Amazing Quest

by Nick Montfort

2020

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Number of Ratings: 24
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Well, you see an amazing sky, May 5, 2021
by Greg Frost (Seattle, Washington)

"My uncle who lived in New York got me on the Howdy Doody Show when it was at the height of its popularity... and I was in the peanut gallery, and I remember seeing it all and thinking, It's all fake, it's a lie. But I wasn't disillusioned. I thought, This is what I'm gonna do. I wanted to be inside the magic trick."
--John Waters

Most other reviewers consider Amazing Quest to be a prank and have rated it accordingly. I’m not going to say that they’re wrong; I just want to try and explain my experience with the game and what I got out of it.

I played Amazing Quest during IFComp and enjoyed it. I’ll admit that nostalgia does some of the work, including the tiny Commodore 64 emulator screen with its blinking cursor and the pause while the program thinks after hitting return. The sparse descriptions (“luminous outpost,” “tiny stronghold”) suggest a bigger and more complex world with thematic elements of classical epics and science fiction. Overall I found it to be a short, satisfying experience that made me think about my choices in the context of the story.

I found out later that it’s all a trick, of course: the program is just a random text generator which throws away most of the input, tracks nothing, and will eventually end in victory no matter what the player does. I wasn’t upset about being fooled, though. I appreciated how the author was able to create the intended experience with nothing but 12 lines of C64 Basic, procedurally generated ADJECTIVE NOUNS, and a page or two of text outside the game.

Mike Russo makes a good point about the game being played more in your head than on the screen. That’s the magic trick I want to learn.


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Filling the brain spaces inbetween, January 5, 2021

Amazing Quest is an abject failure of interactive fiction, if the definition of interactive fiction involves consequential choices, puzzle-solving, or mapping.

Amazing Quest is a resounding success of interactive fiction, if the definition of interactive fiction involves provoking the player's own creativity as they extrapolate story and context from a necessarily limited set of input and output. (Which I argue most good IF always does.)

Each game session tells a story. It's random, yes, but in a curated way with strong thematic elements, not bargain-basement GPT-2 word salad.

It's quick-play, suitable for the modern player with thousands of choices a click away.

The support materials are spot-on for the aesthetic and, more importantly, promote the player's own creativity.

Good interactive fiction.
Bad game.


6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Boundary-pushing, but not in a good way., January 1, 2021
by Robin Johnson (Edinburgh, Scotland)
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

Look, I pride myself on not being a gatekeeper. I'm not up for arguments about what is or isn't IF, or a game. This is a game that tests that tolerance.

As far as I can tell, it's an infinite series of yes/no questions created procedurally from a small pool of random words ("you $ENCOUNTER_VERB a $ADJECTIVE $PLACE", do you $ACTION? (y/n)"), and your answers make no difference to it. It comes with a rather pretentious "introduction" and "strategy guide" which apparently serve to try to convince you that there's a deeper game in there, or that if you're good enough you'll enjoy this one.

It would be kind of cool that it was made for C64, and the documentation made on a mechanical typewriter, except that it doesn't make any use of the unique features of either technology.

EDIT, JANUARY 2021: I came across this gem of wisdom in a book about IF, and I can't help quoting it here -
"A program is not interactive fiction if it simply prints the same series of texts, or a random series of texts, in response to input, or if it outputs some transformation of the input string without understanding that string."
- "Twisty Little Passages", by Nick Montfort


- kevan, December 12, 2020

- wisprabbit (Sheffield, UK), December 8, 2020

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Like, Whoa, Dude, December 6, 2020
by Joey Acrimonious
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

Not everyone is going to “get” this game. But I’m here to tell you that, to the discerning eye, Amazing Quest is a brilliant and deeply moving masterpiece. Be warned that there’s simply no way to plumb the depths of this work without diving right into all the details, so there will be spoilers ahead.

This first point should be obvious to anyone who has played the game: Amazing Quest is a radical, surrealist deconstruction of the Odyssey which takes the familiar tropes of this classic work and turns them on their heads in order to reveal deeper meaning. Ancient Hellenistic literature, we are doubtless aware, is predicated upon the experience of presence. Presence, indeed, is axiomatic - and the importance of this cannot be overstated, because this same mode of thinking underpins virtually the whole of traditional western culture. Odysseus, you will recall, is a Greek man with a name. We know he has a name because it’s right there on the cover! His journey is to hearth and home, where he expects to reunite with his wife, Penelope, a woman who also is named. Matters like these are where Amazing Quest diverges most obviously from the Odyssey. Its protagonist is nameless and genderless, their origins unknown, their relations unspecified, their future inscrutable. It is with these flagrant omissions that Amazing Quest reveals itself as a dialectical synthesis of western classicism with Buddhist philosophy, recasting and recontextualizing the “journey home” trope within a frame of emptiness, juxtaposing the conspicuous experience of absence with our expectation of presence. By stripping out names and details from the familiar narrative, it invites us to consider the experience of their absence. To what extent can we alienate the signified from the signifier? To what extent is it truly possible to distinguish the internal experience of subjective identity from the external facts of socially-constructed gender identity, or family affinity? The game itself suggests answers to these questions, while simultaneously, and brilliantly, subverting its own answers: y/n? Yes and no, obviously, tell us nothing about the concepts in question. And yet, these are presented as the only answers to any given question. Is this a pre-emptive criticism of the cursory and ineffectual analysis which the author anticipated in response to the questions his game would provoke? Or is it perhaps a riff on the limitations of language itself - a suggestion that all language, ultimately, is an exercise in futility? No, it’s neither. It’s merely an open invitation for us to consider whether the questions that we are asking are the questions we ought to be asking.

But this is only the most superficial of what Amazing Quest has to teach us. In the enclosed strategy guide, Montfort cautions us: “What you (with your cultural world-view) might think of as chance […] plays an important role in this game.” This remark takes on unexpected significance as we progress through our amazing quest. At first, it appears that the results of each choice are random - indeed, there is no way to predict whether a yes or a no will yield (or shall we say, precede) positive or negative feedback. We, with the expectations instilled in us by our cultural background, perceive this as “chance,” yet Montfort’s comment seems to imply that this is not the only way of looking at it. What, then, is the alternative? Do our inputs effect some predictable feedback? Does it matter to the game whether we select yes or no? The answer, of course, is no. Montfort knows this, and we know this. Where, then, is the space for ambiguity? This is what we are invited to question. And in doing so, we will eventually have to ask ourselves, what is chance? This is where we are invited to consider our own ontology. If we believe in Enlightenment determinism, we must ultimately hold that nothing is truly chance - that everything ultimately has a cause, and that randomness is merely an illusion, revealing our imperfect understanding of that which we perceive to be based on chance. According to this view, the apparent randomness of Amazing Quest is merely an indicator that its course is determined by something other than our input. Or if we posit an indeterministic ontology, then we suppose that the apparent results of our choices were indeed random, and, still, not caused by our choices at all. Why, then, are we asked to make choices, when they are apparently meaningless?

Here is where Montfort’s strategy note exposes itself to a new interpretation: eventually, we will win the game. We cannot lose the game. Assuming we continue to play long enough, there is no question as to our ultimate victory. At this point it becomes clear that, ontological questions aside, what we perceived as chance was not chance, because it was nothing. The marginal effect on the gamestate of us getting positive versus negative feedback for any given choice… was nothing! We merely anticipated that the outcome of individual events would be of importance to the ultimate result, but it was not so. In this way, we are invited on a critical intrapsychological journey. What does it mean for us to be proven wrong? Why did we expect this? Where did our expectation come from? To this latter question, the author has already suggested an answer: it is our cultural background which has led us to this point. Our intrapsychological journey, now, becomes an interpsychological one. What did we experience, what were we exposed to, which caused us to feel that the events of this game would be of some consequence?

