Comments on “Lost Pig” from IF Comp 2007 follow the cut.
I beta-tested “Lost Pig”, so I’m obviously a bit biased. I think it’s a very charming game. There is humor, there is a rather sweet story, and there are puzzles of a kind I especially like: they require you to understand an alternative physics, then apply what you’ve learned. I highly recommend it, if you’re inclined to take my word for it. But what follows the cut this time is more of an essay than a review.
The author of “Lost Pig”, “Admiral Jota”, has been one of my favorite beta-testers for many years. He did a lot of heavy lifting on Savoir-Faire, starting back when it was in an alpha state and prone to crash frequently from recursion problems. (You try having magic, distance-seeing mirrors that can place one another in scope.) He’s patient, thorough, and detail-oriented. He’s the kind of guy who will try every compass direction in every room, whether it’s supposed to lead anywhere or not, just to make sure that there’s nothing funny going on with the exits. If you introduce a new tool or a new verb, he will promptly find the two objects in the game where the standard implementation will go wrong. He’ll JUMP in rooms that don’t have floors and SING in echo chambers. He is not impeded by his knowledge of standard IF vocabulary. If, at some point, you mention that the PC is having trouble breathing, he’ll likely try >INHALE as his next move. If your room description includes an anecdote about how someone used the room in the past, he’ll try an impromptu reenactment. Reading one of his testing transcripts can get a little punishing sometimes — it’s absurd how much he expects of an author — but it’s also hugely rewarding. If there are funny tidbits in your game that you thought no one was ever going to find, he’ll find them. His play-style is a constant reminder that IF can be a conversation between author and player. And, however put-upon you may feel at 2 in the morning when you’re reading his latest comments, going along and implementing the new stuff almost always improves the game. I have other testers who give me more feedback about theme, writing, characterization; what Admiral Jota is great at is polish.
We’ve also played a few RPGs together over the years, and he’s great at using character traits — his and other people’s — as the basis for improv comedy. He gets some good jokes in, but he’s also not at all bad at being the straight man, at giving you an opening to show off whatever weird quirks you wrote onto your character sheet. Having him in a party adds substantially to the social entertainment value, the banter and goofing around that a GM can’t control or plan for but which makes a world of difference to how everyone feels about a campaign.
I mention all this not as some kind of premature eulogy (actually I fear he’ll find it a bit embarrassing), but because the same attention to every little detail and the same taste for character-trait-based improv provide the strengths of “Lost Pig”.
I’ve lately rambled a few times about how neat it is when an IF game gives the player an opportunity to get into the head of the player character and then play the role through gestures and actions. We talk semi-frequently in the IF community about how a viewpoint character is defined by what he won’t do — the bridges he won’t jump from, the archbishops he refuses to insult, the physical and social constraints at work — but we less often worry about adding new non-critical behavior for the player character. But a lot of fun can come from trying something in a game, not because it’s something that solves a puzzle or because it’s something you would do, but because it’s something that the character would do — and then finding that the author was there before you. It confirms your sense of who the character is, promotes empathy and immersion, grounds you in the game.
Grunk is a great (if silly) embodiment of that principle. Baf has talked about how he was led to try orc-appropriate behavior throughout the game (in this case, eating Grunk’s pants). I spent a lot of time chasing the pig around, not because I thought it would solve anything, but because Grunk was the kind of guy who would stupidly chase the pig to no avail, and because the game kept giving me amusing feedback when I did. Jota sets up all sorts of funny things for the player to do, and then meticulously implements all the results. And, oddly, though the humor is built around Grunk being big, green, and dumber than rocks, the characterization that eventually emerges is subtler than that: he’s also a little wistful about the things he doesn’t understand, basically well-disposed towards his fellow beings, persistent at a task. I feel like I know Grunk better than 95% of the IF protagonists I’ve played.
We could use more of this, both in comedy and in serious IF.