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

I had the same question about whether there was a better ending—curious to see if anyone managed one.

For point 6, the door option actually wouldn’t progress for me at all. (Emailed the author in case it’s a bug.)


Yes! I am keeping my eyes out in case anyone found a better ending because I am also curious!

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Meritocracy by Ronynn

TLDR: An intense college student spends a day talking with people about logical fallacies and meritocracy.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. I only played through once, but had the impression there was only one path. A few times you have multiple conversational options (frequently you have only one option) but I didn’t think any of them were going to really shift the outcome.

[ + ]

  • the player character is very distinctly drawn, which I generally like

  • Where two NPCs disagree on meritocracy, they both raised a variety of arguments to support their views (one side of the argument wasn’t presented as being obviously weaker), which I think must be more challenging for an author to achieve than just supporting their preferred side

  • there are a few funny elements like when the player character thinks they are in a philosophy class but has accidentally attended a different class, or when the player character is moved by enthusiasm to declaim a speech from atop a desk

[ Δ ]

  • I found the player character, with their laser focus on the external appearance / trappings of Serious Academia, exhausting to inhabit. (Sample narration: “You are here, on this immense and splendid campus, where the edifices of science and art rise majestically above the verdant lawns and flower beds, where the pathways of knowledge and culture wind gracefully among the ancient trees and statues, where the fountains of wisdom and beauty sparkle in the sunlight.”)

  • I didn’t feel the content of the game matched the description. According to the description, “you must debate with your professor on the nature of merit” and “Engage in a battle of wits and see if you have what it takes to come out on top.” This made me expect that interaction with the professor would be framed as a debate, that the player would select among different arguments to attempt to persuade the professor, etc. Instead most of the game was reading long passages of the professor or other characters speaking. The player character does respond but it’s more “short prompt to get the professor to say more” or “providing an example to show I have understood the professor’s lesson” than a debate. There was a lot of reading monologues from the professor, other characters, or the player character’s internal monologue


The Long Kill by James Blair

[The player has the option to play as a sniper, a spotter, or a civilian. This review is about the sniper path, which is the only one I played.]

TLDR: A tense and engaging yet thoughtful game about a few key days in the life of a guy who has been a son, a soldier with coalition forces in Afghanistan, and a veteran returning to civilian life.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Multiple endings, player choices affect the endings. Also, a lot of the choices affect how the rest of the game proceeds, even if not changing the ultimate ending. There is an undo button.

[ + ]

  • Highly gripping and engaging

  • Very well written, the writing is very effective in clearly conveying what is happening while also revealing how the player character thinks and setting a general mood. I’m not sure if “sensitively written” is exactly the phrase I want, but I felt that the author had thought deeply about the themes involved. The game was. . . considered.

  • This is definitely not a piece that glorifies war or offers an uncomplicated “every one of us is good, every one of them is bad” viewpoint. That said, it’s also a game closely focused on one character and what that character thinks/experiences, not geopolitics etc.

  • I thought the treatment of sniping as a game element was really effective:

  1. In the beginning, the game teaches the player to do a few basic calculations to adjust for wind. (These scenes also convey character work, backstory, etc., which kept the plot moving nicely.) I know nothing about this subject matter but people generally like learning things and it kept me interested / engaged.

  2. Then in the next step, the player is asked to apply these skills (or not) to carrying out a mission on behalf of coalition forces in Afghanistan.

  3. Finally, the player is asked to apply these skills (or not) to improving the marksmanship of the Taliban insurgents holding the player character captive. This last one in particular I thought was a great way to create conflicted feelings in the player, and that effect is heightened by asking the player do a little bit of work rather than just clicking “cooperate” or “refuse to cooperate.” It helped put the player in the player character’s position of “I am being asked to use these skills that I have learned to _____.” I just thought it was a very smart marriage of the game elements and the plot elements.

  • There’s a walkthrough available that might be worth a look even if you feel you completed all of the content—it contains some of the author’s thoughts and intent on the various options.

