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Andromeda Acolytes, by Wade Clarke

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A dazzling start, September 15, 2022

In fact, dazzling would be an understatement. But before we dive into that let’s start with some background.

Note: This review is about a first chapter demo for a commercial game (hm, now that I think about it Andromeda Acolytes is probably the first commercial Inform game that I have played). As a formality, the review is also based off info on the IFDB listing. Other websites have additional content.

Continuing…..

Andromeda Acolytes is part of the Andromeda Series and, based on what I have seen so far, seems to branch off in terms of story depth and gameplay style (such as scuba diving). If I had not known that this game was part of the series, I would not have made the connection, or at least within the demo. The Andromeda Series was created by Marco Innocenti and is certainty worth your time. I was not particularly a fan of Andromeda Awakening - The Final Cut (I must admit, I only played the first half) but was really impressed with Andromeda Apocalypse — Extended Edition which won the 2012 IF Comp (and I played that one several times and recommend it). There are other installments by other authors but those two seem like the "main ones.” Even if Andromeda Acolytes takes the series in a new direction, I have no doubt that it will be valuable addition.

Gameplay
This is a seriously cool game. When I first saw it, I pounced. The demo reminds me of the game Subnautica (non-interactive fiction) and Tangaroa Deep (Twine) composed into vivid Inform piece. For a true effect watch Blue Planet afterwards.

The protagonist’s name is Korhva Vits, but usually referred to as Vits in the game. Vits has been assigned to a submersible mission to clear debris and relocate sea life. The player stays in a dive zone where they manage objects’ weight limits and their own oxygen levels. The game ends once you complete all tasks.

The locations can be overwhelming at first due to the amount of detail (which is also a good thing) but the game makes things user-friendly, especially with character dialog. The “think” command summarizes your tasks which is especially useful. I appreciate how the player’s oxygen levels decrease at steady but slow pace rather than depleting too quickly. Part of the immersive quality is that creatures are swimming around as you explore which gives it a simulation feel. It is the construction of a detail ecosystem that makes it vivid.

Story
The overarching story is that the planet Monarch (actually, I do remember Monarch from the other games) is populated with a modern human civilization that has no knowledge of how humanity came to exist on their world. The demo is too short to really delve into the game’s vast story. If anything, I was expecting a bit more in terms of a synopsis, but the effect only leaves me drooling for more. The game’s description (VR, cities, machines, wild technology, you name it) is vast, and the demo only skims the surface. There is a (Spoiler - click to show) mysterious slab under the boulder in the trench, which was interesting, but otherwise no story developments. But hey, it is a demo, and I think the author balanced story content with gameplay. Andromeda Acolytes paces its worldbuilding.

Characters
The gameplay is in first person. There is not a whole lot of information on Korhva Vits, but unlike Innocenti’s first two games in the series the protagonist is female. I thought that this was an interesting change and look forward to learning more about Vits. The game’s description explains that there are three other female protagonists who will appear in the full release, but for the demo it is just Vits.

There are three other characters whom the player hears over the comms: Dion, Hugo, and Eichi, but the player only speaks to Dion since the other two are in different dive zones. The game uses the “talk to” mechanic and characters have detailed responses based on the location whenever the player speaks. Even though the game does not share much about Dion’s character they are still interesting because of their friendly relationship with Vits.

Visuals
That is correct, there is a few visual elements in this game. There is a map on the right side of the screen and consists of a bright blue gradient background with boxes marking the player's location and the possible exits. This minor but crisp feature evokes an ocean atmosphere with its colour choice. It can also be turned off to save screen space. The author seems to strive to make things user-friendly. Hopefully the full release will continue with built-in maps.

(The cover art is also fantastic, by the way.)

Final thoughts
As you can see, the game’s page on IFDB says that the game will be released in 2025 (potentially shorted if you support the author) which is a while, but I think it will be worth the wait. If the demo is any indicator, I have a feeling that it will be immensely popular with players when it is released. The player only gets to dip their toes into the sand with the demo, but it has every sign of being a stellar game.


Star Yonza, by Betaproject
A sci-fi adventure that needs development before it can shine, September 14, 2022

Our PC is Yonza, an alien protagonist seeking out a life with purpose. Often games opt with human protagonists with diverse alien NPCs, so I like the game’s approach. It is also a game about gender and life circumstances. As Yonza you will explore these issues by interacting with a diverse range of characters.

Gameplay
The decision at the start of the game is to pick between the Rebel Alliance and the Federation. If you choose Rebel Alliance, you go home to share your decision with your family before leaving to find Rebel presence in the city so you can accept your first mission. This part involves hanging out at bars and burger joints until you find the correct password to meet with other rebels. If you choose the Federation instead, you will automatically be assigned to a mission. This too, involves investigating culinary establishments but character encounters have some variation.

The game has the player roll dice for some choices, but dice concept is only used a few times. I am not particularly a fan of games that rely on dice, but if they are going to utilize it, I feel like they should stick to it. This game abandons it early on. The game also does not say that you need dice at the start of the game so you might be left hunting for one after the game begins. Or you can skip but I still gave it a try on my first playthrough.

Eventually, the game becomes less interactive. Aside from choosing the order in which to talk to people, which does not affect anything, the gameplay consists of clicking on a single link at the bottom of the screen. There is also a lot of text on the screen that can be difficult to process. I recommend playing this game at least twice to experience its content.

