by Ben Kirwin profile

Fantasy, slice of life

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Number of Reviews: 11
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
I know everyone's at: IKEA!, January 1, 2024
by Max Fog
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

This game is very, very fun. I liked the creating of different objects in certain places to get past obstacles, and the weird cultists! When writing this, I admit I haven’t finished, but I did have to use hints. It was a very fun idea, and I plan to finish it.
Song: A mix of 2+2=5 and Fake Plastic Trees’ music video. The cluttered idea of “two plus two always makes up five” has the weird contraption jumble of the game, and I have to admit I wasn’t “paying attention” for much of the game. The music video for Fake Plastic Trees has that shop vibe, and it starts quite happy, so that’s why.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
In his House at I’kea Dead Cthulhu Waits Dreaming, December 22, 2023
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

This work is a masterful mashup of Elder Gods and Ikea-based gameplay. Sure, I know what you’re saying. “sniff At this point, haven’t we had pretty much Allll the possible Elder Gods + X mashups?” Yeah, that’s what you sound like with that question. Because NO. We have NOT had an IKEA and Elder Gods mashup, Captain Buzzkill! As with most mashups of this kind, the glee comes from the wildest possible disconnect between Elder Gods and X, where X here is deeply in the sweet spot of ridiculousness.

Assembly makes the crucial decision to commit to its bit completely and totally straight-faced. It has the (justified!) confidence of its premise to not apologize for, nor snark at, itself, the best way to completely sell the conceit. It commits not just tonally, not just as reflected in cutscene backgrounds and scene setting, but in gameplay itself.

See, if you divorce the outre’ aspects from this, what you are left with is a pitch perfect parser IKEA simulator. Not an outright reimplementation, but an interpretation that replicates the feel of the experience through the unique milieu of parser IF.

And prefab furniture is a right of passage for most young adults at this point, no? Those weirdly efficient fasteners, precisely milled parts and cartoon instructions. An endeavor that despite the exacting Nordic engineering and studied graphical communication, can go horribly wrong with the slightest misstep. Assembly distills that experience down to (usually) three precise steps that you better follow to the letter. ATTACH X to Y is the given instruction, but if you ATTACH Y to X, you are suddenly asea, falling in a deep space you only had the thinnest of tight rope wire to support you through. Just like real life if you stray from your cartoon orders! Assembly has reduced the IKEA assembly experience to its essence, distilled and streamlined it, translating it representationally to parser IF play in a way direct transcription would fail. Could you imagine a 40-step sequence of fussy parser tool work?

Then it repeats the feat with the shopping experience! The “twisty little maze” (chortle) of showroom is both unnavigable and forgiving in gameplay, giving you the essence of the box store experience without falling into parser-nav hell. You are introduced to a handful of inexplicably named furniture, then it is pure IKEA/parser gameplay. It is all very tightly integrated, paced well with a few VERY organic puzzle variations, then out before its welcome starts wearing.

It feels ungenerous to rate it shy of Mostly Seamless, because it has taken on the Herculean task of representing half a dozen or more pieces of furniture, each with multiple components and fasteners, and not falling into the “Which screw do you mean, the screw, the screw, the screw, or the screw?” trap. It is a testament to the author’s diligence and creativity that it fails so infrequently. Perhaps inevitably there are glitches though, most notably with the instruction books. Toss in a handful of unimplemented nouns and just shy is where we land.

But those complaints are nits that do not detract from the Engaging experience. The combination of inspired gameplay engineering and unblinking straightface against its ludicrous premise is winning.

“That is Not Assembed, Which Leftover Parts Can Lie”

Played: 10/9/23
Playtime: 1.5hrs, finished
Artistic/Technical ratings: Engaging, short of Mostly Seamless
Would Play After Comp?: No, experience seems complete

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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Saving the world with flat pack furniture, December 19, 2023
by Vivienne Dunstan (Dundee, Scotland)

(Note: this review was based on the mid competition version of the game. Some issues it refers to may have been since ironed out in the latest release.)

