IntroComp 2014: Scroll Thief

IntroComp is a long-running interactive fiction competition in which authors submit the beginnings of games and invite feedback and information about whether players would like to see more.

If you would also like to vote, you have through August 15 to try the entries and rate them.

Scroll Thief is a puzzle game set in the Enchanter universe. This was fun! Which came as a surprise to me, since “Zork/Enchanter homage” is up there with “games about the zombie apocalypse” and “office-setting games where the main puzzle is getting some coffee” as categories that I regard with extreme prejudice. But Scroll Thief is better than the average entry for this kind of thing, relying less on nostalgia or goofy parody and more on actually designing cool puzzles of the kind that made me like Enchanter in the first place.

I imagine there are people who won’t care for the old-school style, or for the various ways in which (as far as I can tell, anyway) you can make the game unwinnable. But I enjoyed the style of puzzle design: scrolls! cute joke messages for using the spells on the wrong things! scrying orbs that let you see into other locations! things where you get an NPC to do stuff that you can’t do yourself! bits where you have to understand the map as a three dimensional space in order to understand where something is likely to be coming out! Meta-spells that modify the effects of other spells!

I love meta-spells so much.

Then… I think maybe I broke the game.









I summoned an Adventurer from another location and mind-controlled him to go set off a trap that would turn him into a newt. (Not very ethical of me, I agree, but I needed that trap disarmed.) Then I started getting every turn a message “*** Run-time problem P47 (at paragraph 3082 in the source text): Phrase applied to an
incompatible kind of value.” So at this point I wasn’t sure whether the thing is just cosmetically broken or whether I really wasn’t supposed to use the Adventurer to disarm the trap and I’m now going to be stuck because I did things out of order.

I rewound and tried again and wound up in a different weird place where I’m not sure whether I broke the game, this time because I think I made things unwinnable but I’m not actually certain. And I still only have *40 out of 200 points*, even though I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot here! (Does this intro really go all the way up to 200 points? If so, the finished game is going to be gigantic.)

I’m inclined to be sympathetic about this. This game has a lot going on, programming-wise. The kind of scope hackery required for the palantirs and the directions-following NPC are both advanced implementation challenges; and I haven’t even had occasion to try to use them, but the author has daringly put not one but two ropes into the game. There are some other odd things I ran into: some spacing bugs, some items being described when they’re not actually in scope (or it’s ambiguous HOW they’re in scope), NPC refusal messages coming out a bit messy. But considering the level of virtuosity required to code these kinds of behaviors, I’m not really surprised there are flaws.

So. This feels like it’s still a bit beta in its testing level, but also like it’s going to be something pretty ambitious when done, and that it’ll be a good classic puzzler of a kind one doesn’t get all that many of these days.

What would make me like it better: to be polished and finished, please.

2 thoughts on “IntroComp 2014: Scroll Thief”

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