Monday, 17 September 2018

Missed Classic 58: The Worm in Paradise (1985) - Introduction

By Ilmari

Joe Pranevich has just completed another year of gaming (1984) in his Infocom marathon, and before moving on to the challenges of 1985 games, he is planning to write a few additional articles on other interesting things Infocom was doing at that period. It is thus a good opportunity for me continue my own sideshow marathon and tackle another Level 9 game - The Worm in Paradise.

Robot beauty contest?
Of all the Level 9 games I’ve played so far, the best has definitely been Snowball, a story of a hijacked sleeper ship Snowball, which undercover agent Kim Kimberly had to save from falling into a star. Its sequel, Return to Eden, couldn’t really decide what the major plot line was - was it about Kim’s escape from Snowball to planet Eden, about the battle of nature of planet Eden and colonizing robots or about Kim fooling the robots and becoming a major of Eden? Still, the series as a whole has been of the highest quality of all the trilogies of Level 9 and I just hope that this final installment will provide a good ending to the story.

Reading the manual, it seems that the game will have a message. The two earlier games have occasionally parodied British bureaucracy, and often the tone of these attempts at humour has not been in line with the general tone of the game. This time, the satirical element appears to be on the forefront, since the player character is explicitly said to live in a benevolent bureaucracy. The planet Eden is described as “truly a paradise for the silent majority, with peace in our time, no crime, full employment (with a fifteen hour week), good housing, more entertainment than anyone could watch etc. etc.” Knowing the tone of the creators, this statement must be taken with a grain of salt.

Timewise, The Worm in Paradise is set couple of generations after the first two games. In the previous game, the protagonist Kim Kimberly ended up as the major of planet Eden and the current major is still called Kim Kimberly - I suppose her name became attached with the position, just like all emperors in ancient Rome were eventually “Caesars”. Assuming the current Kim has the same gender as the first Kim, Eden is then a matriarchy. This is probably no coincidence, since the obvious target of this parody is Thatcherite Britain. Indeed, planet Eden is a true right-wing paradise with no taxes and government still making profits. Where do they get the money, you ask? Simple, almost everything is illegal, and most criminals are not imprisoned, but fined (in case of poor this means essentially that you have to sell your organs for cash). Add in the facts that informants are rewarded, holding information from police is fined and accused is always assumed guilty (demanding a trial means extra fines), and you have a surefire recipe for making justice system into a profitable business.

The government of Eden has also managed to cut the public expenditure by replacing all bureaucrats with robots, who not just work for free, but are also incapable of corruption. In fact, robots do pretty much all the real work and humans are not even needed for colonizing new worlds, since the machines have developed the ability to grow humans on the spot at new planets from ova. Humans are still obliged to do work (this is a Thatcherite utopia after all), which means “extensive ‘training’ schemes” and “many pen-pushing jobs”, with the few good jobs handed out to VIPs.

The game itself starts with the most used cliche in gaming industry: I remember nothing. All right, let’s do some mapping them.

The starting area is 3 x 3 square garden, walled off from outside. There’s a locked door and a squirrel I can’t interact with. More interesting are a bench I can move around and a tree I cannot reach. So far, this seems simple: I move the bench near the tree and use it to get an apple.

Eating the apple I release a worm that soon grows into a huge monster that smashes a hole in the garden wall. Now I know where the title of the game comes.

The area outside the garden is a huge desert, limited by a chasm I cannot jump over. The only other major feature is a huge behemoth, with a slightly loose scale. I proceed to do what I can and take the scale, waking the behemoth, who starts to follow me, retribution in its mind. I have only few turns, before the behemoth catches me. There’s a thorn bush nearby, where I can hide to get some more time and then rush to the chasm, where the behemoth tries to grab me and instead slides into the chasm, providing me with a convenient bridge.

At the other side of the chasm I find the tracks left by the giant earthworm, guarding a door labeled EXIT. The worm tries to spit acid on me, but the scale of behemoth shields me as I step through the door and find everything fading around me - it was all just virtual reality.

This was a bit of a lame way to start the game. Firstly, the surprise was a bit ruined for me, because getting killed in the VR program or taking too long leads to the same conclusion. Secondly, we’ve already faced a similar and a much better scene at the beginning of Spellcasting 201 (I know, I know, The Worm in Paradise is an earlier game). Here, the sequence serves no apparent purpose, but to explain why I don’t remember anything, and even that isn’t spelled out clearly. Oh well, the game has still a chance to pick up the speed. What would you guess for the score of the game?

Session time: 35 minutes

Quick guide for Level 9 Games

Games already played on The Adventure Gamer:
  • Colossal Adventure (1983, PISSED-score 25): Almost a direct copy of the original Adventure, with an extended end game.
  • Adventure Quest (1983, PISSED-score 25): A sequel to Colossal Adventure, which is also supposed to continue the tale of Lord of the Rings by introducing yet another Dark Lord that is threatening Middle Earth; Tolkien would have loathed the game, because it mixes extraneous elements to his creation; it could have definitely been a smaller game.
  • Dungeon Adventure (1983, PISSED-score 29): Final part of the "Middle-Earth -trilogy", although the connection to Tolkien's work is even more non-existent; a very traditional treasure hunt, but with occasional intricate puzzles.
  • Snowball (1983, PISSED-score 31): A sleeper ship has been hijacked and about to crash into a star, unless an undercover agent can fix things; a game with an interesting background story and a female hero, Kim Kimberly, but it has some lackluster puzzles and fails to keep a serious face throughout the game.
  • Lords of Time (1984, PISSED-score 24): Evil Timelords are plotting to destroy the fabric of time and you must collect several objects from various historical period to magically stop them. Underneath the plot is a basic treasure hunt with too many mazes and unfair puzzles.
  • Return to Eden (1984, PISSED-score 28): Sequel to Snowball, which continues the story of Kim Kimberly, who has been declared an enemy of Snowball. The plot meanders through various disparate situations and boring puzzles and ends abruptly with an improbable conclusion.
  • The Saga of Erik the Viking (1984, PISSED-score 23): Based on a children’s book by Terry Jones. Due most likely to intended audience, the puzzles are refreshingly simple. Unfortunately, most of the game is spent travelling on an empty ocean.
  • Emerald Isle (1985, PISSED-score 30): A very old-fashioned treasure hunt with a non-existent story, but if you enjoy mapping and solving mostly decent puzzles, you might like this.
  • Red Moon (1985, PISSED-score 31): The game innovates with the traditional treasure hunt concept by adding CRPG-like elements, like spells, monsters and fighting. It is buggy, but still playable.
Games still to be played:
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ (1985)
  • The Archers (1985)
  • The Price of Magik (1986)
  • Knight Orc (1987)
  • The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (1987)
  • Gnome Ranger (1987)
  • Lancelot (1988)
  • Ingrid's Back: Gnome Ranger 2 (1988)
  • Scapeghost (1989)
Compiled trilogies:
  • Jewels of Darkness (1986): Colossal Adventure, Adventure Quest and Dungeon Adventure (all the Tolkien references have been removed)
  • Silicon Dreams (1986): Snowball, Return to Eden and The Worm in Paradise
  • Time and Magik (1988): Lords of Time, Red Moon and The Price of Magik


  1. Looks interesting. This is a company I had never heard of at the time, largely because 1) American and 2) graduated from an Intellivision to an IBM-compatible, therefore skipping all the intermediary systems that they made games for. Enjoying this exposure to these games.

    1. I think Level 9's fame was mostly restricted to UK - or at least living in a completely different part of Europe, I never heard of them before the change of millennium. They did try to break in the US with their first trilogy collection Jewels of Darkness, but the bad graphics and the fact that the first game of the trilogy was just a redoing of Adventure didn't really help.

  2. We'll pit this in an official post soon, but I am asking your help with our Christmas game this year. Every year, I have played a "classic" holiday-themed adventure game. This will be my fifth year and there is only one more 1980s Christmas adventure (that I know of) left: "A Christmas Adventure" by Bitcards (1983). This is a customizable game that you could give to your loved ones as something like an electric holiday card. I have no idea how that worked, but I hope to find out.

    Unfortunately, the only copy I can find anywhere is 150 UKP (around $200). It's a bit steep for me to play as a bonus game, but I'd like to see if maybe we can collaborate to purchase it. I have set up a GoFundMe here:

    As part of this "fundraiser", the game will be donated to the Internet Archive so that it is not lost to history. I'll get to play it, but so will any one else that wants.

    Please take a look and donate if you would like to see me play this game this Christmas and for it to be saved by the Internet Archive. I hope no one is offended that I am asking like this; I just really want to play this game for posterity (and Christmas fun).

    1. Let's hope you'll get enough to make this missing classic into a Missed Classic!

  3. Who said consistency is key? The level 9 games seem to be stuck in the 25-30 zone, so I am going to take a shot at 28.

    1. The ease in reviewing games using the same format is that they have the same strengths and failings. Since the introduction of graphics, Level 9 hasn't innovated that much radically new.

  4. Oops, forgot my guess. But I’ll go with 31. I just have a better feeling....

  5. I‘d guess 28 as I‘ve never played this one but it can‘t be as good as Snowball which I liked a lot. Great idea to read it as an anti-Thatcherite game, too - I wouldn‘t have figured as much at first sight but it seems striking after chewing on it for a few minutes!

