Interactive fiction games have changed dramatically in form and character from the earliest Scott Adams and Infocom games to the diverse works in this competiton. “Escape from Dinosaur Island” is a game evocative of those earliest ones, with a general adventure theme and a world filled with inventory and set-piece puzzles.

Gameplay: Although the game recreates the feel of those old-school games, it’s played straight throughout; there aren’t any sly references (that I could find at least) to specific games or jokes about the format. The fundamental problem is the games that “Escape from Dinosaur Island” emulates just aren’t very enjoyable. Despite being a fan of both older and modern puzzle-based interactive fiction, I had trouble with the unmotivated puzzles, sparse descriptions, and unfriendly parser in this game. The player can’t SEARCH WRECKAGE or LOOK THROUGH WRECKAGE; only EXAMINE WRECKAGE is productive. Similarly, TAKE ALL doesn’t work, and the parser even rejects TAKE CAT, DOG and TAKE CAT AND DOG; the player must take each object individually. Custom systems are interesting both from a technological and gameplay view, but I don’t see what this one offers that isn’t part of more robust ones like Inform. 2/10.

Mechanics: Like the earliest text-adventures’, the puzzles in this game are mostly ones of object manipulation. They’re not very involved, although some of the exact manipulations required are a bit obscure. The inventory limit is tedious to deal with, especially given the number of random objects in the game. In trying to juggle objects, the main character interpreted my DROP TORCH command as an instruction to throw that object (and not the other objects in his possession, which were just set on the ground) into a nearby chasm. The game seemed unwinnable at that point, and there was no UNDO command to continue my progress. 3/10.

Presentation: The text in the game is sparse but filled with mistakes in spelling (“wierd”), capitalization (“very dense and dark Jungle”), and punctuation (“didnt survive”). Even in the first room, the game switches from second person (“You are laid in an upturned crashed hot air balloon basket”) to first person (TAKE CYLINDER -> “It’s far too heavy for me to lift.”) Scoring seems to be broken; I heard a chime at several points in the game after solving puzzles, but SCORE still simply returned “Your score is 0” (without a period). 2/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You fondly remember the oldest generation of text-adventures.

Score: 2

One thought on “Escape from Dinosaur Island, by Richard Pettigrew

  1. I’m the author of the “custom system” (not the game), and I thank you for your constructive criticism of the engine. The upcoming 1.0 release is far more modern in its approach (all/and supported for example).

    Unfortunately, the version of the engine (0.5.8) that Richard used doesn’t tell you the difference between an unknown verb and an unhanded (but known) verb, which is the fault of the engine, not the author. This was rectified in development version a long time ago, but it wasn’t available to Richard.

    The editor does not yet have a spell-checker built-in which obviously meant that the typos slipped into the game but I think your criticism of the 1st/2nd person switches is valid.

    Given that this is Richard’s first time creating a text adventure (or IF) game, I think that he did a very good job, and it was brave of him to submit it for review, and to use an embryonic engine as a vehicle.

    I believe that dropping the torch was not a trigger to an unwinnable state but rather the accidental solution to a problem you never knew you had. I’m not sure which is worse in your view, but I think the problem of not knowing with certainty if a game is unwinnable is a blight on the entire genre, and not something that you can ever truly be certain of as a player. But it was still winnable.

    Thanks again for taking the time to review this game and (by extension) the engine.


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