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Trinity (DOS)

Among the most unique and interesting works of interactive fiction

The Good
When those who play graphic adventure games think of Brian Moriarty, they probably connect him with LucasArts’ “Loom”. However, before writing “Loom” he wrote “Trinity”, a text adventure or interactive fiction for Infocom. “Trinity”, named for the Trinity nuclear test in New Mexico, is one of the most unique games in the Infocom canon.

Released in 1986 and set in the context of the Cold War, the player is a tourist in London when nuclear warfare erupts. The player must escape the destruction of London and visit an unorthodox combination of a fantasy world and events from the history of the atomic bomb. Places in the game are based on inspiration from children’s works including “Mary Poppins”, “The Little White Bird” and “Alice in Wonderland”.

The anomalous world of “Trinity”, with its skillful blend of fantasy and reality, proves to be an interesting one. Despite the relatively sparse amount of NPC interaction, the author manages to keep the story of “Trinity” engaging throughout the game’s duration with the settings the player visits. Both fantasy and historical settings are well-constructed through prose and the game has a literary quality. Another notable point about the game is the author’s appropriate and intriguing use of select quotations and narration during gameplay.

The manual and other quality items (“feelies”) included in the “Trinity” game box provide critical background information for playing and understanding the game. Among these items is a booklet titled “The Illustrated Manual of the Atomic Bomb”, which provides a humorous and sardonic look at the history of the atomic bomb and context for the game.

The puzzles in “Trinity” are generally absorbing and satisfying to solve. Solving a lot of the puzzles is contingent on understanding the strange logic of the game’s world, but generally this was not a problem. The unconventional puzzles and settings of “Trinity” made it worth playing and put it among the most memorable works of interactive fiction.

The Bad
Although the puzzles in “Trinity” are generally reasonable, the game still proves incredibly difficult. Unfortunately, this difficulty stems from reasons other than clever puzzle design. One aspect of the game’s difficulty is that it is easy to miss or leave behind critical items at certain points in the game and become irrevocably stuck. The player has a limited inventory capacity in “Trinity”, so it is often difficult to know which items to carry at a given point in the game in order not to become stuck. Certain sequences only allow the player one chance to complete them, which can be fatal if the player has not saved a game recently. Also, while the game’s parser is generally responsible to a good range of player input, some puzzles hinge on finding the right phrase to give to the parser.

The episodic nature of the plot of “Trinity” can be frustrating because it is often not clear where the player should visit next. At places it is also difficult to navigate “Trinity” because some rooms are difficult to find since they are not explicitly mentioned in the description of a connecting room. With all these factors contributing to the difficulty of “Trinity”, it can be overwhelming. Even experienced adventure gamers will likely need clues or a walkthrough to complete the game.

Another note about the story of “Trinity” is that the author never gives a cohesive explanation of why the player visits the locations they do and why events occur as they do. This has the appeal of allowing the player to draw their own conclusions, but it also unfortunately means that they are not given an overarching explanation for what they have encountered.

The Bottom Line
“Trinity” ranks among the most unique and interesting works of interactive fiction. Its mixture of fantasy, history and children’s literature proves a compelling combination. The puzzles in “Trinity” are generally well-written, but overall the game is extremely difficult. This is due to unfortunate factors such as the ease of leaving behind critical items or failing a sequence that can only be attempted once. The lack of a clear overall direction in the game can also prove frustrating.

The bizarre world of “Trinity” will not appeal to everyone. Due to this and the game’s difficulty, “Trinity” is probably best avoided by those new to interactive fiction. However, experienced interactive fiction players are encouraged to try “Trinity” at least once.

By Ingold on September 12, 2009

Suspect (DOS)

Infocom puts you on the wrong side of a mystery

The Good
“Suspect” is another text adventure or interactive fiction in Infocom’s line of mystery games. The player character in the game is a reporter attending a costume party. Not surprisingly, a murder takes place. However, rather than assuming the role of police detective as with previous Infocom mysteries, the player is under the gallows as the prime suspect with the task of proving their innocence.

Even though two mystery games came out of Infocom prior to the release of “Suspect”, the game still proves original and interesting. The game features an intricate mystery which combines a number of strands into an elegant story, starting with a well-executed opening sequence. As with other Infocom efforts, the “Suspect” game box included extensive documentation and other items (“feelies”) that are entertaining and helpful for playing the game.

The prose used to build the settings and characters is excellent. The game features a large cast of NPCs to fill the game’s extensive estate setting. As with other Infocom mysteries, the NPCs were made more realistic by having them move freely about the game’s rooms. The player character can also question other guests at the party to see interesting dialogue and discover the opinions of the guests.

