Reviews by Wade Clarke

twine

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SOUND, by CynthiaP
A very short Twine two-hander about communication problems, August 10, 2022
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, ifcomp 2020

(A version of this review first appeared in my blog during IFComp 2020.)

SOUND is sufficiently small (for me, a few minutes per play) that my whole review amounts to a spoiler:

In the text-on-black Twine SOUND a woman known as Orange seeks treatment for her stutter and communication problems from one Doctor Thee. The doctor is a sailing champion and island dweller. An island is the venue for the therapy. The prose follows a conversation between Orange and the doctor in which neither is necessarily the point-of-view character. I was interested to note I identified, functionally, with the doctor, just because the doctor was the interrogator, but technically the links that change the progression through the conversation can fall to either character.

There is something a bit cute about the dialogue and the situation. Orange's anecdotes of work difficulties are realistic but the actual prose isn't quite. It reminded me of serious-leaning dialogue delivered by videogame or Manga characters. They say 'Haha,' and someone winked at some point.

Orange posits a theory of sound (that may validate her stuttering) that the doctor appreciates as new. It also seems to be bound up with semiotics. While she doesn't just go and say "semiotics", she does talk about the disconnection between sign and signifier in the supermarket aisles, even though she doesn't use the words "sign" or "signifier", either. It's unfortunate that in this precision-requiring moment, the prose is just a bit off. I'm not sure if it's the proofreading, or English is the author's second language or something else.

Fortunately, the outcome is unaffected, and it's the most interesting part of SOUND. It seems that Orange's theory transforms reality (if only all theories were this easily actualised!) and the IF's words rearrange and repeat on the screen to create the effect. The links wander, as well, but this is no "find the correct link to click" moment – this is indeed, the end of SOUND. And for me, it falls in the right spot that is specific enough to the story, and also abstract and poetic enough to be satisfying without over or under-doing anything. It did prompt me to think on it in a manner outsized to the conversation's face content, and the coda text suggests a beginning for the new communication ("You embark to find that voice") and, cleverly/eerily, is exactly what the game's blurb promised, because that is SOUND's blurb.

This IF is so short I replayed a couple of times to see the other elements and to experiment with the end screen. The repeat plays also improved my overall understanding of the conversation. It's not like it's complicated, but in general I find it hard to keep track of who's speaking during long direct speech outings. SOUND is brief and the payoff is good. A multiplication of effect at the end of something (and definitely not its opposite) is always a fine way to go out.


The Place, by Ima

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Too small and non-specific existential piece with closed exercise element, August 10, 2022
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, ifcomp 2020

(A version of this review first appeared in my blog during IFComp 2020.)

Due to this Twine's size, my whole review below must be considered a spoiler.

"Carla thinks about all the things she loved, Brutalising the Dead by Sadistik Execution, not being on fire, Paris, and herself healing in the future."

The above line was produced by The Place at one point to describe the actions of its heroine, whom I'd named Carla. The parts in bold were typed in by me earlier in answer to questions posed by the game (e.g. What is your favourite song at the moment?) This output, the joint result of all our creativity, made me laugh a lot. Since the game's (weird!) blurb had endorsed meaninglessness, I then thought, "Oh do cheer up, nihilist, you have helped to make me laugh." Place is another case of a Twine IFComp blurb being way off course and in danger of swamping the content of the small IF itself.

The story is about a young woman (whom you name) who's bored, depressed and troubled due to her home life. She's struggling to find meaning, not finding it in places like Paris (or whatever city you typed in) and ultimately having a look inside herself, plus perhaps in some other location you typed in. It's an optimistic ending.

The small scale of the whole makes it difficult for this piece to succeed. The Place describes an arc of troubledness most people would recognise, and the story struggles to rise above common experience by adding some specificity it obtains from the player by asking them for input. As I've demonstrated, the input scheme can backfire. But even if I'd typed more harmonious things, that wouldn't have changed the feeling for me. The prose is more fuzzy than precise and the story is well-worn and too general, though by asking me the questions, it did at least add an extra frisson of the commonality across human passions. One thing I couldn't work out was why the game kept asking me about some lottery draw order. It was the one question I didn't understand, and I was asked it at least three times. Perhaps some language/culture misunderstanding?

I think there's something to the overall idea of using input this way in a short story of this kind, but it would take more careful thought and application to craft the effect.


Superhero Stress, by Michael Yadvish

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short and simple superhero CYOA using choice pairs., November 26, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: spring thing 2016, twine, choice-based

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during Spring Thing 2016.)

Superhero Stress is a light, traditional CYOA of mutually exclusive options that are dramatic, like (paraphrasing): "Will you save person A at the possible expense of person B, or person B at the possible expense of person A?" You can play through most of its situations in about five minutes. It's got goofy, typo-y writing and the traditional sexism of old comic books: Ladies are for rescuing, or for picking up while you're rescuing 'em. It's also got a touch of offhand gore that I found very mildly disturbing amidst the silliness, but only very mildly.

Superhero Stress does have a message that it delivers a few times; that a superhero can't be everywhere at once. The film Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, had roughly the same thing to say about the Man of Steel, but Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice took more than 150 painful minutes to say it, whereas Superhero Stress did it in about five minutes.


All I Do is Dream, by Megan Stevens

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A slice of stale life., November 26, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based, IFComp 2016

(This review originally appeared as a blog post of mine during IFComp 2016.)

Short, existential Twine game in which you specify the manners in which you will veg out in the house during your girlfriend's next night shift at the pickle factory. This is an experience hailing from the drab end of the slice of life cake. You can think about the bedclothes, fiddle a bit with the bedclothes, clean objects in several boring stages. Your character is clearly depressed, as the prose is insistent about the pointlessness of any activity. A few prose studs of specificity about the characters' shared life don't make up for the more macroscopic lack of specificity that prevents any insight into their plight over the short duration.

Perhaps this is the Twine equivalent of the parser world's 'My Crappy Apartment Game'. The apartment is still there, but the focus shifts to the immediate crappy existential rather than the immediate crappy physical. 'All I Do's...' observations of fiddly-stuck depression make for better writing than that of most My Crappy Apartment games, but its small catalogue of anxious domestic activity didn't interest me because I knew almost nothing about the characters, before or after.


