Ratings and Reviews by BitterlyIndifferent

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Electric word, "life", by Lance Nathan

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Well written, but the player doesn't have much agency, December 1, 2020

As a work of fiction, Electric word, "life" has been carefully constructed. The writing is thoughtful and polished. The reader is free to explore the party environment and learn more about the narrator's life, but facts are also revealed in a deliberate sequence to tell a complete story.

In his author's note, Nathan states "I like games with meaningful choices and branching paths, but this is what I wrote."

There is one instance of timed text that I understand from an artistic perspective, but as a reader it looked like a broken passage to me — the "back" arrow, displayed prominently throughout the story, was the first thing that caught my attention before the rest of the text materialized on the screen.

This is a well-written story about five friends who won't recognize the importance of their Halloween encounter until it's over.

Turbo Chest Hair Massacre, by Joey Acrimonious

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Have fun enabling bad behavior, December 1, 2020

I went into this expecting a weakly implemented joke, and instead I found smart writing in a parser-based exploration of what it means to be in a relationship.

Yes, it contains coarse language and erotic themes, but they’re artistically justifiable coarse language and erotic themes. Without them, the Turbo Chest Hair Massacre experience would be incomplete.

A wide variety of tools can be applied to the main problem, and they are uncovered by exploring the environment and interacting with the main character’s roommate. I enjoyed their different observations and reactions; they are clearly defined through sharp writing.

I was also entertained by how Turbo Chest Hair Massacre nudges the player towards obviously terrible solutions that are easy to attempt. Some of my worst ideas were smoothly executed without having to guess any verbs.

If I have but one regret, it’s that I didn’t spend more time exploring new frontiers of personal hygiene with Turbo Chest Hair Massacre. It was fun as hell.

The Impossible Bottle, by Linus Åkesson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The Impossible Bottle is an incredible triumph., December 1, 2020

It would be an exaggeration to call The Impossible Bottle a spiritual successor to Trinity, but it wouldn't be much of an exaggeration.

Both works involve the playful exploration of a logically consistent fantasy world, and both of them include Klein bottle references.

Puzzles in The Impossible Bottle are beautifully integrated with its story, consistently blurring the lines between fantasy and reality in ways that weren't possible in Brian Moriarty's 1986 Infocom title. (Moriarty's London tourist obviously departs from the world that we know. It's difficult to say for certain whether Emma of the Impossible Bottle remains in the real world.)

I was concerned that the story of a six-year-old doing housework might be unapproachably childlike, and instead I discovered an entertaining challenge that re-defined conceptual space.

Each puzzle in The Impossible Bottle asks whether you need to change objects so that they can better relate to their environment or change the environment so that it can better relate to the objects.

Despite the constantly shifting perspective, the parser still understood what I was trying to accomplish. It must have required a lot of work to implement smoothly.

I appreciated the tone of this entry's narration. Descriptions were clear and earnest, with the kinds of wry observations you'd expect from someone who doesn't quite understand the tedious social rituals of adulthood. Prompts from the environment gently steered me towards the entry's main mechanic, which was a deceptively simple concept enabling a large number of complex interactions.

Tombs & Mummies, by Matthew Warner

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Traps, treasure, and an interface that can be torture, December 1, 2020

The magic, monsters, and ancient artifacts in this story made it fun to explore the underground tomb of the Pharoah Haputet. Rooms are illustrated with Egyptian artwork, and an in-game hint system allows you to trade health for clues.

Instead of red herring objects, Tombs & Mummies has traps that affect how the player behaves. I enjoyed figuring out how to reverse the curses that were placed on me, but they could also be avoided entirely whenever I restarted. And I restarted frequently.

Overall, this work has a lot of clever ideas that could be better implemented to improve the experience.

I eventually escaped the pharaoh's tomb. It was an entertaining challenge, but it would have been more entertaining if some of the challenges didn't involve figuring out what the parser expected me to type.

