Reviews by Andrew Schultz

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Chesstopia II, by John C. Knudsen

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Chess and time travel, but I want more, January 20, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

The author of the Peter Patzer series decided, after a long hiatus, to switch things up a bit. The Chesstopia series is a bit more serious, focusing on actual improvement and spreading appreciation of chess, and it doesn't have some of the parser bugs and helter-skelter feel that made Peter Patzer charming in its own way. The whole series shouldn't be very intimidating. I felt C2 was probably the most substantial of the three, but it should not take more than a half-hour.

The plot is this: Caissa, the chess Goddess who set you on the path to chess enlightenment in Chesstopia, has informed you that nobody can play chess because a bishop from her personal collection of sets is missing. Harsh, but she makes the rules.

Your quest consists of poking around the area. You have three stats: happiness, a chess rating, and strength. (Spoiler - click to show)None of these matter, and, in fact, they seem to increase or decrease your stats randomly. The time machine is the main attraction here. With it you visit historical figures and play chess with them--or not. Figuring whom to challenge and whom to evade is the main mechanical crux of C2. You have a few moral decisions, and once that's over, you report back to Caissa. You can actually fetch the missing bishop but lose.

This doesn't make C2 very replayable, beyond the slightly harsh but amusing insteadeaths. The first time through, though, it is fun to poke around, and it appears to be a lot less on rails than C1 or C3. Given how quickly the game ended once I found the bishop, I'd have hoped for more interaction with the NPCs crowded around Caissa at your home base, when mostly. There were all kinds of ideas I wish had been developed.

The other two entries are worth playing if you are a fan of chess, but the choices are a bit too obvious at times. Here there's imagination and conflict and a bit of loss, and you don't feel like being asked "Come on, you want to win, here, right?" C2 is fun for what it is, and it seems like the author had much more to offer, especially since they hosted a correspondence chess website. The conflicts of long games versus short games, tricks versus general knowledge, and so forth, seem like fertile ground that could keep non-chessplayers interested, stuff that might even be natural to the author but they might blow off as "but everybody knows that." (They don't! Experienced chess players forget that, yes, the Opera game or even Scholar's Mate was neat when we first saw it.) Instead C2 feels just a bit like wish fulfillment, though it's a wish I might not mind, either. Maybe Chess Limbo is where it's really at.

Darkiss! Wrath of the Vampire - Chapter 2: Journey to Hell, by Marco Vallarino

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Blasphemin' 2: Hellacious Boogaloo, January 19, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

In Darkiss 2, you're still Martin Voigt, the vampire. You've taken revenge on all the peons. So who's left? Well, the people you're fighting for power in the lowerarchy. The object? Acquire immunity from sunlight, no small task or boon. If all goes well, you'll meet Lilith, your creator and dream woman of sorts. Talk about moving up in the netherworld!

There's no direct violence, but malicious gift-giving fits just right in with a text adventure about bad people, and that's what happens. Oh, and every single room suggests physical, moral or emotional darkness. It's really gothic, but fortunately, it's not goth-kid.

The puzzles are a bit different, too. You have a few powers. You can become different things, such as the fog, a wolf, or a bat. Each has obvious restrictions but also abilities you need to find the very evil relics that you need to kill the very evil people who also like to kill and torture innocent people, though that's where your solidarity ends. Power-sharing and consensus-building aren't their way.

It's about twenty-five rooms all told, and many are just there for one puzzle, so it's not a huge game. And I'm impressed with the variety of puzzles and artifacts. For instance, at the start, there's a mountain, and it's pretty clear you'll have to change form to get to the top. Along the way you learn lore of the next horrible person to summon and how they'll probably kill you unless you're able to fool them. You even resurrect your old love, Sabrina, which is not particularly sappy. It's all part of the business of revenge. There's someone else to manipulate, and I'm impressed with how I was alternately disturbed and engrossed. The climax is a sequence of horrible acts that make perfect sense and tie some loose ends together.

This is all very well done. Part of me was disappointed you didn't use some forms more, or you only really hypnotized (your other power) one person. But I also realize that for this sort of chaos and evil-person-doing-evil-things, there's a point where it becomes too much. So much turns regular stories on its head--Martin finds a sword in a lake, which is like Excalibur except the opposite. And other puzzles are genuinely neat, such as bringing an item I wouldn't touch as a mortal down a mountain. And the NPCs make Darkiss 2 feel a bit fuller--even the brief bit with the vengeful Reverend Bauer left an impression on me, when I both killed him and let him kill me. Other deaths are worth visiting, too.