Letters, by Madison Evans

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Well-judged Twine letting you explore a teen relationship through letters , November 23, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2016, Twine

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during IFComp 2016.)

In Letters, you're a teenaged girl reading, tracing and clicking your way through a pile of letters from your ostensibly cool school friend Cadence after certain events have occurred.

Both main characters have solid writing chops and some wisdom beyond their years, and they communicate everything to each other by handwritten letters in the year 2008, give or take a few years. I felt this setup was a bit of a contrivance, the kind of thing that is outrageously possible in real life yet which takes a certain amount of feinting or explaining when delivered as fiction to get people to buy it. I decided to accept the premise and move on once I acknowledged I was enjoying Letters's sparky, emotional teen writing, and that I was also being prompted to think about how I was interacting with this IF. It worked for me both as emotional writing and as something with a bit of a puzzly feel, an experience I've rarely had with similarly presented IFs in the past.

I spent about twenty minutes with Letters and felt that I had satisfactorily experienced most of its content by that point, though probably not all of it. It's not easy to track which links you've previously clicked, unless perhaps you lawnmower them, or have a better memory than I do. It was a testament to the game's effectiveness that I had no interest in mowing the lawn. I was clicking particular links I wanted to click for reasons I possessed or imagined in relation to the story. Contrivances accepted, I liked Letters a lot.

More detail with spoilers below.

Letters is not outwardly gamey, but part of the blurb is a challenge – "Can you find her?" (your friend, figuratively) – and there's a certain labyrinthine quality to the link structuring. The 'Start Over' end nodes often occur after emotional climaxes or relatively drastic events. Something about them makes you want to avoid them, or just nervous about encountering them. This sensation probably emerges from a basic desire to avoid premature closure of the story. And there's a feeling that if you choose wisely, maybe you can in turn eke out wiser decisions for the characters. For instance, an ending that's not too deep in the structure and which occurs immediately after you tell Cadence to piss off, suggests that maybe by doing so you harmed the friendship so early in the piece as to preclude its development. In light of moments like this, I don't interpret the pile of letters to be a bunch of static found objects that you're going through. They feel more like your interface to a story that has an unchanging core but which you can get into more deeply if you're persistent, or sometimes deflect off if you're unlucky.

The key things I liked about Letters are that I wanted to find more ways into the story, that it wasn't entirely elementary to do so, and that there was a good balance between links that made me feel narratively rewarded for picking them and links that capriciously made the story crumble and sent me back to the (not too far away) start.

There's some tension, while reading a letter, between wanting to click particular links as soon as you encounter them, and holding off and reading the whole letter first. Sometimes reading to the bottom of the letter reveals more links that were initially out of range. Maybe they'll be more interesting? Or maybe you're effectively changing events in the story by disregarding later parts of a letter to move laterally earlier? I also like that I never entirely resolved all this stuff, and the answers probably aren't set in concrete anyway.


Tentaculon, by Ned Vole

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Impressive squid simulation, somewhat annoyingly delivered., November 21, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based, IFComp 2016, science fiction

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during IFComp 2016.)

This review is entirely spoilery.

Tentaculon is a link-driven Twine game that initially appears to be an eat-or-be-eaten squid simulator. Its prose is keen, a bit gooey and very slightly uncomfortable-making as one cruises around trying to kill and eat stuff while not being subject to sudden spasmodic jerking motions at the same time. I admit I feared some kind of cheap game-ending blow to the back of my head was imminent, for instance a message saying 'HA! You killed to live! You lose!' – but this was unfair misapprehension on my part based on past negative experiences.

Instead, the game cut to a Philip K Dickensian scenario in the present day. I was really a human. The squid I'd been brainjacking was safely across the room in its tank.

Placing what could stand as a whole Twine game in its own right (the short history of this design tool mostly being about short works) within a larger one which turns out to be about neurobiological research and realities within realities is conceptually a very attractive design move, and one I also felt aesthetically. In retrospect of the whole of Tentaculon, I really liked its sci-fi story and its idiosyncratic humour. But actually playing it I found to be a curiously disorienting slog. It brandishes a large variety of interface and delivery approaches that kept me in a place between irritation and aggravation.

There's no consistent way to move between sections. Sometimes it's by clicking the specifically crafted back button, which I'm used to reading as an UNDO button in Twine. Sometimes it's by clicking an acknowledgement ('OK'). Sometimes it's by clicking a particular option amongst several others which are only asides. The variation which bothered me the most, because I didn't realise it was happening for awhile, was when it was necessary to simply wait for the viable link to appear amongst additional text further down the screen after a fixed amount of time. I have complained about the use of text delay timers in Twine games before and will do so again now in light of having discovered a new way in which they can hamper your experience.

I'd say Tentaculon's interface inconsistencies stand out because considerably more Twine games prior to this one have been broadly abstract or linear than have not. Tentaculon features locations connected by stable geography, exits, gettable items and conversations with NPCs. In other words, it's got a light world model, currently a minority mode in Twine, and players need to be able to have some kind of reliable relationship with that model in order to grasp or visualise the results. I struggled with all the chopping and changing of the presentation, links being all over the place and in different styles, and I often felt I didn't have much of a hold on things.

In spite of my troubles, I made it through Tentaculon, relieved that the keycard puzzles were easy, that I was able to link-mash my way through some other bits when I'd lost the plot, and really glad that I'd encountered the fictional work Life Chutney.


The Golden, by Kerry Taylor

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Some folks love this short pre-apocalypse CYOA, but it's too elusive for me., November 14, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: spring thing 2020, Twine, choice-based

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during Spring Thing 2020.)

The Golden is an elusive, faintly ominous Twine CYOA about a sister, brother and father stuck together in a seaside house in an unspecified end-of-days situation.

There are some tense character bits involving familial strain – a tortured card game especially on the first run – but the characters aren't specific enough for these to have full effect. For instance, if the blurb hadn't told me the heroine was seventeen, I wouldn't have suspected it from the writing. She seemed much younger to me, partly because of a sense that she looked up to her brother and partly because she didn't express anything too complex. She just didn't express enough. I don't really know what the problem was with the brother. Only the father had enough tics to make him stand out to me. Geography is a little fuzzy, too, a not uncommon situation in a Twine in which you can move around a little.