This is a really creative parser game, clearly IKEA inspired, that sees you fight dangerous foes with only the power of flat pack furniture. It’s a very amusing concept and largely well realised. If you’re flat pack phobic avoid this game, but for everyone else it is a lot of fun, with some neat puzzles.

However there are some downsides for me. Early on you see quite a lot of items of flat pack furniture, with their descriptions. I did not take proper notes at this point, and you need to remember what the names represent visually later. Take notes folks!

The other downside is there were some disambiguation issues, not least between flat pack assembly instruction booklets and the flat pack items. I had a particularly difficult time at one point trying to physically manage the parts of a flat pack item.

The game is also lacking other characters largely, apart from some rather anonymous ones. And that’s a slight shame. Though there are plenty of flat pack items to interact with.

The ending also feels a bit abrupt. It has a big build up, but then, well, it’s over in a flash. As a player I’d have appreciated some kind of epilogue, or notes on amusing things to try, or author notes. Something for me to decompress with.

In a nutshell this a great game, but one that could have been made a little smoother to play. But a really neat concept, and entertaining. Thank you.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Cult decor, December 7, 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).

There are several ways to interpret Assembly – a short parser game about using your IKEA-honed furniture-construction skills to foil an incursion of Lovecraftian gribblies – but the most natural, I think, is to read it as a riposte to Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. That seminal essay, of course, argued that the rise of technologies that allowed for the unlimited copying and display of objets d’art – photography, printing, the moving image, to say nothing of developments Benjamin couldn’t have dreamed of in 1935 – would sap them of their aura, the unique quiddity that gives it its authority by placing it in space and in time. Benjamin traces the concept of aura back to an imagined origin where the primary purpose of art was to create images of deities for religious purposes; thus, mechanical reproduction reduces or even eliminates the so-called cult value of the work of art.

Against this, Kirwin posits a thought-experiment by which a singular monument like Stonehenge can be crammed into an infinitely-replicable flat-pack:

Then, finally, a new age: an age of infinite repetition, of unbounded mechanical reproduction, of forms iterated out beyond imagination. These gods, and the few who remember them, have found their chance — for a ritual copied blindly from an instruction booklet, or a sacred ratio embodied in fibreboard instead of stone, still holds the same power.

This is a bold claim, and demands us to expand our understanding of what can constitute “cult value”. For Benjamin, it is axiomatic that while ordinary worshippers may not have access to the work of art and be fundamentally ignorant about it – think of the divine statues sequestered in the rear of Greek temples, or, less representationally, the placement of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies – the priest does engage directly, physically, and intentionally with the image, and through their role as intercessor connects the veneration of the non-present worshipper with the aura of the artwork. Kirwin elegantly reverses this exclusive formulation – the worshipper remains ignorant of the higher mysteries, but is granted access to a mass-produced replica of the objet that nonetheless retains its cultic nous. What complicates this picture is the role played by the protagonist –

OK OK I’m dropping the bit. I’m reduced to comedy-art-history because for a change I don’t have a ton to say about Assembly; it’s got a killer premise that it executes with elegance, and my only complaint is that it left me wanting more; despite the blurb promising an hour and a half, it only took me half an hour to get through (my experience with estimated construction times for furniture is very much the opposite).

Really, it’s all very well done. The loopiness of taking something so workaday and familiar as IKEA and mashing it up with cosmic horror is inspired, but actually makes an odd amount of sense. And the jokes are spot-on – sure, making up punny IKEA-style names for different pieces of furniture is a common pastime (…we all do this, right?) but I got a good chuckle out of several of these, especially the way that the name of the table you start out building presages what’s to come.

Turning to the gameplay, the various puzzles are all logical, and build on each other in a way that makes the player feel clever; maybe they’re a little too easy, but better that than too hard. The implementation is top-notch, too – with all these flat-packs, instruction manuals, screws, pins, pegs, nuts, screwdrivers, hex keys, &c &c I thought this would be disambiguation hell, but instead everything feels very smooth, with the parser keeping up with even shorthand commands for each step of assembly or deconstruction. If anything, I thought the game could have stood to add more friction here, and make the process of building things more of a challenge (Spoiler - click to show)(I kept waiting for there to be a gag where one of the pieces of furniture had incorrect instructions or holes too small for its screws or something – c’mon, I love IKEA too, but we all know that it happens – and then that triggering a blood sacrifice or something when you inadvertently cut yourself, but that shoe never dropped).

