Halothane by Quentin D. Thompson(1999)

The Ugly, Evil Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: Halowhatotane? Ah, me no like big words! Me like mindless sex and violence, two things this game does not supply at all adequately! Boo hoo, Quentin!

The Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: This is the one, Mac. This is the one!

My Verdict: Ladies and gentlemen, the best game of the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition.

The Review...

My first encounter with the work of Quentin D. Thompson, otherwise known as Ravi Philip Rajkumar, occurred earlier this year. I had finally got around to playing a few games I'd downloaded from GMD some time before - among these was a little game written in AGT(regrettably, I forget the name) by none other than Mr. Thompson hisself. Now, this was a good AGT game. No, not Shades of Grey or even Cosmoserve, but very solid and very interesting. Very well written, too. It had a bit of a screwball plot as I recall(as this game does...but I guess I like screwball plots), and I didn't finish it. However, the name Quentin D. Thompson stuck in my head, and so when I heard that the very same Quentin D. Thompson was entering a game into this year's competition, I was all ready to play his latest creation. I opened the game, I played it for a little while... I was impressed. I decided to "save it for later" and sample some of the other delectable goodies the comp had to offer before returning to this potentially great game. I do remember remarking to Robb Sherwin at the time something to the effect of: "Quentin D. Thompson's game looks really good, and long, too!" I have never spoken truer words.

Halothane is not a game which is easy to describe...rather, it is something which must be experienced. The player's primary goal while playing the game is simply to figure out what's going on, and it is a great mystery. Over the course of the ten chapters which make up the game, the protagonist, an author named Harold Banks, is placed in many strange and unusual sitations - there's even some gender bumping going on later in the game! In each chapter, Harold's objects are not clear. He must feel his way around his environment, and try to do things which seem sensible. Above all, he must examine everything around him. (The "search" command is one of my personal favorites, and this game uses this command to wonderful effect.) Of special note are the notes(a bad pun, I know) which periodically show up in unusual places - they detail conversations between strange characters such as "The Creator" and "The Author"...ultimately, Harold may find himself speaking in these notes, though his memories are difficult to retrieve. Each chapter ends once Harold has accomplished what he is to do, and the game flows seamlessly on. And with each finished chapter, the plot becomes more and more detailed - by the end of the game, a big wrap up is hardly needed, as the player will have already come across so much information that he/she already has an excellent idea of the complex storyline! One important story note to make is that this game fully incorporates alternate paths - I finished it missing some sixty points off the perfect score doing all manner of strange things which, according to the hints screen(which I only viewed idly in retrospect), I shouldn't have been doing at all!

Good points about the game...geez, where should I start? It's superb all around. The story is fascinating and enigmatic, and the way it comes together over the course of the game is intensely impressive. The writing is also fantastic throughout...nothing in this game becomes monotonous because of the excellent prose and great attention to detail. The gameplay level is extremely high because of the support for alternative paths and the smooth seguing between chapters. The puzzles are not terribly hard...the main thing is to examine and search everything you come across, and then just use your head. Very simple puzzle solving, but very effective and enjoyable! Probably what I like most about this game is that it keeps the player involved at every step of the way - you have to always keep a close eye on the story, or you'll certainly miss valuable clues. Never is the player so deluged with "mountains of text" that he/she forgets that their input is needed to advance the story...there's always something to search, to pick up, to examine. And the parser responsiveness! It rivals I/O! It seemed to predict everything I threw at, sometimes even providing humorous responses to...err...humorous inputs. This game really has it all. I'm hard pressed to say anything bad about it...one puzzle did annoy me because I didn't understand the format in which I was supposed to word my input(SPOILER: table, the code is...), but that's the only one. Everything else was superb.

Most important to me is the size of the game. This isn't something you'll finish in fifteen minutes to say the least. It's a long game(as I said, a prologue and ten chapters, each with a different setting), and it's also a wide game(alternate endings, rich environment, well detailed objects, rooms, and events). It's a very rich experience that I think is well worth spending a few hours with. For me, I don't believe I could have spent this afternoon with any better company.

Will this game win the competition? I ask this question on November 7th, 1999...for all those who may be reading this at some later date. The answer is I really don't know, but I can tell you that I've played almost all the games in this year's competition, and of all those, this is by far the best. Nothing else quite came close. But what I think and what the public at large think is something different: I could definitely see something like the sentimental, populist Winter Wonderland tugging on folks' heart strings straight to number one, and while that's not a game without worth, I definitely consider Halothane superior art and superior game.

Oh yes, one last thing: I alluded to the hints earlier, and I must say these hints are extremely useful and detailed, but I especially like how they don't tell the player EVERYTHING like a walkthrough does. I didn't use the hints while actually playing(and I'm glad I didn't), but for those people who are sure to get stuck, this feature should be well appreciated.

Simple Rating: 10/10

Complicated Rating: 48/50

Story: 10/10

Writing: 10/10

Playability: 10/10

Puzzle Quality: 8/10

Parser Responsiveness: 10/10

Reader Remarks

Ben sprach the following on November 15th, 1999

I could not complete the Neural Model puzzle, so I left the room. No, not just the one in the game.  I mean I actually stood up and left the room.

Please send blatant spoilers to:  bparrish@mindless.com.  Thank you.

Quentin D. Thompson sprach the following on December 13th, 1999:

For the record, the Neural Model Machine puzzle was a parody of all those gruesome puzzles from the middle-game in Enemies. It's probably the first and only time I have deliberately written a puzzle that was _meant_ to be sadistic.

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