Reviews by Andrew Schultz

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Djinn on the Rocks, by Joshua Wilson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Never crashes ashore, May 31, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

Djinn on the Rocks (DotR) would be worth playing for the mechanic alone, and since it gets that and more right, it's well worth a play. I'm not surprised it was rated almost the same as Captain Cutter's Treasure (CCT) in the comp, as there's a lot to enjoy from both games. I find it that much more special that the two top games (by a good margin) were so different in tone and goals.

DotR simply lets you swap the locations of similar things. But they must be very similar. So you can, for instance, swap your location with the location of your annoying owner James, who won't leave you alone until you've made them rich. Things are divided by size, material (vegetable/animal/mineral) and composition, which is trickier to explain. But they must be an exact match. There's no penalty for SWAPping the wrong things, and in fact the game explains why, so trial and error goes smoothly.

These mechanics are good, but perhaps what really offers creativity is how the game notes your karma can go from -100 to +100. So you quickly see you have the choice to be mean or nice. And you have the choice to change your owner James for the better or worse. This means that during some play-throughs, some NPCs and objects may be useless. But they are still entertaining to deal with. The puppy in particular--animal cruelty is no laughing matter, but you can be heartless indeed to it, in an overdramatic "nobody could be that mean" sort of way.

So DotR has a lot of good, original laughs and a solid basic idea. It's quite worth a play. It balances CCT, the game that just edged it out, nicely: DotR has cool ideas and lets you be creative, and CCT has more of a story to unravel. It's very neat that two games that had to follow the jam's rules (start in a broom closet with a specific description) could branch so drastically and both work so well. It's the sort of thing that encourages me to be more creative.

Captain Cutter's Treasure, by Garry Francis

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Return treasure, rescue girl, and ... do better next time, if you want, May 31, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

Captain Cutter's Treasure (CCT) is an impressive, small game. A pirate's daughter has been kidnapped. The ransom is some hidden treasure. You have to find and return it. There's a map to put together, and ... a bit more. But not too much.

The game has a respectable dialogue system that helps you flesh out as much of the story as you want to. There's even a very small puzzle that crosses genres into (Spoiler - click to show)Sokoban, and while you can put the game into an unwinnable state this way, it's relatively clear what to do without feeling dumb and obvious. I was more baffled with how to open a locked door, though when I thought through it, I realized I missed a few clues.

The game has three possible endings that I counted, and since doing the obvious right thing gets the "only okay" ending, there's some interesting meta/detective work. I think I got lucky (Spoiler - click to show)distracting Barnaby when he was on watch--I understood what to do but didn't have as good an idea of the ship's map as I did of the warehouse. Maybe it was just dealing with fore and aft. But it was pleasing to figure out what should generally happen.

This was a really good experience, well-organized and without a lot of red herrings. I'm not surprised

There are some issues of having to disambiguate more than you should need to for the parser, but I think that's more a function of people getting comfortable with programming PunyInform than any serious shortcomings. Besides, there's always the up-arrow on Frotz. So I think this is worth fighting through, and knowing this in advance will hopefully ensure that if you play CCT, you'll be able to see all CCT has to offer.

Pub Adventure!, by Robin & Tom Edwards

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Mix drinks, satisfy ghost, May 26, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

In Pub Adventure, a ghost tasks you with making them a drink (a zombie, of course.) There aren't a lot of puzzles, and I was fortunate enough to avoid the guess-the-verb problems other peopl found (in fact I was glad there was no final verb to guess once you got the ingredients,) so I got through quickly. If you just explore and pick everything up, you should make it through without much trouble. For instance, two items you need for the drink are more or less sitting around in adjacent rooms.

The note and knife from PunyJam's required first room make things pretty straightforward, though I in fact was amused by the additional challenge of deciphering the torn note(Spoiler - click to show) if you didn't take the knife first. The game also has two bathrooms, and it doesn't feel like overkill.

I was a bit disappointed you couldn't (Spoiler - click to show)EAT OR DRINK any of the ingredients -- that was certainly the sort of thing the authors could find a funny response for. I suspect they will, if they ever write a bigger game.

Unless I overlooked something, this is the only PunyJam game where you actually have to mix a drink in a pub. I suspected there'd be more.

