Ratings and Reviews by autumnc

View this member's profile

Show reviews only | ratings only
View this member's reviews by tag: choice of games favs hosted games ifcomp 2018 ifcomp 2020 ifcomp 2021
Showing All | Show by Page


The Play, by Dietrich Squinkifer (Squinky)
autumnc's Rating:

The Marsupial of Mathis Street, by StamblerRambler
autumnc's Rating:

The Second Floor, by litrouke
autumnc's Rating:

Heading East, by Hugo Labrande (as Alex Davies)
autumnc's Rating:

Weird City Interloper, by C.E.J. Pacian
autumnc's Rating:

Lifeline 2: Bloodline, by Dave Justus and 3 Minute Games
autumnc's Rating:

Lifeline, by Dave Justus and 3 Minute Games
autumnc's Rating:

Pon Para and the Great Southern Labyrinth, by Kyle Marquis
autumnc's Rating:

The Voyage of the Resplendent, by Philip Douglas
autumnc's Rating:

The iCarly RPG, by StamblerRambler
autumnc's Rating:

Contrition, by A.K. Fedeau
autumnc's Rating:

The Diplomat, by Nakade
autumnc's Rating:

Seedship, by John Ayliff
autumnc's Rating:

The TURING Test, by Justin Fanzo

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Philosophical Dilemmas, November 25, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2021

The TURING Test is a game with some interesting ideas, but I thought the implementation left some room for improvement.

The game starts in a very classic sci-fi mode, with direct references to Asimovís Robot series. The first act consists of an ethical questionnaire, asking the player what you feel about various ethical questions relating to robots, the three laws, the meaning of life, etc.

The next act is an exposition about the robot apocalypse that occurs as a result of your answers to the questionnaire. (Spoiler - click to show)Turns out, the AI interpreted your ethics extremely literally in a way that caused it to want to kill all humans. It was interesting to read how exactly the AI would go about its plans. However, I didnít think the robot rebellion story was plausible: (long spoilery section) (Spoiler - click to show)Based on my choices in the beginning, the AIís directive was to preserve all life on earth, but it found that humanity did more harm than good, so it must destroy humanity to stop global warming. But launching every nuclear weapon on earth would cause way more damage to life on earth and its ecosystems than most plausible scenarios of global warming, via the nuclear winter and radiation and so on. I guess since I didnít pick nuclear war as the greatest threat, the AI considered global warming to be a greater threat than nuclear war, but the reason I didnít pick nuclear war as the greatest threat is that the likelihood of global nuclear war is less than the likelihood of catastrophic global warming. Not just the absolute value of harm but the likelihood of harm. So... I don't know. This is kind of pedantic and wouldíve been avoided if the AI were able to kill humans without nukes.

Maybe the AI weighs the well being of cockroaches above every other life form. Which could make sense in certain branches of utilitarianism and could have been interesting to explore. Maybe it valued bacterial life the most because there was so much of it and thus decided to kill humans because they made antibiotics but then decides to avoid killing humans because they provide excellent hosts for bacteria but then decides to kill humans anyway because I donít know.


Then there's a long, essentially linear segment detailing your plan for taking down the AI that you helped create, involving uploading a virus. There are some choices mostly for aesthetic. And then you are sent to the International Space Station, and that was where I encountered my first bug.

The bug: I go to the Kibo lab on the ISS and see ďItís timeĒ, and then the game hangs. It just freezes. I think this was a problem with firefox, because multiple twine/harlowe games with timed text have had this problem. Chromium did not have this issue, I think, although looking at some of the other reviews, it has occurred in Chrome for some people.

Now we get to the actual Turing Test portion, where we have to distinguish between two entities to see which is the real human. You only get to ask each of them three questions, which seems like a remarkably short Turing test. Both the questions and answers feel kind of vague to me. I ended up guessing correctly, but I couldn't say why. (Spoiler - click to show)I think that the AI's answers are supposed to be based on the player's answers to the philosophical survey at the beginning of the game.

I had the same freezing error after the Turing test, when I had to decide which was the human and which was the AI. Picking one of the answers (the correct answer) led to the timed text never showing up. Again, I think this is an issue in the way firefox interacts with harlowe. Interestingly, the bug did not happen when I picked the wrong answer, and I might have actually preferred the "bad" ending.

I played through both endings, and while I thought the concept and writing were good, something about it just didnít click for me. The central plot device didnít really make sense, and the interactivity was less than the premise promised. I guess my feelings were soured by the technical issues I encountered, which weren't really the game's fault. Maybe without the bugs, I would have enjoyed it more.


Vampire: The Masquerade ó Parliament of Knives, by Jeffrey Dean
autumnc's Rating:

The Master of the Land, by Pseudavid
autumnc's Rating:

Excalibur, by J. J. Guest, G. C. Baccaris, and Duncan Bowsman
autumnc's Rating:

You are SpamZapper 3.1, by Leon Arnott

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Life on the internet, November 24, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2021

This game is incredible. It almost invokes the same kind of energy that playing SPY INTRIGUE for the first time did. It doesnít quite reach those heights for me, but itís still an amazing experience. Itís also a more straightforward, less player-hostile experience.

The author is the creator of the Harlowe format for Twine, and this game makes very good use of twine as a medium. It uses various styles and visual effects extensively, and overall the interface looks beautiful. There are lots of click to advance segments, but that was okay; the story was well written and I enjoyed it. I played it on mobile and was engrossed for all two hours of playtime.

The premise is a little reminiscent of (Spoiler - click to show)Starbreakers from this comp which might be a spoiler for both games. The use of philosophy in this game reminded me of Universal Hologram (not necessarily any specific bits of worldbuilding, just the way philosophical concepts are deployed).

The plot and writing are great. I love how the world is gradually built up and characters and concepts are introduced. The emails are excellent as a vehicle for characterization; I just like epistolary stories I guess. The spam emails are funny and better written than they have any right to be, and I like the little details and nods to real internet culture (that REPLY ALL thread. people clicking on links that are obviously viruses. spoofing sender fields in emails). The game mechanic of zap or approve is nice; I like returning to the mundane after the deep philosophical segments about the nature of consciousness.

If I have any complaint, itís that parts of it stretched on for too long. There were just so many words, and the midgame (after Laurieís problem has been revealed) had too much drudgery. I enjoyed discovering new concepts more than I did trying to recall some piece of spam I read an hour ago. After some time, I didnít find the long conversations between the programs very interesting, so I clicked quickly and skimmed through. Some of their quirks started to grate on me after hours of playing.

But Iím just looking for things to criticize at this point. This game is one of my favorites of IFComp 2021.

There are quite a number of games in IFComp 2021 that have stories within stories and broadly deal with online ďfandomĒ topics: SpamZapper, A Paradox Between Worlds (my own game), extraordinary_fandoms.exe, The Dead Account, maybe even And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One. 2021 is truly the year of the Online in IFComp.


Secret Little Haven, by Victoria Dominowski
autumnc's Rating:

Goat Game, by Kathryn Li

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A workplace drama with many endings, November 24, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2021

First of all, I love the art and the animated gifs. This game probably has the best art of all the games I've seen at the comp.

This is a workplace drama about an innovative biotech company with a poor safety record. Spoilers for midgame: (Spoiler - click to show)thereís a deadly explosion at the company due to the safety issues, and you decide how to respond: do you stay at the company or quit? It feels rather topical, and comments on the movement towards unionization in high-tech industries.

Overall itís a pretty low-key game. The stakes are high, as shown in the endings, but high in an ordinary, everyday way. Iíve never personally been in a situation like this, but it seems like a realistic exploration of the various tradeoffs in dealing with a difficult workplace - do you try to organize, quit, or just ignore the bad things?

The game itself is much shorter than the labeled 2 hours, taking only about 15 minutes per playthrough. However, there are 15 endings, which are based on a combination of the final choice (leave or stay), along with the stats of work, social, and opportunity. I got all of them; I got kind of obsessed with finding all the endings, and I figured it out I think. Without looking at the source!

Spoilers for the endings:
(Spoiler - click to show)
There are only three choices that affect the ending: the first one deciding whether you like the work, what to do about the underground secrets, and the answer you give to the interviewer. The stats can be low, med, or high.

First choice:

I like working here: +work (work is med)
I like living here: +social (social is med)
I donít like working here: +opportunity (opportunity is med)

Second choice:

Donít find the secret: +work only if work is low
Sign the petition: +social only if social is low
Donít sign the petition: +opportunity only if opportunity is low

Third choice:

Defend your work: +work if there is only one med or work is low
Criticize your work: +social if there is only one med or social is low
No comment: +opportunity if there is only one med or opportunity is low

So this leaves seven configurations (there are multiple choice combinations for some of these configurations):

++Work (like working here, don't find the secret, defend your work)
++Social (like living here, sign the petition, criticize)
++Opportunity (don't like working here, don't sign the petition, no comment)
+Work, +social (like working here, sign the petition, defend or criticize)
+work, +opportunity (like working here, don't sign the petition, no comment or defend)
+social, +opportunity (like living here, don't sign the petition, no comment or criticize)
+work, +social, +opportunity (like working here, sign the petition, no comment)

For each of these combinations, you can either stay or quit. However, this only gives us 14 endings. The last ending requires having all 14 of the previous endings, and will automatically unlock. ItísÖ kind of supernatural/dream-like? It suggests a way out of this mess, in solidarity, but doesnít make a firm commitment.

Honestly, I was a little disappointed at the final ending; I thought there would be a more definite conclusion that justified the time I invested, but it wasnít really there. It was even more ambiguous than the other endings.

But maybe thatís the point. Maybe the point is, all the effort we put into systems that donít care about us is futile. Maybe I really should be spending time with my friends instead of figuring out how to get the 15th ending in an interactive fiction game about goats.


BLK MTN, by Laura Paul

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Dark Americana road trip story, November 24, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2021

This belongs to a certain genre of twines: literary-inclined, mostly linear twine game that uses text and choice aesthetically? This is a genre, right?

This game makes use of a dark Americana/Southern Gothic aesthetic with a road trip narrative, somewhat resembling Kentucky Route Zero or Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. It's a pessimistic game about traveling through modern/historical America, in a world that's familiar yet frightening, hostile and hospitable in equal measures.

This story is surreal, unstuck in time. I thought it was close to the modern day until I saw the literal (Spoiler - click to show)Timothy McVeigh (I could brush off the Civil War battlefield as a hallucination). Then I wondered what year this was. There were references to segregation. Then I saw the hotel wifi. And then I got to the titular Black Mountain College and meet people who fled from Nazi Germany who have Wikipedia page links. It doesnít really have a defined time or place (kind of like KR0).

BLK MTN has two phases: one during a road trip in Texas and the southern US, the other at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. I enjoyed the first part more, and in fact I thought the whole story was going to be the road trip. I loved Ashleigh as a character and I wanted to see more of her. The story slowed down after arriving at the college, I feel like. It fell into what seemed to me like a didactic mode, trying to teach us about these people and this forgotten slice of history, dropping Wikipedia links for all the mentioned historical figures. The ending of the story feels a little unearned. (Spoiler - click to show)Itís supposed to be about Jackson finding a community and belonging, but that didnít feel right?

There was one sex scene which was very uncomfortable, which I guess is the point. Actually it wasnít a sex scene, just a... physical intimacy scene? It was very well written.

I usually prefer a more terse, less ornate style of writing, with less text in each passage/segment, which is not at all this game's style. But I thought that this game was very well written. It can be very verbose, but it's also one of the few IFComp games that I replayed, because there are a lot of interesting pieces to it. Personally, I think it's one of the more underrated games in IFComp 2021.

Replaying, I found that itís very easy to skip Ashleighís path entirely, to never even meet her and arrive at Black Mountain College almost immediately after the opening scene. I feel like that skips out on the most interesting part of the story. And that brings up a broader point: in a lot of twines that try to add in choice into what was conceptualized as a single narrative, Iíve found that often the choices are essentially, do you want to see this cool and interesting content or do you want to be boring and skip it. Do you pick the cool choice or the boring choice. I do this in my games too. I feel like there should be a term for this pattern. Itís hard to avoid! A few games are really good at constantly laying a path forward, like Birdland, or a lot of the Choice of Games. But plenty of otherwise excellent pieces of IF donít do this well; they donít provide a strong vocabulary of choice. I donít know how to do this consistently either. At least, maybe we should signpost somehow that a choice will skip half the story.

Going back to the game, on the path where I skipped the road trip there are still references to Ash even though Iíve never met her. And I think that Marisol recognized Jackson even though they hadnít met in that playthrough. I think this is a continuity error? Or maybe it doesnít even matter given the hallucinatory nature of everything that happens.


4x4 Archipelago, by Agnieszka Trzaska

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A wonder of twine and procedural generation, November 22, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2021

This game was really addicting. I didnít expect to finish it in one sitting (nor should I have, given the hour), but I did so anyway. What can I say, I like watching numbers go up.

This is a huge game with a ton of content, and based on other reviews and comments, I donít think Iíve explored nearly all of it. It is a wonder not just of procedural generation, but also of twine in general. It is a full-blown RPG, with a central quest, sidequests, character progression, a combat system, and an economy. The initial character and quest are randomly generated, as is the titular 4x4 archipelago, where all islands have a geography, dungeons, sidequests, and random events. Some character builds are easier than others; combat is obligatory so characters with combat or magic as a skill will have an advantage. The ďgathering storiesĒ subplot is very good for starting out and is only available to players with charisma. I do wish the trading and economic aspects got some more love; itís very easy to totally exhaust all trading opportunities.

There was an article by Emily Short about ďprocedural oatmealĒ (riffing off an idea from Kate Compton), which was the idea that procedurally generated content is often just plain boring. Itís like pouring bowls of oatmeal with the same flavors, but just with the oats shifted in position. Basically, a lot of times procedurally generated content doesnít matter; itís just there for show, to pump out content, and all of the content feels the same.

4x4 Archipelago is, for the most part, not ďprocedural oatmealĒ. Even ignoring the procgen aspect, it still works as a story and a game; the game systems are very good, and the writing is also quite good, and also the scope is limited so repetition is harder to see. Itís hard to even tell that the game was procgen, which I suppose is a compliment? The only part of the game that seemed ďoatmeal-likeĒ for me were the island stories collected as part of the charisma sidequest (they were just background decoration, it felt like). Some of the island descriptions also kind of blended together for me.

Overall, the game reminded me of Voyageur in how the story and mechanical pieces fit together with procgen content (Voyageur also has a ďcollecting stories from different places and selling them at the universityĒ mechanic; I wouldnít be surprised if the author had played Voyageur). Unlike Voyageur, 4x4A is limited in its geographical scope. A single game is confined to 16 locations; itís not potentially infinite. This is for the better imo, as it avoids the feeling of repetition and oatmeal-ness that crept into Voyageur towards the end.

I was a little confused by the fact that all travel takes the exact same time across the archipelago (my instinct was to visit the closest islands first). But I understand why this makes sense for gameplay and implementation reasons.

At some point, the game started to feel like grinding. I kept playing because I wanted to finish, but it started to feel like busy work instead of fun. The combat system is a little tedious, and I was annoyed that I was missing most of my attacks. This is not really the fault of this game in particular, as pretty much all RPGs and ďopen worldĒ games have this problem, but part of why Iím into interactive fiction is to get away from that, to experience more compact, self-contained stories.


Universal Hologram, by Kit Riemer

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A game about being extremely online, November 22, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2021

Universal Hologram is a game about becoming unmoored from reality, about how living your entire life on the internet turns you into a shell of a person (a situation that none of us relates to, I'm sure). It is also about astral projection and the simulation hypothesis. It is also a critique of utilitarianism. It's about a lot of things, and it's really good.

First of all, I love the pictures. Thereís something about the AI-generated art style thatís just perfect for this story, and the specific images that are chosen always fits perfectly for the given scene. The soundtrack is nice and provides a good, unobtrusive ambience for reading, until it becomes terrifying in the appropriate scenes.

