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The House on Highfield Lane

by Andy Joel

2021

Web Site

(based on 11 ratings)
4 reviews

About the Story

The house at the top of Highfield Lane has always scared Mandy, though she could never say why exactly. Perhaps today is the day she should confront that fear!

This is in the style of a classic parser-based game. That means there ARE puzzles! But if you do get stuck, type HINT to go to a list of InvisiClues that get increasingly more useful.


Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: October 1, 2021
Current Version: Unknown
License: Freeware
Development System: QuestJS
Forgiveness Rating: Merciful
IFID: 8F79966F-54C6-4DA3-842A-330DBA5D0CB0
TUID: 618svjskhrvni2r0

Awards

17th place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)

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Member Reviews

5 star:
(1)
4 star:
(7)
3 star:
(3)
2 star:
(0)
1 star:
(0)
Average Rating:
Number of Reviews: 4
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Most Helpful Member Reviews


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Nice-and-creepy showcase for Quest 6, December 5, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

The House on Highfield Lane is a neat demonstration of Quest 6 and JavaScript. I beta-tested it, but I unfortunately wasn't able to add much to the final product, as it was pretty polished when I got it. It's a big, smart game, and big smart games sometimes need idiot-proofing, especially when the idiot is a judge who wants to get through the other seventy IFComp games. The HINTS referenced from the game weren't enough (I see what I missed now,) so I needed to wait for the post-comp walkthrough to see the end. But I think my tries at finishing paid off I got a bit further each time. I think it was worth the wait to suss out the details I missed. I may be grading the author on a curve because I know the author is technically and creatively capable, and my view may be slanted because this isn't my favorite genre. But I do feel HoHL may have missed a few chances for greatness that I can't fully articulate.

You play as Mandy, a girl who finds a letter by a house she's walked past and always wondered about and, you guessed it, uses that as an excuse to enter. There's no easy way out, so she figures she may have to deliver the letter and talk to the owner.

Well, that's not strictly true. You can leave briefly in two ways: once to get an important though common item, and a second time, you need to set up a science experiment just right. Nothing abstruse, if you know your haunted-house tropes. For one of them, you walk a bit of a tightrope, and it's nice and low-key scary.

THe rest of the house is as odd as you'd expect. Some was charming, but the map wraps oddly--if you go west from one room, you eventually wind up below it, and it felt like surrealism for surrealism's sake. It's also possible to flood one of the few hub rooms (exits three ways) with mannequins during one try, which gives the old-school vibes HoHL wants to project, but maybe not the best ones. I did, however, appreciate the clear signal of a room you needed to get to (an empty lift shaft) and the drawing room that grew or shrunk you based on which way you entered and, by extension, items you dropped there. It made for some interesting puzzles, but maybe the game relied a bit too heavily on it. I got a bit tired of circling back and forth near the end, and I in fact avoided the room because I figured it had served its purpose after the first couple of puzzles.

Then I didn't quite "get" the puzzle about awakening a Frankenstein style monster, until I did, and it made sense, and I had fun getting it to do what I needed. That monster helps you with more puzzles later, and it's the cute sort of stupid. I like how it neutralized some other NPCs. The final puzzle? Well, it was a bit of a pun, and it lampshaded the absent-mindedness of the Doctor, whom you eventually do meet, once he tells you his interpretation. It's a bit of a Dad joke, which is appropriate, since the author indicated in his post-mortem he wrote it with his daughter in mind.

As for the technical stuff: Quest really has grown up a lot! Even stuff like saving and restoring has bells and whistles and circumvents the difficulties that arise from Inform save states, namely that they're useless if the binary is updated. The InvisiClues that come with HoHL are nice, if you don't want everything spoiled. And I love that you can miss the last letter or several letters of an 8-letter word, and Quest figures it out. There's enough so that the verb-recognition error, which I found terribly snarky ("I can't even begin to make sense of this") isn't very prominent--this seems like a missed chance. The game tries to capture the tone of wonderment of a 16-year-old locked in a strange house, with a lot of "Mandy wonders this." So "Mandy had a thought, but she didn't know how to (word 1, or word after the comma in dialogue)--maybe her mind was just foggy" seems like it would work. But as-is, when I had a typo on a tough puzzle, it made me groan. Worse things happen at sea, of course, and I've been guilty of not battening down some of Inform's more tone-deaf errors (default responses to "no" and "yes," for example) but this seemed like a slightly obnoxious design choice, especially when much of the rest of the game was written to be hands-off.

Despite these concerns, I got a lot of positive mileage out of HoHL, and the puzzles made sense once I had that a-ha moment. I think I was at a disadvantage as I wasn't really familiar with haunted-house tropes. The puzzles have enjoyable variety in retrospect, and the atmosphere is good--nothing too terribly scary here, as long as you don't release the frustrating mannequins. There's no dread of being trapped, more just "neat, I'm stuck." I'm glad the author left a full walkthrough so I could figure what I did wrong, though. I'd have missed the neat bit after I got up the lift. The puzzle to get upstairs was a bit fiddly even with the hints, though I like that they're there as gradated spoilers, for those who want to dwell a bit longer.


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A Quest 6 game about exploring a bizarre house , October 15, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game has two purposes: to show off the new Quest 6 engine, and to be a great IFComp game.

For the first, it definitely makes Quest look good. I thought this was Dialog when I first started playing; the parser was easy to work with and the execution was lightning fast, something I didn't associate with the Quest of old. There have been tons of fun Quest games before, but to me the parser always felt slow and prone to errors. This new version seems great.

