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Video Game / The Dreamhold

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The Dreamhold is an Interactive Fiction game specifically designed by Andrew Plotkin to introduce new players to the genre by providing a "tutorial voice" to guide them through the general mechanisms and gist of the game and making the puzzles relatively basic for people unfamiliar with IF tropes.

Don't let this fool you into thinking that this is a short or simple game, however, especially since it won awards for Best Puzzles and Use of Medium in the 2004 XYZZY competition. While The Dreamhold does rely on the overused "You Wake Up in a Room with no memory of who you are" IF plot, it makes full use of that plot. The rooms you need to explore are genuinely fascinating and lush with detail, the puzzles are clever without being too hard for each difficulty level, and the Jigsaw Puzzle Plot is effective enough to keep your attention and leave you with questions after the ending has rolled by. Plus, if "normal mode" is too easy for you, you can switch the game to "expert mode" to make the puzzles more challenging.

The game can be played online or downloaded here.

This game contains these tropes:

  • Alien Sky: The night sky becomes one of these, with new constellations, planets, and moons that weren't there before if you use the frost berries to turn the bonfire into burning ice.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: This seems to be what happens to you in one ending.
  • The Archmage: The Grey Wizard is strongly implied to be one of these.
  • Beautiful Void: A text equivalent. The game features no other characters outside of brief flashbacks, leaving you to explore a varied and curious house on your own.
  • Blackout Basement: Everything north of the Natural Passageway is too dark without a torch. And some of it can only be explored without a torch...
  • Bizarrchitecture: The palace's architecture is a sometimes.
  • Break the Cutie: Implied to have happened to the PC in the memory fragments you get from the masks.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The room you wake up in, and the hole you exit from.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: This game seems to have been tailored to deliberately invoke Epileptic Trees and Wild Mass Guessing with all the rampant symbolism and unanswered questions throughout.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: The paintings of birds on the walls of the mosaic room change subtly whenever you reenter the room; there's no explanation given.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Utterly filled with these; the backstory is implied rather than explained in much detail. Dates, wars, nations, the nature of the protagonist's goals and identity are defined by details that are only mentioned in passing. Like most of Andrew Plotkin's later works, this helps to convey the feeling of only being able to play a small part of a much wider world.
  • Dream Land: Well, it is named the Dreamhold... it is plausible that the entire game sans flashbacks take place within a series of interconnected worlds.
  • Empty Room Psych: A few rooms serve no real purpose, despite being packed with many intriguing things to see. (No, there's no way to safely get the apple from the cage in the mosaic room, or play the broken harp in the harp chamber.) There are also a couple of doors that can't be opened, no matter what you do.
  • Featureless Protagonist: As you have to gather your memories before you can reflect in the mirror.
  • Floating Mask
  • Functional Magic: Alchemy and astrology, at the very least seem to have their own sets of consistent rules.
  • Gotta Catch 'Em All: The masks. And the mask shred. And the celestial objects.
  • Harder Than Hard: The game has Impossible mode as an Easter Egg and a joke about this trope. Enabling it causes the exit from the first room to disappear, making it Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • History Repeats: Suggested by a chart found in the factory chamber, where it seems to depict the major events of history in miniscule writing, before portions start repeating at the bottom of the page.
  • How We Got Here: The protagonist wakes to find no memory of their life. Flashbacks and puzzles give hints as to why this came about.
  • Infinite Flashlight: When you light the torch with an orange berry, the PC notes that the torch's straw is being consumed far more slowly than it should be, and the torch will indeed never go out unless you extinguish it with a white berry.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: A golden flower will cause the player to shrink and go under the tub in which the flower sits.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: By the end of which you seem to be missing some important pieces...
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia
  • The Lost Lenore: A woman that appears to be the player's wife is briefly shown in a few memories, but appears to have died at some point.
  • Magic Mirror: One that blurs your face and shows the colored shadows of the masks you've collected so far. That's a hint that you're supposed to put the masks on your reflection's face.
  • Mind Screw: The game gives you just enough information to piece together your general identity and purpose (and maybe even your name, if you examine the constellations in the night sky), and the meaning behind the Dreamhold, but leaves many details of them unexplained.
  • Multiple Endings: Three of them. Each providing a possible clue as to the protagonist's original goal, though none seem to be any better or worse than the other.
  • Mystical White Hair: A flashback shows that the wizard had silver hair even as a child.
  • Narrative Filigree: A large part of the game's potential charm comes from this. Lavishly detailed rooms, plenty of interesting objects with no clear function, and a host of hinted backstory and history.
  • Nintendo Hard: The Tutorial Mode, and in general the first half of the game are very easy by IF standards. The post-game sequences return the genre to its routes, with very tricky platforming, hidden functions of rooms that are only teased at by paying careful attention to their descriptions, and finding the six secret objects of power to receive access to the secret endings. The rotating planet platform puzzle is particularly challenging and requires precise timing. And just in case that wasn't enough for you, there's also a Hard Mode that rearranges the locations of objects to make the puzzles even more complicated.
  • Portal Picture: The telescope in the atelier allows you to enter any painting (or painting-like object).
  • Scenery Porn: The evocative and detailed prose are a contributing factor to the game's atmosphere.
  • Schmuck Bait: The pit in which the player is allowed to descend is repeatedly stated to be dangerous, with sides and are usually either very hot or very wet or very slick. Indeed, if you descend until the walls are nearly vertical, you will die, with the narrator saying "neither of us is entirely blameless." However, an optional item to get the second ending requires you to brave it.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Masks, actually. You are the Grey Wizard, and the Dreamhold is your own mental construct to provide a place to finish your work.
  • Unnaturally Looping Location: A spell has been placed on one hallway to go on forever unless the right dispell is known. The stairs in the dim shed are a different example, as there are far more stairs when going up when going down, but they do eventually end.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Impossible mode removes the only exit from the first room, making the game completely unwinnable.
  • Video Game Tutorial: You can turn it off, though.
  • Violation of Common Sense: You are lost in the dark, without a torch. The only way to exit is to search for light and head towards it. However, what happens when you go opposite the light?
  • War Is Hell: One flashback implied to be taking place during a war appears to use spells that produce destructive power, leaving a city burned and in ruins.
  • Where It All Began: One ending brings the player to the same cell the player began.
  • You Wake Up in a Room: It's unabashed about using this cliche, but accepts it as a useful part of world building.