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Reviews by verityvirtue

phlegmatic

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View this member's reviews by tag: choleric ECTOCOMP ECTOCOMP 2016 IFComp 2015 IFComp 2016 Introcomp Ludum Dare melancholic melancholy parser phlegmatic Ren'Py sanguine Shufflecomp Spring Thing 2015 Spring Thing 2016 sub-Q Tiny Utopias
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Predictions of a Strip Mall Psychic, by Jake Elliott
Telling the future in Texture, August 14, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
This game was one of the first few games written in the current incarnation of Texture, presumably meant to showcase Texture's strengths and capabilities. At the moment, these are very similar to that of a limited parser. Like a limited parser, Texture lends itself to focusing on a small collection of verbs while giving the reader some ability to interact with the environment (compared to, say, purely choice-based games), and it is used here to simulate making and redirecting conversation, to surprising effect.

There is an elegant twist in this, and it's pleasingly circular, topping off the whole game like the proverbial cherry on the ice cream. Predictions is brief and very largely linear, but hides a positively delightful surprise.

Elixir, by Zoyander Street
Go through hell to assume your true form., July 23, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
You have gone an ocean of souls and crossed the underworld all for this: the Metaphysician. Only the Metaphysician can help you ascend to your true form.

The subject matter - identity - gives the story an added sharpness. The story Elixir tells is beyond just parlaying with demons and dealing with paperwork. The PC can only fulfil their true form with the approval of a Metaphysician - a third party who knows nothing about the PC - and this comes only if the PC's behaviour must jibe with the Metaphysician's seemingly arbitrary criteria. Why? The Metaphysician is the only distributor of the titular elixir. What real-life parallels this has is left as an exercise for the reader.

One notable aspect of this game is the use of Infernal, a conlang (constructed language) with its own grammar. Its Latin-like construction and its heavy Gothic font set the tone for the setting. This Hell is gothic, ornate, yet detached, its horrors hidden more in paperwork than in demons. Goat-headed, hornèd beasts hold no more terror than unnecessarily complicated bureaucracy.

The use of the conlang creates an asymmetry in the reader's and the PC's knowledge. When choosing how the PC responds to NPCs, the reader can only guess at the meaning of each of the choices. You can't choose the 'right' answer; you can't plan ahead; all this makes the Metaphysician's unsaid, inscrutable criteria for dispensing the elixir frustratingly unreachable.

Definitely an underrated game about creating identity and throwing off the shackles of the system. It's short, maybe insubstantial in scope and length, but glances off some very real present-day issues.

Oxygen, by Benjamin Sokal

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
The ship's fate in your hands, July 19, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
The premise of Oxygen is simple - no tricks, few puzzles, mostly choices. You, a lowly technician, have the unenviable task of deciding who on board the Aegis mining station will get oxygen from the slowly leaking tanks.

This is a resource management game in which you decide how oxygen supplies on a spaceship are to be diverted. You have three moves each time to decide. Tension comes from the fact that the ship is, literally, divided: striking miners on one side, and "the establishment" - the captain and the rest of the crew - on the other.

The initial section was very fiddly for me, because I have lots of trouble visualising mechanical solutions, so I followed the walkthrough for that. The bulk of the story is mechanically much simpler, though.

Oxygen's story is largely linear, with just a few major branches; so far, none of the endings I've found are exactly happy. Your position as a tech notwithstanding, you ultimately must choose where you stand - with the miners or with the leadership - and either results in the destruction of the other (or both). It was heartening to see the PC change from lazy and over-ambitious to actually taking a stand.

Oxygen reminded me of Fragile Shells: both are set in a spaceship, with mechanical puzzles. Fragile Shells is a bit more focused on story and characters, while Oxygen, more on the PC's current relationship with his other crewmates and resource management.

The Moonlit Tower, by Yoon Ha Lee

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Exploration in a lush, beautiful East Asian-influenced setting, July 16, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
The Moonlit Tower is a small, self-contained game, set in a lush, unusual setting. Who you are is not immediately clear; finding out is its own experience.

Again, the player's goal is not clear at first. While this would usually be considered less than desirable, in this case this encourages exploration, and what a world there is to explore! The setting here draws on East Asian influences, and various features give the impression of gilt and intricate detail, such as you might find in a palace in ancient China or during the Joseon dynasty, and it is this detail in the crevices of the text which encourages replay.

This is a small game whose sparse puzzles are enriched by the enjoyable writing. The game boasts gentle, evocative, lush descriptions galore, rich with odd turns of phrase. Story is revealed in vignettes, flashes of memory; nothing is concrete.

brevity quest, by Chris Longhurst

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Time cave RPG with sparse prose, May 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
This is an RPG in the barest sense of the word. You choose a class. You encounter characters and go places, each narrated within the space of one line. The brevity of each passage belies a very broadly branching decision tree. In fact, given how widely stories could diverge, I found the narration of your choices in the end to be a nice touch. brevity quest makes liberal use of familiar tropes and creatures, making the reader's imagination take up most of the storytelling slack.

