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Slouching Towards Bedlam

by Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto

Steampunk
2003

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5 star:
(64)
4 star:
(47)
3 star:
(15)
2 star:
(5)
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Number of Reviews: 7
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1-7 of 7


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Impressive, January 27, 2014
by Simon Deimel (Germany)
Having heard so much about it I had to give it a try.

The setting and atmosphere are very deep and compelling. The reader/player can easily immerse in the events that take place and thus is motivated to explore the mystery. Elements of conspiracy and kabbalah are integrated; the authors obviously did some research on that.

The appearance of various machinery is intriguing. The personal assistant (a gadget called Triage) is cleverly integrated as a device to help the player. The function of the fantastic contraptions is explained in manuals that can be found, so there is not much guesswork to be done.

The narrative is remarkable, but the authors deliberately use some archaic expressions, which made it a bit difficult for me; nevertheless it contributes to the atmosphere of the Victorian age. The prose is extremely rich, has literary quality; sometimes it is almost too rich, so objects mentioned in the room descriptions are not implemented, resulting in contradictory messages, which were a bit confusing sometimes. On the other hand, deceisive objects are implemented with thorough descriptions and proper names that prevent ambiguities.

Furthermore the game is quite player-friendly; an elaborate menu of hints is contained. There are different endings, so it has replay value.
It is clearly recommendable for both beginners and veterans who like a steampunk setting.

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Could have been so much more, June 5, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: daniel ravipinto, star foster, mystery
Play it if: you want a competently written, not-too-challenging bit of bite-sized IF which dips a toe into steampunk and utopian tropes.

Don't play it if: you prefer your high-concept stories to have a sense of follow-through, your puzzles to feel varied and necessary to the story, or your IF to have broad scope in any meaning of the term.

Slouching Towards Bedlam is a well-written piece of IF, though I hesitate to call it "great". True, there is appropriate descriptive depth and a good feel for the atmosphere of the piece, and there is a good mix of ideas driving the setting and plot - Lovecraftian insanity, burgeoning conspiracies, steampunk technologies and Bentham-style social progressivism.

And yet something about it doesn't click for me. As an aspiring writer of IF I have to be appreciative of any work that does what it does this well. But holding this up next to Anchorhead, which I feel to be a fair comparative exercise as the two are broadly trying to hit the same notes, really just makes me feel that this is a four-star work at best.

Where Bedlam largely fails and Anchorhead largely succeeds is in the tying together of the story's disparate elements. The puzzles in Bedlam are largely superfluous to the story. The "challenges" are just ways of making information that should be fairly accessible a bit inconvenient to reach. For all the backstory about secrets and conspiracies, there is never any sense that someone is trying to prevent you from learning the things you need to learn. I could have just given the rod to James and asked him to go exploring and he'd have accomplished basically the same things.

Anchorhead approaches this in what I consider to be the more correct sense. There are similar puzzles or obstacles requiring simple research, but the difference is that you are meaningfully synthesizing that information into something higher. Going through the birth and death records is an exercise in deductive reasoning as well as information-gathering (whereas two or three documents in Bedlam will telegraph more or less everything important about the backstory). And the sense of fear and oppression is enhanced by the fact that there are people trying to protect the secrets of the town, whether they be the current inhabitants or long-dead members of the Verlac family. The slower pacing allows for a more genuine "putting-the-pieces-together" feel. I didn't care much for Triage, who switches between adding a bit of character to the descriptions and functioning as a magic-wand solution to a couple of the puzzles. It makes sense in a game of this length, but I'd have liked some way for the player to do the legwork by themselves.

The pacing is really the other major issue. Bedlam bumps up against some pretty high stakes and some very esoteric concepts, but it's content to resolve them (sort of) in the narrative equivalent of about a paragraph. I understand that the nature of the threat inherently limits the kind of scope the story can realistically take(Spoiler - click to show) - if the Logos is verbally transmitted, it's practically impossible to create a fair and winnable scenario in a London-based story that occurs over more than a very short period of time. Nevertheless, the climax of the story occurs much too soon for my tastes - and really, the best conspiracy fiction allows the reader to simmer on the edge of plausibility for a decent while before diving right into the weird stuff. The sense of choice in the endgame is not a bad touch, but it lacks meaning when you have little in the way of actual character or moral dimensions with which to grapple.

Ultimately, I think that I wanted out of Bedlam was a little more ambition and willingness to develop its ideas. It comes in a neat little package, but it never stops and takes the time to develop what it has. Big concepts worthy of games in and of themselves are made to play sidekick to a truncated and not outstandingly deep story - in a narrative or gameplay sense - and that disappoints me.

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Dark yet rewarding, October 25, 2010
by Sig (Olalla, WA, US)
Related reviews: newbie
Many have reviewed this, so I won't spend too much time praising the particulars. Given my own interest in horror stories and the almost universal high reviews, this seemed like an obvious choice for a dark and stormy night after the kids were asleep. (It was a good choice.)

