Merk's Spring Thing 2006 Reviews - The Warlord, et. al.

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Mike Snyder

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Apr 24, 2006, 11:34:24 AM4/24/06
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TITLE: The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog
AUTHOR: David Whyld
EMAIL: dwhyld SP@G gmail.com
DATE: April 2006
PARSER: Adrift
SUPPORTS: Adrift Runner and GLK Adrift
AVAILABILITY: Freeware
URL: http://www.sidneymerk.com/vst06/warlord.zip
VERSION: Version 1

It's not the next chapter in The Chronicles of Narnia (and if no other
reviewer makes the same joke, I'll be surprised). David Whyld's Spring Thing
2006 entry, written in Adrift, reprises the exploits of mercenary bad-ass
Stavros "The Bulldog" McGrogan in a sequel to his earlier A Spot of Bother.
It's up to The Bulldog to sneak, fight, grunt, and puzzle-solve his way to
victory against the evil Warlord, Baron Grishtak.

At times, this is a contradiction. From the start, the goal is clear. I
don't
mean the goal of the story (which is also clear), but the goal of the game
itself. Finish the three primary objectives with full health for a score
boost, and pick up more points for solving puzzles rather than pushing past
them with brute force. This opens the game to a variety of play styles, but
that "best score" objective is the carrot dangling just beyond reach. The
Bulldog loses life points when he fights, and without a clear idea of how to
gain them back (let alone how many can *be* regained), my inclination was to
avoid fights and slink about the castle solving puzzles, preserving every
point of health possible. So much for being a bad-ass.

Even though I enjoyed the game using this strategy, I might have enjoyed it
more if I hadn't been aiming for a perfect game. In the end, it didn't
matter.
I didn't complete one of the three objectives, and I won with a score of
only
80 and health of 90. The ending - and the death ending too, when I purposely
let The Bulldog get pounced by The Tiger - was still satisfying.

Things take a bit longer when you play for points. Instead of beating up the
bad guys, I lured them into traps, tricked them into leaving, or simply
avoided them entirely. When I stumbled into traps or lost health in
unexpected
ways, I opted to "undo" or "load" a prior save, so I could try another
approach. This made the game tougher. To get it all right the first time, I
would have needed to read the author's mind. The interesting thing is that
this was just another way of playing the game. With a different objective -
let The Bulldog fight enemies and bully his way past the tough parts - it
doesn't require psychic powers. It's a fair system which rewards do-overs
without making do-overs essential to win.

I've mentioned "health points" several times. If you have visions of RPG
stats and random dice-rolls - especially if you don't *like* those things -
take heart. That's not how WPB works. Think of it as the antithesis of a
scoring system. When you earn "score" points, it's for completing a task,
reaching a milestone, or hitting some score-worthy trigger. These are things
built into the game, and the points are set. If you play much IF, you've
probably seen this in action. WPB has this *in addition to* its health point
system. Points come off by making mistakes, or in other predetermined ways
that involve alternate puzzle solutions. Sometimes, these mistakes
(especially
in facing enemies) can be repeated, but on the whole it's more like a credit
system. The Bulldog is extended so many of these "mistake" points, and he
spends them as necessary.

The beauty is that making these mistakes usually gets The Bulldog past
puzzles. For instance, there are several ways to pass the landmines near the
beginning of the game. One way in particular saves The Bulldog from damage
entirely. Other ways leave him only slightly scathed (or perhaps unharmed,
but
with the loss of something that might be the key to avoiding damage later).
Of
course, stepping into it (with persistence) solves the puzzle too, at the
expense of a chunk of health.

It's designed to be winnable, no matter how low your health becomes. The
more
damage The Bulldog takes, though, the fewer risks he can endure. Suppose
this
drops to a single remaining point. The game remains winnable, but every
additional obstacle must be overcome with brains instead of brawn. This can
become *very* difficult. Health can be recovered, but I never was quite sure
how much. If I recall, I healed about 30. The Bulldog has suffered some
prior
to the start of the game, beginning with 63 health. Health of 100 is
considered "full". It may be possible to recover more than 37, making it
possible to take damage and still finish with full health. I never figured
out
the max. It's just as possible that every method in the game adds up only to
a
total of 37, meaning a perfect win requires a totally unharmed Bulldog.
Maybe
a better player than I - or Whyld himself - will say for sure.

