It's your first day as a security guard, and you end up helping your boss solve a major mystery.
I liked this game's sense of humor, and almost all of the puzzles were manageable (I needed a little extra help finding one answer).
The artwork enhanced the story, and I enjoyed the different plotlines with the inhabitants of the mall.
The player’s role is plot-adjacent in Sunny's Summer Adventure; other characters come to terms with a divorce while the protagonist offers emotional support.
Each day offers a new chance to play vacation-themed minigames, like volleyball and sandcastle building, which are meant to create some happy memories for the humans during a difficult time.
This game is described as a spiritual successor to Adventures with Fido, and it improves on its predecessor by focusing on a smaller set of characters with a consistent story.
Although the setting was entertaining, I had difficulty enjoying a few of the minigames — it felt like some experiences were designed by asking “Could this be programmed?” rather than “Would this be fun?”
Overall, it's a solid work from an author who is dedicated to improvement, but additional feedback from thoughtful playtesters might have made it even stronger.
This story about creative block is short and relatable. You cycle through a narrator’s creative routine, choosing different activities that might lead to the start of something meaningful.
It’s presented in black text appearing on a white background, providing a mix of links that either cycle through words or advance to a new passage.
(Unfortunately, I noticed some minor typos and spacing issues that were more prominent due to the story’s clean presentation. On the other hand, the author is based in Spain, and their English is much better than my Spanish.)
I enjoyed the conclusion of A Blank Page because it felt like an authentic ending to the journey. Or at least it made a good place to stop.
Fightdown! takes place inside an RPG that loses its “connection” right before the final showdown. The experience is like being on a movie set when the cameras stop rolling, and every character has something to say.
This is a choice-based story where the player talks with other characters while they wait for their connection to be restored. Minor puzzles are involved in negotiating and trading items among the cast, which changes how the ending unfolds.
The story blends stock fantasy roles with recognizable Hollywood stereotypes to create entirely new personalities — and then it encourages the player to ask them what they think about each other.
Does the embittered burnout want the hard-working underdog to fail? What does the overachiever think about a coworker acting like a role is beneath them? Text effects are judiciously applied to convey some phenomenal sarcasm.
I enjoyed how Fightdown! explored the relationships between its different characters.
From a narrative perspective, I was unable to enjoy the story that this entry wanted to tell. That might have been a personal failing.
In my defense, a lot of the text describes terrible pain inflicted by a mysterious curse. But as a player, the option to avoid the pain by quitting is there the whole time!
After facing extensive descriptions of suffering and the open contemplation of suicide, it was cleaner and less anguished for me to just end the game.
I appreciate the technical work that went into this entry's presentation. It includes music and monochrome images in the background, but it also takes the rare step of allowing you to use keyboard controls to select choices and advance the story.
Some choices are enclosed in red boxes with a warning to choose carefully, but choices offered outside those warnings can still end your story early — it was challenging for me to determine which choices would be meaningful.
This entry may be interesting for people who enjoy rural scare stories and works that dwell on the themes of life, death, and renewal that frequently appear in farm horror. I found more than one ending, but mysteries involving slaughter and unnatural harvests remained. The person who unravels them will not be me.
This is a spy thriller where the main character describes life-or-death thrills as a minor bureaucratic hassle. The dry, aloof descriptions of people, places, and things provide a lot of entertainment.
As a supernatural entity, you explore a seaside chateau that has been converted to a luxury hotel and casino. Heavy velvet curtains and whirring slot machines are of little interest to those who inhabit the spiritual realm. It's an elegant trick of perspective to gloss over details that might divert players from the main story.
It's difficult to create characters in Inform that feel like real people who can interact with the player and with each other. Vain Empires sidesteps that issue by having a main character that doesn't want to interact with people. His celestial nature makes him distant and unconcerned with the mundane actions of the human realm.
Every human is expected to behave like predictable machinery, and you alter their behavior to get what you want.
Red Radish Robotics does a good job of telling a story. The narrator's childlike perspective explains why you are given some choices that are self-evidently terrible, and although the brief identity crisis is not a shocking plot twist, other developments are effectively foreshadowed with more subtlety.
Red Radish Robotics does a good job of telling a story. The narrator's childlike perspective explains why you are given some choices that are self-evidently terrible, and although the brief identity crisis is not a shocking plot twist, other developments are effectively foreshadowed with more subtlety.
You're asked to escape from the 7th floor of a research facility that has become a giant deathtrap. There are many, many ways to end your escape prematurely, although you are given 10 "respawns" that function like an "undo" button.
In some places, the story gets in the way of the implementation. A few locations and objects needed to be re-visited and re-examined multiple times because the narrator is not properly motivated during early encounters.
Overcoming almost every obstacle is a matter of finding the right links and clicking them in sequence, which meant that I enjoyed uncovering the story more than solving the puzzles in Red Radish Robotics. As you search for a way out of the building, you gradually reveal what happened, why the facility was abandoned, and why you were left behind.
As the schematic for an amazing fighting game, this looks great. As an actual game to be enjoyed by players, it needs a lot of work.
The training choices that you make outside the ring determine your fate in the matches. (The fights themselves involve no input from the player.) But I was unable to find anything like a tutorial, or tooltips, or a meaningful discussion of what each choice meant.
The in-game walkthrough makes the following claim:
"As much as this is a fighting game, it's a word game. The further you get into it, the more cumbersome it is to take note of opponents' styles, fighter traits, strategies, and techniques. Take notes."
Right now, the burden of creating an entertaining experience rests entirely on the player.
This adventure's narrative, which may involve cow tipping and casual murder, describes impossible developments in a consistently matter-of-fact tone. I was entertained by its understated absurdity.
The nature themes and seasonal locations were a good fit for the time travel puzzles. The clues are fair, and you don’t need to understand druidic rituals or know which magic powers are associated with specific plants; this entry does a good job of providing necessary information.
I appreciated how the challenges were designed in Seasonal Apocalypse Disorder. Your magical abilities are limited at the start, which keeps early puzzles confined to specific areas. As you develop your powers, you are given more opportunities to explore how objects and locations interact with each other. There's also a map at the top of the screen, which helped me keep track of time periods and spot rooms that I would have missed on my own.
I got stuck in a few places, but it was my own damn fault for failing to pay closer attention.
I enjoyed exploring the question at the heart of this entry: "What if Jurassic Park gave summer jobs to disaffected teens?" Things quickly change gears from summer job to survival challenge as catastrophe strikes and you must find a way to escape the park's hungry inhabitants.
Some descriptions made it difficult to tell where I was in the park, or where I wanted to go, but other passages updated to show how my previous choices had changed the situation. In some places, like the Dinosaur Nursery, it seemed like I was repeating passages that were only supposed to display once.
This entry could have used more polish, but it's entertaining in its current state. The authors explain that Big Trouble in Little Dino Park was created in 30 days, which explains why it includes a substantial number of typos.
Parts of this experience felt like living in one of those horror movies where the main character is alerted to obvious danger. I appreciated having the option to just go somewhere else, although calculated risks were necessary in a few places.
Some people might interpret the prose as atmospheric, and others might dismiss it as trying too hard. It sets a consistent mood, and it's quickly apparent whether this experience will appeal to you.
For me, the interesting question was whether the interactivity in Accelerate supports its story. Early chapters, which put the audience in the role of an addict trying to score drugs from a religiously affiliated medical clinic, set up a conflict that made it difficult to engage with the narrative.
Open-minded curiosity will help readers explore this story, but that makes it difficult to act like an addict on the prowl.
Assuming the role of a cynical addict will encourage the audience to remain distant from the religious propaganda, and that could mean rejecting the entire entry by quitting early.
As interactive fiction, it was difficult for me to identify my place in the story. It seemed like I was expected to assimilate with a movement as controlling and destructive as the authority it seeks to overthrow.
