Acheton has finally bitten the dust for me. A bit like getting married, cleaning the windows or cutting one's toenails, I had kept putting off a full scale assault on this 1978 mainframe game until the last possible moment. My previous dalliances with it had led me to believe that a full score of 1500 points and the discovery of all 55 treasures would in fact be a triumph of hope over experience.
And so I pulled out my etiolated, half completed maps penned in the days of Filofaxes and mobile phones the size of an engineering brick, squinted at them, shook my head and filed them under "Ignore."
Once more into the breech....
Acheton was one of the first, if not the very first, game to be written in England, begun by two Cambridge postgraduates Jonathan Thackray and David Seal (who also wrote the proprietary T/SAL programming language that would become a standard for the Cambridge few) and doubled in size by Dr. Jonathan Partington after he had completed the first half. The whole thing took around two years to write. It took me about that number of man hours to solve it. The version I played was the Phoenix version converted to Z Code and it has some minor differences to the Topologika version released for micros. The advantage of the former lies mainly in the fact that a typo doesn't cost a turn, which in this game is often the difference between success and a sudden demise.
The game begins with a warning to would be players that it is considerably harder than the Adventure mainframe original upon which it is based and this isn't a frivolous piece of advice; deaths ranging from Cirrhosis of the Liver to being savaged by Ferrets almost certainly await you underground. Indeed a list of deaths and ways to make the game unwinnable would I suspect run to more text than the complete coding of some games.
All begins above ground at the end of a Good Road near a Farmhouse. Exploration throws up a few traditional items (and a handful of sudden deaths!) including two that ostensibly seem to lead to a route underground but don't. You have been warned.
When you finally make it down below, multiple routes soon lead to multiple routes. Most passages curl or bend sharply so mapping is somewhat tricky although Trizbort is a big help. In the days of yore I ended up with multiple ruined line drawings on A3 paper and empty biros.
My advice to any would be player is to not worry too much about tilting for victory early on. Explore, die, explore, die and slowly the map is pushed outwards and your score increases. Deserts lead to a Shoreline via an Egyptian Pyramid. Giant Caves lead to a Mine. A Wizard's Garden leads to a Roc's Nest. My advice is keep many saved copies, more so than in just about any other game. And remember that when this was written there was almost nothing else around so you couldn't become frustrated, give up and move on to one of the many thousands of other games that are now available. Put yourself in a Seventies mind set, convince yourself there are no other games to try and you will have those eureka! moments just when you thought you would give up. And the rewards are well worth fighting for.
In deference to the difficulty of many of the puzzles there is an excellent set of graduated hints which start at a basic nudge and usually finish in the total solution to a problem. These are not present in the Phoenix version. I can resist anything except temptation so I avoided the use of these.
The actual problems themselves range from "use A with B to get C" but usually in a very clever and subtle way, to chaining problems which run across multiple locations (very much a trait of Dr. Partington's games in general.) I can think of maybe only two puzzles I would call downright unfair. And some, like one inside the pyramid, are exquisitely constructed.
The thing that really made the game so tough for me though is the lamp timer. You will need to find a way to recharge it and even then it is tight to finish in time, as choreographing the jigsaw so that you can fit it all together in the life span of the lamp and not leave behind an object somewhere where you can't get it any more is just as challenging as the puzzles themselves. There is a built in transportation system which you will need to use in the game, for without it you will never get all your trinkets into the safe in time.
Unusually for these games there is an inventory limit of eight items; I think all the others have a limit of seven.
Magic words, short cuts to other regions and NPCs abound. The latter include a Mummy (an affectionate in-joke aimed at a certain Mike Oakley) a drunken Dwarf, an old Weaver, Pirates, Snakes, Scylla and Charybdis, a Garden Gnome, a Wizard... nearly all of them are out to put a spanner in your works.
I must confess that I got to 50 treasures and got completely stuck. Fortunately Adam Atkinson was on hand to give me some subtle hints and without him I really don't think I would have crawled over the finish line.
At the end of it all there is the inevitable (for its time) endgame which is something of an anti-climax. It is fairly straightforward and not particularly memorable.
In short, this game is everything that is unfashionable nowadays. That doesn't take away from its entertainment value if you have a decent attention span and come from an era before everyone had an allergy to something in the air or on their plate. Or to a lot of words on their Monitor.
The game has the standard (for its time) two word parser but it isa very good one. TAKE ALL works and TAKE and also DROP will assume the last object used. Unfortunately no VERBOSE or BACK or, of course, EXAMINE. This only really bothered me in one place, in the Wizard's Garden.
Given the latitude afforded by the mainframe space that the authors had available there are nicely evocative descriptions; long when they need to be with the occasional long text dump. There are almost no typos and no real bugs either that I came across in gameplay.
On my latest Quixotic journey through the Phoenix Mainframe canon I have just completed this game and retired to Castle Moan with six other Knights Errant, porting the Sangraal in my gauntleted fist.
This 1987 game is the third of a loose trilogy with Fyleet and Crobe by the same talented author. You leave (or rather are expelled) across the drawbridge of Castle Moan beside a cheering crowd as they wave you on to certain death. Lovely eh? Something akin to Les Tricoteuses who sat in the front row for the best views of a beheading by Madame la Guillotine. And not even a lamp or sword to brandish.
Sangraal was rumoured to be slightly less dendrite exploding than other games from this super hard stable and so it proved to be; it took me about 40 playing hours as opposed to the hundreds I laboured through on Hezarin, BrandX , Acheton etc. However, easy it is not and there is still ample scope to screw up. As ever with these games, make sure you have a solid chronological set of saved games to dip into, all leading up to a maximum of 600 points.
Across its 167 locations Sangraal is jam packed with the usual pen and paper puzzles and there seem to be more of these in this game than others from Dr. Partington's mind; it is also unusual in that much of the game is open from the start. You can probably traverse around two thirds of the map without solving anything which is handy for mapping purposes.
There are a number of set piece puzzles here which tend to seal off the whole area you were just in when you leave. These include an oriental palace dedicated to the seasons and months of the year; a maze which rotates every move so mapping it is tough; a set of boolean logic gates (yes I know!) an area of Limbo loosely based on Don Juan which also features Alexander The Great and some ancient grease (groan); and my favourite which is a magnificently constructed area where you have to commit the Seven Deadly Sins in a certain order. This is a masterpiece of imaginative logic. And you get to rob a beggar and enjoy some time in a harem! There is also a thinly veiled criticism of Orthodox Jewry defining one puzzle.
The game is studded with references to other literary works too including Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci; the legend of Parsifal, Orpheus and Eurydice; and the Wooden Horse amongst others. There is also an absorbing set piece in a folly where you pit your wits against an evil wizard and have to solve a series of logic puzzles, word and number games. Thankfully you can save after each puzzle which surprised me. This is one piece of evidence backing up the slightly easier reputation of the game; Hezarin and Acheton would never have let you do that.
As a side task from the Sangraal hunt you have to collect a number of animals for Noah and amass fourteen treasures and deliver them to an appropriate location. Be careful though as some treasures double up as puzzle solving objects too so don't deposit them too early as there is no way to claim them back. Frying tonight!
The game has the usual T/SAL coding for these games; an excellent two word parser but without the examine command, a seven item inventory limit and unusually no lamp or keys. That is pretty unusual for games of this age and genre. The descriptions are of medium length and very well done. I only came across one typo in my picaresque journey.
There are a couple of puzzle solutions which aren't that obvious; namely disposing of the hitherto mentioned La Belle Dame and catching the lamb. And shouting out mint sauce isn't the answer. Most of the solutions though are logical.
There are the usual sprinkling of hilarious puns including the Gordian newspaper, the hitherto mentioned ancient grease and a pile of salt which looks a bit like a running woman (but not a lot).
Having amassed the requisite treasures, deposited them and sent Noah off happily on his way across the flood plains you have short endgame to enable you to procure the Sangraal. You will need several peoples'help to achieve this and fittingly the game ends on a number manipulation puzzle.
This game would make the perfect introduction to the uniquely intellectual Phoenix world. Just don't expect Fyleet to treat you as nicely as this game sometimes does.
Oh dear it may be time for Quondam next....pith helmets and chest plates on lads.
At last. After 25 years on and off, 1,713 little blue tablets and umpteen visits to my psychiatrist I have beaten Hezarin.
This old mainframe game only survives as a port by Jon Thackray to the BBC under the auspices of Topologika and the beta testing of Peter Killworth back in 1990 but thank goodness it does as it must be the ultimate treasure gathering / picaresque odyssey of a text adventure game ever coded by mortal hand. It shares a lot of early IF tropes with its big brother Acheton; size, head bashing toughness, manifold opportunities to screw up without realising it and sudden death scenarios a plenty. However, unlike its forebear there are few mazes and most refreshing of all no lamp timer.
