Game Reviews A

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Table of Contents

Aayela The Abbey Above and Beyond! Acid Whiplash Acorn Court Ad Verbum Adventure (aka Colossal Cave) The Adventures of Elizabeth (El) Highe The Adventures of The President Of The United States Aisle Akari's Story Akron Alien Abduction? All Alone All Hope Abandon All Quiet on the Library Front All Roads All Things Devours The Amazing Interactive Turing Machine Amnesia (Thomas Disch) Amnesia (Dustin Rhodes) Amnesia (Toby White) Anchorhead And The Waves Choke The Wind Another Earth, Another Sky Another Lifeless Planet and Me With No Beer The Apocalypse Clock Arrival, or Attack of the B-Movie Cliches Arthur: Quest for Excalibur ASCII and the Argonauts At The Bottom Of The Garden At Wit's End The Atomic Heart Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies Attempted Assassination Augmented Fourth Augustine Aunts and Butlers The Awakening The Awe-Chasm


From: John Wood <john SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Aayela AUTHOR: Magnus Olsson EMAIL: zebulon SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Below Average SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 After playing Magnus Olsson's acclaimed entry in last year's competition, Uncle Zebulon's Will, I was expecting a lot from this - particularly when I saw that it was set in the same universe. Unfortunately, this is an experiment in utilising senses other than sight rather than a full game, and it shows - the plot is a standard "quest for the magic mcguffin," and feels tacked on. The atmosphere created by spending most of the adventure in the dark is moderately effective, but the use of other senses is too limited to do the situation justice. As a game, there is not a lot for the player to do. I completed it in under an hour, most of the time spent wandering around because I hadn't spotted what I was supposed to be doing. There is a good selection of alternate endings, but all in all it felt too small and shallow to satisfy. From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 Ah, Magnus Olsson is sneaky, using an attention-getting device similar yet opposite to the one used by the (dull) AGT game "Zanfar." "Zanfar" has a name that places it last in an alphabetic directory listing, so that it's the last title a player sees, thus making it remain fresh in his/her mind. Magnus' tactic is the opposite. He gives his game a name that places it FIRST, in the hopes of grabbing the advantage from players who go through all the entries in alphabetical order, thus leaving no prior work for players to compare his entry to. Well, it didn't work on me! I saw through your little plot, Magnus, and I made it a point to play "Aayela" DEAD LAST, so that I could effectively compare it to EVERYTHING!! AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!! *Ahem.* Well. "Aayela" is set in the land of Vyhl, visited by your character at the end of Magnus' 1995 entry Uncle Zebulon's Will. That said, I guess I expected a more obvious continuation of "Zebulon," in the shoes of the same character, uncovering more of the same mystical land while perhaps getting a chance to meet my eccentric uncle Zeb. Instead I found myself assuming the role of another young (expendable) unknown set off to seek out the standard adventure-game McGuffin, in this case the Stone of Aayela. As in "Zebulon," Magnus' writing shines. (Does so, Gareth!) Like the vanished Zebulon with whom a rapport was forged in "Aayela"'s prequel, the imprisoned spirit of Aayela guides the player forward and develops into a part of him. This is paced nicely, with the unique setting of total darkness for much of the quest. Unfortunately, this mars the realism created by the rest of the writing. The room text is sometimes no more than standard cave descriptions preceded by the words "It's completely dark." The protagonist's sense of direction must be uncanny to allow him to navigate with no light by which to see his compass. There's no threat of danger, either, until the very end, after which I was left with a feeling of, "You mean that's IT?!" I liked "Aayela," don't get me wrong. I simply didn't find it as clever as Magnus' previous work, particularly when compared with so many other outstanding entries this year. FTP FileDirectory With TADS .gam File

The Abbey

Cedric Knight <ADDRESS REMOVED> Review appeared in SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 TITLE: The Abbey AUTHOR: Art LaFrana EMAIL: lafrana SP@G (?) DATE: 1993 PARSER: Not bad SUPPORTS/PLATFORM: MS-DOS AVAILABILITY: Shareware, $10 URL: VERSION: 1.0 You are a 14th century scholar sent, by no less a personage than the Pope himself, to recover ten treasures after a fire at the Abbey of Montglane. This old-time DOS adventures deserves a SPAG review for its attempts to bring the medieval thriller genre to IF, and for its good puzzles, plot, and imagery. This imagery is achieved despite descriptions which are not surprisingly economic considering that parser and world are condensed into a 51K executable. Thereís a sense of incredulity at certain points as the plot develops, but the denouement is satisfying, providing revelation and resolution of what has gone before. Some pieces recur from LaFranaís earlier and rougher "Hampton Manor", but these are merely in-jokes, and not distracting. Your score proceeds through a series of ranks, which also neatly split the game into seven sections, which although set in the same environment involve different puzzles of increasing complexity. One logical but complex puzzle (perhaps the most complex) eventually results in apparent bloodshed when you dispatch the only NPC of any significance, but since the first time you encounter him heís likely to kill you, it might reasonably be considered self-defence. The parser is claimed to be better than that in "Hampton Manor", and is certainly adequate, but there are still verb problems. As in the previous game, "move" is more effective than "search", contrary to widespread IF convention, and one puzzle early in the game is effectively impossible for non-US English speakers. I do not consider revealing unintentional difficulties to be spoilers, and as this is not the only game with this problem it is worth mentioning. The verb in question is "pry" which as far as I know isnít used in the intended sense outside North America. So here is an appeal to library designers to include "pry" as a standard verb synonymous with "prise", "jemmy", "prize", "jimmy", "jimmi", "lever" and "force". The gameís later stages are genuinely demanding, including one puzzle involving not just a bit of arithmetic but also close observation of scenery. One problem with this is that by the time you get to this stage you may well have forgotten a clue. Worth trying, and, if the author is still collecting it, also worth the registration fee. PLOT: Fantastical (1.4) ATMOSPHERE: Suitably creepy (1.4) WRITING: Evocative (1.3) GAMEPLAY: Guess the verb (1) VARIETY: Unique structure (1.7) OVERALL: 6.8 CHARACTERS: Sparse (0.6) PUZZLES: Tricky (1.4) DIFFICULTY: Hard FTP FileGame file (.zip) FTP FileHints and stepwise walkthrough

Above and Beyond!

From: Robin Adams <robinadams SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 NAME: Above and Beyond! AUTHOR: Michael J. Sousa EMAIL: msousa SP@G DATE: January 2000 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 1.2 Michael says that this game is the first he has written with TADS, but he doesn't make it clear whether it is his first IF game ever, or not. If it is, it is extremely good for a first game; and even if it is not, it's not a bad little game by any means. You play Alex, a programmer newly hired for a software company whose name is never revealed. As you pull into the parking lot for your first day, you realise you've left your ID card at home. Just in case you think the company will be understanding, as you approach the main doors, you witness a man named Bill being fired for losing his ID. And so your first problem is neatly set: how to get inside. As you snoop around outside the building trying to work this out, you overhear a conversation between two FBI agents who are investigating a series of abductions among the employees of the company. Once inside the building, investigating these disappearances forms the main plot of the game. This is not a Deadline-style detective game, though; while there are one or two clues to find or conversations to overhear, most of the problems are of the traditional kind: obtaining objects, getting through locked doors, and all the other activities we IF-ers love so much. These puzzles aren't very many - it's a relatively short game - but most of them are very well polished. As it should be, it is often easy to see what you are supposed to do, but difficult to see how you should do it. They are all perfectly logical and very satisfying to solve, with one exception. (The exception is how to open the prison cell door. I had to resort to the walkthrough for that, and even now, I'm not sure how it was supposed to work.) One problem - how to get past Greg and Ed the guards - reminded me very much of the Babel fish problem in Hitchhiker's (and, despite some people's opinions, that is a good thing). You find the first part of the solution, and a second obstacle is revealed. Beat that, and a third is found; and so on, until you get all parts in place and watch it unfold like clockwork. Great fun. Throughout the game, Michael shows a good instinct for how much of a clue to give the player when you get the answer to a problem `almost right'. If you are wearing an incomplete disguise, for example, you will be told which part you are missing - but not where or how to get it, of course. There is also a very sparse HINT function. It hardly ever gives the complete solution to a problem; most of the time it simply tells you which problem you should be tackling next, sometimes it gives the broad outline of the solution. This is also the first game I have played with a WINNABLE command, which shows whether or not the game has been put into an unwinnable state. This is, in my opinion, a great thing, and I'm glad to hear it's becoming quite common. I should mention that the game is extremely linear. There is never a choice as to which problem to solve next - even on occasions when it would have been easy to do so. There is always something that means you can't get into a necessary area until you've solved the previous problem. This didn't bother me too much, as it fit into the general spirit of the game. You'll know whether it will bother you or not. My main complaint is that the descriptions are so dull. Except for a few pieces of humour (which stick out like sore thumbs), we are told the absolute bare minimum about each room or object. Here are a few samples: Front of Building You're standing in front of the building of your new company. It's a two story building that is shaped like an inverted V. The entrance is marked by two large glass doors. To the east is the parking lot. Paths also lead north and south. Parking Lot You're in the middle of a fairly large parking lot, standing beside your car. To the west is the front of the building. Copy Room You've made your way into a small room used to store day-to-day office equipment. Various pieces of equipment line the wall. >X SHREDDER The shredder is sitting on a small table at the far end of the room. It is currently turned on. >X PEN It's an ordinary pen. And so forth. There's nothing wrong with a few descriptions like this - after all, Zork's "South of House" was hardly the most interesting location ever. But I could have chosen any room or object in this game at all; I honestly can't think of a single exception. Each one is a basic description, then a list of the things you need to know to solve the game. Taken all together, it makes the world seem very, well, grey. This is particularly true once you get inside your office. According to the comments in the credits, the game had a maze at some point in its history which was later taken out. I'm willing to bet that the maze was the office, which consists of about 30 cubicles and offices, and the hallways between. Michael has straightened it out, making it much easier to navigate, but has kept the hallways' and cubicles' descriptions identical except for the name of the occupant. Michael claims the game is based very closely around the office where he actually works. If this is true, he must be one of the most bored people on Earth. Not only are the rooms so monotone, but his colleagues are all clones. Meet one of them for the first time, and he or she will rise, read your name tag, shake hands, and introduce themselves. Examine them, and you will either see: He's your average looking male. or: She's your average looking female. They spend their day alternating between `trying to get some work done', and talking on the phone. They refuse to talk about each other. It would have been wonderful if the kidnappings turned out to be some sinister force replacing people with these soulless androids, but sadly this turns out not to be the case. This especially hits you because you are set tasks where the only point seems to be `See if you can find your way from here to this cubicle' - another remnant of the maze, I imagine. Mazes are dull, but at least there would have been a bit of challenge. As it is, these treks are simply tedious. I think I've concentrated too much on the bad points of this game - mainly because the good points are the puzzles, and I can't describe them too much without giving things away. Don't come to this game for good writing, characterisation, or a good story - the plot is quite simplistic. Do come for some very well designed puzzles, and a satisfying little game that will keep you occupied for two or three days. From: Cedric Knight <ADDRESS REMOVED> Review appeared in SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 Intrigued by the sole 8.7 score given to this game and a request for reviews, I downloaded the TADS file and started playing. This was immediately after finishing "Little Blue Men", to which this new game has some similarities, such as being set in a dull and frustrating office. However, whereas "Little Blue Men" was tightly constructed, this new game seems to sprawl a little, and consequently you find yourself wandering through many locations that are essentially the same; itís good to keep a map because many have the same brief description. The premise seems straightforward. You are Alex (a nicely genderless name, but why are all the managers men?), a programmer starting the first day of work at a new company. The first problem of the game is that you have no ID card to gain entry to the building. The first problem *with* the game is that that shouldnít be a problem: for example, why canít you simply talk to the receptionist? This kind of contrivance sticks out a little, and the game continues in this manner for a while, with linear but frequently unlikely puzzle solutions. Of course, all adventures have necessary objects just lying around to some degree, but in Above and Beyond! this arbitrariness is quite conspicuous. I also had to resort to using HINT occasionally to double-check I was doing the right thing. (Despite what the author says about being sparse, these HINTS are about right, subject to the two criticisms here. The game also provides a useful WINNABLE command to check the current position is worthy of saving and that you havenít left any important items behind.) The story develops mostly by eavesdropping, which lends the game an atmosphere reminiscent of a David Mamet thriller, as well as giving a good opportunity for humour. You can also tell some of the authorís interests by references to Page and Plant plus a few IT-based jokes. The plot can be neatly divided into three. The introductory section concerns getting access to the building, and is fairly obvious; I was lucky to find a slightly concealed object first time off, and only had slight problems with wanting to use "drop" instead of "put". The second section involved a light satire of office work, and seemed reasonably intuitive until some shenanigans with "Bob", where the player has to do a lot of waiting and it doesnít seem the puzzle solution is going to get you anywhere. Ideally in IF, I would say that the complexity of the problem should be proportionate to the importance the player is likely to give it. At this one point, I admit to looking up someoneís else solution, but after that it was plain sailing. The final section begins with a nice puzzle which involves dying several times to deduce the complete solution, and then again seemed to me to go off at a tangent, with the solution just out of reach because one useful object has a second, more obscure role. From then on, the game decides you donít need any more hints, and a rapid climax was for me let down by a final confrontation with the villain of the piece which lacked credibility. The game makes up for the formulaic and functional plot in the non-player characters, of whom there are around 30. The office workers are, the author claims, based on real people, but seem to be cut from the same cloth (or class), with superficial details differing in the way the author satirise their frequently bovine mannerisms. My favourite among these is Brian the Guardian of the Library: "Brian is having an in-depth conversation on the pro's and con's of formulating a policy of systematically assigning street names to all city streets using the GPS as a guide. This could, and probably will, take a while." The NPCsí activities may noticeably depend on quite unrelated actions by you, but this does not seriously detract from the game. The writing is literate, but Varicella it is not, unfortunately. "Walking the plank" makes you "giggle to yourself thinking you're on a pirate ship" which I only criticise of because itís the kind of thing I might write. I only found one or two typos ("compliment" where it should be "complement") or minor programming errors. In conclusion, the good puzzles and characters are let down slightly by the plot, and while not worthy of the high score previously given, is a commendable first effort. PLOT: Disappointing (0.9) ATMOSPHERE: Good, filmic (1.3) WRITING: Serviceable (1.1) GAMEPLAY: Repetitious (1.1) VARIETY: Nice set pieces (1.3) OVERALL: 5.7 CHARACTERS: Entertaining (1.3) PUZZLES: Mostly good (1.2) DIFFICULTY: Mostly middling-to-easy FTP FileTADS game file (.gam) FTP FileWalkthrough

