Reviews by MathBrush

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View this member's reviews by tag: 15-30 minutes 2-10 hours about 1 hour about 2 hours IF Comp 2015 Infocom less than 15 minutes more than 10 hours Spring Thing 2016
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Off-Season at the Dream Factory, by Carroll Lewis
An illustrated Adventuron game where you play an 'NPC' orc, October 18, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is one of two Adventuron games in this comp, and its a great use of the system. The author has used a large number of properly licensed photos from various sources (including a number of cosplayers) to create a large fantasy world.

You play as an orc who is essentially an NPC in the Dream Factory, a place where humans (?) dream themselves as adventurers to fight against monsters (like you).

Gameplay consists of exploration, combat, leveling, etc. but with a whimsical tone. You can enter a dream world and learn about the history of anti-orc racism.

+Polish: This game is very smooth. I rarely tried a command that didn't have a smart response for it.
+Descriptiveness: Enemies and locations are lushly described.
+Interactivity: The main gameplay loop was satisfying.
-Emotional impact: The game was overall enjoyable, but I wasn't drawn into the world and its characters.
+Would I play again? I think it's a lovely game.


AardVarK Versus the Hype, by Truthcraze
A multi-character parser game about defeating soda zombies, October 17, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

Every IFComp brings with it some unusual coincidences. I find it fun that this comp has 2 different games (both enjoyable) where you have to assemble a rock band to stop another group from mind controlling people, and you have to use the power of music (the other game being Codex Sadistica).

This game uses a menu-based conversation system and allows you to switch freely between 3 main characters for much of the game.

You play as 4 kids who have a rock band at a school. The school and the whole town have been consumed by Hype, a new drink that turns you into a zombie!

You have to go on a series of wacky escapades to get all the stuff you need to defeat the monsters. Quests can be done in any order story-wise, but there is a definite chronology of which one happens first (which can be used to give yourself hints).

I found the game funny and well-conceived, but it had several parser hiccups I usually associate with games that haven't been tested well. My only assumption is that the game is so complex that some things slipped through. Examples include the (Spoiler - click to show)hype can in the second quests, which can get stuck in a state where most actions with it return no text at all; an uncapitalized standard response; the game telling you to look at (Spoiler - click to show)the shelf but there is no in-game object called that, etc. Besides that, I enjoyed this game a lot.


You are SpamZapper 3.1, by Leon Arnott

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Save humans from spam while meeting a cast of characters, October 17, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

In this game, you are a sentient program in a computer circa 2000. Your goal is to deal with an influx of emails, ZAPping or APPROVing them as you determine.

It cites DIGITAL: A LOVE STORY as an influence, but I've never played that game. It has a feel kind of like Wreck-it-Ralph/Emoji movie/Digimon in the sense that applications 'behind the scenes' are thinking, feeling creatures.

It turns out that one of your human's email friends is in despair because their father is taking away their computer. You have to work together with a crew of other applications to save her.

Here's my breakdown:
+Polish: The game is certainly very polished, with use of changing background images, pop-up boxes, text input, an inbox-managing system, text animations, etc. Could easily be nominated for an XYZZY award of some type for this alone.
+Descriptiveness: The game was very vivid in its writing, and the different email voices were very enjoyable.
+Interactivity: I'll admit, some of the spam emails were kind of long and boring. The simulation of an unpleasant event is still an unpleasant event. But I never felt like things were 'on rails', while simultaneously rarely feeling 'lost'.
+Emotional impact: I found the game funny and the story interesting. Like I said, some parts were boring, but many were not.
+Would I play again? I could see myself revisiting it.


The Best Man, by Stephen Bond

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A glimpse into the mind of a 'nice guy', October 17, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I know Stephen Bond entirely from his two earlier games:
-Rameses (from IFComp 2000), a popular and influential but controversial parser game about a young Irish teenager which was notable for not allowing the player any real agency, and
-The Cabal (from 2004) a joke game about how all of IF is run by a secret cabal that decides who's in and who's out.

