Victor's IFComp 2020 reviews

Thanks very much for the comment, Victor! And I’m glad you found aspects of interest, I really didn’t intend much more than that.

One detail that might change a bit your view… They are two girls!


i didn’t realize this somehow! makes it even better :slight_smile:


Like… really? Wow. This turned out to be way more confusing that I could even conceive. Like, I know Araceli is a very strange name that no one but Spanish/Italian speakers will recognize, but Araceli is the girl who comes! Constantly referred to as “she”. The narrator could be more dubious, but her name is Verónica, barely ambiguous!

1 Like

hmm, it’s possible i’m misremembering, then. i should mention here that i’m a terrible tester in this sense, knowing you and your style, and accepting entirely at face value that i was stepping into a sort of intimate space i couldn’t fully understand. pronouns are something i notice less than names (especially post-brain injury), and i think perhaps i mixed up ariceli (which i assumed was a male name) and veronica (which i knew was a female name).

to me this seems like you’ve succeeded grandly – nothing got in the way of me fitting myself into a very intimate moment for two people, and all the details felt true. it’s not a story i personally felt needed even that amount of coherence; the words just felt true enough that i suppose i stuck my own notions on top of yours!

1 Like

How did I get confused about that? It’s in the very first screen! (Is the name repeated later? If not, perhaps it’s because we are still very much getting our bearing in the first screens.) I’ve fixed it in the review.

Doesn’t really change my view, I think. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Flattened London by Carter Gwertzman

Flattened London is a parser game with two rather distinct sources of inspiration: the late 19th century novel Flatland, and Fallen London by Failbetter Games. I’ve read the book, although it was many years ago. And I’ve played some Fallen London, although I decided rather quickly that it’s “limited turns per hour” pacing mechanism was harmful to my life. I did play Sunless Sea and Sunless Sky, though, so I have quite a bit of familiarity with the setting.

Fallen London takes place in a London that has fallen down into an underground world. Flattened London takes place in a London that – I think – has been flattened into a 2-dimensional city. I say “I think” because the exact backstory never becomes entirely clear. The title of the game certainly suggests that London was once 3-dimensional, but there are also hints in the game itself that suggest that the city has always been like this. Anyway, it’s not too important: like Fallen London, Carter Gwertzman’s game feels no need to explain itself too much, and nevertheless crafts an engaging experience.

Indeed, I found the game perhaps easier to relate to than Failbetter’s offerings. Part of the charm of those games lies in their weird use of language, which is frequently ‘off’ in slightly unsettling and unheimlich ways. In addition, those games involve a lot of repeatable content that will give you abstract story elements, like ‘horrific stories’ or ‘steamy gossip’ – elements that look like they ought to have content, but don’t. Flattened London is much more traditional in its approach to writing and storytelling. This puts it at some remove from its inspiration, but it was probably a necessary step for the kind of text adventure it wants to be. A choice-based grinding game like Fallen London can afford to be ambiguous; a parser game where you have to solve puzzles needs to be very clear. Anyway, I found the combination of Failbetter’s world-building and Flatland rather amusing.

The puzzles in Flattened London are definitely on the easier end of the scale, so much so that they often do not feel as puzzles. The entire play experience is extremely smooth. It’s immediately clear if you have to do something in a location or not; and it is often clear what you have to do. I consulted the hints only twice. (Once for freeing the prisoner in the dream world, which I should have been able to do without the hints; and once for getting the triangle a job, which was mostly me not realising that particular syntax would work. And I never really understood from the book how to defeat Death at chess, but cheated my way through it using undo. Worked perfectly.) As a result, I was just enjoying the world and the story, which is surely the way that the author wanted me to enjoy it. And although none of it is world-shattering, it is definitely fun!

Highly enjoyable, one of my favourites so far.


Hah, I just finished playing this one five minutes ago, and had much the same response and experience – you made me feel less bad for likewise undo-spamming my way out of the Seventh Seal reenactment!

Did you get the “best” ending? I thought that shed a bit of light on the topological status of the city.


Yeah, I think so – the one where you move up? It shows us something about the topological status, but not really about how things came to be this way, I think? Of perhaps I misread it. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Yeah, it’s not super-clear…

But there is this line in that ending: “You can see the rest of the world, the one London was stolen from so many years ago, as another flat plane far above you.” Which I thought pointed to it always being flat. The 3-d spires of the Bazaar, also mentioned in that ending, cut against this perhaps, but it’s also implied that that’s the home of the bats, who are extrinsic to London-as-it-was? That would be odd, since the bats seem to be aware of the third dimensions but not able to use it. But maybe they took over the Bazaar from someone else? I believe Fallen London was also originally called Echo Bazaar so it could be someone with more familiarity with the Failbetter games would be able to make more sense of this!

