Victor's IFComp 2023 Reviews

The Finders Commission by Deborah Sherwood

Heist games are well-known genre, and with good reason. There’s a clear goal that requires ingenuity to achieve; there’s a spatial and temporal element that fits IF world building well; and of course here are opportunities for puzzles and suspense. As others have noted, The Finders Commission starts of with some pretty bizarre world building (and a weird choice between what seem to be five indistinguishable characters). But then it quickly turns into a fairly standard heist game. There’s the museum; there are some people to either manipulate or watch out for; a few opportunities for puzzle solving; and if it all goes well, you walk out with the loot!

Apart from one possible bug (the box that I believe I needed to turn off the alarm suddenly disappeared from my inventory), everything was solidly implemented. It’s bit strange that you cannot investigate the display before launching the chariot – the first few times I tried, I got interrupted, but later on the room was empty and I still wasn’t allowed to read the label. This threw me for a while. But I ended up solving the puzzles without too much trouble, felt some nice tension as I had to defeat a timed sequence, and was satisfied. There’s nothing truly memorable or innovative about the game, but it succeeds at being what it wants to be.

The biggest mystery of all was the breakfast my character claimed to be their favourite: buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy. This sounded like the worst and most implausible thing in existence, so I did some googling, and found recipes in which I saw: biscuits that did not look like biscuits; sausages that did not look like sausages (but more like the minced meat you might put into a sausage); and most of all, gravy that really, really did not look like gravy. From what I gathered, it was more something like minced meat in a creamy sauce. All of which left me only more flabbergasted. Cookies served with meat and cream? As a breakfast? Now this is a mystery someone should make a game about!

(One small grammar thing: “She believes she is an ancient deity whom should be worshipped by all.” should either have ‘who’ instead of ‘whom’, or be rephrased as “She believes she is an ancient deity whom all should worship” If we’re using ‘whom’, we’d better be using it correctly! :smiley: )


Hi Victor!
Thank you for playing and reviewing my game. I am working on the bugs this weekend and thanks for the grammar correction.
Please come visit us here in the South (USA), you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for biscuits and gravy!
This game started out to be way bigger than it ended up. Some of the other locations were also going to be playable with the sought after item being hidden randomly. I just ran out of time and had to pare it down considerably. A couple beta-testers enjoyed the ability to roam about so I left the other locations in. As always, this has been a wonderful learning experience.



It’s one of the more bizarre American-European linguistic differences—American “biscuits” are like scones in texture, but savory instead of sweet, and (Southern) American “gravy” is a béchamel sauce with meat juices; “sausage” here means just the ground meat without the casing. So your assessment is basically right: it’s ground meat in a roux-based sauce with a flaky or crumbly pastry giving it structure.

(But in our defense—the gravy is a sauce made with meat juices, and if our biscuits aren’t technically “twice-baked”, the Brits’ aren’t either!)


Scones in the UK are essentially neutral. You can have them with cream and jam (or jam and cream), or you can have them just with butter. There are also cheese scones which are just what you might imagine. I actually quite enjoyed them in their incarnation as “biscuits” with gravy during my extensive travels around the American South.


Huh! Around here “scones” are sweet and “biscuits” are savory, so the ones with cheese are always “cheese biscuits”. “Scones” generally have something like raisins in them to add sweetness.

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We have “fruit scones” here too, but we don’t talk about “fruit scones”.


Okay, so that’s not strictly true. But the thing you need to understand about scones is that the Cornish put the jam on first and the cream on top. Whereas in the county of Devon they put the cream on first and the jam on top of the cream. Getting the order wrong in the wrong county has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.

Worse than either of these is asking for a cream tea with cream and jam and being given a fruit scone to spread it on. No. No. No. No. Just no. I’d rather have my cream tea on a cheese scone than a fruit one. That’s just WRONG. Fruit scones are just served with butter.

Let’s not get started on the pronunciation of “scone”.


Thank you so much for your review – it honestly made my whole week to see you engage with Dysfluent’s themes and presentation so earnestly and with such an open mind. I’m extremely happy to hear that my story and design choices resonated with you!
I enjoyed your teaching anecdote as well, and admire the good intentions and introspection that you display. :blush:

In the spirit of the comp I’m trying not to say too much about the inspirations and intent behind my game, but you have such great questions and observations that I’d like to share a bit of background info!

