Written by Joe Pranevich
Last time out, we completed Plundered Hearts. Lady Dimsford was reunited with her father and (presumably) her soon-to-be stepmother, escaped the island with her pirate beau, and settled for a domestic existence somewhere in North America. Plundered Hearts is a swashbuckling adventure that feels at home next to A Princess Bride– which is amazing as both the game and movie came out in September 1987. Fans of romantic pirate adventures truly hit the jackpot that month! (The Princess Bride film was based on the 1973 novel of the same name; Briggs could equally have been inspired by the original work.) The game includes four “good” endings and I already found the “best” of those. I’ll look at the alternate paths briefly before locking in the score.
Plundered Hearts was also a game built under difficult constraints: a text-heavy game in the style of late Infocom but built using the original Z-machine. To even come close to fitting in those constraints, Briggs had to cut a lot from her original vision. In an interview conducted for the Get Lamp documentary, she admitted that, “Because it was my first game, they gave me nine months to write it… and I finished it in six. I spent the next three just cutting stuff out. It was way way too big to fit, because I was the last game to fit on a Commodore 64. There was all that great stuff to cut, so I did a lot of cutting.”
We don’t have all of the “great stuff” that she alluded to, but we do have traces of her ideas left behind in the Infocom source code leak. Was the game better because of its editing? Or was there a better game that had to be cut down to size? I look forward to finding out.
|I love a good “pirate queen”.|
The Other Endings
Consulting a walkthrough, it is not difficult to find the other endings. None of them required actions earlier in the game and could all be reached based on how we approached the battle on the beach and what items we brought with us. The best ending, depicted last time, involves shooting Crulley with Lafond’s gun– striking against the game’s several reminders that shooting is not ladylike. That only works if we found the gunpowder horn in the dungeon. Doing that, all of the good guys (using that term loosely) survive and we live happily ever after.
The other endings are:
- “Orphan” - Ignoring the pistol on the ground, we use the garter to toss a stone at Crulley in “David & Goliath” style. Unfortunately for us, the Lady Dimsford is not David and she misses the shot, but it’s enough of a distraction to allow Lord Dimsford to tackle Crulley and launch both of them off the cliff. Papa dies, but we otherwise live happily ever after.
- “Love Transcending Death” - This hardly seems like a “good” ending, but we get the message that we finished the game with full points despite our death. There might be an Infidel joke in there somewhere. In this variation, we pick up the gun but shoot it into the air instead of at Crulley. The distraction fails and Crulley recognizes me as the biggest threat, shooting me just before Papa wrestles him to the ground. I die relieved to know that Jamison survived.
- “Pirate Queen” - If we failed to bring the powder or the garter, there is only one way to survive the final battle: run like heck. We flee the scene and row the skiff back to the Helena Louise. This one is so good that I must quote it in full:
> row the skiff to the ship
You dip the oars and pull them towards you. The skiff plows through the lagoon.
You hear distant shots and screams, and gaze back across the restless waves to the massacre on the beach. The sight blurs with your tears of shame, tears for the father and lover you left behind.
The tale you tell Jamison’s crew, of rapine and blood, of your heroic attempt to save their captain, and of your own escape after his death in your arms, is not so far from the truth that you cannot appear sincere. Cannily, you take advantage of their temporary grief, select a private guard, and teach the rest the discipline of the whip.
We become a pirate queen! I love that Briggs included this, although perhaps we could have become a pirate with Jamison at our side instead. (He is handy with his sword.) Perhaps after so many threats of rape, we just decided that we wanted to do the raping and pillaging instead. Avast, ye hearties! The Dread Pirate Dimsford is here!
The Cut Content
We often have three sources for cut content in Infocom games: developer interviews, leaked source code, and Steve Meretzky’s collection of memos and documentation in the so-called “Infocom Cabinet”. Of those, only the source code has been helpful this time. Despite Meretzky acting as something of a mentor to Amy Briggs during the development of this game, he retained (that I have found) no notes from the development process. Almost all my conclusions will be based on commented-out sections of source code, of which there are many. We do not know necessarily when sections were commented out or how they relate to each other and so the below is my best-guess reconstruction of the excised portions.
