The title screen of Afterparty, depicting Hell with a close up shot of of a bottle of alcohol.

Afterparty is a Hell-based narrative adventure by Night School Studio, known for the acclaimed mystery adventure game, Oxenfree. You play as Lola and Milo, two recently deceased friends who find themselves in Hell—mistakenly, or so they think. Soon after arrival, they learn of a loophole: outdrink Satan, and he’ll let you return to Earth.

Celebrating Charlies bachelor party in Afterparty.

The Abyss

If you distill it down, the point of this game is bar-hopping: drift from bar to bar, order new drinks, and chat with different people as you take on the various puzzles and situations in the game.

This variant of Hell isn’t all that bad of a place. It’s a darker and slightly more tortuous facsimile of Earth. It eschews what could have been a grim horror setting, and instead brings a casual levity to Hell. Satan really could be your friend—and not in a “satanist” way; “hail satan” is used sarcastically in this game.

That said, you’re here after hours where everyone—humans and demons—are off the clock. The allusions to Hell while on the clock sound much, much worse.

One of the vignettes with Wormhorn, your demon.

Your Own, Personal Demon

There’s a wide variety of characters that you encounter in your romp through Hell. You’re assigned a personal demon, Wormhorn, who is responsible for a lot of non sequitur interruptions in your story—she drops in at inopportune moments to offend you. There’s also a demon nicknamed Fela—short for, uh, Fellatio—that requisitions you to help investigate some odd happenings at one of the bars.

One of the highlights is Sam, voiced by the inimitable Ashly Burch, who is your taxi driver throughout the lava rivers of Hell, ping-ponging you from place to place. She’s your friend, and also there for a lot of the exposition, giving you tips and background information for each new situation you’re soon to land yourself in.

Naturally, Satan is the center of the party. Hell is his domain, after all, and you find yourself at his home several times throughout the game. It turns out the big guy isn’t having that good of a time—he’s a bit of nice guy, but can’t keep his right friends and family around him. So maybe you’re not showing up at the best of times, but you’re not going to back down from the opportunity to make your way back to Earth.

The drink menu at the Schoolyard Strangler, a bar in Afterparty

The Schoolyard Strangler

The drinks—Hellcohol, harder stuff than on Earth—are pretty smart, and add a delightful punch of flavor to the game. Each different drink mixes up the game by unlocking new dialogue options tailored to the drink you’ve had.

You take a sip of your drink to unlock the new dialogue associated with your drink. If you don’t take a sip, you limited to default options, or you can say nothing at all. Not every choice is wise, though; mentioning romance to Asmodeus—a club-hitting monarch going through a rough breakup—might earn you some ire.

Even though there are some generic drinks like Bloody Stool give you a punch of confidence, some of the drinks shake up the dialogue. The drink The Grand Exhibitionist makes you talk like a vaudeville villain. Bluebeard’s Last Wife makes ye talk like a pirate—shiver me timbers! Oh, yeah, there’s even a drink that’s advertised as acid. I’ll leave you to ponder that one.

Encountering Satan in Afterparty

After, Party

Afterparty falls in my sweet spot of narrative games where you feel like you’re in control of the story. Night School committed to an actual branching narrative here; your choices take you down substantially different paths where you meet different characters and have different dialogue, even though you’re still going to wind up a drinking game with Satan at the end. There’s enough content for multiple playthroughs here.

Also, for such a long game, the writing sure holds up. You don't get bored of the comedy. Milo and Lola are realistic, flawed characters that you can certainly relate to in some way or another. It’s a testament to the writing that the dialogue stays consistently funny and doesn’t get dreary or fall apart during the game.

Afterparty is your perfect Halloween weekend game, and it’s available on PS4, Xbox One, and the Epic Games store for Mac and PC.

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The frozen clocktower, a moment before midnight, in a screenshot of Moment to Midnight.

Moment to Midnight is a pixel art interactive fiction game by taxiderby, daisyowl, and cherof, created for Ludum Dare 45.

You start as a lost stranger, woken from the dark by a strange lizard. Stuck without any controls, the lizard gifts you abilities to let you listen and advance. Moving along, you start your journey of meeting and interacting with villagers of this sleepy little city.

The player reveals her name, Lyst, in Moment to Midnight.

A sudden prophecy

It turns out that all the clocks in this town have stopped just before midnight, and it’s up to you to find out why. The city, stuck in a permanent nighttime, doesn’t progress. Timekeeping devices refuse to work.

Your goal, as Lyst, is to investigate the prophesy—that a beast can restart time—and seek a resolution by climbing up the town’s clock tower.

