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In Earl Grey, you can change words by removing a letter from it. For example you could “knock” the word “plants” and have it become “pants”. I wanted to make a list of words for which this transformation is possible, and I did. The file is 226 KB and 13134 lines long. Here’s the link to the file.

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Last year, one of my English class assignments was to write a short (2 pages or something) scene that contained two characters from different books that we had read that semester. I went too far and ended up making a short game involving four characters, all from different books. I ended up turning it in way beyond the deadline and it retrospect it was a bad idea, but nevertheless I managed to do it. After I was done I forgot about it until recently, when the competition reminded me about it. I’ve fixed up all the worst bugs I could find and polished it up a bit.

I don’t consider myself a writer. I think of myself as primarily a programmer, so maybe interactive fiction shouldn’t be on my radar, but for some reason it is. Non-player-characters are pretty much the hardest thing to program in any type of game, and this game revolves around them. I found myself unable to copy the style or personality of the characters from the novels, and I don’t think I fulfilled the original assignment. There is almost no real interaction between the characters. Perhaps I shouldn’t have a full disclaimer here. You can judge it for yourself, I suppose.

Not finding this game worthy of beta testing, competitions, or really anyone who wasn’t in the same English class, I still put a lot of time into it and it feels like a waste to not release it somehow. If you actually were in the same English class, you might get at least something out of it.

You can play it here. Please send me your transcripts if you can.

I don’t know why, but I’ve enjoyed playing various text-based computer games. Using information from Wikipedia, interactive fiction is a genre of computer game in which the player types commands into the game. They were most popular in the early 80s, so I probably shouldn’t know about them at all. They traditionally focus on puzzles, but the more recent games might not.

To play one of these games, you type in commands, to which the game responds. For example, you might type “go north,” “unlock chest with key,” or “ask gnome about hat.” These games allow for a much wider variety of actions than other types of games, since the player could type almost anything into the prompt.

One of many contests for writing interactive fiction, namely the 15th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition, ended November 15. In the contest, anybody can judge the games by playing and rating each one. I did that, and I’d like to say what I think about each one. I don’t want to fit them all in one post, so I’ll split them up. I guess I’ll go in something resembling alphabetical order. I didn’t actually play them in this order.

The Ascot

This “game” only seemed to be pretending to be interactive. The only input it would accept is “yes” or “no,” but even for this vastly limited vocabulary, it still rejected whichever option it didn’t like, almost completely stripping away all interactivity. I found the narrator annoying rather than humorous. I have nothing more to say.

The Believable Adventures of an Invisible Man

The premise of this game is that you have an invisibility potion and want to take revenge on the world. The game seems to consist entirely of guessing commands, tedious puzzles, and poor descriptions. I seriously couldn’t find the right commands for 3/4 of the puzzles without the walkthrough. For example, one of the first puzzles involves getting a pizza out of your apartment without freaking people out with floating objects. You have to get it out of a window hidden behind a double negative (“You couldn’t get a place without a window” is all the hint you get.) I tried “put pizza in window,” “put pizza into window,” “throw pizza out window,” “throw pizza in window,” “throw pizza at window,” and “throw pizza into window” before finally hitting on “throw pizza through window.” Almost all of the puzzles were created by being invisible, and the entire game would have been easier without invisibility at all. If I get a superpower, I want to have fun freaking people out with talking, floating objects, not spend my time maneuvering through crowds. Sorry for this angry rant.

Beta Tester

The plot of this game is supposed to be something about beta testing some game in the game, but it seems like an excuse to shove a bunch of minigames in a bunch and throw it out there. The command “Let’s Play” wasn’t even listed anywhere in the game. I had to look in the walkthrough to find it. The writing was decent, but the rest of the game made no sense.

Broken Legs

This game was extremely confusing. The narrator was consistant and colorful, but I didn’t enjoy listening to her talk for the entire game. The puzzles were impossible and now I have a headache. It seemed like the game took a LONG time to make. I consider myself to be the exact opposite of a sociopath, and perhaps that is one reason I didn’t enjoy it. This might have worked out better as a normal short story. This game might work a lot better if there were multiple ways to solve each puzzle. Having one way to solve puzzles is not how it works in real life. Another problem was that solving the puzzles made me feel bad instead of good. I felt sorry for the other people throughout the game. The way it is supposed to work is that you solve a puzzle, and your reward it that you feel glad that you did it. This seems to be the opposite: you solve a puzzle, you feel bad, and you don’t want to solve any more puzzles. I also found it was impossible to reference the handbag when the purse was in scope. The player character and I are almost exact opposites: she’s a sociopath, I can barely hold a conversation; she’s female, I’m male; she hates rules, I love them; she’s soprano, I’m a bass. I could go on, but the point is that I really didn’t connect with the character at all. There’s been a lot of effort put into this game, but I personally did not enjoy it.

