The Single Choice Jam allowed for one actual choice of branches, with the rest being just pushing through with the equivalent of "next." That's not to say you had to put a choice of two or more paths in, though of course it'd be a risk to.
CFDM takes this risk and is, I think, successful. Perhaps you have little in common with the narrator. You're not a member of any group that's discriminated against. But it's still easy to understand their helplessness, as well as the final climax, which wasn't dramatic but I can see how it's something you might be dreading all evening.
The setting is a family dinner where banal things seem to be discussed. Except in context they are not banal and you have a right to feel very ugly listening to them. Family members are either negligent towards this or actively trying to make things more uncomfortable. It's not a very long dinner, thankfully for the reader, and it doesn't need to be to get the point across. The final bit hit home for me, as it forced the narrator to go along with the whole charade of normality one last time. I found it effective. I suspect most readers have been in the narrator's position before. The alternative seems to be that they have not, because they have created that sort of position for others, which is obviously worse.
This entry was written by someone looking to try Inform for the first time after showing they were handy with Twine and narrative things. It's neat to see this crossover on general principles, being someone who used these jams to look into Twine after learning Inform. And I think it adds a new perspective--based on other potential entrants' notes, I don't think the way through the game would've been something someone experienced with Inform would've gravitated to. It's relatively simple, but it hits a good spot between standard Inform verbs and what to do in this sort of situation.
Also, given the restrictions of the comp, it seemed like a great time to learn something new--"don't do too much," a general good idea for learning something new, is really baked into the comp rules. Plus you have a buffer or ready-made excuse if things don't work out. CFDM did not need one.
I've had a few painful family dinners of my own, with the whole "just sit through it" ethos. Sometimes it would be rehashed afterwards once guests left, with "perhaps you could have participated more, maybe next time, they'll think something is wrong." The author mentions they hadn't had such a dinner for three years due to COVID, which is a small mercy for all the bad things that happened, and I was grateful to be able to add their perspective at this sort of thing to my own. I can say "yikes" now without going into a tailspin, and I appreciated this from CFDM, and I hope the main character gets there sooner than I did.
What They Don't Know, as part of the Single Choice Jam, gives the player three options at the start: that of Lady Highchester, who controls the Highchester family fortune, or Chelle, her daughter, or Ara, daughter of the late vineyard keeper, recently brought in as an alternate heir. This bit is as ominous as it sounds: it all but says "I'm not saying you're not fully adequate, I'm just saying." The reader can see each of their stories and piece together what happens.
WTDK is a short, tidy piece, but it's rather discomfiting for all that, which given the content warnings seems like the intent. It's not overdone, though. You might say, who cares about rich people's struggles anyway? Usually not me. But we see nuances in the characters behavior. Shelly and Ara have grown to like each other, and they both wonder why Lady Highchester is doing this. Each would feel discomfort in leaving the other with less than she deserves.
I chose Lady Highchester's path last, and I think this would be the best way to get the most out of the story. She's the one with the power, after all, and I think it's most tense to see the reveal of what she is doing and why. There are unintended consequences.
On reading the three characters stories, it's pretty clear to me that Lady Highchester really had no chance of getting what she wanted, or seeing what she wanted, and her meddling was the sort of thing that messes up basic happiness for other people. Though she doesn't lash out, no response would really have been good enough for her. It reminded me of times I've been in friendships or in groups, where they might say, hey, this really is better than those old bums, right? Or even in an honors class where we don't associate with them there regular-class rabble. And I felt there was no good answer, or I would get nailed for being too enthusiastic or not enthusiastic enough. But of course nothing was ever enough.
That's a danger of having power and using it casually, of course. You use it, and any positive response you get, you don't know if people are really doing out of the goodness of the heart, even if you try to construct things that way is an experiment. Lady Highchester's power play is far more subtle than, say, the classic scene from Goodfellas where Joe Pesci's character says, "What, do you think I'm haha funny?" Or when Henry is applauded for not snitching, but of course there's still distrust throughout the crime syndicate. But it's tough to tell which hurts worse, if you're the target. Under-the-hood stuff leaves no immediate intense burn but lasts longer.
From the character sketches I suspected that Lady Highchester never really considered that her experiment might cause unwanted effects. And I think the author clearly showed this is not okay without moralizing. Or maybe I'm just glad to see the sort of thing that reminds me of unscrupulous people from my past who expected loyalty-just-because and had ways people could show it. I felt bad, being kind of a pushover and all, that I couldn't show said loyalty.