Aboard the Lafond Deux
In the introductory section of the game, we mostly find text changes that add clarity or save a few bytes here and there, but a few have a larger impact on the plot. The first edit that stands out is an earlier version of the letter that Jamison delivered from our father, instructing us to trust the handsome pirate and go with him. This earlier version paints Jamison and Lord Dimsford as Robin Hood-esque pirate outlaws, as well as removing the hint about Lucy from the story. In the final version, our father sends Jamison after us so that he can return to the mansion to try to free her. This older version depicts him walking into a trap to demand my freedom. Briggs’s revision better explains why he didn’t just go with Jamison himself, as well as adds depth to Lord Dimsford's character by forcing him to wrestle with how best to save two people that he cares for instead of just one.
I have just learned that Lafond has sent for you, telling you that I am ill. I am not, and you are sailing into great danger. Despite his claim to be my 'good friend,' Lafond is no friend of mine! He is a tyrant and a viper, running a vast fleet of pirate ships.
I, with a young captain named Jamison, am outlawed for pirating the demon's ships -- which is the only way to bleed his thieving organization and return stolen goods to their rightful owners. Now he has you – oh, my child, what have I done? He will hold you ransom for our lives!
My horse is waiting. I ride now to Lafond's mansion to demand he free you. I give this missive to my ally.
Our “outlaw” friend Jamison still should not be forgiven for having a crew of would-be-rapists (especially Crulley) and the final version better reinforces a sense that while Jamison can be trusted, his crew are not “merry men.” Jamison also introduces himself with a much longer name in this earlier version: “Captain Nicholas Brent Charles Lancelot Richard Blaise Peaceable Jamison -- a mouthful, so my friends call me Nick."
If only he owned a nautical-themed pashmina afghan.
We also fall for him much more quickly:
Under the impact of his gaze, the hard masculinity of his broad shoulders, the implied power in the scar that etches his jaw, you discover yourself blind to the dangers of this infamous pirate, aware only of the tremors that course your veins, of that flutter deep in your stomach as he draws near you. In this most unlikely of places, you have met the man you have been waiting for all these years.
Briggs’s later revision adds tension and the slow burn of the relationship now happens through our meeting at the folly, the dance, and the final series of rescues in the endgame. If we had fallen head-over-heels so quickly, Lady Dimsford would have been weakened as a character.
A final and more distressing element is that the Lafond Deux was originally written as a slaver ship. When Jamison boards the vessel, he and his crew cry out to free the slaves trapped below decks. We would see those same slaves fighting moments later on the main deck when we emerged there. This would have been an uncomfortable place to go to for several reasons, but perhaps most especially because the text never depicts the slaves as rescued and implies that they went down with the ship. Briggs could have solved that, but having many survivors aboard the Helena Louise would have added complexity to the sequence. Given the tight space constraints, this feels like the correct edit. As a matter of history, the Lafond Deux would have been unlikely to have a hold full of slaves anyway as they were traveling from Europe (picking us up in London) directly to the Caribbean. For gruesome reasons that don’t bear thinking about, slave ships of the era would have traveled directly to their destination instead of making a European pit stop. Slavery is horrible and would have underscored just how evil Lafond and Davies really were, but it’s a heavy theme for a light pirate adventure and I’m glad that the detail was cut out.
“Black Caesar” was a perhaps-legendary escaped slave / pirate of the 1700s.
Aboard the Helena Louise
The game’s second section, our escape from the Helena Louise, felt like an introduction but ended up being nearly half of the game. This section also had textual edits, but many more changed puzzles and items. Like with Jamison’s letter, Briggs refined her dialog to deepen the game and retain suspense. In the released game, we could hear Crulley muttering to himself while he sabotaged the ship, if we stood below him in the hold. One removed variant suggested that Crulley flipped to work for Davies after Jamison punished him, saying that “Lafond pays me more for spying than Falcon pays me to get flogged.” Crulley is also more explicit about our father being in Lafond’s dungeon. A somewhat strange omission was a clarification that Captain Davies had two invitations to the ball, his own and a “plus one”. Jamison took the first but left the second in the lockbox, perhaps hoping that I would find it. The final game removes this clarification and doesn’t bother explaining how Jamison was let into the ball while I held the (seemingly) only invitation. I doubt many players lost sleep over this mystery.
One changed puzzle that would have reoccurred throughout the game involves our clothing. Originally, our frock included a set of “whalebone hoops” to plump out the dress in that old-fashioned style. With the hoops intact, we would be unable to climb the ship’s rigging or the vines on the mansion, crawl in the hedges, or hide ourselves in the empty cask. Removing the hoops would give us more freedom of movement, but we would look less posh. In that earlier version, Lucy would assume we were a beggar-woman and refuse to talk to us, if we didn’t have a properly plump skirt! The code is unclear but I find suggestions both that we would be able to take out the hoops and put them back in again later, as well as Lady Dimsford refusing to put them back in because they make us look fat. Since code existed that checked for the hoops on the island, I assume we had a way to at least keep them in that long, but it may have required other changes. This difficulty may have been one of the reasons they were removed from the game. While I am far from any understanding of fashion, my limited research suggests that skirts with “whalebone hoops” were common in the 1500s in Spain and France, but had fallen well out of favor by the time of our story, only to return to popularity in the 1800s.
A more significant changed puzzle involves a spyglass. We would have been able to find one somewhere on the ship and then take it to the crow’s nest for a bird’s eye view of the island. That would have revealed an essential clue: “But as you gaze westward to the island, you notice a flutter on the cliff face, something white and soft against the gray rock, apparently stuck into one of the large cracks decorating the crag.” My guess– and it is only a guess– is that this was part of a puzzle showing the original location of the ball gown. Instead of finding the gown (somewhat magically) unused in the dressing room, we would have had to retrieve it somehow from the cliff face. I expect a dress dashed against the rocks would be torn and dirty, but we would have made it work somehow! Briggs likely either just ran out of room to add another puzzle or didn’t have time or space to deal with cleaning the thing. Good thing the dress was exactly our size!
The explosives-in-the-hold puzzle was also changed slightly. An earlier version had us discovering a “bent key” that appears to fit into the storage lock. Straightening out the key by hand would break it. Was there a safe way to straighten it or was this a red herring? I don’t know, but removing it makes the puzzle much clearer.
The largest change is that we somehow would have been able to escape to shore without saving the ship. In the final game, we can enter the barrel but get a strange “you need to save everyone first” message if we try to cut the rope to send us to the island. In this earlier version, the ship could be destroyed without us on it. If viewed from the skiff, we would see only that “Large planks of wood, cloth, and human remains appear to be all that is left of the Helena Louise.” From Lafond’s window, we’d find only “a black empty hulk rests near black, sharp silhouetted reefs.” Getting to the end of the game only to realize that we are stuck would have been awful and I’m glad that Briggs was able to improve the game by removing that case.
That dreamy look in your eye gives me a tropical contact high.
Outside the Mansion
Surprisingly, there appear to have been relatively few changes to the grounds outside the mansion. At some point in the game, we could have broken or sprained our ankle. Exactly how this would interfere with many other aspects (such as dancing) is unclear and that may have been why it was removed. If we attempted to leave the house to the north with such an injury, we would have received a message that "You can barely walk on your sore ankle, and have no wish to crawl.” We must have been pretty injured! I cannot imagine how we could have done the endgame without being able to walk.
That same location also featured numerous other combinations for exiting the mansion grounds, all removed. The dragoons guarding the north exit to the compound would have responded differently to us depending on whether we were dressed as a woman, a boy, or in the full ball gown. Some of those resulted in the guards simply tossing us off the cliff! All of these combinations were replaced by just having Lady Dimsford refuse to leave without rescuing her father, if we tried to walk out.
|I wanna be where the people are / I wanna see, wanna see 'em dancin' / Walking around on those, what do you call 'em? Oh, feet!|
Inside the Mansion
There was far more removed code inside the house than outside, including layout adjustments and changes to some puzzles. One major change is that it appears as if the basement level was originally intended to be dark. We would find a candle in a sconce in the library, but lighting it would have involved either a match (not present in the final game) or by using one of the lit fireplaces. Towards the end of the game, we would have been unable to signal to the Helena Louise using the candle as the sea breeze would blow it out. Code also exists for the candle to be able to burn things, but doing so does not appear to be needed for any of the puzzles.
