writing, is fine. But the premise, or at least the presentation, suggests one of those minor comp games from the late '90s: competent, cute, but unambitious. That said, I did bump this half a point because I cheated and looked at the walkthrough, which suggests it’s going to be My Apartment game. Leaving this out of your blurb may not be an accurate representation of the blurb, exactly, but definitely one more compelling. 2.5/5

Intangibles: It’s not really fair to fault this for Eat Me existing (though its existence also wasn’t a secret), but Eat Me so luridly, exhaustively commits to its concept (extreme omnivorousness) that any other take is doomed by comparison to be swallowed whole. -1

TOTAL: 4/10

Eye Contact

Art: Striking, and designed to be so: an extreme close-up, starkly lit, image far larger than the text, meant to be vaguely unsettling. But it’s another striking interface, and this one is particularly an issue because it introduces stray elements: a blue link in a black-and-white composition, or the back arrow partially cut off (more visible in full image). Because it’s a Twine, I can also see right away that it has default or close to default styling, a pet peeve of mine. 3/5

Blurb: Extremely short and terse, but you want terse here; it fits the genre (experimental/art games), and fits the concept of the photo, face/eyes deliberately overpowering everything else. This wouldn’t work at all if the photo weren’t as striking, and (IMO) wouldn’t work as well if the blurb fought for attention. 3.5/5

Intangibles: I am in favor of more experimental work in the comp; I really hope this delivers on the promise. +0.5

TOTAL: 7/10

(continued in next post)



Art: More white text on black background, but the dressed-up-for-Ren-Faire version. (It kind of reminds me of a still from a silent film, which, at least it reminds me of something). 2/5

Blurb: Gets across its point, albeit bluntly. Blame “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” or for that matter the original Utopia, for me suspect the blurb is hinting at some underlying cynicism, despite outright claiming it’s not. (Other nitpick: The recipe/“generously seasoned” framing is rather stock, and a bit glib for the probable tone of the story.) 2.5/5

Intangibles: Music is good. +0.5

TOTAL: 5/10

Fat Fair

Art: I hate to say it, but this is decent. The sign portion knows and conveys exactly what it wants to (which, well, we’ll get to that). The background isn’t as good—it should be more lurid, less generic 3D render, and there are artifacts all over the place – the sky, the borders. 3/5

Blurb: Again, on a pure craft basis, this is OK; it doesn’t immediately settle on a coherent/consistent aesthetic, but eventually gets there. Most of the weight (no pun intended, I swear) is pulled by the title, and the following sentence, which just looms: “Contains crass humor. And worse.” 2.5/5

Intangibles: I’ve tried very hard to keep this out of the main sections, but I can already tell that this game is flagrantly not for me. -1

TOTAL: 4.5/10

Flight of the CodeMonkeys

Art: A lot of major problems: a heavy-bordered, cartoony drawing that’s haphazardly sharp then blurry, cut off at the top with some parts not fully painted over; a clip art-y computer with lighter borders than the monkey, an oddly sized sliver at the bototm and heavy artifacting; unstyled text (could use a drop shadow, could use less janky kerning/sizing, could use committing to whether it wants to be terminal font or not) that crashes into the art.

It’s weird, though, because Marc Marino’s past work is a lot better visually designed than this (Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House is the game that made me want to use Undum/Raconteur), and the problems here are so many and so blatant that, given the game’s theme, I almost think this is supposed to look bad, as if the image is “buggy” and needs to be fixed. But the problem with that is, that’s still the image you’re presenting your game with. 0.5/5

Blurb: Suggests a fairly common plot: “you are a worker cog in the machine, but will you resist? Is resistance even possible??” While timelier every day, and not quite played out (I’m biased, having recently written a game with the plot), the genre is heavily populated and often relies on the same few beats, hit loudly and unsubtly. The blurb here suggests the game will consist of the loud, unsubtle bits, and has a lot of awkward trail-offs. (One of which, the “special friend” bit, also introduces a sudden suggestive tone I’m not sure is intended.) There are more interesting parts to highlight than the plot beats, at any rate—the winged monkeys, for one, or… 2/5

Intangibles: I did click through and start playing this one, and it’s hosted on Google Research, of all places, and built around actual code manipulation. As always, I am in favor of cool experiments. I’m also in favor of people who do cool experiments making it more obvious that they’re doing so. +1

TOTAL: 3.5/10, but I am almost certain this is underselling the work dramatically.

Flygskam Simulator

Art: I’ve mentioned this before and will mention it again: One of the most common problems I see in IF cover art—cover art in general, really—is tonal mismatch. Ideally, every component of your cover art should cohere, and not talk over one another in color scheme, mood, etc. When looking at the photo, your gaze shouldn’t feel torn from place to place. It’s possible to do tonal mismatch on purpose, but as with any breaking of rules, you have to really, really know what you’re doing, and even then it may not work. A lot of times the clash happens with art vs. text – see Bradford Mansion above. Here, it happens with art vs. art.

The top third is fine; it maybe gives off a bit of a children’s phonics reader feel, but that is 1% the font and 99% because for the past week I’ve been proofreading dozens of children’s phonics readers. In the rest, we have real-world photos that are just slightly dingy, and full of little interesting details, particularly in the middle. They convey a clear intent: heavily leaning on the sense of a real place, with real quirks. (That said, the details get lost at small size, and there is a slight distracting “wait, is this comped?” element to the three buildings.) In front of the photos is a cartoony, neon green, MS Paint bus. Serious and goofy. Candy and potpourri. Preschoolers and thirtysomethings. And the whole thing recedes beneath the big heavy white of the top third; even the bus doesn’t fully balance it. As a result, I have no idea what this is trying to convey, which part is intentional and which isn’t. 2.5/5

Blurb: Sets up an initial premise, but nothing after. The blurb could be the start of a plot-heavy story. It could be the start of a deadly-gauntlet series of misadventures. It could be the start of a mundane board-the-bus-leave-the-bus-remember-your-stuff simulator. It doesn’t seem like it’ll be comedy, but who knows? I also wonder if I am going to literally be Greta Thunberg. (Well, technically speaking I don’t wonder, because I’ve played this and know which it is, but that’s cheating.) 2.5/5

Intangibles: The “flight simulator” pun did make me smile. More seriously, this is exactly the kind of topic I want to see more work tackle, if it indeed tackles it. +0.5

TOTAL: 5.5/10

For the Cats

Art: The font isn’t Papyrus, but it’s way too damn close; the color is a bit too green, or the wrong green; but otherwise the text is basically fine. The photo is less fine—it kind of seems like the intent is to look vaguely lurid, but the cat itself is fuzzy – almost uncannily so, like something off This Cat Does Not Exist – and, besides seeming vaguely off, doesn’t really provoke an emotional response either way, which is the opposite of what you want from a cat picture. You might not want to go too far into disturbing given the game’s theme, and obviously it would be easy for a cat to be distractingly cute. But this approach doesn’t seem right either. 2/5

