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Death on the Stormrider

by Daniel M. Stelzer profile


(based on 12 ratings)
4 reviews

About the Story

You'd had such high hopes, starting out. And now you're limping home, tail between your legs, as all your plans for a new life crashed and burned. You barely had enough money to arrange an airship home, an old freighter that needed extra hands on short notice. You thought that would be the end of it.

But now the man who hired you on--the only one on the crew who spoke your language--is dead, and they think your brother did it. If you don't find some way to prove him innocent before the ship lands, he's going to spend the rest of his life rotting in a Kishadu prison.

All you have to do is escape from your cabin, figure out what really happened on this ship, and prove it to the crew...who can't understand a word you say. You have no idea how you're going to manage it. But you're Kiang's last hope. You have to try.

Content warning: This is a murder mystery, which includes genre-typical discussion of death, but no blood or gore. Some mentions of drugs.

Game Details


27th Place - tie - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)


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Number of Reviews: 4
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Ill communication, December 15, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

2023's had a lot of boatiness, but it was also murderier than usual, with a solid number of mysteries represented in the entries. Death on the Stormrider crosses the streams, being a murder-mystery on a boat – on a steampunk airship, no less, which makes the protagonist’s isolation and vulnerability even more intense. As a foreigner trying to work their way home on a ship where only one crewmember spoke their language, things were already parlous enough, but when that one crewmember is found murdered – with your brother fingered as the only suspect and thrown in the brig – you’ve got to do everything you can to find the true culprit. Of course, you can’t interview suspects or read any incriminating documents, and you start out locked out in your cabin, though it seems like that wasn’t intentional. At least the rest of the crew is busy getting ready for landing, and will mostly ignore you.

The setup here is compelling in narrative terms, but is also cannily contrived to avoid the typical weaknesses of parser-IF mysteries. The language barrier means there’s no fussing about with a clearly-inadequate conversation system, and also explains why everyone else mostly leaves you to your own devices as you wander around and taking everything that isn’t nailed down: they’re busy, and it’s too much trouble to tell you to stop unless you seem to be messing with something important. In fact, though their vibes are wildly different, I was reminded of Mayor McFreeze’s analogous approach – in both games, you’re mostly solving navigation puzzles to thoroughly explore the map, with the investigation part of the gameplay largely reducing to simply examining the stuff you find along the way.

A difference is that in place of the medium-dry-goods puzzles of Mayor McFreeze, in Death on the Stormrider almost all the puzzles involves engaging with the various NPCs – who are in fact quite active, wandering about the ship bent on their own tasks. And just because you can’t talk to them doesn’t mean you can’t interact with them, or they with you. As expected, if you poke your head into some especially important areas, they’ll quickly eject you, and there are also many locked doors that can only be opened by a crewmember who has reason to pass through them. As a result, the primary gameplay involves observing the NPCs’ movement patterns, scoping out hiding places, and creating distractions to get them to go where you want them to. It’s nonstandard, but the optional tutorial that takes the player through the first major puzzle does an admirable job of demonstrating the game’s systems; likewise, the included map makes navigation significantly easier.

The prose isn’t called upon to do anything fancy – it has enough to do to situate the player, alert them to exits, highlight the activity of crewmembers in the immediate or nearby locations, while noting any interactable objects. Still, I found it nonetheless communicated a strong sense of place in just a few words, like this early segment that has you forced to the perimeter of the ship:

"The maintenance passage (forward) ends, sharply, terrifyingly, with a narrow metal platform—and then nothing but the great expanse of the air behind you, the ground so far below that you can barely make it out. A hatch to port leads back to the safety of your cabin."

Less positively, I did feel like the writing sometimes wasn’t up to the task of communicating the key clues needed to solve the puzzles. For example, I was able to figure out that I needed to get through a currently-inaccessible exit, but the description of the situation seemed to point somewhere entirely different from the actual solution (Spoiler - click to show)(trying to move the shelf in the miscellany does say you’re unlikely to succeed with your bare hands, but the rest of the response seems to indicate there’s too much stuff, rather than just one object that’s too heavy to shift unaided). And in one of the final puzzles, the game seemed to go out of its way to provide an anti-clue: (Spoiler - click to show) once you get the wrench, most location descriptions print out an additional line drawing attention to the presence of pipes you can sabotage, but that line is notably omitted in the captain’s cabin so I assumed there weren’t any present. Still, the final puzzle is intuitive and satisfying, requiring the player to synthesize several different strands of information to determine the actual reasons for the death of the murdered crewman.

