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About the Story
On my boatride back to my hometown after a failed music career, my insomnia seems to have finally ended, yet the world I have woken up to seems so different than the one I know of, and it talks to me in it's distinct voice known only to me.
64th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Lost at the Market is the first game Iíve ever played in GrueScript, and from the authorís notes I think itís the first one theyíve written in the language as well. Unfortunately, I spent most of my experience with it fairly confused Ė youíre playing through some kind of dream, but what the dream is actually about isnít clear. (You also donít appear to be lost in any kind of market, dream or otherwise). The game does a good job at making you feel as if youíre in a dream, but the dream-logic on display is frustrating and makes it hard to decipher what youíre supposed to do. This isnít helped by the writing, which has an unfortunate number of spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.
The authorís notes imply a more polished version with added multimedia is in the works, which Iíd be interested to play. But for now, this game seems unfinished.
Lost at the Market is I think the first Gruescript game to be released by anyone other than the languageís creator, Robin Johnson. Itís a system that aims to make it easy to create parser-like choice games, allowing the player to easily click their way through the kind of actions and object interactions that typify the parser experience. Sadly Lost at the Market isnít much of a showpiece; thereís a potentially compelling story here a protagonist trying to change the moment when they gave up on their dreams and walked away from a career in music, but it suffers from slapdash implementation, perfunctory puzzles, and stripped-down writing. Thereís the germ of something good here, but it needs elaboration and refinement to be memorable.
In terms of the gameplay, what weíve got here is yer standard allegorical journey of self-reflection. You start out at a beach, ruminating on the hubris of whoever built the sand castle thatíll inevitably be swamped by the tide Ė to progress, you need to kick the castle over, reflecting how the protagonist has self-destructively surrendered their dreams in order to protect themselves by beating the world to the punch. Thereís the germ of something here, but the action is too abrupt Ė thereís not much else you can possibly do Ė and the writing isnít quite crisp enough to do the idea justice:
"Once in a while you see something like this and wonder what your dad would say, the point in building sand castles that are here waiting to be swept away by the ocean is the same dream that keeps the world moving, yet can anyone move the ocean?"
There are a few more puzzles after that one, which generally require both a bit more object-manipulation to solve, and a bit more mental engagement to decode, before fetching up at the climactic performance where you can choose to change the past and play your music Ė or, alternatively, go south at an unmarked intersection and find yourself forced to once again walk away from your passion (at least thereís an UNDO).
The interface for doing all this is reasonably functional Ė a set of buttons let you move around and examine objects at your location, which in turn pops up more buttons to further interact with them, plus you have an inventory that works on the same principles Ė albeit itís pretty ugly, with the main screen subdivided into too many short, narrow rectangles with a color scheme that even I can tell clashes horribly. This isnít the only way the implementation feels slapdash Ė actions often have awkward names consisting of multiple words linked with underscores, and while Iím not sure if this is a limitation of Gruescript, even if it is the author should have found a less immersion-breaking workaround. And there are a fair number of typos, including one in the subtitle on the Comp page (oof).
I donít want to be too hard on Lost at the Market. Itís trying to communicate something that clearly has personal relevance for the author, and stretching to try out a new authoring system is good for the IF community as a whole (man does not live on Inform and Twine alone, I suppose). Some of the elements do show promise Ė thereís a choice at the end, about whether to adapt your music to what the crowd wants to hear, that points to something thatís more engaging than the more mechanical puzzles before that point, and some parts of the story do have some thematic resonance even if the writing needs a few more passes to make this resonance effective. Still, itís disappointing to see a new platform not shown off to its best effect; hopefully this wonít be the last Gruescript game the Comp sees, or the author writes.
So I have to shout out this author for being the first person to release a Gruescript game in a competition outside of Robin Johnson (that I know of). It's a cool language and looks neat.
This is a surreal game where you explore various dreamscapes after having failed at a musical career.
In a contrast to Robin Johnson's puzzle-filled games, this is more of a thoughtful introspection game where you wander around and follow directions given in-text.
I love surreal games in general, and Gruescript is cool, so I have a lot of good feelings in general. The execution needs a lot of work, though. The author says they want to learn, so here are my thoughts on things that could be improved:
-I feel like there could be a little space between the output window and the room description window; it felt a little crowded (I don't know if this is adjustable?)
-Some buttons had underscores (Who_Am_I) and some had spaces; I think it would look better if they were standardized.
-Some options seem like they unintentionally lock the player out of an action; like going south in the very last area and finding the envelope. Even if you don't open it, you can't go back north.
-The writing is descriptive, but it often feels like something's off with punctuation. I had similar problems and always check my games with Grammarly (I promise this isn't an ad lol), may be useful here. by playing through and copying and pasting the output
Overall, I think the game could be substantially improved, so I'm giving a lower score for now, but I definitely think this is promising and would like to see more from this engine and from this author.