Spring Thing non-reviews

Spring Thing has been brilliant. I’m grateful to all the organisers, authors and players.

My game The Xylophoniad won the Alumni’s Choice ribbon, by which I’m delighted and, frankly, floored. Astrid Dalmady’s Tangaroa Deep won Audience Choice.

I haven’t played all the games yet, and as a participant I was never planning to write full reviews. Here are my thoughts on some of the games I’ve got round to, in no order at all.

Three-Card Trick, by Chandler Groover
Brilliantly macabre. The PC is a stage conjurer in what feels like a sort of grotesque Victorian circus setting, trying to outdo their smarmy rival. The playing area is small, but intricately implemented, and uses an ingenious navigation system (the only directions that matter are IN and OUT) to give a sense of being much larger. The twist, when it comes, is both horrifying and hilarious. Of all the games I played, this is the one I would have put money on getting a ribbon.

Dr Sourpuss is Not a Choice-Based Game, by P B Parjeter
This is one of those games where I am not sure what was going on, but I’m sure I enjoyed it. Dr Sourpuss is a talking, mortar-board wearing cat created by a genetic-engineering accident involving a lemon tree. He and a couple of other characters take the player on a winding story involving a sinister corporation that manufactures multiple-choice test marking machines, making good use of absurdity to smuggle a clever commentary on the effect of standardised, one-size-fits-all education on students. The puzzles are simple but clever: some objects, when they are mentioned in the story, appear in your inventory, and at any time you can go to a lab and choose two of them to combine into some new object that is the key to getting past each stage.

Tangaroa Deep, by Astrid Dalmady
Deep-sea diving simulation with excellent atmospheric writing, and a deserving winner of the Audience Choice ribbon. Like Will Crowther’s orginal Adventure before the fantasy elements were added, it’s an effective simulation in words of exploring a space, with some ambiguous fantasy elements in some endings. The conversation between the PC and her assistant on the surface is charming, and in a nice touch, the ending shows you pictures of the sea creatures you encountered.

Ms Lojka, by Jordan Magnusson
A surreal horror story. The text appears in a typewriting effect, which I thought was unnecessary till I saw someone else point out that this is a clever way of making players read rather than skim. Unfortunately I accidentally closed my browser somewhere near the end of the game, and the unskippable slow text made it too much trouble to catch up again (I’ll replay when I’ve had some time to forget the story so I can enjoy it again from the start.) The sound, illustrations and design were excellent.

Foo Foo, by Buster Hudson
A “cartoon animal noir” game in the vein of Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime books. I’m not familiar enough with the Veeder canon to get all the in-jokes, but enough to see why it won first place in Ryan’s Exposition. It stands on its own as a comic story anyway. As someone on &if said, noir is already abstracted enough from reality that making the characters cartoon animals actually adds something to the style.