Mathbrushs' Parsercomp 2024 reviews

In this thread, I’ll be writing some reviews of Parsercomp games. I might eventually make an index here.

13 Likes

Return of the Sword by Older Timer (Jim Macbrayne)

I usually write reviews for both the author and the players, but I don’t think Jim reads the reviews, so I’ll write for the players.

Jim Macbrayne is an author with a polished self-made writing system that he has used to make several parser games, usually 1-2 a year for the last several years (as well as some TADS games in the past). These games are windows executables and feature a command-line style interface with some color use. The Function keys are used as shortcuts in-game. An unusual feature of his games is that objects in containers cannot be referenced, so if there is a fish in a bucket, you can’t type GET FISH or X FISH. Instead you have to type GET FISH FROM BUCKET or GET ALL FROM BUCKET. He has reserved the F1 key to always print out GET ALL FROM IT as this occurs very frequently in the games.

The games have a standard format and this is no exception. You generally are in a world that is fantasy with some mundane/modern objects (for instance, this game has a Gymnasium with a climbing rope in it) and different devices. There are usually potions of some kind and often a teleporter device that can be calibrated to different settings (in this game, a coin-operated dial). Puzzles often revolve around entering combinations using colors, numbers, keypads, etc. with the solution to one combination found on a card or piece of paper in another area. There is usually a book of spells that you can memorize a certain number of times, each time you casting them having one copy of the spell disappear from memory.

This game has all those things. The framing device is that you have been asked to find Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword. In the meantime, you’ll pass through caves, castles, and more.

I generally find these games pretty chill and soothing. I like to play for a bit till I get stuck, get some hints, play more, and then when I’m really not sure to use the walkthrough. I got around 60 points out of 230 before using the walkthrough. I feel like playing without help would take a week or two, with a lot of time waiting for ‘aha’ moments.

I did miss some of the more exciting parts of earlier games; for instance, this game didn’t have much NPC interaction.

I expect to see more similar games in the future, and they’re nice to look forward to, and I like to play them early on in the competitions, as they don’t get many reviews (mostly due to being a Windows executable). The nice thing is if you play one and like it, there are many more to enjoy.

12 Likes

The Postal Code by noab

This is a downloadable python executable. I was able to make 7 package deliveries, and then nothing else happened; I presume I won, unless there’s more hidden.

This looks to be a custom engine. It simultaneously looks like it took a ton of work and also is far from the level of other parser in the competition.

The best analogy I could give is that it’s like someone entering one of these realistic cake decorating competitions, but they bring sheafs of wheat, a live chicken, and sugarcane, and spend the first two hours grinding everything by hand and waiting for the chicken to lay an egg. Then, in the last remaining time, they whip together a homemade pancake.

Was it a lot of work? Was it impressive? Yes, and yes. Does it match what others are bringing to the competition, and does it provide what the audience is looking for? In this case, for this audience, I’d say no.

In this game, you are a parcel delivery person. You have a store room with boxes, you take them and look at them to see the label, and then you deliver them. Some of the deliveries are puzzles you have to solve, but these are fairly simple. There is well-done pixel art graphics that look hand made (the shrimp store sign was especially neat).

The parser doesn’t recognize abbreviations, so you need to type out INVENTORY for inventory and EAST for going east. It seems to slice words and only recognize part of the text because typing NORTHEAST is the same as NORTH in some spots, and when I was trying to examine the post office at the beginning it took me inside. The game doesn’t recognize LOOK or LOOK AROUND, so the only way I found to repeat room text was to leave and come back. There is no HINT or HELP, no UNDO, SAVE, or RESTORE. Synonyms and partial matches with nouns don’t work (so you must TAKE SQUARE BOX, not TAKE SQUARE, TAKE BOX, or TAKE PACKAGE). Pronouns aren’t recognized (so TAKE IT won’t work). GIVE PACKAGE or TALK won’t work, you have to DELIVER ____ BOX. Fortunately the game is designed to run fairly smoothly given these constraints.

11 Likes

Free Bird by Kanderwund

Here we have another python custom parser game, but this one is surprisingly smooth, once I read the ABOUT text. It understands abbreviations for directions, inventory, and LOOK, and it implements LOOK; it has hints, an INTRO page and a HELP page. While it does fall short in some areas of the parser (I think BREAK MANACLES should have a response, for instance), it is impressive overall, and the presentation was nice (although I had a lot of blank lines before my command prompt for some reason).

