The 12:54 to Asgard: No, I meant the ACTUAL fertilizer

Next up we have The 12:54 to Asgard, a z-code game by J. Robinson Wheeler (another regular name in this here community).

12:54 to Asgard is a fun title.  It conveys a definite whimsy, a potential for menace, and yet it tells you nothing. Are Norse gods involved?  An alternate universe train journey? A long Galatea-style ask/tell conversation with someone named Yorgenborg Horgenshmorger?  Only one way to find out, as always!

But first, goddamned rss buffer text.  Here’s a quick IF reenactment of practically every large-scale war fought in Europe:

>invade Russia
***You have died***

Wasn’t that fun?  Let’s get on with the game.

Love the intro text.

what’s wrong with people? What’s wrong with these specific people?
This may well be the most common thought in the world.  It sure is in my top five.

You can see the corner of the closet (in which are a mop, a roof tile and a piece of tar paper), a gardening spade, a rubber sheet, shit, some rubber bands and a broom here.
This is like one of those Sesame Street “which one of these things does not belong?” puzzles.  Also, son of a bitch I hope this game doesn’t expect me to use all that.  Oh god, I think it does.  This is going to be the most epic “take all” in history.

> eat shit
That’s plainly inedible.
Yeah, that’s right, I went there looking for a funny response.  I’m not proud.

And now we have reached the hour known as HowthefuckdoIfixthisroofo’clock.  I hate this time of night.

> tape tile
What do you want to tape the roof tile to?
The ceiling!
You’d need a roll of tape in order to do that.
take the tape, then!  It’s right the fuck there next to me!
Putting things on the up above would achieve nothing.
You can’t affix the roof tile to the up above. It just won’t work.
Gralargleargle double bullshit failure message argle

Let’s try the.. I have nails here, where the hell is the hammer?  Oh fuck it, let’s go scour for everything that can be carried in every room the game will let me into, and then come back and tackle this.

I’ve become convinced that my character here is going to die.  Mainly because the title is what it is, and I’m climbing around catwalks and rigging amongst wet electrical equipment.  I tried to speed this up by just jumping, so I wouldn’t have to figure out which odd to put on which end, but it wouldn’t let me.  Damnation!

Went into the props room.  Tried to take the jug of fertilizer, except the disambiguation assumes I’m trying to take the pile of fake shit that I’m already holding.  Something wrong with that.  Something bad wrong.  Fine, going into another room and dropping the shit.  I’m not even sure I need the fertilizer, but goddamn it if the shit ends up being more useful than the fertilizer…

You can see shit here.
You’re goddamn right, game.

> x tag
In a flat leather sleeve with a plastic window, there’s a printed card, yellowed with age. Instead of a name and address, it reads: “You can’t take it with you,” only there’s a cigarette burn in the plastic blotching out the apostrophe-T.
Okay, that’s really clever.  There’s a lot of really funny, really clever text in this game, but it’s getting lost under an increasing pile of “What would you like to you can’t see that here with?”.

I think for the sake of my sanity, I’m going to refer to the walkthrough.  …Which is also confusing.  Example:
put sponge in corner
get sponge
put sponge in corner
Was this walkthrough procedurally generated somehow?  Seriously, this is weird.  It’s like an ELIZA log.

Okay, there we go.  The message you get from examining Death is awesome, as are many descriptions in this increasingly bewildering game.

> give death coins
You place the coins in Death’s open palm.
Well dang, good thing whoever buried me is an ancient Greek.  I would’ve been shithosed otherwise!

Hmm, except walkthrough said to give him socks.  Let’s go back and try that and hope it’s not another case of the walkthrough telling you to do something that doesn’t actually do anything.  Okay, actually, that’s a really funny message.  Let’s roll with that.

A person!  Perhaps she will tell me where to go in this area.

Following a sudden impulse, she licks one of the sides of the spike. “Ew! Oh! Hm!” she says rapidly. “Taste this,” she says.
Ah.  My new friend is one of Those People.