Dopplejobs was a delight. It’s told from the perspective of a doppelganger who endures situations that clients would rather avoid. Humans and doppelgangers don’t have much experience with each other, so it’s a journey of discovery for everyone involved.
The fantasy world of Doppeljobs is inhabited by stone goats and serviced by sandpipes, which encouraged me to match the story's tone of excited curiosity. Choices are smoothly integrated with the narrative: you're thrown into unfamiliar circumstances and asked to decide what your client would do.
Are there things you don't know? Has important information been left out? The City of Sand is part of a magical foreign world, so you're never sure what will happen.
Things are complicated by the fact that some of your choices might mean that your clients make lasting impressions on you. (The narrator chirps, "Surely, this will affect neither your business nor your life in any way whatsoever!")
The tone of this story fits the perspective of a naïve magical creature trying to survive as an entrepreneur in the City of Sand — it's exactly the kind of blank-slate optimism that you would expect from an entity that knows nothing about humanity.
This work is laid out like a board game, taking place in a four-room apartment where you interact with the composer John Cage, his dog, and his parrot. Text tracks the four of you moving from room to room, and different actions become available depending on who is where.
I appreciate the effort involved in implementing these characters. Their behavior is governed by logical rules that can be deduced through observation — you are expected to understand and apply those rules to engineer a specific result.
The blurb for this entry hints that it's like Elsinore or Varicella, where you are expected to fail many times and learn from your mistakes. However, those games immediately establish that a catastrophe is imminent and encourage the player to start working towards victory from the beginning.
If Copyright of Silence explained what it wanted during my first visit with Cage, I was too dumb to notice. There's a stopwatch in the kitchen that suggested a course of action, but the how and why only became clear after my visit ended and I endured the triumph of Cage and the failure of my own character.
The success of this entry relies on an accretive player character who can play through the scenario quickly and have fun learning new things each time. That's where I stumbled.
I might have spent too much time thinking through each of my character's moves, or I might have missed substantial parts of the environment and the characters' interactions, but I felt burned out and frustrated from failure long before I had accumulated enough knowledge to reach the best possible ending.
This entry is not parser-based, but its choices are intricate. You will enter text in some places, select options in other places, and open windows to click links that create additional options in menus that you might not even be aware of.
It is immense.
Cursèd Pickle of Shireton is a choice-based facsimile of an MMORPG where you can explore, take quests, build stats, and grind for experience. There is an entire adventure outside of the titular pickle's storyline, packed with outright comedy, subtle in-jokes, and external references that are serious and silly.
It's enormous, and it's amazing, but my experience felt unfocused. This entry's greatest strength and biggest weakness is that it's a sprawling assortment of wonders. Without a clear motivation, it took me a long time to find the pickle — and at that point, I wasn't even sure it was a threat.
Age of Aeons, the fantasy RPG where this story takes place, is big enough and weird enough that I wonder what would happen if the pickle was left unchecked. Why not embrace the way of the brine? Would the wizards' guild steer me wrong?
You're asked to divide six people between three different community service projects. The enjoyable twist is that they're all monsters and mythological creatures integrated into modern society. (Oddly detailed personnel files offer scientific discussions of their abilities.)
The story follows a run down, under-funded nonprofit that is already stretched to the breaking point. In a normal city, these organizations serve different groups of people whose needs are regularly in conflict with each other. When those people are harpies, gorgons, and beings from alternate universes, the conflicts become more interesting.
Chorus relies on a player who is willing to return to the story and learn from repeated playthroughs. Early remarks about "the reorganization of the district" hint at tensions behind the scenes, and my first experience left me eager to go back and investigate why the city felt like enemy-occupied territory.
This entry is a polished, smoothly executed joke, but it ends quickly.
After starting in a small village that presents obstacles along with obvious clues for overcoming them, this game delivers its punchline — the big twist might be familiar to fans of Chrono Trigger.
Quest for the Sword of Justice differs from Chrono Trigger in that the proceedings have two possible outcomes. When I acted like I was in a normal RPG, I ended up in an increasingly silly situation that seemed like a permanent end state. Starting over and changing my behavior led to a different outcome with a clear "game over" screen.
The most interesting part of this game is the way it uses RPG Maker software to deliver Interactive Fiction conventions.
Gameplay in BYOD is not so much a limited parser as it is an alternative parser. Although standard commands are present for exploring your character's physical environment, the main action takes place through your smartphone's custom VFS software. The VFS commands were easy to understand and I correctly followed the author's trail of clues to reach the "good" ending.
The virtual feelies that accompany this entry include newsletters and supplemental information formatted to look like Usenet discussions and GameFAQs walkthroughs. I don't know enough to judge whether these are accurate representations of hacker culture, but they certainly evoke the 1990's mood of a group that I was never cool enough to join in real life.
The outstanding presentation details support a shallow narrative that needed more development. In this entry, corporate stereotypes tell a brief story about the abuse of power. When BYOD ended, my character had accomplished very little.
(Spoiler - click to show)The powerful CEO retained his job, perpetuating an industry described as the root of all evil. The secretary was momentarily protected, but what happens in the future? (And what happens to other employees who catch the CEO's eye?)
BYOD offers a tight, carefully defined experience that let me feel like a hacker. I wish it had put a similar amount of effort into telling an engaging story.
This entry is a serviceable addition to the Lovecraft universe, although it stumbles over some common challenges that plague initial releases.
The story visits standard New England locations that are central to Lovecraft's work, and design choices support a creepy atmosphere. Presentation details, like the custom background and buttons to choose your next action, are a welcome departure from Twine's black-and-white defaults.
The investigation that leads the narrator to Innsmouth is much less exciting than time spent in the town itself. Early pages end with the equivalent of "click to continue" buttons, and every possible conversation option must be exhausted before doing something else.
(It made me feel less like a sharp-eyed detective and more like a bored student hearing lectures that repeated the same few ideas about Innsmouth and its sinister residents.)
However, it's evident that the author's skills were honed during the process of developing this work. My experience in the town of Innsmouth was briskly paced and full of enjoyably tense decisions. There are multiple ways to encounter plot points before fleeing to safety, and although bad decisions can end in disaster, the author allows players to undo their mistakes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This entry is quick and dreamlike for good reason: it's a transit nightmare. In your rush to arrive at work on time, you only see a brief slice of content before arriving at one of many endings. Multiple playthroughs uncover a much larger range of outcomes.
What the Bus? pulled off a clever trick with my expectations, although discussing it ventures into spoiler territory: (Spoiler - click to show)the word "Nightmare" is not hyperbole. The author has created an experience where you start off sleepwalking through your daily commute before realizing that you're fully asleep and not walking at all.
The tediously familiar routine of commuting was presented so effectively that the various detours, delays, and redirections steered me to some very weird places before I realized what was happening. I like how it played with the assumptions embedded in city commutes — of course you take everything for granted, you've done it a million times before.
There's a back button at the bottom of every passage that seemed confusing and unhelpful on my first playthrough. Then I realized that it was an essential mercy to let me back out of paths leading to endings I'd already seen. Background colors that change to show the different subway lines was another nice detail.
I appreciated this entry's use of procedurally generated text. You will see a lot of familiar passages, retracing your steps to arrive at new endings, but if you pay attention you'll see (Spoiler - click to show)mimes, former schoolteachers, zombies, and other dreamworld inhabitants. I checked my GPS app every time the option came up, because I knew the results would be entertaining.
I never thought I'd say this about public transit: "That was fun. Let's do it again!"
Ulterior Spirits is a choice-based work created with Unity.
This entry uses graphics, sound, and a futuristic presentation to support a story on a space station populated by aliens and robots. A lot of background material is necessary to introduce the laws, life forms, and technology of this world, but smart design choices bring readers up to speed without being invasive.
