Renga in blue

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Soup cans

Cliff Johnson's game The Fool's Errand contains puzzles -- word searches, jigsaw puzzles, and so forth -- that are separate from any narrative.

7th Guest is game infamous for a puzzle involving soup cans; enough so that the term "soup cans" has entered the language of IF theory. However, I have never found this specific criticism entirely fair, because in a way, 7th Guest is exactly like The Fool's Errand. The puzzles only very slightly connect with the narrative. It is a "puzzle game" rather than an "adventure game".

Still, there's a tangible difference when playing the two in sequence, and I believe it's this: the mechanisms of the 7th Guest puzzles occupy tangible positions in the world space. It's pretending that the soup cans really exist, whereas in The Fool's Errand the word searches occupy a sort of metaphorical space.

I would also say J. Robinson Wheeler's Colours (which as he describes, was written a "little bit in the manner of Cliff Johnson's works") suffers the same problem from a slightly different angle. There's no narrative to be contrived (and therefore no mimesis to break) but the world space is the same as the puzzle space. As soon as the world space is occupied, there seems to be an impulse on the part of players to explain why the world space is configured as it is.

However, I don't see any reason why a work of IF couldn't mimic the Cliff Johnson effect precisely and come out well. Navigation would be like normal IF; the puzzles (triggered by, say, touching certain objects) would be presented in a different interface from the rest of the work. Touching the photograph might get an acrostic, while touching the doorknob might activate a jigsaw puzzle.