That synthesis also points to my other criticism, though, which is that when it comes to the mystery side of things, the game leaves an awful lot up to the player. For one thing, while the stakes – your brother’s life and freedom – are effectively conveyed in the opening, they’re left in the background for most of the game’s running time. The player character doesn’t have much subjectivity, and while I kept expecting that there’d be a sequence where I’d come across my brother, or at least the locked door to the brig where he’s held, nothing like that ever happens (oddly, while the brig is noted on the map, its presence isn’t ever mentioned in game, making it seem like it’s sealed off in a parallel dimension or something). And then the ending doesn’t give the player very much: I found what I think is the optimal resolution, and have a pretty solidly worked-out theory of the various intersecting crimes and deceptions that played out aboard the Stormrider, which is reasonably satisfying from a gameplay perspective, but the final text felt strangely perfunctory, declining to dwell on the protagonist’s joyful reunion with their brother or even to explicate the mystery’s solution. The ending of a whodunnit doesn’t need to provide emotional catharsis or spell out the answer to the puzzlebox, I suppose, but it’d be nice if it did something.

All of which is to say that Death on the Stormrider leans more on the crossword than narrative side of the parser-IF dilemma. But it’s generally a good crossword that cleverly matches its novel gameplay to its premise; if a post-Comp release cleans up some of the clueing issues, and a player goes into it wanting to uncover all the game’s secrets for their own sake rather than to earn a story-based payoff, I think there’s a whole lot of fun to be had here.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Hide-and-seek for your brother's life!, December 3, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

I had a dream: The Doors were performing a sweaty, breathtaking drawn-out version of Riders on the Storm when David Suchet’s finely mustachioed Poirot appeared onstage and pointed accusingly at Jim Morrison. Jim jumped off the stage, right into the arms of the waiting Hastings.
It’s safe to say this title intrigued me, while at the same time expert-fingeredly tickling my funny-bone.

In reality, Death on the Stormrider has more in common with Poirot than with The Doors.

Your brother has found passage on the cargo-airship “Stormrider” for the both of you, provided that you make yourself useful onboard. The ship’s cook is found murdered and your brother is the only one who had the keys to the mess at the time. He’s locked in the brig until the ship boards at the next harbour.
It’s up to you to find evidence of your brother’s innocence.

Since your brother’s locked up for murder, you yourself are eyed with some suspicion. Nevertheless, you remain free to roam most parts of the ship. A number of passageways and rooms are off-limits, and you are severely limited in what you are allowed to carry around with you. (Or so the game keeps insisting. You are limited to items small enough that they could conceivably be concealed in your hand or clothing. However, given the amount of small stuff I was carrying by the end of the game, I suspect there’s a limitless hammerspace somewhere under your character’s suspenders of disbelief…)

The ship left the harbour in a hurry , running on a skeleton crew (which was also the reason for your hasty recruitment). Even then, with the cramped spaces between the cargo and the crew all having their own rounds and routines, having to do several duties at once, it’s hard to conduct a thorough investigation.
You do need to get into the off-limits spaces and carry around pieces of evidence, so you have to find ways to get past and around blocked off entrances and working crewmembers unnoticed.

The objective of the game is finding evidence. The core of the gameplay is hide-and-seek. Get to know the crew’s routines, find hiding spots on their routes or hidden passages around their locations. Time your actions so you can slip through the gaps between the other crew members. It gets even more complicated and exciting once you try to manipulate the others’ circulations through the ship to create your own opportunities for espionage and investigation…

The many independently moving NPCs, the different consequences of open/closed containers, the machinery of the ship having sometimes far-off effects,… These things are dependent on a great number of moving cogs and chains and toggles under the hood. I found some hiccups, but mostly the gears interlocked as needed and turned smoothly. The bugs I did encounter were minor, and the suspense of the game was good enough that I could overlook them.