The writing alternates between a surreal and introspective style (mostly in the narration), and a hyper-self-aware, detached, irony-poisoned style (mostly in the dialogue). Overall I would like to describe the writing as ďextremely onlineĒ; it reads like "weird twitter", basically. And I found the writing really funny! The juxtaposition of the philosophical and ironic styles makes me want to laugh. I know some other reviewers criticized the style as being hostile, but it worked for me, maybe because I'm used that kind of dialogue. Sometimes the story comes close to dropping the veil of irony and radiates some sincere and even painful emotions. Those parts hit awfully close to home, especially that scene with Dion.

Much of the game is linear, with click-to-advance inline links, with very short passages. I liked that style. There are occasional moments of nonlinearity, like choosing which pyramid to visit, but the game always guides the player towards advancing the main plot. However, there are significant branch points, including choosing whether or not to pursue the main plot at all. I haven't explored the paths that seem to go off-course.

I thought this would be like consciousness hologram , but it is not like Consciousness Hologram. Whereas CH was depressed and melancholic, UH has this wild exuberance about it. Actually both games are comprised of the same emotional palettes but in different quantities; CH on the darker side and UH on the lighter side.

I think one reason I might have appreciated UH more than some of the other reviewers is that Iíve played CH before. CH is a much more expansive game, with more ďgame-likeĒ segments of exploration, heavy worldbuilding, and a deep philosophical exploration of utilitarianism. The details of the world are harder to come by in UH, requiring some link deep-diving, so some people might be confused by whatís going on. And itís a really interesting world with complex philosophical underpinnings, so Iíd recommend that you play Consciousness Hologram.


The Last Night of Alexisgrad, by Milo van Mesdag

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
It still works in single-player, November 22, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2021

I didn't play this game correctly. I played this as a single-player game, playing both sides of the story. Maybe much of the experience would be very different if I had played it correctly.

The setting is really good, and the backstory feels like the real story here. Alexisgrad is a republican city-state bordering a larger Kingdom, which has been through a recent (attempted) revolution that devolved into civil war and was ended by a compromise with the old government, but not before everything has broken down. Seizing this opportunity, the Kingdom decides to invade and conquer the city in its moment of weakness. It all feels incredibly bleak, and incredibly real, which is a credit to the excellent writing as well as the amount of thought put into the worldbuilding.

I thought that the Generalís side was not as interesting as the Dictatorís side. The choices for the General in the first half of the game feel like really nitty-gritty tactical decisions: do you lead the attack yourself or send a subordinate to do it, do you use infantry or cavalry, stuff like that. I donít know if those choices really matter, if they have some obscured or delayed hidden effects. On the other hand, the choices for the Dictator feel a bit more weighty throughout. The personal stakes for the General are much lower; itís never his life thatís on the line. Personally, I would feel more interested if the Generalís decisions were more strategic or morally involved or expressive in some other way.

In my playthrough I picked all the ďniceĒ options when they were available, and ended with the (Spoiler - click to show)Dictator being able to escape with her life (there are many endings, which I haven't tried to explore). Which was in accordance with how I usually play RPGs. I have no idea how the experience would have changed if I was playing with someone else. I can imagine it being an awkward experience if the players have different goals or levels of investment. I feel like thereís something missing with the player-player interactions. The method of interaction feels like silently passing notes, but the notes can only contain a single word. It doesn't feel... kinetic? Dynamic? The communication method feels like it's at a remove from the story, when the story itself is often about communication in a very direct way, in the negotiations between the two main characters. Then again, I didn't play it with another person, so maybe your experience is entirely different and I'm totally off-base here. Maybe the players are supposed to interact out of the game?

Anyway, this was quite interesting to read/play through, even playing as one person. I enjoyed the experience, and I really appreciate that the game is trying something new, something that maybe hasn't been seen in IFComp before?


Beneath Fenwick, by Pete Gardner

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Act 1 of a puzzly horror game, November 22, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2021

First impression: The PCís name is Jennifer Hedgerow and sheís a botany student. Wow. This is a comedy right? *Checks blurb* oh.

Jennifer Hedgerow doesn't feel like a horror name, or a Lovecraftian name. There is music here, which feels unobtrusive; I don't think much is lost by playing it without music. I like the interface, especially the pop-up asides. Sense of Harmony from 2020 used that to great effect. Actually, this game reminds me of Sense of Harmony for a number of reasons.

Beneath Fenwick is one of several games in IFComp 2021 to use a parser-like mechanic in twine, with locations, inventory, puzzles, and so on. Of those games, I think this is the one that goes furthest; it feels more parser-like than any of the other twine games with similar ideas. And it works! It works quite well! The systems are implemented in a nice, bug-free way. Overall, the game is constructed very well, with a great UI, good writing, and an interesting setting and plot. I was always interested in what the game would throw at me next!

Navigation and travel can be kind of tedious. At several points I was wandering through the whole town trying to find the necessary thing to progress the story. It felt like lawnmower-ing, and it threw the pacing off a bit.

None of the characters act like human beings. Of course, being townspeople in a Lovecraftian story, they might not actually be human beings. But even the outsider protagonists act in strange ways. The first puzzle was kind of ridiculously contrived. The (Spoiler - click to show)escaping-the-rabid-dog-by-going-to-an-abandoned-mill puzzle was just weird and felt a little out of place. Is there no animal control in this area? Or even villagers with weapons or traps or any sense of self-preservation whatsoever? Itís weird that barely escaping from the dog with your life canít be discussed with anyone (maybe it was discussed, but I forgot). But maybe this is all for the sake of Lovecraft-ness and thatís the point.

The game just... stops. There really isnít an ending. It feels like an Act 1. In 2020, Sense of Harmony was another game to do this. I think I preferred Sense of Harmony because of the characters and plot.

I hope this doesnít sound overly nitpicky; I really enjoyed Beneath Fenwick and Iím really looking forward to the next chapter, if/when it comes!


Compassionate Simulation, by Rachel Swirsky, P H Lee, Aster Fialla
autumnc's Rating:

The good people, by Pseudavid
autumnc's Rating:

A Bathroom Myth, by Anya Johanna DeNiro
autumnc's Rating:

They Will Not Return, by John Ayliff
autumnc's Rating:

Taco Fiction, by Ryan Veeder
autumnc's Rating:

Reigns: Her Majesty, by Leigh Alexander, Devolver Digital, FranÁois Alliot, Nerial
autumnc's Rating:

Anonymous Connection, by moniker ersatz
autumnc's Rating:

Sentry, by JoshLabelle
autumnc's Rating:

I Told You This Was A Bad Idea, by Jessica Padkin
autumnc's Rating:

Binary, by Stephen Granade

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short story about binary choices, September 15, 2021

This story felt to me a lot like a much abbreviated version of Analogue: A Hate Story. If you've played that game, then the comparison itself might be a spoiler. This game is short enough that the premise kind of *is* the plot twist. (Spoiler - click to show)One difference is that Hyun-ae of Analogue destroyed the ship out for revenge, while Almira the stationmaster here destroyed the station out of a utilitarian ethical calculation.

I really enjoyed this. The choices are mostly binary choices until near the end; at first I thought there would only be two verbs (approach or withdraw), but there are others, like conversation options. All paths lead to the stationmaster telling the protagonist about the events that occurred aboard the ship, and then the protagonist deciding whether or not to agree or sympathize with the stationmaster. I liked the writing and flow of the story, the way everything came together at the end, and the final choice.

Anyway, the game takes less than 10 minutes, so it's pretty easy to try out.


VERSUS: The Lost Ones, by Zachary Sergi
autumnc's Rating:

What Girls Do In The Dark, by olivebranche
autumnc's Rating:

Sordwin: The Evertree Saga, by Thom Baylay

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Supernatural investigative mystery, August 30, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: hosted games

Sordwin is one of the deepest and broadest Hosted Games that I've played. It is a mystery game with one central mystery and many smaller mysteries, all connected together in a tangled web of relationships, lies, and secrets that the player will have to unravel. I enjoyed playing this game a great deal, and I've played it many times to see more of the possibilities.

The game is a sequel to the earlier Evertree Inn, and copies and expands on its predecessor's mechanics. There is a time-based mechanic, where within certain blocks of time, the player has a great deal of freedom to investigate various locations and leads, in a hub-and-spoke design (there's a time limit that restricts how much investigation can be done). It's a much more freeform structure than is typical with choicescript games, which encourages replayability and is just fun to play with. There are also "scripted events" at certain times, emergencies that move the plot forward. The mystery itself is very well designed in my opinion. While there is a clue system that keeps track of many of the events, ultimately the deduction has to be done by the player; even getting all of the clues will not directly give up the answer to the central mystery.

Sordwin is set in the same world as Evertree Inn, which is loaded with typical Western fantasy tropes - elves, dwarves, wizards, and all that. But within these confines, the worldbuilding is pretty interesting - the mysteries of the island of Sordwin itself are quite involved. I enjoyed the writing and characters; the inhabitants of the island are all more complex than they seem at first. This isn't a romance game, but if that were pursued in the first game, then the romanced character carries over and plays a major role here. It's incredible to me how well the author has managed the possibility for combinatorial explosion, given all the options present between the two games, which becomes even more of an issue in the third game in this series.

Like the mechanics, the game's stat system is copied over from Evertree Inn, and the character build from Evertree Inn is basically fixed, without opportunities to radically change. I don't think the game is heavily stats-driven, in that basically any character build is valid, but playing with different builds unlocks different possibilities.


The Wayward Story, by Ralfe Rich (as Cristmo Ibarra)
autumnc's Rating:

Photopia, by Adam Cadre
autumnc's Rating:

♥Arachne♥, by fractoluminous
Succinct, atmospheric story , June 25, 2021

I'm really into this game. It's short (maybe ~5 minutes to completion), and succeeds at story-telling and mood-setting with a minimum of words, and has interesting use of interactivity.

In summary, the story takes place within a confined "two pace" room, where the cybernetically augmented protagonist is trapped and forced to do sentiment analysis for customer support or something like that. The story is about trying to break free, about connecting to others in the same place to find an escape from the confines of this world. I feel like the influence from howling dogs is palpable.

The story is very short, with a lot of repeated segments that change upon re-viewing; it's necessary to go through a lot of links multiple times. I actually enjoy the repetition because it gives a game-like structure to the story I guess? And like, the whole representation of being trapped. All of the individual segments were evocative and well-written, worldbuilding without worldbuilding. Even the sentiment-analysis "minigame" was somehow kind of fun.


A Normal Lost Phone, by Dear Villagers
autumnc's Rating:

Donor, by Elena Hearty
autumnc's Rating:

Homebound, by Troy Atkinson, Luke Holdstock, Harriet Slee, Lizzi Osborne

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Reigns-like about everyday life in the pandemic, June 24, 2021

This game came out in July 2020 and it already feels like a historical relic, a snapshot of a different time.

This is a Reigns-like game about navigating daily life during the Covid-19 pandemic. Like most such games, the gameplay consists of receiving "cards" which are binary action choices, usually either to engage in an action or disengage. You have three stats: happiness, energy, and productivity, and any of them falling to zero is a game over. For example, taking a walk at night might increase your happiness and decrease energy, while staying in bed would do the opposite.

There's a wide range of different cards, all lovingly illustrated. They're all everyday choices, like deciding what you're going to eat, or whether to sleep or go on social media. Choices can sometimes have impacts further down the line, creating mini plot threads. The cards reference some memes from early pandemic era, like the mysterious seed packets, which feel like they're from decades ago already, one year later. Everything just happens so much.

To me, it almost felt like an idealistic fantasy version of the quarantine. There's only one card that references the protagonist's work-from-home job, and no reference to money; money isn't even considered a resource in this game. Unlike in real life, it's incredibly easy to do what you decide to do, with no such thing as just being too depressed to get up, no factors that affect your ability to make choices in the first place. It's rather easy to optimize the stats by balancing out the choices. But it wouldn't be fun if the game was any other way, I guess.


36 Questions, by Dietrich Squinkifer (Squinky)
A story about connections, June 22, 2021

"36 Questions" is based on a psychological study-turned-meme, where there are supposedly 36 questions that two strangers ask each other that would make them fall in love with each other. The questions are all about gradually moving beyond your comfort zone, starting off simple and eventually going deeper and deeper into private secrets.

The game has a simple premise, and it follows through to the end. The premise is that the world is ending, and you (the player/reader) are stuck with the author somewhere, so you do the 36 questions with each other. The author says their answer, and then there's a free text-entry box for the player to enter their answer (it's not saved anywhere).

I really appreciated reading through the anecdotes of the author's life, and I was inspired to attempt to type some meaningful answers of my own, in a virtual act of fictitious reciprocity. It's a contemplative game, inviting me as the reader to reflect upon my own circumstances, to think about some things that I don't really think about very often. But there's always a part of me that feels strange gazing into another person's life like this...


Golden Threads | 黄金线索, by Allan Xia, Renee Liang

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A collection of historical stories, June 14, 2021

Golden Threads is a time-cave style twine game about Chinese diaspora experiences in the 19th century, with a focus on immigrants to New Zealand. As usual with time caves, there is a plethora of different endings, the path from start to end is usually very short, and it is difficult to predict the effect of each choice (going to San Francisco and staying there leads to a quick death). Many of the routes are based on historical figures, who are named in the endings. This is supposed to be an educational game I think, and I did end up learning something about the history of Chinese immigrants to New Zealand, especially about some interesting historical figures. The writing was concise and straightforwardly readable, in a nonfiction voice.

The visual style, art, and music/sound are all excellent, but I felt like the music was a bit wasted because of how quickly the endings were reached. I really liked the art style and presentation though. I originally thought there wasn't a restart button, but I had to zoom out to see it (the game was meant for full screen I guess). Overall, it's a brief game to experience, and easy to play through many times.


willow blossoms, by Meg Sharp

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
willow blossoms, May 28, 2021

I liked this game, but it feels kind of wrong ďreviewingĒ it. It feels autobiographical, but more than that it feels confessional, like a diary. It doesnít feel like something for general consumption.

Description of the main plot: (Spoiler - click to show) the story is about a teenager who just graduated high school. She had recently made a suicide attempt which left her hospitalized, and caused her to miss her graduation and prom. So her two best friends give her something like a prom, with just the three of them. Overall, itís a rather uplifting story, as far as "twines about mental illness" go. Itís a story about recovery, of moving on from a traumatic moment. The dialogue all feels pretty well-realized; some meta moments almost make it seem like they're copied from the author's own conversations.

In terms of interactivity, well, for the most part the story acts as a kinetic novel. Links usually act as pacing mechanisms. There are a few moments of choice, but I donít think there are any downstream consequences. Using choice mechanics to represent mental illness is a common trend in twine, and itís occasionally done here as well. I'm not a fan of how the screen flickers when clicking on a link, but that's a common twine issue.

The story builds its mood through its musical choices, provided as youtube links. The musical choices are kind of... twee, I guess? Is that the right word? But itís dangerously similar to my own tastes so I enjoyed it. Actually, the previous sentence sort of applies to my experience of the story as a whole.


normal_fantasies.exe, by Storysinger Presents

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A lot of unrealized potential..., May 23, 2021

This game belongs in the nascent genre of "games about online relationships that simulate a computer interface", along with stuff like Digital: A Love Story, Emily is Away, Secret Little Haven, Lore Distance Relationship, Lost Memories Dot Net, and maybe A Normal Lost Phone (there has to be a better name for this genre). The game is about a woman who gets an AI gf via Facebook, who is getting cyberbullied (and irl-bullied) for unspecified reasons, who uses the AI gf as a way of coping with irl problems.

There's a lot of potential with this concept, but the game doesn't follow through. There's a pervasive lack of specificity, like the game is refusing to take a position on any of the ideas it presents. The characterization is sparse; we know that the protagonist is a lesbian college student who's kind of sad, but that's all we know about her. Is she supposed to be a reader-insert? I did not feel connected to the protagonist even though I'm the kind of person who would be interested in AI companions. If the protagonist were to be a reader insert, then there should probably be more dialogue options to address a wider range of possibilities. If she's supposed to be a specific person, then there should be more characterization. The backstory in general is pretty vague, in contrast to many other games in this genre which are often all backstory. The chats with AI gf were decently written and could be interesting, but they're hindered by a lack of depth.