[ Δ ]

  • I didn’t totally understand the ending I got until I read the walkthrough. In the ending I got, the player character goes hiking alone, walks to the edge of a cliff, throws his phone over, and the game ends. (It read as ambiguous to me if the player character was also considering suicide.) Reading the walkthrough, the author describes this as a “turning your back on the world” ending, and you get it if you have (1) not reconciled with your childhood friend (slash possible love interest?) and (2) your spotter buddy is dead. [I also didn’t realize until that moment reading the walkthrough that my spotter buddy was dead, perhaps it was stated but I missed it]. I think a bit more in-game explanation / hints about what the player character was thinking in that scene would have helped me understand it without the walkthrough. Separately, while that ending was sad, I didn’t go back to try to either reconcile with my childhood friend or not get my spotter buddy killed because the choices I made were emotionally true to my understanding of the player character! This is my manifesto, etc etc.

Thank you very much @wolfbiter, for your time and kind words but in particular your signposting of some tweaks I can make to elevate this piece.

If it helps, for me, your read on the ending you received is very much valid (and first in my mind among the possibilities that ending might hint at). When I update for further publishing after the comp I’ll be now looking for a way to gently reinforce those plot points you mentioned above.

Thanks once more, it means a great deal! :slightly_smiling_face:

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Shanidar, Safe Return by Cecilia Dougherty
[Note, it’s stated that this game is a sequel, but I haven’t played the original. This game also took me considerably less than an hour.]

TLDR: A series of brief, naturalistic sequences in the life of early hominids (neatherthals, cro-magnons, and denisovians).

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Choices don’t seem to direct the plot or change the ending, but do determine which scenes you view. Although the game looks at first glance to be download only, the download is actually a pdf with a link to a website, and in fact, on the website seems to be the only way to play it.

[ + ]

  • The author seems to have done meticulous research on the time period, which enriched the game with specific details about plants and geology. This helped create a clear sense of setting. The art, also done by the author, and featuring a lot of plant illustrations, etc., was also very well done.

  • Interesting speculation about possible stone age rituals and cultural practices. It definitely raised a lot of questions in my mind (“I wonder if neanderthals had the language to communicate a concept like ‘I had a vision that people 40,000 years in the future are flying.’”) and I did some googling about denisovians afterwards.

  • The narration is mostly in simple, declarative sentences, which is an interesting way of putting the player in the mindset of the characters

[ Δ ]

  • I lost track of the characters and think I occasionally missed important plot because I had selected to view a scene that moved too far ahead.

  • I’m not sure I understand the case for presenting this as IF instead of in a different format. Other than clicking to advance, the player doesn’t have anything to do. The scenes are from different POVs so the format doesn’t seem to particularly be encouraging identification of the player with a player character. This would make, for example, a beautiful book with illustrations and different sequences on different pages.


The Finders Commission by Deborah Sherwood

TLDR: A light heist game that carefully channels you through stealing a priceless Egyptian artifact.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice-based, the focus is on the puzzles. The puzzles are gentle, the game is hard to lose, and there is an “undo” button. I only played once but it seemed like there was a single main ending (with fun achievements based on your run). I noticed one minor gameplay issue–after you acquire a box, you can navigate to the box in your inventory and interact with it. There’s 3 options: interact, return to inventory, and continue. At one point I think I clicked “continue” instead of “return to inventory” and that seemed to disappear the box from the game. I was easily able to use undo to get it back, but I would suggest using the “return to inventory” option when you’re done with the box. ETA: sounds like this issue may be fixed! (see dsherwood’s comment below)

[ + ]

  • I always enjoy a good heist! We’ve got an objective, we’ve got obstacles, we must sneak around, it’s a fun time!

  • I enjoyed wandering around the exhibit space and seeing the other exhibits. The other locations mentioned (other than the exhibit space) also gave the world feel lived in.

  • The puzzles were very well written to channel the player through completing them all successfully. For me this was in that sweet spot where I never felt stuck and I was always getting just enough information to continue. This was a fun sort of “you are a competent thief and you will make everything work” power fantasy, and it must be hard to get that just right as an author.

[ Δ ]

  • The focus is definitely on the puzzles rather than plot or characterization. I would have enjoyed more interaction with my supposed police-inspector nemesis.

  • There was a character selection page at the beginning, but I’m not sure how much it changed the gameplay. If the character selection did affect the gameplay it might be fun to make that more visible to the player. (Also, all of the characters are described positively, different flavors of “this person is competent.” It would have added some spice if the options also had notable flaws / obstacles! Where’s the finder who’s physically strong but has wrecked her relationships with every important person in the art world? Or the finder who is good at hacking but has a crippling fear of enclosed spaces? Etc etc)

The game doesn’t ship with hints so here are a few in case they benefit anyone. In increasing order of helpfulness:

Walk around the space more than once and try interacting with things at different times. Some of the NPCs seem to move around and do different things.

