Written by Joe Pranevich
Let’s state the obvious: Infocom wasn’t doing well. To offset declining sales, their new parent demanded twice as many games. This was working, in a way. The previous two games, Stationfall and Lurking Horror, taken together would just about made for decent sales… of a single game. Infocom needed to innovate, to open new markets, and to bring their brand of sophisticated (even literary) gaming to new audiences. They just weren’t very good at that kind of innovation.
That brings us to Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail of It, their 27th adventure. After failing at business products (Cornerstone) and graphical games (Fooblitzky), Infocom reached a period where they embraced diversity through genre. We have already seen The Lurking Horror, their first “horror” game, and we will shortly be looking at their first romance (Plundered Hearts) and RPG (Beyond Zork). Nord and Bert went in a different direction: a comedy game of wordplay and idioms, designed by Jeff O’Neill. Instead of a single narrative adventure, Nord and Bert would also be broken up into connected “Interactive Short Stories”. With a low barrier to entry and a completely new take on what an “adventure” game could be, Infocom hoped that they could “hit it out of the park”.
Who doesn’t enjoy cliches, right?
|Pretty vanilla manual.|
We’ve seen O’Neill already with Ballyhoo, but to recap: originally from California, Jeff O’Neill was a journalist by training who became a play tester for Infocom. He showed his stuff doing QA on Hitchhiker’s Guide and Wishbringer (among others), before being accepted as an “Implementor” and crafting his first game, Ballyhoo. Since then, he took a swing at the mess that was Bureaucracy, before being given the helm of his next solo game project. He was respected enough that Steve Meretzky included him in the “committee” to help him select his next game, although he preferred Zork Zero over Stationfall. From the Stationfall notes, we know that Infocom was toying with ideas for shorter fiction, to lower the barrier of entry to their games. Perhaps in light of that, he presented an idea for “Wordplay”, a game based on puns and humor very unlike anything else in the catalog. Infocom accepted his game idea: Nord and Bert was born.
O’Neill crafted the game “puzzles-first”, researching with dictionaries and Games magazine to build each of the different types of word games that he would present. In the end, he settled on seven of these, presented as seven different short stories. The framing story was nearly an afterthought, just a way to draw all of these otherwise disconnected scenarios into a common narrative. An eighth story would serve as the capstone of the game, incorporating wordplay from all of the previous seven sections. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I cannot help but compare Nord and Bert to the original mainframe Zork. We know that many of the Zork puzzles were designed discrete, developed by the implementors first before finding a place on the map to put them. The original Zork also permitted many of the treasures (and puzzles) to be completed in any order. Most of the games that came after Zork stressed the narrative and brought the puzzles into that; Nord and Bert swung the pendulum the other way and built narrative around the puzzles.
Our first built-in hint system!
Another first for Nord and Bert: no hint book. Instead, O’Neill created Infocom’s first ever in-game hint system (patterned off of their “Invisiclues” books). Was this a design choice? Funding? Or lack of time? I have been unable to determine conclusively and the answer was likely a combination. Sales of hint books during this period occasionally exceeded sales of actual games, so the omission seems odd. On the other hand, Infocom had just started combining multiple games into single books (Stationfall and Lurking Horror, most recently) and would give up on hint books entirely before the end. The “Solid Gold” re-releases starting in December 1987 would also feature built-in hints; we’ll take a look at those in a few months. It seems as if Infocom was considering built-in hints for their “gateway” games, to allow a player’s first Infocom experience to be as positive as possible.
This inclusion was possible because of a technical innovation: a new game interpreter. Infocom at this point had two gaming engines/formats:
- ZIP - The old standard since Zork I, it ran on just about anything and largely unchanged since 1980. Bugs had been fixed, features had been added, and sound would shortly be incorporated into the Amiga interpreter, but the core design and limitations remained the same.
- EZIP - Developed in 1985 for A Mind Forever Voyaging, it opened the door to double-sized games, but required “high end” consumer equipment such as the Commodore 128. Only a handful of games had been produced for EZIP.
For this game, Infocom introduced “LZIP”, a middle ground between the two extremes. Games using LZIP could be 38% larger than ZIP games, could use some of the EZIP features, while still working on low-end hardware such as the Commodore 64. I may be mistaken, but Nord and Bert may be the only game to use LZIP. Infocom would soon go through an explosion of new interpreters, starting with Beyond Zork only a few months away.
|Puns are all the rage.|
The Manual & Feelies
Since Deadline, “feelies” had been an essential part of what made an “Infocom game”. Every game contained at least two of these extras, ranging from specialized manuals or “in-universe” texts, to wastes of space like rocks and plastic centipedes. These extras built backstory and provided hints about puzzles, if not used for explicit copy protection. Nord and Bert would be the only game to come with a single “feelie”, a book of (mostly) one-panel comics by Kevin Pope. Unlike with the hint book, it’s difficult to see this as anything but for cost control. This book, entitled "Home on the Range”, consisted of eight comics. Each image was inspired by or provides a clue for the “short story” that it pertains to. For example, the first of these (“All Alone on a Desserted Isle”) clues us in that homophones and food will play a part in one of the stories. Our challenge is to connect each image with the matching episode, using the picture clue to help understand the kinds of puzzles we’ll be dealing with. We’ll see how this works in practice as we play.
Pope’s work is intimately connected to the game. Let’s pause for a moment to look at what brought him to create cartoons for a text adventure.
The book that inspired Jeff O’Neill.
In 1987, Pope was 29 and was making his mark as an illustrator. Originally from Indiana, Pope studied painting at Indiana University. After graduation, he worked by day as a groundskeeper on a golf course while taking the occasional jobs as a freelance illustrator for advertising. In 1983, he and his wife moved to Chicago where his success grew thanks to work in Playboy, Chicago Magazine, Outdoor Magazine, and others. In 1985, the Chicago Tribune hired him to write a daily comic, Inside Out. Before long, his work was syndicated nationally to 50 newspapers and led to the publication of his first book, The Day Gravity Was Turned Off in Topeka.
