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Terrible beer, terrible lives, great profit potential, January 6, 2023
Does anyone really like Applebee's? It's a pretty easy target. Maybe it deserves to be. Nobody likes working there. The food isn't great. But it seems convenient enough and not as unhealthy as McDonald's. You could do better. But you could do worse. You could say Applebee's is as easy a target as airline food was. It seems like a good target for someone like the author, who's so consistent about putting out an adventure gaming newsletter, and for light-hearted humor, it does well. It also goes beyond "Applebee's, amirite?" The main thing it hits is advertising. I mean, nobody really likes advertising. Many advertisers probably don't enjoy their jobs or the ethical implications. But over the years I've found ways to be able to zone it out, and I feel that's an achievement. Probably the trickiest was blocking the ads for stuff I didn't need between songs I didn't like at the athletic club. It's the sort of thing they don't teach you in school. But of course, advertisers are always looking for another way to horn in on your life, preferably without you feeling violated enough to push back.
One they haven't gotten around to in the real world is the protagonist's main power, which is being able to see in people's minds and also plant a thought there occasionally. So, yeah, you're getting quickly into "creepily overstepping boundaries" territory. And here I originally assumed the game would be about parlor tricks where the crowd paid money if you were particularly clever! (Of course, if some people just wanted to sit and eat and didn't know you'd be there, that's invasive in its own way.) There's a certain violation of childhood dreams for me, too--mind reading seemed like something really cool, but of course powermongers will ruin it. It's treated as an asset by corporate management, and not just an asset. One you'd better use to their advantage and maximize, or the lack of initiative goes on your performance review. But -- but! The ad agency you work for has ethics. Well, sort of. You'd better not mind-read more than once, or they'd be in legal trouble, and you can't do that to a place with such an innovative business model that helps you make the most of your abilities!
This is of course bad on many levels: one, that your psychic ability is for more ambitious and "big-thinking" people than you to enjoy, and two, that the legal branch of the whole corporate empire has considered all the angles here to provide loopholes if things go wrong, and they've probably cross-communicated with the number-crunchers, and even the lawyers who would sue you for violating other people's space are probably plenty sleazy. And so forth.
This is the scary bit. Fortunately there are funny bits. First, you work for Schtupmeister beer. The world can never have too many parody beer brands--these certainly do more for me than actual alcohol. The four people whose minds you want to invade are, well, imperfect in their own way. There is a cryptocurrency trader. This was written three months before Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX went belly-up, and now that happened, I'm actually sort of disappointed more wasn't written earlier about Cryptocurrency, and, well, it's a bit too easy of a target now. Cryptocurrency, like advertising, drains resources in ways most people aren't aware, and of course, there are some smug, slick types pushing it. But dang if the story doesn't roll out another side quickly!
There's also a somewhat lonely old man, and a waitress upset with her lot in life (I couldn't help but think Schtupmeister would both fire someone for drinking on the job and for, well, not getting enough people like her to start drinking on the job, or right after their job) and a kid who turns out to be exactly the wrong sort of special. Let's just say selling alcohol to minors isn't the worst thing going on here.
You have a small number of turns to try to get each to try your special brand of syrupy beer before Applebee's closes. Do so at the wrong time, and they ignore the instincts you planted in their brain. And this right time isn't obvious for all targets until you've played through UYPPA several times and read everyone's mind. Since it's not too long of a game, this is no burden, and I'm disturbed how nosy I got and how fast.
Once Applebee's is closed for business (my not just saying "closes" may be a minor spoiler) you can catch up with your targets to see if, indeed, your psychic invasions got them to buy Schtupmeister. The indications of whether they drank your specific brand of beer are amusing. For instance, one person has Schtupmeister beer spilled on their shirt instead of what they were drinking, and this pleases you greatly. In all cases, the fallout from people drinking Schtupmeister far outweighs any profits you redirect towards Schtupmeister.
