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Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Winner, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual Puzzle - 1999 XYZZY Awards
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
Part of the reason that it's huge is that it's full of puzzles--this is, in every way, a puzzle-fest. Moreover, a lot of the puzzles are quite difficult, sufficiently so that you shouldn't expect this to take less than several weeks (unless you have a telepathic connection to the author or are relying heavily on a walkthrough). The length and complexity of the game adds to the difficulty, in fact, since you may be required to connect one puzzle with an earlier event that you might have encountered several weeks before, or with an object that you haven't touched in a month. Similarly, you accumulate quite a few objects by the end of the game, meaning that (a) it's easy to lose track of some in the shuffle and (b) it's easy to overlook the connection between the latest puzzle and one of the objects in your archive.
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-It has A LOT of puzzles
-There is a HUGE object list to carry around
-It is almost impossible to complete without consulting the walkthrough (or is it just me?)
But so what? It had me immersed in it for days, despite the fact I didn't have a clue what I was doing most of the time, like a monkey fiddling with a Rubik's cube. Minor quibbles, and I feel awful for even saying this, as I cannot praise this game highly enough, would be the size of the object list (could some spent objects have been conveniently disposed of in the similar way that used keys are left in locks in the game?), and that the sheer size and complexity of the game (did he really write this when he was doing his A-levels?) means the player could do with a bit more guidance about what to tackle and when. Unless you are an incredibly patient, organised, observant, methodical lateral thinker and hyper-intelligent pragmatist (I am none of these), you could spend days of your life wandering around the museum in blissful ignorance (and I did).
Anyway, I am increasingly amazed, and incredibly grateful, that people like Jon put years of their lives into creating these things, despite the fact the only reward they get is the joy of creating them in the first place and (presumably) the vicarious enjoyment of others playing them. A big thank you to everyone out there who creates IF. The main reason for posting this is not an in-depth review, as you have probably noticed (I did type one but got timed out and sent back to the IFDB log-in page!): this laziness is the main reason (apart from a lack of the scary levels of intelligence, technical ability and imagination which Mr Ingold possesses) I can't create masterpieces like this. I just want to see if anyone is out there reads this and who shares my love for this medium. Whenever I try to explain the premise of games like this, which is increasingly less often, to one of my friends, who are increasingly less in number as I lock myself away to play these games, they look at me like I'm mad. Perhaps I am. Mr Ingold, I salute you!
I had read the author's notes about playing the game without a walkthrough, and I was very excited to attempt this. I made a determination that no matter how long it took, I would not consult any solutions guide. But, of course, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak right? So after days of being at a standstill at one particular puzzle, having exhausting all my efforts and resources to try and solve it, I finally gave in and looked at a walkthrough. And I was completely and utterly disappointed. I still have not figured out how I was supposed to reach that particular conclusion without guidance. Nothing in the game up to that point (Spoiler - click to show)(how on earth was I supposed to know I needed to point at the sign and get the monkey to look at it? I mean, huh?!) seemed to have given a clue as to encouraging that particular action in that particular circumstance. It felt like such an unfair situation that, in spite of having the answer I needed, I found myself half-heartedly playing the game after that (continuing to use a walkthrough), before finally giving up and moving on.
Now, would I still recommend this game to others? ABSOLUTELY! It is a great piece of work, and it deserves every bit of praise it receives. (In fact, I personally think Jon Ingold is a genious). But I do wish that I had been able to play without a walkthrough, particularly since this was the author's own advice.
I fully expected to deeply enjoy this game, having loved Curses and Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, and having just come off the similar game Theatre. However, I just couldn't get into the game.
I played without a walkthrough for a few days, getting only around 11 points. I am not the greatest puzzle solver, and I don't mind using walkthroughs when I'm stuck, but the game gets stuck too frequently.
Case in point: after the intro (which required some, to me, unintuitive commands), you begin at the museum's steps. As you are immediately told, getting in requires not one, but two keys. And the second key requires (Spoiler - click to show)a seemingly random sequence of button presses on a keypad). There is virtually nothing to do while waiting to solve this puzzle.
Compare this to other games with early bottlenecks, like Zork. There, if you can't get in the house, you can always explore the forest. And if you do stay to solve the puzzle, putting yourself in the mindset of the character gives you the answer almost immediately. (Spoiler - click to show) Door locked? Try the window . The beginnings of other games such as Curses, Ballerina, and Theatre all give you more options or a more gentle beginning, and giving you a pile of smaller puzzles that aren't that hard to work through while digesting the big ones.
One bottleneck would be fine, but they occur over and over again. It is as if ALL puzzles require "two keys" (for instance, another early puzzle requires (Spoiler - click to show) lighting a match with a brick you had to search for outside, then using the match to light a branch you found in another room. And the brick can't be found by using "examine"). This is compounded by my least favorite way of creating fake difficulty, which is giving rooms exits that are not in the description (although you are given hints in other areas about these exits).
I suppose that this game resembles Jigsaw more than anything else, with similar fake difficulty and bottlenecks. Both games, however, are still fun to play through, but don't expect to get far without a walkthrough.
As a final note, Jon Ingold writes some great games. I especially enjoyed the short game "Failsafe", and many people have enjoyed "All Roads".
I decided to at least see the rest of the game. The nozzle room was one of the best things I had seen in all of interactive fiction. But I stand bh my original review. What makes this game not click if it has great puzzles and enormous amounts of locations, and a developed plot?
J.R.R. Tolkien had the same issue. He developed a massive world, and coalesced it into the Silmarillion, which had great, well-written, detailed stories. It flopped. I like it, but it flopped. He then learned to trim his work down and focus on likable characters, a well-developed plotline and beautiful location descriptions.
This work is like the Silmarillion. It is 2-4 times the length od the massive curses, which Graham Nelson wisely trimmed down in size from his first draft. Puzzles are dense, and detailed. People say they like hard puzzles, but what they really want are puzzles that make them feel smart for solving them, but can be solved after a reasonable time. And, like the Silmarillion, no characters are especially likable. Everyone seems somewhat elitist. One finak issue is the prevalence of guews-the-verb issues.
I would recommend glancing at a walkthrough after each area to see if you did everything necessary. This game is enjoyable, but don't stress out about getting hints.
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