healyg: (Excited)
The IF Comp of 2015 is over (or nearly so), and I've got some things to say about it overall, but first, some capsule reviews!

Let's just put all this behind a cut, shall we? )

Aaaaand that's a rap! This year was a stunning success in terms of churning these reviews out, so I hope to do these again next year. See you then!
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! We're in the final stretch of the IF Comp judging period, so I'll be reviewing one game a day until Saturday, November 14th. (That's an extra 4 reviews!) Up next, it's Jason Ermer's Untold Riches.

Untold Riches is a short puzzly game starring an adventuring professor's teenaged sidekick who has to find an island's ancient treasure (as well as a way off the island) after accidentally getting stranded there by the professor. It's a light, snack-break game that doesn't do much set itself out from the crowd. In fact, the author deliberately made it as simple as possible so that his middle school students could use it as an example game for learning Inform. As school games go it's very pleasurable, and I can definitely see a bunch of middle schoolers enjoying the heck out of it. (Although what they'd think of the ending, WHICH IS TOTALLY NON-CANON, I can't really say.)


There were a couple issues with the descriptions (I found the description of the water wheel and the junk surrounding it more confusing than it should be), and some of the running gags grew a little stale, but these faults don't detract from the game's charms. It's a nice game to play to wind down.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )

Aaaand that's a wrap! For the full length IF Comp reviews, anyway. I hope to post some capsule reviews (plus a general IF Comp 2015 summary) sometime tomorrow, but we'll see.
healyg: (Book Reading)
Hello, all and sundry! We're in the final stretch of the IF Comp judging period, so I'll be reviewing one game a day until Saturday, November 14th. (That's an extra 4 reviews!) Up next, it's Chandler Groover's Taghairm.

Taghairm (the "agh" is very important) is a horror game about two Scottish dudes who perform a magic ritual involving... well, let's not mince words here, it's basically torturing and killing cats. The subject matter is legitimately horrifying, and I couldn't go through with the ritual the first time I played. The second time, I had cooled down a bit, and managed to disengage enough to go through with it and see the "true" ending. Taghairm is essentially a test of player complicity: How far are you willing to go in order to continue on with the game? Taghairm is in some pretty high company here, from Victor Gijsbers Fate to Toby Fox's Undertale. (Spoilers in that last link!)


The horrible deeds you do in Taghairm become very repetitive very quickly, which means it's only a matter of time before mental fatigue sets in. This puts the player in much the same position as the game's protagonists, who by the end are tired, cold, hungry, and surrounded by dead cats. The ending comes as a terrible relief for both player and protagonists. These and other aspects makes Taghairm very interesting to think about, but not so much to play. I don't mind that I played it, but I would really rather not do so again.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Freaked-out Fujiko)
Hello, all and sundry! We're in the final stretch of the IF Comp judging period, so I'll be reviewing one game a day until Saturday, November 14th. (That's an extra 4 reviews!) Up next, it's Hugo Labrande's Life on Mars?

Life on Mars? (the question mark is very important) is a horror game about an astronaut, named Charlotte, who is the only survivor of a shuttle to Mars. Alone and depressed, she spends most of her days in the Martian base checking her email and listening to music. Until a new shuttle arrives in five months, she's all alone in the base... Or is she? I thought the game's portrayal of Charlotte and her depression was very well done, especially the way it gets that depression can make you think and act like, well, kind of a jerk. It also nailed the horror atmosphere and tension, especially in the creepy, surreal dream sequence near the end. (The game has some help in this respect from the optional playlist provided by the author. I would really recommend playing the game with this going on in the background.)

The bulk of the writing in Life on Mars? is taken up by the emails, and I have to say, they're really well done. They help paint a fascinating picture of the space company that sent the shuttle and Charlotte to Mars (not a very flattering one, mind), and also help bring Charlotte's co-workers and old friends to life. I also liked Charlotte's asides about the emails, displayed in the right-hand margin; I thought they were a good way to get another look inside her head.

Unfortunately, I also hit a couple snags in the game. I personally thought most of the real time effects were overdone, sometimes moving s o s l o w l y as to make me worry that the game had frozen. (I didn't mind the effects on the emails so much, but that was because you could speed the text up by holding down enter.) Also, I found the ending very puzzling. I realize that it's supposed to be ambiguous, but I still would have liked more details, even if they don't answer anything. Like, what was up with the monster? Did it get Charlotte at the end? Was the monster... DEPRESSION??? Still, even these issues can't really bring the game down.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! We're in the final stretch of the IF Comp judging period, so I'll be reviewing one game a day until Saturday, November 14th. (That's an extra 4 reviews!) Up next, it's Katherine Morayati's Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory.

Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory is a short piece about a female tech employee, recently fired from her job of creating hallucinatory technology. The mechanics of the game is pretty weird: it's a typical parser IF, but the responses to the stuff you type in can be very freeform, sometimes even ignoring it to continue the story. It's very reminiscent of The Space Under the Window, which receives a shoutout in the backmatter.