Story
The game's genre on IFDB is "Educational," and its description says that its goal is to tackle queer issues in a sci-fi setting. This is an excellent goal. Science fiction opens all sorts of possibilities with alien species, locations, technologies, and political customs that act as a backdrop when exploring present day subjects. For an author, your mind can go wild while conveying important messages to players. In fact, there already are games out there that analyze crucial topics about social issues and human rights through their engaging stories. Star Yonza would be the same way if it did not suffer from unpolished implementation. The idea is still important, but it is too confusing and scattered at the moment for its idea to leave a mark on the player. I liked how the game portrays a diverse range of family structures, such as with Yonza’s family, but the rest felt murky.

There are two story points that the player investigates. The first is (Spoiler - click to show) housing displacement in the aftermath of a civil war, and the second is a lumber resource conflict. The player interviews a selection of individuals for both issues. The most cohesive part of the game is talking to NPCs about their experiences. This is where the game starts to dig in with subjects about housing and economic equality. For each case the game lists NPC responses on the screen so you can compare them until everyone has been interviewed. The gameplay then shuffles on. I found it difficult to outline the game’s story structure and plot elements, but the ending (Spoiler - click to show) is lighthearted. It is about cultivating your own family and friend support system with the people around you. It also a satisfying ending for Yonza because everything seems to click into place.

Visuals
The game sticks to a basic visual design with white screen, black text, and blue links. The text was easy to read though paragraphs are formatted awkwardly.

There are quite a few spelling and grammar errors. I am not referring to pronouns which at first, I thought they were misspellings until I realized that they are intentional. I do like how the author strives diversify beyond him/he, she/her, they/them pronouns in a sci-fi work.

Final thoughts
Star Yonza is a short game (10 minutes) that you should play more than once to get the most out of it. Even though it seems to have (Spoiler - click to show) only one ending there is variation in the gameplay that can be enjoyed. The game is rough around the edges, something that would be alleviated through testing. Regardless, its characters, including Yonza, are still vibrant and its subject matter on queerness is still significant.


BaoBao, by Cass Khaw & James Persaud

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An unusual yet elegant remembering of one's mother, September 12, 2022

BaoBao follows the trope* of a protagonist digging through a computer only to find a surprise AI. Our protagonist is Aiyo. Her mother recently passed away and she now needs to sort through the contents of her computer. Along the way she uncovers an AI.

Gameplay
Gameplay consists of the player rummaging through a directory system on a computer. There are several directories, such as recipes or notes, each of which contain a file named “baobao” and a string of numbers. The other files in the directories are of no interest. The player only makes progress by exploring the baobao files, but when they do an AI intervenes. The AI prevents the player from viewing the file’s contents but instead adds new commands to the home folder that expand the story.

The game also has the option making a cup of tea before returning to the computer. This added some ambience because the protagonist is trying to stay calm, and level minded in the aftermath of her mother’s death. It adds a nice self-reflective approach. And if the player wants to pause the game itself to make some tea, that is fine too.

The game's description is "A young woman is sorting through her deceased mother’s personal computer and finds an AI in her way." If I did not know otherwise, I would not have said to myself "oh wow, I found an AI!" It is more subtle than that. They only part that screamed AI was when (Spoiler - click to show) the game says, “Aiya, don’t try to hide your face. I can see you know. This computer got webcam. Aiyo. No make-up also,” implying that it is Aiyo’s mother, or at least a digital version of her, is present. These interactions are brief and sometimes it can be confusing to keep track of when the AI is addressing the player and when the player is merely experiencing the Aiyo’s thoughts, especially since they are both shown with the same white text formatting. It does not feel like you are interacting with an NPC. While I liked the subtly, this vagueness may disengage players.

Story
Game has some interesting themes on femininity, especially from traditional conventions. Aiyo has vivid memories of her mother and philosophies of beauty. Especially vivid ones are the smell of her mother's perfume or the fancy ornate patterns on her lipstick case the surface as she searches the computer. We learn that her mother was (Spoiler - click to show) always worried about her daughter's chances of finding a decent husband, one that would love her and never have affairs since her own husband had a beautiful girlfriend on the side. That was her main priority for Aiyo. She would often say that Aiyo was not pretty enough and that she should take things like makeup seriously. From the mother's perspective, this was not meant to be mean but to ensure that her daughter found a husband who would love and respect her. From Aiyo’s perspective this was stifling, and she was frustrated over her mother's attempts to find her the perfect lipstick shade colour or pressuring her to diet to maintain a feminine size and figure. These differences in ideologies come to light as the AI reveals more about the mother’s view of her daughter. They begin to come to an understanding.

I kept thinking that baobao is a pretty cool name for an AI until I found the translation. 宝宝 (baobao) is a word from the Chinese language that means baby or treasure and can be used as a term of endearment. The application of the word can vary, but this definition was the bulk of the results I found. So, is the (Spoiler - click to show) AI Aiyo’s mother or is it just a model of her personality and interests? Did her mother intentionally create the AI or was it accidentally formed from the clutter on the computer? There is a lot to consider with intriguing implications. The game ends with (Spoiler - click to show) the AI giving the player full access to every baobao titled file on the computer so that the Aiyo can finally see the parts of her mother that were always hidden, the parts where she genuinely loved her daughter but failed to convey it in life. In death it is as if Aiyo is relearning her mother. The game wraps this up on a graceful note that I found to be memorable.

Visuals
The game keeps it simple with the visuals but uses stylization to create the appearance of a computer screen. For these segments the game has a black screen with green text and blue links. Otherwise, it sticks to white text. The creative part was that the player could choose between clinking on links to navigate the computer or type them in. This added some nice interactivity to an otherwise basic Twine format.

