A new Infocom release always gets top billing in this column, even if something as momentous as Silicon Dreams comes out in the same month (see later). Moonmist carries on the Infocom tradition of whodunnit mysteries that include such gems as The Witness and Suspect. Is the ol' Infocom magic still there?
Yes, fellow Magicians, 'tis still there. And in this case, I'm better qualified than most to judge, for not only have I dallied awhile with many an adventure, but my Cavern is also located in Cornwall, where the action of Moonmist takes place. There was therefore a special interest for me, the Bearded One, in reviewing this game - and I was not disappointed.
Moonmist is set in Tresyllian Castle, which could be based on St Michael's Mount near Penzance were it not for the fact that Infocom state quite clearly that the nearest conurbation is Frobzance. I don't actually know Frobzance myself, but reckon it can't be far from St Belboz.
You have been summoned from Yankee-land by your friend Tamara - a typical stereotypical American soap-opera beauty who, after college, got a job as secretary to Lord Jack Tresyllian. Within seconds of her arrival they were engaged to be married, but since then things have been somewhat spoiled by the appearance of the White Lady, a ghost who bears a distressing resemblance to Jack's former girlfriend.
Once you find out that Jack's ex-lover disappeared without trace (presumed drowned down a well) you immediately suspect the obvious. Your task is to find out what's really going on and set young Tammy's mind at rest.
Moonmist, despite its title, has nothing whatsoever to do with Cornish mysticism, Lyonnesse, King Arthur, or anything like that. Nor is it in line with Infocom's other fantasy titles like Wishbringer, Zork or Sorcerer. Instead it presents itself as a clear-cut whodunnit and reminded me particularly of Suspect.
The main feature of both these games is the interaction with the other characters. In fact, chatting to them, following them about, listening to them, eating with them, and even flirting with them is essential to success. The sort of character interaction we're talking about here is way more advanced than what we see in English games, with the possible exception of the much-bugged Sherlock from Melbourne House.
On the other hand, Moonmist isn't as clever as Supect in the way it handles its characters. First, there aren't as many - about seven significant ones with fewer supporting roles than in the earlier title. Secondly, they don't have as much to say. They all seem very fond of statements like "I have no secrets - anyone can see what I am" or "It's not really my place to say" etc. This contrasts strongly with Suspect where some of the characters are most verbose.
Finally, there doesn't seem to be quite the same range of possible conversation as there was in Suspect. However, I didn't have the game booklet with the copy I received from Zzap! so I may have missed out here - but for the most part the only really useful interaction was the "Tell Me About..." structure, whereas in Suspect you can get along fine with things like "Who is..." and "Where is..." as well.
On the other hand, the map of the game in Moonmist is a satisfying blend of detail and size. There aren't more than about 40 locations (though I haven't visited them all yet) but each one is beautifully described. It's nice to come back to a game in the real world for once - after a while I get a bit tired of the Zorks and Middle Earths, and I yearn for a good ol' fashioned sitting room, complete with fireplace and comfy chair. You can certainly get that here, and if you want you can spend the whole game in your bedroom (advisable to begin with, by the way).
The nice thing about this game is that the combination of interaction and map size/detail means that you can really do some adventuring - by which I mean wandering about and exploring - without constantly having to wrestle with tricky puzzles. Like Suspect, the puzzles in Moonmist are better solved by questioning and keeping your eyes and ears open - rather than, as in many English adventures, endlessly typing variants of "Put plastic card into slot in red door" and getting "I don't understand" for your pains.
Of course, "I don't understand" is one thing you will never get from an Infocom game. At the worst, it will tell you which word it can't understand, and usually it will explain why it couldn't accept your input - for example, if there are too many nouns in it. You might think this is very clever, but in fact it's easy to do and the reason UK companies don't bother is that for the most part they are criminally lazy when it comes to programming adventures.
And that's why Silicon Dreams comes second this month, and Moonmist comes first. Pricey it may be, but it deserves to join the other Infocom titles in your collection. And, whatever UK companies may say about the importance of graphics, provided you can read, I wager that you'll never - after finishing an Infocom game - say "But it would be so much better with pictures!" If you do, then I reckon you've got as much imagination as a half-digested plate of porridge and shouldn't be adventuring anyway.