Type Game
Date 2010-10-01
Series IFComp 2010 (16)
Tags interactive fiction, wordplay

Under, In Erebus

Under, In Erebus by Brian Rapp is an interactive fiction game entered in the 2010 interactive fiction competition. You've accidentally boarded the wrong train, and when it stops, you're in a dark and unusual place. How will you get home?

Erebus is severely under-hinted. I solved very few of the puzzles without using the hints. Actually, I didn't even figure out that the booths were used for spelling out objects until I read the hints. It wasn't even entirely clear that you were trying to escape. For all I knew, you were supposed to make friends with the cyclops and learn his secret of eternal life.

Some of the puzzles felt positively obtuse. Spelling out PUB in order to get a drink? Was there some hint that I missed? Making a cup and a tub were pretty obvious, but that's pretty much all I managed alone. And the ending puzzle is absolutely impossible to guess, as far as I can tell. "You could use some assistance in escaping from Erebus. A student who will follow your instructions would be ideal." Why would I even consider that?

There were some other problems, too. It was necessary to repeatedly travel around collecting ingredients (or, rather, letters) to try out puzzle solutions. Every time I needed a pea I had to go get one, open the pod, then use it. Eventually I just collected a big stack of bees and peas and dropped them near the booths, but I still had to make trips for the tea, ewes, and eye. I get that, from an in-game perspective, there should only be one eye at a time (though it reappearing sort of ruins that), but there could have been a whole flock of sheep I could herd to the booths, and I could have poured a small amount of tea out of the tub, leaving it little diminished. It was also a pain to have to take things out of the pack repeatedly. I'm of the opinion that if there's no good reason to restrict the player's inventory size, you shouldn't do it--I believe players will forgive at least that failure of realism in service to playability.

Erebus wasn't all bad, though: there were some nice responses; the various 'bonus' words you could make were amusing--though not amusing enough to make me want to make them all, given the painfully large amount of work involved in making just one word; the changes in the response to examining yourself were nice; the fact that the backpack became a wristpack was a nice bit of attention to detail.

I guess there were some things I didn't explore. I couldn't work out how to explore the pit, though the ten points I got for making it would seem to indicate there's more to it. Maybe I should have tried "TILT"? But it's too late now, and I don't think I'll ever go back to it.

I regret that Erebus's shortcomings so outweighed its successes. The environment seemed like it might be fun, and I do enjoy wordplay--Ad Verbum is one of my favorite games. But everything I did in Erebus just felt like slow work. With better hinting and an easier way to create the words, Erebus could be a pretty solid game. As it stands, though, it's just more trouble than it's worth.

Update

A post-comp release (serial number 101122) "adds features to reduce late-game drudgery and improve hinting", and the newer release's CREDITS thanks "the many IFComp reviewers who successfully advocated for the player". That sounds promising! When I've played it, I'll update the details above.

Name Role
Brian Rapp Author