Byzantine Perspective

The entire game seems to be one giant puzzle, which I never fully understood. I actually managed to beat the game by wandering blindly, guessing, and getting lucky. I still don’t get it. It was really short, dark, and confusing.

CondemnedCondemned Pie

This game had a LOT of text. Reading through the entire game was exhausting. I’d say that on average each command had 3 paragraphs of response text. The author seemed to be making his responses longer on purpose. For example, if you attempt to talk to something that doesn’t want to talk back, it would say “Your mind is like a blank, white sheet right now, void of anything to say.” Such a long, dramatic response is unnecessary. At the end of the game, (this isn’t a spoiler, I think), it says “Smack! Your head cracks against something hard. [Conclusion].” I misread “conclusion” as “concussion”  at first. This game wasn’t particularly interactive. I was expecting this sort of game to pull out the multiple endings any time, but it never happened. I really can’t see any way this would be any worse as a regular short story. It would have been less work, and would actually justify all that text with that few commands. By the way, I went through the walkthrough to count how often each command is used and made the pie chart you can see. This game would be lots better if it had multiple paths. Then it might be justified in using this medium. Right now, it just tells you a short story when you type in the correct commands.

The Duel in the Snow

This game seemed to be made well. Everything was described, the responses all made sense, and you can eat a windmill. There were very few puzzles to speak of, but that doesn’t seem to be the point of this one. I personally would have liked a different sort of game. I could see why someone else might like it, though.

The Duel That Spanned the Ages

What are the chances that two games would be about duels? It’s not a common topic, or at least I didn’t think so before. Anyway, this game had some pretty good puzzles, although there wasn’t any sort of goal throughout the game. It mostly consisted of “moving forward,” but not necessarily toward anything. I liked having a sentry gun. There was some sort of epic plot told during periods of unconsciousness, but I don’t know how the player character fits into it. It says, “Episode 1” on the voting page, so maybe the next one will explain it.

Earl Grey

This was a pretty thought-provoking game. I really don’t want to give anything away, but it involves wordplay and an excellent use of the interactive fiction medium. Perhaps this sort of thing has been done before, but I haven’t seen it. It allows the player to see the player character’s thoughts through italicized text at the very bottom of the screen. The writing is very good, and the plot is somewhat arbitrary but progresses nicely. There are, however, still things that I would change. First, I would make the words we are allowed to manipulate more consistent, such as allowing us to affect only the main description paragraph from the “look” command. Also, I would try to let the player use their new-found power on elements that aren’t necessary for the plot. This would take a lot of work, so perhaps not in a short game like this. I would also make it more obvious that the only commands the player is allowed to use (that actually work) are “look,” “examine,” “go,” “talk to,” and the game-specific ones. I made a list of usable words in the English language (slightly spoiler-ish), and I posted them here.

Eruption

This game is really short. The map is confusing, allowing such things as alternating between going south and west forever. I have no idea how to score above a 5. Neither does Google. I love trying to eat everything in these games, and this game has some nice messages for that. In fact, the second thing I did in the game (after taking inventory) was trying to eat the item I had. It would be nice to have a map; it wouldn’t hurt anything. There’s nothing particularly special about this game, but it avoids all the mistakes games usually make. The author seems to have had a bad experience in the past with poor grammar and broken games.

GATOR-ON, Friend to Wetlands!

This game has a lot of problems. For one thing, the only way to get anywhere is stumbling blindly in a HUGE map. Fortunately, text allows us to run at about 150 MPH by spamming “s,” so that makes it a little better. There was a neat little homing-beacon puzzle, but that’s about it. None of the scenery is described, and there is no humor in the entire game, at least that I found. I never actually was able to finish, as the hint system wasn’t explicit enough and the game was using weird commands. All in all, this would be an OK first attempt at a game, but not very fun.

Gleaming the Verb

This should never have been a text adventure. This has the same level of interactivity as a word puzzle. There is NO hint as to what you are supposed to be doing, the puzzle is hard, unrewarding, and pointless, and this uses the wrong medium entirely. I managed to solve most of the puzzle, but that could be either luck or talent. ANNIHILATE CUBE.

The Grand Quest

The puzzles in this game were not fun. The puzzles were tedious, boring, and arbitrary. I didn’t even get to use my crossbow. Each puzzle was either “choice 1 / undo / choice 2,” a hundred commands that take forever to type even if you already know what to do, check the walkthrough for an obscure command, or a combination of them. None of these are any fun. The plot was contrived to facilitate placing a bunch of random linear puzzles. Several items were mentioned but not implemented. I actually can’t think of a single fun or original part of this game.

