IF Comp 2014: Hunger Daemon (Sean M. Shore)


Hunger Daemon is a parser-based comedy puzzle game, themed around Lovecraftian cults. I played it to the end, and this took me much though not quite all of the two-hour judging period.

Hunger Daemon concerns a guy named Barry who lives in Saint Paul and is part of a Cthulhu cult. The ritual to help his uncle ascend to tentacled demonhood has gone a bit wrong, though, so Barry needs to solve some puzzles to get things back on track.

This is classic trad-IF fare. It’s got an amusing narrative voice; it runs about the right length for comp play; it feels really solid and thoroughly tested, and has good come-backs for all the incidental or optional commands I thought of typing. I’m not totally surprised by all this, since I enjoyed Sean M. Shore’s previous game Bonehead.

As for the puzzles, I was pretty happy with most of them. The title is a reference to traditional parser game hunger puzzles but, mercifully, this one doesn’t really have a hunger daemon running. In most places the solutions involve applying objects you’ve seen before, in a context where there are fairly clear clues. There were just a couple of points where I got bewildered enough to hit the hints. In one case the issue was that I hadn’t noticed a useful item was actually separately implemented and takeable, and in another I had been envisioning an object incorrectly (but when I went back and reread the description, that proved to be my own fault). I might have tried to power through these without using the hints, but I was enjoying the story enough that I wanted to make sure I saw the whole plot before judging time ran out.

The setting is satisfying, too: a number of the locations are real Saint Paul locations, and felt realistically observed. I found myself assuming that Shore actually lives somewhere around there.

Story: works but doesn’t take itself all that seriously. It’s more in the mode of one of the funnier episodes of Buffy than of actual Lovecraft; or maybe that X-Files episode where all the members of the school board are secretly demon worshippers. There are a couple of major NPCs, and here again I felt that they were significantly better than mere competence would require. There’s enough dialogue to negotiate what you need from them in practical terms, plus enough more to flesh them out a bit as people, without these exchanges actually bogging down the pace of the game. I especially liked the protagonist’s sometimes-hijab-wearing, sometimes-roller-derbying ex-girlfriend.

Anyway, it is quite a lot of fun. I found it to be reminiscent in some ways of Taco Fiction, and a fine example of parsercraft. I notice that after getting some feedback on the original cover art, the author even updated that with something more legibly lettered — one more sign of the dedication that is obvious throughout this game.

After spoiler space I will describe my experience with the endgame. Seriously don’t read it unless you’ve played.









I particularly liked my experience with the timed moment at the endgame, which was:

  • realize I need to do something with the heart to prevent Stu ascending with it
  • try running away, and get a failed-but-interesting ending
  • try eating the heart myself — I expected that to destroy it, but instead I got a different interesting ending
  • experiment giving the heart to Stu; as expected, get yet a third ending, which was worth reading even though also obviously not satisfactory
  • experience about 45 seconds of “well darn I don’t know how to actually fix this” stuckness
  • look around and notice the shofar
  • think “aw yeah, that would be pretty appropriate”
  • use shofar, win

It may not have gone that way for everyone, but for me it was pretty exactly the right amount of unnerving and frustrating to make the win pay off, without dragging the moment out so long as to break the tension.

Thematically, I suppose it would be possible to read all of this (especially the conclusion of the main plot) as an admonition that religion is mostly supposed to be about community and about being part of something, and that you shouldn’t take your religious principles far enough to excuse hurting people. Mostly, though, the game is about having fun with an amusing romp, which I feel it delivers very well.

I’m not sure that anyone else has reviewed this yet at time of posting. Subsequent review by Jason Dyer.

2 thoughts on “IF Comp 2014: Hunger Daemon (Sean M. Shore)”

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