Murder at the Folkestone Inn
Ann Laughlin
AGT 1993

Since I'd never played one of those AGT games dreaded by IF aficionados, I decided to download this example from the Archive after seeing Quentin D. Thompson's mention of it on the Trotting Krips message board. It's been my impression that the Adventure Game Toolkit was designed mostly to let kids set up their own caves full of trolls and treasures. I doubt that creators Mark Welch and David Malmberg gave much thought to AGT being used, as Ann Laughlin has, to send the heiress and novelist Vita Sackville-West and her lover Violet Trefusis on an illicit 1918 outing to Folkestone England. So that's pretty cool in itself.

Unfortunately the programming seems like it might have been done by someone a little too young to appreciate Edwardian attitudes toward the love that dare not speak its name, maybe someone like Matt Barringer's little sister after a quick glance at the source code for DETECTIVE. For a start, there are hardly any objects for the player to pick up, let alone manipulate, and not a lot more that are examinable. The parser is slightly more responsive than my cat. Once you run through the major directions you've more or less exhausted the game's vocabulary. Even actions that are blatantly clued don't seem to work.

The hotel's book is open and ready to sign, the game announces.

>Sign book

>Sorry I don't understand sign as a verb

To be fair, MURDER AT THE FOLKESTONE INN has a design concept that doesn't require many objects. The author has located chunks of the story in various locations and as you, the player, usually Vita disguised as a man, move from the train where the story begins to the street and the hotel where you are hoping to get some time alone with Violet, you get to read bits of the narrative. And if you feel like rereading a bit of the narrative you need only return to the appropriate location because whatever is going on in a given place is apparently always going on, being part of each room description.

Allowing a player freedom to move through a world where fragments of time are endlessly replaying themselves in different locations is a potentially intriguing idea, although probably not what the author had in mind.

Such a design would also lend itself to William Burroughs' cut and paste. Imagine writing a story, slicing it up and randomly assigning bits to various rooms. Stumble into the living room closet to experience the dramatic death scene. The adverbs are packed in that box on the shelf. The meaning of it all is concealed in the wall safe behind the portrait in the living room. I suppose Ryebread Celsius has used this technique. I don't know. L.U.D.I.T.E. was enough for me.

However, I don't think the author had anything quite that avant garde in mind either. MURDER AT THE FOLKESTONE INN is more straight forward. Basically what you do is move. You might think you need to get your bag, or hail a taxi or sign a register, but in fact, all you really have to do is find an exit and whatever needs to be accomplished is automatically done. This arrangement might seem to be even more convenient than having "use" at your disposal except that finding exits turns out to be the game's major puzzle.

Although the room descriptions often contain two or three screens of narrative and dialogue they often don't include exit directions. Just to enhance the puzzle quality the author has arranged it so you can't always leave a room the same way you entered. The reason isn't clear. Perhaps the doors at the hotel, unlike Vita, don't swing both ways.

But despite the shortcomings I rather enjoyed MURDER AT THE FOLKESTONE INN. It's a short game and it kept me playing for a half hour until I reached the end, more than can be said for a lot of games.

The concept is amusing. (I won't say more about the storyline to avoid spoiling it) The writing is good, especially in portraying the player/protagonist's sense of being a woman masquerading as a man. That was kind of fun. Or maybe that says something about me I don't want to know. But then I also liked THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW which of course was something completely different and don't tell me that Tim Curry is some kind of wimp or something.

I must admit that, at the outset, I expected the game to quickly degenerate into the "Your lovely Violet loosens the stays of her cruelly constricting corset and stretches out on the feather bed" mode but, in fact, the climatic "puzzle" is a lot more restrained -- unless I missed something. I did finish without a full score. Were my suggestions made with too much delicacy to convince the reticent Violet to bestow upon me those forbidden points? And what about the room I was told I missed? What secrets may have been concealed there? No doubt some players of debased appetites might see those questions as a reason to sample this game. (Hey, and if you find any good stuff let me know will you?)

Why, I wonder, was MURDER AT THE FOLKESTONE INN, seven years old now, uploaded to the IF Archive? I'm not aware of any announcement. Could it be because it so resembles, but predates, the puzzleless IF that seems lately to be so popular? Could ancient man - or woman in this case -- have been writing puzzleless IF as far back as the days of AGT? Will the history books have to be revised?

And if puzzleless IF can be written in AGT and puzzleless IF is IF's future, then where does that leave Inform and TADS and Hugo? You don't really need a powerful language to write games that are primarily stories. Perhaps these languages are transient aberrations, tools which soon will have no artistic use. Maybe the re-release of MURDER AT THE FOLKESTONE INN will initiate the true Golden Age of AGT.

>You enter the future. There is a troll here. She is conflicted.

Rating: This game laughs lightly at your attempts to fetter it with such conventions as ratings and skips blithely away.

Eric Mayer

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