intfiction.org

The Interactive Fiction Community Forum
It is currently Thu Oct 18, 2018 7:55 am

All times are UTC - 6 hours [ DST ]




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 7 posts ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2018 6:54 am 
Offline
User avatar

Joined: Thu Aug 22, 2013 2:48 pm
Posts: 44
Hibernated 1: This Place is Death (R6) by Stefan Vogt

Stefan Vogt has released the first part of a planned trilogy of interactive stories for the Commodore 64. It is authored in Quill, a text adventure editing system from Gilsoft. The original version of Quill was released commercially in 1983, but the software is still maintained and runs on a variety of 8-bit platforms.

The game is available for download here. It can be played using the Vice C64 emulator.

In my review, I will apply modern standards and expectations. Much has happened since the Colossal Cave Adventure was written over 40 years ago. Interactive fiction is by now a mature art form, both in terms of literary qualities and puzzle design.

Of course, there's a certain charm in using vintage systems, and exploring an oldschool adventure can be enjoyable on its own merits. I also understand that this is a labour of love, and I am very happy that people are still making games for the Commodore 64. That alone is enough reason for me to encourage everybody to try this game!

Still, I have to be fair. Let's begin with the writing.

Hibernated 1 tells the story of Olivia Lund, who has been “in hypersleep for more than 200 years” on an “interplanetary exploration mission”, but something has gone terribly wrong and now she is awake, alone in space, and there's a gigantic alien vessel nearby.

Room descriptions are succinct and to the point, as one would expect in a story designed for a 40x25 display. There are occasional cutscenes and bits of backstory that are more verbose, and this provides some variety, which is welcome. The biggest problem with the writing, in my opinion, is the irregular tone. Most of it is stoic, pragmatic, even bland:

Code:
        >EXAMINE CABINET
        It contains various medical supplies.
        >EXAMINE RIFLE
        This weapon supports two modes: paralyze and disintegrate.


Some of it is melodramatic:

Code:
        The more you see, the more you fear that death may be the only thing
        waiting here for you, underneath the surface, lurking in the dark.


And some of it is humorous:

Code:
        >EXAMINE COMPUTER
        Ready to mess around with some gene pools?


Code:
        >EXAMINE LOCKER
        As if the Bauhaus style and the thing from another world conceived a
        child.


These various styles are so different, and the contrast is so jarring, that it becomes difficult for the reader to remain immersed in the story. At points, it is difficult to know how much of the story reflects the stream-of-consciousness of a protagonist who likes to jump to conclusions, and to what extent an omniscient narrator is supplying additional information that the protagonist couldn't possibly know:

Code:
        All walls seem to be made of an unknown red metal. The colour may have
        had a calming effect on the alien builders.


Code:
        This computer controls the functions of the alien ship. Like all
        positronic systems, he or she must have an own consciousness.


In that last quote, the narrator veers into technobabble. This happens increasingly in the later parts of the game, and it is probably a deliberate stylistic choice by the author, because it is so common in science fiction in general. Personally, though, I find it annoying.

I hasten to add that there's good writing too. The setting is evocative, and most locations make functional sense in the context of the story. I felt a little bit scared going into some places on the alien spacecraft. There's a nice, memorable passage in the ending cutscene, that I obviously can't quote for spoiler reasons.

There's a really clever in-story rationale for why everything is laid out in squares and right angles: “The 24th century is known for the emergence of crystalline architecture [...]”. In fact, that's exemplary interactive fiction writing! A technical restriction is given just the right amount of lampshading, and we get a bit of world-building, all in a few, economical words.

But then, in other places, the suspension of disbelief breaks down completely. At the very beginning, we wake up in interstellar space, and the only exit is EAST. How does that I don't even.

Of course, compass directions are a genre convention, but in games where it would seem counter-intuitive to use them, one would expect some kind of diegetic rationale. Some games that take place aboard (space-)ships use FORE, AFT, STARBOARD and PORT (F/A/S/P), but that shouldn't be necessary. Just be sure to include a few words about why the protagonist decides to use compass directions.

The implementation of the game world is very shallow by modern standards. This may in part be due to platform restrictions, which is unfortunate because it gives the work a sloppy appearence.

Surely, Olivia's primary task in her situation would be to investigate, explore and examine. But in the game, in most situations, it turns out that examining is “not an option”. Even the most conspicuous of objects lack descriptions. The following is a typical exchange:

Code:
        BRIDGE The heart of the Polaris-7 is dominated by a huge 180 degree
        window. A large object obscures the stars in the field of vision,
        certainly of extraterrestial origin, slowly drifting like a dead giant
        in icy waters. Two cockpit chairs are located in front of the main
        console, where countless lights dance. The exit is located in the
        SOUTH.

