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Reviews by MathBrush

15-30 minutes

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The Dilettante's Debut, by Hannah Powell-Smith, Failbetter Games

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A well-written society story with horror roots, June 16, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
Exceptional Stories are odd games. They are framed within the larger Fallen London game, which takes months and/or years, yet they themselves can often be completed in an hour or two. They have a really, really big wordcount though compared to what it feels like, especially since they often branch significantly.

This one was good. There is a struggling family trying to re-enter society. You can support them or their snooty cousins. All along, though, the butler has his own plans.

I'm not opposed to society machinations, but they're not my favorite. I like Jane Austen but prefer the Brontes. This game has horror depths that I like, but the particular genre didn't grab me as much as it could. Hannah Powell-Smith's excellent writing skills makes it worth playing, though.

Tribute: Return to the City of Secrets, by Kenneth Pedersen

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A heartfelt tribute to an Emily Short game, May 25, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
Emily Short's game City of Secrets is a relatively-hidden gem. Started as a commercial project for a band, it's a sprawling city-based game that has much of the liveliness and intrigue of her later Counterfeit Monkey.

This game takes that same layout and room descriptions, but includes an 'Easter Egg Hunt' where you have to find 10 gems (and 1 super gem I didn't find) scattered throughout the layout of the game.

It does what it set out to well: encourage people to see and appreciate Short's setting and descriptions.

I had some difficulty guessing words (I'm used to Inform's synonyms like SEARCH being the same as LOOK IN), but the game had several hint systems, which was very useful.

Don't Push The Mailbox 2 And Aisle, by Ralfe Rich

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short one-move tribute game with some entertaining responses, May 15, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
This game was entered in the Emily Short Anniversary Contest.

It's a sequel of sorts to Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die, Aisle, and Pick up the Phone Booth and Aisle.

Like those games, this game is centered on having silly or weird responses to individual actions you can choose. These games usually require a ton of different actions to see all of the content, but this game isn't quite as expansive as the others. There are a few references to Emily Short and the contest.

Monk by the Sea, by Elizabeth Decoste

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A great first parser game that needs a lot more polish to be a finished work, April 16, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
This is an introspective parser game set in the world of the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, one of my favorite artists. It revolves around exploration and small, one-item puzzles in the classic Zorklike mode.

I've seen many first parser games (including my own, a game I never released), and they are almost uniformly buggy and unfinishable.

This game has surprisingly few, if any bugs, which is a welcome surprise. However, it is lacking a lot of polish. I had to decompile the game to find the ending. Some suggestions for the next game:

1. Having one or more beta testers can alleviate almost all problems, if you implement their feedback. Intfiction.org is a good place to find some.
2. Room exits should be listed in every room unless finding the exit is a (hinted) puzzle, like a maze.
3. It's good to have either everything have a description or nothing to have a description. It takes a long time to describe everything, but it's often worth it.
4. Some puzzles may need cluing (like the magpie puzzle). Having a beta tester or two can help here.
5. Having instant deaths and disabling UNDO is a pretty frustrating combo. There's been a lot of debate over the years on whether disabling UNDO is worth it, but it's worth knowing that some interpreters have built-in UNDO that works even if you try to disable it, so some players will always have UNDO.

Overall, I think the author is capable of creating truly great parser games given enough tester support. I'd love to see more!

So Are the Days, by Dawn Sueoka
A clever and complicated collection of poems in interactive form, April 14, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
This twine fiction has 4 poems presented in different ways.

One offers choices that don't seem to change the story, instead indicating how you personally feel about your choices.

Another uses some kind of randomization to present a series of tiny vignettes with random names. You can move backwards and forwards in time during the vignettes.

The third uses a grid of text, and you can reveal more or less of the grid.

The fourth is my favorite, with a physical space you can move through and some interaction.

The writing has evocative moments, but the choices of interactivity distance me from the text more than drawing me in. I felt more alienated than invested.

This reminds me of a lot of early works by people who are now well-known/professional IF authors, so I'd love to see where this author goes next.

Braincase, by Dan Lance

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An in-depth and fancy-looking cyberpunk crime game, April 7, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
There are two cyberpunk mystery games in this Spring Thing, and there were at least three last year in IFComp. It's a good genre; Delusions did it back in the 90s, and there have been some other good games in this field.

This game is definitely creative and unique, though. It features some really nice retro-looking UI and some flashing graphics.

The story is about investigating the memories of a deceased individual who had a bionic bow implant on their arm. You're working for the police department.

It focuses on the experience of surveillance and on the way that humanity can be degraded by a police state.

I didn't find deep emotional fulfillment in it, but it gave me a lot to think about.

Quest for the Homeland, by Nikita Veselov

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An Ink game about managing a group of 100 people, April 7, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
This game is written in Ink, always a smooth-looking choice for an engine. The styling is good.

Some of the language could admittedly be more polished. The author admits that English is not their first language, and it shows.

The interactivity is fairly satisfying but not all the way there for me. The same actions might save you or not in different playthroughs. Is it random or stat-tracking? It's hard to say.

Overall, it's interesting.

Khellsphree, by Ralfe Rich

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A young orphan gets tangled up in a fairytale amid a difficult life, April 6, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
This is a long Twine game entered into Spring Thing. It has a long storyline about a boy who's orphaned and ends up taking care of a younger child while older friends take care of him. He gets involved in a fairy story in a way. The game has long linear stretches with some 'dynamic text choices' and a few binary choices that do seem to affect the storyline.

I grade on a 5 star scale:

-Polish: This game is not polished. There are many typos and other grammatical errors, due most likely to the author being a non-native speaker.

-Descriptiveness: This game is very descriptive, with characters having distinct personalities and voices.

-Emotional impact: I got into the story, so I'm giving a star here as well.

-Interactivity: It was hard to know how much I affected the game, but I affected it somewhat and didn't feel locked out.

-Would I play again? Probably not.

So I would give this 2.5, rounded up to 3.

Shades of Yesterday, by Gavin Inglis, Failbetter Games
A slightly confusing Exceptional Story about the colors of the neath, April 5, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
I found this exceptional story rather confusing. It seems to mostly relate around an elaborate pen show. You begin to discover that the seller is using the colors of the neathbow, a set of colors used throughout the game and featured prominently in Sunless Seas. Colors like Irrigo, which brings forgetfulness, or Violant, which fixes things in memory.

There is a love story and a confrontation, but this story never really gelled in my mind. It was my first exceptional story in years, so perhaps I had just forgotten how to read them, but it's hard to say. The rewards were good, though.

Go Tell the King of Cats, by James Chew, Failbetter Games
A cute exceptional story about a cat reviewing a life ill-lived, April 5, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
I recently started up my Exceptional Friendship at Fallen London again, and this is the second story I played.

You discover a cat that wants a new start on life, but to do so, you must provide character statements from their old friends. The cat wasn't that great of a person before, so the statements are fairly offensive, and you have to decide whether to share what you learn with the cat or not.

Overall, this was charming for an exceptional story, with some good lore here on Parabola and the King of Cats.


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