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About the Story
When you read in the evening and a tale catches you, you immerse yourself in reading late into the night, until you fall asleep. It's night. You are reading the "Library of Babel" by Jorge Luis Borges. You imagine that huge collection of all possible books, some of which are been or could be written, but most of them nonsense, when... you notice in front of you a creepy guy who looks like Laurence Fishburne playing Morpheus in the movie "The Matrix". He glances at you with a pleased smirk behind his round dark glasses.
44th place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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This game is written in a custom parser-like engine (similar to Robin Johnson's Gruescript and also to Texture) where you can click on items to reveal more options with them and/or to drag them to other objects. Each new description results in the whole text box flipping over in a 3D animation. This is cool, but slows the game down a bit when running through already-seen areas.
The main part of the game is a large library (inspired by Borges' classic tale) that is organized in a very confusing way, accessible by selecting 'left', 'right', or 'back'. If there is a pattern, I didn't see it, so it's either random or a maze or I'm just dumb or all 3.
Each room has a book by a famous author, which you can enter. Each book world has a single room with one or more interesting items and a mini-puzzle. Solving the mini-puzzle allows you to take items to other rooms.
I found the idea clever, but the need for tons of clicking between rooms, slowness of the transition, and the tricky logic of the puzzles sent me to the walkthrough early on. If you want a real headscratcher it would be good to go through more slowly.
+Polish: Very polished.
+Descriptiveness: Some of the rooms are very vivid.
-Emotional impact: Nothing seems real, and I saw it more as a logic puzzle than emotional story.
+Interactivity: While the slow transition and maze were less fun to me, the idea of taking items from one book to another is fun.
+Would I play again? Maybe, this time without a walkthrough (and doing the other path).
(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)
The Library posits the player as a force of chaos, using the possibilities of Borges’ Library of Babel to haunt a dozen-odd works of classic literature. In pursuit of a conventional goal set out by an ersatz Morpheus (er, from the Matrix, not the god) – help Ulysses escape Polyphemus, or make sure Edmond Dantès makes it out of the Château d’If – you'll bumble through other books as well, sometimes simply reenacting the plot points but as often upending their plots or cross-pollinating their characters and stories.
This is a fun time! I enjoyed wandering the labyrinth, excited to see which book I would come across next – they’re well-chosen, with familiar characters and situations, ranging from The Divine Comedy to Moby-Dick. Each book sucks you into a brief vignette, requiring you to solve a single simple puzzle to progress. Despite none of the puzzles being real brainteasers, I still struggled with many of them, though. Partially this is because the game is quite linear – while you can access any of the books from the off, I think at any point in time, there are at most two where you can actually accomplish anything. Making this worse, the navigation system is pretty confusing, with right/left/back directions that change depending on where you enter each room from, so even when I wanted to check whether something had changed in a particular book, it was a real struggle to find it again. Finally, I didn’t initially twig to the fact that I needed to manually click through the provided excerpt for each book to make sure my character could act on the knowledge provided there, even if I was personally familiar with a passage and took the shortcut instead.
These niggles did unfortunately undermine my enjoyment for the first part of the game – then I decided to make use of the walkthrough to at least figure out how to get from book to book, and had a much better time of it. When you can focus on the literary playground offered by the game, it’s quite a good time indeed.
Highlight: The twist ending of the Odyssey section made me laugh with surprise – and had a satisfying denouement in one of the other sections.
Lowlight: Without getting too spoilery, the action required in the Treasure Island section seemed a little rough, all things considered (I haven't read the book, though, so maybe it feels merited to those familiar with the characters?)
How I failed the author: As mentioned above, despite having figured out how the relative-direction navigation system worked in theory, I could not use that knowledge to get from Point A to Point B if my life depended on it – thus going to the walkthrough sooner than I probably should have.
If an entry in IFComp is going to have one word (articles don't count,) then "Library" has to be up there near the top for me. I enjoy searching libraries, hanging out in them, or just finding a new city library branch to visit when, okay, I could've pulled an intralibrary loan, but I wanted some minimal adventure. And I wasn't disappointed. It's quite a fun game, and the writing is smooth, no small feat when English is not the writer's first language.
