Aayela by Magnus Olsson (1996)

The Little Ugly, Evil Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

Well, damn. I was trying to forever extinguish the light and silence the music, but that really ended up backfiring on me. I guess violence really isn’t always the answer.

The Little Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

The protagonist is the best sort of hero. He’s someone who selflessly and without regret risks his life for those he serves, most notably his queen, yet receives no credit when he succeeds against all manner of hardship. I like to think my life is lived in a similar sort of way even though I’m terrified of caves and tunnels. If I’m ever needed to cavort with corgis, feast with foreign dignitaries, or give Harry a good spanking, I’m forever at the ready, my queen. Just don’t send me to war or make me go anywhere dark and/or slimy.

My Verdict:

Despite its shortness, Aayela offers a compelling study of darkness, a memorable game world, and a surprisingly emotional story.

Game Information

Game Type: TADS

Author Info: Magnus Olsson is a Swedish text adventure author who was a major force in the IF community in the 1990s. He is a former editor of SPAG. You can visit his homepage — in fact, I really think you should. When is the last time someone wanted to share their public PGP key with you? You need this experience, dammit! He also has an IF page which probably hasn’t been updated since 2004. To be fair, I probably haven’t been updated since 2004 either.

Download Link: http://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/aayela.gam

Other Games By This Author: Uncle Zebulon’s Will, Atomia Akorny, The Dungeons of Dunjin, Zugzwang

Magnus Olsson’s name may not come up too often in IF circles any more, but Magnus stills looms large in my mind when I think about the history of our hobby. He was a major presence in the IF newsgroups during the 1990s and early 2000s, and I regard him as one of the best thinkers and theorists we’ve ever had. It’s tough to compare him to someone like Andrew Plotkin or Graham Nelson because Magnus only did a few games and perhaps never quite delivered us the magnum opus (magnus opus?) we may have expected. Nonetheless, I truly believe he influenced, encouraged, and challenged many of the best interactive fiction writers ever. We needed a really smart dude who could code and believed text adventures were serious business and truly worth thinking about, not to mention someone who didn’t mind spending time unselfishly mentoring others (or just telling them they were wrong). I personally still feel like he’s going to come back to this hobby any year now, put out some new games, and thoroughly kick all of our asses, but until that happens we should still remember him and everything he did for us. Thanks, Magnus. Thagnus.

Aayela firmly thrusts you into the role of a young knight who serves King Dargon. Queen Dahra, Darg’s favorite lawfully wedded squeeze, is dreadfully sick from some mysterious illness. Out of desperation, the king sends you out on a mission to retrieve a magical item, the Stone of Aayela, that might offer the only possible cure for the queen’s condition. Granted, it also might not really exist, but what sort of adventure would that turn out to be? Your quest lead you to the tunnels beneath the Dark Mountains, which are dark, twisty, narrow, and generally unpleasant. Supposedly, the Stone and the evil wizard who captured a spirit of light inside it are somewhere to be found here, but where?

One of the most interesting aspects of this game is that it takes place mostly in the dark. In other text adventures, darkness is often a problem to be combatted with effective lantern or other light source management or something to be removed by solving a puzzle (find the hidden light switch, learn the illuminating spell). In Aayela, darkness is something inherent to your environment. It can’t be beaten back — you must live with it, cope with it somehow. The darkness affects every aspect of gameplay. You must play by its rules for you are not the master of your domain here. The tunnels are rather large and expansive, but every room feels much the same due to the blackness. They can feel claustrophobic and confusing at times even when Olsson hasn’t stuck us in a maze. There are useful items to find, but you might stumble over them or find them only on a second pass over the same area because it’s just so hard to see anything. Luckily, there are no grues waiting to eat you in the shadows here, but the tunnels don’t feel exactly safe either. The general feeling is one of uneasiness. It’s a primal human thing. We’re afraid of the dark until we’re shamed not to be, and even then unexpected darkness is still alarming. We’ve also been trained by horror movies and other video games that darkness equals danger. Grues, vampires, werewolves, and all the myriad creatures of the night know just when to strike when we’re at our most vulnerable, and I haven’t even mentioned ravers yet. I think part of the reason it took me a long time to find one of the endings to this game is because I wanted to move through the tunnels as quickly as possible to shake the uneasy feeling. That caused me to miss an important item. Of course, it’s also easy to forget to look around when every room is dark, barely described, and looks much the same as any other.

Aayela is a simple, straightforward game to play through. Its puzzles, such that they are, typically only have a couple of reasonable possible solutions and only one of those will make sense in the context of your goal. This isn’t the type of game you’ll likely get stuck playing though one ending is marginally more difficult to reach as I alluded to earlier. You will need to spend some time navigating the tunnels and occasionally double back to trigger the appearance of an item or event. Even there, you’re not really solving a puzzle in a traditional sense…you’re just exploring, just wandering around really. I did feel like there could be more to actually DO in the tunnels. Adventurey type things, you know. Shouldn’t I be dodging falling stalactites, riding stalagmites, dangling from ropes, swinging on ropes, and bashing on dwarves who steal instead of largely just futzing around in the dark? The game does feel a little spare. I think it comes down largely to Magnus’ choice to enshroud most of the game in darkness. That would make doing any of those things I mentioned difficult. Plus, there’s the whole effect where every room in the tunnels feels similar to all the other rooms…you’d lose that vibe if there were more things to interact with. Magnus did it all for the vibes, and I can respect that.

