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 Vaults, by Daniel Duarte

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A F2P-mobile app-style fantasy card game with a variety of quests , October 3, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

One of the games I've put the most hours to in the last few years is a lesser-known Hearthstone clone called Plants vs Zombies Heroes. It's the only card game app I've played, but it has a lot of features in common (I've heard) with the other big ones like Hearthstone.

So that's my basis of comparison.

This is an Online unity game. The download is a webpage with a redirect to the online play. Starting play has a lot of download bars as various things load. It has an opening movie cinematic with voice acting. After that, there is something of a tutorial, and then it opens up.

The main idea is that you open packs that contain cards or gold or other things, then you assemble a deck. You then play different levels or (eventually, but not now, I think) PvP. During gameplay, you have three keepers that generate points to buy cards with or attack (but not both). Keepers that get to 0 hp are taken out of play, same as for enemies.

Overall, this game is, to me, a mismatch for the comp. The spirit of the competition has generally been that you provide a complete gaming experience which can be archived and stay free forever, with possibly a better version released later for money (like Scarlet Sails). The two hour rule is there to encourage games to be substantially completable in two hours.

Neither rule is hard or fast; there have been games in the past which could not be archived (like Paradise, a text MMO game that was like a reinvented MUD) and the winners each year tend to take over two hours. But it's a bit odd to see a game like this which has different quests which can only be played once every 28 days (!) and has a cash shop with items up to $10.99 (none of which seem to be needed for progression).

I played the first two levels of the main game, but it seemed like GUI-based combat is the main thrust of the game with little text. Compared to Jared Jackson's Tragic from last year, it has much less of a strong storyline).

I don't generally include UI in reviewing, but it's an important part of this game. This UI could use a lot of tweaking; it popped up for me far too large for the screen. I think it told me to use CTRL+'-' and CTRL+'+' to adjust it, but I couldn't tell because I couldn't see. When I did get it to fit, it was usually too small to see, in a small rectangle with a blank white border around it. When opening packs, you had to slide a key from left to right. The interaction felt off; I think it was missing some kind of subtle highlighting when hovering over the key or inertia when sliding it. And you had to repeat it 30+ times in a row, making it kind of slow. The tutorial explains stats, but in-combat it's hard to remember; having hovering tool tips would be better.

Overall, this feels like an open beta for a commercial F2P/IAP game, which is why I provided the feedback above.

For my IF ratings:
-Polish: The game could use some tinkering with, as described above. I saw a couple typos, too, in the main story text, but I can't remember where.
-Descriptiveness: Most of the 'flavor' is communicated through images rather than text.
-Interactivity: It was difficult to figure out combat; all the mechanics were thrown at once instead of introduced one at a time, and complex opening and deck-creating had to be done before fighting. I prefer the tutorial of PVZ heroes, which has ultra-simplified combat happening first with a pre-made deck, then slightly more complex battle, then adding just a few cards to your pre-made deck.
-Emotional impact: I was too lost to get deeply involved in the story.
-Would I play again? Not without significant changes.

The scale I use doesn't really apply to this game; as a card game I'd probably give it 3/5. But I'll use my IF scale on this website for consistency.

Note that this was just my personal experience; others may have wildly different reactions to the game!


Fallen London, by Failbetter Games

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
A gigantic Victorian fantasy text game with a dark atmosphere, September 13, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

I've been playing Fallen London for at least 5 years now, with a few different characters. I never wanted to review it before because I was worried it would be transitory, and that once the company went under no one would ever be able to play the game I had written about.

But it has been doing better than ever, and has in the last few years added a ton of new content which has significantly improved it.

In form, it is similar to old facebook text games like Mafia, where you have a bunch of numbers for resources and items that change around as you click. The difference is that this has really nice backgrounds, a ton of well-written text (I think a couple million words?) and a card-based system for storylets.

The game is set in a version of London that was sold to dark Masters by queen Victoria. It was taken underground, where the laws of physics no longer apply and death isn't permanent. Hell is a neighbor, and fungus and candles replace plants and sunlight.

It really is two games in one: the first is a time-gated system of customizable stories, with sixty or so actions spread throughout a day (or 80 if you pay a monthly fee). These stories include sweeping epics of revenge or battle against extradimensional beings that changes entire countries or the world, as well as smaller stories like fighting a spider in the sewers.

The other game is a carefully-balanced resources game. Each 'click' has an optimum number of resources available, growing larger until the endgame, and some powerful items take months to save up for. Some hardcore players compete to buy extravagant items like a hellworm or a cask of immortality-inducing cider.

