Avon, the 1982 game from the Phoenix stable which released fifteen 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.
On the whole I enjoyed this game; I like Dian's games in general but this one ratchets up the story and the atmosphere as you progress while containing some very devious puzzles. It has a much better back story than Dian's Castle Elsinore for instance which was written just afterwards.
There is a steep augmentation in puzzle difficulty towards the end and you have to pay particular attention to character motivation and the back history of your (and others) erstwhile existence to logically solve the last section. There is a jaw dropping moment when you enter a certain location and find out who you are. Dian's skills as an author stand her in good stead here over the 170 odd locations in the game; it is not easy melding a treasure hunt with a Phantom Of The Opera style story but this is one of the better hybrids that I have played.
On the down side there are a few bugs including my bug bear of a non-described ordinal exit and a creature that can be slain but upon returning to the scene of the battle is dead yet still alive (no, not like Leonard Cohen). The knife wielding maniacs become tiresome after their third or fifth appearance as well. I also encountered a couple of parser struggles but in a game this size and with only a two word parser this is excusable and I found the right synonym after a few attempts in both instances. There are a number of magic words and transportation locations to save on lamp time which is generously dished out at 1000 moves. And in keeping with its reverential nods to Crowther and Woods there is a last lousy point which makes more sense than in the original. Just be on your toes or you'll miss the boat.
The inventory limit is predicated on weight not number of objects which is of course more realistic but the short cuts to the more far flung reaches of the game mean that it is never too onerous a task to pick up an object dropped earlier through overload. There is the game's equivalent of the thieving pirate but you have to let him steal from you at least once to glean all the treasures.
Add a couple of small but navigable mazes and this should keep you busy for a good few days.
I have just finished play testing Derek Haslam's new version of this game for RISC OS emulators. Thirty-nine years after the original Acornsoft version was released the author has extensively rewritten and expanded the game into a highly entertaining 296 room odyssey to claim the magical Talisman of Khoronz and return with it to Carraway Court (together with various assorted plunder you have accumulated along your quixotic way). Freeing himself from the memory shackles of the old 32K BBC the programmer has been able to produce a much more interesting and absorbing experience.
I have seldom played a text adventure which has the almost perfect melding of back story and puzzle fest. Derek is a natural writer and the world of the island of Karos (together with sundry small islands scattered around its coast) is woven skilfully around the story of the wizard Khoronz and his battle against the evil Vork.
The game encompasses many regions, from snowy mountain passes to treacherous swamps (watch what you are wearing) and thick forest. A castle sitting on a remote island, a deep and hazardous coal mine traversing a large underground region and stone barrows containing hidden clues are all to be explored and the game also features many NPCs, both friendly and informative ones who will impart essential information, sell you essential items (the barter system is de rigueur in some cases) and sometimes kill you. There are volcanic eruptions, sea monsters, wolves and kobolds to deal with, together with the most original use for an anvil that I have ever come across. It is possible to circumnavigate the island of Karos on a craft and there are several landing spots but be careful as it is very easy to drown on needle rocks or be sucked into a whirlpool amongst other entry points to Davy Jones's Locker. You will need a certain amount of nautical know-how to manoeuvre the boat correctly.
One unusual facet of the game is movement. In the main part of the island the normal eight compass directions plus up and down and occasionally in and out are used but indoors and occasionally at the more far flung regions left, right, forwards and backwards are used. This took me a while to perfect but it actually works very well once you get your head around the logistical concept.
The game does feature a very generous lamp timer, a continually descending number of energy points (you start with 1000 and lose one for each move or occasionally more at sea) but these can be replenished in several ways. There are no thirst or hunger timers. I particularly like the lamp icon which appears in the top left hand corner of the screen to remind you if it is on or off.
The inventory limit is set at a very high number and realistically heavier objects are more difficult to carry; indeed one can only be dragged. Almost every item has at least one use so discard nothing. Occasionally you will receive a helpful message stating that an item is no longer needed after you have used it for a particular task.
I finally finished after approximately fifteen upgraded versions and amassed over a thousand points although there was one treasure I did not collect along the way.
The fully released final version will include an incremented hint system at certain locations where continually typing "hint" or "help" will give you clues of gradually increasing helpfulness. This function is likely to get a fair amount of use as the puzzles in the game are sometimes far from easy but always fair. I don't think that it is possible to put the game into an unwinnable state without the player being aware of the fact.
I would definitely advise creating a map as the island is so large you will get lost on more than one occasion and the layout may even suggest a problem solution or two.
I thoroughly recommend giving this Tolkienesque work a go. Details of where to download the game are available on CASA. It can also be downloaded from Derek's web site http://www.boulsworth.co.uk/intfict/index.htm
Cave of Blunders, sorry Wonders was written by Campbell Wild as a demonstration game for his new text adventure creation system Adrift in 1999. As an advertisement, it does for the creation of text adventures what the Titanic did for the sales of holidays on cruise ships.
There are many bugs both lurking and stinging you in the face here. An underwater section can be drained yet reappears as undrained thanks to no conditional flags being set. A bottle can be filled once but never again, despite there being ample quantities of filler left lying around. One section of the game disappears if you enter it and perform a certain action, for no apparent reason. The description of the area is replaced by the letter "x." Hmmmm. Taking a particular object requires "pluck" and does not recognise "pick" or "take" yet another similar object does not respond to "pluck." You get the general idea.
All this is a shame as without the huge amount of bugs (the game can still be finished but it is a pain) a nice medium sized treasure hunt would exist here. The puzzles are often clever and quite tough and there are several ways to soft lock the game if you make a wrong choice.
There are a few static NPCs and one wonderfully dreadful pun which would be quite happy in Quondam.
The two word parser will give you a real battle of "guess the verb" although many objects can be referred to. Very few synonyms are allowed so exact wording is required. The maximum score is 1000 points although I only managed to attain 970 but still found the treasure-filled cave, the object of my quest. The room descriptions are perfunctorily adequate without being memorable. The parser is too picky and very few alternative verbs are catered for which of course creates frustration. As if writing a set sized newspaper column three or four sentences cover most descriptions so it falls far short of a mystical atmosphere; utilitarian reference book rather than mystical novel. There are also plenty of ways to lock yourself out of victory and quite a few illogicalities too. The actual puzzles themselves are the reason to play the game; discovering multiple means of transportation and deciphering maps are done rather cleverly.
All in all if you would like to see what the Adrift environment has to offer try a Larry Horsman game instead.
I have not played many Apple II text adventures but having downloaded the AppleWin emulator recently I thought that I would chance my arm.
Windmere Estate is a traditional find the treasures and store them somewhere two word parser game which appears to be getting tougher the further I hack into it.
The diaphanous premise is that pirates stored their manifold booty in and around the grounds of the estate and you have the chance as usual to emulate Croesus by finding it all.
I initially had some parser issues as oddly entering certain objects in a room requires the syntax "open x" e.g. "open closet" will take you into said item. Examine doesn't work, neither do verbose or take all.
To start with the puzzles seemed childishly simple. Hmmm there are some rats in here and some rat poison nearby. Now what could possibly work? However, as I have penetrated the deeper recesses of the estate the difficulty quotient has inclined considerably. There is a closed vault door, a seemingly inaccessible dumbwaiter (Curses anyone?) and an organ upon which I can produce a cacophonous din but to no avail. One particular problem is caused by a parser infelicity however and I have no qualms in telling you that the portrait needs to be referred to as a picture. Nuff said.
As tradition dictates there are a number of secret passages and hidden rooms which gradually make traversing the large map (I have currently identified 93 rooms) easier.
I have so far accumulated 23 treasures but this only amounts to 230 out of the maximum attainable score of 415 so I still have some way to go.
There is a HINT option which nudged me towards the painting / picture solution but generally speaking you are on your own as this seems to work in very few locations.
You can at least recharge your flashlight at a certain location an infinite amount of times and there are no hunger or thirst daemons. Moving in the dark is usually fatal through injury or at the teeth of a vampire bat. Multiple deaths abound but there are few soft locks so far.
This is worth a look if you are an old school fan and don't mind drawing a map and watching your points tally slowly increment.
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.
A mere forty years after it was released and the prize was claimed (a wonderfully anal Ring of Power and a rather more materialistic sum of money to buy BBC computer products) I too have claimed the Ring of Power and returned it to the wizard.
To be more exact, Castle of Riddles was written by Peter Killworth of Cambridge University Oceanography and Philosopher's Quest fame as the first text adventure competition game; this started something of a trend. Released in February 1983 via Acornsoft although written in 1982 this is regarded as a real toughie of the old skool and so it is.
The plot, such as it is, involves you, a down-on-your-luck adventurer, returning the above mentioned ring to a wizard after it was stolen by an evil warlock. Any treasures you find on your wanderings can be kept for your own avaricious ends up to a maximum of 250 points.
Although compact in size to fit into the 32K memory constraints of the BBC microcomputer the game requires much careful pencil and paper planning and the ability to cope with frustration levels racheted up to 11 on the "bugger it I've screwed up" amplifier.
There are three main areas to the game which are all reached via shimmering curtains of light (Bank of Zork anyone?) and can all only be entered once so the choreography of play is extremely strict. One area contains a well and the three bears minus Goldilocks although there is a hilarious picture of her, another contains a nasty jet-black maze and a shooting gallery and the third a tricky corridor of doom. Choose the wrong entrance and you have softlocked the game potentially very early on. Only much repeated play will reveal the correct order to tackle the regions in. There is also a very nasty trick around the metal rod which has two essential uses. Unfortunately to solve the first one of them involves using it in a way that loses it permanently which makes the second use of the rod impossible. The only way to get around this is to solve the first rod-related puzzle, make a note of your findings and restart. All should then become clear. Obstacles like this would never of course be encountered in modern adventures but back then they were as accepted as norms; patience was as valuable a commodity as deduction.
In Killworth's traditional manner the majority of the puzzles are difficult but logical; one of them involves looking at two ostensibly similar objects but being able to glean a subtle difference between them; there are several beautiful chaining puzzles which require exact timing and unsurprisingly two innovative mazes neither of which can be solved by merely dropping objects. The solutions to the mangled cushion and antique clock problems are two of my all-time favourites.
There is naturally a lamp timer although this can be recharged once and isn't as tight as in some games of this vintage and an inventory limit which is generous enough not to be too much of an issue. Moving in the dark is nearly always fatal. The only NPCs encountered are of the potentially fatal variety so shoot first metaphorically speaking and ask questions afterwards.
The parser is of the old two word variety but in all honesty is quite sufficient for game play and naturally no examine command, something that I know Killworth felt strongly passionate about. Descriptions are of medium length generally and all in upper case white on black. I played via the excellent Beebem emulator which enables you to double the original speed of the game.
All in all a nice wallow in cerebral nostalgia.
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.