Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Journey: The Quest Ends

As far as I got.

Wow, was I cocky two days ago, thinking I would win Journey: The Quest Begins that same night. The game lured me into a false sense of security, though. The early puzzles were really easy. Later ones...well, I should have realized that this is the same company that made Zork.

The difficulty of the puzzles doesn't bother me so much as the linearity of the game. You need to do specific things in a specific order, and the game doesn't bother to tell you when you screw up. About an hour later, you realize you were supposed to explore that nymph cave more thoroughly, and you missed a key item. Helm talked about this yesterday. I went through a lot of "walking dead" moments before I finally found one I couldn't defeat and gave up.

Losing Hurth apparently broke the game, but I didn't know it at the time.

At first, I thought the game was a lot like Beyond Zork, with the ability to use multiple means to solve the same puzzle. But later I realized the game is deceptive in that way. If you use a spell to solve a puzzle when you didn't need a spell, for instance, you are liable to find yourself lacking crucial reagents at a later date. (This ultimately sunk me.) Beyond Zork gave you greater freedom of movement throughout the game world and more freedom to make mistakes.

To take an example, early in the game you are given the choice between a right and left path at a fork. If you take the left fork, you run into some bandits, but you can prepare yourself for the combat and come out well. Nonetheless, you much later realize that by not taking the right fork, you missed out an a crucial bag of spellcasting elements as well as the solution to one of the game's mysteries. In that sense, the game's "choices" are all mirages. You either have to keep reloading or save the game at every crucial branch so you can reload when it becomes clear you did something wrong.

The party loses.

Here's another example. At one point in the game, if you ask a dwarf named Hurth to tell you a story about the elves, you learn a few Elvish words. Shortly thereafter, you encounter an elf whose support you need to get a magic amulet. In order to convince here you're a friend, you have to say some of the words you learned. But if you misspell them--even capitalization--she runs off and you don't get the amulet. Beyond Zork wouldn't have had such dire consequences for misspelling a word.

The game also lacks the sense of humor of most Infocom games. At times, I tried to cast spells or use objects in unusual ways. The Zork series would have eaten it up. For instance, there's this one episode where some elves' trees catch on fire. The only way to solve the puzzle is to cast the "rain" spell to put out the fire (which in turn depends on having stopped at a river to collect water essence in the middle of a storm).

Zork would have had a field day with this. Cast "Wind" and the fire grows worse. Cast "Elevation" and you levitate one of your party members int the flames. Cast "Mud" and the elves get stuck while the fire surrounds them. Cast "Lightning" and just exacerbate the situation. You'd have a humorous account of just how and why and how badly you screwed up before you died. Journey just says that your wizard couldn't figure out "how it could possibly help." Laaaaame.

I solved a lot of the puzzles through brute force. Since there are a limited number of options at any given moment, you can usually keep trying various spell and action combinations until something works, then reload and do it for real. And yes, I did break my "no reloading" rule eventually, because I was sick of starting the game completely over from scratch just because I made one bad decision. The game is merciless. At one point, you find yourself at a tower and you can go up or down. If you go down, you find a chest of jewels with no obvious function. For reasons that escape my understanding, you have to mix some powder with some fire essence and cast a spell on the chest to find a particular gem. That's hard enough, but what makes it even harder is that if you leave the room to go explore elsewhere, the game doesn't let you get back to it again.

Nonetheless, I persevered through a couple dozen puzzles, solving each the best I could, maximizing my conservation of reagents and only using spells when they were the only option. Then I got to what I think (actually, a walkthrough confirmed) was pretty much one step from the end of the game, and I didn't have enough "wind essence." I don't know where I could have saved any, but there it is. I'm not starting over again.

This isn't even remotely a CRPG, so I have no idea why I played it as long as I did. The writing was good and the story decent and the puzzles were interesting, but a good game gives you more options for solving them and is less obnoxious about ensuring that an extra spell cast in the first five minutes keeps you from winning in the last five. Maybe this is par for the course in "adventure games," but I'm not an Adventure Game Addict. Might & Magic II is coming up, so let's plow on forward.


  1. Y'know, I'm not sure which I like more about this blog, watching you play the games I grew up on or discovering classics that I somehow missed. I think I'm going to have to check this one out, thanks!

  2. Guess I'm first to post. Anyway, yeah this doesn't sound like a game I would play.

    In relation to an earlier post, I finally found the TV Trope name I was looking for (though it has very little on the page) that encompasses all these old un-average-user-friendly game interfaces: The Pennyfarthing Effect. I would be a happy Troper if you, CRPG Addict, and anyone else who reads this site would contribute more examples from your gaming experiences.

    - Giauz

  3. Heh - I have had this game for YEARS (originally on a 5.25" floppy) and never gotten too far in it. I LOVED the style of the prose - it was immediately compelling. But restarting over and over got old, fast.

