Noah's IF Powerfest 2024- Evaluations

Once again, I am returning to evaluate the entries for Spring Thing!

Like last year’s IFComp, there will be spoilers. Same format as usual. Unlike last year’s IFComp, I planned to be more active in the community, and thus ended up playtesting a handful of entries, so now that I have some experience reviewing and playing stuff under my belt, I hope I will be more tactful in my reviews. There are also more entries- thirty-three in all- than last year, and some familiar faces! Moreover, there is a new category this year: New Game Plus (more info in the reviews). Playtested entries will most likely show up later, but they may come earlier depending on schedule.

Updates to come soon! List of entries:

Alltarach (done)
The Case of the Solitary Resident (done)
Do Good Deeds (done)
Doctor Jeangille’s Letters (done)
Dragon of Steelthorne (done)
Loose Ends (done)
Octopus’s Garden (done)
Pass A Bill (done)
Potato Peace (done)
PROSPER.0 (done)
Rescue at Quickenheath (done)
A Simple Happening (done)
Social Democracy: An Alternate History (done)
Studio
Thanks, but I don’t remember asking (done)
To Beseech Old Sins (done)
The Trials of Rosalinda
The Truth About PRIDE (done)
Voyage of the Marigold (done)
You Can Only Turn Left (done)
Zomburbia
Bydlo; or the Ox-Cart (done)
Deep Dark Wood (done)
A Dream of Silence
Escape From the Tomb of the Celestial Knights
Ink and Intrigue (done)
Luna Gardens
Nonverbal Communication (done)
The Portrait
Provizora Parko (done)
The Kuolema V2
One King to Loot them All V2 (done)
The Time Machine V2

Running total: 24/33

10 Likes

I consider it more like “One King to Loot them All - (Twine/Choice) edition”; although the story is the same, it is not really a V2 of the parser game I entered in IFComp last year. I am planning to release a V2 of my parser game later this year (basically some more fixes and a commentary track added).

4 Likes

The Case of the Solitary Resident (thesleuthacademy)

What it is about: If you had not guessed by now, this is yet another murder mystery. But this time, it’s in Twine. Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and find out who or what killed the neighbour next door!

The good: Nice pictures. Twine is well-known for having an easy-to-access base, but the ceiling is high. So high, that people have done puzzle games in Twine (e.g. Bones of Rosalinda- more on that in my review of Trials.) The author previously entered Last Vestiges in last year’s IF Comp, and once again almost everything that applies to Last Vestiges still applies here. This, along with Pass a Bill (see below), tries to incorporate parser features into Twine- you click on the links instead of typing > X CUP for instance. Both achieve very much the same result. Last year, as you can remember, I realized just how good a parser game can be. Here, it just comes full circle, having started out with Choicescript (indeed, Choicescript entries will come later this year). I still think this one’s better than Last Vestiges though.

The bad: Like in Last Vestiges, the author intended to “create[d] as a potential teaching tool for forensic science and medical education.” Hence the disclaimers. And the final results play out very much like Last Vestiges too- you’d need to keep your eyes peeled for any red, or should I say purple, herrings. Which is thus somewhat of a letdown. And are we really Sherlock this time? Maybe even less, since this one has a lot of drugs. Which makes asking a layman to digest scientific jargon, well, harder.

The Huh: Mathbrush, as you can remember, has a classification of murder mysteries. This one falls in the “gather evidence and then answer some questions at the end” kind, where the evidence-gathering is one big puzzle where several components are dependent on others. This time, since it’s in Twine, there is less of a loss as to what to ask the suspects. Something that parser historically doesn’t do very well in, but Twine has a seamless experience in. Going by Emily Short’s Cheese-friendly directory, at least this one does have a description of what sort of cheese you get, I guess?

Grade: 69.6%

7 Likes

Do Good Deeds (Sissy)

What it is about: You’re an elf whom nobody in the forest likes thanks to your weird appearance. Alas, the forest denizens need your help! Can you solve their problems and maybe, just maybe, achieve samsara along the way?

The good: This is what happens when you mix Best Gopher Ever from Arthur DiBianca and Esther’s. At least there is a puzzle or two. Some attempt at humor (hedgehog to sea urchin). This captures what spring is like. Sometimes the true friends were the ones we made along the way, after all.

