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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The Weight of a Soul, by Chin Kee Yong

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent multi-act game in gothic urban fantasy environment, April 6, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This is the kind of game that comes along only once every few years, especially recently: a polished parser game that lasts far longer than 2 hours.

The author is inspired by Anchorhead, Blue Lacuna, and City of Secrets. Of those 3, I find this game to be closest to City of Secrets in both play style and prose style.

You are a medical student trying to solve a mystery: a mysterious black plague is destroying people in your city, and you have to help them.

To solve this, you need to go through 4 acts (plus a beginning and interlude) to reach the depths of the mystery.

The map for this game is quite large, and it comes with an in-game graphical map that looks great.

Like Anchorhead and Blue Lacuna, gameplay is divided into days. Unlike those games, gameplay is narrowly funneled. This game reads more like a movie than a novel, with an emphasis on scripted conversations and scripted action scenes. Only rarely are there simultaneous puzzles, and the most difficult puzzle is generally learning to navigate the impressively large and responsive city environment, which has both randomized events and time-based changes.

This is a love story, too, with multiple love interests and multiple endings. Romance plays a key role in numerous scenes. It uses other movie-like techniques, including a lot of foreshadowing and an emphasis on visual and aural descriptions (okay, that's not just in movies, but it just feels like a movie).

There have been two really negative reviews of Anchorhead in recent years, criticizing that game for not being 'funneled' enough, for having too open of a world, too subtle of story, not enough romance, etc. This game directly addresses all of those issues, with its constrained gameplay and copious allowances (such as a GO TO feature, in-game map and journal with a list of goals). On the other hand, for fans of the open world, exploration, and difficult puzzles of Anchorhead, it may pose too slight of a challenge. Blue Lacuna was in a similar spot, and offered two versions: a story version and a puzzle version.

For me, though, I enjoyed playing through this game, and truly consider it a rare game. I think it will do well in the XYZZY awards for 2021, and makes me want to try my hand at something like this, although I expect it would take as many years as the author's original did.

The polish on this game is impeccable, the setting and prose is descriptive, I'd definitely play again, the interactivity is a bit narrow but has several fun puzzles (including [mild spoilers](Spoiler - click to show)a nice math one), and emotionally was satisfying. Recommended for fans of story-focused parser games. I spent around 5 hours on this game.

Review for 2017 Spring Thing preview:
This game is advertised as being incomplete, but a very large chunk of it is done. Playing it is like playing 'episode 1' of a large series.

The setting is unusual: you are in a large and decaying city where magic and science are blended together. Scalpels and anesthesia blend with goblins and soul magic.

I found the opening to be a bit constraining (which is something I do in my own games, too), but that after that the game was rich and rewarding. Locations have several interactible details, conversations feel natural, and I felt like a real detective.

I enjoyed the large feeling of the city, something difficult to do right in an interactive fiction game. I did get a bit lost from time to time. Locations were unique and vividly described.

I would love to see this finished.


Excalibur, by J. J. Guest, G. C. Baccaris, and Duncan Bowsman

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A fan wiki for a 'lost show', April 3, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

When I had heard that JJ and Grim had been working on a huge Twine project, this isn't what I expected, but I enjoyed this nonetheless.

This is a fake wiki, a sprawling website with links to tons of different actors, directors, characters, episodes, and even fan theories. It reminds me of the wiki game Neurocracy, although I believe they're gated differently. In this game, the wiki is being updated as you go, with new links appearing after you explore others.

The beginning was, as another reviewer mentioned, a bit difficult; with so much information at once, I just sort of lawnmowered through it, saving the fun stuff for last. So I ended up reading the 'people' page, then 'characters', then 'planets' and then the episodes.

It was slow going, with no real plot beats in those first segments because they were order independent.