The story ends with a promise of Darkiss 3, where apparently Professor Anderson may get his revenge. This seems fitting, and I think the change of persepctive would fill in some holes nicely. Martin has been horrible enough, and I'm not sure what's left to do except maybe tackle Beelzebub himself. I'd be interested to see how Professor Anderson navigates Martin's immunity to sunlight, and how Martin plans to seize the day(light). Darkiss 2 doesn't have the obvious laughs Darkiss did, but I found it more involving, and if Darkiss 3, whenever it's published, matches up to either, it'll be worth the wait. The Darkiss games, being in text, have given me a sort of horror I couldn't take in movie form and even given me some surprising new angles on evil, how different types cooperate, and how to fight it.

The Adventures of Peter Patzer, Who Sought Masterhood and Returned Not Quite the Same, by John C. Knudsen

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Win at chess just once: the text adventure, January 19, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

I was glad to discover a chess game of sorts. Peter Patzer isn't particularly enlightened, but it has a few good jokes, and it's self-contained enough that certain places where I had to guess ran out of possibilities quickly. It feels like there were opportunities missed, but that's to be expected since AGT was relatively new when the author wrote this. Oh, and the author did a lot of work on AGT himself. It's tough to write both core code and stories at once.

PP isn't a huge game. It has fourteen rooms, ten of which are traps that force you to answer general-knowledge questions. Along the way, you will find the ghost of Alekhine, as well as actual people in Johnnie the janitor and a shady postman/operator and Slimy Harry the Hustler. He will beat you on the board if you play him, and also, he will kill you within nine moves whether or not you play him. The solution to make him disappear is a bit of a stretch, but it got a laugh out of me once I saw what to do. Also, I was amused you lost points if you played him in blitz chess. You can keep playing him for $10 even though you only have $10 on you.

Harry's aggression is one of two deaths--in fact, PP is polite on the Zarfian cruelty scale, as you can undo, for one move at least. (A limitation of AGT.) The other is on the sidewalk outside the chess club. You can walk into traffic, which is very Leisure Suit Larry, but without the theme song you can whistle along to.

PP certainly has its oddities. It's funny, in retrospect, the hidden room where the real people play (away from patzers like you,) even though none of them are implemented, which is a pity, because the room description offers so many possibilities. And certainly the concept of improving in chess does, too--how do you find adequate openings? Can you learn to mate with king and queen, or king and rook? Maybe you can learn a few middlegame tricks, not just so you can catch others, but so you avoid getting caught.

It really just boils down to a few quizzes, though. Get enough right, and the ghost boots you to the next area. Some are covered in a red book you find early on. Another is odd trivia I don't know as a pretty good chess player. And others bowdlerize the concept a bit: for instance, it's cool to know a knight can mate against a pawn, but here it's a yes/no question you can answer again without penalty, and you never see how.

That said, it was entertainment, if more thana bit rickety. The opponent you finally beat brought a chuckle out of me, especially considering the strides in technology since PP was written. Alas, the promised sequel never materialized. At least not with Peter Patzer along. I noticed the author wrote a Chesstopia series in Twine, and perhaps I should look into that. It's been a while since the author wrote PP, so they probably have a clearer vision of what they really want by now.

Darkiss! Wrath of the Vampire - Chapter 1: the Awakening, by Marco Vallarino

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An old-school supernatural comedy of grandiose entitlement, January 17, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

There's no shortage of text adventures where you play as a self-absorbed person who just wants stuff. Some are truly crude. Others are a bit too subtle. Some feature a kid who hasn't matured yet. And Darkiss, well, it features someone who's been around a good while. Martin Voigt, a vampire who has been imprisoned in his coffin by mere villagers. He doesn't want much. He just wants to even the score with, well, everyone who ever got in the way of him chasing his dark pleasures!

There's also been no shortage of "see the other side" works in IFComp. Under the Bridge, from this year (2022,) is one example. It helps humanize someone or smomething that is, on the surface, unlikable. i wish you were dead shows someone with apparent proof a lover cheated, but then it is not so clear what happened or who is at fault. And The Best Man from 2021 presents the mental machinations of a covert narcissist in shocking, disturbing "oh yuck I've been like that in what I hope are my very worst moments" ways.

