Having seen this game mentioned in Jason Scott's documentary Get Lamp, and as it had been hanging around my hard drive I considered it high time I played it. For some reason I had assumed the protagonist was a pig, so a genuine smile was brought to my face when i tried EXAMINE ME. It made me laugh out loud when I continued with EXAMINE PANTS.. and a genuine lol too, not one of those fake ones you send in chat messages. The overwhelming attention to responses makes it one of the best games I have ever played.
At first I felt possibly the biggest drawback to the game was its title, which somehow undersells it, it could have been called Grunk the Orc, or something of that ilk. However, after receiving a Microsoft Paint drawing my girlfriend had made after playing the game - of the aforementioned pig being chased around the fountain - I felt it necessary to withdraw this criticism! I also didn't like the room titles, which felt like they should be in a 1980s cave crawl game, and a Homer Simpson reference seemed out of context to me personally, but these were extremely minor niggles. What did seem in context though was the reference to looters killing and pillaging, which reminded me of the inanity of certain MUDs. This was the author using content external to the created world, but relevant content. I appreciated how the Grunk described locations by what wasn't there, and the author had obviously done a lot of work, as generic messages were all in the style of the Grunk's way of thinking. (So much so that I was beginning to think in a Grunkian way)
The basic premise of the game is that Grunk somehow has to return a pig to his master, and integral to this is interrogating the gnome with your grunt-like intelligence. Even though I was incredibly impressed with the range of conversation options, I did find the questioning of the gnome a little tedious - especially with the constant suggestions, something which may be inherent to Inform, as I noticed it it other games. Even in games like Monkey Island though, it was always the case of try all the options till you ran out; even so, perhaps it could have been implemented better than ASK ABOUT. There was a nice shortcut to "ASK GNOME ABOUT" anyway, and eventually I found out from the Help menu that there is also a short form TOPIC or T, so I suppose it was my fault for not reading the Help file, but I tend to avoid those like the plague for fear of solutions to puzzles being given away.
I did feel I was being driven to puzzle/story explications that I (and the grunk) might not necessarily have got, which leads me to some of the gnome's definitions. One of the reasons why adventure games have been so popular is that they inspire the mythological. Fabled stories have been passed down over generations, and do have a lot to offer. The explanations of alchemy were not in keeping with this world base, coming from modern misunderstandings of what alchemy is due to the limited notions of science today. So, a gnome having to account for alchemy to an orc seemed completely unnecessary on a variety of levels. Of course the world view of the author (or his character) is up to the author, but here it felt a little strained and not really in keeping with a fantasy setting. Joseph Campbell is a good source for the importance of mythology (he inspired Star Wars for instance) and why we shouldn't underestimate the past. So the downplay of alchemy felt something of a betrayal of the world to me (and not just a spurious one, as alchemy is an integral aspect of mythology). But this is just me waxing lyrical, and it doesn't have much of a bearing on gameplay.
But the scope of questions that could be asked was VERY impressive. In fact, where the conversation became interesting was when I impulsively asked the gnome about the author and got a response, which urged me to try a few more off-kilter questions. (Spoiler - click to show) There were responses to other names off the IF-MUD, OOPS, Harry Potter, Grue, and some others I spotted.The mossfuressence dialogue was a bit over-explanatory, which I think could have been funny with a bit more subtlety. I did think that asking the gnome about "gnomes" was more relevant than asking about "gnome" as I really did want to find out more about this created world, and so thought both should be implemented, even if it were the same message. At times we really got a sense of a mad-scientist personality in this gnome though. Ultimately I thought a lot of the suggested questions were redundant, and rather than having them as options they could have been there in the background to surprise the player if he typed them. There was no need to impress the player with the quantity of responses coded for (via the suggestions), as it seemed evident in the tightness of the game. The possibility of typing in fairly random questions and getting some responses was excellent, and reminded me of the Zenobi games written in the few years at the end of the life cycle of the 8-bit machines. They were witty and entertaining and experimental, just like this adventure (even the help files are amusing).
