Story: Plus ça change. As long as there are parser authoring systems, there will be games like this, the lichen that colonises bare rock and is eclipsed by brighter blooms: tasteless, flat, enduring, indigestible.
Picture, if you will, the first unguided teenager, somewhere in the UK on Christmas evening of 1983, sheltering from napping adults and overstimulated kids, with a parent’s Speccy and a brand-new copy of The Quill. They are suddenly in possession of heretofore-unimagined power. They can make anything, now, this very night. The possibilities are – in a specific, difficult, yet very real sense – boundless. And yet they will almost certainly make something very much like An Adventurer’s Backyard.
Parser games are, first and foremost, a simulation of space, and so the first thing that people tend to do is to simulate a space that’s very familiar to them, and to do so with the most straightforward tools available. Story is not a straightforward tool of parser games: it’s something you have to work into the fabric of a game yourself.
An Adventurer’s Backyard simulates a generic suburban home and its yard; you are a generic adventurer, and have to find treasures scattered around it. That’s pretty much it.
So: no story to speak of, because this is a coding exercise. 1.
Writing: Tends towards the hyper-utilitarian, with little to hold the interest. The great majority of writing is an affectless listing of objects:
A comfy sofa sits against one wall. There is also a television set opposite. Outside, through the door, you can see the patio. To the south is the dining room and to the north is the foyer. East is a hallway.
You see a fluffy cat here. Exits are north, east, south and west. The cat sits on the comfy sofa.
The cat sits on the comfy sofa.
To be clear, the listing of objects is a standard element of parser IF writing: the craft part is transforming bare information into something alive and compelling. This is, again, quite common if you’re learning to use an IF platform: the reason this blog is called These Heterogenous Tasks is because game-making involves the unification of many different skills. When you’re training one skill, it’s often much easier to not worry about the others; again, that’s a legit approach, but it does mean that what you’re working on is a practice piece, not a finished work. 1.
Puzzles: Straightforward, basic – carry a stepladder to reach a high place, and there’s a fly which you have to catch to deal with a spider, and a bunch of inventory which is presumably going to be used in puzzles later, but I had very little reason to do any of it. It seems likely that this is just meant as an old-school treasure-hunt – I found a coin in a fountain and got points for it – but even that isn’t ever really explained.
My voting standards say that a 2 is ‘trivial, unfair, or tedious.’ This falls squarely into the ‘tedious’ bracket. It is not impossible to make simple puzzles interesting, if you tie them to a story and make their details picturesque or amusing or character-revealing or something; here they’re pretty much expected to stand up on their own merits.
Theme: If it was ever used, I never saw it. 1.
Technical: A few minor bugs about alternate situations: for instance, putting the sugar on the flypaper and then dropping the flypaper doesn’t attract the fly (it wants you to do it the other way around). The fly doesn’t actually disappear when the spider eats it, either. There’s a HELP command for hints on specific subjects, but if you ask about a non-existent topic it behaves as though HELP isn’t a command. You’re notified when the cat sits on the sofa even when you can’t see the cat. Trying to TAKE the diamond-studded collar when the cat is wearing it gives a misleading error message, and I can’t figure out what verb it wants me to use. None of this appears to seriously break the game, but it does not encourage me to keep poking at things. 2.
Overall: I wasn’t able to stay interested in this for very long at all, though I stuck with it for long enough to solve a few puzzles mostly in the interests of due diligence. Largely this is because narrative and prose are really important to me, and the game is uninterested in them. 1.