We are in good company, of course. Humans, for as long as history has been recorded, it seems, have ascribed causal significance erroneously. Let us now return to the Odyssey and the superstitions which it embodies. The reason Odysseus struggles to return to Ithaca is because he has been cursed by Poseidon. To our modern eyes, this is an obvious contrivance: you cannot be cursed by the god of the sea; angering such a non-existant entity will have no effect. And yet, is there not another way to read this event? Genesis P-Orridge famously observed that religion represents an early attempt at psychology. Poseidon may not seem to be a person with agency unto himself, but perhaps he could be said to exist, in some sense of the word, in the minds of humans. And if so - were we perhaps premature in concluding that he has no causal significance? Similarly, were we premature in concluding that the events of Amazing Quest had no causal significance? Perhaps it was their existence, in our minds (and thus embodied in our physical brains), that caused us to keep playing the game and ultimately win. This is likely to be among the more controversial of Amazing Quest’s implications: its idiosyncratic sort of panprotopsychist thesis - the implication that all things material and otherwise, through their potential for embodiment within the mind, have the potential for agency.

This is all just to scratch the surface of the, frankly, amazing content of this quest. I won’t be attempting a more substantive analysis at this time - after all, the field of IF studies is still in its infancy, and future critics will doubtless pick up on important details I’ve missed! Perhaps I’ll return to write a full essay once there exists a larger corpus of critical analysis to cite, but for now, these are my initial thoughts. I greatly enjoyed Amazing Quest and will be watching the author with interest.


- E.K., December 5, 2020

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Questionably amazing, December 5, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

Hey, a Nick Montfort game! I loved Ad Verbum! But this is, uh, not that. I saw a couple of forum threads talking about this game before I’d played it, and let my curiosity get the better of me, which I think was to the good in terms of level-setting my expectations, but really did ruin the gag. I think now that the Comp is over, most folks know what's up with this one (and other reviews on this page spell out what's what) so I'm not going to spoiler-block the rest of the review, but fair warning that I discuss exactly how the game's central mechanic works.

So this is a Mad-Libs text generator in a lightly-implied science-fantasy setting. There’s an overwrought introduction and even “strategy guide” that orient you towards the game – more on those later – but the program just spits out a series of yes/no questions prompted by telling you that your fleet has come across an ADJECTIVE NOUN (“hexagonal outpost”, “dim land”, “luminous planet”, etc.) and allowing you to VERB (“seek out help”, “sneak up and raid”, “speak plainly”), or not. You get a result, which could be positive (“you win cattle”) or negative (“a ship lost!”), but this is based entirely on a die roll and the outcomes are completely disconnected from the choices, and even the situations (like, winning cattle seems a logical result of raiding an outpost, but refusing to speak plainly in a tiny capital will likewise sometimes net you a reward of kine). And there’s zero state-tracking.

So the game qua game can’t really hold one’s interest for more than a minute or two, and the prose, as you can tell from the examples above, is likewise workmanlike at best. What there is is the intro and strategy guide. The first lines of the game itself are “The gods grant victory. Now go home!”, but above the game window is the motto “I must decide as if it all depends on me, trust as if it all depends on the gods.” And throughout the page-and-a-half strategy guide, the reader is confronted with a series of questions and statements prompting them to second-guess whether any course of action is better than any other, given that anything could happen and your ideas of what’s safe or unsafe might not be right. There’s also a lot of verbiage about how the player’s “cultural world-view” might structure how they understand what you “might think of as” chance or chaos.

There’s a point being made here, or at least a question being asked, about agency and subjectivity and what if the real game isn’t being played on the screen but in our heads comma man. I’m not saying the point/question is necessarily a bad one to be raising, to be clear! There are different interpretations you can put on what Amazing Quest is offering up, and probably someone more attuned to the aesthetics of the Commodore-64 presentation experiences it differently than I, who never had one, do.

