Showing posts with label parser games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parser games. Show all posts

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Six goes to release 5

I've just done a bit of maintenance on my 2011 Interactive Fiction Competition parser game Six, resulting in version five.


Did you know that Six, a game suitable for all ages about children playing hide and seek at a birthday party, came second in its year and won the Best Implementation award at the 2011 XYZZYs? It behooves me to remind you of these things. You can visit the slightly refurbished Six website and/or the game's IFDB page for info, propaganda and downloads.

Now I'll tell you what's changed in version five of Six. Summarily, the game content itself hasn't changed, so if that's all you care about, you can stop reading.

THE CONFIGURATION STAGE

I made version five primarily so that I could remove any 2011-centric tech talk from the game's configuration stage. It's now got a more general outlook that means it can sail gracefully into the future, no longer telling people to do or not do things that may only have been correct in 2011. (Those things were important at the time. I was trying to get people to play the game in a fashion ideal to me during the Interactive Fiction Competition.)

If you ever pine to be pushed around like it's 2011, don't worry, the IF Archive will always carry the original version of the game. Better yet, now that the archive can store multiple past versions of games, you could just retreat slightly to version four, thereby benefiting from all the bugfixes and improvements that had occurred since version one while still experiencing the 'classic' configuration stage of 2011!

THE GAME MANUAL

To accompany the config stage changes, I've tweaked pages four and five of the PDF game manual to match. Page four of the manual now has a hyperlink to the Six website – a site I will try to never, ever move – where I can maintain a simple-as-I-can-make-it interpreter download grid. It's a kind of triage: Just read through the three options until you find one that matches your OS and feature concerns. This aspect of playing parser games has not gotten any easier. This is why such a page is helpful.

THE VOLUME LEVELS!

The default volume setting in Six is now 3 out of 5 (for both music and FX) instead of 5 out of 5.

Summarising why I made this change from under my music producer's hat: Some players have reported that they experienced the soundtrack as being louder than they expected it to be. Such a judgement only exists in relation to how loud they perceive other sounds they're familiar with to be at the same volume dial position.

Part of Six's loudness is down to the soundtrack having few elements in it. As an example: In the world of recording, a single violin playing can easily be perceived as louder than the whole of Metallica playing, at one volume dial position, if the violin and Metallica were both recorded to peak at digital zero (beyond which only distortion is recorded) and delivered that way to listeners. Six peaks at digital zero, and though it wasn't made with an explicit goal of loudness, its few synths are filling the same volume bandwidth as, say, a pop or rock artist's whole band.

The second issue is that, given the nature of the game and the cute-leaning music, people just expect this kind of music to not emerge too loudly. We don't blast children with loud music (do we?!).

So I'm using Inform's volume amplification stage to moderate the default volume of Six to a lower level. You can still turn it up and down inside of your IF interpreter within the same range as before. The upshot is that for someone playing for the first time, the music won't debut as loudly as it used to.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

La Crapule (The Villain) detective adventure game – new on the Apple II

French parser-driven detective adventure game The Villain (La Crapule) was originally published on the Macintosh by Froggy Software in 1987. Thanks to Brutal Deluxe Software, it's just been released commercially for the Apple II in both English and French versions.

La Crapule Apple II title page
La Crapule Apple II title page
I haven't played The Villain yet. I'm very likely to, being both an Apple II head and an IF head, but Brutal Deluxe are mostly publicising the game in Apple II circles. That's why I figured I'd share its PR info here in my IF blog.

First, here come the press release and purchase links. For now, the game is being sold only on physical Apple II media. I asked Antoine of Brutal Deluxe if a digital (disk image) will be sold and he said probably, but that there is no definite plan. You'll also note that the press release promises that the game engine will soon be available separately:

"You sip your daily Kir in the dilapidated place that serves as your detective's office when the phone starts to ring. Your reputation as a detective has already crossed the boundaries of the Republic district, yet a little work would not harm your bank account.

The anxious voice of an elderly woman echoed in the handset: "Sir, I need your help, I am the Countess of La Fêlure, and my husband and I live in a manor house at the end of the town. We live there with our servants and our cousins, the Dumoulin de La Fêlure. I am really worried because my husband has disappeared for two days...

Would you like to go to investigate, please? As soon as you find my husband, wait for me in the living room and try to solve that mystery. I will be able to show myself generous!"

Of course you accept and you are on the way to the manor of La Fêlure to elucidate the mystery of the disappearance of the Count..."

La Crapule was writen by Jean-Louis Le Breton for the Macintosh only in 1987. It was released by Froggy Software, owned by Jean-Louis Le Breton. Jean-Louis is the author of the first Apple II adventure games in French and has released more than ten games through Froggy Software.

Brutal Deluxe Software is proud to make it available for the Apple II computer line in French or English with the agreement (blessing ;-)) of Jean-Louis. The first three signed copies by Jean-Louis will be auctioned on eBay. We have special offers for the KansasFest and Apple II Festival France attendees.

The game engine is powerful, you can enter a full sentence, eg. "I go north", "I talk to the Countess". There are more than ten rooms, plenty of characters, the dictionary is huge and the number of play hours is high.

The game engine development kit will soon be available through the same channel. Let your imagination wander to create your adventure games in text only or with pictures: from 40-col text, 80-col, GR, DGR, HGR (mono/color where supported), DHGR (mono/color where supported) to SHR pictures.

Get your own copy at http://www.brutaldeluxe.fr/store/

Jean-Louis Le Breton
Antoine Vignau & Olivier Zardini

The Google English translation of Froggy software's French wikipedia page says that their goal was to 'sell French, amusing, and out-of-the-ordinary games at a price of about FRF 150', and that the company's choice of Froggy as a name (an English word connoting Frenchness) was a deliberate one in the context of how Apple II software was sold and perceived in France in its day.

There are two YouTube videos showing the game starting up in the Sweet16 Apple IIGS emulator and a few commands being entered. One video is for the French version and the other for the English version. The game looks attractive but in terms of showing the quality of the parser or much gameplay, these 60 seconds videos are not very helpful. I figure their main purpose is just to show the tech of this Apple II version of the game:

Link to the French version video
Link to the English version video

Sunday, 16 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: You are standing in a cave... by Caroline Berg... ! ... ?# ...!

You are standing in a cave... is a parser-driven adventure of perennial adventuring. Stuck in the title cave with only a random collection of stuff in your pockets, you, the viewpoint adventurer, must unstick yourself and escape. The environment is full of props and clues designed to speak tantalisingly to each other in the language of puzzles via your adventuring brain. The climbable, the ignitable, the combinable; they're all here.

This is plainly not a game for people who dislike puzzles. There will still be a dropout rate amongst people who do like puzzles based on either roughness of implementation or lack of upfront glamour / hookiness. Also, there's the issue that the game's title could as easily be read as a joke about the banality of some old adventure game as the unremarkable but straight-shooting meat and potato entity that it is. Though it is a more versatile statement than it first appears to be. Consider this existential juggernaut of a title: You are standing in a cave / You are dying in a sewer.

While cave's first room looks dull and prototypically cavey, things quickly become more involving if you give it a room or two.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

IFComp 2016 review: Night House by bitterkarella

Night House is a mystery-horror parser adventure of some spookiness. It mobilises a combination of vintage object-based puzzling (use A on B, B on C, C on D and later G, E on F) and the methods of backstory revelation that have become popular in both horror films and gaming over the last couple of decades. The protagonist is an eight year-old child who wakes to a mysteriously empty version of their home and unseen menaces.

The game runs – somewhat stickily – in the Quest engine. I loved the automap, but I didn’t love the way lots of useless items were highlighted with hyperlinks, often drawing attention away from important items buried in the inventorial sea. And it's a big sea in Night House. If you love amassing a huge inventory of doodads and using them to hurdle hurdles in all kinds of laterally conceived practical ways, Night House will whet that appetite. If you don’t have enough horror tastebuds on your tongue, you probably won't find Night House sufficiently distinguished from things you’ve experienced before. Overall it's a dense puzzler with a pretty good, mildly choppy story that I basically followed but didn't completely follow; I will express some of my ignorances in the spoilered part of this review.

The game also has a lot of implementation fiddles and some bugs. Many of the former seem to be a product of the Quest parser's design, though paradoxically, a subset of those are then resolved by Quest's hybrid interface.

The game took me about 90 minutes to complete. I made increasing use of the walkthrough as I progressed. Mac users can't play Quest games offline so I had to play at textadventures.co.uk. This resulted in an average pause time of 1 second between turns, significantly increasing the stickiness of the experience. If you can play offline, I'd do so. There's lots of backtracking and experimentation required in this game which you could knock down instantly offline.

Two pro tips:

1. In Quest, when in doubt about verbs, use the phrase USE (A) WITH (B)

2. In Quest, if still in doubt, right-click any lit objects to see if the action you've been agonisingly trying to phrase correctly happens to be a contextual choice that then shows up.

Spoilered extended musings beyond.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Adage myth wreathe kid

I've reviewed IFComp 2011 entry Awake The Mighty Dread on IFDB, with review tagline

'Something like an Alice in Wonderland that's hard to get at/into/through.'

Click this sentence to go to the review.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Let Sleeping Dreads Lie

I'm writing this post in a Mac program called Focused. It's one of those 'no distraction' writing apps. It gives you a blank window with a nice large font, an obvious cursor, no icons, no sidebars, no title bar, no sidewindows, no sidebottoms, no grotesquely nested MS-Word ribbons of chaff.

When you turn it on, a random quote about writing sits in the middle of the blank page until you type something. My quote tonight was:

'Loafing is the most productive part of a writer's life.' – James Norman Hall

This was apt (they're usually pretty apt) as I was about to write about how I'm waiting for a really good idea for the most basic of my Inform CYOA extension examples to come to me. I spend a lot of time thinking about it in pockets of each day. It's taking a surprisingly long time to come, given that the ideas for the other five examples didn't cause me much struggle. They involve such entities as talking rats, a quiz show, ye olde Cloak of Darkness, a glass basket and a dragon.

After fiddling with other peripheral IF busywork – like updating my review tags on IFDB – I felt like playing something. I've been reading Mathbrush's nifty intfiction posts about past XYZZY Best Game winners, in which he often goes sideways to talk about the corresponding IFComps. I realise his posts have had the side-effect of engendering nostalgia in me for some of the games from the first two IFComps I participated in. So it seems it's taken me about five years to develop this particular nostalgia.

In terms of acting on nostalgia for 2010/2011 IFComp games, I find my typing fingers are restless for some of the one-shot games which had mixed receptions and whose authors didn't return. Things like 2011 game Awake The Mighty Dread, which has no reviews on IFDB. And that's why I'm going to replay and review Awake The Mighty Dread while I continue to wait for this idea I'm waiting for. Of course doing this review won't take as long as all that, and then I'll return to the waiting, but you can't force creativity all the time. Sometimes you must even deign to loaf.

Friday, 1 July 2016

News about ME (Clash of the Type-Ins)

Experience a leisurely, digressive thrill at least once every two minutes for probably considerably too many minutes as I chat, jest and otherwise interact in various novel ways with Ryan Veeder and Jenni Polodna, the sometimes wacky, sometimes soulful hosts of podcast Clash Of The Type-Ins.