  4. I can confirm that's not "par for the course" in adventure games, at least not the good ones. Most Infocom games are much more open-ended and reward you for trying things, even if only with an entertaining death. I'm primarily an adventure fan but can't stand "walking dead" scenarios, particularly when there's no reasonable way you could have known you'd done something wrong. Many of the early Sierra "quest" games have the same problem. I was surprised you'd come across an Infocom game I hadn't heard of but I think I would have hated to play it, despite some good ideas.

  5. I remember doing ok with everything but the ending where I was missing one reagent just like you were. It turned out I missed an action near the very beginning. Rarr.

  6. I don't blame you for stopping... It seems strange that the game was generally regarded as being "Introductory" level -- I'd think an experience like that would drive any potential players away from interactive fiction for good.

  7. Giving choices and then punishing players by not allowing them to go forward because they didn't make the "right" one, or punishing the players at the end because they didn't get something at the beginning are both very bad design choices - I'm quite surprised that Infocom decided to follow this way, especially because their games IIRC were usually far less unforgiving than IFs from, say, Magnetic Scrolls.

    Anyway, you had me intrigued - I think I'll give it a try in spite of the flaws.

  8. Also, I see Omega appearing on the list. That's a very good roguelike with tons of innovative features (among them a guild system with exclusive quests) - I'm sure you'll enjoy it when you get there (which may not be too soon considering there's M&M2 coming ahead).

  9. Even the best Infocom titles do contain these walking death scenarios. I LOVE Enchanter, but there were two puzzles that required outside help for me to solve. One involved a box bound in a magic rope. You have a "Kulcad" scroll that can disenchant the rope, and this solution works everytime. But you end up needing that scroll later, so this viable solution is not THE solution, although you're never informed of this. Likewise, I conserved inventory space by "frotzing" myself to serve as a light source, instead of the lantern provided. Works fine for the whole game. Except there's one area you have to enter without a light source to interact properly with. Nothing in the game ever hints at this - you have to stumble on it by blind luck (pun intended). Impossible with my solution. Good games, those Infocom fellows made, but puzzle solving should always have multiple solutions.


  10. Might and Magic II is next? The list has MAG and then Mars' Saga as next. If you need Mars Saga, it was released on DOS as Mines of Titan, otherwise identical, and I can zip it to you. MAG I have never heard of.

    I'm more curious about those two than M&MII, which I suspect you'll enjoy. It's a simply outstanding title for it's era, and it took everything right about M&MI, and added more good stuff. IMO of course. It was my introduction to the M&M series.

    Mars Saga, which I never could get very far in, is the one I'm most interested in seeing in the current list up top. If for no other reason than to see if you can figure out just what the heck is going on.

  11. If you like M&MII as much as I did, you will like it very intensely indeed.

  12. I may be forced to change my posting name to Corak.

  13. No, no. Don't get excited. I didn't mean MM2 was coming up next, just that it's close on the horizon. A couple of games in between.

    I tried a couple more times to win Journey but kept screwing up, even on puzzles that I'd figured out the first few times. Ugh.

  14. Oh! I'm sorry if I misled you by calling Journey easy and beatable in a session. I still hope you had some fun with it :( I think it is relatively an easy game but I have played every adventure game under the sun and if you compare Journey to something like "Deadline" by Infocom, it's just a series of quantum walks in the park. Sometimes the park has metal blades instead of blades of grass, sometimes your legs are lame, but there'll be a universe in the waveform permutation where you'll get it right eventually!

    Most 'proper' IF games require mapping, there's mazes, there's huge timesinks of trial and error. You arrive at a crucial location one Turn too late. You solve a puzzle in a sub-par way and do not get full score. It wasn't a forgiving hobby. Restarts were par for the course. Watch "Get Lamp" (a documentary) for recollections of men in their fourties and fifties on IF.

    Graphical adventure games, even the nastier by Sierra, were much easier. And Lucas Arts games were just a matter of time, always.

  15. Yeah, Journey is pretty terrible. I tried the same thing and was short one essence at the end no matter what, so I decompiled the game and read the end that way. Truly one of Infocom's worst.

  16. Helm, I agree about adventure games. I don't know why I wrote, "if that's par for the course..." It's not like I never played adventure games before. The difficultly didn't frustrate me as much as the linearity. I don't remember any of the Infocom text adventures (at least, not the Zork and Enchanter series) burning so many bridges behind you. Even when I knew I'd screwed up in Beyond Zork, for instance, it was nice to keep exploring and solving puzzles, knowing that I could put that knowledge to use when I restarted. Journey just keeps propelling you forward on a wave.

    Glad to hear you had the same experience, gschmidl (I mean, I'm not glad that you were frustrated, only that I didn't overlook something obvious). I replayed it a couple of times even after this posting, once using a walkthrough, and was still missing one wind essence at the end.

  17. Hmm.... So this game was made after Maniac Mansion had come out. And a year later, Infocom was history... LucasArts games were fairer, they looked better and could be handled easier.

