Saturday, October 3, 2015

Untold Riches (review)

"Untold Riches" by Jason Ermer is a traditional parser style game written in Glulxe, for the 2015 interactive fiction competition.  I chose this game because it is the last game to appear alphabetically, and because I was eager to play on a traditional parser.  Glulxe provides a platform which can support integrated text, graphics, sound and mapping tools.  But of course a lot of those details are up to the author.  More after the break.

The opening story captures my interest, with effectively comic prose.  I play the oft-misused assistant of Professor d’Squarius, a treasure seeker with long history of failures and misadventure.  As a player, I conduct a few quick implementation checks:  x me, xyzzy and credits all provide custom responses.

A few turns into the game and I realized this might require mapping tools.  The online implementation doesn’t have them.  But alas, neither does the downloadable version on Windows Glulxe. (it does have an exits notification feature when the PC tries to go in an unavailable direction).  I crossed the (real world) room for my notebook and pencil, which is more physical activity than I like to engage in when playing IF.  (Fetched coffee also.  Need to multi-task.  Now ready to play.)

About an hour later:  "Untold Riches" is a solidly implemented treasure hunt set on a deserted island.  The pacing was just right, a gradual acquisition of objects necessary to enter locations, or take actions previously inaccessible.  None of these puzzles were especially original…lock and key or mechanical puzzles.  But the pacing was such that each solution provided a satisfying sense of achievement and advancement, without any formal scoring system.  Speaking philosophically, I think this is something puzzle designers should aim for…a system of “authentic rewards” for player achievement.

The writing is funny in places.  Almost every action taken by the player summons up memories of another ill-fated adventure with the professor.  The game has about a dozen locations, so it’s not very large, nor is it very deeply implemented.  But the world-building is solid enough for a player to immerse themselves in this fiction for an hour or more.

On difficulty:  Speaking as an experienced player, these puzzles were familiar and easy to solve.  I didn't see any means to lock myself out of victory, and in one case the game gave a fair warning before I tried to intentionally destroy an item.  One puzzle required an object that was hidden in a scenery object.  The game comes with an adaptable hints system.  I recommend this game to novice puzzlers and experienced players alike, for anyone who wants a short light-hearted adventure.

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