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competition release
Requires a Z-Code interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links.
Slouching Towards Bedlam.gblorb
Inform 7 10th Anniversary rerelease
Requires a Z-Code interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links.
Inform 7 source to the 10th anniversary re-release

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Slouching Towards Bedlam

by Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto


Web Site

(based on 210 ratings)
14 reviews

About the Story

In the beginning was the Word, and it was hungry.

Enter a steampunk adventure set in a London that might have been. The year is 1885. Bedlam Hospital still stands in Moorsfield, a decaying shell used to house the poor and the hopeless. Steam-driven mechanical wonders roam the streets. Gear-wheeled analytical engines spin out reams of thought onto punched paper tapes.

And in the darkness - in the alleys and the side shops - hide secrets.

Game Details


Winner, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Winner, Best Story; Winner, Best Setting; Nominee, Best NPCs; Winner, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Individual PC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2003 XYZZY Awards

1st Place overall; 1st Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 9th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2003)

10th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2011 edition)

7th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2015 edition)

12th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition)

49th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2023 edition)


Daniel Ravipinto has announced a 10th anniversary release of Slouching Towards Bedlam and its source code, now in Inform 7.

The game and source code are available at http://peccable.com/if/slouching-10/.
Reported by Edward Lacey | History | Edit | Delete
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Editorial Reviews

Baf's Guide

A rich Victorian steam-punk setting, low-key but intriguing NPCs, atmospheric prose, and a plot that gives the player an unusual amount of free choice: it's little wonder that this piece won the 2003 IF Competition by the healthiest margin ever. There are a few elements of implementation which could have been smoother (and will probably be cleaned up in future releases), but the overall effect of the game is quite impressive, and it offers considerable replay value.

-- Emily Short

Gaming Enthusiast
Adding to this very atmospheric narration, great setting and overall enjoyability of experiencing the game, Slouching Towards Bedlam can be recommended to anyone seeking a good and engrossing story.
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Jay Is Games
Once you start crawling through the game, you'll realize just how story-driven Slouching Towards Bedlam is, and the setting, character interactions and impeccable writing perfectly frame the experience.
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Play This Thing!
Slouching Towards Bedlam is a great game, without being a perfect one.
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The pacing is superb: the pieces of the story come at just the right moments, the understanding comes gradually and not too slowly. The size of the game is next to perfect for the Comp, exactly filling up two hours in reaching one or two endings and reading the appendices. There are moments that made me completely forget about the real world, and focus entirely on what was happening in the game.

In short: you must play this game.
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>INVENTORY - Paul O'Brian writes about interactive fiction

[T]he writing worked really well, and the coding was similarly solid -- I found no bugs at all. In fact, between the game's puzzlebox premise and its lack of flaws, I've found this review rather hard to write, so I'll just close by saying this: play Slouching Towards Bedlam. Your time will be well-spent, and you may find that it remains with you in entirely unexpected ways.
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Number of Reviews: 14
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful:
Interactive Metafiction, at last!, October 1, 2008
by Fra Enrico (Torino, Italy)

When I first began this game I was struck by the first paragraphs. A setting in a psychiatric hospital, a doctor consulting files on magnetic-recordings, something weird had happened: I thought: great, a steampunk setting so well written, with the perfect prose style, with beautiful details. Keeping on reading, I found more great fictional and setting elements: strange technologies beautifully depicted, originally conceived, perfectly fitting to the setting and to the plot.
I understood I was reading a beautiful game. My breath was shortening.

But I understood what the game really was when I fell into strange, unusual, incomprehensible messages from the system. I spent hours of wondering what was going on, and when I finally got it, I was kind of illuminated. My mind was cleansed. I found a great piece of Metafiction: the language was part of the world, and I, as Bastian in the Neverending Story, was part of it.

