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The Impossible Stairs

by Mathbrush profile

Episode 2 of The Impossible Series
Fantasy, Surreal

Web Site

(based on 18 ratings)
4 reviews

About the Story

Getting ready for a party can take a lot of time. Help CJ navigate a text adventure of temporal trials.

Merciful puzzlefest. Parser or point-and-click, as you please.

Authorized sequel to The Impossible Bottle, by Linus Åkesson. The games are only loosely tied together, and can be played in either order or separately.

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: July 1, 2022
Current Version: 1
License: Freeware
Development System: Dialog
Forgiveness Rating: Merciful
IFID: A0BF6B67-681B-450E-968D-06140037D408
TUID: 85jr6xdzreuac9e


1st Place - ParserComp 2022

Winner, Outstanding Surreal Game of 2022 - Player’s Choice; Winner, Outstanding Game in an Uncommon System in 2022 - Player’s Choice - The 2022 IFDB Awards


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Editorial Reviews

ADRIFT forums
Reviewing ParserComp 2022 by Denk
This game is a sort of sequel/prequel to the IFComp winner "The Impossible Bottle" (TIB) by Linus Åkesson[...]Whereas TIB had some surreal mechanics with respect to space, The Impossible Stairs has some surreal mechanics with respect to time. Don't take the "science" too seriously. I don't think I have ever seen a story/movie/game about time travel where there were no plot holes, unless the past couldn't be changed. So don't expect a fully consistent time travel game (I don't think they exist) but a game with fun, semi-logical puzzles.
Don't expect it to be as good as TIB (hardly any game is) but it is still a worthy prequel/sequel with some good, original puzzles and excellent implementation. Further more, it is written in Dialog (still only a few games are written with Dialog) and if you play online, the user interface of a dialog game is really neat.
See the full review

Intfiction forums
Mike Russo’s ParserComp 2022 Reviews
Wisely, TIS mostly doesn’t try to one-up TIB; it’s a smaller game, and while it too has a gimmick (that’s actually a rather elegant complement to that of the former game, messing with time while TIB messed with space), said gimmick is comparatively straightforward, and the scope of the game, and difficulty of the puzzles, are both much more modest this time out. That’s definitely not a bad thing – there’s nothing here like that &^% dinosaur from TIB, for one thing, and this is still a satisfying slice of game, probably taking an hour or so to solve and offering at least one or two aha moments as you figure out how to use the strange properties of the titular staircase to resolve the trickier conundrums.
See the full review

groggy's interactive fiction
ParserComp 2022 Review: The Impossible Stairs
Indeed, the story is mostly a non-factor in favor of the puzzle, and it occasionally struggles with something I see in most parsers: obtuse clues. While many of the puzzles are good, some of the leaps in logic are the kind you'll only enjoy if you have a penchant for bashing your head against the wall over and over. The walkthrough was very much appreciated on the Ada part in particular, but I'd also argue that the treehouse bit could have used a few more context clues.

Still, the efficient use of objects as both environmental storytelling and pieces of a puzzle (the boombox comes to mind) was really inspired, and certainly makes me rethink how I might best make another parser game in the future. And nothing feels completely unfair. At the very least, upon reading the walkthrough for one or two moments I felt that it made general sense, even if it didn't make sense to me at the time.
See the full review


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Number of Reviews: 4
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Delightful puzzles, easy gameplay, and a touching ending, August 15, 2022

You are CJ, a young man standing outside of the family house surveying the damage from a storm when a mysterious woman throws a paper airplane at your feet. Printed on it is a list of chores. Some of the chores seem a downright impossible, possible only in another timeline. Fortunately for you, the stairs in your house are far from being ordinary stairs. They will allow you to visit and influence different decades of family history so you can fulfill every task on the chores list.

This game is an authorized sequel to The Impossible Bottle by Linus Åkesson and uses a slightly different (but as equally creative) gameplay mechanic. To keep it brief, The Impossible Bottle had the player manipulate the setting through the protagonist's toys. Adjusting toys, such as a dollhouse, adjusted the house in response and the things within it. The Impossible Stairs also focuses on influencing the setting through small but direct adjustments made by the player. However, the cause and effect in The Impossible Stairs is spread across a temporal range. In other words, what sets it apart from The Impossible Bottle is its use of time travel to structure the gameplay.

When I think of a time travel game, I often get the impression that it will be filled with a lot of technical puzzles (even though I have played time travel games that are not like that). But this game does not have time machines or puzzles required to move to different time periods. Not at all. Time travel is as simple as walking up and down a set of stairs, and this concept is well-implemented. Each level is interspaced with 20 years, the earliest starting in 1961, then 1981, 2001, 2021, and 2041. The floorplan is the same along with most objects and characters. But the differences are there, and the player uses them to adjust parameters that change the timeline. This is then used to produce the circumstances needed to complete the chores.

