Mike Russo's IF Comp 2020 Reviews

The Copyright of Silence, by Ola Hansson

The Copyright of Silence has what’s probably the most genius premise of all 104 games in the Comp (I’m not quite at the end so there’s room for an upset but it’d be pretty shocking). It’s an optimization puzzle where you need to manage pet allergies, kitchen mishaps, and social dynamics in order to maximize the amount of time you can stay quiet while sitting opposite mid-20th-century avant-garde composer John Cage. This works as an amazingly silly joke about Cage’s most famous piece, 4’33”, which is popularly though inaccurately summarized as “four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence”, but it also helps prove one of the deeper themes of the piece: turns out there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of silence!

The presentation is also top-notch, with one niggle: the game is presented as a view of Cage’s four-room apartment, with always-on text blurbs listing which characters are in each room, and then longer text with dialogue, actions, and options in the location where your character is. The floor-plan art is clean and fits the mid-century aesthetic, and it’s helpful to always be able to monitor what’s happening everywhere in the apartment at a glance. The fly in the ointment is that to fit the whole apartment on one screen, each room’s sub-window is fairly small, meaning I had to do a little more squinting than I liked.

Gameplay-wise, TCoS appears to all be one big, heavily timing-based puzzle hinging on managing your conversation with Cage – there are various intervening events that might interrupt your silence, and being quiet too long in the wrong circumstances will anger him and dock your score. There are several more discrete puzzles to solve, like what to do about an irritating dog-and-parrot pair (shades of Jay Schilling’s Edge of Chaos!), and tasks to accomplish, but they all require specific steps to be taken at specific times, so they’re incorporated into the overall structure. And here’s where the game started to break down for me, as the steps required to make progress can feel pretty tedious.

Quick autobiographical side-note that will come back to TCoS, I promise: when I was doing math and physics problem sets in my college days, there was a particular point in many problems where you’d have figured out the overall approach to take, sussed out how to set up the relevant equations, determined the angle of attack by identifying any needed substitutions or assumptions, and now just needed to spend half an hour wrestling some god-awful, notebook-wide integral or 7 by 7 matrix multiplication into submission through theoretically simple, but fiddly and irritating, application of basic math. We called this “grunge”, and unfortunately once I got over the initial hump of figuring out the basics, I found TCoS pretty grungy.

This takes several forms. First off, a major gameplay element is a piano which somehow conceals helpful objects on particular notes, but you have to select the right octave and note to get what you’re looking for, rather than being able to see everything at once. In each playthrough, a postcard arrives during a brief window that might point you towards one of the useful notes to search, but it would require a lot of repetition to find them all, and I think intercepting the mail is fatal to your progress – or I suppose you could just try looking at each piano-note one by one, but either way you’re in for a lot of grunge.

Second, the conversation with Cage proceeds in a very scripted fashion, with some critical dialogue options available only at certain blink-and-you-missed-it opportunities (before searching the piano, for example, you need to ask him about it, which as far as I can tell is only possible quite early in the conversation). The conversation pauses when you’re not in the same room, but the game has a hard deadline at 7 pm, meaning that any fiddling around you do reduces your ability to experiment with the later stages of the conversation.

Exacerbating the previous two problems, there’s no quick way to reset or restart the loop that I could find, and since each playthrough steps through 7 minutes in 7 second intervals, that’s a lot of clicking to have to go through once you realize you’ve fluffed something up, or have an idea you want to try. As a result, while I was able to solve several of the puzzles and get a bit over halfway to the goal, after about 45 minutes of play my enthusiasm wore out. With that said, I’ll probably try to pick this one up again when there’s less time pressure, since there are fun hints of hidden bonus puzzles and alternate endings, and I do really love the setup – and I suppose it’s in keeping with the theme that TCoS isn’t over-concerned with player friendliness.

1 Like

Thanks for a very thorough review which cheered me up though it also confirms some of my long-standing qualms about the game. I see what you mean by “grungy” (as an aside I felt the same way about a John Conway puzzle that a mathematician friend sent me a few days ago – it started as a fun logic puzzle but ended with mind-numbing trial and error additions).

You don’t really need the objects in the piano (though they can help - as well as add some understanding to the story and some points to your score). I actually added the piano objects in the final stretch of development just as a bonus and because I thought a game about John Cage really needed a prepared piano!

