Rovarsson's IFComp 2023

There was actually a discussion of this a couple months ago when Drew did his pieces on Ballyhoo – there are only a few others, as I recall:

(I think the circus-game talk starts up around post number 10)


Ow man! I read a bunch of the Gold Machine posts, but I’m woefully behind. I really need to catch up. Between that and the heap of Comp reviews, I have a lot of IF reading to do.


I’m not too familiar with the other circus games out there (haven’t even gotten around to playing Ballyhoo yet!) but Cerfeuil’s IFDb poll has a good collection of circuses, fairgrounds, theme parks etc.


“1893: A Worlds Fair Mystery” is one of the GOATs of parser fiction (imho)


I couldn’t think of very many either, but then I realized I wrote one! (Grooverland is basically a theme park/fair Edit: well, I guess a theme park isn’t really the same thing. But it has food stands and a fortune teller machine…). I think one of those hoodlum orphan games is too (edit: Guttersnipe: Carnival of Regrets).


@mathbrush , @rabbit You’re absolutely right. Just widening the focus from Circus to Fair or Theme Park gives a whole bunch of games, including the wonderful Grooverland (with the moving stages/lasertag puzzle; loved that puzzle.)
Grooverland - Details (

I love the way Mathbrush described the Carnival of Regrets: “one of those hoodlum orphan games”. I’m going to refer to Guttersnipe as “the hoodlum orphan series” from now on. I’m sure Lil’ Ragamuffin would approve.
Guttersnipe: Carnival of Regrets - Details (

And @Doug_Egan , 1893 is indeed magnificent.

  • Last Vestiges

I’ve played gummibears and wizards solving crime, private noir dicks and superheroes vs villains, animals even. Time someone dropped the whole costume dress-up routine and just wrote a straightforward murder story.

Enter Last Vestiges. You step into the room. The corpse has been taken away for the post-mortem examination. All the furniture and other items are untouched, awaiting your detailed examination and balanced judgment. Two people, the landlord of the premises Carl and your superior officer Knapp, are present to ask for additional information.

I love this. A well-constructed murder mystery by itself is more than enough to the inquisitive mind. It does mean that there is more pressure on the game to provide a compelling experience without the distraction of a tongue-in-cheek narrator, parody references, or comedy antics.

There are two related conditions in my mind for a serious, realistic crime investigation game.
-Deep simulation is the first. This is a case where the author cannot get away with having the game tell the player “That’s not important,” or “You can’t do that.” It’s in the nature of the crime investigator to examine everything to the last details and search even the dusty corners of the drawers. I was surprised that the verb SEARCH was denied. I know it has fallen into disuse in modern times, but if ever there was an occasion where one wants to search things, it would be the investigation of a murder location…
-The second is player authority. The game has assigned the PC as the chief investigator of the case, the detective who leads the inquiry into the circumstances of the crime. I took this as the game implicitly recognising my supreme command through my role as the PC.
This means picking up, turning over, looking under, smelling, tasting, licking anything I deem worthy of inspection. It also means expecting the parser to understand what I mean when I point at a “mug” and call it a “cup”. Or any other synonym or half-synonym the thesaurus has to offer.
No handwaving or lame in-game excuses for why I can’t move the desk. Just move the desk, even if it takes half the police force and the mascotte dog.
In short, I’m the boss.

----loosens tie, flutters hanky at reddened face----

Last Vestiges falls somewhat short in these areas.

The clues I gathered were vague enough to leave some lingering doubt, but they did support the suspicion that had been growing in my mind from the moment I opened that top drawer. Very satisfying to see that my not-100%-sure gut feeling paid off and pointed me in the right direction.

I liked this a lot. When I wasn’t trying to yank the clothes out of the wardrobe.
“You don’t need to do that.”


Thank you for the feedback and review! Will rework the points raised.

1 Like
  • The Gift of What You Notice More

Your empty suitcase on the bed. Time to pack up and leave. Leave this house, leave this “us”. But you can’t figure out what to pack and what to leave. Loose ends and grating questions stand in the way of going away.

The Gift of What You Notice More offers a symbolic representation of self-analysis. Digging through past experiences and feelings to unravel the doubts that lie beneath. Photographs serve as portals to enter and interact with particularly meaningful points in your now-over relationship.

The game has the protagonist explore the world in the photographs. Dreamlike subconscious additions to the reality of the photos offer opportunities to better understand yourself at the time.

Deep and hard questions about relationships arise throughout the work. I think that the form clashed with the content in this respect. Three self-contained puzzle areas have to be solved and revisited, three chains of rather traditional adventure puzzles. I found that I lost sight of the deeper symbolism as I was merrily exploring the areas and solving a stack of puzzles which involved, among other things, a mouse and some cheese, or a counterweighted heap of sandbags. My thoughts were more centered on mechanics or mammal dietary particularities than on the protagonist’s emotions.
Presenting the puzzles in a choice interface which facilitates the lawnmower approach further diminished my engagement with the intended meaning of the piece.

I also felt that The Gift of What You Notice More grasped at simplistic answers to the questions it asks. It partly lost my goodwill when it wanted me to pinpoint “Where did it all start going wrong?” by choosing one of three distinct moments. I can’t read other people’s minds or hearts, it may be different for them, but my emotional history doesn’t work this way.
It is however a common coping mechanism to point at one event or moment as the cause or the origin of problems. It gives a sense of control and clarity. Viewed like this, the game approaches some ways people deal with emotional hurt very closely. (Misguided ways, I think, but I can’t read hearts or minds.)

I encountered a few gripping images during my playthrough: a theatre where the birthday party is the play, an Angel under a lantern in motionless rain, tangled vines instead of hugging arms. Very strong symbolic emotional impact there.

At the end, stronger because of your newly found understanding and balance, you are free to pack your suitcase and leave.
I would have loved an epilogue that incorporates the items you chose to take with you, to elaborate how these items fit in with your new resolve to live your life.


Hi Rovarson, thank you so much for this wonderful review! I’m thrilled and flattered that you enjoyed the game. :blush:

  • LAKE Adventure

A little boy is sad but hopeful. He’s programming a game about an adventure by the lake behind the house. Maybe it’ll be a bit clumsy, but it’s heartfelt and exciting. It’s a present for his little sister. They’ll play together when she gets home from the hospital. She cut off all her favourite doll’s hair, but she’ll be home for her birthday. And then they’ll play his game together.

A teenage boy is sad and angry. He hacks into his old hobby game. He pours his grief and rage into it. Their father left you know. And she didn’t come home to play his game. He kills his enemy. He stores away his memories, safe to vaporise or keep according to his wish.

An adult man is sad and desperate. He found his old game in a forgotten box. It won’t work on his computer, really, an acquaintance plays it for him while they’re talking through the screen. He doesn’t know this guy that well, he chose him quite at random, really. Just someone who could get the game to work and be there while the man remembered. And oh! how did that angry stuff get in, I was a teen, I think I don’t remember… It was long ago…

His daughter’s here, he says: “Dear daughter, tell me please, it was so long ago, does it still matter now? Ancient history, it is, surely it can’t matter now?”
His own denial answers the question.

And we, dear players, who are we? Are we young hopeful Eddie, rushing to the lake? Then we must be angry Ed as well, taking vengeance on the lake, in the little way he can. Drowning and saving his memories at the bottom of the lake, as best he can.

Are we listening to adult Edward, as he comments on his game? His old and ancient game with his old and ancient pain and joy and loss?

Can we sit then with old Edward, while he asks: “It’s all so very long ago, does it still matter?” And we pat his shoulder and assure him: “No, no, it’s ancient history, how could it still matter.” We can sit there with Edward, both knowing that it does.

  • Assembly

It’s been a long day, but you might as well assemble this last little table. Even though you don’t remember picking it from the racks of a certain furniture store that will not be mentioned by name…

All this DIY furniture has funny names, and this particular table is called “Dölmen”. Hmmm… It looks a bit like a one too. Upon looking a bit closer, you’re sucked in and transported to…

The protagonist has no idea yet, but the player has read the intro. The Old Norse Gods want to return, and they found the ritualistic nature of kneeling down in the living room, slavishly following instructions from a poorly printed booklet to map quite organically onto religious service to Them. In short, each desk or cabinet strengthens them and widens the archway into our universe.

Fortunately, in a way that reminds me of Pratchett’s Colour of Magic, the universe has a strong sense of self-preservation. Why that means exactly you must be the saviour of reality, no one knows. Maybe you’re an offshoot of an ancient royal bloodline or something. Anyway, save the world!

By assembling and disassembling furniture.

Apart from a few problems finding the appropriate verb caused by the fact that for much of the time you’re reading the instruction booklets backwards, meaning that you need the antonyms of the verbs used in the instructions, the (dis)assembly work went smoothly. (Not even one missing screw. Assembly does not follow the realistic simulationist path here.)

Actually, the booklets almost serve as a magic tome would in a fantasy game. A series of incantations that, when properly intoned, change the physical reality around you.
The real puzzles therefore are where to find the booklets, and where to practice the magic contained therein. One of these had me perplexed for a good time (bringing the wardrobe to the lamp, instead of the other way round.)
The map is small but very effective. I loved the “twisty passages” in the description of the showroom.

After a spectacular large-scale endgame puzzle, it was unclear to me how to actually WIN the game. There are two options (I stumbled into one before I had a chance to try the other, which was a good/bad thing, depending on personal priorities.) One of them wins by getting the hell out of there and letting the store burn. The other loses by trying to do the heroic thing and confronting the Old Gods in their Cairn. Being a hero isn’t always the right thing, ask Susan Sto-Lat.

I was hungry for some backstory on the Old God’s cultists, maybe in a sort of “Meanwhile…” non-interactive intermezzos?

Good fun game, some tricky puzzles. Big show piece of a final disassembly!

  • Hand Me Down

Ruby’s riding the bus, on her way to the hospital. Her father’s not well at all, and Ruby’s struggling, wanting to see and hug him as fast as possible but at the same time reluctant to see him sick, postponing the confrontation with her dad in a bed in a too-white room.

There’s been a rise lately of a new genre or side-branch within IF: Works where the main game is embedded within a frame-story which opens a perspective on the protagonist and the (fictional) writer, which colours the player’s interpretation of the events. In Repeat the Ending and LAKE Adventure, what would have been a rather standard text-adventure on its own gains a more complex meaning and narrative depth by the player’s experience being informed by the frame-story.

Hand Me Down's prologue introduces Ruby and her father, Miles Walker, in a slice-of-life choice-based manner. The choices have no immediate consequences for the rest of the game, the player can choose to rush to the hospital room, or go with Ruby’s reluctance and opt for a number of delaying activities without special punishment or reward. The simple presence of the choices as a depiction of Ruby’s worries is enough to put the player in the right mindset for what follows.
Once Ruby is with her father, he is quickly wheeled off for medical tests. Before that, however, he offers her a much-belated present: a game he has written in TADS3 for her sixteenth birthday.

-A Very Important Date-

The main game, considered outside of the frame-story, is a straightforward treasure hunt. There’s a party going on in the back garden of the manor, but no one, not even you, the birthday girl, is allowed without an invitation, a costume, and something to share with the other guests.

The manor has an expansive map which is almost completely open for exploration from the start. There are outdoor and indoor regions, some rooms with unexpected functions, and loads of stuff to examine and investigate.
Simple (but thorough) exploration will yield a great harvest of objects, some necessary to gain entrance to the party, some apparently just stuff lying around, either on its own or as left-overs from finding another object in or under them. The inventory can become quite unwieldy if you should choose to hang on to everything. Leaving items behind might mean that you lack a crucial object for a puzzle you have yet to encounter… I picked a convenient central stash-spot to dump everything I didn’t regard as useful at the time.

Puzzles range from simple lock-and-key to clever physics to fiendishly difficult multi-step decoding, and even dating. (In the historical sense, that is.) This latter variety absolutely requires the use of outside sources to solve, something generally frowned upon in IF. In A Very Important Date however, with its game-within-game setup, it’s not only justified but could even be leveraged to deepen the player’s engagement. (More on that below.)
The “fiendishly difficult” puzzles could be brought down to simply “perplexing at first” by a scrupulous pruning and streamlining of the gameplay relating to those puzzles. More gentle nudges toward a solution when the player is flailing around aimlessly, cleaning up some of the clutter in rooms with such a puzzle so the pertinent parts are more readily visible.

In fact, the implementation as a whole is rather uneven. For most of the game, it’s more than adequate, splendidly surprising even in some instances where examining bits of scenery returns a beautiful reverie about the sun’s rays, or in one memorable instance, a not entirely shabby freestyle rap. In other parts though it seems the author fell victim to a heavy bout of implementation fatigue, leaving all but the most immediate objects undescribed and thus dropping much of the moodsetting scenery descriptions aside. At one point I joked with the author in a PM that I could read his state of mind through the depth of implementation, whether he was in the creative flow or stressing against time, playful and free or distracted and worried.

The same criticism holds for the writing. Here and there the descriptions feel cluttered, grating sentences and elegance lost. This actively works against clear visualisation of the surroundings by the player. It makes me suspect that the author too did not have as coherent an image of the room as he wished, or that more time was needed to sort the important and unimportant bits.
This said, there are true flashes of brilliance too. The Vegetable Garden with its compost heap, or (my personal favourite) the Statue Garden with its intricately carved figures are a beauty to imagine, and made a lasting visual impression on me.

For any other game, I could close the review here, concluding that I had fun with this challenging and satisfying treasure-hunt puzzler, and that it might benefit from another run through the testing mill. With Hand Me Down however, I have only laid bare the superficially obvious. The game-within-game approach deepens the emotional response I had, widens the range of interpretation considerably.


Throughout A Very Important Date, there are reminders of the “real world” of the prologue. The author, Miles Walker, Ruby’s father (!), has left pictures, notes, letters, all kinds of information about his own life and that of his father, Ruby’s grandfather, around the manor. Perhaps these started as little Easter eggs for his daughter to find, little tidbits about her family’s history to discover in her birthday present. Along the way, however, Miles has begun using his writing of A Very Important Date as a way to capture intimate lost moments, ventilate anger and grief, remember or break down turning points in his own life.

The PC-Ruby in A Very Important Date remains a typical underdescribed player character in an old school adventure game, frozen in excited exploration and casually conversing with funny animals. Miles Walker understandably wrote her like this, expecting his real-life daughter to project her personal feelings of joy and discovery onto this digital placeholder. This PC-Ruby shows no emotional response to her father’s sadness and frustration evident in the notes he hid in the game. But, with the Ruby from the prologue still echoing in our minds, we can only imagine the effect this all has on that girl sitting in the too-white hospital room with the laptop on her lap…

This is where the intense emotional impact of Hand Me Down lies for me: In keeping in mind that I am not playing A Very Important Date, I am playing Ruby who is playing as herself in this text adventure her father made for her as a deeply personal gift. I’m channeling this girl in the too-white hospital room, shaken by worry about her sick father, learning intimate details of her father’s life she didn’t know or realise. My mind’s eye kept flashing back and forth between the manor, where my PC was doing all this fun and frustrating stuff, jumping through the hoops as we make our adventure PCs do, and the too-white hospital room where Ruby is typing commands onto the keyboard, worried about her father, maybe crying…

This invites further speculation about this tangled web of of relations. If the player is channeling Ruby playing PC-Ruby, then what of the fictional author? Miles Walker, Ruby’s father, is a character in Hand Me Down. He’s the in-game writer of A Very Important Date. While he was struggling with TADS3’s containers, was Brett Witty channeling Miles Walker as he is seen by the player?

The continued tension between levels of reality, the juxtaposition of the girl exploring the manor and the girl crying in the too-white hospital room, lift Hand Me Down to a degree of sophistication, a height of complexity above and beyond the qualities of the surface adventure. The characterisation and emotional weight set by the prologue reverberate throughout the game-within-game, the father’s intimate intrusions serve as a bridge, feeding “real-world” feelings into the imaginary adventure, regularly jolting the player’s realisation of the wider story in which she is taking part.

It is here that I think there is a great opportunity for the puzzles requiring out-of-game resources to play a significant role in leveraging the identification of the player with Ruby, and in more closely entangling the text-adventure with the frame-story. The father, aware of the fact that his daughter is an adventure-novice, could break the in-game fourth wall to leave little encouraging remarks, explaining to her that she might need to look up some information in an encyclopaedia. (“Hey Ruby-doo! I’m glad you’ve already made this much progress. If you found this note in the skull, you might want to open up Wikipedia.”) This would strengthen the in-game father-daughter bond, and it would also alert the player to do what Ruby’s father says: prepare to do some out-of-game research.

Bugs and momentary lapses in implementation aside, Hand Me Down had me deeply engaged for more than five hours (fortunately I remembered to enter my rating at the 2h-mark).

Remember: The player is not you. The player is Ruby, the girl in the too-white hospital room, worried sick about her dad, crying over the “treasures” of her father’s intimate revelations her adventure-counterpart discovers in the family manor.

Very moving.
----wipes dust speck from left eye----

  • Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates

First of all, I’d like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to @VictorGijsbers for gently stretching the delicate sphincter of my mental erotic playspace so it can now accommodate and entertain mythological bovines, cheesegraters, and delightfully lewd ewes with big brown begging eyes…

Eroticism aside, giving a passing appreciative nod to the oh-so-recognisable depiction of marital dispute, I enjoyed most of all standing in the kitchen and in awe at the scene where Xanthippe and Socrates whip up an early alternate version of the Allegory of the Cave on the fly.

It had cake.

And somehow it ended up not being in a cave…

I loved the back-and-forth ad rem dynamics of a couple clearly trusting each other to yes-and their combined imaginations to soaring heights.

Very well-written comedy with serious themes underneath. Impressive depth of character and relationship dynamics.

And flutes. An impressive depth of flutes, too.


Thanks for the review! So, about those cheesegraters… There is a scene in Lysistrata by Aristophanes where the women of Athens and Sparta decide to go on a sex strike, and Lysistrata, just to keep them honest, lists a whole bunch of sexual activities that they are not allowed to engage in. One of them is ‘lioness on the cheesegrater’, and it’s a real topic of discussion among real classicists what kind of sexual position that might refer to. I had to work it in!


I had a ton of fun with this year’s IfComp. As I have already said in the introduction to this thread, just reading the blurbs and titles on the Comp page pulled me in and convinced me there was a good harvest this year.

When I look back on my ratings, first thing to notice is an immensely strong pack of parsers at the top. Subject matter, writing, implementation,… Deep art and skillful craftsmanship.
I loved a number of the choice-based games too, but I felt a lack of games of the caliber of Lady Thalia or A Long Way to the Nearest Star in the choice-puzzle category, or with the strength of Prism or Elvish for Goodbye in the more navigation-of-narrative choice-based games.
(Very subjective of course, and there are some notable exceptions.)

The review squad was enthusiastic and large! It was a great pleasure to read reviews of games I had just played and reviewed myself. I often found echoes of my own impressions, but better worded or more to the point. Many reviewers also helped me re-assess my view of a game, coming at it from a different angle.

I used almost all the numbers in my ratings, only the top and bottom extremes were not applicable to any game I played. I gave one 2 and two 9s.

Very personal subjective top 5:
  1. How Prince Quisborne the Feckless Shook His Title
  2. Hand Me Down
  3. Dr Ludwig & The Devil
  4. Eat the Eldritch
  5. Tricks of Light in the Forest

Additional notes:

-Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates got the same numerical rating as Tricks of Light. The latter resonated more with my very subjective preferences though.
-Reading other people’s reviews for Put Your Hand inside the Puppet’s Head, I get the impression that they did experience a game that comes close to the quality of choice-puzzle greats like The Bones of Rosalinda. I ragequit PYHITPH after encountering, close after one another, a number of straight-up bugs and some design decisions that put me off. I intend to go back to it and write a review for IFDB from a clearer mindset though.
-However much I appreciated Dysfluent for opening my mind to the everyday experience of stuttering people, I felt it leaned too much on the spreading-awareness angle to also be a great game. I am still very grateful that it was in the Comp tough.
-To Sea in a Sieve didn’t make my top 5 due to no fault of its own. It’s me, not you. I get overwhelmed and freeze up when confronted with so many puzzles, clues, objects,… in one location without the possibility to step outside and take a walk through the countryside or the dungeon next-door. The writing, puzzles, and characters are absolutely top notch.

Eagerly awaiting the final results, wishing you all the very best,



Now the comp is over I can thank you properly for your wonderful review (with bonus musical accompaniment)!

I may end up using your description as a tag line somewhere.

Can I acknowledge you in the credits as an IF Comp reviewer? And, what name would you like me to use?


Yes you can! Thanks. Just Rovarsson will be fine. (And don’t you dare credit me as “Just Rovarsson” now…)