IFComp 2014: Tower   Leave a comment

A head-high mirror is hanging on the west wall. As you look at yourself, you get the feeling of looking into the eyes of a stranger. For a moment you wonder what is closer to reality – the reflection in the mirror or the place of your physical existence. You almost expect the stranger to talk to you and wonder if he would answer to a question.

Tower is an parser-based puzzle game with mostly abstract puzzles.

If you’ll allow me a brief tangent–

Thomas M. Disch’s Amnesia from 1986 predictably starts with a main character having amnesia. To check if there is real memory loss, the PC goes through a “character creation” type section where you specify hair style, eye color, and so on, before looking into the mirror.

The mirror says that everything about how the character looks is wrong.

The tangible panic sets forward real plot movement, and the amnesia means something. The amnesia feels like a genuine, serious medical condition, as it’s supposed to be.

Here’s how Tower starts:

A flash of lightning. You feel dizzy.

You remember arriving at this place. It was a long way, a long journey.

At this moment it does not matter who you are, and it does not matter what you look like. It is only of importance that you exist. Somewhere. This place looks familiar, but you have never been here before. That is one thing that you are sure of. Are you really sure? What has happened? Have you been abducted? Maybe this place can tell you. And maybe you can retrieve knowledge about yourself after all.

This is nearly the opposite of an effective opening. It’s too long (the same sentiment repeats in paragraph #3 over and over) has no compelling hooks, and does not paint a convincing portrait of what the PC feels.

Part of the whole point of amnesia in a game is the opening can be tightened to a minimum, perhaps something like:

You can’t remember. Why can’t you remember?

Fine, so the point of the game is the puzzles: how are they?

I managed to finish without hints, but went back to try out the hints system which is interesting in itself:

[Type] HERRINGS for a list of visible items without a concrete purpose, HINT for free advice, SPHERE for information about an additional guiding device, SOLUTION for a complete description of the story actions.

I’ve never seen anything like HERRINGS: it lists the stuff you can ignore. HINT is the typical progressive hints, but SPHERE has a ‘guiding sphere’ appear in the next location where you can do something important (avoiding the problem of flailing away at a puzzle you don’t even have the items yet to solve).

Despite all that, with one exception I didn’t find the puzzles all that enjoyable. They all boiled down to ‘find the thing to do to unlock the next door’, in some cases finding a key, in others doing some random action which unlocks a gate/door somewhere else.

The puzzle I did like involved instructions.

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There is an empty sword case with an inscription, “MY SWORD”. There is a parchment with the message “The sword can be found in the case at the lowest end of the spiral.” The way to solve the puzzle is to take the empty sword case to the bottom of the spiral staircase, close it, and open it again. The sword will now be there.

The logic is a sort of dream-logic but it responded to actual thought as opposed to just noodling around with objects until something happened.

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Posted October 16, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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