Wolfbiter reviews Spring Thing 2024 -- latest: Alltarach

OK, let’s do this! Looks like a delicious crop of games!

Note: I try to blur egregious and specific spoilers, but generalized spoilers are unmarked, and the assumed audience for these is people who have played the game.

The Truth About PRIDE! by Jemon Golfin
Zomburbia by Charles Moore, Jr.
To Beseech Old Sins by Nic June
Voyage of the Marigold by Andrew Stephens
Pass A Bill by Leo Weinreb
Doctor Jeangille’s Letters by manonamora
Dragon of Steelthorne by Vance Chance
The Trials of Rosalinda by Agnieszka Trzaska
Potato Peace by ronynn
Rescue at Quickenheath by Mo Farr
You Can Only Turn Left by Emiland Kray, Ember Chan, and Mary Kray
Thanks, but I don’t remember asking. by Mea Murukutla
Studio by Charm Cochran
Alltarach by Katie Canning and Josef Olsson

10 Likes

The Truth About PRIDE! by Jemon Golfin
Playtime: 15 minutes

This made me want to talk about:

  • the visceral satisfaction of steering a little sprite through monochrome background elements. Especially when it’s a maze. And look, the shape of the maze is relevant!

  • you know, I assumed before and during play that this game was about PRIDE in specifically the LGBTQ+ sense, but realized while writing this review that nothing in the text commits to that interpretation

My fervent wish:
This is probably the contrarian in me, but I have an instinctive resistance when a game asks a conceptual question and then immediately tells me the answer.

Is it even possible for an optional symbol to even have any meaning when added to PRIDE?
Well, yes. Think of it as a wild card or yourself. Think about the different parts of yourself that make up you: family/heritage, race, religion/spirituality, political affiliation, sexuality, etc. These are all parts of you that can be represented by a strong symbol or symbols.

Overall, charming, fun and joyous at its length.

Gameplay tips / typos:
  • at one point you must walk through a wall

  • several incorrect letters appear in the various versions of “the right path will reveal the truth about _” and “now you know the truth about _”

7 Likes

Zomburbia by Charles Moore, Jr.
Playtime: 2 hours (did not finish)

This made me want to talk about:

  • Pretty cool for Louisiana that “bayou urban fantasy” is basically its own genre—other states can only dream.
  • OK, I mean this goodnaturedly, but rarely have I felt more betrayed by a game than when the hedge trimmers were not the correct item to deal with an aggressive, animate topiary
  • In the spirit of
    complaining

let me report that because I could not figure out how to increase the size of the typeface in gargoyle, I did all of my play in a window about the size of a post-it note. I do expect sympathy.

  • I enjoyed this author’s game in IF Comp 2023, The Witch, which I reviewed here, and I was not disappointed in my expectation of getting some more fun puzzles! A few thoughts on how the games compare:
Similarities
- large maps with many readily available items, difficulty lies in determining where to use each item
- patrolling NPCs
- light inventory management required
- key items can be destroyed or lost, rendering the game unwinnable
- game has a “score” command to tell you if it is winnable (in Zomburbia, you have to first use “winnable on”)
Different in Zomburbia
- a bit more player friendly (I didn’t see any timed sections), greater number of straightforward puzzles, other friendly UI adjustments
- more environmental humor and color from descriptions of NPCs and areas

My fervent wish:
I enjoyed The Witch but it was a bit difficult for my taste—so I already felt rewarded that Zomburbia felt a bit easier. I would still love a bit more scaffolding for the player, particularly towards the mid game. For example, I had other issues, but one of them was that after I accomplished some basic goals (escape cabin, get deed, return rifle to ghost) I didn’t feel like I understood what my goal was other than “complete the game,” which was fairly intimidating given the size of the map etc. And it let me kind of take myself in the wrong direction trying to figure out how to cure the other zombies with items.

In sum, I enjoyed my time solving puzzles. The puzzles I did were fun, felt appropriately clued and in keeping with physical intuitions, and it generally wasn’t a struggle to make my intent known to the interpreter.

Gameplay tips / typos:
  • there is a hints file in the distribution under “extras.” I only ended up looking at them after I was pretty played out, so I can’t speak directly, but it didn’t look like they were exhaustive. In particular, it sounded like finding “Kevin” was going to be important to progress, but at least on my quick read the hints didn’t say where you could find that
  • “search” is a pretty important command
5 Likes

Thanks for the feedback. The game is probably harder and undoubtedly longer and “parser-ier” than the typical “spring fling” entry has any right to be.

if you’re still interested - the key to kevin:

Buy a beer from the bartender and drink it. You’ll hallucinate a clue that’s used under the mausoleum. This is in the ‘mausoleum’ section of the “visiclues”.

