Mike Russo's IF Comp 2020 Reviews

Desolation, by Earth Traveler

Much like For a Place By the Putrid Sea, Desolation is a sequel to a game I haven’t played (and side-note, that bothers me way more than it should because I’m the kind of bloody-minded completionist who’ll be recommended a TV show that’s uneven at the beginning but gets really good in season four which is a perfect jumping-on points because they rebooted the premise and shifted the cast, and decide right, season one episode one it is). Interestingly, it appears to be written by a different author (much like Magpie Takes the Train, it occurs to me), so I’m a bit curious about the backstory.

Anyway, the lack of familiarity with the prequel isn’t too much handicap, as the opening immediately establishes 1) you’re fleeing into a desert with little but your wits, and 2) you’re being pursued by a sort of demonic Pippi Longstockings. I kid, but the horror bits here are probably the most effective part of the game—whenever the two braids girl shows up or is mentioned, the writing conveys how reality constricts around the player character, and their desperation to get somewhere, anywhere else. There’s not much specificity about who she is or what she wants, but for a plot as elemental as this, I don’t think that’s really a drawback (play the prequel if you want the lore, nerd! Or so I assume the rejoinder goes).

Structurally, Desolation is well set up into a series of self-contained puzzle areas, which generally keeps things zippy, and the puzzles themselves are fairly well clued. However, there’s no walkthrough or hints on offer, and there’s some unfortunate wonkiness in the implementation. I’ve flagged a lot of this in the transcript, but in general, there’s not much scenery that’s implemented (including some that seems like it would be needed/helpful, like the “softball-sized” rocks that one might try to throw at the dog), there’s wonkiness about trying to go directions that don’t lead anywhere (which the player is likely to do, since exits are sometimes described in a confusing fashion), and there are a fair number of bugs, including lots of scenery not being flagged as such (in the apartment sequence, I was able to pick up pretty much all the furniture, and start cramming the bathroom sink into the peanut jar). It’s possible to do some things before they should be allowed, and I ran into a guess-the-verb issue that stymied me for quite a while (to hit the dog with the pick axe, HIT DOG WITH PICK AXE doesn’t work but ATTACK DOG does – but the dog is very clearly scary, I don’t want to fight it without a weapon!).

One last thing that’s neither here nor there in terms of evaluation, but which was certainly interesting (very light spoilers for an early part of Desolation, then slightly deeper spoilers for a different, 20-year-old game): the first main sequence involves the player character hallucinating that they’re back in their apartment, going through a pre-trip checklist. But any time they open the fridge or turn on the taps, sand starts coming out, until everything starts dissolving into dunes. This is Shade! But it isn’t presented in an in-jokey way that makes it seem like an obvious tip of the hat, nor is it exactly the same because the player clearly knows what’s up (the choice of soundtrack creates some really funny moments here). I’m not sure if this is an homage played exactly straight, or what would be even more interesting, independent invention of the idea. If so, well done for having a brain that can simulate a Andrew Plotkin!

Hopefully the author can make a quick update to squash some of these bugs (and add a walkthrough file too!) because if you stick to the critical path and don’t poke around too much, this checks a lot of boxes for a short, scary, puzzley vignette.

Desolation.txt (161.7 KB)

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Ghostfinder: Shift by Han-Joo Kim

Ghostfinder offers a strong hook: modern urban horror crossed with procedural sexmurder. I can see a significant audience for this sort of thing, but let me confess up front that I felt like it leaned much harder on the sexmurder part, which is not something I particularly enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched enough Brits seen off to depopulate a small county – whimsically in a village, ecclesiastically in a church, intellectually in a college, snootily in a manor, &c. – but forensically-described sexual assault and murder, of which there’s a lot on offer here (six victims), is a pretty different vibe. On the one hand, this is a personal preference, twelve billion CSI fans clearly have different tastes, and kudos to the author for offering a clear content warning that communicates exactly what’s in store. On the other – oh, this is probably spoilery: part of what made Ghostfinder so squicky to me is that the serial killer’s modus operandi is very very closely based on the real-world Golden State Killer, who was responsible for at least 13 murders and dozens of rapes, and who was arrested last year and just sentenced a few weeks ago as of this writing. True, the crimes were several decades ago, but it feels maybe a little ghoulish to mine this for entertainment before a little more time has passed.

