Wolfbiter reviews IFComp 2023 (latest: finished with reviews, wrap-up thoughts)

Yup. I think you can find it as a map somewhere. Go up a certain amount to get to one checkpoint, then down to get to the next, etc.

1 Like

Hmm, see I guess this is what I mean by it breaks my brain. I assume “up” goes up some fixed number of units, and “down” goes down the same number. So if I’m at 20 ft on the tree, then I go “up” I’ll be at 30 ft. If I then go back “down,” now I’m exactly where I started at 20 ft so I haven’t changed anything . . .

1 Like

Have you seen the map? It really is just more simplified …

1 Like

Hmm, will have to check out the map, thanks for the tip.

1 Like

Hawkstone by Handsome McStranger

Playtime: 47 minutes (did not finish)

TLDR: Explore the world, complete quests, and level up your stats as an adventurer in this RPG-inflected game.

Gamemechanical notes: This is a separate (C++?) game application. It was pretty easy for me to play (on Windows)—downloaded all of the game files, ran “Adventure.exe.” Once in the game, it’s parser based. There doesn’t seem to be a way to save or undo (although at times I wanted both).

PAGING ALL PLAYERS, PLEASE BE APPRISED:

(1) When you “look,” the description of what you see appears and updates in the TOP PORTION of the screen. It’s nowhere near the command line (don’t ask how long I spent thinking that several locations were so dark that “look” resulted in no information . . .)

(2) “x ____” does not work, but “look at ___” or “look ____” does work.

[ + ]

  • This must have been a very ambitious project to code from scratch. I admire the chutzpah

  • I enjoyed the RPG elements. The idea of putting in quests (I was definitely picturing an exclamation mark over the NPCs’ heads) and returning to complete them is a fun, creative idea I haven’t seen in very many IF games.

  • I also enjoyed the combat, the automated calculation made it pretty seamless (sadly, it doesn’t seem like there’s that many things to fight? At least in the early areas I managed to explore there’s only 3, only one of which seems to really be a plausible option. I could see enjoying it if there were a more farm-y area).

  • Look, the idea of grinding for levels is very much in my wheelhouse. The Number Go Up is very pleasing! (Although I didn’t really make it far enough to feel like I was seeing much payoff from the stats.)

  • I enjoyed the author’s sense of humor, e.g. “Many leaves. Pretty leaf,” as an area description.

[ Δ ]

  • I’m not sure what was intended, but putting the “look” descriptions at the top, but also putting text the player needs to read at the bottom right next to the command line (for example, the descriptions of the results of an action are at the bottom) makes the player move their eyes back and forth the maximum amount each turn.

  • There were quite a few rough implementation spots—items that had to be referred to extremely specifically, uneven labeling of NPCs, puzzles that are unintuitive and drove me to the walkthrough early (the swing loop [or any other item] doesn’t work to knock down the plant pot, only one specific rope?). I would also prefer we not implement the least fun elements of classic RPGs, like an extremely restrictive carry limit (especially given that you have to use items lots on things like in-game currency and gold), although ymmv about those elements.

  • Because there was no save or undo I ended up restarting the game a few times and found it pretty hard to get into (when I thought I couldn’t see anything, to see if I could loot items from the worm [but although item drops were listed it never seemed to be possible to pick them up]). I also restarted once after dying in combat (although I think from later reading the walkthrough that dying may actually be an intended part of the game progression, but that should perhaps be better signalled to keep people from giving up).

4 Likes

Out of Scope by Drew Castalia
Playtime: 30 minutes (did not finish)

Gamemechanical notes: It’s a game with a unique interface (written in unity?). I had some issues, see [ Δ ] for more.

[ + ]

  • Some of the writing is really good. (E.g., “when two people are silent together, it’s like a song”)

  • In particular, the writing is effective in that horror-adjacent way of sharing seemingly simple, but deeply unsettling information that makes you want to know more about what happened in the past. This was definitely working to engage me and make me curious.

