The most charitable explanation for why the game's rooms, NPCs, and items are all (with extremely few exceptions) without any descriptions or interactivity of any kind is to hammer home one central idea: SCHOOL SUCKS. In particular, drama class is so unbelievably dull that any attempt of the author to describe it in actual words would be a pointless exercise.
A less charitable explanation -- noting also the misspellings, the portable closet, instant death, and a scoping error -- would be that the author couldn't be bothered to fully write his game, let alone test it, making it a pointless exercise for the player.
One might be tempted to believe that the game is completely broken, but I must report it is not. After unblorbing and disassembling the game, I discovered that it is winnable. You do not need any unusual commands to win; it is not a guess-the-verb puzzle.
It's still not worth your time, though. Play only if you're a masochist.
Dark Continent, frankly, is a bit of a mess. In distant echoes of Infidel, you've been abandoned by your hired help in Tunisia during your quest for a big-ass diamond, but you're an asshole and are determined to get the diamond anyway and take it back to jolly ol' England. During your quest, you'll visit minimalistic versions of Lake Victoria, the Sahara Desert, the Red Sea, and a Ubanghi village.
The first sign of trouble was when I climbed a palm tree (just because) and discovered... motor fuel. Buh-whu? What was that doing there?
When I later found an airplane, I was a quite stymied on how to use the fuel with it. This is one of those old two-word parser games, USE isn't a valid verb, there's no description for the plane, and POUR FUEL only responds with "where?", which made me think (incorrectly) that I needed to rephrase my command. Heck, I didn't even know for sure that the plane needed fuel in the first place. Dear reader, I confess I turned to the walkthrough and discovered (Spoiler - click to show)that that "where?" was a disambiguation prompt and that I should next type IN TANK. Which I thought somewhat unfair, since the tank hadn't been mentioned anywhere at all.
The rest of the game, alas, is little better. Figuring out how to pay for the way home is severely underclued, and one puzzle is a very deliberate guess-the-verb and there's absolutely no justification for it except to make the game harder. Plus, your character has few morals and will need to perform a few despicable acts before success can be claimed.
Winning this game made me feel dirty.
Once upon a time, NASA sent you off to explore three planets. Your mission: collect an animal, a vegetable (or any plant, really), and a mineral (space metals preferred) from each of them. Oh, and if you could also bag a sentient creature and drag it back to Earth, that would be super. It's a scavenger hunt in outer space!
So, off you head in your StarProbe [SFX: tweedle-eedle-eedle-eep!] and give 'em a looksee. One planet is too hot. Another planet is too cold. But the third planet is just right! It even has a monkey!
Nebula is rated as "Novice" level by the author, and it is an appropriately easy adventure. Some puzzles are even repeated, so what works on one planet may well work again on another.
The overall experience is somewhat childlike. Part of it is the simplicity of the setup, but there's also the odd choice of names that the author gave things. Some names like the backward-y "Yekrut Trid", "Nahtan Fponk", and "Divad Nottub" are obviously some sort of in-joke. The space metals are called Aurum, Ferrum, and Argentum (which are almost like gold, iron, and silver, but not quite since it's like, y'know, outer space and stuff). I won't spoil the names of the various plants and animals, but some had me rolling my eyes.
It's all a bit silly and a harmless way to burn up a Sunday, but I think I'm ready for more adult adventures now.
The Asian Challenge is remarkably similar to the author's South America Trek, except this time your fact-finding mission is about Asia, you're starting in Istanbul, the geography teacher you'll meet is a Mr. Piddlebush, and the submarine you have to signal is in the Indian Ocean.
Once again, make a map. Asia's a big place, even with some countries reduced to one or two locations apiece. Some of the wandering around is a bit more fun this time: you get to ride a magic carpet, a camel, and several types of boat in the course of your "investigations".
What is perhaps more curious is comparing this untroubled minimalistic Asia of yesteryear with the one that makes headlines in the news today. In this game, you wander through Syria, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, etc. and there's not a hint of unrest anywhere. Oh, some places are communist, but that happens sometimes. What's not being said is probably a lot more important than what is said.
Still, it was interesting in its way. It's not every game that let's me "sail sampan".
South America Trek is an educational travelogue through every country in South America. Your character is supposedly tasked with a fact-finding mission for the United States government, but it's just an excuse to try to teach students a little geography.
