Randomized Escape did mostly not make any sense, as even the descriptions seem randomly generated. Still, it tries to be scary, and that is noticeable: There is some thing, in some fog, and some blood. However, as long as passages such as “This van is very dirty. Maybe I should limit my examination to visual perception. And you did.” and “You cannot see any obvious issue through the fog. There is no time for hesitating.” appear, it’s hard to become immersed in the horror. The introduction recommended drawing a map, but I found that to be difficult and not very useful; many rooms have the same name, and the protagonist might suddenly run only to find themselves in a different (random) room. Still, despite not being a particularly enjoyable game, it’s interesting to see an experiment like this.
Limerick Heist does impress,
its story impresses no less.
I thought I was smart
but then must restart,
finding myself in a mess.
Flight of the CodeMonkeys is based on the neat idea of setting an IF into a programming notebook. You can play it even if you don’t know any programming from before, and probably even learn something through it. The game doesn’t go very deep into coding, however, and the opportunities you get to hack the system end up feeling less than immersive. Still, I liked the idea, and think it demonstrates how you can use IF as an educational tool to teach programming. My main criticism of this game is that you need to create a Google account in order to play it.
Fat Fair is really well implemented, with special verbs, alternative endings and several secrets. The main task is rather simple to achieve, while the challenge lies in finding the alternative paths. I was very impressed to read in the ‘about’ section that this was the author’s first game. However, the humour that is integral to the game did not really appeal to me. I really hope the author continues to make IF games, though somewhat less crass.
Mental Entertainment was a curious piece of IF. It is essentially puzzleless, and although conversational you don’t really get responses to anything but the set of keywords listed in ‘about’ and whatever the replies are to those. You are assigned the heavy task of assessing three people’s mental states and deciding whether they are addicts or not. However, the outcome is the same regardless of your decision; you do not get to see the consequences.
As such, as a work of IF, Mental Entertainment doesn’t really reach very far. What we are left with then is the fabula, the story behind the plot. In this, Mental Entertainment is slightly unique and somewhat cliché; we are exposed to a world of the future where everything right and real is gone, and where VR is the only reasonable escape. To me, this is a decent premise, and the world has been crafted with passion and care, but the IF aspects, or rather lack thereof, left me somewhat dissatisfied.
Gone Out for Gruyère is based on one of the most silly, crazy and absurd premises I have encountered in an IF. It’s also quite easy; here I ultimately find the writing and the humour more essential than the puzzles. And with a talking cheese that mocks your every move as its antagonist, it is very funny.
The homage that is Frenemies does not only feature a die-hard fan who has filled his dorm room with objects from Andy Phillips’ games, but is also centered around a single puzzle that should make Phillips proud. Of the games alluded to in Frenemies, I have only played Inside Woman 1, which is without doubt the longest and most difficult game I have completed. The main puzzle in Frenemies is possible to solve in five minutes, but more likely to take you close to two hours of tears and frustration, followed by a deep and fulfilling sense of accomplishment. If the game were significantly larger, I would have probably regarded this puzzle as too clever, but as it stands more or less alone in a one-room game, I think it’s just perfect. The writing is mostly excellent, though the humour a bit juvenile at times, while the protagonist carries some of the naïve, self-mocking touch that characterised Tom from the Bullhockey games.
Ocean Beach is primarily meditative, beautifully and frustratingly so.
Pauses are part of the game.
Pauses are a big part of the game.
They take time. At sunset.
I quickly realised I wasn’t going to get far in Very Vile Fairy File without the walkthrough. Almost all of the interaction in the game consists of coming up with a suitable alliterative rhyme. I can absolutely acclaim an admirable alliteration (with or without a rhyming sensation), but managing this was beyond me. In the required rhymes were old English, American slang and several words I had never heard. For those who feel they are up to a serious rhyming challenge, the game does feature an innovative help system, and for those who don’t, it’s still worth playing through with a walkthrough. Very Vile Fairy File is funny, clever, and well implemented.
