IFComp 2014: Ugly Oafs   3 comments

A talk slab rests here. It looks written on, yet at the same time, it isn’t silent.

Ugly Oafs by Percy Greel is a parser-based wordplay game. The setting is essentially surreal fantasy, but it doesn’t matter: this is all about the puzzles.

Unfortunately, the first large puzzle has a combination of bad cluing and extreme tedium that made me bust the 2 hour limit early. I arrived at “part 2” but got completely stuck. (I did go back and reach an ending with help from the walkthrough, but I used the “easy ending” missed many of the puzzles.)

I’m going to go for complete spoilers here on out.

S
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S
P
A
C
E
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The main trick here is you can rotate the letters of words if you are in the right location. By “rotate” I mean for example if you take “Perry” and rotate the letters forward by 13 spaces in the alphabet (if you go past Z go back to A) it turns into “Creel”. (This might be the very first instance of a game where the pseudonym turns out to be a puzzle hint.)

The game tries to give lots of “hints” by giving lots of examples of the letter rotation, but given almost nobody can rotate letters in their head (unlike, say, anagrams) figuring out the trick requires some stroke of luck, like perhaps assuming some sort of cryptography is going on and converting the letters into numbers. Additionally, even once I realized the central wordplay idea I had massive trouble figuring out what to do with it. The idea of “magic words” is mentioned in the instructions which led me to think there was some sort of cryptic crossword idea going on, but no, you simply are stating what words you are transforming other words into. Also, you can’t just rotate a word anywhere by any amount, you have to be in the exact right location, which was one level of complexity too much for me to put it all together.

Once you realize you are rotating words through the alphabet to transform them, trying to find out what can transform into what is an exercise into tedium. I did writing by hand, then scanning the columns

CDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZAB
OPQRSTUVWXYZABCDEFGHIJKLMN
TUVWXYZABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRS

which quickly becomes the sort of effort which causes players to quit in frustration. The indefatigable David Welbourn wrote a Perl program to list all the possibilities (with results posted here) but I can say if a puzzle inspires you to write source code to solve it the puzzle needs to be scaled back a little.

Or, perhaps, made easier. There are several mechanisms I can think of that would be in-game gadgets: perhaps if you tried to transform an object incorrectly it would at least tell you want to attempt was (“BNS isn’t a word”) and maybe there could be a “letter-wheels” object which would automatically give a display like my columns above.

This doesn’t even delve into part 2, which has a wordplay mechanism related to part 1 but gives me fits just thinking about it (I can’t come up with a method even like the “list all the letters” one to easily spot what the rotations are).

This game needs some extra layers of user-friendliness before I would call it playable. It would make a good MIT Mystery Hunt puzzle (where people routinely write computer code to solve puzzles) but it is totally out of range for an IF game.

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Posted October 18, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “IFComp 2014: Ugly Oafs

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  1. Humblebraggin’, but I guess I’m the only person who looked around the first location and said “Oh it’s rot13.” Part of it was that I rot13 enough to know that e and r correspond (in Green Terra and Perry Creel) and I think the other part was the word “shifty” and the phrase “oho, bub” that you get when you examine the onyx.

    Still needed to use a Caesar cipher program to get anywhere, and I haven’t been able to figure out the bottom level (my browser crashed so I lost all my progress).

  2. Pingback: IF Comp 2014: Ugly Oafs (Perry Creel) | Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling

  3. Hahaha, I also considered writing code to solve this, since I’m learning Python right now, but as it turns out I’m still at far too rudimentary a level (and it wouldn’t have been the exercise I wanted if I’d just nabbed a pre-written thing off Google; of those there were plenty).

    I agree that the actual mechanic for interacting with the world was rather obscure. I finally cottoned on to the rotational ciphering when it gave me “abjurer, nowhere”, since I used to hang with folks who used ROT-13 extensively to discuss spoilers and “abjurer, nowhere” is a much bigger sample chunk than the rest, but I had no idea what to do with the fact that some words appeared to be thus enciphered, and away to hints it was.

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