Monday, March 11, 2013

Review from a new Eamon fan

Bad Matthew. sent me this post for the blog in January of 2012 and I meant to publish it much earlier. I'm only now sorting through my old emails and found it. Sorry for the delay! 
A new Eamon fan.
For many people, Eamon will be a matter of nostalgia, something they played 20 years ago.

For myself however, my acquaintance with Eamon actually began in 2008.
Indeed, while I found some great if titles (Worlds apart, Pytho's mask and Babel to name a few), it seemed that four out of five games I tried I'd find myself running around getting frustrated as I’m told something like "I don't know how to put" or "you can't use that."

Right from the age of about three, I've been interested in computer games, however  being visually impaired game access is, of course, an issue. Using screen reading software, most standard text in windows will be quite readable. Thus games like interactive fiction, muds and browser based mmorps are quite playable or can be made so with a little adaptation.(Audio only computer games that output exclusively in sound also exist, for more information please visit
What has always been of interest to me most in games is exploration, being able to wander around an unknown area, become truly immersed in the setting, become part of an epic story, or at the very least get to explore a new environment different from everyday life. So when I first got to university in about 2002 and found games that used text that I could play on my PC, I went on something of a spree, trying out everything I could.
The problem was that I quickly found each type of game had it's limitations.
Browser based mmorps tended to work very much on a competitive basis, focused almost exclusively on bettering your characters stats in order to compete with other players, ---- indeed many were heavily focused upon player vs player combat. This wouldn't be so bad in itself, accept that in the vast majority of games it seemed that little or no effort had been spent on the setting or the description, and most of the game actions would boil down to hitting the explore button until you found a monster (often just defined as a single name), then hitting attack until the monster's hp got to zero.

Even those few games such as legend of the green dragon that employed some questing often worked on a hit a button until you get a result sort of basis, with little actual exploring to be done and often very repetitive game play.

Then there was interactive fiction, which certainly had lots of wandering around and reading descriptions, not to mention plot and objectives. However since most if games used puzzles as their primary method of moving the game along, and since most had a very large parser (subject to program limitations), guessing the solutions to puzzles, or indeed guessing how the game wanted you to write solutions could be quite frustrating.
Also, combat in interactive fiction games was at a minimum, and it was always a little disappointing to realize that you couldn't actually pull out a sword and have at it with the evil troll or reduce the robots into scrap, since while certainly not all problems can be solved with violence, it does make for a good dramatic confrontation, or a way to give you a nice high tension break in the middle of mapping a maze or thinking out a riddle.

So, it seemed text rpgs fell between too stools. Either it was if, had ridiculous puzzles and zero combat, or it was a browser based mmorp, with repetitive grinding and little or no description or exploration. The Eamon system however offers a really nice compromise. Enough combat mechanics to allow confrontation, and enough of a parser to allow puzzles though not so broad as to be ridiculous.

I'd heard about Eamon on various if sites along with some of the few other text rpgs (usually old dos ones), available like Fallthru or Westfront, but since a screen reader can't interact with emulated text due to lack of the windows graphic toolkit, I'd given up hope of trying it. That was until in 2008 I ran across Eamon deluxe, which obviously ran in a dos style environment and thus had readable text.
Yes, in some ways the system was slightly archaic, for instance I couldn't use x for examine as in most if games, and some of the behavior of the parser was a little clunky, and I sometimes missed being able to get further information by examining monsters or items. Yet despite these problems, despite being twenty years old the thing still worked! The mimic was still a surprise, treasures were still fun to get, it was fun to use spells and it was great to gather allies and see them fight on my side.

As I tried several of the earlier adventures in Eamon Deluxe, I also realized something else about Eamon which probably makes more difference today than it did back in the 80's and 90's.
Eamon does not take itself seriously!
Even adventures with a serious theme where you are saving the world, rescuing some doomed individual or confronting diabolical evil have a rather easy going attitude. Demons are clobberable, treasures can be sold for cash and good will pretty much always win.
Though pretty obvious in the time it was created, today, with every hero being a gruff  angst ridden scumbag, and every villain having some sort of tragic past, the old fashioned values of heroes who slaughter their way confidently through hoards of nasties, and evil overlords simply reeking of the essence of badness is just down right refreshing!

Even the mild sexism in the form of the many rescued damsels doesn't come across as over the top (particularly because quite often in the Eamon system, the damsels can grab up a weapon once rescued and start smacking away).

The only problem of course was that the initial Eamon Deluxe was not perfect. It took some wangling to run successfully, indeed some visually impaired people wouldn't try it for this reason, had one or two bugs and didn't contain all of the adventures (I was sorry that Sam Ruby's were missing since from the reviews those sounded awesome).

However now Frank and Eamon deluxe are back many of these problems are being fixed, and more Eamons will be playable, which is good news all around, Perhaps even some new adventures will be written just for Eamon deluxe.
Despite those in the IF community that criticize, I am certain Eamon very much has it's place today, since it fits a role that few other games do, that of an exploration rpg which can manage combat or puzzles, plus many of the classic games have quite a different take on fantasy than we see in fashion currently.

For these reasons, I very much hope Eamon deluxe will help bring in some new players to Eamon just as it did with me, since in a lot of ways it is unique, and the fact that it persisted for so long and so many games shows that even if not the most modern system, it still has a lot to offer. 

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