Blurb: Does its job, gets in, gets out, though the tone is a little arch/earnest for my taste. But the content warning, in particular its specificity, is appreciated. 2.5/5

Intangibles: It is kind of funny that there are now two entries this year that can be described as heartwarming AU versions of Chandler Groover games. +0.5

TOTAL: 5/10

For the Moon Never Beams

Art: Clearly trying to emulate Infocom box art, which undoubtedly gives a lot of people a big nostalgia dopamine hit, but to those who lack those particular nostalgia-dopamine receptors looks like a lot of puzzling choices. The stripes are a bit more garish than the ones on the old Infocom boxes, the text is vaporwave-y in a way that suggests the 2019’s idea of the 1980s retrofitted onto the 1980s; the portrait doesn’t read '80s at all so much as those online paper doll sites that were all over in the mid-2000s, with the accompanying strangeness of expression and pose. I don’t know whether the idea is more ambitious than the artist had the present skills for, or whether it just needs a pass for polish, but it honestly just looks like a knockoff. 2/5

Blurb: I’ll mention this again (with this many entries it’s hard not to repeat oneself), but there’s a particular reflex in blurbs that almost never works: the “…or is it?” postscript. The preceding sentence virtually provides all the necessary hinting and irony on its own. Here, you don’t need to suggest there’s something sinister; leaving the blurb hanging on “Is it something you said,” in a story with a lonely road and a Poe reference, is sufficient and stronger. Otherwise, the rest is fine; the blurb suggests a kind of Monsterhearts via “Annabel Lee,” even if it does also suggest a nonzero chance of the premise veering into yikes. 2/10

Intangibles: Also, this is very specifically set in 1993, so the chance of teenage-girl anachronisms is very nonzero. (I’ve played a bit of this; the yikes haven’t materialized, but the anachronisms have.) -0.5

TOTAL: 3.5/10

The Four Eccentrics

Art: When I said that some covers would be infinitely better with no text, this is the one I had in mind. The white text is just sort of slapped on, clashing with the rest (white on yellow usually does that), and distracting from an otherwise good photo. I’m not sure the photo is right as this cover art—it’s very good at being an evocative, saturated autumn scene, and not that good at conveying four or any eccentrics—but it’s right for something. 3/5

Blurb: Promising premise and good worldbuilding that sound less compelling than they may well be because the blurb is contorted into generic story-jacket talk: “Can you wake up? Can anyone help you escape?” (It also says “dream” one time too many.) But at least it surfaces, if not quite showcasing, its interesting elements. 3**.5/5**

Intangibles: Substantial chance of this turning out to be the Eunice of this year’s competition, i.e. way too earnestly twee. -0.5

TOTAL: 6/10


Art: N/A

Blurb: Not terribly promising grounds: the teen angst of “so-called ‘friends’” ditching you for parties, the sexually frustrated angst of your so-called friends ditching you because they also have daaaaates, the phrase “immersed in your favorite IFs,” seldom before uttered by any actual person, the canned escape-room premise. 0.5/5

Intangibles: “I won an Andy Phillips game!” is the weirdest of flexes; this seems very much like a nostalgia piece with an audience of two. Actually, make that an audience of one; I’m not convinced even Andy Phillips is still in it. -1

TOTAL: 0/10 (might be higher with art)

Girth Loinhammer and the Quest for the Unsee Elixir

Art: Is certainly… overt, in an Oglaf kind of way, though the text does crowd the art somewhat, and the whole thing does leave some questions about the exact level of pornography that will be involved. (Also, the red-border-and-possibly-drop-shadow styling of text is one of my biggest design peeves, but it’s a battle I’ve given up on winning.) 2.5/5

Blurb: Meets the bar for minimum viable blurb, but then there’s that “…or can they?” again. If your game is titled The Quest for the Unsee Elixir, the audience can assume that the things, in fact, can be unseen. Also, those things seem fairly likely to be a lot of cheap gags about sex and/or kink. 2.5/5

Intangibles: One of my favorite comedy sequences is Bill Murray’s dentist scene in Little Shop of Horrors. This seems like it will entirely consist of A) that joke, and B) not as funny a version of it. -0.5

TOTAL: 4.5/10

Gone Out for Gruyere

Art: N/A

Blurb: Huh, well into the G’s and this is the first obvious shitpost (Fat Fair, somehow, has legit effort put into its blurb). The blurb is itself. 1.5/5

Intangibles: Nonzero chance, given that the author has also released an Andy Phillips trivia game, that this game was written to score a Stilton-plus on the Cheese Rating Scale, which as in-jokes go is a seriously deep cut. +0.5

TOTAL: 2/5 (scaled: 4/10)

The good people

Art: Aiming deliberately for a defined effect, but there are a number of things that aren’t working for me. The “an interactive story by Pseudavid” text is both way too small and unnecessary (the former because it’s in the comp, the latter because it has a Pseudavid logo); the particular font and shading are somewhat WordArt, and become difficult to read when they crash into the image; the image is mostly good but would really work better on a non-white background (my instinct is something close to the purple or taupe). 2/5

Blurb: Three sentences, each of which is progressively better as a standalone blurb, but that together, come off as three separate drafts of a one-line blurb, for some reason shown together. As usual, the explanatory part is unnecessary, including “a computer or tablet is strongly recommended to play.” In a festival setting, on Itch, etc. this would be important to know, but I suspect very few people play comp games on mobile, and none only on mobile. 2**.5/5**

Intangibles: N/A

TOTAL: 4.5/10

Hard Puzzle: 4 The Ballad of Bob and Cheryl

Art: Black text on a white background, plus a photo of a stool. It’s not particularly wacky, but at least competently done, and realistically speaking, nobody’s here for the art; they’re here for the Hard Puzzle. 2/5

Blurb: Again knows its tone and achieves it, with understatement even (I’m assuming the “stool” thing is a joke). “A silly little IF puzzler. Can you solve it?” as usual is extraneous, being implied by the blurb and by calling the game HARD PUZZLE—or by people having played the first three. Not extraneous: the fake/snarky recommendations from, I assume, beta testers. The joke is stock, but I haven’t seen it much in an IF context, and it still amused me. 4/5

Intangibles: The latest in a series that some people like a lot—the forum thread for it is massive—but that generally hasn’t been my thing. -0.5

TOTAL: 5.5/10

Heretic’s Hope

Art: Oh my god you have no idea how refreshing it is to see a cover image this vivid after a sea of blank backgrounds. I don’t think this is finished per se (my gut sense says it needs a few more tweaks—maybe text placement, or the fact that the portrait’s less detailed and more watercolor than the background; I wish I could be more helpful), but it is clearly in an entirely different league. 4.5/5