        >EXAMINE WINDOW
        This is not an option.
        >EXAMINE OBJECT
        This is not an option.
        >EXAMINE CHAIRS
        This is not an option.
        >EXAMINE CONSOLE
        This is not an option.
        >EXAMINE LIGHTS
        This is not an option.
        >EXAMINE EXIT
        This is not an option.
        >HINT
        Examine a lot for useful information.


Now, in this game, room descriptions tend to be followed by an explicit list of objects that “you notice”. Given the constraints of the platform, this is a fair compromise, as it keeps the program small. But sometimes there are words in the room descriptions that do have corresponding examine-text, despite not appearing in the explicit list. So in order to fully explore the game world, the player still has to examine everything that's mentioned, which means that the player has to wade through all those error messages, which hurts immersion.

The parser is very primitive. Again, this is a constrained platform, but even in the 1980s, InfoCom were releasing text games for the Commodore 64 with a much more sophisticated parser. I will add, however, that the Quill engine responds to commands faster than InfoCom's Z-machine does.

One particular problem with the parser is that the verb PUT (which is distinct from DROP) only takes a direct object, and ignores the rest of the sentence. Before I realised this, I experienced some confusing moments, such as the following:

Code:
        You notice:
        [...]
        specimen cube
        interface cube
        [...]
        >PUT SPIDER IN SPECIMEN CUBE
        You put it in the interface cube.


But after I had realised it, I began using PUT as a default action verb, that I would just try with various random objects in different rooms to see what happened. “PUT IO” was a hit in several locations.

Generally, I found that I was spending more time trying to figure out what exact phrase the author had in mind, than trying to solve the mystery of the alien spacecraft, or solving the practical problems that were impeding the progress of the protagonist.

Code:
 
        >USE CONNECTOR
        This must be built into Io to help you.
        >PUT CONNECTOR INTO IO
        This must be built into Io to help you.
        >BUILD CONNECTOR INTO IO
        This is not an option.
        >PUT CONNECTOR
        This must be built into Io to help you.


But then, trying the same thing in the laboratory:

Code:
        >PUT CONNECTOR
        Io: "That is a useful upgrade!"


After the fact, I can sort of figure out that perhaps the connector was built into Io using the tools available in the laboratory. But I think this should have been narrated more clearly.

There is a well-known litmus test for the quality of a text game. It is as simple as it is effective: Does the author credit any testers?

In the case of Hibernated 1, the answer is no, and it shows. Any author will of course test their own game thoroughly. But in interactive fiction, players are supposed to solve problems. The brain works in mysterious ways, and it turns out that when you know a solution to a particular problem, it becomes really hard to think of alternative solutions. Authors cannot look at the in-game puzzles that they created, and see what the player sees. External testers are the instrument by which authors can observe what is otherwise invisible to them.

The following frustrating exchange could easily have been anticipated by testing, and then improved by adding more constructive responses:

Code:
        >EXAMINE RIFLE
        This weapon supports two modes: paralyze and disintegrate.
        >USE RIFLE
        Specify a mode.
        >USE RIFLE IN PARALYZE MODE
        Specify a mode.
        >USE RIFLE TO PARALYZE DROID
        Specify a mode.
        >SPECIFY MODE
        It's not gonna work that way.
        >SPECIFY PARALYZE
        This is not an option.
        >SET RIFLE TO PARALYZE
        This is not an option.
        >PARALYZE DROID
        This is not an option.
        >PARALYZE SPIDERS
        Using paralyze mode: sleep tight!


I think a big part of the frustration comes from the fact that parser errors (phrases that don't make sense to the game engine) are communicated using the same messages as failed actions (things the protagonist refused to do, or tried without success). When an action fails, the response should ideally contain a subtle hint to nudge the player towards the intended solution.

Testing would also help smoothe out some rough corners:

Code:
 
        ANY DIRECTION allows you to leave.
        >UP
        You can't go in that direction.
        >SE
        You can't go in that direction.


I repeatedly ran into situations where I'd obtained an object in some way (cutting something off with a knife, taking a sample, writing a note), and then walked across the entire map to try to use it somewhere, only to discover that it had been left on the floor rather than in my inventory. I am positive that proper testing would have revealed this problem to the author.

If we look past the problems with the parser, I'd say that the puzzles in this game are fairly good. Most of them could be described as straightforward fetch quests or lock-and-key problems, but even so they're quite varied. There is one particularly good puzzle that requires some lateral thinking.