As far as possible inputs went, I did expect that I might be able to try pole vaulting the stream, so I was a bit disappointed that it seemed I couldn't. I was finding this strangely hard going despite the plethora of seeming clues with only 1 scored out of 7 (also my score went down one point, and I wasn't sure why) but with only a little more effort I had scored 3, and I found it such an incredibly and elegantly made game that I didn't care about my own ineptitude to solve the puzzles.
If I had so many critical niggles, it was only because this game really fascinated me and it seems not far off perfection itself.
Most people will find this early (1984) Dragon game highly exasperating. It is the only adventure game the author wrote (he did write other programs), and he is going to make you work. You are marooned on a desert island, and though there is the mention of pirates and volcanoes, really it is more of a survival game. You have a limited number of turns before you die of thirst, and the solution to this is agonising trial and error, on a game map which is designed to confuse you quite a bit. Into the mid-game the game gets quite interesting, as you need to progress through undergrowth repeatedly, but the way you achieved this the first time is no longer feasible. Like the chap who wrote the walkthrough - (Spoiler - click to show)
- I struggled terribly to work out the puzzle. The answer was arguably not as creative as the ideas I thought up, (Spoiler - click to show) such as, commandeering the lifeboat, sharpening the axe, swinging through the trees with the grappling hook , but it was a reasonable solution, I guess. Like me, the guy who completed it also missed the answer, possibly because of parser limitations: (Spoiler - click to show)he had tried GET, MOVE but not PUSH SIGN (I tried PULL aswell). But then again if we had tried this, we might have missed the fact that you can TIE BELT TO SIGN . The deviousness of the puzzle was that a seemingly innocuous object held the key to progress in two different directions. I didn't feel so bad about reading this part of the walkthrough when I found out that the chap who had written it actually hacked the code and read the program in ASCII so that he could solve this part. The final annoyance in the game is towards the end, where there is an entry point which only accepts one command, when there are at least 11 or 12 inputs which are perfectly reasonable to achieve the action. But at least part of this puzzle was solved by the in-game HELP command. As for parser limitations (Spoiler - click to show) if you EXAMINE LOG it informs you that VOCAB gives a list of known verbs. You won't need any other verbs than the ones in the list to solve the game, plus you only ever need type in two-word commands. Call me masochistic, but I did actually enjoy all of the fiendishness... This early game has the seeds of future games in the genre which would test your braincells with the paradoxical puzzle: you know, the crowbar is in the box, you need the crowbar to force the door, but the key to the box is behind the door... That type. Also I always appreciate location graphics, however simplistic we might consider them today.
The guy who wrote the walkthrough had a very similar experience to mine, so rather than repeat the same review, it is worth a read. Incidentally, the author of the game also posted a comment in response to his solution, and it seems the game didn't receive much play-testing. It is clear if the author had followed-up with another game, he could have made something very nice, as this game has real promise. Taken from this point of view, it is not so bad as all that, especially if you like a challenge.
A couple of years on from The Black Sanctum Bob Withers and Steve O'Dea released a game called Shenanigans (1983). You start off, as typical in many adventure games, in your bedroom: but what cracked me up early on was the landlord standing on the stairs, blocking your progress. The primitive featureless sprite seemed to make him all the more menacing. I was surprised that one of the early commands I tried was both needed and implemented.(Spoiler - click to show)
LOOK UNDER BED? Under What? ..
At this stage I thought, "never mind", but typed BED. Hey I found something!
And a little pair of boots appeared on the screen.
Play, and responses, were very similar to Scott Adams games. I found the odd spelling mistake here and there, even a couple of phrases which seemed as though the author's first language wasn't English. These didn't affect the play much, but it seemed incredible to have a mistake on the first screen ("efficiency" rather than "efficient"). The game reminded me in a vague way of Leisure Suit Larry. You could buy beer in the local pub on tap: Highenbrau, O'Shaunasee or a pint of Blitz. And if you lose your money it is always possible to go back to get some more, which gave it a LucasArts feel years before LucasArts. What I couldn't understand was the need for magical movement of the character when it wasn't necessary: okay, so the game background story appears to have a slightly magical content, but if you enter the tube station, why not get the tube train? Why suddenly reappear in another location by magic? Also unfortunately there is no conversation implemented at all, but surprisingly you can GET ALL and DROP ALL (and it works fffast).
