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The Great Infocom Replay: Enchanter

by rjbs, created 2015-09-23 23:28
tagged with: @markup:md games infocom-replay int-fiction journal

I think I'm officially giving up on beating Enchanter, but it has been a pretty interesting experience as far as my big replay goes. It's not because the game is great, but because it has allowed me to get a better handle on what I don't like about the early Infocom games.

I found the writing to have the same sort of charm as other Infocom games. It's very economical, but sometimes succesfully both wry and whimsical. It has a lot of the same problems as other games of the period, though. The two that gutted me: hunger and mazes. "You are getting hungry" is one of my least favorite things to see in a game. It is a guarantee that I will end up dead and have to figure out how to replay the game in fewer moves, next time. Similarly awful is the feeling of leaving "The Transparent Room" only to find myself in "The Transparent Room" with a slightly different descrpition. It means I'm going to waste half an hour figuring out a maze using the "gather a bunch of items and drop them in different rooms" technique. It's not fun.

I managed to make a pretty good map, though, by marking all the unknown exits and the continually restoring to speed run through each one. This, I think, is when I realized that I was not going to love Enchanter. The idea of the game is fine. I like the magic in it. I just didn't feel like it was much of a story, because I kept having to go back and do it all over again. I realized that this is my problem. I want these games to be stories, not puzzles, but they are fundamentally puzzles, with a veneer of story around them.

On the other hand, I can look at my two favorite Infocom games (so far): Suspended and A Mind Forever Voyaging. Suspended is almost pure puzzle. The story is barely there. At least, that's how it seems to me, although I'm not sure why. When I have to restart in Suspended, I don't feel like I'm breaking apart a story with a rising action and climax. It's just a puzzle box. A Mind Forever Voyaging is almost pure story. There are a few puzzles, but they're pretty simple. For the most part, the game is a world that you explore, and the puzzles are there to motivate you to do so.

When I made this realization, I really accepted the new way I was playing Enchanter: I didn't try to enjoy the story anymore, I just cataloged roomed and objects, trying to piece together the critical path for the game in my head in a big flow diagram. This suddenly seemed like the right way to play the game, and I thought I might try to finish it, since I had this new handle on it. Then again, I thought, I wasn't having much fun. Given that it has taken me two and a half years to get through nine game replays, it seemed foolish to spend longer on this one than I'd enjoy.

Next up, Infidel.