A Crimson Spring

A Crimson Spring by Robb Sherwin

A Hugo game.

A Crimson Spring was entered in the IFComp 2000 where it came 23rd out of 53 entries, hardly an impressive showing for what is otherwise a reasonably decent superhero caper. I’m guessing the adult tone put some people off, or maybe the judges of the IFComp in 2000 just weren’t fond of the superhero genre.

You’re the star of the piece, the superhero known as Holy Defender, boyfriend of Red Cloud who, as the game begins, has been brutally murdered by persons unknown. Being a superhero, you’re not the type to sit back and let the police catch her killers, so off you go to find them.

A Crimson Spring is a very linear game. Normally I’m not too fond of linear games as I don’t like being forced along a set path and not being able to choose where I go and what I do, but here the linearity is handled much better than usual. I was a good halfway through the game before I realised how linear it was; a positive thing. Most of the actions I took seemed perfectly reasonable at the time so there was seldom a feeling that I was being forced to do things and didn’t have the freedom to take other actions if I decided to, and even when I became aware that that was precisely the case, it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the game. Saying that, I would have preferred a bit more freedom to roam around and pick and choose what I could do. After a particularly large fight in a nightclub with several supervillains, I was quite looking forward to being able to track them down and finish them off once and for all. Unfortunately, the game had other ideas and most of them I never laid eyes on again. A pity really, as the ones who never put in another appearance were the more interesting ones.

The game comes with sound and graphics. The sound I can’t speak of because I always play IF games with the volume off (sorry, it’s just plain distracting), the graphics were okay-ish in a comic book drawing kind of way. The drawings of the locations were quite cool, but the drawings of the superheroes and supervillains left a lot to be desired and often looked to be the kind of thing I might have drawn myself back in my nursery school days. Still, they weren’t that bad and at least gave me something to look at. They also, despite their amateurish appearance, gave the game a more professional feeling. Don’t ask me why amateurish drawings should make a game seem more professional, but they do.

As for the main character, the Holy Avenger, the main problem I had with him is that for a superhero he’s not very super. Or super at all. His co-superheroes have amazing powers that let them fly, make themselves invulnerable to harm and the like. The supervillains likewise have powers that set them aside from the average guy in the street [Some of the powers are kind of unusual and not really superhero/supervillain powers as such (the AIDS Archer just has a bow and some special arrows) but at least they’re a bit better than what our main character gets.] What does our hero, the main character of the piece, have?

A steel pipe.

Yep, that’s it. He can’t fly, he can’t leap over tall buildings with a single bound, he doesn’t have x-ray vision and cool webs don’t shoot from his wrists at will. He doesn’t even have any cool gadgets like Batman. He is, basically, just a guy in a silly outfit who carries around a steel pipe and hits people with it. Not very super at all. In fact, the Holy Avenger doesn’t really act like a superhero for most of the time. Early in the game, I had to get access to a nightclub where several supervillains were hanging out. Despite trying several different ways, the only thing I could thing to do that worked was to beat the bouncer on the door unconscious (thus making use of the steel pipe which, after all, isn’t entirely useless). I’m sure Captain America never acted like this.

At times, the game seems to go into auto-pilot mode with huge swathes of text scrolling past while the player takes no action. When trying to get into the apartment of one of the supervillains, I got captured. There followed a lengthy sequence of events with the supervillains debating what they were going to do with me, interrupted by the timely arrival of one of my superhero accomplices who promptly beat the living daylights out of them and rescued me… all without me doing anything except occasionally tapping a key to move on to the next block of text. While having the action taken out of my hands saved me figuring out what to do, I’d have preferred the option to at least try and escape on my own. Taking the interactive side out of interactive fiction kind of defeats the point. Perhaps the game was written to a tight deadline, which would explain huge blocks of easy-to-write-and-program text filling the screen instead of a more interactive piece.

Content-wise, A Crimson Spring is more adult than most superhero games I’ve played. Which is to say that while the superheroes and villains all have silly names and wear silly outfits, they’re a little more down to earth and believable than the likes of Superman and the Hulk. I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing, though. Part of me likes the idea of superheroes being larger than life. When they’re shown to be the same as you or me, they don’t seem half as interesting. But while the game itself might be more adult in content than your average superhero yarn, it’s no more realistic or plausible. One of the strangest parts was when I found several supervillains calmly hanging out in a nightclub.

Supervillains? Hanging out? In a nightclub?

These are people generally involved in schemes that could leave hundreds of thousands of people dead and dying, who are wanted by every law enforcement agency there is, who are often plotting to blow the world up for one reason or another, and yet here they are hanging around in a nightclub as if they haven’t got a care in the world. Even more strange is the fact that no one else in the nightclub seems at all concerned over this – and the supervillains, let’s face it, don’t exactly blend into a crowd. One of them is called the AIDS Archer and carries around a bow and arrows loaded with life-threatening diseases, yet none of the partygoers in the nightclub were bothered by this. Perhaps even stranger still, when the big fight in the nightclub ensues, with superhero and –villain powers being thrown all over the place and people being knocked unconscious at a rapid rate, none of the passersby even bother fleeing the club.

