Drew Cook plays ParserComp games (up: Of Their Shadows Deep)

I told Adam a few months ago that I would play ParserComp games and write about them, so here I am! A few prefatory notes:

  • I am only reviewing games, not rating them. This isn’t because of ParserComp. I think I’m off rating games generally.
  • The smaller number of entrants means that I’ll have more time to play and write, much to my liking!
  • I haven’t decided how or when, but I will make at least one post at Gold Machine about ParserComp.
  • I’ll be using the “submissions in need of ratings” page to decide my next game.

I’ve already finished my first game, so let’s get this show on the road:

Midnight at Al’s Self Storage, Truck Rentals, and Discount Psychic Readings
Thomas Insel
Inform

Elevator pitch: an employee at a humorously-named storage rental is tasks with fetching differently-colored boxes, only to discover the desecrated burial place of an indigenous and/or magical people.

Though I didn’t feel terribly motivated by the opening of MASSTRDPR (a fetch quest with some rather ordinary-sounding objects), the off-kilter nature of the location showed a lot of potential. Business-owner Al seems to have a lot of irons in even more fires, and I would have liked to see this developed further. The best indicator of Al’s personality is a collection of knickknacks in his desk drawer along with a humorous price listing, but I wanted to see even more. Since the main quest is initially underwhelming, the strangeness of the setting is a way to propel the player forward.

There aren’t many puzzles. The main one, which involves a freight elevator, is unusual in that the solution makes perfect sense, even if I did not understand why it was needed. It may have been related to the supernatural element implied by “Discount Psychic Readings.” I would have enjoyed seeing this part of the game world realized in greater detail, as well as introduced sooner. Once the humorous introduction to Al’s weird business is over, adding supernatural elements is a way to establish stakes. A thought: while this is much lighter than Lurking Horror, LH is a good model for having player goals evolve as knowledge of the game world evolves. Would the protagonist really care about boxes by the end?

So far as design matters go, I did encounter objects with default descriptions, and changing some of the baked-in responses from the standard rules might keep the experience fresher.

I should note that the “play online” option left the right 20% of my screen blank, which bothered me enough to download the story. However, the custom presentations of font/color (job task list, etc) looked off in my configuration of Windows GLULXE (dark mode for life!).

I liked the idea a lot and think there’s a lot of potential here. The supernatural storage business oeuvre is likely underpopulated–this setting is a chance to do something different! The competition release courteously provides Invisiclues-style hints (complete with misleading questions!). However, it didn’t tell me how to get the different endings, which was the only thing I needed a hint for. MASSTRDPR is built on good ideas, and I hope that the author continues to work on it.

Next up: I don’t know! I’ll check tomorrow to see if any games are recommended by itch.io.

14 Likes

Things that Happened in Houghtonbridge
Dee Cooke
Adventuron

It’s unfair in a way, I suppose, but a good game raises the player’s expectations. Flaws that might go unnoticed in another game stand out. They are hard to ignore. 75% of Things that Happened in Houghtonbridge is like this. The story is a bit of a slow burn in a good way. An eccentric aunt goes missing, and her absence grows more and more suspicious as her niece (a bit of a busybody, I suppose) searches her things, reads her diary, and otherwise pokes around her home. For a long while, it isn’t clear what specifically is wrong, but it’s a pleasing sort of ambiguity.

The majority of THH is puzzle-free. Or, at least, there are no puzzles of the “brain teaser” variety. The player solves problems, but they largely function as a way to build suspense and properly pace the story. This proves effective. Once the protagonist arrived at Beverly’s (the aunt’s) home, the slow drip of clues was enough to pull me through the story.

A majority portion of THH is satisfyingly implemented. Descriptions for mentioned nouns are a given, and they are generally interesting. The dialog system is menu-based, and responses are generally well-considered and infused with the speaker’s character. A surprising exception to the author’s attention to detail is the handling of exits. One very busy room had what felt like a lot of exits that were only described by their direction. In a game of this quality, I expect to see phrases like “You can see your aunt’s study through an open door to the east,” or somesuch.

Things feel a bit different in the last 25% of THH. There is a large exposition dump followed by a brief set piece confrontation with the only recently-introduced villain. Given the care with which the rest of the game is paced, I wondered if perhaps there simply wasn’t time to end THH as it begun. Obviously, this only becomes a question because everything else feels so carefully and thoughtfully implemented. Perhaps if the early game did more to establish the villain, the conclusion wouldn’t feel so out of place. I also wondered how the protagonist could be so clueless regarding the peril that her friend Brianna was obviously in.

There is a walkthrough provided, though it is command-by-command and will likely give away more than a player will like [*update: it has been pointed out there there are in-game hints, as well]. I personally didn’t need help with puzzles, but I would have appreciated some information about the various possible endings.

I imagine this is an Adventuron thing, but I expect to be able to make a transcript of any text game I play, especially if I find myself reviewing it. If there is a way, it isn’t via a ‘Script’ or ‘Transcript’ command. This absence was felt especially strongly because the “look” command clears the screen. [update: mystery solved! see below]

Would I recommend Things that Happened in Houghtonbridge? Certainly. I liked the concept, I liked the protagonist, I liked the setting. The implementation was thorough, and the game world was well-realized. While I was disappointed by the conclusion, I admit that this is because the rest of the game promises great things. It’s certainly a better class of disappointment than most.

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This is an option in Adventuron, but it’s not too intuitive, unfortunately – the command TSTART tells the game to start tracking and then TSTOP will dump the transcript to a text file.

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Thanks for your review!

Just want to flag up that in-game hints are provided in addition to the walkthrough, and as Mike says you can TSTART and TSTOP to create a transcript. I’ll add an endings guide to the game page. Thanks again!

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Noted! I searched here but should have googled, instead. Thanks for clearing this up.

I’ve added notes to the review to reflect these. Thanks!

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As someone who’s tested a few Adventuron games, I agree the TSTART and TSTOP are not as intuitive as they should be, but then ChrisA (the author of Adventuron) acknowledges it’s in Beta. I have to admit when I forget, it is tricky to Google as well.

It’s documented here but I wouldn’t mind a few more synonyms. e.g. TRANSCRIPT/TRANSCRIPTS ON/OFF. It’s tripped me up enough in testing. Seeing other people have these questions spurred me to make a report in the Adventuron issue tracker, though there are already a lot of issues for just one person!

This is a bit off-topic, but seeing as how someone who put a lot of time into reviewing was unable to write a transcript easily, that tipped me over the edge to finally writing up an issue.

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Improv: Origins
Neil deMause
Inform 7

If I hadn’t seen others mention the author’s long hiatus from IF, I probably never would have known. I’m fairly new, after all, and I will only ever have time to play a small portion of what IF exists out there. I’ve learned, though, that there is a trilogy of games about the “Frenetic Five,” a superhero team with humorously underwhelming powers. These three games, written in TADS 2, hail from the turn of the century (two were released in the nineties), and they received some positive attention in the form of XYZZY nominations (best PC, best, NPC, best puzzle).

Improv: Origins introduces itself as a prequel to the FF trilogy, and while we don’t see the kind of character focus typical of superhero “year one” treatments, we do witness the first team-up of Improv, Pastiche, Lexicon, The Clapper, and Newsboy. Together, the team will open a very secure (humorously so, in fact) safe. The protagonist, Improv, has an unusual and somewhat metafictional powerset. The others each have a role to play in getting the protagonist to a point where they can leverage the considerable powers of an adventure game player character: picking up whatever isn’t nailed down and fiddling until a problem is resolved.

