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1-9 of 9


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.


Afflicted, by Doug Egan

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Mm-mmm (or maybe not), August 21, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: IFComp, Inform, Horror

You are a health inspector conducting your rounds in the city’s dining establishments. Today on the list is Nikolai’s Bar and Grill, an unsavory restaurant with some not-so-hidden secrets. Will you finish your inspection and leave, or will you dig deeper?

Gameplay
The player jots down citations with their notepad. The immediate goal is to gather enough citations to condemn the restaurant. But simply getting in your car and driving away feels like a premature ending. The game has the player to look beyond their health inspector duties and rewards them, rather gruesomely, for it by advancing the story. And another detail: Even though the game has the time listed at the top of the screen (Spoiler - click to show) time does not seem to matter. You can wait until 2:00 am and nothing changes. I am not sure if there is anything significant about it.

Yes, there is gore but much of the grossness is atmospheric. Things like mold and cockroaches. It focuses on what is needed to tell the story. The content is woven into the protagonist's reason for being at the restaurant. As a health inspector, the protagonist is required to conduct a thorough investigation of the restaurant, giving the player a reason to go digging in the trash where moldy leftovers and (Spoiler - click to show) severed body parts are found. That said, this game has its moments. (Spoiler - click to show) Reaching inside the meat grinder was probably the worst part. Even more so than the vampire-body-part-scavenger game. Play the game a bit to see if it is to your liking.

For a health inspector the protagonist does not seem terribly worried about finding (Spoiler - click to show) human body parts hidden in Nikolai’s restaurant. A (Spoiler - click to show) human foot in the soup cauldron sounds like a notable health code violation, but the protagonist does not bother with jotting it down (although the game does add it to your score). And then there is this: (Spoiler - click to show)

>note corpse
You see nothing noteworthy about the mutilated corpse.

Why is it that you can (Spoiler - click to show) note the mold on the floor in your notebook of health violations but not the corpse in the crypt? This sounds noteworthy. If anyone is interested my record for the lowest sanitation score is (Spoiler - click to show) -119.

My only real criticism is that the game sometimes glosses over gameplay details in the endings. If you (Spoiler - click to show) discover the corpse, finish your inspection, and leave by car the game says, "You enter your car and drive away, satisfied that you have gathered enough observations to have Nikolai's Bar and Grill condemned. And yet, you feel as if there is still some mystery in that building which you left unsolved." Perhaps that corpse you found in the crypt? It does not acknowledge that the protagonist saw the corpse and/or the body parts scattered in the restaurant. Also, if the player (Spoiler - click to show) breaks a window and waits in the crypt for the police to arrive, they still somehow manage to miss the corpse.

Story
The blurb gives the impression that this is a murder mystery about a missing woman. Not exactly. It is not a mystery game where you (Spoiler - click to show) try to uncover the story behind the missing woman by talking to suspects and investigating different leads. There is no “mystery” to solve, at least not in the classic sense. Once you notice the body parts hidden in the restaurant you have pretty good idea of what is going on, and it does not take long to match the missing woman in the newspaper with the corpse in the crypt. But that is what gives the game a unique twist. Rather than solving a murder this game is about weathering a territory dispute between two ruthless vampires. There are tiny little hints that suggest “vampire” even before the player finds Sofia such as the vampire book in Nikolai’s office, the anemic waitress, and Angela and Nikolai’s unease when you ask them about vampires. It does not take long for the story to reveal itself.

I thought it was interesting how the author incorporated some (Spoiler - click to show) vampire lore into the story. According to the (Spoiler - click to show) handy guidebook in Nikolai’s office there are different groups of vampires with unique behaviors, specifically Bratislavan and Transylvanian vampires. Bratislavan vampires are always engaged in territorial disputes, whereas Transylvanian vampires prefer to fly solo. Sofia Kozyar and Nikolai are Bratislavan vampires, and the protagonist gets caught up in their mess. For a while Nikolai was the dominant vampire in the area but that changed as his health deteriorated due to diabetes. This weakened him until Sofia became a serious threat, so he had her abducted and killed. But killing a vampire is easier said than done. As the player knows, all it takes is (Spoiler - click to show) some neutral party to gather up the scattered remains to reform a “dead” vampire.