Along your journey, you meet a sweet mix of townspeople that each helps you with your goal—like granting new abilities. There’s a lass here who pre-purchased a years' worth of vases—who’d do such a thing? An old man needs you to help him find his glasses. You alarm a sleepy sentry who asks, “What’s the danger? When’s the danger?”

The player talking to the old man, being told to play a game to find his glasses.

Go climb the tower

Because it’s a game jam game, it isn’t a particularly deep game, but that’s okay—it manages to do quite a lot in its short duration. The atmosphere, music, and the game’s unique take on ability progression certainly make it worth the short play.

It might be worth it for you to talk to everyone a few times. If you backtrack through the sleepy town, you might find that some people’s dialogue has changed.

Moment to Midnight is a delightful little narrative game with good music and good vibes and is a pleasant way to spend 15 minutes of your time. It’s available for Windows and macOS on itch.io.

David in Telling Lies

Okay, kids, get out your pen and paper; you’re taking notes.

Telling Lies is a voyeuristic narrative full motion video game by Sam Barlow. You scan a government-collated database of recorded conversations, looking deeply into the stories of, and relationships between characters.

The desktop and Retina software in Telling Lies

Surveillance Software

The game takes place in a “desktop simulator” that feels a bit like an Ubuntu Linux desktop environment. The meat of the game takes place by searching for clips in Retina, a pretty plausible piece of surveillence state government software. The videos you call up are, for the most part, one half of a two-way video call. Unhindered access to these personal videos is what makes the game ultimately feel voyeuristic. You know that you shouldn’t be watching this—these people didn't exactly consent to the government recordings. But, you just want to see how their stories unfold, and feel closer (or more distant) from some characters.

The game’s main character, David, is played by Logan Marshall-Green, supported by three other characters played by Alexandra Shipp, Kerry Bishé and Angela Sarafyan. David is a vastly complicated character and plays at the center of the giant nest of lies and half-truths that make up this story. I most closely followed the relationship between David and Ava (Alexandra Shipp’s character), a climate change protester that David gets quite close with.

The videos you find and watch feel, well, deeply personal. When you’re watching these actors in movies or on tv, they feel distant and non-impactful, no matter how compelling their delivery. Here, you almost feel them looking right at you, as they deliver their performances right into a camera for you to see. This delivery makes the videos feel truly raw—almost like they are government intercepted recordings of video chats—and can go on for minutes at a time.

Ava in Telling Lies

The evolution of the story

Sam Barlow, the game’s director, is a master of non-linear stories. His first indie title, Her Story, uses a similar video query interface. Where Her Story first experimented with the mechanic—by querying and reviewing small segmented snippets of a few police interviews—Telling Lies evolves it. You’re now watching full videos, hunting for keywords that not only help you progress your understanding of the intertwined plots but also finding the other half of the call you’re watching—seeing the other side to the story.

Throughout the game, I filled up four pages of my notebook, covering anything from notes on characters, new keywords to search, to quick scribbles from piecing together sudden story revelations. You’ll want to take notes too, either using the in-game note tool, your own notes app, or classic, analog pen and paper. (I recommend the latter.)

You see, the story isn’t laid out on paper. Nothing exists to say, “here’s the plot.” The only thing that guides you is the game’s initial query of LOVE. This gives you a few videos to skim for keywords and gather your initial impressions. Then it’s up to you to build your knowledge and understanding of the characters, their relationships, and their stories, and uncover their lies and half-truths. My experience won’t be like yours—we might have different conclusions about people’s motivations here, and that’s what makes this interesting.

Gameplay Tip:

If you query a video and feel like you’ve missed something, you can always scrub backward to earlier points in the video to see more.

This game feels like a love story to FMV video games, an all but dead genre, and shows more games like this can exist today. Which is why I’m posting about it here—It’s not a true indie title, with a credits roll of hundreds, but it feels like an indie-scale game gone right. I want more things like this, and want to see more of this from small creators.

Telling Lies is available on Steam for Windows and macOS.

A therapy session is in progress, in the game Eliza—a game which explores parametric AI-based therapy.

Eliza is a visual novel by Zachtronics, the developer of puzzle games Opus Magnum, Exapunks, and other Zachlike games.

The visual novel explores the potential impact, ethics, and effectiveness of an AI-driven digital therapy program, Eliza. You take control of Evelyn, a newly hired proxy for the Eliza program.

AI doesn’t make the world go round

Eliza sessions are delivered by Proxies, contract workers who serve as a therapeutic human intermediary between the two way conversation of AI and client. An Eliza proxy wears AR glasses, getting a realtime stream of patient vitals, sentiment analysis of the patient’s words, and scripted guidance on what to say to a patient.

