Wishbringer (PC, MS-DOS)

WARNING! This review spoils some of the puzzles and plot points of the Infocom game “Wishbringer.” If you intend to play this game yourself and/or wish to go in completely blind, then stop reading right here.

Here is a conversation I had once. A friend of mine, who is normally very bright but prone to those kinds of mood swings that sometimes deny common sense, was trying to defend people who judged games based on their graphics. At one point, he said “You wouldn’t play a game that had no graphics at all, would you?”

To which I unhesitantly responded, “Yes I would. Zork is actually pretty fun.”

And I wasn’t just being flip, either. Back when I first played the original Zork my initial thought was “an all-text game? Well, might as well have a whack at it…” and I didn’t stop playing until I had not just beaten it, but found what I thought was the quickest path to all the treasures. Too bad I can’t remember any of it and wasn’t in the habit of writing stuff down.

Which brings me to Wishbringer. When I got The Lost Treasures of Interplay Volume II (I had Volume II before Volume 1) for some reason this was the game I was most interested in playing despite knowing almost nothing about it. If I had to guess, I’d say that since I hadn’t touched a text adventure (or even a point-n-click adventure) in years by this point, maybe it just felt safer and more familiar re-baptising myself with a fantasy-themed game that I had heard had some connections to Zork. Better to see a movie with an old friend than with a stranger (or even alone) I guess.

Wishbringer stars You as a post-office worker in the little town of Festeron, where one day you are told to deliver a special message to Ye Old Magick Shoppe before it closes. This part is timed but fortunately the time limit is quite generous and you can explore a bit first, finding lots of items, most optional, but at least one will be required later in the game.

Incidentally, in stand-alone prints of the game, the envelope you’re delivering (and the message it contains) was an actual physical printed object in the game box which you would open when the game tells you to. There was also a postal codes map which is necessary later on. In Lost Treasures II both of these are in the manual.

It turns out, somebody called “the Evil One” has kidnapped Ye Old Magick Shoppe lady’s cat, Chaos, and holds her hostage in exchange for “the stone.” Thus, your quest: Rescue Chaos. As a cat-lover myself, I was completely sympathetic. One additional complication is thrown your way though: Festeron has been turned into an evil town called Witchville. It’s sort of like Silent Hill except far sillier and without that whole “manifesting your inner demons” nonsense… unless the Evil One has some really bizarre things going on in her head.

(Incidentally, this quest is also timed, but the time limit is so generous that you’ll never exceed it unless you make a determined effort to do so)

I beat this game completely without a walkthru, scoring a full 100 points, although I didn’t do it on my first try.

See, when I play adventure games, I don’t save my game on the first attempt (autosaves don’t count). The first time in, I’m just “easing myself in” and messing around, not being too serious but instead experimenting to see what I can and can’t get away with. That way, on the second playthrough, I can be more time-conscious because I know what to do and what to avoid doing, and likely have figured a fast sequence for all of it.

Adventure games are pretty much the only genre where you have this luxury. In an RPG or an FPS, you might always fight Battle X in Level Y, but maybe you’re having a sugar crash or your cat jumps on the keyboard and thus you end up doing worse than normal, or other times you do exceedingly well, so you pretty much have to save afterwards. With adventure games tho, once you know “press B to Blow at Point X” then blowing at point X will always work, with pretty much the same results, every single time. I’ve only seen a few adventure games that are exceptions. So really, saving is almost pointless because if you die or mess up its very easy (albeit somewhat tedious) to retrace your steps, and I only start saving once I’m hooked and determined to see my quest through to the end.

… Or when I want to find some way to keep the mailbox.

Yeah, one of the damn cutest sequences in Wishbringer is there is this little mailbox that comes to life, and then starts rubbing up on you like a loving kitten, following you all around Witchville. And yes, you can pet it, say nice things to it, hug it and all that, and it very much likes the attention.

I
LOVED
that
Mailbox.

So it saddened me when I realized you probably were supposed to use it to solve a puzzle somewhere, which probably results in it either leaving or being destroyed, and after this realization I found the only thing you could do with it is make it fight another mailbox, which doesn’t seem to have a point. I’m going to go ahead and spoil this now because when I found out, I leaped for joy: The little mailbox turns up, alive and well, at the end of the game, even if it fights the other mailbox.

Okay, so how does one judge an adventure game? Well, I later learned that Wishbringer was intended as an entry-level game for newbie adventurers, and indeed I found most of the puzzles fairly straightforward. There was only one treacherous one, and this leads into another funny story.

Okay, so the Magick Shoppe woman asks you to save her cat. The only thing she gives you to help this mission is a metal can, which I quickly learned had a rattlesnake in it that you could scare a troll with. I noticed though that after using it like this, you could pick the can up again. Now, in most adventure games, once you use an item, it’s gone, so if it’s ever not gone that’s usually saying “there’s something else you can do with this.” So I picked it up, got a message that there was a rattling in it, and just assumed that the snake regenerates so I can scare more people with it. It was only when I tried this very tactic later on that I was told “the can is already open” and was like “huh?”

Looking inside the can revealed a false bottom, which you could open by squeezing the can, and out pops a stone…

Okay, I had spent three-fourths of the game thinking the eponymous Wishbringer was hidden somewhere in the game world, and ignoring the possibility of using a wish to solve any of the puzzles because I simply didn’t have the stone yet. So imagine my surprise when I found out that I had it on me the entire time! Although, it was just as well, because honestly going by the description in the manual, most of the wishes are borderline-useless (and one of them is an out-and-out trap which will result in an instant game over) and there’s a more practical, non-magickal solution to all the puzzles that a wish would solve. As long-desired items of great power go, the Wishbringer is honestly kind of lame. It at least serves other functions though: It’s a light source in dark places (making the candle redundant) and it’s used to solve the final puzzle, though not by making a wish.

One thing that might be a pain to some people (mostly babies) is that this is an adventure game where you have limited inventory space, so sometimes you will have to drop items to make room for others. There are also a couple of “heavy” or “bulky” items that require you to either carry them and almost nothing else, or else can’t fit through some narrow openings–altho in at least one such case, its actually a puzzle where you have to think of a way to take the object in question with you through said opening (a puzzle which I figured out right off the bat).

If this sounds daunting, its not. The fact is, if you “drop” an item somewhere, it will still be there when you come back to claim it… though I must admit I NEVER dropped stuff in the vicinity of NPCs or where the Boot Patrol was likely to go. Also, most of those “heavy” or “bulky” items have usually just one intended use in the game and its usually easy to see what it is, and once you’ve figured that out then you can dump it wherever. It’s really only these “bulky” items that will be a snag, as smaller items will pretty much always fit in your pockets. Really, I think only like seven or eight items in the entire game are absolutely essential to success, and only a few of those are of the “keep on hand at all times once you’ve found them” variety.

In addition, Wishbringer likes to warn players whenever their passing a point of no return, by saying something like “You better SAVE now.” So if you go into a place where you find out you need a specific item, don’t have it, and don’t have an earlier save to reload to, then its your own damn fault. Hey, the game warned you!

So, basically, did I like Wishbringer?

Yes, yes I did. It was by no means a revelatory experience but it was a satisfying and fun one that woke up long-dormant parts of my psyche and challenged my brain in ways it hadn’t been challenged enough recently, although only lightly so. As an “introduction” to text adventures it very much accomplishes its job.

It gets bonus points for having that adorable mailbox.

So now, the question is, “which text adventure shall I embark on next?” I’ve been sort of easing-into Colossal Cave Adventure, The Lurking Horror and replaying the original Zork, but as yet, nothing is definite. Maybe I’ll do something completely different.

Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?

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Is H.P. Lovecraft overrated? Moe Dantes says…

… No. In fact if anything I’ve noticed there’s a trend lately where the prevailing opinion is that he’s overrated, which actually turns the tables and makes him kinda underrated. Not that Lovecraft is especially fantastic or anything–

Actually before I touch anything else, there’s something I must address because it just pisses me off:

Guys and girls of the internet, PLEASE SHUT UP ABOUT THE RACISM. It seems you can’t discuss Lovecraft without someone mentioning that he was a racist (usually holding this as a reason he sucks). I have a couple of problems with this. The first is that people hold Racism against Lovecraft but not anyone else. I have literally never seen anyone say that Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip Nowlan, or Robert E. Howard are terrible because they were racist… which leads me to the second reason it bothers me: Lovecraft’s “racism” is relatively mild, in fact there’s a lot of doubt as to whether he was actually racist at all. Which brings me to the third reason this peeves me: Racism is hardly a thing you’ll have to deal with in his work. There are maybe like three stories total where it plays a major role. In most cases its relegated to stupid shit like calling a black cat “Nigger-Man” and frankly if that bothers you, then you’re an oversensitive pussy.

And again, I have to point out the hypocrisy here: Robert E. Howard wrote entire novels about how black people were savages and will one day go nuts, kill all white men and rape their women, just because its in their nature. Yet I’ve never heard people say they can’t get into Howard because of the racism, but from Lovecraft, it’s an issue. It’s similar to how Michael Jackson was loathed for sex scandals and suspected drug use that most people turned a blind eye to when any other rock star was doing it. I hate hypocrisy in all its forms, and so should you.

Glad I got that out of my system.

Now, back to whether or not Lovecraft is overrated, there’s something (else) I think people don’t get. Lovecraft wrote for pulp magazines. “Duh,” you say. Well, the part people don’t really get is that pulp magazines were basically the 1920s version of the cartoons you and/or I grew up with. If Thundercats existed in 1928, it would’ve been in the form of a written narrative in a pulp magazine. Those Arkham House compilations of Lovecraft’s fiction? They’re essentially Season One Volume One, Season One Volume Two, etc. This ain’t an ad hoc example either–adults reading pulp magazines had the same sorts of stigmas attached to them back then that grown men playing with Pokemon does today. But like eighties cartoons, retro gaming, or whatever, the rose-colored glasses kick in and create enthusiasts who want to share the stuff they loved as kids with future generations and that’s pretty much why any pulp stories were ever reprinted outside of their original magazine appearances.

