Reviews by Wade Clarke

IFComp 2013

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Dad vs. Unicorn, by PaperBlurt

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Unicorn Smash!, July 7, 2019
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Twine

(I wrote the original version of this review in my blog upon the game's initial 2013 IFComp release.)

This is a short (ten minutes) CYOA Twine piece about a small-minded masculinity-conscious dad, his overweight and troubled son and how they are eventually attacked by a unicorn. I can let on about the unicorn attack because it's in the blurb of the game and also strongly implied by the title in the first place. I found the experience mildly unpleasant and lacking some other resonance to sufficiently make up for that. The game has swearing, sexual content and violence.

Dad vs. Unicorn carries the fire of anger, manifest as sarcastic energy, and it uses highly crafted minimal prose which is sometimes hard to follow due to its frequent stylistic omission of the verb to be or other sentence-launching entities. This wasn't the first ten-minute Twine game I'd played brandishing the particular combination of anger, swearing, sexual politics and characters throwing their entrails around, and my reaction to each such game tends to be half instinct, and half – if I have ideas about what I think the game was on about – what I think the game was on about.

I read Dad vs. Unicorn as a short assault on traditional ideas of masculinity and how they can screw people up. You can click your way through either the dad's thoughts as he prepares a manly BBQ or his son's thoughts as he looks for his dad around the house. The dad's recollections show how boxed in he is in his thoughts and how disappointed he is in his unmasculine son. The son's recollections are a series of vignettes about being embarrassed or shamed. Both stories lead to the encounter with the unicorn, who kills someone, and you get to pick who dies. After those two experiences you can play from the unicorn's point of view, where you discover that he's not just literally a dickhead, but figuratively one, too. Hypermasculinity leads only to stupid destruction, perhaps?

The dad has only small thoughts and appears to have stopped evolving completely, which obviously isn't impossible, but makes me feel that the pervading angriness is the game's main point, since games in which you can choose which person to play usually use that opportunity to let you experience varying perspectives.

The act of writing about this game showed me I took more from it than I thought I did, but it felt too much like having one angry note yelled at me.


Final Girl, by Hanon Ondricek

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Suspenseful, funny and well-informed card-based slasher film game., July 3, 2019
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: StoryNexus, horror, IFComp 2013

* I wrote the following review of Final Girl for my blog upon the game's initial IFComp 2013 release. The game is no longer available for tech reasons, and may not become available in its original form again, so I've left this review 100% as I originally wrote it. I'm not sure that there are/were any specific solutions to the game that could be 'spoiled' by what I've written, but that said, this review looks extensively at the content and mechanics.

Final Girl is a highly innovative horror-thriller delivered via the StoryNexus platform. The player takes on the role of a teen girl who must identify a masked staple gun(!) killer in the wake of a cabin-in-the-woods-vacation massacre of her friends. I haven't played anything quite like Final Girl before, and while some of that will be down to me never having used StoryNexus before either, it's also clearly down to the game itself. I've not seen a game manage horror genre microscopy like this before, with stats like Squick, Terror, Exertion and Badassery. You even need to manually control your out-of-of-control breathing. The whole thing is framed as a slasher flick, and there are some touches of meta level commentary, but they don't come at the expense of the effect of the core story. As it is tense and gruelling to be the final girl in a horror film, it is tense and gruelling to make your way through this game. This is why I find the author's 'send up' description in one of his blurbs (though not the other, and I prefer the other) somewhat off target.

(The other day I read that a term emerging to describe a variety of ironic storytelling less aggressive and more affectionate than postmodernism's is 'metamodernism', but since I've only heard it once, I'd best not harp on it.)

It may be possible to complete Final Girl in under two hours but I died at around the two hour mark, then accidentally conceded my death, losing all my progress. Well, I'm pretty sure I lost it. The trouble with StoryNexus is that there isn't one piece of freaking documentation for players. While working out how to play was a broadly intuitive experience, finer points like 'Is there an undo? Can I save? Do I need to save?' were all left blowing in the wind. Maybe some veterans can chime in here.

