Spring Thing 2009 - Notes on "Realm of Obsidian"

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Michael Neal Tenuis

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May 3, 2009, 1:50:11 PM5/3/09
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Since it is always said that getting feedback is one of the main sources
of motivation of IF authors, I thought I'd write up some short notes
about the Spring Thing 2009 games. They should also be helpful for
someone trying to decide whether to play the games or not.
(These are more or less just expansions of things I jotted down during
play and don't claim to be witty reviews. The amount I wrote about each
is not necessarily indicative of game quality or lack thereof.)

One important thing first: I enjoyed all of the games and want to thank
the authors. I'd definitely like to see more games from all of them! The
criticism below is intended to be completely constructive. Please tell
me if it comes across differently - I'm new to this.

This is intended to be spoiler-free (ROT-13'd where details seemed to be
helpful).

--------------------------------------
Realm of Obsidian, by Amy Kerns
--------------------------------------

In one line: It's a dungeon exploration with old-school flavour.

This was written using the thinBASIC Adventure Builder (TAB) by Philip
Richmond, limiting it to the Windows platform (though it might run on
unix-like OSes using WINE).
It took me a bit to get used to the fixed-width standard system font and
the not-so-pretty colours. The background is black, the main text is
displayed in bright yellow and dialogues in dark blue (which made them
hard to read). I could not find an option to change the font or the
colours (I even tried opening the autorun.tab file in a text editor and
replacing some of the "[color=255,255,0]" codes with different colours,
but to no avail). At least the yellow text on black somehow seemed to
fit the general old-school feeling and the horror genre.

A very minor annoyance was that there was no running transcript - when
you type TRANSCRIPT, only the text displayed from the last (re)start up
to the current turn is saved to a text file. When you die, the game
doesn't give you a possibility to save a transcript before restarting -
so, when you unexpectedly die, you can't get a transcript.

Another specialty of TAB was that the feature of recalling the
previously entered commands to the command line was mapped to the F1 key
instead of the Up Arrow key. The author says so in the manual, but it
did take a little while to get comfortable with it, because the Up Arrow
is so widely used in IF interpreters and OS consoles/terminals.

TAB doesn't seem to take adjectives as referring to the nouns by
default, so when you X GOLD, it isn't resolved to the "gold key".

Apart from these issues, I didn't have any problems with the interpreter
or the parser. Thankfully, it allowed to chain commands in the standard
way ("E.E.E.S.S.E"), which was really necessary, because sometimes I
found an object to solve a puzzle on the other end of the map, and had
to wander through long tunnels to get there.

This preview edition does not feature a great variety of locations. It
is set in a system of tunnels (thankfully, not a maze), mostly tersely
described, where items are scattered about arbitrarily. The Realm of
Obsidian seems to be one of those strange worlds where you find a goblin
in one room and a numeric keypad in the next. The author is aware of
that and the game says, e.g., "The old lady [...] walks off out of
sight. (You wonder about this old lady. What the heck was she doing in
the middle of a dungeon?)"

In classical adventurer's fashion, you have to take everything that's
not nailed down. There is an inventory limit, but it is very lenient, so
that was not a problem.

Obsidian is probably "nasty" on the Zarfian IF cruelty scale: in at
least one occasion, you can run into a monster without getting any sort
of warning, and without the means to defeat it. The bad thing is that
UNDO does not work, the good thing is that you die quickly then, so you
won't overwrite your savefile in the meantime. Let's hope you followed
the author's advice from the manual: "Save the game often! You never
know what could be lurking around the next corner"!

The game is not very difficult in terms of puzzles. On one occasion
though, I tried a certain action with a rope I had found, and the game
refused by telling me that the action wouldn't be useful even if I could
do it. It turned out that the action in slightly different wording was
in fact the right thing to do, so that message was a bit misleading.
The author implemented a context-sensitive hint system, but I can't tell
how good it is, since I didn't need it.

Despite the old-school flavour, there are fortunately neither mazes nor
hunger puzzles.

The game featured optional sounds and music, which was a nice touch. The
sounds added to the (campy) horror atmosphere, and the looping music was
not intrusive either (at a fairly low volume). I thought it was slightly
disappointing that the "Painful Death" songs didn't have special sounds
or music tracks attached to them. Of course, I wouldn't have expected
complete songs - they're made up, after all - but some snippet of death
metal sound with incomprehensible grunting would have done the trick.
The printed lyrics made me laugh.

