Augmented Fourth

by Brian Uri!

Fantasy, Humor

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
"But if we throw the Cat in the barrel first,..., June 28, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Fantasy

...then how will the Aardvark learn to swim?"

A small taste of the sometimes absurd sense of humour that pervades Augmented Fourth

King Goosen of Papoosen did not enjoy your rendering of "Ode to a Duck". Consequently, you and your trusty trumpet are thrown down the pit, where you discover a community of sorts living at the bottom of the volcano.
Determined to make it back top-side, you must now overcome the obstacles that stand between you and the closed off ladder to the castle. You have your wits and your magically enhanced trumpet.

Instead of memorizing magic scrolls, in Augmented Fourth you must obtain and learn music sheets. Each of the melodies has its own effect on your surroundings and as such functions as a wizard's spell. This magic system is worked out in detail. If you play a particular ditty in a location that is not the intended puzzle-room, the surroundings will still react, sometimes hilariously. The actual effects of the spells are mostly natural phenomena (rain, gravity, ducks...), so it is not too difficult to judge which spell/song to play to solve a particular puzzle.

The game keeps a nice balance between magical solutions and more prosaic adventuring puzzles. Along with summoning ducks through trumpet-playing, you will also need to do the usual bit of exploring of the cave and manipulating of the objects.

The cave under the volcano has a splendid map. The adventure starts off in the center of the volcano, also the central hub of the area. All directions save one are open for exploration from the beginning, and multiple puzzles are accessible from the start. Almost without noticing though, you will have less and less options to pursue, effectively pushing you to the bottleneck in the northern quadrant. From there on out, the game shifts gears and the story gets on fast-moving railroad tracks to the hilarious finale.

A finale that is foreshadowed throughout the game in small amusing intermezzos narrating what is happening with the King up top, who is spiraling down to ever more insanely funny despotic madness.

Modern IF is often lauded for the way the puzzles are seamlessly integrated into the story. Augmented Fourth turns this on its head: the story is woven seamlessly around the puzzles, which are without a doubt the real reason of existence for this game. In many of those puzzles, well-known adventuring tropes are averted, subverted, completely avoided or twisted in a knot. Breaking down the player's expectations often leads to fantastically comic situations, when a certain build-up of tension is suddenly relieved in an unforeseen direction.

There are also a number of playthings that are just that: items to play around with. They're not even red herrings (of which there are also a fair number...), just opportunities to idly while away the time. In the same vein, there are a number of books that provide hints; they mostly provide page after page of completely unnecessary sillines.

A very silly, moderately difficult and very smoothly playing puzzle-romp.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A lengthy, well-polished Enchanter-like game with magical music, February 4, 2016

Augmented Fourth is one of those games that everyone hopes for, a longish, well-implemented parser game with great writing and fun puzzles.

You play a court musician cast into a pit. After a couple of linear puzzles, you're brought into a large underground town where you have to complete a sequence of unlikely tasks.

You learn to play a variety of magical musical song spells. These affect the environment around you.

The game is fun, amusing, but also hard. Many logical ideas don't work, and some illogical ideas are needed to complete the game. However, this is normal for oldschool games, and Augmented Fourth is something of a homage to oldschool games.

I recommend it for fans of Infocom games, which is quite a few people. It really brings that same feel.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Amusing and Satirical, May 17, 2013
by Andromache (Hawaii)

I can’t really comment on the story of this game because it’s clearly not meant to be taken seriously. I’ll say that some of the writing made me laugh aloud. Comments where the author directly talks to players, the inventive score system, and the sheer idiocy of the king were fun reading. The ending was actually quite enjoyable to play through and magical music was quite a clever device.