  • The concept—the player character returning to their old home, gutted in a mysterious fire, to reconnect with their sister, with whom they share a conflicted backstory—it’s compelling stuff. I wanted to find out more.

[ Δ ]

  • Gameplay / implementation issues kept me from finishing the game, which is unfortunate because I was curious where it was going. Others have mentioned several issues already, so I’ll just say that for me, the biggest issues were (1) when a text bubble appeared, it seemed that it would take several seconds to be clickable, and (2) the inability to tell whether a certain bubble was ever going to become clickable (I initially thought that was what black borders and gray borders indicated, but I think I saw black borders that never became clickable for me). I have a hard time with timed text in general, and that combined with not knowing if it was even possible to interact with the thing I was clicking made this game feel like trying to read a novel with a 5-second ad spot between sentences. I tried it online and wondered if that was causing some of my problems, but I had the same issues with the downloaded version. The concept for the UI is ambitious and unique. I take it it’s supposed to feel sort of unsettling—you don’t know where you’re looking, you can’t see everything at once, looking one direction causes you to not see anything else. I commend the boldness of the approach and some of that was definitely working.
8 Likes

Creative Cooking by dott. Piergiorgio
Playtime: 22 minutes

TLDR: Let this game gently guide you through collecting ingredients from town in a fantastical alternative universe.

Gamemechanical notes: I wasn’t sure how to start this game. No, in the most literal sense, I wasn’t sure what application to use to open the game file. But I saw in @mathbrush ʼs review that he used Gargoyle, so I downloaded that and it was easy from there.

[ + ]

  • This game is drawing on the cozy pleasures of gathering edible ingredients and preparing a meal to share with friends—and these are some good pleasures! I like them! (And I was charmed by the game’s reason you cannot enter the public house—they’re hosting a communal meal you already declined in favor of hosting your own, competing, event, it would be too awkward.)

  • The puzzles weren’t hard, but that was fine by me. This was very much a relaxed “take a stroll through this village and learn something about the worldbuilding game,” and I was glad it didn’t intrude on that by adding a finicky sequence where I had to select the correct recipes from the cookbook or similar.

  • This game is probably 75% worldbuilding, which was hit or miss for me, but mostly hit.

  • If there’s a book in a game, I’m gonna try and read it, and I do get a little thrill of joy when you can. As is the case here!

[ Δ ]

  • The length description for the game should probably be lower, it’s a very short game.

  • OK, a few bits of the world building that were a miss: (a) at some points, it was very apparent that the information was just being delivered to the audience. For example, at one point the narrator thinks “The Kirune physiology, that is, my physiology, is carefully described.” If I ever hear someone say “The human physiology, that is, my physiology, is carefully described,” I’m going to assume they’re a skin-stealing alien. Also (b) I didn’t love that for the one fantastical species I picked up on the most about, the characterization seems to be (1) they love eating meat and also (2) stealing. And the player character’s perspective on that species seems a bit “aww, those child-like creatures who don’t know any better.” If that’s not the read I was supposed to get, maybe tweak those descriptions. If that was the intended read, what if we also learned something else about that species to errr, humanize them? What would that character say about it? Do they view private property as the real barbarism? Etc etc

  • Big “hmmm” at the game only accepting “THROW the yardvine” [into the pond] when the instructions claim that the game has implemented “put ___ into ____” and “place ___ in ____.”

6 Likes

Artful Deceit by James O’Reilly, co-written by Dian Mills O’Reilly
Playtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes

TLDR: You’re an old-school gumshoe investigating the murder of your rich, art-world client in this retro puzzler.

