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

Thanks for your feedback.I really enjoy it. As its the first feedback about the game playI get, I hope, its allright, if I ask some questions.
Did you play it in a pdf reader? The hyperlinks should work correctly than. In the browser, they malfuncton.
You missed the second ending apperebtly. I wonder which one.
I am not sure, how well it works to let the player hhimself count the loops, when returning to page 2 and act on it. Is that the one you missed? or the other one?

1 Like

Thanks for writing! I think I found all of the endings! What I meant when I said I thought having the same “ending” flattened things a bit I meant the ending on page 46–it read a little bit like it was saying that everyone who experiences psychosis over a period of time will have the experience of learning to cope through friends, medication, etc.

I played it in a browser, if that makes a difference to the hyperlinks. I just checked again to see if I could replicate it and most of them work fine, but for example, on page 6, if you click on “go to page 18” it actually takes you to page 2. Maybe it is a browser issue, I don’t know.

1 Like

Hi wolfbiter (@wolfbiter),

Thank you so much for playing Codename Obscura! I’m so glad you found the game pleasingly retro and even fun at times :slight_smile:

I must confess, without spoiling too much, the computer programming part was an evolutionary process, I first had there a mainframe user interface with a fitting theme with green characters on black background. But since that theme mechanism was impossible (or at least I failed to do it) to transfer to the 8-bit environment correctly, I decided to replace it with this, what you called a mini-puzzle.

I remember the challenge with many adventure games in the 80s was that you really needed to draw a map and make also various detailed notes on paper to make any progress. Codename Obscura tries to replicate this “frustration” to some extent, and it seems I have somewhat succeeded in that :wink:

Also, I tried to design the locations and connections in such a way, that the player would always have some way of returning to a location with a certain clue to recheck, if required.

So sorry you had to bang your head with finding the correct verb at the location you mentioned. The idea was to make this particular puzzle seem at first quite easy, but then make the player scratch their head for a while. When I’ll make some bug fixes for the next version, I’ll also take a look at this, thank you for pointing this out :+1:

Thanks again for playing Codename Obscura and for writing this review!

2 Likes

Thanks for writing the game! I had a lot of fun with it. And yes, I did notice that you were able return to most locations to check/keep working, which was very helpful, and I made frequent use of.

A Thing of Wretchedness by Akheon

TLDR: Unsettling, claustrophobic puzzler with horror elements.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. Multiple endings based on player choices. As mentioned below, I had some trouble with one of the endings.

[ + ]

  • Well-developed creepy atmosphere. The player character is dealing with an unsettling situation, it feels very horror movie.

  • Good use of environmental storytelling. Making the player piece together what is going on from examining objects in the setting was very effective an building my curiosity.

  • Generally well-implemented objects, etc. When I wanted to use an x to y I didn’t generally have any issues conveying that.

[ Δ ]

  • I would have felt more satisfied if I had gotten a more clear answer to what was going on in the house. I played through one ending and still didn’t really feel I knew what had happened.. My (extremely tentative) theory was that the player character was having a complex grief reaction to the deceased husband’s geriatric dog in the wake of the husband’s death. Sure, the player character seems extremely concerned about some things but hey, grief is weird. (I also toyed with the idea that my husband became the dog, but then I didn’t quite understand the emotional response of the player character?). I think I saw the author give a Word of God answer in the forum, but I didn’t figure it out from playing the game. I take it some people enjoy mysteries that stay mysterious, personally I prefer it when they’re answered. It was effective in building enough interest that I was stalking the forum for answers, though!

  • I checked the walkthrough to get to the end (it wouldn’t have occurred to me that the creature could destroy objects without seeing some evidence of that). I couldn’t get one of the endings to work when I tried it (waiting for the letter to respawn 3x). OK and I freely admit my failure to do the most obvious answer (poisoning) is on me, it just seemed like an overreaction! That might be my beloved pet!

6 Likes

Into The Lion’s Mouth by Metalflower

TLDR: Cute, short tale about your interaction with a lion. It goes better than you might think!

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. There are multiple endings but exploring all of them would take about five minutes.

