The Online Interactive Fiction Review Site
Game: Deephome - A Telleen Adventure: The Return (Part 1)
By: Joshua Wise
Deephome is intended to be the first chapter of a longer saga concerning the efforts of a clan of dwarves to reclaim their underground city - abandoned 300 years previously. As a Dwarven Reclaimer, the player has been instructed by the king to perform a number of straightforward tasks: explore the abandoned city to ensure that it is still intact; restore power and water to the city; and reopen the city gates. No problem.
After confronting a simple puzzle in the very first room, the player then proceeds to explore the lost city of Deephome. The player earns one point for each room explored, but the majority of the potential 301 points are earned by accomplishing the tasks outlined above, and for solving the relatively few puzzles. I was happy to note that points are not awarded for picking up items. This serves to distance Deephome somewhat from its dungeon crawling/treasure-hoarding roots. I was also happy to note that, although there is a maze that must be navigated at one point (an old standby of classic adventure games that can become tiresome), the author provides the solution - almost in plain view. The first time I played Deephome, years ago, I navigated it the hard way.
As the game progresses, and more of Deephome is explored, the player comes to understand why the dwarves abandoned the city in the first place (an invasion of spirits), and that preparing the city for resettlement will require the exorcism of the spirits; each of which requires a different ritual. Fortunately, the books that can be found while exploring the city describe what must be done rather explicitly. Doing so, however, will require the player to criss-cross the city several times to acquire the necessary ingredients (solving some minor puzzles along the way in order to obtain them). Additionally, the player must venture outside for a period to collect more items (saving a nearby village from a wild animal in the process - this is the only place where combat is possible, and it is done in a reasonable fashion). The game concludes once the last spirit is exorcised, and all of the assigned tasks are completed.
Overall, I found Deephome to be an enjoyable game, in much the same tradition of other classic dungeon adventures. The author's writing style, which is descriptive without being overly elaborate, allows the player to imagine his or her surroundings while playing, and instills enough atmosphere to convey a bit of a cultural feel to the game. One example will suffice, in this case examining some ovens in a bakery:
These ovens are built right into the rock of the cavern itself. Their gaping maws are empty and the iron doors that used to hang on their hinges were removed according to an old tradition whose origins have been long forgotten.
I also appreciated the author's use of humour, and a few in-jokes in particular - for example:
High marks are also given to the level of depth the author has given to the world. By exploring Deephome, and perusing the information sources available, the player can learn a great deal about the world's history and cosmology, and, as I mentioned earlier, gain a few important hints about how to finish the game. Thus, while Deephome obviously pays homage to such classic dungeon exploration games as "Adventure" and "Zork", its stronger storyline lets it stand on its own merit. Speaking of homage, a reference to the world of Zork was added into the setting's mythology, but the player will have to pay attention to his or her surroundings to find it!
The only quibbles (and they are very minor) I have with Deephome are technical - from both coding and stylistic perspectives. A good example of the coding issue is the following: in one location, the player can find a small treasure, hidden in a larger treasure horde, if a simple search is made. However, if the player simply tries to get the gold, here is what happens:
Which immediately tells the player what is there, even though the item may not have been "found" yet. By and large, such bugs could have been resolved with a little more playtesting; although I admit that I deliberately searched for bugs the game to find them.
Slightly more irritating, from a player perspective, is Deephome's stylistic shortfall. Before I go on, I should clarify. When I mention technical problems with a game that relate to style, what I am referring to is the "completeness" of the coding. That is, the game should respond to the most common story-related commands most players will type while playing, both diagnostic (e.g., provide a response when "health" or "diagnose" is entered) and narrative (e.g., allow the player to fully examine, and interact with, his or her surroundings if desired). I would add that a game can acknowledge these commands, and tell the player that they are not necessary in the game, and still meet this criterion.
As I mentioned earlier, Deephome contains a number of information sources, in the form of books, that can act as valuable aids to the player. However, by having access to these resources the player may, quite legitimately in my view, expect to be able to explore the game on yet another level. Thus, authors should expect that players will look up all manner of things in the hopes of finding another clue, or simply to enjoy the atmosphere of the game even more. Deephome lacks a number of encyclopedia entries that, given the level of detail available in room descriptions and the like, should exist. For example, looking up Malli, the name of the planet, reveals that there are three continents. The encyclopedia has a full entry on Telleen, but nothing on the other two. Likewise, numerous references to famous dwarves arise whenever items or scenery are examined, but none of these can be looked up. It is understandable that the author may have been unwilling to take the time to add such information, but providing such detail in descriptions, and not letting interested players read more, undercuts the richness of the setting in my view.
Another example is the fact that the player cannot drink water, even when it should logically be possible to do so (i.e., from a brook). However, these inconveniences are minor, and they do not interfere with one's enjoyment of the game.
All told, Deephome successfully conveys to the player the thrill of exploration, as well as the satisfaction of restoring the city. Where the game falls a little flat is at the end, when the player walks off into the sunset; this is merely the first chapter of an ongoing saga, and whether or not Deephome will ever be truly resettled will be determined later on. Thus, the player's job is not truly "done". Compounding this minor dissatisfaction is a note on the author's website that a sequel, "Eldantar", is in development. However, given that the most recent reference to the sequel is dated 1999, and there are no other references to it online that I can find, I doubt we will see it soon.