For instance, the game begins in 2001. A hurricane has occurred, and a large tree had smashed the garage. The garage is (Spoiler - click to show) where Ada, CJ's cousin, works on her projects. In the timeline established at the start of the game, Ada left home because she was devastated that the accident destroyed her work. But if you go back to 1961 and ensure that the tree was never planted close to the house the garage will be intact in the future. Suddenly Ada will be in the 2001 garage and onwards.

The player also gets a nudge from the game when an action influences the timeline with notifications such as, "Your Grandma's future has slightly changed" or "You feel your future career slightly change" that guide the gameplay. It makes it easy to piece together the cause and effect while still maintaining a level of complexity for the player since the puzzles vary in length and subtlety.

The protagonist's (Spoiler - click to show) future career is determined by the object placed on the pedestal in the 2001 office while his grandmother's future is based on the TV channel that she is watching in the 1961 living room. The pedestal puzzle was fairly obvious because its description flat-out explains this, providing a clear way of experiencing cause and effect. For example, if you put the sapling on the pedestal in 2001 you are going to find some paintings of it in the office in 2021. This then ties in with another puzzle that requires a certain painting, moving the gameplay forward.

The puzzle for the (Spoiler - click to show) grandmother is more subtle. Changing the TV channel in 1961 influences her interests and the products she buys. This allows the player to alter the items found in the 1981 house. With the right TV channel, the player will find cinnamon in the pantry which is a needed ingredient for the baklava recipe. I felt that this puzzle was a little less obvious than the career puzzle (then again, that could be just my take on it) but they both demonstrate the same gameplay concept. This is just another example of how cause and effect can be incorporated as a puzzle, and this game has plenty of them.

The characters are all memorable and likable, especially Ada. She is a fun vibrant character with an endearing relationship with the protagonist. While the Ada puzzle seemed lengthy in comparison to the rest of the game, it was also my favorite puzzle. In fact, my favorite moment in the entire game is when (Spoiler - click to show) she finally completes her robot, and you realize that she created Uncle Rob! It is an excellent conclusion to the puzzle especially since the player can interact with Uncle Rob as he follows you around.

Everything was thoughtful. The memory board changes as family members die (after all in 2041 CJ would have outlived everyone except Ada) but there is always the option of visiting them in earlier time periods. (Spoiler - click to show) His grandpa and mom are exceptions. The grandfather died before CJ was born, and his mom while he was young, but the game takes a lighthearted approach to remembering them. I liked finding the recipe card on the memory board because it is closely tied to the protagonist's memory with his mother. And at the end of the game all the family members come together for a party that makes a nice resolution.

If you enjoy this game, I strongly encourage you to check out The Impossible Bottle. It is just as fun and whimsical (both games are also made with Dialog). Likewise, if you are reading this and have only played The Impossible Bottle than I urge you to try The Impossible Stairs. They have similar strengths but with differences in the story and gameplay that make them unique. And the (Spoiler - click to show) crossover with The Impossible Bottle at the end was perfect.

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An impossible follow-up, August 8, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: ParserComp 2022

(I beta tested this game, so this is more a short series of impressions than a full review)

If ever there was a tough act to follow, The Impossible Bottle is it. Co-winner of the 2020 IF Comp – out of a field of 103 – TIB dazzled with a space-warping gimmick for its puzzles, but was more than merely clever, adding winning characters and impeccable implementation. It also proved an excellent demonstration of author Linus Åkesson’s bespoke IF system, Dialog, allowing for interaction just as smooth and deep as anything you can manage in Inform or TADS while also letting the player get through the game without typing and just using hyperlinks instead. Anyone of sound mind would think twice before asking players to compare their game to TIB, but that’s just the situation The Impossible Stairs is in: the present author, Brian Rushton, offered to write a sequel game as a prize in that year’s Comp, Linus picked that prize, and here we are.

Wisely, TIS mostly doesn’t try to one-up TIB; it’s a smaller game, and while it too has a gimmick (that’s actually a rather elegant complement to that of the former game, messing with time while TIB messed with space), said gimmick is comparatively straightforward, and the scope of the game, and difficulty of the puzzles, are both much more modest this time out. That’s definitely not a bad thing – there’s nothing here like that &^% dinosaur from TIB, for one thing, and this is still a satisfying slice of game, probably taking an hour or so to solve and offering at least one or two aha moments as you figure out how to use the strange properties of the titular staircase to resolve the trickier conundrums.

