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Return to Camelot Reviews
Author: Finn Rosenløv (Po. Prune)
Date: 2011

Reviewed by Sam Kabo Ashwell

Wait, wait, another detective rendered in genre-failing ungainly prose? Was there a sale on?

We're in Wacky No Fourth Wall Land; the narrator speaks directly to us, reference jokes take physical form and march into the game. The basic framing is Summoned By Wacky Wizard, a trope I loathe with a scorching intensity. The Merlin character is lifted unrepentantly from The Sword in the Stone, and similar liftings happen every five minutes.

This would be more acceptable if it were funnier; the style of humour is generally of the Inept Hero Slapstick variety, which is not trivial to do well.

I tried repeatedly to interact with the file folders individually, then gave up the effort only to check the walkthrough and discover that it wanted me to GET FOLDERS. Pulling a whole armful of folders out of a drawer is a pretty unnatural action unless you know that you're looking for something under there -- which the author does, of course, but I don't. Next the narrator declares that I should take a nap, but SLEEP and NAP aren't recognised, and only sitting in the office chair (not the easy chair) will trigger said nap.

The obligatory entry of the femme fatale. At this point, I've played so many games in which the narrator leers while affecting not to that a description in which the PC straightforwardly checks someone out is almost refreshing. However:

a) the word 'caress' gets used. Twice. It's generally not a great idea to reuse the same figure of speech within the same paragraph, and this goes double for a word like 'caress'. Once may seem like an accident; twice looks grabby.
b) she's smiling. A really big, genuine smile. This doesn't say femme fatale to me; it doesn't even say 'someone dealing with problems major enough to hire a detective.'

...and then things start going downhill as soon as she starts talking. Oh well. The best bit is "Her chest moves violently as she speaks, almost stuttering out the words." I've never seen anyone's chest move violently just from talking, so now I'm not sure whether she has a heart condition or tits of zero-gravity custard. (Admittedly, it turns out that she's not an actual woman, but an Igor under an illusion spell.)

Again, I'm not sure if the badly misleading response here is Adrift's fault or the author's.

>talk to woman

You don't have to [talk to a character] Just use [say hello or hi to character] in order to start a conversation.

>hello woman
Sorry, I don't understand that command.

Sorry, I don't understand that command.

>hello to woman
Sorry, I don't understand that command.


>ask woman about herself
She looks at you, then leans over the desk and begins to speak...

It is not an easy thing to be fair to a game that you know is going to continue to suck. Another thing that makes this difficult: native ADRIFT 5 doesn't seem to allow text selection at all. (I know, I know, still in development, and a lot of Z-code / Glulx interpreters are kind of crap at this too, but at least you can get at the text with a little hassle.)

This fails at building confidence in a very old-school manner: it's only interested in world building in a theme-park kind of way, and it doesn't seem to think that giving the player any direction is the author's job. It's the kind of game in which the first part of every puzzle is working out whether it's a puzzle at all. There's a certain amount of wacky exuberance that might appeal to people who liked, say, Jacaranda Jim, but there isn't anything like a modern level of craft. There are testers credited, but the writing and implementation still have numerous, basic errors. Of the three paintings, for instance, which are the only lead I really have, I can't get into one because I don't know how to refer to it. Looking at the walkthrough, the first thing I'm meant to do involves looking closely at scenery and then interacting with parts of it, which I've already been discouraged from doing by the file folders: I really have no confidence that the author's going to implement things at this level of detail and in a way I can refer to, so I don't have much inclination to poke around.

Even were this solidly-implemented, it would not be the sort of game that I would have very much interest in; as it stands, it's a 3.

Reviewed by Emily Short

Return to Camelot is a fantasy pastiche game loosely combining hardboiled detective tropes with Arthurian characters. It’s fairly sizable, and I ran out of time before completing it (though others might not).

As of ADRIFT 5, ADRIFT games can now be over the web in a WebRunner. This is a terrific development, and I’m delighted Campbell Wild’s putting the work into it.

The downside is that everything is still new and the runner is still a bit quirky (I ran into a minor but irritating display bug that Campbell immediately fixed, but it meant I needed to restart the game at one point to take advantage of the revision). Also, there’s a significant delay in responding to commands because there’s a reload of (as far as I can tell) the whole page every time you act; and if you go away from the game for a while, your session appears to time out. The cumulative effect of all that is that I spent much of my permitted comp-judging time replaying the opening to Return to Camelot (because of the bug, because I got interrupted while playing and had to start over, and because playing is just slower than it would be on a local interpreter). So I didn’t get nearly all the way through it and had to go to the walkthrough.

