Reviews by Andrew Schultz

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The Life (and Deaths) of Doctor M, by Michael D. Hilborn

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Love or hate your protagonist, there's a lot in here, January 27, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

LDDM was, strictly speaking, too long for IFComp. But I'm glad it was in there. It was immensely demanding and rewarding, and it gave me much more to think about than the average work that assures you it is Making You Think. It managed to both place high and win the Golden Banana. Sixth is the highest place for an IFComp Banana winner, though A Paradox Between World achieved a higher percentile in 2021, being #10 of 71, versus #6 of 39.

LDDM deals with the concept of assisted suicide. You, Doctor M, are a purveyor of it, to the famous and anonymous, to the rich and poor. But the question is: are you a good person or a bad one? Throughout LDDM, you see evidence for and against it. There are awful people you please and annoy and good people you please and annoy. People argue it's done for fame, and others argue it was not. Some of your patients seemed to give full consent, and some didn't, and in some cases it may not have been so humane. Then there is the mystery of your death. I felt like LDDM did a good job of keeping things neutral while still being exciting to play through. It reminded me of the one chapter in Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot where the narrator alternately blocked out events from Flaubert's life so as to make a work like Madame Bovary seem inevitable or impossible. Flaubert had all the privilege in the world, or he had all the bad luck. And, less universally, we've all had times where we felt we were obviously hard done by, but others assured us we weren't, or we've seen people balanced on the knife-edge.

So what must you, as the spirit of the recently deceased Dr. M., do? In a surreal afterlife, you need to look for closure in your own life. It's a long way off. You wind up revisiting the scene of your first euthanasia, your most famous one, and your last appointment. Along the way you meet an angel and devil. Each suggests you need to go with them. They're at a bar, and you need to fix the taps, so they each get a drink. Then there's a library, which amused me greatly--you've forgotten your own life, and in some cases, you need to look up information on people who died after you, because apparently you spent a lot of time sleeping in the afterlife. I wound up searching these people after climbing up and down a ladder to access their biographies, and the end result was a puddle of books on the floor.

This all feels like research, meaningful research, especially when paired with how you have to ask NPCs about all sorts of things, and while I hate full-blown amnesia games, the act of recovering your mortal past was quite fulfilling. I think this was also my first real exposure to abbreviated parser commands, where you could A (SUBJECT) instead of ASK ABOUT. As the years went by, I think I felt smarter and smarter that I'd figured it for myself. Oops!

When I finally visited my former patients, I actually messed up a few times. One has dementia, and I found the randomness of their response (you had to gain assent) favorably unsettling. I don't want to spoil the final one beyond saying it seems both tragic and logical, and once fame is part of the social calculus, it really sinks its teeth in and clouds moral clarity.

This isn't to say LDDM is a big long sermon. I love the surreal world it's in, with a door leading different places when unlocked with a different key. There are certain rules you find out in the afterlife, too. And there are swift dabs of humor, such as repeatedly ringing a bell to summon Death when Death's there. I love the denouements as a reward, too. It's not hard at all to figure the good, bad or neutral endings, which are effective. And in an odd way, it mirrors Cana According to Micah in that both can let you decide how good a person you feel you were.

LDDM is a long game, and I don't blame you if you pull out a walkthrough. When I replayed it, I went straight through and still slipped up, which led to some interesting sidelines. I can't even begin to discuss the morality of euthanasia, but I enjoyed the shades of grey this anything-but-grey game elicited, both when I played it in 2011 and now, when I revisited it. It was my favorite game I could vote on in IFComp 2011 (I tested Six) and I think its length may have turned some people off. But it gave a lot to think about, not just about life and death, but all those times you hoped you were doing things for the right reasons, or you wondered if someone else was, whether you liked or disliked them.

Cana According To Micah, by Christopher Huang (as Rev. Stephen Dawson)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Surprisingly touching Biblical apocrypha, January 26, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

I probably wasn't ready for CATM back in 2011, the first year I really tried reviewing IFComp games. I was just trying to get through all the comp games, and this one pushed back at me, but not in the "oops, I'm broken" way. So I couldn't help I was missing something. Everything seemed a bit off to me: even the pen name, Rev. Stephen Dawson, seemed like a pedantic boor who debated endless theological points enough to scare people from church. Anna, an NPC, behaved cluelessly and almost annoyingly, yet she was trying to help. It seemed.

