Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Bishōjo Senshi Sailor Moon S: Quiz Taiketsu! Sailor Power Shūketsu!!

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 16, 2014

Today, I’ve got something else obscure to look at: Bishōjo Senshi Sailor Moon S: Quiz Taiketsu! Sailor Power Shūketsu!! (original title: 美少女戦士セーラームーン S – クイズ対決! セーラーパワー集結!!), a Sailor Moon quiz game for the Bandai Playdia.

Sailor Moon S Quiz (Playdia) - cover

Once again quoting my description on MobyGames:

Tsukino Usagi and her friends, the Sailor Senshi, are attending a lecture by a picture book author, Misaki Asako, when a Daimon called Quiz appears to steal Asako’s pure heart crystal.

There is one stage for each of the five Sailor Senshi (Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury, Sailor Venus, Sailor Mars, and Sailor Jupiter), which may be played in any order. In each stage, the player must answer a series of twenty multiple-choice questions, testing his or her knowledge of the Sailor Moon anime, which represents a battle against a sub-boss. Upon successfully completing a stage by answering at least 16 questions correctly, the sub-boss is defeated, and the player receives a password, after which another stage may be selected.

Upon receiving all five passwords, the player may restart the game and enter the passwords, unlocking the final stage, in which the five Sailor Senshi are joined by Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune for a final twenty question quiz.

Throughout the game, there are clips of animation in the style of the anime. Upon completing the game, a karaoke version of the anime’s opening theme is played over clips from the game.

Playdia-Console-Set” by Evan-AmosOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A few words about the Playdia itself would not be amiss, I think. It was a CD-based console, released in Japan in 1994, reminiscent of the (similarly doomed) CD-i. Most of the console’s library (according to Wikipedia, which has a list) was quiz or edutainment software, and much of it seems to be licensed titles based on anime. The first three games (according to GDR), released on 1994-09-23, were based on Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon S, and SD Gundam. The Playdia currently has no emulator available, so the only way to play these games is to buy the console. It looks like they’re around $150 on eBay, and this particular game will set you back a further $50, so I don’t recommend it.

I based my description on a scan of the manual and a video playthrough, both provided by SailorVGame.org. They are also the source of the screenshots in this post.

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Title screen

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Opening movie

The game opens with a brief animated movie setting up the plot. I’ll not recapitulate that here–you can read the description above. The quality of the animation is quite on par with the TV anime. It is perhaps a little more static than the anime, but it’s well drawn and the video output by the game is of good quality.

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The first thing the the player must do is decide whether to begin at the beginning of the game, or to enter a password and skip the first five stages, going straight to the final quiz. This is, I suppose, because the Playdia doesn’t appear to support any kind of saved games. Passwords are the only option. The password is in the form of five pictures which the game reveals, one after each successfully-completed stage.

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The player can choose the order in which to take on the first five stages, but all five must be completed before proceeding to the final stage. Unless, of course, the password  has been gotten some other way.

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The game itself is simply a series of multiple-choice trivia questions. There are twenty per stage, and six stages (counting the final stage), making 120 questions per complete playthrough. The back cover of the game boasts 300 questions, so I assume that they are randomized. Questions are generally read aloud by some character in the game.

The questions on Usagi’s stage are related to the Sailor Moon anime. The question above, “「つきにかわて、おしおきよ」は、だれのせりふ?” (“In the name of the Moon, I will punish you” is whose line?), is very simple, but they do get progressively harder. The nineteenth question on Usagi’s stage asks for the name of Prince Demand’s younger brother. Demand was a character in the previous season (Sailor Moon R), which had recently finished airing. Despite its title, this game was released right in the middle of Sailor Moon S, so it’s no surprise if it’s not filled with questions about the still-airing season.

The other stages have questions on other topics. Minako’s question number seven, for example, asks who was born from a flower: Oyayubi-hime (Thumbelina), Kaguya-hime (from a Japanese folktale), or Shirayuki-hime (Snow White). Ami’s question number one asks what kind of shoes to wear on a rainy day: rubber boots, slippers, or sandals.