The elephant in the room is the question of why there so much bullying against the protagonist. It didn't feel believable to me. Things like that don't happen just randomly; these are modern college students, not elementary school kids. I don't think it's supposed to be homophobia. Part of me thinks that Facebook is deliberately engineering a bullying campaign against her so that she seeks out the AI gf (shades of its emotional manipulation research). But there's no textual evidence to support that.

There's a static Facebook interface implemented, but the amount of actual interactions is highly constrained; most of the text that one would assume to be links actually do nothing. The images used are all obviously stock photos, which really throws me off, and makes it harder for me to be immersed in the story. I would feel better if there were only text posts. This relates to the lack of specificity; none of the characters feel like people or even characters, besides maybe the AI gf. I want to say that it's a deliberate choice, to make the AI gf the center of the protagonist's life, but it didn't really work for me. I couldn't suspend disbelief.

This is a rather short game, about 10-20 minutes for me. The game is a gauntlet until the final choice, with two potential endings. I enjoyed playing through it, but I feel like it could have been more.


consciousness hologram, by Kit Riemer

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
An actual legit review (I liked this game), May 22, 2021

I'm still thinking about "consciousness hologram" days after I finished playing it. Which means that it was probably a success.

This game feels like a callback to an earlier era of twine. It echoes a lot of the stylistic elements present in porpentine's work, especially howling dogs. The opening was especially reminiscent: you play as some person living in a vaguely futuristic controlled environment (a Martian pyramid habitat), being fed synthesized semi-foods, with heavy suggestions that you live in a simulation.

As with howling dogs, the basic mechanic is a progression over several days, where on each day you wake up in your room and do stuff to escape your despair. Unlike with howling dogs, there is a quite bit more "freedom" for the player character (but not necessarily for the player): they can visit different areas of the habitat, try to contact various acquaintances, and eventually exit for a walk on the surface. But most of these choices are proscribed in some way, either by the AIs that run the habitat or the protagonist's own mental state. This is a story about depression, after all. So the story ends up being mostly linear, with a few major choices that are not necessarily marked as such until near the ending. There are multiple endings, but I haven't replayed to try to see them.

I had some trouble getting past the first day: (Spoiler - click to show)I visited the archive room first before visiting James' old room and the air filter, so I didn't know what to do with the code. I didn't realize that I had to go back to the archive and try to view James' files again.

There is a lot going on in the game. Multiple narrators talk in different fonts and colors. The writing is sometimes obscure in the way that twine games circa 2012 often were. Random physical objects are imbued with both metaphorical meaning and power within the game universe. Links-as-character-actions are mixed with pure hypertext. Everything is interspersed with thematically relevant quotes from utilitarian writers, transhumanists, and the like. It's great at establishing a sense of tension and anxiety, and overwhelming the reader with a kaleidoscope of ideas, but makes the main narrative a bit hard to follow.

As explained in the afterword, the main rhetorical angle here is kind of a reductio ad absurdum of the transhumanist utopia. It's fully automated luxury space communism, but people aren't happier, because they are still lonely and isolated and don't have a reason to live. Some of the transhumanist quotes seem to be placed in a way to show the absurdity or horror inherent in these ideas. "Wireheadding" is a concept that's played around a bit; (Spoiler - click to show) the Martian habitat has extensively used brain stimulation techniques to make people happier and to reduce aggression, but it only succeeded in the latter; depression and suicide (or "opting out") are ever-present plagues. You later discover that your friend James had committed suicide in an attempt to attack the system. But at the end of the story, in the ending I reached, there's still a sense of hope. Even though you're just living in a simulation, because you managed to connect with at least one other person.

Overall, I think this story worked for me partly because I'm predisposed to enjoy the "early 2010s twine" aesthetic. "Thought provoking" is a vague and generic descriptor, but this game really did make me think about its ideas. I'm not sure if I agree with it at the end, but it was worth experiencing.


One Week, by Papillon
autumnc's Rating:

Keeper of the Day and Night, by Brynn Chernosky
autumnc's Rating:

Lux, City of Secrets, by Thom Bailey
autumnc's Rating:

[PYG]MALION*, by C.J.
autumnc's Rating:

Some Space, by rittermi
autumnc's Rating:

Lady Thalia and the Seraskier Sapphires, by E. Joyce and N. Cormier
autumnc's Rating:

A Blank Page, by Edu SŠnchez
autumnc's Rating:

Missed Messages, by Angela He
autumnc's Rating:

A(s)century, by Austin Walker
autumnc's Rating:

Unbeknown, by A. DeNiro

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A great sci-fi short story, March 14, 2021

I first played this game during IFComp 2015, and recently just re-played it. I think it holds up pretty well, especially when seen as a part of Anya DeNiro's greater body of work.

Compared to the author's other works, I feel like this story is more straightforward, less literary for the sake of being literary. And that's really saying something, because this story is plenty complicated, at least at first. It starts out taking place within a (Spoiler - click to show)VR video game, a survival game kind of reminiscent of Rust. And then things gradually get weirder. Your identity is called into question. Until it ends with a scene explaining the entirety of the premise.

People have said that the game has very limited interactivity, and that's basically accurate. But compared to DeNiro's previous stories, this story has greater agency in terms of embodying the player character. Solarium and We Are the Firewall are basically hypertext fiction, with no player-embodiment agency to speak of, but they seem more interactive because there are more links, more bells and whistles on the page to play with. This game follows more of an adventure format. For most of the story, the player character is deliberately disempowered; they don't have much control over their own life or actions due to outside forces and being placed in an unknown situation. This at least gives some justification for the lack of choice.

I really enjoyed the writing. Some of its cyberpunk-esque story elements are kind of reminiscent of We Are the Firewall, but here they're presented in a much more straightforward way. There's a meditation on personal identity and even some nods to trans-ness.

At the end, a character basically tells the entire backstory to the player (on ending 2). I'm not sure if this was the right decision, as I would have preferred for some sense of mystery to be preserved, or to have the chance to figure out the mystery on my own (which is part of what I loved about Solarium and Firewall).


Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Heart of the Forest, by Different Tales

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An environmentalist family mystery that happens to have werewolves, March 12, 2021

Heart of the Forest (or HotF for short) is one of a recent series of works set in the World of Darkness tabletop universe, along with two Vampire: the Masquerade visual novels (Coteries/Shadows of New York), VtM - Night Road from Choice of Games, and some other games I haven't played probably. Those games were about vampires; this game is about werewolves. The mythology and continuity are taken very seriously (I would guess; I'm not that familiar with WoD).

The most ready comparisons for this game would be the aforementioned VtM visual novels and Night Road. Like the VtM visual novels, this game really excels at atmosphere. The art, the music, the sounds, and the writing all cohere to create a deeply creepy atmosphere. It works extremely well at transporting the player to the forests of the werewolves, at instilling the game's desired emotions into players' minds. As a game written in Ink, it is more interactive than the visual novels, but somewhat less so than Night Road. There is a simplified version of the Werewolf: the Apocalypse character sheet (as opposed to the full character sheet in Night Road and none in the VNs), with delayed branching based on stat checks.

The game is a little short for a commercial game (much shorter than Night Road and slightly shorter than the VtM visual novels), and you don't really spend a lot of time being a werewolf; it's only in the last third that you transform. The politics of environmentalism and family history are the primary themes of the pre-werewolf story. And that story is really good! It has interesting characters, complex political conflicts, and an engrossing, potentially supernatural mystery that all fall by the wayside when the werewolves show up. In fact, I would almost have preferred a whole game in that vein. Discovering that you're "just" a werewolf destroys some of the mystical aspects of the story; it slots you into a rigid classification system with highly specified rules and logic (thanks to the TTRPG). I feel like the authors just wanted to write a story about the Puszcza Białowieska, and had to add werewolves to satisfy their investors.

But the werewolf story is pretty good too. I didn't know much about the WtA universe before, and I feel like I do now. The most interesting parts to me were when you first transform, and go into a frenzy without knowing what's going on. And then you're introduced to the werewolf classes and subclasses and factions and have to take a test to pick a class. And then that's it; you get an epilogue after picking a faction. I kind of wish there was more, but I don't know how it would continue.


Swan Hill, by Laura Michet
autumnc's Rating:

Cactus Blue Motel, by Astrid Dalmady
autumnc's Rating:

And the Robot Horse You Rode in On, by Anna Anthropy
autumnc's Rating:

Academic Pursuits (As Opposed To Regular Pursuits), by ruqiyah
autumnc's Rating:

80 DAYS, by inkle, Meg Jayanth
autumnc's Rating:

10pm, by litrouke
autumnc's Rating:

Superstition S1, by 13Leagues
autumnc's Rating:

American Election, by Greg Buchanan

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A mythology of American politics, March 11, 2021

This was an interesting piece of interactive fiction. The writing on the prose level is excellent, and despite the topic, I was really engrossed playing it (the music and graphics are excellent). But I have mixed feelings about some of the ideas presented here.

So, this is a story about a loosely fictionalized version of the 2016 US presidential election. The protagonist is Abigail Thoreau, a mixed race lesbian who, for whatever reason, decides to work as a campaign staffer for the analogue of the former US president, here named Truman Glass.

American Election is a story about the narratives we create for ourselves, and the narratives others create for us. The key to the game is the reflective choice: what do you believe, why are you doing this. Because your actual choices have already been decided; Abi is already doing what sheís going to do. But why does she support Glass? Is it about 9/11? Is it about her breakup with her girlfriend, or her falling-out with her father? Is it out of actual ideological support or just to become someone who matters? All of this is about constructing a narrative around Abi's personal history, creating a sense of who she is as a person. Ultimately, it doesnít matter; theyíre all self-serving justifications. The narrative Abi creates for herself is implicitly compared with the narrative Glass creates for the American people, and the one he has created privately for himself. All of these stories are self-serving; all contain lies to some extent.

One of the most important scenes to me is when (Spoiler - click to show)Abi visits her deceased fatherís house with Glass. Glass is spinning a tale about her father, about how he was a patriotic left-behind American who waves the confederate flag, and then Abi has a choice to just walk away. Abi knew her father as an abusive man, who hated what she became; they ended up cutting each other off. I'm not sure if this is an actual choice or a false choice, or what would have happened if she stayed by his side. But leaving felt like the most narratively coherent thing to do, given the reflective choices I made up to that point.

I feel like the game falls prey to the mythologies surrounding the former president. Glass is a much better, much more polished speaker, and is much more actively ideological. The game psychologizes Glassís support base too much, falling prey to the conventional wisdom surrounding his seeming success (and of course neglects the role of turnout and voter suppression). It gives too much power to Glass's narrative, and not enough to the complicated mix of factors that lead to any real-life political victory by any party (there was this one xkcd that said that sports reporting is about building narratives from a pseudorandom number generator; the same can be said of politics). In this, the game perpetuates what it seemingly criticizes. But this game is not about data or demographics. It's about stories. It's a mythology, not a history.

There is at least one British-ism I noticed: ďhired a boatĒ, when it probably should be ďrented a boatĒ.


Stay?, by E. Jade Lomax

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Save the world, or try again, March 9, 2021

Stay? is a game with a time loop as its core mechanic. You'll go back in time over and over in order to save the magical world of the game from a comet that will destroy everything. Each loop took no more than 10-15 minutes, shorter on repeats since you don't have to re-read text, but there might be a lot of loops.

Within each loop, the world can change a great deal. Your choices affect the entire shape of the plot, which runs for a period of 10 years, from entering magical college, through adulthood, until the destruction wrought by the comet. It's kind of a life simulation, where you play through key moments in the player character's life, and skip over years of "boring" stuff. There is a lot of branching; you can win, lose, or avert a war, enter into any number of relationships, pick one of at least three different professions, and either fail or succeed in stopping the comet. By exploring the different branches, you gather information, and eventually can craft a path that allows you to stop the comet's impact. But even if you succeed, you might still redo the time loop because you failed to save a key character.

I really enjoyed this game. I liked the balance between a lighthearted and more serious tone. I enjoyed the relative sparsity of the prose, which belies a lot of complexity and worldbuilding. I liked the depth of characterization; all of them have hidden aspects and secrets that might only become apparent on multiple playthroughs. There is a lot of depth to this game in general.

It took me almost 15 loops to finally defeat the comet, but there is still a lot of content I missed.


Totem Force, by Tom Rayner
autumnc's Rating:

Evertree Inn, by Thom Baylay
autumnc's Rating:

Community College Hero: Trial by Fire, by Eric Moser
autumnc's Rating:

Tin Star, by Allen Gies
autumnc's Rating:

The Vampire House, by Jesse Freeman
autumnc's Rating:

War for the West, by Lucas Zaper
autumnc's Rating:

Relics of the Lost Age, by James Shaw
autumnc's Rating:

Zombie Exodus, by Jim Dattilo
autumnc's Rating:

Fight Forever, by Pako

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Okay..., March 2, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

I'm not sure if this is intentional or unintentional, but this was a darkly funny game.

So, I trained my way up to the Olympics, got a silver medal at the Olympics at age 18, became a pro in Nigeria, and on my first pro fight, died. RIP Sakura. She never had the chance to retire and breed :(

This game can be painfully slow sometimes, with a lot of timed text, and grinding by repeatedly reading generic inspirational quotes by everyone from Mahatma Gandhi to Chairman Mao (you have to wait until the stat upgrade flies in or it won't change your stats). Not getting into the disturbing implications of grinding endurance and "rockstar juice" via "booty calls" (you start at age 15), but it is a thing that happens, and it is your only interaction with other people besides combat and training for combat. Yeah. Beneath the hood, there are a lot of stats, grouped into "mind" and "body". Somehow, these stats affect your chance of victory in fights. The larger the numbers, the better, of course. Victory also probably has a random component. I've noticed that the longer the bar is, the more likely I am to win, but I don't know how the bar is determined.

The main form of entertainment in this game is to watch numbers go up. This is the heart of all management games, and with interactive fiction, you can see game mechanics distilled down to their very essence. It is almost impossible to strategize about where to click because of the opacity of the mechanics. But the more you click, the more numbers go up. The more numbers go up, the more you win. The more you win... well, I don't know what comes next because Sakura died, and I'm not going to replay this to see.


Cover Me In Leaves, by Elliot Herriman
autumnc's Rating:

their angelical understanding, by Porpentine
autumnc's Rating:

Space Adventure Laika, by Ms. Tea

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A dog's one-way journey into space, February 15, 2021

Space Adventure Laika is a rather short (10-20 minutes) twine story written about Laika, the first dog in space. It chronicles her upbringing as a subway-riding Moscow stray, to her capture by scientists, and her suffering as she's placed into a tiny capsule and rocketed on a one-way journey into orbit.

This game is really good at imagining the dog's perspective. The story is divided into present and flashback segments; the present is when Laika is in the space capsule, and the flashbacks show her life as a stray dog. I like the space of possible actions in the "present" scenes; it's a parser game-inflected style, kind of reminiscent of howling dogs, that's effective at conveying a sense of Laika's confinement and her suffering. The flashback segments were well-written and interesting to read; they provide a loosely historical overview of a part of history I didn't know much about. There's some interactivity, but it all leads to a foregone conclusion.

There's recently been another twine game Laika about the same dog, which is more of a fantasy. Playing both games, I think that I prefer this one because of its more historical focus.


Paradigm City, by James Rhoden

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A choicescript dark superhero game, February 15, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: hosted games

This is one of the numerous superhero games originating in the choicescript ecosystem. Similar to the Heroes Rise trilogy and Fallen Hero: Rebirth, which was published a year later, Paradigm City leans towards the darker, more "realistic" side of the genre, towards what TVTropes would call "deconstruction". I enjoyed playing the game, but it isn't as successful for a number of reasons.