It is true that you need to ask about the piano to know that it is prepared and searchable, but that question should be available all the time (once you have been to the lounge and seen the piano), regardless of how far you are into the flow of the main conversation. It is what I call an “extra topic” and is marked purple to show that it is distinct from the other dialogue options. It might, however, be hidden by another “extra topic” as just one extra topic at a time is allowed. But the “extra topics” (all purple) are queued up, so asking the later ones will eventually make the piano topic available again.

I can see how it might be confusing though… Before beta-testing I didn’t even use different colors, making players miss them completely. But it is obvious now that I should have made more of an effort to make it clearer. I really don’t know how though – I have to ponder on it.

Thanks for making me aware of the restart issue. It confirms that I should add a reset/restart button for the post comp update. I just press F5 to refresh the browser and egocentrically assumed everyone would do the same. But I have noticed that most other games here give you an explicit button for restarting. If I can figure out how to save game sessions in Harlowe I should maybe add that option too.

Really appreciate all the great feedback and glad you enjoyed it before “the grunge”!

1 Like

A Catalan Summer, by Neibucrion

Usually when I play a piece of IF – or read a book or watch a movie, for that matter – my brain immediately tries to classify it, slotting it into a genre or identifying the key themes or thinking about its antecedents or otherwise fitting it into some sort of broader framework. This is just the way human beings process information, I suppose, and don’t get me wrong, it’s often helpful for understanding the intentions behind a piece and engaging with broader movements and trends. At the same time, it’s rather exhilarating to come across something like A Catalan Summer which had me constantly second-guessing my assumptions of what it was trying to do, not because of self-conscious zaniness or surrealism (those are hoary subgenres all their own) but because its goals, approach, and setting are just so content to do their own thing. The blurb promises “historical gay melodrama,” which is already not an uh especially common IF Comp vibe, but even that fails to truly communicate everything that’s going on here.

I worry that opening paragraph makes it sound like A Catalan Summer is bonkers. It’s not bonkers! It’s actually quite grounded, focusing on an upper-class Catalonian family and their personal and political travails in the aftermath of World War I, with subplots about repressed sexuality, yes, but also some around labor unrest, and separatist politics, as well as lots of very well-described but frankly superfluous detail about the architectural flourishes of the family mansion. True, pretty much everybody (you wind up guiding all four members of the family) can wind up making Telenovela-style decisions – and there’s a supernatural element that pretty much comes out of nowhere – but I think the game would still work well if you opted out of all the smoldering-glances stuff, and if anything, I feel like the writing errs too much towards understatement rather than reveling in passion and intensity (this is all quite PG-13 rated). Though then again, there’s also the gay brothel you can visit and choose, for your night’s companion, a panto Viking complete with horned helmet. So maybe it’s a little bonkers.

Gameplay-wise, you navigate through the family house looking for people to talk to, and then make choices. The house is bigger and more open than it needs to be – possibly to create space for the aforementioned architecture-porn, like let me tell you, if you like festoons, this game has you covered – since all you can do is talk to people, and most locations are empty most of the time. But I liked the ability to wander about, including a few extramural excursions that allow for some sightseeing and local color, even if I’m used to this kind of interface be deployed for puzzlefests like A Murder in Fairyland.
The pacing is quite brisk – every ten minutes or so, you’re whisked into the next vignette with a different viewpoint character, and the choices are well-considered, providing enough granularity to give a sense for the voices of each character and allow the player to make significant choices, while not belaboring every bit of dialogue. Sometimes it’s too quick: you can go from flirtation to scthupping to post-coital bliss in one line of dialogue, and I had one sequence where a character survived some attempted violence, went to a hospital, and recovered, all in the space of two short paragraphs. But better too quick than too slow, I think. It also builds to a nice climax, with a final party scene where you can choose which family members to inhabit: you can orchestrate a passionate tryst with one character, then have another stumble upon them in flagrante delicto for maximum shock effect.

I quite enjoyed the characters. Patriarch Josep is the one you spend the most time with, and I think is the best drawn – he’s got rather conservative leanings, but also seems unashamed about his homosexuality. These tensions aren’t played up in the writing – there’s no internal monologue as he wrestles with his understanding of himself – which I think is effective in creating space for the player to feel like they can make a wide variety of choices without being untrue to the character. The others are more one-note, though you can decide whether son Jordi’s habit of slumming it with the hoi polloi reflects sincere belief or is simple dilettantism, and I enjoyed figuring out ways for Josep’s jaded wife, Maria, to amuse herself (spoiler alert: it involved boning the staff). Only Clara, the sheltered daughter, doesn’t find herself with as much to do.

