One of my favorite things about interactive fiction is its ability to surprise me. Not only can IF deliver all of the surprises available to static fiction — plot twists, unexpected turns of phrase, and so forth — but it can also delight me by understanding a command that I never thought it would, or by altering its internal objects in a way that casts new light on the story, and sometimes on the medium itself. Goose, Egg, Badger offers both kinds of surprises in abundance. The former are difficult to talk about, since I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, so let me focus on the latter for a bit.
GEB kept on thrilling me with all the things it understood. Over and over, I’d try a kooky verb and find that the game handled it with a response that was usually funny and occasionally even useful. It’s clear to me that a whole lot of effort was poured into expanding Inform‘s standard library of verbs, and the result is a parser that kept making me smile and say, “Wow!” In addition, many standard Inform library responses have been replaced with whimsical substitutes, to great effect.
Besides the good parsing, GEB introduces a handy goal-tracking device, similar to the to-do list from Shade: throughout the game, an “urge” remains in the PC’s inventory. Examining the urge will give a clue as to what the player’s current goal ought to be. The innovation works well in this game, though I found it to be slightly buggy — on occasion, it seemed to be urging me to do something I’d already done. In addition, its contents are sometimes too vague. This problem may be unavoidable when some of the puzzles involve performing a wholly unexpected actions rather than combining mundane actions to achieve a desired result, but I found it sometimes vexing nonetheless.
In fact, the main problem I had with GEB was that while its implementation is terrifically robust, I often found its writing a little insufficient. One stylistic choice that didn’t work too well for me is that GEB changes all room descriptions after the first visit. This approach can work well to help characterize a PC who is very familiar with her surroundings, as is the PC of GEB, but I found myself floundering without exit lists, and frequently checked the scrollback because of the nagging feeling I’d missed something. Even with a PC who knows the lay of the land, a game’s room descriptions should still meet the minimum standards for IF: mention of all important nouns and exits.
Similarly, if you embed clues in your prose, that prose should be repeatable without too much trouble. This is one of those rules to which there are a bunch of exceptions, but I what I found in GEB is that occasionally an important bit of information is smuggled inside a description that prints once and once only; when the hints intimated that I should have seized upon this clue, I felt a little indignant. One other area in which the game is a little under-described is in its depiction of certain NPC actions. In particular, there’s an NPC who follows the PC around, but this action is never mentioned by the game beyond the fact that if you do a second LOOK in the current room, you’ll find that the NPC is there with you. This should have been made a little clearer.
This obliqueness affects some of the puzzles — in fact, there’s one object on which the game offers so little information, it’s a bit of a puzzle just to figure out what the object is. Despite this, many of the puzzles are quite nice indeed. There some arbitrariness here and there, and every so often a situation will come clear out of left field, but I can’t deny that I thoroughly enjoyed winding my way through the game. GEB rewards experimentation, and thanks to the deep implementation, there are a lot of things to try, some of which may succeed in totally unforeseen ways.
In addition, the writing does an excellent job of balancing humor and scattered surreality — I particularly enjoyed that the ape in the game has a theme song, and that the SING command prompts the PC to sing that theme song. Best of all, though, is the extremely clever conceptual gimmick at the heart of the game. It was subtle enough that I got through and enjoyed the whole game without recognizing it, but interesting enough that once I figured it out, it opened up new vistas for me. I definitely recommend playing this game, and I recommend not typing SECRETS until you’ve played through once. Then play it again — if you’re like me, you’ll be too entertained not to.