[IF Comp 2019] Extreme Omnivore: Text Edition, by Hazel Gold

Parser games excel in representing space, in placing the player in an environment consisting of multiple -- even many -- locations and allowing them to explore it. It is no coincidence that the drawing of maps is deeply associated with parser games; that Adventure started out as a cave exploration game; or that the one thing you need to do to create a legal Inform 7 source text is declaring a room for the player to be in. A spatially defined environment is central to most of the working assumptions of parser IF.

It is therefore also not a coincidence that when first-time parser authors sit behind their blank screen, wondering what to write, they often decide to implement a spatial environment for exploration, and choose the environment that is most ready-to-hand: their own apartment. You don't see that many of them any more, but there used to be lots of these games. Sam Ashwell refers to this as My Apartment Games; I remembered them being called My Crappy Apartment Games, but you should trust Sam more than me when it comes to IF history.

Either way, the "crappy" part is not entirely irrelevant. You might expect it to modify "games", to indicate that this type of game tends to be crappy. And it does tend to be crappy. The main activity for the player in such a game is exploring the author's apartment, which is not, in general, a particularly rewarding activity. It could be; there’s a pretty good story by the Dutch writer Biesheuvel which would be called, in translation, Journey through my room, in which the author takes us on a journey through his room, using the objects found there to spin an interesting tale. But on the whole, exploring someone's apartment is not by itself all that entertaining or enlightening.

But the "crappy" could also modify "apartment", because for one reason or another these games tend to emphasise what is bad about the apartment. Extreme Omnivore: Text Edition is no exception. It is an apartment game; and the apartment is kind of crappy. At least the author continually emphasises the negatives: the bedroom is small, the hall is boring, the mirror is stained. Now from the Tips & Tricks document we get the impression that there is a lot of interesting stuff to be found in this apartment: “Every room has something worth exploring. Every room has objects in it that can be examined, smelled, or tasted.” But in fact implementation is very light. Most things are simply inedible. When you can eat something, the description of your action is often little more than: “It tastes awful.” There are very few rewards for the player here. Rewards need not be ‘treasures’ in a game sense; the most common and important reward in a text game is interesting writing, a nice description, a well-chosen turn of phrase. Extreme Omnivore: Text Edition makes little attempt to provide any of that.

I think the game suffers a little more than it should because of the inevitable comparison with Chandler Groover's 2017 game Eat Me, which took 2nd place in the IF Competition. In that game, the player eats everything, in incredible amounts, and it is all described in lush and gorgeous prose. Everyone who has been following the recent IF scene will expect Extreme Omnivore to follow suit... and when it doesn't, and in fact doesn't allow us to eat very much at all, providing only rather mundane prose, we are more disappointed than we perhaps would have been had this just been a crappy apartment game. It's very likely that the author was just unaware of Eat Me, but context will influence how people experience your game.

All in all, this game looks to me like the work of a first-time author who had fun setting up a parser IF environment, but did not have a clear idea of what the game experience or the story should be. That's fine; I expect that almost all players of this little piece will have closed it with the thought: I'm curious what the author will write next time, once they have a little more experience under their belt.

Comments

  1. My Apartment is the product of me trying to be polite (I think others have also taken this route for similar reasons); My Crappy Apartment is the standard phrase.

    (The other thing: when a My Crappy Apartment game is not crappy as a game, it tends to escape the categorisation. howling dogs and Shade are not usually considered part of the category, even though the cap technically fits.)

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    1. It seems to me that an essential aspect of a My (Crappy) Apartment game is that it has to at least raise the suspicion that it is the author recreating their own apartment. You cannot believe for a moment that that's what's going on in howling dogs, and although you might believe it for a while in Shade... that belief will be buried in quicksand before the game is over. :-)

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