1 Like

fallen london was originally called echo bazaar, yes. one of the longest-running storylines involved a shadowy group of figures known as the “masters of the bazaar,” high merchants of the fifth city, one of whom was betrayed, devoured, and thrown down a well by his colleagues.


Desolation by Earth Traveler

In Desolation we are running through the desert in an attempt to escape an evil cult. The game is apparently an unofficial sequel to Two Braids Girl, and perhaps playing that game would shed some light on the story. As it is, though, we never learn much more than there is something necromantic going on, and that we had better not be caught by her.

After a few moments in the desert, Desolation takes a weird turn and becomes a full-on Shade homage. As other reviewers have mentioned, it sticks so close to Andrew Plotkin’s game that it is unclear what we are to take away from this part of the game. (I would add to that that Desolation can in fact be considered a spoiler for Shade!)

Once we have escaped from the apartment – for which I used Stian’s transcript, since I hadn’t really noticed the curtains – there are a few more scenes and puzzles. Possibly all of them riff on earlier games, though I only recognised Adventure. It’s all fine, barring some small implementation problems. (E.g., taking the rope and bag will leave them in the room description.) But nothing about the game really stood out to me, with neither the story nor the puzzles not the setting nor the writing being all that memorable.

An okay foray into parser games, but more is needed to become truly rewarding.


The Shadow in the Snow by Andrew Brown

The Shadow in the Snow is a short choice-based horror game. It is very tightly wed to the staples of the genre: you’re lost in the woods in a snowstorm, you come across an abandoned motel, somebody has been torn apart by a werewolf, and you have to assemble a shotgun with silver bullets before you can hope to survive an encounter with this beast. The game never surprises us. I find that rather problematic; surely, if one is adding yet another entry to the already over-saturated horror genre, one would need at least some kind of twist or idea or plot element or setting that makes the game feel fresh.

Not that The Shadow in the Snow is too much of an imposition on your time. It’s very short, and you’ll be able to first die and then win in about fifteen minutes. There are a few minor technical problems – the shack can become inaccessible rather easily, and the bullets get “loaded into the shotgun” even if you haven’t found the gun yet – but otherwise nothing impedes a quick playthrough.

My advise for the author’s next game would be: try to shake things up a bit!

Thanks for your review! I definitely agree that Flattened London fell flat when it came to actually, you know, being flat. Part of that is because of how much you can’t do in two dimensions (how would reading a sign even work?), and part of that is because I didn’t want to get too bogged down in explaining things. Also, it’s interesting that you mentioned getting stuck on the chess puzzle - a lot of people had that same problem. Perhaps I should update the walkthrough…


The Impossible Bottle by Linus Åkesson

Last year’s Pas de deux was a fascinating and experimental game, though somewhat overwhelming. The Impossible Bottle seems to tread safer ground: it is a parser comedy in which we play a six-year old girl. (What’s up with the age of six? It’s also the age of the protagonists in Little Girl in Monsterland and, obviously, Six.) We’re solving puzzles in a limited environment as we work through the items on our to do list. So far, so standard.

But what a joy it is to play The Impossible Bottle! Most importantly, there is the main puzzle mechanic itself, which centres around the doll house. Put an item in the doll house, and an enlarged version of it appears in the real world. Take an item out of the doll house, and you have a miniature version of it in the real world. Simple, but used to great effect as a puzzle mechanic. And, of course, not simple at all from a programming perspective – yet I never experienced even a single glitch with it, which is a testament to the prowess and carefulness of Linus Åkesson.

I’m tempted to say that everything about The Impossible Bottle is perfect. The nice ramping up of difficulty. The amount of fun that is contained in so many of the activities you get to perform – including riding a dinosaur! (Dad telling you that he has put the dinosaur in the doll house was certainly one of my favourite moments in the game.) The brief but effective characterisation of the characters. The ending, which revealed the true nature of the ‘visitors’ and gave us a short but poignant little tale about family life in the current situation, already slowly hinted at by the hand sanitizer. Mr. Creosote disliked this part of the game, but I have to disagree strongly! I thought it was perfect. Your brother putting on a nice shirt – so meaningful! It even turns out that mum had been on the phone about your present, and not as absent as she seemed.

Perhaps the getting-rid-of-the-dinosaur puzzle was slightly on the difficult side, but I didn’t mind using the hints once or twice to make sure I got on with that within the 2-hour competition limit. And the vacuum cleaner could have been described on its own when I opened the closet; after all, given that dad is missing his cufflinks, I’m clearly looking for it. But these are details.

This was simply one of the most fun, heart-warming and well-made puzzle parser games I’ve ever played.


Sheep Crossing by Andrew Geng

The 2007 IF Comp contained the game Fox, Fowl and Feed by Chris Conroy. Basically, this was the old cabbage-sheep-wolf puzzle, but extended in several ways to make it more challenging. There wasn’t that much to it, and it placed 16th out of 27 games.

