IF Comp 2013: The Wizard’s Apprentice (Alex Freeman)

The Wizard’s Apprentice is a parser-based fantasy puzzle game. Discussion, with modest spoilers, follows the jump.

The premise is what it says on the tin: you’re the apprentice to a wizard, and to test you he’s chained you up in a dungeon, and you have to get out and accomplish several completely arbitrary tasks. The setting is vanilla fantasy: the dungeon is stone, with chains, because that is how all dungeons are. The wizard’s name is Gwydion, because that is the sort of name all wizards have. The witch is an old woman with a lot of warts because that is how witches roll in these stories. As for paprika, Wikipedia says the word doesn’t appear in English until 1896, but the presence of a post-Columbus Hungarian spice in a faux-medieval pseudo-Welsh setting isn’t notable because the rest of the story is Fantasy Anachronistic too.

There are times when the descriptions are so trope-driven that they don’t completely make sense.

The forest is dense and does not to let much light in. Trees and grass lushly decorate the forest landscape. You can hear birds singing within the confines of the forest. You can see the open sky here.

Didn’t we just say that the forest was dense and excluded light? That seems like the opposite of open sky country to me. It feels, often, as though the author has glued together images or sentences found in other similar stories, without actually trying to describe anything he’s seen or imagined seeing.

There’s also a lake “several feet in diameter and several feet deep”, which sounds more like a footbath. Yet for some reason we have to solve a multi-step puzzle to get something from the bottom of this “lake”, when reaching in with our arm should probably have been sufficient.

Elsewhere, we’re told what to feel directly:

A sense of eerieness fills the atmosphere here.

…though the rest of the description just gives us a thatched hut with a cauldron in the middle of the room, which is probably uncomfortable, but not significantly more so than the dwellings of most non-wealthy people in the story’s nominal setting.

As for the puzzles, they’re a mix of odd guess-the-verb tasks (MAKE is a much more important verb in this game than IF convention would have you believe, and there aren’t a lot of hints towards it) and old chestnuts. I think I first encountered the key and door puzzle back in Zork II, and I’ve dutifully solved it again in several games since, and written my own joke-twist version of it in a puzzle game over a decade ago. There are also some fetch quests for NPCs, and some arbitrary magic tasks. Most of the really ambitious things your character does are narrated in page-long cut scenes. I tried for a while, but I wasn’t engaged enough to persist with the puzzles (especially given that some of them were a little obscure on cluing), so after 30 or 40 minutes, I wound up relying on the walkthrough to complete the story.

This game isn’t offensive, and I’ve certainly played games that were less comprehensible, coded worse, or featured less grammatical sentences. On the other hand, I’m not really sure what the author saw as the game’s selling point, either.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s