Having played many recent Autumn Chen games in the last year or two, I saw a lot of references to Pageant, and thought, 'I don't really remember that game well'.
Turns out, I never played it! I mixed it up with another game and never even tried it.
Having tried it, it's pretty great. It's clearly influenced by Emily Short's Bee; both use the same system (one from when it was a semi-commercial system and another after it became Dendry). Both are based on quality-based narratives that play out over several weeks, both are about a certain type of rigorous, conservative upbringing, one by fundamentalist Christians and oene by Chinese diaspora parents.
However, this is certainly not just a retread of familiar material. Our main heroine, Karen (whom I recognize from several other games) has a unique and complex approach to life that makes choices not straightforward. Karen is thoughtful and compassionate but also is under enormous stress and has social anxiety at times that makes intended choices (like responding and so on) impossible to actually carry out.
One fundamental aspect is that Karen is extremely competent but does not see herself that way. She does 95% of what a human is capable of doing, but only sees that 5% gap. She works with adult research scientists but only sees her ineptness; she is told frequently she is beautiful but only sees awkwardness; she is loved by others but only fears rejection.
But the key is that she acts in spite of these fears; she just keeps on trucking.
Having played other 'pageantverse' games I immediately narrowed in on interacting with (Spoiler - click to show)Emily as much as possible. This game explores young trans interactions quite a bit: what does a trans relationship look like? Actually, that's not true; this game isn't about 'trans relationships' first; it's just about relationships, and what happens when someone being trans is thrown in the mix. Some of the tensest moments in the game for me were switching between private moments with my friend being able to express herself however she wanted and public moments with her family where the expectation was 'be normal or get punished'.
Overall, I'm glad that this wasn't a 'downer ending' game. I was able to succeed in my goals (being close to someone and doing good in pageant + research while being mediocre in science olympiad and basically ignoring family).
A strong game, and it's clear why it spawned several good followups.
This game is (hopefully partially) autobiographical, describing a long career in a game company. A lot of it was familiar to me; my father owned a video game company growing up and I spent a lot of time at work. The arcade games, chill out areas, lots of sketches and endless cubicles, mixed with frustrating bugs, all sounded about right.
The main point of the game is two-fold: fix a bug, and find a 'peep' to hide in someone else's office.
There is a lot of narrative momentum, with parts like fixing the bug being an effective story, and the strange happenings beyond the janitor's closet...
On the other hand, I often found myself fighting the parser, especially when dealing with a certain unreachable thing I found.
Overall, there is a good haunting story here.
I beta tested this game.
The Alaric Blackmoon games have a long and storied history going back I think decades.
Most of the ones that I have played have been written in Adrift. They are written in traditional fantasy style; as books, they would have fit fine as a TSR series along with Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance.
The games are usually quite long, often with action sequences, and several of them use similar set pieces (like the castle in this game, which features in several other games).
This one is a stripped down and smaller version. There is just a simple goal: to explore the genealogy of the main characters.
I’ve seen others saying this game felt a little too small; I could see that, but I feel like it’s more polished than a lot of the other Blackmoon games. The only issue I found was with some leaves, where I had some both in my hand and in a cup, but that’s not necessarily bad, as I could have taken only part of it out.
Genealogy is a requirement in my religion and one I enjoy, so I liked this lower-stakes storyline. It can be very fun to track down an ancestor and find distant cousins.
Overall, this is a nice introduction to the series, and can get people use to the style of the other games (like magic, the way the Axe works, etc.)
This game is a game with multiple layers of storytelling. In it, you are an actress speaking with the police, telling a story about a film that is set within a film, all played by you, the player, as a game…but is all of that true? Layers shift and change.
This is a giallo story, but due to my inexperience with much of Italian cinema I took it to be a ‘slasher film’. As a meta slasher film, it shares a lot in common with movies like Scream or Wes Craven’s new nightmare, or to games like the recent IFComp game Blood Island. The only real difference between this genre and those is that this game has a lot more reference to nudity and sexuality, but that’s a common difference between American and European cinema. While I tend to avoid erotic games, the nudity and sexuality in this game never felt erotic; if anything, it was just a way to incite more fear and helplessness.
You play as an actress who leaves one movie set to go to another. Along the way, a mysterious figure stalks and harasses you, and can kill you. But is that just part of the film, too?
