Aisle clones have been done before, of course. I did one I'm glad I did, but I'm not going to show it to anyone as an example of my brilliance. They help the programmer explore, and they're perfect for game jams like ShuffleComp. Especially if the author draws 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon.
In 50SL, you're in Tom's Diner (I got that reference!) with your lover, Sam. Soon to be your ex-lover. But what is the best way to leave?
The standard Inform commands fall quickly at first. Some two-word commands work, but all have a parallel one-word command. For instance, LOOK and X SAM do the same thing. Meta-commands work, too, in line with the "poke technically at stuff because this is a game jam" ethos. I had things fall in bunches as I realized what to do. One command forced me to hold down the space bar to see a few subsequent related commands.
This all was amusing until I realized that I had no way to track what I did. Also, the text was overwhelming after a bit. The jokes, for the most part, landed. And, also, I really enjoyed the reject responses if, say, you typed SCORE twice. They're much shorter and snappier. Brevity can be the soul of wit.
That said some of the verbs have to do with love or being dumped, and some are Zorkian in-jokes, and the final one may be a meta-command. I had to use a text dump to see the last few.
50SL does have a few rough edges, with one particular synonym missed as they hacked the parser. (Spoiler - click to show)Z is not a synonym for WAIT. But by and large, it hits the main commands. And I do enjoy the rejections for stuff I forgot I did. It's just that you'll probably leave the hard verbs for last, and that gets frustrating, to be so close. You don't really have any clues--perhaps alphabetical listing of what you got, with ?'s for what remains, would be useful. One word in particular ending in Y irked me, and there was another noun from Zork.
Nonetheless 50SL was memorable enough for me to poke at it years later. I was amused to see I'd already disassembled it during the ShuffleComp judging period, but there were still puzzles involved. I submitted a guide to CASA so you don't have to jump through all the hoops I did, and you can enjoy this game before it potentially exasperates you. In this case it's better to check the hints too soon than too late. It's a neat idea, and you might as well use resources to be able to walk away appreciating it the most you can.
ALL CAPS titles usually raise my blood pressure slightly. The writing contained under them often tries too hard. I know what I'm supposed to feel, but I feel forced to, and that ruins the effect. It's like someone using too many meaningful pauses or voice inflections. Even if I get it, I may just want to pretend I don't get it out of spite. Yes, yes, you're very avant-garde, that's very nice.
But I quickly forgave HRE. It doesn't force anything on you, although it does lay things out so you can't miss some very clever jokes. The flip side is that you are probably so involved you missed a few. There's no shortage of games that poke religious fanaticism as well as those who poke the sterility of a robotic approach to the world, and HRE somehow pokes both without seeming like yet another South Park episode that needs to make sure it's tried to annoy everyone. I'm amused to say that, here in a dystopia where robot popes now control the levers of religious power, the solution to missing anything is to do a good old-fashioned text dump.
So who are you, and what's your goal? Well, Morgan Santemore, instructor in robot decorum at the Mathedral of the Heavenly Code High School. Oh, and a deputy Robot Inquisitor. And with Pope Fortran in town, your goal is to kiss his ring. Everyone wants to, though.
And as the absurdity quickly hits you, the puns and incogruence come flying. Of course, there is winning the game, but if you're like me, you'll want to know the words to the DOSology and Ave Machina. You'll groan at entering the crypt ("you have been encrypted!") or wonder if the 9 in Saint Number 9 means anything, or if the fuse from a saint is more a votive candle or piece of their heart. The puzzles are silly in their own way, too--the final one requires placing a brain in the Robot Pope's guardian, after which they gratefully let you by.
The puzzles, thankfully, require no great robotic calculation. They really do feel classic, the first point coming from more or less following instructions to process a student's test. While some might object to the hygiene and ethics in some of the puzzles, that can be hand-waved away by saying "well, you're a Deputy Inquisitor. You get to do what you want!" You wind up exchanging a lot of dollars with a hermit for a lot of items that seem useless. They give a full refund for slightly-used stuff. This may not make perfect sense, but it's worth a try. Perhaps the implication is that humans can be suckered around.
