Jon Ingold’s The Colder Light

The Colder Light (online play, IFDB page) is the latest game from Jon Ingold: in this case, a spare, melancholy tale about life on the ice. It also uses an interface evolved from some work by Erik Temple (see for example Erik’s alternate interface to Sand Dancer).

This interface attempts to address some of the community’s long-standing concerns about the parser by presenting affordances explicitly. The player can click on hyperlinked objects in room descriptions and inventory and receive a list of plausible ways to interact with these. The result is a play experience with the noun-and-verb variety of classic parsed IF, a more consistent world model than the average CYOA, and enough diversity to make for genuine puzzles; but without any guess-the-verb issues. It also, I imagine, eased the authoring burden that Jon didn’t have to write the vast range of error messages that typically come with parsed interactive fiction.

There are some other possible novice-friendly features it doesn’t have: HELP only produces credits information, there are no hints to speak of, and mapping is also up to the player. But it’s still pretty accessible and I would be interested to see what new-to-IF players might make of it.

So that’s worth noting, and has already received some discussion. There have been a lot of user interface experiments over the past year and a half or so, but to my mind A Colder Light is one of the most successful in capturing the sense of possibility and setting immediacy that I like from parsed IF, while offering a significantly more accessible experience to the user and avoiding unnecessary screen clutter.

But the work also bears analysis on a couple of other levels.

First of all, it centralizes all its puzzles around a consistent mechanic — achieving this is a bit of an obsession of mine, I admit. To discuss that, I’ll need to be slightly spoilery, though I’ll try to avoid giving away specific puzzles.

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