Victor's IFComp 2020 reviews

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.

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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:

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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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Thank you for your precious time. I agree with almost all of your negative notes.
Anyway i posted the official walkthrough of the game.
As i said, i intended to recall the style of the adventures of those years (80th mainly).
The system is the “Modulo Base” by Enrico Colombini ( the first Italian Author of IF) that i modified for my needs.
I hope some day you will want to try it again.
There is a little secret in the apartment waiting to be discovered. :slight_smile:

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Lovely Assistant: Magical Girl by Bitter Karella

I’ve played Bitter Karella’s two previous IF Comp entries, Basilica de Sangre and Poppet. Both involved interesting setting and some nice puzzles, but ultimately made me deeply frustrated as I struggles with the Quest parser. So I was happy to see that Lovely Assistant is written in Inform 7. And while this game is still not completely polished – there are quite some missing synonyms, for instance – I never struggled with its parser. So that’s a big win as far as I’m concerned!

Lovely Assistant casts us in the role of the assistant to a famous magician-cum-superhero, who is spirited away by one of the supervillains, the Skeptical Rationalist. It is up to you to use all the tools of the magician’s trade to solve a series of puzzles and find your boss.

This is a very light-hearted little game, in which the whole setting is over-the-top and the villain’s actions are even over-the-topper. (Using a laser to write a message on the moon! Use operand conditioning to make the doves fly in a pattern! Obviously, the joke is that the Skeptical Rationalist is a magician himself, except that he insist on explaining all of his tricks.) The use of magical gadgets was sometimes rather mundane – as when you use the saw to, well, saw – but one or two of the puzzle solutions are inspired, with my favourite being the scene where you pull unlimited rabbits out of a top hat.

Good fun.

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Sage Sanctum Scramble by Arthur DiBianca

Sage Sanctum Scramble is a series of language, letter and wordplay puzzles connected by only the loosest of narratives. Where earlier Arthur DiBianca games like The Temple of Shorgil were essentially attempts to delve incredibly deeply into a single puzzle mechanic, Sage Sanctum Scramble is more a collection of every puzzle mechanic that DiBianca could think of that was even vaguely related to language. Sometimes, you have to come up with words that fit a particular semantic and syntactic category: flowers that are 5 letters long. Sometimes, you have to study how words are transformed using more or less complicated alphabet cyphers. Sometimes, you have to engage in wordplay.

It’s all implemented very well, and the puzzles are fun. To be sure, some are a little hard for a non-native speaker like myself (I sure spent a lot of time with anagram solvers, synonyms websites and general google searches), but that is hardly DiBianca’s fault, and I enjoyed the opportunity to improve my skills. (Did you know that there are actually two plural fruit that can be formed from SALMON by substituting one letter and then rearranging them? I was proud of my MANGOS, but alas, I needed MELONS.)

Being a loose collection of vaguely related puzzles does mean that it’s all a little inconsequential, of course. Good fun, but not something that will stick with me as much as the authors previous games.

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About that puzzle:

(Did you know that there are actually two plural fruit that can be formed from SALMON by substituting one letter and then rearranging them? I was proud of my MANGOS, but alas, I needed MELONS.)

Not DAMSON (if singular is acceptable) or LEMONS?

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I think it says that it’s a “thumpable” fruit, or something like that, but this didn’t make much sense to me.

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Ha, that’s interesting. A lot of people in the US use the phrase ‘thumping’ to described the process for deciding if a watermelon is ripe or not, since it sounds more like melons than ‘hitting’ or ‘thwacking’. If you search ‘thump melons’ there’s a lot of advice articles about, so I guess it’s a cultural thing.

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Wow. Perfect example of a puzzle that turns out to be easy or hard depending on your cultural background!

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Hi VictorGijsbers - thank you very much for your review of The Eidolon’s Escape. I’m really pleased and proud to hear that you had a good time with it and I’ve very much enjoyed reading this and your other reviews.

Cheers!

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@VictorGijsbers My game is no longer in the competition

hi victor! i know you wrote this review over a month ago, but i just wanted to thank you for it. yours is possibly my favorite review of quintessence! this is my first year in the competition (or on the forum) and i’ve really enjoyed participating. i’ve also enjoyed seeing the real-time reviews. yours builds up so much tension and then makes me smile with the (i’m paraphrasing) “stunning artistic vision, but does it deliver – uh, no.” i’m just happy to be here! : ) your thoughtful review was filled with loads of kindness, which is what you offer in all your reviews, and i am impressed by it! thank you again!

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I’m glad you liked it! When I wrote it, I was thinking that although the review wasn’t entirely positive, maybe it would make the author feel understood – and that, in my own experience, is the most gratifying thing a review can do. :slight_smile:

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How The Elephant’s Child Who Walked By Himself Got His Wings by Peter Eastman

The stories in this piece of interactive fiction are based on Kipling’s Just So stories. Not having read them, I couldn’t really compare How The Elephant’s Child Who Walked By Himself Got His Wings with the original… but since Kipling is freely available here, and since the stories are very short, I read two of them just now.

Wow. Do I prefer Eastman to Kipling. It’s altogether too trying-hard-to-be-cute, too laborious in its whimsicality, too moralistic in its supposedly carefree inventiveness. Yes, as Eastman justly remarks, the poetry is bad. But I’m not sure the prose is much better.

How The Elephant’s Child Who Walked By Himself Got His Wings, on the other hand, is whimsical but with just the right amount of narrative logic; carefree with just the right amount of seriousness; and cute without trying. Very enjoyable.

