Mike Russo's Autumning Thumble 2023 Reviews

Y’all know the drill by now – I’ll be reviewing the games, first the Main Festival, then Back Garden, then the ones I beta tested (this time out, that’s The Familiar, Red Door Yellow Door, and Repeat the Ending, all of which have a lot to offer!) I’ll play in random order, except I did Beat Me Up Scotty first because @zed mentioned he was stuck on it in chat.

I do record and post transcripts for the parser games, at least when I remember to, and I typically include comments (marked with an asterisk), which is hopefully useful for authors and other players; if you’re an author, and you’d prefer I that I don’t post my annoying grammar-Nazi nitpicking where anyone can see it, though, just let me know and I’m glad to take down the transcript and only share it privately.

Eventually an index will go here, but since I’m starting with just one review no need to get fancy yet.


Beat Me Up Scotty, by Jky Yuio

Everyone knows that guess-the-verb issues are the worst part of parser-IF, require a frustrated player to struggling to read the author’s mind rather than being immersed in a story. Everyone knows that. But what if – stay with me here – actually, they’re the best part of parser-IF? After all, most of the things we think of parser games as being good at – say, exploring a well-defined space backed up by a robust world mode – are the product as much of design norms as the inherent affordances of the interface; see all the choice-based games that adopt compass navigation, a persistent inventory, and other typical parser-game tropes for proof. But the ability to type anything you can think of and have it (maybe) be recognized? That’s the true magic of the parser. And what’s a higher aspiration for a work of art than to create a meeting of the minds between player and author, a moment of pure, transcendent empathy?

Okay, this thesis is somewhat overblown for present purposes, inasmuch as I’m working up to a review of a gag game parodying Star Trek that gets bored of its own conceit halfway through. And the sole puzzle mechanic, of substituting in a different b-verb for “beam” in that well-known-yet-never-uttered-in-the-series catchphrase to make it appropriate for each of a series of increasingly-implausible situations, isn’t entirely novel – I think there’s a bit of Infocom’s Nord and Bert that takes a similar approach? But the wordplay tradition in IF doesn’t get that many entries, and per the above perhaps that tradition deserves a more central place in our understanding of the parser genre than it usually gets. If that’s the case, it’s worth taking Beat Me Up Scotty at least slightly seriously.

This is easier to do at the mechanical level than the narrative one. Again, this is a Star Trek pastiche – you play as Kirk, and are typically accompanied by Bones, Spock, and of course Scotty, with various other characters and familiar aliens flitting in and out of each vignette, with everything the silliest version of itself. There’s an initial arc of scenes that feel loosely connected, building up to a confrontation with some Klingons, but at about the halfway mark even this loose conceit is abandoned and you’ll find yourself going shopping or drag-racing, in scenarios that seem reverse-engineered from the puzzles rather than having even a parodic relationship to actually-existing Star Trek, before the game shrugs and decides it’s over. There aren’t many roses to smell along the way, either; the game’s custom engine uses hyperlinks for key nouns, which you can click in lieu of typing examine, but there are typically only a few on offer in each sequence, including your crewmates who usually just spout a randomly selected quote from the show.

For all that, the puzzles struck me as fairly well-designed. The basic concept is simple enough, and the help text pretty clearly describes how things work – plus the title de facto spoils one of the earliest puzzles, which I think is a canny way of providing some training wheels to the player. The challenge with these types of puzzles is that they’re often either far too simple, with the player immediately getting the answer, or way too tough, leading to hair-pulling (there are no hints or walkthrough, though you can PASS to get through a section that’s stumping you). Here, I think the difficulty is well judged; I got stuck a few times, but mostly when I figured out the answer it seemed obvious in retrospect (I was ready to get annoyed with the game when it was prompting me for a musical instrument and it wouldn’t accept BASS ME UP SCOTTY – then I realized no, it was me who was being dumb). The exceptions are one puzzle that requires knowing a bit of non-US slang – y’all are still getting revenge on us for that baseball puzzle in Zork II, huh? – and one that involved picking a noun instead of a verb, which felt overly idiomatic to me. But in general, BMUS does a good job of communicating the situation and leading the player to the answer without spelling it out too clearly, all in fairly compact prose that gets across its jokes, too.

