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To Hell in a Hamper Reviews
Author: Jason Guest
Date: 2003

Score: 5 Otters

Reviewed by David Whyld

The winner of the Adrift Spring Mini-Comp 2003, To Hell in a Hamper is the best example yet of just how good really small games can be. Then again, it's not really a small game as such - only one room, true, but there's a fair sized game in there and one quite a bit larger than several "proper" games that have made their way onto the downloads page over the past few years.

The storyline follows the efforts of one Professor Pettibone who is an "eminent Victorian balloonist" determined to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon. Off he sets, accompanied by a single companion, the strange and quite demented (not to mention bizarrely-named) Hubert Booby. Problems soon become apparent as the balloon seems to have great difficulty attaining the necessary height to pass over an erupting volcano, leading you to the sneaking suspicion that your companion might well have smuggled aboard several heavy items in his ever-expanding overcoat.

Every bit as strange as the writer's first game Goldilocks is a Fox, To Hell in a Hamper is, if anything, even better. I have to admit that I wasn't sure whether a one-room game would be much of an entry in the competition but this proved me well and truly wrong (it beat my game as well, but any between-the-lines insults are purely coincidental). There are enough ideas packed in here for several games and the seriously over-the-top humour is always top notch. In particular, Hubert Booby is the sort of character who is just crying out to have a game written about him.

Despite being confined to a single room, To Hell in a Hamper isn't an easy game by any means. It's fairly straightforward making a little progress here and there but problems soon hit when you get a further and have to discover new and ingenious ways of getting Hubert to relinquish his remaining items - killing him, alas, isn't an option. Nor does murder work on his Aunt Gertie despite her nasty habit of constantly whacking me with her cane.
Several amusing features add to the replay value and show a definitive flare for the imaginative: throwing the Egyptian mummy out of the balloon results in an ancient curse being activated; get rid of the dog and it climbs back into the balloon (quite a feat for a dumb animal though not one I appreciated at the time considering the hassles I had gone through to get rid of it in the first place); throwing Hubert's troublesome Aunt Gertie out doesn't work well either as the canny old bird grabs hold of the anchor rope and climbs back inside.

As far as one room games go, it's hard to imagine a better one that this coming around any time soon. Indeed, it's one of the most amusing games I've ever played and will probably take some beating in the comedy stakes.

Logic: 6 out of 10
How logical a balloon risking being destroyed in an erupting volcano due to your travelling companion smuggling a vast horde of items - including his Aunt Gertie, a dog and an Egyptian mummy among other things - under his coat is I'm not sure, but then this was never meant to be a logical game and I don't think it suffers for it at all.

Problems: 9 out of 10 (10 = no problems)
Nothing major but some of the tasks seemed overly complicated - the one involving the ear-trumpet and the dog in particular.

Story: 7 out of 10
There's an amusing little back story at the beginning of the game which sets the feel for the adventure well enough. A one room game is never going to have - or need - a lengthier storyline and this one did its job.

Characters: 9 out of 10
Three, although Hubert Booby takes the cake. I tried hitting him with just about every item I could lay my hands on just to see if I could get another of his daft responses.

Writing: 8 out of 10
Very good indeed.

Game: 8 out of 10
Definitely the best one room game I've ever played and more than a match for quite a few of the full size games.

Overall: 47 out of 60

Reviewed by J. Robinson Wheeler
Review appeared in SPAG #36 March 16, 2004

This is a short game with a good amount of wit and charm to it, and it shows that it is possible to make a one-room, one-puzzle (albeit a layered, Babel Fish type puzzle) game that's entertaining.

The situation is that you are Professor Pettibone, eminent Victorian Balloonist, on his attempt to circle the world in a balloon. Your traveling companion has been replaced at the last minute by a Mr. Hubert Booby, a rather shady character with a suspiciously bulging overcoat. The puzzle of the game involves throwing enough weight out of the balloon to clear an erupting volcano, and you have to prise items one at a time (or sometimes, a half-dozen at a time) from Mr. Booby.

I turned to the walkthrough rather soon, just to get the game moving, and relied on it a bit too much thereafter, worried that I was going to do something out of order and make the game unwinnable. In fact, the author was sometimes careful in this regard, and made it so that you couldn't toss some items you still needed over the side. (But some you could.) I had a few challenging guess-the-verb moments, including figuring out the syntax for throwing things overboard, and the rather dodgy necessity of using the non-standard verb 'MAKE' at a crucial late-game step.

