Dugg_funny's IFComp 2022 Reviews

Hooray for IFComp!

Rankings so far:
Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee’s
No One Else is Doing This
Jungle Adventure
Star Tripper
You May Not Escape
Cannelé & Nomnom - Defective Agency
A Walk Around the Neighborhood
Zero Chance of Recovery
The Hidden King’s Tomb
Blood Island
Headlights
4 Edith + 2 Niki

4 Likes

The Hidden King’s Tomb

The Hidden King’s Tomb plays like a first effort in Inform, a process that is learning as much as it is creative. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it means the game is straightforward and somewhat under-implemented: you fall down a hole, creep around some tunnels, rob some graves, solve a simple puzzle, and escape. There seems to be some thought given to the Lore about the titular Tomb, but the lack of detail in the descriptions (half of the items and many of the room descriptions have no writing assigned to them) means that the player doesn’t have access to it. It’s short, and I didn’t get stuck, so there’s nothing really to fault it for; by the same token, it doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, so it doesn’t get great marks.

Though I’ve played many games that feature grave robbing, I can’t recall playing one where you unwrap a corpse’s body before stealing their treasured belongings. The game provoked feelings of guilt in me as I desecrated corpses to obtain (literally) unremarkable “treasures” and unusable weaponry. At the end, it was all for naught: no score for the booty I had extracted, no description of my revenge on my murderous friend, simply a line of text telling me I had won. But at what cost?

6 Likes

Zero Chance of Recovery

I’ve seen this puzzle before, so the first two scenarios were mostly trying to conjure it from my blighted memory. Perhaps because of that, the last scenario’s meta elements threw me, and I’m embarrassed to say I overlooked the walkthrough and spent far too long trying to figure out the final answer. In the process, I managed to get a bug where both pawns should’ve queened, which sort of annoyed me that it wasn’t the right solution–if I’m playing chess and my opponent makes a mistake, that’s a feature! That, plus the overlooked walkthrough, primed me to feel unsatisfied by the actual solution: how was I supposed to remember the intro?? And, why does it matter if we’re stalemated when the mercs come to collect??

I think there’s a kernel of real criticism in there–examining the other pieces appeared to be purely for flavor, which implied that the meta-narrative was all fluff. But I think mostly I was just frustrated, primarily due to my own oversight.

Overall, the concept of anthropromophized chess pieces is wonderful and drawn well with an economy of description, and chess puzzles are fun; I should probably play the ParserComp game that inspired this. This hit me like most Andrew Schultz games: a puzzly, interesting, compelling, impressively coded twist on what’s possible in Inform, with some minor frustrations.

4 Likes

A Walk Around the Neighborhood

I saw this meme a few weeks ago, which more or less sums up who you play in this game: a good-natured woman-child who has to gather their keys, phone, wallet and mask to go take a walk. It’s mostly an exercise in exhaustively looking behind and under the living room scenery in the hopes that the plot items pop out. That’s not a mechancial trope I’ve ever particularly enjoyed, but the game’s well polished and the writing is clear, so it doesn’t end up being much of a chore.

There’s a lot of goofiness here: it’s the sort of game where you can plug in a telephone you found in a drawer and call Comissioner Gordon, Joe Biden, or M from the James Bond series. Some of it landed for me: there’s a sequence where you can make pencil ink out of a gusher, and use it to attempt a crossword, which subsequently destroys you as you become too anxious about doing it in ink. I generally appreciate goofiness that has a sort of tortured logic to it (in contrast to pure non sequiter), and that’s kind of a fifty/fifty shot here: sometimes you’ll do something ridiculous for a silly reason, but sometimes things just kind of happen.

Some of the alternate endings are pretty fun, especially drinking the bottle of wine, the ceiling fan, or the two Zork references. Ultimately, I ran out of interest in finding more after I was unable to undo my way out of an ending, but it was fun to poke through the ones I did see.

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Thanks so much for the review Thomas! I’m glad you enjoyed the goofiness even if the logic is a little tortured. As for the endings, you should now be able to either undo or quickly get out of all the endings in the newest version. Xyzzy now works both ways, and I believe the bottle of wine is a short enough death that you can undo in enough turns. (Although if you tried drinking it a second time that’s another story – a soon-to-be-released update will prevent you from doing this!) Let me know if it’s another one you had trouble with and I’ll try to fix. :slight_smile:

2 Likes

Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee’s

What if The Last Express was fifteen minutes long, and about invading people’s minds in order to sell them beer? Use Your Psychic Powers at Applebee’s answers that question. You play as a psychic who has the opportunity to listen to people’s thoughts, influence their lives, and get them to buy beer.

