WidowDido's IF Comp 2020 Reviews

I’ve posted my reviews thus far on IFDB and may move them over here later. I decided to post here as well, as I think there are bugs in two games that force a restart.

Later today I’ll edit this to include a short review of “A Calling of Dogs,” but for now will just provide a bug report so others can avoid it.

"A Calling of Dogs"

First, beware of the bug mentioned at the end of this review as it forces a restart.

Second, this is not a genre I’m too capable of judging. You play a woman, locked in a cage in a basement, with most choice involving interactions with your kidnapper. I don’t have any positive reaction to this sort of voyeurism—so I cannot review how effectively this piece works in this respect. I leave it for fans of true crime, pulp crime, and similar genres to judge its merits.

I feel more qualified to say some words about the quality of prose. The piece has certainly been proof-read. But, there is the occasional metaphor or description that reads strangely. A couple of examples are a comparison to a sinking iceberg (ice doesn’t sink, it melts) and of what a black hole sees when it looks at you. Such odd phrasing is not common, but I think the piece can be tightened up considerably with another round of editing with these things in mind. There is enough consistency in tone and elsewhere that the authors seem capable of this type of revision.

In the ending I came to, the woman escapes to find herself in a bookstore. I do not know if there are other endings. I find this an extremely odd choice. If I was an editor, I’d probably try to find out exactly what the author wants to say by tacking this ending onto a story filled with such menace and violence, implied and actual. If the desire was to be strange, unforeseen, and ambiguous—it succeeded. But, if they had some more definite project in mind, perhaps it can be reworked a little.

BUG: There is a point where you can choose to look at “All the metal.” (I don’t really think it will give anything away, but blurring out of abundance of caution) After doing this, the option does not disappear. If you choose this same option a second time, you receive the exact same response, only it lacks a hyperlink to take you back to the list of choices. You must restart the game.
It is a short game so it isn’t too annoying. But due to the subject matter, having to replay the game may not be the most pleasant experience.

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Review of Limerick Quest:

I was a bit hesitant of this game,
Admittedly based on its name.
Could the limericks be appealing,
or would I be kneeling
in pain cuz the gimmick was lame?

I can say now, the game: it succeeded!
No doubt, it was just what I needed
after some mediocre fiction
in such a big competition.
Let any reluctance to play go unheeded.

It’s about two grave-robbing women,
Who for treasure are soon to be diggin’.
There’s danger and traps,
two guardian cats,
And a mystery Russian-Aztecan.

The end-game mechanic was a surprise–

I’d call it a timed rhyming exercise.
And there’s still much to do
After your first playthrough
As its “have you tried” list testifies.

So certainly give it a try,
And don’t let this piece slip by
Before perusing,
(Perhaps even reviewing)
A game with a name that’s no lie.

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If you liked Limerick Quest, be sure to try out @Pace’s entry in last year’s competition: Limerick Heist! Less ambitious but (in my opinion) even more delightful. :slight_smile:

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There’s also a spooky Ectocomp entry, Limerick Night.

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Thank you both for the recommendations! Due to the state of the world, this is the most time I’ve had for IF in years. I’m generally years behind in games I’d like to play, but will look into Pace’s other games.

How The Elephant’s Child Who Walked By Himself Got His Wings

There’s an old MST3K joke about how bad movies should really avoid alluding to much better works. With this in mind, I began with some trepidation–Kipling’s an old British imperialist, but he could write (prose) with the best of them.

Despite my wariness of such a comparison, I found a very enjoyable Twine game. Like Kipling himself, probably as much of a pleasure to read at 10 as at 50–only for slightly different reasons. The prose writing was a surprisingly accomplished, polished pastiche of Kipling’s children’s stories. The fiction becomes more entertaining by the player’s opportunity to suggest some improbable plots. But, whatever the choice, the storyteller (almost always) seamlessly weaves together the unexpected into a send-up of the Kipling-esque origin story.

