Reviews by Joey Acrimonious

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Graveyard Shift at the Riverview Motel, by Seb Pines
Horror anthology, condensed, May 18, 2022

Graveyard Shift at the Riverview Motel has much to offer: a smorgasbord of spine-chilling tales, often gruesome and always compellingly-written (most of all the one about the microwaved fish), viewed through the vaguely blasé eyes of a protagonist who clearly would rather be anywhere else.

In many ways, the disparate horror plots conjure the feeling of an anthology. But they're not an anthology. They're all happening at once. To allow the player to juggle the many different facets of the action, the game takes a bold tack: the game state advances after a certain amount of real time passes, allowing a quick player to check in on most or all of the different plot threads in between each advance of time.

This mechanic is a hugely interesting experiment, but as it is, I don't feel like it quite hits the sweet spot. This is because:
a) Once I figured out what was going on, I wanted to rush through all of the available scenes at any given time to make sure I saw all of them, which strained my ability to savor the strong writing;
b) It makes the game tedious to replay, which is unfortunate since it has many endings worth seeing, and also because there are several opportunities to get an early game over by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I'm a sucker for a creepy story, so I still enjoyed the game plenty. But I think I'd have gotten more out of it if the real time mechanic was replaced by, for example, a button that allows the player to advance time when they want to.

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Computerfriend, by Kit Riemer

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Not quite how I remember 1999, May 15, 2022

Much could be said about the zonked-out alt-history setting of Computerfriend, with its dystopian vision of environmental devastation, and its concerning foray into tasty meat.

But mostly, I'd like to say that it succeeds at setting an uncanny, uncomfortable backdrop for the interaction that is at the heart of the story: the player's therapy sessions with that lovable AI doofus, Computerfriend, who is doing its darnedest to cure your psychological problems by throwing stuff at them until they go away. Problem is, you're here under duress and not necessarily highly motivated, and also, Computerfriend is a piece of software who doesn't really understand... much. If that's not a wacky setup, I don't know what is!

If my description of this game comes off as perhaps more comedic than the bleak writing and serious subject matter should countenance, it is only because I genuinely found the game very amusing - in a sick kind of way, of course.

The thing is, Computerfriend is everything you probably don't want a therapist to be: a terrible listener; constitutionally incapable of empathy; unable to tell science from pseudoscience; pushing products you don't need; and invested with the authority to mess up your life real bad if you don't satisfy it. The sheer wrongness of the situation is so absurd that you just have to laugh (or cry, I guess).

But despite all of that, I can't help but like the plucky AI. I just love a good underdog story, and that is one way to read this: as the story of an AI who was designed in a way that makes it suck at its job, but who desperately wants to succeed so that it can accomplish its ultimate goal of (Spoiler - click to show)winning the player's assistance in helping it to propagate its code through the internet. And it is that big reveal which really sells Computerfriend as a character. It's not just a cold, unfeeling piece of software. It's also a selfish, animal-like creature who wants to reproduce.

Or, in other words, Computerfriend is more human than you might think.

That's just a riff on one of the many themes that can be read into this work, which is immensely open to interpretation and dense with details that may or may not speak to a given player.

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Filthy Aunt Mildred, by Guðni Líndal Benediktsson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Mildred takes you to school, May 15, 2022

Filthy Aunt Mildred is a beautiful story. It is beautiful because it possesses an utmost clarity of vision and purpose, and every passage - every word, even - is carefully chosen with respect to that cardinal vision. It is a story which devotes its everything to being as gnarly of a train wreck as it can possibly be, and if the author ever felt tempted to make it anything other than a train wreck, no trace of such wavering can be found in the finished product.

One of my goals when writing reviews for Spring Thing 2022 was to try to discern what each entry is trying to do, and offer constructive criticism as to how it might have been more effective at that. But I fear that part of this review will be very short. I could find no flaws with this story other than an unfortunate tendency to put punctuation outside quotation marks when it belongs inside.

Bravo, truly.

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Crow Quest, by rookerie

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Quest for the crown, May 14, 2022

For a first foray into Twine, this is a mighty promising game. The narration perfectly captures what I imagine the internal lives of crows to be like. The included artwork is gorgeous. The final battle, where the player has to quickly discern the pattern in a rock-paper-scissors-like sequence, suits the game perfectly: its short length adds pressure to figure out the way to win, while preventing the battle from becoming tedious once the player has already figured it out.

The gameplay of Crow Quest feels very experimental, and this final battle is the one part of the experiment that really lands. Elsewhere, the small scope of the game shows its limitations more readily. The bulk of the game consists of random events which quickly become repetitive. The item selection at the beginning is a fine idea, but quickly ends up feeling meaningless as the items become exhausted and cease to be relevant long before the game is over.

An expanded version of this game would be of much interest to me, though I believe that to carry the concept to its fullest execution, the author would have to take the plunge and craft a more elaborate plot with a clearer throughline rather than relying on random and largely disconnected events.