After ten questions, a clip of the currently-selected character’s transformation sequence (straight out of the anime) is played, followed by the remaining ten questions. If the player has answered at least sixteen questions correctly, the password from that stage is revealed. Otherwise, the player is encouraged to try again. Either way, a clip is played of the stage’s boss being defeated.

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Upon successfully completing all five stages, the player may restart the game and choose to enter the password. A series of five doors are presented, each offering a choice of four pictures, one of which is the correct password for that door. After the correct password is entered, another anime clip plays, in which Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune join the others, and the final stage begins. More Sailor Moon trivia is in store (question 10: What was the name of Chibiusa’s first love, the genius artist?).

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Incidentally, the questions are not purely text based. In the above case, the Daimon asks who is displayed in those pictures.

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Following the completion of the game, a short closing animation is played, followed by a karaoke version of Sailor Moon‘s opening theme, “Moonlight Densetsu”.

And that’s the game! It’s actually not that bad, I suppose, as trivia games go. Certainly far too easy for any but fairly young children, but I suppose that young fans of the series might have enjoyed the game.

It looks like there were actually four games for the Playdia based on Sailor Moon. Considering that there were only about thirty games in total, that’s a pretty substantial amount. Fortunately, SailorVGame.org has manual scans and gameplay videos for those available, as well, so I’ll probably write something about them, in the future. It’d be nice to be able to write about the console’s complete library, but I suspect that it’ll not be so easy to get details on all of the games. I won’t shy away from the detective work, though, so we’ll see how it goes.

Posted in 1994, Bandai Playdia, Decent, Full Review, Trivia, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Presentation Manager Robots

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 27, 2014

Another OS/2 game: Presentation Manager Robots, a port of BSD Robots to the OS/2 Presentation Manager. Incidentally, I’ve taken the screenshots in OS/2 2.1, this time, so enjoy the increased authenticity over my previous posts.

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Quoting my pending MobyGames description:

Presentation Manager Robots is an implementation of BSD Robots. The player controls Smiley, who must avoid being destroyed by the Evil Killer Robots. On each turn, Smiley can either stand still or move into any of the eight adjacent positions, and the robots will move directly toward Smiley. If a robot catches Smiley by moving onto his position, the game is over. If two robots crash into each other, they are destroyed, leaving behind a heap of broken robots. If a robot crashes into a heap, it’s also destroyed.

The player has two options, if the robots surround Smiley. First, the player may choose, once per level, to use the Sonic Screwdriver, which will destroy all the robots adjacent to Smiley. Second, the player may choose to teleport to a random location in the level. This is not without risk, though, since Smiley may teleport beside a robot and lose.

The level is won when no robots remain. Later levels begin with more robots.

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Presentation Manager Robots is a pretty standard port. It starts out easy, with just five robots on the first level, but rapidly increases in difficulty.

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I made it to level 6 on my second try, which I suppose isn’t too bad.

There’s one annoyance to this port: no keyboard support. In order to move, you’ve got to click in the direction you want to go, and you click on Smiley to stand still for a turn. Robots is much better controlled with the keyboard, and I can’t imagine why this version doesn’t support that.

Other than the input issue, the game as much fun as Robots usually is. Worth a play, for sure! The game is actually still being distributed by its author, Kent Lundberg, from his homepage. It’s up to version 1.3 now (pictured above is 1.1), which he released under the GPL in May 2002, about nine years after its initial release in July 1993.

Posted in 1993, Freeware, Full Review, Good, OS/2, Strategy | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Dungeon Chess

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 25, 2014

I promised to write about some more interesting OS/2 games, so here’s one I thought was really neat: Dungeon Chess by Craig M. Seavey, Computer Scientist.

Yes, he credits himself as "Craig M. Seavey, Computer Scientist".

Yes, he credits himself as “Craig M. Seavey, Computer Scientist”.

This one’s a quite interesting variation on chess. I’ll just quote the description I used on MobyGames here:

Dungeon Chess is a board game similar to chess, played on an 8×8 board, called the dungeon. The player has access to sixteen weapons of five different types: eight Circs and two each of Arcs, Trigs, Rects, and Stars. Each weapon moves differently: Circs can move one room in any direction; Arcs move like knights in chess; Trigs, like chess bishops, move along diagonals; Rects, like chess rooks, move along the rows and columns; and Stars, like chess queens, can move any number of rooms either diagonally or along the rows and columns.