The writing is a significant part of the draw throughout. There are some typos and odd grammar throughout, potentially due to translation? But I liked how it simultaneously created a sort of dreamlike aura while being quite grounded in a sense of history and place, with solid dialogue throughout. Here’s a bit from an early scene, where Josep is giving a tour to the family of a business partner:

“This house, you explain, was an old presbytery built next to this chapel. I had the house renovated while leaving the chapel in its original state. Around the 13th century, the Counts of Barcelona dominated Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and even the south of Italy, which explains the number and beauty of the monuments of that time in the region…”

“A kind of golden age…” Auguste says ironically, “Isn’t it from the memory of this blessed time that the Catalans forged their desire for independence?”

You can see there are some punctuation issues and the locution is a bit awkward, but for whatever reason this style really worked for me, and the history nerd in me appreciated all the detail the author offers (I didn’t know Barcelona is named after Hannibal Barca!) Or there’s this, relating an assignation:

That second sentence is too long and uses imagery that’s not quite right to my ear, but somehow that makes it even more compelling.

I did run into one technical niggle, which is that at one point Maria showed up somewhere she shouldn’t have, though I couldn’t interact with her, and the admirable openness of the plot made my ending feel a bit ridiculous, as in one paragraph of dialogue, Jordi, clearly full of love for his father, told Josep that he should be unafraid of pursuing happiness with his lover, but then in the next paragraph blew up at him and renounced his inheritance because Josep set an American detective to pursue Jordi’s anarchist friends – melodrama is all well and good, but emotional whiplash is something else altogether.

Still, that couldn’t undercut what was a deeply enjoyable experience. Like, that American detective is actually Dashiell Hammett. There’s a Marcel Proust cameo too. And I haven’t elaborated on the whole ghost thing (my head says, you don’t need this and the author should have dropped it; my heart says, yes, why not this too?) Point being, A Catalan Summer marches to the beat of its own drum, takes direct inspiration from nobody and I’m sure will not be directly inspiring any copycats either, cares not for your petty distinctions of genre, much less the Aristotelian unities, not due to any sophomoric and self-congratulatory iconoclasm but just because it’s content to do its own thing, and it’s all the more worth playing for it.

1 Like

Hi Ola – glad the review cheered you up! It’s a fun game and the cover art is still making me chortle when I think of it. Your explanation on the piano topic is really helpful – I think it must have been overwritten by another one of the special topics and I didn’t realize I could just click through that one and get back to it (I did figure out that purple text meant the option existed outside of the main dialogue with Cage). Though your note that the items in the piano are superfluous makes me question how much progress I really was able to make! I’ll definitely see if I can make more progress later, especially now I know the secret to a quick restart. Cheers and thanks again for the game!

1 Like

I updated the walkthrough/hint-file extensively after some negative (and very valuable) early feedback here on the forum. Don’t hesitate to consult it if you yearn for an easy solution to the parrot!

I’ll go ahead and add both a restart button and a a save button. The idealistic part of me says it will taint the intended experience, but so many people have expressed frustration that I just can’t justify hanging on to my elitist notions…


You Will Thank Me as Fast as You Thank a Werewolf, by B.J. Best

So YWTMaFAYTaW – I feel like I need an acronym for the acronym, why don’t we just go with Thank a Werewolf – so Thank a Werewolf’s About text says that this is a “collaboration” with the GPT-2 text generation algorithm, which involved feeding the program bits of the author’s (static, I assume) fiction, then curating and arranging the output to form the game. I went into the experience deeply skeptical that I’d find anything interesting in it, and I have to confess that nothing in the game wound up changing my mind.

I can’t really talk about the story or the premise since this is all algorithm-driven gobbledygook – the blurb’s claim that it’s about “a lifelong romantic relationship” I think must be a joke about the relationship between the author and their work, rather than about anything depicted in the text. Format-wise, you get a couple paragraphs of prose then one or two hyperlinked lines at the end that lead to the next bit of the story; I assume there’s branching but given the lack of narrative coherence, much less cause-and-effect, I’m not sure what difference or impact this would have. Most passages have one or two footnotes, which expand when clicked: I think these might be the prompts used to generate the text, since they often used the same words as showed up in the main text, but were uniformly more coherent and interesting than what was above.

