I played The Dreamhold on the plane ride to Japan. I guess these days the genre label that the game fits within (or the mechanics label—I’m not entirely at peace with how the term “genre” is used with games) is “parser-based interactive fiction”? Which is something I played a lot when I was growing up; not so much these days, though I still considered myself basically favorably inclined to the mechanic.
After playing The Dreamhold, though, I’m not so sure. Not that it wasn’t a good game: it was well written, it showed snippets of a potentially rather fascinating world, and the puzzles seemed well done. (It’s designed as an introductory game, for what that’s worth.) But I just wasn’t feeling it: I ran into some difficulties, I got annoyed, I asked for hints.
Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, I’m not sure. But I don’t think it was just my mood: I’m not sure in what contexts now I would prefer to play parser-based IF over games that went in a different direction: the puzzles in parser-based IF have a particular obtuseness that, these days, seems gratuitous.
Of course, parser-based IF has changed a lot over the last three decades. For example, I hear that there’s a fair amount of it out there that doesn’t depend on puzzles: maybe I should spend time investigating that? Though there are so many other text-based IF platforms these days, I’d be curious what the parser brings in a non-puzzle context over, say, Twine.
“Should” is a funny word, though. I don’t play that many games these days, and I generally play a game because there’s something specific that’s drawing me to it. That means that investigating the current state of the art of a mechanic is unlikely to be enough of a hook on its own, even if it’s a mechanic that I’m very nostalgic about.
Though maybe I’ll play more parser-based IF for the same reason (or at least one of the reasons) why I played The Dreamhold: when I’m on vacation, I have time on planes and during downtime during days and nights to play games, and I only have my iPad with me. Probably just as well to have time to experiment a bit and broaden my horizons; and it’s a platform that works well with text.
Who knows; we’ll see.
This post has not been revised since publication.