Saturday 10 October 2015

Spellcasting 201 - Final Rating

By Aperama

Not exactly the most beautiful picture in the world, but kinda endearing
– just like the rest of this game

I'm somewhat conflicted as it comes to this game. It was fun pretty much all the way through, always making me feel like a little bit of a fool every time I got something wrong as it really was the 'obvious' solution almost every time. At no point did I feel like the game was working against me to solve any puzzles, but I do think that the game would have been far more fun were you able to visit everything and enjoy your time a little more. The obvious correlation I take here is between this game and The Colonel's Bequest. Not because it's a better or worse game, but simply because of the way it runs itself – time is always a factor, but you can visit everything you'd like before a critical moment changes the clock. If this happened in this game and I could sit back and watch Sid and Gary messing around for their own pranks without having to reload, it'd be fantastic – it's only that I decided I wanted to take the long road and enjoy matters that I found the game so flavourful. Thankfully, the game allows dozens of saves – but I still consider it pretty harsh that you can't sit by and watch some of the most entertaining writing in the game and actually go on to succeed also. There are now two comparable games to Spellcasting 201 that have been blogged through – its precursor 101 and Timequest, and I plan to base this rating at least partially off of a mixture of whether or not I feel the game has progressed and used its strengths in favor of hiding its weaknesses.

Gary and Sid are the true lifeblood of this game
– don't let the fact that they don't actually matter influence this 

Puzzles and Solvability
I think you can all guess that I actually enjoyed this game from reading my posts of it. What's difficult to fully explain is that this is because the puzzles, most of the time, feel genuinely clever. By fully exploring the map and searching through things, there are no small amount of red herrings to make it somewhat difficult to brute force a solution (though I'll freely admit to having done so a few times anyhow as in my Won! post where I simply guessed the combination to changing Ernie's appearance). Often, everything just clicked together and just felt right. 101 I rated a 5 due to its dearth of puzzles that never felt as though they were a 'natural fit' – this I have to give them a little more credit for, with the majority of the solutions listed albeit well hidden in Ernie's notebook if you know what you're looking for. Again, I'm trending towards a 7 or an 8 when I think of being tasked with creating a diamond to cut shatterproofed glass – but I have to think in the same breath of what frustrated me the most. The fact that time was so crucial for the majority of the puzzles, the fact that there weren't an awful lot of them (why couldn't a puzzle have existed to get the Sextant of Spittul out of the cabinet? It would have made me actually realise that it was the Sextant of Spittul!) along with the fact that some of them were nonsensical (everything involving the Moodhorn or the sewer maze was more of a copy protection scheme than an actual puzzle) means I have to deduct a little.. and a little more once I think again of the convenient 'larva out of the casserole ends up being a firefly' puzzle in the sewers. Still, it's no KABBUL island.

Score: 6.

This still makes me froth at the mouth a little

Interface and Inventory

My review of Spellcasting 101 is probably a touch more scathing of the Legend parser than I would now perhaps think of it. It's familiar to me now after having spent around about 20 hours fiddling around with it. I'm quite a fast typist, so I certainly don't mind the text-only side of things. That doesn't mean that it's necessarily 'good', however. For the umpteenth time while playing this game, I thought 'why doesn't this have a 'scroll up' function? It's just unforgivable. It's simply far too easy to miss vital pieces of information or dialogue, and having the SCRIPT command isn't enough to cover this. I definitely don't mean to be unfair or judgemental – it's just truth! The game does its best to offer a little more positive use of its assets, and you can still use the mouse but I don't think anyone really would. Arbitrary inventory limits exist again, which I really can't be in any way positive about. How can Ernie pick up the entire royal treasury of Balmoral in one area yet not be able to carry a bedsheet, a moodhorn and an alchemy set in another? If it felt like it was linked to 'weight' I might be alright by it, but it's clear that certain items are considered to take 'x number of slots' of a maximum overall number. Also, this is a minor gripe, but the constant changing of the 'compass' in the top left of the screen in picture made me constantly waste turns attempting to go in directions that didn't exist. I think I still have to be fairly harsh on the interface, as I'd say the game was detracted from slightly by not having a couple of tweaks they could very easily have made by this, the third use of this engine.

