Ratings and 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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Le Morte D'Arthur, by Chris Crawford

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An unusual epic-length retelling of King Arthur with longterm choices, February 6, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

I played version zeta-3 of this story.

This review is a bit odd to write, as I'm approaching it from two points of view. On one side, this game is a definite artistic statement. The author writes in the overview:
"It's not a game. It's not interactive fiction. It's not a puzzle. It's not action-packed. It's not fun. If you're a gamer, you'll hate it and should not play it. It's not interactive fiction. If you like interactive fiction, you probably won't like it. The reason such people should not play Le Morte D'Arthur is that it violates all the norms of these firmly established genres."
And so as someone who does like interactive fiction and puzzles and action, I have to take that into account. It's essentially like a vegan reviewing a steakhouse, and so as someone not from the target audience, I wouldn't take my feedback to indicate necessary changes.

On the other hand, I also have to see how I feel about the game just as a game, as if I had found it out in the wild, even though it's impossible for me to be completely subjective.

In this game, you play as King Arthur. Most fantastic details have been removed; though I haven't seen it or read it, I'm reminded of the showrunners of Game of Thrones who reportedly stated that they tried to strip as many fantasy elements out of the show as possible, as 'We didn't want to just appeal to that type of fan'. Here, too, it seems like the author has strived to appeal to a broad audience. There is no magic, and the traditional systems of chivalry or witchcraft or even tragic noble love are generally missing here. Instead, the focus is on a life of poverty, sickness, animals, and decay after the exit of Rome.

Play is based on little storylets that happen one right after the other, with a few choices per page of text. The game is very large and mostly cyclical, with Arthur dealing with local disputes, having family discussions or issues, spending time with his dog or nature, fighting the Saxons, and discussing with Merlin in turn. Each of these elements progresses as time goes on.

The discussions with Merlin are a focal point for the author, and seem to be the central thread of the game. They are posed as Socratic dialogues, with Merlin asking you questions, generally correcting you for your mistakes.

Now I'll take about my five criteria for rating IF (which as the intro says, this game isn't designed for standard criteria, but I find it useful as a way to organize my thoughts):

Polish
The game is polished. While it is still being updated and there are some unfinished artwork, it is a very large game and has few issues for its size, and no bugs that I could see. The ending (Spoiler - click to show)has a surprise use of video, which was well done.

Descriptiveness
The game is very descriptive. It depicts a squalid and lawless world, with crude but humble people. It paints a picture of decay and loss, loss of culture from Rome and loss of life and land from the Saxons.

There were a lot of features I wasn't sure whether were historical or not, so I looked it up. For instance, battles tend to have very high casualties, so I looked up how common that was at the time. There is a great deal of rape and sexual interactions with young teenage girls in the first half of the game, so I looked up how common that was. There is a casual disregard for life and a system of slavery, so I looked up about that. Sometimes what I found agreed with the game, and sometime not, but there is a lot up in the air.

The text uses few archaisms but throws in some celtic curses. The language is brusque and casual, with references to farts and diarrhea but also tender family language. There were a few incongruities (one noble uses modern slurs to insult another as a (Spoiler - click to show)pu**y fa**ot).

Interactivity
The storylets are disconnected. Choices from one are generally not brought up later on. Instead (behind the scenes) incremental changes to overall stats are made, like Choice of Games. You need not worry if you make the wrong choice about who should lead a clan or who should be put to death, as it doesn't affect anything later down the road. That's only at first, though; the last 25% of the game has many important choices to make.

The interactivity does feel better as you go along. At first I felt like I could pick anything and it really didn't matter, while near the end it did matter more.

I had a very satisfying ending right until the last screen, where I was more or less informed I had been defeated (the code for my ending was (Spoiler - click to show)defeatresolution. I support being able to 'lose' in long games, but I think it can be done in a more satisfying way. In fact, the ending was pretty great; I think one or two lines might make it more satisfying. It's rough after playing a 6 hour game that takes quite a while to replay to hear 'you played wrong as a player' rather than 'your character made wrong choices', which are two different sentiments, and I'm getting more of the first sentiment.

As an accessibility note on the ending, (Spoiler - click to show)I had difficulty hearing the voice as I was in a public space on a quiet computer without headphones. Having a text transcription or subtitles of both sides of the conversation could be useful, even if it only appears after.

Emotional Impact
I started this game with a bad attitude, and felt justified as the game was often repetitive at the beginning with low stakes in most choices.

But, due to the slow buildup and epic length of the game, I began to know the characters a lot better, from the local doctor/healer to Mordred and others. It made the ending actually quite satisfying emotionally (outside of the very last few lines), and felt like there were real stakes in dealing with betrayals and friendships and loss.

