Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

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Archive for November, 2014

IFComp 2014 Review: Jacqueline, Jungle Queen

Posted by Reiko on November 13, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Jacqueline, Jungle Queen
Author: Steph Cherrywell
Format: Quest

This is a fun romp through the jungle with various superpowers. It’s not very deep, but it does a pretty good job of making the powers be puzzle solutions, especially the early ones. I thought the heat power was going to be more useful than it was, unfortunately, but the water power was useful several times. There’s a bit of backstory with the demise of the pirate ship and the hint that the powers might have a dark side, but it never amounts to much except explaining the skeletons scattered around the place. Maybe it was just that the pirate crew already had their dark side, as Jacqueline never seems to have any issues with the powers.

The puzzles are generally fair and straightforward. Rarely is it necessary to wander around very much; mostly the solutions are found fairly close to where they are used, although it’s not really a very big area to start. The only real trouble I had was right at the end, when I couldn’t just use the component or put it on the radio, so it felt like a guess the verb construction. You have to explicitly use the component on the radio; anything else I tried just gave a default “you can’t use that” or “you can’t do that” message, so it’s a bit misleading.

The other problem I have with this piece, and it’s a mixed blessing, really, is the interpreter. I’ve never had any reason to play or write Quest games before (but there must have been ones in the competition before, surely?), so I didn’t have the interpreter. The Quest website isn’t really clear about the fact that the only way to play Quest games seems to be to download the whole development package. They can be played online, but only if they’re on the Quest website, which this piece isn’t. So it was a hassle to get it to run, especially when it wouldn’t even download the first three times I tried, for some reason.

On the other hand, the actual play experience was very smooth. I appreciate having the compass rose to see exits (although I never click on it to move), and the auto-completing map is easy to read. There were too many default messages for my taste, and not enough synonyms, but on the whole it was a pleasant way to spend an hour.

Score: 7
Scoring: base 7, +1 for smooth interface and map, -1 for lack of synonyms and too many default messages

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IFComp 2014 Review: Various Inform Entries (Part 2)

Posted by Reiko on November 13, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here. All the games in this post are Inform games.

And yet it moves
Author: Orion

This could be the start of a serious quest, but unfortunately it’s marred by some serious problems. Galileo wants you to smuggle his book away, but his house doesn’t even make sense. The garden is east of the front door, and the kitchen is east of the garden but west of the front door. The text is rough too, with plenty of capitalized words in odd places, or the first words of sentences not capitalized.

The early puzzles are reasonable, but then I arrived at Florence and managed to do things out of order. I found the bank without even trying, got the money out, bound the book, and bought supplies, and there’s no sign of the coach. I checked the hints, and there’s supposed to be a whole sequence where you talk to the bookbinder, who sends you to the wine merchant, who sends you to the barber, who has some items from the bank that tells you where it is. I found those items after the fact too, and actually wondered first if I was going to get in trouble for barging into the barber’s attic and swiping the stuff there. (But no, you hardly ever get in trouble for taking things in IF, right?) All that’s completely unnecessary if you explore a bit farther past the bookbinder though, and if you do, then it seems to break the game.

Score: 2
Scoring: base 4, -1 for capitalization and other formatting issues, -1 for broken map and quest sequences

Author: Simon Deimel

It’s an interesting experiment. Flawed, perhaps, but interesting. In the wake of a tragedy, it’s like the PC’s mind has temporarily snapped, and you have to gradually remember where you are and what happened, mostly by thinking about things. You literally can’t see what’s around you at first, and you have to work at seeing things clearly and thinking about them to remember what happened and why you’re there. And then you have to make a choice.

It’s flawed mostly because of the way you sometimes have to think about things multiple times, often after thinking about something else first, before you get the critical next piece of understanding that reveals more about the situation. So it’s sometimes hard to determine what you’re missing. Even on a second playthrough, everything remains out of scope until you go through the process of recognizing it step by step. When it comes time to make a decision, meta commands like save and undo are disabled, which is intended to make the decision feel more final. In practice, it’s more of an annoyance because it means either remembering to make a save halfway through, or going through the whole discovery from the beginning, if you want to try for a different outcome. And it isn’t much easier the second time around to reveal everything.

