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Reviews by Felicity Banks

IFComp 2015

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1-8 of 8


Life On Mars?, by Hugo Labrande

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
So different to "The Martian", November 19, 2015
by Felicity Banks (Canberra, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2015
I hesitated to play this because the plot was just too similar to the movie (and book) "The Martian". But actually, they're quite different. That story is about a hero (even if he IS a scientist :) ) overcoming incredible odds. This story is, ultimately, horror.

I liked how far I managed to get without consulting the walkthrough, and I liked the idea (although not the reality; I tend to play in silence) of the soundtrack.

I disliked (as always in parser games) wandering around in a repetitive way, trying to figure out where the writer wanted me to go. As a completionist, I disliked the long list of emails, because I felt overwhelmed. I also found it a boring way to get across a story, especially when sorting through junk mail and other irrelevancies (although Charlotte's thoughts were always interesting to me).

I'm not sure how else the story could have been handled, but still - a happening-right-now adventure is always more interesting than knowing your character is just sitting in a chair, reading.

She was also quite passive, which realistically I can't blame her for - but it made the story less exciting. Some of the writing was a little disjointed and some was excellent (which makes me suspect it needed more editing than it got).

The end was genuinely eerie.

Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory, by Katherine Morayati

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Changed my life, November 19, 2015
by Felicity Banks (Canberra, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2015
Good writing creates an emotional response.

I deliberately avoided this game because it sounded experimental, and I assumed that would just confuse me. It did confuse me (not a difficult task; I get confused brushing my teeth sometimes), but it created plenty of other emotions too: curiosity, pleasure, relief, interest, awe, suspicion, wonder, achievement, depression, hope, frustration, cautious satisfaction.

This game is an amazing thing. It's hard to write about, because for me it was an intense and personal experience in which I chose to let go all rational thoughts about structure or programming and fall fully into the illusion that the story was real. NOTHING I have ever read has had that effect on me.

Your experience is likely to be different, because that's exactly how art works. It lives, and changes with every viewing. This story certainly does that.

Here's a bit more on those emotions I mentioned above:

curiosity - At first I was impressed enough by the language to feel like I wanted to know more. A few good sentences buy a lot of reader goodwill. (I read and write a lot of novels, and Katherine Morayati is a damn fine writer.)

pleasure - I was so delighted that my random input words created a response every time (and never a repeated response, either).

interest - Okay, so there's a character called Brian. This feels like something that can move the plot forwards; good.

awe - unable to move towards Brian (I tried with my usual incompetence), I gave up on playing the game and simply accepted that the hopeless desperation of the MC was painfully similar to my own. So I typed in things that everyone tells me I should do to make real-life existence better. This included "exercise" and "go outside" and even "buy a swimming pool". The game never once told me I was wrong. It never repeated information. It was always interesting to read. And I was deeply satisfied that the kind of solutions that well-meaning friends and family offer didn't actually solve anything.

The MC wandered in the same musing, thoughtful, desperate circles my brain traverses every day. That moment right there is why a game I fundamentally don't understand (I keep trying and failing to like parser games) got a 10 from me in the IF Comp - a score I reserved for something greater than numbers could convey (and never truly intended to use). How did the game know me? How on earth could anyone write a seemingly infinite number of responses? It was as impressive as a person flying in the air in front of me. Such a thing is possible, but I don't know how, and I suspect it takes a lot of skill and hard work.

suspicion - a lot of what I read didn't closely relate to what I wrote, and I began to wonder how many bits were simply playing out at random. Maybe the magic wasn't so impressive after all. Had I caught the flash of a metaphorical wire holding the story up?

wonder - it still felt like an infinite and interesting world. Perhaps I could just wander here among the beautiful words and be satisfied.

depression - this is too like real life. All I can do is go over the same hopeless thoughts again and again. And Brian sounds like a tool, but who else is there?

achievement - ooh! I managed to actually get in the car and go somewhere. Is the plot actually moving forwards now?

hope - this game is so real; perhaps too real. But this isn't my own head. Perhaps this author is smart enough to come inside my head and then show me some way to come out.

frustration - I'm driving but not getting anywhere. I hate parser games.

cautious satisfaction - when I finally finished the game. Having talked to the author, I know that my interpretation of my ending wasn't intended at all... but, like I said, this is a piece of art that truly lives.

