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Andelmans' Yard, by Arlan Wetherminster

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Cat rescue leads in a different direction, November 30, 2022

You are fourteen-year-old Kyle, a Boy Scout looking to earn a Community Service badge. Peanut the cat has run off, and this is your chance to show initiative. Time to investigate the local neighborhood.

Gameplay
When the game began my first impression was that a Boy Scout troop was out looking for a cat (does that occur in real-life?) which immediately creates a cool ambience. A closer look soon showed that Kyle is the only Boy Scout around. Meanwhile, a group of middle-school aged kids, are running about and talking about a kid named Max. Naturally, the player is roped into participating in Max’s plans.

I really, really, like the (Spoiler - click to show) occult twist. Yes, you heard that right. The start of the game sounds like a light, wholesome game about a youth trying to save a cat (which also sounds like fun) to earn a badge only to surprise the player with an unexpected thrill. Eerie ten-year-old Max (Spoiler - click to show) wants to hold a ritual in the groundwater tunnels. Sounds cool! Max needs three Native American artifacts for the ritual. He has one and wants you to find the other two. By now, finding the cat falls to the wayside as you pursue this new objective.

This is not a puzzle heavy game but there is a lot of exploring. The gameplay has a moderate sized map consisting of a suburban area. You will probably want to make a light map of the underground tunnels. Nothing too fancy, but you may find it helpful.

There is one bug/issue that made the game unwinnable. (UPDATE: I've received feedback that this is NOT an unwinnable state. I'm leaving this paragraph in as a formality but understand that my calling it unwinnable was an incorrect assessment on my part). (Spoiler - click to show) Max wants Clem to solder the three artifacts together. Clem follows you around for most of the gameplay. You are supposed to retrieve the hand-held generator from his garage, fill it with gas, and give it to him so he can use his solder iron. I put the game in an unwinnable state by giving him the generator before Max has all three artifacts.

He looks at you, “Give me the hand-held generator.”

I already gave it to him at the garage. I tried to take it back, but…

That seems to belong to Clem.

I restarted the game because I could see no way of soldering the artifacts together to start the ritual. CORRECTION: While Clem may still ask for the generator even after you give it to him, he will solder the artifacts together once everyone arrives.


Story
I was expecting the story to have more focus on the protagonist’s goal of earning a badge, perhaps incorporating themes of “character building.” Maybe I am misinterpreting the process of earning a Community Service badge. Point is, Kyle obviously takes this seriously, and as a game, the idea of earning a badge takes center stage. This is the first Boy Scout PC I have played in interactive fiction, and I was excited to see where it would go. Ultimately, this part of Kyle’s identity was not showcased as much as I thought it would be.

The setting is intriguing. After snooping around you come across some newspaper clippings that outline two main controversies in the area. The first follows the development of a (Spoiler - click to show) new museum on Native American culture that has been delayed over conflicts of the museum’s focus. There is also mention of Native American artifacts being discovered while the neighborhood was being developed. The second controversy looks at a trend of (Spoiler - click to show) health issues in residents that seem to be connected to the water supply. Plans were made to re-design the water drainage system, but those plans were brought to a halt. The story focuses more on the former issue.

The storyline reminded me of an element in Anchorhead where a (semi-spoilers for Anchorhead coming right up!) (Spoiler - click to show) specific tribe- I believe it was a fictional tribe- of indigenous people who worshiped celestial entities that were of interest to the Verlac family because it was connected to a vast ritual that had been planned for generations. The player, lucky you, gets to deal with the impending doom of this ritual. Right near the center of town is a big obelisk that covers the tribe’s ancient burial ground that also seals off a hell-dimension on the other side of mortal existence. You learn about this through newspaper clippings and content from the library. It’s wild. I mean, it’s Anchorhead, obviously.

Max (Spoiler - click to show) speaks of a monster in the southernmost tunnels that had been sealed off by Native Americans. This can be unsealed with a ritual using the three artifacts. Max himself also seems to be possessed. Disturbing, but not disturbing enough to dissuade the other neighborhood kids, including Kyle, from helping. Don’t get me wrong, (Spoiler - click to show) suburban Boy Scout cat search + occult ritual hosted by a ten-year-old named Max is novel as it brushes on Anchorhead themes. My complaint is this: there is hardly any story (or gameplay) about (Spoiler - click to show) finding Peanut the cat.

Start of game: You have been tasked to find the missing cat, Peanut. You're hoping this simple mission will earn you your Community Service merit badge. You head into the woods where the cat was last seen.

We’ve seen Peanut at the start of game. She’s behind a storm tunnel grating and runs off when you open it. Onwards, you try to run and chase her. Throughout the gameplay are cues such as, “You hear the tinkling of a small bell,” and “You hear a cat meowing,” amongst NPCs’ advice to look in the tunnels! And from there on, the cat takes a back seat as the gameplay shifts to finding artifacts.