I enjoyed myself, for the most part. I didn’t know who these characters were, though I felt that I was expected to. I’m still not exactly sure what Pastiche does/is. This wasn’t much of a problem, though. The way the teammates are introduced is via a phone call to a temp agency. Funny, to be sure, but I didn’t understand that I was supposed to be calling for help. Bob at the temp agency made it sound like I was asking for a hint rather than performing a required action. I spent a decent amount of time trying to do things without calling Bob as a result. This probably would have gone differently if I’d known that, for instance, Lexicon was a future teammate. Players who recognize him would almost certainly realize that phone calls are part of the main throughline.

There are are a good number of jokes–most of them funny–and I mostly found Improv: Origins to be light, well-paced fun. I did run into a sort of narrative dead space near the end. My team had joined me, and all that was left was to pry open the safe. The game description as well as the cover art (both at itch.io and ifdb.org) indicate that duct tape is crucial–decisive, even–with regard to completing Improv: Origins. Despite its place of privilege, implementation of the tape is pretty light. You can affix all sorts of things to other objects, and the game doesn’t give a lot of feedback. Rather than an implemented system, taping as an activity seems to lie in wait for the right nouns.

That’s a journey, too. I realized that I didn’t have what the game wanted me to use with the tape, but I wasn’t sure how to find it. There was one thing in the room that I had yet to exploit, so I assumed (correctly) that the answer must be there.

Spoilers

pastiche, open box
(the safety deposit boxes)
She tries pulling on a safety deposit box, then tries reaching her hand through the front of it and pushing it from the other side. “Nope. Don’t see any way of opening these, unless you have a magic wand handy.”

boy, tell me about wand
The alert young boy closes his eyes, and his brow furrows with concentration. “Stop the presses! Officials at the Centers for Sorcery Control and Prevention warn that unlicensed use of magic is responsible for 30% of all household and workplace accidents!”

The alert young boy says, “Breaking news! Standoff between SuperTemps team and inanimate object drags on!”

clapper, find a wand
She claps her hands together twice. You hear a beeping noise coming from the small black stick.

get small black stick
It’s not clear what you’re referring to.

I’m sure the right noun/verb combo was hinted at somewhere, but I eventually looked at a text dump of the game. CLAPPER, FIND A ROD worked for me.

I had fun with Improv: Origins, but I think tightening the implementation of some of the more complex items/systems (taping, the safe door, the safety deposit boxes) would make for a better experience. There is a mid-credits scene (after the fashion of the Marvel movies) that I assume previews the first Frenetic Five game. Even though I haven’t played the older games, I recognized the trope and found it clever.

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Alchemist’s Gold
Garry Francis
Inform 6

When I say that Alchemist’s Gold is old-fashioned, I don’t mean it as an insult. After all, I am frequently referred to as “that Infocom guy.” What I do mean is that, textually, descriptions and responses will be brief. Most found objects will have one use, usually playing the role of “key” in a “lock and key puzzle.” Characters encountered in the world often have little to say and less to do.

Such games are often concerned with older technology, too. While I haven’t tried, I would guess that Alchemist’s Gold could be played on a Commodore 64 computer. The story file is approximately the same size as that of, say, Zork I. This is made possible by using Inform 6 and–again, I presume–use of the PunyInform library.

So: Alchemist’s Gold belongs to the category of “retro” text adventure gaming, and it’s an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. The story is not very important. As in so many other games of its ilk, the protagonist must go somewhere that they probably shouldn’t go in order to get the something belonging to somebody else. Along the way, puzzles must be solved, of course. I thought they were all reasonable, solvable puzzles, but people from my generation might have an advantage. The second puzzle (getting the acorn then feeding the squirrel) is more Scott Adams than Steve Meretzky, so getting into the headspace of 80s adventure gaming in a broad sense will help.

The ASCII maze, which was discussed a bit on this forum, is fun to navigate. I do wonder how screen-reader users will experience the alternative. I experimented with navigating via the arrows, but ultimately my imagination can only carry me so far.