Circs and Trigs also have special abilities. Circs, like pawns in chess, can be morphed into any other type of weapon upon reaching the opponent’s home row. If a Trig is the last weapon available, it gains the ability to move like a Circ, so that it can access the whole dungeon.

When starting a new game, the player has the option of starting with an empty dungeon and placing his weapons manually when and where he chooses, or starting with the weapons already placed on the first two rows in a similar manner to the initial configuration of chess pieces.

Dungeon Chess keeps score, but only as an indicator for how the game is going. The game is won when all the opponent’s weapons have been captured–there is no checkmate in Dungeon Chess.

One major difference from chess is that the player can only see those rooms of the dungeon which one of his weapons can access. If, for example, the player has only a Rect left, then only the row and column the Rect occupies will be visible–and the view will be blocked by any weapons that are in the way of movement.

Two game modes are offered: Master and GrandMaster. In Master mode, the grid of the dungeon is clearly marked and visible rooms are colored differently. In GrandMaster mode, the dungeon is solid black, and the rooms that are visible aren’t marked, so the player must carefully inspect the positioning of the weapons to determine which rooms are definitely empty and which are simply out of view.

OS2 4.52-2014-06-24-13-21-08You can see in the above screenshot that there are three enemy Circs visible and a number of dark blue squares which may or may not contain enemy weapons, but which aren’t visible to me. This makes the game quite difficult! I’m reminded of Stratego, where you don’t know the rank of the enemy pieces until you attack them. The game of chess is quite different without perfect information.

Dungeon Chess is still sort of a parlour game, but it’s much more interesting than the bland conversions of Connect Four and such that I’ve been seeing. It’s a game that can only really work on a computer, since it wouldn’t be practical to play it on physical boards. You could do it with two boards and a moderator, but it’d be a pain.

This is something I really like to see: doing things in computer games that wouldn’t be possible for a physical game. For example, if you’re playing a computer pinball game, why not have effects that couldn’t be done on an electromechanical table? It can be done badly, of course, and there’s something to be said for accurate simulation of real-world games and toys, but I like to see people exploring the possibilities.

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GrandMaster mode is substantially harder, since the game doesn’t indicate which rooms are visible. Frankly, I prefer Master mode–it’s just too much trouble to work out which rooms are empty and which are just invisible, at least for me. Maybe some people who are more into strategy games would feel differently.

Dungeon Chess is single player, but it seems that it’s based on a multiplayer (network) game called ChessNet. There’s a chess game for Windows with that title from the right time period, but I think it’s not the same one. I’d like to see the multiplayer version of this game–it ought to be great fun.

There is actually still a version of this game around. Behold the modern homepage of Dungeon Chess. From the description, I suspect the modern version is really a different (if similar) game from this old one. I’m not shelling out $15 to find out, though.

Posted in 1993, Chess, Freeware, Full Review, Good, OS/2 | 2 Comments »

OS/2 parlour games by Peter Wansch

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 23, 2014

Continuing in the grand tradition of this blog, I’ve let time pass me by for a while with no updates. I’ve not been idle, though.

Recently, MobyGames started accepting OS/2 games, so I’ve been spending a bit of time looking at old freeware titles for OS/2. There are an absolutely shocking number of parlour games for that platform! Here’s a quick look at a few I’ve added to MobyGames lately, all by Peter Wansch.

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First, Connect Four. It’s a straightforward implementation of the Milton Bradley game. You can see me losing, above.

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Second, Master Mind. Pretty straightforward as well, though this one does offer a Beginner difficulty, on which the four colors chosen must be distinct.

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Finally (and still pending approval, just now), Tic Tac Toe. This one is more interesting, because in addition to the regular 3×3 game board you see above, you can play on 3x3x3 or 4x4x4 boards.

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Pretty cool! Not exactly a new idea, of course. In 1978 alone, MobyGames lists two different games called “3-D Tic-Tac-Toe” and one called “Qubic”, which is a translation of the board game of the same name–a 4x4x4 version of Tic Tac Toe. Even if it’s not novel, it’s still more fun than playing the 3×3 game to a draw a hundred times.

