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Reviews by Wade Clarke

Twine

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Female Experience Simulator, by Alyson Macdonald

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Has just one point to make, but is funny about it, March 20, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine, comedy
A quick CYOA in which - in game parlance - you die and must restart after every second move because whatever you decide to wear and wherever you choose to go (two choices) you are sexually harassed by a man or men.

The mixture of cuteness and smartarsery in the writing, in combination with the girly pink colour scheme, is broadly funny. This tone extends into the dialogue and content of the harassments. That they are so frequent and display such a variety of dialogue and invention that they acquire an overkill quality in this context which is inevitably funny and exasperating, and makes them palatable in spite of their volume. And the game is in tune with player exasperation. It starts to offer an 'I give up' option at about the right time.

The punchline when you do so is: 'BLAM! Welcome to life as a woman.'

(OK, I admit I added the 'BLAM!')

So this very small game is well structured for its idea. This leaves us with the idea and the question of who it's for. I'm already aware of the specific point that a woman might be sexually harassed whether she is wearing a low cut item or a tracksuit, and this is the game's main point. So telegraphing that at length and then saying 'BLAM!' was not revelatory for me personally, but that doesn't mean it might not be revelatory for someone else. The practicality of the point makes it a good one for people who might not have thought about such things much, or at all.

Based on what's (figuratively) written on the box, a woman need not play Female Experience Simulator. After all, she doesn't need to simulate the experience of being a woman; she's experiencing it. Nevertheless, were she to play it, my punt on what her experience might be like - informed by my experience of playing Female Experience Simulator - is that the game would be likely to hit the recognition spot with a leavening of humour, but obviously without any revelations.

If the game actually advocated hopelessness or hopeless behaviour (eg 'You MUST run home to cry whenever you are sexually harrassed!') I would have flushed it down the toilet to join other self-deludedly defeatist crap like the works of Samuel Beckett. However I think it's obvious that this game is not making a point beyond: A woman can experience sexual harrassment in spite of how she dresses or presents herself. Which is important if not known. A man may learn this by playing. A woman already knows it. The game manages to do this with some humour, and it's pretty light, so it's a stretch to read much further into it.

This review is already in severe danger of brandishing more content than the game itself, so it's time to stop.

Door | 門, by IFforL2

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
There are hurdles between Find the Gold and Educational status., June 15, 2014
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine
As a basic-as-can-be, clickable Choose Your Own Adventure aimed at helping people to read English, or which at least tries to be easy to read, Find the Gold isn't achieving its aims. I expect such a game to be absolutely transparent in its communication. Problems include:

- The way new information fades in over the old information is likely to be visually and mentally irritating to any reader.

- The game prints the consequences of clicked on actions only after reprinting the current room description and hyperlinks. That would be OK for a 16kB game from 1980 but it's not OK for a Twine program from today with educational goals. Actions and their consequences get separated.

- The turn of phrase 'a door in back of you' is weird, and it's used all the time. I think in this context most Americans would still say, 'There is a door behind you.'

- The 'You can only take one thing!' message is important but poorly chosen. If it actually means 'You can only ever hold one thing', players will be confused. I was confused.

- It is difficult to download and open this HTML file-based game in the first place, requiring trickier than average navigation of Google Drive followed by manual dropping of the product on your web browser.

Find the Gold's writing, logic and programming all need lots more work. So does the distribution method.

I'm Fine, by Rokashi

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Confessional Depressional, March 2, 2014
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine
A game like I'm Fine is pretty hard to assess as a game. It's the hypertext monologue of a young gay man suffering through the most grinding lower layers of depression and hopelessness. Player choices are along the lines of ‘Take the call’ or ‘Ignore this person’, and as per the level of dysfunction of the character, tend to make little difference to his life. If you do take someone's call, you're not doing so with the wherewithal to exact a change on your existence. The communication is likely to be totally ineffectual, still drizzled with the protagonist's conviction that all is useless. I wouldn't expect otherwise from someone in this state.

I don't like assuming stuff about autobiographical qualities in games. Maybe that means I'm destined to miss the point of Twine games like this one. Maybe I'm supposed to start from a position that this is entirely confessional - in which case I would say that the author knows the dirge of the self-hating monologue very well. The experience of this game is the experience of reading the diary of someone who is morbidly depressed. Day upon day, page upon page. This kind of depression scrapes away all of the horizon, leaving only a circling in language which is devoid of individuality and consistent across sufferers who express it.