Many storylets are re-used; so, you can bust a 'tomb colonist' (kind of a decayed sentient zombie) out of prison over and over again. Some are only done once, like deciding whether to support a local mob boss or his cop daughter. The re-used ones tend to occur in 'grinds' which are pretty common in this game, although much less than they once were in the early game.

To me, the best stories are:

-Making Your Name, early storylines that help you progress the four stats: Watchful (used for detective work with a Sherlock Holmes substitute, archaeology or university work studying bizarre magical languages), Persuasive (used for romantic and creative work, including writing operas and engaging in courtly romances), Dangerous (used for fighting duels and capturing monsters), and Shadowy (used for pickpocketing and elaborate heists)
-Ambitions. These are stories that span the entire length of the game, starting from something simple (usually tracking down an old friend or lead) and ending up dealing with godlike beings. They include a horror story, a revenge story, an adventure story and a sort of legend or fantasy about wish fulfillment.
-The final stat-capping storylines. These include the railway, an end-game segment where you become a railroad baron, building a railway to hell that gets stranger and stranger the further from London you get; the University Lab, where you discover the dark secrets of the Masters; a series of wars that you lead as a general in a bizarre place; and elaborate thefts that make you a legendary thief.

The game can be 'completed' without paying, but the monthly fee makes grinding a lot easier and provides access to some amazingly good short stories called 'exceptional stories'. Older exceptional stories are available for a fairly hefty sum, but they are generally worth it (especially ones by Chandler Groover and Emily Short).

There's a lot of interesting material up front in the 'making your name' segments, so it's worth checking it out just to see the overall style and feel.

Edit: Looking at the other reviews, I'd say their criticisms are absolutely true (stories can be shallow, clues and hints are items instead of actual stories). I just can't give 4 stars after having played this game for hundreds of hours and honestly investing over $100 or $200 in bits or pieces after years.


Eternal, by Endmaster

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
An extremely long fanfic-style dark fantasy story , February 2, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

Edit: There are several alternative takes on this game available in the comments.

This story is one of the main games displayed on the front page of ChooseYourStory.com and has been upheld by some in the community as some of their best work.

ChooseYourStory's corpus was downloaded and used to fuel the original AI Dungeon (although the new version, I think, uses other material), and quite a few on IFDB and intfiction were very interested in AI Dungeon, so I thought it would be interesting to see the source of it.

From the outside, the CYS community is very different from the other writing communities I've been in. For instance, the SCP wiki mods, Choice of Games editors and IFComp voters are obsessed with games being free from typos and errors. So in that sense, it's more like the Wesnoth campaigns and creepypasta sites, where the focus is more on just size of writing and worldbuilding.

Edit: several comments about CYS as whole were removed.

This game is an example of all of these things. In content, it reminds me of nothing more than when I started browsing some fanfiction. The worldbuilding is very detailed, and the content is huge. Reading every branch would easily take over 10 hours.

Structure-wise, it's more like a long chapter-based novel where the next chapter is determined by your choices at the end of each section. Choices are usually binary, unless they are 'reference' choices that give you optional backstory. Out of the binary options, one is usually a death. The graph of this game's choice structure would generally be a tree.

In fact, it's almost like three games in one, since one of the earliest (maybe the very first?) choice lets you pick one of three branches that offer different perspectives on the same story.

Content-wise, this is a dark power fantasy. You are essentially like Darth Vader but in a fantasy world, in the sense that you are a ruthless murderer and assassin in the service of an emperor.

The content is labeled as 'grimdark'. There is content in it that I found offensive, especially (Spoiler - click to show)the main character's penchant for violently raping women before killing them, or the way many women want to be raped, the way that the character helps run a concentration camp to eliminate another race, the character's joy in sexually humiliating or physically defacing others, or acting like King David by sleeping with a married woman then killing her husband discreetly. Interestingly, the only thing that the player regrets is accidentally sleeping with an enemy by mistake when she was disguised as his true love, with him later realizing that it was rape and he feels upset.

I generally just stop playing games in these situations, but in this one, the game was oddly distant from the graphic situations, generally because there wasn't a lot of lead-up. I've been deeply affected by traumatic scenes in stories before, but usually because there was a previous investment in character development to make me care for the people involved and an expectation of normalcy established that made the later broken barriers seem shocking. Like Ethan Frome, for instance, which I hated. Or Vespers, the game, which led me to try actions with awful results with no one else to blame but me for typing them in. In this game, it was more like 'you walk into a room and slit someone's throat to establish dominance'. In any case, I only finished so that I could give an accurate report for my first CYS review (although I did review Briar Rose before).

