Headlights

by Jordan White and Eric Zinda

2022

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Experimental Parser, WIP, November 22, 2022
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review

This is a parser based game, but the implementation feels like it is fighting convention kind of just to fight it? The attempt is to get the user to type commands more naturally, in complete sentences. I can see why intellectually this may make some sense (and certainly as a hook for voice-based accessibility), but practically speaking it feels misapplied in a keyboard-based IF. The mainstream tradition and promise of IF is to ‘put the player in the story.’ Now, since this form predates VR goggles by decades, it needed to do this in text. Text is already a layer of disconnect though, right? You aren’t ‘walking north’ you are TYPING ‘walk north.’ The more you think about typing, the less immersion you have. (Excepting of course sly little games that integrate typing-at-a-keyboard into its conceit. Those minxes!) This is why one letter abbreviations are so prevalent in IF - ‘examine’ is so many letters to type, it drags immersion, especially when done repeatedly. The more you can do this the better. The power of parser IF of course is that it presents the illusion of limitless nouns and verbs. WE know that’s not true, but that is the tradeoff we’ve negotiated over several decades: type any word, but common ones give shortcuts. I mean, I’ve personally never finished an IF game thinking, “that was pretty cool, but I really wish I could have typed more.”

So Headlights wants to renegotiate that. Sure, why not, no sacred cows, right? I think I tried twice then said, “I’m typing way too much about this,” and reverted to more standard verb-noun and abbreviation conventions. To its credit, Headlights’ parser handled it. To its detriment it put what appeared to be debug messages after every command.

>OPEN DOOR
[I heard: ‘open the door’ → Say ‘as spoken’ to repeat exactly as you said.]
The door is open.
>N
[I heard: ‘go north’ → Say ‘as spoken’ to repeat exactly as you said.]

AFTER EVERY COMMAND. Other than actively berating me for not typing articles, I’m not sure how much MORE intrusive it could be. At a minimum there should be a command to shut that off. So I didn’t care for the new parser capabilities. Sure I could have made more effort to meet the parser on its own terms, but I think I would have chafed as much or more at the extra typing.

It had some issues re-implementing other parser features as well. Objects were sometimes listed via their code relationship, not necessarily their physical description. X GROUND in one spot yielded “Inside a meadow is a physical object, a place, a side, a thing, and an inside.” It aliased verbs inelegantly like when I TOUCH LIQUID, I got “you have petted the liquid.” I think my overall favorite was USE TOILET… “I don’t know what to do with a toilet.” Wow game, your parents REALLY let you down. These gaps were not as common as the debug messages, but still overwhelming.

Ok, so the parser implementation was Intrusive. How about the story? It was pretty bare bones. 4 or 5 chapters of 4-9 room exploration and minimal ‘get X from room2, use in room4’ kind of puzzles. The maps were all pretty linear, the descriptions pretty minimal. Usually a sentence of where you are, then a line by line list of objects in the room. That was useful at least, as there wasn’t a lot of searching. My favorite puzzle was (Spoiler - click to show)letting yourself get bit by a spider for extra strength, leading me to exclaim “I’m Spiderman now!” Honestly, it felt like a test drive for the parser more than a complete work of its own. There is a climax and payoff, but the stakes never really register as more than a dry IF puzzle.

Will be interesting to see where this parser implementation goes from here though.

Played: 11/12/22
Playtime: 40min, finished
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical/Intrusive
Would Play Again? No, experience feels complete

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless