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Reviews by verityvirtue

choleric

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View this member's reviews by tag: 2018 choleric ECTOCOMP ECTOCOMP 2016 IFComp 2015 IFComp 2016 IFComp 2017 Introcomp Ludum Dare melancholic melancholic phlegmatic melancholy parser phlegmatic Ren'Py sanguine Spring Thing 2015 Spring Thing 2016 sub-Q Tiny Utopias
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Phone in Mouth, by Leon Arnott

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Surreal cyberpunk-esque thought experiment/cautionary tale, September 13, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
This is a surreal story about… having your phone in your mouth. It’s more cyberpunk than it sounds, promise, and delivers a complete narrative arc in not very many words at all.

Arnott captures the craving for that rush of neurotransmitters that social media is designed to deliver, but transforms it into something a bit more insidious. (Spoiler - click to show)The titular phenomenon (yes) forms a whole subculture by itself, into something meshed into the fabric of society.

Phone in Mouth is less of a fully-formed dystopian story, but almost more like a thought experiment. It ponders what wearable technologies could possibly look like, then what it might look like when it all goes wrong. It is a little on the nose as a cautionary tale, with shades of 1984 - but then again, looking behind the scenes at companies like Amazon seems to suggest that whatever you can imagine, there’s probably a company doing worse.

Bloody Raoul, by Caleb Wilson (as Ian Cowsbell)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Comic violence with an ornate edge, September 12, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
The game world suggests one accustomed to sudden, almost comic violence, where one’s weapons are identity. The comic aspect, however, takes some of the edge (ahem, mind the pun) off: to aid surgery, for instance, the PC comes with a “pectoral zipper”.

The world described here is festering and disgusting, but with the embellished, ornate language, the terse phrasing, we readers are, at least, one step away from all that.

(Spoiler - click to show)It is striking that there are no completely happy endings here. There is no escape to a less violent future - not without relinquishing your identity as a knife punk. As much as I would love to see more in the same universe, I get the feel that this universe is most intriguing in small snippets.

Bloody Raoul is brutish and short, but not nasty at all. If you liked this, you might like The Unstoppable Vengeance of Doctor Bonesaw, from the same author.

Yesterday, You Saved the World, by Astrid Dalmady
A subverted magical girl story with surprising parallels, September 9, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric, sanguine
[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes]

Yesterday explores what happens when the excitement over and the gilt is peeling. You are Lucy Newman, in eighth grade, but yesterday you were a Stellar Warrior. You had to face off The Void alone. And today, you have to wake up and go to school.

Two groups came to mind, reading this, who would probably identify with the PC strongly.

The first: those labelled as “gifted” in childhood. The burden of expectation from family, school, society lies on you, but you get all the wrong support. All the support to develop your abilities - to win all the competitions, ace all the exams - and too little to equip you emotionally and psychologically.

The second: those who do jobs that require them to run towards danger - emergency services, healthcare, mental health services, social work. You are the help that people call for. Sometimes you face things that terrify you, absolute disasters on a scale big or small, and you run out of resources, knowledge and wits. Yet, you can’t abscond from your responsibilities, and when you go back into the “normal world”, you have no words to explain to your friends outside this line

Structurally, Yesterday flashes back and forth between the PC’s life as a schoolgirl and her previous magical girl life. This is further set off by a parallel choice structure. Yesterday also uses the limited choices afforded by the CYOA format to illustrate character development.

Amongst many other things - a vivid protagonist, thoughtful design, a subversion on the magical girl narrative - Yesterday is a really good example of how a choice-based narrative can play with choices to reinforce the story.

Doki Doki Literature Club, by Team Salvato

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Subverting visual novel conventions with a dark story, September 1, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
[Content warning: depicted violence, suicide.]

In Doki Doki Literature Club (DDLC), you’re invited to join your neighbour’s tiny after school club, the literature club. Even though your only exposure to literature is reading manga, the club members themselves are each compelling in their own way.

Much has been written about this game, by people who are much more familiar with visual novels than I am, so I won’t feign familiarity with the conventions of the visual novel genre. But judging from this game alone, it seems that visual novels, like parser games, are good at signalling inevitability. Unlike parser games, they can do this with long stretches of dialogue-heavy storytelling without any choices. DDLC uses this to its advantage, using its episodic format to set patterns and break them.

