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About the Story
Somewhere, Somewhen is a large text-only interactive fiction fantasy game (with some humour) written for the PC using qBasic64. It is uploaded as a zip file, and all contents of this file (with the exception of Read Me.txt) must be present in the game folder for the game to run. It can be run from Windows or in a DOS window. Included in the game are detailed HELP instructions and hints (command HINT) in a form similar to invisiclues. These can provide a gentle nudge or a downright spoiler - the player's choice. Also inbuilt is full scripting, with the ability to view the script file in-game via the HISTORY command. The script file can be deleted as an option in the DELETE command. With the exception of suffering a fatality, which can of course happen, as far as I'm aware you can't paint yourself into a corner or get into an unwinnable situation in this game as could happen with some of my earlier games. On 8-June-2021 I discovered an obscure but significant bug which affected the restoring of a game in a specific situation. This has now been corrected. Unfortunately, saved game positions from previous versions can no longer be used.
17th place - ParserComp 2021
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Seeing this game place second-to-last in ParserComp was the motivation I needed to write a review. I rather liked it, and yet I can't blame those that didn't.
It certainly has faults, and I think many people, when looking for ways to separate games, may often rely on those faults. Or the faults may be magnified because other things show serious competence: the homebrew parser works. The whole picture fits, once you get past a certain point. The author allows shortcuts with F-keys, which I think is the sort of innovation ParserComp hoped to provoke.
Perhaps the title was a bit too bland (first impressions are important) and that, coupled with a lot of common sorts of fantasy items, let some players' minds wander.
That's not to say that I can pinpoint other entries that deserve to be below this. There's always going to be an odd man out, but compared to, say, the bottom few entries in IFComp for the first 15 years, this is light years ahead. It just feels like the author wasn't fully able to explore or communicate their vision. And I think, to a certain extent, the polish on the technical side outstripped the more subjective stuff. For instance, at the beginning, I fumbled around for a few moves but then began reading what I was supposed to. I got a message saying "You may wish to read <clues I was in the process of reading>." Which is technically correct, but a bit tone-deaf. These are the sorts of first-effort mistakes that grow far less prevalent in the future.
And some of the puzzles probably require too much of a leap without a walkthrough--but then again, I am the sort of judge who gives mulligans for too-tricky puzzles if a walkthrough is handy and I could see myself making a similar oversight. This may be a recommendation for some, but it may be discouragement for others. I suppose it depends on the imperfections you're willing to tolerate.
SS is certainly inviting enough, if a bit generic. Some parts feel overwritten, and some objects get lost in description. Yet I felt it filled enough holes I didn't know were there that it's worth the time to revisit. I'll probably need a walkthrough, along with maps. But it feels like the sort of game I'd want to replay to get ready to judge the next ParserComp.
This game is a large treasure hunt that, like very early parser games, is a mishmash of fantasy and modern concepts put together for a treasure hunt.
There is a central hub with different 'mini-worlds' you can access. They are interconnected, in that the solution for one world is often found in another.
I played straight through with the walkthrough, as:
-the game is in QBasic, and no scrollback seems to be available, making it harder to keep track of things
-the author stated it may take weeks to accomplish
-I wasn't sure if the game was 'cruel' or not in the Zarfian sense (i.e. can you lock yourself out of victory without knowing it?)
After I won, I went back and tried to explore on my own and look for different paths. I found it 'parcelled out' fairly well.
The parser is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the author describes it (in a forum post) as being the product of 40 years of work, and that it is a 'very powerful parser'. It can understand pronouns and complex commands like 'drop everything except blah and blih and..'
However, it has some issues. Sometimes you can refer to a noun by its first name (like EYE for EYE of NEWT) but not its second (like NEWT); sometimes, it's the opposite (so SCRAP doesn't work for SCRAP of PAPER but PAPER does). Perhaps most oddly, it, as many people have pointed out, can't take items out of container without using the phrase TAKE X FROM Y. Given the 40 years of development and the otherwise complexity of the parser, I can only imagine this is a conscious stylistic choice.
