One genre of interaction fiction I’m particularly interested in is programming games, in which the player manipulates or creates a series of rules for the world to accomplish certain tasks. While it has a great concept, “Language Arts” has a steep learning curve and a UI that can be difficult to navigate efficiently.

Gameplay: The player programs a series of rules to manipulate a grid of letters and thus accomplish certain tasks. For example, one of the earliest puzzles is to write a series of rules that implement the “i before e, except after c” rule. The puzzles aren’t strongly motivated, but that’s fine for this genre of game, where the emphasis is on the puzzles themselves and their mechanics. The programming language is a bit unusual in both context and syntax; adopting a subset of a pre-existing language might have been a better choice. The underlying idea is brilliant, but it does take a careful reading of the manual to get into it; it’s not the sort of thing you can jump into. 8/10.

Mechanics: The underlying programming language of the game is exactly that; rather than some sort of graphical interface or more general environment to interact with (as in “Baba Is You,” for example), the player types in commands that are parsed by the game and turned into rules. 6/10.

Presentation: The game has an appealing frame of working at an early-1990s company, with an appropriately retro graphical interface. The puzzles often involved conversation with other NPCs as flavor, but I didn’t find them very interesting or useful. There’s a convenient window to step through the results of your programming, but rules have to be created individually, and the steps to edit them are unnecessarily complicated; I just wanted to open up a buffer and write code directly. 6/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You liked “Baba is You” and similar games, but want the equivalent of assembly language in a programming game.

Score: 7

tmack: So, I’ve belatedly realized there is in fact a manual here; it’s just provided by an external link, rather than being part of the download package. Oops. Totally my fault, and I’ve rewritten part of the review and bumped the score up accordingly.

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