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Reviews by forgepoet

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Lore: A Tale of a Sword and Those Who Wielded It, by T. Y. Vaught
Better Towards the End, March 23, 2014
While I did finish this, it took me three tries to get to an end, mainly because some of the initial segments are not very interesting or written very well (mainly too much telling, not enough showing). The first segment, in particular, could use a heavy rewrite -- it's not nearly as effective as some of the later pieces and that's a shame, because a lot of readers are going to quit after the first couple of pages and miss out on some of the more polished and fun segments later on.

Your choices affect the end of each vignette as well as the ultimate ending in a solid and clever design that works very well with the central conceit. However, there are too many segments per playthrough, and it detracts from the overall impact of the piece. No matter how cute or well-done a segment is, if it doesn't advance the overarching story (or give us a sense of the world), it's just filler. A couple of these might work for pacing, but as it is, I'm not sure I'm up to getting through all of that text again for a second playthrough. If I were editing this, I'd suggest picking one or two at random from the non-crucial segments to intersperse instead of showing all of them.

Another problem is that the overarching story isn't touched on often enough in the early game to make it feel relevant when it arrives; I know my choices affect the end segment and the ending, and how they do, but I have very little context for the end segment or how things came to suddenly be in a far worse position than they were in the previous segment. I mean, I can make some guesses, since it's not completely out of left field, but it felt very unconnected. Even a bit more foreshadowing in some of the less plot-centric segments would have helped.

Ultimately, if you can get through the first few segments, there are some interesting characters here and some interesting situations. Unfortunately, they're buried pretty late in the game.

Snow, by Erica.Szalkowski

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Disappointingly Uneven, March 22, 2014
This isn't really a mystery; if anything, it's a thriller.

It needs to be edited, and strongly, and probably twice. It's reasonably coherent and there are some effective moments, but there's too much wheel spinning, especially at the beginning, and the whole piece is uneven in tone and pacing. There are a few typos, misused phrases, and the occasional missed word or incomplete sentence. Dialogue is punctuated erratically. And there's a lot of cruft that could be edited out to make a tighter, more effective piece.

The mystery elements are disappointing, and there's no real sense of suspense. (Spoiler - click to show)In fact, should you happen to choose the right scenes in the right order, you'll quickly be given the answers, but you'll only receive credit for them in the end if you continue choosing correctly all the way through. Is there anything less compelling than a mystery where the characters figure out the villain halfway through and turn out to be right?

I know this review sounds pretty harsh, but these are all things the author could fix, if not in this game, in the next. I see a lot of potential here, if things were just edited more ruthlessly. And I'll definitely check out her next work.

Alice Falling, by Matthias Conrady
Too Many Effects Overwhelm The Text, March 11, 2014
It seems to be a fairly straightforward rendition of a specific scene from Alice in Wonderland, but I only made it ten or so clicks in. Enough to know I dislike the way this was handled intensely.

What I liked about the original scene, the graceful descent in a sort of dreamlike, accepting fog, is completely missing here, obliterated by the flashing, sliding, blinking, and fading of text effects gone haywire. To be honest, I became afraid that my next click would take me to a screamer or something similar and I lost my nerve to continue.

Perhaps if taken at a slower pace, the effects wouldn't be so overwhelming, but it's interactive fiction. It's necessary to take into account that some readers will read more quickly than others (especially when you're adapting a well-known work). I don't usually appreciate speed limits, but in this case, I think they would have improved the experience.

Threnody, by John "Doppler" Schiff

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Would Be the Perfect Introductory Game, Except..., March 7, 2014
This was so good, but it could have been so much better if the bugs were fixed.

There's humor that's genuinely funny, a companion who is as charming as the story, and a sense of meaningful purpose; there's a reason you're here and it makes sense why you continue. The puzzles are nicely introductory and ramp up in difficulty towards the end, but never become too hard (except maybe a couple of the optional ones) or illogical. The perfect game to introduce a fantasy reader to IF, until it just sort of fell apart for a while in the mid-game.

Things like one NPC's dialogue somehow getting stuck to another NPC (especially disconcerting since they are of different genders). An NPC still wandering around after being freed. A red herring item that, when acted on, turned into an item I'd already dealt with. And a couple of times the disambiguation messaging gave away information that I really shouldn't have had (and I was allowed to act on that information to interact with an item I hadn't found yet). Glaring stuff.

Yet none of that could hide the obvious love the author had for the world and the characters (despite some gentle fun poked at fantasy tropes). For one thing, it's refreshing (and happens far too infrequently in IF) to play a character who is competent and assertive and whose main flaw appears to be overconfidence. And, for a welcome change, who isn't an assistant or apprentice or slave or lowly peasant.

