Posted by: Ben | October 13, 2009

if: The Grand Quest

A Z-code game in IF Comp 09 by Owen Parish.

WARNING: Not so much a review as a sort of critical companion piece to the walkthrough, this entry contains spoilers and assorted other ways to ruin your enjoyment of this game.  And this time I really mean it.

You cautiously make your way north. You emerge from the shadows, and a gate crashes shut behind you. No way back. And all the supplies are with the horse.

Disappointingly turning out not to be a game about travelling at a leisurely pace through Europe visiting museums and hobnobbing with the aristocracy, perhaps in the company of the Mozart family, The Grand Quest belongs to a far longer and more noble tradition, being a series of puzzles of various flavours, vintages and, let’s get this absolutely straight, degrees of quality.  So rather than consider it as a whole, I’ve taken the liberty of assessing every room individually.  Apart from anything else, it’s more words for less effort.

Entrance Room

There’s a carefully written framing story that gives the whole quest a tangible sense of an underlying reality and back story without mincing words.  It’s probably fair to say that this and the opening room description are the best bits of writing in the game, meaning that the author has put his best writing in exactly the right place. (Rating: great.)

Poetry Room

Or as it’s called in my house, the riddle room.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the riddle, the solution seems to fit.  Not really my thing, though, so I shall sit on the fence (no rating).

Library

Do not linger in the library. This would be just a waste of a room, but the fact that it takes place in a library actually makes it interesting.  To sprint through a library is anathema to your standard adventurer. (rating: good)

Treasury

It’s obviously a trick question, but the parser does get in the way a little bit.  For some reason the game does not recognise the 5-jin coin as a coin, so the should-be winning move “get all coins” gets all the coins except the 5. Also it would be nice to be able to say 5 instead of having to type 5-jin, which is most likely a fictional currency.  But none of that is important.  This, on the other hand, is:

>X FLOOR
You notice that one of the stone lacks mortar. It looks loose.
>LIFT STONE
That’s not a verb I recognise.
>GET STONE
That’s hardly portable.
>MOVE STONE
It is fixed in place.
>LOOK UNDER STONE
You find nothing of interest.
>PULL STONE
With an effort, you wrench it free to reveal a large hole.

(and once you’ve wrenched it free you can pick the stone up and carry it around with you.)  It would have been nice to have been asked to create piles of equal value rather than equal size. (rating: good)

Tax Room

This room, of course, exists only for narrative purposes.  It represents the act of sacrifices as the adventurer is called upon to give up his worldly goods to achieve his goal. But it doesn’t really add anything to what we already know at this point. (no rating)

Bureaucracy Room

Another riddle. I don’t get it.  Apart from anything else, if you type enough random words (with or without “say” in front) the door will open.  Not sure if this was the intended effect. (rating: grim)

Circular Room

The honourable answer, of course, is to get the rung first, then promise not to.  Having made the necessary sacrifice in the Tax Room, the hero is now forced to compromise his honour in order to counter his equally dishonourable opposite number.  Indiana Jones used to pull tricks like this all the time. (rating: great)

Puzzle Room

An old chestnut, reheated. If I’m going to be honest, the parser is none too friendly, and the inputs required are a little too specific to make this an especially good example. Apart from anything else, it really ought to understand BLOW WHISTLE, and it should know that anything I try to do to the door means the door I want to go through, not the one I came through, but that’s true of every room. (rating: grim).

Nightmare Room

If I hadn’t happened to investigate the locket earlier then right about now I’d be wondering who James was.  Luckily I did, because if I had stopped and examined him it would have been too late.  He’s my son.  There’s no description, so I picture him as an adorable Jonathan Lipnicki type who wears spectacles with thick blue frames that make him look studious.  How did he get here, and how am I going to explain to his mum that I sliced him in half to get a shot at the goblet? (rating: grim)

Casino Room

This is actually a very strong puzzle, although of a wholly unexpected type which appears to have nothing to do with what went before and is a difficulty spike out of God knows where.  Victor Gijsbers solved it, but if your average player could do that and finish the rest of the game in two hours I will eat my hat. (rating: good.)

Exit Room

And so we return to the story.  If you read and remembered the opening paragraph you will already know that your quest is not to take the goblet, but to look at it.  If, on the other hand, you have forgotten all of this somewhere between guessing the noun in the Puzzle Room and attempting to translate the walkthrough into commands the game understands in the Casino Room, you may be forgiven. (rating: great)

Totting those up it turns out that The Grand Quest is equally good, great and grim, but to a lesser degree unrateable.  It’s tempting either to brand it with the lowest common denominator or reward it for the heights it sometimes reaches but in this case the whole turns out to be pretty much the average of its parts.  Now all I have to do is work out how that translates into a score out of ten.

Next: Spelunker’s Quest

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