One King to Loot them All

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Number of Reviews: 7
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Parser game about a barbarian king, with neat implementation tricks, January 4, 2024
by Vivienne Dunstan (Dundee, Scotland)

This parser game sees you as a barbarian king, try to avenge the loss of a friend, and defeat an evil enemy.

This was really something special. The implementation isn’t flawless, but the way that it uses a special gameplay command to change the narrative - without going into spoilers any more about this! - is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a piece of IF before. Initially I was a bit puzzled about what to do at a certain point, then went “aha!” and carried on. And it was enormous fun. I played right through to the end, in about an hour.

Because you are a barbarian you have special commands like SMITE and LOOT. That reduced verb set worked well. But I was most wowed with the world building, the playing with the narrative (which I want to talk so much about, but am trying to stay spoiler free), the use of locations, and the writing of various NPCs.

There’s no detailed walkthrough included with the game itself, but if you get stuck HINT will be a big help. Though at a key point you still have to figure out what to do for yourself.

Yup, that was good! Oh and there’s a story mode you can turn on to step through the game at any point if you get very stuck. I didn’t turn it on though, and enjoyed solving for myself.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Conan and the Treasures of Par-Sur, December 28, 2023
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

I do my level best not to compare works against each other. I have a nominally objective rubric I attempt to apply so comparisons should not be necessary. Like all such rubrics, subjectivity is merely hidden behind layers of objective indirection. This is brought home to me when works with superficial similarities somehow come out of my cold, mechanical rating machine with different scores.

We all got our own genre preferences. You don’t have to dig deep to uncover mine. Relative to OKLTA understand I’m a High Fantasy tourist. I don’t dislike it, but there’s no spike of endorphins when such a work is on the horizon. This is a Conan riff, kind of a family-friendly version played pretty straight. It didn’t strive too hard to inject humor, plot twists or high concept into the mix, fairly middle of the road there. For me, this is typically a recipe for Mechanical gameplay. Other such works have topped out there.

Where OKLTA did tweak the formula was in basic verb utilization. Instead of >EXAMINE, you are asked to >REGARD. Instead of >GIVE, >PRESENT. Instead of >OPEN X, TAKE Y, >LOOT X and so on. Thankfully most (but not all!) common synonyms still work, but flavorful commands are available. Look, I’m not going to pretend this is a massive innovation - parsers truck in verb-play ALL THE TIME. Here though, the noun and verb space is pretty constrained. Simple things are not implemented. If you only have a limited verb space, why NOT use flavorful ones instead of bland defaults? Despite myself, I found myself chortling at every opportunity to SMITE things.

Oh, it was Notably Intrusive, don’t get me wrong. When the only way to get liquid out of a container is to >LOOT CONTAINER, you’ve kind of gone awry. It can and does sometimes devolve into a ‘guess which new verb will map to a desired, unimplemented verb’ exercise. No clues whether it is the wrong idea or the wrong phrasing. What it was, was playful with the form. It’s like if a crafty but uneducated barbarian wanted to write IF, this is what we’d get. “OF COURSE CONAN LOOT, what else it be fancy man?” That resonance with the story kind of appealed to me!

There was another nifty instance of experimenting with form that again was Notably Intrusive, but kind of playful. At one point, you are asked to rewind time. There is no in-story mechanism to do this, just none at all. The solution requires use of PLAYER powers unavailable to the CHARACTER. Just so, so wrong as a coherent narrative. But as a coy tweak of the form… kind of fun?

While the narrative was unlikely to win me over on its inherent charms, and the puzzles straightforward enough not to bring out my inner thinker, there was just enough of just the RIGHT kind of gameplay tweaking to bring some joy to the proceedings. I also did guffaw at an endgame gag, sucker punching the Magic Child of Destiny trope, which honestly could use a little roughing up.


Played: 10/24/23
Playtime: 1.5hrs, finished
Artistic/Technical ratings: Sparks of Joy, Notable command fussiness
Would Play After Comp?: No, experience seems complete

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Weapon of choice, December 20, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

Without context, One King to Loot Them All would be a weird game. Not so much in its premise – it’s a limited-parser sword and sorcery pastiche set in a funhouse-dungeon that wouldn’t be out of place in an early-80s D&D module, with dracoliches, logic puzzles, and pit traps set cheek-by-jowl without excessive regard for rhyme or reason – but weird in its gameplay, especially the way it provides information and responds to player commands. For one thing, location descriptions are typically quite long and detailed and print out the player’s inventory at the bottom, while examining most objects just unedifyingly reprints the details already included in the location description. For another, it’s extremely solicitous of the player – maybe even sometimes veering to the pushy – in how it prompts you towards the next action. More so than most parser IF, the experience is of being on a ride (uncharitably, one might say a railroad) where doing the one right action gets you a mini-cutscene and moves you on to the next sequence, and anything else is quite unrewarding.