Paradigm City takes place in a world where superheros are an accepted part of society, working for governments and organizations as part of their forces. The player character is abandoned as a child to a superhero academy, and later ends up working for a UN (I think) superhero agency called SOLAR. They are sent to the titular Paradigm City, an isolated city run entirely by superpowered individuals, to solve a series of crimes. Of course, things become more complicated. The worldbuilding isn't as extensive as some of the longer choicescript superhero series, but it gets the job done well enough.

The game's writing felt overly vague at times. A lot of events were glossed over or barely explained; to me the most egregious was (Spoiler - click to show)Dawn's death, which jumped straight into the funeral with implications of conspiracy, but wasn't ever explained or resolved. But maybe I just picked the wrong choices? The fight scenes were impressive, but there were only two of those (and one training exercise). The investigation scenes felt like lawnmowering, just picking all the choices until reaching the conclusion. The mysteries weren't all too interesting to me, but mysteries in the usual choicescript stat-based style are hard to do. There is romance and relationship-building, but it feels like an afterthought solely due to the choicescript style. I thought I had started a romance but there was no content afterwards.


Mecha Ace, by Paul Wang

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Early Choice of Game about mecha battles in space, February 12, 2021

Mecha Ace is one of the Choice of Games I've enjoyed and replayed the most, but I'm biased as a fan of the mecha genre. It was one of the relatively early choice of games, from an era where most of the games were genre pastiches. This is a pastiche of the mecha genre, taking the most obvious inspiration from the Gundam franchise (the name options give a pretty good idea of the story's inspirations). The backstory is based on a rebellion of extraterrestrial colonies against the rule of the Earth-based Empire; you play as an elite mech pilot for the rebellion through a few key battles in the war.

There are a lot of things the game does really well. The pacing is impeccable, with a careful balance of action and quieter moments, and a great climactic scene. The plot is well-developed, with interesting twists and developments despite the somewhat familiar setting. Fighting scenes are hard to write in interactive fiction, but Mecha Ace pulls it off as well as anything I've seen. The choices are usually pretty transparent in what stats are being tested, but it's possible to get into a situation where none of your well-developed stats are useful, or to get in a bad situation from picking the wrong decisions much earlier in the game. Getting the "best" endings took multiple playthroughs for me to find a path that worked. It's very easy for side characters to die with little warning, and one might die even on an otherwise ideal ending.

On the other hand, the characters are basically archetypes from similar media (but they're still well-written and have interesting moments), and the romance options were kind of sparse, as if the author were just trying to match the choice of games style. Sometimes, my romantic interest would die and my character would have no reaction. Unlike most choice of games, the stats page doesn't explicitly show the character relationships (but they are being tracked). Romance is not why I'm playing this game.

Overall, for the things it does well, like plot and combat, the game does them very well, and it sometimes elides the more character-driven aspects of other choice of games.


Vesp, by Porpentine

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Unleash wasp chaos, February 9, 2021

Okay, so, I feel like what I write can't really do justice to this story, so... please play it first? As with a lot of other Porpentine stories, major content warnings here for body horror, discussions of trauma and mental healthcare. And insects. The story was about 30 minutes long for me. As with all of Porpentine's stories, it's incredibly well-written and vivid, conveying a ton of information in small bits of text, but confusing at parts. There are cool visual effects, including changing backgrounds and colors, and links exploding in four when moused over.

The world of this story is basically a world where, instead of covid, we have a giant swarm of wasps. Every time people go outside, they have to put on a full-body rubber suit to protect themselves from the wasps. Also this society is a cyberpunk-esque late-capitalist hellscape, but that's a given. The protagonist is basically someone who is so alienated from society that she has more empathy for the wasps than any other humans. She partakes in rituals where she drinks fluids from the wasp queen (who is some kind of sexy anthro wasp?) because it gives a kind of meaning to her life. Meanwhile, she has an ambiguous relationship to a therapist who is the embodiment of the commodification of emotional connection, a surveillance-enabled agent who is really good at outwardly displaying empathy and sympathy for the protagonist (but maybe just wants control and conformity), but is also the protagonist's only connection to other people. The wasp queen leads the protagonist to commit basically a terrorist act that kills bystanders.

Most of the hypertext links in the story are exploratory until the very end, where there's the choice to either accept the therapist or try to escape and join the wasp queen (I'm not sure if it actually leads to different endings; I've only played through once). Ultimately, it's kind of a false choice, because both choices are a surrender of sorts, whether it is to mainstream society or the wasp hive. Both of these options involve the loss of individuality and a subsumption into a greater whole, it's just that one feels viscerally good.

This is another of those stories that hits differently in the post-covid era. It probably clouds my judgment of the protagonist and her actions (this is unfair, but, like, she's literally pro-covid??? is she an anti-vaxxer or anti-masker??? it is *extremely* a stretch to call this a sympathetic portrayal of an anti-masker, but like...).


Star Court, by Anna Anthropy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Randomized sci-fi trial simulator, February 6, 2021

Star Court is a brief twine game (a playthrough is probably less than 10 minutes) with a lot of randomized elements. The conceit is that you're on trial for a crime you may or may not have committed (it doesn't really matter), and you're supposed to try to prove yourself not guilty as well as just survive the trial. It has a whimsical sci-fi pastiche setting with a comedic tone where nothing's really taken seriously. The writing is pretty fun, and I enjoyed playing through the game. Insofar that there is a deeper message or social commentary, it's about the unfairness of the judicial system for the poor, but it's too wacky to really leave much of a message.

In terms of gameplay, there are a few standard phases: pick your lawyer, plead guilty or not guilty, cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses, and call your own witnesses in defense. Then there's a break where you can try to escape (and usually fail), before the trial either concludes or restarts. A lot of the result is randomized (although more expensive witnesses usually give better results). I think eventually I figured out a strategy to win most of the time.

This game is fun to play through a few times, to see the different ways the trial could go. There's a lot of content and replayability, despite the short length of each playthrough. The crimes are randomly determined (it doesn't matter what the crime is). I've seen at least five different "Ancient Rites" (the trial by cat was my favorite), and many different prosecution's witnesses.


Social Lycanthropy Disorder, by E. Joyce
autumnc's Rating:

The Lost Heir 3: Demon War, by Mike Walter

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A mixed conclusion to the trilogy, February 4, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: hosted games

As the conclusion to the Lost Heir trilogy, Demon War contains a mix of positive and troublesome developments. On one hand, it has some of the most interesting and unique narrative segments, and further advances characterization and worldbuilding. On the other hand, the ending has a ridiculous sequence of stat checks that could easily lead to a bad ending if you didn't optimized a number of previously underutilized stats.

The previous game ended with either a pyrrhic victory or a defeat that nevertheless left you, the lost heir, as the last one standing. Your task now is to defeat the evil demon summoner who killed your parents and reclaim your kingdom. This is divided into a number of distinct story sections. It is kind of strange to see a putative monarch do jobs like pretending to be a student at a school. But overall, the new scenes are fun; I thought the ocean voyage and mysterious island chapter was rather memorable. There are also some cool moments when selecting a prestige class, and interesting character-focused scenes with your party. I feel like the quality of the writing has improved with this iteration.

The ending is where things start to come apart. You are forced to rely much more heavily on physical stats, when they were rarely used in the prior two games and even in the earlier parts of this game. Thus, unless you knew about this change, you're basically doomed. All the preparations, all the kingdom-building didn't matter if you don't have enough agility and stamina. I only succeeded when I was using a guide, on my third playthrough or something like that. You basically have to plan for the final scene from the beginning of the first game, which was kind of impossible if you played the games when they were released.

I felt like I enjoyed this game more when playing with a guide (and with a save that used a guide in the previous two games).


Keeper of the Sun and Moon, by Brynn Chernosky

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Magical academy adventure, February 4, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: hosted games

Keeper of the Sun and Moon (or KotSaM) is a comforting game for me. This is in spite of the fact that it contains quite a deal of violence and dangerous situations; I think it's just because of a sense of familiarity, both from playing it a lot and from its use of familiar tropes. It is a very tropey game, taking place in a modern fantasy-kitchen-sink setting, with a hidden society of magical/supernatural beings. You play as a newcomer from a seemingly normal human background, who is discovered to have latent magical ability and is enrolled in a magical college. There, adventures start that involve life-threatening school exams, conspiracies involving the magical government, and potentially romance. The game follows the typical choicescript formula by offering a lot of character customization and numerical growth, a branch-and-bottleneck structure, and a lot of romance/relationship options.

From the description above, the premise resembles a number of quite popular YA literary franchises. But I feel like KotSaM implements the tropes well, and does enough to distinguish itself within its genre. As this is a college setting, the characters are all adults, and the courses and residential system are based on American universities. One of the fun parts of the game is deciding which species of supernatural creature you are; there are tons of possibilities from the gamut of mythological fantasy. Also, this is a setting that mixes modern technology with magic; mathematics and biology come into play a few times.

In general, KotSaM is one of the easier choicescript games, as it's hard to die and I don't think there are "bad endings" (or are there?). The stat checks are usually well telegraphed, but sometimes it's hard to tell how difficult a check would be. Failing stat checks might lead to lower grades or getting injured, but it's not that hard to stumble into a path to moderate success without really designing a specific route (kind of like college I guess). For min-maxers and guide-makers, there are secrets and achievements and hidden romance routes.

The writing is functional for the most part; some of the characters came off as a bit hard to distinguish from each other, and some of the scenes felt a bit vague. Still, the story was easy enough to read, and I generally enjoyed the character interactions. The resolution of the mystery and the reveal of the villain felt a bit anticlimactic. But it sets up for the sequel, which I'm rather looking forward to.


SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD!, by Xalavier Nelson Jr.
autumnc's Rating:

16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds, by Abigail Corfman
autumnc's Rating:

Doggerland, by A. DeNiro

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Autobiographical interactive poem, January 30, 2021

This sort of thing is hard to "review" or discuss; it feels like something deeply personal, as if my presence is an intrusion.

As far as the narrative goes, it's a sequence of poetic vignettes about becoming a parent, and the ongoing fear for future generations as a result of global warming. The title refers to a former land under the current North Sea, a land that submerged as a result of climate change after the Ice Age. What did the people live there think as the land faded away? There are digressions on rural poverty, healthcare, and life changes. The story is very short but dense, about five minutes for me.

As often the case with Anya DeNiro's stuff, the writing has an incredible economy, and interactivity is used to full effect, with a lot of mutating text and cycling links. I absolutely love the way the text is presented, even if the mouse-over effects could get to be too much at times. There were images whose symbolic meanings I didn't exactly understand.

Anyway, it was beautiful and I wanted to cry. It was as if the author could beam a certain mood straight into my brain.


Asteroid Run: No Questions Asked, by Fay Ikin
autumnc's Rating:

Creatures Such As We, by Lynnea Glasser

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Better in retrospect, January 30, 2021

I first played Creatures Such As We a few years ago, and I remember that I didn't think much of it back then. But, after playing it more recently, I've come to appreciate it a lot more.

Creatures Such As We is a metafictional (am I using that term correctly?) story about video games that functions as one of the video games it discusses. On one level, you play as a tour guide on the moon, guiding a group of visiting game developers through various touristy activities. On the other level, your character is playing a game-within-a-game, which happens to be developed by the same group of aforementioned game developers. This game-within-a-game had a highly controversial "bad" ending, almost akin to the original ending of Mass Effect 3 (the author denies it as an influence). The player character suddenly has the opportunity to ask the game developers about the ending. Of course, being a Choice of Game, there is romance here: you can pursue a romantic relationship or friendship with one of the game developers, and you might stay in contact even after they leave. There is a bit of stage magic here; the dramatic life-and-death moments always happen to your chosen romance option. The characters themselves are all well-realized and unique, but they feel sort of like tokens, both demographically and for their particular viewpoints.

All of this is all used as a backdrop for a series of philosophical conversations. The author leads us through "meta" discussions like the role of the author vs the viewer, representation in media, and escapism, and more general philosophical discussions on death and life and stuff. I think this worked better for me now than when I first played this because I have more experience with both making and playing interactive fiction, and I can relate to the issues being discussed more. It felt interesting and engaging in a way that "philosophical discussions in video games" usually don't for me.

Then there's the theme of corporate malfeasance. Your employer cares more about good appearances than the well-being of its employees or the safety of its customers. The visitors to the moon base are regularly put into life-threatening situations with little backup or real information. You are overworked without much free time, and it's clear that there are people even worse off. Then there is a subplot where one of the tourists has a flu-like illness that is covered up; it's obvious that this was made in pre-covid times. At the same time, an EA-like giant gaming corporation is seeking to acquire the game developers, who are somewhat ambivalent about the deal (I don't know if you-as-the-tour-guide can change the outcome here).

Overall, I feel like the setting, characters, game-within-a-game, and philosophical discussions all meshed together really well. I appreciated the meta moments where it felt like the game was critiquing itself.


Worth Waiting, by TheNamelessOne
autumnc's Rating:

Hana Feels, by Gavin Inglis
autumnc's Rating:

Mask of the Plague Doctor, by Peter Parrish
autumnc's Rating:

Ratings War, by Eddy Webb
autumnc's Rating:

Writers Are Not Strangers, by Lynda Clark
autumnc's Rating:

Please Answer Carefully, by litrouke
autumnc's Rating:

We Are the Firewall, by Anya Johanna DeNiro

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Mysterious and mesmerizing, January 19, 2021

Anya DeNiro is one of my favorite authors of interactive fiction. This, along with Solarium, are two of my favorite IFs. From the presentation to the writing to the interactive structure, it all feels so right, all components fitting together to achieve a singular purpose. It is very much what I would imagine "hypertext literature" to be, if it ever escaped the bounds of academia.

We Are the Firewall is a dystopian story taking place in the near future of 2XX3. The world is on familiar modern cyberpunk territory, with surveillance drones dealing out "less lethal" violence, an addicting VR game that subsumed the educational system, and the cascading effects of climate change and social inequality. The tropes themselves aren't entirely original, but in this story they feel fresh and real, which is a credit to the extremely good writing. There is a large number of protagonists, displaying a broad swath of society, all connected by a conspiracy relating to the aforementioned VR game. Each character feels distinct, not just in their written voice, but in the way their story segments are organized. The security officer has his links as a to-do list. The "struggling musician" has cycling links that show the distinction between what he says and how he truly is.

Structurally, We Are the Firewall is a hypertext with a spoke-and-hub structure in much the same way as Solarium. From the beginning, it is possible to navigate to a number of different story segments corresponding to different perspectives (in any order), and each of these perspectives are necessary to complete the story. To make the story easier to navigate, completed story segments are crossed out. Dynamic text is used heavily, including gradually appearing and disappearing text, link replacement, and a lot of cycling links. Unlike in many other games that use timed text, it didn't bother me here, because it's used sparingly and with purpose.

Connecting structure to theme is one of my favorite twine mechanisms (Howling Dogs, Spy Intrigue, lots of others), and not many twine games do it as well as is done here. The patches of seemingly random text and shifting words reflect the chaotic and messy world in which we find ourselves. Text disappears and changes, as characters mount self-justifications for their atrocities. As mentioned before, the organization of the individual story segments reflects the characters' goals and worldview. Some are organized and methodological, others are desperate and frantic. The dynamic text both reveals and conceals as the mysteries compound.

There is an air of impenetrability to this story, which is more apparent at the beginning. There are often long lists of seemingly random phrases with a few highlighted links. As soon as links start getting crossed out, it starts to become manageable. The final ending depends on a time-sensitive link which is onscreen for less than a second (thankfully, it's mentioned in the in-game guide). In it, the mysteries behind the story are revealed. As usual with big reveals, it's a little disappointing, and weakens the mystery pervasive in the rest of the story.

Beyond that, the story is just really emotionally moving. Maybe it's just the 2020 effect, but I felt really sucked in by a story that felt like it was about the current moment. There was suffering, of course, but also hope, that at the end there will be something worth living for, even if it ends up being (Spoiler - click to show)a bunch of AIs made to look like mice living in a VR world. Like many of the best stories, this one burrowed into my brain and embedded itself into my mental fabric.


