Realm of Obsidian Reviews

March 2, 2010

Here are a few reviews of Realm of Obsidian. I’ve taken the liberty of pasting in the original text, plus providing a link to the site/blog it came from. Read on…


I really ought to hate this game. After all, it’s an expansive old-school dungeon crawl featuring a large, mostly empty map, combat, heaps of learning by death, and the sort of campy B-movie horror atmosphere that hasn’t exactly been scarce in IF in this Age of Irony. Somehow, though, this game manages to be more than the sum of its parts. It’s not what I’d call a good game, mind you, but I can’t quite bring myself to hate it either. It just has a certain charm about it.

So, then… Realm of Obsidian is “the story of a guy named Nick” whose father has been indulging in some dreaded Satanic Rituals, and has managed to get himself carried off to the infernal realms. There’s thus nothing for it but for Nick — meaning you — to follow in dear old dad’s footsteps and kick some infernal dweller ass. Here we can begin to see what raises this game a cut above most in its genre: we may be stuck in an old school dungeon crawl, but at least we have a name and a personality. The Painful Death cassette we find on the floor of our bedroom — games like this always start in our bedroom; that’s simply sacrosanct — that features song titles such as “Spinal Munch” and “Bayonet Douche” is worthy of a chuckle. Heck, just the fact that old Nick is still listening to cassettes in 2009 I find oddly charming and hilarious.

So, eventually we make it to the eponymous Realm and start fighting monsters and mapping large swathes of empty space. I’d be lying if I said the game manages to be a consistently compelling play, but that gonzo charm carried me further than I ever would have expected it to. There’s lots of cheesily dramatic music, because music in a text adventure is cool! There’s occasional sound effects, because that’s cool too! And there’s some borderline offensive gore to go with the borderline offensive cassette I just told you about, but that’s par for this particular course, isn’t it?

Realm was written in a dreaded New IF Development System. This one is called the thinBASIC Adventure Builder, and while it falls down in some of the usual areas — supporting Windows only, having a generally garish and unprofessional appearance — it actually does demonstrate awareness of what we as players expect in 2009. There’s a working SCRIPT command and even a working VERSION command, and the parser — not that this game ever really taxes it — never gave me any problems. Even the expected abbreviations (X for EXAMINE, etc.) are in place. And hey, a garish and unprofessional appearance kind of suits this game. Overall, I’d say thinBASIC is already sits a notch or two above ADRIFT, at least from the standpoint of the player.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. The game certainly had worn out its welcome with me by the end, and maps consisting mostly of empty corridors are never, under any circumstances, what I would call a wise design choice. Nor can I say that I’m waiting with bated breath for the full version (this release, while being fairly sizable by modern standards, is just a preview). Still, in the end it is what it is, and certainly could have been a whole lot worse. Ms. Kerns does have a deft writing touch when she’s not describing empty rooms. I’d like to see more IF from her, but preferably without the endless corridors and the instant death.

The Gaming Philosopher

This is a review of the Spring Thing 2009 game Realm of Obsidian. So before going any further, here is some spoiler space for RSS feeds. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space. I have been playing way too much Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance lately. Some spoiler space. Some spoiler space.

Right, here we go.

First thing we notice is that this is a Windows executable, which is not good. Luckily, it ran almost perfectly in Wine, but unluckily, there was a bug (in Wine, obviously) which turned all text black. That may seem like a minor problem, until you realise that the background colour was also black. However, with some help of the author, I managed to turn the background white and I could play the game.

Realm of Obsidian is a weird mix of the outdated and the newfangled. It is apparently made using a new IF authoring system that is not finished, but already works pretty well. (Although, for instance, “blue” was not recognised as referring to the “blue token”, which could either be a fault of the game author or of the development system.) It also comes with sound and music, which is interesting, although I quickly turned off the music because it was not to my liking. I also turned off the sound, because the game was not willing to share my sound card with other programs, and I did want the play some of my own music–but this unwillingness to share the sound card might well have been a result of me running it in Wine.

On the outdated side, however, we have:

  • Little characterisation and almost non-existent story.
  • Lots of puzzles of the “find object X and then use object X against monster Y” variety.
  • Spells which you can only cast after collecting an entire list of seemingly random items.
  • Monsters which kill you if you don’t solve the corresponding puzzle quickly enough.
  • Very sparse descriptions.
  • Unwinnable situations.
  • Lots of empty rooms (that really should have been removed from the game).

So that doesn’t sound very good, and in fact, it is true that Realm of Obsidian is not a very good game. It’s not just that puzzle-based, deadly dungeon crawls are out of fashion; it is also that if you do make a puzzle-based, deadly dungeon crawl, we now expect you to minimise what is boring (for instance, walking through lots of empty rooms), to ensure that we never get in an unwinnable situation (at least not without some warning), to write good prose, to create a believable environment, to have puzzles that are a bit more complicated and fun to solve.

Also, is releasing non-finished games a new trend?