All three of these were released in a compilation of games made OS/2 2.0 and above, Entertainment Pack for OS/2, and some of them (including these three) seem to have had separate releases of updated versions.

There’s one big flaw with these games: they’re single player only! I can’t understand why Wansch didn’t just let you turn off the AI and play with a friend. I mean, I realize that Master Mind is really better off as a single player game, but the other two are perfect for multiplayer games.

Wansch may have contributed a couple of dozen parlour games to OS/2 by himself, but there are many more. I haven’t really explored the available games in depth, but it looks to me like OS/2 has a much higher proportion of parlour games than, for example, Windows 3.1. I wonder why.

It’s not all checkers and Parcheesi, though. I’ll get some reviews of the more interesting games up, once I’ve added them to MobyGames. It’ll be a nice break–it’s surprisingly exhausting writing descriptions for simple games. I dread writing yet another explanation of how Tetris or Conway’s Game of Life works.

These games can be downloaded from this page, if you’re interested. Of course, you’d probably spend more time getting OS/2 installed than playing the games, so caveat ludor.

Posted in 1993, 1994, Connect Four, First Impressions, Freeware, Mastermind, OS/2, Tic Tac Toe | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Shufflecomp: Sparkle

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 19, 2014

Sparkle by Karly Di Caprio is an entry in Shufflecomp 2014. If you’re planning on playing and voting for games in this competition, you should probably stop reading now. And I should say that I intend to mention some serious spoilers, even more than usual, so be warned.

Compared to Nova Heart, the last game I played, Sparkle is a much more traditional piece of interactive fiction. Not merely because it’s parser-based and written in Inform–it has very much the traditional feel of interactive fiction. The introduction ends with “The road ends here at an abandoned cable car platform. The cableway leads directly to my destination. I must get it running, somehow.”, and inspecting the cable car reveals that it is locked to the platform with an iron bar, which is attached to the platform with bolts. I will need a wrench!

With this as motivation, I explored the surroundings, coming to a gate guarded by a dog. Then the game instructed me to “Find a quiet place to MEDITATE.” I’d just seen such a place, so I did as instructed, and the game revealed a piece of information–“dog equals flute”–and a new mechanic: “With this information I can CHANGE things INTO their counterpart identities. I can also THINK to recall previously learned information.”

I was fairly excited by the possibilities, at this point, but I’m afraid that Sparkle didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The rest of the game involves solving some pretty standard puzzles with the aid of the new mechanic. That’s all pretty solid, but the only way to learn which objects can be changed into which others is to inspect some objects, and then meditate. Some of the objects you’ve examined may work with the new command. Or maybe not.

My biggest disappointment with this game is that the changing-things-into-things mechanic turns out not to actually be a puzzle. The game tells you, of this mechanic, that “the key to true enlightenment is to observe the Pattern and to understand it,” but that’s a red herring. The pattern is that there is no pattern–according to the game, anything can be changed into anything. That’s not actually true, though: objects can only actually be turned into the counterparts the game specifies, and only after the game tells you that you can, too–nothing clever happens on repeated playthroughs.

Despite my disappointment with the game’s unique mechanic, Sparkle does have a few things to recommend it. There are a number of optional puzzles, listed by the game as achievements. I didn’t get all of them, but they seem to be well-integrated into the game. For example, during one event, you’re told that your clothes get wet, and later you discover an umbrella–the obvious thing is to (on a subsequent playthrough) get the umbrella first, and protect your clothes. And, indeed, this yields an achievement–nice. The achievement system does seem to be  little buggy, though–I got some achievements that I didn’t actually complete, and I think it didn’t always notify me when I got one.

Also, Sparkle is written in first person, but can optionally be put into second person, which is a neat gimmick.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with this game. If it gets a post-comp release fixing the trouble with the achievements system, I might like to go back and try to complete some of the optional puzzles.

Play time: about 45 minutes.

Posted in 2014, Freeware, Full Review, Good, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Shufflecomp: Nova Heart: Don’t Be Standing Around While the Earth Dies Screaming, or: Who Is To Blame When the Owls Leave Candy Jail?