Would I play again?
I might, although it is difficult to say. The game is very long, and the mechanics are more or less intentionally obfuscated. There is no real way to look at options and think, 'What is my strategy here?' Sometimes being bold pays off, sometimes it hurts you. I think that's a great way to introduce real-life ambiguity into a game, which was why I was so surprised to have 'you played right' and 'you played wrong' as endings. With all the micro choices over the course of the game and no indications as to what their effects are, I think there's room for endings that are equally valuable for the player, just varied in the actual results.

Overall, if I had found this game on its own, I would have thought it was a marvelous game. There are parts of it I don't agree with in terms of treatment of women and some language, but I am often an outlier in feelings of that sort and wouldn't base any decisions off of that. Due to that, and to my feelings about the combination of unclear consequences and strongly delineated endings, I'm giving 4 stars out of 5. I think most players who stick it out through the lengthy game will enjoy it, and I would consider it a success and one I can recommend to others in the future as an excellent historical fiction and military story.


Le grenier de mon grand-père, by Tellington

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Spy on grandpa in this text game with graphical UI, February 4, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game reminds me a bit of Sweet Dreams by Papillon or of Bitsy games. Basically, you control a character on the screen and you interact with objects by hitting the space bar. Then you get some text or possibly some options.

It's a relatively short game, but well-done and polished. Your grandfather never lets you up into the attic, but you've sneaked in and now you're going to discover the truth for yourself. The relationships depicted are by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, and there are definite funny moments (like the expressions grandpa makes when you ask very personal questions).

The game's only fault, to me, was that it was fairly brief, giving a limited sense of interaction. I don't think a game has to be long to be great, but I feel like this game didn't fill up the full size of its concept. I did enjoy it, however.


La harpe du Dieu-Rouge, by KorWeN

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Complex and evocative game about a town and its secrets, February 3, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game grew on me quite a bit over time.

It's a French Comp 23 game and written in a beautiful and evocative style. For instance, you start in a part of the city called the Luna Plaza that has a kind of mirror-like thing that reflects the stars so that you have two night skies.

You are in a medieval kind of town, and lore and secrets abound. I thought I had seen a lot of the game when I found a strange little house where a man talked about things like 'software' and 'photographs' that made no sense to me, a medieval person, but that was just very early on in the game. Later on, I found a lot of worldbuilding, some mythology, etc.

At first the game felt constrained, and then it had paths that branched so much I worried I was missing much of the game. But then it really opened up, and I truly began to understand the scale of the game. It was still manageable (a couple of hours), but quite large.

There are many people in this city, and as the time of day changes, what you can do with them changes.

In addition, the game has hover-over text, which lets you get additional info on things and occasionally provides extra interactions.

Overall, I found the writing very descriptive and had fun finding little secrets. I found one ending early on but stuck around for a final ending, which required a difficult choice. Great game.


Archives et trahison, by Doublure Stylo

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An Ink game that turns a round of magic the gathering into a story, February 3, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game was vibrant and full of life but also pretty confusing. I couldn't tell if I was just confused because 'bad french' or because the game was weird.

Once I finished it and saw the attached youtube video it made more sense, and it's kind of a cool idea!

Basically the author played a game of Magic the Gathering: Arena and then wrote a story imagining how all those things could have happened. So, for instance, Ormos the Archivist gets played, so Ormos becomes a character in the story, a beautiful archivist you fall in love with.

Some of this translates well into a story and some doesn't. In many parts of the game, you have a bunch of links with unhelpful names like 'a little chat' or 'call a professional' that don't tie into the story. Clicking them sometimes has no effect, but sometimes has a longer story. Overall they don't seem to affect the main storyline much, as I played a couple of times to see what happened.

So I think the polish and interactivity of the game are a little weird, but I did play more than once and found the MTG idea amusing.


Retour vers l'extérieur, by No Game Without Stakes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A bunker escape game with nice UI, February 3, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game was real surprise for me. I was looking for something short to play in the French Comp, but this ended up begin quite large.

You are in a bunker during a world problem (something like Covid but bigger, forcing many people underground in bunkers).

The game is split into two sections. The first is a complex computer system with areas like digital libraries, an encyclopedia, archived footage, etc. The second is the bunker itself, which you can explore, including lockers, a library, etc.

The system used is Moiki, and it looks great, with satisfying fonts, click effects, images, and music.

Overall, the story was quite complex. I had to use hints eventually (I didn't realize at first that you can't access later hints without accessing earlier hints). I feel like the ending I received didn't resolve all the narrative threads, but I liked it overall.


Quel Roi êtes vous ?, by Léo Tranlin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Fun, short branching game about defending from treason and war, February 2, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This French Comp game uses the theme of 'betrayal' well. An army is coming to your castle at your weakest moment. Someone must have betrayed you, but who?

The game is short but pleasingly symmetric. There are three suspects, each with three possible actions (consult with them, accuse them, and interrogate them). When it's time to face the enemy, you have three choices.

There are a lot of endings, mostly bad ones, of which I received two, but overall it was fun. The text doesn't vary much based on your choices so you can replay very swiftly. Investigating the treason felt interesting. Overall, the game is short but with a fun pattern.


