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Reviews by Anya Johanna DeNiro

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1-7 of 7


Known Unknowns, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
a capstone to loose trilogy and a major achievement in interactive fiction, December 13, 2017
by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Minnesota)
(I had IFDB erase a nice long review--thanks!--so this is much abbreviated).

I played all four parts of Known Unknowns in one fell swoop and was to put it frankly blown away by it. I could see how it might seem a bit underwhelming serially but if you haven't had the chance to lose yourself in this richly imagined world, I highly recommend it. Set in the same universe as Bell Park Girl Detective and Birdland, I would say that Known Unknowns is the equal to Birdland, downplaying the supernatural elements to an extend and going deeper into the characterizations.

And the characters are amazing. A game like this lives and dies by the strength of its writing and it's probably not much of a surprise that Known Unknowns is running on all cylinders, with a gut-wrenching range of emotions with a HUGE cast. I'm sure you will find your favorites (shout out to my pal Olivia).

The game expertly switches from dialogue/conversation mode to exploration mode, as the two feed off each other.

Finally, this game is really really queer, and the range of people in this high school trying to figure their own identities out is tender, hilarious, melancholic, and ultimately human. And the choices you are given reflect that high school rollercoaster at every turn.

This game is a treasure and you should play it. It's one of the most affecting works of IF I have ever played, in fact.

Map of Fahlstaff, by Ian Hinck

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
a walking tour worth taking, May 26, 2015
by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Minnesota)
Map of Fahlstaff is a Twine piece that acts as a kind of virtual tour guide. There's a pretty high degree of spatiality here; you can very easily "navigate" the city's sights, with only occasional deadends.

The writing is very sharp--while moving around the city the narrator acts as a tour guide of sorts, with plenty of oddball commentary, with a cheery tone that quickly gains dark undertones. This reminded me a great deal of some of the content of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast (although perhaps a little gentler), or the world of Twin Peaks or the town of Greenvale in Deadly Premonition. There are also a couple of narrative events that are triggered as well, giving a sense of immediacy and interconnectedness between the different parts of the city. The fact that this, hopefully, the first part of a series is exciting.

If I had some complaints, it would be only two things: occasional typos, and the background images taking a bit too long to load. The first should be an easy fix; don't know about the latter. They are, however, gorgeous, drenched in slightly sepia undertones.

In conclusion: if you're a fan of uneasy ambulation and strong sense of place, do yourself a favor and pick up this map.

The Ascent of the Gothic Tower, by Ryan Veeder
quite a gem, November 7, 2014
by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Minnesota)
I had missed this when it was first available; this is a short but evocative work. In many ways it reminds me of Veeder's earlier piece Wrenlaw (using a somewhat constrained landscape for emotional ruminations), which I also enjoyed, but this game felt like it had a bit more bite to it. For such a short work there is a lot going on, including a very meta passage in the middle that I wouldn't want to spoil, but is incredibly effective as a change of pace in the narration. And as in many of the author's other works, the writing is sharp and economical without being too restrained or drab. In the end there is a sense of almost bittersweet satisfaction at this little journey. Definitely worth a play.

Don't Read the Comments, by Ashton Raze

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Worth a 10 minute play, December 19, 2013
by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Minnesota)
Well, if you're a Twin Peaks fan you will get a kick out of this. (Spoiler - click to show)I seem to be the only reviewer who got the reference to Nadine; it was a nice payoff. It's extremely linear but has some humor in deflating the expectations of the protagonist and the overall pacing of the piece.

Yes it's one joke but it's a pretty funny joke.

One Week, by Papillon

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A harbinger?, October 31, 2013
by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Minnesota)
This game has aged very well. Except for the fact that you're typing in numbers rather than pointing and clicking numbers, it could have easily been released on Twine in the last six months. Not only does it have structural similarities to recent CYOA--brevity, some measure of state tracking--thematically it also parallels many of the "slice of life" Twines from the last couple of years. The writing is brisk and captures a sense of character very well. Perhaps most impressive about One Week is that it doesn't feel like a maximization puzzle. After several playthroughs each ending felt satisfying (even though it wasn't necessarily the "best") and yet encouraged trying again. That only works if the mechanics are embedded in a particular voice and tone, which is exactly what happens here. The main character is likeable--but there are plenty of chances to make mistakes. Perhaps one of the themes of One Week is: you can still create a good life for yourself even if you do make mistakes. Even if you don't be Prom Queen and get a perfect score on your SATs.

