Text Adventure Literacy Jam reviews (Andrew Schultz)

Here are my impressions for this 10-game jam. It is announced here on the forum.

First, the overview: I think the organizer did a really good job of defining what they wanted. It can be tough to give ratings, because they can be so subjective, but having to rate some discrete areas helped. I also really prefer game jams that don’t restrict you to one subject or theme. Maybe it’s because I wouldn’t want to be restricted that way. But I really feel that the rules were guiding and helped the contestants focus, instead of restricting them.

And the result was that there weren’t any throwaway games. I was able to get through them all pretty easily. The one game that had a bug was intuitive enough that I had no problem catching up and replaying it, and the strategy made more sense the second time through. I suppose sticklers could claim that every game “has been done before” in some way, but they were all done well I enjoyed seeing the graphics on display–they were what Sierra or early text adventures could’ve been, and they give me hope there’s more of this out there.


Here is my list of favorite/top-tier games in the TALP jam. I hope to write up the others soon enough, and if I forgot to, I hope that isn’t seen as a slight. There may be minor spoilers as I discuss what I like about the games, because part of that is tied to the conclusion or puzzle design or other things.

As I said above, I was able to get through every game with little trouble, and I was glad I did.

Games are listed in alphabetical order.

Barry Basic and the Quick Escape

This is a neat production where you must control three teens. One, Barry Basic, has snuck into a control room where he shouldn’t be, and he managed to get locked in. His friends need to help him out. You need to change points of view several times. Games like this where you change perspective usually frustrated me, but this one helped me along really well and still left me the freedom to feel like I was solving stuff.

This game had several neat parts: seeing how and why Gill liking English was relevant, having Barry’s more athletic friend Tony need to help him several different ways, and the accomplishments at the end that encourage you to try everything. Each friend-pair also has an interaction that moves the plot forward, and the game never forces pedantry on you. By this, I mean when you’re finally leaving for home, you don’t have to switch between Barry and Gill and Tony.

And I think that’s the sign of a good game. It wants your time, and it requires the effort of seeing how three friends interact, and it lets you do so, but it doesn’t bog you down to stay. It also has a good economy of items–there are enough for good puzzles, but not too many.

Also, the game features a rotary phone. Rotary phones are good for a cheap laugh, but in this case, they’re part of an early plot point. So this is retro/nostalgia done right.

I played this game early on, and it certainly left me optimistic that the others would work well.

The Blue Lettuce

The Blue Lettuce is a game about a groundhog who is looking forward to eating some magical blue lettuce.

I know Caleb Wilson has written some strong efforts before, and I wasn’t disappointed here. The puzzles aren’t tough, and the prose is good. The way through is pretty clearly lit for those who just want to win, but I wasn’t surprised there was more.

I figured how to eat a couple of the vegetables the first time through, and while the puzzles are simple, there’s good variety in them. I also like the responses to eating stuff you don’t like, which rounds things out nicely. There’s nothing crazy, but it all makes sense. Like I wouldn’t expect the groundhog to enjoy grass, and they didn’t.

The crane across the pond is also a neat NPC.

Even though this game seems relatively simple, it had a few in-plain-sight points I didn’t see when I just plowed through the first time, and I don’t mind. I think someone who sits down and diligently tries to enjoy the game should find everything and have fun in the process. It’s also neat that you can get the lettuce and not eat it right away to try everything, and the blue lettuce itself is a neat goal: obviously magical, but not too silly. It reminded me how I liked blue raspberry gelatin or blue ice cream or weird blue candy or bubble gum a lot as a kid, maybe because it was a slightly unnatural color, and I convinced myself it tasted exotic even if it didn’t really.

This game also leverages something simple from Inform that I really like to see: instead of the standard “You can’t go that way” for un-goable directions, a list of which ways you can go. I think implementing this helps me as a developer, and it also provides a fallback for the player in case they don’t read the room description right, or if it is missing something.

I imagine this isn’t part of the general Adventuron common knowledge yet, and I expect any of the authors reading this review may say, hey, I can do that, too, and they can add in a small low-risk but relatively high-yield patch. It’s not a deal breaker if it’s gone, so don’t worry about that. But it’s a surprisingly (for me) fun way to check your work without being pedantic, and if you send a tester a beta build and forget to label an exit, they have another chance to find it.

