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Reviews by Steph C

IF Comp 2016

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1-6 of 6


Steam and Sacrilege, by Phil McGrail

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
An instantly compelling premise is failed by hopelessly broken implementation, November 11, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016
Let's start with the good: I LOVE the concept of taking a steampunk setting and looking forward to the present day, when all these glittering gears and robo-men are a part of history. This game suggests a steampunk haunted house, a combination of science fiction, ruin porn, and horror which would be an absolutely fantastic setting for a game. Unfortunately, this isn't what it delivers. There seems to be exactly one correct path implemented, and stepping off it snaps the game like a dry twig--and it's not at all clear what you're intended to do. I only managed to get through the opening scene through exhaustive trial and error (all the while being told I couldn't see or interact with things around me).

The present-day setting was even more decrepit. I have no information other than I have to go to work, but wandering out of the house took me into a maze of one-way passages and blank, undefined rooms. A man came to the door while I was in the kitchen. Then he came to my door again while I was wandering down main street and the same scene played out again. I went down an alley and got stuck. I bumped up against a metal door I couldn't see. A caretaker held me captive (apparently?) I have no idea what else you're supposed to do; there's probably an action you can take in the kitchen that triggers the rest of the story.

This game desperately needed to do one of two things:
1) Embrace the nature of the parser and fully implement the environments and for gods' sake have playtesters.
Players are going to be poking around, trying different things, and if the setting collapses like a souffle at the slightest touch, that's poison.
or 2) Use a format suited for telling a more linear story, like Choicescript. What little I saw of the story was compelling, and made me want to read more, but getting any of it out of the game was like pulling teeth.

If the idea hadn't been so good, I probably wouldn't care about this so much, but it was such a good idea, and I wanted this to be a good game so badly, and then it was unplayable.

Night House, by Bitter Karella

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Creepy, atmospheric late-80s period piece, November 9, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016
The author of this one is a good friend of mine and I did some playtesting for it, so I'm coming at it from the context of 1) liking the author, 2) sharing a lot of cultural frames of references with the author, and 3) having played the game several times already and been given hints to get past places where I got stuck.

You are a child wandering around a house at night; the environment (at least at first) is the standard NPC-free house with furniture and objects, but effectively conjures up the eerieness of ordinary things in the dark when you're young. The setting was especially effective to me because it's set not just during childhood, but specifically my childhood, circa 1990-ish: late-eighties action figures, late-eighties game systems, floppy disk computer, Trapper Keepers. Someone older or younger wouldn't find this as instantly relatable, but it worked for me.

Later on you encounter more explicit horror elements, and a sense of ongoing realization that something is off, not just with the house, but with you, and your assumptions about yourself.

This one is written in Quest, a rarely-used format despite its ease of use (for simple stuff, anyway) and some of its nifty features, like the automap. It also provides you with a compass rose, a list of objects, and actions you can do with those objects. I made my first couple of games using Quest and went to some trouble to turn off the suggested actions because I wanted a plain parser game, but they're quite good at making the game accessible; you can do 90% of what you need to do in this game using only a mouse. It's a structure Detectiveland also used to excellent effect.

The remaining 10% is where players are likely to get stuck: there are several places where you have USE things together or GIVE objects using the parser, and the game hasn't trained you to think of that as an option. (There are some places you need to ASK, too, but you're fairly well prompted about what you need to do.) There aren't any actual bugs in the finished version (that I could find), but some of the puzzle solutions are pretty obscure. Most players will likely need to resort to the walkthrough.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: download this one and play it offline if you possibly can! Many players have reported their online sessions being ruined by the hosting site timing out.)