Though you the player already have a pretty good idea, the performance review at the end hammers things home, both how well you did and how awful the Schtupmeister corporate culture must be. You get a combination of rah-rah and condescension from your sales manager no matter how many people you got hooked on Schtupmeister. UYPPA combines a lot of this sort of small horror into a big one.
Criticisms would be that UYPPA hits some low-hanging fruit, though it knows not to beat said fruit into a pulp. It's low-key terrifying, too, and I'm not surprised that an author who has a newsletter of short games understands balance. UYPPA reminded me of all the times I'd been accosted by salesmen, and how hard it was to turn them down, and the effort it took to be polite, because I knew it was their job, even though I knew part of their job was leveraging guilt and hesitation. These four decidedly imperfect souls of targets? Well, for the most part, I sympathize with them. The kid, no. His mother, yes. So this was definitely a successful entry, to me.
1 people found the following review helpful:
Schtupmeister, gradual advertiser, January 2, 2023
Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee's pleasantly surprised me. The premise is that you're a psychic advertiser for Schtupmeister beer; you're visiting an Applebee's late one night to subliminally convince people to drink the brand. There are four people, and all of them have some sort of interesting twist. It's hard to absorb all their stories and interactions on the first playthrough, since they run concurrently. Part of the puzzle is figuring out when's the best time to slip in and whisper your ads into their brain, and the other is figuring out how to optimize this all for one run. There's a small amount of other choices that will affect your ending, such as whether or not you tell on a stealing waitress. I found that some of the endgame stuff was light on choices at first, but the dialogue does adjust depending on what you did in the restaurant.
The game also deserves mention for its really modern theming and dialogue. It name-drops stuff like TikTok trends, has a debate on whether Garfield or the Kool-Aid Man would win in a fight (which I thoroughly enjoyed reading), and there's jokes about about California Pizza Kitchen and crypto related to forgotten memes. Remember this one in a few years -- it's a total time capsule of late 2022, and I love that. There's also some flat-out surreal jokes, such as a PSA warning against Driving While Yogurt-Eating, and a few cracks are made at Applebee's (such as noting that this time, people aren't running and screaming out of the restaurant for "the usual reasons").
Applebees is a light, silly game that can be beaten quickly (maybe 15-20 minutes to see everything?) and isn't that hard to figure out. Still, it's a nice comp entry in its own right. Give it a few plays.
1 people found the following review helpful:
A Psychic's Work is Never Done, December 10, 2022
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
You’re selling beer WITH YOUR MIND. As one does. You can probably guess where.
I’ve stared at those 3 sentences for a while now, trying to decide on the best path forward, and I’m kind of concluding it will take me longer to type, and take you longer to read, than to go ahead and play the thing. So just hit me with your questions.
Was it parser based? No, option-selection.
Was it a game? Barely but yeah, you have sales goals to meet and powers to employ.
Were there puzzles? Only loosely.
Was it Interactive? About the same as any option-selection game.
Was it Fiction? You’re kind of phoning these questions in aren’t you? Well, psychic powers are fake, so yes its fiction. There’s a plot and a twist too I guess. It counts.
Were there NPCs? Yeah a few of them, and their inner monologues are pretty funny.
Can you lose? I mean yeah, but how much can you really lose in 5-10 minutes of IF? Assuming you’re not driving.
Were there bugs? No. Not enough moving parts to draw them.
Was it Mechanical? No, too funny for that.
Was it Engaging? No, too slight for that.
So it was Sparks of Joy? You’re catching on to how this works.
What was your favorite part? Honestly? “Adventure Snack turns your inbox into an adventure with new interactive email games twice a month. Subscribe at AdventureSnack.com.” This thing was an ADVENTURE SNACK! That is just the most perfect description possible and so succinctly captured my exact feelings about this thing that every word of this review that isn’t ‘Adventure’ or ‘Snack’ is just self-indulgent bullsh*t. You guys, a thing called Adventure Snack exists!
Are you just a paid shill for Big Adventure Snack? I am. WITH MY MIND.
