Robin's Spring Thing 2021 reviewoids

I never play as many games as I want to, and I never write as much as I want to about what I’ve played, but here goes.

Excalibur

This is a brilliant idea, not exactly interactive (unless it’s up to something that I’ve missed), but definitely not linear. It’s purportedly a fan wiki for the titular 1970s BBC sci-fi series, a Von Daniken-esque space-n’-sorcery show that comes across as a mixture of Blake’s 7, Flash Gordon and Babylon 5: Crusade. It’s fun to piece together the stories, both the plot of Excalibur and the life stories of the cast and producers. It always manages to stay just under the top. After reading a dozen or so articles, I’d swear I could vaguely remember watching an episode.

I don’t know why this is implemented in Twine when a locked wiki would do perfectly (or an unlocked one, for that matter - who wouldn’t want to share their own memories of Excalibur?) and would keep the navigation usable - I missed the ‘back’ button a lot when going off down tangential threads. It also doesn’t work for mobile clients, apparently for the sole purpose of having a fake type-in address bar at the beginning, which is a slap in the face for accessibility.

EDIT: I’m guessing from Mathbrush’s question that there is a reason!

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This is a nice review. I’m wondering if you were able to read season 2?

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Ooh. I was last night but now I’m not. I don’t know what I did to unlock it.

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Excalibur’s help page has spoilers (that are blacked out, but revealed on hover) spelling out exactly what can be unlocked how. On my first playthrough, I liked not knowing and being surprised. On my second, I was grateful for it 'cause I didn’t know exactly how I’d unlocked things.

(I only just barely decided to use a spoiler tag above; it’s really not especially spoiler-ific.)

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So I Was Short of Cash and Took On a Quest

I might come back to this later, because some other reviews say it’s funny, but it’s woefully underimplemented. In the first room, I was repeatedly told that the mitt was still on the hook or out of my reach even when I was apparently holding it, and at one point it seemed to teleport back to the hook and I had to do the bucket rigmarole again; you can’t get off the bucket with DOWN; I had to use the walkthrough because you have to look on the floor for an item despite the room description not mentioning the floor; you see a glint inside the chicken but neither “x glint” nor “look in chicken” work; reading the note requires pissing about with verbs like UNFOLD. I gave up when I got instadeathed for walking through a door.

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Hi Robin, thanks for trying out the game. Sorry that its subtitle “interactive nuisance” seemed to come true all too well in your case. Some short comments:

  • I tried and couldn’t produce the error of the mitt described as being on the hook when I already had it/wore it; I’ll look into it in more detail
  • also, I don’t know how it might teleport back to the hook; will investigate
  • if you do the obvious thing why you got on the bucket anyway, you’ll be automatically climbing down from it; but thanks for pointing out the bug (‘exit’ works though)
  • you don’t have to worry about the kitchen floor until you read the note, and even then mentioning the floor is not necessary; it is enough to only examine the thing mentioned in the note
  • the glint inside the chicken cannot be examined while the chicken is in the oven, understandably, and when the chicken is out, it is mentioned you have to cut the chicken more open to x it ; but I admit ‘x glint’ can be implement in more detail
  • I included ‘unfold note’ to further underline the complex series of actions the hero has to undertake to get simple things done, but maybe it might be just a drag
  • walking blindly through doors in a house where you are trespassing is dangerous, and the note you find in the kitchen gives you a hint about which door to choose. Any instadeaths can be easily 'undo’ne, though.

If you ever decide to go on with the game, I hope the rest will be somewhat smoother!

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Thanks! And I’m sorry for a somewhat grumpy review - they’re never nice to read, and I should have made an effort to mention some things that I liked: the writing finds a nice balance of spy drama and flippancy, and I appreciate the pacing with which the plot and backstory unfold as you solve the puzzles - no text dumps, but never leaving you clueless.

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Thank you for the additional comments!

Mean Mother Trucker

I haven’t finished playing this one yet. I’m a fan of bitterkarella’s games, and I think this is their first major work in Inform 7, a departure from Quest (In fact, I wonder if the game was started in Quest, because the HELP text says you can move by clicking the compass buttons.) Implementation is poor in parts - you have to ASK FLO ABOUT COFFEE instead of ASK FLO FOR COFFEE or BUY COFFEE; SHOVEing the vending machines gives different messages to HITting them, I can’t call the hitchhiker a hiker, and there are a lot of “You can’t see any such things”.

I’ve found myself doing “text adventure stuff”, like spiking the coffee, because I could and because the EXAMINE text hinted at it, even when I had no real in-game reason to do so - the old problem of needing the player to see the locked door before they find the key. In the case of multi-step puzzles this starts to feel railsy, as the game will outright tell you “Maybe there’s something else you can do first” if you’ve missed a step - maybe that makes me more likely to solve the puzzle, but I would have liked to see BK’s description of the dog turning its nose up at the cup of coffee, or half-arsedly chewing the unspiked armadillo and going back to sleep, or chewing the armadillo that’s been spiked with coffee but not the additional caffeine pills and doing… I dunno what, surprise me! In another example, trying to give the gumball to the lot lizard (another “text adventure stuff” move) told me “That won’t achieve the effect you want”, but I didn’t know what effect I wanted - even after I achieved it! The bikers are gone, but I don’t know why that’s desirable.

The writing is evocative and funny, and skilfully borderline-grossout - if I didn’t know the author, given the subject matter and the player character, I’d be steeling myself for the moment it strays into lazy shaming, but I trust BK more than that. I’m enjoying it a lot.

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I believe their 2020 IFComp game Lovely Assistant: Magical Girl was also written in Inform 7!

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Take the Dog Out

This was well written and mainly well implemented, I just… didn’t get the point of it very much, at least not on my first playthrough. I got the dog to the park and the game ended. I suppose it did what it said on the tin.

I say mainly well implemented: everything seemed to be perfectly implemented except whatever I was trying to do at the time! It took me half a dozen attempts to get the leash onto the dog - PUT DOG ON LEASH doesn’t work, and PUT LEASH ON DOG seems to be implemented, but interpreted as literally putting the leash on top of the dog, which just feels like being trolled.

I had to look at the walkthrough to find the shoes. It would have been a decent puzzle if there’d been any indication that they were glow-in-the-dark flip flops.

I liked the fact that the game merrily let me smash the TV, leave the couch away from the wall and other things that my girlfriend would be mad about… but felt a bit disappointed that there were never any actual consequences, even by way of a line in the closing text.

Overall it was small and charming, and I suspect there’s more to see.

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There’s nothing more to the game… but there’s so much more to do.

Like I said in my review, this is less a game than it is one long list of AMUSING.

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You actually get a hint if you try “X SHOES” (before having found them).

But why would I examine something I don’t have and can’t see? I did try LOOK FOR SHOES.

The Weight of a Soul

This is impressive. I’ve only just got going; I’m on Day One and I’ve completed one of the errands.

There’s not much to say except so far it’s amazing. It’s big, it’s polished, the characters are well described and the city seems alive, the implementation hasn’t stumped me once, and there’s what appears to be a Tom Lehrer reference early on. I may write more when I’ve played more.

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I hadn’t heard of the Tom Lehrer song until you pointed it out – what an unbelievable coincidence!

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Ha! And I thought it might be a coincidence till she mentioned strychnine. I did think it was a bit of a departure from the tone of the game!

EDIT: I’ve now learned that strychnine-infused corn was actually once fed to pigeons by the US Wildlife Service as a pest control method and this is probably what Lehrer was referencing. Grimly fascinating.

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Hah, I also thought of that Tom Lehrer song when I got to that part – as you say, what a coincidence!