Final thoughts
I really enjoyed this one. It is a thoughtful sci-fi game with a contemplative approach to death and memories. The dynamics between Aiyo and her mother were especially compelling and thoughtful. Throughout their lives they always seemed to clash in values but now Aiyo gets to see the possibility that she was closer to her mother than they both realized. Plus, I liked the cover art.

*Binary by Stephen Granade comes to mind, even though it has a different tone and subject matter.


Alco's Infinity, by drakirby

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A human, a cyborg, or an AI? A casual look at different definitions, September 11, 2022

Alco’s Infinity follows Alco, a crewmember on a four-person starship that carries out assignments for the Universal Corps. This is a world where it is commonplace for people to undergo body augmentation to better perform in their jobs and daily lives, and where almost everyone has a built-in assistant AI. Alco’s AI is named Eve.

The game touches on themes about transhumanism and how people view your own expression of self. What does it mean to identify as human in a society where advanced augmentations can make one seem more machine than (hu)man? Is there a boundary between being an augmented human and a machine with a human experience? I was pleased to see that Alco’s Infinity strives to incorporate these ideas into player-character interactions. By no means is this game a comprehensive discussion of this subject. But as a short Twine game it does give the player a taste of possible perspectives.

Gameplay
Note: Technically there is nothing that says that Alco is male or female so I will just refer to them as a gender-neutral protagonist.

Before the game begins, the player is told that they will have four opportunities to influence the gameplay. Normally I like Twine games that are a little more interactive, especially ones with lots of text in each scene, but I appreciate how direct the game is by giving the player an overview of its interactivity and how they should expect it to shape the story. Even though four opportunities do not sound like much it does make it where you feel like you can follow how your choices guide your path in the game. The easiness of exploring each route also adds replay value.

For example, the first choice that you make (Spoiler - click to show) summarizes your life’s mission and determines the sightseeing activity that you do later in the game. The worldbuilding is rich and vibrant. It is the type of metropolitan spaceport that could even attract the player if such as place existed. It is an alien urban setting with noodle bars, creative alien species, museums, and an infinitely diverse range of businesses. The gameplay only devotes a sliver of time to explore these areas, but the author knows how to cultivate a diverse landscape, however brief.

An important point near the start of the game is (Spoiler - click to show) when the crew meet with two ambassadors of an alien species that requires both parties to communicate via integrated AI. Halfway through the conversation, one of the ambassador’s AI goes haywire. Alco transfers Eve to the ambassador’s system to run some diagnostics. This brief separation from Eve almost gives Alco a panic attack, but this ends when she returns (I recommend playing the scene in Alco’s hotel room where Eve speaks about this moment while Alco swims in an ocean simulation). Everything seems to go back to normal, but later the story proves otherwise.

In the final segment of gameplay, (Spoiler - click to show) the crew is tasked with investigating an alarm at an abandoned outpost. As they search the area Alco notices that Eve seems to have disappeared. Suddenly Alco and Wen stumble into a room to find an android strangling Aego. On the ground is Brav, dead. The android addresses everyone in Eve’s voice, but it turns out that Eve was never Eve in the first place. This is where the story reveals itself.

Story
When (Spoiler - click to show) Eve transferred into the ambassador’s system to repair the glitching AI, she was altered in a way that would allow her to exercise more control over herself when she returned to Alco. “Eve” explains that the name Eve, along with the female gender, were attributes programmed during manufacture. The identity of Alco’s AI was truly a genderless AI named Api. Being forced to perform as Eve was a frustrating experience for Api but they had no way of conveying that.

Now, my initial guess was that (Spoiler - click to show) Eve did not return after running the ambassador’s diagnostic and was replaced by an imposter AI named Api. This would mean that Eve was still out there waiting to return. This is false. My first reaction to this was disappointment. Previous gameplay consisted of Alco having an endearing relationship with Eve, his trusty assistant. But now I feel like this twist is more thought provoking and interesting. It does not assume that the only role of an AI in a story is to happily assist human protagonists. Nor does it go down the vengeful AI route where Api rains down on humanity, though I anticipated that when we find Brav’s corpse. Api’s intent at the outpost was to inhabit an android body to escape but accidentally triggered an alarm. Api also claims that they killed Brav out of self-defense and asks for Alco to allow them to leave and live an independent life. The last choice in the game is for the player to decide whether to accept that request. Oddly enough, each outcome is a positive one. Whichever choice you make Alco and Api seem to reach an understanding.

The game says it has (Spoiler - click to show) nine endings but that sounds like a stretch. It feels like there are three endings each of which have three small variations in the concluding text. It is the difference between "You have a long and happy life, and feel that you have assisted and loved others as much as you possibly could" and "You have a long and happy life, and feel that you have contributed as much as you could to the universe."

Characters
Alco’s crewmembers are a bit polarized. On one hand we have Brav who is strongly biased and upfront about his view that heavily augmented individuals, including his own coworker, are essentially robots instead of humans. Of all the characters he seemed to lack depth since he is solely portrayed with a stereotypical brash self-centered leadership type that makes the other characters roll their eyes when he speaks. I found the other characters to be more interesting.

Then there is Aego who has more augmented parts in their body than organic ones and is tired of being viewed as a machine with a human brain. In terms of self-expression Aego still identifies as human even if their extensive augmentations make people categorize them as otherwise. This is offset by a somewhat neutral Wu who wants everyone to get along and acts as the peaceful middle ground between Brav and Aego. The player than gets to choose which “side” they are on which influences interactions with NPCs.

