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Four mixed vignettes and a good puzzle, September 28, 2009
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.