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A Hidden Gem, July 8, 2015
Much like the premise of this game, 1893 is an undiscovered diamond in the rough, and I felt that it deserved an IFDB member review. Though it may not be a groundbreaking or especially influential work, this game should be played, or at the very least, explored, by all fans of IF who consider themselves well versed in the genre.
Yes, 1893 is massive. One gets the impression of playing something “important”, merely from the experience of traversing such a vast and intricately detailed map, and from taking part in an important world event. Although this vastness may be frustrating for some, it is the magnitude of the location, the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, that aids in the most breathtaking aspects of gameplay. Unlike other large works, in which players are directed towards specific locations and perhaps blocked from accessing all areas of the map until certain actions have been taken, the player in 1893 is immediately set loose upon the entirety of the map in all its breadth.
Don’t be intimidated - you WILL get to know this world. By the time I had found even one of eight missing diamonds, which the PC is tasked with discovering in the game’s premise and introduction, it had been two “days” of game time and around 12 hours of gameplay - and I suddenly found myself knowing which directions to head and with a clear understanding of the fairgrounds and their content - an intricate knowledge which seemed impossible to achieve at the game’s onset.
1893 is as much about experience as solving puzzles. Time management, and management in general, is as important to gameplay as the plot. Each move the player makes advances the game clock: most actions take one minute, although some are more time consuming. In addition to managing your own time, there are many events which take place at specific hours, so you must plan out each day if there is a specific time at which you must be present at a specific place (Anyone who has had to be at a specific event in a large city will be familiar with the sense of urgency, and the fear that you just won’t make it in time - delicious realism for a work of IF). Money and inventory management take on an increasingly important role as the game progresses; I found myself without enough of my daily “stipend”, provided to me by my employer, to complete specific tasks a number of times. The PC also gets hungry and sleepy, and you must attend to bodily needs in a timely fashion.
This element of “management” heightens the immersive experience. Dealing with scheduling and taking care of your needs creates a deeper sense of realism - hardly needed in a world with such an enormous and verbosely described geography, but truly satisfying as a player. One can travel the map by foot, but there are other transport methods available, just as there were at the actual World's Fair: elevated train, ferry, and gondola. This not only adds to realism, but aids in the gameplay's time management aspect. It is very well integrated.
I worry that IFDB players shy away from this game not only because of its intimidating size, but because it has been dubbed “educational” by prior reviewers. Yes, you may learn something from this game. You may have to, in order to solve puzzles. However, I feel that one can learn as much or as little during gameplay as one wishes, and the experience of inadvertantly learning something, however insignificant it may be, only adds to the satisfaction of getting to know this world.
Puzzles are crafted in just as much detail. A built-in hints guide provides gentle guidance if needed, and I never felt guilty for consulting it when at a complete and utter loss, since there were many other puzzles to complete without help. The treasure hunt construction is a “spoke and wheel” non-linear design. You may find the diamonds in any order, which could be frustrating for those who crave limits. Major events, however, will move in a linear fashion as the clock advances.
This game probably isn’t perfect for those new to IF, although people who love history and appreciate games of a large scale could probably still come to adore it. Those new to IF but well experienced in lengthy graphic RPGs or MUDs may take great pleasure in 1893. Players who enjoy freedom and lengthy exploration of intricate game worlds will be in heaven here.
1893’s magnitude gives a sense of wonder and awe, and contributes to the realism that is enmeshed with gameplay. Even if you don’t have the patience to work through all of the lengthy puzzles to complete the treasure hunt, I encourage everyone to at least give this game an hour or two of time. You will immediately appreciate the love and diligence that Nepstad poured into crafting this world, which he did over the length of many years.
You will read, a lot. Take notes (I had over five pages of notes upon completion). Keep the included map at close hand. Though my interpreter did not display graphics and images as in the commercial version, I did not miss them. Once you come to grips with the sheer magnitude of 1893, you will be swept up into this world in a deeply satisfying way. You will form an impression of the American psyche and the state of the world at the turn of the 20th century. And you certainly won’t regret spending your time here.