If there’s not a consistent narrative, there’s perhaps a somewhat more consistent tone, beyond of course the omnipresent surrealism – most of the generated text feels like it’s about younger people, late teenagers to twentysomethings, sad about stuff and unsure about what they’re doing (I mean, fair enough). And there were a few scattered bits that had some zing to them. This was probably my favorite:

But that’s almost immediately followed by:


For a tone poem, one or two high points might be enough, but this thing is also at least two or three times longer than it should be – once my brain twigged to the fact that it was just watching a slot machine, I found it really hard to push on.

I do get the appeal, if not fascination, this sort of thing can have for a writer: the prospect of looking at your work through a glass, darkly, so you can apprehend it in a new way. I wrote a (very bad) novel in my younger days, about high-school wrestlers who I must confess were far more foul-mouthed even than Tom Trundle, and when I finished the first draft I excitedly ran it through Word’s (I think now deprecated) autosummarize feature, only to see my 300-page novel turned into three paragraphs of this:

I died laughing – this is actually my ghost writing this – and resolved to tone down the profanity somewhat. As a way to change perspective, or add a bit of surprising flavor to the hand-crafted sauce (this metaphor has gotten away from me), I can see the value of procedurally-generated text – and I’m sure in twenty or thirty years Skynet will have come for the writers the same way it’ll have come for everybody else – but in the meantime, the werewolf’s getting no thank-yous from me.

1 Like

For what it’s worth, I know a couple of erotica sites that would publish that summary as-is.

1 Like

Elsegar I, by silicon14

There’s some Hemingway quote that I’m not going to bother to look up (look, hopefully it’s clear by now that with these reviews you get what you pay for), but the gist is that a writer needs to write a million words to figure out how to write and get them out of their system, and starting with the millionth and first, possibly they’ll be worth a damn, and be pure, and good, and clean, and true (you’re also not paying enough to get anything other than the world’s laziest Hemingway impression). The principle extends to IF, where I think just about everybody has had the experience of making a starter game before getting their feet under them to try something more ambitious (mine’s a half-completed House of Leaves – er, why don’t we call it a “homage” – moldering away on a hard drive that hasn’t been plugged into anything since 2003 or thereabouts).

Elsegar I is a pretty exemplary illustration of the type: there’s only a bit of backstory, about being sucked into a strange new dimension by some sort of singularity, and a found-object approach to worldbuilding that’s largely there to provide scaffolding for the variety of puzzles and programming tasks. There’s a holdall, a darkness puzzle, NPCs who respond to being asked about a couple of keywords, randomized combat, a put-X-in-Y-to-make-Z puzzle, a (big, old-school) maze – classics all, and what’s rare for a first game, all solidly implemented, albeit with a large number of typos. There’s nothing especially fancy about the design, though there are some fun jokes and easter eggs involving a radio, and an actually quite neat text effects for a bit of graffiti. It’d be more interesting if it stuck with a specific kind of puzzle and tried to elaborate it with a few variations, or leaned more heavily into its setting or characters, but again, for this kind of game it makes sense to try out a bunch of different things.

After I’d played the game I saw from the author’s posts on the forums that it’d been disqualified from the Comp since it’d been posted as part of a call for beta testers (though there hasn’t been an official notice as of this writing). That’s a shame – it’s an easy rule to run afoul of – but hopefully part II will make it into next year’s Comp or otherwise see release. Now that the author has the basics down, their next release could be one to watch out for.

Thank you for the review. I am still improving elsegar I and will release sometime on itch.io. Also I was thinking of doing a set of puzzles in the sequel where you have a robot that can only do certain actions that the player character cannot do but I’m worried that this will be too similar to joey from beanth a steel sky, though I don’t have plans on the robot changing bodies


That’s great to hear! I’ll say for me personally, having a robot companion who helps solve puzzles doesn’t feel like it would be too directly inspired by Beneath a Steel Sky – admittedly I haven’t played that one so I’d be more likely to think of Planetfall, but that just goes to show there are a lot of different ways to approach that general idea and put your own spin on it, whether that’s about how your characterize the robot or how the puzzles are set up and solved. And anyway most of the time execution is more important than raw originality – ideas are a dime a dozen, but turning them into something solid is much more rare.

1 Like

Sheep Crossing, by Andrew Geng

Sheep Crossing is a one-puzzle game, with no plot to speak of, and the puzzle is one that pretty much everybody has heard of and solved by the time they’re seven. But wait, come back! Another way to recite the same facts is that it’s a cute and charming take on a classic puzzle, and since neither the author nor the player need to pretend that figuring out the solution is the point, it’s all about riffing on that premise and finding as many gags, and ways to fail at this beyond-simple task, as possible.