On the other hand, I’d say this is much more successful than Tower (by the same author) as a surreal, experimental piece. The terse nature of his prose works for him in this piece, and it really seems like it’s trying to say something about the nature of vision and insanity.

Score: 7
Scoring: base 7, +1 for thoughtful experiment, -1 for difficult thinking process

Jesse Stavro’s Doorway
Author: Marshall Tenner Winter

At the beginning, there’s a journal with an infodump of information about time-traveling doorways. Then the action is all about looking through a ramshackle house looking for information about where your friend Jesse went. It’s quite the juxtaposition of fantastical and mundane, really. Unfortunately, the implementation is rather thin, and there’s not much to lead to the next thing. The other people in the house, if they talk at all, only respond to one or two things that give the next bit of information, and usually it results in a whole scripted conversation which is very awkward if you trigger it again later. They don’t respond to any other relevant keywords, either.

The whole game is like this. I did finish it, but only by consulting the walkthrough, as there were several occasions where I wouldn’t have found the exact right thing to ask about or do in order to continue. NPC interactions continued to be scripted and strange. Names appeared and disappeared at random times. One guy Riley comes with you for much of the game, but halfway through, his name disappeared and he became “tripping guy” again. Items from previous chapters stay with you even if they’re pointless later. Most of the game is just about getting back to the right year, and there really isn’t much of an ending. It’s all very awkward and railroaded.

Score: 3
Scoring: base 7, -1 for awkwardly scripted conversations, -1 for railroaded plot, -1 for thin implementation, -1 for lack of ending

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IFComp 2014 Review: Arqon

Posted by Reiko on November 13, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Arqon, A Criminal’s Journey
Author: H. J. Hoke
Format: Inform

This is an RPG-style game using the same system as the Reliques of Tolti-Aph. The problem with that system is that magic uses the same points as health, and many spells use consumable items, so there’s hardly any point to using magic except where required to solve puzzles, because the resources available are so limited. As a result, combat is mostly luck-based. Reliques, while certainly a flawed game, did a good job of making puzzles that used the available spells. Arqon makes no such attempt. In fact, at least one of its available spells might not be castable at all. I found no source of its consumable resource, and nowhere to use it even if I could cast it: it’s a healing spell, but spells can’t be cast on oneself.

Not only is there hardly any strategy available in combat, the whole game is more or less trivial to complete if you get the better weapon and use the poison on it. Nearly half the combats were over in a single blow. Maybe I just got lucky though. There was one combat that killed me the first time I tried it, and then the second time it was over in a single blow. With a couple of judicious restores, I didn’t take enough damage over the whole game to require using any of the strength potions. In other words, the difference between the minimum and maximum damage one combat might inflict is often the difference between no damage or total damage (death). That makes any strategy pointless, and restoring for minimum damage the only fun way to play.

There were also numerous issues with the text itself. Many misspelled words, spaces in weird places, extra blank lines, etc. There’s a comment in the game that the author has vision issues. But in this age of spellcheckers and online beta testers and such, there should be very little reason to have these issues. I also came across a persistent run-time error with the hermit (who seemed to have very little point to exist either – he didn’t even respond to half of the suggested conversation topics).

In short, this game needs a lot more work to be engaging. What’s worse, it seems to be only half a game, really. You’re hired for a particular job, but told to do a different one first to prove your worth. Well, the game ends after that first job is complete. The second one might theoretically happen in a sequel, according to the comments available after the ending.

Score: 3
Scoring: base 7, -1 for numerous text issues, -1 for trivial combat, -1 for run-time error, -1 for an unfinished plot

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IFComp 2014 Review: Various Inform Entries (Part 1)

Posted by Reiko on November 13, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here. All the games in this post are Inform games.

