Reviews by MathBrush

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An Aside About Everything, by Sasha

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Dense allegory in a symbolic world, October 20, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a Twine game with multiple worlds that all seem to represent the same allegory. Each world contains 4 women, who travel with you, and the worlds have symbolic meaning.

Simultaneously, you're searching for a woman, with an inventory of items and a mental retreat called 'the void'. Your character's name is He, and her name is She.

The game is not too long, but it is quite dense allegorically. One gets the sense that everything has deep inner meaning. However, I had difficulty teasing it out. Given the names and the quotations, the game seems to have originally been in Italian, and while the translation is generally good, it can be difficult to get 'vague but powerful prose' to work right across language barriers, and in this game I wasn't drawn in emotionally by the prose.

+Polish: It had a few cool systems. I was able to create a bug early on that I think exists in some of my own Twine games where clicking on the inventory when you're already in a sub-routine with its own 'return' link will trap you in a loop forever, but besides that it seemed generally smooth.
+Descriptiveness: While the characters are vague, the description of the strange smog and the computers was vivid.
-Interactivity: It was hard to grasp what to do or what mattered. I went to the void a lot, but did it matter? I bought three pills and took one, but did it change anything?
-Emotional impact: Like I said earlier, I wasn't really drawn into this game.
+Would I play again? There are a few key points I'd like to revisit and understand better.

The Waiting Room, by Billy Krolick

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A creepy but somewhat unpolished hospital horror story, October 19, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I recently mentioned in another review how I'm a big fan of genre fiction. This is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about: a classic haunting story set in a hospital.

It's in standard Twine format (blue on black) and generally simple Twine branch-and-bottleneck, with some state tracking.

You play as a new CNA working at a nursing home where a dark secret stalks th halls.

I found the game genuinely frightening, playing late at night. The author makes good use of tropes; there's nothing really new here, it's just down well.

There is some use of text animation (including some flashing text). I feel like there were typos strewn throughout the text, mainly with quotation mark errors.

I'm giving this game 4 stars, due to its lack of polish but overall enjoyability. This is due to my personal enjoyment of this style of horror; for the general public, I'd say it's likely a 3-star game.

Mermaids of Ganymede, by Seth Paxton

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An underwater sci-fi game with deep worldbuilding, October 19, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

Seth Paxton first entered IFComp last year as part of the writing team behind "Big Trouble in Little Dino Park", a fun dinosaur game that unfortunately suffered from bugs and a gauntlet-style structure that frustrated players, ending up in 82nd place.

This game is a significant improvement, incorporating numerous fixes requested in last year's game. It has far fewer bugs, excellent visuals and sounds, and a more free-form structure that encourages exploration and multiple playthroughs.

I think there is still room for improvement, but that's the best way to improve IFComp reception: try something out, tinker with it, see what people think, and adjust accordingly.

In this game, you play as a team of scientific researchers who crash on Ganymede and discover a mysterious underwater world.

It takes place in 5 different chapters, each with several variables saved that significantly changes later chapters. I can only describe my playthrough, though.

Each chapter has a different mechanic, from conversation to fetch quests to what felt a bit like a game of 'battleship'.

(commentary on chapters 2 and 4):(Spoiler - click to show)I felt like the Chapter 2 quest was hard to get started. I got started at the university but had trouble after that because no one else was interested in talking. I would have liked maybe one or 2 smaller successes along the way to keep me going until I got the big series of quests working. I felt like I saw variations of 'you can't go here yet' over and over. And in Chapter 4, it was similarly a bit hard to understand the mechanics without death, especially since I was told to find and return shark DNA, but every encounter with them ended in instant death! And that quest never came up again.

+Polish: There were a few rough edges (like one uncapitalized sentence in the 4th chapter that stuck out), but overall I loved the smooth design and music and images.
+Descriptiveness: Lots of nice little details.
-Interactivity: I was frustrated on occasion, although this was definitely an improvement over last time. I considered making this a +.
-Emotional impact: Again, I went back and forth on this one. I liked the big reveal at the end, I enjoyed the dramatic dangers in chapter 4, but all of them felt like they could use a little more breathing room, a little time to contemplate and unpack what was going on.
+Would I play again? It'd be interesting to see other paths.

I think I'd give this a 3.5, but I'll round it up to 4 for IFDB.

Sting, by Mike Russo

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A literary autobiography in parser form, October 18, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

In this interactive fiction piece (which I played as part of a group and then again on my own), you play as the author, going through all the times in his life when he was (early spoiler) (Spoiler - click to show)stung by a bee. It also deals with his evolving relationship with his sister and others, and experiences in the 90s.

A lot of the nostalgia references hit home for me; I was about 4 years younger than the author, and remembered being fascinated with Dragonlance, and both entranced and off-put by the weird card-based Saga system (which got retconned pretty quickly!). I didn't play MM VI but I would have been playing Diablo or Chrono Trigger right around then.

The game bills itself as puzzleless, which is true, but it's puzzleless like Photopia, not puzzleless like Rameses. The difference is that in this game you have to actively investigate and think what would actually happen at that point. You can get through much of the game by hitting Z by you'll miss out on a lot.

I had mixed emotions while playing the game, and for me I'd describe it most as being about the literary quality of this game.

I devour fiction for its escapism. I like to see different views on what and how the world could be. I love it for its potential. Because of that, I love genre fiction. I prefer Poe over Hawthorne, Christie over de Maurier, Sanderson over Wallace.

