In place of a strict review of The Quest, a decent enough game for
the time, I'm going to discuss Interactive Fiction and the way
players have been trained to play games within this genre. Games
will be spoiled either in total or partially but they're all old
games or very short concept games.
A game written by David Baggett in 1994 called + =
3: A Controversial but Nevertheless Logical Adventure describes
itself as difficult but not impossible. Only one problem exists in
the game: giving three items to a troll so that you can get past.
The player has one item in his inventory: a calculator. The goal is
to discover what other items to give the troll so that you can get
Playing games like The Quest and Aztec Tomb
Adventure brought this odd little game back into my memory because
while the game describes itself as difficult, it is nowhere close to
as difficult as the commercial games designed during the eighties.
After playing + = 3, players used to the new
Interactive Fiction style claim the solution to the puzzle is unfair
because it goes against the things they've learned while playing
Interactive Fiction. One of the things they've apparently learned is
to think of the main character as simply a backpack and a pair of
hands. Once a player allows themselves to picture the scene and put
themselves in the shoes of the protagonist, the puzzle basically
solves itself. Especially since it brings to mind shoes. And
possibly socks. And the pants you're character is probably wearing.
And maybe his shirt or his underwear if you don't mind nuding it up
The puzzle is only difficult because players have
learned to play Interactive Fiction a certain way. Useful items are
located in your inventory. Useful items are mentioned. Useful items
should not have to be suddenly thought of without the game ever
acknowledging the item at least once, somewhere.
And since the last 10-15 years of Interactive
Fiction has been created by players for other players to play for
free, they've, more or less, stuck to a certain number of tenets
regarding how games should be played. Puzzles can be difficult and,
many times, nearly impossible. But the solution should always be
logical. The solution should make the player smile at the beauty of
it and then go sit and chastise themselves for the next few days
while they feel guilty about having looked up the solution on the
internet instead of giving themselves time to think it through and
possibly solve it themselves. Games with unfair puzzles that make
you wonder why the solution worked even after reading the
walkthrough are given low ratings and scorned.
But the interactive fiction of today is a far
different monster than the commercial releases that spawned the
entire genre. An average walkthrough of a text or graphical
adventure can usually be run in five to fifteen minutes, depending
on how fast you type and how many locations are actually in the
game. Nobody wanted to pay $20-$40 for a game that would end up on
the shelf after one day of playing. So commercial games often had
one or two puzzles that were so unfair as to put to shame the basic
premise of + = 3.
Since this is a review of The Quest, let's start
with that adventure. The game really boils down to just doing a lot
of mapping and then figuring out one puzzle: How do you keep the
young dragon alive before you get it to its mother? On the surface,
this puzzle isn't unfair at all. Except for the part where the Young
Dragon dies without any communication to the player until the player
LOOKS AT THE YOUNG DRAGON and the game responds, The young dragon is
dead. Or until the player, not having been told the young dragon has
died, takes the dead baby dragon into the mother's lair and gets the
whole empire destroyed because of it.
After examination or by being a fairly perceptive
player immersed in the story, you can figure out that the dragon
dies when it gets wet by going under the waterfall. In today's
Interactive Fiction, the game would have a beautiful description of
the baby dragon dying as it gets covered in water. It would point to
the player that this was the problem that needed to be solved. For
the commercial adventure game market, this clue to the player would
have been foolish and cut down a lot of the so-called game time of
The Quest. The writers of these games seemed to think that expanding
game was most easily done by creating a problem for the player but
making the problem a complete and utter mystery to the player. The
player would spend hours trying to find out why something was
happening. Once the player determined what the problem was, the
solution was usually not quite as difficult to come by.
The Quest allows for a couple of methods of getting
the dragon cub out of his cave without killing him. One is
completely fair if you know what an Oilskin is. I'm sure most
players, being of the Dungeons & Dragons age, would have just
read Oilskin as Flask of Oil and never used it to cover the Young
Dragon. Although even with that method, you ran the risk of
suffocating the dragon with the oilskin if you didn't let him out
immediately. Again, the game never told you that this happened. The
Young Dragon just ended up dead if you looked at it.
The other method of freeing the Young Dragon was
probably very easy for a few people and just about impossible for
everyone else. The Quest used graphics and text to help the player
navigate the game. Most of the 200 or so locations used pictures
that were either exactly like other pictures (Roads, Tunnels,
Forests) or filled with things that didn't mean anything. When the
player alternates to the text page, the game shows the locations and
items at the location. And here is where things become a bit unfair.
By the time the player has wandered around this huge world, finding
nothing at all to interact with, the player begins to ignore the
items that can be seen in the graphics but not listed in the text.
So the pit with the gold and the snakes and the chests is seen as a
pit with gold you can't pick up and snakes that come out and bite
you if you don't leave after one round of actions.