In conclusion, this is a nice game with a frustrating parser. The puzzles are solid, althugh in many cases the writing could have been improved to support the puzzles better, to ensure that the player has some sense of what their goal is before they accidentally stumble over the solution. Some of the puzzles are insufficiently hinted, in part due to the primitive parser and the very limited set of responses to failed actions. The writing is occasionally good, but hampered by an ill-advised attempt to combine the eerie with the zany.

Looking back, I'm happy that I played this game to completion, even though there were some flaws and annoyances. I strongly encourage the author to go ahead and write the sequels as planned. But this time, please, please, please find some testers!


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Wed May 09, 2018 2:48 am 
Offline

Joined: Wed May 09, 2018 12:06 am
Posts: 4
I'm not sure what to make of this review to be honest.

You shouldn't compare the game to modern standards as it is clearly intended to NOT being played on modern platforms and with modern expectations in mind. If the target would have been a modern piece of IF, the game would have been developed in Inform, where you don't have to overcome limitations and don't need to figure out 20 times how you manage to get a whole adventure game into 64k of RAM.

Even classic Science Fiction games like Infocom's Starfall uses N, S, E, W to navigate on starships. FORE, AFT, STARBOARD and PORT would absolutely confuse a player knowing and expecting classic adventure controls - they are the target audience. Much might be different in modern IF but like I said, the game clearly wants to be understood as a classic piece of adventure software. And it was common having funny responses in classic adventure games, even if the overall background story is serious. I assume you didn't grow up with 8-bit machines and maybe didn't play much of the classics. I deliberately used the terminus adventure game rather than IF because I actually do think there is a difference.

Technobabble? This is a Science Fiction game. A major part of the story is to modify Io to a be positronic chipset. The story has fundamental roots in Asimov's "The Positronic Man" and the wonderful Perry Rhodan series. Isaac just turned in his grave.

Two more things to mention: 1) the things you urgently need to interact with (examine or whatever) to complete the game are displayed in yellow (as objects), which are all items available under "You notice" and the items you carry. You don't have to examine the red wall or the 180 degree window, btw. the room description in the bridge already describes what the view out of the window looks like. Yes, some words only visible in room descriptions can be examined, for example the hygiene module in the private area or the star map near the end. The aim was to to implement some funny content (because all these interactions are basically hidden jokes), adding some more interactivity by maintaining a strict policy to not waste any precious byte. 2) The game came bundled with an extensive documentation that gave major hints and also explained the most common words you need to use to solve the game. "Put" was not one of those words. It doesn't feel right to judge gameplay without considering the documentation. "Put" is a synonym for "use", like "operate". If you want to drop a thing, you need to write "drop". You notably ignore the first sentences in the "controls" section of the documentation which say: "Hibernated is a text-only adventure. It works with a two-word-logic, e.g. EAT APPLE, EXAMINE CUPBOARD." I thought that is clear enough.

The game was extensively tested by more than 15 individuals, all very familiar with the genre of classic adventure games. We give them credit in the physical release of the game later this year. Just because there are no in-game credits and no credits in the documentation doesn't mean it was not tested. Upon the testers were some adventure legends like Tim Gilberts of Gilsoft, the publisher of "The Quill". He created and released adventure games long before we even stopped wearing diapers.

The game has been reviewed by professionals that already reviewed adventure games in the 80s, it has been praised by 8-bit enthusiasts and critics alike and will be featured in this year's "Zzap!64 Annual" and "Crash Annual". It notably has been recognized as a homage to the classic adventure games that incorporates a few modern aspects and desires.

Yes, I am the author of Hibernated. I notably appreciate your efforts to review this game. Personally I think comparing a classic adventure to modern IF is like comparing your 80s Casio Calculator watch to your smartphone. The game database has 272 bytes free now until all the 64k of the C64 are consumed in memory. The development pretty much was taking a good middle course rather than implementing everything that might be possible, which is simply impossible on a limited machine. I'm glad that you retrospectively enjoyed playing the game. You probably would have enjoyed it even a bit more when you stayed close to the documentation :)

Best,
Stefan


Last edited by 8bit_era on Mon May 14, 2018 11:25 am, edited 4 times in total.

Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Fri May 11, 2018 7:54 am 
Offline
User avatar

Joined: Thu Aug 22, 2013 2:48 pm
Posts: 44
Stefan,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. I believe we are looking at this game from two very different perspectives, and yours is at least as valid as mine.

I did not realise that you were striving to emulate the writing style and puzzle design of a particular era, including the quirks and idiosyncracies that would be considered flaws today. If the irregular tone was a stylistic choice, then, embarrassingly enough, that went over my head completely.

8bit_era wrote:
It's not a modern piece of software.


