The Christmas Party by OldGrover (2007)

The Little Ugly, Evil Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

I can relate to spending Christmas morning searching the trash, but I personally do it for those last few delectable drops of whiskey rather than the orphans.

The Little Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

Christmas is my favorite holiday, and this is a great Christmas game. I just wish I could play with my fairy buddies or mine with a dwarf in this one just like Winter Wonderland. Honestly, I’d be a pretty lonely dude without fantasy creature interactions in my IF.

My Verdict:

This game captures the true spirit of Christmas: ceaseless, selfless laboring on behalf of the less fortunate. I mean you are also trying to bang a chick, but the level of self-sacrifice exhibited here is truly astounding.

Game Information

Game Type: Alan

Author Info: OldGrover is one of those guys who briefly danced into our lives for a time, stole our hearts, and then vanished. The Christmas Party seems to be his only text adventure. He had a website called Is Random Random which mainly talked about an RPG project he was working on called Deal With the Devil, but it only exists on the Internet Archive now. I couldn’t find anything else about him so I’m thinking he made his deal with the devil and it didn’t go well. I’m sure we’ve all considered trading in our soul to level up our Blender skills and gain the other abilities needed to create the best damn 2D tile-based sci-fi RPG in history, but the lesson of OldGrover is that it just isn’t worth it. Never forget OldGrover, kids. Then again, maybe Grover just got a C&D letter from Sesame Street and decided to delete everything as a cautionary measure. It takes a brave man indeed to stand up to Big Muppet.

Download Link:

Other Games By This Author: None known

Christmas can be a lot of work. My parents weren’t the types to don Santa suits, go ho-ho-ho, and drink themselves silly. Sure, the holidays were about presents, family togetherness, and kindness, but in my household they were also about SUFFERING. Lots and lots of uncomfortably sober suffering. For my mom, Christmas meant hours upon hours of cooking and soothing irate relatives eternally on the warpath. My dad seemed to grow progressively more resigned as December proceeded until he gained the strength for a sudden flurry of intensely focused holiday activity. Acquire the tree, trim the tree, affix the tree to the stand, test the lights, replace the bulbs, place the lights. Then he could relax and pretend like none of the festivities around him were actually happening. Christmas Dad was a bit like a Predator with a saw and electrical outlet for attachments in place of the speargun and disc. He would emerge once more briefly to leave the denuded Christmas tree out for junk pickup. Then he’d go, “What…the…hell…are…YOU? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA” and throw me on the pile as well. I always felt like this was a rather upsetting way to end the holiday season, but I still use the decompaction and landfill swimming skills I picked up back then today. I guess it was a tough love kind of thing. There was always a hot meal waiting for me when I got back home several days later so I can’t complain too much. Anyway, the point of the story is I don’t do a whole lot for Christmas any more. It can be quite a bit of work after all.

What I like best about The Christmas Party is the distinctly unsentimental approach it takes to the holidays. Bear in mind this is a game that was entered into a holiday-themed minicomp (Text the Halls, 2007). Not going the sentimental route in this context carries a certain amount of risk. You can’t accuse OldGrover of taking the easy way out here. While the game does place you in the role of a man who is tasked with setting up a Christmas party for local orphans, I’m pretty sure the working title for this game prior to the official release was Fuck the Orphans. OldGrover had to change the name when he sensed it was attracting the wrong sort of audience. Suffice it to say that you won’t be mentoring any troubled youths in this adventure. Your concerns are distinctly more practical and mundane than that. The Christmas tree isn’t going to put up itself, after all, and this dump needs a good cleaning too. There even might be some DIY repair work to do and future fire hazards to create. You could argue that while your character is not directly spreading holiday cheer as a conscripted handyman he is still doing all this work for the orphans. He has to care on some level, right? The problem with that take is that the game tells you exactly why your character is laboring tirelessly in obscurity: you’re hoping to score a date with your friend Melody who is actually the one who wants to feed the orphans. Your character really doesn’t seem to care much about the orphans or Christmas…all he actually wants to do is bang his friend. So while the game certainly gets points for relatability and realism I have a feeling no one was terribly surprised when this didn’t end up winning Text the Halls. Did I mention yet that the protagonist’s description is, “There is nothing special about the hero” and that he doesn’t have a name? He’s not the Christmas hero we need or want, but he is the one we deserve and there’s a good chance that Melody won’t just be sucking down eggnog this magical Christmas night.

