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Ratings and Reviews by Andrew Schultz

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Limerick Heist, by Pace Smith

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
If you think you might like it, you will., November 20, 2019
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
"What it says on the tin" games often can run into trouble. They're limiting by the end. The risk is double with poetry. It can get sing-song or repetitive. But in this case, I enjoyed the presentation, and the size is just about right. Limericks do seem to have just the right amount of flexibility: not too short, and not too long, and they never feel too pretentious or too low-class. I like writing them. I've written a ton. You can say what you want, move on from them and not worry if they're any good.

But stringing even two together--well, I found this tricky indeed.

You've probably seen the tropes before, and the blurbs fully admit to this: the leader of a heist gets people together, there are conflicts, things go wrong and ... well, because this is a choice-based game, you do have endings. And the bad ones are indeed rewarding. I certainly enjoyed them more than costly special effects at a movie, ones that are meant to draw out the drama but just overload me. A limerick's five lines, though, feel just right to me.

With rhymezone.com and various programs to track the meter, I suppose we can be picky and say, ok, that's something the game SHOULD get right. But the more subjective stuff, like plot, pacing and throwing out rhymes that are clever but not overdone, obviously require care on the author's part. And that's evident here.

I think the most telling testament I can give to the game's quality was that, on getting a bad death, I expected a good limerick for the "undo/restart/restore" option--and I got one! So it's very detailed. It has the usual technical stuff like letting you track all the different endings, but perhaps my favorite bit was how (Spoiler - click to show)one successful ending laid out the possibility of a sequel. And since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I'll leave you with this...

How quickly a game like this could
Grate awfully, it's understood,
Or stop feeling new
About halfway through
But don't worry. This one makes good.

I had an idea to write
A game like this but did not quite
Or really at all
Find ways to enthrall
With plot, humor, fun or insight.

The game's title thus brought to light
Ny shelved plans. So, quickly, despite
A wish I'd have spun
A tale half as fun
I'm thrilled THIS work got things so right.

(Oh, hey, look, this game helped me finally string a few limericks together!)

Out, by Viktor Sobol

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
I played Out, and it wasn't played-out., November 20, 2019
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Out would have been good to see even if it hadn't been written by someone who'd been reviewing for so long and who had definitely earned their spurs to enter IFComp. The title threw me off at first, because while coming out is an important and personal act, it may be overdone in the community. This game is breezy and short and yet still covers a lot of original ground. I appreciated the lack of angst here, and I also enjoyed that the narrator's specific trait wasn't mentioned.

It allowed me to have a humorous perspective on a coming out of my own that went poorly: my family moved from a state-school university town to the city to near a private university, and my parents were a bit upset I liked that old university's sports teams, because I should prefer the smart kids to do well. And the state school wasn't particularly good at football, so I heard it from fans of much better teams. But liking the state school was just who I was, and the process of identifying as a fan still opens new perspectives.

That's probably a much more strained metaphor than the game, but I like that the game can feel <spoilers>universal while you slowly, um, explore the whole universe. Exploring the world of fandom, and how people deal with the absurdities of hoping one group of people they never met outperforms the second, has revealed something entirely different from more literary communities I like to hang around.

It's tough to have this minimalism mean a lot. And so I like what Out did, or what it did for me. This game didn't take long to play, and then I took longer to think on it than it took to play it, and the time was well spent in any case. Maybe Out will remind you of how you had the courage to be (or couldn't help being) different in a way that wasn't particularly dramatic or practical, and people wondered if you HAD to be that way, but it opened new doors.

Roads Not Taken, by Doug Egan
I've been there, too. Well, almost as far., November 16, 2019
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Roads not Taken was the first game I played of my fellow competitors' in IFComp 2019. I sort of hedged things--I'd reviewed hardly any, so I wanted to pick something that would likely match up well with me. Maybe this isn't a perfect strategy, but it's helped me when I've been in a reviewing rut. And RnT turned out to be something good, at the right time.

Overviews suggested I had a lot in common with the somewhat autobiographical narrator, and I did, although I didn't do quite as much. I lived in the Chicago area from 12 to 18. The narrator got to Eagle Scout, and I only got to Life Scout, because I found other things more useful and fun to me. They got to graduate school, and I never tried. So this was about my own roads not taken, in a way. Yes, that's corny, but I remember not doing certain things and hearing "Well, you'll regret this." RnT managed to help push back against against some of the more overbearing advice that had lingered over the years, and I'm grateful for that. RnT not one of those works that say to give up and go pound sand, and it's not bragging, either. That can be tough to balance. I think it can be classified as an act of leadership, because it did help me brush aside horrid memories of people slightly senior to me talking down to me about all they'd done and how I'd better be grateful for the chances I have and not mess them up. It reminded me of things I wanted to do and things I felt guilty not wanting to do more. And at the end, it helped me do a few things I'd meant to do for a while.