But it was fun for different reasons. This project seems to have several different goals: to be a sort of 'lost episode' creepypasta-type story, to be funny, to provide a window into 70's culture, to honor and parody Dr. Who and original Star Trek (among others), and to impersonate and parody fan wiki culture.

That's a lot to deal with. One interview snippet from the wiki is an apt description of the wiki itself (mild spoilers):
(Spoiler - click to show)"In the end, I think we were all just pulling in different directions. Carson and I wanted this quite serious Space Opera, if you like, edgy, with political undercurrents and elements of folklore. Jerry (Newbaum) wanted a children's show to compete with Doctor Who, and Derek Farland, well, he really should have been writing kitchen sink dramas. In the end, the show just sort of tore itself apart."

One issue with writing 'creepy' or 'weird' TV shows is that a lot of TV shows are both intentionally and unintentionally weird, and you run into Poe's Law.

There were three threads in the wiki about its own origins, of which I found two pretty compelling (heavy spoilers from here on out):
(Spoiler - click to show)I enjoyed the 'curse' aspect, where the crew enacted an unholy Crowley-based ritual in Glastonbury Tor, invoking the 'thelema' of the producer to enact his will, and thereby dooming the entire show to obscurity.

I also enjoyed the 'Tulpa' idea whereby the whole show (and possibly all of human existence, according to 'Hantises') is a form of haunting or mass delusion or collaborative psychic projection which, once disrupted, fades away forever. If you're a fan of this idea, I recommend this game itself (of course) and also SCP-3930 (http://www.scpwiki.com/scp-3930), a similarly masterful telling of this idea.

The least compelling to me was the idea that it was just a lie.


There's a lot of humor in the game. My favorite line was "It was later found that a fried lentil from a packet of Bombay Mix (Newell's favourite snack) had become lodged in the cavity left by the write-protect tab."

Like I mentioned earlier, there's a lot of insights about the 70's. I liked this line about that (spoilers for ending)(Spoiler - click to show)Strikes, shortages, sexism, and the Black and White Minstrel Show. Yet the way people talk now, anyone would think they were Britain's glorious heyday. And that's the point, you see. You can't go back to the way things were, because they never were like that in the first place. We create our own past, we invent it. We make it whatever we want it to be. But the reality of it is, there is only now. The eternal now.

The final theme of the wiki seems to be around (Spoiler - click to show)loss and the past, as that last quote describes. For me, the real 'ending' was when I read (Spoiler - click to show)about how the documentary-writer's friend had had an 'incident' and pulled away, in conjunction with the final episode summary about saving the world but no one remembering you. The actual ending itself was less satisfying, but I see its purpose as (Spoiler - click to show)you need an anchor point for people to say 'okay', I've seen the whole game. Perhaps I just didn't understand it. In any case, I enjoyed my own gradual realizations of the themes shortly before the true ending.

I initially was going to give this 4 stars, with a point taken off for the overly spread out info at the beginning, then 5 stars as I approached the end, then 4 again for the mild letdown I had with the actual ending. So I'll just go with my formula:

+Polished: Immensely polished. It doesn't really get better than this. Also appreciated the art, which I hadn't mentioned before.
+Descriptiveness: Incredibly detailed. More detailed than some real wikis I've tried to use to look up shows before.
+Interactivity: At first, not so much, but as it went on I enjoyed it more. A real wiki dive.
+Emotional impact: Left me quite thoughtful at the end.
+Would I play again? It doesn't really lend itself to replay. I was planning on making this a '-', but I love the story of Excalibur, and maybe one day I might (with the author's permission' do some fan fiction in the world, as it's truly delightful. But that would be far in the future.


Queenlash, by Kaemi Velatet

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Finnegan's Wake meets Antony and Cleopatra, April 3, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game is a 22-chapter work relating the story of Cleopatra in Egypt told with a dense, symbolic word style.

I am a fan of the play Antony and Cleopatra and interested in the history around that time period, and I also have at times enjoyed dense symbolic text.