The clever touches begin with some canny substation – the prototypical version of this puzzle involves some grain, a chicken, and a fox, I believe (it’s the one where each will eat one of the others, and you need to take them across a river one at a time). But clearly, the bear on offer here is funnier than a fox, and a cabbage is likewise funnier than a sack of grain (the sheep vs. chicken matchup is closer, but let’s give it to the sheep by decision). If you want to just get them across the river to grandmother’s house in the prescribed order, you face a slight barrier inasmuch as the sheep starts out too hangry to be manhandled into the boat, but this is easily remedied, and then it’s off to grandma’s, well done, gold star for you.

The fun comes in when you try to mess things up. Obviously if you leave the wrong pair behind on a trip, game-ending acts of ingestion will occur in your absence. And there are myriad ways to mess up beyond this, from tangling with the bear to chowing down on something yourself to deciding sod this for a game of soldiers and wandering off. There are lots, lots more, with many nonstandard verbs implemented with surprising detail. I don’t want to spoil any more of the fun, but I found that the author had thought of the most of the ideas that popped into my head, often with different outcomes depending on which of the trio I was attempting to mess with.

For all that, this is still a ten-minute diversion, tops. And I didn’t discover any unexpected interactions that led to alternate positive endings or revealed anything unexpected, which might have been nice – instead it’s all just different ways to flub things up. This means it’s easy to type undo and try again, but also somewhat reduces the novelty and potential surprise of trying new things. But the gag in its current form certainly works, and coming so late in the Comp for me, that was just what I was looking for.

Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful review of Tombs and Mummies! I’ve been frustrated by the laggy server there, too. Quest 5.8 does have a download option, but it requires you have their editor/interpreter installed on a desktop. I plan to program my next game in 6.0, which is entirely client-side JS.


Captivity, by Jim Aikin

A puzzle-y fairytale with a twist, Captivity boasts a plucky protagonist, an engaging supporting cast, some pleasant challenges, and solid writing and implementation. It’s perhaps a bit too much on the linear side, and weakens a bit in the home stretch, but all in all it’s a pleasant way to while away an hour or two.

Right, setup: you’re a young lady of the minor nobility (or perhaps haute bourgeoisie) who’s been abducted by an evil Duke. While the Duke’s assorted family members, servants, and minions aren’t particularly fussed at preventing your escape, there’s still an array of locked doors, spike-topped walls, and magic necklaces that will strangle you if you leave the grounds standing in your way. There’s nothing especially novel in the low-key, slightly comedic fantasy setting – though there’s a bit of a PG-13 edge that sometimes works (there’s a god-bothered maid who’s a little more excited by lurid descriptions of the sins of the flesh than on the ways to save oneself from temptation) and sometimes can be a bit off-putting (the intro focuses a bit too much on the protagonist’s impending ravishment for my tastes, though of course nothing bad actually happens). While this isn’t always to my taste, it’s fine as far as it goes, though there’s one late-game incident that I think is a bit too tonally jarring to be successful (when the Duke comes home and catches you mid-escape, you stab him in the face with some scissors, drop a chandelier on him, and leave him “expired in a pool of his own blood”).

The puzzles are nothing too out-there, but are generally logical, well-clued, and satisfying to solve, with almost every one opening up a new area to explore or character to interact with. Captivity also does a good job of detecting if you’re flailing on some puzzles, and will add a gentle hint to get you on the right track if you try the same wrong action too many times, which is quite a nice feature. The puzzle chains are quite linear for the first two thirds or so of the game, with only one barrier at a time to work on surmounting, which helps keep the difficulty low but also can make proceedings sometimes feel a bit dull. The structure opens up once you reach a classic collect-em-all puzzle – you need to find three ingredients for a spell – but by that point I’d already found one and a half of them so the increased openness was mostly theoretical in my case.

Implementation is generally very solid, with most objects and scenery are nicely described and few synonym or guess-the-syntax issues. This starts to break down a bit in the last part of the game, though – I had to look up the walkthrough to solve the last major puzzle because I had the right idea but couldn’t figure out how to input the correct commands (I’m talking about burning the objects in the brazier – LIGHT BRAZIER doesn’t work, and in fact returns “The brass brazier isn’t something you can light,” with LIGHT BRAZIER WITH MATCH similarly failing. Per the walkthrough, STRIKE MATCH -> PUT MATCH IN BRAZIER is the intended solution, which feels too fiddly to me), and I noticed a few examples of undescribed objects in some of the final few rooms.