Still, I did enjoy playing Realm of Obsidian. Despite its failings, it just bubbles with enthusiasm. I like being able to carry around a tape recorder playing really bad death metal. (It inspired me to listen to Death’s The Sound of Perseverance almost my entire play-through, though that is of course a great album.) And while I don’t like being killed ten times by the first monster I meet (and having to go through the complicated reloading process), I do appreciate that this monster is a skeleton carrying a buzz saw and riding a wheelchair.

There is a real difference between being killed by a skeleton with a rust sword and a wooden shield, and being killed by a skeleton with a buzz saw in a wheelchair. The first tells you that the author is lazy and unimaginative; the second that she was actually having fun thinking this up and writing it. That makes me have more fun as well.

All in all, a first effort with many weaknesses, but with an amount of enthusiasm and care that gives me high hopes for future games by this author.

Self as Fractal

Next up is “Realm of Obsidian” by Amy Kerns, of Amethyst Games.

Remember how I said A Flustered Duck was old-school? I lied. This is old school. It’s a separate executable file. It has a nonstandard parser – the game’s built with TAB (ThinBASIC Adventure Builder) by Philip Richmond. The text is in Fixedsys. All of these things are red flags, traditionally, in the comp (well, maybe not the Fixedsys.)

The setting’s old-school too: a lot of underground corridors, sparsely-described, and various objects to find. There’s a spellbook with ingredients to gather. It’s a horror game, so there are various monsters – locked doors, in essence – blocking paths until you find the right object/key with which to dispatch them.

Yet once again, I kind of liked this. It’s surprisingly well-implemented – not just for a nonstandard parser, but for a comp entry in general. I only found one major bug, and it’s for something you really shouldn’t be doing. Just to illustrate, one of the classic implementation tests is whether >FLUSH TOILET works. Not only does it work, but it comes complete with sound effect! Which reminds me…

The game does some cool things with multimedia – not graphics so much, but definitely color and sound. Recently, Kerns posted about the use of sound effects and music in IF, so it isn’t all that surprising in retrospect.

I hadn’t played the game when I commented, but for the most part I stand by my post. The sound effects are hit-and-miss; some are effective (the death noises in particular) but others less so (the chomping noise when Troy eats the Spam is way too cartoony, and the various dialogue noises lose their luster when you hear the exact same thing with the exact same inflection for the tenth time.) But the background music’s pretty damn good. It sets the scene perfectly and what’s more, I’d listen to it outside of the game.

Although the parser’s surprisingly robust, a lot of synonyms are missing. The tape player got me, as did the colored tokens that you can’t refer to by color. There’s an inventory limit. Between this and Flustered Duck, it’s a trend I’m not all that enthused to see return. And then there’s the slight matter that the game isn’t finished, and from the amount of loose threads left hanging at the end, there’s going to be quite a bit of game to go. (I never even used the spellbook, except for evidence.)

There were a few interface choices I wasn’t thrilled by, though. The hint system too – most of the time when I resorted to hints it was less “How do I deal with this thing that’s about to kill me?” (and in most cases, you’re pretty much dead anyway if you have to do that) than “What do I do now?” With location-specific hints, there’s not much you can do about that except wander about until you run across an unsolved puzzle.

But honestly, more than anything, I wanted those loose threads to be resolved, which has to be a good thing. I’ll be interested to see the final release.


On a side note, the game implements a command called “redescribe” (or “redesc” or “r”.) I’ve grumbled a few times before about how nobody uses “look” in its literal sense (looking around the room) and how it really should just be made a meta-command. Here is that it isn’t technically a meta-command – if something’s trying to kill you, they’ll take another turn just as if you typed in >L – but the idea is fantastic and I wouldn’t mind seeing it become an IF convention.

On another side note, there’s a changelog bundled with the game, which is pretty interesting in itself if you like poking around people’s changelogs.

Another Mr. Lizard

Members of what you or I might think of as the IF hardcore can somtimes seem to get a little snotty about them, but it’s true that you never know what you’re going to get with an IF game that comes as a Windows executable. Will the parser be almost, but not quite, fit for purpose? Will there be garish and ill-matched icons everywhere, including right over the bit of text you’re trying to read? Will you catch a virus from it? Will your computer? To play such a game is step heedlessly into the unknown, which is why Realm Of Obsidian found itself right on top of my non-randomised Spring Thing play queue. The opening warning that the game “contains scenes of horror, violence and gore” was only the icing on the tasty-looking obsidian cake. And like Steppenwolf, it’s “not for everyone”. Needless to say, neither is this review.

Public service pre-spoiler tag spoiler: “Everyone” in that opening disclaimer can be considered to include “People with photosensitive epilepsy.” The game, not the review. Although I have taken advantage of this blog’s shiny new home at WordPress by embedding a YouTube video.

This is where the spoiler tag goes.

The good news: Realm of Obsidian is not ugly, and has a decent parser which understands all the commands you’d expect it to, or at least all the commands it needs to.

Right, technical evaluation out of the way. The game.

What I heard of the soundtrack, before my wife politely requested that I turn it down, I liked. It starts off all minimalist and unsettling like Philip Glass remixing the theme from Psycho, then – woo – here comes the BPM cavalry. I note with some pleasure that the music actually loops and changes with the location rather than just playing the next track when this one’s finished. Score one multimedia point.


This looks like every other cheap plastic comb.

Don’t do yourself down. “A cheap plastic comb”, would suffice, then the game wouldn’t sound quite as much like it’s berating its author for lack of imagination.

“I’m waiting for your command(s)” is intriguing, with its implication that multiple commands will be considered. And they are. Hallelujah!

I see I’m looking for a second job. I wonder what my first job is.

The cover is a truly repulsive montage of corpses, fetuses and slabs of meat.

Thanks for that image, game. Well it’s my own fault. It did say it contained scenes of violence, horror and gore. I just wasn’t expecting them quite so soon. I hope you put as much effort into the game as you did thinking up song titles.

The game crashed when I tried to play the tape. I hope it does not repeat this behaviour or I shall be inclined to judge it harshly.

Restart. Ignore the tape player. Read the book. Stop reading the book. Leave the room.

You emerge into the hall. To your surprise, you see what looks to be a shimmering blue force field to the west! It looks like this will be an interesting day. The hallway continues to the east. Your bedroom is to the south.

Now some players, at this point, would try to trick the game. They would go somewhere else, then come back and see if they were still told they were surprised by the shimmering blue force field. I’m not going to do that. Not deliberately, anyway. This is what Joseph Campbell would describe as the Call to Adventure. The crisis of the unknown imposing itself on the main character’s everyday experience. How I, young adult male Nick, respond to this situation will determine my own personal growth. I’m going to proceed to the next stage of Campbell’s monomyth. I’m going to Refuse the Call.

Ah. There’s no way to leave the house. The force field must be blocking the stairs. Maybe if I have a shower it will go away.

Hmm, there’s no shower and the tap is dripping blood. This isn’t good. Let’s just taste it – there was an episode of Hammer House of Horror where faulty plumbing spewed blood all over a children’s party, but it turned out to be just red paint. Yup, it’s blood all right.

And this is an adventure game, so I’ll be picking up anything that’s not nailed down. The nose of a bear??? I’m having that. GET NOSE. There’s no angrier bear than a bear with no nose. How does he smell? Terrible.

By the virtuosity of Sacrogus
Whose delight it is to drink bat’s pee
With the eye of a murdered corpse
The truth I wish to see

Whenever I think of bat’s urine, my thoughts turn to this:

(embedded Monty Python video)

I call upon the God of Dread
Who eats nothing but gore

There’s a pattern developing here. Elsewhere I observe that the Decapitate spell requires a severed head. Well, they do say that violence begets violence.

The force field in the hall may be a link between worlds. You wonder if you could perhaps enter it and be brought to Auron’s realm. That seems to be the only alternative, other than just waiting for something to happen


I am delighted to report that having left the hallway and returned I am now no longer surprised to see the shimmering blue force field. However I do find myself wondering if it’s all a little too easy, and if the author wishes to drag out the game and make it longer for a future revision she could do worse than require the player to conjure his own dimensional gateway rather than just leave one lying around, provided of course that he was clearly and unambiguously motivated to do so.

Aargh! Cut down in my prime by a skeleton in a wheelchair!

Hey, a note! Wow, it’s a death threat! Maybe it’s from Auron. Nope, it’s from Xodak. I have no idea who that is, but I can see I’ve got him scared. So scared he wrote a note about how he was going to kill me, then ran away. Pussy. Hey Xodak, I don’t know what bodily fluid you like to drink, but why don’t you SUCK MY BALLS!

Sorry about that. I don’t know what came over me. I’ve been watching too much Generation Kill. Still, if the author was trying to motivate me at this point, she’s succeeded.

Not so much in the Anchorhead tradition of otherworldly Lovecraftian horror, Realm Of Obsidian is a child of the blood-and-guts zombie-flick school of horror, which is a lot further removed from the stuff that really gives people nightmares, and is therefore a lot harder to write seriously. Writers, especially less confident ones, therefore tend to adopt a semi-jocular tone without actually committing to being comedic, which, thanks to the influence of Zork and Douglas Adams among others, is pretty much the default for interactive fiction anyway, so the horror stylings become nearly irrelevant and the repeated references to blood and guts are like driving 200 miles to your Mum’s house expecting a Sunday roast and when you get there she gives you a bag of roast chicken flavour crisps. It’s amazing what you can tell from a description of a comb.

Rereading, I’ve just realised that that paragraph made it sound like Zork and Douglas Adams were a couple. Also I’ve solved the stylistic riddle of this blog, which comes as something of a relief, to be honest. Don’t get the impression that I didn’t enjoy reading some of the prose in Realm Of Obsidian, because I did, I really did. Bat’s pee, indeed.