Jon Doe - Wildcard Nucleus clearly alludes to the classic James Bond stories, most notably in its opening scene, but generally lacks the humour to be characterised as a good parody. In fact, the absence of humour throughout the game becomes rather noticeable after introducing two silly names in the beginning: Miss Bestbeforedate and Adolf von Bolzplatz (Adolf of the football field). I do get the feeling that the game was intended to be essentially parodic and funny, but that this focus was lost during production.
While the descriptions generally are good and paints a decently vivid picture of retro-modernity, some of the language bears the mark of a rudimentary translation. This, along with several bugs and the fact that little of the described scenery is implemented, made Jon Doe a somewhat disappointing experience. The puzzles are also few and not that interesting – and I still got stuck twice. However, I would probably not have been equally disappointed if it weren’t for the promising premise and the intriguing blurb. Jon Doe has a lot of potential, but requires more work to fulfill it.
The House on Sycamore Lane is a very traditional haunted house mystery. It’s also riddled with bugs and typos. Despite this, I actually quite enjoyed it. None of the bugs I noticed were game breaking, and they also did not stand in the way of solving the puzzles. The puzzles were generally really nice, albeit a tad easy. What I liked about them were how they were integrated in the story, that they always felt reasonable and that they give a nice flow to playing the game. The story was nothing special, but decent enough and provided a certain level of immersion, enough to make it enjoyable. Some extensive testing and a good update could turn The House on Sycamore Lane into a rather good piece of IF.
For the Moon Never Beams is a tricky horror puzzler, though most of the trickiness comes from not really knowing what you are supposed to achieve, rather than from being easily devoured. I would have appreciated some inner thoughts from the protagonist giving clues about the end goal. Should I flee or should I fight? Is there hope of salvation at the end? After having played it twice (earning 10 and 70 points out of 100, respectively) I still have no clue. This, I felt, was also its greatest weakness. On the other hand, both the writing and the implementation are solid, and the pacing – emphasized by a constant fear of dying – is great.
Bradford Mansion is a largish puzzle oriented parser mystery that is possible to solve without understanding anything of the mystery. When I finished it (after 2 hours, 10 minutes and 24 seconds according to the end message) there were still four locked things, and 12 more points to achieve (out of 74). Perhaps a lot is hidden behind these points, perhaps not; without them, at least, the story was quite thin, with the biggest mystery being the behaviour of the butler. Throughout the mansion there are, however, a large amount of symbolic paintings, hinting at a strange and deep mystery that reasonably should stretch far beyond my 12 missing points. I am curious as to what I have missed, but perhaps not sufficiently to play it over again.
I don’t always mind a thin story if the puzzles are good, and for the most part, they were good enough, although not very original. Both interestingly and frustratingly, however, Bradford Mansion is written with a seemingly custom engine, running directly in the console. One one hand, this gave it somewhat of a classic parser feeling, though on the other hand, everything goes much slower without the shortcuts and assistance that modern engines provide. You can’t use pronouns, you often have to write the full name of a thing, the up arrow doesn’t bring up the last command and there was no abbreviation for ‘look’.
During my playthrough I ended up consulting the walkthrough twice. While the last one was the matter of me overlooking a fairly obvious clue, the first was the result of a very strict parser to the point where I never could have guessed the correct syntax. In fact, the parser is generally quite unforgiving here, with many reasonable synonyms not being accepted. For anyone else that would like to play Bradford Mansion – and it’s still quite likeable, despite its limitations – I’m fairly certain that you don’t need to ‘search’, nor to ‘look under/inside/etc’, something that would have reduced my amount of moves significantly had I known it.
Old Jim’s Convenience Store is somewhat simple and unoriginal, but rather sweet nonetheless. It is essentially a very short and easy parser puzzler, made slightly more difficult by having to guess a few verbs. It’s also quite unpolished, something that rather detracted significantly from my enjoyment of it. The writing is decent enough, but also nothing special. Still, it only takes about 15 minutes to play through it, and that much it was definitely worth.
