Reviews by Draconis

Ectocomp 2022

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Buggy, by Mathbrush

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
This game is buggy, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

This is a work that Iím not quite sure how to describe. Itís a very short parser game written in Inform 7, and itís quick to playóusually over in just a couple of turns. Youíre riding in a buggy (as in the type of cart), in pursuit of a mysterious foe.

I recommend playing it, because itís hard to say much more than that without spoiling its central conceit. So go do that first. Or, if you donít care about spoilers:

(Spoiler - click to show)The core of this game is puns. The game is buggy, in the sense that itís got (intentional) typos and also in the sense that thatís what youíre riding. Youíre as good-looking as Ever (your brother Everett), and you can jump on the spot fruitfully (catching a branch of crab-apples). You think thereís a Suchthing around, but you canít quite see it. The fourth wall is thin here, and every message the parser produces is also happening in the world itself.

This is another short game, where getting an ending takes only a couple turns but there are plenty of different endings to find, and I think thatís the right structure for itóits brand of surrealness would get old if it were drawn out much further. Though I do wish I could eventually find out what weíre pursuing.

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origin of love, by Sophia de Augustine

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
the way a wound bays for the knife, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

This one is more interactive poetry than interactive fiction: a sequence of stanzas hyperlinked together, with additional lines that show up when you click particular words. Itís a genre that I havenít seen much of before, but one that seems very well-suited to Twineís format.

Itís about gay vampire lovers, which I adore. The writing is quite nice, and the poem overall is short but sweet. It feels like itís just the length it should be.

I want to comment more on it, but unfortunately Iíve never been great at this type of criticismóI can write a lot about my feelings on different types of gameplay, but thatís not especially relevant here. So Iíll conclude by saying simply that I enjoyed it, and quoting a passage I especially liked:


only you love him the way
a wound bays for the knife
a raw socket misses the tooth
restless tongue probing
cavernous ache.

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Reg and the Kidnapped Fairy, by Caranmegil

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Werewolf Punching Simulator, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

Iím really not sure what to make of this one. My first thought was that it was a parody, but now I think itís deeply, purely sincere. And I mean that in a good way.

This feels like a kidís first experiment with Inform 7, and it has a certain charm to it. You are Reg, the Good Werewolf, and you need to punch 100-foot-tall undead gorillas and dancing skeletons into space on your way to free the good fairies from the bad fairy. It even has a handful of AI-generated illustrations!

Looking at othersí reviews, Encorm mentions ďthis was at least partially written by a seven-year-oldĒ, which explains a lot. It definitely reminds me of my first attempts to make an Inform 7 game, and honestly, ECTOCOMP does seem like a good way to get outside eyes on a first experiment like this.

I wouldnít call this a good game, necessarily, but it has a very distinct charm and soul to it. I hope the authors continue to play around with Inform and look forward to seeing what else they create.

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Restitution, by Anonymous

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An experiment in agency, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

As the author explains on the main page:

This is a study in stateful media with an emphasis on narration-based agency. To avoid breaking a readerís suspension of disbelief, this work eschews story-based agency.

Whatís this mean for you? An interactive fiction experience that is more ďliteraryĒ and less ďgameĒ made by combining quintessential elements of parser-based, choice-based, chat-based, and templated-based works under a new theory of agency in stateful media.


In other words, this is an experiment, intended to explore a new style of interactive fiction. Rather than giving the player any influence over the story (which risks ďbreaking a readerís suspension of disbeliefĒ), theyíre allowed to choose which word is used for certain descriptionsóchanging the way the story is described to the audience.

Itís an interesting idea, and indeed the same basic story told from different perspectives could give an entirely different result. But after that grand, artistic description, I couldnít help feeling disappointed by the work itself.

As best I can tell, itís a short story published by Charles Henkle in 1916. One noun has been deleted from this story, and the player is encouraged to fill in the blank. The following paragraph changes depending if a positive or negative word is used.

The problem is, this one nounóand the following paragraphódoesnít really have much impact on the narrative. It shows us what one character thinks of another character for a brief moment, and thatís it. It was a good, well-written short story, but it certainly didnít seem like I had much agency over the narrative at all. My personal thoughts on the character arenít any different than if I had just read this short story in a paper-and-ink anthology, and the narrationís viewpoint on him isnít really either: would the experience have been much different if the author had just omitted that characterís thoughts completely, letting the reader fill in the blanks in their mind?