There’s nothing wrong with linear IF in my view, but this is an approach at odds with the traditional strengths of the parser game, where tootling around a map and examining every detail that catches your fancy is typically a big part of the draw. So coming to the game without any context, the player might be scratching their head about why the author took this particular tack. Fortunately, the ABOUT text reveals the secret origin of One King to Loot Them All, which explains quite a lot: the game was originally intended for this year’s Single Choice Jam, where games had to have only one moment where the player could do more than one thing, but missed the deadline.

Viewed in that light, many of its odder features make sense: the descriptions works the way they do, for example, because originally, looking or examining random scenery or even checking inventory would have been disallowed, so all that information needed to be conveyed automatically when entering a new area. Similarly, the limited-parser approach would cut down on the frustration of most commands not doing anything, and since the player could similarly easily get fed up without being able to uncover clues by investigating a scene, these likewise need to be extremely obvious.

One King to Loot Them All, in the form we’ve gotten it, has lifted the most extreme constraints of the jam – commands other than the intended ones are allowed and sometimes marginally useful – but the gimmick is still imprinted deep in the game’s DNA. It has some fun with the concept, too, with a consistent meta joke being the way the protagonist (an off-brand Conan the Barbarian) never met a complex problem he couldn’t solve with immediate violence – when all you’ve got is a hammer… (I kid, but really, the solution to the hoary old “one guard always lies, the other always tells the truth” problem made me snicker).

On the down side, I found the game sort of… lulled me? I’ve played easy games before, of course, but even in an easy parser game there’s typically at least some decision-making incumbent on the player, and again, there’s always the temptation of noodling around (I am an inveterate noodler). Knowing that actually, I should just do the thing I was supposed to do and then move on to the next thing meant that I was acting in as direct a fashion as the protagonist, but also made me feel like my job was just to figure out what the author wanted me to do and then do it – this got me into a flow state of a sort, but it was a sort of inattentive flow state, if that makes sense (it doesn’t).

Of course, you typically don’t just say something “lulled me”, you say it “lulled me into a false sense of security.” And that’s my excuse for why when One King to Loot Them All got to the point where I could make my one choice, I was incredibly slow on the uptake. I’m spoiler-blocking this bit, since it’s the cleverest part of the game:

(Spoiler - click to show)so knowing that there was only one point in the game where more than one action would be productive, I naively assumed it would either come at the beginning or at the end. When the opening half hour was completely linear, I relaxed and, as mentioned in the paragraph above, just played on autopilot, figuring I could turn my brain off until I got to the final scene of the straightforward kill-Foozle story. Even when I went through an odd timey-wimey bit, I still contented myself with doing the most obvious thing at every juncture – and was surprised when it turned out that wasn’t working.

It took me astonishingly long to realize the game’s twist – the choice isn’t so much a choice as a puzzle, and it’s embedded in the middle of the game, not the end. It’s an impressive bit of misdirection that left me clapping my hands, but it also left me a bit frustrated. There’s a fair bit of drudgery involved in experimenting, since I wound up replaying the whole game to that point to confirm that what I’d tried didn’t work, and the logic of the puzzle still doesn’t fully make sense to me: you meet a mysterious sage who blesses your axe, then tells you you need to rewind time to change something that happened before the game starts. So after a bunch of UNDOs you can actually slingshot your way beyond the opening scene and try to change history – but crucially, the axe remains blessed even though you’ve turned back the clock to hours before you met the sage. It’s fair enough, I suppose, since who knows how a diegetic UNDO should work, but in my fugue state, I wasn’t quick enough to figure out the trick, and I didn’t notice any clues (like a telltale new sparkle about the axe, say) that would have helped me out, and I had to use the walkthrough.

To briefly summarize all that blurry text: there’s a really cool twist, but I was too dull to appreciate it, which is mostly my fault though I think some elements of the design could have mitigated the risk of the player being a big old dum-dum like me. I also think the game could have cut itself freer of its single-choice origins while retaining its impact. In particular, making the descriptions more conventional would have made the gameplay a bit more engaging by rewarding player investigation, and kept certain sequences, like the multi-part puzzle to get across the river, from feeling overly constrained.