This is a good idea, and obviously not completely original. Decades ago, the animated shorts of “Fractured Fairy Tales” parodied Aesop, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Anderson. But, as always, it is the execution of the idea that is crucial. Sure, the image of a tiger teaching a whale to hunt children from the treetops is funny, but to effectively convey this in the manner of Kipling takes more skill than the idea itself.

Thanks to the quality of writing and probably a tad bit of nostalgia, I’d recommend this one to players of any age.

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The Call of Innsmouth

Lovecraftian horror has a long association with IF, and I anticipate that many will look forward to this game. I’ve played some of these classics, but more because I like IF than Lovecraft.

The main criticism I anticipate will be the lack of interactivity. Also, it will be disappointment for anyone expecting a series of puzzles as in Anchorhead or The King of Shreds and Patches. There are decisions that can be made, but I’m not sure how much difference these decisions would have on the overall story—it seemed to me a highly directed narrative. Also, every decision I made that resulted in death could be undone, so I don’t think there’s too much harm in trying bad decisions.

In terms of the writing—something of a blend of noir and Lovecraft. I suppose it was consistent overall. It followed the pattern that Lovecraftian games often have: mounting mystery followed by mounting suspense followed by a conclusion that is often spoiled by an epilogue hinting that, despite avoiding the horror, it remains out there.

The work was obviously proof-read. The narrative was compelling enough and the prose was well-written enough not to slow down my reading. Like nearly everything, perhaps some editing can be made: the phrase “Native American” strikes too modern a phrase despite being more PC than the era-appropriate alternatives; to describe the dilapidated port town of Innsmouth as “urban squalor” seems incorrect; Carl is concerned about being seen talking to the PC, yet we immediately walk out in the open to his apartment.. Although perhaps a little pedantic, I think several small changes like these throughout would make the writing a little more consistent with the world its depicting.

For those blocking out time for competition play, I’d say 2 hours may be a tad generous. It took me closer to one hour than two.

I wish the author good luck, and imagine many others will be thrilled for another dive into the mythos. It may not have the interaction and puzzles, but I’d say the writing is on par with the IF-Lovecraftian writing people expect.

The Cave

In approaching this review, I’m going to take some of the comments made in the writer’s description as a serious expression of the game’s intent.

The Cave is a weird dungeon crawl, purportedly “a journey of self-discovery,” not just collecting loot and escaping the dungeon. But, I’d say it’s essentially still just a cave to explore with some tasks or actions that a player may or may not find important or interesting. There is a walkthrough included but I would strongly encourage not looking at it until after at least 2 playthroughs. The description declares: “Fear. Loneliness. Existential angst.” I’m not sure all of that can be found in this game, but it certainly adopts a more psychological style than Zork.

As it is so short, saying almost anything involves spoilers. After the first playthrough ends, a “stat sheet” becomes available and the player has the first real definitive hint that there is some degree of randomization in the game. I quickly played through another two times and saw there is a significant amount of variation from game to game. It was effectively done, and can only hope the mechanic finds its way into other types of IF.

I think it would be extremely difficult for any game of this type to be a journey of self-discovery. It does succeed in this: giving an initial sense of disorientation and a growing ability to orient oneself. But trying to move beyond disorientation in a cave crawl to an ontological exploration of self and world seems very difficult. I think this game tries to move in this direction, but I found it didn’t make much more of an emotional or intellectual impact than other games in this genre.

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Thanks for this thoughtful review – I appreciate your attention to the game and willingness to give it a few tries. It’s my first foray into writing IF and very much a proof of concept with regards to some of these mechanics. I’m hoping to explore identity and self in other ways with future games (which will be bigger).