While I liked Henkleís writing, and Iím glad to see people pushing the bounds of the medium and testing new types of ďagencyĒ, the interactive parts of this work just didnít really work for me. To put it bluntly, it just didnít feel different from reading a non-interactive short story, any more than a ďclick to turn the pageĒ prompt would change the fundamental experience of a book. I do look forward to seeing further experiments in this vein, and what ďnarrative agencyĒ will look like once the concept has been further developed.

I would also like to invite comparison with Something Blue, a game from the same ECTOCOMP that gives the player a similar degree of agency. It's told through a series of letters, and all you can do in the game is edit certain passages, changing the tone of what you're conveying. Yet it ends up feeling significantly more satisfying than Restitution did. Is it because of the story-based agency in the ending? Or simply because the interactive and non-interactive parts mesh together seamlessly, and it gives the player so much more authority over the story's tone?

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You Are a Zombie Yelp Reviewer, by Geoffrey Golden
Just a bit undercooked, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

This is a very short (less-than-five-minute) choice-based game thatís exactly what it says on the tin. Youíre a zombie who just ate someoneís brain, and youíre reviewing the experience on Yelp.

The frame narrative is neat. Youíre choosing the course of the story as you narrate it to your online audience, explaining-and-deciding how exactly you caught this person and ate his brains.

Unfortunately, the overall experience just felt lacking. It was a nice short game, but it didnít feel complete the way the similarly-short Zombie Eye didóI was left feeling like I hadnít really done anything, and the game hadnít really said anything to me. This is quite reasonable for a Petite Mort, though, and the writing of the review works; if I had more experience with Yelp, the parody might have hit harder.

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There Those Dare Doze, by Andrew Schultz

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Fight fating, write rating, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

This is a wordplay-based puzzle game, in the tradition of Nord and Bert and Ad Verbumóthe sort of thing that really depends on the parser format to work. The world of the game is truly made of words and sentences, not just described by them. I know Andrew Schultz was writing these when I first went on hiatus from the forum, and Iím glad to see he hasnít stopped.

This one is based on alliterative pairs of words, which have to rhyme with the thing you want to affect. For example (made up, not from this game), you could defend yourself from horrible monsters in a SHIP SHACK by hitting them with the command WHIP WHACK. (Others may be more familiar with this series than I am, because it does seem to be a series, but Iíve never seen it before this ECTOCOMP, so itís all new to me!)

The puzzles here are fun, and there were some very nice ďaha!Ē moments: getting the ammunition felt great. The big issue with this game is one that might not be avoidable in a Petite Mortóthe unrecognized commands.

There are just so many possible alliterative rhymes. And with only four hours to implement, the majority of them arenít recognized. This means the pacing frequently gets ruined by a long span of perfectly good commands that the game doesnít understand. Thereís no in-game reason why SHARE SHOWS and TEAR TOES arenít valid rhymes for RARE ROWS, except that there wasnít time to implement them all. (Iím especially disappointed about FAVE FOUND and SPAM SPEAK. Those felt like they should even fit the puzzles!)

Like I said, Iím not sure this is something that can really be fixed in a Petite Mort. The number of puzzles is very good. I just wish I didnít keep losing my momentum.

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HSL Type Ω MEWP Certification Exam, by Duncan Bowsman

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Clearly you're not HSL certified, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

Another stark tonal shift! This is a parody of workplace safety training, meant to ensure that employees know how to properly use and operate an HSL (haunted scissor lift). It consists of a 35-question quiz implemented in ChoiceScript and a manual containing the answers.

Putting the bulk of the information in the manual is a great way to get around the four-hour limit for Petite Mort, and I think it worked well here. The gameplay involves trying to find the relevant information to answer each question, and in the process enjoying the parody of both instruction manuals and safety tests. As youíve probably gathered, Iím a big fan of the more lighthearted ECTOCOMP games, and this one definitely qualifies.

Excellent design to take advantage of ECTOCOMP rules (since supplemental materials arenít covered by the four-hour limitation), excellent parody writing, and a solid implementation (the quiz format really helps). I like it.