It was this book that brought Pope to Infocom’s attention, and ultimately what sold them on his unique art style for Nord and Bert. Pope agreed to do the artwork in exchange for a fixed fee as well as a plug for his book and column. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any collected editions of Inside Out (although the Disney film of the same name complicates searching), but the sample strips that I have located online show Pope to have a delightful style, a world that is off-balance, often anthropomorphic, and perhaps may be even more cynical than Gary Larson’s The Far Side. Pope wearied of the comparisons to Larson’s work. In a 1991 interview, he remarked that “The Larson knock-off comments are a joke because I was drawing before he was."
|A Pop-Tarts ad that Pope created for Kelloggs.|
Pope has been involved in a million projects since his time with Infocom. He voluntarily stepped away from Inside Out in 1988 to transition to advertising and other efforts full time. The work required to pen and illustrate six jokes a week was all-consuming and he needed a break. He has since done advertising work for Pepsi, Dunkin' Donuts, Kelloggs, Juniper Networks, Coca-Cola, and many others, plus continued his work on novelty greeting cards. In 1991, Pope published his second collection of comics, The Dance of the Seven Veals. From 1997 to 2018, Pope illustrated various features for MAD Magazine, and is best known for creating “Melvin and Jenkins”. In 2000, Pope was the Art Director for the animated TV series Sammy, starring David Spade, which ran for one season. With work on video games, TV series, advertisements, and just about everything else, Kevin Pope’s work has touched on just about every medium there is. I look forward to seeing how his comics connect to Nord and Bert.
In 1993, Pope leaped into a new medium: farming. He and his wife purchased Lucas Lane Farms in southern Indiana, restoring an 1899 farmhouse and eventually building seven greenhouses on the property. Pope has continued to split his time between his farm and his illustration work, transforming the near-abandoned farmstead into 23 acres (9.3 hectares) of heirloom produce.
Despite all of Infocom’s efforts, Nord and Bert did not catch fire with audiences. The game sold just over 17,000 copies over the next two years, becoming the worst-selling game (other than Fooblitzky) up to that point. But don’t worry: there are plenty more games coming up that will sell even fewer copies.
The strangest “sequel”.
There is one other– very strange– coda to the story of Nord and Bert. In 2017, Kyle J. Acosta wrote a “sequel” of sorts to the game, also titled Nord and Bert. As best I can tell, this is self-published, one of several books that Acosta published through “North Abyss Books”. I also suspect it is not licensed, for reasons that will be clear shortly.
The book positions itself as a direct sequel and Acosta demonstrates familiarity with many of Infocom’s games. Here is a passage from the first chapter:
"You forget what we were. There was no beauty in us, no grace—the two of us a mismatched pair in an empty world—a little distraction in their little lives. Some cheap puns, some laughs, a grin and a groan, a two-pence and a tumble. I don't even like puns. We were never true, Nord, and that is the truth—maybe some of us were, the wizard and the thief, the silver chalice, the 'Feel Free' carved above the crypt, the enormous lines of green power, the lower elevator access card—they were something."
The premise of the book is simply that Nord and Bert have died and gone to Hell. While I have not read the whole thing yet (perhaps I will if we ever get to 2017!), the opening chapter has them meeting and interacting with Keats, Milton, and many others in the “Inn of Poets”. The author enjoys the wordplay that Nord and Bert can bring to their hellish situation. There’s some introspection here, but I’ll need to read it more deeply to fully develop an opinion. I have flipped through to later chapters and there is some explicit sex– including a scene where Nord and Bert are tricked into having sex with each other. I doubt very much that Activision would have been a fan, but it’s remarkable the way that Infocom games influenced creators even many years later.
Enough preliminaries, let’s play!
|In the Beginning, God created the pun. But was it good?|
Playing the Game
As the game begins, we are given a basic framing device: we have been selected to help the town of Punster deal with its assorted problems, all of which seem to revolve around language. We are told that it involves “time-worn phrases” and “ceaseless random coinage of words”.
Unlike a typical Infocom game, we are presented with a menu of eight scenarios. I know from the manual that the final scenario is a culmination of the previous, but I don’t know how that will work yet. I notice that it involves the Mayor who is “paralyzed and corrupted by the plague”, so perhaps we'll learn more about what is causing this “plague” and how to stop it. Our options are:
- Go to the Shopping Bizarre
- Play Jacks
- Buy the Farm
- Eat Your Words
- Act the Part
- Visit the Manor of Speaking
- Shake a Tower
- Meet the Mayor
Since we have no clue, I’m just going to take them all in order. I pick the first one.
On a recent Friday night at the Supermarket, the usual shopping frenzy turned into shopping panic. Crazed bargain-hunters, recklessly pushing shopping carts before them, were observed to stream from the aisles and out the market, many of whom not even stopping to pause in the parking lot. Whatever it was that caused the panic, one thing’s for sure – business has never been the same. By restoring some semblance of order to this bizarre situation, and perhaps purchasing some item or another, you can begin to rebuild customer confidence.
Our interface is not the typical Infocom adventure. We have the top-bar that we only saw in the EZIP games (like Trinity), but that includes a list of places that we can explore. We can see that we are in the “Dessert Aisle” and can travel to “Manicotti”, “British”, “Write”, “Meets”, and “Misc”. There are no cardinal directions and we get no sense at all of how the store is laid out. We can guess that “Meets” is the meat section, but the others don’t appear to be homophones.
Flipping through the included Kevin Pope cartoons, the first seems most applicable to our predicament: “All Alone on a Desserted Isle”.
A three-hour meal?
The dessert aisle includes a long freezer with a lathe brown moose blocking the way. I am not sure what the game wants me to do, so I just try “get mousse” even though there is no mousse in the room. It’s a good guess because that does the trick:
> get mousse
There’s a sudden, belching “poof” of smoke, and the odor of burnt chocolate.
This is confusing, but I can act directly on the puns? I get a point for the mousse and so I must be on the right trick. Inside the freezer is a “22/7”, so I “get pie”. It's understandable, but not really an adventure game.