I assume it's the same Stephen Bond, unless there are two Stephen Bonds writing interactive fiction stories about unappealing young Irish IF protagonists and agency.

This game combines a main storyline (from the viewpoint of Aiden, a young man) as well as numerous other snippets from the personal lives of bystanders, which kind of gave me a Spoon River Anthology vibe.

Aiden is consumed with love for for a girl named Laura, and has been for a long time as one of her friends. While they have an actual friendship, he spends most of his time imagining a happier future or a potential deeper love. Unfortunately, Laura is marrying another man. Today, in fact; and you've just been asked to be the best man at the wedding.

The gameplay feels pretty linear, although that's a bit belied by the complex web of Twine code you can see if you open it up in Twinery. There are numerous changes of viewpoint with corresponding changes in text color, a couple of images and some digital music sequenced from real songs.

This game falls in the category of 'very accurate representations of insufferable people', kind of like Savoir-Faire or the original Rameses. Aiden's mentality is that of a classic 'nice guy', and the ending suggests (Spoiler - click to show)that Aiden becomes involved in a bigger community, possibly incels or red-pilled stuff or MRAs.

I find Aiden understandable. I think Bond has done a good job of taking regular human weaknesses and amplifying them to a high level. Who hasn't had a crush in high school or on a distant celebrity that was unrealistic? But those come and go. This is a story about an enduring obsession, and that's what makes it more chilling.

I find this game polished, descriptive, and it had emotional impact for me. The level of interactivity worked for me for this specific story (with the different perspectives adding another layer of richness), but somehow the whole thing never completely gelled for me into a complete experience in a way that's hard to pin down.


Beneath Fenwick, by Pete Gardner

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An promising parser-like twine horror game with many loose ends, October 17, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game has a lot of good things going for it, but the end product feels like the author ran out of time or energy with creating the game and decided to focus on polishing what's there (which is much better than making a game with too much scope and not testing it).

Mechanically, this is a Twine game that is built to be like a parser. Most nouns are clickable to get a description, and you have an inventory. Depending on what you are carrying, some items around you have other links. Most interestingly, you can combine any number of items, although I only saw that used once in gameplay.

This game has many similarities with Anchorhead. In both games, you play as a young woman accompanying her husband/partner to a strange and decaying city in order to get work at the city's university. Both have a city of surly inhabitants and a strange house with many secrets, as well as a wood-related mill outside of town.

The unusual feature of this game storywise is that there is a cheerful and warming house you stay at with two talkative inhabitants. The house gains greater importance as the game deepens.

The entire game is lovely. The only issue is that there isn't enough game, I think. The ending itself isn't bad, it's just that it leaves hanging many of the important questions from earlier on. Great games have a narrative arc that builds to a climax and then has a shorter, but definite, denouement; this game essentially falls off a cliff.

Things I can think of that are unresolved (major spoilers!) (Spoiler - click to show)the dog's origin and/or fate, anything with the sawmill, anything with the university, the chain and the slapping in the back room, the ability to combine items, the wicket in the town hall you say you can't go up yet, the pedestal in the town square.

I think it's not really helpful in general to tinker with games, but I think an 'expanded' version of this game that fleshes it out more would be great, maybe entered into the back garden of Spring Thing one year. Of course, just writing another game would be fun, too; the author is good at writing and codig, so I'd look forward to that.


And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One, by B.J. Best

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A game about playing games and young friendship, October 16, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a complex game where you play computer games on a computer inside the computer that you're now viewing. While you do that, someone in real life (inside the game) comments on what you're doing inside the game (inside the game).

There are multiple games and multiple things in real life, and elements transfer from one to another (kind of like IFDB spelunking).

You are a teenage boy whose best friend (a girl named Riley) is moving away, and in a partially-packed house you are spending your last few hours together playing old adventure games on a computer.

