Saturday, October 17, 2020

Dr Ego and the egg of Man-Toomba

"Dr Ego and the egg of Man-Toomba" by Special Agent. Based on the irregularly capitalized title and pseudonymous author, I wasn't expecting much. Yet even in the opening scene my expectations were improved. The PC is an explorer searching the jungles of Papua New Guinea for the fabled MacGuffin "Egg of Man-Toomba". The player can skip the first scene (a trip up-river) by typing "wait". Yet I found so much detail implemented in the tiny canoe and the player's possessions that the boat ride was over before I had run out of things to do. The game calls to mind the characters and setting of "Indiana Jones". Indeed, the final puzzle (replacing a treasure with another of the same weight) is directly borrowed from the opening scene of the first film.

The world modelling is deep enough that a player can immerse themselves in examining details, even while they may be temporarily stalled on a puzzle. I was able to solve all the puzzles without hints (except for one, where I overlooked an obvious side exit) and finished the game in just under two hours. I reached a "win" state with only six of nine points, suggesting there may be a few optional puzzles I missed.

If there is one point where this above average entry might elevate itself to the top of the competition, it would be with better characterization of the PC. I tried to play as a callous European colonialist but wasn't getting enough feedback to suggest this was the characterization intended. Who, then, is this PC? A sensitive ethnobotanist? An academic wonk? An agent of greedy foreign collectors? But this is a minor critique.

My favorite puzzle involved trading goods for services with a native wood carver.

This game has been entered in the 26th annual interactive fiction competition.  More interactive fiction can be found at the interactive fiction database

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Lovely Assistant

“Lovely Assistant” by Bitter Karella is parser driven interactive fiction. Karella has written many past IF comp games set in Tim Burton like settings of dark whimsy. This game shares that familiar style. The PC is a magician’s assistant (Trixie) whose magician (Mugwort) has been kidnapped by a devious rival. Trixie explores Mugwort’s mansion, collecting various magical props and using them to open up new locations for exploration. The map is fairly sprawling, about twenty five rooms arranged in a highly branched pattern making it easy to overlook exits.

The writing and puzzle design are as delightful as past works by this author, but the implementation and parser are still rough around the edges. There is wine that can’t be drunk and a clown that isn’t parsed with the word “clown”. There is a good in-game hint mechanism, but the fussy parser renders some puzzles frustrating even when the player knows what to do. Many of the author’s past works have been written in Quest, so I imagine that the switch to Inform has come with a learning curve. This will be an excellent game after additional testing.

This game has been entered in the 26th annual interactive fiction competition.  More interactive fiction can be found at the interactive fiction database

Saturday, October 10, 2020

You Couldn't Have Done That

"You Couldn't Have Done That" by Ann Hugo is a short (fifteen minute) Twine story which puts the player into the shoes of teenager on the autism spectrum, who has just begun her first day on the job at a shopping mall clothing store where she doesn't know anyone. She is anxious. Who wouldn't be on their first day? But her spectrum diagnosis adds another layer to that anxiety. (limited spoilers below the cut break)

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Monday, October 5, 2020

Happyland

 “Happyland” by Rob Fitzel.  This classic detective yarn takes place on the sprawling grounds of an amusement resort. The map is wide but the written description of individual locations is not very deep, which is probably a good thing in terms of minimizing the number of red herrings. It is already a challenging and engaging parser game. After two hours of play I was able to make an arrest and get a conviction, but I was not able to tie up all the loose ends and will probably need to play for at least another hour before getting the “best ending.” I have not been tempted to use the walk through or hints. I really want to solve this on my own.

The style of play is familiar. Interview the suspects, search for fingerprints, analyze chemicals, show evidence to others and catch them in their lies. These are the same basic mechanics as the old Infocom mysteries, although the scope of this game and the number of NPCs is several times larger than those classics. This game also comes with a full color map and some other simple in-game graphics.  There were a few places I wished the parser had understood more synonyms. I especially would have appreciated a shorthand for typing the names of the multitudinous fingerprint reports. But overall the parser was bug-free and did not detract from my desire to solve the mystery.