But I don’t think that the way this reasonable question is being raised is very interesting or successful. Execution matters a lot! Like, think about how Rameses, or the unjustifiably-forgotten 19th-place-finisher-in-the-2002-IFComp Constraints, are all about a lack of agency and paralysis, but they give the player a lot to do and are rewarding to engage with. Now compare them to a notional game – let’s call it Bartleby – that presents a situation but responds to literally every player input with “I would prefer not to.” Same point, sure. But while Constraints left me dancing around the room making comparisons to Dubliners – oh yes, I was even more pretentious as a 21-year-old than I am today – I doubt I’d have anything like the same reaction to our imaginary Bartleby, and to my mind Amazing Quest is much closer to that, I’m going to say wrong, side of the spectrum. There’s something here, sure, and if you’re so inclined it can prompt you to think interesting thoughts – but I’m not so inclined so there you are, my thoughts about it are uninteresting.


- necromancer, December 4, 2020

- Doug Orleans (Somerville, MA, USA), December 2, 2020

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Amazement is in the eye of the beholder, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, choice-based, experimental

Amazing Quest is a choice-based game by Nick Montfort, published in 2020. The platform is quite unusual, as this appears to be a Commodore 64 game running on an emulator on the IFComp website.

You are a space wayfarer at the end of a victorious journey. To get back home, you answer simple yes / no questions about what to do in various randomized situations.

The minimalism is one of the most striking features of Amazing Quest. The various planets and areas you visit are described with exactly one adjective and one noun each, and the rewards for your success or failure are likewise expressed very succinctly. The writing is as terse as you could possibly get without losing sight of the core idea. It all leaves a lot to the imagination - perhaps too much.

The supplementary materials feature a 2-page manual written on a typewriter. The manual elaborates on the game’s apparent purpose: it should be all about meaningful decision making and getting the player into the mindset of a returning wanderer who has to decide if it would be wise to f.e. speak plainly in a strange place, potentially revealing your weaknesses to hostile characters. The language is somewhat mythical and dramatic, and it reminds me a lot of slightly pulpy science fantasy fiction, possibly even power metal.

The gameplay would work better if (Spoiler - click to show)there was anything at stake here. I tried intentionally creating a fail state inside the game by answering all the questions “wrong”, but I couldn’t do it very consistently and ended up winning every single playthrough. In fact, just smashing ‘enter’ over and over is enough to win the game. It gives me the feeling that victory is inevitable, wrong answers only delay it. I wonder if something like this *is* the intended message of the game? Such an optimistic vibe might be par on course for a game called “Amazing Quest”.

Overall, this is a rather strange title that requires a large suspension of disbelief from the player. Depending on how seriously you take it, there could be a world of adventures here, or there could be almost nothing. I personally found it a bit thought-provoking, at least.


- nf, December 2, 2020

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Probably art, December 2, 2020
by Stian
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

This “game” has been thoroughly dissected on the intfiction.org forum, and there is not much I can add in terms of content information. I did manage to play it early on, before having read the dissection. At that point I just though it was really boring. Now I understand that it’s postmodernist art.


- jakomo, November 5, 2020

- Zape, October 29, 2020

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Story, game, interactive or fiction? None of the above., October 29, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 15 minutes

I'm giving this game one-star even though it appears to be working as intended (usually I reserve one-star ratings for games with serious bugs). This "game" isn't a game, there isn't any story and it has only the veneer of interactivity. Literally none of the choices you make have any impact on the output. The outputs don't provide any sort of narrative. Best case this game might be considered some sort of critique of the interactive fiction, but I don't understand it (perhaps the author will enlighten us one day). Worst case it is just trolling. Not even worth the 10 minutes it takes to play.


- Sobol (Russia), October 25, 2020

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A satirical experience with the same binary choice at each step, October 21, 2020
by Enrique Henestroza Anguiano (Oakland, California)

A command-line focused game, Amazing Quest is true to its sardonic title in providing an "experience" with binary choices and some randomly generated content.

I appreciate the throwback interface and I figure that there are likely some hidden references here that might make this a funny joke to adventure game insiders, though I admit I didn’t really get it.