It's easy to reject or laugh at or be disgusted by loyalty oaths or hazing or whatever. The subtler things are, the trickier it is, because we all have moments where we want to test friends' loyalty, generally when we aren't at our best, and we can't isolate that variable, so to speak.
Of course, we similarly can't prove that this paradox is a thing, so when stories like this come by, it's as close as we can get, and it feels good enough. We see how and why Lady Highchester is wrong, and that helps us be okay with not liking our own Lady Highchesters as much as we should on paper.
I have fond memories of grinding away in RPGs when I was much younger, but all the same, I don't want to do too much for that again. There are other goals. I'm no longer just grateful computer RPGs exist. Zenith is not a grinding RPG, or even close to one, but it brought back those memories. It helped remind me what I liked about them.
In Zenith, you simply climb up a mountain. The rooms you go through are designated at random, and sometimes in these rooms, you find special items. Then, at the top of the mountain, you have a chance to chase your real quest, to fly to the "real" tower. You can just take a cheap glider back down the mountain if you think you're not prepared enough, and the game gives you some idea of how far along you are. The penalty for failure is losing all your items. The more items you have, the better chances of success.
This usually takes several times, and at first, you're not sure how many items could be in the backpack. You only know how you feel based on the place where you're given a choice (fall or jump,) this being an entry in the Single Choice Jam. Eventually you'll get to where you're not getting new items. That's a clue jumping may be a good idea. It's not hard to go back up the tower, as you just mouse-wheel down and click the link at the bottom. I sped up, so things seemed to blend together for me, while I noticed the room descriptions themselves were generous, with the exits different. There's a paradox here, of course--you want to get back up the tower quickly, but go too quickly, and you have less hope of finding new items to help you make your jump!
So mechanically Zenith can be expressed as "just keep clicking until you have enough items," but that's really unfair. First, the writing is too good, and second, I became conscious of several things while playing, both related to play and not. One was that even during a short grind, my mind wandered a bit as I quickly said "hmm, give. Items. Now." But there were others, and you may think back to lyour own long-term can-I-or-can't-I because-it-is-there accomplishments you had.
My other goals were getting a certain rating on a chess website (did I study enough? Jumping might mean pulling an all-nighter and possibly failing and giving up on chess for two weeks.) There's more random stuff than you'd think there, based on opponents' relative strengths and openings and so forth.
There was also my city's bike-share program, where you can ride for free for 30 minutes between any two docking locations, but after that, you get a charge. So I had a goal of making it between two seemingly distant locations without having to dock and start another ride. I would get closer, and finally I could do it. There was that faith in the final leap, when I didn't need that alarm saying I'd been riding for 25 minutes, so I'd better dock soon..
I wound up playing Zenith a few times more than I anticipated, because first of all, there's a high score listed at the end, and I managed to mess things up and not put my name on. (I thought I had to hit enter, instead of ... as happened through the game ... clicking on "enter your name." The author kindly obliged me by adding a feature.) But even if they hadn't, I wouldn't have felt my time was wasted. Obviously you can overdo the description but it wasn't, here, and if the descriptions were dry, perhaps my mind would not have wandered so productively. Even if I didn't know the strategies and number-crunching, it still reminded me of other times I was pretty sure I got things right, and other times when I really should have been sure I got things right, but I didn't jump, because I was a bit scared of other things that didn't work out.
Zenith reminded me, too, oddly, of Dragon's Lair, where you had those three parallel trips through the castle before meeting the dragon. That was more deterministic, but the randomized bits still scrambled things well enough that replays were fun and surprising, and I felt like I was navigating the randomness, which I don't feel in real life sometimes. Or it could just be like building levels and items needed to win a boss fight, or even memorizing a poem ("Do I remember how all this links together?")
It's a tricky thing, writing something that efficiently condenses longer works without getting too brief, and everyone's sweet spot will vary. But it worked for me, and rather quickly. It's one of the few Single Choice games that used randomness, and I think it did so very effectively. It could be done in other contexts. For instance, you could have a "prepare for a marathon" game where all sorts of factors on the day of the race could affect things. But the choices would be hamstrung and maybe artificial. (Eat nutritious or not? Train too much, enough or too little? And so forth. How much are you willing to put work and social life aside? The choices feel artificial, stated so. You know what the game wants, so it feels like a loaded quiz.) Perhaps even having Zenith with "you can go left/right" would be artificial. The first time, after failing, it was neat to succeed. On replaying Zenith I had that faith the RNG would work out in my favor even after not getting items on an early trip through. And it reminded me of times I thought or hoped I'd tweaked life's RNG in my favor to get things done. But I also saw how, once I succeeded, I thought "I'd better not fail--I need X items!" (I encourage you to find what X is.) It was empowering and revealing in unexpected ways. I think this was probably the author's intent, since they avoided moralizing and such. It seems like it could help push you away from some mindless RPG-based game (say, on Facebook) to realize, no, THIS is what I really want, if I go look for it.
