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Reviews by Ivanr

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The Lurking Horror II: The Lurkening, by Ryan Veeder

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Fun and puzzly, April 17, 2018
I'm normally not a fan of toughie puzzle games at all, but "The Lurkening" managed to draw me in, and had me keeping a notes file and drawing increasingly elaborate maps on notebook paper as I struggled to map out the final steps of the solution. What fun!

Ryan Veeder's characteristic light touch of cleverness suits this game perfectly, making the map pleasurable to traverse again and again; there were even a few genuine laugh moments, like when (Spoiler - click to show)the grimoire in the department head's office turned out to be in Swedish.

For what it is, this is practically the perfect game, and it's just the right length for a fun hour or so of play.

My Evil Twin, by Carl Muckenhoupt

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A fun game, weighed down by a tedious puzzle system, April 2, 2018
This game is in a style that I usually really enjoy, and I thought the main puzzle mechanic was really neat, but for some reason I started to find it kind of a chore after a while. Aside from one or two fairly ingenious ones (particularly (Spoiler - click to show)getting into your twin's apartment), the puzzles tended to require something like extensive brute force, and unfortunately, as a result of how the puzzle mechanic works, brute forcing things becomes very time-consuming (a silly cheat code can speed things up a little, but you're still just trying the same operation on a bunch of objects and trying to do random things to them to get things to progress).

Again apart from one good one, the puzzles are all totally unmotivated object manipulation, and the plot just progresses seemingly randomly whenever you complete one of them. After a while it was pretty dispiriting and I just read the second half of the ClubFloyd transcript rather than go through the motions of finishing the thing myself. (I had to resort to this "walkthrough" relatively early, because in my infinite ingenuity I (Spoiler - click to show)pushed the dummy all the way into my apartment before ever setting foot in the neighbor's yard, thereby making it virtually impossible for me to discover the game's central mechanic. This is not the author's fault, since I did something really weird for no reason after cluelessly missing a room that most people probably discover right away. Still, once I had the "walkthrough" I felt somewhat less motivated to complete the game.)

I am still giving this game three stars, however, because in the end there are a lot of things I like about it: The central mechanic, although it was mainly used in service of tedious puzzles, was a joy in itself and pretty fun to play around with for a while. One of the puzzles was very thematic and clever, and funny, a rare combination in any game. And the extensive janus-face symbolism in the first room -- (Spoiler - click to show)Benjamin Harrison and Nostradamus as metaphysical, liminal figures, the past and the future, the two Clevelands, the two Johns on the poster, playing hangman with yourself -- was the most fun I've had examining scenery in forever.

The writing was very shrewd and funny. The ending was thought-provoking and the whole thing had a kind of surreal, Veeder-esque tinge. It's a pity that large parts of it weren't that fun to play.

You Are a Turkey!, by Jacqueline A. Lott

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Either extreme minimalism, or there's something I'm not thinking of, March 31, 2018
...but based on the ABOUT text, probably the former.

Not much else to say. I'm glad it exists.

Hard Puzzle, by Ade McT

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
"Shade" but for the abstract game design concept of "juiciness", March 31, 2018
I haven't played enough of this game to give it a star rating, so I won't, but I wanted to use this space to ruminate a little bit on the design idea(s) behind this game -- what the ancients called "IF theory", I believe.

The idea behind "Hard Puzzle", as far as I can tell, is to generate both horror and puzzle difficulty through an atmosphere of absolute uncertainty. While the actual prose attempts at Horrifying Detail ((Spoiler - click to show)like your skin sloughing off or whatever) struck me as pretty hackneyed, you'd be shocked at how spooky it can be to have no idea how many objects are in the room, for example. The author has deliberately omitted a lot of the helpful or clarifying responses that modern Inform games typically have, and the result is something like having your eyes stricken out. Actions that provoke no response text can dramatically change what objects are available or the structure of the location. Some things are implemented in lazy ways that produce unintuitive behavior, and (maybe?) some things are implemented in a way that's designed to look like a lazy shortcut, but behaves very differently under special circumstances.