The world is sprawling, with many rooms having multiple exits and the ordinal directions like NW, SW etc. being used extensively. Rooms are almost ideally generic, with most rooms being empty and having names like 'MIDDLE OF CORRIDOR', with most descriptions being 'The room is vaguely lit and hard to make out. There are bare walls and floor and ceiling and several exits, including one going down.'
There is at least one NPC, who is fairly responsive. Puzzles include codes, riddles, leaps of intuition, musical puzzles, etc. with many hint sources in-game as well as built-in hints and a walkthrough.
Every game is written for a purpose. Some purposes are to share your feelings with others, to emulate something you find worthy, to try to become famous, to make money, to fufill a request for others, etc.
Due to the author's desire to keep in the oddities of the parser, the general vagueness of the game and its Zork-like setting, the QBAsic64 environment, etc. my guess is that the game's purposes are to evoke nostalgia and to demonstrate the author's system. Evaluated for those purposes, I'd have to call it a success.
For my own liking, the game is very polished and has some clever puzzles, but I didn't enjoy the interactivity as much as I could have and felt emotionally distanced from the game.
Reader, a confession: I have played a large amount of IF over the last few decades, but have never been able to dip more than the tiniest toe into Zork before I get bored and wander off. Iíve faffed around in the white house, reconnoitering the mailbox and display case and thinking ďthis will be fun!Ē as I lift the trap door and enter the Great Underground Empire Ė but despite making that descent at least half a dozen times, I have no clear memories of actually accomplishing anything down there, my impressions a uniform smear of over-large maps and exploration-punishing mechanics like time and carrying limits and the murderthief, which always lead me to abandon the attempt.
Iíve read a bunch of appreciations so I certainly understand why this works for others, and some of this is definitely down to expectations Ė I got into IF in the early days of this century, when a wholly different set of design aesthetics was in the ascendant, so while Iím as subject to nostalgia as the next person, Iím not nostalgic for Zork. And some of itís down to the ridiculous plenty of the modern age Ė when Zork was the only thing going, beavering away at its devilish puzzlery was Iím sure the glorious work of many a late night and weekend. Here and now, though? Itís hard to justify the time investment to myself when Iíve also barely scratched the surface of Counterfeit Monkey, to pick one example from literally hundreds.
I bring all this up to lay the groundwork for my two central takeaways for Somewhere, Somewhen: 1) itís pretty Zorky; and 2) I really didnít get on with it, partially though not exclusively for the reasons Iíve never got on with Zork. If Acid Rain, the game I played right before it in the Comp, was an example of an old-school game whose archaisms donít stand in the way of contemporary enjoyment, Somewhere, Somewhen serves as a caution for how easy it is for this approach to go awry. A custom-parser fantasy adventure with a wacky mix of magic and anachronistic technology is certainly appealing to a specific audience, but I think even their patience would be tested by SSís sprawling, red-herring-choked map (including one literal red herring Ė no, this doesnít make it better), arbitrary puzzle design, and too-dense prose. There are some individual puzzles that arenít bad, and the custom parser is pretty well implemented, but ultimately I didnít find much to enjoy.
The game doesnít put its best foot forward, which is part of the issue. After a quote from The Raven that doesnít connect to anything in the game so far as I could see, you get a vague but wordy introduction where youíre plucked from your ordinary life (in the regular, real world? Itís unclear) and told by a mysterious voice from beyond that youíve been chose to retrieve an unpronounceable MacGuffin that the mysterious voice and pals have somehow lost (adding insult to injury, when you finally find the MacGuffin at the end of the game, it has only a default description, underlining the arbitrariness of proceedings). Then you show up in a deserted labyrinth, and well, this is the description of the initial location:
"You are in a high-domed and circular chamber suffused with a soft ambient light, which seems to have no obvious direct source, but which appears to emanate from the very walls and ceiling. On those walls, at some distance above your head and spaced at equal intervals around the periphery of the room are six inscriptions deeply inscribed into the vertical stony surface. There are thus first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth inscriptions. In the very vault of the dome and well above your head thereís an aperture. Deeply embedded into the floor of the chamber thereís an inlay. Beside you there lays a lamp and sword."