So yeah, I guess I’m hoping for a sequel that just gives us more of all the good stuff here on offer; maybe Walter Benjamin wouldn’t have been so down on mass-production if he knew it’d get us awesome things like Assembly.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Dark Worship through DIY-furniture., December 6, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

It’s been a long day, but you might as well assemble this last little table. Even though you don’t remember picking it from the racks of a certain furniture store that will not be mentioned by name…

All this DIY furniture has funny names, and this particular table is called “Dölmen”. Hmmm… It looks a bit like a one too. Upon looking a bit closer, you’re sucked in and transported to…

The protagonist has no idea yet, but the player has read the intro. The Old Norse Gods want to return, and they found the ritualistic nature of kneeling down in the living room, slavishly following instructions from a poorly printed booklet to map quite organically onto religious service to Them. In short, each desk or cabinet strengthens them and widens the archway into our universe.

Fortunately, in a way that reminds me of Pratchett’s Colour of Magic, the universe has a strong sense of self-preservation. Why that means exactly you must be the saviour of reality, no one knows. Maybe you’re an offshoot of an ancient royal bloodline or something. Anyway, save the world!

By assembling and disassembling furniture.

Apart from a few problems finding the appropriate verb caused by the fact that for much of the time you’re reading the instruction booklets backwards, meaning that you need the antonyms of the verbs used in the instructions, the (dis)assembly work went smoothly. (Not even one missing screw. Assembly does not follow the realistic simulationist path here.)

Actually, the booklets almost serve as a magic tome would in a fantasy game. A series of incantations that, when properly intoned, change the physical reality around you.
The real puzzles therefore are where to find the booklets, and where to practice the magic contained therein. One of these had me perplexed for a good time ((Spoiler - click to show)bringing the wardrobe to the lamp, instead of the other way round.)
The map is small but very effective. I loved the (Spoiler - click to show)"twisty little passages" in the description of the showroom.

After a spectacular large-scale endgame puzzle, it was unclear to me how to actually WIN the game. There are two options (I stumbled into one before I had a chance to try the other, which was a good/bad thing, depending on personal priorities.) One of them wins by (Spoiler - click to show)getting the hell out of there and letting the store burn. The other loses by (Spoiler - click to show)trying to do the heroic thing and confronting the Old Gods in their Cairn. Being a hero isn’t always the right thing, ask Susan Sto-Lat.

I was hungry for some backstory on the Old God’s cultists, maybe in a sort of “Meanwhile…” non-interactive intermezzos?

Good fun game, some tricky puzzles. Big show piece of a final disassembly!

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Follow the manual, November 30, 2023
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

There’s an old chestnut in adventure games: the recipe. You’ve got to make a magic potion, and you have a recipe, and now you have to first collect the ingredients and then follow the steps of the recipe exactly… and you’ll get the potion. I’m pretty sure King’s Quest has that kind of stuff. Or maybe it’s a real recipe that you’re trying to make, as in Savoir-Faire. It’s not very engaging – usually the real gameplay is getting the ingredients, or getting things ready, and then actually following the recipe is more a little task you need to get out of the way before you get the reward. You don’t want too many of such tasks in your game. It bogs things down.

So it’s bold to build a game that is all about following instructions! Assembly is such a game, although its not recipes we’re following, but IKEA instruction manuals. It’s like having little walkthroughs in the game, telling you how to construct, and also deconstruct, many of the objects you meet. Our protagonist is good at following such rules. Indeed, they’re incredibly bad at not following rules, being unable to unscrew a light bulb without an instruction manual showing them how to do it.