Now we have Sheep Crossing by Andrew Geng. This game is even closer to the old and all-too-familiar puzzle. In fact, the only way it extends it is by forcing you to feed the sheep first… for which you need an item that as far as I can see isn’t mentioned in the room description at all.

There are some nice responses to different failure scenarios, but the game is very insubstantial.

1 Like

Last House on the Block by Jason Olson

Last House on the Block is a parser puzzle game in which you’re a kid exploring an old house that may contain treasure. It is decidedly light on implementation. Many objects have no descriptions; although you carry a phone the game doesn’t understand the verb “call” or “phone”; your friend doesn’t respond to any of the normal conversation commands. I also never got a very good sense of the setting. For instance, when we see a series of photographs, they are of the most commonplace kind: a marriage, a guy hugging a dog, a guy showing off his child. This seemed like a missed opportunity.

More seriously, the game is plagued with smaller and larger problems of coding and writing. I had to look at the walkthrough to find out that there is a basement in the house. How had I missed that? Well, when you enter the kitchen, you get a special ‘first time’ room description that does not mention the stairs going down. It is only when you then type “look” (but why would you?) that they are mentioned. In fact, it happens more often that certain objects are revealed only by an additional “look”.

Another instance is the attic. Here, I was unable to interact with any objects because it was supposedly pitch dark. But it wasn’t pitch dark: I had two light sources on, and I had room descriptions. Turning the light sources off would correctly give the message that “it is now pitch dark”, and turning them on again would reveal the room description again… but interacting with any objects remained impossible. Since this made finishing the game impossible, I never saw the end.

There are other small problems, such as the ability to pick up the medicine cabinet (which I’m pretty sure was not intended), many instances of incorrect punctuation, and some actions that only show a blank response. More testing was clearly needed.

I’m afraid that at this point Last House on the Block has neither the polish nor the substance to make playing it an engaging experience.


Vampire Ltd by Alex Harby

In Vampire Ltd, we play a resentful and foolish vampire who wants to take on the guy he really hates: a successful vampire called Hadrian. What ensues is a highly polished and fun little parser game. The puzzles are definitely easy, and the game has been constructed in such a way that you will necessarily have seen everything you need to see to defeat Hadrian in the final climactic fight. (Shades of Earth and Sky there? Possibly it’s just that all ‘superhero’ fights would tend to feel roughly the same way.)

The game plays around a little with the vampire = capitalism trope, but more by explicitly acknowledging it than by pressing it for any real meaning. Which might be for the better, given that it’s been used a lot. In the end, Vampire Ltd is hardly world-shattering, but it’s enjoyable and competent. It seems the be the author’s first game, so I hope we’ll see more of him in the future!


Elsegar I by silicon14

Elsegar I is a parser adventure that can be fairly described as ‘retro’. No story to speak of; a protagonist who is a nameless and faceless nobody; a world that consists of locations randomly stringed together; puzzles that exist just because, you know, there should be some puzzles; locations that serve only to enlarge the map, since they do not even contain objects with a description. And then the game even throws a maze at us!

To be honest, I feel a little bad for picking on this game. It looks very much like the work of an author who has discovered the possibility to make text adventures for themselves, but who has not had much contact with recent examples of the genre. My advise would be to play some of the great parser adventures – maybe The Wizard Sniffer, Alias: The Magpie, Steph Cherrywell’s games, Sugarlawn, this year’s The Impossible Bottle – and then write something with an enlarged sense of possibilities and craft.

As it is, here’s what I read in the game’s walkthrough:

A maze that I have to map by hand and randomised combat? Okay, that is too much for me. I quit.


#VanLife by Victoria

This is by far the most bizarre piece I’ve seen so far in the competition. After a short introduction about me buying a van, I am shown four complex formulas and asked which of those is my “loan repayment amount”. Now I like me some mathematical puzzles – I’ve got an MSc in physics, even if I betrayed the field and got into philosophy – but this is simply unsolvable. Not only is the meaning of all the letters in the equations undefined, but I also haven’t been told anything about how I’ll pay off the loan. (Fixed date? Regular payments?) So how could I possibly calculate the loan repayment amount?

Having chosen something at random – which the game tells me is false – I then get the question how much I’ll have to repay each day. All four options are the same: 0$. I click on one of them, and it turns out to be… wrong. WTF.

Then, I’m in the van. I buy a microwave. Next up is a question about how much energy this microwave will use in three minutes. All the answers are in Watt, which means all of them must be wrong, because Watt is not a unit of energy. Possibly the author means watt-hour? But having been given three questions, all of them impossible to answer correctly, I decide I’ve had enough. No idea what this game is about, but it seems to be fundamentally broken.


Yeah, pretty much the same experience here – though for me I could see the loan-repayment options, it’s just that they ranged from I think three cents to eight cents a day, on a $5k loan that I think had to be repaid in a year. So something seems deeply wrong in the math on that part, beyond that it seems like the numbers get rounded to zero sometimes…