Some IFComp 2021 Games I've Enjoyed

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.


One general note - I really appreciated how The Best Man is a continuous scroll but the already displayed text is dimmed after a choice to direct focus to the new part. It helps a lot, and I sort of wished that SpamZapper 3.1 did it as well.


I adored SpamZapper, but that lack of dimming drove me nuts-- it was really difficult to find where I’d left off reading, and there was so much text that it was a real problem for me. If it hadn’t been for that, and for the white text on the background under the white text of the game (which made it very hard for me to read some sections), I’d have this game much higher on my list than it is.

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Right - it makes me note for the future to highlight new text on screen when something changes. Even if it were just bolded or there’s a definite break between old and new somehow. I did also like SpamZapper’s styling - the overly-polite search engine being a favorite, and how the styling changed in context of whom you were communicating with, but I did glaze a bit on the big screens of text where new information was added without a break. I didn’t mind clicking to get Zapp’s responses after an email because I learned to do that.


I am still in “hummingbird” mode due to my limited time and attention-span, so I’ve not played all the way through many games enough to vote on them and need to re-try several, but here are some more initial impressions I’ve had just randomly clicking through the list.

Starbreakers by E. Joyce and N. Cormier

This was very nicely formatted, I really like how it gathers the player’s name in diegetic fashion. It is a SF puzzler that felt a bit like Squid Game in space as far as I got, though I can’t imagine that being an influence due to the timing (and the fact that I just binged Squid Game so that’s my only current point of reference!) The game presents some quite difficult puzzles, but also gives hints and the solution and an “easy mode” option that disables timers and enables the back-button. The game also puts you right back where you were upon failure, very-ominously incrementing a number added to the player name as if you are cloned! The first puzzle felt a little random, but once I got a clue it was reminiscent of the HHGTTG sensory puzzle. The second task I got stuck on because it’s one of those “balance a scale by pouring liquid between flasks” puzzles where you have to pour the entire contents of a flask back and forth. The interface works perfectly, but under a time limit I kept failing. The answer is given directly if you want, but I could not solve it myself…because I am bad with maths and pouring-puzzles. I may tackle this again to see what’s further. Under the circumstances described, it seemed I should have been able to balance the scales by eyeballing the liquid levels and pouring some of the liquid from the flasks instead of all of it.

And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One by B.J. Best

This is the first parser game I seriously engaged with, and it may spoil me for others - because it feels like it was written for me with its meta-layers and pastiche of IF and 80s technology and RPGs where despite the low-tech, characters seem to come to flesh-and-blood life in the PCs head. I will definitely play more of this.

Dr Horror's House of Terror by Ade

I need to hit this one again. It starts with a really cool scene that at first seems real but turns out to be a movie set. I kept flubbing the scene even though I thought I typed exactly what the director wanted me to do, so I massively failed on the first turn and was presented with Game Over and will need to see if I am deficient or if it’s a read-the-author’s-mind puzzle.

Universal Hologram by Kit Riemer

I enjoy surreal games and enjoyed my previous try at An Aside About Everything which was surreal but I still felt the PC understood what was going on. In Universal Hologram I had absolutely no idea half the time what was happening, but the PC seemed to, and I clicked through, essentially grasping the tailcoat of the plot and nodding going “Okay…I guess it will make sense eventually?” It didn’t really but I enjoyed the writing and the odd, seemingly AI-generated illustrations. It felt as though it was attempting to cause that uncanny disconnect of a trippy cyber-headspace without making it familiar and recognizable as did You Are SpamZapper3.1.

The Library by Leonardo Boselli

I loved the concept of this, and I’ve always thought a UI where you could drag objects around to interact would be awesome. I would have played more, but on Safari after I left the first book, the UI did its neat flipping animation and would not proceed, even when I restarted and tried again. I likely should download this or try on PC.


If it’s any consolation, while I eventually memorized the steps to the pouring puzzle, for a long time I had to look them up every time I wanted to test my own game, because I’m also bad at math and couldn’t actually solve the puzzle myself. (@Encorm is the math-doer of the team.)

Squid Game did indeed hit Netflix too late to be an influence on Starbreakers, but you’re right to note a sort of kinship - Squid Game is part of the “death game” genre that’s been something of a staple in East Asia for the past couple of decades, and Starbreakers does take some inspiration from other entries in the genre.


About “The Library”. Thank you for trying to play. You are the third to report this problem with Safari within 24 hours. Probably only because no one has played the game with Safari in 3 weeks (I also made test on Edge, Firefox and Chrome only). Maybe there are html5 features that I use in the game that Safari does not support. It’s time to install Safari too.
Thank you again!


That’s funny. One of my thoughts when I played And Then You Come to a House was “This reminds me some of Hanon Ondricek’s Cursèd Pickle of Shireton from last year.”

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And Baker as well! It looks like it may be doing awesome tricky things with parser restarts?

And isn’t a character named Pickle? Might need someone from the Institute to make sure that thing hasn’t gotten loose and is in disguise again…


If you type “i will rid the world of your evil” or “say i will rid the world of your evil”, that works for the first scene!