Prison Blues

by Simon Avery


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A product of its time, May 19, 2023

IFDB spelunking fed me this game, so I went on a journey to find it and play it. It turns out that Simon Avery released all of his early games into the public domain and stuck them on github, so that was a delightful discovery.

This is a fairly short game, with a linear progression of puzzles to solve. The game opens with informing you that you're in prison, and it's time to break out. The first puzzle is getting out of your cell, which has two exits, one of which is a very quick game over. Oops. I found several of those; while most were obvious and expected cases of me testing something out that was sure to be disastrous and finding that yup, it was disastrous... the first one I encountered was actually rather unexpected. Enter room without preparing correctly, die. Whoops.

Very few items are just sitting there when you enter a room; in order to make them appear, they require interaction, either by using eXamine on something in the description or by using another item in an appropriate way to generate something new. Every item is important in one way or another to solve a puzzle, either directly as part of the solution or as a step on the way to something you need.

The biggest hint offered by the game comes in the form of the INFO command, which gives you a list of nonstandard verbs that are used. Most of these are, indeed, needed at some point in the game in order to make your escape. This served as a useful guide to avoid the old parser problem of "guess the verb".

There were two easter eggs that I found as I played; one of them took a little poking at but provided a fun extra verb as a result; the other feels like a reference to another game I've not played.

I'm not well-enough versed in classic IF to know precisely where this falls on the scale of good to bad; it was a fun little diversion, though I do think one of the early puzzle solutions felt a little senseless, if somewhat thematic, while a later example of somewhat cartoonish animal cruelty could have been handled very much differently with minimal changes. Additionally, the game's setup as three separate maps that you traverse in sequence, such that you can't get back to previous areas once you leave, means that if you miss something you needed, you're stuck. All in all, though, I did enjoy working through the puzzles, and this does make me rather more interested in finding more of the author's games.

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Strident, May 19, 2023 - Reply
You'll find a lot of the old Quilled games are structured in a similar way. One of the drawbacks of this early adventure writing system was it had a very limited number of flags that the author could use to track the activity of the player; such as what puzzles had been solved, which objects had been discovered. Several of the authors using the Quill at the time (such as Simon Avery and Laurence Creighton) carefully designed and split their game world into chunks with distinct points of no return (such as a breaking rope bridge, or a cave being closed by a rock fall). By doing this, they were then able to clear and reuse the limited number of flags in the next section of the game.
Hikari Starshine, May 20, 2023 - Reply
Well, that does explain the noticeable load times between points of no return. Good to know!
Strident, May 20, 2023 - Reply
There shouldn't be any load time. Prison Blues is a single part game, iirc.
Hikari Starshine, May 21, 2023 - Reply
Aha, I was misremembering. It was the 'Press any key to continue' transitions that I was thinking of.
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