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Mike Russo's Let's Play
A fully annotated Let's Play of Cragne Manor posted on the intfiction.​org forums.
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by David Welbourn

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Cragne Manor

by Ryan Veeder profile, Jenni Polodna profile, Adam Whybray, Adri profile, Andrew Plotkin profile, Andy Holloway, Austin Auclair profile, Baldur BrŁckner, Ben Collins-Sussman profile, Bill Maya, Brian Rushton profile, Buster Hudson profile, Caleb Wilson profile, Carl Muckenhoupt profile, Chandler Groover profile, Chris Jones, Christopher Conley profile, Damon L. Wakes profile, Daniel Ravipinto, Daniel Stelzer profile, David Jose, David Petrocco, David Sturgis, Drew Mochak, Edward B, Emily Short profile, Erica Newman, Feneric profile, Finn RosenlÝv profile, Gary Butterfield, Gavin Inglis profile, Greg Frost profile, Hanon Ondricek profile, Harkness profile, Harrison Gerard, Ian Holmes, Ivan Roth profile, Jack Welch profile, Jacqueline Ashwell profile, James Eagle, Jason Dyer profile, Jason Lautzenheiser profile, Jason Love profile, Jeremy Freese profile, Joey Jones profile, Joshua Porch, Justin de Vesine, Justin Melvin, Katherine Morayati, Kenneth Pedersen profile, Lane Puetz, Llew Mason, Lucian Smith, Marco Innocenti profile, Marius MŁller profile, Mark Britton, Mark Sample profile, Marshal Tenner Winter profile, Matt Schneider profile, Matt Weiner profile, Matthew Korson, Michael Fessler, Michael Gentry profile, Michael Hilborn, Michael Lin, Mike Spivey profile, Molly Ying, Monique Padelis, Naomi Hinchen, Nate Edwards profile, Petter SjŲlund profile, Q Pheevr profile, Rachel Spitler, Reed Lockwood profile, Reina Adair, Riff Conner, Roberto Colnaghi profile, Rowan Lipkovits, Sam Kabo Ashwell profile, Scott Hammack profile, Sean M. Shore profile, Shin profile, Wade Clarke profile, Zach Hodgens profile, and Zack Johnson


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(based on 19 ratings)
6 reviews

About the Story

A tribute to Anchorhead.

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: December 8, 2018
Current Version: 1
License: Freeware
Development System: Inform 7
IFID: 1A586AF4-661C-4879-ADFF-7DDE35836AF1
TUID: 4x7nltu8p851tn4x

Makes reference to Anchorhead, by Michael Gentry

Referenced in Easter Egg Hunt 2020, by David Welbourn


Nominee, Best Game; Winner, Best Implementation; Nominee, Best Use of Innovation - 2018 XYZZY Awards

46th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition)


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Number of Reviews: 6
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful:
An enormous collaboration horror game, December 8, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

I've played and reviewed over 1500 interactive fiction games, and there has never been anything like Cragne Manor.

This game was written by 84 authors. Some authors (including me) wrote small rooms with one minor puzzle, or, occasionally, only one.

Others wrote rooms that themselves could be entered into IFComp and do well, including complicated conversational games, (Spoiler - click to show)a miniature version of Hadean Lands, a monster breeding game, and story-focused cutscenes.

The game is a mishmash of different styles and levels of implementation. One room might be the most elaborate and smooth game you've ever seen, with varied tenses, custom parser responses, and complex state tracking; while another room might be basically a pile of dirt with nothing implemented. Puzzles range from super easy to very unfair.

For fans of big puzzle games, people who wish that longer games would be released, Infocom fans, fans of any of the people in the author list, conversational games, or IF in general, this game will provide hours of enjoyment.

As a warning, this game is overwhelming. It has 500K+ words, which is huge for parser games. As a comparison, Blue Lacuna had less than 400K, and much of that was devoted to verbose text descriptions. This game is just pure content. This game is longer than Curses!, Mulldoon Legacy, Worlds Apart, and roughly the same size as Finding Martin.

Prepare for the sinking in your stomach you will experience as you open a door to find another 6 or 7 rooms, each with their own fully-fleshed out puzzles. Prepare to keep notes for information you find in the game, tracking the many keys and doors.

The content warnings for the game are accurate. Every author has their own style, so some rooms have more of profanity or explicit content than others. I would say that maybe one or two rooms has anything sexual, and about a dozen rooms have violence or gore running from silly to horrifying.

As of writing this, there is no walkthrough, although that will likely be remedied soon. With the help of many of the authors, as I tested this game, I still took well over ten hours to beat this. Expect a long, long, long play time.

Perhaps the last thing I'd like to say about Cragne Manor is that this is almost like a little IFComp of its own. The number of games in the two is similar and the quality of the entries is similar, except that even the weakest rooms in this game have been tested and worked on as a group, and all the rooms in this game support each other, instead of fighting against each other.

Please enjoy this wonderful game.

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful:
A shoggothy shaggy-dog story, September 21, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)

In an IF scene thatís largely oriented around a model of games as small, auteur-driven jewels, Cragne Manor stands out. Thereís the unmitigated gall of its conception: pay tribute to the all-time-great Anchorhead by soliciting one-room contributions from basically everyone currently writing IF, then knit their divers productions into a single patchwork whole, exquisite corpse style. Thereís the sheer avoirdupois: 84 authors producing an eight and a half meg game file, both of which are way, way too much. And thereís the clumsiness: this is the game that broke IFDB for a couple years with its gargantuan list of authors and tags. Fittingly, itís also the rare work of IF thatís gotten a modicum of mainstream attention Ė it even has its own TV Tropes page.

It's surprising, then, that as of this writing its IFDB page boasts only 15 ratings and a paltry 4 reviews Ė three of which were penned by contributing authors, one by a key beta tester. Kudos to all those folks for their contributions to the game and to the discourse around it, but where are the players? Even accounting for the fact that its many many authors might feel some reluctance to evaluate a project they contributed it, are we to understand that Cragne Manor is a classic in the Twainian sense, that everyone wants to have played but no one wants to actually play?

Well, thatís probably part of the reason. Anyone whoís been around the block a time or two surely quail at the combinatorial hell promised by such a gargantuan, semi-coordinated game, for example, and given that you can play a dozen different high-quality pieces of IF in the time it takes to even crack open the door of the eponymous manse, itís understandable that many folks have laughed at the premise but declined to delve into the reality of Cragne Manor.

Partly, though, I think the issue is that the game seems to frustrate the whole concept of rating or reviewing. This is in no way a single integrated whole; if I were to pull out three highlights and three lowlights, the way I would for an ordinary game, I would a) have communicated less than ten percent of the full measure of Cragne Manor, and b) not provided much of a guide to the remaining 90%, because the off-kilter mood piece that is Wade Clarkís Music Room has little to do with whatís awesome about Chris Jonesís gonzo Meatpacking Plant Bathroom, and the bugginess of the Cragne Family Plot isnít whatís wrong with the cool-in-concept but overly obscure puzzle in the Disheveled Studio. Reviewing the game is like reviewing America: sure, lots of racist relatives, overall presentiment of doom, but in issuing a generalization that applies from Alabama to Wyoming, the texture of the thing risks being so profoundly lost that it feels like thereís not any point to the attempt Ė it might be that the most compact map of the territory is the territory itself.

Lucky you, though, if Cragne Manor is America, I am its de Tocqueville, an impartial foreigner who has visited its shores, traveled exhaustively, and comes now to render a judgment whose hubris is exceeded only by its smugness (hereís hoping tuberculosis doesnít get me in my 53rd year).

(Incidentally, dear reader, if right now youíre feeling frustrated by this reviewís verbosity, overall shagginess, and stubborn delay in getting to what per its title itís ostensibly about you uh might not like Cragne Manor. If, on the other hand, you nodded along to that the-map-of-the-territory-is-the-territory bit, you might prefer to click the link in the previous paragraph, which goes to a 23-chapter annotated Lets Play of the full game I posted on the forums.)

With throat-clearing done, it's tempting to jump straight into a travelogue and talk about specific individual rooms, because of course thatís what you spend the game doing: come to a new place, suss out whatís on offer, solve a puzzle or soak up some atmosphere or realize youíll need to come back later, then move on and do it all again, at least until you finally reach the limits of the map and wind up spending more time running down rapidly-collapsing puzzle chains to reach the endgame. And there are some really exciting set pieces to experience: beyond those Iíve already mentioned, Andrew Plotkin contributes a robust alternate take on his Hadean Lands magic system, Hanon Ondricek has what feels like a puzzle-light lost Stephen King short story, Daniel Stelzer and Jemma Briggeman offer a tough-but-fair and very atmospheric puzzle that serves as one of the gameís first choke-pointsÖ and beyond the justly-celebrated name authors, a couple Iíd never heard of before wrote some of the moments I enjoyed best, like Michael D. Hilbornís Church Steeple, which combines a forlorn backstory, an eerie landscape, and a clever, climactic puzzle mechanism. Original Anchorhead author Mike Gentry even takes a satisfying, self-effacing bow thatís a lovely grace note for the project, so how can I not discuss that?

But ultimately I think thatís a futile approach Ė as Iíve said, thereís so much variety here that it canít be adequately conveyed in summary form and makes this a questionable use of word count (like, to return to this reviewís leitmotif, I really enjoyed taking an architectural river-tour of Chicago one time, but in a review of America as a whole how much time can justifiably be spent on that?), and besides, much of the joy of the game is discovering whatís going to pop up next on the roadside. Thereís also the risk of biasing things too much towards the big stuff, when the gameís also enriched by a number of quiet, unobtrusive rooms that have some well-written flavor text, or an easy but innovative puzzle, that risk getting lost in the shuffle. So Iíll try to stay focus on the overall gestalt, and what a whole made up of so many pieces can possibly add up to.

The first and most important thing to communicate is that this a trip thatís far less grueling than it appears on first blush. Itís of course a long, long game, and most players will probably want to pace themselves rather than dive in and not come up for air until theyíve completed it. But the puzzles are usually not that hard Ė some of the trickier ones even have bespoke integrated hints Ė and the structure of the game is such that youíre almost never looking at a gargantuan inventory list combing through it for the one item thatíll solve a room (admittedly, my inventory was often so big because I delighted in picking up clear red herrings and scenery that had been incorrectly flagged as takeable). Because most challenges are self-contained, usually the stuff you find in a room is what youíll need to resolve it, and on the occasions when an item from elsewhere is needed, thereís usually more than adequate signposting. Thereís even an in-game mechanism, heroically implemented by co-organizer Jenni Polodna, that will flat-out tell you if youíve got everything you need to complete an area, or if you need some thing or information from elsewhere before proceeding.

Sure, a player will need to gird their loins for some disambiguation issues Ė by midgame, a command like X BOOK could easily generate a dozen potential options Ė but there are tools to manage that, too, so itís much much less of a pain than it could have been. As the cherry on top, the gameís even Merciful for the most part, modulo the odd bug or oversight (one very small spoiler to protect the unwary: keep a save before youíre tempted to try on any dodgy gloves).

This isnít to say there arenít some rough patches Ė as mentioned above, thereís at least one room with fairly serious bugs, and several places where most players will either need to resign themselves to a lot of trial and error or a quick peek at one of the many, quite robust walkthroughs. Such things are inevitable in a project of this size, scope, and complexity. But the organizers have done an amazing job smoothing out the experience, providing not just hastily beaten-out trails running through an untamed wilderness, but a gleaming, modern Interstate system linking the gameís incredibly disparate pieces. All of which is to say, if youíve been daunted by the prospect of taking on Cragne Manor, as I was for a long long time, youíre not necessarily wrong, but you should probably reduce your imagined daunting factor by like 70% or so.

As for structure and the big-picture narrative: if (I repeat) Cragne Manor is America, the direction of its traversal must surely be east-to-west; starting with a reasonable grounding in New England, you work your way through an often-terrifying Deep South and an interminable Midwest with too many libraries and bathrooms, much like Dakotas (donít get me wrong, some individual libraries and bathrooms are amazing, and I presume the same is true for Dakotas), then breaking into the clear air of the mountain states and feeling some momentum as you descend towards the endgame, before reaching the psychedelic, what-did-I-just-experience California that is Dan Ravipintoís shack Ė the gameís clear climax, a brain-melting bit of parallel-worldism that I still havenít fully digested Ė and realizing that thereís still the Alaskan anticlimax of wrapping up the last puzzles and an empty penultimate location to go, ultimately concluding the trip in a Hawaii of an ending thatís quite pleasant, though rather small-scale and not especially connected to anything thatís come before.

There is something resembling a plot, sure, which isnít too far off from Anchorheadís: you play Naomi Cragne, whoís married into a clan of necromancers, sorcerers, murderers, and worse, in search of your lost husband Peter. But of necessity, who Peter is, and exactly how far gone heís wound up, changes from location to location, and Naomi is likewise a shapeshifter, giving different accounts of her upbringing, job, and personality depending on where sheís standing, and even occasionally implying that sheís a Cragne by blood just as much as is Peter (ick). There are forces arrayed against her: youíll hear about an incredible list of similarly-named Cragne relations, with various Edwins, Edmunds, and Edwards portentously introduced then never mentioned again once youíve left the room (which might seem unrealistic, but eh, Iím half Italian, I still remember the family trip where we took a detour to meet up with like six cousins who lived in Vegas, who similarly emerged seemingly ex nihilo and retreated immediately thence as soon as weíd left). Looming above it all is the sinister presence Vaadignephod Ė on loan from co-organizer Ryan Veederís Lurking Horror II Ė who sometimes wants to kill you, sometimes wants to lure you into practicing dark magic, and sometimes seems to want to preserve you for vague, nefarious ends. Itís all riffs on riffs on riffs; just about every author gets in some references to Anchorhead and Lovecraft, but you only need to do a shallow bit of digging to turn up tips of the hat to Monkey Island, to Frankenstein, to hacker jokes, to Francis Fukuyama(!).

