Victor's IFComp 2020 reviews

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.

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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…


This was a particularly nice review.

(I didn’t want to read it until I had played the game myself. Now I have, and felt like letting you know I appreciated your thoughts.)


Thanks, Stian!


Thank you for this nice review, Victor! Pleased you enjoyed the game :slight_smile:

I haven’t got round to playing Earth and Sky yet. No knowing influence there, but I think you’re probably right that we’re cribbing from the same fight tropes. Maybe this is stuff to think about for a post-mortem, though!


@VictorGijsbers Thank you for your review. This is my first text adventure and yes I know it feels retro, the text adventures I played before making this where zork, hhgg, and couple of others. If you have advice for improving this game, feel free to message me so I can improve it and I use the experience I had making this when I start working on an another IF game.


Adventures in the Tomb of Ilfane by Willershin Rill

I was ready to give this game a very low rating for being unsolvable and hence a waste of my time, when MathBrush pointed out to me that it is actually one of a trio of games, together with Incident! Aliens on the Teresten! and Terror in the Immortal’s Atelier. As a meta puzzle, this seems rather weak. You can count on people playing at least two of your trio in a much smaller competition, but what are the chances in IF Comp? I suspect that there are many players out there who did not ask MathBrush for help and whose time will, in fact, have been wasted. (And there are already several reviews of this kind.) But I’m not one of them, so let’s move on to a review of the entire trio.

Or maybe ‘trio’ is not the right word? It seems easy to argue that Adventures, Incident! and Terror are in fact one single game, so much so that it would seem fair to treat them as such when the prize money is being distributed. What we get are three tightly interrelated explorations of The Knot, an artefact of untold power that has been used unsuccessfully by peace-loving aliens to protect them from tyranny; that has been used more successfully by tyrants to make themselves immortal and all-powerful; and that is ‘now’ being coveted by the Nazis in their quest for total domination. Playing the three games gives us different glimpses of this overarching story, although things never become fully coherent – or, one suspects, fully consistent. But that is no doubt part of the intended effect.

The game has a clear political theme in the sense that it paints a chilling picture of fascist totalitarianism. What I liked most were the books in Terror, which twist well-known tales into horrifying little pieces that perfectly demonstrate a future that is – in the immortal words of Orwell – a boot stamping on a human face, forever. (There are some indications that the author is thinking about contemporary US politics, but the tales work on a larger level less bound to a specific moment in time.) So I quite enjoyed that, and I actually read all the ending scenes with some trepidation. Having it all end with a slapstick conclusion was unexpected, but frankly quite funny. “I often varned the little Nazi children against him!” Brilliant. (I probably misremember the quote, by the way.)

As puzzle, not much; as mood piece, more effective than I had anticipated and deliciously ambivalent. I think I’m going to score this in the 6-7 range.

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Incident! Aliens on the Teresten! by Tarquin Segundo

No actual review here. Check out the review one post above instead.


Terror in the Immortal’s Atelier by Gevelle Formicore

No actual review here. Check out the review two posts above this one.


On the off chance you want to go back to Last House on the Block, I had the same issue with the light in the attic but eventually flailed my way to figuring it out:

You need to OPEN SHUTTERS so that the room is lit by daylight. No, I don’t understand why that’s needed when you’ve got the phone and flashlight on.

Nothing in the last couple of puzzles is much different from the first part of the game, though, so doubt playing to the end would change your take too much.


INFINITUBE by Tom Charles Bair III

INFINITUBE by Tom Charles Bair III (a pseudonym, I presume) is a complicated narrative artefact written in Twine. It presents itself as a dubious commercial project that promises ‘infinite experiences’ in which you can be whomever you want. What it in fact does, is allow you to experience a series of randomly chosen scenes from the lives of different people – could be a poor mother, could be a weirdo artist in New York, could be millionaire rapper Jay-Z – in which you can make a few choices before they suddenly end. Going through these scenes gives you attributes, which you can then sell to earn tokens that will allow you to continue playing. In the meantime, strange things happen: you get (deliberate) error messages, there is communication from the entrapped creator of INFINITUBE, and a strange semi-Biblical text called Infinitome pops up in your inventory.

Several of these fragments were actually rather interesting and/or enjoyable. To take an example, the Jay-Z scene led to an article that analysed the way that Jay-Z dealt with the supposed moral failures of O. J. Simpson in not embracing his blackness. I’m hardly in a good position to judge the worth of the article – in many of the scenes in INFINITUBE, it probably helps to live in the USA if you really want to understand what’s going on, since intimate familiarity with the culture is presupposed – but it seemed cogent and had depth. I also liked the writing in the Infinitome chapters. Other fragments left me cold, including the weird New York artist one in which accepting a rent-controlled (?) apartment always leads to your doom. And then there was the timed text. Really. Slow. Timed. Text. Happily this only occurs in a few scenes, but where it did it was extremely annoying. At one point I was literally playing a game of patience while waiting for the text to appear. (Let’s all repeat together: “Don’t use timed text! Don’t use timed text!”)

I believe the main theme that INFINITUBE wants to explore is the lie of the American Dream (which suggests that there are infinite possibilities and that you can be anyone… if only you work hard enough), and especially it’s connection with race. During the game, you’ll frequently get the WHITE attribute, which in turn allows you to earn more tokens, thus stacking the deck in your favour. (Two WHITE attributes transform into a EUROCENTRIC attribute, but let me tell you as a European that there is no Eurocentrism to be found in this game. When poetry is quoted, it’s Whitman. Even M. C. Escher, the only European (and indeed Dutch) name I came across, is presented as a rapper.) However, they don’t stack the deck very much in your favour: even with EUROCENTRIC I was unable to pay the second contribution. And when that happens, the game just starts over. This also means that I may have seen only a small part of the piece. Certainly I did not come to a point where things started to make sense or achieve any kind of coherence.

Finally, it must be noted that there are some errors in the game. One of the first pages you can get to, your Profile, has a link that leads to an empty page. When you have Infinitome chapters 1 and 2 in your inventory, you can in fact read all the chapters 1 to 6. Typos are also rather frequent, with terms like “Cesaer’s Palace”, “Strangness” and “appearence” popping up on your screen. Sometimes the game produces text that could be just American slang that I’m unfamiliar with, but could also be simply wrong, such as when it gives me a “flec of insight”.

INFINITUBE is a strange piece. I liked some parts of it, but I cannot judge the whole a success.


Equal-ibrium by Ima

According to the cover art, the game is called Equal-ibrium. According to the title on the competition page, it is called Equal-librium. According to the blurb, it seems to be called Equal-ibium. Sad to say, this apparently unintended confusion is emblimatic for the game as a whole. It is full of spelling errors, including really egregious ones like “coffee-spliage”, which any basic spelling checker could find. Several times I got an error message that said “I can’t run the macro ‘text-type’.” And one of the paths through the game is simply not completable because you end up with a link you can’t click. Equal-ibrium isn’t even ready for beta testing, let alone for a competition release.

The story of the piece is about a CEO who is apparently trying to make money through some kind of deal that I never fully understood. Someone is going to make this deal public – who this is seems to depend on other choices you make – and this might ruin your reputation. But if you’re nice to a guy who spills coffee on your shirt, you won’t have to commit suicide. Whatever happens, at the end there’s a little moral about having to maintain equilibrium. It’s… I think it’s trying to make a point about how unlimited greed is destructive? But that’s so basic, that it’s hard to believe that this exhausts the game’s point. The unfinished state of the game made me rather uneager to delve more deeply into this.

I must admit that I didn’t get anything out of this.

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Among the next ten games on my Random Shuffle are four games that are billed as “longer than two hours”. It’s going to be hard to keep motivated that way. :neutral_face:


I started a few of the longer games at the beginning and am just going back to one or another from time to time as my interest returns.

Just means I have to remember not to close any of my tabs…

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