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Reviews by streever

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The Brigand's Story, by Laura Michet
Repetitive, engaging Twine-like exploring a scary campfire story, June 18, 2017
by streever (America)
(UPDATE: The bug seems fixed; I have revised my star rating to 4 stars. Original review remains below.)
This piece explores a campfire story on repeat, with minor changes in each iteration, as the protagonist realizes the story is repeating. After the build-up and background, the protagonist meets a grisly, horrible end; only to have to do it again, and again, and again.

Some of the repeats work better than others; a few feel more tedious, with less of a pay-off for working through them, but the overall writing is punchy, distinctive, and rewarding. So much so that I was engaged and quite unhappy when I hit a state-ending bug.

The writing was so good that I would rate this higher than 3 stars, but I keep encountering a game-ending bug after my 4th iteration.

Most seem to have made it through to the end, so I'd recommend playing this as-is, and I hope that a new version that fixes the bug I encountered will come out.

Killing Time at Lightspeed, by Gritfish

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Incredible and unique use of the format, April 10, 2017
by streever (America)
I'm jealous of Killing Time at Lightspeed. Like many great works, this piece appears deceptively easy to create and design, and it evokes my "I could do that" trigger.

That's a testament to the real brilliance behind the work. Great minds make difficult concepts appear obvious and self-evident, and Gritfish has done that with this minimalist work about relationships, society, and how we adapt to great changes and shifts.

At times, the UI feels a little clunky, but never detracts from the experience; I just wish it was easier to switch between all tabs and refresh.

I haven't played the expanded version, but would like to; I hope it adds more depth and a slower pace to the work. This is my one real complaint about the experience, and it's both a strength and a weakness. On one hand, the surface level interactions is important and realistic; on the other, it leads to leaving some of the most interesting questions unexamined. I like that we're not treated to pages of backstory, but I'd love some exploration of why we're leaving space. Why aren't our friends more upset? Why don't they ever ask us? It wouldn't require much, not even a shift in the focus, but it feels like there should be more communication about what amounts to a massive change in our friendships and relationships.

It makes the piece feel more like speculative fiction than the exploration of human relationships it seems to be reaching for, and I'd love to see some more time and energy put into fleshing out what the protagonist meant to the people they've left behind.

Aquarium, by Hannah Powell-Smith
Romance simulator--with a twist, April 2, 2017
by streever (America)
This fun little Twine piece takes a classic convention of IF--the amnesiac protagonist--and puts a new spin on it, featuring a character with an extensive but mysterious and shadowy past. The protagonist has big secrets to hide, but she's also a normal person on a date, and she's trying to balance the tension of her hidden identity with her genuine interest in her classmate.

This piece wasn't as tense as the follow-up, Thanksgiving, because it isn't as linear; instead, it presents a limited open-world concept (within the confines of the Aquarium), which held through some fairly complex state tracking regardless of how I tried to subvert or break it.

The technical complexity is matched by the writing, which manages to be fresh and creative despite the modular framework; very impressive.

I loved the tenseness of Thanksgiving, but both works are strong and stand on their own as fun and replayable pieces. This piece feels more open and replayable--I have the sense that even more is going on here than I found in a few run-throughs--which is both frustrating and compelling. On balance, it's a rewarding, challenging, and intriguing work.

Thanksgiving, by Hannah Powell-Smith
Tense Twine piece about relationships and truth, April 2, 2017
by streever (America)
This well-designed and elegant Twine piece jumps right to the action, putting you in an increasingly tense Thanksgiving dinner with your college boyfriend. You have a secret--many secrets--and the backlog of lies and dodges accumulates, building the pressure on what is already a tense interaction.

The UI really shines here, too, with color used to differentiate choices and branches in the story. This was smartly done. Some choices have a timer, which increases the challenge dramatically, and really increased the power of the story.

My favorite aspect here is the way that this plays with conflict. A basic maxim of writing is to imagine some characters, find what they're afraid of, and then pile on the fears and the challenges. That's done brilliantly here, and quickly, making this a tightly-written and plotted experience.

Seedship, by John Ayliff

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Very fun space colony simulation, March 29, 2017
by streever (America)
This twine piece uses extensive procedural generation to simulate the experience of an AI selecting a planet for the iced human colonists aboard.

The UI really shines: a sidebar lists important data with healthy values in green, and each planet appears with a list of variables that make it suitable or inhospitable to human colonization.

Some planets have anomalies, and randomized events are encountered between planets. These typically give you a binary choice between a known penalty or reward and an unknown penalty or reward. The planets may have random features that can be useful to investigate up close, with a consumable probe.

The prose isn't always world-class, but this is a strong piece highlighting some great uses of procedural generation. Highly recommended.

The Train, by Ivan Chuang

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Evocative surreal work, March 29, 2017
by streever (America)
This piece explores the familiar theme of predestination and choices, using an empty and repetitive train station as the evocative setting after a confusing date.

There were minor typos and grammatical errors, but nothing that ruins the piece or the experience; the issues are fairly minor.

The biggest issue is the UI/UX; this piece uses a slow fade-in on text, which wouldn't be a huge issue, except that most of the work is buried and only revealed on repeated plays. The slow fade isn't in issue for the first round, but it becomes frustrating when you have to read the same intro for the third time. The minor changes in nouns/etc aren't important or consequential enough to justify the very slow re-load and re-read of material.