[ + ]

  • I had fun with this! The narrator’s voice was active and energetic. I went and explored all of the endings. I learned some facts about lions and a recipe for formula for baby lions

  • I wonder if this was inspired by that viral video of a guy getting hugged by a lion he hadn’t seen in many years?

[ Δ ]

  • Did I mention it’s short? It’s short. Really more of an amuse-bouche than a full game, but a delicious amuse-bouche.
5 Likes

Hey, thanks for the review. In regards to the letter, I saw one transcript where a player tried sleeping repeatedly to pass the time to get the letter to respawn. Unfortunately, sleeping at a wrong time had a bug which made it impossible for the letter to respawn. So, in case you were that player, sorry about that, the bug has now been fixed.

3 Likes

Thanks for writing the game, I had fun with it! Yeah, that person may have been me. There’s a bed, I want to sleep in it. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Thanks for letting me know, it makes me feel slightly less bad at parsers. Someone posted their transcript so I checked out the ending there.

2 Likes

Detective Osiris by Adam Burt

TLDR: Solve your own murder by chatting up Egyptian gods and mortals.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Seemed like there was one main ending that you could achieve by solving the mystery.

[ + ]

  • I enjoyed the interesting details the author was throwing out there—one city smelling like livestock, there’s a description of Osiris counting on his fingers but using the joints to count as well (if this topic interests you, the recent book Empire of the Sum has a fascinating chapter on which body parts different cultures used for counting—there’s a lot of variation!)

  • the writing style varied. I particularly enjoyed some of the bits in the elevated register, there’s a beautiful description of the sun crossing the sky, and the sky as a dome over the earth

  • fun travelogue across cities of ancient Egypt!

  • the artwork of the characters was fun and added to the experience of interviewing them

  • me the first time I met Ammit: why can’t I pet Ammit :///

    me later: :DDD

[ Δ ]

  • Some of the dialogue options were so similar that it actually drew more of my attention to the fact that the conversation wasn’t branching. (e.g. the option to say “mine” or “my own”; the choice between “unusual?” or “causes a stir?”).

  • It struck me as odd characterization that all of the characters, including Osiris, are laser-focused on solving Osiris’s murder. For example, when Osiris meets his wife, Isis, for the first time after miraculously returning to life as a god, all of the dialogue options are versions of “who do you think killed me”–no option to inquire about any children, ask how Isis is holding up, tell Isis your thoughts about now being a god, ask about current state of the country, etc.

  • I wish the player had a bit more to do. It’s framed as a detecting story, but the mystery will solve itself if you click through all of the dialogue options at each location.

  • Solving the mystery felt surprisingly low-stakes. I think this is because (1) Osiris already came back to life as a god, (2) based on the initial conversation with Maat, it doesn’t exactly seem that this is a “desperate for vengeance” situation," (3) I went into the game knowing that in the Egyptian pantheon, Set kills Osiris (that’s right, I just hid a spoiler for a ~4,500 year old reveal) so I felt like I was just checking boxes to get the game to let me accuse Set. Now, having finished the game, I think I get what the intent was, but it definitely made the act of playing through a bit harder for me to get emotionally invested in.

6 Likes

Kaboom by anonymous

TLDR: An poignant, slightly melancholy puzzler about a toy trying to save the life of its person.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Focuses on puzzles, I got the sense there was one “main” ending and then some “fail” endings but didn’t experiment exhaustively. (Note that sometimes interacting with things is under “examine ____” and sometimes it is in your inventory under front or back paws, e.g., “touch ____ with front paws.” Saving is also in your inventory and only available after a certain point in the game.)

[ + ]

  • a really creative and unique concept—you’re a toy using your limited powers (you can barely move small objects) to try to save your “mistress,” a little girl, after her home is struck by some kind of bomb

  • excellent combination of player character / plot and accompanying themes. The player character has no concept of war or bombs and understands very little except that the girl needs help; whereas the player will have a pretty good sense of what’s going on. That distance gives a lot of power to the message; you know, war is senseless and it looks particularly senseless from the perspective of a toy. (Think the choice to use Scout, who doesn’t understand racism, as the narrator in To Kill a Mockingbird).

  • this is a story about a toy but it’s pretty emotionally hard hitting. The bit at the end where I had to expose myself to fire, my greatest fear, to save the girl . . . oof, very effective

  • [about the main ending] I really enjoyed the ending. It’s bleak, but that felt appropriate to the subject matter.

[ Δ ]

  • I struggled with some of the puzzles. Fortunately the game includes a walkthrough so I didn’t get too frustrated. It also helps that there’s pretty limited areas / possible items. Two things that might help– when you enter an area you get a snippet of description but it’s not a full “look” and in particular, it doesn’t tell you what items are present there. This creates a surprising amount of friction for key items that you move around because if you forget exactly where you left them now you are going place to place “looking.” And for me, the idea of needing to look at / access the bottom of the cassette player could have been signalled more. I think I would have gotten there more easily if any of the text during the initial view or examination of the cassette player had hinted that there was something about the bottom that could / needed to be interacted with.
8 Likes

Thank you for taking the time to play and review Detective Osiris! I appreciate your feedback.

1 Like

My Brother; The Parasite by qrowscant

TLDR: Moody, horror-esque story about the player character exploring her complicated relationship with her brother.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. I only played once but it felt like there was just one main path.

[ + ]

  • This game really summoned a lot of complicated, unsettled feelings in me. It definitely was successfully in evoking an emotional reaction. I don’t know how to portray this in a review but it was a very engaging and, at times cathartic, experience.

  • Well written. The short, descriptive sentences are effective at making it feel immediate and compelling.

  • I enjoyed the art design and illustrations. The art, combined with the at times psychedelic backgrounds, rare timed text, and the need to click different places, all did make it feel more interactive for a game without very many paths.

[ Δ ]

  • I felt like I didn’t successfully deduce everything I was supposed to about the past between the player character and the brother.

  • I spent some of the game trying to figure out if putting the parasite in dead people is something that they do to everyone in this universe, or if the brother was special (they wanted to investigate cause of death? Involvement with military?). I think maybe the word “handler” in particular kept me thinking it was going to be plot-relevant.

4 Likes

One Does Not Simply Fry by Stewart C Baker and James Beamon

Note: I played the Avis Barb route. (I was unable to guess the LOTR character from the name, but it’s off-brand Eowyn.)

TLDR: A pitch-perfect and hilarious LOTR + GBBO pastiche. We’re going to Mordor, and the judges and audience are coming with us!

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Multiple endings. There’s a lot to experience no matter what choices you make.

[ + ]

  • Very funny. Loaded with jokes and references. You can argue about the existence of potatoes! A+ execution of the concept. I only played one route but I could definitely see myself going back to play the others to see the jokes and see how those characters solve problems.

  • Pleasantly light gameplay– winning the competition/frying the One Ring is fairly achievable if you focus on whatever your character’s stated strengths are, but even if you don’t succeed in those tasks, the game is still highly enjoyable because it’s more about the entertainment of seeing what happens. The game has been smartly designed to reduce friction. For example you can’t forget to buy an ingredient or be unable to get it because you lack money, the game walks you through the steps of making onion rings and asks you what approach you want to take to each step, etc.

  • Let us pause to appreciate the cover art, featuring an onion ring as the ring around the Eye of Sauron.

  • In a fun contrast to most of the games, the closest thing to an element that required strategy was probably the resource-allocation minigame at the ingredient shop.

[ Δ ]

  • I wouldn’t have minded a bit more visibility into the other contestants. What’s up with the bread? What happens to the others in the various endings? (Also, I went in for a good bit of sabotage, as one does. But I was never quite sure who I should be sabotaging. Anyone know if the other competitors have a fixed threat-level / if there’s a way to predict who will do well in the contest?)
7 Likes

One Knight Stand by A. Hazard
Playtime: 1 hour, 10 minutes

TLDR: Urban fantasy in IF form. This quest to save the world alongside the reincarnated Arthurian Round Table includes PLENTY of character customization. Teaser for a longer game.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Player choices affect the development of the plot and endings.