Playtime: 10min, two runthroughs.
Artistic/Technical rankings: Sparks of Joy/Seamless
Would Play Again? No, experience feels complete. I might could go for a snack later though…
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
3 people found the following review helpful:
A dubiously-ethical ESP marketing simulator, December 5, 2022
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
Would it be elitist to confess that I can’t say for sure whether I’ve ever eaten at an Applebee’s? I’ve mostly lived in fairly big cities, and even when I travel for work, because I don’t drive I never wind up at the sorts of suburban strip-malls that tend to host the chain restaurant. For purposes of this review, though, I’m trying to conjure up some associations – I’ve got a sense of the look and overall vibes from Friday Night Lights, since one of the characters was a waitress there for a couple of seasons, and for the actual food I’m imagining Chili’s and subtracting the (admittedly already rather slight) southwestern angle (Chili’s is also a strip-mall kind of place, I think, but there was one sort of accessible when I was in high school so at least I’ve been there a couple times).
Anyway based on that almost-completely-groundless supposition, what I’m coming up with is a restaurant that isn’t any better than it ought to be, but isn’t much worse, either – like, a mediocre place that earns its meh rating not through consistent middle-of-the-road performance, but by frustrating whatever expectations you bring to it: if you think it’s going to be awful, you might be surprised that one or two of the things you get are relatively solid, but if you go in expecting to be wowed, you’re likely in for disappointment.
If that’s right, the restaurant has something in common with the characters of Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee’s, a short optimization game in Ink that tasks you – an employee of the Schtupmeister brewery, purveyors of a syrupy ale that sounds simply revolting – with reading the minds of four patrons of a franchise somewhere in Middle America and giving them a mental nudge, when the moment’s right, suggesting they try one of your patron’s products using your psychic powers (you can only make one such suggestion per person, due to incredibly-fuzzily-invoked legal issues). In practice, what this means is that you eavesdrop on each, listening to the thoughts of the waitress, the already-in-his-cups older man, the crypto bro, the snot-nosed tween (yes, you can get a 12-year-old hooked on Schtupmeister. Apparently Applebee’s isn’t big on carding?), learning a little about their hopes, dreams, and fears, waiting for a moment when they’re happily distracted enough for your brain mojo to give them a little push.
What you find out, listening in, is that they’re all a little scuzzy – but not too scuzzy. The older guy is celebrating a not-especially-savory escapade that’s left him flush with cash, but he didn’t do anything so awful, and hey, he kinda needed a win. The kid’s consumed with figuring out which of two characters would win in a fight, but he’s also contemplating a crime of his own. The waitress isn’t above a spot of pickpocketing, but adheres to a consistent set of carnie values. The crypto bro – well, he’s a crypto bro, but at least he has a sick mom. And as for you, well, read the previous paragraph about what your job is again.
A game where you only get four opportunities to act could get a little stale, but the author’s done a good job of fitting the design to the constraint. For one thing, it’s short – each playthrough takes maybe five minutes or so, meaning there’s not a lot of downtime where you’re just waiting to click next even if you’ve already taken all your shots. Second, time marches ahead regardless of who you’re listening to – so if you flit from person to person, you could well miss out on a key opportunity, or key information, from someone else. So it works like an optimization game, as you’ll probably do a series of playthroughs focusing on one or maybe two characters each until you have a sense of what their deal is, and when they might be vulnerable. And then there are also a few moments when you’ve got the opportunity to do something other than push a crappy beer on vulnerable people, before reaching the denouement which gives you a last chance to interact with each of the characters and then offers a quickie job evaluation from your boss.
It’s a solid structure that supports four or five playthroughs to get the outcome that feels right to you –one canny thing about the setup is that since complete success means getting a large number of people potentially hooked on a terrible product, the compulsion to play past the point of enjoyment to wring out a “best ending” is largely absent. And honestly, I wanted to put in those replays to see all the jokes I’d missed. I’d characterize Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee’s more as amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, but it had me smiling a bunch all the same. Like, here’s what happens if you try to strike up a conversation with the drunk guy by pretending you know him from somewhere:
”Excuse me, sir,” you stop to ask the customer. “Sorry to bug you, but this is driving me crazy. Did we go to magician school together?”