Extra information

I’m sorry to say that every interaction in the game is true to life, haha. It’s not fully autobiographical, however! About 60-70% of events are closely based on things that happened to me personally, and the rest are struggles shared with me by other stutterers. The therapist scene in particular is one that’s not from my own life, but I’ve heard a few different accounts of people who stutter being misunderstood by professionals in the same way.
I’d love to go into a bit more detail about the choice of scenes and their inspirations; maybe I could do a little breakdown in my postmortem!

The question of “what to do” is a very pertinent one, and I intentionally tried to remain a bit vague in-game because I was afraid to paint any one approach as always being the right one. For example, I personally love being asked about my stutter even by people who aren’t close to me, and I even often appreciate folks finishing my sentences. But I know that’s not the case for everyone!

The perceived appropriateness of bringing it up can definitely be very contextual and vary based on relationship, situation, tone and body language, etc. Because of that, in some contexts there may just be no easy ways to dissipate that uncertainty – I imagine it must be tough for a teacher in this position, since the dynamic is so different from talking to a friend and there is indeed always a risk that the question could be taken the wrong way!

The one thing I think can never go wrong, no matter the person or context, is just showing patience and positivity. In my opinion, having that as a base is already incredibly helpful, and any opportunities to provide more direct and involved assistance would just be the cherry on top. It sounds like that’s what you were/are already doing, which is wonderful to hear!


I saw some other reviewers complain about the extra locations, but I didn’t mind them myself! Gave some realistic body to the museum, and navigation was quick.

(By the way, it’s a very different game, but there was a very nice museum heist game in 2009 called Byzantine Perspective which you might enjoy. :slight_smile: )


This clears things up!

Since I don’t eat meat, I’ll probably never gain the truly deep appreciation, but I’ve already gotten more of an idea of what it’s like. :smiley:

My local Dutch supermarket sells ‘scones’, but they’re very sweet and there’s raisins in them, and even with the unsweeted clotted cream they also sell (yay), it’s still way sweeter than I like. Ah, for some good British scones… I’m not overall a huge fan of British cuisine, but a good cream tea is glorious. :smiley:


To Sea in a Sieve by J. J. Guest

To Sea in a Sieve is a prequel to To Hell in a Hamper, J. J. Guest’s 2003 game where you find yourself in a hot air balloon with a crazy person who has brought way too many heavy items. That game was a sequence of puzzles about getting rid of all these objects; because if you don’t, you’re both going to die. The setup of To Sea in a Sieve is… more or less identical, except that this time you’re in a boat, and your companion is a pirate captain who wants to bring all his treasures. I wonder if the character of the pirate captain was inspired by the captain from Ryan Veeder’s game Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder, or whether Veeder and Guest are just both leaning into standard pirate tropes.

I looked up my review of To Hell in a Hamper and found this final paragraph:

My single complaint is that the game doesn’t actually contain that many jokes. It has a good comic setup, and some of the stuff you discover inside Booby’s coat is hilarious; but there are few events or descriptions in the rest of the game that make one laugh or smile. This game would have benefited from having Admiral Jota as a co-author; his gift for stuffing a game full of funny remarks would have been very effective here.

It’s fairly unlikely that J. J. Guest wrote To Sea in a Sieve in reaction this, but there is a sense in which he could have: the main difference between his 2003 game and his 2023 game is that the new one is funnier. The captain is a ridiculous guy, and the interactions between him and his cabin boy are a source of smiles. The lesser of two weevils indeed. It also helps that the implementation of the game is deep, and useless or failed actions often lead to amusing responses.

The puzzles are fairly standard, I would say, tending towards traditional object and NPC manipulation sequences that could have fitted in almost any prototypical adventure game, text or graphical. The ones I enjoyed most where those with relatively ridiculous effects, such as blowing up the barrel, simply because those effects were more particularly suited to this specific game. As a puzzle, the little physics conundrum at the very end was my favourite.

This game is very clear about what it sets out to do and it does that very well. That’s good, but I was a bit surprised that everything played out this straightforwardly. I was hoping for some kind of plot twist, or perspective change, or something that would make the game more surprising, more memorable, and more different from its predecessor. But no, you get exactly what you are told to expect on the tin. Not very fair to complain about that, I suppose, but having recently played J. J. Guest’s intriguing Excalibur, I guess I was hoping for a little bit more.

