Empire of the Over-Mind: Fascinating/Frustrating   Leave a comment

I’ve played games with mixed thoughts before. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where the things fascinating about it were the exact same things that were frustrating.

Let’s take the map; here’s just a snippet:

Remember, there are no compass directions; you go places by the name of the connection. Not only does this make the map take a lot longer to make (due to having to label absolutely everything) but I had multiple cases where I had rooms that clearly linked in some close pattern but ended up on opposite parts of the map due to me having no idea which direction to go.

For example, here the “Oasis” and “Desert” link together. I clearly needed to orient the bottom section flipped up rather than down.

Still, the concept threw me into a sort of other-worldliness that ended up being appropriate for the game. Once I had sufficient mapping done, navigation gave me a singular feel which I haven’t experienced in any other adventure game.

Let’s backtrack to that 1,592 word poem. Clip below:

Alcazar buried his friend in the sand.
While he was digging, cold revenge he planned
Against Over-Mind. In a secret room,
He worked alone to seal Over-Mind’s doom;
Removed the enchantments, canceled the role
They had in giving Over-Mind control
Of the weapons, so that when completed,
By its own snares it could be defeated.
Then he shut the room with black iron cold,
And only his daughter the pass-spell told.

I bounced very hard off the act of reading the whole thing in one go, and in fact I still haven’t. It’s not even badly written (or at least, as bad as it could be) but I had to struggle through in small doses.

There are indeed some important hints within, including one which I needed for essentially the first puzzle.

But still — the process of returning to the poem to comb for more hints ended up feeling like I was playing an alternate reality game, searching for hidden messages. While this is technically true of many Infocom games that include “feelie” materials, they never quite elicited the same notion of cipher that the Over-Mind poem does.

The manual mentions multiple solutions to things, and it isn’t kidding. This is mainly because of roaming enemies.

The enemies are in the style of Lords of Karma, with the major exception that you have no working attack command. There is no sword or dagger or other weapon. (There’s a xenon blaster later in the game and the SHOOT command is recognized, but the blaster doesn’t work and I suspect it never will work.) [EDIT: I got the blaster working. It has limited energy, so the next comment about resource management still stands.]

The intent is to use magic items and allies you find on the way, both which are limited resources.

For example, there is, early on, a chance to summon a flame salamander. The salamander provides light and is fairly good at defeating enemies. However, the flame salamander can only be used once, and when it leaves, it takes one of your items with it. If it’s a useful item, it means you have lost the game, although because of multiple solutions it’s unclear what a useful item is!

I’ve done reloading and optimizing in a way that closely resembles Hadean Lands, except without the reassurance I can backtrack any mistakes. I’ve enjoyed the narrative feel that resulted, and the non-linearity, but it’s simultaneously annoying to not know if I’m in a “dead adventurer walking” scenario.

Posted June 14, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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