Varicella was Cadre’s second xyzzy Best Game. It is a tightly timed game with numerous hostile NPCS acting independently. You play as Primo Varicella, palace minister, and you are competing with your enemies for the title of Regent.
The writing has been described as Roccocco. The game itself has frequently been described as ‘nasty’, and baf’s guide called perhaps it the most disturbing IF game ever. It has every kind of content warning from very bad to mildly bad, including graphic violence, rape, pedophilia, torture, strong profanity, pornography, chemical warfare, and so on. None of the content is explored in depth, but I found the game disturbing enough when I first encountered it that I deleted not only the game itself but my interpreters and considered quitting IF.
Let’s get to some of the good design decisions in Varicella.
==Strong narrative voice/PC/setting==
The game Varicella cannot be uncoupled from the character Primo Varicella. Primo is intelligent, weak, refined, has an eye for luxury, and can be heartless. Primo is loyal to his allies. Primo is also very verbose; the opening text has over 600 words, and room descriptions are lush and packed. Each room serves a useful purpose with several events in its except for the corners of the first and second floor. All of these rooms are described through Primos intelligent, cynical eyes.
Conversation in Primo’s voice comes in 2 flavors: hostile and cordial. Most npcs do not react to hostile orders well; but Primo provides over 100 variants of insults in these hostile conversations.
Primo’s character is revealed in responses to standard actions, in the way NPCs treat you, and in the surroundings and places where Primo spends his time.
The NPCs in Varicella are exaggerated and outrageous. A mad scientist has the entire castle stocked with toxic weapons, with nasty green mold leaking through all over. A belligerent general has all the guards paid off, provides a timer not only for you but for all other npcs, and provides dramatic endings. A corrupt priest, a greasy treasurer/send-up of Zork adventurers and a drunken, foul-mouthed prince round out your enemies. Your allies are exaggerated as well, with a femme fatale harlot with a heart of gold, an insane rape victim princess, and an illiterate, timid queen.
Only a handful of NPCs interact strongly with the player, notably Sierra, who can talk about almost anything, and to a lesser extent Rico. Most of the others are cleverly disguised by extreme emotion, terse replies, and lengthy scripts and tics.
There are mobile NPCS, static ones, aggressive ones, ones only heard of. There are secret ones (like Secondo).
As the PC and NPCS show, this game has great depth. Reading the text dump shows just how many responses have been coded, like asking Rico about each of his toys, or experimenting with the test rubes and a small glass of water that is hidden in a small corner of one room.
Like Spider and Web, there is a sandbox feel to this game, where everything can be used more than once and each new step forward gives you several people and situations to experiment on.
Every opponent can be dealt with in at least two ways, with Rico having perhaps the hardest alternate solution to find. Like Curses!, Varicella has a few easy solutions to puzzles that only works once, allowing you to experiment with different endings. I’m thinking specifically of Charlotte killing someone for you here, which is the easiest way of dispatching most enemies, but can only be used once.
This depth lends great difficulty to the game, as it can take a dozen or more playthroughs just to see what is going on, especially when using the TV.
To this point, all XYZZY Best Games have had vibrant settings, great depth of implementation, and a sandbox feel. Each has had memorable characters and an intriguing storyline. Going forward, we will see how setting, characterization, story and depth continue to be important, while some more linear games began to show up in between sandboxy games.