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A Lovely Slice Of Nostalgia Pie, October 8, 2021
Somewhere, Somewhen is the latest in a fairly long line of very large puzzlefests written by Jim Macbrayne, starting with two efforts for the old Commodore PET back in the early eighties and culminating in this latest game.
Somewhat surprisingly (to me, anyway) this game ranked only 17th out of 18 games in the recent Parsercomp. Just as Abba became naff in the eighties only to enjoy a triumphant return years later, so I hope the effort put into games like this will truly be appreciated one day like a fine wine. And unlike a less than fine twine.
Enough of the pun-ditry, what of the game?
Those of you who have played Jim's games in the past will know what to expect. The plot involves you hunting for an Ibistick (who he?) after you are plucked from a country road in summer. This is of course a thinly veiled artifice to confront the player with a large amount of mechanical puzzles involving buttons, levers and switches, and a number of set pieces involving musical theory with many locked doors to be opened by a variety of devious means.
The game has a central hub from which eight set piece scenarios radiate (much like an Andy Phillips game but without the teeth gnashing difficulty) and each area can be revisited if you happen to have missed a vital item or been stumped by a locked door (also unlike an Andy Phillips game). There is a logical sequence for choosing which scenario to tackle next which will become obvious when solving the first puzzle in the game.
The room descriptions are nicely evocative, particularly the castle in section six, and a large number of items serve only as red herrings but carrying everything shouldn't be a problem thanks to a suitable container. There is another way to increase your inventory limit which you will find on your picaresque travels.
There is one maze (go on, you know you want to) which must be thoroughly mapped although given the large number of items available to be carried the tried and trusted method of dropping objects can be safely used.
As far as I can tell it is not possible to put the game into an unwinnable position and there are no hunger, thirst or light daemons.
The screen display is customisable which is a nice touch.
I came across a couple of typos which I have passed on to the author.
There are no NPCs as such; you are very much on your own here although there is the option to turn the built-in hints system off or on. I must admit without twanging my own Spanish guitar that I managed to finish the game without any recourse to it, something I have never managed with any other of Jim's games; maybe he is becoming more merciful in his advancing years.
Rarely will you not be able to have the parser understand your command. The QBasic parser allows for take all, drop all and the usual abbreviations. One idiosyncracy of the game (and Jim's other games) is the necessity of using TAKE X FROM Y when acquiring an object, but this is fully explained in the introduction. LOOK UNDER and BEHIND are also strongly advised.There is however no UNDO command so save often and the parser accepts multiple words. Some of the puzzles are not easy although I would rank this as the least brow furrowing game in Jim's oeuvre and I don't think it abrogates Andrew Plotkin's rule book. These are generally common sense mechanical puzzles. Knowledge of musical theory will, as previously suggested, help.
I may be biased but as this kind of IF becomes rarer and more disdained by a large slice of the IF community, the more I cherish new examples of old tropes to keep the home fires burning.
I have put the completed map up in Trizbort and PDF formats on the CASA website.
Jim is currently mulling over his next game. Expect a broom cupboard and a few levers!
- Nomad, August 4, 2021
- Edo, August 3, 2021
4 people found the following review helpful:
A lengthy QBASIC traditional adventure with magic and codes, August 1, 2021
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.
- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), July 24, 2021
4 people found the following review helpful:
Toilsome fantasy adventure, July 9, 2021
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.
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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.