A Bloody Life by Quentin D. Thompson(1998)

The Evil, Ugly Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: Arr, it is a bloody life alright. Nurse Chapel, hand me my scalpel. We're gonna dig!

The Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: This game puts me in the perfect mood to watch E.R. Must be all those doggoned doctors and that whacky medical terminology that gets to me.

My Verdict: The best hospital treasure hunt game I've ever played. Er, it's also the only one.

Game Information

Game Type: AGT

Author Info: Quentin D. is one of the most smashing talents we have in this entire smashing community. Give him respect or FEEL THE WRATH OF HIS BOMBAST!

Other Games By This Author: Halothane, Myopia

Download Link: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/agt/ABloodyLife.zip

The Review

I basically solved Halothane in a single afternoon. Played it from the start to the end, only taking occasional five minute breaks to preserve my sanity. On the other hand, it's taken me about six or seven months to get anywhere with this game, the first ever publically released game(that I know of, anyway) written by Halothane author Quentin D. Thompson. The reason for this discrepancy has a lot to do with implementation, and a lot more to do with experience. Halothane was the work of an old hand, polished and perfected - A Bloody Life is clearly a first effort, but a winner nonetheless. Strangely, I get the feeling that this game sort of just "happened", almost as if it came together without the author realizing completely what it was about himself. In Halothane there was something of the same feeling, but only in certain, very loose sections of the game - the main theme though vague at first was later lucidly revealed as the player continued on through the chapters. In this game, well, that feeling is everywhere you go. The world is uncomfortably mapped out, the main building a hulking hospital filled with offices and operating rooms and waiting rooms and strange cubicles - outdoors is a sidewalk which leads to several other, smaller buildings connected with the hospital. I believe there are only fifty some locations in the world, but it _feels_ much bigger, and this sense of vastness can make a player feel a little uneasy. In the game, you play the role of a middle-aged doctor named Dr. William Irons who has a penchant for marriage and a strong dislike for the disorderliness of the hospital at which you work. Your "ultimate" goal in the game is not entirely clear(especially if you leap right into the game without reading the special documentation included with the game, readme.bld), nor, frustratingly, is it easily revealed through playing the game. Imagine if Halothane was not divided into chapters, but instead was one huge game with each chapter's rooms and events occasionally overlapping. This isn't that bad or that confusing, but it's close. To add insult to injury, in Quentin's introduction he seems to make two statements about his game of very questionable validity...and he's talking about his own game! Check this out:

#1. He describes "A Bloody Life" as being more a piece of short fiction than adventure game.
Ha! I don't see this at all. IF that is most like short fiction tends to be the most rigid games of the medium - rather than allowing the player free reign to examine all the trees and shrubberies he likes, for instance, the game tends to prod the player along to follow the story, without allowing such room for digression and diversion. In "A Bloody Life" there is no sense of urgency to complete the game or to follow any story(or stories). The game places the player is a somewhat confusing but nonetheless logical environment wherein he may interact with his surroundings to his heart's content. This is definitely the stuff adventure games are made of. Short fiction? I couldn't imagine this game as short fiction...I mean, how would all these little bits fit into the narrative? How would it be explained that the game ends when you run into the lovely Antoinetta Rice? Even more importantly, the game is in some ways nonlinear - you may do almost anything you want at any point without getting locked into losing the game. This sense of non-time oriented events would almost certainly be lost in a work of fiction - even a great experimentary artist would have had great trouble conveying the same sense of freedom.

#2. Quentin specifically notes that as a doctor you will be expected to use all five of your senses...
Then the game proceeds to ignore most attempts at utilizing one's other sense organs aside from one's eyes... Grr. If I only had a dime for every time I got the message "I've heard of glue-sniffing, but sniffing a ___ is sheer absurdity, Billy my boy." Yeah, I would be one rich bastard right about now. Or at least I'd have enough dosh to get a couple Cokes. Not cans. Two liter bottles, baby. While, yes, there are places in the game where you need to use other sense commands aside from looking and examining, there aren't very many - and a couple of the nicer implementations of the said sense commands result in your death.

My serious criticisms aside, it is now time for the praise to rain down like manna from Heaven. This may not be a great game, but it's an intriguing, interesting, and, most of all, richly entertaining game if you give it the time of day. I've only just realized how good the writing in this game really is. It's amazing how many clever puns and hysterical allusions I missed before while ploughing through this game in hunt of a solution. While Halothane had a literarture-quality premise to it(literary characters having existences of their own! The author is not only the creator of words on paper, but of actual beings who lead actual lives in another dimension! Deep!), A Bloody Life is mostly here for laughs, and it should be taken as such. My mistake was to initially approach this as a really serious puzzle solving game(in a way, IT IS that as well, but the puzzles were too hard for me to solve purely "analytically"); instead, I found much more success approaching this game with an eager spirit searching for humor and wit. Ultimately, taking a more cavalier approach to the game helped me with the puzzles, as well - text adventures are just games, and even the most obscenely difficult puzzle solvable without actually being the author is most often easier to solve than a moderately challenging problem in calculus, for instance.(Unfortunately, it's quite possible to be obtuse when attempting to solve problems, whether they exist in text adventures or the higher mathematics.) Sometimes answers to puzzles are to be found where one least expects them. A relaxed attitude and a cheerful spirit enable the mind the comfort to search for these answers free of stress. And the story, too, is not without worth once you figure it out, and though some aspects of the game still strike me as being nonsensical, I now suspect that this was the point. Quentin is parodizing a genre of fiction I don't know much about(see, again, the readme.bld file included with the game), so that might be a reason that portions of the game leave me a bit in the dark.

I have a few notes to make regarding technical matters. The parser is okay, but nothing to tell mother about. Some of the responses get annoying after a bit - even if affectionate actions like kissing and hugging are not encouraged in this game, at least we could see a different response to those verbs on occasion when used appropriately(or particularly inappropriately). I do consider the choice of a green background/red text a little questionable considering how gorgeous some other color combinations look in AGT games, but ultimately the colors grew on me and now I look upon them with a certain amount of fondness. One feature many people may appreciate are the built in hints accessible via ALT-H. Softworks did the pop hints add-on very nicely. Good implementation, and Quentin's hints are useful, funny, and none too spoiling. Finally, I would've liked to have seen more hard coded responses to asked questions. A bit irritating to get the same responses to every dang thing you say to every NPC. That's a limitation of AGT(even enhanced) as a development language, yes, but this game has particularly poor NPC responsiveness. What makes this even worse is that some interaction with NPCs is absolutely required at several points in the game: expect some serious guess-the-noun puzzles here!

I may have seemed a bit critical in this review, but I do like(and recommend) the game - it's quite imperfect, but fun. Challenging, but worth the pain. Eccentric, but amusing. The patient will prevail in the end, and the glory shall be theirs! Be sure to read the accompaning and aforementioned readme.bld file for great info about the game. And check out the list of projects Quentin is intending to work on. Immense! Reviews From Trotting Krips may have a hard time keeping up with him! Suddenly, the millennium is looking much cheerier to me.

Simple Rating: 6/10

Complicated Rating: 31/50

Story: 6/10

Writing: 8/10(This is the game's major selling point. Wonderful writing, and great humor!)

Playability: 5/10( The storyline is too foggy and the geography a little too confusing for a newbie hoping to get acclimated and comfortable with the game in five minutes. Overall, I wouldn't describe the gameplay as being terribly "intuitive"...guesswork is required throughout, and not just due to the puzzles and parser! It is nice that there are few ways to lock yourself out of winning, however.)

Puzzle Quality: 7/10(Solid, challenging puzzles. No Nelson style insanity, but some minor hair pulling might be inspired by this game.)

Parser Responsiveness: 5/10(I'm docking a point for the lack of NPC responsiveness, though all in all the parser is not a debilitating weakness. Of average quality, at least.

Reader Remarks

Quentin D. Thompson sprach the following on January 8th, 1999

Wow, thanks! By the way, the colour scheme looking that wonky might have something to do with the fact that I wrote this on a monochrome monitor; when I replayed the game later with a colour one, I developed a headache that even Irons couldn't have handled!

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