Alice, by SAB

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Brief but nice-looking fantasy Twine set in Spooks universe, February 1, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

I've never read the Spooks series before (called The Last Apprentice in US), but this story makes it seem really cool.

This game is set in the Spooks universe, and follows Tom and Alice, the main characters from the series. You play as Alice, a young woman raised to be a witch who escaped before you became completely evil. However, your actions can increase your connection to the darkness, so you have to be careful.

There is a cool font and some nice coloring on the links. The writing is descriptive as well, and is friendly for people like me who aren't familiar with the book series.

There were two slight disappointments for me: one is that the story was cool, but the ending I found was anticlimactic (it was a 'happy' ending and just ending right after a quote from her father, which sounds like a great ending but it just kinds of cuts off). The other weird thing was that the moon image sometimes cut off the text.

Overall, I was glad to have some real choices; there's at least one choice that splits the game into two very different branches. It does feel a bit unfinished with the endings, though, and has potential for a much larger game.


The Manor at Whitby, by L. E. Hall

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A rough and buggy but compelling short Lovecraftian game, January 31, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

Honestly I was surprised to see this game was entered in the Jay is Games Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7, since I associated that with one room games (like the excellent Dual Transform by Zarf or Fragile Shells by Sargent). This game isn't a one-room game at all, but has a large manor to explore.

I love Lovecraftian horror games, so I enjoyed the storyline of this one. You have a cousin that has passed away, so you go to his house in order for his mother, your aunt, to bequeath various possessions upon you.

The horror in the game leans heavily on fossils, a feature I haven't seen as much before, as well as some more normal archaeological finds. Also, fire-building takes a prominent place in the game.

The game is very buggy. Most items mentioned in room descriptions don't exist at all. Four items with similar names cannot be disambiguated one from another. Items often can be read or examined but not both. There are odd spacing issues. I reached an ending and the game didn't end, just a statement indicating an ending and nothing more. I reached things in the wrong order, like reading a letter before opening an envelope or putting things in a slot and then later revealing the slot.

Because of this, I resorted to the (very nice) walkthrough early on.

The highlights to me were the fossil stuff and the cool map you find. The drawbacks were the bugs, which were so prevalent that I didn't feel like replaying to try for a better ending.


Frustration, by Jim MacBrayne

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Very big, expansive game designed to be played a long time, January 24, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game is a classic in the style of the period between Infocom and Inform. Those few years in the 90s saw the rise of several gigantic indie games, often with obtuse puzzles and nonsensical, Zork-like landscapes. The Unnkulia games were the most popular I know from then, with lots of silly Acme products.

This game seems influenced by the same era, with a lot of ACME products.

You are getting a shopping list for your aunt when you fall down a big hole. There you find a complex web of locations and buildings and teleporters that take you all around a house, a village, and the world.

This is the kind of game that's designed to be played on and off for months, possibly working together with others online and not necessarily designed to actually be solved. Often times the solution to a puzzle is something found far away in a different room.

There are many teleportation devices in the game, including one powered by geometric objects, another with different button presses, and another in the form of a wand. A lot of puzzles are coded messages, as well.

I played this game to clear it off my wishlist as one of the longest-running games on that list, but was surprised to see that this author is the same Jim MacBrayne that has recently released games in IFComp and Parsercomp. Those games are written with a Basic engine (and I think there is a version of this game that does that too), and they have very similar features to this game, including giant maps with many rooms called 'corridor' or 'path', and puzzles involving color-coded combinations and obtuse messages that must be interpreted correctly to pass.

I know several people have greatly enjoyed these recent games from Jim MacBrayne; if you're one of them, this older game has a lot of the same flavor, just longer and more difficult.


Der Angstbaum, by Jens Bojaryn

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Character-driven fantasy drama about chicken murder, January 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game has been on my wishlist for years, as it was constantly recommended to me by IFDB's old algorithm. But it's in German, and pretty complex german at that, which my high-school-german brain can't handle well. I also had to use DOSBOX to play it.

But I'm glad I did! The story in this is actually one of the best I've read in a while, not even just in IF, although it is very short.

The game has some worldbuilding you can read up on in a txt file attached to the Zip. It talks about the Boronois, a group of people that live far away that are (I think???) short, non-religious, and with traditions about marriage and competitions, and some relationship with magic.

You're in love with a girl, but to win her heart you have to have the biggest chicken in the competition tomorrow! So of course you break into your rival's house to poison his fat chicken. Unfortunately, you aren't the only one who's broken in...

Beyond one puzzle early on and a basic puzzle later (that is on a timer), most of this game is menu-based conversation, with an interesting cast of characters, including your love, your rival, and his family.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. It was definitely worth the wait. As a non-native speaker of German, the very complex language (for me!) was mitigated by the shortness and the multiple choice aspect.



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