Elysium Enigma

Mon Oct 12, 2009

Though I didn’t finish his Snowquest, the likely winner of this year’s Interactive Fiction competition, I did play (and finish, without hints, albeit one point shy of perfect) Eric Eve’s The Elysium Enigma recently. In fact, I mostly finished it while the Florida-LSU game was on in the background on Saturday night, though I don’t remember who won.

(The following discussion spoils the game completely.)

You play a mildly dim imperial functionary sent to raise the flag on a backwater planet. A interplanetary civil war is fomenting in the background, and you gradually discover that there was a military slaughter on the planet a few generations ago, which hardened the colonists’ luddism.

The Federation, the upstart rebels, have sent a spy to the planet, who pretends to be a hungry outcast wanting food and clothing. One of the interesting problems in IF is the difference in knowledge between the character and the player, and here I suspect that most players realize that the woman is not who she appears to be far before the character does. You have to train him by finding ever-mounting evidence. And this fellow is not a man of action either, being unable to climb trees, shoo a barncat, or swim—indeed, he is as hydrophobic as Stephen Dedalus.

The puzzles weren’t hard, I don’t think. I saw some of the competition reviews of the game which complained about the orange datatab password puzzle, and I guess that it must have been better clued in my version because it seemed really obvious. I would guess that the earlier version may not have included a description of the mirror being openable, but I’m not sure.

One puzzle-writing style that Eve’s games seem to have, based on Snowquest and this is revealed description. Items listed in a room’s paragraph description will need to be examined further before crucial information is revealed. At one point, for example, I got stuck because I had not realized that a “gap” in the forest needed to be examined more closely to determine that you could find another path. It was once conventional to include a separate paragraph for items such as this; I seem to remember Andrew Plotkin’s So Far and perhaps other works violating that principle. But, anyway, once I got past that it was easy. (Actually, I did not find the trapdoor until after I brought the woman food and clothing, and getting there without her noticing was a bit frustrating and illogical, as it seems she would notice you blundering around.)

From a sociological or political perspective, it would have been more interesting if the Federation didn’t just want the planet for slave labor, even if that more-or-less amounted to the Empire’s plans. I also wonder if the woman shouldn’t have been warier of the drik.

I’m always pleased to solve one of these games without consulting hints. I like to tell myself I’m good at them, but in actuality I tend to get frustrated too easily and immediately turn to hints. Figuring out the games is similar in many ways to literary interpretation, as you have to understand authorial patterns and style.