Tales of the Unanswerable Retort
November 1, 2014 1:16 PM   Subscribe

In 2010 (previously), Andrew Plotkin launched a Kickstarter to enable him to quit his job and work on an epic-scale text-adventure full-time. He thought it would take him about a year. Four years later, Hadean Lands is complete and available for iOS, PC, Mac, and Linux.

The player is thrust into the role of a lowly Ensign on the alchemical starship Unanswerable Retort and, in the wake of catastrophe, is force to get the ship running again using half-remembered formulae and all of the sublime tools of alchemy found within.

Featuring a complex alchemy system enabling the player to build tools, mix compounds, distill potions, and cast objects in metal, the game's sprawling puzzle structure is so complex that Plotkin had to build software to help him keep track of puzzle dependencies.

Emily Short weighs in with a discussion of some of the innovations and other delights to be found within.

If you get stuck, the friendly folks at intfiction.org are ready to help out with hints.
posted by murphy slaw (29 comments total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow. The Emily Short link has me very, very intrigued.
posted by naju at 1:32 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like the idea of IF a lot, but I've never gotten far with any of the games I have attempted. I think that I either need to know a lot more about IF conventions or else be able to read the author's mind for what custom vocabulary they are expecting me to use in my commands.

Albeit not having experience writing any other kind of code, I have tried to write simple games with Inform 7 and it is a frustrating experience. Syntax that compiled perfectly ten minutes ago will suddenly be rejected by the parser on new compiles. I can't imagine writing something so complicated with it.
posted by wrabbit at 1:55 PM on November 1, 2014


If I was going to recommend a game for beginners it would be Plotkin's The Dreamhold, which has a very nice built in tutorial mode and a nice variety of puzzles and secrets.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:03 PM on November 1, 2014


I suspect I will never get very far in this. The me that was willing to spend time beating her head against IF was a long time ago. But it pleases me that this exists, and I just spent $7 on it.
posted by egypturnash at 2:21 PM on November 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


Sounds fun but I'm not sure if I still have the energy for Zork level puzzles. I managed about six or seven Infocom games back when your only help was the invisiclues but I tend to be a lot lazier gamer these days. Maybe if I had someone to pair with on it.

Weird connection dept: Plotkin and I both worked as engineers for the same small distributed file system company but missed each other by a couple of months. We have about fifteen shared contacts in LinkedIn.
posted by octothorpe at 2:38 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


The exploring-an-abandoned-spaceship concept immediately put me in the mind of Starcross.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:41 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I told my Andy Plotkin story on MetaFilter in 2007 but here it is again. I was friends with Andy Plotkin in high school. He wrote the funniest IF game I've ever seen, which looked as if it were set in a huge universe, but actually, a few turns after the beginning of the game, you'd see "Your bladder feels full." And after a few more turns, "You really need to go." But whenever you tried to go, you'd get "Are you crazy? You can't go to the bathroom right out here in public." And then after fifteen moves or so your bladder exploded and you died.

It seemed like there was some very hard puzzle involved, and you'd spend a lot of time trying to figure it out, but actually, you couldn't keep from dying, and Andy had only written in as many rooms as you could get to from the start in fifteen turns.

Genius!
posted by escabeche at 3:30 PM on November 1, 2014 [26 favorites]


I've played a little bit of it so far, and I'm enjoying it a lot. It's been a long time since I've played any interactive fiction, and the iPad works really well for this form, possibly because it's a more book-like interface than a computer.

The iPad version of this game also takes into account that most modern gamers will be unfamiliar with the conventions of the form. There's a little "commonly used commands" button on the right, for example, a map, and a "journal" which keeps track of the various rituals that you learn throughout the game.
posted by JDHarper at 3:31 PM on November 1, 2014


I considered making a post about the latest IF game release and I'm glad it was posted here in the end. Although, I'm not crazy about puzzles and drawing my own maps but I'm happy it's available on many platforms.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 4:36 PM on November 1, 2014


The steady and earnest email updates have so far been the best part! It was clear that unless a Mac truck tragically intervened this project would become a reality, participating vicariously in the development effort was really quite entertaining.

Andrew, if you read this: Congrats from the future Hadean Lands lowest scorer.
posted by sammyo at 4:41 PM on November 1, 2014


While the puzzles are more complicated than Zork or the other early Infocom games, I don't think most of them are actually harder.

Most of the time you have a couple of rituals you're working towards, and the trick is figuring out what inventory items and pieces of equipment you need to make something for a particular ritual phase.