I take the rooms in sequence and go to “Aisle of Manicotti” next. This is where the cereals and grains are stored. Am I missing a pun or a homophone with manicotti? I just think of it as a type of pasta and not likely to be where the cereal is sold. This aisle is dominated by a “pallid-looking gentleman in a dark tuxedo” who is destroying boxes of cereal with his long fangs. He’s obviously a vampire (or a “serial/cereal killer?”), but I do not find any way to turn him into an item that I can collect. Along one wall is an infinite variety of cereal, but that doesn’t lead to any immediate puns/homonyms, either.
One odd usage: when the game says “cereal”, it appears to mean pasta as well. Several of the “cereals” that are killed by the vampire-thing are pastas. Is that a British usage? In my world, “cereal” either means oats and grains or “breakfast cereal” which had been once made from that but now involves cute characters and sugary marshmallows. I would never call tortellini (to use one of the game’s examples) as a “cereal”. I find nothing to do there and move on to “British”.
Anything more British than a cuppa?
The British Aisle (obvious pun on “British Isles”) is decked out with a giant Union Jack, but is mostly occupied by a “box boy” filling and over-filling shelves with boxes. In fact, the boy himself is made of boxes. Up to this moment, I was also unaware of the term “boxboy” of someone that restocks shelves; the OED doesn’t list it, but other dictionaries call it an American usage. Maybe I don’t hang out with the right people.
A nearby sign calls this the “putting section”. I feel like I am complaining about the language in language puzzles too much, but “putting” is not a homophone for “pudding”. I take the pudding anyway. This somehow causes the box boy to disappear and be replaced by a trail of ants. I try “look aunts” and they are now aunts! They are searching for a girl named Emily and I will be sure to keep an eye out.
I go to the “Write” section next. Instead of food, it’s selling stationery. There are a ton of items here, including a wall of quartz (“quarts?”), flour on the floor (“flower?”), and two extra strange things: a “stationary” and a “bear clause”. Picking up the quart, flower, and bear claw is easy enough. A “bear claw”, for our international friends, is a type of pastry that looks a bit like what it describes. In contrast, a “bear clause” is described as a legal document, but internet searching does not suggest that it is a real thing. The “stationary” is confusing because the game doesn’t describe what it is, only that it is there and sitting still. I try to pick it up as “stationery”, but while it transforms, I still cannot pick it up. What is the point? This section feels like O’Neill found a bunch of words he wanted to use and didn’t quite work out how.
A yummy bear claw.
After picking up the “quart”, the wall of quartz turns into a shelf of milk and a door appears at the end. It’s covered in locks, so naturally I “get lox”. The door remains jammed by a door jamb, so I “get jam”. That results in jam that is sticky and everywhere rather in a jar, but at least the door opens. This adds a new location to the top-of-screen list: a cellar!
Descending into the cellar, I instead look around for the “seller”. This conjures a woman wearing a store uniform at a cash register. This is another case where O’Neill is abusing the language somewhat: while I obviously know what a “seller” is from context, I don’t know any variety of English where the “cashier” is called a “seller”. Neither Merriam-Webster nor the OED know of it either. Am I being too pushy on the use of language? If we’re going to be playing word games, I’d prefer if they were real words… As I do not have any money, I am unable to interact with her any further.
“Meets” is the next section on the list and I am not surprised to see a “mince” and a steak on the shelf. Since the steak is already foodstuff, I grab a “stake” instead. That looks useful for defeating a vampire! A little girl also appears, rolling off the shelf. Could that be Emily? She hits me in the leg repeatedly. A naughty child? Yes! She’s wearing a ribbon calling her the “worst brat”. I grab the “bratwurst”, observing that it’s not even a homophone. The “mince” claims to be like every other mince I’ve ever seen, which is unhelpful because I have no idea what a mince is. Some quick Googling suggests that this is a British usage for “mincemeat”, which itself confusingly can refer to either minced (finely chopped) meats or a similar-looking sweet concoction of chopped apples, raisins, and similar. which would be baked into a pie. It’s not a homophone, but I experiment by trying to grab the “mint” and that works! A moment later, the aunts walk in and I give them back their “brat”. They are relieved to find Emily and I no longer need to be haunted by turning a misbehaving girl into a sausage.
“Misc” is the last one and this truly seems to be where O’Neill just threw random words: I find a tack, a sail, and mussels. If I “get muscles”, I become a burly person. But what puzzle do I need to be strong for? I just pick up the tacks (“tax?”) and sail (“sale?”) as those might be useful when dealing with the seller.
With all of the rooms explored, I have to solve whatever puzzles are left. I can only think of two: the vampire in “Manicotti” and the seller downstairs. I assume the first is needed for the second, so that’s where I go. I attack the vampire with the stake, but his rancid breath pushes me away! I give the mint to the vampire first and then stake him and that works a lot better. He disappears in a flash of light, but no objects are dropped. I get a point, but nothing to help me with whatever is next.
Back downstairs, I still have no money. Checking all of my objects, I notice that my flowers have a scent, so I pick up the “cent”. I try to buy the lox (at random) from the seller, but it’s obviously a lot more expensive than a single cent! I “put lox on sale” (using the sail) and that gets us farther, but I still cannot afford the tax. I hand her the “tax” (from the tacks) and that works too! I can finally purchase the lox and win this mini-adventure! I am a “Super Saver”!
> buy lox
Okay, you buy the lox, handing the cent and the tax to the seller.
Bravo! Cheer! Kudos! With your feats of homonymic skill, you have shown the way to restoring customer confidence to the puzzled shoppers of Punster. Having broken the tape at the end of your Bizarre shopping spree, you thusly achieve the esteemed rank of Super Saver.
Homonymic? No, I had to use my “homophonic” skills. Homonyms are words with the same spelling but different meaning, but we’ve been working with “homophones”, words with different spelling and meaning but the same sound. I’m disappointed that a game about words could make such a mistake, but there were actually a number of questionable choices here and not-quite-correct usage. I’m probably expecting too much. We’ll end here for today and take our score guesses.
Time played: 1 hr 15 min
Score: 22/22 (Bizarre)
Who are these mysterious individuals?
Before I move on to ask you for your score guesses, I have one obvious question: who are Nord and Bert? The obvious answer is that they are the protagonists of the game, but what we’ve played through so far had no obvious indication that we were playing as a pair. There have been no puzzles that imply more than one viewpoint. If there is a singular protagonist, why did Jeff O’Neill title it with two leads? Is “Nord and Bert” a pun or a reference to something I don’t get? I’ve tried inverting the syllables (“bored and inert?”), looking for homonyms, or seeing if it was a pre-existing phrase, but I am having no luck so far.
