IFComp 2014: Excelsior   2 comments

How minimalist is too minimalist?

I had this question while playing Arthur DiBianca’s Excelsior, an abstract puzzle game with a parser reduced to direction commands, examining, and the USE verb.

There were moments of quiet beauty

You must be nearly a hundred feet off the ground. You can see out east over the tops of the trees. Beyond the forest loom the dim forms of mountains.

but for the most part the lack of fertile description was just dull

South Room
A pedestal stands in the middle of this room. The exit is north.

On the pedestal is a black cube.

and to be honest, confusing. This is bad in a puzzle game.

Because USE is so vague, I was sometimes confused as to the effects — was it going to take an item, or manipulate it somehow, and if it was going to manipulate it how was it going to happen?

The sparse description also had some negative puzzle impact — to give a very specific example…

S
P
O
I
L
E
R
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
S
P
A
C
E
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.
.
.

…here is a transcript of an early puzzle:

South Room
A pedestal stands in the middle of this room. The exit is north.

On the pedestal is a black cube.

> use cube
As you take the cube, an iron gate slides across the exit with a clang!

> l
South Room
A pedestal stands in the middle of this room. The exit is north.

The exit is blocked by an iron gate.

> use gate
The gate doesn’t budge.

> use broom
You will need to use the broom on something.

> use broom on gate
You try to pry the gate with the broom, but it doesn’t work.

> use cube on pedestal
You place the cube on the pedestal, and the iron gate retracts.

You hear a muffled rattle from far above.

> l

South Room
A pedestal stands in the middle of this room. The exit is north.

On the pedestal is a black cube.

Would you suspect, from the description, that this was possible?

> use broom on gate
You wedge the broom between the gate and the other side of the doorway.

Yes, you can refer to the gate, even though you can’t see it, and even if technically you aren’t using the broom on the gate at all but the doorway. (And no, USE BROOM ON DOORWAY doesn’t work.)

The sparse descriptions also made the latter part of the game tiresome, involving a rotating room and complex mechanism. I never could fully visualize what was going on and I still am puzzled as to the exact layout.

The ending has a “score” involving number of coins picked up and number of levers pulled. I missed some, but I can’t imagine going back to find them; no nooks possessed me with delight once opened, no objects gave a thrill once found.

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Posted October 22, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “IFComp 2014: Excelsior

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  1. Pingback: IFComp 2015: Grandma Bethlinda’s Variety Box | Renga in Blue

  2. Pingback: IFComp 2017: The Wand | Renga in Blue

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