Tea Ceremony
Author: Naomi Hinchen

This is a silly alien etiquette simulator that manages to be funny but also fiddly. You’re an envoy who has to make a good impression on an alien aristocrat by serving their equivalent of tea and biscuits. The best part is using the dictionary to look up what the alien words mean. I thought it was going to be more of a guessing game of doing things and using the alien’s feedback to figure out what the right sequence is. But the etiquette book spells out the ceremony for you pretty exactly, and you just have to follow the steps. There’s another layer of complexity when making the alien biscuits in that the measuring cups don’t give the right amounts, so you have to pour back and forth to get the amount for the recipe. It’s a classic math puzzle. But it breaks the feel of the game by introducing this slightly fiddly puzzle in the midst of doing this silly ceremony.

The ending offers a list of amusing things to try, but the humor really falls a bit flat here. If you think to try them on your own and get a clever response instead of a generic parser response, it’s one thing, but to be told that these are amusing things to try, well, the responses just aren’t amusing enough for that. It’s more like the author was saying, “hey, look at all these extra things I coded”.

Score: 6
Scoring: base 7, -1 for shortness, +1 for amusing alien terminology, -1 for explicit puzzle solution

Ugly Oafs
Author: Perry Creel

This is another old-school puzzler, of the wordplay subgenre. Like others, the implementation is very thin and wacky, because these kinds of word-manipulation methods produce very unrelated words. So the puzzle just throws lots of unrelated objects into an artificial area, and sends you into it to have at the wordplay, with little or no justification for the whole thing.

This one is more obscure and zany than most. Once the actual manipulation method clicks, it’s obvious what it’s doing, although it’s still not obvious what the right answer is for the various words that need to be manipulated. This one is a particularly headache-inducing variety (at least for me), and I didn’t bother going through all the permutations to figure it out. For someone who likes this kind of thing more, or who wants to write a script to expand out the possibilities, this would be more fun. As it is, it’s just kind of arbitrary. I played along with it up to the point where I encountered a threat that followed me around, presumably until I figured out the right way to manipulate it, but if you do anything other than move away from it for a few turns, it kills you. I didn’t feel much reason to go back into it after that.

Also, I just noticed that the title in the game list says the author is Perry Creel (which fits the manipulation pattern), but the cover art says Percy Creel (which does not).

Score: 4
Scoring: base 4, +1 for unusual manipulation mechanic, -1 for bland and arbitrary setting

Hunger Daemon
Author: Sean M. Shore

Like Zest, this game is not at all what it seemed like based on the blurb. It sounded like it would primarily be a quest for food (which would be boring), but it’s actually a quest to retrieve something for a Cthulu-cult ritual (which isn’t my thing but also isn’t boring). I’m clearly not the intended audience for this, but I played along for awhile because the writing was snappy and the puzzles were clever. However, when it got to the point of crashing a synagogue service on one of the High Holy Days by stealing a ticket and then stealing the ritual thing back, I drew the line. (Especially because the IFComp always takes place during or right after the Fall Holy Days – really bad timing, there.)

In short, excellent execution, terrible subject material. Other people will likely score it much higher, and perhaps it will be a contender for the Banana of Discord.

Score: 5
Scoring: base 4, +1 for good puzzles, +1 for snappy and responsive writing, -1 for uncomfortable religious material

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IFComp 2014 Review: Contortionist / Venus / Building

Posted by Reiko on November 12, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

The Contortionist
Author: Nicholas Stillman
Format: Web

This piece is another good example of the variety that’s possible with Twine. Most of the Twine pieces I’ve seen have been pretty default-looking, regular text on a black background, with a vertical sidebar on the left with the title. While this piece doesn’t do anything fancy with the text colors, it uses a white background and a horizontal bar on the top with the title, and it also maintains a set of menu links at the bottom of the main text. This makes it feel a lot more like a regular parser game than most Twine pieces. The story, too, is a lot more like a parser game, being a timed-action escape puzzle.

