There is a semblance of constructive argument, but that goal is not entirely reached. For some reason, the "game" doesn't seem excessively sardonic to me. I've tread this ground before, as a child and teenager, fearing eternal damnation, unable to believe that I was really on my way to heaven because I said a prayer to receive Jesus Christ as my Savior. The scenes constructed to challenge Christian belief on soteriology seemed only slightly challenging to me, and I wish they could have been more useful.
The disclaimer on the bottom of the main page says that the work is "singularly and only a microgame response to the literal interpretation of the Bible...." A critique of what constitutes a "literal" interpretation of the Bible, and of the ramifications of different kinds of "literal" interpretations, is something I could understand and applaud whether or not I ended up agreeing with it. Unfortunately, that is not what this game really attempts to do. It is yet another anti-Christian apologetic piece, using the well-known tactic of shoving the horrors depicted in the Bible in the faces of the Christian community. Since there is no single "Christian community" except in the deepest spiritual sense that is meaningless to unbelievers, "Deathbox" tries to generalize, mentioning Catholic tradition and Calvinist theology in different branches.
A secondary theme is a cynical condemnation of any notion of a "grand design." The Twine layout has five different threads representing different people that the player can "become" (in the shallowest way possible -- you only ever get to pick between a couple mutually-exclusive pages, which is probably part of the theme). So, the player sees through the eyes of all these lives, woven into God's grand design, a design that incorporates them only as meaningless vapor and seals their destiny in eternal torment. The game is more ambitious than its disclaimer indicates. Many people of diverse religious and spiritual leanings have believed in some kind of benevolent destiny.
So, literal belief in the Bible is immediately associated with belief in eternal damnation for all non-Christians, which in turn is associated with nihilism. Maybe those aren't unfounded associations. That would be an entirely separate discussion, one that "Deathbox" is too lazy to engage in. It also can't resist the indulgence of using racial, ethnic, and political stereotypes.
Since it quotes the Bible a few times, an examination of whether or not the Bible really leads to the inevitable conclusions that this game assumes is relevant. "Deathbox" quotes Saint Peter's defense to the Sanhedrin, in which he said that salvation was found in "no other name under heaven given among men" (Acts 4:12). Christian Evangelists even more frequently quote Jesus' exclusivity claim: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). In any case, Jesus also said "many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:11), and the apocalyptic prophecy depicts the host of the redeemed singing, "...for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation....and they shall reign on the earth" (Revelation 5:9-10).
One of my dirty secrets is that I think it highly probable that people from every identifiable group that has ever existed in human history will be redeemed. There have probably been tribes, languages, peoples, and nations that existed when John wrote Revelation that have since died out, without the Christian story reaching a single member of the population. I don't know how salvation could have come to them without their hearing of the Gospel.... but I don't know how salvation can come to me, either. I reject the notion that I can earn it by the work praying for it, and many Christians rightly condemn the un-Biblical notion that the facts that you believe in your head determine your eternal state. If that were true, I would be saved one moment and then damned the next, as my doubt and belief inevitably trade places throughout the day. (James wrote, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe, and shudder!" [James 2:19]) Christian doctrine is that we can be saved through faith, and not for it (Ephesians 2:8), and faith clearly has little to do with the facts that someone mentally assents to. I do believe in hell though; I believe we create hell for ourselves by rebelling against the nature of the truth that God has ordained, and that heaven would be a worse hell than hell itself for those who don't want it.
Although partly intended as a coding exercise, this game revolves around a central mechanic and a central puzzle that are very natural to the parser-IF format. As such, the game is short, fairly easy (and has a hint system), and fun.
Gameplay is about making an NPC do things for you. This is something that has always been part of the parser-IF design philosophy but rarely sees the light of day in published works, probably because it is difficult to program. The simple "PERSON, DO WHATEVER" structure is built-in to most of the IF systems, but that structure is almost an anachronism in many games.
"Escape from Ice Station Hippo" makes this too-neglected mechanic natural and intuitive. You can give the NPC a general goal, and the NPC will revert to its previous goal after following the order. Like many games, "Escape from Ice Station Hippo" sort of cheats with the NPC interaction as a whole by making the NPC something that wouldn't do much besides what it needs to do for the limited purposes of the story and design. There were some actions that I thought the NPC should reasonably respond to given the setting, but the verbs I tried were unimplemented. Still, the experience of interacting with that NPC is almost completely seamless.
The player character is interesting and relatable. The story is about professional people acting very unprofessionally in a bad environment. The setting of a professional crew working in an isolated scientific setting made me think of Start Trek, but really the story is almost an anti-Star Trek in theme. The technology turns out to be old and crappy. Instead of strange new worlds, there's a cold barren wasteland. Instead of getting along and using their specialities to solve complicated problems, the crew members can barely tolerate each other.
The ending text seems to carry a well-portrayed theme about delusions of grandeur. The fact that this code example presents interesting portrayals of characters (although largely off-stage) and setting, and that it can be seen as having theme, proves that it deserves to be taken seriously as an interactive fiction.
Every word of this tiny game evokes pre-historic mystery, painting a dark and grim vision of the mythic quest. The writing is terse but poetic, and above all, pointed. Alliterative phrases, vast imagery, and clever but easy-to-understand wordplay elevates the tone and style to that of the epic. The personification and wordplay remind me of For a Change by Dan Schmidt.
