Short/er/ish IF Reviews

For various reasons, a fair amount of Hobbyist IF is quite short. Not only does it fit more into the busy schedules of the programmers and initial testers, but it is also more accessible to the hobbyist player, who might be looking mostly for a game to play on their cellphone on a long busride, or a game that can be assualted in single hour leaps over a couple of weeks as they have free time. Short IF rarely requires a map, rarely requires many notes, usually only has a few puzzles, but can still be amazingly deep and interesting (for as long as it lasts).

I am not really a short IF player by preference. I like my stories to take about 3-5 hours at the minimum, and do not mind a 10-20 hour game (though the only games I have seen over 10 hours usually involve 5 or more hours of hair-pulling frustration). At the same time, I have no inherent problems with short IF and play it from time to time. I also recognize that for every mid to full length IF released, there are a dozen or more IF that I would consider short or tiny.

Most of the IF that will show up on this page is what I call Tiny. At the same time, I could just easily put longer titles on this page if there is some reason that I would rather sum it up in a few sentences to a couple of paragraphs.

Anyhow, here is my short IF page in no order but alphabetical.


Desert Adventure

Deep Breathing

Dino Hunt



The Phoenix Movie

Slap that Fish

Zork: A Troll's Eye View


Four games into an Admiral Jota kick (Lost Pig, Deep Breathing and Dino Hunt, the latter two on this page), I pull this one up. The last two I played have been micro-short with no real way to screwing up. Well, you can hose your chances in Lost Pig, but only your chances to get a perfect score. And you may be able to screw up Deep Breathing if you do not get it done fast enough. I don't know.

This is the first Admiral Jota game that I've played where death is an option. It is also the first SpeedIF game that I have played where I felt really satisfied with it. Sure it is simple. Sure it is relatively quick (I played 150 turns total, including the playthroughs where I died, and it took about 30 minutes total, at the most). But it uses its limitations in a good way. In order to get through it alive, you have ot explore some fairly subtle things and play around with a few options. With a definite time limit going on, this sorting through the "noise" to get good signal is a must. It just requires a few fun, logical guesses.

Not perfect, though. The relationships between rooms is not well hewn. There was some confusion moving back and forth. Especially towards the end when time is of an essence. At least two puzzles "reflect", meaning solving one pretty much means you have figured out the other. But this does help to save time when you need it.

All throughout, including the finale, a good amount of things were hinted at but never shown. Founds this to be interesting. The game is worth playing overall.

Desert Adventure

Sam Trenholme, 2007. "Scott Adams System" (however, I played the z-code port).

Four treasures spread out over a small scattering of rooms, this game took maybe 15 minutes. I have long been a tinkerer with various Scott Adams titles but rarely do I complete them (for a number of reasons). I enjoyed, and greatly so, the simple interface and old school nature. Would be willing to play a longer version if a longer versions surfaces.None of the puzzles struck me as hard, per se, and only half of them make sense, but I will probably keep this one around as a fun little time waster.

Deep Breathing

Admiral Jota. 2001.

Took me 45 seconds and 4 turns to beat the game. Worthy a chuckle, most assuredly, but very short and to the point. Not sure what happens if you take longer, but I'm guessing it wouldn't be as much fun as just skipping to the end.

Dino Hunt

Admiral Jota. 2000. Part of Dino Comp. Release 1.Inform v6.15

I came to this game after playing the excellent Lost Pig, also by Admiral Jota. This seemed to be an early enough game to give a good bookend to his stuff. Plust it was short (small file size, anyhow). And it had dinosaurs. Plastic ones.

You are a kid want didn't bring your toys (or did bring them, but lost them?). Now you are in a four room playground and have to find a way to entertain yourself.

The game's puzzles generally require you to think like a kid, but are never harder than "easy". Once you get the first few steps out of the way, the last few will come to you quicker than anything. Similar to Lost Pig, in that you aren't quite sure what you are doing first, and finding out is most of the fun. A time waster, yes. Not much to it more than that, besides reliving childhood memories. Maybe five minutes and 30 moves to beat.


Kent Tessman. Originally 1997. Release 4 2000. Hugo 2.5

Does a good job of feeling overall real and very tense, but the little details that make this game somewhat backstab it when a couple of puzzles require extremely gamey elements. It is the equivalent of playing an extremely realistic forensics game and having to find a red key to unlock the red door. Also hurt by the realization that what feels like a strong race against time turns out to be only a mild one. Most events that happen at specific times are either nonstoppable or nonimportant. Theoretically you could die by just waiting around (or fail the game, at any rate). The time element works, but needs polish to carry off. It takes a minute for a man with a broken leg to limp down a hill and it takes a minute for a man to get something from a purse. The game should be played, most definitely, but will end up somewhat frustrating because some things don't seem doable at all, and some things that are doable requires an action that feels really unlikely (note, if you have played Zork II, then you have a general leg up on the mechanics of the puzzle). Props, though, to Tessman for showing some possibilities of story (while, at the same time, unfortunately exposing a few limitations of the genre).

Review written on 14 Nov 2007.


I really think there is nothing by Peter Nepstad that I won't like. I adore his The Ebb and Flow of The Tide. From what I've played of 1893, I have been impressed. I even quite enjoyed Slap that Fish, which is his most contested number. This game, a Windows excutable integrated into HypterTads (played by me under Wine), is no exception. This is the shortest one yet. There are maybe 30 or 40 moves, with some of the needing to be repeated. I played the game to two different endings (I think there is only two different endins available through the hypertext mode, I could find no other) in about twenty minutes, including the time spent tinkering with running the file.

