The Curse of the Scarab

by Nils Fagerburg profile


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Number of Ratings: 9
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1-9 of 9

- Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia), January 23, 2022

- Dark Star (Metro Detroit), November 23, 2021

- EJ, October 13, 2021

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An innovative optimization game that's also a lot of fun, December 2, 2020

It's a bit of an odd thing, reviewing a game that explicitly says it was inspired by one of your own. So I think I'll confine myself to a few general comments about the game -- instead mostly using this review to discuss how The Curse of the Scarab fits into the optimization game genre, at least as I see it.

So, yes, The Curse of the Scarab is an optimization game. It's set in an Egyptian tomb. Your goal is to enter the tomb, steal a scarab amulet and as many other valuables as you can, and then escape.

After my first few plays of the game (it's very easy to die), I thought, "Not bad, probably a 3-star game." After a dozen or so plays, I began thinking, "O.K., this game is pretty good. It deserves four stars." Several hours later... well, any game that engages me this much has earned a five-star rating.

I think that's it for general comments about the game. For a more traditional review, read one of the others already on IFDB.

Let's now look at how The Curse of the Scarab fits in the optimization game genre. The basic setup for an optimization game is that you're trying to maximize your score, usually by acquiring as many valuable objects as you can, subject to the restriction that you only have a certain amount of time. Different games offer variations on that basic setup. For example, Captain Verdeterre's Plunder (the other acknowledged influence on Scarab) innovates in the way it restricts the action space: You're on a sinking ship, and each turn the water level rises. Thus as the game proceeds you slowly lose access to locations and valuables that are on the lower levels of the ship. Sugarlawn (my optimization game) doesn't restrict the action space much from what you would see in a hypothetical basic optimization game. Instead, its primary novelty is that it adds a nonlinear term to the objective function in the form of allowing you to earn rewards by placing valuables in "target locations" rather than simply escaping with them.

So, what does The Curse of the Scarab bring to the optimization genre? Several things, actually. These mostly affect the action space, but they also affect the objective function some.

First, the action space. The main timing restriction in Scarab has to do with light. Your torch has only so much fuel, and once that runs out then you can't really explore the tomb anymore. But there's also a small part of the game near the beginning in which you don't need the torch. Thus, unlike Verdeterre and Sugarlawn, the game timer isn't always ticking. So Scarab effectively extends the action space. From the player's standpoint, the question becomes, "How much can I do in these lighted spaces?"

In addition, Scarab introduces a feature not present in either of the other games I mentioned: You can be chased around the tomb by (Spoiler - click to show)the mummy and (Spoiler - click to show)a swarm of flesh-eating scarabs. One of these will (Spoiler - click to show)curse your items, making them worthless, and the other will (Spoiler - click to show)kill you. So in addition to grabbing as much loot as possible within the constraints you have, you also need to find away to avoid these two entities.

There are also things you can find in the tomb that will allow you to relax both the rather severe carrying capacity restriction as well as the amount-of-light restriction.

Finally, Scarab makes a few innovations to the objective function. Two important objects are more valuable together, for one, and there's also a way to increase the value of one of your objects.

Each of these innovations by itself might not change the basic gameplay much, but when you put them all together you get a game that is a great deal more complex -- and so a great deal more fun. In particular, solving puzzles is even more rewarding than in a basic optimization game because not only can doing so lead to more treasures, it can also relax some of the restrictions you had been operating under. Overall, then, The Curse of the Scarab is a rather deep optimization game given how short a single play can be.

While I'm clearly biased here, I hope others will continue pushing the boundaries of the optimization game genre like The Curse of the Scarab has.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent optimisation parser IF, December 2, 2020
by Stian
Related reviews: ectocomp 2020

Not particularly scary, but hilariously funny, The Curse of the Scarab is an optimisation parser IF inspired by Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder and Sugarlawn. Here, you are attempting to loot an Egyptian tomb, which is not only filled with treasures but also deadly traps and flesh eating creatures. I have never used UNDO so many times in an adventure, and never had so much fun doing it. The Egyptian lore and hieroglyphs present in The Curse of the Scarab may be meaningless or fake, I don’t know, but they are perfectly convincing and really contributes to the immersion. I also don’t know what authoring system Fagerburg has used for this game; while there was no download link, the online interface was really lovely, with tasteful fonts and adorned by subtle decorations. All in all an excellent game!

