Reviews by MathBrush

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Return to the Stars, by Adrian Welcker
A science fiction prison break game, August 2, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is the author's first game, which is surprising considering the level of detail and programming in the game, although there are a few bugs.

This game features a prison break from an alien base. For some reason (never explained in-game), your captors disappear and you have to shut everything down.

The puzzles are a mixed bag. A lot make sense, a lot are fun, sometimes the two groups aren't the same (I enjoyed a language code puzzle that had simple, nearby hints involving interaction, but later everything was in English). Occasionally solutions seemed really obscure.

The coding needed a bit more synonyms. For instance, late in the game there are buttons that have names, but saying PUSH [Button name] doesn't work. Instead, you have to say the action that they perform (this example isn't in the game, but it would be like having a button saying lights where 'push lights button' doesn't work but 'turn on lights' does). A couple of other inconsistencies with synonyms was probably the major fault of the game.

Story-wise, I feel like it omitted some major features, but what's here is okay. It has some pretty strong gore at one point.

As a game, it's okay. As an author's first game, it's much better than most, and I'd expect the now-experienced author to be capable of making very good games in the future.


The Arkham Abomination, by catventure
A windows parser Lovecraftian game with compact story, August 1, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is an interesting mix of skill and rough edges. I'm going to review it on my five-criteria scale:

-Polish: The game could use a bit more polish, especially in the area of synonyms and responses. A lot of art is in error responses, to guide you towards the correct phrasing. I was told repeatedly I couldn't (Spoiler - click to show)tie a vine to different things, only later to find that I had to call it (Spoiler - click to show)a creeper, not a vine. That's not so odd, but the error messages all implied that the problem was the action, not the noun. There are similar issues later on, with a lot of people having trouble with the final actions of the game.
+Descriptiveness: The game is lushly descriptive. I could quite clearly picture everything in the game outside of the mazes.
-Interactivity: The frustrations of the parser took this one down for me. Otherwise it's honestly not bad. There are mazes and combinations but they're all solved easily for you. The better parts of the interactivity are all the little hidden details that reward your actions. The worse parts are instant deaths with no undo :(
+Emotional impact: Despite the many frustrations, I'm a fan of Lovecraftian horror, and I thought the core of this was well done.
-Would I play again? Not until it's souped up a bit more.


Acid Rain, by Garry Francis

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A fastidious timed puzzle about assembling electrical components, August 1, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game has you stuck at the side of the road with a dead battery in the middle of some deadly acid rain. You'll end up searching a mansion with a timed light puzzle and inventory limits to assemble a door opener.

The game is polished, but descriptions are fairly sparse.

The timed light puzzle, many empty rooms and inventory limits, as well as frequent responses where the game knows what you are asking but wants you to do it in more steps (like turning on the car) reminded me of different advice I've seen over the last few decades.

I'll share some of that here:

From a list of rules for games in IFComp by Jessica Knoch, with additional commentary by Andrew Plotkin from 2003:
"> Rule Three: Do not impose an inventory limit for its own sake.
> Rule Four: Do not include hunger or sleep puzzles.
> Rule Five: Check your spelling. Check it again.

All just as true outside the IFComp.

> Rule Nine: Do not include lots of empty locations.

Important for everybody."

Jan Thorsby's list of 'things that cause automatic playing' from 2005:

"List of things that causes automatic playing
By automatic playing I mean when a player types in commands more or less
automatically without thinking much. None of the things listed is necessary
always bad, and there are probably instances when they don't really lead to
automatic playing.
[...]

2. Many rooms

Traveling between rooms doesn't take much thinking, and the more rooms the
more traveling.

[...]


7. Time limits/eating puzzle

If a game has a time limit and the player is unable to keep it, the player
is likely to play the game again and just type in all the commands over
again minus the useless ones. A time limit that last through a large part of
the game is more likely to be annoying than a time limit for just for one
scene of the game. An eating puzzle is when the player dies if he does not
eat after a certain amount of turns. It is in effect a time limit.

[...]

11. Limited carrying capacity

Some games have a limit on how mange objects a player can carry. This often
leads to the player going back and forth a lot to pick up things he had
previously left behind. In many games it also leads to the game potentially
being made unwinnable, because the player may not have a vital object when
needed.

12. Having to type more commands than should be required to show ones
intention

For instance say there is a closed door to the north. If the player types
"north" it is fairly clear that he intends to open the door and go north.
But the game may not let him go north until he has first typed "open door".
Machinery is often needlessly complicated to operate.

