Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

by Kenneth Pedersen (as Ilmur Eggert) profile

Historical Fantasy Comedy

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Number of Ratings: 14
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- Greg Frost (Seattle, Washington), January 26, 2021

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Tonal issues mar what could have been a charming historical send-up, December 11, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

Typically when playing a game, I don't find it too hard to figure out what the author was aiming for, but I have a hard time getting a handle on SSG. I went into it thinking it would be a sort of edu-tainment game about physics, maybe with puzzles involving classical mechanics – it isn’t that. Then after I played for a bit and it tipped its hand by involving an actual witch (in the first real scene, so I don’t think this is a spoiler), I thought it was shaping up to be a fish-out-of-water setup with a scientist trying to make sense of magic – it isn’t that. Once the (Spoiler - click to show)time travel and alternate history kicked in I thought we might be swerving back to being educational, but nope, not that either. But even after having finished it, I have a much easier time laying out what it isn’t than what it is.

Part of this is the tone of the writing, which is generally clean but very matter-of-fact throughout. At first, this scans as jokey: in the opening sequence, your buddy greets you with a hearty “Hey, Newt!”, which is a funny way to think of someone greeting Isaac Newton. But this same sort of low-key prose style persists throughout the game and doesn’t escalate or respond to situations that are increasingly silly – which means that what starts out as jokey eventually winds up feeling understated or flat. Tone is one of the key ways an author can guide the player’s reactions to the story, but without that to rely on, I often felt unsure how to feel about what was happening, or if something was or wasn’t a joke or was meant to be incongruous (Spoiler - click to show)(X ME, for example, reveals that Isaac is “wearing the most expensive and fashionable clothes from 1673,” which is initially a bit funny because what about, say, the king? And once you time-travel to 2020 I thought this was going to set up a gag, but nobody remarks on it at all, so just add that to the list of things that happen without evoking much response).

This carries over into both the plot and gameplay side of things. Plot-wise – well, I can’t discuss this without spoilers, but my basic critique is that this really left me scratching my head, even leaving aside the presence of witches and magic and so on. (Spoiler - click to show) So the conceit appears to be that by sending Newton forward in time before he’s written the Principia and introduced calculus, the witch has deprived future scientists of what they need to make progress so that instead of coming up with the theory of relativity and helping advance quantum mechanics, Einstein has to reinvent Newton’s discoveries over 200 years late, so things that rely on advanced solid-state physics and electrical engineering are breaking down. Even leaving aside the fact that Leibniz at worst developed the calculus contemporaneously to Newton so this wouldn’t have been so bad, this really is hard to wrap one’s head around – if history has changed, why are there still empty shelves in the library for relativity and quantum mechanics? And if Newton didn’t write the Principia, just plagiarized it from future-Einstein, even leaving aside the grandfather paradox wouldn’t sending him forward in time actually put the timeline on the “correct” course, since it’s only as a result of the time travel that we wind up getting the calculus in the late 17th century? If you clicked through that spoiler, you know I’m overthinking this, but again, without guardrails for how I should be engaging with what’s happening this is where my brain starts to go.

Matching the rest of the trifecta, the gameplay is also quite puzzling. Not, I hasten to add, because there are lots of puzzles – there’s maybe one and a half, quite easy – but because it leads to very odd pacing. The first half to two thirds of the game consists of typing in heavily cued movement commands and reaching very long noninteractive sequences after every half dozen or so. There are opportunities to do a bit of poking around in this section, but the map is very linear and there’s not much scenery of interest (though everything mentioned responds to being examined, as far I could tell). Then you get the aforementioned simple puzzle-and-a-half, and then the game ends. There’s one opportunity for some fun exploration (Spoiler - click to show)(there are some easter eggs in the library, where you can type in a bunch of authors and see what the library has on offer – though there aren’t really jokes or anything interesting here, just the frisson of pleasure at guessing that you can get a response if you type in CERVANTES).

So yeah, here we are, 800 words into this writeup and I still don’t really know what to tell you. SSG is solidly implemented at least, and it’s pleasant enough to play through, which is a level of quality that’s hard to hit in a work of parser IF. And it’s got a fairly unique protagonist and setup. I’m just not sure what it all adds up to.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
I wanted more Newton!, December 6, 2020
by brwarner (Vancouver, BC)

This is my first parser game of the contest. I do not really play parser games. I played a bunch of Hugo’s House of Horrors when I was a tiny little boy, but for 20 odd years: nothing, until this game.

