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The Dreamhold

by Andrew Plotkin profile

Fantasy
2004

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Member Reviews

5 star:
(34)
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Number of Reviews: 19
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Snippets of a mage's life, October 17, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy
I played The Dreamhold in tutorial-mode. The tutorial voice was really well done, providing not only a basic introduction to IF but also guidance to certain puzzles and avenues of possibilities deep into the game proper. It never gets too intrusive.

There is an immense castle/dungeon to explore, with quite a complex layout. I like making my own maps, so this was a fun excercise on its own. You start off in a recognizable, habitable few rooms, and the further you venture from that center, the more varied and fantastic the locations get. There are a few vantage points up above. The wide sunlit vistas from these are a nice contrast to the dark feeling in the rest of the castle.

The puzzles in tutorial-mode are well-clued and solvable without hints, provided that you are well and truly engaged in solving this game. Especially near the end it is neccesary to understand what you have learned during your journey, instead of just having gone through the motions.

The sunlit vistas I mentioned are welcome sources of light and space in this game. I would have welcomed just a sprinkling of comic relief or self-deprecating humor from the PC to break the sad-and-gloom atmosphere a bit more. After some time searching the halls and domes the air in the castle starts weighing on the player's mind.

The implementation goes very deep, for scenery-objects as well as for "wrong" commands. Most things the player tries are recognized and their impossibility or impracticality explained, instead of getting a standard sarcastic snarl.

Fun, big, entertaining. Three stars for now, maybe more when I replay in expert-mode.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
You do not find yourself afraid. A review is more than merely interesting., June 24, 2019
With no memory of who you are or what you are doing there, you have found yourself in a bleak stone chamber with only one exit. Clambering out and up a staircase, the breath catches in your throat as you realize where you are - a dreamhold, the private home and study of an immortal wizard. Your only goal would appear to be escape - but why are you drawn to collecting strange masks? Either way, you must explore this place, and all of the magical mystery within.

The Dreamhold was designed as an introductory story to parser IF, and as a result you are guided by the Voice, who uses italicized brackets to give advice, hints, and occasionally self-deprecating commentary:

[Amnesia. Yes, it's a cliché, but it'll do for a tutorial.]

There is an expert mode for those readers that enjoy fiendish puzzles (I'm not quite prepared for that yet!), and I like the idea that once-IF newbies, after playing through it the first time and then many other IF games, tackling that challenge as a final exam of sorts. I did enjoy solving the mystery on normal, and the dreamhold was brilliantly designed and well-crafted.

However, the reason why I've not given it a full score is that I did not quite understand the story or the couple of endings that I managed to find, and perhaps there could have been a clearer backstory or some sort of helpful coda or explainer at the end. Perhaps I was just being particularly obtuse, and perhaps one day I'll amend it if I do complete expert mode and that illuminates things.

Nonetheless this game does exactly what it sets out to do, which is provide a great introduction to parsers. Four multicoloured masks - in any order, I'm not picky (unlike some!).

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Teaching the spirit of experimentation, July 11, 2018
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
The Dreamhold is presented as a game suitable for beginners, complete with a tutorial voice and the choice between a normal mode and an expert mode. And yet Plotkin's aim is not maximal accessibility or minimal resistance on the way to a winning ending. He is not here to hold your hand. If you expect him to, you will be disappointed; as some of the reviewers have been, who complain about the openness of the world and the complexity of some of the machinery one meets.

But Plotkin signals his intentions early on, when the player is brought into a room stuffed with useless objects that one is nevertheless encouraged to examine one by one. This, surely, can be intimidating to the new player. Yes. But it is also something one must absolutely learn to cope with if one is to navigate any of the classic parser games. The same is true about learning to explore large worlds, about making leaps of dreamlike logic, and about thinking through possible interactions with complex machinery. Rather than hold your hand, Plotkin drops you in the thick of things, with one message: trust me. And you can trust him. Everything will make sense; you won't get the game into an unwinnable state; and with some determination, you will probably be able to win.