The game itself is just a preview, but it’s a perspective rarely seen in parser IF. You play as a (supposedly) evil power, imprisoned for centuries by the forces of good (maybe). You have the ability to SING TO (ST) things to interact with them.

I loved the descriptiveness and the imagery. While I do wish the whole thing were finished, it’s clear that a lot of work and talent went into this. In a good way, it reminded me of EAT ME, with its focus on one verbal phrase (SING TO) and its opening in a dungeon, manacled to a wall.

6 Likes

Moon-house Technician by Outgrabe

This game was written in the mainframe language Rexx, designed to be played on an emulator.

It features ASCII art, used to make 12 playing cards. The point of the game is to collect the cards. It’s based on the story The Garden Behind the Moon by Howard Pyle, with a Moon House and a Moon Man and Moon Angel.

Gameplay is primarily menu based, with some menu options giving you a word you can type out.

There are only 6 things you can do:
-Buy cards from the moon man (from $5 to $120)
-Sleep
-Visit the moon angel (in the code, this is supposed to make him more friendly, but the code that does that never actually runs, locking you out of part of the game)
-Look out the window
-polish stars (this gives you $5_
-visit the garden (only open once a week, gives random text).

So, the only way to make money is $5 at a time, with sleep in between each money-making event, and a little animation that plays when you polish the stars, and you have to do that 64 times to get all cards. Furthermore, you have to wait another 20 days or so to actually beat the game.

I didn’t finish the game all the way through, opting to read the code instead. The ascii art is lovely, but I don’t want to just repeat the same text over and over again for the cards; the gameplay is just too simple, I think.

8 Likes

Mystery Isles by Jason Oakley

This was a pleasant adventure game someone hampered by programming issues from time to time.

I played the ‘modern’ version which doesn’t have the graphics that the retro does in the screenshots (which makes sense) but that image in the screenshots looks cool!

This game has Scott Adams vibe: just a fun adventure with minimal text and some atmospheric descriptions and most important items listed separately in each room description. You are on an island and need to find your way off, making use of local floral and fauna and the remnants of past visitors.

There were several issues that caused problems during gameplay. For instance, if you get the wrench and drop it, you can never pick it up again. The same thing happens if you drop the reeds and aren’t carrying something sharp.

So, a fun concept and pretty good execution, but could use more polish.

8 Likes

The Race Against Time by Finn Rosenløv

This is an ADRIFT game, which I played by downloading the ADRIFT 5 Runner (There are like 3 versions you can download, and google flagged 2 of them as viruses but the third was fine).

This game has a cinematic opening and first few areas. An international space laboratory has been able to cure numerous diseases, but a test virus got out and infected everyone on board! You are chosen to try to clear the contamination (which threatens to infect earth due to an automated shipment) or to die trying.

The initial exploration of the ship was suitably mysterious. After a time, I began to get stuck pretty early on. I consulted the hints, and would a few more times, and found that careful examination of everything was usually the key.

However, a few times I missed some puzzles I don’t think I would have gotten because the game gave some negative feedback early on. For instance, I knew that many ADRIFT games have puzzles where you have to X something, LOOK UNDER it, SEARCH it, or LOOK BEHIND it, so I spent the first twenty minutes of the game trying all of those things and LOOK UNDER IT consistently said I can’t do that or there’s nothing there. It turns out that very late on in a timed sequence you have to LOOK UNDER (or have already done so) to a scenery item. It just doesn’t make much sense to me to have an action that the whole game has told me to be useless (and I was only trying anyway because of past ADRIFT experience) turn out to be super important in the end.

The story was pretty fun, especially the beginning and ending, but I was a little disappointed in the middle. The space station inhabitants are Chinese, and two rooms have names in Chinese characters on them, but one was just Mao Zedong; I was looking forward to some thoughtfully chosen bespoke Chinese names, but maybe that was just a weird expectation.

The best part to me was the initial exploration.

7 Likes

Thanks for reviewing my game!

1 Like

Thanks, I had fun looking up the banana/tree thing (I used to have one in my backyard and didn’t know that) and the nature descriptions.

