in Comp00

Guess The Verb! by Leonard Richardson [Comp00]

IFDB page: Guess The Verb!
Final placement: 11th place (of 53) in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Competition

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Guess the Verb is fun. In fact, I’ll go even better than that: Guess the Verb is great! I was quite worried when I saw the game’s title, fearing that I faced another Annoyotron, or at best a riff on the Textfire game Verb!. What I got instead was a highly enjoyable comp game that I’m eagerly looking forward to revisiting after the judging period is over. What a bargain! For one thing, the game is just screamingly funny. In fact, even the meta-game materials are hilarious. Not two minutes after loading up GTV I was giggling like a loon. My wife walked past and asked, “Good game?” “I haven’t even started the game yet!” I replied. “I’m just reading the instructions!” Those instructions are not to be missed, and they set the tone wonderfully for the rest of the game, a riotous spoof on IF that skewers everything from pretentious authors and critics (like myself) to overly literal parsers to shopworn genre conventions.

Here’s what’s even better: even though GTV is a spoof, it is simultaneously a really fun game. The first puzzle, for example, makes terrific mockery of IF parsers, but it is also at the same time a clever, original, and completely fair puzzle, one which gave me that invaluable “Aha!” feeling once I had figured it out. Examples of this kind of dual excellence abound throughout the game, and there are so many examples I loved that it’s hard to pick one, so I’ll just select this room description from early on in the game:

The Midway
The lights and noise of the midway seem hollow and dull compared to
the aura of excitement you felt at the verb guessing booth. You
survey the sights around you as though through different eyes: the
merry-go-round, the concession stand--they seem so pedestrian now.
You feel a strange attraction pulling you back towards the southwest,
as though a ham-handed author were trying to place hints into the
room description that the game would progress a lot faster if you
went back to the verb guessing booth already.

This is a lovely parody on the tendency of IF authors to give rather clumsy hints in the midst of otherwise banal descriptions of objects and rooms, in hopes of giving the player a friendly shove in the right direction. But even as GTV lampoons the silliness of that technique, at the same time it enacts that very technique and achieves the hoped-for effect. Stuff like that makes me smile very, very widely.

Another great feature of this game is its impressive replayability. The plot branches randomly into five small scenarios, and I don’t think that all five scenarios are reachable in a single play session, at least not without very copious amounts of UNDOing, and perhaps not even then. Each scenario is well worth visiting, even the briefer ones, so there’s a reason for replay right there. Not only that, the game is just stuffed full of Easter eggs. I played for two hours, got to the end, and was rewarded with a long list of amusing things to do, things that I’m just itching to go back and try, especially knowing how many of the game’s jokes truly were amusing. In fact, even when some of the scenarios get cut off, GTV sometimes compensates you with additional items that can be used in a bunch of entertaining ways.

This game wasn’t perfect — mercifully, I found no coding errors, but there were there were a few typos here and there, and the very beginning of the game is lumbered with a misfeature that forces you to enter some very specific information before you can get to a standard prompt that allows you to restore, script, restart, etc. Those quibbles aside, however, I can say without reservation that this is by far the best game of Guess the Verb I have ever played or could ever hope to play.

Rating: 9.7

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