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|Developer(s)||Michael S. Gentry|
|Designer(s)||Michael S. Gentry|
|Genre(s)||Interactive Fiction, Adventure, Horror|
Anchorhead is a Lovecraftian horror interactive fiction game, originally written and published by Michael S. Gentry in 1998. The game is heavily inspired by the works and writing style of H.P. Lovecraft, particularly the Cthulhu mythos.
Anchorhead takes place in a fictional New England town of the same name, where the unnamed protagonist and her husband, a professor and aspiring writer, have relocated to in order to take possession of his ancestral family home. Through historical investigation of the town and her husband's family, the protagonist uncovers a conspiracy to perform a ritual that will summon a Great Old One and put the planet in jeopardy. The protagonist must stop the ritual from occurring and save her husband. The game story takes place across three days, with the first two corresponding to whole days and the third day divided into a number of segments. There is no time limit in the first two days; each day ends when the player has completed a required task or tasks. Only during the third day does the game impose constraints on the number of turns a player can take to solve the necessary puzzles.
Anchorhead was hailed by critics and players as one of the best interactive fiction games available due to its complex and intricate backstory and well-written dialogue and descriptions. In the 1998 XYZZY Awards, Anchorhead received the award for Best Setting, and was also nominated for Best Game.
The game is set in November 1997 in the fictional Maine coastal town of Anchorhead, where the protagonist and her husband Michael have moved to after inheriting the mansion of his recently deceased ancestral family, the Verlacs. The protagonist begins the game exploring her new home and the town and meeting Anchorhead's odd denizens while Michael researches his family. As time passes, Michael becomes more obsessed and withdrawn into his research. The protagonist begins her own investigation of her husband's family and learns that the Verlacs are hereditary high priests of a demonic cult that dominates the town. Croseus Verlac, Michael's 17th century ancestor, used sorcery to transfer his consciousness into a baby's body at the moment of his own death, beginning an obscene "family tradition" that spanned generations. Upon further investigation, she learns that the town sits on a focal point where, through the correct ritual, a gate can be opened to the Domain of Nephilim. Eventually it becomes evident that Croseus's soul, disembodied since the suicide of its last direct-line descendant, now seeks to inhabit Michael's body. Worse yet, Croseus's followers intend to use a sophisticated optical device to summon a Great Old One whose home, a comet, is approaching a flyby with Earth. The protagonist must uncover the secrets of the derelict town, escape from an increasingly dangerous series of traps, stop the insane townspeople from bringing a vengeful being of godlike power to Earth, and save her husband by banishing Croseus to the Domain of Nephilim.
Anchorhead was written by Michael Gentry, who was living in Austin, Texas, in the Inform 6 programming language. Development took approximately a year, with several weeks dedicated to designing the game map and writing the story, "at least six solid hours of coding every day," and an additional three months dedicated to debugging. Gentry based the two main characters on himself and his wife. The game heavily draws elements from Lovecraftian literature, specifically The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, The Music of Erich Zann, and The Festival, as well as direct references, such as the Miskatonic River and the city of Arkham.
In 2006, Gentry announced a rewrite of Anchorhead in Inform 7 preliminarily titled Anchorhead: the Director's Cut Special Edition, where the main goal is to "be just as evocative as the original, while allowing more room for the reader's imagination." Gentry also stated that some technological limitiations encountered in Inform 6 would be addressed and NPC characters would be more interactive, thanks to the language's relatively easy declaration of relationships between the game objects. Gentry released the source code for the first five rooms in this edition on May 17, and a playable demo was released on December 15.
Anchorhead has received critical acclaim. Praise for the game was often directed towards its attention to detail in its descriptions, which built an imaginative and convincing game world; though some criticism was directed towards its puzzles in the later half of the game, which for some meant resorting to a walkthrough. Gregory W. Kulczycki stated that the game was "the most intelligent, polished and captivating piece of interactive fiction I have played to date." Kulczycki praised the "excellent" writing, which had a "refreshing attention to detail," feeling that playing Anchorhead was "like reading a good book;" and the puzzles, although not particularly difficult, helped "build a richer environment for the player." However, Kulczycki felt that the frequent game saves due to easy death in the last chapter began to "distract from the natural flow of the story." Emily Short called Anchorhead a "deeply beautiful piece," stating that the game had a "masterful build-up of setting and mood unparalleled by almost every other game I have ever played," particularly focusing on the scenery descriptions that made the environment "oppressively real." Short described the structure of the game play as "natural and immersive," feeling that none of the puzzles during the first half of the game were tacked on or redundant, though she "would have preferred a trifle less emphasis on timed puzzles in the later part of the game." Terrence Bosky also called Anchorhead "a well-written, wonderfully designed adventure game," stating that it "works brilliantly as a Lovecraft pastiche, never entering the realm of parody." Bosky however disliked the over-dependence on nearly all the items, expressing that "it would have been nice not having to lug everything around."
- "Interview: Mike Gentry". Game Couch. December 14, 2006. Archived from the original on 27 January 2011. Retrieved 2011-01-30.
- "1998 XYZZY Awards Winners". XYZZY News. Retrieved 2011-01-30.
- "Nominees for the 1998 XYZZY Awards". XYZZY News. Retrieved 2011-01-30.
- "And if a puzzle is not puzzling anymore?". L'avventura è l'avventura. April 2001.
- Bosky, Terrence (January 18, 2005). "Anchorhead Review". MobyGames.
- Gentry, Mike (May 17, 2006). "Anchorhead: the first five rooms". LiveJournal.
- Kulczycki, Gregory W. (September 17, 1999). "Anchorhead review". Brass Lantern.
- Short, Emily. "Aweighing an Anchorhead". IF-Review.
- Play Anchorhead
- Anchorhead at Baf's Guide to the IF Archive
- Anchorhead Game Map
- "Search-Based Drama Management in the Interactive Fiction Anchorhead"