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Hypercubic Time-Warp All-go-rhythmic Synchrony

by Ben Kidwell and Maevele Straw


(based on 2 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

A project to use infinity to bridge fiction and reality shatters into delusion and trauma. Completion of a 9 year trilogy.

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Current Version: Unknown
Development System: Inform 7
IFID: Unknown
TUID: oiv55hzd99dh750x


Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022


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Number of Reviews: 2
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Unsettling, June 13, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

Ooof. This is a tough one to get to grips with. Partially thatís down to the content of HTWAS: itís a cut-up series of autobiographical vignettes mapped in achronological fashion upon a ďhypercubeĒ, which concern set theory, bipolar mania, creative partnerships, and a math-and-divination based project to facilitate universal love and cross-cultural understanding via ethereal communication with a Chinese pop star, all of which chaos is accessed via a parser interface with a minimal verb set whose only affordances are navigating the hypercube and combining objects that represent abstruse math concepts to form other, yet more abstruse ones (feel free to scatter parenthetical ď?Ēs anywhere the previous sentence seems to be crying out for one).

The bigger barrier for me, though, is the opening text, where one of the co-authors says his relationship with the other co-author (which was also a romantic one, from the gameís context), has fallen apart after confessing to having sexual feelings for her teenaged son, who heíd apparently been a caregiver for over most of the previous decade. This is walked back almost immediately, but in a very vague way that indicates something significantly bad did occur:

"No, actually none of that was happening or going to happen, except the part where I, BenJen, am delusional and say horrible things to a teenager believing it will restructure the proton and give perpetual free energy via large cardinal embeddings, but actually I am just hurting the people I love, failing to manage my mental illness properly, and destroying my life and everything I have tried to do and be in the world."

This is of course something said in-game, and versions of both co-authors do exist in the story (which is similarly from the perspective of Ben), so itís certainly possible that this declaration should be understood within the fiction of the game and doesnít reflect actual events Ė as someone whose previous game was a memoir, Iím acutely aware that even in an explicitly autobiographical work there can be a significant difference between real events and what shows up in the game. But from playing through the game it certainly does not seem to boast much fictionalization; most events are low-key, quotidian ones depicting the co-author riding his bike around San Francisco, talking with his co-author about subjects including writing this game, and digging into his obsessive-seeming theories about what advanced math means about the nature of reality. Much of itís also told in a writing style that I find really reminiscent of similar emails Iíve gotten from a bipolar friend of mine when heís in a manic phase:

"The ball returns to your flippers and you shoot for an appealing target. The ball ricochets off the Communication Carousel and hits the Free Will Fork for a bonus. She continues, ĎWhy is a Measurable cardinal special? If a measurable cardinal exists, it is the critical point of an embedding of the universe of sets to a transitive class, and the full universe of sets is larger and richer than L, the constructible universe. The existence of elementary embeddings depends on the self-reflectivity of the universe of sets, whether or not initial segments of the universe reflect properties of the whole. This is analogous to recursive self-containment of deities and universes and souls within the universes that contain the deity, as well as to the infinite mirroring of two minds communicating and modeling the other mind modeling the other modeling itself."

I donít mean to be dismissive of whatís clearly a significant work, in terms of the effort itís required and its significance to the co-author. And while it is very hard to make sense of much of the game Ė partially because I canít follow the math, which might of course be perfectly comprehensible if you have the right background Ė there are some powerful moments in amongst the muddle. Thereís a fantasy of playing the piano with great facility thatís counterposed with the lived reality of arthritis making such virtuosity out of reach, and conversations where the co-author shares his arguments with his partner but displays appealing self-awareness about the positive things heís able to communicate but also the ways his enthusiasm or mania makes things more challenging for her. Thereís interesting things to discuss about how the narrative Ė and the hypercube mapping Ė are constructed, as well as the binding mechanic and what it means in terms of the themes that emerge from exploration and the eventual option to ďwinĒ the game.

When I think about engaging with those things, though, I feel a coldness in the pit of my stomach, because itís hard to treat HTWAS primarily as an aesthetic object when I canít shake the idea that itís the record of a person in the throes of a mental health crises whoís harmed themselves and others. Itís also unclear to me whether both co-authors agreed to put the game out in its current form, or if Ben has done so unilaterally after their relationship fractured. Iím not completely sure whether this is the right course of action for me, much less others, but Iíve decided to leave these notes on my reaction incomplete rather than doing a full review, and wonít be nominating it for ribbons. And Iíll also hope everyone involved with the gameís creation (especially the other co-authorís son) gets the help and support they need.

An ultra-surreal game about hypercubes, Berkeley, and set theory, April 10, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is the third game by this duo, the other two in the past having been very long, surreal games, one of which reflected a psychotic break and really felt like what such a thing would be to experience.

This game starts with the first author confessing that he/she (both pronouns are used) made sexual advances to their trans step son whom they've lived with for 9 years, and that it has ruined the partnership of the two authors, after most of this game had been written, and that the author is trying to make up for it.

Much of this game isn't real, so it's hard to know if this is, but it certainly seems so, which is sobering and disturbing.

The rest of the game focuses mostly on a few recurring themes:
-The idea of very large cardinal sets and non-principal ultrafilters on them. This is an area of math that is extremely abstract, especially since (as mentioned by the author) most of these things are non-constructible and cannot be proven to exist in any meaningful way under normal mathematical assumptions.
-The author's life at the Lothlorien coop in Berkeley, which still exists and houses people today.
-The idea of using psychic energy to communicate with Hong Kong singer Deng Ziqi telepathically.
-The author's relationship with Staci (who I believe is also Maev?)

The game is laid out on a six-dimensional hypercube, corresponding to 6 binary digits, corresponding to the 6 cardinal directions N,E,S,W,U, and D. Unlike most games and real life, N and S are not opposites and have no relation to each other. Instead, going North cancels itself out, so going N twice will bring you back to where you started.

Not all 64 options are filled; about 20 or so are empty 'unfinished' rooms. One room had its connections backwards (so that going U and D changed the N and S bits), which may or may not be intentional. The room names are based on the binary numbers.

In the rooms are found items, one at a time or zero. There are lots of scenery objects described in the text but none are implemented.

I received around 432 points (I think) out of 530 or so. There is no overarching goal outside of 'binding' some items together in a chain, which just gives more points. One room contains a complete walkthrough for the bindings.

Overall, as a game it continues the glimpse into a surreal world offered by the previous games, but the confession at the beginning overshadows everything else and renders it all heartbreaking.

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