|05-10-2013, 11:01 PM
Join Date: Apr 2011
A Mind Forever Voyaging (Critique)
This is part of a critique for my critical game studies class, but thought the people from here might benefit from this:
In class on Tuesday we played some text adventure games from the '70s and on Thursday we played more graphical arcade games from the '80s. Over the weekend, I played a game called A Mind Forever Voyaging. It's a text adventure game from the '80s that was released on MS-DOS. In the game, you play a sentient super computer named PRISM that enters various simulation modes that collect data for your creator, Dr. Abraham Perelman.
With the game, I also received the manual, a code wheel, and even a map. The manual informs me of all of the important commands and verbs that the game accepts. In addition, it contains a long introduction about the game itself and its setting. An interesting thing regarding the commands is that this game expects more structured sentences, compared to early text adventure games where you might type in, “talk perelman.” In A Mind Forever Voyaging, you have to type in, “ask perelman about my name,” which is a little weird for me after playing Mystery Fun House, but I like how text adventures had progressed a decade by being able to accept proper English syntax. In addition, a lot of the time you can guess on the commands that you need to use. When entering a restaurant and sitting down at a table I thought, “well, nothing has been handed to me, there is no mention of a menu at the table,” but I typed “read menu” anyways and the waiter produced a menu for me. The game also implemented the use of an “oops” command where if you accidentally misspell a word you can type, “oops” followed by the word and the game will replace the mispelled word and read the command so that you don't have to retype the whole command phrase again, which I find to be pretty innovative.
The code wheel is an interesting piece of vintage gaming technology that I, personally, love. Before entering simulation mode for the first time the game will tell you that simulation mode requires a security clearance and that you must enter the code that is found in “Light Grey 86” so you would go to the code wheel and match up “Lt. Grey” and “86” and find the number “36.” You type that in and the game proceeds to send you into simulation mode. I remember talking with one of my co-workers over the summer about code wheels and he told me how they were early anti-piracy tools that game developers used. In some cases, the game might ask you to match up certain things before you even got into the game. My co-worker provided an example from Test Drive saying that you had to match up a make and model of a car. Code wheels were before my time, I dealt with CD keys, but I find that sort of thing fascinating given how everything has gone digital and games now have DRM implementations in the game, as seen in Diablo 3 or the latest Sim City where you have to be online at all times.
When we discussed text based adventure games and what we liked and didn't like, I mentioned that Mystery Fun House, the game I played, had a lack of descriptive text. It didn't really setup where you were or what was around you, it would tell you that you were in a parking lot and the important things to note were a rusty grate and a tree. In A Mind Forever Voyaging, whenever you type “north” or “pcaf” (pcaf being the command to go to the Prism facility cafeteria) you were given a description of what was around you and what you heard. For example, I am currently in simulation mode in the beginning of the game and I have decided to move north. I am greeted with:
“Centre & Kennedy
At this intersection, Centre Street cuts across Kennedy Street from northeast to southwest.
A tall hotel has entrances to the east and southeast. The austere facade of Huang Hall rises to the west.
Kennedy Street continues north and south.”
So I know what is around me, places I can go, and directions that I can go which gives me a nice sense of space. There is a sense of show don't tell, so I can get a nice mental image without actually being given a graphic representation.
Another perk of this game, compared to the old text adventure that I played in class is that the games interface is also given a sense of the creator's personality. So when you aren't in simulation move and you type, “north” the game will say, “you are an immobile computer, remember?” as opposed to, “I can't north” or “I don't know how to north,” which was a response I got in Mystery Fun House. When you ask to examine certain things like people, the game may respond with, “Totally ordinary looking people.” To me the old style of, “I can't north” is much more aggravating than, “you are an immobile computer, remember?” because it gives you an explanation as you why you “can't north.” If the game had told be that I was unable to move north and that was the end of it, I would've been a bit confused and upset, but by providing an explanation, it helped me further understand what was going on in the game. I once typed inventory and the game replied with, “You're a computer, you don't have limbs.” After exiting simulation mode, I saw a map on Dr. Perelman's desk and I attempted to take it and the response I received was, “That would be a neat trick without appendages,” which made me laugh. Seeing the creator's sense of humor is nice in a game that does not give you any graphics of any kind.
I had also remarked that Mystery Fun House didn't give you any clear goals, it just put you in the game and expected you to do things. A Mind Forever Voyaging sort of starts out the way, but once you are granted access to simulation mode, Dr. Perelman gives you a list of objectives for you to achieve, which is very nice. Considering it's a text adventure game and you can't scroll up in the text, you'll have to be sure to write down your objectives.
For the most part, you could easily get through this game without much difficulty with just the map at your disposal, but there are times where you have to really dig deep in the city around you to understand where things are because the map doesn't have things like the courthouse or the cinema labeled. So the player would have to mark down things on their own map, which is still pretty interesting. I like the idea of the player interacting with the game outside of the computer as well with things like maps and code wheels. I feel like the players gets more out of the game when there are physical things that they have to interact with as well.
The other trouble with the game is finding out what time periods to go to in the simulation mode in part two. In part one you are just told to enter simulation mode, perform certain tasks, and record the performance of those tasks; but after that you are given no further clues as to what to do.
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