Grounded In Space

This game was OK. I had to use the walkthrough a few times, but it had all of the necessary parts. I knew what I was trying to do most of the time, everything was described, and the plot was slightly original. I am proud that I found the command SET ANGLE TO -1575 or whatever on my own, although that particular puzzle belongs in a different type of game. I was only able to find the worst non-death ending without the walkthrough. Also, I would have abbreviated the title to “grounded,” not “GIS.”

The Hangover

This is a good example of what interactive fiction should NOT be. First of all, it’s written in ADRIFT, which doesn’t seem to turn out well very often. I’ve never used it, but reading the Wikipedia article, it seems like it’s a shareware graphical interface for a non-graphical game. This can’t be good. The interpreter is a great deal less flexible than the other games I’ve played. For example, I have to refer to the “card name replacement approval form” by its full name. This game is riddled with typos easily found with a spell checker. There are far too many to mention. For one of the puzzles, “GIVE [thing] TO [person]” says “[Person] isn’t interested in [the thing],” but “GIVE [person] [thing]” does work. This is very, very bad. The author seems to lack the ability to give hints, going for the “You should [do something]” approach or nothing, leaving the player to guess wildly among the confusion of default messages. The map is mangled, saying things are east when they are really west, for example. The plot starts out vague, but quickly degenerates into stupid. Finally, halfway through the game, the game is broken. I looked at the walkthrough, and typed in exactly what it said, but it refused to let me pass. In short, this is almost a parody of the interactive fiction genre, representing the worst practices all put together. I can’t think of much I could change to make it worse.

Interface

For some reason, I learned the map for this game very quickly. I think that’s because every room has a unique, distinguishing object in it to help with memory. More games should take note of that. The premise of this game came complete with a reason for limited vocabulary, a way to confine the player, and a goal. It contains a glitch common to many text adventures: doing something more than once to score extra. “Congratulations, you scored 23495 out of a possible 90 points.” Also, it’s possible to get the NPC to do some pretty stupid/impossible things, but only if you try. The rest of the game is good. I didn’t have to use the walkthrough at all. The game is well described, the puzzles are understandable, and the commands are intuitive. A pretty nice game.

Resonance

A rather normal mystery/conspiracy game, this has you driving from place to place collecting information and collecting items. The setting was pretty depressing, but I suppose it had to be. I had to use the walkthrough a little, and the puzzles were mediocre. I managed to get stuck outside without my car once, but I can’t seem to reproduce this bug. The plot was predictable, especially for a mystery. All of the objects were described, and the conversation system was reasonable. Oh, and two or three times the game basically jumps out and throws a riddle at you. The hint system helped, but this doesn’t belong in the game. The writing was OK but humorless, which is at least acceptable in a mystery, but humor would have helped. This game was rather uninspired, but had quite a bit of time spent on it.

Rover’s Day Out

This was another thought-provoking game. It is an excellent example of how “virtual-reality cyberspace stuff” should really work. The surprise at the end of the first part freaked me out really well, especially since I had it at full screen. It’s hard to do that with a text game. I can only imagine what I would have thought if I had been playing on my mother’s palm pilot (I only did that for Slouching Towards Bedlam a few years ago. The palm pilot was very very very buggy and crashed a lot.) Anyway, I managed to beat this game with only a very little bit of walkthrough help, and got to have lots of fun. I got to the second-best ending on my own. Multiple endings make me happy. I also enjoyed the subtle programming/UNIX jokes. The worst part about it was after (…thinking about spoilers…) the (…um…) antenna problem, having to input different names for things than were outputted. I would have preferred to perhaps have a separate look command or something. Still, a very nice game.

Snowquest

This game was a little weird, and I’m not sure I understand it. What I do understand was pretty good, though. I got all the puzzles (except the “break” command) without the walkthrough, but it still felt challenging. I didn’t have to spend much time at all command-hunting, which made the game really short. I wish the author had explained what was going on a little more. For example, what was on that skeleton? Anyway, I found that the puzzles were extremely solvable, but not boring. There could have easily been more humor in the game, though. The game finishes (hopefully not a spoiler) with someone saying “I’ll explain everything,” but we never get to hear it. Why? The game isn’t too long. There seems to be some logic behind the game. Why can’t the author tell us what he was thinking? Anyway, this game recognized many different forms of each command, and the puzzles worked well, in my opinion.

