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Parser Problems Punish Potential Players, Piss Away Pleasant Playground, December 5, 2022
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
I was cautiously looking forward to this one. Looking forward, as my fondness for early text adventure is just a thing about me by now. Cautious because those early days are much more enjoyable in my head than in front of me. And as a standalone app, unless Paul was building on a rock solid parser there were decades of learnings he’d need to implement.
I was right to be cautious. Part of it was my fault. I was bringing TADS-like parser dialect to this game. I did reasonably quickly figure out my blindspot and adjusted to this new parser syntax. But man was it frustrating. So much guess-the-noun, guess-the-verb. A tried and true way to combat this is to artfully provide valid words in descriptions and error messages. Not only do we NOT get that here, the text actively steers us wrong. An early puzzle involves getting out of a thick copse of trees, but…(Spoiler - click to show)it requires you pull an object out of your pocket, which I never thought to do as a ‘status’ command had previously told me I was carrying “Nothing, zilch, nada.”
Other tried and true ways to combat search-the-X problems is the hint system and walkthroughs. The hint system is context aware, but pretty primitive in that its suggestions are of limited help and relevance. But the walkthrough, I’m not sure what to do with that. I explicitly tried commands suggested by the walk through to be variously met with “Be more specific” or “you can’t do that.” Why are you taunting me, walkthrough?
To be fair, early games sometimes used “You can’t do that” as a synonym for “You don’t need to do that yet.” I certainly tried to embrace the experience with that in mind. So for 40 minutes I exhausted the hints and walkthrough and just typed variation after variation trying to hit the magic combo that would do what I wanted (as told by the walkthrough!) to do. I gave up at the 1 hr mark.
It’s a shame the parser problems are so dire. The bones of the game seemed amusing - the ASCII art was the perfect note of blast from the past, and much of it was really well done. It was SO well done I could even use the pictures to suggest relevant nouns, but that ended up being unevenly implemented. The few puzzles I encountered were simple but very evocative of early text adventures and would have elicited wry smiles had it not been so hard to bend the parser to my will.
Really, it feels like this would be a warm happy play if the parser could get out of the way. It would probably take heavy coding, but parser work alone wouldn’t solve it. Even with the current parser, the author could do a lot more in descriptive text to cue the players, and in beta testing to wring out contradictory, even deceptive text. I kind of hope they do, as this is a thing that makes me happy it exists, but the parser won’t let me enjoy it.
And at a minimum, ensure the walkthrough gives actual commands that work! It is the promise of this that pushed it from a 1->2 for me. A valid walkthrough would be a good way to show it is not Unplayable. Yes, I am committing the cardinal sin of critiquing on content that doesn’t actually exist.
Playtime: 1hr, stuck for 40min of it
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical/Intrusive
Would Play Again? Probably not but Maybe? If hint/walkthrough and in-game guidance significantly improved.
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless