WidowDido's IF Comp 2020 Reviews

Ferryman’s Gate

A game of exploration and comma usage. The PC’s family moves into a house they inherit after a wealthy, eccentric uncle—a community college English professor seemingly obsessed with proper grammar—passes away. The player is tasked with discovering some of the mystery of the house.

The first part of the game concerns collecting twelve items (there’s a score to chart this progress). Most of these can be found just by examining anything notable, or maybe doing a small errand. Once the items are collected, the player must apply comma rules to solve a series of puzzles. I did not find the ending puzzle that difficult, but I did not get it right the first time. However, I was pretty positive I just had two items wrong and could easily swap them. If anyone is unsure about 4 or more examples of correct and incorrect comma usage, the puzzles may be considered very difficult. There is a primer on comma usage available, but others will have to speak on how useful they found the explanation.

The prose is pretty good and more-or-less consistent. The author apologizes for occasionally mixing some light-hearted scenarios with the darker story that unfolds. However, I honestly didn’t think this was much of a problem. Some of the light-hearted prose I came across pretty early (I almost immediately used the bathroom and tried the magic word). If a couple of these actions happened midway through the narrative, perhaps it would have seemed out of place. But by doing this very early in the game, I don’t think there was much inconsistency at all.

I’d say the plot unfolds very well. As expected in IF of this type, there’s the drip-drip-drip of more information as the puzzles are solved. It was able to keep me interested in the story until the conclusion. Perhaps the only aspect of this game I found disappointing was the ending. It is very brief, and some things are left unanswered (at least, so it seemed to me). As the player gets the last required item, we come to the gate of Hades, we find an underground crypt filled with bones, but unfortunately the final end-game revelation gives no further details about the strange house and this portal to hell. I cannot say what would have made a more satisfying ending, but learning some additional information about your uncle or the house seems like it would have been fitting. Adding something to the ending may be able to prevent this feeling of anticlimax.

The game took me somewhere between 90 minutes to 2 hours. It kept me entertained throughout. Despite what I saw as a slightly anticlimactic ending, I had a lot of fun on the journey.
I look forward to reading reviews of this game to see how people feel about the comma usage puzzles. I wish the writer the best of luck.

As I wrote this review, was listening to : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HANDyugAXmY

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The Cursed Pickle of Shireton

This was the first piece I played by Hanon Ondricek. The game is a satire on MUDs, but of really amazing depth…

The Cursed Pickle takes place in buggy beta version of Age of Aeons 2 (well, most of the game). The bugs are persistent throughout and are frequently mentioned in the player chat (with somewhat randomized names like BLAZEIT42069). I’d recommend just letting the player chat run for a few minutes while away from the computer and then browsing through it. The amount of extraneous text for the sake of amusement is quite amazing, and there is no reason to skip the player chat, the optional conversations with the card collecting resident of the Institute, or taking a trip to the barber.
The game’s first act is a pretty open-ended RPG: a variety of quests, errands, random encounters, NPCs to hire and the purchase of stat points and healing items. Only by entering the bakery does the first act end, which crashes the game.
The second act begins, and you are now playing the Baker of Shireton NPC. Not being aware of Ondricek’s earlier game, this transition in perspective—and to an NPC at that! —was unexpected and a very funny idea. Not to mention well-executed. Play as the baker begins with an internal baking mini-game (referenced later in an optional conversation). There’s something to find that will greatly increase the speed of completing this section, so poking around is smart here.
The second day, you learn the miserable position of this baker, who is in aeons of debt. There’s a page of well written satire of promotional ad copy when the player acquires the jar of pickles, in my opinion some of the funniest text in the game. Eventually, the Baker realizes this is the eponymous cursed pickle. He meets the PC from the first act—and, in an improbable fashion, the Baker, the pickle, and the original PC start off on the next act.
Act three is the most open-ended part of the game: setting forth to find the sandbox, the place where the pickle can be destroyed. Those who have poked around all the screens know that the prior version of AoA is available as a link; this goes to an unwinnable parser-game, playing the Baker with the pickle, trying to find the sandbox. It’s possible to get an endgame in the parser, but I do not think there’s a good ending available.
To get on with the plot, you must somehow get to Lünebyn to learn how to enter the sandbox. This is crucial information to win the game. When you visit the Institute, the player is separated from the Baker and the pickle. The puzzles here involves interaction with the various characters to have the correct mental state to accomplish certain tasks. This is also where I found a stat roll must be beaten. I had not bothered to increase the correct stat, and just restarted. I believe there is very likely a way to use the phobia/philia puzzle system and not have to level up, but I didn’t think of this til after restarting.
Once you’re out of Lünebyn, you should have everything to enter the sandbox. May require some patience. After entering, you have one more stat roll, then you enter the epilogue. From here, I think there are two different final texts. Of course, you can make some different choices (or fail the stat rolls) for different endings before entering the epilogue.
The depth of this satire is stunning. This same plot could have told without trying to purposefully create a game that has the look and feel of a buggy beta release. And then for this mechanic to be a source of pleasure for the player rather than frustration—it’s well-done. I would not say the game is that difficult at all. In such an open-ended game, there are a number of choices that could make beating this in a single playthrough difficult—not purchasing water, for example. Or somehow skipping over key text on how to access the sandbox. Missing that would make the endgame impossible.
All the interactions with the baker and pickle throughout the third act are great. Open up that inventory menu, talk to the Baker. Spend some time to enjoy this game. Make and sell lumpy bread to the Harbourmaster and other patrons. Note the professions of your patrons in Shireton, get a haircut, and play the card collector’s game. Let the chat logs run at various points in the game, including the epilogue, then returning to see the responses.
There’s a lot to like about this game if you appreciate the humor. I think most everyone would be impressed by the amount of work that must have gone into this game. Best of luck to the author, and I look forward to playing some of his earlier games after the competition.


My game is no longer in the competition