Viv Dunstan's IFComp 2019 Reviews

Finally getting to play some games! With my neurological illness as it is at the moment, making me sleep often until late afternoon and often wake up very confused, I’m not going to be able to play as many comp games as hoped. But I’ll play those I can, and intend to write short capsule reviews here for each one.

I hope the reviews will be of interest to both game authors and fellow players. I will try to be constructive, but will always be pretty succinct. Thank you to all the authors for their games.


Arram’s Tomb

Picked this as my first choice, as a long-time RPG-er, though I’ve never actually played D&D. Call of Cthulhu is my main RPG.

A dungeon crawl - whether parser based or choice based, or indeed a Rogue-type graphic game - seems a great setting for a game, including IF. And I was attracted by the idea of a compact party of standard D&D characters exploring a dungeon. As a UK teenager in the 1980s the concept also reminded me a lot of the Fighting Fantasy series of game books.

The characters of the party in Arram’s Tomb are nicely differentiated, and the choices offered to the player seem to be generally logical. But I did feel that the text between choices was constantly too long. Also it’s too easy to die, and although it’s tempting to try again, and make different choices, after a while the repetition of long chunks isn’t appealing enough to make me replay again. I played for about 20 minutes, including 3 plays, but nowhere near the half hour estimate in the game info.

So thumbs up, but maybe the balance between prose length and choices needed to be tweaked. Nice characterisation though, and bonus points for a snarky Scottish-accented thief in there, which was highly amusing. Accent also pretty good.

I’d probably give this 5 or 6 as my score out of 10, though am still pondering that.



Continuing with the Scottish theme, and straight on to this game with a Gaelic title. I’m learning Gaelic, well have been for many years, and even have a Gaelic middle name from birth. So this was an obvious game for Scottish me to want to try.

It’s a tale of a child’s encounters with a mysterious horse. I don’t want to say more about the plot here for spoilers. But it’s well written, with a good balance between prose passages and player choice. I’d like to know more about the branching structure, and how much my choices could really vary the outcome. To a large extent it feels as though the branching isn’t so much, with many choices similar to each other with just slight differences. But each choice had a response in the following section, and kept me gripped and reading on.

I also liked the feel of the setting that was evoked, with the mythology and folklore described, and well introduced to both player and central character.

So yes, a definite thumbs up, and a strong 7.



And now on to my first parser game of the comp. Slight exasperation with Quest, as always, that I can’t play offline as a Mac user. Plus no simple play online link in the IF Comp page. But fortunately a link to the game elsewhere. So up and running. Though I had to adjust my monitor display to be a bigger pixel resolution, to just about get all the game visual content in properly - still getting some overlap between core text and skeletal map, which is frustrating. So teeny weeny text. Mmm.

Horror games appeal to me, and I’ve enjoyed Bitter Karella’s work before. First impressions though with this one are that it feels under implemented. The first thing the player encounters is a “musk of old cloth and mothballs”. But there isn’t anything I can do to examine that further, including trying SMELL and SNIFF. Also objects are frequently referred to inconsistently e.g. “hatbox” in text, but “get hatbox” says “I can’t see that”, because in game the object is referred to as “hat box”. I’m also running into issues re how to use objects properly, and the syntax re USE isn’t always intuitive or effective.

I like the growing world that you uncover, and the other toys are nice individual characters. But I’m just not getting the flow of the plot in the later portions especially. Even resorting to the walkthrough I am missing lots of key steps, and am rather exasperated.

And to cap it all the site keeps timing me out. I’m logged in, but having to save constantly, lest it time out mid play.

So much that I like, but overall I’m afraid a somewhat frustrating experience. 4 from me, though with stronger implementation and a less obtuse plot I’d be much happier. Also make sure that the walkthrough is comprehensive, even for the dumbest players :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


The House on Sycamore Lane

This is a parser mystery game, with a tight plot, gently revealed, and good use of logical puzzles and objects. It’s also a good size environment for exploring without explicit need for mapping. On the downside there are far too many typos (at least in the initially released version I played), which could have been removed with more play testing. And also some deeper implementation would have been good. For example a number of doors are uncovered and unlocked, without clear directions for where they go. Also the near end part with the ceiling opening upstairs isn’t sufficiently clued. But overall I enjoyed it, and had a fun time running around, without needing to resort to the walk through much. So a solid 6, but could have been higher with more polish.

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Rip Retold

It’s probably wrong that I plumped for this as a nice short option haha! But there are so many long games this year, and time can be tight. If it’s a riff on Rip Van Winkle I’m going in remembering virtually nothing at all about that.

The writing is strong, which I appreciated. A nice, easy read. Initially it’s not very interactive, but this increases as you read through. And the choices are extremely significant later and I found their playing out very emotional (I replayed the different options). A quite lovely piece, albeit very short and could have benefited from some more interactivity earlier on. 8 from me. It also led me to go back and refresh my memory of the original story. This is a very nice retelling of it.