Sandcastle Master

Thiswas a pleasant surprise for me, in how well it was done. You’re a kid who needs to decorate a sandcastle you helped your father build. With games like this I’m always a bit worried that there will be nostalgia-pandering, but I think this game did so much right.

I’m always impressed when a game deals with limits seamlessly. In this case, you have a map of the beach to start, but you can’t go too far away from your parents. So that helps keep the game small, so you don’t have to go wandering off anywhere. Also, two squares on the map are inaccessible: they are in the water, where the boats go. This certainly brought back memories of the beach. And the treasures aren’t terribly tricky to find, or valuable, but you would find them at the beach, and you would enjoy them as a kid.

But I think it also deals with a kid’s limited knowledge seamlessly. The kid is happy to be at the beach. The kid doesn’t realize parents need and want time to themselves. But he may not have friends of his own to hang with. So the father sends him out on a small fetching expedition to keep him entertained.

Well, I believe it worked for the kid AND for me.

Sentient Beings

This is the one I have the most to say about. It game grew on me and also touched off some interesting questions. I’m worried a lot of what I say could be construed as a backhanded compliment, but … I hope it comes across as genuine, in that it’s the sort of game that is usually not my thing, but it won me over. It has everything in place for the player to enjoy it. So I’ll try to give my impressions of how it won me over.

Taking measurements does feel pedantic, and there may be a bit too much lab-prep to get started–but that’s what’s necessary for a scientific expedition, and making actual puzzles is tough. You have to do so more than once, but on the other hand, it makes sense that you need to.

And then once I saw there were 24 specimens to collect. I was worried, oh no, do I have to get them all? And if I had one suggestion for a tweak, it would be to allow the robot to leave with 22 out of 24 specimens or such. The reason is arithmetic: if a casual player has a 96% chance (this number was pulled out of nowhere) of finding any one specimen, there’s an 80% chance they’ll miss one (1-.96^40), so that could be frustrating for someone who doesn’t take disciplined notes right away. And while most specimens are well clued, and you find what to do, well, it’s easy to miss one.

But then things really do start to fit in fast. There’s a certain formula for what you need to do: examine the habitats fully at night, then do the same during the day. And yes, it’s wonderful to be able to shut the robot off until the next day/night! There’s a constant push-pull between wanting to explore more and wanting to nail down getting all the specimens in one area, so you don’t miss anything later, so you get to the end of the game. One guide for whether or not I like a game is if I worry it might be getting too big (all those specimens,) and then, when I discover its boundaries, I’m suddenly upset there wasn’t more of it. That happened here. And there’s enough variety in the terrains you need to explore.

One more downer which I suspect the game writer is good enough to rectify: I recommend either 1) using the save slots or 2) not going back to the supplies room, because in the supplies room, I got a bug where you couldn’t close or open the drawer, but you couldn’t exit either, because the game thought the drawer was open. However, the writer has already fixed a few small bugs, which (on top of being able to make something like this) is a great sign they’ll get it fixed.

Also, when I had to restart because I forgot to save, I knew what I was doing, and I was able to bulldoze each room to find those last couple specimens I was missing, and it didn’t feel like brute force. Perhaps having that blank sheet of paper to check off “ok, room 1, I got everything at night. Ok, I got everything for daytime.” might’ve been quicker than running around and wondering what I missed. So that’s a sign of a well-constructed game: even in the case of an unforeseen bug, I as a player was able to get back up to speed quickly, and I did so without having to refer to a walkthrough. I had a -method-. And this probably was the most complex game technically of all the entries, so a bug such as I found is more than forgivable (especially since I’ve let bugs like this slip through, myself,) with everything else that went right.

This game also deserves serious credit for using custom verbs the best of any of the entrants. There’s a hook which can HOOK stuff and a glob you can GLOB places. MEASURE also requires an unusual guess-the-noun puzzle, which I can assure you is much more pleasant than guess-the-verb. Well thought out!


Re: Sandcastle Master, I thought the only missed opportunity was that you couldn’t play on the monkey bars, equipment, etc. It seems like an obvious idea to occur to a kid player.



Now you mentioned it, yeah, I think I tried that and I agree.

But on the other hand, the monkey bars always scared me a bit when I was a kid. And I just assumed you didn’t want to play on stuff without proper adult supervision, so of course it wouldn’t really be implemented. There’s a case to be made for implementing a polite or clever or cute reject, though.