”No, I never went to magician school… but it’s not the first time someone’s … asked me that. There must be an up-and-coming… magician who looks just like me,” the customer replies, drunk and befuddled.
Sometimes the author is reaching a little too hard to find humor – there’s a Clubhouse joke that feels instantly dated – but there are way more hits than misses here, and it’s nice that the laughs don’t come too much at the expense of the sad-sacks stuck in a chain restaurant on what feels like it must be a Tuesday night. Between the good writing, clever design, and faintly-detectable humanist vibe, after all maybe this one’s more Cheesecake Factory than Applebee’s.
1 people found the following review helpful:
enjoyable premise and easy to play, November 19, 2022
It brings back memories of going to chain restaurants and some of the people you might see. I thought it was well written and fun to play.
Hilarious and Very Re-Playable, November 16, 2022
The hilariously intriguing title definitely sells the promise of this very well-written and laugh-inducing choice-based game. Incredibly repeatable with multiple paths, the writer creates a brilliantly funny world that’s both ingenious and full of mockery of the mundane. The fake Applebee’s menu items alone are worth the price of admission!
5 people found the following review helpful:
Use mind control for corporate profit--sparingly, October 29, 2022
As of writing, this is tied with Esther for the most-reviewed game of IFComp 2022.
brief vignette of a psychic for hire, October 19, 2022
It's a fun short Ink game where you have the ability once per night per person to inject corporate slogans into people's brains.
The fun of the game is that you can use your powers to mind read 4 different 'tracks' all night (i.e. following each of the four main NPCs), jumping tracks at will, as well as watching the TV as a 5th track.
Your actions have a variety of drastic side-effects, and strategizing is fun, so I replayed several times. I do think it could have been fun to be a little longer, or have one more person, but overall I found it very impressive.
You are a psychic for hire at this grungy late night diner, and you have one job: make people buy Schtupmeister beers.
There seems to be a small element of randomisation. The writing nails the “grungy” mood pretty well, and each character whose mind you read has a bit of a twist.
I think it works well on ink, creating an impression of a continuous unbroken narration - or, you know, one’s train of thought when doing some light voyeurism.
An enjoyable snack of a game.
2 people found the following review helpful:
Fun idea worthy of multiple playthroughs, October 13, 2022
In this choice-based game you play as a psychic marketing agent for a lousy beer company. Your job on this night is to order the latest frankenfood off the Extreme Menu!, sit at your booth and use your psychic powers to convince the other patrons to order your company's beer. The game offers you some hints right of the bat if you want them, not cheats, more like strategies, and then you are off. Jump around into the different minds at the restaurant and try to find the right moment to get them to try your beer.
Exactly What It Says on the Tin, October 6, 2022
The game offers multiple endings indicating various degrees of success. It follows the pattern of other choice-based puzzle games I've played before, where your ultimate goal is to find the correct path through the story to get the best ending and it requires multiple playthroughs to figure it out.
The writing is decent with some funny moments and colorful, if not deep, characters. There are plenty of things that don't make sense like (Spoiler - click to show)the idea that you can convince a 12-year-old to order beer (the Jr. variety!) or that you can convince a waitress on duty to drink one and then somehow she ends up with a case of it in her car when the night ends (does Applebee's sell beer-to-go now?), but no matter, this game is supposed to be wacky, not realistic.
Overall fun and easy to playthrough 3-4 times quickly to try to figure out the correct path. A good way to spend 15 minutes, but not much more.
Short and sweet, with tons of funny and creative details!
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I normally just play games through once, but I felt compelled to play this game three times in a row (and, strangely, to drink syrupy beer...). I'd replay it again, just to see what other funny content is hiding in other people's thoughts.