This isn’t one for the ages by any means; if nothing else, I wanted it to be more IF-y, with more scope for poking around to find additional clues, and probably a more open structure rather than a linear one that presents you with only one puzzle at a tie. And even speaking as someone who wrote dumb Star Trek parodies for two different school presentations, I wanted the humor to be a bit more character- and situation-driven than the anything-goes absurdism it actually adopts. Still, for all that BMUS doesn’t pretend to be anything but a fun time-waster, there’s amusement to be had here, especially if you play with a friend or two – it’s hard to beat the rush of rifling through the million-odd words in the English language and coming up with just the right one.


This sounds like a great game! What an amazingly captivating title! Too bad I can’t find it in the list of Things. There’s a yellow door in there though…


Oh, right – since I tested it a couple weeks ago, in my inertial reference frame it’s receding so I’m seeing it blue-shifted relative to you (Repeat the Ending’s orange-eyed woman’s irises are a little muddy too, though the crow in The Familiar still looks black, thankfully).


The Kuolema, by Ben Jackson

Ah, dilemmas! The overwhelming temptation I’m facing here is to open this review by talking about the novelty of the format, since The Kuolema is a choice-based game implemented in Google Forms – but I’m going to resist that temptation, if only because I’m a lapsed Catholic who’s belatedly realized Lent is almost over and I haven’t done anything to mark the occasion. So what would my first paragraph be if it were just another Twine game? Let’s see…

What is it that makes a ghost ship so compelling? The idea of a derelict vessel, devoid of life and presenting an enigma equally intriguing and fatal to investigate, is a freak occurrence here in real life – there’s what, the Mary Celeste? – but beyond literary antecedents like Dracula’s Demeter, it’s become a common motif in gaming, from historical takes like Obra Dinn to yer sci-fi Dead Space-alikes, and has launched a million direct-to-SyFy Bermuda Triangle movies. From a production point of view, this is understandable enough – you get spooky atmosphere, isolated protagonists, and a built-in reason you don’t need too many speaking parts. For an audience, though, the appeal is a bit less obvious. After noodling on it a bit, I think part of the answer is that a ship is both a place and a machine – the empty spaces on an abandoned vessel aren’t just rendered forlorn by the lack of people, they become purposeless and useless, adding poignancy, sure, but also danger (what if part of the machine malfunctions?)

The eponymous ship in The Kuolema fits this model twice over – because it’s not built just for travel, but also to perform novel experiments in clean energy. It was on the verge of some great breakthrough when it suddenly went dark, before popping up again, adrift and on the edge of Chinese territorial waters. As the representative of some unnamed agency, it’s up to you to keep it in international waters, figure out what disaster led to its abandonment, and discover the secrets its crew were keeping from each other.

A story like this could lean a couple different ways, and despite a few technothriller touches, we’re firmly in pulp territory – there’s a mysterious antagonist in a gas mask, the scientific genius has delusions of grandeur, an inevitably spy is working for the Russians, and you’ll probably work out what the deal is with your mysterious contact within five minutes of meeting him. All of which is to say the story beats feel very familiar, but when I stop to think about it I can’t remember anything that deploys exactly the same tropes The Kuolema does, which speaks to how effectively it inhabits its genre.

The prose is of a piece with this unpretentious approach. Here are some excerpts of descriptions from a few early locations:

The top deck (Deck 4) is open to the elements and the rain-slick deck reflects the glinting lights as they shine and flicker through the downpour. The wind is howling and the white crests of the sea are visible out in the darkness.

The stairs are awash with water and the ship continues to sway and lurch. You concentrate on keeping your footing as you cautiously step down into the darkness. There are a few dim lights still on below deck, just enough for you to make out your surroundings.

It’s pitch black, with the only light coming from the corridor behind you. You move towards one of the windows to see the foaming waves outside. Suddenly the room is lit by a flash of lightning - giving you a brief imprint of the space you’re in. There are several tables and faux-leather seats spread around the room, along with a canteen serving area and a separate bar. Glasses and bottles litter the area – some rolling across the floor casting long, dark shadows – making it seem like creatures scuttling away from the flashes of light.

