My (Thomas Hvizdos) Thoughts on IFComp 2020 Games I've Played

Amazing Quest

This seems like the sort of game where the code is having the fun. If the linked .png accurately represents it, I’m astonished at what the author was able to create, and would absolutely love a technical explanation of it. As a game, or a piece of art, it’s pretty basic–you bop around random areas and choose yes or no to random questions. If you just hit enter, you seem to be weighted to win. I liked the introduction and strategy guide that encourage the player’s imagination–I can imagine a kid with this as his only game getting really into the lore–but it ultimately feels pretty random. Overall, a cool technical accomplishment, but not something that grabbed me.


I’m not sure I understand what the accomplishment is. There’s some text generation based on selecting from lists of alternatives, a few random-number if/thens, and an input prompt that basically just accepts any command and ignores it. Sounds like something you could whip up in Inform 7 in ten minutes? (Probably in almost any programming language, to be honest.)

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Yeah, you’re right. I had thought the author had done a ton of hand optimization to get the code down to a single screen, but ahope1’s post seems to indicate that’s machine optimization. The source is still neat, but not nearly as impressive as I thought.


Thank you!

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This was a fun combination of Slay the Spire and old Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.

The story is amusingly convoluted and meta: your sister has created a card game, and the story of the card game is that a fantasy hero (your old D&D character) has been transported into modern times, and is playing in a fantasy themed card game tournament. I’m not sure why the elaborate frame exists, but I really enjoyed it. The story in general is well-done, and is a fun romp through tropes and nerd culture. It reminded me of Card Hunter, which was also very good.

The main focus is the gameplay, which is extremely similar to Slay the Spire. It’s fun for a lot of the same reasons Slay the Spire is, though I had a harder time finding good “builds” to work towards, and the characters don’t have as much identity.

I liked that the game had a more defined story than Slay the Spire, but it causes some mechanical tension. Slay the Spire’s systems were quite random, but they were built on the idea that you’d be restarting a lot, so you could end up with a bad build and it wouldn’t be a big deal. Here, though, the story and slower paced equipment progression encourages reloading if you die, while not providing significantly more ways to tune your deck. I played two characters who got stuck halfway through the second section of the game in what felt like unwinnable fights (though I might’ve just been bad at the game).

I wonder if the solution might be to allow the player to choose a path down a progression tree that grants cards in a particular order, instead of presenting them with random choices. That would keep a player’s power level relatively consistent over the course of the game and help make the possible builds more obvious. If you still want the random nature, maybe provide them with semi-random “buckets” of cards that work together, a la Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run mode.

Overall, I liked this. The gameplay is well done, and I probably would return to it had I not already gotten my fill of Slay the Spire when that game came out. I would really like to see what happens with the story, but I don’t think I have the patience to work through the fights.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

-The interface could use work. The gameplay-relevant section of the interface feels cramped, and the text is small, and sort of hard to read.

-The reward for winning the tournament is a chance to meet the “Grand Wizard,” which might be worth changing.


At Night

I wanted to play some of the games that don’t have public reviews listed in the reviews spreadsheet, which is why I took a look at At Night.

The game is pretty short. You stumble around your room, meet a demon, fight some lesser demons, then kill the main demon. I liked how the game forced you to use sound to locate the demons. The writing could use some work, and the story didn’t really seem to be about much. It’s a fine implementation of some concepts, but I didn’t get much out of it.


Hello, thank you very much for dedicating your time to the game.

The story is simple, mainly because it tries to implement that feeling of disorientation that some have experienced in adolescence when they wake up in their room without knowing how to get out … Then the “nightmare” arises.

The objective is to try to balance game and narrative, that the power of both is combined. Do not forget the playable part of the IF … The sense of adventure.

Thanks again! And if you have any advice to improve in my next I do not play that you could not give me because of a spoiler, I would appreciate it.

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There’s an update to this, believe it or not. I thought that the screenshot did indeed show code that had been machine-optimized (or tokenized), but it turns out that it’s actually code that’s been typed in using the abbreviated forms of C64 BASIC keywords.


Last House on the Block

Last House on the Block is a piece of parser IF about a pair of kids exploring a house.

The premise is fun (exploring abandoned areas is always a good time) and your companion LiYuan is pretty well implemented. She wanders about on her own, and there are several instances where she has fun reactions to what you’re doing–picking flowers, or taking a box of old cereal off of your hands. In general, the writing is pretty good, and there’s some amusing responses to player actions, including a long line of responses you can go down if you try to open an old fridge or wear an old man’s suit. There are three different companions you can play with, and, while I didn’t play through with any but LiYuan, that variety is pretty neat.