When you save your friends from the monster and win the game, Peanut decides to appear and jump into your arms. Great resolution, but I just sat there realizing how much time I wasted trying to corner the cat into one of tunnels, using the dead rat as bait (probably not as appealing to cats as I thought), and experimenting with the various exits and entrances in the tunnel maze to map out her movements. The kid doesn’t even get his badge at the end of the game!


Characters
NPCs wander independently. I always enjoy seeing this in interactive fiction because it feels more dynamic. That said, their behavior does not have much substance. When you first meet them, they introduce themselves to you which is a strong start. Then they wander around until aimlessly until you make progress towards the (Spoiler - click to show) ritual. To be fair, designing seven (plus Peanut) independent NPCs is probably not an easy task. And you will find moments where NPC behavior triggers a surprising effect, such as when they all (Spoiler - click to show) suddenly gather in the meeting room to start the ritual. That was cool.

I have criticism about the dialog. The game uses the “topics” command to offer a list of topics to ask other characters. I thought this was smart because it keeps the player close to relevant subject matters. The issue is that A, topics do not acknowledge the player’s progress, and B, the “topics” feature lack subjects relevant to the situation. To use an example for the first case, (Spoiler - click to show) if you ask Max about the artifacts after the ritual, he still acts as if you have not found them yet. This put a dent in the interaction.

The other concern become more apparent as the story developed. Characters were limited in their responses to these events. The topics list never expands. In Clem’s introduction he says, "'I'm Clem. I'm in charge of the reconstruction effort.'" But asking him about it (I wanted to know if this had any connection to the (Spoiler - click to show) water quality controversy) results in, "Clem doesn't have anything useful to say about that." Alright, maybe I am being a stickler on this one. Still, subjects about the (Spoiler - click to show) ritual, the Andelmans’ house, and characters’ immediate surroundings are excluded from conversation. (Spoiler - click to show)

Guarding the room is a fearsome pitbull. He eyes you while growling.

Clem comes up from below.

>ask Clem about pitbull
Clem doesn't have anything useful to say about that.

I was expecting some response.


Also, who are the Andelmans'? It’s in the title. First impression was when I tried to enter the basement before meeting with the NPCs in the meeting place near the start of the game.

You begin to head west when suddenly you hear a girl's voice scold you, "We don't go in there. We think it's the Andelman House."

There you go. Mystery. It creates a chilling, sinister vibe to the gameplay. A hint that there is more to this maze of storm drain tunnels than what meets the eye. Right away you think, Who are the Andelmans? Sounds like a neighborhood legend. Your curiosity is spiked because this suburban adventure just got a whole lot interesting. This never went anywhere. We explore the house, almost abandoned, if not for the (Spoiler - click to show) guard dog in the kitchen. I kept wondering what the big secret was. Turns out, I was on the wrong path. I was thinking of this in terms of character names. Andelmans' Yard is (Spoiler - click to show) apparently named after a song of the same title. I would never have known that if I had not looked up the game’s title on a hunch. The song’s lyrics details exploring tunnels and themes that are seen in the gameplay. That was the connection I was missing.

Final thoughts
This game has a good start. While character interactions could use more polish, the game has been tested and it feels like completed piece. I enjoyed the surprises. Especially (Spoiler - click to show) Max’s surprises. The author does a nice job in mixing the everyday with the (Spoiler - click to show) paranormal. Even though I was expecting the gameplay to go through with its (Spoiler - click to show) original plot of searching for Peanut, I am glad that, in the end, we find her anyway. If there are any more games about Kyle trying to earn a badge, I would be interested in playing them. An enjoyable slice of life game mystery with a horror twist.


Nick's Dilemma - An educational game about Sales Management, by Matthew Schmidt and Andrew Tawfik

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Sales hiring made simpler, November 26, 2022

This is not a spoof. Do not let the cartoon cover art make you think otherwise. After playing URA Winner! I probably jumped to conclusions. Some educational games look convincing at first only to reveal its nature later in the gameplay. Parodies are a lot of fun, but Nick’s Dilemma is not one of them.

You work for a company called MediSales that distributes surgical equipment. Sheila, your boss, calls for a meeting about a hiring issue. The company has been unable to find a long-term employee for a sales management position. Candidates are selected, trained, and months later they leave because the job was not a good fit. This pattern is expensive and needs a lasting solution.

Gameplay
Sheila guides the player by having them ask appropriate questions about hiring. Then she then guides the player by talking to co-workers and using digital resources to learn about factors in the hiring process. The gameplay is structured into units. After each unit you get a badge before moving on to the next unit. It is all incredibly straightforward. There is even an embedded video tutorial for the game on the title page. Everything is painstakingly designed to be user-friendly.

When I went to restart the game, I got a popup message saying, “Are you sure you want to restart this Educational Game?” For some reason I thought it was amusing that the message went through the effort of noting that this is, in fact, and educational game.

