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Book Reviews

Official Duke Nukem 3D Strategies and Secrets

by Jonathan Mendoza

Return to Zork: The Official Guide to the Great Underground Empire

by Peter Spear

Totally Unauthorized the 11th Hour: Solutions

by H. Leigh Davis, ed.

Totally Unauthorized Myst: Solutions

by Debra Kempker, ed.

Totally Unauthorized Guide to Doom II

by Robert Waring

New technologies such as CD-ROMs, faster processors, and better monitors mean that computer games are finally approaching cinema-quality graphics and sound. While just 15 years ago graphic-less “text adventures” were the ultimate in gaming, computer games today use full-motion video, stereo sound, and startlingly (and mostly bloodily) realistic graphics. As the quality of computer games increases, so does the number of eager consumers willing to pay $60+ for the latest chance to slay a dragon or whack some bad guys. Higher technology has also enabled these games to be much larger in breadth and scope, and thus more complex. The increasing complexity of these games has spawned a vast number of hint books for the more popular games, books that reveal secrets and solutions to problems and puzzles that players encounter.

The theory behind hint books is simple: if someone buys a game and after playing 10% of it cannot solve a puzzle or beat an enemy, they have effectively wasted 90% of their money. And many players (who are mostly male, and mostly under 20) refuse to admit they are unable to beat a game, and view these books as justifiable aids in their quest.

The main pitfall of these books is that too many of them say too much; they tell the player exactly what to do in order to finish the game in as short a time as possible. This takes much of the fun out of a game as the player becomes little more than a trained monkey following the book’s instructions. The best books give hints to the player and only reveal the step-by-step solution when the player is completely stuck.

Return to Zork: The Official Guide to the Great Underground Empire by Peter Spear falls into the too-much-too-soon trap. Although it has an interesting introduction in which the history of the Zork games is given (the original Zork was one of the first text adventures; this Zork is a full-colour, interactive game), there are very few (if any) simple hints; the book proceeds directly to full solutions of the puzzles. At more than 300 pages, it initially appears that the book will be comprehensive. But for unknown reasons, over one third of the book is used to provide a script of every conversation that occurs in this fairly interactive game, which is pointless, given that the game itself allows the player to re-listen to any previous conversation. The book does have an index, which could have been a helpful feature, but it’s organized so idiosyncratically that it’s very difficult to find specific sections in the game where a player may be stuck.

At the other end of the price spectrum (but still dealing with an interactive puzzle game) is Totally Unauthorized The 11th Hour: Solutions, which is just over a third of the price of the more expensive books. It’s a small paperback that I initially set aside, lured by other books’ colour pictures and glossy paper. When I got around to it, however, I was pleasantly surprised. For every puzzle in the game there is an individual chapter containing a full series of hints, beginning with the very vague and working up to a comprehensive, step-by-step solution complete with screen shots. The full solutions are put on pages of different colours so that players seeking to avoid them may do so. My only criticism is the lack of an index and the confusing chapter names, like “Chapter 54: Yo Ho Ho!” which make it difficult at times to find what you’re looking for.

Another book in this series that I recommend is Totally Unauthorized Myst: Solutions, another interactive puzzle game. It follows the same low-budget format and achieves much the same high standard (though it too lacks an index). Both of these books may be overlooked by many people due to their apparent simplicity and low price, but they are true bargains and should please beginners and advanced gamers alike.

A book that offers hints on a completely different type of game is Totally Unauthorized Guide to Doom II by Robert Waring (which is also available in French). While Return to Zork, Myst, and The 11th Hour are all adventure/puzzle games, Doom II is basically a first-person-perspective slaughter. There is not a lot of strategy involved, and so I was interested to see how this fairly lengthy book would unfold. I was pleased with the range of experience this book caters to: beginner players will find the descriptions of the enemies (and how to defeat them) useful, while more advanced players will appreciate the inclusion of the exact locations of all of the secret areas in the game as well as detailed maps of the 32 levels. Unfortunately, it repeats a lot of the information found in the manual, such as how to set up modem games and the use of special commands. While it does contain a disk with a program that purports to enable players to create their own levels, the program crashed so often that I gave up on it before I ever created a working level. At $26.99 it is a sizable investment for its target market, but players who really enjoy Doom will definitely get their money’s worth.

Offering hints on the same type of game as Doom II is Official Duke Nukem 3D Strategies and Secrets, by Jonathan Mendoza. It follows much the same layout as the Doom II book, beginning with a very simple introduction to game play (for beginners) and then quickly jumping into descriptions of the enemies as well as full maps and tactics for every level. However, much more work has been put into this book than the previous one. Instead of merely telling the player where to go, for example, the route is clearly drawn on one of two maps for each level, while the other map reveals the location of all of the items and secrets. Also, after every section of text, it provides a table that briefly summarizes the information in an easy-to-read, point-form method. Other helpful additions are the “Info,” “Tip,” and “Danger” boxes that frequently appear, giving important information that the reader may otherwise skim over. As a further help to players who are completely stuck, the book includes a CD-ROM containing recordings of a player completing each of the levels. The only fault is that the author seems to have gone overboard on the use of his thesaurus. Considering that this book is aimed primarily at teenagers, the use of words like “cognoscenti” serves only to make the author’s message a bit obscure at times. But apart from these occasional blunders, the book’s friendly and helpful tone should instantly appeal to players.

It should be noted that all of the information in these books can be found over the Internet in less then 15 minutes, and a quick poll among my friends revealed that this is why hardly any of them would consider buying these books. To be fair, this likely has much to do with the fact that all the students at my school have full access to the Internet, while the majority of the population still does not. However, even when the Internet does become more widespread, I suspect that there will still be people to buy these books; not everyone who plays computer games is willing to spend the time and money to get Internet access. Also, many people simply like the convenience and reliability of a printed manual. But don’t be drawn in by glossy pages or fancy colour pictures: the best value often comes from the simplest of sources.