Every now and again a Quilled game is spawned which is a bit special, standing proud of the piles of computer cassettes which litter my living room floor. There was Hampstead, Towerof Despair, and now Terrormolinos. Madcap Manor, the game I'm reviewing here (in case you were wondering just what I was reviewing), must be a bit special seeing as Gilsoft, the originators of The Quill programming aid, have deemed this effort worthy of their backing. Without wanting to preclude the lengthy discourse which is no doubt about to follow (I say no doubt because it's a breezy autumnal day my Pave type of day and I wouldn't mind stretching my legs in the local park to see how the one-legged duck is getting on) I would say Madcap Manor is not as original or entertaining as say, Hampstead, but is nevertheless a very worthy Quilled game.
Hampstead had no graphics. Terrormolinos should have had some graphics but Madcap Manor does actually feature graphics. Unfortunately their quality is borderline in the 'should adventures sport graphics and if they should, shouldn't they be of sufficient worth to add something to the game' sort of argument. You get the impression when you play this game that the same graphic keeps reappearing as many of the pictures are based upon a common simple design. In short, they are the sort of graphics which were alright over a year ago but now come over as very dated. With the likes of Robin of Sherwood knocking around and the state-of-the-art stuff to be seen on the new Amstrad, home computer graphics will never be quite the same again. What this means is great news for the computer art connoisseur and any art student who would like to try his hand at creating home computer software. It also means a lot of soul-searching within software houses and design teams to work out just what the ratio of pure programmers to arty types should be.
The type of adventure we have here would fall into the detective category. It stars a detective and since Sherlock has already been taken how about Inspector Le Gies the famous Belgian detective. You are spending a long weekend with Lord Algernon Stingy who is not a West Indian DJ but a country squire tucked away in his deep rural retreat centred around an impressive Manor House. What's more, the times are quite comfy as well, it being 1933. Like some urbane Clousseau your Belgian nose is to be seen sniffing the corridors of this English haven searching for the Dowager Lady Ditchley's priceless ruby ring (that word priceless dates this adventure, in these times of the money god everything but everything has a price). Stingy (as he would no doubt be called today) hasn't given you many clues to go on but has ensured you of his staff's full cooperation in your hunt for the missing sparklers.
You start in a very comfortable location bed, but have not quite managed to achieve the state in which mankind is at his best, that is, in deep sleep. Reading a book (must be Mervyn Peake) seems to do the trick and on waking your quest can begin in earnest. Your quest is in fact played out within your dream which is born out by your awakening should something nasty happen to you (and nothing could be nastier than what happens to you when the rats get up your trousers).
Looking in the mirror sets off a weak joke about reflecting on the case but moving on you will quickly come to the scene of the theft, The Arabian Room. Before I forget, I must tell you that this adventure actually comes in two parts, a bit like Deeds of Glengarry Hall which is also reviewed this month, only in this case sides A and B carry the same adventure. Side B carries the text-only version for the puritans while A has the graphics with the necessary reduction in the amounts of text and the number of locations. I chose to review the graphics side A here because it is easier and it would seem more sensible to review the more commercial of the two sides. Now, where was I, oh yes, the Arabian Room, which is not full of sand but has a dresser and an open window. I couldn't get the dressing table open here, or exit the window, but on the whole this adventure is friendly and basically easy.
I've mentioned the graphics, and implied they leave something to be desired but let me just mention the billiards room where the scene comes to life when you switch the light on, just like in real life.
Madcap Manor is a Quilled game marketed by none-other than the purveyors of The Quill programming utility itself. Hence you might expect the game to feature one or two refinements over its opponents and in many areas this is indeed the case. However, in the highly competitive environment which home computer software has now become, I just don't know if it has got enough innovative features to appeal to any audience greater than that composed of adventure devotees.
Graphics: on some locations, very average
Input facility: verb/noun
Response: fast, pictures slow
Gilsoft, publishers of The Quill and Illustrator, also produces its own-brand games. Madcap Manor is one of the new adventures which offer a graphic game on one side and an expanded text version on the other.
It's 1933 and you are cast as the famous Belgian detective. Inspector Le-Gles - oww! As befits such a personage you've been invited as a house-party guest to Madcap Manor, the stately residence of Lord Algernon Stingy - and boy, is he mean. It even costs money to play billiards at his posh gaff.
The action begins, naturally enough, with Monsieur Le-Gles strolling down to breakfast after a good night's kip on a feather bed. He meets his distraught host who tells him that the Dowager Lady Ditchley's giant ruby ring has been stolen during the night. Gallantly Monsieur l'Inspecteur accepts the challenge.
Thus you begin your exploration of the Stingy mansion in true Agatha Christie style. The place is vast and contains servants' quarters, cellars and secret passages as well as the main apartments and spacious grounds. One secret route will only be found if you can assemble all the necessary equipment - and aforementioned finance - to play a very poor game of billiards. As the interpreter says 'a proper little Hurricane Higgins, aren't we?' Make sure you go for the big score and pot black!
It soon becomes apparent that there is more going on at the Manor than meets the eye. The long-lost Amazonian explorer, Horatio Stingy, has a finger in this pie, as you'll discover if you ring for a servant from the summer house. A Jivaro Indian will appear to give you advice. Other servants and guests can be summoned or encountered and there's a living Cluedo feel to the play.
The game is Quilled, of course. The graphics, done with The Illustrator, are pretty good and the cellar pictures quite moody and atmospheric, as are some of the splendid bedrooms and drawing rooms. Once you've had a look at those you may want to try out the plain text game. That has more detailed description and is slightly fuller, with added locations.
The house and its grounds are fairly open to exploration - obviously excepting the secret parts which you'll have to discover by trial and error. Be careful not to miss opportunities - I dithered when a wall slid open and it shut before I got a chance to get through. Saving regularly helps in those situations.
There's a vein of silly humour running through the action and the interpreter's responses are lively and occasionally cheeky. That encourages you to persist and make progress in a friendly and cheerful way.
Madcap Manor, then, is an entertaining and well-constructed variation on the detective theme. I like the idea of having two versions of the game as you end up having your cake and eating it too, if you feel like it. Nice one, Hercule.
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