healyg: (Book Reading)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Marco Vallarino's Darkiss - Chapter 1: The Awakening.

Darkiss is a short puzzly game about a vampire who's trying to escape from his hideout after being ganked by his nemesis. The vampire and horror stuff comes off as very Halloweeny (all those rants about serving evil and darkness and yadda yadda yadda), so it's hard to take the protagonist's atrocities very seriously. Conversely, it's also pretty hard to sympathize with him; after all, he is a jerk and a vampire. I greeted most plot developments in this game with a flat "oh cool, whatever".


Darkiss is very much a game that lives or dies by its atmosphere, which luckily it has in spades. Most of the game's environments and objects get at least a paragraph of description, if not more, and while it can get pretty text-dumpy at times, the game usually reserves long text descriptions for important plot events. The writing itself is pretty good, although a little stilted (likely due to its translation from the Italian); I ran into a couple spelling and grammar issues but nothing fatal. I ran into some trouble with the puzzles, though, and played through most of the game with a walkthrough. I still enjoyed the game, but it would have been nice if it had better in-game hinting.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Megan Steven's Much Love, BJP.

Much Love, BJP is a very short story about some notable highlights from the life of a female war correspondent. It kind of functions as short lesson in recent world history, which is why I wasn't surprised to find out it began life as a school project. Truly there is a new tradition of games made for a classroom setting being submitted to the comp.

Much Love, BJP is fairly well written and engaging, but I had trouble figuring out the context of each vignette. This is probably because it was made for a class; when you go over the same material as a group, you can more easily adjust for audience expectations and knowledge. It's also a bit insubstantial as a story, given that there are only about 5 nodes in the game. Still, it could be quite useful as a teaching tool, particularly for classes about current conflict in the Middle East.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Angry Dorito)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Norbez's The Speaker.

The Speaker is a short, subtly branching culture-clash story about a guy named Riveria who works for an alien advice columnist/blogger after the latter gets paralyzed. Over the course of the game Riveria has more and more doubts about the alien's advice. Should he just parrot the alien's advice? Should he even take the job at all?



I wasn't really feeling this one, and I think it all comes down to a crucial lack of detail. The setting isn't filled out very well, and both the problems people send to and the advice given from the alien are very sketchy, making the protagonist's outbursts over them seem a little out of place. Probably the worst example of this is the question that kicks off the main plot. Although I can see how the alien's response lacked prudence, I didn't think there were enough details given of the situation to say it was 100% the wrong thing to say, either. Sometimes an environment really is that crappy and you just gotta escape, man. (Of course, read as written, there's no way to know for sure if this was the case. I would love it if the story was about an advice columnist who sends people crappy advice because he doesn't think things through, but I don't think this was it.) And while the game seems like it's trying to push the alien's worldview as if it were unbelievably, well, alien, it's well within the range of normal human opinion (if a little fringey at times), so I'm not sure what the author's trying to say here. It's a shame, since advice columnists are a rich, juicy subject with plenty to satirize, but the game fumbles the execution, making for a weak satire and social commentary.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Frown)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Claudia Doppioslash's The Man Who Killed Time.

The Man Who Killed Time is a mostly linear story about a time-travel mystery involving a man who may have irrevocably screwed up time. Unfortunately, the game is severely held back by extremely poor writing. It's peppered with practically made out of bad, awkward phrases, some of which actively work against comprehension. (There are also a couple spelling and grammar errors, but the poor phrasing is the bigger problem.) It's kind of a shame, since the story hits a couple grace notes here and there, but the writing is too confusing for me to really enjoy any of it. I would strongly suggest that the writer get their next game checked out by a native English speaker before releasing it.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Jack Whitham's Final Exam.

Final Exam is a heavily puzzle-based game about an exam for a futuristic administrative position that goes wrong thanks to some kind of cyber-attack. We're not given too many details about either the attack or the setting itself; there's some hints that much of the world may be experienced in VR simulations, but nothing too concrete.



Anyway, after a handhold-y introduction, you have to save your organization through some technical wizardry involving cables and robots and junk. I had to work from a walkthrough almost the entire game, so I'm not too sure about how fair or good the puzzles are; most of them are fiddly manipulate-the-machine type puzzles, and there's a lot of mapping to do since the rooms are really spread out. For what it's worth, though, I did end up liking the game, despite a few minor problems here and there (like the inconsistant handling of identically named objects).