Blurb: Also basically good, although the ratio of generic (gods and monsters, blessings and curses) to specific (a giant insect apocalypse, possibly the divine decree if I knew what it was) is too heavily tilted toward the former. 3.5/5

Intangibles: N/A

TOTAL: 8/10

The House on Sycamore Lane

Art: Basically fine, gives me a bit of an early-Nancy-Drew-cover feel. I don’t love the text (mainly, the solid black against the dark clouds), but it’s true to those covers. 4/5

Blurb: Less fine. Gives me the impression the game will be functionally identical to Bradford Mansion and to any other specified escape-the-dreary-manor game. 1/5

Intangibles: N/A

TOTAL: 5/10


Art: This year seems to have a mini-trend of extreme close-up pixelated backgrounds. I don’t like it particularly, but paired with the terminal text here, it seems like a more purposeful choice than some. Similarly, I don’t love the fuzziness of that text (and it doesn’t at all work full-size), but at least it is going for an effect. Bumped a point because I’ve played the game, and to be fair, it isn’t super easily translatable to art. 2.5/5

Blurb: This sort of faux-corporate affect is very hard to get right—not only is it easy for the irony to drip too heavily, but actual corporate communications do a better job satirizing themselves than any fictional versions can. The blurb does suggest some potentially interesting mechanics/structure, but could suggest them harder. 2.5/5

Intangibles: The content notes seem to suggest this will be in a visual-novel idiom that is very much not my thing, but I’m still tacking on a point for the suggestion the author is trying something ambitious. (This is another entry I’ve briefly skimmed, and while it really could use an editor and a UI, or even just CSS beyond the default Twine styling, the author is in fact trying something ambitious.) +1

TOTAL: 6/10

Island in the Storm

Art: Well-composed, good choice of mosaic, but something is off. (It may be as simple as the white background. Or maybe it wants to be a portrait-orientation book cover, with more space at the top and bottom?) Still, clearly the work of a designer who generally knows what they’re doing. 3.5/5

Blurb: Less good—generic premise, awkward phrasing, grammatical errors. Another perennial comment: I’m seeing a lot of blurbs that lean on statements that there will be, somewhere in the game, a mysterious twist. But mysteries are compelling because of the mysterious circumstances, not just the idea that there might be some mysterious circumstances somewhere, maybe, if you press on. 0.5/5

Intangibles: Statements like “this is the first full-length game ever designed in [obscure engine]!” I assume are meant to read as “I am a trailbreaking innovator” but often actually signify “this is meant as a proof of concept, not a standalone game,” or “this is a janky groverengine that may well be unplayable on your machine,” usually because if they don’t demonstrate a use case for the new engine besides proving you can homebrew IF with it. (Also, I now have “Islands in the Stream” stuck in my head. I’m not taking points off for that, but I do.) -0.5

TOTAL: 3.5/10

Jon Doe—Wildcard Nucleus

Art: Another text-on-solid-background cover, but one by someone who can clearly draw and has a good eye for design, though the author’s name could be a tiny bit larger. Another one I think might work better as a book cover, given that it’s definitely emulating one. (That said, based on a quick Google it doesn’t seem to be emulating any James Bond covers, or movie themes, which seems like an obvious missed opportunity.) 3.5/5

Blurb: Laser-targets what it intends to get across, which is “this is an extremely tropey game about spy intrigue that will not take itself seriously.” If anything—and I don’t say this often—it could lean more into the wacky. “Be a hero, save the world, get the girl!” in particular is a placeholder where a joke could be. 3/5

Intangibles: “Wildcard Nucleus” sounds like the Foodfight! version of Rybread Celsius, but I’m boosting this a point because I’m fairly sure this is a deliberate parody of similarly meaningless Bond titles like Quantum of Solace. (I’d say I reserve the right to retroactively un-boost it if it isn’t a parody, but that’d go against the idea of first impressions.) +0.5

TOTAL: 6.5/10

Language Arts

Art: A photorealistic, if poorly cropped, image of a billboard, with text that is obviously and half-assedly comped on—more like quarter-assedly, really. The stuff around the “THE FUTURE IS CLEAR” text (below the H, above the EAR, obviously left over from the selection box) would take like 15 seconds to clean up, even in MS Paint. The text sizes also make it very hard to tell what the title is—not so much a problem in the comp, where the title is right there, but an issue if you ever want to publicize it elsewhere. 1.5/5

Blurb: The same issue as iamb(ici)—and the fact that it’s relatively close to iamb(ici) alphabetically demonstrates how samey these blurbs end up feeling, though of course the author couldn’t know that would happen. This has a few more grammatical errors, though, and, I don’t get much of a sense of mechanics, or of anything else really. 2/5

Intangibles: I’m not sure everyone approaching the comp is going to know what “Zach-like” means, but I do, and find it promising. +0.5.

TOTAL: 4/10

The Legendary Hero Has Failed.

Art: Another competently designed image, this time in a “card from an indie card game” way, but still: black text on a white background. (I go back and forth on whether I like the fire being dark gray and not black, and the text could maaaybe be moved down a bit, but I think it’s fine.) 3/5

Blurb: There’s a “The sun is gone. It must be brought. You have a rock.” sense), terseness to the blurb, and it surfaces its interesting elements while still getting the main plot beats across. I’d change or get rid of the subtitle, since it is far less strong than the blurb, but otherwise this is close to ideal. 4.5/5

Intangibles: N/A

TOTAL: 7.5/10

Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: The Text Adventure

Art: Simple, but effective pixel art, which is why it’s looked like this for eight years. Obvious missed opportunity to put a parser prompt and/or accompanying joke on the cover. 4/5

Blurb: “You’re dead, but you’re not on Charon’s list.” is close to a perfect one-liner—though, of course, that’s because the author’s had eight (8) years to iterate on it. I don’t really think the second paragraph is needed. Even if someone isn’t familiar with the other games, the title is self-explanatory. 4.5/5

Intangibles: As you can tell, I am familiar both with Pippin Barr’s work in general, and specifically the many iterations of this particular joke (I particularly like the UI version). So I also know that this will be short to the point of brutally concise, will be sparingly implemented on purpose, and will rank lower than it deserves. +1

TOTAL: 9.5/10

Limerick Heist

Art: Simple, icon-based art; doesn’t look bad, but the leading (space between lines) is off, and the whole thing feels like a missed opportunity, unless there’s a rebus-style interpretation of the icons that turns it into a limerick that I’m missing. (If there is, this immediately turns into a 4 at least. I’ve sat here for like 4 minutes trying to come up with one because I want there to be that much) 2.5/5

Blurb: Wordplay blurbs need to go big or go home. The limerick almost scans: not totally (the second line, specifically, could go back to the drawing board), but enough to be generally competent. More importantly, it has jokes besides “look, I wrote a limerick!”—maybe not jokes so much as “Fight Club references,” but something besides. I originally thought the last paragraph weakened the blurb, but… 4.5/5

Intangibles: I liked this a lot better once I realized that the “content warning” is itself a limerick. (And that the author resisted the probably-strong temptation to make it an actual content warning, like in the field.) +1

TOTAL: 8/10


Art: It really is remarkable how little jazzing up—here, a gradient—it takes to make a solid background less boring. The designer clearly knows about effective (not unique, but effective) visual symbolism, how far you can go with text contrast while keeping the text legible, etc.

BIG OL’ HOWEVER: I noticed some artifacts mostly in the upper left and right corners and wasn’t sure if they were deliberate, so I loaded the full image to make sure, and bam: Shutterstock watermark. 1.5/5; would be at least a 4 but come the fuck on.

Blurb: Full of generalities, cliches, and redundancies (“her greatest fear” is expressed by the kidnapping; “including her world” is expressed by leaving everything behind). Maybe I’m just salty about the Shutterstock thing, but I don’t feel like this would be more compelling if I weren’t. 1/5

Intangibles: I’m still salty about the watermark, but I feel like I’ve dinged this enough. (I also realize that by complaining about this I have invoked the art equivalent of Muphry’s Law, and that there will thus be another blatantly watermarked image in the comp that I’ve gushed over in this post.) N/A

TOTAL: 2.5/10

Meeting Robb Sherwin

Art: The picture is actually quite good and vivid, if a bit obviously comped. The text crashes it back down into amateur land, specifically for the “ok, where can I squeeze this in” placement, that still grazes/crashes into the photo. (Even if you’re doing that, there’s conveniently an almost black edge at the bottom, so why not just add some extra space and put it there?) 2.5/5

Blurb: The title suggests a takeoff of Being Andrew Plotkin, itself a takeoff of Being John Malkovich. The blurb suggests that it is literally going to just be about meeting Robb Sherwin, which as a game experience (as opposed to actually meeting Robb Sherwin, which I’m assured is a good experience) is not overly compelling. 1.5/5

Intangibles: I really hate the phrase “slice of life,” because it tends to imply that any non-genre fiction is banal stenography. I also have the sneaking suspicion this game is going to deliberately be that. -1

TOTAL: 3/10

Mental Entertainment

Art: Not overly original, but well-composed, good color scheme and light, good symbolism; again, the work of someone who knows what they’re doing. 4/10

Blurb: Specific if bland about its premise, but to its credit, resists the urge to do either the peppy corporate-speak mode mentioned above, or the breathless, ripped-from-the-headlines mode of certain other game blurbs. (I have something specific in mind, but not anything in this comp.) I’m a bit skeptical about doing this in parser for reasons explained below, but at least that’d be an ambitious use of parser, a rapidly disappearing thing. I also hope the Dayton, Ohio thing is going to be signal some kind of specific/deliberate grounding in place, and not just there for the hell of it. 3.5/5

Intangibles: I am somewhat biased since Sam’s writeup compared this to Human Errors, which I wrote, so I can’t approach this objectively. But actually, it reminds me more of Eliza. (Also Westworld, but that isn’t IF.). I really liked Eliza, and while I’m skeptical this is going to be better, I’m clearly a fan of this kind of thing, so: +0.5

TOTAL: 8/10

The Milgram Parable

Art: Basically fine 3D rendering, text placement/styling, knobs with annotations, presence of coffee cup. It doesn’t deviate far from its “make game art about the Milgram experiment that also clearly references The Stanley Parable” brief, but it fulfills the requirements. 3.5/5

Blurb: However: As mentioned in Sam’s blurb, the Milgram experiment has been debunked, sort of (as has the Stanford prison experiment, really many experiments along these lines), and the “uncomfortable facts about oneself” are already known to anyone who knows what the Milgram experiment is. It’s not bad, just rote, which suggests something about the necessity of the premise. 2.5/5

Intangibles: We already had a blatant homage-at-best to The Stanley Parable last year. I was not in need of another. -1

TOTAL: 5/10

The Mysterious Stories of Caroline

Art: I’ve said a lot of IF art wants to be a book cover; this actually is one. As a book cover it is very good; as game cover art, the details get a bit lost. (I go back and forth over whether the font on the author’s name really fits, but I don’t have a stash of similar books to compare to right now, so I guess it’s fine.) Seen on its own, it also runs the risk of making people misattribute the story to its fictional author, which, given who the fictional author is in the story, may not be what you want. 3.5/5

Blurb: Contains the same “your choices matter” boilerplate that is unneeded when blurbing a choice-based game. But there’s a larger issue, related to but not quite the same thing as content warnings. Certain themes, like pedophilia, are incredibly easy to be mishandled even unintentionally, and the consequences of doing so are massive, as mishandling goes. The author’s job, then is twofold: to let people know the themes they’re addressing, and to reassure them that they won’t fuck them up dramatically.

Reading the blurb, I don’t get the sense that this will be dramatically fucked up, or intentionally offensive. I do, however, lack a sense of how they will be handled. “Repressed memories” in particular can suggest a broad range of specificity, and in a story about one of the textbook PTSD triggers, that will give a lot of people pause. 3/5

Intangibles: This is one of the games I have played, and A) the theme is indeed not dramatically mishandled, in my sense; and B) the story includes other themes, like colonialism, that are important to the narrative but not surfaced in the blurb. I think the presentation here is doing this a slight disservice; bumped accordingly. +0.5

TOTAL: 7/10

(continued in next post)


Ocean Beach

Art: Black text on white background, but at least there’s a purpose. The symbols, typography futzing, and overall design bring to mind the cover of a somewhat intimidating academic tome. Probably this is intentional. 3**/5**

Blurb: One of those terse one-line blurbs, except the one line is mostly about waiting, which unless you’re Waiting for Godot is not overly promising. Does give the strong impression that this is going to be some sort of parser art piece, which is at least something that’s unduly fallen out of favor. 2**.5/5**

Intangibles: N/A. (Normally I would tack on a +0.5 for the game suggesting at least somewhat unusual parser experimentation, but I’ve poked around this, and am sufficiently bugged by the forced pauses—these are bad enough in Twine, don’t import them into parser too—and the walkthrough being, in total, “Don’t worry about the puzzles.”)