Design is fairly wide-open, in the portions I saw — it’s possible to wander around quite a bit without knowing where to look first. That’s not always a bad thing, but I would have welcomed a slightly more vigorous pace in the early midgame. Then again when there is hinting, it is extremely direct, even aggressive. At one point during the early game, a message popped up saying “Narrator interrupting:…” with a clue about what I ought to do next to trigger forward progress. At another point, an NPC directly challenged me to do something I didn’t particularly want to do, and for which I was then immediately punished — but the story wasn’t going to go forward until I did it.

This felt awkward. A tighter design would have let me find the intended path a little more naturally, without this kind of fourth-wall-breaking intervention. The writing also could use a good thorough trimming; there are sentences that look like hedges gone untended for a generation. (More specifics about both those issues follow the spoiler space.)

Overall, from what I saw (the latter part all from the walkthrough), this is a fairly middle-of-the-road offering in terms of puzzle difficulty and implementation depth. The setting doesn’t really grab me, being chiefly a compilation of bits borrowed from other works, rather than a freshly imagined or re-imagined world. So it falls at the low end of my recommended scale, I’d say: it’s playable and has some amusing moments, but there are an assortment of craft issues, and it didn’t grab me with a compelling, coherent vision.

So in the first part of the game — which for circumstantial reasons I replayed I think four or possibly five times, so I became intimately familiar with it — there are a couple of critical triggers to move the story forward. First you have to sit in your chair to trigger the appearance of your visitor; then you have to kiss her in order to get kidnapped into Merlin’s lair. Using triggers to ratchet the story forward is a time-honored technique in games, and it’s useful, but the aesthetic goal is for the player not to experience any stuck periods or to have to go on a hunt for a trigger, and also not to notice the arbitrariness of the triggering event. In this case, I did both: I spent a bunch of time poking around my office looking for something useful to do with the painting after it was delivered until the narrative voice told me to sit in the chair (and then I sat in the easy chair, which didn’t trigger anything, before trying the office chair).

So there are a couple of points here about triggers.

1) It’s good if they’re connected to something the player has a strong intrinsic reason to try even without knowing there’s a trigger there. Sitting in the office chair isn’t necessarily the obvious choice for the player, given that there are appealing objects to explore and a mystery about the freshly delivered painting.

2) Sometimes it’s helpful to have more than one trigger to set off the same event, or to use a count of related actions, rather than just a single action, to spring the trigger. Assuming the aim is to let the player look around his office for a little while and get acquainted with the protagonist’s semi-loserdom, but to move the narrative along before he gets too bored or stuck, it might be reasonable to trigger off, say, interacting with three of the narratively meaningful objects in the room (out of a somewhat larger total set — say the painting, gun, whiskey, files in the desk drawer, phone).

3) If at all possible, it’s cool to disguise the arbitrariness of all this by making the trigger and the triggered event feel somehow related. E.g.: give the player the fake goal of making his office look a bit less pathetic; then as he tries to carry this out, via any of about a half dozen legitimate methods (like say scattering the files on his desk), have the beautiful woman walk in and mockingly notice him in the middle of this embarrassment, but move the plot along. Now we may not have agency in the classic sense that the player accomplishes what he wanted to accomplish — on the contrary, his actions make him look like a bit of a dork in her eyes — but there’s a narrative connection between what he was doing before and what happened after.

As to the writing, here’s what I mean about trimming (and while I’ve picked an extreme example, a lot of the writing shows similar characteristics):

Peacocks, pecking for food, wander around a marble bench which is placed under the protective shade of a small almond tree and a low stone wall surrounds the garden on two sides, the castle wall making out the third and the wall with the arch which you walked through to the east, makes out the fourth.

There are too many ideas in this sentence. The structure means the player may need to read it more than once to work out the layout that’s being described, and by the end the interesting details about the almond tree and peacocks may be already forgotten. Besides this, much of the description has a dutiful quality:

> x stone
The stone is light gray, not that it matters, but that’s the color. It’s polished smooth and is actually quite decorative. There’s some writing on the side, only a few sentences written in glowing letters.

I don’t know about you, but I actually felt a little sorry for the author as I read this. It sounds like a cry for help. “Oh, fine, the player wants me to describe this stone… I guess I have to pick a color for it. It’s rock-colored, okay?”

Many many objects in the game are described mechanically with reference to their color, material (lots of oak things), or general level of attractiveness. The result is often a kind of modifier soup: too many adjectives and adverbs, sentences that go on too long about things that aren’t distinctive or important, and a real wall-of-text experience for the player on some moves. The descriptions would be much stronger — more memorable, more interesting, easier to parse — if the author gave us half or a third as many details, but made sure each one was something that mattered.

What matters about this stone (other than the already-mentioned presence of Excalibur)? It has glowing letters on it. That’s the interesting thing. That’s the first thing I’d notice if I were checking out a magic-inscribed rock. Lead with that, describe it evocatively, and I guarantee the player won’t be thinking “okay, sure, glowing letters, likely magic, has Excalibur stuck into the top of it, but what shade of gray is it?”