If youíre the kind of person who likes to invent headcanons, you could have fun attempting to fit all the pieces together Ė in the aforelinked Letís Play, I decided Naomi was actually a cover identity for Lovecraftís immortal ghoul-queen Nitocris, who delighted in lying to everyone she met about who she was and what she was up to Ė but thereís something to be said for just letting the madness wash over you, going with the flow and interpreting the thematically-consistent, narratively-bonkers plot as like successive different interpretations of Shakespeareís plays, or an endlessly-rebooted superhero movie. Either approach I think works; they key thing is to come up with some way to engage with Cragne Manorís Protean nature, rather than keep your head down and hope to ignore it.

I should also say, there are some clear throughlines running through the game that do provide some sense of pacing and continuity. There are discrete puzzle chains that organize the playerís progress through the game: some challenges have to do with unlocking the map, others about a game-wide bibliophilic scavenger hunt, and thereís a compelling thread about digging up info on some extra-special Cragnes and their personal predilections. A few authors also managed to think creatively about how to weave their contributions into the weft of the whole gameís structure, most notably Lucian Smith, who constructs a multi-act plot that starts with an annoying inventory object and progresses into a surprising, emotionally-satisfying climax I wouldnít dare to spoil. So while the game lacks one of the traditional pleasures of IF Ė gameplay unlocking the next bit of a narratively-satisfying story Ė it still definitely feels satisfying to solve puzzles and progress through Cragne Manorís various tracks and systems.

Are there weaknesses? Sure; as Iíve mentioned, there are some rooms and puzzles that donít work as well as others, due to technical issues or inadequate clueing or just going on too long (Christabell and Carol, I loved ya but please hire an editor next time!) Towards the end, the game can start to creak under the great weight itís being asked to shoulder (DROP ALL would only divest me of like half my inventory list by the time I hit the Manorís second floor). And as Iíve hopefully made very very clear, if youíre hoping for subtly-limned characters and the Aristotelian unities, friend, you are so out of luck.

Without underselling these flaws, and without steamrolling over the fact that there surely are people for whom Cragne Manor will be very far from what they value in IF, though, I feel itís churlish to accentuate the negative here. Whatís on offer is an overabundance of riches, far bigger, far weirder, but also far friendlier than youíd assume (Iím still sufficiently naÔve to think that maybe thatís another way the comparison to America works?) Thereís nothing else like it in IF, which is probably on balance for the best, but good Lord Iím glad this miraculous thing exists. And I suspect if you give it a try, youíll feel the same way too.

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful:
Don't let it scare you (except for the scary bits), January 6, 2019
by Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.)

(I wrote an unmemorable 1% of this game. The stars are for the other 83 people.)

I'd like to push back just a little bit on some of the introductory text from Cragne Manor. Not the parts about how the game is insane and brilliant and fun; that's all true. I'm immensely proud and grateful to have been part of it. No, it's the stuff about being prepared to be frustrated or overwhelmed on account of its hugeness. I completed it a few days ago, and I was surprised at just how playable it was.

There are a couple of things that distinguish Cragne Manor from something like The Mulldoon Legacy (which is amazing, but is definitely overwhelming). First, Cragne provides a fantastic amenity in the form of an item that tells you if you're able to solve the puzzles in a given room, or if you need additional information or items from elsewhere, or if you've done everything you need to do already. It's difficult to overstate how comforting this thing is. I get overwhelmed in huge games from the combinatorial explosion of rooms, puzzles, and information. I can't keep everything in RAM, so to speak, and become exhausted even looking at my inventory. The (Spoiler - click to show)coffee cup in Cragne kept my headspace manageable.

It also helped tremendously that each room was written without knowledge of the other rooms. Without saying too much about how the game and its puzzles are structured, this means that almost every item or piece of information is single-use. There are definitely things you'll need to take notes on, but for the most part, you use an item or a piece of info, and you can then throw it away (or put it in the zipped-up trash pocket of the brilliantly-implemented carryall). And many of the biggest and best set-piece puzzles are standalone.

I worked alone in my playthrough, and only needed a few hints. It probably took me over 30 hours to finish, and 6800 turns (maybe twice that when you consider moves lost to restores). But I always knew what I could do next, what would have to wait until later, and what items were still useful, and that made it manageable. Don't let the size of Cragne Manor scare you off.

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This is version 25 of this page, edited by Mike Russo on 21 September 2022 at 11:38pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item