Magnus Olsson is a very good writer and coder, and this is a well-implemented game. This is more than just a dungeon crawler. One important aspect of the plot is that you can communicate with the spirit of light not through language but through music and feeling. This could have turned out rather corny, but Magnus did a terrific job of making it resonate emotionally. Somehow in the midst of all that groping around in the darkness I began caring about and wanting to help the captured spirit; I felt bad when I failed my quest or when I got the ending I regard as less optimal because it didn’t help Aayela. I noticed no bugs, and the parser is solid. I did wish I could communicate more with the evil wizard — I was curious about what his goals were and why he had opted to live in the tunnels with his captured spirit. Were he and his magic behind the queen’s illness? How did he hope to use the spirit’s powers? Was he just another Gollum obsessed with trying to hold on to and in some sick way “protect” his precious? Unfortunately, he proved to be the generally noncommunicative sort of evil wizard and my attempts at conversation largely failed.

Some of the best writing in the game is saved for the endings. There are two paths to victory and both are worth playing. It would be a simplification to call one the good ending and the other the bad ending, but one made me feel a heck of a lot better about myself as it seemed designed to do. On the other hand, the less optimal ending gives you a chance at turning the tables on the wizard which was a nice feeling. One ending could be criticized for assuming too much and denying the possibility of you taking a less extreme, middle path. I personally didn’t mind it because it highlighted a future I regarded as possible albeit one I certainly wouldn’t have chosen for my character. Still, the path it shows my character walking is one many others in history have walked. If nothing else, it demonstrates a realistic danger that always exists when unlimited power is at one person’s fingertips.

Simple Rating: 7/10

Complicated Rating

Story: 7/10

Writing: 7/10

Playability: 7/10

Puzzle Quality: 3/10

Parser Responsiveness: 7/10

Special Ratings For This Game:

Tenebrosity: 9/10 (One point had to be docked because the game starts out in a well-lit area plus the spirit of light is rather bright. Nonetheless, Brother Darkness gives it two bony thumbs up.)

Coming Out of the Closet by Mikko Vuorinen (1998)

The Little Ugly, Evil Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

So you play a guy who wears black leather jackets and nothing else, likes to hang out in cramped quarters with little, hairy dudes, and is ready to finally come out of the closet. No one understands the LGBTQIA+ community less than I do, but even I have a pretty good idea of what is actually going on here.

The Little Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

I wish I had a friend like Fip. Those lonely nights in the closet seem to drift on and on.

My Verdict:

This game is definitive proof one room adventures don’t have to suck.

Game Information

Game Type: Alan

Author Info: Mikko Vuorinen paved a truly unique path for himself in our hobby: he was the first Finn I know of to enter the IF Competition and contribute to the IF Archive and he is also among the relatively few developers who have created games using the Alan IF programming language. He may have never put out a perfect game, but I always enjoy Mikko’s work. His games are interesting, unique, funny, and often surreal. They stand alone and they stand out. We need him back and writing games again!

Download Link: http://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/alan/closet.zip

Other Games By This Author: King Arthur’s Night Out, Leaves, The Adventures of the President of the United States, CC, and more!

It’s funny how life works out sometimes. I never expected to end up reviewing — or playing — not one but two different one room text adventures in 2021. After all, they tend to not be my favorite type of interactive fiction which is something I’ve made very clear over the years. The journey that brought me to these dire straits began with me promising to write a review every month for RFTK this year…the hubris of middle age struck once again. Some men buy sports cars and begin inappropriate relationships; me, I make extravagant promises about how many IF reviews I’m going to write over a given time frame. Fast forward to June 29th: we’re less than 48 hours away from July 1st and I still have absolutely nothing to show for the month. I’ve successfully managed to spend more time worrying about what game I was going to review than actually playing IF. I could’ve worked my way through my Spring Thing backlog, but I didn’t. Plundered Hearts remained sadly unplundered. There are a couple of games from the last couple of comps I still want to review one day, but I had trouble mustering up the motivation to return to them. And so the clock ticked on and the days crept by.

On June 29th, I knew I had to do something. Giving up was clearly not an option. No children or impoverished, elderly ladies were going to be left uncontrollably weeping on my watch. There are few true heroes left in this world of ours, but I am one of them dammit and I had to act accordingly. With the limited time at my disposal, I knew I had to pick a relatively short game. “A one room joke game would probably do it,” I said to myself as a sickening feeling arose in my stomach. Had things truly come to this…again? I had even joked with Robb about reviewing another one room joke game this month because I was so incredibly sure I wasn’t going to actually be doing that. The more I thought about the situation the more my soul rebelled at the notion of reviewing another Amishville equivalent, and I felt myself coming to another mental impasse. Then inspiration struck: what if instead of reviewing a one room joke game I reviewed a one room NON-JOKE game? A one room non-joke game! I cackled with delight, I rubbed my hands together, my eyes grew glinty…and I got to work. It was, after all, about damn time.

