IF Comp 2014: Tower (Simon Deimel)

Tower

Tower is a parser-based puzzle game in a fantasy-surreal setting. I played it to completion, though I relied on the hints and walkthrough on a couple of occasions.

This is the kind of opening paragraph that makes me so very very sad:

At this moment it does not matter who you are, and it does not matter what you look like. It is only of importance that you exist. Somewhere. This place looks familiar, but you have never been here before. That is one thing that you are sure of. Are you really sure? What has happened? Have you been abducted? Maybe this place can tell you. And maybe you can retrieve knowledge about yourself after all.

The first few paragraphs of my review of Unform go into some reasons why I think “amnesiac protagonist in a surreal location” tends to be a weak opening, so I won’t reiterate them here.

Next up, I read the about text, which explains that this game originated as a programming exercise and is full of clich├ęs, and is primarily intended to be experienced as a sequence of puzzles. Hm. Okay. At this point I’m feeling fairly discouraged about my prospects of enjoying this game, but I’ll give it my best shot.

And indeed it doesn’t entirely work for me. A puzzlefest can be good fun, but the puzzle quality in Tower wasn’t quite enough to carry the game by itself, at least for me. Some spoiler space before I go into why:

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The puzzles tend to fall into a couple of categories.

The puzzle consists very straightforwardly of finding a key and then using that key on something. In one case, I used a key to unlock a thing that contained another key. This kind of puzzle has neither build-up nor payoff; there’s nothing gained, in terms of challenge or pacing, by having two steps of key-finding rather than just one. It feels like busywork for the player.

The puzzle consists of following a simple instruction I found somewhere. In some cases there was a bit of room for interpretation, but not a huge amount. This again is on the edge of what I would really consider a puzzle at all.

The puzzle was something that I was supposed to work out through interaction, but it gave too little feedback. This came up in the case of hitting the desk drawer to make it open. I almost immediately thought of hitting it, but the reply message made me think that that had not been enough to make it openable. I then tried hitting it some more, and getting discouraging messages saying I shouldn’t be more violent than I had to be. Then I hit the hints, which told me that I should be violent. It did finally occur to me to try opening the drawer again as it stood, but I had been expecting it to pop open or at the very least give a clearer indication when the blockage had been cleared.

There were some exceptions; the puzzle involving paintings required very slightly more thought, since you actually had to imagine the paintings and guess what colors they would be. I also enjoyed the effect of stepping through the red door. Overall, though, I felt like these puzzles could use a bit more work on give and take with the player: giving me a more gradual process of experimentation and discovery, perhaps. (Here is a set of puzzle reviews I wrote that goes into a bit more detail about what I think makes puzzles work, in general.)

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