Recent Parser Treats

At the most recent IF Meetup, I prefaced the discussion by talking about recently released parser games, and we played a bit of A Beauty Cold and Austere as a group. A couple of the games I mentioned then, I haven’t actually written up here. So in the spirit of June being (sort of) Parser Month:


Quickfire (Sean M. Shore) was a contestant in the New Year Minicomp this year. If the author’s name sounds familiar, it may be because he won the IF Comp in 2014 with his comedy-lovecraftian puzzle game Hunger Daemon, and came second place in Spring Thing 2011 with Bonehead, a parser game about baseball.

The premise this time is that you’re a contestant on Top Chef and have 20 minutes to prepare latkes — a timed puzzle where you do have a basic recipe, but it’s still possible to get the details and timing wrong. The scenario is straightforward enough that you can replay if things don’t go quite right the first time — it took me four passes to get the outcome I wanted out of the game.

And there’s a lot to appreciate about the implementation. The game notices a lot of possible details if you miss a step or swap out a suboptimal ingredient or don’t quite nail your cooking times. And I found myself engaging the cooking part of my brain (“hey, I could start heating this skillet up while I’m still mixing things to go in it”). One of the most persuasive cooking puzzles I’ve seen in parser IF.

crocodraculaCrocodracula: What Happened to Calvin (Ryan Veeder) is a kids’/middle-school level adventure with some light puzzles. You live in a small town near a creepy swamp where strange things exist, and you can go sleuthing around. In this respect, it’s a little reminiscent of some of Veeder’s other work, especially Robin & Orchid. But Crocodracula really wants to be played multiple times: there’s a lot of optional content (possibly more optional content than mandatory content), and you’re also invited to try the game as either of two viewpoint characters.

I think I might have actually preferred it if the game had put more elements on the critical path — I actually played this first some months ago, but the nagging feeling I was missing some things made me come back and replay a few times before attempting to review. I’m still not sure I got everything or even a majority of what the game has to offer.

That said, though, it’s charming and has a classically Veederesque light touch with the design, and I recommend it.

Also recommended recent or recent-ish work:

  • A Beauty Cold and Austere is a full-length, math-focused puzzle game
  • Illuminismo Iniziato is a medium (maybe 2-3) comic fantasy text adventure
  • The Wizard Sniffer is also light-hearted fantasy, and won the 2017 XYZZY award
  • Bob Bates’ commercial parser game Thaumistry came out last year
  • The classic Lovecraftian horror game Anchorhead saw a rerelease last year, with illustrations, as a commercial download
  • Victor Ojuel’s 1958: Dancing With Fear is more story-focused than some of the others here, and pulled in a Best Setting XYZZY as well as nominations in a number of other categories
  • Ryan Veeder also contributed a tie-in game to the MIT Mystery Hunt, Lurking Horror II: The Lurkening. (I have not yet played myself, but IFDB reviews seem to suggest it’s possible to play even if you’re not doing the mystery hunt yourself)
  • Venience World is a Spring Thing entry that was doing some decidedly non-standard experimentation with what a parser is for

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