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Reviews by Victor Gijsbers

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View this member's reviews by tag: bleak brute-force Combat Comedy connect CYOA dungeon crawl fantasy horror IF Comp 2007 infocom innovative joke linguistic logic one-room parody phonebooth Political politics puzzle random death rogue-like short snack SpeedIF time travel unfair win on the first attempt
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Flygskam Simulator, by Katie Benson
A nice little tale to relax with, June 19, 2020
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
I hadn’t come across the term ‘flygskam’ before, but apparently it is Swedish for flight shame. This is going to be a short story about taking the bus from London to Hamburg. Sounds nice enough, although the casualness of the blurb’s final sentence is perhaps a bit overdone: “Just, you know, don’t forget your passport, okay?” Do you even need a passport to enter or leave the UK? Wait, yes… they never joined the Schengen zone, just like they never adopted the Euro. Brexit is not a sudden eruption; it has been in the making for decades. But that’s neither here not there. Flygskam Simulator is!

This is the pretty laid-back story of someone who travels from London to Hamburg by bus. The decisions are very realistic: stand in line by the door or remain seated? Try to sleep or read a book? Talk to the person next to you or play a game on your phone? The trip can take an unexpected turn, for instance when you get to know a guy who leaves the bus in Rotterdam and you decide to hook up with him. (Rotterdam! Of all places!) But it is also possible to just travel to Hamburg. The trip seems to be based on personal experience; at least little details, such as the difference between English and Dutch bus waiting zones, are correct.

It’s a nice little tale to relax with. But there doesn’t seem to be much to it, not much of a point beside sharing an impression of travelling by bus. Perhaps the branching narrative is meant to evoke the sense of possibility that belongs to a journey? On the other hand, the game focusses precisely on the mundane and expected. So I end up not being precisely certain what the author intended, and not truly able to recommend people to either check it out or leave it alone. It’s, you know, okay?

Eye Contact, by Thomas McMullan

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Look at me, June 19, 2020
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
Eye Contact is a short, experimental choice-based game that allows you to play through a single conversation. Most of the talking is done by your conversation partner, who is worked up about something her brother said to her. It turns out that he had the audacity to criticise the filo pastry for her samosas. You can be sympathetic, non-committal, or overtly critical about her (over)reaction. Depending on your choices, some backstory may be revealed – there has been a death in the family – and you may end up helping your friend move along, or not. All this takes a few minutes at most, so it’s easy to replay a few times, and the writing is snappy and to the point. An enjoyable light snack; better executed than the samosas were.

There’s one more crucial ingredient to the game: the eyes. A large picture of your friend’s eyes is always at the top of the screen, looking at you (or away from you) with different expressions as the conversation moves in different ways. The game labels itself as ‘experimental’, and this is clearly the experiment: to see what impact these eyes have on our experience. Will they increase the emotional impact? Will they create a sense of intimacy? Certainly, they were very present. I was sitting behind my computer late at night, in my pyjamas, slumping in my chair… and I felt the urge to straighten up and make sure that my dressing gown was closed; then felt the urge to resist that urge, because I’m not going to be manipulated by a picture of two eyes; and then gave in to the urge anyway. So, yes, I think it did enhance to some extent the feeling of realness. I’m not sure what we gain from the experiment, since a longer game with the same lay-out would get old very quickly, I think. But I can imagine a game in which this only happens occasionally; a re-make of Spider and Web, for instance, in which the interrogator stares at you. That could work.

IFComp 2019 contained quite a number of very short games built around a single idea. Eye Contact didn’t quite have the impact on me that The Surprise and Out had, but it’s nevertheless a worthy addition to this category.

For the Cats, by Lei

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
More interesting than the title suggests, June 19, 2020
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
I believe this game is made in ink, and it looks good… but it looks utterly different depending on whether I play it in Chrome on my Android phone, or in Firefox on my Windows computer. In my phone, the type is a very curly handwriting, beautiful, although it does not match well with the blocky sans serif type of the choices. On my computer, the main font looks more like Comic Sans. I wonder how this is possible?