Setting aside any meta-level merit it might have, the game doesn’t offer much; there’s no progression, story, or conclusion, and the choices are repetitive and don’t seem to matter. I’ll also note that I didn’t read the separate intro/walkthrough for the game, since I believe the play through experience should stand on its own.


- jvg, October 20, 2020

- nosferatu, October 8, 2020

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Your choices have no effect, and that's the point (of the joke), October 6, 2020

The game around this game is the game.

The author provides the source code for this game on the game's website, but it's in the form of an image, and the source is minified so as to make it harder to read.

Luckily, Ant Hope did the hard work for you, analyzing the source.

And it turns out, your choices have no effect. (If you played this game like I did, pressing enter for Y on every turn on your first playthrough, you probably guessed as much.)

The instruction manual and strategy guide are deliberately misleading about this, but, in hindsight, their awkward phrasing includes subtle hints that your choices have no consequences. Like this passage from the intro:

If you allow your imagination to help you elaborate each stop on your journey, and if you truly get into the mindset of the returning wanderer, Amazing Quest will offer you rewards as you play it again and again.

So, this game leaves something to be desired. But the meta-game has a puzzle: decode the source code. And now I've spoiled it for you.

But the meta-game also has a toy: play Amazing Quest and use your imagination to tell your own story with it.

If the documentation had been more honest about the game's purpose ("it's a little procgen ditty for the C64; see if you can imagine your own story to go along with it,") I could have given it a better rating.

But instead, I claim that it's a prank, a joke played on the player. I appreciate that the prank is a puzzle with a solution, and that there are even some clues to help you solve the puzzle. But IMO this game, this prank, treats its players disrespectfully.

This game would be 100% better by having players opt-in to the joke, so we're all in on it together. As it stands, you, having read this review, can now enjoy Amazing Quest on its own terms, though you probably can't enjoy the process of decoding the source, not now that I've spoiled it.


4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A tiny Odyssey game running in an in-browser C64 emulator, October 6, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

Nick Montfort wrote Ad Verbum, a great wordplay game that predates both Andrew Schultz and Emily Short’s wordplay games (but not Nord nor Bert), and has since then done a lot with the intersection between text and software.

I had heard a lot about this game, mostly consternation and mystery.

I’m happy to take this game at face-value. Without digging deeper, this reminds me of ASCII and the Argonauts, but slightly less complex.

In this game, you are presented with yes/no options on what kind of interactions to have with a scrambled group of towns. It seems that there is a pattern on what to do (and I was able to be right more than half of the time, so either there is a pattern or the game is good at making you feel there is a pattern, which there’s not really much of a difference there).

I’ve always had a fondness for little games done well. I came up with my current star-rating system on IFDB just so I could feel consistent giving the tiny micro-game ‘Creak, Creak’ and ‘Counterfeit Monkey’ both 5/5.

So, yeah, this is cool. Not what I expected from Nick Montfort, but then again I didn’t know what to expect, and this definitely fits his recent work. If more about the game is uncovered, that’s fine, but I kind of like its meditative simplicity.

+Polish: It does exactly what it sets out to do.
+Descriptiveness: I found that it packed in meaning in small chunks.
+Interactivity: I liked discovering the pattern.
+Emotional impact: I'm still pondering on sacrificing to Gods of a dusty planet.
+Would I play again? Yeah, I think I'll take another look at it.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Not So Twisty Passages, Yet All Alike, October 3, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

I grew up on BASIC and Commodore 64 games, so all my appropriate nostalgia cylinders were firing. Unfortunately, this game is so incredibly basic I’m unable to find the appeal. In fact, this was the type of game when I was a kid that I loathed, what with only binary choices and extremely vague descriptions. I have to believe this is intentionally terrible, a meta joke as it were. For example, you can get the exact same option twice in a row and get different results for the same choice, making one believe the strategy guide included is indeed part of the joke.

I played this longer than I normally would have given the author. Bravo to Montfort for taking the effort to program in an ancient language.


- Marco Innocenti (Florence, Italy), October 3, 2020


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