Yes yes, lamp and sword, but itís too wordy, and the parser doesnít allow you to abbreviate the inscriptions to FIRST, SECOND, etc., so youíre in for a lot of typing to fully explore things. And before youíve gotten a chance to get to grips with your surroundings, the mysterious voice comes back and tells you how to solve the first puzzle, which by that point Iíd only started to dig into.
After this rocky beginning, it does improve for a bit Ė that initial puzzle gives you some magic words that open portals to various other locations, which each have a couple of puzzles to resolve, mostly hinging on unlocking doors and collecting kit. And the writing starts to get a bit more fleet, though itís never a real draw. By the time I was about a third of the way in, though, I started having additional complaints. First, the various locations you explore are fairly monotonous Ė thereís a castle, a cellar, and a hall that all felt pretty much interchangeable, though a deserted village at least somewhat changes things up Ė but have large, sparse maps. Thereís an EXITS command to help with mapping, but it has some issues, like closed doors not being listed and a few exits opened by puzzle-solving not being included even once they were available. There are also one-way connections that require a lot of step-retracing, and non-cardinal directions (northeast, southwest, etc.) are used without much rhyme or reason, which complicated getting around to no real benefit.
The other issue that reared its head at that point was the inventory limit. Its existence was predictable enough, but what was less predictable was that worn items still count against it, and the conveniently-provided carryall you get towards the end of the first act also has its own limit. And as mentioned above, there are rather a lot of useless items and red herrings scattered throughout the game Ė in addition to a number of critical ones only findable via SWEEPING DUST and LOOKING UNDER and LOOKING BEHIND Ė so you will run into this limit, and it will require a whole lot of inventory-juggling and backtracking, which combined with issue number one (remember those sprawling maps?) makes much of the mid-game an unfun exercise in logistics.
The puzzles themselves are a mixed bag. Most are pretty traditional and straightforward Ė collecting ingredients for a witchís brew, navigating a maze, solving riddles, getting an iron key with a (Spoiler - click to show)magnet Ė but there are a few that rely on authorial mid-reading. One late-game puzzle requires realizing that a safe has a key lock rather than a traditional dial one, but thereís no indication of that in any of the descriptions I found. And then thereís the riddle that had me tearing out my hair Ė Iím going to spoil it, because if you try to play Somewhere, Somewhen youíll need it spoiled to. Getting into the witchís cottage requires entering a code on a keypad (remember what I said about the wacky mix of magic and technology?), clued with the following message:
"Winifred accepts digits
spiderís legs and octopus
arms on weekdays."
Right, so thatís 885, easy enough. But no! ďDigitsĒ is meant to indicate that you should type a 10, and ďweekdaysĒ translates as 7. Maybe this is a Downton Abbey joke (you know, ďwhatís a week-end?Ē) but it sure requires some trial and error. And some of the puzzles like this are item-based, so playing the game straight would require a whole lot of item-hauling to enable you to run through the red herrings and figure out which are actually useful. Others might have the patience for this, but I very much donít, especially when the rewards of advancing the story and exploring more of the setting are pretty lackluster Ė I started having regular recourse to the hints about halfway through, and didnít regret it one bit.
Iíll close by repeating that the custom parser is actually pretty good for such things. It doesnít like abbreviation of objects, and you canít interact with objects in containers or on supporters, even to examine them, without first taking them (I havenít mentioned the inventory limit yet this paragraph, have I? Yes, this makes the inventory limit even more annoying. And it applies to the caryall too). But other than that, it affords most of the conveniences of a modern system, including being able to recall recent commands. Itís clear a lot of time, energy and enthusiasm went into coding it, and Iím sure thatís true of this big game as a whole Ė and for someone looking for another Zork to pour hours and hours into, I could see Somewhere, Somewhen being the most fun theyíd have in this Comp. But for someone like me, whoís barely ever been eaten by a grue and sees a flood control dam and just wishes the whole thing were over, it sadly misses the mark, especially with a bunch of other games Iím excited to get to.