Sunday, March 20, 2011

Game 51: Journey: the Quest Begins (1988)

This is easily the most terrifying adventuring party I've ever seen.

I fired up Journey, which I knew nothing about, and found myself delighted to be playing another Infocom game! This was, in fact, the last Infocom game, and only the second I'm playing as part of this blog. The first was Beyond Zork.

Journey shows Infocom's dedication to quality prose. I don't know who they had as writers for their text adventures, but they were good at their craft. More important, the company recognized that good writing was the very key to a "text adventure." If you're going to be mostly staring at text for 13 hours, you want to make it gripping. But reading on screen is a different experience than reading a book, and the text also has to be concise.

The game is not really a CRPG, and it doesn't seem to contain all of the three elements I outlined yesterday. There are no attributes, no hit points, no levels or experience. There is some non-puzzle-based inventory, in the form of spell reagents, but the spells themselves are generally puzzle-based. Journey is an adventure game, and the only reason I could think that someone at MobyGames tagged it as a CRPG is that you have multiple characters and a basic inventory. The game lets you buy things but doesn't even bother to tell you how much gold you have! Nonetheless, I'm going to play it for one posting given my fondness for Infocom's previous work.

The backstory: the characters come from a medieval village that has experienced five years of fouled water and failing crops. On the brink of starvation, the village has sent a party of four warriors across the mountains to beg help from a powerful wizard. Unfortunately, they never returned, and so the village convened a second party--a ragtag bunch composed of a carpenter (Bergon), an apprentice wizard (Praxix), a doctor (Esher), and an apprentice food merchant (Tag, though you can change the name) to try again. The story is told in the past tense from Tag's point of view.

The game uses an innovative but simple interface in which you choose from a list of available commands for each character at the bottom of the screen. As you do, the upper right portion (the largest) narrates the result. Even simple commands like checking inventory are fully narrated in prose.

I decided to play the first game "badly," choosing what seemed like idiotic options just to see how quickly I could make it end. This was the basic sequence of events:

  • Stopped in the Village of Lavos on the first day. The party made some noise about buying food or visiting the tavern for news, but I just chose to blow on through. (In doing so, I missed the opportunity to recruit a fifth party member.)

Not how the image corresponds with the text.

  • Came to a fork in the path. Too the left road and was set upon by bandits at night. Esher the physician died immediately. (If I had brought the character from Lavos, he would have warned me about the bandits.) Tried to parley with them to no avail. Fought them off and was surprised when Minar (who I was suppose to have picked up in Lavos) approached me on the path and joined me. Apparently, the game helps protect you against completely missed opportunities. I told him to get lost.

Combat is based on command selections and not tactics or statistics.

  • Kept following the mountain path and ignored opportunities to detour. Came to the Old Forest and then a river. Gathered materials to build a raft and launched it. Kept paddling downstream until we came to a waterfall. Tried to cross the river at that point but ended up tumbling down the waterfall. Had to comb back up to get out of the basin. Built another raft and crossed the river.

The village begins to regret sending this party...

  • Arrived at Sunrise Mountain. Started following the path up but it forked so many times that the adventurers got hopelessly lost, fought among themselves, and eventually gave up (I think I needed a map from the store in Lavos).

When you "lose" the game, Tag gives you some "musings" about the experience that give hints for playing it more successfully next time. Among the ones I got were: should have had a map of the mountain, should have been more cautious crossing the river, should have taken Minar, shouldn't have been surprised by bandits.

Bergon gets advice from his party members.

Before I play the game for "real," let me note some other features of the interface. There are some commands that the characters almost always have. Bergon can "get advice" from his party at various points, Praxix the wizard/scholar can "cast" a spell or "examine" either his inventory or things in the area, Minar can "scout," and Tag can view or drop inventory items. Occasionally, Praxix also has the option to "Tell Legend" which fills you in about the game world's story.

This came shortly after I rescued a party member from nymphs.

Praxix also has a number of spells at his disposal, most of which are the solution to some puzzle or another. The "Glow" spell was necessary to find my way through a cave, for instance. Other spells could be used in combat to end it more quickly and without losing a party member.

I just hope I get to cast the "mud" spell at some point.

There isn't much else to tell you about the game except how the story goes and how it ends. Fortunately, the game gives the option to run a script of your adventure. I'll post it tomorrow with some comments.

Before I sign off, though, let me just cover two highlights. First, take a look at this picture, which occurs while my party is trying to cross through an underground dwarf kingdom on the way to a tower:

Doesn't that look pretty much exactly like the path to Khazad-dûm in The Fellowship of the Ring? (Albeit with the party approaching from the other direction.) It seems unlikely that Peter Jackson's animators were aware of Journey: the Quest Begins, so I can only imagine that both this image and the model were adapted from some other Lord of the Rings source (this game is full of borrowings from LOTR--more to come tomorrow) or else it's just a coincidence.

Second--and this is big--according to Infocom's own text adventure, grues are the same thing as orcs and goblins! Check it out:

This is monumental, and yet no one else online seems to have notice this. Frankly, it's hard to believe this is canon. I've always thought of a grue as a wormish creature, and the Wikipedia entry on grues notes that some Infocom games describe them as beasts with fangs and fur.

I suppose the latter description doesn't rule out orcs, though. In fact, one day we need to have a talk about exactly what an "orc" is; for such a ubiquitous foe, each game seems to treat him very differently. For this game, though, orc=grue. Keep a torch handy.


  1. I hope you're enjoying Journey. You can finish it within the next post or a couple if you'd like, as it's not a very long game nor is it very difficult (especially if you consult the musings). Keep in mind that the game *knows* it's not very long and not very difficult and will punish you with, what is called in adventure game lingo, "walking deads". That's where you didn't do the right thing twenty screens ago and you're missing a vital item and there's no way to go back for it, prompting a restart. A particularly devious bit of that involves trying to put out a fire in an Elvish village and coming up short in magical supplies. The game gives you two distinct and unconnected chances to get these supplies up to that point, but it doesn't let you know that you failed to get them (as they're not apparent) and are therefore walking dead until much later. So, if you want a hint for that, do tell and I'll fire up the cryptograph application.

    On the upside: I remember the pains of pre-internet frustration every time I messed up on this game when I played it as a teenager were somewhat ameliorated by just how quickly and efficiently you can restart the game and get to where you messed up. The benefits of a mostly-text game right there.

  2. Also, you get some lovely pictures of orcs in this game, very much unlike how they're usually imagined in the traditional fantasy canon.

  3. Helm, I just found the orc picture and pasted it at the end of the posting.

    Thanks for the warning. The "walking dead" thing has happened a couple of times. It seems the game DOES warn you, though, by having Tag dream of being swept off a mountain.

  4. Wow. Journey is one of the Infocom games one rarely hears about, but it looks pretty neat from this. I may have to go poke at it sometime.

    I was going to say they did make a couple of genuine RPGs - Circuit's Edge and Mines of Titan - but on further inspection both games were made by Westwood (of C&C fame - well, and Lands of Lore, for we CRPG fans) and merely published by Infocom.

  5. maklav11: Circuit's Edge is an old favourite of mine, though I never got around to completing it. I'm thinking about trying to complete it around the time Mr. Addict gets to it.

    Anyway, Journey looks pretty neat. I'm tempted to give it a go. Trying to get through Death Gate (Legend Entertainment) first, though I'm a bit disappointed that a game called Death Gate features something called a Kicksey Winsey.

    - Joe

  6. CRPG Addict: aces on the orcs! More coming up later. I never noticed that 'swept off of the mountain' walking dead warning. Kind of them.

    I finished Circuit's Edge recently. Download a map and do yourself a favour, track which girls/strippers/prostitutes frequent which bars. They're not stationary NPCs and you'll have to do with them to finish the game. Otherwise quite easy and very well-written. Excellent atmosphere and even a few different ways to role-play in-game (for example, how many other games do you know where you can go through them with your main character constantly high/low on drugs? The character portrait even changes according to how beat up, high or otherwise incapacitated the character is). Not a CRPG in the strict sense (if memory serves, no levelling), but very much of interest to those that hunt the broader fields for hidden gems.

