Number of Reviews: 11
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Wisely wrought, wicked wordplay works well, September 22, 2010
Ad Verbum is a great wordplay game, and one of the few works of interactive fiction that can claim to have been inspired by the work of Georges Perec. Its greatest claim to fame are undoubtedly the rooms where all descriptions, including all the library responses, are written in such a way that each word begins with the same letter (w, n, e, or s), and where only input in the same format is accepted. Try taking something and then going south when you only type words that start with an 'n'. These puzzles are excellent and wittily implemented. The same high quality is maintained in the library, where several other forms of constrained writing are practised.
It is really good to see some interactive fiction that takes the textuality of the work seriously, and that manages to craft enjoyable puzzles around it.
I do wonder why Nick Montfort thought it would be a good idea to add some puzzles that have nothing to do with wordplay. (I'm thinking primarily about a light source puzzle and a "bring an object to a person" puzzle.) It's not just that they lack the brilliance of the constrained writing puzzles; it's also that by the time you come to these puzzles, you are so trained to look for wordplay everywhere that you don't realise that these puzzles are not to be solved in that way.
My bigger gripe with the game, however, is that some of the puzzles seem to be excessively geared towards certain cultural backgrounds. To a certain degree this is unavoidable: one cannot play an English wordplay game without having a great command of the English language. But some of the puzzles required the use of what I presume are American slang terms that I had literally never heard of; and there was one puzzle which you cannot possibly even start to grasp unless you already have detailed knowledge of a language game which might be well known in the US, but which, again, I had never before encountered.
(Which ones do I mean? Here are the spoilers. Taking a certain object in the library: (Spoiler - click to show)you need to "rip" the wee writ, where this is apparently a synonym for "take". Exiting the s-room: (Spoiler - click to show)you need to "scram", or "split", apparently synonyms for "go". And the language game you need to know is of course (Spoiler - click to show)pig latin, a puzzle which is by the way made unintentionally difficult by the fact that (Spoiler - click to show)the pig doesn't understand "outhsay" but only "ogay outhsay".)
After encountering one such puzzle, the reader will start believing than any puzzle he cannot solve is such a puzzle -- in other words, the motivation to persist when things are difficult is greatly decreased.
All this might not apply for people who do have the right cultural background to understand the more obscure puzzles, but for me they lessened the fun of the game enough to have me drop my rating from 4 to 3 stars. Still, you owe it to yourself to play this game.