Viv Dunstan's IFComp 2023 reviews and musings

Just starting a new thread for this. I will be playing, judging and reviewing as many 2023 IFComp games as I can.

I’m already slightly behind schedule though: Covid has hit my household, including immunosuppressed me, after we dodged it for 3.5 years! But aiming to draw up my initial play list in the coming days, and hopefully get started. I am very excited by the new range of games. IFComp judging time is always one of my favourite times of year.


Please rest a lot! Your health (what there is of it) is more important than reviewing.


Very good advice. Thank you! I am definitely still recovering, and not near even drawing up my intial play list. Yes I will be careful. Am currently mostly asleep! (even more so than usual :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: )


I’ve just drawn up my first working list of games to play. 24/75 games targeted for starters, time and health permitting. It may be a while yet before I can start (cough cough Covid …).

I really like the mix I’ve got to play with initially. Long and shorter, parser and choice, fantasy and mystery and so very much more.

As always I appreciated the trigger warnings. My dad died last year and it’s still raw. So this year I’m still generally avoiding games with death/grief themes or close family issues.

I was also grateful for play time estimates. Generally I tend to get through choice based games in half the estimated times - though I have to use a gigantic font I read very quickly. But the estimates do help.

Will be back after trying my first game. Though that may be a way off.


Help! I Can’t Find My Glasses! by Lacey Green

This is a choice / Choicescript based game where you have lost your glasses and need to figure out who has taken them. This is a scenario I can relate to only too well. Though I don’t usually lose my glasses I lose multiple things multiple times daily. Though not because other people have stolen them to play a prank on me!

I liked a lot about this. It’s a good concept, with a small group of NPCs nicely defined. I did feel the interaction wasn’t quite strong enough, and felt there were too few ways to find the glasses in the end. I went to the walkthrough to figure out what do to get that ending. But I happily replayed several times. And was immersed.

A couple of slight linguistic things threw me. Glasses for me is plural, but the game referred to it as singular. Also there’s a reference to climbing into a classroom on the first floor. I guess that’s first floor as in the US i.e. ground floor. This Brit was somewhat confused! Here first floor is one up from ground level.

Anyway a great game to start the competition with. Thanks to the author! I’d like to see the interaction expanded a little bit. At the moment it is a little too on rails. But it was a fun read through, and I was encouraged to keep replaying and try other options.


All Hands by Natasha Ramoutar

Next up for me, and this Texture piece, a horror/mystery set on the sea, in an unspecified time and place, but my mind imagined almost Napoleonic Britain.

Starting this up i’m reminded how I find Texture somewhat tricky to use with my neuro illness hands. Also as i uncovered more chunks of text in the middle of existing text the font size on screen got smaller and smaller and harder to read, which isn’t great for accessibility. However it’s the author’s choice. And it does work differently from conventional choice based pieces. Instead you effectively have a set of enigmatic verbs at the bottom of the screen. Selecting one shows which nouns in the body of the text (which can change as you interact) can be used with that verb, which you then drag above the noun. There are sometimes verbs that seemingly don’t work on anything, e.g. often “Take” in this game. It’s a curious interface, but quite evocative in of itself, with a sense of unplanned discovery more than player control. I rather like it, even if I find it a bit difficult physically to operate!

The writing of the game is strong, as you can uncover a mysterious ship and the stories behind it. There is exploration, with numerous options for how you approach things. At no point did I feel rail roaded. However I was puzzled by the ending I reached, though not inclined to replay, given my physical difficulties with the interface.

But I’m left with an eerie unsettling sense from the story, which is a credit to the author. It is well crafted and nicely written. I would replay if it wasn’t so tricky for me physically.


Who Iced Mayor McFreeze? by Damon L. Wakes

Now time for my first parser game of this year’s competition. Starting with a short one, and happy to be back in Sugar City to uncover some shenanigans and dastardly deeds. I played a downloaded version of this in Lectrote, with my preferred gargantuan sized font.

There’s rather a long info dump at the start, and then you start in a setting which I had trouble visualising. It wasn’t as instantly conjuring up pictures in my brain as the last game in the series. However the main location once you reach it is well described. Also shouldn’t “windowpanes” be “window panes”?

The game is a rather clever mystery puzzle in a small set of locations with a limited set of objects. But it’s seriously under implemented in a lot of places, and I was playing fight the parser too much. Far more in depth playtesting could help here.

For example there’s a location where you have to get through something with something else. But the game only seems to understand X [VERB REDACTED FOR SPOILER REASONS!] Y AT Z, and not any version I tried of BREAK, HIT, using “WITH” etc. It made it such a struggle to play.

In another location you might get a sensory clue, but can only interact with that in a particular way, not the other common verbs I tried. Again I felt as though I was banging my head against a wall.

Much of the writing is very funny though, for example when I found something very untoward. It was almost Taggart level, but with people made of candy and ice. This Brit was a bit confused by what Taffy was though, and had to google “What is taffy”.

The ending is fun, but depends on what you’ve uncovered. I replayed that part a few times to get different results, fortunately being able to restore from saved versions in my interpreter.

So a nice mystery, but it needed much deeper implementation. Much fuller playtesting could have helped a lot. But it made me laugh. Thanks to the author. I would be happy to see another entry in this series. Just less hunt the verb please. Because that wasn’t fun.


Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates by Victor Gijsbers

Going into this, and apart from it being about Socrates and his wife I’m happily clueless. I did a joint honours classical studies and history bachelors degree. But far more emphasis on the Roman side than the Greeks, apart from lots on Homer and Troy. So yup, pretty clueless. It’s an Ink piece. Note I don’t usually go for romance pieces, but intrigued to see what this author does with it.

