To celebrate the re-release of Anchorhead, we might well play it at an upcoming IF Meetup here in Oakland.
So I started replaying it a bit, and then I remembered why I was unable to play Anchorhead, like, at all, because I could never figure out what my objective was (or was supposed to be).
Consider the very first puzzle of the game.
[spoiler]The first puzzle asks you to get the house keys, which requires you to break into the real estate agent’s office. The puzzle is pretty tricky; your only indication that it is a puzzle is the fact that there’s an out-of-reach window in the alleyway behind the office, which, by adventure game logic, implies that you can (and should) try to open it. (In the new edition, at least the trash cans are already underneath the ladder.)
But if you don’t visit the alley, (and there’s no particular reason to try that first,) you’ll find the entire town of Anchorhead, dozens of rooms filled with stuff to examine. Unfortunately, at this point, it’s basically all a red herring. You can’t solve any puzzles in town yet; you can’t do anything of importance until you enter the house, which requires breaking into the agent’s office.
If you keep exploring town, eventually you’ll find Michael, who will remind you to get the keys, but he says “Well, I’m sure the real estate agent just stepped out for a bit. You can get the keys from her when she gets back.” This sounds like a hint to just keep waiting (which doesn’t work, and the game will AFAIK never say “you’ve waited long enough; it’s time to do something desperate”) or perhaps it’s a hint to keep wandering around town looking for the real estate agent, which won’t help either.
Once you’ve explored 20+ rooms and examined their contents, most of which are not-yet-solvable puzzles, even when you do encounter the ladder in the alleyway, it stops looking like an inviting adventure game puzzle, but instead looks like yet another not-yet-solvable puzzle.[/spoiler]
And it’s not just the first puzzle… the whole game is like this. The huge environment constantly forces me to ask, “What am I supposed to solve here? Is this a puzzle I can solve yet? Is this even a puzzle?” You can spend hours just exploring Anchorhead while making no progress against any of the story goals.
I’ve played quite a few parser games over the years, but I felt like had to just give up on Anchorhead and do the whole game by the walkthrough; at no point did I feel like I ever “got the hang of it” so I could solve even one puzzle on my own. Some of the puzzles felt fair enough (though not all), but to solve them myself, I’d have to know/believe that they were solvable puzzles, which I essentially never did.
Are there any hints available for Anchorhead beyond the walkthroughs I see on IFDB? I think a Q&A invisiclues-style hint system would be just the thing.
EDIT (Feb 2019): I made them myself. ifarchive.org/if-archive/soluti … iclues.zip