Oh, there's a chronological list of robot popes, too. It's well worth reading, as many of them are named after languages. Their rule started in 1 ARA (after Robot ascendancy? The mystery is interesting--perhaps we humans are meant to feel silly we can't figure it out) and it's one of those small shaggy dog stories where you don't have to understand the languages to get most of the laughs.
Amusingly, in this well-implemented game, one item that isn't described is a fiction paperback--and the joke works well. There's also a discussion with your supervisor about their job, which ... well, turns into a disturbing inquisition. We've all had power struggles at the office, or stuff we need to say to the boss to make them feel great, but this, oh man. There are a lot of these conversations, which are to the point about what to do (after all, robots don't care about frippery, and anyway you should be smart enough to figure it out, right?) but they do leave me feeling quite hopeless for the main character. This is the neat stuff on the side, besides the puzzles and jokes you must see to get through the game. So you may walk away worried you missed a bit.
HRE does feel intimidatingly smart, and it's very well put together. Coming back to it after a few years, I remembered it as being much bigger than it was. It uses big words like Narthex, which intimidated me (but when Cragne Manor came around years later, I was PREPARED.) It may intimidate you with just how smart it is. It certainly blew me away with "you'll love this or hate this" vibes early on, but after reading the descriptions in the first two rooms, I knew which side I was on. It's really extremely clever, and perhaps my main gripe with it is that I couldn't think of all the thematic puns and such. They populate the game, and they're what you'll notice most, but there's also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and authoritarianism and idees fixes through the laughter. Sometimes that is the only way to approach such issues.
Oh, also, there are some Tom Swifties once you win, as a bonus.
Look Around the Corner has one gimmick, but it's an effective one, because it helps open up a bit more story. You get up from your bed, go into the hallway and ... well, you get overwhelmed by eternity. In several different ways. Whether or not you look around the corner!
This creates an interesting set of perspectives and feeling of being overwhelmed. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but it sort of captured the general feeling of waking up when you weren't really ready.
Hidden in these ways you are hit with eternity is the solution. If you are a smart-aleck kitchen-sink tester, you may stumble on the solution without realizing how or why you were supposed to. Indeed, back during ShuffleComp, I did so (I think I was in tester mode from testing other entries,) and then I figured how I was supposed to be reasoning, and the contrast was pleasing. When I replayed just now, years later, I was not in tester mode. I'm glad I didn't remember the solution, or the reasoning behind it, and I got to work it out again.
It would be neat to be able to chain a bunch of very small, focused efforts like this into a row of puzzles. I'd guess something like this would be a good break if you are stuck on a bigger game and need a legitimate reason to feel clever again. We all need the perspective this brings.
Oh, and contemplating eternity is good, too, in moderation.
This feels like it might be a mood piece at first. You wade through a few rooms of dead household appliances, repeating a story about a heist you performed with a friend. Eventually this story trails off, and your inner monologue stops. There's nothing to do but find the treasure.
You have a shovel and a napkin, and on that napkin is written a clue where you should dig. There are a few approaches to finding the right place to dig. One I tried that failed was to (Spoiler - click to show)turn the flashlight off and look again, which didn't work. Depending on how observant and/or lucky you are, it should turn up. There's no super-hidden item, but on the other hand, you can't just go spamming words you see in the description. DIGging in the wrong place just seems too much.
The household appliances are an interesting choice of scenery. They are useless now, a perfect place to hide a stash, yet at the same time appliances could be a great target for burglars. They're also a sort of crime against the environment, whether from individual homeowners, or from corporation or governments who don't put enough money and effort into the science of recycling. Or perhaps the appliances are a symbol of a stable home that non-criminals take for granted but criminals never can, especially the air conditioner in the final room to the south. One suspects the narrator would do anything, with all their money, to have air conditioner repair bills to pay. They also reminded me of game shows where I never understood people were so happy to win a new dishwasher.
Or, you know, it's just amusing descriptions of a forbidding surreal landscape as a sad story unfolds, even if the main actors are criminals.
