IF Comp 2011: Playing Games

Playing Games is a very short, story-light puzzler focusing on spatial memory and reasoning. More details follow the jump.

The lead-in text to Playing Games talks about the protagonist’s involvement in a gaming club. That sounded promising: I immediately envisioned a scenario where you might have to gamble or use the medium of the card game to manipulate and communicate with NPCs. Which sounded pretty cool. It reminded me of Textfire Golf and a particular puzzle in Adventurer’s Consumer Guide. Maybe there would be a Masquerade-like story about rescuing your property from unscrupulous gamblers.

But that’s not what the game is about. It’s actually about being tested by some mysterious characters who make you solve a bunch of ASCII-art mazes in order to prove your worth. And I came away not really sure what the point was.

For one thing, the “you are being tested” premise is about the weakest possible fiction for a puzzle game — I love Portal, but Valve only pulls the idea off because its story goes well beyond that territory. We’ve had a bunch of you-are-being-tested stories in IF (The Recruit, Erudition Chamber, some others to a lesser degree). Often they’re low-stakes engagements for the protagonist and feel highly artificial; when they’re not, it’s usually because the author has layered quite a bit of additional story around the nature of the test or the motives of the people involved.

As for the puzzles themselves, with one exception they’re about sliding a piece around a labyrinth when it’s not evident where the walls are. If you ever had one of those toys with a ball inside a clear plastic maze, this is the ASCII graphics version of that. I felt about this roughly the way I felt about Bender from Introcomp 2011: this is all very well, but why put an obviously graphical puzzle in a primarily textual medium?

There’s a SOLVE command that allows you to skip these puzzles, which is kind of the author and indicates some thoughtfulness towards people whose displays or screen-readers don’t handle the graphics well. But this seemed like a sensible element for a much plottier game; I’m not really sure what you’re supposed to get from Playing Games at all if you just SOLVE the three ASCII-art elements.

All in all, Playing Games is competently implemented and tested, but I don’t see why it should be interactive fiction per se. It might make more sense as a series of flash levels (probably more than the three implemented here).

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