The game’s great. The writing is funny (my favorite bit was the 12-year old’s intensely sincere pondering of whether Kool-Aid man or Garfield would win in a fight), and the characters feel like people. The waitress’s worries and fixation on money spill over into her other thoughts, as she judges the 12-year old’s mother for not teaching him skills he could use to busk. The cryto-bro’s obsession with meme-coins, internet fads, and a men’s group become implicitly tied to a desire to find financial and emotional stability as his mother battles kidney failure. The tween is charmingly caught between frivolous musings on Garfield, fear of his parents, and a desire for violence and power-- the last more understandable when you consider the implications of the fact that his vulgar, angry mother has brought him to a bar on a weeknight.

In short, UYPPA is an empathetic game, albeit one well-served by a laissez-faire attitude towards morality. Your task is to insert advertisements directly into people’s minds, an unambiguously evil goal. But hey, you’ve got to meet your sales targets, so you tune in and enjoy the simple pleasures of voyeurism and manipulation. And it’s all very easily justifiable: the targets are a thief, grave robber, crypto-bro, and arsonist. Haven’t they deserved it? Hell, they’re all drinking anyways! What does it matter if they’re given a nudge to drink your brand? A blunter satire would find ways to chastise you as you go about your immoral task, but UYPPA just lets the player do their job. “Evil paths” in games often assume the player wants to revel in their antisocial tendencies; here, you’re simply provided opportunity and incentive to abuse your power. It’s fun, and it reflects the amorality and myopic nature of actual evil: you invade people’s minds to sell them beer because it’s your job; and via the corporate diffusion of responsibility, sanitized language of the office, and vague menace of the distant Boss, everyone acts like it’s perfectly normal.

The real twist, and didactically satisfying moral commentary, is that you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to do that at all. If you sell zero beers, and reveal your psychic abilities, the worst that happens is an uncomfortable Zoom call. In fact, instead of (or in addition to, if you want the “hard mode” of the puzzle) harming these people, you can help them. You can hear their anxieties, needs, and ugly elements, and find ways to help them through them. You can redistribute stolen money to a cash-strapped waitress and a dying mother, and prevent arson. As in life, you have no incentive or nudge to do so. There is no score being kept, no attaboys from corporate, no material reward. There is simply an opportunity, as there always is, to approach your fellow patrons as human beings, listen to their problems, and help in whatever small ways you can.

UYPPA is comedy at its best: a story that invites us to consider morality and interior lives as it makes use of humor to remind us that not everything important must be serious.

4 Likes

Blood Island

Blood Island tries to be three games in one: a dating sim, a slasher flick, and an interactive meta commentary on reality television. It’s an intruiging and ambitious concept, but unfortunately, none of the elements work, making for a game that’s more frustrating than thrilling.

First: the dating sim. The game introduces you to a cast of hunks and babes, and invites you to choose who to woo. But you never get much of a chance to know these characters: in the handful of group conversation their voices blend together, and you don’t have much of an opportunity to talk to people one-on-one; there’s two chances to do so, and it’s implied you’re betraying your first date’s trust if you pick someone different for the second.

So, I went with Mona, mostly because she smoked. She didn’t seem to have much of a personality. I thought maybe that was because she’s the emotionally distant, walled-off type. But I went back to the game to see if the other characters are more developed, and it turns out they’re all exactly the same. Literally–the scenes feature the same text for every character, with just their name changed. This helped explain why the “date” was more about the scenery than the character interaction, and why the events following that lean heavily on the fact that you’re too preoccupied to talk to your partner. You could read that as clever meta-commentary on how every contestant on a reality dating show is essentially the same person: eye candy seasoned with quirk. But it felt like lazy writing.

The slasher action is the most successful part of the game, but it is hindered by an inherent contradiction. Slasher flicks are about the victim’s options being taken away. They’re trapped and defenseless, with little other to do than run. How do you make such a scenario satisfyingly interactive? Blood Island doesn’t really answer that question. Mostly you choose whether to run or hide, with occasional options to attack and then run or hide. I generally found this irritating: the character customization options at the beginning primed me to assume the main character was supposed to be a stand-in for me, and, well, I’d try and take the fight to the bastard. I think I could handle a disgruntled PA in a mask. As the game progresses, and you are increasingly forced into the “Final Girl” role, your choices become more and more constrained. Eventually, the game dresses you up in a crop top and booty shorts, and give you the option to flash your chest at characters, negating even the initial choice of gender.

