Nitori's IFComp 2023 Reviews

Hopefully it’s fine for a complete newcomer to make one of these…? I’m not sure I’ll be able to play every game, but if I have anything of note to say about the ones I do, I’ll say it here. Maybe my thoughts will be of interest to someone.

A word of warning, however: I often write assuming the reader has experienced what I’m writing about, so my reviews might contain spoilers. I’ll try to spoilertag any particularly egregious ones, but keep that in mind anyway, in case I miss something.

Lastly, a heartfelt thanks to the event’s organizers, as well as the authors of the games submitted!


One King to Loot Them All, by Onno Brouwer

Once, years ago, I heard the distinction between real-world and video games described thus: real games have rules that discourage certain behaviors, while video games have systems that make specific actions possible at all. That’s not an altogether inaccurate way to define the medium, and it does bring to mind some interesting questions about player agency and whatnot… but as you might expect, it’s a definition that completely fails the moment you remember parser games exist.

Why parser? Why allow the player to type any commands they want, even errors? Wouldn’t it be simpler, easier, and more convenient for everyone if input was limited to only what the player can actually do? The history of these questions is plain to see in the birth and development of the point-and-click adventure genre, and it’s easy to imagine why the developers of these games made the choices they did. Having big, noticeable buttons in the UI that say “LOOK”, “TALK”, etc. is something any game can do, and it immediately solves many of the problems with unconstrained text input — problems that parser developers today still have to contend with.

And yet… there’s something to the parser, isn’t there? To interacting with a text game through the very same medium it’s made of. I wouldn’t know what to call it, but I do know it’s what makes me look instead of l, or north instead of n… and, indeed, this is a strength of the format that One King leverages in expert fashion! Its custom verbs may be, at first glance, mere reskins of Inform’s standard actions, but I still delighted in looting treasure and smite-ing my enemies. The aesthetic connotations of these specific words do so much to evoke that sword-and-sorcery vibe that I’d say the game makes a strong case in favor of entirely custom verbsets. (Consolidating open, take, drink, etc. into loot does that as well, but I digress.)

But still, the hurdles inherent to unconstrained text input remain. I can’t exactly go into a parser game with zero idea of what commands it’ll accept from me, so the Inform defaults are always in the back of my head. My basic expectation that they’ll suffice for a given game might be misplaced, but if that’s the case, how will the game communicate that to me? Most seem to just straight up say “hey, here are the verbs you can use”, either at the start or through a help command, with One King choosing the latter approach. I guess that’s a perfectly fine way to do it, and it’s undoubtedly the simplest, but… hrrmmm. It irks me a little, right? I can’t help but see it as an awkward, brute-force solution to the issue. Surely there’s a more elegant way to do it…? I can’t think of any, though, and I harbor no illusions someone as inexperienced with IF as me could figure it out.

One King even makes it more difficult for itself by having not just one or two custom verbs, but seven. It makes perfect sense that it does, of course, since it needs to cover every base, but that’s still a few more than what my awful memory is capable of handling. While I did eventually get used to it, I ended up ignoring march and treat with (the latter in part for being annoyingly long to type), and also had to ask for help in the earlygame more often than I would’ve liked. Maybe it’d be possible to list the verbs in the game’s header? I know I complained about the bluntness of help only a paragraph ago, but the list of exits from the current room was both unobtrusive and extremely handy, so something similar for the actions would be nice.

Well, in the end, I can hardly fault the game for stumbling here; it’s simply the case that these problems are inextricable from the selfsame strengths its interactivity displays. And hey, it’s still an excellent game in every other regard! I don’t even care for sword-and-sorcery fiction, and I had a blast with it. The writing itself, linear structure, and my eventual realization that the custom verbs are the only ones I needed to use — it all comes together to create an experience that never lets up its momentum, remaining engaging throughout its entire runtime.

And speaking of verbs, I’d be loathe to not mention what is easily One King’s greatest success, technically and narratively: undo. Honestly, I can’t begin to fathom the amount of work that must’ve gone into making it undo multiple actions at once and describe them in reverse as they’re undone. This alone would be enough to make One King a great example of the form — so that it then goes on to reveal, in a stroke of genius, that the undoing is diegetic truly boggles my mind. If the game has a weakness, it is surely how that moment made me long for an adventure far grander and more epic than it could’ve possibly depicted… but that’s a good problem to have, right? I’d rather have too little of a good thing than too much.

All in all, an impressive debut work. To the author, I say: thank you for the wonderful game! I’ll be looking forward to your future endeavors with anticipation.

Um, no pressure.


More than fine! It’s somewhat what this category is for.


Hi Nitori,

Thank you very much for playing my game and your thoughtful review!

I realize that having a set of seven custom verbs is daunting. Pinkunz kindly created a Player Primer PDF for me, listing these commands. Unfortunately the only way I could make it directly accessible on the IFComp page was by linking to it through the Walkthrough button, which is less than ideal. I mentioned it in the game blurb but it might still be overlooked.

