Stian's IFComp 2019 Reviews

An interactive memory by Chris Selmys

I did not play this game to its conclusion nor for a full two hours, but seeing as it as of yet has no other reviews and that the requirements for playing it are rather strict, I thought I should give it a paragraph or two nonetheless.

ALICE BLUE may only run in a Linux terminal, but its general design is more akin to such Twine games where some words in the text are highlighted and can be clicked, which in turn changes bits and pieces of the text. In this case, the game, or the story, seems more abstract than most. You navigate memories and are supposed to be able to enter several rooms throughout it. I’m afraid I very rarely am able to enjoy such IF, but was very impressed with the fact that ALICE BLUE was written as a bash script – a very limited programming language – and really well implemented. For a game in a terminal, it looks very good, and it has nice music too! Chris Selmys: You are crazy and clever!

Something Weird by Marshal Tenner Winter

Clusterflux is truly an ambitious project, and a much larger game than initial appearances would suggest. It’s actually impressively huge, especially considering it’s a one-author game. Described as a “weird mystery”, it’s also right up my alley, and I enjoyed it immensely. It did, however, take me six hours to get through it and I had to consult the walkthrough twice. I think it would be hard for most to finish in under two hours, though the first two hours were just as enjoyable as the rest. Well, perhaps apart from the half-hour I spent banging my head against a specific puzzle.

In general terms, I would like to describe Clusterflux as a modern self-conscious style puzzle IF, where an everyday protagonist enters absurdity as if it were the most natural thing in the world – not too dissimilar to Bill Lindsay’s excellent Bullhockey games.

While the plot is more than solid enough, and its absurdity intriguing, the puzzles are what makes this a great game. They are always clever, but generally not too clever, and solving them provides proper satisfaction. I was planning to stop after two hours, but this is the kind of game I can’t put down until I have finished it.

With a game as big and ambitious as Clusterflux, there will likely be several small bugs persevering even rigorous beta-testing and I did meet a few of these. Still, it is impressive how polished it is, with thorough descriptions for almost everything. The large gallery of autonomous NPCs made certain scenes a bit confusing, but useful conversations are limited by a topic list which made it manageable.

A tremendous amount of work has gone into this game and I’m immensely grateful for it. I will definitely try Marshal’s earlier games once I have recuperated from this IFComp…

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Bugs and notes for the author (contains spoilers)
  • I was stuck for a very long time trying to go east from Top of Stairway and/or figuring out what’s with the music. I had gotten the hint to push the amp, but it never occurred to me to push it south and east.
  • Later, I was stuck with the basement door and wondering what to do with the podium. The description of the door mentions a battering ram, but rather hints that even that wouldn’t help.
  • When in West of House I probably mean the large bush and not Gef when referring to “bush”.
  • “an a rip in time and space” can be picked up.
  • When referring to “house” I probably don’t mean the scarf.
  • When in the cell (and also outside it) I probably don’t mean the photograph when referring to “man”
  • Smells are referred to in the descriptions but not implemented for Spacious Living Room, Shed, and Unclean Kitchen.
  • In the end message, I’m told I encountered 18 out of 16 people.

Remedial Witchcraft
A brewing disaster by dgtziea

Remedial Witchcraft is a really lovely game with spells and wands and potions and a cat. As a puzzler, it is an easy one, yes, but the puzzles are great too, well conceived and perfectly implemented; they’re generally not obvious from the start, though always solvable through experimentation and a bit of pondering. The protagonist is the most charming character I’ve encountered so far in this year’s IFComp and I really hope I will meet her again in a sequel!

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An egress by Viktor Sobol

Out is a puzzleless parser game that can be completed in less than two minutes, though it is worth stopping to explore the sights on your journey. The implication of the title and the blurb is what it seems to be, but although labeled as a slice-of-life it is actually much more. For such a short IF it is very deep and thoughtful and it surprised me in a good way.


The Secret of Vegibal Island
by Ralf Tauscher

I gave up on The Secret of Vegibal Island after 45 minutes. While the premise, the style and the parodic elements are great, there are serious bugs and language issues that make it hard to continue. Also, the walkthrough ends after the first part (of more than one) of the game. Most annoyingly, the language here seems to be the result of machine translation, which sometimes makes it hard even to understand the basic descriptions. I really hope this game gets a serious update with a proper translation, because I would love to play it in a finished form.

