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

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

I’d be very interested in discussing the difficulties of writing choice-based dialogue, and explore the conditions under which it might be easier or more feasible. (I have a sense that it’s a lot harder if the player character is supposed to be merely a conduit for the thoughts of the player, and substantially easier if the player character is a character of her own. Like Lemmy and Turandot from my previous games, there was a point at which Xanthippe almost started to talk by herself.) Perhaps this is something for a post-comp discussion topic?

6 Likes

Thanks! I’ve enjoyed a lot of your reviews too (you can probably tell when I finish games by when my frantic reading of other reviews starts . . .)

2 Likes

I think it’s a really interesting topic. I hadn’t thought about what you said about it being easier if the character has their own personality–makes sense–but also seems like then you also have to get the player to buy into that character concept, or else they’re going to fight that too . . . I wonder if that makes certain character types easier to write (if people love choosing witty one-liners, then it will make people go along with it more if the character you’re writing delivers a lot of witty one-liners).

1 Like

The Ship by Sotiris Niarchos

Playtime: 2 hours (ran out of time before reaching end, I think I was pretty near the end, though [in some navigational puzzles right after picking up the beacon])

TLDR: The stories of two captains—one in 1719 CE by our reckoning, and one in the distant future—seeking a mysterious destination intertwine with one another and a series of satisfying mechanical puzzles.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Primarily telling a story, with significant puzzle elements. I only played once and didn’t get to the ending, but if there are multiple endings it seems they only have a few branching points.

[ + ]

  • The old!1719 plotline has some relationship simulator elements, which is a fun structure I don’t see in a lot of IF. (Although, sadly, my initial hope that ruining your relationships would lead to a pirate mutiny did not seem to be in the cards. Isn’t that just a gangbusters concept for a game, though?).

  • in this highly nautical competition, finally a game that let me visit the FAWKsull! (if that makes no sense to you, I’m speaking aloud, for some reason we spell the word “forecastle”)

  • It was a fun idea to deliver the backstory through the in-game writings like the encyclopedia and the journal.

  • I was a big fan of the puzzle elements (minigames?). It’s worth noting that these aren’t classic IF puzzles that require a leap of insight from the player to understand the solution, theoretically followed by the player easily executing (in actuality, often followed by the player struggling with the parser, but I digress). Instead, these are more puzzles in the genre of sudoku or tetris where the satisfaction is in applying an algorithm. Anyone else who enjoyed the navigation one, may I recommend to you the board game Robot Rally, where you also get to write a program that often ends in disaster . . . In fact I like the puzzles so much that a lot of this game felt like playing a sort of soothing puzzle, perhaps minesweeper, with an interstitial light novel.

(OK, note about the dudo puzzle, I was somehow terrible at this one. In fact, I wondered for a while if it had been programmed to just make you lose–which would certainly be possible given that Billy always reveals last–but eventually was forced to conclude I’m just really bad at it.)

  • It was a cool moment when the switch perspective button showed up

[ Δ ]

  • This is one of the first games where I strove for 2 hours without making it to the ending. Obviously that’s not ideal from a player satisfaction perspective, especially since I wanted to find out how the plot threads would resolve.

  • The character work and plotting could be strengthened. As to the characters, for example, I had a hard time getting a read on the old-timey!captain despite spending a bunch of time with him / reading his journal, etc. His behavior seemed to oscillate between incompetent, more competent, strangely naive, angry, etc. in a way that didn’t make sense to me. Also I STILL don’t trust Ben. Something is up with that dude, whether or not the ending vindicates me! As to the plotting, for example, we’re presented with deciding whether to execute a guy who stole mabye $50-current value of stuff, and this is framed as a significant choice for the character. Which a bit threatens my suspension of disbelief—are there really people who would choose the death penalty there? But we live in a world where 15% of people played Mass Effect without recruiting Garrus so I guess anything is possible. I think a bit more focus on the characterization and plot would increase overall engagement.

5 Likes

I know @EJoyce and I would be very interested in that discussion as well!

2 Likes

How Prince Quisborne the Feckless Shook His Title by John Ziegler
Playtime: 1 hour 50 minutes (stopped after getting a horse before getting horseshoes)

TLDR: Join a knight on a mission of mentorship in a rich, detailed pre-modern-history-inspired world.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. Moderate puzzling, strong story/plot elements (also a lot of text to read). Seems to be one main path to progress down.

[ + ]

  • excellent UI design, a lot of attention has been given to the details. There’s specific instructions, a verb list, the commands “locate [item you saw once but now forgot where]” and “travel to [place you’ve been to]” have been implemented. Really takes pains to provide a good player experience. (While there is an in-game map, I would recommend opening it separately because it doesn’t tell you where you are / is too complicated to remember much if you are switching back and forth.)

  • this game definitely has the feeling of entering into a work of similar scope to a novel. A lot of careful attention has been paid to worldbuilding, the setting feels fleshed out and grounded. We get detailed descriptions of the construction of buildings, how hayricks work, the lifecycle of fruiting trees, pre-modern construction tools, etc.