Lux, by Agnieszka Trzaska
autumnc's Rating:

Yesterday, You Saved the World, by Astrid Dalmady
autumnc's Rating:

Krypteia, by Kateri
autumnc's Rating:

The Moon wed Saturn, by Pseudavid
autumnc's Rating:

High Jinnks, by M. Nite Chamberlain
autumnc's Rating:

Black Closet, by Hanako Games
autumnc's Rating:

The Writer Will Do Something, by Matthew Burns, Tom Bissell
autumnc's Rating:

LESBIAN VAMPIRE DATING ONLINE, by storytam
autumnc's Rating:

Tragic, by Jared Jackson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Deck-building combat RPG in Unity, December 31, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

I played this using wine on linux. It seemed to work perfectly fine on my computer. The only issue I had was that I felt the UI and font were a bit small and hard to read. I think there were a few bugs; there was one card which was supposed to allow you to draw any card, but it only showed cards that were already in your hand.

This game felt like kind of an odd or at least atypical fit for ifcomp. It is essentially a Slay the Spire-like, a deck-building RPG. In a comic twist, the player character is a character in an RPG game-within-the-game being told by a pair of siblings, who has been brought into the "real world" which is still a part of the same RPG session. It's a pretty fun story. The gameplay itself consists of battling enemies by drawing cards which represent attacks, defenses, or abilities. Defeating enemies allows you to get new cards, and there are opportunities to gain items which give stat bonuses. Throughout the story, there are choice-based segments where you choose (mostly blindly) where to go next or which monster to fight next. This includes a maze segment.

This game may have been experimental for IFComp, but for me, it shifted in my mind from being in an IF space to more of a general videogame territory, and in that territory, it does not necessarily compare well. The deck-builder had a surprising amount of depth, and the game is pretty well constructed (save the bug mentioned earlier), but nothing on an IFComp development cycle will be able to match commercial production values (Slay the Spire had years of early access and essentially thousands of testers). However, there are advantages of IFComp stuff; it can experiment with new mechanics, tell stories without worrying about commercial appeal, and so on. Plus plain text can be a highly effective medium when used well. I enjoyed this game and the puzzle of deck-building/optimizing battle tactics, but I feel like this game didn't exactly utilize IF's advantages over more mainstream videogames. It imitates Slay the Spire too closely in my opinion, complete with text describing what the card images should look like.

I didn't manage to get to the end; I died a few times to the hydra before I stopped playing.


Grand Academy for Future Villains, by Katherine Nehring
autumnc's Rating:

I, Cyborg, by Tracy Canfield
autumnc's Rating:

Hate Plus, by Christine Love
autumnc's Rating:

Heroes of Myth, by Abigail C. Trevor
autumnc's Rating:

Below, by Chris Gardiner
autumnc's Rating:

Life in a Northern Town, by People + Places
autumnc's Rating:

♥girl things♥, by jaystarry
autumnc's Rating:

Roads Not Taken, by Doug Egan
autumnc's Rating:

I Should Have Been That I Am, by E. K. Wagner

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A philosophical short story, December 31, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2018

This is a philosophical short story about free will and AI, told through a poker game. Despite the short length of one playthrough, this game is surprisingly deep, with a lot of paths through the story and some replayability.

You play as a robot casino worker who has also been employed as a sex worker. The game takes place entirely within one round of poker, with a few flashbacks and optional digressions. There are at least 8 possible outcomes of game.

The cards that are dealt can differ between playthroughs, and this affects the outcome of the story. At first I thought it was random, but it actually depends on your first three choices in a pseudorandom manner, as described in the spoilers below. It feels like a commentary on free will and the nature of "randomness".

(Spoiler - click to show)
- recognize, answer yes, deal the turn: 8 of clubs -> get drink for sunglasses man -> 10 of clubs -> girl with hood wins
- recognize, answer yes, donít deal the turn: Jack of hearts -> Ace of hearts -> man in sunglasses wins
- recognize, answer no, deal the turn: 2 of hearts -> husband asks for water -> 2 of clubs -> husband wins
- recognize, answer no, donít deal the turn: 7 of hearts -> 2 of hearts -> wife wins
- donít recognize, answer yes, deal the turn: 3 of hearts -> kiss the singer -> 7 of hearts -> older woman wins
- donít recognize, answer yes, donít deal the turn: 5 of spades -> 4 of spades -> newcomer wins
- donít recognize, answer no, deal the turn: Queen of spades -> wife discovered cheating -> 8 of diamonds -> singer wins
- donít recognize, answer no, donít deal the turn: 7 of diamonds -> man cursing -> Jack of diamonds -> slot player wins


I like how the choices (or lack of thereof) interfaces with the themes of the story. This game makes a great use of the forced choice technique: you can choose to not deal a card, but youíll always be compelled to deal eventually. Your programming as an AI leaves you no choice but to fulfill the directives that your employer imposed upon you. Thereís also a lot of talk of binaries. Humans always think in binaries. You as an AI are programmed to work in binaries. And thereís always at most two choices, until the very end.

Also I liked the writing style. The diction seems ďroboticĒ and unemotional on the surface, but thereís always the sense of deep internal turmoil. The robotís programming controls her internal thoughts/analyses as well as actions, but the writing creates a sense that thereís something going on inside her mind that was unanticipated by the programmers.

If thereís any criticism I have for this game, itís that the game is much too short, and re-playing feels repetitive. With only one playthrough, itís easy to miss a lot of interesting content. And the open ending, while it makes sense from a thematic point of view, is unsatisfying if one is more interested in the character or story.

Thereís some uncomfortable content here. The robot protagonist is often the victim of violence, especially sexual violence (there are also references to domestic violence not involving robots). Robots in this world have become receptacles for the worst of humanity. As often happens with can-robots-be-human stories, there are parallels with working class experiences, especially in the women-dominated service industry.


The CursŤd Pickle of Shireton, by Hanon Ondricek

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Well-made story, but I'm not sure how much I got, December 31, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

The CursŤd Pickle of Shireton is an excellently crafted story. There is great art, music, complex and mostly bug-free mechanics, and fun writing (especially in the "meta" portions). There is a lot of stuff here. However, I feel like I got stuck too much, and at some point didn't really desire to continue and discover the game's secrets.

This is a parody of the MMORPG genre, which is itself implemented in a text-based simulation of an actual MMORPG, presented as a fallback version for a graphical game. There are NPCs and fake PCs. There is a support forum where players discuss the game and share mods. Beneath each scene there is a chat screen showing the players' interactions in the area.

The problem is that the gameplay wasn't really fun for me. I get that it's *supposed* to be unfun, a simulation of a genre that I never really enjoyed, but plenty of genre parodies manage to make the gameplay decent in of itself (or, in IF, limit the mechanical aspects and focus on the story). I did a ton of delivery quests, sending mail from one part of Sameytown to another. The combat was particularly annoying to me. It was tedious to have to click the words in order, and I didn't like that the turns were on a timer (I discovered the slow time mod thanks to the forum thread). I actually felt like I enjoyed the combat in A Final Grind more than this. And there was the haunted house where everything permanently lowered your level??? I stopped playing in the town after crossing the desert because I couldn't get a sense of how to advance. I did enjoy the Crossing the Desert puzzle, though.

Reading some of the other reviews and discussions, I got a better sense of what this game contained, and how much I missed. I never played The Baker of Shireton by the same author, which apparently has a lot of shared content with this story. I think the key is to not approach this as a typical RPG, and just go hog wild.


A Final Grind, by nrsm_ha

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Underrated twine RPG, December 31, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2018

I think this was one of the more underrated games in its IFComp batch. The game is crawling with bugs, and contains some rather bizarre design choices, but I still enjoyed the game for what it was.

"A Final Grind" belongs to a similar genre as games like The Forgotten Tavern from its year, and The CursŤd Pickle of Shireton and Tavern Crawler from 2020. It contains dungeon-crawling RPG mechanics built in twine, and its story is a parody of typical RPG tropes.

I was surprised at how compelling I found it to be. Part of me wants to say that this game is the inverse of Undertale, but that would be only correct insofar that every game is the inverse of Undertale. Itís hard for me to describe what makes this interesting; perhaps all the grinding got me addicted. The quality of the writing was good throughout, especially given that this was gameplay-heavy.

The game has a sparse aesthetic, and takes place in a standard Dungeons and Dragons-style fantasy setting. The protagonist is an adventurer trapped in a mine, the last survivor of their party after a cave-in killed the rest. He is a death seeker for unspecified reasons, who wants to go down in a blaze of glory saving other people. The mine is the domain of monsters; theyíre just living there peacefully, and you humans had the gall to invade their space, and when they attack in self-defense, you massacre them. Even more so, humans constantly ďdehumanizeĒ the monsters and treat them as an unintelligent, uncultured, indistinguishable mass, regardless of their reality. Eventually you have to kill their king. As you approach the king, the monsters are terrified of you and run away. I've never played the "genocide" route in Undertale, but it's familiar from what I've heard.

Much of the game involves mechanical combat, where you can choose to use attack, parry, or magic. Using the Ďparryí action involves solving math problems randomly selected from a pre-written bank, from ď5 + 5Ē to derivatives. The game says donít use a calculator, but most of the problems were solvable in my head. Does using pencil and paper count as cheating? The only confusing part was that it required decimals instead of fractions. So I just used parry every time, so I never took any damage or exhaustion. Given how many random combat encounters there were, it got tiresome, but I memorized the answers.

Problem: I ran into a bug fairly early on. After visiting the foremanís room and trying to break the safe, I was unable to continue - there was a ďContinueĒ link, but it wasnít clickable. After restarting, I worked around this by just skipping this room, and continuing onwards. Going back to that room after I got the key worked. There are also a bunch of other bugs in this game, mostly syntax errors with incomplete passages. Also literally the last line of the game is ďDouble-click this passage to edit it.Ē which is... surprisingly apt given the path leading up to it.

Like with a lot of Twine RPGs Iíve seen in IFComp, this game is not really ďbalancedĒ in any way. My level got ridiculously high, but it didnít really mean anything. I never knew what exhaustion does because I only ever used parrying.

Translations of the goblin text:
(Spoiler - click to show)
Shrine:

MONSTERS HAVE BEEN DRIVEN FROM EVERY LAND

BUT GHIDORAH UNITED US INTO ONE TRIBE

WE PRAISE HIM, LORD OF THREE FIRES

MASTER OF THE WORLD BENEATH EARTH

MAY HIS REIGN BRING PEACE TO THE WORLD OF MONSTERS

AND IN HIM MAY WE FIND A HOME IN WHICH TO THRIVE

Password prompt:

WHO IS GHIDORAH, KING OF MONSTERS?

Final text:

I WISH IT COULD BE DIFFERENT, HUMAN


De Baron, by Victor Gijsbers
autumnc's Rating:

Animalia, by Ian Michael Waddell
autumnc's Rating:

Superlunary Episode 1.0, by Communist Sister Interactive

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Twine + Bitsy space adventure, December 28, 2020

Superlunary is one of the coolest things I've seen in recent-ish twine. I love the look of the interface, the art, and the way different forms of interactivity are mixed. The story itself is pretty interesting; it takes place after a revolution that brought a government which seeks to end wars by destroying all remaining weapons. You play as a team of three people, led by a member of the disarmed military, who go around space trying to dismantle old weapons and help random people. Much of the story focuses on the team members' complicated relationships with each other, and their personal histories.

This game uses both the twine and bitsy systems. Bitsy is a simple game engine which basically allows for 2d walking simulators. Through bitsy, the game includes visually navigating around outer space and walking around a planet. In twine, the game includes clickable images, dialogue, and messages. Since apparently twine and bitsy don't share variables, the only way the content between the engines is shared is via passcodes provided in bitsy, which are then entered in the twine UI when they are learned by the player. I just thought it was pretty cool.

I don't know if it would work well from an accessibility standpoint though. Is bitsy usable with things like screen readers?

One complaint I have is that there isn't really much interactivity in the sense of making "meaningful choices". The dialogues are all click-to-advance, and the bitsy portions are basically linear corridors. The player choice basically consists of deciding which order to visit the planets. But I don't really mind as long as the story is interesting, which it is.

Anyway, this is apparently the first chapter of a hopefully greater story. I'm really looking forward to it.


Long Live the Queen, by Hanako Games

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Another vision for choice-based IF, December 28, 2020

I've started to wonder what would have happened if Hanako had stayed in the IF community rather than move to visual novels, and if Porpentine had moved to visual novels rather than twine. What if a twine version of LLtQ was submitted to IFComp 2012, and a visual novel version of Howling Dogs was published at Steam? How would the gaming world have changed?

The author apparently participated in the IF community in the early 2000s as Papillon, creating One Week among other games. One Week is a time management game with visual novel/dating sim-like mechanics, where the choice is of which action to perform each turn. LLtQ follows the same genre. The main choices involve time management: what to study each week, and where to spend your free time. There are also CYOA segments for major events. The ultimate goal here is to help Elodie (the titular queen) survive until her coronation, and hopefully become the kind of person who would be a good queen.

LLtQ is a difficult game. The "cruelty scale" doesn't really work for choice-based stories, but basically it is possible to die in a copious amount of locations, and there is no forewarning of death. There are unlimited save slots, but it is difficult to pinpoint the exact point at which your failure has become inevitable, and trying to avoid that failure could lead to a different fail state. Helpfully, the stat checks are explicitly given on both successes and failures.

LLtQ has a *lot* of stats, and a lot of little branches based on these stats. However, most stats will only be used a few times; some are only useful once (but that one time will save your life). The time-management gameplay is an optimization problem; how do you best allocate your training time so that you'll pass the key stat checks by certain events? Like in a lot of visual novels, it basically boils down to making a plan of which choices to make at which times, except there is a much larger space of choices than most choice-based games. This often requires replaying, which is encouraged by a fast-forward mechanism. By replaying, you learn the important moments where death is inevitable unless certain checks are met, the "bottleneck" part of the branch-and-bottleneck structure.

Oh yeah, there's also the art, writing, music, setting, etc. LLtQ is a visual novel with anime-esque artwork. The setting is basically a medieval fantasy with rather detailed worldbuilding around its history and politics. Most characters have hidden sides to them, but only some of them are plotting to murder you. There is a dating sim element where you can potentially find Elodie a partner, and there are a lot of interesting character moments that can be missed by not passing the relevant stat checks.


Sonder Snippets, by Sana
autumnc's Rating:

Captain Graybeard's Plunder, by Julian Mortimer Smith
autumnc's Rating:

Life is Out of Season , by odditycollector

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Interactive Homestuck fanfiction, December 28, 2020

So. Homestuck is a webcomic by Andrew Hussie that ran from 2009 to 2016, and is in some ways still ongoing. It was very interactive-fiction-inspired, for example with the page-advancing links in the format of parser commands, and text adventure-like descriptions of room objects. In addition, there are interactive segments in the comic. So it makes sense that there will be fanfiction of Homestuck written as IF (although this is a twine game, not a parser game, there are other parser homestuck fanfics). Among the relatively limited world of Homestuck fangames, this is one of my favorites.

This is a story taking place from the perspective of Jane Crocker, one of the main characters of Act 6 of Homestuck. She has just been mind-controlled by the Condesce, an insectoid fish alien who is the empress of the mostly extinct troll race and is also Betty Crocker, Jane's adoptive ancestor (it makes sense in context, sort of). Now, Jane serves the Condesce's will, doing her bidding in her plan to recreate the old troll empire. She's forced to hurt her friends and do stuff against her former interests.

The story is about Jane's existence under mind control. There are always multiple options on each screen, to try to get free or fight back, but clicking on any but the "correct" one, the options that commit harm and are forced by mind control, causes the screen to shake and flash red. Clicking on these links too much will cause Jane's brain to explode. "Denial of agency" and "player complicity" are pretty common techniques in IF, but I think this game works particularly well. Also I enjoyed the writing which captures the flavor of the darker side of the webcomic, while having its own distinct prose style.


The Arboretum, by Matthew S. Burns

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Nostalgic romance in twine, December 22, 2020

The Arboretum is an introspective romance story. It is basically a linear click-to-advance story/kinetic novel (I'm reluctant to call it hypertext even), with only one choice at the end that is more reflective than anything else. However, I appreciated the writing enough that it worked for me.

The story is told as a flashback from two perspectives: the protagonists are middle-class Asian-American high school students living in a college town in Texas, Derek and Lillian (upon re-reading, I don't know if Lillian is Asian-American, but Derek is). Both of them are introverted and socially isolated, and both of them are not really interested in the paths that are pushed onto them by their academically-oriented families. Despite being a little stereotypical, this depiction rang true to me. Eventually, Derek asks Lillian on a possible date, and she accepts. They hang out at a mall, and later go on a date to an arboretum, hence the title.

Most of the sentences in the story are introspective, providing Derek and Lillian's inner monologues. They both have their own anxieties, Derek about being a "real man" and living up to expectations, Lillian about her lack of a stable identity and her literary imagination. The two of them connect through acting out roles as anime and video game characters, of playing at and abandoning pretenses, of revealing tidbits of their "true selves" insofar that such a thing exists. Maybe it's just my personal biases, but I really liked the writing in these bits. It feels self-aware and lacks the self-importance of a lot of coming-of-age stuff.

The story ends with Derek and Lillian fast-forwarded 10 years. They've grown up and have real jobs now, never meeting each other since high school, and they both have memories of their past meeting, filtered through nostalgia. Will they meet again? That's the one choice at the end of the story, after which it immediately ends.

The author has done a lot of other work in games, including writing Eliza, one of my favorite visual novels. So I'm probably a little biased here. I would say that this story is similar to Lilium and other introspective and nostalgic twine stories.


Her Pound of Flesh, by Liz England
autumnc's Rating:

After the Storm, by Luiza Alves
autumnc's Rating:

Bee, by Emily Short

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A lovely story, unfortunately cut short, December 22, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: favs

I had the good fortune of being able to play Bee before Varytale disappeared from the internet. It was one of the first pieces of IF I played/read, and was part of what made me fall in love with interactive fiction. Unfortunately, Bee in its original form is no longer online; the Dendry version is playable only up to a point. Even so, I think it is well worth playing in its current form.

Comparing the original Varytale version to the Dendry version that is currently online, it is apparent that there is a lot missing. Dendry does not have the visible stat display or character lists, which makes the choice process almost akin to fumbling in the dark. The only indicator of time are the occasional Christmas, Easter, and Halloween events. In addition, the Dendry version does not have the ending scenes (I checked the code; the endings are not present), so instead of ending with the final spelling bee, the story just fizzles out once a certain time has been reached.

Still, I think the Dendry version should be played, if only to experience Emily Short's writing. The scenes that do exist are excellently written, and you can get up to the first spelling bee with zero issues. Also, since the code is available, it is theoretically possible to fix at least some of the problems, like adding stat displays back in...

There's already been a lot said about Bee's story in the reviews here. It really resonated with me, as someone who competed in academic competitions when I was younger. The protagonist has a sense of alienation from both her own family and from the broader American culture as a whole, and she has trouble relating to others and uses spelling as a coping mechanism. Through the player's choices, she can become rebellious, or participate in the spelling bee to the fullest, going all the way to the nationals before getting runner-up (this scene is not in the Dendry version). Even as the player subtly molds her personality, the current of alienation always remains.

The primary way the story is structured is through the progression of time. At each "turn", the player is given a choice of three randomly chosen storylets, each of which is a mini-CYOA scene. Some storylets have higher priority than others, and most are dependent on either a specific time of year or on certain stats. A lot of storylets repeat, especially the spelling practice scenes, which does get kind of tiresome after a while.

Dendry itself has probably become my favorite HTML interactive fiction framework, and my recent game, which was kind of/very inspired by Bee, happens to use Dendry.

RIP Varytale :(


"Incident! Aliens on the Teresten!" by Tarquin Segundo, by Richard Goodness writing as The Water Supply writing as Tarquin Segundo

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A story in three parts, December 21, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

This will be about the entire "The Knot" series, as this game contains its conclusion. Overall, I think the games are rather interesting both as a vaguely meta-fictional exercise and as stories in of themselves, and worth playing. It might be best to play them by opening all three games in the browser simultaneously. In general, the presentation is nice, but I am extremely not a fan of the slow auto-advancing text, which is the entirety of the ending sequence.

Spoilers for the ending and for the story overall: (Spoiler - click to show)"The Knot" is a tale about power, storytelling, and alternate worlds. Each story within The Knot contains the same character names and elements in different contexts. They are all about conflicts between two central figures: Chirlu and Ilfane, who are entangled with an artifact called the Knot, supposedly a source of ultimate power. Sometimes Chirlu is presented as a "good" character, other times as an antagonist. In "Terror" he is an evil sorcerer, in "Adventures" he is a Nazi archaeologist, and in "Incident" he is a benevolent scientist. Ilfane is more of a mystical concept than a character; it is a location in "Terror", an ancient autarch in "Adventures", and an evil alien race in "Incident".

(warning: extremely basic and naive analysis ahead - this is like, my opinion only)

Overall, Chirlu and Ilfane represent the conflicting natures of rationality and mysticality/tradition. Neither are totally "good" or "evil; rationality can be put in service of evil as easily as it can be in service of good. However, both figures always seek out the Knot, which is supposed to be the source of their ability to do the ultimate good for the galaxy, or to give themselves ultimate power. Chirlu especially always seeks out the Knot to achieve their ends, conditioned by the societal conditions in which they are raised.

The Knot itself is treated as a representation of power in some way. But the conclusion of the story shows that the Knot does not even exist; it is totally incapable of the feats ascribed to it throughout the course of the stories. This can be interpreted in multiple ways. The Knot is a video game, and the solution to a simple video game puzzle will not give one the power to change the world or to fight Nazis. Similarly, it could be a commentary on the impotence of media in general to bring change. Or on a simplistic, one-off solution to achieve societal goals, sought by progressive revolutionaries and fascists alike. They enter the halls of power, only to find the halls empty.

As a game, the Knot is not particularly challenging: the solutions are given explicitly, and labeled as such. Finding The Knot is not a challenge. But the Knot is ultimately hollow. It is certainly not the ultimate source of power. It might not even exist.


Horse Master, by Tom McHenry
autumnc's Rating:

Secret Agent Cinder, by Emily Ryan
autumnc's Rating:

A Dark Room, by Michael Townsend
autumnc's Rating:

Will Not Let Me Go, by Stephen Granade
autumnc's Rating:

Transient Skies, by dgtziea
autumnc's Rating:

Take, by Katherine Morayati (as Amelia Pinnolla)
autumnc's Rating:

Myriad, by Porpentine
autumnc's Rating:

Solarium, by Anya Johanna DeNiro

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Just an amazing work, December 13, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: favs

Solarium is one of my favorite pieces of interactive fiction, or any fiction really. It's another of those stories that I find myself returning to over and over. Every time I read it, I feel like I discover something new, another layer to the story or a reference I didn't understand. If anyone hasn't yet, you might want to play it for yourself without reading this review; my description won't do it justice.

Insofar that Solarium is primarily about any one thing, it's about the horrors of the Cold War. In their quest for supremacy over the Soviet Union, Americans turned to esotericism, with a magical archaeological discovery that promises to protect them from nuclear retaliation, thus breaking the game theory of Mutually Assured Destruction and allowing a first strike. Of course it doesn't work that way; actually they awakened an ancient evil that wanted to destroy the world. And it did. But that's just the surface; there's a lot more to the story.

Solarium is a hypertext story told nonlinearly and nonchronologically. It is a mystery story where the mystery is from the perspective of the reader, to find out what happened and why. There is a root node taking place "after mutually assured destruction" and many flashback segments (can I call them storylets?), each associated with a substance, unlocked by going through other flashbacks (which are treated as alchemical rituals). Through these flashbacks, the player discovers the history of the protagonist and their relation with the events that lead up to the nuclear apocalypse.

There are two endings decided by a final choice at the end. It makes sense; everything that comes before is flashback to prepare the player for this final decision. Spoiler description of the plot and ending: (Spoiler - click to show)The plot takes the cold war and moves it to cosmic dimensions. The protagonist is the reincarnation of an ancient godlike figure, and both his lover(?) Annalise and the Archon (the spirit contained inside the magical amulet) are also reincarnations, playing out an ancient cosmic drama between good and evil. Their bodies are no matter; the Archon takes over the president's body, and the protagonist is reincarnated as men and women, including a priest and a soldier. All of them are endlessly lonely through reincarnation, and the Archon tries to attract the attention of the Creator by acting up, by causing so much mayhem and evil that God is forced to notice him. Meanwhile Annalise is as pure good as possible; it's implied that she is the reincarnation of Jesus. The ending is with Annalise dying permanently, and the protagonist can either join her in death or keep on living. In the latter ending, eventually the protagonist finds the Archon's amulet again, because they're so lonely and need a companion.

The game is littered with a complex array of references, from literature to religion to real-life Cold War history complete with actual documents. Maybe it's only impressive to a relatively uncultured person like myself, but I thought it was incredible, and made me look up a lot of things on Wikipedia, like the real life Project Solarium, the use of LSD by the CIA, Gnostic religions, and the history of alchemy.

More generally, the writing is incredible (in my opinion). Every sentence just feels perfect. I don't know how to talk about it without gushing. The nonlinearity and gating are usually well thought out, and work to pace the story and control how and when the player accesses certain content. Most of it is pretty easy to navigate, but there were a few moments where I wasn't sure how to proceed. But it turns out that some storylets can or have to be repeated multiple times after getting new substances.


Stoned Ape Hypothesis, by James Heaton
autumnc's Rating:

The Cave, by Neil Aitken
autumnc's Rating:

A Catalan Summer, by Neibucrion

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A low-key drama about obligations and secret desires, December 13, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

A Catalan Summer is a family drama about forbidden love and politics, taking place in a Catalonia household in the 1920s. It is told from the perspectives of four members of the bourgeois Vidal family: Josep the patriarch who secretly loves men, Maria the wife who wants a relationship Josep can't give, Clara the too-romantic and imaginative daughter, and Jordi the rebellious son with left-wing political inclinations. There are lots of perspective switches that show all sides of the story. Overall, I liked the game a lot. It's a rather rare theme for ifcomp, and the narrative is suitably dramatic and complex while not overstaying its welcome.

Basically, the major choices at every step can be boiled down to, do you seek out what you secretly desire which might lead to your downfall, or do you stay in your assigned role for the good of the family and stability? Each character has their own temptations. Josep is tempted by Charles's flirtations. Maria is tempted by Toni, the son of the gardener. Clara is tempted by a ghost (which is like, an actual ghost?). Jordi is tempted by leftist political movements and Montse, a working-class young woman. Each of them secretly seeks out the source of their temptation while also resisting it for the sake of keeping up appearances, for getting along and not rocking the boat. There are multiple endings depending on one's choices as each of the four characters. There are also some side plots involving Catalan independence politics and labor issues, which I don't think factors into the ending. In my playthrough I stuck to the more safe path for all the characters, so I might have missed some content.

The writing is mostly kind of understated, with rather sparse descriptions and just a hint of the characters' inner states. We only get a little bit of how they feel about abandoning their potential lovers. So the reader is left to infer or imagine what the characters are really feeling.

In terms of structure, the story is less interactive than it seems at first. You can explore the house with "go up"-style choices, but everything pushes you towards the direction of plot advancement. The final party scene is a bit more free, where you can take control of any of the family members and play their parts in the story. Unfortunately, the room descriptions donít really change with perspective shifts. It would have been interesting to see what the different family members thought of their spaces (would Jordi see the alienated labor present in everything? would Josep be possessive? how would Clara see things differently from Maria?)

The game appears to run on a custom-designed html/js system. For the most part it works pretty well. However, I was not a fan of the bright red background color. I had to change it to black to not burn into my eyes. Also I wish there was more of an indication of when the perspective was changing. There is a name showing the current perspective character, but no other indication.


Mother Tongue, by Nell Raban
autumnc's Rating:

Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality, by Jeffrey Dean
autumnc's Rating:

her tears were my light, by Nami
autumnc's Rating:

Stay Lost, by Casey James

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A story to return to, December 10, 2020

This is a story I go back to over and over again. It's very short, no more than ten to fifteen minutes. I really enjoy the prose; it has a very nostalgic feel, like memories of a childhood I never had. With a few sparse descriptions it manages to construct a very specific time and place, and immerses you in the feeling of being there, of just being a kid and going on camping trips and sleepovers and experiencing love or something like that. It's kind of beautiful. Insofar that there is a plot, it's rather abstract, jumping back and forth among different memories, all told in present tense as if it is all happening simultaneously.

Stay Lost was written in Texture, where the main form of interaction is dragging words onto parts of the text. To be honest I feel like there aren't really any advantages over twine-style clickable links in this game. This is basically pure hypertext; there's not really a notion of "meaningful choices" or anything like that. And there isn't really a need, either. This is an example of a hypertext where the interaction mechanisms work to help tell the story, creating a sense of tentativeness and uncertainty.


Congee, by Becci
autumnc's Rating:

Tavern Crawler, by Josh Labelle
autumnc's Rating:

Fallen Hero: Rebirth, by Malin Rydťn

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
One of the pinnacles of Hosted Games, December 8, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: hosted games

Fallen Hero is one of the most popular Hosted Games, and it deserves its popularity entirely.

Fallen Hero came during a glut of superhero stories for Choice of Games/Hosted Games: there was the Heroes Rise trilogy, its spinoffs The Hero Project: Redemption Season/Open Season, and The Hero Unmasked, as well as the Community College Hero series and Paradigm City from Hosted Games (there are probably others I forgot, plus tons of WIPs). Something about superhero stories makes them well-suited for the CoG style: the power fantasy, the customization choices, the ability to easily slot your OC into an existing world. Fallen Hero doesn't entirely defy these conventions, but it does twist them in a way different from all the other superhero choicescript games.

As the title implies, Fallen Hero is about, well, a fallen superhero turned potential supervillain. You play as a former freelance superhero named Sidestep, who went through a traumatic experience leading them to turn against their former allies. The main path of the story is about the steps taken in the quest for revenge, and there is no way around it; you can decide whether Sidestep is reluctantly or eagerly embraces their goals, but their major actions will usually be the same. Most of the choices are reflective: how does your character feel about what they just did. In many games, this wouldn't work, but here, it absolutely does. The character of Sidestep shines through, and is always just so fascinating to read.

The writing in the game is superb, in my opinion. The prose is just really good and really memorable and enjoyable to read. As is the characterization, pacing, and so on. There's an excellent balance between fast-paced action, quiet reflection, pure horror, and even occasional moments of comedy. Speaking of which, your power is mind control, and you also control a puppet, another human body that you use for your own purposes. One of which could be to pursue another character romantically at the same time as your actual body. Yeah. There's an achievement for that.

It has somewhat of an unreliable narrator; there is plenty that the protagonist knows, but the player doesn't. What exactly happened to Sidestep to make them turn is never described (there will be a sequel). There are a lot of mysteries left. I enjoyed the process of trying to put together the backstory in my head; it took the second playthrough to really get it.


Stronghold: A Hero's Fate, by Amy Griswold and Jo Graham
autumnc's Rating:

What Isn't Saved (will be lost), by Cat Manning
autumnc's Rating:

Thanksgiving, by Hannah Powell-Smith
autumnc's Rating:

Choice of Magics, by Kevin Gold
autumnc's Rating:

Werewolves: Haven Rising, by Jeffrey Dean
autumnc's Rating:

Electric word, "life", by Lance Nathan
autumnc's Rating:

A Murder in Fairyland, by Abigail Corfman

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Is it actually possible to get the correct murderer?, November 29, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

I've played and enjoyed the author's previous games, so I was really looking forward to this one. "A Murder in Fairyland" shares their quality writing and design, but it doesn't feel like a complete experience.

