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80 DAYS, by inkle, Meg Jayanth

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Does so many things right, July 1, 2019
80 DAYS is an interactive, steampunk retelling of Jules Verne's classic 1873 novel Around the World in 80 Days. You play as Passepartout, valet to Englishman Phileas Fogg. Fogg has made a wager with some members of his London club that he can traverse the globe in only 80 days. It's up to you to see that he succeeds.

Much of the charm of Verne's original novel is the madcap dash around the world, using a variety of modes of transportation: steamships, trains, elephants, even a sledge. 80 DAYS outdoes Verne's novel, though: Its steampunk take allows for dozens of fantastical ways to travel, from mechanized versions of horse-drawn carriages to ice walkers to submarines to experimental hovercrafts - not to mention the Orient Express, the Trans-Siberian Railway, and a hot-air balloon.

You can, if you want, try to recreate Fogg's actual route from Verne's novel. In fact, that's what I had planned to do at first, since I thought it would be the most efficient method to navigate the globe. However, I picked up an object in Paris that the game told me could be sold in Berlin for a tidy sum. So I took a detour to Berlin and then Athens before heading to Suez to get back on track. But then I bought another item that I could sell in Dubai for a nice profit, and so I spent an inordinate amount of time getting to Dubai before finally arriving in Bombay for the trek across India. After having my passport stolen, surviving a mutiny and an aircraft crash in the Indian Ocean, being blown off course over the Pacific, being held up at gunpoint by Jesse James, and earning the American lightweight boxing title, I did eventually make it back to London. But not within 80 days. And then, of course, I had to try again. Because there were so many choices and routes I did not take - choices and routes that I just had to explore.

And therein lies much of what makes 80 DAYS work so well. A major way to make a game fun is to give the player a combinatorial explosion of choices. However, as an author you do not want to (and in many cases simply cannot) create a different scenario for each of those exponentially-growing number of choices. So the trick is to find a way to combine a small number of choices on the author's end into an exponential number of scenarios on the player's end. I wouldn't call the number of choices Inkle and Meg Jayanth had to create a "small number," but the fact that these choices are generally city-to-city decisions means that they can be combined in a way via the map to achieve the desired combinatorial explosion. Yet the combinatorial explosion never feels overwhelming: At any city there's never more than about half a dozen choices for where to go next, and often there are fewer. Plus you have a clearly-defined goal to help guide your choices: You've got to keep going east around the globe, as quickly as you can. A combinatorial explosion of choices on the player's end that never feels overwhelming, without a combinatorial explosion of work required on the authors' end, is great design - and leads to a lot of fun for the player.

80 DAYS handles another couple of issues deftly as well. One is the cultural difference between Western Europe in the 1870s and us today. Mainstream views on topics like gender, race, and colonialism are obviously quite different now than they were then. If you're writing a game based on an 1873 French novel (especially one in which the globe-encompassing aspect of the British empire is a plot point), how do you address that worldview gap? 80 DAYS's steampunk twist on Verne's novel provides a solid platform to handle this. For example, people groups in regions that were heavily colonized by European powers in 1873 frequently have their own takes on the advanced steampunk technology in 80 DAYS. Their technologies and their cultures don't come across in-game as inferior - just different. Something similar holds true with respect to the game's portrayal of women; in 80 DAYS women are engineers, pilots, and steamboat captains with as much frequency as men are. While this would be anachronistic for a game set in the historical 1870s, it fits right in with 80 DAYS's steampunk version of that era. This isn't to say that 80 DAYS falls into the mistake of presentism, either; here and there the game gives choices that allow you to explore some of why folks from that era might have thought differently than we do today.

As a final example, even though I doubt the authors view 80 DAYS as an educational game, it actually is - and it's even a good educational game. 80 DAYS requires the player to gain a decent overview of world geography, but it does this in a very natural way - one that is completely integrated into the gameplay rather than artificially tacked-on. It even sent me to the Internet several times, looking up central Asian cities, or wondering why Yokohama rather than, say, Tokyo, was the major Japanese port of that era. A desire to learn more is the kind of player response you want for an educational game.