Still, there is one area where it’s at least competitive with TIB, and dare I say it, maybe even one-ups the original, which is the cast of characters. Both games are family affairs, casting you as a daughter doing chores before a party. TIB’s Emma is a child of six, and her interactions with her loving but distracted parents – and kinda-jerky older brother – are sweet but don’t draw from too rich of an emotional palette given her youth. TIS’s CJ, though, is an adult (well, mostly), and gets to interact with a broader set of relatives, including her father, grandmother, a cousin, and an uncle, in the course of checking the items off her (well-implemented) to-do list. These conversations are also spread over several different time periods, with characters aging, changing personalities and circumstances or even sometimes passing away as the decades progress. The game’s definitely not a downer, don’t get me wrong, and while the menu-driven dialogue is well-written it isn’t an elaborate focus of gameplay like in an Emily Short game – but still, there’s a surprising poignancy to seeing these kind, well-meaning people at different stages of their lives, and learn to hold on to their memories once some family members are no longer there.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
The Impossible Stairs: A time travel enigma, July 3, 2022
by jkj
Related reviews: ParserComp 2022

> An interactive fiction by Mathbrush.
> Written in Dialog. Authorized sequel to The Impossible Bottle by Linus Åkesson.
> Release 1. Serial number 220621.
> Dialog compiler version 0m/03. Library version 0.46.

WARNING: Review contains spoilers!

(Spoiler - click to show)

This game has so few rooms it feels more like an escape game. It is set in just a handful of locations within a suburban house. Although, because of time travel, the rooms are a lot more interesting as the content and descriptions change with time.

I didn't read any hints nor the walkthrough, so at first I didn't appreciate the mechanic that going up and down the stairs moves the player forward and backward in time. The mechanism is quite neatly done and i was impressed by the slickness.

I must confess to liking time travel games which are often quite difficult to engineer and to pull off smoothly while avoiding paradoxes. In this game, although you travel in time, you cannot meet yourself. Although it _is_ possible to move things around.

The characters are well done, fairly believable, and their dialog fluid. The game clearly sets out the objectives, of which mostly it is to make dinner. A somewhat underwhelming mission for a game where you can time travel. I also found it a bit sad to go forward in time to where people you had just talked to had then passed away.

The user interface is adequate but limited. Clickable text and conversation menu options are not new anymore and the presentation of these should definitely be improved. Clickable text should appear like a web link, while dialog options scroll up the screen after selection rather than disappear, looking quite amateur.

The user interface features a kind-of text-based action bar that floats at the bottom, just above the input line. This displays a handy list of things you can do, which can save a lot of typing. Although i found this sometimes gave away too much and sometimes suggested things that you couldn't, in fact, do. Personally, i would dispense with this altogether (it also looks rather ugly), replacing it with context sensitive input word completion.

The "Dialog" game system needs a bit of work for ambiguous terms. At one point i received the comedy lines:

> get leg
Did you want to take the leg or the drumstick?
> the leg
That's part of yourself.

Otherwise I had no problems with the parser or input system, except some minor keyboard focus issues.

The gameplay involves going forward and backward in time, mostly to collect ingredients from the pantry. There's a sequence where you have to pull up then re-plant a tree sapling so it can grow after a storm, but somehow the corresponding tree house still contains the dinner plates from its previous time line. Well, who knows maybe it does, or did. But, I never figured out what to do with all the cereal boxes. Perhaps they're just there to mark time.

The game won't let you do some things that you could, in reality, clearly do, such as eating the chicken drumstick or the walnuts:

> eat walnuts
You don't want to spoil your appetite!

This would obviously ruin the puzzle, but it's an interesting design question for player agency.

If there were points for potatoes, i would award top marks here. A huge potato fan myself, i was chuffed to read the lines:

> eat potatoes
Did you want to eat the au gratin potatoes, the mashed potatoes, or the french fries?

Regarding points, the game has no `score` command, although this is not needed since the, nicely implemented, "chores list" clearly indicates your goals and those left to achieve.

The "Ada" puzzle is rather long-winded, having to move things around in time in several sessions until it begun to get tedious. The puzzle was nevertheless excellently implemented, but I would have preferred the effort used to instead implement perhaps an additional game puzzle and the Ada puzzle be maybe somewhere around half it's given complexity.

I didn't resort to the walkthrough, which means the game difficulty is well balanced. But I would also say the content didn't really grab me. The Grandma character was rather clichéd. Additionally, even for "parser games", it would be nice to see a few illustrations to add atmosphere, while the cover art was basic and jejune.

The help system seems to be just a boilerplate generic message and list of commands, although a walkthrough is provided for anyone who gets stuck.

In conclusion, I would say this game is nicely done albeit having somewhat pedestrian objectives where the implementation effort could have been used for a much more engaging design.

* Writing 4
* Story 3
* Characters 4
* Implementation 4
* Puzzles 3
* Use of multimedia 1
* Help and Hints 1
* Extras 1

See All 4 Member Reviews

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The following polls include votes for The Impossible Stairs:

Outstanding Fantasy Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best fantasy game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Eligible...

Outstanding Game in an Uncommon System in 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
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Great game sequels by Teaspoon
Whilst writing a review of "All Alone", Joey Jones's sequel to his game "If I Wasn't Shy", I became curious - how many examples of sequels are there in IF? Preferably good ones.

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This is version 6 of this page, edited by Michael L. on 18 February 2023 at 6:15am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item