[ + ]

  • There were MANY options for character customization, as others have noted. For example, after opting for a distinctive scar I was offered about 8 potential scar locations. (I took all 8 scars b/c that’s metal.). Unfortunately, without a complete game I’m not sure if I like that or not. On the one hand, if my character having a distinctive neck scar became plot relevant later, or unlocks a special puzzle solution, etc. I would honestly be impressed and feel like my time paid off. But if not, then I might rather have the time back that I spent doing character creation.

  • I will say, even in the sample chapters offered, there were some fun easter eggs based on player choices and customization. For example, one of your romantic options brings you your favorite drink (for me, rendered somewhat less dramatic by choosing “water”); I dressed my player character in a “bomber leather jacket” (the game’s terms), and later, after subsequent events totally destroy the player character’s outfit, you get the chance to change clothes. Familiarity-seeker that I am I was pleased to see I had the option to put on ANOTHER bomber leather jacket, and when I selected that the game said something like “fortunately you own a replica of your favorite bomber leather jacket.” So what I’m saying is, I hold out hope that my distinctive neck scar might in fact be plot-relevant later.

  • While perhaps not lighting my soul afire, the plot and writing were perfectly serviceable and I was engaged and wanted to find out what was happening (and which reincarned Camelot-adjacent person I am!).

  • Although I regretted being forced into joining the polo club (although based on other reviews I think maybe polo is the only one implemented?), polo club had some really very enjoyable specific details. I think the author has some horse-lore.

[ Δ ]

  • I think the fact that this is just the opening of a game was alluded to in the description, but I found it jarring when the game ended so abruptly.

  • The writing could be tightened up a bit. Everyone has their on preferred style but I found I was reading pretty quickly just for plot details on a lot of pages.

  • Potential-Love-Interest guy suffered from the common problem of his genre, being generic to try to appeal to everyone

7 Likes

Antony & Cleopatra: Case IV: The Murder of Marlon Brando by Travis Moy
[Note: My co-conspirator played the Cleopatra route and I played the Antony route, although we compared notes pretty thoroughly. Together we solved crime!]

Playtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes

TLDR: Very much like solving a competent & tightly plotted boxed mystery with a friend. The mood of the game is more realistic and grounded than the description suggests. (After playing I was wracking my mind to try to remember the specific board game this reminded me of . . . and then I saw @DeusIrae mention in his review that it was a lot like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. Which is also what I was trying to think of. So there’s two votes for the comparison, at least.)

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Minor resource-allocation tasks during the investigation, but otherwise many choices during the investigation. At the end the players must solve the mystery via quiz.

[ + ]

  • The mystery / investigation elements are well written and interesting. It definitely met my expectations of something at least as good as what I would expect in a typical mystery short story or novel. The friend and I both enjoyed engaging with the evidence and piecing together the solution, and had a lot of moments of joy as pieces came together.

  • I particularly enjoyed the realistic feeling of structuring an investigation around the initial leads, and then having some leads turn up new avenues, and other leads not pan out at all. It felt true to life and also made the world feel more expansive.

  • The UI is very good. I don’t even know enough to guess how hard programming it for two people was, but the shared calendar was handy and easy to use, the sidebar with links to the transcripts was very helpful and got frequent use, etc. etc.

  • The shared calendar was a fun mechanic and very smoothly implemented. The main choice that you have during the investigation phase is how to prioritize your resources–you have a limited number of slots for investigation (it’s not too harsh, I think we ended up skipping one person/location we didn’t have time to investigate, and there were definitely other options that we could have missed and still solved the mystery). I enjoyed the resource management / planning as an aspect of the game.

  • I enjoyed the writing for the NPCs. I respected the attitude brought to the table by Horace and Mr. Whisker in particular.