This is very spooky. The very obtuseness and inconsistency of the interaction is carefully crafted to create a sense of disorientation and dread, as you're always unsure even what *kind* of thing might happen in response to certain actions. The tone of the worldbuilding confirms that this kind of existential spookiness is the goal (even though I didn't think the worldbuilding itself was very effective at achieving that effect).

This is really interesting, and like a lot of IF experiments one of the principal questions it raises is whether this kind of thing is at all repeatable, or whether it's more of an "only works once" kind of thing (as people say of "Deadline Enchanter", say, or the (Spoiler - click to show)PC-protagonist-parser stuff in "Slouching Towards Bedlam". Certainly, I think that the effectiveness of a disorienting interface at this extreme level of minimalism is kind of a "works once" thing. But I think that, if you telegraphed correctly when it was starting, you could have (say) a spooky funhouse room in a larger game where things obey different metaphysical rules that are only conveyed to you very obtusely, by unreported changes to the world model that you have to discover accidentally or systematically (like through the use of "take all"), building towards a larger sense of horror. I think there are a lot of possibilities for this kind of thing, since there are a lot of bizarre facts about a world or location or power that a parser could strategically fail to remark upon.

One example that comes to mind of this kind of technique being employed effectively on a small scale was the game "Dinner Bell", where (famously?) (Spoiler - click to show)the PC's profound physical mutilation is only mentioned in one error message, that many players probably never see at all. Hard Puzzle is like an entire game that's trying to be scary in that way, and I think it's an interesting and clever experiment. Since I'm not much of a puzzle buff and don't have ERR:NaN hours on my hands, I'll probably never finish it, but I thought it was interesting.

Open Up!, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Cute!, August 9, 2017
The title of this review sums up roughly 90% of what I have to say about Open Up!; it's a particularly cute and satisfying coda to Birdland. Of course, I could say something about how the characters in Birdland are sufficiently well-executed that it would make me happy that they are happy; but that would really be the domain of a review of Birdland. Play this after playing that one, of course.

In sum: Cute!

How to Win at Rock Paper Scissors, by Brian Kwak

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Let's party like it's 2007, July 31, 2017
...I mean that kindly! Most parser comp entries these days are notably "new school" or newer, but How to Win at Rock Paper Scissors is of some other, earlier school which I will not pretend to taxonomize, since our periodizations seem to change constantly.

What I'm trying to say is. How to Win at Rock Paper Scissors is a fun and funny chilled-out get-X-use-X jaunt, with various lock-and-key puzzles that involve some clever lateral thinking and some notably uninteractive NPCs. It's a relaxing style of game, good for a lunch break, rarely seen in the wild these days. Like its 2007 counterparts, HTWARPS is a little unpolished, but it doesn't much affect one's enjoyment, and the clever error messages are of the more amusing kind.

So, nothing hugely substantial, but good fun. I'm glad that such things are still being made.

The Ascent of the Gothic Tower, by Ryan Veeder

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Curious; well-constructed; unique, July 22, 2017
The Ascent of the Gothic Tower is a strange game. Even though the player character's objective is made incredibly clear - to ascend the tower - the experience of playing it feels almost aimless. In away, Ascent is a distillation of one particular theme that runs through many of Veeder's works: "hidden" or tucked-away content, rooms that are fascinating but fully optional, whole complex subsystems, as complex as the rest of the game put together, that an inattentive player could never know they missed. In fact, The Ascent of the Gothic Tower has so much of this kind of thing that it almost feels like the whole game is optional - a sort of array of strange places and interesting experiences, that don't seem to represent any meaningful journey on the part of the player character; I think this feeling is magnified, not diminished, by the fact the player character is embarking on such a literal and (by authorial fiat) emotionally significant journey.

None of this is to say that The Ascent of the Gothic Tower is not a good time. It certainly is! Veeder's mastery of the craft of interactive fiction is on full display here, with charming and well-implemented subsystems of all sorts, and an occasionally eloquent narrator-PC who has his own sort of off-kilter charm.

Playing The Ascent of the Gothic Tower feels like wandering around in a huge, empty, static palace of stone. You have no reason to be there, and no reason to keep moving forward, other than that it's beautiful, and you want to stay. And the fact that you do want to stay is a testament to Veeder's excellent craftsmanship.