Getting back to the game, however! Ghostfinder has an interesting structure, where more conventional adventure-game sequences of going places, talking to people, playing cat-and-mouse with the killer, etc., bookend a large middle section that’s all about reviewing case files and Googling the secret database of your psychic investigation society. The adventure-y bits work but aren’t anything too out of the ordinary – you interview suspects, run down leads, and interact with fellow members of the Ghostfinders who are fairly well characterized. The database is a fun conceit, though – you get to dig through files on each of the serial killer’s previous murders, then search for particular names or places or things that you think warrant further investigation, which usually just gives you another document but sometimes opens up the possibility of visiting a new location or interviewing a new witness or suspect.

Investigation-via-Google is a fun structure – I quite dug Her Story from a couple years back, which took a related approach – and it does make one feel appropriately like a detective. There’s also a twist because beyond the case file, one of the detectives also has been having psychic visions that put her in the heads of various characters, one of whom is the killer, so in theory you can cross-reference her journal with the conventional investigation to rule out and rule in various suspects. In practice, however, I didn’t go too far down that path because I’d pretty much already solved the case by the time I worked through all of the case files, so was basically just nodding “yup, that fits” while reading through the journal.

Anyway the database is an effective central mechanic for the game, but I think it does throw off the pacing. There are a LOT of case files to go through – all very similarly bleak in describing horrible crimes of rape and murder – so that’s a lot to digest all at once, and after reading each, you’ll probably spend five or ten minutes inputting different options into the search bar. The writing style for these parts is fairly dense and procedural, which makes sense, but again sometimes made the game feel like a slog. All told it probably took me an hour to work through them all, during which time my engagement with the characters had pretty much fallen away, since they’re not very active in this segment except for a few short sequences where the detectives run out and interview some suspects. I experienced a bit of whiplash when I got to the ending sequence and I suddenly was reminded that these folks existed! There’s also a bit of wonkiness where sometimes, searching a name teleports you to an interview sequence, which was off-putting to me at first since I was worried that doing stuff in the “real world” would advance a clock (it doesn’t).

The writing is generally solid, with only a few typos or infelicities (though I have to share one good one – during the inevitable struggle with the killer, the protagonist “hit(s) him again with the hammer, breaking his other jaw”. Wow, he really is a monster!) I thought the fantasy worldbuilding was occasionally a bit clumsily-inserted or underexplained, but since the focus really was on the real-world procedural stuff, this wasn’t a major area of focus. Ghostfinder’s solidly put together, and fiddling about with the database does convey a fun frisson of really being a detective, and despite some subject-matter choices that put me off a bit, I think it’ll find an audience.


Hi, Mike. I appreciate the detailed review. This is my first attempt at IF and coding, so I’ve been hoping for some constructive criticism! RRR was really about experimenting with the tools available, making things up as I went along, without any thought of competition, but I later entered it into IFComp to test the water. I can understand that the 10 finger thing turned out a little repetitive - I envisaged the play-time being considerably shorter when I started. No testers flagged this issue, but maybe I should have edited the game down so the robot had fewer fingers! It’s actually good to hear you found the puzzles quite straightforward, as that means I can raise the level in future games. I was concerned about people quitting due to getting stuck and not seeing out the story (some beta testers actually had some trouble in places!). I didn’t expect such detailed feedback, so thanks for taking the time to write a full-length review.


Hi Gibbo – congrats on writing something so smooth and solid on your first go-round at IF! Honestly, I suspect the pacing issues were exacerbated by the knowledge that there were 103 more games waiting after this one, which is an impatience your testers, and the folks who’ll play RRR post-Comp, won’t feel. For all that I’m definitely glad you decided to take the plunge and enter into the competition, since I’m very interested in different ways to do more puzzle-y choice-based games and your implementation showed some interesting ways to do that!


Thanks, Mike. I appreciate your encouragement as I’ve put a lot of time into learning the ropes! Since writing RRR, I’ve been building code to allow roaming enemies in my future Twine games, so I hope to get your thoughts on that concept at a later date as well! :slight_smile:


Phantom, by Peter Eastman

Oh hey, another literary reimagining by the author who did How the Elephant’s Child Who Walked By Himself Got His Wings – I’m sensing a (very fun) theme! And it’s funny, just a few weeks ago I went down a Wikipedia rabbit-hole checking out all the different literary, cinematic, and theatrical depictions of the Phantom of the Opera and the various ways his psychology and disfigurement were portrayed, quite similar to the rundown the author provides in the opening (now it bothers me that I can’t for the life of me remember what set me off on this jaunt).

