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Provenance Reviews
Author: Corey W Arnett
Date: 2005
ADRIFT 4.0


Reviewed by David Whyld (Reviews Exchange 7)

Provenance starts off well: a nice introduction which does an excellent job of setting the scene (although the final line "AND WITH THE NIGHT COMES THINGS THAT GO BUMP" rather spoiled the mood). The game had a professional feel and it's obvious a lot of time and effort has been put into its making. It also comes bundled with a lengthy PDF file containing the game's background and some advice on playing interactive fiction in general. A nice touch.

At first impression, it seems like a horror game. You arrive on the brick walkway leading to a large mansion with eerie feelings hanging over you. Something tells you it's a bad idea to go further, but go further you doÖ 

The game doesn't credit any betatesters which, for the first game by an author, isn't perhaps a wise thing. To begin with, it didn't seem to affect things too much as I was able to wander around a large number of occasions, perform all manner of tasks, examine things all over the place and all without running into any kind of problems. Later on, though, a number of bugs crept in. A good deal of them have now been fixed (the game is up to version three at the time of writing this review), but quite a few still remain. Some of the bugs actually made the game easier (getting the maul out of the stump was easy in the original version as you simply pulled it out (despite the fact that the game told you that you couldn't do this and the description of the stump still had it embedded there)) yet in the later version it's a lot harder. Likewise, the cellar is now locked whereas before it was wide open and could be entered any time the player chose. 

The game is quite picky about what it will and won't let me do. A list of items I found under a welcome mat (not mentioned anywhere in the room description incidentally) advised me of things I needed to collect, although the reasons as to why I was collecting them weren't revealed. One of the items was a canteen which I also needed to fill with water from the well. I couldn't find the canteen at first yet I found a bucket, only couldn't figure out a way to fill it from the well, as even when it was full of items, including a large stone, it wouldn't sink far enough down into the well to fill itself up with water. Then again, I'm not even sure why this was necessary because another location contains a fountain, yet the game won't let me fill the bucket up there. And what about the taps in the house?

Provenance comes with a number of frustrations that I'm sure the author had a good reason for including but which I can't figure out myself. There's a hundred plus location maze which I imagine will have people bashing out QUIT in droves*. There's the item restriction, meaning that you can only carry a certain amount of items and have to spend half the game trekking back and forth picking up different items for different puzzles. As with every ADRIFT game I've ever played which has used an item restriction, this one is amazingly flawed. You can carry, say, ten items (I haven't counted), yet pick up extra ones automatically (finding the knife in the tree trunk, for example, or pulling the axe/maul out of the stump - performing these tasks adds the items to your inventory and neatly bypasses the restriction) and thus go over your limit. The frustrating thing is that if you're carrying more than the maximum item limit and decide to drop one, the game won't let you pick it back up because you're carrying too many items, even though you were quite capable of carrying it beforehand. On top of all that, you're often able to carry around ten or more heavy items, yet trying to pick up something relatively light is too much for you. Oh yes, ADRIFT's item restriction leaves a lot to be desired. In a game like this, with several dozen items scattered all over the place, quite a few of them necessary to complete the game, you're going to be spending a lot of time aimlessly trekking back and forth. 

* Actually the maze doesn't need to be travelled through according to the README file which accompanies the game. There's a shortcut to the centre of it from another location, although as to access this shortcut you need to ask the butler about a certain thing that's at the very centre of the maze, and which can't be seen until you've been to the centre, you're going to have to go through the maze at some point. It's even more frustrating that you only need to venture through the maze after a certain point in the game, but nowhere is this made clear. I found the maze quite soon into playing and got out the graph paper and pen and mapped it out the old-fashioned way. Exits from the 100+ locations aren't listed, which was a pain, but as ADRIFT helpfully lists them anyway if you head in a direction which lacks an exit (like up or down), it's fairly easy to get through. But tedious. Oh so tedious. But not half as tedious as reaching the centre of the maze and finding there was nothing for me to do there yet because I'd come too early in the gameÖ

Depending on which version of the game you're playing, you might well find that ADRIFT's in built map has been disabled - in a game which boasts two hundred locations, including one hundred in a maze(!) of all things, this is a bad, bad idea. And there are no hints. No. None at all. So when you get stuck, you're stuck. Later versions thankfully enable the map, but there are still no hints around.

Yes, there are a lot of negative things about Provenance but there are also a good number of positive things as well. It's got a fairly high standard of writing and the storyline was interesting enough to keep me playing long after the many frustrations had prompted me to quit. 

