Review: Grue

Ceci n’est pas une grue.

As expected, this is more or less Colossal Cave from the perspective of an old school grue. That’s a fun premise, and reminds me of John Gardner’s story Grendel, which is the Beowulf saga from the monster’s perspective.

Reliance on senses other than sight is a core mechanic in this story, since grues spend their lives in the dark. Here, the author had to make a decision: to require the player to type an action every time they use one of their senses other than sight, or to assume that these senses are always engaged and to constantly update the scene description in terms of these sensory modalities. In this game, the author went with the former.

However, because the standard turn loop for Inform games is visually oriented, without sight, room descriptions are omitted. Similarly, the room title is printed before the room description and often appears in the title bar as well — unless you are in the dark. In that case, you are just informed that you are in the dark. Entering a new room for the first fires off a description of what you see. By setting the game in the dark, these niceties are lost — but they shouldn’t be for a grue.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

The grue should not be disoriented in the dark. Having situational awareness in the dark is the grue’s advantage over the adventurer. I would argue that the grue should know exactly where he is at all times, just as if he were sighted, and that room descriptions should be generated in an analogous manner as for sighted characters, except described in terms of alternative senses.

I am sure the author wanted to emphasize reliance on other senses, but in my opinion making this sort of a puzzle in itself impedes game play.

I am not sure if the author wrote the game such that there is no light source object. It is a real pain to do so since absence of light plays havoc with object scope — it essentially puts everything out of reach and would require that the author write all sorts of code to work around that limitation and hijack unwanted messages generated by the parser engine. It may explain, though, why the grue has such limited interaction with objects in his environment.

Another key choice was limitation of navigation options. On one hand, no one would argue that cardinal directions probably would not have a place in a grue’s vocabulary, and for the sake of authenticity, the grue might think of the world as more up and more down. However, directional navigation is such a common convention in parser IF that its absence is more noticeable than its presence. I found navigation to be finicky and this posed a n unnecessary barrier to smooth game play.

The grue has a limited number of possible actions — although I am glad to see that “lurk” is implemented as a verb. That seems only proper.

When it comes to doing what grues do best — eating adventurers that have made poor choices about lighting options — the grue’s role is passive: for the most part it has to stay out of the way of the adventurer or at most poke him towards the pit.

I would argue that any reasonable grue would have lined the pit with stakes. What is the point of a non-lethal pit? Obviously, given the bones and gristle (described, but not implemented as objects) in the pit, the pit has served a useful function in the past, but it seems unnecessarily risky for the grue to climb down into a pit containing an alive adventurer. Why not roll a boulder into the pit? There must be other, more reasonable ways for a grue to get by from day to day.

I was not a successful grue. In all of my attempts, I either ended up skewered by a sword or turned to dust by match-light (which must be more powerful than glowing worm light, because I know I can survive exposure to bioluminescent light sources). Is this game unwinnable?

By virtue of having played text adventures where I have lost to a grue in the past, I think there should be a way for the grue to succeed in this one. Unfortunately there is no help system and the author has not provided a walkthrough, so I am in the dark as to whether there is a way to win.

Post-Script: This review was pretty harsh, but I love the premise of this work. I think this story has potential, but it would take a lot of work — will there be a post-comp-comp this year? Implementing even a short game with a few rooms can involve a substantial amount of work when writing in Inform, and I appreciate that. On top of that, for this game, add in the burden of changing a significant part of the built-in functionality related to vision. Having paid that overhead, though, the scaffold of this game could be built out to fix some of the major items flagged above (senses and navigation). Then, attention could be focused on making the grue more of an active character, adding some puzzles or obstacles to overcome, and providing a few ways to make a meal out of the adventurer.

Evaluation:

Story: 3

Voice: 4

Play: 3

Polish: 4

Technical: 4

JNSQ:0

Preliminary Score: 3.6

grue_transcript

2 thoughts on “Review: Grue”

  1. Thank you for your thorough and honest review. I appreciate any feedback, even critical, as this is my first IF game.

    I’ll mention this, though, there is a hint system in the game. You actually used it at one point. “help” and “hint” trigger a series of clues, some location-based. “Look for an adventurer to eat, but don’t use your eyes.”

    There is a way to win, and you have got very close. Very, very close at the end.

    I’ll probably publish a walkthrough at some point, but I’m hoping for more feedback first.

  2. The game design was imperfect, but I thought the written description of the grue was endearing. Forming that connection between the player and the PC means a lot in modern interactive fiction. I hope that Charles Mangin will continue to hone his craft as an IF writer and publish more in the future.

    As Jack makes clear in his review above, writing games without a light source is tricky, even for experienced authors. The default model of “darkness” in Inform is a poor model, and would be very difficult to correct by a first time author.

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