Really, it's a clever design. I can't think of a single puzzle that didn't
have two or more solutions. The easier the solution, the fewer the points
(and
often, the more damage The Bulldog would take). Because my goal had me going
after the toughest of each solution, I hit the built-in help often. After
only
a short ways into the game, I was requesting every hint available in every
room. In a way, this became just another tool, like "undo". Instead of
cheating, it seemed more like a part of the game. Some hints even felt more
like puzzles to solve. Even *with* hints, it was often difficult to work out
the best (most rewarding point-wise) solutions. Without them, though, I
never
would have.

This all makes it difficult to say just how tough The Warlord, The Princess,
and The Bulldog is. I solved many of the puzzles with easier solutions at
first, costing The Bulldog only a few points of health. I would have
finished
faster - and possibly without so much reliance on hints - if I had just
pressed forward from those points. I suppose it ranges from "challenging but
not overly difficult" to "one step down from impossible", depending on what
approach you take. Mine was more on the side of the latter.

Whyld has done an excellent job of anticipating much of what players may
try.
The implementation level alone is amazing. Very little encountered in the
game
lacks first, second, even third-level implementation. If you look at scenery
that has parts, you can look at those parts. You can often *interact* with
those parts. If those parts have parts, they're probably implemented too. It
pays to really inspect what's around. Even though much of it is optional,
enough digging can bring up the keys to alternate puzzle solutions.

The prose in WPB is dotted with amusing passages. Generally, Whyld isn't
trying for real comedy - and if so, it probably wouldn't have worked here
anyway. It's more the "ah ha, that was funny" kind of subdued but cliched
humor you'd expect from a story in which the hero only grunts yet everybody
understands what he means. When Baron Grishtak writes a letter to his ace
henchman - subsequently obtained by The Bulldog - he admits that he
"foolishly jotted down the access code to the master computer on the bottom
of it." He goes on to encourage his henchman to destroy the letter after
reading it, for that very reason.

As to the presentation, the author held nothing back. My first fifteen
minutes
were spent just reading the introductory material - details about the game,
additional commands, the intro, etc. The game font size can be adjusted via
the command prompt. Screen-clearing at each room change can be turned on or
off (personally, I liked it on - it was easier to quickly scroll up and re-
read room descriptions that way). Around four different fonts were used -
one
for room headers, one for the room description, the default font for most
game
messages, and a script-style font for letters and notes. It may sound like a
hodgepodge, but it works well (if you're using the Adrift runner and your
Windows-based computer has those fonts) and it set WPB apart from other
games
in terms of style.

To now, it may seem as though I have no complaints about The Warlord, The
Princess & The Bulldog. A big game, though, has more room for things to go
wrong. None of these problems (in my play-through, anyway), were
game-killing,
but they ranged from mildly annoying to completely preventing (or, at times,
*allowing*) certain solutions. My transcripts note quite a few typos - not
surprising in a game of this size and complexity, but still minor dents in
the
proverbial finish. Weirder quirks included things like the non-working
pendant
(it worked once, but after a subsequent "undo" or "restore", shaking it
didn't work even though it still had 3 charges); being able to enter the
guards' training courtyard in a "they're gone" state, even though they
shouldn't have been; a reference to a voodoo doll in the hints, which
doesn't
seem to be in the game (Adrift will usually respond to objects it knows,
even
in other places, and it didn't know that one); being able to break the panel
in the sleeping quarters repeatedly; I didn't realize it at the time, but
the
"code to the master computer" is too long to work in either of the computers
found later in the game; some available exits were unmarked on the map; some
exits described in the text didn't work in the game; you can't "undo" to
before a hint screen; I couldn't get "exit" to work (even though it was
supposed to), when trying one of the codes; A seven-letter password
scattered
throughout the castle appears to have two fifth letters; it's possible to
set
the watch before winning, so that it goes off during the final scene; a few
other miscellaneous quirks.

As the game progressed, these things either became more common or more
noticeable. Maybe it was the cumulative effect, but my faith in the game's
internal consistency was shaken. If I felt at all guilty about reliance on
hints, the feeling passed when I thought that maybe the game was broken just
enough to *prevent* the solutions I needed for a perfect win. This may not
be
true. From my experience, the bugs that persist after beta testing are
usually
the bugs in sections that *aren't* vital - else they would have been worked
out already. Nonetheless, it's a reminder: the better the polish, the higher
the faith.

Most of the design works great. The health point system contributes to
alternate puzzle solutions, and alternate puzzle solutions are abundant. The
hints, although cryptic at times, are helpful. Even so, a few specific parts
left me cold. One very early puzzle (the one that avoids a loss of health -
an
easier but damaging alternate does exist) requires waiting a few turns after
taking action. I was impressed that the game allowed the particular action,
but I thought I had messed up - so I did an "undo". Speaking of "undo", you
can unwittingly make a move that disables it, in what I can only describe as
a
prank perpetrated by the author. It's by no means a necessary (or even an
obvious) move, but some players will try it. I found no way to re-enable it,
aside from reverting to a prior save (or starting over). One obstacle
requires
that you lose everything in inventory. The hints describe a way to keep most
of it, but it requires repeating an action (and it's even possible to undo a
failure, repeat, and succeed the second or third time).

As a Spring Thing entry, WPB is fittingly sized. My play-through - taking
most
puzzles the hard way and relying heavily on the built-in hints - was eight
and
a half hours. Despite the flaws, I enjoyed the time I spent with The
Warlord,
The Princess & The Bulldog. An incredible amount of effort was put into this
game, and it really shows. A post-competition release could address the
remaining problems, making it even more recommendable.

My Spring Thing score: "9"


Mike Snyder

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Apr 24, 2006, 11:53:17 AM4/24/06
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"Mike Snyder" <wy...@prowler-pro.com> wrote in message
news:0e63g.4645$iF3.276@dukeread01...

> shouldn't have been; a reference to a voodoo doll in the hints, which
> doesn't
> seem to be in the game (Adrift will usually respond to objects it knows,
> even
> in other places, and it didn't know that one); being able to break the
> panel

Argh -- I *know* I used line lengths less than 80 characters, but it still
seemed to break lines in odd ways. Sorry about that, everyone.

Anyway, I'm replying as an addendum, to say that David has let me know where
to find the voodoo doll. I guess it's there after all.

I can't figure out Adrift sometimes. It's just not consistent with how it
treats objects. It's like my old DOS games. At other times, though,
referring to objects you haven't encountered yet actually works. So... I
dunno.

--- Mike.


Daphne Brinkerhoff

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Apr 24, 2006, 12:06:15 PM4/24/06
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Mike Snyder wrote:
> TITLE: The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog

(much snipped)

> I was impressed that the game allowed the particular action,
> but I thought I had messed up - so I did an "undo". Speaking of "undo", you
> can unwittingly make a move that disables it, in what I can only describe as
> a prank perpetrated by the author. It's by no means a necessary (or even an
> obvious) move, but some players will try it. I found no way to re-enable it,
> aside from reverting to a prior save (or starting over).

Here (if you mean what I think you mean) there is a way. It's a pretty
ingenious thing, perhaps my favorite puzzle in the game (and yes, I
figured it out on my own, DWhyld :).

--
Daphne

dwh...@gmail.com

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Apr 24, 2006, 12:06:40 PM4/24/06
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Thanks for the very, very nice review. I'm working on fixing the
bugs/errors/typos now and ought to have the post-comp game out in a few
days.

Mike Snyder

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Apr 24, 2006, 12:13:21 PM4/24/06
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"Daphne Brinkerhoff" <cen...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:1145894775.1...@g10g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...

