ParserComp 2023: Steal 10 Treasures to Win This Game

This is basically a fairly ordinary adventure-gamey treasure hunt in a wacky puzzle castle. The puzzles are generally fair and sometimes clever — sure, some actions result in instant death, but since you can always just undo it, death is kind of meaningless. (In fact, there’s a somewhat meta puzzle that relies on this.) The most technically impressive thing it does is rotate the entire map 180 degrees at one point, leaving the player struggling to reorient everything in their mind (unless you’ve bothered to draw a physical map, I suppose, in which case you can just rotate that too).

The one thing about it that really stands out is the interface. All commands are entered as a single keystroke, like in an early roguelike: x for examine, p for push, l for lick, arrow keys for movement (which took some getting used to, as a player accustomed to n/s/e/w), period to both take and drop objects, and so forth. If a verb needs an object, the game will fill it in with whatever’s relevant and/or available. It reminds me a bit of minimal-command-set games like Inside the Facility — it doesn’t take the minimalism quite that far, recognizing enough verbs to make a decent point-and-click adventure menu, but it has to do a similar kind of extrapolation to read the player’s intentions through a very narrow communication channel. (Fortunately, of course, the game knows what you should be attempting, even if you don’t.)

Actually, I’ve told one lie. Entering a command requires not just a single keystroke, but two: the meaningful one that indicates the command, followed by the enter key to execute it. Why? Well, the first key displays a command detailing what you’re doing on a sort of pseudo-command-line, albeit often in a chattier form than you could reasonably expect any parser to accept. At first I thought this was mere frippery, just a way to visibly imitate parser games enough to justify the game’s entry into ParserComp. But after playing for a while, I began to see it as essential as a counter to the ambiguity of the one-keystroke commands. To maintain a sense of agency, you really need to feel like you can anticipate what a command is actually going to do before doing it, and the fake command lines give you that. Sometimes I’d hit a key and only then notice that it would result in something pointless or counterproductive, at which point I could decide to not actually do it.

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