The Scroll is lauded by some adventure game players as one of the worst games going around. It was originally released as Daughter of Serpents in 1992, but was then tweaked a little and renamed for release as The Scroll in 1995. Having finished it after a few false starts, I can say that it would probably rate near the top of my worst list as well.
It starts fittingly enough, in that you have to wrestle with your configuration files to get it to run at all. No game truly wanting to lay claim to being the worst ever could load without a fight. I know some players have given up right here, never reaching the joy of the first blotchy scene and its accompanying midi music. But with some help from some techie types more knowledgeable than myself, I found myself in Alexandria harbour, witnessing a double homicide and some lizard people.
You can choose to continue as either George Stanhope, prominent occultist, or Mathew Faulkiner, noted Egyptologist. Whichever you choose, as far as I can tell you are trying to save the world from a cult of scroll worshippers, each character going via a different route to essentially the same conclusion. What goes on along the way is fairly nonsensical.
The scenes do more than show their age, great big pixels meaning details have a tendency to merge into each other. But you can discern what is going on, just don't expect to be even modestly impressed.
The "muzak" is tinny and fairly ghastly. It is well suited to your exploits.
Game controls are certainly at the leading edge of pretty awful. The manual boasts of the use of SIGNOS, or the Scripted Interactive Graphic Novel Operating System, utilising speech bubbles and highlighted hypertext for true interactivity. Its "sophistication" is apparent from its use of 3 separate screens for different types of interaction, one each for communication, manipulation, and inventory. You bring up each screen by moving the cursor to the relevant part of the main screen; "think of it as a pyramid" says the manual.
To take an item from the game world, simply click on it. The cursor changes to that item. Move it to the bottom right of screen and click to open the inventory. Right click again to put it away. Or move it to the bottom left to examine it, but be careful; items taken to the bottom left are not carried with you. In effect you have put them on the floor in order to look at them. You must put them back in your inventory or you will leave them behind.
To use items in the game world, click the cursor where you wish to use them. Either you will be rewarded with a little animated "micon" (more on them later) indicating success, or the item will simply be put where you clicked. It will remain right there, hovering in mid air or perched on the forehead of a character, until you click it again and do something else with it.
What of the micons? I8 different micons will indicate things you can do in certain spots. These include the "eating mouth", the "wadjet eye", and the "rotating star". I don't remember coming across all 18, but I am sure they would have been there.
I have not to my knowledge come across SIGNOS in another game. I am not terribly surprised. Perhaps if I had played it 9 or 10 years ago it would have seemed more amazing and less messy, but in 2005 it was way too convoluted and fiddly.
Talking to characters produces speech bubbles containing "highlighted hypertext" for your choice of response. Sometimes there is only one response, sometimes there are more and many times it seems to make no difference which you choose. On occasion I could not even choose the response I wanted no matter how hard I tried; the necessary text seemed virtually un-hittable. But I did eventually get the money I needed from the Thomas Cook counter clerk, although I must have asked for at least 12 travellers cheques before finally activating the "cash" response.
There is a map for getting around once you find it, although some locations are only accessible by walking around the game world in the usual way. Some the of micons also advance time, including to the next day, and at times you will have to either sleep or pass time in order to move on. I thought these occasions were reasonably indicated, and all in all it isn't a very hard game (as far as what to do next is concerned). To assist, you will talk to yourself and give yourself helpful hints as to what to do next. A notebook keeps track of events and appointments, and helps out a little plot-wise. Talk to everyone you meet, take everything you can and most challenges won't be too difficult to overcome.
I have mentioned the music but I thought the voice acting was not too bad. There is no ambient sound that I can recall, but some sound effects do exist, gunshots and a squishy evisceration sound being among the ones I remember.
I got to the end and saved the world twice (once as each character) and, although I never saw the lizard people again. I did spot a chicken.
It is more than a little unfair to take games out of the time at which they were made and judge them by today's standards. Yet however forgiving I might be, I suspect The Scroll would not have been much good in its own time let alone now. But the worst ever? That is a big call, and I am not ready to bestow that honour just yet.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2005.
All rights reserved.
IBM compatible 386DX/486SX processor, 590K conventional memory, 2MB extended memory, VGA 256 colour graphics, MS DOS 3.3 or higher, 5 MB disc space, CD ROM Drive.