Two NPCs in particular are worth mentioning, the detective and his assistant Sergeant Duffy. These characters investigate the scene of the crime and are meant as a parody of the player character and his assistant from Infocom’s first mystery, “Deadline”. The game derives much humor from this parody, but the detective and Sergeant Duffy also prove crucial allies in solving the game. It may be worth playing “Deadline” prior to playing “Suspect” to better appreciate this reference. If the player fails to divert suspicion away from them, they will likely find themselves having a word with the detective.

Generally the puzzles in “Suspect” are reasonable, logical and satisfying to attempt and solve. The game is still challenging, but mainly in a positive way which will encourage players to unlock its mysteries. The game’s parser facilitates this by being responsive to a good range of commands.

The Bad
As with other Infocom mysteries, the fact that the NPCs move freely about the game area means that the player can miss important game events if they are not in the right place at the right time. This means that players will likely have to restart “Suspect” multiple times in order to solve all of the puzzles, which can become arduous.

There is also one interesting but unfair puzzle in the game that is difficult because it requires the player to take certain actions near the start of the game without any clues. The player likely will not even release they did not solve this puzzle until later into the game. However, the difficulty of some parts of “Suspect” does not prevent it from being enjoyable.

The Bottom Line
“Suspect” is another text adventure or interactive fiction mystery to come out of Infocom. Unlike in previous Infocom mysteries, you are a murder suspect within the mystery rather than with the police. The game features a strong story and NPCs, which were made more realistic by the fact that they move about the game’s rooms. Among the NPCs are amusing parodies of the detective and Sergeant Duffy from “Deadline”, sent to investigate the murder.

The puzzles in “Suspect” are generally well-written, but there is one puzzle near the start of the game which is difficult because the player will have to perform certain actions without clues. The fact that the game’s NPCs are not fixed in place means that the player can miss critical game events, which means that players will likely have to restart “Suspect” in order to solve it. This can be tedious, but overall “Suspect” is still another excellent mystery from Infocom.

By Ingold on May 3, 2009

Bureaucracy (DOS)

Hilarious and difficult with a twisted logic of its own

The Good
Bureaucracy is a text adventure or interactive fiction produced by Infocom. The true story that inspired game author Douglas Adams to write “Bureaucracy” was a mix-up where a bank sent his new credit card to an old address. The basic story of “Bureaucracy” involves a similar bank mix-up, but the aptly self-described “paranoid fantasy”, takes many humorous, eccentric and strange turns. Even the items in the game box, including the “Popular Paranoia” magazine humorously reflect the high degree of paranoia in the game. The story manages to remain engaging and highly amusing throughout the game’s duration. The NPCs in the game are typically limited in the amount of development and dialogue they have, but given the nature of the game they are appropriate since they serve their functions well and provide laughs.

As in his first game produced from Infocom, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Adams makes interesting and unorthodox use of the medium of interactive fiction. At the beginning of the game players are informed that they are required to fill out a registration form for submission and approval prior to playing the game. Interestingly this is more plausible with the advent of the internet than it was at the time of the game’s release. Cleverly, the information you enter into the form is used throughout the game.

Another unique feature of “Bureaucracy” is the blood pressure measure on the status line. Typically adventure games will track the player’s score or the number of moves they have made in the game, but “Bureaucracy” shows the player their systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings in the top right corner of the game window. Amusingly, stressful situations or mistakes made by the player will lead to a rise in blood pressure. If the player’s blood pressure increases enough, they die and have to restore a saved game or restart. Luckily, blood pressure tends to normalize if the player avoids stressful actions. The player’s score is still kept, but more discreetly than blood pressure. It is nice that the game still tracks the player’s score, because successfully solving a puzzle is still denoted by an increase in score.

Another appealing aspect of “Bureaucracy” is that the player is generally free to explore the game area without fear of time limits or not being in the right place at the right time. Some effort also seems to have been made to limit the amount of dead ends the player can reach. For example, I left a critical inventory item behind at one point in the game, but it was returned to me later. However, the puzzles still remain very challenging, but very entertaining and tongue-in-cheek with a twisted logic of their own. The game’s parser is generally good about responding to player commands, although it may be difficult to phrase the puzzle solution correctly in a few spots.

The Bad
The blood pressure measure, while amusing, is also somewhat inhibiting. Part of the appeal of parser interfaces is the freedom to experiment by typing commands, but the potential to die from high blood pressure limits this to an extent. However, the most frustrating aspect of “Bureaucracy” is its difficulty. While the twisted logic associated with the puzzles makes them enjoyable, it also makes solving them very hard. Even seasoned adventure gamers will likely find that they need clues or even a walkthrough to solve “Bureaucracy”.