This gameplay of hide-and-seek had the effect that the considerable suspense I felt was aimed at my own (the player’s) success, rather than being directed at the protagonist’s troubles or the fate of his brother. While sneaking around, I felt tension about finding a hiding place in time. I wasn’t very concerned about or emotionally engaged with the characters though.

The mechanics of the gameplay have their consequences for the writing too. It’s important that the player has a good idea where the NPCs are relative to the PC’s location at all times to be able to avoid them or hide in time. In the desfriptions, the bottom few lines are reserved for a list of distinctive footsteps the PC can hear. A single line of text has information about which character’s steps they are, how far that character is away, and which direction the character is going.

“Just forward, you can hear sharp, measured footsteps approaching.”

These lines are actually very well-written, condensing a lot of information into smooth prose. They are repetitive though, and when there are several characters within earshot, there are also several lines of this in the location descriptions. For a while, this can be a bit annoying. Soon however, my brain just started glancing over this text while filtering out the necessary information.
For an unavoidable trade-off between pleasant prose and indispensable game information, I think this solution found a good balance.

I absolutely loved finding my way around Death on the Stormrider's map. The (beautifully drawn) map in the feelies already gives an impression of how much rooms have to be crammed in a small space on an airship. It was only by exploring the decks myself during play, drawing the map room by room, with all the barriers and hindrances in full effect, that I became aware of the whole complexity of the game world.

The author employs a simple yet effective tactic for avoiding conversations with the other people on the ship: they speak another language and can’t understand you. Also, they’re busy working and wave you away if you interrupt them. Talking to them is not necessary to get a good impression of their character though. Everyone has distinct mannerisms (evident in the way they walk), their attitude toward you is quite obvious through a mixture of body-language and unintelligible-but-clear-in-context speech.
For each character, the X command also prints a beautiful drawing, which together with the text-description gives a good picture of their personality.

All these drawings, with the accompanying text, can be reviewed at leisure in the wonderful tablet you find in the very first room of the game. It serves as a notebook for clues, a reminder of tasks to do and places to visit, and a recapitulation of your investigation so far and the people you encountered.
Great addition, and well worth taking a number of turns near the end of the game to look back over all you’ve learned.

The endings (yes, there’s more than one!) felt a bit luck-of-the-draw to me. It’s not clear (ar least not to me) what the consequences were of showing this or that piece of evidence to one of the various crew members. Their behaviour toward the PC, dismissive, neutral, or halfway friendly, didn’t offer enough (any) clues as to how they would react to my revealing of the evidence.

An exciting investigation, with some unexpected complications and a bunch of different endings, depending on how meticulous your search is. Good game!

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Complex puzzle game with language barrier set on an airship, November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This was a nice, substantial puzzler parser game with some fun hand-drawn sketches.

It starts with a large chunk of made-up names which was a bit hard to parse at first, but that quickly settled down. Next, I got confused by the directions, but fortunately the map made that a breeze.

Then it settled down into a sequence of puzzles. You play as a foreigner on an airship whose brother has been accused of murder. Its your job to navigate the ship and collect evidence!

The game could have easily gotten overwhelming if not for the helpful tablet which kept clues and to-do tasks. I consulted it frequently.

I got halfway through the game without consulting hints. The second half, I had to consult hints for. It turns out that every time I needed hints, the answer was the exact same.

With one last note on the story, I did find it a bit odd how much we can do without getting in trouble. Like wandering into places we clearly should not be. So I had to suspend disbelief a bit. On the other hand, I enjoyed the many layers of information and the multiple endings and plots within plots. So I’ll be rating it highly.

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Death on the Stormrider on IFDB

Recommended Lists

Death on the Stormrider appears in the following Recommended Lists:

Murder Mysteries by Walter Sandsquish
Text-adventure games ask players to solve puzzles, so asking them to also solve a murder mystery is quite common. Figure out who-done-it in the following games.


The following polls include votes for Death on the Stormrider:

Outstanding Mystery Game of 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best mystery game of 2023. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Suggested...

Outstanding Underappreciated Game of 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the most underappreciated game of 2023. Voting is open to all IFDB members....

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