While I’m picking nits, I also felt like the writing could have been a little zestier. It’s technically solid and hits the genre tropes in a satisfying fashion, but I like my sword-and-sorcery prose to be more over the top, with extravagant superlatives and overly-baroque locutions, as in Ribald Bat Lady Plunder Quest; One King to Loot Them All is more workmanlike. Similarly, sometimes the barbarian-y synonyms chosen for the limited-parser actions were strained; OPEN being remapped to LOOT made good sense when I was pillaging a chest, but less so when I had to LOOT a wineskin already in my possession to drink it. But these really are nits, and my complaint above might just reflect that I was a bit tired when I played the game and not sufficiently with it to appreciate its uniqueness and smarts.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Unique game with single correct choices and clever mechanics, November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This game is one whose development I have followed for some time.

This is a parser game set in a Conan The Barbarian-like world, with a muscular barbarian king who travels about fighting monsters and wizards and generally destroying things.

There is a cast of memorable NPCs and the writing has a strong voice, with complete customization of almost all messages and a rich setting.

This was originally developed in conjunction with the single choice jam; this game, instead of having exactly one action in the whole game, like most other entries, has exactly one correct action in each location (or, more appropriately, only one allowed action in each point in the game, since some rooms require consecutive correct actions).

There is also a limit on available verbs (customized to have clever names), so that means that at any point, to progress, you need to figure out which of the available verbs to use. Theoretically, this means that you could progress at any point just by trying all of the verbs on all of the nouns. The author works around this by frequently requiring unusual or surprising combinations.

Overall, it took me around 1.5 hours, and I found it clever and richly descriptive.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Limited parser with a twist, November 18, 2023

I was looking forward to this one, and it did not disappoint! I knew it included (Spoiler - click to show)a clever use of the “undo” command, so I thought that aspect wouldn’t be a surprise when it arrived—but it actually still was, and it was delightful. (Spoiler - click to show)I love time shenanigans in games, so I found it very fun to rewind to the beginning and play out a different version of events.

Given the Single-Choice-Jam origins, the game is rather on rails, guiding you the whole time to the single correct command for that turn (as such, it isn’t possible to die or otherwise hit a game-over). You won’t get much out of examining things (typically the description from the main text is just repeated) or trying to explore; rather, it presents a kind of “guess the verb” puzzle of figuring out which of the custom commands is needed at which time. I found this aspect fun, and one of the game’s charms; while it took me a bit to hit on the idea of (Spoiler - click to show)looting the wine bottle in order to drink the wine, it was very satisfying when I did make that connection. I also liked having to (Spoiler - click to show)smite corpses, plural, in order to win that battle; the game really does reward thinking like a barbarian! So I think adjusting your expectations is key to enjoying this game—don’t look for typical parser conventions, but instead appreciate the clever new things this game does with the format.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Better than you might expect!, October 8, 2023
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

Let me come right out and say I don't like the title of this game. Sure, I get the The Lord of the Rings reference, but, first of all, this game has nothing to with post-Tolkienian fantasy (precisely not!) and second, the suggestion that this king is just out to loot is totally wrong. The title sets low expectations that don't do justice to the remarkably fun game we actually find.

I don't think the main character is ever named, but we're obviously playing Conan the Barbarian as written by Robert E. Howard. It's perhaps important to emphasise that Howard's Conan is not stupid and does not overcome his foes through brute force alone. He's a cunning guy who manages to become king and isn't at all bad at ruling, even though some of his subjects resent his origins among the barbarians. Brouwer follows these ideas to the letter. I'm almost certain that there's a Howard story that starts exactly like One King to Loot them All, with Conan as king being surprised by some magical assassin whom he defeats; but even if I'm wrong about that, our game is pitch-perfect Howardian Sword & Sorcery. Even the prose is Howardian, which is admittedly not an unreserved compliment -- Howard tends to indulge a bit too much in long sentences and rare words that do not quite add up to great prose (although not as much as his friend and fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith). There's something of that here too, which is especially noticeable in the error messages, that are too long to be easily scanned and mentally discarded.