    Mines of Titan/Mars Saga is a heavy-duty party CRPG though.

    Both games feature amazing EGA art by the Westwood graphics team. You won't be regretting playing the PC version for those two games, at the very least.

  7. There's no levelling in Circuit's Edge, but there is combat, and there's a monetary system that's used to buy addon chips for your brain that tweak your stats and give you abilities and such. It's also pretty free roaming.

    It's set in the Budayeen of George Alec Effinger's Marid Audran novels (When Gravity Fails, Fire in the Sun, The Exile's Kiss) and if memory serves he either wrote Circuit's Edge or at least consulted on it. It's actually what got me to seek out those (excellent) books, but unfortunately at the time they'd been out of print for years. More fortunately, they've been reprinted recently in lovely trade paperbacks...after I'd finally found all three in the original mass market editions. Figures, right?

  8. Well, it IS free roaming - you're allowed to visit all the city whenever you like (even if there isn't much to do outside of the main quests) but it's also stricty linear regarding the main plot. Still a good game, though.

    I suppose it gave the idea to Fallout for the various character expressions based on what you say.

  9. What's "MAG", by the way? Never heard of it before.

  10. According to Mobygames, it's a roguelike dating back from 85. :/

  11. "Features include [...] pools of vomit"

    Wow, now I'm looking forward to it xD

    Joking aside, it doesn't look half bad. Like Rogue, only with more features.

  12. It is easier to search for under "Mike's Adventure Game" if you're curious. It's basically Rogue with improved gameplay. (How much improved, I will wait for our intrepid captain to discover.)

  13. I should say that I enjoyed Circuit's Edge so much that I captured Marid's cellphone ring with Audacity, and have used it as my own ringtone ever since.

    It's a great game, and I think it holds up marvelously well today. Great music and writing, with a neat gameplay element in the moddies.

  14. Journey is one of the few Adventure games I really enjoyed. Excellent prose, good "atmosphere" and mostly logical puzzles.
    But I only almost finished it, since I lacked some spell components very close to the end.

    If you like Journey, you should also check out Legend of the Sword - - also from 1988, which is in the same vein and in my opinion even better. It is also one of the few Adventure games I've actually finished, since it's not too hard (only needed help with one puzzle).

  15. Helm, as I discovered through unfortunate experience, the premonitions in dreams do not warn you against all "walking dead" mistakes.

    Petrus, it sounds like you had exactly the same experience I did, though I guess you must have ultimately found those spell components. I didn't. The game really kind of pissed me off.

  16. Pools of Vomit..wasn't that the first SSI Gold Box game :)

  17. >>"It seems unlikely that Peter Jackson's animators were aware of Journey: the Quest Begins, so I can only imagine that both this image and the model were adapted from some other Lord of the Rings source"

    Alan Lee has made a lot of illustrations from the Tolkien universe, and he also worked on the films. He started with LOTR illustrations around '87-88, so he (or his illustrations) could be the common source.

    On the other hand, how else would you depict spiraling stairs that have crumbled and have a big gap?

    And (again) thanks for a great blog, still working on getting up to speed, just 55 entries to go (atm) :)


  18. I played this about 6 year ago as part of a text adventure collection pack for the pc. It was a fantastic game i loved it such a simple graphic and description for me made a very enjoyable adventure game, unfortunatly modern game making has lost this sense of atmosphere and creativity.
    Jounrey is a lost gem!

  19. It had its moments, but I found it to be far too linear for my tastes. Unless I'm wrong, I believe there is only one way to solve the quest. And the inability to backtrack really cut down on experimentation.

  20. Having recently read the Fellowship of the Ring, I can tell you the scene where they have to jump across a chasm in the stairs in Moria/Khazad-dûm is not from the book. So wherever this game and Peter Jackson's crew got the inspiration for that, it definitely wasn't Tolkien's book.

    1. That's a key piece of intel. Thanks! I guess it's just a coincidence.


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