The setting is a sort of dystopia where a small percentage of the population is conscripted into forced labor prisons for 20-year sentences. And the main character has some sort of genetic defect that’s like the extreme end of doublejointedness: he can literally squish his body, even his skull, so that he can fit through the bars. Convenient for escaping a high-security prison, that. The guard makes rounds at set intervals, so you have to exit the prison cell, talk to the other inmates, gather useful items, and make and execute an escape plan. It’s pretty standard IF stuff, really, but the fact that it’s done all in Twine is fairly impressive.

The text is descriptive, but clearly no one went through it with a spellchecker, as there are several obvious typos. Other than that, it’s a solid piece.

Score: 7
Scoring: base 7, +1 for action menu in Twine, -1 for typos

Venus Meets Venus
Author: kaleidofish
Format: Web

I didn’t read all of this piece. It’s got very explicit content that is a kind I prefer not to experience. Plus there was no gameplay to speak of and very little in the way of choices. The first section talks about trying to decide where the turning point was that led to the outcome that happened, but this doesn’t seem to end up being a story where you can actually affect that outcome. Perhaps by the end it is; I don’t know because I didn’t finish it, but as of the seventh section, I hadn’t seen anything that looked like an actual choice. Most pages are linear, with only one link to the next page, but even the ones that have multiple links seem to have only one that moves the story along. The others just fill in additional details. It’s interactive fiction only in the simplest sense of clicking a link to show the next bit of text.

Score: 3
Scoring: base 4, -1 for linearity

Building the Right Stuff
Author: Laura Mitchell
Format: Windows executable

People keep saying that making a custom homebrew application for IF is a bad idea, and every year there’s at least one in the competition anyway. It’s still a bad idea.

This particular one looked vaguely interesting. You’ve got a deep space surveying job, and there’s a bit of a mystery about why that particular area needs surveying. Unfortunately, the execution is extremely limited and possibly buggy. Most of the links do very little, and the basic gameplay seems to boil down to being put in stasis to jump to the next planet, run a quick survey, talk to the computer to avoid going insane, rinse and repeat. All of these are performed only through awkward hyperlinks. This might be fine for a few cycles or until something more interesting shows up, but the second time I tried to enter stasis, the Y/N buttons didn’t show up, so I was essentially stuck, because the rest of the interface disappears on that prompt.

Score: 2
Scoring: base 4, -1 for broken stasis prompt, -1 for boring gameplay

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IFComp 2014 Review: Creatures Such As We

Posted by Reiko on November 12, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Creatures Such As We
Author: Lynnea Glasser
Format: Web

The PC is a tour guide on the moon. What a cool job. Of course, there are downsides, like being socially isolated for several years. But things get more interesting when the design team of her favorite video game comes to the moon base. She’s just been obsessing over the depressing ending to the game and figures she can ask them about it. Naturally it doesn’t work out quite the way she anticipates, but they still have a number of philosophical conversations about the nature of art.

For a choice-based story, this piece is actually quite long. The first bit is primarily her playing the video game, and I half expected it to stop at the end of that playthrough, but that was just the introduction, the setup for the actual story. There are some really interesting things this story is trying to say about the nature of art and endings, while allowing the player to decide how she wants to feel about them.

The text is very immersive and offers what feels like real choices, and lots of them, although clearly there’s an overall plot that it’s following. It’s using the best kind of choice for this kind of limited medium, one that allows the player to choose how to respond to a situation while not requiring the story to completely derail as a result of the choice.

The only nitpick I had was with a few recurring issues with the writing. The author kept using commas after a character action to connect it with the next piece of dialogue when that action was not a kind of speech. Dialogue should be separated as its own sentence unless it’s described with “said” or “answered” or some other speaking kind of action. The engaging story and the sheer volume of text makes this a small issue though

Score: 9
Scoring: base 7, +1 for philosophical conversations and engaging plot, +1 for interesting choices

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IFComp 2014 Review: Milk Party / Krypteia / Raik

Posted by Reiko on November 12, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here. More web games, but these I liked more, overall.