The bad: Quite a number spelling and grammatical errors, but I’m not going to be too pedantic about this since English may not be the author’s first language. The font colour scheme for dialogues can be hard to see sometimes (yellow and green on a yellowish background is a no-no). The pictures are positioned too low. Modis feels like a Mary Sue-too ‘flat’ and not enough ‘depth’ sometimes.

The Huh: The title sounds really misleading. I thought it was going to be the journey of someone who eventually becomes a Buddhist monk and achieves enlightenment, and about the nature and rationale of the conceptual entity known as ‘karma’ (well, according to what the Buddhists say, of course). I was clearly mistaken. Well, you can’t be philosophical in a children’s game.

Grade: 55.5%

2 Likes

Potato Peace (Ronynn)

What it is about: It is the year 22XX. You are tasked to maintain peace between humans and robots, er I mean potatoes. Can you live up to the expectations of your diplomat father? Can you expose the truth? Or will you… turn Maverick?

The good: This one is surely not lacking in the humor department, with potato puns abound. The society described here, of humans and free-willed potatoes, is a clear parallel to the world of Mega Man X. I also see some references to Zootopia. The PC is a pacifist! Also I like the picture- this being a visual novel, I immediately thought Ren’py was the go-to medium, but Twine and Ink (the latter with 80 Days) work just as well. Some societal issues were tackled head-on.

The bad: The author previously entered Meritorcracy in last year’s IF Comp, and I feel that this one is just slightly too linear, but better than the former. There were some things I expected to be present but are not there in the game. These include: discussion of racism. Now this is a sensitive topic, but Zootopia could bring out the “us versus them” mentality concerning racism that was seen in the film, which in that context, was about predators vs prey. Here a similar approach could be found in the humans vs potatoes dynamic, and we could have Mayor Russet the potato act in a similar manner as, say Mayor Belleweather (Zootopia- who is a sheep, mind you), or Sigma (Mega Man X), basically expounding on their theory of potato supremacy, which also has a real-world parallel, I’m afraid. Alas, I didn’t see much of that here. Since you could be part of the diplomacy and law enforcement team (a la Maverick Hunters, or the Zootopia Police), I would like to see a greater dynamic in which there is a sliding morality scale and sides that you could pledge your allegiance to. Alas, this one is thin as a potato chip (pun intended) in terms of background and world-building, with the humans taking a back seat (wait, where have I heard this one before?).

The Huh: I also felt the “living up to parent’s expectations theme” a la charting your own path not fully fleshed out. This could also work as a mystery of who stole the potato pie statue, but this was also not fully fleshed out. This is as the mayor soon admits their guilt. This is one of three (four?) games with political intrigue, and this one, in my opinion, needs more time in the oven- pun intended. Fight, potato-head, for everlasting peace!

Grade: 67.3%

2 Likes

The Truth About PRIDE (Jemon Golfin)

What it is about: Explore a maze and find out what PRIDE! really means. What the LGBTQ+ community stand for. And where your dreams and goals lie.

The good: It’s almost a poem. There are six paths to take, each giving the meaning of each individual letter, and as a bonus, the exclamation mark. Each letter has several keywords and some questions. It’s meant for self-reflection, and like Norbez’s Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition from last year, you feel that you are in a museum, thinking about how these concepts can be exemplified in your life. It’s surreal. It’s meant to be a confidence booster, and let’s say it did its job, regardless of which part of the spectrum (!) you belong.

The bad: It’s not that puzzly, despite the keywords. It’s also not a text adventure in the traditional sense, in other words, from what I know, a parser game (any medium will do- TADS, Inform, Quest, ADRIFT, even Alan). There really isn’t multiple endings- just a single one. I was surprised that this was a class assignment to begin with. I did play it on itch since it’s easier to move around (it’s one of those IF stuff where unconventional stuff happens). And I want more LGBTQ+ background, please. What makes them, them? Why do they think the way they think? I have been wrestling with these questions myself, and… we don’t want to be more confused than we already are now.

The Huh: I am new to Bitsy, and this wasn’t so bad! If this was merely a poem, it would like the self-reflection and self-discovery aspect that it embraces so strongly. This is a mirror into the world of those who self-identify as LGBTQ+ and invites us to explore said world, and not only allow them to explore our world in turn, but to also allow us to explore our own world and ourselves in a new light. Moreover, I also agree with the author’s rationale- to find our own ‘secret ingredient’- to make another movie reference, in Kung Fu Panda, Po found out that the so-called secret ingredient was what made he, him all along. This is the LGBTQ+ community’s expression of who they are, and their Dragon Scroll. We already have its secret. Now it is time to train to be… a master in what you do.