The format is different than standard IF. It is a combination of "keyword" input and a fairly limited syntax. The sentence might say "There is a [skylight] above you..." and this means you can click on the word "skylight". What this clicking does is variable. For "skylight", it might input the commands "Look at skylight". For other hypertexts, it can be other things. You find a "shard" in your foot. One of the times you click [shard] you take it out. Another time you click it, you look at it. Part of the game is clicking on things to see what that particular word might do.

For better or worse, this means that you have to pretty narrowly guess the verb to follow the path with the hypertexts. However, there are things you can do with the parser that do not involve the hypertexts (for instance, you are never give the option to "Kill Helen" unless you type it in). This means you can replay the game and go slightly off track from what you have already seen. I'll tool around with it more, but it does seem to add a whole lot to the game.

Style notes aside, the point of the game is to find out what is calling to the character. You start out conquered by a headache and in pain, which turns into ravenous hunger. You are drawn to feed, becoming more and more instintive as you go. Anymore than that would spoil it or give false impressions.

The mood is well done and the limited choices help to make it that much bleaker. It is "Lovecraftian", though I would say that Kafkian meets Something I Can't Quite Placian. J.G. Ballard, maybe. I don't know. Still, this is a Good game and worth playing.

The Phoenix Move

The game's author, Daniele Giardini, proclaims this to be a "one move game with a twist", which is a lie. A "one move" game, as I understand it, is a game where you complete the game in a single move, assuming you know what the move is. If you do the wrong move, you get some text explaining your wrong choice, or elaborating on the world, and then the world resets or the game ends and you try again. The Phoenix Move is something not that, but based on similar principles. You are on a pole that is indefinitely high (above the clouds) and there is an egg floating above you. There is the sky, and the clouds, and the sun. That's it. Every time you do anything you fall off the pole (on purpose on on accident depends on the action you do) and then the game resets with you back on the pole and the egg is there. This, in principle, could make for a "one move" game except that in order to win you have to do a couple of things prior to the finishing move (turns out that some things don't reset, and some don't reset entirely), and once you do the "finishing move" you still have to make a couple of choices in order to bring out one of the games six different endings (five, actually, with two being roughly the same ending). If I had to wager, I would say the fewest prompts you would have to see would be about six even if you go straight to the end. Like I said, "one move" doesn't cut it.

The game makes for a strange time waster. I could almost see the game expanded to include more strange objects, more strange possibilities. Something of a surreal sandbox. As it is, though, you might find yourself frustrated by the limitations. Right as you get annoyed by what you can't do, you realize the couple of things you can do and the game comes to a quick end. There is some guess-the-verb going on, but if you pay attention to the text it is not hard to guess. Mild at worst.

The game probably needs to be longer with more things to play with or it needs to edit itself down to a true "one move" game. I'm intrigued to see what else Giardini puts out, because the end result crosses over into strangish things, even if the ending is a bit retread. I'll give it an Eh and say that it's worth playing around with but mostly because it is short. It would need to be tightened to be longer, but that's true of a lot of smaller games. They fit their size. This game is no exception.

Slap that Fish

Peter Neptstad, 2007. Release 1 (IFComp2007 entry). Tads2.

An unusual game. Some might even call it an abuse of the system. It has three or so levels to experience it at, and each one is somewhat different than the others. To peel back the layers of unsualness, I will describe each of them.

At the first level is an IF title about a character (man, woman, human?) who fights a series of increasingly tough fish while on the way back from a pie store. Now, this sounds weird and it is meant to sound weird. The game progresses with greater amounts of danger, trickier puzzles, and, if possible, greater amounts of surreality. A lot of people seemed put off by the very simplistic approach this game took, seemingly involving only the phrase "SLAP THAT FISH" over and over.

But at its second level, it is not an IF at all, but a fighting game from the early 90s ported ot an IF mode. If you were, say, to substitute the fish for a series of Soviet Wrestlers or Thai Kickboxers, then it probably wouldn't be weird at all. It would also lose about half of its charm. Like those old school games, the button combinations make a difference. Different timings and different attacks do different amounts of damage in combination. This means that you can beat most fish with minimal work, but you can also add a little finesse to it.

This is where that third level comes in, another throwback to older school games: points. You can get better and better points for scoring better and better combinations. Even getting a perfect on one fish might not set you up where you need to be to get a perfect on the next, so you have to go back and forth an try out a few new phrases here or there to conquer with a high score.

Alas, the prize for the high score seems to be nothing more than a new title, and since this IS IF and not a 1992 fighting game, the score in and of itself doesn't quite motivate (though I can be a completionist junkie, so it sort of works for me). On top of that, at least one key puzzles is almost mind numbingly difficult compared to the rest of the game.

Fun, memorable game to check out but probably has only a 50/50 chance of being anything like your cup of tea.

ADDENDUM: there was something up with you not be able to get full points. The game got tweaked and slightly rebalanced. The bonus IS definitely worth unlocking. Especially by time you get to it.

Zork: A Troll's Eye View

Dylan O'Donnell 1998. Inform v.6.15.

It's sub-title (or is that sub-sub-title?) is "An Interactive Tedium" and that's about half right. This is not an exciting title. If you have played Zork, you can probably figure out what the game will entail without even playing it. If you have not played Zork, there is not much reason to pick this one up until you have. Despite being a one note joke, though, it actually has a lot of little in-jokes that make it fun to flip through even if it does become amazingly tedious to keep up for long. Worth checking out for the interesting jokes, but you probably won't play it for long.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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