    1. Somebody already said 28 soooo 29 it is.

    2. True, Snowball was entertaining! Still, it's good to remember that Worm in Paradise does have something that the original Snowball I reviewed didn't have, namely graphics.

    3. And as for the game having an anti-Thatcherite theme, I think it becomes even clearer in the game proper.

    4. Oh, my bad - I didn‘t remember you played the text-only version. I seem to have played a later version with graphics back then, though, I distinctly remember the horrible design of the ship. And having played about an hour of the WORM yesterday I recognised the triangular faces of the shopkeepers from somewhere - another Level 9 game possibly? One that you‘ve already blogged about, I suppose? Ah well, the WORM graphics are so bad that I‘ll stick with 29 although I‘d really think 33 now.

      If the urban layout continues to be as confusing I might turn off the distracting pictures anyway, as it is.

      True, it‘s a police state the way Margaret Thatcher would have loved it, I reckon. Are there decidedly anti-Reaganite text adventures, I wonder? Probably yes but I don‘t remember them offhand...

    5. Well, I did play both a text-only and graphical version of Snowball, but the official score for it was for the pure-text version, so the confusion was understandable.

      As for the triangular faces of the robots, they are pretty similar to the faces of robots in Return to Eden - you can see some good examples here:

      Infocom did one quite clearly anti-Reaganite game, but I'll leave the name unmentioned, since I don't want to spoil Joe's Infocom Marathon. Let's just say we should see it relatively soon.

    6. Ah, I see, that both explains a lot!

      As for the Infocom game, V fhccbfr lbh zrna "Gevavgl". V'ir arire ernyyl ertneqrq vg nf nagv-Erntnavgr cre fr ohg engure qverpgrq ntnvafg gur jubyr qrirybczrag bs gur pbyq jne / ahpyrne enpr ohg V guvax gung lbh ner onat ba gur zbarl gung vg pna rfcrpvnyyl or frra nf na ryrtl nobhg gur pbafrdhraprf bs Erntnavfz. Guvf znl or orpnhfr jura V guvax bs Erntnavfz V hfhnyyl guvax zber nybat gur yvarf bs arbyvorenyvfz nygubhtu bs pbhefr angvbany punhivavfz vf nabgure nfcrpg bs gur fnzr guvat, ernyyl.

    7. Hey guys. I'm concerned that you may be giving me too much credit. I am old, but I am not THAT old. I don't remember a president before Reagan, and while he was in office I was much more concerned with toys than US politics. It is entirely possible that I could play a game that directly refuted his policies without ever knowing it. I know even less about Thatcher.

    8. Will: Npghnyyl V zrnag gur "N Zvaq Sberire Iblntvat", jurer frangbe Elqre jvgu uvf cyna vf n cerggl fgrerbglcvpny erchoyvpna (phg gur gnkrf, zber zbarl sbe zvyvgnel, unvy gur genqvgvbany inyhrf). V guvax Zrergmxl unf rira nqzvggrq gung uvf nvz jnf gb fubj gur snhygf bs Erntna'f cbyvpvrf.

      Joe: I think it will be quite obvious, when you hit that game in the marathon, since many of the things criticized in it are still part of the republican agenda.

    9. Ilmari: Oh, very, very nice, I actually never saw it that way but it totally makes sense! I'll definitely try to play along with Joe as it's been quite some years and I remember the game to be amazing (the best Infocom game along with the one I mentioned, I think).

  6. The VR opening kind of intrigued me - I‘ll fumble with it for an hour tonight and see if I‘ll play along.

  7. Wow, I had almost forgotten how different the pictures are from the descriptions in the Level 9 games - "a group of smiling peoples jog by". If they are smiling, I don't know...pretty complicated environment what with the cyrnfher qbzr, zhavpvcny ubfcvgny naq nyy. Zl Zbagl Clguba xabjyrqtr gbyq zr vzcrengviryl gb abg fryy zl fcner betnaf ohg V unq gb gel. Shaal gung abguvat onq unccrarq (fb sne). I'm glad I found a manual online, too, as I wouldn't have found my way to zl ubzr - vg jbhyqa'g unir bppheerq gb zr gb whfg "fnl ubzr"...

    1. The graphics really aren't the highlight of these games.

      As for difficulties finding your way, I am wondering if you are having as much troubles with the Transport System as I am? It irritates me a lot that I have to walk through it so much.

    2. Yes! I love/hate the transport system already. It‘s confusing as hell but achieves to depict a sprawling metropolis quite well that way. The manual eased some of the pain but it‘s still difficult to remember any particular places. A real mapfeast so far.

  8. 32! Just because the graphics might up the score a tiny bit.