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Questor's Quest, by Mark Stahl

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Related reviews: IF Comp 2015, Author Review, Author Ramble, Ramble, Blurb, Retrospective, Nostalgia, Old School, Home-Brew, Homebrew

I wanted to say a few things about my game. Questor's Quest has a reputation for having an "old-school", "retro" style. The reason for this, despite being released in 2015, is that it is in fact a very old game. I first designed this game back in 1996 as a high school freshman, and did most of the initial programming my sophomore year. At the time, I had only ever played a couple of old Infocom games on our old Apple IIe, and a couple of amateur games that I had found on the web. I found that there were a lot of IF conventions, even then, that I didnít care for. I decided that I would make my game from scratch, and that I would create it in such a way as I saw fit. That said, I always intended for the game to be unconventional. I was completely self-taught in QBASIC, the language I programmed the game in, and I embarked on a quest of my own, overcoming many program design problems and interpreter limitations. My coding was pretty sloppy, and my spelling was even worse (and still is), but working on the game has always been an absolute joy, never tedious. There was something incredibly satisfying about creating the game completely from scratch, and doing it in exactly my way, seeing it come to life on the screen.

I finished the basic skeleton of the game by the end of my sophomore year, and it lay dormant for many years afterward. It was little more than responses to the correct actions, phrased in very limited ways, and very limited implementation of anything else what-so-ever. In other words, entirely unplayable! If thatís not bad enough, the original game was actually IN ALL CAPS!!! (I dunnoÖ seemed like a good idea at the the timeÖ). I picked it up some twelve years later and started fiddling with it again, enhancing previously simplistic puzzles and fleshing out character interactions. I decided that there needed to be an entire series of hints regarding the pearl in order to make the puzzle fair. I pecked away at the game for the next several years while I was in music school.

Essentially, Questorís Quest had become a pet project that spanned almost 20 years of my life. I donít know if I actually believed that I would ever really finish the game and release it, as I was unaware at the time of the vibrant IF renaissance that had been going on for years and years. In any event, I eventually became aware of the IF Comp, and with the encouragement of friends and family that had enjoyed the game, I worked feverishly to get the game into a somewhat polished state in time for the 2015 fall competition. Yes, this included REMOVING CAPS FROM THE ENTIRE TEXT OF THE GAME!!! I figured Iíve got this old, old game sitting here, and it needs to get released, for better or for worse. And so, here it is, in all of its innocent, teenaged, enthusiastic, and optimistic glory.

I intended the game to be intuitive, particularly for people who had never played IF before. As a result, Iíve actually found that while seasoned IF players have struggled with the puzzle designs that have been described as ďtoo hardĒ and ďuncuedĒ, complete newbies have managed to complete the game almost entirely on their own, and without the aid of a walkthrough. I think it is absolutely essential to leave your expectations and preconceptions about IF at the door if youíre going to play this game. I think youíll find the game to be at least 95% fair if you take the time to learn the rules of a game that is insistent upon making its own rules. That said, Iíll tell you right now that the powder is (Spoiler - click to show)underneath another object that you have to MOVE (and you donít have to use caps).

There is actually a lot of subtlety in the puzzle designs that has been lost on a majority of the people who have played and reviewed this game. I experimented with an object that is only noticed the first time you enter a screen. If you missed it the first time, you have to return to the location to search based on a hint from another character. The point of the puzzle is remembering or mapping what you saw in a particular location, even though it has changed. I also explored an idea I had never seen before; directional verbs. There are a few puzzles that may seem illogical, but they actually make a lot of sense if youíve found the clues necessary to dissect them. Some puzzles simply require a very close attention to detail, such as the last major puzzle of the game. I think a lot of the value of this game comes from interacting with characters and gathering clues. Itís really important to ASK ABOUT certain items and characters, specifically the pearl, lamp, witch, titan, and powder. For the people who gave up quickly and resorted to the walkthrough without really delving into the game, yeah, Iíll bet the puzzles didnít make a lot of sense and seemed unfair and uncued.

In any event, it is what it is. Some people really liked the game. A lot of people didnít think much of it. A lot of those people were either unwilling or did not have the time (understandably) to really explore it fully. I still believe that there is value in this if youíre willing to dig into it. Would I ever choose to develop another game in this manner? Of course not (Inform 7, here I come). Do I have any regrets about designing, developing, and releasing this game in this manner? Of course not. I love the game and I loved creating it, but that is because I lived with it for such long, long time. It lives on in my mind, as do the classic adventure games of the 80ís and early 90ís that inspired it.

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