Beyond the forest is the home of the titular Alchemist, whom we have come to burgle, untroubled by any moral questions. There was one rough patch, in which an item could be used (successfully) in more than way, but only one usage would lead to victory. The game graciously informs the player if they misuse the item, but it felt rather awkward to me. I think that back in the old days, the game would have just killed the protagonist (see below!).

For me, the game’s great mystery was the case of the large branch and the river. I really wanted to traverse this obstacle. In a game so efficient as Alchemist’s Gold, did the branch really serve no purpose? Giving up, my protagonist headed home—er, the place on a forest trail where the game started—where a lone dangerous encounter occurs. It’s handled with charm, humor, and—as is appropriate for a game’s final problem—solved easily.

Alchemist’s Gold scratches a specific sort of itch. People who enjoy retro text games (on retro hardware, no less) will know what this game is and know very well how to complete it. It is comfort food. What suggestions would I make? Well, it feels like there ought to be more fail states in such a game–easily undone, of course–for period accuracy. This may be an unfashionable thing to say! I think: life was cheap in those days, and if your players don’t need a recent save for recovery, what’s the harm? Death was a key source of humor (and narrative voice) back then, after all.

I think there is an established audience for this sort of game, and I believe that members of that audience will welcome it. I think others might like it, too. Finding out requires only a small investment of time.

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Note: while it’s fine–admirable, even, to write your own parser/interpreter, I expect it to run as well as currently available interpreters (Lectrote, Frotz, Glulxe). I am here to assess games, not platforms. If I have trouble with a custom system, I’ll move on to the next randomly-selected game. No offence! Sometimes tech needs more time in the oven, and that’s perfectly OK!

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The Muse
Xavier Carrascosa
Inform 7
Content Warning: Sexual Violence

As those of you who read Kaemi’s review of The Muse might guess, there is a lot to say about its content. So much so, I think, that there is no point in tagging it. Therefore, be warned that everything underneath the collapsible section is chock full of spoilers. But first, the mechanical stuff.

The Muse is an Inform 7 game with some solid artwork and public-domain music. I enjoyed the art, but muted the soundtrack after a while. It is rather spare in terms of implementation, geography, and objects. I think there are eight rooms in total with little to look at or do. It is quite linear so far as parser games go–the game can only accommodate actions that fulfil its narrative goals. This in itself is common, but many authors take pains to conceal their railroadedness.

I won’t go into detail yet, but the basic loop is writing in some sort of accursed book (you can write whatever you want, from “bean soup” to “histrionic”), then looking at the “Muse.” She then sends the protagonist (inspires the protagonist) to visit a brief and dismal dramatization of various bad behaviors. It soon becomes clear that the player’s goal is to escape this cycle of misery.

Another thing becomes clear: this game has Something Big to say about the Nature of Evil.

Spoilers

The “muse” is sending the protagonist to various dramatizations of the seven deadly sins. These are not actions that will drive players to reflection or somber meditations on the nature of evil. For instance, in the “wrath” vignette, the protagonist kills a disarmed, helpless soldier while they beg for life. There isn’t much for a player to do: a couple of things to examine, an object to take, perhaps a line of dialogue, you’re there to kill that helpless chump, like it or not.

However, I think the same theology (agree with it or not) that birthed the idea of seven deadly sins also concerned itself with problems related to free will. What is evil without choice? I was most aware of the absence of free will when it became necessary to rape a crying woman in order to make progress in a video game. Listen, I don’t get offended easily. I’m not offended right now. But this game trying to go there is a clear example of a work trying to punch above its weight. It’s not serious enough or thoughtful enough to drag me through a scene like that. If any game is, it’s not this one.

It turns out that the protagonist is Cain, who has somehow escaped the land of Nod at last, and that the Muse is none other than Adam’s first wife, Lilith. He has been trapped in a cycle of torment with Lilith, his jailor. Cain escapes his fate in the end by praying, and the player “wins” the game. I wonder if Cain would wait so long, wait for us, to pray.

