Although most games attempt to create an immersive environment for the player and draw them away from the medium on which they’re being played, there are a few interactive fiction games that embrace the fact that they’re ultimately computer code. “I.A.G. Alpha” is ostensibly a half-finished, buggy game abandoned by the author but released anyway with commentary. Running with that conceit, the game is actually about tweaking the code to accomplish or thwart the author’s original goals.
Gameplay: The fundamental setup of the game is a clever one. I’ve seen it done only a few times before, and this one has a better presentation than any of those games. Gameplay consists of moving around a small environment solving set-piece and inventory puzzles with the aid of a simple in-game debugger. The setting and (ostensible) plot are a bit generic, but they become more involved over the course of the game. There are also a few switches in interface and perspective to make things more interesting: static notes from the author, a familiar hypertext-with-inventory adventuring screen, a rudimentary debugger, and a special conversation tree. It succeeds in evoking a play-within-a-play feel, and the idea feels integral to the game rather than just being a clever gimmick. 8/10.
Mechanics: Aside from a few standard inventory puzzles, the bulk of the game is in examining and slightly altering the pseudocode of setting and inventory objects. It’s not a particularly deep, or at least fully exploited, mechanic; the changes required are just renaming items to trigger certain blocks of code. (An early puzzle, for example, involves noting that one item can be used to take another item without checking to see whether the latter is actually takeable, a bug I’ve run into myself several times.) The game is short, though, and it didn’t overstay its welcome. 7/10.
Presentation: All the different interfaces are well done individually and combine into a coherent whole. The conceit of reviving an earlier buggy game is charming, and the missing graphics and author notes throughout the game are excellent touches. 8/10.
You might be interested in this game if: You like coding puzzles or Nabokov’s “Pale Fire.”