Curses by Graham Nelson(1993)

The Evil, Ugly Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: At first I wondered why such a charming, entertaining, and wonderfully written little program was called "Curses." Surely such an enchanting game could ever make me utter even the slightest expletive. But then I realized the whole thing was just an excuse for Mr. Nelson to show off his darling prose skills and to mock his players' limited intelligence with his devious, unfairly difficult puzzles. It was at that point that I muttered my now famous words, "Fuck this shit. I'm going to go play Frankenstein!" Und I deed!

The Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: Absolutely brilliant from start to finish. A masterpiece. By the way, evil guy, I think the game is called "Curses" because that is what is about. Curses. Witches and gypsies and rabbits' feet...that sort of thing. Of course, it's not like a cretin like you would be able to understand even a simple concept like that.

My Verdict: I owe everything to this game. Too bad it's somehow not as good as I remembered.

Game Information

Game Type: Inform

Author Info: Graham is an English poet and mathematician perhaps best known in the IF world for being the creator of the perennially popular Infocom-derivative text adventure programming language Inform - currently the most popular language for writing text adventures. He's written a few text adventures of his own which have to date all been very well received. While writing under a feminine pseudonym Graham Cracker even won the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition with his game The Meteor, The Stone, And A Long Glass Of Sherbet. He's our man!

Other Games By This Author: Jigsaw, Balances, The Meteor The Stone And A Long Glass Of Sherbet.

Download Link:

The Review

In all probability I would not be here today if it were not for this game. Okay, I'd probably be here in the limited, general geographical locational sense. Heck, it's quite possible that I might even be here - in this room - in front of this computer - if it weren't for this game. But I can guarantee you that I would absolutely not be playing a text adventure or writing a review of one at this instant if I had never played Curses. You see, I really do owe it all to Graham. This game of his reintroduced me to the world of IF. I already had a good idea of "IF" because I'd played the Infocom games, I'd played freeware/shareware AGT stuff downloaded from BBSes, I'd laughed and cried alongside many a text adventure written in BASIC. But I had no notion that there was a growing online community devoted to the hobby of text adventuring. Hadn't a clue. It was this - the game which also introduced the Inform compiler to the world at large - that made me realize interactive fiction was not dead. The news that there was such a thing as an IF scene meant only a little to me at the time. Back then, in the "Dark Ages", I didn't have web access. I used BBSes and had free gopher access for thirty minutes a day at one of them. Of course I hacked that board's Internet gateway three times in order to beat the thirty minute limit so I could talk to my girlfriend in North Carolina(at the time...) on weeknights, but that's another story. The point I'm trying to get across is that I was not a person in the position of being able to hook up onto the IF scene and join in on the titanic, groundbreaking discussions then taking place on(mainly) RAIF and RGIF. The biggest thing "Curses" did for me was make me aware that there were still text adventures being made. A couple of years later I had the access and I did not forget the joy "Curses" had brought into my life. "Interactive fiction" was probably not the first query I entered into the search form of that then fledgling site which claimed to index the entire(ah, hell, it wasn't that big anyway) World Wide Web(the site was called "Yahoo" I think. I knew it would never last with such a stupid name), but eventually I did hook into this community and I began to play a lot of free text adventures. And a few times I've managed to hook myself out and move on to other not necessarily bigger and better things. Still, I've always returned to IF like a boomerang to an aborigine hunter...I just can't resist the allure of text and parsers for longer than six months. No wonder I was possessed to start writing for a text adventure review site last year. And Baf wouldn't hire me, the lousy gremlin. Bah! As you can see, I owe everything to "Curses", definitely. Thank you, Mr. Nelson. You're my hero. I don't even want to think about where I might be right now if you had not entered into my life. What if, for example, I had taken the wrong path without the influence of "Curses"? It's a bit of a stretch, but anything is possible. An image suddenly enters my mind:

I'm high on narcotics and sprawled out in some dirty street corner, arms laid out akimbo and eyes glazed over. The beggars passing by spit on my wretched, crumpled form and I don't even care because I'm half way dead to the world already.

Man. Nelson, you saved my life. I love you for that.

All joking aside, I really do like "Curses" a lot. It's one of those games which'll be remembered by future generations as one of the defining games of its era. It's right up there in an "importance" context with Cadre's "Photopia" and Plotkin's (insert_favorite_plotkin_adventure_here). Not to mention Andre Boyle's Space Aliens Laughed At My Cardigan which kicks my ass seventy times a minute...even when I'm not playing it. Even more importantly to me personally, this game really did reinvigorate my interest in text games in general. It's superbly designed and written. Heck, it was made to remind the world how text adventures should be written - so sprach the great Graham himself. I'm glad that every text adventure isn't exactly like this one, but it goes without saying that a lot(most?) game designers in any genre could learn a lot from Mr. Nelson.

