Monday, 9 February 2015

Missed Classics 6: Wonderland - Introduction (1990)

Written by Mad Welshman



Between interactive fiction and first person graphical adventure games, there were some interesting experiments in the genre: What I like to call Graphical Parser games. We've already seen at least one style of this subgenre played by Trickster (ICOM's Deja Vu), but there were at least two more, from two other companies: Legend Entertainment (At least one of which, Frederik Pohl's Gateway, is on the list), and the Magnetic Scrolls games (Which are not.)

Magnetic Scrolls was founded in 1984 by Anita Sinclair, Ken Gordon, and Hugh Steers, originally wanting to develop games for the Sinclair QL (A computer many won't have heard of outside of the UK), but moving quite quickly to the Commodore and Atari line of computers on seeing their utility. Their first four games were well received, for the most part, but it is the fifth I'm going to be looking at, because it is the first game that received the Magnetic Windows treatment that made them somewhat different: Wonderland (1990), published for the Atari ST, PC, the Acorn Archimedes, and the Amiga line of computers by Virgin Interactive, and written by David Bishop.

I'm specifically going to be using the Atari ST version for this Missed Classics review, because it highlights how much hard work was put into the technical end of things. Let's begin with a shot of the Atari ST Operating System, CRYSTAL (Precursor to GEM), also affectionately known as The Little Green Desktop.



And now, Wonderland as it would look when you first get past the title screen.



Looks similar, doesn't it? But this is all in game, and looks pretty much the same no matter what platform you play it on. It's not using CRYSTAL, it's creating these windows in program. With that said, let's introduce the game itself.

Wonderland is, as you might have guessed from the title, loosely based on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, and, if it weren't for these bells and whistles, would firmly be placed in the “Text Adventure” portion of Interactive Fiction. But its features are quite powerful: A map, drawn as you explore. A window each for your own inventory, and all the items you can see (More on that when we get there). A graphical window (Sometimes animated, and always drawn from a preliminary description of the scene by many different pixel artists), and finally, the parser window itself. All of them are resizable, movable, and can be closed or opened at will. I'll try not to keep things too cluttered for the screenshots, however, generally keeping only the graphics and text windows open at the same time.

I'll be working from memory, as I have played this before, but the game also has a hint system... So, apart from an example or two to highlight the use of the hint system, I'll be comparing your inputs to the game's, and the usual hint rules apply.

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.

22 comments:

  1. Errr, what? The graphical interface of the ST has always been called GEM, never Crystal. Wikipedia says it was a codename on the x86 branch, but Atari always called it GEM.

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    1. The Atari ST actually used a subset of GEM. They licensed GEM from Digital Research while it was in Beta, and either did not want to wait for the final version or did not want to keep working with DRI. In any case, the ST was released with an incomplete version of GEM that (among other things) did not have support for multiple fonts. Later Atari made a patch available with some of the missing GEM features.

      The operating system for the ST was TOS - "Tramiel Operating System" after Jack Tramiel. I believe it was also originally developed by DRI.

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  2. I'll go for 33 - The graphics are gorgeous, but there's probably a reason I never heard of this game even though I had an Atari ST then.

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    1. My guess as to the reason is "full price text adventure in 1990". :(

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  3. I have a soft spot in my heart for Magnetic Scrolls. I don't remember this being very special, though, except for the fancy interface. Let's say 44.

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    1. I must admit, Fish! or Guild of Thieves were more of a classic, but I chose this one based on the timeline (Wonderland was the first one to get the new engine.) We'll see if I regret that tomorrow.

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    2. Oh! My Dad owned Guild Of Thieves on his C64.

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  4. I think I'll have a guess at 30 for the score.

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  5. Steam are having a "Mystery" midweek sale (detective stuff for the most part), of which there are a few adventure games worth a look, including several Blackwell games, Broken Sword, The Shivah, The Wolf Among Us, and many others.

    http://store.steampowered.com/sale/mystery_midweek/

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    1. I just got The Wolf Among Us! And Shivah! I'm sure the quality of TWAU would be okay, seeing that it's from Telltale... but has anyone tried Shivah? It looks... intriguing... I bought it for its price's sake.

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    2. The Shivah is pretty well written, and... Well, I'm not gonna spoil it for you, but the final encounter is worth the price alone. ;)

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  6. 28! Being played in Wonderland I'm sure the puzzles will go crazy pretty fast!!

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    1. First part should be up tomorrow (The very beginning of the game, then it'll hurry up a bit from there), but the puzzles encountered so far definitely follow Wonderland logic... Although some are annoying as hell.

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  7. Graphics screenshot suggests over 30 to me - the fact that I've otherwise never heard of it is an inditement to say under 40, however. 35?

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  8. The MacVenture Collection (Deja Vu I & II, Uninvited, Shadowgate) has been added to the $3 tier in the Groupees' "Retro 4" bundle!
    https://groupees.com/retro4

    These are apparently the original Apple II and Mac versions of the same games that had Trickster and us play-alongers pulling our hair out a while ago on this blog. The games redeem on Steam and oh look -- you also get Under a Killing Moon for your troubles :-)

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    1. By the way I'm guessing 34 for Wonderland!

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