The author himself seemed to eventually tire of the rape-murder fantasies, leaving much of the second half of the game devoted to political intrigue.

My grading scale is not designed for this type of game, but I'll give it a go anyway:

-Polish: There were numerous typos and other errors.
+Descriptiveness: The worldbuilding was detailed and vivid.
+Interactivity: The game had a lot of real choices, with even dead ends having thousands of words poured into them.
+Emotional impact: Not always ones I wanted, but it was there.
-Would I play again? No, and in the future I'll heed the warnings available on the site for various games.

Edit: It should be added that this game has over 8000 ratings and over 400,000 plays on their website, far outstripping any IFComp game.

EditEdit: I should also say that Champion of the Gods is a game I loved that has a fairly similar concept but without any non-consensual encounters. In that game, it was fun playing a wild barbarian, but the justification for it was much stronger. Also, I played this game with a profanity filter in the browser.


Luminous Underground, by Phoebe Barton

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A very long Choicescript game about shooting ghosts in an alternate timeline, January 9, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This is a very long game. At 600,000 words, it's only half as long as Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale, but has much less branching, I believe, as my total playtime was over 10 hours, a first for a Choicescript game for me.

Just the first two chapters alone felt longer than most Choicescript games.

You play as the leader of a two-person team of ghostbusters. It's an alternate world where the year is about 1100, there are different gods, different timeline, etc.

There's a lot to admire in this game. The last few chapters are exciting, and some people on reddit and the CoG forums seem very happy with it. Overall, it's a polished experience.

But I feel like it suffers from several structural issues.

One of the biggest for me personally is that the first 2/3 is relentlessly negative. The game starts with you failing something, and you fail over an over again. Frequently the choices are between 3 ways you messed up. Your character is pretty negative too, with a different choice being 3 ways to express you are hopeless, or 3 ways to express that you think other people are jerks. This game also has a lot more choices where you have to pick which of your stats go down, more than any other Choicescript game I've seen. Some people like this; someone said on reddit that they're glad it's not just another Chosen One story like most others.

I'm naturally optimistic, so I found the negativity grating. The last 1/3 is definitely more cheerful.

Another issue is repetitiveness. The first 6 or 8 chapters have the exact same pattern repeated a dozen times:

You're called into the subways to deal with a threat. But, this time, it's going to be just ordinary. Ah, but you get a sinking feeling that something's wrong. You experience a minor ghostly threat and finish it off. Then you encounter something magic-related that no human has ever encountered. Then you go home.

Some relationship choices are forced. You'll always feel sorry for Alice, you'll always decide Junker is a jerk (for most of the game, at least).

I think Choicescript games thrive when the author uses external forces on the player instead of internal. That's why school, war, and high society games work out so well: if your principal says you have to do something, you have to do it. If your rich uncle says you have to do something, you have to do it. If your enemy blows up the bridge, you have to find another way around.

But this game will frequently just decide for you what your player will do in situations where it would be natural to let you choose for yourself.

Overall, I think this game will appeal most to people who love to sink into an alternate world. Its length is enormous and there are definitely different paths I'd do in a replay. I was negative about a few things, but I definitely feel like this game is worth its cost. But I definitely think that the author should write another. Nothing helps as much as experience, and the later chapters with more action tell me that they learned as they went, and the length of the game shows they can make content.

Edit: Some other positives that came to mind are the large cast of characters. And it's true there is a crewmate that takes over the show, but I kind of liked there plotline, which was bizarre and seems like a very specific but fun fantasy. I felt like I had real choices in the final chapter, and sweated over a few in a good way. Finally, the blend of fantasy and sci-fi was done masterfully.


Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale, by Kreg Segall

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A million-word Wodehousian comedy, December 7, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

I'm fairly certain this is the largest commissioned single-author interactive fiction game ever released.

80 Days has 750K words, and Fallen London (with over 30 authors) has 2.5 million.

The Hosted Game (another label from Choice of Games that essentially helps authors self-publish) called Tin Star has 1.4 million words, making it a little bigger.

This game is 100% in the Wodehousian vein. You are a rich and fairly lazy young man (or woman) who is, unknown to themselves, about to join one of London's prestigious clubs, the Noble Gases.