The multiple career paths are neat; the core game doesn't change much but all the important things (and a lot of the puzzle solutions) reflect your choice. And Threnody is a fine companion who makes the journey worthwhile and amusing; with her commentary, my choices felt much more meaningful than they would have otherwise. She's the heart of the game and elevates it from a mild dungeon crawl to an adventure. And I loved the little touches, like when my character got a bruised foot, the game occasionally remarked on it.

I liked that the puzzles could generally be solved (Spoiler - click to show)using items present in the room or a nearby one, with some exceptions. This felt very novice friendly, with the exception of a puzzle that I thought was a bit unfair; a required item is passed to inventory silently after a very specific dialogue choice and all other options are ignored with inscrutable messaging ((Spoiler - click to show)you cannot mix a potion in the old wine bottle, the hat, or the bucket, only in the flask you're given if you (Spoiler - click to show)"ask the librarian about worms").

I guess it's probably much too late to ask the author to fix the flaws in the mid-game, but I still wish he would! I would like to recommend this to someone who hasn't played much IF and who I know would love the story and Threnody, but I think the bugs would just be far too confusing to a new player. As it is, I can still say it's a good game, but keep the walkthrough handy to help if you think you've run into a game stopping bug.

Moonmist, by Stu Galley, Jim Lawrence
Not Much of a Mystery, But Fun, March 7, 2014
I really wanted to like this game. The set-up is breezy and to the point, hitting a lot of the high points you'd expect in a certain type of mystery (I love it when a game straight out tells me I'm good-looking, brilliant, rich, and have good taste in clothes).

The problem, for this mystery buff, is that the actual mystery wasn't much of one. This is actually a treasure hunt where collecting all the treasures ("evidence") earns you the ending. The motives and their reveals just aren't tied that well into the environment or the story (on my first play through, the first evidence I found was a signed notebook detailing the villain's plans), which is understandable given the multiple potential story lines, but really took away from the game itself.

There's also no emotional involvement from the protagonist; when you unmask the killer, you're given the opportunity to read some of the why as an author's afterword, but it's sketchy and leaves out little things like "what happens to the person I just arrested" and "how does the protagonist feel about this". Even endings where the hero could be expected to have emotional involvement never discuss it or the ramifications of the hero's success.

I think, in large part, that the professionalism and just plain inviting writing -- these are authors who know their stuff -- really set up narrative expectations that that games of that era weren't usually designed to meet. It's not fair to ding a game based on my expectations, but damn, this was fun and could have been so much more so if there had just been a little more story and a little more resolution.

The puzzles unfold easily and smoothly, with most being clued so boldly even I couldn't miss them. I did find it a little tedious to wander around the castle looking for rooms that fit the clues. I'll admit it; I'm spoiled by modern convenience and whenever I get a "go to" command I use it excessively and often have no mental layout of the game. I liked that if I ran into someone along the way the command would stop so I could chat with them.

As a treasure hunt, and as a bit of history, and even as a fun game for someone who isn't expecting much of a mystery (or who is new to the IF format), this is one to play. Just be aware that you'll have to fill in the blanks on the emotional aspects yourself.

Blood on the Heather, by Tia Orisney
Not Too Campy, Just a Bit Crazy, March 6, 2014
When I see "ridiculous" attached to a blurb, I usually translate it as "half-baked" or "I hope you think dumb equals funny". In this case, that'd be unfair.

This is a fun excursion into vampire flicks by way of a grown-up CYOA. It has a rampaging steamroller of a plot (and two separate but intersecting paths through the story) that makes reasonable sense if you don't stare at it too long and keeps things moving at a good clip. Which is good, because I didn't really care much about the characters, even the imperiled ones (which was everyone), mainly because the author did a bit too much telling instead of showing a lot of the stuff that was deemed unnecessary to moving the plot forward.

The tone is uneven, especially along the less violent path; it stays mostly around Buffy the Vampire Slayer but occasionally wanders over to early Laurell K. Hamilton. I think it'd be best described as "breezy". There are a few points where the author leaves a necessary sentence out and it takes a few paragraphs to figure out what's going on, but if you just watch the fun butt-kicking you shouldn't mind too much.

Don't get me wrong, there's a fun game under here. The structure is surprisingly elegant; if you choose the more exciting initial option, you get the more intense path, for example. The human characters are neatly aligned with the classic fighter, mage, and rogue (with the heroine as the rogue) and many of the choices presented give you a solid sense of this, and present a plausible conflict in the heroine's personality as well.