The Bottom Line
“Bureaucracy” is a text adventure and interactive fiction from author Douglas Adams based on a bad experience he had with a bank. It has a humorous story which takes the form of a “paranoid fantasy” that proves comical throughout its duration. The gameplay includes unique and interesting features, such as the use of player provided information during the game and monitoring the player character’s blood pressure.

The game’s puzzles have a strange logic behind them which makes them whimsical and challenging. However, the difficulty of the game can also be frustrating and will likely lead players to seek clues or a walkthrough. While the player is generally free to explore the game area, the amount of interaction the player can have with the parser may be limited by increases in blood pressure, which can cause sudden death. Overall, “Bureaucracy” is worth playing for its humorous and at times unorthodox gameplay despite its difficulty.

By Ingold on March 21, 2009

The Witness (DOS)

An excellent concept, but suffers from a limited scope

The Good
“The Witness” is the second of the mystery text adventures or interactive fictions produced by Infocom. The game shares a number of features in common with its predecessor, “Deadline”. “The Witness” also sets you in the role of a policeman investigating a murder by investigating his home. As with “Deadline”, there is a 12 hour time limit to solve the crime and each move made by the player advances the clock by a minute.

Instead of a modern setting as in “Deadline”, however, “The Witness” is set in Los Angeles in 1938. This is a natural setting for a mystery game since it recalls the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The time period is captured well through descriptions and period slang. The game box also includes a number of high quality materials to help build the setting. The characters in “The Witness” are the game’s strongest feature, as they are developed nicely with sharp dialogue. A few of the NPCs also move freely about the game area, which makes them more realistic.

There is really one main idea that the story of “The Witness” builds on and which the player discovers by the end of the game. Fortunately this idea is interesting, and the author tied everything in the story together with an explanation of the full story earned when the game is completed successfully.

A satisfying point about “The Witness” is that its puzzles can probably be solved by adventure gamers with minimal clues given enough time. Some may say that this makes the game too easy, but it was nice that the puzzles were not too obscure. The parser is generally good about responding to player input. As in “Deadline”, one of the fun tools players have in their arsenal is to have objects analyzed by Sergeant Duffy for anything that may shed light on the solution to the mystery. The game includes enough details and false leads to potentially give players a decent run before they crack the case.

The Bad
The first notable negative point about “The Witness” is the protracted opening sequence before the main game starts, which could have been shortened at least somewhat. While the main idea behind “The Witness” is interesting, its limited scope is a detractor. One of the appeals of mysteries is their tangled plots, especially when following the genre of mysteries like “The Big Sleep” or “The Maltese Falcon”. “The Witness” is lacking in this area because there is not many secrets that have to be discovered by the player during the bulk of the gameplay. The number of NPCs is limited, which not only makes the mystery less interesting than it might be, but also means that the game’s major secrets can potentially be discovered quickly. “Deadline”, in contrast, had a number of threads in the mystery which were discovered by the player and woven together skilfully by the author.

The Bottom Line
“The Witness” is an Infocom mystery set in 1938 which challenges players to solve a murder. The setting is constructed nicely and what characters the game has are well-written. Another nice point about the game is that the puzzles are likely solvable with minimal clues, but some may dislike this because it makes the game easier than other Infocom titles. The opening sequence of “The Witness” is longer than it needs to be, but the main negative point about the game is the limited scope of its plot. With a finite number of NPCs and few secrets that need to be discovered to solve the case, “The Witness” misses its full potential.

By Ingold on March 19, 2009

Deadline (DOS)

A great mystery and game

The Good
“Deadline” is a mystery text adventure or interactive fiction produced by Infocom. You are a detective assigned to investigate what has been labelled the open-and-shut suicide case of Marshall Robner to see if you can reach different conclusions. Each action in the game will advance the clock by a minute and the deadline to solve the case is 12 hours. The case proves to be an intriguing mystery and author Marc Blank has done an excellent job of developing and tying together a number of threads into a complete game. The game box includes an impressive array of documentation and objects (and was the first Infocom game to include these “feelies”), which help build the story and introduce the characters.

A solid mystery relies on an interesting cast of characters to make it work. “Deadline” meets this criterion with interesting and well-developed NPCs. Not only are the characters well-written with interesting backgrounds and dialogues, but they actually follow their own schedules. Depending on what time the game is at the various characters will move to different locations and engage in unique activities. On top of that, the characters will at times alter their actions and moods based on actions taken by the player. The effort put into developing the NPCs is a critical element in the success of “Deadline”.

The puzzles in “Deadline” are well-constructed and logical. The game still poses a challenge, but players have a clear goal that they are working toward. One of the interesting options the player has is to have objects analyzed by the trusty Sergeant Duffy.