This one frustrated me in a few places, but the hints were excellently graded such that you had plenty of "nudges" to work it out for yourself before the game gave up on you and told you what you needed to do. I completely missed the chance to put the final pieces together, as far as what is going on, but on reflection (and a few replays from a well-timed save game) I can't blame the game for that at all; the clues were there, I simply didn't attach much significance to them. Paying attention to detail pays off.

Multiple solutions to the final conundrum. Make sure to read the appendix (sort of an afterword) after each ending before trying for a different one, since that changes with the endings, too. I haven't found everything yet, but I expect I will start over from scratch sooner rather than later so I can better appreciate the stuff I missed the first time.

2 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
The Very Best I Know!, December 16, 2009
by NosesAreAlive (Noseland, Noseland)
This has a great storyline and the mystery behind it all is amazing. The fact you can get ending A in one move by (Spoiler - click to show)jumping out the window and (Spoiler - click to show)you can spread or contain the virus is amazing. This is the best of them all.

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Forgotten masterpiece, January 10, 2009
Slouching Towards Bedlam was the game that introduced me to modern IF so I might not be the most objective person to review the game. Still I am probably not far off saying that the game is too often forgotten when we are talking about the modern classics.

The game is about exploration and finding out what has happened in the asylum where the protagonist works. Assisting him is Triage, a hearwarmingly steampunky computer/dictation machine, that can give details and information of the surroundings. While it doesn't actually do anything other than follow the protagonist around and show information on request it is an important part of the whole and the game would be seriously lacking without it.

What brings Slouching Towards Bedlam above others is the way it builds and sustains the atmosphere and mood. The only other game that accomplishes the same is Anchorhead and I would be hardpressed to choose which one does a better job. Another nice touch is how meta-game commands (UNDO, SAVE, RESTORE etc) have been given an in-game explanation. They fit seamlessly into the story, not feeling like artificial additions.

The game is not entirely without flaws, of course. Some gameplay mechanics are unnecessarily awkward (for example making the player type long strings of numbers to a machine one at a time) but my main quibble is that some puzzles feel like they are there only because "IF must have puzzles". They break the mood and yank the player out of the game's world. The authors could have trusted their creation to work as a game without locked doors and hidden items.

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
Interactive Metafiction, at last!, October 1, 2008
by Fra Enrico (Torino, Italy)
When I first began this game I was struck by the first paragraphs. A setting in a psychiatric hospital, a doctor consulting files on magnetic-recordings, something weird had happened: I thought: great, a steampunk setting so well written, with the perfect prose style, with beautiful details. Keeping on reading, I found more great fictional and setting elements: strange technologies beautifully depicted, originally conceived, perfectly fitting to the setting and to the plot.
I understood I was reading a beautiful game. My breath was shortening.

But I understood what the game really was when I fell into strange, unusual, incomprehensible messages from the system. I spent hours of wondering what was going on, and when I finally got it, I was kind of illuminated. My mind was cleansed. I found a great piece of Metafiction: the language was part of the world, and I, as Bastian in the Neverending Story, was part of it.

This is a rare game, where the language (both in the prose than in the system language) is part of the story, and one can't go without the other.
The story itself is quite odd, a science fiction settled in a steam-punk 19th century world. Strange machines require the most effort from the player to be understood, but they are great part of the game, and provide the most challenging puzzles. It's a pity that the city, the people, the historical features are not deeply detailed as the devices, but it's
nothing more than a small blot.

This game is thrilling and deeply exciting. Maybe it's too short. Once you get the mechanism, it's over. But it's worth re-playing it: there are different possible endings (Spoiler - click to show)(solutions say there are 5).

Slouching Towards Bedlam is one of the greatest games because of its original work on the writing and language aspects, never so deeply integrated with the meaning of the whole background. And thinking about a medium based on language, I said to myself: at last, what a great deed of creativity. Bow to Bedlam.

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful:
Good, but overrated., February 27, 2008
This game made a huge splash in the IF community when it was released, handily taking first place in the 2003 IF Comp and performing the equivalent of an Oscar sweep in that year's XYZZY awards. Why, then, do I give it a mere three stars?

First, the positives: The introduction is a superb piece of writing. The reader is immediately gripped by the mystery presented, and that mystery is fully explored in the multiple possible endings. The premise is unique; the atmosphere is memorable. Overall, "Slouching Towards Bedlam" practically shines with the kind of originality that is so highly-prized in the IF community, and this probably is the best explanation for its record-breaking high score in the Comp.

But, then, there are the negatives: The world implementation is a little spare. The NPCs are a little flat. Certain promising points of interest turn out to be either red herrings or truncated plot elements. To be honest, this game strikes me as half-finished in some ways -- the overall tone of the implementation has an unevenness that can be surprising.

Once again, I have to point to the IF Comp guidelines that say an entry should be designed to be solvable within two hours of gameplay. The authors clearly had more to give here, and the half-finished feel to some parts of the game could be nothing more than the result of their having reached the target play time and calling it quits. My suspicion is that they may have run a bit short on development time, however; some improvements in editing would have easily scored an extra star from me.

"Slouching Towards Bedlam" is a decent game made from a terrific story. My slight dissatisfaction stems from my sense that, with more work, it could be an excellent game made from a terrific story. It is definitely worth your time to explore, even if I don't count it among the greats.


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