Overall, 80 DAYS is an interactive tour de force that does many things well. Highly recommended.

Wolfsmoon, by Marco Innocenti

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Retro puzzle game with great pixel art, May 22, 2019
Wolfsmoon advertises itself as an "old-style experience, with all the comforts of 2019." I think that's accurate, as well as the right mindset to have going into the game.

Wolfsmoon features terse descriptions and responses to actions, instead letting its well-done pixel art do the work of setting the game's atmosphere. Commands are generally limited to verb-noun, although the game parses certain phrases like ATTACK [thing] WITH [other thing] well enough to tell you that ATTACK [thing] is sufficient if you're carrying the correct other thing. (It's written in Inform 7, after all.) There are few characters, and those who are present don't feature a wide range of responses, but this is in keeping with the older style of game Wolfsmoon is imitating.

As far as the story, you're investigating a series of murders around a small town. There are lots of ominous signals from the beginning that this might be due to werewolves, but the one police officer you meet is much more interested in her reading material than discussing the case with you. You'll have to marshal evidence and uncover the secret behind the murders on your own.

I found the puzzles to be mostly straightforward. The one exception is that I was stuck for a long time near the beginning of the game; I didn't realize that I could simply (Spoiler - click to show)take the boar cub. However, once I stumbled across that, playing through the remainder of the game went fairly smoothly. The game does subvert your expectations with respect to objects you find: Some are tools that end up being used in non-standard ways, and that added freshness to the puzzles.

There were a few moments that reminded me of other games: Zork 1, Anchorhead, The Chinese Room.

If you enjoy this older style of puzzle game, Wolfsmoon is well worth your time.

(I'd give the game three-and-a-half stars, but I'll round it up to four for IFDB purposes based on the enjoyable retro pixel art and the fact that it's reasonable to judge the game in the context of the older style it's aiming for.)

Birmingham IV, by Peter Emery

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Huge old-school IF featuring old-English magick, May 14, 2019
As other reviews have mentioned, Birmingham IV was originally written using the text adventure design system Quill in the late 1980s but then ported to Inform 7 in 2014-16. The current version still retains the feel of a non-Infocom text adventure circa 1989. By way of comparison with some other old-school games in IFComp 2018, Birmingham IV feels more modern than Flowers of Mysteria or Escape from Dinosaur Island but less modern than Bullhockey!.

The setting appears to be the area around Birmingham (England) in the early to mid-1600s: Queen Elizabeth’s face appears on some money you find, and there’s a reference to the Virginia colonies. It’s not clear what the plot is, though. You play as the Phil, a scholar and scientist. Or, as they would say back then, “natural philosopher.” In fact, as you eventually come to realize, “the Phil” is actually a title - “the Philosopher” - not the name of the PC. You can explore your cottage and the surrounding area, and there’s a note from the parson that gives you a couple of long-term goals, but for the most part at the beginning of the game you just wander around solving puzzles. As you keep playing, though, the end-goal eventually becomes clear. Or "end-goals," I should say, since Birmingham IV gives you a choice at the end.

There's also magic in this world. But it's a subtle magic - magic of an old English kind, where elves are tiny and fearful of humans and where ancient skulls and standing stones are infused with power that you can use but never really understand. In terms of how magic is portrayed, there's a pretty clear line running from English folk tales to The Lord of the Rings to early Dungeons & Dragons to the current canonical takes on fantasy races in role-playing games (both computer and paper), as well as many modern works' systematic and almost scientific approach to magic. Even Infocom's Enchanter series takes this systematic approach, and the Harry Potter series does as well. In the latter, magic is something almost mundane: It has been apportioned into school subjects to be learned as a matter of course by children! Birmingham IV, however, is solidly pre-Tolkien: Magic is mysterious, ethereal, and perilous. For me, that was refreshing, and Birmingham IV's consistent take on this constituted much of the game's charm.

