healyg: (scheming)
For the past couple weeks, I've been going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I hadn't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing the last game in this series, Oppositely Opal, by Buster Hudson.

In Oppositely Opal, you play as a witch who is trapped by a rival in a cursed cabin. You have to get out in time to compete against her in a potions contest, but all of your spells keep going wrong. Can you work around it until you make the potion you need for your getaway?

Oppositely Opal was nominated for both Best Puzzles and Best Individual Puzzle (catching the pixie), so let's talk about that for a bit. The basic structure, of casting spells to change the game world, is reminiscent of Suveh Nux, one of my favorite games of yesteryear that doesn't get talked about often these days. There's a real delight in figuring out which form your tampered spells will take. Unfortunately, I got caught on a few parts and had to resort to the walkthrough to make progress; the nominated puzzle was one of them, so I'm afraid I can't judge how good it is on its own merits. I think some more cluing when you're on the wrong track would help here. For example, there was a bit in the pixie puzzle where I couldn't tell which spell would turn an object into a trap, and the responses I got when I had taken a wrong guess weren't helping me choose the right spell. In this case, I think including even a short phrase personalized to each spell used would be helpful in visualizing the solution the author wants.

Much more successful in my eyes is the character of Opal, who was nominated for Best Individual PC. She's a real riot, and her (somewhat try-hard) witchiness is what makes the game for me. A couple choice quotes:

Your black and gray striped familiar was found as a kitten in a trash heap somewhere. You decided to name him Lord Doomclaw, Prince of Darkness, and raise him to hate everything as much as you do. Unfortunately, he never grew any less adorable, and he only attacks people with soft meows, playful antics, and unremitting cuteness. You renamed him Killjoy.

and

A stuffed puffin—not stuffed like a cuddly toy, but stuffed as in a once-live puffin that was killed then stuffed. What a terrible fate.

UGH, no, that's not right. You meant to think it was a wonderfully evil thing to do cackle cackle cackle. You scold yourself for the slip in proper witchiness.


But there's also a sadness tinged around her edges, which we see mostly in flashback. I think what makes Opal so great is that she can work so well as both a comic and tragic character; all three of the endings I got in my playthrough were fairly sad, and this worked for me because the game had built up enough of that element in Opal that it didn't seem out of place. A good game to end on.

And that's a wrap for now! I do intend to review Spy Intrigue, which I tried on Wednesday but didn't finish, but that'll have to wait until after the award ceremony. See you then!
healyg: (Pink Alphys)
For the next week, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing Arcane Intern (Unpaid), by Astrid Dalmady.

Arcane Intern (Unpaid) is about a young intern who gets a job at a magical publishing company. The game is slighter than the other Best Story nominees I've played so far; it's a fairly short work, only taking about 15-30 minutes to play through, and I felt the themes of feeling rejected by this magical world could be more fully developed with a longer playtime, perhaps. But it is incredibly charming, and the middle section, where you explore a labyrinth-like warehouse to get some supplies, gives a great sense of character and setting and really brings the work together. Arcane Intern (Unpaid) is the kind of game you play on a rainy afternoon to cheer yourself up, and though I wish it were weightier, it makes good use of it short playtime.
healyg: (Excited)
For the next week, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing Cape, by Bruno Dias.

Cape is a near-future superhero story about someone who gains mysterious superpowers after stealing a talisman from a townhouse. It's fairly linear, with a few optional sidepaths (I hear talk of a hidden sex scene from the author, but I'm not sure if that's just a joke or not ETA: This has been confirmed to, indeed, be a joke. Thanks, Bruno!). It was nominated for an XYZZY in Best Story.