This has one of the highest replay values for a parser interactive fiction game. It is short with light puzzles and has a lot of endings. Finding new endings was exciting because you had to strategize, and that is where the replay value comes in. The game's hint section says, "The game features about seventeen distinct endings." SEVENTEEN! So far, I only managed to find twelve. I would love to know if anyone finds all of them.

Characters
What does it mean to be afflicted? According to Angela, Nikolai’s affliction is (Spoiler - click to show) diabetes. For the protagonist it is (Spoiler - click to show) being bitten by Sofia and turned into a vampire. The protagonist is unnamed and is only cynically described as Mr. Health Inspector by Nikolai. The protagonist’s background is an unusual one. I cannot recall ever playing any other game where the protagonist works for city sanitation, but this background only Afflicted more memorable. There are also other small details, such as a nostalgic love for disco, that make the protagonist more multi-dimensional.

Nikolai’s character is bold but also stagnates. He (Spoiler - click to show) denies the existence of vampires and Sofia’s corpse in the crypt but continues doing so even when the player catches him drinking Angela dry. Even when Sofia confirms that he is a vampire after her voice is restored. At this point Nikolai does not seem to bother (Spoiler - click to show) hiding the fact that he is a vampire. He locks the door and tells the player that they are next to be eaten. Sofia tells us about the territorial dispute between her and Nikolai, I thought this would be an opportunity to hear his side of the story. But instead, he keeps denying it. I wish there was a way to (Spoiler - click to show) stop Nikolai AND save Angela.

Final thoughts
This is one of my favorite (Spoiler - click to show) vampire games (not sure if this counts as a spoiler but I will mark it anyway). It is short with a high replay value and has an icky atmosphere (perhaps an option during Halloween) yet retains a sense of humor.


Recess At Last, by Gerald Aungst
...yay?, August 19, 2022

The school year is currently in the dead of winter. Most recesses have been spent indoors but today's sunshine changes that. Today will be an outdoor recess. Even better, this will be a much-anticipated chance to test out your brand-new pair of sneakers. But at the last minute the teacher calls you back, saying that you cannot go outside because of a missing assignment.

Gameplay
You play as a fourth-grade student named Jamie Nelson. You need to turn in an "Explorer worksheet" about Vasco da Gama. There are two paths to approach this. If you look at the (Spoiler - click to show) blue folder in your desk you will discover that you have Daniel’s (your younger brother) schoolwork folder. This means Daniel must have your schoolwork folder containing the Explorer worksheet that you had already completed. The gameplay then consists of tracking down this folder to retrieve the missing assignment.

The other path is to (Spoiler - click to show) ask the teacher for a blank copy of the worksheet and fill in the answers. With this path you can consult the library for help. Neither of these paths are particularly exciting but at least it allows you to choose. This is followed by a puzzle about (Spoiler - click to show) finding some mittens, a coat, and a hat so the teachers allow you to go outside. This too is lackluster but does not take long to complete.

Story
In the “about/introduction” section the game says, "The daily school routine of going out to recess, transformed into an epic quest." There is nothing epic about the gameplay although I like the author’s enthusiasm. The conflict is being unable to go outside because of a missing assignment but completing gameplay objectives does not reveal any plat developments or build upon the story. The result is that it does not always feel like a game. But, in all fairness, the game ensures that there are no lose ends or questions left unanswered. It may lack pizazz but at least it presents a consistent and laid-back story.

Characters
Jamie’s personality does shine a little bit. I liked the feeling of rebellion that occurs when he dares to open the door to the bus circle which is forbidden until the end of the school day. The rush and exhilaration of such an act is humorously described, especially since Jamie is normally well-behaved and would shy away from this behavior. The other characters are not particularly interesting, but Jamie’s descriptions of his teachers strongly convey the perspective of a young student.

