The Adventures of Helpfulman: Superhero in a big city.
by Philip Dearmore, released 1999
I wanted to like this one, really I did. It was clearly trying to do
some neat things, using the HTML-TADS options, but they didn't work
perfectly for me. For instance, there's an option to put a menu in
the left as a kind of sidebar, but when I scrolled the menu would
vanish from view. It only offered a handful of commands, anyway -- a
LOOK command, which I presume is no different from typing LOOK myself,
and a COMMANDS that would list all the verbs I could use. The latter
might have been useful, since some of the game's commands seemed to be
a bit esoteric, except that it happened all at once in a scary
single-column infodump to my screen.
There were also some illustrations; I approve of this. On the other
hand, some of them reminded me of things I did in Hypercard ca. 1986:
dithered black-and-white images of simple objects. Eep.
Another interesting thing the game did was to use an oft-suggested but
seldom-implemented approach to conversation. When you spoke to an NPC,
certain words were highlighted as links, and clicking on them equated
to >ASK NPC ABOUT HIGHLIGHTED TOPIC. This avoids any fishing around
for things to talk about, I suppose, without going all the way to
having a menu. I thought it was a valuable experiment, though I am
not sure I'm totally crazy about the effect.
In atmosphere, the game reminded me a bit of Heroine's Mantle, which I
liked despite various drawbacks. Unfortunately, it shared a few of
Heroine's problems, as well. The puzzles weren't quite as unfair, but
it was still entirely possible -- even easy -- to render the game
unwinnable, as far as I could tell. In particular, a certain sequence
involving a telescope seemed to give the player too little warning. I
did my best with it, but it was this sequence that ultimately caused
me to give up on the game without really getting past the prologue: I
couldn't figure out how to get past a certain point, I kept ruining my
options, and the actions recommended by the hints were not successful.
Plotwise, the logic of this sequence also seemed a trifle obscure.
The game otherwise could have used a bit more polish. I noted several
places where there were typos or misspellings, or where the author had
put in a non-default response but the default response was
subsequently printed as well. I would probably have played at least a
while longer if I hadn't run into the puzzle difficulties, however.
Other reviews of this series are at
Strangely, it didn't occur to me that I could actually read the article
text before puzzling out what it was about, so I had to read the subject
line three times before it clicked and I could continue.
>There were also some illustrations; I approve of this. On the other
>hand, some of them reminded me of things I did in Hypercard ca. 1986:
>dithered black-and-white images of simple objects. Eep.
While in the comic book world the graphics were meant to look like a black
and white sketch graphic novel, and then color and 3D graphics were used
after the PC breaks out of the comic book world. The final graphic which
probably no one has ever seen (unless they found someway to decompile the
resource file) is a cool fusion of sketch and 3D art. Unfortunately, I
don't think anyone ever finished the game (my fault for writing a bad game).
I WOULD, of course, release an updated version of the game with all of the
reviews taken into account, bugs fixed, etc., but I doubt anyone would play
FWIW I finished it (after emailing you for an additional hint), and I recall
a nice full-colour photo at the end of what was fundamentally an imaginative
and enjoyable story. I thought the compass rose and the other, later HTML
TADS special effects looked good and don't recall having the problem
mentioned by Emily. However, I did find other bugs and probable design
flaws in the puzzles which meant they were harder than intended and required
a restore or two.
> I WOULD, of course, release an updated version of the game with all of the
> reviews taken into account, bugs fixed, etc., but I doubt anyone would
I think it's worth doing, as I said in my feedback at the time. It's getting
more exposure here now, and an announcement here of a release 2 would pique
players' interest. If you said you'd produced lighthearted superhero
adventures before _Earth & Sky_, that might also help. I thought it was a
shame that it was nearly there and a bit more playtesting would have made it
a much more solid work (so I volunteer for that if you like).
Hunh. Cool-- I'm sorry I didn't get there, because I suspect I
would've liked this effect.
Let's not be too harsh on ourselves; there are plenty of worse games out
I admit that I started and didn't finish Helpfulman, but that at least was
partly due to the way I played it: as one of a trio of players
simultaneously playing the game through the Floyd bot on ifMud. As a group,
we did manage to get the PC to the street level, and then we explored around
a bit more, where we kind of floundered. Since, um, I don't think any of us
were making maps, and that part of the game is large enough to require
making one. I'd have to go back and replay it to get a proper feel of the
geography and what objects there are to manipulate.
-- David Welbourn
Aha! Believe it or not I was wanting to do a fix with your great
suggestions, but alas my hard drive crashed and I lost your e-mail and
contact info and everything, and then just forgot about it, so thank you for
jogging my memory.
I don't suppose you still have the e-mail you sent me with the bugs? That's
a complete shot in the dark, but your list was the most comprehensive list
of bugs and would be a great asset to recover (if I do decide to release a
I might. If the interaction with directions and objects were made
smoother and the early cruel timing puzzle were ameliorated I would give
it another shot. I like superhero games.
I urge you to do so, if you can find time. Games are for
posterity, too. Soon, the contest will be a dim memory, but the
buggy game will still be on the archive, and it will still have
your name on it.