TOTAL: 5.5/10

Old Jim’s Convenience Store

Art: N/A

Blurb: Not overlong per se, but wordy; verbiage like “the store would provide a convenient platform for all that” could easily be half its length. Seems like a parser game from 1997 or so, and specifically one in the mid-pack. 2.5/5

Intangibles: N/A

TOTAL: 2.5/5 (scaled: 5/10)

The Ouroboros Trap

Art: White text on black background, a circle that suggests “what’s the minimum amount of Art-ing that I have to do to vaguely suggest an ouroboros?”, and text just sort of slapped in there. 1.5/5

Blurb: Fully-rotted cliche, acknowledgement of fully-rotted cliche, grammatical error**. 0/10**

Intangibles: “Ouroboros Trap” is another one of those phrases that sounds cool until you start asking yourself what it even means. -0.5

TOTAL: 1/10


Art: Simple, not particularly novel, but shows a command of composition, non-awful fonts, etc. 3/5

Blurb: There are exactly three ways this story can go: coming out in the LGBT sense, and it’s played earnest; coming out in the LGBT sense, and it’s played ironic/dark; or literally just coming outside with no other connotations whatsoever. The blurb doesn’t indicate which (it’s probably not the last, but you never know), but is at least succinct and suggests that whichever it ends up being will be handled competently. (It is purely a coincidence that I am posting this today.) 3/5

Intangibles: N/A

TOTAL: 6/10

Pas De Deux

Art: Text-against-solid background, but jazzed-up more than sufficiently: the background is not a solid wodge of white, the conductor/text thing works for me and is just whimsical enough, the composition is good. Art about music is just as dancing-about-architecture as writing about it; this is close to as good as that can get. 4.5/5

Blurb: A bit bland in the beginning (particularly the first few sentences) but eventually suggests two promising things: the author is good at names (“Nevada Elmsbee” is great) and writing in general, and the author is trying something somewhat outre with parser/choice hybrids. 3.5/5

Intangibles: I don’t know whether “keep an eye on your score” is supposed to be a pun, but if so, not bad. +0.5

TOTAL: 8.5/5


Art: There are pirates, there are wenches, there’s a parrot and some treasure; it’s all very pulpy (except the font, which could stand to be a little less cleanly Photoshopped on. Detectiveland was fine, so I’m not sure what happened here.) Basically Detectiveland for a new set of tropes, and in that sense, does its job. 4/5

Blurb: We’ve established that there are pirates. We have not established that they will do anything. Strong suggestion that the game might coast on PIRATES, YEAH! 2.5/5

Intangibles: The stakes for pirate hijinks are set somewhere around The Pirates of Penzance, and the stakes for specifically IF pirate hijinks are set somewhere around Scarlet Sails. (Old-timers may substitute Plundered Hearts.) These are high bars. I also bounced off past games in this engine pretty hard; but both these complaints are a little unfair/trivial, so I’ll combine them into a -0.5.

TOTAL: 6/10

Planet C

Art: Decent-enough 3D render; I almost said “a bit less so at full size” until I thought maybe the graininess/haziness was meant to suggest pollution. Does the job. 3.5/5

Blurb: Light on plot or description, which makes sense here, since this seems to be a Rimworld/Oxygen Not Included/Dwarf Fortress-like. But I’m not getting a sense of deeper simulation (when the above list includes Dwarf Fortress, this may be impossible), more personality, or any other axis to distinguish itself. (There could be one—I could see this being a climate change simulator—but if so, the blurb doesn’t telegraph it enough.) 2.5/5

Intangibles: I assume the subtitle is supposed to be a joke about “plan B,” but it really doesn’t… land, particularly. -0.5

TOTAL: 5.5/10


Art: Well drawn, with personality and detail; that personality leans to the Tim Burton-y, but that’s probably to be expected. I don’t love the marble background—it’s just detailed enough to steal focus—but the rest is pretty strong. 4/5

Blurb: I suspect there’s a good story here, maybe not best presented via gussied-up amnesia. You’re a newly awoken ragdoll; the hook to the story probably comes after the part where you don’t know where you are, particularly if that hook involves horror, which I assume it does. Still, competently written. 3/5

Intangibles: My very first attempt at making IF was very close to this premise. It was bad, and nobody should ever see it. (Given that it was also my very first unfinished attempt at making IF, that’s at least guaranteed.) This will almost certainly be better. +0.5

TOTAL: 7.5/10

Randomized escape

Art: Besides the obvious (this is another image that would work much better without text, or at least without this text), the image, while evocative, is a little too generically spooky and too plausibly Euclidean to totally fit the concept. To be fair, this is true of a lot of roguelikes. The obvious still wins out. 2.5/5 (would be at least a 4 without the text)

Blurb: Everything I said about the amnesia in Poppet applies here; everything I said about the dully described mechanics of Planet C applies here. In this case, they add up to less than the sum of their parts. 1**.5/5**

Intangibles: Anything would be a better title than this. Two randomized words would be better. -1

TOTAL: 3/10

Remedial Witchcraft

Art: This is close to my baseline for art competence—fine background, fine art, fine typography, composed and presented fine, conveys its concept fine, it’d be great if this were the floor for all comp art. In other words: 2.5/5.

Blurb: The writing’s a bit clunky, as usual the last sentence isn’t needed, and setting your ceiling of Scary Magic as a gasp cauldron is fairly non-threatening. 2.5/5

Intangibles: “Lighthearted puzzle game about bumbling witch” has joined “you are a dog/cat/animal!” and “it’s a spooky lab!” in the pantheon of overdone IFcomp concepts, even if presented well, even if you add a twist. -0.5

TOTAL: 4.5/10

Rio Alto

Art: Overall strong: good color, styling, professional-seeming. The backgrounds against the text are maybe a tad visually unbalanced, and the pile of photographs is maybe a bit literal for a game about recalling memories (if only because I’m resisting a “look at this photograph” joke), but they’re not dealbreakers. 4/5

Blurb: Certain parts of the blurb are off in a self-consciously dramatic way (“the very same day,” “…into his own troubled life,” with ellipsis), and the last sentence is off in concept (lots of people want to forget their own memories, it’s the reason why the Eternal Sunshine genre is a genre), but it does get across the idea and mood. 3/5

Intangibles: Having just finished and extremely in the weeds on a rewrite of a story with somewhat of the same premise, I’m bumping this up the queue because I want that much to read literally any other take on it. +0.5

TOTAL: 7.5/10

Rip Retold

Art: A striking image of a cameo brooch in search of a clear connection to the title. Still striking. 4/5

Blurb: The somewhat uncommon blurb that’s too short; specifically, this off just before the blurb proper would normally begin. The sum total of what I know: It’s a twist on “Rip Van Winkle.” Perhaps a brooch is involved. Narratively, mechanically, anything could happen. Nothing has gone seriously wrong; nor is there much to go seriously right. 2.5/5