1 Like

Thanks for the tip!

1 Like

To Beseech Old Sins by Nic June
Playtime: 15 min

This made me want to talk about:

  • Loved the concept, I’m always here for “we gave up our humanity to become living weapons”

  • What factors help a game quickly create a sense of place, personality, and stakes? I struggled for a while in this one to understand the main characters and their hopes and fears etc (and this is fiction-heavy IF, so that stuff is important). I’m not sure I can explain why I struggled–partly I think the opening screens were short, and the text was general enough that it could have described a lot of characters and situations. (A character portrait or illustration of the initial scene might have helped convey personality or setting.) Skipping back and forth between paragraphs with the hypertext links was slightly disorienting, too. The opening is not dialogue, but it reminded me of this advice from the Writing Excuses podcast:

[Mary Robinette Kowal] The problem with starting with a line of dialogue is that we do not hear a voice without attaching things to it in the real world. It’s incredibly rare to hear a voice and have no sense of who the person is. But when you start with a line of unattributed dialogue, you have no sense of who that person is, you don’t know where you are.

  • There’s also a decent amount of worldbuilding knowledge necessary to understand the plot, and it’s only being revealed indirectly. It’s very cool worldbuilding once we get it, these premises are like catnip to me, but it took me most of the game to figure out what was going on. And to some extent the plot subverts the worldbuilding, in that we SEE the characters being treated pretty well and everyone being respectful of human life, but are TOLD that that’s unusual. (And the blurb implied a past relationship between the main characters and the admiral that I didn’t pick up on?)

  • The tone of the narrative voice also injects a romance element:

“We slip on our skintight suits, covering ourselves in armor after. A layer of protection that still left little to the imagination. In all our years of experience, we never found a non-suggestive way to put these on. Not that some of us tried very hard.”

“What would have been an otherwise elegant ponytail and some leftover layers for framing her face are instead a tangled mess with some telltale signs of hurried brushing. It is in fact extremely cute.”

  • All of these elements absolutely could work but I’m not sure I totally got the intended effect of the how they were combined in this game. If, for, example, we’re doing romance, I would love chance to select some interactions with the admiral with the cute hair! If the intended effect is the hurt/comfort emotional payoff of expecting something bad to happen to the main characters, but then something good happening instead, then I need to understand what the main characters are scared of before it is averted.

My fervent wish:
that the player had some ability to influence the plot

To synthesize, creative worldbuilding and characters, but didn’t fully engage me.

6 Likes

Ugh, yeah, I’m not sure how you’re supposed to find that. If you hit Control+comma (Command+comma on Mac?) it should open up the configuration file in a text editor. Scroll down a ways and you’ll find the font settings.

3 Likes

Thanks for the kind advice! And for the sympathy :wink:

This is sort of a problem of my own life choices, I know how to change the text size in Windows but I’ve been on a project to do more on my linux machine and that’s where I could not figure out how to change the configuration file . . .

1 Like

Ah, linux. So much fun. :slight_smile: You’ve found the configuration section of the docs though?

2 Likes

I had not, but this is some promising leads, thanks!

1 Like

Voyage of the Marigold by Andrew Stephens
Playtime: 52 minutes total (30 minutes for the first playthrough)

This made me want to talk about:

  • This game is a lot of fun! The writing is an excellent and effective Star Trek pastiche. Delivers the pleasure of having note-perfect dialogue options and narration:

Wormhole travel has much to recommend it but it does fray the nerves.

I am proud of the way the officers and crew of The Marigold are holding up under the pressure of a dangerous mission in unexplored space.

  • Gameplay features a variety of surprising and genre-appropriate encounters. It delivered exactly mood I wanted: slightly high-concept, slightly campy. We’ve got aliens of unknown intentions, away missions, mindbending scientific mysteries, and OF COURSE ethical dilemmas!!

  • The player choices impact the game state later in a satisfying way, starting from the decision on the first screen of whether you will take extra fuel, extra crew, or extra torpedoes. Generally the game offered all of the options I wanted (yes, I did satisfy my childhood dream of putting the crew on red alert and tossing quips at an alien commander as my ship escaped to hyperspace). And the interface is very smooth, with a chart for navigation on a separate page

  • also, trippy art!