Unfortunately, Birmingham IV has some weaknesses, playability-wise, that affected my enjoyment of the game and that will frustrate many modern players. (1) The game does not always tell you which directions you can travel in. It doesn’t take much additional effort on top of drawing a map (if you’re doing that) to figure out which directions are allowed, but it will be a hurdle for modern players. (2) There are a few too many one-way directions near the beginning of the game. (3) You have an inventory limit of five. (4) It is easy to get yourself into an unwinnable state without realizing it. (5) Many of the puzzles are underclued. The puzzles I'm thinking of for which this is the case aren't bad puzzles, but some of their solutions are the kinds of things that you wouldn't come across unless you had the patience to try a bunch of random things that might work. (Fortunately, David Welbourn has published an excellent walkthrough!)

In other words, Birmingham IV is a huge, old-school piece of late 80s IF. If you enjoy that sort of game, then you'll probably enjoy Birmingham IV.

Grimnoir, by ProP

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Well-done noir homage that plays with noir's tropes in interesting ways, March 12, 2019
Dark background. Sweet jazzy opening music. First person narration. Rain pounding on the windows. Early entrance by a femme fatale… who is actually your business partner, not to mention (Spoiler - click to show)a succubus - the ultimate femme fatale! - and who totally calls your bluff on pretending to be asleep. With all of this, plus the title, I’m thinking that Grimnoir is going to be a noir detective story that nevertheless plays with noir’s usual tropes. And, sure enough, that’s what it is.

One major aspect of the game perhaps takes noir in a different direction rather than playing with its tropes. This is the fact that (Spoiler - click to show)the PC specializes in the supernatural - particularly tracking down various undead spirits. There are probably other works that feature this as well, but I was reminded of Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Co. series of novels.

A second aspect is truly playing with noir’s tropes. As you slowly come to realize over the course of the game, (Spoiler - click to show)the detective PC is gay. This affects the story and gameplay some, as it makes him immune to the charms of his succubus partner, while leaving him susceptible to an incubus in one of the mid-to-late-game cases.

Gameplay involves solving a series of cases. You're given three cases initially that you can investigate in any order. After you complete those you're given three more cases that you can investigate in any order, followed by the endgame case(s). (It's kind of like Detectiveland doubled, in that respect.) Three cases at a time gives the player some choice without it feeling overwhelming in the way six or seven cases might.

The player also has access to the Grimnoir, which contains a list of monsters and their powers. This was fun and reminded me of a miniature Dungeons & Dragons monster manual.

The cases feature some interesting narrative and investigate variations. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)in one case you play as the succubus partner, which was fun partly for variety and partly because she has cool powers. In addition, another case involves two spirits rather than one.

My one gameplay critique has to do with your selection of the monster that you think is causing the crime. After you've completed your investigation, the game gives you a list of three monsters to choose from. With only three names it’s easy (if you remembered to save just before the monster encounter) to try all of them and then reload if you’re wrong.

Also, from a narrative standpoint I’m not sure why naming a monster would cause it to freeze, although from a gameplay standpoint I can understand this: The game needs some way for the selection of the monster type to be decisive in terms of the investigation, and having the monster freeze when named accomplishes that.

The final case is a nice wrap-up of the PC's storyline and series of investigations.

Overall, I enjoyed Grimnoir. It's a well-done noir homage that nevertheless plays with its tropes in interesting ways.

Polish the Glass , by Keltie Wright
Dynamic fiction with strong, spare writing, March 11, 2019
Polish the Glass is a medium-length choice-based game with an unusual story. The PC’s mother can’t stop herself from (Spoiler - click to show)polishing the glass in the Bar (it’s always capitalized) down the street. This leads to a breakdown in the PC's parents’ relationship and eventually the dissolution of their marriage. However, as the PC grows up, she eventually takes a job working at the Bar, just like her mum. She finds herself drawn to the Bar, continuing to polish the glass, and slowly cutting herself off from relationships with other people, again like her mum.