One of those things we could burn is a feather, tucked into Lafond’s hat in the library. The feather is described as a “feather quill” and can still be seen on Lafond’s banknote in the final version of the game, suggesting it may have been removed late in development. Confusingly, we would not have used it for writing, but could use it to wake up Jamison when he is unconscious in the dungeon by waving it under his nose. Exactly how doing that would have helped is unclear, but maybe it would have caused him to sneeze? Replacing that obtuse puzzle with the simpler smelling salts seems like a nice improvement.
In the final game, we had a puzzle where we needed to help Jamison in a swordfight with Lafond; we did this by swinging down a chandelier from the gallery overhead. An earlier version of the game had two tweaks to this puzzle: first, the gallery is in a slightly different location, just south of the foyer stairs rather than east and then south. That change is minor and I am not certain why it was necessary. Second, we could have found an alternate “failing” solution to the puzzle: if we cut the rope instead of swinging on the chandelier, we could have tried to drop it onto Lafond. Unfortunately, chandeliers (or at least this one) has a special knot on the rope to prevent exactly this from happening and it would have stopped falling just above Lafond’s head. This approach was entirely removed from the game.
After that, most of the remaining changes were minimal: we could be occasionally caught in the Library by the butler, or ambushed in the stairway to the dungeon by Crulley. Perhaps by one of those methods, we could have been locked in manacles in the dungeon. When Jamison was manacled, we had no problem picking the lock using the pin, but there is no good angle for us to do the same for ourselves. There are not enough clues in the code to see how we would have escaped that mess.
Finally, there was one line from Lafond in the bedroom scene that was cut, but I like it and it shows just how much of an egomaniac he really was. If we looked out the window together, he would remark, “Is it not a beautiful view? I could not bear to glass it over -- hurricanes are a natural occurrence in this kingdom, and as king, I must learn to conquer them.” Conquering hurricanes? You weren’t even able to conquer me!
This is my last chance to put in a picture of Captain Feathersword. And it’s almost even relevant!
Now that we’ve seen the alternate endings and the dropped content, it’s time to rate the game. Let me remind you that I am considering the stuff in the game that I missed, but the extra stuff from reviewing the source is just fun and the scores were written down before I even started researching the cut content. Let’s see how Plundered Hearts stacks up!
Puzzles & Solvability
First, the obvious: the game feels too short and with relatively few centerpiece puzzles. Escaping the Helena Louise is probably the most fun and the most traditional adventure puzzle. While I doubt the logistics of a slow fuze in a locked room blowing up our gunpowder stores, it is a vivid image and a fun challenge to solve. The puzzle itself wasn’t hard, just wetting the rag in the water barrel and throwing it, but all of the work to break out of the hold, dress as a boy, and explore the topdeck was required. It’s a very nice self-contained puzzle, super fair and probably my favorite experience of the game overall.
Once we get to the island, the game transitions to a more theatrical approach where there are fewer puzzles (the two passes at the crocodile and our game of cup-roulette with Laford being the best examples), but they build towards these interesting set pieces like the dance and the dinner.
The game excels at “Solvability” and having multiple paths to many of the puzzles. If we missed the pork, we could get past the crocodile with the garter. If we didn’t pick up the mirror, we could use the silver platter. If we didn’t get the powder horn, we could still have achieved a perfect score and ending, even if it is not the “best” ending. There are many similar examples. I always felt challenged playing the game even if a few bits felt too easy, but it is mostly a good balance. I am lowering the rating a bit due to the game’s brevity and the repeated use of the sleeping medicine to solve everything. My score: 4.
We never found out what happened to the real cabin boy.
Interface & Inventory
We have the standard Infocom text adventure interface and Amy Briggs is, thanks to her years as a tester, an expert in getting it to do things well. While she talks in interviews about how unhappy she was with the bugs in the game, I stumbled on absolutely none of them. (Lurking Horror remains the only game that had bugs that seriously disrupted the game for me.)
For lack of anywhere else to put it, I want to highlight that “inventory” plays a much more central role in this game than you would think. There are three outfits that Lady Dimsford can wear: her initial simple frock, her cabin boy disguise, and her ball gown, and they each unlock different responses and change how others react to her. Just on its own, the exploration of “self” invoked through solving different areas by wearing different clothing is a powerful part of the game.
I don’t think that is worth quite a full point more unfortunately, and the text interface is increasingly dated by 1980s standards. My score: 4.