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Also: yes, I’m back after a hiatus! I spent a week without a computer, and then when I came back I guess I got caught up in reading some books (mostly by or about Wittgenstein), watching some television (which I almost never do, but now I’m almost through the first season of The Good Place), and, uh, being totally obsessed with the U.S. elections. Definitely hoping to play some more IF before the competition ends!

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Stand Up / Stay Silent by Y Ceffyl Gwyn

Clearly, I spent too much time mulling over one of the things the game tells us about its own message: “Black lives matter. That’s a statement of human rights, not politics.” If anything is a statement of politics, it is surely Black Lives Matter. It is one of the central political statements of our time, involving as it does politically contested conceptions of society (as systematically racist) as well as politically contested solutions to society’s problems (taking money from police departments and spending it in different ways, retraining US police forces to be less violence-oriented). Of course this is politics. And how could ‘human rights’ contrast with ‘politics’? Surely human rights only make sense in a political context? They don’t exist in a Hobbesian state of nature! I guess you could hold some kind of divine command theory of human rights, but then you’ve sort of just taken politics and projected it into the realm of the divine… anyway. All of those reflections are perfectly irrelevant when it comes to playing and understanding the piece Stand Up / Stay Silent.

It’s a very short game in which we play through two scenes in a future society on Mars. We don’t learn much about this society; it contains some form of police violence, but we are clearly expected to take our ideas about contemporary society – possibly contemporary US society specifically – and project them onto Mars. The sci-fi is more for colour than for substance. In each of the two scenes, we can choose to either Stand Up for human rights, or Stay Silent and do nothing. I didn’t play through all possible combinations, but if you Stand Up both times, you end up being part of a powerful and seemingly successful BLM movement; whereas Stay Silent loses you both your significant other and your freedom, as the police ends up barging into your apartment.

As other reviewers have noted, this plotting seems to weirdly sugar-coat the reality of protest. Protest doesn’t involve any real sacrifice. Staying silent doesn’t bring any rewards. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to make a case for this; there is real camaraderie and sometimes success to be found in protest, and we all know the famous Niemöller poem about what happens when you don’t speak up for others. But in the case of Stand Up / Stay Silent, the combination of a sketchy world, a dualistic moral dilemma, and a suspiciously neat resolution, end up generating a game that feels curiously flat and unemotional. I wouldn’t call it bad – among other things, I quite enjoyed the writing – but there’s definitely a lot of untapped potential here.

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Congee by Becci

Congee is the story of a young Hong Kong émigré in the UK who has come down with a fever, is feeling homesick, and craves nothing so much as a bowl of congee – apparently the ultimate Hong Kong comfort food. So it’s a story about congee; but the story itself is also, metaphorically, congee. It’s comfort food. It doesn’t challenge or surprise, but it warms you from the inside. (I would say that it’s sweet, except that I gather that congee isn’t sweet, so that would spoil the metaphor.)

What I especially like about the piece is its creative use of the medium, not so much when it comes to choices (this is mostly a click-to-continue game), but when it comes to presentation. The incidental graphics are really effective. The interface for showing text messages looks good. (I didn’t even mind the timed text much in this particular game.) And I loved the little visual effect at the end of your conversation with your mum, when you see a blurred line “I wish you were here, mum”, the blurring brilliantly suggesting tears that well up.

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A Rope of Chalk by Ryan Veeder

I want to object, in the strongest possible terms, to the way that mister Veeder has presented the events of August 27, 2011. I am aware that in order to peruse the contents of A Rope of Chalk, I had to waive all my rights of criticism; but the legality of such a move is doubtful at best; and what’s more, with the instalment of ACB to the Supreme Court we can now rest happy in the knowledge that all the freedoms I’ve ever cared about will be defended. No, mister Veeder, you cannot silence me now, as you have so maliciously attempted to silence me in your work, depriving me of my right to exclaim!

I see him in my mental eye, our coward author, hiding behind the role of ‘editor’, merely portraying the ‘experiences’ of what he considers to be the event’s ‘main characters’. And he does it well, indeed very well, pulling the reader along on a rope of chalk through successively more psychedelic scenes, while slowly revealing both story and backstory of the fateful event. He is a master of distraction, making us smile at this detail or that, perhaps even eliciting a loud-out laugh when, say, Nathalie invokes the monomyth to explain her absence. Mister Veeder masterfully strings together several kinds of scene, of narration, keeping the player on the edge of her seat, having great amounts of fun and enjoying the characters.

FUN and CHARACTERS! That’s precisely his trick, isn’t it? By reducing the whole incident to the mistaken actions of individuals, and by painting those people as fundamentally endearing, mister Veeder papers over the systemic failures that lie at the bottom of the entire disaster. It is certainly a message that is very convenient for the institutions! For how is it possible, we ought to ask, that dangerous psychoactive substances are easily available and widely used by our university students? Why is the University of Iowa not more active in the War on Drugs? Why do we still allow our children to be endangered by liberal hippie values from California? Why were there no repercussions? How is it possible that the arts honours class simply reconvened next year, without serious value-based oversight and religious counselling? How much has mister Veeder been paid by the Board of Regents to reduce their own egregious moral failure to a mere – if superior – instance of entertainment? And if anyone can doubt the basic mendacity of mister Veeder’s portrayal of the event, let me stress that the slogan I wrote was not “RON PAUL 2012”, but “RON PAUL 2012!” That exclamation mark was not optional!

Judges of the competition, we must make a stand against this liberal brainwashing. Please vote, and let your votes wash over this dishonest piece as a cold bucket of water washes over sidewalk chalk art! I have spoken.

Yours sincerely,
Rachel

P.S.
TRUMP 2024!

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