You are standing in a cave..., by Caroline Berg

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Shakey implementation, but this is an author to watch, October 2, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016
You play an undefined protagonist (as good looking as ever!) who wakes up in a cave. I think this may be a first effort and while it leans a little heavily on puzzle-game cliches, there's plenty of attention given to the writing and making sure the environments are interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like it was playtested at all. You start out in a room with three passages leading out of it, but no indication of what direction anything is in or how the passages are different. Okay, let's pick...west? Ah, apparently I just went through a secret door I wasn't supposed to know about until much later, and the game assumes I've solved all the puzzles to get to this point. Oops.

You also can't 'look passages'--but you can 'look passage', and it'll ask you which one, and finally you get a list of the differences and can look at them individually. The game, as far as I got, is full of this kind of thing--which is a shame because the writing is fine and the world has the rich flavor of mid-90s Mystiness, full of gears and symbols and mysterious whimsical machinery. I found pieces of a lot of puzzles, complete with alternate solutions (some suboptimal)--there's a lot here and I can tell a lot of work and thought went into it. It would probably look fantastic if you read a complete transcript of play from someone who knew all the right commands in the right order, but if you deviate from what it expects, stuff gets weird quick.

The author has a lot of potential, and my rating reflects in part what this game could be as much as what it is. In its current form it needs a little more technical experience (and playtesters!) to get it into a shape where it's not a struggle to play, at least for me.

Detectiveland, by Robin Johnson

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
It doesn't take a gumshoe to figure out this one's a gem, October 2, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016
A great cover tells you just what sort of noirish period piece to expect, and the gameplay presentation is absolutely top notch, with a deliciously atmospheric typewriter setup that fits the theme perfectly without being distracting. There are even vintage character portraits. This is one of the slickest and most professional looking presentations I've seen for an IFComp game so far.

Play-wise, it's a puzzle adventure, but rather than typing into a parser, you're given a few options to click on depending on context. I've seen Quest games do this sort of thing before, and it makes the game feel a little like one of the 90s' era adventures like Day of the Tentacle or the Monkey Island series. The positive of this approach is that you don't have to worry about syntax; the negative is that it's harder to come up with a surprising solution to a puzzle, since all the options are presented to you right off (the 'just try everything with everything' problem.) Detectiveland manages to pull off some neat tricks here, though--in particular, the last puzzle of the case I played, "The Big Pickle", hit right in the sweet spot for me, not too baffling but clever enough that I felt smart when I realized the solution.

Witty, stylish, and lots of fun--highly recommended!

Toiletworld, by Chet Rocketfrak

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
I have to pipe up about this one, October 1, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016, toilets
Here I sit, brokenhearted by a game which utterly failed to bowl me over. I only logged a few minutes before realizing there was squat to do; the author seems to have pooped out before adding most of the content, and what little he did manage to push out was pretty corny. The game is flush with mentions of toilets-within-toilets, like turduckens, and they appear in loo of any actual story, jokes, or puzzles.

In a word, it's shitty.

Fair, by Hanon Ondricek

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
It's better than fair, it's good, October 1, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016
Having played Transparent and Baker of Shireton, I expected Fair to be an innovative, environmentally 'busy' game, and that's what I got. In Fair, you play as a self-published author who's been invited to judge an elementary school science fair. The game world is relatively small but extremely lively, crowded with science fair contestants, their parents, and a principal who mostly just wants the fair to be over with so he can set up for community theater rehearsal. As in Baker of Shireton, the world is full of things happening around the player.

Where Baker faltered due to the opacity of the goal (I don't think I'm the only one who never caught on that there was more to the game than unsuccessfully baking bread), Fair shines by giving you a few possible priorities and letting you choose. You don't have time to do everything--will you try your best to judge the finalists' exhibits, or try hawking you book and then award the prizes at random? I played through twice, and I have a strong suspicion that there a lot more possibilities than I found.

A few spots are a little clunky (at one point, you're told the principal is beckoning you over, but given no indication which direction you're supposed to move) but in general the implementation was pretty solid given how many parts are moving at once. Like last year's Midnight Swordfight, a single playthrough is quick, but it rewards revisitation if you want to find everything. Fun and recommended!


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