IFComp 2010: The Bible Retold: Following a Star

There are two separate games in this Comp, by two different authors, bearing the supertitle “The Bible Retold”. Apparently there was another in 2006, but I was taking a break from the Comp that year, and so I come to this one without expectations, apart from any prejudices I bear towards religious-themed games in general. Spoilers follow the break.

Actually, let’s talk about those prejudices for a moment. To me, the immediate connotation of “religious-themed game” is pious garbage. Not because piousness equals garbage, but because there’s a certain strain of artist that seems to believe that piousness excuses garbage, that holiness is an adequate substitute for craft. I could rant about this at length, but it’s not strictly relevant here. This isn’t that sort of game. A glance at the title art makes it seem like it’s going to be Pythonesque wacky irreverence, but that’s not accurate either.

The game puts you in the role of one of the three Magi that came from the east bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are utter walk-on parts in the Bible, appearing in only one of the gospels, which says almost nothing about them, not even their names. This makes them just about perfect for an author that wants to embellish on scripture without either contradicting it or merely repeating it. I assume that the story here joins up with Matthew 2:1-12 at the end, but I haven’t gotten that far — judging by my score, I’m less than halfway through. The bulk of my session was spent trying to pick up the traditional three gifts at a stop along the way, a city in Roman-occupied Judea. A city, moreover, that was full of stuff. The design goal here seems to be to keep the player from becoming bored by just making sure they never run out of stuff to observe and interact with. I mentioned in a recent post how the appeal of historical settings in IF lies in the opportunity for period detail. This is arguably more of a historical game than a religious one, and hoo boy does it slather on the period detail nice and thick.

Not that there aren’t anachronisms, such as the Latin grammar cue cards, or when the other two Magi ask you to bring them sandwiches. Rule of silly holds sway. I fretted a bit at the beginning about whether the humor in this game was (a) appropriate for the subject matter and (b) not too denatured by concern for appropriateness, but ultimately, it’s all pitched at a fairly typical adventure-game level. Same with the puzzles: they’re very adventure-gamey. You’re a character out of scripture, but you spend a lot of your time doing stuff like exploring trap doors and disguising yourself in ceremonial garb so you can sneak some myrrh out of the synagogue. (Does Baby Jesus know what you did to get that stuff?) I think there may be alternate solutions for some puzzles — the world certainly has room for such things.

I ran into several minor bugs. There’s a parrot that occasionally repeats your commands (kind of like the magpie in Trinity), but it can’t cope with some of the more exotic syntaces, such as commands containing numbers. There’s a tunnel leading to the bottom of a well, with a rope you can climb up; if you’ve removed the rope, you can’t exit via the tunnel. Also, on a couple of occasions I felt I was given inadequate instruction, as when a fruit vendor asked me to sell his pomegranates, but then complained when I tried to do as he asked: I did eventually hit on what he actually wanted me to do, but it still strikes me as weird. On the whole, though, it seems like this game does a pretty good job of walking the tightrope over the precipice of everyone else’s hang-ups.

Rating: 7

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