IF Competition Discussion: Lost Pig

Comments on “Lost Pig” from IF Comp 2007 follow the cut.

I beta-tested “Lost Pig”, so I’m obviously a bit biased. I think it’s a very charming game. There is humor, there is a rather sweet story, and there are puzzles of a kind I especially like: they require you to understand an alternative physics, then apply what you’ve learned. I highly recommend it, if you’re inclined to take my word for it. But what follows the cut this time is more of an essay than a review.

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The author of “Lost Pig”, “Admiral Jota”, has been one of my favorite beta-testers for many years. He did a lot of heavy lifting on Savoir-Faire, starting back when it was in an alpha state and prone to crash frequently from recursion problems. (You try having magic, distance-seeing mirrors that can place one another in scope.) He’s patient, thorough, and detail-oriented. He’s the kind of guy who will try every compass direction in every room, whether it’s supposed to lead anywhere or not, just to make sure that there’s nothing funny going on with the exits. If you introduce a new tool or a new verb, he will promptly find the two objects in the game where the standard implementation will go wrong. He’ll JUMP in rooms that don’t have floors and SING in echo chambers. He is not impeded by his knowledge of standard IF vocabulary. If, at some point, you mention that the PC is having trouble breathing, he’ll likely try >INHALE as his next move. If your room description includes an anecdote about how someone used the room in the past, he’ll try an impromptu reenactment. Reading one of his testing transcripts can get a little punishing sometimes — it’s absurd how much he expects of an author — but it’s also hugely rewarding. If there are funny tidbits in your game that you thought no one was ever going to find, he’ll find them. His play-style is a constant reminder that IF can be a conversation between author and player. And, however put-upon you may feel at 2 in the morning when you’re reading his latest comments, going along and implementing the new stuff almost always improves the game. I have other testers who give me more feedback about theme, writing, characterization; what Admiral Jota is great at is polish.

We’ve also played a few RPGs together over the years, and he’s great at using character traits — his and other people’s — as the basis for improv comedy. He gets some good jokes in, but he’s also not at all bad at being the straight man, at giving you an opening to show off whatever weird quirks you wrote onto your character sheet. Having him in a party adds substantially to the social entertainment value, the banter and goofing around that a GM can’t control or plan for but which makes a world of difference to how everyone feels about a campaign.

I mention all this not as some kind of premature eulogy (actually I fear he’ll find it a bit embarrassing), but because the same attention to every little detail and the same taste for character-trait-based improv provide the strengths of “Lost Pig”.

I’ve lately rambled a few times about how neat it is when an IF game gives the player an opportunity to get into the head of the player character and then play the role through gestures and actions. We talk semi-frequently in the IF community about how a viewpoint character is defined by what he won’t do — the bridges he won’t jump from, the archbishops he refuses to insult, the physical and social constraints at work — but we less often worry about adding new non-critical behavior for the player character. But a lot of fun can come from trying something in a game, not because it’s something that solves a puzzle or because it’s something you would do, but because it’s something that the character would do — and then finding that the author was there before you. It confirms your sense of who the character is, promotes empathy and immersion, grounds you in the game.

Grunk is a great (if silly) embodiment of that principle. Baf has talked about how he was led to try orc-appropriate behavior throughout the game (in this case, eating Grunk’s pants). I spent a lot of time chasing the pig around, not because I thought it would solve anything, but because Grunk was the kind of guy who would stupidly chase the pig to no avail, and because the game kept giving me amusing feedback when I did. Jota sets up all sorts of funny things for the player to do, and then meticulously implements all the results. And, oddly, though the humor is built around Grunk being big, green, and dumber than rocks, the characterization that eventually emerges is subtler than that: he’s also a little wistful about the things he doesn’t understand, basically well-disposed towards his fellow beings, persistent at a task. I feel like I know Grunk better than 95% of the IF protagonists I’ve played.

We could use more of this, both in comedy and in serious IF.

7 thoughts on “IF Competition Discussion: Lost Pig

  1. Grunk is such an endearing orc. Besides, I judged from his (her?) livejournal entries that Grunk’s English is better than mine!

  2. Pingback: IF Competition Discussion: General Observations & Favorites « Emily Short’s Interactive Fiction

  3. Yeah, I did a lot of that. I ate the pig at one point. I tried eating the pants. I lit the chair on fire and carried it around with me. I don’t remember what all I did, but the detail is amazing. I probaly should have given some of these examples in my Lost Pig review (which ends up being shorter than several other reviews for games I didn’t enjoy nearly so much), but it just didn’t occur to me. It’s all very transparent, these things. You do them, and it works, and it just feels *right* that it should be working. It’s like there’s never any question as to how well things are going to be implemented, and Jota has done an amazing job to make it that way.

  4. Yeah. If nothing else, it shows a lot of nerve having divisible water AND fire AND a conversational NPC all in the same game — any one of those elements introduces a lot of complexity.

    I also enjoyed being allowed to put Grunk through stuff like this:

    >i
    Grunk have:
    hat (full of water)
    torch (black and sooty)
    pants

    >wear hat
    Grunk put on hat full of water. Water all pour out on Grunk head.

    or

    >ask gnome about pants
    Grunk tell gnome all about Grunk favorite pants.

    Gnome say, “It sounds as though those pants have had nearly as much of an adventure as you have. But I do wish you would put them back on.”

    This all led me to play through the game again just now, and I found quite a few hilarious options that I never noticed during beta-testing (or possibly they got added after my first time with the game…).

  5. This was easily the best game in the Competition. I did find two bugs, though:

    1. The commands “YES” and “NO” in the gnome’s presence cause trouble.
    2. Referring to the gnome’s stool spews garbage in some cases. It may have been ASK GNOME FOR/ABOUT STOOL; I can’t remember exactly.

  6. Pingback: Vespers, Rameses, The Baron, Lost Pig « akth

  7. “…the humor is built around Grunk being big, green, and dumber than rocks…”

    I agree that it’s subtler than just that – but I’m not sure that even that much is true. Is Grunk actually dumb at all? I think one of the interesting things about the way he is portrayed is that although he doesn’t know very much, and he’s not very good at counting or talking, he reflects on what he sees and hears with remarkable clarity. Much of his narrative is very insightful, but in such a simple and direct way that it is easy not to realise how shrewd it is. I think Grunk is a lot cleverer than most people, including himself, realise. That is one of the things that make him such an appealing character.

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