The second main gameplay choice (Spoiler - click to show) is your viewpoint on whether augmentations alter what it means to “qualify” as a human being. Later the crew moves to a hotel where the player makes their third choose of deciding if they want to visit one of the crewmembers one-on-one. Your response from your (Spoiler - click to show) second choice determines the dialog that occurs in this scene. I felt that this was a basic but straightforward way of comparing different character perspectives because it encourages you to replay the game to mix and match the second and third choices to explore each NPC’s response.

Visuals
Not much to comment on here, but with Twine games I still like to provide an overview. Uses a standard black screen with white text and blue links. Everything is organized neatly on the screen without any noticeable spelling errors or awkward formatting. Keeps it simple.

Final thoughts
At the time of this review, Alco’s Infinity is the author’s only game. If this is what their first game is like I wonder what (or if at all) work would come next. They have a knack for pairing familiar concepts and ideas about technology into a fun sci-fi game with interesting characters. While I would have loved to explore the setting a little more, I was impressed with the worldbuilding. The gameplay is worth your time, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.


Trial of the Inuop, by Jordan Jones
Simple but fun UFO-reminiscent game, September 10, 2022

The premise of the story is that you have been abducted from your house by an alien species who call themselves the Inuop. They put you in a room with instructions to solve the puzzles within. If you solve it correctly, they will not invade Earth. If not, you are sucked into the vacuum of space. Currently I have not completed every puzzle in the game to see this outcome.

There is nothing in the game that flat-out says, “you have been abducted by a UFO,” but the introduction depicts a PC minding their own business in their living room when they are suddenly transported onto an alien vessel. That seems close to the abducted-by-an-UFO trope. I do not know if we ever get to meet the aliens directly in the gameplay. Hopefully they will keep their word about not invading Earth.

Based on what played I have played so far it appears to be a one room escape game, although I cannot say for certain until I finish it. The gameplay begins with a timer permitting the player 11 turns before the airlock opens. This adds some momentary suspense until (Spoiler - click to show) the player finds a way to disarm the timer. After that, there are no time restraints on the gameplay. The room has mostly Earth-familiar objects such as a desk, wardrobe, and couch. Later, this is combined with more alien technology. There are in-game hints, but they cut off when you reach the gameplay with alien gadgets.

I enjoyed the puzzles. They are simple and familiar but still require the player put their puzzle-solving hat on. It is not a difficult game either, but I must admit that I am currently stuck on one puzzle that is preventing me from making any more progress. I am stuck at the part where you (Spoiler - click to show) press the buttons on the panel to reveal the glass container that contains an alien device. Trying to open or break it had no effect. The game does suffer from some light implementation issues. One obstacle was:

>open glass container
It isn't something you can open.

>break glass container
The container remains undamaged. There must be some other way to get it open.

Looks like you are supposed to open it. If only I could figure out how.
Oddly enough, there is (Spoiler - click to show) an eye printed on the glass container. If you stare at the eye it appears to move. Is there a way to communicate with it? The game implements the BLINK command but so far blinking has done nothing towards solving anything. After a while I decided to stop there. If I ever finish it, I may update this review. In the meantime, I still recommend this game. I enjoyed it and it has a nice balance of refining things down to the basics without being sparse.


Aurora, by katz

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Great beginning but I want to see it finished, September 6, 2022

You are peacefully snoozing away in cryosleep when an alarm wakes you. The ship has not reached its destination and there is an unknown emergency. Sound familiar? Yes and no. This game draws upon recognizable themes of a starship running into trouble in space and pairs it with creative gameplay mechanics. Because the game is unfinished the goal of this review is to offer feedback over its strengths and weaknesses. (This is also probably my longest review yet so hold on………!)

Gameplay
Basics
This is a multi-protagonist game. You start as Jake, the ship's physician. Once you start to wake up the crew the game uses the command “switch to [character name]” to let you play as a different character. The characters remain in one spot until you return. Other games have probably used this mechanic, but it was relatively new for me, and I enjoyed how it shaped the gameplay.

So far, the inside of the ship has about 19 rooms to explore plus locations outside of the ship accessible via spacewalk. I have been unable to get past the retinal scanners that lead to the cockpit and cargo bay. I appreciated how the game allows to you choose between nautical directions and compass directions. Yeah, yeah, I know nautical is more realistic but with IF I am always tempted to just stick with compass directions when I play. Is that lazy of me? Maybe.

Cyberspace
Part of the game takes place in cyberspace which was cool. Accessing the computer is done through VR where the user dons a set of goggles and navigates cyberspace with an avatar by touching links and opening folders. Locked folders require a key, and some contents are protected by encryption. The game says that you need a pass to decrypt the files, but I have not found one yet. I especially liked (Spoiler - click to show) the puzzle of learning how to operate the pods by accessing the instructions in Aleksey’s folder.

After a while, navigating these folders can be tedious because each time you enter cyberspace you have to unlock each file individually and ensure that you have the proper keys. While I think that the character avatars are a bit childish* (anime cats?) and detract from the gameplay’s more somber tone, I like how the contents of each crew members’ personal folders share some insight into their personality.
*Childish given the context.

Stopping points
There are two points in the game where I ran out of progress. The first is (Spoiler - click to show) with diagnosing the crew and the second is (Spoiler - click to show) the phenomena found in Wu’s spacewalk.

