IFComp 2017: TextCraft: Alpha Island   1 comment

By Fabrizio Polo. Played on desktop. Not finished.

There ought to be a compact word for “I did something that checks off the things I’m really interested in theoretically, but turns out to have major issues which I found intractable in practice so now I am sad”.

TextCraft: Alpha Island is a parser game written in Java. The main character is fulfilling a bet that they can survive alone on an island for 7 days. The game is simulationist (tracking hunger, thirst, and sleep), in real time, and includes a crafting system.

I did not have a good time. This excerpt of me trying to set my shorts on fire gives a fair mental impression:

The issues:

1. The parser is highly restricted. I know “limited vocabulary” parsers are all the rage but that only works if your set of verbs is small and sensible. This game isn’t that: it has a medium-sized list of verbs, but no synonyms. The result (for instance) is I made a lean-to shelter, but then spent 10 minutes trying to enter it. I had to look up spoilers (it’s GO IN SHELTER).

2. Related to issue #1, I found a water bottle I wanted to fill with the falling rain from the first day. I never did figure out the syntax to do this. I consequently died several days later. Note this isn’t an instant-loss either — it’s a protracted death by dehydration, where you start to get exhausted and need to sleep every few turns.

I don’t know if saying I’m energized three times in a row is a bug, or intentionally indicating I got some sort of super-sleep. Four moves after this I had to sleep again.

3. There’s no regular save, only auto-save after the conclusion after every day. Died late in the first day? Start over. Stuck in a “dead man walking scenario” like in point #2? Start the game over.

4. The example things that you can craft are a sandwich, shelter, and hat. This does not give an intuitive direction as to what’s on the available list — it’s pretty limited and you can go through many, many unrecognized words before finding one the game likes. Even given that, you’ll probably miss something essential, like I did with “trap” …

>craft trap

If you want to craft a conical basket fish trap you will need something you can weave.

… and no, the first thing that occurs to me with the word “trap” is not “conical basket fish trap”, which I never even knew was a thing. Also the game doesn’t give any indication there is any animal life on the island; in fact, the only way to see a fish I could find was to catch one.

That’s not even getting into the fact the craft system syntax is highly finicky when it doesn’t need to be. You have to put items in the exact order the game wants. If you get a single preposition off the game won’t accept it. This is the sort of behavior I’d expect from an early 80s parser, not a modern one.

5. There’s a plot which includes the main character remembering things about his/her friends as time passes. They are giant walls of text, but time passes while you’re trying to read them; the best option is to PAUSE after every long chunk of text. I didn’t get that far in the plot (kept dying) but what I did see was so tangential and irrelevant to the idea of island survival I found it a distraction.

I think it’s possible to make a good game with this system, but this one isn’t it. In order to fix it: First, the parser needs to be a full parser. Highly limited works as a parser, but this isn’t that, nor would this game in particular work with that. Second, although it’s possible the plot came together somewhere, it needs to be something more relevant to the actions of the character. I really don’t care about some friend’s computer company when I’m dying of thirst. Third, there needs to be a lot more “teaching the system” going on with what works in crafting. It shouldn’t be necessary to check the game’s wiki to find out what’s possible to make.

Posted October 20, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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One response to “IFComp 2017: TextCraft: Alpha Island

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

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