Lord Bellwater's Secret

by Sam Gordon profile

Historical
2007

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Number of Reviews: 9
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Carefully crafted, player-friendly mistery, April 18, 2022

I got drawn into this piece because of its setting: it is not everyday that I get to play a serviceman to a Victorian household!. During the few first few turns I am introduced to my character (Bert Smith), the place (the master's study) and my motivations (furtively searching for answers about the death of Elsie, Bert's girlfriend) but I am also let free to wander the location as I take in some more pieces of the story.

Most of the game is played in a single room with a few points of interest in which we gather clues to solve the greater riddle. Movement between items and places is seamless and in that sense (and many others, such as in the general framework and inventory management) I was reminded of Final Selection - also by Sam Gordon - but where that game is heavy on the puzzles and red herrings, Lord Bellwater's Secret is generous with its storytelling and places the puzzles as little plot devices.

Each puzzle and clue found is cohesive with the rest and moves the player closer to the heart of the mistery. There is plenty of classic adventure trickery here (Spoiler - click to show)(the secret book, the crest that opens a hidden crevice) but there are also affordable leaps of logic (Spoiler - click to show)(the hidden safe box and its combination) and a heart-racing finale. I found the sense of rhythm to be good, certainly helped by its relative shortness and self-contained nature. The piece is also very fair to the player: I remained convinced that there was nothing being obscured behind specific verbs, never got really stuck and never felt unwelcome. This is a game that wants to be played.

The writing also gets a good mileage out of the locale. Without being overly verbose there is enough text to picture (and beautifully color) the surroundings and characters. It helps that of information is conveyed not only from Bert's point of view but also from (Spoiler - click to show)Bert's thoughts and the handwriting of other characters, which report a lot about their human qualities. Should I have to offer a highlight of the writing I would examine Cadogan Square again; it is just scenery but there is something about the silhouette of London in the moonlight.

As for extras, the game shows care and respect: there are sections regarding historical accuracy, a choice of date format, a reminder of the plot... And there is of course a hint system which could spoil the fun, so I only recommend a trip there once the game is finished, to search for missed clues (I got two endings, I think there are more).

In a nutshell, I consider Lord Bellwater's Secret to be a very good game and I can fully recommend it to anyone. Those looking for a lengthy game, complex character development, obtuse plots twists or overwhelmingly large worlds might not find their tastes here, but anyone up for a fun mistery romp will come out satisfied.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A room investigation., September 25, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: History

Being trapped ina single room with a bunch of puzzles is not normally my preferred cup of IF-tea. Lord Bellwater's Secret however managed to draw me in by the exquisite writing and the intruiging backstory.

The old Lord Bellwater has died and his estate has been taken over by his only son. Soon after your beloved Elsie took a suspicious fall out of a window while she was cleaning the study. You, an aspiring groom of the household, sneak in at night to investigate and clear up the muddy circumstances of your sweetheart's death.

The gameplay consists mostly of thoroughly examining everything in the room, gathering clues and piecing together the true happenstances surrounding Elsie's death, and the peculiarities of the young master's take-over.

I was amazed at the depth of implementation of the library, with more than a thousand books you can supposedly read, and the detailed backstory that is revealed in a large number of letters, texts and diaries there are to be found in the room. There are three code-cracking puzzles that require thoughtful handling of the written clues. The solutions should become obvious to the player who does the work and carefully investigates the entire room.

The game very believably breathes the atmosphere of the time-period it is set in, the middle of the nineteenth century. There are hints all over the place to the relationship between the privileged upper class and the "downstairs people".

Coincidentally, just a week before I played Lord Bellwater's Secret I had read the novel The Quincunx by Charles Paliser. I don't know if or in how much the author was inspired by this book, or if he even read it. It did seem to me that I had found a secret door into one of the most suspenseful scenes from that book, where I could place myself in the place of the protagonist. This gave an extra dimension of immersion to the game.

An exciting investigation that is sure to keep the grey cells working overtime for a few hours. Recommended.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An interesting, short one-room mystery intrigue game, October 22, 2020

This game is highly rated, which is why I tried it. It is fairly short, and has two difficult puzzles, as well as some trouble at first until you realize that you have to examine every object in the room (okay, maybe it' s just me).

The first puzzle (involving a sequence of numbers) was very ingenious. I thought at first the answer would involve some experimentation, but it was all very logical in the end, though I didn't solve it myself.

The second puzzle is a bit more obscure, but fun.