But when To the Moon in a Minibus arrives, hopefully before 2043, I’ll play it and no doubt with a smile on my face.




I’m not making it up! It’s announced in the game! I had already made up To Mars in a Mine Cart, but I got both the destination and the vehicle wrong, even though I had guessed the correct initial letter. :smiley:


The Whisperers by Milo van Mesdag

So here’s a strange autobiographical fact, or at least, a fact that felt strange when I started playing The Whisperers. I once made some plans for an IF in the form of a play. The players would not play any particular role, but would only make choices only at the end of scenes, choices that decided the final outcome. I can’t at the moment remember the title I had in mind (though I suspect I have plot sketches somewhere in a drawer), but I certainly remember the setting: that would have been Russia during the time of the Stalin purges. So… I guess those sketches can remain where they are, because Milo van Mesdag has very much beaten me to it!

Now my game would have been a piece of interactive fiction. Milo’s piece, on the other hand, very much wants to be a play, and one feels that he mostly put it in interactive fiction form because it’s hard to find a theatre group to performs one’s script! This is not to say that it doesn’t work as a piece of IF. But there are certain aspects of The Whisperers, including some of its most intriguing ones, that don’t translate well to the medium in which we currently experience it.

The most obvious of these is the whispering. Most of the characters are whispering most of the time (and should be heard through microphones – not sure if that really works to be honest, but maybe it does). That’s in part because this is Stalinist Moscow, and the secret police is everywhere. But it’s also because they’re all living in the same ‘paper wall’ apartment, where everyone hears everything. And they’re living in that apartment with a member of the secret police. A not insubstantial part of the characterisation is done through voice volume. Sergei speaks up, especially in the beginning, when he’s still a confident young officer of the NKVD. The Guide always speaks at full volume. But most of the other characters do not, or only when they forget themselves.

The main plot is fairly simple, and the choices of the audience don’t make that much difference. Young Agnessa has followed her brother Sergei to Moscow. But she’s not a Stalinist; in fact, she’s a secret Trotskyist who believes that Stalin has betrayed the revolution! She falls in love with the young architect Nikolai, and he with her, and gets pregnant. Her dream is to strike a blow against false ideology, and Agnessa and Nikolai conspire to bomb the foundations of the new Palace of the Soviets. (In reality, this megalomaniac construction project was dismantled and abandoned during WW2.) Depending on the audience’s choices, this may or may not succeed, but either way, they end up getting caught.

There’s a subplot about a middle-aged couple, a Russian man and a Ukrainian woman. The woman’s entire family has starved to death in Holodomor, the famine in Ukraine that Stalin intentionally exacerbated. She has taken to the dangerous practice of icon worshipping. And there’s a very minor subplot about Sergei’s ability to find enough traitors to condemn to death.

It’s all interesting enough, and the underlying research is immaculate. But I’m not entirely sold on the plot or the characters. There’s something nihilistic about it. The three men have all found ways to submit to the state. It’s only the women who dare to have any individuality: Dariya through her religious parctices, and Agnessa through her political action. But surely Dariya’s husband, Georgy, is right when he points out that God will also listen if you don’t endanger yourself with the possession of physical icons. As for Agnessa… in another review, I read the suggestion that we are supposed to empathise with her political ideals. But I don’t believe that. Sure, Trotsky looks pretty good when you compare him to Stalin’s terror and remind yourself of the fact that Stalin had him killed with an axe. But Milo has no doubt very carefully chosen to highlight one particular episode from Trotsky’s thinking in the play: his stance on the 1921 Kronstadt rebellion. In that rebellion against the Bolsheviks, sailors and civilians demanded, and I’m quoting Wikipedia:

reduction in Bolshevik power, newly elected soviets to include socialist and anarchist groups, economic freedom for peasants and workers, dissolution of the bureaucratic governmental organs created during the civil war, and the restoration of civil rights for the working class.

Hard to disagree with, right? Well, not hard for Trotsky, who signed the order to ruthlessly crush this rebellion. About 2000 of the rebels were later executed. So I think it’s clear that we are to understand Agnessa as just as much a blinded ideologue as anyone else in the play; in fact, the most blinded ideologue of them all. And this is underlined strongly by the fact that the terrorist attack she plots with Nikolai is incredibly stupid. I mean, what’s the point? Who is going to benefit from a delay in the construction of this building? It makes no sense! It’s hard not to understand it as the roundabout suicide of an ideologue who is addicted to purity. Really, the only sensible person in the play is Georgy, and his being sensible consists in his being as invisible as possible… which, you know, makes the whole play a pretty cynical thing (or, I suppose, simply realistic, given the actual history). A well-written and highly interesting cynical thing, but still.

