This is a review of The Grand Quest by Owen Parish, a z-code game entered in the 2009 Interactive Fiction Competition.

All right, a quest game!  In a cave!  How did so many of these end up my list so close together?  Oh well.

My main complaint about The Grand Quest is that it felt like I was playing D&D with a Dungeon Master who liked to hear himself talk.  And was not very good at making puzzles.  Even the ‘prize’ is generic, as if I heard about it in a tavern from an old man and I decided to drop whatever I was doing and go wander around.

I didn’t mind the first puzzle.  At least it took some creative thought.  The second puzzle isn’t so much a puzzle as it is an easy place to ruin your game.  The third puzzle is where I start to sigh and wonder if I can find some excuse for my character to leave the party so I can go home.

The ‘riddler’ says to stack a bunch of coins in two piles of equal size.  But that’s wrong.  He wants two piles of equal value.  Neither is solvable without, more or less, testing every verb mentioned in the room description (you have to search the floor), and felt kind of unfair.  Also, the 5-jin coin refused to be treated as a coin in commands, for some reason.  Power to the 5-jin coins, bust out of that class oppression.

The fourth forces the player to do exactly what the riddler says.  The fifth puzzle requires surprisingly specific commands; I kept trying to say nothing, but the game didn’t seem to respond to this – you have to actively say nothing, for several turns.  The sixth puzzle forces the player to do the opposite of exactly what the riddler says.  The seventh is sort of a gotcha puzzle. (Why isn’t the whistle implemented?  All red herrings should be lovingly detailed!)  The eighth puzzle is a tired attempt at emotion.

The ninth puzzle has a solution that’s more interesting than the actual setup.  I won’t talk about its difficulty, I was too grumbly by that time to work very far on it.  Look at this:

Casino Room

Two wooden boxes sit atop a stone table. To the north lies another gate.

On the green table are a Four of Diamonds and a Six of Spades.

What, exactly, makes this a ‘casino room’?  I’m not sure how this puzzle could have been made more featureless (p.s., there’s no green table).  Add to this the frustration at nearly every step due to things like:

> put five in slot

Which do you mean, the first Five of Clubs or the second Five of Clubs?

> first Five of Clubs

I didn’t understand that sentence.

and

Which do you mean, the Eight of Spades or the Eight of Diamonds?

> eight of spades

Which do you mean, the Eight of Spades or the Eight of Diamonds?

Eh, I won’t comment on the ending.  Maybe it works, maybe not.

From start to finish, I felt like I was on a magical journey that was being crammed down my throat because someone was convinced that HE KNEW FUN and by god every step had to be taken because otherwise the adventure is RUINED.

And surely, surely, if you give me a sword, make me use it once effectively, you’re going to expect I’m going to try and use it on the snake.

Technical: The solutions themselves are solid, but a lot is missing.  Scenery might as well not be mentioned, there’s no interaction or detail.  What might have helped me was to simply implement alternate solutions – like the sword and the snake, that solution certainly seemed possible until I tried.

Writing: Only enough to get by seemed to be implemented.  I was more annoyed than entertained by the riddler, if only because you never interact with him, he isn’t even visible at any point.

Fun: I was tired of puzzles after the third one, unfortunately.  There are no good details about the setting or goals, nothing really to make me interested in the puzzles.  Maybe I would have liked them more if they were more distilled, and I had more than to do than guessing what the DM had in mind – I shouldn’t be so hard on a game that is actually solvable, and in which the author clearly work out the path he had in mind, but it’s so narrow that it’s no fun.

Defining moment: Trying umpteen ways to get around not having to grab the rung after the floor drops out from under you – no, death is only cheated in the manner the author has in mind.