Guest post: Kane County reviewed by SA

cover1The following review is the result of a trade. Gamebook author SA asked me to review their work, and I agreed, if SA would in turn review a currently-running IF Comp game. Here is SA’s review of Kane County, which I’m hosting as SA doesn’t have a suitable blog of their own. I also reviewed Kane County.

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Kane County is a well-written and sharply designed piece of interactive fiction that excels when it comes to gameplay but at the expense of both storyline and character development. The opening section reads, “You’d been desperately trying to outrun the storm overhead and the shadows of your past, but one of them was catching up.” I can’t help but wonder how much more engaging this entry might have been if it were more than just the storm closing in on the narrator.

I played twice – first as the extreme athlete and then second as the survivalist (the latter yielding better results for me personally). Both classes offered a very detailed gaming experience which highlighted the authors’ expert grasp of the landscape and its perils. Not once did I find myself questioning the logic of the choices or the difficulties being presented in the various environments. It is in this regard that I feel both Michael Sterling and Tia Orisney deserve top marks.

On the other hand, I feel there was a missed opportunity here by simply mentioning the narrator’s past but not allowing it to have an actual impact on the gameplay itself. Kane County, if played well, is not necessarily a short read – I survived long enough to be rescued by a helicopter but it took some time. There were a lot of well-written sections describing different environments and the narrator’s suffering amongst them all but even these started to feel stale after a while. Eventually it read more like an interactive survival guide rather than an interactive story – perhaps that was the authors’ intent but then why peak interest in the narrator’s checkered past at all.

An element of drama beyond just the struggle of man versus wild would have helped in my humble opinion. Having someone trying to hunt me down or having another person share the adventure with me to create engaging discourse could have gone a long way in adding nuances to the read. But with all that being said, good and bad, this is still a solid entry that deserves a go. If nothing more, readers will get a sense of how to structure interactive fiction effectively through compelling, well-written verses.

– Review by S.A.

Windhammer Prize 2015: Instrument of the Gods (SA)

The 2015 Windhammer Prize is now running, which means you can download and play any of the 16 PDF gamebooks entered; if you play a reasonable number of them, you may also judge the competition by submitting a list of your top three favorites. (Full details are at the judging site.)

(Disclosure: the following review is the result of a trade. SA asked me to review their work, and I agreed, if SA would in turn review a currently-running IF Comp game. SA responded with a review of the gamebook-like Kane County, which I will also post on this blog.)

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Instrument of the Gods is set in a post-apocalyptic version of the Parisian sewers, which — thanks to five hundred years of nuclear winter — have become one of the few outposts of human survival. The first action you take in the story is to glance at your own reflection in a pool of urine, which does somewhat set the tone for what follows. Though you have your choice of character profiles, they are all variations of hitman or hired gun, willing to do more or less whatever is necessary in order to put together some money. One of them is a serial killer whose impulse to kill you cannot control, but the others are not exactly saints either. Their environment, meanwhile, is full of brothels, violence, and dealers in weaponry.

Continue reading “Windhammer Prize 2015: Instrument of the Gods (SA)”