Score: 4.

Fun writing and all, but I spent three turns trying to go southwest, southeast and northeast in the middle of Balmoral before I realised that the 'pink' was 'don't go' – the bright colours in every other section were to indicate 'go here'.

Story and Setting

Yet again, I feel lightly conflicted. The setting of Spellcasting – and Peloria – is amazing. It's full of character and whim that I can't simply pay attention to in the 'environment and atmosphere' section – you'd have to be heartless not to consider the world of Peloria and Sorcerer University incredibly rich with character. That's kinda the problem, though – I don't really see why the game ends just because Ernie 'doesn't make it into Hu Delta Phart'. The overarching story is subtly wriggled into the game.. but that subtlety was so great that I didn't even realise that the endgame was starting when it was, expecting the 'finale' to actually take place on the in-game Saturday at first. The basic story of this game reads as follows – Ernie Eaglebeak tries to get into a university fraternity and ends up in the middle of a plot to take over the role of Dean from Sorcerer U by his wicked stepfather, Joey Rottenwood. The problem is that there is simply no urgency in this plot save the timeframe given. Oh no, Ernie didn't make it into Hu Delta Phart.. and I care why? Ernie is responsible for the death of Otto Tickingclock by his prank, so if he'd joined any one of the other (far more interesting) fraternities none of this would have happened. The Appliance pieces coincidentally falling into place every time he completed a task for HDP was mildly funny at first, but was really too hamfisted to go forwards. It reminds me of an Elder Scrolls game in this much – the story begins strong and then you spend the following few hours running around talking to random people and forgetting that the world is coming to an end. Still, it managed to stay engaging in its own way, and I can't deny that it works. It's just not really a 'good story' – just a good setting.

Score: 4.

And? If not for that last line, I literally wouldn't
care about not being able to join your stinking fraternity, Cowface!

Sound and Graphics

'Dated'. It's really the only thing that can be said for the Legend engine at this point. Not only does it lack full VGA which was fast and away becoming the standard by this point (given that the PC was now having to fight against the Sega Genesis amongst other things in 1991, so now had to fight against the crisp Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario Brothers on Genesis/SNES respectively) but even brand new, I can't say that I would have found these pictures particularly appealing. There are virtually no things in this game that make me think that someone put huge amounts of effort into it visually – it felt like they put a lot more work into 101 to me, with far fewer animations existing in this game in lieu of static imagery. It's as though a new artist came along and tried to replicate the art style of the previous game, coming up with several bizarre images that feel like they're attempting to hit the Uncanny Valley or something. Several of the new images are offputting in an entirely uncomfortable way – though there are a few fun images like the shrunken elevephant or the overused 'chicken fraternity' picture. Whoever was drawing clearly needed some reference points of female anatomy, however, as some of the places they managed to draw feminine nipples are just.. dreadful. The music is uninspired but never actually reaches 'grating' levels – unlike the Realsound™ effects. I'm still recuperating from the 'bell' sound that hit every time on the hour in several screens, for instance. I can't subtract points for it because perhaps it would have been amazing at the time coming out of the PC speaker – but I certainly don't have to give any away for it.

Score: 3.

Seriously, what is happening with the girl in the middle?
I think her entire body is being drawn into a black hole face and breast-first