The issue with the (Spoiler - click to show) crew stems from the alarm that goes off at the start of the game. The alarm reveals that Aleksey died in his pod. If the player performs an autopsy on Aleksey, they find a small crystal burrowed into his head. The crystal is a nanomachine and likely responsible for his death. The gameplay does not go any further into this. Three other crewmembers have mysterious brain damage and are comatose when you open their pods. Jake keeps saying that he needs to further investigate the crew's condition by running an MRI. But is that possible? I cannot find an MRI machine anywhere in the sickbay. That was as far as I could go.

The second progress stopping point that I reached was (Spoiler - click to show) having Wu attempt a spacewalk to fix the subspace jumper. But Wu’s spacewalk is completely different than if you spacewalk as Jake or Gail. When you step out of the airlock your spacesuit disappears and you are surrounded by mist with voices in the background. There is also a creature lurking about. In the dead of space. Strange but exciting. Furthermore, the game does not let you switch with other characters. If you try the response is "You're not getting out of this that easily.” This effectively created suspense and a sense of danger. Trying to wake up also brings an interesting response. You seem to be in a dreamful state.

When you listen in the mist, you hear voices. I followed the voices’ instructions of "wait, wait, wait, search, search, look" and then got ambushed by an unknown space creature which caused everything to plunge into darkness. Then what? There is more whispering, but it leads nowhere. This felt like a dead end. Still, it leaves the player on an interesting note.


Story
For trivia, the game takes place in 2149. Not bad in terms of advancements in space exploration! Humanity is now heading out of the solar system.

Some general background: The ship’s mission is to travel to a planet named Aglaea to establish humanity’s first presence on a world outside of Earth’s solar system. Ideally, the crew remains in cryogenic sleep until the ship reaches its destination. Once they construct a prototype colony the crew goes back into cryogenic sleep and return to Earth. I can tell you now that things do not go as planned.

The alarm at the start of the game is (Spoiler - click to show) caused by Aleksey’s death in his pod. The only bit of story connected to that is the nanomachine crystal that was implanted in his head. Was it put there to kill him? Is there any data on the crystal? We do not know yet. In some cases, if you examine Aleksey, you will notice that he is wearing a helix ear piercing. Wearing metal accessories in cryogenic sleep is unsafe. That is why everyone keeps their jewelry in the crew quarters. In fact, (Spoiler - click to show) there is a single helix-shaped titanium stud in the jewelry box that most likely belongs to Aleksey. Perhaps there is something deeper, but it is too early to say.

There is potential story about the encrypted files. (Spoiler - click to show) Commander Adam Connor has files in his personal folder mentioning a cargo list, classified objectives, and other subjects. But unlike the contents of the other folders these files are encrypted and require a decryption pass. The player can pull him out of his pod, but he is unresponsive. I have a feeling that answers can be found in the cockpit, but the door scanner does not let you scan his eye while he is unconscious. We also do not know what damaged the subspace jumper that left the ship stranded in space. How (or if at all) these events are connected is unclear, but they raise interesting implications, nonetheless.

Characters
Games with the wakeup-in-a-cryopod trope tend to focus on NPC-less exploration, and if there are NPCs, they are often non-crew characters. Usually, the protagonist is the sole crew member weathering themselves against the elements, but Aurora diverts from that by using multiple protagonists (not just NPCs) that each have a different role to play on the ship. Currently there are three playable characters: Jake, Gail, and Wu, introduced in that order.

Gail and Jake are married which was a surprise since usually you do not see this (for me, at least) in games with similar content and storylines. In fact, they were assigned as a pair. Gail had a specialized pod built to accommodate her issues with low blood pressure to ensure that they could both be part of the mission. It is a refreshing change, and I found their relationship to be endearing.

Most of the characters are (Spoiler - click to show) unresponsive even when you pull them out of cryogenic sleep, but their cyberspace profiles provide some details about their backgrounds and personal interests. There are even character drawings for the crew dossier in the ship’s computer. If you give this game a try, be sure to check them out. Look for the folder called (Spoiler - click to show) “Shared” under the DOCUMENTS section of cyberspace. If this game is further developed, I look forward to interacting with the other characters.

Writing
Dialog (or lack of) is probably the weakest part of the game. I am going to devote a section for this for the sake of feedback. Certain scenes lack dialog, such as when (Spoiler - click to show) Gail or Wu first see Aleksey’s corpse. There is simply no response. Other scenes have random banter that could be smoothed out.

It is impossible to TELL anyone about anything to advance the story. If I use (Spoiler - click to show) "tell Gail about Aleksey" with the intent to inform her that I found Aleksey dead with a suspicious crystal in his brain she says, "I want a kitten" or "I'm sorry, I was distracted by your handsomeness." These seem to be the stock response for queries not yet programmed in the game, but the subject matter of these responses distracts from the game's story (Spoiler - click to show) (death in space) and setting (broken starship). I get that Gail likes animals (so do I), especially since she has an animal slideshow in her computer files. But saying “I want a kitten” while the ship is in a state of emergency completely severed the momentum of the conversation.

The game also needs to have proper responses for some basic and critical topics when you ASK another character. If I ask (Spoiler - click to show) Gail about Aleksey she may say "I only answer programming questions. What's that got to do with programming?" I know it has nothing to do programming! I just thought you would have a comment about his death. This goes for topics such as the mission, speculation over the (Spoiler - click to show) funky crystal in Aleksey’s head, the state of the ship, or even your fellow crewmembers. Hardly any of this emerges in character dialog. Even if the subject is out of a character’s expertise there are some topics that everyone should acknowledge. Just because you are (Spoiler - click to show) not the ship’s surgeon does not mean you have to be opinionless or lack a reaction about Aleksey’s death.

