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The Potter and the Mould Reviews
Author: Robert Street
Date: 2006

Reviewed by Mara Maijers

Another addition to the superhero genre: Mould is a long-ish superhero drama with its fair share of oddball puzzles. Surprisingly, it also explores a wide range of themes such as superherogenesis, loss of parents, gender issues, friendship, and heroic responsibility—though these rarely cohere. 

Nearly all puzzles require some clever use of your moulding powers: whenever faced with an obstacle, simply type >MOULD and select from a list of usually three of four mould designs. These designs vary from crowbars to stethoscopes, and even entire outfits in later stages of the game. Some are so highly suggestive they'll easily throw off the unlikely adventurer (like me). If you're stuck, yet reluctant to resort to hints, exercising your moulding fetish for perfunctory inspiration will only prove futile: most puzzles require an odd stretch of the imagination. This is a puzzlefest, after all. 

Miraculously, the game ships with mind-reading ability, but alas, it lacks basic courtesy—vide: 

> wind up mouse 
It would be better to set a trap first. 

This threw me on a fool's errand. I was at a loss, concocting up a wide variety of convoluted contraptions in my mind, munching chocolate and downing rum in the process, and then finally—almost defeatedly—typed: 

> set trap 

Meh. Surely the author could've gone the extra mile and linked up these synonyms. Upon retrospection, I now realize the parser never understood >WIND UP in the first place and it's just the symptom of an almost obstinate, uncompromising form of rail-roading that throws unsubtle "suggestions" to urge me forth, sometimes inadvertently ignoring meta-verbs such as our beloved >UNDO in the process. Please, at least have the subtlety to wrap up this rail-roading behind a >WAIT. Make no mistakes: I luv rail-roading, but at least be honest about your lack of vocabulary! 

I'll be the first to admit I suck at solving puzzles that require even a modicum of fervent ingenuity. This shouldn't be too much of a problem, but unfortunately some ostensibly obvious and straightforward solutions are veiled behind a lack of proper incluing. For Perkele's sake, this isn't +=3 (great game, by the way)! 

In any case, here's were the >HINT mechanism comes in to help. Unlike everything thus far, the hint mechanism is fairly decent: for each hint topic, it provides both a subtle hint and (on further prompting) an unsubtle hint. Running low in faith in Mould's fidelity, I promiscuously skipped ahead and read the hints to incite the next exciting plot development. 

The writing, by the way, is fairly decent. Nothing ground-breaking here, but it suffices to get the message across. The game's fairly long and features a wide variety of locations, characters and plot twists. In all earnest, I enjoyed the game for its story even if it's a little awkward. 

Minor setback: room descriptions are delivered as single chunks of text, sans paragraph breaks; my eyes just dwindled past them. Also, I found the spatial descriptions lacking in clarity. I'm sure Windows users have the luxury of an in-game world map, but I sought refuge in the relative comfort of the >EXITS command for all my navigational needs. 

On my terp, dialogue occasionally appears before scene descriptions, whereas it was likely meant to be printed only after them. I can only hope the default ADRIFT interpreter (which doesn't run on my OS) handles this phenomenon in a more coherent manner, as it makes no sense otherwise. 

I'm a bit surprised the game doesn't handle pronouns; either ADRIFT doesn't properly support pronominal anaphora, or it's a bug/deficiency in Mould: >TALK TO HIM just throws a clueless response ("You cannot talk to that."). For the love of dog, think of the pronouns! 

Mould may have a competitive edge over the leagues of ADRIFT crud out there, but it's still not up to par with my conceptions of contemporary IF. To give Mould its due, it does show potential, but due to its breadth it never stands out. Bits and pieces gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside (*takes another sip from the rum glass*), and the game gets cutesy at times, but it never transcends that. It's a pity. 

Rating: 4.

Reviewed by Dan Shiovitz

Ok, I need to say at the start that neither "The Potter" nor "The Mould" are very impressive names for superheroes (plus The Potter has unfortunate popular-fantasy-novel resonance, which seems like something no aspiring supervillain would really want to be associated with). Despite this, The Potter and the Mould pulls off a decent superhero story, hitting all the important bases: origin of powers, training, parents dying, love interest appearing, nemesis appearing, etc. If this sounds a little cliched, well, yeah, I don't know if there is much original story-wise in this game (except maybe the bad guy's power), but it's competently-executed and I generally had a good time playing it. I particularly enjoyed how the PC's moulding (ie, self-transformation) power was handled — you type >MOULD and it gives you a menu of things you can transform into in this location. There's no real in-game explanation for why you're limited to three or four forms per location, but as a gameplay thing it works just fine, giving you a few things to puzzle over but not making it too easy or too hard. I guess I have a few quibbles with it — the story is really pretty linear, and the writing isn't strong enough for all the elements it tries to develop (romance, a complex relationship with your parents, the popular with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility thing) — but on the whole it's perfectly fun, and there's a walkthrough, so go for it.

