|In Thaumistry: In Charm's Way you get to visit several locations in New York
- Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
- Developer: Bob Bates
- Publisher: Bob Bates
- Release Date: 8 October 2017
- Time played: 5.3 hours
What is itTo understand what this game is, we first need to take a history lesson in how the genre of "interactive fiction" came to be. Many consider the first text adventure game (and indeed interactive fiction title) to be Will Crowther's Adventure released in 1975 which would later be renamed to Colossal Cave Adventure. The game was developed in Fortran on an archaic mainframe computer known as the PDP-10. Colossal Cave Adventure wasn't much to look at; all you did was type in simple text commands in order to control your character through a perilous cave. But back in the late 1970s, no-one had seen anything quite like it and in 1977 the game spread like wildfire on ARPANet (precursor to the Internet). The game is responsible for pioneering the interactive fiction and adventure genres; in fact, Roberta and Ken Williams were inspired by the game to create their own graphical adventure games and that's how Sierra On-Line was born.
Anyway, people then started to make money from these interactive fiction games from the late 70s onwards; Infocom was one such company. Formed in 1979, Infocom would develop a whole bunch of interactive fiction titles, their most famous being the Zork series of games. The company lasted as an independent company until 1986 when it was bought over by Activision. The Infocom division was shutdown a few years later in 1989 but Legend Entertainment was formed shortly after to continue the Infocom tradition of developing interactive fiction titles (although many of the Legend Entertainment titles also included graphics). Legend continued to make interactive fiction and then graphical adventure games until the late 1990s but after being acquired by GT Interactive in 1998 changed their focus to 3D action games.
Ever since the 1990s, there hasn't really been any company close to Legend or its predecessors that focused on the development of interactive fiction but fans of the genre continued to develop their own interaction fiction titles and the community continued to flourish.
Okay, are you still awake? You're still wondering why I decided to give you a quick rundown of what interactive fiction is all about? It's because interactive fiction's heyday was over 20 years ago so there's probably a lot of gamers out there that have never played a text adventure or interactive fiction title – heck, the genre is almost before my time to be perfectly honest. And now, here in 2017, we get to play a game of that same pedigree – we get to experience a PC game in its purest form: just text, a command prompt and your keyboard. That's what Thaumistry: In Charm's Way is (well, sort of).
Yes, Thaumistry: In Charm's Way is controlled by typing text commands into a command prompt and yes, you do only get to read text descriptions of the various "rooms" you can visit in your adventure but there are a few enhancements that you wouldn't have seen back in the 70s/80s such as mouse cursor support and a mouse-driven interface, an automap and an in-built hint system.
In Thaumistry you get to play the role of an inventor living in New York City called Eric Knight. Unfortunately, Eric's latest invention seems to be a bit of a failure and if he doesn't do something about it soon, he'll be out on the street. The sudden appearance of a strange man called Jack, however, ends up changing the course of Eric's life forever and he ends up seeing the world in a totally new light.
How I got itAs you know, I'm a fan of all sorts of adventure games. Yes, I predominantly love point ‘n' click adventures but I'm not adverse to playing text adventures or interactive fiction. Back in my youth, I happened to play a few adventure games by Legend Entertainment such as Gateway, Gateway II: Homeworld and Companions of Xanth. One of the great minds at Legend was a chap called Bob Bates who I wrote about in a "Where are they now?" post over two years ago. He actually worked on a couple of games that were published by Infocom such as Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels and Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur and then went on to found Legend Entertainment with Mike Verdu where he worked on games such as Spellcasting (with Steve Meretzky), Timequest, Gateway, Eric the Unready and Companions of Xanth.
One of the things I mentioned at the end of my "Where are they now?" post was how awesome it would be if Bob returned to develop a new game considering there is an appetite nowadays for retro indie IF and visual novel titles; back earlier this year, my prayers were answered when Bob went to Kickstarter to seek funds in order to finish Thaumistry: In Charm's Way and maybe even add music to it. Unfortunately, the project never reached the music stretch goal of $70,000 USD but it did exceed the goal of $25,000 USD; at the end of the campaign $35,238 was raised by 1,053 backers (including yours truly) and the finished product was released last month!
|The game has a handy in-built hints system that doesn't give too much away
What I like:
Humourous plotThe game has a humourous plot and you'll find plenty of 70s and 80s references whether it's from the classic Mel Brooks comedy "Blazing Saddles" or the original "Ghostbusters" movie.