There aren’t too many choices in the game. The vast majority of your clicks are to advance the text a sentence or three. At first I didn’t care much for that, but the more I read of Polish the Glass the more I came to appreciate this mechanic: It forced me to slow down and actually read every sentence. I couldn’t as easily skim the text and only carefully read the parts just before my next choice. So, even though I didn’t have many choices, the story actually did feel interactive to me - and more so than some other choice-based games I’ve played that also give you few choices but have much larger chunks of text between successive clicks.

The writing is good. It’s spare in a way that works with having to click to advance the text every couple of sentences.

I feel like the events in the game are a metaphor for something, but I can’t decide what. Here are some ideas I’ve had: (Spoiler - click to show)Alcohol addiction. Addiction in general. Aging and death. Depression. Perfectionism. Giving yourself too much to other people and having that suck the life out of you.

It might also just be a story, with nothing particularly metaphorical about it. I think it’s fair to say, though, that I feel like I didn’t really “get” Polish the Glass. For some works you’re on the author’s wavelength, and for some you’re not. Or perhaps dynamic fiction is just not my thing.

Again, though, I thought the writing was strong, and if you like dynamic fiction you may very well appreciate Polish the Glass.

Eunice, by Gita Ryaboy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Explore ideas from positive psychology, March 8, 2019
Eunice is a short, parser-based game with a rather unusual purpose: As it states in the intro text, Eunice is “an introduction to research-based Positive Psychology tools.” The research-based jumps out at me there; I assume it’s because “positive psychology” sounds like “self-help,” and the latter doesn’t have all that great a reputation. However, positive psychology is a legitimate branch of psychology, and it’s clear that the author has some knowledge of the latest research in this field. The ABOUT section says, “Data shows that some simple actions can improve mood, perspective, and resilience.” Eunice is intended to introduce us to some of these actions, such as gratitude, connection, mindfulness, flexibility, and hope. Aiming to give others a deeper understanding of a particular branch of human knowledge may be an unusual motivation for writing a parser-based game, but it’s one I’m certainly sympathetic to, as I’ve done it myself with A Beauty Cold and Austere. Eunice is aiming for something more than just understanding and appreciation, though; it’s also hoping that players will incorporate into their lives (even if just a little) the insights about positive psychology learned from playing the game. I can’t help but admire the author’s goal here.

In terms of the story, you’re in the land of Eunice, where everything is in a state of neglect. In order to win the game, you have to perform, as the PC, acts of gratitude, connection, mindfulness, and flexibility in order to release hope and heal the land. The game world and characters aren’t deeply fleshed out, but that’s the intent: Everything is supposed to be understood metaphorically. For example, in one location you (Spoiler - click to show)encounter a group of people frozen as statues. To free them, you must LOOSEN YOUR LIMBS, thereby demonstrating flexibility.

I think the metaphors could be a little tighter, but overall I think they do work.

The solutions to some of the puzzles require unusual verbs, as in the example I just gave. However, the text (with one exception, given below) always tells you exactly what the right phrasing is; you just have to pay careful attention. For example, in the scenario described above, if you first (Spoiler - click to show)EXAMINE STATUES, the response includes the sentence "Looking at them life-like and lifeless, frozen in various pretzel positions, makes you want to loosen your limbs."

This is a good way to incorporate atypical verbs in your game without introducing awful guess-the-verb problems.

There was only one puzzle I really had trouble with, (Spoiler - click to show)unfreezing the troll. If there was a clue in the text for the right approach to solving this puzzle, I missed it.

Overall, how well does Eunice succeed? As a pure parser game, it would be more fun with more attention to some details: stronger puzzles with better cluing, setting and characters that are more richly described, directions the player can travel to in each location mentioned in the location descriptions, and corrections to several punctuation mistakes.

But, again, Eunice’s goal isn’t to be the latest and greatest parser game. Rather, it’s to get these psychology concepts in people’s heads. How well does it succeed at that? The answer probably depends on the player. In general, though, interacting with a concept is going to make you remember it far more easily than if you just read about it or hear someone explain it. For myself, I think the concepts would stick with me better if (as I mentioned earlier) the metaphor choices were somewhat stronger. But I do think the value of gratitude, of connection, of mindfulness, of flexibility, and of hope will remain with me more now that I’ve played Eunice.