While there are two figures on the cover art, none of the other Kevin Pope comics have a pair of figures. The one comic where a character is named, he is “Chet” and not either Nord or Bert. Pope drew similarly oversized pairs of figures in some of his other works. This shouldn’t be my big question, but somehow I am fixated on figuring out why this game has this title.
Finally, this post is indebted to several sources. I would like to thank Kevin Pope for answering questions via email to flesh out his story and you may be hearing more from him soon. I also took advantage of two profiles of Mr. Pope (one from the Northwest Indiana Times in 1991 and another from Bloom Magazine in 2020), as well as author blurbs and profiles on some of his other internet-posted works. I also recommend The Digital Antiquarian’s coverage of this game. I was careful to avoid spoilers as much as I can, but he also has great coverage on the development of this game from his sources. (I tried not to crib too much.)
Enough yammering! Please make your score guesses now. Jeff O’Neill scored 41 on his only other solo game (Ballyhoo), while Infocom games broadly are averaging 40 points. You could guess lower or higher if you feel that our scoring system won’t adapt well to this genre. I’m having fun and frustration in equal measure so far, so you be the judge. Seven more short stories to go. How many of them should I try to cover per post?
Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. 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 introductory post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return. It's also 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.
"'[P]utting' is not a homophone for 'pudding'"ReplyDelete
Depends on where you live. Some accents - such as mine - neutralize the distinction between [t] and [d] in certain situations.
This game doesn't seem to be well-received, so its score might be as low as 𝟯𝟮.
That is true! The strange thing is that he is all over the place in his terminology. On this and later sections (that I have seen so far, I'm not that deep yet), he jumps between US and British usages and regional words. I had thought for a while that Jeff WAS British based on some of his choices, but of course he's from California...Delete
The "pudding" vs "putting" thing is interesting. I should find a regional pronunciation guide. My own pronunciation is a mix of Pittsburgh English (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Pennsylvania_English) and "General"/"Mid-Western", but I've lost a lot of the regional since I moved away from home 20 years ago. I know that I pronounce a few words differently than my wife ("measure" drives her nuts). I now also notice that my parents speak with an accent.
I pronounce "putting" and "pudding" differently. ("pa-ting" and "pud-ding")
I pronounce them very close to the same unless I'm being quite careful to enunciate the t's in "putting". (California, native English speaker)Delete
Pudding and putting, if you pronounce them quickly enough, do indeed have the exact same sound. When I was trying to learn the Japanese way of pronouncing r's, pudding was used as an example, as the Japanese transliterate pudding as purin, or did anyway. Definitely the case for the Midwestern English I speak anyway.Delete
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"Putting / pudding" is a US accent thing I have noticed. A good example is "shitty", clearly and distinctly pronounced by UK speakers. In much of the US you get "shiddy".Delete
The sound often used in American English is not really a full "dd"; rather it's called a "flap". I can overpronounce (as it sounds to my ear) the dd in pudding, and it gives it a kind of deeper, nasal quality vs. what I actually say in normal speech (the flap) and a true dental "t".Delete
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(Reposted to fix link)Delete
This isn't the best version of this meme, but it was the cleanest -- the best ones are NSFW. So, a Bill Cosby meme to illustrate to the non-US speakers:
Reading Joe's phonetic description, it seems to me that the confusion might be due to "putting" actually being two different words with different pronunciations; the gerund form of "putt" (as in what you do on the golf green) and the gerund of "put." I read it as the "golf" form originally myself and was likewise confused about where the homophone came in.Delete
Oh boy, you have it!Delete
The sign in the aisle is "Putting Section" and my brain immediately filled in that it was a putting green. Certainly, that's no more unlikely than anything else in the store. I see that the boy is putting things on a shelf, but I never would have guessed it was "put" and not "putt". And now I look silly!
I still pronounce the -ing form of "put" slightly differently than "pudding", but very slightly and at speed I bet you don't notice. I may record an audio file.
"Pope wearied of the comparisons to Larson’s work."ReplyDelete
As an artist in the surreal single-panel comic strip idiom, he probably acted as connective tissue between the experiments of B. Kliban in the '70s and Larson's unstoppable domination of the '90s.
"That results in jam that is sticky and everywhere rather in a jar"
Did O'Neill miss the obvious "ajar" pun there?
Not much to add -- I finished this game, long ago, walkthrough-assisted. I think it may be most notable as fertilizer inspiring Nick Montfort's 2000 language-puzzle IF Ad Verbum down the line, in turn propelling him along to the publication of his 2003 Twisty Little Passages academic text.
The gags, puzzles and story chain of primacy are reminiscent of some later Meretzky designs of humorous games for Legend.
I can heartily recommend Ad Verbum, a game perhaps most exemplified by one of the rooms, the Neat Nursery, where every word in the description starts with N, and the game ONLY accepts inputs starting with N.Delete
Predictably, the only exit is to the SOUTH. Enjoy!
""That results in jam that is sticky and everywhere rather in a jar"Delete
Did O'Neill miss the obvious "ajar" pun there?"
Considering that the door was then opened, perhaps not. Happily, he was not made to use a lime pie to open the door at that point.
I noticed that "a tack" and "a sail" could be a reference to "attack" and "assail". Especially including a reference to "mussels" (muscles).Delete
"The “Solid Gold” re-releases starting in December 1987 would also feature built-in hints; we’ll take a look at those in a few months."ReplyDelete
I'm looking forward to that already, even though I don't think the "Solid Gold" versions are the best ones to play. In fact, at least two of them have some pretty annoying bugs that probably would have been caught in testing if it had been a few years earlier:
* In Planetfall, if you're carrying the diary (that was added as an in-game object to compensate for the simplified packaging) it won't let you press the up and down arrow buttons in the elevator. Apparently the parser picks the button on the diary over the buttons in the elevator.
* In Wishbringer, the time limits are gone. If you take too long, the "time" command will tell you that you have a negative amount of time left.
