Various Projects

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Microdot Reimagined is a parser IF game for sale from Potassium Frog. The starting premise is that your brain has been colonized (sort of) by a professor from the recently destroyed alternate-universe land of Microdot. He needs you to help him reimagine the place in order to bring it back into being, which means exploring a lot of spaces and solving some puzzles.

Stylistically, this is IF of the old school. Microdot Reimagined is executed in Inform 7 and playable with Glulx, and it’s got some nice tweaks, such as stylesheet improvements and cover art. In respect of gameplay, though, it retains the aesthetics of 90s or even 80s IF. There’s a short bit of narrative introduction, but the story such as it is does not seem overly pressing during at least the first part of the game. The map starts with lots and lots (and lots) of rooms accessible at the outset, and a variety of objects to collect from different rooms. I’ve played enough IF that I’m usually able to hold a layout of several dozen rooms in my head, especially if those rooms are introduced (as they usually are in modern IF) in clusters rather than all at once. So I almost never make maps any more. Microdot Reimagined, though, was big enough and thematically varied enough that as I wandered around all its opening space, I soon began to regret not taking notes.

The jokes are wacky-satirical — sort of Douglas Adams lite. Here’s a sample, which will probably give you a pretty good idea of whether the sense of humor matches yours:

>x magazine
It’s Celebrity ROFL Magazine! This is just so amazing. I cannot understand why anyone would not want to feature in this fabulous celebrity catalogue of doom. Let’s take a look at the epic stories in this week’s issue:

Lard-packing with the Basingstoke Twins – “Celebrity Twins Elsie and Vera Basingstoke go on a Lard-packing expedition to sun-drenched Spudthorpe!”

Sir Abacus Timmy’s society wedding – “Kneepad Magnate Sir Abacus Timmy weds his Social Media Advisor, Jennifer Twitterbook-Davies!”

Plus there’s a sixteen page photo spread on the Monks of Ecstatic Gloom and their new swimming pool. This is so awesome!

I confess I got stuck after about 60-80 minutes of play, which is one reason this isn’t a full-scale review; but as far as I saw, the puzzles were mostly of a get-X, use-X style, except that the items in question were widely spread all over the map, so this was still nontrivial.

Enrico Colombini — one of the early greats of Italian text adventures — has released a short book about how to create an ebook with puzzles, given that the ebook’s only state is the page number and puzzles often require tracking some variable state.

This is a very specific purpose, but the explanations are clear and detailed, and may be relevant to anyone who is planning such a project. Another approach, of course, might be to use inklewriter’s Kindle conversion software, but that’s only useful if you are using exactly the right platforms; Colombini’s advice applies more broadly. It is published in both English and Italian, and comes with a short sample of a puzzle — a wolf/goat/cabbage cross the river puzzle — executed in ebook form.

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Strip ‘Em All is an interactive comic strip puzzle, in which the player can reorder frames of the strip and sometimes alter the content of specific frames. Any change you make in one puzzle frame can have ramifications for the rest of the strip, as well. The puzzles ramp up in difficulty very quickly, and I found some of the later ones very difficult indeed. In several cases it’s not really obvious what order two panels need to follow because the dialogue really makes sense either way; in some, a complex series of panel changes and strip rearrangement is required.

This may sound reminiscent of Dan Benmergui’s Storyteller, but in practice it’s quite different: the text of speech bubbles is written out in advance, and the storylines are much more specific. Where Storyteller is backed by a generalized engine for working out the possible meanings of juxtaposed symbols, Strip ‘Em All is really about hand-rolled puzzles with one right answer.

That said, one of the interesting aspects of this puzzle is that it’s about exploring the interior space of the characters and the way they think as much as it’s about plot events and actions. Often one can hover over characters’ heads in order to see additional thought bubbles, which may be functionally hints about what is really going on. Sometimes a character changes states of consciousness, and all the panels change too as a result. So while I think it could have been better hinted, I found this fairly interesting.

One word of warning: the page includes quite a few ads.

Finally, a couple of interesting things to read: Jon Ingold gives a good interview in Haywire magazine on text gaming and in particular Sorcery!, and Liza Daly recommends some of her favorite interactive fiction from the last year.

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