System’s Twilight: An Abstract Fairytale

Andrew Plotkin’s graphical puzzle game System’s Twilight is one of my earliest memories of color on my mac. It features several unique spins on classic puzzles. All of the puzzles relate flavor-wise to the game’s setting, the internal world of an aging computer. We’re given branching trees, oscillating tiles, connect-the-nodes and other forms that feel familiar.

The world Map. Each circle represents a puzzle

While many of the puzzles increase linearly in complexity, some areas feature sneaky changes to the flow. For example, in the word game section, many of the permutations involve semantic manipulations rather than raw string operations. At first you come across the ability to change Es to Os or swap the order of letters. Later, one node ‘divides by ten’ changing the word TEN into ONE, but also DIME into PENNY (which later becomes PEONY, a type of flower).

Here you can see the player inside the green transformation node, morphing a dime into a penny. This word will open up one of the pairs of gates and allow access to the pink and blue generation nodes, which will give her a new word for another puzzle. The flavor text in each node offers a hint at the operation that is performed, or the word that is required to pass. It’s here that Plotkin’s interactive fiction background becomes obvious. In just a few sentences he sets the stage for an entire scene and hands the player part of a riddle. Some of the gate requirements are left intentionally vague, such as one asking for “any kind of tree”. The gate will actually accept the word TREE, which is an obvious cousin to a word you’re carrying at the time. Unfortunately, the best answer is a little more obscure.

System’s Twilight is now freely available from Plotkin’s website, with detailed instructions for emulation on windows.

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