Review – Harmonia

Harmonia blew me away. Those with aversions to gushing reviews should avert their eyes or risk injury. Story and presentation are exquisitely united in this work. I can only imagine that back in the mid-20th Century at some think tank like RAND Corporation or XEROX PARC, where lab-coated balding men with horn-rimmed glasses were trying to imagine what “computer-stories” would be in the 21st Century, they might have hoped for something like this: a technologically enhanced story. Nothing so crude as hypertext, and certainly not a game, Harmonia seems like the furthest point we have reached in transforming flat text into a technologically-mediated experience.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Something

Something is one in a series of short twine games drawn from the pages of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, whichever edition number they’re now up to. I can’t say that this subgenre really floats my boat, but it must have some appeal because these works keep showing up in IFcomps.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Unit 322 (Disambiguation)

This review does not contain subliminal messages, nor does the game.

This twine story starts from a wikipedia style disambiguation page, which collects items related to the term “322”, and the game consists simply of clicking around these links at leisure, exploring these unrelated topics.

That’s what they would like you think.

Or is that what’s going on?

Nothing. Please go about your business.

It’s time to try on the aluminium foil hats and get out the red string and white boards. Something damn clever is going on here.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Inevitable

This is more or less Dr. Horrible: the IF. It’s an intentionally very short piece set in a single room, with a limited number of objects. There are a couple things to do, and I think most people will do them given a little experimentation.

Unlike The Dragon Will Tell Your Fortune Now, the point of the story is not that it is unwinnable. It can be won. But I will mention that it is also possible to put the game in an unwinnable state (which may not have been the author’s intention).

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Review – Domestic Elementalism

I played with this game for about a half hour trying to get the hang of it, and while I like the premise of changing the elemental nature of items to alter their function, and while I appreciate all the innovation that went into both writing the puzzles and coding the game system, I just could not get into this game.

The game screen is subdivided into multiple panes, and has almost the look and feel of an integrated development environment. Maybe that’s the intent: your house is complicated piece of engineering that needs fixing. Perhaps it is supposed to come across as an engineering interface.

I found it awkward to navigate. A main window give the view of a room and contains hyperlinks that bring up nested windows with detail about the hyperlink. Bottom-tabbed windows allow the user to go up a level of detail or jump back to the room description. Sometimes other windows pop up with information in front of the display. To the right, there is an inventory window. I found all that very visually busy and thought it buried the textual elements of the game.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – The Wand

The Wand: The title says it all. This story is about the wand, figuring out how to use it and then doing so. There’s minimal setup and character development and almost no dialogue, but it’s a darn good puzzle game. Players looking for emotional conflict, societal commentary, and flowery prose should move along, but as an almost pure game, I really enjoyed playing this one.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Guttersnipe: St. Hesper’s Asylum for the Criminally Mischievous

This game lives up to the expectation set by the professional quality cover art. Fun writing style and a slick in-game map feature wowed me. Lil’ Ragamuffin is a vibrant character, although not one I would let anywhere near my valuables. The period setting of the piece and her dialect give this work a strong voice. I had a little difficulty with some of the puzzles and had to peek at the walkthrough to get the phrasing right, but overall had a lot of fun.

Having played some of the other Quest games in the comp, I had my doubts about the system when I came to this game, but now realize that it’s not so much the tool as how you use it. I did not make extensive use of items in the right column lists, but I did find them useful to indicate which items in a scene were implemented as game objects and as a reminder of what I had in inventory.

Out of habit, I spent most of my time on the command line. I wasn’t sure when I started playing this game what the convention would be for verbs linked to objects. At first, I thought that maybe all necessary verbs would be displayed in the drop down list for hyperlinks or in the buttons for objects listed in the right column. Most objects had associated verbs like “look at” or “drop”. It soon became clear that this list is not exhaustive and that the game could not be played mouse-only; some actions need to be typed in the command box. I could imagine implementing stories without requiring text entry, but I think that constraint would hobble the author and make it unnecessarily difficult to develop a game as rich as this one.

The zoomable map is the cat’s pajamas, bee’s knees, and duck’s guts. I was continuously oriented with regard to available directions, which removed the burden for both author and player of listing every exit. Unlike the compass rose display, the map gives a view of possible movement more than one turn away, so it allows more strategic movement. Using the map’s ability to scale, it was obvious after a bit of exploring what areas were inaccessible in this game.

One suggestion I would have for this mechanic — and this might be a matter of personal taste — would be to have some sort of graphic to distinguish directions that lie open versus those that are barred by some sort of impediment, be it a nasty cat, a cranky dezhurnaya, or a fingerprint scanner. I’d propose a red bar across the connecting line. I’m not sure if this is something an author would have control over within the authoring tool, or if it would require some sort of tinkering under the hood.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Moon Base

This is a short sci-fi/horror piece written in Twine. The aesthetic is green san serif text on a black background, what I’d call monochrome modern. The writing is earnest but staccato: the introductory screen includes seven sentences, each its own paragraph, and only one was longer than a single line in my browser. While there is enough gore, I didn’t have much emotional reaction to the scenes; for me, the horror aspect fell flat.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I had a bad first impression as early as the second sentence: “All was within normal paramenters.” Mostly I care about setting the tone and roping in the reader in the first few sentences, but errors like this so early on may lead players to press the abort button.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – The Murder In The Fog

By Source, Fair use, Link

This appears to be one of the games developed in Qiaobook by a Chinese author and ported to English for this year’s IFcomp. I had difficulty following the writing, probably because of translation issues, but I have to give the author credit for spellchecking more effectively than many authors who use the latin alphabet day in and day out.

I can at least address one readability issue: the font. The game employs a greenish font on a blurred background image. I couldn’t find a screen setting that gave me sufficient contrast to read the text, and I am sure it must be even worse for anyone with visual impairment. While I don’t like altering the visual presentation the author had in mind, here’s how I would make this high-contrast for legibility:

Download the game from IFcomp, open the read_v2.css file in a text editor and change two things: the background and the text color. Then, launch the game from the local index.html file in a browser. For me, Firefox worked better than Chrome.

Original read_v2.css:

* {
 background-color: transparent; }

.dark .read-text, .dark .read-title h1, .dark .icon-list li {
 color: #909499; }

Modified read_v2.css:

* {
 background-color: white; }

.dark .read-text, .dark .read-title h1, .dark .icon-list li {
 color: black;

As for the game itself, the lead character is a highschool sophomore a chemistry attending class, when an experiment fogs up the classroom. The lights go out and he receives a text message on his phone’s QQ app (see wikipedia article for background). Then things begin to get creepy in several senses.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – The Dragon Will Tell You Your Future Now

The blurb describes this as an about 15 minute game, and that’s about what I found. It is presented in a fairly vanilla format for a twine story. I think this might be the first story I’ve encountered that combined magical realism with single room escape.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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