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About the StoryThe first time I ever saw someone play a text adventure was in fifth grade. One of the sixth-graders didn't go to outdoor ed, and therefore spent the week in my fifth-grade classroom, playing Scott Adams's Impossible Mission on a TRS-80 while the rest of us did our schoolwork. At recess we crowded around him and shouted out commands to try. I really wanted a turn at the keyboard, but this guy wouldn't let anyone else near it. It would be another couple of years before I played a text adventure myself.
My big chance came when my father signed up for the Dow Jones online service, which offered not just stock listings but sports scores, movie reviews, Grolier's Encyclopedia, and a small selection of games, among which was Adventure. A bargain at a mere $144/hour! (In 1984 dollars!) Fortunately for my father's bank account, I eventually learned about Orange County's free BBSes, most of which were WWIV boards written in Pascal. Borland's Turbo Pascal let you swap in external modules called "door games," some of which were text adventures, and I've had the code to a few of these kicking around for (ulp!) a quarter of a century now. For a long time I've thought that it might be kind of fun to port one over to Inform, and I finally found the time to do so. Warning! These things were not exactly up to Infocom standards, let alone those of the modern day. This is a nostalgia project. Swords, trolls, magic spells, hit points. But no acoustic coupler necessary!
Nominee, Best Puzzles - 2012 XYZZY Awards
Rock Paper Shotgun
Look, the gameís brilliant. Go play it. Itís free, for goodness sakes Ė what have you got to lose. Would you like a score to convince you? I give it 50 fountain pens out of a typewriter. You donít need to know anything, because youíre not meant to know anything.
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Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
Endless, Nameless is Adam Cadreís latest game. The surrounding text claims that itís the relic of the bulletin board age, but anyone familiar with Adamís oeuvre wonít be surprised to know thereís a bit more to it than a retro remake. Thereís no way to write a substantive review without addressing the ways in which it takes a twist, though; itís worth playing enough to find out just exactly how itís going to be not what you think. So please consider giving it a try before reading on.
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It rapidly becomes clear, however, that this is not simply an ingenious hint system. These parallel worlds comment, not just on each other, but on interactive fiction both as an art and as a community. Layers of meaning are gradually revealed.
The "adventure" world is arbitrary, apparently thinly implemented, Infocom-era; it exists only for the sake of action -- and though there is almost nothing to see, there is plenty to achieve. The "interlife" world is described in detail, richly textured, full of multi-layered detail. But nothing can be done there; it is a place in which the most that one can hope to do is to acquire information. It is passive, enervate. The puzzles and "action" of the adventure world -- a world in which things happen -- are more compelling. To return to the adventure world is an escape.
This is, in a sense, playing with fire. Cadre sets up two caricatures: one of "old school" treasure-hunting adventure games, and one of "new wave" puzzle-free exploration and interaction. Each is taken to a sort of extreme, not just warts-and-all but warts-above-all, and the two are allowed to play off each other. Yet, caricatures though they are, they are incredibly finely judged and crafted. The craft and implementation are rock solid; the design subtle and knowing (Spoiler - click to show)(for instance, just as the leaflet in the mailbox points ingenuously at Zork, so the way in which you cross the labyrinth gestures, but far more subtly and in terms of the conceit that one is playing an "old school" adventure anachronistically, towards the most famous device in Cadre's Photopia)
And the message, too, is subtle. For the argument (and the real story) emerges not in either of these worlds, and not even in the contrast between them, but in their interaction. A back story is gradually revealed, and the back story poses questions about creativity in interactive fiction in an absorbing way. As the game proceeds, the back story comes to dominate the action, and this lays the ground for a fascinating endgame.
All this, I thought, worked superbly. What I found more difficult was a set of reflections on artistic communities, and probably the interactive fiction community in particular. Since this can hardly be discussed without giving away quite a bit about the ending of the game, I'm going to spoiler-tag the whole discussion.
(Spoiler - click to show)
At the bottom of the heap (literally) are "trolls". They are, EN indicates, poison to a community: they cannot be reasoned with, ignored, or conquered. Any contact with them sullies. The only solution is to exclude them, point blank. Not much higher than the trolls, however, are "hangers on": people who having entered the community by participating in its proper activities are now simply using it as a site for undirected and pointless social activities -- not directly destructive (as the trolls are) but parasitic and ultimately damaging. Above them are those who actively participate in and create the "adventure world". And still further above are those who have "got a life" -- who have appreciated that no amount of care will enable the artifice of the adventure world to resemble the subtlety of the real one.
Perhaps it's not fair to treat this as a sermon (Cadre himself has said that it isn't didactic); though it is couched in terms which seem to me to invite that reading, rather explicitly. As a diagnosis of community ills it's arguably reductive, simplistic, even inhumane. It insists of classifying not behaviour, but people. And there seemed to be (but perhaps it is my imagination) a degree of venom about it. As a more-or-less outsider to the community, it is hard to put my finger on what is going on; but this aspect of the game had the slightly uncomfortable feeling of walking in on the aftermath of someone else's marital row.
All in all, it's a great piece -- in many ways a brilliant piece. It has many levels, and many of them are impressive, thought-provoking and enjoyable, even if seasoned by a hint of acid.
It starts out simple: you are the hero in a game called Nameless Quest (formerly known as Endless Quest) and you have to rid the land of an evil dragon.
You have to solve puzzles to learn magic and to get weapons. They are generally hard, but logical, and asking for hints is encouraged.
The story might seem a bit thin at the beginning, but slowly expands as you progress in the game, which I found very intriguing. You're not only working towards your quest, but also uncovering a greater mystery; and without spoiling too much: dying is important, and the game is quite meta.
I especially liked the writing, it's humorous overall and manages very well to create a fitting atmosphere.
All in all, I'm extremely impressed by Endless, Nameless. It's a great synthesis between puzzles and story, humor and mystery, between classic adventure and innovation. I've played it for many hours, hunting for easter eggs and finding all the beautiful and horrible endings, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
This game appeals to all three groups; on one hand, the game world is fairly open and completely forgiving, allowing explorers to try other areas when they are stuck on a given puzzle.
On the other hand, the hint system is embodied in a large group of NPCs with fun personalities. Even better, some of the hints are wrong, as the NPCs have imperfect knowledge of the world.
The gameplay is most similar to Heroes, with a magic system and a lot of find-item-use-item puzzles.
The one annoying part was having to repeat the same basic commands over and over again. The "record" command is very helpful, although I won without it.
Unlike many similar games, the endgame was very rewarding.
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