Grade: 63.4%

2 Likes

Rescue at Quickenheath (Mo Farr)

What it is about: You’re a highway robber person, and your partner-in-crime is about to be executed for their crimes. Can you save them and get to the heart of the matter?

The good: The atmosphere and the character of Lady Thalia (it’s a pity she didn’t show up this year), the shenanigans of Faery: Swapped and One King to Loot (see below), the humor and setting of Prince Quisborne, the romance of Bat Lady Quest, the action of Dr Ludwig and Eat the Eldritch (the latter five from last year’s IF Comp)- all mixed up, shoved into the frying pan and out comes- this. A very lighthearted story, full of otherworldly yet relatably familiar humor and insane action that will likely keep your eyes peeled and you on your toes. Valentine would probably make Indiana Jones cry. As a first time Spring Thing participant, this was a fantastic debut. Also, the gender choice feature is something we normally take for granted Choicescript wise, but it’s a good thing it’s implemented. Puzzle hints are also implemented. Romance was just about as good as a well done steak. Without laksa sauce, that is. This game’s main selling point is its historical inaccuracy. And it’s so over the top that in this case, more is more.

The bad: I wish there were more puzzles. When I had to guess Aubrey’s ‘other name’, I guessed yerbua at first, which is Aubrey spelt backwards. I thought keywords are spelt backwards and one of the seeds for Seedcomp was Reverse a poem. Yes, there are two in this game. I was dead wrong- cue the buzzer from The Price is Right. Nevertheless, the plot twist was indeed surprising- though it came too early in the story. Also, where’s that inventory button when you need it?

The Huh: I would love to see a sequel. Could we be roboticized, er I mean fairy-ized this time? And what’s the big deal with the feathered hat? Could this be expanded and then remastered in parser? If so, that would really come full circle.

Grade: 77.7%

2 Likes

PROSPER.0 (groggydog)

What it is about: You are a cog in the capitalist machine. Your job is to collect all information and… destroy all poetry. Both information and poetry come from a database chock full of data gathered from some alien civilizations. OK, not quite right, just only the information. But when that rogue AI appears and security is compromised, who you gonna call? The Poembusters perhaps?

The good: Like The Thick Table Tavern, there is a free play poem destroyer mode not unlike the drink mixing one in the former. And with no end to what one can create. As mentioned earlier, one of the seeds for Seedcomp was Reverse a poem. This year’s Seedcomp (which I already reviewed) did have two entries that were deliberately poetry-based, Sonnet and Poetic Justice. This one too has plenty of such poetic references. Here, you’re trying to, rather than deduce the poet as in the latter, destroy a poem. All of which were taken from existing works, then put through Google Translate so as to make them sound even more alien, while still making sense. Very impressive. I guess this one was originally meant for Seedcomp but the author decided to enter this one into Spring Thing instead due to missing the deadline for the former much like what happened to Red Door Yellow Door last year. (Update: it isn’t.) Thanks for including a slowdown option! And I very much appreciate the dark humor! And yes, the title is a pun on another poem (guess which one?).

The bad: The aim of the game is to distinguish between data and poetry. Well, that objective was squarely met. Now, despite the ‘poems’ being all in English, they partially successfully make it ‘feel’ alien, which reminds me of the game A Study of Human Behavior- basically seeing the human condition from an alien’s perspective. Here, the author attempts to do the reverse, but it doesn’t fully show. Not all poems can be de-and re-constructed, but I’m fine with that. The endgame needs somewhat more suspense. And yes, what’s behind this mysterious PROSPER0, other than they are some kind of poetry-spitting AI, remains unresolved.