I don't know if there's a standard model in Twine that involves making the last word in a passage the link to the next page, a typical strategy in this IF, but if there is, I'd say – beware it. Words should generally be lit with intention. When 'God' on the end of 'Thank God' is the only link on a page, that looks highly significant, but proved to be no different than other standard forward links when clicked.

I liked the end of the story because of the aforementioned ominousness. I also felt that the game worked to build an anticipatory mood for it. Characterisation was the thin area. A piece this compact, written from one character's point of view and clearly indicating its characters are specific, needs to specify those characters more. There's not a lot of time to do it in, but maybe that means what time there is can't be handled as gently as I felt it was here.


The Insect Massacre, by Tom Delanoy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Mystery on a space station that requires multiple short playthroughs., November 13, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine, IFComp 2015, science fiction, mystery

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my blog during IFComp 2015.)

The Insect Massacre is a Twine hyperlinks game about which it's possible to expose little more than the blurb if one is to avoid specific spoilerdom. That blurb is:

"A short murder mystery set aboard a space station."

The title is explained in a neat way which I will also not explain here. This review will be incredibly coy by my standards.

I found the game's mystery intriguing. The events of the story are concrete enough to provoke speculation, but blurry enough around the edges so as to ward off absolute explanation. Multiple plays are required to investigate multiple angles. Each session requires little time.

The game's aesthetic delivery was beguiling on the first playthrough, if a bit confusing in terms of indicating who was speaking in each scene. The speech is effected with colour-coded names matched to coloured lines of text. My proper gripe is that on the second and subsequent plays, the unskippable Twine delays, pauses and fade-ins that were enforced on material I'd already read felt pointless and tedious. Text is basically not a temporal delivery vehicle like music or film, especially text in a branching story.

Fortunately, The Insect Massacre is short enough that even on replays it isn't too hurt by its eternally slowly-fading-in text. It is particularly good at making the player guess at the implications of the choices it presents, and not because the choices are at all vague, but because of carefully deployed elements of the game once again not discussed in this coy review.


Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles, by Hippodamus & Company

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An overwhelming, narratively ineffective introduction to Something, November 12, 2021
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine, IFComp 2016, fantasy, science fiction

(This review originally appeared as a blog post of mine during IFComp 2016.)

Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles. Book I: The Departure --- Part I: Prelude to Our Final Days on Kyzikos is an extraordinarily long title for a game, or for anything else. Its multiple clauses of descending magnitude promise tons of episodes, galactic-scaled adventuring, locally-scaled adventuring, sci-fi societal sculpting, a cast of thousands (or at least dozens) and the highly agreeable portentousness of prolonged high fantasy. This is a set of promises no single IFComp entry can keep within the context of its IFComp; the two hour rule makes that physically impossible.

Folks can, have and will continue to use IFComp to introduce punters to their big multi-part IF. Aether is one of these introductory games, and it ends in a weird place and starts in a confusing one. The end is not inherently weird, but it's weird in light of the experience it just spent all its time imparting. That experience is a link-based sci-fi / fantasy adventure with a scaffolding of Greek idylls, philosophers and mythology. The first screen, a page of prose from a log, indicates rhetorically that the narrator is or was something like a familiar of the eponymous Zephyra, then confuses by setting the scene with a series of nested geographical relationships (paraphrasing: the moon with the woods orbiting the planet surrounded by the clouds in the Propontis system) and raising the spectre of a great many groups of people and other entities with unusual names involved in Zephyra's story. Plus there's a quote from Plutarch. It's a tad overwhelming.

Spoilers follow:

Zephyra turns out to be a space pilot in the now who used to be a wandering fisherwoman in the past. Links in the prose passages lead to elaborations, courses of action or different locations. The trajectory is generally forwards with occasional gating of progress by character knowledge or events. There is no puzzling difficulty as such, but some patience is required.

Aether's opening, in which the heroine is piloting a starship that's about to disintegrate (the why, where or what of this aren't exposed) should be hooky, but it's handled a bit strangely. The game's structural tactic of looping asides back to already-read passage describing the current scene works later on, but not in this first scene, where it feels like it's slugging up action that should be screaming forwards. The other issue is that Zephyra's visions of divine help from giants and marble hands during this scene come across as pretty psychedelic. Altogether, an odd impression is made, and the whole spaceship scene is not explained or returned to later in this game, leading me to think it's grist for a later episode.

The game then cuts to a more rural (and presumably more modest) time in the past, with Zephyra wandering around and trading fish. The scenic descriptions paint a nice picture, but this prosaic exteriority prevails across all the writing. That's to say that although we're basically playing Zephyra, we barely get inside her, experience her thoughts, motives or feelings. This makes for a mostly inscrutable experience in a Greekish world that's not exactly inscrutable, but is not a world we've been given any reason to invest in yet. Who are these guys Zephyra playfully wrestles with? What does she want out of her days? What's the role of the satyrs she meets? I never learned the answers to any of these questions. Having no character goals and not much of a clear perspective on anything resulted in an uninteresting experience.

There are a fair few links to explore throughout the game – sometimes a crippling-feeling number, like the fifteen on the Fishing District of Kyzikos page – but not many incentives to be thorough. And I got the impression the game expects you to be thorough, since some later asides present information that obviously assumes earlier optional asides were read. Some state-tracking would help address this kind of thing, and will surely be essential in later episodes of this tale if it holds to its mammoth projections.

The finale of Aether is dramatic and ominous, but also oblivious of the fact the player just spent the whole game with Zephyra. The arrival from the sky of a space-faring Jason and his Argonauts, and the promise that they will carry out 'dark deeds' that will wreck everything on Kyzikos, amount to a deus ex (in the broader modern sense) that will remind most players that Zephyra didn't do anything that had anything to do with these things. She might in the future, but so could any other character. In this rural episode, Zephyra has really yet to do anything of significance.

This is what the narrative troubles of Aether boil down to: The game is meant to be an establishing experience for the character of Zephyra, but she has yet to show any personality or do anything of note. The ending only underscores these problems. While they're obviously the biggest ones, the authors don't seem to have any trouble being prolific or riffing on Greekery, and the CYOA-style wandering sections are mechanically effective, though it would take me awhile to get used to negotiating so many links on single pages when those links are interspersed throughout the prose. Aether needs structural recalibration and prose that addresses the interior of its heroine, and so interests us in her, if it's going to succeed.


