IFComp ’09: The Grand Quest

The Grand Quest by Owen Parish is string of puzzles, many of which went out of their way to piss me off. I discuss them in detail bellow.








SThe game is about a man who has been searching for a magical goblet and has arrived at the cave it’s hidden. He must proceed through a series of chambers, each one a test, before he can claim the treasure. The game might as well not even have a story as it’s all just an excuse for a series of puzzles. It is designed in such a way that you have to solve each puzzle before moving onto the next. It’s extremely linear. You proceed through the rooms solving a puzzle one at a time until you reach the end. The Grand Quest might have worked if the puzzles are interesting or fair. They are not.

The first puzzle was okay. After it they started really getting me angry. Consider one where you had to divide a handful of coins into two piles of equal value. The problem is that the coins add up to an odd number. The disembodied voice that serves as the puzzlemaster tells us to divide up all the coins in the room so it’s not a huge leap to devise that there are some more coins hidden. The room’s description reads:

Lots of empty sacks are scattered around the floor. A pair of stone tables are flush against the north wall, on either side of another gate.

A through search of the sacks and tables revealed nothing. All my options exhausted I turned to the walkthrough. The solution? The floor has a removable stone with the extra coins hidden under it. Talk about unfair! If the floor was important the room description should have brought our attention to it somehow. I can’t see any player thinking to examine the floor. And seeing as how the rooms had gotten progressively less implemented as the game went on there was no indication that anything but the coins, the tables, and the sacks were interactive. And the sacks were dubiously so at best.

This puzzle was unfair but at least it wasn’t mean spirited. That came later. In the Circular Room is a rung hanging from a rope. The voice asks “Now, before we go any further – Do you give your word that you won’t take hold of the rung in front of you?” When you answer the floor drops away and you have one turn to grab the rope or not. If you choose to trust the voice you get the following message:

You fall, and have a fatal encounter with some sharpened stakes. Honour isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

*** Death ***

You have to follow the instructions of the voice for the rest of the game. That you have to disobey at this point strikes me as not only unfair but mean. The Grand Quest rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like Owen Parish wanted to cause me as much torment as possible. This is evident in the final puzzle which involves dropping a pair of playing cards into a box to change their number and suit. The voice tells you that he wants a pair of aces and so you have to manipulate the cards until you get them. My brain immediately locks up at this kind of puzzle and looking at the walkthrough revealed that it takes eleven steps to get the cards right. And considering that both the order of the cards entering the box and whether the box is open or closed determines how they change there are plenty of opportunities to get this puzzle in a very unwieldy state. Victor Gijsbers managed to break down the puzzle into its fundamental rules. No surprise, it involves algebra. This is an ambitious and cruel puzzle and I’m glad I had a walkthrough to get get through it. This didn’t stop me from wrestling the parser though.

>put jack in slot
Which do you mean, the Jack of Spades or the Jack of Clubs?

I didn’t understand that sentence.

>put jack of spades in slot
Which do you mean, the Jack of Spades or the Jack of Clubs?

The ending is just as mean spirited as the rest of the game. You’re given a choice but both lead to unsatisfactory conclusions. If I had put in the time and effort to legitimately solve these puzzles the ending would have infuriated me. I’m reminded of Infocom’s Infidel. That game also had a “bad” ending. But there the PC was a jerk and it was his own hubris and greed that got him his bad ending. It fit. Here the PC doesn’t have a character and so it feels like Parish is just teasing the player. Like the Circular Room (“Ha-ha! You didn’t grab the rung when I told you not to”) the ending felt like a sucker punch (“Ha-ha! You played through the whole game! What a moron”).

A good game is one that wants the player to succeed. The Grand Quest wants the player to fail. It’s mean and not very well made. Let’s move on to better games and waste our time with The Grand Quest no longer.


Filed under Games

3 responses to “IFComp ’09: The Grand Quest

  1. May I ask what the ending was? I got so annoyed that I quit before even getting that far.

  2. Philip Armstrong

    Sure. Spoilers follow:

    “Exit Room
    The goblet, the object of your quest, rests on a marble altar. It is flooded with light from a grand archway leading outside.

    “There it is. Take it.”

    >take goblet
    You reach out, but at the last moment you notice a motion from inside. An impossibly large snake emerges, and coils itself around the goblet protectively.

    “That snake is extremely poisonous, and perfectly lethal. Trying to think of a way around it? Futile. This is where it ends. Face the snake, or walk away.”

    You hesitate. You could try grabbing the goblet, but you have a feeling that such an attempt would not end well.

    You grab the goblet, and pull it away from the snake. Quick as a flash, it strikes, sinking its fangs into your arm and injecting a lethal dose of poison.

    You have it, the goblet is yours.

    (You fall to the floor)

    Your quest is complete.

    (You hear someone laughing)

    A smile spreads across your face.

        *** Victory in death ***”

    Or you can choose to walk away:

    The gate drops shut behind you.

    Mocking laughter comes from overhead.

    You stumble along a short corridor, and emerge into the sunlight. The air is strangely foul. All you can do is go home.

        *** Defeat ***”

  3. FWIW: I figured out a way to pass the circular room without breaking my word, but that may have been an unintended workaround. Certainly the game didn’t acknowledge that I’d done anything different.

    My solution: if I’m already holding onto the ladder when I promise not to grab the ladder, I’m not technically breaking the rules. I actually thought this was the puzzle, and that something bad happens if I grab it after swearing not to. I was surprised on replay to learn that, nope, that was what was expected.

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