Bi Lines, by Naomi Z (as Norbez)
Complex and multilayered, March 4, 2019
A powerful, choice-based work, Bi Lines manages to weave together multiple hard-hitting issues in just three short acts - and do so pretty much seamlessly, in my opinion. Like a few other works in IFComp 2018, it's hard to say much without giving a great deal away. I’ll start with a few technical comments.

Bi Lines uses an old typewriter font to present the text. Mousing over text indicating a choice blurs the text, although not so much that it becomes illegible. Also, if you leave the mouse in the right spot for some of the choice texts they will switch back and forth rapidly between the unblurred and blurred versions. These are all interesting presentation choices that underline the story, since (Spoiler - click to show)the PC is a reporter who can see and interact with ghosts.

Also, the title is a nice pun.

As I said, it's really hard to discuss Bi Lines without giving much away. Minor spoiler: Bi Lines presents a complex portrayal of the experience of (Spoiler - click to show)coping with sexual assault, particularly the problem of trying to get other people to believe you.

Long, major spoiler, which tries to unpack some of the layers Bi Lines uses to present this experience:

(Spoiler - click to show)It hits hard from the very beginning. The first page of text lays out a difficult scenario: You're a guy on a date with a woman. She's confessing her love to you. Your first choice: Do you trust her with your secret? Do you respond with, "I also like guys. I think."? Or do you hide that?

Then you learn that it’s 1981, not 2018, and this raises the stakes on the PC’s choice here even more.

The next big twist comes when you discover that the PC can see and hear ghosts. Not only that, the PC has inherited this ability from his mother. Mother spent her life helping ghosts find and complete that one more task (different for each ghost) that was preventing them from moving on from this world. This was her mission in life. As Mom would say, "Always bear the weight of love on your shoulders. No matter how much it costs you." It cost Mom her life. However, even in death (she's still a ghost) this is her motto, and she expects you to uphold it as well.

In the first act you meet a ghost at a party. He kisses you, without your consent. Then he fondles you and grabs your now-erect penis. A desire for this experience must have been what was holding him to this plane of existence, because after he grabs you he fades away, satisfied.

Acts 2 and 3 work out the consequences of this setup. First, there are your feelings about being sexually assaulted: It’s a violation of your physical self, and it leaves you so shaken that you have trouble going about your life for the next couple of days (and beyond). On the other hand, the text indicates that you found this arousing on at least some level. After all, your desire to be with other men isn't something you can be very open about.

Then there are others' reactions to this episode. It's not like you can easily explain to people why you're so upset: You were fondled by a ghost! Who is another male! It's a great dramatization of the frustration and fear of (I presume) many people who have been sexually assaulted: Who’s going to believe me?

There's also your relationship with Mom (and, now, Mom's ghost). You love her and want to honor her memory, but she does not approve of your attraction to other men. In fact, she says the assault would never have happened if it weren't for your (in her words) "unnatural love" for men. There's another aspect of the sexual assault survivor’s predicament: Being blamed for the assault. But it's given additional emotional heft by being said by someone you love and who actually uses the episode as justification for her disapproval of a part of you she does not like.

Not only that, there are your conflicting feelings about helping these ghosts move on. You’re the only one who can, and so you feel some responsibility to assist them. And you do want to help them. But it's also a burden, one that you didn't choose and that feels kind of like something your mother forced on you. Do your responsibility and desire to help them extend to letting them take advantage of you? Even to the point of allowing them to violate you physically and sexually?

Finally, there's Gregor, the ghost who assaulted you. It's clear that Gregor was attracted to men as well, and I don't think it's reading too much into the story to draw the conclusion that what was holding him back from moving on from this earth was a probably never-fulfilled desire to touch another man sexually. So his assault and violation of you itself came from the same source of much of your anguish as the PC: same-sex attraction in a society that does not accept it. From another angle: How else was Gregor going to move on if he hadn’t forced himself on you? In his mind, what if he had asked and you said "No"? Would he have been stuck here forever? This line of thinking is heading toward the very uncomfortable conclusion that, in his mind, maybe he felt like he didn't have any choice other than to sexually assault you (!).

