Sunday, March 11, 2012

New Eamon Announcement and Review

Below is a review I wrote a new Eamon adventure that you won't want to miss. I've had it for a few months now and was going to wait until the Eamon Deluxe 5.0 system was finished so that I could release everything in one package. However, the 5.0 revisions are taking a bit longer than expected and I decided that this adventure has gone unreleased for long enough.

I am just finishing up a few details on a stand alone system for Eamon Deluxe adventures so the they can be played without having to download and install the entire system. As soon as that is ready, I'm going to publicly release all of the Eamon Deluxe originals in that format.

Watch this blog the next couple of days for download links to those adventures. In the meantime, enjoy the following review of what is one of the best Eamons I have ever played.

Eamon Deluxe Adventure #22
A Runcible Cargo by Thomas Ferguson

Reviewed by Frank Black

Eamon Deluxe version: 4.2 (with some 5.0 upgrades)
Playing time: 6-8 hours!
Reviewer rating: 9.5 out of 10 Average rating: 9.5/1


Admittedly, you don't know how you got here, but a relaxing, if uncanny, sunset greets your gaze.

But you have unexpected company, in the form of an incredibly large rabbit.

Being a seasoned Eamonaut, a rabbit of this stature should seem pedestrian. You, after all, have battled wizards with rocket launchers and engaged in space opera with broadswords... why does this rabbit unnerve you so?

Comment: Above is the ENTIRE intro text, which, when paired with the author warning me ahead of time that he had little programming experience and had never written an Eamon before, led me to believe I was in for a mildly entertaining, Alice in Wonderland type hack'n'slash fest. But looks can be deceiving and A Runcible (look it up) Cargo is a good example of that. Weighing in at 102 rooms, 141 artifacts, 39 monsters and *162* effects, this nearly 17,000 word Eamon Deluxe original is best described as an interactive novel, with a true feeling of adventure and rich with the flavor of Classic Eamon Lore. Indeed there are so many references to the Main Hall regulars and various classic adventures across the board that I was left dazed in a fantastic sort of way.

I initially sat down with my girlfriend at 1 a.m. one night, expecting to play through this adventure in an hour or less, make a few notes about bugs and typos and whip out a quick review. Three hours later I looked over to see her literally shudder while reading a description of a creepy figure outside a hotel window and felt a slight chill wash over myself as well. It had somehow become 4 a.m. and neither of us had noticed, being completely entranced in Mr. Ferguson's well crafted little world. I had to force myself to save the game and go to sleep. I did a quick 'seen flag' count which told me that, after three hours of game play, we had only been to less than half of the rooms in this adventure.

It took several days for me to set aside enough time to continue the adventure properly. I was playing it alone this time, picking up right where we had left off and it still took me another three hours to complete it. Six hours total game play! I know Eamon Deluxe inside and out, plus I was cheating slightly by already having a map and adding some code to list all the embedded artifacts in each room so I didn't have to spend time examining everything in the rich and interesting room descriptions. In fact there are very few descriptions in the entire adventure that are under 200 characters long or that are repetitious of each other. Even average "N/S corridor"-type rooms with nothing in them get treated to their own expository and unique descriptions.

I can't praise the author's excellent writing style enough and I felt completely drawn into his creation as I played through it. He has a definite mastery over words and you can feel how much fun he is having with them as he builds his interesting images around you. A Runcible Cargo is verbose to the point of almost being ridiculous at times with clever puns and inside Eamon references everywhere, and yet somehow manages to be light-hearted and often funny while still portraying a strong sense of mood and urgency. I have played over 200 Eamon adventures, some of them being extremely good, and I can honestly say that I have never been as entertained (or taken as many notes) as I did while playing this one.

While the area you start in has a sort of dreamy aimless feel to it (for a good reason), it matches up perfectly with the intro text and it isn't long before you move into another area and the action starts immediately! I had to laugh at myself as I noticed I was gripping my chair and my heart was racing at one point, something that doesn't normally happen to me from any form of entertainment. As you progress through the adventure the mood shifts perfectly to match the various settings and it is obvious that the author took great care down to the smallest details which make it much more realistic than an average adventure game.

As I mentioned, there is an area of intense action near the start which really gets things going. The pace slows down a bit afterwards and you are left to wander the large map at your leisure, but that sense of urgency never really goes away and, while, the author kindly lets you have your freedom to explore in your own way, he also makes sure you don't stray too far from your intended quest.

In fact you can mostly ignore the usual hints, heal spell and frequent saving that accompanies most complex adventures. The author is very fair to the player and seems more interested in entertaining you than killing you off, which is refreshing in an Eamon adventure. He also offers multiple ways for you to finish the game with varying consequences which further adds to the realism and leaves the player well satisfied as they exit the adventure.