Dad vs. Unicorn, by PaperBlurt

3 of 3 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.


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, science fiction

(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.


howling dogs, by Porpentine

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Bold, weird dreaming through hypertext innovations, July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, IFComp 2012, Twine

(I originally published this review on 1 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 1st of 26 games I reviewed.)

I thought that kicking off my IFComp 2012 quest with a hyperlink powered game ŕ la howling dogs might somehow ease my brain into the gear required for the more typically strenuous parser fare to come. I was wrong; howling dogs brought the strenuous straight away. This piece is an ominous and often perplexing journey through poetic language, virtual reality-ish dreaming and shifting female roles. Beyond its subject matter, it also forced me to immediately confront a bunch of issues concerning different kinds of interactivity in text games I'd rather have put off until later. howling dogs is dynamically beautiful and writerly, but I would point out now for consumers that it is essentially not a game-state game. It's a text with many digressions and some strong aesthetic tricks. It's also pretty weird. To learn more, you may read beyond this paragraph into my more content (but not puzzle) spoiling territory.

The player's initial situation is sparse and sparsely depicted. You're trapped in some kind of quarters with a shower, food, a room whose nature screen keeps you sane, and the 'activity' room where you can go to have virtual reality experiences that aren't of your choice. By the bed is a photo of a woman you once knew. Ultimately the only thing you can do to escape each day's monotony is plug yourself into the activity room. In each of the ensuing virtual realities you seem to be a different person in a different situation, and at the conclusion of each dream you wake up back in your quarters.



The scope of the dreams (and I use the term loosely – there's no certainty that they are dreams) is wide ranging, to say the least. There's a gory phantasmagorical war produced by some entity which bends slightly to your resistance – or lack thereof – to its choice of material. There's a Zen experience involving describing a garden viewed through a paper slot. The ultimate, lavish scenario follows the growth of a prophesied empress with a bone foot.



The series of shorter dreams which come first and flit about in subject matter seem pretty resistant to interpretation on a first play, but the later and longer scenarios start to draw out a theme of the persistent and constricting roles for women which have been laid down over the ages. In one story you're Joan of Arc waiting to be burned. By the game's end you're an empress, arguably powerful but still bound to various aesthetic and behavioural expectations, deciding which masks to wear and which of various predetermined actions to take. The empress story reminded me of some of Tanith Lee's books; Vivia (about an impotent vampire princess) and Law of the Wolf Tower (the adventures of a harried quasi-princess teen). The game's final quote from John Wesley about the indefatigable evil of angels also reminded me of Lars Von Trier's film Antichrist and its concerns with myths of the perpetual evil of women.



These are my ideas and not stone, for this is plainly a game open to wide interpretation. I describe it as dynamically beautiful as it demonstrates a perfect sense of timing and flow in its aesthetics. Not just in the language but in the visual delivery of the game; the pace at which the text appears, the moments the game chooses to repeat things. Some tricks it has which are minimally visceral, like lines which fade or flicker like a broken light, weird links hidden in punctuation, deliberately blurred text. This is some of the most interesting use of this hyperlink format I've seen to date. However, I rarely found much use for the 'Rewind' link, having much more luck with my browser's 'Back' button, and occasionally the need to drag the mouse back and forth over links became laborious – particularly on one rather amazing screen which apparently leads to an alternate ending. I was unable to find that ending, but the need to repeatedly move between links in the text and the 'Back' link which kept reappearing in the corner was more than my RSI could stand.



howling dogs was a very interesting and promising introduction to this year's competition for me, and also demonstrates further innovation in the area of hyperlink pieces. The writing is fine, the dynamics excellent, the imagery clear and strange.


Valkyrie, by Emily Forand et al

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Triple pack student CYOA, July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2012, choice-based, Twine, fantasy

(I originally published this review on 5 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 5th of 26 games I reviewed.)

One of the fun things about IFComp is how the games come from all over the place. From people you know, people you know hiding behind silly names, people you don't know, tall people, short people, etc. Valkyrie is a team effort fantasy CYOA game from three students enrolled in a Game-based Learning Developmental English course this Fall semester at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs in the USA. As one of my heroes, Shaun Micallef, once said in a skit about a folk CD being sold to raise money for charity, "That makes it virtually impossible to criticise." But so long as their teacher didn't actually browbeat them into entering IFComp – and maybe even if she did – I feel like congratulating them for entering before I get to the reviewing.

The first screen of Valkyrie is weird. Several funerals are described in the third person present style of a film script. Then you're asked to choose what you have trained in: Mistress Thief, Wizardess or Swordswoman. I picked Wizardess on my first play and found myself waking to that role in a fantasy world. The PC is aware that they are dreaming, or might be dreaming, and exhibits anxiousness about finding opportunities to return to the real world, but also about doing a decent job as a Wizardess in the new world. This new world features gods from Norse mythology fighting over a magic necklace.

It turns out that each profession is its own game, presumably with each author contributing one profession. This gives three different styles and three different sets of concerns, but there's a common mythology involving the Asgard stuff, the necklace and the ongoing mini drama of whether the PC will keep helping the Asgardians or try to return home. With each game being about the same heroine, it's interesting to see what each author's version of her is like. The Wizardess is thoughtful and well mannered, though her story doesn't have paragraph breaks. The thief moves directly towards her goal in a short stealth and action tale featuring some instant deaths. The swordswoman's story is ambitious in trying to add detail to the world, with a passage about getting used to her Valkyrie wings and going on a mission (and there seem to be some Harry Potter nods about the place, too) but unfortunately it forgets to keep letting you make decisions, ending with a huge text dump.

The three games reminded me of the original Choose Your Own Adventure books in particular, which frequently started out in everyday life and transported the reader into a fantasy situation. Also like the books, the three games in Valkyrie offer a good number of large-scale choices to the player, choices which result in non-overlapping things happening in the story. This is the key to a lot of the more fun CYOA books, and I enjoyed this same quality in Valkyrie.