The Huh: I’m not quite convinced this is a satire on the pitfalls of capitalism just yet. Or is it one on saving valuable creative cultural icons? Or the birth and destruction of language itself? The command to “Now, build a monument to what has been lost. In your own words, and in your own time. Create something novel and unique. Make it a literal remembrance, or something more ethereal. This is your choice.” suggests the third option. But we may never know. For a start, I tried this for my first poem decomposition: “warm nights; dreamy grave; frozen silence; serious heart; blood hand; living again”. And another one: “feathered Hope; never stops; sweetest wind; coldest bird; strangest storm; without words; on and on; It is.” Two words in a line- a throwback to Passerine’s Free Bird from last year’s Seedcomp. What is poetry, but an expression of the inner thoughts and feelings of humanity? Enough said. By the way, I’m also keen to have a look at what others’ creative voyages have brought them to.

Grade: 76.8%

2 Likes

Social Democracy: An Alternate History (Autumn Chen)

What it is about: You’re the Social Democratic Party of Germany. It is 1928, and the Roaring Twenties are underway. But the threat of economic depression and the rise of the far right in Germany are threats that will resurface in a couple of year’s time. Can you prevent a far right totalitarian dictatorship? Or was the rise of Hitler and the Nazis inevitable?

The good: In last year’s IF Comp entry Detective Osiris, I mentioned how the game could teach students ancient Egyptian history and mythology. Here the scenario is similar. Back in secondary school- and junior college too- when I still did study history, the overarching question for this theme (Rise of Totalitarian Regimes) was “What was the most significant factor that put the Nazis into power?” This game answers that question, but not in the way you would expect. We are put in the shoes of the SPD. We have issues on the agenda, both party level and government level. These are represented by cards. We can use various means to address and solve said issues. But just like in any other political simulation, we are constrained by our resources. A political resource management game? Sign me up! The author clearly has their homework done, with actual events (like Stresemann’s death) included where they are in the timeline. We even have “leader super attacks”, well not actual attacks, but political maneuvers like emergency fundraising and increased party discipline to boost our stats- and let’s just say the author did enough to distinguish their work from a Civilization or Hearts of Iron clone. The historical zeitgeist is clearly there, despite this being an alternate history game. But you are not a spectator, rather, a player in it (albeit representing an entire political party instead of a single individual), and with it comes the responsibility and the power to alter the course of history.

The bad: Needs more distinguishing between party resources and government resources (i.e. budget). I prefer the status and library to be combined into one big stats page with various subcategories- this is probably because of how familiar I am with the Choicescript user interface. I am not sure exactly how to prevent the far right from coming to power- alas, from what I know, the Great Depression was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Yes, we do have underlying structural issues that the Weimar government faced (like proportional representation- modern day Germany post World War 2 has an improved version of the above), but so far, by the mid 1920s, things seemed to gel together. You could solve these long-term underlying issues, but that would take way more time than in real life, sorry to say that. In other words, we have the endgame being exactly as in real-life.

The Huh: Remember The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode? That was a fun little romp. This is something far more serious. DendryNexus, an offshoot of Dendry is an underutilized and underrated medium. Poetic Justice and Bee used it (the latter), and I hope it gets more popular. The additional features that the Nexus expansion includes is support for cards, and we all know how useful that can be for education. While this may or may not be reflective of real-world issues, the author’s various stuff like Archivist and Revolution, Paradox between Worlds, New Year’s Eve- they all tend to discuss relatively serious and heavy issues, which I will not elaborate upon for now. I do hope the author gives us more alternate history stuff though. And another thing- I would have wanted the point of departure to be 1918/1919 instead- for both a macro and micro view.

Grade: 79.5%

1 Like

Thank you so much for the review! I really appreciate it.

Just as a note, however - this was not related to SeedComp in any way.

1 Like

Deep Dark Wood (Senica Thing, Baily’s Sister, Unicorn Sisters, David, Mushroom, Hailey & Milka, Natalie, Leontine, The Land Owner et al)

What it is about: A compilation of seven short stories, all with one common starting point: you are in the middle of a dark forest. Perfect fantasy archetype beginning, I would say.

The good: Despite being written by elementary to early middle school students in Slovakia whom English is a second language to them, there is a good deal of potential to be gleaned from these works. There is some fourth-wall breaking. And many, many generic fantasy archetypes here. In fact, Halloween, if done right, could be an Ectocomp entry, but it will need more stuff and not just be a generic dungeon crawler. With seven different short stories, we get various perspectives and creative ideas flowing and stemming from a single common starting location (yikes, I’m thinking in parser now.). Since we have children who wrote these stories, naturally, their childlike humor really makes things way more entertaining. And the inexperience of children, as compared to, say adults, makes the stories simple in language, but heartwarming on the inside.

