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Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It

by Jeff O'Neill

Wordplay
1987

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A spotty Infocom game with great highlights, June 16, 2019
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours
This is an interesting game. With wordplay games, the question is, how can you make a game about wordplay that lasts long? One answer is to follow Emily Short's example and just put tons of content into a game (Counterfeit Monkey).

This game achieves its length through unfairness. Parts of this game (it's basically several mini-games put together) are wonderful: Buy the Farm was particularly good, as was the Shopping Bizarre. Those two would make a wonderful game pulled out on their own, one relying on American English sayings and the other on homonyms.

Some parts of this game don't make any sense. I didn't understand In a Manor of Speaking (which btw is also the name of a great Hulk Handsome game) at all, and looking it up, I still haven't found a good explanation at all. I believe having the Doldrums was a mistake, because it made you think everything else had a gimmick (like Gary Larson's infamous Cow Tools cartoon).

But if the game wasn't unfair, it wouldn't last very long. The only way I've seen fair wordplay games achieve length is through tons of content, like I said. Andrew Schultz does this with exhaustive code-enhanced wordspace searches. Shuffling Around is a good example of this.

I also like the Act your Part session. It was nonsensical, but I was able to get a lot of points just doing dumb stuff.

I played the version released by Zarf who was re-releasing Jason Scott's releasing of previously unreleased Infocom releases.

Comments on this review

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Andrew Schultz, June 18, 2019 - Reply
Thanks for the hat tip. I remember the Bizarre being super easy when I played it as a (pre-?)teen. I also liked that you didn't have to solve *everything* to get through it, which was sort of novel for Infocom games. (I missed the (Spoiler - click to show)aunts sub-quest.)

I also liked Buy the Farm and appreciated the hint system, too. I think I also appreciated Eat your Words on replay--I learned a lot about idioms and cliches I hadn't heard yet in both, even though EyW feels more forced. Shake a Tower gave me a lifelong love of spoonerisms, even (or especially) forced ones.

Yeah, I agree In a Manor of Speaking was the weakest, and Act the Part took second place, as they were both Zarfian Cruel--but I still like them a lot. The finale felt jumbled too. It was tough to know what to do. Some of the puzzles still seem obscure.

I thought back to the Bizarre a lot when tweaking Shuffling, because I liked its straightforwardness, and I wanted to allow for some optional points. I think the first release had only the (Spoiler - click to show)antlers, but later I put in a (Spoiler - click to show)banshee, and I have something in every region.

Shuffling came about after thinking back to Nord and Bert, wondering what they could've done with more disk space and processing power. I'm still impressed the game got churned out so quickly and has so many ideas. The ones that don't work...well, they don't ruin the ones that really do. It's cool the game exists at all, and I still derive inspiration from it.
MathBrush, June 18, 2019 - Reply
Thatís a great analysis of the games and an interesting description of your writing process!
Andrew Schultz, June 29, 2019 - Reply
Thanks, I could really rattle on about it, but discussing it helped push me to do some more work on Shuffling/Roiling that I needed to do & also tweak some usability stuff.

My thoughts on the separate areas can be all over the place, but it's neat how the sub-areas had different sizes, and way back when, I appreciated having passwords to skip certain areas, since saving via disk could be frustrating. (Blank disks were valuable and tough to organize. I was constantly worried I'd save over another Infocom game.)

Nord and Bert was also one of the first games I remembered where you largely didn't use directions. One thing I forgot about the Bizarre making things simple was how you could move between aisles easily by just saying their names, instead of going north, south, whatever. This doesn't actually save keystrokes now, but in the 80s, it meant a lot less disk-loading time. It probably had a lot of other nice things like that I forgot. It's quite possible I only remember this because Jimmy Maher wrote about it.

That reminds me. I forget if they actually did anything with (Spoiler - click to show)aisle/isle in Shopping Bizarre.

I think I already mentioned how I enjoyed it bent the rules right a lot, and sometimes it bent the rules wrong, but that's ok, because we don't have to dwell on that. So it's been inspirational to me in that I have a concrete example of, it's okay to risk breaking the rules (badly) wrong to try something new, and people don't remember the failures, especially if they can use the password to skip Manor of Speaking.
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