Yurf by spaceflounder

This game uses a similar engine to the author’s last game, Steal 10 Treasures to Win This Game, with some differences. Both only allow a set collection of inputs; nothing else can even be entered. So, error messages are replaced by just not allowing you to type things. However, the older game only uses single letters for inputs. This game lets you type longer words, and does have little responses explaining why you can’t do some things.

The game is set in the fictional land of Yurf, where a royal conflict has divided the world and four gems have been lost. You need to explore the world, which has a surreal Alice in Wonderland/Phantom Tollbooth feel.

The parser is one-word only. This makes the game simpler but also harder. I appreciated the reduced number of actions I had to try. On the other hand, I was frustrated by simple things like trying to look at one person in a group of three, checking my inventory or interacting with individual background items.

The one-word parser has been stretched to its limits here, and that means one thing: riddles. Around half or more of the games puzzles are intuition-based or ‘aha’ type riddles, where instead of manipulating physical objects or learning a system you have to sit and puzzle it out. I ended up having to use hints twice. While I typically enjoy riddles less than other styles of gameplay, they made sense both storywise and given the input constraints.

Overall, a polished and good-looking game, well-written and mostly bug-free (I passed on a typo and a sequence-breaking bug to the author).

7 Likes

Thank you for reviewing my game. I wanted to comment on the bug, as it’s something of a cautionary tale, and continues some observations made by @AmandaB in another thread.

I felt this game was thoroughly tested, and at one point, that was the case. However… As the competition date drew closer and closer, I couldn’t stop messing with the game. I felt like I had the time to use, and there’s more stuff I can put in, and even though I should’ve stopped messing around with it, I couldn’t help myself.

Testing is huge, and in a parser game, where a user can type literally anything at the prompt, you almost can’t do enough.

For my next game, I’m sort of toying with the idea of creating a “unit testing” framework to catch bugs without depending solely on human inputs.

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I wonder if there’s an author here that hasn’t done exactly this. I’ve come to be resigned to the fact that I will introduce new bugs at the eleventh hour when it’s too late to get any more testing, and that the only way to discover them is with live players in the comp. I think most people in this community understand that, and the number of award-winning games that had game-breaking bugs in them at release is high, I think.

I believe there are still significant bugs in Counterfeit Monkey, and that has a whole tech team that’s been working on it for years.

7 Likes

Also: it was incredibly remiss of me to neglect mentioning this until now, but if you type TRANSCRIPT as a command into Yurf it will produce a downloadable transcript of the game to that point.

If you scroll upwards to a previous command, you can tap the command and the game will undo to that point in the story. You can tap the REDO button “undo the undo” command.

1 Like

It’s an incredibly useful thing to have! I always need at least a basic version, something like ./game <game.in >game.out && diff game.out game.gold, to make sure I don’t break something too badly—to ensure it’s always at least possible to run from beginning to end.

2 Likes

Alphabet City by Julian Grant

This parser game is the author’s first Inform 7 game, but is set in a larger series of Alphabet City games.

It’s pretty heavy stuff. Our hero is a recovering cocaine user who had a huge fight with his girlfriend over her refusal to quit using drugs. A torn earring is all that remains of the fight.

The game implements a chunk of New York City, including the weed-filled offices of the magazine our protagonist works for and a night club.

While you can beat the game without it, fighting is a way you can interact with a couple of people. FIGHT ____ or HIT ____ starts combat which you can continue until one person perishes. It’s also usable against your girlfriend, surprisingly, although the game converts it to LOVE.

The descriptions are vivid and raw, depicting a grungy life. I thought that the descriptiveness was well done. And there’s some fancy highlighting of keywords.

Some of the scenery is underimplemented in ways all too familiar to those who have started Inform 7 (I have done them many times). Things like objects whose names are subsets of each other (in this case ‘key’ and ‘studio key’) and so can’t be referred to easily; takable things that shouldn’t be takable; and objects just listed in a pile at the end of a paragraph instead of including them more discreetly in earlier paragraphs.

(to new authors: if you put the name of an object in brackets like [chair] in a room description, it won’t show up later on. Or, saying something like ‘the chair is scenery’ makes the chair not appear in the list at the end and keeps people from taking it. And finally after you define an object, if your next sentence is in quotese that becomes the ‘fancy’ way to see the object. Like:

The knife is on the table. “The knife you used to make your sandwich is still on the table, dirty.”