Offering options to the player of what kind of Phantom they want to have in their story, whether modern or archaic, and your choice of insane, vengeful, or romantic personalities, was a nice touch to acknowledge the diversity of different moods the story can have, though I think this is primarily a bit of sleight of hand to prime the player’s expectations rather than a significant branch point (I went for sexytrad my first go-round, then did a quick psychomod replay, and only saw major divergence in a few elements of the last scene of Act III). In fact while there are a lot of choices, almost all of them felt to me like the kind of choices that allow the player to reflect on how they understand the main character (you play Christine) and their circumstances, rather than slotting in different options for the narrative. As it happens, this is one of my favorite things choice games allow you to do, so that worked for me, but I can see other players perhaps being a bit frustrated by the perception of linearity.

So the main draw really is the writing and the story, and you’re in good hands here. The author does a great job of moving the story around in time and place, and concisely sketching in characters and situations, so elegantly you’re never quite aware of how the trick’s being done. I am not an opera buff at all, but the prose effectively conveys both the behind-the-scenes mechanics of how it is produced and performed, as well as the aesthetic impact it has when done well. There are also some good jokes: in discussing the legend of the phantom, one character says “Some people say he was a famous tenor who died onstage. But other people say that’s just romantic nonsense, and he was really a baritone.” (I think that’s an opera-diss).

The two main characters very much come through. The author conveys a mix of tyranny, wistfulness, and threat in the Phantom, which is as it should be. And this Christine is definitely not the ingenue of the musical – one of my favorite bits is that when the Phantom first brings her back to his subterranean lair, she fans out her keys into impromptu brass knuckles just in case! I found that to be a bit of a double-edged sword, though – I have an extended series of thoughts on that with which I’ll wrap up, so those who haven’t played yet, feel free to hop off at this point secure in knowing that Phantom is worth the time!

All right, those of y’all left, please join me behind the curtain as we explore what I mean about Christine:

The major surprise of Phantom has nothing to do with the titular cape-afficionado: it’s that Christine is one hardcore motherfucker. After her rival tries to put itching powder in her wig, Christine escalates – in one step! – to straight-up murder. In fact when reflecting on said rival, she shares this observation: “Unfortunately, you have never been very good at making friends with other women. In your own mind, you mostly categorize them into two groups: those who are potentially useful to you, and those who are potential rivals.” And this is after choosing the option to try to be friendly! Or again, here’s her thought process when being introduced to Raoul: “This is a man who could make your career, if only you can win his support. But how? If you were to sleep with him, would that help to secure him? Or is it just what everyone does?” Lady, if that’s what everyone does, he is going to give you chlamydia.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with making Christine an antihero rather than a naif, but I’m not sure it really works. For one thing, this characterization flirts with some misogynistic tropes, which I don’t think is intended at all, but since the game is so short we don’t really get a sense of her as a more rounded character or if there’s anything behind her sociopathy, putting her at risk of being a comic-opera villain. But more saliently, it feels odd to cram this Christine into the exact same plot structure of the traditional Phantom – with the murder only described obliquely and retrospectively, she’s still more acted-upon than acting, and often feels passive (the fact that the choices don’t generally change the narrative but are only internal is maybe a factor here). I think there were some missed opportunities here to break the mold and do something unexpected to give our new Christine the opportunity to come into her own.

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Hey Mike! Ghostfinder was actually my first attempt at a work of interactive fiction that I’ve submitted for any kind of public review, so this is probably the longest and most detailed piece of feedback I’ve ever gotten. Thank you so much for graciously taking the time to play the game, and offer your honest thoughts!


Congrats, it’s a really impressive first piece of IF! While as I said (maybe at too much length) the overall vibe was a bit dark for me, the interplay being the choice-based sections and the more parser-y database sections was a fun gameplay switch-up, and I’d look forward to seeing you play around more in this world and with these systems – just, next time maybe on a case to stop a serial litterer :slight_smile:

(Also, your forum handle is amazing!)


