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Reviews by WidowDido

IF Comp 2020

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, by Kenneth Pedersen (as Ilmur Eggert)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
simple time travel game featuring Newton with a rarely used design choice, October 6, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020
A brief bit of historical IF that is in a small minority of parser games, using both the third person and the past tense. I am honestly not sure what led to this decision by the author, but it made a very straightforward game a little more interesting.

The puzzles here are very simple. The level of detail is restricted to the surface level, with a minimum amount of activity allowed. (Spoiler - click to show)I wouldn't be surprised to learn that writing responses for Pascal, Euler, and Cervantes in the library took as much or more time than writing room and object descriptions. And, perhaps speaking to the rest of the gameplay, I was perhpas more interested in testing mathematicians from history than with finishing the game.

I didn't find any bugs in the game, and the conceit of Newton's quest is solid enough to make for a decent plot. Unfortunately, I thought the descriptions were a little lacking in their response to player input. The room descriptions a little too bland. The puzzles should not pose too much difficulty, but I did not consider them very rewarding or inspired.

Anyone wanting to play a short parser game with an element of time travel may enjoy this piece. Also, perhaps worth it for designers to see how playing IF with a parser that responds in the third-person, past-tense may have an effect on the player's relationship to the PC and the story.

The Turnip, by Joseph Pentangelo

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
strange flash fiction, perhaps "grotesque" in the literary sense..., October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020
An odd little piece of flash fiction, probably under 2000 words.

I doubt many English-language IF players know the name Yuri Mamleev, or a book of very strange short fiction collected in English under the title The Sky Above Hell and Other Stories. It is one of the few places I've seen fiction with a similar blur of realism and the grotesque, even in some places a similar tone. When these grotesque stories are executed correctly, they may not be "great" literature--but I tend to find them interesting, enjoyable, and above all memorable. For the length of this particular work, it is certainly worthwhile.

This is not a great work of IF. It is very light on the interactivity. As a piece of fiction, it is also not great. But IS certainly readable, and certainly more interesting than a lot of what can be found published in dozens of literary journals. It is a little sad this piece went unpublished as a regular story, but it is to the benefit of the IF community. Even with an IF Competition field of 100+ games, I imagine I'll remember this strange little story more than many longer and more interactive works of IF.

Anyone who likes the weird/strange/grotesque covered by a thin and warped veneer of realism should make a point of playing through this work.

Stoned Ape Hypothesis, by James Heaton

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
simple game with a simple protagonist, October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020
A very short choice-based game. I don't think there's anything in the way of spoilers to say the player begins as a sorta proto-human, eats a couple mushrooms, and begins to get a couple ideas about things we associate with humans ((Spoiler - click to show)technology, clothing, play).

There were a couple traditional games that can be found within the game. Designers and players interested in physical games being implemented into IF may want to play through the work on purely technical grounds. (Spoiler - click to show)The first is tic-tac-toe, which I feel I must have seen implemented in IF before. The second was a text-representation inspired by the ancient board game mancala. I was able to win it with no skill, simply choosing the same basket over and over again. I leave it to others to judge the quality of AI.

Unfortunately, I found the environment too sparse, the tasks too routine and uninteresting. However, the game is very short and people have a wide range of taste. If you have any interest in the above technical implementation, it will not take long to see it within the game.

Quintessence, by Andrea M. Pawley

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
short, experimental, surrealistic sci-fi IF, October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020
As something that defies typical genres, "Quintessence" is a little hard to review.

1) From my play, definitely IF more than a "game."
2) The prose can be called "surreal." Odd or unconventional descriptions and metaphors. There's the typical synesthesia type thing (smelling a sound). But even a few moments of play will give an indication of what to expect throughout the whole game.
3) The mood is light. The tone is generally comic, though perhaps occasionally some options that seem slightly more serious arise.

It's unclear if there's some intended meaning or a serious theme is being addressed. I think this game is meant to be an entertaining reading experience; to me, it does not imply the need for intense contemplation or encourage the player to search for deeper meaning (either personal or universal).

As a piece of experimental writing that isn't striving for thematic complexity, I'd say it works. As with much experimental writing, personal taste will largely dictate if one enjoys the author's style. If it was aiming for something more profound, perhaps I purposefully settled on the easier task of reading for pleasure rather than depth.

What the Bus?, by E. Joyce

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
fast game on transit frustrations, October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020
A fun, very quick game about getting the runaround trying to navigate the public transit system.

Frustration mounts and most likely you become increasingly lost. There are multiple endings--some of them better than others (and one is the worst). Finally, you arrive at a destination. There's perhaps only a little more to it than that, but a couple playthroughs will let you know what to expect for the rest of the endings.

If you're looking for a fun little game to play between texting a friend when your bus is late or your train delayed, why not give it a try. It doesn't require much thought, but can effectively distract you while you wait.

Tavern Crawler, by Josh Labelle

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
a fun, choice-based comic fantasy adventure, October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: if comp 2020
This game is likely a success in everything it attempts. No doubt entertaining to those who like traditional fantasy RPG adventures, and especially for those who want the fantasy with some occasional comedy.

A lot is nothing new: an initial quest spirals out, a number of side quests to increase gold and stats. The stats, as well, are traditional RPG fare: tank, rogue or mage. Different options open to the player depending on these stats.

The character begins with a couple companions. I think this element was well-done, and I found an unexpected modern twist particularly enjoyable. When certain options opened, I considered this the most entertaining part of the game (and will be the reason I replay it--(Spoiler - click to show)to see just how toxic one can make the relationship).

In all, there is enough interactivity, and a "Did You Try?" list given after finishing the game, to make a second playthrough interesting.

Since the mechanics seem to be very well-implemented, an individual's enjoyment will likely come down to the quality of writing. And here, the game is also a success. Low fantasy is not a genre I seek out or read for pleasure, but in this case it was a speedy and largely amusing read. Not plagued with purple language or overwriting that is unfortunately sometimes frequent in both fantasy and IF. While perhaps not necessarily my favorite type of game, I would not hesitate to recommend it to others.

(s)wordsmyth, by Tristan Jacobs

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
a short quest for revenge, October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: if comp 2020
The player progresses through a series of scenes, seeking revenge for his master's death.

The interface and game was bug-free. The major criticism about the interface for most players will likely be the inability to change how the text displays. Constantly hitting return is necessary to advance just a couple lines of text.

There were attempts to add a little mystery and magic to the plot, particularly near the ending. Unfortunately, the UI avoids text dumps and similar actions, which are often how emotional depth and meaning take place in IF. I think this game is somewhat limited by the brevity of dialogue.

There may be multiple ways to overcome certain plot-related obstacles, but unfortunately I did not find it to be worth replaying.

Sage Sanctum Scramble, by Arthur DiBianca

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
series of word games with the minimum of plot, October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: if comp 2020
The game presents you with a series of word puzzles. As these are answered, more puzzles open up. The barest of plots links these together. I think most will find the bulk of the puzzles are easy--producing synonyms, answering crossword-type clues, decoding anagrams or cryptograms, etc.

Once you answer a certain number of puzzles, you are invited to join a boss battle. Your previous answers will be used to defeat the boss.

I would say the puzzles are largely fair, particularly because you don't need to complete every word puzzle for a successful ending (though, perhaps there is another ending for players that solve every word puzzle). There are two puzzles that I still completely do not understand--but, perhaps someone else will immediately recognize a method to solve them.

For anyone who loves puzzles but also wants at least some narrative for those puzzles, this isn't what you're looking for.

For anyone who loves crosswords, cryptic crosswords, or other word puzzles but does not play IF, this would probably be a fun experience. It may also be a really fun play with a friend or family member, especially the type of couple that will do a crossword together.

Quest for the Sword of Justice, by Damon L. Wakes

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
short graphic RPG with a story; a satire or parody of RPG conventions, October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: if comp 2020
The definition for IF is broad enough to cover a lot of games. Yet, if it is broad enough to cover this piece, nearly every RPG with a storyline told in written dialogue and that allows for a measure of interactivity would be IF. I'm for a broad definition, but at a certain point the term IF ceases to be useful.

The game seems to be a very short parody of RPG conventions. Shockingly, what is customary behavior in games can be seen differently in real life. Most players will do a first playthrough, (Spoiler - click to show)following the established expectations. Then, after learning from that first experience, try it again. (Spoiler - click to show)But will find this ending ain't any more satisfying.

Unless there's something I overlooked, there's nothing really new in this work. Many other games deal with this in their own way. Even serious games may give a humorous or self-aware response when a player tries a conventional action that conflicts with the type of realism the designer is trying to establish.

For anyone interested in how game designers can mess around with genre conventions, it may be worth the short amount of time it would take for a couple plays. But anyone looking to just play some IF will likely be disappointed with this work.

Mother Tongue, by Nell Raban

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short and sentimental; old message, new medium, October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: if comp 2020
A quick game concerning the relationship between immigrants and their first-generation children (in this case, a Filipino mother and her child). The conversation plays out over a series of text messages, with the mother teaching/explaining a few phrases and words of Tagalog.

The game is not effective at learning language--which is perhaps part of the point. Even if you get the majority of the questions correct, the player comes away without any real grasp of Tagalog. Likely what a real person in the position of either the mother or child would feel.

I think the medium is perhaps the most innovative element of this piece. There are countless pieces of fiction and social science addressing how a new country, a new language, and modernization change the relations between parent and child, as well as how the child will relate to their own ethnic group. I don't think that too many new things have been said on these tropes in this work. But, the author does succeed in placing old wine in a new bottle by forcing the player to communicate through texts--rather than writing a Twine piece that takes the form of a phone call or a parser game where the same information is discovered through recovered memories. Not only is texting probably more representative of contemporary communication, but it is quite effective at heightening the distance between mother and child.

Not an amazing game, but good. People interested in exploring issues of immigration, language and identity should certainly play through this piece.


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