It's almost impossible not to be reminded of Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom when playing One King to Loot them All, because both are restricted parser games with a barbarian protagonist. But actually they do not have much in common. S. John Ross's game is a geographically open puzzler involving quasi-RPG-style character progression, whereas Onno Brouwer's game is a tight story-line with no real puzzles to speak of. Perhaps even more importantly, Ross' barbarian really is stupid, and the limited verb set is used to streamline puzzle design. Brouwer's Conan is pretty smart (he has no trouble explaining the logic he used to get through the paths of order and chaos) and the limited parser is used to... yeah... mostly to tease the player with some intentional parser frustrations, actually! (Spoiler - click to show)One's inability to open the wine bottle is pretty funny, as is the fact that this puzzle solution if given away in the Help text, where you probably won't notice it. (Though I did. Right when I was about to give up in the Pit.) There are some real parser frustrations, though, which don't help. (E.g., "water" is not a synonym of "waters", the two guards cannot be disambiguated by the adjectives the game itself applies to them, etc.) I can imagine that some players hit their head against a wall. A pit wall, perhaps.

But they really should keep playing. For what had been an entertaining if far from perfect sword & sorcery romp, suddenly turned into a game that had me play it with a giant grin on my face, (Spoiler - click to show)a grin that grew bigger and bigger when I realised how far I could undo, and then, that I could save the priestess, and then, that everything after that also subtly changed (including the nice scene where the priestess points out that she should be the sacrifice), and... well, yes, it was just lovely. The final fight with the necromancer was a tad confusing (I never really understood how the interception worked), but otherwise it was so much fun. Including the revelation about the three chosen ones.

The one thing I think is a little sad is that you can't actually (Spoiler - click to show)start UNDOing when you've just opened up a new game. Famously, you can win Slouching towards Bedlam on the first turn, but by taking an action that you only have reason to take once you've finished the game and know what's going on. One King to Loot them All could also allow the player the freedom to start on the winning path immediately; if anyone stumbles upon it without preparation, that's fine too!

Anyway, really nice game.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: One King to Loot Them All, October 7, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

High-octane action doesn't lend itself well to adventure game engines designed for exploration and puzzles. Indeed, it's almost impossible to imagine parser games without some exploration and puzzling.

But this game presents an alternative and perhaps more exciting approach to interactivity. Originally made for the Single Choice Jam, its spartan design allows no room for superfluous commands for players to get stuck on. You are a barbarian who's taken over the kingdom, not some lowly adventurer. You have no need for the standard Inform 7 verbs: you don't open chests, you > loot them. You > smite any instances of downtime, > regard the rich textual descriptions, and > march toward the antagonist for one final showdown. And if you simply want to indulge in the spectacle, you can switch on and off the story mode at any point in the game.

You are the One King to Loot Them All.

Your interest in this game begins and ends in how interested you are in the spectacle of sword-and-sorcery stories. The game abandons any pretense of more conventional interactive fiction sensibilities; it instead revels in the genre as a pastiche. Love it or hate it, all the cliches are there. It will not attempt to subvert the genre or go beyond. The game simply asks for your commitment to roleplaying as this barbarian king.

This straightforward approach to storytelling may be too old-fashioned for many people, but adapting it to a parser work makes the story refreshing to me. Like Plundered Hearts, the game seems uninterested in IF works before it -- the implementer was unaware of Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom weeks after they started developing the game and the only influence it had was on the help system -- but it's definitely infatuated with the sword-and-sorcery genre and is more than happy to learn from it. The stories of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian and C.L. Moore's Jirel of Joiry are all about escalating tension. They're always in danger, but once they've killed their enemies, more will appear -- and there will be more bloodshed. Only when they've slain everyone will they finally put down their swords and axes. I can't imagine how much effort it would take to adapt these conventions to the Inform 7 engine, but it's definitely worth the effort. Scenes feel seamless as you encounter one obstacle after another. Your actions are always purposeful and move the story forward. And the descriptions feel authentic to anyone who's read their fair share of sword-and-sorcery works. Playing it brought back fond memories of immersing myself in the world of pulp fiction.

But it's more than that: when I type in the words and read the player character swooping the corpses away, I feel like I'm actually interacting with the story. I'm brought into the power fantasy not just as a macho hunk, but as someone who can meaningfully change the state of the game world. To borrow from Jimmy Maher's appraisal of Plundered Hearts, it's close to the "Infocom ideal of interactive fiction" because there's a "narrative urgency" that pushes players and events to move forward. It's interactive and fiction the way I thought of those terms: there's a lot of action going on and we, the players, have to interact with it.

One King to Loot Them All is therefore not just an orthodox version of sword-and-sorcery fiction. It may open up new avenues for interactive fiction as a medium, perhaps taking a cue from a recent review of Plundered Hearts that brought up the notion of "story-forward games" from another review. We can > seize these opportunities if we dare to break this paradigm and try something different. They don't have to be a minority. The promise of interactive fiction is still great, and I look forward to seeing more works with action-heavy plots like this terrific game.

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