The thing is, I have come across so many recent games for the Commodore 64, including several titles from the label you work with, Pond Software, that greatly surpass the typical quality of games from the 1980s. Usually the gameplay is smoother and more forgiving, loading times are much faster, and the pixel graphics are crafted using refined techniques that simply had not been invented back then. So I simply assumed that this, too, was a modern game for a vintage platform. And if I could make that mistake, so could others. Hopefully my review will be helpful to them.

I did have the documentation at hand while playing, and it does indeed mention a two-word logic. But I also looked up the Quill system online, and found that the most recent version includes a four-word parser. And in the game itself, I found that I could "TURN ON FLASHLIGHT" (but not "TURN FLASHLIGHT" or "TURN ON"). Based on this contradictory evidence, I had no choice but to conclude that there was an oversight in the documentation. Again, it would be very helpful for players if the parser could be made to provide more detailed error messages. If you do not worry about tone, then even a blunt message such as “you can't use multiple objects with that verb” would do wonders for playability.

I am glad that you did have testers after all! I am somewhat surprised by it, though. In this game, when the protagonist takes a blood sample from a specimen, it doesn't end up in her inventory. Instead, she apparently puts it on the floor, and this fact is never mentioned. When I played the game I went to the laboratory to analyse the sample, only to discover that I wasn't holding it. Surely, if fifteen people tested this game, at least one of them would have made the same mistake? And when you studied their transcripts you would have noticed that they had to walk all the way back to fetch the sample from the floor? While I am no Quill expert, I assume it would be straightforward to make the blood sample appear in the inventory instead of the current room. And I don't think it would exhaust the 272 bytes you claim you have left.

8bit_era wrote:
The game database has 272 bytes free now until all the 64k of the C64 are consumed in memory.


But you are only using 40 kB! I took the liberty of studying your program in a machine code monitor, and the entire area $a000-$ffff is unused. I know that this memory is a bit more cumbersome to work with for technical reasons, but it's there.

And this brings us to a very interesting question: If you could make your game 150% larger, and use that extra space exclusively to improve playability, adding helpful responses, nudging the player towards the intended path, smoothing out the rough edges... would you do it?

Or would you rather sacrifice readership in order to recreate, as authentically as possible, an oldschool adventure game experience of which frustration and roughness are essential parts?

Best regards,
Linus


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun May 13, 2018 9:36 am 
Offline

Joined: Wed May 09, 2018 12:06 am
Posts: 4
Please understand that I won't discuss fundamental design decisions.

Best,
Stefan


Last edited by 8bit_era on Mon May 14, 2018 11:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun May 13, 2018 11:03 am 
Offline

Joined: Sun Dec 31, 2017 10:49 am
Posts: 4
I think the way of reviewing something comes down to expectations going in.

You can either review in knowledge of these platform constraints, or without knowledge of these constraints. In 1989, when Tetris was reviewed for the gameboy, I'm sure a criticism was not that it "lacks colour". I expect a review to be cognisant of the context in which media sits.

I think the thing is that Hibernated (1) is a QUILL'd text adventure.

QUILL adventure games were enormously (relatively speaking) popular in Europe in the 80s and early 90s. They are also anachronistic and well-understood in their strengths (high parser speed, colourful text, ease of development, relative memory efficiency), and their drawbacks (two word parser, limited system flags, lack of per-entity attributes, poor NPC support, inability to dynamically load resources from disk, requirement to load entire adventure into RAM). All these platform constraints are known. Reviews of the era usually simply stated that an adventure was QUILL'd if it was QUILL'd then the constraints of the QUILL would not be the focus of the review.

In my view, Hibernated is an excellent adventure game, compared to its peers from the 80s which are based on the same technology. I love the coloured text accents and context sensitive help, something that was very rare in games of this type. I found the research mechanic quite refreshing too. Having a two word parser was just something I knew going in, it didn't bother me - except in one place.

That isn't to say that I disagree with every criticism of the game. Yes, there are some tonal shifts between certain responses, but again, this was very common in the era of adventures, and Hibernated is way way better than adventures of this era in both its prose and number of responses. I also struggled a bit with "ON FLAS", but it is what it is. It's an old-school text adventure, warts-and-all. You can't escape the two word parser. A text adventure doesn't need to be perfectly written or even non frustrating to be perfectly enjoyable.

Quill games are unabashedly puzzle-driven and invited players to type EXAM ...., EXAM ....., EXAM ....,. In the modern mindset, this is needless and laborious. But it is part of the anachronism of a retro text adventure (in the quill style).

There were many many terrible quill adventure games, including some commercial ones. The main problems were empty game world, obtuse puzzles, lack of synonyms, poor text, lack of responses, unwinnable states, and much much more. Hibernated has none of those problems.