Full credit for this one though

Environment and Atmosphere

This section is essentially what this game is. Where I think this game has actually taken some functional steps back from 101, this game is all about the environment surrounding it. It's plain old fun! There's very little going on in the game in truth. The sheer lack of urgency that presses through gives a fantastic feel of actual school life (I can only imagine that were my schooling as chaotic as Sorcerer U, I'd likely struggle to make it through classes also!) There are two sour points that I feel I have to hit on here because I assure that otherwise this would be pure praise. Firstly, the female characters – what few there are – are very one dimensional love interests. Just having one or two non-stereotyped women in this game would make such a huge difference to me – even though the game has a comedic slant, they could easily have included some other stereotypes to flesh it out (the 'ball busting teacher', even?) The other is the whole Dean Tickingclock scenario. I get that Ernie isn't exactly a model citizen, but assuredly he feels at least a little for the Dean – being able to in some way at least skimp out on the task assigned to Ernie to be a part of his funeral procession would have made a huge difference to my feel for this game. Instead, it's presented in the 'oh, ha ha, he died!' fashion that just didn't tick over for me as particularly funny and felt out of place. I think that there's a time and a place for funereal humor, by all means (I enjoyed A Weekend at Bernie's, which I'm surprised they didn't also rip off in this game) but Ernie felt flat as a character due to his passive acceptance of the fact that a teacher for a year who clearly saw him as a close personal friend (Ernie was the one who got the key to access the Appliance after all) and the game gave no means by which to roleplay that interaction. Otherwise, consistently vibrant and fun the whole way through!

Score: 8.

Just a couple of tweaks and this game would have felt so much better fleshed out

Dialogue and Acting
As with the previous game, there were only a select few instances where I actually found myself 'talking' as Ernie. What this game did far better in that regard was create reasoning behind it. The classes held just enough interactivity to feel as though they were less repositories of information and actually involved you as a player. Technically it's not dialogue, but it definitely feels like it fits in this category better than anywhere else. There are a few topics that just about every character will respond to (the Appliance, their selected fealty e.g. to a frat or university), but there clearly isn't that great a focus on actual spoken dialogue with several soliloquies instead taking their place. In the previous game it felt like I was dying for someone to talk to that would actually feel organic, where this game managed to raise things just slightly. To complete the game, chances are the only conversation you must have is with Eve, directing her to spike the punch at Barmaid U. But people are always talking around you, and it feels more like you're playing a largely silent person as opposed to being placed into situations where you're never given the opportunity to talk, which is why I give it an extra point from the previous game.

Score: 5.

Sure, it's not great – but in the end, I can talk about something and
get a response that clues me into how to proceed – that's adventure game dialogue at its core

So, in spite of the wild variations that come of this game compared to its precursor, 6+4+4+3+8+5=30, which when divided up out of 60 and multiplied by a hundred gives a perfect half in 50. However, I feel that I need to add a point here. It's not because I feel that Spellcasting 201 needs to be further differentiated from 101 as the 'better' game – it's this. If I were to look on this game as a pure text adventure (which it virtually is), it loses the ugly aesthetic and horrid sound effects and becomes a far better game for it. You can actually play the game like this – it'd just make for extremely boring screenshots. So, just for the fact that the Legend parser allows you to pretend that the graphics and sound never existed? 51. That means that Andy Panthro guessed right! Congrats, Andy!

