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Ratings and Reviews by Steph C

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1-9 of 9


Steam and Sacrilege, by Phil McGrail

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
An instantly compelling premise is failed by hopelessly broken implementation, November 11, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016
Let's start with the good: I LOVE the concept of taking a steampunk setting and looking forward to the present day, when all these glittering gears and robo-men are a part of history. This game suggests a steampunk haunted house, a combination of science fiction, ruin porn, and horror which would be an absolutely fantastic setting for a game. Unfortunately, this isn't what it delivers. There seems to be exactly one correct path implemented, and stepping off it snaps the game like a dry twig--and it's not at all clear what you're intended to do. I only managed to get through the opening scene through exhaustive trial and error (all the while being told I couldn't see or interact with things around me).

The present-day setting was even more decrepit. I have no information other than I have to go to work, but wandering out of the house took me into a maze of one-way passages and blank, undefined rooms. A man came to the door while I was in the kitchen. Then he came to my door again while I was wandering down main street and the same scene played out again. I went down an alley and got stuck. I bumped up against a metal door I couldn't see. A caretaker held me captive (apparently?) I have no idea what else you're supposed to do; there's probably an action you can take in the kitchen that triggers the rest of the story.

This game desperately needed to do one of two things:
1) Embrace the nature of the parser and fully implement the environments and for gods' sake have playtesters.
Players are going to be poking around, trying different things, and if the setting collapses like a souffle at the slightest touch, that's poison.
or 2) Use a format suited for telling a more linear story, like Choicescript. What little I saw of the story was compelling, and made me want to read more, but getting any of it out of the game was like pulling teeth.

If the idea hadn't been so good, I probably wouldn't care about this so much, but it was such a good idea, and I wanted this to be a good game so badly, and then it was unplayable.

Night House, by Bitter Karella

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Creepy, atmospheric late-80s period piece, November 9, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016
The author of this one is a good friend of mine and I did some playtesting for it, so I'm coming at it from the context of 1) liking the author, 2) sharing a lot of cultural frames of references with the author, and 3) having played the game several times already and been given hints to get past places where I got stuck.

You are a child wandering around a house at night; the environment (at least at first) is the standard NPC-free house with furniture and objects, but effectively conjures up the eerieness of ordinary things in the dark when you're young. The setting was especially effective to me because it's set not just during childhood, but specifically my childhood, circa 1990-ish: late-eighties action figures, late-eighties game systems, floppy disk computer, Trapper Keepers. Someone older or younger wouldn't find this as instantly relatable, but it worked for me.

Later on you encounter more explicit horror elements, and a sense of ongoing realization that something is off, not just with the house, but with you, and your assumptions about yourself.

This one is written in Quest, a rarely-used format despite its ease of use (for simple stuff, anyway) and some of its nifty features, like the automap. It also provides you with a compass rose, a list of objects, and actions you can do with those objects. I made my first couple of games using Quest and went to some trouble to turn off the suggested actions because I wanted a plain parser game, but they're quite good at making the game accessible; you can do 90% of what you need to do in this game using only a mouse. It's a structure Detectiveland also used to excellent effect.

The remaining 10% is where players are likely to get stuck: there are several places where you have USE things together or GIVE objects using the parser, and the game hasn't trained you to think of that as an option. (There are some places you need to ASK, too, but you're fairly well prompted about what you need to do.) There aren't any actual bugs in the finished version (that I could find), but some of the puzzle solutions are pretty obscure. Most players will likely need to resort to the walkthrough.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: download this one and play it offline if you possibly can! Many players have reported their online sessions being ruined by the hosting site timing out.)

Manlandia, by Rob Chateau

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
A multi-stage rocket of disappointments, November 8, 2016
When I read the blurb, I thought this was going to be either a screed by some red-pill-popping MRA or else something in the vein of Ethan of Athos.

When I read the story, I was disappointed that it wasn't remotely 'interactive fiction' unless we're including multi-part blog posts and ebooks in that now. It's just a story that you click to advance the pages. But as a story, I really liked it. It did a fantastic job capturing the voice of a early 20th-C adventure novel. Really authentic sounding!