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Freaked-out Fujiko)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Cat Manning's Crossroads.

Crossroads is a short, heavily branching urban horror story about an encounter with a menacing witch. They say it's death to meet with her, but I didn't encounter any death endings per se across the several times I've played through it. What you're looking for with her changes depending on your choices in the story, but most of them seem to deal with seeking forgiveness or catharsis or something along those lines. The writing was good at building up a menacing atmosphere, and there are a couple interesting tricks with the interface in several episodes.

Crossroads is, I think, a game that improves considerably upon replay, because a lot of the different storylines inform each other, building up a view of the protagonist that, while not necessarily narratively consistent, is... at least some other kind of consistent. I remember some guy on the internet who said that, while there is little to no narrative continuity between episodes of the old Twilight Zone series, there was a moral or emotional continuity that connected disparate episodes together. (This may be why it's so easy to parody.) I think that the same thing is going on with the branches of the story in Crossroads, as well. It's pretty interesting to think about.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Arthur DiBianca's Grandma Bethlinda's Variety Box.

Grandma's Bethlinda's Variety Box is a fairly short puzzle game, with little-to-no plot to speak of. Most of the focus in the game is on the goofy interactions between the various gadgets and gizmos on the titular box. I had a lot of trouble solving this one, but that may just be because I am kind of dumb when it comes to puzzles. All of the interactions are very pared down (the most common verb is likely USE, or as the game cheekily calls it, UNDERTAKE TO INTERACT WITH, abv. U), so it might be a good game to give to a parser-IF newbie. There were a couple bits I found overly fiddly (like the display), but otherwise it was pretty fun.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (aww)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Phantom Williams's Summit.

Summit is an interactive travelogue through many strange and metaphorical landscapes. The obvious comparison here is to Porpentine's games (although the vignettes here are more developed and melancholic), although parts of it also reminded me of Alan DeNiro's Solarium in the 2013 Comp, and also Ghost Highland Way, the Scots ghost walking-sim from last year.

The setting is ambiguously post-apocalyptic; there are references here and there to a previous, more glorious civilization, although these are kept rather vague. The world Summit takes place on might not even be Earth (but I'm prepared to admit I might have missed a reference or two). The focus of the game is the titular summit, which is the object of the player character's desire; it's said that those who reach the top can achieve immortality. The Summit may represent heaven or enlightenment, and the protagonist's journey could be wise or folly, depending on your interpretation of events.

I don't think understood everything there was to about the game, and I might need to replay, at least to see some alternate paths. But here's my hot take on Summit: I really liked it! I found it a bit draggy near the end, but I loved all the dream/nightmare details, and the music really helped to set the mood. If you haven't already, you should take the chance to play it, as it's one of the strongest entries I've seen in the Comp so far.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Cha Holland's Growbotics. (I refuse to type it in all-caps on principle.)

Growbotics is, essentially, a toy-game parody with a bit of plot mixed in. In it you're the recipient of the latest new thing in creation technology, Growbotics! The basic gameplay is combining essences, like Vision or Sensation, to take just two examples, into either more complicated essences or a new shiny object, depending on the game mode. It's very satisfying to combine stuff to get more stuff (special thanks to the sound design here), although it's frustrating when you keep getting the buzzer again and again.



The game design of Growbotics is fun and all, but unfortunately it seems to be trying to say something and I can't see what. There's an obvious parody of over-promising art apps, creation technology, and the like (the game is really good at making fun of the overblown writing style these products tend to use), but it doesn't get much further than point-and-laugh-at-the-thing, satire-wise. There's potential in the purely cosmetic choices of the beginning, and I like how the manual, which makes it easier for you to create things, also prunes some of your possibilities away, but the game seems divided by what exactly it wants to say. Both the "winning" and "losing" endings are tongue-in-cheek portrayals of opposite (and undesirable?) extremes, but the game never achieves synthesis between them. Maybe it would have helped if the game took itself a bit more seriously, or maybe art and creation is just a tricky subject for any artist to tackle.


Conclusion: Click for the verdict )
healyg: (aww)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Moe Zilla's Forever Meow.

