Lost Pig

Old game genres never die; they just slip into the niches, where someone on the Internet is bound to keep them alive. In the '80s, interactive fiction games of the style made famous by Infocom were a standard purchase for home-computer owners; Zork's puzzles, Planetfall's characters, and the eye-opening sexual practices in Leather Goddesses Of Phobos were milestones in gaming history. Nowadays, playing a game made entirely of text seems as arcane as reading the daily news in hieroglyphics. But a fervent community keeps these text-only games alive, and newcomers who are curious about the genre have an easy way to get started: the annual Interactive Fiction Competition.

2007's winner is a short, humorous adventure titled Lost Pig. The story is told from the perspective of a dumb but diligent orc named Grunk, who has to track down a runaway pig. Grunk's broken English is clever but never too cute; instead of playing him as stupid, the game makes the most of his limited faculties, which means all his observations make a certain sense—and his matter-of-fact reporting has an awesome clarity, like when you first try to catch the pig: "Grunk walk right up to pig. Pig walk right away from Grunk." While the game is short, and a few of the puzzles rely on conveniently magical explanations, Lost Pig makes a hilarious case for why text still matters.

Beyond the game: Playing an interactive-fiction title is a two-step process: you need the game file, and the right interpreter. Luckily, the Interactive Fiction Competition's site at ifcomp.org hosts everything you'll need in easy-to-use downloads.

Worth playing for: It's a long-standing tradition to type curse words and nonsense into text games, just to see what happens. Lost Pig has a smart response to everything you throw its way.

Frustration sets in when: Lost Pig is short, but players who are new to this style of puzzle-solving will need to practice seriously out-of-the-box thinking to get to the end.

Final judgment: If your PC still chokes on Crysis, consider this your fallback.

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