In episode 34 we play my award-winning™ IF Six from 2011, about little kids playing hide'n'seek tip in the park.

If you never heard the audio from Six before, I cut it all into the podcast, though Ryan didn't cut out me also verbally describing what was being heard in each case (which I had to do for the hosts, who couldn't hear it) resulting in a delivery of information that some would describe as 2 X POWERED UP! but which cynical members of Generation X like myself might describe as Redundant.

There's a decent number of digs at Millennials in this podcast, so be ready for that if you are one.

Clash of the Type-Ins can be got here.

Thanks Ryan and Jenni for having me.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Tunnel Runner on Wade-Memoir

I lost June to what doctors think was viral meningitis. It wasn't easy to diagnose, but I had two overnight stays in hospital and have been spending the rest of the time at home. I also developed double vision. The vision is expected to self-correct over time and it does seem to be improving a little each day. Today I tested my computing abilities (with a patch over one eye) by writing this and updating one of my websites, Wade-Memoir, with a parser/shoot-em-up (?!) bit of game, Tunnel Runner, from when I was ten. You can go to the Tunnel Runner post by clicking this sentence.


Why I thought of Tunnel Runner today: While my vision was really messed up, I couldn't read and I couldn't watch anything, so I listened to a lot of podcasts. One of them, No Quarter (about classic coin-ops) mentioned that the hosts were supporting the crowdfunding for some turn-based shoot-em-up. This sent my mind back – way back – to Tunnel Runner. It was meant to be a sideways shooter like Star Blazer or Scramble. How it came out is that you use a parser to enter commands to move your ship. Today I wrote this game up in my blog Wade-Memoir, making it my first post there in half a year.

I was having motivation troubles writing the last example for my WIP Inform CYOA extension before I got sick, probably because I've already written a good number of examples that interest me more. This last one needs to be the most fundamental, in a way, and is intended to be the first one for a user.

Soon I hope to be reconstituted enough that I should be able to recommence using my will to force myself to do certain things. Or a day may come when the sun is especially bright (it's winter here) and a particular shaft will hit me in a particular way and inspire me to do it without me having to kick myself.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Loitering with the Joneses of technology

– I've reviewed mystery adventure The Black Lily, from IFComp 2014, on IFDB.

– I participated in an IF podcast last week, but I don't know when it will be around.

– My Inform CYOA extension is pretty far along. I hope to release it sooner rather than later so that it can ward off the ravages of age. Tools are particularly susceptible to those ravages. Some of them get ravaged before they even get out the door. I reckon the important thing is not to dawdle in the doorway. Whether due to feature creep, or to the high and impatient current speeds of all of modern citizens, technology and history, you can be left palely loitering in the doorway with your outmoded tool.

This happened to me in 2012 with a GameSalad project. That this was only four years ago surprises me; it feels like much longer. Such time collapses are illustrative of the point.

I spent months using GameSalad to build the engine for an overhead viewed point-and-click adventure game with a dash of action. But not difficult action. The iDevice touch interface wasn't going to be slick enough for tight control. I was building this engine for a ghostly horror type game I was going to call Hedra.

GameSalad was in development heat at the time. Every time it got updated, I had to redo more stuff in my game. Plus Apple's Retina technology was coming in. Suddenly it came to GameSalad. Then everyone had to figure how to trade in double resolution graphics as well. As a one-man band, I was having a hard enough time tuning the engine per se to keep up with the Joneses of technology, and eventually I gave up on the whole thing. My demo no longer runs properly on my current Mac. It needs an old version of GameSalad on an old Mac or a bunch of updating, and even if I did update it, I'm no longer in the headspace or flush of interest to make that game.

I think this all makes Hedra the only computer game in my gamemaking history that I invested solid time in but which didn't get off the ground. I've got a decent number of incomplete games behind me, especially back on the Apple II, but I consider those to have gotten off the ground because they reached the point where they had either a bit or a lot of game content going before I stopped working on them. Hedra doesn't exist except in my head; all I've got is part of an engine that was intended to turn into it later.

Having only abandoned one project late in the fundamental development stage strikes me as a fortunately low stat. I think the rate has probably been helped a lot by most of my projects having been all me. The moment you become part of a development team, you can face exponentially more complex completion factors, but technology affects all projects.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Autumn All Stars 2016 review: Harmonic Time-Bind Ritual Symphony by Ben Kidwell and Maevele Straw

The PC in Harmonic Time-Bind Ritual Symphony is a self-described middle-aged hippie in Wisconsin. He's a mystic, musician and computer programmer about to release the incredible ANTS software that will allow the alteration and merging of different strands of reality, to what I would euphemistically describe as great positive effect. The author says that the resulting trippiness is an attempt to convey the experience of a summer manic episode in which he believed himself to be a character in an interactive fiction game.

I think Harmonic itself is an amazing game. The crucial thing is that its manic astral mysticism and free-associating subject matter are the province of its prose, world and characters, but not of the underlying structure. The game design is well-considered and has many addictive mechanics recognisable from both old and recent gaming. Harmonic's core gameplay carrots reminded me of a bizarrely disparate group of life simulation games, from Animal Crossing on the Nintendo GameCube to Shenmue on the Sega Dreamcast.

In Harmonic, your PC's base is his house, and the game tracks time through each day and night. You can wander out and around the town, meeting and making friends, warping their realities and yours for the better, setting up projects for later and dealing with social engagements. Some characters will email you. Some events will occur spontaneously (eg a birthday party to attend) and others are unlocked, after a fashion, once you've brought the correct circumstances into alignment. Events are also gated by time, travel restrictions (you can summon your pushbike to your side at will by typing LUNAR, but you have to get your cycling skill up to be able to ride to further parts of town) and major social and puzzle progress through the game.

