This Old Haunted House

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Multiple choices for making a truly terrifying haunted house, November 6, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This Inform games looks very polished and refined, unusual during Ectocomp, which often features quickly-written games.

Also unusually for Inform, most of the machinery of parser games is omitted in favor of essentially binary choices.

You are Bone Villa (a riff on Bob Villa), working with the Property Boo-thers (a riff on the Property Brothers), and it's your job to select the perfect haunted house. You walk through ten rooms, in each of which the two brothers, Hoary and Terry, present competing alternatives to the design. At the end, your choices are summed up as one of 33 different possibilities.

The first playthrough was pretty fun, seeing the different possibilities and coming up with strategies in my mind. It was longer than I thought, since 5 rooms with 2 binary choices each would have been enough for 32 possibilities, with the 33rd being special. So it wasn't just a binary tree, which was interesting. It said I should try to find more possibilities at the end, so I replayed.

Replaying shortens some descriptions but is the same material, same choices. Eventually the game can give you hints, but it wasn't until I had played several times that I realized there was an 'ideal' house. That was confusing to me, because both descriptions just seem contrasting styles; at first it seems like they're going for an 'over-the-top vs restrained' thing in the choices but that turned out not to be the case. I was puzzled on how you could have a best house when there was little chance to distinguish between them.

Eventually, you can summon help, which helps you find out that (moderate spoilers) (Spoiler - click to show)different choices correspond to different 'colors'. But even with that hint I was a bit bewildered.

I think 10 choices is a lot for a game that is intended to be replayed quickly and has no other new content between rounds besides finding out your score and placement. I think more clues as to the system could have helped as well.

I played about 5-6 times through, then decompiled to see what a perfect game would be like. I saw in there that this game is actually (Spoiler - click to show)based on an earlier 10-choice game by the author, reskinned to be haunted.

Overall, I think experimentation like this is what drives IF forward, but as an overall game experience I felt an imbalance between the rewards for success and the effort required to achieve it.

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