The puzzles were mostly fair, but I did get desperate enough to turn to the walkthrough at about mid-game. In hindsight, the solutions usually made sense, though my one quibble is the last one before the endgame. (Spoiler - click to show)It was getting the key to the door to the surface. Yes, it makes sense if you play with words, but it’s not something that I think really comes to mind, since the solution uses an object that you’re told you can’t really make sense of. Also, the pamphlet tells you one of the NPCs has the key, which he doesn’t. For reference, the other places that stumped me were the key to the safe and getting into Squiggy’s tower. Those solutions were fair, though you can make the game unwinnable by using the solution to the tower in a different way. In my opinion, the tower puzzle could be better clued. For example: "The cleft is too small to enter. Perhaps if you could widen it…" For some reason, it didn’t occur to me to try to get rid of it, thinking it had something to do with Squiggy’s demise. Though I didn’t test it to make sure, I think you can make the game unwinnable without realizing it, particularly because you need to destroy the object. Therefore, the loss of said object might not immediately tip you off that you’ve just broken the game.

I’d say the game is worth playing just for the laughs. My favorite puzzle was probably the maze, and that’s saying something. It was a maze that was satisfying to solve.

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Marvellously polished but the tuning could be improved, March 7, 2013

The first and only work ever published by author Brian Uri, Augmented Forth is an astounding debut piece. Coded via Inform 6, its half-a-megabyte source code is a testament to levels of dedication and attention to detail that are extremely rare.

I often comment that a game could use more polish -- not here. Augmented Forth may as well be lacquered! Its interaction is extraordinarily smooth and fairly gleams with charm and wit from every angle. I found myself marveling again and again that the author had covered the situation with some special bit of flair, whether it was one of the many small jokes sprinkled throughout or just a simple variation on standard wording to show that you were still "within bounds" of the planned interaction.

I can't stress enough how impressed I am by this aspect of the game, and this alone makes it worth playing to experience. If you've ever tried your hand at writing IF, you know how much work all of these little details add up to, and my hat is off to Mr. Uri here. The only places I found any hiccups in the flow were in cases where there is a vocabulary overlap between objects that causes undesirable disambiguation requests, a notoriously tricky issue to handle using Inform 6's parse_name routine.

However, having spent some time admiring this beautiful instrument, I was a little disappointed with actually playing it. As Emily Short pointed out, there are "irritating patches, mostly related to the design of the puzzles", places where the expected final nudges (or even telling silences in the form of careful omissions) are not forthcoming, even though I had a partial solution.

Thinking about this, I came to believe that, in such instances, the tremendous level of polish actually works against the gameplay. In a typical work of IF, the "shininess" of world interaction is itself a form of hinting: Often, one knows one's on the right track by virtue of the differences from more general default responses. The richly embroidered surface detail of Augmented Forth magnificently camouflages any such hinting, leaving the player sometimes at a loss to differentiate between threads of plot and threads of whimsy.

Most puzzles are relatively straightforward, sometimes of the physics (or silly physics) variety and sometimes along "hey, let's see if this new spell can do that" lines. There were only a few that didn't work for me(Spoiler - click to show):

#1 the fern -- (Spoiler - click to show)The hinting in the description about it is misleading. This isn't one of those "help the plant thrive" puzzles. (Spoiler - click to show)The responses to basic actions are misleading. They give the impression that you shouldn't be dealing with the fern now (but maybe should later) when it definitely is relevant in the immediate context. (Spoiler - click to show)First, you have to understand the basic goal here, which means you should have already visited the other cottage and gotten to understand its inhabitant a bit. (Spoiler - click to show)The framed music gives a strong hint of the goal here. (Spoiler - click to show)If you want these two to fall in love, the first thing you have to do is get them in the same room. (Spoiler - click to show)She's a bit too wrapped up in her book to move, but he is just waiting at her beck and call. (Spoiler - click to show)What will make her call him? (Spoiler - click to show)Well, he's a butler, what do butlers do? (Spoiler - click to show)Yes, they introduce visitors... except here. Yes, they bring food and drinks.... except here. (Spoiler - click to show)Maybe you've noticed he's really tidy? Might he tidy something up for her? (Spoiler - click to show)Now even if you have the right idea, you're up against a guess-the-verb challenge. Try the most basic verbs. (Spoiler - click to show)Not "spill soil" or "knock over pot" or "throw dirt" or "break pot" (another misleading response)... just "push plant" is the magic command. This particular interaction is so antithetical to the rest of the work's tone that I really don't understand how it was left as is during playtesting.

