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The Gostak

by Carl Muckenhoupt profile

Wordplay
2001

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(22)
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Number of Reviews: 7
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1-7 of 7


A game (in)famous for its main challenge: understanding a nonsense language, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
The Gostak is one of those games that everyone hears about eventually. Some play it, some stay far away. I didn't get past the first room when I first played it, felt scared, and put it off for five years.

I finally completed it with the in-game hints and some of David Wellbourns dictionary.

So what is this game? It is based off of an old sentence a professor came up with, showing that you can guess a lot about words and their relationships just by their position in a sentence. That sentence was "The Gostak distims the doshes".

In this game, you are the Gostak, and you do have to distim the doshes. You have to learn how to navigate, to examine, to take and drop, and so forth. The help menu, also written in nonsense, is vital in understanding the language.

The hints were actually very helpful, although it might be possible to beat the game without them. The last hint is purposely vague.

The game has two npcs, one who is quite helpful, and one who is not. There are a variety of other objects, though.

After finally beating it, I love this game, but it sure was hard, even with all hints and a dictionary.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A rorm and snave halpock, October 23, 2014
by Sobol (Russia)
It's tavid to doatch about this halpock without fargishing scurm-brolges; let's just doach it's very snave, rorm and dobbly... if somewhat dunmile.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
The map is not the territory, March 26, 2014
This is a game for experienced players, not just because it practically requires knowledge of genre conventions, but because the way The Gostak obfuscates its output is pushing directly against an old-school drive: the player's desire to construct a mental model of the game world. For old-school games, this often also means drawing an actual map on paper. Here, there are only a handful of rooms, but you have to start taking notes and make your own little dictionary before you can start connecting any of them, let alone visualize what's supposed to be in them. Understanding the language is the main puzzle of the game, and it's a great one. As you build your vocabulary and your understanding of objects and the relationships between them, descriptions that were impenetrable nonsense at first glance become more and more sensible until you're reading fairly naturally and typing back commands that would seem like crazy talk to anyone looking over your shoulder. It's extremely satisfying.

Of course, you have to constantly remind yourself that your model is only a model. The world of The Gostak is an alien one, and although there are many terms that seem to have close analogues in our reality or other games, there's never enough information to really know what anything is like. To some extent this is true of all text games, with many details left up to the player to fill in mentally, but in The Gostak you're painting with broad strokes. Abstract splatters, really. And no matter how vague and fuzzy you try to keep the picture in your head, you'll almost certainly over-imagine things and make assumptions about concepts that lead you astray. A particular term can turn out to be dual-purpose in a way you wouldn't expect, or a physical action may be only superficially similar to whatever you were thinking of as its equivalent. In a longer or crueler game, this tension would be infuriating. Here, the push and pull is a dual pleasure.

I do have gripes about two puzzles. One relies on a word that I felt was too obscure (it was barely present in any of the output, as far as I could tell), and another has a solution that doesn't match well with the information provided (there are sufficient clues to reach the solution through experimentation, but it was not clear to me why that particular action was necessary or why it would be that effective). I regret being so late to the party for this game--it would be interesting to play this one at the same time as someone else and see which details stuck out to them, and to have them describe the particular way they imagined this weird world in their head.

More a metagame than a game, March 14, 2012
by Jeff Zeitlin (Greater New York Area)
The game itself isn't much, in the sense of having an extensive world, but I found this not to be a detraction. For me, the attraction was in the solving of the language puzzle, and led to quite a bit of reflection on my own thought processes and on language acquisition through immersion. (Spoiler - click to show)I can't recommend this for someone who is not familiar with the 'Zorkian' response conventions; I don't believe someone lacking that familiarity will be able to get a reasonable foothold into the game. For someone with that grounding though, I strongly recommend it.

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
One of the finest decoding puzzles I've ever encountered, February 20, 2008
by Michael Martin (Mountain View, California)
The goal of this game is straightforward; as the gostak, you distim the doshes. Alas, the lutt to the doshery is crenned with glauds! But surely a snave gostak such as yourself can discren them.

And, I note, the entire game is like this, including very and deeply extensive meta information. At no point is the central linguistic conceit dropped. I'm a sucker for this, and indeed this is one of my favorite games as a result, but more importantly, the game is approachable in a way that most IF with a metatextual conceit is not. That said, some basic familiarity with the standard Inform library will greatly enhance one's experience with the game, as many (to me) critical clues for solving the game's language came from default responses.

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
A story that could not be told any other way., November 7, 2007
by Kake (London, England)
Related reviews: Carl Muckenhoupt, *****
It's a game; it's a puzzle; it's a very, very good depiction of an alien universe from the perspective of one of its inhabitants.

The reference is to the sentence "The gostak distims the doshes", which is used to illustrate how syntax can convey meaning we don't know what a gostak is, nor what distimming is, nor what doshes are, but we do know that distimming is something a gostak does to doshes, and we know that doshes can be distimmed by a gostak. As you play the game, you uncover meaning-in-this-sense, and you learn how things are related to each other; but there is no perfect one-to-one mapping of the gostak's language to English, and I have a strong feeling that the gostak's universe is very different from ours.

I "completed" the game a few days ago, but there's still a lot to discover and speculate on, so I'm still playing it.

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
My Favorite IF, October 19, 2007
by Personman (Providence, RI & Sebastopol, CA)
I am not your average player of IF, it's true. The fact that this game is my favorite IF ever does not mean that it is exceptional in the ways you would expect an IF to be exceptional. The puzzles are solid, but not amazing, the plot is fun but trivial, the interface is not buggy or anything, but it doesn't do anything exciting. But the concept is so utterly wonderful that (english) words do not describe it. You'll simply have to play it.


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