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 18, 2014

Nova Heart: Don’t Be Standing Around While the Earth Dies Screaming, or: Who Is To Blame When the Owls Leave Candy Jail? by Zenith J Clangor is an entry in Shufflecomp 2014. If you’re planning on playing and voting for games in this competition, you should probably stop reading now.

A bit of background: for Shufflecomp, prospective authors submitted a list of songs, which the organizer shuffled and sent back out. Authors were then to write a game inspired by (at least) one of the songs they were assigned (details). Nova Heart is inspired by seven songs.

I found Nova Heart‘s story to have a disjointed feel. There are sudden transitions and shifts in perspective, and the whole thing is rather bizarre. Intentionally, I assume.

Interesting language and vivid imagery are Nova Heart‘s strongest points.

You are in a woman’s clean white utopic apartment, one hundred floors above the city.

The wailing sirens of the deathpaddywagons are drawing closer. You have to run.

Run now.

There’s something forceful and immediate about this that I like. Between each paragraph, the game pauses, requiring a click (or press of the enter key) to proceed. I was more impressed by this before I saw the next line: “To run, type ‘run’ in the command box.” Indeed, typing ‘run’ is the only way to proceed from that point.

Nova Heart uses (what seems to me to be) a purpose-built javascript engine, and is played using a web browser (NB: the accompanying music doesn’t seem to play unless the game is played online). This engine allows the game to use both a text parser and mouse-based interaction. This would seem to allow for some very interesting modes of interaction, and the game does have a fairly nice bit where the PC is editing a news story, but that’s the high point.

The interactivity in Nova Heart is, for the most part, false. In the situation I described above, only typing ‘run’ allows the game to proceed, and no other command has any effect. This is generally true: at each moment, if any command is possible, only one command is possible. Nova Heart does not simulate a world; it just uses customized ‘continue’ commands. There are a couple of times in the game when the player may input a command sooner or later to get slightly different text, but the only real choice in the game is at the very end. There are, I think, six possible endings, though each is only a few paragraphs of text.

I think I’d like to play a game that has something of the style of Nova Heart, but more developed. Nova Heart is interesting as an experiment, but I wouldn’t generally recommend it as a game.

Posted in 2014, Freeware, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Archery

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 19, 2014

Today, a look at a game I’ve just added to MobyGames: Archery by Brian Blankenship.

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Archery is a very simple shooting game. A target descends along the right side of the screen, and you have to push the spacebar at the right moment to let fly your arrow, with the aim of hitting the target as near the center as possible.

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You get three shots (in a row) from each of five different starting locations, and shots that hit closer to the center score more points. You can play alone (for high scores, one assumes), against another player, or against the computer.

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Interestingly, if you play against the computer, the computer can get a high score, too. Embarrassingly, the computer seems to be rather better at this game than I am.

The author, Brian Blankenship, wrote this game in 1985. On December 31, 2013, he posted the BASIC source code to the game on SourceForge. He posted a few comments on abandonware sites around the net. Here’s what he had to say:

I am honored to find sites like this still showing this game from so long ago. I wrote this while bored, waiting to be laid off from a law firm that was splitting up. I was playing “Track and Field” occasionally at arcades, and could barely make it to the archery part, which inspired me to make this game.

Yes, it is very lame by today’s standards, and in hindsight I could have made a lot of improvements. I tinkered with it while it held my interest, and released it to a few BBS’s in the Indianapolis, IN area. Had no idea it would see somewhat large distribution.

Even if Archery is “lame by today’s standards”, I found it to be quite a fun (though simple) game. I imagine it’d be worth playing with a friend, at least for a few matches.

Posted in 1985, Action, Archery, Decent, DOS, Freeware, Full Review, Shooter | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Spring Thing 2014: The Adventures of a Hexagon

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 15, 2014

The Adventures of a Hexagon by Tyler Zahnke is an entry in the Spring Thing 2014. If you’re planning on playing and voting for games in this competition, you should probably stop reading now.

The Adventures of a Hexagon is a CYOA-style story, implemented as a set of HTML files, about a day in the life of a hexagon. Geometrical shapes, we learn, can escape from textbooks when no one is looking and go off to have their own adventures.

Hexagon is very short. There are only 38 pages, each containing at most a few short paragraphs of text, some of which are extremely similar. I completed every path in about five minutes.