It was the fourth of the original 16 games written for the old IBM mainframe nicknamed "Phoenix" and despite my previous observations is still certainly one of the toughest from this stable, which really is saying something as they are universally didactic and always paddled against the mainstream of IF even as the eighties wore on and such hidebound shibboleths became at best uncool and at worst subject to the most vehement of derision. One suspects that the neophytes' jeers ruffled nary an intellectual feather with the Phoenix crowd.
The game itself is based on the old Mesopotamian epic poem the Epic Of Gilgamesh, although no prior knowledge of the poem is needed to solve it. Just patience, a keen eye for detail and pen and paper to note down clues on the way (or stab yourself with maybe). Oh yes and about two and a half decades of spare time as this thing sprawls over 300+ rooms and (by my reckoning) 86 objects. There are 1100 points to be gained and 45 treasures as well. If you manage to complete the game with a full quota of points there is an extra dump of information on the screen.
In the manner of the day treasure items are suffixed by an exclamation mark.
Hezarin will take you on a quest through several regions, that is in an area of fields by a village, an underground cave complex with a central cavern, another area of caves with its own fountain cavern, shifting halls, a dragon maze, a wild wood, desolate moorland, an ivory temple, a castle....and so on and on, deep into the night if you are like me.
The game has the standard Phoenix two word parser but atypically the examine command is useable and you will need it on more than one occasion. The inventory list is seven but there is a receptacle available somewhere to augment this number.
You don't so much play Hezarin as strap on an extraordinarily heavy suit of armour, oversharpen your figurative lance, clutch your Vorpal Blade and physically assault the thing. Be prepared to die or softlock and restart a thousand and one times. Unlike its predecessors from this stable the game will however sometimes show you mercy when you die, commenting "Would you like me to pretend you hadn't done that?" Upon commenting yes, it replies, "Alright, but be more careful next time!"
There are several puzzles which I would consider unfair here; as previously noted pretty much the norm for the Phoenix stable. Soft lockouts really do abound, and there is an horrifically cruel trick in one smoke filled corridor where using the save command renders the exit unreachable but beyond a description of an earth tremor this is not at all made clear. Another puzzle revolves around noting down part of a room description that only appears the first time you enter it (the music room) and this then needs to be interpreted and applied much later in the game. There is no hint as to the necessity of doing this. Another requires you to invoke an old piece of speleological slang which I was not familiar with. Think Bedquilt in Colossal Cave. And then there's the inn sign.....you get the general idea.
There is a graduated hint system which you access by typing HELP and referring to the appropriate problem number. A list of problems can be found under https://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/phoenix/manuals/Doom3_Hezarin.pdf
Good luck (you'll need it!)
There are many NPCs in the game, nearly all of whom want to do you in and several laugh out loud moments as well. If you are not English one of them may go over your head, but the centuries old mural depicting shaven-headed, peace loving monks doing over some Millwall supporters had me in stitches. And the three bickering witches are hilarious too. I also liked the Adventurers' Lounge and Bar, complete with weary adventurers and serving wenches.
The denouement of the game involves a dangerous sequence of cat and mouse manoeuvering with the wizard Anjith and the final puzzle, fittingly, is extremely fiendish but certainly sums up the whole game. It rather reminds me of a much earlier Andy Phillips type sequence.
I estimate that the game consists of 402 rooms which would make it exactly 1 room smaller than Acheton. Whether this was deference or coincidence I am not sure; the fact that one of the treasures is the Acheton Database leads me to suspect it is the former.
It ran very smoothly in DosBox although I did manage to crash the game three times, when jumping from the east side of the air duct, throwing objects when in the air and attempting to open an object with the sword. Unusually for Phoenix games there are also a few typos.
If you have played other games from this stable you'll certainly know what to expect. If you get impatient boiling a kettle or cutting a sandwich you'd best avoid this multiple course banquet of frustration and essay reloading a modern game.
Stone the crows, the missus'll never believe this 'un! I have destroyed the evil Demnos and his temple, raized the fort to the ground and lived to tell the tale and I only died or locked myself out of winning about fifty times, which is pretty good going for me with these super hard Phoenix games. The review below contains some spoilers.
Fyleet has the reputation of being one of the hardest games in the excruciatingly difficult Phoenix canon and having wrestled mightily with it I would agree. It is certainly right up there with Acheton, Philosopher's Quest (aka Brand X,) Quondam, Hezarin and Xeno in the "Oh blast I've used the bandage on the dwarf and now can't clean the mirror" kind of restart exasperation.
Fyleet was written on the Phoenix mainframe at Cambridge University in 1985 and as far as I am aware never released commercially by Acornsoft or Topologika and was the first in a loose trilogy of games followed by Crobe and Quest For The Sangraal; all were written by that master of the mainframe mystery Dr. Jonathan Partington. Fyleet is considerably tougher than the following two games in the trilogy however. You may be better off dipping your tentative toes into the calmer waters of Sangraal before attempting this exquisite torture.
Several of the old mainframe games from Cambridge (including this one) saw a new lease of life when Graham Nelson, Adam Atkinson, Gunther Schmidl and David Kinder worked together to create the Perl script and Inform libraries used to restore them, as well as negotiating their release into the public domain where Topologika still held them.
Richard Bos has written a graduated clue sheet in z5 (available on this page) in the manner of the ones written for the commercial releases of the Phoenix games. The hints start vaguely then lead up to the final complete answer.
So; on to the game. It is, as has often been said of these games very old-fashioned and ticks all the expected boxes: almost two hundred locations; no examine command; a two word parser; sudden death endings; an inventory limit of seven items; magic words and a lamp and sword amongst other familiar tropes. There is, however, no lamp timer which at least makes exploration less pressured. And unusually you can move in the dark without breaking your neck, falling into a pit or any of the other typical deaths that darkness normally dishes out in these games.
You start above ground near the fort entrance. Go west and you are killed by a scarecrow. Go ne, se, sw, nw and you are killed by bandits. Try climbing a tree and you are hurled to the ground. Best dive underground quickly and start exploring!
Very early on you will find a prayer mat, which has three separate uses in the game, the first of which is far from obvious but needs to be performed above ground to obtain a vital piece of equipment which will enable you to skewer the scarecrow. I missed this al fresco task for ages and consequently became log jammed very early on. And be careful where you drop the aforementioned mat, as in most places it will disappear for good if you walk away from it.
There are the full gamut of posers here, from alphametics to Teutonic Helmets and a few head scratchers that seem to me to be rather illogical. Mapping the rabbit warren maze, crossing the lake and retrieving the parrot are three examples of puzzles where the solution doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me; bold experimentation is the answer. Knowledge of musical notation will help with one puzzle and the old pen and pencil will probably come out to solve the giant's maze and the three other mazes in the game. Fittingly enough for this puzzlefest the last puzzle is a Sudoku-type poser.
There are 25 treasures ending with a "!" in all to be amassed and deposited somewhere (which should be pretty obvious) to appease the god Hurgenpor and lead you into the short but tricky end game which should leave you victorious with 600 points to your hallowed name (or more likely trampled to death by a horse-like nightmare.) There are 65 objects in all and each one has at least one use.
The descriptions are of medium length but Dr. Partington is a good enough writer to create a sense of uneasiness and magic in the game. The proprietory T/SAL coding is naturally excellent and I only counted three or four typos. There are a number of NPCs but in the manner of the day conversation is pretty much out; actions speak louder than words when dealing with the (mostly hostile) beings you come across. Verbose and Take All are catered for, as is Back, but be careful where you use this, as in Monopoly's "go back three spaces" it can lead you into a whole heap of trouble. It won't work in the mazes and there are a few areas of the game where Save is disabled, in order that you won't cheat by saving every move in certain chaining puzzles. There are also a few of Dr. Partington's usual outrageous puns, my favourite of which is in the Gorgon's Lair.
There is a short endgame which consists of about three moves, fairly simple after what has come before. You may have to save before tackling this though as you need several objects with you which aren't obvious to start with.
I'm sure you already have your opinions on these old games; personally I love them and intend to carry on my quest to solve them all - hopefully before the Sun turns into a Red Giant and swallows the Solar System.
I set myself the ultimate challenge this year - to complete all the games in the Phoenix canon.
I realise that this is somewhat akin to that other masochistic pastime blindfold bomb disposal but after recently completing the epic brain sizzler Hezarin I thought I would go for a game I last attempted when I was doing my 'O' Levels - one Geoffrey Chaucer had just started shaving I think.
Peter Killworth, Oceanographer extraordinaire wrote this mainframe game under the name Brand X back in 1979 - Acheton, the first game in the collection to be started, was only half completed at the time.
It is available to be played in the mainframe version (upon which this review is based); a cut-down 250 points 1982 Acornsoft version released for the BBC and retitled Philosopher's Quest; and a 1987 Topologika release which is almost identical to the mainframe version but still called by the last name.