This effectively conveys a vibe, and that vibe, clearly, is “dark”. Sure, it’d be stronger with some more synonyms (and fewer comma splices), but given the kind of game this is it’d be easy to tip into ridiculousness by banging on about the tenebrous murk of the gloaming, so there’s nothing wrong with taking the safer path. Also, the writing isn’t stuck doing the heavy lifting all on its lonesome, since the game’s well illustrated with various 3d renders, documents, and diagrams that all fit the menacing mood. And once the game moves into its final acts, the one-note chiaroscuro gets replaced with some surprisingly-punchy action sequences.

The gameplay also doesn’t make waves. The Kuolema is one of those parser-aping choice game, with map-based navigation and puzzles that primarily involve getting through locked doors, figuring out computer passwords or safe combinations, and collecting three parts of an important device. It’s all stuff you’ve seen before – heck, you even need to solve a crossword to get one key clue! – but it’s workmanlike, with the various bits of gating making exploration feel rewarding, and the barriers putting up enough of a fight to seem satisfying without being too tough (with the possible exception of that crossword, which does rely on knowing some nautical slang).

And now, finally, we have to get to the Google Form-ness of it all, because the process of moving around and solving these puzzles is heavily influenced by the game’s format. Google Forms, for those of y’all not familiar, is Alphabet’s answer to Survey Monkey*, allowing for radio-button style selection of choices as well as text input. Interface-wise, then, it seems like it would offer the best of both the choice-based and parser worlds – but the wrinkle is that it doesn’t track world state. That means that the game doesn’t know what you have in your inventory, or what you’ve already talked to an NPC about.

The author’s done a clever job of getting around this limitation, it must be said. For one thing, the game’s broken into three different files, making it easy to jump in and out (a necessity, since the lack of persistence means there’s no save function) and also allowing for the progression of the plot to alter the environment after each major chokepoint is reached. Inventory puzzles are also handled by typing in the name of the object rather than the honor-system approach taken by old gamebooks (“if you have the crowbar, turn to page 58, but please don’t cheat”), and each usually has some nickname or codeword associated with it, so random guessing won’t get you anywhere. There’s still some wonkiness (I saw options about the computer password needed in the security room before I first visited said room and learned there was a computer) but between careful design and careful writing, the game works much better on this score than I expected it to. There are even a few places where the player’s choices can lead to different outcomes, though these all appear to be in the final section, of necessity.

Still, for all that it’s hard for me to imagine a better implementation of IF in Google Forms, I’m not sure The Kuolema justifies its choice of systems. This is a well-done but straightforward piece of IF that doesn’t seem to take advantage of any unique affordances of Google Forms (it could have been fun to see what choices other players made at different parts of the story, for example); as a result, even as I was enjoying myself I kept thinking “this would work just as well, and be smoother, in Twine”. I’m guessing the advantage is that Google Forms doesn’t require any programming chops, but of course that’s immaterial to the player – and considering how complex this thing must have been to orchestrate, learning a standard IF language might have been less work!

Turn that around, though: towards the beginning of this review I talked about how one thing that I like about ghost ship stories is that they present idle machines, inviting the question of how they broke down. If The Kuolema, in a postmodern twist, is itself a mechanism whose workings are clunkier and more exposed than they could be, perhaps that’s just function following form? At any rate, this is a wreck that’s worth investigating, and I hope to see more IF from this author (though I wouldn’t be sad if their next game used a more conventional system).

* I was going to include a crack here about how big tech companies can be threatened by anything, but then I looked up some financial data and learned that Survey Monkey has a $1.5 billion market cap, which I guess is what it is but sure feels like it’ll sit next to pets.com in some future textbook about the ridiculousness of the various turn-of-the-millennium tech bubbles.


Aesthetics Over Plot, by ro-han

Here’s the story of my worst job interview: back in the halcyon days of 2005, I was a first-year law student looking for a summer internship, and after getting a series of close-but-no-cigar rejections from the various human and civil rights organizations I wanted to work for, I was starting to get desperate. That’s why, to my shame, when I saw that the judge who was looking for one more summer law clerk was a George W. Bush appointee, I went ahead and applied anyway, figuring that the nonpartisan norms of the judiciary meant that she might nonetheless be a reasonable person (2005 was a different time). Turns out my weird resume – a Caltech astrophysics degree, then a combination of novel writing and medical billing work for two years before I started law school – piqued enough interest to get me an interview, so I took the subway downtown to the federal courthouse in my nicest clothes.

