ParserComp: Six Grey Rats Crawl Up The Pillow

six gray ratsOn with ParserComp! Six Grey Rats Crawl Up The Pillow (Boswell Cain).

Story: You play Rinaldo di Gorgonzola, a petty fop in a Varicella-ish modern-Renaissance-Italy (plastics, modern firearms, aristocracy, not much in the way of effective medicine), spends the night in a haunted house on a bet. Things are very Gothic-weird; the house is extravagantly dilapidated, and Rinaldo – not someone accustomed to being alone and un-entertained for long, one suspects – finds himself entangled in memory. The worldbuilding is just enough to suggest a lot of things and make me want more, without delving into pedantry.

Much of the narrative is told in memory; Rinaldo is a member of a Decameron-like circle of poor little rich kids, finding amusements for themselves amid the stalled world of a plague. There is no great overarching plot here, just fragmentary vignettes, a certain number of lingering glances, a good deal of melancholia. Which is fine; they’re good vignettes, and sketch out enough to make me want to know more about this world and its inhabitants. They’re largely delivered in a lawnmowery fashion, albeit in a context where it makes narrative sense.

More generally, I got the sense that the author really wasn’t all that interested in beginning-middle-end narrative here; as with Robin & Orchid, the focus is on piecing together parts of a world that don’t necessarily fit together into a unified story arc. That’s a workable approach, but I think it requires two things to be satisfying as story: a pretty broad scope, and subject-matter that makes the audience relish poking around for tasty, game-irrelevant information. This falls a little short on the former count. 4.

Writing: Now this, my friends, is how you do an initial inventory listing:

You are carrying:
a brass key
a poniard
a sausage
The Return of the Worm
an herbal sachet

You are wearing:
a shiny black raincoat
a silk shirt
a pair of slacks
a pair of wingtip shoes

You recall:
a memory of Lorenzo

Yyyyyyes. One of the things I greatly enjoy about a really solid parser game is the delicious aesthetic of the inventory listing, and this is the first game in ParserComp to really recognise and tap into that.

The writing accomplishes its extravagant Gothic mood with admirable economy. If it has a flaw, it’s that it is perhaps a little too reliant on bland parserese assertions about significant items:

A chamber with a stifling atmosphere. The ceiling is a plaster dome, still intact, though marbled with ghostly mold. The floor is invisible beneath layered carpets and dust clots. The hall is west, and to the east is a doorway to a tiny balcony.

In the center of the room is a four-poster bed.

There is a small hook on the wall. Hanging on the hook is a forbidding portrait.

Across from the bed is an armchair.

On the armchair are a dusty, desiccated corpse and a gold-plated automatic pistol.

At times it turns this briefness to good comic effect, however:

> x sausage
It is reminiscent of other sausages you have known.

This writing may have had some flaws in places, but it was evocative and image-rich and characterful, and I enjoyed it immensely. The thing it reminded me most of, honestly, ws I-0: Jailbait on the Interstate: a capable writer enjoying themselves by dicking around with entertaining, light material. 5.

Puzzles:  At times the interaction clicked pretty well, imitating pretty well the anxious fussing about that goes with sleepless nights. (Anchorhead already did this to a certain extent, but no matter.) There’s, perhaps, one thing that really counts as a puzzle, which I managed to completely miss the point of and required help for. This is… a game that’s invested in interaction, certainly, as a mode of comedy and to regulate the narrative and a way of poking around the edges of the world, but it’s not really much of a puzzle game. 3.

Theme: Sunrise as a thing you have to either wait for or get things done before is a pretty regular theme in this comp, and the version here feels a bit… well, it’s OK, but it’s not really the thing that the story’s invested in. The plague angel is kind of a last-minute trumpery, and its association with the sunrise is momentarily striking but not really something that connects with anything that has gone before. 3.

Technical: I must have typed LIE ON BED twenty times. This prejudices me somewhat; ENTER BED is what the game wants, and I got it right the first time precisely 0 times.

It helpfully allows the player to treat memories like normal objects, and X them rather than fuck around with the awkward THINK ABOUT every darn time.  There are plenty of good responses to reasonable-yet-non-obvious actions, though there are (as is nigh-inevitable) some gaps here.

(first taking yourself)
You are always self-possessed.

It is in no way a technically ambitious piece, but it does perfectly well at what it sets out to do. A strong 3. (I have not awarded a 5 yet in this category, so I may need to go back and rebalance a little at the end.)

Overall: I got numerous moments of glee from this, and this is obviously the work of a capable writer. It’s a bit haphazard in some ways, though, and feels like more of a snapshot than a story. 4.

This entry was posted in interactive fiction, parser-based, review and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ParserComp: Six Grey Rats Crawl Up The Pillow

  1. Pingback: ParserComp Summary | These Heterogenous Tasks

  2. dougorleans says:

    SIT ON BED worked for me.

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