Two endingsLike most adventure games, Thaumistry's plot is generally linear except for right at the end where you actually get to choose from one of two endings.
First part of game plays like a tutorialThe game is good at easing those that are new to the Interactive Fiction genre into learning all the useful commands and how to go about playing the game thanks mainly to the first part of the game also serving as a tutorial.
AutomapFor those that are "geographically challenged" and too damn lazy to use pen and paper in order to draw a map (that's right kids, back in the old days of PC gaming, you had to draw maps!) you'll be glad to know that the game has its own automap that shows you the layout of rooms at each of the locations and whether they are "locked" or not.
"Recap" CommandThis simple command was a life-saver. The "recap" command provides you a run-down of what you've done (and sometimes, not done), so in a way it provides you a sense of direction if you're lost and not sure what to do next. I really like it how Bob has added all of these neat little features to make the game more accessible to those that aren't IF veterans (despite dabbling with them in my youth, I'm by no means an expert).
In-built hints systemNot only is there the "recap" command but there is also an in-built hints system similar to the Universal Hint System (UHS); that means there are multiple stages of hints before the solution is just given to you on a platter. For example, at one stage I was wandering aimlessly through all locations trying every spell and inventory item on everything – it didn't seem like I was making any progress. When I checked the hints system I got to the second hint which said "you don't have the correct spell yet" – which was all I needed to know to eventually reach a solution (I ended up asking an NPC about one of my inventory items after closely examining it and that was when I finally found my answer).
Usual IF shortcuts"l" = look, "w" = west, "n" = north etc. If you're a veteran of Interactive Fiction games you'll be glad to know all these old shortcuts work.
FamiliarityThe game has some puzzles that are pretty crazy along with the spells but the game is hilarious as a result – it reminds me of an era when adventure games and interactive fiction were made just for fun and there was almost a sense of familiarity between you and the game developer, as if both of you were best buddies. Bob actually says it best on the Kickstarter page:
"With [Thaumistry], I hope to restore that intimate connection. I hope that each player feels they are playing with me. That we can have a conversation. That we can have fun together."
Easter eggsAs with most adventure games, when using items in your inventory to solve puzzles (except for the correct one) you'd often get a generic message saying you can't do it. In Thaumistry though, there are a lot of easter eggs when attempting to use particular items along with their own customised descriptions or jokes. Neat!
FootnotesThe game comes with this neat footnotes system where clicking on a footnote link will take you to... well... a footnote that gives you more information about something mentioned in the game. So not only is the game fun, but educational too!
CyberfeeliesInteractive fiction company Infocom was famous for shipping "creative props" with their games known as "feelies" which also doubled as a means of copyright protection. While you're not going to get any physical items you do get digital ones called "cyberfeelies" with Thaumistry that comes in the form of a made-up newsletter.
Steam Trading Cards and AchievementsThe game has 18 Steam Achievements to earn and simply finishing the game should unlock all of them. The game also has 6 Steam Trading Cards to collect.
|In terms of graphics, this is as good as it gets
What I dislike:
ShortI actually spent an hour wandering aimlessly and still managed to finish the game in under 5 hours, so it's a pretty short game.
Not for everyoneThe game isn't for everyone – I mean, who plays 70s/80s style interactive fiction titles nowadays? Sure, there's a substantial fanbase for the genre but it's probably considered a niche genre nowadays when compared to the likes of MOBAs, FPSs, MMOs and Battle Royale games. If you were ever looking for a minimalist genre, I think interactive fiction would be it: there's no music, no sound and no graphics – all you have is text.
Score – 9/10 (Fantastic)As far as interactive fiction (IF) games go, Thaumistry: In Charm's Way doesn't disappoint: the plot is funny, the game has multiple endings and the game has lots of features that helps those that aren't normally comfortable with IF such as an automap, a tutorial, in-game help system, in-game hints system and a recap command that keeps track of your current objectives. This game is a labour of love by one of the veterans of the genre and I'd easily recommend it to fans of the genre and for those curious to know what IF is all about.
Is the game worth $14.99 USD?: Despite really liking this game, the price is a bit on the steep side for an interactive fiction title - considering you could also get remastered versions of classic adventure games like Full Throttle or Day of the Tentacle for the same price. If you're really into your interactive fiction, it's worth it. If you're not sure if you're into IF, you might want to wait until this is on sale.
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[ LINK: Official Thaumistry: In Charm's Way Website ]