My nicest clothes were a button-down shirt and some khakis, I should note, the aforementioned previous educational and work experiences not being ones that required one to own a suit; the economics of the graduate student loan program also aren’t such as to encourage splashing out on unnecessary sartorial expenses.

When I got to the judge’s chambers and gave my name, I noticed a definite chill in the air; when I started the interview, with the judge and her three existing law clerks (tall, interchangeable blonds who could all have moonlighted as minibosses in an Indiana Jones video game) the chill became downright frigid. The first question was more of a statement, the statement being “frankly I’m shocked you came here wearing that.” It went downhill from there, despite my protestations that I’d buy a suit or two if I got hired; the other bit I remember quite clearly was that, as I was explaining that I’d decided to shift from science to law because 9/11, and our country’s disastrous decision to adopt illegal wars, extrajudicial incarceration, and straight-up torture in response, made me want to make more of a real-world impact with my life, the judge interjected to ask “what about the atom bomb? That had a lot of real-world impact.”

Getting sneered at by a right-winger has nothing on the travails the protagonist of Aesthetics Over Plot, though: similarly a science major facing an uncertain job market, they’re forced to try to win gainful employment by going to a party and networking.

As that setup maybe indicates, this is a comedy choice-based game, with the dominant mode of humor being absurdism. I don’t always enjoy that kind of thing – it’s often funnier to the author than the audience – but here, the jokes landed more often than not. Here’s an early one as the premise is established:

based on your online research, you now know that the best jobs are acquired through networking. Upset at your choice of studying biology over computer science, you smack your computer mouse to the table only to continue reading and find out that the website is talking about networking between people.

I was also pleased to realize that the game wasn’t going to start at the party – instead, there’s a prep sequence where you can choose which of several books to read, and what outfit to wear, to improve your chances of making a good first impression. A planning phase followed by a “mission” is a sturdy structure for a piece of choice-based IF (this is the Lady Thalia formula, which I love), providing some player agency and teasing alternate possibilities without requiring too much of a combinatorial explosion, so my hopes were high as I skimmed through How to Win Friends and Influence People and put on my suit (look, I’ve learned my lesson).

The main piece of the game I didn’t find quite so compelling, though. The people you’re trying to network with aren’t all human, which could lead to some good jokes but is mostly just played straight – and since the blurb spoils this detail, the ridiculousness of discussing terms of employment with a donkey rather than a techbro didn’t quite land. Similarly, there’s an encounter with someone you’ve got a previous personal connection to, but since that connection isn’t established until the moment you bump into them, it doesn’t feel meaningful. There are definitely still highlights (I liked the gag about the cactus-boss not offering health insurance, despite his tendency to make employees bleed) but even though there’s a fair bit of agency, with player choices leading to a large number of different outcomes, for me Aesthetics Over Plot didn’t quite manage to escape the tragic flaw of absurdist games, which is the plot coming off as a sequence of disconnected, random events rather than leading to anything in particular.

There are also indications of inadequate testing, beyond a higher-than-average concentration of typos. It’s nice that various choices earn you achievements, for examples, since that’s a nice way of helping the player track what they’ve already seen and what branches remain to be plumbed – except there doesn’t appear to be a way to actually review those Achievements to see which you have and which remain to be found. Along the same lines, it was gratifying to see that visiting the About page rewards you with a small Easter Egg, but less gratifying to realize that the page doesn’t link back to the game. And there was one place where the game didn’t seem to recognize my choice of reading material.

I’m left feeling like it’s a first draft of a game, showing promise but in need of refinement to sand down those rough edges and workshop the gags so they fit into an organic whole (for one thing, there’s a light anti-capitalist subtext that’s just sort of there, but could helpfully be elucidated). If I was in charge of hiring, I’d take a chance on this one – but I’d have some notes for whoever was going to be managing it.

(Oh, and as for the summer of 2005? The story has a happy ending after all. A few days later, I got an a call from a human rights organization working on a report on detainee deaths in U.S. custody, asking if I could come in for an interview later that morning; it was a laundry day, so I rolled up in a t-shirt and sweater but got the job anyway. So maybe that worst interview actually wound up being the best, since I’m pretty sure I would have hated that clerkship).


