Jungle adventure

by Paul Barter


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Very chaotic Python parser game with whimsy to spare, December 24, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

The fears of some about parser games, especially custom parsers, are fully warranted for Jungle Adventure. It has all the usual faults. But it manages to be fun. I like the ASCII graphics, the whimsicality, the not-too-big maze. And, I admit, I enjoyed peeking in the source code. I'm still not good with classes in Python. Paul Barter is much better than me with them. If JA is whimsical (describing your game as "rip roaring" certainly is bold,) his organization is not, and I learned a lot from it. Hats off to him for that!

The game part is chaotic, though. The parser, first. There're simple verbs that outright clash. You don't want to type just "exit." That exits the game without warning. But "exit plane" leaves your plane, which you need to do. Similarly, LOAD GAME and SAVE GAME are necessary, not just LOAD and SAVE. Some items are implicit in the charming ASCII art or the item description, which is clever until something is forgotten, and you're looking for something that's not there. More seriously, you know your radio must have batteries, because it works, but this is not explicitly described in-game. Then the batteries form part of a neat puzzle. And seeing "oh, hey, this is the part of the ASCII drawing that's not in the text" is neat, but it comes at too high of a price.

The game itself isn't too arduous--well, if you cheat a bit. While there's some guess-the-verb or guess the item, once you get a puzzle, items are swapped and you move on. If something is broken, it's pretty clear you must fix it and how. The maze near the end is not too painful, and the main map is not huge. You'll know what to do. A lot of times you may need to get killed to know what to do, but you'll know. There's humor to keep your spirits up as well. Maybe not Mitch Hedberg or George Carlin, but it's there, and it helped me through some parser-wrangling.

So even if the puzzles take on some additional weight due to you missing the right verbs or nouns (pro-tip: read main.py and scenes/*.py in a text editor) and you have to save-and-restore the fights in the maze (if you get killed while button-bashing, you may be kicked out from the "restore or quit" dialogue, too) it's not too bad. As BJ Best said, there's a certain joy of discovery in Jungle Adventure which more advanced games won't have, and we can lose that if we're not careful. That doesn't make up for serious technical flaws, but for those of us who like writing or playing parser games, it heartens us to try neat new stuff and take on a bit more than we might have felt comfortable with before.

Too many JA style games in IFComp and we might have less patience with the parser. But for me a small handful is always nice, as they never seem to deal with heavy issues, and too often I do not want to deal with heavy issues, even if such efforts are well-written. With JA, there's that genuine joy that, gosh, you can DO something like this, and it succeeds at its goal. And to me it's clear these games are better than they were five or ten years ago, where we have to dig deep to find what the writer was saying, and it's a bit unsatisfactory. JA has a walkthrough now, so IFComp completionists, if you're out there, will hopefully be able to enjoy things more easily. There are frustrations, and a lot of them, but they're (relatively) forgivable. So if you are an IFComp completionist late to the show, you can notice and understand the holes in JA and not feel impeded by them, and the fun I suspect the author had putting JA together will be far less filtered.

Perhaps for a sequel, in addition to a more robust parser, the author will use the colorama package which allows a programmer to specify text color. Then, maybe, the important items could have color in them, while the background is just background. Colorama's something neat I use for my own Python programs to tell when stuff goes wrong, or when a test passes. I think JA shows a lot of potential. With the author's knowledge of Python (I imagine this could expand to learning a testing module as well,) a game design book or two could make something really special, whether for IFComp or elsewhere.