Milk Party Palace
Authors: Alon Karmi & Glenn Parker

This is the second game so far to start with a “wake up and be late to work” kind of scene, although fortunately this one doesn’t recur. Someone must have been on something when designing the situation for this game: collect milk for Alec Baldwin. Seems more like a game jam concept than a full competition game. And the individual scenarios for collecting the milk gallons are even more improbable, although quite simple to get through.

I’m not sure if I actually reached an ending, though. After acquiring all the milk and talking to everyone at the party, the next prompt said “Next Part” but did nothing when I clicked on it. Very weird game. The blurb advertises three endings, but I’m not particularly inspired to replay to find others. It’s probably worth a look if you like zany humor.

Score: 5
Scoring: base 4, +1 for humor

Author: Kateri

I really liked this one, but I don’t have a whole lot to say about it. There’s a mysterious, dangerous forest to explore. The mechanic of exploration and increasing stats is familiar, but the execution is interesting. Depending on what you equip, you can lean toward the wolf (attacking) or shadow (hiding) method of getting by monsters. Each has its own dangers, of course. Multiple endings make this very replayable.

The visual execution is also very good. The text turns different colors depending on what’s going on. There are pictures with each location, many of which shift subtly from a forest to a town visual. The font is different when emphasizing the use of the wolf or shadow abilities. And there is an auto-completing map of the forest. It’s all very slick. Because of that, I don’t have anything to complain about. It was enjoyable, very polished, and it clearly has dual interpretations.

Score: 9
Scoring: base 7, +1 for map and visual execution, +1 for multiple endings

Author: Harry Giles

Oh dear. The entire text seems to be written phonetically in Scottish-English. This would be fine if I could get it to read it to me audibly, as I’ve known enough Scottish people that I don’t have much trouble understanding them verbally. Or if it was mostly dialogue in context, maybe. But I’m not sure I want to wade through an entire game written that way. Oh good, you can switch to normal English or switch back at the end of each page. On the other hand, they aren’t the same story. The normal English seems to be more of a fantasy quest story, and the Scottish seems to be more of a modern-day slice of life story. Odd juxtaposition, that. It keeps switching back and forth so it’s really hard to tell what’s going on. Maybe that’s the point? I’m not sure I get it. I played to an ending but I’m not sure if it was the best ending or not, because I couldn’t really tell what was going on in the Scots story.

Score: 6
Scoring: base 7, -1 for switching back and forth between stories so often

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IFComp 2014 Review: Missive / Icepunk

Posted by Reiko on November 11, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Author: Joey Fu
Format: Web

This story really encourages the main character to drink right from the beginning. But if you ignore that, there’s an interesting mystery surrounding a set of letters found with an old typewriter. The letters often contain strange turns of phrase or even coded sequences which form puzzles to solve.

On the first playthrough, it’s easy to overlook some of these, but the mystery can’t be fully solved without getting them all right. Fortunately, there are only three choices for each answer, so it’s fairly easy to brute-force, which is good because at least one of the puzzles is so obscure that I couldn’t even tell what kind of puzzle it was supposed to be, let alone solve it. Ironically, the one kind of puzzle I was good at actually solving (the cryptogram) was one I’d just guessed correctly on the first time through.

There are also side-plots which can be followed, including the matter of the main character’s ex, a man who indicates some interest in retrieving the typewriter and letters, an interesting librarian, and of course, there’s always time to drink. Not all of these can be followed in a single playthrough, and each of the wrong answers to the puzzles also provides a different, but plot-appropriate response, so there’s quite a bit of replayability available. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t seem to matter much whether you solve the mystery or not. The endings are all very terse and nothing much happens as a result.

Score: 7
Scoring: base 7, +1 for puzzles and replayability, -1 for trivial endings

Author: pageboy
Format: Web

There’s been some sort of apocalyptic disaster, and now you have to go around the frozen area and collect data to reboot the main computer, or something like that. It sounds like a good premise, and I really wanted to like this one. But in practice it’s very repetitive, because there’s a text-based hyperlinked map, but you can only travel across one region at a time. This is made worse by the fact that on my computer, each click took at least five seconds to load. Slowest Twine game ever, it seems. And you have to return to the habitat after just a few downloads to upload the collected data into the main computer. So it became a trudge of clicking a region, waiting, clicking another region, waiting, and so on until I made it to a region I hadn’t been to before, then checking a few regions, then trudging back. Entering the habitat, going to the computer, dumping the data, and exiting again took at least seven clicks, each of which forced me to wait several seconds.

Unfortunately, I made it to 84% complete and then ran into a problem when trying to enter a region that left me with a blank working screen. I could still view my current set of data, but I couldn’t make any more progress. I’m curious what happens when you get to 100%, but I’m not sure I’m curious enough to start the process over unless I can get it to run faster. It’s a shame that the execution was so flawed, and the gameplay was so shallow. There’s the seed of something interesting here.

Score: 5
Scoring: base 4, +1 for procedurally generated scenarios, +1 for map navigation, -1 for slow response time

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IFComp 2014 Review: Eidolon

Posted by Reiko on November 11, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Author: A.D. Jansen
Format: Web

This piece is strangely compelling, despite not really making much sense. I was playing this late in the evening, which fit with the theme of it, and I found myself compulsively continuing to click links even though I needed to go to bed, and I ended up finishing the whole thing before I could go to sleep.

The beginning section is a very slow slice of life about having insomnia. Having the goals better directed would help here, as I found myself wandering the house for awhile without knowing what I was trying to do other than eventually go back to sleep. There’s a vague goal of being as quiet as possible, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference whether you’re quiet or not. I didn’t go back and try to be noisy just to see if anything else happens, though.

Slow as it is, it’s all setup for the second half, which is a bizarre dreamscape that nevertheless had clear goals and puzzles to solve. The hypertext format doesn’t generally lend itself to the kinds of puzzles that parser-based IF can support, yet it felt more like that than most, with links providing the means to examine and interact with objects, and move around the area.

I actually would have liked to see the ending sequence with the forest expanded into a third puzzle section, as the premise had a lot of potential. Maybe in a post-comp release? But I think I was coming up on close to two hours already, so it was just as well for the purposes of the competition that it didn’t. I think this is the first really substantial hypertext-based IFcomp piece I’ve played.

It was all very solid. I may have seen a couple of typos, but generally the text was fluid and evocative. I got stuck exactly once, when I somehow got a blank screen, but other than that, with hypertext, there’s always a way through.

Score: 8
Scoring: base 7, +1 for evocative text

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IFComp 2014 Review: Various Web Entries

Posted by Reiko on November 11, 2014

This is a review of games from the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here. All the games in this post are web-based games that didn’t impress me very much, so I only wrote a paragraph or so about each to summarize my impressions of them.

Author: Robot Parking

At first glance, this appears to be a text-based ripoff of the old adventure game Hugo’s House of Horror, complete with screenshots, although the screenshots turn weird part way through. There’s gratuitous gore and bad language, and the gameplay consists only of guessing the right order to click the links to make progress. When I received a severed head as an item and then the picture shifted to a Nethack screenshot with no links to proceed, I quit in disgust. This “game” has no redeeming gameplay and makes no sense.

Score: 2
Scoring: base 4, -1 for ripoff screenshots, -1 for gratuitous horror and lack of apparent sense

The Entropy Cage
Author: Stormrose

Science fiction story about rogue sub-sentient algorithms and the consequences of expanding their power in different ways. It seems to come down to one choice at the end. The network syntax is intriguing, although not hard to follow for anyone computer-literate. The links were intuitive to follow, but early on very few options were available, so it felt repetitive until the story opened up. In some games, you do the same thing repeatedly until you get to the point where you can do more, but usually you can tell whether you’re making progress. In this game, there was no way to tell. It’s mildly entertaining but not very memorable.