I received ending 1, which seemed like an apt ending for the game. Overall, just like another game that I mentioned to its author, this game reminds me quite a bit of opera. Its symbolism reminds me of things like Don Giovanni, with the statue dragging him to hell, or Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, where all actions are symbolic.
The game does have several implementation issues though, which I share a large part in, as I tested it. I’ll send specifics to the author, but there are a lot of places where things fire out of order or synonyms are missed. I certainly could have aided with that better!
But I suppose it’s a bit of a missed opportunity; due to the occasionally sketchy implementation, I had to religiously follow the walkthrough. This could have been presented as a ‘script’ feelie (similar to and mirroring the in-game script), adding another layer to the game. But I suppose a new release of the game could also bring the errors in line, which would raise the game to a 9 or 10 in my mind.
This is a heist game, written in Twine.
It has a character selection screen, and then you’re given a problem to solve. In this case, an ancient Cat goddess desires her treasure back!
The game that ensues is almost entirely focused on mechanics, with the story broadly sketched out. You end up in a very large museum that you have to navigate, finding the clues and items necessary to grab the treasure.
I found myself wishing for an on-screen map early on, getting lost pretty easily. Eventually a found a map, right before I won, but it could have been nice to have it onscreen.
There are 16 or so locations in the museum, and each one has only a line or two of description, with perhaps one interesting item to interact with. This strips down the game to its core features, which are primarily movement and object gathering.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews of parser games saying ‘I wonder if this should have been choice based’. Here, I think, not ‘this should be parser based’ but ‘I wonder if the author would enjoy writing parser games’. There seems to be a true pleasure in gathering inventory and travelling that I think could make parser code appealing.
In any case, I solved it, but only with some hints and a little peeking at the code (I was dumb and couldn’t find the key combination on my own).
Overall, I would have liked a little more fleshed out detail in the museum, since it sounded cool, and would have liked an on screen map, but I did have fun. I scored 82/100!
This game has a fun concept, using a messaging app to tell a story (in this case Telegram).
I don’t have Telegram, so I played the web version.
This idea has been played around with before; the Lifeline series of games has you texting with an astronaut, and I once was commissioned to write a game where you get a series of texts from someone using a Ouija board to communicate with you.
Anyway, I like the concept a lot. The timed text would fit in with the messaging thing, but I had an issue where every time the next message appeared it would change the focus of the screen, losing my place. So I could either have the text be really slow so I could finish before any interrupt (but then feel frustrated) or fast and constantly lose my place. I generally solved it by increasing the reading speed to 20x, letting it all appear, and then scrolling back. I think in the future it could be nice to have an option to have the messages not ‘bump’ the screen (unless there was such an option that I missed!)
The story is one that seems part symbolic or dreamlike and part lifelike. You are swallowed by an enormous whale, and discover a variety of things inside. I visited around 20 of 90 passages, so my experience was likely very different from others. I encountered and befriended a strange hermit, discovered my past, and attempted escape.
The graphics were really lovely. Sometimes they didn’t quite match what was being said (mentioning baleen but showing normal teeth, describing a bench with a watch and a hook but not showing them in the image), but the quality was high and they looked lovely.
Overall, I like the writing and art and would definitely try more such games.
This is a Twine game with lovingly crafted visuals, using backgrounds, animations, and various techniques like mouseover links, cycling links, etc.
I did something with it that is likely bad for the experience, like people who use online recipes and complain ‘I substituted ground dates for the chocolate and it tasted terrible!’. In my case, I downloaded the file and changed all of the timed text links to have a 0 second timer. Some of the original timers were 6 seconds and it was just agonizing to play.
So my experience may not be the one intended.
The story imagines a world where a common parasite exists that can puppet a body’s nervous and muscular systems after death, allowing corpses to speak and to remember.
Your brother has been found, and you have been called in to talk to him.
The main content of the game is divided between the top layer (you talking directly with the player) and the bottom layer (your memories and feelings about your brother). This is not a happy relationship whatsoever. It implies that your brother was extremely abusive; at first I thought it was sexual abuse, and may be, but physical abuse seems much more likely.
The game is effective in its communication of both the bitter anger after abuse but also the self-doubt. Where the writing is most effective in my opinion is that it contrasts scenes of deep hatred and unhappiness with scenes of love and affection. The variation in emotion and tone gives a much stronger gravitas to the scenes of pain and violence.
