Reviews by MathBrush

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A Paradox Between Worlds, by Autumn Chen

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Experience a fictional version of the Tumblr Potter fandom and JKR, October 20, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a pretty hefty Choicescript game that consists of two parts: a young person browsing Tumblr that's part of a fandom for a fictional series of novels (a science fiction analogue of Harry Potter with its own house-type system), and a story-within-the-story consisting of your character's fan fiction.

Fanfiction gameplay includes things like customizing your character and reacting emotionally to things, as well as choosing ships (as in relationships).

Tumblr gameplay consists of choosing from 8 or so different blogs to look at. Choosing a blog to look at brings up a post you can like, reblog, sometimes comment on, or skip to go to the next one (or back). Each blog has about 4 posts in each section of gameplay.

There are several chapters, each one giving more fanfiction and more events in the blogosphere.

Midgame spoilers:
(Spoiler - click to show)The author of the series makes posts in the middle of the game calling out one of your friends and saying that transgender people are degenerates. Most of the people you follow are trans, and so it puts a big damper on things and chaos ensues.

The game has a main story thread, but it also has a 'score' aspect in terms of your followers. Reblogging gets you more followers.

I had a ton of emotions reading this. I like to put myself in the headspace of the people I play as but doing so made me really uncomfortable this time, and I made choices in-game that I thought the protagonist would do that are things I really wouldn't do in real life.

The discomfort I experience playing this game is because it encourages you to have empathy for people and then puts them in hard situations that there aren't easy answers for. It also reminds me of real life confusions and conversations I've had.

So I definitely had a stronger reaction emotionally to this game than to others.

Mechanically, a lot of content is dumped at once in each of the tumblr sections. That's the way real social media is, but I've been trying to clear my head of social media 'noise' recently (who isn't?) and playing this reminded me why.

With its world-within-the-world and focus on the nature of human experience, art, and their interactions, and with the Choicescript format, I was strongly reminded of Creatures Such as We, a game by Lynnea Glasser in my top 10 games of all time. That game leaves me thoughtful and hopeful, while this one left me thoughtful and distressed. Both are useful. Of the two, though, this game had an interaction mechanic that didn't work quite as well for me, with the nonlinear asynchronous tumblr text dumps. But that isn't to say it didn't work at all; I think it's one of the better games of the competition and a masterpiece of technical work, doing things I didn't know were capable in Choicescript. And the characterization is excellent, with a lot of the characters coming alive for me personalitywise (although I lost track of some of the handles).

Off-Season at the Dream Factory, by Carroll Lewis

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An illustrated Adventuron game where you play an 'NPC' orc, October 18, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is one of two Adventuron games in this comp, and its a great use of the system. The author has used a large number of properly licensed photos from various sources (including a number of cosplayers) to create a large fantasy world.

You play as an orc who is essentially an NPC in the Dream Factory, a place where humans (?) dream themselves as adventurers to fight against monsters (like you).

Gameplay consists of exploration, combat, leveling, etc. but with a whimsical tone. You can enter a dream world and learn about the history of anti-orc racism.

+Polish: This game is very smooth. I rarely tried a command that didn't have a smart response for it.
+Descriptiveness: Enemies and locations are lushly described.
+Interactivity: The main gameplay loop was satisfying.
-Emotional impact: The game was overall enjoyable, but I wasn't drawn into the world and its characters.
+Would I play again? I think it's a lovely game.

You are SpamZapper 3.1, by Leon Arnott

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Save humans from spam while meeting a cast of characters, October 17, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

In this game, you are a sentient program in a computer circa 2000. Your goal is to deal with an influx of emails, ZAPping or APPROVing them as you determine.

It cites DIGITAL: A LOVE STORY as an influence, but I've never played that game. It has a feel kind of like Wreck-it-Ralph/Emoji movie/Digimon in the sense that applications 'behind the scenes' are thinking, feeling creatures.

It turns out that one of your human's email friends is in despair because their father is taking away their computer. You have to work together with a crew of other applications to save her.