Meta verbs are disabled; I opened up the game one day and then came back to it a week later and was shocked I couldn't RESTART. Then I tried it on a different device and the first thing I saw was a mention to use EXIT to 'truly' restart. UNDO is disabled, as well.

This game reminds me of several games of Adam Cadre. The meta-nature of playing a game and a game within a game with self-aware NPCs reminds me of Endless, Nameless. The piecing together of a story and focus on simple puzzles with 'aha' moments and emotional interactions reminds me of Photopia. And the inclusion of strip poker (not my favorite element) reminds me of many of Adam Cadre's works.

Overall, this is a great game. It's fresh, easy to pick up, sophisticated, and ties in elements of narrative IF and classic parser IF.

It has a companion game, Infinite Adventure, playable only using a DOS emulator. That is just an endless series of simple fetch quests. Interestingly, this game is also essentially a long series of fetch quests, making them mechanically very similar and story-wise very dissimilar.

I think the game worked for me on an emotional level. I like almost everything about this game, actually, but I don't think I'll replay it because the strip poker level on an old DOS computer brings back bad childhood memories. However, I'll probably replay it for some 'best games of the last ten years' article, so I'll still give it 5 stars.


The House on Highfield Lane, by Andy Joel

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Quest 6 game about exploring a bizarre house , October 15, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game has two purposes: to show off the new Quest 6 engine, and to be a great IFComp game.

For the first, it definitely makes Quest look good. I thought this was Dialog when I first started playing; the parser was easy to work with and the execution was lightning fast, something I didn't associate with the Quest of old. There have been tons of fun Quest games before, but to me the parser always felt slow and prone to errors. This new version seems great.

As a game, it falls into the 'weird house of an eccentric old man with arbitrary puzzles' genre, which is a genre I enjoy in general (Curses! is my favorite game, and Mulldoon Legacy was pretty fun). You're trying to deliver a letter to a mysterious old man while exploring a house that has large variations in size as well as many bizarre creatures walking through.

I solved about half of the puzzles on my own before turning to the walkthrough.

Many of the puzzles have a strange quality where the solution is something that only really makes sense in hindsight. Like other reviewers have noted, there are many possible solutions to most problems but only one or two are implemented (for instance, you can't (Spoiler - click to show)LOOK IN or SEARCH or SHAKE the boots when trying to find what's in them).

Similarly the setting has a lot of non sequiturs. From the author's notes, it seems it was developed from a series of forum posts years ago, which I read. Those forum posts helped a lot of things make more sense. I think the game could have benefitted from putting more of those explanatory details into the game itself.

There is some strong profanity. For me, I would have preferred not to have it, but some reviewers enjoyed the characterization it brought.

Here's my breakdown:
-Polish. Quest 6 is great, but the implementation of this particular game could use some work. For instance, it's possible to put the (Spoiler - click to show)boots right next to the (Spoiler - click to show)crack in the wall, making it impossible to solve the puzzle as intended since you are supposed to (Spoiler - click to show)type ENTER or IN but that puts you in the crack instead of the boots, even if you specify ENTER BOOTS. Similarly, (Spoiler - click to show)GET SAND doesn't work even if you have the pot, but FILL POT does.
+Descriptiveness: There were a lot of details flying around.
+Interactivity: The puzzles were often weird moon logic but it was fun.
+Emotional impact: Some parts of the game worked well for me, like the opening sequence and the exploration.
-Would I play again? The game is large and kind of intimidating and fussy.


BLK MTN, by Laura Paul

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A surreal exploration of history and the present, October 14, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I had trouble grasping this game as a whole, perhaps due to tiredness or picking unusual branches.

From what I can gather, it's a branching Twine game where you travel around the South, contemplating life in an almost dream-like way while also experiencing bits of the Civil War and the historical, experimntal university Black Mountain College.