Gamemechanical notes: OK, more of these than usual, so:

  1. Having already used my “I wasn’t sure how to start this game” joke, let’s just say that, having never emulated a Commodore 64 game before, simply opening the game was a puzzle for me. In case anyone else is in the same boat, after downloading the VICE emulator, you need to open the game file from the x64sc.exe file (found in the “bin” folder of the VICE materials). There’s a short note about this on page 5 of the Artful Deceit manual, I also skimmed this video before I found that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mfu1kOC4Bw

  2. Thanks @Denk for making some suggestions to make the game run better on the emulator. I don’t understand the details, but following these instructions reduced delays for me. Artful Deceit - emulator settings

  3. I would recommend saving, my game crashed once and I needed to reload a saved file.

  4. Once I figured out how to run the game, I went straight in and started playing. Learn from my cautionary tale because that was the WRONG choice. Instead, you want to start by reading the game manual, the “Feelies” (?? not a term I’m familiar with), and the command list before you start playing the game. All of those are found in the downloaded files that came with the game.

  5. Finally, I presumptuously assume you will want to know the following:

(i) there’s an “analyze ____” command (this is listed in the command list, but cannot be over-emphasized)

(ii) there’s a second location you can visit (the gallery) using the command “drive to ___” while at your car (you can also drive back to the house)

[ + ]

  • This game has a fun vibe (the opening description “as dusk gives way to the inky darkness of night, a luminous moon casts an eerie glow over the sprawling, luxurious community . . .” really working to set a noir mood)

  • The concept of “investigate these pretentious rich people’s art-adjacent murder” has a lot of promise (see Glass Onion, sort of?).

  • I quite enjoyed the flashlight filter puzzle. At first, when I saw the circuit breaker in the house, I was like “hmm, I wonder why the game wants me to think about turning off the power” and it was fun to see that played out.

[ Δ ]

  • I was intrigued to hear at the beginning that the player character is noteworthy for being disheveled and having people underestimate them, but I didn’t really see this reflected in how the NPCs react to the player character.

  • Interviewing is certainly important in the game—I would have enjoyed going even deeper/hearing even more colorful material from the NPCs. There were enough topics that weren’t implemented that it sort of discouraged spending a long time trying to talk to the NPCs.

  • My gameplay notes above probably raise several inferences about the roadblocks I hit with the game. (That’s what we call “environmental storytelling.” This writing thing is easy.) I think without those roadblocks I would have had a quite fun experience. As it was, I still had a fun experience, but one frequently interspersed with “!?!”

5 Likes

6 posts were split to a new topic: The Purpose of Feelies

I admit the mistake in having kept more or less as-is the stock AGT instructions…

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

1 Like

Milliways: the Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Max Fog
Playtime: 1 hour 30 minutes (did not finish)

Note: I’m a big fan of the books but have never played the Infocom game.

TLDR: Continue the absurdist adventures of Arthur Dent in this complex puzzler.

[ + ]

  • I had fun revisiting the Hitchhiker’s Guide setting. We get improbability calculations! We have a babel fish! Slartibartfast shows up! There is a Guide item and you can look things up in it! A towel makes a plot-relevant appearance! This definitely felt like it was made with the same love that I have for Douglas Adams.

  • I thought several of the puzzle designs were really creative and interesting. For example, I thought the cupboard swapping puzzle was a really fun concept, and what you were supposed to do was clued well through the in-game text by the descriptions of the first-class passengers all with glasses of sherry and the cupboard saying “you don’t have anything to replace that with.” Likewise, the morpher puzzle concept of playing spot-the-difference in the rooms is unique and enjoyable. I didn’t quite finish it, but I think the one I was on was going to be reading the letters spelled out by the shape of the map, which is also a good concept. Clearly a lot of effort and thought has gone into generating the puzzle concepts.

[ Δ ]

  • I would have enjoyed more time with the grace notes of the setting. For example, I wanted to hear Trillian, Ford, Zaphod, and Marvin say entertaining, in-character things (I talked to them at a few points but they didn’t have a lot to say). There’s also things like the blank menu at Milliways and the blank stage at Milliways that feel like they could be filled in with a fun, colorful element even if it wasn’t plot-relevant.