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Optimization game with excellent puzzles and implementation, November 15, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Homebrew parser

This game is inspired by the optimization games "Captain Verdeterre's Plunder" and "Sugarlawn". I agree those are good. This is however my favourite optimization game so far. Except for a few locations, this game takes place in an Egyptian tomb. Your task is to find a certain object and then find as many valuables you can. When you complete the game, you will automatically sell everything. The money you earn is your high score. The author encourages you to send him a transcript if you get a high score, which always gives even more incentive to keep playing.

This game is a lot of fun. It has excellent puzzles and thorough implementation. However, it does have some "old school features" but that makes sense for an optimization game: Time limit (read: turn limit) for parts of the game, inventory limit and the game can be put in an unwinnable state. However, these are what makes this game fun and challenging. The game is not very big location-wise and most locations can be reached when the game begins. You will probably have one playthrough to solve puzzle A, then another playthrough to experiment with puzzle B etc. After that, you can try to optimize your playthrough so that you will earn as much as possible.

Regarding the time limit, note that you can exploit the parser, obviously intended, for instance, GET ALL would only take one turn, whereas if you get the objects one by one, it takes more turns. Such parser exploitation is not exactly realistic but I think it adds a positive extra layer to the optimization.

The game engine appears to be made by the author, which was probably a good choice as the implementation is very good and suits the game. Even when you restore a saved game you can undo as many times you like, and after multiple sessions, it accumulates a list of all the treasures you found and the number of undiscovered treasures. Those actions, which shouldn't take time in the game, don't. For instance, examining things only takes time if something happens. My only nitpick with the parser was (Spoiler - click to show)I wasn't sure about the syntax for wishing. E.g. it could have understood [wish that 'something'] but that didn't work. I am now under the impression that the only way to wish is to type [wish for 'something'].

As an Ectocomp game, this is not particularly scary to play, though it does contain violent deaths, unnatural phenomenons etc. Still, I think it is suited for Ectocomp but would probably do very well in other competitions too. Anyway, I think this is an excellent game I highly recommend.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A surprisingly rich and complex but difficult optimization games, November 7, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I beta tested this game briefly.

I usually think of Ectocomp games as being quick and simple, but the Grand Guignol games have been pretty intense the last few years.

This game has several innovative/amazing features:
1. It's in a custom parser that's brand new but so good that it felt like Dialog or Inform for me
2. It has excellent javascript integration with smooth scrolling image sidebars
3. It has an optimization puzzle that requires in-depth strategy and a lot of spatial thinking.

So it's pretty cool. You're breaking into a tomb (like Infidel) and need to grab a scarab amulet as well as as much treasure as you can carry (which is rough, given you can only carry 4 things at a time in your hands).

The puzzles are harder than most optimization games I've seen. Just getting a successful ending at all will likely take several tries. There's enough complexity here that I probably saw <1/2 of the game when I beta tested it and still there are things I don't understand (like the purpose of the (Spoiler - click to show)map and cursed disk).

The only drawback I found is, like the other optimization games, the puzzle itself detracted somewhat from the emotional impact of the story, as the story is mostly a frame for the puzzles and is repeated over and over each time. Otherwise, for fans of optimised treasure runs, this is a great game.

- Edo, November 1, 2020

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, October 31, 2020
by jakomo
Related reviews: ectocomp2020

Grab as many treasures from the cursed ancient ruins as you can, and get out safely before you get eaten by bugs, fall down a pit, die of thirst in the desert, or get ripped to pieces by a mummy. I was never fully sure of the game's mechanics but still found it enjoyable throughout, with it's mildly comic tone falling somewhere between the more serious Infidel and the more silly The Horrible Pyramid, to name two other grave-robbing adventures. I finally escaped with my life and £150 to my name. Lots of opportunity for replaying here, trying to maximise your winnings in the style of Captain Verdeterre's Plunder. Fun.

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