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Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Winner, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 1998 XYZZY Awards
You're a soldier in Vietnam who gets mysteriously tossed into an Arthurian story and transported between a variety of settings and times. The story behind this game is arguably better known than the game itself--the author worked on it for five years, during which it was eagerly awaited in the IF community (and often joked about). It was then released commercially through Cascade Mountain Publishing, a company run by Infocom implementor Mike Berlyn which has since gone under, and now is available as freeware. As a game, it's quite good, though it suffers somewhat from having been begun in 1993--standards of IF design changed a good deal by the time the game was released. Similarly, the tone and style of the writing vary, as you might expect when a game is written over a period of five years. Some terrific puzzles, particularly one involving a mousehole, though many are obstacles for their own sake in a way that's more reminiscent of golden-age IF than present-day games. Lots of NPCs, some quite well developed. A very, very large game, one of the largest ever written, but the various pieces work reasonably well together--there's enough story, and the story is good enough, that the game doesn't feel like a random collection of puzzles. There are also plenty of endings and optional puzzles, affording some replay potential. Not a perfect effort--some of the puzzles require some mind-reading and some syntax-guessing--but still a noteworthy game.
-- Duncan Stevens
[...] it will perhaps be a long time before the breed of player who enjoys classic adventure games completely dies out; perhaps there will always be a tiny but steadfast fanbase for such things: Those who love fiendish puzzles and fantasy; those who enjoy a game that takes a sizeable span of time to win. When the muse is with me, I'm one of them.
OaF rewards this type of player; GKW knew his (vanishing) audience well. In terms of design, OaF is superbly crafted. It plays fair; the Player's Bill of Rights is honored. What I liked about the design was the way each section, each puzzle, existed in its own territory. In this way, even if horribly stuck, I knew that there was a way out, a way to solve the problem facing me. The number of objects at hand was limited, the number of locations I needed to double-check was restricted; something I was holding, or something that could be had with a little more exploration of the available rooms, would do the trick. I asked a friend for exactly three hints; each time, I mainly wanted to know which line of guessing was unfruitful, because I knew I had to be flailing close to the solution already. At every new stage (the game works out to be episodic, with a large plot that breaks into subplots, and sub-subplots), GKW made sure that the player knew everything he needed to know to keep going. No, he says, you don't need to start over from the beginning because you forgot to do something; this area is self-contained. Keep trying! I enjoyed being able to rely on this trust I had with the author.
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Swords and Sledgehammers
I spent several weeks playing through Once And Future, and I'm not sorry I did. For one thing, it's an important part of recent IF history, and for another thing, as I said before, it's fun. Still, it was a bit of a letdown. I suppose that after the hype, buildup, and fanfare it got, it couldn't help but be a letdown, at least a little bit. On top of that, it was no doubt to the game's disadvantage that I played it in 2002. However unfair it might be to judge what's essentially a 1994 game by 2002 standards, it's impossible not to, because, well, it is 2002. Styles have changed, and parts of OAF haven't aged well. The bottom line is that it feels like the work of a beginning writer, one who has promise and may have matured through the process, but whose novice mistakes remain. That doesn't mean it's not worth playing -- it most certainly is -- but don't believe the hype.
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Issue # 16 - "One and Future" Special
This is a rather special issue of SPAG. For the first time ever, the entire issue is devoted to a single game: G. Kevin "Whizzard" Wilson's "Once and Future" (the game formerly known as "Avalon"), recently released from Cascade Mountain Publishing.
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Review: G. Kevin Wilsonís Once and Future
As a coherent whole, Once and Future succeeds. It flows better than many commercial games Iíve seen and is pretty enjoyable overall. It is more friendly to beginners than many games of the í90s but, as Iíve said, it contains some of the hardest puzzles of all time. I would recommend using a walkthrough on these parts if youíre not a puzzle aficionado, as it doesnít really take away from the rest of the game.
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I discovered Once and Future when looking at old XYZZY awards. The author of this game worked on it for 5 years in the 90's, frequently posting on forums about it, building everyone up to a huge excitement. It was released as the first big commercial game in years, and a whole issue of SPAG magazine was dedicated to it.
How does it fare? It is a fun, well-polished Arthurian game. An American soldier dies in Vietnam, and is taken to Avalon, being charged with a mission by Arthur to stop a terrible event in America's history.
Many reviewers noted that the writing is uneven, with the author having written it over 5 years and improving it in that time. Parts of it, like those with the (Spoiler - click to show)Straw King, are stirring and powerful. Others just seem like the author gave up; for instance, at one point your character openly complains about the endless scavenger hunts, and it is just laughed off.
This is a puzzle-heavy game, with two exceptionally hard puzzles. Fans of Mulldoon Legacy will get a kick out of this.
It is very long; following the walkthrough, I beat it in 1338 turns.
I believe I actually prefer Eric Eve's Arthurian epic, Blighted Isle, to this game. Eric Eve has more and better NPC's, more optional quests, lighter puzzles, and a better (though similar) backstory. My only quibble with Blighted Isle was its treatment of women, but Once and Future suffers from similar issues at times. However, Once and Future is more poetic/trippy than the prosaic Blighted Isle.
This all sounds negative, but I recommend this game to everyone. There is scattered strong profanity (mostly by soldiers in life-or-death situations), as well as a few mild sexual references.
If you enjoyed Once and Future...
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