The upshot is that Final Girl is a substantial game with some demanding elements, and it might take you to the two-hour mark or beyond. You'll also need to create a StoryNexus account or log in via Facebook or Twitter to be able to play. It's absolutely worth doing these things, unless you hate horror, because this is an unusual and surprising game. It also has an attractive visual style and an effective audio soundtrack. And more than once it says: "You no longer have any of this: 'staples in your face'". Low level spoilers ahead.

The term Final Girl, describing the lone female survivor at the end of many a horror film, was coined by Carol Clover in her book of horror film criticism "Men, women and Chainsaws". When Final Girl, the game, started with what appeared to be the final scene of a slasher film, I was disappointed with both of the trajectories I anticipated. I thought that either (a) the game was going to cut away from this final scene back to the very start of the story, one of my least favourite filmmaking devices, or (b) the game was just going to be really short and end then and there.

The first surprise of Final Girl was that neither of these things happened. The scene ended with the apparent death of the bad guy, but then the debriefing just kept going until a new investigatory story began. And this story becomes the game, interspersed with flashbacks to the prior story which led to the first scene. So the game's title is a good one. Final Girlness is normally a state acquired by a film's end. In this game, you begin as the final girl, fully formed and already possessed of a degree of savvy – which you'll need because as you'd expect, the killer isn't really dead, and you need to work out who he or she is.

StoryNexus play is based around cards. In Final Girl, these represent locations you can explore. To play certain locations you'll need to have already played particular cards, acquired certain items or set certain stats. Conditions like these can also apply to actions which might appear on the screen. To be able to move, you might need to rest to lower exertion. To do something particularly cringeworthy, like examine a corpse, your Squik level might first need to be reduced, or you might need to take a deep breath to reduce your fright levels. This micromanagement is a good match for the minutiae of horror films the game is simulating, because they're all about microscopic detail: a foot trying to not squeak on the floor, someone hiding in a closet trying to hold their breath, a door handle being turned as slowly as possible, etc. In response to your decisions, the game produces a ceaseless and fascinating parade of cards, badges, icons, skill updates and status reports. If you get better at something like using a pair of pliers, you'll be told exactly how you just got better at using them, whether you learned from fumbling or whether you learned how to wield them with sweaty hands.

Amidst all of this mechanical fun there's still a mystery which needs solving. You went to the cabin by the lake for a vacation with a dozen friends. Where are they now, and is any one of them the masked killer? Flashback scenes round out your relationship with each of these horror archetype teens. So much of this game comes in short stabs of prose, but these slightly longer memories are well written and do a little for each character. They also allow you to act upon the knowledge gained from them back in the present.

The lone element of Final Girl I disliked was the ubiquity of the killer. He (or she or it) attacks you again and again as you explore, and it's a time-consuming and no-gain encounter each time. This kind of ongoing harassment of the player is a pretty common stress tactic in horror games, but it's not handled well here. I suspect its random occurrence rate has been set too high, and similarly, too much of the encounter itself is down to 50/50 luck. That said, it is kind of StoryNexus to either explicitly tell you the odds of success of an action you're about to take or to give you a broad estimate of your chances in words (EG 'nearly impossible').

Dying and accepting your death leads to a game over screen with a movie review assessment of your playing style. This is the most overt display of the game's meta film material, though there are scattered in-game jokes as well. However, Final Girl walks the walk so well, the commentary comes across mostly as a fun addition. The game's act of quoting so many slasher films in its performance is its major gesture, a much stronger communication delivered at a more fundamental level. This is an excellent horror game with a sense of fun, but which doesn't skimp on tension or grizzliness either. It's got a few grindy elements, but with the exception of the repetitive run-ins with the stalker, I think they help make the experience what it is.


The Paper Bag Princess, by Adri

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
For people who have read the book, and not for others., July 3, 2019
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Inform, fantasy

The Paper Bag Princess is a short Z-code adventure in which you play a beautiful royal lass whose beloved is snatched up by a dragon during her wedding, and who then sets out to get him back. When I reviewed the game in my IFComp blog of 2013, I quizzed its design extensively. Very extensively! It turns out that the answer to almost all the numerous questions I rhetorically asked is: "This point is only explained in the book upon which this game is based, or depicted in an illustration in that book." Therefore, the summary of my review is that The Paper Bag Princess is only for people who have read the eponymous book by Robert Munsch. To consider, spoilingly, what the game may be like through the eyes of someone who hasn't read that book (me in 2013, and still me today) you may read on.