You’re welcome Neil. Congratulations on your game and thanks for entering it into the competition. Some more thoughts on your game: I thought the randomly generated world was done very well, and I can’t recall seeing Twine-esque games with it implemented in this degree to rooms, objects, and possible actions.
In regards to trying to move from disorientation to the existential angst and dread mentioned in the game’s description, perhaps it can be expressed through addressing not only the pervading darkness, but perhaps also the randomness of this world. As a player, I found the randomness considerably more compelling than the struggle with darkness.
You do convey the continuing personal journey through changes that will sometimes appear in the inventory (you are wise, you are charming, etc.), but I did not see any relation to these changes and, say, the room descriptions or the description of psychological state. Such changes very well could be in the game, but perhaps it would take further play to delineate just what is happening in the game when an inventory change takes place.
I think your game is very ambitious in trying to create more emotional depth in this genre. The gameworld was well designed, and I continue to be surprised at the complexity that can be generated in Twine or Twine-like games. Congratulations on your entry and best of luck with IF going forward.
Finally, long as you’re here, I saw just one typo: “Following the faintest of tracesin the dark”

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Sheep Crossing

A short parser piece that’s a variation on one of the oldest puzzles in the book. I have to think nearly everyone familiar with puzzles can work out the solution immediately, though getting the intended result may take a little extra work. But that’s not all that difficult either—and doing anything close will cause the parser to hint at what to try.

There’s a list of amusing things at the endgame, but several other actions have responses that aren’t found on the list: x sun, smelling things, singing or dancing, sinking the boat. Since a winning game takes under 25 moves, it’s pretty quick to replay for anything you might not have experimented with the first time.

And, because we can assume the basic puzzle is known to nearly all, it probably should be judged on all the amusing things implemented. If you like games for responses to unnecessary actions, it’d be silly not to fire this up and experiment. If you’re looking for emotional depth, perhaps you should have read the game’s description.

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Excellent points – I think I ended up overemphasizing the darkness because I wanted to make finding light all the more important (there are a couple light sources in the game - one natural, one magical). All light sources decay with time, which means the descriptions of rooms also change with the current access to light. Acquiring spells opens up new options in different situations which are also dependent on prior actions and current inventory. But given the shortness of each playthrough, it’s likely a lot of these interactions and complexities get missed or never show up on the first time through.

Thanks too for spotting the typo! I’ll be sure to fix it with the next update.

Thank you so much for your review of my entry, The Call of Innsmouth. This was the first IF I have ever written, and only the second piece of fiction I have ever posted online (scary :laughing:). It has been very helpful reading all the reviews and learning from the other great entries.

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Minor Arcana

If you’re blocking out the suggested 30 minutes, that’s likely enough for two playthroughs.

A choice based game from the perspective of a tarot deck. The author’s description is about as accurate as you can get. It is a short piece, but with some real structural elegance. In this game about how a deck of cards may exert its influence on its world, we—as players—are in a position to nudge, change and influence the gameworld. I think this relation between form and content should be acknowledged and applauded. And, as to its visual layout, it looks very pretty.

The prose style remains consistent throughout—the narrative will not change in that respect. It is of a type common to IF, along with a certain type of artsy short fiction: an aura of mystery established through a mixture of being at once vague and very descriptive—a way to attach significance to almost any noun or adjective. The interactivity, some of which consists in changing these adjectives and nouns, reinforces the feeling that significance can be found in any word . And here, as well, there is a relation between form and content. For what is a tarot reading but a mixture of the vague and descriptive—a way to attach significance to nearly anything.

For those, like me, who are not fans of the prose style, there is still something commendable in its use in this piece. As a short piece, I think there is much to admire. It shows an aesthetic coherence that can often be lacking even in artsy IF. I’m glad to see IF like this being made. .

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Elsegar I: Arrival

Unfortunately, I do not think this work has been proofread or play-tested. There is a typo on the entry screen, and a grammar error in the first room description. Several more spelling errors and idiosyncratic capitalization throughout. You must “>get off bed,” as “>get up” yields “The door is closed.”

Later, one can find a sign at a crossroads, but the N/S directions on the sign are opposite of what happens in the game. I do not think this was intentional.