And there was a wedding feast, which I can only assume was the 30 AD equivalent of a cocktail party. (I don't like weddings.) This probably contributed to CATM being dinged a bit in the final standings. But I sat down and found several ways through it, such as they were, and -- well, looking back, I'm not surprised the author went on to publish a novel later, one that appears in my local library system, no less.

CATM isn't a big game. The mansion where you serve is just eight rooms, and the other bits are more straightforward. Yet it took a good deal of diligently fighting through the in-game hints to push through--they don't spoil everything, and I think they even manipulate you into trying things you otherwise wouldn't. I could complain that they don't appear or disappear when they should, but maybe it's my fault for losing faith that early. But you have to manipulate people in order to move the plot. Jesus/Joshua apparently isn't thrilled about the whole turn water-to-wine thing, and unless he has strong motivation, he's not going to. You can't convince him on your own. The whole water-to-wine thing is also subverted with an early puzzle, where you run into John, and, well, Jesus played a small trick on him. John deserved it.

Getting Joshua to perform a miracle without nagging is thus the main thrust of the story. You're sort-of aided by a young orphan named Anna (there are a lot of subtler anachronisms you may miss if just trying to solve CATM.) She causes a set of shelves to collapse, which seems awful, but it just says, okay, there's nothing at the top, so don't bother to look for a ladder. Later she becomes part of a small moral dilemma that leads to branching endings. In the main good one, Joshua lets you know that he isn't a stickler about some things, and you did right. Yet it's easy to imagine these days people with far less than Godlike powers deliberately putting subordinates into impossible positions. So that was an unexpectedly revealing moment.

It's never quite clear how far you are in the plot--you need some NPCs' help to point out other NPCs, and the upper-right, instead of "10/10," is in Bible verse format, which is sort of cute. So there's some ambiguity, but I think that's planned, because your fellow servants Amos and Martha are often sent to town to perform errands. There's a lot of personal interaction implied and required. Though the author deliberately leaves you hanging about one particularly tedious action before speeding it up drastically, as if to say, I don't want you to focus on that. It's not a miracle by any sense, but it's a benevolent way for the author himself to play God.

I missed a lot of the humor of CATM the first time through, and I'm glad I gave it another chance. Parts still feel a bit sticky years later, but I think that's more to the author's discretion. CATM doesn't let things happen too easily, and it nearly forces you to interact with the NPCs and try things to see what to ask about and gives you several chances to solve things as a decent person or as a jerk or worse. It's an interesting bit of speculative apocrypha that avoids crazy humor and asks some what-ifs within the story.

The Troll and the Teddy, by Llewelyn 'NylePudding' Griffiths

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Maybe only one puzzle, but a sweet and funny one, January 25, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Adventuron 2019 CaveJam

Here's an old one: A troll sleeps in front of his cave. There's treasure inside. The troll won't give up said treasure unless you're clever.

The twist? He's not hostile in the least. You need to do him a small favor. The title may spoil it. His cave isn't very big, but it's lovingly laid out, with a treasure room and clothing room and even a book.

The main puzzle, how to wake up the troll and make friends, is not hard and may partially be spoiled by the title. But no matter. It's an economical game, and the puzzle, indeed, makes emotional sense. You simply help the troll sleep better. He's remarkably generous, but perhaps he had enough treasure, anyway.

I can see why a game like this placed in the bottom half of the Adventuron CaveJam, because it's not terribly complex, and there's not a lot of tension, but with the delightfully blocky just-so graphics and surprisingly charming goal, I had myself a good time. The competition would've been less without it, and if Adventuron keeps giving people the ability to produce games like that, I'm glad to have more of them to play.

Slasher Swamp, by Robot

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Surprisingly fun, with perspective and a walkthrough, at least, January 25, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

We all have games like Slasher Swamp, ones that maybe aren't terribly good, but we played them and enjoyed them for what they were. Perhaps there were better games out there, but Slasher Swamp had a simple enough premise, and the world, while big, only had so many items and so many death traps. So when, on replaying it, I stumbled into an instadeath, I could just reload and try again.