Why are you doing all these things? Primarily because you're living in the now and having a great time. You're also gradually advancing the cause of new positivity that you began by unleashing your reality-altering software. You can enjoy the experience of this world in its own right, but there's also a simultaneously generous and rigorous score system with a maximum score of 999 which tracks how much of the game content you've experienced. You can get points for doing all kinds of things both grand and elementary, from playing the piano or finding a new place in the city to major stuff like binding whole reality concepts together with your BIND power. There are also optional ending points at which the game tells you how awesome you've been for achieving a certain degree of completion, and then says something like, 'You can keep on playing, or just type WIN now if you'd like.' I was too engrossed in Harmonic to stop playing by the time I reached the first of these points, and carried on until I had more than 700 out of 999.

This IF take on life simulation is catchy in its own right, but it is the freewheeling prose and dialogue, bursting with musings on the mystical, the philosophical and mental health, that makes Harmonic a game that could exist in no other form than interactive fiction. In the same way that the sturdiness of the game's structure does not mirror the unfiltered flood of information you might associate with the recreational drug-taking writ large in the game's events, the writing itself is basically precise even as the ideas contained within it fly around and attach to each other easily. And crazily. Lots of them are cute moon pie, fireworks, astral explosions and love irradiation, but lots of them are interesting or novel in a more cerebral way. The two types are often wrapped around each other, and as long as the game was, I never got tired of reading new conversations, or of clocking the next philosophy of some coffee shop owner or Loonie co-op member.

An early coffee shop encounter with one of the female baristas the PC admires sees her politely listening to his musical-moon-unity theories even as she needs to shut him down just so that she can get her work done. The PC is a bit disappointed but soon puts things into perspective. I thought this was a good observation about kindness, practicality and acknowledging realities generated in others' minds. Later in the game, after the influence of ANTS has advanced considerably, what's in the PC's head becomes the freewheeling fabric and nature of the city itself, and the restrictions of the practical are lifted. There is lots of drug-taking (frequent enough that, paradoxically, I barely noticed) some care-free sex, parties, journeys on the wheel of time, teleportation, time travel, astral crystals, a pizza shop and an arcade with a Tempest machine. This is a game where the response to the WAIT command is, 'You feel yourself traveling through spacetime at the speed of light.'

Harmonic offers all kinds of helps for negotiating its large inventory of content. Actually, so many are offered at the start of the game that I was a bit overwhelmed. You can THINK about things to do, get general HINTS, get people or object-specific HINTs, EXPLORE at random, and you can also customise the progress of time and scheduled events, a concept you are unlikely to appreciate until you've been playing for awhile. There are also multiple meta commands which give you background information from the author, and in the reality-exploding style of the game, it's made clear that it's fine to read these before or alongside the game itself. Reality will eventually have exploded to the extent that I don't know if anyone could solve the last puzzles without hints, but this outcome seems to suit the nature of the whole piece, which is about drawing all realities into one plane. Life, the game, the author, the hints and all information in general. (Also, an anticipatory review the author wrote of the game as if someone else!) The game's cover painting conveys this collapse of dimensions nicely.

There's also a soundtrack of mp3s to be played at particular piano moments in the game, but I found this to be the only element that didn't really work. The first issue is that the songs are dispensed by copy-paste links within the game. Stopping typing, going outside the game, downloading the files one at a time and listening to one before continuing, if you intend to experience it at the directed moment, is too cumbersome to the overall flow, and something most players would consider technically cumbersome per se. The other issue is that the simple, average-fi room recordings of these piano songs are in no way able live up to the bath of figurative crystal light that the game's prose frequently emits.

Harmonic is a big, fun game that is generous about ways in which you might experience it. It offers a main story track, lots of optional content, lots of helps to access both of the above, interesting meta content and scores of ideas about existence, both wacky and thoughtful. Also, I didn't know anyone could make a game I'd really like that also had this much recreational drug-taking and Grateful Deadism in it, two things I would normally have to endure through gritted teeth. Philosophically, I understand that one of the (many) reasons I respond so positively to Harmonic is because the game is organised and disciplined art, even though it's about a lot of things and people that aren't necessarily organised or disciplined. I do feel the primary author shared or simulated (or both) a difficult-to-share personal experience successfully, too. This is my pick of the Main Festival Spring Thing games that I have played.

* Tech note – I was at first a little surprised the author managed to keep the whole game in the smaller Z8 Inform format, rather than having to go up Glulx. Then I learned the game was written in Inform 6, which provides more economical/sparse initial programming conditions than does Inform 7.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Autumn All Stars 2016 review: Three-Card Trick by Chandler Groover

In the parser game Three-Card Trick you play Morgan the Magnificent, a magician seeking to assure that he's never again upstaged by Ivan, that other magician whom he considers to be a charlatan hack. This short, linear and impeccably written parser adventure debuted in the first Quadrennial Ryan Veeder Exposition for Good Interactive Fiction (an exposition whose name I hope to not have to type too often in life, and given its quadrenniality, my hope should be realised) and now reappears in Spring Thing 2016. Three-Card Trick manages to develop multiple dimensions of surprise and suspense over its duration, and thus, like a good magic trick, is itself surprising in a delighting way.

The archness, pride and arrogance of both magicians comes through in the narration and the dialogue via all kinds of showmanship, ranging form the boastful to the oily to the spectacular (spectacular within the parameters of a card trick). Each card that is turned over and each bold pronouncement presents another dramatic moment in which the story could easily take a sharp turn, and the author zooms in on a lot of these held-breath moments by having the player hit a key to draw out each word of a sentence. I personally think this device needs to be hitting home above a pretty high threshold to merit its use, and it's handled about equal best I've seen in this game.

