by D. S. Yu


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Epic on a scale rarely seen!, April 8, 2010

Written as the original implementation of Inform neared maturity (this work uses version 5.5), Spiritwrak is an old-school epic of a size and complexity comparable to the larger Infocom titles.

It seems that Daniel S. Yu, the author, firmly believed in the adage that "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." This work treads a fine line between those paths, starting with a premise rooted in the climax of Infocom's Spellbreaker and playing like something that came right out of its development team. As Duncan Stevens notes in his SPAG review: "[T]he magic system is suspiciously reminiscent of the Enchanter series, and the humor captures the Zork style." However, Spiritwrak adds a heavy layer of originality to the geographical and mythological framework created by Infocom, allowing it to stand as an achievement in its own right.

Spiritwrak is extremely difficult. Even for an old-school piece, the puzzles can be brutal. Some puzzles are arguably fair but lack what would be considered the minimum reasonable hinting by modern standards. Other puzzles require feats of mind-reading of the type that would have sold a lot of Invisiclues­™ back in the day.(Spoiler - click to show) (For example, can you guess how to hide behind some curtains when the "hide" verb is not implemented and opening them results in you immediately shutting them again? Can you guess the significance of a small boat's name, or which of the many topic-poor NPCs might be able to tell you about it? Can you guess that using your triplication spell on a certain item won't actually triplicate it, but instead produce variations of it that contain plot-necessary items?) A few puzzles appear to be virtual -- they halt progress like a designed puzzle but are probably due to flaws or limitations in the coding. This last group is especially frustrating because, in a game with so little hinting, it's easy to think you are missing key items or actions when in reality you have the right idea and everything you need(Spoiler - click to show), but are not holding the right objects "directly", i.e. in the top level of your inventory.

This is the kind of game that requires you to take notes, to draw maps, to learn by dying, to spend significant time pondering dead ends and red herrings, and to continually second-guess what you thought were solutions to the puzzles you've solved. For old-school aficionados, it's heaven! For everyone else, be prepared to seek hints -- though I highly recommend you do so via rec.games.int-fiction or IFMUD, as the "hint" files you can download here contain copious spoilers that are impossible to avoid.

Interestingly, this game claims to be released under the GNU Public License v2, which means that anyone should be able to expand and improve it. Unfortunately, however, it is not distributed with the source code (as required by GPL), and I was unable to locate the source online. If anyone else happens to come across it, please leave a comment here -- it would be interesting to explore cleaning up some bugs, making certain key descriptions of objects and action slightly clearer(Spoiler - click to show) (especially the brick puzzle in the endgame), and implementing an in-game hint system.

Comments on this review

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danhoo, April 1, 2011 - Reply
Regarding the GPL license, you can contact me (the author) for the code
OtisTDog, April 2, 2011 - Reply
What would be the best way to contact you? It does not appear you have registered your email address here on IFDB.
danhoo, April 27, 2011 - Reply
Apologies for the late reply -- email me at extra_dan_mailbox (at) yahoo
OtisTDog, May 19, 2011 - Reply
Thank you for sending me the source code, Dan! I uploaded it to the IF Archive today.
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