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gostak.z5
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Requires a Z-Code interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links.
gostak.z5
The original competition entry.
Requires a Z-Code interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links.

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The Gostak

by Carl Muckenhoupt profile

Wordplay
2001

(based on 82 ratings)
10 reviews

About the Story

"Finally, here you are. At the delcot of tondam, where doshes deave. But the doshery lutt is crenned with glauds.

Glauds! How rorm it would be to pell back to the bewl and distunk them, distunk the whole delcot, let the drokes uncren them.

But you are the gostak. The gostak distims the doshes. And no glaud will vorl them from you." [--blurb from Competition Aught-One]


Game Details


Awards

Nominee, Best Puzzles; Winner, Best Individual Puzzle; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Winner, Best Use of Medium - 2001 XYZZY Awards

21st Place - 7th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2001)

16th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2011 edition)

46th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition)

6th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2023 edition)

Editorial Reviews

Play This Thing!
Distim the doshes
The Gostak is not the game you want to start with if you're new to interactive fiction, because a lot of the decoding process is aided if you already know what commands are typically used in IF and what kinds of things the model is likely to include. But if you've played a few IF games and are looking to have your mind bent in a new way -- a way that would be impossible to imagine in anything but a textual gaming medium -- then you might want to give it a try. Expect to spend a lot of time on each turn making dictionary notes, even for the simplest of moves...
See the full review

SPAG
[...] there's still a whimsical feel to the responses that makes the game more than the sum of its crytographical parts. It's a tribute to the thoroughness of the implementation that the world you inhabit begins to take on some personality; obstacles and helpers don't just serve their functions, they also have connotations, associations -- this one is faintly ludicrous, that one is vaguely chummy, another one is not very bright but trusting -- that suggest that the world-creation effort did not, by any stretch, stop with the bare minimum.
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>INVENTORY - Paul O'Brian writes about interactive fiction

I was shocked at how quickly and easily I found myself typing commands like "doatch at droke about calbice". However, the whole experience was completely cerebral, with little of the emotional catharsis I associate with successful storytelling. I felt this effect when I played Dan Schmidt's For a Change, but it's ten times stronger in this game, where words aren't simply rearranged but actually replaced wholesale. Consequently, while playing The Gostak was a strange and memorable experience, one which will surely elevate the game to the rarefied level of For A Change, Bad Machine, and Lighan ses Lion, I found it a somewhat strained sort of fun. Great for a puzzle-solving mood, and certainly worth trying if you're a cryptography buff, but not terribly involving as a story.
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50 Years of Text Games, by Aaron A. Reed
In an interactive work, how much of the struggle to operate it comes from meaning, and how much from syntax? With familiar linguistic rules, could you learn to play a text adventure whose nouns, verbs, and adjectives were utterly unfamiliar?
[...]
The resulting world is one you can glimpse only dimly, with logics and consequences that seem by turns familiar and alien.
[...]
Parser games already take some effort to play; The Gostak requires more than almost any other, and the barrier to entry, to some, can be deeply off-putting. [...] As of 2021 its scores still had the highest standard deviation (the amount of variance in a set of values) of any game ever entered in IF Comp across a quarter century of events.
[...]
Today The Gostak can be even trickier to play, with fewer players well-versed in the parser conventions on which its foundations for understanding were built. But for those who love a challenge, itís absolutely still worth trying. It creates a uniquely literary kind of exploration that could never translate to a visual genre, perfectly suited to its textual medium. Its world is as hard to imagine as it is to forget.
See the full review

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Member Reviews

5 star:
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4 star:
(22)
3 star:
(6)
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Number of Reviews: 10
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Most Helpful Member Reviews


12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
The map is not the territory, March 26, 2014

This is a game for experienced players, not just because it practically requires knowledge of genre conventions, but because the way The Gostak obfuscates its output is pushing directly against an old-school drive: the player's desire to construct a mental model of the game world. For old-school games, this often also means drawing an actual map on paper. Here, there are only a handful of rooms, but you have to start taking notes and make your own little dictionary before you can start connecting any of them, let alone visualize what's supposed to be in them. Understanding the language is the main puzzle of the game, and it's a great one. As you build your vocabulary and your understanding of objects and the relationships between them, descriptions that were impenetrable nonsense at first glance become more and more sensible until you're reading fairly naturally and typing back commands that would seem like crazy talk to anyone looking over your shoulder. It's extremely satisfying.

Of course, you have to constantly remind yourself that your model is only a model. The world of The Gostak is an alien one, and although there are many terms that seem to have close analogues in our reality or other games, there's never enough information to really know what anything is like. To some extent this is true of all text games, with many details left up to the player to fill in mentally, but in The Gostak you're painting with broad strokes. Abstract splatters, really. And no matter how vague and fuzzy you try to keep the picture in your head, you'll almost certainly over-imagine things and make assumptions about concepts that lead you astray. A particular term can turn out to be dual-purpose in a way you wouldn't expect, or a physical action may be only superficially similar to whatever you were thinking of as its equivalent. In a longer or crueler game, this tension would be infuriating. Here, the push and pull is a dual pleasure.

I do have gripes about two puzzles. One relies on a word that I felt was too obscure (it was barely present in any of the output, as far as I could tell), and another has a solution that doesn't match well with the information provided (there are sufficient clues to reach the solution through experimentation, but it was not clear to me why that particular action was necessary or why it would be that effective). I regret being so late to the party for this game--it would be interesting to play this one at the same time as someone else and see which details stuck out to them, and to have them describe the particular way they imagined this weird world in their head.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
One of the finest decoding puzzles I've ever encountered, February 20, 2008
by Michael Martin (Mountain View, California)

The goal of this game is straightforward; as the gostak, you distim the doshes. Alas, the lutt to the doshery is crenned with glauds! But surely a snave gostak such as yourself can discren them.

And, I note, the entire game is like this, including very and deeply extensive meta information. At no point is the central linguistic conceit dropped. I'm a sucker for this, and indeed this is one of my favorite games as a result, but more importantly, the game is approachable in a way that most IF with a metatextual conceit is not. That said, some basic familiarity with the standard Inform library will greatly enhance one's experience with the game, as many (to me) critical clues for solving the game's language came from default responses.

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
A story that could not be told any other way., November 7, 2007
by Kake (London, England)
Related reviews: Carl Muckenhoupt, *****

It's a game; it's a puzzle; it's a very, very good depiction of an alien universe from the perspective of one of its inhabitants.

The reference is to the sentence "The gostak distims the doshes", which is used to illustrate how syntax can convey meaning ó we don't know what a gostak is, nor what distimming is, nor what doshes are, but we do know that distimming is something a gostak does to doshes, and we know that doshes can be distimmed by a gostak. As you play the game, you uncover meaning-in-this-sense, and you learn how things are related to each other; but there is no perfect one-to-one mapping of the gostak's language to English, and I have a strong feeling that the gostak's universe is very different from ours.

I "completed" the game a few days ago, but there's still a lot to discover and speculate on, so I'm still playing it.

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Polls

The following polls include votes for The Gostak:

Games Where the Title Is You by AKheon
Games with a title that is the same as the main character.

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I'm very interested in hearing truthful accounts of at least somewhat difficult games (or games that don't solve themselves at least) solved completely without recourse to hints, walkthroughs, etc.

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