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IFCOMP 2006 - Delightful Wallpaper

Game #12: Delightful Wallpaper (by Andrew Plotkin)
Played: November 3rd (3 hours 50 minutes)
Platform: Inform 7 (Zcode)
Unofficial Score: 10-
     Gameís Blurb (Subtitle):
     A Cozy Mansion Mystery in the Making.

     XYZZY Response:
     That's not a verb I recognize.

     Despite my prediction in this yearís introduction, most of my reviews prior to Delightful Wallpaper have been written after hours or days of reflection (unlike prior years, when I almost always did write immediately). I have conflicting thoughts about this game, and I figured it would be best to get it all down now, rather than slowly sort it out over the next few days.

     Word might spread, prior to the voting deadline, about who probably wrote Delightful Wallpaper (Andrew Plotkin, if Stephen Bondís guess is right). Going on the assumption that he is this gameís author (Edgar O. Weyrd is a pseudonym of the most obvious kind), I donít think he intended to win the competition. I think he intended to write a game that is initially dismissed, then builds a buzz after the mask comes off, leading to more post-comp chatter than most other games (save perhaps Legion, for similar reasons) is likely to get. This will lead to debate, which leads to enlightenment, which leads to many XYZZY award nominations (which it wins), and ultimately to a slot among the works of IF most frequently referenced and revered in future years.

     This will be quite an achievement for a game that essentially deconstructs the standards of ďphysicalĒ access to the game world, removing the need to implement anything that involves the direct manipulation of objects. What I mean is, in Delightful Wallpaper you have no need to move things, talk to people, get things (until later, and then theyíre not exactly ďthingsĒ), etc.

     This isnít a complaint. If anything, itís shockingly clever. The first part of the game (Iíll talk about the second part in a bit Ė itís almost like two separate games are stacked one on the other so that they occupy the same area) can be completed just by moving around from room to room. This sounds easy; itís anything but. The Weyrd house is filled with one-way doors, doors and panels that are opened or closed depending on where you came from (and from which direction), platforms that raise or lower to access new rooms (again, depending on your prior movements), and a tower that turns after similar movements.

     Iím far more conflicted on the first part than the second. The first part seemed too hard. I solved some of it (half Ė maybe a bit more) without the walkthrough, but after a while I had to concede defeat. I made a map (with little arrows to show movements and little notes to show results), but it just wasnít enough.

     The PC in Delightful Wallpaper carries a notepad. This is the gameís way of helping sort it all out. It works pretty well, although a couple times the notes showed an observation made by the PC which I had neglected to notice myself. Even with my map and the automatic notepad, I just reached a point where I realized the entire system was too complicated for me to solve in anything near to a reasonable manner. I became more worried that missteps would seal off avenues that would then require repeated ďdo-overĒ moves, making it impossible to know if I had originally been on the right course or not.

     I could have been seeing it as more difficult than it actually was, but this first part seemed too complex for my poor little brain. At one point early on, ďa rattle and clank, somewhere to the southeastĒ helped me figure out which piece of the puzzle had changed. After that, though, I couldnít figure out what was happening where. Maybe the source was too far from the destination, making it impossible for the PC to detect. Regardless, I became confused enough that what had started out as incredibly interesting began to lose all appeal. When I realized frustration had won out over fascination, I went to the walkthrough.

     The walkthrough for the first part (I didnít use it for the second part) was hard to follow. Hints instead of a per-command list might have helped. Itís probably because I stopped to read the descriptions of rooms I hadnít quite reached on my own, thereby losing my place in the walkthrough. Finally, after some restarts, I did make it to what the walkthrough identified as the second section of the game.

     This is where my internal wow-o-meter gradually spiked. The second part of Delightful Wallpaper takes a different approach to building one large puzzle from the indirect manipulation of the game world (although, I suppose in a way the things you do in the second section are just a different kind of direct manipulation). The first part did it with an elaborate house-turned-puzzle-box, but the second part... I donít even know how to describe the second part. Itís unlike anything Iíve ever seen.

     Like in the first part, it took a while for me to figure out what was going on, and longer still to start making things happen. Some of it is written in future tense. Characters are in multiple locations, seemingly frozen in a single task that seems contradictory between their various appearances. When it clicked for me, though, it was really cool. What Iíve realized is that this game is memorable. This game does something that seems so completely original, it will leave a lasting impression.

     The notepad then takes on the task of helping to sort out the fates of these seven characters. Partial clues become clever rhymes one by one. It seems as though there may be alternate solutions here, but I tried to stick with the ones that kept each outcome most similar to the original clue.

     In retrospect, Iím not sure how I figured it all out without using the walkthrough in the second part. It seemed hard, but just within the boundaries of what my poor little brain could manage. When the last of them were finished, I felt satisfied in a morbid sort of way.

     And so, Iím left to reconcile what seems like an overly complicated first part that is as frustrating as it is clever, with an amazing second part that is enviably unique and entirely worthwhile. Not just that; Iím also left with something a little like a Schrodingerís cat dilemma, where I canít be sure Iíd have had the same experience if I had believed Delightful Wallpaper to be written by a newbie. I hope my conclusions would have been the same. Itís clear that this game was written by an experienced IF author, and by this point very few should be that familiar with Inform 7. It succeeds not with a twist ending or the use of a gimmick, but by being unique in its entirety.

     I have to go with my gut, and rank Delightful Wallpaper a ď10Ē. Itís a game Iíll remember well after this and future competitions have ended. Its funny title belies the experience it provides, but it may be remembered as one of the surprise gems of IFComp 2006. Oh Ė and Iím adding a ďminusĒ to the score, as a dent against the frustration it forced upon me in that first part. Otherwise, itís an excellent game.

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