1893 A World's Fair Mystery

Developer/Publisher:  Peter Nepstad
Year Released:  2002

Review by Rosemary Young (July, 2003)
Welcome to Chicago. It's 1893 and you have just arrived at the World's Fair. You are about to be awe struck at the wonders that await you. Whilst you amble around the warren of streets and poke through the grandiose exhibitions you are challenged to solve a robbery - not just any robbery, but the theft of 8 diamonds from the Kimberley Diamond Mining Exhibit. With such precious prizes at stake, this mystery could develop into something more menacing.

Read, write and learn
1893 A World's Fair Mystery is a text based adventure game with a strong educational flavour, and accompanied by dozens of black and white archival photographs. There are hundreds of intricately described locations and the photographs add so much to the experience, illustrating the grand architecture of the many sprawling buildings, and the magnificent boulevards, statues and fountains that comprised the exhibition. Not forgetting the exhibits themselves which include everything from steam engines to rock crushing machines, fire engines, printing presses, looms, telephones and the list goes on and on.

For those new to text adventures or interactive fiction, all you need is a keyboard to play this game although there is also an ever-present compass on screen so you can navigate with the mouse by clicking directional markers if you prefer. For each location there is a written description to the left of screen with a photograph and compass to the right. To explore the gameworld and learn what is happening you simply read the text. There might even be more information to hand in your Visitors Guide for various significant buildings such as the name of the architect and the cost of construction.

The gameplay
Of course, there is also the mystery and it's up to you to solve it. You have been placed in the gameworld so you are looking out for clues in the descriptions. You can talk to the characters you meet, take a closer look at things of interest, and pick up items as you go. You will also need to eat and sleep and, if you're smart, kick the smoking habit.

Just read the descriptions carefully and type in your commands or instructions. For instance a character might have a crucial item, so ask about it and find out what needs to be done to get it. Or you might want to operate a piece of machinery, so push a button or pull a lever and see what happens. A PDF manual comes with the game with help for players new to text adventures. It also gives a short list of words and commands that the game understands and lots of other help. For a present day text game the parser isn't highly evolved but it's sufficient for what you need to do and it works effectively considering that interacting and 'playing the game' shares centre stage in this package with learning about this amazing exhibition.

The game
The actual game is fun and the puzzles are interesting although it is an extremely large gameworld and it's easy to get lost. Getting lost, however, isn't such a bad thing because you get to see more as you find your way around. It's only a problem (or a challenge) if you are trying to arrive at a particular place at an appointed time (i.e. to meet someone) because the game includes a 'clock' that advances incrementally as you perform actions. Just looking at an object or moving one step takes only a minute, but dining out takes longer, and sleeping passes the night away. Because the gameworld is so large, drawing maps is absolutely essential.

In the course of your investigation there are lots of things you will do. Sometimes you might need to operate machinery, or find lost items for various characters, attend a Japanese Tea Ceremony, follow characters around the exhibition, etc. There are some in-game hints to solve the puzzles if you can find them, and at any time you can also access a whole range of help simply by typing 'hints'. This help includes maps for the major exhibits and a complete list of where you find the 215 points required to solve the mystery.

Take your time
On the CD cover the author notes that there is over 30 hours of game play. I would definitely agree with that. I've been playing now for 20 + hours and I'm not half way to finding all the diamonds, let alone dealing with other incidents as they occur. I must admit, I haven't been rushing because it's fascinating, I've been on a tour of the fair with an informative tour guide, and I've walked around poking into everything. I've been to a tea ceremony, watched a boat parade, and even found the Ferris Wheel. Unfortunately the queue was too long so I didn't hang around to take a ride.

To be honest I'm flabbergasted at the size and grandeur of the Chicago Word's Fair Exhibition. I wonder just how many, if any, of the magnificent structures still survive.

A huge amount of research obviously went into putting this package together, collating the photographs and organising the information on the various exhibits. And there are other touches, too, that fill in the picture and make it more interesting. Ads in the newspaper, which you can buy every day, give a feel for the various consumer items of the time such as medicinal 'cures', pocket watches and beer, and you can read about visiting dignitaries and other familiar figures such as Nikola Tesla who attended the exhibition. There's also information on some behind-the-scenes goings-on such as workers suing exhibitors for damages and squabbles between exhibitors from different nations over perceived slights. It must, indeed, have been a grand event but people are people wherever and whenever ... not only do they give orations and musical recitals, they also pack into trains leaving not even blinking space, they get hurt, they get lost ... and steal valuable diamonds. J

1893 A World's Fair Mystery comprises one CD for both PC and Mac, and this includes an authentic map of Chicago at the time, as well as a Visitors Guide and, of course, the manual in PDF format. Whilst you are playing you can also toggle on and off some music of the period. There are 8 tunes to pick from or, of course, you can play your own music.

It's well worth a look especially if you are interested in this event. Maybe the gameworld is a bit too big as far as text adventures go, but the size is justified by size of the exhibition. I've got sore feet just thinking about it! rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Win 95/98/Me/2000/XP
Mac OS 7-9/X