Reviews by BitterlyIndifferent

IF Comp 2019

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robotsexpartymurder, by Hanon Ondricek

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
This isn't what it looks like!, December 2, 2019

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.

The Shadow Witch, by Healy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Is evil a choice, or a state of being?, December 2, 2019

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.

The Island (Valand), by Ann Hugo

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A good start, December 2, 2019

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.

Rip Retold, by Hipolito

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Solid story that would have been great with a more interactive presentation, December 2, 2019

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.

Slugocalypse, by Charlotte Blatchford

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Giant Slug Attack, December 2, 2019

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

Arram's Tomb, by James Beck

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Things you don't notice until they are absent., December 2, 2019

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.

The Legendary Hero Has Failed, by Tom Martin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Kept at a distance, December 2, 2019

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.

The Milgram Parable, by Peter Eastman

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Spend less time telling me how I'm feeling, December 2, 2019

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.

Mental Entertainment, by Thomas Hvizdos

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Tell me more about yourself., December 2, 2019

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.

Flygskam Simulator, by Katie Benson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The events before the main event, December 2, 2019

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.

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