Looking at a couple more Spring Thing games: this time, it’s Ted Strikes Back and Enlightened Master.
Ted Strikes Back is a sequel to Anssi Räisänen’s Ted Paladin and the Case of the Abandoned House, which I reviewed when it was in the 2011 IF Comp. The conceit is that the protagonist is aware of being the hero of a text adventure, and must struggle with the resulting constraints. In Ted Strikes Back, some of Ted’s verbs have been stolen from him, which leads to exchanges like so:
> open wardrobe
The verb ‘open’ is not in your vocabulary.
Flabbergasted, you stare at the error message above. You certainly do know the verb ‘open’. What has
The puzzles, in other words, are about how to deal with situations that could only arise in the context of a text adventure.
This is definitely a piece aimed at parser IF fans who’ve been around since the rec.arts.int-fiction days. It responds to XYZZY; it features an old-fashioned maze with a trick solution; it jokes about parser game surrealism in a way that’s likely to make the most sense if you played For a Change (Dan Schmidt, 1999), So Far (Andrew Plotkin, 1996), or some of the other lesser-known works that borrowed the same ideas. I also ran into easter egg references to Christminster (Gareth Rees, 1995) and The Meteor, The Stone, and A Long Glass of Sherbet (Graham Nelson, 1996), and I suspect there’s probably more of that kind of reference to be found.
For the most part, I found the piece solid and playable, with two minor issues. There was one puzzle where I don’t think I would ever have come to the solution without the walkthrough, because it required guessing the existence of an item that I just don’t tend to think about, and that most of the houses I’ve lived in didn’t actually have. This was kind of a +=3 trick, in my opinion, and the point of +=3 is that it’s not fair.
The other issue was with a puzzle scene where the game encourages you to try unusual vocabulary, but didn’t respond to several of the esoteric concepts I came up with.
If this is your kind of thing, see also: Janitor, The Recruit. (But if it’s your kind of thing, you’ve quite possibly been following parser IF for the last twenty years already, in which case you maybe already played those games when they debuted.)
All in all, this made me feel a bit wistful, because it feels like it invokes an experience that I don’t really share with very many people any more. (And there were never all that many of us to start with, to be fair.) There are good reasons for that: the IF community has changed a lot since the late 90s, and many of the changes are positive ones, bringing in a much wider variety of work and a wider variety of authors, not to mention more viable routes to commercial interactive fiction.
Enlightened Master tells the story of the player’s encounter with a life-philosophy-spouting pinball machine (which you reach in the first place by summiting a mountain). You play pinball, in this case, by indicating which elements of the board you want to try to hit, and then the system tells you whether you succeeded, and provides a little color commentary as well, like this:
Hit number 3 on communication carousel +20 points
“It’s pretty easy to feel calm oneness with the transfinite moment meditating in the forest, what about when you’re sleepless, rushing to stay on time, and someone is rude to you?”
As you play, you gradually get better at playing, and therefore more likely to make the shots you attempt. Meanwhile, some kinds of success change the board a bit, introducing new elements. TARGETS will show what’s currently on the board to shoot at. You can find out what your odds are on particular challenges by examining any individual elements.
There are a few things I might have tweaked to make the experience more playable. Examining each individual element is a bit of a grind, especially since those odds change as you get better at playing the game; I might have preferred a status view that consistently represented what my chances were, or (failing that) for odds to be shown as part of the TARGETS readout.
It’s definitely an oddity, and probably not to everyone’s taste, but it amused me for a while. I’m not sure that there’s a final ending; I think the text of the game suggests otherwise, in fact. So I did stop after a while.