Forever Meow is about a cat who, while exploring his home, manages to save the day. (I'm trying not to give away anything important here.) There are a few light puzzles, but nothing too strenuous; the emphasis here is on the atmosphere and kitty antics, not the brainteasers.


The backstory and setting of the game have a certain poignancy, and while some might think the ending is too schmaltzy, I thought it was very fitting; after all, it's a game about a cat who just wants to be fed and loved, so going light isn't a bad choice. I found one errant bug, but nothing serious enough to bring down the experience. Probably not going to be my favorite game of this Comp, when all is said and done, but it's my favorite so far.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Wes Lesley's The King and the Crown.

The King and the Crown is a light puzzly story about a king searching for his lost scepter and crown. Though I initially struggled with this, finding them turns out to be pretty trivial, and the meat of the game is in discovering all the secret endings. Unfortunately (for me, anyway), most of the mechanics involved are deliberately obscured, which for me means it's a stab in the dark to get all of them. I checked the walkthrough to see how to get them, then figured that was enough for me.

Hmm, still need to talk for another paragraph... I did think the new parser errors were a nice touch, and the one secret ending I did manage to get (involving some daydreaming) I liked a lot better than the regular one.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Freaked-out Fujiko)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's piato's Duel.

Duel is a short dark fantasy story about a creepy magical fight. Though the beginning is a bit confusing, gradually you learn that this is a world where memories of important things, people, and events can be weaponized through magic, and naturally most of those memories are bad. Like, really, horrifyingly bad. Duel isn't quite a horror story, because the focus is centered squarely on the magician's duel, but it certainly isn't something you'd recommend to a friend with a lot of squicks.

The gameplay itself is actually quite simple: you and your opponent take turns casting memory spells; because all your opponent's spells have a set order, solving Duel is bit like solving a grow-game puzzle, where the right action (or inaction) at the right moment is the key to victory. I checked the walkthrough to win, but managed to bring the fight to a stalemate on my own. (As an aside: I found the final action in the winning ending to be rather obscure about just what was going on. I think one memory killed the other, or maybe merged with her? Anyway, I suppose it's not really important in the grand scheme of things.)


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Freaked-out Fujiko)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Michael Thomet's A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood.

A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood is a Medieval period piece about a vagabond of obscure gender who meets a mysterious figure and suffers an eerie fate after being told their fortune. At first it seems to be leading up to some kind of morality play, what with all the ethical choices near the beginning, but it quickly leads into something different.


Because on replay, during the fortune telling (hidden in a hyperlink near the bottom), there's a scene where the figure directly addresses you, the player, and asks you why you thought your choices this time around would make things turn out differently. It's a neat little bit that encourages you to replay to see what, if anything, could be done to avoid the vagabond's fate (and it explains why the story is in third-person, which I had been wondering about until then), but unfortunately I think it's pretty clear to the player that there's no way out of this before the game admits, yeah, there's no way out of this. And the final point of the game, as revealed in its new subtitle, felt a bit facile to me; haven't we seen this message a hundred times before? But I think the game manages to rise above these faults.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Angry Dorito)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up first, it's Alex Butterfield's 5 Minutes to Burn Something!

5 Minutes to Burn Something! is pretty much your typical My Shitty Apartment game. Basically, you burned some toast, which set off your fire alarm, which automatically called the fire department, and the fire department doesn't look kindly on frivolous calls, so you need to actually burn something in the five minutes it takes for them to get here. (I'm thinking, wouldn't the fire department be more sympathetic about the smoke detector giving a false alarm like that? It's not like there's anything you could do to stop it, besides eating fruit that morning.)


In the early-going, it's not that bad, although it certainly isn't great; I found the start too overwhelming without hints, and the writing is more eager to be funny than it is actually funny. But then the puzzles, which I was expecting to pick up once you've gotten the run of the apartment, never got any easier, or better. And the mid-game implementation, when you start building the fire, is frustratingly bad. For example, there's an object under a (trying to avoid specific spoilers here) foo that, if you try to look for it by typing LOOK UNDER FOO, you get the standard Inform response "You find nothing of interest." Only with GET FOO can you find the thing.