Acid Whiplash

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Acid Whiplash AUTHOR: Rybread Celsius & Cody Sandifer EMAIL: rybread SP@G (Celsius), sandifer SP@G (Sandifer) DATE: September 1998 PARSER: Inform whacked SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 ACID WHIPLASH by Anonymous (a.k.a. RYBREAD CELSIUS CAN'T FIND A DICTIONARY by Rybread Celsius and Cody Sandifer) "This is terribly, terribly unfair. I'm really sorry. But I just started laughing hysterically, and it's not what the author intended. In the middle of an intense ending sequence, I read the line: 'My blood pumper is wronged!' I just lost it. It's a very 'Eye of Argon' sort of line." -- Andrew Plotkin, reviewing "Symetry", 1/1/98 "It takes guts to do *anything* wearing a silver jumpsuit. My point: I bet Rybread wears *two* silver jumpsuits while he writes IF." -- Brad O'Donnell, 1/6/98 I hope my title line isn't too big a spoiler. I guess I can't feel too guilty about giving away something that's revealed in the first 3 seconds of the game. Anyway, it would be impossible to talk about this game without talking about Rybread Celsius. Yes, Rybread Celsius. The man, the myth, the legend. There are those who have called him "A BONA FIDE CERTIFIED GENIUS" [1]. There are those who have called him "the worst writer in interactive fiction today" [2]. There are even those who have called him "an adaptive-learning AI" [3]. Whatever the truth behind the smokescreen, opinion is clearly divided on the Celsius oeuvre. He appears to have an enthusiastic cult following who look at his works and see the stamp of genius, paralleled by another group who look at those selfsame works and see only barely coherent English and buggy code. I have always counted myself among the latter. Works like Symetry and Punkirita Quest set my English-major teeth on edge. I have never met a Rybread game that I've liked, or even halfway understood. But Acid Whiplash is different. First of all, I need to say that I'm going to call it Acid Whiplash, for several reasons: 1. I'm not sure what the game's real name is supposed to be. 2. The other name, while it may be (is!) perfectly true, is just too long to write out. 3. Acid Whiplash is just such a *perfect* name for this game. I've never dropped acid myself, but I'm guessing that this game is about the closest text game equivalent I will ever play, at least until my next Rybread game. The world spins crazily about, featuring (among other settings) a room shaped like a burning credit card (???), nightmarish recastings of Curses and Jigsaw, and your own transformation into a car dashboard. Scene changes happen with absolutely no warning, and any sense of emerging narrative is dashed and jolted about, hard enough and abruptly enough to, well, to give you a severe case of mental whiplash. Sounds like a typical Celsius game so far, right? But here's the best part: stumbling through these hallucinogenic sequences leads you through a multi-part interview between Cody Sandifer and Celsius himself, an interview which had me laughing out loud over and over. Sandifer is hilarious, striking the pose of the intensely sincere reviewer, taking each deranged Celsius word as gospel, and in the process manages actually to illuminate some of the interesting corners of his subject, and subject matter. And Rybread is... Rybread, no more or less than ever. Perhaps being changed into a dashboard while listening makes the whole thing funnier -- I'm not sure. As usual, my regular categories don't apply. Plot, puzzles, writing -- forget about it. Acid Whiplash has no real interaction or story in any meaningful sense. (There is, however, one very funny scene where we learn that Rybread is in fact the evil twin of a well-known IF author). If you're looking for a plot, or even something vaguely coherent, you ought to know that you're looking in the wrong place. But if you aren't familiar with the Way of the Rybread, or even if you are, I recommend giving Acid Whiplash a look. It might shed some light on what all these crazy people are talking about... but don't expect to understand the *next* Celsius game. [1] Brock Kevin Nambo [2] Me. (Nothing personal.) [3] Adam Thornton Rating: 5.2 (This is by *far* the highest rating I've ever given to Rybread. In fact, I think it beats his past 3 ratings from me put together!) FTP FileInform file (.z5) FTP FileWalkthrough (Text)

Acorn Court

From: Alistair G. Thomas <agt20 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 NAME: Acorn Court AUTHOR: Todd S. Murchison DATE: September 1997 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Infocom ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: You start Acorn Court in the courtyard of the title, with no idea what you're trying to achieve. This early location shows the effort that's been made to imbue the setting with a distinct atmosphere. A bit overdone, in my opinion, but I was pleased the effort had been made and was looking forward to exploring this world. However, 'twas not to be. There's a reason why you have no idea what's going on - nothing is. This is a one-location game, containing one relatively straightforward puzzle, and no plot. I can't really give examples of the text or sub-puzzles without revealing a fair proportion of the game. I don't know if this was written as a get-to-grips-with-Inform exercise? If so it's fine. The one quite complex object is quite well programmed, and while there's the odd quirk (You are carrying: twelve tennis balls, six tennis balls and) and the odd misleading response when you don't quite get the author's preferred wording, there are no major problems. Have a look if you fancy a five or ten minute puzzle, or better still, see if there's larger game by the same author. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Ad Verbum

