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About the Story
A TRS-80 Text Adventure with RPG elements
Hawkstone: A retro TRS-80 adventure with extras for modern day adventurers.
Combining old school text adventures with RPG elements, opening up a deeper world of discovery options and choices for the player. Hawkstone has traditional puzzles to solve with new twists, comedy, and an underlying fantasy story with secrets to discover.
74th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
Number of Reviews: 4
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(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).
I had my issues with Hawkstone, but full points for honesty. The game’s introductory text straight-up tells you that “you will travel to far off imaginary lands with your avatar and attempt to command yourself with basic English sentences; All the while while upping your stats by fighting gratuitous monsters and looting pretend valuables so you can stuggle to the end and earn the magical McGuffin for defeating the game.” The unpretentious humility of that disclaimer made me root for the game even as the typos and expectation-management sent out warning signs – not that it takes an especially sensitive antenna to pick up on such signals when that opening blurb also says “I’m sorry the game isn’t as good or polished as I wanted, but I was down to the wire and needed another week to implement everything I intened. I worked really hard and hope it’s good enough for you.”
Points too for content. I feel like often games written in homebrewed systems are often on the shorter side, since so much of the author’s time has to go into developing the engine, but this adventure-RPG hybrid has complex mechanics (there’s a full character-development system that gradually increases a bevy of stats as you adventure, as well as separate adventure-game and RPG-game inventories) and, from a quick glance at the long walkthrough file, a giant map bursting with puzzles.
There’s obviously been a “but” hanging over those first two paragraphs, so I’m just going to rip off the band-aid: but the game is still a bit of a mess, with technical issues up the wazoo and a mystifying lack of clarity about what’s going on. Without any real plot to speak of to pull me through the rough patches – you’re just an adventurer who washes up on a strange shore and starts solving puzzles and picking stuff up for the heck of it – I bounced off this one fairly quickly.
By far the biggest usability challenge I ran into was the game’s issues displaying text. The interface keeps the location description constantly available at the top of the window while commands and responses fill in below. This isn’t my favorite approach, since it can involve a lot of looking up and down the screen, but it’s made far worse here by the game’s tendency to resize its window, making them narrow or wider in response to what I typed, and sometimes triggering scroll bars that I had to click through in order to get back to the action prompt (there are some suggestions in the readme that helped make this issue somewhat less pronounced, but it was never fully resolved). Making matters worse, sometimes new output would overwrite previously displayed text, leading to stuff like this:
—What now?–>look gate
—What now?–> ocked gate closely.ck up the plant pot above gate.
You rattle the gate hoping it’s only slightly locked. Turns out it’s very locked.
Even when the display is working properly, I still found it hard to understand what was happening around my character and what, if anything, I’d done to trigger these particular results. The RPG statistics are the worst example of this; while I like the idea that you increase your attributes by doing things (shades of Quest for Glory!) it didn’t seem like there was any link between the actions I was taking and which stats were going up, and the specifics of what different attributes did didn’t appear to be explained anywhere. Sure, strength is probably self-explanatory, but making sense of stuff like this is much harder:
—What now?–>look fishing line Search[TM] without perception and a shovel.
You examine the fishing line closely.
It goes down into the ravine. You can use it to check if the tinker has caught any supper yet.
Moved smelly kipper to location.
You check what’s on the line.
You have discovered ONLINE SHOPPING
The parser is often fairly obtuse; despite a solid five minutes of struggle, I couldn’t figure out how to light a candle with some matches, which is what eventually tipped me over into putting down the game. Occasionally I have enough patience to just key in a walkthrough to see what a game has to offer, but as mentioned, this is a really big game, and I think I’d just get more frustrated if I tried to power through it. That’s a shame given the amount of work the author clearly put into Hawkstone, but hopefully my response exemplifies some good advice for folks entering the Comp: if you think you need another week to make the game you want to submit, you probably should wait for next year (or another festival) because you likely need way more than that week. If you’re homebrewing or creating an intentionally retro experience, think hard about why you’re doing that and what the upside will be for the player’s experience. And if you need to choose between expanding your game and polishing what you’ve got – which eventually you will have to do – polish is almost always the right answer. Entering any game into the Comp is an achievement, and I hope to see more games from the author after taking onboard some lessons learned!