While popup windows appear instantaneously to give more detail about races and technology, the story itself is revealed through individual paragraphs of timed text. I wish I could have experienced the main story at the same speed as the background reading.
I needed time to get invested in this entry's narrative, but that investment paid off. Nuanced characters with understandable motives acted out a story arc that ended in satisfying personal development. I enjoyed it as an immersive work of fiction supported by well-timed, illustrative artwork.
However, an immersive work of fiction is not the same as an interactive one. Some choices were obviously meaningless, only altering a single line in the next passage or responding with text that ignored the choice completely. Most passages ended with simple "click to continue" buttons.
Although I tried to make choices as a level-headed senior officer, I suspect that I would have seen similar outcomes from the wild and impulsive options. It was still enjoyable, and I'd recommend it to others.
Little Girl in Monsterland is a choice-based comedy by Mike Stallone. It takes an interesting approach to solving the Gabriel Knight problem: how can adventure games develop new puzzles? Game designers have endured a lot of public ridicule for presenting bizarre solutions to very old problems, like putting arbitrary obstacles in front of a player who just needs to find a key.
This entry approached its puzzle design challenges from the opposite direction. The player sets the goals to accomplish, and the characters manipulate objects to remove obstacles.
These game mechanics elegantly sidestep a lot of parser problems, and they avoid some of the interface problems that can trip up point-and-click games. The player and the narrator agree on what should happen next, and then the characters act it out in the game. When it worked, it felt like collaborative storytelling.
At other times, I struggled to figure out what I should be doing. There are some obvious red herrings that are only there to add some variety, but in many places the correct choice was just as absurd as the alternatives.
Overall, this entry is full of wild ideas. Its comic tone matches its six-year-old protagonists (although it contained an unexpectedly large amount of poop jokes, even for a juvenile comedy) and their journey involves mermaids, werewolves, vampires, and unpaid electric bills.
At some points, the comic tone made it difficult for me to follow the plot. I couldn't always tell when characters were supposed to see through transparent lies, or when I was supposed to ignore contradictions that had merely been introduced for a quick laugh.
Some of my confusion may have been due to a lack of imagination on my part. When I did stumble through the correct sequence of motives, it made sense within the world of the game.
Overall, Little Girl in Monsterland is a big, ambitious entry, and I appreciate the amount of work that went into it. This game does a lot of things well, and it offers some ideas for improving adventure games.
From its in-game About section:
“This work is a collaboration with GPT-2, a neural network model designed to predict the next word in a block of given text based on its study of eight million web pages. In this application, I input a text file of my own prose from the past twenty years into GPT-2. It then generated new writing in a similar style. I selected, arranged, and lightly edited the resulting output.”
I’d be entertained if somebody collaborated with GPT-2 to generate a review for this entry, but on the IFcomp rating scale of 1 to 10, I’m giving it a 2.
This game is a small, well-executed puzzle that includes enough atmosphere and hints at backstory to keep things entertaining.
The presentation is excellent — the player must use an unconventional mechanic to navigate through locations in the game, but the parser clearly indicates when the puzzle's rules are blocking the player from attempting something. When the player does attempt a move that's allowed, the parser is very generous about understanding actions without getting too fussy about procedures.
(Spoiler - click to show)The process of opening doors, closing doors, taking doors, and placing doors was much more streamlined than I expected. I ended up typing out a lot of extra commands before I realized that some of the actions didn't need to be explicitly spelled out.
It's a simple mechanic and effectively implemented: a sequence of binary yes/no choices.
The writing between choices is funny and short, and you quickly encounter a large variety of situations. I survived none of them.
The other entertaining surprise was the amount of work put into developing the different story branches. It supports multiple, quick playthroughs.
The best part of robotsexpartymurder is the way it accommodates people who don't want to have sex parties with robots. You can play through the game as someone who is definitively not interested in sex parties, and it offers increasingly absurd options for denying their reality.