The game itself is not at all what I was expecting based on the blurb. The basic premise is indeed that you want to save a bunch of cats. But we are thrown into a world of unexpected aesthetics – everything is grey, the unit of exchange is coals – and unexpected possibilities – there are sell-your-soul type corporate agents at work, and you can enlist a sort of semi-scientific environmental resistance to rescue all the cats. This means that it’s a lot more interesting that I had originally expected, and I found myself reaching most of the endings as I was investigating the different paths opened up to the different characters. For the Cats is not a moralistic exhortation to take care of your pets, as I had feared. Rather, it is an almost poetic short story about humanity in the midst of bleakness.

Well done, would play again.

Are you Too Chicken to Make a Deal?, by Mitchell Taylor

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Win Stiffy's phone number, March 16, 2020
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
I decided to gamble and have the IFDB generate a list of ten random games for me. Appropriately, the first of those was this little Speed-IF that asks you to gamble -- sort of. You can choose to cross the road or not, and if you don't, new prizes become available that might be either better or worse than the original. Given the slightness of the piece, you won't care either way.

Most notable, I would say, for being a game in which you can win the phone number of Stiffy Makane. Alas, said number cannot then be called.

LET'S ROB A BANK, by Bethany Nolan

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Squad-based diversion, July 17, 2019
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
There is a tradition of games in which you can select different squad members for different missions, the aim being to maximise the match between your squad’s capabilities and the challenges you will face in this particular situation. The Syndicate/X-Com games do this, as do some of the Mass Effect games, if I’m not mistaken. There’s something like this in LET’S ROB A BANK, except that here you are doing only a single mission, which makes sense, since you’re planning to make so much money that you’ll never have to work again.

The bank robbery will unfold in a variety of different ways depending on whom you put in your squad and which choices you make during the robbery itself. (The latter are in general far less consequential than the former.) Some of these differences make perfect sense: take the muscle guy who hates drivers and the irritable driver, and infighting will doom your effort. Other differences make absolutely no sense at all. There’s one squad member whom you cannot really choose, because taking her on board will always coincide with the total destruction of the world. Frankly, this feels less like a serious possibility and more like something put in at the last moment when the author realised they wouldn’t have the time to develop content involving this character.

The different ways in which the robbery can develop are often pretty entertaining, and you’ll probably see a few losing ones before you hit on a winning ending. A fun diversion, but I didn’t feel compelled to hunt for all the endings.

Into the Lair, by Kenna

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Vampire adventure, July 17, 2019
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
We’re in vampire territory here, and it’s the “living in a sewer and keeping herds of thralls and human cattle” kind of vampire. Clan Nosferatu, maybe, if we’re thinking in terms of Vampire: the Masquerade, which the author is probably not. There’s some in-game indication that not all vampires live this way, since both the protagonist and their rescuer are or can be animated by much less selfish desires. Indeed, the game starts out by giving us a choice of goal: freeing the other thralls, avenging ourselves on the elder vampire, or obtaining an amulet that will allow us to withstand the light of the sun. The game might have been more interesting if we had actually been forced to choose between these three goals – as it is, we can simply do all of them. It’s not so much a choice as a list of goals, then, although we can decide to murder the thralls if we so prefer.

The caverns that we traverse are a curious combination of good and not-so-good world building. The dungeon is especially effective, conjuring up images of horror without descending into gory details. But there are also numerous points of the “you’re at an intersection and can go in these and these directions”-type. I did enjoy traversing the catacombs, but it seems there was a lot more potential here for atmosphere and memorability.

There did seem to be a bit of a mismatch between the way the game tells us that the elder vampire is really scary and powerful, and the incredible ease with which one can depose of him. How did this guy ever earn his fearsome reputation if a newly freed thrall can kill him with no trouble at all? I certainly didn’t dislike the ending, but I again felt that there was untapped potential here. (What if you could only become strong enough to defeat the enemy if you first sucked every last drop of blood from the two human prisoners? Okay, I realise that that is the kind of game design that takes us squarely into the realm of my own obsessions, and the current author might not be interested in it at all. Still, it’s one way to make victory feel more costly and more consequential.)

I ran into a couple of bugs – a game-ending one if you tried to avoid the pit trap for the second time, and a bug where you can repeat the fight with the elder vampire as if it had never happened before – but those can easily be fixed.

