Review – Salt

This was an experimental piece written in Twine and notable for the requirement that the player continually hit the spacebar. In the story, this represents swimming, and failure to hit the spacebar returns the player to the surface. If the review seems short, it is at least in part because it is exceedingly difficult to hit the space bar, pay attention to text output, occasionally follow instructions to hit the up or down key, and also take notes on one computer.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – The Richard Mines

This is a medium-length parser-based game set in an abandoned German facility in the post-WWII period. The material that accompanies the game provides a lot more information about the historic locations that were used as a basis for the story, but unfortunately, the player does not encounter that background within the game itself (to be fair, though, the in-game “ABOUT” command directs the player to the release notes).

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Day of the Djinn

Day of the Djinn is a twine-based story that starts strong and gets lost along the way. On the first page, we learn that the protagonist has been cursed — his sister has a set a djinn against him, and he has a day to live. Understandably, the main character begins looking for a way of escaping this fate and mentions that the answer might be in some of his books.

Between that scene and cracking a book open, I spent quite a while wandering around a deeply implemented apartment full of items that really don’t advance the plot. A number of the items do trigger short recollections of the main character’s interaction with his sister, mostly positive memories, but they fail to shed any light on why she wants him dead, which I would consider to be a major plot point.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – Black Marker

In this browser-based game, the player assumes the role of a government worker tasked with censoring sensitive information in a series of documents. Potentially concerning phrases are highlighted, and the player can either click on them or not. Clicking is the equivalent of wiping an opaque black marker over them to redact the text.

An “ABOUT” explains why the author designed this game, and expresses the opinion that some degree of censoring is beneficial. I realize that I am at odds with some of my friends when I say that I share this opinion. However, if the author’s intent was to show that there is a reasonable balancing point when it comes to legitimate use of censoring, this game does not accomplish that goal; rather, this game is a good illustration of how the process can go wrong.

[The following information is need to know only]

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Review – 10pm

I guess it’s time to update the term “text adventure” to the more generic “glyph adventure”.

This is a browser-based game in which all of the player’s input consists of icons, or I suppose, ideograms. The game uses a slick interface which features limited animation, sound effects, and text to tell the story, and prompts the player to drag color-coded icons into corresponding trays to express responses.

These audiovisual effects are not just window dressing — they are integrated into short story, and although the input is entirely non-verbal, the player can express choices with reasonable confidence of their meanings and significantly influence the course of the game.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – 8 Shoes on the Shelves

This is a short parser game that did not make a lot of sense to me. It is set, presumably, in World War I, although it mentions a partially disassembled radio, which would have been unusual field kit in WWI (a wired telegraph in trenches okay, but probably not a wireless set). Also, there is an aluminum desk, which would not have been found in that era — metal desks of the period would have been steel.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – One Way Out

The blurb hints that this will be a conceptually interesting piece, and indeed, I have to give the author credit for unusual format. When I went to downloaded folder for this game, I saw a bunch of files, including the inform source text, but did not immediately see a game file. Conveniently, there is a README file in the same location that explains what’s going on: the source file *is* the entry itself.

To experience this story, the intention is that the reader have the source code open in one window and the compiled story open in another. For most people, that would mean loading the source into the Inform IDE and compiling it. The default view in the IDE is source on one side and running story on the other. Since I already had Inform installed on my Mac, I just double clicked the story file and the IDE launched; then, I hit “GO”, and the story compiled. I assume you could do the same for other platforms.

Screenshot of the game in the Inform IDE on a Mac. Click to enlarge.

In principle, the author could have distributed the compiled game as well, which would have allowed people without the IDE installed to look at the source in a text editor and open the game in any of a number of interpreters. However, unless the editor were set up for Inform syntax highlighting, the intended formatting of the source would be lost.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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I agree with the author’s classification of this as a children’s story, and would say that its ideal audience would range from around six to nine years of age, plus or minus, depending on the child. For a story aimed at that reader level, it is lengthy and at points the pace wanes, so I don’t think this would be a story that you would hand to a child on an iPad and hope that they would be self-entertained. I think it would work better as a serial bedtime story, with one chapter per night (two if the child is an effective manipulator). Most of the hyperlinks advance to the next page of text; few involve minor choices. Nonetheless, I think younger kids would enjoy advancing the story this way in the same way that they would want to be the one to flip the page in a traditional bedtime book.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]


Review – Bookmoss

The author acknowledges that “This project was supported with a fellowship from Harvard University’s Houghton Library on the occasion of their 75th Anniversary.” Given that relationship, it is not surprising that the library is the star of this work, and that at least some of the story is devoted to touting its resources, particularly its collections.

Setting the story in a real location known intimately by the author always runs the risk of apartment-syndrome, i.e., that the story world will come across as a high-fidelity simulation of the location, but will lack narrative force. There is a little of that here, but there is a story grafted onto this framework.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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Review – The Living Puppet

This is the third of three submissions by Chinese authors that I have reviewed as part of this year’s IFcomp, and it is head and shoulders above the other two in terms of translation. The other two stories, The Murder in the Fog and The Fifth Sunday, were murder mysteries, but this one is more in The Twilight Zone horror category.

The format is the same as the other two works: text is displayed with a typewriter effect and requires a lot of button pressing to see a page of text. At the end of a page, there is a binary choice. I believe this game only offers to choices, but the second choice varies depending on the first one, so there may be more than four combinations. It takes some time for the text to display, so I only got through two runs of the game.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

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