Tragic, by Jared Jackson

This is something new: an IF/roguelite-deckbuilder mashup. In the very unlikely event that that word salad failed to effectively communicate what’s going on here, the author has cleverly hybridized a Slay the Spire/Dream Quest sort of card game – where you crawl through a dungeon fighting monsters using a deck of cards that represent your attacks, defenses, and special moves, while occasionally adding to, upgrading, or deleting cards from your deck – with a more traditional, choice-based IF approach as part of the interstitial tissue between fights as well as a framing story (well, actually two if you get right down to it). (For sub-genre fans: the ability to see what the enemies are going to do, as well as the need to balance attack and defense, puts this closest to Slay the Spire).

The framing story is actually one of the highlights – there’s an option to skip past all the story to focus on the more game-y bits, but that would be a shame. The top-level frame story is sweet, and there are some good jokes (my favorite: when the player character is trying to get into the game convention and is asked for his qualifications, he can bellow out “There is none more qualified!”, which just makes me giggle). There are also lots of choices embedded in the different non-combat encounters the player character runs into. Much of the time these mirror the options that would be presented in a menu in a more typical deck-builder, but it also opens up opportunities for new types of gameplay that I haven’t seen before in this sub-genre, like an extended maze sequence or the chance for some more robust interaction with NPCs.

When it comes to the card game itself, my main takeaways are that it’s big, hard, and unfortunately still a big buggy. Big is easy – there are three different classes to play with distinct decks, three different (large) dungeons to work through, dozens of encounters and artifacts to discover… there’s a lot here, and I know I only saw a portion in my two hours with the game.

Partially, though, that’s because I didn’t wind up getting as far with Tragic as I’d hoped, getting stuck midway through the second dungeon with two different characters. Reader, this one’s tough! And while I am not exactly the Hard Man of American Deckbuilders, this is a sub-genre where I’m fairly well-versed – I’ve slain the spire several times now, got all but a handful of the achievements in Dream Quest, tore through Monster Slayer like a comet punching through atmosphere (that one’s easy)… I’m guessing I’ve put several hundred more hours into these kinds of games than most Comp players, so if I’m crying uncle, I think the difficulty here doesn’t feel well judged for the contest. There are training wheels – copious autosaves and a slowly-increasing health bar every time you die and respawn – but those don’t so much reduce the difficulty as offer the hope that by punching your face repeatedly against a brick wall, your blood might slowly erode it. I can’t even imagine what the harder modes are like!

Upon reading the included strategy guide, partially this may be down to choosing the berserker class first go round – I’m used to that being the easiest archetype to at least see the late-game, even if they’re overtaken in power by fiddlier classes later on, but here it’s apparently the most challenging? Still, when I started over as a mage, even with an “easier” class and a better understanding of the mechanics, I didn’t fare much better. I won’t go into a full disquisition on why I think the balance is a bit too unforgiving, but will mention that I think randomness plays probably too big of a role, unlike most other deckbuilders which tend to be a bit more deterministic. There are enemies that summon other enemies in potentially never-ending waves, but rather than reinforcements coming in on a timer, sometimes this appears to happen at least somewhat at random. Opportunities to upgrade your deck – or even more importantly, delete or upgrade old cards – feel less reliable than in comparable games. And some of the more IF-y encounters are far harder than others: there’s a maze, for example, that I never managed to get out of despite having probably four to five combats, in a dungeon that otherwise I think should have around six to eight before the boss.

Finally, there are still some bugs to be worked out. While the overall interface is quite nice and smoothly transitions between fights and exploration, there’s some occasional wonkiness and I ran into a few game-breakers. When wandering around the aforementioned maze, I’d often see messages like “there in the middle of the cavern floor lays a {0}{1}” (these were actually Fiery Boots), and there were occasional typos and places where different pieces of text were smashed together without a space in between, I think from some errors in the randomization code. Worse, I ran into three or four different game-ending bugs, two of which I could recover from using autosaves, but one of which I couldn’t: once after dying, I wasn’t able to click on any of the respawn/restart options being presented; another time after I won a hard encounter against dragon whelps, I selected a choice that didn’t lead to any further options; another time after restarting to try again with a new class, when I got to the tutorial fight the combat interface didn’t come up; and then the biggest crash was where loading the autosave post-defeat (on the second boss) put me in the middle of the combat, with elements of the interface blacked out.

