Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

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IFComp 2015 Review: Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box

Posted by Reiko on November 19, 2015

This is a review of a game from the 2015 Interactive Fiction Competition. Scoring criteria can be found here.

Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box
Author: Arthur DiBianca
Format: Z-code

The blurb for this one really caught my eye: “It’s the latest model, and it would really like to play with you.” A…somewhat self-aware box-toy-thing? Okay then.

Then I started the game and found that, aside from meta-commands, the game only seems to understand about four things, three of which are non-interactive (look, examine, wait), and the fourth is the ridiculously-described “undertake to interact with” command (abbreviated to ‘u’ for ‘use’ of course). So this game is in the tradition of minimalist one-room games that gradually reveal their depth as you repeatedly use their limited functionality. Oddly enough, this sort of thing reminds me of the “Alchemy” series of smartphone games that involve finding the right combinations of a very limited starting set of basic elements to unlock many other materials to recombine into new things.

In short, it’s cute, but there’s not a lot to it. I turned to the walkthrough a couple of times, once because it wasn’t clear what difference waiting made to a sequence, and once because a button did something non-obvious after its first use, and later once just to speed things up a bit. I’m sure it was a lot of fun to make. (Where exactly did all these objects keep popping out from, anyway? You’d think the sides of the box would run out of room for apertures eventually.) But there’s essentially no plot aside from “keep unlocking crazy features of the box until the authors couldn’t think of anything else”. And given that this was written in Inform, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason not to use default interaction commands, instead of forcing the player to use one “use” command for everything. I typed things like “pull rope” or “push button” several times by habit and had to redo the command.

Time: 40 min
Scoring: base 7, -1 for limited commands
Score: 6

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