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Reviews by Victor Gijsbers

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View this member's reviews by tag: bleak brute-force Combat Comedy connect CYOA dungeon crawl fantasy horror IF Comp 2007 infocom innovative joke linguistic logic one-room parody phonebooth Political politics puzzle random death rogue-like short snack SpeedIF time travel unfair win on the first attempt
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Stuck in a room!, by andrus7789

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Stuck indeed, September 28, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
Extremely spare prose and implementation; no plot to speak of; and, as far as I can see, you quickly end up getting stuck in a room with no exits and a single item that doesn't respond to any commands. Oh well, at least the game is true to its title.

Rape, Pillage, Makane!, by Chandler Groover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Bitter satire, August 16, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
From a misogynist adolescent to a fun-loving Roman to the victim of a self-important sex-hater, Stiffy Makane is surely the IF character to appear in the most different guises. Here, he appears as a knight whose repertoire of actions consists of exactly two things: Slay and Lay. When Sir Makane slays, he brutally murders; when he lays, he is often engaged in rape or something very close to it. (The game never explicitly mentions consent, though it sometimes stops short of telling us that the laying was non-consensual.)

The game reminded me of a sequence early in Ludovico Ariosto's magnificent (and feminist) 16th century epic Orlando Furioso. In that sequence, a knight has rescued a naked princess chained to a rock by defeating the monster that was planning to eat her. The princess expresses her gratitude. And then the knight tells her that he knows just the way for her to really show her gratitude, and he proceeds to undress -- he does not even consider the possibility that she might not want him sexually. But taking off his armour is such a laborious process that the princess has fled far away before he finishes it.

Ariosto and Groover are both trying to expose the violence inherent in stories of chivalry and the culture that generates them. (For Groover, of course, these stories stand in for many other kinds of narrative we find in contemporary works, all of which work in fundamentally the same ways.) But there is a distinct difference in tone. Ariosto is always generous and humane, while Groover's satire is bitter. Ariosto doesn't express his disapproval of the knight, but by making him the butt of a joke, he ensures that we cannot mistake the author's intent. Groover, on the other hand, makes his narrator express constant approval of the actions of Sir Makane -- an approval that is obviously ludicrous and often supported by bizarre non sequiturs, but which makes reading the piece a constant struggle against the narrator. Ariosto believes that if one presents the real, people will be able to see and embrace the truth. Groover, living in the age of Trump and looking at U.S. responses to police violence, believes that powerful authorities are giving false interpretations of the real and often succeeding in getting people to embrace those interpretations. His strategy is to make the tension between reality and interpretation so strong that something must give.

Perhaps that is necessarily a weakness. A piece like Rape, Pillage, Makane can hardly open anyone's eyes, since one either already believes that X is an egregious example of violence and false ideology, or one does not believe that the events in this game and X have anything to do with each other. Let X be police violence; would anyone not already sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement believe that Sir Makane and the U.S. police are like each other? Probably not. Here, a more detailed piece about the topic under consideration might be more effective.

Rape, Pillage, Makane thus remains somewhat abstract; but its bitter satire is a new way of taking up the Makane character and an interesting addition to the IF corpus.

Earth and Sky, by Paul O'Brian

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Not enough fun, August 15, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
I'm not, in general, a fan of superheroes; but I can be persuaded to like them. I really enjoyed the Lego Batman Movie, for instance, and I thoroughly enjoyed the one superhero comic I've ever read, Watchmen. What those two works have in common is a good story. The Lego Batman Movie's story is of course to some extent silly, but it is about something real -- Batman's solipsistic arrogance -- and it explores that idea in a very coherent way. A story can be funny, even zany, and still make sense.

The story of Earth and Sky makes no sense at all. Little is lost by spoiling it, but I'll put it between spoiler tags nonetheless: (Spoiler - click to show)your aunt comes into contact with an ancient bacteria, which turns her into a gigantic evil monster until you give her antibiotics, after which she not only returns to her normal state but is also freed of some kind of mind control that will probably be explained in the sequel. This is hardly a story at all; it's just a sequence of events between which the authors posits causal links even though none of the usual laws of causation apply. Several other reviewers have likened the plot to that of a B-movie. Perhaps this is accurate; but of course the problem with B-movies is that most of them are bad. ("But they're so bad they're good!" Uh, no.)

Alright, so maybe you're not playing this game for the story; you're playing it for the chance to use some super powers! Nothing wrong with that, actually, and the game certainly provides you some opportunities to do so. But -- and this is my most important complaint about the game -- the time spent doing fun stuff with superpowers is a very small portion of playing the game. You have to slog through too much information and two rather unexciting sequences, and then you're rewarded with exactly one fight, which itself turns out be rather repetitive. There's just not enough fun stuff!