This game has been entered in the 26th annual interactive fiction competition.  More interactive fiction can be found at the interactive fiction database.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Captain Graybeard's Plunder

 “Captain Graybeard’s Plunder” is a web based point and click game by Julian Mortimer Smith. Much of the pirate fiction I’ve seen in past IF has been written as light puzzlers; Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder (Ryan Veeder, 2013), Pirateship (Robin Johnson, 2019), even going way back to “Plundered Hearts” (Amy Briggs, 1987).  For that matter, many of the recent pirate films have been written light “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” or the unending “Pirates of the Carribean” franchise. Of course there have also been some rather more violent and dramatic treatments of modern piracy off the coast of Africa. “Captain Graybeard’s Plunder” takes neither of these approaches.

That I went into “Captain Graybeard’s Plunder” hoping for comedy was a mistake. My first play-through I scrolled through more quickly than the author’s efforts deserved, just wanting to see the ending.  Once I understood what it was about, I went back and played a second time, reading more carefully. “Graybeard’s Plunder” draws on a tradition of sea faring stories much older than “Pirates of the Carribean”. Indeed, the reader is invited to create their own sea story by cobbling together passages from 19th century literature. The game is an homage to authors who knew the sea and its dangers: H.Melville, RL.Stevenson, J.Verne and others. While doing this, the player comes to know the character of Graybeard, an aging pirate who once experienced defeat at sea and now has only his books. 

The graphic design in the game is well done. A variety of font choices appear for deliberate purpose in the story telling. This game works well as a piece of IF conceptual art.

This game has been entered in the 26th annual interactive fiction competition.  More interactive fiction can be found at the interactive fiction database.

The Pinecone

“The Pinecone” by Joseph Pentangelo. A web based interactive fiction. I picked this one from the top of a randomized list, and because the blurb professes it to be quick play.

An intriguing short story with a twist at the end. I won’t give it away. The story is short enough to finish in less than fifteen minutes, as advertised. Well written but not very interactive. Advance the story with a series of single option clicks. There are a few choice points in the middle leading to four possible endings (all with the similar twist). I found three of the endings, and still kept my play under fifteen minutes. Best feature: I love goats.

This game has been entered in the 26th annual interactive fiction competition.  More interactive fiction can be found at the interactive fiction database.

Magpie Takes the Train

I played “Magpie Takes the Train”, thinking all the way through that it had been written by JJ Guest, who wrote the earlier “Alias: the Magpie”, winner of the 2018 IF competition. Only at the end, when I began to write up my notes, did I learn this was actually an authorized sequel written by Mathbrush, another highly accomplished IF personality. Maybe I should learn to read blurbs more carefully. But alas, the reason I’ve taken to playing IF is that I’m not an attentive reader; the interactive format forces me to engage more actively with what I’m seeing on the page.

“Magpie Takes the Train” shares several features in common with its inspiration: an entertaining detective farce involving frequent costume changes; dialogue with an amusing cast of upstairs-downstairs society figures (but curiously set in the states). Both games have a well implemented full parser interface.

This game differs from “Alias” in its scope. Whereas Alias was a full length game, with multiple rooms and individual scenes, “Train” is an elaborate one-room puzzle box. The goal, as indicated in the blurb, is to steal a coveted gemstone from the owner’s private train car. There is a time limit on completion, but a generous one and it may be possible to win the game in one play through. I gave myself the luxury of several restarts to experience the full space of the game. Each costume endows the player with a different set of powers and dialogue outcomes. Some of the actions are sequence and time dependent. It took me a little more than an hour to finish, checking the hints only once for a puzzle related to the Viscount. Turned out I just needed to examine the Viscount more carefully.

A delightful addition to the Magpie canon.

This game has been entered in the 26th annual interactive fiction competition.  More interactive fiction can be found at the interactive fiction database.