This one was a bit of a wild ride.
It’s a long game written for windows. At first I wondered if it was another secret BJ Best game (in the past he’s entered a retro game under a fake name). After all, it has a cool animated loading screen and a neat pixel art inventory picture.
But the author has introduced himself elsewhere and it seems to be just a neat-looking original game by a new author.
So, this game is a mix of combat RPG and Scott Adams-style gameplay. The Scott Adams style is a fun one, but it had two features that I wasn’t used to: the location description is always at the top of the screen (unless you swap to inventory view), and if steps or a door are in the location you type GO STEPS or GO DOOR instead of any specific direction. These tripped me up a bit; especially not needing to LOOK, since LOOK gives a pretty unusual response in this game.
The idea is that a ferry you were on crashed and you need to explore. There is some combat, but most of it is with small and/or goofy things. Beyond that, you have to find a way to enter the city of Hawkstone and discover the secrets beneath it.
I played around without the walkthrough for a while, but had to peek at it to find the right command for dealing with the gate early on. After that, I found a lot more interesting things, and found a way to die.
After a while, I started getting pretty confused. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s going on, due to procedurally generated text. For instance, one action resulted in this (blocking out some names for spoilers, [REDACTED] is by me):
You attempt to unlock the [REDACTED] with the [REDACTED].
object is unlockable. You have a key.
You unlock the [REDACTED] with the [REDACTED]
You roll the dice on your stats and get.. +1 stamina.
Your Stats have increased!
You did a thing!
Something happened somewhere.
You are knocked over as a monkee jumps at you.
The monkee screeches as he runs away through the crevice..
You did a thing!
You did something!
Something happened somewhere.
After events like this, objects will be added to your inventory or appear in the room description.
The puzzles were fairly difficult, so I ended up using the walkthrough for a while. Even with the walkthrough, I took about two hours.
There are lots of compelling and interesting elements in the game, like a world you can substantially affect in various ways. There are a lot of silly and goofy things in the game, like buying things on the ‘net’. I’m not sure there’s a major resolution to the game; I followed the walkthrough and it seems to just peter out near the end, with there being some nice resolution to some plot points, but I think the game is intended to either have an open, exploration ending (or there’s more that isn’t in the walkthrough).
A lot of items have a generic description; looking at a woman hanging upside down by a rope says ‘That looks like a normal woman hanging upside down by a rope’. A lot of puzzles get repeated over and over (I’m looking at the bananas here). And, finally, there are several commands in the walkthrough that aren’t really described elsewhere in the game (like Q for Quests).
The overall user interface is great. The animations at the beginning are really neat, and the layout looks nice overall. I also liked the saga of the monkee character the most.
Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review
There is a roadside attraction in Nebraska called Carhenge. You can probably imagine what it is, just from its name. It is a loving, painstaking scale replica of Stonehenge, created from sculptures made of automobile hulks. Objectively, it is a baffling artifact. Yes, Stonehenge is cool and has some cultural cache. But the work required to execute Carhenge was mammoth, relative to the modest means of its creator. It is kind of a funhouse mirror reflection, rendered on a scale that while reduced is STILL humbling to observe. The result is a work that has the general shape of its inspiration but its towering weirdness is all its own. Its impact becomes less about ‘does it look like Stonehenge?’ and more about ‘who would do this and why?’ Even if the result of the effort doesn’t objectively appeal to you, the baffling passion of its creator is magnetic.
'Kay you can probably guess Stonehenge is 80’s RPG text games and Carhenge is Hawkstone.
When you fire up Hawkstone, a file cheekily named Adventure.exe, you get a welcome screen that homages a TRS-80, complete with directory structure and auto-typed (with typo!) start game command. It is a powerful start! It evokes its inspiration and immediately puts the player in place, before a keyboard in 1980, firing up the latest fantasy-inspired text adventure. This one with RPG-like stats and character progression!