Entering a “special preview edition” (or as the rest of the world calls it, a playable demo) in a competition is another way to elicit contemptuous stroking of beards from sections of the interactive fiction community. From the author’s point of view the potential benefits – get something out, generate a bit of interest in your game – can often be outweighed by the disadvantages inherent in releasing something for public consumption that’s not polished to its absolute best, which could actually make people less inclined to take a punt on the final version – which if it was entered in Spring Thing would likely pick up a similar number of players anyway, and which you’ve just disqualfied from entering in most popular IF competitions. It seems like releasing it in this way is a recipe for more harm than good, and that’s before you factor in that some people might be, let’s say, disinclined to view the finished game favourably as a consequence. Which might not be ideal if you’ve been working on the game, off and on (hopefully more off than on) since before 1991, which is when Amigas stopped coming bundled with AmigaBasic, as everybody knows.

Still, here’s a playable version of Realm Of Obsidian, begging to be assessed, even if it is two acts short of a tale. So let’s assess it. The opening “house of horror” section is a lot more promising than the bigger main section of the game, which is a very traditional Zork-em-up complete with caves, abandoned machinery and wandering, seemingly motiveless NPCs, some of whom will attack on sight. It seems to be possible to finish the game, or at least get to the location where the fourth wall breaks, without solving all of the puzzles or casting a single spell, which looks like a design oversight from where I’m standing. And being killed is a right hassle, what with making the screen flash bright orange while you scrabble about looking for the mouse so you can restore your saved game. At least it doesn’t play the death march.

Does anybody know if Gathered In Darkness was ever finished?

This is one of those in-from-the-cold games you get sometimes, where somebody who is totally outside the community in terms of system and style and genre shows up out of nowhere and enters a game in a comp. Like, ok, the game is written in some BASIC IF system (and if you look at the author’s notes, you can see this is like the third or fourth version of the game, as the author has ported it between different BASIC flavors). It’s a homegrown system* so no UNDO and blah blah, but generally speaking the parser isn’t too bad and you open doors automatically and stuff. Style-wise it’s a pseudo-RPG in the sense that you’re wandering around a dungeon collecting treasures and encountering monsters, but I say “pseudo-” because there’s no hit points or random combat or anything. Still, this style has rather dropped out of fashion in recent years and it feels a little archaic. And, finally, genre — it’s a horror game. And I mean Tales from the Crypt kind of horror, where there are various gory death sequences and then the game says “Torn apart by hungry wolves? That really .. bites.” Also, at the start you are attacked by a skeleton in a wheelchair holding a chainsaw.

So, uh, all in all I don’t really know how to rate this. It is amusing but it is probably not going to be to a lot of people’s tastes. (Also, I should probably note it’s not a complete game; it stops at about the one-third mark, since that is all the author has implemented.)

*Ok, technically it’s ThinBASIC Adventure Builder, which isn’t by Kerns, but it’s got the same vibe. A homegrown system grown in somebody else’s home, maybe.

Pissy Little Sausages

This is the story of a man named Nick.
A poor mountaineer came and kicked him in th- wait, no, sorry.  (Did anyone else use to watch Beverly Hillbillies all the time as a kid and now they’re not sure why?)

Okay, premise is that Nick had to move back in with his dad, who is acting strangely.  Somehow this makes him different from everybody else’s dad in the whole world.

Got a laugh from the Painful Death track listing, particularly Bendy-Straw Enema.  Call me crass, but that’s funny.

You emerge into the hall. To your surprise, you see what looks to be a shimmering blue force field to the west! It looks like this will be an interesting day.
Time to change my anticipation of what sort of game this is!  Also, this will not be of interest to anyone but me, but whatever it’s running on supports copy-paste.  I love that.

>x black object
Looking at this strange object, you realize that it’s the nose of a bear! You can look through the nostrils to the other side.
Whoa!  Weird!

Oh, sad, Riff just pointed out that I am thinking of crazy straws, not bendy ones.  I’m docking this game at least four points now.

My father’s notebook has five spells in it, each with an ingredients list, a required location, and a set of instructions for casting.  This no doubt indicates that I’ll need to find all of these ingredients and locations, and cast each of these spells at least once.  I really enjoy this kind of thing, which is fortunate, because it’s got a lot of ground to make up after the bendy-straw debacle.

Incantation: Off with your head,
As I eat lead.
Off with your head,
Now you are dead.

You’ll have to come up with your own witty commentary for this one, since I’m having some paralysis-of-choice issues.  Extra points if you work in a reference to the Algonquin Round Table.

Now you realize that your father must have constructed the pentagram to summon Auron! Only he must have met eyes with Auron and been hypnotized by him. Who knows where Auron could’ve taken him? The force field in the hall may be a link between worlds. You wonder if you could perhaps enter it and be brought to Auron’s realm?
Some games you are so much smarter than your character.  “The chamberlain is evil!” you scream at the monitor.  “Evil!  Also that’s a bomb!  Put it dow- no, not in your mouth, put it down on the… oh, for Chrissakes, let’s go find your damn leg again.”  This is shaping up to be the exact opposite of one of those games.

Implementation so far is pretty sparse.  There is not much in the way of room or object descriptions.  Thinking this is going to be more of an old-school puzzler, but there’s no reason those can’t have some ambience.

Yeah, just got my shit ripped up by a skeleton in a wheelchair.  Definitely old-school.  There should maybe be an epileptic warning on this mofo and I should maybe save my game a lot.

Points to this game for amusing randomized post-death messages.  I appreciate that if I’m going to die often.

>lasso zombie
I don’t understand the verb, “lasso”.
Some glorious day I will find a game that understands the verb “lasso,” and that game and I will skip merrily off to find some zombies.

I realize this is a text adventure and not an interactive fiction, but what do you think I want to insert the green token into?  Could it maybe be the machine with the slot labeled “Insert Token Here” that is in fact the only thing in this room one could insert a token into excepting one’s own bodily orifices?  I suppose it’s possible I meant something in my inventory.  What would be the negative consequences for assuming I meant to put the token into the token machine and not up my bum, though, if the token machine is right the fuck there?  My free will would be impinged upon?  I’d miss a valuable opportunity to screw up and lose the token forever, rendering the game unwinnable?  And do I realize the ridiculousness of typing this entire paragraph to protest having to type INTO MACHINE?

Stab the Demonic Wolf with what?
A small piece of fairy cake, and definitely not this knife.  Which, it turns out, works about as well to stab something with as a small piece of fairy cake.  Also I need to stop picking up Britishisms, ’cause now I’m hungry for fairy cake without actually knowing what it is.  S’like angel food?

I’m having fun so far.  I just thought I’d mention that.

What good would attaching the soap to the rope do (even if you could)?
Ask Urban Dictionary.  (Not safe for work.  Wait, actually, why am I thinking it’s less safe for work than this very blog?  It’s got a big ol’ FUCK right at the top of it!)

You can’t cut the soap with the knife.
Wow, they weren’t kidding about this knife not being very sharp.

I’m stuck and the hint system has nothing for me.  Realm of Obsidian, I see you on the laters, schmokey-dokey?  Schyall right.

(twelve years later)  It’s been a few days since I touched Realm of Obsidian, days that have been primarily spent MyBruting.  (There is nothing wrong with that and I do not have a problem and I can stop any time I want and and and your mother.)  Oh, and except for my lone pupil TV’s Frankenstein you all suck for not loving me enough to join my dojo.  Who got to you first?  Was it Plotkin?  I blame Plotkin.

Where were we?  Stuck in some tunnels?  Sounds about right.

Sorry, Realm of Obsidian, I’m cheating a little.  Where’s the walkthrough?  Oh, hey, there’s a manual?  This is a nice manual.  Every time you die Bill Pullman screams.  I learned that from the manual.  It all comes together.

Seriously, there’s a walkthrough, right?

There’s really no walkthrough?  Sigh.  All right, let’s see if this zombie strangles.

Nope, no such verb as “strangle.”  What do you mean I can’t hit it with the tape player?  Shit.  What else have I got?

…I didn’t try playing it death metal?  I could’ve sworn I tried playing it death metal.  Thanks, hint system, for teaching us to laugh about love again!

My very own vampire bat!  Wesley Willis would be proud.

The bladder looks familiar to you, so you remove it.
I used to date its sister.

I’m a little worried about leaving this tape running because I’m not sure whether or not the game’s keeping track of the batteries.  It would be the evil old-school thing to do, for sure.

The Worm wants to see me in court?  This can’t be good.  Noooo, my items!  My Holy Spam!

The ogre bailiff retreives your things with another wave of his truncheon. All your items are then returned to you.
Yellowed Spell Scroll: You drop that as your hands are full.
And now it’s locked inside the courtroom.  Awesome.  Good thing I’m twitch-saving.

Well, there’s the end of the preview.  I don’t really understand why people release preview games.  Is advance hype somehow necessary or desirable for IF?  Why not just, you know, wait to release it until it’s done, and I’ll get excited about it then?

Let’s see, how to feel about Realm of Obsidian?  I’ve got no beef* with old-school puzzlers, and this one had some nice personality.  The environments were so sparsely implemented, though, that minor differences between cookie-cutter bits of tunnel seemed like massive clues (oh my God, there are pebbles! This means something, I know it!) and the game had nothing really special about it, if you get me.  I will probably play it again when it comes out for good and proper, though, if I can be arsed.  Maybe it’ll have something special in it by then.

Hmm.  The last and only demo game I judged did not get a score (there was a lot less of it, granted) and I think it’s going to make my life easier if I just never score demo games and call it a policy.  And a taxi.  I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.  I’m so wasted.**

* This is slang meaning one is fine with something, as opposed to “got no truck” which is slang meaning one is not fine with something.  Beef is the opposite of truck, which means if you ever see a beef truck, it’s undergoing a massive identity crisis and you should be nice to it.  Actually your instincts should tell you to be nice to it anyway, in hopes that it will give you beef.

** I’m not, in actuality, but that’s so very much the logical next sentence I couldn’t resist typing it.  Also, Barack Obama has a Twitter.  I keep thinking he should tweet “Dude, I don’t even know what I’m signing right now.  I am so wasted.”  He won’t, though.  It’s sad.


