The Four Eccentrics
An Interactive Fiction by Mild Cat Bean
Surrealism and dreamscapes is something that interactive fiction, a medium where anything that can be expressed in words can be experienced, is particularly suited for. In The Four Eccentrics, you literally dive right into a very peculiar dream. Already the opening landscape, a park filled with globes containing other dreams, sparks the imagination in ways that visual media cannot. From there, the game opens up to a fabulous world of wonders and strangeness.
In a dreamscape such as this, there’s always a danger that navigation becomes an issue of some difficulty; if diamonds are food and words are currency, how do you even begin to guess the verb? The Four Eccentrics handles this very well, and although you can do several unorthodox things in its dream, most of them come rather natural.
In a way, the basics of the story, your mission in the game, is an archetypical one, which makes it easier to find your way forward and finally reach the conclusion. I liked this contrast. Two other surrealistic games I have enjoyed are Shade and Sub Rosa. The Four Eccentrics is very different from either of these, though somewhat closer to the latter. In particular, more things are clear, much thanks to the world being populated by several NPCs to assist you on your way.
To be honest, there is room for plenty of polish for The Four Eccentrics to become a truly enjoyable experience; I’ve seen descriptions coming before they should and others that linger on until the end, objects that are both there and not (but not in a dreamy way), and at least one case of serious disambiguation problems. Still, it was a very enjoyable game, and it certainly has the potential of becoming a classic.
transcript.txt (276.2 KB)
Bugs and notes for the author (contains spoilers)
Even after removing the weevil, it is part of the stain’s description:
>x stain A large weevil of some sort seems to have lodged itself deep into her brain. How appalling! >take weevil You can't see any such thing.
The smock may get mentioned before the player discovers it:
>w The wavering hands on your smock's clock face snap into place, indicating it is just after two o'clock. At the same time a little button, shaped like a sunface, pops out with a click, just below the hands. Dusty Afternoon A drab and dusty plaza. Anonymous buildings sag together like sleeping beasts. Lobed patches of sunlight drape over the stone like blankets. The windows are all shuttered, the doors sealed, the awnings furled, and the trees at each corner sag their leaves as if in torpor. A drowsy street heads east to the market. A single sequin blazes up from the ground to catch your eye, perhaps an indication that this place is sometimes more lively. >i Knowledge (labyrinth secret) a bronze book (a book of fairy tales, locked) an oxblood book (a volume of horror stories) a gamboge book (an architectural catalog) a zaffre book (an alchemical encyclopedia) an ecru book (a technical manual) a sequin a medical kit (open) forceps a cotton bandage a scalpel a vial
After giving away the left arm, it can be taken/worn, but doesn’t end up in the inventory:
>x left arm You see nothing special about the left arm. >take it (somewhat clumsily) There is no reply. >wear it (somewhat clumsily) (first taking the left arm) (somewhat clumsily) >i Knowledge (musical practice) Knowledge (labyrinth secret) a Gown Chair a Bicycle Suit with Wheels and Shelves a West Vest a Clock Smock (being worn) a bowler hat (being worn) your head (being worn) a right arm (being worn) a right leg (being worn) a left leg (being worn)
If the player brings the Expert to the swamp while the other woman is there, the parser thinks the player means the Expert when referring to “woman”:
Mangrove Swamp The heavy canopy closes in above you as you leave the city behind. You steer between interlocking stands of trees propped up on roots like countless fingers. Sitting on the edge of a large clump of trees where several roots make a natural hammock, a woman is fidgeting with a broken axe handle. >x woman (the Ancient Expert) Her withered body lies limp in your arms. She has gone completely still.
The parser doesn’t allow putting bandage on the clapper, but the game will do exactly that if trying to play the bell:
>put bandage on clapper What? Don't be absurd! That's obviously not a serviceable limb. >put bandage on bell What? Don't be absurd! That's obviously not a serviceable limb. >play bell Leaning in carefully to avoid triggering the bell, you swaddle the clapper in cotton gauze, until the bell is completely muffled.
Two strange responses:
>ask vendor for poetry You can't use multiple objects with that verb. >cut ghoul You already have that.
A case of unimplemented objects/scenery:
>x woman On her pillow lies a corona of withered dry leaves, like a halo of mortality. >x corona You can't see any such thing. >x leaves You can't see any such thing. >x pillow You can't see any such thing.