Before the competition began, I decided I wanted to do a ‘prize’ for the lowest-placing game by giving it a review highlighting its good points.
I’m glad I did, because it encouraged me to get Python running to play this game today.
War of the Willows is a very non-standard interactive fiction game. As others have said, it’s written in poetry (non-rhyming, in case anyone hates rhymes). To download it now, you can’t use the link on IFDB; you have to go to IFWiki and download the original comp zip file or download each python file separately and put them in the right folders, which is what I did.
You are battling willow trees that are incarnations of your ancestors, fed on their blood, as described in a made-up scripture. They are angry that you have defiled the world by breaking a covenant.
The game consists of three choices, followed by combat. You choose your motivation, your god, and a symbolic item. Then you have combat with a variety of options, including attacking, advancing, praying, etc.
I had big trouble beating the game. Then I started looking at the code, and I realized the biggest attraction of this game for me:
This game is FUN to look into. I had to dig deep into the code because my python version uses input() instead of raw_input(), so I had to manually replace each one. This let me see deeper into the code.
Once I started hacking the code, I didn’t go back. I replaced the ‘f—’ you see every time you get hit with ‘ouch’. I started delving deeper…
BIG COMBAT SPOILERS
I discovered that the choice of special item is completely meaningless. The other choices affect your (hidden) stats, with anger and sanctity being two important stats.
I also discovered that there are two ‘winning’ endings. The first is the one that most reviewers found, where you kill the tree and the others retaliate by destroying you.
The second is best obtained by choosing forgiveness as your motive and your family’s geneus as your god, and never attacking. By praying enough, you eventually raise your sanctity high enough that the trees forgive you and the people see you as a prophet.
I couldn’t raise it fast enough; the game increments sanctity by .03 every time you pray. So I hacked it to increment it by .30 every time you pray. I still had to pray 3 times before I won, so I think in the real game you have to pray ~30 times before you get the great ending.
Sorry this post is so rambling. I feel that the author received low scores mainly because this was such a new way of presenting a text adventure. The combat system does need tuning, but that alone shouldn’t make that big of a difference in score.
In the end, this game wasn’t so different from Midnight, Swordfight in concept. You are in a duel, you get to change around the setup of the duel before it begins, you are given a strict play script with what commands you can use, and then you have the duel itself. If the duel in Willows had been play tested by enough people to tweak the combat variables, then this would have been a truly excellent game.
Fortunately, the code is 100% modifiable. So I encourage python-savvy people (not me; I had to look up a lot of this stuff) to play around with the game. The author even encourages this, having a .txt file outlining some tip for modders.
Overall, I would have given this game 7.5/10. I especially recommend you check it out if you are interested in novel ways of running a text adventure.