Interactive Fiction and Text Adventure games are not really the same. One is more art than anachronistic game mechanics, the other is more anachronism than art - and yet both have their fans. To judge a quill adventure against an infocom adventure is not fair really.

Infocom adventures are something else entirely, and for vast swathes of European C64 owners, they could not play these games anyway - as disk drives were way too expensive. In Europe, the majority of C64 owners only had a tape recorder - which is why the quill is such a good tool. There were no commercially available adventure game engines available for the C64 at this point in time. Even Inform (compiling to the z machine) struggles to produce adventure games that would fit into the memory constraints of the C64.

Speaking for myself only, I didn't want to read a story, I wanted to navigate a game, with objects and puzzles. Obviously having a compelling scenario is important, but when you are memory constrained, prose must take a backseat to game.

At the end of the day, and in my opinion, it's a well written and anachronistic text adventure game, which is what it set out to be. I understand it's not for everyone but I think it would have done well commercially and critically if released in Europe, on tape, around 1985 or 1986. I look forward to seeing what comes next in the series.


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sat May 26, 2018 4:22 am 
Offline
User avatar

Joined: Tue Nov 17, 2009 5:25 pm
Posts: 952
Honestly, I understand the possibility of someone not knowing and understanding the limitations of Quill in 2018. I can see where this is coming from. I'm not one of those people, as my only recurring nightmare is "OHNOES NOBODY WILL EVER MAKE AN ADVENTURE GAME TODAY".

Fortunately, that's not the case.

Being 45, I've grown up with games like H1. Except, they were not AT ALL like H1. They were a useless pile of guess-the-verbs and of impossible, unforeseeable puzzles. H1 is not like this. It is a fun game from the 80s, yeah, but with a lot of modern era thoughtfulness.

Then, there are the limitations.

38k or RAM is not enough to give a proper response to anything the player can think of. As a writer, I can relate: the amount of text included in THE VERY FIRST SCENE of Apocalypse -- text nobody will ever know, as it revolves around describing an environment during a railroaded talk script: take your time and try and look and interact with all you see in that beach... -- is itself probably larger than the C64 complete memory.
So: it is expected that a game in Quill will not have an answer for everything. Or the correct one, that is.

This makes so that the hardest puzzle of the game are the game limitations themselves. Once you understood (this is not a spoiler, it's an ADVICE) that objects may REACT DIFFERENTLY to the SAME COMMAND after something happens (this is stated in the instructions tbh, one should just take care of what he reads), it's pretty much downhill.

In H1 you (almost) never have to guess the verb. You actually can finish the game using 5/6 verbs (directions not included). You just have to keep in mind that that particular object will react to USE (nice verb, btw) once that other object has been triggered, EVEN IF THE GAME FORETELLS YOU OTHERWISE. Once you figure this out, you win the game.

There's a couple of things I could say about H1, but I'm not going to do it. This is not a review, but an attempt on helping casual players. Hope it serves someone.

---

Ps: Stefan. I fell into your same gravel pit, during my very first days as an IF writer, so I can relate. Just take this as an advice, if you wish:

Do not respond in frustration to a bad critic. Don't respond to critics AT ALL, unless you have to say "thank you for playing my game". I personally learned more from that bad review by Emily Short than from 24 years in trying and making games. It seemed unfair at the time, but that particular review made me win the IFcomp one year later. Single-handedly.

Take your time and analyze any single criticism, if you wish. Then make of it what you want. But -- for your own sake -- don't aggro on players. They are always right. Even when they are wrong. (Emily was: Awakening is pretty awesome--on release 2, at least!).

---

PPS: I'm almost finished with H1. The good news are two: 1) I'm loving this game, and hope more will come in the future; 2) It started me on a new one. The world needs more Text Adventures, and I think I can do them.

LLandP.


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sat May 26, 2018 11:19 am 
Offline

Joined: Wed May 09, 2018 12:06 am
Posts: 4
Hi James, thank you so much for the kind words. Also, thanks for playing the game and I'm glad you enjoy it :)

I'm actually very open to criticism and use it to improve myself and the things I do, thanks sharing your experience with bad critic.

Looking forward to your new game, be sure to share! Hibernated is a trilogy, Part 2 will be released next year. The physical release for Hibernated 1 comes with a bonus adventure that tells an untold part of the Hibernated 1 events. It's also worth to mention that the game is not only released for C64, but also for ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and C128 (80 columns mode).

Best,
Stefan


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 7 posts ] 

All times are UTC - 6 hours [ DST ]


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: techniX and 4 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group