Story
This really isn’t a story intensive game. It gives everything up front. Find a candidate who will be compatible for sales management. There are multiple endings based on your hiring select. Not all of them are ideal but the game always urges you to return to the gameplay to make choices that result in a favorable outcome. This is where it deviates from being a “game.” For some games, the fun is seeing the “bad” endings, the ones that crash and burn. But in Nick’s Dilemma the goal is to learn about the proper steps to success (oh no, I’m started to sound like a training manual), hence why it wants the player to win.

Characters
There is a diverse range of characters in this game, most of which only make a brief appearance to discuss key points in the game’s content. Sheila is the NPC you interact with the most.

One problem: I still have no idea who Nick is.

When I first saw this game, I was this close adding it to the poll titled, “Games Where the Title Is You,” but hesitated. I thought that you were playing as Nick. That is, until the game asked me to type in my character name instead. I guess we are not Nick. The game features graphics for the characters, and the PC’s is rather generic. We only see the backside of “Nick” never the face, probably to minimize characteristics. I’m not at all mad at this if that is what you’re worried about. I just spent a lot of time scanning the game to try to find any mention of Nick.

Visuals
The game uses a white background with black text and blue links. Sometimes it dabbles with fonts for emails or notes which was clever. There is a panel on the left side of the page with a list detailing your progress. For completing each milestone in the story, you get a badge which is displayed in the corner of the screen. The badges are visual appealing but kind of useless and yet receiving them feels oddly rewarding.

Congratulations! You have earned 2 badges. You have unlocked the next section of the game!

Oddly rewarding.

The game would not succeed without its graphics. The character graphics give you something to look at and draws the player’s attention away from just reading text. Other visuals are more vital because they provide useful examples of material you may create for yourself. If you decide to (Spoiler - click to show) put out an online add the game shows a picture of what the ad may look like if it were posted it on a job search website.

Final thoughts
Do you walk away with the basics of sales management? Honestly, no. Not really. I cannot say I know more about the field of sales management (or the management of sales). HOWEVER. I did learn a lot about protocol, process, and the reasoning behind making hiring decisions. Of course, in real life this matter is more complex than what can be covered in a Twine game, but it does provide you with some insights. A couple of times I almost felt like I was taking one of those interactive training video exercises you complete after being hired.

You learn more about basic communication skills. Things like writing brief but thoughtful emails and follow-up emails, initiating conversations with co-workers. These skills seem trivial, but they go a long way in real life. The game does not sit you down and start a “Writing Emails 101,” spiel. Instead, it provides examples that serve as a reference. This way, the game is more helpful regardless of players’ emailing skills. Nick’s Dilemma is reasonably short and surprisingly practical. It is one of the most educational interactive fiction games for subjects unrelated to interactive fiction that I have played so far.


Nineteen, by kiran
An earnest look into transgender identity and personal growth over time , November 17, 2022

Nineteen is about the author’s experience with gender identity during an important milestone: Turning 19. The story looks at personal struggles, not just in terms of societal stigma but also the frustrations of not knowing what definition you align with in a world where concepts of gender and sexuality are often placed in a ridged box: You either belong in this category or that category. This game, however, points out that the identity of oneself is far more complex than that.

The gameplay is in second person but built of the author’s own life experiences. As an almost-nineteen-year-old the player finds themselves moving into an apartment with an abusive girlfriend while being employed at an office job. Here, the game explores the loaded meaning behind slurs and their associations and assumptions with gender as they navigate new life changes.

Everything in the game takes a reflective approach. The interactivity does not consist of making changes to the storyline or directly engaging with the characters within. Instead, the player chooses links that reveal different components of their situation before cycling back. This created a fluid effect that made the gameplay a little more immersive. It gives the player an opportunity to “dig” through the story even if they do not influence its contents. Gameplay is extremely short, and you will have to play the game twice to see everything.

Nineteen is not a timeline of the protagonist’s life, but it does outline how identity can change. While the protagonist’s 19th birthday is in 2004, the game projects what life will be like in the future which includes life crises. We get a glimpse- just a glimpse- of the author’s experiences during (Spoiler - click to show) 2007, 2011, 2012, and 2014. In college the author identified as a transgender male and went by Aidan. Years later Aidan became Kiran.

At the end of the narrative the author identifies as neutrois. I have never heard about this term before and wanted to make sure that I used the proper pronouns and wording for this review. Neutrois, according to the definitions I looked up, means gender neutral and that “they/them” pronouns are used (inform me, please, if this is inaccurate) So, there you go. I learned a new term.

One of the takeaways in the game is the idea of considering a term about gender, and then considering the individual attached to the term. If I understand correctly, the author found hope in learning how people can be transgender, and yet, trying to transition did not bring any clarity to how they felt about their own identity. Terms do not necessarily explain the person behind it.

The subject matter is serious, but I found the author’s writing to be approachable. As a Twine game it also has polished formatting. It sticks to a basic appearance with a black background, blue links, and small white text placed neatly at the top of the screen. There quantity of text is moderate, but it is all concise and potent.

