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Reviews by streever

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Detective City, by Plus Ultra

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal and comic HTML based work about disgraced detective, February 8, 2017
by streever (America)
This hilarious piece is loaded with comedy, both in contextualized situations and laugh-out-loud lines. After tracking down a particular crime to a group of babies, for instance, and relentlessly bullying them into helping my gumshoe earn back her previously good reputation, I was treated to the line, "I can see into your soul, sucky baby. I see into it, and I find it wanting."

The entire work is infused with this sort of silliness, taking place over a variety of declaratively-named locations: ArtistCity is a city of artists, and your home location, DetectiveCity, is a sprawling metropolis of detectives and gumshoe tropes.

The protagonist needs to collect enough Detecto-Points over the next 10 days to keep her job after an embarrassing blunder, hinted at but never explicitly detailed, known as "The Noodletown Incident". Each day is a chapter, initiated by choosing where you'll spend it: you can work a case or take an oddball detour into criminal enterprises, anarchy, or other weird segues.

Each day involves some type of event, ranging from cases (classic logic problems re-styled as mysteries and solved through multiple choices) to embarrassing interactions with your co-workers. After a day, you'll be awarded detecto-points, either stolen, earned for your work, or gifted by a colleague or NPC.

After the ten chapters, the work concludes in a courthouse battle where you can take actions based off of your earlier successes, before you receive a score and the credits appear.

The game mechanics are incredibly satisfying, and the randomization and wide number of paths makes this a very replayable work.

I highly recommend this for anyone who enjoys quirky, silly writing and fun Interactive Fiction.

Chasm Simulator 9000, by hoverpope

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Strange little Twine piece about being a hole in the ground, January 30, 2017
by streever (America)
This is a fun, odd little Twine work where you are a hole in the ground, faced with existential questions but continuing to grow and develop.

It's definitely a one-note piece: existential questions are raised but never answered, and there isn't enough material here to even try to answer those questions. What are you? What does it mean that you can choose to grow deeper, cozier, or deadlier? Why do these concepts interest a hole in the ground?

This silly little piece may have been an experiment, or a test lab for a new twine user, or just a silly idea that grew into a longer piece. It's fun and amusing, and shuts off one or two paths by restricting your final choice to only one of the three.

I enjoyed this, but am not sure that I'd really recommend it; as a silly gag piece, it may be slightly too long. I'd either try to add a little more to the actions, or pare it down and make it even more self-aware/tongue in cheek.

Queers in Love at the End of the World, by Anna Anthropy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Brave experimental piece, January 29, 2017
by streever (America)
This incredibly short (10 second!) piece experiments with time as a constraint, something rarely seen in Interactive Fiction.

A fast and constantly dwindling 10 second countdown speeds you along as you click through the options, expressing your love and living the last few seconds of a romance as the world ends. Wisely, the end of the world--the whys, the hows, etc--isn't examined. The time constraint means it can't be, letting the story of doomed love take center-stage.

I found the experiment at times frustrating, because I was racing through prose; but I think that's a form of success here, as it meant I re-played several times, trying the same and different paths.

A Fire Darkly: Chapter 1, by Louis Rakovich

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Strong debut work in Twine, January 26, 2017
by streever (America)
(I was very politely asked to review this piece by the author, who I do not know, via email. I was very happy to comply.)

Rakovich is clearly a practiced writer, and writes skillfully minimalist descriptive prose about the unearthly dream world the player character is exploring.

I enjoyed the way that traditional parser concepts were transferred to a hypertext work, but am not sure if they were totally successful. Travelling by compass direction in hypertext feels strange--I think it'd be more effective if the movement was clued to what you might expect to find. ("Walk to the river", "Walk towards the clearing", "Walk into deeper forest"). Other aspects, from the hypertext friendly puzzles to the mechanics of "looking away" from things you'd investigated, worked better and added to the atmosphere.

