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About the Story
You've built dreams and brought to life legends. But all that is useless compared to your beloved masterpiece, a creation of tremendous value that holds the keys to unlimited adventure -- as well as great peril. You are the World Builder.
Entrant - 2012 Hugo Comp
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Number of Reviews: 2
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Play it if: you're in the mood for a short, high-concept piece of sci-fi.
Don't play it if: you're in the mood for puzzles or much in the way of interactivity.
World Builder seems to draw strong influence from the Isaac Asimov short story "The Last Question". I could be wrong about that, but given the common themes of man, machine, and cosmic godhood, I think I could be forgiven for drawing the comparison.
Perhaps appropriately, World Builder as a narrative shares most of The Last Question's strengths and weaknesses. It succeeds in moments where it evokes grand imagery and higher powers: this is a universe inhabited by machine intelligences, planetary designs and would-be gods. The prose is acceptable, perhaps under-implemented in places but functional in conveying the settings and possessed of occasional moments of striking imagery. The scope of the story requires that the characters speak with Tolkienic grandiosity, which while appropriate does serve to distance the player from any deep emotional connection with the characters, especially given the short length of the game; beside their immediate goals, the characters are generally ciphers. This is not entirely a flaw in a short game emphasizing high-concept imagery: "The Last Question" also had fairly flat and static characters, and it's (by most standards) a gem of sci-fi short stories (Asimov's personal favorite, incidentally, and my favorite short story of his ouevre).
As a game, there's not much to speak of. There are no real puzzles and no real gameplay stakes - as far as I can tell, there's no way to lose, though perhaps the game was just very forgiving. This is understandable when dealing with a PC who is close to apotheosis, but it does make me wonder if the story of "World Builder" wouldn't have been better served as straightforward fiction than as IF.
Still, a diverting five minutes of your time.
From 2011 to 2012, I remember ClubFloyd being a very busy and welcoming place when I managed to visit. There were the Apollo games and the New Year's competitions and also replays of the very best IFComp games. I even entered something to a New Year's Speed-IF. Playing on ClubFloyd made it that much more fun.
World Builder was one of the games from the Hugo competition, and I forgot about it until years later. The Hugo games, by and large, angled for silly fun and jokes, which was welcoming, especially as I was still learning about game design, and I worried that the major parser programming languages were radically different. (Some let you do some things easier. But most cover the basic syntax.) You didn't have to have an overarching narrative or super puzzles to make an impression or provide entertainment. Also, the writing period for entries was about four days, so there wasn't going to be a lot of branching--perhaps it didn't help that one of the prompts was about world building, or something like it. Many of the entries had kind of big text dumps.
But World Builder tried for that narrative, where you were a Dr. Frankenstein type who created a sentient cyborg called Hugor. Hugor breaks free from your control, pulled into a vortex by an antagonist whose name is Minfor.
Given what Minfor anagrams to, it's clear bigger themes are at play, but I don't think it's "Inform vs Hugo, death match." It feels to me like Hugor may have real concerns of: can I offer anything Minfor doesn't? Should I try to offer everything it does? Why not just be subsumed into it? Anything I do, can't it do as well or better? So Hugor is fighting for identity, too. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it. At any rate, this is a real concern--what could a relatively new or unpopular/refurbished programming language bring to the parser game? World Builder left me with these thoughts, and it wasn't until years later with Adventuron that we discovered something--that less is more. Adventuron got rid of a grammar-style parser and went with two words and will comfortably escapt Minfor's maw.
There aren't any real puzzles, but I enjoyed the drama and misdirection near the end, where it looks like everything is going to fail, but it doesn't. And jogging through again, the descriptions are strong, the dialogue maybe less so, but enough to give us sympathy for AIs who maybe see things we don't. And if Hugo were sentient, perhaps it would feel inferior to Inform just on the basis of games written in it? Perhaps ripped off it hadn't got a fair shake?
Looking back I wasn't sure if it was the camaraderie of being able to play along, or not having to concentrate on every move yet be able to catch up, that left me with good memories. That was surely part of it. But on replay I forgot how World Builder got me to think of bigger issues, and perhaps it was what stirred me to get the idea for my 2012 IFComp game, one which relied on Inform being Inform to build a world all about anagrams. That's certainly a "enough of my thoughts, what about my deeds" way to look at someone else's creative work, but it made me take a step back then, and now.