Ultimately, this is not a gameplay-oriented game. If you are merely looking for something to “play” then you may not enjoy this one as much. Rather, the heart of the experience is taking in the story and viewing every thread that the author has to say about it. And I am glad they decided to share this through an interactive fiction piece.


The Good Ghost, by Sarah Willson, Kirk Damato

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An outstanding short story that conveys much emotion, November 6, 2022

This is such a gem.

You a ghost. A friendly, benevolent one. No one can see you or acknowledge your presence, but that does not deter you from wanting to help. The game takes place in the house of a small family. Even though your own identity is foggy, you have a strong desire to protect them.

As a ghost you try to prevent disasters, preferably so that the occupants of the house never realize that there was any chance of disaster to begin with. It is a lighthearted game, but one that ponders the balance of everyday events that can lead to (Spoiler - click to show) household disasters. To borrow its words, "a domino effect." This game is never judgmental, nor does it strive to teach a moral. Instead, it portrays a sensitive protagonist who looks at daily life through the unique advantage of a ghost. Contemplative.

This is a Twine game. Not only does it look nice, but the gameplay is smooth. The player moves freely throughout rooms to explore the contents. For choice-based games I like to call this as free range of movement, but the effect is more subtle in The Good Ghost. Lazy and casual, yet attentive. There is a thoughtfulness in your surroundings that encourage you to find the nooks and tiny details that usually go unobserved by the family in the house.

Now, this is not a puzzle game. Instead, it features small objectives, such as (Spoiler - click to show) finding a wedding ring, that are solved by going to the right room and carefully observing. This shifts the flow, so the game then leads you to the next scene. Everything is so fluid and organized!

The Good Ghost shines in every department, but the story tops it all. It is broken into several acts that documents the family over a lifetime. Seeing this process was incredibly grounding. As for the ending, it is the sublime moment of realization at the end that makes this game so emotionally powerful. I do not want to spoil the ending but know that it clicked perfectly. (Spoiler - click to show) So that's why the cat dislikes me... It was beautiful.

Excellent, excellent work. I highly recommend this game to anyone.


No One Else Is Doing This, by Lauren O'Donoghue
Knock on those doors…you can do it, October 29, 2022

In this short Twine game, you play as a volunteer collecting dues for a community organization group. It is time for your shift, where you go from door to door, trying to get people interested in signing up as members. You have a quota to meet, but lately your success rate with recruiting members has declined and your faith in the organization's ability to create change is wavering. Think about that later. Pull on your winter clothes, steel your nerves, and start your shift.

Gameplay
Collect £5 in dues within four hours. All right. There are 32 houses on your list. It is not possible to visit them all, nor is that the goal. Well, the goal is to knock on as many doors as possible, but your success is based on the dues you collect, not on how many houses you reach. Going to a house costs five minutes, and at some point, you also need to take at least one break, either to use the restroom or warm up from the cold, or you will have to end your shift early. So, it is definitely not possible to cover everything. But that is also a good reason for replays.

You can also take breaks for other things such as texting a coworker or checking the news. The game is set during the COVID lockdown restrictions in 2020, and checking the news gives some light background context which was a nice touch. Plus, there is an in-game glossary explaining the process of community organization.

The catch is that success is not really possible. Few people showed interest in my pitch. I made a simple list of which houses had people who answered the door, and then narrowed that down to people who would earnestly engage in conversation. Next, I replayed to find the dialog options that successfully convinced them to join. And it worked! I was so pleased with myself. My target was £5. I came back with (Spoiler - click to show) £8. Only to learn that (Spoiler - click to show) some people cancelled their memberships, resulting in me failing to meet my target after all. An exercise in futility, and that is where the main idea comes in.

Story + Characters
The protagonist is coming to terms with the fact that their work is no longer as meaningful as they once thought it was. They joined to make a difference, and now they have a hard time envisioning people enthusiastically signing up for something pitched to them by a stranger on their doorstep. Early on in their job, the protagonist reached their targets with recruiting people but now not so much. They wonder if the time spent going from door to door to keep their numbers up could be better spent elsewhere. But the only thing they are told by their manager is to knock on more doors. The game ultimately shares some interesting perspectives.

There is a strong human element in this game. It captures the task of preparing to weather all sorts of people. When you first play the game there is a sense of anticipation of wondering who will open the door. Someone edgy? Someone friendly? No one at all? At the same time, you also see the other side of the story. There is a lockdown, everyone is cooped up inside, it is the dead of winter, and now here is someone knocking on your door asking you to sign up for something. Still, I wonder if the author has done community organization work themselves, and if so, whether the characters in the game are based on actual experiences.

Visuals
On a brief side note, I really like the game’s appearance which combines a purple background with white text and colourful links. It is organized and crisp looking.

Final thoughts
No One Else Is Doing This was one of the earlier games I played for the IFComp and it immediately pulled me into the story. It is not particularly long, but its gameplay structure encourages multiple playthroughs. While generally lighthearted it does touch on topics about daily concerns such as upkeep of parks or cost of public transportation. It gives you some interesting things to think about, and I appreciated its relevance to the COVID related lockdown without it dominating the gameplay. The game is ultimately a mix of humor, determination, and frustration that puts the player in the protagonist’s shoes.