Except, that is, for the second intriguing feature that does not translate to the current medium: the ability for the audience to revolt. If you check out the script, you’ll find that the idea is that when the final ‘sentencing’ scene comes along, a ‘plant’ in the audience starts booing and shouting that they don’t want to be bound by the choices given to them (execution of 25 years in prison), and if the audience joins in, the actors are to ‘improvise’ a scene in which everyone goes free. Now that is interesting, and that is not cynical. It’s just… not really in the piece that we have now. This thing really needs to be the play that it wants to be.

Actually, this make me realise that there’s also a way in which I beat Milo to ‘it’. Back in 2005, I wrote a little roleplaying game called Vampires in which you play a male vampire who gets power by abusing his female victims. It’s unrelenting in its bleakness and cynicism. And the whole point was… it was never played, as far as I know, so perhaps I should say… the whole point would have been that the players got so disgusted that they rebelled against the system. (I wrote about that in an accompanying essay.)

But to be honest, I’d rather go to Milo’s play than play my own game!


All Hands by Natasha Ramoutar

I’m still not sold on Texture. There’s the weird bug with the extremely small button text, but let’s ignore that. Then there’s still the problem that the affordances of the text are hidden; that is, you cannot see at a glance how you can interact with the screen; you have to grab each button in turn just to find out what your choices are, then go back to grab the button you want and go to the place where you can drop it. It’s so much more laborious than link clicking, that there should be a large upside to make it worth it. But I’m not yet seeing it. All Hands, for instance, could just as well have been done in Twine.

Now we’ll talk about the game itself. No, I’m lying! I first want to make a completely random comment about the blurb. This is the entire blurb: “The sea is calling you. Its voice is getting louder.” And that is such pitch perfect Fallen London / Sunless Sea prose that I was surprised to find out that the game is not Failbetter Games fan fiction! But it’s really not.

So let’s finally talk about All Hands. It’s a short story about someone who enters what it for all intents and purposes a ghost ship. They’ve always been drawn to the sea, but their farmer father forbade them to so much as think about anything nautical. And perhaps with good reason, because their sister drowned in the sea; more than that, was pulled under by waves that seemed hungry for her. Now the mysterious ship that has been sailing in this neighbourhood has come to shore, and of course you enter it, drawn in by the fascinating woman who owns it. Once you’re on board, there’s a geographically organised exploration section in which you can find several songs. When you are finished, you return to the woman in charge, dance with her, choose a song to sing… and depending on that song, you get one of several endings.

All Hands is nicely atmospheric. I think it might not have been a great design decision to hide the room which explains the backstory most behind a lock that can only be opened if one has picked up the compass in the beginning; especially because it is extremely easy to miss this compass. After my first playthrough, I thought the story made no sense. Only on my second playthrough, when I got the compass, did things click. (I especially enjoyed the fact that you get a puzzle and then the protagonist just solves it without your input.) The ‘good’ ending, where the magic is dispelled and the characters embrace each other, was a fairly nice surprise.

I enjoyed this snack sized game, and would gladly play something more substantial by the author.


GameCeption by Ruo

It’s pretty clear from, well, everything that the protagonist is going to be lured into a Battle Royale style game involving real death. So I guess it’s a Battle Royale battle royale game, where the italicised & capitalised phrase is the title of the 2000 Japanese movie about a high school class that has to fight to the death, and the second phrase is the name of the gaming genre named after the film, which usually does not involve real death. Turning a battle royale style game into a Battle Royale style game… yeah, that’s kind of meta. But GameCeption is not afraid of being meta.

I didn’t quite guess the plot development where we are actually playing our partner and then have to go out into the world to rescue him. Maybe that’s in part because it makes no sense. How exactly did we control them? And how is it possible that all these players that were originally in the physical arena didn’t die instantly when they were chopped down with an axe / exploded / were overrun by a car, but all had the chance to phone their partners? To your questions there will be no answers. Better to revel in the terribly clichéd but still satisfying survival part of the game, and then the ultra obvious and nevertheless also satisfying dynamite scene. Oh, and the “you are the player” meta joke at the end. You really must turn off your critical thinking and just go along, but if you do so, it’s great fun. And I think that’s what GameCeption wants to be: great fun. It’s not so bad to be the player.

