Review by Matthew T. Russotto
No major spoilers included .
Note: Acheton is one of the games originally built on the "Phoenix" mainframe
recently recovered and re-built for the Z-Machine by Graham Nelson,
Adam Atkinson, and Gunther Schmidl. This review is based on a
pre-release version of the Z-machine port.
Acheton is one of the very earliest adventure games, preceded most
significantly by ADVENT (Colossal Cave) and mainframe Zork. It is a game
much influenced by those games (there's even a hollow voice), with the main
differences being that it is MUCH larger and (as expected from the
Phoenix crew) quite a bit tougher and more cruel. It starts by
warning you of its difficulty, and then underscores the point. A smug
veteran of Colossal Cave quickly finds the familiar lamp and keys,
heads down to that oh-so-familiar grate, opens it up, goes down, falls
into a well and dies. This is a wakeup call -- and you had better
get used to such instant deaths, because there are a lot of them in Acheton.
Acheton is unapologetically a cave crawl, a treasure hunt. Those who
play IF strictly for the story line will find none here. The game is
divided, as was customary, into a short beginning section, a much
larger midgame, and an endgame or "master game" section for those who
completed the treasure hunt. In Acheton, the midgame is subdivided
into several sections; you enter it in the largest section but there
are other large sections reachable by solving certain puzzles.
The beginning game, despite a few instant deaths which most players
will encounter, is fairly easy; there are no treasures to be found and
by wandering around you will soon find yourself with nothing to do
but the right thing. The middle game is mostly set in caves, so you're
going to need that brass lamp; unfortunately, that brass lamp has a
limited amount of power, which therefore limits your time in the
caves. This "lamp time" restriction is an IF custom which has
fortunately gone out of favor; it won't limit your exploration of
Acheton much, but it does mean that when you go for the win, you're
going to need to plan things very carefully.
Upon entering the middle game section with the trusty brass lamp, you
quickly find a treasure -- a mink coat with bulging pockets! (All
treasures in Acheton have a '!' in their descriptions, again a custom
of the time). Take it, and (as you are probably at least
half-expecting by now)... you die. Another reminder -- this place can
be cruel. Fortunately the solution to this puzzle is near to hand, and
this rebuilds your confidence enough that you continue. Some
exploring locates a few treasures just lying around (and some of them
don't even kill you), many other items, a magic word scrawled on a
wall, and a safe. This last is open, and closing it results in
A deep sonorous booming voice intones slowly:
WHAT A CHEEK! THAT'S NOT NEARLY ENOUGH. BEGONE!!
followed by the collapse of the cave and the character's death. Yes,
another instadeath, but now you know where to put the loot, and you're
ready for the long haul. And it will be a _long_ haul. The mid-game
consists of (depending on how you count them) three major areas each
subdivided into several smaller areas, plus a few other minor areas
which stand on their own. These constitute literally hundreds of
rooms. There are over 50 treasures, at least 8 mazes, countless ways
to die, several magic words and magic objects, and plenty of puzzles.
There's pirates and monsters and natural hazards, and even a god to
contend with. If you make it through all of this, there's the master
game, which is unfortunately something of a disappointment; two simple
puzzles, really. And yes, there's a Last Lousy Point.
References to Colossal Cave and Zork are common, but they are
references, not slavish copies; there's a three foot rod with a rusty
star on the end and some fissures, but you won't be creating any
crystal bridges. Nor will you find a spinning magnet above the
Zorkish lodestone room, and there's a pillow that won't help you with
any Ming vase.
Acheton, by the standards of its day, is a top-notch game. There are
a few blemishes, like an occasional "guess the verb" or "guess the
noun" puzzle. Some puzzles and treasures are insufficiently clued,
leaving the player to try to try everything everywhere to get those
last treasures, which is a tough job in a game this big. But these
are few and the game overall is very playable, though quite cruel
(save early, save often, for your next step may be your last). By
the standards of today, it has many flaws. It has a two-word parser
which occasionally frustrates ("but I want to drink the clean water
from the barrel, not the murky water from the bottle"). It lacks
'examine', which is something of a mixed blessing -- often you want to
know more about an item, but at least you know there isn't anything
you missed through insufficient use of 'examine'. It has many IF
cliches now in disfavor -- it's a cave crawl, with lamp time, mazes,
and yes, a dragon. When the player is tempted to write a Java program
to discover a Hamiltonian path through a maze, the maze is perhaps a
bit too difficult. But despite all that, it holds up well, and I
certainly enjoyed playing it.
If you're the type who whipped through Colossal Cave in half an hour
and begged for more or if you played Fyleet, Crobe, and Sangraal and
liked them, you already know you want to play Acheton.
If you got into IF with Zork and Colossal Cave and other cave crawls,
and enjoyed them, you definitely want to play Acheton. It will
probably be helpful to play some of the smaller Phoenix games --
Fyleet and Crobe in particular -- to acquaint you with the "feel" of
If you turn your nose up at cave crawls, like puzzle-less IF, and
insist on a story and a natural-language parser, forget it -- but
you've probably already stopped reading this review.
Matthew T. Russotto russ...@pond.com
"Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in pursuit
of justice is no virtue."
Ha! Okay, this sounds sort of fun. But probably very very annoying too.
I take it this is a faithful no-added-extras port, like Fyleet, Crobe
and Sangraal? I found those just a bit too unfriendly to be playable, so
I don't think I'd get very far with Acheton either.
Here's a suggestion (for the Acheton porters): why not release a
faithful Z-code version, and a 'remastered' Glulx version with some of
the bells and whistles we've come to expect in this decadent age? In
particular, I couldn't play a game like this without UNDO. I believe the
standard Glulx interpreter supports multiple UNDO -- even better. How
I'd also like descriptions on all objects, adaptive hints, notification
when the game gets into an unwinnable state... but those would obviously
involve a *lot* more work. UNDO would do for a start. (Oh, and Andrew
Plotkin suggested that X OBJECT should be allowed even if it just
replies 'There's nothing special about the [whatever]' for every object,
which is a good idea.)
I couldn't even do "single" undo with the z-code port of Crobe:
when I type Alt-U in WinFrotz it just says
Hot key -- Undo one turn
No more undo information available.
>I'd also like descriptions on all objects, adaptive hints, notification
>when the game gets into an unwinnable state... but those would obviously
>involve a *lot* more work. UNDO would do for a start.
I'd really like to have the "modern" abbreviations like "l" and "i".
But at least I can handle those with an interpreter that supports
> I couldn't even do "single" undo with the z-code port of Crobe:
> when I type Alt-U in WinFrotz it just says
> I'd really like to have the "modern" abbreviations like "l" and "i".
> But at least I can handle those with an interpreter that supports
> keyboard macros.
Nitfol, I think, automatically inserts save points for UNDOing. It also
handles auto-expansions like L and I (but then, so does Frotz).
| Gunther Schmidl | ICQ: 22447430 | IF: http://gschmidl.cjb.net/ |
| gschmidl (at) gmx (dot) at | please remove the "xxx." to reply |
Ah good, does this mean the port is still being worked on?
Best suggestion here would be to use an interpreter like Nitfol which provides
undo whether the game likes it or not.