Intangibles: N/A

TOTAL: 6.5/10

Roads Not Taken

Art: A bit jaunty and modern a font for the photo; I also think the red on it is just slightly too cool and/or candy in the surroundings, but that may be my monitor. (I did look at this on another monitor, though, and still thought so.) Either way, the text is noticeably detached from the rest of the image. Otherwise this is fine; I’m not totally sold on the watercolor effect, but I don’t have anything against it either. 3.5/5

Blurb: Concise, but conveys only the information already conveyed by the title being a Robert Frost reference. The Frost poem was already abstract; what, exactly, was allegorized by the roads in a yellow wood was left to the reader. For a derivative work, you need more. 2/5

Intangibles: Maybe it’s the fact that a twist on Robert Frost was unlucky enough to be alphabetized right after a twist on “Rip Van Winkle.” Maybe it’s that I just played a bunch of games for WordPlay, one of which was Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening to Steal Treasure, which is… a twist on Robert Frost. Either way, this road is often taken. -0.5

TOTAL: 5/10


Art: Slick, sets a definite tone, and about as tasteful a take on this theme as possible. 4/5

Blurb: A title like robotsexpartymurder is essentially a design brief. The blurb needs to involve four things: robots, sex, parties, and murder. Here, there’s sex, there’s robots, but not quite murder so much as an implied crime that could maybe be that, and no parties. More broadly, the blurb doesn’t quite convey whether this is a detective story or a dating sim, or both somehow, and the first sentence is too vague to convey much of anything. Another pass for clarity should improve matters a lot. 3/5

Intangibles: A bit of a departure from the author’s previous work; I’m not sure what to expect, and this is another premise that could go awry very fast. -0.5

TOTAL: 6.5/10

Saint City Sinners

Art: Plausibly noir, well composed, but what I don’t get so much of is a sense of goofy noir. I can see why that’s the case—this is explicitly trying to be a Clickhole Clickventure, and the art on those has a very deliberate aesthetic of “uncannily bad stock image” that I’m not sure is transferrable anywhere but there. I can’t really think of a better approach, but I’m also not convinced there isn’t one. 3.5/5

Blurb: As above, clearly aiming for Clickhole and/or Brendan Hennessy (who has mentioned Clickventures as a major influence), high bars both; I don’t necessarily know that all the jokes here land, or are the best jokes to put out in front, but they’re the right kind of joke. 3/5

Intangibles: Don’t tell me up front there are bugs in your game. Let me discover them myself. (Again, I suspect mobile is a sliver of the Comp audience, so I’m not sure this needs to be here at all.) -0.5

TOTAL: 6/10

the secret of vegibal island

Art: Gets the job done, quick and dirty and not incompetently, which probably influences my score below more than it should. 2.5/5

Blurb: Extremely itself, where “itself” means “I swear this is a Chet Rocketfrak production.” However… 1/5

Intangibles: I asked, and this is not a Chet Rocketfrak production. (Or so Chet says.) Based on a couple of things I don’t think it’s anyone else’s troll game, either. I suspect people are going to think it is, though, and treat it more harshly than they should. +0.5

TOTAL: 4/10

The Shadow Witch

Art: Has an offputting MS Paint look, and the witch’s figure doesn’t look enough like an iris/pupil, or look recognizable enough at this size, to work. 1/5

Blurb: Basically the blurb for Untitled Goose Game without the goose. The blurb for Untitled Goose Game is famously very good; this is a tad wordier (and contains no goose), but works for the same reasons. Point deducted, though; see below. 4/5

Intangibles: If your content warning contains “harassment” and “abusive relationships,” then “cussing” is a serious register shift into goofy. It comes off as joking, in a place where you don’t want to be joking. It also means I don’t know whether this is meant as serious or funny (the “Comic Fantasy” is another crossed signal), which is a big problem for those themes. -1

TOTAL: 4/10

Skies Above

Art: Conveys tone, a bit about setting (the RPG floating island), not obviously amateurish, if not exciting. I think with this sort of theme, ideally your art should either directly show some of the mysteries of the skies, or at least make the skies look enticing enough that one suspects there are some mysteries therein. But that’s more missed opportunity than glaring mistake. 3/5

Blurb: Again, conveys the basics, but states that there is mystery rather than being mysterious. Except in this case, there isn’t much to convey tone either. 2.5/5

Intangibles: That said, I am a bit curious as to how minigames will be implemented in parser. That kind of experiment’s not shown up much since, what, 1999? +0.5

TOTAL: 6/10


Art: Another one that looks like a book cover. Specifically, it looks like a kinda quirky, kinda janky, definitely self-published thing I’d pick up at a secondhand store—by which I mean, I would pick it up, and frequently do, and am also pleasantly surprised. At small size this looks maybe a little too janky, but in a way that seems deliberate: an effect decided upon on purpose. (That said, I got a huge helping of education for that educated guess because I looked at the walkthrough, which is definitely purposefully designed. You also should look at the walkthrough.) 4/5

Blurb: Very Choice of Games, which is not a bad thing; they use this house style because it works. (Disclaimer: I have a project in progress with CoG.) Also knows what the cool things about its premise are—making out with sorcerers, collecting beetles—and surfaces them. Bonus: Adds a voice to its “notes for online play” beside the voice of “sorry, I goofed.” 4.5/5

Intangibles: I looked at the walkthrough. So should you. Definitely look at that walkthrough. +1

TOTAL: 9.5/10


Art: Clearly I used the Untitled Goose Game reference too soon. Other than the goose—a hunk of very lucky surprise goodwill for the author—there are slugs, depicted with the exact right ratio of gross putridity to cartoonish style. There’s attention to detail, it’s all quite good. The text is slightly crowded at the top, but that shouldn’t be hard to fix. 4.5/5

Blurb: Not as good: a sterile take on a non-sterile premise. Also, this is minor, but I’m not a huge fan of either stating that you have multiple endings in the blurb—in 2019, this isn’t as much of a selling point than it was in 2009, during which it wasn’t as much of a selling point as it was 1999. I think the issue here is that the blurb not only states it has three endings, but heavily foreshadows what they (probably) are, and makes them sound rather generic. 1.5/5

Intangibles: N/A

TOTAL: 6/10


Art: Does what it needs to do: plantationish building, suitable font, nothing extraneous. 3.5/5

Blurb: Man. So. On the one hand, the second sentence is a solid bit of misdirection. But going out of your way to specify that your game is set in the antebellum South immediately deposits you on a minefield, potential story mines including Gone with the Wind/“we’re getting married on this lovely plantation!”-ishness, crass offensiveness, or an earnest but heavy-handed attempt to address the issues at hand. The presence of a chicken suit doesn’t give me much faith in the minesweeping. Given the writer’s other games, I assume we can rule out “crass offensiveness,” but that said… 2.5/5