Here's my breakdown:
+Polish: The game is certainly very polished, with use of changing background images, pop-up boxes, text input, an inbox-managing system, text animations, etc. Could easily be nominated for an XYZZY award of some type for this alone.
+Descriptiveness: The game was very vivid in its writing, and the different email voices were very enjoyable.
+Interactivity: I'll admit, some of the spam emails were kind of long and boring. The simulation of an unpleasant event is still an unpleasant event. But I never felt like things were 'on rails', while simultaneously rarely feeling 'lost'.
+Emotional impact: I found the game funny and the story interesting. Like I said, some parts were boring, but many were not.
+Would I play again? I could see myself revisiting it.

Beneath Fenwick, by Pete Gardner

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An promising parser-like twine horror game with many loose ends, October 17, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game has a lot of good things going for it, but the end product feels like the author ran out of time or energy with creating the game and decided to focus on polishing what's there (which is much better than making a game with too much scope and not testing it).

Mechanically, this is a Twine game that is built to be like a parser. Most nouns are clickable to get a description, and you have an inventory. Depending on what you are carrying, some items around you have other links. Most interestingly, you can combine any number of items, although I only saw that used once in gameplay.

This game has many similarities with Anchorhead. In both games, you play as a young woman accompanying her husband/partner to a strange and decaying city in order to get work at the city's university. Both have a city of surly inhabitants and a strange house with many secrets, as well as a wood-related mill outside of town.

The unusual feature of this game storywise is that there is a cheerful and warming house you stay at with two talkative inhabitants. The house gains greater importance as the game deepens.

The entire game is lovely. The only issue is that there isn't enough game, I think. The ending itself isn't bad, it's just that it leaves hanging many of the important questions from earlier on. Great games have a narrative arc that builds to a climax and then has a shorter, but definite, denouement; this game essentially falls off a cliff.

Things I can think of that are unresolved (major spoilers!) (Spoiler - click to show)the dog's origin and/or fate, anything with the sawmill, anything with the university, the chain and the slapping in the back room, the ability to combine items, the wicket in the town hall you say you can't go up yet, the pedestal in the town square.

I think it's not really helpful in general to tinker with games, but I think an 'expanded' version of this game that fleshes it out more would be great, maybe entered into the back garden of Spring Thing one year. Of course, just writing another game would be fun, too; the author is good at writing and codig, so I'd look forward to that.

And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One, by B.J. Best

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A game about playing games and young friendship, October 16, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a complex game where you play computer games on a computer inside the computer that you're now viewing. While you do that, someone in real life (inside the game) comments on what you're doing inside the game (inside the game).

There are multiple games and multiple things in real life, and elements transfer from one to another (kind of like IFDB spelunking).

You are a teenage boy whose best friend (a girl named Riley) is moving away, and in a partially-packed house you are spending your last few hours together playing old adventure games on a computer.

Meta verbs are disabled; I opened up the game one day and then came back to it a week later and was shocked I couldn't RESTART. Then I tried it on a different device and the first thing I saw was a mention to use EXIT to 'truly' restart. UNDO is disabled, as well.

This game reminds me of several games of Adam Cadre. The meta-nature of playing a game and a game within a game with self-aware NPCs reminds me of Endless, Nameless. The piecing together of a story and focus on simple puzzles with 'aha' moments and emotional interactions reminds me of Photopia. And the inclusion of strip poker (not my favorite element) reminds me of many of Adam Cadre's works.

Overall, this is a great game. It's fresh, easy to pick up, sophisticated, and ties in elements of narrative IF and classic parser IF.

It has a companion game, Infinite Adventure, playable only using a DOS emulator. That is just an endless series of simple fetch quests. Interestingly, this game is also essentially a long series of fetch quests, making them mechanically very similar and story-wise very dissimilar.

I think the game worked for me on an emotional level. I like almost everything about this game, actually, but I don't think I'll replay it because the strip poker level on an old DOS computer brings back bad childhood memories. However, I'll probably replay it for some 'best games of the last ten years' article, so I'll still give it 5 stars.

The House on Highfield Lane, by Andy Joel

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A Quest 6 game about exploring a bizarre house , October 15, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game has two purposes: to show off the new Quest 6 engine, and to be a great IFComp game.

For the first, it definitely makes Quest look good. I thought this was Dialog when I first started playing; the parser was easy to work with and the execution was lightning fast, something I didn't associate with the Quest of old. There have been tons of fun Quest games before, but to me the parser always felt slow and prone to errors. This new version seems great.

