Archive for the ‘colonel-bequest’ Tag

The Colonel’s Bequest: Finished!   6 comments

As I mentioned in my last post, I technically “finished” already, but I felt like I had some “loose threads” to tie up. Most specifically, I wanted to find out where the bodies ended up.

More generally, I was hoping I’d learn some more information that would make the mystery not seem like one gaping plot hole. Alas, as I learned more, things got worse rather than better.

I’m about to unload a pile of grievances, so let me just say: what this game tried to do was unique for the time and even for now. When it works, the game feels like pure Story, like you are dropped into a Simulated Universe or Futuristic Holo-novel. Furthermore, while there’s nothing you can do to prevent the murders, there’s still a legitimate amount of interactivity; more recent attempts at this sort of thing (let’s say Tacoma) put the player at arm’s length from the story and are more of a guided tourist plan. I recommend any game designer interested in narrative try this at least once. However….

(WARNING: Past this point there are spoilers and a lot of ranting.)

… the game itself is often just awful to play. Take the quasi-time element, where time only advances upon finding notable events. First off, this isn’t always the case — in one place the clock advanced three times for no apparent reason, and at another juncture I found multiple bodies with absolutely no advance in time. Quite often I needed the clock to advance but couldn’t work out how. My only recourse was to go through every room in the game hoping something would trigger (sometimes twice because I missed something). Once I was stuck so long I thought I had “soft-locked” the game (that is, got it stuck with no possibility of advance) until I found out I could move the game along by knocking on the cook’s door (who doesn’t even let Laura in, it’s just a small piece of dialogue!)

Then there’s the promise of character interaction, which slowly got reduced to utter shreds. At the end of a long chain of puzzle-solving I found the dumping ground for all the mysterious disappearing bodies:

You think the Colonel might react a little, but >TELL COLONEL ABOUT BODIES just gives his usual default response.

After lengthly attempts to get characters to tell me something, anything, even to have a glimmer of a reaction, eventually mimesis was not only shattered but drop-kicked and melted down into a little puddle.

The mystery itself just didn’t work. I mentioned last time in the end scene you find Colonel and Rudy fighting upstairs; the correct action is to shoot Rudy. This is true even though the Colonel himself seems to be the one who ordered the bodies disposed of … except that doesn’t make sense in the case of his assistants Fifi and Jeeves, and when you start to track the character movements the plot makes less rather than more sense. Characters essentially have to “teleport” to cause the murders they supposedly do, and somehow multiple guests and the Colonel himself independently decide all the bodies need to go down the chute — why?

So while I’d recommend this one for game designers, I can’t in good conscience recommend it for a general audience. The Colonel’s Bequest attempted and failed to be the ultimate in immersion. I did finish the sequel The Dagger of Amon Ra (back when it was first released), and while the gameplay is much smoother it’s also a more traditional Sierra adventure game structure.

Soon to 1980, although I wanted to write a 1970s summary post first. Does anyone have any questions about the project as a whole? (Even plain queries like “which game was your favorite?” would be helpful.)

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Posted August 24, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Colonel’s Bequest: Murder Most Foul   3 comments

I technically “finished” the game; once I settled in (and made liberal use of the “increase speed” key when walking around) it took about 2 hours to get to completion. The plot “plays itself” in a way (more on that in a moment) so it’s not hard to solve the murders even with sub-par play. I left enough loose ends that I don’t consider myself done just yet.

Note that from this point there are many spoilers.

ZERO

From a game-designer-theory standpoint, the message upon picking “About” from the menu is fascinating.

There isn’t a “quest,” as such. Your goal is to get to know the story and the characters; to understand what’s going on; and to survive the long night. We feel that “The Colonel’s Bequest” is a true interactive STORY rather than a game and every effort was put into giving you the sensation that you are part of the story.

This text was helpful to me in that once dead bodies start to show up in this game, they keep coming; I thought perhaps I was missing actions I needed to stop the carnage, but I realized the story to an extent “plays itself” — the intent is you just learn as much as you can in order to make a wise decision in the endgame.

There have been many essays on the use of the word “game” and I don’t plan on writing a new one, but I would say it’s a pity that every interactive media meant for leisure is shoehorned under “game”. I know I’ve been insistent on calling Renga in Four Parts “interactive poetry”. I haven’t seen much other interactive poetry go beyond clicking on hyperlinks as a mode of interaction; I theorize this is because so many other interactive actions belong to “games” so poets are shy to try them. What about a poem the reader can walk around in? (And if doing that “turns it into a game” for you, why?)

In any case, I think nearly everyone in a modern context would still recognize The Colonel’s Bequest as a game — it’s got traditional adventure puzzles and a high score, even — so I’m comfortable still calling it that.

ONE

The characters are:

Laura Bow, the hero.
Colonel Henri Dijon, the owner of the estate and the one who announced his intent to give his inheritence to all present.
Lillian Price, Laura’s friend and the Colonel’s niece.
Ethel Prune, Lillian’s mother.
Gertrude Dijon, widow of the Colonel’s brother.
Gloria Swansong, Gertrude’s daughter.
Rudolph Dijon, Gertrude’s son.
Clarence Sparrow, the Colonel’s attorney.
Dr. Wilbur C. Feels, the Colonel’s physician.
Jeeves, the butler.
Fifi, the Colonel’s maid.
Celie, the Colonel’s cook.

Nearly all of them will be dead by the end of the story.

TWO

The game is divided into 8 “acts”. Each act represents an hour of time, and every quarter hour you get a reminder of the time. However, it’s not “real time” — time only advances with certain events, like hearing a conversation or seeing a body. It’s not possible to just wander a corner of the map and come back to find the story finished. This fits with the game’s conceit as a “play” — time stalls in place while the scenery is being changed, so to speak.

In gameplay terms, this can be quite frustrating. Once I wandered the map multiple times for a full 15 minutes without finding anything new. (It turned out the next event was in the bathroom, which had nothing else happen before this time.)

The uncertainty about advancing time can foil efforts to “search as much as possible for new stuff before it goes away” — on a number of occasions I had time advance (without wanting / meaning it to) and lost access to certain clues / conversations in the process.

THREE

The first body I found was Gertrude, Gloria and Rudy’s mother. Last I saw her she was sleeping, but now she had “fallen” out of a second story window.

Searching the body didn’t yield up much information. Gloria herself happens to be just inside, and you can go there and >TELL GLORIA ABOUT GERTRUDE; she’ll step outside, pop back in, and tell you “that was mean.” In the short span the body isn’t visible, it gets “cleaned up.”

This ends up being a common theme through the plot — telling people about the bad things going on is entirely fruitless. They don’t even bother to check. It hits upon one of my least-liked tropes of literature, where the hero knows something and everyone else thinks they are crazy. I mean, I can understand this is a totally normal reaction with UFO landings / ghostly monsters / walking squids but the characters stonewall so much here the realism drops off a cliff. Really, you *aren’t* interested in this rolling pin I found with blood on it?

(Ahem.) In the meantime, I kept overhearing conversations and finding more ways people don’t like each other. The Doctor knows some medical secret of Gloria’s. Gloria was dating Clarence but drops him for a director. The Doctor and Clarence plot together to recover $100,000 that Clarence stole from the Colonel to buy a racehorse. Rudy and Clarence get into an actual fistfight at one point. Everyone thinks Ethel drinks too much.

To be fair, Ethel spends a lot of the game either drinking so much she can’t respond to questions, or wandering drunk like she is in this screenshot.

Murders continue. The next person I found was the Doctor, dead by the end of Act III in the Carriage House by the horse. Just like Gertrude, his body disappeared by the time I came back.

At one point, I found Jeeves cleaning up some evidence of a struggle. I asked him about it, and he just claimed he was doing what he was told. This aroused strong suspicions in me that a.) the Colonel himself was behind the murders and b.) he was getting help in cleaning up the results.

More people die, and I discovered the bodies in this order: Gloria, Ethel, Clarence, Lillian.

It was nearing the end of Act VIII, and I had found a key on Lillian’s body. Next to her body was a gun and one bullet; I took both. Entering the house I could hear a scuffle upstairs. Going into the attic (which I previously couldn’t unlock) I found the Colonel and Rudy in a struggle holding a hypodermic needle. This is where you get the choice.

FOUR

Who was responsible, Rudy or the Colonel? Which one should you shoot?

This is the elegant way of asking “who is guilty?” Do you believe the Colonel’s announcement of the inheritance set off a desire to kill among the already-morally-askew family, or did the Colonel lure his family in as a way of ending it?

I’m not going to spoil things here just yet. When I get to my next post of “Finished!” I probably will, but I’m holding off because there are plot holes I am currently frustrated by which may turn out to simply be gaps of knowledge.

I know I have gaps because a.) there’s a score at the end of sorts; I’m only halfway up to “Super Sleuth” and b.) also at the end you can look at Laura’s notebook, which includes pages like “Person With Surprising Secret” and “Ultimate Location of Most Bodies” that are marked “INCOMPLETE”.

I’m also missing “Person Befriended”, which leads me to some last thoughts for now …

FIVE

… I struggled a *lot* with communicating in this game. It uses a relatively free-form ASK/TELL type system (ex: >ASK LILLIAN ABOUT ETHEL) but the vast majority of what I tried was either not understood, or stonewalled off by the character. The Colonel (who you would think would be interested in dead relatives) just snaps at you if you try to communicate anything. Right before Clarence dies, you can try to tell him about murdered people and he says what nearly amounts to default responses, but then you find (after he’s been dragged off) that he was writing in a diary about a sense of dread. In theory, that’s dramatically appropriate; in practice, my attempts at interactivity were being thrown into the void.

Posted August 18, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Colonel’s Bequest: The Lay of the Land   2 comments

I originally made the reasonable assumption that to get by the opening screen (which stays up for a long time) one just simply clicked, and then the next portion of the game would appear. This did more or less happen; I went straight to being up in Laura’s guest room and being able to move her around. However, in the process I ended up skipping a long cutscene!

The setup I missed was this: the Colonel has invited all his family members (and some associates) to his island estate, where he makes the announcement that a.) he is splitting his inheritance evenly among everyone present (except Laura who is just visiting) and b.) if someone present dies, the distribution will be evenly split among those who remain. (b.) does make legal sense but is a very weird thing to say; it sets up the possibility that someone might not want to bump off the Colonel, exactly, but one of the other relatives in order to get a bigger share.

In any case, after the announcement, there’s no directive other than to “explore”, so I mostly did that. The main house itself includes a series of secret doors where you can spy on conversations:

The characters have a full ASK / TELL / SHOW style system where you can pester them for information, although I admit I haven’t gotten much information this way yet. I instead went to get a feel for the surrounding area.

For those used to object-dense Sierra games, it definitely feels sparse so far. I found an oil can in one of the locations, but that’s it. Generally speaking, it looks like most of the locations are meant to be important later, for secret meetings at midnight and the like. Two interesting bits, though:

There’s a strange shaft in a hedge maze, which suggests some sort of secret opening via unusual key.

I also found the Colonel’s horse Blaze, who (in addition to the Colonel) is a veteran of the Spanish-American war. The lantern behind the horse was out of reach, so I opened the gate to get to it, and this happened. Laura died immediately after. It wouldn’t be a Sierra game without some instant death going on.

It’s all been relatively sedate so far. I’ll get more into the cast of characters (and my attempts to interrogate them) next time.

Posted August 14, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Colonel’s Bequest (1989)   3 comments

A few months back I listed the Innovation 13, a set of 13 adventures I was going to play out of the usual chronological order from the All the Adventures project.

It’s time to finally play one of those. It not only has graphics, but parser and point-and-click!

By 1989, Roberta Williams was already a veteran game designer; in addition to writing in the text adventure era she had already finished the first four King’s Quest games and the edutainment title Mixed-Up Mother Goose.

This was her first mystery adventure since Mystery House (1980). It was made right before Sierra switched to an all point-and-click interface (no typing at all, that is). Commands are still typed in via a parser, but clicking the mouse is available to move places and to examine items. Since moving and examining are the main activities of the adventure (at least so far) the game really feels 60% point-and-click and 40% parser.

You play as Laura Bow, a young journalism student in the 1920s. You’re tagging along with your friend Lillian to a family reunion at the island estate of Colonel Henri Dijon.

I assume murder and mayhem ensue — there are a number of other characters and nearly all of them seem to dislike the Colonel — but I haven’t done much yet other than explore.

I would like to take a moment to confess: I am very bad at adventure game mysteries. The major ones all seem to depend a lot on time; various events happen at various times, and if you’re not in the right place at the right time you’ll miss some crucial clue. The idea is to replay enough times that an “optimal route” of information is built up as you decipher the movements of the various characters. Theoretically, this sounds fine by me; in practice, I can never figure the mystery out. I never even finished The Witness (1983) which is notorious for being one of the easiest of the Infocom games. I’m hoping by writing about the experience I’ll get over my issues? We’ll see.

Posted August 10, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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