RetroCON 2021

by Sir Slice


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Several small, simple and very retro games in one, November 28, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

I snickered at the thought of a slice-of-life game from someone named Sir Slice. There are a few other laughs sprinkled throughout this Twine effort where you attend a retro convention that features various slot machines and retro games. Despite this being a convention, there aren't people to talk to but just games to play. There's a variety of gambling–-the usual suspects-–but also a small parser adventure (pretty impressive, given this is Twine) and a football simulation and a card game called Double Dead Zed. You can leave at any time.

I really lean towards the gaming aspect of text adventures, but given that I was at a convention, I was expecting to interact with people, discuss cool retro stuff uncovered in the past year, and so forth. It seems there were opportunities, e.g. after winning the card game, you could find someone else who was pretty good at it or could show you other interesting retro stuff. That said, RetroCon shows a lot of neat basic tricks of stuff you can do with Twine. Maybe the lack of story encouraged me to poke around in the source, and I found how the parser game got written to be particularly interesting. However, this makes RetroCon 2021 a bad fit for IFComp, because even if it doesn't hit the classic puzzles everyone may be a bit tired of, none of the games really matter or tie you into something deeper. That said, the card game helped prepare me for some other comp entries that are a lot longer and also had card games.

The gambling stuff is fairly standard: Keno, slots, video poker, horse races, and so forth. The horse race reminded me of an Apple game that randomly raced horses and impressed me so much as a kid. It has a $5 cap on betting (you start with $100,) as if to note that gambling too much at once is a bad idea. With all my poking at the source, I forgot to try what happened if you went broke, so that is maybe something to revisit. As for Keno--I remember being overwhelmed by the flashing text and lights of a pirated Apple game of Keno when I was a kid. I never figured out what to do. I figured it must be terribly complicated. I felt ripped off when I learned the utter lack of strategy and also that I was able to calculate easily what a losing proposition it was. So that brought back memories of a sort.

Dozen Dead Zed is a simple card game. You must kill exactly 12 of your computer opponent's players. Cards you draw may kill 1, 2 or 3, and you can also draw a weapon card. There are other special cards like injure, first aid, jam (opponent's gun) and so forth. You can't actually use a 3-kill card unless you have a shotgun, and you can't use a 2-kill if you have a knife, and so forth. Injured players can discard all five of their cards and start over. It took me a bit to figure what to do, but the strategy seemed nontrivial, though sometimes you were just out of luck with bad cards.

There's also a two-minute drill where your football team is down 4 points with two minutes left. The game constantly reminds you a field goal won't do. This could have been tweaked a bit, because how many time-outs you have is important in the actual game. I got lucky with two down-the-middle long passes, since the clock seemed to stop no matter what, and an incompletion took the same time as a completion. Then I short-passed my way to a touchdown. So the balance may have been off, but it had that retro feel and reminded me of a low-res football game I loved to play on the Apple. You typed in your play and the defense's. If your team got a first down, the randomly generated crowd colors changed and it made a clapping noise. I miss it.

The parser game, Uncle Jim's Will, was most interesting to me. Your Uncle has died, and you must find the buried treasure in his house. Given that the game advertises CrappyParser as its engine, you can't expect it to be very good. Its super-blunt error messages heckle, almost bordering on trolling: "What in the world makes you think you can go east?" Though it is complex, as you do have the ability to TALK X ABOUT Y. And while there aren't many items in the game, you have alternate solutions. You can feed or play with the dog, and while you can probably guess where the treasure is without the map, there are two places to use the bronze key before it breaks, and if you get the map and not the spade, your neighbor loans you a shovel. So I thought the parser game was economical, and I put the heckling down to, well, the parser's name. I was also amused that, when I left the game unattended, it had about ten different nags to tell me to get moving, already.

After doing all this, you can go back to your hotel room, get some sleep, and leave whenever you want. I was disappointed not even to be able to attend a lecture about projects for RetroCon 2022 or cool games that got lost and found or whatever. The whole game seems to describe things as "kinda neat" or "yeah, that was fun" and I think I caught a "you guess you can." So don't expect emotional impact, as RetroCon 2021 feels like it'd work great as a programming tutorial. The parser is legitimately impressive. I don't know if it's been done before. I saw input text before in a game (ShuffleComp?) and I remember a review calling it a brilliant take-down of parser games, so seeing a serious effort, CrappyParser's flippant self-depreciating and you-depreciating aside, was neat.