Incidentally, I’m not totally down with the whole banging your friends thing so let me preach and ramble for a bit. I was browsing /r/TwoXChromosomes recently and I kept coming across these stories of women with male friends who suddenly decided to make passes at them despite sometimes years of prior platonic friendship. These women felt shocked, upset, and betrayed, and I understood why. We distinguish friends with benefits from other types of friends because the benefits of regular friendship tend to involve things like having someone who’ll help you move, someone who’ll bail your drunk ass out of jail, and someone who’ll talk to you at 2 AM when that’s what you need rather than ass access. I do see it as a violation of friendship to suddenly make a move on someone who has given no indication that they think of you as anything but a friend. But I can understand things from the other side too. Sometimes you aren’t initially that drawn to someone, but then you get to know them better and find yourself deeply attracted. It can take time to fall in love, after all, and we’ve all heard romantic stories of slow burn romances that emerged out of lengthy friendships. In that situation, do you always stifle your feelings for the sake of the friendship? For me, it would depend on what kind of signals I was getting from the other person (bearing in mind that signals can easily be misinterpreted), but I like to think I’d still tend to default on the side of friends staying friends. We talk about people being just friends or hoping for more than friendship as if friendship was inherently lacking in comparison to romantic love, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes friends are the only ones that are there for you while lovers abandon and betray you. There are also plenty of people who’d make great friends but not good partners or fellow Bang Bus passengers. I personally wouldn’t trade a good friend for a mere uncertain chance at romance and/or sex that could also happen to make my friend feel shitty and post on Reddit about what a creepy asshole I am. Plus, if you start leveling up self-control you can eventually start having attractive married friends and perhaps even be allowed to be in the same room as your stepsisters again. Baby steps to glory!

Obviously, The Christmas Party guy feels differently about the situation than I do. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt because maybe Melody did give out signals that she was interested. We definitely don’t know the whole story here. Maybe he’s right to do all this work to win a date with his dream girl. Maybe she’ll even be flattered. Maybe she’s actually already interested herself and just wanted to see if she could score some free work out of the deal before the situation got too steamy. In my mind’s eye, though, I’m seeing an aftermath where Melody is posting on Reddit about how she thought her “friend” really cared about the orphans and her but really just wanted to guilt her into having sex with him. I’m envisioning a world where Christmas will never quite be the same again and the orphans will likely be going hungry from here on out all because some dude wanted to get laid without using Tinder like a normal person would.

Now that we’ve gotten the complicated sexual politics of this game out of the way, it’s time to focus on the all-important core mechanics. I’d sum up the general situation as “puzzles gooood, parser baaaaaaaaaaaaaad.” I like how in the beginning you don’t exactly know what you need to do. Melody wants the joint spruced up and looking Christmasy, but the player has to figure out just how to handle that task. You have to use your prior knowledge of Christmas customs and what orphans crave to put together this party. The puzzles you come across tend to require interesting DIY improvisations of the kind you might have tried in your own home when you didn’t have access to proper parts or tools (i.e. every single fucking time you ever repaired something). I’m pretty sure you violate multiple fire and public safety codes as you hack your way through your mission, but at least the orphans are going to be well-fed before they start roasting on an open fire. I’m generally not that good at repairing things, but after setting up this virtual Christmas party I think I’m now ready to start handling all my own electrical and decorating work from here on out. I also have discovered a new environmentally friendly way to make popcorn thanks to my man Grover.

The parser definitely makes the game much less playable than it could be. The whole trio of parser horror is here: lazy oversights, missing descriptions, and unreasonable pickiness. Coming up with the right verb is generally the hardest aspect to solving the puzzles, and this isn’t the type of game that exactly encourages judicious use of synonyms. I can accept that from time to time I’ll have to call a cord a plug in a text adventure even though the description called it a cord, but I actually had to use the verb “unball” to win the freaking game for the first time which goes well beyond the limits of basic human decency. That’s the kind of verb I’d prefer not to use for any reason whatsoever if I had my druthers. To be fair, I found out “unfold” is accepted as well on another playthrough, but I still got the distinct impression that OldGrover wanted only eunuchs to be able to solve his game. I had to beat it partly just to spite the guy and for the sake of ball pride.

