IFDB page: Hercules First Labor
Final placement: 26th place (of 30) in the 2003 Interactive Fiction Competition
For me, the comp game experience begins from the moment I read the game’s title and blurb in Comp03.z5. What that meant for Hercules’ First Labor was that I was out of sync with it from the beginning. Not from its title, which is fine, but from its blurb:
My introduction to computers was the Scott Adams series of adventures
with the simplistic Verb/Noun parser and this game is in that vein.
I know that there are these people who have lots of nostalgic feelings about Scott Adams games, but I’m not one of them. I’m an Infocom guy, and have been since the beginning of my involvement with IF. Consequently, Scott Adams games tend to feel like cave paintings when what I’m really looking for is Degas and Monet, or at least Jack Kirby. I come to IF more for the fiction than the interaction (though they’re both important, of course), and my favorite games all have excellent writing in common. So, predictably, I’m not a fan of room descriptions that look something like “I’m in a Hotel Room by Door.” The “simplistic Verb/Noun parser” also feels like a straitjacket to me, and it’s that much worse when I don’t have access to the metacommands I’m used to, like UNDO, AGAIN, and, well, SAVE.
“Homemade” competition games tend to be notorious for having underimplemented parsers, and for lacking some of the basic functionality that we take for granted in games produced by top-tier development systems; the homemade games I’ve encountered so far in this comp are no exception. However, this time around, new approaches have tried to turn these shortcomings into advantages. The way Sweet Dreams did it was to throw out the parser altogether, replacing it with a low-res avatar in a graphical environment. Thus was the whole parser problem avoided entirely, and this approach worked for me. The homemade interface still had its bugs and frustrations, but I found Sweet Dreams to be one of the least irritating comp games ever made outside of a mainstream IF development system. (That’s not to damn it with faint praise — I liked it well enough.)
HFL avoids the problem in a different way, by setting the player’s expectations from the very beginning, and enlisting the aid of nostalgia to make its simplistic parser actually seem like a feature rather than a bug. I’ll bet that for people with fond memories of playing Scott Adams games, the trick works really well. For me, though, it felt like just another substandard homemade parser, albeit ameliorated a bit by the fact that its simplicity was matched by that of the environment. So, while I acknowledge it as a good try, HFL left me cold. It did inspire me to my first comp game anagram, though. (“SA flirt’s core blur, eh?”) That’s worth a little something.