Warrigal reviews PunyJam #4

PunyJam #4 was held from 17 November to 17 December 2023. This means that entrants had only one month to design, code and test a game. Games had to be written in Inform 6 using the PunyInform library. Just to make things more difficult, games had to adhere to the following theme:

“At the start of the game, or within the first five moves, the player gets an indication that something isn’t quite right, or even that something is terribly wrong.”

At the end of the jam, there were 23 registered participants (a few had dropped out) and 6 submissions. That’s a 26% submission rate, which is pretty typical for most competitive text adventure game jams.

The theme had a lot of potential, so how did the authors handle it? As it turns out, there was quite a lot of variety. Here are links to the game page for each game in alphabetical order. I’ll add short reviews for each game as time permits.


Cargo Breach by Garry Francis

This is my game, so I’ll try to keep this objective.

You wake up in your bunk in the crew’s quarters of a steam ship. When you look out the porthole, you see that it’s night, but it should be day. You must have overslept, but no one woke you up. When you get up and get dressed, you realise that the guys from the day shift aren’t in their bunks and the familiar rumble of the ship’s steam engine is absent. Something is wrong. But what?

When you open the cabin door, you smell chlorine gas, so you quickly close the door. You’ll need a mask before you can leave the cabin.

As the game unfolds, you find that all the crew are dead, the story behind the disaster is slowly revealed and your objective becomes clear.

In order to achieve your objective, there are lots of puzzles to be solved. The puzzles come in all shapes and sizes, but they are well hinted. If you get desperate, there’s a HINT command that’s perhaps a little too helpful, so don’t use it unless you have to.

Response to XYZZY: “There’s a puff of yellow-green gas and a long-haired mage appears. Strangely, he’s wearing a gas mask. He mumbles something that you can’t understand under his gas mask. He points to you, points to his gas mask, makes a motion as if to put on the gas mask, then disappears. Well, that was weird.” (This response changes if you’re wearing the gas mask.)


Minimal Game by Michael Bub

The prologue implies that you have been the protagonist in many games, but this seems to be a new one. In some games, you couldn’t get to the end because they were too difficult, buggy or not fully implemented. Let’s see how this one fares…

You start out as the protagonist inside a computer game. It’s the beginning of the game and nothing much seems to be implemented. After five moves, you’re told that you can use RELEASE and CHANGELOG. Doing so reveals that you’re now in the prototype of the game. After floundering about a bit further, you find an upgrade. You can now INSTALL or ROLLBACK the upgrade to change versions. I liken this to a time travel mechanic where installing an upgrade takes you forward in time and rolling back an upgrade takes you backwards in time. I won’t tell you how many upgrades there are, but your ultimate goal is to get to the release version and escape from the game.

There are, of course, a few puzzles along the way. The puzzles themselves are fairly easy, but the commands needed to solve a couple of them are not very intuitive. There are also some interesting changes along the way, where the room descriptions change or objects appear depending on the current version of the game. When you’re in the prototype, it feels quite surreal, but things become clearer when you install upgrades.

All in all, this was a very original concept and the author is to be congratulated for that. It was only let down by a few guess-the-verb situations and some minor implementation issues.

Response to XYZZY: “It’s not that kind of game apparently.”


Pharaoh by Gianluca Girelli

This game was inspired by the first episode of the 1985 American science fiction television series Otherworld.

You play the part of Hal Sterling. You and your family (June, Trace, Gina and Smith) are on a tour of the interior of the Great Pyramid of Giza when a cataclysmic event takes place and you are abandoned by your guide. When the guide leaves, he takes the flashlight with him, leaving you in complete darkness. So, your first objective is to find a light source.

After five moves, there is a heavy rumble of falling rocks and loud screams from your family. You have no idea what’s happened to them, so your next objective is to find them and then get out of the pyramid. However, when you do…well, you’ll have to play the game to find out what happens.

I love an adventure set in a pyramid and this one does not disappoint. As I was playing it, I felt that there were similarities with Stargate (the movie) and Scott Adams’ Savage Island Part 2. This was probably coincidental, but if you’re familiar with either of those, then you’ll know the sort of game that you’re getting into.