Actually, you *can* run out of time. Or at least the game will say that you did. See https://github.com/the-infocom-files/wishbringer-invclues/issues/7 for details, if you're interested.
Score guess of 33. I probably would have been very good at this game, had I any taste for text adventures at the time. Even if, so far, we've just seen some mediocre dad jokes masquerading as wordplay humor.ReplyDelete
Can I have your opinion?ReplyDelete
This game naturally divides into chapters. Would you like one post per chapter (which gives me more room to write about each) or that I try to squeeze 2-3 in one post? I'm making good progress through the game and deciding how best to write about it. Maybe two sections per post is a good compromise?
Multiple per post I think, although IIRC one of them is significantly longer than the others and might merit its own post.Delete
Ack, that anon comment was me. I picked Comment as "Google account" but apparently it didn't actually sign me in.Delete
I'm gonna guess 40, I think the unusual nature of the game is going to work in the game's favor more than it won't.ReplyDelete
31 for the score.ReplyDelete
And that anon one was me, same as Lisa... maybe there's some issue on blogger login.Delete
I'm really, really curious about this Nord and Bert book now. Only $1 for the Kindle version is extremely tempting. Sex scenes aside, that passage you quoted is actually pretty good.ReplyDelete
(My husband says about the sex: "Well, head and tail, I guess!")
I purchased the kindle version myself.Delete
@Lisa - Audible laughter was produced.Delete
Okay, that was just too weird. I got through about 1/3 of it but I have no idea what was going on, and plenty of gratuitous violence/gore into the mix, too. I was hoping for more meta references to Infocom and things like that. Really strange piece of work.Delete
You are a trooper! I'm not really sure what the story is with this book and I'm not sure I want to track down the author to ask... or maybe I should...Delete
PC version of SpaceVenture releasing September 16th: https://adventuregamers.com/games/view/21271ReplyDelete
I saw that! The SpaceVenture team was very helpful when we were reviewing SQ4 (and completely silent when I emailed them around SQ5) and even gave us SpaceVenture shirts for a contest ages ago. I remember mailing them, but not to whom.Delete
We *might* consider making another exception to review it. I think we'd need to discuss, but I'd be up for it. (I also hope we review the upcoming Hero-U sequel.)
Please make the exception. I would love to read it, Space Quest being my first (and favorite) adventure game series (along with King's Quest). I've recently tried the Quest for Glory games, and love them too.Delete
By the way, in case you're unaware of it, there are a couple of fan-made SQ games made in recent years that are really good too. Vohaul Strikes Back and Incinerations, though they're probably outside the scope of The Adventurers Guild; you should check them out anyway if you liked Space Quest.
We expect to play the fan games. Whether they will be main-line or missed classics or some other category is too early to know. The first one that I am aware of would be the remake of King's Quest I in 2001.Delete
We need to plow through a lot of games to get there though...
Hmm, what about a possible exception for other old game makers, like Williams and Gilhodes new games?Delete
This is a complex topic and I want to be careful because we're a team here and I don't want to step on the other admins. Perhaps we should have a special topic post on this soon?Delete
I want to support legacy creators. TAG is all about the history of gaming and while a few of those early creators spent COVID on their yacht, many more are just making ends meet like the rest of us. If we can give a small plug to a creator that needs it (especially if they have come here, done an interview, or answered questions for one of our history posts), we should. That's what inspired our Hero-U review and that was the right decision.
That's a double-edged sword though. What if we review their game and don't like? We don't want to HURT legacy creators. But it also seems wrong somehow to review something and then decline to post it. Are we unbiased journalists or genre boosters? Not all of their games are good, and given that we are more familiar with older games than newer ones, we might not be fairly judging them against the current industry.
We have turned down reviewing a few games, btw. Off the top of my head, I was personally asked to do two (three?) reviews by creators that I talked to while looking at their older games. I feel awful for turning them down, but we aren't really that kind of blog and I am not personally that kind of reviewer.
We're also a tiny community. We've had most of the same ~20 commenters for years, even as our page views go up. Can we best grow our family by doing more old games (and catching up on the mainline...) or by reviewing new stuff?
The Hero-U sequel seems pretty clear. Corey Cole has been amazing help (one of the Hero-U artists even did one of our old banners!) and as far as I'm concerned, he's a part of our community. Past that, we have to decide what level of legacy sequels we'd be willing to do. SpaceVenture team has been helpful to us, but so has Zojoi and we didn't cover their stuff. Other creators (like the ones you mentioned) we have not been in contact with.
Sorry for the long response! This is stuff that I/we think about a lot. Too much, clearly.
This definitely could be a separate post, but I'll add to this thread here for now.Delete
All valid points, and I'll add a couple more thoughts to the mix -- anything that helps boost the content on this site would most likely be a positive. In the recent times, the volume of posts concerning mainline games has trickled more or less to a halt. I'm sure there's plenty of reasons for that, one being that we've basically passed the glory days of the genre, and now we're starting to play the half-assed dredge that came afterwards.
Before anyone tries to fight me, yes, I know there's still some excellent games in the future. (I, for one, look forward to introducing people to the gem that is Sanitarium, especially since they finally got it working in ScummVM.) But there's a lot more fluff, a lot more filler along the way. I strongly doubt that any mainline game left in the to-do list has a chance of dethroning the current champions.
I, admittedly, have been having trouble staying interesting in the site, but the reason for the increased pageviews might be, as I know it is for me, people visiting the site periodically, checking for updates, and then closing the tab, coming back a week later and repeating the process.
Obviously, you can't do a full mainline playthrough of these games just yet. There's much more chance of it being a spoiler than a game played 30 years after its release. But enough time has passed, for example, if you were to do a playthrough of a game like Thimbleweed Park, where there's virtually no chance of spoiling it for this audience five years later.
In the case of SpaceVenture, I hate to say this, but I suspect the game will not be superb. I think I'll get my money's worth (well, as long as I don't calculate what my original investment would be worth in today's money after inflation...) but I don't think it will be a work of art or as respectable as Hero-U and Thimbleweed Park turned out to be. And I suspect you have similar thoughts, which is why you're afraid of what happens with a bad review. But I think we hurt the genre more by trying to get people to support the bad with the good -- and that's a small part of why we are a niche community now. The mainline games we're soon to see, many of them fall into that same category -- and I suspect we will see lower and lower average scores going forward.
