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Ratings and Reviews by Ivanr

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HUNTING UNICORN, by Chandler Groover
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Craverly Heights, by Ryan Veeder
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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.

Episode in the Life of an Artist, by Peter Eastman
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Starry Seeksorrow, by Caleb Wilson (as Ayla Rose)
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Primer, by Christina Nordlander
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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.

Her Majesty's Trolley Problem, by Buster Hudson
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