This week is an interesting one, because it veers a little different from what you’re probably used to in the video game world. I know that I generally love to talk about games and graphics and art advancements, but imagine if you will if all of that was stripped away. You now have no visuals, no sounds, no alternative stimuli that you’ve become so fond of in modern gaming. Do you think you could still enjoy a game if it didn’t contain these qualities? Well I aim to show that it is possible with this week’s Game of the Week:
The Warbler’s Nest by Josh McIntosh
The Warbler’s Nest is an interactive-text adventure [ and for those of you who know what it is you’ll be fondly reminded of Zork.] and through the glory of the power of words, the game intends on taking you through this adventure and mystery as you type along with it. At first, it may seem like a boring game, why would someone want to sit and type directions into a computer right? Oh, but how you’d be wrong there. The joy that comes from Warbler’s Nest is that it’s a fairy tale adventure lined with mystery and charm. The whole transition of using your imagination to depict the events being given to you on the screen changes the value of every piece of information and players should become deeply invested in trying to discover the mystery of this place.
The very first line is even intriguing:
Among the Reeds
> The familiar reed bank behind your cottage surrounds you, filling the damp space between your home and the river to the south.
It may not seem like much, but as a player there is some sense of mysticism about what is now around us. We become intrigued by the fact that there is a river close to our home, so perhaps we check there, or perhaps we turn back towards our home and check the house. The decisions that come up here are all up to YOU as YOU investigate this area around you. The suspense comes later in the game, and so I won’t give any of the storyline away if you care to play it. The fact is, this game does something that I don’t think a lot of current games allow you to do: imagine.
As children we grow up constantly playing, imagining, and creating our own worlds, our pretend lives, and even, often times, imaginary friends. Our realms of make-believe and mysticism are vast and well used, because as we imagine and grow we learn from our creativity. Games in the mainstream market hinder this creative spark in our brains. They take the enjoyment of visualizing an environment for ourselves out of the picture and clutter the scene with their own visual interpretations, forcing us to participate in a storyline the way they have depicted it.
McIntosh gives the world something that it needs right now: childhood whimsy, mystery, and imagination. He forces us to revert to our youth and examine a situation based on intuition and problem solving by using our own interpretations, rather than holding our hand through a linear progressive storyline. I feel that so many games can take away from this model that I felt I had to share it with the masses.
If you think about it logically this game does nothing more than the pen-and-paper matches of DnD, except that now McIntosh has basically programmed the Dungeon Master to respond to your inputs. This type of “I can solve this on my own!” intrigue and mystery is important to games, and I definitely see it being lost to a world full of handholding tutorials and linear games that guide you every step of the way. Allow us, as gamers, to explore, to create, to imagine and grow with the game. Gaming should be an immersive experience, not like a movie I just sit through and lack any interaction with.
There are some flaws to The Warbler’s Nest, and I can tell you from a design aspect, some moments of the game will annoy you. The boundaries of the game are clearly defined, but you’ll find yourself often doing quite a lot of backtracking to find out what paths you can take, gather items, etc. This shouldn’t annoy players who don’t mind adventure games and actually have a passion for the backtracking collective type. The issue I found is that you can get lost, and often times when you want to go somewhere, you can’t because the game’s programming states that you have to finish a task first before moving on. The game, overall though, is quite a grand statement to the world that games don’t require visuals to be fun. I spent hours trying to solve the puzzles, investigate the mysteries of my river cottage, and I loved how invested I became.
The joy I get from this game is that it’s accessible to everyone. It’s not a timed game, so you can take as long as you need to type your responses. The interface is easy to understand and it even has a helpful .pdf file available for access if you haven’t played interactive-text games before. The game is truly accommodating to the user, and for that, I’m thankful. There were some things, like an inventory layout, or a map pop-up, that I may have liked to see integrated, but the game stands alone on it’s own just fine without anything to hold your hand with. I definitely think any designer looking to see how games can be made simplistically, and with the same mysterious intrigue as some modern games – they should definitely check out this game at least once.
If you’re interested and would like to give your imagination a massage for a change, check out The Warbler’s Nest here. See if you can solve the mystery and let me know how you did. The game is rather short, but it’s an enjoyable slice of vintage-style gaming that I think everyone needs to witness. We all need to clean ourselves off in the pool of imagination once in a while don’t you think?