I’m Back, and With a New Release of Realm of Obsidian

February 22, 2010


Real Life intervened and interfered quite a bit after the 2009 Spring Thing died down. I’ve gotten ahold of it finally, and I’ve released a new version of Realm of Obsidian. This doesn’t expand the game at all, but rather fixes a few bugs and adds a few enhancements. The most notable are:

UNDO functionality

New gameover prompt of: ‘Would you like to (Q)uit, (R)estart, (L)oad a saved game or (U)ndo?’

Transcript command now logs text output in real time

Soundless version

Linux/Wine version (with sounds, and soundless)

(The first three enhancements are thanks to Philip Richmond, creator of TAB.)

Downloads are now featured on the Realm of Obsidian page!

As for the future, I plan on learning Inform 7 and writing a short IF using that platform. I’ll return to Realm of Obsidian afterwards. I plan on keeping details on my progress here, as well as notes on Inform 7 and TAB as I go along.

Thank you for your time.  🙂

Spring Thing 2009 Results!

April 28, 2009

Here are the results from the Spring Thing 2009 Competition:

1 A Flustered Duck by Jim Aikin… Avg: 7.28, Std Dev: 2.56, Votes: 18
2 Vague Richard by Richard Otter… Avg: 6.06, Std Dev: 1.98, Votes: 18
3 Realm of Obsidian by Amy Kerns… Avg: 4.25, Std Dev: 2.52, Votes: 16
4 The Milk of Paradise by Josh Graboff… Avg: 4.00, Std Dev: 1.28, Votes: 18

I take a little solace in some of the numbers here. Notice that I have two votes missing. That must be due to Realm of Obsidian being a Windows-only game. Though there are a few Windows emulators out there for the Mac and Linux, there were two people who weren’t able (or weren’t willing) to play my game, thus the missing votes. My score might have been higher otherwise. Anyway, congratulations to Jim Aiken on his win. I’ll have to give Flustered Duck a run.

I will be able to post more about my game now, so expect some Realm of Obsidian-specific posts in the near future. I’m working on another release that will feature the removal of a few bugs, then it’s time to expand out to the town of Abattoir!

Sound Effects and Music in Interactive Fiction

April 7, 2009
A Visible Pattern of Sound Waves
This has recently received some debate in the newsgroup, but I felt that perhaps I could further the debate on my blog, and add my own thoughts.

Do sound effects and music belong in interactive fiction? First off, let’s separate the two. Despite both subjects being of the aural variety, they are very different. It can be argued that sound effects make the experience “more real.”

> close door. (Slam!)

> jump in lake (Splash!)

> kick walter (“Oww! What the–???”)

It could then be argued that music makes the experience less real (unless the protagonist in the game has just turned on a cd player or walked into a dance club). People just don’t go about their ordinary (or extraordinary) lives with a personal soundtrack playing.

Some people feel that sound is jarring, and depletes the “immersion factor” of IF. IF is another form of literature, after all. Audio books aside, literature doesn’t make noise.

Simply put, I find it entertaining. I could do with or without graphics, but for some reason, I just love sound. It takes IF up a notch. You didn’t just read about killing that ogre, you heard it’s death cry. Or there’s an avalanche, and you can hear the din of falling rocks getting louder. Entertainment and drama can greatly benefit from sound effects if used effectively (no pun intended).  That goes for music as well. Some suspenseful music can really leave you on the edge of your seat. A light, airy tune can amuse you. A dramatic theme could tug at the heartstrings just a bit more during a sad or profound moment. Sound, in general, is something that I feature (and will continue to feature) in my games.

But what do you think? Sound effects and/or music: yea or nay? Do they enhance Interactive Fiction or detract from it? Entertaining? Or just annoying? I’m interested in hearing your views.


Some News in the IF World…

April 1, 2009

First of all, the 2009 Spring Thing Competition is now underway. Best of luck to everyone (including me), who has submitted a game! I have (mostly) implemented the “automatic door opening” feature. See the last post for details on that discussion. I will admit that there are some minor bugs that have not been fixed in the release sent to the competition. Once I fix these and the competition is concluded, I’ll be posting Realm of Obsidian here. I don’t have the highest hopes for my game, since Blue Lacuna posted last in the 2008 Spring Thing, mostly because it was a preview game like mine is.

Second of all, the latest issue of SPAG has now been released. For those who don’t know, SPAG (Society For the Promotion of Adventure Games) is a quarterly webzine that features reviews and articles on Interactive Fiction. I have a small review of A Bear’s Night Out by David Dyte written within. There are several interesting features on Blue Lacuna, which I have heard is a staggering monolith of a game. The IF community has been all abuzz on this one, and I look forward to immersing myself in it whenever I have the time. There are also some interviews with the top IF Comp authors, which I found very interesting as well. Check it out! And subscribe! (I had some problems with the majordomo bot when subscribing, but hopefully it’ll be nicer to others.)

That’s all for now. I have some ideas for upcoming posts, so there should be less lapse time between posts for awhile.

Having to Open Doors in IF: Bad Form?

March 9, 2009


I’ve been beta-testing Realm of Obsidian for a few weeks now, and two of my testers told me that having to open a door annoys them.

