Deck the Halls, Gieves

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A welcome lost episode of Jeeves and Wooster, January 8, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: Adventuron 2020 Christmas Comp

Wodehouse is one of those authors it seems easy to make a tribute to. The main problem seems to be avoiding too-well-trodden paths or, perhaps, a plot of his you just haven't read yet. And stories with Bertie Wooster and Jeeves seem particularly easy, because we know the formula. Bertie gets in trouble, sees a silly way out, and seems to make things work, until things turn out okay, because Jeeves planned things that way.

I knew this formula well, but the end was a nice surprise. I was distracted by the things I needed to do. And if part of the distraction was fighting the parser, well, I guess being slightly muddled helps put us in Bertie's shoes. Okay, your name's actually Bartie Worster (your middle name isn't Wilberforce, either,) and your butler is Gieves, probably for intellectual property reasons.

But DtHG does so much more than just say "Hey! You like Wodehouse? Here's something Wodehouse-y." Anything could be a bit too verbose, enough to bring back memories of Bertie, and we'd give it a cheerful wave and thumbs-up. Fortunately, the strong introduction made it clear the author knew their stuff, or knew it well enough I didn't mind being fooled.

The airy verbosity extends to useful error commands. Not that you have to have it. You can get rid of some '20s slang with an option, which helps limit one potential source of overkill (people's tastes will differ.) I admit at first the error messages threw me for a loop. But they really couldn't be the generic ones and keep the tone of the story! I think this is the first Adventuron game I've played with really custom error messages.

And there's a risk they may be too cute--I've had games I really liked where parser error messages backfired due to context. But here, Bertie has several random ones that loop. And my favorite staple, "you can't go that way" replacements are delightfully chatty. With each push-back I thought, hey, this is sort of neat, but then I realized there was a huge impressive body of work. Also, the help felt in tune with the 1920s and what Bertie would say. Outside of, well, the direct HELP that just states the main verbs. Bertie would probably be flummoxed by concepts such as a parser, after all!

The plot? DtHG begins in a town square, where you, Bertie, need to make change for a bell-ringer collecting for charity. You are not dropping a whole crown into their bucket! You actually have to make change twice. The game then twists to an estate where you, as a guest, are locked in your room and need to MacGyver your way out--the item descriptions make it pretty clear some of what must be used, and there's not too much.

For the third part, you need to rig things in the house so that Julia, the object of your affections, will step under the mistletoe and let you kiss her. You need to distract an overbearing aunt (a Wodehouse staple) and disable a door. Once it works, but doesn't, your final task seems trivial indeed.

The game is not very big (four rooms, one room, ten room in the three parts of the game,) but all the same there are enough places to visit, and the descriptions are funny. I got hung up trying to bring something messy in the house by tinkering with scenery I hadn't used yet and avoiding a room that had helped me solve a puzzle.

Jeeves is conspicuously absent from all this. But he plays a part.

DtHG, though, has some frustrating moments. The hints are well-done. You can HINT NEXT or HINT RECAP as needed, and Bertie vaguely discusses what he did in the big picture without spoiling things. There are also some guess-the-verb problems. HELP mentions this, and I agree that explicitly mentioning the verbs you need would spoil things, but the alternative is awkward, too! So maybe if there is a way for Adventuron to detect "Okay, you tried for the 10th time to do something with <ITEM>, I'll help you out" that would be useful. Or maybe things could be spoiled if you keep failing a certain way X times. That sort of balancing act's tricky.

I'm quite glad I played DtHG, all things considered. I imagine there's been a Wodehouse game tried elsewhere, and of course the Monkey Island games feel Wodehousian in their own way. And there are games that like to feel Wodehousian, with the 1920s setting and meandering stories I find more fun to read than actually sit and listen to. But based on what I've read, this feels the most closely connected to "Plum"'s works, and it pulls things off well.

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