Ratings and Reviews by Andrew Schultz

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Carpathian Vampire, by Garry Francis

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short vampire game works even for those who don't like vampires, May 17, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: TALP 2022

I admit I'm not much of a fan of vampires, so when the author asked for testers, I opted for his other game. I've been through the general vampire tropes, and they don't do much for me, whether it's humor that plays on said tropes or more detail than I want. Yet it's effective. The tutorial bit gets you inside the castle with no way out, and it's atmospheric, but on some level you know you'll need to (and you will) find the key to leave the castle.

So I believe I would've enjoyed testing this as well as Garry's other, because it fits really well as a TALP entry, giving clues where you need it and providing a clear path through. I think while having a tutorial is good, having other bumpers along the way to follow up is better, so it's not just about helping people through a text adventure but letting them know what to expect. And the tutorial never quite ends--it seems to know when to give a small nudge. In this case, making light has its pitfalls. There are sensible ways to mess up, and the game says, hey, look at what's in your inventory.

There's another bit where your inventory is full from all the items, and you have some choices of what to drop. You never have to inventory juggle, but the guidance is nice all the same. There aren't too many items, because the map is not too big, and generally there's a lot of sampling of ways text adventures should work.

I also must give credit to the HINT command. The game is not too difficult, though I used them a couple times for expedience or to make sure I was done. The hints are in brief four-line poetry like those old Burma-Shave ads, and they're quite catchy and succinct and sometimes even funny, even the "you're done here" nudge. And while the game's tone isn't humorous, it works well here, better than a dry "do this next." So the game is worth a replay for that alone.

The Spooky Mansion, by Tim Jacobs
Nostalgic, amusing graphics, May 17, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: TALP 2022

I come down on the non-serious side with EctoComp games, and so for me, The Spooky Mansion came a few months early. While the plot is potentially serious (your dog is lost in a haunted house,) the details are not. There's a pumpkin to talk to so you can enter the house. Skeletons offer you help in interesting ways. And there's a monster that'd be right at home in Space Quest blocking your way to some important rooms. It's a funny game and not too big, despite "Mansion" in the title, and sometimes smaller is better. Thinking back to my own experiences with learning to read, I certainly felt intimidated by larger books, and given this is for the Text Adventure Literacy Project, it's important to know how not to overwhelm the reader.

You really aren't going to need your puzzle-solving hat, either. What you need to do is clued pretty well, and if you examine and talk a lot, everything will fall out. There's a bit of repetition with one puzzle, but even that is in service of a few nice laughs. And of course you eventually find your way out.

I'd definitely play a longer game by this author, as the graphics alone drew me in, and the jokes kept me entertained. There were a few loose ends (why is your dog in a locked room? What's the (Spoiler - click to show)rake for in the shed?) but the priority was clearly on entertainment, which the game pulled off.

Bug note for the release I played: reaching for an item wrong doesn't get you the item you need. The (Spoiler - click to show)shiny object doesn't change into (Spoiler - click to show)the brass key if you REACH OBJECT WITH GUM. But given the general surroundings, I quickly said "wait, I bet that item's supposed to be (Spoiler - click to show)the key to the locked door to the west, but I just fished for it wrong.

Raspberry Jam, by Sylfir
Simple youthful farm tasks, unpolished but effective, May 16, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: TALP 2022

While most TALP games focus on the parser, Raspberry Jam allows hyperlinks to get around its homebrew engine. That makes it an oddity in TALP right away. By the end, I wound up clicking keyword links much more than I used the parser, but the "click one text object, then another" fits the word/word aesthetic TALP requires and brings up the interesting question: might NOUN NOUN be a legitimate way to skip guess-the-verb?

It's quicker here, at least once you get the hang of things. Once I did, I realized the game was good work, despite its flaws. It's worth a play-through, as it's not very big. Overall, I saw what the author was doing, even if it was a bit hidden. But it never got beyond that for me. Reflecting on this game, it seemed like whatever praise I had was qualified with a "but," but on the other hand, so was criticism. So this review feels clinical, but it's the best way I know to say "yes, there will be obstacles, but this game's worth playing."

