Bodge jobs. Those happy accidents where your very clumsiness somehow saves the day, leaving you feeling like you just got away with something. What if they weren't accidents at all, but a secret and very powerful kind of magic? That's the premise of Thaumistry: In Charm's Way, a brand new text adventure from industry legend Bob Bates. The presentation may be as retro as it gets, but this is no mere blast from the past. Instead, it's a postcard from an alternate universe where text adventures never died, but evolved alongside their graphical cousins, like books alongside movies. More of a gentle farce than an action blockbuster, it's nonetheless packed with puzzles, one-liners, and magic aplenty.
Former teen prodigy Eric Knight is in the middle of a slump. Back when he was 13, he won a $100,000 prize for creating Anti-Stain, the ultimate stain remover (which only disintegrates your clothes occasionally, honest). Fast forward a decade, though, and we find him on the verge of despair, about to be thrown out of his lab space because he just can't get his laser nanofabricator to work. Thankfully, just when he's about to give in to self-doubt, someone quite literally crashes into his life to recruit him to the Bodgers.
The Bodgers are an ancient secret society that solve problems with magic, all while making it look like a happy (and usually klutzy) accident. They're the sort of people who manage to create a seven-state blackout by putting a penny in a fusebox, but wind up precipitating a much-needed restructuring of the electrical grid. They call it the art of the bodge, knowing how to give the right nudge in the right place, and they're in dire need of Eric's unique ability to mix brilliant insights with accidentally blowing up or setting fire to everything around him. That's all just an expression of his latent talent for their special kind of Bodgerish magic. What they do is part-invention, part-sorcery, and surprisingly crucial to the future of mankind.
Right now, they have a problem themselves, on account of a little gadget called a thaumeter that can detect magic. Its inventor Henry Glick died recently, and all his most brilliant inventions went on display in the New York Museum of Technology, which just happens to sit right on top of the Bodgers' underground headquarters. If anyone ever turns it on, it's bound to pick up the huge concentration of magical energy nearby and then they'll be outed. As any witch will tell you, the world doesn't tend to be kind to magic users.
Eric's mission, then, is to infiltrate the Tech Expo taking place at the museum today, find the thaumeter, and disable it before anybody's any the wiser. Naturally, that turns out to be just a bit trickier than it sounds: before long, Eric's tangled up with time machines and teleporters, invisible dogs and grumpy alpacas. Before the day's out, he'll have to walk on hot coals, get water from a stone and marshal massed ranks of Greek waiters. Maybe, if he's lucky, he'll even find a moment to finish that nanofabricator.
This is about the point where I'd normally wax rhapsodic about gorgeous graphics, ear-tinglingly delightful music and Oscar-worthy voice acting. But not this time, because Thaumistry has none of those things. What it does have is text. Lots and lots of text. That shouldn't really be much of a surprise, since author Bob Bates cut his teeth writing classic text adventures such as Sherlock! and Arthur for Infocom, before going on to write TIMEQUEST for Legend Entertainment, among others. He's since moved on to more graphical fare, but he's clearly never forgotten his roots.
That said, Thaumistry is is no simple throwback. If you're picturing a game straight out of the 1980s, with limited descriptions, sudden deaths and dead ends, think again. This game plays fair, never lets you get stuck, comes with a tutorial to ease you into the experience, and even autosaves for you. You still need to be comfortable with doing a lot of reading, but it otherwise feels refreshingly modern.
When you start the game, you're greeted by a window with a two-line banner at the top and the main text area underneath. By default, it uses white text against a background in soothing shades of blue, but if that doesn't suit you then the fonts, font sizes and colours can all be adjusted in the settings. There's even a screen reader compatibility mode for the visually impaired. Overall, the presentation is clean and attractive, with nicely-spaced and comfortably-sized text, broken up by occasional items (such as an initial letter from your landlord) being set out in display boxes.
The banner lists your location, possible exits (e.g., north, east, or in) and current score, and includes links to bring up the main menu and a map of the area. The map (which appears in another window) is basic but functional, consisting of linked boxes, one for each location in the current area, in front of a black-and-white photo of New York. Unfortunately, though, it's not interactive (there's isn’t even a "You are here!" pointer), and opening the map pauses the game until you close it again. While it's a worthwhile inclusion, none of the areas are big enough to get seriously lost in, and the lack of interactivity means it might have been better included in the CyberFeelies.
Yes, that's right. Like Infocom games of old, Thaumistry comes with (PDF) feelies. There's Eric's interview in "Invent!" magazine, the "So you're a Bodger?" guide, a copy of the "New Bodge Times" and instructions on how to make your very own tin foil hat. Physical extras enclosed in boxed games were a great way to round out their worlds and add a bit of visual flair, and after giggling my way through these I'd have to say that's still true today of the digital variety.Continued on the next page...
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Posted by Karlok on Oct 13, 2017