It is possible to put the game in an unwinnable state, though it’s kind enough to tell you so and a single UNDO was enough to fix things. I did one into one related issue – when I reached the endgame, I got a message saying I’d missed something at an early stage of the game and now my “maidenly virtue is but a treasured memory”, but the author “in his nearly infinite benevolence” will take pity and fix things. I’m not sure what this was referring to, since I had on hand everything I wound up needing to finish the game, and when I checked the walkthrough I didn’t see that I had missed anything. Regardless, the tone of this message was pretty off-putting and felt unnecessarily adversarial. None of these issues are that major, but I think would be worth cleaning up in a post-Comp release.

Anyway I don’t want to dwell too much on that sour note, because for the most part the writing is lots of fun. The supporting cast were the major standouts – although they’re notionally on the side of the Duke, they mostly view him with eye-rolling tolerance at best, and are quite content to shoot the breeze with you, force you to look at their embroidery collection, or flirt with each other as though you’re not standing there. Even the Duke’s dagger-happy henchman and lecherous wizard servant come off as entertainingly harmless – it’s fun to banter with, and then get one over on, them.

Captivity isn’t trying to do anything revolutionary, but its few missteps aren’t enough to douse the fun of wandering through its castle, outwitting a jerk of a Duke, and engaging in some light sorcery, all related in breezy, clever prose.

captivity - mr.txt (217.9 KB)


Amazing Quest, by Nick Montfort

Hey, a Nick Montfort game! I loved Ad Verbum! But this is, uh, not that. I saw a couple of forum threads talking about this game before I’d played it, and let my curiosity get the better of me, which I think was to the good in terms of level-setting my expectations, but really did ruin the gag. So the spoiler-averse might want to flee away. Blur-mode, activate!

So this is a Mad-Libs text generator in a lightly-implied science-fantasy setting. There’s an overwrought introduction and even “strategy guide” that orient you towards the game – more on those later – but the program just spits out a series of yes/no questions prompted by telling you that your fleet has come across an ADJECTIVE NOUN (“hexagonal outpost”, “dim land”, “luminous planet”, etc.) and allowing you to VERB (“seek out help”, “sneak up and raid”, “speak plainly”), or not. You get a result, which could be positive (“you win cattle”) or negative (“a ship lost!”), but this is based entirely on a die roll and the outcomes are completely disconnected from the choices, and even the situations (like, winning cattle seems a logical result of raiding an outpost, but refusing to speak plainly in a tiny capital will likewise sometimes net you a reward of kine). And there’s zero state-tracking.

So the game qua game can’t really hold one’s interest for more than a minute or two, and the prose, as you can tell from the examples above, is likewise workmanlike at best. What there is is the intro and strategy guide. The first lines of the game itself are “The gods grant victory. Now go home!”, but above the game window is the motto “I must decide as if it all depends on me, trust as if it all depends on the gods.” And throughout the page-and-a-half strategy guide, the reader is confronted with a series of questions and statements prompting them to second-guess whether any course of action is better than any other, given that anything could happen and your ideas of what’s safe or unsafe might not be right. There’s also a lot of verbiage about how the player’s “cultural world-view” might structure how they understand what you “might think of as” chance or chaos.

There’s a point being made here, or at least a question being asked, about agency and subjectivity and what if the real game isn’t being played on the screen but in our heads comma man. I’m not saying the point/question is necessarily a bad one to be raising, to be clear! There are different interpretations you can put on what Amazing Quest is offering up, and probably someone more attuned to the aesthetics of the Commodore-64 presentation experiences it differently than I, who never had one, relate to it.

But I don’t think that the way this reasonable question is being raised is very interesting or successful. Execution matters a lot! Like, think about how Rameses, or the unjustifiably-forgotten 19th-place-finisher-in-the-2002-IFComp Constraints, are all about a lack of agency and paralysis, but they give the player a lot to do and are rewarding to engage with. Now compare them to a notional game – let’s call it Bartleby – that presents a situation but responds to literally every player input with “I would prefer not to.” Same point, sure. But while Constraints left me dancing around the room making comparisons to Dubliners – oh yes, I was even more pretentious as a 21-year-old than I am today – I doubt I’d have anything like the same reaction to our imaginary Bartleby, and to my mind Amazing Quest is much closer to that, I’m going to say wrong, side of the spectrum. There’s something here, sure, and if you’re so inclined it can prompt you to think interesting thoughts – but I’m not so inclined so there you are, my thoughts about it are uninteresting.

