I had long marked Bee for reading one day, but was disappointed to see that it was no longer available as the original platform was now defunct; thanks to the efforts of the author and of Autumn Chen, this sweet story is now getting the readers it so well deserves once more.
The unnamed narrator, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, is educated at home with her younger sister. Her life is shaped by the seasons of the church, the homespun ways of her frugal parents, the trends of her local home education circle, and a long-running desire to win a national spelling competition.
Each 'turn' in the story gives the reader a set of options, which recur throughout: the chance to review some spellings; a social engagement; household chores; services for different times of the Christian year. Within the chosen passage, more options nudge the narrator towards different actions, subtly shifting the story in one direction or another.
Gradually, four different endings emerge. As with any choice-based fiction that commands my attention, I was pleased to read this one over and over, each time uncovering a few different passages, and moving the story in a different direction.
The subtlety of the story comes from the fact that the narrator's family are presented as trying to be distinctly different from the world around them while also avoiding real fanaticism. The narrator sometimes wishes to please her parents, while also displaying a streak of sarcasm from time to time. Above all, she begins to get a sense of how her life could unfold after the competition and once she has a chance to live differently one day.
A really lovely story, and worth the wait.
NOTE: as explained below, I think there are a couple of bugs in the "play online" versions: read on if you are stuck.
I'd been looking for a new, medium/large puzzle game to play, but I often find parsers difficult and slow to get off the ground, and tend to give up on them very quickly. First Things First finally broke this streak.
You are off to return your time travel books to the library when you discover that you've locked yourself out of the house. Quite coincidentally, an actual time machine materialises in your neighbourhood (you accept this in a somewhat matter-of-fact way), allowing you to visit a further four time periods, starting from before the house was built, and ending in an apparently dystopian future.
The puzzles are pitched at just the right level: difficult enough to get me thinking, but not so hard that I gave up. Notably, they are often of the kind where, just when you think you have solved the problem, another barrier turns out to be in the way, and what was apparently a simple goal gets further and further away: truly infuriating and deeply satisfying. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, you try to plant a tree. One bottle of Miracle-Grow is not enough to get it to grow large enough, so you need to figure out a way of taking all the bottles. When that's done, it turns out still not to be enough, so another bottle has to be acquired. The tree allows you to get into an otherwise unreachable part of the map to pick up an object which you had been looking for, but the next problem is getting out, and so on. Some puzzles have more than one solution.
The game was written with real attention to detail: it's a joy to see how the descriptions of different parts of the map change as you alter the past and the future. The tone shifts a great deal, encompassing tranquillity (the woodlands that were there before the house was built), urgency (long passages of dialogue with a major character at a crucial part in the game) and occasionally terror(Spoiler - click to show): there is one surprisingly unnerving sequence, which some players might miss, where you grow the tree to its full extent and fix the roof but do not install a lightning conductor, and then go into the +10-year future and attempt to climb the tree. The game goes to considerable lengths to instil a sense of growing panic as you lose your grip, and fall to the ground, leaving you alive but unable to move. Playing with the bank while having time travel abilities is also great fun.
However, I ran into a wall at an important point in the story: in the section called "Outside the Executive VP's Office", the game froze: in the middle of a block of text, there should have been a "press any key" option and there wasn't! I was using the Parchment interpreter on iplayif.com (the "Play Online" option above) - there seems to be something wrong with it. So I restarted using the elseif player ("Play Online in Browser"), which has a separate window for typing in commands, and that did the trick.
Unusually for me, I didn't need to resort to a walkthrough: the in-game hints were enough. However, I ended up consulting it because, close to the end, I got stuck in a loop which may be a bug because it doesn't make sense as a deliberate way to get the player stuck. (Spoiler - click to show)If you just walk into the museum, the young man will offer you a tour, but there is no way of accepting it: typing "yes" or "follow young man" just lead him to repeat his offer; you can't even move beyond this point. I checked the walkthrough and discovered that there is a note underneath the doormat, instructing you to knock on the door. If you do so, you can type "yes" in response to the man's questions, and "follow young man" should work also.
It looks as if First Things First has been relatively underappreciated in the twenty years since it came out, and undeservedly so. If you're looking for a well-thought-out puzzle game that will neither be a pushover nor impossibly taxing, this could be the one.