Assuming you have interacted with everything and gotten the key items:

  1. The keypad code is for exiting through the employee entrance.

more about that:You don’t directly have to do anything with the code? And least I didn’t.

  1. The box is for turning off the alarm on the display case.

more about that: you do have to use it and pair it to “ISIS” ETA: sounds like the word you have to pair it to is procedurally generated for each game (cool!) (see dsherwood’s comment below). I think it was written on the case but don’t fully recall

  1. The cylinder is for unlocking the display case.

more about that: To unlock the display case, go to the cylinder in your inventory and interact with it (you can click on the numbers displayed on the cylinder to interact).
even more about that: It’s a code found in the list in the email, matched to the code for the aegis (which I think is written on the case?) The code tells you which numbers to interact with and it sounds like is procedurally generated each game. For example, my code was written: L10 R35 L40 . . . which meant first interact with the number 10 and turn left, then interact with the number 35 and turn right, then interact with the number 40 and turn left. If you interact with the wrong stuff for a while after a few attempts you will hear a sound that indicates the lock has reset, so try again then.


Thank you for playing and the kind review! The box does seem to be an issue that I thought I had corrected. I will be looking at that again.
FYI - the pairing, key code and alarm lock combination are all randomly generated so they will be different for every game.



Thank you for writing, it was a fun game! Re: the box, it may have been corrected later, it takes me a bit to get from the “played” to “reviewed” stage.

In The Details by M.A. Shannon

TLDR: Short, energetic game—you’re a pop idol preparing for a show, but an old debt is coming due . . .

Gamemechanical notes: No parsing. Multiple endings, which will require you to restart at the beginning to experience.

[ + ]

  • I’m a big fan of games where the player character has a distinct personality, and here you do: you’re self-centered, arrogant, not very smart, and have bad impulse control. I love it!

  • Great concept, has a lot of inherent drama and tension

  • I enjoyed the fantastically gory death descriptions

[ Δ ]

  • It’s very short. Exploring every option took maybe 15 minutes. (for the record, the options are: go onstage without your supernatural talents, embarrass yourself, game ends; or die entertainingly after annoying the devil ). The ending felt abrupt, I would have liked to see more of the potential of the premise explored, more complications, more conflict, etc etc

The Whisperers by Milo van Mesdag

TLDR: Literary stage play about five people sharing an apartment in stalinist Russia.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. The player character takes the role of the audience watching an audience-participation-necessary play. The subsequent scenes in the play change based on audience choices. (Actually the player can choose between totally setting the audience participation, or just being one component of it; I chose the former.) There is an undo button and the option to read the entire script formatted for performance (ie, with instructions like “perform this scene if the audience chose ____”).

[ + ]

  • This was well-written and compelling. I think I mostly related to it as work of literature and it succeeded on those terms. I was interested in the characters and invested in their dilemmas.

  • It captured a lot of enjoyable aspects from plays—the stage directions are sparse but evocative, one of the characters comes onstage periodically to talk directly to the audience, etc etc

  • Bonus points for including a glossary of terms and characters thatyou can consult without losing your place. (Note that, as I think is common in Russia, while the characters are referred to by one name in the stage directions / glossary, they’re also referred to by various diminutives by the other characters depending on their level of intimacy. There are few enough characters and their names are dissimilar enough I didn’t find it confusing.)

  • I enjoyed the fun staging detail about how the characters mostly whisper because anything else can be heard throughout the apartment. And there’s a funny bit where the new arrivals do not know this, until the rest of the inhabitants tell them “oh yeah, we heard all of your opinions about us, this is why we whisper all the time.”

  • has somewhat a flavor of nihilism that I associate with Russian literature. ( No matter which options you take, between one and all of the residents of the apartment will end up arrested by the NKVD.)

[ Δ ]

  • The game definitely creates some interesting moments addressing life under totalitarianism. For example, in the first play through I did not choose to make one of the characters destroy his wife’s hidden religious idols, out of sympathy for the wife, but after seeing what happened when the NKVD raided the apartment I had him destroy them on every subsequent playthrough. But overall, the choices don’t change the direction of the plot much. I’m fine with people getting purged being the inevitable conclusion, but I expected the shape the story takes to get there to change more based on the choices. For example, whether the audience choose to have Sergei encourage Agnessa to get a job or encourage Agnessa to get married, she starts a romance with Nikolai in pretty much the same way and they end up in the pretty much the same anti-Stalin conspiracy. As a result, I think I had the best experience on my first playthrough, and then was slightly disappointed on my second.