1 Like

BYOD, by n-n

BYOD ain’t messing around with the “micro” label – I probably spent as much time playing guess-the-acronym as I did actually running through the game – but the five minutes here on offer are a lovely spike of cyberpunk power fantasy that makes me hope there’s a longer piece with similar mechanics somewhere in the future.

So this is a proper hacking game, doing in pure parser form what yer Uplinks and Hacknets have done with hybrid GUI interfaces. After reading the included e-zine feelie – I just noticed feelies have been rather thin on the ground this year, so it was nice to see a well-made one – I was primed for an intense gray-hat type of experience, but actually the plot and set-up are rather low key: you really are just a student starting a do-nothing internship at a tech company. It’s just that you happen to have a smartphone app that gives you all the power of the Internet gods, with the ability to remote-access any computer or device and read, write, or active it with no concern for security protocols.

The hacking is implemented really solidly, using a UNIX-like set of commands, and again contrary to my expectations, rather than the whole thing playing out at a terminal you actually play an embodied character and type commands in typical adventure-game fashion – you can just preface your commands with a prefix to direct them to the hacking app. Being able to merge the two levels of play seamlessly is a clever touch that heads off the challenges most hacking games have in depicting anything happening in meatspace.

All this to say that the foundations here are solid and even a bit exciting. The story and puzzle(s) are pretty underdeveloped, though – there’s no real detail about who you are, why you got this internship, or how you managed to wrangle the killer app. Played straight, there’s only one character and one challenge – you meet the secretary at the front desk and print a sign out for her. If you go poking around where you shouldn’t, there’s a little more flavor and a bonus objective (the company’s CEO is blackmailing the secretary with stolen nude photos, which you can delete), which feels good to find and accomplish but is also likewise quite slight.

There are alternate endings, the writing is clean and typo-free, and everything works the way it’s supposed to, so it’s all solidly built. But I can’t help feeling like the work it took to build this hacking system was wildly disproportionate to the work it took to build out the scenario. I’ve mentioned before how exhausting I find it to play games that are too long for the amount of content they actually have; BYOD has the opposite problem. Always good to leave them wanting more, I suppose, but still: I want more!

Oh, and “Device” and “Drama” are my two best guesses as to the title – the latter because the story isn’t going to find you, you need to manufacture the interesting bit yourself.

BYOD-mr.txt (13.2 KB)

1 Like

The Moon Wed Saturn, by Pseudavid

Points for best title in the Comp to The Moon Wed Saturn, which is a clever pun as well as, I believe, an astrology reference. That same ethos of packing a lot of meaning into comparatively little text carries over into the game itself, which runs through a formative romantic relationship that unfolds over just a few days but reveals a lot about the main character and changes her life to boot. It’s a classic two-hander – it’s 95% dialogue between two characters, 5% flash-forward reflection – with a unique storytelling gimmick, and while I wasn’t as fully invested in the central relationship as probably would have been ideal, there’s a powerfully arresting moment of grace at the end that had as much impact on me as anything else I’ve played so far.

You play as Verónica, who I think is about 19 – she’s got a dead-end job somewhere on the outskirts of a city I think somewhere in Latin America (there are a few well-chosen setting details sprinkled through the story, but no clunky exposition, somewhere), and feels weighed down by expectations, other people, and the general difficulty of figuring out how to be in the world. Into her life sweeps Araceli, a freer spirit a few years older, who doesn’t seem to worry much about consequences and seems to take a kind of glee in prodding Verónica out of her comfortable rut. Described like this, these are stereotypes, but the writing is good enough to really conjure these characters up, and dive into exchanges and snatches of dialogue where the characters are sparking off of each other in lust or conflict, so even though the overall dynamic of the relationship is certainly familiar the player is always embodied in the particular.

