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About the Story
How do you break out of handcuffs when all you've got is an egg?
23rd place - tie - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
An Exercise for the Reader
Arthur DiBianca’s games tend to be minimalist, puzzly, and whimsical. Most of the last several games of his I’ve played lean heavily into the puzzly aspect. Grandma Bethlinda’s Remarkable Egg leans much more into the whimsical — more so, in fact, than any game of his I’ve played — including even the original Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box.
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Grandma Bethlinda's Remarkable Egg is a parser-based marvel created by Arthur DiBianca. The egg is a marvelous toy, both as an in-game object and as an entry in IFcomp 2021.
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Number of Reviews: 7
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For the better part of a decade, Arthur DiBianca has been putting out limited parser games, where most commands are shut off and only a few work.
This game is kind of an opposite version of that. Instead of few commands, there are tons of commands, some of which you have to guess (for full completion) and most of which you don't know what they do.
This is a game that invites experimentation and discovery. Part of the fun is trying out a command and having it do something surprising but, in hindsight, reasonable.
There's not much storywise, but a lot of depth. Reaching the first winning situation isn't too hard, but getting all the points is very difficult (I admit I looked at the intfiction thread for most of the extra credit points).
Overall, I found the game enjoyable.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
I’ve played a number of Arthur DiBianca’s signature limited-parser games – including just getting to the first Grandma Bethlinda instalment a couple months ago – and have generally really enjoyed them, with last year’s Sage Sanctum Scramble being my favorite. GBRE has a different vibe than that unabashed word-based puzzlefest, and I took a little while longer to get into it, but by the time I was digging into the as-always generous post-game content I was definitely having fun.
As always there’s not much plot – you’ve managed to handcuff yourself, and you need to give one-word commands to the Rube-Goldberg-meets-Alexa egg to get yourself free – so it’s all about the gameplay as you explore the egg's functionality and unlock new commands by running through its autorepair sequence. Despite this setup, GBRE is actually much thinner on puzzles than I was expecting at first – there are maybe three or four that gate progress on the repairs, and they’re good ones, but mostly the gameplay is focused on exploration, as you try out the commands you unlock at each stage, figure out the potential interactions between them, and guess at other commands the egg might accept.
Until I got to the ending, I found this pleasant enough but not that engaging – it felt more like a toy than a game, and while it’s delightful to see what the egg will do next, by the end of a half-hour the novelty had started to wear off. Getting to the end unlocks a full Extra Credit list, though, which basically serves as an achievement system, with 21 different entries clued only by their titles.
This endgame content starts to require more focused problem-solving, while retaining the whimsy and discovery of the main section of the game. Some are really easy (Spoiler - click to show)(”Greetings” just requires saying HELLO to the egg), some yield after a modicum of thought (Spoiler - click to show)(”Grrrr” clearly has to do with the dog and the bone…), and some require a good dose of lateral thinking (Spoiler - click to show)(racecar ones, I’m looking at you). A lot of this is trial-and-error, but it’s the fun kind of trial and error where you smash toys together to see what will happen – it reminded me of the old Doodle God Flash games.
Amid a Comp that has lots of games dealing with really serious themes and ideas, it’s nice to get a playful palette-cleaner like GBRE – definitely treat it like a Marvel movie and stick around after the ending to get the most out of it, though!
Highlight: Figuring out Exterminator made me feel very clever.
Lowlight: I ran through every permutation of answer to the SURVEY command and was disappointed not to get any validation for my completionist instincts (I have a problem).
How I failed the author: After getting about a third of the Extra Credit points, I was figuring this was going to be it for me given that I have less time for IF Comp this year, but after putting GBRE aside I thought to start a hint thread, and using that was able to get all the points. So I lost out on some of the joy of discovery, but gained the hollow validation of checking every item off a long list – yay me?