DMP was the author's first full-length game (he had written two Speed-IFs before, one for Pax East 2010, where, if memory serves, the Infocom Implementors talked about their experiences in detail, figuring that was probably the best time to do so.) And I tested it, and while I usually don't review things I tested, this is different. First, nine years later, it has no reviews ... and second, I was looking forward to the author writing something new. They were longtime IFMud regulars, and like all regulars who just liked to play text adventures, they eventually considered stepping into writing one. Some went on to make it a habit.
I think IFMud must've had a testing exchange program, but however we got in contact, I enjoyed working slowly through more of the game. It's not a huge one, but there's enough in there that things can go wrong without testing, and they did. I bugged Royce a lot. I worried I bugged him too much. I worried I missed stuff. I hope I told him he wrote something well worth writing and playing. I certainly enjoyed it nine years later.
The title clues what DMP is about: namely, someone has died at a party. You've already done the whole dying thing. Maybe not at a party, but still, you're glad you got called in to be a junior Reaper. Hey, it beat sitting in a grave for all eternity! And this is your first solo trip. Nail it, and you may become a full reaper!
Now your character knows what to do to prepare, though you-the-player doesn't. This is handled by a checklist which mentions you have a gauntlet that makes most things easy. This is nice for the game but disturbing as to the actual ramifications--even low-level supernatural beings can change things at will if need be, and even if it doesn't change the world at large, there's a sense that death is extra inevitable.
Following instructions gets you most of what you need, but there's still the matter of the finicky scythe dispenser machine. It's not VERY hard to figure out, but it's enough of a puzzle. Then it's off to Mr. James Phillips's house. Poor chap just took a lightning bolt to the chest, and time's frozen there, but you can communicate with him. It seems like it should be in and out. Use your tools to put him in the spirit jar, and off you go! With everyone frozen in time as you do the honors, it seems there's not much to do.
But wait! James has two small last requests: put his ring and will out on the dresser, to make things easier for his wife. All spirits get the courtesy of last wishes to put certain small things in order. Of course, his wife could find that stuff eventually, but really, he had a pretty unexpected death. So it's the least you can do.
Neither puzzle is especially tricky, though one thing in the note makes amusing sense: you have a lock to open, but it repels your glove, and you may be able to guess why before you open it.
Replaying DMP, it felt very smooth. I enjoyed the jokes along the way, and when I got to the end, I noted in the AMUSING section there were other things I could have done with the glove. DMP was short enough I was glad to go back through and play it. I like it a lot, and I'd like to think it just missed the "commended" level for ShuffleComp, although the vote totals were anonymized. I don't know which it would have replaced. And yet looking back, the author's game writing career seems to have ended as suddenly as poor James Phillips's life. But who knows? He might be back. I hope so.
One other thing: I remember a Grim Fandango CD I bought and never played. From what I understand, this game wasn't just Pratchett-y, but it also owed a small creative debt to Grim Fandango. Somehow, I couldn't find that CD after playing. Maybe I will find it one day.
As LMWH starts off, you don't know what to do, and you don't know who or what you are. But this isn't an amnesia game, far from it. It's a tightly contained game where you, quite simply, have to help someone find their way. You are some sort of ethereal spirit, and you have the ability to give an electric charge to one item at a time. The goal, as stated in the story, is to bring someone home--figuratively or literally.
This person is the most beautiful person you've ever seen, with no direct description why. The story implies it strongly, and it's not hard to figure out, but of course it works better than if you'd been told directly.
Objectively, the person you guide seems a bit stupid as they bump around oddly, but it's not hard to care for them in the game, because of who you guess they might be, and what they need to do, and how powering certain things up makes them move around.
There are only a few things you need to power up or down, but that is enough for a satisfying story. Too much, and the person might seem clueless indeed.
The author seems particularly good at making these nice short stories that provide a quick burst, both as a player and as someone who'd like to make a few more good short games or scenes. Replaying this years after it came out for ShuffleComp, the combination of what I remembered and what I forgot felt about right.