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Or: A Fowl Forever Foraging, by Mike Spivey

Sugarlawn expertly combines classic IF tropes with escape rooms in a reality TV setting. It’s actually a brilliant idea and makes for tons of replay value. A single playthrough is significantly limited by game-time, which made me much more careful with my moves and not challenge the parser. I did therefore not test the limits of the implementation to the extent I have done with other games. So far I have not discovered any issues at all, and it was really great fun. My first playthrough took less than 30 minutes though, so I might just play it three more times during IFComp. Highly recommended!

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Just wanted to say thanks for these reviews @Stian, they’re a great help in deciding what to play. So far I’ve been like the proverbial ass between two piles of hay!


Thank you. I’m happy you enjoyed them!

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I second that! I actually wouldn’t have been able to complete a lot of games without your helpful transcripts!

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Old Jim’s Convenience Store
by Anssi Räisänen

Old Jim’s Convenience Store is somewhat simple and unoriginal, but rather sweet nonetheless. It is essentially a very short and easy parser puzzler, made slightly more difficult by having to guess a few verbs. It’s also quite unpolished, something that rather detracted significantly from my enjoyment of it. The writing is decent enough, but also nothing special. Still, it only takes about 15 minutes to play through it, and that much it was definitely worth.

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Bugs and notes for the author (contains spoilers)
  • A lot of things mentioned are unimplemented:
    • The porch
    • The water
    • Pieces (of the window)
    • Ceiling (in the low passage)
    • Rock (in singular, where you take plank from rocks)
  • A lot of things can be pulled/pushed/moved (although nothing obvious happens) even though you can’t reach them, e.g. silver key, pickaxe.
  • Searching the shelves gives “There is nothing on the shelves”. Because of this and the fact that “take all” gives “There are none at all available!” I first thought that I couldn’t interact with anything described among the items on the shelves.
  • Putting the plank on the chasm gives “Putting things on the chasm would achieve nothing.”
  • You can pick up and carry the small pit with the silver key.

Bradford Mansion
By Lenard Gunda

Bradford Mansion is a largish puzzle oriented parser mystery that is possible to solve without understanding anything of the mystery. When I finished it (after 2 hours, 10 minutes and 24 seconds according to the end message) there were still four locked things, and 12 more points to achieve (out of 74). Perhaps a lot is hidden behind these points, perhaps not; without them, at least, the story was quite thin, with the biggest mystery being the behaviour of the butler. Throughout the mansion there are, however, a large amount of symbolic paintings, hinting at a strange and deep mystery that reasonably should stretch far beyond my 12 missing points. I am curious as to what I have missed, but perhaps not sufficiently to play it over again.

I don’t always mind a thin story if the puzzles are good, and for the most part, they were good enough, although not very original. Both interestingly and frustratingly, however, Bradford Mansion is written with a seemingly custom engine, running directly in the console. One one hand, this gave it somewhat of a classic parser feeling, though on the other hand, everything goes much slower without the shortcuts and assistance that modern engines provide. You can’t use pronouns, you often have to write the full name of a thing, the up arrow doesn’t bring up the last command and there was no abbreviation for ‘look’.

During my playthrough I ended up consulting the walkthrough twice. While the last one was the matter of me overlooking a fairly obvious clue, the first was the result of a very strict parser to the point where I never could have guessed the correct syntax. In fact, the parser is generally quite unforgiving here, with many reasonable synonyms not being accepted. For anyone else that would like to play Bradford Mansion – and it’s still quite likeable, despite its limitations – I’m fairly certain that you don’t need to ‘search’, nor to ‘look under/inside/etc’, something that would have reduced my amount of moves significantly had I known it.

Please note that the transcript is captured directly from my terminal output, and therefore contains all of my key presses, including backspaces and typo corrections. Some commands may look a bit strange, and if so, they were probably not entered as such.

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For the Moon Never Beams
By J. Michael

For the Moon Never Beams is a tricky horror puzzler, though most of the trickiness comes from not really knowing what you are supposed to achieve, rather than from being easily devoured. I would have appreciated some inner thoughts from the protagonist giving clues about the end goal. Should I flee or should I fight? Is there hope of salvation at the end? After having played it twice (earning 10 and 70 points out of 100, respectively) I still have no clue. This, I felt, was also its greatest weakness. On the other hand, both the writing and the implementation are solid, and the pacing – emphasized by a constant fear of dying – is great.

