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The Temple of Shorgil

by Arthur DiBianca profile

2018

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Number of Reviews: 3
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Masterclass in new-school puzzle design, July 12, 2019
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
This is a masterclass in new-school puzzle design. Old-school games had many puzzles, but they were all unrelated: solving one of them did not help you with the next one (except perhaps by providing you with new tools). Playing the game, you are not building up expertise. Did you get the items from the demijohn in Curses!? Nice! But it doesn’t teach you how to retrieve the attic key from the cellar.

New-school puzzle design, on the other hand, is all about teaching the player to think in certain ways, to consider certain possibilities. As you progress through the game, you become better and better at understanding how the puzzles in this game work and hence you become better and better at solving them. This allows the author to make the puzzles more difficult as time goes by, to compensate for the increased expertise of the player and keep the balance between frustration and achievement at exactly the right point.

Temple of Shorgil is, as I said, a masterclass in this kind of design. It does it perfectly. First of all, it restricts the players actions to movement, taking statuettes and putting down statuettes. Except for some information gathering, that is all you ever need to do. Every puzzle then revolves around taking and putting down statuettes. The first few are very simple, teaching us the basics; we are then slowly introduced to the idea that the plaques are useful; and before we know it, we are solving some quite complicated riddles with, if not ease, at least a modicum of skill. Very nice.

(Spoiler - click to show)The hardest puzzles are semi-optional, since they involve the ‘secret’ rooms that a player might never find – although the ending you get if you haven’t solved the secret puzzles isn’t too positive, so that might clue you in that there is more to discover. But even these are utterly fair.

If there is a price to pay for the razor sharp focus on efficient puzzle design, it may be that the game feels somewhat sparse and clinical. The completed legend and the story of our archaeological rivalry are both nice, and the sketches help to bring some life to the world. But the protagonist remains a blank and most of the game world is described in the most utilitarian terms. This is inevitable; anything else would have spoiled, at least to some extent, the masterclass. And yet it makes me feel that for all its faults, a game like Curses! had more charm.

That may be an unfair gripe; or maybe it is merely a statement about my personal tastes. Whatever may be the case, Temple of Shorgil is highly recommended.

Comments on this review

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Andrew Schultz, July 13, 2019 - Reply
For some people it's not necessarily a price to pay for the sharp design. Sometimes I don't need a huge story to distract me from getting through.

And I know that sometimes filling up on a story from one game makes it harder for me to get into the next--I can only focus on so much story per day!

So what you mention is personal taste, but it seems very fair. I speak as someone who prefers books without a whole pile of characters and family trees, someone who can't focus on, say, Game of Thrones. For people like me, Shorgil style puzzling works well. But I can pretty easily see how others need or want a bit more.
Victor Gijsbers, July 14, 2019 - Reply
To be fair, DiBianca was attempting something quite difficult: taking abstract puzzles and creating a fiction out of them. It's difficult to do that and end up with a narrative that is gripping.
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