Does it bother you if people think you're someone who enjoys robot sex parties? What about the robots themselves — are you trying to maintain their respect? Is it a problem if your personal assistant software thinks that you're down with the lifestyle? Would you even be playing a game like this if it wasn't an IFcomp entry?
(Spoiler - click to show)For example, I was in a bind after Em reminded me that spending time with these robots was a potential violation of Cardinal's terms and conditions. I had no choice — I was forced to start a party and then call Em in to witness it.
This game worked on mutiple levels. Players who get hung up on the existence of the sex robots might miss the game's commentary on relationships and control as they play out between corporations and people, between law enforcement and private citizens, and between people and their possessions.
It accepts and encourages broad range of viewpoints, allowing you to pursue multiple courses of action while subtly reminding you that other people might view those actions from different perspectives. (Do you want to wear a bathrobe everywhere, like some delusional freak who pretends he's enjoying the decadence of ancient Rome, or do you just do it because you enjoy looking like an extra from Logan's Run?)
I made it to the end of the game, but I would not call it a happy ending. I'll have to probe a little deeper. You know, purely for research purposes.
I enjoyed this game. Its greatest strength is also its biggest barrier to entry: it was created with RPG maker. Ultimately, I’m glad I went through the process of downloading and installing it — I have played a staggeringly large number of shitty RPG maker games, and Shadow Witch was a refreshing change of pace.
This is a story about a character who is conditioned to do evil, and it works well. The RPG maker interface is used effectively to present the world from the protagonist’s perspective, which adds a surprising level of nuance. Is the shadow witch really as jaded and malevolent as she seems, or is her snide, dismissive commentary part of an act that conceals her real emotions?
It’s a small game that can be experienced quickly, which was nice because I could try multiple playthroughs to see how the game responded to my decisions. I found two different endings, although one of them changes a bit depending on how thoroughly you’ve explored the various opportunities for making mischief.
I think this game is called Valand? Now that I’ve checked again, the cover art calls it “The Island,” and I thought of it as “The Island” the whole time I played, so I’m very confused. It had a bit of the island from ABC’s Lost, and the host with questionable intentions recalled Thief of Always for me. It takes place in a world with witches, mermaids, tigers, and island inhabitants who all have their own motivations.
I had some trouble retaining the right perspective while reading through the story. The text makes some observations that frame the narrative from the perspective of a ten-year-old, but at other times, it draws conclusions that seem a more advanced.
This story has given itself an ambitious task. If you’re going to show an illusion that unravels, you need to effectively sell that illusion before poking holes in it. That’s twice as much work! I appreciated that the author kept things moving, but it meant that I never got invested in either the magical illusion or its unraveling.
Interactively, this game could have used more time in development. The intent was certainly there, allowing you to investigate different aspects of the environment and make different decisions. (Spoiler - click to show)If you choose the option to spend the day with Emily, you learn how to use magic. If you spend the day with Corbin, you don’t learn magic. If it’s time to build the raft and you spent your time with Corbin, you’re suddenly using your magical abilities to create an escape route like it’s no big deal. That was jarring. I found three different endings.
I liked this story, but it could have benefitted from more work.
I enjoyed the fiction of Rip Retold. It was crafted with care and intent, preferring to fill out the story with subtle details instead of massive text dumps. I immediately got a sense of the relationship between Chester (the protagonist) and his brother. The story skips ahead through time, as you’d expect with the tale of Rip van Winkle, but there’s no heavy exposition between scenes.
Most of the passages have you clicking words or phrases to proceed to the next sequence, although sometimes you can follow links for more detail before returning to the flow of the story. A few options end the story early, but there are always options to go back and choose again, along with Twine’s prominent “go back” button on the side of every screen.
The difficult part of telling this story through time-lapse is that the writing’s subtlety can work against it. It's tough to understand everything happening the first time you read it.
