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by David Welbourn

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The Witch

by Charles Moore profile

Fantasy
2023

(based on 11 ratings)
5 reviews

About the Story

You’re typically a sober-minded upstanding elf but last night you were out a little too late and had a little too much mead. This morning you woke up wedged in a tree in the woods outside of town with a splitting headache. Thanks to your late-night escapades, though, you luckily avoided the previous night’s calamity when a powerful witch swept in and snatched away all the other elves in your village. Now, you’re the only one left to save them. Time is short, however, for the the witch is lurking and she’ll be back at sunset for any stragglers.

“The Witch” is a deliberately old-school text adventure, an homage to old Infocom games, and a nod, in particular, to the “Enchanter” trilogy. Puzzle-driven with a large map, it’s intended to be ‘moderate’ in difficulty although ‘visiclues’ and maps are available.


Game Details


Awards

66th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)


News

includes:
- fairly extensive bug fixes
- fixed several 'find the verb' issues
Reported by chuckster | History | Edit | Delete
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Most Helpful Member Reviews


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Old-school to a fault, December 5, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

Points to The Witch for delivering when it comes to terror – guessing that in an old-school game like this the SCORE command might be useful, I was chilled to read the phrase “the game is winnable from this point” after it duly recited that I’d garnered 0 of 150 points. That positive statement, reassuring on its face, gives rise to what we fancy JDs call a negative inference: it wouldn’t be there unless at some point the game becomes unwinnable.

I don’t necessarily have a philosophical objection to games that are cruel in the Zarfian sense, I don’t think; in some cases, requiring restarts to optimize a puzzle solution or having certain especially significant or bone-headed choices lock a player out of victory might be defensible. No, my issue is a practical one, which is that cruel games, especially those of the old-school persuasion, are often tedious – there’s often a lot of retracing of one’s steps, resolving of puzzles one has tried before, and just generally faffing about in an uninteresting way. Sadly, The Witch already has a tedium problem, with a mostly-generic setting, a yawn-worthy premise, and fiddly features like an inventory limit. Add to this a generally high level of difficulty that seems to require authorial ESP to progress, and hair-trigger failure states that punish the player for the slightest deviation from the walkthrough, and I have to confess I couldn’t motivate myself to finish, even though I only put slightly more than an hour into it.

Let me start out by saying there were some elements I like. The player character is an elf with a mead hangover who missed the titular witch’s abduction of his village-mates because he was off on the aforementioned bender. I like this premise both because it’s implied that these aren’t like Noldor-type elves but rather Keebler ones, and also because I find the mead hangover thing very relatable; I’ve only had mead twice in my life, and each time I woke up the next morning praying for death. So me and this elf were sympatico. And while the prose is generally quite terse as per the usual style for this sort of throwback puzzlefest, there were some neat set-pieces, like an encounter with a giant owl, and some places where the writing went to some extra effort:

“This cottage belongs to Widow Elf, the matriarch of the village. The air is thick and still, smelling vaguely of lavender. Sunlit dust motes dance in the faint light. The cottage is warm, the air oppressive.”

That’s one more clause about the air than is needed, and Gloria Steinem could have a field day on how this lady’s identity is literally subsumed by that of her dead husband, but the passage is still way more lyrical than I expected.

Now that we’ve reached the inevitable pivot, though, I have to rattle off the stuff that wasn’t so nice. For one thing, the implementation is quite thin, with a lot of objects mentioned in location descriptions either not available to interact with, or brushed off with a “you don’t need to refer to the X”. Said locations are also pretty repetitive, with a lot of empty paths and elf cottages with only one or two salient features; combined, these two issues mean that exploration of the reasonably-sized map is a drag. Speaking of, there are at least two mazes; I made my way through one with a bit of trial and error, which wasn’t too bad, but come on, gimmick-less mazes in 2023 – in a game with a time limit – are a hard pill to swallow.

