Baby on Board

by Eric Zinda


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
In which we might better embrace conventions, May 23, 2022
by DB (Columbus, OH)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

OK so this is going to be a bit of a review of my thoughts on Perplexity as experienced through this game perhaps more than it's a review of the game. We'll see. Also I considered spoiler tagging some of this, but as I got all of three rooms deep into the game, I don't think I really got far enough to spoil anything.

"I only understand full English sentences like 'take the lamp.'" Hmm. OK, but even "Take the lamp" uses the conventional shortcut of an implied subject. It can't further imply an article and answer to >GET LAMP? That seems a little backward.

Turns out Perplexity will expand some typed commands into what it understands as a full command, but it will take the time to tell you every time. I get that the screenreader is helpful for some players, but I wish I could turn it off specifically because it reads these messages out to me every time, word for word, when I would rather just ignore them and move on, reading at my own pace [unspoiler: it is possible, I just missed it]. People have had this critique of homebrew or startup parsers for a long time and it's not that there's no purpose in them, but: what is the point of developing a parser that is specifically less forgiving than its more popular, conventional contemporaries?

>Who am I
>What am I wearing?
"I don't understand 'wearing'"
>knock on door
(Rephrased as: 'Knock on the door.' I'm just guessing here since I'm not designed for shortcuts, use a full sentence or I can get confused.)

Perplexity rejects the convenience of using an established vocabulary of shortcuts in favor of fully embracing the false promise of the parser while at the same time constantly reminding the player of the limits of its parser. Its parser also seems less advanced than some others, unequipped to understand "it" as a reference as far as I could tell.

>Where is the baby?
"Rosa's House, a living room, a world, and north somewhere."
I'm not really sure how I should understand this answer. I think it means: in the living room of Rosa's house, north of your current location, but it kinda reads like I asked William S. Burroughs during a binge.

>Where are you?
"inside a porch and inside a world"
No, that's where *I* am. I think. Actually, I'm *on* the porch.

>enter house
"(Rephrased as... [truncated])
You look around the immaculate living room. Near the couch is a coffee table with a note and a diaper bag on it. Tom is sitting on the floor next to idScrewdriver1.

Tom is gone!

There are doors..."

Welp, that's where I quit. I did report this apparent bug and I'm informed that it's fixed if you're curious about having a further go at it than I did. The game needs more polish and although I appreciate Perplexity's accessibility for screen readers and mic use (not my preference), I think that its rejection of conventions works against it more than it helps.

Note: this review is based on older version of the game.
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InductorSoftware, April 25, 2022 - Reply
"Perplexity rejects the convenience of using an established vocabulary of shortcuts in favor of fully embracing the false promise of the parser while at the same time constantly reminding the player of the limits of its parser."

Yeow! OK. Let me try to give a little perspective on what I'm trying to do here:

I've added (in parenthesis) additional text to the game description from the Spring Thing submission. Somehow that didn't get carried over when it was posted here. It is important because it outlines what the game (and the Perplexity engine) are trying to do: explore building games where the interface is your voice and regular English. The game tries to reinforce this in many ways, including the text that says "try using regular English syntax, it is what I am designed for!", the help system, the overview text on the launching page, etc.

Now, you can, of course, play it with the keyboard (instead of your voice) and use the classic IF verb/object command structure (instead of speaking normally), but that's not what it is designed for. And, as you point out, if you play it like a standard work of IF, it will fall short and be somewhat frustrating. It is an exploration of "What would it be like to play games where we can speak normally?" and, "What if we could get those games good enough where you could just play through your headphones on a walk?"

I'm the first to admit that Perplexity isn't done -- it is still an early experiment. Just like every other game in this DB you will encounter words it still doesn't know yet (I do add the ones that make sense over time by watching the logs and it gets better!) and even English syntax it doesn't know yet (ditto). You correctly point out I haven't gotten to "it" yet. It (pun intended) has only been said a handful of times in hundreds of playthroughs, so it hasn't been a top priority.

I do think you'll find that it understands a surprising amount of regular old English, however. Yes, you can easily go beyond its understanding by saying: "I would enjoy placing the jug on top of the table" but it will understand: "place the jug on top of the table" just fine. I'm still trying to find ways to set the right expectation, but I think something like "talk to Perplexity like you'd talk to a new English speaker" might be about right. Be straightforward and direct, avoid the flowery stuff.

People obviously get to review the game using any criteria they want but I'd ask that you evaluate it for what it is trying to be: an exploration of using normal English to interact with a game.

A few comments on the parts of the review not about shortcuts:

"Where is the baby? -> Rosa's House, a living room, a world, and north somewhere."

Yes, you interpreted it right. It has been a bit of a challenge getting it to say "in Rosa's House, in a living room...etc" I'll fix that.

"Where are you? -> inside a porch and inside a world
No, that's where *I* am. I think. Actually, I'm *on* the porch."

I guess the game could have answered "in a server somewhere" but players often seamlessly transition between "where am I?" and "where are you?", meaning "where is the player in the game?" The point about "on" vs. "in" the porch is a good one. It is currently treating the porch like a room. I'll fix that.

As you pointed out, "Tom is sitting on the floor next to idScrewdriver1" was simply a bug which has been fixed.

Thanks for trying out the game and writing up your feedback! I do appreciate it. I hope this at least clarifies what I was trying to do with the game.
DB, May 11, 2022 - Reply
Thanks for your feedback. I'll probably have to give the game another go at some point, though I'm still playing catch up on the Spring Thing in general. So many games this year...

It sounds like you've been addressing the issues I raised. Would you prefer that I mark my review as being for an earlier version of the game?
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