Buccaneer's Cache, by Wilfried Elmenreich

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A bit too cryptic as-is, May 26, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

It was interesting to track which games in PunyJam gave credit to which old-school games and tropes, and this game along with Arthur's Day Out paid homage to Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And I always like to see that.

I think the other reviews touched on the main bottlenecks for this game, namely some guess-the-verb and noun issues that made what the author intended to be simple fun into something trickier. The game even gets in a potentially unwinnable state if you do not (Spoiler - click to show)get the knife from the closet before leaving the first time. I got a bit stuck thinking I had to (Spoiler - click to show)guess the right name to tell the beast, but there is none. And one piece of scenery you need to leave a seeming one-way dead-end is very obscured.

But for all this concern, there are good moments. There are alternate endings based on how many geocaches you find, and the game allows you to recoup and revisit if you miss (Spoiler - click to show)the first geocaching in the succession of one-way passages. This sort of thing shows obvious care and willingness to forgive the player for not seeing the right way through, and I suspect the author will know better where to direct care for their second effort.

The Job, by Fredrik Ramsberg

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Don't clockwatch on this job!, May 25, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: PunyJam 2021

The author redacted themselves from the competition they created, but The Job wound up making a decent account of itself, as I saw it. You are tasked with bringing back a necklace. It's hidden in a relatively cramped pub. But there's something special about the pub and how you escape it, which makes sense in retrospect--I missed a few good tries that would've clued it, because I recognized the riff on the classic puzzle this game had, and I started bulldozing the solution.

The author has made a few post-comp tweaks, but I'd also suggest (as of release 3) that they give some hint it's a timed puzzle and some idea of how long it might take until that timer expires. That, and a verb to shuffle similar sorts of items ("replace x with y") instead of "get x. (possibly) drop x (due to inventory limits). put y on z." There's a bit too much juggling, though fortunately, the solution isn't randomized. The inventory limits are again slightly confounding--perhaps the game could say "you can't carry too much more" or "your load is way too heavy" or even "you'd have to drop (weight X) to carry that."

These are a lot of quibbles but they were of the "interesting to reflect on" variety. I think they'd help the game get close to how fun the author wants the experience to be. As even with back and forth trips, the game gives enough time, you shouldn't have to save paranoically.

Why the game is timed is a spoiler, which you will find if you take too long.

I can't say much more. It's straightforward but not bare-bones. I liked the safe puzzle at the end, as it felt like it had less busy work than discovering the hidden room with the safe.

The Job isn't a brain-breaker, but it's a nice enough challenge, and nothing's unclear. You may need a knowledge of standard Inform verbs to remove one blocking piece of scenery expeditiously, but I think it's not an obscure action.

Arthur's Day Out, by Jason Oakley

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A respectable first effort, May 24, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: PunyJam 2021

Arthur's Day Out isn't the first game to give a tip of the cap to Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's got a bit more humor than average, which is nice, because sometimes it makes a few beginner mistakes. Mistakes worth fixing in a post-comp touch-up, for sure.

You play as Arthur, and quickly you find a dressing gown with analgesic. There's a computer password to unlock, a safe to open and a weird cave at the end. None of the puzzles are too hard, but you do have to remember to (Spoiler - click to show)search instead of look and also TAKE items that appear. That's a bit of busy work, but fortunately the game is only 15 rooms. It still feels a bit sparse for all that, but it's small enough I could keep the map in my head.

It's possible to short-circuit a lot of the puzzles with saving and restoring in the final room, and on replay, you can probably ignore the notes that give you clues. And if the puzzles are a bit random, they require no great unfair leaps. And the homages to H2G2 are nice.

The puzzles are the sort where you saw exactly what people meant to do once they're solved, but on the other hand, there's still a bit of needless fighting with the parser. While it placed 7th of 8 in PunyJam 1, it doesn't really feel like a bottom-feeder. That probably speaks to some talent on the developer's part as well as perhaps the PunyInform community (especially on discord) helping each other out. to do their best.

Pub Hubbub, by Christopher Drum

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Scrub, Bub, Scrub!, May 4, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: PunyJam 2021

With a title like Pub Hubbub, you'd expect a few cheap jokes, and they're the good sort of cheap, the ones that give good return for relatively little investment. The game may not be super-ambitious, but it's a well-organized first effort with enough humor to keep you going through any frustrations you might have with the parser or with the time limitation. An ominous note saying your boss, John, owes $2500 "or else" adds to the plot.