The writing was okay, sometimes funny (in a good sense, not
unintentionally), the implementation seemed to be done with care, and
there were nice touches, e.g. the mirror right in the beginning. I also
liked the various funny endgame-death messages. The room descriptions
really should have been fleshed out much more, though.
It was cool that (some of) the characters you encounter greet each other
and interact a little, but unfortunately the most detailed NPC is one
you meet only quite late in the game.

The player character finds out about several spells he can possibly
cast, and it was a slight letdown when I could find the complete
ingredients for only one of those spells. That's probably due to this
being a preview, but still...

I liked that there were two alternative ways to reach the ending. The
ending itself is rather unspectacular, though.

It would be nice if there were more backstory for the world, and more plot.


Summing up:
I enjoyed the game, and if the author decided to write the full version
someday, I'd also play that, provided there were more descriptions, more
plot, more world-background.
I rank it second among the four Spring Thing 2009 games.


Regards,
Michael

Reiko

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May 11, 2009, 12:48:01 PM5/11/09
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On May 3, 12:50 pm, Michael Neal Tenuis
<michael.neal.ten...@gmail.com> wrote:
(snip)

> Obsidian is probably "nasty" on the Zarfian IF cruelty scale: in at
> least one occasion, you can run into a monster without getting any sort
> of warning, and without the means to defeat it. The bad thing is that
> UNDO does not work, the good thing is that you die quickly then, so you
> won't overwrite your savefile in the meantime. Let's hope you followed
> the author's advice from the manual: "Save the game often! You never
> know what could be lurking around the next corner"!
>
> The game is not very difficult in terms of puzzles.

Okay, I have to interject something here. Obsidian was nasty enough
that I didn't get past the first monster. I don't know if I did have
the right object or not, but I made sure to pick up the two specific
things in the initial area before going through the portal. But I
couldn't cast any of the spells, of course, and I couldn't seem to
avoid the monster because it was a linear dead-end tunnel, or attack
it or do anything. So after I got run over a couple times, I didn't
feel any particular desire to continue.

~Reiko

Michael Neal Tenuis

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May 11, 2009, 1:27:52 PM5/11/09
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Reiko wrote:
>
> Okay, I have to interject something here. Obsidian was nasty enough
> that I didn't get past the first monster. I don't know if I did have
> the right object or not, but I made sure to pick up the two specific
> things in the initial area before going through the portal. But I
> couldn't cast any of the spells, of course, and I couldn't seem to
> avoid the monster because it was a linear dead-end tunnel, or attack
> it or do anything. So after I got run over a couple times, I didn't
> feel any particular desire to continue.
>
> ~Reiko

Well, that's understandable. I was fortunate in not having much trouble
with that one - out of habit, I had grabbed every portable thing (no
matter whether useful-looking or not) from every room before entering
the portal; when that monster came, I luckily had the inspiration to do
the right thing. If I remember correctly, I just thought that the result
of that action would look cool - and lo, it worked.

Here are progressively clearer hints (ROT-13'd), number 3 is explicit:

1 - Lbh zhfg guebj bar bs lbhe cbffrffvbaf ng gur fxryrgba.

2 - Jung jbhyq tvir n avpr rssrpg vs vg pnzr vagb pbagnpg jvgu gur ohmmfnj?

3 - Gur cvyybj.


IIRC, most of the other puzzles in the game are a little more intuitive
/ better clued, so if you like the dungeon-crawling type of game, you
might want to have another go at it (although, as I wrote above, it's a
preview, and rather short on plot).

Regards,
Michael

Reiko

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May 12, 2009, 10:38:54 AM5/12/09
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On May 11, 12:27 pm, Michael Neal Tenuis

<michael.neal.ten...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Well, that's understandable. I was fortunate in not having much trouble
> with that one - out of habit, I had grabbed every portable thing (no
> matter whether useful-looking or not) from every room before entering
> the portal; when that monster came, I luckily had the inspiration to do
> the right thing. If I remember correctly, I just thought that the result
> of that action would look cool - and lo, it worked.

I was apparently not sticky-fingered enough for this game then (as I
don't remember getting that object). Maybe I'll give it another whirl
if I get a chance, although I wasn't too dismayed at getting stuck
originally because horror really isn't my cup of tea anyway.

Thanks for the help though.

~Reiko

amethyst

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May 12, 2009, 4:26:19 PM5/12/09
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Hi Reiko,

If you happen to get stuck again, just type HINT and you should get a
context-sensitive reply. Please note that you must be actually right
by the puzzle or character in order for the right flags to trigger.
Thanks for playing, and thanks to Michael, for posting your clues. :)

- Amy

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