The game is rather more compact than the other early releases from this stable (just over 100 locations as opposed to over 400+ locations in Acheton and Hezarin) but shares the same rigidly unforgiving intellect of those other two games. Due caveats as to its unforgiving nature are given at the beginning: "You don't need any instructions, so you won't get any!" Learning by death, softlocks via experimentation and formal maze mapping were assumed as didactic inevitabilities in these early games and they didn't disappoint. Indeed, there are two problems right at the start of the game (the opening location and a room to its immediate south) which have had their very fairness debated many times. I think the second problem is just about excusable but the very first poser (removing items from the Antique Shop) would seem to me to be on the wrong side of fairness. It is almost as if the creator were laying down warning markers for what was to come.
The latter two versions of the game do at least have a series of progressive hints. The mainframe version leaves you very much to fend for yourself. Purist that I am, I went for the original uncut and unaided release. Hair shirt time.
At its scholarly heart Brand X is very much a treasure hunt that really cares nothing for mimesis; a long plank cum mathematical puzzle just happens to run along a cliff by the seaside; there are several elaborate chaining puzzles and of course there's an invisible dog and an ancient mariner! The game amounts to a group of beautifully constructed set piece posers like this, all pretty logical when you have gleaned the solution but head bashingly difficult until then. Underpinning the treasure hunt is your search for an old lady's missing dog, but appearances can be deceptive. For me working out the chronological order for solving them was as difficult as the actual solutions as it is incredibly easy to render the game unwinnable and be blissfully ignorant of the fact until much later in the game; this is a familiar trope to those of you who have played these games before.
Several of the set pieces have biblical connections as well: there is a Tower Of Babel where nobody understands anyone else; a Jonah And The Whale puzzle; also a Garden Of Eden puzzle with a less than friendly snake. The game also name drops such literary luminaries as Coleridge and Steinbeck and a maze is dedicated to that indefatigable maze creator Maurits Escher. You knew they'd be mazes didn't you? Yup and there is also my least favourite hardy perennial in early text adventures, namely the lamp timer. Switch it off at every opportunity. I don't think the timer is quite as tight as in Acheton but you still can't afford to leave it switched on al fresco for very long. When a game is as difficult as this I feel a little more slack should be cut for the player in terms of daemons.
The game is imbued with the author Peter Killworth's usual dry wit. I love his mordant description of the "living granite" in one location in particular and there are some excruciating puns to boot.
The two word T/SAL parser is certainly adequate and I never found myself unable to phrase what I wanted to say although of course there is the lack of an "examine" command (in common with most Phoenix games) together with no "verbose" although "take all" and "drop all" are recognised. I did occasionally find it annoying that I had to "look" to get a list of exits when revisiting a room and this of course uses up more lamp time. When these games were ported to Inform the boys left the parser as untouched as possible; quite rightly in my opinion. It's trad, dad.
The location descriptions can be quite long in places but are never less than interesting and there is an inventory limit of seven objects; this is standard fare for the Phoenix games.
There is a last lousy point too; as far as I can tell it is as unclued as in Colossal Cave but try a magic word you found near the beginning of the game at every recurring shape on the walls. I'll say no more.
A small but significant band of hardy (masochistic?) traditionalists will continue to hold these games in high esteem; progressives will no doubt continue to pour scorn.
Infocom's Zork Trilogy cast a long shadow over IF for many years, but one of its more obscure spin-offs was another extremely large mainframe game begun soon after the authors (Rob Lucke and Bill Frolic) had completed the original mainframe Zork in 1979. They decided they would write an even larger game, with a more sophisticated parser. They certainly succeeded in the former as Warp is more than double the size of the original mainframe Zork, but the latter (the game was written in Pascal on an HP3000) is miles behind Infocom's ZIL even after its 4 year and 38 version development.
While Warp understands clever commands like BACKTRACK X, where X is a number of moves and also interprets whole sentences it will often fail to understand many synonyms and objects in the location you are in. Many times I found myself banging my head against the wall looking for a verb / noun combination the game would understand. It also allows for the creation of macros, but this feels more like unnecessary frippery than a clever construct to help the player.
Not until the endgame (yes there is one and it's even more difficult then the main game) is the macro function useful as SAVE GAME is disabled here and I found myself nesting ten macros inside another one to get me back to a point deep in the aforementioned endgame. I would probably have given up otherwise as it would have necessitated several hundred turns to get me back to the position I was in.
The game is set on a contemporary island resort and involves the collection of 49 treasures and 1216 points which are to be stored somewhere, although where is for you to find out. It encompasses many areas, including desert, a massive ocean that needs thorough mapping as it is studded with reefs and atolls as well as a less than friendly galleon, rainforest, mountain, city centre, shopping mall, underground areas and even a nudist beach and French café. That's not including neighbouring islands which you can swim or sail to, although the former option may well see you added to a Great White's dinner menu.
The player will soon recognise the many Zorkian influences as the game has its own versions of Zork's troll and thief as well as several other NPCs who seem rather static compared to many modern games. One in particular would not pass muster at a Labour Party Momentum meeting, but I suppose you have to allow for the rather less politically correct times in which the game was written. A rather racy magazine would get the thumbs down on campus nowadays too.
The game includes the DIAGNOSE command so you can check your health during a fight or the effects of certain toxic substances, both animal and mineral.
A skein of Lewis Carroll style surrealism pervades the whole thing, both grammatically and physically; the title lends itself to a large wonk in the game.
As in much IF of this vintage there is a large and rather difficult maze complete with Beatle's song reference, a lamp timer (although there is a way around this) and an inventory limit. The endgame even includes an homage to Zork III's Royal Puzzle.
It is very easy to put the game in an unwinnable position and unfortunately one of these comes very near the start of the game. Just make sure you map very carefully and keep lots of saved games in reserve. Spoiler below.
(Spoiler - click to show)You need to visit the bank early on the first day to procure a treasure - a clue lies in the President's Office .
The game also includes a large amount of ASCII art, far more than mainframe Zork does and this adds to the immersive feel of the game; circa six thousand lines of ASCII art if you please.
The whole experience took me two months to fully complete, playing along with Jason Dyer and Russell Karlberg via Jason's excellent Renga In Blue blog. We all experienced a few bugs and crashes but nothing a reload didn't seem to cure. There are numerous typos sprinkled amongst the fairly lengthy location descriptions too.
One innovative and enjoyable feature is God mode, which you only achieve upon completion of the end game. This provides you with the ability to take items from anywhere, GOTO any location in the game, check your map using SHOW LINKS, LIST all the puzzles and even walk on water!
Many thanks to Dan Hallock, guru of the HP3000 who has made the game easy to play for a whole new generation of players via the links above.
All we have to do now is find FisK somewhere.
This rather large and well crafted text adventure was originally written for the Apple II in 1982 and then re-programmed for the Commodore 64 two years later.
It is a nice throwback to the days of Mainframe games, with more than a nod to Zork, Colossal Cave and Acheton although I wouldn't consider it as tough as any of those.
The rather diaphanous premise is that you need to collect sixteen treasures and ferret them away somewhere to become Crystal Caverns Estate Landlord (a rather upmarket Rigsby I suppose) by exploring the areas deep below an old Victorian Mansion. Unlike Rising Damp there is no view of the gas works but there are various views through the mansion windows of a rotting shed and various other decaying landmarks in the game. In fact an atmosphere of decay and decrepitude hangs over the whole scenario - there are rotten tree stumps, rusted hinges, broken shutters and skeletons sprinkled liberally throughout the game geography.
There are the usual tropes associated with games of this era; a maximum inventory of seven objects (the same number as the Cambridge Phoenix games); a lamp timer which can be ameliorated by finding an object that recharges it (thanks 8bitAg for the nudge there); a rather nasty maze for which there is some help although I didn't find it until after I'd spent many an hour solving it the old fashioned way of dropping objects); and a number of twisting exits that make map drawing excruciating. One of the more colourful descriptions in the game seems to have been lifted almost exactly from the Volcano View in Dave Platt's Colossal Cave extension.
The two word parser is pretty good for its age, that is not as good as Infocom, Level 9 or Magnetic Scrolls but better than contemporaneous games like Warp, Castlequest and Excalibur. The first six letters of any noun are recognised and it is a standard two word affair. The only exception I found to this was turning off the lamp when three words were needed as none of DOUSE, EXTINGUISH or LAMP OFF seemed to work. It understands TAKE ALL and EXAMINE although the latter seems redundant as it nearly always replies "It is nothing special" and only differs from this reply when READ produces the same result. OOPS, BACK and VERBOSE are missing. The latter omission of course means the location descriptions cannot be truncated or lengthened. Two of the puzzle solutions revolve around the use of rather obscure verbs and as far as I can tell there are no suitable alternatives to implement the actions I tried.
Response times via my C64 Vice emulator v 3.5 were good although the game locked up on me once.
The standard of puzzle I would put as intermediate. This would be a good introduction to a novice IF player as the majority of solutions are logical. The best (and most intricate) involves a Mainframe computer (gosh really?) a disk drive and a printer plus an amusing pun on the American Byte Magazine.
