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.

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Zeppelin Adventure (Robin Johnson, Spring Thing 2018)

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Robin Johnson’s Versificator engine is designed to give the player access to a parser IF-like world model but a choice-based interface, free of verb-guessing. The two previous games in this space, Draculaland and Detectiveland, feature navigation and inventory puzzles that feel quite text adventure-like, but in a more accessible format.

At any given time, the player has quite a few choices available — usually one or several movements between rooms, as well as ways of examining or interacting with environmental objects, and then some things that you can do with your inventory items. But these aren’t listed all in one place; instead, choices associated with something in your inventory become visible only when you’re carrying that inventory item. So there are partially hidden options, and you do generally have to draw some connections yourself before being able to execute a puzzle solution.

zepellincover.jpgFeatured in Spring Thing 2018Zeppelin Adventure continues that tradition, set this time in a wacky-explorer universe where people are plotting out Mars from their giant balloons. Yours, however, suffers an accident and crash-lands on a planet dominated by robots, and you have to go on a quest to find repair parts for your engine.

As the cover art suggests, this is a pulpy kind of story that leans into certain genre conventions both present and historical.

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Venience World (Daniel Spitz, Spring Thing 2018)

Venience World from Spring Thing 2018 offers another possible revision on the parser. Every turn, you have a command line, but listed below it are suggested autocompletions, one word at a time. You can select an autocompletion with up/down arrows, or you can click on one, or you can type out the contents. After you’ve picked the first word, you get options for the next word or phrase, and so on until you’ve completed a line of input.

Below, for instance, we’re offered the opportunity to start with “look” or “open”:

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These parser training-wheels mean that the game can allow the player fairly unusual commands, like BEGIN INTERPRETATION, with no fear of verb-guessing. In this regard, it builds on the author’s previous work Niney, also using unusual parser commands.

Venience World prevents you from reentering a previous command verbatim even if it seems like that command ought to be currently available, and that has results that can feel straight-up buggy. (At one point I repeatedly tried to type LOOK and it would just not register the K keystroke at all, in a weird and disorienting way. I tried several times before I realized that I wasn’t allowed to enter the word LOOK right then, but this feels like the least intuitive way to communicate that to the player.)

There are a handful of previous pieces that have played with similar methods.

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Thaumistry (Bob Bates)

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I recently wrote about Bob Bates’ commercial parser IF game Thaumistry for PC Gamer. Bob was kind enough to speak with me about the project for context.

A couple of other observations came up in that conversation with Bob that couldn’t go into the PC Gamer article because they involved spoilers or too much detail about parser IF implementation, but I thought I’d discuss them briefly here.

I’ll do the spoilery bits last, with additional warning, for those who might not have played the game but intend to do so in the future.

Other references.

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Mailbag: The Unique Selling Points of Parser IF

@mattlaschneider writes: I’d love to see a series of posts geared towards people who are interested in learning to write parser IF in a post-Twine era… I could be totally off base, but I do think that parser IF has a lot to offer people who would normally otherwise be attracted to Twine.

We then had a long Twitter-thread argument about whether it was even appropriate to try to recruit people to writing parser IF, especially because I think many people who come to IF because of Twine have motives or needs for which parser IF is a terrible fit.

So let’s start with the reasons not to write parser IF, and we can come back to the question of how to write it if somehow none of my persuasions work on you.

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Short, Friendly Parser Puzzle Games

From time to time I post lists of games that do particular things. This time the criteria are: the game is a relatively short, not overwhelmingly difficult parser piece, which should be playable in a couple of hours (and often less); it has definite puzzles, a game-like arc, and a win state; and it’s old enough, new enough, or under-discussed enough that you might not have already heard of it.

I almost put Oppositely Opal in here, as that is just the kind of game I’m talking about, but its healthy batch of XYZZY nominations mean you probably know about it already.

RaRLargeReference and Representation: An Approach to First-Order Semantics. This is a fairly new Ryan Veeder game, and it reveals its Veederishness first by using a title that fakes you out into thinking you are about to download someone’s thesis. It is, in fact, an entertaining short puzzle game about being an early human, someone who doesn’t yet understand the concepts of language and symbol. It is not just a game with a protagonist who knows less than the player; it is actually exploring how we understand what see when we see it, and models the transformation of the protagonist’s understanding. If you like the idea of cave man communication as game, you might also want to check out The Edifice.

seeksorrowStarry Seeksorrow (Caleb Wilson). From last year’s ShuffleComp. The protagonist is a magical doll that comes to life when necessary to protect the main character: this is gentle fantasy with a few hints of something darker behind the scenes.

Ka (Dan Efran). An escape game themed around the Egyptian afterlife, in which you have to perform rituals in order to make progress as a soul. It’s solemn and dreamy, and sometimes a bit reminiscent of Zarf’s work: a landscape full of partially metaphorical objects, an absence of other people or the pressure of time.

fragileshells.pngFragile Shells (Stephen Granade). Escape from a damaged orbiting space station. Granade is a physicist who has worked extensively with NASA and on communicating scientific concepts to a general audience; Fragile Shells presents a realistic, near-future setting, in contrast with a lot of space games. Speaking of which:

Piracy 2.0 (Sean Huxter). Your spaceship is attacked by pirates; can you get out and save yourself? This one is particularly rich in alternate solutions and story outcomes, and is longer than most of the others on this page, while still being roughly the length for IF Comp. I really enjoyed it at the time, but it hasn’t been discussed as much afterwards as I might have expected, especially given the rich array of possible outcomes the story provides.

Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life (Truthcraze). As the name implies, this is an Indiana Jones-style adventure with a couple of unexpected puzzles. The comp version had a few tricky moments, but I generally enjoyed it.

beetmongerIf you like the archaeology angle but don’t want to spend the whole game on that, The Beetmonger’s Journal (Scott Starkey) has an archaeological frame story and some fun experimentation with narrative and viewpoint.

Sparkle (Juhana Leinonen) offers mystical, transformative magic puzzles, from the original ShuffleComp. The internal logic of those puzzles is a bit silly, but the game clues them well enough to make it all work.

 

Looking for something longer? Here’s a list of substantial, high-quality, but underplayed large parser games.