IFComp 2017: A Beauty Cold and Austere   3 comments

By Mike Spivey. Finished on desktop using Gargoyle.

I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like this in IFComp. We’ve had math-related parser games before going all the way back to the first one (1995!) with The Magic Toyshop by Gareth Rees, but this is straight-up educational — it’s fairly clear the author’s intent was to present a journey and teach some math at the same time.

It begins with the player character’s attempt at cramming a “survey course in conceptual mathematics”. A helpful roommate has provided a mysterious pill that’s “perfectly safe, all-natural, and organic”. Shortly after taking it the player falls asleep and essentially enters the dreamworld of Math, a place haunted by both abstract mathematical objects and a plethora of famous mathematicians.

You find yourself in a deep dark blue – almost black – expanse of space that extends as far as you can see in all three dimensions. The only thing that breaks up this space is the white disk floating in mid-air that you are standing on. While the disk doesn’t appear to be supported by anything, there is a hole in the middle of it.

The style includes some self-contained-minigame-type puzzles. Let me give an example:

On the wall are carved numbers from 1 to 100, in ten rows of ten each. It looks like you could push any of the numbers. Next to the numbers is a switch, with two settings: “Remove Number,” and “Remove Larger Multiples of the Number.” The switch is currently set to “Remove Number,” although you could easily move it to the other setting by flipping the switch. … At the bottom is a challenge from the librarian: “To access the map room, leave just the primes between 1 and 100 by pushing only five numbers.”

So far, so straightforward. However, there’s also many “world integrated” puzzles, include a “square root” device which can be used to EXTRACT roots of numbers and a curious roller coaster which traces the path of functions.

The game requires wading through serious infodumps. Sometimes in just puzzle presentation …

> x bronze
(the bronze balance scale)
This is a double-pan balance scale made of bronze. The left pan contains two brown x blocks and two tan pebbles; the right pan contains twelve sepia pebbles.

> x silver
(the silver balance scale)
This is a double-pan balance scale made of silver. The left pan contains three gray y blocks and six ash pebbles; the right pan contains a gray x block and ten slate pebbles.

> x gold
(the gold balance scale)
This is a double-pan balance scale made of gold. The left pan contains a yellow x block, a yellow z block, and four sand pebbles; the right pan contains a yellow y block and eight maize pebbles.

… and sometimes in long and technical dialogue segments.

You give Euclid a nod, as if to say that there’s no need to apologize. He interprets it as interest.

“I was just thinking about the postulates in my Elements. These are what I call the basic truths on which I build all of my geometric arguments. I’m happy with the first four, but the fifth one is too… I don’t know… wordy?

“It’s basically equivalent to saying this: Given any straight line and a point not on that line, there exists exactly one other straight line that passes through the point and never intersects the first line. This is true no matter how far you extend the two lines. So there’s exactly one other line that’s parallel to the first line and that goes through the point.

“I’m trying to figure out how to derive this one from the first four so that I don’t have to claim it as a postulate. But I can’t seem to do it.

I’m actually pretty forgiving of walls of text, but walls of text plus technical language make for a hard read. They also make the characters feel very artificial and dehumanized. While there are some funny moments (I liked Pascal’s betting style in poker and Hypatia fielding calls on her cell phone) the character aspects tend to be in-jokey enough I’m not sure if anyone who doesn’t already have a strong knowledge of math history will grok them.

> read fifth page
The matrix

1 1 0
0 1 0
0 0 1

keeps the y and z coordinates the same from the original object to the transformed object. However, to create the x coordinates of the transformed object, it adds the x and y coordinates of the original object. A cube, for example, would be transformed into an object that looks like a box that has been partially crushed so that its sides are at an angle. (Technically the transformed object is a parallelpiped, a three-dimensional version of a parallelogram.) This kind of transformation is known as a shear transformation.

Also, this game blew well past the 2 hour limit — it took me roughly 6 hours to finish, and this is with a strong mathematical background. I expect 10-12 hours would not be unusual. There are a some very neat puzzles nestled throughout the game and the atmosphere is fairly unique, but I can’t help wondering if there is some friendlier approach that would work for the presentation.

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Posted October 19, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “IFComp 2017: A Beauty Cold and Austere

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  1. Shades of Beyond the Tesseract, from the sounds of things!

    • Beyond the Tesseract is a good comparison. (I don’t think it was straight-up Educational but it had the same playing in Mathland feel.) Certainly if you liked that game you should give this one a try.

  2. Pingback: IFComp 2017: Summary and Mini-Reviews | Renga in Blue

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