I found the American spellings somewhat jarring after a while (traveling, parlor etc.) Do you remember when we spoke of goose pimples not goose bumps in Blighty? Where is the guy to give a penny to at the beginning of November? And when something lasted 24 hours a day not 24/7? We want our language back! Sorry, I've taken a Valium and I'm back to the review...
There are very few typos in the game; offhand I can think of "hewed" instead of "hewn" or is that an Americanism too? And "eminating" instead of "emanating" but in a game of this size it is one of the better games in that regard.
There are no NPCs at all so don't expect any modern style conversations or pearls of wisdom to be dispensed by subterranean creatures; you are very much a solitary traveller here.
Points are awarded for finding treasures, more for stowing them away and the rest for solving particular problems. As far as I can see there are no red herrings although one object is not necessary to complete the game.
Unusually for a game of this vintage there are no sudden death endings and I didn't find a single way to make the game unwinnable. In fact I only managed to die once and that was tantamount to suicide.
Towards the climax I found myself wandering around with 440 points and with no idea as to what to do next. In the end I tried to address what I thought was a problem and to my surprise the game suddenly ended with me having 500 points. It is a strange and rather unsatisfactory ending, almost as if the author couldn't think of a way of wrapping it up. Anyway it doesn't really make sense. The fact that the maximum score is not given meant that I had no idea how near I was to completing the game.
If you remember Watney's Party Sevens and the days when crisps had flavour this will be right up your street. No, I don't think they'll understand that last sentence in America either.
I have always been a sucker for old text based puzzlefests and a double sucker for old Mainframe puzzlefests (viz. my efforts at getting Warp uploaded to IFDB) and when I read that Arthur O'Dwyer et al had discovered this old game from 1980 that had previously been on the GENIE network I couldn't resist.
I downloaded the game from the intfiction.org website where it has been tweaked by David Kinder and others and can be run using the ¦asa pipe added to the executable command to allow an onscreen DOS session that doesn't close down when using the SAVE command but does still end your current game.
Castlequest is about as old fashioned a text adventure as you could wish to see this side of Wander and Willie Crowther; written in Fortran so the game only understands upper case letters it is in size similar to the original Crowther creation too.
The premise is two-fold, that is to find and kill the evil personage in his castle and then to complete the endgame which entails collecting ten treasures and storing them in a certain location. There are bonus points for carrying out certain actions and yes, a last lousy point which at least makes more sense than the the one in the original Colossal Cave.
It exhibits most of the limitations of games from this era, including a lamp timer, an inventory limit, mazes (only one of which is really annoying) locked doors, fearsome beasts to be slayed or otherwise mollified, an elevator, a boat and a limited two word parser which fails to recognise many objects in the described locations. These tend to be fairly terse but longer when needed.
There are several bugs, none of which are game killing but can be annoying such as a message when entering a number combination that is liable to put the player off continuing but is in fact incorrect. You should recognise this when you find it. There are also multiple solutions to some problems (in some cases these may be as a result of lurking bugs) and at least one problem which doesn't lead anywhere when solved involving an NPC. Some of the location exits also appear illogical, for instance when entering a dark tunnel you go down but also down to climb out of it. There are also quite a few typos and other grammatical infelicities. There is an odd way of giving objects to other NPCs too; without wishing to be spoilerish you will need to think laterally to achieve this.
The game does have a dry sense of humour, and I loved the discovery of what must be the world's largest contact lens. Bausch and Lomb eat your heart (corneas?) out.
Amongst the problems there are some nice original puzzles which up the difficulty quotient. There is also only the facility for one saved game so you may choose to hack the saved file and rename it if you want to store multiple copies of saved positions.
Lovers of IF antiquary will have a lot of fun with this.
This is part one of a small DOS trilogy written by John Olsen in the mid nineties.
If you have been worn down by tough long games recently (as I have) any game from this trilogy would be the perfect antidote. I played the first game (Merlin's Magic Forest) which amounts to about 25 locations, all tersely but adequately described. These are nicely displayed in a green font in DosBox-X.
I had to mount an image disk as an a drive to save games as I got an error choosing c.
The object of your mission is to find five ingredients and put them in a cauldron to free Merlin from his magic slumber. There are half a dozen puzzles to solve, all "do X with Y" and clues abound if you do get stuck. I spotted no grammatical faux pas although there a few bugs that revolve around the EXAMINE command. If there is a message engraved on an object in the room you are in it will give you the same parser reply whichever object you are actually examining.
So in summation hardly stunningly original but acceptable if you are at a loose end one afternoon and want something to finish before your 4pm cuppa.
This game was apparently voted Adventure Game Of The Year at the Golden Joystick Awards (somewhat ironically for a text adventure) and has long been a lacuna on my adventure CV. The following review contains mild spoilers.
I had previously only played The Pawn and Wonderland by Magnetic Scrolls (this game was released between the two) and had found The Pawn rather intractable and Wonderland, well, wonderful. Magnetic Scrolls' games definitely improved as time passed. This is certainly one of the finest games of its genre.
The parser is superb for a game of its time; certainly I would compare it favourably with the Infocom example which is high praise indeed. There are also some graphical locations which were state of the art in their day but which I prefer to switch off. This isn't so much a question of speeding the game up as using my own imagination to evoke the long and clever descriptions; for me the hybrid trope of graphical adventure and text adventure has always been rather uneasy and I was surprised to discover that approximately two thirds of all IF ever written has been of this type (according to Graham Nelson I believe).
The game is unashamedly a puzzle fest in which you have to amass fifteen treasures and store them (there are in fact four places to leave your plunder which will then all end up in one place automatically) in order to join the emponymous Guild. The GO TO command is implemented enabling you to travel to any previously visited location via one command line instruction. You can also SEARCH for a lost object. Use these options thoughfully as it is all too easy to walk subliminally into a deadly trap.
When you have finished playing Croesus you are ready to enter the very tough endgame. This reminded me strongly of the Topologika games and the shadows of Dr Partington, Peter Killworth et al hang over it in a most satisfactory way.
I played the version from the Magnetic Scrolls site via DosBox-X and found only five or six trivial grammatical errors which is pretty good for such a complex game. It did crash on me four or five times however, and I am not sure whether the game file or DosBox-X itself was the guilty culprit. You also need to type in a word from the What Burglar? feelie if you start a new session but as this is now freeware and available to view online it shouldn't present any problem. You are also given three attempts to type the correct one in.
The puzzles themselves tend to become more difficult as you progress into the game and several objects are red herrings. There is also one garden based scenario which appears to be a set piece puzzle but isn't. This was something I banged my head on for some considerable time before realising it wasn't actually a puzzle at all. So I buzzed off and tried another puzzle elsewhere.
There is a conundrum towards the end which strikes me as unfairly described; if a slot is mentioned I tend to think of something long and thin and not die-shaped. As I was carrying four long and thin objects and there were four slots I made a natural but inaccurate deduction which held me up for a long time.
In the manner of games from this era there is an inventory limit and many chances to make the game unwinnable but there are no lamp timer or hunger / thirst daemons. There are also no mazes. As you progress you will come across a number of human (and non-human) NPCs in the game with some of which, thanks to the parser, it is possible to have fairly sophisticated colloquy and you will need to do this to find out vital information to finish the game. Likewise the game is littered with pamphlets, books, magazines etc. which contain more information necessary to bring the game to a successful denouement. Remember in particular to spend plenty of time in the Library; it contains a very large collection of volumes and the subjects range from the merely humorous to the very helpful.
There is a wonderful humour pervading the game, at times dryly sparkling and at others Pythonesque to remind you that "hey, this is only a game!"
As an old fogey I find it a shame that practically no-one writes long parser-based puzzle fest IF of any pith or moment any more. If modern players tried this they may be inspired to write something in a similar vein rather than short and Twiney.
This old DOS game written in 1987 has the temerity to ask for a payment when you quit from it, which if you are like me will be fairly quickly.
It is taxonomised as an espionage game, but 007 would have retired to become a milkman or something equally mundane if he attempted the task that befronts you here; the idea is to find the owner of a castle, Lord Hornadette, who has been kidnapped and rescue him and the secret plans.
Right from the start the game is buggy as you can move NE and mention is made of you "following the robin's thoughts." Erm, what robin? It became clear later that if you don't move N then E at the start to the bank of a river you miss the robin previously mentioned. No conditional flag set there in the coding obviously. Poor programming and zero testing.
You now find yourself beside a castle with locked doors. Many geological ages passed until I tried something so hoary it should have been in an Ecclesiastical font. Surely it couldn't be the age old fairy tale password? Oh yes it could.
Once inside some of the objects are described as UNKNOWN STATUS? Unknown? Huh? And TAKE AWARD or TAKE TROPHY elicits the ambiguous response "You can't take the award" followed by DONE. Yes it is in your inventory.