I suppose a Christmas game that is fundamentally about home improvement and trying to bang your friend is probably never going to win anything, but I think The Christmas Party would be recommendable if only the parser was more responsive. The game subverts our expectations for Christmas games in an interesting way, and it actually manages to vividly capture a seldom seen slice of the holidays by focusing on one of their least heartwarming aspects: the labor. Like my parents, there’s always someone working really hard behind the scenes to make any holiday party or family gathering more or less successful. A lot of sweat goes into every cup of Christmas cheer. As 2021 fades into 2022, I want to wish everyone a happy new year and remind each and every one of you to drive safe and bang your friends responsibly if at all!

Simple Rating: 5/10

Complicated Rating:

Story: 4/10

Writing: 6/10

Playability: 4/10

Puzzle Quality: 7/10

Parser Responsiveness: 2/10

Coming Out of the Closet by Mikko Vuorinen (1998)

The Little Ugly, Evil Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

So you play a guy who wears black leather jackets and nothing else, likes to hang out in cramped quarters with little, hairy dudes, and is ready to finally come out of the closet. No one understands the LGBTQIA+ community less than I do, but even I have a pretty good idea of what is actually going on here.

The Little Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

I wish I had a friend like Fip. Those lonely nights in the closet seem to drift on and on.

My Verdict:

This game is definitive proof one room adventures don’t have to suck.

Game Information

Game Type: Alan

Author Info: Mikko Vuorinen paved a truly unique path for himself in our hobby: he was the first Finn I know of to enter the IF Competition and contribute to the IF Archive and he is also among the relatively few developers who have created games using the Alan IF programming language. He may have never put out a perfect game, but I always enjoy Mikko’s work. His games are interesting, unique, funny, and often surreal. They stand alone and they stand out. We need him back and writing games again!

Download Link:

Other Games By This Author: King Arthur’s Night Out, Leaves, The Adventures of the President of the United States, CC, and more!

It’s funny how life works out sometimes. I never expected to end up reviewing — or playing — not one but two different one room text adventures in 2021. After all, they tend to not be my favorite type of interactive fiction which is something I’ve made very clear over the years. The journey that brought me to these dire straits began with me promising to write a review every month for RFTK this year…the hubris of middle age struck once again. Some men buy sports cars and begin inappropriate relationships; me, I make extravagant promises about how many IF reviews I’m going to write over a given time frame. Fast forward to June 29th: we’re less than 48 hours away from July 1st and I still have absolutely nothing to show for the month. I’ve successfully managed to spend more time worrying about what game I was going to review than actually playing IF. I could’ve worked my way through my Spring Thing backlog, but I didn’t. Plundered Hearts remained sadly unplundered. There are a couple of games from the last couple of comps I still want to review one day, but I had trouble mustering up the motivation to return to them. And so the clock ticked on and the days crept by.

On June 29th, I knew I had to do something. Giving up was clearly not an option. No children or impoverished, elderly ladies were going to be left uncontrollably weeping on my watch. There are few true heroes left in this world of ours, but I am one of them dammit and I had to act accordingly. With the limited time at my disposal, I knew I had to pick a relatively short game. “A one room joke game would probably do it,” I said to myself as a sickening feeling arose in my stomach. Had things truly come to this…again? I had even joked with Robb about reviewing another one room joke game this month because I was so incredibly sure I wasn’t going to actually be doing that. The more I thought about the situation the more my soul rebelled at the notion of reviewing another Amishville equivalent, and I felt myself coming to another mental impasse. Then inspiration struck: what if instead of reviewing a one room joke game I reviewed a one room NON-JOKE game? A one room non-joke game! I cackled with delight, I rubbed my hands together, my eyes grew glinty…and I got to work. It was, after all, about damn time.

Despite the title, Coming Out of the Closet isn’t actually a game about telling your closest friends and family, including and especially bigoted, murderous Uncle Randy, about your true sexual orientation. Instead, it’s actually about physically getting out of a closet that you’ve mysteriously become trapped inside. This is a small, one room escape game that can be finished in about ten minutes. It actually took me a bit longer than that because I first tried to play the game in 1999, gave up, interviewed Mikko Vuorinen for RFTK later in 1999 and got an excellent tip on how to finish the game directly from him, and then in 2021 finally got around to actually playing it again and won it in ten minutes. So, yeah, it’ll either take you ten minutes or twenty two years and ten minutes to finish. I will say it seemed pretty easy to me on the replay so I’m not sure what exactly was going on with me back in ’99 beyond I STUPID.