All in all, enjoyable, with some strong moments, but more could have been achieved.

Linear Love, by Tom Delanoy

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
The boundaries of a work, July 17, 2019
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
I have little interest in policing the boundaries of IF. Yet I'm willing to state that Linear Love should not have been entered into the interactive fiction competition, since it is not interactive by any reasonable standards. The piece is simply a short story about a guy(?) who falls in love with a French girl until their very happiness weakens the attraction. The text is presented in a rather unusual way: rather than scrolling down to read more, in this particular piece you have to scroll up. (You can also scroll sideways indefinitely, but this serves no purpose.) The difference between scrolling up and scrolling down surely does not map onto the difference between traditional and interactive fiction.

However, there was one, perhaps unintended aspect of the piece that actually made reading it an interesting experience to me. If you right-click and press “Escape”, you are suddenly in an environment where you can select different portals to different stories. I quickly got stuck in the steel door of a Panopticon, unable to move any way. This wasn’t particularly entertaining, unless one interprets it as a parable about getting through the prose of Foucault. (For the record, I like Foucault. I just don’t always like his prose.) But what interested me was that I wasn't entirely sure where the boundaries of Linear Love lay. Was it just the original story, and was using the escape option a way of leaving the work and entering other works? Or was it all one whole, an entire universe of stories hidden behind the tale of linear love? It made me realise that the IF community still has a relatively traditional conception of a work, even though digital environments allow for much more vagueness and flexibility.

Instruction Set, by Jared Jackson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Unconventional puzzle game, now broken, July 16, 2019
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
Instruction Set consists of a series of abstract puzzles of varying originality, embedded in a narrative about scientists who attempt to wake up a comatose woman. The puzzles are fine, but not great. The weakest is perhaps the 3-by-3 number sliding puzzle, which basically forces you to solve a puzzle you've already solved before, but this time in an inconvenient medium. On the other hand, the falling ball puzzles are fun, and the list-copying puzzles are also entertaining. Overall: adequate. The main storyline too is best described as adequate. It works to create interest, but nothing too unexpected happens, and there's no real drama.

Still, I liked the game more than the previous paragraph may suggest. I liked it because it has charm, a charm created by the combination of the pictures and the often quite funny dialogue. To give some inexact quotes: "I chose to interpret it as a rhetorical observation rather than a command." "Would you like a soothing cup of mildly warm water?" These moments brought a smile to my face and made playing the game a pleasure rather than a chore.

(Spoiler - click to show)More could perhaps have been done with the memories of the protagonist and the reaction of her mother; more character building, more narrative. We learn that there was a car crash, but this fact alone has little impact. On the other hand, more dramatic development at this level of the story might not have meshed well with the tone of the cartoon scientists.

One interesting question that the game raises is this: who are you playing? The comatose woman? Well, her memories are present as external to us, not internal. So perhaps we are merely a part of her brain, the part specialised in puzzle solving? If so, I think this is a very original choice of PC!


Unfortunately, Instruction Set can no longer be played, because an update to the software platform it runs on has broken keyboard input. I hope it will one day be restored, because it if worth checking out.

Diddlebucker!, by J. Michael

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Solid puzzlefest, July 16, 2019
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
Diddlebucker!'s cover art looks as if it came straight from Infocom, and there's some obvious Infocom-era nostalgia going on here. We are participating in a great puzzlefest, recreating some of the feel of, say, Hollywood Hijinx; and the year is 1987, the last great year for the company that gave interactive fiction its name. But Diddlebucker! is evidently a 21st century game, as can be seen from the nice in-built hint system, the relative fairness of the puzzles and the fact that it is almost merciful on the cruelty scale. (Almost: you can get yourself into an unwinnable situation near the very end of the game, so it's useful to save when things get intense.)

The game consists of several segments, and I found some of them more compelling than others. For me, the stand-out section is the part along the river. Here, all the puzzles made perfect sense to me; I did not need the hint system at all; and I was particularly pleased by the use of geography. (Spoiler - click to show)It is satisfying when you get to explore the roofs and the river that you already know are there but did not expect to be able to traverse. This part of the game was very enjoyable for me.