#2 the safe -- (Spoiler - click to show)The basics here are easy enough to understand, you need to get on the platform to access the safe, and additional weight on the platform sets off a trap. (Spoiler - click to show)No problem, there's a spell for that right? (Spoiler - click to show)Only it doesn't work. Even though there's a presumably heavy safe on the platform, and increasing gravity should add quite a bit of weight. (Spoiler - click to show)Put something heavy on the platform instead, like one of the big books lying around. Again, this one just kind of leaves me shaking my head, as it would be trivial to implement the alternate (and, in this game, perhaps more natural) solution.

#3 Moilan -- (Spoiler - click to show)This one can't be solved until you have made some progress gathering music, so stop here unless you've been to all the initially-accessible places. (Spoiler - click to show)He's a gate guard, and you want through the gate, a common type of puzzle. (Spoiler - click to show)So you have to bribe or divert or disable him, of course. (Spoiler - click to show)You should pick up some clues that he has a favorite kind of food from one of many places. (Spoiler - click to show)Where can you find some of that stuff? (Spoiler - click to show)... that he doesn't eat the moment you try to get it? (Spoiler - click to show)No dice on finding any, huh? Maybe you can trick him? (Spoiler - click to show)Anything that looks like fudge around? (Spoiler - click to show)Perhaps something brown with a thick texture? (Spoiler - click to show)Bring him some mud in the cup. (Spoiler - click to show)You might have to make some mud first, using magic. (Spoiler - click to show)It's a bit indirect, but stand in the Center of Volcano and use "Rainy Day" to cause a storm, then gather mud in the quarry ("fill cup with mud"). Here, the design issue is the very weak link between fudge and mud. ANY kind of relevant hint would have worked here, such as an infinite supply of fudge that he never stops eating (to clue you that getting him to ingest something fudge-like might be possible) or changing his food mania to coffee (especially strong black coffee, sometimes referred to as "mud", and which, unlike fudge, is served in a cup).

Also, I encountered only one bug in the game, but it is something of a doozy(Spoiler - click to show): As Levi Boyles mentions in another review here, in Release 2 it is possible to defeat the obstacle of one puzzle (involving learning a difficult piece of music) by removing it from your inventory via a method other than dropping it. In my case, I put it back on the stand and got the same effect -- being able to play the music without learning it.

Inspecting the source code, this appears to be due to the way it is handled programmatically: An array of booleans is used to track whether you can play a particular song, and the relevant boolean is not set to false for all verbs which allow its written form to leave your inventory. Thus this logic thinks you are still holding the sheet music even when you are not.

Since this is only piece that requires any effort to learn (and the puzzle structure prevents you from having both its sheet music and your trumpet at the same time, so it's the only time when the ability to play a non-memorized tune is meaningful), it probably would have been better to just test the world state directly (is the sheet music in inventory when the trumpet is played?) instead of trying to track this state of affairs with the same variables used to track memorization. Oh, well

These (subjective) flaws left me with a much lower opinion of Augmented Forth as a game
, but your mileage may vary.

Finally, I want to point some special attention to the handling of time in this game, which I thought was very well done. (Spoiler - click to show)Rather than being dependent on turn count or the default clock, time in Augmented Forth is plot-driven, with completion of certain puzzles advancing you to the next nebulous period of the day (e.g. "early morning", "midmorning"). Each advancement is coupled with a brief cutscene, filling you in on activity elsewhere in the game world in a plot arc with which your actions will intersect during the end game.

I don't know if this is the first work of IF to use this particular combination, but the well-written cutscenes together with the loose timekeeping produce a powerful synergy. With the cutscenes decoupled from turn count, the player is in no danger of being left behind by the outside events' timetable. With the resolution of time being so fuzzy, it doesn't seem as obvious that external events are waiting for your key actions (an illusion that the cutscene writing, with its indefinite pauses between scenes, is careful not to dispel).
The net effect just seems to work for the purpose of telling the story in the IF medium in a way that is subtle, but wonderful.