One of the game's main flaws is that it often requires the player to jump through hoops to attain a fairly simple result for no other reason than the writer has written the game in a certain way and wants the player to play the game that way becauseÖ well, just because. Escaping from the house (whose door locks behind you the moment you step inside) is particularly annoying because there are all manner of windows around the house which can't be opened, broken or climbed through, not to mention the door itself which, if it was locked, I would have merely booted down to get out instead of getting out the way I did. There are also a few instances of puzzles being inserted into the game for no other reason than, it seemed, to include puzzles. I knock on the door of the house, it opens, and then before I can enter it closes again. I'm then required to search for the key, despite the fact that there's someone in the house who needs my help. Why am I required to search for the key? Because the writer wanted me to do soÖ

Then there's the item list. Granted, it's easy enough to find, but why am I collecting the items on it? For what purpose? And when I've collected them, what am I supposed to do with them? Most of them are easy enough to come across, but with the item restriction in place, it's clearly going to be impossible to carry them all at the same time which is going to require a lot of very tedious trekking back and forth. I never saw a good reason for item restrictions back in the 80's when they were quite common and I sure don't see a good reason for one now. It might be unrealistic to have the player lugging around thirty or forty items, but it's also a handy way of cutting down on unnecessary frustrations. And when I'm carrying a dozen items, try to pick up a piece of paper and get told that I can't because it's too heavy, any kind of realism the writer was going for is just lost anyway.

Overall I liked Provenance but my positive feelings for it were tempered by the many, many annoyances that marred the game. I'm not just talking about the bugs (although they certainly contributed towards a good deal of the frustration), but the way perfectly logical things won't work for no other reason than the writer doesn't want me to solve a puzzle in that way. On top of the lack of hints, the maze and the inventory limit (and the disabled map in the earlier version of the game), I found getting beyond a certain stage in the game something of a chore. Much as I liked it, it was also an irritating game to play at times. I finished it eventually, with the aid of the walkthrough, although the series of events that actually lead to the game's conclusion are a little confusing to say the least. Granted, I'd seen the items list so I knew which items I needed to collect, but where did it say I was supposed to put them there and what I was required to do next?

6 out of 10


Reviewed by TDS (Reviews Exchange 8)

"Even though you know better, some unseen force draws you up the long path towards the house for a closer look. No good can come of this, you are certain, but the attraction is simply too strong. You must investigate. You are beginning to develop an uneasy sense that all is not right here, but that it is somehow up to you to find out. Church bells in the distance sound out four oíclock in the afternoon. It will be dark soon. And with the night comes things that go bump."

I always laugh at that last sentence. The whole paragraph is incredibly overwritten. So much for good first impressions.

Before the game even starts you are hit with even more ridiculous lines such as:

"The sun has breached the horizon and its fervent intensity warms the land, pulling the moisture from the ground in a sinuous miasma that rises up into the atmosphere like languid serpents."

Yes, the game is quite literary. A bit too literary for my tastes. When the game finally does begin you are creeping around a house for no reason. In my case I was stuck wandering around for quite some time before I realized Iíd missed a very important item. I had missed an item list that told me what Iíd be collecting. Thatís what the game is about. Collecting items on a list. You have to be kidding me.

Wading through room after room of stale (yet full) descriptions doesnít interest me. Very little action progressed the story at all. In fact thereís a huge gap from the beginning to end where story advancement is concerned. You donít learn much more about it except from these two points. This would be fine but there are no good puzzles to hold the story up. Most of the puzzles have been thrown in for the sole purpose of keeping the player busy. Actually all of the puzzles have been created for that reason. The flowery writing is the weak glue that keeps the game from falling apart to reveal what it really is. A tedious, story-thin treasure hunt.

To beat the game you must collect items off a list and travel to the center of a maze to win. If that sounds fun to you then this game will keep you busy for ages.

If I judged games on how good they look instead of how well they play this game would get a 9/10. But because presentation isnít everything I give it aÖ

3/10.


Reviewed Jim Aikin

I take it as axiomatic that interactive fiction is an entirely new art form. It bears, perhaps, the same relation to conventional fiction that film bears to theatre. Or possibly that's too grandiose a comparison. 

One difficulty we face in nurturing this new medium is that, because the community of enthusiasts is tiny and the forums through which new works can be discussed are few and unknown to the public at large, every new work that's released gets tossed into the common pool with all of the existing works, to sink or swim as best it can. 

The lack of stratification or hierarchy in the marketplace (using the term in a broad sense) puts a burden on novice authors. Where is the interested novice to get feedback and tutelage from more experienced authors, without being discouraged by scathing criticism? How are we to be fair and helpful when discussing the weaknesses of what can only be called student works? 