Reviewed by Mike Snyder

The superhero genre isn't my favorite. I've never been a big fan of larger- than-life, hard-to-believe super powers. Sure, I enjoy the comic-based movie from time to time - Superman with his flying, strength, and x-ray vision; Spiderman with his spider-sense and web-slinging; Batman with his. super wealth; X-Men, of course. I've been known to read a superhero comic, although not recently. I've played superhero IF once or twice. 

In essence, I'm not the ideal fan for The Potter and the Mould. This is a story for superhero fans, and it comes complete with all the trappings. Origin story? Check. Mutant-like powers? Definitely. An imperfect, self-doubting protagonist? Uh huh. The mentor/student relationship? You bet. An evil but misunderstood villain? Sure. Motivation by revenge? Of course. It's everything you'd expect from a superhero story. 

What I like best about The Potter and the Mould is that it keeps moving. It will appeal most to superhero fans, but it's a frenetic and fast-paced adventure that kept me enthralled for the four hours it took to complete. It *feels* more difficult than it really is, which is a credit to the author's talent. The puzzles aren't hard enough to impede the action, yet they leave a sense of accomplishment in their wake. My longest sticking point involved a machine-room and a clay dog. After solving it - which was easier than I tried to make it - I realized that the puzzles were simple and understated. They work to keep the story moving, not to work against it, and that's probably the best kind. 

In most cases, Robert avoids text-dumps by way of action prompting. This typically comes as a nudge from an NPC, beginning with the rescue scene at the beginning, through Waterfall's revelations in the mall, to the hurried trip to the Potter's inner sanctuary. It works very well, and keeps things interactive. 

The story has some surprises and twists. It strays from the predictable formula particularly near the end. Even though I appreciate the change-up, the victory felt less than satisfying. It was like facing down Dr. Evil, and getting a back-stabbing Mini-Me instead. What follows is an exciting bit, but not what I expected. 

The writing in this, Robert Street's latest game, left me puzzled. Even though I've commented about this in prior reviews, it seemed more noticeable here; equally hard to pin down, but more prevalent. It could just be his style, but I'm not convinced that's it. Too many sentences (even some in close proximity) ended awkwardly with the word "though". There was a glaring lack of contractions throughout the text - not always, but in certain passages - making it more awkward. This alone isn't a sticking point, but coupled with some awkward phrasings in general, it just didn't always read *right*. 

Take the following - just one random example from hundreds of lines of text: 

"The shops in this corner seem to be trying to outdo each other with silly displays." 

The words "seem to be trying to" are the awkward bit. I might write this as: 

"The shops in this corner strive to outdo each other with silly displays." 

These kinds of things weave themselves throughout the text. The removed bit was clunky and passive. The replacement flows better, and it's more active. I usually qualify these kinds of comments with a reminder that I'm no expert. I have to look two or three times to figure out just what it is about a sentence that bothers me. Even in the example above, I might change "each other" to "one another". At times, the text in The Potter and the Mould felt like a first draft, as though it had been written once and then left alone. At other times, the text felt too heavily edited, as if the smooth flow and original expression had been lost under the weight of so much revision. Which the case may be, I don't know. Like I said, it might just be the author's unique style. 

Robert didn't skimp on details. Even though this is an ever-moving game, the extra effort shows in the responses, from looking around to trying various other actions. This isn't always the case in story-heavy works, where the only important thing is doing exactly what advances the plot. I liked that The Potter and the Mould stood up to some prodding. 

The hero's premise, now that I've come to it, is that he can "mould" his shape into various things. Robert implemented this in a logical, user-friendly way. Mould options are task-specific and presented in a list. This maintains the illusion that you're really able to morph into anything, where free-form input (John Evans's games come to mind) makes this very difficult. It also gives the PC some say-so as to how the player proceeds. In other words, the PC dreams up these forms so the player doesn't have to. More than that, it eliminates the "I tried to become a diamond-tipped drill, but it didn't work" complaints, at the expense of limiting the player's options. Occasionally, this let me figure out a puzzle where I wouldn't otherwise have had all the facts, but all in all, it was a good design. 