Altogether, it is not very long, and I would recommend it only to puzzle fiends. Those who are into intrigue may find it worthwhile to skip the two puzzles via walkthrough.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent game, but with a tricky ending!, February 3, 2013

Lord Bellwater's Secret I found to be an excellent work. Though I don't have much time to go into a proper review, I would like to mention some points.

Firstly, Gordon's use of events and turns was inspired. At the beginning, your story is revealed to you in italics as you play the game, almost in a "flashback" form, making the transition between the introduction and game completely seamless. Furthermore, every object in the game had examinable details associated with it, the bookcase and diaries in particular being most impressive (the ability to read the titles of 1200 different books and seeing a whole half a year of journal entries astounded me).

Having said that, the game has a few small faults, particularly with the implementation of the endgame. Though it was exciting enough story-wise, I ended up failing not because I didn't know what to do, but because I couldn't work out how to explain my actions to the game. (Spoiler - click to show)I knew I had to use the cord to climb down from the window, but every action I tried didn't produce the right response. This was a shame because other than that, I had a very fun time playing this game, and I would still recommend it to anyone who wanted to see how text adventures should be made.


0 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Loved it!, September 7, 2011
by Deboriole (San Diego, CA)

This game is absolutely fantastic. All of the evidence-gathering puzzles are solvable without needing any hints (another poster said the date puzzle was not solvable, but it most definitely was) but hints are available if you do need them. My only gripe was the ending... It wasn't clear to me when/how I was "done." Plus, I was carrying something I should not have taken, but the game would not let me drop it and then leave the room. Unfortunately I had not saved early enough and was stuck with the one ending. However, even with this disappointment, I still give the game 5 stars! I highly recommend it.


7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent writing, but occasionally arbitrary puzzles, August 13, 2010
by ZUrlocker (Traverse City, Michgian)

Lord Bellwater's Secret is a well-crafted single room mystery in a historical setting. The mood and style are nicely conveyed with excellent writing that sets the stage and provides the right motivation for the character.

Despite the seeming simplicity, I was definitely stumped on a couple of verb / parser issues that sent me to the built-in hints. The hints are well-done and thorough, but it made me feel like this was more of a "dig for clues" kind of puzzle than something that could be logically deduced like "An Act of Murder". Some of the puzzles have a laborious feel to them. But the story is good and the writing always pays back your efforts as the story proceeds.

There's quite a good drama that unfolds and the ending was quite exciting. It got my heart racing! I hope the author will continue with more mystery fiction.


5 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
Guessing Numbers, June 27, 2010
by AmberShards (The Gothic South)

I suppose on the continuum of IF players, I'm almost the direct opposite of "puzzle fiend". As a result, I was hesitant to play this game, but I let the glowing reviews of others seduce me into trying.

About ten minutes in, I was reminded why I hate most puzzles: they aren't puzzles, per se, but guesswork requiring large leaps of logic. Lord Bellwater's Secret (LBS herein) commits the unforgivable crime of requiring the player to guess numbers to solve a puzzle. (Spoiler - click to show) It's not that the actual idea of the lord's birthdate as the combination to the safe is unrealistic. It's that you have to guess that those numbers are the ones that he used, and if you guess wrong, the safe, the character, the narrator, all give you no feedback. Nothing in the game even hints that the lord used those dates for the safe. You just couldn't logically get from here to there!

The plot progresses through random discovery of items by the character, which is a salient failure in this game. Despite LBS being a mystery, there's no sense of one thing leading to the next. It's all guesswork on behalf of the player which results in a discovery that gives up the next bit of information that doesn't seem connected in any way to what happened before. It's a bit too random. It's odd, but in this case, a more linear gameplay would have worked better. (Spoiler - click to show) And time travel? That was another maddening example of randomness. It's a time travel that works one time, and it is seemingly irreversible.

What other reviews have noted about the quality of the writing stands; it is wholly immersive. The same goes for navigation through the room. The character glides effortlessly from one part of the room to the other. As far as objects go, I didn't discover any purple prose; everything that is described you can examine or manipulate in some way. There are a few bugs in the parser, and they can prove annoying (for instance, how do you look out the window?). LBS does feature hints, but having to resort to hints, for me, is a sign that I'm in over my head.

I think you need to enjoy puzzles more than the average player, or be steeped in the tropes of mystery fiction to appreciate this game. If you are not, you won't have the background to intuit a successful action. You'll be stuck guessing numbers.