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MARTYR ME, by Charm Cochran

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Deeply unsettling, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

Ödear lord.

Iím not sure how to describe this one. Itís a choice-based work from the perspective of a serial(?) killer and their latest victim, told in a half-religious half-erotic tone. The victim wants to be martyred. The killer wants to do it right. Do it wrong, fail to carry out the right process or let them die before itís done, and the game is lost. Martyrdom must be done properly. If it is, the victimís last moans are ďthank you!Ē two thousand and fifty two times over.

Itís horrifying. I never want to touch it again. As another ECTOCOMP reviewer said, thatís a sign of a good horror game. Itís a short little work thatís deeply unsettling, and I want it as far away from me as possible. Iím not sure what it is about the writing that gets to me in this way, but it does.

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ZIT, by Amanda Walker

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Real-world body horror, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

The opening sequence conveys two crucial things. One, this looks like an Inform game (Parchmentís classic font and color scheme). And two, the horror is going to hit close to home. ďYou just let year after year passÖĒ is one of my greatest fears. So weíre off to a great start.

The game is short and sweet. Youíre in the bathroom preparing for your first job interview in decades, reflecting on your life, and trying to cover up this huge zit before you go out in public. Your main options are calling the various contacts in your cell phone and trying to cover it up with the materials at hand. The game ends when you finally feel ready to face the world.

There are two different endings (that I found), and the implementation is quite solid for a Petite Mort game. More importantly, though, this game does a great job of using the illusion of interactivity to emphasize the exact opposite. A parser game offers you the opportunity to do anything in the world and that just shows how few options you really have. The cell phone that connects you to the rest of the world actually underscores your isolation from it. Itís a great way to avoid the combinatorial explosion of a vast, fully-implemented world (bathrooms being infamously difficult to implement in parser games) and also to use the fundamental nature of the medium to emphasize the story being told. And then in the end, you do, in fact, still have the power to determine the ending. The overall effect is quite nice.

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Starlight Shadows, by Autumn Chen

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
By our powers combined!, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

A much more lighthearted choice-based game. Youíre Lyra, youíre hosting a high school party, an Entity is going to attack in two hours, and if you want to stand a chance against it you need allies. Already Iím delighted by the premise. (To probably no-oneís surprise, this is one of my favorite genres of Halloween spooky.)

The plot is relatively straightforward. Talk to your friends at the party. Convince as many of them as possible to help you. Then fight the entity when it shows up. The first part is a mix of classic choice-based dialogue (choose what you say) and ďworld-establishing choicesĒ; Iím sure thereís a better word for this, but the choices that define facts about the world rather than your characterís actions, like collaborative worldbuilding in a tabletop game (or the first chapter of a Choice of Games work). You talk to your brother, and the first choice is how positive or negative your relationship currently isóand while having it be negative is probably a bad tactical decision, it seemed like the more interesting story, so I had to take that one. In other words, the start was exciting enough that I was more interested in adding drama to the story than winning the fight, which is a commendation.

Then you fight the entity in a little turn-based system. You can tell your allies to attack or defend in various ways as you try to hurt the entity and it tries to hurt you. This was the weakest part of the game, and I couldnít really tell what was working and what wasnítódefensive actions got no response at all, while the aggressive ones mostly seemed to all do the same thing, so I just rotated through me and my allies attacking and stopped worrying about our own health.

While the combat itself was a bit of a letdown (and, to be fair, implementing an engaging tactical combat system in a Petite Mort game is an enormous task), I had a lot of fun trying to figure out the details of this world and my characterís past, driving the dialogue in directions that would lead to flashback scenes. Reminisce with my (ex?) boyfriend and the flashback to our first date establishes that (Spoiler - click to show)nobody in this world has ever seen the stars; let my friend talk about the book series sheís obsessed with and she mentions in passing that (Spoiler - click to show)writings from the old world were preserved through DNA storage. A Petite Mort game is really the perfect medium for hinting at a world without explaining any of it, and Iím now replaying to see how many other tidbits I can uncover.

This is my favorite one so far, and Iím very curious if the author intends to write (or has written?) anything else in this setting, or wants to leave it a mystery for the ages.

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