This game has the same raw detail and undifferentiated take on life that great literary work has. This game shows the world as it is, through a certain perspective (that of the author). But the world it shows is an uncomfortable one, filled with many of the things I personally seek to escape through fiction. I prefer the ideal worlds that could be to the lonely and often dreary world we live in.

Quality-wise, there is a lot of polish. I think on the boat there were a few sentences with a double period at the end, but that's the extent of bugs I saw. There is occasional strong profanity and some sexual references from the perspective of a teen boy's thoughts.

AardVarK Versus the Hype, by Truthcraze

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
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.

The Best Man, by Stephen Bond

4 of 4 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.

BLK MTN, by Laura Paul

3 of 3 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.

Goat Game, by Kathryn Li

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Beautifully illustrated game about a goat considering a career change, October 12, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a Twine game which can be completed relatively quickly (around 30 minutes, much faster if clicking fast). It has 15 different endings depending on 3 different statistics that change throughout the game.

You play as a goat who works at a laboratory doing research on a mysterious substance. There is an accident, and you have to decide how you feel about work and what you want to do with your life.

I played through to all 15 endings, though the text of the middle game doesn't change much from playthrough to playthrough (there are about 2-3 variations for each section, so you'll see them all multiple times by the end).

The art is really lovely, it was the high point of the game for me.

Where Goat Game succeeds the most, to me, is in making a high-quality, smooth and bug free experience for the player where they can get absorbed into a story about an alternate world.

Where Goat Game falls short, to me, is in agency and plotting. The player character never really acts; everything is a reaction, except the final choice. Questions are all about how we feel, or how we respond to the actions of others. I would have wanted more chances to act independently of others.

Plotwise, there are many Checkhov's guns that never fire. There is a lot of worldbuilding here that just never goes anywhere. Like another reviewer said, the fact that these are goats is essentially immaterial; you could change a few details in the game and it would be the same. Similarly, you could change the dangerous magical substance to any kind of workplace safety issue and get the same feeling.

Finding all endings can be tough. I stalled out after 8, and ended up looking at the source for tips. The system is actually really clean and nice; if you want to see all endings and are really stuck, here is a complete breakdown (major spoilers:)(Spoiler - click to show) there are only 3 real choices in the midgame, each one raising one of the 3 main stats. The choices are the 'i like working/living/don't like living here', 'don't acquire secrets/sign petition/don't sign petition', and 'defend/criticize/decline'. Your final stats fall into one of 7 categories: tied stats, a value of 3 in a single stat, and any combination of 2 stats>0 and 1 stat=0. Each of these 7 cases has 2 endings depending on whether you leave or stay.

Recon, by Carlos

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A science fiction twine game with unique puzzles, October 7, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a game originally written Spanish and translated for the competition.

You play as a kind of rebel against an all-powerful corporation called Faro.

Gameplay proceeds through several puzzles, including interrogation, reasoning puzzles, and at least one that I've never seen before (entering Hack's house, a puzzle that required me to (Spoiler - click to show)adjust my computer settings).

The puzzles are pretty tricky; I frequently looked at the answers in the code. One puzzle require clicking on a moving link; I ended up (Spoiler - click to show) highlighting with tab and then hitting enter.

The translation is not idiomatic. In addition, some words are not translated at all (Continuar for continue, for instanc, or the 3 meters for the Mind scan). The story has interesting characters, but I don't believe it has the backstory and/or continuity for us to care a lot about them. All of these are normal problems for writers that usually get easier with more and more practice, so I look forward to any future games.

Programming-wise the game is very sophisticated.

-Polish: The game text could be polished more.
+Descriptiveness: The writing is very descriptive
-Interactivity: I felt like some of the puzzles were unfair.
-Emotional Impact: I think if some of the other problems were fixed I would have a better connection with the game emotionally.
+Would I play it again? Yes, if it was updated!

Starbreakers, by E. Joyce and N. Cormier

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A bunch of logic-type puzzles in one big Twine game, October 6, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This, like Retrocon 2021, another entry in this year's IFComp, is a collection of puzzles thrown into one big story.

However, this game has much more story, including a large overarching mystery in the 'wrapper' story around this game.

The puzzles are mostly traditional ones (like having 3 different-sized measuring cups and trying to get a specific value, or a slightly faster than usual Rings of Hanoi, a crossword, a wordsearch, etc.).

Each puzzle has a story associated to it. If you die by making wrong choices or running out of time (in Normal mode, there is sometimes a timer, while in Easy mode there is not), then you get the same puzzle but with a different story.

The very first puzzle is a bit weird (it is logical, but not a 'classic puzzle') like the others. Once you get past it the rest should be more familiar.

I thought that was pretty cool. I never became super invested in the ever-changing characters and the puzzles were mostly ones where the solutions are known, but I had fun doing it.

+Polish: Very polished.
+Descriptive: Yes, especially the changing settings
+Interactivity: At least there were no cryptograms or (at least for me) real Towers of Hanoi. What was there was frequently fun.
-Emotional Impact: Didn't get invested.
-Would I play again? It was fun, but I'm not sure how much replay value there is.

I really think this game is a 3.5, and would round up to 4 to be nice, but E. Joyce has already made many incredible games, so I'll point to those instead. Check out "Lady Thalia and the Seraskier Sapphires" (also co-written by N. Cormier) or "Social Lycanthropy Disorder", especially, because those are really fun!

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