The bad: Well, you could expect the usual spelling and grammatical errors, but as with previous entries, I’m not being too pedantic about this. See above for the reason. Given the age range of these students, most of the choices end up being “do you go left or right? what kind of dish do you cook? do you stand still and think of a plan first or rush into the action?” Such choices where the right choice is random rather than the right choice is given through in-text hints are what gamebook fans like me call “non-informative” choices. Here is one that is informative: “You are at the middle of a large forest. The sun is setting. There are exits in all four directions.” This is informative, since the fact that the sun is setting implies that the PC has to > W. Since the inferential abilities of the authors aren’t deep enough, most of the choices will likely end up being non-informative. Which is fine, since it deliberately encourages replayability, but not what makes IF games good. The endings also feel like “You get eaten by a bear. You are never seen again.” What? I know, children to young teenagers still have that “leap of logic”- case in point, Skittles raining down from the sky and one hits your eye- that I sometimes am guilty of committing. One story felt too incomplete- things were about to go somewhere when, hit an ending.

The Huh: This is the follow-up to Spring Thing 2023’s Mirror. Is this CYOA done right? Some say that the difficulty rating of these games should be “Cruel” since there are many non-informative choices, but others say it should be “No-brainer” since you could always undo, right? This is meant as a lighthearted romp, rather than a serious examination. Yet it can also be used for, well, educational purposes. Well, these were originally classroom competition submissions, and hey, these students have plenty of untapped potential! Maybe we can expect an actual dungeon crawler, an expanded version of Halloween some years down the road! Probably giving this one an A for effort and humor, that’s for sure!

Grade: 60.5%

The “A” is granted, Noah, but your review will be, and is, even more appreciated.

Provinzora Parko (Dawn Sueoka)

What it is about: Explore a semi-abandoned bird park. It’s not what you would normally expect. Will you reign over this avian kingdom, or will you find yourself at the bottom of the food chain?

The good: There’s a map (but it’s not absolutely essential). There is, for this genre, no puzzles, a refreshing change of pace. This is reminiscent of CoG’s Zoopocalypse, but only in the setting. The strange everyday scenario, the bird masks, the many lines of dialogue thrown at your face… the heavy abstract expressions make this feel no different from Jackson Pollock’s blorbs mixed with Pied Mondrian’s squares. There’s a cat, but who would want to name it Yakult of all things? Many characters, but mostly one-liners of dialogue that are meant to be minimalistic. There is an option to view every ending.

The bad: I was expecting something along the lines of surreal slice-of-life horror, not unlike Charm Cochran’s 1 4 The $ in my Seedcomp review. It has more in common with Cochran’s other work Gestures Towards Divinity (from last year’s IF Comp) with the exhibits though. (More on Cochran’s stuff later.) Turns out it’s a little lacking in the horror department. I also expected more humor. I was, most of the time, confused- this may sound like a bad thing, but the author gets this on their screen: “Mission failed successfully”.

The Huh: Wish there was more of the bird park to explore. There were plenty of things to do in The Land of Breakfast and Lunch, another surreal game. Weird is really an understatement. In Prosper0, you were a cog in the machine. Now, you’re a bird in a… cage?

Grade: 58.1%

1 Like

You Can Only Turn Left (Emiland Kray, Mary Kray, Ember Chan)

What it is about: A slice-of-life - or is it?- discourse concerning insomnia, and the interface between the dream world and reality. A reflective, yet with moments of horror, experience. But said horror is…

The good: From the title, it seems like yet another haunted house dungeon crawler, in parser no doubt, with relatively few permissible commands (l, X, up/down, open/close, NESW, use). How wrong I was! This piece investigates the almost quantum-like superposition between the real world and the dream world. Despite the author’s description of “a playful exploration”, this is something far more serious, if you dare venture beneath the tip of the iceberg. Can you sleep? Must you sleep? Will you sleep? As the duality between particles and waves exist at the quantum scale, so does the duality between what we remember when we are awake - our memories and what we think when we sleep- our dreams. Each choice presents itself as either staying awake or falling asleep, and this is complemented well by the text and visual effects. In the author’s words, “Within this liminal space, memories morph into dreams and dreams feather into reality.” Alas, dreams can also turn into nightmares if not handled carefully. It’s a window into the world of one that has insomnia. The experience is such that “Familiar mundaneity is combined with the fantastic. Sometimes it is charming, and sometimes it is horrifying…”- the Yin and Yang slowly merging together, and forming… something just like you, but your Kage (that is, your shadow). And also, yay for the cat and the spider!

