in Comp98

Trapped In A One-Room Dilly by Laura A. Knauth [Comp98]

IFDB page: Trapped in a One-Room Dilly
Final placement: 8th place (of 27) in the 1998 Interactive Fiction Competition

OK, probably the first thing I should confess is that I’m not hip enough to know what a “dilly” is. My handy dictionary suggests that it means “something remarkable of its kind” — their example is “a dilly of a movie.” Somehow I don’t think that’s what’s meant here. So, judging from context, I’m going to assume that “dilly” means “relatively enjoyable puzzle game with good coding and writing, but a few guess-the-verb problems and sometimes not enough synonyms implemented.” If this is what dilly really means, then Trapped In A One-Room Dilly has the most accurate title of any game in the 1998 competition. Like many others in this year’s competition, Dilly is very puzzle-oriented. Perhaps what we’re seeing this year is a bit of a backlash against the periodically swelling outcries for “puzzleless IF.” If backlash it is, I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing. Sometimes because literature has so much more cultural capital than puzzles, we can get into a mindset which tries to shun puzzles in favor of an elusive brand of literary merit. Don’t get me wrong — I myself am much more interested in IF for its literary qualities than its puzzles, but I also think it’s important to remember that (for some of us, anyway) there is also a pleasure in puzzle-solving, the “crossword” part of IF as opposed to the “narrative” part. I believe that interactive fiction can cover a very wide spectrum indeed, but that there will always be a place for puzzle-oriented IF on that spectrum, and I’ll probably always enjoy a really well-done puzzle game.

Dilly is the closest I’ve seen yet in this competition to that lofty standard, but before I talk about the things it does right, I have to take one step back and talk about a game from last year. The author of Dilly entered a game in last year’s competition called Travels in the Land of Erden. Ironically, these two games could not be more different. Erden was a sprawling, gigantic game with an enormous map, any number of subplots, and a generally broad scope. When reviewing that game, I wrote about the benefits of focus, and suggested that “if the author had concentrated her energies on a game perhaps a quarter of the size of this one, she would have had time for much more extensive proofing and beta-testing, and the result might have been a tight, polished gem rather than the rough and gangly work she submitted.” Well, when I’m right, I’m right. Dilly benefits enormously from having a much tighter focus than Erden. The game narrows its scope to (as you might have guessed from the title) one room, and the room is a really interesting room, full of enough gadgets and gewgaws to keep me busy for two hours. At no time in Dilly did I lack for something to figure out, look at, or do. The game crams about 10 puzzles into this one room, but it didn’t feel particularly strained to me. In fact, Dilly makes a sly gibe about its lack of plot by including a bookshelf full of books whose plots are plausible explanations for your situation (Intelligence testing, alien abduction, the bomb shelter of a wealthy wacko, etc.). The puzzles are generally creative and fun, and all of the coding and writing is technically proficient.

Well, almost all. The only times I ran into trouble with Dilly were when I was close enough to the solution of a puzzle that I should have received some slight confirmation, but the game didn’t provide it. For example, at one point in the game something is ticking and vibrating. If you listen closely to this object, you can hear it ticking. However, if you touch it “you feel nothing unusual.” This is one of those instances where after I found out what was happening, I felt cheated. If I’m that close, I want at least a little nudge. In another instance, I had more of a guess-the-verb problem — the game wants you to tie two things together with a rope, as in “TIE FROG TO LOG.” (That’s not really what you’re tying, but I’m trying to avoid the spoiler here.) However, if you first “TIE ROPE TO LOG” you get a message along the lines of “That’s useless.” If I had tried “TIE ROPE TO FROG” first, the game would have picked up on what I meant to do, but I didn’t make that lucky guess. I don’t like to be put in the position of making lucky guesses. Nonetheless, these are relatively minor problems, easy to fix. They didn’t stop me from enjoying my time in the one-room… whatever it was.

Rating: 8.5

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