Next comes the obligatory Adrift discussion - but I'll keep it short. I'm a fan of Adrift's auto-mapping, even if I found some necessary exits unmarked on it. It can be a crutch sometimes, and I probably shouldn't have tried to rely on the map as much. I'm not a fan, however, of Adrift's pick-apart parsing. I call it that, because I don't know if it has a real name. This is most problematic when commenting a transcript. If you type something that has the word "undo" anywhere in it, Adrift believes you intend to undo your last move. If you comment about "he" or "she", Adrift starts matching pronouns, leading to some interesting responses. Knowing nothing about its inner workings, I still get the impression that grammar isn't built the way it is in Hugo and other IF languages. Adrift makes plenty of assumptions, and it doesn't conform to any grammar rules. If it finds what appears to be a verb, and what appears to be a noun referencing a known object, it reacts. At times, such as when it reacts on an NPC you haven't encountered yet, it can even be a little spoilery. 

Even though I'm not a superhero fan, I enjoyed The Potter and the Mould. It was trippy, but it was fun. It's a solid game, and a credit to the author's experience. 

My Spring Thing score: "8" 

Reviewed by D.L Sun (RAINBOWSCAPE) (Reviews Exchange 9)

This review contains spoilers.

Cross the bridge. This was one of the first commands I typed and when I was not understood, I had little hope for the rest of the game. 

But I was pleasantly surprised.

Mould is a superhero game, but not in the traditional sense. The introduction starts you off as a perfectly normal individual, but an accident endows you with a small amount of superpowers and you become a superhero in training.

Yes, a sidekick.

From there the story progresses through a series of chapters and time jumps. It is not uncommon to have months pass between scenes.

The story continues on and with the passage of time, and several life changes, our protagonist progresses from reluctant and sometimes resentful sidekick to full-fledged superhero.

I enjoyed the piece and felt like I participated in the story being told. At times there were a few push-me pull-me bits where I felt the character made decisions that the player had no choice but to go along with. For example, that battle with the blue imp is sprung upon you and there doesn't seem to be any other options but to fight it. What if your choice was to let the imp take the amulet and become Mould? I know this might have ended the story sooner and left loose threads hanging but it could have been an option. Especially since the PC toyed with the idea of leading a normal life forever, I felt the author might have allowed for alternate endings. If there are alternate endings where the PC rejects the idea of becoming a superhero and I did not find them, my apologies.

The only time I was tossed out of the game world was at the mall. It seemed strange that the PC had to push Waterfall in order for her explain her back story and also odd that she kept saying, "Push me east or nw etc." Maybe if Waterfall had said, "Push me over here so I can check out that sale I've heard about," I wouldn't have thought this part so forced. On the other hand, making me explore the mall was an excellent idea because I remembered objects I had seen before, and had good idea of how to solve problems with some of them later. 

As for the iconic Mould, the oft-mentioned but rarely present original superhero, I thought that character back-story was very well done. I especially enjoyed one of the twists of that storyline, involving the Mould's true identity.

As long as it seemed, when the game ended, the resolution felt sudden and left a few questions behind. Still, it was fun to play and, with a plot that keeps you interested until the very end, I recommend it.

Reviewed by David Whyld (Reviews Exchange 9)

Superhero games have always been a favourite of mine since I was a kid so I warmed to this one immediately. Although, saying that, none of the heroes or the villains presented here, particularly the title characters, were really that super. The Potter was a remarkably poor supervillain and the Mould’s sole power is to change his body into different shapes. The main character is even worse off. Bearing the unflattering superhero moniker of Handmade, he can only transform his hand into different shapes. As far as competing with comic book superheroes and villains like Spiderman or Doctor Octopus, the Potter, the Mould and Handmade come off as a poor substitute. 

You play the part of a helpless bystander, rescued by the Mould from drowning and gifted with a portion of his powers in the process. You assume the name Handmade (not quite the new Magneto or Wolverine unfortunately) and join forces with the Mould to fight crime. (Although what use a guy who can only change his hand into different shapes is going to be in a fight with genuine supervillains is debatable.) You're joined along the way by a superheroine called Waterfall who can transform her body into water at will and use it to combat crime. 

Some of the game is told in flask back, detailing the events which led to Handmade becoming a superhero (the aforementioned drowning) and the death of his parents at the hands of the Potter (the supervillain of the piece), culminating in present day events and heading to the Potter’s lair to do battle with the evil tyrant. 