The premise is: your truck (pickup, I assume) is headed for Miami on Spring Break when it breaks down in a swamp. There are all sorts of decrepit buildings and mazes to navigate. You need a combination of good luck charms and weapons to survive. There's little clue what you need if you stumble onto a fatal obstacle, though there's plenty of gore. Then you open another area, mostly through examining stuff and finding a tripwire. This all culminates in a battle in an otherwise innocuous straw hut in the corner of the map.

Along the way you find a severed head and revolver and even some useless items like a King of Spades and Queen of Clubs in an otherwise irrelevant area, which hinted at, perhaps, a few puzzles the author could not slip in before IFComp. Perhaps it's better that way. Too big, and Slasher Swamp would've lost its fun. Looting an abandoned house and gas station is enough. There's even an outhouse and, of course, a side-warping map with non-reciprocal directions. There's a secluded shack, too, not to be confused with the hut. The whole deal is surprisingly dry-goods (find item B in area A, then D in area C since B gives you protection,) and there really is a lack of subtlety. But it is fun for all that. The descriptions seem to beg you to be scared, but I have to admit, they have variety.

Replaying Slasher Swamp years after it was a sort of cult favorite in IFComp 2014 reminds me of other TV shows I enjoyed fondly, even if they weren't good. That one cartoon. Maybe even that one commercial that, these days, makes me smile more than the show it interruopted! You can't have a steady diet, but it has an undeniable enthusiasm and willingness to throw in everything that refreshes the spirit, if not indulged too often. Perhaps I'll have a different perspective seven years from now, in 2030. Somehow, though, it's more than the sum of its parts, and unironically better than you feel a game like this should be, which makes up for more highfalutin' games which miss the mark. We need a few like this. And I guess that's partly why I wrote a walkthrough and map for it years ago, so maybe when I'd need a break from the more mindbending stuff, I could have more simple enjoyments. I did. Maybe you will too.

The Bible Retold: The Bread and the Fishes, by Justin Morgan and Celestianpower

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Oh, God! You delegator!, January 24, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

BR:BF is a fun game, if some of the puzzles misfire. It's a jokey retelling of Jesus feeding a crowd with bread and fish. You, as Jesus, need to actually find the bread and fish. It's a tricky prospect. There are people to be healed, and once they are, your Father above--well, he certainly lets you know what to do next. It's kind of a goofy joke I don't want to spoil, but it doesn't get old. No great theological arguments are broached.

Some of the puzzles require Biblical knowledge, and one sort of does--or you can use trial and error. It's based on the number of verses in each chapter of Mark, which seems a bit odd, and there's a bit of arithmetic too. While i like having numbers integrated into a puzzle, this felt like busy work to me, although it also gave the feel of a big, lost place, and it was sort of neat and different to put different priorities on things you needed to map. You then unsurprisingly have to do something based on a Bible verse.

This all is a bit odd and uneven. But there are neat moments of talking with the people you've healed and getting very modest favors back from them in search of your big grand meal. I am, however, glad I had David Welbourn's walkthrough as a crutch, so I could enjoy the humor scattered through the game, and I found it interesting enough to replay for what I saw in the AMUSING menu. Certainly I studied it harder than those old Bible verses.

Oh, the ending is a funny take on things. Crowds being crowds, what they do is sort of expected, and it makes for a satisfying denouement.

Though BRBF's puzzles seem forced, I did enjoy the general storytelling and world and humor involved even if it never soars. So I do quite recommend it, but keep a walkthrough handy so it's not too frustrating. Navigating the addresses in the village is an arithmetic grind.

Pascal's Wager, by Doug Egan

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
What if God was one of six? Play this game and get your fix. Bleebleebloo, January 23, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

Pascal's Wager is an odd one, for sure. But it looks into something I dared to think when I was younger: if there are a bunch of gods, we're even less likely to pick the right one. Is heaven that exclusive? Did you get part-credit if you picked the right one, sort of? Limbo, at least? So many religions had ways to X you out if you screwed up the One True Faith anyway, and the "everyone can make it" ones seemed to give a nice afterlife as a participation trophy. I admitted I sort of looked at which gave the most potential reward for the least effort, which was probably not a paradise-worthy musing.

Pascal's Wager takes a different tack. It's decidedly funny. You can ask WHO IS GOD right off the bat, and there's also an item that shows you who the real God is. This requires some trial and error, but it's the sort the game invites. Then, you have to act in accordance with the deity's wishes. The result is a game with a lot of really irrelevant-seeming items or paths through, with a core of stuff to do right and NPCs who are, somehow, grounded in what's really what. I found the Bacchus path quite funny indeed. I care not how theologically accurate it may be.

Until then, it's not terribly clear what exactly to do (maybe this is just the confusion of youth,) although there are locked doors and such that dare you to open them. You'll probably hit the (generous) time limit, at first, resulting in a lot of being sent to hell by God, who usually asks you a trappy "didn't you consider X?" question. You lose either way. As if omnipotence isn't enough, he has to make you feel helpless one last time. I have to admit, after figuring who God was, he blasted me for being all prayer and no action. Ouch! Well, at least he told me what I should have done.

The basic run-through is as follows: childhood, teenage years, and finally adulthood. Who God is each time doesn't affect the run-throughs, but some items just don't matter. Mechanically, it's more a game about sneaking around than about any deep philosophical musings. There's nothing too intimidating, especially the second time through. It's a rather fun adventure to find the name of the True God.

So there's a surprising amount of subversion built into finding the True God, and I suppose that's what spirituality is about -- controlled, sensible good questions. Even unlocking the hints is an amusing trivial exercise. Each subsequent replay feels a bit more conventional, though, and what felt like subversion turns into checking off on details just to get through and not make mistakes. Which may be a mechanical weakness, but it also brings to mind the sort of person who thought they were very, very clever questioning God's existence and not letting you question their good faith asking the question. PW even seems to poke fun at straining too hard for spirituality--two characters seem to satirize the concept of a guru very lightly.

I have to admit, on winning, I got the five other scenarios queued up for later. In other words, not right away. PW is very funny, but replaying too much too soon is a bit of a slog, and I needed to take time to sit back and enjoy having so many different paths through what seemed like a samey story on the surface.

Present Quest, by Errol Elumir

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A few unrelated, odd puzzles that come together at the end, January 22, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Adventuron 2020 Christmas Comp

So about two-thirds of the way through Present Quest, I was baffled as to how and why it had won the Adventuron 2020 Christmas Jam. The puzzles seemed facile and, quite bluntly, a few things didn't add up. Everything was clunky and empty. Did nice graphics really go so far? Were the busy-work puzzles more captivating than I thought? The first puzzle, I needed a hint on, and I double-checked, and yeah, it was too obscure and vague! Then they got unrealistic. And what's up with the short names? Was I off-base, or we the fifteen people who rated the game? Why did I need the food and energy gauge, when they were so easy to recharge? I mean, yeah, content warning and such, and maybe people emphasized with the author, but a pity vote seemed too much. It was a bit odd the author latched on to a meme that peaked in 2008.

Well, by the end my perspective had changed. And it forced me to reconsider certain things about my own life. It made me think about my own time-wasters and why I did them, and whether or not they really helped. My past is probably different enough from yours that you will get something very different from it. Let's just say that I read the content warning, assumed a certain incident in the game was the bit referred to, and said "okay, that's bad, but I don't feel affected by things."

What is PQ at its core? To me, it felt like Progress Quest, where you progress just by having the app open, though I think there's a better explanation for the name in the spoilers than you finding a sligtly cringey Christmas present for Pel. It certainly gave me that idea that minimal progress was inevitable, and you were going through the motions. Even though, well, you have little things to keep you excited. You, Terry, have a ho-hum job that's not well-described. Your wife, Pel, cooks breakfast and takes the car in to have snow tires put on. One day she drives you. One day you take the bus.

Everything has a small puzzle weaved in. On the first day, you need to find a password to your computer. If you want, you can call Pel for hints. It was a bit tortuous the first time, and then when I thought I had the answer, I thought, no, that's silly, it's too short. A fellow named Gord came by and talked to me. He has no effect on the story, and the game warns you against talking to him, and boy do you get an earful if you ignore the game and TALK GORD twice in a row. (I skipped the first time.) The next day, on the bus, you have a small puzzle to figure the route number you need, and the photocopier is broken. Then you have a puzzle with trivial UNIX commands to shut down George Michael's "Last Christmas" playing in the office. Work goes by.

I managed to get better at the puzzles. But I was very close to saying, geez, really? A my lousy apartment game AND a my lousy job game, with because-it-is-there puzzles on top? But PQ seemed inoffensive, much like Terry himself, so it couldn't hurt.

