by Gareth Rees

Collegiate, Mystery

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Number of Reviews: 8
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1-8 of 8

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The university of puzzles great and small., April 12, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

I must confess to a serious character flaw, a deeply rooted chasm that runs through the heart of my being. It is a source of frustration and temptation, it leads me to reach above my abilities and cheat to grasp above my reach. It is the following:

I suck at puzzles and I love puzzle-games.

I had previously banged my head against the front door of Christminster University. I gave up each time. This time I gave in to temptation and sinned. I consulted a walkthrough. And I have no remorse.

I loved this game. The puzzles after that fiendish first one were milder to me (I cheated a few times more though), and stubborn exploring got me further and further in the game, and also in the story.

The progression of the story is great. You get the chance to get to know your character and one NPC in particular, a marvellous professor with whom you get to spend a good amount of time. The clock on the tower announces your progression through the puzzles as you get nearer to the endgame. That detail works as a brilliant way to heighten the tension, it lets you know each time you've gotten closer to... what?

The puzzles are hard, but the reward you get is great. You can explore more and more hidden parts of the old building, and the atmosphere is gripping.

A really really good game.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An exremely well-crafted game of extreme difficulty, February 3, 2016

Christminster is set in a British University, where you are looking for your lost brother. You encounter a variety of obstacles and discover various ancient secrets.

This game has a host of well-crafted NPC's, timed events, and other difficult-to-implement concepts. The puzzles are logical, and exploring around for long enough is enough to get many of the puzzles. Several of the NPC's are quite funny, and there is a fun cryptographic puzzle.

Even though this game is well-crafted, it didn't really call out to me at first. I have realized that I am prejudiced against upper-class PC's, and against college-related games. I've had similar issues with Savoir-Faire, Violet, and the Lurking Horror. However, when I finally reached the end of the game with a walkthrough, I really enjoyed it.

This game was one of the most popular games in the mid 90's, along with Curses!, Jigsaw, and Theatre.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Classic Oxbridge College adventure, February 6, 2015

In 2015, Christminster is almost 20 years old. It's closer in time to the Infocom classics than to the present and this is getting truer and truer. Trying to compile it from source requires digging out the Inform 5 compiler (which seems to crash with a segmentation fault?). The real question is how has it aged? Is it a timeless classic or a period piece?

I think the evidence is clear that it's at the very least a timeless near-classic. One can recognize a game that plays with Inform's new-for-the-time capabilities in what may now seem a stylized fashion, but which for its time must have been new and fresh. The important point is that the story holds up. The writing is witty, the puzzles are well-structured, and the whole thing fits together.

The most impressive quality for me though is the near-perfect timing and coherence of the whole. This is the definitive Oxbridge College adventure. The College feels right, the buildings look right, the eccentric Dons are right. The setting is some ill-defined post-war period; perhaps the point is it could be any time between say 1945-1954 (post-war, no mention of rationing) and 1972-1988 (women are admitted to mens' Colleges). The very timelessness is critical, and the author uses this, for example in the prologue which mentions strawberries. There are also a Chapel, a punt, a garden.

Particularly effective is the use of time. The game's structure uses the player's achievements to advance the clock. Within the different episodes, there is flexibility, however. The underlying plot is the driven forward by certain actions with irrevocable consequences (it is possible to get stuck in a non-winning situation). The hint system becomes vaguer with time. I certainly peeked at the source code a few times. I had not played the game for a long time and thought I remembered the winning sequences, but I was mistaken (a good thing, I would argue).

Getting all the points is not easy, but the game is fair in the sense of Chekov's Gun. Everything that is of later importance is indicated in some fashion. Possibly not the a reference to the Meldrew family buried in the game, but that is not actually needed. A tribute to Curses and to the origin of Inform.

Finally, while the author explains the origin of Christminster and Biblioll, it is an interesting exercise to see whether the setting is more like Cambridge or Oxford. The use of the word "supervision" suggests Cambridge, as does the river flowing South to North, although there are no historical Cambridge colleges on the west bank of the Cam. And the name Biblioll is of course based on Balliol, while it is older than Cambridge. In the end, it doesn't matter because the disparate elements come together and one is immersed in what feels like a College.

One of my favorite (Christminster spelling) games every. Every student of Inform should play it at least once.

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Very good, but bettered by its successors, June 10, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: gareth rees

Play it if: you want to play a medium-length game emphasizing clean, forgiving gameplay and a detailed, engaging setting.

Don't play it if: you want plot-heavy IF that hits the narrative highs of later masterpieces such as Anchorhead.

Christminster to me suffers from the rather thankless role of being a classic game overtaken by its successors. It's a shame because in many ways Christminster is contemporary in its design: lower on cruelty and higher on fairness than most of the Infocom classics. In that respect it's the sort of game that will outlive the Zork series, whose entries will more often than not frustrate the contemporary player in spite of their positive attributes.

I think it comes down to the balance between puzzle-solving and storytelling. For every area in which Christminster presented clean, quality gameplay, there's another area in which it falls just a little bit short in its narrative. Yes, the puzzles have both variety and verisimilitude, depending as much on the manipulation of characters as on that of everyday objects. Yes, they're (mostly) well-clued and engaging enough to keep you playing through to the finish. But then I have to stop and wonder why I'm researching the alchemical history of the university when I should be demanding a police investigation into my brother's disappearance. (Spoiler - click to show)And concocting the Elixir of Life is all very well and good for a puzzle, but what is going through Christabel's mind when she is making it? What is the connection between making the Elixir and saving her brother?(Spoiler - click to show) These sorts of details by no means ruined the game, but they did prevent me from really connecting with Christabel and by extension the actual plot.

