1893: More Than Fair
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Let me take you back to the golden days, back to a time when life was simpler. When it didn't matter so much how much money you were making; as long as your work was a job well done, you know you would get by. A time when things were (at least in my opinion) better.
What? Back to the Victorian era of 1893, you say? God, no! Cholera, polio, and who knows what else was trying to kill you, labor conditions were atrocious - I bet if it weren't for things like the World's Fairs, everyone would have done in with themselves back then.
I'm talking about the early eighties, the Golden Age of Adventure Gaming, so says me. Back then, Infocom ruled the day, and the only graphics card you needed was your own imagination. Imagine that for a moment (or, maybe not, as our imaginations have no doubt atrophied in the last half a decade's worth of flashy graphics and sound. Why, you kids today"). Some claim that games were like this only because that was what the current technology would bear, but I swear that those were still some of the best games ever made, and even today you could make a good one in this genre, which is now old enough to buy alcohol.
Thank heavens someone came along to prove me right. 1893: A World's Fair Mystery is a text adventure game, and it really brings out the simple elegance of this genre. I am amazed once again how a simple paragraph of descriptive text can show more than any flashy graphics.
At the world-famous Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, priceless diamonds from one of the exhibits has been stolen, and you have been called in to find them. Getting off the train into the Windy City, you enter the fair and have to get your bearings as you try to solve the crime. You have to find them before the time runs out, or the culprit will leave the park and disappear into the city.
Of course, Illuminated Lantern does take advantage of some technology that was not around back when Zork came out. With each location, they show you a marvelous period photograph of what is being described in the text. This adds considerably to the atmosphere of the game without distracting you from the task at hand, or replacing the need to read the text, which is good, because this is a text adventure after all.
A Visitor's Guide to the Fair, as well as maps and other documents, are available on the disk as PDF files. Again something that would not have been possible back in the Infocom days, these make it easier to get your bearings, and you don't have to flip through pages of hard copy (unless you want to print them yourself, that is).
Since the game itself doesn't take much of the CD's space, there is plenty of room for extras, like a well-developed hint system. This system never tells you more than you want to know, for those times when you don't want a walkthrough - you just can't figure out that screaming at the bear will make it jump off the ledge (obscure Adventureland reference; if you don't understand, just move along, nothing to see here).
The command interpreter is very elegant and thorough. It recognizes most words you would likely type in, and the syntax you can use is pretty loose, within reason. If what you type in isn't totally explicit, it usually does a really good job of figuring out what you wanted to do. Talking to people is essentially asking them about or showing them items, and you can even give them commands (which they will do if they are so inclined).
What amazes me is the grand scale of this game. The documentation boasts 30 hours of gameplay, and quite frankly I believe them. The developer of the game, Peter Nepstad, researched the Fair extensively, and he interlaced hundreds and hundreds of actual Fair locations for you to explore. There is so much to exploring the Exhibition that you almost forget you are trying to solve a crime, and you will be surprised to learn so much about the actual Fair itself. You can also get just as lost as you could have at the real thing, let me tell you.
In all, 1893 is an amazing game with so much more than you'd expect in a text adventure. And at less than $20, it's well worth the investment, both in money and time. Come on, give it a try!
Let me tell you about the Golden Age, sonny"
Greg Crowe is Game Industry News Features Editor. Due to his established history of having played every game in the universe he is uniquely qualified to evaluate games based on playability, innovation and place in history. You can contact him at : firstname.lastname@example.org.