Quoth me in 2013:(Spoiler - click to show) I found The Paper Bag Princess to be a curiously toneless game, but it has a few amiable moments. The basic idea is of a mild subversion of the prince-rescues-the-princess story, but this idea is never played up all that much in either the dialogue or in the small inventory of actions the princess will take in the course of the rescue. The role reversal idea could be played for laughs, but isn't, really. The before and after scenes of the wedding lean in the direction of black comedy, what with the contrast between the storybook wedding and the charred field of burning furniture the dragon replaces it with, but I thought the writing didn't sell the contrast strongly enough to deliver an effect.

I didn't really get the choice of puzzles for the game, either. Making a torch is a pretty basic adventure game kind of task. I found it strangely difficult to do in The Paper Bag Princess, in spite of the heroine being conspicuously surrounded by scenery and objects which should have made it easy: smoking ground, burning chair legs, a stick, a vial of oil. All the game wanted was for me to type 'make torch', but the wide range of alternative commands I tried as I attempted to make any of these props interact with one another in a fire-producing way were either not understood, or prompted a "You've got the right idea" message. I think the game should have leapt from giving such a nudge to just saying: "Ok, you do such-and-such and go on to successfully make a torch."

Then there were a couple of quotes from classic adventure games; the PLUGH command and a twisty tree maze to navigate. The walkthrough reads apologetically in the case of the latter, just saying: "the maze is entirely random... sorry!" My question is: Why include these in this game? The Paper Bag Princess doesn't seem to derive any particular meaning from recalling the specifics of old games. It's not a pastiche or in the style of, or saying these were good or bad or anything. These features just appear, unremarked upon in any way, and then it's on to the next puzzle.

The final puzzle of outwitting the dragon at least makes sense on the game's own terms. This ostensibly powerful beast is shown to be easily outwitted, a staple gag of much fantasy and classic storytelling. Doing so involves guessing a couple of topics using one of my least favourite IF mechanics - ask (so-and-so) about (topic). If the classic "guess the verb" problem in IF is about knowing what you want to say to the parser but being unable to say it, I would describe the problem of having to come up with the correct topic to ask a character about as a worse problem in which you potentially don't even know what you want to say in the first place. This is a traditional rant for me which I need to deliver about twice a year and have now delivered here. It's not a problem unique to The Paper Bag Princess.

Mostly I just wanted The Paper Bag Princess to start throwing its eggs into some particular baskets. It could have delivered really strongly on the character of the princess, but she doesn't get to say much and the tone of the prose is too often neutral. The role reversal gag isn't played up. The nature of the tasks the princess performs doesn't say much about either her character or the gameworld. The paper bag she dons is not talked up. I don't get why things like PLUGH and a twisty maze were chosen for inclusion, unless the intent was to quote old games while being subversive about the kinds of things you'd often do in them - but this game isn't very subversive.

This review has probably read heavily for a game this light. It's not that I believe people can or have to be able to explain every choice they make as they create something. But considering the smallness of this game, the author doesn't seem to have made choices that aim it in any particular direction. The result is too flavourless for me, and that's why find myself wondering about all those choices so much.


Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House, by Mark Marino

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Only the introduction to a story, though a very well-produced one., July 3, 2019
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Undum

(I wrote the original version of this review in my blog upon this game's initial 2013 IFComp release.)

