I'm on a bit of a kick about solving games without hints, and I very much wanted to add this one to the list. I failed to, however, because I didn't quite get what was going on in the endgame. In particular, I didn't think of the needed action because I was too occupied with wondering whether or not the situation I found myself in was inevitable (as it turns out it was). This is a meta-issue about design forgiveness, etc., that I probably should have anticipated correctly.
This game is one of the most well-known exercises in IF defamiliarization. It uses synaesthesia and a type of blurring of other semantic categories to suggest the manipulation of alien technologies. Everything is a symbol, and the actions that you take are almost certainly large-scale allegorical constructions of many long-term actions. It reminded me somewhat of being in control of some type of simulation game whose rules you have to infer and whose internal operations are completely incomprehensible.
The author mentions Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun as an influence (along with Ben Marcus's The Age of Wire and String, which, unlike the Wolfe, I wouldn't have guessed), and there are particular resonances with the events described in The Urth of the New Sun, though I didn't pick up on any similar cosmogonic or theological concerns.
A brief problem, which I allude to in the title of this review and which might have been due to my failure to pay attention is (Spoiler - click to show)What about the spinster? I found nothing to do with it during the course of the game, and, after I looked at the hints, I noticed they said that its use would become apparent when the time came. How so? Was there something about it if I examined the model during the deluge? You can't see it afterwards, can you? Was it just a red herring?
Let me come to the point: I didn’t like this gnome, and I’m not sure you’re supposed to, either. What appears to be a creature of gruff benevolence and bemused patience is in fact a war-mongering technologist of death and destruction. I don’t think it’s too much to suggest that the gnome is in fact an imprisoned demon assuming another form, and you, the naive orc (with neutral tendencies?), innocently go around and undo the wards that bind him. Was it fate that brought the pig to this fell hole? Or abyssal evil?
So that’s the secret history (anecdota) of Lost Pig, which I see that few have detected. And that’s fine. It’s a lovely game otherwise. I really had hoped that I was going to be able to add it to the “solved without hints” pile, but I went ahead and cheated to find out how get the seventh point. This was weak of me, and I regret it even now. The Gadarene swine that has led you into temptation even talks with the gnome on occasion, which really gives the game away if you have any doubt about the aforementioned theory. But other than this ominous note, the pig is amusingly implemented. It took most of the time I spent playing to work out the exact mechanics of how to catch him, mostly because I was wondering about the possible use of a certain object, which, outside of any anagogic properties,* seems merely to have been put there for amusement.
And there’s no shortage of amusement. Lost Pig is possibly the most deeply implemented game I’ve ever played, especially in terms of witty responses to gratuitous actions. Though I haven’t read the livejournal where the author first introduced the character, I can imagine how fun it would be. The language, however, is worth thinking about a bit. Tolkien’s orcs have their own language, after all: “Orc-speech sounded at all times full of hate and anger” (Two Towers). I believe this is the convention in AD&D, as well. While full of hate and anger, there’s no indication that orcish is essentially a type of pidgin language, though that would be the case if Grunk was not speaking his native language in the story (or thinking it, either).
On an implementation note, I only noticed after playing that a “GO TO [person]” command was implemented, which I assume would work for the pig. One irritation was the difficulty I sometimes had in finding the pig, which would have been alleviated by knowing that command. (I suppose Grunk’s keen sense of smell could lead him to the pig without difficulty.) I’ve been trying to think about the best games to ask my wife, who's never played any IF as far as I know, to try. Lost Pig was one of my first choices, along with several of the well-known puzzleless games. For all its charm, however, I doubt that someone unfamiliar with the conventions of the games from the the underground caverns of yesteryear is going to piece together such bits as the (Spoiler - click to show)color magnets, for example. And there are well-written hints as well. So we’ll see how it goes.
*Think of a certain M. R. James story.
If you look up "ecdysis" in the OED, which I hope that most people would, you may notice the following illustrative quotation from Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature: "A skin of some dimension was cast [by ‘the human larva’] in the 16th century..a new ecdysis seems imminent."
Lovecraftian IF is an important genre. The Lurking Horror, which I played on an Amiga, was (I think) the first IF to introduce sound, but it was more of a whimsical game than a creepy one. (The chanting I seem to remember as rather disturbing, come to think of it.) Anchorhead is the perhaps most well-known contemporary IF in the genre, though I haven't yet played The King of Shreds and Patches. All of those games, If I remember correctly, involve gradual discovery of the unspeakable horrors. Research puzzles, in other words, which are pretty much the best puzzles ever, but which do not, in my estimation, lend themselves well to a sensation of terror. A pleasant sensation of being able to add a useful or piquant footnote to an ongoing treatise, sure. But not cosmic horror.
Ecdysis, however, reminds me a bit of Thomas Ligotti. The "twist," such as it is, barely warrants the name; but that does not diminish what I would call if I were attempting to be particularly pretentious the "holometabolic uncanny" of the work. I would like to solicit psychoanalytic interpretations from all the major schools. Another, passing criticism, is that the eusocial nature of the insect-becoming could have been more strongly emphasized.