Spelunker’s Quest

Haven’t played it.

Star Hunter

This game was mostly about exploration, which worked pretty well. However, there were  many problems with it. First of all, the game was way too long. The author seemed to be going for a record for the lowest game text/player text ratio. There were no long story paragraphs or long descriptions. Instead, this forced the player to type the same commands over and over and over. My wrists got tired by the end. It didn’t help that you could only undo once. The minimal walkthrough alone was 1600 words! I didn’t even get close to finishing in two hours. This almost seems like a beta version of a long game: few and short descriptions, incredibly difficult commands, several bugs, and no real plot. There were no typos, though.

Trap Cave

Haven’t played it.

Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort

Same here.

zork, buried chaos

Please capitalize your title.

To play these games, download them here and play them with an interpreter of your choice. I have been using Gargoyle (download here), because gargoyles are great.

If I was uneven in my criticism or too harsh or something, I’m sorry. I’m new to reviewing.

Update: Now that the competition is over, I don’t think I’ll be playing

One of the covers for the novel

One of the covers for the novel

Yesterday I realized that I couldn’t remember what book I had read most recently, so I examined the library’s book display and looked for a book that I had heard about but not read. The theme for the display was “Beyond Reality,” which was basically just Science Fiction/Fantasy. After adding The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett to the display, I picked out the book Foundation by Isaac Asimov. I ended up finishing the 255-page book later that night, but got a headache from reading to much. I hate it when I do that, but perhaps this was because I hadn’t read anything in so long. I plan to read the next two books soon, but haven’t had the chance yet. I might read the next two sequels after that. Maybe then I’ll read the next two prequels. Maybe then I’ll read the (basically) fan fiction written by other famous authors. In short, there’s a lot of stuff to read out there, and I’m still on book one.

Written in 1951, Foundation is about a future in which a man named Hari Seldon developsa sort of mathematical sociology that can accurately predict large-scale history in advance. He uses this knowledge to plan a better future by subtly altering initial conditions. He attempts to shorten a predicted dark age by starting two Foundations on opposite ends of the galaxy to avoid losing the knowledge created by mankind up to that point. If you want to know more, read the book. If you want to know more and are lazy, read the Wikipedia article.

There are several interesting connections I made while reading them, and I will now list them in order of obscurity, ascending.

There were two jokes in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglass Adams that I didn’t understand until after reading Foundation. The first was that the eponymous Guide is a parody of the Encyclopedia Galactica, the book that attempts to store all of mankind’s information. Douglass Adams even compares the Encyclopedia to the Guide, but I don’t have space to quote it here. You can find it yourself. The second joke is that the fifth book in the Hitchhiker’s series has the subtitle: “The fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhikers Trilogy.” I think this might be poking fun at the fact that the Foundation series was originally a trilogy, but was later expanded, causing confusion. It may also be that Adams independently did exactly the same thing, planning on making a trilogy at first. I don’t really know.

The book has a very strong emphasis on large-scale history and constantly reminded me of Mr. Butler’s teaching style. In my extensive research (Wikipedia) I determined that Asimov patterned the events in the book after actual historical events, such as the rise and fall of Rome. I have half a mind to flowchart it myself, if I have the time. I’ll talk to Mr. Butler about it tomorrow. Anyway, I was never very good at history and there was probably all sorts of subtle stuff I missed. All in all, it made a lot more sense than most other science fiction I’ve read, and that’s important to me.

The picture for The Last Question, with a picture of Asimov to boot.

The picture for The Last Question, with a picture of Asimov to boot.

Finally, this book is unique in that it attempts to reconcile long-term, impersonal history with short-term personal novel. It may not be unique, but I haven’t read anything like it, anyway. It does this by having short stories explaining key events with huge gaps in between. Short stories aren’t new, Asimov had experience with rapid character development and in medias res and other short story tricks. He wrote a lot. He’s one of the most prolific writers of all time, having at least one book in each Dewey decimal category (except philosophy). Before reading Foundation, I read a short story written later by Asimov called The Last Question. He uses the same trick in this story as in Foundation. There are some differences, though. In Foundation, each part is it’s own short story, lasting perhaps 50 pages. Each story shows how the last solution stopped working and presents a new one. In The Last Question, each story is only a few paragraphs, and they all follow roughly the same pattern. The whole thing is one short story, and it shows a much much much much much much much longer period of time. In other words, he just made the method more extreme, shortening the parts and lengthening the whole. Perhaps he was able to do that because of his practice on Foundation. I don’t really know. I have never seen another author use this technique.

Well this is what I thought about while reading this book. If you have time, you can read The Last Question. I recommend it.