The bad: I was a little cautious about letting one’s own dream journals out into the world, since they could be too sensitive. Especially about the part with the pink hyaenas. If you are hallucinating, you would not be admitting that you are doing so- fools think they are wise. I must admit, it’s a little difficult to relate to the PC in a way that one should be relating to. Sensory overload was something I used to have, but no more. “For if all you have is a hammer, then everything will look like a nail”.

The Huh: This could also be seen as a discourse on insomnia and the reasons that cause it, much like Allyson Grey’s Dysfluent from last year’s IF Comp (more on the latter below). Perhaps what this game didn’t answer was “Are we living in the Matrix?”, and “To what extent are we limited by our experiences?”, but that’s another story for another time. What is raised is the importance of developing good sleeping patterns (just don’t destroy your sleeping schedule, alright?). In someone else’s review they mentioned that “[our] perception of reality is sometimes a bunch of dreams and fictions.” I’m not against that, I’m more of the sort that our perception and understanding of reality can only go so far as our experience and anecdotes of others.

Grade: 70.1%

1 Like

thank you for playing and for taking the time to review! :smile:

Thanks, But I Don’t Remember Asking (Mea Murukutla)

What it is about: You encounter three members of a cult. Is it more than a dream of yours? Whatever, just be careful what you wish for…

The good: The dystopian setting. The air of mystery. What is the secret of the mysterious journals? Were we the real target? Brainwashed into forgetting? In this case, a minimalist approach works best. Hide the details, let the reader fill in the gaps themselves. A representation of one’s dream (albeit somewhat incoherent).

The bad: Alas, we never get to find our more about the cult. Or even eradicate it. It’s mostly linear. The main choices are who we speak with and what they say. The minimalist approach works well. Too well. Of course, plenty of unanswered questions, plenty of background just yearning to be filled in.

The Huh: So was it just a dream after all? This one seriously needs to be expanded. Who am I? How did I get here? and other questions are left unanswered. And somewhere out there, the Big Bad still needs to be defeated… And in the end, nobody wins again…

Grade: 58.6%

1 Like

I believe there was a post on how we can’t say too much about our work during the festival (as much as I’d like to do so), but thank you for your review and for playing the game!

Pass a Bill (Leo Weinreb)

What it is about: You’re a newly elected politician. Can you pass a really standard and simple bill into law? Are you on the side of the Revolutionaries?

The good: The author has also written Hercules and A Walk Around the Neighbourhood for past years’ IF Comps. As with the latter two, the humor is really appropriately utilized and drives the story forward here, despite the author saying that it is ‘questionable’. Political satire is hard to do well- Orwellian Nineteen Eighty-four works perfectly fine as a novel, but a work of IF would have to take way more creative liberties, and the author mostly nailed it. Despite this being in Twine, and the author’s other stuff in parser, all the elements of what normally constitutes a parser game are all here- ABOUT, HINT, AMUSING. Did I say that the updated inventory now starts of with “Your dignity”? And thank heavens for that UNDO button- actually, multiple rewind points. There is a good amount of dialogue, although that can come across a little flat at times.

The bad: A maze, but it’s not really a maze. Some degree of realism is still needed, and it’s not enough. At least our clothes were hiding under the rug in A Walk Around the Neighbourhood. Can political independents really freely explore the legislature like that? Also, I had hoped for more places to visit, etc. Not a serious qualm, but it feels like there is a good ending, a bad ending, and a ‘meh’ ending.

The Huh: This was one of the games I playtested. As such, I wouldn’t want to overstate my contributions. This was an improved version from an earlier draft. Graphics are crude, but in this context, crudeness is needed. As mentioned earlier, political satire and other genres of IF can be done well if it reflects some societal issue. Orwell did that with the aforementioned and Animal Farm, in which he presented the dangers of a totalitarian regime. In fact, the various pieces regarding the nature and representation of trauma (e.g. After the Accident), are a reflection of what people do experience in real life. Maybe not the authors themselves, but it is still a phenomenon that is part of what we see. Here, it reflects the nature and dangers of a bloated, inefficient and ineffective bureaucracy. To what extent thus this embody the nature and representation of real-life politics? This one really feels more like Nineteen Eighty-Four (where two plus two is five) now, whereas the current phenomena is political paralysis of a different nature.

