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About the Story
You are Finngor Blackmoon, only son of Duke Alaric Blackmoon, the right-hand man of King Kelson of Hecate. You have just had a lesson in basic magic spells from the sorcerer Magor and the old man has just taught you a very useful spell for conjuring a ball of handfire to light your way in the dark.
6th Place, Classic - ParserComp 2023
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Number of Reviews: 2
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I've played several Larry Horsfield games, and I generally have the impression that they'll be extremely long ADRIFT games that require you to look in every nook and cranny and often put you in 'dead man walking' scenarios because you forgot something 400 moves ago.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could solve the game. I started in a magician's room, and I tried looking behind an armchair, looking under a stool, etc. But there was nothing there, so I explored more and found some more reasonable puzzles: a light puzzle, grabbing a book, etc. Then I went to another area, grabbed a lot of stuff; the game even warned me that I hadn't grabbed everything! I explored a dungeon, and got really very far.
I thought to myself, 'Man, this game is awesome. It's a lot smaller than other Larry Horsfield games, and seems more focused on clever puzzles instead of hiding random stuff.'
At one point, the game said I needed a tinderbox, which I hadn't grabbed, so I peeked at the walkthrough, and found out that I had missed it at the beginning. Apparently instead of looking under the stool or the armchair I needed to stand on the stool and it would reveal some stuff to me.
Fortunately the earlier areas were still accessible so I went back to go grab it.
But then I ended up solving what I thought was the final area of the game. It actually ended up sending me to a nexus of areas. The SCORE command revealed that I only had 90 out of 500 points. And the door locked behind me. I thought, 'well, I'll still try on my own'. But getting in a boat told me I should be wearing my war belt. With the door shut, there was no way to get back. So I loaded an earlier save. Unfortunately, there was a bug where going back to get the warbelt meant I couldn't leave for some reason.
I restarted completely, deciding to just blindly follow the walkthrough. But it's missing a command early on and I ended up with a bug situation where there were two 'thin books' in the same room that I couldn't disambiguate between.
So I restarted again, fixed that problem, and just rode the walkthrough the rest of the time. I found out there was tons of stuff I had missed earlier because I hadn't looked under a desk or behind a door, etc.
There were fun things to see on the way, like various foods and desserts. There was also some depictions of East Asian culture that were a bit suspect. There were some words I didn't recognize which wikipedia said are considered offensive (like a name for a kind of Chinese hat). The people are a blend of Asian motifs and generic europeans (they speak the same language as the protagonist and are offended by burping, which isn't very common in east asian cultures). At one point they're singing a sing with the lyrics 'ying tong ting tong' or something, which seemed wildly inappropriate to me, but apparently it's an old song by a group called the goons which has nothing to do with Asian culture. But then why is it featured in this area? Kind of weird.
Overall, if this game had been just the first area up to the dungeon, I might have given it 5 stars; I like the puzzle direction and the writing. But after that point it just becomes so easy to get into 'walking dead' situations.
I'd usually say beta testing could help with these kind of things, but Larry Horsfield has been writing games for fourty years and has been requesting testers recently, which haven't been found. I think the issue is that the core game design itself makes testing difficult; there are so many places to check, so many places to look, so many possible combinations of items. The game is huge but it also includes mechanics designed to make short games longer, like forcing replaying due to missing items or having tightly controlled sequences that are easy to fail. These combined, it makes playing the game without a walkthrough take days or weeks, including for testers. And the games are produced at such a rate (there were three entered in this same Parser Comp competition, although one was withdrawn) that there's wouldn't be enough time to test one thoroughly before the next came out.
The author is aware of these issues; on intfiction.org, there are posts going back to 2014 discussing how this author has trouble getting beta testers and why.
Starting the last of Larry Horsfield’s trifecta of ParserComp entries, I was energized by my success in Bug Hunt on Menelaus – could I keep the streak alive? I was energized by the winning premise, too. Finn’s Big Adventure is a spin-off from the mainline Duke Alaric Blackmoon series – Finn is the Duke’s six year old son, and after his lessons with the local wizard, decides to sneak out of his room one night to investigate rumors of secret passages in the catacombs below the castle. Alas, much like X-X R I didn’t get too far in this one, but this time the game has to take its fair share of the blame, as I ran into two progress-stopping glitches in the opening section that sapped my will to continue.
The trouble first arose in the pedagogical sequence that begins the game. You’re given the opportunity to check out the wizard’s study and find the book that tells you about the secret passages, as well as some notes that seem to provide clues about how to open them. The game prompts you to write the clues down so you can refer to them later, which was a nice detail, so I jotted down a copy on the scrap of parchment I’d been using for my class notes. Feeling like I was ready for my expedition, I confidently typed OUT, only to be told that there was something I needed to do before I left. After twenty minutes of wracking my brains, I finally figured out what the issue was – rather than copying the notes onto the parchment, I was supposed to write them down onto a scrap of paper that had been left, forgotten, under the wizard’s desk. Sadly, once I’d copied the clues once, the game wouldn’t let me copy them again, so I had to restart in order to progress.
This was frustrating – why go to the trouble of coding an alternate solution to a puzzle if it’s going to make the game unwinnable? – and especially annoying because there was no in-game reason I couldn’t progress, just an out-of-game warning that was meant to be helpful. Still, I pushed on through the next sequence, as Finn faked going to sleep and snuck out of his room after his bedtime (as the parent of a toddler, I could relate to this part). I made it down the catacombs and found a series of manacles and chains that I think lined up with the clues I’d copied down, but I couldn’t figure out the right syntax to interact with them – TAKING and PULLING them occasionally gave hints that I was on the right track, but while the notes suggested I should be able to attach them to each other or ring-bolts in the dungeon walls, nothing I tried seemed to work, and the built-in hints didn’t have anything to offer.
Thinking that I might have missed something back in Finn’s bedroom, I sneaked back upstairs, and found that sure enough, there was a “war belt” hanging on a clothes hook on my door, complete with my trusty dagger. This find was soured by two flies in the ointment: 1) despite Finn clearly knowing that the war belt was there, and it being described in such a way that it should have been clearly visible from the interior of the room, it wasn’t mentioned in the top-level room description – X DOOR was required to disclose its existence, which feels like it’s taking unfair advantage of a gap in knowledge between the player and the protagonist. More galling, though, was 2) the discovery that now when I tried to get back down to the catacombs, I was told “There’s something in your room that you have forgotten!”
This sure seemed like a bug, since I couldn’t find anything else in the room, and the fact that it hadn’t fired when I’d left the war belt behind, but did fire after I’d found it, sure suggested that something had gone wrong somewhere. Not feeling up to restarting once more and seeing which hoops I had to jump through to avoid this second progress-stopping issue, I abandoned the game there, which was a shame – Finn was an engaging protagonist, and it’s hard to go wrong with a hunt for secret passages in a maybe-haunted castle. But Finn’s Big Adventure needed a bit more testing (and a more robust hint system!) to live up to its promise.
(This review was written for the initially-released version of the game; per the author these bugs have now been fixed, so I'm hoping to give it another play and update this review accordingly)
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