Puzzles in general weren't too strenuous. At one point it seemed that I had to find some sort of musical instrument. This was where creativity came in.. If I dropped wrapping paper near the police officer would he blow his whistle? And then could I steal it somehow? However, progress actually just meant figuring out the slightly awkward game map. The HELP command did actually prove useful when I'd ran out of ideas... The input to deal with a certain lady was a bit tricky to get, but it did crack me up with a cry of "No way!" (That feeling of pulling a command out the bag is a great one.)
On the Baf scale, it was merciful in its early stages, but it was much easier to die in the endgame, including a phrase which it was well worth dying just to see. (Spoiler - click to show)"Your bare feet slip on the rainbow and you fall to your death. This adventure is over." This then led to an headache of a puzzle to complete the game, but I felt a little bit of an anticlimax because I had been barking up the wrong tree. (Spoiler - click to show) It was a hunt-the-wumpus ordeal to try to get the pole into the cave, but actually all you need to do is find the trapdoor, which was my mapping/attention mistake . This was a shame because the route I was pursing was an interesting one, but I guess I was trying to conjure up more difficult solutions, the likes of which began to appear (generally) a little later in interactive-fiction history. The game gave me a nice nostalgic feeling of the innocence of early adventure games, and was genuinely fun to play.
When seeing the year of game release I was very surprised - 1981. What was also surprising was how playable this game is. The game was released on the Radioshack CoCo (Tandy) (AKA TRS-80 or Dragon) and can be played via an emulator. The genre is occult/suspense but also has a sort of fantasy feel to it.
First things first, the fact that the screen is animated with clouds rolling past is even more surprising. OK, after a while this might be a little irritating, but first impressions are intriguing, even by today's standards it is not so bad.
At first I thought I was in for trouble.. was this a game with hundreds of identical screens and I was going to have to walk north 300 times before getting anywhere? But actually this initial temptation to wander off runs counter to playing the game. The first requirement is to find the actual game location (Spoiler - click to show)with the command GO CABIN. Then there was a nice atmospheric "It's cold.. shut the door!" Limitations of the game parser mean that you can't necessarily GO UP but you can GO STAIRS, or at times you have to GO DOOR etc (very forgivable for the age of game). The graphic of the female victim you have to rescue is disturbingly good for 1981. I did find myself a little fortunate that I came upon the inspired command to enter the game proper (Spoiler - click to show)GO MIRROR, but as I did so I felt a wave of nostalgic excitement. Perhaps it is a fairly obvious command, but it is a missable one. Mapping was required so as not to go mad, but there weren't actually too many locations, it was just designed well, so that it gave you the impression of a circular area. There is also a bit of Latin spell-magic thrown in, and not a Harry Potter in sight.
Puzzles are of a fetch quest nature, and are standard fare 30 years on. (Yes, thirty!) Because of this fact, it can be completed fairly quickly, even if it was designed with some time (light) limitations. But there are plenty of objects to provide interest. It has the flavour of a King's Quest game, where you suspect instant death at any moment, but in actuality the game is fairly reasonable if you take sensible precautions. Nevertheless it keeps you on your toes with a slightly eerie atmosphere. I suppose it's real value is as a piece of history, because a lot of the ideas are still replicated in games today, and so you won't be scratching your head much, but it provides nice light (and suspenseful) entertainment.
Andrew Plotkin's Dreamhold (2004) was apparently written as a tutorial, a game I decided to play using Hunky Punk, an interpreter for z5 files on the Android. As a tutorial particularly at the start of the game I found Dreamhold's constant interruptions annoying, for example, I was told that "u" doesn't typically work, and that to get up from the chair I should type "stand"... So I did was any irritated adventurer would do and typed "get off" instead (which worked). And some of the assertions weren't correct anyway: most people type "up" to go upstairs, do they? Well, I just typed my typically typical input, which is "u".