Unfortunately, the game stumbles in other areas. The house is crammed full of items, but you can’t interact with the vast majority of them in any meaningful way. There’s probably an argument that the surplus of useless items makes the game more realistic, or is a puzzle in and of itself. I’m open to that philosophy, but I think you still need to make every item do something, even if that something is just “have a funny joke if you examine it.” As is, the game discourages exploration, because most of the time exploration has no reward.

The puzzles are also hard to fathom. I got into the house, but I couldn’t figure out how to light up the dark room, and there’s no way I would have thought to move the couch in the basement to find the secret door. Pushing a knitting cabinet up two sets of stairs is not an intuitive way to get to a trap door (why can’t I stand on LiYuan’s shoulders?), and, since almost no other places in the game support repeated examination, I would never have thought to repeatedly examine the dresser.

There’s fun in Last House on the Block, but it’s extremely diluted–the game needs condensation. To its credit, you could improve it significantly just by cutting things. Getting rid of a lot of the items would make exploration feel more fruitful, and help focus the player on the objects that are relevant to puzzles. You’d even have an in-fiction explanation for it–the movers have already taken most of old man Jenkins’ items away. Foregrounding the idea that pushing items around is an important part of the game space would be extremely helpful as well–maybe there’s some junk blocking a door you need to push aside?

Overall, I found the game pretty frustrating, but there’s a lot of good here–it just needs more focus.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

-If you try to examine your companions, you’ll get some variation on “LiYuan looks the same as she usually does,” which is almost worse than no response at all–the author realized I wanted to know what she looked like, but refused to tell me!

-There is an inventory limit, which bugged me given the amount of stuff laying around in the house. It also led me to not realize I had a phone, which is a key puzzle component–I would frequently drop all when I wanted to pick something else up, and I lost my phone in the piles of things I was lugging around.

-There seemed to be a lot of time spent on the companions, but they have very little game impact, which contributes to the scattershot feel of the game.



Captivity was a great escape-themed puzzler. I had some minor nitpicks, but overall deeply enjoyed the experience.

You play as a kidnapped princess, held captive by a duke that intends to rape you. The game consists of you exploring the dukes castle, finding useful items, and talking to and manipulating characters so you can go about your business.

The focus of the game is the puzzles. They’re sensible and clever, and hit the right level of difficulty. Of note are the many NPCs in the castle, which give you important information about themselves and each other, using an “ask about X” system. This was very strong. NPC conversations balance puzzle information with well-written fluff, making the characters feel like real characters rather than hint-dispensing machines. And, there’s a number of keywords that the game doesn’t tell you about, which gives a sense of discovery if you happen to go back and ask about them.

The writing in general is quite good, with some solid humor and a level of detail that effectively balances descriptiveness and utility. If you miss an important window to perform an action, the game will reset itself with a fun message, and it lampshades that at the end by saying you were in a “walking dead” scenario the whole time, and giving you an item that (I’m pretty sure) you couldn’t have possibly found up to that point.

I will say that I found some of the tonal choices odd–the game warns you that it’s about rape, but it could’ve just as easily been about arranged marriage, say, and dodged much of the controversy. The lewd maid, porno book and violent murder of the Duke stuck out as well, not because they’re especially offensive, but because they seem like they could’ve been easily re-written to be less tonally dissonant–the game lands in the PG-13 range, but could’ve been brought down to PG without much alteration.

All-in-all an extremely satisfying puzzle parser. And my first TADS game! I’ve been heartily enjoying the parser games I’ve checked out this comp.

Miscellaneous Thoughts and Very Minor Puzzle Complaints:

-The content warning claims, in part, that the story “approaches…abduction and rape in a tone that can only be described as light-hearted and whimsical.” That probably overstates things. It’s likely better to do that then not mention it at all, but I hope it doesn’t deter too many folks from playing.

-Complimenting the wizard’s mustache seems to have the same effect as kissing him, which is cool. But if you do that without kissing him, then try to kiss him (as the game encourages), you get told something to the effect of “you don’t want to do that more than once.”

-You know the cook has hidden the matches somewhere in the kitchen but “search”-ing the location it’s in doesn’t find it, you have to see her hide it in the boots before you get the idea to “look in boots.”

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Ascension of Limbs

This was a great systems-driven game about a proprietor of an antique shop dealing with eldritch horrors. It’s reminiscent of Cultist Simulator, with a turn based interface instead of a real-time one. You have a list of verbs and a list of nouns, and take a turn by combining two: SEARCH SHOP or TALK NUMBER or SEARCH DIRECTORY. You explore your shop to find wares to sell and mysterious artefacts that help or hinder you. You also have to manage your sanity, customers’ experiences, and money.

