Posted by: Ben | November 3, 2009

if: Earl Grey

A Glulx game in IF Comp 09 by Rob Dubbin and Adam Parrish

This is a review of Earl Grey, which is a Glulx game in IF Comp 09 by Rob Dubbin and Adam Parrish.  It contains spoilers.

Pale light filters through the overhead canopy, lending the flowers and fragrant plants a certain ethereal quality. To the south is the path you took to get here and to your north, a winding cobblestone roadway leads to the town below.
On the table before you is an exquisite porcelain tea service, and standing beside it is a monastic man named Eaves.

This is a strange brew. Assam matter of fact it starts with the promise of a tea party, but after only a cuppa turns, the town is destroyed by a typhoo-n. I was darjeeling over backwards trying to make sense out of it but it wasn’t long before I had to turn to the PG tips.

(I have no idea how much of that paragraph makes sense to non-British readers.  Or indeed British ones.)

The setting is unusual. The bait-and-switch was striking. The status line below the cursor is a clever way to express the PC’s internal monologue and feed clues. But I have serious problems with this game.

The game is on rails to the extent that characters tell you to look or take inventory and they won’t nudge the story along until you have done so. Sometimes vital actions fail because you didn’t type “look”, so you don’t try them again.

The puzzles are reasonable in their level of complexity but are of the type that require illogical actions resulting in outcomes that have no evident benefit to the player. They’re also lacking in either alternative solutions or entertaining error messages when the player comes up with a wrong idea.

The story attempts worldbuilding, but it isn’t supported by a game structure that lacks freedom. You can barely go anywhere, and you can’t take anything. (NPCs even draw attention to the fact that the rooms lack exits, to which one is obliged to wonder how they are supposed to have got there.) Because there’s no freedom of movement, there’s no sense of a kingdom and consequently no reason to care what happens to the king.

Furthermore, none of the characters are likeable. It’s been pointed out elsewhere, but the requirement to provoke that nice Mr Eaves during the tutorial, and his response, mostly serve to alienate the player from the main character and the principal NPC. Earl Gry becomes the identification figure on the grounds that he doesn’t seem to like either of them.

To conclude, I look forward to more from these authors, but in my opinion this is a disappointing game frustratingly close to excellence. Of course it may suit other players to a T.

Rating: Good
Next: Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort


  1. (I have no idea how much of that paragraph makes sense to non-British readers. Or indeed British ones.)
    For the American side, I recognized “cuppa” and “Darjeeling.”

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