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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.
Related reviews: Puzzlefest ParserComp Mazes Puzzlefest Old School Large
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...
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 46 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.
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