Several games share the text-sparse, location-based mould. A few which come to mind: The Tiniest Room, vale of singing metals or even burning temples.

What makes these worth having a look at are how they simplify foreign terrains, diplomatic moves and combat into the sparse language they use. I found pleasant small surprises, at times, when the game (brevity quest, but the others as well) showed me that it wasn't just branching blindly - it remembered the decisions that I made. Of course, this is technically very easy to do, but satisfying nonetheless.

Bring Me A Head!, by Chandler Groover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A gem in Groover's signature grotesque, vivid style, March 5, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
You are the executioner in the Duc's palace, and the Duc wants a head. You have to get it. The problem is, the next execution is four days away, so you'll have to... improvise.

The setting is one of the strong points in this work. The Duc's palace stars inhabitants so perfectly adapted to their role, it seems they would shrivel and perish if they were removed from it. The... oozy aesthetic reminded me of Nekra Psaria (https://jayisgames.com/games/nekra-psaria/).

Bring Me a Head is, at heart, a chain of fetch quests. Talk to characters, who will tell you what you need to get them. Chandler's writing is succinct, sketching out a disgusting, baroque setting, off set by wry humour - a double entendre here (Spoiler - click to show)in, say, breaking horses, an unexpected name there.

If you liked it, I recommend a tiny utopia by the same author, Skullscraper.

vale of singing metals, by foresthexes

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Tiny maze in a harsh landscape, January 1, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
Time to completion: 10-20 minutes

Written for Porpentine's Twiny Jam, vale of singing metals presents a dream-like maze in a strange landscape. Landmarks like boiling streams and oil lakes give the impression of a volcanic landscape, life creeping in fields of grass and flowers. And, yes, it is that now-rare thing in IF, a maze. Yet, it feels less of a hassle than an exploration through an empty space.

vale of singing metals is a lovely little piece, scenic in the way that Kitty Horrorshow's work is, and an interesting take on how mazes can be implemented in very little space.

The Periwink, by Jedediah Berry

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A delightful, sinister exploration , January 1, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes]

You are a groundskeeper on the last day on the job. The majordomo demands it be so.

The Periwink brings the player through surreal, toothy, quietly alive landscapes, somewhat like a pastel-hued Porpentine work. The monuments in The Periwink are not neutral or even benign, but if you treat them right, they will return the favour.

As groundskeeper, the viewpoint character knows much more about the perils of each monument than the majordomo, which forms a foil to his casual arrogance. But the groundskeeper also knows a lot more than the player - hence, while the player may have control over the PC's actions, the first-time player cannot guess at the motive or implications of those actions.

The horror here is understated; the writing, a pleasure to read. For someone who loves rambling around alien landscapes, this was a delectable treat.

What to Do When You're Alone, by Glass Rat Media
It knows what you're thinking, December 11, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic, ECTOCOMP, ECTOCOMP 2016
[May mention suicide, abusive relationships, self-loathing. Time to completion: 5 minutes]

What to Do describes a Google with sinister intentions - one which sees through the user's seemingly innocuous searches to the doubt and fears behind it. Perhaps it is the intimacy of a search engine that fuels this idea, and the fact that we might address the search engine as we would a friend, and indeed, in the starting screen, the engine introduced itself by saying, "Don't worry about keywords; just talk to us like we're a friend.". It's the ultimate natural language processor, isn't it? These games ask, "What if your ultimate reference, your personal librarian, was thinking, remembering, learning?"

While it may be superficially and mechanically similar to Josh Giesbrecht's Awake, the intent of this game's search engine is unambiguous. Awake's search engine is wide-eyed with wonder. This is actively malicious - this was written for ECTOCOMP, after all.

The text effects are normally much maligned, but are used especially thoughtfully here, making What to Do work well as an interactive vignette of a sinister encounter.

Kinsale Horror, by Arek Arktos

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short, conventionally creepy game about a deserted seaside town, September 11, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
[Time to completion: 10 minutes]

You are a lone hitchhiker stranded in Kinsale, the gourmet capital of Ireland. The longer you stay, the weirder things get.

This brand of horror blends elements which wouldn't be amiss in Welcome to Night Vale or Stephen King. There's much which is familiar here: Your standard hollow bells soundtrack. Sinister, suspicious villagers. People behaving weirdly.

The prose is clipped, terse. The author uses small elements - a shop sign, a smell - to build up atmosphere. The setting is grounded by specific details: shop names, landmarks. The ending was... witty, to say the least. It's a relatively short one, so well worth a try if you like Stephen King-style or Lovecraft-style deserted towns with strange happenings.


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