[ Δ ]

  • It seems like there’s some alpha left in the two-player concept. Playing with a friend definitely enriched my experience (spending time with friends is fun! We did better detecting!—we solved the mystery but I don’t know if I would have without a second brain / a reason to kick ideas around), but it enriched my experience in approximately the same way that calling up a friend to sit by me while I played any of the puzzle-based games in the competition would have enriched my experience. Given that the game is labelled for mandatory multiplayer, I would have liked to see even more done with it. For example, Antony and Cleopatra are at most lightly asymmetric, what if that asymmetry was leaned into more, so they had different resources, skills, or weaknesses as detectives? What if the two detectives at times split up, either to investigate separately or for some kind of climactic set-piece? What if the detectives had at times had conflicting motivations, e.g., solving the mystery versus saving my buddy; solving the mystery versus getting my buddy arrested, etc etc.

  • The game was played straighter than I expected from the description. I wouldn’t have minded leaning into the zaniness suggested by the concept. This is a world where Antony and Cleopatra are married with kids but Julius Caesar is still alive (and Antony’s boss)? Was that messy? What should we make of the fact that Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Audrey Hepburn are running Raytheon together?

6 Likes

Thanks for the write-up, and I’m glad you enjoyed the game! (And the cover. Lol)

These are great points, and yeah–the other contestants are pretty much non-entities, for the most part. (Sour Ron being the notable exception.) Something does happen to Marcher in one ending, but that’s it.

For “What’s up with the bread?” this game is a tie-in to an equally ridiculous, yet much, much longer and more plot-heavy game we wrote for Choice of Games, titled The Bread Must Rise. We tried to make this one playable without having to know that game exists–or know anything about it–but Tira Misu and the bread play major parts in the main game. I hoped it would be funny and weird enough just thrown in without explanation, since the game is plenty absurd already, but suspect it just felt like kind of a lead-in to a joke that was never explained.

We thought about randomizing it each time and adding in-game hints, but ran out of time. So instead it’s hard coded: Ron starts with 12 points, the friar with 11, the bread with 10, Argyle with 9, and Marcher with 8. You start with 9 points, and a successful sabotage is -5 points to that opponent. The walkthrough page talks about this a little, but I don’t think it goes into quite as much detail as this spoiler-laden post!

3 Likes

Thanks for writing the game, and for this reply! I didn’t feel like my questions detracted from my experience but I do love having more info . . . which I will definitely not use to go back and sabotage people more effectively . . .

2 Likes

Lake Starlight by SummersViaEarth

TLDR: YA fantasy with solarpunk elements: the player character builds connections with her friends and family at magic camp to help avert ecological collapse. This is a teaser for a longer game.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice-based. Mostly story focused with some player choices and customization. There are a few different endings depending on player choices. Keep an eye on the player profile page, which hints at what the game thinks you should do.

[ + ]

  • The plot and writing have a YA-vibe. What I found refreshing was that a lot of the standard tropes are jettisoned here and replaced with something a few steps to the left of what I expected, often from a sort of “divine feminine” direction. For example, the 3 character traits are balance, self-awareness, and power. The player character will meet a cast of fellow campers who are, YA-novel style, attractive and competent (and also some of them are initially at odds with the player-character) but here we’re getting character concepts like “my moms are a mermaid and a pirate” and “my family has been helping enslaved people escape for generations”. When the vibes in the cabin are off, the campers do some group meditation before proceeding. Everyone cares a lot about what moon (think astrology sign) you were born under. It was a nice change of pace from some of the standard “you’re sorted into houses” / “your parents are greek gods and that’s where your powers come from” / “my mentor is an old man” YA fantasy tropes. And I would have enjoyed if we had spent more time with some of the other camper characters.

  • Legit some of the in-game meditations were good.

  • I enjoyed that you could refuse the call if you wanted and the game would present you with a little description of the next several decades of your sad, unmagical life.

[ Δ ]

  • I didn’t realize this was just part of a game, so it was unpleasant to get to the end with none of the plot threads resolved.

  • The writing is a bit on-the-nose, especially as to the perils of mistreating the environment

  • I ran into one issue, which I also have sometimes with hopepunk / cozy literature (think Becky Chambers): when the narrative itself seems to take a moral stance / present certain characters as “oh, everything these characters do is the correct and unproblematic,” then if I disagree with something one of the paragon characters does, it really throws me out of the story. (In cases where the narrative doesn’t have a clear moral stance or takes a more “all of these characters are flawed in their own way” approach there’s more room to disagree with character choices without feeling like you’re fighting the author.) Example from the game: I was annoyed in the scene where Elder Q (and I was getting a pretty “they are wise and good” vibe from the Elders) lets her aggressive dogs scare and then run up to and touch the player-character without any pushback.