From: Mark J Musante <olorin SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 NAME: Ad Verbum AUTHOR: Nick Montfort EMAIL: nickm SP@G DATE: October 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 / Serial number 000925 One line summary: Nord and Bert with attitude. This isn't Nick's second game, but it is the second game of his that is fairly widely known. The first one was "Winchester's Nightmare" which took an interesting tack in trying to get the player to be really part of the story. Instead of the usual ">" prompt, the player is presented with "Sarah decides to", and you get to fill in what you would like her to decide to do. This really made you feel part of the action, but it had the drawback of eliminating the standard commands we came to know and love over the past 20+ years of IF. Notably, 'i' for inventory, 'n' for north, and so on. "Sarah decides to sw" doesn't make much sense as a sentence. "Ad Verbum" takes this into account in a thoroughly amusing and clever way. If you use commands like 'up' and 'north', the room descriptions will also use them. If you instead use 'u' and 'n', so do the room descriptions. Some people might find this off-putting. I found it grin-worthy. But enough of that. The game itself presents the player with a seemingly simple stint: acquire all objects from a house and dump them in the Dumpster. The catch is that the house once belonged to the "cantankerous Wizard of Wordplay", so it's not as simple as going through each room and picking up the objects. You have to obey the rules. For example, in one room, you can only use words that begin with the letter 's', however the only way to leave it is to the north, which is a word you can't use. You also have to be able to pick up objects in those rooms, again only using 's'-words. Naturally, when you're in an 'n'-, 'e'- or 'w'-only room, it's hard to save the game, so Nick has you read a warning message before entering those rooms explaining the situation. It's a bit on the defensive side and it definitely breaks the flow of the game, but I'm sure that beginning players would find it useful. I, on the other hand, would have preferred to see that as a puzzle one discovered during the course of play. After all, the game is short enough. Too short, really, because these are the kinds of puzzles I love to see. Reading the text, thinking up possible solutions, a bright flash of discovery, the eagerness to see what's next... that's what IF is all about. The only downside to the game is that it didn't recognize quite as many words as I thought it ought to. It's frustrating to think of a perfectly good word ('scarper' to leave the 's' room, for instance) and then have it not work. I'm sure Nick will be getting plenty of suggestions from others, if he hasn't already. That being said, this was the game that made the whole competition for me. I enjoyed it from intro to quit. Nick, if you're reading this, keep writing more! I'd love to play a full-size game with this sort of wacky wordplay and perplexing puzzles. From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 Infocom, in its heyday, produced some games the likes of which has never been seen since, either because there's no perceived interest in such games (the mysteries in particular) or because amateur IF writers don't have access to the proper technology (the more graphical games). Neither of those objections necessarily applies to Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It, a wordplay game, but Nick Montfort's Ad Verbum is arguably the first free- or shareware IF game to follow in Nord and Bert's footsteps. (Dennis Cunningham's T-Zero had some points in common, but there was more going on than wordplay--pop culture references and such.) Ad Verbum is a worthy successor: like Nord and Bert, not all of it is particularly inspired, but the moments that work really, really work. The plot, again like Nord and Bert, is simply an excuse for wordplay puzzles--you're looking through the Wizard of Wordplay's mansion and moving through various rooms that are devoted to specific types of wordplay, thereby to collect objects. Many of the puzzles are a bit obscure, and some are only tangentially related to wordplay--or, rather, involve forms of wordplay that aren't necessarily familiar to anyone but the most hardened of GAMES magazine addicts. (One puzzle that involves moving a sofa down a flight of stairs is particularly baffling to those not on the author's wavelength.) Another, involving a little boy who's a dinosaur fan, I found simply misleading--at least, the solution suggested in the hints was something of a surprise to me. The heart of the game, however, lies on the "initial" floor of the house: there are passages lying to the north, east, west, and south, and going north yields this: "LISTEN WELL!" a sonorous voice booms out, in attempted hollowness. "Know ye that passage back through here is difficult for some, impossible for others! Should you wish to transport yourself - without your cherished possessions - out of these constrained confines, utter the magic command: NEW!" Neat Nursery Nice, nondescript nursery, noticeably neat. Normally, nurslings nestle noisily. Now, none. No needful, naive newborns. Nearby: ... nifty nappy. The parser, as you might have guessed, has been rewritten to require that every word of every command begin with N. Violating the rules elicits "No! No! Negative, novice. Nasty notation." or "No! No! Nefarious nomenclature. Narrate nicely, now." The NEW command mentioned above is your only way of getting out of the room: RESTORE, QUIT and everything else has been disabled. Needless to say, in the rooms to the east, west and south, the parser has been similarly reworked for the appropriate letter. You have a goal for each room--extracting some objects and getting out of the room, using only the appropriate letters--but even after the goal is accomplished, it's worth hanging around to experiment with the alliterative parser. The results are more often than not hilarious, as with the following: >nip nappy Naughty, naughty! Nibbling nappies not normal. Or: >examine effigy Enemy effigy. Extreme enormity evident. Execrable evildoer! There's plenty more amusing stuff in each room: the parser-rewriting was done with plenty of intelligence and wit. (WAIL in the appropriate room elicits "Waaaah!", which amuses me no end for some reason.) In short: nicely notated, Nick! Erudite, esoteric effusions entertain endlessly. Winsome, witty wizardry will woo wordsmiths, who will whisper "Wow!" without wearying. Surely, such semantic skill should solicit stratospheric scores. There are some variants on the alliterative parser--another S room with another restriction, and a room with objects whose content suggests that the proper TAKE replacement for each object will involve letter-avoidance of one sort or another. (There was a nasty bug in the competition version of this room that has been squashed--naturally, the game in the updated version reports a literal squashed bug.) The parser is not, however, rewritten for each object, so most of the fun of the alliterative rooms is lost, and only the wordplay puzzle remains. It's a fine puzzle, of course, but it doesn't have the same effect. The other puzzles are likewise not nearly as inspired--there's a "twin bedroom" that requires that all commands be in the form >HAMMER HAMMER, but there isn't nearly as much room for experimenting there. To the extent that Ad Verbum works--and it depends mostly, I think, on the extent to which the player is amused by the alliterative rooms--it works for different reasons than Nord and Bert worked. The latter called for all sorts of cleverness from the player, and getting through it produced a real feeling of accomplishment; some of the puzzles were quite difficult. In particular, certain scenarios required that the player deploy various clichťs or idioms, often in amusingly twisted ways, to get through the scene--and not a small amount of creativity was required. Ad Verbum doesn't ask nearly as much of the player--the most difficult feat of wordplay is clearly coming up with the appropriate alliterative words, and in most rooms that's not especially difficult. (Getting out of the N room is a challenge--sufficiently obscure that if you go in there without first encountering the fellow who wanders around dropping hints, you're unlikely to get it--but the others are pretty straightforward.) But the author here has put his own skills on display, much more so than the Nord and Bert authors did, and the result is just as amusing. In other words, the fun is more passive here than it was in Nord and Bert--the interactivity isn't as important--but there's still fun to be had. Ad Verbum is not an unqualified success; without the alliterative parser, I don't think there'd be much interesting about it. But I got enough laughs out of those rooms that I can't give it anything less than a 9. FTP FileInform .z5 file (updated version) FTP FileInform .z5 file (competition version)

Adventure (aka Colossal Cave)

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 NAME: Adventure GAMEPLAY: Two Word parser AUTHOR: Will Crowther PLOT: Good EMAIL: I wish I knew ATMOSPHERE: Tolkienic AVAILABILITY: IF Archive WRITING: Very Good PUZZLES: Many trial & error SUPPORTS: Practically all CHARACTERS: Few, but memorable DIFFICULTY: Average Adventure, aka Colossal Cave, is the oldest, most famous, most modified, most ported, and most pirated game in the history of Interactive Fiction. Written in the antiquity of the mid 70's, it was bootlegged to practically every university in the country on magnetic tape. It was commercially released by several companies (such as The Software Toolworks), and has been ported to AGT, TADS, Inform, and several others. It has also been expanded several times. Many authors have taken the layout of the original game and simply added new rooms, items, and puzzles. For this reason, the game is usually referred to by the maximum number of points that can be scored. For instance Adventure 350 (the original version), Adventure 370, Adventure 550, Adventure 1000, and so on. Adventure could also be said to be indirectly responsible for the entire Infocom product line. The original mainframe Zork was begun when the authors played Adventure and believed that they could improve on it, especially vis a vis the parser. Zork, the product of their efforts, was the foundation of Infocom, and owes heavily to Adventure. The words "xyzzy" and "plugh" will draw a response, and the thief's maze is lifted directly from the game. All in all, one might conclude from this that Adventure is the greatest Adventure game ever written, but this is not quite the case. It's continued popularity stems from a) its hauntingly compelling atmosphere, b) its colourful imagery, c) the fact that for many it was their first adventure game, and d) the fact that many people first played it 70's style. Playing a game 70's style was very different from playing today. Since there were few personal computers, playing a game usually involved a trip to the local university computer room, generally after hours, with a bag lunch in tow (since the session would usually last quite a while). My own first experience with Adventure involved late-night trips to IBM with my programmer father. The long trek through dimly-lit windowless corridors to the terminal room was practically an adventure in itself, and since you couldn't just go and play whenever you wanted to, the game had plenty of opportunity to grow larger in the imagination in between sessions. Also, a player is more likely to be forgiving of a first game than later ones. When you have never seen such a game before and are not quite sure what it can understand or do, you won't mind a simple two-word parser, such as Adventure has, unless it is positively user-unfriendly. Adventure's parser while simple, is adequate for the game, and produces a good effect by frequently addressing the user directly ("You don't expect me to do a decent reincarnation without any orange smoke, do you?"). Adventure is loaded with memorable imagery (Witt's End, the maze of twisty little passages, the Pirate, the breath-taking view, "xyzzy," et cetera) that generally stays with a player long after the game is completed. The atmosphere is wonderfully authentic. The game map was based on Bedquilt Cave in Kentucky, part of the Mammoth Cave labyrinth. While there are no dragons in Bedquilt, it is said that first-time visitors have been able to find their way around by virtue of having played the game. While Zork is simply a collection of interesting locales that just happen to be underground, Adventure resembles a real cavern much more, featuring dead ends, fissures, blocked passages, and passages in the floor. As in Tolkien, magic in Adventure is present, but tantalizingly remote; not coming out the wazoo, as it is in Zork and most other fantasy games. Nevertheless Adventure is not without its problems. As mentioned previously, the parser is rather primitive, at least in the original version (the TADS and Inform ports have state-of-the-art parsers). Also the puzzles are frequently meant to be solved by trial and error rather than deduction. How are you supposed to figure out what to do with the rod, or how to kill the dragon, or how to bring light to the Dark Room, or how to recover the Golden Eggs, or how to get that final point, anyway? By experimenting, that's how. Of course, in a first game players are often much more inclined to experiment with it to discover its capabilities. That's not to say that there aren't some good puzzles as well. The object that you need to win at the end is very cleverly concealed, and only the keen-eyed will detect the subtle difference between the vending machine maze and the Pirate's maze that allows you to map the former without dropping objects (unfortunately, this feature is not present in the Inform version). There are no save/restore puzzles as such. It is possible to win on the first playthrough, but not to achieve the maximum score. If you take too long (and you will), you will be forced to expend one of your treasures to recharge your lamp (thus lowering your score), but after you have solved the game, it will be a simple matter to optimize your time and win before this becomes necessary. Adventure is an adventure game that every text gamer should play some time in their lives; the only game that has a genre named after it. But it would be best to stick with Adventure 350 in either its original form, or the TADS or Inform ports. The add-ons of the larger versions simply make the game bulkier and clunkier without improving the gaming experience. From: Alex Freeman <freemanry SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 Adventure is the first adventure game ever. This was played on mainframes actually. I remember how my uncle would tell how he used to work on a mainframe with other people, and the only game available to them was Adventure. Its output was printed on paper rather than on a screen. They were never able to beat it, though. I got this game from a friend, and I was really excited about it because of what my uncle had told me. I got hooked quickly. I would keep on playing this game and making rapid progress. The only two reasons why I didn't get to the last puzzle in one sitting are probably because I was forced off the game by mother a few times and because of the two mazes in the game. Back then, I wasn't as good at finding my way around mazes with twisty passages as I am now. Not surprisingly, the game is pretty simple in some ways. For instance, the two-word parser. Another is that the characters are really simple and have basically no personality. Howver, this is not really a complaint. These two things don't need to be any more complicated than they are for the game. As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed this game. The nice thing about it is that most of the puzzles are logical and not too easy or too difficult. One of my favorite ones is the one where you have to figure out how to bring into this dark room. I thought was a really clever puzzle because you have to use cleverness to do it. However, there were about two exceptions to this rule. Figuring out how to get in the cave was pretty easy, and the very last puzzle was definitely too difficult. [Further comments removed due to spoilers. --Paul] Another complaint I have about this game is the random fighting that you do with the dwarfs. After one of them throws an axe at you and misses, you're supposed to pick it up and throw at dwarfs when they appear and start throwing knives at you. Whether you hit them and whether they hit you is just chance. This simply gets in the way of the game. I think it would have been better if you had to get rid of those particular dwarfs by solving puzzles. Of course, the very last puzzle gets rid of all of them but still. Another one is that when you die, you don't just die; you can get reincarnated into a different body and get another. I think it would have been better to have taken this feature out so as to make the game a little more realistic and to make players more cautious by saving their games. Overall, this is a great game. I recommend it to everyone who is interested in adventure games. It is interesting to compare this game to more recent adventure games to see how much things have changed since then. For instance, in Adventure, you can only look at rooms; you can't look at objects. In most adventure games written since then, you can do both. My points for the game are this: Atmosphere: 1.7 Gameplay: 1 Writing: 1.2 Plot: 1.1 Fantasy: 1.5 Total: 6.5 Characters: 0 Puzzles: 1.8 FTP FilePC executable w/ Source (.zip) FTP FileInform port (.z5)

