Rovarsson's IFComp 2023

Having crested the halfway point, I am creeping out of my hole and starting to catch up on other reviewers. Is it me or are there a LOT more this year? I have all of two years’ experience but this feels way more.

As always, I am humbled by @DeusIrae and can’t even aspire to his quality. I am cowed by @Kastel, @RockmanX and @manonamora borderline unhealthy voracity.

Shout out to @johnnywz00, @Truthcraze for some top tier review conceits.

But THIS. THIS is the review I wish I’d written.

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Honestly, I’m glad someone brought up the “engima” thing besides me. I’ve been wondering if it’s a typo or a play on engines and enigma.

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So is it a typo? I spelled it Enigma in my review, because I presumed it to be a typo…

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Thanks!

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I am so sorry. IFComp has been taking a big bite out of what I should be doing.

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Thank you so much for spending time and effort reviewing my game. I am choosing not to make any specific comments about reviews until after the comp, but I assure you that I am grateful for any and all comments, which are so useful in improving my game and future games.

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  • Fix Your Mom’s Printer

Sunday afternoon. Lie back in the sofa, get your book and a cup of tea. Aahhh…

----tingaling----tingaling----

Or take a call from your mom who’s desperate because she can’t get her printer to spit out her oh-so-important presentation.

Fix Your Mom’s Printer is short, but it offers a wide range of choices and pathways. Most of your mom’s speech offers three possible replies from you, roughly in the categories Insensitive Jerk, Angelically Helpful, Unwelcome (but often funny) Snark, Uninterested Okay-Mom.
I played through on both extremes (Jerk and Angel) once. As was to be expected, limiting myself to the one category of answers quickly became mechanical, the conversation unrealistic. But I wanted to see the sure paths to the Win and Lose states of the game.
When following the guaranteed winning path, it became obvious that fixing the printer was a case of game-imposed lawnmowering. And also that fixing the printer wasn’t the point.

For my earnest playthrough, I adopted a more natural, organic mindset. I tried to be helpful while lightly showing my annoyance at being disturbed on a sunday by occasionally giving in to the urge to reply in a sarcastic or jokey manner. (“Har-dee-har,” is mom’s irritated answer.)

Approaching the game this way opened up a whole breadth of underlying, never quite explicitated family issues. The relationship between mom and dad, your own relationship with your dad, unresolved tension between your sister and you,…

Fixing a recalcitrant piece of technology together with your mom becomes a way to work towards a better understanding of each other, an honest attempt to (re)connect.

A short piece with surprising depth.

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Huh.

I’m doing a bit of mid-Comp recap, going over my reviews, reminiscing and correcting the odd typo here and there, and I noticed I’m doing pretty well this year when it comes to giving Choice and Parser equal weight.

Actually, of the reviews up now, 9 are Choice and 8 are Parser. The almost exclusively parser player from a few years back would be surprised and amused.

On the other hand, when I’m choosing IF outside a Comp context, 90% is still parser. (Must play With Those We Love Alive. And Bogeyman. And 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds. And…)

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  • Eat the Eldritch

Point Nemo. More formally called “the oceanic pole of inaccessibility”. The most remote spot on the globe. They measured it: 2688 km from the closest land in any direction. (Pole of inaccessibility - Wikipedia)
It’s the solution to a serious geographical question: “the longest swim”-problem. If someone were to fall overboard from an ocean cruiser, where would be the spot where they would have to swim the farthest to reach land? Funny, right? You know…because nobody could swim that far…

Point Nemo, the place no one wants to be.

And this is where Captain Jun Do parked his fishing boat…—ducks speargun shaft—…his mighty fishing vessel Tataki (a floating fish-processing factory) in hopes of finally securing a sizable catch.

But first, Jun Do is hungry.