I eventually discovered a safe and OPEN SAFE presented me with ENTER COMBINATION OF SAFE: I wrestled with the parser for some time trying combinations of numbers that I had, ENTER followed by numbers and so on but nothing worked. After a set number of moves soldiers break in and arrest you, thereby ending your misery.
The parser is dreadful with few verbs and objects being recognised, and the ones that are often misleading. There must be more atmosphere on Venus than in the room descriptions too. You can add unclued and badly coded puzzles to the unheady mix as well e.g. sudden death by pirahna fish in a river that can't be examined and timed capture by guards. In summation a sloppily programmed work: unimaginative; never tested; no atmosphere or puzzles worthy of your consideration. Needless to say, typos and grammatical errors abound.
If you really want to play an excellent DOS based puzzle fest from 1987 then try Castle Ralf but avoid this like a lucky dip in a snake pit.
Avon, the penultimate game from the Phoenix stable which released seventeen very challenging pieces of old school adventuredom between 1978 and 1989, is often considered to be one of the less difficult from that group of talented mathematical boffins. Having just completed it after many a long hour of brain torture, I would have to disagree with those who consider it so. In fact, the game has "strict statutes and most biting laws" if I may borrow some Shakespearean verse to mine own ends.
The first problem you will literally stumble across is how to find some light and the solution to this is pretty unfair I think. To those of you who remember the horrible puzzle in the shop at the start of Philosopher's Quest it should come as no surprise. Choosing the wrong object from four will immediately leave you in the dark and you will have to start again.
The game itself is written by the most prolific of the Phoenix adventure authors, Dr. Jonathan Partington and his love for all things Shakespearean really shines forth. Sir John Falstaff, the Lady Portia, Banquo's Ghost and a whole host of others tumble across the screen in a marvellously evocative caravanserai of characters. There are a lot of stabbings, poisonings, kisses and drownings so if you already get a lot of this at home you may find Avon a bit overkill. In my chastened, secluded monastery it was pulsating stuff indeed however.
Avon is studded with quotations and situations from Shakespeare's plays and here is where I need to take issue with previous reviewers of the game; it is claimed that no prior knowledge of the Bard's work is needed to complete it. In fact there are two scenarios where the solution depends on knowing famous quotes from his works. So prior knowledge is needed, and not just of the Swan of Avon but also that of a certain musical composer.
In common with many games in the Phoenix stable it is very easy to put the game into an unwinnable state and to lose or miss a vital object. As the game plays out over three days using the same set of locations (that is Twelfth Night, The Ides Of March and Midsummer's Day) I sometimes found it difficult to work out which puzzles could be solved on the date I was currently in and which needed solving at a later date. There is also one recurring problem which must be visited on all three dates. The puzzles themselves are, as usual from Dr. Partington, extremely clever and humorous, and more than one relies on committing an outrageous pun. The solution to escaping the gaol and one inside the Boar's Head Inn would be amongst the funniest I have ever come across. Think Tommy Cooper with a chainsaw.
Be careful where you Save (avoid saving the game just after you have received one of the many secret words you will learn during the game as it can render the whole experience unwinnable). Save after applying the word or phrase in the appropriate place. Some items have more than one use as well so avoid discarding them after their first application. The inventory limit is seven items which is standard practice with the T/SAL coding used for these games; it is not too difficult however to store your ammassed collection somewhere central.
The triptych of the game (if so it may be called) is unevenly proportioned. The third section is probably the longest, followed by the first and then the second. There are several pseudo mazes and the solutions to them all are very imaginative as none rely on the tried and trusted "drop one item per location" rule. The game weighs in at just under ninety locations which is somewhat smaller than most Phoenix offerings, however the three days' setting made it seem bigger to me than it actually is.
The marvellously evocative descriptions and responses are neither prolix nor too short. The two word parser eschews EXAMINE and OOPS but does cater for TAKE ALL and VERBOSE and it was never a problem for me expressing what I wanted to do or say. The whole was a perfect exercise in mimetic immersion for me and I really felt I was in Shakespearean England when I played this.
Nearly all of the puzzle solutions are very clever / very funny with two notable exceptions. As portended by the first puzzle mentioned above it is easy to make the whole thing unwinnable. There are several mazes but all are solvable without dropping your hard won inventory. No lamp/thirst/hunger daemons. If you like puzzles and puns and don't mind learning through death and taking notes on a piece of paper you'll love Avon. If you love Twine and hypertext, twere well it were not done at all.
Somewhere, Somewhen is the latest in a fairly long line of very large puzzlefests written by Jim Macbrayne, starting with two efforts for the old Commodore PET back in the early eighties and culminating in this latest game.
Somewhat surprisingly (to me, anyway) this game ranked only 17th out of 18 games in the recent Parsercomp. Just as Abba became naff in the eighties only to enjoy a triumphant return years later, so I hope the effort put into games like this will truly be appreciated one day like a fine wine. And unlike a less than fine twine.
Enough of the pun-ditry, what of the game?
Those of you who have played Jim's games in the past will know what to expect. The plot involves you hunting for an Ibistick (who he?) after you are plucked from a country road in summer. This is of course a thinly veiled artifice to confront the player with a large amount of mechanical puzzles involving buttons, levers and switches, and a number of set pieces involving musical theory with many locked doors to be opened by a variety of devious means.
The game has a central hub from which eight set piece scenarios radiate (much like an Andy Phillips game but without the teeth gnashing difficulty) and each area can be revisited if you happen to have missed a vital item or been stumped by a locked door (also unlike an Andy Phillips game). There is a logical sequence for choosing which scenario to tackle next which will become obvious when solving the first puzzle in the game.
The room descriptions are nicely evocative, particularly the castle in section six, and a large number of items serve only as red herrings but carrying everything shouldn't be a problem thanks to a suitable container. There is another way to increase your inventory limit which you will find on your picaresque travels.
There is one maze (go on, you know you want to) which must be thoroughly mapped although given the large number of items available to be carried the tried and trusted method of dropping objects can be safely used.
As far as I can tell it is not possible to put the game into an unwinnable position and there are no hunger, thirst or light daemons.
The screen display is customisable which is a nice touch.
I came across a couple of typos which I have passed on to the author.
There are no NPCs as such; you are very much on your own here although there is the option to turn the built-in hints system off or on. I must admit without twanging my own Spanish guitar that I managed to finish the game without any recourse to it, something I have never managed with any other of Jim's games; maybe he is becoming more merciful in his advancing years.
Rarely will you not be able to have the parser understand your command. The QBasic parser allows for take all, drop all and the usual abbreviations. One idiosyncracy of the game (and Jim's other games) is the necessity of using TAKE X FROM Y when acquiring an object, but this is fully explained in the introduction. LOOK UNDER and BEHIND are also strongly advised.There is however no UNDO command so save often and the parser accepts multiple words. Some of the puzzles are not easy although I would rank this as the least brow furrowing game in Jim's oeuvre and I don't think it abrogates Andrew Plotkin's rule book. These are generally common sense mechanical puzzles. Knowledge of musical theory will, as previously suggested, help.
I may be biased but as this kind of IF becomes rarer and more disdained by a large slice of the IF community, the more I cherish new examples of old tropes to keep the home fires burning.
I have put the completed map up in Trizbort and PDF formats on the CASA website.
Jim is currently mulling over his next game. Expect a broom cupboard and a few levers!
With Kingdom of Hamil , or just Hamil as it was originally known in its mainframe form, the author Jonathan Partington chose to be a little more lenient with his player. He was the most prolific of the Phoenix IF authors in the seventies and eighties, with a particular penchant for large and innovatively tough mazes. While Hamil still has it fair share of them (including one maze which is included in the Phoenix version on this page but was omitted for reasons of space when the game was released by Acornsoft) the overall standard of puzzle is slightly easier than most he created over the years. Having said that there is still ample scope to make the game unwinnable which I managed several times. The inventory limit is set at seven items which seems to be the par for most of these games. Some objects have multiple uses while only one seems to be a red herring.
Mercifully there is no lamp timer in the game unlike Professor Partington's earlier co-authored work Acheton and it is significantly smaller than most of the other Phoenix efforts so easier to map. By modern standards it would still be considered large however. Location descriptions are brief but adequate with just the right amount of atmosphere thrown in. There is no option for VERBOSE, BRIEF etc. so full descriptions are only repeated when you LOOK. The converted mainframe version scores up to 300 points while the scaled down BBC one has a maximum of 250 points.
Like most of the Phoenix games the plot is merely a flimsy framework to support the pure beauty of the puzzles; you have discovered you are the heir to the throne of the kingdom and set out to try and reclaim what is rightfully yours. As well as this odyssey there are the usual treasures to collect and deposit in their rightful place to trigger the one move endgame. There is also an interesting twist at the end which reappraises the reason for your journey.