I've often wondered what it would be like to write a full-length novel in Twine which branched off in all kinds of different directions, with a really long reading time, so you could end up reading several completely different novels depending on which path you took. Or simply a vast fantasy world, which you could explore at your leisure, finding more and more places to discover and be delighted by.
I mention this because The Hole Man goes some way towards achieving both of these objectives. You start out preparing for jury duty, and have your identity - your whole self - stolen from you, and end up in a kind of surreal world. There is a whole world in this game to explore, and though the different branches often overlap, the game area is big enough that there were always new things to discover. You drift from one setting to another, whether realistic or pleasantly surreal, almost without noticing, just as if you were in a dream. It's funny in places (Spoiler - click to show)(such as, when asked for your favourite genre of writing is, and you say 'interactive fiction', the narrator calls you an "apple-polisher"), bizarre, whimsical, and philosophical.
I love games with a strong sense of place, and particular of fantastical places, so I enjoyed simply getting lost and wandering through this world - often I would wander around in circles, coming to places I had been to before; at other times I stumbled upon whole areas I had never been to before. Although the place descriptions mostly don't vary when you return to them, I did appreciate the 'hint system'(Spoiler - click to show):the slow loris in the tax office will tell you which areas of the game aren't worth returning to, and which require more exploration. Although of course the real problem is finding them again... As a Twine writer, I found myself thinking about how the game had been constructed: which passages linked to which, and when variables came into play.
If you wander far enough, you encounter one of several different Men, each of whom has a bit of wisdom to impart, and whose job you are allowed to take over, if you wish. (Spoiler - click to show) If you do accept, you reach an ending; if not, you collect a token from each one and carry on with your quest towards one of two winning endings. I'm not sure what the promised 'special surprise' was, although I did appreciate the 'I'm not a man' ending.
Of all the games in Spring Thing 2022, this is the one that I kept coming back to.
You are Qiuyi/Karen Zhao, a young Chinese-American who is home from university and celebrating New Year's Eve with friends and family - except that you suffer from terrible social anxiety and really, really do not feel like celebrating or even socialising at all. It's six hours until midnight. How will you fill all those hours?
This is a thoughtful, character-focused narrative written in Dendry, a choice-based format which is well suited to this story: Karen feels trapped, her options limited. Various social interactions are on offer, but all are difficult; other possibilities include taking a walk, eating from the buffet (I did a lot of that) and playing interactive fiction to pass the time.
This game did a really great job of simulating a social event that goes on for too, too long, and the feeling of having to find something to do to fill all those empty hours - but though the evening is boring, the game itself, the relationships described and the narrative voice, held my interest really well. If you check out the 'Credits' page, there is a Spotify playlist which I would have played while reading for extra atmosphere, if I'd read that bit at the start.
This is a really polished, professional game, and I must check out the prequel.
Twine can be used for storytelling: it can be poignant, sensitive and subtle. Or it can be used for gameplaying, with divergent paths and, if desired, a lot of ways to go wrong.
NNRNAJ is firmly in the second camp. This game's atmosphere is one of slapstick, and its basic premise absurdly pantomime-villainous, outrageous and exaggerated beyond anything remotely realistic. I enjoyed figuring it out, getting to the happy ending, and winning the day against the odious Mr Jett. That said, I agree with a lot of the points raised in other reviews: a few lines could have been toned down a bit, the option to punch Mr Jett in the face comes too soon in the story to be plausible (it could have waited until Ned has legitimate grounds to be annoyed at him), and one critical puzzle doesn't quite make sense.
While not a long game, NNRNAJ was complex enough to take me a while to get to the 'good' ending. Fortunately, it is divided into three acts, with a progressive hint system - particularly important in the second act, which took me a while to figure out. However, the 'bad' endings are many and varied enough to make it worth going on the wrong path a few times.
This is one of the most atmospheric and evocative Twine stories that I have read. The things you see and read on your mysterious journey seem full of meaning, yet I could not say what they mean exactly.
The strangeness and arbitrariness of some of the objects which you interact with allow for some workable puzzles, even in Twine: rather than logically figuring things out, as in a parser game, you need to visit various different locations several times and note when they change and where new links appear. Many of the passages and descriptions do nothing to move the plot onwards, but they serve to develop the atmosphere and act as red herrings as you try to find a way forward. The visuals were absolutely appropriate to the gloomy midnight setting - black background, white serif text with pale grey link text - but I found that I really needed to look closely in order to notice where the links were.
I first played Tethered two years ago, and it must have been one of the first parser games that I played, so it took me a few days to get my head around; as a relatively short game, it was an excellent introduction to the genre.
In the introduction to this "interactive role play", as the title page has it, you play Charles, a mountaineer, but the main part of the game is shown from the perspective of Judith, his unfortunate partner who is left alone in the snow. The early puzzles see her exploring a cave system and deal brilliantly with the logistics of navigating around it. The descriptions of these caves are atmospheric and help prepare for the unexpected shift in tone that slowly develops as the story continues.
I was puzzled, but quickly came to realise what was beginning to happen; but as I reached the very final stages of the story I became confused again - what was really going on? I never guessed until I read the deeply poignant ending, with its ironic twist on the title. Tethered has all the clever plotting of a good short story, but it is one in which you actually have to act out all the things that Judith would do while sheltering in the caves, even ones which the reader knows would be a bad idea - and there's a very good reason for that. For this alone, I would hold it up as a great example of how parser games can be an excellent medium for storytelling and even have features that conventional storytelling does not.
A short game about getting up in the morning and going to work, but with a twist ending. Plays with your expectations - there are some assumptions you make when you play a parser-based game, and it didn't really occur to me to question them here. Ironically enough, (Spoiler - click to show)when I got to the bit where you leave the house without locking it, I wondered if someone might break in when I was out at work.
If I hadn't been in such as hurry to get to work, I might have done what I normally do in parser games and (Spoiler - click to show)examine everything - in particular, to look under things and behind things. Of course, I did that on the replay.
One bit left me trying to guess a verb: (Spoiler - click to show)"get in cubicle" did the trick.
If I had to give someone a short game to play in order to teach them how to play a parser game, it'd probably be this.
Having previously read Summit, I was hoping for something good from Phantom Williams, and got it - not a story, but hundreds of fragments of stories, from hundreds of ruined civilisations.
There is something reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges here, or Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities: instead of telling the entire story of a single world, why not take that idea to its logical conclusion and present only the fragments that would survive from such an event?
Many of the fragments are eerie, some are beautiful, others are a little disturbing. Some don't quite seem to qualify as apocalypses. But all leave you wondering: what happened here?
This is best read in bits and pieces, over a long period of time, and without any strategy, but simply by wandering from one passage to another.
(If you were wondering, the title quote comes from Apocalypse 189)
I read this a few years ago - it was the first piece of multimedia fiction that I had ever read, and it inspired me to go in search of internet-based fiction, which ultimately led me to IFDB.
17776 makes use of different formats - text, video, gif, even a calendar - to tell a rather bizarre but genuinely fascinating and original story. Reading through the first chapter in particular made me feel strangely unnerved and wonder what was going to happen. I don't want to give too much away, but it's set in the distant future when human life is extraordinarily different, and is told from an unusual perspective.
Although it's relatively low on the interactive elements, the multimedia aspect of it will appeal to people interested in new storytelling formats.
I appreciated Photopia above all as a short story. Alley's life is told through the medium of brief sections of text, presented out of chronological order, and not from her own perspective, but from the perspective of different people in her life. As in some of the short stories of Alice Munro, the reader takes these different fragments of time and pieces them together.
The framed sections, in coloured text, are outside of this world altogether: strange, imaginary landscapes. How do they relate to the main story? The reader has to figure it out. And the final scene reveals - to us, but not the main character - the ultimate source of these stories.
I found myself wanting more from the framed stories: there was enough description of the various fantasy landscapes to get me interested, but if they had been described in more detail, and allowed more "examine" responses, I would have been more interested in these parts. They may have benefited from some more complex puzzles. When I did get stuck, such as in the crystal maze, it wasn't the 'good stuck' feeling that comes from untangling something brainteasing.
The final revelation was an excellent twist. It made me wish the whole game was somewhat longer and more fully realised: we should be feeling that Alley is haunted by this buried memory, that it has been a part of her for her whole life and yet she doesn't know what it is.
