A Mind Forever Voyaging flashback review - page 2

The Good:
  • Welcome non-linearity and sense of exploration in a large and fascinating world
  • Potential for replayability
  • A topic seldom tackled in games
The Bad:
  • Map can be confusing to navigate
  • Prose is too plain
  • Simplistic political narrative
  • Underdeveloped characters
The Good:
  • Welcome non-linearity and sense of exploration in a large and fascinating world
  • Potential for replayability
  • A topic seldom tackled in games
The Bad:
  • Map can be confusing to navigate
  • Prose is too plain
  • Simplistic political narrative
  • Underdeveloped characters
Our Verdict:

Infocom’s A Mind Forever Voyaging was an innovative and bold game in its time, and though it never quite achieves its lofty ambitions, it does come admirably close.

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The game also shows its age through its size restrictions. A Mind Forever Voyaging was the first of the “Interactive Fiction Plus” line of Infocom games, which boasted a whopping 256k limit, but even this proved not to be enough. The prose ends up being relatively plain – perfectly serviceable but never really remarkable. Apparently the game only had 10 bytes to spare, not even enough for one more sentence, which would at least partially explain some of the problems with the writing. This forced restriction may have played a part in making the script more sharp and focused, but mostly it means that people and objects are sometimes given inadequately brief and matter-of-fact descriptions, if a description was implemented at all. It would have been nice to hear about the atmosphere and feeling of the simulator locations, not just a sentence or two saying, for instance, “You are standing in the lobby of a wide sprawling building containing a cafeteria, a bookstore, an auditorium, and offices for student activities. The street is southwest of here.” This is a fairly sizeable problem for a game with notably high literary aspirations.

Fortunately, the text parser has far fewer setbacks. Infocom's parser was way ahead of its time technologically, and it still forms the foundation for most modern parser-based Interactive Fiction (IF). So needless to say, the parser holds up remarkably well. It isn't that much different in A Mind Forever Voyaging compared to earlier Infocom games; by this time a few more helpful commands and shortcuts, like 'x' for examine, were included, but otherwise the difference is negligible. Obviously, as nearly three decades have passed since its release, there are modern conveniences that those familiar with IF may well miss: the lack of an 'undo' function, for instance, or the absence of a 'go to' option to aid with navigating the game's expansive map. But these are all minor grievances, and on the whole gameplay should be largely absent of frustration, a testament to the famed quality of Infocom's parser.

A major grievance can, however, be had with the game's distinct lack of nuance. I mean this in the sense that everything feels so black-and-white, and the politics feel so unbalanced and uncompromising. There is the small, almost negligible suggestion that The Plan was a response to problems of a liberal or other non-right wing government, perhaps akin to the Carter administration. But overall the game offers a dichotomy of viewpoints, one clearly right and one clearly wrong. There is the wholly dysfunctional hell of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, and there’s the marvellous utopia of American progressivism. Even if you sympathise with some – or all – of author Steve Meretzky's views, the arrogance and seeming unwillingness to concede the problems of this singular ideology can be irritating, even off-putting.

Another clear problem is that the characters in the game are relatively superficial, often having no more than one line of dialogue. Even Senator Ryder is not an interesting character, just a generic caricature of Reagan. But despite lacking an emotional investment in these characters, Meretzky still manages to create some vividly frightening and moving moments. For fear of revealing too much of the plot, I'll just say that the moral decay of society, including increased religious intolerance, barbarism and state restrictions on freedom, lead to many events that should in any person evoke disgust and sadness. And the pace of the game, slowly revealing these changes from their embryonic form in political policies to mass societal change, makes it even more effective.

The third and final part of the game is a bit of a departure from the rest of the adventure. This is where you'll find the game's one puzzle. And it's pretty good, provided you've taken it upon yourself to explore all of the controls available to PRISM beforehand. Otherwise – especially considering it's a timed puzzle – it has the potential to be quite frustrating. But it is cleverly designed and a key part of the narrative, not just put in for the sake of having a puzzle.

On a purely visual level, there aren't any graphics (apart from a crude Rorschach test), but unlike in 1985 there are now multiple ways to play the game, some of which allow for a great degree of typographical variations. I personally used Gargoyle (though I recommend Mac users try Spatterlight), a free interpreter for a variety of Interactive Fiction file types, both old and new. The advantage of this is an ability to change font types, sizes, colours, etc. But if you want to go retro you can easily play this game in DOSBox. There is also an iOS app, Lost Treasures of Infocom, that allows you to purchase and play the game that way, as well as most other Infocom text adventures.

Part of me is tempted to use the patronising cliché that A Mind Forever Voyaging is remarkably good “for a game.” There's no getting around the fact that the prose is mostly utilitarian, the characters are markedly thin, and the ideas presented often lack nuance. Infocom boldly compared the game to Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, comparisons which only highlight these complaints further. But in the end, I feel its best aspects are in fact because it is a game. The great sense of exploration and non-linearity make you feel more like a historian researching for a book than a mere reader and player, curiously gathering evidence to evaluate The Plan for Renewed Purpose, all in a clearly-imagined and at times frightening world that seems more contemporary now than when it was written. For those who enjoy games heavy on exploration or with a political bent – or just want to experience a fascinating moment in gaming history – you should definitely check it out.


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