The Edifice

by Lucian P. Smith

Historical/Science Fiction

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- wisprabbit (Sheffield, UK), June 3, 2022

>INVENTORY - Paul O'Brian writes about interactive fiction

One section of the game in particular I found really remarkable. [PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD] On the second level of the edifice, you find yourself as a very early human, living in a family unit in the woods. Your son has a fever, and to cure him you must find the Feverleaf, which can be made into a healing tea. However, no Feverleaf seems to be available anywhere, until you stumble across a Stranger. Unsurprisingly, however, the Stranger does not speak your language, and so you are faced with a problem of communication. The game does an incredible job with simulating this situation. I was astonished at the level of realism which this character was able to achieve, and at the care that must clearly have gone into fashioning this interaction. I've rarely seen such a thorough and effective establishment of the illusion of interactivity. The Stranger did not of course respond to English words in understandable ways. However, you could point to objects, or speak words in the Stranger's language, and gradually the two of you could arrive at an understanding. It was an amazing feeling to be experiencing this kind of exchange in IF... I really felt like I was learning the Stranger's language. It will always remain one of the most memorable moments of this 1997 competition for me.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A high-concept game undone by poor execution, April 10, 2021
by Chin Kee Yong (Singapore)

The Edifice is a puzzly, rather sparsely implemented parser game in the tradition of Zork. It's very well-regarded, winning a XYZZY award and appearing on several "best of" lists, but I think it's aged very poorly and it doesn't meet my standards for interactive fiction in 2021.

Let's begin with The Edifice's narrative. Although this game is mainly puzzle-focused, it makes a stab at an ambitious high-concept theme -- a sweeping retelling of the dawn of humanity, the discovery of fire, and so on. Unfortunately, this is handled very superficially and comes off more as set dressing than a real story. There is no overarching conflict, no rising tension, and no resolution. The central plot device of the Edifice hardly even plays a role in the different stages of human evolution; rather, it escorts the player from half-baked vignette to half-baked vignette. And that's a shame, because in creating these grand narrative expectations, The Edifice sets itself up to disappoint when it doesn't follow through.

What about the puzzles, then? The Edifice is centered around three major self-contained puzzles, each one representing a particular period of human history. There are also minor puzzles peppered at the beginning and within individual time periods. I thought that all the puzzles were competently implemented and their solutions made in-world sense, but I found them unfair, unfun, and kind of painful to play through. (I used the walkthrough to complete the game.)

What is a fair puzzle? In my opinion, every puzzle is a sort of contract between the puzzle designer and the puzzle solver. The puzzle solver promises that she will make a good-faith attempt at solving the puzzle, using all means available to her. Meanwhile, the puzzle designer promises that if such a good-faith attempt is made, the puzzle is solvable and the solution is obvious in hindsight. If you can't figure out a puzzle, look at the walkthrough, and think "Oh, of course, I'm an idiot" -- that's a fair puzzle. On the other hand, if the puzzle forces you to guess verbs, or make use of information you couldn't possibly have known, the puzzle is unfair and poorly designed.

The Edifice's puzzles suffer from that boogeyman of 90s parser games: guess-the-verb. All of the puzzles require verbs that are rarely used in parser games, have never previously been hinted at in the text, are only used for a specific puzzle, and never appear again. For example, the very first puzzle requires you to (Spoiler - click to show)HIDE from the Enemies. Other examples of puzzle solutions that require flash-in-the-pan inspiration to solve are (Spoiler - click to show)STRIP to turn branches into kindling, SHARPEN to create the spear, and POINT and DRAW for the language puzzle everyone seems to love so much. The game includes a list of commands, but it's condescending, hidden behind a dismissively written fake help page, and doesn't include any of the verbs I listed above (and also omits some others that are required to complete the game, like DROP and ENTER). So much for "info."