Personally I find it limited design when "unlock door" doesn't work and you have to "unlock door with copper key". The typical response to this might be "well, Inform only allows blahblah..." but there are ways around this, and it isn't necessary for all games to follow some standard Inform format (Inform does not have any inherent monopoly to Infocom games either). Sometimes the Inform format can be irritating:
(Spoiler - click to show)Place Painting > Not a verb I recognise.
Hang Painting > Which do you mean?
Mountain > What on?
Hook > Success!
Where else would I hang it? Really...?
But this is a criticism of Inform rather than the game.
What I felt when playing this game (at its start & mid-game stages) was like I just had a bunch of arbitrary objects to tick off on a checklist. This gave it more of the feel of a hidden object game in a world of escape-the-rooms (The "there-are-more-items-to-examine-here" segment was particularly repellent). In fact a difficult game makes for a good tutorial, and a good tutorial would give the impression of breadth and depth. Just when getting frustrated, as there seemed to be no puzzles to solve, I plumped for (Spoiler - click to show)"look through telescope". Incidentally LOOK TELESCOPE and USE TELESCOPE don't work - somebody new to the genre might have given up by now. I don't like the tendency of tutorials to warn against using USE (nice tautology), especially in a case where "use (Spoiler - click to show)telescope" just seems the natural verb to apply (or use). What happened next? I am whisked to another world without rhyme or reason. Difficult is not the same as obtuse. By the time the game started to begin, in a sense, I was already fed up with it. This was a shame as parts had a definite Myst-like feel, which obviously is difficult to conjure with text alone. Some details seemed absurd: for example, the window looks onto a waterfall.. Perhaps the text would have keyed you on to this by informing you of the sound of heavy cascading, but it just seemed random for a waterfall to appear behind the window.
A minor irritation was the "Is that the best you can think of?" response, these types of response which insult the player are a bit of an anathema, especially in modern IF. There was the occasional bad response, such as "stand on pedestal" > "The pedestal is too narrow to sit on comfortably." But actually this was atypical: most responses were well-written, and descriptions are evocative. There were some funny responses to JUMP and X STALACTITES which were appreciated. Ultimately though it just seemed somehow plot-less. The description of port-alls at the start might be said to be the driving force of the plot and your investigation of this, but to me this seemed like it should have been a device rather than the story. (Plus the description given was of "drawing" a port-all, not of looking through a telescope. On the plus side the orrery and understanding the mechanics of how rooms appeared intrigued me, and the outside locations were interesting too. I appreciated the feedback of correct exits when you tried a wrong direction, especially in a game with quite a few locations. The game won't have you banging your head against a brick wall like the badly constructed games of yesteryear, but I was curious as to why this game won a 2004 XYZZY award for best puzzles...? So far I had 4 of 7 masks and I hadn't done much. (Also a web-search informed me that the game had an Expert mode but I never received any indication of this whilst playing).
As an experienced adventure game player I can't really comment on how the game plays for a newcomer, but it didn't seem like a good introduction to the genre to me. By the time the game did start to engage with me I'd had to go through a lot of annoyance, but now I did feel like I had a big map and some confusing puzzles to contend with. (Spoiler - click to show) Though I'm not sure they could be called puzzles... I had a pyramid which could hold something, and no real clue as to what it did. I had started a burning fire, but with no knowledge as to what it did. There was a burning hot pool down in the ground, and no idea what I could do with it. A never-ending passage with no clue as to why that was there. At last there was something of a game here.
Andrew writes "I've tried to create a game which rewards many species of adventurer: the inexperienced newcomer, the puzzle-hurdler, the casual tourist, the meticulous explorer, the wild experimenter, the seeker after nuances and implications."