You'll have to play the game and see for yourself whether you feel it has generated a story or not.

In any case, I will NEVER forget this experience. I'm incredibly grateful it exists (although also grateful it was short, because the inevitable disorientation was mentally nauseating).

I know from talking to others that this game continues to burrow away in the minds of various players... in the best possible way.

The Insect Massacre, by Tom Delanoy
Gently experimental, November 19, 2015
by Felicity Banks (Canberra, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2015
This game chose a couple of unusual engine options - setting out dialogue with a speech (no speaker tags, but colour coded), and using real-time delays (very gently, eg someone took a few seconds to fetch something).

The colours were a bit distracting - with my memory, I'd rather have had the standard script format of
Bob: Hello Jane
Jane: Hello Bob
etc
but I actually didn't mind the timing thing this time. I'm a linear storyteller myself, so it was surprising that I enjoyed walking from room to room to get the different bits of the story. And then I... wasn't entirely sure what the ending actually meant. So that wasn't good.

But luckily there's a "back" button, and from discussion I know that my impression of the ending was correct.

Playing as a computer, I felt my human-PC bias kick in, but the computer was more interesting than I'd have guessed.

Switcheroo, by The Marino Family
A great game for all ages, November 19, 2015
by Felicity Banks (Canberra, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2015
Decent writing, interesting story.

I thought going straight into peeing might not be a great narrative choice, but it depends on the reader. The stuff about gender is either fantastic or terrible (is it exploring ideas of gender, gender vs identity, etc..... or is it ignoring the complexities to have a male character who must therefore innately hate dolls etc?) The final choice was very interesting.

One of the stat boxes blocked my view of the text, which drove me bonkers. It only has that flaw in Internet Explorer.

The end was bittersweet, which was the right choice even though it's unusual for a children's story.

Scarlet Sails, by Felicity Banks

From the Author

Related reviews: IFComp 2015
Here are three reviews, starting with the hyper-positive and ending with the hyper-negative. I wrote all of them myself while waiting for IF Comp 2015 results.

There will, eventually, be a major update (it looks like it'll be twice as long as the original, with more scenes and more branching).

Hyper-Positive:

I was immediately drawn into the pirate world by the strong characters and an enjoyable lack of cisgender assumptions (in this world, sexuality is apparently completely fluid, and there is no gender-based discrimination whatsoever - a fantasy world indeed, but a nice place to visit and a lecture-free statement of hope for our own world).

The writing is excellent; fast-paced without compromising on style, and with several moments and images that stuck with me after the story ended. The magic system worked mainly as another "fighting" statistic, but added colour to the narrative at the same time, and foreshadowed the supernatural villains nicely.

As someone who often has trouble picking just one romance, I enjoyed the polyamorous option, and as a relatively new player I enjoyed the ability to look at "Achievements" for insider info on what type of pirate I could be. I've played the game several times, and it feels as if a close friend has written a near-infinite number of pirate stories for me to read depending on my mood at the time.

The optional pieces of actual history at the end reveal that a surprising amount of the fantastical adventure is influenced by real people and real piratical adventures. Truth really is more piratical than fiction! Best enjoyed with a finger (or a bottle) of rum and a sense of adventure. Five Arrrrrrs!

Fair (ish):

The writing is good, sometimes very good - but not as good as Cape, and not funny like Birdland or Brain Guzzlers (funny is harder to write). The NPCs are fun, and it's nice to be able to play as male/female/other and gay/straight/polyamorous without having to have a big talk about it (the other characters are all apparently completely fine with various types of romance, and the game doesn't lecture or educate its audience in any way. In fact it's probably too blasé).