  • I think a lot of what this game was doing was working really well for me. To really put it over the top into “artistic triumph” range I would have wanted to understand more about what the author was trying to convey thematically. Certainly I got took the point that “life in 1930s Russia sucked and was particularly corrosive to trust and intimate relationships,” but I wanted there to be a bit more. What does the role of the audience have to say about the theme? What are the game mechanics trying to say? I actually thought there was a slight disconnect with the game mechanics, in one major moral dilemma in totalitarianism involves the extent to which individuals cooperate with the system. This is shown really well through, for example, Sergei’s plot line. But the audience is specifically stated to have nothing at stake when it makes choices, so the audience choices (ie, everything the player does) doesn’t really seem to be saying anything in that framework.

A note on the ending: All of the above is based on my playthrough. Reading the other reviews after, I saw @manonamora mention a “hidden” ending. If I found what she meant, it’s in the “script” view, near the end, near a reference to audience heckling. A fun twist for potential live performances, but doesn’t really seem to be part of the game in that there didn’t seem to be a way to get there by playing online. ETA: see manonamora’s note below, this is apparently accessible in the game client, too.


Actually, I found it playing it the normal way. On the last screen, where you choose the category of offence, there is a blank block above Category 1, which you can hover to reveal the hidden link.


Intriguing, thanks.

Hey, thanks for the thoughtful and in depth review!

The more I think about it, the more I realise how questionable the decision to put the philosophical core of the piece behind a literally invisible link that none of my playtesters found was…


I very much enjoyed it with the visible endings, but I am apparently not a savvy enough gamer to find the hidden one!

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Aha, so that is what it was all supposed to be building up to! I thought it might be.

But yeah, that’s a tough one. On the one hand, if you miss it then the game feels a little empty thematically. On the other hand, if it were too easy to find, that would undermine the point somewhat. I wonder if having it show up on subsequent playthroughs after the player has completed the game once would be a decent compromise?


Yeah, I do think that would be a good solution. The question now is whether changing it now is outside of the spirit of the comp…

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imo, it should be fine. You’re not changing the content of the game, just making a link that was already there more visible?


I agree with Manon that it’s not a huge change! And it’s pretty early days for the Comp, too.

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All Hands Abandon Ship by David Lee

TLDR: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” you might think to yourself while evacuating a doomed spaceship in this chock-full-of-pop-culture-references puzzler.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. From my single playthrough, seemed to be one ending that you could either achieve or fail to achieve by solving the puzzles. You can undo.

[ + ]

  • The ship is populated with a lot of fun and unique items. It’s fun to explore the rooms and look at things, and they’re generally well implemented. You can get your litter zapped by the trash chute. You can wear the “taxi bead vest” (although I confess to googling what that was).

  • The use of nautical terms gave the game a pleasing boaty-flair

  • There’s also a plethora of media references that keep things light. For example, if you go to the bridge and sit at the navigation station the player character thinks about Sulu.

[ Δ ]

  • I got a bit stuck on the puzzles. Fortunately there’s a walkthrough so it wasn’t too frustrating. My problem was actually that I totally failed to realize that the kitchen and exam room existed as separate rooms (they both are reached by going through other rooms off the main corridor). I suspect dealing with aft/fore/port/starboard was also making me struggle more with keeping track of the exits, so it would have helped me if the descriptions of the rooms emphasized entrances to additional locations more.

  • So as I was perplexedly wandering about, unsuccessfully trying ot disassemble a magazine rack, I began to wonder, what exactly does Mx. Unnamed Crewmember have to live for? The player character is a complete cipher who occasionally will think a thought related to a pop-culture object you found, but has no comment on your fumblings in the face of imminent death. I absolutely respect that we come to a puzzler for the puzzles, but even a very slight amount of shading in the scenario would have made me invest more in the game. Is this our first day (and thus why the player character doesn’t seem to know where anything is)? Does the player character . . . have amnesia (classic IF problem)? It would also be a chance to answer a few of my background questions, to wit Were there other crewmembers? Surely they wouldn’t all evacuate and leave me without some really good explanation. Is this a test, Kobayashi Maru-style? Are the progressively-less-hinged PA announcements being given by a human or an AI, and why are they so unhinged?