We ended the previous session having unlocked the simulation for the year 2081. We had explored the city of Rockvil in each of the previous decades and slowly watched the city slump into decay. By 2071, it was a theocracy where a group of schoolboys stoned me to death for being a nonbeliever. My creator, Dr. Perelman, still believes that there is hope and so we need to take a look at this final time period before he can decide whether all is truly lost. Let’s jump into the simulation and see just how wrong he is.
|He was pretty wrong.|
Picking a direction at random, I explore south but am immediately killed. No sooner do I arrive at what was once the corner of Wicker and Pier that a group of men dressed in loincloths and tribal markings surround me, beat me senseless, and herd me into a clearing with other men and women. The whole lot of us are burned alive and presumably eaten; the last sight I have before the simulation ends is a tribal man seemingly salivating over my burning flesh. Yummy! It’s all very gruesome.
I restore back and try east the next time. As I approach the Main Street Bridge, I discover a sack of wild fruit covered in blood. When I examine it, I realize that its owner must have been scavenging outside the city. He must have found some fruit trees and managed to almost make it back into the city before being mauled by wild animals. I’m not clear how many trees are bearing fruit in March in South Dakota, but we’ll ignore that for now. As I examine the sack, the sound of barking dogs keep coming closer. I take the sack and retreat back the way I came. I try to head north into the cemetery next, but I am mugged and beaten once again. I awaken back where I started. I try again, but the next trip into the cemetery kills me. It doesn’t look like I can go that way either.
|Completed map of 2081. Somewhat smaller than previous maps.|
There really isn’t anywhere to go. I make sure I record all of those events and take the whole lot of them back to Dr. Perelman. At long last, he agrees that the future is screwed and that we need to do something about Senator Ryder’s Plan. He packs and flies off to Washington, D.C. to meet with the politicians in charge and deliver the news personally. He’s proud of me for piecing all of this together myself. Does that mean game over?
|“Who are you?” -- The Who|
I’m stuck waiting again, but eventually something happens: Perelman contacts me and says that some of the government people are making threats. They accuse of him faking the tapes to dismantle the Plan. See? I told you that they don’t like objective science. Actually, I’m not sure I would buy his argument either. How does Perelman or anyone know if the simulation is accurate over such a long period of time? Was there control-group testing? How much less accurate is the simulation now that they are literally cooking up new decades in a matter of hours rather than years? Am I overthinking this? We accept that the recordings are true because we experienced them in the simulation, but is there really any way to validate the conclusions short of waiting around for a few decades? Not really.
How can I resolve this problem and prove to the world that my recordings are not faked? My theory is that I will broadcast all of my theories on the World Network News Feed, now that I know it is being installed. That could sway public opinion away from the Plan. But how can I do that? There’s one feature of this game that I haven’t even touched yet: “Interface Mode”. That may have all of the answers.
|There are five kinds of USB now. How can anyone keep track?|
For example, I can see in the Library that I can run the command “auditing system, status” to query the IRS interface. For the most part, most of these instructions are written out that way with the name of the subsystem, then a comma, then a command to give to the system. Once I see the status from the IRS system, I can run “auditing system, set auditing percentage to 5” to adjust the setting and to instruct the IRS to audit more people. Each subsystem seems to have a status command and most have values that you can set once you know the right values. Some of this you can intuit, while other options you have to peruse the Library to figure out. For my money, I find the commands unwieldy but at least there are not too many options to deal with.
|Exactly why I want to do this is unclear.|
|2061 was when I deliberately got arrested for curfew violations|
At 9:50, Perelman finally contacts me over a private line and says that he’s consulting with his colleagues over what to do next. Some people on the government are questioning his patriotism and making vague threats thanks to his pushing back against the Plan. There’s nothing for me to do so I just wait a bit longer. About an hour later, the National Guard arrives at the base and announces that there has been a “security leak”. No one will be permitted to enter or leave the facility until the situation is under control. What could the “leak” be? Is it Perelman? If this is Senator Ryder’s doing, how does he control the National Guard? As a reminder that this future isn’t exactly like our own, these National Guardsmen are from the Dakotas and Manitoba, a reminder that Canada merged with the United States in this future to form the “United States of North America”. I had more or less forgotten that detail.