Final thoughts
It is bland but has no bugs. Everything is smooth and reasonably short. But there are still some upsides. In the credits section the author explains that he based this game off childhood memories, and this earnestness shows. And it might appeal to you if you are looking for a realistic school setting with a younger protagonist.


Let's Explore Geography! Canadian Commodities Trader Simulation Exercise, by Carter Sande
Fun but insubstantial, August 17, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: IFComp, Simulation

The story behind this game is that you are board of your cushy job. You work as a commodities trader at a bank. It pays well but the most action that you get is managing paperwork and spreadsheets in a cubicle. Now, you are inspired to seek out the adventure aspect of trading by renting a truck and hitting the road. Along the way you hope to experience Canadian geography.

Gameplay
You begin in Toronto Ontario with a million dollars and your truck. The game ends after 30 days unless you reach an earlier ending. In fact, 30 days lasts awhile in this game. At each main stop the player can sell or buy goods, rest at a hotel, refuel, and sightsee. Between destinations are smaller stops where the only options are to rest and refuel. The strategy comes in the form of managing these resources while you travel.
The gameplay is built consistently and is bug free (as far as I could tell). But it is also repetitive and bland and would have benefited from some variation. There are no surprise events or sub-storylines to build upon the game's portrayal of a cross-county journey. You just do the same action of shuffling from one location to another. The closest to a storyline is (Spoiler - click to show) if you pursue is the Iqaluit ending. In fact, you can skip trading all together because you have more than enough money to pay for gas and hotels. The Iqaluit ending is the most interesting one to pursue but also involves the most backtracking since it is tied to specific locations rather than the money you accumulate. You visit Fredericton and High Level to acquire a wooden nickel and Spider-Man comic book before traveling to Inuvik. With these items you can then drive to the Arctic Circle and end up in Iqaluit, ending the game.

The author provides a helpful map and "teacher's guide" walkthrough that I strongly recommend using. The walkthrough includes a chart of buyable and sellable items at each destination. You will find it helpful in deciding where to visit rather than hoping that the next stop will allow you to unload those excess engine pallets that you have been hauling around for the past ten days. The supplemental map drastically makes the game easy to play. Without it the player is stuck visualizing the location in their head. I would end up travelling in a circle without branching into the other areas. The map allows you to gauge your location and where you want to go. While it would have been cool if the game came with map graphics built into the gameplay the supplemental map is easy to read and adds a hint of realism.

Design
Desmos Activity Builder.... Never heard of that one before. I just had to play it. I love seeing how people can make interactive fiction in unexpected ways. Of course, no matter what format you choose the game should strive for quality. Let’s Explore Geography may be light on substance, but it does feel like a completed piece. The draw is its unique development system. Though the content is unremarkable playing a game made by “Desmos Activity Builder” software is its own memorable experience.

I played the post-comp version that opens when you click the “Play Me” button on the IFDB page. The competition version is nearly identical except for the class registration steps. It involves using a class code to access the game on the Desmos website. You do not actually have to sign up for anything, but the game’s instruction sheet gives you gives the impression that it is more than just an interactive fiction game. When I saw, “Thank you for purchasing Let's Explore Geography! Canadian Commodities Trader Simulation Exercise. We're certain your students will enjoy this engaging, interactive virtual activity,” I had to look twice since it really does look like a teacher email. I prefer the post-comp version because it is faster, but if you want to take advantage of the immersion than consider the original.

Its appearance is a simple beige (or white if you play the original) page with a multiple-choice format, just like taking a test. I am not sure about design limitations in Desmos software, but the game could have greatly benefitted with some visuals, particularly photographs of locations. This visual aid would alleviate some of the repetitiveness in the gameplay while also staying true to its focus on learning about Canadian geography.

