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.

No comments:

Post a Comment