You start in a broom closet, as with every PunyJam entry, and have four pub-cleaning tasks to complete in two hours of game time, or 120 moves. And while standard parser peeves (some rejected commands cost you a move), I was actually able to figure what to do even without logging on to my boss John's computer. The execution required some parser-wrangling, and in fact my first time through I just missed completing everything. Fortunately, nothing drastic happened, and the drudge work makes enough sense it was easy to replicate. Basic stuff you need to do so the pub isn't too nasty.

The game does a good job of brushing off parser mistakes with a joke. Nothing demeaning, but advice from older wiser relatives pops up if you forget something. The rejects for cleaning you don't need to do also amused me, and when I browsed the source code, I found other things I'd missed.

Nothing's too gross or out there, and in fact, there is one way to die that's lampshaded nicely. And there's a cigarette machine which contains more humor than cigarette machines generally do, and even a puzzle.

Given the game's general tone, I was able to figure roughly what the note was about before my boss John came back, and you may, too. But the details still made me laugh.

This is a good, promising first game. It has a few small bugs (or I think they're bugs and not my own incompetence) I'm glad to overlook, because the main stuff seems to work.

Cragne Manor, by Ryan Veeder, Jenni Polodna, Adam Whybray, Adri, Andrew Plotkin, Andy Holloway, Austin Auclair, Baldur Brückner, Ben Collins-Sussman, Bill Maya, Brian Rushton, Buster Hudson, Caleb Wilson, Carl Muckenhoupt, Chandler Groover, Chris Jones, Christopher Conley, Damon L. Wakes, Daniel Ravipinto, Daniel Stelzer, David Jose, David Petrocco, David Sturgis, Drew Mochak, Edward B, Emily Short, Erica Newman, Feneric, Finn Rosenløv, Gary Butterfield, Gavin Inglis, Greg Frost, Hanon Ondricek, Harkness Munt, Harrison Gerard, Ian Holmes, Ivan Roth, Jack Welch, Jacqueline Ashwell, James Eagle, Jason Dyer, Jason Lautzenheiser, Jason Love, Jeremy Freese, Joey Jones, Joshua Porch, Justin de Vesine, Justin Melvin, Katherine Morayati, Kenneth Pedersen, Lane Puetz, Llew Mason, Lucian Smith, Marco Innocenti, Marius Müller, Mark Britton, Mark Sample, Marshal Tenner Winter, Matt Schneider, Matt Weiner, Matthew Korson, Michael Fessler, Michael Gentry, Michael Hilborn, Michael Lin, Mike Spivey, Molly Ying, Monique Padelis, Naomi Hinchen, Nate Edwards, Petter Sjölund, Q Pheevr, Rachel Spitler, Reed Lockwood, Reina Adair, Riff Conner, Roberto Colnaghi, Rowan Lipkovits, Sam Kabo Ashwell, Scott Hammack, Sean M. Shore, Shin, Wade Clarke, Zach Hodgens, Zack Johnson

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
So I guess I should try Anchorhead some time, huh?, May 4, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

I'm too close to Cragne Manor to give it five stars officially. I tested a bunch of rooms and wound up emotionally invested in it. I wanted it to be good, and I enjoyed getting so many sneak previews of rooms in the game, but ... how the heck would they all fit together? Nevertheless, it seemed like a fun project to be a part of. I'm glad I was allowed in. This, from someone who will never, ever write a long-form horror game. (Insert "not intentionally" joke here at your leisure.)

However, I also put in so much energy just looking at the rooms that I put it aside. I needed a break. I worried my own expectations were too high. I had my own stuff to write, for better or worse. I'd wait for the walkthrough. The spoiler-heavy one. I'd hope it all fit together. Anyway, it was fun to try and figure which rooms I tested might be next to each other. A modification of the Birthday Paradox noted there would almost certainly be a few. But I'll skip the details, for those who find calculations more of a horror than, well, horror.

I figured it would take a while for the main authors to put stuff together, and it did. But once I started playing, I saw it wasn't just about lumping everything together. There were big-picture items you couldn't put in the individual rooms. The coffee cup seemed like a weird joke, until it became useful indeed, with a clever trigger so your character understood what the swirls meant. The trolley pass helps shrink the map with shortcuts and gives an amusing reject if you try to guess the colors of stations you haven't been to yet. Even the error messages seem helpful. And CM probably needs this, because you have all manner of similar but non-swappable books, keys, and pieces of paper. It'd be nightmarish, except that fortunately most items have only one use, and you get a backpack with all sorts of zippered compartments, helpfully labeled and organized into ... the sort of item types you find in the game. In short, the lack of technical horror helps you concentrate on the narrative horror.