Intangibles: This is a Mike Spivey game, so I am also a) confused, as this is wildly unlike his other games; b) slightly worried it is going to be “actually, the Civil War was caused by graph theory.” -0.5

TOTAL: 5.5/10

Summer Night City

Art: Evocative picture, good decision to leave the title off; conveys the right tone; really no room for improvement here. 5/5

Blurb: Also gets across, at length, the tone of the game. Unfortunately, that tone seems to be “dense, ponderous, angsty pseudophilosophical slog,” the kind of entry we get a handful of every comp year. I guess we were overdue for one here. Also, there’s ABBA for some reason. 1.5/5

Intangibles: You can make a case for ABBA being secretly dark—Tom Ewing has written extensively and wonderfully about this—but that case would likely include “The Visitors.” Or at least “Soldiers” or “The Day Before You Came.” -0.5

TOTAL: 6/10

The Surprise

Art: N/A

Blurb: Virtually nothing to go on. Not even the title helps—the definition of a surprise is that you don’t know what it is. 0.5/5

Intangibles: N/A (again, there’s nothing to go on)

TOTAL: 0.5/5 (scaled: 1/10)

The Sweetest Honey

Art: Another pretty good book cover—the kind that’d come off strikingly minimalistic if not surrounded by 20 others similarly strikingly minimalistic. I kind of want the text to be slightly less blindingly white, but it looks better at full size. 3.5/5

Blurb: This is an English translation, but it could use another edit pass. Besides that, “you can’t die and must relive every day” is an established trope, especially lately—Russian Doll, Life After Life, Groundhog Day, etc. It’s no longer enough just to use the trope; you have to distinguish your story somehow. 2/5

Intangibles: I really like Russian Doll and Life After Life, though. +0.5

TOTAL: 6/10



Treasure Hunt in the Amazon:

Art: The art is fine in a Wile E. Coyote kind of way, though it perhaps skews a little goofier than the game is presenting itself. 3/5

Blurb: Extremely old-school, both in the IF sense (it’s a literal old-school game) and in the narrative sense (this seems likely to be a thoroughly old-fashioned, un-decolonialized adventure story, more Roald Dahl than 80 Days). Also old-school in the way that it conveys the most broad sketches about its premise, while perhaps implying the game will also consist only of broad sketches. 2/5

Intangibles: Small plus: Though I’d prefer there being a field for credits built into the comp website itself, to streamline presentation, it’s still a nice gesture to put them on the first place. Bigger minus: I know I differ from a lot of the audience here, but I’m not… overly thrilled about the excavation of old '80s games. Even with something like Endless, Nameless, part of the premise was how dubious an idea that is. -0.5

TOTAL: 4.5/10

Truck Quest

Art: Aims at a target, which is to say “DOS game, perhaps from 1991, about a goofy guy on a truck,” hits it, styles the title enough to look decent doing so. I’m not sure I love the cropping—the right side of the image is the front of the truck, but it takes a second to register that it is that and not dead space—but this basically knows what it’s doing and why. 3/5

Blurb: Decent writing for the most part (particularly in how it conveys goofiness, like flaming chickens, with a minimum of obviously goofy phrases, like “flaming chickens”), but again phrases like “…right?” or “or is it?” cheapen already-present irony. 3/5

Intangibles: I have been told this one is good, which likely makes me a bit more charitable toward it. +0.5

TOTAL: 6.5/10


Art: Reminds me of Birdland: high praise. Also has—and I realize this is a nebulous idea—a certain quality that signifies, to me, “extremely good and also extremely good as specifically IF art.” I can’t really pinpoint this quality, but Galatea’s art has it, Birdland as mentioned has it, Everybody Dies, Midnight. Swordfight all have it. In short: It’s Good. 5/5

Blurb: Yeah, OK, this is entirely my shit. It’s hard to judge objectively due to how completely and utterly my shit it is, but as I see it, objectively it is also very good. 5/5

Intangibles: As above, this is the entirety of my shit, and also is a little… similar to a project I am doing. I’m almost afraid to fully play it for fear of unconsciously ripping it off if it’s really good (spoilers: it’s really good). +1

TOTAL: 10/10

Under the Sea

Art: I don’t love the text—the crayon-ish styling on a mysterious-coded, photorealistic background is a tonal clash, and the bottom-left text is a bit hard to read. Otherwise, a good photo going for the right tone. 3/5

Blurb: It’s taken me a bit long, i.e. to the U’s, to crystallize this, but I think the problem with this blurb—and a lot of other blurbs—that it fundamentally says “these are my game goals” instead of “this is my story hook.” Learning new skills is not, in and of itself, a hook; it’s a mechanic. It may well be a good mechanic (though it does suggest a CoG-ish idiom, when this is a parser game), but it, by itself, doesn’t do much to sell the game. (There are some cases where you do want to foreground your game mechanics, but those mechanics have to consist of more than “go places and meet people.”)

The other problem is the other usual one: this is another broad-strokes take on the story. From a brief scan, there might be salient, interesting things about the scaly creatures, or about whatever your conflict with the Adventurers’ Society is, or whatever the steampunk elements are. But I don’t know, and that’s the issue. 2.5/5

Intangibles: N/A

TOTAL: 5.5/10

The Untold Story

Art: I’m just going to quote Sam here: “This uses the default I7 cover, which is somehow more half-assed than using no cover.” 0/5

Blurb: While slightly more-fully-assed than using the default I7 cover, the blurb nevertheless is not promising: clunky/repetitive writing for what seems like a fairly standard parser game premise. 1.5/5

Intangibles: N/A (I guess I could claim this is one that’s likely to be under-scored due to the lack of art that is not the default I7 cover, but I’m not convinced that that’s the case.)

TOTAL: 1.5/10

URA Winner!

Art: Goes directly for obvious varsity-college stylings/signifiers: not the most novel take, but not the worst. (I could very easily see a version of this cover art existing that didn’t know it’d be a good idea to blur the background.) 3.5/5

Blurb: See comments on Language Arts and iamb(ici); also even more of a demonstration on how this style of blurb tends to blur together into one amorphous glob of dramatic irony. 2.5/5

Intangibles: Chilean author Alejandro Zambra has an IF-adjacent book called Multiple Choice, a novel told in the format of a standardized test. The reason why it’s good is that it’s a novel told in the form of a standardized test. The medium certainly is attention-grabbing, maybe gimmicky if you’re uncharitable, but it doesn’t exist just to exist; it exists as a vehicle for the story. It’s also a high bar that I’m not really convinced this will meet.