The craft of directing player action to a single end in a linear parser game is wrangled breezily. The phrases you need to type are often dispensed verbatim as part of prose descriptions in the preceding paragraphs. Subtlety doesn't really matter because these directions coincide entirely with the strong motivations of the narrator and the scope of the required actions in the game. Nor does the overall linearity mean that Three-Card Trick is underimplemented. Most good idea tangents work, and almost all people and things I tried looking at were described through the consistent prism of Morgan's condemnational eye.

About the only thing that even mildly perturbed me was that the compass the player is handed at game start, which is supposed to make navigation super-easy by allowing one to type IN and OUT to move towards or away from goals, confused me. Not the idea of it, which is great, nor the explanation for it, which is basically 'it's magic', but just that in this scheme that's trying to be so simple, I found it ironically easy to be uncertain about where IN was going to lead next and where OUT was going to lead next. Sometimes I had to reverse when I found myself going the way I hadn't anticipated.

There's some weird humour attached to the title of the game in light of what it reveals to be the significance of the 'three-card' element of the trick. This plays to the idea of misdirection in magic, as if everyone who is amazed by this trick was somehow figuratively looking in the wrong direction, or figuratively dwelling on the wrong thing, in the first place. It's also strange that the people at the exposition can be repeatedly amazed by the same trick when it's being repeated in back-to-back performances, though the game certainly points a finger at their notions of fashionability. I found that these unusual little openings in the gameworld, applicable to but unnoticed by its characters, added a speculative dimension to the experience of a kind that I think is hard to get out of parser games that direct player action as strongly as this one.

---

I recently showed my three and a half year-old nephew how to do a magic trick using a special trick cup and ball that I got out of a showbag when I was a kid. I was impressed that he had the dexterity to manipulate the ball-hiding fake lid on the cup, but after he did the trick and I acted surprised at the ball's disappearance, he put his finger inside the fake lid and whispered confidentially, 'The ball's in here.'

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Autumn All Stars 2016 sorta review: Fourdiopolis by Andrew Schultz

What is the fourth dimension?

Some people say it's time.

Some say it's Odorama, the scratch and sniff card system that accompanied the John Waters film Polyester.

Some say the fourth dimension is the tesseract, the four-dimensional analog of the cube. As the cube is to the square, the tesseract is to the cube – and obviously that's all the explanation you need from me to perfectly understand the concept in its entirety. Dragon Magazine, a major resource for Advanced Dungeons & Dragoners, went a bit nuts with tesseract articles in the 1980s. You could dump a group of adventurers in a tesseract and then stand back and laugh at the poor bastards as they tried in vain to map the thing, or slew each other while arguing over where the ceiling was.

This all leads me to Andrew Schultz's Spring Thing game Fourdiopolis. It's the logically titled sequel to his 2013 game Threediopolis. Andrew's a friend of mine, so I don't normally review or rate his games in competitions and things, but since Fourdiopolis is in the Spring Thing Back Garden and I spent a few hours playing it this evening, I feel like talking about it. I will be as coy about the puzzle details as everyone has always been about the puzzle details for Threediopolis, for reasons that all of those people who have been being coy already get. Know that Fourdiopolis is, like its predecessor, a wordplay/quasi-maze game.

Before I booted Fourdiopolis up, I was wondering how this game would build on the mechanics of Threediopolis. The new addition is simple at a glance, but it very significantly increases the possibility set for the solutions. This multiplies the difficulties wrapped around the various methods you can lean on to solve the puzzles, and definitely makes for a harder game overall.

If you never played Threediopolis, the initial puzzle is just working out what you're meant to do. If you have played Threediopolis, Fourdiopolis begins with you resurrecting the skills mustered in the first game. Their interplay is trickier this time and you won't get as far taking wild, inspired swings. Not that there was anything wrong with those; there were a strangely high number of ways you could approach each puzzle in Threediopolis, including the wild swinging, and that number has increased in Fourdiopolis. I found I kept getting better at this game in basically a straight line fashion over the couple of hours of play. I continued to notice new interrelations, new clues and patterns, and they all helped me start to attack some challenges proactively rather than start out with guesses and then poke or jimmy the holes. At one point, the gears did change, leading me to think, 'OK, now I'm seeing the extra hardness that Andrew talked about in his unnecessarily-scaring-people-off blurb.'

The great thing about playing Three or Fourdiopolis is that the experience is very much its own thing. What I find most interesting is how the games give you basically no advice on how to go about things. Eventually you find one way to do something, then another, then others that relate to both, then more. It's like building a neural network whose structure becomes more apparent the longer you stare it. In the case of Fourdiopolis, non-savants might have to sink some serious time into it to progress with the further-in stuff. But there's not really anything else like either game, and they're very addictive once you get stuck in. They're also the kind of game where you can easily break off and come back later, or on another day, and you may find when you do so that having let things percolate in your mind in the interim can suddenly lead to a blast of progress.

If this all sounds interesting and you haven't played either game, you might want to start with the first one. Note that it's not essential to do so. But playing Lode Runner before trying Championship Lode Runner wasn't essential, either. It just made for an easier life overall. That's a non-enforceable analogy about the relationship between the games. I've already got a lot of satisfaction out of my progress in Fourdiopolis so far.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Dumb stories from the past episode 387: Failing to review Gotomomi

Gotomomi by Arno von Borries was the first game I tried during IFComp 2015 and the first I didn't write about because, due to the silly capriciousness of life, my post would have been more than 50% stupid stuff not to do with the game itself. It wouldn't have been a review of quality, only a bedraggling post by someone who gave up on the game anyway once they did get it going.