I stopped shortly after this, scoring 51 of a possible 173.

It’s clear the user has some experience with IF conventions. But a lot of work needs to be done on this piece. Perhaps some of this was just an exercise in coding (I saw no other use for the radio).


Last Hour on the Block

This game sounded like it had some promise. Learning that a house has recently been abandoned, you meet your friend LiYuan and begin to search the property.

There’s a mediocre amount of detail in the game. It’d be nice to have a few more descriptions for the sake of greater realism (for example, LiYuan picks and smells a flower; you are unable to do either). On the other hand, there’s about a dozen photos you can look at in the living room. Maybe more synonyms could be implemented to navigate easier (bookshelf = shelf; bathmat = mat, etc).

You can’t talk to your friend, to the best I can tell. Though, if you take a box of cereal, she takes it from you. LiYuan also gets referred to as “they” which I think is a mistake and not a gender neutral choice. “Are we done in here yet?” asks LiYuan “I’m going to check something else.” they say, going to another room..

You can also do some odd things that you probably shouldn’t (like putting two kitchen chairs in the oven). If you X PILLS, you get 20 responses, one for each pill.

Also, of the few puzzles, some could be criticized for not being clued well. I was able to find a fishing line and tried numerous ways to attach this to a steel hook. You are supposed to attach something else to this hook, but there is no hint to say the line would not work. And another I thought unfair but probably reasonable.

A couple things made me smile. I was quite amused that the verb “shine flashlight” used an unanticipated meaning of the verb.

This was an okay entry and shows promise for the author. I think a greater amount of play-testing may have assisted the author in developing responses for certain player actions. I wish them the best of luck.

Thank you for your kind words about Minor Arcana, and generosity despite not liking the prose style! It’s not actually my usual style in my wider writing, but felt appropriate to the content, as you note.

Just curious if you started your second playthrough via the restart button, or used the ‘beginning’ choice at the end of the first playthrough? As there is some state tracking dependent on the latter, and I fear I have not made it obvious that that is the choice to take to properly continue the story…

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@WidowDido Thank you for your review, I did have people play before hand so does error might have slept through the cracks and the bed part is probably because the player is standing on the bed. The radio isn’t supposed to have a use but just a nice attention to detail I added. I’ll fix the sign and other things in an update this week. (Please message me for any of the things you would like to see changed)

Re: Minor Arcana
Unfortunately when I saw that the first option returned me to the beginning, I closed the window and played a second time a couple days later. When it takes you back to the beginning, I didn’t anticipate any state tracking. I’ll play again sometime during the comp, keeping this in mind.

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Hi silicon, I’ll send you a PM!

Big Trouble in Little Dino Park

A fast, cute game. Humorous enough to play through to a winning scenario–maybe 15-25 minutes depending a little on luck. Then another quick play just to wrap up some loose ends.

Out of very bad luck, I just happened to crash this on my first play. It was the only branch of all that I tried to result in crashing the page. Just goes to show. Still, the game was easily worth finishing in spite of this. I then played it through one additional time, essentially to see if one response would change depending on what you do at the start of the game (I couldn’t determine if feeding the dinosaurs the correct food had any impact–it looked like there was not).

Light-hearted, choice-based fun in under 30 minutes. If that’s what you’re looking for, it delivers.
Bug: There is at least one branch that will crash this game. At least one other that ends in a response with no further links available. If you’re in the Dino Nursery, have the two scientists, and then go to the helicopter, you run into another velociraptor. If you choose “This way is dangerous, turn back,” you will crash the browser. In the “Frogger”-esque section, while trying to die in different ways, I came to a page with no hyperlinks to follow.

That’s really useful to know, thanks! And clearly something I need to flag up more clearly (and indeed an element I wish to expand post-comp)…

Taking at least one day off playing and reviewing to mourn the death of Mohammad Reza Shajarian, one of the most significant classical singers of the last 50 years.

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