Admiration Point, by Rachel Helps

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A blend of futuristic curation, cultural values, & personal ambition, October 24, 2022

Admiration Point takes place several decades into the future. You play as Maria, a 3D artist at the Digital Culture Museum where she designs virtual exhibits. But lately, her attention keeps wandering to her coworker, Sean. Romance is unlikely.

Gameplay
The interactivity usually consists of deciding whether to explore Maria’s attraction to Sean, or to shift the attention towards her work and family. To use an example, (Spoiler - click to show) in one scene you choose whether to read Sean’s book, search for Sean on the internet, or read a novel having nothing to do with Sean. Other times, choices are centered around character dialog.

Gameplay choices generally do not affect the overall track of the game. The most influential choice occurs about a quarter into the game where the player decides on how Maria should approach her feelings about Sean. Maria can choose to wreck her feelings, ignore them, or use them to fuel her own work. Your choice is then listed at the side of the screen for the rest of the game. This choice does not change the gameplay path but features text changes that are varied enough to make each playthrough a unique experience for replays.

Admiration Point is not a stat intensive game, but there are a few. Stats are meant to give the player a general idea of Maria’s feelings and standing with Sean. Cleverly, they are indicated with icons rather than numbers. (Spoiler - click to show) Maria’s obsession with Sean is represented by a looping scribble that becomes denser as her interest grows. I think that explains itself clear enough. Sean’s attitude towards Maria is shown with weather icons that begins with a neutral cloud before slowly transitioning into a shining sun. There are no rainy clouds or thunderstorms. It is just meant to be an estimate of your progress of getting to know Sean since opportunities can become available.

Story
Immediate story
The story revolves around Maria’s infatuation with Sean. He is the new guy in another department at the museum, but his work often overlaps with Maria’s work. Like Maria, he is married, though considerably older than her. As I mentioned earlier, the player’s choices do not branch the gameplay. Instead, it determines how Maria approaches her romantic feelings. Sometimes this will take you in an unexpected direction.

Have you ever played a Twine game where you click on a link that surprises you with a message instead of carrying through with the command? You probably have. Sometimes games use them to make the player think that a character is about to do something major, only to say, “yeah, not happening.” Sometimes you can sense it in advance. In this game, there were cases where I thought, “surely, the game would not allow me to actually do that,” only to click on the link and realize that, no, Maria really is going for it. I think that this allows the player to share the awkwardness with Maria rather than just feeling awkward at her situation, although the awkwardness can range anywhere from cringy to Going Too Far. Some were pretty painful to try. (Spoiler - click to show) Ending 2 was sad.

Overarching story
I am not sure whether Admiration Point takes place in the late 21st century or early 22nd century, but my guess is the former. When it comes to games that aim towards the near future, I always like to see authors’ interpretations what happens.

Apparently, (Spoiler - click to show) things seemed to go downhill during the 2040s where algorithms in social media allowed corporations to weasel their way into leadership positions and other societal pillars that changed everyday life. Names of states and countries were even changed to corporate brands. It is a familiar trope, perhaps not the most novel. But the game has nice worldbuilding by introducing these concepts through character conversations or Maria’s reading material. It makes explanations more integrated in the game rather that pulling the player aside for a crash course on the history before releasing them back into the gameplay.

Also, futuristic technology (or at least advanced versions of preexisting technologies we have today) is subtly placed throughout the game. For example, we hear mention of synthetic meats called Near-Meat. I am not sure if Near-Meat is a brand-based product. It seems like games that speculate on the nature of consumer meat products in the future tend to opt for flashy fictional marking such as NearMeats™ whereas this game takes a more subtle approach by lightly incorporating it into the writing. No? Maybe it is just me. Regardless, there are small hints that provide exposition about the world Maria lives in.

Characters
The premise of Maria's character is an exciting one: A protagonist who creates 3D art for virtual exhibits at a museum on digital culture in the future. But she also brings something new to the table: She is Mormon. Aside from the author’s other works, I have never really played any interactive fiction games that look at a specific branch/group of Christianity. The only one that comes to mind is the Methodist church in Robin & Orchid. I would not say that Admiration Point is heavily based on religion, but there are scenes where it takes center stage. I cannot say that I am familiar with the subject, but the game does share some cultural insights that were interesting.

One theme that often surfaces with Maria is motherhood. In one part of the game, (Spoiler - click to show) Maria reviews an exhibit script where women share how pregnancy was not a positive experience for them. One woman in the script notes that being overjoyed about expecting a child does not mean you are thrilled with being pregnant. For Maria, these hit close to home since she deals with indecisiveness about whether to have a second child. While there is plenty of existing media that cultivates the image of upbeat motherhood and "perfect" pregnancy, media can also be an avenue for women to share experiences, such as blogging. In Maria’s case, hearing someone who can relate to her struggles was a powerful moment. That seemed to be the main idea the author was going for in this scene.