Then when the game runs, instead of saying ‘You also see a knife’. It will say “The knife you used to make your sandwich is still on the table, dirty.”)

I think this author has a lot of potential, and I think this game could be pretty great if it had some more polish, so I definitely encourage more experimentation, beta testing, and authoring. Good work!

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I don’t think there are. If you know of any, please report them.

1 Like

Beef, Beans, Grief, Greens by Andrew Schultz

This is the 8th entry in Andrew Schultz’s Pro-Rhyme Row series, which is truly astonishing; how there can be so many paired rhymes in the english language blows my mind.

I really enjoyed this one for the first half or so. There is a feast of remembrance among the gnomes, and you are chosen to prepare food for it. Most of the rhymes in the game deal with food or appliances of some kind.

There is a map with a central location and four branches. Each branch has objects in it which you must find a rhyming pair for (or for the room itself).

Compared to other games in the series, this game made it easy to identify what the puzzles were and had some fun responses.

Some of the words made me laugh. My juvenile response to ‘tree troop’ made me laugh (although it wasn’t recognized) and I had the wrong answer at first to getting out of the ‘stuck state’.

I did run into some bugs though, especially with some repeating text. It was enough to hamper my experience. I did see a call for testers before the competition so it’s at least partially my fault for not responding, but fortunately the bugs seem not too bad to fix.

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Iyashikei - The Fountain, by Adam Sommerfield

This is a ZIL game, a system I haven’t seen used much (the most recent I remember is Max Fog’s IFComp game The Restaurant at the End of the Universe). It’s a retro language that’s recovered from the one Infocom used, I think.

This game is a peaceful nature walk; the game whose genre is closest is, in my opinion, The Fire Tower, another game spent inspecting peaceful places.

This game is fairly short; at first, I just found a boat, a path, and a fountain, and I couldn’t find any other locations mentioned in the exits. I tried randomly walking and eventually found my way to a waterfall and later a cave.

The writing was peaceful, it reminded me of Hypnobirthing tapes my ex-wife had at one point. It was a bit repetitive though. In my first 20 moves, I saw the word ‘tranquil’ a lot:

embark on a tranquil journey 
smooth and tranquil journey
its beauty a tranquil retreat
the clearing is a tranquil haven
Set in a tranquil clearing,

Several other words were heavily repeated as well. The descriptions were longer than necessary, and could use some tinkering with structure; I’ve found that in IF people almost always look to the bottom of paragraphs for movable or interactable items and to the middle for less important scenery like tables and desks. So I think it could be useful to cut out the repeated words and rearrange the paragraphs to have the most interesting things at the bottom.

Overall, a small but peaceful nugget of a game.

7 Likes

The Samurai and the Kappa

This game has content warnings for mild nudity and adult content, so I’ll pass on it. I really appreciate when authors do this, as I generally don’t like adult content and always complain about it in the review, so this helps both of us.

The Mysterious Cave by Ragi

This is a brief Adventuron game with some fun graphics that seem custom-made and a few rooms.

I was able to complete it very quickly. There were only a few rooms, and each room only had one way to go forward. There was one puzzle which I solved by using the pictures, as the text didn’t seem to provide many clues.

There were several errors. The game started by saying that some settings were not configured, and the first page has a big typo in capital letters. The puzzle solution also acted a bit weird, like it was reacting to keywords rather than commands. The very ending didn’t make sense to me the way it was written.

Overall, it feels more like a programming exercise than a full game, but this is exactly what a good game can look like early on in the process before it’s fully developed, so I would tell this author this isn’t really bad, just needs more work.

4 Likes

Project Postmortem by Gamefic

Gamefic! I remember a Gamefic game in my first IFComp, Second Story, I remember the parser being better than many custom systems.

This game is pretty small, but it shows the relative usefulness of the parser system. There are a small cluster of rooms in an academic area. Your job is to investigate the death of a beloved professor. But in the middle of your investigation, everything changes.

This game is very minimal. Descriptions are bare-bones. Each room has one object of interest in it, except for one room with 2 or 3. I solved the game by just trying the only available actions.

The parser is pretty good. I didn’t really encounter any trouble. Some fancy future options might be pronoun recognition and cycling through past commands when pushing ‘up’, but the save and undo system worked well.

6 Likes