SERPENTS, RATS, and graph paper

I've been trying to keep up with playing and reviewing ParserComp entries.  I managed also to use my tax return to replace my ailing iMac with a Mac Mini and a 26" HDTV screen!  So everything is easier to see now.  Oh, and where have you been all my life, Magic Trackpad?  I'm sorry you have to conceal the scrapings from the old Magic Mouse that used to be there ruining my desk.

I looked at three games: Terminator by Matt Weiner; Down, the Serpent and the Sun by Chandler Groover (possible best author name ever); and Six Gray Rats Crawl Up the Pillow by Boswell Cain.

Terminator is about an indestructible cyborg sent back in time from the future that is ruled by robots to kill the future mother of the person who might be the only savior to bring about hope for humankind and the destruction of the robots.  Arnold Schwartzenegger plays an iconic role as the human-looking but BUFF cyborg on an assassination mission-- Excuse me.

What?  I'm reviewing a ParserComp game by...well, it said's a movie from the...  Oh.  Oh, yes.  Got it.

All right.  I did not finish my homework.  Matt Weiner's Terminator is not about cyborgs from the future.  The "terminator" is the sunrise on a distant planet with no atmosphere which will kill living things instantly.  Of course something has gone wrong whilst you were surveying this planet and you must rescue stranded scientists who are sprinkled out on a map grid by using remote robots you control from safety.  So my impression is Battleship meets Suspended.  It's an interesting concept, but I must confess I played the tutorial and when finally presented with everything I was going to have to do I realized I was going to have to map this sucker and was not in the mood for something that complicated.  I was warned that I might not be able to complete the game without moving the robots simultaneously and realized I might not be smart enough to do this at all.  I spent an hour trying to solve the three-latch puzzle in Weiner's Faithful Companion (needlessly as it turns out) and I am clearly unworthy.

I'm sorry, Matt, I will try to get to this game when I'm of a clear-head but it was not at all the way I wanted to spend time that day.  It sounds great but I panicked like someone took me for ice cream and then said "Oh, this is the doctor's office you'll be getting a shot."  Oh look, he didn't play the game but he's making a suggestion...what gall! Is there any possibility that this puzzle could have been built up to?  Let me bond with my crewmates a while first and have some good times goofing off manipulating and learning the robots.  Then when they are potential crispy bacon I might be a little more invested.

Oh, right.  Yeah.  Limited build time for this comp.  What are the chances two games would use the word "Terminator" in the title?  I'll be back, Matt, I swear.

Down, the Serpent and the Sun is a great title.  I love when you get a word-salad title that makes no sense but sounds groovy and then by the end you figure out what it all means.  In this case, down is the primary direction of travel through the gullet of a serpent who has swallowed the sun. Ridiculous? Nope, you're lodged in mythological battle back when there were flying serpents and the Sun was just the result of a builder god of some sort casting away his cigarette butt which then turns into a star and the Nile is the result of Zeus peeing in the woods.

Anyway, you are woefully inadequate to conquer the heavens-eating airborne reptile, and he gulps you down whole.  Thus, you explore the greasy insides of this beast and must escape (yes, my brain went to the obvious also; not smart) and possibly save the sun.

This is a decently accomplished piece.  It's very sparsely implemented (think Ecdysis) but that works against it.  Lots of scenery doesn't seem useful.  By the time you reach the...terminus of the serpent you might have missed important things you could actually interact with.  It's a short game though, and worth it for the unusual setting.

Six Gray Rats Crawl Up the Pillow is a very well-written and implemented bit of Gothic Horror. You could use money, and you're challenged to sleep in the mansion of a dead man.  This builds up a lot more potential than is exploited. There are a ton of little things that keep you from that corpse in the armchair which breaks into dry mummified pieces when you try to move it. You've got to get yourself comfortable and not skeeved-out to actually accomplish sleep.  I love the black comedy farce trappings a whole lot.  This is so well-written that I wish it had gone longer and become a ridiculous babel-fish puzzle of things you had to do to keep from being afraid.

What there could be less of is the memories.  You've got to clear your mind before sleep, and that is a double-chain of perhaps 15-20 memories.  The backstory is cool, but goes on a bit long for the payoff.  I wish the memories keeping you awake had been more of a game element combined with needing to go all over the mansion dealing with odd noises and no heat and too much heat, and bats in the attic and squirrels in the walls...

The ending is a little abrupt, but this was a short comp, and this is the first game I actively would like to see expanded.  The writing is pretty enjoyable and the concept is sound.  The implementation seemed quite solid with most everything responding somehow to poking or examining. A game is good when I won't stop thinking up new twist and turns to extend it.

One niggle: the setting.  There's plague angels and sachets like it's the dark ages, but you've got a plastic-handled knife and the PC mentions antifreeze? I'd like a solid acknowledgement at the beginning that the author is intentionally doing a future-past thing.

My Interactive Fiction is described at and on IFDB.


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