Perhaps this game was more interesting to think about afterwards than while playing. Its unadorned and expositional language can be wearing, but with three stories, a good number of choices for the player to make and three different versions of a common heroine trying herself out in a patchwork fantasy world, it has some kind of charm. I don't think the opening was intended to be as strange as it might seem, but that strangeness made it kind of cool, too.


Last Minute, by Ruderbager Doppelganger (A.K.A. Hulk Handsome)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A CYOA about entering IFComp at The Last Minute..., July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, IFComp 2012, choice-based, comedy

(I originally published this review on 4 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 4th of 26 games I reviewed.)

You can't fob off the postmodern today, not even if you jab violently at the area directly in front of you with a pointed stick. Last Minute is a hyperlink CYOA about cobbling together a last minute entry for IFComp, and presented with its first screen, I didn't like the look of it. The protagonist thinks in exclamation marks and is equally and constantly excited by every turn of his thoughts as they alight upon different objects in his bedroom. In the long run, I believe that people should be skeptical in general of responses to creative challenges which consist of saying, "Well, I was having trouble thinking of something, so I made my piece about the trouble I was having thinking of something." Which wouldn't be to say that this game is definitely a response of that kind itself – except that the author revealed during the competition that it is. In the end, each object must still rise or fall by its own qualities. The primary quality of Last Minute is silliness, and even if you don't like it, it's over pretty fast.

The game has two halves. The first half is a the part where you scan your room with your eyes looking for inspiration for your IFComp entry. Choices include your games, your DVDs or what's on your desk... The combination of a "my apartment" game with the protagonist's hyper manner began to make my eyes water. But I persisted and reached the second half of the game, where my earlier choices were strung together into a gamey fiction. This section is extraordinarily silly and hyperbolic (EG a blistered blob forces everyone in the world to cannibalism by only letting them eat beetroot otherwise, and you have to stop him) but it's got more messy wit, writing cutesiness and variation than the first half, and might start to bring the sniggers if your defences are sufficiently weakened by now. I played this section a few times and found some different stories, and if you want that explosion of sloppy zaniness that you can usually expect from something in the competition, this could be one of the games to deliver that fix.


Transit, by Shaye

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Help! I'm stuck in an airport and I can't get out!, July 18, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, IFComp 2012, Twine

(I originally published this review on 5 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 7th of 26 games I reviewed.)

Transit is a solidly blah hyperlink CYOA in which you try to find your lost friend while in a foreign airport. It's also buggy in spite of its smallness.

The writing of Transit is completely unadorned. The addition of any kind of specific information about anything in the game (what airport? who am I? who's my friend? where am I going or where have I been?) would improve things, but each element is presented in its most elemental non-descript form, preventing any kind of interest from being generated. For instance, the only way to derive play interest from visits to generic airport outlets like Starbucks and McDonalds would be to allow anything at all to happen at them beyond the eating of their generic food, but that eating is all that Transit offers before telling you it's time to resume the search for your missing friend.

The three features of the game which slightly redeem it are:

1. The way you can die by binge drinking some dispensed canned drink whose title and contents you can't read.

2. The fact that the winning path involves trying anti-intuituve actions, which will probably cause you to poke around looking for it.

3. The little icons which appear each turn depicting your current situation in the universal language of public signage. A neat idea not well served by the material.


Six-sided Die: The Text Adventure, by Bungatron

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
2, May 14, 2016
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based

A moderately protracted Twine joke about rolling a six-sided die, or not. It's only protracted in the sense that it takes takes slightly longer to play than rolling a six-sided die, which is still to say not very long at all. It may also be intended as a joke about the nature of some Twine games, but it's not focused enough on anything for this to be clear. A more aspirational joke about deterministic forces in the universe is written without care. As is the case with most hastily assembled IF jokes, low care / thought levels have had a thinning effect on the humour.


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.


Following Me, by Tia Orisney

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Solid Strangers-Met-In-The-Woods CYOA thriller, November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2014, choice-based, Twine, thriller

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2014 IFComp blog.)

It's usually lazy of a reviewer to summarise the content of a game they're reviewing by reprinting its blurb, but I think the blurb for Tia Orisney’s IFComp 2014 entry Following Me already does the best possible job for the purposes of my review, and handily builds in the limits of advance information the author would like players to know about the game:

"Two women take a wrong turn in the woods and make a gruesome discovery. They seek help from a mysterious stranger and are dragged into a vicious trap that they will be lucky to survive.

The story is delivered in a CYOA format characterised by long, unbroken passages of text studded with infrequent moments of choice and ‘Continue’ buttons. It’s a substantial read. Tia’s long format prose, within the context of this kind of game, was on display in two entries in the 2013 IFComp, of which I fully played one, Blood on the Heather", a wacky Buffy The Vampire Slayer-style adventure which wavered for me between being compelling and tiring. I remember the drive of much of the prose though, about which I wrote:

“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.”

Following Me is a serious snowbound thriller which threatens to get very heavy. There's still the distraction of some loose proofreading dragging on the author's obvious storytelling skills, but the plot is tight, the whole thing is quite tense and the construction dense enough to push through problems. Psychologically it stays truthful to the headspace of Kat, the protagonist, and her moment to moment bursts of thought. (Occasionally I felt it was a spot off here – it's not that people don't have the odd bizarre and ostensibly comical thought during times of real peril, but I don't believe they narrate it to themselves at the time using the language they’d use to narrate it to someone else later. i.e. They have no time for a longer or circumspect view because they’re in immediate peril. Kat did this a bit too often for my taste. This is not a big nitpick in a piece which is psychologically on target most of the time.)

The physical manifestation of the bad guys is finally handled, too, the way Kat observes their little tics and physical dynamics. How they say things, where they look when they are delivering particular threats, how they brandish their rifles and how the older man brandishes his cane. These details accumulate to vividly convey the repugnance of their characters, and the experience of being a woman who has become their prisoner.

The choices offered always read as weighty alternatives and they caused me a lot of player deliberation, though the ultimate construction of the game is such that most roads eventually lead to Rome. The choices create different vectors to get there, shepherding the prose in a broad way that reflects a choice you probably made heavily, and so whose outcome you are predisposed to invest in. Because Following Me is a thriller with life-and-death stakes for the characters, I think this scheme works well in this game.


