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Ratings and Reviews by J. J. Guest

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View this member's reviews by tag: Ectocomp 2014 IF Comp 2018
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The Ascot, by Duncan Bowsman
J. J. Guest's Rating:

Neighbourhood Necromancer, by Gavin Inglis
J. J. Guest's Rating:

For Rent: Haunted House, by Gavin Inglis

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Unreal Estate, September 14, 2019
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
I was recommended this game, and it is one of the most enjoyable Choice Of games I've played. Unlike with many Choice Of games, you are not required to spend time at the beginning customizing you character, which can sometimes feel a bit arbitrary and uninvolving to me. Instead the game launches straight into the story, casting you as a harassed estate agent working for a small company in Edinburgh. You're charged with renting out a house with a mysterious history, and your whole livelihood depends upon making a success of it. The NPCs are both interesting and believable, and the choices you make have a real influence on the course of the story. There is enough branching to give the game plenty of replay value, which is one of the key things I look for in a choice-based story. It is also very funny. Of the Choice Of Games that I've played so far, this is my favourite, and I'll definitely be trying other games by this author.

The Fifth Continent, by Daniel Gunnell

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A Walk Through K, July 20, 2019
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
This is a curious little game set on the Kent coast. It doesn't have any puzzles as such, and I completed it in just 42 moves. It was the setting that captured my interest, as I have been meaning to explore that part of the English coastline for a while. It was quite enjoyable to just wander around and look at the scenery, and there really isn't a lot else to do. Because it's rare to find games set in the real world, I decided to mirror my progress on Google Streetview at the same time. Through doing this I realised that some of the moves you make in the game take you several miles in the real-life geography, but this isn't really apparent from the writing. The writing otherwise does a decent job of describing a place which is obviously very familiar to the author, and there are dashes of humour. The Fifth Continent could have done with an experienced beta tester, though. There are a fair few typos, including "pidgeon" for pigeon, (though it's just possible the author intended to use an archaic spelling) and dozens of unimplemented scenery objects. It feels like an early effort, and I can't really give this game more than two stars, but I did spend an enjoyable few minutes exploring Romney Marsh and I look forward to future games by this author.

Edit: the spelling and grammatical errors have been cleared up since this review was written.

The Kingdom of Klein, by Melvyn E. Wright and Dave M. Johnson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Epic's 'Adventure', July 19, 2019
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Epic Adventures, a small company operating out of a terrace house in Kibworth Beauchamp, Leicestershire, were nevertheless one of the biggest and best known producers of text adventure games for the Acorn Electron. The Kingdom of Klein was their third release.

Perhaps surprisingly, The Kingdom of Klein shows a stronger influence of Crowther and Woods' 'Adventure' than either of the author's previous two games. It's a cave crawl, the aim being to restore the Klein Bottle to its rightful place on a pedestal in the King's palace. Along the way you'll also have to find the five Platonic solids. It's a big game, boasting 230 locations, and this, along with a superior parser, was a big selling point for Epic's catalogue. In reality, it's one of the game's biggest flaws, and all of Melvyn Wright's games suffer from the same problem. Most of those 230 rooms are there simply to represent distance and scale. To give an example, at one point in the game you find yourself on an open plain. To cross it, you must go west 11 times! Later in the game you find yourself in a ravine which requires you to go east 18 times before you arrive at where you need to be. A mountain takes 10 moves to climb up and down, and so on. This might be acceptable once, but the game requires you to constantly retrace your steps and traverse the same terrain. Needless to say, most of these intermediary locations are empty and have nearly identical descriptions.

The puzzles are very much in the spirit of 'Adventure', but completely original. Wands and magic spells feature heavily and some of the solutions are rather under-clued, though the hint sheet provided makes up for this. For the purposes of this review I played with the help of Dorothy Millard's CASA walkthrough, but when I reached the point where I had given up in the 1980s, I was actually surprised at how close my teenage self had got to the end. There's a fairly generous inventory limit, but it can still be a problem given the size of the map. For a cassette-based game written in 1984, the parser is remarkably robust, and I had no problems making the game understand what I wanted to do. The parser in Epic's later The Lost Crystal is even more impressive.

Returning to The Kingdom of Klein after 35 years, the game, though bug-free and solidly programmed, is definitely showing its age. I'd be hard pressed to recommend it to a modern IF player, but for those interested in IF history it's an interesting artefact, clearly influenced by 'Adventure' but not in any way derivative of it. Three stars.

a short walk in the spring, by Amorphous

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A Walk Through S, May 2, 2019
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
I liked this. Structurally, as well as thematically, I was reminded of the 1978 film "A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist" by Peter Greenaway. Stylistically I was reminded by the work of the so-called Spectric School of poetry. It took me a long time to play through it, because I was always tempted to wander. The more I wandered, the more interesting the game became, and the reason for this is given in the afterword, which itself makes for interesting reading. The randomly generated text was well done, benefiting from a diverse vocabulary, but it might have been improved by more variety in terms of sentence structure. All in all, a very interesting literary experiment.