The game expects you to open the chests seen in the
graphics even though the text doesn't list the chests at all. And
when the game won't even let you get the gold because Gorn is a jerk
and thinks more gold is somehow a bad thing, the player can easily
decide that the pit is uninteresting and never come back to find the
magic carpet that will allow the player to fly the Young Dragon down
from the cliff.
The Aztec Tomb Adventures I played were even worse
than The Quest. I could see somebody eventually coming back to the
Snake Pit because they've tried everything else for months. But in
Aztec Tomb Adventures, finding the Small Key by having to search the
cellar only when you're wearing the cloak is laughable. It's not
even a puzzle. It's just something the player has to randomly hit
upon. Either you find it early and have no idea that you only found
it because you were wearing the cloak or you never find it at all
because you search the cellar before wearing the cloak. Now you've
got it in your mind that there was nothing in the cellar and nothing
in the game would lead you to believe that the cloak somehow allowed
you to find objects that you couldn't find before.
Perhaps many of the problems with these early games
is that conventions were not yet established. So a game player would
be coming fresh to many of these games and learning as they played.
Puzzles were not really unfair because they didn't play against
established rules. Except sometimes they even broke the rules they
set for themselves! So Aztec Tomb Revisited actually starts with a
page of helpful game playing tips. It explains that you can LOOK and
see items that can only be EXAMINED. Then you can LOOK ROOM to see
items that can be taken. And items that can be examined early in the
game really can be examined. But then the game breaks its own rule!
Items which can be seen when you LOOK have a different description
when you EXAMINE them than when you LOOK at them. What player who
has come new to the game and read the game's own rules is suddenly
going to think that EXAMINING and LOOKING at an item are going to
reveal different things about the item?
Not all games of the time resorted to lengthening
the game by using unfair puzzles. Infocom tended to have big
environments and tough puzzles. But they were generally quite
logical. I remember beating Trinity without ever getting a hint. I
probably played that game for over a year off and on before working
out the entire game. But I can't ever remember beating a Graphic
Adventure no matter how long I played it. Gruds in Space beat me.
Masquerade beat me. Mask of the Sun beat me. The Coveted Mirror beat
me. Unless that was some other kind of mirror.
I'm not picking on Adventure Games with graphics.
Scott Adams had a few weird and unfair things going on in some of
his games although I remember beating at least the first six of his
adventure games. But to beat Mission Impossible, you had to Frisk
Broom. Sure, I eventually tried it. For some reason. But really?
Frisk Broom? Search Broom didn't work, of course. Because that would
have been too easy. Once you frisk the broom and find the keycard
hidden in it, the game is pretty much over.
Players still complain about Guess the Verb type
puzzles. But if a puzzle relies on a Guess the Verb situation in
today's Interactive Fiction, it's seen as a fault of the programmer
and not as a purposefully tough bit to extend game play. Players
expect Interactive Fiction to allow for many synonyms so you don't
get stuck because you tried pushing the rock and it didn't budge. So
why should you ever try shoving the rock? Well, if you paid for the
game in the eighties, you'd better try shoving, pushing, rolling,
moving, maneuvering, tumbling, kicking, and poking.
SPOILERS ON THE COMMODORE 64 VERSION OF THE
I'm not posting a walkthrough of The Quest because
it really only has the one problem that I mentioned earlier in the
review. The rest of the game is merely exploring and discovering
where the adult Dragon is. The Quest was a pretty big game by
Penguin Software also so walkthroughs can be found all over the
internet. But I wasn't able to find a walkthrough for the Commodore
64 version. Most people wouldn't think that was a problem. Just use
the Apple Walkthrough, right?
In the Apple version of The Quest, it seems the
lantern never runs out of power. Also, you can pick the Young Dragon
up as soon as you find him. But in the Commodore 64 version, the
Lantern runs out of fuel fairly quickly. It *might* have enough fuel
for the walkthrough but you only really need it to be on when you
first enter a dark tunnel. After going deeper into the tunnel, you
can TURN OFF LANTERN and be just fine if you have a map handy.
The Young Dragon also won't let you pick it up until
you smell like its mother. So you have to find the adult dragon
first. Which means wandering around using up your light source. I
don't know for sure if you need to speak Dragonese or not when you
meet the mother dragon. If you do, there are three ways to learn it.
Have Lisa in your party by getting the ring in the swamp and then
visiting her house. Pay the hermit 100 Gold. Or buy the Pig Latin
and Dragon Lingua books at the Provisioner in the Castle. Yes, he
sells those books that aren't mentioned anywhere but are in the
picture behind his head. Just type, BUY BOOK and he'll give you the
The Walkthroughs (two different ways to get the
Young Dragon safely) for the Apple version of The Quest will work
for getting the Young Dragon safely. Just remember if you're using
the Commodore 64, you have to visit the Mother Dragon's location
first. And be careful with that lantern fuel!