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About the Story
A Fanciful Tale Both Whimsical and Earnest
It was supposed to be really straightforward: take the king's mollycoddled heir under your capable wing, get him away from the castle, and turn him into Noble Ruler material within the space a year or so.
Well, you still have to do that... but thanks to the limerick-loving prince's romantic attachment to a princess with an unwilling father, now it sounds like the agenda includes investigating old legends that speak of a haunted fastness in the North--legends that might lead you all the way to the Overworld.
So much the better! This new twist should provide plenty of challenge and adventure for you to ply the pampered prince with along the way; and fortunately, you have an ample amount of time to accomplish your objectives and try to shape the prince into something more--as he would say--*feckful*...
(Author highly recommends playing with QTads interpreter; otherwise, content/features are missing and formatting may be unsightly.
"Readthrough" mode provided for those shy of parser or puzzly games.)
8th Place overall; 2nd Place - tie, Miss Congeniality - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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I beta tested this game, but that doesn't change how I feel about this game!
Now, this game is a massive, puzzly exploration through a highly detailed, fun fantasy world. I love this game. The puzzles are neat, the hints work fully, and so on. Plus, the coming-of-age story and the endless description add to a feeling of a world without stop, much like our world - but countless times more beautiful.
Song: There, There (The Boney King of Nowhere).
I’m pretty sure this is the largest TADS game ever made and one of the top 2 largest parser games (with Flexible Survival, the furry game, being larger). It has a map and puzzle list rivaling games like Cragne Manor, and actions frequently generate over a page of text, often multiple pages when dramatic events happen.
The story is that you have been assigned to make the young prince Quisborne into a man, basically, instead of the wishy-washy pampered prince he is. To do that, you need to explore the world, chase down dark secrets, and help out a great deal of people.
I tested this game, although I used a walkthrough for much of it. I also replayed part of it before this review, which I’ll come back to later.
I think a great deal of IF taste comes down to the first game you played that hooked you in. For me (and a few others, like Mike Spivey), our first big game was Curses. For people like Robin Johnson, those games were (I believe) Scott Adams. For people like Zarf, Infocom and Myst were big influences; for Garry Francis and others, type-in games and illustrated adventures were big.
Each of these influences leave a mark on us. For me, I like dry humor, exploration with a lot of varied experiences and consistent backstory, literary aspirations, etc. Robin Johnson took principles from Scott Adams games (and others) to make his successful parser hybrid games. Zarf made several amazing games that drew on Myst’s complex mechanical puzzles (especially So Far), and so on.
John Ziegler has cited the Unnkulia games as an inspiration. These were early TADS games, perhaps the biggest/most popular amateur text games that were released while Infocom was dying and before Inform came out. They feature games with lots of gags and names that were puns or jokes. They have a lot of background banter, and feature large outdoor areas with woods, taverns, etc. They have puzzles involving looking behind scenery things or repeating actions, lots of diagonal directions, etc. I replayed a bit of the first Unnkulia game before writing this review and these things stuck out to me.
I find a lot of similar elements in Prince Quisborne. We have an expansive world map that involves a lot of beautiful nature and sweeping expanses. We have puzzles that involve looking behind scenery things or trying actions multiple times. We have many names involving puns or jokes. We have maps with organic, diagonal directions. We have a plethora of taverns. We have the use of TADS. Some of these are stretches, of course, but I really feel like a lot of authors (including me) are perpetually chasing that feeling of the games that drew them into IF.
The craft is, in my opinion, much higher in this game than in Unnkulia. The poems are well-written, the puzzles can be exceptional, and so on.
When I first played, I got overwhelmed by the large amount of text. I ended up having to follow the walkthrough and couldn’t figure out how anyone could navigate the tons of text, many room exits, tons of open quests, etc.
I replayed today, and I got to 75 points in 4 hours, out of 300. I got 50 of those points without hints, which was nice, but I really got stuck on the chess puzzle, which I had never solved on my own before. I also needed hints crossing the ferry, and I got some ‘solve’ help with some logic puzzles because I had already played through them twice (but some I did anyway because I like them).
I found it so much easier this time. What I did was, the first time I played, I read all the text carefully. All the pages and pages of backstory, the little jokes and character building moments of the game.
But this time, I just ignored it all. I just went through and saw the puzzle structure. I spacebarred through all the text and looked twice at each room to get the shorter room description.
With this simpler version, the map coalesced. I realized how much of it was closed off, and the rest was strongly guided. I was able to do a lot more of the puzzles this way.
However, it only made sense to do this because I had read the text once before. Without the text, some puzzles won’t make sense.
Fortunately, I found the NUDGE system really helpful. It helped me know what to focus on, and cut down on the time I was lost so much. It didn’t even feel like cheating; honestly, playing the whole game doing NUDGE a lot may not be a bad idea.
The other reason it’s good to read all the text is because it provides its own experience, its own plot and storyline, much of which is wholly unconnected with gameplay. It tells a story of a young man who grows wiser and older. Many reviews have found parts of this offputting, and I did too at first, as the character seemed so wishywashy. But the later parts of the game really pay off with all of that intro character framing.
I spoke about tastes earlier. Some of the puzzle style isn’t to my taste in terms of difficulty. I have some habits in my own games I do specifically to avoid things I find frustrating in others. I lay out almost all of my rooms in rectangular grids and make sure to clearly label exits, because I don’t like hidden exits; I try to keep my text short and make it clear what matters in each room; I like to make it so that all important text occurs at the end of paragraphs; if a puzzle requires multiple items, I try to keep them together in physical proximity or provide clear markings showing they belong somewhere else (which is something I like about Curses, and something Cragne Manor does in a way); and so on. Quisborne violates almost all of my personal rules, and this makes it, in my opinion, even longer and more difficult than a game of its size would otherwise be.
