Thoughts on Spring Thing 2021

This thread won’t involve me reviewing all or even many of the Spring Thing 2021 entries, mainly because my time to play games and write reviews of them is limited.

I’d like to begin with a plea: if you’re submitting an entry to a competition that permits judges to download, make sure that your entry is actually included in that download. I came across a double-handful of games in this year’s competition whose folders contained nothing more than a link to a website where their game was hosted. My access to the Internet is even more limited than my time, and when I can make time for interactive fiction isn’t always when I can visit websites. I downloaded the entries to be able to play the games, and it’s quite frustrating to open an entry only to discover that it can’t actually be played offline.

Long story short: if I can’t download your submission, it won’t be played, reviewed, or voted for. Full stop.


Old-school complex and lengthy adventures seemed to be lacking this year, which was made up by a number of brief entries with massive charm. There were also a few entries which I thought did an especially good job of playing with the medium, changing my conceptions of what IF can be.

One of the best examples of that latter category is Excalibur.

A lack of freedom has sometimes been a flaw with IF designed around story rather than gameplay, but Excalibur manages to completely avoid constraining the reader, even while abolishing almost all opportunities for the reader to contribute to the work. It’s not a narrative, but a wiki, full of articles, transcripts. and fictional-user comments about a notional BBC SF show whose episodes were, like many of the early episodes of Doctor Who, were erased or lost. There are plot summaries, scans of photographs, frames from video recordings that were never made, and fragments of interviews with nonexistent cast members with vivid personalities. So much work was invested in this fiction that I could almost believe such a show existed - if it wasn’t for the notes in the wiki that suggest the show was a fabrication or an egregor, it would be a very convincing hoax, easily as plausible as the fandoms for little-known shows like Starman.

The reader isn’t an entirely passive agent, with some content unlocking once enough pages have been viewed. Articles can be viewed at any time, in almost any order, as the reader has near-complete freedom to experience as they wish. Yet there’s no plot, no events, and in many senses no narrative at all.

This is my first time encountering this reinterpretation of IF, and I thought it was brilliant. My greatest disappointment was that it ended too soon - which is a very good problem for an artist to have.


Both Mean Mother Trucker and Take the Dog Out are excellent examples of very simple puzzle games that are memorable for their charm, rather than length or complexity. I particularly appreciated the result of “dropping the television” in TtDO: it not only produces a ‘realistic’ result, but provides funny text. MMT is longer than TtDO, but still very short. Cute and funny, the biggest problem I had with it is that I found myself taking actions without understanding their purpose and context. Notably, I solved several puzzles without encountering the motivating event to do so. But at least the puzzles were intuitive enough that I COULD solve them by accident, even when they weren’t entirely reasonable (the provided prompts in response to more likely actions helped). I also appreciated some puzzles being solved by talking to people, rather than mere impersonal actions.

These two are good examples of IF that straddles the line between ‘game’ and ‘story’ - there IS a story being told in each case, and a rather amusing one, but there are definite puzzles. I think comedy in IF helps to prevent the player from taking events seriously, which can help paper over defects in design and implementation - a silver lining to the dark clouds created by using humor extensively, perhaps the biggest of which is that it’s hard to maintain a comedic tone for a large game, making very short games the ones that usually attempt the strategy.

Both these games have some minor problems, most notably the lack of descriptive text in reaction to certain actions, but these are trivial and and easily-fixed flaws.

They made me smile, and even chuckle a bit at points, and they deserve credit for reaching goals they attempted. I found myself wanting more, and wondering whether my own attempts at IF were too ambitious, since these succeeded despite being of very modest length.


Hi Melendwyr, thank you for sharing your thoughts on Excalibur, I’m really glad you enjoyed it!


I know! Excalibur was great, it was definitely my favorite (of the ones I managed to play, which was less than half of the entries). I really liked how bizarre everything was. It felt like one of those dreams you have about your favorite show, where you’re watching an episode that doesn’t exist, and everything seems to fit together until you wake up and can’t remember what it was all about.


That’s great to hear Katherine! We’re working on a post-comp release which will be mobile-friendly (thanks to Chapel!) with a few extra pages. Should be ready in a couple of weeks!


Manikin Demo has interesting features. It’s a smartphone texting conversation, complete with icons and dings. One note, however: the time it takes to type a text depends on its length; when each message pops up after the same, very brief duration, it subtracts from the sense of realism. The prose could also use a little polishing, but overall an interesting experience.

Thank you for playing some of the Spring Thing games!

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Copper Canyon was a very well-done CYOA. I know there are people here who dislike them, and sometimes I do as well. But when they’re well-written and well-designed, what’s not to like? A major problem with the old paperback book IFs was that the outcome of a choice often felt arbitrary or unconnected to the flow of events, but there’s none of that here.

Blue November started out very promisingly, but technical problems with some of its features prevented me from continuing the story. A fault with the browsers I used to access it, or imperfect programming? Who can say? I hope to be able to experience it fully someday.