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About the Story
Trapped in an old, abandoned house, you must solve the mystery that has cursed the house for a hundred years... and escape with your life!
50th Place - 25th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2019)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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I remember testing the Author's 2020 IFComp entry, Alone. It did a lot right. I forget if the author told me they had entered in 2019 (COVID was weird) but I did feel like they knew what they were doing, and the stuff I found was easily fixable, and the overall story was strong. Later I wasn't surprised to see they wrote other stuff people liked.
However, I was surprised to see an entry of theirs in 2019 IFComp, when I didn't really pay attention to the other entries. (I should have. I'm still catching up. There were some good ones!) It's a classic story of a haunted house, and it starts as a bully and his Rottweiler waylay you, then chase you once you give them the slip. All this feels very real for a ten-year-old, and then as you hide out in the abandoned house, the bully puts a rock against the door. So you're stuck.
And it's not just a matter of getting out. Yes, you need to get out, but there's a mystery that unfolds along the way. Finding certain items gives you brief visions of why the house is haunted. The reason is violent and standard. You find various items (a useful bottle of poison) with chests to open, and there is a journal describing certain events. There's a fire, too, which you need to douse.
I found the end escape sequence once you find the secret nice and dramatic. It's very indulgent in terms of giving you time to get out, but I found it quite satisfying to perform certain actions before I fled, and yes, there's a neat creepy ending if you just wait around.
So the story is very good indeed, but there are a lot of the sorts of beginner mistakes that judges may frown on. For instance, there's a journal under a bed, and there's still something under the bed after you take it. Something's in the journal, and if you read the journal twice, it's blank. Some verbs need exact input. All this seems fixable, but it can blindside an author working alone, and it did, and it seems the only reason something like this would've placed so low. It appealed to me, maybe mostly because of the "kid chased into haunted house" angle, and I'm not really a horror fan.
I'd love to see the author clean up a few things and make a post-comp release. I bet it would be easy for them to do so, especially with a few transcripts. Their comments in Brian Rushton's review suggested they just weren't aware of certain things like getting more testing, etc., and for all that's lacking, I'm still impressed. The author got the hard parts right. But with 77 games, it's easy to get impatient and give something like this a low score.
David Welbourn has a walkthrough out now, and that ameliorates any fears people may have of poking at it. It's a well-conceived story with a lot of tension and spooky items to find and a mystery that slowly opens. Perhaps this ruins the puzzling aspect of it a bit, but I was able to enjoy the design without too many struggles with the parser. (Small voice) I actually liked the story better than the author's 2020 entry Alone--probably that's just because it was my style. And I also recommend The Lookout. This is quite good, too, with bumpers in place.
For a beginning IF player, this is an excellent intro to the genre. All items are used and make sense. The map is just complex enough to keep one guessing and navigating, though not too overwhelming. Simple, fast, and a great experience!
The House on Sycamore Lane is a very traditional haunted house mystery. Itís also riddled with bugs and typos. Despite this, I actually quite enjoyed it. None of the bugs I noticed were game breaking, and they also did not stand in the way of solving the puzzles. The puzzles were generally really nice, albeit a tad easy. What I liked about them were how they were integrated in the story, that they always felt reasonable and that they give a nice flow to playing the game. The story was nothing special, but decent enough and provided a certain level of immersion, enough to make it enjoyable. Some extensive testing and a good update could turn The House on Sycamore Lane into a rather good piece of IF.
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