Viv Dunstan's IFComp 2023 reviews and musings

Thank you for your review, Viv! I’m glad you enjoyed the game in spite of your struggles! I hope you will enjoy To Hell in a Hamper too.

Notes for players

As it says in the “about” section, you can type “BAIL” to bail out the boat. Alternatively you can just type “B” instead!


Thank you for taking the time to play my game and for the kind review!

I know it comes too late, but: there is a “go to [room]” command in the game. It might have made it a little easier to move on board the ship.

Also thanks for the idea of listing all the amusing things at once!


Trail Stash by Andrew Schultz

Unusually for this author this is a Twine piece, though using word puzzles and limited locations. It also has neat inventory management, and quite a streamlined interface.

However I wasn’t someone who could really understand what was going on. The game is based around spoonerisms. I had to google what that was again. And even then I still didn’t find the word manipulations at all natural.

The game starts “You’ve heard legends of a valuable trail stash 'round these here parts.” Was “trail stash” a spoonerism? Because I don’t know what that is either. Not a great start! Oh and I tried googling it, but that didn’t help.

After that I did a pretty extensive exploration of the branching puzzle tree, picking up objects as I found them, and trying using them in different rooms. This unlocked more parts of the game, and the map pieces I needed to collect to guide me to the treasure. As I got further in matching objects with the locations became easier. Though I’m still sure I wasn’t getting any clues from the spoonerism side of things.

In the end the game ended a little surprisingly. But I did quite like the ending.

But I don’t think this is a natural game for me to be comfortable playing. I have dyslexia type problems and other huge cognitive issues from my progressive neurological disease. So anything based hugely on word play is just a big problem for me.

But it was neatly implemented, and a quick play. I liked the way it marked off locations as you solved them. And if you do like these sort of word puzzles it might click more. Just not for me sadly.


Judging by the front cover, I’m pretty sure “trail stash” is a spoonerism for “stale trash”.


Yup that makes sense! Thanks.

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Tricks of light in the forest by Pseudavid

This game is coded with Gruescript, so memorably used by Robin Johnson to write Detectiveland which he won IFComp with. As a result this game too is a sort of parser/choice hybrid. At the bottom of the screen you get a status section, showing where you are, exits you can use, objects you can interact with and verbs you can use on them. The main response text of the game appears in the upper part of the window. And neatly there’s an in game map you can show if you want to. And that updates as you play more.

In the game you’re a young child exploring the forest on your own to gather samples and photographs for a school project. And the game is about exploration. But also light puzzles. You find objects that you want to photograph and/or collect for your school project. But equally you find other objects that you can interact with, and puzzles to overcome.

I really liked a lot about this, though I don’t think I played it as deeply as I could have done. At one option I was given the choice of continuing exploring or returning home. I went for the latter. Quite a number of scary things had happened before this, and “child” me wanted to get back to the safety of home! So maybe there’s more out there that I might have uncovered. But I really enjoyed my exploration of the world. And the interface was neat.

I only spotted one typo:

typo note for the author
>look at landscape
I stand at the rock's tip and look around. There's nothing I recognize! Even the striking red bushes I saw nearby are hidden behind something else. I can't say if the ridge is the same one I saw before, and the faraway forest doesn't have any features like the places I know.
What if I'm I lost?
  • should be “What if I’m lost?”

Ouch, sorry about this! I tend to scramble words in my head, and it’s fun to poke at that, but … I can see how it is not fun for other people, for pretty clear reasons. Thanks for bearing with it anyway and for your continued quantity and quality of reviews!

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Thank you for writing the game! I know it wasn’t a natural fit for me, but there was a lot I admired about it. I particularly liked how well you’d implemented it in Twine. Was that your first time using the system? Because the UI is particularly smooth.


Well, yes and no! I recently participated in a bunch of minijams that helped me figure the basics of Twine, and with each one I said “can I do X” and then “can I do Y” and then “can I do Z.” I started TS around then, and every 3 weeks I’d tweak it a bit more.

I’ll discuss more details in my postmortem, especially since this is a review thread, but I’ve been trying to use classes more in general, and I did here. The twine/twee source is on github–$roomInfo and $itemInfo settings may give an idea of how things were organized.

The “you’re done beyond room X” code was something I’d done in Inform, and it was a nice challenge in Twine too (the “solvesearch” widget.)


