Fool’s Gold: Cliff Johnson Puts His Money where His Mouth Is
- By Mike Selinker
- October 29, 2012
You computer gamers think the wait for Diablo III was long? Imagine how puzzle gamers have felt since finishing up the greatest puzzle game of all time, The Fool’s Errand, in 1987.
Game designer Cliff Johnson’s fans have been patiently awaiting the
sequel ever since. After years of fits and starts, many fans believed
the game would never be released. But last week, after a decade of
serious development, Johnson finally let the world see The Fool and his Money. Johnson talked to me about the game from his home in Connecticut.
Wired.com: Let’s kick the elephant out of the room first. A quarter century is a long time between games. What took so long?
Johnson: Well, 25 years between The Fool’s Errand and The Fool and his Money to be precise.
In 1989, I did At the Carnival, and in 1991, I did 3 in Three, which won MacUser’s coveted Best Game of the Year. In 1991, I developed Disney’s Cartoon Arcade for Ideal Toys.
In 1992-1995, I was the Director/Producer of *FunHouse* at Philips Media, and with a group of two dozen talented artists, animators, and programmers, we did Hanna Barbera’s Cartoon Carnival, Merlin’s Apprentice, and Labyrinth of Crete, the last two being puzzle games. After that, I consulted at Mattel Online, Warner Bros. Online, Disney Online, et al.
Then in late 2002, with the growing sophistication of Director and
Flash, PayPal, and the Internet, I realized I could create an identical
product for both the Macintosh and Windows, and then sell it myself on
And ten years later. The Fool and his Money.
Wired.com: I imagine the problem with working on
something that long is that the weight of the task magnifies over time.
The fan expectations on long-awaited works like Duke Nukem: 3D and Guns N Roses’ Chinese Democracy seemed to overwhelm the artists trying to deliver them. Did that happen on The Fool and his Money?
Johnson: TFaHM has six times the amount of puzzles as TFE.
And seven times the amount of graphics. And when I discovered Photoshop
in earnest, the output of images slowed down dramatically. TFE had very little sound. TFaHM is wall-to-wall sound. And I was a one-man band. Overwhelmed? No. Obsessive/compulsive, yes.
Wired.com: And now that it’s here, what has been the
reaction of those who supported you during the development? I see a lot
of familiar names in the Compendium of True Believers.
Johnson: 75% were always supportive. 22% grumbled. 3% wanted a refund and I gave it to them. In 1999, when I first put up my website, I received a ton of mail, well, the digital equivalent. What was most striking to me was that (a) people were still playing TFE with emulators, (b) they complained that no one was doing games like
mine (was that a good sign or a bad sign?), and (c) when was I going to
do another game, like the old ones. This tremendous outpouring of support sealed my fate to do TFaHM.
But to answer your question, everyone is delighted and relieved. Now they are free to “hate me” in earnest.
Here, six words use one letter from each row, leaving one letter from each row that spells a name.
Wired.com: OK, let’s get to gameplay. When we last left our Fool, he had
deciphered the Book of Thoth and come into possession of the High
Priestess tarot card. What adventures await him now?
Johnson: You want me to do spoilers on my own Game?
The sequel starts where the original left off. The Fool is carrying the
14 treasures to return them to their rightful owners and he is robbed by
Pirates. Not only are the treasures stolen, but he loses his hat and
knapsack as well.
In the Kingdom of the Swords, people are spending all their gold to
purchase words, any words, all words. Or, Wordage as it is called. In the Kingdom of the Wands, foodstuffs are abandoned in favor of Herbs, like Gristletoe and Skunkbane, which have alarming side-effects. In the Kingdom of the Cups, folks eschew eating and prefer drinking the seven types of Elixir. Herbs affects the body. Elixir affects the mind. And in the Kingdom of the Pentacles, wealthy folk book passage with the
Pirates and their three ships — The Errant, The Monet, and The Paradist — and flee from the Land.
In The Seventh House, the Prince, son of the Emperor and Empress, casts
spells with ancient magic and intends to create his “New Land.” The Fool wends his way through the Kingdoms, breaking Bewitchments with his
Gift of Wisdom, and vows to save the Land from the Prince’s grandiose
machinations. But the Egyptians Gods have awakened. And all the while, the High Priestess is trapped inside a Tarot card and offers the Fool unsolicited advice and distraction.
The Fool tries to beat the Mistress in a game of Drunken Tarot.
Wired.com: There are a ton of different puzzle and game types in here. What are your favorites?
Johnson: They are all my favorites for different reasons, but the top ones would be:
- The 5 Tarot Card games because each invokes a different theme with different rules and curious new cards.
- The 4 Patchwork puzzles (unscramble the picture) because they
are invaded by pirates when you least expect it, but if you are clever,
you can avoid the Pirates altogether.
- The 4 Venditions and the 4 Auctions (hawking letters and
words) because they are straightforward logic puzzles in disguise.
- The 7 Horizontal puzzles (build vertical words by sliding the
horizontal rows) because they are calming and maddening at the same
- The 4 Herb puzzles (use visual memory to build words) and the
4 Stained Glass Window puzzles (trace the pattern). because they are
intuitive and are purely fun to play.
- All 31 puzzles of the Seventh House (7, Delivery, 7 Hex, 7
Remainders, 7 Connectors, 3 Gateways) because each level not only offers
a unique challenge, but advances the story of the Prince and his
- Quintin (remove all the coins) because the answer is simple, yet appears quite the opposite.
- Buckbee’s Bones (build 17 words from half-word fragments) because it seems matter-of-fact, but then you can dead-end so easily.
- Yapp because the answer is in plain sight, therefore totally invisible.
- Zachariah (sliding tiles) because it is a true puzzle. Looks impossible, but once you start playing with it, ‘tis possible.
I suppose my greatest achievement in the Game (and the most complicated to construct) are the Moon’s Map puzzles. Unlike TFE and the Sun’s Map, TFaHM offers many more interconnections to the rest of the game, adds a bunch
of further puzzle play, and in solving it, you are more clearly helping
the Fool remedy the woes of the Land.
The guards demand that the Fool remove the bewitched coins with his Gift of Wisdom.
Wired.com: When you designed The Fool’s Errand,
a lot of us Mac-heads viewed it as a light from heaven. Finally,
someone had made a complex game for the Macintosh. Twenty-five years
later, a lot has changed over at Apple. What’s the difference working on
a game with Apple computers now?
Johnson: For me, they seem the same. Obviously, computers have
gotten more sophisticated (read: complicated) in general. So I’ve had to
set my sights a wee bit higher (read: a ten-year odyssey). But let’s face
it. TFaHM is an old-fashioned game to be played with the latest technology. Irony, my old friend, we meet again.
Wired.com: Finally, when can I mark you down for a sequel to 3 in Three?
Johnson: Nothing is certain at this point. The computer
gaming market is changing and I need to wait and see what it changes
into before I commit myself to another ten years.