Score: 6
Scoring: base 7, -1 for shortness

Sigmund’s Quest
Author: Gregor Holtz

First impression is that the game is too big to fit on the screen. Even the background requires scrolling, and the text is in a tiny area at the bottom that doesn’t show more than one line of text at a time. Full screen doesn’t help. This isn’t going to work. Then I pressed the Diary button and the text area moved up the screen so I can actually read it. That’s better. But then it moves down again every single turn, when the background picture changes, so I have to keep clicking Diary. The background pictures are these huge pixellated affairs: why couldn’t they have been scaled down and placed in their own area of the screen with the text consistently visible in another area? This is really awkward gameplay for what’s supposed to be a game focused on text.

And then it’s over, saying “End of Chapter I”. I’m going to call this unfinished – this isn’t IntroComp, after all. It’s an interesting premise, but not a whole game, for sure.

Score: 3
Scoring: base 4, -1 for awkward layout

Inward Narrow Crooked Lanes
Author: B Minus Seven

The form mentioned in the blurb appears to be complete nonsense. On a first playthrough, I answered as sensibly as possible and hoped for the best. Then the action started, and there seemed to be nothing to hope for. The rooms didn’t make any more sense than the form. The second one was full of code. I would think that may just be a programming mistake in whatever platform the story was written in, but with this kind of piece, it’s hard to tell. In fact, there’s a note at the end that says it’s not an error. Okay then. A second and third playthrough are no more enlightening. My head hurts.

Score: 3
Scoring: base 4, -1 for nonsensical content

Laterna Magica
Author: Jens Byriel

There’s no story, only an exploration of philosophical concepts. Every step is simply a choice between two concepts. Eventually I found I was going in circles, and started seeking out new answers. Finally I came to an ending when I selected “enlightenment”, and it basically said I was asking the wrong questions or wasn’t ready. Probably I wasn’t, as I don’t feel enlightened.

Score: 3
Scoring: base 4, -1 for lack of story

Author: S. Elize Morgan

It’s a science fiction story of a rehabilitation complex gone wrong, more or less. There isn’t really much in the way of choices. The first part mostly doesn’t make any sense, and the second part is very linear and rather bland. The prose does its job, but I noticed a number of typos, so it could have used another round of editing.

Score: 5
Scoring: base 7, -1 for noticeable typos, -1 for shortness

The Secret Vaults of Kas the Betrayer
Author: A.E. Jackson

It seems to be more or less a generic fantasy dungeon crawl, although it has quite a bit of backstory. I did a search on the name and came up with an RPG module, so perhaps it’s some kind of text adaptation of that. I’m not sure Twine is the best medium for that sort of thing, though. While there’s a goal to find a particular artifact, the immediate question is how to navigate through the vaults. I found a poem that gave hints, which worked perfectly for the first trap-puzzle. I was unable to use the hint to make sense of the second trap-puzzle, though, so I quickly became stuck. The “walkthrough” provided was only the same hint-poem with a few more basic comments, so it was no help at all, and certainly not an actual walkthrough.

Score: 4
Scoring: base 4, -1 for no walkthrough, +1 for backstory

Author: Porpentine

This one does what it says on the tin. It’s a thin randomized begging simulator. It gets very repetitive very fast, and there doesn’t seem to be much point, as it’s mostly luck and you’re just trying to survive as long as possible. I didn’t find any ending other than death. Clearly porpentine was trying to say something here, as she does with every piece, but there’s so little content and it’s just not any fun to play, so I can’t give this a high score.

Score: 4
Scoring: base 4, +1 for randomization, -1 for short repetitive, luck-based play

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