Draculaland, by Robin Johnson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Great for playing with kids, April 29, 2019
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
I played this engagingly silly game with my 7 year old nephew, and he absolutely loved it. The terse text and clever button interface were an ideal introduction to the medium of IF, and though we went on to play a couple of traditional parser games, he liked this one the best.

We played on a mobile phone, and I hope Robin goes on to release more games for mobiles. I hope, also, that he releases an authoring tool for Versificator so that other authors can use it!

Draculaland riffs on a host of classic monster movie tropes and features (mostly) logical puzzles. We resorted to the hints once or twice. The only really disappointing thing was that (Spoiler - click to show)in spite of the title, you don't get to see a lot of the eponymous vampire. It might have been fun if he'd turned up earlier in the story.

Scout's Honour, by Gareth Pitchford

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Bob-a-job Week, December 12, 2018
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
This is a retro text adventure written using the Adventuron system, a web-based IF language for creating games resembling those of the 8-bit era. Scout's Honour was written by a veteran of Delbert the Hamster and Zenobi, two prolific software houses which specialised in text adventures for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad computers in the 1990s. This game is very much of that ilk. It has a lively comic voice, daft puzzles and a suburban, Middle England setting reminiscent of the Adrian Mole books. Your task is to complete five 'bob-a-jobs' (simple tasks for a small payment) for a Boy Scout badge, in order to attend a disco and ask out the girl of your dreams. The Adventuron interface, despite its retro styling is a surprisingly slick, and whilst the parser is a long way from the standards of Inform or TADS, I experienced very little guess-the-verb or other problems associated with vintage games. Scout's Honour isn't trying to be modern IF. Adventuron is designed to capture the look and feel of the old Spectrum games, and it does this perfectly. I haven't completed Scout's Honour yet, but it amused me enough make me to want to try.

Birmingham IV, by Peter Emery

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Period Charm, November 23, 2018
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2018
It seems an odd thing to say about a computer game, especially one released this year, but Birmingham IV has "period charm". I started playing the game before I knew that it had originally been written in The Quill in 1988, but it immediately reminded me of BBC Micro games of that era.

Birmingham IV shares many tropes with the games of Geoff H. Larsen. It has a rural English setting with standing stones, long barrows and village inns with colourful names. It is peopled with trolls and other folkloric figures.

Unfortunately it also shares many of the faults of games of that period, such as an inventory limit. Room descriptions tend to omit the direction from which the player first approached the location, perhaps assuming that the player had made a map. It is also very easy to make the game unwinnable without realising it.

Nevertheless the Birmingham IV does have charm, and enough that its flaws didn't stop me from wanting to play it. I'm excited that David Welbourn has now produced a walkthrough, and I do hope that there's a post-comp release that's a little less "old school".

The Origin of Madame Time, by Mathbrush

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, Clever and Great Fun, November 23, 2018
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2018
In this short, puzzle-centric game, we play as a young woman with a newly acquired superpower - the ability to stop time. Our job is to save a group of superheroes (and villains) from a nuclear explosion which we have put into a state of stasis.

As with all of Mathbrush's games, The Origin of Madame Time is clever, well implemented and fun to play. The action-packed superhero genre is a tough one to pull off in IF, but Mathbrush achieves it here by presenting the action just as it appears in a comic book - as a series of static vignettes. The puzzle mechanic is also clever; we must utilise the powers of the different characters in order to get them to safety.

Where it is less successful is in its sense of priorities. The exploding airship, which ought to have been front and centre, is not seen until some way into the game. In some of the descriptions, important details and bits of biographical trivia are given equal weight, which robs the setting of some of its drama.

The Origin of Madame Time was written as a sequel to The Owl Consults, but it is not necessary to have played the earlier game in order to enjoy this one. Both games are great fun, and highly recommended.

Bogeyman, by Elizabeth Smyth

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An Impressive, Atmospheric Tale of Horror, November 23, 2018
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2018
I first had the pleasure of playing Bogeyman in an IF Meetup group, and of meeting the author, Elizabeth Smyth. Before the playthrough, she felt the need to give us a trigger warning. The game does indeed include scenes of cruelty towards children.

What impressed me right away about the game was its presentation. A choice-based game, Bogeyman’s links are presented at the bottom of each scene in a grid formation, separated by white lines, which is very effective. A glow effect around the text of each link on mouseover was a nice touch. The choice of a fixed width font for the Bogeyman’s dialogue was less successful, however. There are also a few illustrations, of which I would like to have seen more, and some suitably eerie music.