  • I liked a lot of the puzzle concepts but several of them had rough spots that increased friction in how they were implemented. I think a few tweaks to make them a bit more player-friendly would go a long way to increasing engagement. For example, I got the cupboard puzzle concept on my own, but I seemed to get into some kind of “no cupboards will open” bug after I gave the cupboard the sporfe? Or maybe because I left and entered the kitchen too much? I had to reload to resolve it, and after that I decided, like a coward, to just open the walkthrough and use the exact item swaps in there, but that was less fun. Similarly, I wasn’t sure what to do in the ship with the gun, but as soon as I opened the walkthrough and saw that area was called “morpher ship” I got it, I just needed a smidge more cluing in the environment to expect things to morph. I think if just a few more on-ramps were provided for the puzzles the game would play a lot smoother. The puzzle difficulty feels compounded by the fact that the in-game hints have a somewhat hostile tone—when the player is desperate enough to seek hints they’re at a low point in their experience! They seek encouragement!

  • I wish there had been somewhat fewer trips through the dark / repeat visits to locations.

5 Likes

My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition by Bez

Note: I’ve been sitting with this one for a bit. It definitely spurred a lot of thoughts, and although I’m still not totally sure how I think it works as a game, I did want to share some reactions.

TLDR: The author shares his memories and artifacts from his life during a period of mental health recovery in the format of a virtual museum exhibition. (I understand that the “frame” we’re given here is factual, in contrast to some of the games in the comp with fictitious framing stories.)

[ + ]

  • I was surprised how effective the simulating of a physical exhibition space was for me. The transitions screens (with footstep sounds), the pane showing an overhead map, the ability to walk between the displays in whatever order I wanted, it was working for me.

  • This piece is full of raw and unfiltered autobiographical material, which has a gripping “can’t look away” feeling. That compelling feeling of honesty and real life is one of the strengths of the game.

  • The author is a keen observer, and has the ability to relate incidents from his life in a way that both has the weight and specificity of actual experience, but also connects with the player through universal experiences. For example, in one of the bits that I was most affected by, we learn that the author had been considering committing suicide and leaving a last gift for his sister, but then says “And I realized (thanks to, as strange as it sounds, a YouTuber’s critique of Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2) that leaving a final gift for Eliana and then killing myself would be kind of a dick move.” I’ve never been in that exact situation, but I’ve been turning that moment over in my head since, reminded of the many times in my life that a piece of media that is objectively extremely mundane has spurred a deeply personal revelation.

[ Δ ]

  • This is a quibble, but when I wanted to move quickly through the exhibition (for example, to go back and look at something I’d been looking at earlier) there was a bit of friction because the physical placement of the movement options shifted up and down. It would have been easier to navigate if, say, all 4 directions had been permanently present in fixed locations (perhaps with the impossible directions grayed out), so that the player could just click “north” “north” “north” without having to move the cursor.

  • It would have been nice to have a sense at the beginning of how large the museum was—when I visit museums irl I find that helpful to marshal my resources

  • I don’t know if this would be logistically possible, but it might have added a fascinating depth to include contributions from anyone else involved in the author’s journey (e.g., twin, friends).

7 Likes

Thanks for writing this review! I’m very glad you liked the puzzles.

2 Likes

Thanks for writing the game! I had fun with it.

2 Likes

The Gift of What You Notice More by Xavid, co-written by Zan
Playtime: 41 minutes

TLDR: The player character seeks insight into the end of their relationship through a series of surreal, allegorical interludes. Also, now that I learned the word from reviews of The Little Match Girl 4: this too is metroidvania.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based and has a story to tell, but also includes a lot of puzzle elements.

[ + ]

  • I enjoyed the mood set by this game. The surreal elements are interesting. Some of the images (the birthday tableau as a stage performance ) are relationship archetypes with broad resonance. This is hard to convey, but at its best playing the game was sort of a Tarot-like state of heightened significance.

  • I enjoyed the poets. (I don’t recall if they were described / this may contradict any description, but my mental image is like, the bohemians by way of Moulin Rouge—TRUTH BEAUTY FREEDOM LOVE)

  • I enjoyed that many of the puzzles (with a few notable exceptions) involved healing things / helping things. I am HERE for stories exploring the need for us to show care and affection to others and ourselves.