Despite the title, Coming Out of the Closet isn’t actually a game about telling your closest friends and family, including and especially bigoted, murderous Uncle Randy, about your true sexual orientation. Instead, it’s actually about physically getting out of a closet that you’ve mysteriously become trapped inside. This is a small, one room escape game that can be finished in about ten minutes. It actually took me a bit longer than that because I first tried to play the game in 1999, gave up, interviewed Mikko Vuorinen for RFTK later in 1999 and got an excellent tip on how to finish the game directly from him, and then in 2021 finally got around to actually playing it again and won it in ten minutes. So, yeah, it’ll either take you ten minutes or twenty two years and ten minutes to finish. I will say it seemed pretty easy to me on the replay so I’m not sure what exactly was going on with me back in ’99 beyond I STUPID.

COotC is short, but it’s fun and satisfying. It might only last ten minutes, but it’s a good ten minutes. Since yesterday, I’ve been trying to put my finger on just what makes Mikko’s closet game so much more compelling than every single one room joke game I’ve ever played. I think its main advantage is that it is first and foremost a game. It knows it is a game, it wants to be a game, it is a game. It’s IF in miniature, but it is indisputably a text adventure that is clearly related to other text adventures we’ve played before. You have an objective, a really small game world to explore, objects to examine and manipulate, a puzzle to solve, and an NPC to befriend. It’s not completely unlike a mini and entirely closet-themed version of Zork when you really stop and think about it. The one room joke games on the other hand tend to be much more jokes than they are games. The descriptions are there not so much to create atmosphere or tell a story but to set up the punchline. They often lack basic elements you expect to see in text adventures such as functional parsers and objects. They aren’t just smaller, less detailed games — they’re barely games at all. Me, I like games.

Mikko Vuorinen games tend to be funny and surreal, and CLOSET.ACD does not disappoint. The humor here mostly comes courtesy of a garrulous closet gnome named Fip whose sudden appearance is also fairly surreal. There are also some funny and rather biting responses when you try to do things that aren’t going to be helpful. Just because I want to sit on a chest from time to time doesn’t mean I don’t have a life. Just because I want to get romantic with some shelving doesn’t make me a pervert. I’m a lonely dude trapped in a closet…a little shelf flirting was a perfectly rational response to my predicament and environment. And let’s be honest here, that shelving looked fantastic leaning up against that wall. The most surreal aspect of the game has to be the door. It goes without saying that if you’re trapped within a closet the closet door must have been locked or be barred in some way, right? That’s not the case in Coming Out of the Closet. The door looks as well-built as the next one, but it isn’t locked or barred. It’s just closed…you can open the door! That blew my mind when I found that out, but it’s not a bug or unintended behavior. If you try to actually exit the closet, you’re told, “You try to leave, but something stops you. You are not ready to come out of the closet yet.” It’s surreal, but it’s kind of annoying too. You thought you just had a door to open, but it turns you actually have to be ready and want to come out of the closet. Doors of wood and metal are one thing, but the doors that close off our minds are far more vexing to open. I suppose being told you can’t go through an open door is not really worse than suddenly encountering a force field, invisible magic barrier, or a more mundane type of exit blocker. I understand IF authors can’t necessarily implement a room in every direction. Sometimes you’ve got to block stuff off, particularly when you’re doing a one room game like Mikko here. Still, I always wonder what’s going on on the side of the barrier. I can’t help but try to climb over every fence and wall I come across. If that doesn’t work, I’ll even try tearing them apart with my bare hands and say, “No disassemble” in my best Deflated Johnny Five voice when I inevitably fail.

I always worry my rating scale fails when it comes to short games because of the way I compare all IF to all other IF regardless of a work’s length. For a one room game, Coming Out of the Closet probably deserves 1000 out of 10. The competition is just that bad, plus it is a fun, worthwhile, and memorable game in its own right. It just can’t give you hours of entertainment the way some other IF can. That’s OK — you can still totally enjoy Mikko’s writing and unique approach in a bitesized piece like this one. The few minutes I spent getting to know Fip were totally well spent. He’s a great NPC who is lots of fun to interact with. The parser is probably the game’s greatest weakness, but it seems to be limited by design. If you can look at or interact with something, it’s likely you’ll need to do something with it…everything else is extraneous and can be ignored. I didn’t find myself needing to guess verbs or constantly reword commands so there are definitely worse parsers out there. There’s only one real puzzle in the game which is fairly straightforward, but I enjoyed figuring out how to solve it (well, certainly more than Fip did anyway!). So what if it’s a little too short for true greatness? It’s just the right size for a few minutes of fun. (That line ended up sounding a lot dirtier written down than it did in my head.)

Simple Rating: 6/10

Complicated Rating: 29/50

Story: 5/10

Writing: 6/10

Playability: 7/10

Puzzle Quality: 6/10

Parser Responsiveness: 5/10