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To Hell in a Hamper

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs




Copyright 2003, Jason Guest

To Hell in a Hamper is an excellent one-room game from Jason Guest, originally coded in ARIFT and later ported to TADS, a better version which fixes a lot of bugs in the original release. Emily Short says it all in her excellent review for IF-Review of this charming – and funny – underdog:

“The premise is that you are trapped in a hot-air balloon, drifting perilously towards a volcano, accompanied by an uncooperative NPC who is carrying entirely too many heavy objects. Your task: get rid of everything that is weighing down the balloon so that you and your companion do not become one with the lava.

This is a great example of how much you can get out of a well-chosen premise. Instead of a score, you have a reading on the altimeter, which lets you know how far you still need to rise in order to clear the volcano without disastrous effects. This device works very nicely and gives a mimetic, in-story excuse for having a scoring system at all. Having a grumpy NPC who doesn’t talk much is a standard way of avoiding having to write lengthy conversations, but in this case it’s done quite well, and he has a range of responses for your actions that makes it feel like he really is grumpy and not just underimplemented. Meanwhile, the setting choice is a very good one for a one-room game: it makes perfect sense that you can’t walk anywhere from where you are, but at the same time the passing scenery outside provides atmosphere and keeps the setting from inducing claustrophobia.

One-room puzzle games tend to have a certain purity of focus. The player knows that everything he needs is going to be in one place, and there’s no need to look elsewhere. That effect served To Hell in a Hamper well. The puzzles, taken by themselves, are a little uneven. One or two are too trivial, and some rely more than I like on obsessive searching and fiddling with objects, where it’s not clear when one verb will be more useful than another. On the other hand, several are quite ingenious and enjoyable. And this is very much the sort of game where the cumulative effect is more than the sum of the parts. All of the individual puzzles you have to solve are components of your larger goal.

Overall, this game fits into a growing category of works that combine light puzzles with strong pacing and good comic writing. I’d also put [2003]‘s Best Puzzles winner Gourmet (Aaron Reed, 2003) into that group, along with the first chapters of Fine Tuned (Dennis Jerz, 2001) and several of J. Robinson Wheeler’s games. As it happens, I really enjoy such pieces. They don’t always get the recognition that other games do, perhaps because they’re not perceived as groundbreaking experimental work or as hard-core puzzle-fests. But humor and pacing are a real challenge to get right in IF, and a good IF comedy has a special charm of its own.” Recommended!

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