My preferred way to advertise the set of custom commands would have been right next to the game window itself, in that big white space left or right of the main game screen. Unfortunately I did not have any time left for experimenting with the visuals surrounding the game, otherwise I would have integrated the artwork my artist created for me in the actual game itself as well. I might try to add it into a post-comp release.

Not only cross platform (I managed to win over some people not usually playing parser games) but now cross genre as well? I must be onto something here :smiley:

No doubt next IFComp will be loaded with story-forward games featuring beefed-up barbarians and story mode to boot. I need to think up something new… :smiley:


On the plus side, an update that changes the HTML/CSS of the “play” page but doesn’t change the Inform game itself, won’t break existing saves! So there’s basically no downside to adding something like that during the comp.

1 Like

Maybe you could do something with a boat? That might be fun…


Freshhhhhhh Blooooooodddddd!! YESSSSSSSSSSS


Ahaha… I’ll admit to glossing over that part of the blurb, and indeed only thought of looking at the “walkthrough” after I’d already finished the game. It certainly would’ve been helpful, so that’ll teach me to pay more attention to the descriptions.

In any case, it’s nice to hear this is something you were already thinking about! I’ll be interested in seeing how a post-comp version with those additions turns out. :wink:

A scant few weeks ago, I finished writing a retrospective on my development as a critic over the years. The catalyst for my doing something like that was the difficulty I’d been having when thinking about the recently-released Void Stranger, and the realization that said difficulty indicated a blind spot in my understanding of artistic interactivity. It ended up taking far longer to write than I would’ve liked, but overall, I was quite pleased with the results!

But apparently, so were the fates, for they saw fit to present me with yet another title I had no idea how to even begin thinking about in the first place. I appreciate the vote of confidence, dears, but don’t you have stronger soldiers you could be giving those battles to…? Ah, well.

LAKE Adventure, by B.J. Best

…is a game in which a fictionalized version of yourself plays LAKE Adventure, a 1993 game by 13-year-old Eddie Hughes. Now 40, Hughes provides commentary on his old amateur work throughout your playthrough.

A game-within-a-game, rediscovered after years languishing in obscurity? I assume the intended point of reference is Best’s 2021 And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One, but not having played it, my mind instead went to Drew Cook’s Repeat the Ending. The comparison thankfully seems to not be unfounded, given the emergence of this “diegetic metatext” genre of IF, but it did make me temper my expectations some — this kind of thing is only truly surprising the first time you see it, after all. Could LAKE bring something new to the table…? Well, I’m glad to say the answer is yes! While Repeat the Ending expanded the scope of its fiction outward so as to encompass the real-world player with it, LAKE compresses it instead, bringing the player into itself. The result is something far more personal; indeed, it often felt as if Hughes was speaking not to a generic silent protagonist, but directly to me. A fascinating exploration of the triangle of identities.

This is all fun by itself if you’re someone like me, but there is, of course, the matter of what practical purpose such a setup actually serves in these narratives. And here, too, Repeat the Ending and LAKE Adventure compare well, as they are both reflections on the seeming inescapability of their characters’ trauma. Repeat is ultimately optimistic about D’s ability to move on, not in spite of the pain he’s gone through, but because of it — a message I can get behind. What conclusion does LAKE arrive at, then? In returning to this game filled with painful memories, is Hughes able to find any catharsis or closure?



This, for me, is the difficulty with LAKE Adventure: the pointlessness of it all. Hughes’ work stands as a monument to the futility of his search for meaning in what’s happened, with each addition only making it look more desperate.

There’s the adventure at the lake itself, simple and juvenile. Escapist, even. There’s nothing wrong with kid Eddie’s sister — in fact, she’s someone else’s sister entirely! And he’s going to her birthday party, where he’ll give her a present, and she’ll love it and everything will be alright! And then Eddie will become a famous football player and win the Super Bowl with his best friend and get elected as the president and go to the moon! Yaaaay! It’s completely absurd, but of course it is. He was 13. How does a child cope with an even younger sibling’s struggle with terminal illness? Is this it? I don’t know.

There’s the Indiana Jones-esque journey involving a mystical artifact, its few remnants implemented only in part. Here we see a teenage Eddie confront his fears directly, explicitly laying them out in the shards of memory and putting his bullies in the game as enemies to be destroyed. An understandable impulse, I think, considering the circumstances.

There’s even what could pass as a modern Game About Trauma, in which an even older Eddie, armed with a zapping gun, can either zap his worst memories into oblivion or let them be. This segment comes at the very end of the game, and while there’s an anger to it, it also struck me as… mature? Or maybe resigned. To forget or not forget — which is the correct choice? Is there any difference? In any case, there’s still a sense of hope here. Hope that this can all be made sense of, if only…

And then, there’s the present. Contrasting all of the above – the escapism, the revenge fantasy, the introspection – with Hughes as he is now only make his LAKE Adventure look more ridiculous. Did any of it… help? Did it do anything for him? I mean, this is just a game. Could it have ever done much at all? I’d like to believe that it could have. That he’s not doomed to be haunted by these ghosts from so long ago — that, like Repeat’s D, he too will eventually be able to find some meaning to his pain… but I’m forced to reckon with the fact that I don’t know whether this belief is correct. It’s entirely possible that the best he could do is forget all of this. If this wound will never heal completely, then let it simply be forgotten.