This wasn't enough to get me hooked right away. I wrote my own stuff and laid low until there were a few walkthroughs, and the game's big enough, you'll probably need a few, to contrast ways through and sort out trivial typos. There's no one that's best. And discovering a room I tested was like finding an old friend, until it wasn't. There were some I forgot I tested, which was freaky, and some I didn't remember I did, which was freaky too. Some rooms seemed to pop up much too early, and some wound up much too late. For some of the early ones, I didn't have an item I received automatically during testing, because they had two separate small puzzles. So I felt, well, held back by some unknown force.

Eventually it all fit. I wound up worried writer X's room might be tricky, because I found something they wrote to be thorny. Or one person in the Discord (or was it Slack?) community mentioned their room was a bit bigger than they intended, and I worried it might be a mess. But in the end these fears were baseless, and everything pulled together. And the overall effect was: this game never feels it's done "right" or properly, but it's done very well. The jokes and references swing from very technical (hexadecimal humor) to more literary. The rooms swing from mostly scenery, with a few things to search and maybe just a door to open, to changing identities you make spiritual journeys through space and time, as one does in games featuring the supernatural. And if anything about this confuses you, the main authors drop in a device that lets you see room-specific CREDITS, if the room authors chose to include them. It dropped at the right moment for me, and it has a few amusing touches, especially for the longer blurbs.

And though horror isn't my thing, and I knew CM would be forgiving, I definitely had shivers of "oh dear I better save here." Or "I better not mess this up." With some rooms, this turned out not to be a problem due to strong design, or maybe you could immediately undo any deaths. But with certain rooms I didn't see, after the room creators submitted the game, the tension really built. With all the death and occult stuff piling up, I felt sure I had overlooked something, even with walkthroughs to follow. There are a few bring-them-all-together puzzles at the end, which are well beyond the rather neat library puzzle you see early on, where you need to return a bunch of creepy overdue books. This one in particular got me, because I still had a few library books to return to a suburban library. They waived the fines because of COVID, and I could keep them as long as I liked, but I just couldn't check any new ones. And when I returned a few materials just before trying to finish CM in earnest, there was a lot of social distancing and using a machine to check things in. So having CM overlap with real life like this was unexpected. It was probably going to happen in some way, with all the different ideas the room writers threw out there. But this was almost freakishly on the nose.

And just the game's sheer size worked in its favor to create an atmosphere I didn't expect. I've had smaller games just throw stuff at me and leave me exhausted, and I wound up worrying I'd missed something that could lock me out of a win here, even though I logically knew I shouldn't. The sheer number of key/door combos and articles to sort and remember, as well as rooms named similarly but not too similarly, left me disoriented but genuinely glad when I found shortcuts. For instance, some keys only open doors that save you time walking, but it relieves your helplessness a bit to actually see, yes, these two rooms that seem like they should link up, do.

I'm hard-put to find weaknesses of CM. It's definitely exhausting, and even with a walkthrough, the disambiguation gets to you after all. And perhaps sometimes it feels like inside baseball. But even so, I think every community should have a game like Cragne Manor. One where even sitting down with a walkthrough over the span of two late nights is a rewarding experience.

And I do feel I missed a little by attacking the walkthrough directly. There's certainly stuff I glossed over for efficiency's sake. While I took time to do some things wrong, just to see what horrors might pop up, there are bookmarks I placed in my mental map of CM for next time. There will also be stuff I weirdly forgot and weirdly remembered, and it will make for an entirely different experience than winning for the first time or testing the rooms.

I think any long-lasting creative community would be lucky to have an effort like Cragne Manor. It was a relief to see relative newcomers step up and to see former IFComp competitors show something I hadn't expected. It was exhausting, but by the end, I wished there was more.

Reflections, by Tristin Grizel Dean

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Lots of light, little glare, April 28, 2021

The danger of relying on the old fairy tales is that you don't wind up saying or doing anything new, or you wind up getting too wild and rattling on. Reflections does neither. It gives you a cell phone to navigate certain puzzles, and it keeps familiar fantasy elements without cliche. All this makes it a good fit for the Text Adventure Literacy Jam as well as a good short game.