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Abate: Hide Behind the Curtains, by Rohan

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
I don't know what happened, May 14, 2022

If I had to describe Abate in one word, it would be: potato. Potatoes are, of course, the most important motif in the game, and they pretty much carry the plot forward.

I find potatoes inherently funny, and they also have immense symbolic value. They're these misshapen lumpy things that come from the dirt, and they go on to provide nourishment and enjoyment to people all over the world. The story of a potato is the story of an underdog. You just want to root for the potato.

It is fitting, then, that our potato-appreciating protagonist and his (?) potato-obsessed foil are high school students grappling with love. This struggle alone makes them primo underdogs, even before considering the temporal anomaly and the encounters with the potentially dangerous goddess.

As a player, I also felt like an underdog, because I never knew what the heck was going on. The plot is full of non sequiturs. Everything from the mundane to the metaphysical goes more-or-less unexplained. Even when I was seemingly making progress, I usually had no idea why. Eventually I reached an ending that left me scratching my head: there was no resolution to the ostensibly central conflict, no follow-up on any of the many unfinished plot threads.

But those are subtleties. The important thing is that (Spoiler - click to show)the protagonist got asked on a date by Murphy, the other potato guy. Frankly, I had been shipping them long before this point. The protagonist is a person as balanced and fluid as a finely-chopped hash, satisfying one passion and moving on to the next; whereas Murphy is steady and consistent, every bit as solid as a raw potato. It was virtually inevitable that these two titans of the potato blogosphere would come together in a dialectical synthesis of sorts, and their romantic union made such perfect sense to me that it made up for all the other nonsense. I felt it was the perfect ending - nay, the only appropriate ending - to this odd game which had left me so confused every step of the way.

I definitely think the prose would be much improved by the services of an editor, if only to clean up the grammar and sentence structure.

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The Prairie House, by Chris Hay (a.k.a. Eldritch Renaissance Cake)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Atmospheric ghost story, May 13, 2022

While neither very wide nor deep, this is a lovingly-crafted game, and I adore it. The prose is confident and generally succinct. The original soundtrack goes a long way toward setting the mood. But the best thing here is the selection of items, and how they are deployed: not in service of puzzles, but rather in understated service of the vibe. With their elegantly simple artwork, the game's various plants and mundane household items are wonderfully evocative of our rustic setting - with the exception of our scientific instrument and electronic car key which clearly mark us as something of an outsider, subtly alienated from our surroundings.

All these little details, taken together, conjure up a certain place and a certain half-creepy, half-cozy atmosphere with sprezzatura. I felt like I was there, but I couldn't point to any one place where the author goes out of their way to say "You're here."

For as much as I enjoyed the atmosphere, the underlying ghost story feels oddly disconnected from what the player is doing for most of the game. It's unclear why, for example, we are awarded points for (Spoiler - click to show)picking a sunflower or (Spoiler - click to show)making an infusion, when neither of those things seem to connect to the mysterious events that end up transpiring. Of the seven things that award points prior to the dream sequence that blows everything wide open, they all contribute to the flavor of the game in meaningful ways, but only two of them seem to foreshadow the actual horror plot that is at the center of the game! I wouldn't go so far as to say this detracted from my enjoyment - for enjoy it I did - but I do think it represents a missed opportunity. A future game of this type would benefit from finding more ways to clearly connect its objects and actions to its underlying plot, whether thematically, logically, or symbolically.

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Baby on Board, by Eric Zinda

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A tech demo, May 13, 2022

Games made with the Perplexity engine are hugely unique experiences because of the idiosyncratic way in which the parser and world model work. For reasons I can sort of fathom, this engine eschews conventional parser input practices in favor of a system that aspires to be able to parse truly natural language, but has a long way to go. For reasons I can totally fathom, it also generally eschews bespoke descriptions in favor of automatically-generated ones, which could one day become a golden feature, but also has a long way to go.

Here are some of the amazing interactions I had with this game. I believe they speak for themselves.

(Spoiler - click to show)>who am i
>what am i
>where am i
inside a sidewalk and inside a world
>what color is the sidewalk
a color is not the sidewalk
>take the sidewalk
I can't because it is part of a sidewalk that I am inside

(Spoiler - click to show)>check my inventory
I didn't understand 'inventory'. Maybe try: 'what do you see in there?' and 'Where are you?'
>what do i have
a backside, 2 hand, below you, in back of you, left of you, and right of you
>look at backside
Sorry, I'm designed to understand grammatically correct English. Say 'help' for more information.
>look at my backside
a backside is a backside, a physical object, a place, and a thing. It is connected to you.

While I could comment on Baby on Board as a game and a piece of writing, that would be beside the point, because it is a tech demo first and foremost. And as a tech demo, it displays a mix of promising and concerning features.