> taste spike
One side tastes like stone, another like metal, another like – sandalwood?
I’m not even going to ask how the hell my character can recognize the specific taste of sandalwood.

Playing through a lot of the game via walkthrough, and I’m seriously unsure how I’d figure out some of this stuff.  Like, to sing in the primal chaos.  I mean, it makes very clear sense from a mythological standpoint, but not exactly from an IF-action-standpoint… maybe I missed what would have been the clue.

Mount Olympus
Red rocks ribboned with gray and orange chalamite, bands of olive trees, white temples of marble, a blue sky, a green river. Ambrosia and nectar, wine and honey. Lazing and dancing and playing in the sunshine are a curvaceous company of vixens and nymphs, shrieking with the utter gaiety of youth at play.
A wild goose is running around loose here, trying to screw everything that moves.
Well, that’s probably what I’d be doing too.  IS that what I’m supposed to be doing?

> screw nymph
Those are fixed in place.
Ah, unintentional hilarity, how I love you.

While you’re standing there looking at him, Zeus takes the opportunity to ravish a few nymphs.
Zeus: clearest priorities in all the multiverse.

And we are done, with a very confusing final message.

Part Two: The Rundown

Many of the games I’ve played this comp have been well implemented but bland in concept or writing.  Asgard is basically the exact opposite of that.

The writing’s great; *really* great in a number of places.  But it’s just a crazy mess.  It feels like an alpha or beta release of a game; stuff’s mostly there, but it’s not all fit together proper-like, a lot of “how will the player approach this?” was either undone or ignored.  And the logical leaps on some of the puzzles?  Jeez… I don’t know.  It’s an odd duck.

It also very strongly felt like two games taped together, even down to the writing style and authorial voice, between the live bit and dead bit.  “Do stuff, try to fix the obvious problem, do stuff… now…. WANDER!  Look at stuff!  Look at it!”.

First bit (live) was definitely stronger, if only due to coherency and writing voice.  Mind you, there were still the implementation problems, and I was carrying around 23 friggin’ items at one point, only a handful of which I needed while alive and a handful while dead with no idea which of those were which beforehand.

Second bit reminded me of… well, let’s just say that if I *had* ever written about or read obscure mythology textbooks while very stoned (and of course I would do nothing of the sort, ever), my mental experience would look a bit like that.  Or reading mystic textbooks and then lucid dreaming, something like that. The themes and characters were interesting, but it was all a bit smooshed together and unclear rather than coming across as dreamlike or otherworldly.  While some of my colleagues do not mind lack of narrative/wander and try things, I personally prefer at least some narrative thread.

But the thing about that is… The Zeus exchange made me wonder.  That wasn’t in the walkthrough, I got that little easter egg by trying to kiss a nymph.  How much of the game did I just not see, because I flipped to the walkthrough due to badly or uttely non-hinted puzzles?  How much of the game are most players just not going to see for the same reason of walkthrough tunnel vision?  Is there some playthrough where it either feels more coherent?

Even if it wasn’t meant to be coherent (it IS the afterlife after all), the “read the author’s mind” problem needs addressing because it just stops people from getting engaged with the work.  And the walkthrough itself was plagued by weirdness, inconsistencies, and actions that led nowhere, which just increased my feeling of “must type blindly and finish thing”.

In the end, the writing was great, the themes played with were really interesting, but it just wasn’t friendly to play at all.  I definitely hope that the author goes back in with a wrench and cleans house on the game.

EDIT: I have to admit, one thing I liked about the actual gameplay was how the suitcase pulled multiple-uses duty.  You could carry stuff in it, stand on it to reach things, stand IN it (although that last one never really helped anything)… I always like that kind of thing.


One Response to “The 12:54 to Asgard: No, I meant the ACTUAL fertilizer”

  1. Thank youu for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it.
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