I liked the story a lot and was eager to see where it went, and the ideas here are really fun, so I’m very much hoping that there’s a post-comp release to smooth out some bugs, re-tune the difficulty curve, and maybe add some quality of life options (allowing the player to skip the tutorial but not miss out on the rest of the story would be really nice!), since I’d love to see this one through to the end.

MUCH LATER UPDATE: So I went back and played some more, including winning as a mage (ending up at about 180 health) and then having a pretty good run as a rogue before getting brutally smacked down by the Chapter 2 boss. Updates since I first played have smoothed out some of the bugs I noted, so the experience is a bit smoother now too. I don’t think my take on the game has shifted that much from the additional time, though I will note that I found Chapter 3 substantially easier than 2 with my mage, and I suspect I would have felt the same way if I’d gotten there with my rogue character. There are some cards that are very powerful and lead to some fun synergies with upgraded equipment, which meant I felt able to keep up with the escalating difficulty in Chapter 3. But even with what felt like it should have been a viable build, I felt like progress past the mini-bosses and boss in Chapter 2 generally required getting lucky with one of the “get a random attack or effect” cards to obtain something more powerful than I was able to find through ordinary gameplay, and/or getting a particular right card at the right moment a couple times in a row (like a parry that cancels an attack right before you’re about be targeted for a single big strike). I did enjoy getting to see the ending of the game, which wound up going in an unexpectedly serious direction, and having some effective call-backs to some dialogue choices I’d made earlier. I’m interested to see some different variations, but not sure I have the gumption to tackle that widowmaker of a Hydra again, sadly…

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Where the Wind Once Blew Free, by No Sell Out Productions

I’m not sure what I ever did to it, but the Comp randomizer apparently has decided to punish me by stacking rock-hard games one after the other. WtWOBF (that’s an awful acronym, but I’m stymied for alternatives) is a Twine game with extraordinarily lavish production values – there are lovely paintings, some video, a fancy interface with plenty of neat flourishes – set in a compelling world that features hard-edged examinations of trauma and moral compromise in a fantasy version of the American Southwest. Unfortunately for me, I also found that the copious RPG-style mechanics layered on top of the story tended to take me out of it, and even when playing in “God mode” I hit dead ends, meaning I couldn’t finish the game in two hours.

Right, starting with the story side of things: the world is a major draw here, as there’s clearly a lot of thought that’s gone into the relationships between different sets of people, how to translate real-world events and situations like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the meth epidemic into a fantasy context, and developing a big cast of distinct, appealing characters. Some of this world-building comes in a little clumsily (partially due to how it’s tied to the game mechanics, for which see below), and whenever it talks about guns the voice shifts into a hyper-detailed mode that I’m not sure serves the overall tone and worldbuilding well (like, was there a like were-badger engineer named Glock in this setting?) – but on the whole it’s compelling stuff, and the writing does a good job of anchoring these grounded themes and concerns in a world of magic and talking animals.

The situations presented by the plot are also pretty grabby. The opening frame story does a good job of evoking survivor’s guilt, and the other major segments I encountered, involving a teenager’s difficult relationship with her aunt, and a compromised man attempting to live a moral life in a world that doesn’t give people like him that choice, are also dealing with serious issues in a serious way. It definitely gets grim – pay attention to the content warning on this one, folks, and don’t discount it just because there are furries! – in a way that I sometimes found hard to take, but I think WtWOBF comes to those moments fairly.

The game side of things I thought didn’t work so well, and at times served to undermine the solid writing and intriguing dilemmas the narrative presents. There are several layers of mechanics at play here – the most obvious is an RPG system where you assign points to various skills or trails, like Brains or Swift Feet, during character creation. Then during play, occasionally these traits will be tested, and if you succeed you might see them increase while unlocking a bonus backstory, or if you fail they might decrease.

Beyond these traits, there’s also a “Lore” score that seems to gate progress, and similarly goes up or down with your choices – you can get a game over screen if your Lore number isn’t sufficiently high at the end of a chapter, and I saw a lot of these. Partially this may be because I was playing the RPG minigame wrong – I have to confess I wasn’t sure what rhyme or reason there was to when they went up or down, and since the viewpoint character changes several times, it was pretty unclear whether they represent anything in-game, or are just meant as a sort of out-of-world plot token. There also may be an element of (unexplained) random chance, because sometimes on replays I think the same choices I’d succeeded with earlier failed when tried again. I also found character creation challenging, since it doesn’t feel like you’re given a large pool of points, there’s no advice on whether specialization is better than going for a generalist approach, and feedback on whether e.g. a 5 in Brains is good, bad, or mediocre.

