I remember testing the Author's 2020 IFComp entry, Alone. It did a lot right. I forget if the author told me they had entered in 2019 (COVID was weird) but I did feel like they knew what they were doing, and the stuff I found was easily fixable, and the overall story was strong. Later I wasn't surprised to see they wrote other stuff people liked.
However, I was surprised to see an entry of theirs in 2019 IFComp, when I didn't really pay attention to the other entries. (I should have. I'm still catching up. There were some good ones!) It's a classic story of a haunted house, and it starts as a bully and his Rottweiler waylay you, then chase you once you give them the slip. All this feels very real for a ten-year-old, and then as you hide out in the abandoned house, the bully puts a rock against the door. So you're stuck.
And it's not just a matter of getting out. Yes, you need to get out, but there's a mystery that unfolds along the way. Finding certain items gives you brief visions of why the house is haunted. The reason is violent and standard. You find various items (a useful bottle of poison) with chests to open, and there is a journal describing certain events. There's a fire, too, which you need to douse.
I found the end escape sequence once you find the secret nice and dramatic. It's very indulgent in terms of giving you time to get out, but I found it quite satisfying to perform certain actions before I fled, and yes, there's a neat creepy ending if you just wait around.
So the story is very good indeed, but there are a lot of the sorts of beginner mistakes that judges may frown on. For instance, there's a journal under a bed, and there's still something under the bed after you take it. Something's in the journal, and if you read the journal twice, it's blank. Some verbs need exact input. All this seems fixable, but it can blindside an author working alone, and it did, and it seems the only reason something like this would've placed so low. It appealed to me, maybe mostly because of the "kid chased into haunted house" angle, and I'm not really a horror fan.
I'd love to see the author clean up a few things and make a post-comp release. I bet it would be easy for them to do so, especially with a few transcripts. Their comments in Brian Rushton's review suggested they just weren't aware of certain things like getting more testing, etc., and for all that's lacking, I'm still impressed. The author got the hard parts right. But with 77 games, it's easy to get impatient and give something like this a low score.
David Welbourn has a walkthrough out now, and that ameliorates any fears people may have of poking at it. It's a well-conceived story with a lot of tension and spooky items to find and a mystery that slowly opens. Perhaps this ruins the puzzling aspect of it a bit, but I was able to enjoy the design without too many struggles with the parser. (Small voice) I actually liked the story better than the author's 2020 entry Alone--probably that's just because it was my style. And I also recommend The Lookout. This is quite good, too, with bumpers in place.
Mental Entertainment doesn't present you with lush backgrounds or anything like that. Object descriptions are cursory. Your ultimate decisions don't matter, and in fact, you come to them quickly. But ME is more about painting a mood and bringing up some really tough dilemmas it's hard to shake. You sort of hope they will be abstract for a while. But progress has other views, it seems. It deals with addiction, a common theme with many twine games, which are generally more about unhealthy relationships.
Here, society is messed up, and it's spawning addictions. You are a case worker who must check on whether people who show patterns of addiction to virtual reality actually are addicted, and if it is dangerous. One is a police officer who spends time as a Sheriff in the old west. One is a woman who is on UBI (universal basic income) which, it turns out, hasn't even close to solved all our problems, but at least it prevented stuff from getting worse, as you learn if you chat around. She just wants some park that reminds us of nature as it was, and she can't help notice that AI makes giraffes purple, and so forth. A third is someone who is disillusioned with academia.
Talking to them gives an idea of how we got here, and they make compelling cases both for the sanity of losing oneself in Virtual Reality and for how society as-is is built to, well, drive most people crazy. This sort of thing could easily be melodramatic, but the author foregoes twisty prose. The simple descriptions maybe indicate that AI only sees stuff on the surface, as expected. The cop relates how his wife continually gets promoted at the drug company (Irony here! There's no good way to know if AIs determine getting people addicted to drugs is worth a tradeoff!) The woman at the nature park knows soy is no replacement for real food and worries what other nutrients scientists will find we're missing. The academic realizes how easy it can be to make money with no conscience, both in the tech sector and the "public service" sector. (There's an interesting backstory about public and private police forces.)
This is one of those entries that place in the bottom half of IFComp that really do turn out to be quite good. There seem to be several every year. Playing something like this I worry about the other stuff I may have missed. Perhaps it placed so low because it didn't just ask unsettling questions, but it asked ones that would leave us unsettled and not immediately say "Hey! It's cool to ask unsettling questions!" Without any bold massive "Oh it's so ahead of our time" assertions, the author has shown a lot of foresight, and he's painted some quick and deft pictures of existential problems that exist and are only going to get worse. This left me relieved I 1) was not the only person scared of progress and 2) wasn't the only one pretending to be scared of it for a quick buck. It's not the first entry to pretty much say, okay, here things are, it's what you make of it, read as little or as much of it as you want. But I was pulled in, almost glad someone else had considered disturbing angles I hadn't. And, well, I was glad there were text adventures to help alert us to the dangers of AI, and to remind us we don't need that complicated stuff.