12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
I'm not big on puzzles, but this is a rock-solid game, November 28, 2007
by Ron Newcomb (Seattle)

Lord Bellwater's Secret took my first place award in the 2007 Competition. I can say this because, looking back at the notes I wrote during play, they morphed from a paragraph describing the game's competence, to the admission "I'm not big on puzzles, but this is a rock-solid game", to simple proclamations about "best game I've played so far!" And there were no notes or doodling in-between these three -- a sure sign of immersion. This game simply did a lot of simple things right.

First, there's the game's opening: I know who I am, when and where I am, what I'm doing, and a strong suspicion of why it won't be easy. Though no one will cite it as one of the great openings of all time, I'm at least into the game and into my role before turn one. Since I-F has no box art, illustrations, or even a genre section from which to pick a work, I find such introductions an absolute must. Consequently, here I didn't feel those first few turns of aimlessness that much of I-F give me.

Navigation was a breeze, and is probably the single most important reason for the sense of immersion, that sense of the interface melting into the background. Even after completing the game, I'm still a little fuzzy on how the room in this one-room game was laid out, and that's the highest compliment I can give a work regarding its navigation. In Bellwater's room, we don't move from place to place so much as point-of-interest to point-of-interest, which tends to be some sort of prop or furniture. No need to clutter our minds with directions or bland names of areas like "alcove" or "hearth" when puzzles demand all our brainpower. Our imagination will fill in any blanks.

Characters were represented by the usual technique of in-absentia, with a notable end-game exception (though still non-interactive). Caring about the plight of characters is my motivation for playing I-F; countless video games of optimization puzzles and exhaustive searches have thoroughly trod that ground, with the iron-clad boots of pedantry no less. And it's a rare work when you can sympathize with your own PC; down that road lies angst and powerlessness, rather than the can-do, will-try activism of the typical PC. The only mark against this work regarding characterization was I couldn't remember my own PC's name without others present to remind me. Consequently a few things I read confused me.

The game's weakest link was, by far, the parser. The parser... It always comes down to the parser. LOOK AT/IN wasn't synonymous with EXAMINE, which is an important point in such a game where LOOK (around the room) is used so often. (I started using LOOK and its variations everywhere due to sheer habit of typing it.) TURN part-of-thing wasn't synonymous with OPEN thing, and a similar problem of parts vs. the whole emerged in the endgame. Both of these issues caused me to retreat to the hints even though I had actually solved the puzzle, but unknowingly, due to phrasing it for the parser.

One thing that authors should not imitate from this game: if Dear Player has reached your endgame, your last puzzle, your final showdown, it's a safe bet that he's fairly drawn into your world, and will be quite susceptible to danger. This makes a fairly safe bet that, once you've sprung that danger upon him, he won't exactly be thinking clearly. As a matter of fact, it's almost certain he'll be emotional, spastic, and utterly unaware of the fact that he has all the time in the world if he just stops typing. So please, Dear Author, in the end, ease up on the difficulty.


14 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
Very polished and user-friendly... until the last scene!, November 21, 2007
by Kake (London, England)
Related reviews: Sam Gordon, ****

This single-room game is a good old-fashioned mystery story, in which you, as a groom in the service of a Victorian gentleman, hunt through your employer's study to discover the truth behind the death of your sweetheart.

I'm not usually all that good at puzzles, but I found most of these easy yet satisfying, right up to the very end where I found myself utterly baffled not by what I should try next, which it turns out I had right, but by how on earth I could persuade the parser to let me try it. Given the number of other reviews that have mentioned this problem, I have no doubt the author will fix this up in the next release, so I've not taken any stars off for it. I would, however, advise waiting for the next version if you don't want your immersion in the story to be interrupted by a bout of frustration right at the most exciting part.

The rest of the game was very polished. I couldn't find a single unimplemented noun; some descriptions were shared between nouns, for example the bookshelves and the books, but this is perfectly sensible and absolutely fine. (I know some people don't care about this kind of thing, but I feel a little bit more writing effort put into the parts of the scenery that people are likely to look at really makes a difference to whether a game feels solid or fragile, and I don't trust fragile games to have fair puzzles/solutions.)

Similarly, I liked the fact that it was possible to discover details of events prior to the start of the game that, while irrelevant if your goal is only to get to the ending, added colour and interest to the whole story.

My main disappointment was that what I would have seen as the optimal ending seems not to be implemented.



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