I don't find myself as moved by Photopia as many other people do, even though it is obviously about a tragic event: I'd like the air of mystery and wonder to be greater, and for Alley's inner feelings to be explored in more depth (if that is possible, considering that it goes for the clever device of describing her through other people's eyes). But I can at least see the potential for a moving story in it.
I came to this game with high expectations, having previously played Tethered by the same author. The Impossible Bottle is diametrically different in atmosphere and setting - the only thing they have in common is that, in both games, objects aren't what they seem to be at first glance - but this is another excellent game by Linus Åkesson.
This game is based on one single, very strong and very thoughtfully worked-out idea: (Spoiler - click to show)a dollhouse which allows you to change the size and nature of items inside the actual house, and vice versa. This reminded me somewhat of a similar mechanic in (Spoiler - click to show)Emily Short's Metamorphoses, except in that game the solutions felt a bit more arbitrary and random, perhaps due to the more mystical atmosphere, whereas in The Impossible Bottle they were more logical and easier to figure out.
After having struggled through a couple of fiendish (but deeply, deeply enjoyable) games by Graham Nelson (both of which, if I'm not mistaken, are referenced in this game: try chatting to Nolan at different points in your progress), I appreciated the 'merciful' rating of this one, not to mention the hint system, which gave out tips without giving too much too quickly.
The child-centred view of the world ("this room is the best, because it's yours") was sweet and funny, and once I had figured out how to make the game 'work' it was great fun to (Spoiler - click to show)move different objects and change them from one thing to another. And there is a cuddly capybara in it.
What a strange and beautiful piece of interactive fiction!
Summit is based on a startling idea: that human beings must periodically expel living fish from their fishstomachs, and then swallow them, ultimately choosing a more gradual death over a prompt one. Somehow Phantom Williams manages to make this idea sound completely convincing within a few minutes.
The story is based on the desire for the far-off summit of the mountain, and the long journey that must be taken in order to reach it. I would have liked more time to have been spent expressing why the character desires to reach the mountain.
Your journey takes you through a number of different places, in each of which the people find a different way to deal with issues of death, fish, and ecstasy. Having played it through twice, I think the path taken by the character is roughly the same in different playings, but it's possible to skip parts and include or exclude other characters, and to make decisions about how to spend your time in each place, and how much time.
The style of frequent link-clicking, based on symbols which may or may not have significance, slows the story down and gives it an almost meditative feel. The descriptions of the places you visit are mysterious and beautiful, creating an excellent sense of atmosphere.
One question: it promises music, yet I couldn't see any way of turning it on (yes, I had sound switched on). Given the atmospheric nature of the piece, I would have loved to have heard that.
In this Twine short story, a great sense of atmosphere and suspense is created, not just by the use of images and sound, excellent as those are, but by thoughtful use of links: links that change text when you click on them, links that trigger a time delay, and changes of layout. I would have liked the plot to have developed more - it felt like reading the first half of a story.
Nevertheless, this is a good example of what I would consider multimedia fiction, where the interactivity provided by Twine is used not to give the reader a choice of narratives, but to provide atmosphere and to move the story onwards.
An interactive novella about coming out as transgender in early adulthood.
This is a Twine production that really feels like reading a story. Although each chapter ultimately leads you through a pre-determined plotline, your ability to make choices gives an added layer of agency to the narrative. The young protagonist deals with some difficult encounters, but there is a strong note of hope.
The addition of music, colour and background graphics makes this an extremely polished production indeed. It made me realise just what a Twine story can be.
A text adventure with a twist: all of the objects can be altered, both in size and in substance (e.g. changed from metal into wood). So not only do you have to think, 'What could I do with this object?', but also, 'What could this object become?'
This takes place in a fascinating and mysterious setting, a medieval/early modern world of alchemy and of the four humours. You are in a house filled with strange and wonderful objects and paintings, which enhance the gameplay considerably. I would have liked to have known more about the building you are in, and how it came to be as it is, and more backstory about the playing character and the Master more generally. In Emily Short's Bronze, for comparison, the castle and the objects within it are more closely linked to the story.
