Reviews by MathBrush

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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

1 of 2 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 6 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.


Sunless Sea, by Failbetter Games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A huge treasure trove of gothic horror stories with a boat mechanic, April 7, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

This game is visually lush and rich, but its heart is storytelling.

In this game, you pilot a boat from port to port. You start on the fringe of existence, able to die from a few hits by passing monsters, losing your crew to mob bosses, or running out of fuel or food. Slowly, you crawl your way up to being able to afford more and survive attacks. It calls itself Roguelike in combat and I feel that's accurate.

But most of the gameplay is stories. You discover ports which come in increasingly exotic sets as you get further away from home. At first, you discover things like an island of liars or a mysterious military station accepting coffins and nothing else. As you expand, you can find a terrifying castle of ice or an island of guinea pigs and rats. At the very edges, you reach the truly horrifying or truly cute.

Stories range from diplomatic negotiations to bizarre rituals to painful torture and so on.

The Zubmariner expansion adds a ton of stories but not much new in the way of equipment. The main Zubmariner storyline (Immortality) is excellent, and the new ports are some of my favorites (I enjoyed slowly turning my organs into crystal and injecting myself with solidified regrets).


I put about 76 hours into the game+expansion, and plan on playing again in the future.


Cragne Manor, by Ryan Veeder, Jenni Polodna, Adam Whybray, Adri, Andrew Plotkin, Andy Holloway, Austin Auclair, Baldur Brückner, Ben Collins-Sussman, Bill Maya, Brian Rushton, Buster Hudson, Caleb Wilson, Carl Muckenhoupt, Chandler Groover, Chris Jones, Christopher Conley, Damon L. Wakes, Daniel Ravipinto, Daniel Stelzer, David Jose, David Petrocco, David Sturgis, Drew Mochak, Edward B, Emily Short, Erica Newman, Feneric, Finn Rosenløv, Gary Butterfield, Gavin Inglis, Greg Frost, Hanon Ondricek, Harkness Munt, Harrison Gerard, Ian Holmes, Ivan Roth, Jack Welch, Jacqueline Ashwell, James Eagle, Jason Dyer, Jason Lautzenheiser, Jason Love, Jeremy Freese, Joey Jones, Joshua Porch, Justin de Vesine, Justin Melvin, Katherine Morayati, Kenneth Pedersen, Lane Puetz, Llew Mason, Lucian Smith, Marco Innocenti, Marius Müller, Mark Britton, Mark Sample, Marshal Tenner Winter, Matt Schneider, Matt Weiner, Matthew Korson, Michael Fessler, Michael Gentry, Michael Hilborn, Michael Lin, Mike Spivey, Molly Ying, Monique Padelis, Naomi Hinchen, Nate Edwards, Petter Sjölund, Q Pheevr, Rachel Spitler, Reed Lockwood, Reina Adair, Riff Conner, Roberto Colnaghi, Rowan Lipkovits, Sam Kabo Ashwell, Scott Hammack, Sean M. Shore, Shin, Wade Clarke, Zach Hodgens, Zack Johnson

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful:
An enormous collaboration horror game, December 8, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

I've played and reviewed over 1500 interactive fiction games, and there has never been anything like Cragne Manor.

This game was written by 84 authors. Some authors (including me) wrote small rooms with one minor puzzle, or, occasionally, only one.

Others wrote rooms that themselves could be entered into IFComp and do well, including complicated conversational games, (Spoiler - click to show)a miniature version of Hadean Lands, a monster breeding game, and story-focused cutscenes.

The game is a mishmash of different styles and levels of implementation. One room might be the most elaborate and smooth game you've ever seen, with varied tenses, custom parser responses, and complex state tracking; while another room might be basically a pile of dirt with nothing implemented. Puzzles range from super easy to very unfair.

For fans of big puzzle games, people who wish that longer games would be released, Infocom fans, fans of any of the people in the author list, conversational games, or IF in general, this game will provide hours of enjoyment.

As a warning, this game is overwhelming. It has 500K+ words, which is huge for parser games. As a comparison, Blue Lacuna had less than 400K, and much of that was devoted to verbose text descriptions. This game is just pure content. This game is longer than Curses!, Mulldoon Legacy, Worlds Apart, and roughly the same size as Finding Martin.

Prepare for the sinking in your stomach you will experience as you open a door to find another 6 or 7 rooms, each with their own fully-fleshed out puzzles. Prepare to keep notes for information you find in the game, tracking the many keys and doors.

The content warnings for the game are accurate. Every author has their own style, so some rooms have more of profanity or explicit content than others. I would say that maybe one or two rooms has anything sexual, and about a dozen rooms have violence or gore running from silly to horrifying.

As of writing this, there is no walkthrough, although that will likely be remedied soon. With the help of many of the authors, as I tested this game, I still took well over ten hours to beat this. Expect a long, long, long play time.

Perhaps the last thing I'd like to say about Cragne Manor is that this is almost like a little IFComp of its own. The number of games in the two is similar and the quality of the entries is similar, except that even the weakest rooms in this game have been tested and worked on as a group, and all the rooms in this game support each other, instead of fighting against each other.

Please enjoy this wonderful game.



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