As a game, it falls into the 'weird house of an eccentric old man with arbitrary puzzles' genre, which is a genre I enjoy in general (Curses! is my favorite game, and Mulldoon Legacy was pretty fun). You're trying to deliver a letter to a mysterious old man while exploring a house that has large variations in size as well as many bizarre creatures walking through.

I solved about half of the puzzles on my own before turning to the walkthrough.

Many of the puzzles have a strange quality where the solution is something that only really makes sense in hindsight. Like other reviewers have noted, there are many possible solutions to most problems but only one or two are implemented (for instance, you can't (Spoiler - click to show)LOOK IN or SEARCH or SHAKE the boots when trying to find what's in them).

Similarly the setting has a lot of non sequiturs. From the author's notes, it seems it was developed from a series of forum posts years ago, which I read. Those forum posts helped a lot of things make more sense. I think the game could have benefitted from putting more of those explanatory details into the game itself.

There is some strong profanity. For me, I would have preferred not to have it, but some reviewers enjoyed the characterization it brought.

Here's my breakdown:
-Polish. Quest 6 is great, but the implementation of this particular game could use some work. For instance, it's possible to put the (Spoiler - click to show)boots right next to the (Spoiler - click to show)crack in the wall, making it impossible to solve the puzzle as intended since you are supposed to (Spoiler - click to show)type ENTER or IN but that puts you in the crack instead of the boots, even if you specify ENTER BOOTS. Similarly, (Spoiler - click to show)GET SAND doesn't work even if you have the pot, but FILL POT does.
+Descriptiveness: There were a lot of details flying around.
+Interactivity: The puzzles were often weird moon logic but it was fun.
+Emotional impact: Some parts of the game worked well for me, like the opening sequence and the exploration.
-Would I play again? The game is large and kind of intimidating and fussy.


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
I can see my house from up here., October 6, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

On Highfield Lane stands a creepy house. Its windows seem to watch Mandy everyday as she walks past on her way home from school. As creepy houses' windows tend to do...
One day Mandy finds a letter on the pavement outside the creepy house's door. She decides to deliver it to whoever lives in the creepy house. As she enters the hall, the door slams shut behind her. As creepy houses' doors tend to do...

Mandy is a very engaging character, the polar opposite of a generic adventure hero. She has definite opinions and feelings and the player will know it. The author accomplishes this in various ways.
The game is written in the third person. I found that in some games this can be distancing, putting the player in the role of a mere observer. Here however, this perspective offers another road to immersion. Instead of forcing the player to roleplay, getting inside the head of the protagonist while being addressed as "You", The House on Highfield Lane gets the player to be a close companion of the PC, looking over her shoulder and guiding her while being complicit in Mandy's actions and decisions.
Mandy's movements and actions and the creepy house's rooms are described from her own very subjective viewpoint, giving us a more and more clear view into her personality. The descriptions are interspersed with bits of Mandy's interior monologue, showing us her unfiltered thoughts, swearwords and all.
This view we get of the protagonist's personality also evolves throughout the game, something seldom seen in puzzle-oriented IF. At first somewhat timid, intimidated by finding herself locked inside the creepy house, she becomes more brazen and unafraid as the game progresses. This is very nicely reflected in her interior monologue. Later in the game, her thoughts amount to: "What the hell, I've already come this far in some stranger's house, why not do this completely unappropriate thing and see what happens." (This is where the swearwords are very effective.)

Upon first entering the creepy house, there is indeed much to be intimidated by. What seemed to be an ordinary house in a row of equally uninteresting houses from the street turns out to be a grand historical mansion on the inside. Lifesize portraits look down on Mandy from the walls of high and spacious rooms.
Even more intimidating, and effectively disorienting to the player is the author's cunning use of space/geography. Once in the house, there are doors in directions impossible from the outside and upper storeys that should not exist. I for one had a lot of fun mapping the place.
What's very interesting here is that the player's growing familiarity with the map through further exploration closely mirrors Mandy's growing confidence as she wanders around the creepy house.

The House on Highfield Lane is very much a puzzle-game. The seemingly simple objective of delivering a lost letter leads to an increasingly complicated and improbable series of obstacles The flimsy plotline is naught but a pretense for presenting the player with a collection of puzzles. These are mostly intuitive but always have a clever twist. I had my fair share of "Aha"-moments while brainstorming about how to tackle this or that problem. Despite the sometimes surreal nature of the puzzles, they are held tightly together by the game's mood and atmosphere.

This brings me to a highpoint of the entire game: the splendid writing that binds it all together. The descriptions are clear yet evocative, there is more than one location with very memorable imagery, the author manages to provide poignant details without cluttering the mental image of the player. Mandy's subjective viewpoint adds the pepper and salt to the text.

I imagine that the game's finale might go two ways for any player. There's a convoluted revelatory backstory that seems thrown together after the fact rather than being the result of integrated worldbuilding, and the final problem is silly, to say the least. For me, it was a surprising, almost cathartis moment of hilariousness. Others may be disappointed by it.

You'll have to see for yourself. I very much recommend that you do.

(Yes, there are some small nitpicks. Some obvious verbs were not implemented {EDIT: I have been informed that this has been fixed} and at least one puzzle needed better clueing. Nitpicks that are inconsequential in light of the overall quality of this game.)


See All 4 Member Reviews

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