After meeting with an odd librarian and given a red pill (don't worry, here a pill is just a pill,) you're sent into a maze of twelve rooms, each named after a famed author, to rescue Edmond Dantes. Yes, a maze of twelve rooms–each has three others adjacent, and instead of compass directions, you can go back, left and right. Left (or right) then back from one room always leads you to that room.
TLDR for the comp release: the map is the trickiest part of the game, and I want to mention it up front, because it's well worth having a map by your side to subvert this, so the actual fun bits flow. Don't map it yourself, unless you really enjoy that sort of thing. Crib off someone else so the story doesn't get buried. The author originally meant to have 20 rooms in a Hunt the Wumpus sort of dodecahedron structure but cut it to twelve, leaving a few odd loops. The numbers just don't work out to make things symmetrical. Left and right looping in the first room gives two tidy pentagons, but then the map gets stickier. However, for the post-comp release, everything may be more symmetrical.
That said, the interface overall provides a good deal of innovative convenience. It's text at the top, and you can click on the important things to examine them. Books are the big one. In each library room, clicking on a book opens it, where you open it to enter the book itself. Then you find a bookmark to read the relevant passage that helps you understand what to do. Then you can drag and drop one item onto another to see if they work together. You can, of course, escape with no penalty if you're missing an item from another book. So the game has a parser feel without, well, fighting the parser.
So it helps to make a relatively smooth game once you enter the book in the actual room. Which is pretty cool, because though the idea of book crossovers has been done before, often in other books, having twelve to choose from is quite a task! In a linear book, it might be a bit messy, but here, there's a lot of fun. It may be tough to figure what to do first, as there's a lot of randomness involved, and there's no really logical way to say "Hey, I have to read this book first." It's not chronological. But I really enjoyed how some items linked up. You need to use Alice's cake to make someone grow. You need a way to kill Dracula. Dr. Frankenstein repairs someone's body with surgery. Edmond Dantes gets swallowed by the whale as in Pinocchio, with a crossover to Moby Dick. The connections are whimsical and quickly make sense most of the time. For me it was a bit odd to see Ulysses do something to get himself killed, until I realized, given the authors, where the action would lead. This all was a bit of a stretch–taking one step back to take two forward–but it was still entertaining.
The only thing I disliked about the interface was how left/back/right, for navigation, seemed to change order arbitrarily, making the maze even trickier. So when I wanted to try to loop to the left, or to the right, I had to pay more attention. And sometimes the page-turning special-effect, while a nice surprise in the introduction, wasn't what I wanted when I was trying to figure a puzzle. The author knows of this, and they were really receptive to feedback in-comp, so if there is a post-comp version, this may not be a problem for you.
But the puzzles are fun, and you really only need a passing familiarity with any of the books in the game. We all know the story of Gulliver being the giant, or Ulysses and the cyclops, and The Library weaves them together quite well. It kept me entertained and then some.
Sticklers will point to the map, or how some of the book scenarios are a bit off. Or how you have to take one step backwards to take two forward, e.g. by getting Ulysses killed. This may not be peak narrative and puzzles, but it's more than good enough, and it's still a lot of fun. If the rest of the game weren't very smooth, this wouldn't have stood out. Because combining books isn't a shoo-in. For instance, Edward Eager's children's stories are quite fun, as they go poking into other books, but there's a bit too much fourth-wall stuff and overt self-awareness and "ooh what a mess we made," and not enough getting on with it. Sierra's Mixed Up Mother Goose had its own simplistic charm, but it was mostly a fetch quest that just made sure younger gamers knew heir nursery rhymes, some of which made me cringe even when I was young.
The Library throws stuff together without saying "Ha ha, oops, I'm a bit disorganized, and that's part of the joke." While I think there's work worth doing for a post-comp release, it certainly made my gaming side assume a crossover among my favorite books would be easy. My programming and designing side knows better, and I'm glad The Library made it in, and I think if The Library 2 appeared in a future IFComp, I'd bump it up in the random order the website gave me.
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