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1-3 of 3

Castle Elsinore, by Charles A. Crayne, Dian Crayne

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Large Puzzlefest With Pseudonymous Author, March 31, 2023
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Randomised Combat, Treasure Hunt, Mazes, Shakesperean, Large, DOS

Despite the author's name at the top of this particular game it seems to have been written by Dian Crayne, a prolific science fiction and text adventure author who released several games in the early eighties under the Temple and Norell Data Systems software labels.

Most of the games use a structure akin to the old Colossal Cave game, with a thief (masquerading as a swordsman here) a pirate (a seaman in this particular game) several mazes and randomised combat, in this case noblemen instead of dwarves. Keep on the move and you should be able to avoid any bloodletting on your part.

Castle Elsinore was the last of Dian's games and probably the best. Some others like Granny's Place are unfinishable because of bugs.

The version I played came from 1983 although there is an archived version from 1992.

The quest takes you back to Shakespearean England in 1602 and your task is to collect sixteen treasures while placating various members of the Royal Family and solving a tightly timed endgame.

Mapping is essential as the forest in particular zig zags all over the place and the gardens and cellars are similarly disorientating. It weighs in at over a hundred locations and the descriptions are quite compelling in places. As you solve puzzles, different areas of the castle become linked by hidden passages and moving walls. My particular favourite here is the secret passageway from the King's Chamber to the Maid's Quarters.

You will meet the guilt-ridden King Claudius, a depressed Hamlet, a quidnunc Polonius, what is left of Yorick (alas!) and the Queen amongst other characters. They are however pretty one-dimensional and really only serve as human locked doors to standard puzzles. You also have to commit an act of manslaughter against an individual.

The game has a fairly large inventory limit and a lamp timer, although it can be refilled and should not present a problem.

The hardest puzzles come right at the end, one involving a time delay and another solving an obscure riddle.

I came across a few bugs but nothing that made the game unfinishable. The shopkeeper appears to change sex (although that seems acceptable nowadays!) the SWEEP and CLEAN commands elicit a blank parser response and items dropped in the castle mysteriously reappear in the crotch of a tree in the forest but can't be taken from there. I only came across one object which doesn't seem to play a role in the game.

I played via DOSBox-X which has scope for ten saved game slots and these are necessary as you are likely to die at the tip of a nobleman's sword more than once.

It took me about seven hours playing time to complete and I enjoyed it although as an inveterate map maker that's not surprising. I have only played one other of Dian's games, namely Hermit's Secret and I found Castle Elsinore to be rather easier.

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Ferret, by

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Ferret - A Forty Year Journey Through The History Of Text Adventures, March 29, 2023
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Science Fiction, Apocalypse, Enormous, DOS

Ferret is in some ways a unique game in the fifty-odd year history of the text adventure; in others it is decidedly old fashioned.

The background story is that you, Brian O. Darkins, have awakened from a cryogenic coma in which you were placed at your relatives' request in the hope that the fatal virus from which you were suffering could be cured in some future age. You awake you know not where, nor why.

Created by a group of anonymous authors on an obscure 16-bit minicomputer back in the days just before the micro revolution it seems to have started out as an attempt (as so many games of its time were) to trump the early markers in the genre, namely Advent and Zork. Indeed, the first eight phases of this enormous game follow a familiar path to the games of the time. The science fiction narrative is definitely playing second fiddle to the puzzles. The puzzles themselves tend to be very hard, and must have been nigh on impossible in the days before Google. Chess end games, degree level mathematical posers and sundry mazes meld with clever logistical problems.

Another unique feature of the game is the number of red herrings scattered about. Only much trial and error will reveal which items are needed and which superfluous. On the other hand there are several bottlenecks in the game where one can carry almost nothing onwards and these do act as a useful filter. At least you know you have left nothing vital behind at these locations.

The different writing styles and types of puzzle are clear as you travel through these early parts of the game.

One can hear the evolutionary tick of the modern IF era clock from Phase Nine onwards as the post acocalyptic Cold War story really kicks in and the narrative swells.

One way travel from here to Phase Sixteen is via an old train locomotive which chugs through the once affluent parts of SE England; English players will no doubt recognise the pleasant, leafy names of Sunningdale, Virginia Water, Epsom etc. These examples are cleverly juxtaposed with the contemporary apocalyptic wasteland that has transformed expensive Surrey, Kent and Berkshire postal addresses from all to die for des res locales into a monochrome desolation. In a similar vein all the NPCs you meet (and there are very few) are not alive. A silent automaton provides your only temporary companion and the only voices you will hear are mechanised ones from long dead sources and emanating from damaged machines.

Like Shelley's Ozymandius: "Nothing beside remains."

Every piece of equipment encountered, every window view is of a broken, anti-holistic world. We are indeed a far cry now from the early IF landscape. For caves, trolls and scrolls we have blasted buildings with their curtain walls jaggedly exposed, piles of mangled dead bodies and torn and slimy papers and documents.

To somewhat counterbalance the rather desolate mood of the game there is an homage to English comedic culture viz. The Goon Show and another phase is based around a cult science fiction TV series from the late seventies, namely Blake's Seven.

An odd feature of the game is that certain information to solve a problem in, say, Phase Ten will be discovered in Phase Fourteen, and sometimes these revelations entail visiting no exit locations. As a consequence of this need for backtracking it is a prerequisite to keep manifold saved games handy. You can also make use of command files where you can build a rerun of a section of the game by loading a file of preconfigured text. Other useful commands include "Notify" which informs you of each increase in your score and also "Test" which will run a cycle of various verbs on selected objects.

I found the multi word parser to be a very good one and recent updates to the current version at the time of writing to 10.3 have included the ability to chain multiple commands by using commas. There is also a lot of ASCII art contained in the game which fleshes out the various pieces of equipment and modes of transport that one encounters. In this respect it is very similar to another large mainframe game, Warp.

I had a constant dialogue with the authors which enabled me to send them details of any bugs (not many) and also to receive hints which were more than necessary in certain places. Indeed the story goes on as they are currently beavering (ferreting?) away at Phase Seventeen at the moment.

I thoroughly enjoyed my six months or so playing the game and look forward to future updates.

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The Castle of Hornadette, by Stephen J. Konig

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
It Was Never Like This For Bond, November 23, 2021
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: DOS, Puzzle Based, Parser, Castle

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.

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