This game is deliberately vague in its advertising about its content warnings, since those are spoilers in themselves. These are big heavy subjects that the game mentions, though, and it’s mostly used as plot point rather than being discussed.

Some gripes, then. Some of the story elements didn’t feel gelled together. In particular the poetry-writing felt like a flimsy justification for the premise. Additionally, the way this story handles mental illness is pretty superficial - more plot point than anything else. This attitude is endemic in horror fiction in general. We can do better.

DDLC is probably more worth playing for seeing how the visual novel format can be subverted than for its actual storyline, and for its questioning of the divide between player-character and player. It displays some clever tricks, but tends to use violence and mental illness as a shock tactic. Lynnea Glasser’s Creatures Such as We also explores such metatextual issues, but far more thoughtfully.

All the pleading emoticons, by Finny

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A brief vignette of an ultimatum, August 31, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
The game opens with the player-character on the cusp of harming themselves. This is not a moment of impulse, not a “call for attention”. This is a culmination of seconds upon seconds, years of keenly feeling one’s lack of agency, in social situations and intimate ones.

What was slightly unusual was the mixing of divine and profane imagery and language, which portrayed the player-character’s action or inaction as a sort of reckoning with a faceless, unknown force.

Games like this are easily dismissed for their “navel-gazing”, but are well worth considering for what are often first-person, personal narratives of mental illness, discrimination and/or marginalisation. Games in a similar vein include Tapes, by Jenni Vedenoja, or All I do is Dream, by Megan Stevens.

Eat Me, by Chandler Groover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Visceral, lush, a grotesque escape game, July 17, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
Chandler Groover’s work often mixes the decadent with the grotesque, the macabre with the picturesque. Think rotting roses; mouldering filigree.

Here, bound in a prison made of food, your only way out is by eating.

Who knew that eating could be so visceral? This is not just simple eating, it is consumption for consumption’s sake, for pleasure, for satiation. This is not going to be a game for everyone: the descriptions are so detailed as to be cloying, and there is heavy use of cutscenes to denote scene transitions.

This game is generous in allowing the player to backtrack and figure out what to do. As the name suggests, the range of actions available for the player are limited to eating, with the occasional exception clearly signalled - similar, then, to Arthur DiBianca’s games, such as Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box and Inside the Facility.

Eat Me resembles Groover’s Bring Me A Head, both in setting and in grotesquerie: both set in crumbling castles, each compartment holding just one singular occupant, doomed, it seems, to pursue their one occupation for the rest of time. Eat Me is not for the faint-hearted, definitely, but well worth playing, perhaps alongside other games with a similar setting.

For a lighter version of an eating-oriented game, try Jenni Polodna’s Dinner Bell; for more of the same, Bring Me a Head and Open That Vein by the same author.

Digital Witnesses, by rosencrantz

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Punchy dystopian story with a familiar plot, March 22, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
You are running. From what? Where to?

Digital Witnesses is set within a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, one which regulates every step its citizens make, every role each person plays - think of your standard dystopia - think Brave New World and The Giver and The Island. You, your running: that is a spanner in the well-oiled works of the city.

The passage constraint means that, for economy, passages loop round. Chunks of backstory are revealed as you go along, and it gradually becomes clear what the stakes of this are on you. (Note the phrasing: this is dynamic fiction - not linear, because it is not told linearly, but without choices in the traditional story-altering sense either.)

The world building here is evocative, eschewing exhaustive detail for revealing it through actions and people. Perhaps the predictable setting and plot works for it - what else would a dystopian story be about other than escape? - since it allows the reader to fill in the details with their imagination, and allowing the reader to focus on the craft of the writing rather than the mechanics of the world. Certainly this was an enjoyable, short piece of dynamic fiction with the pacing of a movie.

MINUTEMAN, by nebulaictoaster

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short, tense game about nuclear-era relics, January 22, 2018
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
You’re exploring a nuclear shelter - alone - on a dare. It’s not entirely clear what era this is set in, but it’s almost unnecessary, partly because the threat of powerful men doing rash things is ever present, partly because I suspect that was the intention - what matters is that nuclear shelters are a thing of the past, decommissioned, relics, ancient… but safe? Are they safe?