The thing is that Christminster feels like a prototypical version of Anchorhead. I know it's not really fair to judge one game by the standards of another, but Anchorhead, which might be considered this game's spiritual successor, really did do it better. The personal stakes are higher, the environment is more atmospheric, the backstory and research more detailed and engaging. Christminster paddles along at a good pace in terms of gameplay, but the plot itself changes very little between the beginning and end; nothing of real emotional significance happens until the ending, and there is little build-up to the climax. It works more as a string of well-connected puzzles than as an actual story, whereas Anchorhead managed to balance both of those elements.

So is it a masterpiece? For its time, yes; and even now it has aged extremely well - the original release was in 1995, but it may as well have been yesterday (barring a couple tell-tale gaps in implementation). So it's still entirely worthwhile as a game, if not as engrossing a story as it could have been.

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
This game is so good, I'm reviewing it before I finish!, September 10, 2011
by Deboriole (San Diego, CA)

I almost didn't play this game because of its title (I am not that interested in religion and/or history), but I decided to give it a go. I was hooked from the very first puzzle! The story is intriguing and the puzzles are varied and plentiful. The hint system is perfect - there are clues available, but they are very loose so you need to actually use your brain. I felt more accomplished upon solving these puzzles than most any other game I have played.

Finding the solutions takes some effort, but everything is completely logical (and solvable) if you pay attention. There is a lot of "looking up" facts or people in books, but I just started jotting down every surname I came across and managed to progress just fine.** I definitely recommend playing the game and sticking to only the in-game hints (plus my spoilers, since I could have used them!). It is a very satisfying experience when you get past each obstacle. The one puzzle in the game that completely eluded me was the wire puzzle. Spoiler alert...
(Spoiler - click to show)I thought only one wire could be connected to any one socket. I thought the two wires in each receptacle were an "in" and an "out". It never occurred to me to plug multiple wires into any one socket! Electrician, I'm not.

** Ironically after I posted this review I became very, very stuck. I broke down and found an online walkthrough. Unfortunately I had made two crucial mistakes that prevented me from finishing the game this time. :( Even so, I still give the game 5 stars for its sheer genius!
My mistakes are listed below in a spoiler.
(Spoiler - click to show)Mistake #1: I mixed several liquids together since I only had a few containers. You need to keep everything separate until the end of the game because they are "ingredients." My advice is to pick up every container and every liquid you can find. Mistake #2: I gave away the Egyptian book before using it to look things up. Its new owner left partway through the game, so I was never able to recover it.

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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
OK, not great. , August 3, 2011

Overall pretty good, but it has some issues. The beginning is rather confusing until you really sit down and look at the in-game map. You can easily skip important items without realizing and be destined to a "failing" ending. In my opinion, this is just bad game design. To require repeated playthroughs through entire sections of the game for one small mistake made earlier is not interesting or fun. My largest annoyance was that (Spoiler - click to show) (pretty big spoiler ahead) (Spoiler - click to show) the box (containing some gum, a very important item) was mentioned among a bunch of items, whose description hinted that they were not important. It was a time-pressure situation so I ignored it and later needed to restart from an earlier save to get it. You should be able to trust the narrator! Even the hint system does not suggest that you've missed something . However, the game is generally fair; you don't lose the game at every mistake.

There are a few bugs in the descriptions (ie saying something is south when it is really north), many item descriptions are flat or are the default "you see nothing special about...". The game contains a cipher text puzzle, and (Spoiler - click to show) while in-game sources hint at how to solve it, translating the text is nothing but tedious.

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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Annoying, August 20, 2009

I actually couldn't get very far into this game. The interface annoyed me. The rooms did not list the exits, and only sometimes gave hints as to where the exits were in the game description. In order to get a list of the exits, you actually have to try and move in a direction you cannot move in. There is no 'exit' command, there is no feature which lists the exits as many other such games have. Combined with the incredible sparseness of the descriptions, this leads to incredible annoyances. For example in one room on a city street the exits are west and east, but neither direction leads back into that room. Actually, if you head west, you find that heading east leads you to a locked gate, which had nothing to do with the room you were previously in. This is bad room design.

The puzzles I saw in the portion of the game I completed also made little sense. This may be fine for interactive fiction when it was made back in 1995, but seems a bit outdated today. If my brother called me to visit him, why do I have to go through several complicated puzzles to break into his college, instead of just having him meet me outside? Obviously there is an answer - it turns out he's vanished - but the fact that he does not meet you and that you have to break into the college isn't really remarked upon. Honestly, I'm not sure why people rate this one so high...I just found it a bother. I gave it a three because of its age; if it was new I'd give it a two.

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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Superb stuff, March 29, 2008
by jingold (UK)

In thinking of great IF I keep coming back to this one - it's puzzley but not too puzzley, it executes set-pieces in a way that might even have been novel for its time, and it balances progression and frustration excellently. Add to that the well-rendered setting that changes over time, the characterised NPCs and I think you've got something really special. One of my all-time favourites.

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