Review by Emptyeye

Reviewed: 03/11/02 | Updated: 03/11/02

I could've coded this. Seriously.

Most humans-especially men--are innately competitive. As long as there have been multiple humans, there have been competitions to decide which amongst them is the best at something. It doesn't matter what that ''something'' is--it could be something with meaning, like who's the most productive at their job. Or it can be something that nobody in the real world really cares about, such as whose computer can be left running the longest.

Progress Quest falls along the lines of the latter. Coded by someone calling themselves ''grumdrig'', Progress Quest is, at its base level, an MMORPG. For the uninitiated, this stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. Typically, this means you interact with other players to join groups, go on quests, find equipment, and the like.

And at first, Progress Quest doesn't seem terribly different from any of its ilk, IE EverQuest or Ultima Online. To play, you download the file--don't worry, it's tiny (340K)--unzip it, and run it. Creating your character is also the same as most RPGs, as you pick your race, class, etc, and roll for your stats. When you're done, your character is created.

After that, however, you'll notice something, well, strange about the game, particularly in its interface. That is, Progress Quest resembles a spreadsheet more than an actual game. In various windows you'll see places for your character's stats, equipment, items, quests completed, and so on. Okay, nothing too out of the ordinary so far, right?

But look harder. Specifically, look down right at the bottom of said window. You'll notice that the game is playing itself. Yes, that's right, the game is intelligent! Or maybe it simply runs on a never-ending loop, with various subloops enclosed in it (I told you I could've coded this). But either way, you don't do a thing in this game. Essentially, it's an MMORPG minus both Ms and the RP, making it what amounts to an Online Game. And even that's pushing it, since you really don't interact with it at all.

But just what is it that the game does on its own? Well, looking down at the bottom of the aforementioned screen, you'll see the game runs one routine over and over--it goes out and executes (A fancy way of saying it kills) various monsters, ranging from your average liches and Bone Devils, to the more unusual Girl Scouts and Porn Elementals. Every time you win--and you will emerge victorious every time, without fail--you get an item and your encumbrance bar slowly fills up. These items can range from Ape's Asses to Porn Elemental Lube (Yes, I'm serious). When the encumbrance bar is full, you head to market and sell all the stuff, earning gold to buy (I'm sorry, to negotiate, as the game calls it) better equipment. Then it's back to the killing field, where you start the routine all over again.

Or should I say, where the game starts the routine all over again. As I already made note of, you don't do anything; the game is entirely self-running. Every now and then, you'll gain a level (Progress is noted by the blue bars in your spreadsheet-interface), or go onto a different quest (Which might be the same quest you were just on--I've gotten ''Deliver this axle'' twice in a row). Yet of course, it's all the same, really.

So what makes Progress Quest so great? Well, for one, you can't lose. Now I know what you're thinking. ''But that takes all the fun out of it!'' To which I must reply, ''No, my friend, it does not.'' Getting equipment, raising your levels, learning new spells: these are the elements that make RPGs fun. Dying? Nothing but an unnecessary detractor from the experience (Don't tell me you don't reset upon losing a battle if you have the option). Progress Quest gives you the fuzzy feeling of building your character up to superhuman levels, yet takes away the annoyance of having to retrieve your corpse after a fast deadly doberman hands your butt to you.

Now, you might think that a game which you can't lose and which plays itself would have no replay value to it (Or play value, for that matter). But a little thing known as the Online Hall of Fame takes care of this rather nicely. This is a database of the Progress Quest players who have chosen to post their stats online. By simply pressing Ctrl-B, you can see where your character stands in this great race (My character, Boomount, is presently #9927 out of 24253). This basically encourages you to leave the program running in the background, since it plays itself and progresses for you whether you watch it or not. Wanna go do your laundry, the dishes, or your significant other while the program runs? Go right ahead! You'll come back to find your character has progressed one or two levels since you left. Truly, the game appeals to the competitive urges I mentioned earlier.

Superficially, Progress Quest hearkens back to days gone by, those days of text adventures when it was up to the gamer to use their imagination to conjure up what they thought a Kobold or Diplodocus looked or sounded like. What I'm trying to say here is that there are no ''graphics'' other than that spreadsheety window I keep bringing up, and no sound or music either. Yet this didn't stop the olden text adventures from immersing gamers in their environments, and it doesn't stop Progress Quest either.

Lastly, Progress Quest has one more element up its sleeve. Yeah, you can play it by yourself, in your dorm, bedroom, or wherever your computer is. But it isn't until you go to www.progressquest.com and poke around a little--particularly in the Forums--that grumdrig's genius becomes apparent. You see, the denizens of this board have set up what essentially is a satire of all the other MMORPGs out there. Clans, 3-D modes, and Player Kills are all frequently discussed, despite the fact that none of them are actually in the game. It's this element that pushes Progress Quest over the top into greatness. Really, this is something that should have been done years ago, when EverQuest first took off.

Progress Quest is an interesting little application. Despite the fact that you don't do anything, the game is incredibly addicting. It's also a tiny file, able to be crammed onto a single floppy disk and taken anywhere. Its greatest successes, however, are that it satires the MMORPG explosion whilst simultaneously appeal to our basest competitive instincts of wanting to be the best-even if that consists of leaving your computer on for days at a time.


Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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