(To be totally honest, there are three more intangibles, both subjective but real. One I can’t really talk about [it’s entirely subjective]. Another is that the above approach is basically what I did with Human Errors, which this doesn’t not resemble on a quick click-through; and while I’m not saying it’s anywhere near as good as Zambra’s book, I am saying that I’m biased toward that approach, and that there are certain polish things I’m probably going to look out for. [In both directions; I’m sure I’ll notice some polish things here I should have done.] The third is the Linux bit, which, again, makes me grumpy.) -1

TOTAL: 5/10


Art: I kept looking at this, and looking at it again, trying to figure out whether I’d seen the exact same art in a previous comp. Probably I was thinking of last year’s Within a circle of water and sand, which isn’t quite the same art, but the same idea. This not bad at all—actually quite decent, and well-composed—just a little familiar, in this case literally. The kid-script text seemed off until I realized this was a game whose PC was, in fact, a kid, so it’s fine. (Nitpick: I really want the text to be nudged just a bit to the left, so the “d” in “Island” doesn’t crash into the surf.) 3/5

Blurb: Gets the premise across expediently, though the first sentence is a little clunky (mostly “you, a ten year old called Sam”). I do think it could be revised to adjust the balance of wonder vs. danger a bit; the blurb is tilted heavily toward the former, but I suspect the game will be tilted toward the latter. 2.5/5

Intangibles: The cover art and the game listing have two different names on them. I’m a massive hypocrite for complaining about this (it took me several years to realize I forgot to swap out the Take cover on my page for the one with my actual name, not the comp pseudonym), but it’s noticeable. -0.5

TOTAL: 5/10

Very Vile Fairy File

Art: I’m pretty sure this art is supposed to be intentionally bad, though it could at least be intentionally bad and centered. 1.5/5

Blurb: A similar sense of rushed half-assedness. It’s one sentence; there isn’t even a period; I sort of have an idea of the particular wordplay on offer here, but for once I wish the blurb hammered it home more. It probably doesn’t help, though the author had no way of knowing this, that Limerick Heist is a similar premise executed thoroughly. 1.5/5

Intangibles: This is almost certainly an Andrew Schultz game, or at least trying very hard to be one: a genre that is a lot of people’s thing, but not mine. A subjective -0.5.

TOTAL: 2.5/10

Winter Break at Hogwarts

Art: Despite existing in the 2000s, and being surrounded by Harry Potter stuff daily, I have no idea what Hogwarts looks like and had to look it up. This certainly is that, though the angle kind of makes it look like it’s Hogwarts after a severe earthquake that knocked everything a couple degrees off balance. The text clashes slightly. I don’t even know; with this, there is really only one direction you can go with the art. I guess a 3/5?

Blurb: As above, very unabashedly a self-insert Harry Potter fanfic. And as above, doesn’t establish much besides that. 2.5/5

Intangibles: I mean. I suspect there might be some copyright issues (not related to comp rules, but in general) with the art, or for that matter the existence of a game like this. -0.5

TOTAL: 5/10


Art: Extremely a Steph Cherrywell cover, generally a good thing. Specifically, it’s good because of the subtle detail; I originally had written “the drink splashing out of the cup looks kind of odd, hard to make out, kind of like the Gunyolk ghost from Super Mario RPG”—and then I actually read the blurb and realized it was totally on purpose. 5/5

Blurb: Also extremely a Steph Cherrywell blurb: pulpy, genre-y, writing that is extremely eager to please. It’s possible a little too eager to please for my personal taste, but still extremely well-executed and a model for blurbs as a whole. 4.5/5

Intangibles: I was wondering why there hadn’t been a Steph Cherrywell game in the comp in a while. The genre isn’t not totally my thing (for an example of totally my thing, refer again to Turandot), but I’m still pleased to see it. +0.5

TOTAL: 10/10, which is nice to end on!


4 posts were split to a new topic: katherine/MTW

Wow, there’s so much good stuff here. Thanks for all the work you put into this.

I downloaded the whole archive at the beginning of the comp, and it’s interesting seeing just how many of these have been updated since then.

Aw…Sam didn’t talk about this either, for the same reasons. And I’ve been hoping someone would, because it didn’t work for me at all, and I’ve been wondering if that was just my brain being weird.

The text obscures the image to the point where I couldn’t tell what it was: the crease in the bottom left read to me like the legs and rear end of someone bending over, so along with the clear woman’s face at the top I thought it was some sort of collage, and I couldn’t decipher the brown blob to the middle right at all (a barrel or something?). After reading this I went through the files and found the version without the text, but it wasn’t until seeing that that I realized it was just a painting of a woman holding a rose, and the white blob was her shoulder and the brown blob her hand.

And the blurb was sparse to the point of supporting totally misleading impressions: to me, coupled with Horror and Content Warnings, “My mother made a deal” says “she threw me to the wolves”, not “she used her influence to get me a job”, and similarly, “So here I am, working the night shift, alone with her work” has my mind going “she creates Frankenstein monsters and I’m trying to survive them until morning” or something.

Hard Puzzle 4: the “recommendations” are new, and are actually quotes from the thread here on intfiction. That’s amusing, though it’s always still slightly disconcerting to me to find someone has quoted something you said like that. Not bad, just…“Wait, what? Really?”

Now that is a great sentence. Also very on-point. Love it.

Thanks for writing up such a comprehensive selection of reviews - it’s neat to see your thoughts on the 2019 entries specifically, but also quite handy to refer to for cover/blurb advice in general.

I’d be keen to improve the cover for Girth Loinhammer and the Quest for the Unsee Elixir if I can. I added the red border around the text to try and maintain legibility, but if there’s a better way of doing that then anything you can recommend would help me out a whole lot. I get the impression that you’ve been over this several times before, though, so don’t feel obliged to explain it yet again. If there’s anywhere you could link me to, that would be just as good.


This is an enormous amount of work and really useful for anyone thinking about the design of these blurbs. Thank you so much for writing it, I loved reading it!


Belatedly, thanks; I did try to aim more toward general principles, so this would have a use beyond the immediate comp.

As far as the red border around the text—this honestly might be one of the things that is more a personal pet peeve* than a universal principle, and if there’s any context that the red-shadow-on-black does actually suit, this may be it. It’s more the fact that the way the text is placed, it obscures a great deal of the art, including the, er, focal point of the image.

(* my other major one is huge clouds of drop shadow on text, like in a lot of Twines, but that’s a losing battle)


(also, as far as the “My mother made a deal.” bit: the devil is involved, and “Morning Star” is a reference to the devil, so that impression was absolutely intended.)

Thanks for the extra detail! I’m hoping to release this one as a literal gamebook at some point, and if I go that route then a portrait book cover would offer more vertical space to fit the text in than the square format that seems to work best for IFComp. I might also be able to ditch the red outline if that gives me a less busy background - I agree the placement of the text isn’t ideal as it is now.