When I found out that the reason it sounded like an adventure story from a century ago is that it was plagiarized in its entirely from an actual adventure story from a century ago, I was disappointed again. Disappointed because someone took someone else's work, Rule 63'ed it, and released it under their own name, and disappointed because a pitch-perfect '1916 adventure voice' is a lot less impressive coming from an actual 1916ian.

In short, it was...disappointing.

Ariadne in Aeaea, by Victor Ojuel

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Adventures of a hungover wannabe priestess, November 8, 2016
This is a relatively short and simple puzzle game taking place in ancient Greece; there were a few times where I struggled to figure out what I was supposed to do next, but I never had to look at the the walkthrough. I really like games that give you a well-defined protagonist with strong motivations and flaws, rather than making you a faceless "you"-entity, and this game provides an excellent one in Ariadne, a lecherous lush who mostly wants to become a priestess so she can show up her obnoxious kid sister. In order to do that, she's got to solve a mystery related to a mysterious lion brooch and... honestly, I actually found the mystery itself a little hard to follow, but it may be easier if you're more familiar with the time period. Fortunately the next actions you need to take are usually hinted at fairly strongly, and the world model is robust enough to stand up to some poking around.

A few things could stand to be improved. You have to advance conversations by 'talking to' people repeatedly, clunkier than just pushing space to advance--since the conversations are linear anyway, why make us advance them with the parser? The hint system has some strengths--it's neatly integrated into the story, with Ariadne talking to herself in order to straighten out what she needs to do next--but a few glaring weaknesses too. Sometimes when TALKing TO ME I got Ariadne musing that she needed to do things she'd already done, or things she shouldn't know to do yet. (Most egregiously, she wanted to interrogate 'the boy', but the only evident boy couldn't be interrogated--as it turned out, 'the boy' was another boy she hadn't even met yet.)

Overall, the game is a solidly implemented and fairly quick play that runs to the easier end of the puzzle spectrum, with an appealingly debauched heroine and an original setting. Contrast this one with 2015's One Night Stand--both feature a young woman protagonist who begins the game by waking up with a hangover after a night of casual sex, but there's a big difference in how they're treated. Ariadne is judged by some of the other characters, but not by the game, or by herself--you don't get the impression she's going to lose any sleep over not knowing these random goatherds' names. She's got shit to do.

You are standing in a cave..., by Caroline Berg

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Shakey implementation, but this is an author to watch, October 2, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016
You play an undefined protagonist (as good looking as ever!) who wakes up in a cave. I think this may be a first effort and while it leans a little heavily on puzzle-game cliches, there's plenty of attention given to the writing and making sure the environments are interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like it was playtested at all. You start out in a room with three passages leading out of it, but no indication of what direction anything is in or how the passages are different. Okay, let's pick...west? Ah, apparently I just went through a secret door I wasn't supposed to know about until much later, and the game assumes I've solved all the puzzles to get to this point. Oops.

You also can't 'look passages'--but you can 'look passage', and it'll ask you which one, and finally you get a list of the differences and can look at them individually. The game, as far as I got, is full of this kind of thing--which is a shame because the writing is fine and the world has the rich flavor of mid-90s Mystiness, full of gears and symbols and mysterious whimsical machinery. I found pieces of a lot of puzzles, complete with alternate solutions (some suboptimal)--there's a lot here and I can tell a lot of work and thought went into it. It would probably look fantastic if you read a complete transcript of play from someone who knew all the right commands in the right order, but if you deviate from what it expects, stuff gets weird quick.

The author has a lot of potential, and my rating reflects in part what this game could be as much as what it is. In its current form it needs a little more technical experience (and playtesters!) to get it into a shape where it's not a struggle to play, at least for me.

Detectiveland, by Robin Johnson

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
It doesn't take a gumshoe to figure out this one's a gem, October 2, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016
A great cover tells you just what sort of noirish period piece to expect, and the gameplay presentation is absolutely top notch, with a deliciously atmospheric typewriter setup that fits the theme perfectly without being distracting. There are even vintage character portraits. This is one of the slickest and most professional looking presentations I've seen for an IFComp game so far.