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Bug and note for the author (contains spoiler)
  • The command ‘stop’ in the car assumes the player mean the tuxedo:
(the tuxedo)
You might as well stop the tide.
  • It would be great if switching tapes in the stereo was easier, e.g. just ‘play Prince’ instead of ‘press stop/take mix tape/put prince in stereo/press play’

Citizen of Nowhere
By Luke A. Jones

Citizen of Nowhere was not particularly engaging. The story is a hodgepodge of disparate elements and tropes not properly coming together to form a consistent and convincing world. While the map is large, descriptions are extremely sparse and the few details mentioned in the descriptions are rarely implemented as (scenery) objects. NPC’s are equally limited; asking them about things they should know about provided usually either their default response or “You can’t see any such thing.”

Puzzles are a big part of the game, and while I had fun with a few of them, most were either very straightforward or bordering on unguessable. Synonyms are usually lacking. A crucial tip if you want to play the current IFComp version: you need to use the verb ‘attach’.

In other words, there is room for significant improvement to Citizen of Nowhere. With sufficient polish, it could certainly become quite decent, but, considering the size of the map, a lot of work seems to remain.

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Winter Break at Hogwarts
A fantasy adventure by Brian Davies

The only real problem with Winter Break at Hogwarts is that it’s much too big for the playing time limitation of IFComp. After two hours I had managed to find my wand, but only begun to scratch the surface of the real mystery. I’m not sure I even managed to visit all the rooms!

Just a look at the lovely map that accompanies the game gives the impression of a lovingly and professionally crafted work of IF, and, for the most part, the game itself mirrors this. While I’m no expert on the world of H. Potter and friends, it seems like Hogwarts has been recreated in great detail, down to its ghosts and talking paintings. There are, however, quite a few things mentioned in the descriptions that have not yet been implemented, which does break the immersion somewhat. I would also have appreciated a bit more responses from the various NPCs; so far they have only been able to answer briefly to questions on the central plot points and not e.g. on themselves or each other.

As for the puzzles, I did not really get to experience much more than the initial find-the-wand-puzzle during my two hours. Though if the rest are anything like that, I’m sure I will enjoy them too. It was logical, well integrated in the story and the world, and gently hinted at where needed. I will definitely pick Winter Break at Hogwarts up again after IFComp, but as it feels it could take weeks to finish it, I’ll leave it for now.

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The House on Sycamore Lane
An Interactive Fiction by Paul Michael Winters

The House on Sycamore Lane is a very traditional haunted house mystery. It’s also riddled with bugs and typos. Despite this, I actually quite enjoyed it. None of the bugs I noticed were game breaking, and they also did not stand in the way of solving the puzzles. The puzzles were generally really nice, albeit a tad easy. What I liked about them were how they were integrated in the story, that they always felt reasonable and that they give a nice flow to playing the game. The story was nothing special, but decent enough and provided a certain level of immersion, enough to make it enjoyable. Some extensive testing and a good update could turn The House on Sycamore Lane into a rather good piece of IF.

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Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: The Text Adventure
An Interactive Fiction by Pippin Barr

This is not so much a game as a demonstration of ancient Greek myths, with Zeno’s paradox thrown in for good measure. It’s a fun idea, and decently implemented, but only slightly more fun to actually play than the punishments themselves. On the positive side, you can quit whenever you want. Or even restart and try another punishment.

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Jon Doe - Wildcard Nucleus
Some retro spy fiction by Olaf Nowacki

Jon Doe - Wildcard Nucleus clearly alludes to the classic James Bond stories, most notably in its opening scene, but generally lacks the humour to be characterised as a good parody. In fact, the absence of humour throughout the game becomes rather noticeable after introducing two silly names in the beginning: Miss Bestbeforedate and Adolf von Bolzplatz (Adolf of the football field). I do get the feeling that the game was intended to be essentially parodic and funny, but that this focus was lost during production.

While the descriptions generally are good and paints a decently vivid picture of retro-modernity, some of the language bears the mark of a rudimentary translation. This, along with several bugs and the fact that little of the described scenery is implemented, made Jon Doe a somewhat disappointing experience. The puzzles are also few and not that interesting – and I still got stuck twice. However, I would probably not have been equally disappointed if it weren’t for the promising premise and the intriguing blurb. Jon Doe has a lot of potential, but requires more work to fulfill it.