A lot of other things are nicely implemented here, so I was willing to be charitable and make up my own rules about why the playground wasn’t implemented. Because I know how it is to forget to implement one thing out of a whole bunch.

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My second tier consists of two games. Again, alphabetical.

Dungeons of Antur

This is a pretty standard dungeon crawler that never gets unwieldy. I’d have liked this very much when I was 8-12. Those Infocom games were brutal, and I didn’t understand that they were meant to be tough, because having networks of adults with disposable income who would be willing to share their progress in each and every Infocom game was a good business model.

English is not the writer’s first language, as the writing has mistakes that are clearly the logical sort you’d make when applying your own language’s grammar rules to another’s. I’ve made them, certainly, writing French. So this is forgiveable, though hopefully as the writer continues, they’ll find people they can rely on to help them fix these things and make their games that much smoother. It’s pretty clear what to do.

It’s also interesting to me how treasures are randomly shuffled around. So I managed to get through while missing the well puzzle the first time. But I missed a secret door, among other things, and the game said try again. Then when I came back to play again, I wasn’t able to get to the castle. I wondered if I’d forgotten something. And this led to frustration with the well. I figured what to do, but I had to guess the verb.

Which sounds very bad, but fortunately, the second of the competition judging parameters was “give a tutorial.” And DoA did something that helped it, uh, not be DOA. It mentioned that the parser had tab completion! Not only that, Adventuron seems to cycle through all the possible guesses available or words it recognized.

I don’t think any of the other games offered this. Maybe they did, and I didn’t need it, but on re-reading the game instructions, I used tab completion to help me guess the verb with the well. It was an odd verb for what you needed to do, and I suspect the author could tweak things so synonyms worked, too. But it was at the beginning of the alphabet, which was a happy accident, since I started with A.

I still have a secret room to discover, but there is enough there to appreciate.


This involves five ways to find your reflection. It’s pretty straightforward, but it’s a well-paced game, and while it has a fantasy/mystic feel where you do harmless stuff with various animals, I like how it’s made a cell phone a believable part of a couple puzzles. There’s not too much else to say. Sometimes combining technology and fantasy is a disaster, and other times, too much fantasy runs into cliches, but this game doesn’t fall into either trap. There’s also some searching for items you know you need, which would be too heavy-handed in a non-tutorial game, but here it works really well. The tutorial part of this game was strong and well thought out. It’s not as ambitious as the author’s other effort, but I think they could be proud of writing either game for this jam, and writing both is a fine accomplishment.

This game also circumvents a potential pet peeve: you have some baking to do, which normally isn’t my thing, because bigger games may get into details too quickly, but here it doesn’t feel forced on me. I’m the sort of person who is relieved when a recipe isn’t very complex, so the game’s courtesy was appreciated here.

I also don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention that you wind up needing to end the game looking through the mirror, so the game has a there-and-back feel to it without overdoing it. Overall the game does a lot and avoids overdoing anything, which is a very real risk when writing fantasy stuff, so, good job.


I was a play tester for 5 of the 10 games in this jam and I must say that I was really impressed with the quality of those games, especially considering that three of the authors were first timers. I was really brutal with the testing, fully expecting the authors to be very defensive, but they weren’t. They were all really appreciative. I think this is an indication that these authors will (hopefully) go on to bigger and better things.

Regarding Tristin’s games (Reflections and Sentient Beings), I’m surprised you didn’t mention the graphics and music, as the presentation was superb. It’s also worth mentioning that the author is a science teacher, so this probably explains the scientific emphasis in Sentient Beings. It’s not only fun to play, but it conveys the practicality of scientific concepts to the intended audience, i.e. young kids. She even allowed you to rename the robot and have it give responses in a straight mode or a humorous mode. Very polished for only her second game.

I’m really looking forward to replaying the games I tested and playing the others. If only there weren’t more hours in the day.

I really hope that the text adventure literacy concept takes off, as this is a good way to get new players into the genre. The games just need to be promoted with an emphasis on the simple commands, easy-to-read language, tutorial mode and ease of play. Yet they’re still thought provoking.

Bring on TALP Jam #2.


You know, this is one of those good things I saw and probably took it for granted. There was a lot else to discuss about the game. The graphics do really add to the game. I’m used to just looking at the text, and this being called a text adventure jam might’ve reenforced that for me. And given the game, I’m unsurprised the author is a science teacher. It really fits.

