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.)

Posted August 24, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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6 responses to “The Colonel’s Bequest: Finished!

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  1. What themes, if any, do the different 1970s games have in common? What puzzles or puzzle-types recur from game to game? What puzzle-type or other feature that is common or convenient in later games is notably absent from these early ones? Did you find that any particular machine or platform had better games than others? Did you see a clear progression in the sophistication of the games over time?

    Which game was your favourite? 😉

    Questions about Wander: Do you have any more thoughts on how Langston and Crowther seem to have hit on essentially the same basic game-archetype independently of each other? How do you think text adventures would have been different if they’d developed from Wander rather than ADVENT?

    • Home machine: TRS-80 was pretty dominant – Apple II didn’t really get its library rolling until 1980.

      I do think we’re in the “feeling things out” phase – other than Scott Adams (where The Count and Mystery Fun House show a lot of experimentation), there isn’t much yet in the way of progression. Everyone is just starting up.

      Puzzles / puzzle-types I’ll have to think about. This probably will get its own post.

      Favorite was Local Call for Death, followed pretty closely by Empire of the Over-Mind. Zork was pretty great, too.

      Wander, wow, yeah, I’m curious. I think (given a3) we might have picked up on the player character as being defined a bit quicker. We also might have hit more “adult” themes sooner (I didn’t emphasize this too heavily, but all 3 extant games had adult elements).

  2. Um, I thought all the murders were done by one person, without the Colonel’s knowledge? And this person got themself killed when they went after Rudy (who then decided to “finish” the job by killing the Colonel) which is why their body is the only one that doesn’t go down the laundry chute.

    • Definitely the Colonel’s knowledge – he admits seeing the dead bodies in the winning ending but not being able to catch any of the murders. He’s one of the people who was using the secret passages (the cigar and the cane peg him as being there, and he’s also on the list of people using the secret passages at the end notebook). Jeeves was cleaning up the mess on the Colonel’s orders. This is baffling even typing it out, but it’s clearly spelled out.

      The murders were a bit of a round robin:

      Lillian did the Fifi/Jeeves murders. Ethel did Gertie. Gloria murdered the Doctor. One of the other deaths were associated with particular boot I never got around to identifying for certain but I believe was Clarence. I don’t know who murdered Ethel but it definitely wasn’t Lillian.

      Honestly the round-robin wouldn’t have bothered me if everything fit into place in an absolutely logical way – it would be unrealistic but in a Man Who Was Thursday metaphoric-story cool sort of way – but pretty much everyone involved needs both powers of teleportation, plus the superhuman ability to carry the dead weight of human bodies all the way to the chute inside the house even when the body was far, far, away.

  3. Hiya. I only just found your site, and I’ve not yet read more than a fraction of your 1970s game reviews. But I wanted to let you know I am loving them (and the comments) and encourage you to push on. Keep up the good work!

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