Spheres of Chaos is a rara avis indeed - that is a large text only RISC OS adventure consisting of over 250 locations written by Chris Grant in 1994 (his only adventure as far as I can see) and I played it via the RPCEmu Emulator.
It is a linear odyssey with the goal to collect seven spheres of chaos scattered throughout an impoverished rural kingdom in an indefinite (seventeenth century?) bygone age and then to harness their power to prevent an evil king using them to his nefarious ends.
The white text on black background display is easy on the eye and the excellent location descriptions show that the author has a real eye for creating a believable milieu. The game also features sixteen NPCS which is more than most adventures of its kind; these range from friendly ones (the Giant and the Hermit) to those of a less philanthropic bent (the somewhat incongruous Lager Lout who vacillates between trying to kill you and calling you his best mate). Most of them can be addressed and often they proffer up useful information or objects; some need bribing. Generally "say x to y" covers all conversational bases although I struggled with the jungle king and his guard. Some of the NPCs appear to possess an adventurous spirit as they wander quite widely across the game's canvas; I once stumbled across the farmer tidying up in the network of caves - I have a strong suspicion his ambit should not exceed the farmhouse. Another NPC (the shambling mummy) seems to be directly lifted from the mainframe giant Acheton although I doubt if it has had the pleasure of meeting Mike Oakley.
The landscape itself is split up into several regions, namely a windmill surrounded by corn fields, a large forest, a lake with a water mill and central island, an interesting "city in the sky" constructed of bridges and tree houses high in the trees of a forest, an overgrown crater, a large castle replete with cesspit (don't try swimming!) and a village. Some of the regions cannot be revisited so it is important to work out which objects you need when leaving one particular region as the inventory limit is set at six and is predicated on number, not weight. There are three objects for which there appear to be no use and a few small mazes but they can be entered and exited fairly quickly via random movements with the exception of the small maze in the mine which can be mapped in the old fashioned way by dropping objects.
Given the size of the game the actual puzzles themselves are not great in number and I can't help but feel that the acquisition of the spheres could have been made more interesting and difficult as none require strong powers of reasoning to acquire, with the exception of the Sphere of Despair. Maybe my exposure to much tougher mainframe adventures recently has improved my forensic abilities but few people should be stumped by the puzzles contained herein.
There are a few bugs scattered throughout the game, i.e. you can carry all seven spheres if you drop all and take all but only six of them if you pick them up one by one. Another annoying feature is that the HELP command admonishes you for your stupidity and exits the game play session. There is also only scope for one saved position so I ended up moving saved game states and renaming them as back ups.
The parser is run of the mill and recognises EXAMINE and TAKE ALL. The game has no score or progress indicator but does exhibit an occasional dry wit, i.e. attempting to kill someone who is not present elicits, "There is no-one here to kill. What a shame."
Overall an interesting and none to easy diversion but most of the problems come from the sheer size of the game, working out which items to carry on to the next region and the phrasing of commands when addressing the NPCs. I recommend drawing a map as some regions are difficult to reconnoitre from memory. Interestingly there are no dark regions at all and no hunger or thirst timers. I can't think of a similar sized game with no light source whatsoever.
Gorm, written by Chris Allen for which he was paid the princely sum of £40 and appearing as a cover disc on a 1994 edition of Achimedes World is an unusual game for its time in some ways. It is a very large (over 300 locations) and easy to screw up puzzle fest that feels more like a game from a decade earlier. Having said that, the strong parser does feel more like a modern game as do the large number of NPCs with which you have to engage.
The game was written for the Archimedes PC in 1994 as a way of avoiding studying for exams. What better motive could anyone need?
The back story involves a sinister plot by one Baron Boris who intends to unleash Project GORM (Genocidal Organisation of the Release of the Maelstrom) and take over the eponymous town. A boy has been born who can thwart the prince but he is dangerously ill after being poisoned by the said Baron in the first phase of the game set in 1794. The player has to travel forward in time to find penicillin and bring it back in time to save the boy's life.
According to the author there are four time zones although I must confess to only having found two so far; 1794 and 1994. Transporting oneself involves some extremely tough puzzle solving to finally create (or have created) time warps as tunnels between the different ages. It certainly reminds me of Jonathan Partington's Avon which also reused the same locations in different times. The town of Gorm sprawls over approximately 80 locations and there is a very large whitewashed police station replete with labyrinthine corridors and a magical maze to be tackled quite early on in the game. It is also interesting to compare how a posh house became a museum on the same site 200 years later, and a dance school becomes a car park. Who remembers the Kinks' Come Dancing?
As mentioned it is extremely easy to soft lock the game. If you give an inappropriate object as a present or a bribe to an NPC they secrete it away and it is gone forever; ergo much experimentation and many saved games are the order of the day.
The parser understand TAKE ALL and DROP ALL and multiple commands separated by a comma; it also has a fairly lenient inventory maximum of 10 objects . This is likely to be fully utilised as the game has many, many objects ranging from a wooden wheel in 1794 to an aspirin in 1994. Much of the experimentation comes from testing old artefacts in a newer environment and vice versa.
There are a few real time puzzles, including one where you have to commit unprovoked murder (what larks) and you also have to get yourself arrested to progress the game in the first age.
I came across one flagrant bug where a dead NPC reappears to re-solve an early puzzle which has been solved already. This seemed to occur if I dropped too many objects in one location. It doesn't however affect game play. There are several typos and grammatical infelicities but none really affected my enjoyment of the game.
It is downloadable as an .adf file from the if archive. I am playing on the RPCEmu emulator v 0.9.4 on which it works very quickly and smoothly.
IF you like your IF long and hard I can thoroughly recommend this game. I suspect it will be many hours before I finish.
I have completed the game and uploaded a map to CASA. A puzzle near the conclusion of the game had me stumped for a while (involving an ill old lady) until I had that eureka! moment that makes text adventures worth playing.
CJ Coombs Adventure 200 can hold its head high amongst its peers; most of them will have had much more memory to utilise and develop a coherent story even if all that underpins them is "explore a strange land and collect the king's missing treasures."
The 220 odd locations in here seem well connected and believable, and the author manages to wring a fair amount of atmosphere out of the necessarily short room descriptions.
The game is very easy to soft lock as certain objects, once picked up can not be put down again. As there is a fair amount of sneaking past guards involved it is often necessary to leave a tempting item where it is until you stumble upon a scenario where you might need it.
There are some beautiful set piece puzzles contained herein; one involving entering a firedamp filled mine and having to both find a way to start a machine that clears the gas then later turning it on again to thwart a pursuer is worthy of the Phoenix mainframe boys at Cambridge.
Choreographing the correct order in which to tackle the rather difficult puzzles is half the fun here.
The game is stuffed with mazes both great and small. You could argue there are eight although only one is very large. Dropping objects to map them works very well.
Mercifully there is no lamp timer or inventory limit which is refreshing to see in a game from 1982.
Oddly DESCRIBE works to glean more information about an item rather than EXAMINE.
All in all I would thoroughly recommend this tricky but fun treasure hunt. I also came across zero misspellings and grammatical mistakes.
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 with one major exception - the machine with buttons. 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...
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.
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.
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.
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.