ParserComp 2022: Uncle Mortimer’s Secret

This one feels distinctly old-school. Partly it’s the palette: the text is in the sort of sixteen-color mix I strongly associate with amateur games from the 1980s. Perhaps this is because it’s the easiest sort of text styling to do in QBasic, which this game is written in. This makes the quality of the parser a pleasant surprise — my only complaint about it is that objects in containers are treated as out of scope, making you use commands like GET PAPER FROM TRUNK instead of just GET PAPER. (The author recognizes this, and emphatically provides a hotkey for the general GET ALL FROM IT, I suspect in response to complaints from playtesters.)

The prose, too, fits the pre-web-amateur impression: it’s wordy, in a trying-to-impress way. A Lovecraft quotation in the beginning made me suspect at first that this was deliberate pastiche, that Uncle Mortimer’s mansion hides eldritch secrets in grand gothic style, but no: the theme is time travel. Uncle Mortimer’s inventions take you to a handful of major events, where minimally-implemented historical figures recognize you from your family resemblance to Mortimer and give you information and/or objects he entrusted to them. Hearing everyone throughout history say variations on “I remember Mortimer, he helped me enormously, and I see your family resemblance to him” gets comical after a while, but for the most part the repetitive structure is used well here. Having similar overall goals in each time period gives the player something reliable to anticipate, even as the obstacles to it change.

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