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Ratings and Reviews by BitterlyIndifferent

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Ulterior Spirits, by E.J. Holcomb

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Strong story, weak interaction., October 25, 2020
Ulterior Spirits is a choice-based work created with Unity.

This entry uses graphics, sound, and a futuristic presentation to support a story on a space station populated by aliens and robots. A lot of background material is necessary to introduce the laws, life forms, and technology of this world, but smart design choices bring readers up to speed without being invasive.

While popup windows appear instantaneously to give more detail about races and technology, the story itself is revealed through individual paragraphs of timed text. I wish I could have experienced the main story at the same speed as the background reading.

I needed time to get invested in this entry's narrative, but that investment paid off. Nuanced characters with understandable motives acted out a story arc that ended in satisfying personal development. I enjoyed it as an immersive work of fiction supported by well-timed, illustrative artwork.

However, an immersive work of fiction is not the same as an interactive one. Some choices were obviously meaningless, only altering a single line in the next passage or responding with text that ignored the choice completely. Most passages ended with simple "click to continue" buttons.

Although I tried to make choices as a level-headed senior officer, I suspect that I would have seen similar outcomes from the wild and impulsive options. It was still enjoyable, and I'd recommend it to others.

You Will Thank Me as Fast as You Thank a Werewolf, by B.J. Best

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
It's procedural text generation., October 19, 2020
From its in-game About section:

“This work is a collaboration with GPT-2, a neural network model designed to predict the next word in a block of given text based on its study of eight million web pages. In this application, I input a text file of my own prose from the past twenty years into GPT-2. It then generated new writing in a similar style. I selected, arranged, and lightly edited the resulting output.”

I’d be entertained if somebody collaborated with GPT-2 to generate a review for this entry, but on the IFcomp rating scale of 1 to 10, I’m giving it a 2.

What the Bus?, by E. Joyce

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
This is totally taking place in Boston, October 3, 2020
This entry is quick and dreamlike for good reason: it's a transit nightmare. In your rush to arrive at work on time, you only see a brief slice of content before arriving at one of many endings. Multiple playthroughs uncover a much larger range of outcomes.

What the Bus? pulled off a clever trick with my expectations, although discussing it ventures into spoiler territory: (Spoiler - click to show)the word "Nightmare" is not hyperbole. The author has created an experience where you start off sleepwalking through your daily commute before realizing that you're fully asleep and not walking at all.

The tediously familiar routine of commuting was presented so effectively that the various detours, delays, and redirections steered me to some very weird places before I realized what was happening. I like how it played with the assumptions embedded in city commutes — of course you take everything for granted, you've done it a million times before.

There's a back button at the bottom of every passage that seemed confusing and unhelpful on my first playthrough. Then I realized that it was an essential mercy to let me back out of paths leading to endings I'd already seen. Background colors that change to show the different subway lines was another nice detail.

I appreciated this entry's use of procedurally generated text. You will see a lot of familiar passages, retracing your steps to arrive at new endings, but if you pay attention you'll see (Spoiler - click to show)mimes, former schoolteachers, zombies, and other dreamworld inhabitants. I checked my GPS app every time the option came up, because I knew the results would be entertaining.

I never thought I'd say this about public transit: "That was fun. Let's do it again!"

The Turnip, by Joseph Pentangelo

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Something Leafy This Way Comes, October 3, 2020
I appreciate the effort put into this entry's presentation — the technical choices made to select fonts and colors, but also the information that is shared and withheld.

It's the terse story of an ominous turnip discovery: you play as someone with a job digging holes in a field, and the story is delivered in a fitting tone. The story advances one link at a time, but you can take detours to examine different things along the way.

Those detours make The Turnip stand out. Something is not quite right even before the turnip appears, and the narrator's world-weary tone conceals oddities that would only be present in a world much different from our own. When you click to examine something closer, you might get the bland description of something dismissed as commonplace, or it could be the wild perspective of someone seeing the world as a swirling, colorful omelet.