Female Experience Simulator, by Alyson Macdonald

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Has just one point to make, but is funny about it, March 21, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine, comedy

A quick CYOA in which - in game parlance - you die and must restart after every second move because whatever you decide to wear and wherever you choose to go (two choices) you are sexually harassed by a man or men.

The mixture of cuteness and smartarsery in the writing, in combination with the girly pink colour scheme, is broadly funny. This tone extends into the dialogue and content of the harassments. That they are so frequent and display such a variety of dialogue and invention that they acquire an overkill quality in this context which is inevitably funny and exasperating, and makes them palatable in spite of their volume. And the game is in tune with player exasperation. It starts to offer an 'I give up' option at about the right time.

The punchline when you do so is: 'BLAM! Welcome to life as a woman.'

(OK, I admit I added the 'BLAM!')

So this very small game is well structured for its idea. This leaves us with the idea and the question of who it's for. I'm already aware of the specific point that a woman might be sexually harassed whether she is wearing a low cut item or a tracksuit, and this is the game's main point. So telegraphing that at length and then saying 'BLAM!' was not revelatory for me personally, but that doesn't mean it might not be revelatory for someone else. The practicality of the point makes it a good one for people who might not have thought about such things much, or at all.

Based on what's (figuratively) written on the box, a woman need not play Female Experience Simulator. After all, she doesn't need to simulate the experience of being a woman; she's experiencing it. Nevertheless, were she to play it, my punt on what her experience might be like - informed by my experience of playing Female Experience Simulator - is that the game would be likely to hit the recognition spot with a leavening of humour, but obviously without any revelations.

If the game actually advocated hopelessness or hopeless behaviour (eg 'You MUST run home to cry whenever you are sexually harrassed!') I would have flushed it down the toilet to join other self-deludedly defeatist crap like the works of Samuel Beckett. However I think it's obvious that this game is not making a point beyond: A woman can experience sexual harrassment in spite of how she dresses or presents herself. Which is important if not known. A man may learn this by playing. A woman already knows it. The game manages to do this with some humour, and it's pretty light, so it's a stretch to read much further into it.

This review is already in severe danger of brandishing more content than the game itself, so it's time to stop.


Door | 門, by IFforL2

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
There are hurdles between Find the Gold and Educational status., June 16, 2014
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine

As a basic-as-can-be, clickable Choose Your Own Adventure aimed at helping people to read English, or which at least tries to be easy to read, Find the Gold isn't achieving its aims. I expect such a game to be absolutely transparent in its communication. Problems include:

- The way new information fades in over the old information is likely to be visually and mentally irritating to any reader.

- The game prints the consequences of clicked on actions only after reprinting the current room description and hyperlinks. That would be OK for a 16kB game from 1980 but it's not OK for a Twine program from today with educational goals. Actions and their consequences get separated.

- The turn of phrase 'a door in back of you' is weird, and it's used all the time. I think in this context most Americans would still say, 'There is a door behind you.'

- The 'You can only take one thing!' message is important but poorly chosen. If it actually means 'You can only ever hold one thing', players will be confused. I was confused.

- It is difficult to download and open this HTML file-based game in the first place, requiring trickier than average navigation of Google Drive followed by manual dropping of the product on your web browser.

Find the Gold's writing, logic and programming all need lots more work. So does the distribution method.


I'm Fine, by Rokashi

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Confessional Depressional, March 2, 2014
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine

A game like I'm Fine is pretty hard to assess as a game. It's the hypertext monologue of a young gay man suffering through the most grinding lower layers of depression and hopelessness. Player choices are along the lines of ‘Take the call’ or ‘Ignore this person’, and as per the level of dysfunction of the character, tend to make little difference to his life. If you do take someone's call, you're not doing so with the wherewithal to exact a change on your existence. The communication is likely to be totally ineffectual, still drizzled with the protagonist's conviction that all is useless. I wouldn't expect otherwise from someone in this state.

I don't like assuming stuff about autobiographical qualities in games. Maybe that means I'm destined to miss the point of Twine games like this one. Maybe I'm supposed to start from a position that this is entirely confessional - in which case I would say that the author knows the dirge of the self-hating monologue very well. The experience of this game is the experience of reading the diary of someone who is morbidly depressed. Day upon day, page upon page. This kind of depression scrapes away all of the horizon, leaving only a circling in language which is devoid of individuality and consistent across sufferers who express it.

Rhetorically: Do such confessionals makes for good games? The nature of the phenomenon written about in this game makes it pretty impervious to your interactions or most other kind of digression. You'll read screen after screen of the same self-critical thought processes. If you recognise them, it's variously an unpleasant reminder, an empathy stirrer, but still basically frustrating, because you already know that all of the pages are the same - unless the only attitude you bring towards the whole game is: “I hear you and your pain.” This is an explicitly uncritical gesture that is essential to make at some point towards anyone suffering like this, but this game isn’t the person, and I can't be uncritical towards it when I am explicitly being a critic. A game is an entreaty to become involved using my thoughts, but perhaps more importantly to have some kind of Me or in-body relationship with an avatar. Again I feel this may be the principal difference between the audience that accepts this kind of game as simply an expression, and myself with all of my questions about an expression like this taking the form of a game.

If you don't recognise the thought processes expressed in this game, the experience may become a battle between your interest in perceiving something new (keep playing) and just wanting to get out once you realise that the protagonist is thoroughly convinced of the hopelessness of all actions. There is an overlap here with the mechanic of the much vaunted Depression Quest, but while I view that game as more of a novel tool/primer which can begin to educate people about the experience of depression, I’m Fine is absolutely realistic and out in the deep end.

I won't spoil the ending of the game, but I will say that I liked it and it made me feel that it had been worth persisting. 'Worth persisting' is also decent advice for the protagonist, and conceptually, the end of It's Fine is what brings the most value to the whole. The catch remains that the bulk of the game is spent moving through material that you will find almost verbatim in the diaries of the morbidly depressed or suicidal.

