ParserComp 2023: The Purple Pearl

The story of this one is pure adventure-gamery, just a bunch of colorful mechanical puzzles in a room as a sort of test of worthiness. Basically an escape room. The puzzles are serviceable, but they’re not what stands out about the game. What stands out is the formal experiment: This is a two-player game. That’s not a new idea, of course; multiplayer IF has been around for ages, from MUDs to Seltani. But this game does it without realtime elements, or a server, or any kind of network linking the executables. Rather, the two players are told to simultaneously play two different executables, a “Player A” game and a “Player B” game, which put them in two different puzzle rooms in the same castle. When a player does something that affects the state of the other player, the game gives them a three-digit code for the other fellow to type in to see the effects. So simple, yet I can’t recall seeing it done before — the author cites a couple of precedents in Twine and graphic adventures, but not in parser IF. Keeping the story and puzzle content fairly generic was probably a smart move, then, as it might otherwise overshadow the central gimmick.

The same post-game notes tell how the author wants there to be more two-player IF because she likes playing IF with her bestie. I don’t have such a gaming partner, and considered just running both Player A and Player B myself (making it kind of like The Knot), but that clearly wasn’t the intended experience. So I managed to rope in a coworker, using a Discord voice channel to communicate. I took Player A, he took Player B. I honestly think we still didn’t have the intended experience. The help menu (which, being proud people, we took a good long time to look at) says “You should be in communication with your partner during your play… It is expected that you will tell each other what you have and what you need.” But playing IF in solitary silence is a hard habit to break, and the fact is, you can pretty much get away with only communicating to send each other those three-digit codes. For example, the very first thing linking the two games is a pneumatic tube, with a cylinder you can use to send small objects to each other. The only things that the game lets you put in the cylinder are the things that the other player will need. So there’s no real need to ask your partner what they need you to send them; the game itself will let you know. I still don’t know much about what’s in the Player B game, but I assume it’s more escape-room nonsense.

Tangentially, it’s worth noting that escape rooms are in part a descendant of Flash room escape games, which were single-player experiences. Bringing it off the computer and into reality turned it into a social activity. So it’s kind of interesting to see it being put back onto the computer while attempting to preserve the social aspect.

1 Comment so far

  1. Jack Brounstein on 9 Aug 2023

    I don’t know if it’s one of the Twine games cited, but The Last Night of Alexisgrad from the 2021 IFComp used a similar two-player system.

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