I gotta say, I really loved Cape. I'm a big superhero fan, and it hit a lot of the story beats that I enjoy about the genre. It's very thoughtful about the role of violence in a way that most superhero stories aren't, and while the story is fairly "gritty", it's not gratuitously so, like in Long Halloween. Parts of it remind me of Astro City: Tarnished Angel, one of my favorite graphic novels. If I have one complaint, it's that the ending is a little anti-climatic, and didn't answer as many questions as I would like it to. (Perhaps they were left unanswered to save room for a sequel?) Despite this, Cape is still one of the best superhero games I've ever played, and could stand beside the best comic in the genre.
healyg: (Frown)
For the next week or so, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing Map, by Ade McT.

Map is a game that is very much concerned the choices we make in life, whether it's to let that person stay with us, or to dance with that guy in the bar. It's about a middle-aged woman whose house begins changing very strangely one week before she and her family moves out; rooms start showing up that allow her to change key moments from her past. It's a conceit you might find in a modern "literary" novel, and a little reminiscent of Photograph, a somewhat similar game from the 2002 IF Comp.

The story (which is what Map was nominated for) is doled out in bits and pieces as you explore the rooms each day, trying to figure out which choice to make in each scene. It's actually pretty interesting to see the results of your different choices play out as the game progresses; the details of the protagonist's life can be very different from where she was at the start of the game. And the ending scene, for me, was very emotionally satisfying and well-done. But I had trouble getting into the game at first, partly because of the protagonist's dreary approach to life at the start of the game, and partly because I ran into a few bugs and SPAG errors; Map has one of the sketchiest implementations I've ever seen from a game that did very well in the IF Comp (it came in second last year). Still, Map does a lot of interesting in regards to tying physical space with more metaphorical matters, so if you're looking for a game that does that, you should give Map a try.
healyg: (aww)
For the next week, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing two games: Neon Haze, by Porpentine and Neotenomie; and Beautiful Dreamer, by S. Woodson.

Both Beautiful Dreamer and Neon Haze were nominated for Best Setting (and only Best Setting), so I felt it would be appropriate to review them both at the same time. Both of them have a dreamy atmosphere, but they use them to very different ends.

Let's start with Neon Haze. If you're familiar with Porpentine's work, you probably can guess the milieu she's working with here. How would I describe the setting of Neon Haze myself, though? Um, if William Gibson's Neuromancer and a Kavinsky album had a baby, and you hooked up a fancy brain-imaging machine to watch that baby's dreams, what you saw there would look a lot like the world of Neon Haze. It's a spiraling rainbow cyberpunk dystopia, complete with memory hackers and fully-automated fast food joints. Porpentine's writing focuses more on allusions than straight-forward connections, breaking out razor-blade metaphors and tossed-aside details to set a scene; condensation on the city is said to "rain black and chemical", and air conditioners are described as muzzled sawblades. You can watch something called a "meme-wave opera" on a screen at one point, and there's a weather report that says "Opacity 80%, heavy kinetic water". It all adds up to a dark, hallucinatory nightmare. While I'm here, special props to Neotenomie, who did music and graphics for this game; their drony soundscapes and abstract art really help to set the mood of this game. Wear headphones!

Beautiful Dreamer, by way of contrast, has a more fairy tale-like setting, though no less dreamy in its own way. It is obsessed with the unreal: lunar moths eat the writing out of books and secrete their own nonsense literature; strange and wondrous monuments from precursor worlds litter the landscape; broadcasts from other dimensions can leech in and be heard on the radio; your bathroom is sometimes replaced by the Other Bathroom, where the showers are great, everything is always clean, and the giant creature that lives beneath the tiles is easy to ignore. There's a comforting mix of the fantastic and the mundane here. For example, thanks to corrupt zoning regulations, your apartment building was built above a submerged shrine that is rapidly emerging; thanks to this you're going to have to move out in fifty years, but hey! At least it makes the rent cheap.

