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Reviews by E.K.

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View this member's reviews by tag: CYOA dating sim David Whyld ectocomp Geek horror humour Jim Aikin meta multiple playthroughs new authors philosophy retro romance sci-fi spring thing Spring Things twine western
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Enlightened Master, by Ben Kidwell and Maevele Straw

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Off-putting intro hides an entertaining trifle., April 15, 2017
I almost gave up on this game before hitting the change-point. While there is a contextual justification for having an extremely linear introduction, I would say it is fairly flimsy. Without an indication that the level of interactivity will change the player is left without any real motivation to continue past their first attempts at doing something, anything, aside from UP or CAMP. Even the apparently lovely views are beyond our reach.

However, once I made it past this initial disappointment, the game endeared itself to me greatly. I don't want to give away too much so I'll put my thoughts behind a spoiler tag.

(Spoiler - click to show)The pinball game provides a great backdrop for what could otherwise be a philosophical infodump, and the overall feel of philosophy talk while shooting targets lightens the mood. I liked the voice of the Master, and found the game became strangely relaxing as I was playing, just directing the ball and thinking. The minigame sections were a nice touch, though I found myself wishing for greater interactivity and also better synonym implementation (eg I had to look at 'apple' not 'fruit', and objects mentioned in the highway description could not be given greater scrutiny).

Overall, this turned out much better than the beginning had led me to believe, and with a bit of expansion and more player motivation it could be a really nice little exploration of its theme.

Who Are You, Mr Cooper?, by Litvinov Serhiy
Potentially interesting 80 Days-alike, but too flawed., August 8, 2016
by E.K.
Related reviews: CYOA
I was initially intrigued by this steampunk travel-mystery. While the premise and (very well done) graphics are a little close to '80 Days' for comfort, there's still a lot of room for creating a story of one's own in a familiar world. However, this game is simply too flawed to be properly enjoyable, particularly the English version. The introduction is very exposition heavy, and the translation is very poor. For instance, at one point it says (Spoiler - click to show)"events that caused the death of your friend and merely killed you" when it means "nearly" killed you and at another (Spoiler - click to show)"people are the most numerous race" when it means humans (personhood is a whole different philosophical ballgame). There are also many subject/object/verb disagreements littered throughout the game.

I could forgive the poor translation if the gameplay were made more compelling. Like 80 Days, it has random encounters, and some of the possible storylines seem like they are well-plotted and would be absorbing if followed. But at almost every stop the player has to choose to run or hide with a random result - this would be much better paced if used more sparingly. There is an interesting mechanic where you can learn how to make useful items for your journey, but the inventory limit is so constrained that it simply doesn't allow for collecting the materials required. Where 80 Days' limit is similarly frustrating at times, it is based on trade, rather than crafting - a game with a crafting mechanic should give you space for obtaining materials. It is this latter issue that made me stop playing entirely, as it offered me a playstyle I liked and then put massive barriers up that prevented me from playing that way.

The CryptoGame, by Manan Singh

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
XIBKGLTIZKSRX ZWEVMGFIV TZNRMT*, May 18, 2016
by E.K.
Cryptographic intern? I want that as my summer job!

This is a good example of a game that succeeds in being both educational and entertaining. A large part of the game involves reading through a potted history of cryptography, featuring various cipher techniques, encryption/decryption methods, and tools to help you crack the codes that you’re given in your role as an intern for the AGIL private investigations company. Basically, the game is one long cryptography lesson.

Fortunately, the mystery that the cryptography lesson is based around is a compelling one. A cryptographer has gone missing, leaving no trace but coded messages to his distraught wife. It’s your job to decode those messages, and in doing so you unfold a story with many twists and turns, that keeps you hooked in until the end.

The game is made up of 14 sections, each of which is presented as a task from your employers, with their correspondence and related chapters in a parallel cryptography manual. For the most part, each section increases the complexity of the encryption method, from simple substitution ciphers to binary/hexadecimal. It would be impossible even for the greatest mathematical mind to decode the later stages without computer help, and therefore the tools provided are essential. They are, additionally, well-programmed and have a simple, functional UI. However, they also reduce the ‘game’ aspect quite significantly. The vast majority of your code-breaking is simply choosing the correct mode and inputting strings in the right field (and this information is given freely in the correspondence).

Essentially, I would have liked to have seen more freedom in the game, or more personal puzzle-solving. For example, if the end mystery required you to go back and discover un-signposted codes within your own correspondence, that would be putting what you had learnt into practice. Or for some bonus content, on solving each section you could get some extra puzzles unrelated to the storyline but using the encryption type you had to solve in that part. Obviously this would be a *lot* more work for the developer, but these suggestions should be taken as an indication that I enjoyed myself greatly during the game, and would have liked even more.

One minor quibble that I had was that there were grammar and spelling issues throughout. These weren’t too problematic, but for a game that involves linguistics (even if it is more on the mathematical side), I felt that more proof-reading and attention to detail would have been beneficial.

