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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
In his forum new-author introduction, the author mentioned he was a recently retired software engineer. If so, Arborea's one heck of a going away gift to give yourself, and at the risk of sounding corny, it's a gift for us too. Even if it didn't work out, it would still be a reminder of all the things we want to do and how we shouldn't let everyday life get in the way if we can help it. But it's better than that. And it's interesting to see how some people are coming back to a hobby they've had for a while, or that they meant to, because of the old Infocom adventures of the 80s, and they're finding their own ways to give us something neat.
It's presented as a computer simulation of many different eras and continents, and I was worried it was going to have a wishy-washy/overbearing "appreciate biodiversity and love our trees and respect Mother Nature and all that sort of thing because this is the only planet we've got" message, but thankfully that's not the case. There's all sorts of jokes in here, from physical comedy to well-timed puns. Some are even objectively bad, but they provide relief. For instance, there's a (charge) card once you've tamed a rhinoceros: "How do you stop a rhino charging? Take away his card." This bombs if you're over eight, but an allusion to it in a game works nicely. And that's what I found with Arborea's organization. It could easily be a mishmosh that doesn't quite work, but overall, it does, and when you combine eight hubs together with interlocking puzzles, that's not hard. Oh yes. You have a few funny deaths too. They're lampshaded well and pretty obvious. Enough was there, I was slightly disappointed there was no AMUSING section at the end for what I missed! Nitpicks.
As the title might suggest, a forest is the centerpiece of the game. It's where you start, with I actually had some problem guessing the first verb that helps you leave, mainly because I didn't read the help carefully enough, and also I didn't consider the most obvious thing to do if you are in a forest. One other thing you need to do is look at a gourd you've been given. Later, it tracks how much you've completed, but to start, it has some information on the different kinds of trees out there, and your initial job is to find those trees in the distance, and each one leads to a new area. It has an introductory-quiz feel, making me wonder if there's be one those choice-based flipbooks "if the bark is smooth, turn to page 8. Shaggy, page 13." But that's all there is for pedagogy. The rest is imagination.
And you get to go all over the place: Elizabethan England, Missouri in the 19th century, Indonesia, the Amazon rain forest, medieval Scandinavia, and Africa. There are some direct historical figures (Sir Francis Drake) and some more general ones. Missouri features a particular class of people. How much you do in each area feels well-weighted, and the puzzles have strong variety. With your gourd as a guide (it changes appearance each time you visit all the locations of one hub,) it combines because-it-is-there with fixing injustices. They're pretty obvious ones, but all the same, it feels good. There's supernatural stuff, too, from the just-sort-of-mystic-babble to the "oops, badly reincarnated, sport!"
I really enjoyed how to eventually destroy the gourd and get to near the end of the simulation, though near the end I was a bit exhausted. This may be an unfortunate side effect of trying to blitz through all the IFComp entries. Overall, there's some good wacky humor in there, and it lasted longer than most games did, but the end felt like it over-did that whole angle. I can't offer better advice. There should have been a denouement. Some jokes clearly hit, but for whatever reason, the self-contained end part didn't flow as well as the bigger whole game itself. That's a minor concern.
I'm not surprised Arborea placed high. It checks all the boxes without feeling like it tried to for a high placing. I felt guilty pointing out small bugs I stumbled on to the author, but that'll happen in lively worlds people create without, you know, being paid or having a team to check off on bugs. The anachronisms and time-shifting and such are pushed into the realm of creativity without being warped too far beyond belief. And I think in IFComp 2022, the reviewers tried to emphasize longer games, and if it gets more people to look at Arborea, even with a walkthrough, that's a good thing. It offers a lot to learn in terms of game design, and I'm quite glad I didn't put off reviewing and playing until the end of IFComp. My impatience would definitely have made me miss several details I enjoyed.
Marco Vallarino is one of several IFComp authors whose works I always meant to look at more in-depth. And here "more in-depth," means, sadly, "at all." I mean we've been in IFComp together but somehow I missed the chance to look at his two Darkiss games. CI is motivation beyond "gee, both Darkisses placed well" to fix that. It's unashamedly old-school and not a profound game, but it doesn't have to be. You are just some AFGNCAAPy schlep working at the university, trying to get a computer simulation/program working to zap aliens who've attacked.
And there are laughs along the way. There are joke names, and they're not side-splitters, but they made me smile. More creatively, you're given a long, weird password early. "Suddenly you realize that if you can remember this password by heart, you can do anything in life." Oh, and your first puzzle is to help a professor out of the vending machine they stuffed themselves into, to avoid getting killed or, at least, getting killed first. You rescue them in the way one would expect, with a coin you find lying around. There's another fetch quest or two to warm things up, and then the actual thinking begins. There's nothing too deep. Once you meet a robot with a laser, if you look around, you can guess what item might help you not get killed, and how you can get that item. There's also an overhead projector that's too heavy to carry. I don't know how much they're used these days, but I appreciate that sort of thing for nostalgia's sake. I mean, lots of games have flashlights and such, but I haven't used an overhead projector since Akkoteaque, which is nice even if unfinished.
The final puzzle is also very pleasing. CI is not the first game to feature you having to screw in batteries, but the twist at the end to get the computers running is clever and sensible and I'm glad it didn't get too absurdist. There's a lot of funny stuff in here, and it pays off relatively quickly, with a bit of drama even though it's pretty clear the aliens can and should meet a bad end. Even a stupid death at the beginning is a clue. You also have to sort-of disguise yourself. This brought back memories of a tough Infocom puzzle, but fortunately there's a lot less calculation here.
For being a z5 game, CI contains an impressive amount of fun. A university setting is one that could easily bloat, but this doesn't, and it seems to hit all the tropes without overplayingthem. Perhaps the author specifically set themselves to creating a z5 game and nothing bigger. I for my part was pleased to fit my own effort into the Z8 format, which allows double the size/memory, and while it's neat to see Inform's new features, I enjoy seeing the sort of economy exercised by PunyInform authors or, well, this game. They can fit a lot in.
One of many fourth-wall jokes hints at Campus Invaders 2.0. I'm looking forward to that, after this experience. I suspect CI placed a bit low because people relate more to Vampires and Zombies and not due to quality issues. I don't much care for vampires or zombies, but the Darkiss games will be nice while I'm waiting for CI2.