Your Honor, I wasn’t alive at the time; you were.

Ahem… I’m told I’m great at parties.

Did she, uh, ever call you back and offer you a position (even though you didn’t take it)?


No, but she did have the decency to have her office wait two or three hours before letting me know I didn’t get the job, to make it seem like they at least briefly considered the decision.



Loved reading your review as always and duly noted every point. Thank you for playing the game. :smiling_face:


Thanks for playing it all the way through – and writing such a considered review!

Really nice insight, that’s definitely the sort of tone I was aiming for.

…and a fair point! I guess I liked the idea of the challenge (well, it seemed like a good idea when I started!), but duly noted for the future :laughing:


Marie Waits, by Dee Cooke

Though I live in Southern California now, many of my younger years were spent in dense East Coast cities where subways were the major way of getting around. In those pre-Google Maps days, navigation was a stop-by-stop affair, as I’d get to know the slowly-expanding island of streets around each of the stations I’d frequent. Occasionally, though, I’d have to venture slightly further afield or take a wrong turn, only to realize that I’d wandered away from one island only to find my way to the edge of another – a sudden, bewildering spark of understanding as I realized this connected to that, and two streets I’d grown independently familiar with were only a block or two away the whole time.

What this has to do with IF is that over the past few years I’ve come to recognize Dee Cooke as one of the most prolific and talented authors of Adventuron games – even helping test the IFDB Award-winning Things that Happened in Houghtonbridge! – without for a second connecting the dots and realizing that she also wrote the very first Adventuron game I ever came across, the 2020 IntroComp entry Pre-Marie which I played just as I was getting back into IF.

So OK, I didn’t remember the name, but the reason this felt like a revelation is that despite being a short game I played three years ago where not much happens, Pre-Marie came back to me as a flash – it was simultaneously cozy and creepy, following a woman through a small British village as she got ready to investigate a sketchily-defined mystery. And as the blurb for the present game states, this one is another excerpt from the larger Marie project – a much-later segment involving Marie’s escape from the clutches of a ruthless conspiracy, albeit implemented in PunyInform rather than Adventuron.

Presenting a vignette from the middle of a larger work as a stand-alone game is of course much harder than doing so with the first act; balancing the need for enough exposition to orient the player against the risk of excessive infodumping that could undermine the eventual full experience is a tricky task. That’s especially the case here because a lot of stuff has clearly happened in between the end of Pre-Marie and the opening of Marie Waits, inasmuch as she’s found the conspiracy, and is presently tied up at the bottom of a pit waiting for them to do away with her (the title is a singularly bad piece of advice – there’s a three-hour time limit, which goes quick at a minute a turn). At first the game plays rather coy with what, exactly, the baddies are up to and how Marie got here, but after solving a few puzzles, some well-judged details start to emerge, providing enough backstory to connect point A to point B and drop some intriguing hints about what’s at stake while still leaving more than enough enticing blanks.

Marie Waits is also neatly self-contained in terms of its action. It’s all a single escape sequence, meaning that the ending, while certainly a cliff-hanger, feels like a satisfying resolution as it marks the point where Marie can begin to turn the tables on her captors. It also ends at a turning point in Marie’s relationship with her husband, Cecil – this I think makes logical sense but didn’t land with much impact, since while Cecil is mentioned several times throughout, of course he’s never on-screen so I wasn’t as invested in their marriage as I presumably would be at this point in the full game. This more emotional plot beat is also maybe a bit shoved aside by the need to ensure Marie’s basic survival. While the game just has the one overall time limit, it does a good job of communicating escalating stakes, revealing more of what the baddies are capable of and requiring Marie to take more and more desperate action as the sequence progresses.

As for the puzzles that gate this progress, they’re as old-school as you’d expect to see in a PunyInform game. There are a lot of locked doors and some simple tool use, all cleanly implemented (save the slight awkwardness around doors that, as someone used to the baseline Inform 7 implementation, I’ve come to expect from PunyInform games). A few of them do suffer from adventure-game logic, though – there’s a bit halfway through where you need to dig in a particular place to progress, but I didn’t notice any in-game clue indicating why that should be the case; the number of creatively-hidden backup keys the bad guys have stashed around the place also ultimately edges on the excessive.

