IFComp 2023: Bright Brave Knight Knave

Andrew Schultz is a very familiar name to Comp judges — as this game notes at one incongruously introspective moment, he’s actually managed to surpass Paul Panks in sheer quantity of Comp entries over the years. I’ve only covered a few of his games on this blog, but his general MO is games based entirely around some single sort of wordplay (although he’s also branched out into chess problems recently). You’d think he’d have run out of types of wordplay to exploit by now, but he keeps coming up with new ones.

This time around, the idea is pairs of words that begin with the same letter or letters, and which rhyme with other such pairs. That’s not a very clear description, so I refer you to the title for an example. Every room and object has a two-word name, and can be either transformed or otherwise manipulated by entering two words that rhyme with it. For example, the room called “Bass Bath” has no exits until you enter the command “pass path”, causing pathways to appear. This puts serious constraints on the game content, on what rooms and objects and actions are possible, with the predictable result of wacky surrealism, just like in most of Schultz’s games.

I always find games of this sort fairly compelling, as they exercise my word-brain in unaccustomed ways. But this frankly seems like one of the lesser ones. The “pass path” puzzle is one of the most straightforward ones, where there’s an obvious connection between your goals and the commands you have to type. Most of the game isn’t like that. Sure, the game draws connections after the fact, but mostly I just typed in any rhyme I could find just in case it did something. And in fact the game encourages this behavior: if you enter a rhyme that’s wrong but that it recognizes as a good guess, made of valid and meaningful words that just happen to not be among the ones it’s looking for, it slowly adds charges to a cheat device you can use to find effective rhymes instantly. So this is basically a game about wild guessing, with enough formal constraint to make it feasible.

ParserComp 2023: Xenophobic Opposites, Unite!

This is basically a followup to last year’s You Won’t Get Her Back by the same author. Once again, we have a chess problem with a light fiction wrapped around it. This time it’s about checkmating a lone king using just a king and two bishops, the bishop on white and the one on black being the “xenophoboc opposites” of the title, working together to pen the enemy in. I found it fairly easy to get the hang of herding the king around, but it gets difficult at the very end, where you have to get things positioned just right to avoid stalemate.

At first glance, the whole thing seems like just a slight variation on YWGHB, but on reflection, it’s more technically impressive. I commented before on how the position in YWGHB constrained the possibilities, cutting the game short whenever you made a mistake. This game is much freer, letting you play however you want and responding reasonably. It’s not a full-on chess engine — it only has to control one king! — but it’s clear that there’s a bit more than a look-up table in there, something it surfaces in the flavor text between moves, as the game acknowledges the enemy king’s increasing confinement and the bishops tut-tut at your mistakes.

ParserComp 2022: You Won’t Get Her Back

A chess problem, spiced with story. A king mourns the loss of his queen after his villainous opponent sacrificed his own queen to kill her, but he still has a loyal pawn who could possibly bring her back. (I don’t think the mechanics of chess quite fit the story here, since it’s possible to promote a pawn to a queen when the original queen is still on the board. But it kind of depends on whether the identity of the queen as a character is linked to its physical piece or its notional game object, and that’s really beyond the scope of the rules of chess.)

At any rate, the story here is really just flavor — while it does get reiterated during play, it isn’t extensive and doesn’t have a profound effect. No, the game is simply a chess problem, and the input is mainly a matter of making moves in “algebraic” chess notation. It’s not a large problem, giving each side just one piece other than the king, and it’s rendered smaller by the way that the game recognizes hopeless situations and cuts them short, in some cases before I personally understood that they were hopeless. Indeed, it’s so eager to do this that for a while I got the impression that there was only one allowable move from each position.

Apparently the problem is called the Saavedra Position, and it was thought that the best you could to is force a draw until Saavedra spotted a way to avoid stalemate through a clever underpromotion. It’s unlikely that I would have thought of this on my own if the game didn’t go to such pains to suggest underpromotion as a viable approach: a conspicuous portion of the help text discusses how to notate underpromotions, there are special commands for specifying what piece to promote pawns to by default, and even the title is a pretty big hint. I think that’s the main design takeaway here: how to direct the player by making them aware of possibilities.

IFComp 2016: Slicker City

Spoilers follow the break.
Read more »

IFComp 2012: Shuffling Around

Our next game is by one Ned Yompus, but I strongly suspect that this is a pseudonym, for reasons that will shortly become clear. Spoilers follow the break.

Read more »