Mike Russo's IF Comp 2020 Reviews

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.


The problem with writing your own Twine-like engine is sometimes you don’t have all the right tools for checking your own mistakes. I just updated the game because there are two places you can get stuck without the ability to move on because in a hyperlink I spelled ‘eggs’ as ‘egges’.


Thanks for the review. I fixed all the bugs I could find, so now things should be a lot smoother. I’m glad you enjoyed it overall.

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The Brutal Murder of Jenny Lee, by Daniel Gao

Friends, I will level with you: 2020 has been tough for me, and going into this one I wasn’t sure how I felt about another game about murder, especially one that puts the “brutal” right there in the title. Like, I love the Comp for exposing me to things outside my comfort zone and that I never would have found otherwise, but I also come to IF by way of what we used to call adventure games, text or otherwise. Say what you will about Dr. Ego being a bit wonky and not very innovative, but it had me give a banana to a monkey. Now that’s a proper adventure game puzzle: GIVE BANANA TO MONKEY. Not a severed carotid or trace of seminal discharge in sight.

Blessedly, Brutal Murder is – not actually that brutal? Partially this is the tone, which is miles away from the dour proceduralism the title might evoke. If anything it’s a bit chatty, with a narrative voice that directly addresses the player, alternately confessional and urging the player onwards. And while the central crime is like, clearly a murder and is bad, it’s nowhere near as awful, or as awfully described, as what’s on network TV every night (there is one somewhat disturbing plot element that possibly does deserve a content warning, though I’ll spoiler-block it just in case: the narrator, an adult tutor who’s in prison for the murder of the eponymous 17-year old, was in a sexual relationship with her that he describes as consensual).

While this came as a relief to me, I do think BMoJL suffers a bit from this tonal unevenness – the subject matter is clearly meant to evoke tragedy, and that mood is stated as text repeatedly, but it’s hard for that sentiment to land given the often-breezy narrative voice, as well as some out-of-context surrealistic flourishes. The game opens with a tutorial sequence, complete with the narrative voice telling you to TAKE KEY and OPEN DOOR, which is completely diegetic and in continuity with the meat of the game. Each chunk of investigation is interspersed with a trip to a black void, and the topography of the map changes in unphysical ways as the story progresses. It’s not too hard to suss out the reason for this, reading between the lines of some of the narrator’s comments (the player character appears to be a sort of crime-solving AI trawling through the narrator’s memories) but this doesn’t seem well-integrated with the main thrust of the plot, and felt very underdeveloped.

As to the game itself, it’s got a pretty solid implementation. There’s typically a good amount of scenery, some of which isn’t described, but all of the objects one can interact with are broken out on their own line, which is a shorthand that adds some convenience. I was stymied by how to open the storage-room cabinet for a long time, even after I knew the code, since TYPE and TOUCH and OPEN and UNLOCK and all their variants failed, but the HELP text had told me that USE item was an important verb, so it’s on me for overlooking that. I did run into one significant bug: my first trip to limbo never ended, leaving me wandering a black void forever, which prompted a restart (second time after a half-dozen turns of flailing, I was moved on to the next sequence as intended).

The puzzles are relatively straightforward and don’t require off-the-wall thinking, but there’s never a time when you feel like you’re solving a mystery – instead you’re hunting for the one piece of evidence or reading material that will prompt the narrator to understand things a little better and explain his progress to you. There are no suspects to interview, or deductions to piece together, just cabinets to unlock and journals to read. It sometimes felt as though the player’s just fiddling about with some busywork while the game solves itself.

This is a shame, because the core story of the game is I think pretty good, with some solid character dynamics, an interesting twist (albeit one that could have probably used more groundwork-laying), and well-observed details on the experience of being Asian-Canadian in one particular place and one particular time. But these tonal issues, and the feeling of disengagement brought on by the gameplay/story disconnect, meant it didn’t land for me as strongly as I would have liked.

A note on the transcript: it has come to my attention that someone – we’re not sharing who at this time – may have had a couple of drinks while watching the VP debate immediately before playing the game. So things may have gotten a little sloppier than usual: hopefully there’s still helpful feedback there on small bugs and implementation issues, but it might be a bit of a bumpy ride (though you will get to see me be all proud to win a game of “guess which novel is on the creepy teacher’s desk”).

Brutal Murder of Jenny Lee - MR.txt (104.7 KB)


Thanks for the review.

Sorry for the delay, life is not being very cooperative with IFComp schedule at the moment.

Game is indeed a translation from French. That it shows is definitely not good. I hope I’ll be able to fix that, as well as the chaotic and unbalanced worldbuilding eventually.

Out of curiosity, did you have a lot of troubles getting the best ending? Returns from playtesters have been all over the place about how difficult it is to reach.

It would be nice if there were a way to speed up replays – primarily by making it easier to skip through the exposition

Definitely. In particular the (too verbose) introduction should be skippable and replaced with a one-time “assignment board” (instead of forcing player to jump again and again between characters like that).