[...]

14. Very easy puzzles

A very easy puzzle can be things like: unlock a locked door, buy something
in a store or give an object to a person who has asked for such an object.
These easy puzzles can be important to a story but are arguably useless from
a gaming point of view. If they are not important to the story one might
consider eliminating them.
[...]"

An intfiction thread including this quote from Michael Roberts from 2010:

"A word of caution on these is in order. Many authors worry that it’s unrealistic if the player character can carry too much at one time, so they’ll fiddle with these properties to impose a carrying limit that seems realistic. Be advised that authors love this sort of “realism” a whole lot more than players do. […] Don’t fool yourself about this -the thoughts in the mind of a player who’s tediously carting objects back and forth three at a time will not include admiration of your prowess at simulational realism. In contrast, if you set the carrying limit to infinity, it’s a rare player who will even notice, and a much rarer player who’ll complain about it."


willow blossoms, by Meg Sharp

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A detailed Twine game capturing an exact scene in High School, June 13, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

One of the biggest reasons I enjoy amateur fiction online is that when someone writes it's like they share a piece of their soul with you, the reader, and I definitely felt that in this game.

In 5 chapters of varying lengths, you play a young woman who is texting her friends near the end of senior year, arranging an event.

The game makes copious use of styling and external links, most of which are to different songs. I actually like a lot of them; like the main character, I am into cringy melodramatic teen pop songs and movie/musical music (as a kid, I loved Total Eclipse of the Heart and Don't Cry for Me Argentina). Some I might listen to again.

The game has a definite sense of place, person and presence. It treats a heavy topic, so definitely check the warnings if you think there could be problems. Overall it was a sweet experience that resonated with my inner teen, led me to some enjoyable music and impressed me with its visual appeal.


Captain Cutter's Treasure, by Garry Francis

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A compact pirate puzzle game, May 9, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is part of the PunyInform competition. It's fairly polished, and features an quest to go looking for pirate treasure.

In the tradition of classic adventure games, the puzzles don't really make much sense, but they're fun. One involves a 2d block pushing puzzle (easier than the infamous Royal Puzzle from Zork III, but generally similar), and there are some math and logic puzzles.

The game has two endings, one easy to achieve and another harder. The game eschews walkthroughs and hints, but I decompiled the game to find the 'good' ending, which is significantly harder.

The largest negative in the game is the pedantry. Very frequently the game knows exactly what you want to do but forces you to phrase yourself a different way.

Examples include:

">UNLOCK BOX

I think you wanted to say “unlock wooden box with something”. Please try again."

and

">ROW
I think you wanted to say “row something”. Please try again."

A particularly egregious example (spoilers for the 'good ending'):

(Spoiler - click to show)
> lock chest
I think you wanted to say “lock treasure chest with something”. Please try again

> lock chest with golden key
Sorry, I don’t understand what “golden” means.

> lock chest with gold key
First you’d have to close the treasure chest.

> close chest
You close the treasure chest.


This is the equivalent of eating at a restaurant but the chef occasionally grabs your hands to make you move your knife to the other side or to drop your salad fork and take your regular one, to ensure that you are eating the meal in the proper way.

Overall, I think this will please people who primarily look for IF to have fun scenarios and puzzles that aren't immediately solvable but are fair.


A Mummy is Not an Antique, by Randy Cordon

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A humorous mummy game with some repetitiveness, May 9, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I purchased this game on my own recently because I wanted to explore the less-played games on the Hosted Games app on my iPhone. This game was the least-rated one on there, with 3 ratings since 2018.

I was expecting something much worse, to be honest, but it looks like Hosted Games' requirement for a public beta test ironed out a lot of problems that you might see in, for instance, the least-played IFComp games. I found no bugs and only one grammatical error ('would of' instead of 'would have').

Storywise, you are a host for an antique appraisal show when someone comes in with a mummy to get appraised. A horde of people come in chasing the mummy, including someone with a scroll that brings it to life. The majority of the game involves trying to stop the mummy with the scroll.

+Polish: No problems with the game.
-Descriptiveness: A lot of it feels bland. I have trouble picturing any of the characters.
-Interactivity: A lot of the choices are the same.
-Emotional impact: The jokes mostly didn't land for me.
+Would I play again? Honestly, yes, it was a pleasant way to pass a short amount of time.