While I enjoyed this piece and am looking forward to the next one, I do think the opening is a rougher spot than the rest of the work. Broadly speaking, it's well-written, but I didn't feel the sense of urgency or agency I hope for in the best IF. I'm told that I'm probably lost, but I don't remember where I was going or how I got here, and given a very binary choice between north and south.

The amnesia open is basically a trope, but it's fine, honestly, as long as I have a sense of urgency and curiosity about who I am, which should start building in that first paragraph. I don't think this piece did that. The choice to go north or south feels meaningless, and in fact, going north just results in the message that it's too dark, so I have to turn around and go south.

I think the opening should probably give me a better sense of the stakes behind my first choice, and make it feel meaningful, or continue the intro and make it a 'click to continue' without the false choice created. Perhaps an explanation that the woods are dark, and the only visible path is left--click to continue--would improve this.

The work becomes far more compelling almost immediately, when a scent leads you to a traumatic memory. I would encourage the author to get to this moment quicker, and to use it as part of the urgency. Why this memory? Why this experience, at this time? Does the memory remind the narrator of anything unfinished/unresolved? Perhaps the disorienting walk through the woods is to figure out something unfinished from that early memory--that would definitely give me a greater sense of investment right off the bat.

Despite the rough opening, this is a strong work, especially after the first memory surfaces, which left me with questions and an interest in completing the future parts.

On categorization: I'm not sure I agree with the label of psychological horror here. That's not criticism of the work, I just wonder if a better label exists?

In any event, I recommend this piece, and appreciated it's clean, minimalist prose and strange, unsettling atmosphere.

Patrick, by michael lutz
Creepy surreal hypertext work, January 17, 2017
by streever (America)
Lutz is one of the best Interactive Fiction writers right now due to his strong voice and sense of pacing. This piece takes the amusing, yet common, idea that everyone has a doppelganger and extends it into a slightly disturbing, slightly creepy, work, that makes me smile when I reach the end.

The pacing is aided by the breaks in text and the minimal interactivity--simply clicking the link to progress--throughout the work. Large, bold type over dissociative photos of people in everyday scenes whose faces have been blurred out adds to the creepy atmosphere, while making the text readable and compelling.

I don't think this piece would work by many other writers. What turns a fairly simple, one-note piece into something greater is the strength of the writing, particularly the voice of the narrator.

Babel, by Ian Finley

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Horror story with a sense of urgency and gripping writing, January 17, 2017
by streever (America)
Babel was ahead of its time in 1997, but this work still stands out a decade later.

The prose is crisp and the characters feel authentic and real. The storyline is riddled with tropes and genre conventions--it begins with amnesia--feels compelling and real. Puzzle design aids the writing; puzzles feel believable and natural in the world the author has created.

Most importantly for horror, the horror feels real, too; I had a sense of danger to the protagonist, and a desire to lead him as safely out as I could. The storyline unfolds in a satisfying way, with twists that are never obvious but are predictable for a careful or imaginative reader.

This is a fairly long work that makes extensive use of backstory, but I played it in one setting, unable to stop reading along. With its fair puzzle design, well-written characters, and compelling story, it's a good example of modern IF design, and a highly accessible classic work for people new to Interactive Fiction.

Even Cowgirls Bleed, by Christine Love
Impressive linear Twine work exploring rejection, self-harm, & expectations, January 17, 2017
by streever (America)
This work tells the story of expectation and romantic disappointment, as an over-eager and insecure young woman tries to reinvent herself and connect with a woman she finds admirable and impressive.

Nearly every interaction along the way is violent. The protagonist seeks to be a cowgirl and has practiced with a gun, and uses it to advance her story. What at first seems to impress soon disgusts, however, and the violence is turned inward as the rejection becomes complete.

It's a perfect metaphor for the self-loathing and shame that can follow rejection, and the writing and voice feel authentic and real.

Visually the piece is as lovely as the content is depressing. A pixel-aesthetic of burnt orange, reds, and yellows signifies the western theme, and as the majority of actions involve 'shooting' the link text with a gun sight mouse cursor, they are accompanied by a bang noise.

