Author: Jared A. Sorensen
Publisher: Momento Mori Theatricks
Page Count: 272
Available as: Print with PDF
Print – $30
In the era of spinach green displays and dot matrix printers, computer games were simple lines of scrolling text. Zork, the most famous interactive texed-based, was not the first but highly influential. Games like Penguin Software’s Transylvania with its static images and Sierra Games’ King’s Quest simple animation still use an all text-based engine. They used keyboard commands, not keystrokes, to propel the story forward. Basic commands like “Go North,” “Get sword,” and “Look sword” are how a user interacted with the story or moved across the screen.
Parsely recreates this bygone era of computer gaming by substituting the computer with a human, known as the Parser. The Parser plays the part of the computer and expells the same repetitive and robotic responses to the players’ basic commands as the early text-based computer game did. Using the theater of the mind, players traverse each text-based vignette armed with a list of command prompts to guide them. The Parser’s job is to narrate each scene as its changes with the players’ correct use of commands until the adventure is over.
At the players’ disposal is a list of command prompts for them to use. The Parser, like a computer running software, can only understand properly worded commands inherent to the program. Parsely uses 39 commands, separated into four categories: Direction, Perception, Interaction, and Special. Each is a single action word from which the command must begin with. The final command is usually simply two words, “Go North.” The command must be free of prepositions or correct sentence structure like “Go north on the path.” Adding the like will cause the Parser to respond, “I do not understand the command,” or any other error prompt the Parser wishes to use. Providing the list of commands to players is not essential but helpful for those not familiar with text-based games. A print-your-own bookmark with the commands is downloadable at Momento Mori Theatricks website. It mimics the green bar continuous dot matrix computer paper with bitmap type.
Please note, when I say players, I mean those who are playing Parsely and not their characters within the game. Text-based games were always one player. In Parsely, players collectively share one character, taking turns or electing one person to issue command prompts. Parsely’s author, Jared Sorensen, demonstrates how well Parsely works with large groups, as he entertains a cue of players through Spook Manor at a BurningCon pre-party event and Action Castle at PAX.
Parley contains these twelve text-based games:
- Action Castle – Explore the land of Action Castle and claim the throne.
- Action Castle II: Return to Action Castle – A simple cobbler sets out for adventure and treasure.
- Action Castle III: Beneath Action Castle – Explore the underworld of Action Castle.
- Blackboard Jungle – Survive High School by finding your homework and avoiding detention.
- Dangertown Beatdown – Set in 1987, a detective and his partner must take down a crime boss.
- Flaming Goat – A subway commuter’s routine is interrupted by a surreal event.
- Jungle Adventure – An archeologist searches for an ancient artifact in a jungle.
- Pumpkin Town – A Halloween adventure to Pumpkin Town to collect candy.
- Six-Gun Showdown – A disgraced former lawman on a mission of revenge and redemption.
- Space Station – A cryogenically frozen space traveler wakes up to find his space station under attack.
- Spooky Manor – Explore the inside of a spooky manor.
- Z-Ward – Rescue your sister from a hospital during a zombie apocalypse.
The title page for each game lists its genre, difficulty level, age appropriateness, max amount of players, and the game’s elevator pitch. The first game in the book, “Action Castle,” is a perfect introduction to Parsely. It provides simple objectives with easily navigatable roadblocks for the players to solve and for the Parser to run.
The game starts with a cartoon illustrated map of the game board for the Parser’s eyes only. It provides all of the locations open to the players to explore and special icons for the Parser to take note of. Players begin at the adventure’s starting location, which the Parser describes, including any objects in view. The text for each location is color-coded for the Parser. Text in black is read aloud, while text in blue is for the Parser with information about the adventure. The players’ issues command like “Go (a direction)” or “Get (object name)” to progress through the adventure. Items found throughout may prove useful or essential to proceed to the next scene. Along the way, players will encounter challenges. These are easily solvable puzzles like giving an object to a person or using an item on something. It is up to the Parser to keep track of all items held by the players and to oversee their proper use.
As players move through their chosen adventure, they acquire points. Points are awarded for specific goals within the adventure, like solving puzzles, visiting locations, defeating foes, and winning the game. It’s possible for players to win the game but not get full points; therefore, providing an opportunity for limited replayability. Players can view their point progress with the special “Score” command.
There is a host of other special commands open to players. The “Help” command list all of the special commands available to players. This is only useful if the Parsely Command Bookmark is not available to the players. “Inventory” lists all items currently held by the players. In some adventures, players will begin with an item in their inventory but will remain unknown unless the prompt is used. Players may save their progress in an adventure with the “Save” command. Each time a “Save” command is used, it overwrites the existing one. Players are only allowed three saves per game unless otherwise noted. “Load,” “Reload,” or “Restore” returns players to their last save point with all their items at the time of saving. “Restart” starts the game over, and “Quit” ends the game.
Learning how to be a Parser and running games is very easy. A quick read of Parsely’s eight-page guide is all you need to begin. After I read through those eight pages, I turned to my son, who was sitting next to me on the couch, and immediately began running him through “Action Castle.” He’s a Gen-Zer, so he wasn’t familiar with text-based games. At first, I didn’t provide the bookmark for commands, I forgot about it, and he struggled to get the correct structure of commands. Once he had the bookmark in hand, he quickly navigated the map.
I ran him through a second adventure but quickly discovered it was more complicated than the first. I had not read through the whole adventure before I began, which was a mistake. Certain areas required the player to possess specific items to enter. Though a special icon on the game’s map denoted this special circumstance, I didn’t notice it due to my failure to read the adventure entirely. Unfortunately, my error ended the game prematurely. Even though Parsely requires nothing in the way of prep, taking a few notes
, and a complete read-through of the adventure is highly suggested. I also found that writing down a list of error replies is also helpful in maintaining the feel of playing a computer game with limited responses.
Parsely takes me back to my childhood. I didn’t play Zork, but I did play Penguin Software’s Transylvania and Sierra Games’ King’s Quest. I never made it far in Transylvania. I usually ended up being the werewolf’s meal. I fared better in Kings Quest once I discovered “HOME” on the back of the amulet and completed my first of many Sierra quests. Those games, simple as they were was challenging. Discovering the correct combination of word and action was its greatest draw. Parsely truly captures the feel of those text-based games. And even more, it does a great job of taking a solitary activity and turning it into a communal game.
Parsely is a quick and easy game to play and run. It’s a great on-the-fly game or a short con game. It’s easy for anyone to pick up and play or run. The book is digest-sized and easily portable, making it a great game to take to a party or play in the car with the family.
Get book, Read Book, Play Game.
~ Stephen Pennisi
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