I explore the complex and find new guards in the control center, but they don’t seem to be taking positions in the cafeteria or on the roof. There’s also no sign of Perelman in his office or anywhere else. How can I stop the National Guard? Now that I understand how to control the HVAC systems, I turn off the heat to drive them out of the control center but it has no effect. At 1:30 PM, I start to feel a strange sensation that I cannot pin down. Ten minutes later, my functionality is significantly impaired, but I cannot see how. The heating and cooling are fine and there is no one in the maintenance room, but at 2:00 PM my consciousness fades away. I am “dead”. But why?
|Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do… .|
I’m so close to making it through this game unaided, but I do take a hint: I need to play the game more like The Witness than Zork. In other words, I need to sit in each location and watch what happens and assemble a plan from there. For my first attempt, I just wait in Perelman’s office and eventually he is escorted in by the guard, followed by Senator Ryder himself. Perelman asks Ryder to explain what is going on, but the senator just goes on the offensive saying that nothing will stop the Plan. Even if he didn’t think the recordings were faked, too many people have a lot riding on the Plan for it to be canceled now. Perelman admits that Ryder is scaring him, but he is just told to shut up. As Ryder gets angrier, his threats get less vague. Perelman, he says, wouldn’t be the first to be crushed standing in the way of the Plan. But Dr. Perelman knows that I am there, looking into the camera when he says that he wishes this conversation could be “saved for posterity”. Is that a giant clue? Can I record in the real world as well? Ryder says that he will keep the PRISM facility locked down until the Plan is executed, but for extra measure he has the Guard arrest Dr. Perelman and lead him away.
I restore back again and replay the scene, this time with the recording system turned on. It works! Now I just need to find a way to survive the sabotage and get this recording out to the world.
Next, I plop down in the maintenance room and do the same waiting game. I catch workmen arriving around 12:30 that I must have missed before, unless they only show up when you have a recording. I have no idea. Either way, I turn off the ventilation and heat in the maintenance room. A few minutes later, they begin complaining and pass out from the fumes. Thankfully, the National Guard comes in to rescue them-- I don’t want murder on my conscience-- but no new workers arrive.
|I'm half crazy over the love of you..|
I search around to see what I am missing and almost passed it by again: the World Network News Feed interface is now enabled! If there was an announcement of this, I missed it. The Library also helpfully contains a list of commands that I might need. I access the interface and turn on the transmitter. I then tell it to “transmit recordings” and I am done! A few minutes later, Perelman contacts me to offer his congratulations: with the world seeing Ryder’s threats, he was forced to leave the building and call off the National Guard. The President has also called to offer his thanks and congratulations. We did it! Is the game over? Not quite yet...
|It won't be a stylish marriage…|
|I can't afford a carriage...|
I re-enter Simulation Mode and find myself in a spacious apartment in the future. I find and read a newspaper to learn that I have become a noted author and that I will shortly be joining the crew of the Silver Dove, a generation ship sailing to the stars. I find Jill in a nearby bedroom doing some packing. It’s a nice place, but before I can map it I am shuffled out the door into a waiting aircab. We take off over Rockvil of the future, this time a Tomorrowland paradise of technology and social conscience. We are contacted by Mitchell on the way; he’s having a huge party with his family in our honor. We arrive at the spaceport and are blasted off to the stars. We aren’t expect to survive the trip, but who knows what the future brings?
|But you’d look sweet upon the seat...|
|On a bicycle built for two!|
Total time: 11 hr 45 min
This game is an experience, and one that inspires more thought than most of the others that we have played. I cannot help but to be both awed and frustrated. It is a “must play” for students of game design and political theory. While it never quite reaches the relevance and resonance of books like 1984 or Animal Farm, it still brought “Interactive Fiction” to a whole new plane. This must be one of the most experimental games ever to be given a wide-scale commercial release. This was a launch title on Infocom’s newest line of high-end adventure games! Even as other games approached the same material, none that I know of did so as visibly.