Visuals
The game has a polished minimalist look. Green links, white background, and grey text organized into neat paragraphs at the left side of the screen. And to the left of that is a grey panel with rounded borders. This panel is mostly blank until the stats are introduced which have fun icons which I discussed earlier in this review.

Sometimes the game uses different fonts for newspapers or other content which added nice stylization. Occasionally there are text boxes used to simulate a text chat screen. It uses basic shapes and colours to imply the idea without needing to be elaborate.

Final thoughts
This was one of the earlier entries that I played. I liked the design and candid nature of the story. A highlight of the game for me was the author’s interpretation of the future and the corresponding worldbuilding, but I also enjoyed the character development.

If you asked me to pick one genre to summarize this game, I would not choose romance, religion, or science fiction, but slice of life. Romance, religion, and science fiction would fit under this umbrella and describe the complex character that is Maria. Admiration Point is short game with a compressed story, and worth more than one playthrough. Even if you decide that you do not like it, there still may be something in it for you.


The Day After Chemo, by cyndisision
A generous account of an author’s chemo experience, September 2, 2022

This is an autobiographical game about undergoing chemo for breast cancer. The game does not go into detail about the chemo treatment itself but instead the aftermath and effects on the author’s daily life when they come home.

Gameplay
The gameplay is in second person. My impression is that you do not play specifically as the author in the but instead as a relatively neutral protagonist who portrays the author’s real-life experiences. I could be wrong about that. Either way the emotions and struggles experienced during chemo shine through and paint a picture of what it is like to manage basic routines in life when you feel sick or have physical and mental fatigue.

The player has tasks that they need to complete such as showering, washing the dishes, meeting with friends, and devoting time to personal projects. As chemo continues, they have less energy to work on these tasks which requires that the player prioritize even though it means leaving other things unfinished. They can also ask their partner for help which demonstrates how a person can be a support system in your life but also conveys how asking for help can make one feel like a burden.

The game rates the protagonist’s state of mind with the phrase “You don't feel much shame about the chaos in your life," which changes as life grows more hectic. Next would be “You feel a little shame about the chaos in your life,” and so forth. I thought that this was effective in demonstrating how the effects of chemo accumulate both in mundane things such as maintaining an apartment but also how it shapes more complex areas in your life, especially self-confidence and anxiety. As chemo advances so does the protagonist.

Story
The writing was heartfelt and descriptive. One that stood out to me was “all of a sudden the big wave of energy you've been riding crests, and washes you up on your sofa like a dead jellyfish.” This illustrated how a moment where you feel uplifted and capable can fall flat because of a new development, such as needing to return to the hospital for another round of chemo despite wanting to spend your day on other things. The writing lets the player glance into this daily experience.

Then there is the (Spoiler - click to show) overwhelming sense of triumph of having gone through chemo and emerging knowing that A, it has helped in assuring that you are cancer-free, and B, that you can now regain your life with renewed enthusiasm. The best part is at the end of the game when the protagonist comes home “The Day After Chemo” (this milestone also shares the title of the game) after the whole chemo ordeal is over. There are no dishes or laundry or chores that need to be done. Just an open block of time. The protagonist decides to use that time to make a Twine game about what it took to reach that point.

Visuals
There are three cycles of chemo that each consist of a few days. The game alternates with different colour backgrounds as each day passes and incorporates colour-coded text with links. Occasionally a few are difficult to read but most were a fun splash of colour. There are occasional text effects which added some movement to the gameplay.

Final thoughts
The Day After Chemo is a candid game about cancer and recovery, and I am glad that the author chose to share this story through a Twine format. Its short gameplay balances the daily struggles of chemo with the rewards of having a good day. It is basic, straightforward, and well worth playing.


Pageant, by Autumn Chen

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A unique take on a beauty pageant with a complex protagonist, September 2, 2022

Our protagonist is Karen Zhao, a high school junior from Massachusetts. Her full name is Qiuyi (Karen*) Zhao, but she goes by Karen. One day Karen’s mom informs her that she has been signed up for a beauty pageant, with the argument that it would diversify her extracurriculars for college. Karen, knowing that she cannot refuse, has no choice but to add pageant preparation to her long list of responsibilities.

This is a story about being forced to step out of your comfort zone while life adds extra surprises into the mix. As the player you must manage her hectic life and hopefully win the pageant.

*The player can actually choose her English name, but I always found myself sticking to Karen since it is the default. I will refer to her as Karen in this review.

Gameplay
Each week the player has three time slots that they can use on a list of activities including preparing for the pageant or attending Science Olympiad study sessions. There are additional activities on the weekend although those usually deviate from school. This management of responsibilities involves some strategy and provides incentives for replay. The gameplay will have “Introspection” segments where you can check your progress in preparing for the pageant and other goals.

