IFReviewed by Greg Boettcher
on 2006-05-22 08:28
I'm not sure why I like The Lost Kingdom, Brainf*ck Edition. Its parser is crude in the extreme, and when you play it, you spend a lot of time mapping out mazes. That's not exactly a recipe for success. However, within the modest constraints of what this game tries to do, it is very well polished and playable. It's also rather amazing from a technical point of view, and it comes with an interesting backstory. For all of the above reasons, I think it's worth a play.
The Lost Kingdom was originally entered into the 1st Annual 1 to 2K Classic Text Adventure Competition, back in 2004. It took first place out of six games, and the competition organizer, Paul Panks, called it "head and shoulders above any game thus far!" This new edition of the game is not just a new port of the game, but a considerable expansion of it. The new version has new features, better descriptions, and one or two new puzzles, in addition to the distinction of being written in an esoteric programming language.
Jon Ripley claims that this game is "probably the first ever piece of interactive fiction written in an esoteric programming language and probably one of the largest non-trivial Brainf*ck programs ever written." Indeed, the game is written in brainf*ck, which does make it rather remarkable. Brainf*ck is an esoteric programming language, a fully functional language, but one that is not at all designed to be practical, instead aiming only to be amusing to programmers due to its extreme minimalism. In Brainf*ck programs, there are a maximum of eight commands, each of which are represented by a single character. (For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brainfuck.) Thus, the first line of the source code of The Lost Kingdom BFe looks like this...
...and the remaining 29,000+ lines of code look rather similar. The code is thus nearly inscrutable, and so it is not hard to figure out how brainf*ck got its name. Obviously, Jon Ripley found a way of machine-generating all this code, but the game is still quite a piece of work from a technical point of view.
The parser in this game is more crude than any I've ever seen. In the game's documentation, that author claims that a full-blown two-word parser might have made the program run too slow on some computers, given the very sub-optimal efficiency of brainf*ck. As a result, Jon Ripley has set up a system where all nouns are referred to not by a word, but by a number. Thus:
You can see:
a small wooden box of matches sitting on the table. (2)
To pick up the matches, type "take 2". At first this seems awkward and annoying, but there is an advantage here. Every verb has a one-letter abbreviation, and you can issue commands of no more than two characters. "t2" is an easier way of picking up the matches. Once you get used to the verb abbreviations, the system has a kind of simple elegance. Nobody will extol the game for giving you a feeling of complete freedom -- you can't use more than 22 verbs -- but within its constraints, it works well. By the way, it is worth noting that this brainf*ck edition of this game allows you to save, making it much preferable to the version in the 2K Comp.
Likewise, the game's help menus are well-designed, as are the menus that provide the backstory. Speaking of which, the backstory is another of the game's great virtues, one that is shared with the original version of The Lost Kingdom. Although the game itself is very simple, even crude, it is surrounded by a very interesting backstory that gives the story more depth. (And you should definitely read the entire backstory if you want to win.) You can read all this at Jon Ripley's web page for the game's 2K Comp version -- http://jonripley.com/i-fiction/games/LostKingdom.html -- or within the game itself, by using the "!" command.
There is one other technically interesting aspect of The Lost Kingdom BFe. It is actually two games in one. When you begin the game, you get a chance to play it with either "short descriptions" or "long descriptions." The "short descriptions" version closely resembles the original 2K Comp version of the game, while the "long descriptions" version has much longer and more atmospheric room descriptions, as well as one or two different puzzles.
That just leaves the game itself. Well, what can I say. You pick stuff up, you manipulate the stuff with the 22 verbs, you wander into a cave, you map out a couple of mazes, you defeat the bad guy (albeit a bad guy who is unusually well-characterized in the game's backstory), that sort of thing. The game itself says, "This game is intentionally written as a classic model text adventure game." Either you can get into that, or you can't.
Anyway, in short, this game is pretty bad in some ways. In other ways, however, it's very impressive. I recommend reading the backstory, and if that sounds interesting, then this game is probably worth a play.