If you got through the first pages of Recherche du Temps Perdu, you may remember Proust once talked about madeleine bringing back a bunch of memories. You may remember it even if you didn't. It's become one of those literary cliches.
Here it's root beer. Root beer, the poor neglected cousin of Coke and Pepsi, and I've always preferred it, too, and I suspect I have more brethern or sisters than could be polled. (I in fact made a far more flippant reference to it in Threediopolis. It made a tester laugh. I'm still proud of that.) But the root beer is sentient! It's hidden under a porch, and it'll bring back memories. Like the meat in Douglas Adams's Restaurant at the End of the Universe, it's okay with you digesting it. And yes, it's a bit unnerving, too, but it all makes sense. Sadly, this state will only last for twenty to forty minutes.
That's more than enough for a lot of memories for you-the-character, and it brought back memories for me as well. Memories of chugging one two-liter bottle too much while studying, or of a pop can with the Minnesota Golden Gophers logo and 1984 Big Ten schedule on it. Or maybe of leaving root beer so long in the fridge, proud of my restraint, it went flat. Memories of mixing root beer with different types of ice cream to make a root beer float. (Don't get me started on ice cream flavors. Seriously.) Heck, even Red Bull drunk once every two years brings back memories beyond "this is why I don't drink Red Bull."
The character has different memories, of course, combinations of happy and sad. Alcohol is briefly touched on without judgement from the root beer or narrator. As a teetotaler, I felt a bit superior, though.
I didn't once I had The Choice. What is it? Well, you can be selfish. I saved the game and took the selfish one first, then took the selfless one. I immediately rationalized that I could do what I knew from the selfless one once I went selfish, or it would have happened anyway. I'd like to think I would, in real life. But things probably don't quite work that way.
I think the final choice is strong and well-placed enough not to spoil here, and MNiS would have been well-done without it. I place a high value on games that let you think in your own way without being all "I'm making you think" or being too unstructured and general and MNiS hits that spot for me.
Thicket certainly leaves an odd impression at first. There's a short sentence, where different fragments are underlined. You click on one, and then there's a "wake into the tower" link back. Clicking on enough (or the right ones) opens up more, until there's a full story on the hub page. Then you wake up for good, with a "wake into the tower" link on the main story page.
This seems relatively tidy, perhaps even pedestrian, but the links are to odd dreams, which frequently result in death, or in capitulating to dark forces. I found this effective, and it often reminded me of times I rolled over and kept having different dreams, or what seemed to be dreams within dreams, some of which I wanted to remember and some I didn't. Mine were about far mundaner things, but they still had the sense of dying just before I woke up, but -- well, describing my own here wouldn't be all that interesting. You know how it is.
The author tends to link up the sort of hot night where your air conditioner doesn't work with more fantastic settings, and if I didn't connect all the dots, I was at least able to flow with the writing, which I enjoyed. The stories are kept to a page in Twine Chapbook format, and they vary a lot.
A tip for lawnmowering through: as Thicket doesn't change the link colors once you visit them, you may wish to click on a link, then hit tab and enter once you're done reading, so you know the next link to click. The sentence fragments are somewhat related to the stories that launch, but the stories will be involving enough, you may forget where you were in the main sentence. Not that repeating any one passage is exactly punishment, but just a note for convenience.
"So, what is this work about?" is the first question people ask, if deciding to look at something. In the case of Iaia, well, I think the meaning is surreal and open to interpretation, not in the "the author was lazy and wanted to get something to the jam before the deadline" way (they made it by about a week) but in the "this is genuinely disturbing-in-a-good-way."
What happens is simply that you are walking along the street and reflecting on a very odd life and choices made. Which has been done before, but it pushed the Talking Heads' Once in a Lifetime into my head, and also, it had an epigraph from Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet, which I hadn't read, but based on what I saw here, I'm interested.
Given that this was for Single Choice Jam, there is a choice at the end, a surprisingly normal one, which makes sense. It's a good one to have after surreal reflection. I will keep it in spoiler tags, so if you want, you can have a quick play-through (there was some tension as to what the choice would be, and I don't want to ruin that,) but even the response is not what you'd expect.
Iaia has no back button, so you have a lot of text to re-scroll through first, but that's more than okay here (I just repeatedly hit tab and enter.) The first time through I wondered if some text was randomly generated, maybe because the author tried this trick before with Phenomena, and it worked well. But the images are deliberately chosen, and they feel well above "throw stuff at the wall."
So what is the choice? (Spoiler - click to show)You buy a drink at the vending machine. I like it a lot, because I think back to when I bought stuff at a vending machine, and I knew it was overpriced, but it looked very good. I was reminded of the vending machine in the high school social lounge, how I wanted to order one of each, and it would've been easy to do so if I planned things out, but I never did. The magic of vending machines died early for me, which is good for my pocketbook, I suppose, but I missed that. I was surprisingly disappointed on the first play through that (Spoiler - click to show)root beer was sold out, and it turns out it always was, but I still played through to buy root beer. It mattered to me much more than it should have, which on reflection was really, really neat.
Anyway, the next time I (Spoiler - click to show)drink root beer, I'll think of this game. Maybe I will even replay it at the same time. That'll, like, totally show it it can't stop me from doing what I want!
Toast is a funny little game in HTML5 (it has source code on GitHub, too, which I found educational) where, well, your choice is whether to make toast or not. It's quite attractive with its minimalism, which works well to assure you it doesn't expect you to find deep meaning.
You simply choose yes or no, and then you keep clicking. There's also the choice to click on the bread or the toaster, which gives you a funny little story that unwraps. It's all pretty surreal, of course, and I think it might be lesser if it were dragged out. It's the sort of effort that leaves you wanting more (in a good way,) because it's well done, but at the same time, you wouldn't see a way that *you* could extend the joke. Well, I couldn't. But I was glad to enjoy it and take it for what it was. It feels like something to replay between more serious entries.
I read this at a particularly odd time, having just made a lot of toast from bread that had been sitting out for a while. It provoked interesting thoughts in me, even though I knew it was deliberately surreal. You may or may not choose to eat toast before or after checking this out. Perhaps there would be a sequel where you eat toast at the computer, and weird things happen as crumbs get in the keyboard. Or maybe you drop the toast, and there is drama as you wonder if the buttered side will land up. I'd play either.
Demon Hatching is a story-over-puzzle effort with three links in it at one critical point. You are, unsurprisingly, a demon who hatches in a forest, and you run up against a human much bigger than you are. You have three choices, to run away, to fight or to scream. Of course, there's a bit of buildup beforehand, describing what you are and what you are doing there, and at least part of what you want and fear and so forth.
The narrative breaks make it so that nothing is spoiled, and you get to see the story unfold at a good place. It's well worth it to cycle back and try in the other options to get a better character sketch of the main character and the human.
Ink games do seem to have that little something extra focused on the craft of writing, and that was evidenced here, and it certainly made me interested enough to try and follow the Tumblr snippet it mentioned it was based on. I can certainly see it evolving into something larger, and I'd be interested in that, too.
If You Had One Shot is an ideal entry in the Single Choice Jam. The jam allows for one actual choice but as many click-throughs as you want. It hoses all the parser commands, even EXAMINE-ing, for four directions. You are about to give a speech at your brother's wedding, and all four choices are drastically different.
But here's the problem: you pick one, and you try to restart, and you're not back at the wedding. Whichever direction you pick, you get an immediate story. Then on resetting, you look back at what you did after some time.
This is one of those efforts that definitely should be done, and of course it can't be done too much. It's an effective gimmick, and the writing is good, as you'd expect, since everyone writing has won or been nominated for an XYZZY award. Maybe multiple ones? But they're all well-known. I have my guesses, but I don't want to share them, because guessing is part of the fun, and I don't want to spoil my reasoning, right or wrong. Who wrote each piece is not obvious.
Yes, I did find a way around the "only one ending" bit, but it's an entertaining concept well-executed, one that might not have popped up so quickly without the jam. Each wrong way builds into a story as well.
As for how I got around? I won't spoil it. I think it's reasonable to expect the player who really wants to see them to do a bit of legwork. So it's neat to have something quick and satisfying like this that retains a bit of mystery.