There are no individual (Spoiler - click to show) stand-alone endings. No “Ending 1” or “Ending 2.” Instead, the game assesses the player in different categories such as their performance in Science Olympiad or their final relationship status with one of the characters. The pageant, being the focus of the game, is the closest thing to an overarching ending. You either win it or lose it (although losing it comes in a few different flavors). Based on your performance you may unlock achievements at the end of the game. I liked this format because it feels more flexible in its assessment of the player’s choices.

I only have two technical issues. The first is that if you (Spoiler - click to show) win a slot as co-captain the achievement remains locked on the achievements page. The second issue is that I have been unable to (Spoiler - click to show) win anything other than a bronze medal with Audrey for Science Olympiad. I looked at the source code and saw that it is possible to win a gold metal if you study enough with her. However, even when I spent every study session with her, I would always get bronze. The player has a limited amount of study sessions with Science Olympiad partners. Study sessions are once a week but stop long before the weekend of the competition. This means you need to choose which teammates get more interaction.

Story + Characters
Three main themes kept surfacing: the clash of perspectives between Karen and her parents, the stress of preparing for collage, and her identity as a gay young woman. Anxiety is a major theme. There is anxiety with school and parental expectations, the stress of wondering if you are good enough for your dream collage topped off with being acutely aware that your peers all seem to have the same ambitions as you. But for this review I am going to focus on the other two themes.

Family
Karen was born in China and traveled to the US with her parents. The intersection of parental traditions and her experience as a modern teen are themes that are heavily explored in this game. Sharing family stories is a common activity. (Spoiler - click to show) For Karen, this sometimes cultivates feelings of guilt about the severity of her parents’ upbringing in comparison to her own. Her parents had to worry about things that she takes for granted and yet her struggles are unique to her own experience. Daily life also involves regular interactions with the local Chinese community. Potlucks and get-togethers are typical weekend activities. (Spoiler - click to show) During this the parents chat about their children’s grades and social activities. In these conversations is a traditional sense of what roles children should take. But for young people like Karen, Emily, and Audrey these norms may feel dated. That is not to say that they reject their heritage. One of my favorite parts in the game is when (Spoiler - click to show) Karen and Audrey are encouraged to sing with the adults during Bible study.

There is one loose string that caught my attention. If the player (Spoiler - click to show) interacts with Karen's family enough, they reach an encounter where Karen's father learns that she is gay by noticing the books that she checked out from the library. He tries to talk to her about it, but the situation is so overwhelming that she runs into her room, locking her door. The scene is short and intense enough that you would expect to see a follow up later in the game, but it never happens. Not even at the end of the game where it summarizes her relationship with her family. Given that these topics are a prominent theme in the story I was surprised that the game did not build on the encounter.

Orientation
Karen is gay but hides it from her parents and most people. The game conveys the frustration of having her parents talk casually about marriage and grandchildren when a core aspect of herself completely goes against it. She also interacts with Emily, who is (Spoiler - click to show) transgender and struggles with not being able to be her true self around her parents and their expectations. Emily’s parents know bits and pieces but ultimately, she has not yet come out to them. Emily was one of my favorite characters because she introduces Karen to big questions. Throughout the game Karen and Emily may choose to counsel each other or simply chat. Emily is also one out of three characters that the player can pursue a romantic relationship with.

A defining plot point is if the player makes it to the (Spoiler - click to show) research event called “Emily and the Professor.” Karen participates with research in a lab managed by Professor Chan who is also Emily’s father. In this scene, he brings Emily to watch Karen give a presentation, referring to Emily as his son and asking Karen to teach “him” about science. The player can choose to proceed with the presentation or step down and say that they are not ready. With the latter choice the player chooses not to be a part of Professor Chen’s attempt to force an identity on Emily. Choosing this option is clearly a risk for Karen but it feels empowering. We see the culmination of their friendship in the face of uncomfortable situation. It is an eye-opening moment not just for Karen but for the player as well.

Visuals
The game has a crisp look, almost like the text is written on a piece of stationary or index card. The textbox area is set in a white box sent against a cream background and accented with grey lines and red links. Together it creates a simple but polished appearance. I liked how the game incorporates more than one language. It uses Mandarin characters with italicized translations. This game is made with Dendry which adds some variety to the development systems that I have encountered.

Final thoughts
This was the first game I played by Autumn Chen who is an incredible author. Everything is well-written, concise yet meaningful. Karen is a memorable character who is relatable and unique. Because of this, (Spoiler - click to show) winning the pageant feels more like a victory. I highly recommend the game, especially if you are interested in the slice-of-life genre.

Also: There is also a sequel game called New Year’s Eve, 2019. It features Karen in her senior year. (CORRECTION: Senior year of collage)


Job Quest, by Chad Comeau
Straightforward concept but weakly implemented, August 31, 2022

You have moved to a new town after landing a new job. There is no sure way to know what is in store for you, so you decide to take it one day at a time. Can you keep a positive attitude?