Deus Ex Ceviche, by Tom Lento, Chandler Groover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Entertainingly weird/weirdly entertaining, December 1, 2020

This entry is a richly designed experience guided by a clear artistic vision. My attempts to describe that vision — it’s running a business that operates a church for seafood robots — will fail to do it justice.

The main mechanic resembles a card game where "disks" are placed in three fields that guide the story, and modifiers can be added to change their effects. Different variables are tracked on the side of the screen, and a pixel-perfect advisor offers help.

It's quick to figure out what will happen when various disks are submitted, but it's unclear whether you want those things to happen. You gradually gain awareness as you spend more time with Deus Ex Ceviche, developing conscious control over the proceedings. This mimics the experience of “you,” the central character in the story.

At first, I couldn't tell whether I wanted to restore things to normal or create a new order. In Deus Ex Ceviche, that might mean a religious order, a sequential order, or a restaurant order.

Wordplay is a major component of this entry, but they aren't quite puns. In the real world, people share imperfect metaphors when they’re trying to describe the workings of finance, theology, and computer programming. Deus Ex Ceviche blurs the edges of those concepts and freely substitutes nautical terms, business concepts, programming ideas, and spiritual dogma.

In a dizzying feat of logical consistency, those substitutions are consistent throughout the story. The three fields of play are front end, back end, and hardware, and each has an equivalent marine creature that is thematically linked with the rest of the work.

(In one of my encounters, it noted that you can translate "serpent" as "python" to create a new religious paradigm.)

Your choices to invest power and piety can result in rituals that reveal mysteries and draw the game to its conclusion.

...although pickling is always an option.

(s)wordsmyth, by Tristan Jacobs

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent concept, odd design choices., December 1, 2020

Your character in (s)wordsmyth is a lousy fighter who has been trained to end disputes with words alone. I loved the concept behind this entry, but I was baffled by its design choices.

This is not a story about negotiation and compromise. Instead, you have to outwit mythical creatures that exist solely to hunt and kill humans. Every physical action is described to you by your sword, which made me feel distant from the narrative.

A large black display crowds all this entry’s text into a small window, which made it difficult for me to follow some of the dialogue exchanges — carefully chosen words and skilled writing were already necessary to carry its story, and then extra constraints were imposed on how that writing could be displayed.

A lot of clicking is required to advance between choice points, and there's no ability to save the game. A bloody splash of graphics decorates the (many!) endings that you reach through incorrect choices. Although it's possible to "undo" a bad choice, it rewinds to much earlier in the confrontation and requires you to redo several choices.

There's a fascinating journey at the heart of (s)wordsmyth, and the main character encounters a wide variety of distinct opponents. It would have helped if this story was presented in a way that was less difficult to access.

I especially enjoyed the final confrontation, which was supported by writing that did a better job of indicating which choices were correct. I wish that every encounter had been designed as carefully.

Ferryman's Gate, by Daniel Maycock

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A deceased relative's treasure hunt, December 1, 2020

In Hollywood Hijinks, your uncle Buddy was endearingly quirky, imbuing his Hollywood-themed puzzles with a kind of silver screen logic. Ferryman's Gate reminds me of Hollywood Hijinks, but the deceased Osmond Ferryman seems fussy and judgmental.

Ferryman and I agree that clear communication is difficult without clear punctuation. However, Ferryman's interior design choices suggest that people should be put to death for incorrect comma usage. I’m not sure I can support that position.

The parser work is solid. There are locked doors, buried chests, dark rooms, and everything you'd expect in the "treasure hunt at your wealthy relative's estate" genre. The question is whether an obsession with punctuation adds novelty to the experience.

A lot of work went into coding, writing, and proofreading not only Ferryman's Gate as an entry, but also the style guides inside the game that explain its preferred rules of grammar. I respect that work while questioning whether it was worth risking a catastrophic invocation of Muphry's law.

I try not to pick on typos, but it's dicey to set characters up as supreme arbiters of correct language — giving them actual power over the gates of Hell — when your work is likely to include visible errors.

At the start of Ferryman’s Gate, a "volume of Gerard Manley Hopkin's [sic] poetry" is mentioned, giving an awkward example of possessive apostrophe use.

