Thursday, April 25, 2013

Countdown to Doom (Killworth, Topologika)

I'm a fan of Peter Killworth's Doom games. The narrative and game design get better as the series progresses, but all of them have their cool features. Now, I've written a spiel about Killworth and the Doom games before, so instead of reiterating it here, I'll just point you to this write-up:

(To be honest, I didn't re-read the whole thing so I'll probably repeat myself in any case.)

How it Begins

(The above screenshots are from the original Topologika release even though I played the Inform port for my transcript. There are probably small differences between the two, but I thought screenshots of the original would look cooler.)

The Transcript

Now, when I played the game, I found mapping to be one of the fun elements. Still, if anyone is just curious about the game layout or wants to skip that part when playing themselves, here are some maps made be me (well, one map in two formats):

GUEmap file:

Final Thoughts

So, there isn't a whole lot of story, and the game design largely depends on trial-by-error. Still, it's such an interesting environment that I enjoyed exploring its mysteries despite the numerous deaths and game restarts. Even once you have figured out all of the individual puzzles, there is one final puzzle as you determine the best order. Once you know what to do, there is plenty of time to get through everything under the allotted number of turns, too.

Not every puzzle in this game is a keeper, but between the good ones and the memorable environment, I look back fondly on this game (and I look forward to sharing the great things about the other games, too).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ballyhoo (O'Neill, Infocom)

Now, when I started this blog (so many days ago), I hadn't intended to cover any Infocom games. Still, it was suggested to me that the next game I covered be one that I enjoyed. Also, sometime earlier, another friend wondered why, in this day and age, Infocom transcripts aren't available online (there are some but not many). Lastly, most of the transcripts on here will have a lot of dead space since I don't edit them (much) to strip away the parts where I flail around helplessly. Of course, this results in largely bloated transcripts, so it'd be a nice change of pace to have comparatively lean transcripts that milk these games for their content.

I chose to start off with Ballyhoo since it and The Lurking Horror were the first two Infocom games I legally owned, having received them for Christmas in '87, and Ballyhoo is   (rightfully) the less well-regarded of the two. Still, I think it has its charms that separate it from other Infocom adventures and am happy to try to share them with the world. In doing Ballyhoo, I even took a look at the "reformed" decompiled source of Ballyhoo, uncovering a few responses I was previously unaware of.

Also, yeah, I know, this is the third entry in less than a week. I probably should space these out since there are going to be weeks and months where I don't update this blog at all, but eh, this has been a fun project lately and I feel like sharing the results.

How it Begins

Ballyhoo, in Filfre intepreter

The Transcript

Now, despite its somewhat later release (1986) in Infocom's timeline, Ballyhoo doesn't support UNDO. Since I wanted to share some of the failing endings and it's a make a wrong turn sometimes, I used the Bocfel interpreter to force UNDO support (they don't show up in the transcript).

UPDATE: Ok, the number of comments or something is preventing me from being able to do a Google Doc version of the transcript, so for this one, I had to make a .ODT file. I could have also done a PDF , but neither format supports showing comments in a browser (at least for me) and with .ODT, you can change the font and margins as you please. I'd be happy to hear people's opinions on this, if anyone cares.

In any case, the transcript:

UPDATE #2: I meant to share the following links in the first place but forgot. You may want to peruse the documentation alongside the transcript. In that case, you are covered by the Infocom Documentation Project:

manual and feelies
Invisiclues map

Final Thoughts

Storywise, the game could use some help with chronological order. Like, I get the impression that the part where Comrade Thumb is doing tricks for you gives you time to fake his "Hello, Harry" and go through the turnstile with him. The problem is, you don't know Harry's name unless Thumb has gone through (or you've played the game before), and why would you want to go into the performer camp without having been in the prop tent and found out about the kidnapped daughter, a scene you can't get to without triggering Thumb's performance.

It's also strange that you have to find the scrap of newspaper in Chuckle's trailer before you can get the ransom note that you can compare it to.

Also, if we connect the dots, are we to understand that at some point, Chelsea was kept in a compartment in a gorilla cage, moved to a suitcase kept in a smoky gambling room (only to be thrown on top of a tent), and finally deposited in a crawlspace in a trailer?  Man, that's harsh, and this from people who know her! Good thing that girl didn't have her own hunger daemon.

Now that I'm much older and somewhat wiser, I can admit that some of the writing in Ballyhoo could be better (the handling of Tina is a particular sore point for me now), and the depth of implementation and puzzle-hinting could use a workover. Just the same, I'm still a fan of some other elements. Several scenes have, to me, fantastic imagery despite sometimes terse wording, successfully playing off of familiar icons. For instance, Mahler has obvious hints of King Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Scenes like the one where you are avoiding the prod on the top of the tent, while not mechanically challenging, provide an interesting narrative flow to the game not often seen in Infocom games.

