Sunday, 7 October 2018

Missed Classic: The Worm in Paradise - Won! (With Final Rating)

By Ilmari

The main problem throughout the whole game has been a lack of clear goals. I had to finally go to the well of the official clue sheet to get some idea what I was supposed to do here. It turned out there was a whole area of game, the existence of which I hadn’t been aware of. You see, my bed was usually hidden within the wall of my home, and with the command SAY BED I could make it appear. Now, if I lied on my bed and again used the command SAY BED, I was whisked away to somewhere else.

Where am I?
I found myself in a tunnel system, where my only companions were cleaning droids patrolling the corridors. At the roof of the corridors I saw various manhole covers I couldn’t reach.

In one room I found a pile of junk and a sign telling the droids where to collect the garbage. I soon got the idea I could move the sign to a different room, and after a while, the droids moved all the junk to the new place. If the new room had a manhole cover, I could climb the new pile and go through the cover to some spot in the city - well, this worked for all but one manhole cover, but let’s discuss that later.

In the room where the junk pile had been I now found a new exit. It took me outside the city, but otherwise there appeared to be nothing of interest.

I was stuck at this point for a while, until I managed to find yet another exit in the room where the pile of junk had originally been. The room description had mentioned a waterfall, and of course, behind every waterfall there is a cavern. Within that cavern I discovered a flying saucer.

You wouldn’t expect to find a spaceship within a planet

Within the manual and throughout the whole game I had heard rumours about aliens threatening the life of humans in Eden and here was a direct proof of that threat! I couldn’t approach the ship without being gassed and lasered to death. Still, I could at least use my video camera to capture some footage of the saucer.

Authorities were quite happy with me having some evidence of the alien threat and wanted me interviewed. I got to use my ticket to a Fabulous Riverboat, which took me to the pyramid, where the true leaders of the city resided. In addition to being interviewed, I was made a party member and carried home.

What next? Well, I still hadn’t been really close to the spaceship, so that appeared like the next possible puzzle. I had a leotard and a bubble helmet, which had been used as a spacesuit in previous games of the series, so I thought wearing them might prevent the gas reaching my lungs. That idea worked, but I still had the laser to worry about. The solution was to throw arbitrary items to the saucer, and let them be fried by lasers. After a while, an alien head poked out from the saucer, noted it had been a false alarm and turned the alarm system off, because it appeared to malfunction.

Getting in the spaceship, I noticed that the saucer was made of cardboard and the apparent alien had been just a clever costume. Two human technicians tried to attack me, but my trusty dagget kept them away, while I took the alien costume and escaped. Now I had some leverage against the government!

The problem was that whenever I tried to enter the city proper, the police would shoot me on the spot. The answer was clearly the manhole cover I hadn’t been able to open. Why couldn’t I open it? Well, it was told to be rusted shut and in need of lubrication. The solution was to open a wine bottle and let the spraying wine lubricate the manhole cover. Would this really work? I know vinegar is used for removing rust, but wine?

The now open manhole cover led me to the pyramid of power. I spent too much time trying to find out what to do next. The problem was that the pyramid was a huge complex, filled with largely nondescript rooms. Checking the official clue sheet, I noticed that I was meant to go to the highest floor of the pyramid. The catch was, firstly, that only one of the two elevators in the pyramid went that high, and secondly, that elevator went there only, if I pressed the button of the highest floor twice in a row.

Weird they are city FATHERS, when the leader of the city is woman

The rest of the game went by quickly. There was a mirror, behind which was a corridor - pushing the mirror let me go through it. Then, couple of rooms further I came to the centre of power, where one half of the room was closed off by a partition wall that had slidden down when I entered the room - this problem was solved easily by throwing to the room, one screen earlier, a strong box, which blocked the partition. Finally, at the seat of power, fire extinguisher foam started to pour from an orifice, which I blocked with the cork from the wine bottle.

I have to start using the word “asphyxiate” more

With the alien costume in my hands, I blackmailed the city elders and…

...they adopted me into the party leadership. I had won the game.

Let’s stop for a while for to analyse what just happened. Usually adventure games finish with a romanticised, heroic ending: bad guys are killed or imprisoned, world is saved and the protagonist finds something to be grateful for - if nothing else, then the satisfaction of knowing that they personally were responsible for this positive turn of events. This is a quite fine way to finish a story, but let’s face it, when it comes to dystopias, it wouldn’t feel realistic. Killing off a dictator just won’t be enough, when we can rarely pinpoint an individual who is solely responsible for the bad state of society - a dictator can never rise in the position without the help of others, and if Kim Jong-Un is taken care of, there’s surely some Kim Jor-El to continue the good work. Furthermore, although a single person can lead a rebellion against totalitarian government, they couldn’t do anything without the aid of the masses. Adventure games seem poorly equipped to tell this kind of story, where groups matter more than individuals - for instance, it would just trivialise the complex events leading to the collapse of Soviet Union, if the major concern of a game called Yeltsin Quest would be to find gasoline for one’s tank.

This wouldn’t have been possible without decades of historical development

(All right, one adventure game managed to pull this kind of ending - in ROT13 it is called N Zvaq Sberire Iblntvat. We shall most likely play this game in the near future as a Missed Classic, so I won’t go into plot details here. I’ll merely note that I think a heroic ending works in that particular game, because it is not a case of real, but simulated dystopia and the quest is more about preventing it to become a reality - and the antagonist of the game is not a dictator, but a foolish politician speaking for changes that would eventually lead to a dismal future.)

Compared to a heroic ending, The Worm in Paradise chooses to finish with a cynical note: nothing will ever change, so I might as well join in the winning team. In a sense, it leaves as sour taste in the mouth as the infamous Infidel. No, it leaves an even sourer taste. At least with Infidel you have the pleasure of knowing that the bastard you were forced to play as gets his comeuppance at the end. Here, the relatively innocent protagonist becomes corrupted at the end. It’s not an ending you can really enjoy. Still it is definitely an ending that seems realistic and that makes you think deeply - and therefore it does have its point.

Before getting to the final rating, I’d still like to consider what other endings would be possible in a dystopian adventure game, beside the heroic and cynical. Considering examples from other media, the obvious possibility would be a tragic one, in the fashion of 1984 - again, nothing changes in the society, but the protagonist is crushed, instead of taking advantage of the situation. This kind of ending wouldn’t have worked in The Worm in Paradise, which despite its dystopian setting is still a satire, but it might be an impactful way to finish a more serious dystopian game.

Are there any other possibilities to finish a dystopian story? The only thing that comes to my mind is a surrealist ending, just like in the TV show Prisoner. This would be a possibility, to which an adventure game would lend itself well, but it is probably the most difficult to make in a really satisfying manner.

Makes no sense, but still so effective

Final Rating

Puzzles and Solvability

Puzzles in Level 9 games have often been a bit too intricate to work well with the simple parser and lack of textual clues to guide the player forward. The producers have clearly improved this aspect in the 1985 games, and even Worm in Paradise contained no puzzles that would have made me really scratch my head. Problem was more the opposite, since for the majority of the game there just weren’t that many puzzles to consider and I was often left with no clue as to what I should be doing next. Fine example of this approach was the whole underground city - there was no hint of its existence, so I had no idea that I should be trying to find it. At its final moments the game introduced some puzzles, which were, if not innovative, at least easily solvable, thus making this not a complete disaster.

Score: 3

Interface and Inventory

The interface is not that much different from the other Level 9 games of the period. Yet, there are things that make the game feel clunky, when compared to, say, Red Moon. All the random appearances of police bots make the inventory management a horrendous task, and moving around the so-called Enoch Mass Transport system is cumbersome.

Score: 3.

Story and Setting

The humorically dystopian setting of the game is intriguing, especially as the game world seems to have evolved believably from that described in the earlier games of the series. Story, on the other hand, is a bit lackluster, and for more than half of the game protagonist just wanders around the city from one situation to another. This lack of plot is not really helped by the protagonist being a mere blank slate with no motivation at all. We never even learn, what caused the amnesia of the protagonist. The whole shenanigan with a fake UFO comes a bit out of left field.

Score: 4.

Sounds and Graphics

Pictures were of the standard Level 9 variety of the period - nothing to get really excited about.
Score: 3.

Environment and Atmosphere

The bane of previous games of the trilogy was an inconsistent tone, with Monty Pythonesque humour suddenly infiltrating a rather serious game. Here, there’s no such inconsistency, since it’s satire through and through. Bureaucratic robots, idiotic laws forbidding everything and the lack of anything useful for citizens to do make the society of the game feel like a living nightmare.

Score: 4.

Dialogue and Acting

Although majority of the text in the game is just dull, but efficient, there are some humorous descriptions of events. There are really no characters to interact with, but as fits the theme of the game, just faceless bureaucratic robots.

Score: 4

(3 + 3 + 4 + 3 + 4 + 4)/.6 = 21/.6 = 35.

And so The Worm in Paradise receives the best score so far of all Level 9 games. Indeed, the game has the most consistent tone and actually something to say, instead of being just a collection of disparate puzzles.


  1. Wow, respect! I never really figured out what I should do next so I didn't exactly admit to myself that I'd given up when I really had...I liked the tone of the game and agree with the rating but the lack of purpose rubbed me the wrong way, too - I have to say that although I usually don't mind this it didn't motivate me to stick with it.

    1. Yes, the aimless wondering led me also to finally use some hints. This lack of purpose has not been that common in Level 9 games – there has usually been loads of puzzles to tinker with and the problem has been more their obtuse nature than anything else. The only other example where I’ve faced this problem with Level 9 was Eric the Viking game. I think in both games the major problem lies in the difficulty to map the game properly. In Eric, the ocean is just too boring to map that you’ll easily miss some landmark, while in Worm, the subterranean parts of the city are just too well concealed. In effect, it’s too easy to not find any of the puzzles that would provide most of the motivation for the player character.

  2. The ending does feel a lot like 1984 despite the more "positive" feel, I think it leans a lot in that direction especially with the tone of the rest of the game being so similar. I still like such unexpected endings, most games tend to stick with the tried and tested "Hero wins" scenario you were talking about that gets dull really quickly, it's interesting to see an alternative so early in gaming history.

    1. You are right that the ending here does bear some resemblance to 1984, since both works share the pessimistic notion that totalitarianism is just impossible to eradicate. One could say ending of Worm is like a satirical or tragicomic version of 1984. And now that I’ve said it, I am instantly reminded of the other, more humorous Orwellian masterpiece, Animal Farm, in which the supposed revolutionaries (pigs) at the end become just new oppressors.

  3. The dystopian IF game "Kaged" has at least one tragic ending, and one uncertain ending where it's up to interpretation whether you accomplished anything or not. It also has an early game over if you refuse to follow the call, and just continue as a cog in the machine.

    I imagine a heroic ending in a dystopian setting would be more appropriate for a strategic game: organize the resistance and overthrow the regime, for instance.

    In an adventure game, you could also have an escape ending if the dystopia is not a world state, something in the vein of the quest being "bribe the guards and swim across the river to China". That's not really a sarcastic or tragic ending, but it's not a heroic ending either, since the dystopian state lives on. It could be turned heroic if the dystopia is very small, e.g. "get out of the cult compound and warn the authorities", but then it's not really a state anymore.

  4. I seem to recall that the novella that accompanied the game mentioned the underground tunnels, but it's been a while since I've read it.