by Tommy Herbert


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
If God is omnipotent, can He make a puzzle He cannot solve?, September 26, 2010
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

You should play Bellclap. But you should play it by following David Welbourn's annotated walkthrough. The rest of this review will explain (a) why you should play the game, and (b) why you should not try to do it on your own.

(a) Bellclap is an experiment with the different roles that can be distinguished in a piece of interactive fiction: the commander (the fictional character who decides what actions to try out), the narrator (the fictional character who tells what happens), and the actor (the fictional character who carries out the commands given by the commander). Interactive fiction in general has merged the first and the third role into what we call the "player character", a character who decides what to do and then carries it out. The narrator has usually been a different, and often extra-diegetic character. (This means that the narrator has generally not been a character within the primary fictional world.)

There have, of course, been many experiments with these roles, the most common of which have been either to put the narrator into the world; or to change the expected relationship between the player and the commander/actor-hybrid that we call the player character. Bellclap, however, does something else: it pries apart the commander and the actor. The commander is a god, and the actor is Bellclap, one of the faithful, who has come to the god for assistance. Whatever the player types is interpreted and presented as a command from the God, and Bellclap than tries to carry it out. The narrators is cast as a third person, namely as the angelic messenger who gives the commands of the god to Bellclap, and who informs the god of the results.

This set-up is executed with wit and humour, and gives the piece a very particular feel. You ought to experience it, and therefore you ought to play this game.

(There is at least a fourth important role, namely, the "experiential focus", the character through whose senses we experience the fictional world. This role can be combined with any or none of the three roles defined above. In Bellclap it is more or less spread out over them all.)

(b) Bellclap is also one big read-the-author's mind puzzle. The "short route" walkthrough included with the game is particularly baffling. Imagine that you are stuck in Savoir Faire's kitchen, consult the walkthrough, and see that the first command is "make a mr. potato head" -- that is more or less the experience I had when I consulted this walkthrough. The walkthrough linked to above makes the whole experience far more coherent; but I still cannot see how a player could possibly be expected to hit on the solution. Apparently your godly powers are tightly limited, and need to be triggered in exactly the right way. But there is no way the player can know this, since there is no way you can experiment with them.

As a game, this makes Bellclap pretty much a failure, because you cannot really play it.

Still, you can walk through it, and that is exactly what you should do.

Comments on this review

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Nusco, September 26, 2010 - Reply
I liked this review, but my experience with the game was very different. I didn't find it unplayable at all - in fact, I found it relatively easy (compared to most puzzle-oriented IF), logical and fun. This is a subjective judgement, of course, but I'm surprised that you found it so hard. I don't remember being stuck on it for a minute, and I'm not a very skilled puzzle solver.
Victor Gijsbers, September 27, 2010 - Reply
Really? But how on earth did you guess that in order to get this guy through a thunderstorm, you must (Spoiler - click to show)sacrifice a sheep and then (Spoiler - click to show)use the blood to create a statuette? I can see absolutely no reason to believe, in advance, that these things could possibly be helpful; or that the second action is possible at all.
Nusco, October 2, 2010 (updated July 9, 2012) - Reply
After all these years, I cannot remember what the puzzle-solving process was like. I'm pretty sure the game hinted at what to do, though. Maybe the hints are not well placed, and they can be missed? I'd have to play it again to give you an answer.
Chris Longhurst, September 30, 2010 - Reply
I found this review exactly correct. I managed to work out the sheep-sacrifice by myself, but after that...
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