Beyond the RPG system that allows you to try different actions in the world, most pages also have a minigame of sorts embedded in them – there are numbered hyperlinks in many of the passages, some of which advance to the next passage, some of which expand the text on the page. The sidebar will usually have a “hint” listed – these start out easy, for example just as “2”, which indicates that if you click the link labeled 2 first, you’ll probably get a reward of stats gain or Lore increase or see your backstory codex filled in. These quickly get more complex, with wildcards thrown in and not all the options visible from the off.

Here’s an example from the mid-game - the hint here says “1, 2, ?”:

This means I’m supposed to click the first link, which expands the text to show a link numbered (2), which I click in turn to reveal link (3). Then I’ve got a 50-50 chance of guessing right and unlocking the reward (I clicked 3, and failed).

I found trying to engage with this minigame required me to go out of world, since success seems random rather than linked to the world or text in any concrete way. The interface also doesn’t help – I found the interface sidebar sometimes moved to the side, but sometimes was below the main text, so I had to do a lot of clicking and scrolling. Winning a test often unlocked a new bit of backstory or a mission in the sidebar, which involved more clicking and being out of the story. All told, it’s a lot of cruft that I found messed with the story’s pacing, creating a juddering start-and-stop rhythm.

It would be one thing if it were possible to opt out of this part of the game, but I don’t think that’s possible without activating the God Mode that maxes all your stats – I tried to replay the second chapter five times, but failed due to insufficient lore each time, which seemed disconnected from the actual choices I’d made (perhaps I’d just done too badly In the first chapter, so I was in a dead man walking scenario)? Even after I restarted in God Mode, I still reached a dead end, due to a choice that was probably risky, but which didn’t seem completely unwarranted by any means (as Diamondback, using magic to blast Bobcat).

By that time I’d used up the full two hours of the judging period, sadly. Not to be a broken record, but I would like to see more of this story and this world (the Book I subtitle is hopefully a good sign on that front), but retuning the difficulty and de-cluttering some of the gamier elements here would be helpful upgrades.

MUCH LATER ADDENDUM: So the game has seen a pretty substantial update since I wrote this review, so I went back to check it out. A bunch of the issues I mentioned in this review have definitely been addressed, but I’d say they’ve been reduced in salience rather than completely ironed out. The hints have definitely gotten better – they’re now cryptic little sentences incorporating words from the passages, and engaging with them is more immersive than the non-diegetic numbered hints in the previous versions. The progress-gating lore checks have been relaxed a bit, though not eliminated – in a non-God-mode playthrough, I was able to get into Chapter 3 before getting stuck when Pink Belly refused to reveal his secret. Seeing a little more of the game, I was able to discover that some things that seem like choices are actually a bit on rails – which I was actually impressed by, since it does a good job of creating an illusion of choice. I was also able to get close to the end of the story, as the different characters’ paths began to come together, but unfortunately ran into a bug that prevented me from seeing the end (I was told I unlocked “the gem of quickness” and got a bonus applied, but then couldn’t click anywhere). So still a little bit of technical stuff to clean up, but this version is definitely easier to get into, and the writing and worldbuilding remain strong throughout.


Dr Ego and the Egg of Man-Toomba, by Special Agent

Dr. Ego is an old-school, parser-based treasure hunt that wears its influences on its sleeve: the ABOUT text says the idea came to the author while watching Indiana Jones, and one look at the starting inventory, which includes a fedora and a whip, shows we’re not messing about (I know the character is called Dr. Ego, but in my headcanon, an Indy knockoff is always named Tennessee Williams). As I recall, the initial bit of dialogue with the guide character nods a bit at the imperialism of carting off indigenous peoples’ cultural artifacts (I lost my transcript so I might be misremembering), but we’re clearly not meant to take things too seriously.

The classic setup is mirrored by classic gameplay – you wander through a small jungle environment solving traditional adventure-game puzzles. The map is relatively small and there aren’t that many objects or barriers to work through, so it definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome (the “two hours” estimate on its entry page is off by at least a factor of two, for those folks considering whether to give Dr. Ego a whirl). For the most part, the puzzles make sense given the environment, and it’s usually clear what you’re meant to be doing next (if anything, the final one, which is lifted directly from the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, is too easy).

Implementation is all right, if unspectacular: scenery is generally there if it’s described in the location, though most of the default responses haven’t been changed and there aren’t a lot of custom reactions to actions not required to solve the game (I also ran into two guess-the-verb issues, or rather two variations of the same one: despite having figured out that I needed to go behind the waterfall, repeated attempts to do that were stymied until I used the hint function to discover I needed to LOOK BEHIND WATERFALL. Once in that chamber, it was also hard to examine the object in the hole until, by parallelism, I thought to try LOOK IN HOLE) There are some typos (including in the opening text, unfortunately), and the line breaks felt a bit haphazard, which sometimes made it hard to pars what was happening.

Overall this is an unpretentious game that was good for whiling away a pleasant hour, even though I’m not sure how long it will stick in my mind. One last complaint though – I lost my hat midway through. How can this be an Indy homage if you lose your hat!

(While I tried to save a transcript, unfortunately it cut off right at the beginning, so I don’t have one to share. Since that means you’re spared reading “hilarious” hijinx like ASK ROM ABOUT UNESCO CONVENTION ON CULTURAL PROPERTY, perhaps that’s for the best).

Hi Mike, thank you for taking the time to play and for your insight. Sorry the mechanics of the game didn’t work for you, but my team and I will definitely take your advice into consideration and retune the mechanics and difficulty before our official release post-comp. If you’d like, I can email you a patched version when its ready? In any case, thanks again for playing and best of luck with the comp and your entry!


also just wanted to say that this is a review that definitely made me want to play! most games in the comp’s history went way more the other way, with good mechanics and forgettable story. i think a lot more people will want to experience yours reading that review than not. (i’ll probably be playing it later, i’ll let you know if i run into any bugs. also, i share your pain, there were many, many hyperspecific details about firearms that got cut for length in ours :laughing: what’s left is now mostly “a taurus curve, but 3D printed, and, like, hella cyberpunk”)


Was here to say the same thing. I’m not a mechanics invested kinda guy but the reviews of @NoSellOutProductions game so far have made me really interested!


@mother Thanks mother! I’d love to hear what you think if you get a chance to play. My staff and I are still in the process of playing our first several game picks for the comp, and your game is one of them. Once I get all the responses back from my team, I’ll post the results in the forum.


definitely, i’m very excited. this is all personal preference on my part, but i’m used to games with well-tuned mechanics. stats are something one can optimize based on player feedback, and there’s a whole lot of good writing on what players want there. i’m a lot more intrigued by games which do well at showing stories that don’t appear as often – like, for example, the emotional parts that happen after the heroes and villains water the trees with blood. it’s good to have people willing to address the portions about that which aren’t fun at all. i’ll send you a DM or an email with my thoughts and any suggestions. best of luck with all the votes!


@brwarner Thanks for the interest! Much appreciated! Would love to hear what you think as well if you get a chance to play. It’s encouraging to know that even though our game is by no means perfect (our first attempt at IF) and the mechanics bombed, that the game is still piquing interest.


@mother totally agree. We published a sci-fi, fantasy, horror mag called Red Sun for a few years (we’re also an indie press that still publishes in those genres), so our experience is more in dealing with stories and narrative and production value than in the coding and game mechanics that went into the game, so maybe that’s why the story has seemed to fair better than the mechanics thus far. It’s definitely a learning curve for us, but my staff and I are dedicated to improving, so I’m grateful for and appreciate any thoughts or suggestions you offer. Email would be best. I think the email is linked to our No Sell Out Productions profile, but in case it isn’t, I can be reached at redsunmagazine@gmail.com


I would love to check out a patched version, so please do send it along! And I feel you on the difficulty question – for my game, I’d been aiming for puzzles that were mostly pretty easy, and in fact dialed them back several times after testing, but now that it’s out in the wild most of the feedback is that they’re very challenging. Anyway, congrats again on a grabby first piece of IF, and I’m glad it looks like the review is making people interested in checking it out!


Thanks for reviewing Tragic. It’s too bad that the public isn’t able to see the Mike Russo reviews. Hopefully there will be that chance after the comp.

Also, sorry for the bugs. I spent a lot of time time on the QA process for this game, and I knew I had missed things. The combinatoric possibilities for this game are enormous. Good thing I didn’t have to come up with limericks for them all.