6 Likes

Assembly by Ben Kirwin
Me when I saw that there was a game themed around assembling IKEA furniture: “This is it! This is my moment! This is what it’s all been for!”

What I’m trying to say is, my deep affection for IKEA prevented me from approaching this concept objectively. (Obligatory internet disclaimer: my love for IKEA is completely sincere and un-ironic.)

TLDR: Get in losers, we’re going to IKEA. This game more than lives up to the Happiest Place on Earth™–our puzzle-based experience will be as satisfying as sinking into a Poӓng and as rewarding YET accessible as being an IKEA Family member.

Gamemechanical notes: Parser based. Focus on puzzle elements. Has undo, built-in hints, and a walkthrough. Seems to be one ending.

[ + ]

  • The overall arc of the game is great. If we’re doing IKEA, of course we must start in the entrance hall, proceed through the showroom, stop by the restaurant, visit the marketplace, take our cart to the self-serve area, and ultimately exit at the checkout. And I very much enjoyed the symmetry of opening and closing with the Dölmen.

  • The instructional booklets as a power-up mechanic are hilarious and create a nice power progression. The emotion I felt after finally opening the locked drawer and finding . . . the instruction booklet to an industrial shelving rack–transcendent. Indescribable.

  • I found the puzzles very smooth and well signposted. I only had to use the hints once, which kept it nicely immersive. And although my inner IKEA fangirl wanted more easter eggs (Where’s the “as-is” section? The paper rulers? The $1 cone of soft-serve ice cream?), I think the choice to focus the game on a few objects / places really helped it feel streamlined and avoid frustration.

  • Amazingly, I never had an implementation problem, despite the presence of many screws and wingnuts etc etc. And the way the game would read you instructions one line at a time, forward and backward as appropriate, was exactly what I wanted.

  • Let us pause to appreciate the cover art, with its Escher-ian depiction of IKEA instructions

[ Δ ]

Loved it, but did have a few quibbles:

  • It would have been great if the “exits” feature was implemented, or if the exits were more clearly described. There was a few points where that led to friction for me. (I wonder if they weren’t implemented to protect the very funny bit in the showroom [the joke centers on the fact that the showroom extends infinitely in all directions], but it seems like there could be some workaround for that section.)
  • The ending could have been described a bit more–I actually consulted the walkthrough to make sure I hadn’t somehow done a mediocre job with the cultists and gotten a mediocre ending.
8 Likes

Tricks of light in the forest by Pseudavid

TLDR: A peaceful, atmospheric puzzler in which we explore an unusual forest and get a glimpse into a fascinating alternate world.

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. No undo. Includes both puzzle and story elements. Seems to be one main path with puzzles to solve on the way but I didn’t replay.

[ + ]

  • Excellent use of environmental storytelling. While the game skips any infodumping and drops us straight in, we end up learning throughout the game that we’re somewhere in a post-climate-crisis future, plastic is now rare, etc etc.

  • Smart combination of the player character/plot and the mechanics of playing the game. The player character is young, naive, curious, and collecting materials for school so their behavior feels like a natural fit with the IF player urge to go everywhere, examine everything, and pick up everything that it is physically possible to pick up.

  • This is a fun game to just soak in the atmosphere, which varies between sun-dappled and warm and slightly mysterious and misty. There’s also a cute map that appears periodically.

[ Δ ]

  • I mostly got through the puzzles pretty well but there were a few weird friction points. For example, I tried to pick up the trash the first time I saw it just to be tidy but I think the responses were assuming I would do that to try to get the mirror, so I ended up pretty confused about where the mirror was when I wanted it later. [spoiler]
  • I wasn’t totally safisfied by the ending. I chose to go home the first time it was offered, but then the description text suggests the player feels they’re still missing something. I was curious if that lack would be answered if I kept walking, but not curious enough to replay the entire game.
6 Likes