And oh, speaking of hard, the puzzles. Some of them aren’t bad in concept, but seem quite fiddly in implementation (Spoiler - click to show)(I’d come up with the idea of using the birdseed to get the key from the owl, but he attacked me every time I brought the seed out of the contained I’d hidden it in; from the walkthrough, it seems like you have to make use of Inform’s implicit take function to solve this puzzle, which is a really high bar); others just don’t seem to make any sense (Spoiler - click to show)(is there a clue anywhere that indicates that you should show the teddy bear to the catatonic elf?). And then, as mentioned above, there are the fail states; there are a couple of traditional puzzles that I would have enjoyed muddling through, one involving finding the correct combination for a series of levers, the other involving using a cart to explore a mine, but for the fact that they actively discourage experimentation. If you try a single incorrect combination for the levers, the machinery permanently stops working (this is especially egregious because the most logical way to read the one clue you get points to the inverse of the correct combination, not the one the game actually accepts), and the mine cart zooms off without you if you neglect a single step in what becomes a rather involved trial-by-error process, plus you need to do the whole sequence before your lamp burns down, which is on a ridiculously short timer.

I know there are folks who like this sort of thing, either out of nostalgia or sheer bloody-mindedness (hey, Francis Bacon, over here! Have I got a game for you!) But I got into IF through Photopia, not Zork or Adventure, and such as they are, my kinks top out at quite liking brunettes. God bless you people who will like The Witch, but I am not one of you (hell, you folks probably like mead, too).

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A long fantasy parser game about elves and a witch with some bugs, November 23, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

I played this game because it was a ‘longer than two hours’ parser adventure, so one that I would consider might be difficult to complete.

You play as an elf in a village that has suddenly been kidnapped en masse by a witch. You have to look through all the elves’ abandoned houses and workplaces and get the tools and items you need!

This game can be pretty tricky. I made two attempts in playing. In the first, I carefully explored, and discovered some locations where timing was essential. For instance, there is a mine with a lamp, and the lamp has a limited battery. I had to save and undo several times to get that right. Then there were a few other ways for objects to get lost forever.

Increasing the difficulty was a carrying limit, so I had to drop things at different times. There were a lot of containers I could throw things in, but those too had a carrying capacity. Sometimes containers got weird (I had a jug of mead and at one point I was carrying the mead outside of the jug). I’ve had my own issues implementing liquids in containers though so I know how it is!

Unfortunately, after I had escaped and got a bit stuck and turned to the walkthrough, I couldn’t find something mentioned in it while I was wandering up and down the river and, to my sadness, I hit the turn limit and died at about 50 points.

The turn limit seems like a fixed limit, around 600 moves, and so there was no way to undo far enough to keep going. I had to start over, and, fearing similar problems, followed the walkthrough precisely this time.

Before using the walkthrough, I encountered a maze that was actually pretty neat. It’s a ‘twisty little passages’ maze (i.e. a maze where all rooms are identical, or almost so, and going back the way you came doesn’t always take you forward), but the only directions are UP and DOWN, so you have to navigate your way through. I reminded me of the cramped/claustrophobic area in Andrew Plotkin’s So Far a bit.

Some of the puzzles after turning to the walkthrough seemed really hard to solve, especially the finale; I wonder if there are hints you can find elsewhere that can help you with them.

I’ve attached a transcript. It has some bugs in it I’ve marked here and there. Overall, I was glad to beat the witch!

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Wicked Witch of the Was, December 22, 2023
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

It is with a head hung heavy in shame I must confess to you, dear reader, that I have hit another milestone in my short reviewer's life. This one is somewhat ignominious. For the first time as a comp reviewer/judge I did not persevere past an hour and a quarter playtime of a long game. As with many other prior failures, I had cause to reflect on larger issues and learn a bit about myself in the experience.

Witch wants to be an old school parser. REALLY old school, like dawn of IF old school. These formative IF works were notoriously opaque and cruel, the gameplay PRESUMED innumerable restarts and experimentation to make progress. They were also necessarily spare - they were often operating within hard storage limits so wit was applied where room was available. Mostly it was a tight, shallow “only what’s necessary” implementation. If assessed on a ‘unique text/hour’ metric, the numbers would be shockingly low. They would complicate progress with things like inventory limits, need for food, water and sleep. Quiet, unwinnable states were commonplace. Instant death with no reasonable foreshadowing. Hey, they were busy inventing the form, cut them some slack!