The problem of choice could’ve been ameliorated by providing with the player with the ability to play different slasher movie archetypes: maybe you can be the foolhardy jock who attempts to take the fight to the killer, only to be brutally dismembered; or the promiscuous lech who’s “punished” for his immorality.

But allowing significant branching would’ve interfered with the game’s central theme: drawing parallels between reality television and slasher films. It’s a clever point, and I’d probably enjoy reading the analyses the author is pulling from to make their case, but the meta-commentary doesn’t translate well to an interactive format. Characters were constantly asking me what I thought about the academic points they were making, but not only were my opinions never represented in the text, whatever I did pick was inevitably cheerfully disregarded by whoever was playing Socrates in the dialogue.

The blurb presents this as a game that affords you the option to “be who you want” and choose “who will live and who will die.” It’s not. It’s a mostly linear exploration of horror movies and reality television. I probably would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if I had gone into it with those expectations, but the game is much less than it aspires to be.

Addendum/Rant
Since the game didn’t let me say what I think about the points it’s making, I’m going to shoehorn them in here: Reality TV and slasher flicks have similarities because both are Low Art pandering to base human instincts. People are drawn to sex, violence, and drama, and, while feminist critiques of these media can be fun intellectual play or provide interesting insights into a dark cultural id, they often miss basic truths because they’re trying to plumb the depths of something that simply isn’t that deep. It’s a “Last Girl” because someone, be it a sweaty executive or a horny sixteen year old, wants to see an attractive woman without a bra running around in a wet t-shirt for half an hour. People dress up as slashers and not their victims because slashers have iconic costumes, and the victims don’t. Probably both of these media have a malign cultural influence, but so does any corporate production pandering to the largest possible audience. It’s part of the territory.

To be clear, I love like schlocky horror movies and find myself captivated by reality TV whenever I’m around it. But deep analyses of these genres often feel like an intellectual’s attempt to justify their enjoyment of media that’s clearly designed for those icky unwashed masses. Can’t we just admit that sometimes we like things precisely because they’re crass and stereotypical?

4 Likes

Headlights
Headlights is a tech demo for a parser. The main feature of the parser seems to be that it understands full sentences. I didn’t see any clear benefits of that, and, indeed, I played Headlights as I would an Inform game: lots of l-ing and x-ing, which it handles adequately. I thought that perhaps the full sentence structure would allow me to do more complex things, but the parser seems to get confused more easily than a more established one. I had some examples like the following:

?:look at myself in the mirror
you is not in the mirror.

?:pry open door
(expanded to: ‘open door’)
[I heard: ‘open the door’ → Say ‘as spoken’ to repeat exactly as you said.]
The car door is stuck shut from the crash.

The latter eventually had to be resolved by typing “use the crowbar to pry open the door,” which was fine, but more work than it needed to be. Aside from the input/output delay, which occasionally reached a few seconds, this engine functioned well enough, but I didn’t notice any significant advantages. It’s neat that it appears to be the work of one person, but I don’t really understand its purpose.

The Perplexity web page notes that the game “honestly isn’t really that fun yet,” and that’s pretty accurate. The text is spartan, the story is light, and mostly you’re looking for keys of various types to open doors and progress. I liked the initial puzzle, where you use a glowing flower as a light source, and I always appreciate the option to eat strange things in IF, but overall there’s just not much here. The author does have an extensive write up on development on the Perplexity site, which might be pretty interesting if you’re into NLP research.

2 Likes

You May Not Escape
This was a nice twist on a standard IF trope, where navigation of a maze becomes a metaphor for personal struggle. Mazes seem to more or less be generally disliked as a tedious, difficult mechanic, so it’s a good way to convey the emotions associated with ongoing oppression or depression. It’s unpleasant to navigate, but that’s sort of the point, and the author throws in a few garnishes that make the experience feel unique.

Throughout the maze, LED screens offer you messages that range from uselessly encouraging, to misleading, to hateful, all of which seem like the sorts of things a person might tell you on twitter or a public discord. Even the hateful messages, though, are preferable to the blank, suffocating silence that is the norm, offering perhaps unintentional commentary on why someone going through a difficult time might post about their issues, even when they know some of the responses might be cruel. Sometimes it’s just nice to be seen.

The few limited features of the maze are thoroughly implemented, and there are some fun side puzzles to be solved as you move towards your ultimate goal of escape, a goal that requires destroying the unopenable barrier between you and freedom. In particular, it’s very satisfying to throw rocks at the cameras, and I laughed out loud when the time capsule was empty.