Magor Investigates… by Larry Horsfield

Next up this fantasy parser game, where you’re a court wizard, and have a number of tasks to complete. It’s an ADRIFT game, so on my Mac I ran it in FrankenDrift. Note it crashed before the very end in Mac FrankenDrift 0.4.3 (after the king and the Duke are delighted with your news, before the play the other games stuff). Luckily I had a save file that I was able to restore from and download and try FrankenDrift 0.6.2, which did complete.

I liked a lot about this. The task list for the player was a big help, though I missed completing one (watering the plant, which to be fair I hadn’t even really registered) on my play through. It’s nice to get a sense of progress as you play. The parser was solid and there were helpful in game hints available if you got stuck. Which I really appreciated when I struggled a bit with the words for one puzzle (trying FILL MUG and POUR KETTLE IN MUG before the H hint command suggested POUR INFUSION INTO MUG). The world is richly described, and although you only use a small number of rooms it’s immersive, generally smoothly coded, and your interactions with the various NPCs work well.

But it was just too short for me. I wanted so much more! It felt like the opening teaser for a game, rather than the full thing. Indeed as I was rattling off tasks on the to do list I realised this wasn’t going to take me very long at all. I played well under half an hour, and apart from one lingering puzzle played it to completion and the end of the game. To be fair it’s the latest in a series of games in this world. But give us more to do! I enjoyed playing this character. And expected a much more time heavy game from the hour and a half estimated play time on the competition listing.

I spotted a few issues that I’ll note below for the author.


Bug in the archives (see end of paragraph):

Typo (should say “Up and Down”):


Detective Osiris by Adam Burt

Now for a detective hunt, where Egyptian king/deity Osiris tries to figure out who killed him. I knew who did this according to Egyptian mythology, but approached the game afresh. Though I was willing to deploy that knowledge if necessary!

It’s a fun exploration, where you interact with Egyptian gods and royalty, to try to figure out what happened to you. There are light puzzles to solve, and different locations to go to. And I found it a nice intro to Egyptian mythology.

I liked the ending that I got, but I ran into a big bug with the text display. I use Safari on my Mac, with an effective 1024x665 resolution to make text big. Then I zoom into it in browsers more. After a certain late point (when I had challenged Set to be my murderer), the screen would fill with text but be unscrollable, and the next click buttons would be out of reach. I was able to work around it initially by reducing the text size, and also changing the resolution to have more pixels. When that stopped doing enough I found that using save/load would give me a temporary respite, refreshing the display at each load. And that way I was able to play to the end. But it was a pity it finished that way.

But apart from that I enjoyed it a lot. I played for half an hour, exploring most options.


I’ve just played, judged and reviewed my 30th game of the 2023 competition, and am going to call a halt to my reviews now. I’m seriously ill, and also have an upcoming medical appointment next week that will wipe me out more. I’m honestly surprised - and delighted! - that I got through so many games this year. But my play rate has slowed a lot in the last week. And this point is definitely a good point for me to stop now.

I haven’t played every game I initially noted as might plays. Equally I’ve played others that I didn’t initially plan to play. Every single game has given me pause for thought and been entertaining in one way or another, and thought provoking from a game design and creative writing perspective. Thank you to all the authors! I know I’ve been critical in some of my reviews, but I’ve tried to give constructive criticism. Though my reviews are often impressions of my play experiences, rather than detailed analysis and feedback.

Looking back through my reviews I love the variety of games that I played. Parser and choice, fantasy and slice of life, mystery and philosophical, surreal and gritty realism. I judge each game on its own merits, using my own internal 1-10 scoring system. I’ve been playing and judging IFComp since it started - all those years ago! - so have a really clear idea of my ratings. I’m not going to reveal the individual scores I gave, but in case anyone is interested, here is my distribution of scores after playing 30 games this year.

score distribution chart

For screen readers: this is a graph of scores 1-10 with numbers given. The scores range from 2-10, with few at the edges, and a bulge around 7 (6 games scoring that), and a general leaning towards the 6, 7, 8, 9 area. Only 2 games were scores 10/10. Here are the full counts per score 1-10:

Precise counts of games scoring each rating 1-10

1 - 0 games
2 - 1 game
3 - 2 games
4 - 3 games
5 - 3 games
6 - 4 games
7 - 6 games
8 - 5 games
9 - 4 games
10 - 2 games

My average score was 6.57.