Content
Is it educational? Sort of. Not in terms of understanding trade and economics, but it does sprinkle some Canadian history and culture into the gameplay. The education part comes from each main stop having a landmark of Canadian culture for the player to experience such as going fishing at Grand Rapids. This was a clever idea, though there is not much meat on the bones in terms of content. And if you use the handy supplemental map, it gives you a basic familiarity with geography. If anything, it is more of a sight-seeing simulator than an educational tool.

Final thoughts
The game does have strong points. There are multiple endings, and the gameplay is bug free. The author makes up for some deficiencies with genuinely helpful supplemental materials. The downside is that the gameplay is nothing remarkable. Nonetheless I still think it is worth a try. If anything, give it a go because it is something new.


A Day for Soft Food, by Tod Levi
Not your typical housecat, August 13, 2022

You are a housecat hungry- no, ravenous- for soft cat food. Usually, you turn to your owner for such things, but he has not been himself recently. It seems like everything annoys him and when he does feed you it is mostly boring dry food. Instead of waiting for him you decide to take initiative and acquire some soft food.

Gameplay
You start the day curled up on the windowsill inside a one-story cottage. Your Provider* is asleep but will move about independently as the day moves on. He is one of a handful of independent NPCs that you will encounter. The initial goal is to satisfy your immediate hunger before addressing your hankering for soft food. The gameplay consists of tiptoeing around the cottage and surrounding forest in search of ways to reach this goal.

The puzzles are not always intuitive. In fact, some of them left me scratching my head. (Spoiler - click to show) Rolling in ash to disguise yourself so you pounce on a bird makes sense. And I liked the puzzle where you wake up the Provider without him knowing that you are trying to do so. But (Spoiler - click to show) tying the shiny egg* to the balloon and releasing it from the roof of the cottage so it could float down to the little boy was something I needed the walkthrough for.

I like how there are (Spoiler - click to show) two solutions for removing the Rival when he comes back for revenge. You can lure him into the road where he gets hit by a car or, and I prefer this one, dump the sack of dry cat food on him so he leaves. Perhaps that way someone will find him and give him a home. But I must say that the author really replicates the finicky nature of cats squabbling over territory (and the preposterousness of sharing a food bowl). Similarly, (Spoiler - click to show) I am glad that it is possible to reach a peaceful resolution with the Provider. He goes from throwing the cat outside to cuddling the cat during excursions in the forest. Both cat and Provider reach a sense of contentedness which made for a satisfying ending.

Story/Writing
Though the puzzles can sometimes muddle up the pacing, the game makes up for it by capturing the player's attention with humor and descriptiveness. Take the description of the beast* in the garage as an example: "You've heard such beasts rumble, sigh, bleat, and stampede. This one is quiet, and perhaps ill. He appears to be bleeding from his underside." Through the cat's perspective it takes a cold and static piece of human technology and turns it into something living. A car leaking away in a garage is suddenly a wounded creature biding its time. This formed a more vivid image in my head than if the game simply said, "a human vehicle is in a garage. It is leaking fluid." It adds extra dimension.

This game really does give a cat's-eye-view of a hungry feline in a forest setting. There are so many scents and things to climb. The alarm of encountering a strange cat, the surprise of an unexpected human, and the enticing allure of capturing feathered wildlife. And yet the house is the focal point of your world with its heated rooms and Providers who give you food (Obviously this is not the case for all cats, but the protagonist seems to be a well-adjusted housecat). I think my favorite slice of writing is when (Spoiler - click to show) the cat finally gets to eat the soft food:

A blend of tuna and chicken livers, your entire consciousness swims in its taste, texture, and smell. You lap up its succulent juices, and slaver down every delectable mouthful. After a moment of complete rapture, you find yourself staring into an empty shell, grease dripping from your whiskers.

I can almost image chowing down in bliss the delicious food I waited forever to find.
The obsession with soft food is a familiar one for me. I know what it is like to have a cat meowing at you for food and when you put down dry kibble, they look at you as if to say, "what is this garbage? I wanted the stuff from the can."