I found the theme park section more difficult to like. There are many red herrings (e.g., all the shops and games and attractions you don't need); some of the content is arbitrarily restricted or appears only at certain moments (e.g., the white house tour, the employee, the couple); and a few of the puzzles were beyond me. (If anyone solved the song clue without using hints, I'm impressed.) Perhaps the experience was made more difficult for me because I had to look up many of the arcane Americana, although it turned out that none of that was really necessary for solving the game. In this part, I frequently relied on the hints, which of course makes for a less satisfying experience.

I nevertheless persevered, and was happy that I did. There is a nice plot twist near the end, a sudden ramping up of the danger level, and all in all a satisfying ending to a mostly satisfying game. Although if a popcorn king called 'Diddy' invites me to come to his 'seaside mansion'... I'll find a polite way to decline.


In summary: a very competent puzzle-fest, executed with charm, though perhaps a little rough around some of the edges.

Careless Talk, by Diana Rider

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Needs more punch, July 15, 2019
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
Careless Talk is a short choice-based game about a very heavy topic: lethal violence against homosexuals. Or perhaps it is more correct to say that the game is about living in a world where revealing who you really are could have the most dire of consequences. The protagonist of the tale is a gay sailor -- in fact, a sort of techno-magician -- and he has been speaking about his predicament to the ship's clergyman. This is risky, since you never know whom to trust, but perhaps also necessary, since you need somebody to talk to. As the game starts, our protagonist has heard that one of his former friends, also a gay sailor, has been betrayed and killed on another ship. He needs to talk to the clergyman again, but, at the same time, has the possibility of betrayal more clearly on his mind then ever.

Now there is nothing really wrong with this piece; there are no bugs, and the writing is competent. And yet it failed to make much of an impact on me. It's about something really dramatic... and yet, the drama wasn't conveyed to me. I'm not exactly sure why that happened, but I have a few hypotheses, all of which take the form of describing a way in which the game's impact might have been bigger.

(Spoiler - click to show)One possibility would be to increase the emotional impact of finding out that our friend Tom has been betrayed and killed. This would require spending more time establishing Tom as someone we know and like, a real person; and probably also spending time developing the personality of his betrayer. Perhaps the betrayer even found out about Tom's sexuality because of something we ourselves did, or were at least part of? A lot of potential here, if we were willing to start the story much sooner.

A second possibility, probably closer to the author's intentions, would be to ramp up the tension in the present-day scenes. I never really had the idea that something bad was going to happen to the character. The only homophobe we meet is a stupid as the rear end of a pig, so harm is unlikely to come from there. And what possible reason could the clergyman have to betray us now, at this moment, when he could have outed us much earlier? Perhaps if someone had been on to us, and we needed to convince the clergyman to take a risky action in order to save us, this would have created more real drama in the moment.

A third possibility, on a slightly more meta-level, is to tone down the overt discussion on the world's violent homophobia. From its very first words, the game signals to us exactly what it is about: violence against homosexuals, who therefore have to hide their sexuality. And the game proceeds to show us what is has already told us. I'm not a big fan of the old adage "show, don't tell"; but perhaps we should be wary of first telling the reader what is going on and then also showing it in concrete scenes. This surely lessens the impact of those scenes themselves.

A fourth possibility, perhaps closest of all to the author's intentions, would be to focus more on the nature of friendship. There is a sense in which the main question that the game raises is this: why would anyone risk their very life just in order to talk about their true self? (It was a good choice on the author's part to have the relationship between the protagonist and the cleric be purely platonic. The question why someone would risk their life to enact their sexual preference is also a good and deep question, but most people have a ready-to-hand, if perhaps too simplistic, answer to it: lust is sometimes irresistible.) This is a very interesting question; and I would have liked to see a bit more exploration of the protagonist's struggle with this question. Perhaps multiple encounters with the clergyman could have helped here, including possibilities to either tell him about it or not, and then a subsequent struggle with the negative effects of either choice.


The game, then, ended up falling a bit flat for me. But there's a lot of material here that I could see being developed in ways that might have much more impact on me. This is the author's first piece of interactive fiction, and it is a worthy effort. I'm interested in seeing how they'll develop their craft in the future.


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