I started thinking about this after I spent a couple of hours wandering around in Provenance. Cory Arnett's first game is precisely a student work. The author shows promise, and I hope he'll work hard to hone his skills and release a more polished, thoughtful game, or several of them. Provenance itself, however, is unlikely to attract many players, or hold their attention for very long. 

The strength of the game lies in the touches of creepy, ominous atmosphere and in the grandeur of the scenery at certain locations. Its shortcomings are just as easily listed: The model world is thin, the story is incoherent, and the code is buggy. 

As the story opens you're in your carriage, riding through a forest. Night is falling and winter closing in. Shortly you reach a Victorian manor house, and a sinister-looking trail of blood droplets on the front walk leads you up to the door. As you explore the house and grounds, various momentary incidents hint that All Is Not Well. In the end, sad to say, these glimpses turn out to be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. 

The effect of the brooding atmosphere is undercut by bits of florid over-writing. Consider this, from the intro: "The sun has breached the horizon and its fervent intensity warms the land.... Only the sound of your horse's hooves break up the monotonous silence that permeates through the solitude." Note the grammatical error: "sound" is singular, so the verb should be "breaks up." Also, in this passage the sun is rising. A few sentences later, it's setting. 

The game fails to follow through consistently with the gloomy spell cast by winter: When you enter the garden of the manor house, you'll find roses and wisteria in bloom, as well as ripe tomatoes and strawberries. Curiously, you can pick eight varieties of vegetable in the garden (counting strawberries as a vegetable), but they have nothing to do with solving the game. 

The player character's goal is not initially clear, but the game turns out to be a treasure hunt. Most players will probably find, before long, a handy list of the things we're supposed to collect. Finding the key that will get you into the house is more challenging, however. I feel this puzzle is borderline unfair, because it requires that you examine scenery objects three deep. Without giving spoilers, you have to 'x abc', then when you notice a mention of def in the description of abc, 'x def', and finally 'x ghi' based on an object mentioned in the description of def. This is borderline unfair because many of the scenery objects mentioned in the room descriptions can't be examined at all. By the time the location of the key is reached, the average player may have wearied of examining things and gotten lazy. 

But if you're not lazy -- if you meticulously examine everything in sight, as you need to in order to get on -- you'll most likely get annoyed by how thin the model world is. I certainly did. 

Once you're inside the house, the scenery is a bit more varied. I found one way to get killed (without notice), and there's one extremely boring character I could attempt to talk to. This character wanders from room to room under the control of a random number generator, but does not respond in any way when you ask him questions to which he might be supposed to know the answers. I did find two topics he'd give brief, uninformative replies to. 

The author's enthusiasm for Victorian furniture quickly begins to seem obsessive. Various pieces are described in ways that include their precise measurements and the methods used to produce those beautiful wood finishes. Consider, for example, this description of the bathtub: "An amazing display of Victorian decorating taken to the ultimate limit, the cast iron bath tub has been painted a sea foam green on the outside with a scene of four sea fairies riding sailfish on large rolling waves. The inside of the tub has been painted white. Four gold plated claw feet support the tub." You can't sit in the tub, and you can't examine the sea fairies, the sailfish, or the claw feet. Ah, well -- it's certainly pretty. 

The writing of room descriptions appears to have been done at different times, or at least with insufficient thought as to how various descriptions relate to one another. In the upstairs hall we're told that the master bedroom, to the south, "dominates most of the upstairs." But when we enter the master bedroom we're told this: "Although called the master bedroom this room is no larger than the other small bedrooms. It is cramped, yet cozy." So much for dominating the upstairs. In a similar gaffe, a character (who never appears onstage and has nothing to do with the process of winning the game) is referred to in one document as Jacob, and in a different document as Jonathan. 

There are numerous minor bugs in the printouts. At one spot a sentence breaks off in the middle. At another a room exit is not mentioned in the "can't go" message, which usually lists all of the available exits. At a third spot, the NPC (okay, he's the butler) entered and said something that seemed urgent, but when I tried to ask him about it, the game reported, "The butler is not here." Things that don't exist if you try to examine them can occasionally be used, for example by putting other things inside them. 

The most significant bugs seem to be caused by the author's assumption that the player would perform certain actions in a given order. For instance, there's a locked box, to which you'll sooner or later find the key, in a certain location. When I unlocked it while going through the game on my own, it was empty. Or at least, no contents appeared; the verb 'search' is not implemented, so I couldn't search the box, only examine it. When I reached the same box using the walkthrough, I had just performed an action that caused a brief cut-scene -- and NOW the box had some objects in it. 