It's not that you can't give up on a game and say why, but when you factor in the extra-game elements in this case, plus that it was to have been my first review of the comp, I felt it was just going to be an unwarranted disservice or aggravation to the game's author and a crummy start for me. Because of time pressure during IFComp – too many games, barely enough time to write about them in detail unless the planets align during a particular year – I know that I'd always rather just move on to the next game if something weird happens. On the plus side, all entrants are equally subject to this kind of prejudice of haste amongst judges, reviewers, players.

It now occurs to me that I probably shouldn't have talked up this anecdote. Anyway, I'd just had a birthday and been given a major gift: an iPad Mini 3. My mum and dad gave me that, and my sister gave me a physical keyboard to go with it. I thought something like, 'Wow, watch me play IF out in the world using these bad boys!' and promptly took them to the local shopping centre. This place is a hub for some quite hoity-toity fashion shopping in Sydney, so you shouldn't in any way underestimate the glamourousness of the people who swan about in it, or of its architecture, while you're in the process of imagining what it might be like. I wasn't there due to my glamour, though. I was there because it's local to me and an attractive and airy place, and because I sometimes have a coffee there.

So I sat down at a table with a coffee amidst all the glass and marble and light and broke out the iPad Mini 3 avec keyboard. I forget exactly why I picked Gotomomi to kick proceedings off, but I do broadly remember that I picked it believing it would suit my circumstances. After I started the game using IFComp's online player, I was horrified to discover that the player didn't play nice with my physical keyboard. The iPad kept toggling the virtual keyboard and 'continue' prompts. In other words, after typing a command on the real keys, I always had to tap a particular small spot on the screen to prep the iPad to return focus to the physical keyboard. I persevered with this scheme for a little while because this was pretty much the iPad's maiden voyage, and I was deliberately trying to have A Nice Time. But I was being dumb – you can't play a game this way. So, having mucked about, rather in vain, with the open-ended game that is Gotomomi, and having tried not to associate it with my being stymied right on commencement of IFComp, I finished my coffee and went home with a small thundercloud over my head.

Some games later I revisited Gotomomi on my desktop computer. I wasn't enjoying its vague open-ness, though I thought I was onto something when I got involved in a task as specific as gutting fish. This fish-gutting scene in Gotomomi is the Tetris of fish-gutting scenes. I know that Tetris has already been implemented in the parser at some point by one or more smartarses, but having played Dead Man's Hill, I can say in retrospect that I found the mountain of tiny granules of typed actions required to progress through Gotomomi's fish-gutting scene – under time pressure – to be agonising and infuriating, rather than a witful simulation of weapon-handling, which it was never meant to be. And I wasn't even sure whether I was progressing or not. Alarm bells were ringing on my sanity, plus I probably did remember my sour afternoon at the shopping centre after all. So I just downed tools and said, 'That'll do, Gotomomi. That'll do.'

And that's my dumb story from a year ago.

Autumn All Stars 2016 review: Dead Man's Hill by Arno von Borries

Dead Man's Hill is a detailed, parser-driven World War I trench combat simulation in which you play a German soldier at the Battle of Verdun in 1916. It's the work of Arno von Borries, who created the Japan-set work-rambling-life sim Gotomomi for IFComp 2015. There are a few technical ambition and technical verbosity similarities between the games, but while I got off on the wrong foot with Gotomomi through no fault of anyone in particular – an anecdote that didn't qualify as a worthy review of the game at the time and which I thus didn't share with anyone, but which I may recount in another post now that a year has passed – I got off very much on the correct feet with Dead Man's Hill.

The game's HELP frames proceedings grimly and efficiently with a potted history of the horrors of Verdun and explicit how-to-play info. A how-to-play can overwhelm in some games, but here it accurately telegraphed that Dead's scale was going to be detailed and micro-leaning. It made me feel strangely confident about my pending experience, even as I was anxious due to the framing text's foregrounding of grueling trench violence.

When the game opens, you and a couple of German soldiers under your command find yourselves forced into a French-held trench beyond no-man's-land. The trench maze environment is arranged differently in each game. Searching for a way out leads you into one violent encounter after another with the French soldiers. The game mechanics focus on the minutiae of manipulating weapons and giving orders. The game tracks both of each soldier's hands, what object is in each hand or being clasped by both, and makes you manually wield, unequip, load, reload, share and discard a range of weapons ranging from bayonets and pistols to flareguns and grenades. The result is a technical orchestration of death as you and your enemies stab, shoot, flamethrow and grenade each other into oblivion in detailed steps and with detailed results. Health is tracked, injuries are tracked and listed verbosely, and death-dealing technology is all over the place. You can save but there's no UNDOing. The situation in the trenches is also dynamic. New soldiers can join you, enemies can be surprised, or ambush you, or rush to avoid a thrown grenade. The dying mutter about their loved ones, or being thirsty, or just non-sequiturs.

I found this all extremely impressive and engrossing as I probed at the spectacle of pointless death and wondered if it might be possible to survive, but I also had to acknowledge numerous apparent bugs and oversights. Importantly, I believe the game is more than over the line of what I perceive to be its intended effect; that effect is not diminished by the bugs enough to pull it backwards over the line, but it is diminished.

There are passage-of-time issues: for instance, enemies react quicker to a grenade thrown by yourself than they do to a grenade you order another soldier to throw. There are major redundancies in a lot of the damage reports, with duplicate or irrelevant injuries being listed along with relevant ones. The game asks many effect-muting disambiguation questions (Throw the primed grenade or the harmless grenade? Stab the dead Frenchman or the alert and healthy Frenchman?). There's the pronoun issue of 'myself' appearing instead of 'me' when you're attacked.