Gameplay
The gameplay cycles in a loop, with each loop consisting of a single workday. The protagonist wakes up, goes to work, and returns home to spend some free time. The interactivity mostly consists of choosing what to do after work. These choices influence the player’s stats which determines the protagonist’s performance at work the next day. The player manages six stats. These stats are fitness, relationship with friends, relationship with family, time spent working on a personal project, time spend on playing video games to relax, and tiredness.

My main critique is that these stats decrease too quickly. Over the course of five days, you go from (Spoiler - click to show) being “You’re in great shape” to “You've become weak and have visibly gained weight.” Sure, it is probably possible to gain weight in less than a week, but this seems drastic to go from the highest level for this stat down to its lowest level in so little time. Or if you do not check Facebook after a few days the game says, “You're sad about losing contact with your friends,” which is the lowest level for this stat. If the player has too many stats at the lowest level, they lose the game. There is only time for two activities per day (or three at the expense of being more tired) and managing all six stats is an uphill battle. There are also no weekends or days off at all which seems unrealistic for a game that simulates a workplace environment. If you are (Spoiler - click to show) extremely tired, you can sleep in and skip going to work which gives you the entire day to improve your stats. Unfortunately, your boss will fire you which ends the game.

Story
The game does a decent job of capturing the monotony of a job and I like the idea of having random events outside of the protagonist’s job thrown in to make it more realistic. However, the only special event that occurs is (Spoiler - click to show) when your car breaks down, requiring that you get it fixed. I think that the game would have been stronger if it added more of this variation and focused on strategizing with life events rather than leaving the player to drown in managing stats.

The difficulty of managing stats in this game results (Spoiler - click to show) in a poorly implemented ending. Once the player builds up too many low stats the game suddenly says, “You can't sleep because your life sucks. GAME OVER” which is followed by a link called, “Continue?” The game lets you keep playing but it is impossible to improve your situation. This was frustrating and felt sloppy. Perhaps the game is trying to make the point that sometimes it is too overwhelming to manage so many areas of your life all in one go. But the way the game conveys this with its ending is ineffective.

Is it possible to win this game? If you mean in terms of (Spoiler - click to show) the protagonist succeeding at their job than I believe the answer is no. But I did find an ending that could be interpreted as a win. You end up being recruited by a secret organization that sponsors people to win track races. That means quitting your job, which the protagonist gleefully does. The mysterious man who recruits you explains that you will be flown to an island where a new track is being built, the first of its kind. The game then ends on a cliff hanger and says that the story will continue in a game called Job Quest II: Jog Quest. I am not sure if the author is planning to produce this game, but it would be cool to see where the story goes. It also sounds more exciting than the desk job featured in Job Quest. I must admit this secret ending made me smile.

Visual design
The game has a clean visual appearance. It uses black text and blue links inside a white box with a small border against a grey screen. I have seen this colour and format design in other Twine games and it always succeeds in creating a polished look without being overly stylized.

Final thoughts
I like the game’s concept of settling into a new job. The briefness of each day keeps a steady pace and simplifies the gameplay. All you need to do is balance the activities that you do in your free time. The downside is that the implementation of the protagonist’s stats makes the game feel clunky. The player feels like it is impossible to win, and any premature ending feels especially incomplete. Nonetheless, this game is another take of the slice-of-life workplace genre that carries its own charm. If you feel like playing an idle Twine game that (Spoiler - click to show) may or may not have a secret ending than give Job Quest a try.


What are you wearing?, by Von Django
Not much substance to it but a lighthearted topic, August 29, 2022

This is a Twiny Jam game of less than 300 words about a parent casting a critical eye over you and your possessions before you leave on an excursion. It reminds me of being in the dead of winter about to leave when your parents interject that your jacket is not warm enough or that those shoes will be painful for your feet halfway through the day (and usually they are right). This game follows a similar concept.

At the start of the game, you select either a mom or a dad to be the parent in the gameplay. When you try to leave your parent stops you and comments on the (Spoiler - click to show) practicality of your clothes, the amount of food you have, how you intend on keeping yourself safe, and whether or not you snatched something sneaky when they were not looking. For each of these prompts the player selects one of three links that influence the dialog. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) when asked about food you may say trout, mushrooms, or rabbit which each result in a different response. This is the height of the interactivity in this game. It is a short game and needs to be because it was submitted to a game jam with specific rules, but it still felt like it could have been more substantial. The game's ending is sweet and sentimental but a little abrupt.

We never get any backstory on the protagonist's journey. I am curious to know why they are inspired to (Spoiler - click to show) don a "rakish hat sporting peacock feathers" or have a "mark of Grun" to ensure their safety. The writing suggests that the protagonist will be weathering the raw elements during the trip and risk the possibility of encountering bandits. There are tiny little details that hint at a surreal world but none of it comes into play.

In conclusion, this is a short and simple Twine game that can be reasonably relatable. There is not really a specific audience in mind or a dominant message but if you are looking for something brief and positive than this game is a good choice.



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