What is it with all the one-room games this year? There must be some kind of movement happening in the collective IF unconscious which says "Plot? Who needs it? Give me one room, and as long as it's got one or more puzzles in it, I'm happy." Well, sometimes I'm happy too. And, more or less, this is one of those times. Despite its title, Enlightenment has very little to do with gaining awareness or understanding Zen koans. To say what it does
have to do with would probably be a bit too much of a spoiler, but it involves deliberately placing yourself in a situation that most text adventurers would avoid at all costs. Because of this, it took me a little while to actually catch on to how the game is supposed to work -- I just couldn't believe that deliberately placing myself in danger was the right path. It is, though, and getting there is all the fun. Like last year's Zero Sum Game
, Enlightenment puts the PC at the end
of an adventure of dizzying proportions. Unlike Zero Sum Game, Enlightenment isn't really an unwinding of the PC's accomplishments -- you get to keep your score, and even increase it. You've already overcome dozens of obstacles, collected lots of treasures, and scored 240 points out of 250; now there's just the little matter of getting past a canonical troll bridge and scurrying out of the caverns with your loot. But how? In the game's words:
If only you hadn't used your Frobozz Magic Napalm on that ice wall...
If only you hadn't used your TrolKil (*Tm) to map that maze...
If only you hadn't sold your Frobozz Magic Tinning Kit.
If only you hadn't cooked and eaten those three Billy Goats Gruff...
... or that bear ...
If ONLY you'd checked the bloody bridge on your way in.
This brief excerpt is representative of the writing in the game: it is both a very funny parody of the Zork
tradition as well as an enthusiastic participation in that tradition. In fact, as you can see from the above quote, the game actually features some familiar parts of the Zork universe, such as Frobozz Magic products, rat-ants, and even certain slavering lurkers in dark corners. Activision
apparently granted permission for this usage, as they did for David Ledgard in his adaptation of the Planetfall
sample transcript for his game Space Station
. Activision's willingness to grant permissions for such usage, as well as their donation of prizes to the competition and their sometime inclusion of hobbyist IF on commercial products, is great news for a fan community like ours -- their support of IF means that more people will devote their time to it, resulting (hopefully) in more and more good games. Enlightenment is one of the good ones, and one of its best features is its writing. Another way in which it is unlike Zero Sum Game is that it doesn't take an extreme or harsh tone. Instead, the writing is almost always quite funny in both its comments on text adventure cliches (the FULL score listing is a scream) and its usage of them. The game is littered with footnotes, which themselves are often littered with footnotes. Sly allusions and in-jokes abound, but they're never what the game depends on, so if you don't catch them, you're not missing anything important. Of all the one-room games I've seen this year, Enlightenment is definitely the best-written.
It even includes some fun outside documentation in the form of the HTML edition of the latest issue of Spelunker Today: "The magazine for explorers and adventurers." This kind of mood-building file has been included with a few competition games this year, and Enlightenment's extras are definitely the best of the bunch. The writing in the faux magazine is just as good as the writing in the game, and the graphics look sharp and professional. I like these little extras -- they really do help set the mood of a game -- and they definitely add to the fun of Enlightenment. The one problem I had with this game was that, although the writing is funny and clever, it is sometimes not precise enough to convey the exact nature of a puzzle or its solution. In a heavily puzzle-oriented game like Enlightenment, this can be a major setback. For example, at one point in the game you're called upon to cut something, but it won't work to use your sword on it. You must find something else to cut with. Well, there is something else, but that object is never described as having a sharp edge. This is one of those puzzles that made me glad I looked at the hints -- the only way I would have ever gotten it is by brute force, and that's no fun anyway. In another instance, a part of the setting is described in such a confusing way that I still don't quite understand what it is supposed to look like. Part of the difficulty, I think, is that the game features a gate, with metal spikes at its bottom set into the stone floor. Now, this made me think of bars, like you might see on a portcullis. However, as far as I can determine the game actually means a solid wall, with spikes at the bottom, which I wouldn't describe as a gate. This kind of imprecision is a real problem when the objects so imprecisely described have to be acted upon in precise ways in order to solve puzzles. So I used the hints for a number of the puzzles, and I don't mind that I did, because I wouldn't have solved them on my own anyway. But imprecision aside, I'm still glad I used them, because it enabled me to play all the way through Enlightenment, and the trip out of that one room was well worth taking.