Compared to 16 Ways and Open Sorcery, the world of this game feels much more surreal and less grounded. While it takes place in the same broader universe as Open Sorcery, there's very little in this game connecting it to our reality, unlike with Open Sorcery's characters. It takes place in a world with fairies and other magical creatures, with bizarre and inhuman rules and behaviors.

The one "human" aspect of the game is the main character's disability. It took me far too long to realize that they were using a wheelchair (I didn't recognize what "Roll North" was supposed to refer to). The protagonist is not able to climb stairs or open some doors without waiting for help, and there are some references to the fairy-world equivalent of the ADA (also called the ADA), and a subplot involves going through a mind-boggling bureaucratic process to file an ADA complaint.

This is a heavily puzzle-oriented game. The puzzles range from word finds to riddles to filling out forms correctly, to more broad interaction and item finding. I loved the form-finding and filling puzzles, even if they weren't technically necessary to finishing the game. Finding forms involves figuring out a code based on a convoluted but ultimately logical set of rules. Filling out the forms required gathering more information from different areas, and was a good way of characterizing the world. The magic was also interesting, but did not have much use when it came to the actual murder mystery.

There is also a minigame, very vaguely like poker but with the cards being tarot major arcana, where the rules are unknown. It was interesting to try to figure it out. Although maybe the game is something that already exists.

The resolution of the murder mystery was rather frustrating: (Spoiler - click to show)I was a bit frustrated because I thought I knew who the murderer was, but they were not an available option, even after seemingly exhausting all possibilities throughout the game world. Thus, I started looking through the code. It appears that there is a lot of content that is written but might not be accessible, including several characters and a way to reveal the true murderer. I'm not very familiar with twine code so I might be wrong? Maybe I just didn't explore thoroughly enough?

Edit: Here is a brief guide to getting the correct ending, after reaching the mystery: (Spoiler - click to show)I needed to get form 536W for the weather report to get snowflakes diagrams, and give it to Lirana, so she's distracted and then I can take the autocsi scroll. Then I gathered the poison sample and did autocsi on the corpse, and then used form 533P to get the poison analysis (this required getting the moon phase with form 104M; I guessed the ley lines but there's probably a form for that). To rule out Rinecoat, I talked to him, examined the weapons, and got dust from Veinseeker. To rule out Lirana, I got the neutrality contract by filling out form 227H and talking to the crystal ball in the library. To rule out Nyx, I used the Flier: Noon-Sun Ceremony (was this the random conversation hint?). To confirm that it is Xylia, I looked at the corpse after using autocsi, and took the thread.


Choice of the Vampire, by Jason Stevan Hill

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Ambitious and slightly disjointed vampire epic, November 27, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: choice of games

Choice of the Vampire was one of the first Choice of Games, which in October 2020 received a major DLC/expansion, bringing the 3rd (or 4th?) major segment of the story.

I feel like there has been a recent proliferation of vampire-related interactive fiction and visual novels recently. It is difficult for me to talk about this game without comparing it to the Vampire: the Masquerade franchise. Much of the vampire lore is similar, with the international vampire Society, the masquerade, and political conflicts between different vampire factions, as well as the basic vampire "biology". In some ways CotV almost feels like a fanfiction of VtM. However there are no vampire clans here.

CotV is as much a game about American history as it is about vampires. Sometimes it feels like having the game be about vampires is just an excuse to have a character who lives through lots of interesting moments in American history, like a 19th century vampire version of Forrest Gump. There are a lot of references to both major events, like the War of 1812, Reconstruction and its downfall, and the labor movement, as well as somewhat more obscure events, like the early days of baseball (or ďbase ballĒ). The quantity of historical references increased in the Memphis and especially the St. Louis chapters as opposed to the New Orleans chapter. Playing the game reminded me of high school US history class, in a mostly good way.

There are a few opportunities to work against the tide of history, but the tide of history is always stronger. You can play as a vampire who is a former slave or a free person of color or a Choctaw, with all that entails. You can help or hinder the destruction of the Confederacy at Vicksburg (the city falls no matter what you do). You can support the freedmen in Memphis, but they inevitably fall prey to the KKK and the yellow fever. You can try to support the labor strikes in St. Louis, but they are crushed. Or you can do the opposite of that: own a plantation with slaves, literally join the KKK, help the Pinkertons crush the labor revolts. Either way, the broader historical forces never change.

In some ways, I feel like the game tries to do too much. There is a very large number of characters; I could not keep up with all the different senator candidates, governors, praetors, quaestors, and so on, and often forgot what those titles even meant. There were just so many names, and while the characters were reasonably distinct, they sort of blended together. They were all just a bunch of jerks. Some supported Stone and others supported Adonis. I didnít even see how they were different; they both seemed like jerks too. The glossary of vampires was nice, but kind of difficult to navigate. This is not to mention all of the mortal characters, who are often actual historical figures.

In addition, there are a lot of short-term plotlines, but the long-term plot is not very present. New Orleans was about trying to rise in society. Vicksburg had the siege. Memphis had the senator election, looking for Wilson Maddox, the yellow fever, and the municipal bonds. St. Louis had West and the Columbian Exposition. Sometimes, there are so many different things going on, it's hard to keep up. There are also many brief plot points that are brought up once and quickly abandoned. There are a number of romance options, all of which end poorly. The long-term plotlines are basically the Stone vs Adonis revolution, your chosen long-term vampiric goal, and general technological/societal change. The ďmetaplotĒ doesnít feel as developed as VtM; thereís no Gehenna or Inquisition or Anarch Revolt or Sabbat or stuff like that. Much of the deep lore about vampires remains mysterious throughout the course of the game so far.

The story tries to tie in the historical struggles with the vampiric struggles, but it doesnít really succeed at giving a sense of urgency to the latter. Compared to VtM: Night Road, there is not so much of the "personal horror" or pervasive dread that each night will be your last. Hunger frenzies and turning into a wight do not seem to be present. Thereís little sense of danger even when you really are in danger due to West in St. Louis.

(Spoiler - click to show)Speaking of which, I ended up getting killed by West. I wasnít sure if it was That Kind of Game, since I didnít seem to be in danger of death in any of the previous chapters. It felt kind of sudden.


BOAT PROM, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy
autumnc's Rating:

Heroes Rise: HeroFall, by Zachary Sergi
autumnc's Rating:

Choice of the Vampire: The Fall of Memphis, by Jason Stevan Hill
autumnc's Rating:

Lore Distance Relationship, by Naomi "Bez" Norbez

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Made me nostalgic for experiences I never had, October 28, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

Immediately after starting the game, I was reminded of Secret Little Haven, another game about internet-mediated relationships, self-discovery, and fandom. I was a little disappointed that this game did not have the richly implemented fake internet GUI. Lore Distance Relationships is more of a visual novel, with interactivity only when selecting dialogue options in chat scenes, and only screenshots of the Ruffians website. Nevertheless, the game's story carried it through. It was consistently engaging, and I came to care for the characters. I really appreciated the uplifting ending.

The story follows the protagonistís life, from age 8, in 2001, to age 17, in 2010, with each year being a new chapter. It takes place mostly as text conversations on Ruffians, a neopets-like website, between the protagonist StaircaseHaven14, and BusyAsABee, another user. They start out by roleplaying as their Ruffians, and eventually develop a deep friendship and might even fall in love as they grow up. The conversations felt authentic to me for the most part; maybe some of the early chats were too precocious for 9 or 10-year-olds, but overall it felt right. They felt like real people and real friends. The role-play segments were great. I liked that both characters had their typing quirks; Bee typed using all lower-case with messy punctuation and emojis, while Stair used mostly correct capitalization and punctuation and generally only used emoji in response to Bee.

In terms of structure, it seems mostly linear, but there are a lot of choices where you can choose for Stair to avoid or ignore Bee. I donít know if these choices end up affecting the outcome, or if there are ďbad endsĒ where Stair and Bee never get together. There are also some timed pauses, which I usually find annoying, but here, I feel like they worked in conveying the uncertainty and nervousness experienced by the characters. There is sound and music; the sound consists mostly of keyboard and mouse sounds, while music plays during the roleplay segments. The sound effects and some of the graphics changed as technology advanced from 2001 to 2010. This was a cool effect but I got a burst of anxiety when I heard the skype sound.

Not necessarily a major spoiler, but: (Spoiler - click to show)Another big similarity with Secret Little Haven is that the protagonist is a trans girl, with an abusive parent, who gradually discovers her identity over the course of the story. It was fairly obvious from the start that the plot was going in this direction, but I still enjoyed the buildup. We donít see as much of the protagonistís life and background in this game, but thereís a lot we can infer from her conversations. By contrast, we don't know as much about Bee. She just seems so incredibly nice with an incredibly loving and nice father; it almost seems unreal when contrasted with Stair.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the story. I was on Neopets during the game's timeline but never got into the community. Now I wish I had...


Trusting My Mortal Enemy?! What a Disaster!, by Storysinger Presents

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Enemies-to-best-friends?, October 24, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

The premise of "enemies-to-lovers" is a common one in fanfiction, and that's what this story reminded me of. Except the main characters here don't explicitly become lovers, but rather best friends, or something like that.

TMMEWaD is the story of a superhero, Lightbringer, and a supervillain, Promethium, who have been long-time enemies in a city. But then... Lightbringer invites Promethium to a coffee shop to plan out their future battles. The latter accepts, wanting to escape jail and a likely death sentence.

The story alternates between the perspectives of Lightbringer and Promethium, and gives the player choices for both characters. All of the meaningful choices are presented as trust exercises: does the hero trust the villain, and vice versa? Picking trusting choices gets the ďgoodĒ ending, while picking distrustful choices gets the ďbadĒ ending (I only got the good ending and havenít seen the bad ending). Sometimes there are other choices, but I think those are mostly cosmetic choices.

Overall, I thought the writing was good, especially the ways the characters would interact, but I would have liked a bit more characterization. It was not really clear to me why Promethium was a villain, except some vague description of fighting against the injustices of the world (which injustices? why would she care? how did she come to see the world like that?). Or why Lightbringer became a hero. But maybe none of that really matters? Also the story felt a bit slow to me at times.

Sometimes, the text was rather difficult to read because the background color and text color were too similar. There was one typo at the very end I think, where Lightbringer introduces Promethium to her daughter as Diana.

(Interestingly this one of at least two stories in this ifcomp with a female enemies-to-lovers storyline; the other is about a vampire).


You Couldn't Have Done That, by Ann Hugo

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
You couldn't have done that, October 15, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

This game affected me rather deeply. Itís a mostly linear twine story about an autistic, gender nonconforming teen who gets a job at a clothing store in a mall. She has to deal with her anxiety around people, and her tendency to go nonverbal when confronted with certain social situations, and the negative reactions of others to said tendencies. This culminates in a moment of abuse from one of her coworkers.

It felt realistic to me, as someone who sometimes acts in ways similar to the protagonist. Her mental patterns felt familiar; the constant overthinking of every social interaction, the loss of rational capacity when stressed, the feeling of suddenly wanting to cry. The writing was simple but effective, fleshing out the characters and situations in a few brief sentences. After many choices, there is the message ďYou couldnít have done thatĒ at the top, and instead of doing whatever the choice described, the protagonist just freezes up, unable to speak or move away or do anything else. It was an effective narrative mechanism, in my opinion.

Anyway, I felt that this game was very effective at what it was trying to portray. The only potential problem I had was that it was too brief, but the story didn't really need to be any longer.


INFINITUBE, by Anonymous

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A potentially great story, held back by the game design, October 14, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

This is sort of a difficult game to describe and review. It was a university MFA project, so it has clear literary aspirations and fancy writing. But those aspirations seemed to clash against the actual game design.

From a UI standpoint, this is as default twine as it gets. Iíve been spoiled in this comp for interesting CYOA visual designs, so it was a little disappointing, but no big deal. There is heavy use of time-delayed text, which was annoying. I sometimes tabbed out when that happened. Maybe for a reader who is in the correct mindset, it is okay to have time-delayed text, but it didn't work for me.

On one level, this is a story about a virtual reality world, the INFINITUBE, where ďyou can be anythingĒ. Itís supposed to be an infinite world driven by the imagination, but instead itís a gamified and monetized tech product like anything else out of the startup world. Your experience in the world is presented as a series of lightly interactive vignettes, which seem to be slice-of-life experiences for vaguely middle-class white Americans (the "WHITE" part is emphasized for some reason).

The main ďmechanicalĒ aspect of the game is going through the vignettes and trying to gather enough attributes so that you can sell them for tokens, and use these tokens to renew your subscription to INFINITUBE. You gain attributes by taking various actions. This could have been a cool mechanic, but itís not entirely clear what actions will gain attributes (is it actions that are "successful" on some level?), or how much those attributes will be worth. Which is troublesome as gaining attributes is necessary to progress the game.

The problem is that if you donít have enough tokens to renew, the game completely resets, apparently back to the beginning. This is made more difficult by the fact that costs for renewal escalate each session. There are also bugs where selling attributes donít net the value that is shown. And if the game resets, you have to play from the beginning all over again. With all the time-delayed text, tons of clicking to reveal every sentence, and so on. It became tiresome enough that I just stopped playing. It feels as if the game doesnít want the player to actually experience the whole thing.

There is a deeper layer to the story here: (Spoiler - click to show)Family drama. The creator of the INFINITUBE was apparently a boy named Charlie, who lived with his mother, Linda (?) (who was divorced acrimoniously from his father, who was probably abusive). Their lives are shown as vignettes in the INFINITUBE virtual reality segments. Somewhere else in the virtual world, Lindaís avatar is Minerva, and Charlieís avatar is Boniface, but at the same time Charlie still exists in the game world as himself, and is trying to escape? Is the player also trapped in the virtual world? The story is interesting, and I would have liked to read more of it, but it seemed like I was always unable to progress due to a lack of tokens.

Edit: the INFINITUBE vignettes seem to be randomized. I got a vignette about a Hollywood actress dealing with an abusive work environment, and one about the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle (I liked that vignette; it's interesting to see how much things haven't changed).


The Magician's Workshop, by Kate Heartfield
autumnc's Rating:

Ulterior Spirits, by E.J. Holcomb

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Great art and visual design, but it was difficult to get into the story, October 12, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

I wanted to like this game more than I did. It was clear that much effort went into building the custom UI, worldbuilding, and so on, but I feel like the story didn't quite live up to what I expected based on the blurb.

The blurb describes it as Mass Effect meets A Christmas Carol, and in broad strokes, it's kind of accurate. The protagonist is an admiral for the Coalition who fought in a war against an alien race, and now the Coalition is sanctioning the aliens. The admiral is pushing for harder sanctions. Then an infiltrator hacks her computer and showing her images of the past, present, and future, possibly in an attempt to convince her to vote against sanctions.

As usual in stories with tons of Worldbuilding, the sci-fi jargon and alien species got kind of overwhelming, and even with the pop-up hints (which were a great effect), it was difficult to keep up. It was difficult to get invested in the story; Mass Effect gave us dozens of hours to establish the world and why we should care about these people/aliens, while this is a one-hour game. At the end I didn't know what to think about the aliens or whether sanctions were good or bad (and the player doesn't explicitly make that choice anyway).

I liked that the protagonist was an older woman and a mother. These traits are still uncommon for video games protagonists. And I liked her relationship with her son.

In the end, the visions were all for nothing; the admiral voted for harder sanctions. Maybe there are routes that are different?

The game was created in Unity, and the art and interface are superb. I didn't like the slowness of clicking through; there was too much friction with the animations and having to click to advance every block of text. It discourages me from playing a second time, which I now really want to do to see if there are different possible outcomes, and to see if understanding the world makes the story easier to follow.


Sense of Harmony, by Scenario World

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A humane cyberpunk-esque story, October 11, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

I am a big fan of cyberpunk, and I feel like "Sense of Harmony" is an excellent example of the genre (or is it post-cyberpunk? I don't know). The writing was great, especially the characterization, and the choice structure serves the story well.