I continue to find it extremely difficult to interpret games like this, let alone stick a star rating on them. ( I know I don’t have to use stars, but I tend to like to be able to do so within the context created by this site. I don’t want to say something like, ‘This is too personal a game to the author for me stick a star rating on it,’ because I don’t think the author gets to decide that if they submit their game work to a site with star ratings.) Perhaps I'm not supposed to find it difficult at all; just to respond to and accept someone's expression. But in art I don't ever want to take an attitude of uncritical acceptance. Not every raw expression will make for a good game experience, no more than every cathartic expression a human being makes will be of benefit to all other humans. The expressive act itself can be the important thing. I understand that my floundering in this confessional game terrain comes because I often feel I’m being presented with the raw act and expected to find the value in that context, rather than that I should consider what decisions have been made to transform that material into a game. I want to do the latter because the material is being presented as a game.


KING OF BEES IN FANTASY LAND, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Cute and serious sci-fi with 8-bit delivery, and surprising., June 18, 2013
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine

KING OF BEES IN FANTASY LAND is a brisk fantasy/sci-fi CYOA which, in common with the same author's terrific You Will Select a Decision, is presented as an artefact from the recent past written in less than ideal English. Starting up King feels like starting up an '80s coin-op or Nintendo game, albeit one without pictures. The lettering is an all caps 8-bit font and the copyright notice says 1989. The style of the writing is that of mildly enthusiastic Japlish.

The player, addressed as Space Knight during the patriotic opening spiel, is charged with the mission of taking down the "evil King of Bees from Bee Fort" so that humans, who have wrecked their own planet, can colonise the bee planet Garaxas, aka Fantasy Land. The outward silliness of this plot and the game's presentation both put you in in a frame of mind in which you're immediately hungry for fun and success.

The fun is easy to come by. Whatever decisions you make once you hit the planet's surface, the game rolls with them. Even when you face seemingly important binary choices, like whether or not to trust the boardwalk which crosses the alligator swamp, you'll find that all roads tend to lead to ultimate success by their own methods, or that a blocked path will produce a discouraging loop which quickly pushes you onto an unblocked one. Messages will appear proclaiming exciting bonuses you've acquired for non-existent (mechanically speaking) skills, and whatever you do, the occasional exclamation mark is there to suggest that you're doing good, or The Right Thing.

The planet is busy with its bee inhabitants, and they're mostly friendly, chatty folk who offer no opposition to your march across their territory, or even an impression of being aware that opposing you is relevant or necessary. So even though the excitable 8-bit plot and tone of the game will have primed most players savvy to 8-bit conventions for combative action, most players will also find themselves pretty uninterested in vaporising friendly unarmed folk, except in the also 8-bit manner whereby they might just want to see what happens if they act like a jerk. The text gets prejudicial when the bees show up, with terse but aggressive options appearing like ERADICATE, but the delivery remains paradoxically light and encouraging, whether you're acting like Rambo or not.

The first time I played King, the contrary signals being sent simultaneously by different levels of the game about what I was doing as Space Knight started to put me in a nervous and suspicious mood. I was wondering if the game was going to suddenly turn around and tell me (or at least strongly imply) that I was a harmfully suggestible dumb-dumb of the kind who can easily be made to follow any orders. That might sound like a strong reaction to an ostensibly light game, but there seem to be an increasing number of IF games around which impart this lesson through degrees of player deception. It's not that I oppose games deceiving players per se; in fact IF is particularly good at doing this in lots of different ways, and to different ends. But sometimes in the case of games which offered the lesson, "You should have resisted the game's path for moral reasons", I had felt, when I reached the outcome, that I had simply been tricked.

I'm definitely not saying that this lesson or this schtick are the upshots of King, only that these issues do come into play. And I have deliberately not addressed a lot of King's content to avoid spoiling anything. There are some interesting, entertaining and surprising little turns of events tucked into this quite short game, and it's frequently cute, even while it's being serious. To understand all the aspects of what might be going on will take at least a couple of plays, and there's some new fun to be had on the way through each time. The voice of the prose is very authentic in reproducing the earnest and focused tone of Japanese 8-bit games, and the arrangement of the screen, fonts and colours are all attractive. The game is a fine example of how cute and simple aesthetics should not be underestimated in terms of their ability to deliver clever or thoughtful outcomes. Probably the biggest cleverness of King is that the expectations and aesthetics of the 8-bit are used both sincerely and for commentative purposes at the same time. My final advice on this game comes from the attract mode of 1980 coin-op Moon Cresta: "Try it now!! You can get a lot of fun and thrill"


Mastaba Snoopy, by gods17

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
You're in the Matrix, Charlie Brown!, April 6, 2013
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based

I feel that the best way to describe the aesthetic of this game is as follows: Imagine that the computers used to render the graphics which portray the horrible, gritty world overrun by machines in the film The Matrix were corrupted by a hacker who replaced most of the textures with imagery from Peanuts comics. This is the imagery rendered by the prose of this game. And yes, you do need to have read a moderate amount of Peanuts to recognise the iconography, and knowing The Matrix some will also help. I guess The Simpsons anticipated all of this with that poster outside the Googleplex which says 'You're in the Matrix, Charlie Brown!'

However – I am already struck by the difficulty I feel in describing this as a game. Perhaps it is in the area of pieces like this which the term Interactive Fiction will come into its own in a more literal sense. Mastaba Snoopy is a poetic prose story with junction points which determine what may be read next, but there's a low sense of consequence based on what you click – I confirmed this at least for myself by repeatedly rolling back one move, trying the other option(s) and seeing if my feeling about the whole moved a different way as a result of what I read there. It didn't, except at a handful of major branches; there's a kind of uniform forward velocity into this clever concoction of an alien meets future-internet world based on Peanuts comics, no matter what choice you click on, but I can't say that the different facets of it feel very different to each other. The world is rendered with effective writing, and the immediate effect of the piece is different to that a static piece of writing, but the combination of the piece's overall abstraction and its low consequence of action mean that its emotional effect is still closest to that of a static piece of writing, albeit one which can be rotated to be viewed from a few different angles.