Grade: 73.9%

3 Likes

Octopus’s Garden (Michael D. Hilborn)

What it is about: You’re an octopus. You want a change of scenery. Time to make that happen! But without your owner’s approval, things ain’t going anywhere. Fortunately, the owner does have a problem of their own to tackle…

The good: There are some really weird MacGuffins here. Underwear? Plunger? The box art provides a subtle hint as to what to use. The challenge of solving puzzles as an octopus is well fleshed out here, though things are somewhat less intuitive and more tedious than in, say, Faery: Swapped. There are adequate hints, though. A rebellious octopus, indeed. As befits an assignment for IF Writing Month, it has a good amount of detail. For an escape room game, this is a must, as with locked doors (or in this case, windows). The humor and worldview from the perspective of an octopus is definitely commendable- case in point, the toilet.

The bad: There is a turn limit. Go past that, you’ll either run out of oxygen or the owner will put you back in the fishtank in the endgame, mission failed. In other words, this is not the sort of parser game where you have the luxury of exploring everything in every area- my typical parser strategy. I learnt that the hard way the first time I played. Also, you can’t bring anything into the fishtank- is this some inventory limit going on, come on, we have eight hands! What, is the author going for a retro approach this time? The title is misleading- I thought it was more of an exploratory type, but it’s more of an escape-room-but-you’re-an-octopus style of game, which reminds me of Free Bird by Passerine, but this one is less minimalistic, despite its length. There is some degree of questionable implementation which I forgot: you can type out when you are in the aquarium, but you can’t type in when you are on the table! Up and down can also be confusing sometimes. And the quilt has no description.

The Huh: This was one of the games I playtested. Originally written for IF Writing Month some 15 years ago, this was revived and finished. I don’t have a transcript for the beta version. Then again, what is really going on with the owner? Can we get a sequel? Can we have more playtesters for said sequel? This one, much like past year’s Bright Blue Ball and A Witch’s Crow Familiar, has an animal protagonist.

Grade: 73.1%

2 Likes

A Simple Happening (Leon Lin)

What it is about: You’re a samurai and you’ve been ordered to die by seppuku. Someone else is going to execute you, but it is really that simple?

The good: The author also did various other stuff like 26 Adventures After Dark and Kissing the Buddha’s Feet. And the refreshing style that the former had is also present in this one. There is a good amount of humor, so good that you would easily forget what you actually need to do. Which is, for all purposes, exactly what the author may have intended. Details are aplenty. And yay for the random haiku generator! The default Inform 7 response to attacking something is “violence isn’t the answer to this one” (perhaps we can get a cuneiform inscription of this), well, violence is the answer to this one, a la Bat Lady Quest and One King to Loot Them All, complete with the humor that the latter two also have! Unlike in Octopus’s Garden, we have no turn limit, or else you are killed by the guards kind of thing. It starts out as an escape room, but the endgame ironic plot twist is all the more unexpected. Was it really just a dream after all? And with a fourth wall break? And a custom XYZZY command?

The bad: Well, it could be a little longer. Some stuff are actually scenery, so I didn’t expect it to have no description- such is the tendency of someone who still hasn’t fully grasped parser yet. The endgame could use a little more polish, since where’s that cop-out romance? As mentioned above, the unexpected endgame really caught me by surprise, but it is all the more intended (see below).

The Huh: This was one of the games I playtested. There really wasn’t a need for dialogue since most of the plot focus was on the action, but at the time I was playtesting this, I could use a little bit of dialogue. And oh yes, our survival is in another castle, after all. After finding out where the story came from, the author really did a good job at trying to Japanize- without resorting to the obvious stereotypes- a story with a very similar plot, but in the context of the US Civil War. Normally, cultural differences will make or break retelling a story in a different cultural context, but the cultural nuance was executed (pun intended) fine. Bon Jovi would be proud of this one. And like in You can Only Turn Left, the entire story takes place in the protagonist’s mind- something to think about. Indeed, the limitations of one’s mind is surely something that can be tackled upon in future IF.

Grade: 73.6%

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