As a game, it falls into the 'weird house of an eccentric old man with arbitrary puzzles' genre, which is a genre I enjoy in general (Curses! is my favorite game, and Mulldoon Legacy was pretty fun). You're trying to deliver a letter to a mysterious old man while exploring a house that has large variations in size as well as many bizarre creatures walking through.

I solved about half of the puzzles on my own before turning to the walkthrough.

Many of the puzzles have a strange quality where the solution is something that only really makes sense in hindsight. Like other reviewers have noted, there are many possible solutions to most problems but only one or two are implemented (for instance, you can't (Spoiler - click to show)LOOK IN or SEARCH or SHAKE the boots when trying to find what's in them).

Similarly the setting has a lot of non sequiturs. From the author's notes, it seems it was developed from a series of forum posts years ago, which I read. Those forum posts helped a lot of things make more sense. I think the game could have benefitted from putting more of those explanatory details into the game itself.

There is some strong profanity. For me, I would have preferred not to have it, but some reviewers enjoyed the characterization it brought.

Here's my breakdown:
-Polish. Quest 6 is great, but the implementation of this particular game could use some work. For instance, it's possible to put the (Spoiler - click to show)boots right next to the (Spoiler - click to show)crack in the wall, making it impossible to solve the puzzle as intended since you are supposed to (Spoiler - click to show)type ENTER or IN but that puts you in the crack instead of the boots, even if you specify ENTER BOOTS. Similarly, (Spoiler - click to show)GET SAND doesn't work even if you have the pot, but FILL POT does.
+Descriptiveness: There were a lot of details flying around.
+Interactivity: The puzzles were often weird moon logic but it was fun.
+Emotional impact: Some parts of the game worked well for me, like the opening sequence and the exploration.
-Would I play again? The game is large and kind of intimidating and fussy.

At King Arthur's Christmas Feast, by Travis Moy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A Choicescript adaptation of Gawain and the Green Knight, October 14, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

Adaptations in IF are generally very tricky. The list of failed or mediocre adaptations is long (including my own Sherlock Holmes game) while the list of good ones is very brief (such as Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). The biggest problem is that novels and stories are 'on rails' and are centered on one pre-determined path, while Interactive Fiction invites exploration.

This one does well, I think. Part of that is due to the author's talent at adaptation. The other may be because the original tale includes parts that describe what 'would have happened', which can be incorporated into the text.

You play as Gawain, and the story follows the original tale pretty faithfully. A strange knight comes to Arthur's court and you are soon entangled in a quest. You find a strange castle where the host is kind and generous while the lady of the castle pursues you.

Variables are tracked in this game, but not that many stats seem to be. There is generally one ordained 'right path' but many scenes have multiple interpretations and solutions regardless of your desire (for instance, is it better to admit fear or not to have it at all?)

The game has strong themes of violence and sexuality, but treats both of them more as abstractions or threats or desires with moderate ​detail.

In both the online version and the downloaded version, the chapter headings were broken and I couldn't see what they were. That, and a stray typo, were the only bugs I saw.

I took several days to finish this because I kept getting distracted by work. The actual writing isn't that long, but I wasn't grabbed in by the text; or, perhaps, it was difficult to process my emotions about the strange tale (which applies to the original).

In any case, this exceeded my expectations and is one of the better adaptations I've ever played. I don't see myself revisiting it, as it resonated negatively with some personal experiences I had (by no fault of the author), but it is otherwise polished, descriptive, with good interactivity and emotional impact.

(Edit: I'm listting this as 2 hours, because I lingered over it, while others have said it took them only 1 hour going fast).

What Heart Heard Of, Ghost Guessed, by Amanda Walker

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A long, polished parser game using emotions as verbs, October 12, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game has a lot of work put into it. It has over a dozen testers (one of the best things you can see in a game), and draws inspiration from many other IF games.

You play as a ghost who cannot, at first, affect the material world. You also have no memories. As you play more and more, you unlock new verbs and new actions.

The story as it unfolds is one of torture and greed. You explore a big house and learn more about your untimely demise involving child abuse.