In this game you play as Issac Newton, contemplating how he will revolutionize physics until he gets a strange letter informing him of a intellectual puzzle befitting his burgeoning genius. You travel down a linear path to a cottage and meet an old woman who remarks about how easy it was to lure you down here and then refuses to speak to you. I tried to talk to her, ask her about any of the key words she said, ask her about anything in her house, myself, herself, or what was going on. Nothing. Giving up, I went outside, fainted from dehydration, learned that I was (Spoiler - click to show)in 2020 and science was in trouble, then visited the library.

The game is pretty simple. I had to use the walkthrough once to solve the puzzle in the library, but otherwise had no trouble. I think there was a cool idea here, the potential for perhaps some commentary on science and history, but I felt it was under-explored. I would have rather the game delved deeper into that than have a puzzle about sneaking books out of a library. Maybe part of the reason is that I am a firm opponent of the idea that single individuals shape history so profoundly, especially when it comes to the development of ideas. So perhaps my objections are more ideological than anything. I think it would have been neat and Newton came to the future to find history had easily continued on without him. Or perhaps if the game drew more from Newton’s biography rather than the idea of Newton. Didn’t he think a lot of what he was doing was alchemy? And I think a primary objection to his explanations was that positing invisible forces was basically saying magic existed (I’m drawing from my memory of Structure of Scientific Revolutions here).

Anyway, I’d love to see the idea of science and history explored more. Interested to see what the author does next. Mechanically, I also think there needs to be more responsiveness to questions and verbs. If an old woman tells me I’ve been subjected to a “phenomenon” I should at the very least be able to ask about “phenomenon”. Took me a while to realize the game just wanted me to leave and go outside.

- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), December 4, 2020

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short story in parser format, December 1, 2020
by Stian
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

A rather cute fan- and fantasy fiction featuring Isaac Newton as its protagonist, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants is a short story in parser format rather than a game. As the playing time was less than 10 minutes, the experience never achieved a deep level of immersion or engagement, but the writing was solid enough to carry it through. The story itself was friendly and somewhat imaginative, but lacked the depth and/or length to make it properly interesting. While parser commands are used to progress, puzzles are just about absent, and exploring is explicitly discouraged in room descriptions.

- Spike, November 30, 2020

- jvg, November 29, 2020

- Edo, November 10, 2020

- jakomo, November 5, 2020

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Historical science-fiction with little science, November 1, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

A potentially charming paradox experiment where Sir Isaac Newton must restore the timeline when modern folks somehow forget the laws of physics due to Einstein not being able to build on Newton's work.

Unfortunately, there is little interactivity as the game actively encourages you not to explore or talk to anyone, and many rudimentary actions are dismissed as Isaac not being interested. There are also only a couple of novice level puzzles and neither of them have to do with time travel or science; essentially you are just guiding Isaac along the story path until you reach the ending.

It was an interesting choice to use past-tense and third-person, and given the lack of interactivity it worked. I wish more time had been spent on world building. The actual science is given superficial treatment and I learned very little about Newton or his theories.

- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), October 31, 2020

- Zape, October 25, 2020

- Bokai, October 16, 2020

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short linear Inform game about physicists and time travel, October 13, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

So this is an interesting game. Basically, it’s a time travel plot involving two of the great physicists in history.

The implementation generally worked well, although it seemed to kind of push me around a lot, especially when entering or leaving the cottage, almost like no direction I went mattered, the game would send me where it wanted.

The writing goes back and forth between very plain and more elaborate. The story is full of grand ideas, but I think it could have used a little more spacing between big reveals.

Overall, though, it was a quick and simple parser game with an interesting concept. At first, I was skeptical that things would have played out the way suggested in the game, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that we don’t really know how great discoveries and scientific innovation are pushed forward, and it’s difficult to understand why there has been such an acceleration in technical innovation in the last few hundred years.

+Polish: I didn't find any real bugs.
-Descriptivenss: The game was plain in some parts, especially the library.
+Interactivity: While I felt like I was being pushed around, it ended up working out smoothly.
-Emotional impact: I don't think the big reveals 'landed' for me.
+Would I play again? Maybe; it's interesting to see the past tense and third person, and to consider the way it pushes you forward.

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