One thing that parser-based games tend to be better at than choice-based games is creating a sense of place, but Bogeyman, a choice-based game, left me with a very clear mental picture of the Bogeyman’s mountainside hovel and its surroundings. The child-kidnapping title character on the other hand is more of a cypher - we are given only glimpses, and this also works very effectively. One gets the feeling that description is absent because none of the children can bring themselves to look at him.

Also well evoked was the sense of a daily routine, which serves as a reminder of how quickly we tend to normalise a terrible situation.

Bogeyman is a long game, and I only had time to play through it once during the competition, but I’ll certainly be returning to it now that the comp is over.

Footnotes in Ashes, by Jeremy M. Gottwig

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
All at Sea, July 10, 2017
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Footnotes in Ashes is a short story about a man lost at sea with his dead wife's ashes. Presented in six short chapters, it is not in any real sense interactive, and there are no alternative endings or different paths to take through the story. The reader advances the story by clicking on super-scripted references which reveal footnotes at the bottom of each page. The footnotes reveal more information, and sometimes a link to the next chapter. It's all a bit unengaging. The unnamed man and his wife remain ciphers, barely sketched in, and without any real agency the story becomes a game of hunt-the-link-to-the-next-chapter. I can't be sure, but I suspect there are one or two bugs in the implementation. It's hard to know whether they are bugs or deliberate text effects; at one point, for instance, footnotes from a previous chapter reappear, seemingly out of context. Towards the end, a genuine error message appears:

Error: <<audio>>: track "thunder" does not exist

With a bit more polish some might find this an interesting short story, but it's not really interactive fiction.

Gorxungula's Curse, by Duncan Bowsman

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A Dadaist shish kabob that somehow tastes… delicious., April 13, 2017
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
How Gorxungula’s Curse came seventh out nine entries in Abbie Park's Odd Competition, I'll never understand. Eight years have passed, and apart from the one I wrote, it's the only entry I remember. It remains one of my favourite Duncan Bowsman games. I suppose we gravitate to people we admire, and not long after the Odd Competition I got in touch with Mr Bowsman and mooted the idea of collaborating on a game - sadly that association has yet to bear fruit, but I live in hope.

Duncan is a prose stylist who varies his style according to the needs of each project. Here, he writes in the herky-jerky fashion of a carnival ghost train. Abruptly changing direction and crashing through our expectations like bang doors, his writing leaves the reader with the same weightless feeling in the stomach as a thrill-ride. You never know what's coming up next, but it's always the last thing you expected. Bowsman possesses the admirable talent of being able to take elements that have no business being together and forge them into a seamless whole. It looks effortless, but I suspect that this is an illusion, and like the proverbial swan Bowsman’s legs are going like the clappers beneath the surface of the pond.

Gorxungula’s Curse might look at first glance like something thrown together in five minutes, but then you look at the detail, and it’s like a Fabergé Egg, albeit one made from odds and ends from a wizard’s attic. He’s a consummate wordsmith, raiding the second-hand stores of literary history for forgotten treasures and stringing them together like a Dadaist shish kabob that somehow tastes… delicious. He is not afraid of inventing a new word when nothing in the dictionary will suffice, or of resurrecting some archaic term to do his bidding like an Atlantian mummy in a Clark Ashton Smith story. It’s this love of words, and the sheer joy of jamming them together that give his work such energy and colour.

Don’t get me wrong. Bowsman is quite capable of writing a straight story with beginning, middle and end all present and correct and in the right order. Irvine Quik, though quirky, is a great example of this. But it’s these bold experiments of his that I enjoy the most. They’re the text adventure equivalents of Captain Beefheart songs, and in a medium increasingly full of audience-pleasing pabulum, that’s sometimes exactly what we need.

The Theft of the Anathema of Vorus, by Audrey Higgins

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An well written short fantasy, marred by strange 'rules'., January 27, 2017
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
This is an interesting, short Twine game in a fantasy setting, in which one plays a thief hired to steal a gem.

I found the beginning of the game frustrating. Every 'optional' choice I made took me straight back to the 'Rules' page and I had to start all over again. In terms of immersion it threw me out of the game, quite literally, and slammed the door in my face. I wondered what I had done wrong. I can't help feeling that this could have been handled better, perhaps by having a separate page for the rules and for the first paragraph of the game.

The 'rules' themselves had a peculiar effect on the way I played the game. Choices fall into three categories; rogue, dissident and diplomat. We are advised "choose carefully" because "If you choose inconsistently between two category choices, you can often lose points that you've earned from a prior choice. To pass speech checks and earn the best endings, it is ideal to have 0s in the categories that you aren't choosing".