It is a short game, and according to the 'help' function, not a difficult one; I actually found it harder than I expected, perhaps because the setting is so mysterious that the actions you have to perform are not always self-explanatory, and also there is the extra challenge provided by the sheer number of permutations of the transformations of each object.
I admired this game mostly for the clever idea of metamorphosing objects and for the gorgeous descriptions and setting that I have come to expect from an Emily Short game.
I had played and enjoyed text adventure games before *Bronze*, but this was the first that I truly loved.
Based on the fairytale of Beauty and the Beast (not one I am very familiar with), this game is long enough to keep you busy for a while, with puzzles which are neither too simple nor infuriatingly difficult. But its greatest strengths are the atmosphere that it evokes, through the description of the castle and the objects in it - rich and Gothic, sometimes macabre - and the incredible storytelling: not just in the present day, but a whole history which leaves its traces in the castle, and which can be pieced together through paintings, objects, rooms and books. *Bronze* reminded me somewhat of Angela Carter's book *The Bloody Chamber*, a collection of modern retellings of fairytales with a dark but beautifully-described atmosphere.
An illuminating post on Short's blog explained how the story developed, leading to its various endings (CONTAINS SPOILERS: https://emshort.blog/2006/12/31/the-making-of-bronze/) - I never succeeded in finding one of these.
The 'go to' function is very much appreciated, and there is a tutorial mode for new players of IF. But the atmosphere and storytelling should appeal to players at all levels.
It is New Year's Eve, 1999, and a mysterious stranger drops you a piece of a seemingly ordinary jigsaw. But each piece turns out to be a gateway to a different event in the twentieth century. Can you make history?
I came to this game fresh from Nelson's wonderful game *Curses!*, looking for something similar. It simultaneously is and isn't. Like that of *Curses!*, *Jigsaw*'s a nicely large game world, which allows you to jump in and out of different times and different places. Each jigsaw piece is a mystery: where are you going to go next? The overall tone is considerably different to that of the earlier game: it is much more sombre, dealing with the tragedies and crises of the twentieth century. There is, however, a romance, and there are a few moments of humour(Spoiler - click to show), such as when you rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Each jigsaw piece is a relatively self-contained mini-game: actions taken in one chapter rarely have an impact on others. This may or may not appeal: I enjoyed the sprawling, ever-growing environment of *Curses!*, where an object found in one place might open up another area of the game; but it helped to be able to concentrate the mind on a small area, containing one or two puzzles. Some of the chapters were over quickly, with just one or two actions to complete; many puzzles were difficult, and I am grateful for Bonni Mierzejewska's walkthrough. Examine everything, look under things, and talk to characters.
Each chapter clearly has a great deal of historical research behind it (and there are footnotes to each one in the Help menu), so it's a game that is both informative and entertaining.
I came to Curses! as a relatively new, but not completely inexperienced, player of IF. I had recently completed Emily Short's rich and beautiful game Bronze, and was looking for a game to fill the gap, one with a fascinating atmosphere and which was long and challenging enough to get my teeth into. Curses! was everything I wanted, and more.
This game manages to combine a sense of awe and wonder with an excellent sense of humour, as a simple search for a map takes you on a journey through time and space, through the mysteries of the Tarot pack and of ancient Egypt, and into heaven and hell themselves, with the odd joke thrown in. The puzzles are good enough to get your brain going, and I was often proud of myself for figuring out some which were at first glance far too difficult. Whenever the going got a bit too tough, I consulted Russ Bryan's excellent walkthrough until I could progress further.
As some other reviewers have noted, some of the puzzles are very difficult, and others require some strange actions or choices of verb. I advise playing in 'long' mode, and noting that you can speak to characters (or non-human entities) by typing their name followed by a comma, and then what you want to say: e.g. 'Jemima, hello'. Examine everything, and try pushing and pulling things. Occasionally you will need to watch the actions of other characters, and imitate them. Although the game is huge, often you will find that the item you need is not far away from the puzzle it exists to solve.
I began Curses! shortly before the Coronavirus lockdown of spring 2020 and can honestly say that it kept me well occupied during this unexpected rise in alone time at home. If you like satisfying puzzles, ancient mysteries, classical civilisation, T. S. Eliot, slider puzzles, or cats, and don't mind consulting a walkthrough, then this is a game for you.