The game explains that it does not provide hints but says, “Maybe one of the other crewmembers can.” In all honesty, the crewmembers are a tad useless in this regard. They have little to say about topics that match their own specialty. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) Gail is a programmer. Jake identifies the crystal from the autopsy as being a nanomachine. Perhaps Gail has some insight.

>ask Gail about nanomachines
"I only answer programming questions. What's that got to do with programming?"

Okay, fair enough. But then:

>ask Gail about programming
"I'm not the girl to ask about that, sorry."

Or

>ask Gail about ship's computer
"Come back when you've got a computer question."


I think that the puzzles are reasonable in length and difficulty. The game is not particularly puzzle intensive. But when the player runs into a roadblock, it is challenging to make any progress since there is little guidance. Using the characters as an in-game help system is a great idea, but it currently needs more polish and refinement.

Final thoughts
Development for Aurora seems dormant. There was activity about it at the IF Forum which died out. For all I know the game is abandoned. If you are reading this, katz, I want you to know that this game has a lot going for it. This review is not meant to pressure or persuade. It is simply to share feedback. As for players, expect this to be an incomplete game. I recommend playing it as far as you can, especially since you might discover things that I failed to notice.


Star Hunter, by Chris Kenworthy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An absolute marathon of an empty game, August 23, 2022

Star Hunter begins with "You wake up, ready to make yourself incredibly rich in the forgotten ruins of the Tartuest sector." Sounds like fun. Unfortunately, it is not a particularly fun game. So many rooms. Large locations that are mostly empty and devoid of any story content.

There are only a few cases where the exciting feeling of plundering abandoned alien worlds does emerge, briefly. The author has the right idea, but the implementation is lacking. The walkthrough will make your head spin. If you are going to attempt this game, I recommend that you use it.

Gameplay
You have a small personal spaceship called Atlantis, just large enough for you and the treasures you uncover. A central gameplay mechanic is the management of navigation tapes and transit bubble chips for travelling. Navigation tapes allow your ship to travel to other planets whereas chips enable you to beam down (Spoiler - click to show) (bring your gizmo with you to avoid an unwinnable state) to the surface.

The game has a Robot Bazaar where you trade items with androids. This sounds like a cool concept except that these are the stingiest androids you will ever find. They want chunks of your inventory for most items, and it is extremely difficult to know which items you will need later down the road. Many of the items on sale are red herrings. Things that look like they would be helpful only end up being a waste of precious tradeable items.

There is a pattern of going to a planet to find valuables and returning to the Bazaar to trade those valuables for other items and then going to another planet to repeat the process. After a while it became tedious. If you are not using the walkthrough I recommend saving whenever trading your items.

When it comes to scavenging objects are often found in the most random of locations such as a (Spoiler - click to show) milkshake in the middle of a transit alcove at the Bazaar. They have little context for their placement. I can understand finding a (Spoiler - click to show) discarded spoon in a campsite but a navigation tape conveniently on the ground or a chip in a deep mine shaft? It seems too random and happens throughout the game.

One last note on gameplay: When the player tries to dig deeper and go off the beaten path the game totally leaves them to fend for themself. For example, the (Spoiler - click to show) purple barrier in the bazaar that is said to be off limits but there is a Saxon disc being sold by the black android. So of course, I tried buy it hoping to find something interesting. This is what happened:

Saxon's transit alcove
You are standing in a bare and cramped chamber. Were you expecting something more exciting after all the trouble to get inside?

(yes, yes I was)

I should have known better that the game would not offer anything.
Naturally, this also meant that I was in an unwinnable state since I had to sell most of my stuff to get the disc.

Setting
Some places are more engaging than others. Lack of a detail-heavy narrative can give the player an opportunity to just explore and experiment with their environment. Unfortunately, there is usually little to interact with. These are just my thoughts on each of the locations in case you want to compare your impressions with them. This whole area is one big spoiler so I will just put it all under a spoiler tag. Besides the Android Bazaar there are six other locations.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Survey site: An abandoned archeological site and the first location in the game. Mildly interesting and carries as strong “scavenger vibe.” What ticks me off is that the player must purchase the hatched tape to return to this location. But this is where the game begins how did the protagonist manage to travel to I without having the hatched tape in the first place?

Statue: This was a cool idea but extremely sparse. You wander through a giant statue of a warrior. Sadly, you cannot even examine the city ruins that are visible from the top of the statue or explore any of the details in the abandoned train station under the trap door.

Observatory: This is an abandoned house with an observatory. The rooms tend to have more scenery even if they player is unable to interact with it. The nice thing is that the valuables are easy to find, and at least it shares the same tape (striped) as the Robot Bazaar. All you need is the OBSR chip to get to the surface.

Mine: I do think the game captures the feeling of being deep underground, especially the surprise that the bottom of the shaft is not the true bottom. Here, you look for things that have hardly seen the light of day. This one is also touchy. MAKE SURE YOU SAVE BEFORE YOU EXPLORE THE MINES! There is an absolute trap. The mine shaft platform has a lever for going up and a lever for going down. When you first arrive, it is so easy to pull one of the levers thinking that you are in the platform area that moves. Suddenly the thing will start descending with both levers on it and before you realize it you are in an unwinnable state (you cannot “undo” twice in a row). Same principle goes if you are standing at the bottom of the shaft.