I believe that's true: the well-presented environment lends itself to different exploration styles. The mechanical devices described have a definite precision and accuracy, and there is atmospheric connection between locations (mapping is also essential as key locations could be missed easily). But my personal opinion was that the game just took too long to get to that stage. Although the external locations have a sense of validity, I didn't believe the early ones, and felt I had to go through some unconvincing contrivances and annoyances to get there.
This is a classically old dungeon crawl game, and from the beginning you do feel transported back into the bulletin board era. This was felt the more so for playing it on my Android mobile on the app Explore, which is available officially in the Android marketplace (the app plays a couple more of the authors' games). Originally it was written for the TRS-80. Game limitations were immediately evident: EXAMINE doesn't exist at all, L does not work as an abbreviation for LOOK, and INVENT is the only abbreviation for INVENTORY. These don't interrupt the game experience too much, however. Other commands you would expect to be implemented aren't, such as play drum or get taco, and push/pull/move etc (although one of those is necessary on one particular object). Despite this I did find it immediately playable, and one of the early commands needed to enter the cave proper was surprising and added to the sense of game intelligence. It was evident that this game was an old one with a limited parser, so this was always going to be taken into account. Curiously, HELP gave Save + Load commands as SUSPEND + RESUME, which was unusual, but save and restore also worked anyway. Gameplay was in a traditional Colossal Cave-like environment. A little while into the game it appeared at first that I was trapped, but a specific command was required for a return journey (Spoiler - click to show) SWIM rather than GO PIPE, ENTER PIPE, etc . And since the way in was not via the pipe anyway but by a more obtuse means, this was more than a little harsh. The necessary command was a standard entry likely to be tried, but not necessarily a reasonable one (Spoiler - click to show) DRINK WATER (from stream) . Little touches like this made it seem more difficult a game than it actually is. Overall though there was the sense that this is a magical world with not necessarily conventional rules. It is also possible to die, but you have to do something foolish or disobey clues. One bugbear not explained away by the cryptic magical environment is a key item which only appears in a forest location after visiting another location - one of those event-tied puzzles which was totally unnecessary, and even though I personally explored the forest second anyway, another player might not have done and could be put off the game immediately. Overcome these type of limitations, due primarily to the age of the game, and it's actually quite enjoyable, though pretty short.
Must say I'm confused by Baf's review. I played this (on Spectrum 48k) when I was young, and though it had some difficulty, it is all logical, and I was happy as Larry when I completed this - my first ever solved adventure game - in an age when walkthroughs and solutions were almost non-existent. I would say it is of average or less difficulty level. Of course it is constrained by the inputs of the time, which were a little less forgiving in the 1980s, and it is true to say that it is not as complex as other of Scott's efforts.
It really draws you into the spy world though, and you become eager to get through all doors possible. Make sure if playing Spectrum version that you hit ENTER, as some old Brian Howarth / Scott Adams games required you to remove the graphics to get all the info. Parser is ok, and accepts commands such as GET ALL (as I recall).
If only more games allowed use of the FRISK command...
Subsunk is a challenging game, but is innovative in its approach, a game released by Firebird in 1985 and available for Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC; I was playing the Spectrum version.
The design of rooms really gives you the claustrophobic feel of a submarine. Today's game designers could learn a lot from this game, especially it's design of puzzles. They are only slightly fiendish, enough to give your brain cells a good work out. Their logical nature coupled with a smidgeon of difficulty makes them very satisfying.
If the vocabulary seems hard to guess at first, actually there are clues dotted around, so that despite the appearance of difficulty you can finish it without resorting to cheating. This is definitely an aspect that all formats of adventure game could do with learning from. Hints are cryptic, but provide all the information necessary if you are heading off track but without the ridiculous level of hints given in some games created, for example with Inform.
It is amazing to think that a game made around 1985 actually seems exprimental and modern in its approach, even if graphics and parser are limited by the constraints of the machine it was produced for. Comedic approach is slightly reminiscent of LucasArts' Monkey Island which would appear with the new generation of games years later, and this is tempered with the seriousness of desiring to desperately escape the confines of the sub. A real classic.
