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Slouching Towards Bedlam

by Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto


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Number of Reviews: 12
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
It's madness, I tell you, madness!, November 7, 2017
by turthalion (Winnipeg)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2003
There's not much I can say here, other than that this was one of the most interesting and enjoyable pieces of IF I've ever played.

The only minor (and I mean minor) quibble is the nuisance of listening to the records at the beginning. I understand why it's necessary, and someone whose game has as many long dumps of text as mine did is hardly in a position to quibble.

W: 5
Excellent writing, outstanding story. Nice use of initials for object descriptions as well.

A: 5
This game grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Wow.

B: 5
I did not find any bugs. Seems impeccably tested.

E: 5
Incredible fun, riveting. The moment I finished, I wanted to go back and
play it all again, knowing the outcome.

WABE score: 10
Note: this review is based on older version of the game.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A steampunk/horror classic that feels slightly too short, February 3, 2016
Slouching towards Bedlam is one of the most popular IF games of all time. You play in a steampunk world followed by your faithful clockwork cubical robotic assistant to help you analyze various materials and ideas.

You work in an old and decaying asylum, and you are investigating some recent occurrences.

This game is notable for two innovations; one, it plays with If conventions in amazing ways. Two, it does a wonderful job at writing some odd text (such as the robot's output, restricted to an 8x8 grid).

The game has multiple endings, with room for big moral choices (more than one). It's hard to say what's right and what's wrong in the game.

The main thrust of the story turned out to be fun, but was hard for me to grasp at first. Perhaps because of exposure to cheap sci fi, I thought that (Spoiler - click to show)the Logos was a horde of nanobots. This made understanding the game much harder.

The game feels incomplete, like other great games such as Theatre. Some of the later locations seem a bit sparse, as well. It says a lot about the game that the worst I can call it is too short. Great game.

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Definitely one of my favorites!, January 20, 2016
Finally, something worthy of the term "Lovecraftian"! The game keeps you moving without seeming too easy in a way that few of this length do. Keeps up the mystery wonderfully, definitely worth a play.

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Featured on Radio K #5, January 1, 2016
by Adam Cadre (Albany, California)
Jess Haskins and I discuss Slouching Towards Bedlam at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwnB8DviCDg#t=22s

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Still excellent, but shows its age, January 8, 2015
by Harry Coburn (Atlanta, GA)
Slouching Toward Bedlam shows up on a lot of top IF lists for good reason. It has a fascinating premise and excellent replay value. The steampunk touches made me keep playing. I especially enjoyed the (Spoiler - click to show)panopticon.

I've also studied my share of occult topics. The 19th century hermetic and kaballistic references were quite excellent and in context. The reveal of (Spoiler - click to show)knowing it's too late for the player character to get rid of the Logos and dealing with the consequences to drive the endings rather reminded me of the movie Pi.

What do I mean by "shows its age" then? The game feels rather unfinished in places. Notably, certain nouns weren't fleshed out that seemed obvious to me. Also, the parser didn't understand some verbs I expected. I had to look at the solution to get the verb for (Spoiler - click to show)wearing the noose, rather than seeing errors for "put on the noose" "put head in noose" or most annoyingly "hang myself". The latter especially got me when I activated the hangman, tried "kill myself", got "How, exactly", and neither "hang" nor "hanging" worked. I dearly wish the author would revisit the game after all this time and go through it with BENT (see Aaron Reed's book) in mind to flesh out the world, and also fix the parser issues.

That being said, this game is still very much worth your time to play. The core of the game is still sound even after all this time, and that's what counts.

2 of 3 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.

5 of 6 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 7 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.

3 of 11 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.

12 of 14 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.

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