The Utility Closet, two rooms away from the starting point, "is empty except from [sic] a strange copper panel," which might be a figure of speech that is specific to Georgia.

Overall, I think that the obsession with perfection weighed down this parser-based treasure hunt and made it less enjoyable.

Creatures, by Andreas Hagelin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Includes the good and bad parts of retro games, December 1, 2020

This work is choice-based in the same way that some of the earliest computer games were choice-based — most of the game is spent choosing numbers from a menu of options. It felt like something I could have enjoyed on my Apple IIe, back when running a Dungeons & Dragons module on the computer was a huge deal.

This game deserves credit for re-creating a nostalgic experience. I would have done terrible things to get my hands on a game like this back when I was in grade school.

Back in grade school, I would also get excited about the story elements in Creatures, which included electric lights, magic altars, knights, and medical experiments. In the present day, it is more difficult for me to identify a clear theme that links them together in a cohesive narrative.

This entry has a simple play loop. Answer a riddle, fight a monster, answer another riddle, start another fight. All of the riddles involve entering sequences of numbers that unlock doors. Only 4 codes are required to complete the game, but the IFcomp details suggest that more than 2 hours may be necessary.

Combat involves stats and random number generation, but enemies should be challenged in a specific order to gain equipment for winning the next battle. It means that the number crunching is narratively pointless.

Unfortunately, Creatures has ignored a lot of advances in game design that have been made over the past three decades. Parts of it feel like something that the author created to see whether it could be done, instead of something that was created to be enjoyed by an audience.

I do not have the programming skills that would allow me to create an entry like this from scratch, and Creatures works as a proof of concept. If the author develops this work, it would be interesting to see something more user-friendly that supported a larger, more intricate story.

Stoned Ape Hypothesis, by James Heaton

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Make Yourself a Better Caveman, December 1, 2020

This entry has a friendly gauntlet structure where you solve puzzles to unlock parts of the story, beating computer opponents in a series of challenges before you arrive at the ending.

As a game, it works: your victories earn a series of power-ups, and your final reward is full integration with society.

As a story, I found it difficult to engage with this entry. It felt like the triangle of identities got in the way of allowing me to understand the character's motivation.

Curiosity drove me to move from location to location and uncover new options, but there was no clear reason for the character. I never got a sense that food, water, or shelter were matters of survival — they just felt like background details.

The association with the Stoned Ape theory introduced a disconnect between the scope of this game, which covers a few days (?) in the life of a single organism, and the scope of the evolutionary theory, which plays out across generations.

Developmentally, I couldn't tell whether this character was starting from farther back than everyone else, making it the "rite of passage" story of journey that each member of the tribe must compete, or whether this character was a prehistoric Prometheus bringing enlightenment to his tribe.

From a mechanical perspective, the challenges were well developed. You make strategic choices based on the actions of your opponent, and it's possible to fail. This entry was well implemented; I never felt stuck, and I found my way through to the end without any major confusion.

I respect the work that went into this, and it's a solid effort.

The Turnip, by Joseph Pentangelo

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Something Leafy This Way Comes, December 1, 2020

I appreciate the effort put into this entry's presentation — the technical choices made to select fonts and colors, but also the information that is shared and withheld.

It's the terse story of an ominous turnip discovery: you play as someone with a job digging holes in a field, and the story is delivered in a fitting tone. The story advances one link at a time, but you can take detours to examine different things along the way.

Those detours make The Turnip stand out. Something is not quite right even before the turnip appears, and the narrator's world-weary tone conceals oddities that would only be present in a world much different from our own. When you click to examine something closer, you might get the bland description of something dismissed as commonplace, or it could be the wild perspective of someone seeing the world as a swirling, colorful omelet.

I enjoyed this story’s skill and restraint. It didn’t get bogged down with excess description, and it didn’t trip over itself trying to deliver an in-depth examination of a world that is Not Like Our Own. A measured amount alienating details did a nice job of keeping me off balance while methodically trudging along an assigned path.

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