The story is told with a framing device where you are in the club, explaining to others how you arrived at your present situation. You have the option to retell each of the eight chapters, essentially giving you free save points.

One playthrough of this game took me over 4 hours, and seeing even half the content would take more than 10 hours.

The content branches quite a bit. In each chapter you generally have 4 or more options on how to spend your time, each of them conflicting with each other. In fact, the main mechanic of the game is constantly sacrificing one of your interest for another.

I found it overwhelming at times. I strove to be a subservient and friendly person who constantly tried to please his family, yet ended up with only middling relations with them and everyone else more or less displeased at me. The game allows for that, though, with very interesting writing happening when you fail. I intend to play through in the future.

I spent a great deal of one chapter at the opera (at the expense of other parts). In real life, I love the opera, so it was a little sad seeing my character found it boring. The references in the game are very funny and thrown in everywhere (I even saw a reference to Shakespeare's Cymbeline, which I didn't expect).

To me, this felt like 4 or 5 games in one. By focusing on all the family events and good moral character, I skipped out on all the chances to be a thief, much of the romance, and much of the club activity, but ended up having fun with my aunt's foster orphan and my lovelorn cousin.

As a final note, this is part 1 of a 3 part series, and so most threads are loose by the end of the game.

+Polish: I can't imagine the awful process involved in proofreading and editing a million-world novel with adjustable pronouns. I found no errors, I don't know how.
+Descriptiveness: The writing is lush and filled with snappy dialogue, clever allusions, and funny asides.
+Interactivity: This game takes the same approach as Animalia when it comes to branching: branch a ton and just write a ton of words for every choice, so every playthrough is different but long. It's the hardest approach, but I really respect it.
+Emotional impact: Several choices made me very nervous, and several pieces of dialog made me laugh.
+Would I play again? Definitely. It's like a whole new game, I might as well. I could be a crazy jerk lady-thief if I wanted to.


Little Girl In Monsterland, by Mike Stallone

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A very big comedy game about little girls solving clever puzzles, October 7, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

So I'll admit, I was skeptical before playing this game. Many claims about game length in interactive fiction are wildly exaggerated, and custom engines are typically done poorly. So hearing about a custom engine game with 15 hours of gameplay, I was skeptical that it would be that long and expected it to be quite bad.

In fact, though, this is a very funny game and the mechanics, though hard to get used to at first, end up making sense. I've played about 5 hours so far, using a ton of hints but also taking breaks, and I have explored only about half of the map and still have several puzzles left on that part, so the 15 hour claim is accurate. I definitely intend on finishing it.

You play as a young girl who is asked to chop wood by her mother. You decide it would be more fun to make a friend, though, and that is your first quest. After that, you and your friend have a big open world with many simultaneous puzzles to solve.

The game is translated from Italian, and is generally pretty good (I've sent some possible corrections to the author where I thought it sounded a bit off). The girls' attitude to horrifying or shocking things is pretty funny. The art is also great, especially the background art of the final version that has been shared in a different thread.

The weakest part is the opening. This is a weird system, and most people have trouble adapting to a weird system. That's why many people don't play parser games: you open it up and what do you do? Knowing it's VERB+NOUN and that examining and taking and talking takes some training.

Similarly, this game opens up with a pretty small area (good) but also a ton of menu options from the very beginning. It might be better to give an incredibly easy puzzle right at the very beginning, so easy the game basically solves it for you, with no menu buttons but the one that solves it, just for people to get used to the game, the map, etc.

I found the puzzles engaging and interesting, and it made me happy. They are also hard, and I used all the hints. Sometimes the trigger for events didn't make sense. I had a small period in the game where all the hints said 'you can't do this yet' and I kept talking to people, and eventually a random scene triggered. Several times in the game random scenes trigger that advance the plot and I don't know why (usually 'Let's go talk to so and so').

How does this system compare to others? I think this system is like the programming language C++. C++ is very powerful and lets you do amazing things but it is a pain in the butt to learn, a little scary, and sometimes you feel helpless. I saw that in the graphical version the buttons are replace with pictures, and I think that could help a lot.

Overall, this is a game I would pay money for, especially the art version. Again, I know not everyone agrees. I've realized during this comp that my enjoyment of things is not a reliable indicator of whether other people will enjoy it, and my score isn't always a good indicator of how much I enjoyed things. But I like this game and will score it well, whatever that means to you!

