IFComp 2023: Dr Ludwig and the Devil

The premise: You’re a Frankenstein-like mad scientist who, after repeated failures to create life in a laboratory, summons Satan to ask him for spoilers. This is a game of very clever puzzles, the sort where you really have to think about your situation and what your goals are and how things can be exploited. I did resort to hints a few times, but isn’t that kind of in keeping with the premise? Other times, an in-game to-do list was enough to get me thinking along the right lines.

It is of course a comedy, and it’s surprisingly good-natured: just because the player character is a mad scientist doesn’t make him mean. There’s a major mid-game puzzle sequence where the game is pretty clearly leading you towards tricking Hans, an illiterate NPC from the torches-and-pitchforks brigade, into signing the infernal contract in your place, but when it comes down to it, the mad scientist is unwilling to do it until he’s figured out a way to shield the Hans from the consequences, no matter how antagonistic their relationship. (You can also ask Hans on a date if you feel like it. Some people form angry mobs just because they want you to notice them.)

The other main thing I notice about it is a pattern of sudden last-minute complications. You’re all ready to get the contract signed, but then it turns out you need special infernal ink, which you have to concoct from hard-to-find ingredients. You think you know how to banish the devil from your laboratory afterward, but it turns out that you don’t know how to pronounce the magic words correctly, forcing you to come up with a fresh trick. The game could have been a lot shorter, really. Just let the straightforward approach work sometimes. This suggests an approach to designing adventure games: start with something simple, then insert arbitrary complications until you have a game of the desired length. But also, it’s a design pattern that suggests a characterization, a hard-luck PC who’s laboring to meet the unjust demands and moving goalposts of a power that just wants to see him suffer. Game designer as devil.

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