The Adventures of Elizabeth (El) Highe

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: The Adventures of Elizabeth (El) Highe GAMEPLAY: Poor, but adequate AUTHOR: Bill Larkins PLOT: Slightly below average EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Below Average AVAILABILITY: CIS Gamer's Forum WRITING: Average PUZZLES: Not so hot SUPPORTS: AGT CHARACTERS: Slightly below average DIFFICULTY: Trivial In THE ADVENTURES OF ELIZABETH (EL) HIGHE, you play Elizabeth Highe, a game designer for Sierra who must write a sequel to the hit, G-String Gertrude so that Ken and Roberta Williams will allow her to leave the building (all the names have been slightly changed, of course; i.e. Sierra to Appalachia, Roberta Williams to Robert Bills, etc.). You write your game by entering the computer (in a manner similar to the movie TRON) and physically retrieving it. The AGT manual, in describing various uses for adventure games, suggests that you could write a game about your co-workers and play it on a Friday afternoon. This seems to be exactly what Bill Larkins has done here (though I don't know if he ever worked for Sierra). The game is short (I was able to complete it in 42 moves), simple and lighthearted. The AGT parser is much maligned, but is really as good as the author makes it. It doesn't do much in this game, but it doesn't need to. The only problem I encountered was when I performed one important action and got no response at all, even though the action was registered. Some might mistakenly take this to mean that the action was not important and get sidetracked. The game is meant to be simple, cute, and quickly over, and it is. FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime (.zip)

The Adventures Of The President Of The United States

From: T. Henrik Anttonen <thealtren SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: The Adventures of the President of the United States AUTHOR: Mikko Vuorinen EMAIL: mvuorine SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Alan Standard SUPPORTS: Alan interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF archive URL: This game only placed 21st in this year's IF Comp, but the name and the Finnish author attracted my attention enough to make me decide that Iím going to try to save my reputation after the horrid review of Pulsar 7 by reviewing this. This is a short game that I think is supposed to be funny, but it doesnít quite achieve its purpose. First of all, I donít find it particularly funny, and second, it isnít very easy to complete because of its technical imperfections. The basic idea is great. You are the (unnamed) president of the United States. But since the White House is such a boring place, allowing nothing beyond the destroying the world as entertainment, you decide to go on an adventure. Unfortunately, an over-protective secret service agent doesnít allow you to go and there you have your first puzzle. The biggest problem of the game is that it seems to be written too hastily. The room descriptions are insufficient and the parser doesnít allow you to look for details except in a few places. That makes the simple puzzles quite hard to solve; I have to admit that I had to consult the walkthrough several times only to find that the solution was right there in front of my face, but I couldn't have known it since it didnít appear in the room description. I liked the idea that after you get out of the White House, rooms are countries. I donít know if it has been done before, but that really gave a refreshing difference to the game. In your journeys as the president you get to visit Mexico, Canada, Russia, Finland and Sweden. In Finland you actually get to learn some Finnish. I didnít like the fact that the player isnít given any purpose other than the need to go out on an adventure. I know that this is one way of designing a game, but Iíve always liked when the player is given a purpose and a goal he needs to accomplish to get on with the game. When a game combines this sort of purposelessness with bad room descriptions, youíre in for a lot of headaches if you donít resort to the solution file. The parser is also quite limited. The author says he tried to avoid guess-the-verb puzzles this time, but unfortunately the parser understands only one way of expressing yourself most of the time and you have to guess a lot while playing. I didnít find any actual bugs though. So, to summarise: The game's basic idea has potential and the room-country design is refreshing, but the game falls to its technical problems. If the author wouldíve given some more time to actual programming and to the room descriptions, this wouldíve been a quite entertaining game. FTP FileDirectory with Alan .acd and .dat files, and solution


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #18 -- September 15, 1999 TITLE: Aisle AUTHOR: Sam Barlow E-MAIL: sam.barlow SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform standard, with some additions SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABIILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Sam Barlow's Aisle is without a doubt one of the most unusual works to hit the IF community in quite some time. In no sense is it a game; trying to "win" it is futile, and the suboptimal outcomes aren't bad choices to be avoided as such. Rather, the point is to explore the central character and take a look at the various possibilities available to him from one point in time. That said, however, it's not clear that Aisle is an entirely successful experiment. The premise is simple: the game has one move, and it "ends" after that move and automatically sends you back to your original position. By interacting with what's around you -- and by incorporating knowledge gained thereby into future moves -- you learn about your own character and make sense of his various neuroses, fears, and hangups (to some degree, anyway). In the process, you get a sense -- at least, I did -- that your character, in this one move, is at a crossroads of sorts (or, at least, that the moment can mark a turning point, a change, if treated that way), and you take a look at where various paths might lead. In a sense, it's IF compressed -- while most good IF lets the player decide how a story will come out, to some extent, but draws that input out over several dozen or hundred moves, Aisle limits the input to one turn and tells the rest of the story for you. This structure allows the author to greatly multiply the range of options available, of course. In practice, however, Aisle can be thoroughly confusing--in part because the author both lets the player discover the PC's past and gives the PC multiple pasts to discover. The player might therefore initially assume that the key to understanding the player is piecing together his memories -- but there are too many memories that are inconsistent, incapable of fitting together, to do that successfully. As a result, it's difficult to make sense of what the PC does in the present, given that he has multiple pasts which might or might not explain his actions, and the character splinters into several parts, Sybil-like. The command "think about" or "remember" gives the player access to the PC's past, which is handy -- but the significance of the events recalled is largely a matter of interpretation. Though this may be a product of the assumptions built into most IF (i.e., polite conversations are rare), it also seemed that most of the PC's options at this moment in time are profoundly antisocial; many involve violence, many of the other options are simply bizarre, and your character often treats apparently normal conversational gambits as an excuse to act psychotic. All this has its place, of course -- the PC is supposed to be unhappy and under stress -- but it does make Aisle a bit tedious after a while, when the options for civilized behavior run out. On the other hand, many of Aisle's outcomes are quite effective on an emotional level, product of antisocial behavior or not; there is a strong sense in many of the scenarios that the PC doesn't really know why he does what he does. (Which, of course, puts him in the same boat as the player.) Whether intended this way or not, it's an intriguing take on the player-PC relationship in works of IF, since the player is free to tell the PC to do irrational, bizarre, or suicidal things -- but here the consequences of those irrational actions, and their effect on the PC, are played out again and again. Thus, as unattractive as the PC occasionally seems, it's hard to entirely lose one's sympathies for him. Since most of the story revolves around the PC's emotions, the player's reaction to the PC determines her reaction to the story as a whole, however -- and it should also be noted that the repetitive nature of the game, and the sameness of most of the outcomes, may tax the patience of the player and erode her sympathy for the hapless antisocial PC. The writing, on the whole, is strong -- memories come back to the PC in jumbled, scattered fragments that force the player to cobble together the story (or one of the stories), and the fragments -- a pasta meal, a waiter, an accident -- are vividly rendered, with striking images to carry them along. (It would spoil the game, however, to reveal what the images are.) The technical aspect, though obviously very simplified, is likewise well done; most actions, logical and illogical, are provided for, and those that aren't generally are omitted for a good reason. It's difficult to say, in the final analysis, what Aisle is setting out to do. If the point was simply to experiment with the classical IF form, this was clearly a successful effort. But the introspective nature of the game leads one to believe that the point is to portray a character and paint his emotional portrait, and the effectiveness of that aim turns on the player's reaction. For those who don't care for the PC or for his behavior, Aisle gets old fast, and there isn't much flexibility for the player to try to send the PC in different directions or otherwise change his ways. The lack of any sort of cathartic finale also means that the story always feels incomplete: the player is likely to try a series of options, eventually conclude there is nothing more to see, and quit, with no particularly resonant ending to make the whole thing more emotionally satisfying. Aisle is an interesting idea that has its moments, and it's worth a look for anyone interested in the theory of IF. Its effectiveness depends on whether it makes an emotional impact, however, and without such an impact, it's a dreary experience at best. FTP FileInform file (.z5) FTP FileWalkthrough (Text)

Akari's Story

From: Sara Brookside (jsh11a SP@G Review appeared in
SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 TITLE: Akari's Story AUTHOR: "Taleweaver" EMAIL: tralu SP@G DATE: 2005 PARSER: ADRIFT SUPPORTS: ADRIFT interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; Shadowvault archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 In this game, you play a Japanese teenager on a typical weekend day (in other words, no school!) I would place this piece of IF in the "slice-of-life" genre and the game does do a relatively good job of faithfully simulating Akari's daily life. Unfortunately, that simulation can sometimes be a little bit pedantic in the sense that it provides little in the way of "escape value." I wasn't particularly caught up in the story or involved in the action, despite the fact that the world-modeling implementation was adequate. Along those same lines, Akari's day lacked a sense of urgency or any clear goals. Accordingly, there wasn't very much to command action or to require much of the PC. The walkthrough reveals that the game ends after a certain number of turns. at the end of the day, so to speak. So, there is no real way to "win" the game, although there is a scoring system that awards points for certain actions. The walkthrough also revealed that I tried many of the actions that the author had in mind, while there were others that I missed completely and would have never thought of had I not read the walkthrough. One of the most interesting aspects of this piece is that it DOES provide insight into another culture (unless, of course, you happen to be a Japanese teenager yourself!) Japanese customs and terminology and even dietary preferences are woven into the game, which is quite intriguing! The game also reveals a bit about what is important to modern Japanese youngsters. also neat to know. On the downside, this may have the effect of making the player feel more like a spectator than a participant. It is as if one is observing Akari's life, rather than participating in it or living it, which makes the pace of the work feel rather slow at times. The writing is rather sparse, in the sense that room descriptions are relatively brief and many nouns are non-examinable. Still, I didn't note any particularly jarring errors in grammar or spelling, which certainly helped make for a pleasant reading experience in that regard. In short, however, I felt much as if I was reading an essay by a Japanese teenager about her life, rather than playing a game. There are puzzles in the game and they are reasonably well-crafted, although certainly not complicated. I wish there had been more of a sense of payoff to successfully solving the puzzles, however. Because the problems posed were essentially of the routine, day-to-day variety, and there was very little urgency, it didn't seem to matter much whether I solved the puzzles or not. The only real impact for doing so was the point value added to my score for performing certain actions. The characters in the game were largely undeveloped, except for the PC. All of the NPCs felt rather static and cardboard to me, almost as if they were objects rather than characters. Conversation is minimal, except if you happen to guess the few things that the author has allowed you to "ask [character] about," but this is not an uncommon problem by any means. As for plot and story, both were a little thin. Without a compelling goal to spur action, the experience was much more like an exploration than an interactive narrative. Game play progressed smoothly, though, with little evidence of "bugginess." There was an occurrence or two of "guess the verb," but I found those issues to be relatively easily solved and certainly not game- stoppers. A reading of the walkthrough definitely revealed several cases of "read the author's mind" and in each case, I had failed to do so. In conclusion, this game could be much improved by augmenting descriptions to add atmosphere and capture the attention of the player, as well as implementing more variety and innovation in the tasks of the PC to make for a more compelling story line. Overall rating: ** out of ***** for faithful simulation, fair puzzles, and cross-cultural value. Zip file containing ADRIFT game file and walkthrough


From: J. Michael Bottorff <pika_163 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #28 -- March 20, 2002 TITLE: Akron AUTHOR: Markus Kolic EMAIL: markusrtk SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Below Average SUPPORTS/PLATFORM: ADRIFT AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: 0.1 We've all seen it in many games, especially RPGs. Your character wakes up and has no idea who he or she is. Amnesia sets in. In "Akron", this is also true. However, when your character wakes up, he's in -- surprise! -- Akron, Ohio. It's where you live, you remember that much. And so you tromp all over Akron (or a certain part of it at least, because I don't think it's really that small) trying to search for who you are. So far so serious. However, when you stumble onto a cornfield, you get this description: You have blundered into a cornfield. Oh my. It looks like this is another one of those annoying mazes that the programmer loves so much. Well, let me give you a little hint - just go NORTH and you'll be out of the maze! You see, I, the computer, have changed this game JUST FOR YOU! Or, I can - oh no. The programmer's coming. AIEEEEEEEEEEEEE... The rest of the game follows suit, of course. In fact, the rest of the game is even *wackier*. (I would give you an example, but that would be spoiling.) The NPC's in this game are almost lifeless. The only one I could strike up a conversation with, was the cop, and that was because he was a clue to the game. Also, the game bugs are few, but drastic (for example, you can't pick up the library card). Some parts of "Akron" were endearing, others just irritating and mind-boggling. I didn't think this game was very good, but nor very bad. My advice: Pick it up if you are interested. If you like it, good. If not, just get rid of it. It's not going to be everyone's cup of meat. PLOT: A non-structured plot (0.5) ATMOSPHERE: Good, Ohio-ish (1.2) WRITING: Insanity shines through (0.8) GAMEPLAY: A lot of walking (0.9) VARIETY: Lots of variety (1.3) OVERALL: 4.7 CHARACTERS: Few, but lifeless (0.7) PUZZLES: Completed with the right words (0.8) DIFFICULTY: Easy FTP FileADRIFT .taf file

Alien Abduction?

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Alien Abduction? AUTHOR: Charles Gerlach EMAIL: gerlach7 SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 It's hard to believe that this is the very first serious game about aliens. Oh, there have been the pulp sci-fi offerings ("LGOP," for instance), and the typical plot-forming UFO abduction (as seen in "Waystation," "Plague Planet," and "Lost"), but I can't recall ever seeing a work of I-F that deals with the anomaly from a standpoint that does justice to the phenomenon. Overall, the story is quite linear, with a number of plot points slightly less than intuitive. The quality of prose fluctuates. Most disappointing is the interior of the ship, which offers simply a bland description of how you're in a place you never expected to be, leaving few details for the imagination to work with. Other bits, such as the click of an automaton's eyes and the ripping of a wire from your neck, never failed to make my skin crawl. Puzzles range from subtle (the conversations with NPCs, which allow the aliens to adjust their illusion of your world) to blatantly gratuitous (the colored shapes aboard the ship, and the crystal duck in the woods) and a number of tasks which never quite escape the "give <x> to <y>" feel. Most are enjoyable regardless. Particularly enjoyable is the fact that the ending leaves you uncertain as to what really happened, hence the question mark in the game's title. Was it really an alien encounter? Or might you have really lost your mind? Which seems more probable? Also, it's truly creepy how the aliens use your thoughts to build and expand the artificial reality they've trapped you in. I congratulate the author for this inventive work of I-F. And I'll congratulate myself as well. I got through this whole review without even once mentioning "The X-Files." Oop- DAMN!! From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #26 -- September 26, 2001 One of the many trends in IF of recent years has been to emphasize characterization, and in particular the character of the player character, over puzzles. An early portent of that trend was Charles Gerlach's Alien Abduction?, a 1996 competition entry that endeavors to make the PC something other than a cipher. The result isn't a total triumph, mostly because the game didn't fully emancipate itself from puzzlefest expectations, but it's an interesting attempt. It seems you're convinced that aliens are out to abduct you; a similar conviction landed your father in an asylum, but you know what you know. Sure enough, aliens do come by and -- after making you play a variant on Mastermind -- release you again, but the reality you go back to has some incongruities, notably that your father is back, showing no signs of having been carted away. Your goal, at that point, is to make sense of the incongruities. At least, I think so, and therein lies the difficulty. It's far from clear to the player at that point what he or she should be doing; that things seem to be a little off-kilter doesn't point the player in any particular direction for purposes of addressing the problem, and nothing that you find as you explore the off-kilter world (which is quite small as it is) is particularly illuminating. You can talk to your father, and while he has quite a lot to say, nothing really gives you much of a clue about what you're supposed to be doing. The solution isn't wholly illogical, it turns out, but it requires some fairly tortured inferences about various characters and how they react to certain stimuli. Considering that this puzzle is the heart of the game -- there are several subpuzzles, but most of the game is given over to one central problem -- not having a sense of what you're doing is a major flaw. This isn't a characterization problem, as such -- there are good reasons for the PC to do what he does. It's just that the player doesn't know enough about the PC (and his past) to understand those reasons. The problem springs in part from the game's attempts at giving the PC a specific identity and background, since the solution to the central problem hinges on the player's having a much deeper understanding of that background than seems likely, given the available evidence. Specifically, the problem turns on a certain NPC's psychology, for the most part, and the game didn't provide enough exposition to permit the player to draw the right inferences. This is good, in a certain respect; NPCs with psychological makeup more complex than some variant on "feed me" are relatively uncommon. That also means, however, that the player cannot necessarily be counted on to see what the author wants him/her to see, unless the author spells everything out in nice big letters (which defeats the point, to some extent). Here, there are clues scattered around, but it's a fairly long leap from the clues to the solution. (A related problem is that the solution requires inferring that a certain bit of technology has what seems a grave flaw; I certainly didn't find any suggestions that there was such a flaw.) Mostly because of those psychological intricacies, Alien Abduction? is a pretty difficult game -- it's entirely possible that you, the player, will stumble on the solution by accident, but that's not exactly satisfying. There are, let me emphasize, internal hints, and those are handy indeed -- and the game as a whole has a certain twisted logic once you understand what's going on. It seemed to me, however, that there wasn't much chance of the player attaining such an understanding without the hints. There's also one rather artificial puzzle (a.k.a. a "soup can" puzzle) -- the presence of the aliens supplies an excuse (they're testing you, you see), but not a great excuse, and the game would have been better, I think, had that puzzle been omitted. While Alien Abduction? doesn't quite work as a fusion of puzzle-solving challenge and character study, it does work as a mood piece and as a mess-with-your-head game in the tradition of Delusions and Spider and Web. (Yes, I'm aware that this preceded Spider and Web, but that's the paradigmatic example.) The discover-what's-going-on process is thoroughly creepy -- there's no big payoff, but there's a series of smaller surprises that effectively kept me guessing. The almost-normality of the setting works nicely (though it might have worked even better if the game gave the player more of a chance to explore the layout at the beginning, the better to appreciate the changes, Wishbringer-style; as it is, the game mostly tells the player "hey, this and that are different"), and lots of relatively nonessential objects and conversation topics are implemented, so the player isn't likely to keep running up against the game's boundaries (never a good thing in a mood piece). As for the mess-with-your-head factor, the game does a nice job of raising doubts about the PC's sanity and reliability, though those doubts are largely tangential to what actually goes on in the game; you may question whether the PC's perceptions are true, but you can largely assume that they are for purposes of getting through the game. That aside, unreliable narrators are a fun device, central to the progress of the story or not. How well Alien Abduction? works is a function of the player's expectations, I suppose -- it's certainly a well-written game with some suspenseful moments and good deal of atmosphere, and if you're someone who enjoys IF that emphasizes setting and mood, and who doesn't care overmuch about being able to solve the puzzles without reliance on hints, this is definitely for you. (I'm sure I'll hear from people claiming to have finished the game with no hints in seconds flat, but I call 'em like I see 'em, and I just don't see enough in the game to enable the player to understand the logic of the puzzles ex ante.) In that respect, the intervening years have made the IF audience somewhat more receptive to this game -- a well-crafted story with not-entirely-well-crafted puzzles is perhaps more welcome now than it was in 1996, though the tendency these days, I think, is to omit or downplay the puzzles. (In other words, the tendency for an author writing this game now might be to let the PC make some of the trickier inferences himself, rather than making the player do it; the interactivity would be thereby reduced, of course, but life is full of tradeoffs.) To the extent that Alien Abduction? tries to squeeze both challenging puzzles and some complex personalities and character interactions into the same game, it's a laudable effort; to the extent that it doesn't quite succeed, well, not many games can be called a total success on both those levels, and this was an early shot at it. It's not a roaring success, but it certainly has its moments. FTP FileTADS .gam File (updated version) FTP FileDirectory With TADS .gam File (competition version)

All Alone

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 TITLE: All Alone AUTHOR: Ian Finley E-MAIL: domokov SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: First release Ian Finley's IF output has been varied thus far: Babel, his 1997 competition entry, was science fiction of a distinctly dark shade, and Exhibition, from the 1999 competition, was a puzzleless exploration of an artist's works through the eyes of four different viewers. All Alone, his latest effort, has echoes of both: like Babel, it's highly atmospheric (and dark), and like Exhibition, there are no real puzzles as such. But this one is from the realm of horror/suspense--the author calls it "play-in-the-dark-ware" and says that "it MUST be played at night, in a quiet room, with the lights off"--and to the extent it works (which, for the most part, it does), it works on a different level. The plot, by initial appearances, is conventional stalker horror: you're waiting for your husband to come home, listening to the TV announcer talk about the serial killer who's on the loose, but then, of course, the power goes out, and you start hearing noises. The tension builds nicely, with all the requisite horror touches--a storm raging outside, a strange phone call, etc.; in fact, the only problem with the plot is that it doesn't do much that could be considered surprising (with the possible exception of a cockroach crawling over your foot at a key moment). The point, it seems safe to say, is to create an atmospheric game, not to experiment with the genre, but it's also true that the trajectory is familiar. On the other hand, All Alone does do one thing that's interesting: it leaves several details of the plot so murky that you probably won't catch on the first time through, and you may not even pick up on them after that. Of course, horror/suspense plots require some degree of murkiness about what precisely is going on, but usually there's a moment where Everything Becomes Clear; here, there's no such moment. As such, the ending of the game may leave you a bit flatfooted, especially since the game sort of skips directly from the climax to the ending: the tension builds, the moment arrives, and suddenly it's over, with the details almost as obscure as they were during the buildup. It's an odd strategic choice, really--perhaps the author means to encourage replay to figure out the fuzzier bits, but horror loses a lot on the replay. Whatever the rationale, it moves the game out of the realm of familiar stalker horror into something more unusual. There are no puzzles in All Alone, as noted. You experience the story differently if you react to the various stimuli in different ways, but only marginally so, and you can't actually change the course of the story (at least, as far as I can tell). The author calls it a "mood piece," and that's how it works: your inability to affect what goes on actually enhances the mood, since it enhances the feeling of being the prey. In that respect, it's a good illustration of how interactivity and player involvement can be achieved without the aid of puzzles: true, this sort of story doesn't have to be very interactive to keep the player's interest, but the author does tell it well. All Alone is a short but well put together effort that adapts the horror genre to IF nicely, with some unusual elements. Give it a try if you have a spare 10 minutes late at night. FTP FileTADS .gam file