The vagueness and simplicity of the metaphor are a good choice. It dodges heavy-handedness and allows the player to project whatever interpretations they’d like onto the framework. I still don’t really like mapping or mazes, but this executed on the concept well.

Miscellaneous:
-I really appreciated the notice at the beginning of the game that mapping was required.
-John Everyman has this to say:

“I know I’m not exactly what you were hoping for. But just be glad it’s not the other guy here; Jerry—that’s Jerry Mander, the guy I beat in the campaign—could make this a lot worse for you.”

Amusingly, Jerry Mander is a real person, who would probably be more helpful in this scenario.
-One of the graves has this epitaph: “When it began, they crowded aroun the doors. But no one outside cared enough to let them out before their skin began to peel.”
Is this a reference to something specific? The other graves seemed to have pretty clear narratives associated with them. This one threw me.
-The title has a nicely subtle double meaning

4 Likes

No One Else Is Doing This
I’ve heard non-profit work criticized as just as, if not more exploititive than private sector work, but it took playing No One Else Is Doing This to fully grok the criticism. It’s a tightly packaged game that has you knocking on doors for two hours, desperately trying to raise money under the guise of community organizing.

You’re working for a presumably well-intentioned group that’s trying to get people in a lower-class neighborhood to band together and demand action from local government. Problem is, no one seems that interested in banding together. Most people don’t even want to talk to you. And what you’re judged on, reinforced by the constant counter at the top of the screen, is not how much change you’ve effected, but how much money you’ve made.

Thus, instead of fighting the good fight and bringing justice to the under-served, you’re stuck in the cold, desperately trying to adapt an inadequate script to extract money from people who don’t really want to talk to you.

I really liked this game. I can’t come up with a good way to tie all my compliments together, so I’m just going to list them:

-The residents are recognizable and have different voices and personalities: asking an old person how long they’ve lived in their home might generate happy reminiscing from one, and offend another.

-The game nails the details of door-knocking. The house numbers are presented in the same way they’d be arranged on a block, with evens on one side and odds on the other, which encourages the player to do the sensible thing of walking up one side of the block, then walking back down the other side. In another nod to realism, most of the houses you visit aren’t home or don’t answer.

-The conversations capture the desperate grasping of political cold-calling: you probably have strong opinions about issues if you’re volunteering, but you’re trying to read, interest and convince a person who’s probably annoyed you’re there, and who likely knows this is all a lead up to asking them for something. You’ve got a script, which provides some structure and comfort, but no one ever talks like they do on the script, and trying to follow it too closely is off-putting and robotic. And, you never quite know if a failure is because you screwed up the conversation, or because they were never interested in the first place

-Your boss is unflinchingly positive in a way that completely negates how much what you’re doing sucks. You’re never yelled at or even chastized, but there’s always the implication that any deviation or weakness is a personal failing, not a natural response to the conditions or the consequence of a strategic or operational failure.

-Unless I missed something, you can never actually meet your goal. This is an apt choice, especially since you slowly realize it over the course of multiple playthroughs, getting full confirmation only after you’ve done everything right, and still fallen short. The game provides no way for you to express this realization, though. All you can do is walk away.

This was excellent, and clearly and beautifully presented some things I’ve wondered or vaguely felt about door-knocking in general. I’m going to restrain myself from soapboxing about the topic, but I would be curious if the author has opinions on why things are dysfunctional in this way, and if there are other, better ways to do this sort of work. I’m also looking forward to checking out Ataraxia after the comp.

6 Likes

Hey, thanks for the review!

I had no idea that Jerry Mander was a real guy. Fascinating! I agree—I’d much prefer to meet him than John.

In regard to the epitaph: yes, it’s referencing one specific thing. I haven’t seen anyone get it right publicly yet, but I think I’ll wait to talk about it until after the comp ends.

2 Likes

I have to ask: Was this not a reference to gerrymandering?

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:+1:

1 Like

I initially assumed it was a joke pen name when I read Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television and was shocked to find out it was not. I’m also sad that a cursory Google didn’t reveal to me whether it was an accident or if his parents just had an odd sense of humor.

Intriguing! Looking forward to the reveal.

1 Like

Jungle Adventure

A few years ago, I worked at a company that still made most of its money selling mainframes. Their main customers were governments or giant corporations that had been early adopters of computers, and were incentivized by the cost of transitioning away from our products to run programs that had been originally written in the 1970s. I toiled away for a year or so writing proprietary assembly, until I eventually found another job.