Sometimes it can feel as though a longer parser game might get a higher score for its scale than a much shorter choice piece. But I don’t score that way. My score out of 10 is based on quality of writing, and level of interaction (that is important: give me sufficient interaction, whatever the game format), how much a piece moves me (e.g. to laugh, or feel tough emotions etc.), and against that e.g. if there are e.g. bugs or issues or underdeveloped areas, etc.

I don’t like an interactive game to end too abruptly. As a player I immerse myself in this world, and need time to decompress at the end. Being able to read author notes, or funny things I could have tried etc. can help me come back to the real world slowly. Especially I don’t want to feel as though I didn’t get enough story, and didn’t want to feel a world that I feel as though I’m being prematurely dragged away from.

One thing I really would like to stress though is to authors do please allow enough time for playtesting your games. This is especially critical for parser games, but applies to choice games too. Under play tested games are more likely to have problems - under implemented areas, bugs or typos - and allowing time for play testing can give players and judges a much happier experience. And a higher score for you! I know that seeking play testers can seem scary. But you’ll find plenty of willing volunteers here as well as elsewhere.

Equally though I’ve been wowed by a number of pieces by non native English speakers in the competition this year, that are extremely well polished and great examples of the craft. Well done folks, and thank you. I wish I could write something in another language (French is my closest) to a fraction of your skill.

Also I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I think it merits repeating. Thank you to all the new and enthusiastic reviewers coming on board this year! It has been wonderful to see such a vibrant reviewing community, and to hear so many new people. Everyone has a different perspective, and I’ve loved reading reviews by many authors. And of course it can be so valuable for authors to see reviews of their games too. Thank you all!

I’ve only played 30/74 games this year and may well not have played the winning game of the competition. I look forward very much to seeing the results and final rankings! But the games I did play were a fantastic crop, and hugely rewarding. Entering IFComp is a huge achievement so very well done to all the authors. And more generally thank you to everyone taking part in the competition - authors, play testers, reviewers, judges. And of course huge thanks to the organisers without whom none of this would be possible. I’ve been judging IFComp for a very very long time. I hope to keep enjoying it for years to come.


We’re thrilled to have you get through so many games too – and I’m saying that whether or not I’m an entrant.

For some perspective on how much 30 games is, back in 2010-2013, it would’ve meant getting through the entire comp!

Hope the appointment goes as best it can.


We still don’t know what the winning game is. Not even I know, and I mowed through all 75 entries.


That’s 6x more than the requirement to vote for the comp.
:partying_face: :tada:

Hope you feel better soon :green_heart:


Thank you so much for taking the time to play and review Detective Osiris. I appreciate your feedback, and I’m sorry you found display issues later in the game! I confess I’ve not tested it on Safari on a Mac, but I’ll see if I can narrow down why that may have happened. I’m glad you were able to get by to at least see the end.

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Hi Viv,

Thanks for the review. I have corrected the errors you found and given you a credit.

Larry Horsfield


As we approach the imminent competition results, and a number of fellow reviewers have posted their favourites and/or some scores, I thought I’d list the games I gave scores 10, 9 or 8 to. I played 30/74 games, and score quite toughly. This year I used all scores apart from 1. I won’t have played all the great games.

Looking at my favourites list below there’s a hefty chunk of parser games there. We had some really strong ones this year. But there are also a good number of choice games there too. Well done to everyone, whether in this list below, or not. You entered, you made a game, and if I played it I enjoyed it. Thank you :heart_eyes:

The games I gave scores 10, 9 or 8 to

Note: the games are not sorted within each score below by preference.

Dr Ludwig and the Devil
One King to Loot them All

Bali B&B
Fix Your Mother’s Printer
To Sea in a Sieve

Eat the Eldritch
Milliways: the Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Tricks of light in the forest
Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates


I’m delighted that you thought Milliways was an 8! :smile: And yeah, I can agree with some of those other scores.


Now the comp is over I can thank you properly. THANK YOU for reviewing my game (and all the others too for that matter), and especially for the author notes, which I was able to deal with during the comp, thus improving the game.

Would it be okay if I put your name in the game as a reviewer? And, what spelling/capitalisation/etc would you like?

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