My fervent wish:
The game is a blast. My only wish is that it could be perhaps slightly easier? I played through three times, resulting in two complete failures and one where I delivered the cure but after the planned date. The “successful” time I felt I had barely scraped in, but both of the total failures were failures by a mile. Although I think better to err on the side of being hard in in this type of game, it would have been more fun if the losses had felt like they were close. I take it the map is procedurally generated, but perhaps the algorithm could be tweaked to avoid paths that are really really long.

The individual encounters I thought were at an appropriate level of difficulty (although, I couldn’t exactly tell how much rng there was in determining the outcome of the encounters? For example, in my limited experience, it seemed like you could always safely traverse the wormhole, and if you tried to recover the artifact from the asteroid the bone worms would always eat some crew–it would be fun if that varied in a risk-based way play to play [which maybe it does?]).

Altogether, a delightful sci-fi captain simulator, worth a few playthroughs to see different encounters.

Gameplay tips / typos:
  • How to read the star chart: you start in the bottom left square. The goal is to reach the top right square (that’s where the “exit” from the nebula is, as indicated in the border art). Once you enter a square you will be able to see which available exits it has (i.e., in some squares you can only travel north and south, others are dead ends, but you won’t know until you enter the square).
  • “You also have a limited compliment of torpedoes.” - should be “complement,” same elsewhere
  • “Suplemental - Stardate 4002.20:” - should be “supplemental,” this appears in several places
  • “The nebula walls are unusually close in Sector C2 making navigation somewhat difficult and giving the entire region a cramped, clostrophobic feel.” - should be “claustrophobic”
  • “The outer hull shows the signs of age but the whole structure is remarkably intact save for a huge chuck that was ripped out in what the science officer states was a recent collision with an asteroid.” - should be “chunk”
  • “So far we have managed to maneuver around the worst of the storm but now we find ourselves near the core of a huge vertex of swirling gas.” - should be vortex
8 Likes

Thank you so much for your kind and constructive review. VotM may not be high art but I am glad you had fun. I have a full post-mortem written that explains some of the design choices but in the spirit of the festival I have decided not to publish it until after the judging closes.

Balancing a game like this was always going to be tricky. I will say that although I think you were unlucky, I was aiming for a 50% success rate for a first time player so 1 in 3 doesn’t seem too far off.

I’ll add your list of typos to the huge pile, it seems I cannot write 30 consecutive words without a terrible spelling mistake. Again, after the festival I will release a version with fewer errors.

3 Likes

Pass A Bill by Leo Weinreb
Playtime: 20 minutes

This made me want to talk about:

  • This game is funny and had a lot of bits that made me laugh and pause to jot them down (the only item in your inventory at the beginning is “your dignity”; far from being overambitious, the player character starts with the goal of renaming a post office; the only way to read the changes other politicians make to your bill is to return to your sad legislator desk each time). I was engaged and entertained for the whole playthrough.
  • The UI and gameflow are smooth and player-friendly—it’s easy to explore the different available endings because there’s an option to go back a short distance, and the game did a good job tracking my pathing and what I had explored even as it got fairly complex.

My fervent wish:
Satire of the “wildly exaggerated events” type is the most effective when it points in the direction of an underlying truth. For example, in Sorry to Bother You (2018), an evil corporation has been exploiting its workers and basically treating them like slaves. This corporation later turns out to be secretly turning workers into human-horse hybrids for productivity, yet when this gets revealed he company is feted by the public for its innovation. While these specifics are unrealistically exaggerated, whether or not the plotline works depends on whether the viewer agrees they’re pointing in the same direction as the truth—a viewer who doesn’t think corporations exploit workers or society tacitly allows this exploitation probably won’t connect much with those elements of the movie.

Coming back to Pass a Bill, if we apply that interpretive scheme, then the exaggerated events of the plot suggest that the real-life problems with the political system lie in the direction of all politicians secretly being the same and belonging to the same backroom cabal, and said cabal being capable of passing any bill it wants by telling all politcians which way to vote. These don’t strike me as the biggest set of issues with the real-world political systems I’m familiar with.

In gestalt, funny and engaging, well designed with a smooth interface, but I’m not sure it points to a real-world issue.

7 Likes

Thanks so much for your review! Glad you enjoyed it, even if the message fell a bit flat. My intention was less to describe what politics is actually like in real life and more to explore a strange and twisted fantasy world (think Camazotz from A Wrinkle in Time) that gets gradually revealed beneath the surface of what the game purports to be. But I totally get what you’re saying too, and I’m fine with letting people take from the game what they like. It was a lot of fun to make and write, so I’m glad you got something out of it!