It has wry humor to it - killing a worm confers treasures, though using them is mostly not possible. You find weird artifacts throughout the landscape like live fish, specifically branded matches, valuables lying in random places. There are anachronistic jokes - you can find Online Shopping and maybe my favorite Crypt Currency. And you just explore without clear purpose beyond maybe LEVELING UP!!1! The leveling system is pretty arbitrary, comedically so, and I was never sure whether it actually was used in gameplay. I actually really liked the hint system - it cost gold to use, and since you could not be sure if and when you would get more acted as a soft back pressure to consulting it.
Between the quasi-useful items you can collect and barely-motivated obtuse puzzles to solve, it is a decidedly off-kilter vibe, keeping the player off balance and never quite sure what is coming next or even what needed doing. After some initial, fairly straightforward ‘go-find-use’ puzzles it rockets into a ‘read author’s mind’ exercise without warning. My best advice, which the game did give to me but I didn’t understand at the time, is to lean on the >USE and >GO commands when stuck. Doesn’t matter if it seems logical or not, like Frank’s RedHot, put that sh*t on EVERYTHING. At one point you need to (Spoiler - click to show)>GO ORB. That’ll get you maybe 60% of the way there. After that, you’re on your own. Quite literally. The game is no help cluing what weird thing it wants you to do next, what verb you would never think to employ.
I consulted the Walkthrough a lot. Overwhelmingly, when I did my takeaway was ‘Hnh. I, ah… hnh.’ It was like the author was implementing a psychedelic dream logic acid trip that only made sense because they lived it, with no thought or accommodation for those that had not. For me, the unhinged weirdness of it was not leavened with enough humor to be compelling. If it had let me play along with narrative nudging or clues to point me in its non-Euclidian directions maybe I could have embraced it better. Instead, it practically screamed ‘this is for me, not you, player!’ and I became preoccupied with the question ‘who would build this and why?’ Because it is quite an achievement - the Walkthrough is LONG. Eventually, I stopped playing and just skimmed the walkthrough to see what kinds of things needed doing, and realized I never had a chance of getting on this thing’s frequency. It was deeply arbitrary and opaque with almost no in-game cluing of any kind and presumably scratching a singular itch.
As a gameplay experience it was Mechanical and Intrusively opaque. As time went on there was less and less me testing, experimenting and exploring and more ‘sigh, what am I supposed to do next, Walkthrough?’ But I can’t help but marvel at the passion and investment of the author in bringing this ungainly, baffling, towering thing to life.
"We admire these things not because they needed doing..."
Playtime: 1.5hr, not finished, eventually laid down my cards and pushed away from the table
Artistic/Technical ratings: Mechanical, Intrusive opacity
Would Play After Comp?: No, Experience feels complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
Hawkstone is a retro-type parser adventure, using old-school RPG elements to drive the puzzles, and a Scott Adam-style of gameplay (not all locations are listed in the directions and puzzles can be obtuse). The game includes a walkthrough listing the required commands and order of actions*, and a built-in help system (pay in-game currency to get it).
*I messed up wanting to go my own way and skipped some steps
To say this was not the kind of game I am good at is an understatement. It combines a confusing worldmap (with weird locations) and difficult to almost impossible puzzles (hit the wrong butterfly and meet an early end). I did try to give it my best shot, but after finding myself stuck, I exclusively followed the walkthrough - save for not wanting to drop loot (but that's me playing RPG).
So Hawkstone is essentially an RPG exploration game. You get items, break some stuff, give stuff to people, maybe sell some items maybe buy some, attack harmless butterfly, and go round and round you go around the map. Do some actions and maybe level up and your skills, or get a random dice roll for extra stats. If you finish enough puzzles, you get to the end (I didn't).
There's not much direction given to you (aside from the start text telling you in case of stuck, look at stuff) and you have to rely on guess work (or just be like me and follow the walkthrough) and thinking of silly ways to solve things. The combat system is pretty fun (though it would be nice if there had been more opportunities to use it), and the game as a swanky stat/inventory system. There is quite a bit of humour in the text, especially in the reaction of actions, and if you manage to run the game without any glitches, it's pretty cool looking too!
But darn, you need to be a level 9999 experienced parser to do this adventure on your own... even a sword is not enough.