But again, if it were up to a vote, I'd always vote for more content, because I'd hate to see the blog die, and without quantity, without regularity, people start to forget that the blog exists in the first place.
Apologies for an equally long post.
I get where you're coming from on the legacy creators. To a certain extent, I don't necessarily think the concerned in the third paragraph are true, these people are advertising their games based on their old careers. They've also usually spent time away from the gaming world, so they're either just doing what they were doing or doing such a radical departure from everything it doesn't necessarily matter. Adventures also in general don't seem like they've really advanced past basing their works on the established classics, ones we've mostly already reviewed. (at least this is an impression I've gotten from all the modern titles I've seen over the past couple of years)Delete
I've also noted that sometimes adventure game players have a reputation for accepting any old garbage, although I seem to recall this always gets applied by someone who's generally controversial, but you never know...
But I must admit either way since so many esoteric creators got turned down, I don't feel the need to press the issue.
That said, since Michael brings up that mainline games are slow, perhaps the idea of future classics can be revisited sometime in the future? (I believe you did it for some Blake's 7 IF around the time of ST25th) While I don't have any problems for the near future, the number of graphic adventures before '93 is finite, especially factoring in that a surprising number of unplayed ones are not in English. There are a lot of titles in the future that haven't a snowball's chance in hell of appearing as a mainline game, and I think it might be nice once in a while to try one. Not a dig on Jason Dyer, but going on a deep dive through text adventures is something that doesn't necessarily appeal to our audience.
I bring this up because in the time since I've been on this site and had my own blog I've played some games that would count under a theoretical future classic idea. A few of them I just ended up putting on my own blog, but others have more or less been played and not talked about. I don't think any of them ever had a chance at getting a mainline entry, except one late, late Dr. Brain game. Like some random free adventure game that has somehow passed down to us over the years, hidden object games, or some 7th Guest clone, I have a couple of those. One series, Puzz-3D, is basically build a 3d jigsaw, then explore the castle ala 7th Guest. Its basically only influenced by 7th Guest and Myst, which we hardly need to know about, and influence effectively nothing. I sometimes get the hankering to play it, but never do, because I won't be able to cover it here until 1998 or so, and it feels kind of silly to cover it on my own blog. For the most part, I know that even if those games are bad, they're not long and hard. Its awfulness is quickly excised.
(either way, I'm planning on making a suggestion as to how mainline games are decided going forward)
I do think that even if we don't see the top games get dethroned that the genre isn't going to decline in the near future. I actually checked, and so far the decade of the '90s has remained above 40. I think we're going to see averages above that for the foreseeable future. Again, even if they do become crap, because of general design trends after this, which is to make games less hard, problem games will not be neverending nightmares that we all struggle to escape from, like a certain opera turned video game or film turned video game. (wait, doesn't that apply to games other than the ones I was thinking of?)
Ultimately, I'm easy, I can generally work through anything here, but sometimes I want to play games that weren't made before 1993, and it does feel like that's been the current year a bit too long. Not to throw shade at you, or TBD or even Reiko or Will or anyone else. I'd just kind of like to get a shot at mainline games that aren't what everyone else refused to play.
As the summer ends and COVID seems to be slowly fading from mind, I hope that we'll be able to pick back up the games that are being played. While I've now managed 9 consecutive weeks with posts, I spent too much of the last two years being too stressed for various reasons to play or write.Delete
We have some really AMAZING games coming up. 7th Guest was one of the most popular games of all time (I still have the "Bones, bones..." song in my head from time to time), Simon the Sorcerer, Day of the Tentacle, Love for Sail... wow. We have some awesome games and we need to get to them.
I can do one post a week right now with my other workload. (Some are easier or harder to do, but I've made up for that by hanging multiple in progress at once. Right now, I have three in flight...) I hope to finish Infocom and do Return to Zork, but if necessary I can pick up a game we are stuck on. And if there are games that you want to play, perhaps we should look at reshuffling the 1993 volunteers given how long ago most of those games were divvied out, not everyone has the time they used to.
I hope so to. I must admit the same issue has plagued me at times.Delete
But despite the offer, I'm not entirely sure I want to ask for any current year games. I'm just very interested in volunteering for some of the 1994 games. Kronolog seems interesting and I'd be more than happy to play Lost in Time, but I'm not sure I could ask either of the original volunteers to give those up. Most of the rest are ones I'm not entirely certain I would be right to play. I kind of want to ask you for Dracula Unleashed, but I also realize that the gameplay in that is something I would react terribly to...since I already did with Consulting Detective.
And I guess there's not so much want to play, but feel like I'm probably going to end up playing anyway. I feel like Voltgloss is going to play Isle of the Dead for about five minutes and then realize he made a horrible mistake. (this isn't a knock, its that bad, and I've beaten it) We've also been waiting on Veil of Darkness for a few years at this point. All this time on it has made the game out to be a lot worse than it is. Every so often, that one anonymous complains about it, and I can't say I blame him. I can see that while he's abandoned his blog, he still streams consistently on his Twitch channel. I feel like at a certain point he's shifted from blogging to streaming, but doesn't quite want to admit that he's not going back. Maybe I'm wrong, but either way I feel like Veil of Darkness should be reassigned.
>we've basically passed the glory days of the genreDelete
While 1993 is indeed the peak year for adventure games, its best is still ahead of us (Day of the Tentacle, Quest for Glory 4, Gabriel Knight 1...). Even then the average quality, as noted by MorpheusKitami, is going to be better, with technology improving and the influence of the LucasArts design philosophy having taken hold; and there's the occasional post-1993 gem, such as Beneath a Steel Sky, Broken Sword 1 and the very underrated Death Gate (all of which I can see outdoing the games in the current top list), just to name a few.