1 Like

Thanks for sharing the game! I enjoyed it! And also, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the intention.

Yes, I definitely didn’t mean to suggest that I found the One True meaning of the game or anything, those were just some thoughts I had. It’s pretty interesting how I can often take something away that’s maybe different than what the author was thinking.

1 Like

Doctor Jeangille’s Letters by manonamora
Playtime: 29 minutes (20 minutes for the first playthrough)

This made me want to talk about:

  • The narrator, Isabella, is a great character. I love how she has specific personality traits—including that she’s prone to dramatic gestures, impulsive, and has a short temper (and I mean this in a positive way, it makes her interesting to read about). Her opening statement of purpose I can certainly get behind:

My dear, seeing you disappear in a cloud of smoke unleashed my deepest wishes for revenge. Even if I could not escape this prison on rails, be assured that I will do everything in my power to see him humiliated, to see all his relationships in shambles, to see him perish. Damned be Reason!

  • I enjoyed the rhetorical flourishes and gestures toward a period setting—I’m no historian so I can’t speak to accuracy but I enjoy it. I would have enjoyed even a bit more on the material reality of life at the time period
  • Since this is an epistolary game, I came into it a bit thinking about one of the famous entries in the canon of epistolary novels, Dracula (Reader, you can’t know how much I agonized about which portions, if any, of this sentence to blur). This hits a some of the same fun elements, you likewise get to enjoy the dramatic irony of picking up on clues before the characters do (she’s described as “anemic”! Everyone in the village suddenly has neck sensitivity!). Unlike in Dracula, I then immediately tried to get Isabella to be as cautious as possible via player intervention (although the player’s ability to change events seems pretty limited). [And on a later playthrough I tried max recklessness to see if I could get Isabella eaten, but could not (although I did get her arrested as an accessory)]. This comparison though, did perhaps lead me to expect/hope that the player would have more involvement in dealing with the vampire than I ended up getting.

My fervent wish:
This may just not have been the intended vision, but I would have enjoyed it if the game had turned the intensity up a few notches toward the climax—make me scared on behalf of the player character! Make something important hinge on a piece of information received (or not) from the correspondent! Torment me for caring about the Doctor and make me as a player afraid I’m not going to do a good enough job to save her! (The ending also felt a bit sudden, and adding some material near the end might help with that.)

All in all, a fun epistolary piece channeling some old-timey atmosphere and well, vampires.

Gameplay tips / typos
  • You can change the typeface in the settings (alas, I loved the ambiance of the faux-handwriting ones, but was getting nowhere so I used monotype)
  • In the letter after “because Mlle Bouchon is also looking for lucid companions, who have at least read the Classics” an errant paragraph break symbol is printed out
5 Likes

Thank you so much for the review!!

This is super not historically accurate, just loosely inspired. Acutally, you had one of the right reference that inspired me to make the game! Two other ones are based on the names of the main characters :wink:

There are 2 more endings to the entry, one which may fulfil a tiny bit your wish :wink:

Also, thanks for the report! Will fix that ASAP! I had no access to the code until today.

2 Likes

Dragon of Steelthorne by Vance Chance
Playtime: 1 hour

This made me want to talk about:

  • Re: the relationship management elements—I got a mild enjoyment from the cast of characters (if anything, I wanted them to get up to more hijinks), but in this game the reward for building relationships definitely comes later through some kind of under-the-hood hidden stat. I think it might be more fun if the actual on-page interaction with the other characters was more immediately rewarding to the player—when the player chooses to spend time with someone, “reward” the player with a colorful description of the hang-out, a funny anecdote, dispense some angsty backstory. (I saw a bit of this with Chang, but most of the other descriptions were pretty bland.)
  • Re: the city management elements—I mean, I like simulators so I’m the target audience here. It was fun! It seemed a bit over-simplified though, in that all of the options make Numbers Go Up (no tradeoffs of the “this will decrease contentment but increase industry” type), the “tech tree” is a single layer (no restrictions on building order). I played on easy as suggested for new players, but because that pretty much eliminated negativve consequences from neglecting city management, it also created an unpleasant feeling that I should be working on relationships whenever I spent a turn building instead, and I’m not sure that was enriching the game.
  • Some of my favorite elements were the treatment of sort of low-level politics between the player character and the ruler, and the player character and surrounding groups, which were made interesting and slightly surprising by containing realistic nuance. Often it’s the best option to avoid combat, leaders are imperfect but not purely evil, one can choose not to fight the non-aligned civilians living near the city but one can’t promise them continued autonomy, etc etc.