But I had fun replaying the first 4th of the game tonight, doing it in my weird way of having already read all the text and used a walkthrough and now stumbling through with occasional hints. I don’t think that’s how the game was intended to be played. But I like it a lot. There are a select few other big polished parser games out there and many of them have not gotten the attention of smaller games; I recently have been replaying all IFDB games with 100+ ratings, and the only real ‘mega’ game on there is Blue Lacuna, which is the easiest giant game. Curses is on there, which is pretty big. But the other games, like Mulldoon Legacy, Finding Martin, Inside Woman, Lydia’s Heart, Worlds Apart, Cragne Manor, etc. tend to get few but high ratings. So will Prince Quisborne become popular and well liked by many, or just become the treasured love a few? Even the Unnkulia games which inspired John sit at less than 10 ratings on IFDB each. But I am a fan of this game, love the craft that went into it, and believe it fulfilled the author’s goals of making some exquisite.
Usually at IFComp there are several entries that laugh off the time limit and refuse to apologize for the scale of their ambitions. I like these entries! I wish there were more! How Prince Quisborne the Feckless Shook His Title partially qualifies as a representative of this trend: it certainly has laughed off the time limit with its ambitious scope, but it does take a moment to apologize, offering a two hour intro sequence to the judges as a sampler of things to come.
This ends up being a mistake, because much of what makes the larger game shine fizzles under pressure. In its opening setting, the game opts for the low road in its brow, stakes, and fantasy. In the rush to build rapport, each of these qualities gives off a poor first impression. The low brow humor, when it needs to come flying out of the gate for its two hour showpiece, jesters into the childish: “In times past there was Boldog the Corpulent, whose exceeding ponderousness caused the throne upon which he sat to crumple and give way under him, sending him rolling ingloriously down the steps of the dais in full view of the court and certain foreign emissaries. His retinue loudly blamed the carpenter responsible for the throne’s construction, and posited conditions of dry rot, but the people knew there was just too much man on that throne.” Likewise, the low stakes and low fantasy, which scurries us onto a fetchquest for rutabagas, charms no novelty from copypaste text adventure shenanigans. If you play this game through its first sequence, you may come away less impressed than a deeper dive affords you.
Because the size arises not out of epic bravado but rather out of a porous ludicity that overfills the playspace into a meandering creativity. When the game can sprawl out and relax, its spirit makes better use of its low aesthetics. The silly humor squiggles in many optional commands that paintbuckets color on every noun, like when we find a horse: “You perform an elegant bourée with the horse, bow to each other, exchange compliments, and resume your previous occupations.” Quisborne delights in finding little opportunities to wink at you with a same wavelength camaraderie, be it either a haystack which of course means you need to find a needle or a bucket that you just know has a quip hidden behind kicking it. The glib cartoonishness provides a reasonable peppering of jokes that keeps the mood lively when the puzzles slant too serious: “You look up at the clouds, and there is writing in them! It says: “The answers will not be written in the clouds.””
Serious puzzles which are indicative of the grounded fidelity that makes the most of the low fantasy, inviting us to engage more deeply with the process rich physicality of the medieval setting: we travel to a blacksmith to hammer a groover on a horseshoe; we woodwork a mattock on the lathe to dig up carrots for a horse. Through these craftsmanship simulators, Quisborne firms up the world you explore to prevent the silliness from loosening our engagement into superficiality. No matter what jokes lay in wait, the certainty of place is sustained through a finely textured verisimilitude: “From where you stand, a frozen lake stretches away north into the hazy distance, majestic and mournful. The lake is very narrow in proportion to its length, and steep, dark-treed slopes carpeted with snow rise to considerable heights directly from the water’s edge, making the lake into a deep and snaking valley. The lake runs upwards of two miles to the north, appearing there to make a bend to the northeast and disappear behind the rising slopes of the valley.” Combined with the low stakes, where you’re simply wandering around trying to figure out how to scavenge items that can overcome obstacles, like your horse’s low traction on the ice, Quisborne succeeds as a summery adventure that always has something else to do, somewhere else to go.
That voyaging about, however, starts to spiral the game out of its comfort zone, and before long we’ve sailed past the low fantasy to mile a minute hijinks. No longer are we trying to craft horseshoes, now we’re summoning a chimera skungaroo to stinkspray a gargontosaurus or using a hot air balloon to carry Rapunzel along far enough that you can climb up her hair. At one point, as we enter a wizard’s tower, the diegesis breaks down altogether, and the puzzles go entirely abstract, tasking us with binary arithmetic or a strange stairstep letter puzzle that even the game struggled to explain. Rather than work out how to block a cistern, now we have to solve a captcha and realize that the word it spells is a series of directions that guide us through a labyrinth. As the crossmap puzzlechains gnarl ever more elaborate, Quisborne skates off pure momentum, blowing its tone scattershot. While this can be fun, with characters like Dvakred sizzling off the page, unsurprisingly some of the pellets miss, with the characterizations of the Tuttarumbish or Azhgalothis leaving a little bit of a sour taste.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a game this long, Quisborne manages to reverse the impression it makes on you several times. Does it manage to bring it all together in the end? Alas, it is not for me to say. My game broke down just after clearing the passage west across the landbridge, prompting this error message on every command: “We are truly sorry… we try our hardest to comply with your every wish, but sometimes we just find ourselves getting mixed up or confused. It’s highly unlikely that what’s happening is of critical importance to your mission; nonetheless, we must confess that the last turn may or may not have been fully carried out as intended.” At this point, my dominant impression was just tired, so I left it at that. One hopes, though, for Quisborne’s sake, that everything ends up more feckful.
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