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The Wand

by Arthur DiBianca

2017

(based on 3 ratings)
2 member reviews

About the Story

Explore the wizard Bartholloco's castle with the help of a versatile magic wand. Can you overcome his challenge? Can you levitate a rock? Can you slice a baltavakia?

(Puzzle-oriented and family friendly.)

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: October 1, 2017
Current Version: Unknown
IFID: Unknown
TUID: 2jil5vbxmbv8riv1

Awards

Entrant - 23rd Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2017)

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Number of Reviews: 2
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Whimsical, rock-solid puzzle game with a stripped-down Enchanter mechanic, October 5, 2017
by prevtenet (Texas)
It's become something of an IFComp tradition: the rock-solid puzzlefest by Arthur DiBianca, with a cleverly stripped-down parser and only the barest veneer of a story. Art's first entry was the unique but tepidly received Excelsior, followed by Grandma Bethlinda's Variety Box, which earned positive reviews and attracted so much traffic it nearly crashed the IFComp server. 2016's entry, Inside the Facility, was a novel movement-only game that won the Miss Congeniality award and received two XYZZY nods (Best Puzzles and Best Individual Puzzle).

So what did Arthur DiBianca put forward in 2017? The Wand, and it's pretty good. The Wand revisits Excelsior's seemingly bland milieu - "a wizard sets up puzzles in a tower" - but this time with far better results.

One of Excelsior's problems was that it wasn't always clear what the "use" verb would actually do. ("use statue"?) The Wand adopts the Enchanter mechanic, where you progressively learn spells that interact in interesting ways, but strips it down to *just* the spells with no other verbs except for movement. This creates a very effective experience where it's always clear what you're attempting to do, but the consequences of your actions can be unexpected.

Another of Excelsior's problems was the lack of a story or any real context for the puzzles; I kept wondering "why is this here?", and the ending felt like a disappointing afterthought. The Wand avoids this by being entirely upfront about its concept. I'm reminded of Emily Short's "Action and Interaction": "Iíve come to think that one of the jobs of a work of IF is to teach its player - constantly, in every kind of feedback - what sorts of interactions are appropriate to the game." This idea permeates The Wand, from how the concept is presented to how puzzles are hinted. The game continually and progressively teaches you what to expect, while offering some little surprises along the way. (Case in point: the brilliant way the game handles the "use" verb.)

In many ways this is the driving idea of the limited-parser movement, of which DiBianca is a vanguard: people are quite happy to play by the rules of the game you establish, but when there's a mismatch between their own idea of the rules and the game's idea of the rules, they can be disappointed. Thus, stripping down the parser and saying upfront "yeah, don't expect a story" can actually increase immersion. (Indeed, going into the game with no expectation of context or story made those elements pleasantly surprise me where they did appear.)

I must admit I am not a full convert to the minimalist school. The call of the verb is strong. But there is much of value in this way of thinking, and The Wand does it well.

Other strengths: DiBianca's writing is terse, but whimsical and evocative. (What is a baltavakia, and how do you slice one? I'm still not really sure I know, but the mental images that section conjured were fantastic.) Puzzle design is strong, mostly of the satisfying "oh! now I can do *that*!" variety. Puzzles are often "themed" and make sense within the context of their environment, which is small enough to keep everything nearby but large enough to offer a few different avenues to explore if you get stuck. Hinting is strong, with a mix of obvious solutions and head-scratchers - although I did have to check the walkthrough to realize I could (Spoiler - click to show)just walk past the dragon. The adorable, adorable dragon.

I do have a few minor critiques, e.g. I'm not sure about the wand mechanic. Spells take two turns to input, and wand settings are hard to remember without writing them down, especially since the color abbreviations can be unexpected. I do wonder if Enchanter-style magic words would work better, but as a mental concept, "one wand and two verbs" has its perks.

IMHO, what would have made this game even better is 1) deeper spell interaction, and 2) deeper worldbuilding. You can levitate rocks; what if you could levitate *anything*? The wizard has a pet kimpert; why? But I acknowledge that these thoughts are driven more by my personal affinity for games like Counterfeit Monkey than by any practical considerations.

Note: This game has hidden content that is not mentioned in the walkthrough.

1 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
delete the wand, get my verbs back!, October 6, 2017
by namekuseijin (anywhere but home)
Related reviews: IFComp 2017, guess-the-color
here's this game's blurb:

"Explore the wizard Bartholloco's castle with the help of a versatile magic wand. Can you overcome his challenge? Can you levitate a rock? Can you slice a baltavakia?

(Puzzle-oriented and family friendly.)"

sounds cool, huh?

no, no it is not cool. At all.

You see, there's a whole generation of players, and now authors too, that have never played text-adventures before. And yet, they try to make one - perhaps for some kind of retrogaming kink. One or another author may however surely have played one of these cool CYOA things, where you just tap/click your choices away (if any, that is, instead of just a disguise for click-next) to move the story forward.

But still they try to make ye text-adventure of ole. So, the first thing they do is to get away with verbs - it's a depressing trend really. In this game, you can only go directions, examine stuff and point a wand at things. No inventory-management (taking stuff makes the PC receive a shock).

Now that it is constrained enough that even Grunk or cyoa players can play it, it's time for real meat of the "gameplay": the wand comes with 3 colors in the shaft and by changing the color-combinations you can really make things go exciting! You have a color combo for OPENING THINGS and possibly many other useful actions!

Now isn't that ingenious and original? Instead of boring the player out of finding some key to a door or something, you make the player tinker with the colors in the wand until they find a combo that works for OPENing a door! Wow, isn't that versatile wand something? It really made it worthwhile to delete all the standard verbs and make it so mindnumbly dull to make simple things happen! It is almost as ingenious and versatile and constraining as that char-removal device in Counterfeit Monkey, right?

seriously, get a grip...

so, not interested in the gameplay, writing is kids level, setting is as generic as possible, yadda-yadda-yadda. I'll give one more star because I feel it's written in good will.

BTW, I didn't enjoy DiBianca's walking simulator last year either... my suggestion is to play some real older parser IF (because new parser IF is all fucked up) and to get back to the drawing board...

If you enjoyed The Wand...

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