This could have been very boring, but Assembly keeps the instructions short, gives us frequent rewards for successful assembly and disassembly, and, especially, gives us a series of nice puzzles around these mechanics. This is no doubt the only game where finding an IKEA instruction manual feels good – although, come to think of it, All the Troubles Come My Way has this too, so scrap that. The puzzles are good, starting with some simple ones, moving on to slightly more difficult (Spoiler - click to show)(such as the lamp puzzle), and ending with one that is both simple and over-the-top and yet completely logical, applying IKEA logic to IKEA itself, giving us the comic reward we deserved.

Well, I guess it ends with one that went the least smoothly for me, (Spoiler - click to show)because I didn’t realise there was a flatpack box in my location, and it felt a little bit like a regression after the great scene with the collapsing stacks… but that’s a nitpick. This game is fun and light-hearted. There are some Elder Gods involved, but it never goes to dark places… at least, not to dark places you can’t illuminate with a good STRÅLA.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Funny Ikea/cult game about rituals, November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a great-looking Inform game. Inform has the capacity to make ‘website templates’ that people can share with each other to make projects look nicer, but people rarely use them. I don’t know if this one uses a custom template or just had css/html edited manually, but it looks great.

The concept is really funny, too. What if IKEA instructions were summoning rituals for ancient Gods?

Actual gameplay revolves around following IKEA instructions closely. I found that fun, as I like both assembling and deassembling IKEA furniture. My school had to throw out some cabinets recently that had gotten old/bug-ridden, and I had a hammer and just deconstructed it from memory (remove the thin bar, then pry the back panelling, then remove the edge pieces, then break out the last bit of wood with the hammer, etc.)

Anyway, this game scratched that itch, which was nice. Most of the puzzles revolve around clever ways to use the instructions. The game was a little smaller than I first imagined, but in a good way, as it was beginning to get overwhelming.

I did have some trouble with phrasing. It was hard to find (Spoiler - click to show)an antonym for ‘insert’. The transcript shows my flailing about. I ended up also using hints for what I’d consider the biggest puzzle of the game, but it was entirely fair, I just was getting close to the 2 hour limit.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: Assembly, October 30, 2023
by kaemi
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

So I was always bad at arts and crafts. As a kid, the things I made were noticeably worse than what the rest of the class made. Let’s make a little pencil case, they’d say, walking everyone through the first step, then encouraging us to start onto the second step ourselves, usually it was simple enough, but the third step, written so succinctly on the page, would balloon into multiple connective actions, all of which need to be operated in a sequence obdurately abstracted from the mishmash jamming of your increasingly desperate attempts to approximate what you’ve been told, until by the fourth step you’re forced to admit the irreconcilable gulf between the instructions and the wreckage in your hands. Step five: start crying until the bemused teacher rushes over to placate you by doing it all themselves as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

Finally someone recognizes the existential terror of the alienation between your consciousness and the world that DIY assembly inevitably entails. This game gives you an instruction booklet that seems simple enough, but slowly seeps in the terror as you notice “it does look a bit wrong upside down, like a turtle stuck on its back”, but you carry on until suddenly you realize something is terribly wrong, and the object becomes unstuck in fixed space, a sprawling ungainly realization of the ineffable Object that your hands could never construct, and as, desperately, “you reach towards the DÖLMEN, something shifts and settles in your mind, and you understand — it’s not a table, but a doorway. And the door is opening — / There are no words in your language for what happens next. There are no words for the way the world seems to come unstuck and peel away, though later it will remind you of the way an opening door shifts from a solid face to an insubstantial line.” Through the blur, probably of tears, possibly of tearing spacetime, you recognize that what whispers from the page is impossible for your representative comprehension to approach, an infinity of void which may as well be eldritch.