I've heard that the second game delivers much more in this respect, and if so, playing this first game might still be worthwhile. Just don't expect too much of it.

(I replayed this game recently as a preparation for tackling part two, and wasn't happy with the review I penned eight years or so ago. So while my star rating remains unchanged, the above is the new review to go with it.)

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

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Jump to Conclusion, July 29, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
In Superluminal Vagrant Twin, you explore the galaxy as you attempt to collect enough cash to rescue your twin. The game's main selling point is the sheer size of the galaxy: by the end of the game, I had visited no fewer than 44 planets, and I think I may have missed out on a few, since I didn't seem to have the necessary objects to complete absolutely every side quest. In order to make this size manageable, the planets are implemented very lightly: there's just a few things you can interact with, and those interactions are mostly restricted to "talk", "take", "buy", and "sell". Even the "examine" verb has been disabled. This gives the game its strange feel of being both extremely limited (at any location you can just do a few things) and extremely expansive (from each planet, you can jump to every single planet you have discovered, and you keep discovering more).

We have, then, a game that is sharply focused on a few activities, but gives us a lot of freedom in when and whether we engage in them. First, we explore. Exploration is simple -- you just "jump" to a planet, although you'll have to learn the name of the planet first. Or you have to guess the name, something that is by no means impossible and got me to quite a number of planets I would not otherwise have encountered. (A nice reward for out-of-the-box thinking that the game's restricted verb list otherwise cannot provide for. Unfortunately, you cannot "jump to Conclusion", although the game does acknowledge the command.) At those planets, you buy or sell exotic goods, upgrade yourself and your ship, restock on fuel, arrest some criminals, deliver some packages, and perhaps learn about one or two other planets. As you proceed, you get a good understanding of the universe around you, although the complicated social and political arrangements never become entirely clear. Great fun; and I suspect the game has the exact right length to maintain a sense of wonder without becoming tedious.

The game this reminded me of most is Sunless Sea, which also features journeys from port to port and very limited, text-based interactions when you arrive. But Superluminal Vagrant Twin is smaller, faster, less impenetrable, and a lot friendlier. Highly recommended.

Gun Mute, by C.E.J. Pacian

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Violence is the answer, July 29, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
You are Gun Mute, and your friend Elias is about to be hanged by the evil sheriff. So what's a man to do? You grab your trusty six-shooter, enter the post-apocalyptic Western town, and shoot anyone who tries to stop you.

Gun Mute is an almost pure combat game, where you move through a completely linear series of encounters most of which end with either you dying to your enemy's bullet or your enemy dying to yours. The fights are not based on a numerical combat system la Treasures of Slaver's Kingdom or Kerkerkruip; instead, each encounter is a puzzle in which you have to identify your enemy's weaknesses and use them to prevail. Failure means death, but you can always undo. Some of the puzzles are better clued than others, but for the most part, they are enjoyable. Along the way, there is some room for non-combat discoveries; and the ending is particularly satisfying.

Essential playing for anyone who wants to design a puzzle-based combat game; recommended playing for all others.

Murder Simulator (How To Get Away With Murder), by S.P.A.K.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Remember kids: murder is bad., July 28, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
Murder Simulator is a link-based game -- if that's the right word -- in which you have just stabbed someone to death and now have to hide the crime. The basic idea is that you choose a place to hide the body, a way to clean the knife, and so on. Unfortunately, the game doesn't use any form of state tracking (it doesn't remember which choices have been made). You can first hide the knife in the woods, then, back in the house, proceed to clean it with your shirt, and so on. Not knowing which choices you have made, the game also can't tell you whether you got away with murder. Instead, it discusses all the options you had.

The game's core message seems to be this: "There's only so much you can hide, even with an alibi. And with forensic technology getting better by the day, it's becoming harder and harder to cover up crime-- as it should be. The only real way to get away with a crime is to not do something you have to get away from in the first place."

Is this what the game was supposed to convince me of? Sure, if you stab someone to death in your own house with no premeditated idea of how to get rid of the body, then the probability of getting away with murder is low. But in the U.S.A., only 64% of homicides lead to arrests, which suggests that if you are smart about murder the chance of being convicted is relatively low. Anyway, surely the important point about murder is not that it's hard to cover up, but that it's wrong?

One positive point: in this game, you can ask Siri what the best place to hide a dead body is. That was pretty awesome. If I could give half stars, that would make it 1.5.

Cursed Odyssey, by Creaky Gate Games

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Simple CYOA, July 27, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
Cursed Odyssey is a CYOA-style game in which you have to bring a merchant vessel home after it has been cursed by a witch. You meet about five obstacles on the way, each of which you'll have to overcome by making the right choice out of two or three possibilities. If you choose sensibly, you'll probably get to the best ending in one playthrough; which is good, because most of the wrong choices lead to instant death.