I think this is a good debut effort, and would love to see it re-released with text fade used sparingly or not at all.

The Roscovian Palladium, by Ryan Veeder

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Rats! No, the good kind: another delightful trip to Veeder's rat world, February 27, 2017
by streever (America)
You're a talking rat on a secret mission so secret that you aren't sure what it is. Well, the rat know, but you the player do not. First order of business is to enter the human museum looming before you and to figure out what's going on.

The start seems to lack urgency or a clear hook: you're a rat in front of a museum. It's my only criticism of this otherwise excellent piece, full of rich detail and little flourishes. Despite the cold open, the rest of the work is engaging and compelling, and shines brightest in the little moments. Examine a painting and receive a mini-meditation on the differences between rat and human culture. It's world-building, but it's seamlessly interwoven with the character and sounds like an authentic internal monologue.

Typical of Veeder's work, this piece has a strong sense of place and location to match the strong character voice; the layout feels like museums I've been in, and felt real and well-described with only a few rooms.

There is an awful lot of STUFF in this piece, nearly all of it without mechanical utility, but examining it deepens the themes and brings the entire work to life. I loved just poking about the rubbish, not knowing if I'd find anything of utility, and getting a small window into the head of the protagonist. As is also typical of Veeder, this lets him occasionally break the fourth wall, making it clear that even though we may not know much about the secret mission, the protagonist certainly does.

Near the end, a mini-combat game appears, a well hinted and mechanically sound diversion that further enriches the entire experience.

It's a short work, taking about 15 minutes to explore, and the brevity is another strength, working well with the theme and focus of the rat's quest.

I highly recommend this strong, short, piece, which works despite the lack of a strong or clear hook. Lack of an opening hook is fairly common in Interactive Fiction, where readers are expected to find their own route in, and it only really stands out in this piece because it otherwise feels very welcoming to new players, with helpful guidance in a pane on the right-hand side, and a tightly-defined scope. I feel like the best IF for first-time readers has a strong hook and sense of initial urgency, but I'd still encourage you to play this despite that lack.

Nights in Boulder, by Zane Fulton
Engaging piece with an interesting premise, February 22, 2017
by streever (America)
This is an interesting Twine work with an engaging premise, more what-happened than whodunnit. The best aspect is the plotting and pacing: much of the work pulls the reader along and creates a tense, suspenseful experience.

I think the weaker points though are the way the work skips backwards in time: it sometimes works, but other times frustrated me and killed the momentum.

Characterization sometimes felt a little flat. Typos and some over-used language contributed to this, but I felt somewhat disconnected from the character. Despite that, there were several scenes where characterization was strong: at one point in the work I tried to pick the more "noble" or "appropriate" path, and was pleasantly surprised by the protagonist refusing to follow the order. There were a few scenes like this throughout the piece that reinforced the character and I thought these improved the overall work. I didn't have a strong sense of place, but that may be an unfair assessment. I didn't get a sense of Boulder, the setting felt more like a generic urban setting.

Audio, video, and interface all score high and were satisfying.

I didn't find the plot entirely convincing, particularly in the second half, which I thought wasn't as strong as the first half. I think this is a good but uneven work, that could benefit from a little tightening up, but should appeal to fans of Memento-like themes and questions of memory and identity.

The House Abandon, by jonNoCode

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short horror game with impressive sound and visual design, February 16, 2017
by streever (America)
This isn't a pure text adventure: it's a simulation of a text adventure, coded in Unity, with a fairly static visual background that changes alarmingly as the story unfolds.

The entire experience gives off a "Stranger Things" vibe, from the Stephen King-esque typeface to the Tangerine-Dreams inspired ambient electronic music playing in the background.

The parser was frustrating at times: it seemed to struggle to understand very similar commands, but was workable, and thankfully there are no convoluted puzzles or complex verb/noun issues.

The overall experience was short and well-plotted. I think the central conceit is one that could easily grow stale, but the author ended this perfectly, while the idea was still novel, frightening, and evocative.

This is a very cool work that plays with nostalgia and horror in very satisfying ways.

Superluminal Vagrant Twin, by C.E.J. Pacian

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A True Space Captain, February 14, 2017
by streever (America)
"So I've made a reasonably large (broad but shallow is how I'd put it) parser game set in space."

This expectation-lowering premise introduction kicks off one of the best RPG-style works of Interactive Fiction I've ever read. The author uses the term "shallow", but I'd say minimalist; dozens of characters, locations, and alien races are described in terse, pared-back prose. These well-written and plotted scenes are engaging and evocative, pulling the reader into a richly imaginative world.

The UI/UX can sometimes be clunky if only because the reader expects more--more commands, more fiddly-bits, more fussing--but the work on the whole is much stronger for paring back the parser functions to the bare minimum. This would be an incredible introductory work to bring a mainstream gamer into Interactive Fiction.

I love the dialogue, the settings, the environment, and the atmosphere. I love the way the game sets the tone and personality of the protagonist by placing you squarely in such a difficult situation. The missions, quests, and interactions all reinforce this central narrative of a scrappy and plucky pilot about to turn their luck around.

Don't stress too much about perfect completion: the game lets you continue when you finish the main story, to accomplish the side quests and achievements. I highly recommend this genre-crossing experimental work to anyone, with no caveats or warnings. It's really excellent.


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