The story is also extremely lacking. Essentially, the PC, a hexagon, can choose to go to either the Museum of Geometry of the Polygon Village, either with his friends, Pentagon, Heptagon, and Octagon, or, in the latter case, alone. Ultimately, if you choose any option other than joining with a group of other hexagons, the PC is killed. If you try visiting the village with your friends, the only path to a good ending is for the PC to abandon his friends to the tender mercies of a gang of polygons, and find a group of other hexagons to join with. If there is a theme to this story, it is that one must seek out others like oneself–that those who are different are not to be trusted, and one cannot be happy among them.

But I fear I’m giving the game too much credit, saying that. A sample of the game’s text should illustrate it better. If the PC goes to the museum and, through a series of pages which basically amount to ‘specify your path’, chooses to look at the triangle exhibit, you are presented with:

You take a closer look, and you realize that the triangle has a little needle point sticking out of it. But it’s too late! BLZZZT! It sticks the needle in you, leaving a great big hole in you. Game over! I guess you can never trust a triangle!

That’s it. The end. Pick the pentagon exhibit, and you get:

You get your six sides together and hop up on the ledge. The five pentagons say, “You have one side more than all of us! Har, har, har!” You hear a sound like that of a broken record as you are dragged to the wave-pool. Broken record sounds are always a bad sign in a dramatic scene. You are now being dragged underwater by the fierce five-siders. You have been drowned by the pentagons!

Other choices end with the hexagon killed similarly suddenly. Only choosing to view the hexagon exhibit doesn’t end in the PC’s death:

You approach the hexagons, and they all say, “Hello, Sixling!” The other five hexagons then open the door, and you enter the building just as they do. A late 1990s dance song starts to play as the hexagons hit the dance floor. You join them in a disco-style up-beat dance.
Congratulations! You got to dance with some polygons! You finally found a path that wouldn’t get you smashed to pieces by other polygons! You won!

The other ‘good’ endings are almost exactly the same, having the PC dancing with other hexagons.

The whole game is just a set of menus leading to the PC either being killed or joining other hexagons and dancing. It’s a story, generously speaking, but the non-ending parts of the story would probably fill less than half a page.

The Adventures of a Hexagon is not worth the few minutes it takes to complete.

Play time: about 5 minutes.

Posted in 2014, Bad, Freeware, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Spring Thing 2014: The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 14, 2014

The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost by Briar Rose is an entry in the Spring Thing 2014. If you’re planning on playing and voting for games in this competition, you should probably stop reading now.

Innocence Lost is the first part of the story of a Greek boy, Andreas, who, along with his brother, Alexius, is sold by his father to a Roman slaver. This part covers Andreas’s childhood, with later parts yet to be released.

The game is a browser-based CYOA-style story, hosted by ChooseYourStory, a site I was not previously familiar with. Three of the ten games in the Spring Thing use it, though, making it the single most popular ‘engine’–so I suppose it must be popular.

Here a brief digression: it troubles me to have games in competitions hosted externally and unavailable for download. When the host disappears–and it will, eventually–those games will simply be gone, unless the author has somehow archived them, or some enterprising player has done the same. This won’t affect my scoring of the games, but I hope that authors will keep this in mind when choosing a venue.

After the story begins, the plot proceeds in a frankly predictable fashion. The protagonist and his brother are put on a slave ship to be taken to Rome. There, they meet and befriend a young girl, Lula, who has been a slave for some time already. When they arrive in Rome, all three are purchased together, and it turns out that they are to be trained, along with other youths, as gladiators. The story briefly follows their training and culminates in a battle between six of them and six competing trainee gladiators.

The player’s choices throughout can impact Andreas’s strength, speed, or ‘approval’ with another character. The most substantial change the player can make is affecting which and how many (if any) of the children die in the battle at the end of the story, including possibly Andreas himself.

The mechanism of this change is the strength, speed, and approval scores mentioned earlier. During the battle, certain decisions will succeed or fail, based on Andreas’s strength or speed, and after the battle the other characters in the story will have (brief) conversations with Andreas that are impacted by his approval score with them.

