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A shaky Gruescript allegory, November 21, 2022
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.