My other minor critique is that the length felt a bit odd to me – I think Marie Waits would have been a more satisfying experience had it been either a little longer or a little shorter. On the former side of the ledge, there are some repeated tropes (the aforementioned backup keys, and a tendency for unexpected objects to come tumbling out of the furniture) that edge on feeling overused in such a brief game, where I think they’d sit better in a longer work. Conversely, there’s a short final sequence after escaping the compound that feels slight in comparison to what’s come before, lending the endgame a slight sense of anticlimax.

This last criticism, though, is really just another way of saying I’m looking forward to seeing Marie tout court, so I can experience the full progression of the plot, character development, and puzzles. Marie is a winning protagonist, and the rural English milieu Cooke conjures up is one I find appealing; possibly-occult conspiracy investigation is also a genre that’s easy to enjoy. Hopefully it won’t be another three year wait to see the final product, but regardless, this time I’ll remember what’s come before, eager to connect these two islands with the full archipelago.

marie waits mr.txt (73.1 KB)


The Sacred Shovel of Athenia, by AndyG

I think everyone who’s been around the Spring Thing and/or IF Comp block a few times starts to develop an informal taxonomy of the kinds of games that tend to show up – beyond formal distinctions of platform and genre, after a bit of experience one starts to recognize and group together the custom-parser heartbreakers, the choice-based cris de coeur, the banged-out-in-a-week minigame. For me, that list also includes the Zorkian Throwback: every once in a while, you see a game that seems to emerge from a world where IF development stopped in 1982, taking direct inspiration from the oldest of the old-school games. On the one hand, this is kind of cool, like cracking open a time capsule and vicariously experiencing a period I was too young to appreciate the first time out (I was a precocious kid, but at eighteen months I was notably bad at text adventures). One the other hand – well, let’s just say there’s a reason I’ve never gone back and played Zork.

I think it’s fair to assign The Sacred Shovel of Athenia to this sub-sub-genre – heck, it announces in the blurb that it’s in the style of the early Infocom games – and it’s got many of the hallmarks, from an anything-goes, anachronistic settling to unannounced Zarfian cruelty to terse but enthusiastic prose. It does have one element that belies the stereotype, though, which is that instead of gathering a bunch of treasure in order to win the game, you’re trying to win over a cat (er, in order to gather a treasure and win the game. But still!) There’s nothing especially unpredictable about how you do that – it’s still largely medium-dry-goods puzzles, albeit with one satisfying, and fair, guess-the-verb bit – but I enjoyed having the focus be on making a friend rather than denuding a locale of its valuables, and while the cat isn’t implemented especially deeply, enough of its personality came through that I was protective of the little guy by the time the endgame came along.

The more Zorky elements of the game didn’t work as well for me, though. Some of these are maybe a matter of style – there are a lot of items and actions with default Inform descriptions and responses here, which give some 1980s flavor but is hard to justify in this day and age, and there’s a combat sequence at the end which seems to have some randomized elements that make it confusing for me to tell whether or not I was on track to solve the puzzle. But allowing the player to render the game unwinnable without warning feels like a different kettle of fish, especially when avoiding the dead-man walking state requires behaving in an unethical manner that the game hasn’t previously imputed to the player character (small hint: if, having spent your coin, you leave the shop with only one new item, you’ll need to undo or restart). And including an NPC (the aforementioned shopkeeper) who doesn’t seem to respond to any conversational system at all is a wasted opportunity.

There are also some implementation niggles, beyond a fair number of typos and misspellings. I got thrown out of the shop the first few times I tried to visit due to their no pets policy, except the cat was three screens away at the time. Various actions that are described as shifting items around (GIVE THING TO CAT, BUY THING, and FISH) don’t always actually move the item into or out of your inventory, requiring you to manually TAKE or DROP the thing to progress – which is especially annoying since available objects aren’t always listed in the room descriptions.

What’s here is occasionally quite charming – again, the cat is cute, and there’s a feint towards a classic adventure-game puzzle solution that made me laugh (th’ ol’ newspaper under the door trick). But these elements of the design felt like they were somewhat at war with the old-school bits, which didn’t seem like they were included because they fit this story but out of a sense that puzzley IF should work in a particular way. The author mentions having been stymied when working on other, longer games due to scope creep and other issues, so it’s worth congratulating a first-timer on having successfully completed a game and gotten it in front of the world – but maybe also worth suggesting that next time out, some of the approaches of the past can stay there.

shovel mr.txt (111.7 KB)


Thanks for your great review Mike!

