These are not really full reviews. I don’t know how many games I’ll get to, but I’d like to call some out:
Closure - by Sarah Wilson
This is a parser game that does a really neat trick of having the player interact by typing in IM chat bubbles. In essence, this can cover for a lot of non-implementation since the player is directing a character (her name is Kira, a rollerskating muse?) who has entered their ex-boyfriend’s dorm room looking for…well closure to their relationship. If the parser doesn’t understand, this gives the chance for the parser to just not respond, or respond with confusion instead of throwing a parser error. It mostly works, although I kept imploring the character to get the heck out of there and I wish there had been some more imaginative responses to that - but there’s no danger, and a simple puzzle to open a lockbox that answers the questions Kira has. It’s a short but impressive parser feat. The game did a neat thing where it modified “my” name that I input in a realistic way and the mad-libs you put in at the beginning get used. I am the worst person though, since my entry resulted in the response: “i could’ve been in so much trouble. i should have just tried masturbating like you keep suggesting, but i couldn’t let it go”
Cyborg Arena - by John Ayliff
A short and sweet customizable game that has a bit in common with those choice-script wrestling career simulators, only you are a cyborg gladiator. A simple combat system and customization leads you to a couple of choices of how to end the story. The interface is nice. I only tried once since I was happy with my initial resolution, but it looks like the story could resolve multiple ways.
An Aside About Everything - by Sasha
I really liked the prose in this and love the title. This is a surreal and dreamlike story about searching for a missing girl. The weirdness is right up my alley, there are well-chosen atmospheric sounds. A non-fussy inventory system serves the game well. Characters or acquired objects added are highlighted in red to notify the player and that knowledge can be used automatically in the correct passages. Another interesting element is the prose is in third-person which distances the player directing the character instead of being the actual character, which allows a bit more role-play since it’s “He” doing the things and not “You” as in standard 2nd-person adventure prose. It makes the text feel a bit forced in places, but I think this is a conscious choice with phrasings like “He finds the discomfort quiets His disquiet.” that seem to support the objective viewpoint instead of just being author-phrase flailing. I did encounter two typos which stood out since the rest is so good:
“Even with her restraits…”
“He opens His eyes and a cool breeze carresses His face”
Unfortunately, I hit that thing that crops up in Twine when there’s a menu inventory link that relies on a [back] macro since there’s no way to know where in the story the player will click it…I was able to click two layers into the inventory (basically I hit “inventory” and then the characters link without returning) and got stuck unable to return to the story via the return link nor the interface back link. I had neglected to save, which is my bad.
The Best Man - by Stephen Bond
I really enjoyed this. It does a lot of things I like (including an opening sequence with a music and title drop!) and despite a linear story the interaction is frequent and changes the tone of the conversation and proceedings. This feels pretty intricate - in many cases the text changes based on what the reader focuses on first. It’s a way to offer lots of agency without branching a story like this - where a conclusion is inevitable. This is a slice of life romance (comedy?) from the perspective of a man. While this would seem to be rare, it does kind of follow the trope of “guy loves girl who has friend zoned him” and because they are such good friends, the protagonist agrees to understudy the chosen Best Man at her wedding when minor calamity occurs. The perspective switches from friend/Best Man/Aiden to the people he interacts with in interesting ways, changing the link-text color to distinguish. I always like when there is music in a game. I don’t know if there’s a way to change the ultimate outcome that happens, but Aiden certainly tries in an scene where he constantly re-writes a screenplay version of a future he wants.
You Are SpamZapper 3.1 - by Leon Arnot
Leon Arnott designed Harlowe, the default Twine format. Wow. This game is like Inside Out meets Tron in that you literally are SpamZapper3.1, an email plugin who works hand-in…whatever? with Chimes, whose job is to make an appropriate sound when an email hits the user’s inbox. This personification of the characters and situations has been well-thought through and it really is a “workplace dramedy” set in cyberspace. All the programs and plugins long for their user’s happiness and well being, and decide to actually meddle from within their parameters to solve a major relationship problem the user is having IRL. They team up with Wizard (the email composing wizard…) to push things their way, experiencing a heady dose of existentialist angst on the ride. This is a mostly linear story; Zapp’s main job is to approve or zap emails based on their content and this becomes routine, however the plot can bog down a bit when the emails the player got pretty accustomed to deleting based on Zapp’s commentary become an important source of information they have to comb back through. Luckily, it’s lawnmower-able and hints are provided via the protagonist’s commentary and voice.