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Skies Above

Going in to this one thinking steampunk possibly. Also no idea how long it is, from the listing, but imagining a series of short games. And hoping I don’t get stuck with no walkthrough. Also delighted to see a long list of playtesters credited at the start, which is encouraging with parser games in particular.

As things turned out I only played so far in the game. It reminds me a lot of playing MUDs back in the 1990s, as I’d repeatedly kill pigeons in the town square, to try to level up as a beginner! Then move on to orcs, and higher rated monsters. I suppose the modern equivalent would be a lot of mobile based games.

The story is amusing, the characters nice, and it’s extremely more-ish (“Just one more go!”). But I found the mechanism of replaying mini games something that I could only do for so long.

The implementation is extremely good though, solid to play through and a very nice adaptation to the parser setting. And for sheer addictiveness I can easily rate this 6, even if it’s not entirely to my taste. I’m curious how it ends though, and did like the mysterious parallel plot that was being gradually uncovered.

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Alert and with it, so seeing if I can try some parser games, that often require more thinking to play through properly. And so I can squeeze in a few I’m opting for short ones tonight.


This is a short parser game. It can be played through very quickly, per the walkthrough, but much of the fun is examining the world as you explore. And then it gets extremely strange as you take off into space, and the wonders of the universe open up to you. The character of the dog with you adds fun, and there are many nice small details. On the downside the piece is a little too simplistic, without much to do. But the ideas it has are quite mind stretching, and unexpected. 6.

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Meeting Robb Sherwin

My memory is so poor despite being in the IF scene for many decades, so I’m probably going to miss a lot of in-jokes / references here. Going in pretty blind in terms of preconceived ideas as a result.

It’s a fun short parser game, as you try to get to a wedding. I like that there are ways you can totally fail to manage that (try drinking too much beer for example). And the story is nicely paced, with a light touch of interactivity. It’s not a deep piece, and the puzzles aren’t tricky to solve, but it evokes a pleasant environment, and tells a nice story, and there is a sense of achievement in accomplishing each step.

On the downside it feels under implemented. For example I had enormous trouble going through doors, struggling to find the right syntax, while the doors kept closing. And then I’d have to unlock and re-open them again. Frustration. More playtesting might have picked up this, and smoothed a few user interface issues. But overall a fun piece, scoring 7 from me.

Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: The Text Adventure

This is another short parser piece, based around Greek mythology. You don’t need to be familiar with the stories before, but online sources like Wikipedia can quickly put you on the right track, or if need be you can resort to the walkthrough.

The game has you pick a mythological character to impersonate, and then act out their punishment. It’s brutal, and relentless, and there’s no way out barring a restart. Even to switch between characters. It’s an effective sense of eternal punishment while at the same time being eminently frustrating.

It’s nicely implemented, but too frustrating for me, with not enough else to do. If you ever veer away from the right track you lose points and have to work up to regain them. It’s very much a case of only delaying the punishment, which is neverending.

I was rather puzzled to see Zeno included in there, who was not a mythological character. But his most well known paradox is highly suited. And I was highly amused with the score going up 0.5 points, then 0.25, 0.125 etc. Excellent stuff.

So something I admire, but too frustrating for me to give it more than a 5, and that’s largely for implementation and creativity. Playing through is very educational about Greek mythology though, as well as a certain ancient Greek philosopher.

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Old Jim’s Convenience Store

This is a relatively short and fun parser game. I was a bit puzzled by why there should be a giant underground lake under the store, but hey it’s a fun setting for a puzzle fest.

The puzzles are generally nicely designed, and I didn’t have to resort to the walkthrough much. But it needed more thorough playtesting. For example if you drop the plank too soon, rather than using the very precise command needed to put it across the chasm, the game won’t let you pick the plank up again (“That’s hardly portable.”) so you can have a go with another command. Also the final puzzle should have more solutions than to hit the pebble with the pickaxe. It needs to respond to more variant commands. And note the following pair of contradictory responses:

hit pebble
Violence isn’t the answer to this one.

hit pebble with pickaxe
You hit the pebble with the pickaxe. After a couple of strikes, the pebble grumbles into small pieces. You can pull the lever freely now.

So overall impressions promising, a nice, relatively short puzzle game, but one that definitely needed more playtesting. I’d also like to have seen more gradual plot reveal. Score 6.

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Extreme Omnivore: Text Edition

I was a bit worried when I read the blurb for this that it would make me hungry haha! Playing at 1am in the morning as well, which wouldn’t be ideal.

As I started the idea of another apartment set game wasn’t encouraging. It’s a genre that’s been overdone over the years in IF. However the apartment is quite fun to explore, albeit too often underimplemented, which made things frequently frustrating. E.g. the game recognises jacket, but not “wind breaker” which is how the text describes the object. Even after I’ve taken the jacket its description still says "A red nylon wind breaker is hanging on the coat rack.” Erm no. And also after I’ve put it on. And as for trying to examine the pockets …

I also found the final room a somewhat exasperating experience, with an awful lot of hunt the exact command problems to try to get to the ending (which isn’t clued enough in the walkthrough):

ask ina about small pot
“If you’re not very hungry, there’s some onion soup for starters.”

eat onion soup
You can’t see any such thing.

eat soup
Ina gets out two soup bowls …

As it is I didn’t quite get there, and didn’t want to keep trying to fight the parser.

