Finished Infidel this evening, after consulting the hints about just a couple of points (which turned out to be guess-the-verb-y things where we had the right idea).
Overall, I’m surprised by how relatively easy it is — the hieroglyphics puzzles are fun and consistent but not that hugely brain-teasing. It’s really easy to lock yourself out of victory by doing the wrong things in the wrong sequence, but mostly that’s about execution (remember to pick up your knapsack again before leaving an area!!) rather than about figuring anything out in particular. I found myself thinking that the emphasis on performance actually makes it a little more like a platformer than modern IF tends to be. It’s very hard to get to the end without having to replay parts — probably most of the game at least once, and some pieces perhaps multiple times — and even when you’re replaying it’s easy to screw something up if you drop the wrong thing in the wrong place and forget to pick it up again, or take a wrong direction by accident.
After a while it becomes a kind of proficiency run, to do all the necessary steps with no extras and no mistakes.
I’ve tried to play this a couple of times before and never gotten anywhere with it, in at least one case because I didn’t realize I needed the feelies. This time I’ve actually gotten inside the pyramid.
I usually find Infocom a curious mix these days: I loved them at the time but now I have ingrained habits that make me impatient. Infidel doesn’t understand “X” for examine, or accept UNDO at all; needs to be manually set to a fixed-width font because it doesn’t have separate parameters for font types; and features food, thirst, and inventory management to a degree I’ve never liked. (Admittedly, given the setting, I find it more convincing than in many another game that the protagonist really might die from not having water frequently enough. But it still makes for a frustrating experience.) Oh, and did I mention the inadequately-clued sudden deaths? And the object you can ATTACK over and over for many snarky messages, when the solution is to BREAK it?
Still, I have to say that (even though I’m only a little way into it), I really like the hieroglyph puzzles: the player encounters ASCII art messages on the wall, and has in the feelies a glossary of a few of the symbols, but must construct an understanding of the rest from context and comparison.
This is (obviously) a very old technique and yet still sadly uncommon. I very much want to see more of systematic puzzles in IF — ones that rely on some consistent physical or magical principle, or build up some knowledge base, or have a nifty gadget that can be used in a variety of clever ways. There are already some great examples: the magic grammar in Suveh Nux, the orgy of physical destruction/elimination puzzles in Conan Kill Everything and To Hell in a Hamper, the superpowers in Earth and Sky and Heroine’s Mantle, the alliteration puzzles in Ad Verbum, the linguistic recognition puzzles in Letters From Home, the combat puzzles in Gun Mute and its ilk, and the diverse uses of the main device in Adventurer’s Consumer Guide. The learnable spells in Enchanter and its sequels sort of qualify, but only sort of, because most of the spells are so specialized and so few of the spells interact; but Balances offers a satisfying twist on this idea. Sam Kabo Ashwell also has a list of “Distinctive Puzzle Style” games based on similar criteria, though it only partly overlaps with mine.
Yet for every one of these, there are distressingly many games with very ordinary puzzles.
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