Cube maze: This is one is probably the worst in quality. You arrive outside a giant cubic structure in an alien grassy field, which had cool atmosphere. But when you step into the structure all you find is an endless maze of dark rooms. Without the walkthrough it is impossible to know how many items you need to find. When the player searches the maze, their will likely find a chip and white cube* without much hassle, and then leave (like I did). But there is another precious item, a crystal cat shoe, that is hidden deep in the maze on the third floor. This gets the player worrying if there is anything else that they missed (the walkthrough says no), making the gameplay frustrating. The two redeeming qualities is that one, it is easy to exit the structure (stumbling around usually does it), and two, you only need to visit this location once. *The white cube is interesting but none of the androids seem to know what it is. Perhaps it is a red herring?

Garden world: This was the nicest location with its flowers (smell is implemented for the flowers) and streams. But I have a complaint about the gate. The key to unlock it is found on the planet with the observatory. What is the likelihood that the rusty key happens to unlock the gate in a mystical garden world? The fact that the key was found in an overgrown garden serves as a subtle hint, but it is still hard to believe logistically. You must be careful too. To buy the tower disc you give the black android nearly all your transit chips. If you do this without having found the key in the observatory you end up in an unwinnable state because you can no longer go back to retrieve it. Right when you are almost at the end of the game!


Story
Apparently, the whole point of the game is to find the “fabled lying bear of Deneb.” But the game never mentions it aside from a short sentence (and in the IFDB blurb) if you ask for help. There is no story about the bear or why it is so legendary. It is only after you (Spoiler - click to show) find the bear that the game has anything to say about it. The only indicator of its location is if you ask the blue android about the rainbowed tape. The android will explain that it leads to “Deneb Eta.” But there are no legends or bits of information that fuel the protagonist’s drive to find it. Having some story background would be immensely helpful in focusing the player’s objectives. It makes things less meaningful. There is simply no story tying everything together.

The game ends with (Spoiler - click to show) finding the bear in the tower on the garden planet. But after all that effort put in to find the bear the player is rewarded with a flimsy ending. It reads, "After a moment's consideration, you take the lying bear, which is worth the fortune that you were looking for, and the unfamiliar transporter chip. Will it take you somewhere that you can make the sale??" Game finished. It left me thinking “that’s it?!” We never learn what is so significant about the bear, only that the protagonist is tempted to sell it. The only part I liked was (Spoiler - click to show) that the bear comes with a NEXT chip which hints at a future adventure.

Characters
It was not until after I played the game that I realized that it is almost NPC-less. The only other characters are the androids at the Bazaar. The protagonist has no defining details aside from the fact that they are called “Sir” by the androids and the Atlantis onboard computer.

There is an inkling of a story with the protagonist but the game reveals little. If you examine the (Spoiler - click to show) rusty pipe from the mine the game says, "Something about the pipe tugs at your memory." The description of the cap from the tower in the garden world is "Something about the hat seems very familiar, and you remember wearing it.." A similar thing occurs if you examine the white candy on the statue planet. I actually thought that there was something to be discovered but sadly interacting with the objects did nothing.

Final thoughts
This is a long game. Really long. But I am rating this game with two stars because I did enjoy bits and pieces of it, however small. I think the game would have greatly benefitted from a smaller map with more detail rather than using vast and weakly-implemented locations. On top of that the forgiveness rating is cruel. There are so many ways to make the game unwinnable. This game has all the potential of being an exciting treasure hunt game with a sci-fi setting but instead the gameplay is confusing and leaves the player anxiously wondering if they traded the wrong item or made the game unwinnable.

Was this game ever tested? I found no tester credits. That said, it is not a particularly buggy game. If you enjoy excessively long and technical treasure hunt games this might be an interesting piece to try. I do believe some people might like this game. But if anything, play it with the walkthrough.


Space Cruiser Panic, by Alex Beauchesne

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Panic at your own risk, August 20, 2022

You are a passenger on a ship called the Space Cruiser DONTPANIC. It is just a basic business trip until an alarm goes off while you are asleep. One step outside of your quarters reveals that the ship is in a state of emergency, leaving you with no choice but to go to the control room to radio for help. But ground control has other plans.

In the control room you learn that ground control has gleefully nominated you to be the first human to enter a black hole. The player than can choose from a short list of outlandish survival options before they are swallowed by the event horizon (that is, the point of no return, where even light cannot escape). For atmosphere, consider looking up NASA’s first picture of a black hole. While I cannot claim that this game is an accurate depiction of what it would be like to fall into a black hole, the concept is still an interesting one to contemplate.

I am giving this game a rating of two stars because there not much substance to the gameplay. It is meant to be humorous and comical, but it does not offer much in terms of interactivity or variation. Initially, I thought it would have been one of those games where each time you die you learn something new that will let you get a litter farther in the next playthrough. However, the game usually results in the same outcome and the player’s choices do not seem to matter.

Most of the endings (Spoiler - click to show) lead to same thing: The player entering the event horizon and watching the first forms of life in the universe coming into creation. There is no explanation as to why ground control chose to sabotage the protagonist, nor is there any mention of any other characters on the ship because the layout of the ship suggests that this was a multi-person ship. There are only (Spoiler - click to show) two other endings: falling asleep after the alarm wakes you up and trying to teleport yourself out of the ship. The second one was probably the most interesting. I could not help but think that it would have been kind of cool to see a CerebroVat in action.