First, the plot: you're a young boy, living with your grandmother on a small farm. You're given tasks. The initial puzzle, bringing water from the well, is a good one to establish the tutorial part of the TALP jam. Then you need to go further in the woods to find more things Grandma asks from you. Nothing terribly dramatic or death-defying, so it's a good fit with the jam.

And as for the word "jam:" it's easy for me to picture a native English speaker thinking jam-the-food and jam-the-event were too alike to connect, and thus a game featuring jam would be too on-the-nose, right? But non-native speakers see things with new eyes we can't, so they had no such self-censorship, and I'm glad of that. The games are supposed to be child-friendly, and this one was. One puzzle obliquely concerns safety with sharp objects, something I didn't really learn until Boy Scouts, and it was certainly nicer than the yelling I remembered about what you'd better not do. (Yelling was not necessary.) I'm glad it was about more than just jam.

But on the other hand, the reason I bring up the author's not a native English speaker is because they do many logical-but-wrong things with English grammar (e.g. "an bucket"). This, though, gets a pass. Creating a custom engine is tricky, and they got that right (though there is a learning curve) and there's never any question what they meant. The writing overall has purpose and direction and doesn't deluge us, and perhaps it can fit in with the idea of a kid from a far-off land telling us about their day while maybe being a bit too excited and slipping up with a word here and there. There's more than enough substance and organization that we can allow RJ these slips and not feel like a condescending adult patting its hand. I still sometimes cringe when I say or think "Well, it's brave of them to even write in their second language," because there are so many ways to say it, but it's just one more variable to juggle when trying to program, and it can't be ignored.

That said, it would be nice to have some bumpers once we were done with a quest. This is difficult as there are some moving parts: you're able to return an axe to its storage place before you use it, and if you do so, you score five points, which are retracted once you take it down. Then once you've used the axe and stored it, you can take it down. Details like that. They aren't critical, but it feels like the author put in a good effort on the very important stuff and didn't quite have time to polish things. It's just stuff I feel they wouldn't have missed without the additional mental energy needed to write in a second language. There's also a nice bit of technical work where the author lets you scroll up and down in a room's description, but when I tried to make the screen bigger so all the text would fit, the text stretched.

I'm also up in the air about the ending. A few clues existed, but I left in disbelief for a bit. I wound up missing on the final five points, which are not on the task list. It's something that, emotionally, the story would be wrong to clue directly, since such an action shouldn't be forced. However, once someone else hinted it, I saw it immediately and realized I'd not been paying full attention, but I didn't really feel motivated to go back. So it was more "Oh, that makes sense!" than the emotional connection the author looked for.

Still, RJ seems like a successful experiment, technically, but the author may not have hit their creative stride. Yet. There's a lot to be sorted out, but RJ doesn't need saving, and at heart it's a small nostalgic game that's fun to work through and brings back a few memories. One can't argue the author is technically or creatively clueless. It's just a bit obvious where they miss the mark, and once you're able to accept a few shortcomings, it's a pleasant experience, and TALP is clearly the better for it.

The Bright Blue Ball, by Clary C.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Animal protagonist, unusual verbs, smooth experience, May 16, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

I didn't get to look at nearly as many Spring Thing games as I'd hoped, but all the same, I'm glad I got to The Bright Blue Ball. It's surprisingly cheery for something with the topic BBB has, and I don't think I was the only one who needed that. I'm more a cat person than a dog person, but I wound up being quickly invested in the protagonist, who escapes from their safe home to look impulsively for, as the title suggests, a bright blue ball. It's their favorite, and they know they should know better, and they feel bad the moment they're out the door, but they have to find it. And they have quite an adventure before coming home.