Yes, SB might’ve had the best graphics of any of the games. Looking back, it had the most memorable graphics.

And yes, I think I also forgot the target audience was 8-12 year olds. In fact, part of my thought process may’ve been “Why do I have to be told do this? Like I’m a kid or something?”

Which in retrospect is unfair to the game, as it was just aligning with the comp’s goals. Still, I didn’t stay grouchy for long.

One other thing–I play with the sound off. I forgot to mention that. It’s a distraction to me. But I may try to replay with sound on, since you recommended that.

ETA: great job testing so many games. Testing can be hard work. While it seems these people listened to their testers, sometimes it’s tough to evaluate what sort of bugs are worth reporting, and sometimes you feel like a nag about reporting too-small stuff.

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The third tier, I enjoyed, but they maybe didn’t have the individuality of the other games, or they didn’t quite have the focus. But I found no obvious stinkers. Again, in alphabetical order.

Adventures Extraordinaire

This game is certainly light-hearted and it’s pretty obvious what to do with which items, and it doesn’t leave you verb-guessing, which is good. I have to admit I’m not a fan of games where a detective is the main character, and I also kind of shy away from games that refer to well-known fairy tales. So this had a couple of strikes against it. And the random forest maze left me a bit worried. But once I got the map, I got untracked a bit. And if the reversal of “you should help someone” before they wound up backstabbing you felt a bit random, it made sense that using item X had result Y. I knew what I was supposed to do. The main problem was that the plot sometimes twisted more than seemed reasonable.

The cheat sheet for the game is really well done, and that shows a good deal of creativity and care. And I like having a variety of choices to end the game, and the graphics are above average. But I think some good ideas got out of control here, so that prevented me from fully enjoying it.

The Manor On Top of the Hill

The Manor on Top of the Hill is an escape-the-house game without too many frills. It has a neat bit where unlocking one door connects a map and also gives you access to a new place. I had some problem with the right verb for REMOVE-ing the planks, which was clued nicely (you feel a draft behind them) though here, as in Dungeons, tab completion saved me with an early-in-the-alphabet verb. I also was able to guess the safe combination without finding both pieces of paper (trial and error and the up-arrow key) though that didn’t strictly help me find anywhere new. The tutorial works well, though for an adult, things are clued more than well enough.

Please Do Not the Cat

I think the missing word in the title is on purpose. If not, it’s a clever and fortunate mistake. Because your job is to make a lost cat feel at home without actually doing anything directly to it. Some of the puzzles seem like a bit of a reach–from my experience, cats will eat meat even if it isn’t cooked–but it’s pretty clear what to do, and the whole bit about finding what to call the cat is nice. People writing for an English game jam when English is not their first language often turn up surprising stuff they didn’t expect. It’s not just brave of them to do things. But they think of things a native speaker wouldn’t, and finding the cat’s name in Italian made me happier than expected. It made for a good introductory puzzle. The game was more touching than I expected it to be, though maybe I am a sucker for lost/new pet sorts of games.

The Rotten Wooden Room

This is about escaping from a whole house/basement beneath, well, a rotten room. There are a lot of standard fantasy elements in this, and I found it interesting how a lot of puzzles intersected with other entries while still retaining individuality. This felt like a much cheerier game than Manor, above, though the implementation wasn’t quite as solid. Maybe it was just the graphics this game had. But I do think “this is a small room with no apparent purpose” is the sort of thing that can and should be fixed. The game doesn’t deluge you with unnecessary rooms, and it’s pretty clear the room just has a door, but it’s the sort of thing that shouts “I may be close to running out of ideas.” I’m also pretty sure the original release misplaced a door–you can’t go north in the small room until you unlocked a door in the room to the south. So that may cause confusion.


Hope it’s okay to kick this topic up to let people have a look. It’d be great if the Text Adventure Literacy Jam could get more votes. I’ve been writing revisions of the reviews in this topic to IFDB.

Dungeons of Antur and Reflections will be posted in the next couple of days as of 4/28. I’m currently embargoing them, so that people who visit IFDB will get a ping to say, check this out.

All of them, with the Literacy Jam tag
Barry Basic
The Blue Lettuce
Dungeons of Antur
Sandcastle Master
Sentient Beings