Final thoughts
If you are bored of playing as human protagonists A Day for Soft Food offers a refreshing change in perspective. I recommend it if you want to play a game with an animal protagonist or is you are just looking for something lighthearted and humorous.

...
Oh, and one last thing...
What is up with (Spoiler - click to show) riding down the river in the basket? Who is that saucy cat? The game describes her as "the most beautiful feline you've ever seen lies languorously on an unreachable limb." Is this a love interest? Apparently, this just earns you a bonus point, but it is certainly a memorable one.

Cat Glossary* (Spoiler - click to show)
-Beast: Car
-Beast's Cave: Garage
-Billowy wall: Window blinds
-Confusing box: TV
-Food Room: Kitchen
-Jangly ring: Keyring
-Lumpy mountain: Sofa
-Provider: Cat owner
-Shiny metal egg: Can of soft cat food
-Shiny stool: Wheelchair
-Silvery leaves: Keys
-Small white box: Garage opener


Redstone, by Fred

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Custom choice-based murder mystery in a casino, August 11, 2022

You are a deputy summoned to investigate a murder in a casino. The game begins when you arrive at the casino. The manager tells you that a prominent guest has been murdered and that it would be appreciated if the investigation were conducted as quietly as possible. The FBI are planning to arrive the next day and would like you to narrow down a suspect.

Gameplay
The game is light on puzzles. They mostly involve traveling to different rooms to interview people and compare their statements. There was one puzzle about finding cheaters in the casino, but they were often found right in the lobby which made it easy to complete. This also seemed to be a bit of a side quest because you can ask the security guard if you could find more cheaters in exchange for chips. The game lets you play blackjack (and you do not even have to win) although (Spoiler - click to show) its only purpose is to attract the attention of Kat who simply gives you more information about the casino guests.

The game makes an effort at building atmosphere. There will be random characters wandering around to make it more like a busy casino. You have access to over a dozen locations including a poker table, blackjack table, bar, kitchen, private rooms, lobby, and other areas. This is roughly an hour-long game but can be completed in less time in replays.

Design
Redstone is a custom choice-based game that uses menus to create a parser-like effect. At first the point and click was slow, but you get used to it quickly. The game tries to streamline the gameplay by summarizing your findings with the “Think” command and marking off which discussion topics you have used with characters to avoid repetition. It is also cool how you can “undo” with this format.

For each location there are boxes that say "Examine," "Go to," "Talk to" (if there are people to talk to), "Think," "Inventory," "Look around," and other commands that may be unique to the situation. This all works together to create a parser-like experience. For instance, clicking on “Talk to” lets you choose which character in the room you want to interact with. On a slightly more complex level, if you use the “Examine” command and find something worth taking, then the game will implement the “Take” command. Play the game and you will get the hang of it.

The visuals are a bit rough-around-the-edges and yet they are consistent enough to create a solid appearance that carries it through. The art, though occasionally crude, I found to be oddly likable. And there is a lot of art to experience. (Spoiler - click to show) One little inconsistency that stood out to me is Kat’s dress. Kat is described as wearing a slinky red dress even though the drawing of her shows her in a dark navy dress. That kept bugging me. But that aside, I really did enjoy the art.

Story
It is an interesting story but none of it is particularly thrilling or exciting which is too bad since murder + casino tends to have no shortage of flair. The main issue is that it could have capitalized on some of the plot developments. The main one was when (Spoiler - click to show) Simon leaves his room and tries to sneak out. If the player goes to his room to find it empty the game has no reaction. No "Simon is no longer here" or "Simon is missing!" All we get is:

John Simon's room
You see a bed and a dresser.


No drama or suggestions to the player that this is a new plot development. There is not even a note under the “Think” command that acknowledges this. I was expecting a “Simon is nowhere to be seen! You should catch him while you can!” That would have been a great opportunity to turn up the heat. Instead, it just assumes that the player will notice that he isn't there and to respond accordingly. In other words, it is easy to put two and two together (Simon snuck out evade the investigation) to figure out what the game wants us to do (detain him in the garage) but there is no atmosphere to this development.