Out is a puzzleless parser game that can be completed in less than two minutes, though it is worth stopping to explore the sights on your journey. The implication of the title and the blurb is what it seems to be, but although labeled as a slice-of-life it is actually much more. For such a short IF it is very deep and thoughtful and it surprised me in a good way.
Remedial Witchcraft is a really lovely game with spells and wands and potions and a cat. As a puzzler, it is an easy one, yes, but the puzzles are great too, well conceived and perfectly implemented; they’re generally not obvious from the start, though always solvable through experimentation and a bit of pondering. The protagonist is the most charming character I’ve encountered so far in this year’s IFComp and I really hope I will meet her again in a sequel!
ALICE BLUE may only run in a Linux terminal, but its general design is more akin to such Twine games where some words in the text are highlighted and can be clicked, which in turn changes bits and pieces of the text. In this case, the game, or the story, seems more abstract than most. You navigate memories and are supposed to be able to enter several rooms throughout it. I’m afraid I very rarely am able to enjoy such IF, but was very impressed with the fact that ALICE BLUE was written as a bash script – a very limited programming language – and really well implemented. For a game in a terminal, it looks very good, and it has nice music too!
The Untold Story is somewhat peculiar. With a touch of nature, some wizardry, a bit of classic symbolism and a protagonist dealing with loss, it builds on several familiar tropes, some of which they don’t feel like they belong together at all, not in the way they are mixed here. On top of that, the protagonist is extremely religious (which doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the story as a whole) and several actions are assessed morally out of the blue.
The main problem, however, is that the game is severely underimplemented and quite bug-ridden. It is functional enough to finish, but I had to resort to parser-aware methods (such as dropping an item in one place in order to pick up another item in another place) to progress, and repeatedly got stuck trying to perform an action that was hinted at being possible but the parser wouldn’t allow.
As a light puzzle driven IF, The Untold Story has it’s good parts too. The setting was rather nice, and many of the descriptions were good. In general I would regard it as a very easy game, as the solutions to most puzzles were rather obviously hinted at. If the game receives a significant update that fixes the implementation issues, I would recommend that the hinting be toned down a bit as well. I’m sure it can be turned into a decent game, but it’s just not there yet.
Treasure Hunt in the Amazon is not a great game by today’s standards. It shows that it was originally crafted in 1985, and I suppose it was a relatively decent game back then. The remake is certainly decently implemented and lets you disable all the elements of time and randomness that made the original difficult to finish on a first playthrough. Without such restrictions, however, the game became surprisingly easy; the map is not big, the verbs don’t have to be guessed, the descriptions are sparse, and an automap makes it easy to navigate. In the end it took about 15 minutes to play through. It was nice to play, but rather as a curiosity – a way to experience a classic from the eighties through the comfort of the present.
Surrealism and dreamscapes is something that interactive fiction, a medium where anything that can be expressed in words can be experienced, is particularly suited for. In The Four Eccentrics, you literally dive right into a very peculiar dream. Already the opening landscape, a park filled with globes containing other dreams, sparks the imagination in ways that visual media cannot. From there, the game opens up to a fabulous world of wonders and strangeness.
In a dreamscape such as this, there’s always a danger that navigation becomes an issue of some difficulty; if diamonds are food and words are currency, how do you even begin to guess the verb? The Four Eccentrics handles this very well, and although you can do several unorthodox things in its dream, most of them come rather natural.
In a way, the basics of the story, your mission in the game, is an archetypical one, which makes it easier to find your way forward and finally reach the conclusion. I liked this contrast. Two other surrealistic games I have enjoyed are Shade and Sub Rosa. The Four Eccentrics is very different from either of these, though somewhat closer to the latter. In particular, more things are clear, much thanks to the world being populated by several NPCs to assist you on your way.
To be honest, there is room for plenty of polish for The Four Eccentrics to become a truly enjoyable experience; I’ve seen descriptions coming before they should and others that linger on until the end, objects that are both there and not (but not in a dreamy way), and at least one case of serious disambiguation problems. Still, it was a very enjoyable game, and it certainly has the potential of becoming a classic.