Mark Marino's entry into IFComp 2012, the one preceding the one in which he entered Mrs Wobbles, was The Living Will, a curious Undum game which I didn't really get. Mrs Wobbles is a far more vivid and transparent affair, a pro-reading, episodic and illustrated adventure tale aimed at younger readers (7-11 it says) and again delivered with Undum. While there is a fair bit to read here, it turns out that this game is also an introductory one, with more episodes potentially to come in future. Folks have entered introductions into IFComp before, and while I don't think there's any rule against doing so (and Wobbles is voluble, not a tiny tease) it's just in its nature that the Wobbles we're being presented with in IFComp has some of the density of a novel without the payoffs of a novel. I also find it hard to gauge how hooky it might be for those future episodes, but I'm not the core audience. Mrs Wobbles feels to me like the opening of an attractive e-novel for tablets. Interactivity is mostly at the level of deciding in which order to read things, and while this area isn't of much personal interest to me, when I consider the overall quality level of the project I think most players will find something to like here. Some may find a lot.

I think the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books by Lemony Snicket were probably a big influence on the tone of Wobble's prose, and probably more than an influence on its specific content. The protagonists are fostered siblings, their parents died in a mysterious fire and when the game begins, they're going to live in a weird house with a strange adult. The narrator is a magical talking book which can insert whimsical asides into the prose of a kind we'd be hard pressed to get from child protagonists. Production values are consistently high. The game includes some superb woodcut / etching / lithograph style illustrations. The prose is pretty good at any point and you can have it read out to you from author-made recordings. This also means that the speech feature is platform and software independent, and kid-friendly.

What I'm unsure about is how satisfying the scope of this introduction is. It's an introduction for the characters and the setting of the house, but there's no real story vector in place for either of these elements yet, as good as they are. The brother protagonists have a cute rapport, and the fussy girl they meet later, Mildred, is a good foil for them. The house is full of magical rooms and fantastic machinery which may be of use in the future. I suppose the experience of Wobbles is like being introduced to Hogwarts via an explicit tour but then having the book end suddenly. It may be safer to make a self-contained and expositional starting adventure, but it's probably less interesting than throwing players/readers into a story which sets up some plot hooks and mysteries. In the end, my to-ing and fro-ing about Wobbles comes down to the fact that this is an introduction competing in a venue not particularly suited to introductions.


Dream Pieces, by Iam Curio

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Simple, young-player-leaning wordplay game from the Quest school., July 3, 2019
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Quest

(The original version of this review was split over two blog posts I wrote upon this game's initial 2013 IFComp release.)

Dream Pieces is a friendly-feeling bedroom adventure of word puzzling delivered via the Quest platform. It has semi-rhyming (and semi-straining) prose and some nods towards helpful production values – for instance you can choose whether the presentation is delivered to suit a desktop computer, a tablet or a mobile phone. The goal in Dream Pieces is to manipulate domestic objects in your bedroom to create tools and methods to further manipulate domestic objects in your bedroom, but it's more fun that I just made it sound. Tools can split the names of objects into constituent letters which can then be rearranged to create new props. The game uses some features of Quest well, like being able to right click a wordlet, click 'Mix', then click the thing you want to mix it with from a menu.

When I initially apprehended this mechanic, I felt my interest prickling, and since the game gives the impression of being easy enough for a child to complete, what with its child-like font and enthusiastic outlook, I figured I was about to power through the whole thing for some simple satisfaction. I ended up abandoning my first playthrough due to a moment of inflexibility that I mistook for a bug. Other IFCompers cleared me up on this point and brought it to my attention that there was a colour-related mechanism in play that I hadn't noticed. I then powered through to victory like I'd thought I'd been about to the first time. The game has apparently been significantly updated since I played its original incarnation.

Dream Pieces certainly offers easy word-chopping for an adult but would probably be more outwardly satisfying for a kid. It was also the first word game I'd seen released for the Quest platform, and it came out after a year that birthed a decent number of sophisticated word games in IFdom.


100,000 Years, by Pierre Chevalier

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Tiny existential text toy., July 3, 2019
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Twine

(I wrote the original version of this review in my blog upon this game's initial 2013 IFComp release.)

100,000 years is a sci-fi Twine piece about galactic-sized spans of time. It is easily worth any comp-goer's time to try as it is very short. I almost said "ironically very short," but that would have been silly as the smallness/largeness thing is obviously a feature.