*Hint: ATBASH

You Were Made For Loneliness, by Tsukareta

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
You are a robot filled with other people's memories., July 3, 2014
by E.K.
Related reviews: sci-fi, twine
You Were Made for Loneliness is a rather poignant sci-fi tale. Like most twine works, it is a hyperlink story with minimal true interactivity. There is only really one choice that makes any difference to the story, but there is an interesting interlude in the form of hyperlink poetry, which works very well. The lack of choice certainly fits with the primary story arc and the nature of your character, but it is unsatisfying from a game perspective: provided the reader does not mind this, they will be rewarded.

The story is presented as one overarching narrative that branches off into vignettes of memories. It is, perhaps, a trifle overlong for the story it tells, possibly a consequence of multiple authors each contributing sections. And it is difficult to care about every perspective, every character, but for the most part they are all well-written and have a consistent air of melancholy. Trying to determine what connections there are, what repetitions in voice, or where they are simply glimpses into separate worlds solely connected by love and futility is also fairly compelling.

Overall, recommended for fans of twine, and those who don't mind an emphasis on the fiction over the interactive.

Gaucho - An Interactive Geek Western, by Dave Bernazzani, Steven Robert, Jason Hanks

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Fun Western Puzzler, January 28, 2014
by E.K.
Related reviews: western, Geek
You've been abandoned by your tour group in an Old West ghost town, and you must wait until morning before the next bus comes to pick you up. At the very least you must find a good place to sleep, and at best? Well, adventure awaits...

Inspired by Scott Adams' 1981 game Ghost Town, Gaucho has many similar locations and old-style puzzles, but expanded and modernised from the simplistic days of two-word parser yore, and all the better for it.

There were a couple of things that initially seemed off-putting about this game to me. Firstly, the disclaimer in the description on this site is way too firmly stated. While some may distinguish between 'text adventures' and 'interactive fiction' it seems that the writers are immediately putting up an inverted snobbery against the latter when they really don't need to - the game is fun on its own terms and is a welcome addition to IF. The warning that it is made for a specific group is also somewhat overstated - Gaucho certainly contains references outsiders may not get, but it doesn't impinge on gameplay, and most of its humour is broad enough to be accessible (and also succeed in being funny).

Secondly, the opening paragraph is as long as a cowboy's lariat extending to rope an errant steer. Over-long backstory exposition in pre-game text is something a lot of games fall prey to, and in this case even a bit of basic editing would have been helpful - cut it into more paragraphs, pare it down to essentials. Fortunately this tendency towards lengthiness only reappears a couple of times in the game, and most descriptions are functional or funny rather than flowery. There are a few typos along the way, but nothing that really impinges on game quality.

In the end, I'm glad I ignored these quibbles and dived in, because this game was fun. I have a habit that may or may not be peculiar to me: that is, when I load up a new IF game I will always jump and dance and sing and check myself out (in-game, that is) - the implementation levels give you a reasonable idea about the care that goes into a game. And here there are a good number of responses to trying silly things, and it makes me respect the writers a lot more. You want to try dancing with a horse? You go for it. You want to light everything you see on fire? They're ready for you. Lick a flagpole? Well, you can try.

The story unfolds at a reasonable pace as you explore and pick up the items you might need. The puzzles are fair, logical, and not too tough. It seems impossible to put the game in an unwinnable state (though don't quote me on that), although it is very possible to finish the game in a satisfactory manner without picking up all of the points or finding all the cowboy gear. Overall it makes for a fun, old-school game suitable for beginners and veterans alike.

Second Chance, by David Whyld

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Everyone wants a second chance., January 15, 2014
You are about to die. There isn't anything you can do to change that. Or, just maybe, you might get a second chance.

In a bizarre and unnerving limbo, the somewhat sleazy salesman Everett Rhodes is offering you that chance. "You made some mistakes, friend. Bad mistakes that have crippled your life. Today you can fix them. TODAY you have the opportunity to SET MATTERS STRAIGHT. Just shake my hand and everything will be YOURS to decide.”

The game (or Rhodes himself) puts you in several different characters' shoes, as you attempt to work out just where your life went wrong in order to put you in this position. It is highly probable that you will need to play through the game multiple times in order to reach a good ending - requiring not just a second chance, but a third, fourth or even fifth. However, each playthrough gives you a better sense of your characters and their relationships, and the satisfaction gained from doing a little better each time outweighs the minor annoyance at quickly re-solving a section you'd already completed.

There were some situations where I felt that the options available for solving the puzzles could have been expanded, or that the solution would not have been effective in real life, but full realism is impossible to achieve without sacrificing gameplay, and no solution was entirely counter-intuitive. There was also one particular glitch that I noticed towards the end-game, where a description from another part of the game appeared, but it did not affect the gameplay aside from breaking momentum a little.

A minor warning: many of the characters are unpleasant and hold contemptible views, and the author himself warns that the game contains bad language and violence. While Whyld certainly is not espousing these views himself, he gives minimal moral narrative in favour of reflecting a realistic form of character. And the characters are well drawn, as you get a good sense of their lives even as you spend little time with most of them.

