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Bureaucracy (Apple II) artwork

Bureaucracy (Apple II) review


"Douglas Adams's name is not featured prominently in the packaging for Infocom's text adventure, Bureaucracy. He got distracted from it by the Dirk Gently books, and eventually the game got written by committee. The result was a game that showed the downside of corporate muddling the wrong way--an extended whine where puzzles rely too heavily on the defeatist "whatever can go wrong, will" maxim. It features the sort of jokes you laugh at if they are buffers for more sophisticated jo..."



Douglas Adams's name is not featured prominently in the packaging for Infocom's text adventure, Bureaucracy. He got distracted from it by the Dirk Gently books, and eventually the game got written by committee. The result was a game that showed the downside of corporate muddling the wrong way--an extended whine where puzzles rely too heavily on the defeatist "whatever can go wrong, will" maxim. It features the sort of jokes you laugh at if they are buffers for more sophisticated jokes, or if your friend is feeling down and needs a boost. Without anything original, it winds up feeling like you're at a cocktail party with, well, a bunch of bureaucrats.

It seems so good on paper. A quest to get your change-of-address form processed loops through an Air Zalagasa flight, a jungle, and some place called a Persecution Complex. Getting to the airport is a task: you must sort through mail delivered to all the wrong houses, fix an overdraft at the bank that kicks you out every twenty minutes, and catch a cab before noon. Even your blood pressure is tracked: if you type in something wrong, or people annoy you, your blood pressure goes up. This can give you superhuman strength, or it can also kill you. Anti-literature for text adventures! And by Infocom, who have certifiably zany senses of humor!

However, past performance is not indicative of future results. Everything goes wrong too predictably. The puzzles relying on yes meaning no, or common strophes, don't really prepare you for later logic bending. You'll also recognize the joke subjects: airline food, confusing airport terminals, rude cab drivers, waiting in line (Ballyhoo did it better,) troubles with banks, or bad restaurant service. There's everything but stale fruitcake. In contrast, other people who weave in and out of the game quickly are over-the-top odd. A nerd sells you useless stuff for $1 more than you have, or a weirdo's impossible Swiss Army knife holds a power saw and treadmill generator; so much for realism. Nobody's as interesting as the logic and minor programming puzzles you have to solve on your Boysenberry PC.

These mini-games are new to text adventures, but they're overshadowed by the forms (deposit, withdrawal, change of address) to fill out. They're terribly similar, asking your name and address and so forth. They're also painful to type in again, as you'll probably wind up restarting without a walkthrough. Even the random commentaries on your answers become unfunny. Yes, it's something new, but that's because nobody should ever have considered it. Even worse is the restaurant scene where a waitress asks to take your order, then she loses it, so a waiter asks the same questions. Thankfully, your answers each time needn't match. You get a small burger no matter what. Many puzzles feature this sort of annoying non-solution, and without original humor, it doesn't work.

Sadly, the best try comes from the mad-lib light music at various points in the game. A world-famous kazoo soloist or hundred-string orchestra playing "Surfin' USA" is as funny as it gets, and it certainly trumps the stupid beeps every time your blood pressure rises. Nothing really approaches the writing in the copy-protection pamphlet. It's an issue of Popular Paranoia that claims Queen Mum is "their" leader, Delaware does not exist and Johnny Herman Carson is an agent of the Devil--six letters per name, you see. Note the colliding American and British cultural references here: the game's even worse, talking of Sir Laurence Olivier and cheques yet offering US zip codes. And not content with too many cultural references, the writers overdid the references to other Infocom games, too.

So Bureaucracy turns out to be a whine worse than the original problem. It falls to the things it tries to parody. Some very intelligent and creative people struggled to help Infocom remain solvent and produce quality software, and a promising idea got ground into pedestrian humor. It's probably zany enough if you've heard the jokes the first time, but if you have, you probably aren't going to solve the puzzles. All the cute gadgets it brings are not enough to save its humor from being very ordinary. It's not even generous with the points--you get a maximum of twenty-one, which is half of forty-two. Very appropriate for a game that's half-hearted compared to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Rating: 3/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (September 18, 2009)

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zippdementia posted September 20, 2009:

There are a lot of lines in this one that confuse me to no end due to poor grammatical structuring. Such as:

"And that's if you can pay for a cab on time to leave your neighborhood, where no house gets mail it's supposed to, your bank account has an overdraft, and the bank closes and opens at random times."

That line.... doesn't make sense. Another one:

"No one's as interesting as the logic and minor programming puzzles you have to solve on your Boysenberry."

This one works on a grammatical level, but takes me out of the review. I don't have a Boysenberry. Does it play logic games? Are they interesting? I wouldn't know and neither will a large percentage of your readers. Try to not personalize the experience so much. Your next line is:

"They're more interesting than the forms to fill out, though: and the game randomizes which field to fill in when, offering snappy commentaries that get old the second time through."

Wait, what? What forms? Your reviews of these text games have done this a lot lately, they jump subjects and start to critique them without introducing them. I don't know what kind of forms you are referring to and thus this whole paragraph loses me.

Another one:

"If you've ever been more annoyed with someone whining about bureaucracy than, well, bureaucracy itself, then I think you know how this game will feel."

Try reading that outloud. It is painful on the brain. Or this:

"At least Bureaucracy didn't reference too many other Infocom ga--oops."

Wait, what? Does it referrence other infocom games? Why the oops?

Overall, this review felt a lot like a big in-joke to those of us who have played these old infocom games. I haven't so I was pretty lost. I don't think I had to be, but the writing didn't help me out any. Lately your reviews have been for very interesting games with some very strange concepts and I like that. But I think you have to work extra hard to make them come across in an understandable way.
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aschultz posted September 21, 2009:

"And that's if you can pay for a cab on time to leave your neighborhood, where (1) no house gets mail it's supposed to, (2) your bank account has an overdraft, and (3) the bank closes and opens at random times."

That line.... doesn't make sense.


It makes sense, but I think it can make better sense. Numbers inserted for convenience, but I shouldn't put myself into a position to do that.

"No one's as interesting as the logic and minor programming puzzles you have to solve on your Boysenberry."

Boysenberry...Apple...programming. Even for those of us who don't remember the Apple, I think it should be implicit that the Boysenberry is a computer, with "programming puzzles" preceeding.

Wait, what? What forms?

I mentioned the change of address form above, so it could be inferred through VERY careful reading, but my goal is to get casual readers interested. One would also expect to fill out forms dealing with a bureaucracy. Still, that can be changed.

Try reading that outloud. It is painful on the brain.

It's not painful, but I don't see how I can meaningfully cut it down. With the right Meaningful Pauses, it sounds okay. Maybe I just need to think about it.

"At least Bureaucracy didn't reference too many other Infocom ga--oops."

Wait, what? Does it referrence other infocom games? Why the oops?

I liked how the timing worked here. I was worried this joke might be too standard.

Thanks for this--I think I can find a few corrections here. Text adventures really are tougher than I think they are, and it's tough to find a balance between catering to people who know about the main text adventures and people who know very little about them.
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zippdementia posted September 21, 2009:

And never get discouraged! That's number one!
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aschultz posted September 21, 2009:

Definitely, I'm not. Sometimes I'm frustrated I miss something, but I've gotten in the habit of modifying stuff a lot more, and a lot more quickly, than even a few months ago.

One big problem I have is that I take a break from writing down just notes to write a review and I can be in note-taking mode, and the results can be fragmented.

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