The first part through Eat the Eldritch is a quest for food. And for the cook to cook it, of course. Wouldn’t want the Captain frying up his own dolphin steak, would we?
This involves solving a few fairly traditional puzzles which were well-integrated with the fishing boat…-ducks chunk of ice-…setting. At least one fooled me at first, I had to rethink what I had thought of as a straightforward answer to the problem.

Besides the puzzle solutions, there are achievements to gain! Sometimes by doing completely mundane stuff. Which is always a nice surprise: “You jumped fruitlessly in the air! Here, have a badge!” (Not an actual example.)

Most importantly, this first part is an opportunity to acquaint yourself with the ship’s nooks and crannies, building some familiarity with the available room and gear, and have a go at creating the greatest/worst What If scenarios for the Eldritch we read about in the title.
(Blowing my own fog horn here, but during this exploratory shipcrawl the plan for the endgame flashed into my brain like lightning. I saw it all. (SPOILER: Terminator). In no way did this dampen the fun, it just intensified my engagement and anticipation.)
There are few locations in the ship, but the way they are organised, combined with the view through the windows, does give a feeling for the size of it, as well as the vastness of the surrounding ocean.
I found two red herrings (those didn’t count as food…), one intentional and tied to an achievement, one unintentional but so overwhelmingly obvious that I did spend a good number of turns on it trying different wordings before deciding it was just an author oversight.

When Jun Do does find his cook, this is an enigmatic personality, to say the least. It’s heavily hinted through his behaviour that he has something to do with later events, but this never becomes explicit. To my feeling, the guy was there expressly to be enigmatic, to bring an anticipatory tension and an air of mystery to the circumstances. He does provide more than a few instances of skewed comic relief too…

So Jun Do has found some food and the cook has cooked it. Classic adventure game solved…

An alarm starts blaring!

And then… stuff happens. Strange stuff.

I’ll quote the PM I sent to the author while I was playing:

Wow… Just… Wow.

Things got really really weird. Good weird. Delightful weird. Amazingly funny and discombobulating weird.

Of course, having read the title, it’s not hard to figure out what’s happening. When it happened to me mid-game though, I was disoriented by the transition sequence and delighted by the onset of the second part of the game.

Since “Eldritch” is in the title, it’s not giving away too much when I say that a Lovecraftian abomination shows up.
Here, in descriptions where you almost hear the author laughing, the writing very cleverly and amusingly sidesteps the whole Lovecraftian Paradox.

Lovecraftian Paradox: when a story builds up to the appearance of an unspeakable Evil, an otherwordly Presence, a Distortion to the senses so vile it sends the mind of the beholder reeling into madness… and when the monster finally shows up it’s a laughable mass of writhing tentacles and oozing warts all knotted up into itself. “Mom, I can see his zipper!”"
After building such anticipation in the reader, the author is obligated to show the monster. In doing so however, its impact is diminished to the point of ridicule.

In Eat the Eldritch, the humorous tone of the story and the writing skill of the author avert this paradox by diving straight into the center of the writhing mass. (Sausages.)

When the Eldritch Abomination showed up, I did, as mentioned above, have a plan ready. With a few on-the-go tweaks, it worked perfectly, both in the sense that the game understood my commands and didn’t get in the way of my intentions, and in the sense that, well… it was a good plan. This was incredibly rewarding. It made me feel like this:

i love it when a plan comes together - one of the most unforgettable ...
[Hannibal from The A-Team leans back smiling, eyes sparkling,
cigar firmly clenched between his bared teeth. If you don’t get
the reference, either I’m too old or you’re too young.]

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  • Finder’s Commission

You are a Finder, a “retrieval specialist” in service of the Finder’s Commission (I thought the game title was about my percentage of the haul at first), an organisation dedicated to finding and returning “lost” objects to their “rightful” owners. (That’s a lot of quote-marks…)

Bastet (yes, the ancient Egyptian Goddess, Protector of Ra, Supporter of pregnant women, Shield against plague,…) walks into the office and requests your aid in finding her Aegis.

After this bewildering introduction, Finder’s Commission chooses a more worldly path, never once referencing the *Egyptian Goddess* (!!) who casually came to demand your services.

Actually, the framing story and even the majority of the setting is completely inconsequential to the game. There is a bit of train travel and an Art Square with half a dozen galleries and exhibitions you can visit. They get a paragraph each, are completely non-interactive (I tried buying stuff), and have no impact on the story at all. Perhaps a misguided attempt to add atmosphere and depth to the setting? Or a pile of red herrings just for the heck of it?

You enter the one exhibition that matters. From then on, Finder’s Commission is a strictly mechanical game. It’s framed as a museum heist, where you manipulate or mislead the guides, guards, and police. The NPCs serve as cogs and levers in the machinery that is the exhibit floor.
I realise that all computer games are this under the hood, but it’s very close to the surface in this game.

And I liked it! I love mechanical IF, fiddling and tweaking, working the knobs and levers, finding the underlying cause-and-effect and using it to my advantage.

Descriptions are very sparse, sometimes almost insultingly so, given that you’re walking around amidst archaeological wonders!
Here and there, an important object juts out in the list of choices underneath the text. The most important thing is to decide on the correct timing to do something.

When I succeeded, there was a list of objectives I had or hadn’t attained. The fact that your score (92/100 for me) depends on so many distinct and separate subgoals is great. It means that there is some redundancy, some wiggle room where you can execute Bastet’s order without it being a rigid win/lose situation.

I was disappointed by the preloaded inventory and skill set of my PC. In the beginning of the game, you get to choose a character from a list of 6. They have different skills (according to the game), and have different objects in their satchel at the start of the game. Maybe there are alternate solutions that differ between PCs, I don’t know. What I do know is that my character had a knife and never got to use it.
EDIT: checking my notes, I was reminded of two things I would have liked to see revisited in an epilogue (interactive or not): the Goddess Bastet when she receives her Aegis is one. The other is the guide I flirted with to get the code to the backdoor. I wanted to meet her in the café out back like she proposed. I feel bad for not being there for our date.

Frankly, the entire framing story and setting was superfluous in my opinion, except the short intro with the client. After that, I’d just as much like to be dropped straight in the museum without any clue to a game-world outside. Straight to the machine!

I liked the puzzle.

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  • KABOOM

Snuggling under the covers together. An unsettling dream. Waking up to a changed room. She’s bleeding! You have to save her.

KABOOM is about some very heavy subject matter. It’s filtered through the viewpoint of a girl’s cuddle toy, a stuffed hare. This means that the PC is innocent and clueless about the circumstances happening around it, and it produced some fuzzy cuteness feelings in me (“Aw! I like games with stuffed animal protagonists. Is this going to be like A Bear’s Night Out?”).

Soon however, reality pierces the cuddly feelings. Wriggling free from under the girl’s arm requires some determined action, a grim image immediately underlining the desperate urgency of the situation.

Considered this way, the cuddly stuffed hare protagonist has opposite effects. Its cluelessness about what’s happening initially dampens the impact of the horrible events, but the player’s realisation of the true nature of the game’s subject hits harder because of it.

Saving your girl requires some quite standard object manipulation. In both puzzles (after getting out of the girl’s embrace), there was a single step I overlooked at first which made them a tad more challenging.

The entire game (puzzle solving, narrative tempo, player engagement, clarity of the surroundings) suffers from poor design. The interface forces the player to do a confusing amount of clicking to get her bearings and to manipulate the intended object. Imagine having a parser without an implied LOOK when entering a room, for example. Sometimes the player has to explicitly (and for no discernable reason) refer to the PCs limbs, which are separately implemented under an “Inventory”-link. This necessitates spreading your awareness over more buttons than is needed. It frustrated me when I thought my intended action was not in the list of choices, and then found out that it was several more clicks away, buried in this “Inventory”.

Taking my distance from the technical issues and letting the story come to the forefront, I must say I’m very moved by this piece. The helplessness of the little girl in her collapsed room, the powerlessness of the hare to rescue her by itself… (This is captured in a touching image when the hare looks at the ruined house and concludes a scary giant must have caused this.)

Technically lacking, emotionally moving.

EDIT: I want to echo @jjmcc 's want for more graphics. The ones that are there are beautifully fit for the story, but after the intro they seem to teeter off.

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Hello and thank you for the kind review!

All your comments are spot on. I have learned much from this experience. It’s going to be challenging for me to find the right balance between mechanics and (whatever that other part is) but I am up for the challenge! Thanks again!

Cheers,
Deborah

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I’m wondering what is the depth of point nemo… for what seems, Tataki’s draft is so huge that I wonder where can berth, if can actually berth…

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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You’re right! In the message at the end of the game where I got an overview of my achievements, it said I had descended the stairway to the engine room for 226 meters!

What harbour on earth could possibly accomodate that?

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  • Dysfluent

Thank you so much @Ally! I cannot possibly imagine what it’s like to stutter, but I think playing a game around a stuttering protagonist (“Jacky”, in my playthrough) did bring me some small steps closer to grasping the matter.

I’m not talking about “understanding”. I can read Wikipedia articles and interviews and intellectually get what they’re about. Your game made me feel the anticipatory clenching of the throat, the tension building when I realised it was going to be my turn to speak. It’s still a way off from the real thing, but it’s a whole lot closer than I’ve gotten before.

My heart broke when I witnessed the treatment of Jacky by the math-teacher. And I found it funny to hear the mixture of resignation and sarcastic grit in Jacky’s inner voice when she read the title of the present off her paper.

“Sure! What game are you looking for?”
You pull up the note you made for yourself.
“It’s, uh…”
Ugh. Here we go.

I was deeply involved in the struggles of *my* protagonist (notice the protective possessive, which I could not help despite it being a bit condescending). Very proud when we got through ordering pasta puttanesca ( Yum! ) and didn’t have to content ourselves with canned peas ( Blegh! ).

The interview made me truly nervous. I opted for “less accurate but more fluent” one time and I was mad at myself afterwards. But we might not have got a single word out at all otherwise! ( Argh! )

So thanks for creating this piece of IF. I learned a lot.

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Thank you so much for your wonderful review! It’s very exciting to hear that you made the character yours and immersed yourself in the story, and I really loved reading your thoughts and reactions. :blush:

I’m not talking about “understanding”. I can read Wikipedia articles and interviews and intellectually get what they’re about. Your game made me feel the anticipatory clenching of the throat, the tension building when I realised it was going to be my turn to speak.

This part made me go “YES! You totally get it!”
That feeling is what I wanted to convey above all else, and is in a sense my true measure of the game’s success. Knowing that it hit the mark so perfectly for you is something I’ll always remember and cherish!

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  • HONK !

The ringmaster’s nerves are in tatters. Along with all the paperwork threatening to overwhelm him (and flood his camper), there’s now Phantom of The Circus sabotaging the crowd-drawing main acts of the show! As the clown of the troupe, surely you have the necessary skill set to save the spectacle…

Armed with naught but your brain and the tricks of your trade (balloons and pies), you must find out how exactly the Phantom succeeds in spoiling the performers’ acts and counteract his schemes. There’s a fair amount of freedom to do some clowning in the meanwhile, but I would have liked DANCE and SING and JUGGLE and JUMP to draw a bit more of a crowd. I loved some of the classic slapstick routines you can initiate while navigating your way through the crowds.

Honk ! consists of three thematically separate parts. The player is free to mix and mingle these though, there’s no pressure to tackle them in any prescribed order.
I opted to treat the parts as distinct chapters:

  1. The NPCs’ campers are huddled close together, perfect for accessibility, and also to hear their stories one after the other, so as to form a coherent picture of what exactly this Phantom is up to. Dialogue happens through a menu of topics, but there are a bunch of freeform ASK ABOUT options too. Either way, the characters’ conversation goes beyond what is strictly necessary for your investigation. The personalities and the social dynamics within the circus are as much a talking point as the manner in which the Phantom disturbs the performances.
  2. With the requisite knowledge about the saboteur’s modus operandi, I headed out to treat myself to a grand tour of the fair grounds. If you should feel an inclination to clown around, have at it! Your appearance alone will draw some looks, carrying around a certain object will necessarily cause some unintentional(?) slapstick antics, but it’s perfectly possible (and in-character!) to add a little more clownesque mayhem to the general hubbub. Just for the heck of it!
    Finding (and safely acquiring) any objects you think you might need is fairly straightforward. Some are just lying there ready to be picked up, some need a bit of laid back puzzling. This is not a puzzle area. It’s for preparing the puzzles to come.
  3. Hearing your circus friends accounts’ of how the Phantom goes about sabotaging their acts, combined with the objects you picked up on the circus grounds, should have given you a reasonable idea of what to expect and how to handle it, at least in broad strokes. I found that my plan for saving one of the performances worked exactly as I had imagined. The others needed a little tweaking. Luckily, after a failed attempt, there is a short “debriefing” with the circus artist involved where they point out how close you came to the solution.

Helping your colleagues get through their acts unscathed is all well and good, but the point is of course to thwart the villain’s attempts once and for all. The endgame turns out to be an action packed sequence where, when the player takes too long with certain actions, the game narrows the interactivity and proceeds the plot on its own. Tempo is more important than guessing the next move. This works brilliantly, and the final confrontation with the Phantom permits one final triumphant clown move.

I laughed a lot!

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  • Have Orb, Will Travel

Close your eyes. Imagine sitting down in an old handmade rocking chair. A deep, relaxing feeling flows through your body and mind. You feel welcome in this familiar chair. It envelops you in its cozy embrace. What an amazing piece of furniture.

Now take a minute to think about the craftsman (m/f/x) who made this chair. Meticulously assembling and fitting the frame, shaving and filing and sanding the wood to a smooth surface. Polishing and waxing it to a warm sheen.

This is the feeling I get when entering the world of one of Older Timer’s games. And the appreciation I have for the craftsmanship he exhibits in creating oldschool text adventures.

Getting into the vaguely characterised Adventurer’s persona, letting my mind be drawn into the magic-feeling abandoned surroundings. Drawing a map and being delighted by unexpected detours or short cuts. Feeling the *click* when one of the poetic riddle-clues suddenly makes sense. The beckoning call of the McGuffin pulling me onward, while the atmosphere of the world around me holds me back to breathe it in.

Have Orb, Will Travel extensively uses background noises and sound effects to set the mood (the singing birds in the garden!). These also help focus the attention and clue the player when certain puzzle mechanics produce distant effects.

At its core, Have Orb, Will Travel is a collection of medium-to-hard (cf. the distant effects noted above) puzzles in a setting that begs to be explored, mapped, and re-explored. There’s a wafer-thin framing story, just enough to spark the imagination. (I paraphrase: The Club of Old Geezers want their shiny ball back. Now go find it.)

I love this style. @OldTimer, thank you. I can spend hours dreaming away in this comfy old rocking chair you’ve so lovingly crafted.

(This game is longer than two hours. I made pretty good headway in the allotted time, but I’ll have to continue my quest in between other Comp games or after the Comp.)

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Thanks very much for this kind review! I have just uploaded a version which fixes the horrible embarrassing bug you pointed out to me privately (and which Viv noted too in her review), and have noted your comments in private and in this review for further post-comp work.

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Your piece got me thinking: a circus/fair is an ideal setting for a game. But apart from Ballyhoo, I can’t think of any other games that are set in a circus.

Do you (or anyone else) know of any others?

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