The Eliza sessions are held by human proxies because the company behind Eliza, Skanda, feels that interacting with computers feels impersonal and unnatural. Theoretically, a realtime conversation feels more natural and less contrived—it’ll challenge a patient to open up more, so Eliza can listen.

However, patients are incredibly aware that they’re still interacting with an AI. Sometimes, they’ll even break the “fourth wall” and say that they’d just wish for an actual human exchange with the person that’s delivering the Eliza-based therapy.

Evelyn talking with Erland, in the Eliza server rooms.

Can a chatbot provide effective mental healthcare?

The game exists in a world affected by a mental health crisis, not unlike today. (I’m personally someone affected by this, too. As someone going through therapy, this game feels close to me, in a way.) Many people in-game are seeking treatment, and Eliza seems to be the option for most, not because it’s good, but because it’s cheap.

You see, therapy is a process of listening, understanding, and challenging a patient to change and improve. Eliza’s treatment seems to land at either end of ineffective and adept at this, depending on the particular patient. For example, Eliza will happily listen to a long-winded essay from a patient, yet its follow up response is banal and unempathetic: “it seems that something is really troubling you.” It’ll fail to drive deeper on the pain or augment the conversation contextually—it’s just an AI’s lexical notation of what the patient is exhibiting.

The biggest miss for Eliza is in the “solution” department, which is a glorified ad for more Skanda services and partnerships. After a patient has poured their heart out during their appointment, Eliza gives cold and scripted recommendations for an app and a pill. In a way, this kind of highlights a big issue with a service this—if you have cheap therapy as a service, is the company really invested in addressing your root issues? Or, will they just do the absolute minimum to keep you happy and keep you as a customer?

At a cafe, discussing Eliza's role in the future.

What if you get to change things?

But what’s your role in all this, as a proxy? Well, chapters take their twists and turns. It turns out that not only was Evelyn a previous Skanda employee, but she was also a principal engineer for the Eliza project.

And that’s what makes this game compelling. It sets up an AI-driven near-future dystopian world and then sets you up to explore what that means. How does your role in this change if you made Eliza? What would you differently? What would you do to change the future?

Each chapter introduces some sort of plot-shift, that twists your feeling of the overall effectiveness of Eliza, your alignment and empathy for Evelyn, and your sentiments toward other involved characters—like the Skanda administration and other ex-employees.

And here’s where the game really hits close to home for me. If you’re on the inside of a large company and can see something is going wrong, and you want to try to change that momentum, what really happens if you speak up? Sure, you internally know that speaking up is the right thing to do, but, likely, you could just be seen as a troublemaker, and ultimately pushed out. Your in-game relationship with Nora (an ex-Skanda engineer, turned artist) and Erlend (the new engineering leader of the Eliza project) make you grapple with the feeling from differing perspectives.

The obligatory zachtronics solitaire game in Eliza.

An effective new entry from Zachtronics

Yeah, it’s dramatically different from anything you’d expect from a Zachtronics style game, but that honestly makes it worth the play. They approach the subjects of engineering, AI influence, and ethics from an informed perspective. There’s no handwaving and namedropping of just the right keywords to make it “seem” competent. It’s apparent actual programmers and engineers wrote and influenced this game, and they know their audience will be technically minded.

It’s different from other visual novels I’ve played too. It’s fully voice acted. It’s got a Zachtronics style UI, suited to the story they’re telling. With this, it manages to feel like a visual novel of their own, not that they just decided to do something new and build a game on top of RenPy or Twine.

And, overall, Eliza is effective at exploring the philosophical and ethical issues of our world, today. It doesn’t try to give you the answers or arrive on any novel conclusion—it wants to make you think. I bet you’ll come out of the game feeling totally different than I did, and the game gives you the freedom to experience that.

At the very least, you still get to play another solitaire game from Zachtronics.

The flowery bird boy you befriend and help heal, in Compassion.

Compassion is a narrative experience game by Ivan Papiol, about getting help when you're in pain.

You encounter an injured bird, in need of help. When you interact with the bird, the thoughts that appear on-screen reflect more gloomy thoughts about how you deal with pain. Poking the bird with a stick explores the ways you can pull away when someone tries to be there and care for you. Offering the bird some flowers dives into the validation and, well, the compassion you can feel when you open up and let others provide help. If you think about it, in a way, that bird is almost like yourself.

This game carries a tang of extra meaning for me. If you check the archive of this site, things slowed down in July. I had a hard time dealing with some things going on in my life, and figuring out how to navigate the road ahead hasn't been easy.

You can't erase pain, but it's easier when you're taking my hand.

Caring for my flowery bird boy was somehow the highlight of my day. It's games and experiences like this that reenergize me. I'm gonna come back to this game when it feels like the sticks and rocks are clouding my judgment.

There's more to be seen!