Ratings and Reviews by Draconis

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The Good Ghost, by Sarah Willson, Kirk Damato

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A beautiful story, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

Oh, this was lovely. A choice-based story about a ghost bound to a family home, materializing at five different points in the life of the mother and son who live there, and trying to help them. There are some basic puzzles (mostly about examining everything and then figuring out which thing will be useful in each situation), which make the story feel more personal—it helps me relate to the protagonist and their curiosity and their motivation to help.

The overall tone is melancholy in a very sweet way. You’re no longer alive; none of the people in the story can see you, or know that you’re there, or how you’ve saved them. But that doesn’t really matter. You’ve manifested to help them, and that’s what you’re going to do, whether they know it or not.

The final scene (“Act V”) consists of two reveals, one after another; the second I’d been suspecting for a while ((Spoiler - click to show)you’re not the ghost of a human) but that didn’t make it any less touching. And then you finally pass on, just as the family starts to realize who and what you were. It was very sweet, and may or may not have brought a tear to my eye.

An excellent little piece, and another one that I recommend to everyone.


Escape from Hell, by Nils Fagerburg

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
This time you'll succeed for sure!, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

This is the other Grand Guignol I tested. It’s a very cool experiment: a “parserless parser” game (in a custom-made framework no less), which has a parser-y world model but no free-form input. Instead, you’re presented with a list of possible commands each turn: moving in different directions, taking various objects, and so on. It also has a map which shows your location and the locations of any NPCs you’ve met, which is extremely convenient in a game of this size (49 rooms in a 7×7 grid).

The only commands given to interact with objects are TAKE, DROP, TALK TO, and POSSESS, and the last of those is the core of the game: you’re a demonic spirit trying to escape from Hell by jumping from body to body. Each person you can possess adds one additional verb (an accountant can COUNT, an overseer can WHIP, a succubus can SMOOCH, a golem can SHOVE, a ghost can RAGE, a vampire can BITE, and so on), so maneuvering the right bodies to the right places is the key to solving many of the puzzles. (EXAMINE is also on the verb list but is just for flavor and never necessary.)

The overall tone of the game is light and whimsical, but never falls across the line into outright goofiness: the protagonist takes their escape attempt very seriously, as they break into the palace of the Princes of Hell and try to distract each of them away from the alarm. I really liked the writing, and spent a long while just counting forms in the first room, looking at the crimes that had gotten various IF protagonists sentenced to eternal damnation. (“Naomi Cragne: …I don’t know where to even start…”) And the humor hadn’t grown stale by the end of the game, which is no mean feat!

The puzzles were also quite good, and the body-swapping (with each body having a single extra verb) was a clever way to allow a wide variety of actions without overwhelming the player with links. There’s only one I consider unfair: (Spoiler - click to show)as the ghost, you can click the grayed-out direction links to pass through walls. While I did need a couple hints, everything else felt quite reasonable with the limited options presented, and figuring out how to (Spoiler - click to show)get Bernard out of the office was a great moment of discovery.


Civil Seeming Drivel Dreaming, by Andrew Schultz

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Real reams: seal seams, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

The first Grand Guignol I’m playing is also one that I tested, because it’s currently got only 12 ratings and I’d like to increase that number. This is another of Schultz’s Prime Pro Rhyme Row games, like There Those Dare Doze, based on rhyming alliterative pairs of words.

This one has some very helpful features that TTDD lacked, such as telling you when a command is half-right, or needs a homophone, and giving hints in return for good-but-wrong guesses. It means that coming up with a good pair feels good, and actually helps you in the game, even when it’s not the solution the author had in mind.

Unfortunately, the implementation of these features feels incomplete. Examining the help device, for example, only tells you how to turn it on—even when it’s already on—and prints “(hard to do without taking it, so you do)” every time, even when you already have it. It’s supposed to tell you when you have a command half-right, but sometimes didn’t, for no apparent reason. (I typed (Spoiler - click to show)PHONING FAE instead of PHONING FEY and got a generic error.)

The writing similarly feels a lot less coherent than in TTDD. The plot of that game was slightly absurd (which is to be expected from a wordplay game like this) but both the story and the geography made sense: you’re travelling in different directions to find other people, and convince them to help you wake the Prayer Pros in the Rare Rows.

This game is a lot vaguer, without much of an overarching structure or geography to connect its various areas. And while it has a lot more rhymes implemented than TTDD, I was still often annoyed when a perfectly good pair wasn’t recognized. (Or, in one case, caused an RTP: “TOE TALL” at the Woe Wall led to a division by zero.)

Finally, for a specific example, there’s a place where the author has clearly put a lot of effort into punishing players who use a bad word (you’re asked to find rhymes for “why witch” and the game tells you specifically not to insult the woman in front of you; if you do, the game snarks at you and crashes itself). But I have to wonder—who does this benefit? Whose experience is improved by this feature? The writing is nice and snarky, but wouldn’t it have been better to just leave the command unrecognized (as other unpleasant words are; you can’t rhyme “wee wight” with “she shite”, for example), and dedicate that effort to polishing the rest of the game? It reminds me somewhat of Graham Nelson going to great pains to hide “swearing mildly” and “swearing obscenely” from Inform 7’s index…which just made it really annoying to remove them if you didn’t want them, and didn’t really benefit anyone.

All in all, I had fun with it. The wordplay puzzles were great! And I think there’s a really solid, really fun game between CSDD’s user-friendliness and hint system and TTDD’s cohesive plot and well-arranged structure. I just wish it had been one game instead of two, because as it is, both of them felt slightly lacking.


BLACKOUT, by Playahead Games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
What matters in the end?, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

The Singularity has come. The world (as you know it) will end in seven days. What will you do?

This is a melancholic, somewhat mournful short story with a choice-based interface. It has the odd interface gimmick that the first click on any link just distorts it into a blurred mess, and you have to click it a second time to actually do anything; I’m not sure what purpose this serves, except to make certain “click a link within three seconds or the game will do it for you” choices even more annoying.

Interface aside, I enjoyed the story a lot. You have seven days left to live. There’s only one choice: what will you spend those days doing? Going out and interacting with the people around you? Or staying in and trying to work on your art? Neither of them really means anything, in the end—neither your work nor your friends will outlive you. So what meaning will you make of them? The writing is sad and bleak, but also more than a little bit hopeful, in an existential way.

Like with Cell 174, this is a work that I’d call a short story rather than a game. The focus is really on the writing, and what it encourages the player to think about. If you knew this was the end of everything, that nothing in your world would exist a week from now, what would you want to be doing? What would matter to you? The game somewhat tries to offer an answer—if you try to (Spoiler - click to show)split your time between writing and socializing your character regrets it all at the end—and I somewhat wish it didn’t. But there is plenty to contemplate, all the same, and this work has a particular feel that’s unlike anything else in the comp.


Nightmares Within Nightmares, by Grahamw

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Within Nightmares Within Nightmares Within…, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

You’re trapped in a nightmare. But not just a nightmare. Every time you wake up it just changes—you might wake up from being chased by a monster to find your lover crumbling to dust in your arms. (Always “your lover”, not gendered, which is a nice touch even if it sometimes makes for awkward writing.)

This is a choice-based horror puzzle game written in Ink. Your goal is to break out of the recursive nightmare you’re in, and at first it seems like a Groundhog Day time loop, where there’s one “correct” path through the tree of options that will set you free. But there isn’t; there’s something else you have to do.

(Spoiler - click to show)You need to use information from each nightmare in the others. When you’re being chased by a monster, you can run into a tattoo parlor, which reminds you of matching tattoos you and your lover got—and those tattoos are how you break out of the nightmare where they fall apart into dust. This works especially well in Ink, which keeps a transcript of all your past choices for you to consult.

The “aha!” moment of figuring out this puzzle was very cool. Unfortunately, the end result didn’t feel much different from “find the one correct path”. I just couldn’t figure out how to use the clues I was given: (Spoiler - click to show)my lover wanted to go to the church and then get coffee, but the solution isn’t to go to the church or the coffee shop, it’s to go behind the church. In hindsight I can see how this makes sense, but while playing, I ended up lawnmowering the last nightmare (trying each option one by one) until I came across the one that worked.

All in all, it’s a very cool idea, and I like the sort of horror on show here—it’s different from anything else I’ve played in this comp, and offers very satisfying catharsis. But my experience would have been a lot better if the clues had been a little bit clearer, and some of the red herrings removed. I understand why some red herring options need to exist, for the puzzle to be satisfying instead of “click this link to win”. But I ended up giving up on the right answer to the final puzzle because those red herrings made me think I was on completely the wrong track.


Untitled Ghost Game, by Damon L. Wakes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
dSpooky/dt, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

It’s a beautiful day in the mansion, and you are a horrible ghost. A new owner has just purchased your ancestral estate and is about to bring their awful corporeal biological presence into it. You have five hours to make the house as spooky as possible and put a stop to this!

This is a lighthearted choice-based optimization game. As you roam about the mansion you find various spooky tricks you could play on the owner; each increases the “spookiness” of the house by a certain amount, but each also costs a certain amount of time. The goal is to get the maximum spookiness in the five hours allotted.

It’s not an especially difficult optimization problem—you only have one resource to worry about, so you just need to choose all the haunts that have the best spookiness-to-time ratio—but I enjoyed the tone and the writing a lot. I played this with some of my family and they loved the ghost’s analysis of their various little tricks, and the different endings you could get with different levels of optimization. This one is definitely getting a high rating from me.


One More Page, by PRINCESS INTERNET CAFé
A strong setup and a lot of bathos, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

This one appears to be the third in a series I haven’t played, but hopefully it stands on its own. It takes the format of a text conversation, with messages from your contacts appearing one by one, and you choosing how to respond. The visual presentation is quite sleek, though I honestly wish it had been simpler—I spent a long time waiting for text to slowly fade in, even when it’s a choice for me to click rather than a message from someone else, and the messages floating around in different directions and bumping into each other was mildly distracting. Sometimes I could scroll down too far and leave the whole conversation behind; other times the messages were cut off at the bottom and I couldn’t scroll down any further. The background music was atmospheric, though I turned it off after a little bit.