Admittedly some of the redundancies could be interpreted as a hyperbolic demonstration of the degree of violence that's being visited on soldiers' bodies, but they still read as bugs. In all other areas, verbosity and a kind of pedantry are part of the emphasis on the mechanics of the weapons:

UNEQUIP MACHINE GUN
WIELD GRENADE
PRIME GRENADE
THROW GRENADE EAST
EQUIP AUTOMATIC
EQUIP LANTERN
LIGHT LANTERN
LOAD AUTOMATIC

No abbreviations for any of the basic commands are made available, which I found to be a (probably unintentionally) effective inconvenience in terms of generating gruel for the player. The matter-of-fact reporting can also be chilling:

Ebert fired his flame thrower at the Frenchman.
The Frenchman burned to death, flailing his arms, shrieking in pain and panic.
The Frenchman was killed instantly.

The only complaint I have about the game thematically is a very minor one, specifically relating to one moment in the introductory text. Its final line lays blame for this kind of warfare on mindless patriotism. It's not that I necessarily disagree, only that the entity of patriotism is not manifest in the mechanics or prose content of the game proper. The game reads as being about the futility of all these battlefront deaths and the anal mechanics of the weapons that enable them. It doesn't read as being about the dangers of patriotism. Setting that aside, I found Dead Man's Hill to be a thoroughly absorbing experience whose design and programming I admire, even though there's still need for a lot of technical revision. The game satisfies both as a war simulation with measurable mechanics and tactical elements, and as a conceptual piece with overarching ideas about its content.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

ANDROMEDA 1983

Marco Innocenti has just released ANDROMEDA 1983, an 80s'n'8-bit-styled fun-emphasising remake of his first Andromeda game, Andromeda Awakening from IFComp 2011. It's as if Andromeda Awakening had been released in 1983 for the Commodore 64, Apple II and ZX Spectrum as an adventure game with graphics and music. I produced the looping SID chippy soundtrack for the game.


1983 ain't heavy. As Marco said on intficiton.org,

"DISCLAIMER: this is not REALLY intended as a REAL GAME. It's 50% a joke and 50% nostalgia. You, Constant Readers, will tell me where do you fall. It's pretty short, it won't kill your time too much...

PS: Don't expect anything easy or polite to the player. What's actually there, trying and helping the player, was made by the Inform people and it's still there because it was too much struggle to remove. Honestly, it is a feeling I wanted to replicate, and that feeling had no synonyms, most of the time."

As a fan of the original game, I got an extra kick out of 1983, but play-wise it can stand on its own. It obviously wasn't worth trying to reproduce all the complexities of the original game in this format, so it's become a new, simpler game using some of the same basic story, locations and ingredients.

As a grizzled Apple II and Commodore 64 veteran, what really bowled me over when Marco first showed me this were the graphics. It's a very specific aesthetic he's recreated incorporating both the colour palette of the Commodore 64 and some of the pixel-dithering tricks used to produce textures on the considerably less colourful Apple II screen – as if the game's creators had indeed tried to port the game's graphics as consistently as they could across these different 8-bit machines.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

IFComp 2015 review: Pit of the Condemned by Matthew Holland

Pit of the Condemned is an Evade-The-Wumpus-like game in which you play a convict sentenced to die at the hands of The Beast. The site for your intended death is an abandoned city that's now used only to host deadly spectacles. A bloodthirsty public watches your struggles from innaccessible locations overhead.

In the paragraph above, I just summarised a mixture of information from the game's blurb and from its opening scene. And the blurb component of that info is not even fully present in the game, meaning if you didn't read the blurb, you'd never know it. Unfortunately, the above summary is about all there is to the aesthetic of Pit. None of the implications of the game's setting or vaguely Hunger Games-sounding society come up during play. It's purely about the mechanic of moving through a large network of empty rooms and searching for a weapon or escape route while the beast chases you.

Pit is a short game to play, and in its simplicity it again ('again' in the context of my reviews of this year's IFComp entries) reminds me of the BASIC games David Ahl collated in books for the then new microcomputers of the 1970s. Unlike War of the Willows, the game I made this comment about the first time around, Pit doesn't have enough additional adornment or flair to sell its universe, to make its chase vivid or exciting like it needs to be.

Further reviewage with spoilers below.

Friday, 9 October 2015

IFComp 2015 review: Pilgrimage by VÌctor Ojuel

Pilgrimage is an atypically macro-scaled parser adventure which somewhat dazzled me with one brief-prose-vivid, new and geographically far-flung location after another. It's also a game whose finishability, as in the player's ability to complete it without being severely gated by a walkthrough, I would rate as close to zero percent. But then even with the walkthrough, I wasn't able to clear the game. Pilgrimage does list several testers, so I'm going to assume that I ran into some kind of circumstantial bug rather than that the game is literally unfinishable.

Pilgrimage's PC is a Roman woman (ancient Rome) of significant alchemical learning who leaves her hometown seeking further knowledge of an existential entity known as The Great Work. She is like Carmen Sandiego in that each move she makes in one of the traditional IF compass directions tends to take her to an entirely different country.

I was very interested in Pilgrimage's play up to a point, but its macroscopic strengths also turn out to be the source of its gameplay weaknesses. Aesthetically, it's an appealing game which seems to have a lot of erudition of research behind it, and one which keeps throwing surprises in the content and in the PC's behaviour.

What feels most novel about Pilgrimage is the way it scales the world it creates. I've hardly played any parser games that place a series of huge environments (cities, countries, et al.) in a series of single locations like this one does, and when I have, those games were more interested in the map connections between the locations rather than the locations themselves. So whether by not knowing conventions or by ignoring them, Pilgrimage sports a novel style. One I'd like to steal from at some point. In this regard I'd have to recommend the game to anyone who has a history with parser games. But have the walkthrough handy.

For full reviewage with spoilers, read on.