Like all the good ones, this game starts out memorably. On the surface, the player character seems to be a pretty regular joe(albeit a pretty regular aristocratic joe) who is in a pretty regular real life situation. You're in the attic of your family's ancestral manor(that you've just recently inherited) searching for a tattered old tourist map of Paris - apparently you're the sort of fellow who can afford to take little trips to the City of Lights anytime you want to but you're still too cheap to buy a new map when you really need one. Ah, some people. As you might expect, the task of procuring the aforementioned map turns out to be immensely challenging - this is where the adventure part comes in, you dig. The map could be anywhere in this dusty, sprawling upstairs attic. The house in which you are placed is an appealing place to visit, full of tucked away little nooks and crannies, and wonderfully coded objects. For example, the radio in this game is playing a different song everytime you type "look" - sort of like George's stereo in Deadline, but this implementation is more appealing because you get to learn the actual song that is playing instead of just what type of music is being played. NPCs? Well, there's your grumpy but likable Aunt Jemima and a cat named Austin for starters. The story and some of the writing reminds me quite a bit of some of the great English humorist P.G. Wodehouse's work. The player character is undoubtedly Wodehousian - an aristocrat from a fading family with property but not a great deal of monetary wealth. The initial storyline is also very similar to the typical Wodehouse plot. The situation the protagonist is faced with is essentially ordinary, but the correct way to go about getting out of the situation is going to be anything but. One can expect some delightful plot twists and turns before reaching the end of a Wodehouse novel...and the same goes for a Graham Nelson text adventure. Nelson and Wodehouse are also similar writers - clever, witty, elegant, lively, and smooth. But there is a point in this game where the story takes a dramatic turn - I hesitate to say "for the worse", but it's definitely a great shift. I don't think it really affected me much when I first played it, but now I'm a little taken aback when I run into a friendly little demon whilst merely wandering about my house. The game can be taken as a humorous slice-of-life type of text adventure for much of the early going - the perceived "curses" and dream sequences could be all taken as part of the humor rather than as serious concerns that the player must analyze carefully. But when you run into a demon in your cellar, then it's clear that this game is going to be quite literally about curses. I imagine those people who played Robb Sherwin's "Chicks Dig Jerks" and felt like they were playing two different games felt much the same way as I do while playing "Curses." The transition from wandering about me house looking for a bloody map and dealing with curses and demons and devilish puzzles is not so smooth as I would like to see from a top class full length adventure game. Oh, well, the game is called "Curses" and it is appropriate that it deal at least somewhat with the supernatural. (I doubt Wodehouse would care too much for that sort of thing, incidentally - it's more up Conan Doyle's alley, don't you think?) So is the game good from start to finish? Undoubtedly. The writing is excellent throughout, the puzzles are among the most entertaining to solve that I've personally come across, the story is engaging, arabesque and engrossing, the game design is excellent and progressive...and the continuity sucks. That's all. This may not seem like a major criticism in light of the game's many virtues, and, indeed, it is not, but it's a point nonetheless I feel that prevents this game from snagging a place among the all time best text adventures. In a way, Nelson damns himself by writing the opening sequences so damn well. He wrote it so well that all I want to be able to do is live the life of the protagonist for a while, simply and fruitfully spending my text adventuring time in search for that accursed map. I don't really care about the curses so much...I just want to have fun in an authentically rendered true to life environment. Damn it all! Is that too much to ask? It's not that I don't think the concept of the game is strong - it's not that I don't like the demon, the ghosts, the dreams, and the rods. It's just that I wish that they were in another game. Oh can't have everything, can one? Indeed one can't.

The game is designed in such a way that is pleasing but yet quite indicative of the time in which it was made. These were the early days of Inform indeed. The parsing is far from perfect - frustratingly, many reasonable player inputs are unknown to the game(or, at least, the game pretends it doesn't know what you're talking about an awful lot of the time...which is even more frustrating). The parser won't make you go, "THIS PARSER SUCKS" but it will cause you to pause time and time again and mutter under your breath, "Oh, what the hell do I have to do now? This game is not helping me out here." The game design has many "hooks" to it that may be considered unusual. To use an example from early in the game, the lantern which you carry does not go out based on time or turns or moves - rather, the battery begins to go out the moment you enter a certain room. In other words, you could wind up at this room in just a few turns right in the beginning of the game and thus be locked out of victory and left to fall about in the dark - you would lose the game due to no fault of your own save inexperience. And indeed, there are many ways in which to lose this game. I'm not speaking of dying necessarily - rather, you can just as easily do something inappropriate and the game will quickly inform you that you have "missed the point entirely." Moral? Save often. But not too often, or you'll wind up saving after you've already locked yourself out of victory. Grumble. Snark. Egh. The puzzles are a little tough...this is a Graham Nelson game, for goodness sakes. You bet the puzzles are a little tough. Chin up and be a man. Or a woman, if that is what you are. You just ain't gonna win this game overnight or overweek for that matter - in both difficulty and length it compares favorably well with old Sierra games as well as some Infocom titles.

I still do like Curses a lot. I no longer think it one of the greatest games ever written, but it's a text adventure perfectly capable of seeming that good upon your first playthrough. Unless you've become too jaded by modern puzzleless IF(and possibly even then) to enjoy a challenge, give this game a shot. Hmm...and just stop to imagine how good "Curses" would be without the "curses"! Heh, heh, heh. I made a little pun!

Simple Rating: 8/10

Complicated Rating: 37/50

Story: 8/10(Have curses ever been better implemented? I think not.)

Writing: 9/10(Funny, well-referenced, quirky. How could you go wrong?)

Playability: 6/10(It loses points because it's so tough and unforgiving. Graham once said that he was "surprised" at how many people managed to solve the game. That says it all.)

Puzzle Quality: 8/10(Hell, I like them, even though I had to struggle hours to solve many of them originally, and even then I felt like an idiot for failing to solve them quicker.

Parser Responsiveness: 6/10

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