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About the Story
No need for aibohphobia. It's polite on the Zarfian cruelty scale -and- will let you jump to the exciting conclusion if your 2-hour judging period is almost up!
28th Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
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In a sense, I am not the ideal player for a game that is filled with as many palindromes as the author could device. First, I am not myself an ailiphilist, I mean, a tsiliphilist, nor do I suffer from the darker and more kinky cousin of ailihphilia, ailihparaphilia. Second, and more to the point, English is not my first language. For a game based on wordplay, and especially a kind of wordplay with constraints so severe that it necessitates the use of many obscure and slang terms, this is decidedly a negative. I remember banging my head against Goose, Egg, Badger because my English language skills were just not good enough to realise the nature of its main wordplay puzzle. This could certainly also have happened with Ailihphilia.
But it didn't, and that is because the author has taken great care to ensure that his game is accessible and free from frustration. He has indeed expended immense efforts to achieve this, giving us an almost -- but not quite -- bewildering amount of ways to get reminders, hints and solutions. The player who wishes to solve all the puzzles herself can do so, while the player who is mostly along to revel in the author's inventiveness can relax and enjoy the trip. (I myself fell somewhere in between, taking pride in solving most of the first half of the game by myself, and then using the hint systems to speed up my play in the second half.)
Revelling in the author's inventiveness is indeed the main draw of the game. Christopher Huang complains that there aren't enough puzzles in which the player has to come up with palindromes, but I don't think the aim of the game is to challenge the player to be as smart a wordsmith as the author. Rather, I imagine Andrew gleefully making up and combining palindromes into a (somewhat) coherent fiction, managing to cram in more and more as he continued to refine and expand the game -- and I, the player, am invited to laugh along with him while at the same time being in awe of what he's doing. Playing Ailihphilia is like watching a juggler: it's amazing that somebody manages to do this, and being amazed is where the fun of the experience lies. Or perhaps an even better comparison is this: playing Ailihphilia is like reading a rendition of Poe's poem The Raven that contains not a single 'e'. Fun and awesome, because it is both difficult and done well. Of necessity, it is not the greatest of literature; but it doesn't have to be to be really enjoyable.
Ailihphilia is a large wordplay game by Andrew Schultz, who is known for making large wordplay games. This one represents a new kind of wordplay for Andrew's oeuvre, as far as I know: It's based on palindromes.
Wordplay games can be tough to play from a puzzle standpoint because, while the wordplay theme constrains the solution space some, it can also lend itself to egregious guess-the-verb problems. Counterfeit Monkey and Andrew's game Threediopolis are my two favorite wordplay games, and in both cases they succeed largely, I think, because they overcome this problem. Counterfeit Monkey lets you perform wordplay only on nouns, not verbs, and Emily Short put what appears to me to be an almost unfathomable amount of work into covering every possible thing the player could think of. Threediopolis hits the sweet spot by restricting the possibility space more than usual for a wordplay game while keeping it large enough to be interesting.
So, how does Ailihphilia measure up? Well, I beta-tested Ailihphilia in at least three different places in its development (including when it was still called Put It Up), so I had a front-row seat in terms of watching Andrew work through these problems. The first version I played, back in April or so, had lots of guess-the-verb issues where I never would have progressed without the walkthrough. I tested again during the summer. All during this time Andrew slowly added more cluing and more ease-of-play features, in response to my (and I'm sure other testers') comments, and the game got better and better. I did a quick limited test of a feature or two right before IFComp 2018 started, but I didn't sit down to play the full final version until late October.
And I was really impressed. There are tons of features that make the gameplay smoother. There's a map. There's a GO TO command for navigating the map. There's a THINK command for summarizing what you've figured out and what your current goals are. There's an AID command for one-off hints. There's an object you acquire very early that gives you a hint as to when a solution based on wordplay is needed. The USE command is there when the solution doesn't require wordplay, saving the player any guess-the-verb problems not intended by the game's theme. I found clue after clue after clue that I was on the right track when I tried an action. (Many of these are clues that were written specifically for that wrong action and that puzzle!) If you wander around for a while without making progress the game jumps in and nudges you with more hints. Many, many "wrong" answers are recognized if they're consistent with the wordplay theme; you might not get a point for them, but the game's responses still constitute a reward for you entering into its mindset and playing along.
So, in other words, with Ailihphilia Andrew has figured out yet another way to solve the problem I mentioned earlier, the one that seems to plague a lot of wordplay games: He put in an incredible amount of work to create ease-of-play features. (Well, like Emily, he also put in a lot of work to cover all the reasonable player actions that fit the theme of the game.) Racking your brain for just the right phrasing then becomes fun - not something that turns into a chore after a certain amount of time.
But even all of this doesn't exhaust what Ailihphilia does well. The game's error messages align with the wordplay, even things as meta as entering an empty command, SAVE, and UNDO. For example, if you try to take an object you already have, the game says
(Spoiler - click to show)You shuffle the (object) listlessly from one hand to another, which is in the spirit of the game, even if it doesnít do anything.
I found that amusing.
The writing is often silly (of course, it's wordplay), but it's aware that it's silly - and it's also witty. For example, this made me laugh out loud:
(Spoiler - click to show)> KNOW WONK
The wonk is already known. Well, not REALLY, but then, this game isnít about existentially reaching people.
I think Ailihphilia has nudged Threediopolis out of its spot as my favorite game of Andrew's. Overall, it's an excellent wordplay game. It deserves to be played and appreciated widely.
I read a review once saying that Counterfeit Monkey had killed off the wordplay genre because you couldn't get any better than that.
I think that's silly; that's like saying that Jimi Hendrix killed the guitar solo or Betty Crocker killed the recipe. When there's something good out there, you want more of it, and this game delivers.
Many of Schultz's games involve puzzles too hard to compute on your own (Ugly Oafs come to mind). The best games, like Threediopolis or Shuffling Around, give you just enough freedom and hints that you can figure it out on your own.
This game is palindrome-based. The palindromes are mostly spread into the background, although there are a bunch of puzzle solutions that require a puzzle-based answer. The dedicated wordplay fan will love this game, and casual fans will as well.
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