The time is right. The time is now.
Please, Cliff Johnson, won’t you release A Fool and His Money?
Hell yeah Speedball was awesome.
Once upon a time, I bought an Amiga from a friend of mine for $300. It seemed like an incredible deal at the time, given that he threw in something like 60 games for the thing, including some impressive technology show-off type games like Dragon’s Lair and Speedball. Damn, I loved me some Speedball. What I was coming to realize was that computers could do things that consoles at the time could only dream of, and the possibilities intrigued me.
Of course, finding out that I had to go to a specialty store to buy my Amiga games was kind of a buzzkill.
Regardless, one of the first games I ever came home with from that very store was The Fool’s Errand, which I mostly bought because its cover said it won some kind of award and my dad thought it looked good (and because it was one of the only new-ish games at the time that my Amiga, maxed out at a piddly 512K of RAM, could handle). It turned out to be one of those games.
You know what those games are. They’re the ones that you excitedly fire up, waiting for a gaming experience that’s going to utterly blow you away from the word “GO”, and inevitably, you’re let down by what you get: A static title screen, an art style that deals liberally in silhouettes, a vaguely medieval tale that probably had a moral of some sort, and lots and lots of letters. As a puzzle game, it was exactly the opposite sort of experience that my fingers, weaned on fast-action Nintendo games, were ready to dig in to. Still, if you know about those games, you know that I could not dismiss it so easily. The amazing thing about The Fool’s Errand was that its puzzles presented themselves at such a slowly evolving level of difficulty as to never, ever feel out of reach; despite the utterly ridiculous and occasionally nonsensical way in which the puzzles of The Fool’s Errand presented themselves, you always knew there was an answer hidden within. Sometimes the tasks were straightforward, as with the word searches, whose primary challenge was in the fact that the words to be sought were not provided. Other tasks were out-and-out obscure, such as those where you’re given a picture and a set number of blanks, in which you need to write the word or letters that happens to be “hidden” in the picture.
On one hand, it was as accessible as they come. On the other, some of the puzzles within would make anyone who thought they had proven their gaming expertise by beating Professor Layton and the Curious Village cry. Needless to say, I lost weeks of my life to this game, and to this day, I have never solved the thing. I refuse to read an FAQ; it just seems wrong for a game the style and the caliber of The Fool’s Errand.
Arrange the letters so that every left-to-right and top-to-bottom
combination is a word. It looks easy, but…
It is now more than 20 years after the release of that landmark gaming experience, and Mr. Johnson has in the interim released a couple of other computer games, as well as other occasional interesting projects. Still, it is his latest venture that has me giddy like a Halo ringer taking down cannon fodder; called A Fool and His Money, it is to be the proper sequel to The Fool’s Errand. Every screenshot and tease that he has offered thus far suggests that he will stay true to the spirit of his original vision, and the following for the game is still quite impressive, given that a number of people pre-ordered the game years previous to now, just as he was starting to develop it.
It’s enough to make one wonder if Johnson’s playing a cruel joke on those “True Believers”, as he calls them on his website.
What makes now the perfect time for a game like A Fool and His Money to be released, is that the audience for puzzling seems to be in the process of hitting critical mass. The aforementioned Professor Layton was a critical and popular hit. Brain Age is a worldwide smash. Sudoku is still an inexplicably popular form of mind-bending. Puzzling has never been more chic; there has never been a better time for Johnson to update his drinking-age masterpiece.
Still, given the personal details he’s chosen to share about the development process and his personal life over the course of that process, it is impossible to begrudge the man for not having finished this latest work. You don’t endure what he has endured and just continue plugging along on a game, no matter how devoted you may be to its completion. As such, this is simply my way of adding to the chorus of quiet pleas, that he not completely forget about it, that he eventually, when his head is right again, sees it to completion. With three times the puzzles of the original Fool’s Errand, A Fool and His Money is destined to be a classic…if, of course, it ever does see the light of day.
Download the original Fool’s Errand here, and tell me if it holds up when you’re not wearing the rose-colored glasses that I do. Oh, and please: let it keep you busy for a while. Do it the favor of exploring it before you evaluate it. I think you’ll find it’s worth the investment.
A screen from the coming-someday A Fool and His Money