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About the Story
The first time I ever saw someone play a text adventure was in fifth grade. One of the sixth-graders didn't go to outdoor ed, and therefore spent the week in my fifth-grade classroom, playing Scott Adams's Impossible Mission on a TRS-80 while the rest of us did our schoolwork. At recess we crowded around him and shouted out commands to try. I really wanted a turn at the keyboard, but this guy wouldn't let anyone else near it. It would be another couple of years before I played a text adventure myself.
Nominee, Best Puzzles - 2012 XYZZY Awards
Rock Paper Shotgun
Look, the game’s brilliant. Go play it. It’s free, for goodness sakes – what have you got to lose. Would you like a score to convince you? I give it 50 fountain pens out of a typewriter. You don’t need to know anything, because you’re not meant to know anything.
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Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
Endless, Nameless is Adam Cadre’s latest game. The surrounding text claims that it’s the relic of the bulletin board age, but anyone familiar with Adam’s oeuvre won’t be surprised to know there’s a bit more to it than a retro remake. There’s no way to write a substantive review without addressing the ways in which it takes a twist, though; it’s worth playing enough to find out just exactly how it’s going to be not what you think. So please consider giving it a try before reading on.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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The player's first encounter with Endless, Nameless (which I'll call EN) suggests a nostalgic trip to the 1980s: a neatly executed facsimile of a BBS leads one to what appears to be a decidedly adolescent Zork-like "fantasy" quest -- arbitrary puzzles, a cardboard environment, unexamined motivation (you are to slay a dragon), and, of course, sudden death. But sudden death that turns out to be surprisingly productive, for rather than proving final it transports the player to a different world -- a 1980s beach-house, full of facsimile adventurers "just like you", from whom you can obtain hints (Spoiler - click to show)(not always accurate) which will enable you to re-start the quest and do better next time.
It rapidly becomes clear, however, that this is not simply an ingenious hint system. These parallel worlds comment, not just on each other, but on interactive fiction both as an art and as a community. Layers of meaning are gradually revealed.
The "adventure" world is arbitrary, apparently thinly implemented, Infocom-era; it exists only for the sake of action -- and though there is almost nothing to see, there is plenty to achieve. The "interlife" world is described in detail, richly textured, full of multi-layered detail. But nothing can be done there; it is a place in which the most that one can hope to do is to acquire information. It is passive, enervate. The puzzles and "action" of the adventure world -- a world in which things happen -- are more compelling. To return to the adventure world is an escape.
This is, in a sense, playing with fire. Cadre sets up two caricatures: one of "old school" treasure-hunting adventure games, and one of "new wave" puzzle-free exploration and interaction. Each is taken to a sort of extreme, not just warts-and-all but warts-above-all, and the two are allowed to play off each other. Yet, caricatures though they are, they are incredibly finely judged and crafted. The craft and implementation are rock solid; the design subtle and knowing (Spoiler - click to show)(for instance, just as the leaflet in the mailbox points ingenuously at Zork, so the way in which you cross the labyrinth gestures, but far more subtly and in terms of the conceit that one is playing an "old school" adventure anachronistically, towards the most famous device in Cadre's Photopia)
And the message, too, is subtle. For the argument (and the real story) emerges not in either of these worlds, and not even in the contrast between them, but in their interaction. A back story is gradually revealed, and the back story poses questions about creativity in interactive fiction in an absorbing way. As the game proceeds, the back story comes to dominate the action, and this lays the ground for a fascinating endgame.
All this, I thought, worked superbly. What I found more difficult was a set of reflections on artistic communities, and probably the interactive fiction community in particular. Since this can hardly be discussed without giving away quite a bit about the ending of the game, I'm going to spoiler-tag the whole discussion.