All Hope Abandon

From: Paul Lee (bainespal SP@G Review appeared in
SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 NAME: All Hope Abandon AUTHOR: Eric Eve EMAIL: DATE: May 2005 PARSER: TADS 3 SUPPORTS: TADS 3 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1 Only a well-done game can successfully combine such elements as a rather detailed plot, puzzles of all sorts, a theologically dense theme, and Greek alphabet characters. "All Hope Abandon," though the prospect seems dizzying in retrospect, does all of the above and somehow manages to seem somewhat natural. This feeling of being natural is not inherent; this is especially apparent early on when the player is quickly thrown into the deep end at which point the game world seems like a disgruntled fairy tale. Thankfully, this "fairy tale" feeling soon dissipates into the more interesting scheme of the game. The player is cast as Dr William Fisher, a New Testament scholar, who at the opening of the game is found listening to the lecture of the deranged Professor Wortschlachter. Earlier at breakfast, William had met a pretty blond woman who somehow also ends up trapped in Limbo land (though the reason this happens is never adequately explained -- I think on purpose). Apart from adding a little romance to the story, she serves to symbolize the theme of hope throughout the game. The text is not overly complex or "purple," but is sufficient and usually easy to read. Sometimes the writing even has a slight pinch of wit, such as in the introductory text. The game is very detailed -- even unnecessary objects are carefully described. A "THINK" verb is implement which allows the player to THINK ABOUT certain topics, and I found the responses to cover mostly everything that could be thought about. The detail in prose and design is complimented by many puzzles. These puzzles come in a range of difficulty, generally becoming more difficult as the game progresses. The solutions to quite a few of these at least partially require the player to scrutinize every single detail of an important object. This sounds tedious, but it works alright because one gets used to the high level of implementation and also because the puzzles all at least require some level of critical thinking besides just examining. The game is structured so that it is quite easy to finish the game without having solved all the puzzles, and thus without having tied up all the loose plot ends. This is a result of the integration of the narrative and the puzzles, and gives the game more replayability than most interactive fiction games out there. Even with its great puzzles and well-done story, "All Hope Abandon" would be a mediocre game if it was riddled with bugs and grammatical errors. This is not the case; it is clear that the game was carefully tested. Everything works as expected, and it does not appear possible to get the game into a state that was not anticipated by the author. I must report that I did find one accidental typo; however, but if you can get over such things it will not lessen the quality of the game for you. In conclusion, "All Hope Abandon" by Eric Eve is an extremely well-done work. I would definitely commend it to your "to play" list if you have not played it yet. If you never play it, you should know that you are missing out on one of the best games to be released last year. From: Valentine Kopteltsev (uux SP@G Review appeared in SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 I know, I know -- a decent review has to start with some smart preamble on a more or less abstract topic; unfortunately, I couldn't think of any for All Hope Abandon. So please excuse me just for this once, and let's move on to business. The theme of this game is probably best defined as "subconscious jorney". However, if the author was trying (please note the conditional mood) to create a dreamlike atmosphere that suggests itself for a work of that kind, he didn't succeed too well. Anyway, no matter what the author's intentions were -- the game more than makes up for it by providing a stunning cocktail of adventure, theology, and romance, all that spiced with a good shot of irony. Several ways to victory are laid through it; and although the denouement is rather predictable at the end of the day -- the rich, intentionally anachronistic setting full of gadgets to fiddle with, and the considerable variety of the paths provided make it worth replaying the game several times to try out each of them. Another aspect of All Hope Abandon, which was especially pleasant personally for me: it doesn't act overly symbolic, although, again, it'd be very much in the tradition of the genre. You know, symbolism is just not my mug of beer, and games relying on it too much often leave me puzzled. On the other hand, the fact AHA sets forth its main ideas clearly enough doesn't mean it's as uncomplicated as a game as I am as a person;) -- I'm sure that players more skilled at interpreting symbolic links than myself will be able to enjoy the game on additional levels that remained inaccessible to me. From the technical point of view, the game is faultless. In comparison with the previous version, TADS 3 added several interface enhancements (for instance, let's mention the menu-based built-in hints, and the topic suggestions mechanism of the conversation system) on its own. All Hope Abandon not only makes extensive use of these facilities, but introduces, in its turn, a few more. The most interesting ones are the THINK ABOUT command, and the ability of the player to look in a specific direction. The first feature is one I've been looking forward to for a long time. Particularly in this game, it seems all the more appropriate since the protagonist has some "specialist knowledge that most players will probably not share"; besides, it's smartly used in one of the puzzles. The second one probably wasn't as challenging to implement from the technical point of view, but means A LOT additional work for the game author (ten extra descriptions -- eight for compass directions, and two for LOOK UP/DOWN -- in each room); even taking into account they're more terse than the "main" room description, and that a few of them are similar -- it's still a feat worthy of esteem. At this point, I've taken a pause and looked at what I had written so far. You can bet on it -- I'm utterly disappointed with the results: All Hope Abandon is a great game that deserves an outstanding, or at least a memorable review, not the generic stuff I sullied the (virtual) paper with. Of course, any reviewer will tell you it's much easier to write a memorable review for a flawed game; sure enough, All Hope Abandon doesn't offer much in this respect. At best, one could complain about the puzzles being too easy, which isn't much of a drawback as times go, and the most sceptical among the players would probably point out that the whole romantic plotline is a bit unrealistic, considering the protagonist and his beloved barely knew each other; well, I consider myself a cynical person, but not cynical enough for not believing in love at first sight, so this was OK for me. Still, the unsufficient flaws of the game are a pretty lame excuse for my review being so insipid. I think the problem is, All Hope Abandon just arrived at a wrong point in my life. The effect is like paying a visit to the British Museum at the very end of an exhaustive sightseeing day trip through London: the overstrained tourist feels there's a lot of things to admire, but the emotions just aren't there. Thus, in spite of my review probably not sounding too enthusiastic, let me assure you -- this game is a great work suitable practically for any players, ranging from novices to the versed ones, and represents a glorious showcase for the opportunities the new version of TADS offers. SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: Predictable, but still gripping (1.3) ATMOSPHERE: Motley mix (1.5) WRITING: Manifold, and splendid in its every manifestation (1.5) GAMEPLAY: Relaxed trip for the most part (1.4) BONUSES: Rich setting, fine irony, the THINK ABOUT command (1.4) TOTAL: 7.1 CHARACTERS: Memorable enough (1.3) PUZZLES: Well-clued and logical (1.2) DIFFICULTY: On the easy side (4 out of 10) Zip file containing TADS 3 game file and walkthrough

All Quiet on the Library Front

From: Palmer Davis <palmer SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 NAME: All Quiet on the Library Front PARSER: Inform v1502 AUTHOR: Michael Phillips SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports EMAIL: ??? AVAILABILITY: IF Archive ATMOSPHERE: Just a little thin WRITING: Expository CHARACTERS: Cardboard PLOT: Linear PUZZLES: Quite simple DIFFICULTY: Easy The premise is quite straightforward: you need to borrow a normally unobtainable book from your college library in order to write a research paper. After a bit of wandering around, finding objects lying about, and giving them to the appropriate people, you do. I must confess that I was somewhat put off by the fact that the game is set on a college campus; the college game is second only to the Colossal Cave-style undirected dungeon crawl/scavenger hunt for being drastically overdone. It worked in _Lurking_Horror_, and it's working now in _Christminster_, whose setting is different enough not to be stale, but every other such game since (not to mention the innumerable campuses that have been set up on MUDs worldwide) has felt like walking into someone else's inside joke. That includes a number of rather popular games that have fallen flat for me, and I'm probably stepping on a number of toes here; I tried not to let my feelings for the genre color my judgement. This entry doesn't just happen to take place on campus, however; the entire plot is centered around writing a research paper, and therein lies the problem. Most IF transports the player to a fantastic place or situation that's genuinely interesting, sometimes more so than what's going on outside the screen. That's not the case here -- being stuck in the library working on an undergraduate research paper is something that one plays IF to *escape*, not encounter, and the game never really transcends the ultimately pedestrian nature of its central task. It is possible to create good interactive fiction based entirely on everyday experiences if the writing stands out enough to carry the game on atmosphere (see _A_Change_in_the_Weather_, below). It is also possible to make a good game out of a fundamentally unpleasant situation (_Theatre_, for example, or _Bureaucracy_) if the game provides gripping drama or offers a fresh perspective on the events in question. _Library_ does neither, offering a fairly routine scenario executed in expository but uninspiring prose. Oddly, the stairwell leading to the upper floor, an area in which none of the plot takes place, is one of the game's bright spots as far as writing goes -- the descriptions there are nearly as long as in busier areas, which gives the author enough space to breathe life into details like the paintings. Had the rest of the map been executed with that much care, the game would have worked much better. It's not necessarily that more words are needed elsewhere (see _Enchanter_, for example), it's that more thought is needed to make the descriptions come to life. Overall, the game is solidly crafted, but feels like it's just going through the motions. This isn't a *bad* game by any means, but somehow lacks that certain spark that makes well-written IF such a joy. Cleaned up and commented, the source to this would probably make pretty good example code for new authors; it's solidly crafted, including a basic help system that gives a hint for the next puzzle. (After writing most of this review, I learned that the entry was the author's first attempt at writing IF. It's obvious that the author *has* in fact mastered the motions that need to be gone through to create IF, and is just starting to catch on to a writing style; I look forward to seeing full-length works from him in the future.) BOTTOM LINE: An accurate simulation of a tedious chore. FTP FileInform File (.z5) (Updated version) FTP FileInform File (.z5) (Competition version)