Highly recommended, especially if you have an interest in CYOA (in whatever form that may take).

Castle, Forest, Island, Sea, by Hide&Seek

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
The Consolations of Philosophy, October 1, 2013
by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Minnesota)
"This game is made up of nine different chapters. Each chapter explores a different question in philosophy. As you play, the game builds up an idea of how you feel about that question." So goes a passage from the How to Play section of this game. What could have been a dry, pedagogical exercise, however, turned out to be a winsome philosophical adventure with lots to recommend it.

The game's presentation via Twine is clean and sharp, with clear navigation and strategic use of images that almost look like woodcuts from a book of fairy tales. The writing is also very strong: lyrical without being forced, and--an important point in a game like this--not overly didactic. That is to say, I didn't feel throughout that I was somehow stuck in a philosophical experiment. Yes, the narrative was always informed by Big Philosophical Questions but the consistent tone and pacing gave the narrative a warmth that gave these questions more emotional weight. The birds who are your companions--blackbird and robin--take different sides of philosophical questions and what's fun is how you as a player/character feel like you've stumbled in media res into their own (rather friendly) arguments.

Besides that, the game meanders through many locations and scenarios, and one's choices always felt effective in moving the story forward in interesting ways. Some of the settings were from Fairy Tale (and perhaps Interactive Fiction?) Central Casting but it works in a game like this. There's a lot you can get away with when the writing is good.

My only real criticism:

(Spoiler - click to show)The game uses the "cycling link" macro in Twine, which allows one to scroll through various potential choices before settling on one--these are indicated in yellow. Here, I didn't quite understand how my choices in these links really affected the story. It didn't really indicate, if I settled on choice A, B, or C, how that moved the story forward--since there were OTHER choices (in blue links) that were the main story branches. And they were usually in the middle of a paragraph; so, for example, you'd give a response to a 3-headed giant but he would have the same reply to you, no matter what your choice was.

Although I only went through this once, it seems like this would have high replayability, which several alternate paths to take. The ending (Spoiler - click to show)also has a GREAT mapping function which showed you the paths you took through the story--and displayed which philosophers from history your choices aligned or clashed with. The connection to Open University's philosophy department didn't feel forced at all--this in itself is a fantastic achievement.

With lots of food for thought, a compelling story, and a strong sense of design, Castle, Forest, Island, Sea is well worth your time.

Horse Master, by Tom McHenry

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Hunger Games meets Black Beauty on crystal meth, July 12, 2013
by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Minnesota)
I haven't written any reviews on IFDB but I feel compelled to with Horse Master: heartwrenching, sharply written and even though I'm not sure it is truly strategically rigorous, it FEELS that way (in that interestingly I was feeling shades of Cryptozookeeper). But the decisions you make for caring for your horse are seamlessly integrated into a setting that is scary and absurd. It's a world where (Spoiler - click to show)sacrificing your horse at the end is expected as the way to win, a decision which shocked me and yet felt utterly natural with the narration. In this sense the narration felt "unreliable"--surely there would have been an emotional bond? But, no. We see in a rush just how much the character has integrated the cruel violence of his world. Like any good science fiction, Horse Master takes common terms (like "horse") and reorients our perspectives on them.

In a way, this could be seen as a dark, postmodern take on the "pony book genre": books of a young person growing close with a special horse. "A perfect friendship with an idealized companion." But in Horse Master, through the interaction (and the implementation with Twine was incredibly solid), the player herself or himself rips away this sentimentality. Clicking through, the player is exposed to the desperation of the world of the Horse Master, deeper and deeper, until...well, you have to find out for yourself. Highly, highly recommended.


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