Review – The Castle of Vourtram

I had a favorable first impression when I started playing from the “play online” link. The initial screen is nicely laid out in a somewhat fancy font and displaying useful info like license, version, title, and the introduction itself. I had just started playing when I got called away, so I closed the game and took it up again at home. When I relaunched offline, all the text was rendered in a monospace font. It looks like the font information must reference some web resource, so if you want to see it at its prettiest, better to play online.

Before commenting on the story, I would like to mention two interface features that I thought were very considerate: First, the prompt about whether to play the game with music or silent; glad to see that is becoming an expected feature for works that incorporate sound. Next, a hamburger menu button in the upper right corner that brings up additional options including a way to report bugs to the author.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

The game gets off to a lackluster start, which introduces a generic storyline. I’ll let you fill in the blanks: evil wizard, abdicated king, captured princess, forced marriage, orphan hero.

After naming the orphan hero, the player can wander the town and pick one of three classic RPG classes: wizard, warrior, or thief. It’s a matter of finding the right place, talking to the guy in charge, and signing up. After that, there’s no turning back. No multi-classing or cross-training; apparently all adventurers are pigeonholed.

Thus begins the training phase of the game, which consists of learning a skill (in my case a spell) and being assigned a task to use it. The first such task for a wizard is to obtain some werewolf fur. A potentially significant part of the difficulty of each task is locating the object of the task, in this case the werewolf, because they way out of town leads through a maze. I know I just heard a lot of people shaking their heads. It’s actually not that difficult, but yeah, a maze in 2017.

I didn’t get stuck on any particular puzzle, but at some point went to the walkthrough because I found the ratio of wandering around to doing useful too great, particularly when certain locations and characters are unresponsive due either to the chosen character class or because it is not yet the right time in the game for them to be useful. For example, there is a bulletin board in town and I tried everything I could think of to read it, assuming it was an issue with finicky phrasing of the command. However, in my experience it could not be read before the third task was assigned. Why was the action enabled at that point? No idea; it does not make sense in terms of anything the player knows at that stage of the game.

When I peeked at the walkthrough, I realized that I had just scratched the surface of this game: the training phase is followed by a segment of the game where the player attains hero status, and only then does the player set out on the actual quest. I didn’t think I wanted to put that much more time in, even with the walkthrough in front of me. I stopped playing when I got to a point in the walkthrough where I was supposed to take a letter that was in a tree; however, this action failed and I could not figure out a workaround:

> get letter
It is too high. I can’t reach it.

Speaking of the walkthrough, in the original distribution of the game, there is a zip archive in the walkthrough folder under this game. If you unzip it, it’s the whole game file, which contains a walkthrough folder. In that folder is a zip archive… it reminds me of Larry Niven’s short story “Convergent Series”, but I suppose that isn’t very helpful for anyone who wants to read the walkthrough. A pdf of the walkthrough is available online.

A word about the game system: the author mentions that he developed in Quest but then used a no longer maintained conversion utility plus a lot of manual editing to put the game into pure javascript.

I like some of the things that this system does, including facilitating conversations by treating hyperlinks as topics when the main character is conversing with an NPC. On the other hand, I think the implementation was at least partly broken — I was unable to use the game’s save functionality (maybe this is specific to my version of Chrome?).

Evaluation:

Story: 5.  There is a lot of it, but it is generic and pace is off.

Voice: 4. I did enjoy a bit of humor infused into conversation with the master wizard’s cat, but most of the characterization was flat.

Play: 5.

Polish: 5. The text has been spellchecked and I did not see issues with punctuation, so I am sure that some time was spent proofing. However, this game would benefit from some editing by reviewers fluent in English. Some examples for flavor.

In most cases, the meaning was clear despite issues with word choice:

>x me
You better find some trainment! Right now you are lazy, weak, and uncultured. With this qualities you will never be a hero.

> order beer
This beer does not worth a coin.

> climb tree
I’m not a children anymore.

I’m not sure what the author was going for in terms of undo functionality (but do appreciate the laid back tone):

> undo
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game.
It’s easy. There is no regrets in this game

Technical: 7. There is a lot of work here; probably more than I appreciate. At the end of the day, though, I have to wonder if it made sense to take it out of Quest, which seems quite capable. I am curious what “must have” features drove the author to pursue a custom solution.

Preliminary Score: 5.2

 

 

 

One thought on “Review – The Castle of Vourtram”

  1. Thanks for the review of my game.
    Answering to the question about “Why I left Quest” : I didn’t. I published a Quest version too.
    The main problem with Quest is not the tool, but the servers. They are too often down, and I wanted an online version that could be used.

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