This is a rare game, where the language (both in the prose than in the system language) is part of the story, and one can't go without the other.
The story itself is quite odd, a science fiction settled in a steam-punk 19th century world. Strange machines require the most effort from the player to be understood, but they are great part of the game, and provide the most challenging puzzles. It's a pity that the city, the people, the historical features are not deeply detailed as the devices, but it's
nothing more than a small blot.

This game is thrilling and deeply exciting. Maybe it's too short. Once you get the mechanism, it's over. But it's worth re-playing it: there are different possible endings (Spoiler - click to show)(solutions say there are 5).

Slouching Towards Bedlam is one of the greatest games because of its original work on the writing and language aspects, never so deeply integrated with the meaning of the whole background. And thinking about a medium based on language, I said to myself: at last, what a great deed of creativity. Bow to Bedlam.

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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful:
Good, but overrated., February 27, 2008

This game made a huge splash in the IF community when it was released, handily taking first place in the 2003 IF Comp and performing the equivalent of an Oscar sweep in that year's XYZZY awards. Why, then, do I give it a mere three stars?

First, the positives: The introduction is a superb piece of writing. The reader is immediately gripped by the mystery presented, and that mystery is fully explored in the multiple possible endings. The premise is unique; the atmosphere is memorable. Overall, "Slouching Towards Bedlam" practically shines with the kind of originality that is so highly-prized in the IF community, and this probably is the best explanation for its record-breaking high score in the Comp.

But, then, there are the negatives: The world implementation is a little spare. The NPCs are a little flat. Certain promising points of interest turn out to be either red herrings or truncated plot elements. To be honest, this game strikes me as half-finished in some ways -- the overall tone of the implementation has an unevenness that can be surprising.

Once again, I have to point to the IF Comp guidelines that say an entry should be designed to be solvable within two hours of gameplay. The authors clearly had more to give here, and the half-finished feel to some parts of the game could be nothing more than the result of their having reached the target play time and calling it quits. My suspicion is that they may have run a bit short on development time, however; some improvements in editing would have easily scored an extra star from me.

"Slouching Towards Bedlam" is a decent game made from a terrific story. My slight dissatisfaction stems from my sense that, with more work, it could be an excellent game made from a terrific story. It is definitely worth your time to explore, even if I don't count it among the greats.

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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful:
Forgotten masterpiece, January 10, 2009

Slouching Towards Bedlam was the game that introduced me to modern IF so I might not be the most objective person to review the game. Still I am probably not far off saying that the game is too often forgotten when we are talking about the modern classics.

The game is about exploration and finding out what has happened in the asylum where the protagonist works. Assisting him is Triage, a hearwarmingly steampunky computer/dictation machine, that can give details and information of the surroundings. While it doesn't actually do anything other than follow the protagonist around and show information on request it is an important part of the whole and the game would be seriously lacking without it.

What brings Slouching Towards Bedlam above others is the way it builds and sustains the atmosphere and mood. The only other game that accomplishes the same is Anchorhead and I would be hardpressed to choose which one does a better job. Another nice touch is how meta-game commands (UNDO, SAVE, RESTORE etc) have been given an in-game explanation. They fit seamlessly into the story, not feeling like artificial additions.

The game is not entirely without flaws, of course. Some gameplay mechanics are unnecessarily awkward (for example making the player type long strings of numbers to a machine one at a time) but my main quibble is that some puzzles feel like they are there only because "IF must have puzzles". They break the mood and yank the player out of the game's world. The authors could have trusted their creation to work as a game without locked doors and hidden items.

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The following polls include votes for Slouching Towards Bedlam:

Creepy Games by J'onn Roger
I'm not looking for supernatural/ghost stories or horror stories, just games that do a good job being scary and/or disturbing.

Best cover art by MathBrush
What games have really good cover art?

Best Steampunk games by Alyssa Barstow
Looking for Steampunk style games- something with the flair of the Fallen London text game or a story like Incarceron. Can be any length.

See all polls with votes for this game

This is version 20 of this page, edited by Jonathan Van Matre on 10 July 2023 at 4:04pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page