I had a lot of idle time after giving my two week notice, and spent some if it exploring the files on the shared test machine. There were decades of abandoned projects, notes, and dumps of personal files from people who had long since quit or been laid off. One of them was a folder labelled ZORK, which contained an abandoned port of some bygone version of that game to the company’s operating system. I managed to get it working, and was befuddled by the ZORK’s inability to understand what I was saying, and the fact that I died constantly. I lost interest in the game itself, but I spent a few more hours looking through the game’s source, trying to decipher the poorly documented code that hinted at a massive adventure. It was a satisfying conclusion to my time at the company.

Jungle Adventure has recreated that experience. The game itself is terrible, sidestepping the last 40-or-so years of innovation in interactive fiction in favor of a homebrew, hard-coded python engine that you run as a DOS executable. It’s got ASCII art and all the sins of bygone IF: impossible puzzles, an uncooperative engine that rarely understands what you’re trying to say, walking dead situations, and a nonsensical plot.

So why did I love it so much? It’s got unbelievable amounts of charm. Most of those sins were byproducts of people joyfully experimenting with a new medium, and that’s the feel of Jungle Adventure: an ambitious attempt to make a fun game for people to explore. It’s amateurish in the best possible way: full of energy and idiosyncratic decisions that ooze enthusiasm. It reminded me of 2020’s Creatures, which was similarly energetic but scored poorly in the rankings, and I wonder if perhaps some of my enjoyment of these types of games is because I never played IF in the bad old days where struggle was an expected part of the experience.

The game makes it obvious what sort of an experience you’re in for in the first five minutes, where you have to “look pocket” or “look clothes” to find a short wave radio to communicate with a pilot. This would be nearly impossible discover, since “look me” or “inventory” produces no useful response, and the in-game hint system merely tells you that you probably have something on you that you could use to call the pilot. I can’t imagine getting past this puzzle without opening the included python source and poking through it, which is nearly necessary to beat the game without tearing your hair out.

Similar consultation of the source was required to get out of the plane, at which point you’re dumped into the hub world. Things clip along fairly well for a bit, with a fun puzzle where you have to decipher the ASCII art of a cabin interior to find the items necessary to murder a wolf standing in your path.

And then you come to the maze. Hopefully you’ve learned to save the game often at this point, because navigating the maze requires mapping it out, looking at the code to realize that your fists or a knife are more effective weapons than a shotgun, restarting the game (in my case) because you didn’t realize that the jokey messages about the goat booping you lower your hit points, then making a perfect run through multiple times in order to get the RNG required to beat the giant viper standing between you and the exit. Oh, also, the long random combats incentivize spamming the enter key, but this also immediately exits the application if you lose the fight, forcing a restart. This part of the game nearly made me quit, but by this point the game had charmed me enough to make me want to see what it had left.

After the maze, there’s an amusing section where you type in jokes to tell a huntsman, reload a couple of times after hitting the insta-kill fail scenarios (hope you saved after beating the maze!), get a map, then jump off a cliff to the win screen, with a promise that the jungle adventure will continue in episode two.

I loved this game, but it’s a real specific vibe: lo-fi naive sadism. I expect it will score poorly, but if you see a lone 8 or 9 in the final rankings, know that it was mine.

4 Likes

Star Tripper

I loved the first fifteen minutes of this game. You’re thrown into the action immediately, as a message from your brother plunges you into a mass of galactic intrigue. The game nails each character’s voice, and the use of emojis provides high-impact characterization hooks. I usually keep some amount of remove from any work of IF, but the excellent writing sucked me in immediately: I took time to consider the message I’d write to my brother, and what I’d name my character and my ship, choices I rarely feel emotionally invested in. There were enough novel twists on the fairly standard narrative frame that I was eager to take off into the galaxy and make my fortune, and looking forward to discovering more about the nefarious Syndicate and what their plans were.

The actual game is pretty different than the intro, though. The prose is still good, but it’s got that sort of mad libs quality of procedural writing where you can see the underlying structure in a way that makes the specifics less meaningful. And the core game is all about mechanics, not store: you’re flying around the universe trying to make enough money to buy the next ship, so you can make more money, so you can buy the next ship.

Despite not really being what I had hoped, what I played was pretty fun. Early on, I found a rich planet that would buy most things for high prices, and used that as my home base as I explored the galaxy loading up on various goods. There’s some fun ancillary stuff to explore, including a mining mini-game that balances “free” money by making it tedious, and (perhaps?) a path to spiritual enlightenment (though I’m not sure if that was just a jokey achievement name).

