Glowgrass

By Nate Cull (1997).

You are a world-renown xenohistorian, and this is the largest intact Ancient structure you’ve been in so far. From your studies, you understand that this is a place of residence, complete with things you’ve only ever seen in papers and in the abstract! The only trouble is that your ride home- your dropship- has crashed, so you’ve got to make do with Ancient technology to get home.

This is a short futuristic puzzler with a tiny hint of romance. The images invoked are simple and colour-coded; navigation and puzzle-solving is straightforward, except for a tiny spot of occasional verb-guessing. Not knowing the names of things- which is puzzling, since you’re supposed to be an authority in this field, after all- made gameplay clumsy, though.

Worth a play, though. It’s well-written, engaging and emotive, with an intriguing ending.

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Sand-Dancer

by Aaron Reed and Alexei Othenin-Girard

You are Nakaibito Morales, otherwise known as Knock, and your pickup truck has just gone kaput in the middle of the desert. What follows is an adventure of self-discovery (!) and mysticism.

Most of Sand-Dancer’s plot revolves around…

the belief in spirit animals. While the descriptions, backstory and prose are steeped in American cultural beliefs, I thought these ideas fuelled the plot, but didn’t add much to the atmosphere. Perhaps appropriate, since the player character (PC) lives a somewhat rootless life. And it is refreshing for once to have a non-WASPy PC!

As another reviewer commented, this game seems to aspire towards Andrew Plotkin’s Shade. We see this in the desert setting, the surreal-ness which leaks into the endgame, the introspective moments. And yes, this is a game with moments of loveliness. However, the game’s plot is mostly linear and leaves you with nothing but the illusion of choice. Important plot information is also presented as a infodump, and this gave the feeling of a lack of agency.

A major gripe I had was the under-implementation of almost everything. The help text suggests you take a closer look at surroundings with EXAMINE, but most of the time this only gets you a very unhelpful ‘looks normal’ or ‘about what you’d expect’. I also had to guess the verb a few times, most notably with the infamous can opener. Now that, that was a true puzzler. No, you can’t OPEN CAN WITH CAN OPENER. You can try USE CAN OPENER ON CAN, even DOWN CAN OPENER, but put the RUSTY TIN CAN in and nothing happens! These oversights made the game more frustrating than atmospheric, and a pity, too, because it could have been something like Ecdysis.

A caveat:  I read the source code halfway through. I was stuck, I swear!

What Are Little Girls Made Of?

by Carolyn VanEseltine, playable here

TRIGGER: possible gore

It’s Halloween and you’re at the amusement park with your friend, Keisha! But all’s not well: Jennifer, the school bully and popular kid, is coming your way.

But she’s different today. She’s acting nice and making small talk and all. What’s up with that?

Overall, it’s a structurally solid game, though the story structure was linear, overall, with the two endings resulting from the choices made on just one branching point. This made the earlier choices seem irrelevant. Indeed, whether you play along with Jennifer throughout or whether you’re sulky and silent doesn’t affect the ending you get if you chose the same thing at that one point.

As a frequent reader of horror and /r/nosleep, I enjoyed how the tone gradually turned sinister. Context helps, but phrases like “I want to see inside and take them apart. Find out what they’re made of.” darken the atmosphere just that bit… The text doesn’t consistently deliver the spoopy vibes, though, which I thought was a bit of a shame.

Some characterisation would probably have made this game stronger. Though the PC seemed thoughtful enough, I found her replies to sometimes be surprisingly superficial. It was also unclear what Jennifer’s motivation was. <spoiler>Was what she did all just a prank? Did her conversation actually mean anything? One must wonder.</spoiler>

The story overall seemed rather meek – reflecting the PC’s personality, perhaps? – but the scene which makes it a PG13 Halloween game isn’t too bad.

My Father’s long, long legs

by Michael Lutz. Playable here: http://correlatedcontents.com/misc/Father.html

my father's long, long legs | michael lutz

When you were young, your father started digging in the basement. His explanations for this were always flippant and you knew he couldn’t be telling the truth.

Now you and your brother have grown up and as far as you know your father is still digging in the basement.

There’s only one way to find out…

The greatest strength of this Twine creation is the pacing and the growing sense of dread and creepiness often associated with Edgar Allen Poe or that great master H. P. Lovecraft.

The visual aspect of this game adds as much to the gameplay experience as much as the text, as the author uses several visual effects which enhances the atmosphere of the game. Hence, credit must go to the Twine storytelling platform, as the writing itself does not fully inspire fear.

There is, however, little interactivity per se, as the storyline is completely linear, apart from a twisty bit near the end. Play if you like atmospheric, creepy games which will make you turn up the lights.

Threediopolis

by Andrew Schultz.

Threediopolis is an amusing puzzler containing pure wordplay. Figuring out how to work the game is a puzzle in itself. From there on, the puzzle-solving approach is similar to solving cryptic crosswords.

It’s a straightforward game, with slightly silly room descriptions and an interesting mechanic. Very, very gentle hints and prompts are built-in, which makes gameplay less frustrating, especially since a few of the answers were very obscure. I still had to rely on the walkthrough to finish the game, though.

But if you prefer, there are hints available on the ifdb/ifarchive site (along with download links of the zblorb file). It’s a polished game, great for a half-hour or so of word-guessing with some really clever puzzles.

Patanoir

by Simon Christiansen.

He scribbles in a small notepad. “And you are still taking your medication?” “Of course.” It is a lie. You work much better without it

In this hard-boiled noir tale, you are a PI looking to find back the missing daughter of a Baron. The tools at your hands are your trusty servant, Mr. Smith Wesson, and your unequalled grasp of simile.

This game had just one gimmick- and it works marvellously. It might have been inappropriate had it not been Implemented in a world rich with detail. The idea of taking turns of phrase literally may not be new, but Patanoir handled it all with panache. Puzzles relied largely on being able to use the similes literally- and even then, the puzzles sometimes require the player to treat the figurative objects as literal objects, and sometimes as an idea.

This would have been frustrating, if not for Patanoir’s handy contextual hints. These are given very unobtrusively and with flavour. The only problem I had was that the hints were location-specific, yet some puzzles required travelling from location to location (at least to pick up the objects needed); the hint system could not prompt the player in the new location. There were also a light dusting of spelling mistakes, but they did not hinder gameplay.

Overall, a fun, short offering- well-hinted and richly crafted.

This game is similar to: Indigo, possibly Nautilisia

What are Little Girls Made Of

by Carolyn VanEseltine, playable here.

TRIGGER: possible gore

It’s Halloween and you’re at the amusement park with your friend, Keisha! But all’s not well: Jennifer, the school bully and popular kid, is coming your way.

But she’s different today. She’s acting nice and making small talk and all. What’s up with that?

Overall, it’s a structurally solid game, though the story structure was linear, overall. The two endings were a direct result from the choices made on just one branching point. This made the earlier choices seem irrelevant. Indeed, whether you play along with Jennifer throughout or whether you’re sulky and silent doesn’t affect the ending you get if you chose the same thing at that one point.

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