Then the incident happened, and things went to smash, but not in the way expected. And, well, the realization--it didn't hurt, but it tripped off a few things from my own life, of personal crutches I'd kept and thrown off. I was impressed enough by PQ that I want to spoiler-tag the critical bits, but again, I'd encourage you to play through it. As for a walkthrough? I was planning to write one for CASA, just to give Adventuron games more coverage. But since all you have to do is call Pel repeaetedly. You do feel a bit naggy, and that's the point.

(Spoiler - click to show)Hm. Okay. I don't want it to be that easy. will decode the next line below.

Jryy, fbeg bs. Rnpu cnentencu orybj unf n qvssrerag ahzore va gur Pnrfne Pvcure. Gurer'f n jnl gb svther vg bhg bgure guna ol oehgr sbepr. Ohg V qb jnag gb tvir n ovg bs n ohssre gb jbex guebhtu vg, naq V unir ibvqrq fbzr cnegf bs gur cybg. Naq V jnagrq gb unir fbzrguvat gurer gb funer jvgu crbcyr jub'ir svavfurq CD, gb pbzcner abgrf. V ubcr vg'f abg gbb zrna naq va gur CD fcvevg. V pna'g cebzvfr nal rzbgvbany eriryngvba, gubhtu.

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Pdana sana okia reypkneao, pkk. Oawnydejc bkn khz huneyo wjz oknp kb ieo-naiaixanejc pdai wjz dwrejc Ckkcha pqnj pdai ql wjuswu--cnawp! Dawnejc pda okjc wcwej wjz nawhevejc E'z bknckppaj sdwp E hkkgaz ql, pdwp E oskna E'z naiaixan xaywqoa kb ykqnoa pda oejcan owez pdwp--kqyd! Xqp ep swo lnkcnaoo wjz hawnjejc. Wjz E dwz w ykskngan sdk odksaz ia w lnkfayp kb deo ej Y. Ep ykjranpaz w opnejc kb jqixano wjz klanwpkno pk w jqixan qoejc LAIZWO. E pdkqcdp E ykqhzj'p zk ep, E swoj'p jawnhu wzrwjyaz ajkqcd, wjz da owez E ykqhz, eb E ows ep necdp, wjz E dahlaz dei sepd okia kzz eilhaiajpwpekj zapweho. Da habp pda ykilwju odknphu wbpan, wjz bkn w sdeha, E skjzanaz "dks zez da zk pdwp," wjz kjya E becqnaz pdejco kqp, ep swo okiapdejc pk ck xwyg pk. Wjz ep dahlo pk pdeo zwu wo wj atanyeoa pk hawnj w jas lnkcnwiiejc hwjcqwca. Xqp ep swoj'p qjpeh E wllheaz ep pdwp ep dahlaz ia ikra bknswnz--pda ykjbezajya xkkop bnki owuejc "kd, pdwp'o dks da zez pda xwoeyo" skna kbb.

Qdt jxuhu muhu xebbem lysjehyui qbedw jxu mqo. Veh ydijqdsu, yj'i fhujjo uqio je adem xem je wuj weet qj VhuuSubb, rkj Y mekbt iehj ev huluhj je yj, qdt ulud myddydw q vum wqcui yd q hem tytd'j vuub weet. Eh jxuhu qhu/muhu fqydj-ro-dkcruhi fkppbui mxuhu Y adum jxu rqiys ijhqjuwo qdt mqid'j fkixydw vehmqht. Y cqo'lu beeaut temd ed Juhho'i vehckbqjut fkppbui, rkj Y xqt co emd.

