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Large, excellent wordplay game based on palindromes, December 11, 2018
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.