It’s hard to describe this without spoiling it, because the twist is one of the main things that holds this game together. Cutting out the spoilers makes it a very short piece of text, so I’d say you could safely go off, play it - it’s not long - and come back. I’ll wait. Minuteman is a bit of a mood piece, a piece of dynamic fiction, because of its linearity. It is more a relived memory than an adventure. I couldn’t quite follow the logic of the thing, but I certainly caught the mood, and its brevity gives it the intensity of a fever dream.

(Spoiler - click to show)By your actions - born of ignorance, but that is no excuse - you doom a whole town. You never see the havoc you wreak directly, but only ever observe it from a position of relative safety, which adds to the feeling of feverish detachment - like those dreams where you see disaster coming, but cannot move a muscle, cannot say a word. Text effects transform the piece from passive interaction with a static, dead place to one bristling with imminent threat, and while I don’t usually appreciate Harlowe’s default text effects, here I imagined them as different voices in a spoken performance.

The Elevator Game, by Owlor
An enjoyable take on the urban legend, November 7, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
Trapper is a private detective of the equine variety, and he’s been called in to assist the police in investigating the mysterious death of the mare Serene Lotus, who was seen to be behaving oddly before her death…

Like Owlor’s other games, this game borrows the anthropomorphised pony aesthetic of My Little Pony, but really it’s a neat noir/horror mix based on the urban legend of the Elevator Game, and evidently by the stories surrounding Elisa Lam’s death.

If you’re familiar with the urban legend, then it will perhaps be the implementation rather than the reveal of the core mystery that draws you in. If you aren’t: look past the benign-looking illustrations to the weird and horrifying amongst the mundane. Owlor’s line illustrations are used to great effect here (note, though, that the illustrations are not described in the text), and the screenplay-like format gives the sense of distance, of watching in from a CCTV ourselves.

The Elevator Game is a satisfyingly creepy implementation of an urban legend/creepy story that has made its rounds in certain corners of popular media.

Krypteia, by Kateri

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A neon-tinged allegory , September 13, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic, choleric
[Time to completion: 15 minutes. This game mentions violence and harassment.]

You leave the village, defying the wills of the "wise men", in search for the heart of the forest. You have nothing, and danger presses in all around.

Krypteia sounds like an allegory, using both the language of adventures and quests, and the familiar language of the "monsters" and the "wise men" will likely be familiar to femme-presenting folk, who are, for instance, so often told not to dress a certain way, lest they invite trouble ("You can't go out dressed like that, the wise men told you. The monsters will tear you apart.").

The theme of metamorphosis suffuses Krypteia. This game diverts based on a single dichotomy: stealth or fierceness. Do you blend in, or do you confront? I found it striking that despite the approach you choose, the PC still loses her identity.

The language used here blends imagery of the wilderness with that of the night-time city, filled with leering men and streetlights. This is also interpreted literally in the ever-moving graphics. Building on that, symbols usually associated with femininity were, here, weapons.

With its purposeful text styling, graphics and sound effects, it is no surprise that Krypteia was nominated for a XYZZY in Best Multimedia, but it is also allegory, social commentary, kinda-fairy tale and a story of personal growth.

Seven Bullets, by Cloud Buchholz

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A long, highly branching game that treads familiar ground, July 20, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
[Content warnings: violence, especially gun violence; torture/dismemberment]

You are a trained assassin. The Boss has your sister, and you will bring him down, do whatever it takes, to get her back, even unto death.

This is a highly branching, very long game which keeps track of a number of stats - and it makes that quite obvious through notes in the prose itself. Like Choice of Games games, there are achievements and Easter eggs galore, evidence of the breadth and effort put into Seven Bullets.

Decision-making points are inserted only when there is a significant tactical decision to be made, which makes each branching point's significance clear, but which also produces large swathes of text.

The story itself is fairly standard fare: mob bosses, arms deals with unnamed Chinese and Russians, unemotional protagonist. The typecasting here is almost stereotypical. Goons and villains remain categorically bad. Regardless of realm, they are to be taunted, killed and/or used solely as a means to an end: little chance for empathy. Pretty much every female character I encountered needed to be rescued.

I got the overwhelming feeling that it was the PC's personality that shaped the whole game, not necessarily for the good. Its prose is terser than it needed to be. The PC's stubbornness forced fantastical landscapes into shapes the assassin protagonist can understand. This may be a common enough human endeavour, but it stole the opportunity for humour or humility.