Many games allow the player to move through a door and into the next area, and the opening of the door is an automatic thing. The player doesn’t have to consider whether a door is open or closed. If it isn’t locked or barred in some way, they can just go in that direction.

In my game, you will be told that the door is closed, if trying to go in a direction where a closed door lies. My main reason for this? I have a sound that plays when a door is opened or closed. (Actually, it can be one of several sounds, depending on what door is being dealt with.) Sure, I could have the door open automatically on going north (for example), then play the sound and put the PC in the next location. But for me, there’s something special about entering the command “open door” and hearing a “creeeek” sound.

If enough people complain, I might change this. But for now, it remains. I’ll be submitting Realm of Obsidian to the Spring Thing competition with the “door issue” as is. Maybe I’ll get a point deduction of some kind, though of course, I hope not. I just don’t think it’s a big deal to type in “open door.” Any thoughts, anyone?

How Often Do You Get Laid Thanks to Your IF?

March 1, 2009

I haven’t posted in awhile, and I’m going to cheat a bit and hand the bulk of this blog over to someone else. I found this on the newsgroup (known to those familiar with it as raif). You can access newgroups through certain email programs like Outlook, or through Google Groups.

This post was in response to an attack on Adam Cadre. It made no apparent sense, seemed spawned from jealousy, and asked the question, “How often do you get laid thanks to your IF?” The post (which I will NOT reprint here) depicted IF authors as being rather unattractive and unwanted as a partner. I thought the reply below was very well said. I don’t know if the author wants their name revealed, but my thanks goes to you, if you’ve written this:

 Because a professional appreciator contributes nothing to the world.

The only way we can positively affect the world is to add to it. As I often tell people, if you want to really live, put something out there. Don’t just read a book. Passively taking in input does nothing. You must output something. Even if that something adds nothing to the world other than affecting how someone else looks at it. At least you are then contributing. Someone who hides in his room and reads every book ever written does nothing to add to life on this planet.

So we put something out there. Some of us write IF. Some of us do much more. Some of us write fiction, poetry, computer games, photograph things, write comics, cartoons, and photo stories. Some of us put that out there either on a personal web page, or in a magazine, or on our computers.

But we don’t do it “to get laid”. Not everything can achieve that, nor
should that be the only goal in life.

Hedonism may be fun, but it doesn’t affect anyone but yourself.

Affect someone else.

Do something.

Put something out there.

It’s the only reason we are here.

I think the last sentence is untrue, as well as the fact that creating something is the only way to contribute something. What about the social worker who saves lives? What about the police officer who apprehends a criminal? Those people also contribute to the world, but yes, I would like to add something – to create. That’s my thing, though I greatly appreciate the social workers and police officers (among others) of the world.

On a funny note, anyone familiar with playing IF will find this brilliant. It’s a response in the same thread:

>>I only get laid thanks to Adam Thornton’s IF. 😦

> Wow. Can you tell me the trick to that? It never works for me.

Have you tried “Want to come upstairs and see my interactive fiction?”

Yeah, she said “I only understood you as far as wanting to come.”

Which initially seemed pretty promising, but turned out to just be a
parser error.

Interactive Fiction in Widescreen?

February 19, 2009


This is a bit of irony. I just purchased a new computer system. Some specs:

Pentium Dual-Core E5200 Processor (2.5 Ghz, 2 MB cache)
4 GB of memory
500 GB hard drive
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Integrated 7.1 channel audio
18″ widescreen flat-panel monitor

What did I most look forward to doing with this computer? Why, writing and playing Interactive Fiction, of course. Which is predominantly text-based. Ha!

The thing is, I like the way IF looks on my widescreen monitor. The only noticeable difference is that text is displayed in longer lines, and more text can fit on the screen at a time, due to the fact I’m running at a higher screen resolution than before.

Oh, there’s one other difference that I’ve noticed so far. The title screen for Curses by Graham Nelson (curses.zblorb) looks reallllllly nice (see above). It actually seems as if these title screens were meant to be viewed in widescreen.

So now I’m playing IF in a widescreen format. Where are the deleted scenes and optional author commentary? 😛

Realm of Obsidian Enters Beta

February 17, 2009


That’s right, Realm of Obsidian has finally entered the beta stage. Check this page for some basic information. If you’re interested in signing up for the beta, send me an email at Beta must end before the end of March, as I will be entering the game into the Spring Thing competition.

This may just be the first game released using TAB (thinBASIC Adventure Builder). You can read more about TAB here.

This is a short entry, as I’m not really allowed to reveal any more about the game than I already have, due to competition rules.

What is Interactive Fiction? And why?

February 13, 2009


Here I am. First blog, first post. And based around interactive fiction. Some of my friends in real life were previously unaware that I had even the slightest interest in IF. (From here on, I will refer to Interactive Fiction as “IF.” My fingers will be very thankful.) Many of these friends also really don’t know what IF is. I’ll attempt to explain what IF is (some basic information on how you can use a computer to play a story in which you are the active participant), and why I’m enjoy writing it.

