I'm Dylan. Artist by heart, game dev in practice, and writer on the side. Pleased to make your acquaintance.

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8

Amadeus

Mod review may contain spoilers

I'm a bit late on the Amadeus review train but here we go. [spoilers ahead, yo]

Amadeus is mostly fantastic. To give a brief overview of all the things I liked about it:

- Goes without saying at this point but this is honestly one of the best looking custom stories out there, and it goes far beyond surface-level. There are the obvious points; tastefully subdued and moody lighting and use of color, phenomenal use of assets from A Machine for Pigs, excellent use of particles and other such effects, detail for days, so on and so forth. But even underneath all that, it's a great looking mod down to its core. I'm primarily speaking of the overall level architecture, which at times can go well above and beyond what I would expect from a mod in terms of visual composition and practical design. Unfortunately the architecture isn't always handled this well, but most of the time it's great.

- Sound design was a surprise show-stealer for me. From the music playing in the foyer, to the sounds of the enemies I was straining my ears to hear, to the very detailed and eerie ambiance of all the levels, there was clearly a lot of thought and care put into the way everything sounds, and boy did it pay off.

- Writing was good, but much more so in the early portion of the game. More on that later.

- Pacing and overall gameplay, with a few exceptions, was generally great. The way the house gradually unfolds is brilliant, in an almost Resident Evil 1 way, which I love.

- Pretty good playtime. Maybe could have been shorter. Again more on that later.

- Look it's a great mod, alright? If ever there was a must-play list of Amnesia mods, this would be one of them.

Right, so with that out of the way, I do have some problems with Amadeus. Not enough to outweigh the overwhelming positives, but... well I have some problems:

To start with one of the more minor things; there was a bit more rummaging through drawers required than I would consider optimal. In a mod this open and sprawling, it really isn't necessary to make the player look around for the key they *need* to progress, when they've already figured out and completed all the actual challenges in their way.
[ie. the player shouldn't have to jump through hoops to get the reward for completing a challenge (usually a key), because they've already completed the challenge and earned their reward, so putting it in a drawer just increases the chances they'll miss it even though they did everything right. Just put the reward where they can see it, ya know?]

My biggest actual complaint with Amadeus would have to be the story, or more specifically the way certain elements in the story are handled.
In the early portions of the first chapter the writing is great. We're setting up Cornelius as a character, and we're setting up Amadeus the automaton and its creator. There's this tense air of mystery that intensifies as more information is slowly revealed; the things Amadeus seems to know in spite of just being a machine, and some of the weird things its doing; Cornelius' growing desire to be seen as a great magician again, which makes you wonder how far he'd really go to have that. Then Cornelius' first show with Amadeus is a disaster, and the stakes raise as his situation becomes more dire. Then a plot-bomb gets dropped; Amadeus' machinery doesn't even work, it's completely broken, but the automaton still moves.
At this point I'm 200% into it, my mind is racing and I want to know how this concept gets explored further.
Answer is it doesn't.
It's revealed that everything Amadeus was doing was actually a ghost that eats children, and I just... kinda sighed.
After this point Amadeus is never mentioned again. The entire concept, that of a machine crafted in the image of its maker's dead son moving on its own even after its machinery stops working, is discarded, and the story is instead about rescuing your son from the ghost of a historical serial killer. Maybe it was always supposed to be about a ghost, but I can't help feeling like a huge opportunity was missed here, both thematically and in terms of just telling a unique story.
The writing doesn't get any better or worse after this, though Cornelius just kinda stops existing after you learn how to stop the ghost, and there's a tangential mention of Luc, Amadeus' maker, being in an asylum, even though that was never mentioned while Cornelius was talking about him, nor does it really explain or add anything aside from making a tenuous connection between Luc and the serial-killer-person who's name escapes me.

Also just a quick side note because I'm running out of space, most of chapter three is a lot of friggin' hallways and square rooms. Really feel like most of it could have been trimmed out and you wouldn't have lost anything.

In conclusion, I'm still giving Amadeus an 8/10 because I know most people simply don't care about writing as much as I do, and almost everything else is brilliant. It's a fantastic mod and well worth playing.