Story & Setting
I’m not much into pirate romances, but this story charmed me. The Lady Dimsford is what you would get if you cross a tomboy action girl with Jane Austen and in the context of an adventure game, it works! We have some depth in Jamison and Lord Dimsford's motivations, we have us consistently beating up our attacker, and we could even become a pirate queen at the end if we wanted. The setting is drawn from pirate cliches, but I stopped worrying about the history and started working more about the characters fairly quickly. It’s an interesting story, in a fun location, and told well.
All that said, the structure of the game feels consistently off. The best way that I can put it is that we are missing a “middle third” of the game and I really wanted some other adventure before we made it to the ball. My score: 6.
Sound & Graphics
As per usual with Infocom games, we have neither sound nor graphics. Even as Infocom was experimenting more with both (Lurking Horror had sound and Beyond Zork will introduce basic graphics), Plundered Hearts had neither. I’m not sure how many more Infocom games will get a zero in this category. My score: 0.
I still love this ad.
Environment & Atmosphere
This is a game that thrives in its atmosphere and tone. It uses humor well, but doesn’t overdo it. It builds a romance, but never goes too far. Other than the rape jokes, it’s fantastic. I especially like that Jamison isn’t terrible at what he does. We rescue him over and over again, but he’s consistently competent and it is only because he is being run through the wringer by Davies that he’s barely holding it together by the end. Lady Dimsford, despite not having a first name, is perhaps the first Infocom protagonist since Infidel where I feel we are playing a character rather than a blank-slate avatar. My score: 6.
Dialog & Acting
The prose in this game is great. Our romance with Jamison goes through a nice progression, and care has been taken with it. We don’t notice much while playing, but the game gradually shifts from us first calling him “Falcon”, then “Jamison”, then “Nicholas”, and finally “Nick”. The fact that Briggs can embed this gradual familiarity and have it feel earned is a tribute to her prose. Other characters are also well done, even if we get far less text with them: our father is complicated by his split dedication to both his daughter and Lucy, Crulley seems to be Smee-level comic relief (with more threatened rape) only to be deadly serious at the end, Cookie isn’t completely blind but he wrestles a crocodile well. (One aspect about Cookie that seems to be in the game, but I didn’t find it, is that he was told by a fortune-teller that he would die in 1701. He’s just trying to live his best life before then.) We don’t usually have so many characters in an adventure game, let alone characters that are individuals.
The game is also text-heavy, despite being written for the engine that can least support its weight. The three months of editing tightened the dialog and puzzles a great deal and I cannot help but think that the game’s prose was much better for it. If only all Infocom games had such luxury! Briggs did a great job. My score: 7.
Adding Up The Scores
Let’s add up the scores! (4+4+6+0+6+7)/0.6 = 45 points! I am fearful that the score is getting too high, but I also want to recognize that Briggs wrote a daring game with a strong female protagonist and wasn’t afraid to have romance. She did this with every obstacle against her, including the selection of the Z-machine that was exactly wrong for this type of text-heavy game. She made a game that I enjoyed far more than I expected. Plundered Hearts is, in its way, one of the most mature games in the Infocom canon. I’m adding one bonus point for that.
Looking at the score, that makes it tied with Wishbringer. That does feel a bit high. This game doesn’t quite soar to that level, but it is very good and under-appreciated. Although this isn’t the right time to talk about it– and there is no real way to address it– I regret a few of the Infocom scores, especially the early ones. Zork I and III, for example, both should have scored much higher on environment and atmosphere. Trinity should have been a few points higher as well. Maybe when this is all over, I’ll write about which games truly stood out of the pack.
This is one of the rare times when our community did a fantastic job with the score guesses: the average guess was 45 and Michael got the guess spot-on with 46! Congratulations! Your CAPs will be awarded when we complete the next mainline game. I also want to welcome newcomer “FincasKhalmoril” (and another anonymous contributor) who both guessed for the first time with this game. Fincas came quite close to taking the points!
If there is a lost gem of Infocom, this one is it. It’s short, but more than worth your time, both as an adventure game and an important game in adventure history. Thank you, Amy Briggs, for giving us a very different kind of adventure.
Next up for me is finally Beyond Zork! I’ve started the introduction post already and look forward to sharing it with you soon.