This is a complete short work which left me wanting more from the author and the story. The ending can be read, most literally, as a violent and story-ending moment, or as a metaphor for self-loathing. I'd like to see more exploration of the violence, which I think is lost in the abrupt and sudden twist at the end. I wonder if this would be a better piece if we could make more choices about the violence we dole out, and if the game would sad less or more about this if we had more complicity in it? As it is, the violence is usually required to continue, which robs some of the emotional impact--our only meaningful choice is if we read or not.

Three-Card Trick, by Chandler Groover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Absolute love this original, creepy work from Groover, January 17, 2017
by streever (America)
The opening feels like a farce, with an appropriate level of slapstick and humor-filled writing, before the early twist that brings this into a darker, more macabre mood.

Groover experiments with navigation frequently, and in this work, the area of play is established as a two-tiered festival ground organized in circles. On either tier, the player heads 'in' to the center, where most of the action occurs, or 'out', to the transit spot between the two tiers.

Mechanics are simple and satisfying, divided into two sets of actions. First the player must explore; second, they must perform the magic trick. Puzzles are fairly constructed and should be easy to solve, aided by well-written prose.

This is a compact, atmospheric piece which I highly recommend. It may be my favorite of Groover's work, which I hold to a high standard as it is some of the best new work appearing.

Staying Put, by verityvirtue

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting premise diminished by awkward prose and errors, January 17, 2017
by streever (America)
This puzzle-free work has an interesting premise but seems to be broken with unimplemented and under-implemented actions. Most of the game consists of examining memories in your inventory: you have a phone which I couldn't seem to use, and memories (including one of a Peter) that I was unable to interact with.

I'm not sure if I missed my window: I didn't examine the Peter memory as soon as it appeared (announced with bold text in another memory), and that may explain why I couldn't access it later, but this seems like a bad design choice or a bug, as the piece even asserts that there are no puzzles or timed activities.

This piece takes place in a closed-off attic, where you hide from the public and reprisals by your former employer, the owner of a firm that seems to have been doing something questionably legal with medication. You stay put in your room, but can access a hallway and washroom, and work through linked memories. Eventually the piece ends, but I'm not sure why or what triggers the ending.

The prose can be clunky at times, and also features errors: one paragraph ends with a comma, and I am not sure if it's just a typo for a period, or if there should be more text that got cut off, but the awkwardness of the paragraph makes me think it's the latter.

I think this could become a strong piece with some editing and revising, but do not recommend it until then.

Victorian Detective, by Peter Carlson

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Fun mystery with original and effective game mechanics, January 12, 2017
by streever (America)
This linear mystery story uses an inventive puzzle design for a link-based game, taking the form of a multiple choice quiz after most sections. Puzzle design is tough but fair, and provides a great example of modern interactive fiction design: as hard as some of the puzzles may be to solve, the game never ends when you can't get the right answer.

The writing is competent but oddly disjointed from it's inspiration, the work of Arthur Conan Doyle. The Sherlock references didn't quite the mark, partially because the voice and prose didn't feel appropriately Doyle-esque, but also because the protagonist is clearly not Sherlock Holmes but owes him a debt. The protagonist is more of a blank slate. I think the piece may have been better if the protagonist was either Sherlock or a recognizable character in their own right, but I think this would be a challenge for a short work of interactive fiction. I hope that the character expands and develops over the next pieces and comes into its own.

The mystery itself was satisfying and well-plotted, a clear homage to classic Doyle mysteries with a seemingly minor case revealing a much larger one.

While failing a puzzle never ends the game, it does deduct from your final score, a combination of deduction points and action points. The former is the best aspect of this work: thorough investigation will make it fairly easy to get the highest score possible in deduction, but I was unsure of the action phases, which were used less and felt less thought-out. I'm not sure that the best choice from the perspective of the author in each of these sequences was well broadcast, and these were largely a matter of guesswork for me, but I may have missed clues and hints.

I am looking forward to future works by this author, and really enjoyed the creative way they incorporated puzzles into a hypertext piece.

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