@Laukku -- I concede that I exaggerated a little about the glory days being past, but it's almost there. But I still stand behind my other statement -- that along with the good games (like DOTT, GK1, etc) there's a lot more crap mixed in, percentage wise, than there has been for the last few gaming years. Even looking at the next few mainline games, you have pale imitations in the mix. Blue Force was Jim Walls trying to make a cop game without Jane Jensen, Al Lowe, and others making his procedurals interesting to civilians. While better than it's predecessor, LSL6 was not the strongest entry in the series, but thank goodness they had the faith that LSL7 would make money, because that one was quite good, unknowingly becoming a swan song for the Al Lowe era of the series. Some of the other titles on the list? Take 'em or leave 'em.Delete
I don't see any of the games you mentioned knocking out Atlantis from the top of the list, but maybe some of the lesser titles on the top ten...
Well the true score distributions of future games remains to be seen; there has been a lot of rubbish in the past as well (Cruise for a Corpse anyone?)Delete
Cruise remains the worst game that I have ever had to write about. It is more actively painful to play than some of the crappiest text adventures.Delete
I say 34 for the score and 2/3 sections of the game for every post, this one doesn´t seems as Infocom`s most interesting game to me. About this blog, which i really love, i have to say that for the last few years the Missed Classics took much space in detriment of the main list. There are missed classics that are indeed very interesting to read about, like all the Infocom games, because they are part of the adventure genre history, but other missed classics that were played in the past I don`t even heard of in my entire life. I think the "classic" word is the key, and that section should cover games that are indeed "classics". I think maybe that was the idea when the first missed classics were played for the blog. I also believe the traffic in the blog will increase with games like DOTT, the first Gabriel Knight and others that i`ve been waiting a long time for the blog to reach, but still didn´t, although I understand that the Covid situation has messed with the schedule. Anyways, that`s my two cents, i hope nobody get angry with my opinion.Delete
Okay, this is probably a bit too much, but I'm going to make a sweeping declaration that the future of mainline games aren't necessarily going to be all that crap. So much so that I have gone through the upcoming games list and counted which will probably go in which category. Basically, Morpheus predicts the future as of now.Delete
games with a shot at the top 1
There of course will be other games covered when we get to those years, but I'd wager most of those will be in the 40 range. I think I have quite a few games somewhere that should get at least 40. Of course a lot of this is just based on stuff I've heard over the years, and by 2001 I'm starting to not hear about a lot of these games. Will it do worse than I'm thinking? Possibly, but I'd wager that we'll see at least one game with a shot at dethroning Fate of Atlantis until 2000.
Anyway, that's just my two CAPs.
I'm absolutely sure that Day of the Tentacle will dethrone Fate of Atlantis and, if this blog is alive in 2030, will still be in the top of the list. The puzzles in that one, simply put, can't be toppedDelete
I feel obliged to say something about the current slow trickle of blog posts, because from the day TAG turned into a community effort, it has been my unofficial duty to be the person who pesters the contributors to send their posts in time. I must admit I haven't been that good about my job for the previous couple of years. At first, it had a lot to do with the COVID, with the whole world having something more important to think about than playing old adventure games and me giving a bit more slack to everyone. Then, well, I guess it had a lot to do with what I suppose many of our old contributors are also going through now, that is, professional and family life taking more and more hours of the day and less being left for the blog maintenance. And perhaps I've grown a bit soft, while becoming middle aged, and don't like that much pestering everyone. But enough about me.Delete
Now, it's always a bit unsavoury to speak about people who are not participating in the discussion themselves. That said, being the person who tries to keep a dialogue going on with our contributors, I am sure the situation with Reiko and Will is just an ordinary case of a summer slump where people are taking time to have a vacation and spend some time with their families and that they'll continue blogging soonish. As for Zenic, well, he remains interested in seeing the game through and tries his utmost best to get a post ready and is aware that the delays have been long.
But since long delays obviously aren't optimal, I'd like to throw to ball to our reader community. Should there be a more hardline policy for dealing with long periods of a contributor failing to produce posts? Say, a deadline after which a game is handed to someone else?
>after which a game is handed to someone else?Delete
I think it's not a question of if but when: holding a game off for 10 years is unacceptable, to use an extreme & unrealistic example for illustrative purposes. That said, I'd rather avoid a situation where a different reviewer is assigned mid-playthrough, and it's entirely possible the new reviewer will be as slow if not worse (all currently ongoing main games have progressed slowly). Plus, the pressure of deadlines could possibly make blogging feel more like work rather than fun for the reviewers. So, I support deadlines but generous ones (maybe half a year after the reviewer's last post on the game), and only if there is reason to believe a faster reviewer is available - with decisions by a case-by-case basis if the original reviewer insists on continuing.
I agree with everything Laukku said, but i think the deadline should be three months after the las post, It seems to me a very logical amount of time to not be a huge burden to any reviewer.Delete
@Ilmari I would second the idea from Leo about 3 months. That seems about right. Of course, that requires there to be willing fill-ins, and it seems this blog is suffering from the same staffing crisis as the American foodservice industry. :)Delete
I understand Laukku's point ("the pressure of deadlines could possibly make blogging feel more like work rather than fun for the reviewers") but question whether a blog update a year later would keep readers engaged, which is the point of any blog. Think of how many people, for example, had essentially given up on SpaceVenture after the blog posts, a year apart, were basically just saying "we're still alive but no news yet." How much faith did you have that the game was ever going to be finished? And they were PAID to do it.
I say this having not thrown my hat into the ring - my schedule in the past hasn't allowed me to be a bigger participant, but I think that will be changing soon. So, I promise, when I can, to put my typed words where my mouth is.
For the record, the current mainline games are:
- 2 months since blog post
- 3 months since blog post
- 1 year since blog post (after an 8 month delay)
And I suspect that even those reviewers would have no idea what their mindsets were, and thoughts and plans, after all that time. Which will hurt the quality of the future posts.
@MorpheusKitami I think you're a little optimistic about the future, but I'm hoping you're right. It just feels to me that a lot of the titles will gain points in Setting, Sounds, and Graphics while losing points in puzzles and other categories, so I don't expect such a big jump.Delete
@Leo I don't know about dethroning Fate of Atlantic, but I expect it to be top 3. But while I love DOTT, the music in parts is more noticably repetitive, there are much fewer alternate solutions (I can't remember any offhand), there are no multiple paths, and the voice acting isn't quite as good (Fate had a couple of bad voices in secondary characters, but DOTT makes you want to mute Laverne).