It's no spoiler to mention that, yes, you do find the ball, meeting people along the way and solving the mystery for you-the-player without you-the-character fully understanding what's going on beyond their own needs and the needs of humans they meet in a deserted town. This is hardly new, but here it doesn't feel forced, and so I had the impression the author had good command of the story side of things. For instance, if you went back home too early, your family would say different things based on how far along you were in the game. As to why they can't or won't go outside, while others are, that makes a good deal of sense quickly. The constraints, such as being able to carry only one thing at once because you are a dog, aren't just there as a nuisance. They add to the realism, and here the inventory limits are complemented by not having a lot of useless items.

As an example of the strength of the game world, I ran into a game-state problem where I was locked out of a win (I took a circuitous route that missed a few clues and thus stress-tested things rigorously,) and it was pretty clear, because a room description conflicted with the narrative built up. But it was easy to remember what to do, and I enjoyed seeing clues I'd missed, and so forth. When something potentially disastrous like that works out okay, you know you have something good. And if this is fixed in the latest release, so much the better!

While it's dreadfully unfair to compare a first-time author's work to something like Toby's Nose in detail, I think it carves out emotions and story that Toby's Nose doesn't, and it offers promise that there are others. I'd like to see more games where SMELL is a prominent command. And I think the technical mistakes I saw were that of a first-time author, so if they have something else to share, I'm looking forward to their next work. They seem to have the important and harder-to-teach things right.

Espiritu Roboto, by Ray Leandro
Robot near end-of-use finds self-fulfillment, friends, May 15, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: TALP 2022

Espiritu Roboto establishes a lane early, and it's a strong one: you're a robot who is about to undergo repair or, more likely, a memory wipe. In your dialog with another machine, there are a bunch of errors reminiscent of an unhelpful parser in the starting cut-scene, and bam, you're dropped beneath a house where you and other robots work. Early on, you try to get back to work, but something is clearly wrong in a hurry. You don't want to go through reprogramming/repair/death, so you set your sights on escaping.

There are, of course, obstacles to get by. Some are physical and inanimate, some are robots, and some are human. There are even cats that obstruct you for a while. You have a dark area you need to find a light source for. You'll probably see where the escape is, but you don't have the skills to get out. For that, you need to find another entity.

An entity beyond the robot spirit (implied by the game's title) you pray to--this is a neat bit of verb choice, with THINK reminding you of what you did and PRAY asking new questions. While the question list gets filled up near the end--some clues are removed, and others aren't--it's still handy and efficient, and it's not the only custom verb that works well. They're all clued, and the parser has covered a lot of good guesses.

Surprisingly for a game about robots, the puzzles aren't really where it's at. That may say more about the narrative, or how the puzzles were combined into a very solid story for such a small game. For instance, in a library, you need to push stuff out of the way, but then to blend in with humans you need something else. There's a sign on a door that says "NO ROBOTS," and getting by is a puzzle, but once you reflect on things, it's all a bit sad and frustrating. And in one case, a solution to one puzzle temporarily blocks getting another item you need, but it makes a lot of sense.

The only place where I got in trouble was when I assumed an item had just one use. I visited a place far away (well, relatively--the map is not huge, and I'm grateful the author drew up a map) and used the item there instead of nearby. Using it nearby didn't quite register as it almost felt too on-the-nose. I can imagine others getting stuck here, especially since if you PRAY, the robot spirit assumes you used the item in the almost-too-obvious place, so I'll note (Spoiler - click to show)the laser pointer has two uses.

That's really minor, though. Espirito Roboto worked for me. I'd also like to call out its graphics as a clear positive. There's nothing super-fancy, but there's good variety, and it feels whimsical without feeling dashed off or calling attention to its absurdity. This sort of snuck up on me, and at some point I turned around and said, yeah, good job there.

There are a lot of longer games that go into emotions more in-depth than ER, but sometimes I am just not up to them. I often don't have the energy to fully appreciate them, so in a way, ER provided a sort of tutorial experience for someone who knows parser games but is a bit wary of taking on a huge dystopia or too-heavy issues. It had a high return on time invested for me, with just a bit of unhappiness and servitude and looking to connect with someone else who understands, someone beyond the bartender who serves bacon-laced alcoholic drinks. This was enough to push me to remember my own nuisance I wanted, and still want to, move on from.