Play-wise, it's a puzzle adventure, but rather than typing into a parser, you're given a few options to click on depending on context. I've seen Quest games do this sort of thing before, and it makes the game feel a little like one of the 90s' era adventures like Day of the Tentacle or the Monkey Island series. The positive of this approach is that you don't have to worry about syntax; the negative is that it's harder to come up with a surprising solution to a puzzle, since all the options are presented to you right off (the 'just try everything with everything' problem.) Detectiveland manages to pull off some neat tricks here, though--in particular, the last puzzle of the case I played, "The Big Pickle", hit right in the sweet spot for me, not too baffling but clever enough that I felt smart when I realized the solution.

Witty, stylish, and lots of fun--highly recommended!

Toiletworld, by Chet Rocketfrak

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
I have to pipe up about this one, October 1, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016, toilets
Here I sit, brokenhearted by a game which utterly failed to bowl me over. I only logged a few minutes before realizing there was squat to do; the author seems to have pooped out before adding most of the content, and what little he did manage to push out was pretty corny. The game is flush with mentions of toilets-within-toilets, like turduckens, and they appear in loo of any actual story, jokes, or puzzles.

In a word, it's shitty.

Fair, by Hanon Ondricek

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
It's better than fair, it's good, October 1, 2016
by Steph C
Related reviews: IF Comp 2016
Having played Transparent and Baker of Shireton, I expected Fair to be an innovative, environmentally 'busy' game, and that's what I got. In Fair, you play as a self-published author who's been invited to judge an elementary school science fair. The game world is relatively small but extremely lively, crowded with science fair contestants, their parents, and a principal who mostly just wants the fair to be over with so he can set up for community theater rehearsal. As in Baker of Shireton, the world is full of things happening around the player.

Where Baker faltered due to the opacity of the goal (I don't think I'm the only one who never caught on that there was more to the game than unsuccessfully baking bread), Fair shines by giving you a few possible priorities and letting you choose. You don't have time to do everything--will you try your best to judge the finalists' exhibits, or try hawking you book and then award the prizes at random? I played through twice, and I have a strong suspicion that there a lot more possibilities than I found.

A few spots are a little clunky (at one point, you're told the principal is beckoning you over, but given no indication which direction you're supposed to move) but in general the implementation was pretty solid given how many parts are moving at once. Like last year's Midnight Swordfight, a single playthrough is quick, but it rewards revisitation if you want to find everything. Fun and recommended!

Attack of the Clockwork Army, by Felicity Banks
Entertaining steampunk storygame set in Australia, November 7, 2015
(I received an advance copy of this game in exchange for reviewing.)

Attack of the Clockwork Army is a steampunk-flavored game set in England and colonial Australia. You play the scion of a once-wealthy family fallen on hard times, and the plot is kicked off when you discover that your long-lost sister is alive and living somewhere in the Australian outback. Arriving in Australia, you find yourself caught between loyalists and revolutionaries, and have to decide where your ultimate loyalties lie while adventuring through the wilderness.

The central conceit of the game’s steampunkiness is that metals have different inherent characteristics, almost magical in nature, which can be exploited when using them in tools and mechanisms. Which goes a long way towards explaining how people in Victorian England are able to build working robots and such. As you progress through the game, you have the chance to affect your stats by ‘activating’ different metals that you choose, which allow you to do different things.

I love a good well-thought-out setting, and I could tell that the world was thoroughly planned (there are novels in the works); the story itself did feel a little rushed in places, and I found myself wishing that that game would have given the player more time to explore certain aspects of the setting. That would have both helped flesh out the world and allowed the player to make a more meaningful choice about what faction to lend support to. As it was, I had the impression of a vast and intricate world, but one I didn’t always get to see in as much detail as I might have hoped.

The first two chapters of the game are available to play for free, so it's well worth checking it out to see if you like it, especially if you're a fan of historical and steampunk fantasy.


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