The goings-on in a chunk of the universe are described in a few lines of verse. Clicking the left arrow takes you 100,000 years into the past while the right arrow takes you the same distance into the future. Changes over that time period are then described, but the arrows remain, ready to move you forward or backward again. The result is a tiny existential text toy. What you discover if you go far enough in either direction is equally likely to make you feel more a part of the universe or just less significant. The achievement of 100,000 years is that it can touch on those feelings quickly and with such a simple device, though the whole piece is definitely short-lived.


Autumn's Daughter, by Devolution Games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Aims ambitiously with social commentary on Pakistan., July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Undum, IFComp 2013

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

The lyrically titled Autumn's Daughter is an Undum hyperlink story taking the form of a series of social encounters in the life of a young Pakistani woman named Areesha, played by yourself. Though you apparently hail from an okay-to-do family, various threats to your future independence and happiness are looming quickly, and their sources are not always obvious.

This game seeks to educate about the difficulties faced by women in Pakistan by engaging the player in a story with outward touches of romance and intrigue. This is a good strategy, given that some of the obvious alternative ones – like involving the player in a story which is grim and didactic – might just turn players off or bore them. Thus Autumn's opening scene seeks to get folks onboard immediately and build up the heroine's happiness. When you greet your visiting friend Samina, the tone heads towards conspicuously exuberant soap opera with lots of squeals and exclamation marks. The writing is broad in its exposition and a bit ripe, but the situation is inviting. The challenge for the game, then, is to be able to convincingly take the drama to the bleaker places it wants to go in a short span of time, and I don't think the challenge is fully met.

The overall design of mostly binary choices, all tied to single pieces of dialogue or action, is pretty good, especially in retrospect; the dynamic between that first happy scene and any of the endings tends to be a smooth but swift slope. But I think the game as a whole is lacking the kind of subtlety which could better convey its message. The characters have the specificity of types (earnest heroine, complicit girlfriend, potential shining knight boyfriend) but don't have the specificity which would illuminate them as individuals. And specificity is really needed to imbue obvious binary choice pairs, like whether to gush at the handsome lad or forget how to speak in his presence, with much meaning. This becomes a bigger problem in the sticky ends of the game when some extreme choices are presented. So while I don't doubt that most of the situations here can and have happened to people, I found the portrayal of them too broad to feel them deeply.

Autumn's Daughter exhibits some good design for its aims over its relatively short playtime, but it is shooting for a lot and would have benefited from stronger characterisation, from which would grow some less generic feeling choices, or at least less generic iterations of them.


Reels, by Tyler Zahnke

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
If you can get it to work, it's still not very good., July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: browser-based, IFComp 2013

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Reels is a hypertext game posing 8 mathematical and trivia-based questions. Get them right and perhaps a gang of thieves will return the precious archival reel-to-reel tapes (!) they stole. At least they didn't also steal the ovens we'll need in the future to bake the decaying tapes before making crappy second generation copies of them in order to vaguely preserve the sweet knowledge contained therein.

I bailed out on this quest, without too much regret, after verifying that it didn't function properly in either Chrome or Firefox on my OS X Mac. Those are the two browsers the game's "how to play Reels" file recommends for those without access to Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Before I ran into the technical wall, my instinctive response to the game's proposition was: "Game, you're asking me to do stuff too closely resembling work." The tasks ahead, the first one involving base 36, looked unappealing and potentially trollish, but my bloody-mindedness kicked in and so I broke out a piece of paper and a calculator, and got solving. This in spite of the base 36 question being worded pretty badly, and the explanation of it in the how-to-play (when I checked in there later) being awful.

So, when I typed in my first answer to Reels's first question and found it apparently rejected – and when I say rejected, I mean that I clicked a button labelled "Check the number" and that nothing happened – I had a read of the how-to-play file. I decided I had indeed been doing what the game wanted me to do but had simply made a couple of mistakes in my working. After another pass, I entered what I believed to be the correct answer more confidently, only to find it rejected/ignored again.

This was the moment when I became suspicious as to whether the game was really checking my answer. So using TextEdit, I just opened up the html file (follow.html) which delivers the first challenge and looked at the code. The correct answer was sitting right there, unhidden from the eye, and it was what I had typed, and therefore I concluded that the game was not running correctly in Chrome. I tried playing in Firefox with the same result.


Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life, by Truthcraze

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An indie text Indie., July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, IFComp 2013

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life (or TBATTOTWOL… or maybe just TBAT) is a likeable and rather difficult to solve off your own back Indiana Jones-styled adventure. Tex is less competent and cool than Indy but he's no klutz, and the game doesn't play up his goofiness at the expense of dangerous puzzles or basic seriousness of adventuring. TBAT is chock full of traps, fast deaths and adventure movie quotes, the latter often appearing in the form of achievement-like score boosts. TBAT is a little short of the programming or prose polish that would really get it glowing, but it does have a good sense of danger and suspense.

The basic adventuring schtick of examining one thing, then examining something revealed by the first thing, then examining something revealed by the second thing, etc., is well executed on many occasions in TBAT, and this is complementary to the suspense of time-limit traps, like when a spiked ceiling is descending towards your head. Some wisecracks which happen to hit the mark and a plethora of wacky/gory deaths round out a tone which is recognisable from plenty of adventure films and games.

Since the game is named for its hero, I would have liked to see his personality shine through more clearly in the prose. The nature of some of the humour used is such that it can feel like the narrator is trying to be funny in general, rather than that I've got a window to Tex's thoughts and that they are funny, or illuminating of him. The game is a good romp through a dangerous temple in any case.

I had to visit the hint menus and walkthrough file with increasing frequency throughout TBAT. Games which lead me to cleave to the walkthrough have been known to aggravate me on multiple fronts, but this one held my attention to the end. Part of that is because even though I can't imagine coming up with some of the solutions myself, they were generally quick to execute and fairly self-contained. This is not a game where you'll get stuck, check the help file and discover you need to retreat 50 moves to fix your situation.


Moquette, by Alex Warren

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Good parts but a vague whole in existential tale of traingoing., November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Quest

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Moquette is a Quest hypertext game in which you play a hungover security guard who begins to feel the weariness of his lot too heavily during one morning commute on the London Underground, and who then begins to wander the network in some kind of attempt to do anything differently.

This was the first Quest game by the author of the Quest engine, Alex Warren, and I think it made sufficiently good on views expressed in his blog over time about trying out different things in IF. It's not going for radically different, but it has its own feel and structure, and text effects which are novel enough to make me say that the author walked some of his talk. I found the game fascinating at times, well written as often, though in a way which underutilises (or just doesn't utilise) experiences the protagonist has had earlier in the game. Another problem is that no specific background emerges for the character. And I found the ending to be very querulous; it seems really hard to end existential IFs in a way that is equally or more satisfying than the game content.

There is a fair bit of content in Moquette, and its attention to geographical and other details of the London Underground give it the smell of the real. But overall it's a mix of good elements amongst others which don't work so well.

The run of decisions you make during the game consists of looking at various strangers who get on and off the trains, deciding when to switch train lines, when to stay on a train and when to get off. There are a lot of strangers and a lot of lines to switch between, so eventually the player is likely to start wondering: Does this game have a trajectory or an end, and if it has an end, how deep into my travels will that end be? I wondered all of these things.

The protagonist's view of both himself and others as unthinking cogs in the machine of life is one of the classic concerns of modernity, a concern emphasised in this game by the fact that the whole thing occurs on trains, those classic symbols of the Industrial Revolution. With all this in mind, it seemed to me the game could have gone on forever, making a conceptual point of pointlessness while annoying a lot of players in the process. Thus I was glad of a random encounter on the trains with a character whose presence opened up the possibility of throwing a spanner into the cogs. Still, the protagonist's narration around this event didn't change to reflect the passage of the day, his wobbly health, things that had happened earlier or anything that might happen later. The lack of connectedness of the parts renders the game's finale probably more ambiguous than was intended.