O makyy oz'y zngz cge cozn Zkxxe, zuu. Noy jksktzog sgjk oz ngxj zu xkskshkx znotmy, gtj znay zu ju noy cuxq vxuvkxre (vkxngvy Hkxz gtj Muxj mobk nos yorre zgyqy/vaffrky yu Zkxxe jukyt'z yzxgot nosykrl cozn xkvuxzy) haz yurbotm vaffrky mgbk nos g iutlojktik huuyz ux inkkxkj nos av, atzor znke jojt'z gtj iuarjt'z, hkigayk znke ckxk zuu lgx ot znk vgyz gtj nk tkbkx subkj luxcgxj. Oz'y yigxe nuc znoy ngvvkty kbkt coznuaz jksktzog--O'bk gryu ngj se uct Muxjy gz cuxq cnu jojt'z yzuv zgrqotm, gtj ngbotm urj vxuhrksy zu irkgx se nkgj ul znkox iutbkxygzouty cuxqkj, atzor znke jojt'z. Oz'y grr bkxe ixakr kbkt ol eua jut'z ngbk jksktzog--xkgjotm urj yzall eua cxuzk, gtj cutjkxotm nuc eua znuamnz ul zngz, znuamn znk grzkxtgzobk oy "O cgyt'z znotqotm ghuaz sain, cgy O?" Yuskzosky O'bk igamnz seykrl ruuqotm gz znk Cgehgiq Sginotk lux nuc O luatj g ikxzgot vokik ul tuyzgrmog zngz O luxmuz zu huuqsgxq, gtj oz lkkry muuj zu xkzxgik gtj lomaxk znotmy uaz, gtj ekz O qtuc oz cgy zosk cgyzkj tuz lomaxotm uznkx tkgz tkc znotmy. Ux O cutjkxkj cnu zngz yammkyzkj lxoktj cgy, yuskutk O ynuarj qtuc, gtj oz noz sk g lkc jgey rgzkx. O qtuc znkxk oy yzall cuxzn rkzzotm mu ul, haz grr znk ygsk, znk lkkrotm ul ruyy oy gclar.

Ylb ugrf Rcppw'q nsxxjcq qncagdgayjjw zsgjr ypmslb fgq nyqr ylb rfgleq rfyr kyic fgk fynnw, dpmk qmkcmlc cjqc, ucjj ... wms ayl dccj fmu fgq zmyr fyq zccl qgligle dmp y ufgjc. Wms umlbcp ufyr'q lcvr. Ylb rfcl, md amspqc, Npcqclr Oscqr bmcql'r kcyl y npcqclr, zsr rfc npcqclr. Ylb ufgjc Rcppw zmsefr fgq hsqr zcdmpc rfc qfmn ajmqcb, fc lctcp emr y epgn ml rfc npcqclr. Ylb rfc rpslayrcb lykcq dgr gl ucjj ugrf fmu Rcppw ayl mljw npmacqq qm ksaf.

Mzp iuft Fqddk'e bgllxqe ebqouruomxxk nguxf mdagzp tue bmef mzp ftuzse ftmf ymwq tuy tmbbk, rday eayqazq qxeq, iqxx ... kag omz rqqx tai tue namf tme nqqz euzwuzs rad m ituxq. Kag iazpqd itmf'e zqjf. Mzp ftqz, ar oagdeq, Bdqeqzf Cgqef paqez'f yqmz m bdqeqzf, ngf ftq bdqeqzf. Mzp ituxq Fqddk nagstf tue vgef nqradq ftq etab oxaeqp, tq zqhqd saf m sdub az ftq bdqeqzf. Mzp ftq fdgzomfqp zmyqe ruf uz iqxx iuft tai Fqddk omz azxk bdaoqee ea ygot.

(Ghmx: rhn vhnew ybznkx patm mh khmtmx ur ybznkbgz patm max exmmxk B fnlm ux. Xoxg by B inm bm bg ehpxk-vtlx, rhn'w atox t tgw b tl lbgzex phkwl. Matm'l fr vhgmkbunmbhg mh max pahex insser ubm.)

Nose Bleed, by Stanley W. Baxton

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Oh hey! A metaphor I think I got! One I could apply to life, too!, January 22, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Nose Bleed was my clear favorite of the Texture games I played in IFComp, and I feel it is likely very worth the relatively little time to play through it. The bits that necessitate the content warning are not just there for street cred, too--they provide the right sort of discomfort, not "look how I can gross people out" but more "yeah, I've been there, even if I couldn't have admitted it before I started." The metaphor for the gore is pretty clear. Or, well, the main one I saw.

NB starts off as a "my lousy job" entry (an upper-class one, perhaps, but still lousy) which quickly aims for meaningful absurdism which, from my perspective, hits the mark. There are graphics at the right places, with some sort of vector-ish effect. Given the game's title, it's not too much of a spoiler to mention there are small blood splashes and lines of blood running down. Gritty realism in the blood trails is absent but unnecessary: the trailing line is straight, and the splashes are perfect circles.