Library Quest, by starflame149
Cute graphics, but be exact with nouns, May 15, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: TALP 2022

The cheery graphics in Library Quest quickly help reassure you nobody is going to be shushing you as you move between locations, or telling you to finally sit down and stop adventuring, or whatever. There's no deep research as you look to repair your mother's favorite vase, but there is exploration and discovery. So it's pretty low-key, and the atmosphere is favorable for a TALP game.

There are tangles, and I'd like to get them out of the way so you know what you can enjoy. Stuff like having the player DROP VASE to find a new and important item once you start looking on the ground is generally effective, and it wasn't until I finished the tutorial that I realized it was more on rails than I expected. Which was okay. Things don't have to be perfectly realistic, but sometimes the tutorial has you do stuff you don't use again, as when things taught to the player are only used once (GIVE ITEM, for instance--this is important for text adventures in general, but it distracted me a bit.) Other times, it works a lot better. You learn spells from scrolls, and the tutorial offers shortcuts by saying CAST and then a number. So that works okay, though there's some fiddling to X SCROLL, which gives a disambiguation question, then GET SCROLL, which gives another.

I'm being a bit fussy here, but this sort of thing slows things down and makes the tutorial feel a bit remedial and may also give a player the experience that all parser games force you to fight the parser. It seems fixable, though, as I think Adventuron has "does the player mean"-style coding syntax. And it's hardly fatal. But it's there.

So you go through the library, generally using one scroll to find the next, sometimes asking the librarian at the front about things. I got stuck there as I didn't fully spell out an item I needed. I managed to ask about (Spoiler - click to show)STOREROOM, STOREROOM DOOR, DOOR and KEY, without asking for the right thing. One hint also seemed to be misplaced--there's a plant you need to get by to read something on the desk, but the clue as to what verb to use is in a note on the desk. Then later I assumed I had another action was implicit. So the game feels a bit pedantic with what you need to do, even for a tutorial jam.

It's still got its share of fun, though. Once I was done, I was left wishing there was more of it. The spellcasting mechanic is well done, and the puzzle in the restricted area was foreshadowed nicely. Once things clicked, they clicked. And while I noticed occasional bugs (blank responses to retrying things that pushed the game forward) and also one scroll that kept reappearing if you searched the bookshelf twice, the world was well-built enough that the author can and probably will fix that sort of thing quickly, rendering parts of this review obsolete. (I never did figure (Spoiler - click to show)what the bucket or the water spell was for, either.)

But this is one of those games where I found a lot of quibbles because I was glad to pay attention. I could definitely do with an expanded version featuring more of an emphasis on exploring a logically laid-out library (e.g. rooms/branches for different subjects or combining spells) and less on fiddling with the parser.

Kobold in Search for Family, by tosxychor
Satisfying if slightly bumpy, May 14, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: TALP 2022

I admit the title put me off a bit. The wrong preposition could signal much more serious problems. But fortunately the game turned out not just satisfactory but satisfying for me, even though some of the puzzles would wind up forcing me to wangle more than average.

The plot is simple. You, as a young kobold, fall off a cart and wind up in a human city. Since humans don't like kobolds, you need to sneak around. The first puzzle seems simple: find a disguise to blend in. Except it's not that easy! And that's where some custom verbs, along with USE X ON Y syntax (something I'm a big fan of), kick in. One custom verb in particular is clued and makes sense, and it's phased out as you solve puzzles.

You also have SEARCH MEMORY to see if you need to do anything in a location. It's interesting to require such a long command for hints--it certainly deterred me for going to spoilers. However, sometimes I went in for a spoiler when I didn't need to. I had the puzzle figured, but I didn't quite have the right syntax, so I wound up checking if I was on the right track. I was, and things seemed clued well enough, but this broke immersion a bit despite SEARCH MEMORY avoiding fourth walls. For instance, one puzzle requires USE X ON Y, but I didn't take X because X seemed kind of heavy and similar to another object I couldn't pick up. So I went with a bit of parser trial-and-error, but fortunately, there were very few errors to make.

