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Shadowland I: The Tower of Iron

by Tom Claburn

Fantasy, RPG

(based on 1 rating)
1 review

About the Story

Shadowland seems more a coding example than a full-fledged game. You start out strapped into a mad scientist's machine, but free yourself and hack, blast, and julienne your way through numerous monsters. [blurb from The (Other) TADS Games List version 1.2]

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A bracing shot of old-school masochism!, March 31, 2010

Oh, my. When browsing at random through the IFDB, you can go way, way, way, way back through the archaeological layers of IF. This work hails from the primordial era of 1993 (quite possibly predating the release of Inform version 1!), and, boy, does it show it.

Although built using the stalwart TADS 2 platform, Shadowland I: The Tower of Iron seems positively atavistic to modern eyes. Much of this is a result of the chosen style; it plays more like one of the RPG-simulating MUDs it was contemporary with than it does a typical text adventure.

The game actually starts off fairly well. If you ask for it, you are treated to a lengthy introduction to playing IF, such as you might have found in the manual for an Infocom game. The opening description is basic but competent, and then you find yourself killed because you failed to beat a guess-the-verb challenge within 5 turns.(Spoiler - click to show) (Hint: "remove straps") Okay, then.

The title hints that this piece was intended as the opening installment of an entire series. In this exciting first chapter, you will face many terrifying challenges, such as:

* randomized combat between low-level characters (in the context of a largely unexplained magic and combat system),
* the twin demons of guess-the-verb and guess-the-noun,
* hunt-the-topic with uncommunicative NPCs,
* and unexpected starvation puzzle(Spoiler - click to show) (in a world with just one thing to eat, that you probably will use immediately upon finding it since it also the only thing heals you, apparently), and
* subtle programming errors that inhibit basic functionality!(Spoiler - click to show) (a lingering requirement for a skill roll to pick something up, even when no longer in combat?)

Playing this game was a terrible experience for the modern player. But playing this game was a wonderful experience for the old-school IF aficionado, taking you back to the days when each point(Spoiler - click to show) (out of a well-rounded 1000) was a hard-won battle pitting your wits against the author.

Seriously, I actually did enjoy this game, in that grudge match kind of way. I was determined to make it to the end, even though it wasn't entirely clear that this piece was completed enough to do so. When I thought I'd tried absolutely everything possible but still found myself stuck, I took it up a notch and decompiled the code to look for hints.

To the author's credit, he may have anticipated this possibility, and his puzzle design skills continued to challenge me even in this "god mode". By cleverly omitting the names of objects involved in actions, he made it virtually impossible to determine how the last barrier between me and success was to be surmounted, though I scanned vigilantly through the uncommented spaghetti code churned out by the decompiler.

When I finally ferreted out what the correct item/object/unique-action combination was, my hat was off to this brave pioneer, for the daring masterstroke of inexplicably requiring one particular item to be used out of context to(Spoiler - click to show) open a grate... No hints in the relevant object descriptions. No hints when an incorrect object was used with the right verb. A cunningly-placed red herring, in the form of a different object that much more plausibly could have been abused in this way. I nearly cried at the genius of it.

My greatest regret is that I didn't get to experience the related follow-up puzzle without preparation, as I had already accidentally "solved" that while tracing code for the one above. Figuring out that one cold would have required a level of transcendent insight akin to the Dalai Lama's.

Taking my tongue out of my cheek for a moment, I actually did enjoy this enough to rate it in two-star territory. It is an honest first effort that took no small amount of work to realize. Minus the bugs and with slightly fairer puzzles, I might even have gone for three stars. Mr. Claburn, if you're still out there somewhere, consider dusting off this project. Give Inform 7 a whirl. You've already got your first player lined up for Shadowland II.

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Shadowland I: The Tower of Iron on IFDB


The following polls include votes for Shadowland I: The Tower of Iron:

Games part of an unfinished series by Jonathan Blask
I think it is both funny and interesting when games bill themselves as "Part # in the [blank] series" (and other games are never written). It is fun to speculate what directions those future games may have gone. This poll is a memorial...

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