6

Amnesia - The Fugitive - Episode Three

Mod review

Maybe I'm cynical. Maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood.
Whatever the case, I didn't really enjoy my time with The Fugitive - Episode Three, and I think that counts for something.

This is going to be a long review, as I have much to talk about. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but I'm not here to be witty.
The Fugitive's shortcomings are largely matters of design, and game design is a complicated subject, so I hope you can bear with me.

First, a bit of background:
Before playing Episode Three, I decided to play Episode Two, so that I could get a sense for how much progress was made between the two parts.
I skipped Episode One, though. I don't think anyone can blame me for that.
I stopped playing Episode Two between 30-45 minutes in, finding that it's level design was largely uninspired, and it's various puzzles and obstacles were rather trite. I didn't care if it got better after that, because it's introduction failed to inspire anything but apathy in me.
So, in a slightly soured mood, I booted up Episode Three, hoping for something a little more invigorating to get me going. I had followed it while it was in development, and I was excited for something truly special.
It was here that I opened the notepad on my phone and started taking notes about my experience, so that I could more accurately represent my feelings in this review. I ended up writing so many notes that I ran out of space and had to start a second file.
The following are a handful of those notes, as I wrote them while playing:

- "Aside from some bright splashes of color, the levels I've encountered within my first half hour of playing The Fugitive Three have proven rather generic and, at times, even scatter-brained. Worse, two are very blatant copies of levels from The Dark Descent. namely the Old Archives and Storage."
(Note: While the layouts of the levels weren't 1:1 duplicates of the originals, they were too similar for me not to be suspicious of less than savory practices. I would go on to find areas that were similar to the Back Hall, Prison, Sewer, Choir, and Machine Room, as well as a level from The Great Work.)

- "Tasks to go about within the levels are also nauseatingly dull, involving mostly running around and finding objects to be used in a manner that requires no thought. This is the exact opposite of how tasks should be handled in an exploration-driven game."
(Note: To clarify this note, I'm saying that finding objects should be an intuitive and logical process that drives exploration, not a tedious scavenger hunt. Figuring out what to do with the things you've found should be trickier, but would presumably make sense. Penumbra: Overture understood this very well.)

- "Tasks are shaping up to be glorified key quests. Not the worst thing in the world, but it comes off as padding."
(Note: Padding is a term we'll come back to later.)

- "I want to slam my head against a wall until I stop feeling anything."
(Note: I'm exaggerating of course, but this note came after a very frustrating encounter with a Kaernk that had a very poorly communicated solution. Poor communication is another term we'll come back to later.)

- "Found a small cabin in the woods. This area is very serene. Love the atmosphere here."
(Note: One of the few places I actually wanted to explore, and I was never allowed to return.)

[Last entry]
- "I've stopped playing at the Nest of Hunger. I'm tired of being told nothing about what I'm meant to do. As far as I care, this ended when I escaped Marius Castle."

Hopefully you've gained a sense for how I felt while playing, as well as what my more common complaints were, better than I could hope to explain to you.

With regards to poor communication:
One of the biggest pitfalls of game design is not letting the player know what is expected of them. It is nothing short of sheer ignorance to assume that the player will see a tinderbox and assume it points

9

Key to Freedom

Mod review may contain spoilers

I have to say, this was a pleasant surprise. Somehow, you've managed to make a custom story that I had more fun playing than The Dark Descent itself. Your level design is superb, and the ambiance, lighting, and effects all blend together to create this amazing, all-encompassing atmosphere that had me both fascinated and terrified. The scares were spaced just well enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, without them getting repetitive or predictable. The camera movement in some of the scenes (especially the one at the end) was extremely well done, and your use of sound effects during events, no matter how trivial, was fantastic. The story didn't seem like it would be much in the beginning, but ended up being very memorable and satisfying. Along with that, the puzzles were neither too easy, nor too difficult (which is saying something, because I get stumped very easily). The only quirks I have would be the voice acting, which wasn't bad but also wasn't particularly good, and the fact that it wasn't always clear what I was supposed to do (example, I didn't know to stay out of the darkness in the Graveyard until AFTER I died from standing in the darkness). But all-in-all, I find this to be an exceptionally good custom story with great level design, atmosphere, scares, and story. I would seriously recommend this to anyone interested.