But the graphics are phenomenal, the story solid, and the puzzles are top notch. It also depends on who ends up reviewing it, because the solutions to more than a few puzzles are very American (no spoilers: such as anything to do in the past with Washington, Jefferson, Betsy Ross, etc as well as even the pop-culture stolen puzzle from Pepe LePew.)
Congrats! This is now the most-commented post since 2018... (Ironically, the 1993 lookahead post...)Delete
@Morpheus - I am happy to discuss if you want to play Dracula Unleashed, but I was hoping to do so (when we get there) because I'm already in infrequent contact with Dave Marsh. That game represents a midpoint from "Consulting Detective" to "MTV's Club Dead" by largely the same team/engine.
As the current reigning champion of writing too many "Missed Classics", the purpose behind them was to fill in the blanks in the adventure game record. While we have played some obscure games, those are mostly games that are related to one of the mainline games in some way, either by company or by developer. (And the Christmas posts which I *hope* are just fun even if you don't care about the games themselves.) Where I think we have a challenge now is that they are not snacks between mainline game posts, but essentially the only posts most of the time. The last 13 posts have been "Missed Classics", including this one. I feel confident that as we advance into the fall, our colleagues will have more time to write.
Still, I'd rather have Missed Classics than no posts at all! But I am biased because I love the Infocom stuff and have written so much of it. I would understand if people are getting sick of Infocom...
(And I do want to keep our writers from getting too stressed about it. This is no one's job and we're just all here because we love to play and talk about games. But as readers, you are just here because you love to play and read about games...)
@Joe, see, that's why I don't necessarily want to take someone else's game, since I completely forgot that you were in contact with him. I also wonder if at the end of this, we'll end up with the most comments under any one post.Delete
As to the matter at hand, well, since I kicked the hornet's nest, I feel like I should bring up that I'm not throwing any shade at all towards Reiko and Will, its been a nice summer and I'm sure the both of them have enjoyed being outdoors. I realize I'm being a bit dickish towards Zenic, and for that I have to apologize, but the last post was still in the opening town and Veil of Darkness is a fairly long game. He's not at any hard parts yet to my knowledge, what's going to happen when that does? Day of the Tentacle is coming up soon and he's going to be playing that too, and at that point the issue will be forced one way or another.
I suggest this, I take Veil of Darkness, Zenic keeps everything else, and in the future if Zenic is interested in a game I want to play I'll give it to him, no questions asked. Or something else he feels would be a fair exchange. I just think that because its been so long since the last entry the pressure on the next entry might feel like too much, and that the desire to put it off for another day has let it slip too much.
@Michael, perhaps, but over the years I've heard a lot of good things about a lot of adventure games in the upcoming years, and I've played a few that are very good at puzzles. I think moving forward games will have a lot of harsh differences between their high point and their low point.
While I agree that our balance of missed classics and main games is way off at the moment I tend to disagree with some of the other assessments. This blog was started as an exercise in chronogaming akin to the one maintained by the CRPG Addict. The beautiful thing about the Addict's blog (to me!) is that he doesn't only cover the seminal games (there's another excellent blog called Data Driven Gamer if you're looking for that kind of chronogaming experience) but provides a broad understanding of the genre as a whole. Ever since he abandoned his DOS-only rule his blog has flourished into something entertaining and historically important at the same time. It's still the gold standard for me when it comes to chronogaming blogs (Jimmy's Digital Antiquarian is just as brilliant but I wouldn't call his blog a chronogaming blog and I'm quite sure he'd agree with me on this.)
Put differently: As I understand it we're not here to cover the "glory days" of adventure gaming only. For me the list is far more interesting beyond 1996 which is when I don't know much about the genre's further development anymore. The internet is full of quality articles about "Secret of Monkey Island", "Space Quest V" and "Gabriel Knight". It's games like "Veil of Darkness", "Circuit's Edge" or many of the missed classics that need(ed) more in-depth coverage. Of course we should not exclude the classics (and I'm not sure that "Atlantis" will never be bumped off the top position; I could think of quite a lot of contenders, tbh) as they're a very important part of the bigger picture but at least for me the whole chronogaming experience is about getting the WHOLE picture. Of course, this is all just my personal opinion what the blog should be and it being a community effort I think it's vital to put all of this up for discussion every now and then.
That said, a new "Simon" post will be up on Sunday(-ish). I've spent much of the summer on the road and was unable to play/blog during that time. I should have hit the comments once in a while to keep you posted about that, I guess - I'll make sure I remember to do that next time it happens. I've restarted the whole game, retraced my steps and made a new (and better) map with Trizbort in order to close the gap between my initial impressions and the delayed continuation of my playthrough. Progress is slow and I'm stuck again but don't need assistance just yet. I'll be back.
@Michael "It also depends on who ends up reviewing [Day of the Tentacle], because the solutions to more than a few puzzles are very American"Delete
I know very little about American history, but while I'm sure there were references that passed unnoticed over my head I was able to solve Day of the Tentacle without any hints. The game gave me enough information to get the idea, even when I didn't know the details.
Which is one reason why I would hold up Day of the Tentacle as one of the most well designed adventure games I've ever played.
There's enough annoying bits I'll guess 36. (A lot depends on how you're going to score the short-story aspect -- this is a game where the stories are really very different, but if you find one of them to be dire, are you doing a weighted average, or tossing the outlier, or what?)ReplyDelete
I guess 32. I remember it to be interesting but flawed. I, for one, couldn't make head or tail of it.ReplyDelete
Oh, 32 is taken. I'll go as low as 30 then!Delete
Trailer for Roberta Williams's graphical remake of Colossal Cave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cn38Ailw7cAReplyDelete
I'm guessing you're gonna hate it. 28.ReplyDelete
My next post is supposed to go out today, an interview with a certain comic illustrator. The interview is done and the post is ready, but the interviewee was supposed to give a final "ok" before posting and that has not come yet. I'm hoping that comes soon.ReplyDelete
Interview is approved! I have some final editing to do. Unclear if this will be my next post or if we'll have a gameplay post first. Whichever one I finish...Delete