Enchanter / Infocom (1983)

Starvin Marvin's Verdict: I found the hunger code to be extremely realistic.

Ernie Eaglebeak's Verdict: I found the spellcasting code to be instantly accessible and approachable. Excuse me, I have a zit to pop.

My Verdict: The stuff legends are made out of but some of this wouldn't fly these days.


Game Information

Game Type: Infocom

Author Info: Marc Blank is the greatest video game designer to have ever walked the earth. You were wondering about my particular bias? Well, it's slanted towards this guy. Miyamoto, Molyneuix, Carmack and Wright can all battle it out to carry this guy's jock.

Other Games By This Author: Zork I, Zork II, Zork III, Starcross, Suspect and Journey. Trifles, really.

Download Link: N/A

The Review...

My master-stroke was to play each one of the Infocom games a day, cheat like hell, finish them, and then write reviews of said games for this website. It didn't work so well because Marc Fricking Blank made his game too goddamn good and I wanted to play it slowly and carefully. Just play it and enjoy it like it was any other game. My mission involved very little time for each game and like a gibbering, oft-confused moron I picked Enchanter to start out with. 

The problem is that there is a very small pool of games that Blank has created. I have finished more of his games than any other author and only Starcross and Enchanter were the ones that I had never touched.In terms of picking between them, well, that I spend most of my time in some fantasy world should be no major revelation to longtime readers of this site. I was introduced to this fact by many of the girls I asked out on dates in junior high school, confirmed by my attempts to create a funny comic strip for my college newspaper and then later cemented by the notion I keep of one day buying a sealed Starcross saucer, locking myself into an internet-less terminal and finishing said game two days later. Without hints, cheats, food or water.

Enchanter doesn't come in anything other than a rectangular cardboard box. So the desperate clouds of my youth were not dissipated, in this case, by playing it "prematurely."

It's a game about a magician with four spells who has to take out the worst evil in the land. The first part of the game -- after finding bread and water, of course -- concerns getting your collection of spells up. I was unaware of any way to list the spells memorized in my character's mind which was somewhat frustrating (although at the end of each game day your mind scrambles the spells so you can use your own personal memory registers to keep track of which ones you can cast). Perhaps implementing a "think" verb that would list them? Something, then.

After finding some spells that will save your ass in case -- I don't know -- a bunch of wandering thugs come about your direction in order to sacrifice you, you can get going with one of the most satisfying sections of Enchanter -- ordering around the adventurer from Zork. Well, maybe not the adventurer. After all, that guy went on to bigger and better things. But an adventurer, nonetheless. Hanging around the guy provides a lot of opportunity for humor. Blank knew the kind of person that would pick up Enchanter and didn't ignore him or her -- oh dear, I am overcome with a simply devastating bit of coughing due to that last line! Pardon me, coughcoughZORKNEMESIS hackslarg coughcoughcough. Ahem. Shig! Much better, thank you. I am a sucker for interaction with well-defined NPCs and this nod to his previous work was appreciated.

Much of the gameplay is figuring out which spells to use at what times. When you have the power to "communicate" in more ways than what is usually the standard in IF, it changes the way you think of things and look at puzzles. It is for this reason that I think the medieval "fantasy" setting has such great potential in IF. It has been said before that a text adventure veteran will look at a given problem, try a few obvious things and then if stuck, mentally go down the list of common ways to solve IF problems. A sort of "what am I missing?" thought process. In spell-based games (Zork: Grand Inquisitor and the Spellcasting series come to mind) you have access to more and different "verbs" without having to "guess" those verbs. And, obtaining those commands can often be fun as well. The drawback, of course, occurs when a player sees a problem before knowing of the existence of a spell that will (literally) "magically" solve the issue at hand. As a player, you may not know which puzzles to concentrate on. If you play like the kind of despicable, filthy cheater that I am, well,  you just look at the master spell list and save your sanity.

Getting the different spells in Enchanter is a mixed bag. Usually somewhat of a pain in the ass, sometimes satisfying. You want the power the spells give you, but doing mundane crap to get them can often not be a lot of fun. A lot of spell scrolls seem to be in random, abandoned places so Belboz (the necromancer that sent you on this mission) got lucky there.

The writing is excellent and, unlike most of Blank's games, that statement does not need a "considering the space limitations" clarifier. It's been my experience that artists sometimes get themselves into kind of a zone. You can look at a period of their work and note that everything was obviously clicking for that particular person. My guess would be that Enchanter was written while Blank was in such a mental frameset. Although space was limited due to the awful floppy disks his game had to be sold on, he knew when to get wordy and when not to. I haven't played Starcross at this point, but Enchanter otherwise easily contains the best overall prose I have seen of his. 

The game does, however, contain code which, if I could, I would rip out, nail to a cross and hang outside the official Rand McNally-established limits of Silicon Valley in order to generate the same effect that Vlad the Impaler had by nailing gypsies, caught bandits and suspected rogues to crosses outside his borders. This code, of course, is the hunger code. This type of crap should be warned against by all that would think to implement it.

Hunger code has gotten a bad rap by various members of this website. (OK, me, then.) Hunger code is seemingly used to defeat ingenious plans orchestrated so that one is not continually dropping fifty dollars on the latest, hottest, newest games. If I wait until -- to pick a game at random -- Ultima VII is fifteen bucks, enough time ends up elapsing so that I am running it with a computer roughly eighty thousand times faster than what the ware was originally designed for. This means that the various characters I am responsible for need to be fed with prime cuts of ribs, beef and flounder every five to six seconds. While Enchanter doesn't have that problem, it has a variant of it. You will die if your PC doesn't eat for a day. This might create a problem if you play these things like I do.

You see, I can't help it, but when I play these games I imagine the "story" being told.

I blame Infocom for running those anti-graphics ads back in the early 80s. Text was an unpopular mode of display to take. Much like "American Beauty" goes out on a limb and vehemently trumpets its pro-statutory rape message, Infocom brought up pixilated "monsters" and "aliens" (seemingly taken from a bad Shamus clone) and asked it you wanted to shell out a thousand dollars to match wits with that. Some of their other ads depicted a blank book that you, the player, could fill.

And I play them that way. I had no idea I was doing so until the fifth or sixth time I re-loaded due to avoid dying because I had no food left. When you die in that manner you are simply stuck out on the road with some food and water. Game continues, no blood no foul. But that wasn't good enough for me. No. I wanted to see my story be one where the guy whacked the evil warlock Krill in a day without breaking a sweat and dying because his diet lacked sufficient starch. It, logically, makes no freaking difference! It's just a goddamn game!

Yeah, right. Blank wrote this game like fifteen years ago. And the guy is still taking me to school. He's still allowing me to learn something about myself in this hobby. Yes, the hunger code is incredibly irritating. Yes, it should be stricken from the game and it would make it a better experience for it. But whether he intended or not, the inclusion of said routines opened my eyes a bit and taught me a small lesson about myself. It's something that will ultimately make me a slightly better designer when I write my own games.

While I'm not saying that this conclusion was part of his master plan, very few games will still teach you something during their worst parts. Enchanter succeeds as a great story and proud part of the Zork milieu, but it's also a "snapshot" of the best work from a brilliant artist that is severely underappreciated.



Simple Rating: 9.4 / 10

Complicated Rating:

Story: 8.2 / 10

Writing: 9.6 / 10

Playability: 9.0 / 10

Puzzle Quality: 7.7 / 10

Parser Responsiveness: 8.9 / 10


Reader Remarks


Scary German Guy sprach something like the following on February 9th, 2001:

Hunger code or not, this game took up hours upon hours of my life when i was but a wee lad of 9.  It rules.

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