There’s a lot going on, but it’s very well tutorialized, and everything works together sensibly. The game’s balanced well: the first few weeks are hard to make ends meet, and may require taking out a loan, but once you start building up momentum, the game moves along at a nice clip–though you then have to switch focus to managing the many moving parts of the store.

The systems are DEEP. The customers have personality; there’s a ton of interesting evil artefacts to discover (many with their own unique side quests); there are interesting infamy, insanity, and curse systems; there’s multiple endings; there’s a bunch of lore; you can hire an extra employee that will move about independently; and there’s a catalog full of hardware that brings unique bonuses and more verbs. Incredibly, each of those are interesting without being intimidating, and interact with each other in cool and surprising ways.

But you can beat the game in under 30 minutes! I felt like things were just getting underway when I fulfilled the requirements for the first ending, and was able to get the ultimate “good” ending in under an hour. Even then, I felt like I had barely explored many of the critical systems*, and may have missed large chunks of the game altogether. The balance on this seems way off–it feels like the author could’ve octupled the length of the game and I would’ve still had things left to explore.

I’m not quite sure how to grade this: I had a lot of fun with it, and there’s a ton of interesting stuff and some incredible systems design, but the game does not incentivize you to explore it very well. I think a few balance tweaks could’ve made this a 10, but as is it’s just very good.

*namely infamy, insanity, and the items from the hardware store.


Hey, thanks for the review. Regarding the length, I aimed to create a similar experience like in many roguelite-games, Binding of Isaac for instance, where playthroughs rarely last longer than 1 hour, and the player only sees a small amount of content each time when playing. Bigger requirements for reaching the endings is something to consider for a post-comp release, especially if I still keep adding more items and events to the game. My intention was to avoid the feeling of arbitrary grind; in this sense, it’s better for a playthrough to end a bit too soon than a bit too late.


Hey AKheon,


I’d agree it’s better for a playthrough end too soon than too late. With most roguelikes I’ve enjoyed, playthroughs are indeed under an hour, but the game is difficult to beat without repeated runs. Or, like with Binding of Isaac, the initial win conditions are relatively easy, but the game continually adds new, more difficult goals. But, I would imagine it’s tricky in an IFComp context to balance for that, given the two hour window.

To your point about seeing a limited amount of content: I think part of my frustration was that I saw more content than I knew what to do with in a given run. I wanted to take more time to discover what my artifacts or hardware store items did or dig into some of the systems more, but the most efficient option seemed to be to continually search, plop artifacts in my display case, then PROMOTE if my infamy got too high.

Partially this is me just sabotaging myself–I have a tendency to optimize for winning rather than fun–but I wish the game had been balanced differently to direct me more towards deeper exploration.

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I hope there wasn’t anything there, because that goddamn haunted mansion permanently nerfed my character. I spent so much time fruitlessly searching it that I was never able to return to my old stats.

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I was going to say that I explored it very thoroughly and didn’t find anything, also suffering the same knock-down from demigod to plebe in the course of gathering nothing other than a bunch of vendor trash. Though I did that before turning into the baker, and reading Thomas’ original review text, apparently you can visit it afterwards and there are substantial changes including a whole asylum bit that I completely missed out on (I just flew straight to the sandbox right after getting the pickle, since I’d accepted the bee queen’s generous offer of wings and easy access to the hive mind) so maybe something does pop up in there afterwards.

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Ugh! I had the damn wings, and I still ended up going into The Institute where I legit broke the game. The Cat Burglar’s conversation was supposed to show up in a pop-up window, but it appeared in the main window and then I couldn’t do anything but start over.

The thing I don’t understand about the bee transformation is how it could be better than becoming a pickle zombie – or, why fight the pickle transformation at all? Why do you need to get rid of the pickle when it’s just one of many things in Age of Aeons that can utterly ruin whatever you had intended for your character?

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I mean in theory you make a solid point, except pickles are gross so that’s different.

I got the impression the bee transformation left you with your mind largely intact. And I think you can hide it, somehow. If you die, you seem to revert human mode, but can transform back into bee mode. If you do that, it scares off any party members you may have with you.
And the bees mostly seem like they mostly just want to be left alone. The airships are encroaching on their territory!

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Hi dugg_funny, thank you very much for giving Eidolon’s Escape a go and for your review. While I’m sorry to hear you didn’t connect with it, I’m glad that it sounds as if you had some fun with it.

Thank you for your points of feedback, which all make a lot of sense, and for taking the time to both play and discuss the game.


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