The first bit, about scouts, tells of the narrator making it to their review board for Second Class (3rd of seven Scout ranks--they get progressively tougher) and saying he never really thought about doing more. I felt that way, too, and I think I really did eventually place both my ceiling and floor at Life Scout. I remember being able to calculate I could get to Life Scout just by showing up, but some of the merit badges with physical requirements seemed too much, as did the service project you needed. I wasn't on any athletic teams, and I didn't seem shouty enough for leadership, or what I thought was leadership. I remember feeling pushed around and manipulated by troop members two years younger than me. Once I got to Life Scout I remember finding other things to do and not wanting to spend my weekends on camping trips, and I also remember the scoutmasters (who were younger now than I currently am) had things they meant to get through to me. One wrote me a letter whe I quit the troop. Some details were personal, and some I forgot, but I remember there were some things that couldn't be said directly. I've learned them. Looking back now I think he was confident I would understand things that were confusing and frustrating me, I think he understood some of the questions I was too scared to ask and didn't ever talk down to me.

I think a reader will be able to relate to the narrator even if they weren't in Scouts. Having a goal outside of classes and trying to execute it, whether you succeed or fail, is an important adventure. I was lucky to find a couple I enjoyed more than scouts, even though they were less presitigous. And I certainly couldn't relate to applying to grad school, as I never thought I could.

I remember dreading the prospect of college interviews, not realizing that I had a right to make my own opinions about my interviewers–which you do, in this game, visiting potential graduate advisors. This seems obvious now, but there's an important coming of age there where you've realized adults aren't perfect, but you suddenly see none are close to perfect, even the smart ones who get a Ph.D. And I also thought to the times we had current or future graduate students as interns where I worked, and part of me was impressed by them going there, and I felt grateful they looked up to me even though I hadn't gone to graduate school. They helped me feel as though I'd learned more than book knowledge. I needed a break before and after the grad-school bit, not because I got bored or frustrated, but because I had enough to think about.

I';m generally not a fan of linear works, but I think it worked well here. As much as I hate the word “relatable,” I can see how it applies here–this work showed me a different angle on Boy Scouts or grad school than I saw. I don't think it's one I could have accepted at 25 or even 30. Looking back on Scouts and graduate school, it always seemed like the sort of thing I'd been guilt-tripped into, and it's good to see someone who also had those should'ves and who was able to see it more positively. And I also found that, even though I knew I could force the game to win, I remembered how there were classes I felt like I should get an A in them, but so what? It didn't feel like it really counted if I wasn't interested.

And I like how it is very personal without being in-your-face or needing silly HTML special effects. I think on the Internet, people overvalue attention-grabbing over letting the reader sit back and decide what is most important to them. Or maybe I just have more personal space as a reader than most, or less tolerance or need for excitement. It sounds like a backhand compliment to say "It wasn't exciting, but it worked for me," but I also think that a lack of excitement can help the reader focus longer. And it takes an important kind of confidence and skill to hold the reader's attention without the usual tricks to be exciting or to do anything dramatic. RnT reminded me of the times I hoped I was learning from my failures, or I was trying to convince myself that my decision to do my own thing was really my own and not lashing out against what was expected.

I wasn't looking to Sort Things Out when I played RnT, but that's what happened. I felt like I had a lot more to think about before I wanted to succeed in graduate school--I didn't want to "just win." And RnT talks about things like leadership, which is hard. One unwritten rule of good leadership is that you can mess it up by saying "Look! I'm showing leadership, here!" And over the years I've found acts of leadership in unexpected places, from people in positions of formal authority or not. It helps bring ideas out from people who forgot they had them, or it helps people want to be more, or it gives people better reason for doing things or wanting to do things.

Hard Puzzle, by Ade McT
Andrew Schultz's Rating:

If I Wasn't Shy, by Joey Jones

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Revisiting after several years, I "get it" a bit more, May 8, 2016
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
It's always a treat to uncover something you missed. I missed it while I was beta testing. I thought I tried everything. But looking here and seeing the author had an alternative ending in mind, I--well, I sat down and found it, and what's more, (Spoiler - click to show)it makes sense in the context of its sequel All Alone. And it's very satisfying, and I don't want to spoil it if he doesn't.

But the characterization is very good, and if you only get the default ending, you'll have a few laughs and sympathy for the poor trapped character waiting for the grocery store to close so he can do...well, something, he guesses. This is all done without too much weighty angst, as the cashier observes other people who are probably about as unhappy as he is. In fact it's fun to unlock his frustrations.

I'm not going to rate this, because it feels like a conflict of interest as a beta tester. However, it is one of those games with a hidden ending that may not be quite as raucous or jolting or "a-ha" as The Ascot, but--it makes sense, and it made me smile and replay the sequel, and if you're an author, you may hope to do something like that for your readers.

Are You Racist?, by Soda51
Andrew Schultz's Rating:

Rameses, by Stephen Bond

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Angst done about as right as you can get, August 17, 2015
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
The short version of this review: in Rameses, you wait around and talk to some people where the conversation is pretty much already decided, and life stinks, though it's way less blunt than that. I've written shorter reviews about much longer games.