Even when the puzzle solutions don't require guessing verbs, they include leaps of logic that don't follow from any in-game clues. They make sense according to real-world logic, but no one expects a game to perfectly model everything that a person could try in real life; for the player to try an action, some kind of hint has to be placed that the action is actually possible in the game world. To solve the language puzzle, (Spoiler - click to show)we not only have to come up with the idea of DRAWing an image, but the idea that the crushed berries will make suitable ink, the bone will make a suitable writing implement, the bark is suitable for writing on, and the author has taken the time to implement all these things. This insistence on off-the-wall puzzle solutions is exacerbated by confusing room descriptions that don't always make clear the positions of things. (Spoiler - click to show)I didn't realize the protagonist's Hut could be entered, because it didn't appear in the list of exits. I thought the bark was across the river and spent many turns skipping rocks across the water, only to find that the river was an unimportant diversion and I could just have typed TAKE BARK.

Over and over, my playthrough of The Edifice ran into pain points that made me feel as though the author was more interested in creating theoretically elegant puzzles than making sure the game was a positive experience for players. One puzzle is possible to make unwinnable, and the solution is so convoluted that it's likely you'll do this multiple times before reaching the solution; the game does reset the puzzle after a while, but this requires waiting so many turns that you might as well restore a saved game instead. When you do happen on a useful action that can solve a puzzle, it's blocked with an unhelpful message that comes across as a "you can't do this at all" message -- unless you do it at precisely the right time and place that the author wants you to. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)if you aren't holding the Useful Rock, SHARPEN STICK returns "The Stick will not readily hold an edge." An even more egregious example is (Spoiler - click to show)TAKE OFF HEADDRESS, which returns "Headdress represents your authority in the Village. If you took it off, you would be abdicating your position, and the People would elect a new leader. If you want to accomplish anything here, you had best leave it on." This reads as the clearest "You can't do that" message I've ever seen -- and yet it's a required move to solve the horse puzzle. Insane.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh on this game: after all, this is a Z-code offering from 1997, when Short and Veeder and Reed and all the other vanguards of the "new school" of IF hadn't yet entered the scene. Perhaps some allowances should be made for the game as a historical artifact of the Before Time. But then again, Graham Nelson wrote The Craft of the Adventure in 1995, with a Bill of Player's Rights that reads much the same as the criticism I'm offering now. And discussions of accessibility, of affordances, of the user experience, have been around as long as the field of design has existed.

In closing: The Edifice is an ambitious but fatally flawed classic parser game. It attempts and soundly fails to convey a high-concept narrative. Its prose is mechanical and derivative without a memorable voice of its own. Its puzzles are so unfair as to be impossible to solve without a guide. Overall I wouldn't recommend this to anyone, except as an example of why so many modern game-players think of "text adventures" as a dead genre.

- TheBoxThinker, March 4, 2021

- mifga (Brooklyn, NY), October 15, 2020

- mishz132, July 31, 2020

- Sammel, July 2, 2020

- Panawe, May 28, 2020

- kierlani, April 21, 2020

- Stian, May 27, 2019

- lcs70, February 20, 2019

- davidar, November 10, 2018

- John Ayliff (Vancouver, BC), July 26, 2017

- Cory Roush (Ohio), June 29, 2017

- Pegbiter (Malmö, Sweden), February 13, 2017

- finnn62, December 14, 2016

- E. W. B., March 2, 2016

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A mid-length game with outstanding concept but some difficulty guessing verbs, February 3, 2016

In The Edifice, you parallel the history of humanity by going through important events in the history of mankind (such as discovering weapons).

The game is perhaps best known for its very well-done language puzzle, where you have to communicate with another person to learn their language.

Unfortunately, the solution to this and many other puzzles is obscure. The author assumes that you will use many items in ways that are not normal in interactive fiction, but which make sense in the game world. This seems like a good thing, however, there are a vast number of things that would make sense to do in the real world, and an author can only implement so many of those things.

I played this game on three different occasions over the years; the first time, I got stuck on the first door, go frustrated, and quit. Years later, I tried again, used a walkthrough on the first part, and tried the second part. I loved it, but go stuck, frustrated, and lost interest. Today, I just used a walkthrough through the whole thing. It's a great game, but my experience wasn't as enjoyable as it could be.

- Guenni (At home), January 24, 2016

- Aryore, December 12, 2015

- Thrax, March 11, 2015

- erisian, December 16, 2014

- Sobol (Russia), December 5, 2014

- IFforL2 (Chiayi, Taiwan), May 19, 2014

- Snave, March 28, 2014

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