Monday, October 3, 2016

Mirror and Queen (review)

"Mirror and Queen" is a web based interactive fiction entered in the 2016 interactive fiction competition. I chose this game from near the top of a randomized list, in part because I recognized the author's name "Chandler Groover" as a talented writer from last year's competition. Groover has experimented with some interesting ways to make parser based games more accessible to new players. Last year's entry "Midnight Swordfight" understood an exhaustive list of object words and conversation topics, but the player was trained during the game's opening turn to limit their verb choices to a short explicitly defined list. Once the player accepted that convention, the game became a highly immersive experience.

"Mirror and Queen" takes that one step further, inviting the player to "think about anything" and removing actions altogether. The player character (an aging evil queen) stands in front of her mirror reflecting on whatever actions, objects or abstracts the player types, without ever taking action herself until late in the narrative.

This isn't the first time I've seen this mechanism in an IF game, but Groover carries it off beautifully, delivering unique evocative responses to everything I thought to type, and fostering the illusion that the parser really understands the player's commands. (only once, during the very first turn, did I read a response which hinted I might be working outside the parser's vocabulary. I had typed the word "llama". After all, it had prompted me to think about anything.)

For an open-input game, this is highly accessible. On the flip side, this game design does not provide for the highest level of player agency or branched path story telling. But if you accept that, "Mirror and Queen" is a solid piece of writing.

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