The goal is to find five different ways to see your reflection. And yes, the cell phone plays an integral part in a few of them. The best part is, you can't and don't have to call anyone, or find any numbers, or anything like that, though one common side-feature of cell phones is necessary to use and ewll-clued.

Positive interaction with animals is most important, and it's never twee. The puzzles and setting avoid the cliches of fantasy as well as gross anachronisms. They're also comfortable enough that you shouldn't struggle with the parser. And while Sentient Beings, the other game the author entered in this comp, is more ambitious and memorable, Reflections really takes the tutorial requirements for the jam and makes them come alive. So the author should be proud of writing either of these games, much less both.

This game also circumvents a potential pet peeve: you have some baking to do, which normally isn’t my thing, because bigger games may get into details too quickly. Here, it doesn’t feel forced on me. I’m the sort of person who is relieved when a recipe isn’t very complex, so the game’s courtesy was appreciated her, and I think in general any game that takes on something you aren't usually interested in and keeps you interested has clearly done something right.

Because the final point of the game is for (Spoiler - click to show)looking through the mirror in your house after traveling to a cave, it has a there-and-back feel to it. And just knowing what the final point should be certainly left me feeling competent when I needed to think about a puzzle near the end. Overall the game does a lot and avoids overdoing anything or trying too hard to get me to like it, which is a very real risk when writing fantasy stuff, so I do recommend it.

Dungeons of Antur, by Ricardo Oyon Rodriguez

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
DoA is definitely not DOA, April 28, 2021

It's been done before, combining an RPG with a text adventure, but Dungeons of Antur (DoA) wound up performing much better than other text adventure and RPG hybrids I've played. Adventuron is partly responsible for that, but the author definitely did a lot of things right. Once I got out of "it's been done before" mode I realized this is the sort of game I'd have really enjoyed when I was 12, with or without the tutorial. A tutorial which notified me that tab-completion would help me cycle through all valid verbs. Since the competition explicitly wanted tutorials, and I had trouble guessing one verb (the author has since fixed this,) I was quite pleased to be able to approach future Adventuron games knowing verb-guessing would be less critical.

DoA's not huge--it might be exhausting that way. It has alternate endings. It has a few puzzles. It has strategy. It's randomized each time through. It even has an interesting NPC at the end. And I can't say DoA has a huge, overarching story. It's well put together, though, and it doesn't make mistakes. It's supposed to be sort of a demo for Adventuron's tutorials and a sequel, and I think it fits well.

As for specifics without spoilers: the puzzles and atmosphere are more the focus here. There's a grate that shuts down as soon as you enter the room, something to fish out from a well, and another grate that doesn't seem to have any mechanism at all. Skeletons contain messages in their bony hands. There's a secret room you should be able to find if you pay attention to the tutorial and another that requires a bit more trickery. Some weapons work better against certain monsters. You have armor and a few healing devices.

The graphics above the text give you a good view of the room or the enemy, along with your current stats. While a status line could display all this information, it wouldn't look as nice, and it'd feel a bit intrusive, too. DoA wasn't the only Literacy Jam game that gave me the feeling that, hey, I could make something attractive with lots of user-friendly features in Adventuron, but it managed to be a legitimate RPG and convinced me I could maybe stretch Adventuron's bounds to do my own thing.

As mentioned above, I do wish there were more games like DoA when I was a kid. But instead I figured I'd better be happy with what I got: Infocom games that blocked me at the first tough puzzle, but then again, if I could finish them too early, I'd have nothing left to play.

I used to be quite impressed with adults being able to make games hard, but as I've grown older, I'm more impressed with programmers who pace their games well, and DoA is an example. I got stuck often enough to feel challenge, but it wasn't frustrating. The battles are also well-balanced. It's possible you'll get wiped out, but saving and restoring is part of the general RPG procedure. In fact, there's one battle near the end where you almost certainly will get wiped out if you don't have a good think.

Finally, the writer deserves credit for doing a great job maintaining the game. They've made several bug fixes, small and large. And while anyone who writes a game in something other than their first language deserves approval for their courage, the author was quick to fix the sort of grammar nuisances that even native English speakers mess up. That bodes well for the potential sequel mentioned at the game's end.

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