Consisting of one puzzle-type in several iterations, "Spectrum" is a logical enough game in which each piece of the puzzle reveals more of the dramatic backstory, set in a conceptual mindscape out of time.
It isn't challenging, but I appreciate having to empathize (whether approving or not) with the game's internal viewpoint. The puzzle is a basic test of emotional association and identification, and is interesting for examining one's own responses and comparing them with those expected by the game. It was logical, coherent, thought-provoking, and bug-free, which is everything one can hope from Speed-IF. Five minutes well spent.
(As an afterthought, I understand why an atheist might see a pro-religious bent to it, and equally as well why a religious player may find the game somewhat offensive: (Spoiler - click to show)
The player character is rewarded by a deity (embodied in-game by the savior statue, which while by no means restricted to Christianity, is most closely associated with it for the likely readership) for killing someone identified by the narrator as "a good man," and this after having to associate the concept of blind submission with the aforementioned savior. To a Christian, this idea is cognitively dissonant and morally repugnant, but to someone from without, it may appear to be an affirmation of what they believe to be unfortunate truths about organized religion.)
The game is almost entirely menu-driven and the writing is just as slap-dash as it needs to be (minus the encyclopedic excerpts, of course), but is so deceptively witty and self-aware I couldn't help but enjoy myself, albeit with a wry half-smile and a raised eyebrow for the duration. I even willingly undid a direct choice advancing the plot in order to undertake an eight-step chain with an obvious "payoff" merely consisting of exhausting one repetitive dialogue option until I was left with the one I'd chosen initially. The gag is essentially identically to the "and thennn?" gag from Dude, Where's My Car?
Most of the game consists of attempting to fast-talk your way out of being brutalized by a gorilla in a business suit, and one of my favorite elements is the way suggestive menu options play out in the resulting paragraphs of exposition or dialogue. You're faced with options such as, "Yeah, a gorilla with rocket launcher hands. That *is* odd. Please tell me your story" (and in context, you can seriously expect a reasoned response), and "I should probably tell you about the plant!" which works partly because it's been woven into the story but mainly because the Speed-IF event the game was written for randomly assigned a number of fake book-jacket blurbs to an author, who then had to make a story incorporating all those elements; in this case, it was David Fletcher's comment, "The minutely detailed simulation of the plant life was remarkable, if somewhat overwhelming." True, and true.
"The man-eating, halitosic gorilla of Brazil" may not be everyone's cup of coca-water, but it made me happy and silly for 10 or 15 minutes, and I appreciate that.
(It might be easy to overlook the introductory text, but the instructions are crucial to navigating one's way to the non-death ending. Yes, you will probably be torn limb-from-limb with a certain frequency until, of course, you survive the chariot race.)
The constraints of Speed-IF force an author to identify and highlight the core elements of their story: here, Pacian has chosen theme, imagery, and characterization. The brief prologue establishes all three in only a few sentences and lines of dialogue as we see a literal blushing romance, evocative phrasing, and hints of the main characters' complementary and contrasting personalities. The first sentence alone sets the stage:
"The zeppelin lurches suddenly and I tumble forward, spilling my books on the deck. Peyton laughs sympathetically and holds out his hand."
The viewpoint character and Peyton explore this dynamic along with the eponymous tower, learning about each other even as the reader learns the history of the setting. For such a short game, there is a great deal of backstory verging on the infodump in places, but never substantially enough to drag on the reader. Only curiosity, and perhaps, a tease of things (never?) to come.
It's surprising to find much replayability or branching in Speed-IF, but even though they're naturally abbreviated there are numerous endings, all logically suggested by the end-game scenario, and several points where the fleeting conversations can be steered into different revelations and outcomes. I found this thoughtfulness, like the developed personalities and vivid descriptions, touching. While it might take 10 minutes to play the first time and 2 thereafter, "Love, Hate, and the Mysterious Ocean Tower" is a vignette I'll visualize and remember for a long time.
I expected Out of the Pit to challenge my conceptions of freedom of information, military justice and due process, so it was disappointing to find that it has little to do with any of the stated premises and is in fact a negligibly implemented, awkwardly written, unpolished and shallow exercise.
As the author himself says in the "About" text, "...I've no idea how to fix it, and, quite frankly, I don't give a f***."
There isn't enough detail in the backstory or setting to identify clear parallels to any particular set of events, nations, or actors, but there's a vague supernatural menace which it appears has made short work of the soldiers guarding your facility.
Unfortunately, while the dead guards' eyes are nothing but a haunting blank void, they are empty to the point where you can see no such void nor even eyes. A rag is hardly portable; there is a dead body named Pat which can only be referenced by the noun "male"; there is a hidden aspect to the game dependent entirely on an inconceivable violation of physics (Spoiler - click to show)and a literal violation of the fourth wall; and my crowning achievement and great joy in the game was to see "array of monitors: Taken" and "control panel: Taken" before strolling out of the Security Room back into the hallway hundreds of pounds heavier and several cubic meters enhanced in bulk but no less nimble in my step. Threepwood pants, no doubt.
It's only a 10 minute experience, but on the downside, 9 of that will be spent attempting to interact with unimplemented objects and immovable tasers. There's still room for someone to address any number of aspects of the Wikileaks debate, but Out of the Pit has nothing of substance to say on that or any other subject. Alas.
Bonehead is an interactive exploration of an historical moment and it's clear the author invested time and care into the game's design, but it's hindered by some moment-out-of-time scenes which may be more jarring than illustrative, puzzles both cliched and obscure per the subject matter, and in my case, an inability to defeat my apathy toward baseball minutiae.
I wanted to enjoy it because I think empathy and the ability to learn from a time and place are great strengths of the IF medium (and I'm still firmly on the author's team, as it were), but having to participate in certain character interactions felt like a chore, there came points where it's necessary to perform specific unintuitive actions using unfamiliar language (the bag situation, specifically), and while the early puzzles were straightforward (distract Person A to retrieve Item B), the walkthrough carried me through the awkward final stage which I felt was unplayable otherwise.
Baseball aficionados or historians may feel differently, and there are two deeper and altogether more complementary reviews available by Emily Short and Jimmy Maher at the time of this writing. For the rest, there's always Wikipedia.
...but don't play this one.
Hallow Eve aspires to be a campy 80's slasher romp, but falls apart on weak technicals and poor design.
Problems include: finicky verbs ("saw [object]" doesn't work while you're holding the saw but "cut [object] with saw" does); sit-and-wait plot trigger; an area you're cautioned you could get lost in and have no reason to explore, but which contains a critical item you'll discover you need while on the opposite side of the map, although there's still no reason to think the boring maze-area might have such a thing; occasional plot-on-rails despite superior alternatives (someone's dying right now but you have to walk someone else to her car); poorly responsive NPCs; and the game's entirely unplayable without the walkthrough.
It's the author's first work, and considering that, it's far more substantial as a game than many learning pieces. I was torn between leaving 1 star out of 5, which seems harsh and discouraging, and 2, which seems slightly generous.
There's a good lesson here about seeking feedback early in the development process while puzzles and plot are still being sketched out in even the briefest of design and puzzle documents. Also a great opportunity to check out the IF Theory Reader (edited by Kevin Jackson-Mead and J. Robinson Wheeler), and Jimmy Maher's Let's Tell a Story Together (A History of Interactive Fiction).