The Pen and the Dark

by Keith Campbell


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Old school. Very old school., January 7, 2016
by Ade Mct (Yorkshire Dales, UK)

Keith Campbell was a hero of mine. He wrote a monthly Adventure Games column in 'Computer and Video Games' - probably the most successful gaming publication in the UK for a while. In it, he would review a handful of games each month, and there would be a small set of hints for various games. I met him once - each year he would have a small stall at the large games fair held in the Olympia in London. I asked him a question about a game. He answered it. I can't even remember what it was, now. Unfortunately, Keith passed away quite recently. This, The Pen and the Dark, based on the Unorthodox Engineers stories by Colin Kapp was his only work of Interactive Fiction. Keith Campbell is the reason I began to play IF.

An indestructible column of darkness, and its penumbra have appeared on the planet. You are tasked with discovering the what's, the why's and how to get rid of it.

Keith liked Scott Adams adventures. And you can tell.

It is a two word, very basic, parser and suffers from all the frustrations of such. There is a door here. West? No. In? No. Go in? No. Enter? No. Open door? No. Go Door? Yes. It is also fairly unfair, much in keeping with the time. Some puzzles are un-clued. Some are clued fairly badly. Some are entirely of the mind-reading variety.

On the face of it, this game doesn't hold up to modern scrutiny.

But. But. There is something here. A kernel perhaps of something more. This is a game of big ideas. Some of the mechanisms, world modelling, and puzzle types here are relatively unique to a game of its time.

I am glad I re-played it. I remember, when it first came out in 1984 I failed entirely to get anywhere. Now, with the aid of a walkthrough, it is fascinating to see just how ambitious this game was. It was reaching for something new and clever, but just didn't have the toolkit to get there.

Here is a link to the manual.
Here's a link to a walkthrough (without which I doubt it could possibly be solved).
I played it on a BBC emulator. Here's a link to a disc image.

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<blank>, January 5, 2016 - Reply
This is a good review, but could I encourage you to expand? I'm really very curious on what makes this game so ambitious, and why it fails to get there entirely.

You get vague just when you get to the good stuff! :)
Ade Mct, January 8, 2016 - Reply
I'm going to resist the urge to do this. :) I deleted much of my original review text - I want readers to be intrigued and play the game. It deserves an airing.
<blank>, January 9, 2016 - Reply
Fair enough!
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