Silvercyborg's IFComp 2022 Reviews

Posting my thoughts on the entries I’ve played so far, based on my randomized playthrough order and starting with the ones that have a lower-than-average number of reviews in the spreadsheet.

I lean towards mystery and search games, fiction with LGBT themes, and experimental pieces. My experience with parser-based games is “intermediate”, I like them but I sometimes struggle with them.

Thank you to all the authors for putting your work out there!


Death by Lightning by Chase Capener

I was nervous about playing a game described by the author as “made unconsciously”, but ended up liking it immensely. A very short piece about sex and murder (potentially). The prose was sparse but evocative, with lots of enticing descriptions and physical detail. The scenario was ambiguous–you never find out who the perspective character is working for, or whether he really loves the man he’s seducing, for example–but produced crisp snapshots in my mind. That seems to be the goal of the game, and I would say it was accomplished effectively. Despite being stream-of-consciousness, there are many branching options, and I experimented with several different routes to see as many “images” as possible, always ending on that bleak pixelated cabin.

The Tin Mug by Alice E. Wells, Sia See, and Jkj Yuio

A short children’s book with some light choice elements. The options generally seemed to be divided into a “good” option and a “rambunctious” option. The latter results in more chaos, but still an amicable resolution. These choices are remembered later in the story, although there isn’t a fail condition or a more “moral” option, as such. The choices were mostly towards the beginning, with quite a long stretch in the middle in which there was only one option to proceed. I would have liked to see more interactivity during these chapters to differentiate the experience from reading. Additionally, the images were very large and often pushed the text completely off the screen when they appeared. I was not clear on the parameters of birthday magic–are objects always magical, but birthdays make this magic stronger? How was the magic influencing events like the race, or the events with the spoon?

The Last Christmas Present by JG Heithcock

A straightforward scavenger hunt with a nice virtual feelie map. This seems to be a faithful model of the real house used in a real scavenger hunt, including parts of the house that aren’t relevant to the puzzle. I could see this design decision being controversial, but personally there is nothing I would like to do in a parser game more than run around a large, well-described area looking at everything. I admire the author’s commitment to this premise, including the enjoyable ‘random’ elements of the cats and mother wandering the house. The rooms were very clear, I had no trouble navigating and never needed to guess where I was supposed to go. The in-room references to points on the map once you had looked at them were also appreciated.

There were some places where I ran up against synonyms that had not been implemented (intermediate parser player). The biggest one that prevented me from progressing was that you have to “unfold” the flaps on the map, instead of "open"ing them. As a result I actually didn’t realize they could be opened, and so wandered around the house inspecting the correct locations without the associated hints. (The hints didn’t convey anything to me, as I’m not familiar with Harry Potter. But the key locations can’t be examined until you read them.) Other synonyms that tripped me up were being able to “open” the bookshelf after I had already pulled it once, and “dial number”.

Hours by aidanvoidout

This game takes place in the aftermath of a war. The setting is reminiscent of a 90s RPG–individuals with magic powers are oppressed by a vaguely feudal government, and some people own magical blades. The protagonist seems to have been killed in battle, but has been given a brief second chance by some kind of spirit, just enough hours to kill the leader responsible for the war (or not). You can march off to confront the shogun in battle, or stay put and wait for death, reflecting on your family. The latter scenes were the ones I found most emotionally affecting, and I would have liked to see more of these details of how the war affected the common people before the assassination. (Incidentally, spending some time waiting before marching off doesn’t seem to alter the way events proceed.) It seemed like the magic at work may have been linked, in a meta way, to the back button, but this wasn’t spelled out.

One of the game’s endings seemed to be inaccessible due to a bug. Waiting several seconds before killing the shogun reveals another option, but it can’t be clicked. I may come back to this if there is an update.

The Grown-Up Detective Agency by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

In the interest of declaring bias, I should note that I’m a lesbian from Toronto, and Birdland came out a month after I did. There is no way I could separate my playthrough of this game from my nostalgia for the ones it is a sequel to. But with that said, I don’t think you can separate the strengths of Grown-Up Detective Agency from the way in which it is a follow up to Birdland and Bell Park, Youth Detective. In the same way that Bell is engaging with her younger self and how she felt about her identity, the game seems to be looking back at how life has changed, and how Toronto, specifically, has changed since 2015. Gentrification, the pandemic. Those other games came out in a more hopeful time, before so many city institutions had been replaced with condos. I don’t know how this plays to others (maybe some elements of city life are universal, maybe not) but there were some descriptions of real-life places that I found very moving in a melancholy way. That’s not to say this is a sombre game, there were many laugh-out-loud moments and the ending is hopeful. The gameplay is conversation-based investigation, albeit with a charming google map overlay. There is nothing in the way of branching, except that you can choose which order to speak to people, and your conversational options are malleable.


There’s a Toronto based game? I’ve got to give it a try later on, then! Thanks for highlighting it in your reviews here.

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If you’re looking for Toronto mentions, I seem to recall that The Archivist and the Revolution also has a subplot involving people from Toronto.

(Can we talk about games we playtested on here? Not sure. Anyway, I liked that one a great deal.)


Thanks for pointing that one out to me! I have it on my to play list already, but knowing there’s a Toronto reference in it has me even more excited to play. :slight_smile:

I’m not the Official Rules Person, but I’m 99% sure it’s okay to do so. Your “you may like this because” is well apart from “PLAY THIS GAME IT’S THE BEST.”

my notes on reviewing games we beta-tested--collapsed to avoid potentially derailing the thread

BTW, about actually reviewing a game we beta-tested, that’s okay too–just can’t vote on it. It seems like the community’s developed an unofficial convention of reviewing games we beta-tested last over the years later than others. At least that’s how Brian Rushton does it, and it’s how authors do so in the forum. I think the goal is to push ourselves to try something new.

But it’s not exactly hard and fast and shouldn’t be. Last year, I was trying to review all the games with a thread in the authors’ forum. I would hold games I beta-tested and only review them if I was in a rut or getting behind pace. It worked well.


That sounds like a good guideline. Thanks! :smile: I’ll post my thoughts on Archivist towards the end, then.

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Cannelé & Nomnom - Defective Agency by Younès R. & Yazaleea

Note: This is based on my thoughts at about the hour-and-forty-minutes mark. I actually hit a game-breaking glitch afterwards that prevented me from completing it. I’ve let the authors know. While I probably won’t have time to replay it before the competition ends, I am definitely looking forward to coming back to it in the future.

It’s difficult to have a fair mystery in a fantasy setting–the reader needs to have a very clear idea of what magic can do and what it can’t. Likewise, it’s difficult to make a detective game where the player is not playing as the detective (see: every Sherlock Holmes game where Holmes shows up at the end to reveal he knew the answer all along). But Cannelé & Nomnom manages to pull off both of these difficult tasks. In the latter case, your PC (Muffin, in my game) does the heavy-lifting of connecting ideas on a corkboard, while the detectives blitz through the investigation(s?) with a combination of schmoozing, brute force, and improbable luck. It reminded me of Great Ace Attorney. There is some kind of a point system attached to whose investigation you are following, but I have yet to see the outcome of this. Regarding the magic… I have my suspicions about what’s going on. Without having reached the ending, all I can say is I feel like the mystery was clearly delineated and fairly clued from the outset.

Many of the gameplay mechanics here feel like they were designed for a Nintendo DS visual novel. Frankly I’m blown away that the authors managed to do all this with Sugarcube. I winced when a card-playing minigame came up, only to have a lot of fun crushing the competition at what is essentially scrabble. The Contra Morte section was well done (though I got a lot of lag)–I’m surprised that this is the first time I’ve seen this mechanic in a Twine game. Even little interface things like the bottom-aligned chatbox-style scrolling dialogue are deceptively simple and not easy to implement in this medium.

The dialogue is snappy and often hilarious, though there were many small spelling and grammatical errors (e.g. “I do not take any responsability on whatever this maniac here might do”). Generally would just benefit from a copyedit. I also wish some of the setpieces in the intriguing prologue scene had been described in as rich detail as the magic system and characters (what was “magnificent” about the fountain)?

Headlights by Jordan White

I was drawn to this game by the slightly unnerving (AI-generated?) illustration, which seems to depict a decomposing astronaut. It is parser-based, but the parser is a natural-language AI, which also intrigued me. The tutorial was appreciated. In practice, I found myself falling back on the stock parser commands more often than not, although it was liberating to be able to say things like “go to the living room” when I had gotten turned around on my map. Unlike a traditionally-implemented parser game, the AI can produce some truly strange responses, from the atonally hilarious (“An inside is not on a strange liquid”, “You see oil from the car dripping into the spill. On top it has a car.”, “In front of a bright cavern has nothing for you to hold on to”) to the oddly charming (“OK, you petted the strange liquid” or “It’s too intact to be broken”).

The atmosphere was sparse but creepy, conveyed through eerie lines like “This gem reflects light like the tail lights of a car.” The puzzles were simple and dreamlike. I don’t think it’s possible to do a game like this without inviting comparisons to Photopia or Shade. (My early, correct, theory about what was going on was certainly informed by having played those games.) Somewhat retreading old ground, but along an enjoyable path to the ending (which was abrupt, but hopeful).

The Lottery Ticket by Dorian Passer, Anton Chekhov

This was my first exposure to stative media. I don’t know that it was my “thing”, but it was an interesting and unique experience that I’m glad was submitted. The story follows a group of girls waiting for the results of a lottery ticket, while reading The Lottery Ticket by Anton Chekov. Much like that story, the anticipation of the ticket brings to light the girls’ dreams, anxieties, ambitions, and petty squabbles. The exact way in which this plays out is influenced by mood adjectives input by the reader.

I experimented with a few adjectives to see how they informed Toria’s mental state. There are I think four places to intervene, and you can only go so far (this isn’t mad libs, and of course Toria is always going to be nervous about the result). But the limited word spaces provide for a surprising amount of nuance in interpreting the story, Kuleshov effect-style. (In any case, I imagine having more adjectives would be a bit of a Herculean coding undertaking.) The ending of the story was an amusing twist.


One Final Pitbull Song (At the End of the World) by Paige Morgan

I actually played this game several days ago, but continue to let it percolate in my mind. It’s a fantastically strange game, bursting at the seams with creativity. To attempt to categorize it badly, it’s a bit like Holes by way of 17776. Most of the game consists of script-like scenes with many dialogue options for the player. There are in fact branch points, two of them. One is plot-relevant and obvious, the other is (deliberately and comically) what would normally be a completely anodyne flavour choice, but which completely impacts the course of the main character’s life. All seem to be the “wrong” choice according to an omniscient voice. At the two-hour mark I had played two of the three routes, plus the perfect divergence which concludes the story, so to speak. The narration is in first-person, but occasionally dips into second (some of these points were definitely intentional, but I’m not sure about all of them).

The plot follows a semi-literal CD pirate, TeeJay, and her boyfriend, Samuel, as a robbery goes terribly and supernaturally wrong, but that summary doesn’t really do it justice. It’s an absurdist take on the prison-industrial complex, and the absurdity of making a brutal system LGBT-friendly (diversity win: trans men can be sent to the men’s side of the Pitbull prison, where everyone is forced to kill each other!). It has elements of “confessional fiction”–TeeJay’s consciousness is sometimes literally hijacked by personal essays from the author–while making meta jokes about whether it counts as confessional fiction, and defying expectations with absurd worldbuilding in a way that reminded me of SPY INTRIGUE. It is by turns hilarious, crude, subversive, and horrifying. There are references to Body Heat and Avatar: The Last Airbender. There is a mass vomiting scene that manages to out-gross Stand by Me. Bursting at the seams, as I said, like a large, furry creature crammed in a human suit.

I’m uncertain about how I felt about the ambiguous ending. I think I see what the author is saying: TeeJay has to make her own choice to talk to Samuel, rather than following the player’s branch points. I suppose there is no bad outcome to simply communicating. But we had spent so little time with Samuel compared to the other characters, with many of those interactions negative, that I felt a bit sad about this outcome. Will they ever meet their friends in this world where they branch away from the story you just played? The Donnie Darko dilemma. Regardless, it’s a unique story that deserves to be experienced in full.

Glimmer by Katie Benson

A very short Twine game about a person experiencing a doomscrolling depression spiral. In each scene they are confronted by horrible things about the world: poverty, frightening world events, homeless colleagues, losing their job. Their response, in each case, is to withdraw. There are not strictly any choices to make in this game–by design, it seems. You can examine some of the setpieces in further detail (although this seems to expand the paragraph, rather than the noun being clicked on, which confused me–not what I usually expect from expanding text). Your only option to proceed is avoidance, leaving each scene to hide away as the world shrinks around you. At least, until someone intervenes. At this point there are choices, although they ultimately lead to variations on the same outcome. I’m still reflecting on the significance of this ending and the way it was implemented. Perhaps a statement that it’s always possible to recover if you have help?

Tower of Plargh by caranmegil

I ended up abandoning this after about twenty minutes of wandering around the first room in confusion. I’m sure part of that is my parser game abilities, but I felt completely at sea. There is no “help” or “about” text, no walkthrough, and no hints as to what you are supposed to be doing. Even in a small space, very little is implemented, and there are noticeable typos (“thing veil”, “all direction”). There are other puzzle games that simply drop you into a space and expect you to work it out for yourself, but in this case I didn’t feel motivated to continue.

An Alien’s Mistaken Impression of Humanity’s Pockets by Andrew Howe

The title says it all: two alien scientists look at common household objects and draw incorrect conclusions. You are shown an artefact and asked to type what you think it is. I thought I had the measure of the game’s mechanics there, but that is the only case of artefact identification in the game, and subsequently you are sent on a straightforward fetch quest to get the others with one or two puzzles (while different characters give variations on the central joke). Bit of a shame, I would have liked to have been able to choose wrong responses in some of these conversations presented through files. The aliens’ mistakes were amusing, and tied into the puzzles, but it was hard to read the text with the lack of punctuation. A copyedit would help. In several places (picking up and giving the maintenance person the pen) it seemed that the variable to complete an action did not also change the text when an action had been completed–the pen remained where I had gotten it from, and I could repeat the handoff many times.

The music is decent but loops distractingly quickly. Moreover, I got a bug where the previous track doesn’t stop when a new one is introduced. Since there is no mute button I had to manually shut off my speakers when the third tune joined the fray.

CHASE THE SUN by Frankie Kavakich

An interesting short piece about a woman driving away from the apocalypse. Choices in the Texture engine, dragging verbs to nouns, are a bit more labour-intensive than simply clicking a link. Ideally this extra hurdle should be justified by contributing something to the gameplay or story. In the case of CHASE THE SUN, I felt like the format nicely underscored the main character’s restlessness, and the self-destructive radio listening spiral, even if there were a few odd noun-verb combinations (“greet merriment”).

The prose is gorgeous, concrete, and heavily situated in place. Even the best outcome here is bittersweet–there’s always that lingering feeling that the storm may catch up the moment you let your guard down. I played to an ending (a hopeful one) and don’t think I will attempt to get alternate endings. It felt like that would go against the last-chance spirit of the game.


Zero Chance of Recovery by Andrew Schultz

For non-chess players, there is something intimidating about any game where chess is involved. Oh, this is a chess problem. Now it’s serious. I felt this way going in, despite reading The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes as a kid! Thankfully, Zero Chance of Recovery does its utmost to help you, chock full of quality-of-life features and gentle reassurance, as well as a useful ASCII chessboard and screenreader support.

I was initially frustrated by being unable to undo, but that’s chess for you. I quickly got into the flow (the reminders of what I’d learned were greatly appreciated) and stumbled into the first solution without realizing it before the board reset. After this I got a bug, which is hopefully in the log because I accidentally reset before writing down all my moves. Approximately KG7 (kB6) KF6 (H4) KE7 (H3) KD7, but when I tried to replicate this, the king just took my pawn as I’d expect. The possible routes seem like they have to be done in order, though I’m not certain of that. I know that after getting the second one, I was no longer able to do the first (because the enemy king also remembers previous playthroughs?). The final, humorous “solution” I don’t think I would’ve been able to guess without a walkthrough, though it was fairly clued. Short, funny, immensely enjoyable puzzle, even for non-chess heads.

No One Else Is Doing This by Lauren O’Donoghue

Between No One Else Is Doing This and Archivist and the Revolution, it looks like there is a bit of a theme this year of resource-management games about fatigue and social responsibility. This game was succinct and bleak, with an enjoyable vernacular tone (both the prose and the piss meter). Every part of the experience underscored its point. I made “correct” choices, succeeded in my pitch, and still fell pitifully short of my quota. The final page with the link leading back to the start was gutting.

Graveyard Strolls by Adina Brodkin

This game is billed as “become a ghost therapist as you explore a graveyard at night,” which was an attention-grabbing hook. Indeed, you meet a series of ghosts with unfinished business, and have to solve some social puzzles in order to resolve these vignettes in a satisfying way. The solutions were clever (particularly the second one), and there is an interesting point being made here about how one responds to people who are frightening or different, whether you have an obligation to help them anyway (to say nothing of the protagonist’s own unfinished business). Many of the options, both in the puzzles and just walking around the graveyard, can be approximately divided into a ‘help’ or ‘don’t help’ choice, and choosing the unhelpful choice causes the game to swerve from moody prose sharply into gore and horror. I had some speculation about how this ties into the themes of the game (underscoring the PC’s relationship with their mother), but I remained conflicted about the implementation. It felt a bit punitive, like I wasn’t helping these ghosts because they were in distress, but because I feared getting a bad ending (especially because I didn’t find it obvious what some of the verbs would do, like “egg him on”). Some interesting stuff here, regardless.


Fun…in Toronto?

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Thanks for playing Headlights! I’m the Perplexity designer and wanted to respond to your comments about the engine.

I was happy to see people starting to do this! Perplexity is quite good at navigating you around to anything you’ve seen. You can say things like “go to the room with the dragon”, “go to the place with the diamonds”, “find the gem on the table”, etc. and it will navigate you to the place that you describe or that contains those things if the game determines that you should know about them at this point. Definitely makes it quicker to get around! I need to add this to the tutorial so that more people discover them.

Thanks for reporting these, I’m still working through the best way to get the engine to “speak normally” about some things, especially the “faces” of objects “top, bottom, inside, etc”. I have fixed phrases like “an inside is not on a liquid” (which I agree was particularly bad and others have mentioned before!) to say “Nothing can be put inside the liquid” which is really what it was trying to say. Getting through all of these and making them more natural is definitely on the list.

Thanks for the review!


Thanks for playing and reviewing “The Last Christmas Present”! I’m glad you liked the overall premise - I know it isn’t going to be for everyone. Good to hear about the need to do more for synonyms for the various actions. I’ve really gotten a lot out of reading the transcripts of folk playing through and seeing where things went wrong. Thanks again!