I want to celebrate the fact that this game attempts to capital-s Say capital-s Something, but it doesn’t stick the landing.

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About the absence of free will in the vignettes, I have to say:

Well, the torment is supposed to be the remembrance of the past sins by the protagonist (I’m not sure if he is literally the biblical figure Cain) in a series of flashbacks. So, it has totally sense the muse would force the player to commit those sins ad eternum. You know. That’s the literal definition of eternal punishment.

Actually, DOBLE SPOILER WARNING. you actually have freedom to not to sin just being repentant just at any momento before commiting “again” a capital sin. If you pray.

Maybe the game could handle a decline in each required sin… but I’m not sure how you can manage the story like that, allowing the player just not to act.

I feel the very nature of the game is a “look for the hidden verb fest” and that is totally ok, and is totally on topic with the theme provided.

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I think this is all basically right - given the story, structure, and moral framework the author adopts, something like the Act IV issue alluded to above becomes pretty much inevitable, and there aren’t many credible ways to wriggle out of it.

I take Drew’s point to be that the author probably should have taken a step back once it became clear what his choices were going to force players to do, and made some changes accordingly.

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Gent Stickman vs Evil Meat Hand
AZ
Parser Commander

Gent Stickman vs Evil Meat Hand offers a novel and attractive take on parser-based adventuring. The player inputs text commands—this part is familiar enough—but all output comes in the form of child-like stick drawings. It’s a quirky, charming presentation that is enhanced by the custom, hand-drawn font used for player input. The only visual rendered differently is the so-called “evil meat hand,” which is cropped from a photo of a real-life hand and wrist.

The puzzles don’t make consistent sense, which is ok, because the hints are presented in the same visual style as the rest of the game. Many players will want to see them, and I think they are expected to engage with this content.

I find this game incredibly charming despite some shortcomings: the parser has a bit of jank to it, leading to some word guessing; some of the puzzles don’t make intuitive sense, which is ok most of the time (see above); however, one falls pretty flat (plant an apple then pee on it). :roll_eyes:

It’s short, but I enjoyed my time with it. Would happily play a longer installment. It’s nice to play a bit of new IF tech that feels genuinely new.

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The Impossible Stairs
Mathbrush
Dialog

An implementation in which nearly everything operates as expected and the main throughline of the game is completely stable–this is a good baseline or floor for a released game generally and for a competition game specifically. If it goes further to implement a satisfying amount of content that is NOT part of the main throughline, so much the better.

I fear that saying more would only damn The Impossible Stairs with faint praise, because of course it does a great deal more than meet reasonable standards of testing, care, and interactivity. It’s just that polish can be easy to take for granted, or slip by undetected, or otherwise be ignored because well-made things can give off an illusion of effortlessness. They “just work,” as people sometimes say.

The Impossible Stairs is just such a game. It works very well mechanically, narratively, and geographically. Its central time-travelling premise makes intuitive sense—no easy feat so far as time travel games go—while still encouraging curiosity and rewarding exploration. The many puzzles make sense. A hint system is available, though I thought the problems were well-clued. In any case, I think this game can appeal to different levels of player skill.

The various time periods feature well-chosen details that don’t feel overstated or ironic. I also felt that there was an underlying pathos regarding the passage of time and mortality that was fortunately never overplayed or emphasized in a manipulative way.

This game is a sequel to The Impossible Bottle, an incredibly well-loved and oft-reviewed game (to give an idea: It has acquired 13 reviews on IFDB since December 2020 while something like Trinity has been the subject of seven since IFDB started tracking such things). I haven’t played it, though I may be the only one. The only time I felt like I was missing out on a joke or three was at the end, when a brief conversation with its protagonist took place.