Most of the puzzles can be worked out either with a pen and paper (the game has its own code system which you will need to play around with at the beginning and very end of the game and mazes where every turn is crucial) or by trial and error. The game is not too strict in which order you choose to address the puzzles although there is one near the beginning that has to be solved in its entirety or victory is cut off. This should become apparent when you find it.
The terrain in the game is very unstable and there are frequent earthquakes and rock falls which add to the complexity of several areas and prevent backtracking. Try and leave nothing behind and deposit your items in a central location.
There is a particularly elegant problem involving a vampire which took me an age to crack but had me applauding when the penny finally dropped. Another that centres around Lewis Carroll's Hunting Of The Snark is also very clever and I think would have defeated me had I not played other games by the author and knew the way his mind works. I suppose this is rather like recognising the style of a cryptic crossword compiler in a daily newspaper.
A couple of annoyances include sudden death by one of a multitude of creatures if you hang about too long in one place and an object that it is impossible to hang on to for more than a few moves. This latter problem is exacerbated by the fact that it is impossible to SAVE your position in two of the game's mazes.
I would recommend a player try this game before attempting the other titles from the Cambridge stable with the possible exception of Sangraal by the same author.
There is the usual excellent two word parser and lack of an EXAMINE command which has polarised opinion over the years. TAKE ALL is implemented however.
Solve this and you may be ready for even tougher challenges from the Phoenix authors.
Parc by John Rennie is one of the lesser known of the Phoenix IBM mainframe adventures written between 1978 and 1989 and also one of the least large; I say least as that is only comparing it to monster games from the same stable like Acheton and Hezarin. It still weighs in at over 100 locations including two clever mazes (one external and one internal).
The back story (if ever these games really had them) is that you have volunteered to usurp an evil Alchemist named Ping Narott, a name which sounds like an anagram but isn't. His experiments have been making the good folk of Parcs' lives a misery. There are also 25 treasures to amass and store away somewhere inside the Alchemist's castle. Some of these treasures have dual roles as puzzle solving objects as well.
The game has the traditional excellent two word parser (TAKE ALL is allowed) and no EXAMINE command but this is seldom needed anyway as everything you need to know about an object is there for you.
Parc is atypical of the Phoenix games in so much as it has a strong chemical basis behind the plot; the usual mind bending mathematical posers conjured up by Jonathan Partington, Peter Killworth et al have been replaced by problems involving Indium, Zinc Sulphide, Radium etc.
The game takes place in three main areas: Inside the castle; West of the river and North of a chasm. Like most of these games there are a lot of one visit only areas and opportunities to miss a vital object and make the game unwinnable. Leave nothing behind as I only found one object that is never used out of about forty.
Having bashed my head against most of the Phoenix games I feel that it is one of the less difficult ones, but compared to Quondam and Xerb almost every piece of Interactive Fiction ever written would seem easier.
Richard Bos has written a .z5 file of progressive hints for Parc. I barely had to use them which is unusual for me when playing Phoenix games.
Most of the problems can be solved by lateral thinking or a visit to Wikipedia to check out the properties of a particular chemical compound, but there is one particular problem that had me stuck for ages; having seen the solution I can confidently aver I would never have deduced it between now and the Sun becoming a Red Giant and swallowing the Solar System. Suffice to say it involves an IBM 370 Mainframe computer and a FORTRAN IV Manual. Well quite. Thirty-eight year old in-jokes do pall somewhat.
I found one proper bug involving freezing an object and a few typos but nothing to affect the playing of the game itself.
There is the traditional endgame if you manage to vanquish the Alchemist and store all 25 treasures but it is something of a let down.
If you manage to stumble on a Pig's Ear in the game (and I expect you will) it means that you have screwed up and can't win. A change from Acheton's hideous voice I suppose.
Parc is of course Crap backwards but I feel that Yhtrow would be more appropriate.
I played the game via WinFrotz v 1.19. Kudos to David Kinder, Adam Atkinson and the rest of the boys for making these old games available to play on modern pcs.
Derek has written an updated and extended version of this game for the above mentioned platform.
He has asked me to upload the new game and it is now available here.
I have also uploaded a map for the latter game on to the CASA IF site.
Holy Mother of Mary this game is tedious. You may have thought watching gravy congeal was tedious but that would be a positive adrenalin rush compared to this voyage through endless terse decriptions of cliff steps and open plains. If Stock, Aitken and Waterman had produced text adventures in the eighties, they would have made them like Epic Software.
The cynic in me feels that they inserted the same endless desriptions so that they could proudly proclaim "A game with 230 locations!" The number of locations was, of course, a big selling point back in the days of Band Aid and Wham; I myself am a big fan of old style IF on an enormous scale when it is done in an interesting and necessary way, but when it is done like this it merely magnifies the sterility of the game. Over two thirds of the locations are along the lines of "You are on an endless plain" or "You are on some cliff steps." This may be a realistic depiction of a mundane world but I don't play IF for that reason and I suspect that nobody else does neither; it is meant to be a medium of entertainment and this isn't even a very small of entertainment.
Kingdom Of Klein has a very limited two word parser, like all Epic's other releases and also lacks the EXAMINE verb, so for any puzzles that there are you just end up WAVING, THROWING or READING every item in your inventory at every locked door or magic pool until you find the correct (and often illogical) solution and thrn move on the next interminable sequence of flat plain or beach.
If you want to try a sizeable old style puzzle fest that is worthy of your precious time, try Warp, Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina, Curses!, Mirror Of Khoronz etc. but avoid Epic software games.
Dan Gahlinger is to be congratulated on his memory in recreating this long lost old VAX mainframe program. It has a lot of potential as a large, old style puzzle fest if the game is properly tested and more items available to EXAMINE.
It is unfortunately very buggy. Examining an item often gives the description of a different item you may not have found yet. EXAMINE PLANK gives you the description of a plastic card for instance, and the white candle carries the description of a bar of soap.
THROW BOTTLE caused the game to crash with a run time error. There are also numerous typos throughout the descriptions.
The best part of the game is the maze, which is described as unmappable but contains hundreds of witty sayings and gnomisms from down the ages; everything from old Jewish Jokes to Woody Allen observations.
The version is displayed as 3.5 developmental and hopefully can be redone by the author.
I don't know if all IF players of a certain age who witnessed the evolution and flowering of the inchoate genre from the late seventies / early eighties have a game (or games) which they return to for reasons of nostalgia or masochism, but mine is this one.
Having first cut my adventuring teeth on Scott Adams' Adventureland in 1983 on a friend's Vic-20, I played many of the early games both good and bad in the late eighties; this included Castle Ralf.
Like many authors of the time, Doug Clutter and Steve Vance had completed Zork I and wanted to try and outrun the boys from Infocom by forming their own company, Douglas Associates. While this was a predictably futile task, they undoubtedly did come up with a very well coded and interesting puzzle fest with precious few bugs present. Aside from the odd typo there are no glaring ones that I have ever came across in many hours of playing.
The "explore/escape from a wacky building full of contraptions" genre was of course already somewhat anachronistic by 1987 when this game was first published but it remains one of the best examples of its kind.
The robust parser rather oddly doesn't understand "take all" but does understand "drop all." On the whole however it is more than adequate and unlike many games of its type recognises most synomyms and objects in the many rooms of the eponymous castle. It also (rather atypically for its time) has a list of verbs on screen that you can access via highlighting and pressing the enter key so there is no hunting around for obscure verb / noun combinations. You can also use the COGITATE verb at many places to give you an abstract hint and boy will you need it as this game surpasses all but the Topologika games in terms of toughness but fairness in my opinion. The authors seemed to realise this and produced a hint booklet a la Topologika which is available online on this page. It runs to many many questions and answers and is designed to discourage straight through reading.
The game also features an auto mapper which can be switched on and off if you prefer not to use modern software like Trizbort and you will need it as the castle spans a basement and three floors over many more than a hundred locations. Initially the routes around the more far flung reaches of the building are time consuming to access, but as with games like Mulldoon Legacy and Curses short cuts appear to the various areas of the castle as puzzles are solved.
There are a number of complex machines scattered around the place, designed by the devious owner Dr. Bellefleur Q. Izgotcha III. One multi puzzle in particular involving a customised Skeet Shooter and a French Horn cum Crossbow spans multiple rooms filled with Heath Robinson like contraptions and more than rivals the Babel Fish puzzle from HHG in its complexity.
Many of the imaginative puzzles are more convoluted than "Do X with Y to get Z" but logically solvable with a bit (or a lot) of lateral thinking.
A dryly sparkling humour pervades the whole thing which stays just the right side of irritating. Try and COGITATE in the Long Dark Hallway for example! And apparently the Great Hall was designed by Nancy Reagan.
The game is mercifully free of mazes, hunger, thirst and light daemons and although it is possible to make the thing unwinnable in a couple of places this becomes apparent pretty quickly. Just save often. There is an inventory limit but it rarely becomes much of a problem as a chosen central silo to store all objects in is accessible from most parts of the game as it opens up.
The game runs very smoothly in my version of DosBox (0.74) and the colours are customisable.