The complicating factor here, of course, is that Ed wasn’t the one playing the game — I was. The silent player character is myself, so her unstated reasons for roping him into this are my own. Why did I exhume this corpse, then? Did I hope to learn something? About Ed, or maybe myself? About trauma in the abstract? Why seek out the pain of others?

LAKE Adventure is a masterfully-constructed work that leverages every single aspect of the medium to lay bare its own pointlessness, which is honestly incredible to me. But it’s also frightening, right? I can’t quite tell what I’m supposed to ascribe that pointlessness to. The game itself? Or is it the entire genre of autobiographic trauma games? Surely not — but well, would it be wrong? Is there an inherent point to this kind of voyeurism?

At the very least, one thing’s for sure: the kid wants to use the PC. Let’s wrap it up, then, and move on with our lives.


Hello, everyone. Unfortunately, I’ve been having some serious issues with my ADHD lately, which has made my already-slow writing process even slower. I wanted to get at least one more review in, though, and to that end I requested the assistance of my partner/headmate, Saori. She’s far better at just getting words on the page than I am, you see… and our opinions on things are consistently very similar, so you can think of this one as being from both of us. We don’t have the energy to edit it at the moment, though, so it’ll be rougher than usual, but I hope someone will find some value in our thoughts regardless.

Gestures Towards Divinity, by Charm Cochran

so here we have a game where you can go into paintings, sm64 style, and talk to the subjects depicted in them. it’s a really cool idea! and it also brings to mind questions of authorship, the author’s authority, the creation of meaning in art, etc. — all things that we love thinking about. and you know that this game is good because it doesn’t give easy or straightforward answers to any of these questions!

it’d easy to assume that, because we can talk to these paintings, we’d have an easier time figuring out what they’re about, or what bacon was trying to communicate through them, what they mean. but the opposite is actually the case! talking to them makes things less clear, not more, because… they don’t like him! they don’t like the meaning that he supposedly assigned to them, how they’ve been interpreted by the public, being hung up for display like this, or being commercialized/commodified products. they have their own opinions on what bacon might’ve been thinking when he painted them, and they’re often unflattering to bacon himself… and yet, where do these opinions come from? with what authority do they say them? can we trust the paintings’ interpretations of themselves to be the “correct” ones? well… no, right? if the artist can be wrong about his own work, then there must also be possible for the work itself to be wrong about itself. like, say, nitori and i are plural and trans, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that were inherently more knowledgeable about plurality and transness. those things are more directly relevant to us, yes, and being those things ourselves grants us a unique perspective on them compared to single or cis people, but that’s about it, i think. likewise, the paintings being themselves gives them an outlook on themselves that the people at large, who are not paintings, will never be able to have, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that outlook will be more (or less) correct.

what this ends up meaning is that we cannot know who francis bacon was just by looking at his art. the game did paint a picture of him as we played through it, but that picture is not bacon himself, as we could see when we literally met it at the end of the game. it’s just an impression of him, and not a particularly lifelike one, at that! it simply babbles on about the details of his life and outlook on art, etc. we’d just learned, and can’t be talked to or looked at closely, like the other paintings. all we could do is tell it… something about what it is (which we interpreted as being its non-real-bacon-ness), which makes it scream in despair.

which brings the realness of the other paintings into question, too. the fury claims to be the real deal, but… is it? the real ancient deity? are the george dyers we talk to the real ones, or even some real aspect of him, captured in paint? or are they, too, just a momentary impression of him?

we can know some things about francis bacon. like his aesthetic and thematic priorities as an artist, or some details of his personal life, like the people he knew and his engaging in dubiously-consensual bdsm. but those details don’t combine to create the real bacon, and well, was he even being truthful about the things he said in interviews? it’s brought up multiple times that he cared more about death than he let on, even.

so there’s something here about… i don’t know. taking care not to extrapolate too much about an artist when you’re looking at their art, maybe. and i’m not sure if that’s exactly what i was “supposed” to take away from the game, because damn if that isn’t exactly the sorta thing we’ve been thinking about lately, lol. what’s the likelihood that this game would fit our thoughts on art and authorship so perfectly, when it’s as ambiguous as it is? no idea. but… well, maybe that’s fine. maybe the author did put those things in the game, or maybe they didn’t, but regardless, i have to acknowledge that these thoughts are coming from me as well. and that’s still valuable, i think, even if art can’t, or shouldn’t, reveal something about who made it. there’s still something to be gained from engaging with the art itself — like a date with a cute girl.

there’s some other things i could talk about, like consent, the nature of violence, the perpetuation or cycles of trauma, and so on, but i think i’ll let the people who know more about those topics than i do talk about them. i don’t want to make this review too long, either, lol. anyway thanks for having me!!

And thank you for the help, dear.