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Let's Explore Geography! Canadian Commodities Trader Simulation Exercise, by Carter Sande

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A light parody of edutainment games, December 13, 2018
Let's Explore Geography! is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a light parody of edutainment games. It elicited several chuckles from me while I was playing, and I made it to day 24 in Victoria before stopping. (I actually visited Victoria for real this summer, for the first time ever. I was hoping to visit Butchart Gardens again in the game. Sadly, I had to settle for whale-watching. :) )

The game itself consists of traveling from city to city across the vast expanse of Canada, buying and selling different commodities and visiting various tourist attractions in the cities. So you're doing exactly what the title promises: You're exploring Canada, and you're trading.

I think the introduction has a nice "feel," with the email instructions for starting the game, the teachers' manual, and the map. Speaking of which, the map adds greatly to the enjoyment of the game; I'm glad the author included it. (I'm also a sucker for maps.)

The bright, bland, boosterism of the language was amusing, and certain lines landed particularly well. My two favorites:

1. "Still, you can't help but feel a little... unfulfilled. Sure, 'commodities trader' sounds like an exciting job, but you spend most of your work day looking at graphs and making spreadsheets. You secretly dream of leaving the office, of seeing the world, of buying lumber in person instead of virtually through derivatives transactions."

2. "You ride a cable car up the cliff to 'Le Manoir Montmorency' and head to the interpretation center, which helpfully informs you that the name means 'Montmorency Manor'."

The game reminded me some of playing Oregon Trail in the 1980s in my 7th grade homeroom teacher's class. In both games you're traveling across a large chunk of North America, with the same small list of options available to you at each location. You can buy things in Oregon Trail, too, although I can't remember whether you can sell them. A big difference, of course, is that you can't die of dysentery in Let's Explore Geography!. (At least I think you can't. Maybe that's a secret level of the game. Or, if not, perhaps an idea for Release 2? :D)

An oddly satisfying moment:
(Spoiler - click to show)Reaching Yorkton and finally offloading that pallet of wigs that I had been schlepping around since Charlottetown!

I found it amusing that (Spoiler - click to show)a pallet of diamonds is available for $30 million. Earning enough money to purchase that would take a lot of patience!

Also, the weird dreams, followed by "What a strange dream!" after each night made me chuckle several times.

I think I actually learned a little bit of Canadian geography by playing this game.

A final comment: Let's Explore Geography! came in 74th out of 77 games in IFComp 2018. I think the game is much better than that. I suspect a lot of the reason it placed so low is that gameplay is rather repetitive: You're selecting from the same small set of actions, over and over.

Haywire, by Wade
Edgy superhero origin story that invites multiple playthroughs, December 13, 2018
Haywire is a short (10 min. or so) game that invites multiple playthroughs. You play as Hayley Weir, also known as "Haywire," a homeless young woman. Hayley has some special abilities: She can (Spoiler - click to show)read people's minds and force them to see what she wants them to see. Or not see, as the case may be - Hayley can effectively render herself invisible. When the story begins she has only been using her powers to entertain tourists for pocket change.

There are lots of ways a story like this could go. Haywire has an edge to it, which worked for me. For example, here's an early passage from the game reflecting on Hayley's abilities:

(Spoiler - click to show)You could probably blackmail people, but blackmailers usually end up in the gutter with a bullet in the head or their head bashed in with a bat. No thanks.

Street magic is a lot more fun. And, most days, you earn enough to avoid starving.

Especially on the first few playthroughs, the writing and story pulled me in, and I wanted to find out what happens to Hayley. I also enjoyed the occasional pop culture nods, the references to (Spoiler - click to show)Simon and Garfunkel, Star Wars, and James Bond. All in all, I played through several times, finding four different endings. I suspect there are more.

I do think the writing could have been a little tighter in places, but (as I said earlier) the edgy tone of the writing worked for me overall.

My only other critique of Haywire is that I would have liked to have seen more options for how Hayley's story ends, as well as longer narrative arcs. Which is another way of saying that I was invested in the story and would have liked more game to play!

Hallowmoor, by Mike Snyder
Spike's Rating:

Dilemma, by Leonora

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A collection of ethical quandaries, December 12, 2018
During IFComp 2018 Dilemma advertised itself as being parser-based and an hour and a half long, but both of those are misleading. First, the game is made with Unity, not a parser language like TADS or Inform. You do type in commands, but the game doesn't really parse them; instead, it appears to recognize particular keywords. These keywords are put in all caps in the text, so that you can't miss them. (The game occasionally recognizes other commands like LOOK, but I don't think there are very many such commands.)

Also, each playthrough is about 5-10 minutes. I suppose if you're persistent you can uncover all the endings in an hour and a half, and presumably that's what the author meant. The game does tell you how many endings there are, and it keeps track of how many different ones you've achieved. I think this is a good design choice; it certainly kept me playing several times to find different endings.

As far as what's going on in Dilemma, you're first faced with a trolley-type problem: An old man is crossing the street. A bus full of school children is headed toward the crosswalk, but the driver doesn't see the old man. What do you do?

Well, at first the three examples of actions suggested by the game seem like all you can do. But that's not the case. If you LOOK as your first option you're given a lot more possibilities of actions to try. In fact, you can completely ignore what's happening with the old man and the school bus if you want. But many (all?) of the actions eventually lead to some sort of situation where the consequences of your choice(s) are great yet it's unclear what the best (i.e., most moral) action is. Hence the game's name: Dilemma. Then, if you don't like what the consequences of your actions are, you are allowed to go back to the beginning of the game and choose different options. Because of this, after a while the game began to remind me of Aisle.

However, it seemed to me that many of the choices that I could make were unrelated. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show)getting on the city bus seemed to be unrelated to going into the food mart, which seemed to be unrelated to chasing the mysterious stranger. So I think each of the options are there primarily to give additional opportunities for the game to present moral dilemmas to the player - and not so much to increase the game's narrative possibilities.

Unlike games with heavy replay like Aisle, though, there are multiple steps required to restart, which slowed down gameplay for me.

You win Dilemma by (Spoiler - click to show)being satisfied with the consequences of your actions. The game doesn't attempt to say that any one ending is better than any other. This feels like the right way to win this kind of game.

One critique I have is that many of the consequences of your actions don't seem to be directly related to the choices you make. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)if you try to save the old man all the kids on the school bus end up dying, and a truck driver does as well. I don't see why that has to be the case, although I guess it fits the game's theme of presenting you with morally ambiguous situations. On the other hand, if a game presents you with a collection of ethical dilemmas, it seems to me the consequences of your actions ought to follow naturally from the choices that you make.

Dilemma had a little trouble keeping me engaged as a single player, but I can see it working well in the right kind of group (maybe even in a class on ethics), where the moral dilemmas in it can be used to generate interesting discussion.

Ailihphilia, by Andrew Schultz (as N. Y. Llewellyn)
Large, excellent wordplay game based on palindromes, December 11, 2018
Ailihphilia is a large wordplay game by Andrew Schultz, who is known for making large wordplay games. This one represents a new kind of wordplay for Andrew's oeuvre, as far as I know: It's based on palindromes.

Wordplay games can be tough to play from a puzzle standpoint because, while the wordplay theme constrains the solution space some, it can also lend itself to egregious guess-the-verb problems. Counterfeit Monkey and Andrew's game Threediopolis are my two favorite wordplay games, and in both cases they succeed largely, I think, because they overcome this problem. Counterfeit Monkey lets you perform wordplay only on nouns, not verbs, and Emily Short put what appears to me to be an almost unfathomable amount of work into covering every possible thing the player could think of. Threediopolis hits the sweet spot by restricting the possibility space more than usual for a wordplay game while keeping it large enough to be interesting.

So, how does Ailihphilia measure up? Well, I beta-tested Ailihphilia in at least three different places in its development (including when it was still called Put It Up), so I had a front-row seat in terms of watching Andrew work through these problems. The first version I played, back in April or so, had lots of guess-the-verb issues where I never would have progressed without the walkthrough. I tested again during the summer. All during this time Andrew slowly added more cluing and more ease-of-play features, in response to my (and I'm sure other testers') comments, and the game got better and better. I did a quick limited test of a feature or two right before IFComp 2018 started, but I didn't sit down to play the full final version until late October.

And I was really impressed. There are tons of features that make the gameplay smoother. There's a map. There's a GO TO command for navigating the map. There's a THINK command for summarizing what you've figured out and what your current goals are. There's an AID command for one-off hints. There's an object you acquire very early that gives you a hint as to when a solution based on wordplay is needed. The USE command is there when the solution doesn't require wordplay, saving the player any guess-the-verb problems not intended by the game's theme. I found clue after clue after clue that I was on the right track when I tried an action. (Many of these are clues that were written specifically for that wrong action and that puzzle!) If you wander around for a while without making progress the game jumps in and nudges you with more hints. Many, many "wrong" answers are recognized if they're consistent with the wordplay theme; you might not get a point for them, but the game's responses still constitute a reward for you entering into its mindset and playing along.