Darkiss sees the other side, all right, but it neglects such nuance. The character is unapologetically awful and entitled and ruins the lives of mere mortals as he pleases. There are the ones who give him direct pleasure as he drinks their blood, and there are ones who get in the way, like the villagers who shut him in his coffin. Why, it drained him of his powers! Getting them back seems like the least he deserves. Well, to him.

Standard vampire tropes are at play here. You gain power by rediscovering your vampire get-up, complete with accessories. You need to summon demons even more powerful than yourself. All this can and should be disturbing, but the author laid a lot of clues to show he's winking at you and he knows the main character does not, in fact, deserve actual sympathy. Some dialogue with NPCs (Dracula was a good book, but what a sad ending) reinforces this as well. Plus, he, like, plays the violin and stuff! If that's not classy, what is?

Other humor is direct, yet not blunt. I almost feel the pain of the vampire who can't cross garlic fields or get the best of a mirror. There's a bit where his mind's a bit rusty, so he mis-counts the number of bats in the Bats room. And there's the appalling unfairness of how Doctor Anderson outfoxed Martin, and how Sabrina, your love from before you were captured, didn't make it!

Darkiss's puzzles are a bit old-school, which is fine with me. But they're mixed up well. It starts with almost a quiz, which gets you one point, and you work your way up to a 9-point puzzle at the end, indicating that, yes, it does get a bit trickier. Most every point scoring command has a different verb.

Darkiss, given its original Italian publication date of 2010, seems like a very clever and snappy response to the awful Twilight series of books. It wasn't a necessary reply, and it takes a decidedly different tack than the more focused parodies I read and enjoyed. It contains no darkly evil laughter and vows to rule the world one day with one's minions. It simply contains a protagonist who sees a lot and plans a lot and accounts for nearly everything except, well, the people he draws his energy from have a far shorter lifespan than he does, but still, he's entitled, because reasons. Playing along with the supernatural eternally spoiled brat is disturbing fun. And yet you feel the pain of Professor Anderson and the villagers in the face of such a menace.

The term "energy vampire" may not have been in widespread use in 2010, but it's certainly more prominent today. And I couldn't help but think of how Martin Voigt's exploits magnified the acts of some people I disliked. Darkiss went beyond just poking fun at vampire tropes to remind me of some people who, well, darned near drained everyone around them but felt aggrieved people didn't understand them enough and took extraordinary measures to keep their aura strong. Oh, the knowledge they sought! (Okay, we've all been drains on other people. Yes, that includes me. But I'm talking about the people who've honed their craft.) The text borders on actual text dumps, but the author seems to know just when to stop--it's like that coworker who you're about to tell "enough, don't bother me with chat for a week," but then he stops at the right time, which is kind of disappointing after five minutes, because you realize you kind of wanted an excuse to cut him off.

Only when Darkiss stops at the right time, it's more benevolent. It generally understands when a joke might fray and pushes you on to the next bit. And while my eyes glazed over at some bits, I could see myself gladly replaying in a few years' time to revisit just the sort of thing that shouldn't have worked for me on paper, but it did.

A Long Way to the Nearest Star, by SV Linwood

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An odd not-quite-friendship, big picture tech-futzing, deep-diving anthropology, January 17, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

I left some really good entries for the end of IFComp 2022, and LWNS was one of them. I confess, I bumped it to the back, because the subject seemed flat to me. Science fiction? Near-vacant ship? A sabotage mystery? Not my cup of tea. Plus there was an indication you had to deal with an AI. I put on my jargon-ducking helmet, only to find I didnt need it. LWNS wound up reminding me more of a buddy-cop sitcom than anything else. Not that it's full of jokes, but there's great interplay between the player-character, a thief whose own spaceship is on the blink after a hyperwarp to escape galactic police, and SOLIS, the AI in a host ship that the thief finds as fuel is low. SOLIS has kept the host ship going– well, sort of–with all the occupants dead. So there's a whodunit in addition to technical footing.