Part of what makes this so effective is how the story is told – I’ll spoiler-block this, since figuring out what was going on led to an “aha” moment I wouldn’t want to ruin. You start out clicking your choices in a part of the screen labeled “Monday”, but at a certain point suddenly your focus jumps to the side to a new paragraph labeled “Wednesday”, where one of the characters recalls a bit of the conversation they had a couple of days ago. Later the same thing happens with Saturday, until you’re following a thread of memory and resonance forward and backward through three separate conversations on three separate days that together constitute the relationship between the two characters. It’s all really well paced, too, jumping into exchanges just as they’re getting interesting, and jumping out when they’ve done what they need to do. The visual design backs this up too – when the days go inactive, they fade and go on a slight tilt, making clear where the action is by easy to refer to if you want to make sure you understand the connection points.

There are a lot of choices – at pretty much every pause in the dialogue, you’re picking what Verónica should do or say – but mostly they’re centered on whether she’s going along with Araceli’s attempts to shake up her status quo, or resisting them. For the most part they feel like impactful choices, though you can’t shift her characterization too far, which I think is appropriate, though there were a couple of times when I felt like the game’s interpretation of a choice was pretty different from how I’d intended it (at one point Araceli said something about how she liked places that are weird, and I had Vero ask if she was strange enough for her – I’d meant it playfully, but the blue text that carries Verónica’s inner monologue said it was because she wasn’t spontaneous and always wanted to know things in advance).

It feels like the choices shift the tone of the dialogue, though I didn’t do a ton of replaying to confirm that. They do build to a final, climactic choice, though I even though I’d played as something of a stick-in-the-mud even I had to go for the cathartic option there, and I can’t imagine other players doing anything differently. Spoilers again for what was an amazing moment: so throughout the game, Araceli has been pushing Verónica to leave her awful job, which is being a security guard for an abandoned, half-completed housing estate that’s basically a boondoggle for a corrupt developer. At the end of Saturday, she brings some spray paint and prods Vero to deface the place, and if you do, there’s a sudden splash of red against the heretofore pure white background of the game. The red paint is amazingly well animated – it’s sensuous and beautiful in a way that I, who’s typically way more attuned to text than images, usually don’t appreciate. It’s climactic and cathartic and a perfect moment of satori that ties the whole game together.

For all the things Moon Wed Saturn does right, I have to acknowledge that as I implied above, there were parts of the central relationship that didn’t work for me – specifically, I kind of couldn’t stand Araceli and thought she was just the fucking worst. Don’t get me wrong, I can get why someone like Verónica would be taken with her, but Araceli often came off to me as an aggressive manic pixie dream bully, like in the early segment where she tries to pressure Vero to smoke a cigarette precisely because Vero’s quit and doesn’t like smoking – people should be willing to do things they hate for those they love, you see. And later on, when Verónica explains the necessity of having this job given the challenges in her life, Araceli – who’s implied to come from a more privileged background – cheerfully bats it all away, because she thinks everything people do is just an expression of their character, and refuses to acknowledge how external reality can straiten one’s choices. I kept wanting to tell Verónica, get out of this relationship, this lady is toxic!

But I’ve definitely known people who’ve been in relationships like this – I’m sure you have, too – and I can’t deny that they can be meaningful and important. So the fact that this isn’t an idealized picture of two soul-mates who should be together forever doesn’t undercut the strength of the piece – but it did make the game’s finale perhaps a bit less bittersweet than intended. At any rate, this is a small, subjective response to a work that definitely merits a playthrough.


Hi Mike—sorry for the delayed response!

Thank you so much for the in-depth review!! Your feedback touched on just about everything – usability, prose, pacing, and bugs. This will be invaluable as we are planning a couple more edit passes before a second release after IFComp.

Glad you enjoyed the story!



@DeusIrae your review is sharp and amazingly in-depth! Thank you for taking so much time to think and write your impressions, it’s wonderful and encouraging to read.

1 Like

Thanks for the in-depth review, Mike.

The inspiration for VFS came from a command-line FSP client I had used when studying CompSci in the mid 90s (this is why the service appears in the feelies).

The game’s toy size is the result of different factors. The original Spanish version being my first Inform piece is one, and the need for a proofreader to correct my self-translation is another (he did a great job, judging from the reviews!).

For my first ever IFComp entry, I thought I’d better make something small and tight, rather than risking overreach. So I kept the core of the English version close to the original piece (it contains more stuff, but the structure is unchanged).


I think small and polished is definitely better than flabby and buggy, so that was a good decision. And I’ll say, I’m usually a stickler for typos and grammar and awkward phrasing, and had no idea this was originally written in a language other than English, which is very impressive! Anyway, congrats on your first IFComp entry, I hope there are more to come :slight_smile: