Some IFComp 2014 Reviews

Authors, please understand that I give you a lot of credit for making and releasing a game at all, and I sincerely hope any criticism I give is constructive, not discouraging (or if it’s just brief thoughts rather than a longer review, I hope it’s at least helpful to other players). Thanks for making games for the rest of us to play.

Building the Right Stuff

Quick summary:

Pleasantly creepy, if a little clunky in the interface. I liked it.

Spoilery details:

[spoiler]This game is about an intelligent computer that assists you in space, and brought to mind HAL from 2001 and the AGS game Anna.

The graphics, music, and sound effects are nicely atmospheric. It looks like a lot of work has gone into this to make it attractive, and I appreciated that, even if I wasn’t wholly on board with the resulting interface.

The game was good at periodically introducing creepy details and clues as to what is going on. (If monitoring the PC’s fertility was also meant to be creepy, it succeeded.)

The writing was competent. I liked the random detail about the squirrel and some gentle humor about the computer not being good with human etiquette, but the “keep calm and carry on” reference in the marketing materials seemed implausible to me, as did the “Why” option in a pre-programmed interface (unless GENE added it himself?).

The layout of the text was in some ways attractively arranged, and in other ways a bit clunky. For instance, GENE appears both at the top of the screen and in the middle, and you can only click the one in the middle. I assume the upper one is a heading, but it wasn’t obvious why you’d need to click a GENE submenu at all if GENE really applies to the entire interface. It would have been nice to be able to talk to GENE without clicking through an extra explanatory screen every time, and maybe to have the option of staying in the talk-to-GENE menu instead of automatically returning to the main screen. The talk-to-GENE submenu stuck out to me as having columns that were not evenly distributed left/right, but I’m actually not sure how one would fix that, given the length of some of the options. I also ran into a situation where I was asked a question and was given no answers to click. Given the references to GENE glitching and at least one reference to the usual options (“Yes” and “No”) being insufficient to answer GENE’s question, I wasn’t sure if this was a design choice or a bug.

There was an annoying bug when I tried to save my place. It showed an error window, than returned me to the game’s opening screen, losing my progress. But it’s such a short game, it didn’t take long to replay.

As far as what happens in the game (extreme spoilers ahead), I gathered that the PC is unwittingly being used as an experimental subject to test GENE’s abilities. The mission is just an excuse. The crucial screen that explains Organic Computing didn’t appear long enough for me to read the whole explanation, but I got the impression that maybe GENE is hooked up to a real human consciousness somehow. He glitches, falls in love with the PC, does some alarming things, makes a mysterious remark about how he knows a way for the two of you to be together, and the next thing you know, he “terminates” you. Is that GENE’s way of bringing you together? Does that mean you become the next human consciousness to get hooked up to a computer? I’m not sure. I looked to the game’s title tor clues, but didn’t quite get the title, either.

Overall, though, it’s an enjoyable game, and hope the author makes more in the future.[/spoiler]

Laterna Magica

A few quick thoughts:

This reads like an instruction manual on new age meditation. There are choices to click, but I’m not sure if they’re real choices or just elaborating on ideas to be explained. If there’s a story here, it wasn’t obvious, and I didn’t play long enough to find it. It was clear to me early on that this isn’t the sort of thing I would enjoy. I did like the cover art, though.

Tea Ceremony

Quick summary:

Short and sweet.

Spoilery details:

[spoiler]I enjoyed this. It was cute, silly, short, and not too difficult. Almost kid-friendly, from what I saw, except for some of the language. The alien words are pretty fun.

A lot of the puzzle solving consisted of looking things up in reference books and following the directions, which is not inherently exciting, but at least the items described in the books were fun. Assuming you don’t get thrown off by the distinction between “examine” and “read,” the most challenging of the (easy) puzzles requires figuring out how to measure something when an appropriate measuring implement is not immediately obvious.

During the part when you prepare the food, I was impressed by how smoothly the measuring, pouring, etc. was handled. The game pretty much seemed to understand what I wanted to do the first time, most of the time.

This game is the sort of thing you might enjoy if you liked Legend of the Missing Hat; it has a similar length, difficulty level, and playful tone.[/spoiler]


Quick summary:

Interesting experiment that turns tedious.

Spoilery details:

[spoiler]The “feral child raised by robots” idea is an intriguing one, as is the idea of using passages from literature as vistas. The text-as-map was visually interesting (though for me, the map looked different from the screenshots others have posted). Within the regions, I really liked the effect of the text art in just a small, framed portion of the screen. The Plains of Glass was my favorite place.

I enjoyed the game at first, but by the time I had gathered about 20-30% of the required data, I was playing only to find out how it ended. Exploring was time-consuming without being proportionally rewarding. The vistas/passages from literature were repeated, art was recycled for descriptions that didn’t quite seem to go with the art, and there didn’t seem to be much to do besides traveling randomly, making inconsequential choices now and then, and returning slowly, again and again, to the habitat with each new load of data. I wasn’t sure it was even a good thing to be collecting the data, seeing as this was killing the surroundings, but there seemed no other way forward.

Twice the game ended in a blank screen after I clicked a link, and without bookmarks or saves, I had no choice but to restart or quit. The second time this happened, I quit.

Some things that might have made the game more engaging for me:
*I really would have liked to know more of the story, maybe some memories from the PC
*quicker navigation, maybe being able to travel instantly to any part of the map
*more (and more varied) vistas
*possibly more in the way of strategy or meaningful choices to help the player’s role feel less passive and the game less random
*a much smaller data requirement
*unlimited inventory, or
*obvious rewards (more back story? new regions to explore?) after returning each load of data

Interesting concept, though. I’d like to play a revised version without the game-ending bug, and find out what happens.[/spoiler]

Milk Party Palace

A few quick thoughts:

I played this for about ten minutes. Maybe the scenario is not one I’d be inclined to like anyway, but the comedy wasn’t working for me, I wasn’t excited about the idea of taking advantage of people for the sake of going to a party, and the text effect interrupted my flow of reading, which got annoying quickly. I’d get partway through the paragraph and then have to stop and wait for more text to appear. It was possible to click each time to make the text appear all at once, but I would have liked to be able to turn off the effect entirely or just not deal with it in the first place. And the alarm clock sound at the beginning could’ve been turned off a little sooner. The fact that the game had sound effects at all, though, was neat–I’d be interested to play more games that experiment with sound.