I have to admit at this point that I have still not beaten the game after returning to it several times in the last thirty odd years, although I have recently pushed my score up to 190 points out of a possible maximum of 300. There is no walkthrough available anywhere online (something I never resort to anyway).
There are few NPCs in the game aside from an exhibitionistic Hamster, an avariciously psychotic Chihuahua and a useful ghost that I have ever come across.
There is also a strange obsession with hats which will gradually unravel as you play.
Castle Ralf was originally a competition game where the person to solve it in the least number of moves by a given date would pocket 10% of the royalties. I have no idea if this was ever claimed.
Now where is the combination to that safe...
For those of you have played Bill's two large old school offerings - "Bullhockey!" and "Bullhockey2: The Return Of The Leather Whip" "Gone Out For Gruyere" will come as a surprise.
In this game your girlfriend from the previous offerings sends you out on a mission to buy the eponymous fermented curd (you'd think after rescuing her more than once in the two previous games she would have gone out to get it herself!)
I helped to beta test this one and I really liked the surreal nature of the game (a manoeuvrable hole plays a large part) as does manipulation of a Heath Robinson type of machine.
There are nods towards a more conventional style of film noir narration (the dude with the cigarette could have come from Make It Good) and a red herring or two along the way. There are other NPCs with whom you will also have to interact to complete the game and they are all well delineated.
I have not come across any bugs in the corrected version and the game is blissfully free of inventory limits and misspellings.
There is also an interesting twist at the end of the game when you have acquired the cheese.
I would thouroughly recommend it although prepare to set aside at least a couple of hours as it isn't easy!
As a navel gazing IF puzzler of a certain age, I feel that Stephen Gorrell's neat medium sized TADS debut Recluse from 2008 deserves more trumpeting that it has hitherto received. That is, any trumpeting at all judging by a quick search. One review in over a decade doesn't suggest that it has become contemptible through familiarity.
Recluse bucks the modern IF trend, being a set of cleverly choreographed, sequenced puzzles leading to a surprisingly tangential conclusion. Surprising as the hitherto tenebrous plot suddenly takes on solid end game substance via several large screen dumps when you access the mansion. One NPC also displays chameleon like qualities late in the game.
The initial premise involves your efforts to deliver a package to a reclusive billionaire inside his mansion; after being summarily ejected using traditional methods of egress you explore the Infocom like grounds, finding various items to take and manipulate, including one early problem that had me stuck for days (Spoiler - click to show)taking the caterpillar requires a lot of repetition....
I liked the user friendly nature of play; no time or inventory limits, a warning if you have put the game into an unwinnable position (a rare occurrence thanks to its cleverly constructed nature) and built-in hints.
There are a sprinkling of misspellings and a few grammatical errors (again why these things aren't spell checked is beyond me when so much effort is put into other facets of the game) but nothing to really dilute the enjoyment of the game.
The ending of the game suggests a sequel, but as eleven years have now passed without one I imagine that the author has moved on to pastures new, although I can find no more examples of his IF creativity anywhere.
Rather like the only guy still wearing flared jeans on the bus, Recluse may be old fashioned but the denim is of fine quality.
This is a rather good, rather large slice of old skool gothic puzzlefest by Paul Johnson. There are nods a plenty towards Curses! and Mulldoon Legacy here (obstinate cat, formal garden, pirate ship, battlements and assorted hidden passages, steps and chambers) but it stops short of outright plagiarism.
Your goal to begin with is unknown, but there is the traditional castle to break into and the story slowly unravels, although the real reason for your determination to enter the castle will not become apparent until near the climax of the game.
You have to collect four items during the course of the game, rather like the rods in Curses! before you can begin to think about your final showdown with the eponymous baddie.
The descriptions of decay, death and ubiquitous grand guignol grate after a while and are sometimes a little too florid and a little too repetitive to prevent the shock value being diluted.
Many of the problems are totally logical and not too difficult, although the final scenes see the difficulty level take a sharp uphill turn; there is one action in particular you need to perform in an area that you have no real reason to visit.
The author has an obvious love of antique furniture and art as a plethora of these objects are lovingly described throughout the game, juxtaposed effectively against the pervading atmosphere of decay. Indeed, the decay of these priceless paintings and other objets d'art is described with far more plangency than the discovery of the dead or dying.
The whole is mercifully free of any inventory or time limit (just as well as you will end up with a considerable variety of items to port around) and contains only a handful of typos and other grammatical errors, none of which really downgrade the game play value.
It is possible to put the game into an unwinnable position but not easily, and where this is the case there is usually a warning hidden away in one of the many inscriptions and messages you will find in charts, above doorways etc. In this game more than most, examine and search everything.
The ending certainly surprised me but that is for the player to discover.
All in all, an excellent parser based distraction which will keep you occupied for some time.
The above is an old MAC game purportedly having new life breathed into it and available as an enhanced z code game.
Unfortunately it has all the old frustrations of pre "Bill Of Rights" days.
Limited Inventory Limit? Check. You can carry approximately seven items despite there being over twenty five portable objects in the first fifteen locations that I visited.
Sudden Death? Check. You may never see Gone With The Wind in the same light again. Lordy lordy Miss Scarlett.
Time Limit? Check. This is obviously a large game but all ended after 334 moves.
It's a shame as this could have been a good game with the above issues addressed and a thorough proof reading. Why oh why is it so difficult to spell check a document?
But frankly as it is my dear, I just don't give a damn.
There is an old saying by George Santayana which goes something like "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." There can be little condemnation when new authors produce old style work as entertaining and skilful as this, regardless of whether you consider puzzlefests part of the past or still worthy of current consideration as I certainly do.
The game runs via a Glulx interpreter and can also be played online; just check out this year's Spring Thing page.
It is a sequel to the author's Bullhockey game which was released last year but needs no prior knowledge of that game to enjoy, although it shares some locations and protagonists. I would recommend that game as well.
As in the previous game, the hero(?) of our story wakes to discover that his beloved girlfriend Natalie has been abducted from the apartment which they share in the run down town of Bunco Springs and sets out to find her, convinced she has been kidnapped by the evil sorceress of the first game who, he discovers, has just busted out of prison.
I felt a strong empathy with Tom, who is in every way a believably decent, flawed everyman. Try and steal something and you will see what I mean.
The picaresque story moves along at an enjoyable lick in three distinct acts, never rushing the plot and allowing for a real sense of "world immersion." Seldom these days do you have any kind of large canvas to paint detail on and to enhance the realism, the modern trend being to produce pretty cameos. Bullhockey 2: The Return Of The Leather Whip achieves the Old Master effect very well, buildings being realistically depicted in their scope. There are large areas of the game that need careful exploring and mapping, and therein lies much of the game's old school charm. Corridors are just that; long and often prosaic, but all part of the elaborate weave of the plot.
Those of an impatient, I want my dinner now! mindset may learn a thing or two. The rest of us will enjoy a throwback to the days of wrestling with the likes of Mulldoon Legacy, Curses! and Trinity. I have no hesitation in praising this game as highly as that holy trinity (no pun intended). It is also of a similar size to those games, being over 120 locations in all and the descriptions informative and entertaining without being unnecessarily prolix. It even features some "stepping out of the present" dream sequences which reminded me of Curses! in particular.
There are a number of interesting and well delineated NPCs, both friends and foes, my favourite being the pulchritudinous Judith; I wish I had a neighbour like that.
Bullhockey 2: The Return Of The Leather Whip is not an easy game, although the puzzles are generally logical and feel like part of the story rather than stand alone scenarios. There is a point near the start of the game however, (Spoiler - click to show) involving purchasing a newspaper that had me stuck for a while and that I know stumped some other people too.
The coding of the game is excellent, with the odd typo and left over bug now corrected by the author (I helped here a bit I must admit!) and no problems with inventory limits or hunger / sleep / thirst / lamp light daemons the likes of which so often plagued games of this type in days gone by. And no mazes!
One interesting option the author has included is the THINK ABOUT command. This enables our modern day Quixote to momentarily pause his windmill tilting and consider objects, locations and characters he has met. Some of the responses are important to the progression of the story.
The denouement really surprised me as it goes against all that I had been expecting. Suffice to say that the fourth wall is breached and I feel confident in saying you will never guess the outcome.
Load it up and if you're like me, get out the A3 sketch pad and pen and prepare to immerse yourself in Bunco Springs. Just never stay the night in the local hotel.
I have just finished struggling with Peter Emery's updated old school puzzlefest Birmingham IV, originally written via the Quill in 1988 and updated for the 2018 competition as a .gblorb file.
If you are a fan of large (109 locations) parser based puzzlefests filled with logic problems and medieval scenery / objects, this game is undoubtedly for you; I am certainly of that ilk. The puzzles are hard but fair, with one or two possible exceptions. (Spoiler - click to show) Using the cat to dispose of characters without getting eaten yourself for instance .
