IFComp 2010: The Bible Retold: The Lost Sheep

Spring Lamb

“The Bible Retold: The Lost Sheep” by Ben Pennington

There is dissent in the ranks! One of your sheep makes a run for the next field, jumping gracefully over the hedgerows. You stand up quickly and collect your crook. You need that sheep!

I like the idea of adapting Bible stories to interactive fiction. That said, you’re inviting a different sort of critique when you write something like this. SPOILER: He finds the sheep. Other spoilers follow.

This was more simplistic than I expected. I’m still trying to decide whether to hold that against it. My experience boiled down to something like this:

  1. SEARCH BUSHES
  2. LIGHT ROSEMARY WITH STICK
  3. RIDE BUFFALO
  4. S. SE. SW. N. W.

And at the end I encountered a long list of AMUSING things to try. I get the impression that most of the fun to be had with this game occurs when one ignores the objective entirely, which is odd since it seems to do a lot of hand-holding. As an aside, I will admit that I went to the hints, once, wondering how to get the sheep out of the three bushes. Lighting the bushes on fire was the last thing I expected to do; Should I have expected a burning bush gag? I don’t know.

Besides the three bushes the game is practically puzzle-less, and the central motivation (to catch the sheep) feels like something of a letdown. I chase the sheep through about seven locations until it’s cornered in a house on top of a mountain. In the end, I don’t even get the satisfaction of typing GET LAMB (har!) because as soon as I enter the final location the game is over. I think there’s some squandered game potential here – see Lost Pig for a better execution of a similar concept.

I’ll admit that the implementation is very good. The world, though sparse, responds to the player in a thoroughly non-default way. The wandering goats and buffalo do add to the atmosphere. I only wish the game had given me a reason to stop and SMELL ROSEMARY.

Then there’s the question of how the game reflects its source material. For those not familiar, the parable of the Lost Sheep can be found in Luke 15 next to the parable of the Lost Coin and the parable of the Prodigal Son (the story also appears in the gospel of Matthew, but its context in Luke is instructive). The metaphor shared among the three stories is something like, “Heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner.” And while this game is obviously a bit satirical, with coy biblical references like the burning bush and the goats divided from the sheep, its ending struck me as bitter. The sheep has crossed the river to the side with the goats. We find the sheep “cowering in a corner,” not glad to be found but terrified of its master, and though we celebrate at finding the sheep I’m not sure the parable holds when the only personification of the sheep is fear and flight. I also wondered if there was any significance to the house on the hill. Smoke rises from the chimney. Is somebody home? Is somebody else present when we barge in and grab the sheep? And why does the sheep feel safer with this unseen person than with us?

All told, it’s a decent bite-sized game. I’d like to see more content and maybe a little more examination of its source.

Verdict: B

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