7

A Slave's Masquerade

Mod review

This is pretty good, especially for a first custom story. The level design, while a bit too open-ended, (I feel I missed several areas entirely) looks absolutely beautiful. The lighting is a bit bland, and doesn't compliment the rest of the design very well. The story is interesting, at least to the point where I didn't feel the need to skip any of the notes. I wasn't really scared at any point, and I was more frustrated by the way enemies kept popping up than anything. I didn't mind the lack of puzzles, though I can't speak for everybody. To put it in a nutshell, this is a decent custom story, and I enjoyed it.

8

Do Not Drink Too Much

Mod review

I was pleasantly surprised by this. The level design is good, the scares are where they should be, and the story is decent. Granted, the atmosphere could use some work and a few of the rooms bore a striking resemblance to the main story, but other than that this is a good custom story that I thoroughly enjoyed. Keep up the good work!

1

Brain Washed

Mod review - 3 agree - 4 disagree

This custom story is bad. I don't even feel like sugar-coating it because it's 2:30 in the morning and I'm tired. The level design is terrible and the atmosphere, scares, and music are all nonexistent. The story is barely even there, and it doesn't (technically) end, as there are no credits to be spoken of. And don't even get me started on the lighting. All I can say to you is, practice. Play some popular custom stories, think about how the levels were built and what made them fun. I want to see what you're truly capable of. And take your time on your next custom story, and really put a lot of detail into each level. I'm looking forward to it.

8

VANISH

Game review
6

Escape from Brackenburg

Mod review - 5 disagree

Maybe I'm being harsh giving this a six, being that this is your first custom story and all, but that really doesn't change the fact that I didn't have much fun playing this. I admit, I didn't play this all the way through (not because I didn't want to, but because I got stuck in the storage area) so I can only talk about what I saw up to that point, but I get the feeling it doesn't change much past that. None of the scares are worth noting, and while there aren't any teleporting/flying/dry-humping naked guys, they're all little more than cheap jump-scares. They scared the complete and utter s*** out of me, but they were cheap nonetheless. The level design... isn't terrible, but it's definitely lacking a certain level of creativity. I didn't feel like I was desperately searching for a way out of a castle while being hunted down, I felt like I was walking around inside a cluster-f*** of walls and locked doors, drifting from one scripted event to another. I'd pick up an item not because I needed it but because it was there, and then happened to be useful later. Take note: You should always present the problem before offering the solution. And where detailing is concerned, you're on the right track. There's a lot of missed potential here, and quite a few obvious mistakes. For one, most (if not ALL) planes are tiled far too much. This is a common mistake, and one that I used to struggle with. I can't really describe it, but you have to really look at the textures and decide the correct amount (0.3-0.5 is usually just enough). And I can't even fathom the amount of doors that were place on the edge of their frame rather than in the center. Of course, this custom story does have it's redeeming qualities. The story is decent, and I didn't feel compelled not to read the notes and diaries. Some details were surprisingly well thought out, like the reason the key to your room is in your friend's room is because you left it in the door. In short, there are worse custom stories.

7

Ninth of October - Chapter One

Mod review

The story is good, but the level design is... odd and some of the scares don't quite work the way they should (that or I'm really good at hiding from poofers). The levels feel a lot like the original game, perhaps even too much so. Several times I found myself saying "Oh, I remember this place." or "Well, that's oddly familiar." For example, I walked into the first cellar level and was greeted with a memento cheerily informing me of how dark it was (sound familiar?). On the other hand, this custom story also matches the Dark Descent in map quality. While it is a bit confusing at times, it definitely looks and feels well-built. It's also oddly good at keeping me on edge, despite the fact that not a whole lot happens (well, more happens than in the original game, but not near as much as some other custom stories). All-in-all, this is a great CS with good level design and a solid story.

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