  • given that the focus in this game is really on the world and characters, rather than say, player choices or puzzles, it’s important that it work as a novel-esque piece of writing, and it generally does. Prince Quisborne (PQ) in particular is a really excellent character. He’s whimsical and charming, frequently interspersing his favorite facts about animals, etc., or composing limericks inspired by what you’re experiencing in the game. PQ has a really good character design that could definitely support a novel, etc. and it’s fun just to travel around with him hearing what he has to say. (OK, I didn’t save much of PQ’s dialogue, but “fizz-honking horse gizzards” is just the start). Do note that you pretty much just get drive-by dialogue from PQ that the game provides automatically–although some of it is pretty long and fleshed out–the player is never really in charge of conversation.

  • the puzzles in the prologue are well-designed so the player is near everything they need to succeed, but still gets to experience a few locations. Also, I got to pet a dog! OK so I died immediately after, but it was worth it.

[ Δ ]

  • I quite enjoyed the prologue, but found that feeling didn’t fully carry through to the parts after. For context, I spent about 50 minutes in the prologue and about an hour after:
how wolfbiter the judgmental passed her post-prologue hour (spoilers not marked further)
  1. Wander around looking at stuff, going to different locations arbitrarily, reading the entertaining descriptions. This is fun!

  2. Gradually realize that, although there’s a lot of locations to travel though, in most of them you don’t seem to be able to talk to anyone / interact with anything / talk to PQ about anything we see. Hmm.

  3. OK, if we’re not really supposed to be interacting with things at these locations, better head north for that quest item. Walk north as far as possible until encountering the icy river.

  4. Unable to traverse icy river. Naive idea: I should probably make snowshoes or crampons or something. But I don’t recall seeing any trees that seemed like they would let me interact with them. (Does the player character . . . not carry like a hunting knife?)

  5. Checks hints about how to traverse river. Hints say to get a horse. (me: a horse? That’s gonna solve the icy river issue? Are we thinking of the same finicky, anxious animal? I sure hope this river is frozen really solid etc etc)

  6. also me: Oh, this means I have to . . . search every location on the map until I find the one game-relevant horse, I guess.

  7. Eventually find horse. Seems like it needs to be lured with an apple or something. Not immediately recalling anything like that, and feeling less rapport with the game, consult hints again (side note, part of the puzzle here is that I guess the player is supposed to identify that these plants are carrots: “You’re no horticulturist, but amongst the weeds south of the byre, many seem darker green and more feathery than most of the wild grass. They’re thick, spreading over several dozen square yards, averaging in height about up to your knees.” It strikes me as a bit surprising that the player character, who was just teaching PQ how to forage for nuts and berries, can’t be a bit more helpful here if that’s going to be important, but I digress)

  8. Having obtained and ridden horse etc etc back to the icy river; game: actually the horse can’t handle the ice either. Me: THAT’S WHAT I SAID IN THE FIRST PLACE

[here ended the travels of sir wolfbiter]

  • One issue I had with the parts after the prologue is I wasn’t sure if the map really needed to be so big. Generally, in say, a video rpg, I expect that if I have to walk across / navigate a bunch of locations the purpose this will fill in the game is providing intermediate payoffs at various locations, like questgivers, resources, etc. Possibly this was a skill issue, but I didn’t really find much to interact with on the map while I was wondering around. For example, one entire town is described as: to you, it “plays little more than the role of a crossroads.” Hmm. OK, if there’s no one there to have a conversation with, or help, or bargain with, then maybe the player character doesn’t need to walk through this location multiple times on the way to plot-relevant places?

  • I think the other issue I had with the parts after the prologue is made it more obvious that the part of the story that I’m the most interested in is actually the “guiding / helping PQ and developing a relationship with him,” but that’s the part that the player has zero control over; the game handles it all. And occasionally it handles it in ways I found pretty jarring, e.g.:

[first the game has player character tell PQ to run laps, then] “You feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when the gangly youth spews his lunch all over the ground and crumples in a heap, refusing to budge. Once he resuscitates, normalcy resumes.”

Actually I don’t feel satisfaction! That’s just being an asshole, player character!

(I’ll put this at low-grade assholery because insofar as we can sense PQ’s attitude, he’s cheery enough and aspires to live up to whatever the player character wants [even deeper voice of overthinking: “but isn’t that how you would act if you were isolated from your normal support network and totally reliant on this one guy?”] anyhow PQ doesn’t seem like a particularly good actor)

Setting that aside, it just threw me because it wasn’t what I would have told the player character to do, but it’s sort of presented as a barely-worth-noting detail. (Also, does the player character also physically condition himself, or does he only tell PQ to do so?) And there was some dissonance to putting the game in charge of what strikes me as the most important element while I’m in charge of . . . navigation, which I’m really bad at, because I don’t know where anything plot-relevant is.

  • Finally, as hinted at by the above, after seeing in the description that we’re on a quest to improve the prince, I was really curious about what values the player character was going to seek to impart. Restraint? Displaying courage to the populace in the face of danger? The mental toughness to make difficult decisions and carry on when they turn out poorly? An understanding of how the economy / other polities / bureaucracy function? Self-confidence? There are a lot of directions this could go. The game’s main focus seems to be on physical toughening / asceticism. I’m not against physical toughening but it seems neither necessary nor sufficient to being a good ruler. (To be fair, at one point the player character also tells PQ “to be a king . . . is foremostly to be a servant,” although I would have liked it if that were followed up by the two of us serving some people, which could have allowed for some interesting side-quests. Also at one point PQ expresses the joy and meaning he’s found in being self-sufficient and working for things he wants, which was a nice moment.)
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