Reviewed by TempestDash

Sequels are a tricky thing in any medium. You’ve got to balance the urge to assume everyone has experienced the prior work with the desire to simply reiterate the first work in case anyone missed such a seminal piece. You can never please everyone.

Return to Camelot is a sequel to Po. Prune’s earlier work ‘Camelot.’ I did not play the prior piece, so I’m not sure what parts of this game are supposed to feel familiar to me. The introduction threw me for a spin because I didn’t even know this was a sequel at first so the references to having ‘come back’ from Camelot were strange, and descriptions of Merlin’s laboratory as a familiar place (despite the game starting in a modern day office building) were confusing. I had to stop playing and research Po. Prune before I could mentally move forward.

Once I did, however, the game dropped me into Camelot (as the title implies) and saddled me with a quest to protect the lovely Queen Guinevere, despite being dressed as a squire that nobody knows. The castle and grounds are fairly well implemented, with about a dozen rooms as depicted on the included map (a feelie, if you will), but I quickly ran into a dead end, unable to figure out what to do to gain an audience with the Queen. I consulted the included Walkthrough. And while I saw what to do, I was baffled as to how I was supposed to figure it out on my own.

I’m an atypical IF player, I think. If anything, I represent the generation of players that the old school masters are trying to court these days. I know that historically the adventurer’s mantra is “look at, look under, and loot”, I certainly did so when I played point-and-click adventure games as a high schooler, but today I just find it so tiresome. Why must the player do the work of tying together the puzzles in a game – certainly in one with such a story-heavy setup such as this one? Is it so much to ask that when I look back on my log, that all the actions appear as if they evolved from the actions prior?

Instead, what I found myself doing is suspiciously manhandling the mantle of a fireplace to reveal a secret passage to a ‘Panic Room’ (a concept I find suspicious in Arthurian legends, maybe this is explained in the previous game?) that initially appears empty until you figure out the trick to reveal a painting. And then…

The key problem here is that in absence of any real telegraphing of what you need to do next, you need to roam the castle inspecting everything. And, as mentioned before, the castle is big. A dozen rooms filled with miscellany is nothing to balk at. As I moved through the walkthrough, I started to get an idea of what was going on, but it was never obvious enough to me that I felt I would have gotten it on my own.

The room and item descriptions are generally there, but they are frightfully verbose. Brevity is the soul of wit and this game could do with some cutting of the fat. Room descriptions are easily too big and become a wall of text whenever you change rooms. Item descriptions are sometimes lengthy, but generally not. Characters sometimes get paragraphs and sometimes (like with Guards) get only a few lines. NPCs, by the way, stay put throughout the whole game, including a couple of enemies that really shouldn’t have been hanging around given their role.

Finally, the game is really missing a strong voice. In the initial scene, where you are in your office in modern times, the room and item descriptions are quirky and unique (although sometimes that means unfunny) but all that fades as soon as you reach Camelot, becoming a more traditional Zorkian style of description (only longer). I feel like this is a missed opportunity. Providing a strong voice for the protagonist could have allowed details about the prior game to sneak in and give new players the feeling of legacy. As it is, it’s just dull.

Ultimately, Return to Camelot is a potentially good game that is lacking polish. Descriptions need to be trimmed to their essential elements, given a bit more life to them. Required actions need to be better hinted so the player isn’t forced to wander aimless through a large map. Finally, I just didn’t feel properly invested in this game. The story has you suddenly acquire a magical painting (where did it come from?), then mystically pulled in during a conversation with a woman (what was her deal?) only to be told your presence was a mistake, and then given a really critical task with no equipment or direction on how to accomplish it. There are a lot of games where amnesia is given to the player character to explain their unfamiliarity with their environments. This is the opposite, where no amount of knowledge could have helped or added to the player character’s plight, which gave me feeling of helplessness. If ANYONE could have substituted for me, why is it important that I do anything?

Not recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Muckenhoupt

And it’s another private detective in novel circumstances! Seriously, if this hasn’t been established as a distinct sub-genre already, this Comp alone provides enough instances to do the job.

The novel circumstances this time around: a minion of Merlin transports you back in time to the court of King Arthur. There are numerous mentions of your previous visit, so I’m assuming that this game is a sequel to another one that I haven’t played. Your job this time around is to protect Guinevere from kidnappers, although you do a miserable job of it and presumably have to rescue her afterward. Why Launcelot isn’t on the job, I don’t know. Rescuing Guinevere from kidnappers was pretty much his thing back in Chretien de Troyes’ day.

Apart from the opening in your office, the entire game, or as much as I saw of it, takes place on the grounds of Arthur’s castle. There’s some nice magic that works by discoverable rules, and a couple of secret passages, although one of them is confusingly mentioned in a room description before you find it. This may be a symptom of a general problem with things that should be displayed conditionally ignoring their conditions; I noticed a number of things mentioned multiple times in room descriptions as well.