The Cardew House, by Andrew Brown

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Decent but unremarkable first game about a haunted house., November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, IFComp 2013, horror

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

The Cardew House is a short parser adventure of typical mechanical puzzling in a haunted house. It could be said to be of Ectocomp style and hasty Ectocomp or slightly-better-than-speed-IF quality, and it doesn't have any surprises up its sleeve that would warrant anyone already uninterested in the basic premise from trying it. As the author's declared first or equal first Inform game, it's simple and rough and wasn't tested, but at least it has focus and a degree of technical soundness.* (* excepting its habit of just killing the interpreter where it stands whenever the game ends, which strikes me as unsound.) If you play, save the game before taking any particularly exciting actions; there's no undo from a game over.

The introduction tells of cruel Old Man Cardew, he who so aggravated all his neighbours and kin that somebody eventually shotgunned him in the head. Cardew's daughter disappeared, too, but nobody really knows the whole story. Enter you, foolhardy explorer of... The Cardew House. Note that I am going to arrogantly say that I've expressed this in a more exciting fashion than the game does.

Something you'll notice once you enter the house, and which you'll be aware of before you enter the house because the author mentions it in his introductory spiel, is that the lights in the rooms randomly turn on and off. I actually found that the reports about the flickering from adjacent rooms, and the business of me turning things back on, was quite atmospheric. I'm still relieved the author set things up so that the PC will turn lights on by default (an option you can deactivate) because, as he correctly anticipated, it would have made the game super fiddly if you had to do it all manually. The lighting atmos, in tandem with other random sounds and moans, makes the game a tiny bit bumps-in-the-night creepy.

One prop has a good attention-drawing schtick but mostly there's a lot of implementation oversight. Some props, like the kitchen cupboard, have fairly classic guess-the-verb issues attached to them. On the plus side, the hint system gives hints for the room you're in, so it tends not to spoil too much, and you can toggle it off again before you move to the next room.

The denouement doesn't really explain all of the implications of the game's introduction. (Spoiler - click to show)So Betty was buried under the house, but who shot Cardew? Did Cardew shoot Cardew? What about all the black magic stuff and the pentagrams? Fortunately this game is short enough that I wasn't tremendously bothered that I didn't find out the answer to all of these things. I enjoyed my 15 minutes or so in this house enough.


Vulse, by Rob Parker

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
?, November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Twine, choice-based

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Vulse is a hypertext. I would say what I think it is about but I don't know what it's about. I wasn't sufficiently engaged by it to play through it more than once, and that first play eventually began to feel like a chore. The protagonist sloughs about in an apartment with a collection of abstract and angry thoughts and perceptions. These are rendered with deliberately crafted language, a sort of free verse stream of consciousness. The prose wore on me over time, not inherently, but because it didn't seem to take me anywhere. There was little sign of the literal stuff mentioned in the game's blurb, of the Twin Peaksy corpse which floats into the town. Perhaps it was down other paths.

My primary beef with Vulse is that I could find no point of interest that would stimulate me to engage with its prose. There was no sense of a character, or inner or outer reality, or of a plot or story or mystery or something else to compel. This left just a series of links leading to different strands of language. Ability with the language needs to be in service of something, but I'm afraid I couldn't find Vulse's something.


Blood on the Heather, by Tia Orisney

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Longwindedness is both the pro and the con., November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013, Twine, choice-based, fantasy

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Blood on the Heather (BOTH) is a wack-seeking CYOA adventure about three young Americans who take a vacation in Scotland and get mixed up with petulant feuding vampires and their scenery-destroying vampiric offspring. The author says it was inspired by the vampire B-movies of their youth. For me, this raised disturbing questions about how old the author might be… Twelve?! Facetiousness aside, the game's combination of bloodsuckers who act like the rabid zombies of the cinema of the 2000s, Underworldish vampire clans and a splat of Twilighty romanticism pointed to pretty recent stuff. And after I'd done all that thought, someone who watched the TV show Buffy the Vampier Slayer told me with great confidence that that was probably the primary influence.

BOTH gives off a strongly goofy vibe through its predilection for one-liner gags and funny/cool character behaviour, but it's also a work of quite driven prose. It was probably the biggest CYOA game I'd ever played when I first encountered it, and also the one with the longest passages between each moment of player choice. I was curious about what a text game which was confident enough to use this much unbroken prose would be like. As I'd expected and hoped, it was able to build up a lot of momentum. I also felt that it was capable of instilling each choice with more context, potentially making the whole thing more character-centric.