Several reviewers said they wanted to see more depth to the relationship between the characters. But I don’t think that would work. It’s camp! Embrace the cheesiness! Take that car and go full Carmageddon! More emotional depth is something for a different game, is what I think. And if you disagree with me, please hold this bundle of dynamite while I hide behind the corner with this remote control.


Oh thank you for such a thoughtful review! And very weird that we seem to have had the same idea!

And Vampires is also exactly the kind of thing I love. Not as a thing to play, even as an experiment I’d never run it, but I love the idea. I do agree with your final point in your essay though: I don’t think it will ever be played properly, because anyone who would play it properly would never play it. And I don’t really want to think about it being used by the kind of people who wouldn’t play it properly…


I’m starting to think that I might be able to write a good article about designing for revolt… hm…


Thank you for taking the time to play and review To Sea in a Sieve. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. The third part of the trilogy is already well underway, so hopefully you won’t have to wait another twenty years to play it!


One King to Loot them All by Onno Brouwer

Let me come right out and say I don’t like the title of this game. Sure, I get the The Lord of the Rings reference, but, first of all, this game has nothing to with post-Tolkienian fantasy (precisely not!) and second, the suggestion that this king is just out to loot is totally wrong. The title sets low expectations that don’t do justice to the remarkably fun game we actually find.

I don’t think the main character is ever named, but we’re obviously playing Conan the Barbarian as written by Robert E. Howard. It’s perhaps important to emphasise that Howard’s Conan is not stupid and does not overcome his foes through brute force alone. He’s a cunning guy who manages to become king and isn’t at all bad at ruling, even though some of his subjects resent his origins among the barbarians. Brouwer follows these ideas to the letter. I’m almost certain that there’s a Howard story that starts exactly like One King to Loot them All, with Conan as king being surprised by some magical assassin whom he defeats; but even if I’m wrong about that, our game is pitch-perfect Howardian Sword & Sorcery. Even the prose is Howardian, which is admittedly not an unreserved compliment – Howard tends to indulge a bit too much in long sentences and rare words that do not quite add up to great prose (although not as much as his friend and fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith). There’s something of that here too, which is especially noticeable in the error messages, that are too long to be easily scanned and mentally discarded.

It’s almost impossible not to be reminded of Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom when playing One King to Loot them All, because both are restricted parser games with a barbarian protagonist. But actually they do not have much in common. S. John Ross’s game is a geographically open puzzler involving quasi-RPG-style character progression, whereas Onno Brouwer’s game is a tight story-line with no real puzzles to speak of. Perhaps even more importantly, Ross’ barbarian really is stupid, and the limited verb set is used to streamline puzzle design. Brouwer’s Conan is pretty smart (he has no trouble explaining the logic he used to get through the paths of order and chaos) and the limited parser is used to… yeah… mostly to tease the player with some intentional parser frustrations, actually! One’s inability to open the wine bottle is pretty funny, as is the fact that this puzzle solution if given away in the Help text, where you probably won’t notice it. (Though I did. Right when I was about to give up in the Pit.) There are some real parser frustrations, though, which don’t help. (E.g., “water” is not a synonym of “waters”, the two guards cannot be disambiguated by the adjectives the game itself applies to them, etc.) I can imagine that some players hit their head against a wall. A pit wall, perhaps.

But they really should keep playing. For what had been an entertaining if far from perfect sword & sorcery romp, suddenly turned into a game that had me play it with a giant grin on my face, a grin that grew bigger and bigger when I realised how far I could undo, and then, that I could save the priestess, and then, that everything after that also subtly changed (including the nice scene where the priestess points out that she should be the sacrifice), and… well, yes, it was just lovely. The final fight with the necromancer was a tad confusing (I never really understood how the interception worked), but otherwise it was so much fun. Including the revelation about the three chosen ones.

The one thing I think is a little sad is that you can’t actually start UNDOing when you’ve just opened up a new game. Famously, you can win Slouching towards Bedlam on the first turn, but by taking an action that you only have reason to take once you’ve finished the game and know what’s going on. One King to Loot them All could also allow the player the freedom to start on the winning path immediately; if anyone stumbles upon it without preparation, that’s fine too!

Anyway, really nice game.