I will warn you already: I don’t think this game will score as highly as some of you may think. It’s a good game, but portions of it are not “fun”. There is too much waiting around for things to happen and too much exploration that is rewarding but perhaps not worth the hours it took to finish the map. Let’s run through the categories and see.
Puzzles and Solvability - This is famously a text adventure with limited puzzles, although finding the initial set of recordings and then new events offered a small challenge. The most major real puzzle came in the battle with the National Guard, but I was more stymied by having to wait around to trigger events than figuring out how to knock out the workmen. The game is very “solvable”, largely because it is more a story to be discovered than a set of puzzles to be solved. It is what it sets out to be, but against the immobile yard stick of our rating system, I am forced to give this a low score. My score: 2.
|Two dancing tornadoes?|
- “Communications Mode” is filled with four-letter acronyms that I never managed to remember: “PEOF” to go to Dr. Perelman’s office and “MACO” to go to the maintenance area, to name just two. To make matters worse, they aren’t listed in the manual. Instead, your creator is (inexplicably) named “Dr. Garcia” and you go to his office using “GAOF”. Even in the last hours of the game, I needed a cheat-sheet to remember these obscure location commands.
- “Library Mode” features a surprise keyboard interface, but one that doesn’t know about error keys. It’s not all that bad, but it could have been easier to use.
- “Interface Mode” is the worst offender. Not only do you have to deal with obscure commands, you also have to bounce back and forth to “Library Mode” to find out what they are. This could have been done better by using the menu system. Adding insult to injury, the feature is nearly unused in the game.
Story and Setting - This is a category where AMFV truly excels. The world of Rockvil is well-developed, maybe even the best of all of Infocom’s adventures so far. Seeing it fall gradually into disrepair and then into desolation is heartbreaking. It is because we know the setting so well that the glimpses in the Epilogue are so impactful. The story is interesting, but at times undeveloped with little that drives the narrative forward. At one point, we are told to amuse ourselves and find the plot on our own. Other than the events with Jill and Mitchell, there are few ongoing story beats in the simulation. In the real world, we don’t even catch more than a glimpse of the true plot until the end. Despite those concerns, it’s a more-than-solid effort. My score: 6.
Sound and Graphics - While the game has both limited ASCII art (with the psychological tests) and a keyboard-driven interface (in Library Mode), neither is enough to land us a pity point in this category. My score: 0.
Environment and Atmosphere - More than anything else, this game conjures a sense of place which was used to great effect to build tension. This is especially true in the later time periods where danger lurked at every street corner. The lack of any possible way to die in the simulation did deflate the tension a bit, but overall this is a masterpiece of environment over plot. My score: 7.
Dialog and Acting - The game is packed with textual description and events, but very little character interaction or growth. I wish we had more of Jill and Mitchell. In the real world, Dr. Perelman is surprisingly nuanced as a character, but Senator Ryder becomes little more than an moustache-twirling (and monologuing!) villain before it is all said and done. My score: 5.
Adding that up, we get (2+2+0+6+7+5)/.6 = 37 points. While I had planned to take some points away for the long periods where the game wasn’t “fun”, I am going to award two bonus points instead. It has been more than a week since I completed the game as work and life prohibited me from wrapping up this post on time. I have spent much of that time thinking about the game and its epilogue, what Meretzky was trying to accomplish, and what he ultimately built. This is a game that remains with you in ways that contemporaries do not. While it is not a complete success as a game, it is a classic that should be appreciated by more people.
Up next will be a brief detour to Fooblitzky before we play the final game of the second Zork trilogy: Spellbreaker. I am looking forward to that one! Now, if I could only figure out how to beat our Christmas game, I’d be golden...