I put a significant amount of effort into solving Enlightenment without hints, as I like the challenge and think that in general that's how IF should be tackled--by fanatically dedicated puzzle enthusiasts, who will stop at nothing for the glory of spoilerless conquest, etc.; but I'm now tempted to add this to my ever-increasing list of games that I'm not really prepared to believe that anyone has ever solved without consulting the hints. (It's not that I think that any game I can't solve without hints is automatically in that category. Far from it.)
What tripped me up and was most infuriating, upon learning the solution was:(Spoiler - click to show)getting the battery out of the sword. For whatever reason, the combination of not being able to drop the sword and what seemed to me to be an underclued reference to its battery compartment, etc., led me to think that it was much more likely than some subsequent turn-of-events would get rid of the sword for me than I would have to do it myself. I also think that getting a message about wasting water whenever you tried to pour it on something other than the lamp would lead someone to conclude that such an attempt would be equally futile, unless you were trying brute force combinations, which also seems to be only the way that anyone would ever guess that the amulet would fit into the tinderbox.
While I appreciated the humor of the "full score" command, I also think it would have been better design for that list to hint, at least obliquely, at the solution to some of the puzzles. I also didn't quite get what was going on with the stars after "grue"; the game makes some copyright acknowledgment to Activision in its opening text; and a lot of philosophy publishers would be paying royalties to them if "grue" were somehow IP-protected.
I wrote a review of this here: http://www.jgoodwin.net/?p=703, which has so much in the way of spoilers that I thought I would have to include most of the post in the spoilers tag to meet the guidelines.
In brief, I thought it the discrepancy between how much the player is likely to guess about the situation and how little the character figures out on his own was well handled and most interesting to me from a design standpoint, though the game is also thoroughly implemented.
I'm not given to the humor of the lower bodily stratum at all, and I especially dislike flatulence jokes. At the same time, however, while stuck in this game about halfway through, I amused myself quite a bit by wondering if the author had implemented: (Spoiler - click to show)TEETERWALLER, FART UNDER VENT or ASK TEETERWALLER TO FART INTO BALLOON.
Sorry. The actual solution came to me soon afterwards, but I tell this to illustrate what I think was something of a missed opportunity in this well-constructed game. Your companion is avidly interested in what you discover, to the point that he's willing to display significant personal courage; but, in my playthrough at least, he had comparatively little to say about anything that he saw happen. I read in some earlier reviews of the game that Teeterwaller would comment on or even give you hints about some of the machinery you discover, which would seem logical, but I noticed very little of this in my playing.
Other than that quibble, however, this was a satisfying game to solve without hints. I was stuck twice, but the solutions came to me after a bit of thinking. I never quite understood what was happening with Blottnya in this storyworld, but it's possible that I didn't pay enough attention to the expository text. (It's difficult sometimes to read closely the background material when you don't know if it has something to do with the obstacle-puzzles in an interactive fiction.) I also wondered, without trying, if certain other characters in the game would respond to the linguistic discoveries you made, but I didn't really try this out.
One of my favorite books on a related idea is Roadside Picnic, and I think the way that the concept of technology transfer is presented in that novel is much more convincing, but that would have been a very different (and much darker) game.
I had students in an introduction to literature class at Georgia Tech write a brief IF interpretation of some the things we had been reading in class, and I suppose what I had in mind as the ideal result would have been something with the same sense of humor and technical facility seen in Roberts’s Return to Ditch Day, though I did realize at the time that it was an unrealistic expectation. It was the engineering background combined with a certain wry humor that really appealed to me about that game, and you see these qualities, in a somewhat embryonic form, in Perdition’s Flames.
The premise of the game is that you are a recent arrival in Hell and have to figure out what seems to be a way to get to Heaven. It quickly becomes clear, however, that your presence there is not punitive. The afterlife is a large and random bureaucracy, and you are presented with the typical series of interlocking obstacles. I pride myself, wholly without warrant, on being able to solve puzzly games of this type without resorting to hints, and I made substantial progress in this one before turning to the walkthrough. (What eluded me turned out to be what I might blame on a failure of the parser, which is not as generous in its understanding of things as most contemporary efforts. While in a container, the command “search <container>” did not produce the same result as “search <object in container>,” which might not seem that objectionable but for the fact that the object in the container was at the time the only thing, absent myself in said container. I understand that this type of parsing issue tends to put most non-initiates completely off the playing of these game.)
The plot resolves itself into joining a club of like-minded folks, and the game also suggests that a character you encounter has created the very world that you inhabit. None of this is treated with anything other than light satire, of course, a type of humor less stark than that found in the similar Douglas Adams effort Bureaucracy.
At one point you’re required to solve a deduction exercise similar to those found on the former logic section of the GRE (and which I remember learning how to solve as part of my academically gifted class. Why exactly these type of logic puzzles are thought to have any cognitive benefit or psychometric validity remains one of the more puzzling questions of the 20th C.) If you can’t get the puzzle on your own, or lack the patience to set up the grid, you’re also given two multiple choice geometry questions. The mimetic break of these being part of a DMV test in hell wasn’t quite working for me, but it does give you some flavor of the arbitrariness inherent in the puzzles q.v. the brutally hard but more internally consistent puzzles in Curses!, released around the same time.)