Writing IF is like writing a novel, except that the writer must account for everything that the main character might decide to do. Suppose the main character’s daughter has drowned. Naturally, you would think that this parent would try to save the child. What if the main character decided to look at the people and objects nearby? What if this parent wanted to walk away and do something else instead? (These are things I tried to do in Adam Cadre‘s game, Photopia. Why would I let her drown? What’s wrong with me, you say? Well, I just wanted to see what would happen, okay? Sheesh…) The game (though some would argue that not all IF are games) could just tell you something like, “You really don’t want to leave your daughter like this!” Or it could just let you do what you want and witness the consequences. Maybe your daughter would die. In Photopia, you are allowed to be an inactive participant, but then another character in the game ends up performing CPR on your daughter.

IF games have a very simple principle. You’re presented with a block of text, and then a certain amount of the game is turned over to you. You enter a command which might (or might not) advance the flow of the narrative. Commands usually start with a verb, followed by a noun, and prepositions and other nouns may follow. Some examples: open door, climb the ladder, attack guard with knife, give apple to teacher, talk to father, remove the gold coin from the chest, wear necklace. (As you may notice, the word “the” is optional. Most games will ignore the use of “the,” “a,” and “an.”) Results from a command may result in failure, something in the game world being changed, or perhaps the end of the game (and perhaps the main character) entirely. Consider the first example above: open door. Failure could find you reading this: “You turn the knob, but you discover that the door is locked.” Success may result in: “With a creek, the door opens wide.” And to take this example to the extreme: “Ignoring the yellow and black emblem on the door, you open it. You are hit with a blast of white-hot radiation that immediately begins liquefying your internal organs. Thankfully, you lose consciousness before it really gets messy. *** You have died ***”

The first IF games available to the general populace were commercial products. We’re talking the early ’80’s here, folks. The most successful purveyor of these games was Infocom. These games are considered to be classics today, even though many more recent games have surpassed Infocom’s in size, scope and functionality. Zork was the first game released by Infocom (as well as their best seller), though later games were much more prosaic and profound by nature. One such game is entitled Trinity, and it has the player travelling through time to stop a nuclear explosion that happened at the beginning of the game. Trinity expresses an atmosphere of paranoia, impending doom and hopelessness… interspersed with moments of beauty and awe.


Infocom and another companies specializing in IF (then more widely known as text adventures) went out of business around the late ’80’s to early ’90’s. However, the fall of commercial IF eventually brought about something even more wonderful: today’s IF community. With the advent of authoring systems like TADS, Inform and ADRIFT, people were able to easily create IF of their own. The need for programming such games in languages such as BASIC or C++ was not needed. Most of these authoring programs were free or shareware (“try before you buy”). Most of the games produced by these programs followed suit. Today, the IF community is a small but a healthy one. Most games are completely free. Just download and play. There are three major annual competitions, and games of virtually any genre are produced. Some games feature graphics, sound and even full-motion video clips. (As a side note and unabashed plug, my own Realm of Obsidian features sound effects and music.)

I’ve covered the “what.” The second question I tend to get is: “Why?” Besides the fact that I greatly enjoy playing such games myself, it lets me be creative and use logic. One aspect is the story. The other aspect is programming.

The story suits the creative side of me. I’ve written two (non-IF) short stories, and three unfinished novels. I love the art of creating a world that’s all my own. A world that the reader can (hopefully) get drawn into and experience as if it was a real place. Characters they can identify with, admire, or despise. Places to learn about and explore. IF takes this to the next level. The reader can change the story, influence the course of events, and alter the narrative entirely.

The programming fits my logical side. How do I make what I want to happen… happen? For example, how would I make a text and audio countdown work? Suppose the main character is in a space shuttle waiting for liftoff. I can make (or find on the internet) ten sound files, that would have a voice saying “one” through “ten.” I could name them one.wav, two.wav, etc. That’s the easy part. Now to make the sounds “count down” from ten to one, no matter what the player does. Text would print on the screen as well (“SEVEN…”), for the benefit of those who are playing without sound, or maybe for those who are hearing-impaired. Figuring this out and seeing (and hearing!) it work is very satisfying to me. I imagine that if I were playing such a game for the first time, I would find it to be quite a cool and immersive experience to hear this countdown.

Giving something back to the community is another factor. All that modern IF authors seem to get in exchange for their hard work comes in the form of reviews from online webzines, emails from those who played the game, and if the game is very good, a modest award from an annual IF competition. But the real reward goes much further than that. People can play your story, become immersed in it, and be a part of a world you’ve created. They may then become inspired to make their own game. Maybe they want to see if they can do it better. Maybe they want to try a whole different genre. “This science fiction-based IF was really good stuff, but I want to create a murder mystery.” With the sophistication of authoring systems today, your imagination is the limit.

Imagination is something I’ve always had an abundance of. I haven’t finished Realm of Obsidian, yet I have ideas for at least four other games! Writing IF gives me an outlet for my creativity, a way of puzzle-solving and bringing my story to fruition, and a way to belong and contribute to a community based on literary achievements, creative expression, and free enterprise. It’s very rewarding to me.

Any other questions? 🙂