(Spoiler - click to show)
At the bottom of the heap (literally) are "trolls". They are, EN indicates, poison to a community: they cannot be reasoned with, ignored, or conquered. Any contact with them sullies. The only solution is to exclude them, point blank. Not much higher than the trolls, however, are "hangers on": people who having entered the community by participating in its proper activities are now simply using it as a site for undirected and pointless social activities -- not directly destructive (as the trolls are) but parasitic and ultimately damaging. Above them are those who actively participate in and create the "adventure world". And still further above are those who have "got a life" -- who have appreciated that no amount of care will enable the artifice of the adventure world to resemble the subtlety of the real one.
Perhaps it's not fair to treat this as a sermon (Cadre himself has said that it isn't didactic); though it is couched in terms which seem to me to invite that reading, rather explicitly. As a diagnosis of community ills it's arguably reductive, simplistic, even inhumane. It insists of classifying not behaviour, but people. And there seemed to be (but perhaps it is my imagination) a degree of venom about it. As a more-or-less outsider to the community, it is hard to put my finger on what is going on; but this aspect of the game had the slightly uncomfortable feeling of walking in on the aftermath of someone else's marital row.
All in all, it's a great piece -- in many ways a brilliant piece. It has many levels, and many of them are impressive, thought-provoking and enjoyable, even if seasoned by a hint of acid.
I played Endless, Nameless expecting an old-school text adventure, and I wasn't disappointed. It's a text adventure, wrapped in interactive fiction.
It starts out simple: you are the hero in a game called Nameless Quest (formerly known as Endless Quest) and you have to rid the land of an evil dragon.
You have to solve puzzles to learn magic and to get weapons. They are generally hard, but logical, and asking for hints is encouraged.
The story might seem a bit thin at the beginning, but slowly expands as you progress in the game, which I found very intriguing. You're not only working towards your quest, but also uncovering a greater mystery; and without spoiling too much: dying is important, and the game is quite meta.
I especially liked the writing, it's humorous overall and manages very well to create a fitting atmosphere.
All in all, I'm extremely impressed by Endless, Nameless. It's a great synthesis between puzzles and story, humor and mystery, between classic adventure and innovation. I've played it for many hours, hunting for easter eggs and finding all the beautiful and horrible endings, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
I had great expectations for this highly-rated game written by a celebrated author, but unfortunately the playing experience was very frustrating for me.
Then game starts as an old-style, unforgiving adventure, of the kind that was popular in my youth. After some time you are catapulted in an upper-level universe where you are informed (in case you had not noticed before) that the story you had played up to that point is a game-inside-a-game. The characters in the outside world are other players of that game and can give you hints on how to proceed.
So far, so good. We can play alternately the “inside” adventure while enjoying the “outside” interactive fiction. The former is cruel and will happily kill you for each mechanical imprecision, but you can restart it in a couple of commands, and meanwhile you can enjoy the friendly and carefully crafted outside world, collecting the next hint to proceed and enjoying some moments of relax where you can just talk and interact with objects in a safe environment.
Unfortunately, the warm feeling does not last. The hints for the inner adventure progressively get sparser and less reliable, so that the fake difficulty of the inner adventure becomes very real. You have to perform an ever-increasing sequence of actions to return to the point where you were killed the time before. Granted, your Z-machine interpreter can hopefully save and replay actions saving you time, but probably you won't enjoy seeing the “Open file...” dialog every two minutes. Meanwhile, the outside world does not evolve, making it less and less interesting to linger in there.
This process killed all my enthusiasm. At the end I was so exhausted that I just got a walkthrough and reproduced the actions. There I discovered that in the apparently safe outside adventure one can at a certain point make an irreversible action which secretly locks the player out of all but the worst possible ending. But this was not too bad news for me as such ending was also the shortest one.
I guess I missed a lot of what makes the game so special for many players, be it the subtle references to classic games of the Eighties or the elaborate alternative endings with multiple levels of reality. But even after reading various analyses, I feel this game is too exclusive and could have offered something more for the laypeople. I'm not an IF expert by any means but I am also not a total novice, so I wonder which level of experience in interactive fiction is required for one to really “get” this game.
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