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Bugs and notes for the author (contains spoilers)
  • Typo in the comment from Miss Bestbeforedate: your were > you were
  • ‘mainframe’ should be a synonym of ‘system’:
>x mainframe
You can't see any such thing.
>x system
This must be at least thirty or forty metal cubes, all about seven feet high and with a footprint of ten square feet. This is supposed to be the second largest computer system in the world.
  • Some strange responses:

use towel with tap
“A couple like used towel and small tap”? That does not seem to be a classic.

ask robert about robert
“I don’t know much about Mister Robert,” Mister Robert says.

search desk
There is nothing on the messy desk.

tell guard about me
“I don’t know much about yourself,” the gatekeeper says.

ask adolf about console
“I don’t know much about the console,” Adolf von Bolzplatz says.

  • The elevator should use the pronoun ‘it’, not ‘he’:

push button
You press the silver button and the elevator rushes upwards.
After a few seconds he stops at the top.

  • I’m not sure ‘plastic’ is a good word for a steel sculpture (I might be wrong though; check with a native English speaker)
  • The first question to Valerie, “Hey, are you more often here?” should probably be “Do you come here often?”
  • Cutting things with the wristwatch that don’t need cutting gives no response:
>cut guard with wristwatch
>cut key with wristwatch
  • When trying to avoid/distract the guard at night, it’s still possible to talk to him, which gives the same response as during the day:
>talk to guard
"You will find Mr. von Bolzplatz in his office upstairs, Sir," he says.
  • Even though I have a gun, the verb ‘shoot’ is not recognised.
  • A lot of things mentioned in the descriptions aren’t implemented, e.g.:
By the Eastern Fence
From here you have a good view onto the back of the power plant buildings. In one of them a row of windows is brightly lit. The fence continues west and south from here.
>x windows
You can't see any such thing.

>x buildings
You can't see any such thing.
>x view
You can't see any such thing.
  • After you get and wear the uniform, if you approach the gatekeeper from the south and not from the north, the gatekeeper acts as if you’re still wearing civilian clothes:
>wear uniform
You put on the uniform and it fits surprisingly well. Hopefully that will work as disguise.


Entrance Gate
This is the Main Entrance to the site of the nuclear power plant, though a wide sliding gate blocks the way. Next to it sits a small gatehouse. North of the gate is th
e central yard, the parking lot is to the south  .

You can not help but notice that there is a security key hanging in the gatehouse .

You can see a gatekeeper here.

>take key
"You think you belong to the guards, buster?!" the gatekeeper growls at you.
>talk to guard
"Civilians must not be here! Please leave the site!" the guard says.
  • If you examine yourself wearing the uniform, the description should reflect that you’re wearing it.
  • If you try to go west when hiding in the shade, you shouldn’t have to ‘go out of the shade’ first.
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Very Vile Fairy File
Less Lame Guess Game: Double Dip Trouble Trip by Billy Boling

I quickly realised I wasn’t going to get far in Very Vile Fairy File without the walkthrough. Almost all of the interaction in the game consists of coming up with a suitable alliterative rhyme. I can absolutely acclaim an admirable alliteration (with or without a rhyming sensation), but managing this was beyond me. In the required rhymes were old English, American slang and several words I had never heard. For those who feel they are up to a serious rhyming challenge, the game does feature an innovative help system, and for those who don’t, it’s still worth playing through with a walkthrough. Very Vile Fairy File is funny, clever, and well implemented.

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Ocean Beach
An Interactive Landscape by James Banks

Ocean Beach is primarily meditative, beautifully and frustratingly so.

Pauses are part of the game.

Pauses are a big part of the game.

They take time. At sunset.

Sunset begins.

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By Bitter Karella

Poppet seems curiously to be partly made for children, and partly definitely not made for children (Though I think that the image of the dead cat is essentially what I would deem unsuitable for children, and it also doesn’t fit well with the rest of the game, so why not just remove it). Unfortunately, the many bugs in the game as well as an absurdly strict parser for some actions made it rather frustrating to play, and impossible without the walkthrough (especially using the poker). Also, I wasn’t able to run it locally and the online version suffers from serious intermittent lagging, sometimes even freezing altogether. It’s definitely a neat idea though, and mostly the writing is good, but I’d rather see it implemented in another engine.

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