IF Comp 2018 mini-reviews, pt. 3

More capsule reviews of games that I don’t have a full review for: Awake, HMS Spaceman, Instruction Set, I Should Have Been That I Am, Nightmare Adventure, Space Punk Moon Tour and The Stone of Wisdom.

HMS Spaceman: This is a total shitpost of a game, which is to say that it’s got moments where it’s very sharp and witty and I was amused by it, but it’s also an unrepentantly silly half-assed mess that I would hesitate to recommend to most people.

Brad: SWIM told me you can grow psychedelic mushrooms in hyperfuel.

“Wait, what?” says Thad. “That sounds really dangerous.”

Brad: “It’s totally not. I mean, maybe it is, I just don’t think that’s important.”

Instruction Set: This is a game about, apparently, proving to scientists that you have intelligence by doing extremely boring puzzles. There are a lot of games this year that gate with highly arbitrary puzzles, and this is one of the few where it actually makes sense. That said, the puzzles are really boring, and the frame-story doesn’t enliven things.

The Stone of Wisdom: This is a very straightforward fantasy cave-crawl. It flows fairly well – the initial sequence, in particular, moves forwards smoothly and naturally – but, like, IF has had 45 years of generic fantasy cave-crawls, and this isn’t doing a whole lot to stand out.

Space Punk Moon Tour: A good deal of work has gone into this: it’s got animated illustrations, pop-up text messaging, inventory graphics. It’s got detail-work on building up a broke-ass PoC-focused cyberpunk dystopia setting. I wanted to like it. At its core, though, it’s a really rough piece of design that’s a struggle to play. Some of this is default Quest behaviour (bombarding you with unsorted lists of every object in scope), but a lot of it is about the delivery of information, pacing, direction. Space Punk knows that it has to offer direction to the player, but it does so in a haphazard way. For two scenes in a row, I got told how to end the scene when I’d accomplished its objectives well before I knew what those objectives really were.

I Should Have Been That I Am: Mixed on this: it’s a capably-written, effectively-delivered piece, and that switch to text-input at the very end makes for a good moment. But we’ve seen this basic robot story for almost as long as SF has had robot stories; and agency-denial/emancipation with robot player-characters has been an IF staple since at least the mid-90s. I didn’t come away from this feeling like I’d gained anything new. (Also, the first game I’ve seen this comp with basic Sugarcube styling; I didn’t miss it.)

Awake: This is another near-future robot-girl story, feat. Sinister Lab Facility Where Everyone Is A Jerk And Plays God. Sinister Lab Facility is a hugely common trope that rarely gets a non-stock treatment; it’s a very, very stock iteration of the trope, and it doesn’t have the execution to pull that off. Also, it’s really more of a first chapter than a complete piece:

Instead of one huge story, I’ve decided to make several games, which will cover a bigger story between them in a non-linear fashion. So, enjoy the first Part of I don’t know how many there will be.

See, I’m into non-linear storytelling, but the absolute last thing I want to hear in the context of ‘I’m making a sprawling non-linear story across multiple games’ is ‘ha ha I have no idea how that’s going to work out.’

Nightmare Adventure: Boy, this is one hell of a year for people making super-rough homebrew parsers. If you are going to make a homebrew parser, however, please don’t make it look like a monospaced terminal window. And… OK, I know homebrew parsers get a bad rap, but it’s a bad rap that’s largely justified, and this is why. You can’t use >E; you can’t use >EAST; you have to >GO EAST. That isn’t even retro: it’s an interface that’s literally worse than the original Adventure. To its credit, it manages a more striking opening scene and more distinct sense of setting than the average genre-fantasy adventure this comp, but it would have had to be a lot better to overcome that parser.


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