(Spoiler - click to show)For example, Chester’s decision to take/leave the brooch. The story notes that you could make some money from selling it, but I didn’t appreciate all the motivations at work until I flipped back and forth through the decision a few times. Getting enough money to save your brother’s leg leaves you stuck in a dead-end job in town for the rest of your life, while leaving it means that your brother loses his leg and you dedicate yourself to following in your father’s footsteps and become a doctor because of it. It's a good setup, but I blundered through it.
The other problem with encouraging readers to pay close attention means that sometimes they assign importance to the wrong details. (Spoiler - click to show)When I read about Rip van Winkle’s slick hair and pencil-thin mustache, I thought that he was OBVIOUSLY some kind of conman grifter, but now I think they were just details to emphasize how his hair got wild and overgrown during his twenty-year nap.
Looking at areas for improvement, I’m wondering whether bringing in the story of Rip van Winkle is necessary. This entry skips through the life of a boy growing into adulthood, and some of the choices alter his future and the community that he lives in. That’s a fine premise for a story on its own.
On the other hand, Van Winkle went to sleep before the revolutionary war, as a subject of the king, and woke up after independence in a democracy. That’s a big change! Including him in this story makes Chester’s transition feel much less dramatic.
I enjoyed the fiction of Slugocalypse very much. It’s like an upbeat Day of the Triffids or a less gory Living Dead installment. It’s the end of the world, with slugs. It introduces you to an environment, introduces conflict into that environment, and then keeps things moving until the conflict is resolved.
I enjoyed this game’s presentation and interactivity, as well. It uses images and music, and I was quite happy to see a Twine game that hadn’t gone with the default white-text-on-black color scheme.
There are a few options for exploration in the game (and maybe this is a branch-and-bottleneck structure?) that allow you to carefully examine your environment for clues about the disaster or just run like hell and try to survive. In my playthroughs, there seemed to be far fewer jump scares than you’d experience in something like a Resident Evil game, and I appreciated that.
I didn’t need anywhere near an hour to get through it, although I only found two of the three endings
This entry reminded me of the little pain-in-the-ass details that are necessary to fix a game’s presentation. After you spend so much time actually writing your story, and then the effort of coding and testing the interactive components, it feels like going back to change up paragraph breaks and whatnot is one of the least useful things you can do.
Formatting is a tedious, thankless job, but it’s essential if you want an audience to connect with your work. I understand the author’s choice to cut that particular corner, but it undermined the final piece.
If you're willing to work through the presentation issues, it's a competent story about a group exploring a dungeon.
This game’s genre is “grieving fantasy,” but it’s a specific kind of grieving. Nobody has died yet. They’re all about to die, making it similar to being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
The character reactions all seemed plausible; they react differently to their collective death sentence.
This game is interactive, allowing you to change some things in the brief amount of time you have left. I was happy that the author pushed beyond Twine’s basic “choose your own adventure” functions to use a range of features that included images and text boxes prompting you for typed input.
The challenge is that the setting actively discouraged me from investing in the story. It was tough to care about people and places when I knew they would be destroyed, especially when the game has warned you that there’s not much time left. The time limit also discouraged me from exploring and trying to understand the different characters, or the nature of their friendship.
This game left me bristling with indignation, and I can't tell whether it was the subject matter or the way it was handled.
The fiction is competently executed. The writing is clear, and the author evokes specific themes and moral challenges without descending into bloated, over-wrought exercises in highly detailed tedium.
Interactively, it's a friendly gauntlet structure. The player has some agency to affect the story outside of key decision points that will always be used to set up specific dilemmas. And that's a great structure! It is often used to effectively provide interactive opportunities while confining a game's scope to a manageable size.
My major grumble is the way that The Milgram Parable works to present pairs of flawed options (or in one case, no options at all) before scolding the player's choice. It kept reminding me that I was in an exercise contrived someone else, reinforcing that the easiest way to win was by not playing. The repeated references to the Milgram experiment, and its concerns about justifying terrible things by "just following orders," undercut the idea of questioning my morality.
