, Andrew Plotkin
Not quite four years ago I backed my second-ever Kickstarter project
. I'd known Zarf in passing for about a decade at that point, and known of his work for, mm, twenty-some years. Throwing money at him so he'd a) make another big game and b) create tools so that other people could make similar games was kind of a no-brainer.
He'd planned on having the game done in a year, maybe a little more.
It shipped a couple of days ago
I meant to post this yesterday morning, when it was live. I am afraid I was distracted by a formula for an alchemical fungicide, and then by my inexplicable failure to create a resonant oculus ("an exceptional tool for observing unseen influences"). So: I am pleased to report that it has been entirely worth the wait.
The plot: you're an ensign on His Majesty's Marcher (an alchemical starship) The Unanswerable Retort. Something has gone horribly wrong, and it appears to be up to you to figure out how to put it right.
This is an old-school text adventure. You type commands (GO NORTH, GET COIN, UNLOCK OAK DOOR WITH RUSTY KEY) and the game carries them out. It includes a tutorial for brand-new players. I cannot speak to the tutorial as I haven't played it; been too busy diving in.
The game's puzzly, but not impossibly so. The structure I've seen thus far:
- First, a basic puzzle-type task, which serves as a tutorial for 'how to do alchemy.'
- Then, a locked door that can be opened by creative application of the previous.
- The game then opens up a few more areas, and gives you a few more keys, to doors that have to be opened in order.
- The last of those doors leads to an area roughly the size of the entire area you've previously seen, with a number of things to do and a locked door at the far end.
- Once you've puzzled out how to open that door, you have free access to most of the rest of the map.
- At this point the game becomes a firehose of information: alchemical formulae, ingredients, concepts, and the trick becomes sorting and managing all this information. That's where I am.
All this ought to be overwhelming and tedious. It's not, because Zarf has implemented shortcuts. You have to do a ritual, or solve a puzzle or unlock a door, by hand once. After that you can just PERFORM TARNISH CLEANSING RITUAL or UNLOCK DOOR and the game gathers the ingredients or key and goes through the necessary steps. In addition, if you can't remember where you saw or left something, you can RECALL CONVEX LENS and the game will tell you "You left that in the Opticks Lab."
Not to mention that the prose is first-rate. "You smell copal incense, machine oil, rosemary, alcohol, and blood. Creaking, bending steel beams... no, that's not an odor. Why did you think the bulkheads were crumpling in on you? What would that even smell like?"Hadean Lands is available
for iOS in a native app, or Android and PC/OSX/Linux through a (free) interpreter. I believe it will set you back about five bucks.
If you have fond recollections of the old Infocom games: buy this.
If you enjoy throwing yourself against locked doors and attempting to concoct and (mis)use strange formulae: buy this.
If you snickered at an alchemical starship named 'The Unanswerable Retort': buy this.
 My first-ever backed Kickstarter project has yet to deliver, because the creator turned out to be a flake. In retrospect this should have been obvious at the time. Supposedly the writing is done and it's in layout now. I believe the traditional next step is to whine that there are no more funds left to print or ship the book.