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by David Welbourn
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The Impossible Stairs

by Mathbrush profile

Episode 2 of The Impossible Series
Fantasy, Surreal
2022

Web Site

(based on 26 ratings)
5 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


Awards

Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Implementation - 2022 XYZZY Awards

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


News

The Dialog source code for this game is now available on the game page.
Reported by MathBrush | History | Edit | Delete
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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.
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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.
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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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Member Reviews

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Number of Reviews: 5
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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.

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.

Story/Characters
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.

Conclusion
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.

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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.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Awesome Coding, November 12, 2023
by fos1 (Under the Rainbow)

Mathbrush is an awesome coder and author.

This adventure is fashioned after the developer of the Dialog Authoring system's Impossible Bottle. Impossible Stairs is a worthy tribute, just as challenging and entertaining.

Mathbrush is also quite generous to make the source code of this game available. It an excellent learning experience for code techniques and how the games built in IF tutorial game play system is implemented.

Impossible Stairs is well worth your time to explore!!!

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The Impossible Stairs on IFDB

Recommended Lists

The Impossible Stairs appears in the following Recommended Lists:

Free IF Playoffs by OtisTDog
A fan-driven tournament held at intfiction.org between the 64 highest-rated games on IFDB as of June 7, 2024.

IFDB Top 100 by Pegbiter
An automatically updated list utilizing an IMDb style Bayes estimator to calculate weighted ratings based on all IFDB ratings. Questions and comments can be placed here....

New walkthroughs for July 2022 by David Welbourn
On Monday, July 25, 2022, I published new walkthroughs for the games and stories listed below! Some of these were paid for by my wonderful patrons at Patreon. Please consider supporting me to make even more new walkthroughs for works of...

See all lists mentioning this game

Polls

The following polls include votes for The Impossible Stairs:

Outstanding Game in an Uncommon System in 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 game of 2022 written in a system used by less than 5 games in 2022,...

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...

Games about Time Travel by Estrong157
more specifically, games with time travel as a gameplay element.

See all polls with votes for this game




This is version 8 of this page, edited by Fredrik Ramsberg on 21 February 2024 at 9:26pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page