1893: Conclusion

My word it’s been a while since my last real post. But never mind: after another of those all-day sessions that seems to always mark the ending of any substantial adventure game, I have completed 1893. I actually reached the endgame before finding all of the diamonds, but delayed completing it until I had them all. When the last of them was safely stored away, I was pleased to see the player character echo my own earlier thoughts:

And yet, the mystery of the elaborate scavenger hunt remains. Why steal precious diamonds only to hide them around the Exposition? Was it just a ruse, designed to keep the detectives busy while the real criminal work could continue without interruption?

Having already seen the final confrontation, I knew the real explanation: the mastermind behind the robbery was completely insane. More specifically, he had peculiar notions about art. As both an artist and the architect of the mystery, including its solution, he’s a pretty good symbol for the Game Designer in his antagonistic aspect, although I can’t say for sure on the basis of the game’s content alone that the author intended this. If he did, I’m not sure what to make of his death.

Come to that, given that this is a mystery, it’s notable that you never get the chance to arrest anyone. There are three confrontations with criminals, but in all cases, if you don’t let them escape, they wind up dead. (In one case the body isn’t found, but I’ll count him as dead-until-sequel.)

At any rate, it’s been a hoot playing in this environment, 19th century civilization in full flower. The glorious spectacle! The sense of pride, of progress, of purpose! The condescending attitude toward non-European races! Seriously, there are exhibits of “Dahomeyans” and “Esquimaux” set up so people can gawk at them like animals in a zoo. Here’s where the research behind the game really helps: if anything seems too outré or outlandish, it’s a safe bet that it was real. The endnotes reveal that even more of the content is based on fact than I expected, although of course some liberties were taken.

Another thing the game does well is encourage routine. There are a few things you want to do every morning: eat breakfast, take a bill of draft to the bank to receive your daily stipend, read the newspaper. There’s also a routine you get into whenever you find a diamond: take it to Mr. Wentworth at the Mining building to see if it’s authentic, then take it back to the Administration building and lock it in the safe. Routines like this in an adventure game can be a good thing. They give a comforting sense of familiarity in a genre that’s mainly based on throwing you into situations where you don’t know what to do, and also provide a framework for variation. When you take that hard-won diamond to Mr. Wentworth and he says it’s a fake, what do you do then? A break from routine is impossible without a routine to break from. I don’t see a lot of modern IF using this technique, but that’s probably because most modern IF consists of short works, and you really need a larger work to take advantage of this effectively.

I was less enamored of the time system. There’s a day/night cycle and a host of scheduled events that occur hourly, daily, or irregularly, all of which is fine, and helps to give a sense of a living world. But there’s also a deadline. The player character has less than a week to solve everything. So I spent much of the game trying to do things as efficiently as possible, and that combines badly with that time cycle. Sometimes the only way to make progress towards a goal was to wait for a daily event, but in the interests of efficiency I’d spend the time working on other puzzles rather than waiting, which meant that I’d be in the peculiar and slightly uncomfortable situation of knowing what I had to do but not doing it.

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