A few weeks ago, I received my paperback copy of IF Theory Reader, which I trust will be a delightful read. However, as I’m reluctant to expose myself to spoilers (both for plot and for puzzles), I expect I’ll have to put reading on hold quite a few times during the book to play the games as they get mentioned.
The first article is Crimes Against Mimesis by Roger S. G. Sorolla, and pleasantly here the author starts with a disclaimer listing the games to be spoilered: Christminster, Curses!, Jigsaw and Theatre.
Of these, I had only played Curses! before, and not very far before I got frustratingly and repeatedly stuck. Granted, I’ve played IF for less than a year and Curses! was one of the first games I tried, so I didn’t hold it against it then. Having now subjected myself to Jigsaw as well, I’m even less certain I will be able to enjoy Curses! in a relatively spoiler-free manner.
During the first few worlds of Jigsaw, I actually thought it would be manageable for me to play it through without hints. That thought would, however, very soon would be brutally shattered. Compared to basically any of the roughly 100 games I have played, I found Jigsaw (as Curses!) extremely difficult, much more so than e.g. Anchorhead. By the time I believed I had almost finished the Moon-world, only to realise I’d have to start that world all over again without really knowing what I did wrong, I simply gave up. It wasn’t enjoyable any more.
This leads me to wonder how the first generation of IF players thought and felt when playing (what I have understood to be) the equally (or more so) difficult Infocom games, or for that matter, Curses! and Jigsaw themselves. I do regard myself as a patient person (I even enjoyed Sátántangó), but I do not understand how to cope with (and much less enjoy) the frustration of replaying a game over and over again due to a feeling that I probably did something wrong during the previous 20 hours but am not sure what.
In contrast, I truly loved both Christminster and Theatre. Although Christminster is listed as Nasty on the forgiveness scale, there didn’t seem to be more than a few issues that could make you irrevocably stuck, and the narrative was so good that it for the most part was naturally avoidable. In this sense, it reminded me of Anchorhead, which I still regard as the best piece of IF I have played.
Theatre was admittedly, as described in Crimes Against Mimesis, somewhat suboptimal in its narrative, but in my opinion more than made up for this in its puzzles. The difficulty always felt exactly right. The puzzles were never so easy that I felt hand-held or bored and never so outlandish that I needed to resort to hints.