IF Comp 2009: Spelunker’s Quest

Spelunking-2As has been my practice for the last few years, I’ve set my RSS feed to truncate entries so that I can post reviews without spoilerage. Within an entry, there is a short, spoilerless discussion (though the comp purists may want to avoid reading even that before playing for themselves); then spoiler space; then a more detailed discussion of what I thought did and didn’t work in the game.

I’m also pursuing an approach I came up with last year: I’m playing and reviewing games that have listed beta-testers, and skipping those that don’t. Last year that turned out to be a pretty fool-proof indicator of which games were going to end up scoring 4 or less on my personal scale. I’m hoping this will mean I have more time to devote to the remaining games, which in turn will (I hope) be of higher quality, and you, dear reader, will have fewer rants inflicted on you.

Now up: Spelunker’s Quest.

You too can play it if you download the comp games, or even try it online.

I got kind of excited when the game mentioned Brazil at the outset, because I thought we might be in for an Amazonian adventure with a detailed tropical setting and maybe some interesting animals or archaeological artifacts.

But no, that’s not what this is. We have very old-fashioned game design — lots of ways to make the game unwinnable; sudden death rooms; some fairly hard to guess actions and unexpected magical effects. The implementation is reasonably solid of its kind, which is to say that I encountered quite a few unchanged defaults and undescribed objects, but no bugs.

I have the impression from the notes that the author hasn’t met much IF written since the early 80s, and that he was pretty enthused about being able to write an homage to those retro pieces. And he did a fine job of creating what he seems to have wanted to create.

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One thing that did bother me a bit: it appears we’ve stumbled into the goblin’s home, whereupon we kill him and steal all of his stuff. I know it’s a convention of the old-school that monsters are monsters and deserve to die, but it sat a bit wrong with me anyway. Blame my modern sensibilities again, I guess.

9 thoughts on “IF Comp 2009: Spelunker’s Quest

  1. Wow… you know it’s always cool to have an “old-school brought to new-school” game… a game that deals purely with a deadly cave-crawl and treasure, but incorporating all the advances in design that have been developed until today. Like you say, that’s not what this is… this game actually makes “old-school” look like a step forward. I think even the old Infocom games had interesting answers for “examine me”, for example.

    I’ll concede that the author probably succeeded in creating what he wanted to create, but I can’t help but feel a tiny bit annoyed that he didn’t take the time to at least research a little bit about the things that are considered good game design today. Then again, maybe that’s the point…

    • I’ll concede that the author probably succeeded in creating what he wanted to create, but I can’t help but feel a tiny bit annoyed that he didn’t take the time to at least research a little bit about the things that are considered good game design today.

      I suppose that depends on whether you think the point of the comp is for authors to try to hit some ideal sweet spot of what the judges want to play, or for authors to do their best at crafting what they want to write. I can see arguments both ways, and obviously appealing to at least some judges is a prerequisite to placing very high. Still, I preferred this game (enthusiastically executed in what happens to be a very old-school style) to a certain other game in this comp that obeys all the basic rules of modern IF construction but lacks spark and was overtly submitted as a cynical exercise.

      • Ok, having just played the other game I suspect you refer to, I have to agree with you and say that overall I prefer this one, to that one.

  2. A monster should be treated with love and respect; provided that it isn’t charging at you while snarling and brandishing a large, steel axe. If it is, then it should be wasted.

    • Hmm. I guess that’s possible, but I’m not sure why the miner is living down there, as well as working. But I think these may not be the sorts of questions one is supposed to ask of this sort of setting.

      • It’s the goblin’s lair. The goblin carried the miner to his storage room after murdering him. When the PC encounters the goblin with the sword in hand, he has already discovered the miner’s corpse. These things were considered during the design phase.

        If the PC stumbled into Emily’s home, he’d find no corpse and an empty-handed, snarling woman and he’d leave her in peace. He’s a good guy, really.

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