The Five Doctors is a Spectrum game of 1986, playable today in one of the various emulators for the platform (ZX Spin and Spectaculator are two of my favourites; on the Android mobile there is Marvin, ZX Droid and another which escapes my memory right now). It is based on an actual episode of Doctor Who which is vaguely within my memory, in which I recall Tom Baker was stuck in the vortex (because he didn't want to star in the episode)
This game begins nicely, with an interesting introduction, though the plot is based upon the TV episode/book so this might be expected. Unfortunately, unlike the plot, you only play one of the Doctors. The opening graphic is rather good for its time though. I assumed I was playing the Fourth Doctor, but fair play to the author, your scarf is described as Edwardian, which could make you the third or fifth, though the particular scarf looks like something the 3rd Doctor would wear. Anyway trainspotting aside I discovered I wasn't the fourth doctor later on.
One of the first things I found in this game was the need for the old alternative for LOOK, which is REDESCRIBE or R for short. EXAMINE didn't function, instead LOOK was used to inspect objects, which made me think, yes, why not look at objects rather than the quaint and unusual examine which we typically use. Objects tended to be close to their intended usage points. This may have made the game easy, but on the other hand it beat the whole "take a pebble from the sands of Tatooine to be used to throw at a spider in the Forest of Endor"-type puzzle. Overall the world was believable despite the crude descriptions, even though at the same time so many different Dr. Who enemies appearing was unbelievable. But those of you who remember the episode as I do, will realise that the story takes place in a fantasy zone (years before Keanu's Matrix) and this is mentioned explicitly in the intro anyway.
In a fossil piece like this, one doesn't try too many obscure inputs, but "enter code" came back with the generic response "just enter a direction", which was disappointing. A definite bug occurred when I tried BREAK MATCH was told timelords don't break things and was instantly transported elsewhere. There is a maze, but it is very easy. When I was finding the game itself very easy I noted that I still had a score of only 30%, but progress was hampered by a computer terminal where I had to type a certain number in. This was made more difficult by the fact that the game was being emulated on my Android mobile (using Marvin) and I had to use virtual keys to get the numbers up (and ALT & M for the decimal point). Of course, the game author could hardly have predicted this given that the game is over 20 years old. Despite the age, the game's parser is more limited than other games around in 1986. As far as entering the access code goes, ENTER, TYPE and INPUT and entering the number itself all drew a blank. At the risk of a spoiler, to avoid looking at a walkthrough it is necessary to (Spoiler - click to show)PRESS KEYS which is the point where the game failed for me. Coincidentally enough it really did fail after passing this point, as it proved impossible to go up in a following location, which kind of placed a nail in the game's coffin. As "up" is given as the needed command in the walkthrough, I presumed the game was unwinnable, as the computer responds "eh?", however if you type LOOK again it appears maybe you have moved, but that makes no sense at all as REDESCRIBE is the command for examining a location. Then supposedly you can go up several times to see (Spoiler - click to show)different letters on the stairs but that didn't even work for me. I know this is the domain of bizarre 1980s plot-lines, but I couldn't see any rhyme or reason in it (and the solution didn't work for me (Spoiler - click to show)every time I typed LOOK and went UP I could only see the same X on the stairs, but according to the solution the letter changes each time.. I thought maybe it was because I hadn't operated the Time Scoop machine, but I tried that, then entered the computer code afterwards, and still had the same result)... I would love someone to explain it to me, but truly it appears that the Doctor is stuck in the vortex here.
It was a number of years ago I played this public domain Amiga game. It seemed to me more of an exercise by the programmer in what he could do. Overall it only gave the very smallest smattering of Norse atmosphere within a very squarely mapped world map. One item I recall which was required for completion of the game was in an unforgivable location (Spoiler - click to show)you had to dive into the water and find the only location which didn't kill you instantly as I recall . That annoyingly cryptic difficulty was the only thing memorable about the game.