But Plotkin takes things a step further. He is not only introducing the player to the skills and techniques need to play old-school parser IF, he is also introducing them to a particularly fine example of the aesthetic of those games. The mysterious, abandoned world; the slow accumulation of hints that build up a narrative framework; the spirit of experimentation; and especially the being rewarded for your hard work with strange and unexpected experiences -- it is all there. Introductory games tend to be limited and boring; and in a sense that means that they do not teach the player the right mindset. They teach her to think in limited and boring ways. The Dreamhold teaches players to persevere, to try strange things, to try and step off the seemingly beaten path.

Whether it actually succeeds is less sure. The existence of a simple solution, bypassing large parts of the game, might fool people into thinking the game has less to offer than it has. (It fooled me, but luckily I replayed it using David Welbourn's walkthrough.) Approached with the right mindset, however, it does a great job preparing player for the world of old-school parser IF. Although it might spoil the player in the meantime -- it's kind of hard to go back to Adventure after playing a game as polished as this!

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Good, but maybe too much for new players?, July 1, 2018
by wisprabbit (Sheffield, UK)
I think The Dreamhold was my first IF, maybe three or four years ago. I've dabbled in IF on and off since then, but I've been making a serious attempt recently to get into it, and I thought I'd play this again to see if it still holds up.

The Dreamhold holds up, but it's... weird. It's an introductory game for players completely new to IF, but it's also a sprawling and intimidating puzzler, but it's also a beautiful empty space to explore, but it's also a patchwork biography of the space's owner. The more I think about it, the less I'm sure it all actually works together.

The big problem with the Dreamhold is that the puzzles in some places are, I would argue, far too complex for a first IF. Most of these complex puzzles are optional so that the new player can pick and choose what they do, and that's fair enough, but visualising them (and handling them, if you're not mindful of what actions you can type in a text parser) is pretty challenging. The machine in the Orrery, in particular, is a fine argument for having graphics in your games. There's also a few big red herrings, really interesting objects you can't actually do anything with, which is maybe a mean trick to play on new players.

Most of the puzzles are perfectly fine, though. Many of them are written to encourage experimenting with items and the parser, and I think they do a good job of this. The berries are a fun item to use in particular, flicking them at everything just to see if the game reacts.

I think the real strength of this game is the writing. Andrew Plotkin knows how to write a room description, so that much of the game is beautiful even in text. The story is told in non-chronological scraps and odd objects to find which hint at events far greater than the scope of the game. I enjoyed piecing this backstory together and theorising more than many of the puzzles.

The Dreamhold is still a good game, and a good choice for a first game. Just don't be ashamed to use a walkthrough if you want to poke around the game's backstory and some of its more interesting rooms!

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
May not suit all types of players, June 30, 2018
If you're a fan of puzzle IF, then the other reviews pretty much cover it - you'll probably enjoy this, and don't let anyone (least of all me) tell you otherwise!

But I found I didn't - I'm not a beginner exactly, but I mostly skew towards Story IF. Plotkin's writing is crisp, and some of the scenery is certainly compelling. But I found myself getting bogged down in mapping (all the non-cardinal directions like NW) and the puzzles. There's a hint system, but it rather primly stops before giving an unblocking suggestion too often.

After resorting to a walkthrough about (Spoiler - click to show)the order of masks at the mirror, my reaction was a slightly irritable "Huh? How was I supposed to figure that out?" But that's ok, this just isn't for me.

Clearly lots of people love these puzzles, but if you're not one of them, please don't despair: there are other styles of story to explore.

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A great intro for a newbie (Me!), October 17, 2017
This is only the second IF game I have ever played, after Lost Pig and the first that really required mapping. I really loved it, the story is slight unless you're really paying attention but the tutorial aspect of it works perfectly. I only used the hints to get one of the masks, and then only because I was getting too hasty, and would have figured it out myself if I would have just been willing to spend more time thinking about it.

All in all, a great fun time to play, it definitely whet my appetite to play more IF games!

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Solid across the board, September 27, 2016
I can't speak to The Dreamhold's success as a tutorial game. I'm not a beginner, and I played it on Expert mode. Judged as a straightforward text adventure, though, it's good at pretty much everything else it does. Not exceptional--but quite good. In fact, I'm tempted to describe The Dreamhold with a variety of other phrases that might come off as tepid. Nicely put together. Largish. Straightforwardly laid out. Consistently logical. Familiar puzzle territory about understanding physical properties. A comfortable middle level of difficulty. Yeah, it's decidedly less high-concept than any of Andrew Plotkin's other works, but so what? I'm okay with a not-so-novel premise and setting if it's done well, and The Dreamhold is.

The environment is richly fantastic and feels cohesive thanks to simple room connections and vantage points that show other areas you'll reach later (or have already reached). The outdoor vistas are particularly good at keeping landmarks in view, preventing that Zorkian feeling of having wandered off into some new, unrelated structure. I did not need to make a map, but some hub areas have many exits, and complicated machinery is occasionally present, so careful reading is required in those cases. Personally, I can't get enough of glowing domes, magical artifacts, and whirling mechanisms, so having to pay attention to the details and really think about the setup of some of these rooms was a positive thing.

Also tying the game together are the snippets of lore and backstory you encounter throughout. Even if you don't understand them, these story threads suggest purpose and meaning for the otherwise surreal world around you, and some of the descriptions are simply cool, such as the (Spoiler - click to show)constellations in the planetarium. I'm not much for mulling over symbolism and theories in games like this, but I like that there's extra stuff there for people that enjoy those kinds of discussions. My impression was that Plotkin intended for the hidden trinkets to be a puzzle the community would solve collectively, sharing discoveries and interpretations. For my part, I found half of the secret stuff on my own and didn't feel bad when I looked up the rest. I would have appreciated an in-game indicator of what was left to find rather than a reflection of what I had already found, but honestly I probably would have never found the other stuff anyway.

On a final note, the title for this game--The Dreamhold--ranks up there with Riven as a truly great one. It's evocative, thematically appropriate, and easily recognizable by both humans and search engines. The game itself is not such a standout, unfortunately, but it's still high quality.

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
An introductory fantasy game with a haunting atmosphere that doesn't quite gel, February 3, 2016
I played Dreamhold years ago, one of the first games I've played, and it's never been quite my favorite. It is intended as being accessible for beginners but still fun for older players. It is a mid-length fantasy game, where you play as a wizard trying to reconstruct his memories in a tower.

The puzzles are of course top-notch, especially with the berries and the stars. However, the plot was never really compelling to me. The protagonist is not an underdog, and everyone likes to root for the under dog.

Actually, I know exactly how to describe this game. This is Citizen Kane for interactive fiction. Reviewing the life of an old, powerful man and seeing how he got there. If you liked Citizen Kane, you will like Dreamhold. If you don't really go for those kinds of characters, you still might like the puzzles quite a bit. For me, it's the kind of game that I love while playing, then forget when I'm done.

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Featured on Radio K #5, January 1, 2016
by Adam Cadre (Albany, California)
Melissa Ford and I discuss The Dreamhold at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwnB8DviCDg#t=28m34s

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
On Waking from the Dream, May 8, 2015
by scottmbruner (alameda, california)
I was completely enthralled by the fantastic world and implied history of Dreamhold. Like Spider & Web, the world of Dreamhold grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Plotkin's ability to masterfully craft such intertwined riddles within a believable (and compelling) magical reality is singular.

That being said, I don't know if this is the best way to introduce a new player/interactor/guinea pig into interactive fiction. While none of the puzzles are excruciating, the final puzzle, and many of the alternate endings are going to remain beyond the limits of the introductory player. To my eternal shame, I even got stuck on the final puzzle and had to hit the hint system (and still didn't understand!)

My other minor complaint is that Zarf obviously has created a fascinating world but the narrative clues are so obtuse and difficult that a player expecting for all the pieces to fall together in the end is going to be disappointed. As an introductory IF piece, having the prose be more James Joyce then Stephen King to me is a curious choice. One of the endings was fairly incomprehensible to me.

As a standard IF piece, though (and I do think the puzzles will provide challenge even to the most experienced adventurer), it's one of my favorites. I just wish, at the end, I understood a little more of the world. To Dreamhold's credit, though, it has given me enough reason to go back in again.


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