How Prince Quisborne the Feckless Shook His Title

by John Ziegler profile

Light pseudo-medieval fantasy
2023

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Number of Reviews: 7
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Gargantuan game about puzzles and a Prince's journey of maturation, November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours

Iím 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 Iíll 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 Mystís 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 couldnít 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 Ďsolveí 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 wonít 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 didnít even feel like cheating; honestly, playing the whole game doing NUDGE a lot may not be a bad idea.

The other reason itís 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 isnít 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 donít 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 donít think thatís 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 Ďmegaí 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, Lydiaís 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 authorís goals of making some exquisite.

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