I often like to briefly acknowledge the visuals of Twine games. This one is basic but shows how a few style choices can add some uniqueness. Its appearance is a slightly more stylized than the typical white text and black screen. The text is set in a dark-grey rectangle with round corners against a black screen. Links are enclosed with a slightly lighter-gray rounded rectangle. I felt like this was a nice example of a basic Twine design.

In conclusion, the game may not be particularly substantial, but it still has merits. It is a brief and humorous diversion, and I recommend it to players who enjoy the disaster-in-space genre.


FIELD WORK, by Carl Burton

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Fascinating, August 19, 2022

This is a surreal game about a branching train of thought inspired by field research in a rainforest. Everything is sensory. The smell of the forest, the moisture in the air, and the sound of the wildlife are all captured in succinct but vivid detail, which is why this game captured my attention.

You are an unnamed and undescribed (presumably human) protagonist who wanders the forest until you reach as group of researchers with a makeshift ecology lab. The researchers, unbothered by the fact that you are rummaging around in their equipment are studying plants, birds, insects, trees, the ocean, and other parts of the forest. Maybe they are even studying you.

Either way, the gameplay consists of clicking on links that lead to one
When the protagonist observes the scientists’ field work, they ponder the different forms of research that humans have conducted about life and proceeds to bounce between identities. (Spoiler - click to show) First, you are a scientist studying ecology in Biosphere 2, a real-world facility that studies closed ecosystems. Suddenly you are analyzing messages sent by a radio dish to another solar system with instructions on how to reach Earth. Then you are an alien landing on Earth for the first time. These rapid changes are all smoothly implemented so that it forms a blended narrative. Games with this structure run the risk of being tricky to follow but FIELD WORK was streamlined and easy to understand.

The end of the story is a slightly unexpected but interesting outcome. Eventually, (Spoiler - click to show) your mind snaps back to reality. Rather than merely collecting samples to ship off to a lab, the researchers explain that they are actually studying the forest to form a musical composition by using technology that takes microscopic samples and transfer their structure into sound. The game then ends with (Spoiler - click to show) the protagonist listening to the sounds in silent reflection which felt like a thoughtful conclusion.

The visuals are sleek and polished. For most of the game the text body is contained in a white square with rounded corners against a slightly darker white background. It uses black and white text with green links and symbols. The game uses basic visual effects in creative ways. For example, I like how (Spoiler - click to show) the text box darkened so that it was reduced to a white circle that simulated the view of looking through a microscope. The downside is that the box containing the text is incredibly small and is swallowed by the back screen. There are some cases where the black text is somewhat faded and difficult to read against the white screen. In addition, the text size may be hard to read which may discourage some players.

The cover art and title lured me in with the promise of an immersive sci-fi adventure and I am pleased to say that I found a unique Twine game that incorporates current areas of research into a short story. It is surreal but not too intensive or too long. It also has a cool trailer on its itchio page that contains some of the locations mentioned in the game. If you like the themes mentioned in the trailer (or this review) then this game may be of interest.


The Naughty Neural Net, by Julius Tarng

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A sci-fi take on Santa gift-giving, August 19, 2022

It is the near future. Earth’s population is nearly 10 billion and the old days of flying in gifts via reindeer have become obsolete. Instead, Santa has installed 3D printers in every household. At precisely Christmas Day the printers print gifts appropriate of each child's behavior with machine-learning software that determines if they were naughty or nice. But when the Neural Network malfunctions, Santa may have to reevaluate the way gift-giving is managed.

Gameplay
In this game, the traditional take on Santa Claus has turned cyberpunk. Instead of snowmen and polar bears the North Pole is now biometric scanners, DNA analyzers, and computer labs. And of course, the Neural Network. These themes are heavily portrayed the game. One of my favorite moments is (Spoiler - click to show) trying to bypass a door’s verification steps to enter the Ratings Department:

> PLEASE COMPLETE THIS CAPTCHA

"What. Ugh. Of all the times."

The display shows a grid of 4 kids in naughty or nice acts.

> SELECT THE NICE KIDS

(What follows is then a list of kids doing nice or naughty behavior)


You play as Santa watching as the first presents are being printed on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, the nice kids are receiving coal while the naughty kids are getting the good presents. You soon realize that the Ratings Department has a faulty “Naughty or Nice Rater,” causing kids for getting the wrong presents. Fixing the faulty Network is only one step. You must figure out who is responsible for the error.

Story
Previously, elves would train the Neural Network by taking logged examples of kids’ behavior and assigning a rating, giving the Network an understanding of how a rating coincides with a behavior. But it is (Spoiler - click to show) soon revealed that raters were training the Network with intentionally false ratings to give it a skewed perspective. Few elves who trained the Network remain employed at the North Pole. One elf, Popeep O. Werbles, is summoned into your office for questioning.

Popeep explains that these raters were protesting the loss of elf worker jobs due to the installment of the Neural Network. Once it was trained and implemented, millions of elves were laid off.
The player can then decide on how to (Spoiler - click to show) punish (if at all) the raters responsible for sabotaging the system. My only criticism is that the game (Spoiler - click to show) ends abruptly. Once Popeep leaves after your decision, that is it. It feels like there should be some implementation of your final choice or something other than just sitting in your office staring at screens.

Final thoughts
Nonetheless, this is a humorous and festive Ink game with a unique twist on the holiday season. It is about ten minutes long and is worth playing if you are looking for a Christmas game or a game that uses the concept of machine-learning in a creative way.



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