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Stoned Ape Hypothesis

by James Heaton

Prehistoric Fiction

(based on 20 ratings)
7 reviews

About the Story

In the early 1990's, ethnobotanist Terence McKenna published his book "Food of the Gods" in which he presented a theory explaining the cognitive leap forward observed in early homo-sapiens. His theory is often referred to as the Stoned Ape Hypothesis.

Game Details


67th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)

Editorial Reviews

IFComp 2020 Review: Stoned Ape Hypothesis by James Heaton
...a superficial take on the subject matter: it never feels like the author has really engaged with the hypothesis. Anybody intrigued by the game's blurb will likely be disappointed.
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Number of Reviews: 7
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Pre-board games, December 12, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)

I’m actually a bit familiar with the theory behind SAH, by virtue of having some entheogen enthusiast friends in college – the idea, as I recall it at any rate, is that human cognitive evolution was occasionally bootstrapped by an adventurous Cro-Magnon snacking on psilocybin-containing mushrooms, with concomitant increases in creativity, perceptual acuity, social engagement, de-prioritization of self, and so on. I was and am skeptical, not least from observing the behavior of said friends while high (I kid, love to you all) but it’s a fun idea, right up there with “our corpus callosum used to be less effective so gods and miracles were just the two halves of our brain not being able to play nicely together.”

SAH doesn’t do too much with this setup, but it does provide a structure that lends a nice progression to a fairly standard series of puzzles. You play a (nameless, but I suppose that’s appropriate) early human who wanders around a small map, resolving such era-appropriate problems as cutting wood, making fire, and obtaining clothes. Intermittently you find and snack on a hallucinogenic mushroom which, in a neat touch, makes the prose of the game grow more sophisticated to represent your increasing mental acuity (though I only really noticed the first shift – there was an opportunity to expand this a bit more, I think).

Oddly, most of your attempts at mastering your environment are prompted by seeing other, more advanced humans wear clothes and make fire. The reason why they’re more advanced, and you’re still flailing around with the basics, wasn’t explained as far as I could tell, and I think this was a misstep – because you’re just playing catchup, and doing things that the player can grasp in an instant, this feels less like guiding a pioneer into a new age of cognitive development, and more like helping an utter thicko learn to take care of himself.

The puzzles themselves are fine so far as they go, though playing tic-tac-toe feels a bit silly, and I struggled with the implementation of mancala, with some confusing ASCII art and what might have been non-standard rules leaving me flailing (I still won even though I thought I was trying to put my stones in the wrong bowl, which suggests the AI opponent is not trying to put up much of a fight). Overall, it’s the Stone Age environment, including reasonably well-detailed depictions of tool use in an early society, that are the highlights here, providing a fairly unique backdrop to the otherwise quite standard adventuring.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Make Yourself a Better Caveman, December 1, 2020

This entry has a friendly gauntlet structure where you solve puzzles to unlock parts of the story, beating computer opponents in a series of challenges before you arrive at the ending.

As a game, it works: your victories earn a series of power-ups, and your final reward is full integration with society.

As a story, I found it difficult to engage with this entry. It felt like the triangle of identities got in the way of allowing me to understand the character's motivation.

Curiosity drove me to move from location to location and uncover new options, but there was no clear reason for the character. I never got a sense that food, water, or shelter were matters of survival — they just felt like background details.

The association with the Stoned Ape theory introduced a disconnect between the scope of this game, which covers a few days (?) in the life of a single organism, and the scope of the evolutionary theory, which plays out across generations.

Developmentally, I couldn't tell whether this character was starting from farther back than everyone else, making it the "rite of passage" story of journey that each member of the tribe must compete, or whether this character was a prehistoric Prometheus bringing enlightenment to his tribe.

From a mechanical perspective, the challenges were well developed. You make strategic choices based on the actions of your opponent, and it's possible to fail. This entry was well implemented; I never felt stuck, and I found my way through to the end without any major confusion.

I respect the work that went into this, and it's a solid effort.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Half-baked, October 29, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

A far out (see what I did there?) story based on a far out (yup, still going there) theory about how our amazing brains became amazing by getting high all the time. I have never had the fortune of getting high, so I'm probably too stupid to review this, but I'll give it a shot.

Heaton does a decent job of making the theory come to life, though in a much more accelerated fashion. It's humorous how quickly our protagonist becomes smart and successful, including proving it by winning a game of mancala. But for me the protagonist never really came to life like the hero in The Edifice. Part of that may be the structure of the game; you can win without any thought at all just by clicking every link. The only choices are during the games of Tic-Tac-Toe (the most basic game ever invented) and mancala. And while I do like the occasional game of mancala, the presentation here was a bit confusing and I won by accident.

But, like I said, I've never been high before.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
simple game with a simple protagonist, October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

A very short choice-based game. I don't think there's anything in the way of spoilers to say the player begins as a sorta proto-human, eats a couple mushrooms, and begins to get a couple ideas about things we associate with humans ((Spoiler - click to show)technology, clothing, play).

There were a couple traditional games that can be found within the game. Designers and players interested in physical games being implemented into IF may want to play through the work on purely technical grounds. (Spoiler - click to show)The first is tic-tac-toe, which I feel I must have seen implemented in IF before. The second was a text-representation inspired by the ancient board game mancala. I was able to win it with no skill, simply choosing the same basket over and over again. I leave it to others to judge the quality of AI.

Unfortunately, I found the environment too sparse, the tasks too routine and uninteresting. However, the game is very short and people have a wide range of taste. If you have any interest in the above technical implementation, it will not take long to see it within the game.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A leveling-up game about evolution, mushrooms and minigames, October 17, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

So I’ll just say that this is a great ‘first attempt at an IF story’, as the author put it. I’ve developed theories over the years on what parser games do well during the comp, and they’ve worked pretty good, but recently I’ve been coming up with theories on what makes choice-based games successful. One of the biggest things, in my theory, is allowing a great deal of freedom, either freedom of characterization of the PC or freedom of movement, as well as allowing the player to come up with and execute plans. Having a rhythm or pattern to the game can help too, where similar events repeat with a buildup to something big (like the days in Birdland or the memory episodes in Will Not Let Me GO).

This game has a lot of that freedom and it has that rhythm. You are a cave man, basically an ape, naked in the forest. There’s a small ±shaped map that you explore over the course of the game, gathering brown mushrooms. Each time you find one, you ‘level up’, which increases the verbosity of descriptions, the kind of tasks you can complete, and the mini-puzzles (of which there are three) that you can access.

The mini puzzles are well-done, and Mancala looks fun to play in real-life.

I’m pretty skeptical of the hypothesis of the game (sounds like Lamarckian evolution) but this game is definitely presented as fun and not as an evolutionary biology text.

The two things that hold it back from greatness, in my opinion, are the relatively small scope (although a shorter game is nice during such a big comp!) and the fact that you can only work on one task at a time, lowering the difficulty and making it feel railroaded. But outside of that, I think this is a very strong first game and would love to see more from this author.

+Polish: Mancala and tick tack toe were really cool.
+Descriptiveness: The several layers of intelligence in the writing works great.
+Interactivity: The gated structure doesn't work for me, but the games and combat work well for me.
-Emotional impact: I don't know why, but although I enjoyed the game, it didn't impact me on an emotional level. Not sure what the reason was.
+Would I play again? Yes, I think I would, taking notes.

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