All Roads

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: All Roads AUTHOR: Jon Ingold E-MAIL: ji207 SP@G DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: VERSION: Release 1 (post-comp release -- version apparently not updated) It's occasionally been said that the diversity of latter-day IF makes it difficult to compare games -- when puzzles are downplayed and setting, story, characterization, etc. are stressed, different games often have very few common measures (other than technical smoothness and writing skill) by which to rate them. Instead, games are judged more and more by how well they were trying to do whatever they were trying to do, and as measuring the success of, say, a horror-oriented game is very different from measuring the success of a sci-fi game, it becomes harder to say in a useful way that any given game is better than another. (Was it always thus? Maybe, but I seem to recall some fairly lively debates, a few years back in r*if, over which Infocom games were the best and worst -- despite Infocom's attempts to explore a broad range of genres.) I bring this up not because I have any idea where Jon Ingold's All Roads stands in the IF pantheon; to the contrary, I have no idea, because while it's certainly an enjoyable game in many respects, I cannot divine what the author was setting out to do. The premise is that -- well, that's the problem. The initial text suggests that you're lying in your bed, then abruptly you're standing on a scaffold, about to be hanged, and a few turns later, just as abruptly, you're tied up in a cellar. From there, things slow down a little, but the general "huh?" aura persists throughout -- you jump around in time and space enough that you're unlikely to follow what's going on until the very end. It doesn't, however, matter much that you don't know what's going on, as the game shepherds you along quite firmly -- you can't get very far off the track at any point, nor is there a way, as far as I can tell, to derail the express by dying or making the game unwinnable. (Well, okay, there's one puzzle, and it's a fairly subtle puzzle, sufficiently so that it's not impossible to bog down -- but other than that things more or less roll along.) The plot itself involves political machinations in a sort of alternate-universe medieval Venice, certainly a good setting for not knowing what's going on, and the game plays that aspect to the hilt -- most of the salient facts, such as who's on what side, remain mysterious throughout, adding to the general bewilderment. At a few points, if you don't supply the needed action, the game gives you progressively less subtle hints, so the course of the story is unlikely to stop very often. The result, at the end of the game, is essentially a very odd short story where you supply much of the protagonist s action but very little of the brainpower. Give All Roads some credit, though -- the player does *do* almost everything in the story, as opposed to watching his friend the player character do things in long chunks of text between prompts (a common failing in story-oriented games). Some of the actions are attributable to unsubtle hints, and there's a little bit of unreliable-narrator trickery, but most of the time the game gets the player sufficiently on the story's wavelength that outright prodding is unnecessary, which is nothing to sneeze at. Simple weirdness or absurdity is fairly trodden IF ground, but this isn't that, exactly -- the point is not, as far as I can tell, simply to be strange and confusing. The underlying logic of it all is obscure, but the actions themselves are reasonably apparent. In a sense, though, that's the problem; there are (at least) two narratives in All Roads, one the ostensible course through the game and another the player's progress toward deciphering the game's central puzzle, namely Why The Whole World's Acting So Weird. The game appears to have decided quite firmly that you will begin to get hints on the latter only toward the end of the game; detective work during most of the story is not only not encouraged, it's pretty much impossible. Some common commands are disabled or even given misleading responses. Yes, there are stray clues here and there, but they don't seem to be in places where the inquiring player would tend to look -- they're more like Easter eggs. The most blatant aspect of this is the conversation system, namely TALK TO, which certainly avoids complications but doesn't leave much freedom. It's not, exactly, that the game will break if your strange time-space-jumping tendencies are aired, because you do air them (after a fashion) in your TALK TO conversations, but the game appears to have made a choice -- rather than letting you, the player, screw things up and get some *** You have died *** equivalent, the game simply prevents you from screwing things up. Does this all matter? Yes and no, in my book. It doesn't make the underlying puzzle any less interesting -- and it is a good puzzle, well worth some thought and some poring over the transcript. For my part, though, the railroaded nature of the game took away some of the satisfaction of figuring out the puzzle, since there was no possibility that I'd make a clever guess and be rewarded, and the giveaways at the end really were outright giveaways. (I might have found the process a bit more rewarding if the solution lay more in going back through the game and trying new stuff, thereby to learn more, and less in the exposition at the end.) Accordingly, it's difficult to judge the game -- as pure story, once understood, it's impressive, and the various pieces come together well. The meta-puzzle of the story isn't quite as successful, though, due to the feeling that the player doesn't really have much of a shot at solving the puzzle, and accordingly the extent to which the game succeeds depends on one's assumptions about what the game sets out to do. Those reservations noted, I should add that I did enjoy All Roads; the complexity and depth of the story it wove landed it the top spot in the comp, and deservedly so. For my part, I gave it a 9. FTP File.z5 Zcode file (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with .z5 Zcode file (competition version) and walkthrough

All Things Devours

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: All Things Devours AUTHOR: half sick of shadows EMAIL: devours SP@G DATE: 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 After completing All Things Devours, I was sitting for a while, wondering: how did a game with such an over-clichťd plot and a rather nondescript setting turn out to be so exciting? But let's deal with things one at a time. You play a young scientist who had been working on a world-shattering project, but was kicked out of it as the military took it over. Sensing the fatal consequences the continuation of those explorations might have, she decides to put an end to them by infiltrating her former lab and blowing it up with all its contents. Sure, all this sounds (and actually *is*) fairly generic, although the author hasn't left his main character entirely without background; he tried really hard to flesh her out (for instance, I liked the description of the photo on the PC's ID card). The thing is, the game format doesn't offer much space for that. The same goes for the room descriptions: although they are by no means sloppy, a secret research complex consisting mostly of almost identical (and rather dull) hallways just doesn't give one much of an opportunity to be elaborate, especially considering how the viewpoint character is extremely short on time. Another complaint regards the stretching points in the implementation of the complex's security system: two of them were so obvious one just couldn't pass by without stumbling over them, and on second thought, a few more came up. (On the third thought, however, I have to admit I hardly encountered any IF games depicting fully plausible top-secret establishments. On yet another thought (the fourth in succession), this is quite understandable -- detailed information on access control and protection system organization for such facilities isn't in the public domain for obvious reasons, and I suspect that in reality, successful infiltrations occur much less often than we're shown in films, told in books and, yeah, in works of interactive fiction. Even *if* an incident of this kind happens, the authorities in charge try to hush up the very fact of it, let alone its circumstances and the vulnerabilities the infiltrator(s) used, never leaving IF-authors any material to learn from in this respect... Uhm, sorry, I got carried away. ;) Anyway, after a while, all these issues didn't seem to matter. The reason for that was, well, let's call it the puzzle framework of the game. It's mostly based on the idea of time-travelling; sure, there are enough text adventures using this concept (beginning with the classic Sorcerer by Infocom), but scarcely any implementing it as consistent and consequent. And I use the term "framework" on purpose: the whole game is built around and determined by constructing a sequence of actions leading to success. (There are multiple paths to victory, by the way.) While doing that, the player has to account for a number of time-travel side effects and paradoxes, some of which he can use to his benefit, while others are to avoid. It was a real thrill. In fact, it was so much of a thrill that another feature some IF-purists might consider to be a drawback almost escaped my attention: in order to reach the winning ending, you'd need a few restarts -- a rather typical case of "learning from dying". Well, personally, I don't have anything against such a game device, but since modern IF-standards (whoever wrote 'em ;) generally don't countenance it I've had to mention it here. Initially, I also was going to nag at the fact that the protagonist hadn't got a single chance to succeed in such a situation unless she was a clairvoyant, because a few strategic choices in the early stages of the game had to be made based on information she only would acquire later. However, a couple additional test playthroughs convinced me I had been wrong about it; there actually exists a way to victory that doesn't require the gift of foresight -- our PC merely has to be blessed with such abilities as ultra-fast acting and decision-making, an extraordinary analytical mind capable of calculating several moves ahead, and a memory as precise as that of a computer, all that combined with nerves of steel, as well as a thorough knowledge of the research complex. Of course, this all strains things a bit; still, there's nothing supernatural about the talents listed above. A more detailed discussion of the matter would automatically put this review in the SPAG Specifics section, which hasn't been my intention; thus, I'd just like to say that, in my opinion, the very existence of such a "non-contradicting" way to victory represents another proof for the vast amount of thought and efforts that have flown into All Things Devours. To sum up, this is a great game constructed around a very well thought-out and carefully implemented puzzle skeleton; the combination with the very original use of time-travelling effects makes it unique and therefore an absolute must to play. The SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: Not very original (1.0) ATMOSPHERE: Tense (1.4) WRITING: Terse, but effective (1.4) GAMEPLAY: Exciting race with the time (1.6) BONUSES: Now, what do you do about a game you've liked a lot but can't give it a decent score, because it's focusing on puzzles, and puzzles aren't counted in the total rating? Correct -- you rate the BONUSES a 2;) (2.0) TOTAL: 7.4 CHARACTERS: None present PUZZLES: One of the strongest in this Comp (1.8) DIFFICULTY: (7 out of 10) From: Joao Mendes <joao-mendes SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 Whohoa! I think we have another winner here. After playing though 24 games, and for the second time in this competition, I am duly impressed. You are a saboteur, armed with a timed explosive device, on a mission to destroy a research prototype, hopefully without killing anyone. Nothing new so far, and the story itself really doesn't go that much beyond it. However, the way events unfold as you play through this game make for a plot that is simply brilliantly delivered, if a bit on the short side. I won't go into many more details here, so as not to spoil it, but trust me, you won't be disappointed. To be fair, shortness of plot is just about the only way this game would work. The whole thing has a time limit, and indeed, in the ABOUT text, the author claims that the game might be unfair, since there are way too may ways to make it unwinnable. However, because it is so short, there really is no problem in playing through it quite a number of times, in search of an adequate solution. You might wonder if this might not be boring. The answer is no. It's not boring because it is so cleverly written. Yes, the style is rather terse, but it is in just the right tone to bring about a sense of hurriedness, which actually combines rather well with the game's time constraints, creating a feeling of impending doom. It's almost like you can't type fast enough to see if you've got it this time. The technical aspect is where the game really shines. As both a player and an author, it was easy for me to see the intricate ballet that the various pieces of code have to participate in, in order to create the desired effects, and the author pulls it off impeccably. Also, there are no spelling or grammar errors of any kind, which I could spot. I should note that the supporting website mentions a known bug, but I didn't come across it in about an hour's worth of playing and possibly 30 restarts, so I'm not going to take it into account. And finally, there are the puzzles. For the first time in this competition, I have found puzzles that are hard and yet fair. They are all rather deductive in nature. I did have to go to the hints twice, but I only because I was getting a bit tired of trying so many things in so many games. If this had been the first game I played, I would not have needed hints. Also, for the first time in a long while, this is a game where knowing the solutions is one thing, but pulling them off successfully is another. And I'm not talking about guess-the-verb, here; I'm talking about the need for careful planning and detailed execution. Again, the ABOUT text mentions unfairness, but I have to disagree. The solutions are plainly there, and no, they are not based on knowledge from previous lives, they are based on pure deductive reasoning. Kudos. Story: 3 (a basic premise, with a bonus point for a brilliant delivery) Writing: 2 (terse, but very well done, nonetheless; combines well with the game's puzzles) Technical: 2 (and it would still be a 2, even with the mentioned known bug) Puzzles: 2 (hard but fair; very imaginative) Final rating: 9 FTP File.z5 Zcode file (competition version)

The Amazing Interactive Turing Machine

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #45 -- July 17, 2006 NAME: The Amazing Interactive Turing Machine AUTHOR: D. Clemens EMAIL: jdc20 SP@G DATE: May 2006 PARSER: Inform AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: A Turing machine is an abstract device invented by the British mathematician Alan Turing. It consists of a reading/writing head that moves over an infinite tape in discrete steps (one step at a time), writing zeroes or ones on it as it does so. This movement occurs in accordance with a so-called state table (which effectively represents a program of sorts) containing entries that define, depending on the state of the machine and on the symbol that has just been read by the head, whether a zero or a one has to be written to the tape, which way (left or right) the head has to move next, and to which state the machine should change. I'm not sure the previous paragraph doesn't automatically put my review in the SPAG Specifics section, because, if we assess The Amazing Interactive Turing Machine basing on canons traditionally applied to IF-games, the "find out how this weird contraption works" type of puzzle is the only thing it can offer the player. Seriously, most players probably wouldn't know what a Turing machine actually is, because it's not a concept taught in every school (well, not even in every college, at least in Russia). On the other hand, I think 90 percent of such "uninitiates" would just resort to the Internet. The only reason why I didn't do so myself is, a couple of months ago I accidentally stumbled upon a popular scientific magazine that contained an article dealing with the subject. Thus, as you might have already guessed, the reviewed work is nothing more and nothing less than a fully functional emulation of a Turing machine. As such, it probably represents a useful tool for people active in adjacent areas of science, which can spare them lots of routine paperwork. However, a few enhancements could help making this tool even more powerful: first of all, a point-and-click interface for setting up the state table (although it probably would be a pain to implement in Inform) -- the current editing procedure is pretty tedious. The second improvement would be a command allowing to skip the entire computing session of the machine, hiding all intermediate messages, and only displaying the results of the computation. Currently, the game allows you to skip up to 59 turns; while this really is a blessing, it's not enough for more complicated tasks (that can take quite an extended number of steps on a Turing machine), and the monotonous "The machine churns along" messages become more and more annoying with the time. As almost any computer, the Turing machine has something fascinating about it, so that many people probably will be tempted to fiddle with it. While I'm a dilettante in this field, I couldn't help programming a few semi-trivial problems on it. Thus, this work clearly has a certain entertainment value, at least for a specific category of people; still, it hardly can be considered interactive fiction by any means. FTP FileBlorbed Zcode story file FTP FileInform 7 source code (HTML format)