This is a dark epic, a gothic tragedy. The story is unclear. I wish I could report that I had figured out what really happens, but I failed to understand. The protagonist is searching for something that means everything to him. Given the atmosphere of the ancient epic, I would think the object of the Quest must be something of great metaphorical significance. Figuring out the plot is by far the most difficult part of the game. Except for one easy puzzle, the game consists of choosing from conversation menus and advancing through stages by repeating the same action. The parallelism of these stages gives the game a sort of poetic construction that works well with the writing style.
The TADS 2 gamefile is named "darksong.gam"; this caused some confusion for me when I was looking for this game after downloading the SpeedIF zip archive. (I want to note that the conversation system doesn't display correctly in Gargoyle.)
I realized that something like "Darksong" or "The Dark Song" could have made a good enough title for this game. Instead, it is named after a figure that appears more or less as a background object, a character that has no bearing on the plot and no effect on the game simulation. The Yellow Dog could have been omitted with no objective loss. But this game is driven by atmosphere more than anything else, and the mystery conjured by the figure of the Yellow Dog, and the importance that is attributed to it by its place in the title, makes the epic style deeper and more real. Even the setting ultimately doesn't need to be taken all that seriously; the setting is just real enough to preserve the mood. There is some attempt to cast the player character as a real person from a real mythological world, but there is also the anachronism of mentioning a "cigarette." I felt that the ending text was a little weak and anti-climatic, but it may have been more effective for me had I figured out what the story was all about.
As a SpeedIF entry, this game is under-implemented. There would have been a lot of room for more messages to reinforce the tone. Only the actions and objects that are absolutely necessary are implemented. However, the implementation is strong enough for the sparseness of the game world. Although I'm confused about the plot, and I'm not even sure if the game is entirely successful in producing a sense of horror (if that was its goal), the haunting sense of mythic grimness that flows from every delightful phrase is very satisfying. I don't think I've seen any other IF work accomplish so much with so little.
The immediately remarkable thing about First Times is its use of sound, synchronized cleverly with parser input. The effect may border on cheesiness occasionally, but the grimness of the horrific element and the detail with which the game is implemented prevent it from feeling half-baked in any way.
The implementation is fully up to the standards of typical parser-based interactive fiction. Almost everything is described thoroughly, and every door (of the many mentioned in the game map) is implemented and described separately. The standard quest GUI system does not spoil the puzzles, and the GUI seems to be well attuned with world model. At times, clicking seemed more efficient for me than typing, while other commands seemed much more natural and intuitive using the command prompt. The result was that I alternated, going for long stretches with one or the other before switching when I needed to input a command that was more efficient with the other method. The biggest flaw in implementation is that non-standard but relevant verbs do not seem to be implemented (at least not consistently).
The horror element is a combination of gory slasher stuff with paranormal terror. The game is disturbing at times, but the tone of prose, specifically of the protagonist's responses, is such that I have faith that the author has an artistic purpose beyond glorifying blood and guts. The setting feels like a particularly grim Twilight Zone episode, with plenty of dark paranormal phenomena lurking behind the closed doors that you haven't been able to open yet.
Unfortunately, I may never get to discover the point of all the madness, because I didn't finish the game. I solved many puzzles, and enjoyed the pacing. The game is very traditional in its design. Many of the puzzles were decently clued. However, I eventually got stuck, and after giving it a rest, found that I had no idea where to start in order to get back to the puzzles. There are no hints and no scoring system, making it is difficult to tell how you are progressing.
First Times is well designed and evocative. I wish I could have given it a higher rating, but being stuck with no way to go forward makes an objective analysis of the theme and story impossible and also is a negative mark in the whole experience.
The purpose of this game is to demonstrate how a teleportation system can be implemented in Hugo, a coding topic that has been discussed for years on a thread on the Hugo discussion board. Yet, Teleporter Test does still fully deserve to be called a game in its own right, and not only a programming exercise.
As a game, Teleporter Test presents a moderately challenging puzzle. A large part of the solution involves wandering around a (literally) nondescript grid, which I found to be neither very interesting nor very tedious. There are two more varied regions accessible from the grid; the separation of these two areas is part of the puzzle. The grid serves a similar function to mazes in classic IF, except that this grid is not random and does not require much of a method to solve. Finding the two other regions did produce a slight sense of explorative adventure. Interestingly, there is also an outdoor area with an infinite (self-looping) exit, much like the classic Adventure opening.
Unfortunately, the Adventure-like outdoor area is not where the game begins. In service of the experiment, Teleporter Test starts in a deliberately incongruous demonstration area where three room showcase the capabilities of the teleportation system. These room have nothing to do with the puzzle in the main area in the game, but they can be used to teleport into any of the rooms of the grid and surrounding areas. Doing so seems more like a feature than like cheating, since a mechanism is in in place that kills the player for teleporting into the one room where premature entry could break the puzzle. Studying the teleportation system provides insight into the puzzle, making the two incongruous elements of game vs. experiment seem at least a little unified.
Although Teleporter Test does deserve to be called a game, it is not a story. There is no story at all, not even an implied one behind the setting. The main "game" portion has some atmosphere, but no real development or world-building. Even the mechanic of teleportation, so important to the whole work, has no explanation in terms of the setting, so that the game really can't justify calling itself science fiction.
Still, Teleporter Test is short and basically satisfying. I believe that players who enjoy classic puzzle-based text adventures and dungeon crawls could enjoy this project as a game, apart from its purpose as an experiment and demonstration.