Even the walkthrough is buggy. The first time a certain map is mentioned is when you're told to drop it. Apparently the butler is supposed to give it to you ... but there's a bug in the software that somehow prevented him from doing so. And without the map, you can't win the game. 

The dramatic setup for the treasure hunt is contained in a Last Will & Testament, which you'll probably find before too long. This document contradicts itself with respect to the structure of the family that lives (or lived) in the house, and it contains, as far as I could see, no information that you actually need in order to win the game, until you reach the final codicil. All that legal boilerplate is numbingly irrelevant. Later there's a long and fairly sensible description of alchemy -- but again, it seems to be irrelevant to winning the game. 

At a couple of spots, the author seems to have been unable to figure out how to move the player back to the house from a remote location, so he simply puts the player character to sleep and has him or her wake up again in the master bedroom. No explanation of these transitions is ever offered. 

The final phase of the game involves negotiating a very large maze. Fortunately, the automatic map generator in Adrift makes short work of what would otherwise be an extremely tedious process. When you reach the center of the maze and perform the actions you've been instructed (in a certain document) to perform, the final result is simply, "You win!!!" That's it -- no marching band, no sun bursting through the clouds, no hearty congratulatory handshake from the Vice President of Adventure Gaming Virtuosity. It's a letdown, but rather in keeping with the game as a whole, I'd have to say. 

Arnett is capable of moments of startling vision, and he clearly wants to engage readers by using evocative materials. (Those drops of blood are far from the only glimpses of savagery in Provenance.) In his next game I hope he'll trim the number of rooms in half, implement more verbs and scenery, invent more puzzles that aren't simply keys and locked doors, integrate the story elements a lot more firmly into the game scenario, give us a few NPCs with meat on their bones, and arm-twist a few beta-testers to put the screws to his code. 

That's all it would take, really.


Reviewed by Hombre

Very promising.

First of all, I want to say that this game so far has some of the best writing of any IF game Iíve seen. If it werenít for the rather cheesy "with the night come things that go bump" comment at the end of the intro, I would say it was the best writing Iíve seen in an IF so far, on par with the excellent game Anchorhead, (sorry guys, itís not an Adrift game). Adding to the effect is the fact that the author has removed objects from room descriptions. When they are listed seperately, itís too easy to ignore the room descriptions altogether, and often they donít have much to do with winning the game. By forcing the player to read the room descriptions carefully, the image the writer is trying to convey is a lot more effective and really highlights Coreyís talent for description. Also adding to this effect is the same names given to rooms "On a brick walkway". Instead of just looking at the room name, I need to look around the room description until Iíve walked through it enough times to be familiar with it by the mental map in my head. 

The reason I say it has excellent writing íso farí is because I havenít gotten very far into the game. Until I read Davidís review below I had no idea there was a welcome mat I could look under. As much as I agree with Coreyís decision to not list the items seperately, it does mean he needs to be very thorough in ensuring that the items actually do appear in the room descriptions. Additionally I find myself agreeing with Davidís other criticisms below as far as Iíve played the game. When I did go look under the mat and get the list, I didnít feel that as a character I had any reason to actually go gather the items. In real life in that situation I would probably look at the list quizzically for a few seconds and then stuff it into my pocket to be thrown away at the next opportunity. A torn page from a diary with something like "wants to bless all of the items in the house, with which we might drive away the demons. Although these items still seem completely ordinary to me, he insists that they are in fact minor holy relics..." accompanying the list might be a bit cliched, but itís better than nothing at all. And the fact that itís possible for the player to map out a 100 room maze only to find nothing in itís final room... well, that just isnít right. As hard as it might be considering the amount of work the author obviously must have put into it, a new, smaller maze of about 8 rooms should be used instead, or the maze should be scrapped entirely. Mapping out the first maze I encountered in an IF game, (The Collosal Cave), was kind of fun. The 8th one wasnít, and the idea of doing one today thatís 5 times bigger than any Iíve ever done in the past has no appeal whatsoever. I know that nobody who has put that kind of work into something like that is going to want to throw it away, but I hope Corey will really consider whether or not having it in there is a benefit or detriment to the game, and if he decides it is a detriment that he will remove it, as hard as that would be. I hope he gives similar consideration to the inventory limit. 

Iíve decided not to continue playing this game yet, because I donít want my experience of it to be spoiled by a few problems like those, when I think that the game very well could become the best IF game out there with just a little bit of work from the author to fix them. I will also hold out on giving it a rating for now, in the hopes that I could give it a much higher one later. I look forward to the re-release of this and/or future games from this author.


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