The numerous references to Eamon Lore and the various shifting moods within a myriad of interesting settings make it a real treat to play for both experienced Eamon gamers and those new to the system. If you know your Eamon history and are fammiliar with most of the adventures then you will be amazed at the amount of "throwbacks" that are made throughout the game. The most obvious of all possibly being a wagon you come across near the start which contains a ray gun and a sword; this is no accident or random artifact placement but rather a well done symbol of the diversity and creative strangeness that has always been a part of Eamon. In fact, the whole adventure in itself could be described as one big tribute to/celebration of the Eamon multiverse. He even went as far as to incorporate one of the worst Eamons ever made, The Eamon Railroad, which is placed perfectly on the map and and I enjoyed quite a bit.

From the dreamy light hearted starting point, to the absolute chaos that follows, to the distinct feeling of abandonment and entropy in the Eamon Rail Yard (which is perfect for an adventure nobody has wanted to play for over 20 years), to the spine tingling creepiness in the town of Dodge, to the local inn which made me laugh out loud to myself as I explored and discovered that a bunch of jerks had ransacked it, locked the owner in his own appliance and invaded his quarters for a sleazy poker game. I particularly enjoyed dispatching them and then laughed again for letting myself get so involved in the story.

Nearly every area of Eamon is touched upon, including the obligatory sailing where you just walk between watery rooms in a perhaps imaginary boat, to the Eamon sewers...Even the rarely spoken of House of Ill Repute gets a quick and hilarious visit. In short, this is an adventure which the author took care to craft slowly, trying to cover every detail along the way and all of his hard work shows.

A Runcible Cargo has all of the traits of a great adventure. A steady pace; rich and realistic, yet fun, descriptions; a clear quest; lots of specials and action to keep the interest up; plenty of laughs and often amusing companions who seem to display real personality traits. The adventure seems to never be afraid to break the 4th wall, but yet remained, in many ways, the most realistic Eamon adventure I have played to date. Halfway through the game I was sure I was going to give it a perfect 10 rating, something I don't believe any adventure has ever gotten in the history of Eamon.

Why did I lower the rating to 9.5 then? Well there were a few things, mostly towards the end, that didn't sit well with me personally.

First off, most of the monsters are cardboard cutout "bandits". While this goes with the clear storyline and quest, it also gets rather tedious. At first I was impressed with the author's ability to write rich entertaining descriptions for each one of these cutouts, but by the end I was less amused and somewhat bored with each new way to verbosely say "You see a bandit." I found myself just skimming the bandit descriptions and blankly looking around my house as I repeatedly tapped the Enter key until they were dead and I could move on with my explorations.

The order in which I chose to pursue the map most likely worked against my rating as well because apparently I came across the most vacant and perhaps somewhat unfinished section of the game at the end of my explorations. This struck me with an anti-climactic feeling lingering after all of the interesting places I had visited previously. Here I found myself in a nearly empty college campus with a bunch of doors that were practically left wide open (I am guessing the author had some programming problems and gave up on trying to get them to work right at some point).

On that subject, there were way too many doors in this adventure in general, especially given the fact that few of them seemed to actually work right. Locked door puzzles can get old fast and that, combined with the cardboard cutout bad guys, brought the excellent material in the rest of the game down with it a little.

Once I acquired the Runcible Cargo there were some good special effects which brought the tension and interest back up again. I expected more of these effects as I journeyed on with it, but nothing else happened which was another small let down. The end of the game routines also seemed a bit rushed to me and not nearly as smoothly done as the beginning.

Keep in mind that these are all just my personal opinions and others may rate this adventure differently than I did based upon their own preferences.

With the few gripes I just listed aside, A Runcible Cargo is nothing short of a complete masterpiece of interactive fiction and definitely one of the top five best Eamons ever written. It's well crafted, well written, detailed and also a perfect example of the powerful capabilities Eamon Deluxe has over previous Eamon versions as well. This is an excellent yet somehow precisely humble entry for a first time author and I hope Mr. Ferguson sticks around for a long time and decides to write more adventures in the future.

Overall, I give it a difficulty rating of around 5 and part of that reflects the amount of time one needs to set aside just to play through and see everything rather than dangers of character death. I highly recommend this adventure to everyone. It is Eamon flavored interactive fiction at it's best.


Nathan Segerlind said...

Okay, I gotta check this out.

He had me at "runcible".

When was this adventure written?

Frank - Eamon Deluxe said...

It's about a year old now, Thomas had an elusive bug in the Main Loop; he sent me a copy last December when I came back into the Eamon scene and we got it fixed and running.

It is truly unlike any Eamon I have ever played. I'm doing a little final polishing on the stand alone adventure system and then it will be the first one up on here.

Frank - Eamon Deluxe said...

Update 03/19/2012: We decided to port A Runcible Cargo into the brand new MAINPGM 5.0 so it should be ready in a few days. I've also been working with the author of Realm of Fantasy on releasing a revised version of that adventure as well a new stand alone launcher that combines Standard and VI Mode into a single download.

Frank - Eamon Deluxe said...

Update 06/03/2012: The Eamon Deluxe 5.0 transplant and upgrade for A Runcible Cargo is finished! I have sent a copy to the author and will be posting a stand alone version for download as soon as he gives final approval.