(EDIT: This post doesn’t contain spoilers. However, the rest of the discussion might, although they are very low-key and we’re all trying very hard not to spoil it anyway. But just in case I’m moving this to the “Spoilers” section of the board)
You know when you love something so much you just have to inflict it on the general populace? Well stand back, 'cause I’m gonna let fly!
Seriously, I’m enjoying this game so much it’s hard to know what to start with. It’s like what Curses should have been, it has so many similarities. A family secret, a large geography, various extra scenes in the forms of flashbacks or just inhabiting other PCs from a different time. Lots and lots of puzzles. Except that, unlike Curses, it takes pains to be amazingly fair! It’s not easy, but it’s not frustrating either.
I can’t stress that enough. I’l left wishing someone would re-do Curses! in this style. Make sure you can’t leave an area you can’t return to unless you’ve done everything; or make it revisitable. Make it impossible to put the game in an unwinnable state. Those are the things that seriously put me off Curses! and make playing it something to be dreaded.
I thought ML would be something to be dreaded, from its reputation. It isn’t! It’s the most pleasurable puzzle-fest I’ve played yet, because it plays so fair with you!
Not only that, but the writing is very friendly. Lots of humourous replies award various little commands, all of them just right enough to actually make me chuckle or laugh out loud - short, dry, wry comments, little bursts of eboulliance in thos otherwise sprawling and complex game. I just loved, for instance, the difference in how the geese were described before and after they attacked you.
I’m only a fifth of the game in - have been playing for the past couple of days and am about 54 points of about 256 through. And it’s been a smooth experience, amazingly. This hardly ever happens with me; usually when I’m stuck, I’m well and truly stuck, and I have to work hard at it, with indifferent success. In ML? The game has proven to me time and time again that it plays fair; its parser is very sophisticated for what it is (in a game like this an average parser would have been fine, but noooo - Ingold made sure to make it go above and beyond, so that any meaningful input you want to try can be rewarded. In my experience anyway!); and it has a very light-hearted feel about it to boot.
And the puzzles, oh God I’m having so much FUN with the puzzles! Seriously, I’ve spent the better part of my gaming session trying to fuel up the generator in the wrong way. When eventually I did manage it I was possibly far too pleased with myself for it to be healthy. Then there’s the sliding doors puzzle, which I solved in my head while making some toast in the kitchen; I was idly thinking about the problem while getting out the butter and then I laughed aloud - I actually did! - because the perfect solution to the problem had just occurred to me. And I thought, well, maybe it won’t work, but it would be great if it did! And sure enough, it did.
It’s these little moments that make IF great, you know?
It’s so interesting that Jon Ingold, who would later be so unenthusiastic about the parser, would make this perfect example of good parser-IF old-school-ish (but fair in a new-school way!) sprawling puzzlefest. And it’s proper IF puzzles, too. The reason I never could get into Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina! was because it was more of a collection of non-IF puzzles from what I could see, and I had a really rough experience with it. First puzzle I solved, the surveillance monitors, was the sort of puzzle I positively abhor. Then when I realised I couldn’t get the lights on even after the hints specifically explained to me what the answer was and how to arrive there - it involved a sort of math I never knew about and, to this day, have never seen outside of the game!, and even when the game explained it to me I still didn’t get it - I gave up. Two puzzles in and I’m uncomfortable and frustrated, how likely is it that I’m going to enjoy the rest of the game?
ML is what I consider to be “proper” IF puzzles. That’s a loaded statement, because there really isn’t a “proper” IF puzzle, but I consider world-manipulation puzzles to be what IF puzzling is mostly all about, and that’s what ML delivers. There’s a healthy dose of surrealism - and you know it’s healthy when it remains logic enough for you to take it in its stride and you can still function rationally to solve the puzzles.
It’s full of lieel niceties - the photocopier, for instance, was clearly painstakingly coded. It must have been a nightmare, and I7 would be choking hard on all the disambiguation today, but Ingold - in I6 - made it a supremely smooth experience.
Ingold is defeinitely an amazing author. You can’t even pinpoint his style. Let’s look at some of his games:
A Colder Light;
Make It Good;
And now we have Inklestudious. The man defies cathegorisation, he experiments wildly. ML seems to have been his attempt at Curses! (Make It Good was probably his attempt at Deadline / Varicella). Ingold seems to be one of those people that set out to do something, and when it’s done, bar some further releases and bug-fixing, feels no need to do it again; why would he, one can imagine him thinking, approach the Curses! subgenre when he’s already done Mulldoon?
Seriously, this game is fantastic. I’m frankly amazed it doesn’t get talked about as often as Anchorhead or Curses. This game is, in every way, a classic - something to learn from at every turn.
And again - I’m only a fifth of the way in!