There are also a few auto-deaths with timed puzzles where humans are getting closer. You just have to leave and return to reset the timer, but it's enough to create atmosphere. I wound up running ahead too fast after solving one non-timed puzzle, not realizing a useful item I left behind. So I thought "okay, okay, timed puzzle" while it happened, but it had a knock-on effect: I was that kid, running ahead, looking for their family, not taking the time to get centered and see everything that could help.

The timed puzzles start out pretty easy (just take something and leave) but the final puzzle requires a bit of prep beforehand. In one case, using a verb with an implicit object not only gives a reject but uses a turn. That's not too bad, as you can auto-save, but it's not very hospitable. I also worried I'd gotten in an unwinnable state when I seemed to have consumed an item I didn't, due to a reject message ((Spoiler - click to show)the game says you burned the plain stick, though it's still in your inventory).

Nevertheless, what was going on was pretty clear. There were a few "you can't quite do that" moments that forced me to make logic leaps that were generally pleasing once I pushed on to the next room. And while it's pretty linear, there are clues of side locations once you're stuck, and you'll realize you're stuck. The final puzzle has probably been seen and done before, but it's well done. At what I didn't know was the final room at the time, I felt the game might be ruined if it dragged on too much. There was potential for a maze, but the author cut things off, and it made for a strong or at least tidy ending.

So KiSfF has some rough spots, enough a post-comp release could boost it nicely (lots of parser clarification, implicit verbs and verb synonyms, and also custom bits like changing the RESTART from the generic "Would you like to forfeit the game?") but they're the sort that I think if you know of them ahead of time, you'll be prepared to sit back and enjoy it. And the tutorial does a good job of showing you what you can do.

Danse Nocturne, by Joey Jones

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
memories of year-end speedIf ... and (successful) experimentation, May 6, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

For the first Year-End Speed-IF I participated in, I was a bit worried I wouldn't fit everything in that was suggested. I was assured that was okay. I did my best. There were some really good efforts that put everything together. I was proud to sit down and get writing. I think I got some good laughs. Danse Nocturne got more.

It didn't contain any of the suggested items or plot lines. It was definitely its own thing--not guess-the-verb--more guess the adverb, telling you how you, as a lady being courted, should dance. A lot is clued in the story and text, but you can guess and improvise and go against the story's grain without punishment, too. Guess-the-adverb works rather better and not just because you're spotted the last two letters immediately. There's no real way to gauge, at least at first, how well you're doing or what ending you'll get to the poem. There are several, and based on the stanzas you get, you decide what to do next. Guessing wrong gives an interlude-ish sort of line, which is far cheerier than the standard parser errors.

So this is a sort of guessing game, and there's not necessarily a right answer. You just follow it where it goes, and generally after fewer than twenty adverbs, you get an ending. They run the gamut of emotions.

I don't want to spoil the mechanics too much other than to say it's a Speed-IF game and there's no huge surprise and no need to twist your brain, but there's enough you'll keep engaged and probably won't try experimenting formally and measuring what does what for a while. It's possible, but it ruins the experience if you do so too soon.

So I was impressed and glad Joey broke the rules to bring everyone Danse Nocturne. I wanted to see the source, but I'm glad waiting for the source somehow got lost in the shuffle. I think I had a binary on my computer that I poked at, trying to figure the mechanics, and when I finally noticed the source was up, I was a bit sad to lose some of the mystique. But as a programmer, it was very nice to see relatively simple code (the long topic snippets amuse me--Joey recognized coding conventions were the last thing to worry about when trying to cram content into a 3-hour speed-IF, and he had things set up so adverbs could be added easily) bring complexity into speed-IF, and it reminded me that things are out there, where you don't have to be fancy. There are still rules to be broken the right way. In this case, it's guess-the-word, but it's robust and interesting and engaging, and it's hard to get stuck.

