Posted by: Ben | October 26, 2008

if: Berrost’s Challenge

(videogame. TADS. Hatfield. Interactive Fiction Competition 2008.)

Sweeping generalisations and tangential observations follow the cut. Also: Berrost’s Challenge.

Typo in First Sentence. Change of tense from present to past in thirteenth sentence. References to a “wino” in a fantasy setting. This sort of thing makes it obvious from the start whether or not the game’s going to be any good. So I was rather thrown when this turned out to be better than it looked.

There are five puzzles to solve, all more or less independent of one another. The implementation is pretty good, the writing is decent and there are no glaring bugs.

The only trouble is that the game seems to go out of its way to make it difficult for the player. It restricts you to one undo, with any more coming in the form of a spell, that doesn’t always work. It makes you carry out repetitive acts to buy food and accommodation every few turns. It takes points off you when you try to cast spells. The overall effect is to come very close to ruining a perfectly good adventure with RPG elements.

I was going to wait until I got to the C. Yong game to detail my trouble with RPGs, but judging by today’s date, it doesn’t look as though these reviews are going to get that far. I’ve already deviated from my own pre-selected random order and peeked at most of the other games, which were two things I promised myself I wasn’t going to do this time around. So this rant is entirely tangential to Berrost’s Challenge itself, but I wanted to get my prejudices out of the way.

I hate RPGs. Or more specifically, CRPGs.

Now I’m given to understand that some people like to play what are termed “pen and paper” role playing games, although I’m entirely unclear whether all that’s required are pen and paper or you have to go out and spend £££s on some sort of “starter kit” to begin with. I’m sure it’s possible to play a role playing game around a table with other people and have a perfectly good time. Goodness knows how you broach the subject of wanting to play a role playing game in mixed company. Perhaps you could say “Hey guys, why don’t we all try playing Dungeons and Dragons,” but the thing is you’d be better off saying “Hey guys, why don’t we all try wife swapping”, the chances of any of your friends ever wanting to talk to you again would be about the same, and at least if your suggestion was accepted in earnest you’d get to have nice sex instead of having to sit for hours on end playing a spoddy game about elves.

Now I realise that not everybody will be swayed by this argument. Some people have got over what I imagine must be their crippling social anxiety and have embraced swinging, or role playing, as a hobby or interest. Good for them, I say. Whatever they want to do in the privacy of their own homes, as long as it’s not harming everybody else.

But then, I go out and buy a copy of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, on the recommendation of the critics. I start to play. I notice a number of similarities to the first “modern” (read: from the 3D graphics era) PC game I ever played, Deus Ex. I almost find myself enjoying it. After about an hour, I notice that, despite having a super-duper 1400MHz processor and 512MB of RAM to play with, the designers have chosen to resolve the frequent combat encounters by – get this – ROLLING A DICE.

When I’ve finished rolling around on the floor, laughing, I press ‘Eject’. I take the four game CDs and smash them to little pieces. I send the bill to George Lucas, c/o LucasArts. I’m still waiting for the cheque to arrive, but it turns out that Lucas has a substantial backlog of shattered optical discs and torn up cinema ticket stubs to get through from other people whose precious time on this earth he has wasted.

Then I play Half-Life, and soon after realising that that, too, was crap compared to Deus Ex, it occurs to me that that game was a unique experiment at least a decade ahead of its time, and that equalling it has never been attempted, let alone achieved, I’m so disappointed I spend the next half a decade playing nothing but football management games.

And then I got a bit bored of football management games and decided to play some interactive fiction instead, including some of the classics, the 2007 comp games, some more of the classics and finally the 2008 comp games. One of which was Berrost’s Challenge, bringing us nicely to the present day.

This is what Berrost’s Challenge needs to be a better game:

1. Give me back my UNDO, especially if you’ve included a puzzle where you need to borrow a broom from a golem for a few turns and if you don’t get it back to the location before the golem needs it, he will kill you as soon as you return to said location. Especially if the location where you need to use the broom is connected to the rest of the game world through the location where the golem is. Ditto for the climbing-down-a-well-oh-dear-the-rope-has-snapped-and-you-can’t-get-back-up puzzle, not to mention the dammit-I’ve-tried-giving-poisoned-berries-to-the-dog-and-now-I-can’t-pick-any-more scenario. People don’t like having to restart the game for that sort of thing, neither do they like having to save the game frequently if they can possibly help it. When your puzzle design is good and interesting enough not to need to repeatedly kill the player, you could do with taking out these disincentives to experiment.
2. If you’ve included a puzzle that involves listening to and interpreting onomatopoeiae, don’t make me wait in the same location for about fifty turns in order to hear them all. I will probably get bored.
3. Fantastic, I now know how to get food and board. I hope I don’t have to do the same thing all over again in a few turns… oh.
4. Games that implement things like GO TO in a town the player-character ought to be familiar with look about a dozen times better than those that don’t.
5. Oh, and your conversation system looks ugly.
6. I’m pretty sure I mentioned the spelling and grammar mistakes.

I don’t want to beat up on this game. My experience with it was on the whole a very positive one. I’m saying all this because I think that this is a good game (it’s certainly one of the better ones so far), but it ought to be better still.



  1. 5. Your mother looks ugly.

  2. > Now I’m given to understand that some people like to play what are termed “pen and paper” role playing games, although I’m entirely unclear whether all that’s required are pen and paper or you have to go out and spend £££s on some sort of “starter kit” to begin with.

    Hahaha, that was great. Very good review.

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