It should be noted that The Impossible Stairs was written in Dialog, a system I know very little about. The story file was Z-Code, though, so I played it with Frotz. The system seems quite capable and mature. I never once felt that I had to make excuses for it or forgive shortcomings that other systems do not have—perhaps some reviewers will recognize this feeling. While writing this review, I realized that I had in fact previously played a Dialog game: D’Arkun by Michael Baltes. In truth, I never realized that it was not an Inform game. Because of time limits imposed by IFComp, I never finished it, but perhaps I will now return. This game has definitely made me more interested in the technology.

In any case, The Impossible Stairs features thorough implementation, polished prose and code, a charming setup, and pleasantly mild humor. I would have happily played it outside of a competition’s “to-do list” context, as The Impossible Stairs is a nice way to spend an hour or two of one’s time.

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You Won’t Get Her Back
Andrew Schultz
Inform 7

When I finally got stabilized on medication and gave up booze and drugs, I found that my tastes and interests had changed in ways great and small. I no longer enjoyed playing guitar, for instance, even though I had once played a minimum of one hour a day. While I still liked writing poetry, reading it annoyed me. I no longer enjoyed social situations. Tennis, too, was out. The list might go on, but for today’s purposes it is important to mention chess. From a very young age, I was an enthusiastic player of chess. My father taught me to play, and most of my happiest early memories of him involve playing chess.

But I don’t enjoy chess anymore.

I thought about skipping You Won’t Get Her Back for this reason. I’ve never felt an obligation to write about every game in a competition and likely never will for as long as IF remains a hobby. I wondered, though, what kind of IF game a chess problem might make. People who played author Andrew Schultz’s Fivebyfivia Delenda Est might already have an answer, but last year’s ParserComp was a few months before my website, Gold Machine, was first mentioned here at the Interactive Fiction Forum.

This all being so, much of what might have seemed novel last year is novel to me now. Here, a chess game is sheathed in a narrative envelope, an approach that makes intuitive sense because the pieces are archetypal, as is the dramatic situation of chess games generally. The title phrase, a short declarative sentence, approaches this game at a tilt, sounding as it does like the title of a contemporary song or novel.

You Won’t Get Her Back dramatizes the endgame of a bloodmatch: all but four pieces are gone, and our protagonist, one of two kings (naturally) remaining on the board, has lost his wife. That is, his queen has been taken. These are the “you” and the “her” of the title.

The problem as it is presented is this: protect a lone pawn on its way to promotion, then finish the game decisively. By “decisively,” I mean that no stalemate will do. The game’s narrator provides color commentary (and gentle nudges in the right direction). As an out of practice player, I found the problem a pleasant diversion, taking less than an hour to solve. It is a small game.

Which is all to the good, I think. If I had to guess why I no longer like chess, I think it must have something to do with the possibilities of early game. It’s the openness that bothers me. A problem with few pieces was, on the other hand, a good deal of fun. It would seem that I am always learning something about my reconfigured neurology.

I don’t know if I can recommend You Won’t Get Her Back universally. Non-players may or may not catch on. Since there are few pieces, though, I think it can be approached as a pure logic puzzle (i.e., not chess-specific) once the moves are understood. Only one crucial moment may be unclear, and unfortunately, non-players are most likely to stumble over it. Still, it’s a short, highly polished game that is brief enough that no one will feel as though trying it is a waste of time.

So try it, do. I will list a single, one-line spoiler for struggling chess beginners below, then a few separate lines about the puzzle.

Be sure to read the VERBS list carefully.

I thought the puzzle was fun. It depends on tactics that might initially look like bad strategy–I enjoyed realizing that I needed to juke away from the pawn in order to clear its path. The clue for the next step is the title itself. I found this cluing masterful. I cannot immediately think of a title that does so much work in terms of meaning, story, and gameplay.

One of the better short, single-puzzle games I’ve seen, with clean, trouble-free implementation.

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Thanks for giving YWGHB a try despite reservations! Your observations were pretty much what I was hoping for.