Taco Fiction, by Ryan Veeder

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A flawless romp, July 22, 2017
I've been meaning to write a review of Taco Fiction for a long time, and for no particular reason at all, I figured this was the time to finally do so.

The reason I've wanted to is that Taco Fiction is a really important game to me; I first picked it up several years ago, when I was only into IF very casually (i.e., mostly doing coding exercises in Inform 7 and failing to complete Spider and Web). I had played the basic beginners' canon (Lost Pig, 9:05, De Baron...), and somehow in the midst of that, I came upon this game. Taco Fiction blew me away.

For a long time after playing it, Taco Fiction existed in my head as a prototype of what a perfect text adventure should be. And I think the reason it stuck with me (as opposed to, say, Lost Pig or Spider and Web, fine games though they are) is that it was purely fun. I have a poor head for puzzles, and I can only put with dark stuff for so long. Taco Fiction was fun. I never got stuck, I never got a default command; I was startled by (Spoiler - click to show)the cops in the diner (a masterful moment), and in the final scene my heart was sent racing. The rest of the time I spent smiling.

There are a lot of things to praise about Taco Fiction. The simulacrum of an "open world" is particularly impressive, given that this is essentially a linear game, plot-wise. The world is not huge, but there are characters who you can talk to for quite a bit longer than you would think with an expansive menu-based conversation system, and you can wander around doing essentially pointless things like purchasing and buying ice cream - but not out of adventure-game boredom, or an "amusing things to do" ethos; it's the kind of thing the PC would do, and you're free to do it as well. In between the delightfully weird, page-turning plot, of course. One with surprisingly subtle and insightful political points (in the least sordid sense of that word) to make.

Yes, I'm gushing. The reason I've put off reviewing Taco Fiction for so long is that it's hard to know what to write when something is just good. It's the game that made me excited about IF, that made me want to write my own, it turned me on to the rest of Veeder's excellent work, and it remained for years in my head the model against which all other works of IF would be compared.

Taco Fiction deserves to be canonized with the very best of modern interactive fiction.

For a Change, by Dan Schmidt

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A primordial memory at war with a crossword, July 7, 2017
This is a game in the old, 90s "puzzlefest" style, but it's one of the best of that era, and it transcends the now-peculiar genre it inhabited. I admit, I am one of the softies, and I come from an era of hand-holding invisiclues. I used the hints a lot. I am glad I did, because otherwise I would not have experienced this incredible game; but there was also great satisfaction on the rare occasions that I could figure things out without them. A more patient soul than I would undoubtedly have have had a deeper and fuller experience.

A lot has been said about For A Change. I'll just add this: even if you're not a fan of old-fashioned puzzlefests, give it a try. Use the clues. Schmidt has created a beautiful world that is more myth than story, and more dream than myth.

As little else did, it holds up.

Got ID?, by Marc Valhara

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Not for everyone, June 16, 2017
I can completely understand why this is a relatively "polarizing" game (to the extent that anyone plays it at all). The tone is singular and pretty in-your-face, and either you like it or you don't - and if you don't, you're going to hate this game. If, like me, you find it reasonably funny, you're likely to, like me, find it pretty fun. Among other things that I appreciate about it, it has an enjoyable tendency to allow you to do really stupid things (like (Spoiler - click to show)shooting the clerk for no reason) and then even semi-rewarding you for doing so as you lose the game; this makes it feel a little bit "ahead of its time" in its implementation, even if that sense is mostly illusory.

This game shares an author with the surrealist classic Stupid Kittens, and it isn't hard to tell; the content may be more conventional, but the style of both mechanics and prose is very recognizable. I happened to like Stupid Kittens, and I think Got ID? isn't terrible either, but I could hardly blame anyone for deciding differently. De gustibus, and so forth.

(Disclaimer: I haven't actually played to the winning ending, so if the game becomes wildly more offensive after the opening stages (a distinct possibility) then I rescind my endorsement. All I can say with certainty is that I like what I played of it.)


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