I was planning/hoping to eventually sit down and write some feedback or reviews for the games I’d been going through for XYZZY voting that I’d missed before, but oh no voting’s started already, so instead I’ll just post some brief thoughts here for a bunch of them.
If anyone else (?) wants to discuss XYZZY nominees or voting, they can also do that here if they wish.
These’ll be written like you’ve played them already, and I’m rattling these off, so I’m not balancing positive/negative traits or anything like that like I’d normally try to, I’m just pointing out stuff that stuck out; sorry! Imagine me complimenting the writing for all of these, because they’re all good to great on that front, and I appreciate all the hard work that went into all these games.
Will Not Let Me Go: Great. Strong writing, clear-eyed. The apartment scene is extremely well done. I did feel like I was able to predict what scenes were going to come up later, and how they’d play out, but I’m not sure if that’s a valid thing to even dock points for. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections sort of also deals with this topic, but the characters in that book felt, to me after a while, tinged a bit artificially, like ponderously built stages that keep having to be torn down and rebuilt three times, for every character it follows. (His autobiographical essay My Father’s Brain felt warmer and more sincere). WNLMG doesn’t have that, because it treats its characters with more respect I felt. It’s a game about small decisions, but they loom large, about how much you’re willing to let go, how much you’re willing to lie towards normalcy… I wonder about the mid-paragraph stops, and if they communicate the right thing, because reading and stopping and clicking those seems too passive for me to feel like that felt like mimicking forgetfulness. Best writing, I was thinking I’ll nominate it for. Best PC also?
Known Unknowns: I really admire how the Episode 2 party is written, with how it circles and staggers and shifts over time, and if I could nominate just that for an award, I would. The characters are likeable (except the ones that intentionally aren’t). I had a similar issue with Life is Strange episode 2 in this, which is: in Episode 1 there was a semi-urgent mystery set up, then the characters don’t do anything about it in favour of doing other Stuff! There are three story threads basically, with the newspaper, the relationship drama, and the raccoon, and they sort of don’t wrap up together at the same time, so there were dips in episodes 4 and 5 which didn’t feel completely smooth. The char profiles are great. Best writing?
The Wand: I was so satisfied with getting the first ending, that I never really delved into the secret part, even after I saw the public discussion thread for the game mention it. The puzzle in the tower already felt like such a great capper. A recent article did make me think of this again: https://www.destructoid.com/why-is-rogue-legacy-s-follow-up-considered-a-pretty-massive-failure–487156.phtml. Is it a good idea to hide a portion of your game? It seems like a really cool idea, but I also really wouldn’t have even thought of exploring further without the thread. The puzzles I already encountered are already so great, and clever… Like the pantry one as well. After the first ending, I didn’t feel like I needed more, or more of a challenge. Best puzzles, probably.
Voyageur: The descriptions are vivid. But it generally feels just a bit empty and aimless. The descriptions tell me these are very populated planets, but it still feels isolating, and that could be a cool effect, but it doesn’t seem quite intentional. The crew and the factions both indicate that there are stories behind all of them, but there isn’t much of that in the game, nothing to unlock or interact, with either. Since I got a bunch of the crew around the same time, I have no idea what exactly some of them do gameplay-wise even, outside of being unhappiness carriers. I stopped trying to strategize the trading aspect after a while; the pirates made the goods feel immaterial, and the expeditions felt like the real money-makers. I wasn’t sure what I was working towards, even once I stumbled onto an alien device. The procgen text is very well done. There’s a framework here, the bits of story writing are well done too, just wanted more of that. There’s an update coming for this though.
The Wizard Sniffer: I really admire the puzzle design in this. The pail puzzle in particular? It’s not really difficult, but it’s like: you find this object in the courtyard. There’s a callback joke there, if you’d already examined Ser Leonhart closely. You poke at it, can’t do anything with it yet. You keep going. Later, in another area, after solving several other puzzles, there’s this obstacle. And you have to think back to the item that was just a joke item before. And you have to have explored the second area a bit as well. And you bring the item, use it, and it removes the obstacle while also subverting your expectations by not doing it the way you expect it to. Also, there’s the part later where you’re choosing to leading several different people around, which was very fun and well implemented. I’m voting for best puzzle, and maybe the squire for NPC. Any hey, maybe best implementation.
Going Down: I like the interface for this a lot, and how its used. Because… It forces you to wait. And anticipate. And it mimics you, in the elevator, eye glued up at the floors ticking down, afraid to look around you. There were some parts where I wasn’t sure if it was a bug or part of the disorientation of the game itself. I think there might’ve been more to do, on the stairs, with the key… But it was too much, I had to get out! Most innovative?
I also have no idea what to vote for best technology!