I finished the game with a little help from an online forum (the snot cage puzzle* really had me flummoxed) but failed to reach a decent ending. After checking the walkthrough, I discovered one of the commands required to reach a decent ending is SEARCH ROOM. Hardly the most intuitive command in the world of IF gaming and one I’m not surprised I didn’t figure out for myself. Still, it’s possible to get to an ending without use of the SEARCH ROOM command so I’m complaining too loudly about it.

  • Yes, a snot cage puzzle. Created by a supervillain called Mucous Man. I kid you not.

Overall, I like A Crimson Spring. It had its fair share of flaws, and there were enough things I could point out about it that needed fixing and/or improving, but it had a certain charm that appealed to me. While not a perfect game by any means, it certainly deserved to fare better then 23rd in the IFComp 2000.

6 out of 10

I can’t speak for anyone else, and I didn’t even vote in that comp because I’d entered myself. But I did have a bunch of trouble with the mechanical design of the game: the SEARCH ROOM thing you mentioned got me stuck for quite a while, and I was annoyed when I found out that that was what I was supposed to do next, because it was underhinted. I also found the handling of combat confusing and irritating. Puzzles weren’t clued very well, there were points where the game felt buggy, the text output sometimes didn’t give me a clear understanding of what was happening, and so on. I found it hard to appreciate the content of the game because the play experience was so rocky.

If other people felt the same way, that might explain it. I do like Robb’s writing, but I think the IF mechanics are stronger in his later work, and strongest of all where he’s collaborated with another programmer.

I also was playing on a system that didn’t display the sound or graphics, so I had only the text to work with. Possibly the images would have helped to some degree.

I don’t know why but I remember I found the whole steel pipe thing hilarious. The whole thing had an atmosphere of ‘Don’t think about it too much’ which I liked. The Search Room did not get me stuck but that was only because I am used to typing that specifically when I get stuck… I don’t remember exactly what taught me that but, pretty sure it was a commonly (but wrongly of course) used thing 8-10 years ago in IF.

Also remember a bunch of times when characters would speak to me as if I was supposed to know some things which clearly had never happened to me in the game.

In the end I agree that it’s a fine game that entertains and deserves to be played, if you can get past the awkwardness, especially if you don’t need a lot of meaning form a game but just a well-done dark atmoshpere and grittyness.

I don’t know about it deserving to be placed any higher in the 2000 Comp though, that comp was filled with a BUNCH of excellent games, so it was tough competition, and this game stumbled in enough places that there was no way it was going to be up there in the top spots.

I never actually played the rest of the IFComp 2000 entries - I didn’t get back into the IF scene until 2001 and it was 2002 before I was really aware of anything like the IFComp - but I felt the game deserved better than 23rd, which isn’t a very good placing for what was otherwise a pretty decent game. Then again, maybe there’s something about the number 23 and superhero games. My superhero entry from 2004 came 23rd.


I don’t know if the images really helped. They were pretty bad images, after all, but at the same time they seemed to fit in with the game. I can’t really explain it any better. Maybe they reminded me of all the superhero comics I used to read as a kid in which a good deal of the illustrations looked like they’d been done by a kid. Seeing amateurish pictures in the game made me think “ah, it’s like that old Spider Man comic I used to read years ago” so perhaps I ended up liking the game more than I would have because of nostalgia clouding my better judgement.

Possibly, but these rankings don’t really mean the same thing every year. That comp had the most entries we’ve ever gotten. I also really liked Rameses (13th) and Dinner With Andre (18th), and I’d say most of the first thirty entries were at least competent.

Hey, thanks everyone, for chatting about ACS. It’s much appreciated and as an author the thing I dig most.

I’ve been re-doing the pictures for that game the last couple of months and hope to put a new version on the archive before too long. When I originally made the game I didn’t know anything about getting drawings into a computer and looking nice. I had a scanner, and I was okay with Photoshop, but it really helps to have six years of tutorials on the net telling you how to get your pencils in usable shape, how to get colors inside those lines, how to do shading. I was coloring the images before scanning and I know now that doing so creates a mess. The new art isn’t comic book worthy, but it should at least stop people from trying to gouge their eyes out with the up arrow key (the pointiest of the cursor manipulators).

(The process would go faster, except it’s tough to get the motivation to fix the old games when one can work on the new games, which I would guess is a common feeling.)

I’m also going to take the oppotunity to fix that >search room debacle. I don’t know what I was thinking. That’s like the fundamental thing to avoid in IF, except for >use key. To replace that >search, well, I’ve heard some great things about insta-room deaths and I really think that will be a huge improvement. (Kidding.)

I certainly like the new graphic compared to the old one (although I should probably point out that either are far better than anything I could do myself).

Here is one such tutorial for getting pencil art into a PC and cleaned up:

steeldolphin-forums.com/html … part1.html

Of course, if your pencil art is as bad as mine it’s probably better off not put in a game. :frowning: