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Dreamhold, The

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:Andrew Plotkin



Copyright 2004, Andrew Plotkin

The Dreamhold is yet another interactive fiction masterpiece from Andrew “Zarf” Plotkin, doubtless one of the best IF authors after the demise of Infocom. As a game designed to teach basic text adventure premise and commands to beginners, The Dreamhold is more similar to Zarf’s earlier Lists and Lists than his sprawling epic So Far. The game starts with a clichd premise: you are an amnesiac who must explore a wizard’s house to find out who and where you are, and what you should do next. Similar to “solo adventure” games like Babel and Theatre, there are no NPCs to interact with in The Dreamworld. You basically just explore the gameworld, and uncover the backstory that is revealed through flashbacks that are triggered by certain events, which can in turn happen when you successfully solve puzzles to access certain objects.

Zarf’s name has come to be a household name among IF fans, and The Dreamworld does not disappoint. The game is full of well-written locations, cool magic, and ingenious puzzles. The locales evoke the blend of fantasy and science from Zork, and almost every ‘room’ contains something interesting to look at or interact with. There are dozens of puzzles of various types, and while you can explore vast areas from the beginning, you never feel lost about what to do next, since there are always at least a few puzzles waiting to be solved at any one time. Puzzles also range widely in difficulty, from obvious to devious.

The best thing about the game, aside from neat puzzles and multiple (two, actually) endings, is the excellent “smart tutorial” feature: if you get stuck anywhere for a long time, the game will start prodding you in the right direction with gentle hints. It also gives excellent introduction to basic IF commands at the start, so beginners will be well prepared to deal with tough puzzles in the later stages of the game.

While it remains debatable whether the typical “on-line hint menu” feature is better than the automatic hint system in this game, Zarf deserves a lot of credit for writing a superb game and introducing a new tutorial approach to the genre. I think for truly novice IF gamers, the automatic hint system is a more user-friendly and appropriate aproach – especially when it connects simple IF commands to actual puzzle-solving situations. Whether you are new to IF genre or a veteran, The Dreamhold offers something for everyone. Two thumbs up!

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