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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 Spring Thing 2015 Spring Thing 2016 sub-Q Tiny Utopias
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Behind the Door, by eejitlikeme
A benign haunted house puzzler, October 28, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
You’ve been receiving a series of weird postcards. In a bid to find the person behind them, you find yourself at a very strange house indeed.

It’s the archetypal start of a haunted house story. What follows, however, could well be set anywhere else.

The cover art had me primed for Alice in Wonderland-style whimsy. I think that was the intention of the author, with the non sequitur rooms, but this game gives me the overriding impression of being… benign. The prose is quite plain and functional. The puzzles work, without being too contrived, and are reasonably logical.

The Quest interface at least provides more than one way (well, most of the time) to perform basic parser-like actions, such as moving or manipulating objects, though this was inconsistent across rooms.

This generally reminds me of Transparent, which also involves a haunted house, albeit a much more malevolent one.

Redstone, by Fred
A functional murder mystery , October 19, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
From the blurb: “A VIP's been murdered at the reservation casino. As the deputy on call, it's up to you to find the killer. You have until morning before the FBI turns up the heat.”

This murder mystery takes the form of a parser-choice hybrid, with an interface reminiscent of Robin Johnson’s Detectiveland. Settings are individually illustrated, and the system is more or less robust, with a separate conversation mode. It may not look the slickest of interfaces - it recalls, vaguely, flash web games with a touch of homebrew about it.

The stakes are not always made clear: there are hints about this being troublesome because it’s on reservation land, and about FBI involvement, but these hints never added any tension to gameplay.

I would have liked a little more flair, a little more panache in the descriptions, but overall this is a mystery which does what’s expected of it.

Swigian, by Mathbrush (as Rainbus North)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A minimal escape, October 18, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
Swigian is a text-sparse parser game. You are an outdoorsy person of no distinct description (“You look like me” is… suggestive) and… well, let’s start by building a fire.

The player’s only stated motivation is escaping an unnamed group: “them”. I would usually prefer more explanation, but here, in this style, that is enough. You are running from them. That is all I need to know.

Objects are barely described – “That is what it is” – encouraging the player to take the writer at face value. Object manipulation for puzzles is simplified, though most of the usual parser commands have been preserved.

Solving puzzles opens up new areas of the map. While the in-game map actually covers a large area, you only ever spend a short time in each area; often, there is exactly one thing you need to do there. The writing is evocative, but firmly rooted in reality – no metaphor for this, unlike, say, baby tree, another text-sparse parser game.

Overall, a solid game which I enjoyed playing, set firmly in parser’s traditional penchant for object-oriented puzzles.

The Richard Mines, by Evan Wright
An exploration devoid of excitement, October 18, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
The blurb tells us that this is ostensibly about one or more abandoned German mines in Czechoslovakia, circa 1949. If I had been playing without that knowledge, I would never have known that.

Despite it being about discovery and exploration, the narration is devoid of excitement. The PC betrays no emotion or indeed reaction to anything. Because of that, it was hard for me to find in-game motivation to keep exploring. Most of the context comes from the blurb, in fact.

While this game could do with a little proofreading and beta-testing for functionality expected of most parser games (the game doesn't end properly, for instance), this game was not submitted without thought: relatively straightforward puzzles whose presentations suggest their solutions, and an object-based hint system. A decent entry, though using the exploration to frame a story would have given it more depth.

You are Standing at a Crossroads, by Astrid Dalmady
The ground shifts under your feet, August 20, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic, phlegmatic
You are standing at a crossroads. Wherever you go, you will end up at a crossroads.

The writing is memorable: evocative language, unsettling imagery. Visit a location twice, and it opens up. Enter. Participate. Maybe, finally, you'll discover where you are. Some locations recall childhood - a playground; a zoo - but all are deserted. There is a semblance of life, but you never get to see it for yourself.

Quiet piano music, links which set the pace and mutable text illustrate a place which changes only when you're not looking, which constantly keeps the ground uneven under your feet.

In the pattern of my father's long, long legs, Crossroads presents itself as an unsettling, low-interactivity twine. As dynamic fiction, one tends to ask, would this work as static fiction?

Perhaps not. Not without a way to set a reader's expectations, and let the reader discover how they might be broken.

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.


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