Seven Bullets is polished, and what appears to be Twine Sugarcube's autosave system - much needed in this very long game. I found it hard to enjoy it, though, because of its protagonist - I wasn't sure I wanted to spend all that much time with them.

Three-Card Trick, by Chandler Groover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Magic tricks with a dark heart, July 19, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
Groover's works are dark and delicious, and this one especially so. You are Morgan the Magnificent, the esteemed magician. Last year, your two-card tricks granted you the favour and popularity from the most influential, wealthiest patrons.

Now, however, a rival has emerged: ostentatious, flashy Ivan, and his three-card trick. Now is your chance to regain your rightful title.

Despite a carnival-like setting - one often associated with summer and fun and play - there is an unsettling undertone (why would you need guards around a group of magicians?) which hints at higher stakes than are initially stated.

Highly polished both in style and substance, Three-Card Trick once again features several parser tricks which enhance its delivery. Text is doled out to control pacing; directions are highly simplified, similar to What Fuwa Bansaku Found.

It's a delicate balancing act Three-Card Trick does. It remains one step ahead of the reader, through to the end; yet, the required actions are hinted with sufficient contextual clues - one is unlikely to get stuck for too long - to give the sense of player agency. This is a game that is well deserving of its multiple XYZZY nominations.

The Curious Incident at Blackrock Township, by Bitter Karella
A witchhunt narrated entirely through secondhand accounts, November 12, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
The Curious Incident is a witch-hunting incident narrated entirely through secondhand accounts. One might draw an obvious parallel between this and Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, but where the play puts the reader (or viewer) right in the action of the moment, here we dip in and out, switching between narration and secondhand research. Historical records are interspersed with academic accounts, and branching points are incorporated similar to how The Domovoi did it. This indirect style works well, especially when one of the branches imply that the nature of the main character is ambiguous.

As another reviewer has commented, it is particularly ironic that the reader gets to choose how the story goes. Who's to say what happened? Who's to say who was truly to blame? In the end, does that really matter, if the outcome remains unchanged?

(Spoiler - click to show)One thing I feel would improve this game is pacing. There was scant buildup to the manifestation of the curse itself (not just the context of it) that the ending felt premature; I would have liked more detail on how the curse started manifesting, but this may be at odds at the matter of fact style of the rest of the game.

ENGINE MACHINE: The Deities of Time and Space, by Adam Bredenberg

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Bewildering existential poetry, September 22, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
[Contains occasional profanity. Time to completion: 5-10 minutes]

This Twine poem is about human suffering and the inevitability of death, at least according to the blurb. I have difficulty understanding all but the most concrete poetry even at the best of times, and I did not understand this piece. It slams out metaphors and images and rhythms in what is sometimes wordy verse. It grabs references and images from cultures from antiquity to modernity. It's quite the wild ride.

If you like lines like "ancient archaeopteryx of crews and heathens/mollusks, plagues/black bastard symphonies, thousand talons/
lice and the lance of doomed reverberations," then you might like this.

School 4, by GRMMXI

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short "my grubby apartment" game with interesting platform, September 13, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
This game opens on two well-worn tropes of IF: the school deadline (so favoured by games such as Violet) and the grubby apartment (which also featured, most famously, in Shade). You're in the throes of inertia for your assignment. Of course it's due tomorrow. Of course what you do is everything but actually do the thing.

The story is a little light on actual events or decisions. It isn't particularly introspective. Neither does it have much of a unifying story arc. If, however, it was read as a prototype, then it does work, and it's a working demonstration of an interesting system.

The platform here deserves some mention - it's a home-brew choice-based platform, and it gives the impression of laying out each passage in a grid on a giant field. It's like Prezi, basically. It's worth playing, if at least to check out the interface.

Boogle, by Buster Hudson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A very short game about a strange search engine, June 3, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: choleric
Time to completion: 5-10 minutes

[This game contains a large, unannounced picture of a certain animal - see image files included with the download]

Boogle riffs on Google default messages and online ads to create a creeping sense of dread. The eponymous search engine is an NPC in its own right, which directs your search results to serve its own purposes. It's a mood piece more than a game, really; the story is not particularly fleshed out, but the idea is so very creepy.

This game deserves a mention of multimedia, because it makes ingenious use of otherwise basic Twine functions to replicate familiar sights.


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