Tower, by Simon Deimel, is a parser-based game written in Inform. You can download it from the comp website or play it online here. I played it offline, as I prefer to do with parser-based games. The author has updated the game since the comp began, but I played the original version.
Out of the blue, and into the blue. And there you are, in a chamber, trying to find out what is going on. Everything is so unreal… what has happened to you? TOWER is a short interactive fiction with surreal elements.
Spoilers behind the cut.
In Tower, you play an AFGNCAAP* who suddenly appears in a mysterious locked room with no memories of how you arrived. You must solve puzzles to progress through the rooms in this mysterious tower, eventually making your way to the roof where you fight a dragon and are rewarded with an it-was-all-a-dream-or-WAS-it ending.
In the ABOUT text, the author writes,
Originally created as a programming exercise, the idea was further developed and expanded. The result is a collection of puzzles held together by a story. The background of programming hopefully explains the occurrence of some cliche-ridden tropes.
Indeed, this is basically exactly what you get with Tower. The story was vague but cohesive and inoffensive. The “programming exercise” roots show through. There are aspects to the game that seem to be included primarily because the author was working out how to code a particular effect – for example, objects that change state only in a certain location and only after a certain event.
The game is mostly bug-free, but I spotted a few: there was a chest I could see into without opening it, and placing objects on a certain granite block made them vanish from the room description.
And now for a short rant about doors! I get annoyed when doors are not automatically tried. In my opinion, no game should ever tell me things like, “The wooden door is closed and needs to be opened to go there.” In my real life I never try to walk into a room and THEN notice that the door is closed. My mental model of “NW” from my current, real location includes standing up from my chair, opening my bedroom door, and walking through it, all without much mental energy to the individual parts of that task. Making me use three commands to get to my bedroom should only happen because of a very intentional choice on the part of the game designer – for example, if the PC is falling-down-drunk, or in Adam Cadre’s 9:05.
End of door rant.
Overall, I didn’t mind this game. It certainly wasn’t the first programming exercise to get entered into the Comp. But it didn’t feel like a fully fleshed-out game, and not because it was short. The puzzles were mostly about looking in and under things instead of problem-solving. (I did like the one about hanging up the paintings, though.) The story was cliché, yes, but the real problem I had with it was that it was just too empty-feeling. The PC didn’t seem to have any emotions despite being in what I would imagine to be a rather traumatic experience. There were also some hints that more of a story existed in the background: townsmen, legends, and so on. I know the author was aiming at a surreal experience, and that might involve things that don’t seem to make sense. Not everything in a story has to be explicitly laid out for the story to be a good one. This needed a little more, though.
*Ageless, Faceless, Gender-Neutral Culturally-Ambiguous Adventure Person. Why did I only just learn about this acronym today?!**
**Well, you’re not QUITE an AFGNCAAP, because it later slips that you’re male, and at the end of the game you have a girlfriend. But “straight male” is basically the default type of person, right? Right? *sigh*