Final thoughts
I would summarize this one as a finished piece that offers some quality gameplay if you feel like playing a murder mystery game. I recommend anyone interested in the genre to play it especially if you are looking for parser-like gameplay in a choice-based format.


Fallen 落葉 Leaves, by Adam Bredenberg and Danial Mohammed Khan-Yousufzai
Reflection in cycling sonnets, July 31, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Twine, IFComp

The gameplay is extremely simple. Each turn, or "act," you choose two qualities from an action list and a manner list. For example, I could choose "fast" from the action list and "eagerly" from the manner list. The game then combines these two factors into a sonnet. The whole process repeats itself. You can make as many sonnets as you want and there is no ending. It ends when you no longer feel like playing.

The authors seem to take a reflective approach in the notes section of their game by explaining the process of cycling sonnets to tell a story. In this case, stories are produced gradually, and emerge through patient reiterations of sonnets formed by the player. According to the notes, an individual story cycle can easily involve the creation of a hundred sonnets (although less will work as well), and that the process of this would hopefully provide a centered and meditative experience. But from a practical standpoint, players are likely to only give this game a go for a few rounds, possibly not as much as the game intended. The sonnets are quite similar to each other at first glance. Carefully reading them reveals their differences, and within that, paints a story, but you have to feel compelled approach it slowly. I am not sure if players are going to stick with it. I tried for a bit, but it is easy to experiment with different word combinations without focusing on the sonnets that are produced from them.

The notes continue on and leave things open-ended. If you are curious to know more, read them and test the game out to see what you think.

Final thought: I liked the peach colour scheme with the pink links. It made things feel more stylized and complete.


Popstar Idol Survival Game, by CrunchMasterGowon

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Not currently survivable, July 29, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Twine, IFComp

The premise is a spunky one. Enter a tv competition show for popstar contestants (99 total). It follows a familiar reality tv pattern. Everyone is presented with a challenge and is ranked by their performance. At the end of the season the top 5 ranking individuals win. Unfortunately, this game never makes it past challenge 1.

You are Kim Nayoung. Your mother was a famous performer named Anna Nayoung and it is implied that she died. Being the daughter of icon adds some flair to the contest, but we never have a chance to learn more about the protagonist or the circumstances behind Anna’s death. As Kim you eagerly apply to be a show participant and are accepted. You pack your bag and are transported to a world of competitiveness, glamour, and talent. Players choose which abilities to specialize in, such as singing or dancing, and your actions are largely based on stat management. The player must also manage the fine line between working with others to advance through teamwork and weathering the other contestants by only focusing on yourself. Your personal skills and relationship with others impact your performance and rank.

The gameplay has flaws. Some of it is formatting. If you choose to help Fuko with dancing the game says, "Fuko's Affection +10, Fuko's rank improves by 10, You should have already reached the Dancinggoal for this challenge but if you haven't Dancingprogress increases by 10 for helping out Fuko. Lucky you!" This was awkwardly worded and reduced the polish. Another problem with the gameplay is the flakiness of some of the stats. It seems like they always match with the player’s choices. For the first challenge the (Spoiler - click to show) judges gave me an F, but then the next day when everyone meets in the pyramid room for the overall results I am announced as the challenge 1 teamwork winner (and if you try all the "bad" options with Fuko, such as shoving her on stage, you still win). And yet, they rank me in the 80s (it varies, which means at least the stats can be functional), which is confusing. The best I have been able to place is 84th. Even so, I was still looking forward to more gameplay.

What frustrates me is that the game is clearly broken. It just stops. After the first challenge (Spoiler - click to show) you get these tokens that you can use to buy things that upgrade your relationship with other characters or improves your stats. Unfortunately, the game breaks afterwards. There are simply no links on the screen for the player to click on. The only thing you can do is quit. If the author intended for it to end there they could have said, "that's all folks," but instead the player is trying to see if perhaps they clicked on a wonky link and wonder if they should retrace their steps to try a different route to bypass it. Regardless of which path I took I could not make any more progress.

