I’d played Zork III a lot as a kid. I solved several puzzles in it, but assumed that somehow it was supposed to be impossible. I loved to play it anyway… just to do stuff in it and be in the story. In high school, I picked up a copy of the entire Zork trilogy. I got a lot further in Zork I, but still got stuck. Ten years later I picked up Zork I again and and played the heck out of it. I solved many of the puzzles and finally got aggravated at it. Upon reading the hints to a few remaining unsolved puzzles, I was enraged because of the extreme unfairness of them. To “punish” Infocom, I went through Zork III with a walk-through, but was disappointed with what I found out: I was really much closer to solving the game than I had thought and pretty much wasted it. About that time I spoiled the spaceship entrance puzzle in Starcross and the famous Babelfish puzzle in Hitchhikers… also the locked door and the robot puzzle in Zork II. I did manage to beat Wishbringer without any hints, though.
(Spoiling a puzzle with a hint could really mess up a game– much more than someone ruining a movie. Generally there’s just more puzzles behind the ones that are bugging you. It’s kinda the point of the game.)
Anyways… about Enchanter. I played through it the first parts of it about 8 years ago or so. I solved most of the easy opening puzzles and got stuck. A few years later I started again and solved a hard puzzle that had stumped me before, but still got stuck despite my progress. Last weekend I worked on it again and was surprised at how obvious some of the solutions were. I could just see things and a new light and solved some really hard stuff that I had decided was impossible. I think reading– actually reading— all of the text with a fresh eye was the key. The game is packed with hints and clues, but if you play based on your assumptions, you’ll just stay stuck. You’ve got to let the game help you.
(I did need one little hint to finally complete the game this week, but I don’t feel bad about it because the problem was essentially a hinky sort of guess-the-verb type thing. I think I had actually solved that particular puzzle years ago, but the way I was phrasing the commands just wouldn’t work this time through. Ah well.)
Many critics in the post-Infocom “Interactive Fiction” community criticize the Infocom games for allowing the player to put the game in an unwinable state. Modern games that avoid this are missing some realism, but yeah, avoiding this does reduce some of the tedium. In Enchanter’s case, they are at least fair about it: they give a very clear hint that you’ve screwed things up. It took me a few hours to decipher the hint… and then a few more to set things straight, but this problem was really the most satisfying part of the game. I’m not convinced that a game written according to the modern standards can have quite the same sort of depth that Enchanter has.
I love this game. Enchanter and Wishbringer really are two of the best games ever written. Their text-only format give them a timelessness that other games lack. Text adventures at their worst can be more like debugging a computer program than anything else– especially when you’re hung up on a finicky noun/verb syntax issue, but these classic Infocom games cause you to engage with the fantasy world in a way that rarely happens in other mediums. I especially like the way that hints for the game were translated into the theme and setting of Enchanter. Nothing breaks mimesis quite like having to type the word “hint” at the prompt or having to go to some “Invisiclues” type screen.
I heartily recommend Wishbringer and Enchanter for those that haven’t done a lot of text games like this. They are entirely fair and manage to simultaneously be great games and great stories at the same time.