Amazing Quest is a choice-based game by Nick Montfort, published in 2020. The platform is quite unusual, as this appears to be a Commodore 64 game running on an emulator on the IFComp website.
You are a space wayfarer at the end of a victorious journey. To get back home, you answer simple yes / no questions about what to do in various randomized situations.
The minimalism is one of the most striking features of Amazing Quest. The various planets and areas you visit are described with exactly one adjective and one noun each, and the rewards for your success or failure are likewise expressed very succinctly. The writing is as terse as you could possibly get without losing sight of the core idea. It all leaves a lot to the imagination - perhaps too much.
The supplementary materials feature a 2-page manual written on a typewriter. The manual elaborates on the game’s apparent purpose: it should be all about meaningful decision making and getting the player into the mindset of a returning wanderer who has to decide if it would be wise to f.e. speak plainly in a strange place, potentially revealing your weaknesses to hostile characters. The language is somewhat mythical and dramatic, and it reminds me a lot of slightly pulpy science fantasy fiction, possibly even power metal.
The gameplay would work better if (Spoiler - click to show)there was anything at stake here. I tried intentionally creating a fail state inside the game by answering all the questions “wrong”, but I couldn’t do it very consistently and ended up winning every single playthrough. In fact, just smashing ‘enter’ over and over is enough to win the game. It gives me the feeling that victory is inevitable, wrong answers only delay it. I wonder if something like this *is* the intended message of the game? Such an optimistic vibe might be par on course for a game called “Amazing Quest”.
Overall, this is a rather strange title that requires a large suspension of disbelief from the player. Depending on how seriously you take it, there could be a world of adventures here, or there could be almost nothing. I personally found it a bit thought-provoking, at least.
Saint Simon’s Saw is a program by Samuel Thomson, published in 2020. I’m not sure if you can call it a game, as it doesn’t have a conventional goal or a real win state - I would say it’s closer to a tool or a toy.
You’re supposed to think about a problem you have, then pick four cards from a deck to get a short reading. Like the blurb says, the process is a bit like tarot, although different - the cards and the logic of the reading both appear to be designed by the author and contain some unique symbolism and meaning.
The program has been made in Unity and it features some 3d-graphics, a smooth presentation as well as a set of hand-drawn cards. The execution is generally impressive, although there are a few typos and I couldn’t find a button for quickly restarting to get a new reading. Wonder if that is by design?
Carl Jung thought tarot could have relevance in psychology because of the archetypal imagery contained in the cards, and I’m guessing the author is along the same lines here. Symbols can be a powerful way to express concepts, and being confronted with symbolic imagery in relation to a personally important topic might help you see it from a new angle, or possibly ascribe new meaning to it.
The blurb says that this game is “intended as an aid for mediation, and for the envisaging of radical futures”, and I have no doubt that with the right type of a person it will do just the trick. If you enjoy esotericism, symbols, cartomancy and similar topics - or just have a generally pareidolic sensibility - Saint Simon’s Saw could be helpful, enlightening or simply interesting. It only does one thing, but it does it well. (It’s probably a very acquired taste, though.)
Move on is an experimental game made by Serhii Mozhaiskyi, published in 2020. In it, you must flee from mercenaries while carrying a mysterious briefcase.
The gameplay is minimalist and quite unique. The game features an interface with a small graphical representation of your escape vehicle and a single button for progressing in the game. (Spoiler - click to show)Each paragraph of text you read is on a timer. Depending on the clues provided by the text, you either have to wait until the timer runs out or press the button quick, otherwise you get a game over.
The writing is good. It establishes the setting and creates a sense of urgency with only a few words. There isn’t much to the story, overall, but then again, this is essentially a cinematic action scene - keeping your eyes on the road is the biggest priority.
It’s a very short game, but the unique angle to the gameplay makes it feel refreshing, and you definitely can’t say it overstays its welcome.
Conversation With A Picture is a somewhat experimental parser-based game made by Eva Vikstrom, published in 2004. The game is about interacting with a painting, although strangely enough using your eyes won't get you very far - instead, you have to talk with it.
You simply ask the painting about various topics. The replies give hints on other things you could try asking about, until finally you learn the name of the painting and the game ends. It only takes about 5 minutes to play through the game once.
The game has a slightly charming air to it due to its unique premise and cordial tone. It has some educational value too, as the painting and its painter are both historical - (Spoiler - click to show)the painting is The Parrot Cage by Jan Steen - and you learn a bit of real history while talking to the painting.
The game works like expected for the most part, although there are a few immersion-breaking typos and the tutorialization is fairly minimal, which can lead to mild confusion at the very start of the game. I also find it slightly odd that (Spoiler - click to show)the player can't activate the winning commands "ask p about bird" -> "ask p about parrot" until they "sit". Seems like an unnecessary restriction to me, but it probably won't hurt a regular playthrough much.
Conversation With A Picture mostly succeeds at what it sets out to do. Its biggest problem is that it's extremely slight, ending right around the time the player gets into the mood of asking questions and, dare I say, learning. ...Maybe the secret to making a fun educational game is to make it so short that the player doesn't even realize it was educational until it's over? Eva Vikstrom could be on to something here.