Hmm, this game is really intriguing! I had a bad experience at one part and good experiences at the other.
The idea here is that you play as a guy who, together with his best friend, enters a high-stakes two-player video game competition.
Except, things are not as they seem…
The intro is generally a linear story, although there are definitely opportunities to add your own flavor to things. There are extensive images and some background music; it seems like your characters are designed to look like anime high school protagonists.
Once the game starts, you have a lot more freedom. I had fun playing a character playing a character (the ‘Gameception’) and felt like I had real options.
But then…the game changed. And man I got really frustrated!
It becomes a ‘gauntlet’ where you have two choices at a time. One is right, but the other makes you die.
I was worried I’d have to play the whole game over. But it just took me to the start of the gauntlet.
But that’s the only checkpoint! And the gauntlet is really long with some timed text!
I tried 9 times and got so frustrated I had to quit. I ended up opening up the code; I guess I was really close to the end. And also there’s an almost entirely complete other game in the code too, which is pretty wild.
So, mostly fun game, with one super frustrating part. If that part just added some more ‘checkpoints’ I could have done better. Literally everything else was fun though.
Pseudavid has been consistently putting out thought-provoking games that are near-historical or near-real with cool UI for a while, so I looked forward to this.
The engine for this game reminds me a lot of Gruescript, and has clickable buttons but otherwise operates similar to a parser, for a parser-choice hybrid.
The idea is that you are exploring the woods at a time you aren’t really supposed to, taking pictures and looking for things to bring to school to show others.
The game has enough nature to feel like a nice walk through the forest, like the game The Fire Tower. But it’s odd enough to feel unusual. Plastic is seen as something exotic and rare. An abandoned hut contains what seems to be evidence of torture…or dental care.
I liked the overall vibes, and thought the game looked great, especially the background changing over time.
The game implied I missed out on something at the end, or at least my character did. I didn’t see any opportunities to do more than I did (I crossed the bridge and, looking at the walkthrough after, I had done everything in it).
Sometimes it was a bit of a chore to have 4 different things to click on every thing (the original click to look, then photograph, then smell/touch, then collect).
At times I struggled to use items. I can’t tell if there were bugs or just my way of clicking was bad. At times I thought that clicking to use an item and then clicking on a scenery object would bring up an option on that scenery object to use the item. At other times I thought that clicking on the object itself would bring up the option to use it on the scenery item. I suspect the latter was the case most often.
Also, it seemed like the map kept getting bigger (which was awesome) but at some point the X got stuck in the upper right.
Overall, I enjoyed this a lot; the complaints above are minor things, while the core game itself was something good and interesting.
I think I can summarize this game for me by saying that it very effectively told a story that I didn’t like.
It is a long twine game about a sniper fighting in Afghanistan, told in non-linear style through different points in his life. It uses a lot of interesting styling, has music, and uses images generated by OpenAI, according to the end credits. The images look almost like hallucinations, fitting for this grim and unpleasant story.
As the author has stated, this story includes scenes of torture and violence. The author writing this has talent, and has used that talent to effectively show the horror of torture. This is not something I enjoyed or wanted.
With multiple wars going on and massive disinformation campaigns causing me trouble in real life it was interesting to spend some time thinking about the game. It does show (and this is something I believe) that most people at the ‘bottom’ on both sides aren’t there out of hatred or desire to kill but because their government or other leaders have pushed them into it. It’s a terrible job where the better you are at it the more lives you ruin.
On the other hand, it depicts the Afghanistan enemies as being particularly despicable in terms of torture and murder. I’ve always thought that in the past, having grown up during the 20 yr-long war in Afghanistan, so I looked up ‘torture in Afghanistan’. The first thing that came up was the long-term torture and death of two Afghani citizens carried out by the US. The second was the torture of a British officer by the Taliban.
I don’t know, this isn’t the kind of stuff I want to read about or really even think about. I would like to help end war, for sure, and I think there are ways I can do that privately and publicly. But I don’t think even people who were captured and tortured want other people to learn to vicariously suffer for them. And I don’t need more convincing that war atrocities are a very bad thing.
So, the writing on the story was very effective, the use of media and nonlinear narrative was expert, and the math calculations were interesting. But I did not enjoy the game and certainly don’t want to play it again.