Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Adventure of the Week: The Inheritance (2012 - Demo Version)

This week, I'm going to break with my usual format, in order to bring you some spoiler-free coverage of Scott Adams' upcoming brand-new text adventure with sound effects, The Inheritance.  A short demo version is currently available for pre-order purchasers who buy the game at Adams' official website; I spent several hours playing through it this past weekend, and since this is just a partial pre-release version of a brand new game, I'm going to talk about it in brief, spoiler-free fashion here.

Scott Adams' seminal microcomputer text adventures paved the way for a genre that flourished in the 1980s but died out commercially in the 1990s, giving rise to the animated point-and-click adventures that also faded, but are currently enjoying a resurgence.  It's always interesting to see an "old hand" re-enter the field in any medium -- Adams produced his first Windows adventure in quite a long time back in 2000, but Return to Pirate's Island 2 was more of a remake than a truly new experience.  With The Inheritance, Adams has a new story to tell, and its second-tier billing as Scott Adams Bible Adventure #1 suggests that a new series of games might be in the works if this one finds an audience.  It's a family-friendly game with Christian themes, reflecting Adams' own faith, and there's no preachiness here -- it's a tale of one believer working to claim an inheritance from an eccentric but goodhearted relative's estate, solving puzzles along the way with the aid of the Bible (King James Version).

Adams' Windows-era engine has been updated a bit -- the Save and Load features have been moved to a Game menu, and are no longer actually functional, as the game now auto-saves and can be played back.  So the only buttons above the text window now are What I have, Look Around, Playback and Help.  There is no SCORE command this time around (the Game menu has a Score option, but it is not functional), and in the demo version, sound effects are turned off by default.  The opening introduces a character named Butler Jeeves, who will make a few appearances in this short demo, and uses the same dramatic opening theme music heard in RtPI2.

The Inheritance features significantly more text than Adams' early games, and he seems to enjoy being much more verbose and descriptive when memory is no longer a constraint.  There are quite a few in-jokes that will bring a smile to fans of Adams' earlier works, and those fans will find that his parser has grown more sophisticated; we can now TAKE ALL or DROP ALL, for example, and use the word THE without throwing the engine off.  Some of the debatable enhancements seen in the later Adventure International SAGA+ games are also retained -- we generally have to GO THROUGH doors because the player's avatar can also be positioned at an item or doorway, so our old GO BATHROOM DOOR habits have to be modified a bit.  We also have to LOOK OUT FRONT WINDOW, as LOOK looks AT things by default as well.  Containers are fully supported, and possible alternate solutions -- even when they don't work -- are covered, often with unique responses that retain the Adams sense of humor.  We can even do something REPEATEDLY, for one puzzle that requires a little extra persistence.  My only real complaint is the lack of support for my old Scott Adams adventuring habits; there is no I or INVENTORY command, so we have to use the new abbreviation II, click the What I have interface button, or type TAKE INVENTORY.  A similar convention applies to directional navigation, as we must either GO EAST or EE, a simple E no longer applies.

What I find most interesting about this short demo of The Inheritance is its compact, efficient old-school design, completely in tune with an era when gameplay had to be shoehorned into the available resources.  The available map consists of only four locations, with other pathways off-limits in the demo.  But there are still a solid twelve puzzles at hand, several of which have multiple and non-obvious steps to reach a solution, and there are plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle hints available in-game.  If the rest of the adventure is as chock-full of content as this limited demo, die-hard adventurers are in for quite a ride when the full version arrives.

One new feature of The Inheritance that would have been completely infeasible in the classic Adams era is that the full 4.6 megabyte text of the King James Version of the Christian Bible is included with the game.  In keeping with the game's theme, the player has a waterproof bible along -- and yes, we can READ BIBLE -- and yes, any verse is available.  (And yes, I did test it with the infamous Ezekiel 23:20.)  The chapter-and-verse parser is a little buggy -- I could not figure out how to access the Song of Solomon, because RB Song of Solomon 3:5 yields Song Of Songs of Solomon 3:5 is not a valid bible reference; the game's database uses the book's other common name, the Song of Songs, but RB Song of Songs 1:5 produces only Song Of Songs of Songs 1:5 is not a valid bible reference.  I suspect the word of is causing a parser hiccup, as RB Song 1:1 does produce the expected quote: (1) The song of songs, which is Solomon's.