In terms of structure, this is a twine story with two types of links: "digression" and "advancement". Each in-text "digression" link is an invocation of the protagonist's cybernetic abilities: hyper-senses, memory lookup, and so on. These links are color-coded by ability. Sometimes these links will reveal new "advancement" links at the bottom of the page, as if the protagonist is changing her actions based on new information. I felt like this was a really cool mechanic; it's a way of showing how the protagonist's enhanced mind works. The interface was also visually really attractive, with nice icons and layouts.

One of my favorite things about the story is how down-to-earth and humane it is. It never sensationalizes sex work or cybernetic enhancements. Insofar that the cybernetic enhancements are bad, they are bad for the same reasons that cell phones are bad (fortunately there's no suggestion that implants are dehumanizing or anything like that, unlike so many other cyberpunk products). Similarly, sex work is treated here like any other job; the protagonist's main problem with it is that she can get emotionally attached to the clients (who are mostly ordinary people with ordinary problems). The protagonist is just someone who's trying to get by; there's not much about her that is actually "punk".

The only reason I'm taking a star off is because the story is unfinished. It stops at what seems like the Act 1 climax. The protagonist makes some potentially major choices in the story, but the consequences are never shown. Nevertheless, "Sense of Harmony" is very worth reading.


Robin & Orchid, by Ryan Veeder and Emily Boegheim
autumnc's Rating:

Venus Meets Venus, by kaleidofish

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
"told in present tense as if you have some semblance of choice", September 30, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: favs

Venus Meets Venus is a linear hypertext story, as is described in the opening passages (see title of review). One of the links in each passage always advances the story, while the other links function as asides or footnotes. It is a story of a relationship between two women, Lynn (the narrator) and Macy, and their struggles through sexuality and politics. Both of them are normal, flawed people (Lynn much more flawed, seemingly). The writing is excellent throughout. The language can be overwrought sometimes, but there are so many memorable lines. While there are no "branches" in the narrative, it feels much more interactive than it actually is. Links function as pacing and a way to explore Lynn's thought processes. She is someone who feels as if she lives on autopilot, and always picks the worst choice at any moment.

This was one of the first twine things I had ever played, and it was one of the reasons I became interested in interactive narrative in the first place. It was really influential for me.

Personal notes: (Spoiler - click to show)I played this game during a time when I was starting to come to the realization that I was trans and queer or something like that. It was one of the first stories I read that featured a literal non-metaphorical trans woman as a main character, and treated her as someone who was basically a normal person, and was someone who could be desirable. For better or for worse I saw bits of myself in both of the main characters. I'm not sure the story would have resonated with me as much if I hadn't been able to personally identify with the experiences described.


The Lost Heir 2: Forging a Kingdom, by Mike Walter

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
My favorite game in the trilogy, September 28, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: hosted games

The Lost Heir 2 is probably the "easiest" game in the series in that it is difficult to get an unambiguously bad ending or die for real. (Spoiler - click to show)In fact, "losing" the final battle is the only way to save a certain character. Most character builds that did well in the first game will work well here.

I like the sense of progression in the game: you go from being an exiled heir, to taking over a city through politicking, and then leading an army on a quest to retake your kingdom. There are management mechanics in the city and army portions of the game; you can either increase the citizens' respect or their fear, and in the army portion you have to balance the army's size, strength, food supplies, and delays. In addition, there are still the choices of which party member to support in their conflicts. There are interesting trade-offs to be made here. However, there is somewhat of a conflict between min-maxing and role-playing; since there are no benefits to increasing relationships above 100, it is always advantageous to support the character with the lower relationship, even if the other character is your love interest or is actually correct in the conflict.

As before, the plot here is a somewhat typical high fantasy story: you are still the titular "lost heir" and your goal is to re-conquer your kingdom. The world is a bit more fleshed out; there is the requisite high fantasy "gathering the races" segment which introduces the friendly non-human species, and there are some indications of why the people who usurped the protagonist are bad (besides the fact that they usurped the protagonist). There is a new romance option introduced, and some opportunities to develop previously constructed relationships. Personally I really enjoyed the story despite it not being extremely unique; I managed to become invested in the characters and relationships.

(Spoiler - click to show)In the end, however, it basically doesn't matter how your army performed in the final battle or all the battles leading up to it; all that matters is your skill in the final climactic fight. The final fight is against a former party member who was captured brainwashed in the first game. If you lose that fight, your army is defeated but the party member survives. If you win, the party member dies but your army is victorious. This choice kind of left a bad taste, even though everything leading up to it was good.


Vampire: The Masquerade ó Night Road, by Kyle Marquis
autumnc's Rating:

Turandot, by Victor Gijsbers
autumnc's Rating:

Dragon Age: The Last Court, by Failbetter Games

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Repetitive nature undermines interesting narrative moments, September 24, 2020

Dragon Age: The Last Court is a tie-in for the Dragon Age series of role-playing games from Bioware, taking place in an obscure part of Thedas ("the Dragon Age setting") shortly before Inquisition, the third Dragon Age game. In this game you play as the ruler of Serault, a small backwater town in a fantasy-medieval-France-like country, and deal with an upcoming visit from the Divine (the fantasy-Catholic pope basically). It follows the StoryNexus format, which involves drawing cards from a deck and picking actions within those cards which have random outcomes based on stat checks.

Overall, the tone of the game is very different from the other Dragon Age games. Dragon Age: Origins was a heroic fantasy, DA2 was a character-driven drama, and Inquisition was largely about high politics and history. All of these games involve making moral choices, which of course become flashpoints for fandom discourse. The Last Court is not like this. The central thematic element seems to be that things are weird and dangerous in this corner of Thedas, with an emphasis on the "weird". There are magic cults, creepy deep woods, a mysterious forest spirit, and so on, plus more mundane struggles like labor disputes and the "Great Game" of espionage and social sabotage. Personally, I'm not really a fan of the writing style which this game shares with Fallen London (is it considered to be "weird fiction"?) and found myself just glancing over the writing. But a lot of people like the writing of Fallen London so whatever.

There is a *lot* of repetition in this game. The ultimate goal is to build up resources for the Divine's visit in order to give as gifts, and the optimal paths involve basically grinding certain cards in a cycle. Actually some level of grinding is inevitable, as there are only so many cards, and they will repeat a lot through draws. Combined with the 20-action limit and 20-minute recharge time (which is totally pointless in 2020 as the game is no longer even monetized), it often feels like this game has a higher grind-to-new-story ratio than the Dragon Age RPGs themselves.

There is narrative payoff though. The most interesting parts of the story are when more of the mysteries surrounding Serault are revealed. There are also some interesting character moments, but not much in the way of development even when one of the characters is taken as a companion or lover (yes, this is a Bioware game). (Spoiler - click to show)I took the Wayward Bard as a lover but I think there was only one change with his card, and little change in the text. The Horned Knight was my favorite character overall, while the Well-Read Pig Farmer was my favorite companion. Many of the mysteries do not have a final resolution, which perhaps leaves room for future Dragon Age games. However, much of the interesting parts of the narrative, the individual mysteries and such, seem to be front-loaded and can be done in a few days, leaving the last few days for total grinding. And the ending feast itself is one of the weaker parts of the game.


The Fog Knows Your Name, by Clio Yun-su Davis
autumnc's Rating:

Wayhaven Chronicles: Book One, by Mishka Jenkins

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Supernatural romance with visual novel-like elements, September 14, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: hosted games

The Wayhaven Chronicles games are two of the most popular games in the Hosted Games catalog, based on review and download counts. I was kind of surprised to see that this game didn't have an entry here. Overall, I think the game deserves its popularity: it is a very well-written and constructed game with an engaging plot and character development, but I personally had some issues with the choice structure.

The author of this game comes from a visual novel/otome game background, and it shows. The structure of this game mixes Choice of Games and otome game conventions. Like the latter, the primary source of branching in the game is which love interest to pursue (or to pursue a love triangle option), which is an explicit choice in the middle of the story. Like the former, the protagonist has numerous options to change their personality stats or use their skills. A large number of choices are personality-setting choices, which provide a choice of what you do, and why you're doing it. I wasn't a fan of these choices because I could never figure out which choice was supposed to correspond to which personality stat, and often none of the personality choices were appealing. Perhaps fortunately, these choices and their associated stats appear to have little impact on the broader story progression (but I haven't re-played the game enough to really find out).

One of the main reasons behind the popularity is the characters. The four main romance interests (who are a team of gender-flippable immortal mostly-benevolent vampires assigned by a secretive Agency to help the protagonist) are very well realized, with their own distinct personalities and detailed descriptions of their appearances. The protagonist's relationship with their mother is also portrayed well, but I could never get past the fact that the protagonist always calls their mother by her first name.

Beyond the romance, the main plot of the game is a supernatural mystery: there is a supernatural serial killer in town and you have to bring him to justice with the help of your companions. However, the killer is revealed through perspective shifts early on; the only question is how they catch him.


Save the Date, by Chris Cornell
autumnc's Rating:

First Draft of the Revolution, by Emily Short, Liza Daly and inkle
autumnc's Rating:

Voyageur, by Bruno Dias
autumnc's Rating:

Rameses, by Stephen Bond
autumnc's Rating:

SPY INTRIGUE, by furkle

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Your gender has died of SPY MUMPS, September 12, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: favs

This game feels like the culmination of the genre of twines that started with howling dogs. It might be overstating to call it the apex of twine, but that's how I personally feel.

SPY INTRIGUE is a story with many layers to it, and somehow it works on each of these layers as well as all together. At the beginning it seems to be a wacky, vaguely sexually charged spy adventure. Then you die and see a story about mental illness, gender, relationships, living in A Society, and all that, all excellently written. But deeper into the spy missions, the themes wrap back around into full earnestness in a way that's difficult for me to describe. I usually bounce off video game comedy, but the humor in this game is genuinely funny. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, the best updog joke in video games. Hearing the word "mumps" still makes me want to laugh in a socially inappropriate manner; I wish I could talk about "SPY MUMPS" irl without being ostracized.

I love the interface too, especially the story map, which shows the current node and all the nodes leading out of the current node, annotated with colors for whether they lead to death, an aside, or story progress.

(Spoiler - click to show)One of the segments, the death scene where the protagonist tries on their parent's clothing, really got to me in a deeply personal way; I still go back just to read this one passage.


The Lost Heir: The Fall of Daria, by Mike Walter

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
CYOA as optimization problem, September 12, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: hosted games

The Lost Heir series eschews the Choice of Games design philosophy in which all paths should be valid and failures should be interesting. This is a difficult game. There are many paths through this story, and it is difficult to die in the first game of the series, but some paths are objectively better than others.

Like many visual novels and gamebooks, the difficulty is in designing a path through the game in which the player character survives and achieves their goals. This involves raising certain stats to the necessary level by key points in the story, and not letting health decrease too low. Unlike in many other stat-heavy choicescript games, the player cannot simply focus on one or two stats; a pure magic user can't expect to get by on magic alone, for example. There are a large number of stats, divided into abilities, skills, knowledge, and relationships. Usually, the stat being checked is well cued, but not always. Only passing stat checks will raise the stat while failing checks will lose health, leading to potential death spirals where the player fails one check after another. I think it is expected that a player will play through multiple times to learn the checks and stat gains and to find a route that leads to a desired ending. Overall, it felt somewhat like Long Live the Queen in terms of the stat-check gameplay, but with fewer deaths.

The story itself takes place in a seemingly generic fantasy setting, where the player character is the titular "lost heir" seeking to reclaim the throne from evil usurpers. Despite the typical setting and plot, it was easy for me to become engrossed in this game. The writing is decent, and I really felt like I needed to find a way to save my favorite characters. There are a number of romance options as is usual in choicescript, who are described in broad strokes in this volume. The romance options themselves are also pretty heavily stat-gated.


Choice of Robots, by Kevin Gold
autumnc's Rating:

Erstwhile, by Aster Fialla, Marijke Perry
autumnc's Rating:

Black Sheep, by Nic Barkdull and Matt Borgard
autumnc's Rating:

URA Winner!, by Carter Sande
autumnc's Rating:

Your Future Self, by Contortionist Games
autumnc's Rating:

Rent-a-Vice, by Natalia Theodoridou
autumnc's Rating:

Heroes Rise: The Hero Project, by Zachary Sergi
autumnc's Rating:

The Hero Project: Redemption Season, by Zachary Sergi
autumnc's Rating:

Tonight Dies the Moon, by Tom McHenry
autumnc's Rating:

Digital: A Love Story, by Christine Love
autumnc's Rating:

Heart of the House, by Nissa Campbell
autumnc's Rating:

Masks, by Mark Sample
autumnc's Rating:

Terminal Interface for Models RCM301-303, by Victor Gijsbers
autumnc's Rating:

Heroes Rise: The Prodigy, by Zachary Sergi
autumnc's Rating:

Cape, by Bruno Dias
autumnc's Rating:

Galatea, by Emily Short
autumnc's Rating:

9:05, by Adam Cadre
autumnc's Rating:

Narcolepsy, by Adam Cadre
autumnc's Rating:

howling dogs, by Porpentine
autumnc's Rating:

Lilium, by Kimberly Delande

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Internet Artifacts, September 11, 2020

The only place where this game is still available is ifarchive. The website that hosted it is gone, which I feel like is a fitting end to the story.

This is a story about relationships mediated through the internet. The protagonist is a college student who meets a slightly older woman on an online forum. They bond via fiction writing and anime fandom, and the college student develops a deep crush. Everything about the story feels incredibly real and human, and the writing carries it through. It's a story about adolescence and impermanence and death, about how people change and grow apart. It just really spoke to me, I guess, as someone who grew up on the internet.

Lilium was originally written for the Naked Twine Jam in 2014, which was supposed to host Twine games without fancy formatting and styles. This game fits; it uses the default Twine theme with blue links and nothing else. There is not much that can be found about the jam online anymore, and half of the games submitted appear to be permanently gone. I'm just glad this game was able to make it through.


The Yawhg, by Damian Sommer and Emily Carroll
autumnc's Rating:

♥Magical Makeover♥, by S. Woodson
autumnc's Rating:

Killing Time at Lightspeed, by Gritfish
autumnc's Rating:

A Single Word in Her Beautiful Calligraphy, by Christine Love

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Beautiful but somewhat frustrating, September 11, 2020

This game has many thematic similarities with Christine Love's other work: lesbians, historical East Asian cultures, and the oppression of women. I really enjoyed her games like Analogue: A Love Story, so it's fascinating to see how much she has evolved. The writing, characterization, and integration of historical themes are great, as expected, while the story is basically linear as far as I can tell.

The primary interaction mechanic is writing Chinese characters by mouse (or maybe finger or stylus?) on an HTML canvas. Sometimes, you are teaching others how to write characters. But the main events are the magic battles where writing certain characters can deal damage, heal you, or enhance your magical powers. This is a pretty unique mechanic in interactive fiction or even within games in general, and fits the theme very well.

Unfortunately, the handwriting input does not work well. Oftentimes, a correct character would not be recognized at all, or be recognized as a different character (I am a semi-native Mandarin speaker and these are mostly simple characters). The time-limited and tense battles makes this rather frustrating. Looking at other open source javascript hanzi/kanji recognition libraries, the results do not seem to be promising either. There have to be some solutions out there that would work (maybe if one looked beyond the English-speaking internet?)...


Analogue: A Hate Story, by Christine Love
autumnc's Rating:

Detritus, by Mary Hamilton
autumnc's Rating:

Known Unknowns, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy
autumnc's Rating:

Birdland, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy
autumnc's Rating:

Open Sorcery, by Abigail Corfman
autumnc's Rating:

Highlands, Deep Waters, by Fernando B. Neves and Lucas Zaper
autumnc's Rating:

Nowhere Near Single, by kaleidofish
autumnc's Rating:

Affairs of the Court: Choice of Romance, by Heather Albano and Adam Strong-Morse
autumnc's Rating:

Choice of Rebels: Uprising, by Joel Havenstone
autumnc's Rating:


Showing All | Show by Page