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About the StoryIt's the latest model, and it would really like to play with you.
21st Place - 21st Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2015)
Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Bemusing puzzle box in the form of interactive fiction. Slap it, whack it, look at it. Eventually some stuff will happen. It is like the intricate and complex box in The Room except you have to use your imagination. Your filthy, filthy imagination.
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well this is new
This game is entirely textual and even uses a text parser, but its only real commands are USE / U, WAIT / Z, and X / EXAMINE. (Another synonym for USE is UNDERTAKE TO INTERACT WITH. Very funny. Itís USE. Youíll be typing U though.) Thatís right, itís a game with three verbs, and the only verb that actually does things to things is USE, scoffed at as deeply unserious by verb nerds everywhere. Can we make an actual game like this, complete with extensive (but fair) puzzles and a interlude involving a botanical usurpation? Of course we can. These people did.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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This game has an extremely streamlined verb system. "Examine" and "undertake to interact with" (abbreviated "u") are its two primary actions. This is so smooth and prevents so many potential problems. The box is totally stuffed with weird contraptions, and if you had to worry about turning or pulling or tapping them, etc., etc., all but the most patient players would throw a fit trying to figure out what syntax to use. But "u" covers everything while still preserving the need for players to think about how they should manipulate the box.
I could see some people saying, Well, with so few verbs, why isn't this just a Twine game? Click the equivalent "u" or "x" hyperlinks and be done with it. But that wouldn't work, again because the box has so many components. In a hypertext game you'd have to click each component, click components within components, and then return back to previous screens to see what's changed or hasn't. It would be a headache. The parser allows everything to be right out in the open so that you can interact with anything at any time.
Since this game is a pure puzzle and descriptions are brief, I could also see some people overlooking how good the writing is. It's very good. It manages to give you clues, reward you for solving puzzles, and paint a clear description of the box (no matter how complicated the box gets) all within the same snappy little sentences. A tone, a personality emerges from the game that's perfectly complementary to the bizarre Variety Box itself.
Others have noted how well-written it is. Being a writer myself, I marvel at the craftsmanship! Writing clear descriptions is a hard trick for some of us to pull off, but the writing in GBVB's practically invisible, a window into the world of the box. Add in the ingenious use of "U" and you get all the delights of physical puzzle-solving minus the annoying fiddly bits.
In short, this game is the philosophical opposite of Hard Puzzle.
Playfulness is one quality of traditional IF that is often difficult to critique or evaluate. Big-headed reviewers often find little use for it, since it is concerned neither with Making a Difference, nor with High Art, nor with abstract Capital Letter Ideals (CLI, because parser). Although many types of digital games create a sense of playfulness, parser IF has probably always had a unique way of providing playful experiences due to its verbal spontaneity combined with unpredictably flexible simulation, mirroring in some ways the structure of spoken riddles.
Grandma Bethlinda's Variety Box follows this tradition of playful spontaneity, while deliberately hamstringing some of the parser tropes that are traditionally used to achieve it. This approach could perhaps be interpreted as some kind of wry commentary about IF tropes and tradition, but there is surprisingly little sarcasm in narrative voice. Instead, this subversion of the typical mechanics creates a sense of surprise at the fact that the experience turned out to be approximately what we would have expected. It is a way of cutting back to basics, of getting past players' familiarity in order to show them again what is really fun about parser IF.
Not counting the meta activities of saving, quitting, restoring, and restarting, there are only four commands allowed to interact with the object mentioned in the game's title. (Annoyingly, the meta commands for logging transcripts are also blocked.) Besides the old standby commands for waiting, examining, and looking, players are given only one command that handles any relevant interaction.
Many of the puzzles produced by interacting with various parts of the variety box in this way can generally be solved by mowing through all the possibilities. However, the mechanic of sequential ordering creates real logical challenge in two or three parts of the game, and I had to glance at the walkthrough. However, there is no fear of messing up a vital sequence or otherwise ruining the experience, as the game helpfully explains upfront that the game is "unlosable." This seems like a direct reversal of the traditional perception of puzzle-heavy parser IF games, a perception of being brutally and arbitrarily difficult, especially when possible to put those games into unwinnable situations.
The "unlosable" message encourages players to "try things." The game's achievement is that it provides a large amount of things to try and to discover even with its limited input set. The number of things available to interact with obscures the simplicity of the sequence-based puzzles and also hides them within the framework of discovery. At its strongest points, the game rewards intuitive reasoning when the player correctly chooses the right object to interact with, producing a sense of wonder and achievement. (If the player wants to be a poor sport by rotely going through every possibility, that's the player's business. Trying everything out of curiosity is another matter.)
The game's first explicit joke comes from the fact that this "do everything" command is listed in the help message as "UNDERTAKE TO INTERACT WITH" rather than the obvious choice of a "USE" verb. "USE" is implemented as a synonym as well as "U," but typing out the whole spiel produces a joke that seems to make fun of IF players' demand for extremely brief commands to the point of turning the parser into an obtuse relic of nerdy techno-babble, while simultaneously expecting sweeping intuitive and natural comprehension of their ideas.
It might be legitimate to question whether the parser is the best way to implement the kind of interaction that Grandma Bethlinda's Variety Box primarily utilizes, but its aesthetic and appeal are very dependent on its being a parser IF game. The fact that this sense of hidden discovery comes from a stripped down, simplistic parser game renews our appreciation for the basic kind of fun produced by logic puzzles in parser IF.
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