The only serious technical glitch I ran into with this preliminary version is that at times we can't seem to actually start a New Game -- even if we close out of the program and try to start a new game, it seems to want to continue from where we left off prior to quitting, and while the startup references a saved-game filename, I was not able to find the file referenced to delete it manually.  I finally had to rename the game directory and run the executable directly from that location, that seemed to break the spell of the auto-continue feature.  It doesn't help that there's no way to create or retain a specific save before we try something risky or unpredictable, although in practice there don't seem to be any real "dead ends" in the design.  I just got myself into one situation that I couldn't initially figure out how to get out of, without restarting and trying to avoid it.

Another less vexing problem is that sometimes when sound effects play, the main game window (in single window mode) loses focus, and we have to click in the main window to regain control, although as I was frequently alt-TABbing back and forth between my notes and the game window, I might have caused that issue myself.  It's also a little jarring that we can place the cursor and type anywhere in the displayed text window; the parser picks up our entries just fine, but it looks a little odd cosmetically next to the simple elegance of Adams' original windowed parser design, where descriptions were displayed at the top of the window and the player's input was entered in a separate bottom section.

Technical demo niggles aside, I had a great time with my initial journey, getting to the point where we can go no further as Butler Jeeves urges us to purchase the full game.  Maddening but fun Scott Adams puzzles are abundantly in evidence, and the updated technology makes more options and gags available.  What I'm really enjoying is that The Inheritance represents truly new territory from a pioneer of the adventure game form.  I look forward to playing the full game when it's released next year!


  1. It's interesting you found the sound effects off as the default and the main screen as a full window and not split.
    Both can be controlled by the game menus, but I wonder if previously playing RTPI2 had somehow effected the demo's settings? I am going to have to look into this as a bug report!

    Many thanks for the review and I am going to get back to writing now. There are many many interesting things await folks when they get past the front door and later through the front gate!
    Also a note the demos have been updated a few times as bug reports come in.

  2. A good write up! I also have been one of the privileged beta testers of this game and it has been a really cool journey so far. The game is really solid now, playability is excellent and addictive. The further you play into the game the further more you get drawn in to it. The beta testers so far have been working together as a team ironing out the creases and I must say, the game is one of Scott's best so far.

    Being a fan of Pirate Adventure, it was nice to attempt a few well known fond phrases and to get responses from these (I won't elaborate further for spoilerability) but any Adventure fanatic should not be without this game.

    Also, I must point out that as badged as a Bible Adventure, this game is not just for the religious among us. A family member of mine is not particularly religious but has enjoyed playing (oops, sorry, 'testing' :) ) this game alongside me and has been instrumental in me getting past a few of Scott's devious puzzles.

    Scott's humour is also present and its as if you can hear him chuckling to himself as you feverishly try to crack the next puzzle in this Adventure.

    You also learn a bit of stuff as you go. Heck I learned some fascinating facts about giraffes playing (sorry, testing) last evening.

    The menu options and their restrictions / reconfigurations on the GUI I think have been set this way to assist beta testers
    THIS GAME IS A MUST FOR ALL ADVENTURERS, whatever their beliefs, and I hearty recommend it.

    Now to get back to that dreaded alarm clock...

  3. I am updating the "save game" message that comes out when folks attempt the save game to better explain my intent and why the feature has changed as follows...

    There is an auto-save game feature. After every turn a save game is done. There is no manual control for it. Also this game believes, like the author, in forgiveness. You can never make a mistake that is not reversible! Don't despair, just go forward, play the game and have fun!

  4. The original "Pirate Adventure" was the first Scott Adams game I played back in the day, and I definitely appreciated a couple of in-jokes in the demo (as well as a certain Arabian Nights gag related to the general nature of adventure game puzzles back in the day!)

    Scott, I suspect you're correct that RtPI2 settings might be interfering with the intended defaults for The Inheritance. Glad to know that the design is forgiving -- I was afraid I'd backed myself into a corner, which is why the save game behavior was of concern and I was trying to get a new game started. Too many memories of "Savage Island" infecting my expectations! :)

    Now, I have these two bits of wire, one long and one short...