It’s definitely not something for people troubled by sex references. Content warnings absolutely apply. It is quite explicit in places. But I enjoyed the exploration of a couple’s relationship in a fateful meeting, mixed with bigger philosophical questions. I suspect that someone more familiar with the philosophy of Socrates and the wider Ancient Greek context might get more out of it. I was just going where the story took me. But I did enjoy it. And it certainly didn’t assume or require any wider background knowledge.

And now I want to read more about Socrates and definitely Xanthippe. And read about the philosophy. Which is no bad thing. Thanks to the author. The writing is extremely strong. Oh and I really liked the author’s dedication notes at the start, which explain and justify the approach he has taken to the historical characters in this work of interactive fiction.


I agree with your take, probably not for everybody. It would be interesting to see how a female would have approached this story. Like you, I want to learn more about her and the philosophy. I also would like to know the proper pronunciation of Xanthippe!

I hope you’re feeling better. My mom had it and never got her sense of smell back.



The way Socrates would have said it: /ksan.tʰíp.pɛː/ (ksahn-TEEP-peh)

The way modern Greeks would pronounce it: /ksan.'θi.pi/ (ksahn-THEE-pee)

The way most English-speakers pronounce it: /zæn.'θɪ.pi/ (zan-THIP-pee)

The way English-speaking classicists pronounce it: /ksan.'θɪp.pej/ (ksahn-THIP-pay)


Kaboom by anonymous, artwork by Vera Pohl

This is a Twine piece, where you play a teddy bear I think (EDIT: correction, no, it’s a toy hare), and have to save your person from a very dangerous situation. It is translated from Russian.

The storytelling is imaginative and apocalyptic, and inspired by the current war. Kudos to the author for the end of game comment on that.

However as a game with locations and objects and puzzles, I couldn’t help feeling that it might have worked better as a parser game e.g. in Inform or TADS or something. Or that the choice interface could have been streamlined to be more user friendly.

The problem with the interface is that the ways in which you can interact with objects require a lot of digging down through the choices. Typically in a location, even one you’ve visited before, you will have to “look around” to find the objects you can interact with. Or you need to choose something from the “inventory” section, which lets you operate your front and hind paws, and offers different choices within it over time.

This all meant that I felt I was having to dig down through the user interface hierarchy far more frequently than I wanted to. And it also rather concealed the options available.

However as a game with light puzzles - and forgiving to the player - I liked the storytelling. As the stuffed toy you explore an increasingly scary world, and I genuinely felt the scares.

The translation from Russian is a little rough in places, and could have benefited from more read throughs from native English speakers. But the writing is charming, and the characterisation of the player character and how they feel about their person is moving. The artwork is also very atmospheric.

I’d like to see more from the anonymous author, but maybe rework the interface a bit so there’s less repeated digging down needed by the player?

And thanks again for that powerful end comment. The game itself is a powerful reflection on current events. Thank you. The feelings this raised will stick with me for a long time after.


And for all that the only way I heard it pronounced growing up was ZAN-tip-pee…

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I definitely agree about the writing, the author’s note, and the fact that I’m much more interested in learning about the actual people from history. I did very much like both this and Turandot, even if they were fairly linear. If Victor ever wrote a novel I’d be right there for it!


You know… I’ve got a manuscript… but it’s in Dutch. :wink: (Also, I didn’t hear anything back from the publishers I sent it to, which is apparently quite normal, but uh, don’t expect anything anytime soon.)


I might not get the jokes as well in Dutch, but keep me on your mailing list regardless!

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Eat the Eldritch by Olaf Nowacki

A parser “horredy” - well that sounds fun! Note I played this offline (latest version though) in Lectrote with my preferred gigantic font.

It’s a Lovecraftian inspired horror, where you’re a captain of a fishing vessel, start off by just wanting something to eat, and then things get more problematic. And some very disturbing - albeit comedic - imagery kicks in in places as the game goes on!

I liked a lot about this. The writing is snappy and funny, and has the right balance between user interaction and length of text. I loved the way the player gets awarded achievements (I got 8/27 of them - really curious about the other 19!), in addition to scoring points. The achievements are an extra incentive to keep playing.

I do think the game and puzzles are a bit unevenly balanced. There’s an awful lot of running around between locations and levels early on, which feels unrealistic. And then at the very end there’s a puzzle (the sake / safe / combination code) which I don’t think is adequately clued at all (I only found one place the code might be - far down the ladder. Where are the others?). However I was happy to go to the walkthrough for that bit. I just think the whole now do X, without any extra clueing, even chatting to the obvious NPC, needed a bit more smoothing for the player.

However that aside I liked a lot about this. It definitely lives up to the “horredy” tag. So well done to the author. Oh and thanks for some of the after game stuff. Though as a suggestion maybe list all the amusing things to try in one go, rather than individually.


The Sculptor by Yakoub Mousli

This is a Texture piece, where you’re an aged sculptor, near the end of life, wanting to craft one last superb sculpture.

The story is quite linear, but gives the player options of how to proceed along the way. For example they may choose to reflect on the past, or focus more on their art, or a mix of the two. There are some nice interactions with other characters, though again I felt as though these were a little too predetermined.

Ultimately the story boils down to one key choice. I played twice, to see both ending options. I preferred the first one that I got.

So a promising piece, but I felt a little too forced down certain routes. I did like the feeling of creation, of being an artist at work. I did feel as though as I was taking part in that process. Albeit with a generous serving of melancholy along the way too.


I’m in the middle of Eldritch now!


This is very, very normal so please don’t let it get you down.

Publishers are often flooded with submissions, so their readers rarely even consider anything not sent to them by an agent or without a competition win behind it.

You’ve clearly got the ideas and talent so please persist and try an agent search or entering some unpublished novel competitions. You may well then find that you receive one or two queries.


Thank you so much for taking the time to play my game, and likewise for the kind review!