I recognized the restricted scope of the game, and I recognized it may also potentially rely on a “what’s in my pocket” sort of trick. So one thing I want to do more of is, clue things better for the post-comp release. But of course I want to balance that with not spoiling things.

Thanks for sharing your experiences about chess. It’s something I played a lot up to college, then gave up, but with the pandemic I felt like I was ready to go back to it. There are many days when I just don’t want to play it, whether out of frustration or just having more rewarding things to do. Certainly I got into a rut where I felt I wasn’t really learning, and I was playing not to lose.

As someone who is Really Pretty Good at chess, yes, I’m still caught up with how backwards it is that chess can be taught, or people assume it should be taught. (TLDR: openings-first can exasperate people quickly. I feel okay not memorizing lines and then just plugging moves from a game into a computer.)

And I’m impressed by how some canonical puzzles are out there for people to try and enjoy and learn from more quickly than they could from an opening and, well, feel a bit less clueless after.

Stuff like king and (queen or rook or pawn) vs. king, or king and queen vs pawn on the 7th rank. So I wondered if I could offer a brief puzzle that wouldn’t overwhelm the player, while offering a sort of narrative. (Also, I recognized how hard it could be to program something with more than four pieces.)

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It made for some good IF! Will have to go back and try the post-game content sometime.

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Of Their Shadows Deep
Amanda Walker
Inform 7

[note: I tested this game, so my thoughts will be brief (though wide-ranging)]

I think we must be close—if we aren’t there already—to having the phrase “Amanda Walker Game” as a meaningful descriptor. It must imply economy: economical yet effective language; narrow but deep implementation; player-centered authorship; brevity (in poetry workshop we would say that the games are “tight”). I lament that most IF writing these days is rhetorically structured as a review. I have been writing them too, here in front of god and everyone, so obviously I do not mind them too much. Still, it would be nice to see some craft writing now and then. Obviously, reviews have merit and do a lot of good for the community, but what else might we have?

In the world of craft/literary fiction, someone would likely define an “Amanda Walker game” and then go further. There might be interviews, assessments of her influences, a bit of the previously-mentioned craft writing. Someone would want to determine, mechanically, why her recent games have been so well-received in the IF community.

Speaking more generally, this type of discourse would eliminate an author’s need to say, within their own texts, what their art is about. We could let the critics handle it.

This was my first thought, when I realized that I would write something about Of Their Shadows Deep and post it in a public place: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were able—if we had the time—to treat IF the way specialists treat art in other fields?” I’ve tried to do as much over at Gold Machine, but it is always a struggle to balance reader interests and credibility as a so-called “serious” critic.

Of Their Shadows Deep invites such inquiry. It is, in a primary sense, about the loss of language. But its heartbreak, its real horror, is the loss of literary art. To me, it is so impossible to imagine myself without John Donne, for instance, or John Berryman, or even Robert Stone, that I must settle for imagining that I don’t exist, perhaps that I never existed. This is a serious work in a world (speaking not of IF specifically, but of art generally) where we too often settle for the appearance of seriousness, for gestures toward seriousness.

This is a game (yes, games are art) where the landscapes match the problems which correspond to the overall Problem of memory and grief. Its puzzles are not hard, and I can tell that pains were taken to ensure that they weren’t. Brain teasers, I think, would feel downright crass in such a game. Instead, the problems are in place to effectively pace the game and center its themes.

I recommend Of Their Shadows Deep.

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Thanks, Drew. This was lovely to read. It tickles me to think I am amassing a recognizable oeuvre.

It is worth noting that you were an extremely helpful tester for achieving this (if in fact I did achieve it). I implemented quite a few of Drew’s suggestions and the game was greatly improved by doing so.

Is there really still anyone out there who doubts this? I’m happy to say I don’t know any of these people.

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I most often see it implied via “X isn’t a game. [Because games aren’t art.].” I think Infocom was the first to do this for a wide audience, ironically. Very rare to see someone just come out and say it.

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