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1-6 of 6


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.


Kingdom of Hamil, by Jonathan Partington

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Kingdom Of Hamil - Jonathan Partington Shows Signs Of Mercy, April 20, 2021
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Phoenix, Topologika, Mainframe, Kingdom of Hamil, Parser

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

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Parc - Old Phoenix Mainframe Game From 1983, March 18, 2021
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Mainframe, Phoenix, Treasure Hunt, Alchemist, Parser

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.


Warp, by Rob Lucke and Bill Frolik

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Warp - Enormous Game And Enormous Fun, November 28, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Warp, Mainframe, Large, Parser, Treasure Hunt

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.





Recluse, by Stephen Gorrell

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Recluse - Excellent Medium Sized Puzzler In Tads, June 20, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Infocom, Puzzle Fest, Parser, Quest.

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.


Dracula - Prince of Darkness (formerly "House of the Midnight Sun"), by Paul T. Johnson

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Dracula - Prince Of Darkness formerly House Of The Midnight Sun, June 12, 2019
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: parser, puzzlefest, Gothic, Curses!, Mulldoon Legacy, vampire

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.



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