How does your mind symbolize heat? A roaring fire, perhaps? Expand it out a little. What else is there? Smoke? How about visualizing pressure, mass, or form? Enter into the experience of visualizing visualizing (whoa, meta!) in the CGDC7 award-winning interactive fiction title Dual Transform by Andrew Plotkin. Take on the role of a virtual engineer, of sorts, feeling the pressure of really making this project something to remember... something that really feels real.
Dual Transform is a game about a metasemanticity—so I guess this review makes me a metametasemantician. Your character designs virtual workspaces of some kind, and you've got a deadline to meet, but you've hit something of a block. You've got to think outside the box by going inside the box, or the cube, to be more precise. Like most works of interactive fiction, you use a text parser to interact with the game. Use your keyboard to input text commands, such as l/look, x/examine, get, drop, i/inv/inventory, and so on.
The game is a bit more abstract than your typical "west of house" interactive fiction title, however. Because of the nature of your work as the lead character, you'll have to be a bit more clever with your actions. Make sure to examine your environment and pay close attention to the way the game describes objects; often, the game will nudge you through its descriptions towards the actions you'll need to perform. Collect bits of data, for example, and, once they've been compiled, place the icons into your workspace to see what evolves from them. Dual Transform is anything but standard in concept, and figuring out what it wants from you can be a bit of a challenge at first.
Analysis: Dual Transform would not be the best introductory game for someone new to IF. Not only is there no tutorial, there isn't a help menu, nor does the game contain any hints about puzzle solving. You need to already be familiar with IF logic, in which you must scan the paragraphs of text for clues as to which aspects of the scene are important and how to interact with them. As you progress, your environment changes around you, forcing you to keep examining new things... especially your inventory.
The best part of the game is in exploring your environment. You'll really cheat yourself if you just try to solve everything as quickly as possible. Take the time to look at everything. This isn't one of those IF games where the description says "You enter the room. The grass is covered with flowers. Wow, so many flowers. You can't stop looking at the beautiful, magnificent, amazing flowers," yet when you try "examine flowers" you get the response "There's nothing like that here." If Dual Transform mentions something, you can look at it, and the evocative descriptions make that worthwhile. The parser is also excellent. You don't have to hold its hand and type "drop the Mr. Key's House Of Keys key on the key chomping device." You can be precise if you want to, of course, but the game is smart enough to figure out what you want from some pretty terse commands.
The connection with the "escape" theme is a bit of a stretch, but I can't really go into that further without ruining the surprise of the ending. Let's just say that what goes on in the game could deal with some interpretation, and I'd love to hear yours in the comments. Whatever conclusions you draw, Dual Transform is a cleverly written piece of interactive fiction that challenges you to be creative with your environment to succeed.