[ Δ ]

  • I’m not sure I was getting the intended effect of the “pick 1 of 3 when talking to the poets” mechanism. It seems like it was meant to increase player engagement with the conclusions, but given that the choice didn’t seem to affect the rest of the game, it sort of undercut the significance. And I’m constitutionally resistant to the idea that there has to be exactly 1 insight that is correct.

  • The puzzles worked more for me on the dream logic level than as puzzles I was supposed to solve. I enjoyed seeing the images but was just brute-forcing a lot of the rooms. I almost wish it had been more on rails, like just let me take this surreal ride.

  • It’s toeing up to a tough row to hoe to make a game where the big emotional beats involve the character receiving emotional insights. At least for me, the impact of said insights is generally proportional to how much we know about the character (i.e., I’m looking for that pieces fitting together feeling of “YES! This explains that thing from ____ and that time I ____ and is why I always feel _____”). If you’re having insight into your own relationships in your own life, it can be hugely impactful because you have months or years of experiences that you’re cracking open and recontextualizing. But I barely know the characters in the game at all. When the player character thinks “I shouldn’t have shoved my concerns under the rug” I, the player, am like “sure, sounds plausible” but also I don’t have anything specific in mind. What concerns did the player character have? Did they actually shove them under the rug? Why? Were they doing it on their own or was the partner pressuring them? So I don’t think the insights hit as hard for me as the game wanted them to.

8 Likes

Dr Ludwig and the Devil by SV Linwood

TLDR: On this busy, parser-based evening, Dr. Ludwig must resolve discussions with a summoned devil about the secret to creating life while also dealing with irate villagers (demands include “no experiments are to be conducted on weekends and on public holidays (with the exception of Hallowe’en for historical reasons)”).

[ + ]

  • Have you ever entered a restaurant, and from the overall VIBE conveyed by the décor and the menu and the greetings, just known that you were about to experience a delicious meal? And then had the food live up to your high expectations? That’s how I felt about this game. Starting from the opening paragraphs (and the clear instructions, complete with VERB LIST!), I could tell I was in good hands.

  • The writing is really excellent. It’s a funny premise executed with aplomb. I love a highly-specific protagonist, and we definitely get a keen sense of Dr. Ludwig’s personality from the narration and responses. (Which is, by the way, delighting in general mad-scientist-ness. As it should be! What hope would there be for the rest of us if the villains couldn’t at least be gleeful in their jobs?) Not only that, but the other characters are also very humanely and interestingly drawn.

  • Very good execution, many fun things implemented, I really didn’t hit any frustration points. And I enjoyed the “No, that is not what I said/did” responses if you try something the game rejects (it is written in the past tense as Dr Ludwig recounts events later)

  • I appreciated that this game set up a good premise, gave us some satisfying puzzles, accompanied it all with entertaining character work, and then finished before it wore out its welcome. Just the right length.

[ Δ ]

  • In some tension with the description, there’s not actually much negotiation

  • Reader, I have a confession to make. [discussion of the ending] I couldn’t do it! This is about me as a player and not the in-text development of the player-character, but despite understanding perfectly well what the game wanted me to do I just could not. Hans is just a guy, you know? What if he develops religion later? Play around with your own soul, Dr! Probably related to that, I wouldn’t have minded if there was more than one ending. I respect that the author had a story to tell, and also that the “devil, [command]” power must be carefully circumscribed lest the game become, as they say, imba, but I’m still over thinking: why can’t I say “devil, take new sheet of paper, and on it, write ‘I the undersigned,’” or “devil, tell me about the last time someone got the better of you and what the wording of that contract was.” OK, OK, I’ll go now.

9 Likes

Thank you for playing my game.

There are some static enemies to fight, others can pop up randomly if you WAIT or SEARCH a location. I had planned to make the battles more exciting with extra strategies and game-time turn based so you could use potions, run away or use a special item on the enemy like pocket sand or a special move, but time constraints prevented everyone’s fun:(

The carry limit is based on the player’s strength. The more you level up that character aspect, the more you can carry. Some gear will also give you extra strength. There was also a special magic item for unlimited carrying that is too heavy to pick up until you get strong enough.