Lovecraft himself was a huge beneficiary of this–during his own lifetime, his stuff was only ever in magazines and the guy figured “that’s how its always gonna be. Once I die nobody will remember this stuff.” Then he died. Then some fans got together and founded Arkham House and we have four lovely hardcovers that get reprinted on a regular basis to make sure everything Lovecraft wrote, even some stuff he did as a kid before he got serious, is still available for the modern reader to peruse to their heart’s content.

And it’s just like the effect when you buy a Season or Complete Series set of some cartoon you loved as a kid. Yeah, you get to see the awesome episode where Joker gets pissed off that Batman “killed” Captain Clown and relive how awesome it was. You also get to sit through that effing boring episode where Ra’s al Ghoul tells them about some ugly cowboy we don’t give two shits about and wonder why you didn’t remember that one, and then you get to discover that the Mr. Freeze episodes, which your mind had recalled as psychologically deep, are really just paper-thin revenge stories that later pull an inexplicable retcon out of their ass.

Now, I’m not saying “old stuff sucks.” If you thought that for a minute, then you don’t know me very well. I would never become one of those corporate assmunchers who gladly throw away their copies of Modern Warfare 5 because Modern Warfare 6 is out and newer automatically equals better amirite. You want that kind of stupidity, maybe try TV Tropes.

What I am saying is you have to set your expectations accordingly. Nine times out of ten, when you feel something is “overrated,” its because you’re going in with inflated expectations, usually because of how the fans hyped it to hell and back and usually forgot to mention the shortcomings and flaws and “things we just kinda accepted back then” while they were at it. Case in point, I knew a guy who always tried to get people to play the original Zork trilogy by leaving out the fact that they were all pure text, no graphics of any kind. Nine times out of ten, people took one look at it and said “screw this.” Yeah they were shallow, but the point is that guy I knew should have mentioned that they were text-based from the very beginning.

Same deal with Lovecraft. People talking about how innovative and scary and whatsofreakinever he was are going to create haters just because they’re putting him on too high a pedestal. You have to mention the flaws, like that a lot of his earlier stories are pretty standard and formulaic and it wasn’t until later in his career that he started writing what we call “the Cthulhu mythos,” that he never really saw it as a “mythos” but rather just a bunch of stories that reused names, and that a lot of his stories are basically the same story with the names and locations changed.

And also that his image differs a lot from pop culture.

Yeah, about that.

One thing that constantly bothers me is…. I feel sick using a word from that site, but… Pop-cultural Osmosis. Simply put, one thing you always have to keep in mind is that the standard pop-culture version of a thing is not the same as what the thing really is, or originally was. Personally, I often find this is part of the fun. But if you want the pop-culture thing and tune in to see the original was totally different, it may be a turn-off.

Just a case-in-point: Why do Lovecraft’s monsters make people go insane? To hear sources such as the Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG say it, it’s just an inherent power they have. Yet actually, that’s completely wrong. The reason people went insane in the original stories was simply because people were, well, kinda narrow-minded and ignorant, and suddenly discovering that these monsters exist forces them to ask questions and confront realities they’re not prepared for, and it breaks them. Yeah, that’s right–its not the monster doing it, its the people doing it to themselves. Try explaining to your next game-master though that your guy happens to be not-a-fucking-retard though and see if that’ll make you immune to losing SAN. I doubt it.

Basically, you have to forget everything you think you know about the Cthulhu Mythos when you read Lovecraft. On that note, the “mythos” itself wasn’t even really codified by Lovecraft. He invented Cthulhu and cults around dead gods, sure… but the difference between Lovecraft and the modern Mythos is the difference between Slenderman pre-Marble Hornets and Slenderman post-Marble Hornets. In fact a lot of Lovecrafts early stories were pretty standard horror stories, it wasn’t until much later that the gods and demons and insanity started.

But so far I haven’t answered the topic question (well, technically I have, but it bears repeating):

Is Lovecraft overrated?

Well, personally I find his stuff enjoyable, but not the be-all-end-all of horror fiction. If you know what you’re in for then his stories can be good times. But if you come in expecting something too specific, you might come away disappointed.

That’s true for anything, really.

Recent Acquisitions – Lots of Boxed PC Games and one surprise!

So I got a new video showing off not only a bunch of PC games with big boxes, but also me discovering a game I didn’t know I had (but that I’d been looking for).

Watch it on Zippcast! Might also upload it to Youtube later.

UPDATE! Some people told me that Zippcast was giving them trouble. Fortunately this video is now on Youtube as well.

To be honest with you guys, I never watch videos streamed. I use a service like Keepvid.com or Videograbber.net to download them, then watch them on my PC with VLC (Media Player Classic with a ton of codecs installed should also work just fine, I just like VLC more). I’m sorry if I’m somehow screwing a content creator out of revenue money that way, but like I’ve said before, not all of us are in a position where we have the convenience of doing things the “right” way. It’s either do this or put up with stuttering players, or just don’t watch the videos at all.