My fervent wish:
For a game with this premise, the fantasy-side plot options felt . . . a bit mid? Like when I’m primed with the idea that DRAGONS exist in this world and one shows up and gives me a GEM and I learn the gem has MAGIC POWERS I do expect that to come up more. Whether we’re going to take the fantasy elements at face value or try to deconstruct them a bit (anti-spoiler, since this doesn’t happen?) (dragons are a hoax by the Jhou or something) I just think it would be fun to pay off the fantasy bits more.

To conclude, a smooth, workmanlike game that combines light city management elements with fantasy plot and character interactions, but I do wish it had committed harder in some direction.

Gameplay tips / typos
  • mild spoilers about relationships mechanics–I tried to interact equally with all of my companions, but I think that’s the worst option—it seemed like maybe instead of a “don’t let any companions hate you” it was more of a “develop a very close relationship (romantic?) with the character of your choice” set-up
6 Likes

@wolfbiter Thanks for the review. I’ve gotten similar feedback regarding characters, which I’m hoping to apply to future projects (but probably not this one, since it’s done).

1 Like

The Trials of Rosalinda by Agnieszka Trzaska
Playtime: 2 hour 37 min
(I haven’t played The Bones of Rosalinda.)

This made me want to talk about:

  • 2 minutes in and we’re off to a rollicking start–“character unfairly nailed into acoffin because of their resemblance to a skeleton” and “character detaching parts of their body to operate independently” are new and fun plot points for me
  • We get a nice unique flavor to the puzzles from the ability to switch between operating Rosalinda’s separate skull, piecrust, Rosalinda’s separate torso, etc. For example, the solution that involves combining a detached arm with another item was extremely satisfying. (Also it amuses me that “most of Rosalinda” is the canon descriptor for the torso or torso plus a single arm.) Overall the UI does a good job dealing with the complications inherent in multiple controllable units, and particularly it combines their inventories in a sensible manner. Still, there’s a bit of “oh I need to try interacting with this three times"or "oh I need to travel to this location three times” (love that the “travel to” feature is implemented, though).
  • One thing I really wanted but did not get–the ability to take simultaneous actions. This would probably be wicked difficult to code, but a fair number of the scenarios really called out for “left arm makes distraction, right arm pushes button.” ut there’s no way to accomplish this.
  • I really enjoyed the general philosophy / orientation of the game. This is a warm-hearted, generous-spirited story where characters have flaws but many also get opportunities to surpass those flaws
  • The characters are fun and I enjoyed seeing them interact. (“She stole books from my tower!” he realised. “How… how could she!” – Piecrust, mad about an unforgivable crime committed by murderous villain.) The only bit that didn’t really land for me was the disagreement at the end between Piecrust and Aurelia about societal treatment of magical and nonmagical people, because the game hasn’t provided much basis for us to have an opinion about how society treats magical versus nonmagical people.
  • Huge fan of the choice to just explicitly put the game on rails and take away the player buttons during certain sequences. Yes, if we’re in a cut scene please indicate to me that I don’t need to try to accomplish anything! I will gladly sit back and watch!

My fervent wish:
This was a delightful game and I really enjoyed the time I spent with it, but there were a few puzzle-sticking points that I wish were smoothed out, particularly given that there’s no hints or walkthrough provided (Ed: I was very happy to see the author added a hint document on itch .io! I had already finished, but looks pretty comprehensive and would have cleared up my problems.)

Most of the issues I had were of the variety where you can think of several plausible ways to accomplish something, but the game will only accept one specific solution. Specifically, trying to give the first two guards the dream moss–putting it in the mug was my first idea but I had SUCH a hard time getting him to put down the mug that that I gave up for a while and wandered the whole map, checked every location and item, wondered if I was supposed to burn the moss etc etc.; the mention of the planks being “too much for Rosalinda to carry alone” or similar made me spend a while trying to get one of the human characters to help Rosalinda carry a plank to cross the chasm; and in the chamber of trials, given that Piecrust and Lydia can stand on one, it seems you should just be able to shove some of the mecha wreckage onto the pressure plate and have Rosalinda stand on it, or have her hold rocks (especially given that Rosalinda uses rocks for weight earlier in the game).

On net, very fun, a triumph of creative puzzling that ALSO features excellent character work and a funny and interesting overall plot.

5 Likes