While I'm grateful to BOTH for demonstrating all of this to me in a big, real world case, I did find it an effort to get through a lot of it because I just wasn't interested in the petulant vampires or their moderately complicated mythology. In this respect, the game definitely reminds me of my experience with most of Hollywood's recent films about supernatural clans.

If the writing and characterisation of BOTH were both excellent, that would obviously do a lot for player interest. The trouble with the former is that it's erratic. I wouldn't underestimate the feat of achieving consistent propulsion of a story this big, which BOTH's writing pulls off comfortably, but it is the length of the thing which also throws the jumpy proofreading into relief. Some pages are in great shape while others are rife with typos and mistakes of tense. The characters tend to make the same kind of opportunistic jokes as each other, spreading a fuzzy zaniness across the game at the cost of character individuality. And I found the feuding vampire characters really annoying. They have a kind of Flash Gordon / Prince Barin rivalry going on, except that both of them are Prince Barin. The heroine (us), who unfortunately spends nearly all her time as an unwilling sidekick to one of the vampires, does develop over the game, mustering a tenacity which is underestimated by all the baddies. Her emerging resolve was a source of humour and tension which sucked me back into the second half of the game, but in the main I found too much of BOTH tiring or insufficiently involving. It would take more preparatory work than was done here, or more idiosyncratic characters, to get me interested in all these feuding vampires and the spectacle of their rampage.


Further, by Will Hines

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Clarity in the afterlife., November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, IFComp 2013, fantasy

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

Further is a short, parser-driven Z-Code adventure set in the afterlife, or at least after your death.

In my relatively short experience of IFComp prior to playing Further (2010+) I'd observed that afterlife games were a mainstay of the competition. They'd appeared in forms as various as the cerebral puzzlefest, the religious sampler, the existential angst generator and the poser of ethical and moral dilemmas. Further's approach is less complicated. It uses simple puzzles to dramatise the process of remembering your life as you head for the light. The result is a modest game which didn't stir my emotions as much as I think it might have liked to, but whose concept is clear.

In Further you start out as an insubstantial form lost in the haze. Exploration reveals a small map composed of elemental terrain: grass, a sandstorm, snow. Little objects from your life are lying around, and by FOCUSing ON them in the appropriately coloured locations you can revivify your memories, transforming the locations into clearer recollections of your life. The colours are also used to paint the relevant pieces of text and to clue you in to suitable locations.

The delivery of these mechanisms is simple. Only a handful of commands are required across the whole game and not much is implemented beyond the vital objects, but the lack of extra detail happens to suit the overall idea that only really important stuff from your life is of value to your ghostly or insubstantial self now, and that only that stuff can help you move on. The descriptions of the memories themselves may suffer a bit from the game's sparseness, at least in terms of their power, but they're in keeping with the whole. I also like the minimal prose used in the final room and the lack of a game over message – even though I admit I then went and peeked at the solution to make sure I really had reached the end.

I found Further's simplicity satisfying. At the level it pitches at, its idea plays out well.

(A tech anecdote: During IFComp 2013, I played this game online using an iPhone 5. While it responded instantly to most commands, it would typically pause for up to 25 seconds each time a Player Experience Upgrade response was invoked... Ouch! Player Experience Upgrade was Aaron Reed's suite of code for Inform 6G60 games which sought to supply more accessible than average responses when players typed stuff that wasn't understood. Obviously it was a CPU-crippler for some combination of Z-Code games and/or online play and/or the iPhone 5.)


The Challenge, by ViRALiTY

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Incomplete tech demo., November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2013

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2013 IFComp blog.)

The Challenge is a one and a half room demo with graphics which are stills from a simple 3-D modelling exercise. You can turn to face in different directions. There's a knife. And that's about it. If IFComp had a qualifying round, The Challenge would have been eliminated at that stage because the competition is not a venue for incomplete tech demos.



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