[review] Persistence and Dilly

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Adam Cadre

Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
Trapped in a One-Room Dilly by Laura Knauth
The Persistence of Memory by Jason Dyer

Should you ask for information about the >MAKING of Trapped in a
One-Room Dilly, you will find a paraphrase of a statement by sleazy
miser Benjamin Franklin: "Nothing is more binding than absolute
freedom." The author goes on to assert that a degree of confinement
can thus be liberating. What this game and The Persistence of Memory
end up proving, however, is that IF can have an awful lot of
suggestive power. Knauth told me that I should feel liberated, so I
did. I never once tried going in a particular compass direction --
I never felt the need. Dyer, however, told me that I was pinned to
a land mine and couldn't move and that my leg hurt and stuff. The
frustration was so intense that I had to save every couple of moves
because I couldn't resist typing 'nw' and blowing my legs off over
and over and over again.

Of course, there was more to it that just being told that I could
wander around within the room in Dilly, and being told that I couldn't
budge in Memory. There was also the fact that the Dilly room offered
so much to do -- a dozen puzzles running at once, none of them
potentially game-ending -- whereas in Memory, the puzzles are fired
at the player one at a time, each one potentially game-ending if not
dealt with correctly. Of course, Dilly can get away with giving the
player all this latitude, since unlike Memory, it isn't trying to
deliver a narrative at the same time. Memory is an extremely linear
narrative: event A followed by event B followed by event C followed
by event D, and to get from one to the next you have to solve a
puzzle. But this leaves the author in a curious position: he wants
the player to get from one event to the next, but at the same time,
puts up roadblocks to keep that from happening. Usually, this isn't
a pressing problem -- players who get stuck can wander around, try
different things and see what happens. If you do that in Memory, you
get your legs blown off.

The author has to reconcile this somehow, and his solution is rather
awkward: the narrative voice, the one relating what's going on in the
story, steps back and is interrupted by another voice, one giving
hints and encouragement -- it's sort of like playing with the author
looking over your shoulder. Dilly is also marked by a strong
authorial presence, but it's different: not so much "Hey, try this"
as "Golly, if there's anything I can do to make your game-playing
experience a better one, you just go ahead and let me know! Here --
I made sandwiches!" Dilly just wants so much to be your friend --
it's like a puppy trying to get adopted from an animal shelter. This
could conceivably be taken by some players as annoying. I decided to
find it charming.

We often talk about games in terms of puzzle difficulty, literary
quality, innovation, and so forth, but I'd argue that the single most
important attribute in an IF work is attitude. Which is to say, it
should have one. Attitude is what creates the sense that an IF work
is a place to wander around in -- it is the matter of which virtual
worlds are created. Otherwise you're just looking at a bunch of text.
What that attitude is doesn't much matter. If you look at my Comp98
histogram, there's a big divide between the haves and the have-nots,
and the bulk of the have-nots are games that struck me as a big pile
of words. Attitude -- whether it be hostile (Little Blue Men) or
harmless (Tokyo, Mother Loose), Victorian (Muse) or Wattersonian
(Arrival) -- is the sign that the world in which one finds oneself
is a wrought object, has been shaped by some intelligence. And this
makes all the difference.

My scores:
Trapped in a One-Room Dilly 7.5 (4th place)
The Persistence of Memory 3.9 (8th place)

Adam Cadre, Anaheim, CA

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