All of this is to say that I'm amazed at the degree to which Bi Lines manages to dramatize several anguishing issues in a relatively short work.

In the blurb the author mentions that Bi Lines was inspired by the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lest some readers misunderstand this, let me emphasize that Bi Lines is not an attempt to rehash those hearings. Rather, Bi Lines stands on its own as a powerful dramatic work without explicit reference to anything external.

The Mouse Who Woke Up For Christmas, by Luke A. Jones

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Cute Christmas-themed game, March 2, 2019
The Mouse Who Woke Up For Christmas is a parser game written with the Quest design system. It starts off really cute: You’re a mouse, and it’s Christmas Eve. You have a few more things to do to get ready for Christmas, including finding a present for your young daughter (endearingly represented on the cover art). It turns out that all she wants is (Spoiler - click to show)to have her mother back. Mom went out to the garden months ago and never returned. Nobody knows where she is.

I had fun playing as a mouse. Actions that a human wouldn’t think twice of performing aren’t so easy for a mouse, some of which the author has turned into features of the game. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)you can’t take the spade in the garden; it’s too heavy. Also, you can’t carry anything else if you pick up the cricket ball.

I do think the size aspect of the PC could have been exploited for a few more interesting puzzles, though.

My critiques of The Mouse Who Woke Up For Christmas are the same issues that so often bedevil us parser authors: a few underclued puzzles, like (Spoiler - click to show)wetting the rock to create a "whetstone" (it's a nice pun, but really hard to come up with on your own) and knocking out the weasel with the cricket ball; some guess-the-verb problems like (Spoiler - click to show)FILL BUCKET, when PUT WATER IN BUCKET and GET WATER don't work, LIGHT/BURN something isn't understood when you clearly need a fire for something, and THROW HOOK to get in the pet shop; as well as not enough feedback when you try something close to the solution, like (Spoiler - click to show)how the text says, "You can’t use it that way" when you try to use the match on the lump of charcoal before pouring lighter fluid on it. It would clue the player that they’re on the right track if the text response was something like, "You try, but the lump of charcoal won’t catch fire. It’s too dry."

My ten-year-old son played through the endgame with me. He really liked (Spoiler - click to show)the ninja outfit, as did I.

The story is sweet in a way that’s endearing rather than annoying (as opposed to certain children’s television programs). The ending is (Spoiler - click to show)predictable but still moving. Meeting Santa Claus and having his elves help save the day was a nice touch as well, storywise.

Overall, a cute Christmas-themed game.

Shackles of Control, by Sly Merc

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Too heavy-handed with its theme, February 28, 2019
In Shackles of Control, a short, choice-based game, you find yourself in a hallway of your high school. However, nobody is there, and so you have to figure out what happened to them and what is going on.

Given the game's title, it's perhaps not surprising that the whole thing turns out to be a metaphor for letting go of the strictures placed on you (your memories, say, or others' expectations).

To achieve this, you must (Spoiler - click to show)find the secret passage in the teachers’ lounge, discover the machine that holds everyone’s memories, and turn it off so that you can, as the best ending text says, find

"a place where you would never be corrupted by others, a place where you could make your own unique memories, a place where you could find out who you really were.

A place where you could be genuinely you."

My thoughts on this theme: (Spoiler - click to show)I do think we need to get away by ourselves from time to time, for self-reflection and self-understanding. And I do think that others’ expectations on us can feel like “shackles of control.” It is important to find out who we are.

But I disagree that becoming genuinely you requires shrugging off the influence of everyone around you. A large part of who we are as individual humans exists in terms of our relationships with others. Identities we have like “father,” “wife,” “brother,” “grandmother,” “daughter,” “boyfriend,” “student,” “employee,” “boss,” etc., all exist only in relation to other people.

