Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Inside the Facility (review)

"Inside the Facility" is a parser game written by Arthur DiBianca for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. The blurb says:

"Your friend Mike thinks no one can infiltrate THE FACILITY, but you're going to prove him wrong."

The cover art is a crayon drawing of an Erlenmeyer flask with pink bubbles rising to the surface.

A map is available, but it's just a Cartesian grid of rooms which I should use to construct my own map during the game. Back in the heyday of parser fiction I could construct maps on the back of an old phone bill or a used napkin, so I should be well prepared.

I imagine this is going to be a light puzzler. We'll see after the break....

This game has the same spirit as "Grandma Bethlinda's Variety Box" which Arthur DiBianca submitted last year. The choice of actions is constrained, but the author has designed a series of progressively challenging puzzles within those constraints. The descriptions are terse, but the overall effect is whimsical and fun.

Some mapping skills are required, but this is not an onerous maze. More similar to Andrew Plotkin's "Delightful Wallpaper" (2006) than the "Twisty Little Passages All Alike" type mazes which players have justly criticized for ages. Most of the puzzles involve trying to figure out the correct order to visit rooms in order to open up new areas. Despite the simplicity of the parser, there is evidence of considerable programming skill in this one. Teleportation chambers, guards who move along designated paths, timed events and random events. It pays to stay in some areas and just wait to observe the changes.

The map is huge. A player has to visit at least 65 locations to "win" the game, but that's only half the total available location. Every location is unique (No twisty little passages here). The puzzles ramp up in difficulty, with the first few being extremely easy.

I don't expect to see anything else quite like this in the competition. With so little attention to coherent story, this won't appeal to everyone. But I really enjoyed it.

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