The net effect of early state-of-the-art was to make the puzzles punishingly hard, deeply trial-and-error, extremely time sinky, so many restarts, and triumphant once finally beaten. At some point, people started questioning, 'was the triumph really all THAT great, compared to the chore needed to achieve it?' The consensus answer seems to be ‘no,’ but it is true that it was a very specific pleasure that is hard to come by these days.

I have fallen into the trap of over-explaining what this community is well aware of.

Witch doesn’t initially present itself as that. It presents itself as a flawed, incomplete implementation. The game is rife with “You see Z; >EXAMINE Z; You can’t see any such thing.” RIFE with it. At first it I attributed it to “unimplemented nouns, amirite?” Parser IF is riddled with this, it comes with the territory, you pretty much have to have some forgiveness to engage at all. But it is one thing when scenic elements that have no gameplay function are missing. It is quite another when a key puzzle is undermined by it.

“You see a (Spoiler - click to show)magic tree.” >X (Spoiler - click to show)TREE. “You can’t see any such thing.” >(Spoiler - click to show)CLIMB TREE. “You can’t see any such thing.” To later learn via walkthrough that you need to (Spoiler - click to show)>UP. A key puzzle requires you to engage with an object, but refuses to acknowledge its existence! The player can be forgiven never thinking to try this, even through Herculean trial-and-error.

The game is crammed with this kind of thing. Later, the one complicated puzzle I solved refused to acknowledge I had solved it because I did it out of order. And treated me to bafflingly contradictory state messages until I spammed things into the right order. I did endure for an hour and a quarter, wandering around collecting things, performing teeth-grittingly unrewarding inventory management. I eventually got to a point where I needed to consult the walkthrough.

And there, dear reader, is where my resolve abandoned me.

On the first few pages of the walkthrough I realized: 1) there were two puzzles (including the above) I would never have solved on my own, requiring me to detect where the game was actively deceiving me; 2) solving the above case leads to a throwback trial-and-error maze which, classic yes, but good riddance; 3) another puzzle I would only have solved through belligerent spamming then BEEN INFURIATED by the solution; and 4) that I had put myself into not one but two unwinnable states, with no hint that I had done so.

Dear reader, I had until that moment considered myself made of sterner stuff. It was not rage that undid me, it was stunned incomprehension.

Now the framing story for this is similarly old-school. Occasionally playful generic fantasy with unapologetic anachronisms among the setting. But even back in the day that was a super thin framing device, unique when it started, exhausting its novelty very quickly. Nothing is done to burnish the tropes here: no unique twists, no knowing asides, no innovative variations. Even when flashes of wit present themselves, the game quickly abandons them. I had a sinking feeling when up front this sequence played out:

>I
You're carrying:
a plain flagon (which is closed)
a headache
regret

>X REGRET
Are you familiar with the term "intangible"?


Yes, amusing in its inclusion, but why abandon the bit so perfunctorily? Absent compelling story or bouying humor, the gameplay bounced me hard. I am of the camp that all history does not need to be repeated, some is best left in the past. While I am amused by 80’s hairstyles, I will never purchase a feathering comb. It’s fine that it’s of its time. I was tempted to rate it Unplayable, but was it really THAT much more unplayable than early IF?

I kind of respect the author’s effort here in one sense. In this day and age to develop a game of this size (36 pages of walkthrough!) committed to this style of gameplay… it is an old saw to “make the art you want to see in the world.” I hope it finds its not-me audience.

Also, thankfully, at least the Elves here aren’t racist.

Played: 10/11/23
Playtime: 1.25hrs, seems got to two unwinnable states, score 10/150, declined to restart
Artistic/Technical ratings: Bouncy, Intrusively buggy gameplay
Would Play After Comp?: No, my nostalgia only reaches so far


Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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On Monday and Tuesday, April 29 and 30, 2024, I published new walkthroughs for the games and stories listed below! Some of these were paid for by my wonderful patrons at Patreon. Please consider supporting me to make even more new...




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