It's probably a bit too easy to die horribly at the end, but that only gets frustrating after the first play-through (also the "trick" is outlined in the player notes at the beginning, and in more detail in the walkthrough). The achievements are fun, especially for beginners, and the coda on historical pirates was interesting.

Hyper-Negative:

Oh good. Yet another quasi-historical story that starts in an utterly stereotypical bar. And the clichés just keep coming - from a peg leg to evil mermaids. Has this writer ever had an original thought?

Speaking of the writer, it's clear she lacks personal conviction and depth of any kind. Even when she obliquely refers to major social issues (such as the gender identity of the protagonist) she takes an offensively simplistic approach.

The only meaningful choice is to be a "good" pirate or a "bad" pirate, and yet the protagonist is forced to kill on at least one occasion (rendering any attempts at so-called "goodness" utterly pointless). Any pleasure derived from the story depends on the player being young enough and ignorant enough to feel that they've achieved something by clicking a mouse a few times in order to increase their statistics - statistics which are almost exclusively based on violence.

The game could be summarised as, "Do you like violence? What kind? Good for you, you blood-spattered snowflake you!" It insults the player's intelligence one last time after the game is finished by giving an abrupt (and wildly speculative) history lesson, evidently designed purely to show off the fact that the writer read a book once. Perhaps she "researched" by drinking a great deal of rum and then throwing up this shallow, mediocre, clichéd disaster. Recommended for people so sad and lonely that a cardboard cut-out romance is satisfying, and a series of largely meaningless (not to mention violent) "level-up"-style choices feels like empowerment.

Playing it drunk might make it appear cleverer than it is, but I tried that and it still sucked. I left one star because apparently it's not possible to leave zero stars.

Ether, by MathBrush

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
My first enjoyable parser experience, November 19, 2015
by Felicity Banks (Canberra, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2015
I was nervous about the parser experience, because I generally end up frustrated (sometimes to tears) within minutes. My brain doesn't work that way, and doesn't want to learn.

This was literally the only parser game I've ever enjoyed from beginning to end - mainly due to the very friendly walkthrough (which I consulted at every single step, after a few attempts at doing stuff on my own).

It's a fantastic game for true beginners, and works well as a teaching tool (my attempts at other parser games now last twice as long before I quit) without being even a tiny bit patronising, or breaking away from the story.

A downside in terms of personal taste is that the nautilus is (as you may have guessed) not human. It feels fairly human in personality, but I just don't relate to the epic and impersonal goal.

I was able to just barely understand (for the very first time) why people like puzzles in a story, even though I don't personally like them. Really grateful for the whole experience. It changed the way I see parser games.

If you love parser games and you're trying to convert a n00b, start here.

If you like parser but don't feel like staying awake trying to figure out a nightmarishly difficult puzzle... this game is for you, too.

Cape, by Bruno Dias

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Brilliant, evocative, original writing, November 19, 2015
by Felicity Banks (Canberra, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2015
This blew me away.

I loved the story and the world and enjoyed the way the room-mate related to the PC.

I really enjoyed the mechanism of having two ways to highlight words - one to add detail to the scene, and one to move on. I clicked on all the extra bits, feeling supremely confident that the high-class writing would make it worth my while (normally I'm desperate to get to the resolution of a story, and I rush through as quickly as possible).

I was terrified the end would suck and ruin everything, and it didn't. It was more like the ending of a prologue than the ending of a story, but it worked.

Birdland, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy
Funny & Charming, November 19, 2015
by Felicity Banks (Canberra, Australia)
Related reviews: IFComp 2015
I was extremely impressed by the humour (including the way the birds talk, which is interesting since I usually detest unusual speech systems) and really enjoyed watching the world change as the story progressed. I laughed out loud and often.

The romance was gorgeous.

I felt a little frustrated by the passivity of the MC, but of course it made sense for a character of that age (NICE character writing, by the way - not many grown men can do so well writing as a teenage girl). I also felt like the stats didn't always make sense with the skills/choices they opened up.

Having said that, the game is simply brilliant and in another year would have won the IF Comp outright.


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