So, in other words, with Ailihphilia Andrew has figured out yet another way to solve the problem I mentioned earlier, the one that seems to plague a lot of wordplay games: He put in an incredible amount of work to create ease-of-play features. (Well, like Emily, he also put in a lot of work to cover all the reasonable player actions that fit the theme of the game.) Racking your brain for just the right phrasing then becomes fun - not something that turns into a chore after a certain amount of time.

But even all of this doesn't exhaust what Ailihphilia does well. The game's error messages align with the wordplay, even things as meta as entering an empty command, SAVE, and UNDO. For example, if you try to take an object you already have, the game says

(Spoiler - click to show)You shuffle the (object) listlessly from one hand to another, which is in the spirit of the game, even if it doesnít do anything.

I found that amusing.

The writing is often silly (of course, it's wordplay), but it's aware that it's silly - and it's also witty. For example, this made me laugh out loud:

(Spoiler - click to show)> KNOW WONK
The wonk is already known. Well, not REALLY, but then, this game isnít about existentially reaching people.

I think Ailihphilia has nudged Threediopolis out of its spot as my favorite game of Andrew's. Overall, it's an excellent wordplay game. It deserves to be played and appreciated widely.

Abbess Otilia's Life and Death, by Arno von Borries (as A.B.)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Write the life story of a medieval nun, December 11, 2018
The first thing you notice when you start Abbess Otilia's Life and Death is the stunningly beautiful first few screens - the cover and beginning pages of a book from the middle ages. This art design is consistent throughout the game, and it makes you feel like you're writing out a medieval manuscript while selecting the choices that define the story of Abbess Otilia's life. The comparison with last year's third-place IFComp game Harmonia is obvious, right down to the marginalia. In Abbess Otilia, though, the marginalia is illegible. Clicking it makes it readable.

The game uses a medieval-style font (the final page of the game tells you exactly the name of it). At first I thought the font was visually appealing. Then, after a while, I thought, "This is actually kind of hard to read." Then I got used to reading it and went back to appreciating its aesthetic.

I played through two times to see how the game changes with different choices. What I found is that the same basic choices were given to me in both playthroughs, with some subchoices changing. In a couple of places I think the game kept track of some choices and my success at attempting later actions depended on earlier choices that I had made. But this was only in two places; overall I found the gameplay to be fairly linear.

At the very end the book you're writing summarizes and comments on the abbess's life. While playing I tried to choose actions that would represent my worldview (within the constraints of the game), and the book's summary successfully reflected this. For my second playthrough, I tried to choose the opposite sorts of actions, and I ended up with appropriately different commentary on how the abbess's life had gone. So, while, the gameplay is fairly linear, all of your choices do end up affecting more than just the text while you're reading: In aggregate, they create the summary of the abbess's life. It's kind of like how I imagine it would be to hear a short eulogy given at your funeral by someone who knows you well.

An aesthetically-pleasing and satisfying experience.

Delightful Wallpaper, by Andrew Plotkin ('Edgar O. Weyrd')

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Two games in one: solve a logical puzzlefest and write a story, December 5, 2018
What new can one say about a game that's been reviewed ten times already? Not much, perhaps, but Delightful Wallpaper is such a delight that perhaps reviewing it will bring it to other folks' attentions.

The most important thing to know about Delightful Wallpaper is that it is two games in one. The first game is basically a shorter version of Inside the Facility. (Well, Delightful Wallpaper predates Inside the Facility by ten years, so perhaps it's more accurate to say that Inside the Facility is a longer version of the first half of Delightful Wallpaper.) The puzzles all revolve around movement: Visiting certain locations or traversing certain passages triggers various doors to open or close in the mansion. You must learn and keep track of these in order to figure out how to reach all of the rooms. It's a logical puzzlefest of the kind I particularly enjoy.

You're assisted greatly by the fact that the game keeps "notes" for you that you can review. If something interesting happens when you visit a room or traverse a passage, the game records it in your list of notes, perhaps along with a question mark. When you discover what that particular action did, the game updates that entry in the notes. It makes the puzzles much easier than they would be otherwise: You don't have to worry about having missed something important in the text. It also means that the game records some solutions in your notes before you've completely figured out what's happening. I have a mixed opinion on the notes: I think they make what would likely be a fiendishly difficult game into something much more reasonable, but they also tilt the game a little too far to the easy side for my taste. However, I appreciate the challenge the author faces here, and I also can't think of a better solution for hitting the difficulty level "sweet spot" than the one the author has chosen.