I enjoyed this story’s skill and restraint. It didn’t get bogged down with excess description, and it didn’t trip over itself trying to deliver an in-depth examination of a world that is Not Like Our Own. A measured amount alienating details did a nice job of keeping me off balance while methodically trudging along an assigned path.

Stoned Ape Hypothesis, by James Heaton

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Make Yourself a Better Caveman, October 3, 2020
This entry has a friendly gauntlet structure where you solve puzzles to unlock parts of the story, beating computer opponents in a series of challenges before you arrive at the ending.

As a game, it works: your victories earn a series of power-ups, and your final reward is full integration with society.

As a story, I found it difficult to engage with this entry. It felt like the triangle of identities got in the way of allowing me to understand the character's motivation.

Curiosity drove me to move from location to location and uncover new options, but there was no clear reason for the character. I never got a sense that food, water, or shelter were matters of survival — they just felt like background details.

The association with the Stoned Ape theory introduced a disconnect between the scope of this game, which covers a few days (?) in the life of a single organism, and the scope of the evolutionary theory, which plays out across generations.

Developmentally, I couldn't tell whether this character was starting from farther back than everyone else, making it the "rite of passage" story of journey that each member of the tribe must compete, or whether this character was a prehistoric Prometheus bringing enlightenment to his tribe.

From a mechanical perspective, the challenges were well developed. You make strategic choices based on the actions of your opponent, and it's possible to fail. This entry was well implemented; I never felt stuck, and I found my way through to the end without any major confusion.

I respect the work that went into this, and it's a solid effort.

Advent Door, by Andrew Plotkin

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A brief, fun puzzle, March 29, 2020
This game is a small, well-executed puzzle that includes enough atmosphere and hints at backstory to keep things entertaining.

The presentation is excellent — the player must use an unconventional mechanic to navigate through locations in the game, but the parser clearly indicates when the puzzle's rules are blocking the player from attempting something. When the player does attempt a move that's allowed, the parser is very generous about understanding actions without getting too fussy about procedures.

(Spoiler - click to show)The process of opening doors, closing doors, taking doors, and placing doors was much more streamlined than I expected. I ended up typing out a lot of extra commands before I realized that some of the actions didn't need to be explicitly spelled out.

February, by Mike Doty

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Existing on two planes: entertaining and frustrating, March 11, 2020
It's a simple mechanic and effectively implemented: a sequence of binary yes/no choices.

The writing between choices is funny and short, and you quickly encounter a large variety of situations. I survived none of them.

The other entertaining surprise was the amount of work put into developing the different story branches. It supports multiple, quick playthroughs.

Gardening for Beginners, by Juhana Leinonen
BitterlyIndifferent's Rating:

The Ascent of the Gothic Tower, by Ryan Veeder
BitterlyIndifferent's Rating:

robotsexpartymurder, by Hanon Ondricek

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
This isn't what it looks like!, December 2, 2019
The best part of robotsexpartymurder is the way it accommodates people who don't want to have sex parties with robots. You can play through the game as someone who is definitively not interested in sex parties, and it offers increasingly absurd options for denying their reality.

Does it bother you if people think you're someone who enjoys robot sex parties? What about the robots themselves — are you trying to maintain their respect? Is it a problem if your personal assistant software thinks that you're down with the lifestyle? Would you even be playing a game like this if it wasn't an IFcomp entry?

(Spoiler - click to show)For example, I was in a bind after Em reminded me that spending time with these robots was a potential violation of Cardinal's terms and conditions. I had no choice — I was forced to start a party and then call Em in to witness it.

This game worked on mutiple levels. Players who get hung up on the existence of the sex robots might miss the game's commentary on relationships and control as they play out between corporations and people, between law enforcement and private citizens, and between people and their possessions.

It accepts and encourages broad range of viewpoints, allowing you to pursue multiple courses of action while subtly reminding you that other people might view those actions from different perspectives. (Do you want to wear a bathrobe everywhere, like some delusional freak who pretends he's enjoying the decadence of ancient Rome, or do you just do it because you enjoy looking like an extra from Logan's Run?)

I made it to the end of the game, but I would not call it a happy ending. I'll have to probe a little deeper. You know, purely for research purposes.


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