RetroCON 2021

by Sir Slice


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Number of Reviews: 4
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Inoffensive minigames, December 23, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

Okay, real talk: I found RetroCON 2021 – a low-key, low-plot collection of minigames – kind of boring. But as the last game to come up in my Comp queue, actually it was kind of pleasant to have something so inoffensive to close things out. It was nice to dip into the seven different activities on offer, dig into the one or two that interested me, and quit without feeling like I needed to exhaust everything the game has to offer. It’s an inoffensive time-waster – and an impressive demonstration of programming skill – that’s not especially memorable, but sometimes there’s a place for that.

There is a thin frame story tying this all together: you’re in Vegas for a retro gaming convention, providing justification for the three different games on offer as well as four opportunities for gambling. But there are no characters to interact with in this layer, or any consequences so far as I could tell for winning games or money, so it’s really just there as a semi-elaborate menu for the minigames. I’d roughly divide these into the fun ones, the duds, and those that are fine but left me cold. In the third bucket I’d put all the gambling ones – I’ve never found straight games of chance at all compelling, so the horse-betting, keno, and slot machine didn’t hold my attention for more than a minute. The fourth gambling game – video poker – I’d technically classify as fun, though there’s nothing novel about this implementation so I didn’t feel inclined to spend much time on it either.

That leaves the three games, which are presented as retro throwbacks to old, late 70s-early 80s video games. Two of them fall into my dud category, sad to say: there’s a zombie-themed card game you play against the computer that relies heavily on take-that gameplay, meaning that in my first go-round it took me 22 turns before I could do anything at all useful, at which point the computer was a turn away from winning. There’s also a text-based football game that’s got a complex and interesting set of choices, though I found it was tuned too hard to be fun (my passes failed just about every time, even when the defense was focusing on the running game).

Thankfully, the final game is a full, albeit small text adventure, with a text parser integrated into Twine. This isn’t anything to write home about, as the parser is pretty bare bones, the adventure has a generic plot (you’re searching for a hidden inheritance from your uncle), and there’s only one and a half puzzles to solve, though there are two solutions. But again, at least for me at the end of the Comp, I enjoyed going through the generic house and yard, searching the furniture for hidden keys, and working out simple challenges that don’t overstay their welcome. With a more robust frame story, some incentives to reward success in the minigames, and a smoother difficulty curve for some of the rougher ones, RetroCON 2021 could have been more than the sum of its parts – but eh, as is there are still worse ways to kill twenty minutes.

Highlight: I took two runs through the horse-racing game, and in the second one I won big putting my money on the dark-horse contender, so that was fun (and a nice justification for stopping gambling now that I was ahead).

Lowlight: I only dimly remembered what Keno was, and then once I clicked on it I remembered that it’s the world’s most boring “game” (you pick a bunch of numbers, then they get called or not).

How I failed the author: I played this one with only half my brain at best, but I think that’s more or less the expectation here so hopefully it’s not too big a failure to wrap up on!

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.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
No joy, November 4, 2021

These games are hard! I was able to win poker from time to time, and I made some money sticking with the safe bet at the horse races. But the zombie game? The computer would always pick them off while I couldn't even get started. I was not able to figure out the parser game. I don't know anything about football, so I didn't do too good there. And the Keno game didn't pay out very much when I played the 20-spot. I didn't come anywhere close on the slots, and even when I made it to the bonus game, I immediately matched two zeros. Also, I had a terrible flight home. I got sat next to this annoying guy who was going on about how he beat all the games and made a ton of money. Next year, I'm using my vacation time to visit Amsterdam.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A bunch of mini games wrapped up in Twine, October 5, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is unapologetically just a bunch of mini games wrapped up in Twine with an ultrathin story applied.

The minigames include:

-A slot machine with fruit graphics and some animation
-A poker draw game
-Horse Racing
-A football game
-A zombie-shooting card game
-A short custom-parser text adventure.

Each of the games worked pretty well, and some of them were pretty fun. All are based on RNG except the text adventure. The text adventure has a pretty basic parser (which has a tendency to insult you) and is of the classic 'my dead male relative's house' style, with each room lovingly recreated.

+Polish: Very smooth. The parser isn't awesome compared to dedicated parser languages but impressive for Twine
+Descriptiveness: It was easy to see what was going on usually
+Interactiviy: Most games worked well for me.
-Emotional impact: I felt distanced emotionally from my character and the games
-Would I play again? It was interesting, but I don't think I'll be revisiting.

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