Assembly runs with this insight or joke or shocked dawning of a shivering fear or whatever you want to call it, throwing us into a hazy IKEA nightmare replete with cultists and noneuclidian geometries. With an inspired bit of banter, the narration rapidly unspools a cheeky backstory that resonates between its comedy and its subject matter so harmoniously that the result is postsatirical twilight of the gods panache: “In the beginning, the barrier between your world and the world of the gods is thin. You can’t quite tell who first learns to shape stone into the sacred forms that open the doorway between the worlds, or to perform the rituals that give the gods the power to step through: only that it happens in the northern corners of your world. And since humans are so quick to worship power, these rituals spread quickly… and the gods grow strong, then stronger still, until their hold over your world is absolute. / An age passes, and then another, and the faith of the people begins to wane; the rituals fall into disuse, the sacred monuments into disrepair, and the gods weaken and vanish from the earth. Some go peacefully, but others rage against their loss — and swear that, if that doorway were ever to reopen, humanity would not escape their control again. / Then, finally, a new age: an age of infinite repetition, of unbounded mechanical reproduction, of forms iterated out beyond imagination. These gods, and the few who remember them, have found their chance — for a ritual copied blindly from an instruction booklet, or a sacred ratio embodied in fibreboard instead of stone, still holds the same power.” You could build an entire Cragne Manor on this gag.

Though, alas, Assembly doesn’t. Outside of its occasional storybeats, Assembly stays pretty terse, focusing on its puzzling, which consists largely of hunting down gizmos to graft to your gadgets. You gotta mix and match parts from multiple construction sets like a frustrated Lego builder. Rather tellingly, there’s a section where you need to enter the darkness to teleport, which surely must be a reference to Andrew Plotkin’s So Far? So that kind of evocative setting as an excuse for tinkery inventory management seems to hit pretty much at par. There’s still some nice touches, like this line that plays nicely on the game’s core humorous recontextualization: “Some experts consider the term “henge” to only properly apply to an earthwork with an inner ditch, or apply it only to specific monuments in the British Isles… but your language supplies no better word for this wide, circular bank. The henge is piled up to about waist height with a colourful array of goods and other remnants of the market hall.” But most of your time will be spent looking at booklets, fiddling with screws, and wandering nauseously across a deliberately unintuitive map, all of which sounds quite thematic, but in practice proves mildly boring. There’s also a few elements that don’t add up to all that they could: like the first thing we need to build is called a DOLMEN, or a megalithic tomb, so you might think there’s going to be this sort of double entendre where the furniture we’re building is actually terrifying Lovecraftian whatevers, but by the end of the game we’re just building a WILLIAM? Poor little Billy, who’s going to tell him that he’s a cosmic demon altar?

So a lot of the richness of the concept lies tossed to the side like spare parts. But when it does push hard on its core idea, the results can be compelling. There’s probably no better description of the futility that I felt in those arts and crafts classes than this perceptive despair: “One by one, you dovetail each of the wardrobe’s side panels with the base. As you reattach the second panel, the space between them seems to twist away, as though rotating on some higher-dimensional axis, and the void fills with a profound darkness.”

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A quick dabble with the Gods of Ikea, October 26, 2023
by DrOrthogonal
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

Ikea furniture construction and Scandinavian mythology in a work of IF…genius.
Beautifully written and straight forward enough not to require mapping while playing. I particularly loved the mechanism to roll you back from the brink of death (IF should be fun not a death-fest). Some clever puzzles and things even get a bit exciting and stressful towards the end.
At <2 hours this is a great dabble into IF.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: Assembly, October 9, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

This game is a box of good ideas.

All of the puzzles revolve around following IKEA instruction manuals in interesting ways. They don't test your general puzzle-solving skills but rather how well you understand the logic of the world. If you're able to internalize it, solving the puzzles feels effortless.

Every eureka moment I had deepened my appreciation of this game. It understood and exploited the greatest strength of text-only games: the ability to conjure up truly strange images. The fact it was all my doing made it better. And I also thought the gimmick didn't wear out its welcome either; it was explored just enough to feel satisfying and to keep the narrative moving forward.

While the game was never going to focus on the story, the writing and the action were quite engaging. I was curious about the world and the tantalizing little details we got seem to evoke a larger cosmology.

Assembly is a humble work of genius. For such a simple conceit, the game unfolds in so many surprising ways and I can't stress enough how clever the game is. It's a clean and refined game that's easy to get into unlike the furniture it's inspired by.

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