This injunction transformed my experience of the game, and not in a good way. Suddenly, I found I was no longer exploring the story world and making choices at will, instead I was skimming the body text and carefully scrutinising the choices in order to ensure that the ones I chose were consistent. Instead of being a game of "can you steal the Gem of Vorus?" it became a game of "can you tell the difference between a dissident choice and a rogue choice?" Judging by the number of times I got this wrong, the answer is a clear 'no'. I was frustrated by my inability to stay on the straight and narrow, knowing that it would result in my not seeing 'best' endings.

All of which is not to say that this isn't an enjoyable game. It was nicely balanced between action scenes and world building, and contains some very nice writing and characterisation. I'll definitely look out for whatever the author comes up with next. The author clearly knows how to tell a story, but for me the game was marred by the 'rules' which made the game more about second-guessing the author's intent than about taking part in the narrative.

The Tunnel, by Natalia Theodoridou
Tunnel Vision, December 12, 2016
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
The Tunnel comes across as an intensely personal meditation on the subject of depression. It's intriguing, but the closed off demeanor of the protagonist means that the other characters in the narrative remain more or less ciphers, and though we are invited to fill in the blanks from our own imagination, we're not given much incentive to do so. As a player, there isn't a lot to do, and my feeling is that this story would have worked just as well as static fiction. The multimedia effects add interest but the text sometimes faded off slightly too quickly forcing me to refresh the page in order to finish reading.

The Ferryman Awaits, by John Nevins
J. J. Guest's Rating:

IDSPISPOPD, by Christopher Brent
Smashing Pumpkins, January 28, 2015
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2014
So far as I can tell, this gory tale, centred around the programmers behind 'DOOM' isn't interactive at all. There's something that looks like a parser, but it doesn't seem to make any difference what you type. The story is amusing enough, more so if you're a fan of 'DOOM'.

City of the Living Dead, by Joshua Houk (as Tanah Atkinson)
No place like home, January 28, 2015
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2014
Circumstances outside your control force you to move to a different part of a city again and again, as described in a panoply of randomly generated passages. It's not much fun, but as a satire on gentrification and urban displacement it's quite effective.

Lime Ergot, by Caleb Wilson (as Rust Blight)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
—in the ::::: lime ::::: light :::::, January 28, 2015
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2014
The most frightening of the Ectocomp 2014 games that I've played so far, Lime Ergot creates a genuinely unsettling atmosphere for all the beauty of its tropical setting. The game's main NPC, the General, doesn't do or say much but she nonetheless exerts a terrifying power.

Devil's Food, by Hanon Ondricek
A Piece of Cake, January 28, 2015
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
A lot of good quality writing has gone into this fast and funny Ectocomp entry. It's highly amusing and well worth playing, even if your actions don't have much influence on the outcome of the story.

Eclosion, by Buster Hudson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Pharates Lost, January 28, 2015
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2014
A creepy bit of body horror from the author of last year's equally disturbing Boogle. A parasite of some sort must complete a number of biological processes in the right order to hatch from its human host. I was pretty determined to beat this game but eventually my patience was spent, and I didn't choose another.

Choose Your Own SPOOKY Death, by Healy
Famous last words, January 26, 2015
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
On receipt of the news that tonight is the night on which you will die, your reaction is one of stoical acceptance. All that remains is to choose the manner of your demise...

This is the funniest Ectocomp entry I've played this year. The player-character's final words made me laugh out loud more than once. It's just a shame it's unfinished. Post-comp release?

The Weird Mirror, by M.J. Antonellis
Unfinished, but intriguing, January 26, 2015
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2014
There are a lot of interesting ideas here; perhaps too many for a three-hour game, since most of them remain rather undeveloped. Some typos and a missing passage suggests the author ran clean out of time, but I'd be intrigued to see a post-comp release.

halloween candy triage simulator, by j. marie
Fun for a minute or two, January 26, 2015
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2014
Being English I've never actually been trick-or-treating, it wasn't a thing here when I was a boy, so this simulator is the nearest I'll get to 'the most important part of Halloween' - counting the candy. It's fun for a few minutes, but could have done with a bit more variety - and maybe a few surprises.

Another Cliched Adventure Game, by David Whyld

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Enjoyably Silly, January 26, 2015
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2014
An enjoyably silly game peppered with David Whyld's arch humour. It might have been better without the apartment prelude; the fun really starts outside in the forest.

Candlesmoke, by Caelyn Sandel and Carolyn VanEseltine
Quite an achievement, January 26, 2015
by J. J. Guest (London, England)
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2014
A lovely, creepy Lovecraftian tale with some great alternative endings. Quite an achievement for three hours' work!


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