That enjoyment didn't crystallize this time. The game describes its own writing very well:
"Pour pen terrene this dysnomia volta syschronicity to formendulate paragraphs smashed into spare fragments of evocative semiimagery, mimetic shards that don't quite cohere to any generative idea."

They really don't cohere to any generative idea.

When the portmanteaus include French and Latin it gets even less 'generative':
"drunken nothings fuzzed up to retend in the mode prior to resolution beatified immolution densigravitas of the decolor demolition, wickedness we entrenched cheri in jouissanceunteurre catapulted in the cancers cant,"

(I prefer when the game's language is simpler, such as 'Slurp you up a jello mistake.').

I think there are times when this writing style works wonders: when it is used to tell an brilliant and exciting story, hiding the details behind a wall of words; or when it is used in a very short game, like B Minus does, allowing the player to have time to digest and process.

But this story seems largely hung on the traditional story of Caesar, Octavian, Antony, and Cleopatra, almost as if the author wished to write as much as possible, and used the old story as a framework to drape their own words around. The end result is a like a wedding cake made of a wooden frame with heavy fondant draped over, no cake inside.

I found specific moments fun: (Spoiler - click to show)Octavian hiding, the birth of the twins, the deathloop. There are hints of a larger trans narrative, but only in the middle and later parts and even then just vaguely alluded to.

The book itself is well aware of these faults, the author offering to be attacked for the content. In the end, the best description of the book is the one given by the characters in the primer:

"Unfortunately, the finished work appears to have become a bizarre mess of unreadable nonsense. The author appears to have been far more interested in playing obscure word games than telling our story in a way that people could actually understand."


Choice of the Vampire, by Jason Stevan Hill

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An ornate and sprawling blend of the supernatural and history, April 1, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game is like a text version of the Winchester mystery house. That house was built upon continually for over 30 years, with constant extensions added, some leading nowhere, others connecting with each other in strange patterns.

This game was one of the earliest Choicescript games, and with that has some of that early-choicescript strangeness (now manifested primarily in its large number of stats and the occasional habit of the narrator addressing the reader directly). Since then, though, it has been expanded on considerably. This game contains 4 sub-games, two of them free and two not. So it's simultaneously one of the oldest and one of the newest choicescript games.

Its overall structure is very different from other titles from CoG. It has a periodic narrative arc. Instead of tension rising to a peak and falling in one grand swoop, it features a single vampire moving about America throughout the 1800s, experiencing a variety of historical events in addition to dealing with vampire society and the curse of immortality.

This episodic structure gives a sense of deja vu and ennui to the main character, as you see so many historical fads and people come and go.

Just like the Winchester house, there are a lot of dead alleys and lost construction. I tried beta testing the game before, but died in the second sub-book. Playing it for this review, I died twice at the end of the fourth book. Similarly, there are huge chunks of the story that can be skipped out on, such as romances, and the opening is completely different depending on your chosen background.

In another departure from Choicescript games, this game addresses race in a very direct way. This game is largely a history of black people in America, with each chapter containing large segments in relation to black history: the liberation of Haiti, the Exodusters, Cuba, lynchings, vodou, the treatment of former slaves after the civil war, etc. Black characters speak in heavily accented text, and for most of the game they are the only ones to do so, with Germans, quakers, and Jews receiving some accents later on.

A game that deals so intimately with black history and black stories risks embracing stereotypes or profiting on stories that don't belong to the author. However, I've seen in the forums mention of several sensitivity readers, although I don't see them listed in the credits the way that Fox Spirit has done (might be worth considering). From what I've seen from PoC authors on Twitter, many consider sensitivity readers a way to make sure that PoC voices are heard, considered, and paid.