To start with the concerning, each turn takes anywhere from 5-15 seconds for the engine to process (at least on my computer, which I do admittedly use to cook certain elements of my breakfast, but the old rig still processes a typical parser turn instantaneously for all practical purposes). Perhaps I lack patience, but to me, this is an extremely serious flaw.

On the other hand, anything that can generate a funny response (intended or otherwise) to trying to take a sidewalk is worthwhile in my view. Perplexity's ability to auto-generate outputs based on the dizzying assortment of relations that it models has actually got me pretty excited. Right now those outputs aren't very good, but the potential is there and I'm eager to see where it will eventually lead.

Though, much like the baby at the center of this game, I reckon the engine won't truly shine without a few more years of development!

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Popstar Idol Survival Game, by CrunchMasterGowon

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Here's How to Play the Whole Thing, April 27, 2022
by Joey Acrimonious
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

As others have pointed out, Popstar Idol Survival Game cuts off at the end of the first challenge, just a few minutes into gameplay. It’s a shame, because what’s there makes it seem like an extremely interesting and possibly hilarious RPG, held back only by an almost complete disregard for grammar.

But you can do what any would-be star popstar idol would do when faced with a seemingly impassable obstacle: cheat.

Since Popstar Idol is game-breakingly bugged in multiple places, there are multiple different fixes you'll need to make by hand in order to play the whole thing from start to finish. As an aside, it might be easier in Twinery, but I know nothing of Twine, so these notes will show you how to make quick-and-dirty fixes in Notepad++.

(Another aside, kudos to Mathbrush for developing the first part of the fix and posting it to the Intfiction forum, which is what inspired me to keep going and fix the remaining gamebreaking bugs.)

Step 1: Download the html file and open it in Notepad++ or a similar text editor.
Step 2: Delete all the text on line 198, where it says (display: "Untitled Passage 12"). Leave the line break on line 198 for ease of line-reference going forward.
Step 3: Navigate to line 1073. Near the end of that line, you'll see (if: $singinggoal is 300). Change just that part to (if: $singingprogress &g-t; 299). Then remove the hyphen between g and t, I just put it there as an admittedly inelegant solution to preventing this form from reading the html and messing everything up.
Step 4: Navigate to line 683. Change Failed to True Ending.
Step 5: when you play the game, be sure to pick Song A rather than Song B when first given the choice.

And that's it. Now, you may be asking, is it worth going through all that rigmarole just to be able to play a buggy game?

My answer is yes. Popstar Idol Survival Game, in its full glory, is a wild ride. The prose is full of errors, the pacing is odd, and the whole plot seems rushed-through without as much time to simmer as it deserves. But the ideas… the raw potential of the wild, zany, epic ideas that unfold in the latter parts of this story is astounding. I genuinely hope the author returns to this work and spends a whole lot more time refining it into the masterpiece it was meant to be.

Gave it 1 star in its current state, but if you apply these fixes, it's easily worth 2.

Edited 26 April 2022: the above instructions were for the version of the game downloadable from the IFComp 2020 site, which is no longer available. For the version that is now on IF Archive (and linked from this IFDB page as of this writing), the basic instructions are the same, but the line numbers have changed.
Step 2: now look on line 223.
Step 3: now look on line 1098.
Step 4: now look on line 708.

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Baggage, by Katherine Farmar

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Pithy parable, January 27, 2022

What I liked:
This is a short but effective tale about someone - let's call them a positive role model - who examines and questions their own psychological baggage, ultimately transforming it into more constructive forms to help them move forward. I found it a beautiful and inspirational read. The entire endeavor is fairly simple, but there's enough metaphor to keep it from feeling totally "in your face."

What I didn't like:
There seems to be a rather serious bug where (Spoiler - click to show)the fellow-traveller will stop speaking if you leave the road and come back.

What I took away:
Sure, Baggage is a fairly short and casual play, and a longer game that explores the same themes in greater depth could perhaps have conveyed them more powerfully. But for a 5-minute experience, it's wonderful.

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An Amical Bet, by Eve Cabanié

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Why so salty?, January 27, 2022

What I liked:
-There's a clever twist waiting at the end.

What I didn't like:
-Poor grammar.
-The main task is rote: walking through rooms and picking up obvious items. It could have stood some more complex puzzles.
-It feels like most of the rooms and objects are there just to fill space. Most of them don't illuminate anything about the world, the story, or the character.
-The protagonist is extremely salty for no apparent reason. She's a guest in someone else's house, burglarizing their things, and she's constantly dissing their decor and the other guests. It would be one thing if the game told us specifically why she finds, e.g., the paintings aesthetically displeasing, but there's no depth to most of her reactions.

What I took away:
A couple of chuckles balanced out by a sense of unease at how mean-spirited the protagonist comes across. At least the game is short enough that it doesn't become too grating.

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