When Andreas’s strength, speed, or approval score with another character changes, it’s displayed by the game in conspicuous colored text, inline with the story. This is a little distracting, but more importantly it had a strong influence on how I experienced the game. From the very beginning, because of these notifications, I was aware that the game was keeping tracking of the approval statistics, and I soon learned about strength and speed, so when making any choice, I could not help but think about how it might impact Andreas’s stats. It put me into a mindset to engage in metagaming, and made it more difficult to immerse myself in simply roleplaying as Andreas.

When first meeting Titus (the owner of the gladiatorial school) and Rhode (the trainer), for example, Andreas may either describe his education to Titus or attempt to bite Rhode’s finger. I, as the player, had a shrewd suspicion that doing this would impress Rhode with Andreas’s fierceness, but Andreas’s motivation wasn’t to impress her–he wanted to bite her because he disliked her. I’d have thought that, even without the approval scores being made explicit, but if they had any impact, it was only to widen the gap between player and player character.

This gap was especially noticeable on subsequent playthroughs. It became clear, at the end, that ‘winning’ the game meant keeping all six children alive through the final battle, and that doing this would involve having sufficiently high stats, so my replays quickly devolved into simply trying the different options to learn what impact they had on Andreas’s statistics, then finally going through the game making all of the ‘right’ choices, so as to preserve all of Andreas’s teammates. It took me an hour to play through the story once, but less than twenty minutes to play through it five more times, start to finish.

Innocence Lost‘s biggest weakness is its linearity. Your choices have literally no meaningful impact on anything but the final scene. Andreas can’t be bought by anyone other than Titus. He can’t be killed prior to the battle. Your choices incline the story in one direction for just a few paragraphs before it returns, unerringly, to the single path the author determined. This, combined with the very visible statistics, makes the game more about optimizing statistics than influencing a story.

The writing in Innocence Lost is reasonably solid, if unexceptional, and the characters are interesting enough for the brief time we know them. Unfortunately, Innocence Lost makes poor use of the medium. Of course, a degree of linearity is to be expected from a game that is the first part of a trilogy. Perhaps the later installments in the series will give the player more choice. If not, this story may be better suited to static fiction, abandoning the conceit of choice in favor of more strongly developed relationships between the characters.

I give The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost a rating of 6/10. Fun enough to read, but unexceptional as a work of interactive fiction.

Play time: 1:16 for six complete playthroughs.

Posted in 2014, Decent, Full Review, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 13, 2014

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure is a 1978 text adventure by Greg Hassett (who was, as I understand it, only 12 years old at the time) for the TRS-80. I played the Commodore PET version, ported by S. Prenzel.

When the game begins, you find yourself in a ship which has crashed. A computer screen informs us that ship’s “fribulating gonkulator is burned out.” I hate it when that happens.

What follows is a rather standard exercise in exploration and treasure-gathering. The game’s map contains about three dozen rooms, including two–thankfully very small–mazes (with a reference to the Colossal Cave Adventure: “I’m in a maze of twisty little passages.”). The game uses a two word parser, with only the first three letters of a word being significant.

Wandering randomly around in the game are bugs. If you encounter one before you have found the sword (which is very likely), you’ll be killed, and have to load a saved game. Bad luck for you if you saved in a place where you’ll inevitably be killed.

The game is completed when you have found both a replacement fribulating gonkulator and the tools with which to install, but there are over a dozen treasure to collect, some of which are necessary to progress, and others which only add to your final score. I managed 170/175 points, and I cannot imagine what I must do to get the last five points.

The world is a bit incoherent. You’re apparently deep underground, so rooms like the ice cavern or cobblestone hallway make sense, but others, like the Arabian Room or Al’s diner (!) just don’t fit. In addition, the game is very poorly written, with many spelling and usage errors (“I can here chirping nearby.”, “and fall into the lava ??? Fat chanche !”). On the positive side, the game does include some unique responses for flavor. For example, attempting to eat ruby results in “I think that a large ruby would give me indigestion, and I don’t have any Pepto-Bismol.”

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure doesn’t measure up to many of its contemporaries, and it certainly can’t compare to modern interactive fiction, but it’s still an interesting part of the history of interactive fiction.

Posted in 1978, Bad, Commodore PET, Full Review, Interactive Fiction | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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