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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