IFComp 2020: Ascension of Limbs

I guess the obvious comparison here is Cultist Simulator, in both content and form. In form, because it’s simulationy and abstract in presentation, in a card-game-like way, and emphasizes accumulating resources, or working to avoid losing them. In content, because it’s a story of pursuing arcane secrets, and even descending into madness and murder — or at least, it can be. You can also just try to make your newly-acquired antiques shop into a financial success and get a win condition that way.

The game presents you with a list of verbs and nouns that are currently available to you, with the nouns split further into categories, like people currently in your shop and artifacts currently on display. Some of the nouns are abstractions like “mind” or “infamy”, basically representing stats, but examinable. A command consists of selecting a verb and a noun from this list — although that’s a bit of a lie, because you do occasionally need supply a direct object, but you do this on the next command line. This is the same solution that many of the two-word-parser games of the 1970s and 80s came up with, but those games were struggling with their limitations, and this one embraces them as an aesthetic. The verb list is small. One of the game’s basic tricks is effects that temporarily disable specific verbs, forcing you to either forgo certain actions until the effect times out or, if possible, use a different verb to accomplish the same thing: WRECK a piece of unwanted junk instead of DISCARDing it, for example. Another is that some verbs change in meaning with the category of thing they’re applied to, sometimes in ways you have to discover on your own.

Even though the input is severely restricted, the output is fluid prose, sometimes dreamlike in the nonsensical exaggeration of magical effects. Nonetheless, I think of this game mainly as a sterling example of narrative through game mechanics. My one suggestion to improve it is to make the word lists clickable.

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