Eeek, I really hope that too :scream:

It will definitely be a prioritised WIP this year!


@Deuslrae Hi Mike. Thanks for the spot-on review of “Beat Me Up Scotty”. I shall quote you on the perfect line;

BMUS doesn’t pretend to be anything but a fun time-waster

Which ought to be part of the blurb :slight_smile:


Thanks for the review Mike: I have some time to respond so here goes :-

— as well as –

I make no excuses for my ‘zorkian/infocom’ style or prose in this game : I am ‘old’ (at least in body if not in mind :slight_smile: ) It was the ‘era’ I was exposed to and I even wrote this game with some I6 to try to ‘emulate’ the original Infocom parser responses and terse prose (the prose in those games are limited by memory constraints [not much of an issue now in ‘modern day’ IF ] : Not sure that it worked fully as I wanted though, you live and learn :slight_smile: ) - Hence, my ‘goto’ language for most of my ‘unreleased’ games is ‘ZIL’ (or @vaporware ‘ZILF’ ) I chose inform7 here because I find it ‘quicker’ to get a working game.

Again an ‘Infocomesque’ trait : I tried to make the ‘random’ elements favour the player - but I did notice that in your play through, you had more than a ‘fair share’ of ‘bad’ outcomes! (may change this even more?)

Yes - The wife (one of my few play testers) picked up on this one (and wasn’t too happy about the ethics either!) : I decided to leave it in as this is a fantasy game and I thought that being a ‘law abiding citizen’ could be ‘suspended’ for the sake of a simple puzzle (Although you are probably right, that it could have been ‘signposted’ better).

All in all - I like ‘old school’ and I designed the game in that vein - I completely understand that ‘modern’ IF could use (and DOES use) the medium in much more interesting and diverse ways and that perhaps (If I get the time and inclination [and an idea for a story that I am invested in]) my next inform7 game will lean more to the fact that you are no longer governed by the limits of ‘8bit’ machines (or even 16bit for that matter!) and not everything as to be restricted to the 80’s mechanics.

Just as a ‘by-the-way’ I have already started to try to ‘fix’ some of the issues in the play through you attached and found it enormously useful. I am not sure of the ‘etiquette’ for amending a game - mid comp - so may just wait to release a ‘post comp’ version at the end - AndyG


Etiolated Light, by Lassiter W.

Kudos to this game out the gate: I have a pretty robust vocabulary at my advanced age, but “etiolated” is a new one on me, a neat botanical term for a plant made weak and pale by lack of sunlight. It’s a nerdily appropriate title for a horror game depicting the gradual disintegration of a protagonist cut off from hearth and home. Etiolated Light is a straightforward enough Twine game, but it’s got evocative writing and well-done choices that provide a sense of agency despite a generally linear plot. There are a few missed opportunities, but it’s still very much worth a look.

What we’ve got here is a take on the Bluebeard legend, with a marriage contract signed when the protagonist was young lifting their family out of some semi-specified money troubles (you can pick some of the details to determine how sympathetic your parents are) but dooming them a matrimonial life that’s creepy AF, seeing you move into an eerie island mansion with a pale, mysterious spouse who’s got a range of doomed and/or threatening family members. Over the short but well-paced plot, the protagonist misses their friends and parents, meets the “gardener” who seems to know much of the buried history of the mansion, and confronts an implacable force bent on their ruin. Throughout, you’ve got a good number of options about who to trust and how much, which work well given that the menage between protagonist, spouse, and gardener winds up being the linchpin of the game’s climax.

The prose is a highlight. It doesn’t quite nail the delirious heights of the high gothic style by my lights (and it could use another editing pass), but it’s still a pleasure to read. Here’s a bit from the opening passage:

You are sitting in the office of an official. You don’t know what exact title they hold, only that the weight of it keeps you quiet as you sit beside your parents.

They too are nervous, eager, entirely unlike the mirrored pair across the table.

The man and woman across the table are austere, straight-backed, dead eyed. One smiles and the others’ face slackens, as if the expression is something they’re passing back and forth between them.

That’s a great final simile, making clear how eerie it must be to interact with these people. And this bit brought a smile to my face:

“The Cahncor ‘home’ is sprawling and carnivorous.”

The use of “sprawling” cues the reader to expect a synonym to come next, so the use of “carnivorous” instead of “cavernous” is an effective feint.

As mentioned, the piece could use one more trip past an editor’s pencil – that first excerpt is slightly let down by the repeated “across the table” and the apostrophe error in “others’”, and there are a few typos I noticed, like “earthly” for “earthy” and a “BLABLABLA” blazoned across the top of a passage which I think must be placeholder text that survived into the final release. It’s all pretty small stuff, though.

Perhaps a more significant critique is that I didn’t feel like Etiolated Light winds up as gothic as its setup primed me to expect. Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, once the ultimate horror of the situation reveals itself, it strikes me as a rather intellectual business – there is a malevolent power at work, unsurprisingly, but it operates according to a legalistic take on the lex talionis that at least to me felt somewhat at odds with the more emotional and Romantic approach that animates what I think of as mainline gothic fiction. This could just be a stylistic choice, but it’s one that finds negative reinforcement in the somewhat schematic nature of the supporting characters. I don’t want to critique too much, since establishing compelling personalities in a short work is tough, all the more so when the plot requires the author to play at least a little coy with their motivations, but I found the spouse and gardener appealing enough but not especially compelling – which is unfortunate since the climactic set of decisions turn on the crux of their fates.

It occurs to me that another minor complaint I had might also play into this. I’ve used vague language for the genders of the various characters, because it’s up to the player to determine them (protagonist included). I’m of two minds about this – inclusivity that welcomes a variety of different players into a story is a good thing, of course. But at the same time, the gothic is a highly gendered genre; I mentioned the Bluebeard resonance of the setup, and I think I’d read the story differently if Etiolated Light were playing the trope straight, with a bride leaving home to stay with a threatening bridegroom, or if it were gender-flipped so that the man finds his agency reduced as he moves in with his new wife – to say nothing of how the setup would land with two male or two female characters in the leading roles, and what impact throwing a third man or woman into the mix would have. To be clear, any of these could make for compelling stories by my lights – and given the “LBGT” tag on the game’s entry form, the author seems to have some specific view of what a canonical set of genders for these people might be. But by leaving these as blanks to be filled by the player, the author’s robbed of the opportunity to create some specificity and play with the gendered assumptions that haunt this premise. In another genre, this Choice-of-Games player-insert approach could certainly work, but for a gothic piece, I think it’s a missed opportunity.

In any event, these are criticisms aimed at explaining why I enjoyed the game but could have liked it more, and for those who are less fussy about their horror genres, the above critiques probably won’t mean very much at all. I’m glad to have come across Etiolated Light, and it’s an early highlight of my Spring Thing experience; no feeble growth, this.


Isn’t it unfair how life doesn’t structure setups when we are able to take advantage of them? Young, looking for first job me would be unlikely to do anything but stammer at that. When old, past the point of self-editing, me would probably fire back “So did Auschwitz you preening f^@k.” But then, no one gives old, DGAF me those kinds of lines anymore.

Kudos escaping with your soul.


A wish fullfillment fantasy of mine has always been the various things I’d do in the job market after winning the powerball. Forget retiring. Probably Office Space meets Punk’d/Impractical Jokers. Interviewing and getting fired on a regular basis would probably be a pleasant hobby.

Much easier to speak truth to power when that power no longer has power over you.


Oh good call and without question. At this point in my life I respond more strongly to power differential abuse than political content. When the two are combined…


Hi Mike, just returning to one of your points in your review - that’s something I debated. Collecting all choices would have been interesting, but in the end, it would have required users to submit their ‘form’ at the end of each part, resulting in 3 huge and very ungainly spreadsheets where you’d have to wade through all the choices to find anything interesting. In the end, I decided to let people choose if they wanted to submit feedback at the very end (it’s entirely optional) and focus just on the final choice.

Once I got enough data, I could then create a simple visualisation of this. Now enough people have kindly submitted feedback, I can show how this is tracking at the end of the story (and in the walkthrough too).

In summary, based on submissions so far, almost 80% are feeling optimistic!