Having gotten that far, I decided to play the rest of the game without looking at the walkthrough, which turned out to be the one time I should have used it, because the ultimate turn of the game is a win/lose scenario. I typed "PULL ROPE" instead of "PULL GAS VALVE ROPE," and I lost. Since I hadn't saved the game, I had to start all over again and replay the whole thing just to see the winning outcome, which was irritating.

There were a couple of spelling errors, including one in the concluding text of the winning scenario, and there were some odd tussles with the parser on occasion:

> cut buttons
[...] finally, with a great rending sound the coat bursts open, spilling a multitude of diverse objects onto the floor of the basket! These items consist of a large framed painting, an enormous carpetbag, a bundle of twigs, a boomerang, an ear-trumpet, a toy donkey and a sleeping Saint Bernard dog...

> throw twigs out
I'm afraid the meaning of your words escapes me. Could you possibly rephrase that?

> get twigs
Take what? 

> get bundle
I pick up the smudge stick.

> x it
(the smudge stick)
A bundle of cedar twigs and sprigs of sage bound together with coloured thread. [...]

> throw twigs overboard
I'm afraid the meaning of your words escapes me. Could you possibly rephrase that?

> throw stick overboard
I don't understand what you want me to do with the smudge stick.

> throw stick
I don't understand what you want me to do with the smudge stick.

> throw smudge
I'm afraid the meaning of your words escapes me. Could you possibly rephrase that?

> throw smudge stick
I toss the smudge stick over the side of the basket. After all I can't imagine what I might have needed it for...

I enjoyed the pop-up introductory picture that set the scene. The dialogue of the game was very funny, as was the surprise of one of the last items to be revealed hidden about Mr. Booby's person. If I had run across this game in the Competition, I probably would have ranked it a 7 or an 8, depending on how charitable I was feeling. Overall, nicely done.

Reviewed by Emily Short (The Online Interactive Fiction Review Site)

Every year a few games turn up as XYZZY finalists that I hadn't played during the year, because they weren't in the competition and didn't make big noise on rec.games.int-fiction when they were released. But they're always games that made enough of an impression on someone to make the list, so I try to play them when I can.

This year, the nominee that surprised me was To Hell In A Hamper, J. J. Guest's one-room ADRIFT game. I don't tend to follow the ADRIFT releases closely, and I missed this game when it was released. The nominations in five categories -- Best Game, Best Writing, Best Story, Best Setting, and Best Use of Medium -- made me curious, so I tried it out.

The premise is that you are trapped in a hot-air balloon, drifting perilously towards a volcano, accompanied by an uncooperative NPC who is carrying entirely too many heavy objects. Your task: get rid of everything that is weighing down the balloon so that you and your companion do not become one with the lava.

This is a great example of how much you can get out of a well-chosen premise. Instead of a score, you have a reading on the altimeter, which lets you know how far you still need to rise in order to clear the volcano without disastrous effects. This device works very nicely and gives a mimetic, in-story excuse for having a scoring system at all. Having a grumpy NPC who doesn't talk much is a standard way of avoiding having to write lengthy conversations, but in this case it's done quite well, and he has a range of responses for your actions that makes it feel like he really is grumpy and not just under implemented. Meanwhile, the setting choice is a very good one for a one-room game: it makes perfect sense that you can't walk anywhere from where you are, but at the same time the passing scenery outside provides atmosphere and keeps the setting from inducing claustrophobia.

One-room puzzle games tend to have a certain purity of focus. The player knows that everything he needs is going to be in one place, and there's no need to look elsewhere. That effect served To Hell in a Hamper well. The puzzles, taken by themselves, are a little uneven. One or two are too trivial, and some rely more than I like on obsessive searching and fiddling with objects, where it's not clear when one verb will be more useful than another. On the other hand, several are quite ingenious and enjoyable. And this is very much the sort of game where the cumulative effect is more than the sum of the parts. All of the individual puzzles you have to solve are components of your larger goal.

It's easy to die. This is not the kind of game where you're protected from errors. But it does make some attempt to keep you from doing anything to make the game unwinnable by, say, flinging a vital item overboard before you've used it. While this may be quite mimesis-breaking -- your player character has a really uncanny foreknowledge of what he's likely to need later and what he's not -- I think the game would have been considerably more frustrating without that feature, and I was duly grateful.