    1. Infocom went under not because Journey and its other games of the time bombed; in fact, its adventure games were selling well right until the end. Journey, in particular, was quite well reviewed at the time. What put an end to Infocom was largely an unwise and poorly researched attempt to branch out into non-game software, most notably a business database project called Cornerstone that they sunk most of their capital into and that failed miserably. Broke, Infocom was then bought out by Activision. This didn't immediately end the company; some of its best known games came out after the buy-out, and so for that matter did Journey itself. But it was the beginning of the end. Relations got steadily worse for various reasons between the heads of Activision and its now subsidiary Infocom; Activision never quite seemed to understand how to market adventure games or what was involved in making them; and things just kept snowballing till Activision finally closed Infocom down in 1989. (And since Infocom had by then become synonymous with text adventures, or "interactive fiction" as it (rather stuffily) liked calling them, that pretty much put paid to the genre as a commercial enterprise.)

      It doesn't make sense to blame Infocom's fall on competition from LucasArts; it's not like LucasArts was taking what Infocom was trying to do and doing it better. Graphic adventures á la LucasArts and Sierra and text adventures á la Infocom are two different genres that I think could easily have continued to coexist had Infocom not suffered the misfortunes it did. The advent of graphic adventures did not mean text adventures automatically became obsolete, any more than the advent of motion pictures put an end to novels. Personally, I think it wouldn't be impossible for text adventure games to make a comeback as a commercial genre, but they'd have to be treated and marketed in a way very different from other games... but that's another matter.

      All that being said, Journey does seem quite atypical for an Infocom game, and I'm not convinced it was a step in the right direction. My guess was it was a product of Activision's insistence on more graphically intensive games and other executive meddling. Infocom might have been better off sticking to its considerable strengths, although by the time Journey came out the company was on its last legs anyway—indeed, this was the last game Infocom released before Activision closed it—, so I doubt this game made any difference one way or the other.

    2. Jalen, are you aware of The Adventure Gamer blog? It is very similar to Chet's (It was inspired by it), but about adventure games, and a lot of us read both. The URL is http://advgamer.blogspot.com

    3. Thanks for the heads-up. I did run across a mention of The Adventure Gamer on a previous post or comment here at the CRPG Addict's blog, and it's already on my blogroll, but I admit I haven't really started reading it yet... partly due to lack of time, but mostly for fear of spoilers. As I'm reading through the back entries in the CRPG Addict's blog, too, I'm skipping over entries for games I haven't played yet but intend to (such as the Might & Magic II posts that begin shortly after this entry), but I'm kind of afraid that posts about adventure games might be even more spoilery. Like CRPGs, I have a lot of classic adventure games I haven't played yet but intend to someday, and I don't want them spoiled.

      Still, I probably ought to delve into The Adventure Gamer and at least start reading some posts about games I either have played or have little chance of ever playing...

    4. Thanks Jalen for these details. I did not know that one could see it the other way round, not the games dooming a company, but the company dooming the games. But did any company take up the mantle to continue making these games? There might have been some more life in text adventures, but only for a couple of years - even the Wizardry series updated its graphics in 1990.

    5. Alexander: There is still Interactive Fiction written today, just not much. Google around; The Interactive Fiction archive is still having stuff added to it, and that stuff is all free as well!

    6. I think the main reason no other company stepped forward to make text adventures after that was because, as I said, Infocom by that point had pretty much made itself a monopoly on the genre. There have been some sporadic attempts by small indie publishers to market text adventures commercially in recent years, but none that have really gotten far.

      I disagree, though, that text adventures would have been defunct within a few years anyway. It may be true that nowadays the torch is really only being carried by amateur enthusiasts, but that might not have been the case had things gone differently. Maybe today's public insists on high-end graphics being a necessary feature of a commercial game, but that's largely because the big game companies have gotten them to think that way, and had Infocom or some other company been continually keeping text adventures in the public eye, they could have continued to be a viable genre.

      Text adventures don't need graphics, and don't need the latest technology, but that doesn't make them inherently outdated or inferior. Hence my earlier comparison with novels versus motion pictures... like modern big-name games, motion pictures typically require large budgets and many hours of work by hundreds of people; as technology improves, it allows for better special effects, and the newest blockbusters take advantage of the latest technology. Novels, like text adventures, can be written by a single person, and the technology used to create them is largely irrelevant. And yet novels obviously haven't been rendered obsolete; they're still being read today (albeit perhaps in smaller quantities as before the advent of movies and TV). I don't see any reason the same couldn't have remained true of text adventures. Of course, books aren't marketed and sold the same way as movies, and similarly text adventures would have to be marketed and sold differently from other games that rely on high-end graphics and the latest technology, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be done.

      (One of my (many) (somewhat unrealistic) goals if I ever somehow become rich is to do just that, to try to bring text adventures back as a commercial genre...)

    7. I think the main problem with text adventures is they are really unreliable. Over on the adventure gamer you wouldn't believe how many puzzles in the parser based games are defeated by bad parser input. This seems to be one of the main reasons that the push button type of user infer ace.

      I've played a few text adventures, but like adventure games they don't really seem to be my thing. Most boil down to 'rub X on Y' and 'Guess what crazybad moon logic the developers wanted you to use here'


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