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About the Story
The Bryant Collection is an interactive anthology: a collection of ’story worlds’ by Laura Bryant. They were found at a yard sale in an old strongbox. Five pieces of interactive fiction written by someone who never used a computer.
The Bryant Collection is essentially a collection of unrelated IF stories, originally sourced from a box of notes and story drafts that the developer had acquired from a yard sale sometime in 2008. The envelope marked 'Undelivered Love Letter' is this writer's pick, simply because of the way the author has limited your mobility and actions to one single scene in an airport.
There is however one major flaw with Gregory's IF collection that could not go unmentioned. Most of these stories have very little puzzle elements in them, save for figuring out what to do in each scene so that the story may progress. But it is also because of this recurring theme that causes the inclusion of the Tower of Hanoi puzzle feel so out of place, something that only persistent IF veterans would appreciate in this package.
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Although it comes in one story file, The Bryant Collection is divided into five small, straightforward games - ostensibly inspired by the notes of one Laura Bryant, as found by the author at a yard sale. These different segments consist of one characterful and cartoonish take on the Garden of Eden, two understated vignettes of contemporary life, one dash of science fiction in the form of a picnic at the end of the world, and (incongruously) one bare-faced and old-school puzzle based on (but not, in fact requiring the solving of) a classic Tower of Hanoi problem.
Of these, the Garden of Eden story was by far my favourite, simply because of its unusual setting and its strong and entertaining characterisation of both Eve and the serpent. It may just amount to a yes/no conversation, but of the five different parts it's the one that really stands out as being interesting, well implemented and fun to play.
The two contemporary vignettes are nicely realised, keenly depicting moments that are low-key and lacking in dramatics, but momentous to their protagonists all the same. Having said that, they are perhaps a little too prosaic. The sequence involving a college graduate returning to his family home may be well-written and deeply implemented, but exploring someone's house and reading little everyday memories is, well, not all that much of a step above all the other times we've explored someone's house in an IF game without their memories popping up.
Similarly, the conversation between two ex-lovers parting at an airport conjures a nicely melancholy tone, but I had a little difficulty figuring out exactly what I was able to do or talk about - knowing so little about these characters. It's a nice touch that the NPC notices if you seem to have gone quiet, but along with the tight time limit, it creates a bit of frustration when the PC is actually just displaying the signs of a player who's trying to work out what he can say.
Moving on, I found "The End of the World" to be the weakest part of the game. There's not all that much to do here except examine things, eat lunch and wait. It's solidly implemented in terms of how descriptions change throughout the event, but it all seemed a little bit too vague to me.
And then, finally, there's the Tower of Hanoi. All I'm going to say about this, is that it wasn't my thing, it didn't seem in keeping with the rest of the game, and if I'd realised that the game didn't have any kind of acknowledgement for completing all five segments, I wouldn't even have attempted it. Even using the most explicit hints available, I found solving this puzzle to be arduous and frustrating - it simply isn't the kind of thing that an all-text game handles well, and I struggled to remember which colour or size disk I was supposed to be putting where. For me, this was an unrewarding, anger-inducing throw-back to the dry, unmotivated puzzles of yore. Others will certainly feel differently.
Still, when you realise that there's no need to complete everything regardless of how much you like it (actually admirable in this age of pointless, unlockable achievements), then whether you're interested in characters, or puzzles (or both), there's a good chance you'll find something here you'll like.
The Bryant Collection claims to be a set of "story worlds" written by Laura Bryant, which were then found in an old chest and implemented in Inform by Gregory Weir. This conceit adds little to the piece: it remains a collection of five seperate works that are not unified in any interesting way by the person of Laura Bryant. Luckily, the metafiction hardly intrudes on the experience, since you have to type no more than one command to arrive at what is essentially a menu where you can choose between the five stories.
All of the five pieces are competently implemented, but some are more successful than others. Interestingly, though, my ranking of the pieces is almost the opposite of that of fellow reviewer C.E.J. Pacian. Pacian liked "Morning in the Garden" best, "Going Home again" and "Undelivered Love Letter" somewhat less, and "The End of the World" least. He did not rank "The Tower of Hanoi", since he judged himself not to be the target audience.
For me, the puzzle game "The Tower of Hanoi" is certainly the highlight of the collection. Of the four vignettes, I enjoyed "The End of the World" most, "Morning in the Garden" less, and the two contemporary pieces least. As you can see, there is little consensus between us, and the reader must perhaps judge for herself.
So, let's talk about the pieces in turn, from what I found the least to what I found the most enjoyable.
"Going Home Again" sees the player character returning to the home of his parents after a prolonged absence. We get to walk through the house, notice that some things have changed and others have stayed the same, and then we leave again. Not a bad premise, but neither the protagonist nor the parents are well-characterised, the memories remain vague and unspecific, and in general there is not enough to do and explore. It doesn't even evoke nostalgia. More could have been done with this.
"Undelivered Love Letter" is again a good premise: you took the plane for a weekend with your far-away girlfriend, and then she ended the relationship. Now you are on the airport, waiting for your flight, and you have a few last moments with her. The problem here is that the player never really knows what she can do or say--the interaction remains shallow, and little emotional engagement is created.
"Morning in the Garden" is more successful: it is a slightly humorous take on the Eve & serpent story. However, the arguments put forward by the serpent are far from original, and one cannot help but feel that the time would have been better spent rereading a few choice paragraphs of Paradise Lost. Still, the flow is smooth, and the discussion not without its funny moments.
I found "The End of the World" remarkably effective. You are sitting enjoying your lunch as the world is about to end. There's nothing you can really do, and the story unfolds around you, but the piece really manages to evoke a feeling of Gelassenheit. (This German word could perhaps be translated as "serenity", but the connection to "lassen", "let" in the sense of "let be", "let go" would be lost.) This is a difficult feeling to put into your interactive fiction, but this story succeeds well.
Finally, "The Tower of Hanoi" is a puzzle game of the kind I enjoy. There are clear rules, which you can find out through thought and experimentation, and once the rules are clear, the puzzle can be solved by logical thinking. (What I generally do not enjoy are puzzles of the "use chicken with staple remover in order to get a feather which can then be used to tickle the sleeping drunk so a coin rolls out of his pocket which you can then use to do whatever unconnected action the author has implemented next"-type. Think Zork or Curses.) The idea is original: you get to explore a set of rooms which can be rearranged like the disks of the towers of Hanoi (though you can pick up all the disks at a time, so there is no actual Hanoi puzzle involved). The arrangement of the rooms makes a difference to their accessibility, to the paths of beams of light, and so on. It is a good puzzle of medium difficulty.
All in all, The Bryant Collection is certainly worth playing, since even the least successful sections will not take a lot of your time to complete. If you truly hate logical puzzles, you might want to skip "The Tower of Hanoi", but it is otherwise highly recommended.
The Bryant Collection on IFDB
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My new walkthroughs for March 2019 by David Welbourn
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