Other reviewers have commented on the copious spoofy humor, and I agree that it only serves to add flavor for those who get the reference without excluding those who don't. Sometimes, the touch is so light that you might not even realize there was a joke unless you know what it refers to(Spoiler - click to show), such as the casual mention that you're feeling hungry at the start of a game (very topical in a time when the presence of a hunger puzzle was considered exceptionally stale and bitterly despised). Others are so blatant as to be inescapable today(Spoiler - click to show), like the presence of "Mollug" and a very amusingly-described ring.

All in all, this work is significantly above average in quality and sure to be fun to play for most people. Though the few problems I encountered were minor, they seem terribly out of place in a work that gets almost everything right (from an old school perspective). Consistency rates highly in my book, and these missteps knock off enough of a star to bring it just short of 4 star territory.

As a reminder, my ratings are unusually harsh, and 3 stars counts as a very good game. I would eagerly play another piece from Mr. Uri, should he publish one in the future, and old school fans should definitely try this one if they haven't yet.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
The Jig Is Up, As In Thumbs Up!, February 23, 2013
by mrudis65
Related reviews: music, magic, charm, wit, satire, humor

You know it's going to be good when the game rewards you with the following: "Your score has gone up by one point for Stomaching the Requisite Cliched Fantasy Reference." This was my first IF by author Brian Uri, and if you enjoy Emily Short for her masterful storytelling or Andrew Plotkin for his fantasy creations, or "Violet" by Jeremy Freese for the sheer single-mindedness of the main character...then you are in for a treat with this one. If you don't know who those folks are, read on.

The author hides the solutions to the puzzles in "plain sight" but not so immediate that you don't have to get into the spirit of the story in order to find them. For this reason, not one of the puzzles was so hard that it became frustrating. However, not once did I feel like my intelligence was being insulted. In fact, quite the opposite was true. The nature of the puzzles employs word play, so while there perhaps is some guessing involved, I found the use of logic, semantics and a good dictionary to be most helpful. There is magic, and the game requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, because of the tongue-in-cheek nature of the entire drama. Humor and satire are behind every encounter.

What about references that only veteran IF players, or keepers of odd trivia would understand? These enhance the experience and can lead to certain "Easter Eggs" but even if new to IF, the player will find the story intriguing enough on its own. As for the theme of instrumental music, while there are frequent references to music, no knowledge of the subject is necessary to complete the game. I will admit that having played an instrument enhances the experience.

Who will want to move this to the top of their list of IF to try? Fans of Monty Python, Looney Tunes, The Kids in the Hall, or Saturday Night Live who also have a subscription to Games Magazine drop everything now and play it! I enjoyed the fact that score was kept throughout the game, and at the end you were informed what the total possible score was.

Unique to this IF was that I actually WANTED to go back and start over at the end in order to try some of the "extras" I missed.

The ONLY downside, if there is one, is that certain puzzles are "blocked" so that you cannot complete them until you accomplish other things in the game - things that are completely unrelated. So if you *think* you have the solution, and it doesn't work… my advice is to go do something else and come back to it. Still, I never really felt stuck to the point where I thought I had "tried everything".

Summary: This was the best IF game I have played to date.

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Fun and funny, September 8, 2011

Great game. Most puzzles involve doing things that seem like the right general idea but whose actual effects are not really predictable (ie well hinted wacky game logic). Not my style of puzzle but it really fits the context of this game, and it is done well (it is usually not hard to guess what to do next, with one exception early on for me) so on the whole I like it a lot. I found one relatively small bug which allowed me to temporarily circumvent one puzzle: (Spoiler - click to show) by throwing the jig out the round window in the study (trying to get it through the outer window in an unlikely attempt to get it outside), the character did not "forget" how to play the jig and I didn't need to solve that puzzle to get the copper key. Later, (after saving and restoring maybe?) I did not have the song "memorized" anymore, and so needed to go back and solve the puzzle, and I had to look at a walkthrough since I wasn't entirely sure there was a bug at that point . Other than that, I did not need to refer to a walkthrough, which is testament to a quality game in my book.

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