In the late game you end up framing some guy, which, while stated to be a jerk, didn't seem to deserve being framed for arson. And the ending itself was just so treacly that it seemed to have wandered in from another game, one in which you didn't try to set your house on fire and frame someone else for it. I dunno, maybe there was some irony I'm not picking up on, but it left a really bad taste in my mouth.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (scheming)
... so here's a link to a new Ryan Veeder text adventure, Winter Storm Draco. It's pretty neat!
healyg: (Healslime)
The Windhammer Prize is an annual gamebook (y'know, like Lone Wolf, Fighting Fantasy, etc.) competition where entrants submit a short (about 100 passages or so) gamebook, and people vote through email for their favorites. You can check this year's competition out here. I beta-tested one of the entries (Sabrage, by Philip Armstrong), so I've got bit of a vested interest in the competition, but please, check them all out! The Windhammer Prize entrants are usually pretty quality, so they're all worth a look.
healyg: (apology)
Let's get back into the swing of things, shall we?

Currently I'm reading A Drifting Life, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, which is a comic autobiography about the early days of the gekiga movement. I'm liking it so far, but I keep mixing people and events up; I think a glossary or a dramatis personae would've helped here.

Also, I played through Molly and the Butter Thieves by Cosmic Hamster from ShuffleComp, and I really liked it! It was a very sweet game that plays around with fairy folklore. Definitely one for the "recommend" pile.
healyg: (Book Reading)
False Mavis
By Litany Brisket
Based on the songs Burning Rope by Genesis and Long Lankin by Steeleye Span.

False Mavis is a horror game implemented in Twine. It takes most of its plot from the ballad performed by Steeleye Span, but there are some allusions to Burning Rope scattered around the game as well. That's as far as I can describe the game without getting into heavy spoilers, so lemme just put the rest of this under a tag.

The game starts out with the player, as the nurse, gradually locking down the house, in what appears at first as an attempt to protect the house from the villainous Long Lankin, but soon it starts to dawn on you that this may have a more sinister motive. This is a good reflection of the Steeleye Span song, I think, where the nurse's role is not clear until a good ways in. Lankin himself is a composite of several versions of the character, including the (possibly apocryphal) theory that he was a sufferer of leprosy.


Although based on the song, False Mavis has a few twists and turns of its own, including a truly horrifying main ending, which stayed in my mind for the rest of the day. Be aware of that fact, especially if you're squicked by body horror.


Recommended? Yes, but maybe stay away if you dislike horror media.
healyg: (Healslime)
Just a quick update: Shufflecomp games have been released! You can play a good amount of them online, and Gargoyle should take care of the rest. Which game did I submit? Not telling! (It's supposed to be a secret, you see.) But I will be reviewing some of these games shortly, maybe even starting today. Because of the unusual voting structure of the competition, where both negative and positive reviews count as a "yes" vote, the positive reviews will be posted publicly while the negative ones will be friend-locked. After the competition is over, I'll de-lock the negative reviews so that everyone can see them. I hope that's satisfactory to everyone. Until next time!
healyg: (apology)
Currently I'm reading Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels, edited by A. David Lewis and Christine Hoff Kraemer. It's a series of essays about everything from Judaism as portrayed in Will Eisner's comics to the death and resurrection (reincarnation?) of comic book superheroes to translation issues in Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa to comics made by Evangelical Christians, etc. I found some of the essays a little dull, but most of them are pretty neat. You probably wouldn't get as much out of it if you weren't interested in both comics and religion, though.

The second book I read this week was Kino's Journey Volume 3, by Keiichi Sigsawa. It still has pretty much the same flaws as the last book (stiff writing style, weak characterization, pat morals, people and places that are so thinly written they're practically abstract), but I enjoyed this volume a lot more for some reason. Perhaps the writer finally found his groove, or maybe I just got used to his quirks. There does seem to be a better quality of stories here; my favorites were the story about the land of clones and the one with the wanna-be pirate initiate. I have to say, though, I really hated the first proper story in this volume. It just came off as unnecessarily gross.

Also, I'm doing a playthrough of Gun Mute by C.E.J. Pacian! (IFDB link.) It's about a silent cowboy who takes up his six-shooter to save his lover in a series of violent puzzles. It's pretty fun so far. I think I'm at the last couple of fights. The puzzles are fairly simple, which I find heartening for my big Shufflecomp game (that I still haven't thought up puzzles for). Maybe I could steal, er, "borrow" a few ideas from this game?

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