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An Adventurer's Backyard
Author: lyricasylum
Date: 2015

Reviewed by Sam Kabo Ashwell

Story: Plus ça change. As long as there are parser authoring systems, there will be games like this, the lichen that colonises bare rock and is eclipsed by brighter blooms: tasteless, flat, enduring, indigestible.

Picture, if you will, the first unguided teenager, somewhere in the UK on Christmas evening of 1983, sheltering from napping adults and overstimulated kids, with a parent’s Speccy and a brand-new copy of The Quill. They are suddenly in possession of heretofore-unimagined power. They can make anything, now, this very night. The possibilities are – in a specific, difficult, yet very real sense – boundless. And yet they will almost certainly make something very much like An Adventurer’s Backyard.

Parser games are, first and foremost, a simulation of space, and so the first thing that people tend to do is to simulate a space that’s very familiar to them, and to do so with the most straightforward tools available. Story is not a straightforward tool of parser games: it’s something you have to work into the fabric of a game yourself.

An Adventurer’s Backyard simulates a generic suburban home and its yard; you are a generic adventurer, and have to find treasures scattered around it. That’s pretty much it.

So: no story to speak of, because this is a coding exercise. 1.

Writing: Tends towards the hyper-utilitarian, with little to hold the interest. The great majority of writing is an affectless listing of objects:

Living Room
A comfy sofa sits against one wall. There is also a television set opposite. Outside, through the door, you can see the patio. To the south is the dining room and to the north is the foyer. East is a hallway.

You see a fluffy cat here. Exits are north, east, south and west. The cat sits on the comfy sofa.

The cat sits on the comfy sofa.

To be clear, the listing of objects is a standard element of parser IF writing: the craft part is transforming bare information into something alive and compelling. This is, again, quite common if you’re learning to use an IF platform: the reason this blog is called These Heterogenous Tasks is because game-making involves the unification of many different skills. When you’re training one skill, it’s often much easier to not worry about the others; again, that’s a legit approach, but it does mean that what you’re working on is a practice piece, not a finished work. 1.

Puzzles: Straightforward, basic – carry a stepladder to reach a high place, and there’s a fly which you have to catch to deal with a spider, and a bunch of inventory which is presumably going to be used in puzzles later, but I had very little reason to do any of it. It seems likely that this is just meant as an old-school treasure-hunt – I found a coin in a fountain and got points for it – but even that isn’t ever really explained.

My voting standards say that a 2 is ‘trivial, unfair, or tedious.’ This falls squarely into the ‘tedious’ bracket. It is not impossible to make simple puzzles interesting, if you tie them to a story and make their details picturesque or amusing or character-revealing or something; here they’re pretty much expected to stand up on their own merits.

Theme: If it was ever used, I never saw it. 1.

Technical: A few minor bugs about alternate situations: for instance, putting the sugar on the flypaper and then dropping the flypaper doesn’t attract the fly (it wants you to do it the other way around). The fly doesn’t actually disappear when the spider eats it, either. There’s a HELP command for hints on specific subjects, but if you ask about a non-existent topic it behaves as though HELP isn’t a command. You’re notified when the cat sits on the sofa even when you can’t see the cat. Trying to TAKE the diamond-studded collar when the cat is wearing it gives a misleading error message, and I can’t figure out what verb it wants me to use. None of this appears to seriously break the game, but it does not encourage me to keep poking at things. 2.

Overall: I wasn’t able to stay interested in this for very long at all, though I stuck with it for long enough to solve a few puzzles mostly in the interests of due diligence. Largely this is because narrative and prose are really important to me, and the game is uninterested in them. 1.

Reviewed by Andrew Schultz

 This is a short treasure hunt with a few small puzzles. It very much feels like a first effort, and while there's nothing to offend, there also isn't much to inspire. Still, I think we should all have the fun of writing a game like this.

It's also written in ADRIFT, and while I admire Campbell Wild's work on ADRIFT and ADRIFT programmers' focus on just having fun, I'm spoiled by Inform's robustness, and the simplicity of creation doesn't always match up with the simplicity of solving and navigating the parser (e.g. must say OPEN TOP DRAWER and not OPEN TOP.) That happened a bit here. It got in the way of a game that was intended to be just whimsical.

This is a "your back yard" game but thankfully without the messiness and squalor. You find a rare coin in a fountain (nice backyard! From some other quest, presumably) and a diamond collar from around a cat's neck (additional words to a logical command are necessary--Mr. Patient on the intfiction.org forums pointed that out, and the neat debug feature. This will help with other Adrift games that troubled me.) This is all okay and minor fun, and I think the puzzles with getting on the roof or in the treehouse are good enough to support a low-key game, though again the treehouse didn't like when I used (VERB) BOARD.

Between this and the surrealism of finding money in a toilet tank, and stuff like implemented household appliances and being able to drink water feel like someone just getting a handle on things and saying, hey, neat, instead of, how can I make this neat?

So I suspect the author was trying to have a bit of plain fun, with puzzles seem there for the sake of puzzles. And that's okay, but it's not terribly profound, and it needs to work all the way through. As it was, I signed off, restarted, thought I got a point for a certain treasure in THIS game when I got it in THAT game, and wound up doing a lot of tallying. There were a lot of extraneous items and I wound up trying to wear different outfits or even tempt the cat with various food before I realized the solution was probably simpler.

Some of this could've been fixed with a more general HINT message, or perhaps if SCORE listed the treasures found, and I think that's on the programmer if they are looking for ways to polish. Also, it's okay to spoil a puzzle with actual commands to type at the end--it may be a relief for the player.

This game is deliberately unambitious and just wants to be fun--different reactions to JUMP are nice--but a big problem for me was that the parser got in the way of simplicity, especially with the diamond collar.

Reviewed by Sean M. Shore

In Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984), lunch comes in cans marked “FOOD.” An Adventurer’s Backyard, by lyricasylum, could very easily be served in a box marked “TEXT ADVENTURE.” It’s set in what seems to be an upper middle class home — there’s a fairly extensive backyard, naturally, plus a patio and a balcony — with treasures littered here and there. Some are just sitting in plain sight, while others are in containers we must open. We gather the treasures, and the game ends.

At its best, a game like this, even if it had no ambition beyond a simple treasure hunt, might try to give the player a sense of place or history or wonder, or even just try to generate a laugh. But AAB has been written with an absolute-minimum aesthetic; we’re in a regular house, where everything is described in purely functional terms, in no more than a sentence or two, perhaps with an adjective like “nice” or “tasty.” It feels like the game was assigned to the author as a task to be gotten over with. There are a few implementation issues, too, most of which involve a cat whose collar we need. This becomes a puzzle only because we need to guess the syntax. I had to resort to the ADRIFT debugger to solve it.

This is probably a first effort, and as such, it’s perfectly serviceable and something to be proud of. To the author I would say this: Put more joy into it. Even a simple treasure hunt can be made entertaining if it’s clearly a labor of love.

Reviews should be considered copyrighted by their respective authors.


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