This all leads to a puzzle at the end which may feel old hat or a cop-out once Texture is more mature, perhaps the Twine version of "pick the right link in a whoe maze of them." However, since I haven't played many Texture games, it's extremely effective, and if it does become a cliche, I'm glad it wasn't when I played NB. You feel as though you're fumbling in the dark for an escape, and it's the reason a walkthrough is included in the game. Even if you know what to do at the end, you don't quite know what to do.

This makes NB as much more than a "my lousy job" or "I hate my co-workers" fly-by. Details are left out on purpose. You have spontaneous nosebleeds. You try to ignore them. You fail. They stop, soon enough, but the damage is done. Someone notices. They pin you down a bit. They may be a competitor, or a supervisor. There's a flashback. Expensive fabrics are involved. No matter what you do, it feels like you did the wrong thing. You'd like to run away or explain yourself or feel too cool to, but "you are too cowardly to be cowardly."

I've had few nosebleeds in real life, but I've picked a zit at the wrong time and not noticed I'd cut myself shaving until I got to work. Okay, I noticed before, but I thought I'd stopped the blood. But of course the blood in NB isn't just blood. I think we all have that area where we feel completely socially incapable, and we can't shake it, and the narrator does, too. There's that awful secret we don't want revealed, but if we take deliberate steps to cover it, someone could play detective and eventually figure what we were trying to cover. We worry we might be embarrassing others. Or ourselves. And yet, the people most likely to mention we are embarrassing them, well, they seem to be embarrassing us back, right? For me the story built to a very plausible "embarrass or be embarrassed" scenario. It brought to mind a lot of people who could on the one hand say "this hurts me more than it hurts you" and "you're embarrassing yourself more than you're embarrassing me, but it's still too much."

The ending may be open to interpretation, and perhaps it's the sort of surprise twist that isn't a surprise if you've read or played enough, but one part is very clear: the final person berating you spontaneously gets nosebleeds, too. This reminded me of people who said "Oh, X who is mocking you has their problems, too, you know, so don't judge them too harshly." It isn't clear how harshly we should judge X. But certainly there's latitude for saying, enough, already. Some people can't, or they can't point out others' obvious flaws, or don't want to, or it isn't in good taste. Or perhaps X had seemed to learn to deal with their own phobias, with jokes. Or perhaps X was someone on an Internet forum or twitter or wherever who was up front about their social anxiety, so up front they'd note other people didn't have nearly the barriers they did, so you all really need to stop whining for your own good. In any case, the big reveal allowed me to dislike my antagonist without judgment. On replay, I realized that was the sort of person I'd like to be indifferent to, and I've gotten better over the years.

These are my somewhat filtered-for-review thoughts. Nose Bleed's crisp presentation brought moments of where adults may even have told me "X has problems too!" I felt guilty wanting to call these people out and failing, mean at how I wanted to lash out, and cowardly because I didn't. The author isn't explicit about their sympathies, though I suspect they lean towards the player. You do have to note people like your assailant have their own problems, but they also have to fix them, and if they assert power over you, why should you help them?

Given all this, NB was much better than someone very, very well-meaning saying "oh you know bullies are empty inside" or "they only pick on you out of insecurity" or even "I understand, but don't let it get you down!" And I realized something else: it doesn't resort to ALL CAPS, which is such a temptation when discussing social anxiety and, I'd guess, a metaphoric nosebleed on its own.

I had several short reflections mid-game of saying oh geez yes it can be horrible like this. But then I had a much quicker bounce-back than I might have had ten years ago. There were people from my past the antagonist reminded me of. I didn't have things like NB to help me take a step back and see through their charades. It's too late to push back at them, but at least NB helps me push them further out of my mind. Looking back on the blurb, it's hard not to laugh at the experience of playing NB and, yes, at some people who said something similar years ago.

The Bible Retold: The Lost Sheep, by Ben Pennington

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Simple game with cute auto-walkthrough feature, January 21, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

Lost Sheep entered in the first IFComp where I judged. I was kind of shocked to see that, yes, a lot of IFComp games could be both relatively simple and satisfying.

In this case, there was a simple game where you needed to find your one lost sheep of a hundred. The sheep's a bit reticent, as while it's pretty clear where it went (the game is not big,) it bounces between locations. The puzzle was a bit of a trick--fortunately there aren't too many items, and the puzzle is more about ancient history and progress than the Bible. Then there's a fun part where you are blocked by water buffalo.