Oooooh. Do tell! Does it involve begging or appologizing? I didn't try that.
I tried repeating the word over and over, until the game stopped giving
different replies. Later, I tried the command backwards, thinking that might
help.

Scroll way down past the SPOILER SPACE, for this particular exchange with
the game.

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>xyzzy
You utter the word.

"Well done!" cries a voice. "You've just gone and uttered the one word in
the game that disables the UNDO command! Betcha you feel really smart now,
eh?"

>undo
Sorry. Typing "xyzzy" disables the UNDO command. Annoying, eh?

>xyzzy
You utter the word.

"Stop uttering it," says a voice. "It's not going to do anything else, you
know."

>plugh
Unfortunately you can't do that. Type COMMANDS for a list of commands you
can use in this adventure.

>xyzzy
You utter the word.

"Stop it, I said!" thunders a voice. "Good grief, didn't you hear me the
first time?"

>xyzzy
You utter the word.

"My," says a voice, "you don't look very well all of a sudden."

>xyzzy
You utter the word.

"Oh bother," says a voice, "where have your items gone?"

>i
Current possessions:

* your uniform (worn)

>xyzzy
You utter the word.

A voice hums.

>xyzzy
You utter the word.

A voice sighs.

>xyzzy
You utter the word.

A voice says, "well, you're persistent I'll give you that. But, sorry, I've
a game to write and limited time to get it finished so this is the last
smart ass response you're going to get for typing xyzzy."

>xyzzy
You utter the word.

Nothing happens.


Mike Snyder

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Apr 24, 2006, 12:15:05 PM4/24/06
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"Mike Snyder" <wy...@prowler-pro.com> wrote in message
news:xO63g.4648$iF3.1675@dukeread01...

> Oooooh. Do tell! Does it involve begging or appologizing? I didn't try
> that.

Apologizing, even.

--- Mike.


Daphne Brinkerhoff

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Apr 24, 2006, 12:19:01 PM4/24/06
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No, just a slight bit of persistence beyond where you stopped. You had
the right idea :).

--
Daphne

Daphne Brinkerhoff

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Apr 24, 2006, 12:21:53 PM4/24/06
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Mike Snyder wrote:
> "Mike Snyder" <wy...@prowler-pro.com> wrote in message
> news:xO63g.4648$iF3.1675@dukeread01...
>
> > Oooooh. Do tell! Does it involve begging or appologizing? I didn't try
> > that.

Wait a minute. I think I must be wrong in what I just posted. Ignore
it. I'm writing this at work (bad Daphne!) and so I can't check the
actual, y' know, *game*.

There is a kind of magic word that didn't work before -- specific to
this game -- and it will work under your new "improved" condition (ie,
no "undo" etc.).

--
Daphne

Mike Snyder

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Apr 24, 2006, 12:27:50 PM4/24/06
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<dwh...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1145894800.4...@t31g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...

> Thanks for the very, very nice review. I'm working on fixing the
> bugs/errors/typos now and ought to have the post-comp game out in a few
> days.

Not at all -- it was really fun. If your post-comp version fixes the few
things that came up for me, and whatever else others might have reported,
I'd highly recommend it to anybody who likes puzzly IF.

--- Mike.


Mike Snyder

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Apr 24, 2006, 12:29:42 PM4/24/06
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"Daphne Brinkerhoff" <cen...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:1145895713....@v46g2000cwv.googlegroups.com...

>
>> > Oooooh. Do tell! Does it involve begging or appologizing? I didn't try
>> > that.
>
> Wait a minute. I think I must be wrong in what I just posted. Ignore
> it. I'm writing this at work (bad Daphne!) and so I can't check the
> actual, y' know, *game*.
>
> There is a kind of magic word that didn't work before -- specific to
> this game -- and it will work under your new "improved" condition (ie,
> no "undo" etc.).

Hmmm.... I'll give it some thought. Neither of the two nonsense words found
later in the game do the trick, so I must be missing something.

--- Mike.


dwh...@gmail.com

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Apr 24, 2006, 3:58:59 PM4/24/06
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You mean you figured out how to use the cheat command? Well done.

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