In presentation, it is the standard blue-on-black Twine with no fancy features. It uses both text-replace links and normal, new-screen hyperlinks and doesn't distinguish between them, so it can be confusing at times. The Twine games of Hannah Powell-Smith are good examples of how to differentiate between different links effectively.

I'm always sympathetic to surreal, trippy games, like Harmonic Time Bind Ritual Symphony (recreating the author's real-life mental break) or drug trip games (like the excellent Blue Chairs), as it presents a view of life I'm not used to. This game was hard to pin down, though, and I feel like I definitly missed something important. Feel free to comment if you've found a deeper layer to the game.


At King Arthur's Christmas Feast, by Travis Moy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A Choicescript adaptation of Gawain and the Green Knight, October 14, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

Adaptations in IF are generally very tricky. The list of failed or mediocre adaptations is long (including my own Sherlock Holmes game) while the list of good ones is very brief (such as Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). The biggest problem is that novels and stories are 'on rails' and are centered on one pre-determined path, while Interactive Fiction invites exploration.

This one does well, I think. Part of that is due to the author's talent at adaptation. The other may be because the original tale includes parts that describe what 'would have happened', which can be incorporated into the text.

You play as Gawain, and the story follows the original tale pretty faithfully. A strange knight comes to Arthur's court and you are soon entangled in a quest. You find a strange castle where the host is kind and generous while the lady of the castle pursues you.

Variables are tracked in this game, but not that many stats seem to be. There is generally one ordained 'right path' but many scenes have multiple interpretations and solutions regardless of your desire (for instance, is it better to admit fear or not to have it at all?)

The game has strong themes of violence and sexuality, but treats both of them more as abstractions or threats or desires with moderate ​detail.

In both the online version and the downloaded version, the chapter headings were broken and I couldn't see what they were. That, and a stray typo, were the only bugs I saw.

I took several days to finish this because I kept getting distracted by work. The actual writing isn't that long, but I wasn't grabbed in by the text; or, perhaps, it was difficult to process my emotions about the strange tale (which applies to the original).

In any case, this exceeded my expectations and is one of the better adaptations I've ever played. I don't see myself revisiting it, as it resonated negatively with some personal experiences I had (by no fault of the author), but it is otherwise polished, descriptive, with good interactivity and emotional impact.

(Edit: I'm listting this as 2 hours, because I lingered over it, while others have said it took them only 1 hour going fast).


The Song of the Mockingbird, by Mike Carletta

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A polished Western parser puzzler about surviving a long shootout, October 12, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game is a nice entry in a very under-represented niche of parser games: Westerns. While there have been some entries in this genre before (a Scott Adams Game, the puzzle game Hoosegow, etc.), it hasn't really attracted a lot of attention.

In this game, you play as a sort of singing cowboy, but your gun has been taken. You're on a quest to save a woman named Rosa from a band of bandits. All you have is your wits and your trusty guitar.

Along the way, you'll solve a lot of tricky puzzles. This game had some of the harder puzzles in the comp (from my point of view). There are complex mechanisms whose purpose you have to unravel as well as many physics-based puzzles involving (mild spoilers) (Spoiler - click to show)heat, leverage, etc.

The story was pretty good. Like others have noted, it lacks the sense of urgency a drawn-out gun standoff tends to have in films once you start tooling around for the hundredth time. I'd prefer that over a turn limit, though! Second, there are some reasonable solutions that weren't implemented, particular when facing Whitey (I particularly would have appreciated responses saying I was on the right track for (Spoiler - click to show)putting hay in the barn and setting it on fire.).

The game has a lot of ties to real-life history with detailed notes at the end. The songs in-game include a lot of old classics that remind me of my grandfather who recently passed, and who loved singing cowboy songs. I think the game in general reminded me of him.

While the game did have minor flaws in the puzzles and story, I was overall impressed with it. Definitely would rank it at a higher difficulty rating than most games in the comp. I ended up using hints on only one of the puzzles, but the other two took me several days of on-and-off playing.



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