I especially resented the way that the game kept telling me how to feel. “What are you doing here? What have you gotten yourself into?” The game does not need to ask me these questions. Reading “You wish you knew more about what was going on” was irritating; there’s a subtle-but-important difference between me wishing I knew what was going on and the author telling me that I wish I knew more. Lines like these kept reinforcing the idea that me, the guy at the computer screen, was not the same person as the character in the adventure.
(Spoiler - click to show)I was exceptionally annoyed when I was told “You have no choice. Truly no choice at all,” after shooting the kid. I was quite aware that the choice was taken from me by the author, which circles back to my earlier point about this game spending too much time telling me how I was supposed to feel.
I enjoyed the plausible and coherent fiction that held this game together. The environments were detailed and immersive, exploring three different realities that appeal to different characters. Each one is recognizable as “the kind of place you’d want to visit online,” but they have all been given enough description to prevent them from feeling washed-out and generic.
The game encourages you to talk with the characters to learn more about them and their motivations. Those conversations gradually reveal details about the world outside the simulation and why the characters have been flagged for being at risk of addiction.
In my opinion, the interactivity and the fiction worked well together. It gradually presented different parts of the story and allowed me to piece things together at my own pace. There’s no massive info-dump that screams “HERE IS THIS WORLD’S STORY.” Instead, you pick up on keywords and encourage the characters to provide more detail about those concepts.
If I was going to grumble, I’d say that it didn’t feel like I could *change* anything. I walked around, I looked at things, and I asked questions. And that was an appropriate stylistic choice! (Spoiler - click to show)All the characters were frustrated by the feeling that their actions in the "real world" couldn't make any lasting change. My powerlessness put me right there alongside them. And I questioned whether the assessor should actually be trying to change these characters — they might need to decide on their own that they have to change.
This takes place in an environment that is familiar to anyone who has undertaken long-distance travel, especially across national borders. It’s the “adventure before your adventure,” looking at the things that happen in the space before a vacation starts.
I enjoyed the fiction because it was conversational and observant. It was like getting an email from a friend talking about their travel experience, or like writing that email to someone else.
It gets two thumbs up for interactivity. There’s a nice mix of cosmetic/immaterial choices alongside significant choices that trigger specific events. (Or maybe not? I played through the game a few times, and I’m not entirely sure I saw which choices linked with distinct outcomes.) (Spoiler - click to show)I made some conscientious-but-boring choices on my first playthrough, and I felt like my diligence was rewarded with a successful arrival in Hamburg. Things were much different on subsequent trips.
I was going to grumble, it would be that it was tricky for me to pick up the game’s full context without doing some additional research. The blurb establishes that I’m trying to ride the bus from London to Hamburg, but the opening of the game just drops me at the bus station and expects me to know what I want to do. I also needed to look up what Flygskam meant, because I missed that cultural conversation.
I read through Eye Contact pretty quickly, which was nice because I was able to zip through it several times to gain a full understanding of the story.
It recreates the experience of meeting up with a close friend who needs to vent. I thought that the story was skillfully delivered, realistically leading up to the part where you and your friend realize why she needs to vent.
It took me a shameful amount of time to recognize the wordplay in this entry’s title, but now I understand and I am here for it.
I did a quick playthrough as hoeforpoe and I thought it was a competent entry. The chat exchanges felt like real transcripts between people online. And they were applied sparingly; I appreciated that the game provided summaries of the discussions instead of trying to simulate lengthy poetry workshops.
On my second playthrough, I hit a blank screen and wondered whether I was doing it right — was there much interactivity in this story, and could I influence how it unfolded?
Then I opened up the walkthrough to see whether I had missed anything. OMFG, I did.
So, strong fiction, strong interactivity, and bonus points for adding interactive elements that played with the fourth wall. It was my own fault that I missed these features on my first two attempts.