Cap Ratings

100 CAPs to Aperama
  • Blogger award - 100 CAPs - for blogging through this game for our enjoyment
15 CAPs to Ilmari
  • A Loyal Companion Award - 5 CAPs - For letting me know about the duct in Ernie's room...
  • ... Still Loyal Award - 5 CAPs - ... locator goggles...
  • ... True Loyalty Award - 5 CAPs - ...  and simulation room respectively, helping to flesh out the game outside of my ignorance
11 CAPs to Fry
  • Puzzled me to it! Award - 5 CAPs - For realising before I did that the Sextant of Spittul was in my inventory all along
  • Meretzky's Special Pundit Award - 1 CAP - For making Kenny (and the rest of us) groan over Ernie's eagle beak
  • Baby Got Award - 5 CAPs - For finding my Sir Mix-A-Lot reference
10 CAPs to Andy Panthro
  • Psychic prediction award – 10 CAPs - For correctly guessing the score of Spellcasting 201
10 CAPs to Kenny McCormick
  • Hostile Intent Award - 5 CAPs - For continuing to encourage violence against Cowpatty repeatedly
  • Sorting Hat Award - 5 CAPs - For opening the unanswered discussion - why does Ernie want to join HDP anyway? They're kinda jerks!
10 CAPs to renke
  • Delurking Award - 10 CAPs - For stepping out from the shadows and telling us what we might be able to do to make things better
10 CAPs to rodrigo
  • Delurking Award - 10 CAPs - For stepping out from the shadows and telling us what we might be able to do to make things better
10 CAPs to Niklas
  • Delurking Award - 10 CAPs - For stepping out from the shadows and telling us what we might be able to do to make things better
10 CAPs to Freebeema
  • Delurking Award - 10 CAPs - For stepping out from the shadows and telling us what we might be able to do to make things better
10 CAPs to HunterZ
  • Delurking Award - 10 CAPs - For stepping out from the shadows and telling us what we might be able to do to make things better
10 CAPs to miroz
  • Delurking Award - 10 CAPs - For stepping out from the shadows and telling us what we might be able to do to make things better
10 CAPs to Kirinn
  • Delurking Award - 10 CAPs - For stepping out from the shadows and telling us what we might be able to do to make things better
10 CAPs to Lupus Yonderboy
  • Delurking Award - 10 CAPs - For stepping out from the shadows and telling us what we might be able to do to make things better
10 CAPs to Limewater
  • Delurking Award - 10 CAPs - For stepping out from the shadows and telling us what we might be able to do to make things better
10 CAPs to Cush1978
  • Delurking Award - 10 CAPs - For stepping out from the shadows and telling us what we might be able to do to make things better
5 CAPs to The Mara 
  • Healthy Skepticism Award - 5 CAPs - For being certain that the game wouldn't actually go anywhere
5 CAPs to Joseph Curwen 
  • Inspired Adventurer - 5 CAPs - For sharing tales of recalling this game from when it was brand new - even if it was just in a magazine
5 CAPs to Joe Pranevich
  • Scanning the Fans Award - 5 CAPs - For discovering a fan-made Monkey Island film
Current rankings for the 1991 games:

1. Space Quest 4 - 65 points
2. Larry 1 Remake - 60 points
3. Space Quest 1 Remake - 58 points
4. Spellcasting 201 - 51 points
5.-6. Timequest and Larry 5 - 47 points
7. Hugo II - 18 points


  1. Has the CAP leaderboard been updated? Andy and I are neck and neck! I think he should be winning now because of the correct guess, right?

    Spellcasting series is really a nice throwback to some of the older games that I have been playing, much more a storied-experience with a lot of IF influence.

    1. Short answer: no.

      Long answer: Not yet, but I'll do it tomorrow, when Andy will overtake you..

    2. Yes, I couldn't have done it before tomorrow either, so I'll happily let TBD do it, since his tomorrow comes earlier than mine (and luckily I had just enough time to add some CAPs I had forgotten, before anyone noticed).

      Legend was a clear offshoot of Infocom, and Meretzky himself was someone you'll meet a lot if you ever start to go through Infocom games

    3. Perhaps there shall be a future in which I play a bunch of related Infocom games. But right now, I will just be happy playing Willy Beamish and trying not to think of too much else. :)

    4. As I say - it's graphics and sound that really let this game down. It's a well crafted text adventure with some atrociously ugly graphics that hurt more than they helped. I mean, Nintendo/pixel art styled things I still find appealing in their own way. This is where things hit that gap of 'looks good for now'. Given that Another World was released in 1991, which is still a GORGEOUS game even today, I feel I have to be a little harsh.

  2. I got the right score? Now that's magic!

  3. CAP scores and leaderboard updated. Aperama hit the thousand CAPs mark! In other news, Joe Pranevich and Andy Panthro are almost tied! Andy is currently on the lead, but will Joe overtake him?

    1. Ah, always good when Ilmari gets to it before me. (I should have specified when I said 'tomorrow' that it was 1am where I was so tomorrow would end up being more than 24 hours away.) :)