I suppose that, to many people - and particularly teenagers like the protagonist of Shackles of Control - these relationships can often feel oppressive. People just have so many expectations, and they can feel like shackles. But part of growing up is figuring out how to hold fast to (or perhaps create) your own identity - your own sense of who you are - while still embracing those relationships that help make us human. It’s often not an easy thing to do, and it may take years, but it is part of growing up.

There are some unfortunate spelling mistakes. I’m thinking of “alegebra” and “econimics” on the first page, but there are others, including two that give somewhat humorous unintended meanings to their phrases: "last year’s plaque of radioactive raccoons" and "your character arch was supposed to end on a high note."

A few technical comments: Mainly, I think the game pushes the player too much to achieve a particular ending. I played through multiple times, and many of your choices end up routing you in a certain direction, sometimes with odd narrative explanations as to why. I’m thinking in particular of the game telling you that (Spoiler - click to show)"You could have not known that that innocent coffee marker [sic] is hiding a terrible truth that none of the faculty wanted to be revealed," followed by explicit instructions to turn it (for no reason that's foreshadowed earlier in the game) 17 degrees to the left.

Shackles of Control also kind of mocks you if you don’t finish the game with a specific ending (or, possibly, one of a few specific endings). I think the game would be stronger if it explored the consequences of players choosing poorly (in terms of the game’s theme) by laying out a natural set of outcomes of those choices rather than the text just telling you that those are bad choices.

So, ironically, I think that the way Shackles of Control pushes the player to achieve a particular ending kind of serves as its own form of “shackles of control.”

Exploring the theme of how others' expectations can feel like a prison could make for an interesting and thought-provoking game, but I don't think this one succeeds at that.

StupidRPG, by Steven Richards

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Rather clever, actually, February 27, 2019
StupidRPG is a mid-to-longer-length parser game that simulates a session of a role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons, complete with a not fully competent Game Master. As far as I can tell, the author has written the parser and interface. It’s somewhat Quest-like, in that you not only have a parser but you can also click on a hyperlinked object, which then gives you a short menu of ways to interact with the object. If both the parser and interface were actually created by the author, they alone constitute an impressive piece of work.

The game itself is a comedy. The GM makes several humorous mistakes, most notably (Spoiler - click to show)failing to load the correct module for Act 2. Instead, he loads a backup from when the story was a different genre altogether (!). The font and background color in this older module... oh, my eyes!

The GM also dialogues with some of the characters in the story. In addition, one of your items takes you aside to make some comments about the GM’s “ignorance.” There are puns galore - groan-worthy puns that still elicit a chuckle even while you’re enduring the pun-ishment. The text itself takes a tone that can come across as silly, amusing, or hilarious, depending on your mood and tastes in comedy. In fact, I can see people having lots of different reactions to the humor in StupidRPG. For me, it worked most of the time.

Also, StupidRPG features multiple levels of awareness of itself: You’re playing a game mediated through the voice of the parser, and that game is itself a simulation of another game mediated through the voice of the GM. Who is not entirely competent. All the different ways that these levels of awareness interacted with each other in StupidRPG was my favorite part of playing it.

The RPG elements don’t seem to figure into the story much. I had a choice between several races - and, later, several professions - but these didn’t seem to affect gameplay a lot. I only saw one very minor place where my race affected the text (I don’t think it affected the gameplay at all). There was one important place where my profession mattered, though: (Spoiler - click to show)In the final boss battle, where my attempt to use my wizardly skills to cast a cantrip failed spectacularly and turned the final boss into a toad.

There are several monsters, but (Spoiler - click to show)you generally don't fight them. I even walked right past a troglodyte once and never interacted with him again. The exception was the endgame, where you do have a final boss to defeat.

All of this turns the experience of playing StupidRPG into something closer to a parser comedy than an RPG (which I’m sure is the intent). As a parser game, it feels fairly linear, and the puzzles tend to be straightforward. The one exception was (Spoiler - click to show)hugging the wyrmling. I'm thinking I missed a clue somewhere, but if not, I don't know how I would have ever gotten that without the walkthrough.

Overall, StupidRPG is a much cleverer game than the title would indicate - with a great deal of content and multiple levels of awareness of itself.

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