There is a story, sorta. Starting from Devil's Island, you need to make your way to the southernmost tip of the continent and signal a submarine to take you home. Make a map. En route, you'll meet a geography teacher (Miss Diddlemeyer) who'll join you and occasionally spit out "interesting" dry facts about the country you're currently visiting. And there's a short trivia quiz at the end to make sure you paid attention.
All of which is... not that exciting. Rooms can be entire countries, but with very brief descriptions and little depth. There's no pictures to look at and very few objects to examine. I don't think it's a very effective educational tool unless it nudges you to look at an atlas or Wikipedia afterwards.
There are some puzzles, mostly easy stuff, but sometimes a bit convoluted. For example, at one point you have some gold but want some fish. You can't simply buy the fish with the gold, you have to go through some extra in-between steps that implies an unlikely backstory to me. And there's quite a bit of wandering up and down the continent, just to find something to signal the sub with. You may get a weird sense of scale and start feeling sorry for any smokers in Argentina who have to visit French Guinea to borrow the matches.
Still, it was a bit different from the usual IF game, and now I know that Venezuela has oil fields, so I guess that's something.
This is probably one of the easiest of Conrad Button's games, the story of how you were CASTAWAY on a deserted Pacific island and returned with ten treasures. This is a game from the dawn of shareware text adventures, with only a 40-character width DOS screen and the internal speakers to work with. It's gonna be a bit rustic. And calling it a "story" is generous. But Castaway is a good choice if you want to learn how things function in a ButtonWare game. Which I did.
It's an interesting window back to see how far we've come, what we've forgotten about, and what we've doggedly held onto.
It occurred to me how myopic IF treasure hunts can be: those treasures are mine! Who cares who left them there! Backstory of the island's previous inhabitants -- who needs it? Not you, when there's *treasure*.
NPCs stayed put and kept their mouths shut. None of this "conversation" nonsense. Even inanimate items were quieter; only some items got descriptions. I could go on, about the two-word parser, etc. but...
... this is not really the place for an in-depth critique of all of Button's games. Consider Castaway as a training ground for progressing to his other games.
Forty rooms. Ten treasures. One parrot. Kickin' it old-school. Introductory level. I had fun. Maybe you will too.
Mansion is an initially charming tale of inheritance with an old-school feel and a few modern touches to make your way smoother: no inventory limit, no time limit, the player can't make the game "unwinnable", and there's a NPC that gives teensy hints. I should mention that there is a maze, but it's one of the easiest mazes I've ever seen since it can be solved without mapping it in any way (although you can if you want to).
Unfortunately, the game wasn't quite as well tested as the author probably thought it was, and several problems both major and minor remain. As far as I can tell (using the TXD and Reform decompilers), the game cannot actually be completed because one critical item can never be referred to. Also some puzzles are a bit too difficult to solve either because of coding difficulties or the puzzle designs themselves sometimes rely a little too much on finding new tools mysteriously appearing in places where you've already explored. (One might claim there's some read-author's-mind as well, particularly with the frog, but most of the read-author's-mind problems are minimized if you let the hintful NPC mentioned earlier give you hints.)
Still, I did rather like the parts of the game that I was able to play -- I enjoyed bedeviling the smarmy Mr. Brookes -- and I almost got to the end (58 out of 68 points). If a more bugfree and polished version of the game showed up, I'd like it even more.
[Note on the release date: Although the game itself was obviously written from 2000 to mid-2001, I don't believe it was actually released anywhere until it was uploaded to IF Archive in 2010.]
Cyber Warp and Cyber Warp 2 are two attempts to suggest the same story, which the unfortunate player must somehow divine. The author provides very few details about anything.
The premise is difficult to piece together. In one version, you're a teenage fire warrior nicknamed "Flame". In the other, you're merely a sad fire fighter. But since there's no fire in the game, and you have no obvious fire-related abilities or equipment, it's all strangely irrelevant. Learning that your partner "Lightning" likes to "practice his electricity" (whatever the heck that means) does little to clarify the situation. It's like a half-remembered anime cartoon told second-hand.
Anyway, Lightning sorta disappears and I think you're meant to go rescue him. A cyber warp is mentioned, but like everything else, it isn't described or explained. It just is. (Well, not as a game object.) And after a strange, vague, short, and (yawn) linear journey...
...the game peters out. As far as I can tell, neither version of the game can be finished because of coding errors. So disappointing.