For me, the game felt pretty flat. Characters are generally indistinguishable, with everyone's personality being 'kind of selfish and likes to make witty remarks'. Most scenes are the same: you try to take the scroll and someone stops you. Most of your choices are the same throughout the game, either 'pick one of these punchlines for the author's jokes' or 'keep filming/help someone off-camera'. I think this kind of general ambiguity is the main thing that decreased my overall enjoyment.

I still finished and it definitely wasn't terrible, and took me around an hour (would have been 30 minutes if I read quicker). Overall, I'm definitely pleased by the quality of the least-played Hosted Games, especially since my own game is one of the least-played Choice of Games.


Dungeons of Antur, by Ricardo Oyon Rodriguez

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A dungeon crawl with randomized loot and monsters, May 2, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game was pretty fun, although I think it could use a bit more hints or subtle nudges for incorrect actions.

It's made using pre-existing 3d RPG assets, including chests, goblins, skeletons and spiders. These form static background images for an adventuron game.

This is like a little AD&D 1st edition dungeon as a warrior, with randomized loot. You explore different areas, find hidden traps, etc.

I thought this game was too hard for me, but I found that carefully noting all items and examining things helped quite a bit.

The game suggests there are non-violent solutions to some encounters, but I fought through most of them, including the werewolf, where I had to restart the game a few times until I found both helmet and armor. Apparently I missed one secret room (probably the one hinted in the note), but otherwise did okay.

I would have been a bit less frustrated if the game had hinted more when I was doing things the wrong way. Otherwise, pretty fun if you like TTRPG fantasy modules.


Sunny's Summer Vacation, by Lucas C. Wheeler

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A prototype for a summer fun game about dogs and divorce, April 17, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

In this game, you play as a corgi who comforts a girl on a summer vacation with one parent soon after a divorce.

There are many minigames you play over 8 days, building up seashells to upgrade your shanty.

Each day you sleep you get more story, with one interaction per story segment.

There are a lot of games implemented, but most of them are somewhat confusing for now or simple, and I think that's what's going to be tweaked later on.

The story is sweet but doesn't have real emotional stakes, in a way. Tension only builds during the 'sleep' scenes but could benefit more from significant changes in the game world over time. As a reader, we know the girl will be sad, then come to accept the divorce, so it would be interesting to have some extra tension as well through a side story, maybe one the parallels the main story.


Some Space, by rittermi

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An alien puzzle game with codes and racial dynamics, April 16, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is about you, recently immigrated to an alien planet, learning to handle the customs since everyone speaks in 'puzzlespeak'.

In reality, this means the game has three different threads: one about your emotional life, one about the political and racial situation on the world, and one where you solve puzzles.

I like puzzles, crosswords, cryptograms, etc. but I wasn't feeling some of these puzzles. Like a beta tester recently said about a game of mine, some of the puzzles are obviously telegraphed and some aren't communicated very much at all. I left 3 or 4 of the puzzles unsolved, such as the ascii one and one that seemed cryptographic but had some kind of twist that I couldn't figure out. Others may have more success than I did!

Storywise, I liked the friends subplot. I thought the racism subplot was a mystery story, not realizing it was just straight-up racism. And the mom plot seemed kind of disconnected from everything.

The game has a couple of built-in failures, which I think is tricky in a game like this. Specifically, there are times when solving the puzzles prevents social embarassment, but there are times when you experience it no matter what due to your character's (not the player's) failures, and I think that's not a good design strategy. That only occurs rarely, though.


Wintervale, by Ethan Erh

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Fantasy worldbuilding and surreal occurrences, April 15, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game has some great ideas but needs some polish.

In it, you play a tavernkeep in an inn inside a city built inside of a giant hill of ice that is the lair of a now-dead ice dragon. The game opens with a big chunk of encyclopedia-style worldbuilding that is optional. Amusingly, the links you click comment on how exciting and cool the worldbuilding is.

In the game itself, you repeatedly explore a tavern and talk to NPCs with varying results every time. As you do so, you uncover more and more of a mystery.

I love mysteries, fantasy, and surreal things, so this game has a lot going for it. But there are quite a few typos, occasionally raw twine code (I saw 'if(0>0' somewhere), and there was never a real payoff for all the random things. Some of it paid off, but most of the interesting parts of the game seemed to just have no meaning by the end. I wonder if multiple endings could have been better.

Overall, though, I love the concepts, but I think the execution needs work.



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