Rhetorically: Do such confessionals makes for good games? The nature of the phenomenon written about in this game makes it pretty impervious to your interactions or most other kind of digression. You'll read screen after screen of the same self-critical thought processes. If you recognise them, it's variously an unpleasant reminder, an empathy stirrer, but still basically frustrating, because you already know that all of the pages are the same - unless the only attitude you bring towards the whole game is: “I hear you and your pain.” This is an explicitly uncritical gesture that is essential to make at some point towards anyone suffering like this, but this game isn’t the person, and I can't be uncritical towards it when I am explicitly being a critic. A game is an entreaty to become involved using my thoughts, but perhaps more importantly to have some kind of Me or in-body relationship with an avatar. Again I feel this may be the principal difference between the audience that accepts this kind of game as simply an expression, and myself with all of my questions about an expression like this taking the form of a game.

If you don't recognise the thought processes expressed in this game, the experience may become a battle between your interest in perceiving something new (keep playing) and just wanting to get out once you realise that the protagonist is thoroughly convinced of the hopelessness of all actions. There is an overlap here with the mechanic of the much vaunted Depression Quest, but while I view that game as more of a novel tool/primer which can begin to educate people about the experience of depression, I’m Fine is absolutely realistic and out in the deep end.

I won't spoil the ending of the game, but I will say that I liked it and it made me feel that it had been worth persisting. 'Worth persisting' is also decent advice for the protagonist, and conceptually, the end of It's Fine is what brings the most value to the whole. The catch remains that the bulk of the game is spent moving through material that you will find almost verbatim in the diaries of the morbidly depressed or suicidal.

I continue to find it extremely difficult to interpret games like this, let alone stick a star rating on them. ( I know I don’t have to use stars, but I tend to like to be able to do so within the context created by this site. I don’t want to say something like, ‘This is too personal a game to the author for me stick a star rating on it,’ because I don’t think the author gets to decide that if they submit their game work to a site with star ratings.) Perhaps I'm not supposed to find it difficult at all; just to respond to and accept someone's expression. But in art I don't ever want to take an attitude of uncritical acceptance. Not every raw expression will make for a good game experience, no more than every cathartic expression a human being makes will be of benefit to all other humans. The expressive act itself can be the important thing. I understand that my floundering in this confessional game terrain comes because I often feel I’m being presented with the raw act and expected to find the value in that context, rather than that I should consider what decisions have been made to transform that material into a game. I want to do the latter because the material is being presented as a game.

KING OF BEES IN FANTASY LAND, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Cute and serious sci-fi with 8-bit delivery, and surprising., June 18, 2013
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine
KING OF BEES IN FANTASY LAND is a brisk fantasy/sci-fi CYOA which, in common with the same author's terrific You Will Select a Decision, is presented as an artefact from the recent past written in less than ideal English. Starting up King feels like starting up an '80s coin-op or Nintendo game, albeit one without pictures. The lettering is an all caps 8-bit font and the copyright notice says 1989. The style of the writing is that of mildly enthusiastic Japlish.

The player, addressed as Space Knight during the patriotic opening spiel, is charged with the mission of taking down the "evil King of Bees from Bee Fort" so that humans, who have wrecked their own planet, can colonise the bee planet Garaxas, aka Fantasy Land. The outward silliness of this plot and the game's presentation both put you in in a frame of mind in which you're immediately hungry for fun and success.

The fun is easy to come by. Whatever decisions you make once you hit the planet's surface, the game rolls with them. Even when you face seemingly important binary choices, like whether or not to trust the boardwalk which crosses the alligator swamp, you'll find that all roads tend to lead to ultimate success by their own methods, or that a blocked path will produce a discouraging loop which quickly pushes you onto an unblocked one. Messages will appear proclaiming exciting bonuses you've acquired for non-existent (mechanically speaking) skills, and whatever you do, the occasional exclamation mark is there to suggest that you're doing good, or The Right Thing.

The planet is busy with its bee inhabitants, and they're mostly friendly, chatty folk who offer no opposition to your march across their territory, or even an impression of being aware that opposing you is relevant or necessary. So even though the excitable 8-bit plot and tone of the game will have primed most players savvy to 8-bit conventions for combative action, most players will also find themselves pretty uninterested in vaporising friendly unarmed folk, except in the also 8-bit manner whereby they might just want to see what happens if they act like a jerk. The text gets prejudicial when the bees show up, with terse but aggressive options appearing like ERADICATE, but the delivery remains paradoxically light and encouraging, whether you're acting like Rambo or not.

The first time I played King, the contrary signals being sent simultaneously by different levels of the game about what I was doing as Space Knight started to put me in a nervous and suspicious mood. I was wondering if the game was going to suddenly turn around and tell me (or at least strongly imply) that I was a harmfully suggestible dumb-dumb of the kind who can easily be made to follow any orders. That might sound like a strong reaction to an ostensibly light game, but there seem to be an increasing number of IF games around which impart this lesson through degrees of player deception. It's not that I oppose games deceiving players per se; in fact IF is particularly good at doing this in lots of different ways, and to different ends. But sometimes in the case of games which offered the lesson, "You should have resisted the game's path for moral reasons", I had felt, when I reached the outcome, that I had simply been tricked.

I'm definitely not saying that this lesson or this schtick are the upshots of King, only that these issues do come into play. And I have deliberately not addressed a lot of King's content to avoid spoiling anything. There are some interesting, entertaining and surprising little turns of events tucked into this quite short game, and it's frequently cute, even while it's being serious. To understand all the aspects of what might be going on will take at least a couple of plays, and there's some new fun to be had on the way through each time. The voice of the prose is very authentic in reproducing the earnest and focused tone of Japanese 8-bit games, and the arrangement of the screen, fonts and colours are all attractive. The game is a fine example of how cute and simple aesthetics should not be underestimated in terms of their ability to deliver clever or thoughtful outcomes. Probably the biggest cleverness of King is that the expectations and aesthetics of the 8-bit are used both sincerely and for commentative purposes at the same time. My final advice on this game comes from the attract mode of 1980 coin-op Moon Cresta: "Try it now!! You can get a lot of fun and thrill"

Mastaba Snoopy, by gods17

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
You're in the Matrix, Charlie Brown!, April 6, 2013
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, choice-based
I feel that the best way to describe the aesthetic of this game is as follows: Imagine that the computers used to render the graphics which portray the horrible, gritty world overrun by machines in the film The Matrix were corrupted by a hacker who replaced most of the textures with imagery from Peanuts comics. This is the imagery rendered by the prose of this game. And yes, you do need to have read a moderate amount of Peanuts to recognise the iconography, and knowing The Matrix some will also help. I guess The Simpsons anticipated all of this with that poster outside the Googleplex which says 'You're in the Matrix, Charlie Brown!'

However – I am already struck by the difficulty I feel in describing this as a game. Perhaps it is in the area of pieces like this which the term Interactive Fiction will come into its own in a more literal sense. Mastaba Snoopy is a poetic prose story with junction points which determine what may be read next, but there's a low sense of consequence based on what you click – I confirmed this at least for myself by repeatedly rolling back one move, trying the other option(s) and seeing if my feeling about the whole moved a different way as a result of what I read there. It didn't, except at a handful of major branches; there's a kind of uniform forward velocity into this clever concoction of an alien meets future-internet world based on Peanuts comics, no matter what choice you click on, but I can't say that the different facets of it feel very different to each other. The world is rendered with effective writing, and the immediate effect of the piece is different to that a static piece of writing, but the combination of the piece's overall abstraction and its low consequence of action mean that its emotional effect is still closest to that of a static piece of writing, albeit one which can be rotated to be viewed from a few different angles.

Peanuts has always been and will always be a big part of my life through all of its sense of humour, writing and artwork. I doubt I missed any of the numerous references in Mastaba Snoopy, whose whole world is built out of an alien's interpretation of Peanuts comics. Some of the iterations are darkly amusing, though nobody is likely to guffaw at the bleakness of the whole. Coming into this game as a Peanuts guy, my mental state was along the lines of, "Alright, bring it." I came out disappointed that Mastaba Snoopy was neither specifically as humorous nor as thoughtful enough about ideas from Peanuts as I'd hoped it might be. It's probably hard to be specific when you're also being abstract. I didn't feel that any more meaning emerged from the throbbing of Snoopy's loins – a scene in Mastaba Snoopy – than it would have from the throbbing of, say, Hello Kitty's loins. Or rather, both may be saying the same thing (whatever that is). Mastaba delivers a fair bit on the cyber/veneral imagery front in general.

In spite of the quality of the writing, I was disappointed re: Peanuts and I missed the presence of more game-like consequences which might have made me get more into this world. If the writing alone is enough for you, you may like it a lot more, and the whole idea is very imaginative.

You Will Select a Decision, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
A high point for Russian Choose Your Own Adventure books, and for absurd writing, February 22, 2013
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine
The shtick of You Will Select A Decision is that the English translations of a pair of Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) knockoff books originally written by Russian computer scientists in the 80s have just now become widely available. The real author of this work is Brendan Patrick Hennessy, and he has created one of the funniest and best written absurd text games I have ever played. The two self-contained adventures demonstrate a deep understanding of all the methods of the original CYOA books, and so are able to mobilise and make fun of the lot of them over their course. Perhaps the most faithful feature is the way every passage of text in the games is tied to a real page number, allowing for the classic CYOA 'turn to' parlance to be in place.