There's nothing really wrong with this short adventure, but there's no particularly good reason to play it either. Perhaps its worst aspect is the layout: by using only a very small part of the screen, the game forces you to scroll much more than necessary, and if you scroll too far, the game itself scrolls away.

Apparently, the people who made this are also planning to develop commercial games. If so, they need to work on their craft. Cursed Odyssey stands to, for instance, the Choice Of games as a high schooler's short story stands to a professional novel.

The Bookshop Poisoning, by Daniel Winterstein

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Original puzzle idea, July 24, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
The Bookshop Poisoning is a short story in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, although Watson has become an Edinburgh police officer and Holmes is called Bell. Bell will attempt to solve a murder in a bookshop, but you, the player / Watson, have to activate his thinking by showing him books that contain certain keywords. To take an example that does not appear in the game, you might have to come up with a book title that contains the word 'poison' -- e.g., "Strong Poison" by Dorothy L. Sayers. You can type in any book title you wish and the game uses, I suspect, some kind of online database to check whether the book exists and who its author is. This works very well.

It's a nice and original puzzle idea, perhaps let down a little bit by the fact that there are so many books that just attempting titles at random is a pretty successful strategy. The game is short and the story appropriate to the puzzle theme, if not particularly engaging. Three stars because it is worth trying.

Sorcery! 2, by Steve Jackson and inkle

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fantastic gamebook adaptation, July 24, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
I wasn't blown away by the first Sorcery! That game hewed very closely to the standard gamebook format: you traverse a garden of forking paths by making unmotivated choices ("go left or go right") towards a predestined end. To its credit, it managed to be quite a bit more merciful than the original books while keeping the charm of such adventures intact; but all in all, it wasn't precisely a shining example of game design. I hesitated for a bit about whether I wanted to buy the second part as well. I'm very happy I did.

On the surface, Sorcery! 2 looks a lot like the first game. Combat works in the same way, there is still the same rather cumbersome magic system, and you still drag your character across a nicely drawn map. This time, the map is a of a city and we also get maps of the interiors of buildings and even of a sewer system; but that alone need not make a major difference.

In other ways, however, Sorcery! 2 differs markedly from its predecessor. Most importantly, instead of the uninspiring quest of getting to the other side of the map, we are now tasked with finding four missing nobles, each of whom knows one line of a crucial spell. Successfully completing this mission requires the accumulation of many hints and clues which allow us to slowly understand what is happening in the city. Combined with a game mechanic -- I won't spoil it -- that allows the player to traverse the city almost at liberty, what we have is much less a traditional gamebook structure and much more an interactive investigation in which the player can make informed choices about where to go next. The plot is good; the sense of discovery is real; and finding all the clues feels very satisfying.

It also helps that the game is much, much bigger than the first game. I assume that the makers felt more free to take liberties with the source material, because there is no way all this content could have fitted into the original book. There is so much to discover, there are so many pieces of the story to fit together, and there are so many opportunities to just have fun in the game (including by challenging people to play the excellent little mini-game Swindlestones), that Sorcery! 2 will keep you busy for quite some time.

To a certain extent, the aims of the game are limited. This is still very much a sword&sorcery fantasy yarn with much emphasis on plot and adventure and very little on emotional or philosophical depth. But I find it hard to imagine a game that would more successfully combine the sensibilities of a fantasy gamebook with those of the modern player. Coupled with my intense enjoyment of the experience, that leads to a 5-star rating. Highly recommended.

RPG-ish, by Stuart Lilford

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Extreme minimalist RPG, July 24, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
Apperently, this game was written for a game jam in which the games could contain no more than 300 words of text. As a proof-of-concept that that is enough to build a rudimentary RPG in Twine, I suppose RPG-ish is a success. But I will ignore such issues of context and history; the aim of my review is, as always, strictly to assess whether you, as a player, should be interested in playing this game.

The answer is a resounding 'no'. This is surely one of the most boring RPGs ever made. There are no tactical decisions, there is no interesting prose, there is no sense of discovery -- indeed, there is nothing worth seeing here at all. The only way to lose is through boredom, when you really can't be bothered to check how much health you have left or go through the grind for more XP. Best avoided.

Another reviewer tells us that the game is a critique of RPGs. But can something be a critique of a genre if it is indistinguishable from the worst examples of that genre? There are some very interesting critiques of RPG tropes and game mechanics (the pen-and-paper meta-RPG Power Kill comes to mind, as does the cRPG Undertale; I myself once tried something in this vein with my pen-and-paper game Vampires; but really, such critiques are almost as old as the genre). RPG-ish isn't one of them.


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