I'm glad I've had Danse Nocturne going in and out of my playing experiences over the years, and even if I'll never write anything like it, it guides the way for the sort of effective rule-breaking I like to see and maybe even do. It's one of those positive oddities where you say "I must know how they do this" but you don't want to know righ t away, as it spoils a bit of the fun.

A Tale of the Cave, by Snoother
This game, though small, filks McGonagall/A poet so bad it makes us glad, May 5, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

The author told me about this game long ago and I never got around to playing it. He hasn't logged in for 5 years (since 2017) and seems to have disowned some of his early stuff, but this remains. It's a tribute to the very bad poetry of William McGonagall, which is now available in the public domain. I think I went and read it all and forgot to come back to ToC. One thing sticks with me more than any of his poems: someone claimed McGonagall would think twice about moving away from Dundee before the year 1893.

ToC is blandly titled and has little plot, and the only puzzle is an odd one, but that's appropriate, given how McGonagall's poetry itself is not especially rich, and it explores well-known rhymes and overused images. ToC is rather short and all in poetry, with very few rooms and only one real puzzle, but of course too much McGonagall could be, well, too much. At some point, we get the point, and that's that. The cadences are all in the McGonagall style, and years after reading him, I wasn't able to pick out what was original stuff by the author and what was fake. But it was all pleasant. McGonagall wasn't particularly known for his epic poems, and those that were kind of ruined the joke.

There are other, deeper poetry-based games out there, but this is amusing and a nice introduction, and I wish I'd remembered to look at ToC before the author left, so I could say thanks to him.

ToC feels like something that could be expanded a bit for other projects or for other authors (I'd love if someone did an Amanda McKitrick Ros matchup, as bad prose tends to take longer to grate than bad poetry--I believe the author may have let me know about her, too!) and there have certainly been more robust efforts. But this does the job for what it wants to be, and if the author has rejected other juvenilia, he has his reasons, but he was right to keep this up. It's a small joke but a good one.

Barry Basic and the Quest for the Perfect Port, by Dee Cooke

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The origins of Barry Basic, with some secondhand nostalgia, May 4, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

It's hard to capture the feeling of discovering a new programming language or system and seeing that, yes, some things you always hoped were simple are, indeed. Or that new feature is a bit different in ways you didn't expect. There's a lot of plowing through stuff and educated guessing until it works. There can only be so many ways to do it wrong, right?

That's usually not so hot in games. The plowing through stuff had better be obfuscated by an adventure, or it should be pretty short, and in BBQPP, you get both. It's a two-room game, with Barry's computer room (old BBC Micro, new ZX Spectrum) and the downstairs room where a new package has come in. So there's a bit of excitement built up here and a bit of nostalgia as well, even though I never had a Micro or Spectrum. I did have various programming books I understood progressively more of, the more I programmed them and ran them and tweaked them, and years later I was excited to a PDF-scanned version of a sequel to a childhood favorite. I'm sure Barry did the same sort of tweaking, too, though I don't think a wash-rinse-repeat in BBQPP itself would've been beneficial.

BBQPP doesn't tell you the commands to win, and while it's a guess-the-verb sort of puzzle, the verb isn't too hard to guess, and it feels like when I'm learning a programming language. I start looking for too-obscure stuff before realizing the solution was simple, and it should be, or nobody would want to move over to the cool new programming language.

The first installment of Barry Basic isn't as robust as the ones that came after it, but it wasn't supposed to be, since it was for a jam with a very specific purpose, and I believe it hit the target there without micromanaging the player. But it captured moments of discovery I remember for my youth. Perhaps it only did so because I had already played and enjoyed the two Barry Basic games (as of May 2022--cross one's fingers) that followed it and wanted just a bit more. But it did so nonetheless and reminded me I didn't need any extraordinary excitement or huge fights to have those moments. I wound up looking a lot of odd programming stuff immediately after playing it.

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