+Polish: Very polished graphically, with some small language problems when I played.
+Descriptiveness: Very funny and easy to imagine.
+Interactivity: Interface was hard to get used to but puzzles were really fun.
+Would I play again? Definitely going to finish it.
+Emotional impact: Very funny.


Hadean Lands, by Andrew Plotkin

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A very long, complex alchemy game. Polished, and set in a fantasy world, July 21, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This game combines an intricate alchemy system with technology aboard a sort of magical spacecraft. This isn't a rocket engine; it's a complex environment that uses magic to translocate in space.

Something has gone horribly wrong on your magical ship, leading to major disruptions in time and space.

You collect what may be hundreds of items in this game, perform dozens of rituals, and visit quite a few locations. In this sense, it ranks with other ultra big games like Mulldoon Legacy or Spellbreaker. However, this game has an advantage in that it simplifies things for you. Any ritual, once performed, can be done again with a single command. There are database type commands that allow you to recall all rooms, all items, all rituals, etc.

The setting is barren and mysterious, with the outside world leading to a variety of mysterious lands.

I couldn't put this game down. Very well done.


Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, by Jim Aikin

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Vast world with variety of puzzles , July 19, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This is a Christmas-themed game with the same gameplay style as Curses or Zork. The character explores a very large shopping mall after hours, trying to get a Christmas present. The feeling of loneliness mixed with wonder gives a nice atmosphere to the game.

The puzzles range in difficulty from very easy to very hard. You should assume you will use the hint system, which is wonderful. Puzzles include mindbenders, find-object-use-object, and some big mazes.

I enjoy games that are too difficult to completely beat on your own, but are large enough and non-linear enough to give even casual players hours of entertainment before turning to hints. This is such a game.

The endgame puzzles are frankly too difficult with too little reward. The game was very fun right up to the time you get (Spoiler - click to show)a ball from Santa. Everything after that felt like work. It may be because I relied so heavily on the walkthrough at this point.

Great game for someone who like Curses and wants a similar experience.


Worlds Apart, by Suzanne Britton

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A sci-fi novel in interactive form, July 19, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This is by far the largest game I have ever played in terms of text. Unlike most interactive fiction games, the story of Worlds Apart was years in the making, and was the authors main outlet for sharing a world they had imagined their whole life.

This game is set on a completely alien world, with different plants, people, animals, and history. The amount of detail in the game is massive, with NPC's that respond to dozens of topics, every item in the game being implemented in six senses, and a dizzying amount of locations. The game even contains two mini-books, one of which would make a good-sized pamphlet in real life. Just reading the game would take several hours.

I loved this game. However, because of its size, when I got stumped on the puzzles, it ruined the atmosphere. I started looking at the hints once I had exhausted all of the obvious options, because I wanted to read more of the story. But I didn't rush, and I tried to experiment with everything that I could find.

I recommend this game to everyone.


Sunless Skies, by Failbetter Games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Bigger and in many ways better than the original, April 7, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

Sunless Sea is a cornerstone of narrative-heavy games. Sunless Skies, the sequel, is better in many ways.

But not in all. I bounced hard off this game for a couple of reasons.

First, the controls require more practice. You have a slippery little flying locomotive that can strafe and aiming is hard.

A bigger issue that almost killed the game for me was the pacing. Sunless Sea had islands grouped in sets of 4-6, with the more dangerous and interesting islands found to the south and east. You could sail east and see everything dangerous, die, and restart, but it was all technically accessible early on. The 'safe islands' near the home port were more safe and boring.

In Sunless Skies, the map is way bigger (with 4 huge worlds), but your entire first world is like that 'safe' region. Ports are gentle and nice, and everything is slow paced. I almost lost interest.

But the other worlds are far better for my tastes. London is full of politics. You can join the rich in their fantasy lands that are gilded cages or you can work to rally workers to rebel against their masters. You can betray Victoria or nurture her child.

Eleutheria is full of darkness and poetry. It riffs on one of the most popular Exceptional Stories of Fallen London (Hojotoho) and has the same vibrant and dangerous feel that Saviour's Rocks or the Chelonate had in Sunless Sea.

The Blue Kingdom is small, but its ports have tons of options, and its 'small ports' are bigger than many of the real ports in the other worlds.

The story content here is immense, with more choices that you can take. Descending in a bathysphere through a black hole was amazing, and confronting Victoria with the true contents of the Serene Mausoleum was also excellent.

Highly recommended. I've played more than 60 hours and have quite a bit left to go on my current storyline, and I plan on doing a different storyline afterwards.



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