While Handmade himself isn't much of a superhero, his nifty trick of changing his hand into different items is a nice one and allows for quite a bit of variety in gameplay. Type MOULD and you're offered a choice of things you might like to mould your hand into. While I’d have preferred a choice to mould my hand into anything I felt like (a machine gun would have been useful in some of the situations), there's a fair bit of choice on offer. Sometimes you'll even find yourself with several possibilities for mould shapes, all of which seem equally viable at the time. 

Difficulty-wise, The Potter & The Mould is a fairly straightforward game with a few puzzles scattered along the way, but little that should stop people in their tracks for any length of time. There's only one bit I had trouble with – a fight with a shape-shifting imp – that took a while to get past due to the random nature of the imp’s attacks. Just as you can change a part of your body into different weapons during the fight, so can the imp (or its whole body actually), thus getting the better of it is often a case of bashing in one command after another and hoping something works. There seemed to be a kind of logic to the way the imp attacked, and which mould shape I should use in turn, but I found it easier to simply type in one command after another until I beat it. On the plus side, the imp’s attacks seem to cause me precious little damage so the fight itself wasn’t life-threatening, just lengthy. 

My main criticism of the game, aside from the weakness of the superhero and -villain characters, was that Handmade never really gets to perform much in the way of superhero actions. His one power isn't up to much and most of the time he seems to make his way through the game doing little more than the average guy in the street could do. Even when fighting a couple of supervillains attacking a mall, he defeats them by more mundane means and seldom has to use his powers. For that matter, use of the items you can mould you hand into is sometimes buggy. During the fight with the supervillains at the mall, I was given the option of moulding my hand into a number of weapons, a bat and a whip being two of them, yet trying to hit my enemies with these items never got me anywhere. 

The only other negative aspect of the game was that it was a little too linear for my liking. I would have preferred to explore a bit and maybe make my way to the confrontation with the supervillain on my own. Still, there's a fair amount of freedom in the areas you can explore so you can’t really claim you're being forced down a set path. 

Overall I liked this game and rated it as my favourite in the Spring Thing 2006. I’d look forward to another one in the same theme but preferably with a superhero who is really super. 

7 out of 10

Reviewed by TDS (Reviews Exchange 9)

In this game you play a fledgling superhero that makes his way to the top while destroying bad guys left and right along the way. The premise isn't one I like but I decided to give this one a try. I wasn't disappointed. 

The game starts off with the origin of your character's superpowers and goes through your training stages until you are a fully fledged hero and get to take out the main baddies. This isn't just some game you're thrown into with a guy that already has fully matured powers and you must now figure out how to use them. In this game, your player learns how to use his powers at the same pace as you. And unlike some superhero games, the protagonist actually has a buffet of ways to use his powers. 

The game's writing is above average and it keeps you interested in the story as it moves along. Only a couple flaws I noticed while playing through. I found the room descriptions to be...large. Almost every one was about seven or eight lines long, and that's without the many scenes that occur in the game. Most descriptions are meaty because the author does a little too much telling instead of leaving the scene to speak for itself. However, when the time does come for the author to take over a little more and give the character a voice I am disapointed. In one very emotional scene the player shows less emotion than he would if a fly landed on his arm. Despite the loads of backstory and extraordinary abilities the player is really a dull guy. At the same time he's not quite the faceless, nameless adventurer of old text adventures. The story is predictable for the most part, and mountains of text make bearing it a less enjoyable task. 

As I said before, this hero has powers he can actually use. He's not some average Joe with a superhero costume. The Mould can turn parts of his body into pretty much anything within reason. Due to the obvious constraints of IF you are given a limited choice at any appropriate time. This opens up the game to more original puzzles and situations you otherwise wouldn't be able to go through. This part of the game was done well as you get to use logic you otherwise wouldn't have considered to solve puzzles. Also there are battle scenes in some parts of the game. They don't use the standard ADRIFT battle system(thank God) and it does an even better job of conveying the action. You choose what you want to do and must judge wisely in accordance with your villain's actions. It isn't overused to the point of annoyance nor underused to the point of obscurity. 

The game lasted me about two hours and it doesn't have a particularly hard puzzle. Near the end of the game I started to get tired of reading the tons of text coming up every turn. The game is your standard adventure with a few unique aspects and if you play slowly it may last a little longer than a day. Overall it's a fun game but beware there is plenty of story to digest so don't just expect a puzzlefest. 


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