Illuminismo Iniziato (Michael J. Coyne, Spring Thing 2018)

illuminismocoverIlluminismo Iniziato is a parser-based puzzle game in Spring Thing 2018, and a sequel to Risorgimento Represso (2003). The protagonist has come from our world, but been drawn into a universe of wizardry. You’ve got an overarching quest to solve, but getting through it requires breaking into various locations and getting access to various objects, as well as relying extensively on tyromancy, the art of scrying via cheese. Your protagonist bumbles around a bit, and while you’re able to do good things for some of the NPCs, you’re also responsible for assorted farcical mishaps.

The puzzles are fair and reasonably clued. I got stuck and had to ask for help once, and it was totally my own fault for not thinking enough about one of my existing inventory items. In general, nothing was too ferociously hard, and several of the puzzles are of the farce-puzzle sort where you will get them wrong in goofy ways before you get them right. I’d say overall it took me around three hours to play through.

The implementation is very solid. I ran into one tiny cosmetic bug once, and it was the kind of error (not having a custom response to looking at the floor in a particular room) that wouldn’t even arise in a game that was less ambitious about its world model. The NPCs have lots to say and a multitude of reactions to what you do, without overpowering the rest of the game. The world state feels complex, and your actions feel consequential, but until a timed sequence in the end-game, I never ran into a place where I’d gotten myself into a dead end by doing the wrong thing. This is quality parser-craft.

As far as setting and gameplay go, this is a loving re-visit of tropes as old as the velveteen rabbit. I played on a rainy weekend afternoon, and felt as though this was a relaxing activity that could have belonged to any point in my life from the age of about six onward.

Still… there are occasional moments of unreflective cruelty that I might not really have remarked in the late 90s but that chime more strangely to me now. At one point, you deliver a knockout drug to someone and rob him of all his possessions, and this is cast as unproblematic, both when you buy the drug and when you administer it. There’s another NPC that you have to repeatedly  discomfort in order to use one of the game’s most important recurring abilities. Meanwhile, you get praise for helping heal a wounded animal — but there’s nothing about how that moment of kindness contrasts with your generally opportunistic, Generic Adventurer approach to the world around you. From the game’s point of view, this is just not an issue. The person you pharmaceutically assault is an NPC, and an unhelpful one! Clearly it’s his lot in life to be drugged and robbed!

On the interface side, Illuminismo Iniziato is about as ambitious as possible given a toolset consisting of Glulx and an older generation of Inform, without Vorple or any kind of JavaScript or CSS-reliant skinning — which means it now looks quite retro, but the UI does give the player some really useful helps.

There’s a map that draws out as you discover locations in the game; there’s a newspaper front page that refreshes itself with new, horrified accounts of your disastrous influence on your environs; there are various tricks like reverse video in the output display:

Screen Shot 2018-04-28 at 1.51.37 PM

This represents quite a bit of effort, but I found myself wistful about what this could look like, given a skilled makeover into a more modern idiom.

The game also — unusually for parser IF — uses sound effects here and there for ambient background or to communicate the workings of a machine you’ve just triggered. I liked these effects, though some of the more elaborate communicated a whole sequence of events (something rickety tottering and slowly falling over) out of sync with my reading of the words describing those same events. This kind of thing is always tricky, and I think it would have worked better to commit to this either a bit less (using sound effects only for looping background sorts of noises like bird calls) or a bit more (checking that the user’s system was playing sound and, if so, actually delaying narrative until after the pratfall sound effect had completed). The latter approach would be more susceptible to breakage, obviously.

If you liked this game and would enjoy more school-of-Infocom text adventures with a light-hearted approach to magic, I’d also recommend

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