Peanuts has always been and will always be a big part of my life through all of its sense of humour, writing and artwork. I doubt I missed any of the numerous references in Mastaba Snoopy, whose whole world is built out of an alien's interpretation of Peanuts comics. Some of the iterations are darkly amusing, though nobody is likely to guffaw at the bleakness of the whole. Coming into this game as a Peanuts guy, my mental state was along the lines of, "Alright, bring it." I came out disappointed that Mastaba Snoopy was neither specifically as humorous nor as thoughtful enough about ideas from Peanuts as I'd hoped it might be. It's probably hard to be specific when you're also being abstract. I didn't feel that any more meaning emerged from the throbbing of Snoopy's loins – a scene in Mastaba Snoopy – than it would have from the throbbing of, say, Hello Kitty's loins. Or rather, both may be saying the same thing (whatever that is). Mastaba delivers a fair bit on the cyber/veneral imagery front in general.

In spite of the quality of the writing, I was disappointed re: Peanuts and I missed the presence of more game-like consequences which might have made me get more into this world. If the writing alone is enough for you, you may like it a lot more, and the whole idea is very imaginative.


You Will Select a Decision, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
A high point for Russian Choose Your Own Adventure books, and for absurd writing, February 22, 2013
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine

The shtick of You Will Select A Decision is that the English translations of a pair of Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) knockoff books originally written by Russian computer scientists in the 80s have just now become widely available. The real author of this work is Brendan Patrick Hennessy, and he has created one of the funniest and best written absurd text games I have ever played. The two self-contained adventures demonstrate a deep understanding of all the methods of the original CYOA books, and so are able to mobilise and make fun of the lot of them over their course. Perhaps the most faithful feature is the way every passage of text in the games is tied to a real page number, allowing for the classic CYOA 'turn to' parlance to be in place.

"If you take on a fisty attitude and confront the witch head on, turn to page 53"

The humour of You Will Select A Decision is fuelled both by the strange outlook of the books' faux Russian authors and by the superb contortions of the translated text. The first story, Small Child in Woods, is about a peasant girl who sneaks out of her village one night in defiance of parental strictures. This story gives the authors a chance to expound on life in the context of their home turf. The second story is a lot more fanciful and has the reader playing a cowboy in Wyoming in the 1800s, a tale obviously begging to be mishandled by its Soviet Union authors.

We live in times when even a clueless person can prise the occasional linguistic gem out of the back and forth of Google Translate, but it takes a writer's skill and understanding of language to consistently craft and squish faux-translated words into a form that is funny for showing up all our assumptions about the workings of English. This is what has been achieved at length in You Will Select A Decision. Weird choices of tense, verbs and nouns are exploited to produce a constant stream of misdirections, surprises and absurdities. The fake authors try for a stern narrator's voice, but most of the time they succeed only in being capricious. The usual set of morals in CYOA books is usurped by advocations of Communist pride and anecdotes about obscure Soviet heroes. The main joke is that when the fake authors aren't waxing ideology, they're just clueless about how to satisfy a reader or tell a tale competently. The stories swerve towards or away from exciting moments in just the wrong fashion, and in a manner you can imagine would be guaranteed to irritate a sincere child reader. A great set piece may be followed by an unavoidable stupid death involving rocks falling on the reader's head. A climax may be steadfastly worked towards and then not delivered.

You Will Select A Decision remains vigilant in delivering this fantasy of a specific kind of hilariously bad, translated storycraft from its two starts to all of its numerous finishes. With more than 200 pages of content across both stories, the game also satisfies as legitimately designed CYOA, with just as many major and minor branches of possibility as you would expect from one of the real books. I laugh a lot in life, but I don't think I've ever laughed along with a computer game as much or for as long as I did with this one.


Intake, by Maddox Pratt

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Good idea but insubstantial., February 11, 2013
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine

Intake is a very short hypertext piece about being a mental health patient and unsatisfactorily answering some initial questions from a patronising doctor. It's okay as a brief emotional sketch, and it has a poetic rhythm about it that's felt if you play a few times. But as an interactive piece representing this situation, it's too simple to make an impact. The main effect comes from the good idea of putting the player in a seat of powerlessness to emphasise that powerlessness (only the doctor gets to speak). Intake fares best if considered only for that effect. Thinking about a few answers you can make to the doctor's questions, and ones you specifically can't make, which I sometimes didn't understand, led me into a state of protracted querulousness. Am I supposed to be playing a marginalised character, or a not-marginalised character being treated as if I was marginalised? Am I specific or not? Besides, can anyone actually quantify how marginalised I am or should be, especially if I am fronting up with mental health problems?

I think troubles are hard to avoid in general in short IFs with frontmost political content. The moment such expressions take interactive form, they need to be able to stand up to a fair bit of scrutiny in the same way that rooms in IF games need to be able to stand up to sufficient player interaction. Intake will not stand up to scrutiny beyond its basic expression that it sucks to be in this position if your system is crummy and the particular doctor you are seeing is appalling. In which case, you obviously need to find a different doctor, preferably a good or great one, and/or persist – my words, not the game's. Also, if Intake's outro did mean to badmouth Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (a badmouthing I would dismiss) I think it undercut itself, since it's obvious that any doctor who would prescribe the same treatment for every problem is a fool.


The Lift, by Colin Capurso

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
"For God's sake, take the stairs!", November 3, 2012
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, IFComp 2012, choice-based

(I originally published this review on 5 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 6th of 26 games I reviewed.)

Unfortunately The Lift is not a game based on either 1983 Dutch horror film The Lift or its silly but likeable 2001 remake The Shaft.

"The cover art for The Lift looks like it might be good," I had thought to myself as I'd squinted at the postage stamp sized icon dispensed by the IFComp site. The same automated process which deleted all of the large sized cover artworks from the comp games and replaced them with shrinkies in 2011 did the same thing again in 2012. After playing through this hyperlink CYOA game which involves choosing one of four weapons and then either being killed or not being killed by some zombies and dire rats, I think its cover image (even in shrunken form) is the only part of it I can compliment.

The PC is an amnesiac who wakes up with the obvious goal of survival. After picking your weapon, the next important choice you have to make is which of the four floors of the building you will investigate in hopes of escaping. Give or take the odd exception, that's about sixteen outcomes, but there's next to no variation of choice within outcomes. More problematic is that the writing is bad to unremarkable, there are no dynamics, there is no atmosphere, no suspense, reason, or really any point of interest. The choice you have to make before making the second important choice is whether to avail yourself of some pornography or not. This is potentially a moment of inspired dumbery, but it also might not be.



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