I’m not really sure how to rate this game. I started getting a little bored about an hour and a half in. Once you’ve seen a few planets, you’ve sort of seen them all, and the trading had begun to feel a little slow. The choice based nature of the game also started to grate, as you have to click through a lot of repetitive filler text to do basic things like travel and trade. I still really wanted to see the intro plot threads paid off, so I was fairly determined to push through, but I was getting a little nervous that I was only four ships down the 20ish ship long progression list.

Looking for novelty, I decided to marry my companion to see what would happen, which caused a game-breaking bug. My last save was from an hour earlier, and I didn’t have the heart to repeat the past and play for a few more, so I put the game aside. I probably won’t go back. Reading other reviews, it sounds like the only major thing I hadn’t seen was asteroid mining, which also was significantly bugged, so maybe I was saved some frustration. Still, if the author or anyone else has a way to cheat to the ending, or dramatically speed the game’s pace, I’d really like to see how things turn out.

2 Likes

Thanks for the review, and apologies about the bugs with the asteroid mining and the marrying bits. Those have been resolved now, but alas, even with all the testing that was done beforehand, those somehow managed to slip through :frowning_face:

Heartbreaking, really, but so it goes.

Hey Sam, yeah, I felt conflicted about moving on from the game. I think the tipping point was realizing that playing up to the two hour limit would’ve all been stuff I had seen before. There’s a chance I may return to it after the comp when there’s less of a time pressure.

Thanks for trying out Headlights and writing up your feedback on the Perplexity engine!

One note on the game itself before responding to the engine feedback: One of the things I’m trying to do with the engine is explore using voice (and hearing) i.e. being able to talk to the game and have it read the descriptions to you. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get that system running so folks could try it with Headlights (it is available for “Baby on Board”). All this is to say: Jordan White and I tried to keep the text as small and tight as possible because it turns out to be annoying when you have to listen to long responses in that mode. When playing through text, it doesn’t work quite as well. We’re still exploring ways to strike the balance.

The engine itself is still early in development and I am still exploring the types of games that will best use it, but there are a few things I’m trying to do with it:

The point of having it understand the syntax of English (as opposed to normal 2ish word commands) is to get to a place where you feel like you can speak and interact with a game naturally, like you are talking to a dungeon master in a real life D&D, or a friend who is playing the part of the game and walking you through an adventure on a road trip. I believe this could open up IF to a much wider range of players. It does understand the syntax of English very well, due to the great work of the DELPH-IN English Resource Grammar. It doesn’t yet have a wide vocabulary. I’m working beefing that up over time.

Another point of the engine is to have a basic physics model that knows things like “objects can be on top of each other”, “things can be put in containers”, “pulling a thing out of the middle of a stack makes the things on top touch whatever that thing was touching”, etc. It gives a game developer a lot of stuff “for free” as a result. You can see examples of this here.

I’ve spent a lot of time since the last IFComp trying to make the engine understand classic IF Commands. There are still some it doesn’t do (like understand “get it”) but I’ll get there. You can see a writeup of the challenges here. And so, yes, you can have (mostly) a “classic” IF session with the game. But I think the richer language and backing physics engine start to shine once you know that you can ask questions about the world to get hints, and navigate to anything you can describe. For example:

** THE GRASSY CLEARING **
This area is very grassy.
You need to get to shelter before it gets too dark.
You see a branch and grass.
To the west is a rocky corner.
To the north is a cave.
To the south is a glowing field.

?:what is glowing?

a glowing field and glowing grass

?:go to the glowing grass

** THE GLOWING FIELD **
Venturing towards the glowing aura, you enter a field. The grass is illuminating the field by producing light somehow.
Its glow provides a feeling of safety. This might be useful.
To the north is a clearing.

?:is the grass glowing
Yes

?:get the grass
This grass is too thick to pick up. It does look thin enough to cut off with something though.

?:where is something sharp
inside a rocky corner, inside a world, north, on top of a boulder, and west somewhere

?:find something that is sharp
(going to the clearing...)
(going to the rocky corner...)

** THE ROCKY CORNER **
Walking into the rocky corner, you see less and less vegetation until there is only dirt and stones around you.
You see a boulder with something shiny on it.
You see a pebble.
To the east is a clearing.

...

etc.
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Ah, thanks for the clarification. The audio application of the engine seems like it makes a lot of sense! I would definitely rather talk to a game in full sentences. “What am I holding” makes a lot more sense than “inv” in that context.