SOLIS's sarcasm and reticence to help with simple tasks suggests malfeasance, but unfolding the big answers isn't that easy. Fortunately, navigation is. While it's ostensibly a big ship, there are areas shut down for security purposes, so that helps with focus. You can visit the living quarters, but the core is off-limits. You need to not only butter SOLIS up the right way, but you need to discover evidence in datapads left by crew members. There's some finagling here. SOLIS knows who you are, being AI and all, but if you have the right passwords, there's not much it can do. It understands deeper things may be at work, and it understands there are things it doesn't understand. Oh--and passwords are inventory items you don't have to remember. Yay, anti-pedantry.

So you can focus on big picture stuff, like cleaning out the lab, where there were some important experiments. It's nice that things like getting the flashlight to work are done from an intuitive item menu. You use something, and if it's in the right place, it works, and unneeded items are discarded. The cluing's pretty good, too–at one point you need to fix a janitorbot, and even though there's a lot of futuristic technology, the puzzle's very much big-picture. The Internet having manuals for download is great, but here

It becomes increasingly obvious the deaths were not accidental, and as it does, your ability to call SOLIS is hampered. The game often suggests you may not want to ask a potentially hostile AI about THAT. And you don't, and there's usually a neat workaround. Then an action sequence at the end to defeat a weird monster provides an unexpected opportunity to cooperate with SOLIS, where it quite believably can't grasp what you're doing, or why, probably because its AI wasn't built for quick-thinking combat.

It's only near the end that you learn what SOLIS stands for. It doesn't really matter, and this is reiterated beforehand, but by that time you've gotten to know it well enough, you feel you have to. The ending put SOLIS's early actions and words in a new light for me, too. It reminds me of that scene in Hill Street Blues where Becker, the tough cop, finally finds the real name of the guy who keeps giving aliases like William Shakespeare. And I walked away with a very human perception of what SOLIS was, what they did, and why they did it. I've, well, been there. It's a human experience we've all had, and here it's done with almost technological detachment, until you realize what the guilty party did, and how it would be wrong to do to a person, but they probably felt clever doing so to an AI. Cognitive dissonance for AI's is all I can say. And I find it interesting LWNS was written in 2022, before the 2022 Merriam-Webster Word of the Year was rolled out. As I see it, SOLIS understands snark, or at least the mechanics of snark. But it doesn't understand deeper, darker stuff. It was emotionally hard, having to explain that through LWNS, even though I just had to click on and option and didn't have to think up the words.

Long Way has, according to the walkthrough, several endings. I did not see them all. But the one relatively neutral one I found provided me with enough food for thought. I've certainly sat through a bunch of "two lovable rogues" productions that made me groan a bit, where I didn't love either, whether it's in science fiction or an action movie or whatever, and I got the feeling they'd not really bonded, or the parting was too melodramatic or whatever, or there was humor, which got laughs, but it missed profound stuff. I can't call Long Way super-profound, as it doesn't want to shake you with its profundity. But at its heart it's about two entities who didn't expect the improvement and understanding that they wound up getting from the experience. Neither did I.

Note on similar works: it feels like Star Trek: The Next Generation is low-hanging fruit, where Data tries to understand what it's like to be human. The computer makes a good, if unemotional, limerick. And there's definite tension as we see whether SOLIS is more like Data or Data's evil twin Lore. But I was surprised how much it reminded me of Tunes for Bears to Dance To, by Robert Cormier, maybe my favorite young adult author. Henry, the protagonist, experiences some very troubling things indeed, despite a lack of melodrama. I rarely have an IFComp entry cut across genres like this.

According to Cain, by Jim Nelson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Alchemical Biblical story, hold the excess moralizing, January 17, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

So I was worried AtC would go heavy on the Biblical stuff. Fortunately, there's more alchemy than Bible verse grinding. On the surface, you may be able to guess what happens. Abel feels like that guy back your one high school who'd laugh at other people making mistakes or at people who knew a bit too much, and the teacher never quite caught on. You wondered how he got such good grades, but the teacher liked him! Murder, of course, was out of the question, but given that the fifth commandments is more about "thou shalt not hate" than "thou shalt not kill" (boy, I felt guilty about all those fruit flies and house flies for a good long while!) one can see how a person might sympathize with Cain. Abel is perfectly okay with Cain getting some nice stuff. So perfectly okay, all things considered, that Cain had better not lash out at him back. You could even say Abel was the first troll, as he
seems to make a nice* mix of concern trolling, boredom trolling, etc.