The second game is very different. You have to collect "intentions" (these are sort of like motivations or actions different characters can take) and place them around the mansion. You're essentially creating a narrative for the characters. You don't have complete control of the narrative, though: There's a definite end state for each of the characters, and there are plenty of restrictions on which intentions you can place where. All in all, the second half of Delightful Wallpaper plays like a story that you're writing. It's interactive, in the sense that there are choices that you make for the characters, but you're not actually one of the characters. Instead, you're more like an author, deciding what each character does. While I think different interpretations are possible here, I felt like I was (Spoiler - click to show)Agatha Christie writing a sequel to And Then There Were None.

If I could have one wish about the second half, it would be to include a puzzle where you must put the intentions in a particular logical order in order to make the narrative work. In retrospect, the set of intention placements that I came up with did result in a narrative that made logical sense, but I would have liked to have seen the intentions constructed such that this was a bit harder to do.

So, what we have here are two games in one. And the games are very different. They're like two classic IF archetypes: the logical puzzlefest to be solved and the interactive story to be written. I suppose you could also say that in Delightful Wallpaper the opposing sides of Graham Nelson's "narrative at war with a crossword" description of IF have declared a cease-fire, with each side agreeing to take half of the game.

All in all, a delight to play.

Intelmission, by Martyna "Lisza" Wasiluk
Long conversation-focused game, December 5, 2018
Intelmission is a long, choice-based, conversation-focused game made in Unity. You play as secret agent Selena Jones, gathering information at a party. You run into your archrival, Ben, who works for a different agency. Ben has a history of interfering with your missions.

And he messes this one up, too. The two of you are captured and thrown in a cell together. The vast majority of the game is a dialog between you and Ben.

Conversation-focused games aren't really my preference in IF, but it seems to me that they succeed or fail on the strength of the writing. Do the characters have well-defined personalities? Are the topics of conversation interesting? Does the conversation gating work, in the sense that asking certain questions leads to new, compelling topics?

Intelmission partially succeeds here, I think. The characters do have well-defined personalities. Ben is the stronger of the two: He comes across as that guy in a bar who's hitting on you and just won't give up. He's clearly full of himself, constantly asking Selena for affirmation that she thinks he's hot or that she's in love with him. He also frequently opines on his life philosophy and what's wrong with the world and with Selena. I found it a little hard to take him seriously: With all his flirting and negging of Selena, he comes across as immature. But he is well-drawn, with a distinct personality.

Selena isn't quite as strong a character; she's less sure of herself, and often she's merely reacting to Ben. I think Intelmission would have been a more interesting game if Selena's character were more of an equal foil for Ben.

Much of the conversation revolves around Ben's and Selena's relationship and past history. This was interesting, but it felt to me like it dragged on a little long. This effect was probably hindered by a couple of technical difficulties: I couldn't see all my dialog options sometimes. If there were three, the third one was usually hidden underneath the scroll window. Also, the trigger for the next piece of dialogue didn't seem to take into account the length of the most recent passage. This meant that some of the one-word dialog bits stayed on the screen for much longer than needed, while some of the longer ones went by quite fast.

As far as conversation gating leading to new interesting topics, much of the time the conversation felt like it was on rails. Many of the choices that I tried to skip kept coming back as options and sometimes as the only option, so I was eventually forced to select them. Overall, I couldn't tell how much my choices actually affected the story.

At the end, though, the game told me that I had explored 59/156 conversation topics and 1/24 secret topics. So there's a lot more to the game than I saw. In particular, my impression of the game being on rails does not appear to have been accurate, as there are plenty of probably interesting conversation topics that I missed.

If you like conversation-focused games, especially ones with flirty bantering, you might want to give Intelmission a try.

Bullhockey!, by Bill F Lindsay (as B F Lindsay)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Old-school puzzlefest that could use more polish, December 4, 2018
Bullhockey! is a massive, sprawling, old-school text adventure. (Think 1990s, not 1980s; it's not as old-school as Flowers of Mysteria or Escape from Dinosaur Island, two other games in IFComp 2018.) It reminds me some of Curses!. Both games start out with you in your home, in a relatively mundane and real-life situation. Then, as you play through the game and begin to solve puzzles, the story takes several twists and eventually turns into something odd, supernatural, and even - at times - surreal.

I loved Curses!, and there's a lot about Bullhockey! that I enjoyed as well. But I couldn't shake the feeling while playing Bullhockey! that I was watching an Olympic figure skater try for a triple axel with a double toe loop and just not quite nail the landing.

To me, Bullhockey! feels both heavily implemented and underimplemented. That may sound like a contradiction, but they actually go together. It's heavily implemented in the sense that there are a lot of objects - especially at the beginning, when you're still in your apartment - that appear in the game. However, only a few of those are actually relevant for solving puzzles or advancing the story. So, as the player, you spend a lot of time interacting with these objects but not making progress toward your current goal. Because there are so many objects, though, there's no way that the author can anticipate all the different things that a player will try. This means that there are plenty of reasonable actions that a player will take that arenít implemented - or that just give the default response when the default response isnít quite appropriate. Sometimes this means that the player is sent the wrong signal on a puzzle or runs into a guess-the-verb problem. To take a very early example, while you're still in your apartment one of your first goals is to turn off the ceiling fan that is annoying you. One thing I tried was
(Spoiler - click to show)

to which the game responds


This is Inform's default response for this action, yet the action is not that far from the intended solution for the puzzle. Moreover, the act I attempted turns out to be the right idea for another quite similar puzzle, much later in the game!

For a game this size, (and Bullhockey! is huge) it also feels undertested. (There are only two testers listed in the credits.) I'd say another five testers willing to play through the entire game would have resulted in the removal of much of the underclued feeling with certain puzzles, parts that felt underimplemented, or places where the default response was misleading.

I feel like I'm being more critical than I am with most of my reviews. This is because I think Bullhockey! has the makings to be one of the great puzzlefests in the old-school style, and I love puzzlefests in the old-school style. It's got wacky, clever puzzles that... just often need to be clued better. It has delightful responses to many actions I tried, but... with other, equally-reasonable actions it doesn't recognize them or just gives the default response. It has complicated sequences that lead you along just right in places... but then has other places where I would have never gotten through without the walkthrough.

Maybe "polish" is the word I'm really looking for here. More polish, and Bullhockey! could become one of those diamonds of an old-school puzzlefest that many of us in the IF community still relish.

Now that I've critiqued Bullhockey! for a while, let me mention a few things I particularly enjoyed. Many parts of the game are quite funny, like the scoring system. There's a sly running joke about various locations that you attempt to enter that I enjoyed. Also, exchanges like this one:
(Spoiler - click to show)
> GO UP.
Maybe you should try flapping your wings?
I was being sarcastic.

Some of the puzzles are total Rube Goldberg machines that once you see how they work you have to sit back and marvel at which you've just done. Two of the most prominent are (Spoiler - click to show)the literal Rube Goldberg machine in the science museum that's being built (and I mean the entire thing, including the trampoline on the men's clothing store and the fact that you end up back in your apartment!) and the extended sequence that starts in the amusement park and ends with you in jail. Several of the other puzzles have this feel as well.

I also really enjoyed the solution to the puzzle where you are standing at a dot. I'm not sure it's an entirely fair puzzle, in that it requires outside knowledge, but I loved the solution - and am a little proud that I got it without having to resort to the walkthrough. :)

If you like old-school puzzlefests, you will probably enjoy Bullhockey!. Just don't be ashamed to have a walkthrough handy.

(As a final note, I was pleased to read that the author is planning a Bullhockey! 2. I look forward to playing it.)

LET'S ROB A BANK, by Bethany Nolan
Entertaining game with replay value that could have been fleshed out more, December 3, 2018
In LET'S ROB A BANK you must assemble a team of three accomplices to help you, well, rob a bank. Each accomplice has different attributes that may or may not mesh well with those of other accomplices. Each playthrough is short, encouraging you to try combinations of accomplices, as well as choices once inside the bank. As can be expected, there are lots of different endings. The game gives you "stats" with most of the endings, too. These tell you
(Spoiler - click to show)1. Whether you successfully robbed the bank.
2. Whether you successfully escaped.
3. How many accomplices you had left at the end.

One of the accomplices reminded me a lot of (Spoiler - click to show)the title character in last year's movie Baby Driver. I'm guessing this similarity was intended.

One thing I particularly appreciated seeing was how often the accomplices would get into fights with and/or double-cross each other. For me, this gave the game some darker overtones than the sort of light comedy feel it might have had otherwise.

While the game does some interesting things with combining the accomplices' different skills, some of this could have been fleshed out more. There were two characters in particular, (Spoiler - click to show)Amy Hawkins and Lucy Honeysuckle, whose descriptions implied more interesting interactions than I was able to uncover. (Well, for the latter, there is one very interesting and amusing effect, but it appears to be the only effect you get when you choose that character. This means that 1/3 of the possible combinations for your team only have this one ending.)

LET'S ROB A BANK isn't trying to do anything other than entertain you for a while, and it succeeds at that. Each playthrough is probably between 5 and 10 minutes long, so it's definitely worth playing.

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