As for the setting, it's well-evoked despite the game's narrow scope. You're in a balloon, but it's a period balloon: the year is 1877, and you are an explorer. This reminded me a bit of the framing story in The Beetmonger's Journal (Scott Starkey, 2001), but To Hell In A Hamper goes further with the idea. Some of the exposition is in the form of entries from your journal, and several descriptions refer to some of the more eccentric figures of the time. I was especially charmed by the reference to Madame Blavatsky, an extremely odd psychic and philosopher; her former home is now a West Philadelphia restaurant and bar called The White Dog, after her belief that her ailing leg was healed by having a white dog sit on it.[1] The world of "To Hell In a Hamper", in other words, is an ultra-colourful version of 1877, one in which all sorts of bizarre things are true and the weirdness dial goes to 11. This fits perfectly with the cartoon-physics approach of the puzzles, too.

So there's a lot in this game to praise. Unfortunately, there were also some glitches. I was playing the game with another person, and we got horribly stuck at a certain point, doing what we thought was the obvious action. It turned out that the problem was in the parser, and a fairly basic problem at that: if we referred to an object with both adjective and noun, it was recognized; if we used only the noun, the whole command was rejected. Since we'd successfully used both that particular verb and that particular noun (without adjective) before in other commands, this was confusing and infuriating. We eventually had to go to the walkthrough to find that the command we'd been trying to give had been one word off from the correct phrasing. Very irritating.

There were some other similar problems with implementation, where the depth of descriptions varied, and one item might have many meticulously-described components while others, seemingly just as important, did not. Some obvious actions were not handled very well, either -- sometimes the parser would claim not to recognize a verb when used with one noun, when it was vitally important with another.

Last I saw on rec.arts.int-fiction, J. J. Guest was talking about releasing another version of the game which might clear up some of these sorts of problems. I very much hope he does so, because I think this was an otherwise delightful game that was at times seriously handicapped by implementation flaws.

Overall, this game fits into a growing category of works that combine light puzzles with strong pacing and good comic writing. I'd also put this year's Best Puzzles winner "Gourmet" (Aaron Reed, 2003) into that group, along with the first chapters of "Fine Tuned" (Dennis Jerz, 2001) and several of J. Robinson Wheeler's games. As it happens, I really enjoy such pieces. They don't always get the recognition that other games do, perhaps because they're not perceived as groundbreaking experimental work or as hard-core puzzle-fests. But humour and pacing are a real challenge to get right in IF, and a good IF comedy has a special charm of its own.

[1] I have a special affection for the White Dog because of having wasted formative hours there eating portobello mushroom sandwiches. Also, an acquaintance of mine nearly got us into a bar fight. Anyway, I may be biased on this point.

Reviewed by mrudis65

The premise is simple enough. Lighten the balloon so that it rises enough to clear the volcano. Only one problem. There isn't any ballast to throw overboard. The only source of weight comes from your companion in the balloon. Obviously he is more than he appears to be, and stubbornly refuses to part with anything.

In the game "Violet" your enemy was your own distractibility. Slowly, surely, you had to be rid of every distraction so that you could finally sit down and write your thesis. Here, the enemy is Mr. Hubert Booby and his hidden acquisitions that are keeping the balloon from lifting.

The hardest part of this game is figuring out what to keep and what to throw overboard. No spoilers here, just recommend saving before tossing anything overboard... Undo only takes you back one move, so it's possible to discover several moves later that you needed something.

If you find the puzzles too difficult, there are in-game hints to help. No need for a walkthrough. There is, however a rather interesting puzzle near the end for which there are no hints. When Booby's Aunt Gertie appears you need to find a way to safely get her overboard. If you still can't work it out, Aunt Gertie will need a parachute. If still stuck, make the parachute, and tie it to her. After that, she won't go willingly. You'll have to pu__.

I'm not a big fan of one room puzzle boxes. But this game was one of the better one rooms I've played. Hence the 3 stars.

Reviewed by David Whyld

Reviewed for InsideAdrift End Of Year Comp 2003


Comments: Very, very funny game that doesn't sacrifice gameplay for the sake of humour. Hubert Booby was an hilarious character who could have a whole game devoted to him and his strange ways. A few guess-the-verb issues aside, there was little with this game to find fault with.

Total: 33 out of 40


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