King Arthur’s Night Out by Mikko Vuorinen [Comp99]

IFDB page: King Arthur’s Night Out
Final placement: 22nd place (of 37) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition

This game depicts King Arthur in a way I’ve never seen him before. Instead of tragic hero, noble warrior, or eager wizard’s apprentice, it’s King Arthur as… henpecked husband? Yes, you as King Arthur just want to head to the pub for a pint or two with “Lance” and the boys, but your wife, the uncharacteristically shrewish Guinevere, wants you to stay home while she sits on the bed, knitting. The puzzle, then, is how to get out without her knowing. It seems to me that this plot could have easily taken place in a suburban house rather than Camelot. Yes, Excalibur makes an appearance, but even with that addition the game is still a rather pedestrian affair with a superficial sheen of Arthurian trappings laid on. I’m not convinced that this sheen improves the game. There’s an element of the unexpected, I suppose, in seeing Arthur cast in such a strange way, but the surprise does little to illuminate either the Arthurian mythos or the game itself. In addition, the henpecked husband stereotype has never been one that I’ve found all that compelling, so mixing it in with the legend of King Arthur shatters the power of the legend while doing little to enliven the stereotype.

King Arthur’s Night Out suffers in several places from “guess-the-verb” weaknesses. There is an item that, when SEARCHed, will yield an important discovery. However, if you look in, shake, push, open, or examine it, you won’t find a thing. In another spot, you must retrieve an item from underneath something else. However, you can’t crawl under this thing, nor lift it, nor just get the item from underneath it. The puzzle has a logical solution, but because such a specific wording was required, I didn’t find that solution until I checked the walkthrough. I felt annoyed when I discovered the answer, because it was no more complicated that the things I had been trying, things which got no response. How was I supposed to know that this particular method had been implemented, I wondered, when 5 others weren’t? I think my experience contains a lesson for me as an author — puzzles shouldn’t consist of hunting around for the one method which the author anticipated. The author should anticipate three or four methods of solving a puzzle, and implement them all, either as alternate solutions or as dead ends which will help point the player toward the correct method.

Having griped about that, I will say that the game was coded quite well overall. Many actions were accounted for, especially in areas which weren’t puzzles. I found no bugs in playing the game, and only a very few errors in the prose mechanics. I still didn’t have a particularly great time playing the game, but a large portion of that reaction is due to the fact that I didn’t find the premise very interesting. Perhaps people who enjoy broad domestic farce would like it more. In addition, if a second edition of the game emerges that implements the puzzles a little more robustly, King Arthur’s Night Out will be a solidly coded, if a little bit odd, piece of interactive fiction.

Rating: 7.2