The history in this game is detailed and heavily researched, especially in the fourth chapter. If you're interested in silver arbitrage resulting from the Coinage Act of 1873 or the invention of the modern celebrity via Oscar Wilde, the 4th act should appeal to you heavily. The third act deals with a lot of letter-writing and numerous social engagements with other vampires leading to political maneuvering. The 2nd act deals with the Civil War and deprivation, while the first has the most material dealing with you, yourself, as a vampire, and your feelings about that decision.

This game will appeal to a certain type of reader, those who consider themselves interested in philosophy and history or fans of vampires in general.

The game is not yet complete, but due to its plot structure you can pick up and stop off just about anywhere in the journey. A unique choicescript game, huge and detailed.


Chronicon Apocalyptica, by Robert Davis

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A hidden gem of a game for people into books and fae, February 13, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

I've noticed that most Choicescript games' quality matches up pretty well with the total and number of ratings on the omnibus app, with most of the lower-scored ones ending up being confusing or dissappointing.

This game proved the exception for me. While it had problems, especially near the start, I ended up enjoying it quite a bit especially the ending.

In this game, you play as a monk/scholar in 1000 AD who is entrusted with a book of marvelous prophecy called the Chronicon Apocalypticon. At the same time, you discover a disembodied hand running around. You embark on a quest to save (or destroy) England, meeting many weird characters and discovering the magical side of the world (with undead, elves, dragons, etc.)

The NPCs all are very different from each other and creative. They include a beekeeper and his special bee helper, a Joan-of-Arc type woman, a conflicted nun, a bard, and others.

I enjoyed the fact that 'being good at reading' is a superpower in this game. At least, it's a skill that can be used to save the world.

Overall, the main characteristics it has with other less popular CoG titles is its weaker/confusing stats and it's lack of flexibility when it comes to romances (there are romances, but gender of ROs is fixed and many will only specific types of romance or none at all).

By 'weak stats' I mean that I ended the game with almost all skills at 50%, one in the 60's and two in the 50's. This can cause a lot of problems, such as trying to figure out if you just screwed up your stats royally, or figuring out what's enough to pass challenges. My personal analogy for stat growth is that it's like walking speed in a 3d game: really low stat boosts are like having a character move at 1/10 of normal speed.

By 'confusing' stats, I mean that it can be really hard to figure out which stats are which; for instance, the game frequently asked me if I would do things myself or work as a team, but I cannot identify any skill that that corresponds to. On the other hand, there are many tracked stats that I can't for the life of me tell how they apply in the game.

Many people in reviews for this game mention difficulty with stat checks, which I think is a result of the above issues.

So that's a lot of time spent on the weaknesses. The good thing is that the game is at its worst at the beginning and only gets better with time. The final chapter was great, on par (in my opinion) with Heroes of Myth, another excellent Choicescript game. The actual last page was one of the best I've seen (in my playthrough).

As the game progresses, you can figure out the author's signposts for the stats. It's usually the simplest possible: he mentions the name of the stat in the choice.

As the game goes on, there are many factions you can choose between and many ways to influence the world. The choices are great. The whole game story was really compelling for me, better than most of the games I've played in the last few weeks.

I think this game most appealed to me because of my love for reading and my enjoyment of monastical, historical, and/or fae-based narratives with a bizarre cast of characters, as well as my patience for puzzling stats. If that sounds like you, you'll probably enjoy this game.


A Wise Use of Time, by Jim Dattilo

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Great author and great concept with some problems in the execution, February 11, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

Jim Dattilo is a good interactive fiction author. He's great at creating a variety of characters.

The power to affect time is a fun subject in IF, and has a lot of potential.

However, I think this game misses at its aims a bit.

You play as an insurance salesman who one days realizes they can stop time. You can use this to enrich yourself or help others, and you can attract the attention of many might people or romantic interests.

I think where the trouble is is that Jim's strengths are a vibrant cast of NPCs and a superhero game's strength is the hero's growth, and they don't mesh well.

Your character in this game has almost no development; all the interesting personal plotlines are pushed on to other people. There is an enemy, but they enter pretty late in the story.