IFComp 2015 review: Ether by Brian Rushton (but not THAT Brian Rushton)

The 'not THAT Brian Rushton' quip is a minor joke you'll get once after you've typed CREDITS in this game.

Ether is a charming parser adventure in which you play a flying nautilus that must collect and manipulate objects in a world of pristine X-Y-Z elemental axes. Air pressure varies along one axis, weather virulence along another and temperature along the third. You can move up, down, west, east, north or south, or in combinations of these directions, to fly around within the virtual cube of the gameworld.

The nautilus has positively-tinged existential concerns and enjoys doing the things it does. The game's puzzles are uncomplicated and almost arcade-gamey in some ways. Also arcade-gamey is the manner in which the nautilus can acquire various power ups as it goes along.

Considering Ether's technical polish, its environment assembled from graceful, procedurally generated prose, its general ease of play and short playtime, I find it easy to recommend it to any compgoers – except perhaps those who find themselves boggled by spatial relationship problems. Nautilus's challenges are light by the standards of such problems, and there aren't even that many of them, but I suspect that some people simply can't handle this kind of 3D thing in prose.

Further review with spoilers beyond the cut.

Monday, 5 October 2015

IFComp 2015 review: War of the Willows by Adam Bredenberg

War of the Willows is a combat game, requiring a Python interpreter to run, in which you must put down a giant, killer willow tree that's menacing your kingdom. Put it down mano a mano.

I doubt that anyone would have guessed this about the game based on the blurb –

"Did you see the clean air of the hilltops? Wind waves tumbled down through the trees, tore the drift of lavender smoke... Did you see then, in the cinder that glowed in the pewter cup, did you see how Death would wrap its roots around our throats?"

– except perhaps for the presence of that subtle pun about the roots wrapping around our throats. It's like that moment in the original Resident Evil when Chris Redfield, having polished off a building-sized carnivorous plant, says, "I think we got to the ROOT of the problem." (His emphasis, not mine.)

War of the Willows wraps a randomised combat game of obscure mechanics – one that at heart is not entirely unlike the kind of thing that appeared in David Ahl's 1978 book BASIC Computer Games – with a poetic and sometimes heavy-leaning text delivery. When a game starts by quoting a chunk of Edicts from the Bible, that's heavy. The original prose that follows flows in a similar, stansa'd vein. Poetry + combat = a highly novel entity, and once you get stuck in, you'll probably be hooked on trying to win at least once. But the game throws up tons of very obvious design issues. Primary amongst them: requiring the player to deal with way too much repetition of prose and key-mashing.

I discuss the game in more detail below the cut, but first I'll comment on Python installation after the asterisk.

* I chose Willows next in my playing because it looked like it required the most 'extreme' format (Python) relative to the other games. Well, Alan's never been a picnic either, admittedly. I relate to this situation, having asked players to tackle Leadlight on an Apple II emulator in 2010, but I did throw a lot more helpful setup material at players than this author has.

I'm playing comp games on OS X, so I'll share some setup info here for people who are also on OS X and want help running Willows. For PC and other formats, someone else will have to talk about that.

Apparently Macs with OS X 10.8 or later came with Python 2.7 preinstalled (the version Willows was written in) HOWEVER this statement may not apply if you reached 10.8 or later by upgrading from earlier OSes, as I did.

If you've got an app in your applications folder called 'IDLE', you've already got an installation of Python on your Mac. If not, you can go to this Mac Python page and get Python 2.7. It's only 22 MB. Just download the version applicable for your Mac and doubleclick to install it.

With Python on your Mac:

  • Right-click the War of the Willows game file you've downloaded (PLAY.py) and choose to open it with the app called IDLE
  • Two windows will appear, a shell and PLAY.py
  • Click on the PLAY.py window to make it active, then choose Run Module from the Run menu at the top of the screen (shortcut F5)
  • To restart the game, make PLAY.py the active window and choose Run Module again

IFComp 2015 review: The Sueño by Marshal Tenner Winter

For IFComp 2015, Marshal Tenner Winter (MTW) brings us his 656th game, The Sueño – or Here's Goo In Your Eye! as I like to think of it after considering the cover art by Gwen C Katz:


The Sueño (quoth the game: it's Spanish for dream) is a parser adventure in the mystery/thriller/Inception genres in which you play a broke uni student who hits up a sleep study for some cash, gets into lucid dreaming and finds disturbing stuff in there.

The game's slowish start feels necessary in retrospect in that it establishes a game environment in which the PC is able to bring some subtle dreaming tricks to bear on puzzles. Interest and mystery increase significantly in the game's latter half set in a deserted town, but the end text felt disappointingly rushed to me. There's a fair bit of low level tech/grammar polish wanting throughout, but by the same token MTW again demonstrates that it can be OK to let Inform's default messages blot up a lot of obligatory crap that most players won't be deeply interested in. I'm too anal retentive as an IF author to try to live out this idea, but I'd say it's one of the reasons MTW's been able to produce at least 13 parser-powered IF games in just a few years. He's been in almost every kind of IF comp that's going (Ectocomp, IFComp, Introcomp, Shufflecomp, Spring Thing) plus he's got a series featuring a coarse, nameless hardboiled detective, which kicks off with The Surprising Case of Brian Timmons.

The Sueño's oneiric game mechanics feel open-ended enough that if anything, I think the whole could benefit from going bigger to exploit more of their possibilities, at which point it might get too big for IFComp. But one knows what is commonly said to one: Better to leave 'em wanting more than less. I certainly recommend this game to parser mystery/thriller/Inception interestees.

It took me about 80 minutes to complete The Sueño. I used the nifty and diegetic (meaning 'present in the game's reality') hint device a fair bit, and I turned to the non-diegetic walkthrough file about 2-3 times.

For extended reviewage with full spoilers you can