"If you take on a fisty attitude and confront the witch head on, turn to page 53"

The humour of You Will Select A Decision is fuelled both by the strange outlook of the books' faux Russian authors and by the superb contortions of the translated text. The first story, Small Child in Woods, is about a peasant girl who sneaks out of her village one night in defiance of parental strictures. This story gives the authors a chance to expound on life in the context of their home turf. The second story is a lot more fanciful and has the reader playing a cowboy in Wyoming in the 1800s, a tale obviously begging to be mishandled by its Soviet Union authors.

We live in times when even a clueless person can prise the occasional linguistic gem out of the back and forth of Google Translate, but it takes a writer's skill and understanding of language to consistently craft and squish faux-translated words into a form that is funny for showing up all our assumptions about the workings of English. This is what has been achieved at length in You Will Select A Decision. Weird choices of tense, verbs and nouns are exploited to produce a constant stream of misdirections, surprises and absurdities. The fake authors try for a stern narrator's voice, but most of the time they succeed only in being capricious. The usual set of morals in CYOA books is usurped by advocations of Communist pride and anecdotes about obscure Soviet heroes. The main joke is that when the fake authors aren't waxing ideology, they're just clueless about how to satisfy a reader or tell a tale competently. The stories swerve towards or away from exciting moments in just the wrong fashion, and in a manner you can imagine would be guaranteed to irritate a sincere child reader. A great set piece may be followed by an unavoidable stupid death involving rocks falling on the reader's head. A climax may be steadfastly worked towards and then not delivered.

You Will Select A Decision remains vigilant in delivering this fantasy of a specific kind of hilariously bad, translated storycraft from its two starts to all of its numerous finishes. With more than 200 pages of content across both stories, the game also satisfies as legitimately designed CYOA, with just as many major and minor branches of possibility as you would expect from one of the real books. I laugh a lot in life, but I don't think I've ever laughed along with a computer game as much or for as long as I did with this one.

Intake, by Maddox Pratt

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Good idea but insubstantial., February 11, 2013
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: choice-based, Twine
Intake is a very short hypertext piece about being a mental health patient and unsatisfactorily answering some initial questions from a patronising doctor. It's okay as a brief emotional sketch, and it has a poetic rhythm about it that's felt if you play a few times. But as an interactive piece representing this situation, it's too simple to make an impact. The main effect comes from the good idea of putting the player in a seat of powerlessness to emphasise that powerlessness (only the doctor gets to speak). Intake fares best if considered only for that effect. Thinking about a few answers you can make to the doctor's questions, and ones you specifically can't make, which I sometimes didn't understand, led me into a state of protracted querulousness. Am I supposed to be playing a marginalised character, or a not-marginalised character being treated as if I was marginalised? Am I specific or not? Besides, can anyone actually quantify how marginalised I am or should be, especially if I am fronting up with mental health problems?

I think troubles are hard to avoid in general in short IFs with frontmost political content. The moment such expressions take interactive form, they need to be able to stand up to a fair bit of scrutiny in the same way that rooms in IF games need to be able to stand up to sufficient player interaction. Intake will not stand up to scrutiny beyond its basic expression that it sucks to be in this position if your system is crummy and the particular doctor you are seeing is appalling. In which case, you obviously need to find a different doctor, preferably a good or great one, and/or persist – my words, not the game's. Also, if Intake's outro did mean to badmouth Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (a badmouthing I would dismiss) I think it undercut itself, since it's obvious that any doctor who would prescribe the same treatment for every problem is a fool.

The Lift, by Colin Capurso

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
"For God's sake, take the stairs!", November 3, 2012
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Twine, IFComp 2012, choice-based
(I originally published this review on 5 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 6th of 26 games I reviewed.)

Unfortunately The Lift is not a game based on either 1983 Dutch horror film The Lift or its silly but likeable 2001 remake The Shaft.

"The cover art for The Lift looks like it might be good," I had thought to myself as I'd squinted at the postage stamp sized icon dispensed by the IFComp site. The same automated process which deleted all of the large sized cover artworks from the comp games and replaced them with shrinkies in 2011 did the same thing again in 2012. After playing through this hyperlink CYOA game which involves choosing one of four weapons and then either being killed or not being killed by some zombies and dire rats, I think its cover image (even in shrunken form) is the only part of it I can compliment.

The PC is an amnesiac who wakes up with the obvious goal of survival. After picking your weapon, the next important choice you have to make is which of the four floors of the building you will investigate in hopes of escaping. Give or take the odd exception, that's about sixteen outcomes, but there's next to no variation of choice within outcomes. More problematic is that the writing is bad to unremarkable, there are no dynamics, there is no atmosphere, no suspense, reason, or really any point of interest. The choice you have to make before making the second important choice is whether to avail yourself of some pornography or not. This is potentially a moment of inspired dumbery, but it also might not be.


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