(The flow of this review is different from the rest because I keep tabbing over to work on this while I wait for the messages to appear. It takes a while.)

Interface issues aside, this is a spooky little short story told through online chats. Your mother messages you to say that your friend has arrived, and is waiting in your room. Then your friend messages to say they got delayed on the train. So who, or what, is it that your mother just let into the house??

Sadly I found the climax less compelling than the premise. (Spoiler - click to show)Your friend’s doppelganger starts messaging you in Zalgo text and sending you uncanny pictures from the internet. I’m not sure if the bathos was intended or not, but it ended up feeling like a bit of a letdown after the spooky premise. I somewhat wish the entity itself had been left in the background, rather than messaging you directly, because only hearing about it secondhand could keep it both scary and vague at the same time.

I enjoyed this one, but I wish the climax had kept up the spooky atmosphere from the beginning.


Trick or Treat or Trick or Treat or Trick, by Stewart C Baker

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A fun time loop and an unfortunate number of bugs, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

From the description, this one seems to be a parser puzzlefest written in Inform 7. You’re a 12-year-old trick-or-treating on your own for the first time, and perhaps inadvisably decided to knock on Old Man McGuffin’s door. He chose “trick” and left you with a strange device that traps you in a time loop: after seventeen turns, you’re reset to the start of the game.

Unfortunately, I think this is the first Petite Mort I can’t solve on my own. I like the idea a lot, but the implementation just confuses me too deeply. I started making a map, and ended up finding a loop that I can’t reconcile: going north, west, south, west, west from the front yard brings you back to it again. I found a way to leave the device behind (put it in the box, close the box, drop the box) but it keeps being described as in my hand. “Fields of rustling corn” are an impassible barrier, while “an impenetrable line of trees” is an exit you can use.

With hints, I managed to solve it. I like the puzzle, but the implementation gets in the way frustratingly often. Some important actions persist across time loops, like (Spoiler - click to show)PULL ROPE, and give confusing error messages if you try them after already doing them on a previous loop. McGuffin expects you to say “trick or treat” when you find him later, and prints the same text as at the beginning, but doesn’t reset the loop. Using commands that are slightly off, like (Spoiler - click to show)SHOW BOX instead of GIVE BOX, does nothing. I like the game, but the implementation issues keep me from really recommending it.


Something Blue, by E. Joyce

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An excellent use of the medium, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

Epistolary IF! I always love it when a piece makes use of the medium in a clever way.

This is a Twine work where the classic “click links to change their text; click other links to move on to the next page” represents the process of editing a letter. The story is told through the general outline of each letter; you can write and rewrite certain passages to your liking, then send it off. The story then advances to the next letter, a week or two later.

The protagonist is Helen Compton, recently married, writing letters home to tell her sister about her marriage. I’m slightly ashamed to admit how long it took me to realize what story was being adapted here, because in hindsight there were so many clear indications—in other words, I was as clueless as Helen about who her new husband was.

There are a few different endings you can get; I found three, and I think the first one I got (before I went back and chose “all the first option”, “all the second option”, and “all the third option”) was the best. The writing was excellent, it used the medium in a clever way, and the length and pacing were top-notch. This might be my new favorite to win the comp.


THROW. MARIA. OVERBOARD., by Travis Moy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The Rhyme of the Byzantine Mariner, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

This is a ChoiceScript game set in Imperial Constantinople, which I think means it’s somewhere between ~400 and ~1400 CE—my knowledge of history is unfortunately much weaker than my knowledge of historical languages! You’re a sea captain named Peter, a guest at a high-society party thrown by your friend Demetrios, entertaining “merchants draped in cloth and woman with intricate veils, scholars sitting straight, Imperial administrators proudly sporting their badges of office”.

All of them speak exclusively in rhyme, and look down on you for not being able to do the same. Your goal is to tell them a story that will satisfy them. (The rhyming seems to represent some sort of linguistic difference: at one point a friend of yours abandons rhyme and “shift[s] down into the common register”. It’s a neat touch, because it makes the high-prestige register sound both difficult to execute and faintly absurd, which is presumably how Peter sees it.)

The story you tell them is, unfortunately, very short. You get one real choice to make during it—which is an interesting one! And the writing is certainly engaging.

But even after a couple different playthroughs, I was left wanting more. The four-hour deadline puts tight limits on how much writing can be in a Petite Mort game, but I wish a little more of it had been dedicated to the story itself, and a little less to the frame narrative. Both the high society of Constantinople and the strange affairs happening out at sea are fun and engaging, yet the overall impression I’m left with is that I want a proper serving of either one, rather than just a little taste of both.

P.S. I was tempted to write this in rhyme, but decided it’d take too much time. I might have to try again later, when I’m done with my duties as rater.



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