“Lime Ergot”, by Caleb Wilson, was first written for ECTOCOMP 2014 and is now playable at Sub-Q Magazine, here.
I said last time I wanted to play a parser next, and so indeed I have done; and that I wanted to play a parser while thinking about voice, so clearly I have chosen correctly in selecting “Lime Ergot”, a very weird and very gorgeous little game which uses the parser mechanic to model a hallucinatory world of post-colonial rot.
There is only one goal in “Lime Ergot”. It is to make a drink for General Livia Tudor-Adolphus, the last remaining colonial authority in the rotting and abandoned city of St. Stellio. The drink she wants requires limes. You have no limes. You must find limes. If this was a traditional parser game, I believe the next step would be to explore the city of St. Stellio in search of said limes, while solving various puzzles — but this is not how “Lime Ergot” works. “Lime Ergot” wants you to stay very still, except for within your own mind. It uses the parser mechanic to set up the player to expect movement — you can in fact attempt to ‘go south’ and similar commands — but the only functional forward momentum in the game comes from using a command which I initially figured as ‘look’ but might be best thought of as ‘examine’.
You can examine your surroundings. You can examine them in minute detail, and this examination offers you both intriguing information about the history of the General and her empire’s exploits on St. Stellio — “Lime Ergot” has a dry, decadent tone which reminds me of nothing so much as a heady combination of Kipling and Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation — and the possibility of slipping ever deeper into memory and dream-state. Some of those memories contain limes.
The memory-limes have just as much effect as a real lime would. You can put them into the drink-making machine, and cause it to move, and change, and ask for more limes. You can, eventually, even give the General her drink, constructed entirely of visions.
What happens afterward says something about the nature of visions, and the general, and hallucinatory after-effects of empire. It is very effective. I am still not sure if the protagonist of “Lime Ergot” is dead or alive, or if that matters in the slightest. (Spiritually dead, at least. Dead and rotting. But aren’t all imperial scions so?)
But to return to the parser mechanic — there is always a certain amount of frustration, for me, in playing parser games. I’m not innately good at them. I always spend a great deal of time inventing commands which are not in the parser’s set of possible commands, or wanting to explore an angle of the world the parser is flat-out uninterested in (what if I GIVE the weapon to the alien? what then?) “Lime Ergot” acknowledges this frustration, deliberately creates it — there is almost nothing one can do except examine and this is deeply agonizing, almost paralyzing, before you realize what the game is trying to do. It is taking the frustration of the parser and employing it for stylistic gain.
And again, this stylistic achievement depends entirely on the success of the voice of the game. Without “Lime Ergot”‘s blackly funny, sickly awful, and hugely imagistic descriptive voice, its mechanical confinement would simply be stifling, rather than stifling-for-a-purpose.
In short: this is one of the most coherent games I have played in terms of using the precise medium of interactivity to produce and highlight an emotional state in the player. It is an absolute gem of a game.
And now I want to write about fungal rot again, but hey. Inspiration comes from peculiar locales. Like limes.