Overall, this is a very well-written game with a compelling premise. Ultimately it is a game about free will conquering determinism. This is made more interesting when considering the relationship between player and player character, the latter of whom inherently lacks will at all. In a way, you the player are the enigmatic Rhodes, holding cards your character can't see, but equally it is Whyld who flashes you the smile as you struggle, nodding, and saying: "Just shake my hand and everything will be YOURS to decide.”

Dead Pavane for a Princess, by Emily Boegheim

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Demons of the Night, or Zombie Debussy Will Eat Your Brains, January 4, 2014
by E.K.
Related reviews: ectocomp
This is a great little one-room game for Ectocomp '13. You play noted composer Maurice Ravel - the title is a play on his 'Pavane for a Dead Princess' - fleeing from a zombified Claude Debussy. The conceit itself is excellent, and the writing is tight and witty.

The puzzles are straightforward and intuitive, though somewhat on the easy side. My only real complaint is that it is just too short. Although it could stand alone as it is as a five-minute diversion, I personally hope that the author takes the constraints of the Ectocomp as simply a beginning, and fleshes out (no pun intended) the game into a fuller story and world.

Save the Date, by Chris Cornell

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Saving the date is harder than it sounds., January 3, 2014
The phone rings. It's Felicia, calling to arrange your dinner date for tonight. But this is no ordinary dating sim, and it will be no ordinary date. Some sort of cosmic force/evil wizard/time-murderer/computer game designer wants your date to end in disaster.

Despite not really being a dating sim, I'd still describe this game as "cute". The writing is funny, with touches of surrealism and a few pop-culture references thrown in. The game seems bug-free, and the graphics are retro but effective. It's played in multiple small doses, though you will find playthroughs are interconnected, and each gives you more of a clue as to your aim, and how to achieve it. It's ultimately a form of Choose Your Own Adventure, but with enough branches to feel your choices matter each time. Well, sort of matter.

Talking too much about the game, however, runs the risk of ruining the experience, so I will put the rest of these thoughts into spoiler tags. (Spoiler - click to show)I played through the game several times, and found no good ending. I have a feeling that the only good ending is still bad for you, which made me find a surprising emotional and philosophical element to an otherwise straight-ahead funny game. Sometimes the best course of action is selflessness, and sometimes things are just not meant to be.

Romance is Everywhere, by JJ

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Sadly not really a game yet., May 26, 2013
by E.K.
Related reviews: romance, new authors
The author admits that their grammar may be poor, but that is an understatement. "If you are prejudice against homosexuals then leave now because your not wanted" - while I wholeheartedly appreciate the sentiment behind this sentence, the errors don't fill me with any great hope for the state of the rest of the game. I also don't quite understand why someone who seems so blasé about their standard of writing would want to work on a text adventure, but maybe that's just me.

However, I'm willing to cut the author some slack. This is obviously a young person, new to writing IF. The basic storyline has a good degree of potential - the heady days of teenage trysts and romance, as navigated by the player character, a 17-year old girl at high school. However, it is difficult to say how well this will be implemented if the game is finished. While the author fully prepared me for the fact that there would be dead ends in the game, I did not expect quite so many. It is simply impossible to know whether the characterisation will be nuanced or drawn in broad brushstrokes, whether the plot will hang together or fall apart, what the level of interactivity will be, whether there will be multiple branches of plotting… The introduction certainly hints that there will in the end be a choice of romantic partners to interact with, but currently there is only the option of a dalliance with your best friend. It could be equally feasible for the author to concentrate on this single romance, or to follow a 'dating sim'-like structure, or, well, to do pretty much anything he or she likes.

I'm rating the game on the standard that it has reached *now* rather than future promise, and I hope the author will take this review in the constructive spirit it is meant. I will be happy to replay and re-rate if the game is finished.

A Flustered Duck, by Jim Aikin

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
You may be only a pig-boy, but you know your ducks., May 10, 2013
You play Elliott, a harried farmhand at Granny Grabby's farm. Her prized duck Mabel has swallowed the engagement ring you intended to surprise your girlfriend with this evening - you must get it back! With the help of your favourite pig Bessie, you will embark on an enjoyable load of puzzles and fetch-quests, that range from the simple to the slightly obtuse, but all full of this light, quirky humour.

The lightness does perhaps disguise that it is possible to put yourself in an unwinnable position without the game immediately telling you. However, these occasions seem rare, and with careful reading you should be able to avoid this (if the narrative voice seems iffy about your action, consider its necessity before continuing on). The inventory system is also rather inefficient - while the game will automatically shift items into a container when your hands are full, it then ceases to recognise you as 'having' these items, and you will have to take them again before attempting to use them. This is a minor quibble, however, and doesn't really get in the way of the fun.

In all, this is a great little comic puzzler, full of the joys of spring (and things).


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