System Syzygy

Monday, November 19, 2018

Comments: 2   (latest 6 days later)

Tagged: reviews, system's twilight, fool's errand, system syzygy, cliff johnson, mdsteele

Last week someone passed me a reference to System Syzygy, a new free-to-play puzzle game.

A motley crew (of autonomous programs), a peaceful (if perhaps mysterious) mission, and no enemy vessels for lightyears around—what could possibly go wrong? Just about everything, as it turns out. [...]

System Syzygy is a story and a puzzle game, in the style of Cliff Johnson's classic Macintosh games The Fool's Errand and 3 in Three, and of Andrew Plotkin's System's Twilight.

Naturally, this was a startling thing for me to run into! And at the same time, it's bizarre for me to be startled by it! After all, this is exactly what I did 25 years ago (!) when I started planning System's Twilight. I looked at a game, decided the world needed more of that, and started hacking.

As you can see, System Syzygy is a pretty sharp riff. The writing style is... okay, I'll admit this: after I started playing, I pulled out my original design notes to see if Syzygy's author had lifted my lines. He hadn't! He's just got a darn good handle on my style circa 1993.

The most disconcerting part (to me!) is that it's vintage DOS graphics instead of classic Macintosh. Totally different palette. But we'll always have Chicago.

The puzzles, mind you, are entirely original. I haven't played through the whole game, but so far I've seen a nice mix of grid puzzles, letter and symbol puzzles, and word puzzles. It's in the same general domain as SysTwi and the Cliff Johnson games. Like all those games, it's inevitably uneven in difficulty. That is, a given player will find some puzzles comfortable, some easy, and some awkward. Players won't agree which is which, though.

Syzygy also has a metapuzzle element, in the explicit style which 3 in Three had (and SysTwi did not). Each solved puzzle leaves a word or pattern on the screen, and (I expect) these will come together as clues in a final metapuzzle. As I said, I haven't gotten to the meta yet, but I got a delightful Cliff Johnson buzz from seeing the clues pop out. If you're not me, you will get a delightful Zarf buzz from seeing the whole thing!

Unlike its forebears, Syzygy is free from the get-go. You can play it for free, and the source code is available under an open-source license. (Art assets included. It's written in Rust, apparently.)

Recommended. Keep the faith, kids.

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