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Video Game / Ad Verbum

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Ad Verbum is an Interactive Fiction game by Nick Montfort, released in 2000.

The aim of the game is very simple: explore an old house that used to belong to a wizard, and make off with everything that isn't nailed down. The catch is that the former owner was the Wizard of Wordplay, and every room in the house has some kind of linguistic constraint that is reflected in the description of the room — and in the commands that the game will accept within that room. For instance, one room on the initial floor of the house is the Neat Nursery, which is described using only words beginning with N, and will only accept commands composed of words beginning with N... and the only exit from the room is to the south.

The game came fourth in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Competition, and won the 2000 Xyzzy Award for Best Puzzles.

This work contains examples of:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Each of the constrained rooms on the initial floor of the house has an alliterative name and description, as does each of the objects within... and the commands required, and the error messages that result from getting it wrong.
    Neat Nursery
    Nice, nondescript nursery, noticeably neat. Normally, nurslings nestle noisily. Now, none. No needful, naive newborns.
    Nearby: nifty nappy.
  • Constrained Writing: All the rooms on the initial floor are constrained to be alliterative. Rooms on higher floors have more elaborate constraints, such as that old favorite, "Abandon all fifth orthographic glyphs".
  • Easter Egg: Entering "xyzzy" (a Classic Cheat Code in the IF genre) causes the Wizard of Wordplay to appear out of nowhere and thank you for giving him the word he needed to finish his Crossword Puzzle.
  • Fun with Palindromes: At random points in the game, the Wizard of Wordplay will wander into the current room, make a palindromic pronouncement, and then back out again. Some of his pronouncements are hints about how to solve some of the puzzles, but others appear to be just for fun.
  • Interface Screw: In the constrained rooms, many normal commands cease working — including out-of-universe commands like "Save" and "Hint", if they don't fit within the constraint. (Each room does have a unique command, which is provided on entry, that will return the player character to an unconstrained corridor, albeit without anything they were trying to acquire from within the room.)
  • Kids Love Dinosaurs: One of the obstacles that doesn't involve constrained rooms is a small boy in the back yard who challenges you to a contest of dinosaur knowledge for possession of an object you're supposed to collect. The boy knows so many dinosaur names that the player can only win by cheating and making up fake dinosaur names.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Lampshaded. Taking everything that isn't nailed down is the entire point of the game, and the intro mentions that an adventure game hero was given the job of clearing out the house on the basis of past experience.
  • Nobody Poops: When you reach the bedroom, the narration lampshades the fact that the house doesn't include a bathroom, and suggests that that's one bit of realism the game can do without.
  • Pig Latin: In one room is a pig that cannot be man-handled, but will respond to verbal instructions... if they're appropriately phrased.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The voice that speaks from thin air "in attempted hollowness" is a reference to the hollow voice from Colossal Cave.
    • After his defeat, Georgie the dinosaur-obsessed kid adopts a look of wide-eyed distress that is described as making him resemble a Margaret Keane painting.
    • If you succeed in communicating with the Roman pig, he will lend you an ear.
    • The library on the antepenultimate floor includes two famous works of Constrained Writing, "ABC" by Robert Pinsky and A Void (or rather the empty dust jacket from a copy of A Void), and a constrained version of Howl (1955) ("by Onon Gonsborg").
    • In one of his palindromic appearances, the Wizard of Wordplay is watching Never Say Never Again and complaining that the title is grammatically redundant. ("'Again'? Never say "never" again?")
    • During his Easter Egg appearance, the Wizard of Wordplay declares his intention to prevent the demolition of his house, and hopes it won't require lying in front of a bulldozer.
  • Visual Pun: In one room is a pig wearing a Roman toga, which is a hint that you're supposed to speak to it in Pig Latin.
  • You Can't Get Ye Flask: Deliberately exaggerated in the constrained rooms, where many straightforward commands won't work and the challenge is to find the obscure wording for "get object" and "exit room" that will be accepted.
  • Your Mom: One of the denizens is a robotic puppy which spouts a wide variety of such quips, all with a computer-related theme.
    Robot puppy: Your momma's so stupid, when tech support told her to reboot she started putting her shoes back on.