Here's my rating:
+Polish: The game is very smooth. With such a complex system, you'd expect a lot of bugs, but I found very few, if any. Parser errors were customized, as well.
+Descriptiveness: There was a spareness to the world. Some locations were described very succinctly. For instance:
"You are in a landing area at the top of a rickety staircase. There is a walk-in closet to the north."
However, the game was more descriptive with the emotions.
+Interactivity: Okay, I had some frustration here. Often, a new verb wouldn't lead to any progress in the room it was found in or the ones prior. This led to me trying the same verbs over and over again on everything with no success. It might have been worth adding a few more easy, early puzzles. For instance, I found no uses for (Spoiler - click to show)hate and love until long after I found both. However, the emotions idea was fun, and kept me persevering, so it was overall positive.
-Emotional impact. The story is not bad, and it reminds me (Spoiler - click to show)of the time I learned about 'the girl born without a face', which shaped my perceptions about physical disability and the love we should show to each other regardless of appearance. This story has a lot of good elements that would be ready to appeal to emotion, with a protagonist with mixed feelings about antagonists and a tragic backstory (similar, like the author said, to a story in Anchorhead, which worked a bit better for me). I think where things fell flat is that the protagonist is completely relatable and the enemies are clearly villains with little to no redeeming qualities. Our hero may have mixed feelings about them, but we, the reader, can clearly see them for what they are. This is kind of nitpicky, because this is a good story and I think I would like to read it again. I saw that this is the author's first game, and I'm reminded of a review that Emily Short gave of my first game (which I found quite painful at the time, and quite helpful now):
"I found [the game] least effective when it explicitly went for pathos in the writing, because[...]it hadnít put in the time to build up that empathy. Similarly, the ending reached for an emotional point that it hadnít done the work to earn, at least for me."

I think this is one of the better games in the comp overall and expect it to place anywhere in the top 15 or so. And if an author can do this well on the very first game, I can only imagine what games created with more experience will look like.
+Would I play again? Yes, I liked it.

Hercules!, by Leo Weinreb

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Big, funny linear parser game about a nerdy Hercules, October 8, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

In this game, you're a clueless, weak and nerdy Hercules who's cousin assigned him 10 impossible tasks.

There's a pretty big map, spanning several continents (although it's mostly abstracted, so you can 'go se' to Crete and back, for instance).

The writing is pretty funny. There is a large cast of characters that are all characterized strongly and each puzzle is an amusing take on the original.

Structure-wise, you can only take on the challenges in order. More than half of the challenges are solved directly by using an item from the previous challenge. The game alerts you if you are going out of order.

The solutions start out pretty reasonable (I think I solved 5 on my own) but quickly become kind of moon logic/Sierra-style puzzles where it's hard to guess the author's solution. However, there aren't that many red herrings (for most of the game) and so if you just make sure to try out each item every way you can you can probably work it out.

I had a lot of fun. The puzzle logic didn't click but the game is amusing even with a walkthrough. There is occasional mild profanity which doesn't really fit the game's style but otherwise this is just fun and silly.

Plane Walker, by Jack Comfort

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal puzzler that seems unfinishable, October 4, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

Instead of giving a review, I'd like to give a description of my experience playing.

I start the game. I try 'X ME', and get the standard response ('As good looking as ever.'). I'm on an airplane with amnesia, no other flyers and the bathrooms blocked by doors. I find a few items and look around. I get stuck and look more, and find an object that only appears when you examine something twice.

I then get stuck, because I know I need to (Spoiler - click to show)break a keypad but I don't know how. I even try hitting it with (Spoiler - click to show)a pencil. I turn to the walkthrough: apparently I'm supposed to (Spoiler - click to show)hit the number 6 key, specifically, to break the keypad.

At this point, I realize I would never have figured this out. I turn to the walkthrough and start following it blindly. I go to a school with no connection to the last location, and apparently need to figure out that I need to (Spoiler - click to show)put a book from the airplane on a random lectern and then walk into it. I'm grateful for the walkthrough but after I escape the (Spoiler - click to show)complex plane the walkthrough breaks down, so it seems the author didn't test the walkthrough for this version of the game. I try exploring on my own but get nowhere. No testers are credited.

I would play this game again, but it needs a lot more polish, a lot of the descriptions are generic ('The barren hallway continues from north to south, and it turns to the east'), and the interactivity didn't work for me, leading to less of an emotional impact. This means I'm giving 1 star, although this game works reasonably well and probably took a lot more work than some other shorter games in the comp. It's just that according to my usual criteria it would only receive 1 star, and I'd like to be consistent.

I think the author could make an incredible game if they had a longer testing period with many testers, including some familiar with what's possible in parser games.

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