Hadean Lands

Hadean Lands, a text adventure by renowned IF author Andrew Plotkin, was the first successful Kickstarter project I ever backed. He asked for a mere $8000, and got nearly four times that, which seemed like a lot of money for a Kickstarter back in 2010. And, just as he got four times what he asked, he took four times as long as he expected. The most anticipated text adventure in many years, it shipped just a few days ago, and I finally gave it a serious try this weekend.

Despite a multi-hour session, I feel like I’ve just barely started it. The whole thing is predicated on alchemical rituals that require combinations of ingredients under specific elemental or planetary influences established by symbols and incenses, and sequences of commands like “invoke lesser phlogistical saturation” or “recite the categorical imperative”. In other words, this isn’t your “select a spell from a list” system; magic takes work. Even just following instructions written out for you can require research to find out what those instructions mean. It reminds me a little of spellcasting by typing sequences of text from the manual in King’s Quest 3 and a little of the more involved schools of ritual magic in Ultima VIII (a game that I remember as essentially a series of demos for different magic systems), but with one big difference: it’s systematic. Rituals aren’t just arbitrary sequences of actions, they’re techniques that produce specific effects, and that can be tweaked to produce different effects if you understand the theory behind them. Just getting out of the first room requires making a reasonable substitution in the one recipe available to you at that point, tutorializing this variability.

And it keeps on tutorializing for a good while, introducing new aspects of alchemical practice one by one, mainly by means of blocked doors. Here’s one that’s rusted shut, here’s one that’s rusted even more so that your previous anti-rust ritual doesn’t cut it, one overgrown with mold, one that’s locked and the key tossed in a blazing furnace. I’ve reached the point where things open up a bit, where I have multiple unsolved puzzles in front of me and multiple recipes that I have no immediate use for. It’s still looking like alchemy is always the answer to every puzzle, though.

Fortunately, the game only expects you to perform each ritual once. Repeating a ritual is as simple as typing “make fungicide” or whatever, provided you have access to everything you need. I understand that macro-instructions of this sort become increasingly important as the game goes on. We’ll see how that goes in future posts.

6 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 2 Nov 2014

    I was like “whoa, a full length paid IF work from Andrew Plotkin? That sounds…really intimidating from your description, but I think I might bite anyway.” But then I read it was for iOS.

    Yeeeeah. Even Android would make some sense, because Android devices with a keyboard exist – I have one. But there is no way in hell I am playing traditional parser-based IF on a device where I’m stuck using a virtual keyboard as my text entry method, much less a work of any significant length.

  2. Rowan Lipkovits on 2 Nov 2014

    sequences of commands like “invoke lesser phlogistical saturation” or “recite the categorical imperative”.

    What are the odds that that latter joke would come up twice in one year’s IFing?

    From my ShuffleComp entry, 50 Shades of Jilting:

    Is this your first time playing a work of interactive fiction? Typically these programs reproduce the general behavior of text adventures dating back to the ’70s, in which intrepid adventurers explore cave complexes, solve dry-goods puzzles and help themselves to any “treasures” not nailed down, using the then-user-friendly I/O system of a text parser (which, when compared to punched cards, is still pretty relatively elegant.) This input mechanism means that you type instructions, typically verbs but often including directions and some abbreviations, into your keyboard, from where the computer determines whether they can understand what you mean and serves the player up output describing the result of the attempt to follow the last instruction given.

    This particular game is atypical of the genre: there are no caves. Also, this game presents a severely constrained version of the text adventure, in which a complete playthrough is achieved in single commands. To illustrate, please allow me to demonstrate. You’ll have to figure out how to achieve the other endings on your own, but this one is a freebie:


    You pull out a worn and dog-eared copy of Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Sam’s eyes open wide and you are countered with a volume of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. You trade opening statements and proceed to debate for two weeks, at which point you have just about achieved an agreement on the definition of some key terms. You’re both quite disshevelled and have probably permanently stained the diner booth in which you’re both installed in your philosophical labours. A group of German students have taken up residence in the diner, some supporting your mode of thinking and others backing Sam’s.

    Following one day’s especially vigorous debate, some students take you aside and propose that the two of you resolve this dispute with a duel. You sharply retort that such a conclusion to the affair would undermine outside perception of the correctness of the winner’s arguments. They nod and appear to agree, but despite that two hours later one of them comes back and shoots Sam on your behalf anyway.

    The bullet is a small-calibre one, and it lodges in the flesh in the upper arm, but all the same Sam needs to go to the hospital to have it ministered to, suspending the debate and potentially putting it on hiatus indefinitely. That night you sit by your phone but Sam never calls you up; perhaps this is what it took to finally shake your unwanted ardour like a terrier shaking a rat.

    *** Admit it, you probably wouldn’t have thought of that one ***

    (That’s one more way to leave your lover, but can you think of 49 more? Let’s wind this tape back a bit… wrrdrrdrrt!)

  3. Carl Muckenhoupt on 3 Nov 2014

    malkav11: It’s also available for platforms other than iOS. See http://hadeanlands.com/ for details. I realize that the kickstarter link, with its title “Interactive Fiction for iOS”, is misleading, and have now put in a link to the main Hadean Lands website as well.

  4. malkav11 on 3 Nov 2014

    Okay, that makes way more sense. The Kickstarter page gave the distinct impression that a PC version would be a backer-only $25 thing that I would be unable to obtain, having not even heard of Kickstarter in 2010. But now I’m thinking that would be specifically a CD-based physical release, and I don’t care about that. Furthermore, I can see some argument that iOS, as a new platform that’s had some success at monetizing the sort of game that’s been conventionally free on PC, might be a good place to refloat the balloon of commercial IF. But it would have been insane to rely on it as the sole platform for a parser-based work of IF. (It’s actually rather nice for Twine/Inkle-type tap-a-phrase IF. 80 Days is splendid.)

  5. Jason Dyer on 4 Nov 2014

    @malkav11: Just to be absolutely 100% clear, you can download off of either Humble or itch.io. (The CD version isn’t even available yet.) The cost is $5.

  6. malkav11 on 5 Nov 2014

    Yeah, the site says. You’d just never know any of that from the Kickstarter page. :)

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