The game also has a crazy amount of playful-banter-with-the-parser (like the egress stuff or the mousetrap scene). Other Infocom games have this, too, but not any take the banter this far. Between that and the fake death, Ballyhoo does a nice job of playing with parser expectations. One might find these things insufferable, but personally I think it's a nice addition to the right game with the right genre.

Ballyhoo doesn't show up on many "Favorite Infocom Games" lists, but that isn't to say that this candy apple's fruit is rotten.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Demon's Tomb

Demon's Tomb was brought to my attention by a "what game am I thinking of?" thread over at the Interactive Fiction Communty Forum. The poster remembered a game that begins an archaeologist saving his findings from an inferno that he would not survive, but those saved findings will be useful to the protagonist of the main game. Someone quickly recognized this as Demon's Tomb. I believe they went on to point out that it was a deeply flawed game, but whatever, I was hooked. I thought it sounded interesting.

How it Begins

The Best Stuff

The interface for Demon's Tomb is actually pretty good. The parser, while not perfect, is better than most, and the layout of the screen has several optional configurations, including a play-by-menu mode. Several rooms have an optional graphic to check out (not that the graphics are especially nice). One of the best features is the fact that you can define synonyms, so while the game doesn't understand X as EXAMINE initially it is an easy thing to fix.

Besides regular save and restore, there are also RAMSAVE and RAMLOAD commands which do a quick one-slot state-saving thing. I probably should have used that feature more, myself.

The game also uses THINK ABOUT <object or person>. Granted, that is not one of my favorite IF tropes, but it shows some foresight as that shows up a good deal more in later years.

The nicest thing is probably the fact that the game (with documentation) is provided for free by its author on the web, easily found by a web search. It is nice to see authors appreciate their own work.

The Bad

Ok, to be honest, I have a lot of issues with the game itself. Here is the transcript:

(As I do more of these transcripts, I'm finding not every one is going to be very comment-heavy. Some of them- like this one- will have the bulk of my thoughts in the section below.)

Final Thoughts

Ok, let's break it down into sections:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Indiana Jones and the Revenge of the Ancients (Angelsoft)

Indiana Jones and the Revenge of the Ancients, according to, was the last game released by Angelsoft, Inc., a company that had a fairly decent run from 1985-1987. I call it a fairly decent run because *I* was aware of some of their games, which can't be said about some of the other games I'll cover in this blog. It probably helped a lot that Angelsoft did a lot of licensed games. Besides Indiana Jones, they covered Stephen King, James Bond, and even Dick Francis.

I've long known that one of the games was written by Mercer Mayer, an author I knew from my youth because of his "Me and My Dad" books (the protagonists were porcupines or something). What I've learned in more recent years is that he co-founded the company. I can only imagine that he and his partner thought they could do the literary aspect of IF better than Infocom. I mean, most of the Infocom authors (except for Berlyn) weren't even published authors.

If that was indeed the case, from what I've seen of Angelsoft games, they never really reached that goal. Most prose in Angelsoft games is not that exceptional, but the games really fall apart in other areas like the interface and the game design.

Still, given the licenses involved and what not, I would like to play through all of the Angelsoft games just to see if there are worthwhile moments.

That brings us to my transcript today.

How it Begins

(I'm going to have beginning screenshots for each game covered. For some games, I'll use this method to share pre-game text that can't be caught by the transcript function. In today's transcript, I already thoughtfully typed it in for you. You're welcome.)

The Transcript

You'll notice that the transcript's text width is the same as it was on the Apple II. Yes, this blog will have plenty of ugly transcripts:

Final Thoughts

So, there aren't many parts in this game that I liked, and I find not being about to GET things infuriatingly awful (if you missed it, you must TAKE things). While the game makes an effort to incorporate Indiana Jones tropes, it doesn't make the required effort to properly translate it to IF (of course, Angelsoft was even worse with some of its earlier games, and if I really hate you, I'll cover their Rambo game here, too.).

Still, there was one section that I thought had some charm. Particularly, it's the section after the intro (man, what a horrible intro) where the player can either go south and talk to the Belloq-type bad guy or go north and talk to the snake dude and learn about what's going on. If you go south earlier enough, you actually can be saved by Marion and her plane even though it's not the optimal route (you need the snake dude's snake-charming commands to win the game).

For a game that is marred by things like randomly marching Nazi troops, the multiple-route part there is pretty nice. Of course, while jumping into Marion's plane while it passes under the bridge is hinted at, I'm not sure if I would have thought such a command was worth trying, even with Indiana Jones logic applied to it.

Hmm, yeah, I can't think of any other good things. 'Til next time!