After several years, you may think you know what you're going to get from a DiBianca game, but maybe not. I say this as someone who's enjoyed beta testing his games before. They're already in quite good shape by the time I get them. I like the surrealism with more than enough backstory to allow for a nice variety of puzzles. And I like being able to get through the basic ending, then the more-fun full ending. There will be challenges, but I don't have to do everything the first time through. I know I saved GBRE for later after completing the easy part first. And, for the author's usual efforts, it is unexpectedly easy to get the basic end. But then again the author also leaves much tougher puzzles out there for those who want to stretch themselves.
You've managed to handcuff yourself without a key, but fortunately Grandma Bethlinda's Egg has just about everything you could expect from a mechanical egg, including lockpicks ... if you can figure how to open it. The egg, however, needs you to run diagnostics. Not too many, but enough to keep you busy. Each one opens up new commands, which may or may not be necessary for your immediate needs. A small puzzle with 3 variable letters in a 7-letter word is one example I'll focus on. There are a few ways to do it: one is to write a program that spits out all the combinations and compares it to my words file. Another is to write a script that grinds through all the possibilities with the commands. An example would be:
* change slot 1 3 times
* change slot 2 once
* steps 1, 2, 1, 2, 1
* change slot 3
* steps 3, 4, 3, 4, 3
Or, of course, you can just have fun with trial and error. There's a balance here. Too much brute force, or too many programs, is no fun. I tend to get a good blend of regular problem-solving and coding tries. I enjoy the meta-game of balancin things. There's also another puzzle where the egg is dirty and needs cleaning. But you need the right temperature of steam. So you VENT or WAIT for several turns, which heats things up or cools things down. It's an arithmetic problem, really, as VENT cuts the temperature in half. But it's a fun one, and I wound up getting the right temperature a mve early, which wasn't good enough. Figuring out what I missed was rewarding. It feels like it should be busy work, but it never quite is, and the author has a good intuitive feel for mixing things up, for starting with received knowledge and moving on to trickier things, and also talking effectively to the reader.
I got a basic good ending, which was enough. I knew there was obviously more. I was unable to print out the manual, which the game lampshades pretty early on. You don't have any paper to feed the egg, you see. But there are other things: a racecar that doesn't want to fall off a table and a mechanical dog that ... well, it seems fun. There are 21 or so bonus endings and more than 50 verbs to use or find. That sets the stage for a lot of experimentation. I admit I was a bit short of time, so on replay, I looked at some of the tricker puzzles. While the author's shown humor before in his puzzles, it's more explicit here, and you can't just sit down and calculate everything. There are timing puzzles, as well as puzzles for taking the right things out of the egg (too many, and it says you need to bring some back in.) There's even a survey you can (again!) brute-force, and I really liked the puzzle to get the egg to 100% commands. You control a microbot going up it, and the microbot can only describe the items blocking its way. From that, you have to order the egg to expel certain things, so the microbot can move forward. There's more lateral thinking than usual here, because GBRE gives you all the achievements' names, and you have to guess the right verb(s) or, more often, the combination of egg commands to get stuff done. Some experiments don't quite work, and that's kind of funny too.
Usually I tackle a Grandma Bethlinda game 100% right away, but then I didn't usually want to try to complete all IFComp games. GBRE isn't the first entry where you know you've missed something and you can put it off until later, but you do know roughly what you've missed, and it's easiest to play around with in your head, because all the pieces are there. And one other note: before looking at it, I flipped back through old issues of the New Zork Times. The author mentioned he'd gotten a letter published. It was about how A Mind Forever Voyaging was nice but light on the puzzles he'd come to expect, compared to Zork, etc. Perhaps someone may feel GBRE goes off in a different branch as well, one it shouldn't, one they didn't expect, and history will show that yes, GBRE offers something neat Arthur DiBianca's other games don't. I enjoyed the different humor after first saying, wait, there's a bit more lateral thinking and a lot less number/logic crunching than I expected. But whether the next Grandma Bethlinda related game is heavy on pure logic or lateral thinking or, more likely, has a neat balance of both, I'm looking forward to it.
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