1893: A World’s Fair Mystery

Almost a month ago, like everyone who purchased 1893: A World’s Fair Mystery through the Illuminated Lantern website, I got an email from the author, Peter Nepstad, asking me to take a “customer satisfaction survey” to help him decide what to focus on in the forthcoming sequel. And I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t take the survey in good faith: enthusiastic though I was about the game when I ordered it several years ago, I had not even removed it from its shrinkwrap. Why? Basically, War and Peace syndrome. This game has a reputation for being vast and sprawling, so much so that even starting it is a little intimidating. But if Mr. Nepstad wants customer feedback, who am I to deny him?

So, the basics: This is a text adventure (albeit one charmingly illustrated with authentic Victorian photographs), and Nepstad deserves a lot of credit for trying to sell works in a format that was already reputedly dead when the game was released in 2002, let alone today. It concerns the theft of eight diamonds, although the blurbs promise that kidnapping and murder will follow. And it is set in the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where America celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage by showing off the achievements of its arts and industry to the whole world. Nearly 200 buildings were built for the fair, and it’s easy to believe that they’re all implemented here.

I’ve played for a few hours now, and made hardly any progress towards finding those diamonds. I have, however, followed a lengthy guided tour around the Court of Honor, listening to the guide heaping grandiloquent praise on the classical architecture and monumental statuary. There’s still a great deal to explore outside of what the tour showed, but I think it was a useful way to get grounded. It’s a little too early to talk with any certainty about how the game works overall, but I’m getting a strong impression that the recreation of the historical setting is the point of the work, and the mystery is just the means by which the author motivates you to explore it. It reminds me a bit of Cameron’s Titanic in that respect, with all that running around through all the major areas of the ship at the end, and in a different way of games such as GTA3 and Myst that create enjoyment by providing a sense of place, by giving the player somplace they can live.

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