I wish I could report on just how the whole gumshoe-in-Camelot idea is developed here, but I didn’t really get very far. I found it very hard to even get started on this due to guess-the-conversation-topic problems. When you initially arrive in Merlin’s tower, you’re locked in with no ability to exit until you ask Merlin about “JOB”, and while there is a nudge in that direction in the voluminous output text, it wasn’t nearly strong enough for me. I got past that by means of a walkthrough, only to find similar problems later on. Talking to people about the right keywords is the game’s main challenge, it seems, and it’s not a challenge I much enjoy.

Incidentally, this is the first game I’ve played in Adrift 5. I don’t know what kind of improvements it has over Adrift 4 for authors, but the one big change I see on the player side is that the automap is now 3D, and can be rotated freely by clicking and dragging.

Reviewed by Duncan Bowsman

It occurs to me that it is likely few of the other judges have played the original Camelot to which your recent IFComp entry, Return to Camelot, is a sequel. While I don't think knowledge of the previous game is necessary to complete or enjoy Return to Camelot, I wonder if I would be wrong in assuming that this previous knowledge makes me part of a select few-- the ideal audience for this game!

No doubt-- recalling how critical I was of Camelot-- you may think I have a laundry list of bad things to say about your latest game, but that's not quite so this time. I did find a lot of bugs, true, and some of the writing could use a brush-up (this has been discussed in other reviews-- I won't mention it since you've no doubt already heard it), but overall I was pleasantly surprised by Return to Camelot. I came away amused with your fun, light fantasy piece-- my enjoyment rated it a solid 3/5.

For one thing, I was glad to find there was no conflict in tone throughout this one aside from the opening fake-out. I was a little disappointed to find that the protagonist being a detective didn't play a larger role in the story, but didn't feel it actively detracted from the story. I would've liked to see more of Igor and Merlin and to have done more investigating. Was the shoulder holster an important item in a puzzle I missed?

I had some problems with ADRIFT 5, but I don't know how much control you had over these things and whether they should be classified as author or platform problems. It's interesting to be in this position for once, being so much less familiar with 5 than 4, especially since so many complaints about ADRIFT games derive from this very aspect. So here are two of the problems I ran into: “w” auto completes to “wear” instead of “west” and the suit of armour was incredibly fiddly about how I referred to it... such that I had to get it by using a (puzzle-breaking?) >GET ALL. On a second test play through just recently, I'm told the knight in the room warns me away from it, but I end up with it in my inventory anyway. I also got this error message from time to time which said "Error evaluating PassSingleRestriction for restriction 'Player must be in same room as Any Character.' The given key was not present in the dictionary."

The castle layout is familiar from the last game, which made it easy for me to navigate, and even more pleasing to find little secrets throughout that we didn't get to see in the last one. One thing that was mysteriously missing which I thought could have been explained, though, was the door from the maid's room to Guinevere's... unless I just missed where that was explained, which is possible. From playing this game, I think that the presentation of the kitchen and courtyard are basically emblematic of each game in the Camelot series thus far-- the first had a brutal kitchen and the courtyard's most noticeable feature were its mean-spirited guards, but here we have a more cheerful kitchen and the setup for a circus in the courtyard.

Is the kitchen maid, perhaps, the first non-sexualized female character to be represented in one of your games? Seeing “her muscles through the thin woven blouse she's wearing” seems to toe the line of sexuality in the description, but in contrast to other females in your games this looks to be a step forward. On the other hand, it also reinforces the “sturdy” nature of peasantry under King Arthur, so it seems to be commenting on social conditions within the castle. They've have definitely improved since the use of slave labour in the original.

I never did find the Wizard's Nightclub, or make a sandwich, or get a rose for the maid, but I did manage to finish the game. I may have missed quite a bit of it. What do you think? Regardless, I might not have been able to finish within the time limit otherwise!

The major mechanic involving the ring and paintings was easy to pick up on, used enough throughout to make it into a pattern, and it pays off dramatically at the end of the game. There was one weird moment where I had to remove the ring and wear it again to get it to work. The final few puzzles especially reminded me of a wacky Errol Flynn adventure, which I think is the overall tone this game was going for.

If you're interested in discussing any other bugs I found, telling me where the Wizard's Nightclub is, or in talking about the game in any other way, please let me know.

Reviewed by MathBrush

This game has you going to Camelot to help Guinevere.

The plot is a bit and thin, and the ADRIFT parser is as weak as ever.

But the game is fairly detailed, and a lot of thought has gone into it.

The main weird thing is that wearing a ring is important to the story, but it always slips off your finger. Also, Hagrid makes an appearance in the game, talking about Dumbledore.

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