Once you get past the first part of the game, the structure is like being given access to a junk shop and being told to build Rube Goldberg machines to achieve your aims.
posted by murphy slaw at 4:53 PM on November 1, 2014


RobotVoodooPower, Starcross is a particular favorite of mine. Unfortunately though, it may be a little while before I can try Plotkin's latest.
posted by JHarris at 5:20 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Andrew Plotkin was always my favorite IF writer, from back in my high school days when I would sit in my bedroom with a notebook and struggle my way through So Far and Spider and Web. Can't wait to start banging my head against the wall for this one.
posted by aesacus at 6:20 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


If it's an alchemical starship, does that mean that these are the voytages of the A.S.S. Unanswerable Retort?
posted by BiggerJ at 7:08 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


It can't be that big a deal, the file's only 1.6M.
posted by whuppy at 8:56 PM on November 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


For an all-text Inform 7 game, that's gigantic.
posted by JHarris at 9:09 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Plotkin's absolutely the best. SPIDER AND WEB is the best piece of IF ever written, completely mind bending and genre-defining. I'm still waiting for the movie of it. (which I should write).
posted by Sportswriters at 9:59 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is such a Zarf game. I'd never play it.

Alchemy is a good choice as a basis for a text adventure. I'd suggest it is maybe the most prototypical subject for classic IF. No surprise that Em. Short's only foray into puzzle-IF was Savoir-Faire, another learn-to-do-alchemy game. If you consider the proposition by Mike Roberts (TADS):
A well-designed adventure is a self-consistent world, not necessarily the real world, in which a player can conduct experiments to learn how objects and characters behave; he solves puzzles by learning the behavior of an object or character, and turning that to his advantage.
and combine it with the way these stories naturally lend themselves to magic (which is what players really want anyway), you end up with alchemy (or other highly-formulaic forms of spellcasting) as the obvious target of simulation.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:32 PM on November 1, 2014


Oh, hot damn. I know what I'm doing tomorrow.

Speaking of Emily Short, if you haven't played her Counterfeit Monkey (previously), you really should.
posted by hades at 11:32 PM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


octothorpe: "Weird connection dept: Plotkin and I both worked as engineers for the same small distributed file system company but missed each other by a couple of months. We have about fifteen shared contacts in LinkedIn."

That is weird. The part where you actually use LinkedIn, I mean.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:40 AM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm wondering if I should get the Mac version or the iPad version. I'm affraid typing on the iPad will be too inconvenient, but it will allow me to play it on the go. I wish there was a way to share a game between the two... Other than that it looks pretty awesome, looking forward to it!
posted by cameleon at 6:17 AM on November 2, 2014


I downloaded the game and my son and I started it. I grew up playing "castle" on an Epson IBM clone, I spent years playing that game over and over. It's funny to see my 10 year old son figure out how to issue commands. So far it's an awesome IF game.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:02 AM on November 2, 2014


I downloaded the game and my son

Man, technology is awesome.
posted by Justinian at 8:17 AM on November 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm wondering if I should get the Mac version or the iPad version. I'm affraid typing on the iPad will be too inconvenient, but it will allow me to play it on the go. I wish there was a way to share a game between the two... Other than that it looks pretty awesome, looking forward to it!

FWIWI I was able to get the mac version (which is just a gblorb file you run in an separate free interpreter, gargoyle or zoom probably) to run on Frotz on my ipad. I haven't exhaustively tested things, but I think gblorb files are supposed to fully work in ios Frotz these days. However, I think this won't have the journal and so on so I'm not sure it's actually a very good way to play hadean lands; I have the impression that the app version has some customized stuff to do with smoothing the more repetitive aspects of the game, which I think might get old on an ipad.

So far, it's a pretty engaging game. I'm only a few rituals in though.
posted by advil at 11:19 AM on November 2, 2014


Yay Andy! I first met Andy when I was in high school and our lives have intersected several times along the way since. Even when I haven't been personally involved in his life I've always just been amazed at the cool stuff he's creating. I think I saw the first information on his Kickstarter here on the Blue and of course I had to donate. I have been fascinated by all the bulletins I've received since and watching it come to fruition. Also, frankly, it's made me feel a little better about my own projects that it took him longer to create this than expected. If a genius like Andy can have a project take far longer than planned, then I don't have to feel quite so bad about how my personal projects aren't quite meeting my personal deadlines.
posted by rednikki at 12:51 PM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Really impressed with this so far on iPhone, but, like cameleon, I wish there was a way to share games between platforms (having it playable on iPhone & iPad is super awesome and convenient, but when you're at your desk, typing is just much easier on a real keyboard).
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 4:59 PM on November 2, 2014


Oh geeze I feel stupid I cannot figure out how to open the locked hatch. I've been trying to improvise rusting/tarnishing rituals but no dice.

edit. Oh duh the game gave me a combination for it. DURF. I just got handed a tool that's clearly going to be a major theme, and then tried to use it for everything.
posted by egypturnash at 7:20 PM on November 2, 2014


Ok, figuring out you can PERFORM any ritual you've already done in one command and GO TO any thing or place you've been has really helped.
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 7:41 PM on November 2, 2014


I've been playing this for a little bit now (got the mac version for easy typing) and it's great so far. The commands to repeat previous actions quickly are great, but the mechanics of the alchemy and the setting are magnificent. I can't wait to play some more!
posted by cameleon at 2:04 AM on November 3, 2014


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