The angle is a bit different–there's a neat fantasy/academic element involved with you being able to go back in the past and scrounge around for Cain and Abel, with an envelope you can open at any time to return. In the past you dabble in a bit of alchemy. You find swatches of substances like sulphur and salt and so forth, and at critical points, you blend them together to gain revelations. There's a good deal of crank science that the author knows is crank science, but it has a neat bit of logic to it. It revolves around there being four people and four ancient Greek humors.

You need to learn what sort of person Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel were, and each time you figure what combination of reagents to use on a special item, you access a new memory. There are sixteen total, which makes for a good deal of symmetry, good to have for such a big work–the memories themselves have mnemonics or feel organized. That extends to the spellcasting you have to do, which contrasted with Adam tried to use magic to find a way back to Eden. You also learn some basic spells, but thankfully it's nothing like, say, memorizing the Ten Commandments and its explanations to the word. (I so hated that in confirmation!)

Two risks with this sort of work are that they may feel too "look, I'm being accurately biblical" or "look at how brilliantly I'm reinterpreting things" and it never really got that way for me. I think using known and anacchronistic pseudoscience worked very well to establish a fantasy feel without going fully silly mode, and I enjoyed how the pacing of revealed memories worked, and I confess I sped things up with the walkthrough to see what happened next. It's almost like the author has done this sort of thing before but in a different medium! Near the end, one of the moments I thought could happen and be very heavy-handed felt appropriate.

AtC ran the risk of being slapdash and smart-alecky all along, in that "THE EVIL GUY WAS THE GOOD GUY ALL ALONG AND VICE VERSA, HAHA" manner, but given the revelations are more gradual and nuanced, there's no chance of it being a hot take. Certainly I wound up thinking about "nice" (well, I couldn't prove they were mean) people from my past I should've been closer with. Nobody got killed, but certainly there was a good deal of maneuvering from people who said "you don't deserve something this nice, but I do, no offense, I'm not looking down on you or anything."

Unlike Sunday school or confirmation lessons, I never felt pressure to remember silly details I didn't think I would use. I was grateful for I would actually want to learn things, to fill in the holes that aren't there, on replay, and I certainly wouldn't feel obliged to memorize things. So AtC brought up an angle beyond "yep, some people who should've been figurative brothers weren't, and whose fault is that?" And it also addressed things I figured I'd better shut up about or get excommunicated ("for the first people ever, wasn't incest necessary? And isn't that a sin?")

TADS entries in IFComp are very rarely middling, and this is probably a function of the Inform community being bigger than the TADS community, and how people may either choose TADS and not get as much support as they would with Inform, or they may look at TADS and Inform and decide TADS has some features Inform doesn't, and they get a lot of help in the forums because people have been waiting for someone to share with. (I just stuck with Inform, and I know I've had "well, it works well enough" moments where someone pointed out, yes, here is one way in which TADS is more robust.) AtC is clearly on the upper end, and for all its being steeped in the past with its plot, it leaves me looking forward too, well, a future where more TADS games are written, and there is a bigger TADS community. There could be so much to gain.

Lucid, by Caliban's Revenge

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Unnerving supernatural powers beyond being able to retry endlessly, January 17, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Loop-til-you-win Twine entries always interest me. They feel efficient and tidy. You have some feedback on what you're doing right, and you will have to lawnmower a bit, but there are places to skip. The gold standard of loop-til-you-win may be Spider and Web, but we don't have to scale those heights. "Keep poking until you get it right" works, if there are enough tries, and you are told–hey, this part isn't useful yet, or that other part is. Lucid has the added advantage of remembering critical things you did, so if you die, you don't start entirely from scratch. It seems to combine the best parts of save points and also giving you the freedom to do things wrong. This may not be perfectly realistic without an explanation. Lucid gives none, because it's trying to invoke surreal supernatural darkness, and I think it does so–it's also a small enough world that the lack of undo makes you feel helpless but not frustrated. I wound up feeling uneasy with the knowledge and powers I'd gained, and the main character seems blown away by the writing on a cereal box underscores that nicely. I prefer this sort of thing to physical descriptions of gore.