I have to admit I bounced off of this one; the prose style, a sort of rambly free verse, just wasn't my cup of tea. I also had a hard time figuring out the controls, such as they were. It was hard to tell the difference between direct responses to my commands and responses that were just continuing the story at large. This was especially in the ending scene, which was more railroaded than the rest of the game. I still can't figure out if you can make things go differently there, or if there's only one way for things to go. Still, the game is pretty good for what it is, so if you like weird IF experiments, give it a look-see sometime.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (aww)
Hello, all and sundry! We're in the final stretch of the IF Comp judging period, so I'll be reviewing one game a day until Saturday, November 14th. (That's an extra 4 reviews!) Up next, it's Steph Cherrywell's Brain Guzzlers from Beyond!

Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! (the exclamation point is very important) is a 50s sci-fi parody starring a young Bonnie Noodleman, who finds herself embroiled in a interstellar imbroglio when her boyfriend gets snatched by one of the eponymous brain guzzlers early one morning. She'll be up against deadbeat beat cops, a snobby festival queen, and mean ol' beatniks in her quest to save the town of Canyonville's brains.


Steph Cherrywell infuses Brain Guzzlers with a whip-smart sense of humor. I knew I was going to like this game when I read the town's history in the yearbook I found; it's one of the meanest, funniest bits of writing I've encountered all Comp season. The character writing is pretty great, too; by the end of the game nearly everyone you meet has shown some surprising (and funny) side to themselves. Some of the jokes about the hokey 50s small town setting didn't work for me as well, but because the other elements of the writing were so good, it didn't bother me.

Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! is a pretty classic puzzly parser IF, in the same tradition as Arrival by Stephen Granade, Earth and Sky by Paul O'Brian, or Lost Pig by Admiral Jota, although it runs a bit longer than those games. There were a few puzzles I found frustrating (like the one with the goat, or the coffee mug), and I resorted to the walthrough more than I would like to finish the game under the two hour time limit, but I otherwise found them enjoyable, and would recommend the game to anyone who has a hankering for old school/middle school parser IF.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (scheming)
Hello, all and sundry! We're in the final stretch of the IF Comp judging period, so I'll be reviewing one game a day until Saturday, November 14th. (That's an extra 4 reviews!) Up next, it's Chandler Groover's Midnight. Swordfight..

Midnight. Swordfight. (the periods are very important) is a raucous game about a duel that's about to go very poorly for you. Though you may try again and again to win, nothing works... until you wind up in the past and get the chance to change the duel's circumstances in your favor. There are several ways to do this that I found; the game claims there are 25 different endings, and I stopped after I did 3 or 4. Getting around is a little confusing at first, but other than that, manipulating things runs smoothly.



The writing in this game is stellar, and conveys a sense of setting and mood really effectively. There's a dark, black humor that permeates the game (this is definitely not a game for children or the easily offended), punctuated by lighter moments (the noblewoman in the swan costume comes to mind here). And I must give special props to the author for the one NPC you can interact with in any detailed way; they feel really responsive and alive with just a simple keyword conversation system system.


Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (scheming)
Hello, all and sundry! We're in the final stretch of the IF Comp judging period, so I'll be reviewing one game a day until Saturday, November 14th. (That's an extra 4 reviews!) Up next, it's Michael Sterling and Tia Orisney's Kane County.

Kane County is a game of survival set in the Utah desert. The basic gameplay is kind of like a cross between Oregon Trail and a Fighting Fantasy gamebook. You have a water stat and a stamina stat, each of which can go down thanks to troubles on the road. You need to balance between scavenging for restoration and other helpful items, and moving on before you lose more water and stamina than you can handle. The game feels fairly well-balanced, and I made it to a winning ending on my first try, though not without some hardships. Writing-wise, the descriptions and such aren't so sparkling, and I spotted a couple typos, but this is more of a mechanics-focused game than a story one, and the mechanics are solid.

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 Brendan Patrick Hennessy's Birdland.

Birdland is short story about a stay at a summer camp that gets pretty weird. The protagonist, Bridget Leaside, spends a month at a summer camp near Toronto, and while there she keeps having weird dreams about birds that slowly start to bleed into reality.


The dreams introduce a Choicescript-esque aspect to Birdland: Each dream you have can affect your moods, which function as stats in this game; they determine whether or not you can take a choice associated with that mood. The outcomes remain mostly the same, I think, but your choices can bring a different flavor to a scene, which requires defter writing skills than you might think.

The writing is really charming and clever. The characters in particular pop out (in fact, there's a surprise appearance by Bell Park, from a previous game by Hennessy), and helped make the story engaging (I was feeling pretty pumped by the end). Hennessy's known for writing funny, witty games, but I think he's really outdone himself here.


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 Tom Delanoy's The Insect Massacre.

The Insect Massacre is a short, maybe 10-15 minute mystery story done in Twine. It deals with a murder on a space station, and to say anything more would be to get into some serious spoilers. The story's structured in pseuodo-script format, with the dialogue timed in short pauses; the effect when you first play through the game is quite neat, but it can be maddening on a replay. It's definitely a game you're going to want to play more than once, and luckily it lets you replay from a critical juncture near the end, which really helps with the timing issue mentioned above. The mystery is quite satisfying once solved, even though I'm sure I'm missing a few pieces. (But ain't that always the way?) The writing itself is very good, and helps build the setting in the beginning and a creeping sense of dread near the end.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
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 )

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