So yes, a promising start, but needs much fuller implementation. More thorough playtesting may have helped. It would be very nice to see a revised version released after the competition. Score 3.

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Eye Contact

This took me much less than the 15 minutes said to play through. It’s an interesting experimental piece, where you click on choices in a conversation, and a visual representation of the other person’s eyes appears, changing throughout the conversation, to add to the effect of their textual response

On the plus I replayed several times to see what different responses and story I could uncover. On the downside it wasn’t as varied as I expected. Even when I gave extremely objectionable responses things ended up pretty much as when I was very sympathetic. So I don’t think it branches enough.

I think there’s an interesting idea here, but it really needed much more content and more significant variations added. And player choices should have made much more of a difference.

Seeing the facial expression - well eyes! - change as you “chatted” though was very powerful, and often scarily intense.

Score 5.

Flygskam Simulator

I’ve enjoyed Katie Benson’s previous work, including last year’s ECTOCOMP Brexit-themed game. Well maybe not “enjoyed” as much as admired, and found it suitably horrific. And she has another Brexit game in this year’s ECTOCOMP. Anyway first up IFComp, and her flight shaming game, another politically hot topic, and something of concern to many people nowadays.

This one sees you take a bus trip from London to Hamburg, rather than fly. There are various ways that things can go wrong as the trip unfolds, but in my first play through I made it all the way to Hamburg without problems. Playing through again, and making different choices, reached some different endings.

The writing is generally good, and there was very much a sense of the tedium of a long bus journey and how it could go wrong. I just wish there had been a bit more interactivity. Too many sequences of text had just one link to click on at the end. It would have been nice to see a little more variation.

Having said that, I enjoyed it, think it is nicely done, and it gets you thinking. So a 6.


Dungeon Detective 2: Devils and Details

Going in to this remembering liking last year’s entry a lot. Interested to see how this compares.

There is an awfully large amount of text to read at the start. That’s not encouraging for me. I know it’s necessary to set the scene and all, but I’d like a more interactive way of doing this.

Once into the game it’s fun, but I died badly in the sewers. I’m guessing that I needed some sort of light with me, but the walkthrough didn’t give any clues re this.

I liked interacting with what I explored, both the physical world and the characters in it, and not least the necklace, which was unexpected. It was also nice to run into a friend/relative etc. (I can’t remember which it was) of Sniff’s in the jail. Generally the writing in the game is good, albeit with a few typos.

Implementation wise there were some issues in the start of competition version I played. Far too often I would be offered the same choices as before, even when in-game that certainly shouldn’t happen. Although having said that it was sometimes nice to be able to replay things. But I do think the game should have kept a better track of conversation state in particular.

Something I definitely had problems with was the juggling puzzle. I’ve manual dexterity problems from brain damage from a neurological disease. I managed it once, but it was a very, very tricky thing for me to do. And I’m guessing potentially impossible for visually impaired players. I don’t think it was essential to solve this, but I think it was a problem on accessibility grounds.

One thing I did really like though was the load/save feature. Although there were only two save slots provided, and I might have liked more personally, they did work well.

I wish the walkthrough had given more clues how to get further than I managed. And the implementation needed tidying up a bit in places. But it’s a very promising start, albeit not as much fun for me as last year, probably just a bit too tricky for me. 5.

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Eldritch Everyday: The Third Eye

Ok this tale of a car crash did not go as I expected. As a story it’s episodic, almost a strange combination of X-Files and some elements of Twin Peaks.

I played the most recent online version of the game, and gather that a number of earlier bugs have been fixed by now. I did run into a killer bug though, in chapter 2 I think. After filling the cups a second time with ashy water I reached a screen that said "The two sides of the scale tip back and forth, then,” and nothing then happened. At least I’m assuming it’s a bug, not an intentional state of limbo. And of course once I hit that there was no way to go back short of starting from the very beginning again.

However I was so intrigued by now I decided to replay from the start anyway, and try something different. And I got to the very end of the story, and an ending I was satisfied with.

There’s a lot that I like about this entry. The story is strong, the writing generally good, and the mix of genres and body horror is thoroughly unsettling. I lost count of how many times I said out loud “Oh that’s really disgusting!”

On the downside long sections - and especially at the start - weren’t as interactive as I’d like. But these were then balanced with other sections which modelled a more traditional parser game, with look / move / use hierarchy of options. Those parts were fun, and felt like I was taking control of the game.

There was also a nice balance in pacing between the various sections and chapters, albeit one that I think could have been improved interactivity wise earlier on.

And I liked that the player character was rather a well rounded one. That and the back story added to the experience a lot.

So yes, a killer bug that I could have done without, but I really enjoyed the rest. And I was intrigued enough to go back and start from scratch, which says a lot about how much I liked it.

Even with the pacing issues I really liked it. I’d like to have rated it higher, but with the killer bug still there it’s a 7.

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