The room and object descriptions in “Deadline” are well-written and the details inserted into the setting enhance the game. A nice finishing touch on “Deadline” is a summary of the story written by the author given to the player once they have cracked the case.

The Bad
The parser in “Deadline” is generally responsive, but at times it may be difficult to communicate with the game when there are multiple objects with similar names in an area. However, the main point against “Deadline” is its difficulty. The time limit of 12 in-game hours to solve the case means that most players will likely have to restart the game if they want to explore the game area fully and solve the case. Another reason players may have to backtrack significantly by reloading a saved game or restarting the game is that certain parts of the game hinge on being in the correct location in the correct timeframe. Overall, though, the difficult of the game does not prevent it from being enjoyable.

The Bottom Line
“Deadline” is an intriguing mystery game where you play a detective that has to find evidence to overturn the conclusion that Marshall Robner committed suicide and was actually murdered. The game builds an interesting mystery where a number of threads combine to make a memorable story. The NPCs are a key element in the game’s success, as they not only prove to be interesting characters, but move around the game area according their own schedules and respond to player actions. The game’s puzzles are logical and the player has a clear objective throughout the game. “Deadline” proves a challenging game because the player has a finite time to solve the case and must efficiently compile evidence and ensure that they visit certain locations at key times. The fact that time progresses with each move the player makes means that players will likely have to restart the game at least a few times before they can complete “Deadline”. However, the challenge does not diminish the fun of the game because of the strength of the story, NPCs and well-constructed puzzles.

By Ingold on March 15, 2009

Loom (DOS)

By Ingold on February 23, 2009

Mean Streets (DOS)

Interesting story with mostly tedious gameplay

The Good
“Mean Streets” is the first of the games featuring Tex Murphy, a private investigator working in a dystopian San Francisco in 2033. The main success of “Main Streets” is in developing a seedy future with an interesting mystery story full of corruption and ambiguity. Tex’s first case is to investigate the death of professor Carl Linksy, deemed a definite suicide. In the style of the best detective stories, information is slowly revealed regarding the case by interacting with various characters and visiting different locations. In short, Tex uses a combination of questioning, bribing and threatening to get information from a wide range of characters. Sometimes Tex explores rooms to look for clues when not interacting with characters, and these sections feature an interesting and effective interface that allows players to largely use a mouse rather than a parser commands.

The game is solid from a technical standpoint. It features VGA graphics which are impressive for their time. Access used live actors as the basis for their character portraits and characters in cut scenes, and the result is impressively realistic looking characters. The soundtrack of “Mean Streets” features one decent song that is repeated for full impact, but the major achievement in sound in the game is the inclusion of digitized speech. The amount of spoken dialogue is understandably little, but it is a welcome addition to the game, particularly the taped dialogue of Carl Linsky.

The Bad
Unfortunately, the gameplay of “Mean Streets” is tedious in many respects. The gameplay consists of traveling to various locations to gather information about the case. The first problem arises in the travel between locations. Tex Murphy uses a flying “speeder” to move between locations, which is a nice concept, but unfortunately the amount of time spent in getting to different locations is excessive and increasingly boring. At a number of locations players will also have to pass simplistic side scroller action sequences being able to access the location. These are a dull and unwelcome addition to the game. In the beginning, visiting the different characters of the game is interesting, but visiting the characters becomes tedious as Tex visits an increasing number of unmemorable minor characters to get information allowing him to visit other minor characters.

Some locations involve investigating rooms for clues rather than interacting with characters. While the game has some decent puzzles in these rooms, most of the actions required consist of moving or opening objects and using inventory objects in obvious places. In short, “Mean Streets” is severely lacking where conventional adventure game puzzles are concerned, which for me makes the game less interesting than it could be. Searching these rooms becomes especially boring during the long “passcard hunt” toward the end of the game.

The Bottom Line
“Mean Streets” has an interesting futuristic detective story and impressive graphics and sound, but mundane gameplay which makes it a chore to finish. Access seems to have realized the failings of this game and vast improvements were made to the gameplay of subsequent Tex Murphy games, including the elimination of traveling time between locations and action sequences, introducing more interesting puzzles and including less trivial minor characters.

The last Tex Murphy game, “Tex Murphy: Overseer”, is a heavily enhanced and expanded remake of this game and is definitely more worth playing. It is also notable that “Overseer” and “Mean Streets” have the same basic story, though the story of “Overseer” is more intricate. Therefore, it may be worth skipping “Mean Streets” to avoid revealing plot details in common with “Overseer”. I only recommend this one to those willing to muddle through arduous gameplay for the sake of seeing the original Tex Murphy storyline.

By Ingold on December 31, 2007

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