IF Comp 2013: 'Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life' by Truthcraze

I'm reviewing the games entered in the 19th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition that I complete within the two-hour time limit for open judging.

Science fiction shows like Doctor Who and to some degree Star Trek often embrace their own campiness and geek appeal, while still telling serious stories in their genre.  Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life does this with the conventions of traditional parser IF.  Very meta without quite becoming parody, Tex Bonaventure pays enthusiastic homage to the tradition of old-school text adventure games.


The game's design hybridizes the puzzlefest tradition with the IF community's modern expectation of convenience.  Most modern text adventures merge puzzles with convenience by making sure that the puzzles are fair, not too difficult, and (if the game has a significant narrative framework) organic to story and setting.  Tex Bonaventure instead teases the unfairness of the early text adventures, while framing the unfair puzzles within a design palatable to modern convenience.  The game manages to be unforgiving enough to make saving after solving a puzzle a good idea, but the compact map structure prevents backtracking from being too brutally annoying.  There are instant death traps and badly clued puzzles, but these come across as attempts to simulate old-school experiences within new-school conventions.  This conclusion is supported by the fact that the maze, which couldn't not have been included if the game were to parody or homage the classic text adventures at all, actually isn't a functional maze.  The maze is a part of the setting, a shallow backdrop to create an illusion of old-school style while falling back on the later trope of the false maze.


The writing frequently suffers from being hammy without being particularly funny.  However, there are effective moments, including both the opening text and the final text upon winning.  The descriptions may sometimes be awkward, but they are meticulous and mostly effective.  The level of detail in the descriptions is impressive, given that the game itself feels light and hurried.  Almost everything mentioned anywhere has its own description.


The fiction genre that Tex Bonaventure riffs with campy enthusiasm is the Indiana Jones-esque adventure.  Many text adventures may have adopted that fiction genre with varying amounts oScience fiction shows like Doctor Who and to some degree Star Trek often embrace their own campiness and geek appeal, while still telling serious stories in their genre.  Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life does this with the conventions of traditional parser IF.  Very meta without quite becoming parody, Tex Bonaventure pays enthusiastic homage to the tradition of old-school text adventure games.


The game's design hybridizes the puzzlefest tradition with the IF community's modern expectation of convenience.  Most modern text adventures merge puzzles with convenience by making sure that the puzzles are fair, not too difficult, and (if the game has a significant narrative framework) organic to story and setting.  Tex Bonaventure instead teases the unfairness of the early text adventures, while framing the unfair puzzles within a design palatable to modern convenience.  The game manages to be unforgiving enough to make saving after solving a puzzle a good idea, but the compact map structure prevents backtracking from being too f seriousness and camp, but a deeper relationship between the fiction genre and the game genre seems tenuous, despite the shared name.  After all, Adventure was primarily about cave exploration and maybe secondarily about fantasy quests inspired by Dungeons and Dragons -- not about archaeology or whip-slinging.  The fact that the story is a cinema-style adventure rather than a straight cave-crawl reinforces the impression that Tex Bonaventure is not trying to pretend that it is a genuine old-school relic, despite the homage that it pays to old-school IF.

The player character, Tex Bonaventure, seems more like an interpretation of the traditional text adventure protagonist than like an Indian Jones stand-in.  Tex lacks the disaffective nature of the Zork protagonist, replacing coldly analytical lack of morality with blustery indifference.  However, Tex does come across as a legitimate extrapolation of how the stereotypical text adventure PC might be now, if he had been adventuring since the old-school era.


The game's strongest theme arises from viewing the character of Tex as a representation of interactive fiction itself.  The character's name -- along with the game's title -- obviously evokes the phrase "text adventure," inviting the interpretation that the game itself, and specifically the character, is somehow symbolic of the legacy of text adventures.  The object of Tex's quest is youth, perhaps symbolizing the struggle of text adventure fans to keep their medium relevant in an age not only driven by graphics, but also characterized by casual convenience that parser-based interaction does not often accommodate easily.


Tex Bonaventure and the Temple of the Water of Life embodies both the past and present of the medium of the text adventure, neither overly romanticizing the old-school conventions nor overly patronizing them.  (Perhaps it does a just a little of both, but subtly.)  More than that, it is simply a fun, whimsical game.

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