Two Heads of the Coin (1979)   Leave a comment

I was frankly excited about getting to this game — another in the Interactive Fiction series of Robert Lafore — because the other work from the series I played (Local Call for Death) is legitimately excellent to the extent I’d put it in my Favorite Adventures List Of All Time, not even restricting to just the 1970s.

Alas, Two Heads of the Coin was somewhat a letdown. Somewhat.

It casts you as a Sherlock Holmes look-a-like, and is pretty explicit that “you” are in the game. You are accompanied by Dr. Watson — er, Dr. Grimsby.

In classic Sherlock fashion, a late visitor comes looking for help, and you (faux-Sherlock) have a conversation trying to pry open the truth. Just like Lafore’s other works, you are supposed to hold a conversation while using proper grammar and so forth although in reality the game is checking for key words.

Unlike a real Sherlock Holmes story, there is no investigating; there’s just the conversation. The visitor, Mr Conway, wants you to investigate the disappearance of his wife.

Unfortunately, a bit of flailing is more or less inevitable here; the conversation starts off fairly solid, but as soon as obvious “key words” run out it becomes very hard to pull out facts. You can ask Dr. Grimsby for help; he does a jab at your investigative skills and then comes up with a question that hasn’t been asked yet.

Local Call for Death didn’t have as much an issue, because it had three phases: 1.) an opening plot sequence where you could do minor role-playing and also see relevant clues 2.) a sequence where you search through a room for evidence and 3.) a conversation where you cause the guilty party to crack; it’s possible during the conversation to swap back to searching the room for more evidence. Since the conversation was focused mainly on objects seen and events experienced I didn’t experience a lot of confusion as to what to say next.

Referring back to Two Heads of the Coin, while the mystery itself was decent, the structure of only having a conversation (rather than getting to go and do a physical investigation) just didn’t hold that tight an experience. (Star Trek: The Next Generation fans might remember the episode where Data talks with the suspect a little and then reveals the entire plot — that’s a little how this felt.)

As a last nitpick, this game’s conceit that “you” are in the game actually made for weakened presentation. When Grimsby gets increasingly insulting, it would be fine if it was some other character (ex: “whoops, I guess Holmes had a little too much opium”) but since he is insulting you for essentially not being able to read the game creator’s mind … the experience is just a little grating. It’s equivalent to “command fail” responses in a traditional parser being mocking rather than understanding.

Having said all that, I did manage to work out the mystery without being prompted, and I felt the ending was satisfying. So if you tried Local Call for Death and are still hankering for conversation-based gameplay, it’s certainly still worth a go.

Lafore manages to fit in some social commentary, here; Mr Conway’s cluelessness fits into the plot.

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Posted April 6, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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