Visually, it does fairly well. It uses a basic back screen and white text that is neatly spaced on the screen. On the left side of the screen is a list of stats for your abilities and rapport with other characters. When I first played the game, I thought it was going to be a jackpot for players who like stat-based Twine games, but sadly it becomes unplayable early on.

It was a promising start but a letdown as an entry to IFCOMP. Based on the detail I have seen so far if this were a completed game it would have had an immensely improved reception. I encourage the author to finish the game because a lot more people would be interested in tuning in.


The Mind Electric, by Jason Dyer

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
You are contained. Or are you?, July 29, 2022

The underlying premise of the game is that there is some sort of war between two entities called Kaden and Souden, the latter of which you belong to. Apparently, you were skulking around in Kaden cyberspace but were caught and are now trapped in a cell, waiting for the Kaden to put you through a loyalty transfer program. You also know that the Souden are planning to attack. It would be ideal to escape cyberspace before that occurs.

A lot of games about cyberspace (or at least those that I have played) take place in the "real world" with the player tapping into cyberspace at regulator intervals. This one almost entirely takes place in cyberspace. The player begins in a virtual containment cell. Any efforts to move around results in "You are contained." But as you are tracing the lines on the walls, floor, and ceiling, a piece of paper appears with basic instructions are the start of your escape. This, along with other signs, shows that someone is trying to help you which adds suspense and mystery.

There is also great atmosphere with a sense of danger, such as (Spoiler - click to show) a voice in the background announcing to who-knows-who that a scan is about to occur in the sector where you are hiding. The scan seeks out intruders and if you are detected a pulse will liquefy you. In addition, in the game’s world you will find strange sights. The multi-faced cube, the spider and its doll, the factory full of machines, and the mysterious sheet of paper were ominous but kind of cool. It all paints a surreal impression.

While intriguing, this is also a challenging and technical game. I can tell you now, I had to play with hints. An example is (Spoiler - click to show) finding the correct box needed to restore the cube's voice by asking it about different boxes and seeing if the cube nods, blinks, frowns, or smiles to indicate how close you are to finding it, almost like a high-tech version of a hot-or-cold game. I could not solve this without a walkthrough although I was able to understand the puzzle afterwards and replicate it without help in later playthroughs (this game can place you in an unwinnable state, be sure to save). Discovering (Spoiler - click to show) the spider's commands was another area that I needed help with because the spider is picky about syntax. It will accept "spider, help" but not "ask spider for help." Or "spider, status" but not "ask spider about status." I would find the sphere that halted the lxprog program but failed to realize that you need the spider to erase it.

I would have liked a little more discussion on the story. Is this solely warfare in cyberspace or is it in the physical world as well? What type of entities are the Kaden and Souden? Even the ending does not clarify much. (Spoiler - click to show) The man we meet at the end explains that the war is just the Kaden and the Souden taking people from the other side and running them through loyalty transfer programs, creating a back-and-forth type of fighting. The other thing I could pick out about the story is that the man also says that the player unknowingly created the cube that helped them escape, almost as if the player found a way out through sheer willpower. Or at least that is how I interpreted what he said. Regardless, I still have lingering questions about this war and its participants, as well as the protagonist’s identity. On a similar note, the cube, which was generally lacking in the number of things you can ask it, had something to say about the Kaden and Souden. (Spoiler - click to show) Kaden apparently means "electric charge" while Souden means "electric supply." I am not entirely sure of what to make of this information but still found it interesting.

But yes, this game is moderately cryptic and challenging to complete without guidance, but the setting and story drew me in (as did the title). If you like playing games in cyberspace experiment with it. It is not a game for everyone but know that it does not take long to complete with a walkthrough in case you are curious about how it ends.



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