Ultimately, this would have been more fun if it were either a bit more ruthless or a bit more campy, and if the author had hit a few more of the expected genre points. But not at all a bad way to spend an hour, and definitely worth playing through both major paths (one is harder hitting than the other but they're both fun).

Who Among Us, by Tia Orisney
Good Example of Genre Done Right, March 5, 2014
This is my kind of game; entirely entertainment. Choices that move the plot along, interesting characters, competent design. The main character is an actual character, with a past, attitudes, and goals (like everyone else present) and I found that a refreshing change.

Mystery buffs will probably not have much trouble figuring out the killer; I was fairly certain who it was by halfway through, although the author includes a solid red herring that is more than clever enough to leave some doubt. There was still plenty going on to keep me reading through the end, and the protagonist is, while flawed, definitely likable (and thankfully proactive) enough to want to find out what happens to him.

The writing could use a bit of editing, just to tighten things up a little, but I think the genre contributed to the sense things should be terser. I would also have liked more variation in the endings or maybe a twist or two in the endings themselves -- the wrong choices essentially played out exactly as expected -- but the right endings were satisfying and appropriate.

I think this falls more firmly on the side of thriller than mystery, as figuring out who the killer is definitely takes a backseat to survival (and does it matter if you figure it out if you don't have any way to defend yourself?). Definitely fun, and definitely worth playing if you enjoy the genre.

Play Nice, by alicethornburgh
Enjoyable, Some Swalf, March 4, 2014
I found this enjoyable, except for one issue -- whenever names are modern names or words presented backwards, it triggers the part of my brain that looks at words instead of reading them. I then find myself testing all capitalized words back and forth just in case.

And since there's no real political agenda presented (or at least none I could puzzle out), I assume the name choices are just to be, ah, funny? I just found them distracting, and worse, I kept waiting for a political point to be made. I felt it detracted from the silliness rather than adding to it.

Other than that, fun! Love the idea of a word and diplomacy based logic puzzle. I would love to see this carried over from the absurd to a more realistic situation with more realistic stakes, and with characters who aren't jokes.

Ham and Egg Lawyer, by John
A Realistic (I Think) Slice of Life, March 4, 2014
I have to say, at first glance, I thought this was going to be a simulation of sorts (even though the author didn't promise one). I think it's most accurate to say it's a "slice of life" game, and at that, it succeeds.

There doesn't appear to be any randomness and you get the same cases in the same order on every play through. Your choices don't change much that happens (maybe an additional screen of text or a slightly different response) but do affect your stats. The stats were a nice addition but underutilized. I think that's what got me expecting more of a "game" than advertised; if you hand a player stats, they're going to assume they'll be rewarded or punished for how they affect those stats over the game. And this wasn't the case.

I think my biggest complaint is the ending; it was disappointing. I played through twice, and after a week of directing this character, I would have liked more than (Spoiler - click to show)a single line of text and my stat totals. Where's the entirely unrealistic to base off one week but necessary for player satisfaction epilogue stating how successfully my character will be? At least tell me what the stats will mean for him over the next few years! I really felt like it left me hanging.

I would also have liked to see a little more of the dramatic stuff (I know, I know, this isn't Law & Order). Maybe a central case that the protagonist sees as a "big break" that you can choose to devote part of each day to (or not), with a court appearance on Friday that your stats and preparation affect the outcome of or something, to break up the call-response routine a little and give some meaning to those stats.

The game as a whole really does leave the impression of spending a week looking over the shoulder of a new lawyer. It just turns out that this is about as exciting as spending a week looking over the shoulder of a new PI or web designer or any other self-employed field. Which is to say, interesting, but not in the way you'd expect if you were a fan of genre fiction. It was definitely informative and worth playing through, if only to see how ridiculous the callers are.

Duck Ted Bundy, by Coleoptera-Kinbote
Silly, Unapologetic, March 1, 2014
I would actually say that the protagonist is more of a stabby-stabby Jack the Ripper-type, to be honest, even though the game tells us he's not, but the title gets the point across.

This is ridiculous, mixed with enough "wow, that is actually kind of horrible if you think about it" to make it more thought-provoking that it might otherwise be. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just wandering around a swamp stabbing ducks.

I appreciate that the author is so aggressively confident about the whole thing. There are no apologies here, either meta or implied; no "this is just something dumb, lolz", no "you chicken out" choices. You're a psycho duck-killer who may or may not be a duck, and the author DARES you to take note of things like "where would a duck hide a Bowie knife?" and "how do I get reception in a swamp?".

Definitely not a "must play", but amusing. I would say this is probably closer to 2.5 stars, but I bumped it up a bit because the author was so gleefully consistent.


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