Probably the easiest way to demonstrate the contrast between the two's approaches is to look at an NPC encounter from each. In Neon Haze, you meet a stalker with a mask of static, who tracks you down and assaults you to try to get some intel. The scene is creepy and violent; the stalker chases you across an empty parking garage before beating you up and taking you prisoner, they delete your memories in an effort to get you to talk, and you can end the encounter by crushing their windpipe (though I personally did not choose to do so). Meanwhile, in Beautiful Dreamer, there's a short conversation with the god whose shrine your apartment building is built on, and it's a much more pleasant experience. Topics can range from alternate worlds to other god-like beings to that shelf that keeps banging around, and the guy seems rather friendly, if a bit distant. Dreamer comes off as a light and fluffy eclair to Haze's cotton candy-flavored vodka. This is not to dismiss either game, of course! They're both very good, just for very different reasons.
healyg: (scheming)
For the next two weeks, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Expect a new review on Friday this week. For now, let's review tonight's game, Toby's Nose, by Chandler Groover.

In Toby's Nose, you play a dog. Specifically, you play as Sherlock Holmes's dog, Toby, at the summation of a tense case. Sherlock is counting on you to collar the murderer in the room. Can you sniff out the crook, or will you lose the scent? But seriously, the sense of smell is an important part of this game, to the point where the verb "smell" practically replaces ol' IF standby "examine". Smell one object in the text, and you'll find maybe a dozen more things to sniff in its description. Repeat until you have enough clues to arrest the murderer.

Toby's Nose was nominated for both Best Puzzles and Best Individual Puzzle in the XYZZYs, so let's talk about that for a bit. It's your typical Golden Age mystery story, filled with Dark Family Secrets and Rich Ironies and a Cornucopia of Clues and all that good stuff. (It's even got twin brothers for some reason.) It's kind of a trip, sorting through all the scents in the game, trying to figure out whodunnit. While the central mystery wasn't bad, I had a hard time keeping it and the other unrelated subplots apart. It can be very confusing to see how all the threads tie together, and the in-game notes are inadequate for keeping track without taking your own notes. Still, the central mechanic of nested descriptions is a good one; there have been a couple games like it in the past, and I hope there will be many more in the future.

Toby's Nose was also nominated for Best Individual PC, so let's talk about him for a bit. There have been many IF games starring animals over the years, and one of them, Hardy the bulldog from Renee Choba's Snack Time!, has actually won, but by and large they tend to be fairly light in tones, dealing with slight subjects like getting your owner's attention, or stealing a snack. But Toby, being the dog of the great Sherlock Holmes, gets to dwell on darker matters, like murder or class struggles. The nested descriptions, though surreal at times, are a good way of conveying Toby's dog-like nature without compromising the mystery and investigation thereof. And if Toby sometimes displays a greater understanding of a situation than a real dog would, well, Holmes has his moments of magic competence, too. All in all, Toby is a very good dog, and an excellent PC.

Sorry this was so late, I just don't know what happened.
healyg: (Frown)
For the next two weeks, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Expect a new review Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week. For now, let's review tonight's game, Hana Feels, by Gavin Inglis.

Hana Feels is a short game about a young woman (named Hana, natch) who self-harms. You play as a sequence of four characters (a helpline volunteer, Hana's boss, Hana's friend, and an old man who runs a support group) who each try to help Hana in their own way. It's very heavy material; I had to take a couple breaks the first time I played because of how intense I found.

Hana was nominated for Best Individual NPC, so let's talk a little more about her. Because of how Hana acts as a focal point for the game, she feels closer to a protagonist than many IF NPCs. The obvious comparison here is to Photopia and Alley, but Hana felt more real to me, perhaps because she's less idealized, or maybe because we see her side of the story more, through both her responses and her journal entries which we see at the end of each chapter. I did think that she could stand to be a bit better characterized outside of her mental health issues, and sometimes it felt like her journal entries painted a rosier picture than would be possible in such a short time frame, but these flaws aren't catastrophic for the game (or Hana). And one thing I thought the game got really, really right is how it's often a bad idea to push someone who's hurting into a course of action, whether it'd be good for them or not. Hana Feels isn't a typical contender for Best Individual NPC, but I think it's worthy of the running.
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 )

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