But what stuck with me was that, well, you could type WALKTHROUGH not just for a walkthrough but for the commands remaining! I thought about this trick a lot. How did they do it? After some thinking, I realize it wasn't terribly esoteric, but it was a neat bit of engineering I'm a bit disappointed more games haven't implemented. Perhaps it would only get the player so far, so the text didn't scroll off the screen.

This doesn't make BRLS a blockbuster, but it provides a niche. It's all very pleasant, even with funny things to try once you've won. They don't bring the house down, but together, they add light-hearted deaths and even some odd fourth-wall stuff. Perhaps I'm biased favorably because I remember the puzzle to get through, but I still find BRLS something neat to go back to just to poke around. I'm on the fence about if that's mainly due to the WALKTHROUGH response, but either way, it's a short fun time.

One Way Ticket, by Vitalii Blinov

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Captivating and odd and flavorful, January 20, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

The cover art biased me early. It was obviously a train on the front cover but not quite like one I'd ever seen. Quirky the right way. But there was more than cover art–the in-game pictures reminded me of Tove Jansson, and so did the writing. (If you don't know who Tove Jansson is, please do stop by your local library and read all the Moomintroll books as soon as possible!) The plot and puzzles and layout are great, too. And though I didn't get through OWT, I loved what I saw, and given how well put together it is, I sense I'm missing something silly. Somehow, between the end of IFComp and posting this review, I didn't figure it, either. I need to fix that. But I saw enough even getting halfway through!

OWT is set in a nonsense land in its own rules, where you take a train, but your trip is derailed halfway through. It's unclear why, but you debark in front of a very, very odd town. The mayor seems very uninterested in greeting you, so off you go to explore a store with legs (it walks away after dark) and visit some very odd characters indeed. But it's the best sort of oddity that never feels forced, and the translation gives a unique voice native English speakers would sound very artificial mimicing. For me it reinforced how far-away this place must be.

I'm still fuzzy on some aspects of why things are happening, but I suspect things will be revealed once I find my way through. It's been fun to learn the town's history and how it wouldn't fly in the real world, but it would clearly make sense to those living there for a while. A key mechanic is changing your free room at the tavern from day to night based on the puzzles. You switch out a moon and sun in a painting. This was reassuring to me–I didn't need to worry about messing up or taking too long–and it also fit in with "look! The natives are helpless!" Townspeople have bizarre reasons for not transporting you palces you need to go, and there are jackals who appear at night. One very fun scene has an NPC scare some of them away so you have a few more places to visit. It's even legitimately creepy to explore at night!

I got stuck trying to find golden sand and trying to help a man with four right arms get his pedicab going. (Just walking didn't work, due to some existential woes.) Then there was the gambling game I knew was rigged. These barriers and frustrations amused me immensely, and I don't know if any other comp entry has hit this nerve so well, and I'm eager to see more.

One word about the interface. It's not immediately obvious, but once you see how it works, it makes sense. The text for each location has clicky bits that either lose all their links (a compass appears below to show a big picture map to pick your next location) or just let you cycle between the scenery--this gets a bit awkward as you open more locations, and it would be nice to jump, but this is quibbling. A notepad in the upper left, when highlighted, lets you remember clues you picked up, and a knapsack in the upper right lets you use items. Clicking on the location lets you save a game. At first I panicked when I didn't see how or when to save (it's quite possible I skimmed the instructions) but quickly I acclimated–and I was glad not to have even the hint of a save/restart menu tarnishing the fantasy world I was in! TLDR: the visual design is very effective, and maybe it can't be used everywhere, but I hope OWT inspires others to improve their own.

OWT feels like it might not get the attention it deserves because 1) it has a custom format (I think) and is hosted outside IFComp and 2) it is translated. And there is one instance where the translation misleads the player–the "say goodbye" option in the tavern actually means "don't talk to the owner this time," and there's one instance where being called "buddy" feels jarring and too condescending and "friend" would've worked. These are very subtle degrees of connotation, though, and if something was lost in translation, well, what's left is very special, and we have more than enough. I've never been as disappointed in myself for not finishing a game as I have for OWT. It's legitimately, organically odd, the sort of oddness that won't jump in our face and beg us to experience it fully now for our own good or be stuffy squares for eternity. In other words, the kind our souls need more of.

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