You're not told who you are, as you explore a dark city, but the false branches (it's easy to get killed or escape, neither of which is meant to seem satisfactory) make it pretty clear you're here to do something, to sit and fight. But what are you fighting against, and what are you fighting for? That's what you discover. And Lucid , written in poetry form, hides certain things and makes others clear. The part mentioned in the walkthrough–that you stack progress even after a death–doesn't seem to appear in-game, until there's something clear. Then, I felt like I was off to the races. There were some places that should be inert but weren't. Some deaths were of the "don't bother again" sort, others of the "it's not time yet." And there were in-game shortcuts too. There's a high-rise apartment you have to climb the first couple times, which set atmosphere, but all the same I was glad I didn't have to repeat that once I'd figured things out. There's a man on a park bench who'll help you out. It's not idyllic.

With each power or item you acquire, Lucid feels more constricting, and this makes sense, given the ultimate ending. You have a destiny, of sorts. Your character is slightly aware of their changes, but you the reader may be even more aware.

I can't speak to precisely how good the poetry is, but given that it had definite high points for me (the grocery store and the residential tower) I think it's more than just "hey, look, I decided to make a line break after every 6 words and give the finger to strict capitalization!" I think reviewers more competent at that than I addressed details elsewhere, but they found a lot to like (so to speak–the game is not lovable.) So did I. I found it a bit rough around the edges, but that seemed more due to ambition than inattention. So it was a very worthwhile experience for me. That first bit may seem forbidding, and you may wonder what you're doing here, but it's worth holding tight until you find that first clue.

The Princess of Vestria, by KPO

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Well-executed medieval fantasy, January 17, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

I can't remember a medieval-fantasy IFComp entry executed as well as PoV. Often people write one just to try their hand at fiction, and it falls flat. And it may be the most entertaining game in IFComp 2022. Lost Coastlines borders on the surreal, and Only Possible Prom Dress has its share of wild puzzles where you will probably laugh at a few of them. But PoV reads like a fantasy novel, down to listing the chapter you're on, where you get to make choices and even fail. You get five lives, but with save/restore, you don't need them. It feels mainstream, which makes it a rarity for IFComp. It has no mind-blowing plot twists, but it has plenty of decisions to make and people to make and also has a neat ending where, the more friends you made, the more ways you have to win.

This is a winning formula for a lot of people, me included. You, as Princess Imelda, find your brother Prince Alexander has been poisoned. How, and why? Is it foreign intrigue or something magic?

A lot of the elements in here pop up in fantasy books: princess uses disguise to escape, princess is impeded by allies and enemies, princess befriends or works with someone initially hostile, princess is nice to poor person and gets unexpected aid, princess realized her royal family is potentially awful in ways she hadn't suspected. They're all combined for a fast-paced experience. You have choices whether to learn magic and when to use it, with a strong "it's the friends you make along the way" undercurrent. It reminded me a lot of the Lloyd Alexander books I read in my youth, except with graver risk.

Given that it's pretty easy to ditch certain companions (including your main one, whom I liked a lot. There's a very neat bit about him coloring his hair for disguise,) it might be fun to try and run through with them not around. It seems like complex work to decide which game-winning scenarios are allowable, and I'm quite curious if there's a way to lock yourself out of a win in the final chapter through sheer pigheadedness. There seems like an opportunity for pathos there, but it might be too cruel to the reader who's worked through so much. The final fight has several paths to victory depending on whom you take along, which is a neat touch. You don't have to be Ms. Super-Good.

I don't really have any huge criticisms. The introduction brushed me back a bit, since there's so much to establish. A lot of scrolling screens that set up the fantasy land history. And the end seems like an opportunity missed, as well. I never really understood what luck in the stats was for, as i only lost it once. A lot of actions in the final combat are repetitive and involve waiting for the right moment, and on getting your brother cured, you get a brief biography of your reign, and it's static, but below it are stats and attributes. This was largely noticeable because the middle breezed by so wonderfully, and I really enjoyed it. (Also: the music box puzzle others mentioned? I wasn't fully a fan, either, but I was glad for the walkthrough and explanation.)

Graveyard Strolls, by Adina Brodkin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Ghost Healer, no supernatural trinkets needed, January 17, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

I still don't particularly "get" Texture as a development system, as opposed to others: Ink, Twine, parser. However, it seems to produce a certain sort of effort I might otherwise ignore but for IFComp, and overall, I've enjoyed them. The GUI is just too fiddly for me, on a desktop or on a phone. But it does tamp down some of the special-effect excesses that can occur in Twine and ambiguities of the parser. You need to keep stuff tidy on one screen. It doesn't seem built for long works. GS felt like the most technically substantial of the IFComp texture entries, and it didn't feel too long.