The problem is the NPCs with the interesting plotlines don't have powers, so the game basically alternates between two chunks: interesting, non-supernatural segments with NPC's personal lives, and exciting but aimless explorations of your powers. So, for instance, you might go to a party with someone and learn about their childhood, then go out to a park and decide to steal a bike or help a kid not scrape their knee. And that's the bulk of the game.

The writing is good, though, and over time I found the characters interesting. The workplace subplot is fascinating. I definitely feel like playing this game was not a waste of my time.

The other main problem I had was a 'sudden death' ending in Chapter 12. I don't mind sudden deaths in Choicescript games, but these are essentially 'hardmode' games where a death wipes your whole file and you have to restart. If there was some kind of denouement to your death (like in Mask of the Plague Doctor) or options to restart a given chapter (like Choice of Rebels or Cakes and Ale), it would be a lot less painful.

So I can't strongly recommend this game, but I can recommend it to fans of Dattilo's other work and fans of slice-of-life style superhero works (or corporate drama; honestly, if you're into that, that subplot alone is a pretty good game in and of itself).


Fate of the Storm Gods, by Bendi Barrett

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Like a tapestry of beautiful threads that was never completed, February 6, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game is a bit different than I was expecting. Instead of being a game about, say, Norse gods or Zeus, it's something more like Avatar or similar shows. You are a constructed being in a race that has control over wind and water naturally, and fire and earth through technology.

The weather is out of control, so you have to stop it, along with a kind of sentient bio-organic robot servant and some human friends. You meet a human city controlled by 5 warring, corrupt houses and you also meet others of your kind (and their enemies).

The game opens strongly, with cool scenarios like jumping off a cliff to test your flight abilities.

The issue that I had with the game is that so many things are set up without being followed up on or resolved. Part of that, I believe, is that the author put some very important story beats into only a few of the possible playthroughs, making multiple playthroughs almost a necessity to really understand the game. That's not bad in itself, but it makes each playthrough a little weaker.

I didn't watch Game of Thrones, but I remember a lot of people talking about how the winter badguy had been built up for the whole show then was over in a surprisingly easy way that was disappointing. That happens here in many ways. In fact, your 'climactic battle' between whichever final opponent you choose is almost indistinguishable from every other battle in the game, and if anything seems less momentous and intense than the others (like fighting off an army of hundreds of robots).

Like other reviewers on other platforms have said, the individual writing is good. The worldbuilding was creative, to me, and the types of characters were varied. Like other parts of the stories, each character's arc felt unfinished in ways, but had enjoyable parts. I particularly enjoyed Humil's story arc.

Despite my mixed feelings, I overall enjoyed this game and definitely believe I'll play it again in the future.


Asteroid Run: No Questions Asked, by Fay Ikin

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Hard sci fi that grows more complex over time. , February 4, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

I was prepared not to like this game at first. It's title seemed vague, and in the first chapter it almost felt like neutral sci-fi, like The Fleet without managing, or Choice of the Star Captain without weird humor and aliens, or I, Cyborg without all the crime.

But over time it actually really came together. Little hints about characters that would just be slight traits in other people became full-fledged storylines. Macguffins become actually plot-relevant. The people I found least interesting at first all had really well-put-together storylines.

The choices worked well for me later on, too. At first, there were a few annoying choices (like one where the game decides you must answer a distress call, and you pick the reason why, instead of whether you do it). But as you go on, the game becomes a lot more about managing who you spend time with and which of the many factions you support. One of the best things the game does with stats is tying the stats to storylines and people. So instead of 'pick which of these four options is the stat you maxed out at the beginning of the game', it's more like 'spend time with the doctor using your medical training or use your engineering training to make weapons'. Maybe it's just the same as other games under the hood, but I felt like I was making real choices.

I also appreciated the science aspect. Out of all the space games, I felt like this one dealt with realism the most. There are some handwavey aspects (like artificial gravity and the main Macguffin), but a trip across the solar system takes you months, and you have to use magnetic boots in a derelict spacecraft. I thought that was neat.

Overall, I'd say it's a great scifi game with a slow start but a great finish.


I, Cyborg, by Tracy Canfield

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Play as a cyborg copy of a smuggler in the wild west of space, February 2, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game is one of the best Choicescript games I've given 4 stars to, but some of the interactivity dragged it down a bit for me.

This is a large game, at 330K words. In it, you play as (what felt to me) a cyborg version of Han Solo: you're a smuggler, you can charm, lie, shoot, and fly, you can choose how morally ambiguous you are, etc.

In gameplay, it almost feels like a wild west 'slice of life'. You spend a long time on a space station on the edges of civilization, dealing with 3 criminal syndicates (or 4, if you count the corrupt police), as well as an old flame who represents the more civilized side of life.

The man you were a copy of, though, has left a trail of spurned lovers and slighted enemies behind, causing you a lot of trouble. In addition, your sensory implant (which handles all of your input) is dying and replacements are scarce.

I think this game handles overall coherence pretty well. It's not too hard to get a feel for what the world is like and what you need to do. It can be hard to keep track of all the characters, but you get tons of opportunities to interact with everyone.

Choicewise and statwise, there's some good and some bad, at least the way I see it. What's good is that there are some areas where you get very significant choices, contributing to the game's large wordcount. For instance, there are different jobs you can take, factions you can join, etc.

What's a little rougher is that the main use of stats is pass/fail checks, but made pretty difficult. One chapter in particular involves a long impersonation attempt where you have to keep 4 or 5 factors in mind, and failing even one can get you busted.

In other places, events that could have been written in as outside circumstances are instead made to be player choices that are forced on you. For instance, I didn't like the Sphinx character much, but the game assumed I'd be their buddy at least a little.

Perhaps most distressing is that there are quite a few choices you make where the game immediately says, 'but actually, instead of what you just chose, this happens instead'.

Overall, I'm glad I played it. I can recommend it conditionally for sci-fi fans, especially for those interested in ai questions. If you ever liked a Data-centric or Doctor Hologram-centric episode of Star Trek, you'll probably love this.


Pon Para and the Great Southern Labyrinth, by Kyle Marquis

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A long, complex fantasy game with massive worldbuilding, January 31, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

Having played (almost) all of Kyle Marquis's games, I can say that there are some definite trends. They tend to be very long, with complicated skill checks and intricate worldbuilding.

In particular, the worlds he constructs have certain similarities, almost like half-remembered versions of the same fever dream. The worlds tend to be man-made by ancient, superior versions of humans, who are now gone, and have bio-mechanical or magic-scifi hybrid.

I like all of his games, but I think this one works particularly well (although his Vampire the Masquerade game is, I think, his best). Years ago, a group of heroes saved the world, and two of them had you as a child. When news of a foreign army comes, you have to travel across a huge continent and a variety of locales to warn others of what is to come. In the end, you have to travel to the Great Southern Labyrinth to get aid.

I can only describe the structure of this game as 'baroque', in the sense of being almost excessively elaborate. You have statistics for personal skills, as well as statistics for things you are trained in. There are many subplots running through the game (such as the fear of the gods, a lengthy murder mystery, political intrigue, your character's backstory, control over temple worship, an artifact that possesses creatures, etc.) and 4-5 villains, each of which would work fine as a main villain. It's over the top, maybe even overwhelming at times, especially given the size of the game. The great labyrinth itself is huge, but it's only in one or two chapters.

There are a lot of ways to fail in this game, both due to bad stat checks and due to built-in-failure.

I found your two main travelling companions (who also serve as ROs) interesting and varied.

Overall, a game I'd recommend if you've liked the author's other work or if you try out the free demo and enjoy.

I received a review copy of this game.



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