This is essentially a puzzleless IF and reads as a cross between Jack Kerouac and Quentin Tarantino if they were making a Sci-Fi B-movie together, very late at night. Or something like that. The main thing Enceladus has going for it is its humour, crass and absurd and with lots of attitude. As a work of IF, Enceladus wasn’t really my thing, but I would like to acknowledge that it’s quite well written, and I’m sure many will love it.
Island in the Storm feels like a classic game in a brand new interpreter. Classic, not only in the type of story and puzzles, but also in the sense that a lot of the verbs and shortcuts we take for granted are absent. There is no such verb as “move”, and pronouns are generally not understood. As the engine behind it is still in early development, such things are not entirely unexpected and may change in the future. I also met a few bugs during my play, including one which I believe has prevented me from completing the game.
That said, both the game and the interpreter were pleasant to experience.
The interpreter has quite a modern feel to it, with an enjoyable layout and style featuring differently coloured frames around the text. For being in early development, the look of it certainly gives a sense of maturity. Some aspects of the engine feels still a bit rough around the edges though, especially the default responses (such as “The passed out villagers doesn’t sell a drink in the villagers’ cups.”)
The game felt rather old-school in many ways: You can die, and there is no “undo”. It’s not strictly necessary to map it, but it does help with finding your way back. There are dark caves and number puzzles and beaches and keys.
Island in the Storm was not at all as hard as the old games I have tried, however, which was much appreciated. None of the puzzles are absurd or outlandish, but I did have to think and search around for a bit. If it weren’t for the bug, I think I would have been able to get through it in around two hours. I would definitely recommend this game after a bit of polish and bugfixing.
Turandot was actually a choice-IF I could enjoy, and not just because it was really funny. It is very different from a CYOA; here, the choices are as one part of a dialogue; no waiting, no clicking around, just a steady progress, always forward, and always hilarious. Great stuff!
This is a solid, well-polished game with lovely humour and great puzzles. Not mind-blowing, just very good. In the end I found it was rather perfectly balanced, integrating a lovely and fun story with a decent set of rather original puzzles. The flow and timing of Zozzled is particularly impressive, making it clear that this is the work of an experienced author. Of Steph’s earlier games, I have only played Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! which I found too easy, making it more of a story than a game. Zozzled, on the other hand, manages to combine story and game as well as any work of IF I have played. I’m sure it will be featured on many lists of recommended IF in the years to come.
A friendly and fun underwater game with a good spirit, which should be as suitable for children as it was for me. For the half-seasoned adventurer I am it took about 15-20 minutes to complete without hints. The puzzles were all very logical, though the syntax was at times a bit strict.
Clusterflux is truly an ambitious project, and a much larger game than initial appearances would suggest. It’s actually impressively huge, especially considering it’s a one-author game. Described as a “weird mystery”, it’s also right up my alley, and I enjoyed it immensely. It did, however, take me six hours to get through it and had to consult the walkthrough twice. I think it would be hard for most to finish in under two hours, though the first two hours were just as enjoyable as the rest. Well, perhaps apart from the half-hour I spent banging my head against a specific puzzle.
In general terms, I would like to describe Clusterflux as a modern self-conscious style puzzle IF, where an everyday protagonist enters absurdity as if it were the most natural thing in the world – not too dissimilar to Bill Lindsay’s excellent Bullhockey games.
While the plot is more than sold enough, and its absurdity intriguing, the puzzles are what makes this a great game. They are always clever, but generally not too clever, and solving them provides proper satisfaction. I was planning to stop after two hours, but this is the kind of game I can’t put down until I have finished it.
With a game as big and ambitious as Clusterflux, there will likely be several small bugs persevering even rigorous beta-testing and I did meet a few of these. Still, it is impressive how polished it is, with thorough descriptions for almost everything. The large gallery of autonomous NPCs made certain scenes a bit confusing, but useful conversations are limited by a topic list which made it manageable.
A tremendous amount of work has gone into this game and I’m immensely grateful for it.