My expectations certainly swerved through GS. Early on, you have a lot of player deaths, as you'd expect from a game named Graveyard Strolls. Whether you flee or not, you can get killed, unless you thread the needle. Most of the time, you'll figure what to do, but there are enough forks you will probably slip once later. Then, later, there are ghosts you have to face, which I assumed would be as lethal as the ones that struck from the blue to kill me. With a lack of undo feature, this was stressful indeed. Not just that my character would die, but I'd have to retrace my steps with a lot of mouse-tinkering!

So I don't know if this was fair, or if it was intentional, but it worked well in the end. It's possible I missed things in the introduction and what you were going to the graveyard to do. But suffice it to say chickening out is a bad idea.

After the death-trap gauntlet, you wind up meeting spirits who need help. They're disappointed. They may even believe bizarre things. Talking with them is not so tough, and perhaps just having two options, one that feels contrary to the spirit of investigating stuff, cuts across what I already mentioned with the quick deaths. It feels either too easy or too tough to make the right choice.

But that's just the mechanics. The stories are rather good, with ghosts unable to quite remember things, or even believing wrong things, and there's a nice pet, too, because why not?

Even without any potential player deaths near the end (I didn't have the heart to check) it was a surprisingly harrrowing experience, but nothing to leave me permanently freaked out. Certainly I needed time between finishing and writing a review to think of things. There's a feeling of helping people who most say can't be helped, and how much can we do for them? And is it worth it? And if there is an afterlife, can we change, and how much? It's been asked before, but there's always a new way. Most times, a living person brings back a talisman to put a spirit at rest. Here, there's a bit more dialogue. As a dedicated source-checker, my not seeing how much you could've done immediately is a positive suggestion of immersion.

The final ghost you help does feel like a good one to end on, too, even though the progression to them feels like it has some holes. I didn't mind that jump much. Perhaps adding one more ghost would work here. You dealt with stuff and helped others deal with things finally. That's a good feeling and an unexpected one given the deaths early on, and it had more suspense than I thought it would. So GS is a bit bumpy, especially early on, but I enjoyed the fantastical elements combined with just trying to connect.

Inside, by Ira Vlasenko

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Spells make the magician: what you know vs. what you use, January 16, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

This review is currently based on what I saw from playing and how I peeked ahead at the source code, so it isn't really based on a full experience. This is more due to my own bad time management than any huge bugs on the writer's part.

In this Ink game, you play as an accused witch–or is it an advisor to an accused witch, or a friendly spirit, or a familiar? It wasn't clear to me what you were, and I think that fits in with the general tone Inside wants to achieve. But the action is fast, right away. You must flee. And you do, to an underground lair with many terrors. I particularly enjoyed the encounter with the giant, where I wound up stuffing it to death with random foods.

That was quality enough that I felt bad getting tripped up at the next part. There were four doors to get through, but for one, potions were to be mixed, and it took a while to find the ingredients and recipe books. Then I had a choice between grating and slicing and chopping. For whatever reason, my mind snapped a fuse. It felt a bit too fiddly, even though with Ink, you can scroll up and see what you needed. This was almost certainly due to my general procrastination and not wanting to get stuck. It's weird–give me a walkthrough and I'll eat it up, but the same information in-game that I have to scroll back for is too much for me. Or maybe it was just that I didn't really get to explore to find all the ingredients, as I might have in Lazy Wizard's Guide, and the mixing interface wasn't as smooth as Thick Table Tavern.

So I will have to give myself an incomplete on this, but I recognize there's enough quality and touches to make for an interesting story. I read through the source, and I enjoyed piecing together your final dash to freedom and what that meant for the village. What most intrigued me was that, based on your actions, the backstory filled in a bit, suggesting you (Spoiler - click to show)deserved your persecutions, or didn't. This alone is very clever and obviously gives a game replayability beyond the usual "let's see all the endings" or "there are consequences for your actions, you know." Different spells work in different ways. I'm frustrated when this happens, when something with clear quality trips me up of my own volition, first near the end of the IFComp deadline, then when I procrastinate migrating it to IFDB. Because the parts I played were well-paced and involving.

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