I guess the split screen is down to personal preference. I like that I can see the objects and locations fixed at the top so I can type at the bottom to manipulate them, and the transitory text flow upwards to show what happened last. It might be relatively easy to put them all in the same place and give the player the option to play Infocom or Scott Adams style, though planning for it might take a while with all the different elements that might be scrolled off screen every turn.

There is a way to load and save games. SAVEGAME GAMENAME, LOADGAME GAMENAME, RESTARTGAME, EXITGAME are the commands.

I should have told everyone beforehand, but I was too scared something would break because of it.

There isn’t really a player death to worry about. If you die, you just have to solve a puzzle in the underworld to return to life. And by dying, you can get clues to things that are hidden in the overworld by not enough light to or see or the character’s eyesight too poor to read without aid.

I’m glad you liked the leveling up aspect. I thought it would be fun for the player to see their character building towards something, but not knowing for what reason until they reached the endgame. There was to be a dungeon that lead to the exit of the game through the secret door of the Ancients, but something ended up being broken at the last minute and I had to save that reveal for a later version and make the end of the game be when the demon was defeated. By all accounts the game was too long for everyone anyway.

Thank you for the kind review.

2 Likes

Thanks for writing the game! I had fun with it. I could definitely tell you had lots of ambitious ideas and it’s clear there were even more I didn’t notice!

1 Like

Bright Brave Knight Knave by Andrew Schultz
Playtime: 1 hour, 21 minutes (did not finish)

TLDR: Solve puzzles through wordplay.

[ + ]

  • A LOT of really thoughtful work has gone into the UI including several player-friendly tools. You get a “leet learner” that cues you about how close you are to solving puzzles (which I perhaps 35% understood, but that’s probably on me), a mood mapper, a THINK command that recalls earlier commands the game state wasn’t ready to accept, and the game descriptions are constantly providing cues (along the lines of “you sense there’s nothing more you need to do here”). Not to mention that the game implemented “go to”! We are popping the biggest bottles tonight. I love that so much consideration was given to the player experience.

  • I enjoyed finding rhymes, especially when they reminded me of the general bizarrity of english spelling (cough, CHIC SHOOTER, cough)

  • I enjoyed how positive the themes were—we’re strictly here to help! We’re not making anything worse! We’re forging new friend groups!

  • I got a kick out of the custom responses to a lot of wrong answers, which must have been a immense labor. For example, if you try LUCKY LOTS the game says something like “you complain about the rich for a while,” if you try SIDE SEEK the game says “you know what side you’re on. decency and justice. you hope.”

[ Δ ]

  • This type of puzzle may not be my jam. Or rather, it’s my jam, but perhaps not to this extensive of an extent. Given the constraints that all of the answers are rhyming alliterative pairs, I felt like a lot of the solutions had to be conceptually contorted to work, which made it all feel artificial. That drove me to the walkthrough a lot, or, when not using the walkthrough, made me feel obligated to test every english phoneme since some of the accepted answers were stretches. And it spurred seditious second-guessing like “sure, the author can come up with the command WEAK WOOTER (??) but when I, wolfbiter, want to WEED WHACK in the TREED TRACK . . ."

  • Alas, despite the game’s best efforts to reduce friction, I still found that having to pair certain solutions with a specific team of friends, and having some solutions for a given location only work once you’d advanced other game elements sufficiently introduced a lot of friction for me. I was doing okay coming up with solutions to the rooms but trying to also incorporate the timing and sequencing elements felt like a lot.

  • OK, y’all can feel free to judge (as always) but I still don’t understand where the names of the locations the yacht can sail to are coming from? Other than, in my case, the walkthrough, obviously.

7 Likes

As I crawl blinking and squinting from my embargo hole, I’ve been enjoying catching up on your reviews (as you see by my responding to a three week old post). The above is just like the most perfect insight I can think of about choice-select dialogue. Wish I’d said it!

3 Likes