Reviews by Canalboy

Time Travel

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Quondam, by Rod Underwood and Peter Killworth

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
The Toughest Game Of All?, February 27, 2024

Robb Sherwin once observed quite sagely about Zork that the game actively hates its player. That may well be so; in which case Quondam wishes to eviscerate the player, gouge his / her eyes out and wrap one's entrails around one's neck while forcing said player to watch the Father Dowling Mysteries box set plus extras. What we have here is unequivocally the hardest text adventure that I have ever played in my forty years of puzzling. Compared to most of the Phoenix oeuvre it is compact in size but almost every location provides ample scope to die or misuse an item in one's inventory.

This was the third of the seventeen games written on the Phoenix mainframe in 1980 by the author Rod Underwood. It appears to have been his only foray into the world of text adventure creation but he indelibly left his mark with this one. The original mainframe version is sadly lost (like Andrew Lipson's Xerb and Alex Shipp and Steve Tinney's Hezarin) and it only survives thanks to a Peter Killworth port to the BBC. We have no way of knowing how much the original version differed from the BBC Acornsoft version but you can be sure it was ball-breakingly hard as well.

I played this game after finally nailing Acheton, Hezarin and Castle of Riddles from the same Cambridge stable and was fairly convinced that no game could be tougher than that holy trinity of mind exploders. I was wrong.

The game itself is the traditional treasure hunt (up to a maximum of 250 points) with an interesting time travel theme, hence the title which is Latin for former. You need to collect all of the treasures available and deposit them somewhere, but finding out where is like attempting to untie the Gordian Knot. Suffice to say that some puzzles should be attended to in the present day and some in the past. And at least one in the past and also in the present. Exactly. This game has more obscure verbs and off the wall object manipulation than any I have come across in forty years of text adventures. I have currently visited 72 locations and have discovered 28 ways to die, many of which almost lapse into parody. There are also many ways to lock yourself out of winning, both obvious or not. Indeed it is possible to make the game unwinnable in your first move!

All the tropes of early games are here, including massive turn critical mazes and outrageous puns. It's just that in this game, like the giant spiders on the web maze, they come at you in swarms filling just about every location. As if these obstacles didn't make your task difficult enough, the game uses some objects in totally unexpected ways. I found myself desperately trying all kinds of obscure commands to boldly go where no parser has gone before and some of them actually worked. Having played around five hundred text adventures in my time I have successfully used three verbs in this game that I have never used before and I guarantee that you have never utilised a mirror or a harp in the ways necessary in this game. When stuck try anything and it may just work. The knight, the fanged customs official, the Spanish Inquisition (I wasn't expecting that) a man-eating vegetable being and the dragon are all puzzles that require endless experimentation to overcome and the solutions to each are unique in the text adventure canon as far as I know. There are a couple of apparently illogical answers to puzzles as well; one in the apothecary's shop makes no sense to me even though I solved it; I'd tried everything else and found the answer by default. Another oddity is that some objects are deliberately described in a misleading way. One in particular has two different descriptions depending from which direction you came when you found it for the first time. Approach it from the wrong way (which isn't clear) and you have soft locked the game without realising it. Unfair? You bet.

Aside from the incredible toughness of the game and the necessity to perform actions in an exact order you can even die typing save or attempting to use an object. The desert affords you all of two moves before you die of thirst, in fact when you drink water the game responds with "your thirst is removed" then avers "you are thirsty" in the same move. Boy that is one dry desert. There is also an unmappable area of trackless forest in which you must thrash about until finally emerging into familiar territory.

Playing via the BeebEm emulator at least allows you to save without it costing you a move as it did in the original. As I have spent a lot of time racing around a spider's web with the residents only one move behind me this at least has made things slightly easier than it was for those masochistic souls playing on their BBC micros back in the day.

It has the standard T/SAL two word parser and no examine command plus an inventory limit of eight objects. I have come across two items that have multiple uses thus far so discard nothing that you find. Some treasures double up as tools for solving puzzles and all are suffixed by an exclamation mark in the manner of the day. There is an inventory limit of eight objects so you will need to work out how to manipulate the in-game system for leaving items and picking them up later at a different location. Some areas of the game are closed off after your initial visit so you'll need to carefully consider which items you haul around with you in any given area. I have so far discovered 36 takeable items.

This game is described with classic understatement as being for advanced players. That is rather like describing World War 2 as a spot of fistycuffs.

An update: I have now finally completed the game and can quite honestly say that this is the most difficult text adventure game that I have ever played. I make it 35 ways to die in 79 locations. It has the most obscure verbs, the most tortuous inventory manipulation and the most soft and hard locks as well.

All this aside I would recommend it for die hard purists like myself as it has enough clever puzzles to satisfy the most avid dissectologist.

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Gorm, by Chris Allen

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Gorm - A Large Historical Time Travel Game , September 5, 2023
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Archimedes, Large, Time Travel

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.

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