It's certainly less blunt than my college-years "I can't move" style fiction. I wrote long stories and short stories, sure there was a much bigger difference than there really was. I probably had the right idea why I shouldn't write too much of it--it's just no fun for anyone involved, done straight up, though all the same, having a more public outlet might've helped me move on earlier.

And Rameses does capture this frustration, much better than so many recent Twine games that discuss emotional issues. It's beyond just useful therapy. I admit I shut the game down twice when starting just because I didn't want to put up with a bunch of profanity TODAY, if you please, even in a short game. So I had my own Rameses moments with respect to something that is not really a great task, abstractly.

What gives Rameses most of its success is how the conversations are structured--there is only one end, regardless of how many clever things you may think up that you could say, or someone more spontaneous could say. It deflates a convention of text adventures where someone's funneled into asking about something, and we sort of buy into it for plot purposes, or suspend disbelief, or appreciate a fourth-wall joke. But here, there's a helplessness whether you go with or fight the flow, like when (Spoiler - click to show)you're forced to guess the price of a pair of a rich fellow student's jeans, which he may be lying about anyway. This was the high part for me--NPC "lets" the PC and the player have "fun," or pretty much all the fun they deserve to have, and they have nothing better to do...right?

Now pretty much any work can shut off hope and it'll be given some credit for ripping open the honest underbelly of human nature by some crowd. I've read far too many of them, but I think Rameses deserves good credit for the brief episodes where you daydream, or observe things you can't speak about, or have chances where it'd make sense to say the obvious, and fail. It's just that Rameses's scope is limited by its own subject. There are only so many ways you can say you utterly have no choice. Rameses finds many and executes things well without overstaying, but my snarky side has to wonder how many people who hail it are partially praising themselves for getting through it unscathed, because they remember being a bit like that in college or high school, whether or not they swore too much in public or in our minds.

Not that I'd have the courage to say this to Stephen Bond's face, mind. I'd be too worried he'd laugh and, truthfully, say "That's the point." Or something even cleverer.

Cis Gaze, by Caelyn Sandel
Andrew Schultz's Rating:

The Northnorth Passage., by Caleb Wilson (as Snowball Ice)
Andrew Schultz's Rating:

Bill Belichick Offseason Simulator, by Jon Bois

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Touchdown plus three point conversion!, April 3, 2015
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
As a big fan of absurdist sports writing from the likes of Every Day Should Be Saturday, Fire Joe Morgan, Blackheartgoldpants.com and PFT Commenter, I'm always on the lookout for the next funny and surreal thing. BBOS is it. Whether you like Bill Belichick or hate him, this game transcends mere sports loyalty without resorting to the usual stuffy literary devices that critics say transcends this, that or the other. And I bet even if you hate American football, you'll like this, too.

For those not aware, Bill Belichick coaches the New England Patriots, and he's won quite a bit with them, all the while being kind of crotchety to the media and having his own fashion sense. He has an ability to take players nobody else thought was all that good and turn them into superstars. And so BBOS is, superficially, about his uncanny ability to do that, and his day-to-day operations as he looks for that next hidden superstar or designs that killer offensive play.

If you've read the introduction, though, you probably figure it's not going to try to be very realistic. At every stage it's largely unclear what is the best option, because the game puzzles purposely make as little sense as possible, except when the answer is obvious on purpose. And even if you guess wrong, you get a funny ending to back-arrow out of, complete with nonsense final score.

Your first big decision is whether to sleep in or get to work, and navigating the game's navel-gazing successfully gets you 1/7 of a code to put into a computer to design the ultimate offensive play. It's a purposefully annoying end sequence that still manages to block anyone wanting to cheat their way through, but there are spoilers on the 'net if you just want to win and see Pixel Bill Belichick earn even more atrociously practical gear to wear when he paces the sideline.

Still, sifting through Bill Belichick's other "boring" tasks to get all the codes is worth it, and it goes pretty quickly because the game doesn't pull that 5 second delay some needier twine games like to. You'll find codes in an impossibly huge hardware store where you click through about 40 aisles to find a doorknob, behind a rock band you need to "fight" (anybody having fun is a distraction, you see,) set a clock radio correctly, or win some weird board game. You get another piece for (Spoiler - click to show)assembling a superstar wide receiver from spare parts, which is a superior option to trading for one, drafting one or signing one in free agency. The game's rather rough, there. There's only one choice that's right. I picked it, but then I made sure the others did something cool when you made the wrong choice. They did.

The bad-good graphics and captions had me laughing, from the ways you swim through a pile of clothes to the various aisles in the hardware store, and really, it's just a pleasure to mess around and say, wait, I didn't poke that yet?

I'd really like to see more Twine games like this. It's about as inexcusable as you can get without resorting to profanity, and that suits me fine. It shouldn't take more than an hour, and maybe you won't think of it at all when it's done, but in an ideal world, we'd have a string of games like this we could just play and enjoy, so that doesn't really matter.

Wait, no. That's not quite true. When watching highlights this fall, I fully expect to remember some random stupid part of this game I didn't think I would when I see Belichick grouching on the sidelines, and that will be awesone.


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