COotC is short, but it’s fun and satisfying. It might only last ten minutes, but it’s a good ten minutes. Since yesterday, I’ve been trying to put my finger on just what makes Mikko’s closet game so much more compelling than every single one room joke game I’ve ever played. I think its main advantage is that it is first and foremost a game. It knows it is a game, it wants to be a game, it is a game. It’s IF in miniature, but it is indisputably a text adventure that is clearly related to other text adventures we’ve played before. You have an objective, a really small game world to explore, objects to examine and manipulate, a puzzle to solve, and an NPC to befriend. It’s not completely unlike a mini and entirely closet-themed version of Zork when you really stop and think about it. The one room joke games on the other hand tend to be much more jokes than they are games. The descriptions are there not so much to create atmosphere or tell a story but to set up the punchline. They often lack basic elements you expect to see in text adventures such as functional parsers and objects. They aren’t just smaller, less detailed games — they’re barely games at all. Me, I like games.

Mikko Vuorinen games tend to be funny and surreal, and CLOSET.ACD does not disappoint. The humor here mostly comes courtesy of a garrulous closet gnome named Fip whose sudden appearance is also fairly surreal. There are also some funny and rather biting responses when you try to do things that aren’t going to be helpful. Just because I want to sit on a chest from time to time doesn’t mean I don’t have a life. Just because I want to get romantic with some shelving doesn’t make me a pervert. I’m a lonely dude trapped in a closet…a little shelf flirting was a perfectly rational response to my predicament and environment. And let’s be honest here, that shelving looked fantastic leaning up against that wall. The most surreal aspect of the game has to be the door. It goes without saying that if you’re trapped within a closet the closet door must have been locked or be barred in some way, right? That’s not the case in Coming Out of the Closet. The door looks as well-built as the next one, but it isn’t locked or barred. It’s just closed…you can open the door! That blew my mind when I found that out, but it’s not a bug or unintended behavior. If you try to actually exit the closet, you’re told, “You try to leave, but something stops you. You are not ready to come out of the closet yet.” It’s surreal, but it’s kind of annoying too. You thought you just had a door to open, but it turns you actually have to be ready and want to come out of the closet. Doors of wood and metal are one thing, but the doors that close off our minds are far more vexing to open. I suppose being told you can’t go through an open door is not really worse than suddenly encountering a force field, invisible magic barrier, or a more mundane type of exit blocker. I understand IF authors can’t necessarily implement a room in every direction. Sometimes you’ve got to block stuff off, particularly when you’re doing a one room game like Mikko here. Still, I always wonder what’s going on on the side of the barrier. I can’t help but try to climb over every fence and wall I come across. If that doesn’t work, I’ll even try tearing them apart with my bare hands and say, “No disassemble” in my best Deflated Johnny Five voice when I inevitably fail.

I always worry my rating scale fails when it comes to short games because of the way I compare all IF to all other IF regardless of a work’s length. For a one room game, Coming Out of the Closet probably deserves 1000 out of 10. The competition is just that bad, plus it is a fun, worthwhile, and memorable game in its own right. It just can’t give you hours of entertainment the way some other IF can. That’s OK — you can still totally enjoy Mikko’s writing and unique approach in a bitesized piece like this one. The few minutes I spent getting to know Fip were totally well spent. He’s a great NPC who is lots of fun to interact with. The parser is probably the game’s greatest weakness, but it seems to be limited by design. If you can look at or interact with something, it’s likely you’ll need to do something with it…everything else is extraneous and can be ignored. I didn’t find myself needing to guess verbs or constantly reword commands so there are definitely worse parsers out there. There’s only one real puzzle in the game which is fairly straightforward, but I enjoyed figuring out how to solve it (well, certainly more than Fip did anyway!). So what if it’s a little too short for true greatness? It’s just the right size for a few minutes of fun. (That line ended up sounding a lot dirtier written down than it did in my head.)

Simple Rating: 6/10

Complicated Rating: 29/50

Story: 5/10

Writing: 6/10

Playability: 7/10

Puzzle Quality: 6/10

Parser Responsiveness: 5/10