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It's like your usual DiBianca game, except different, in all the good ways, December 3, 2021
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.