An Argument


for the

Commodore 64

Published by Penguin Software, 1983.


  Game Title: Sterile.
  Puzzles: More like Puzzle,
  Graphics: Decent but
  Concept: Mapping is fun!
  Fun Time: A few hours as
                    you map locations
                    and realize there
                    isn't much to do.


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 by.

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 a bit.

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 a 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 wound up dead when 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.


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 price list.

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!

Copyright 2006 NA!P