If however, you worship at the Twine altar and dislike inventory limits, exits not fully described, sudden death endings and manifold red herrings you would do well to avoid.
The author's love and deep knowledge of time and place become evident as you uncover much that seems arcane to the modern eye, and more than once I was sent scurrying to Wikipedia to look up the meaning (and hence possible use) of the latest medieval trinket I had unearthed.
You start in modern rainy day Midlands, theses strewn over the floor but quickly slumber into a bucolic medieval setting. Your dingy bedsit has become an austere but spacious cottage reflecting your monastic, didactic choice of life; an existentialist dream maybe.
It is not immediately clear what your mission in life is, and you blunder around a large map collecting objects and meeting mostly antagonistic NPCS; as previously mentioned there is a small inventory limit (a sign of the game's age) which is a pain and means you will have to spend some time hiking backwards and forwards to collect and drop items. This is not helped by the fact that many items are totally useless but you will not become aware of this until the end of the game in most cases.
Mapping is a prerequisite because as mentioned some exits are not described.
Three missives will explain to you your mission and the puzzles generally speaking become harder as the game progresses. A magic system becomes slowly available to you as you explore but be careful where you use it!
One psychaedelic section of the game (you'll know it when you encounter it) is more than vaguely reminiscent of the Phoenix Topologika games, and Jonathan Partington's Acheton game in particular. This section took me ages to hack through but I must say is very cleverly constructed. You'll need your wordsmith's hat on is all I will say.
The game is divided into seven sections and you can only reach the next one after completing the previous one, beware however it is possible to abrogate Graham Nelson's Bill of Rights by making the game unwinnable. An example comes right at the start but should soon become obvious if you've made the wrong choice. Save often.
The writing is on the whole evocative without being unnecessarily prolix, although I did encounter a handful of typos, together with one amusing bug involving (Spoiler - click to show) the cauldron of stew in the Spotted Dog Inn.
And what's this with the watery eyes?
As an adjunct to your moral crusade there are also a number of treasures to collect along the way.
The end game throws up an interesting moral choice between altruism and greed; which road will you take?
All in all a well written puzzlefest for this nostalgic fifty something to enjoy.
Avoid this game like the plague. One of those complacent "wacky" pieces where aadvarks sleep on washing machines and Octopii carry paintings by Dali. Why not have Christopher Columbus fighting a cucumber or several sea lions reciting T.S. Eliot with spoons on their heads? Given the size of this thing, they may well be in there. You deserve the Queen's award for gallantry if you make it far enough to find out.
The game tries to be funny but isn't; most of the attempts at humour are just weird. For example early in the game you find a half eaten mousse on a kitchen table.
....it's only serious contender in the "I stay in the kitchen" stakes was a sausage-on-a-stick present at the Harlesden Glow Worm Regatta, 1982.
There are acres of this kind of free form rubbish. Examining a kettle spews forth a similar torrent of surreal mish mash. Whether the author thinks of himself as Spike Milligan, a member of the Monty Python team or Douglas Adams I'm not sure, but he fails on all fronts. Avant garde humour can be used sparingly and thus with deftness in skilled hands; once you've seen one clockwork shark though you don't need a whole menagerie of surreal beasties.
Beyond the all pervading "designed by a clever wacky student" smugness is a poor parser which frustrates in many locations; at one point in a tunnel you find a computer with a display. A sign proclaims that it requires a number to be typed in. The parser, however, does not understand the verb "type" on its own or any number either.
Type 1 on computer - "Not numeric format."
Type one on computer - Not numeric format."
Type 1 - " I do not understand the word 1."
And again in another room - a Games Room with an octopus who makes you play a game involving the removal of fourteen sweets from a plinth and the loser takes the last one.
Of course to win the game you have to say "Moccasin Beehive." Oh you merry student prankster you.
"Take sweet" - I can't see the sweet.
"Take two sweets" - I can't see the sweet.
Aaaargh - you just told me there are fourteen of the bloody things on the plinth in front of me!
"Put sweet in satchel" elicits an Adrift error "Bad Expression %object1%. Size"
At this point I realised the game was being philanthropic towards me by closing itself down. I really had suffered enough.
A bit like the Cryptic Crossword Puzzle compilers who create the puzzles in the heavier journals here in the UK, I tend to have my favourite IF authors, the ones who are on my wavelength and the ones who seem to see the world from the same side of the looking glass as myself. Birds of a feather and all that. For instance, I have always found Andy Phillips's games easier than a lot of other people seem to, whereas Andrew Plotkin's masterpieces have always left me struggling for air and inspiration, my persecution complex making me feel like he was having yet another Roman Holiday at my expense whenever I tried another work from his oeuvre.
Having played (and in the second instance completed) two of Jim Aikin's earlier games, the sprawling and atmospheric old style puzzlefest Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina and the medium sized but more comical A Flustered Duck I approached Lydia's Heart with some idea of how his puzzles are created and solved (very intricate, get 'a' so that 'b' can unlock 'c' thus releasing 'd' who gives you 'e' by way of thanks and with which you can bribe 'f'.... but also with the realisation that his mind, like Plotkin's, is hard wired differently to mine.
It quickly became evident upon starting Lydia's Heart that here is Aikin the storyteller, making a marked sea change towards what is often considered better (i.e. more narrative driven) IF and no longer an ocean away from the direction that my mind tends to be sailing.
You could argue that there is a certain despairing similarity between the cold, bleak and sinister Shopping Mall in Ballerina and the cloyingly decayed rural hovel of Heart, but whereas the former is little more than a finite (albeit very large) games board upon which Aikin can plant his clever snares and traps, the latter appears (in the First and Third Acts at least) as a place in which a story can unfold and therefore seems bigger despite occupying far fewer locations; as if the young female protagonist would fall off the end of the world should she try to leave Eternal Springs, doomed like Eustacia Vye attempting to leave Egdon Heath in Thomas Hardy's The Return Of The Native.
The NPC's in this game (of which there are quite a few) are not as static as is often the case, and the more you communicate with them the more you become aware of something very sinister deep in the heart of old Dixie. Slowly Hardy or Tennessee Williams becomes Lovecraft. Of the characters, my favourite (and I suspect Aikins's too) is the talentless wannabee Nashville warbler Honey, who gets all the best lines: "Honestly, I think I’d forget my boobs if they weren’t a hundred percent real." “My career?” Honey arches her back so her breasts stick out. “I’ve just released my very first CD. Maybe I mentioned that." Morally ambiguous characters are also rarae aves in IF, so David is also an interesting addition. Torn between selling his soul to regain his health and his innate revulsion of what he must do to achieve it, he is uniquely vulnerable within the framework of the story.
Not everyone is againt you as you will slowly realise, and although the game is not studded with sudden death endings at this point you must still be careful what you are carrying when entering into colloquy with anyone, as one unconcealed item can be your downfall. Fortunately you will certainly stumble across the almost ubiquitous, bottomless carrying device early on which for some reason no-one ever questions you about. On the whole the inventory system works quite well with only occasional annoyances.
There are still a number of difficult but fair puzzles to solve in this part of the game, but they fit in so well with the narrative that they don't feel like a contrived caravanserai of brain teasers in a puzzle book as in some of Aikin's previously cited work. They are there to lubricate the plot, not as stand alone set pieces of logic.
Then suddenly, should you progress far enough through the narrative you are plunged into the Second Act if you will, a world of mazes, statues, scorpions and locked cabinets that feels much more like old style Aikin again. This section contains a few stern posers, and one particular leap of intuition which I wouldn't think many people would make (Spoiler - click to show)One of the red jewels on the pedestals is actually Lydia's heart and you need to have the locket open, worn and point at it with the monkey beside you to get it and I was reduced on a couple of occasions to checking out the extremely well constructed Hints section. You can only reveal answers to problems in parts of the game you have encountered, much more satisfying than a mere walkthrough.
The denouement of the game seems to me to have been a bit more hastily written. For the first time a few minor bugs appear(Spoiler - click to show)you find the pouch of leaves in the hole every time you search it as if it were the first time, and when you are in the power boat or the rowboat it tells you that they are too far away to be searched.
The limits of credibility are occasionally stretched to snapping point as well during the end game; those chasing you at one point would have to be thicker than several hundred short planks not to follow your trail successfully(Spoiler - click to show)through the trapdoor in Cabin four to the cellar.There is also an object you will need right at the very end of the game which, if you manage to find it or even realise that you needed it, must make you more of a deity capable of Dei Ex Machina gestures than the one contained in the game.
The ending came as a bit of a disappointment as it would have been nice to see the bad guys get their come uppance, but I left the game feeling much more like I'd interacted with something linear than completed another of those "Crossword Puzzles" and that can only be a more rewarding thing.
The parser and the writing are as accomplished as we have come to expect from Mr. Aikin.
In summary, and despite the few caveats mentioned, a splendid addition to the IF canon and one guaranteed to keep you you engrossed for hours. Four stars.