The overall gameplay is very linear and the puzzles are fairly straight forward, although I did strike a few potential actions that weren’t implemented. The twist at the end was a little unexpected, but now that I’ve read a synopsis of Otherworld on Wikipedia, it all makes sense. I think a sequel is needed and the author tells me that he was thinking the same thing.

In summary, this is a fun little game, which was a bit confusing at the beginning, but it all made sense in the end.

Response to XYZZY: “That is not a verb I recognize.”


Redux by Shawn Sijnstra

You’re disoriented and surrounded by darkness. You don’t sense anything against your skin, and you’re not sure that you can move. You feel lost, like you’re floating in space. You have only memories of your love of coffee, science fiction and software coding.

And so it begins. This is a very surreal game. You start in darkness and can’t really do anything for the first four moves. You then automatically open your eyes to find that you’re lying on a lawn and everything hurts.

On the next move, you’re transported to one of your three memories, then automatically return to the lawn after ten moves. This process repeats ad infinitum until you’ve solved the game.

The puzzles in each memory vary in difficulty. The science fiction memory is pretty straight forward. The coffee memory would also have been straight forward, apart from some implementation issues. (This was my favourite memory.) The software coding memory is downright difficult due to lots of guess-the-verb scenarios, unclear directions and one-way exits.

All in all, I found the game a bit frustrating to play because of the randomness, the lack of control over the selection of memories and the short time spent in each memory before you get kicked out. However, this is no doubt by design and the whole shebang would probably have been difficult to implement, so plaudits for that.

Response to XYZZY: “That is not a verb I recognize.”


THE RUIN OF 0CEANUS PR1ME by Marco Innocenti

You play the part of Colonel J T Thomas, who’s a deep sea diver on Titan. When the game starts, you’re 2400 metres below the surface and communicating with Carter, your support officer. Your first task is to work out how your diving suit works, then follow the signs that lead to the ruin of Oceanus Prime. At one point early in your descent, something goes wrong and you appear to black out or something (it’s not really clear), then the game appears to restart and you find yourself in a strange place.

Without giving too much away, you eventually find your way into Oceanus Prime. Your objective is to explore it to find out what happened to it. This game is a sequel to Marco’s PunyJam #3 game A1RL0CK, so if you’ve played that, you’ll know what happened to Oceanus Prime, but Colonel Thomas doesn’t know that.

The puzzles are minimal and I was never quite sure what I was supposed to be doing, so I had to start using trial and error. By the time I reached the end game, I got desperate, disassembled the code and still couldn’t work out what to do. Thankfully, the author gave me some hints and I was eventually able to finish, but the finish was somewhat weird.

The writing is verbose and descriptive, yet everything has a surreal feel and it’s hard to envisage what things look like. I had to have Google on standby to look up several words that I’d never heard of.

Towards the middle and end game, there are a lot of long conversations where you have to WAIT for conversations to take place. So, if you like that sort of thing and you like narrative fiction, you’ll probably like this game, but don’t be surprised if you can’t finish it.

Response to XYZZY: “The lifelong abuse on your body must have left indelible marks. You talk like you have a fish in your mouth. Incomprehensible.”


SHAKA! by Olaf Nowacki

At the end of a sleepless night, you fell asleep just before the alarm went off. You drove to work as if on autopilot, but when you got to your desk, you realised that it was Hawaiian shirt day and you’d forgotten to dress properly. In fact, when you take an inventory or examine yourself, you find that you’re only wearing your undies. You need to get home as soon as possible, but without anyone seeing you near naked.

What follows is a series of silly episodes where you try to fashion some clothing from office supplies so that you can sneak past your colleagues to leave the building. And when I say ‘silly’, I mean ‘silly’ in a good way. This is a fun game with some clever puzzles. It has a scoring system and you achieve 1 or 2 points for finding items and solving tasks, plus 5 points for getting out of the office. You will most likely find that you finish with 23 points out of 25, so this gives you a good excuse to replay this fun little game to find the missing 2 points.

All in all, this was a classic text adventure based on a funny premise and some original ideas. I liked it!

Response to XYZZY: “That is not a verb I recognize.”