Draculaland (Robin Johnson)

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Draculaland is a goofy, tropey piece of medium-length IF: you solve puzzles, you gather weapons, you fight monsters suitable to Transylvania. There are items to collect, and NPCs who send you on quests, and other NPCs who get in your way; there is even one NPC who follows you around. The whole piece feels animated by the spirit of Scott Adams, especially The Count — short, tight descriptions and puzzles that can be solved in a single flash of inventiveness — but it is infinitely fairer. I estimate it took me about 90 minutes, though I think I wasn’t consistently focused on it for that full time. Draculaland was written for The Ryan Veeder Exposition for Good Interactive Fiction, an unusual competition with the sole purpose of entertaining Ryan Veeder, but happily the author has made it available for the rest of us to enjoy as well.

It’s sort of a parser game without the parser: you play by clicking on verbs associated with the various objects in scope.There’s a full parser world model going on under the surface, and the links are being generated procedurally by that model. Occasionally this provided puzzle hints I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of, but mostly this eliminated guess-the-verb experiences without taking away the fun of coming up with my own solutions. Most of the puzzles require you to think of combining objects that appear in different locations, so the experience isn’t over-obvious.

It’s not exactly the first game to experiment with building clickable links out of a parser model world — see also Jon Ingold’s Colder Light, for instance — but there aren’t a lot of examples out there that I think work really well, so I was glad to play this one, and I thought that it did essentially work. Certainly it felt a lot more successful to me than a lot of historic UIs that use drop-down verb menus and other doodads to augment a standard parser game. Things like this Spellcasting UI have, to my tastes, aged much worse than even bare-text parser presentations.Spellcasting_101_interface


Towards the end of the Draculaland, the inventory list gets maybe a little unwieldy. I also found myself wishing for a clickable map, though I’m not sure whether that would actually have been an improvement or whether I was merely wishing for it because I manage to mix up east and west even in a clickable parser game. But for the most part, it worked very well for me.

The writing is compact, as it has to be in this format, and funny; the characters are sketched with as much personality as one could reasonably fit in the available space; and I found myself rather pleased with how the ending turned out, more for the sake of the NPCs than for myself.

There is one thing that the story made me do that I wanted to avoid. (ROT13: Ol gur gvzr V fubg gur jrerjbys, V xarj ur jnf ernyyl gur gnirea xrrcre, naq V jnf ubcvat sbe fbzr jnl gb xabpx uvz bhg be qr-jrerjbys uvz engure guna npghnyyl zheqre uvz. Nsgre nyy, nfvqr sebz uvf jbys unovgf, gur gnirea xrrcre frrzrq yvxr n qrprag fbeg, naq jr nyernql unq bar rknzcyr (va Zvan) bs n zbafgre jub pbhyq npghnyyl or tbbq naq zbfgyl xrrc vgf vzchyfrf haqre pbageby.) But perhaps that is in-genre inevitable.

If you like Draculaland as a tribute to Scott Adams, you might also enjoy J. Robinson Wheeler’s Adams-styled Greek myth game ASCII and the Argonauts; if you’re keen on puzzly vampire tropes, you might want Marco Vallarino’s Darkiss. If vampires sound good but you want to stick with a choice-based interface and go more Rice than Stoker, there’s always Choice of the Vampire.

8 thoughts on “Draculaland (Robin Johnson)”

  1. About your rot13: Qba’g xabj vs lbh qvq guvf, ohg va gur raqtnzr lbh pna bcgvbanyyl ghea gur gnireaxrrcre onpx vagb n mbzovr, jurerhcba ur erfhzrf uvf gnireaxrrcvat qhgvrf… gubhtu ur jba’g yrg lbh onpx vagb gur gnirea, fb ur zvtug fgvyy or naablrq nobhg gur jubyr guvat. Fgvyy, ur qbrfa’g arrq gb fgnl qrnq. Abg qrnq qrnq, naljnl.

      1. I realize this isn’t what you meant by getting yourself back into trouble, but one subtle admirable thing about the game is how the pieces interact to keep you (mostly) from locking yourself out of victory. For instance, in the thing we were just talking about, erfheerpgvat gur gnireaxrrcre ybpxf lbh bhg bs gur gnirea–ohg lbh pna’g erfheerpg nalbar hagvy lbh trg gur Arpebabzvpba, juvpu erdhverf gur yvoenel pneq, juvpu vf va gur gbc ebbz bs gur gnirea, fb lbh zhfg nyernql unir orra guebhtu gur gnirea naq lbh qba’g arrq gb tb gurer nalzber. (Creuncf vg’f cbffvoyr gb znxr gur tnzr hajvaanoyr ol tenoovat gur pneq ohg abg gur yrqreubfra, ohg ab bar’f tbvat gb qb gung.) It’s a nice way to put an extra little achievement into the game without having it endanger the main puzzle-line.

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