From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: Amnesia GAMEPLAY: Infocom-quality parser AUTHOR: Thomas M. Disch PLOT: Good, though done before EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Very good AVAILABILITY: Commercial (Elec. Arts) WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: A variety SUPPORTS: C64, Apple II, IBM CHARACTERS: Satisfyingly responsive DIFFICULTY: Challenging During the reign of Infocom, there were many attempts by other software companies to follow their recipe for quality I-F, some of them succeeding and some of them not, the latter occurring largely because of Infocom's dedication to I-F. Firms such as Sierra, Mindscape, and Electronic Arts preferred to branch out and diversify their software products, rather than placing all their eggs in one basket (which could be another factor contributing to Infocom's downfall, but that's another article entirely). In fact, Infocom and Level 9 were the only two companies focused solely on I-F, which may acount for their stories outshining those of the competition -- very few 80's text adventures that I've seen can even come close to the gameplay of the average Infocom game. Thomas M. Disch's "Amnesia," however, succeeded where many others failed. As the player begins "Amnesia," he (and the main character is most certainly male) awakens in a New York City hotel room, naked and with no clue as to his identity. This by itself is by no means unique -- ICOM's "Deja Vu" begins under the same pretenses. But the story behind "Amnesia" is so much more involved. Once the most pressing problem of finding clothes is overcome, the player hits the streets of Manhattan in an effort to recover his lost memory and find out who framed him for murder. This, in essence, is the primary puzzle of the game, although its solution is hampered by a need to find food and a place to sleep at night. These things cost money, so earning money through such means as washing windows and panhandling are necessary. "Amnesia's" parser is perhaps the only one to equal Infocom's at the time. In many places it surpasses Infocom. With a vocabulary of about 1700 words and a multiple-sentence parser with plenty of synonyms, you'll very rarely need to hunt for a word. The one minor annoyance stems from the fact that objects' words aren't recognized if you try to use them when an object isn't in the current location -- for instance, you can't refer to a telephone of one isn't around, even though there may be one elsewhere in the game. But this is minor. Character interactions are detailed, and range from face-to- face meetings to conversations over the telephone. The game itself is huge, with as many as 4000 locations. Most of them are street corners or parts of the Manhattan subway system (both of these are completely programmed into the game), although there are a number of buildings and New York landmarks for the player to visit. A map (among other things) is included in the game package, so there's no need to draw your own, but you'll probably need to at least jot down some notes. "Amnesia" offers a variety of puzzles, from object and character interactions to some creative methods of obtaining money, food, and rest. The game's scoring system reflects this, awarding points for the categories of detective (how well you uncover clues), character (how well you interact with the denizens of New York), and survivor (how well-fed and rested -- and also alive -- you keep yourself). A good balance of the three is necessary for victory. If there's one major complaint about the game, it's the copy protection. The subway and city maps, address book, and street-indexing code-wheel would have been more than adequate to deter piracy, but "Amnesia" insists on forcing players to insert the original game disk for verification each time it loads. It seems EA didn't think of the consequences of what would happen when 5.25" disk drives phased out. you must insert the original disk -- a backup copy won't work -- or plan to spend several hours doing some heavy hex-editing, as the copy protection is malevolently self-modifying (on par with some of the more evil computer viruses). Someone out there either REALLY didn't want this game to be copied (even legally), or REALLY liked copy protection. Once you get past this, though, "Amnesia" is a joy to play. It was written by Thomas M. Disch, who won the Campbell Award back in 1980, but this was done specifically for the I-F medium; it's not an adaption of any sort. (I've heard of a sequel -- "Amnesia II," astoundingly enough -- but have never seen it, and would appreciate any info anyone might have on it.) Disch's prose is vivid and flows nicely, spanning several screens on a few occasions. It makes for good reading as well as good adventuring, combining the best of the two art forms.


From: Neil Butters <neil.butters SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #36 -- March 16, 2004 TITLE: Amnesia AUTHOR: Dustin Rhodes EMAIL: crazydwarf12 SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 (competition release) The first line of Amnesia demonstrates what to expect from the game: A cool beach where you should have washed ashore and not have been able to remember anything because you where supposed to have amnesia, which you didn't, which completly ruins the whole storyline this game was going to have, so now the auther will have to make a game up on the spot, enjoy. Amnesia is a crude, nonsensical, and often hilarious effort, with an obvious affection for the genre. It certainly seems as though Amnesia was made up on the spot. For example, there is no story and the goal of the game does not become apparent until near the conclusion. The parser is very limited and there are spelling and grammatical errors aplenty. Often the exits from rooms are not mentioned. This only became a major problem in one situation. Consulting the walkthrough file did not help much -- it is in error. The puzzles make very little sense, but are easy to figure out anyway. And don't expect to finish the game; there's a bug near the end. A total waste of time? Not really, because I also laughed quite a bit. The sloppy and crude design often invoked laughter. The major NPC's sole purpose seems to be to act strange. Don't bother trying to interact with him (I don't think you can, despite the author's claim to the contrary) -- just enjoy his antics. Also contributing to the game's enjoyability is the author's self-mockery and love of the adventure game. Often the author (or narrator) will acknowledge the game's absurdities and invite you to play along. Credit has to be given for its self-consciousness. It is obvious why Amnesia finished in 27th place in the 9th Annual IF Competition. I can't say that Amnesia is "so bad it's good." It is not a good game. However, if you have 15 minutes, a sense of humour, and do not take it too seriously you may have as much fun playing Amnesia as the author had creating it. FTP FileDirectory with TADS2 .gam file and walkthrough


From: Jessica Gorzo <galaxycoff SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #49 -- August 18, 2007 TITLE: Amnesia AUTHOR: Toby White EMAIL: T.Q.A.White SP@G DATE: 1995 PARSER: Custom SUPPORTS: Windows AVAILABILITY: was shareware, now presumably abandoned URL: This is a classic surreal text adventure, though it never achieved great fame. Even after its release, it continued to be overshadowed by the text adventure of 1986 with the same name. The mysterious settings could intrigue even the most experienced IF fan as the gamer wonders what on earth is going on in the place this character woke up in. The character himself can't help you; he wakes up from an odd outer space dream into an unfamiliar house with no recollection as to how he got there. He can't remember anything about what one can only presume is his house, which has many oddities of its own. Custard in the tub, a crash helmet on the kitchen stove, and rather odd voices on the other end of the telephone would confuse even those who could remember something about their past! The dazed character tries desperately to make sense of everything he encounters, and slowly but surely a few clues unfold. However, on the end of every clue hangs another mystery. Every new site yields another piece of the puzzle, and has intriguing characters to interact with along the way. The rich imagery allows for clear and captivating mental pictures. You can truly immerse yourself in the beautiful-yet-strange world of the character. This game truly keeps you intrigued the whole way through! As for the commands, the author is not rich on synonyms, though the help file claims otherwise. The most frustrating aspect is trying to figure out the exact word the author was thinking of. Expected phrase structure is also inflexible. When it comes to user interaction, the author is clearly concerned with the "action" instead of the examination. Sometimes the responses don't match up with the known, game-described scenery. Perhaps he thinks this is just steering the user in the right direction, but his vehement "I don't know when you're talking about!" response when you know full well what you typed made perfect sense can be discouraging. This game could use a better range of user response. Be sure to be very specific in command wording when playing. Overall, though, this game is worth playing because of its intriguing plot. Sci-fiction meets mystery with a hint of comedy makes it more than worthwhile. Though the interaction can be a bit frustrating, its all the more rewarding when you finally get the problem right. This game is worth your while! Zip containing Windows executable with online help


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #18 -- September 15, 1999 TITLE: Anchorhead AUTHOR: Michael Gentry E-MAIL: edromia SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 5 There's a certain skill to writing horror fiction: the author has to know how to build suspense in such a way that the story is interesting throughout. The challenge is doubled for IF, since the author cannot control the pacing in the same way as a static fiction writer can -- and the puzzles need to be forgiving enough that the player doesn't bog down in a particularly difficult one and lose the rhythm of the story. Michael Gentry's Anchorhead is very good horror IF; the author has a nice feel for the challenges posed by the genre, and the game is consistently both scary and playable, no small feat. Among the challenges is, of course, making the game feel fresh. Lovecraftian horror is a fairly well-explored IF genre -- between Infocom's Lurking Horror, Brendan Wyber's Theatre, Dennis Matheson's Awakening, and Anchorhead, Lovecraft seems to have quite a few imitators. (Most or all of whom, incidentally, write better than he did.) The trodden nature of this particular ground means that the seasoned IF veteran needs more than unnameable horrors and unspeakable rituals to stay interested in a game that borrows from Lovecraft. But Anchorhead is up to the job: the story is more than good enough to overcome the familiarity of the horror devices. Part of the reason is that the story revolves around the relationship between the PC and her husband, which comes alive as much as any relationship between two IF characters in memory -- and much of the progress of the story is marked by changes in that relationship. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The story is that your husband has inherited a family home in the New England town of Anchorhead, and picked up a full professorship at the local university, so you and he are moving in. You don't know much about his family -- in fact, when the story begins, you don't even know the family name (of this branch, at least) -- and much of the first half of the game is spent wandering around gleaning details. It's to the game's credit that you do have to glean the details -- as in, progress is cut off until you've actually found certain bits of information and made use of them in certain obvious ways. Knowledge from prior games, in other words, isn't enough. This makes particular sense given the genre: a Lovecraft fan might well skip straight to the conclusion and cut out the information-gathering, which would throw off the pacing of the story's buildup (and make later events rather confusing for someone who hadn't bothered to collect the evidence). And for those of us who don't know intuitively where the story is heading, the various details heighten the creepiness factor considerably. To be sure, there are improbabilities and coincidences, but such things are inherent in the Lovecraftian universe -- and given the assumptions of the genre, nothing in Anchorhead strains disbelief unnecessarily. The game is divided into three days, but time passes only when certain puzzles are solved; you are only on the clock at a few select times (and, even then, the timing isn't all that tight). The pacing is therefore fairly leisurely for the bulk of the game, which takes away the scare factor inherent in time limits. In light of that, the author has to ensure that the story does, in fact, move along when the threat of imminent death isn't forcing it to move along -- and he succeeds, mostly; few of the puzzles should detain the player long enough that she forgets what had been going on in the story before she started on the puzzle. From the author's notes, this appears to be a conscious choice, and it's a wise one; repeating the same scene dozens of times doesn't serve any sort of story well, but it's particularly damaging for horror, since there's little shock value in a gruesome death when you're reading it for the twentieth time. As it is, there are only a few scenes where the player is likely to have to replay several times, and the more recent releases have streamlined those as well -- particularly one involving a certain asylum. (Anchorhead is much better in this respect than Lurking Horror, which had some very difficult puzzles and several ostensibly scary sequences that most players probably end up playing through multiple times.) Anchorhead is a _very_ large game -- not so much in the amount of area covered, but in the length and complexity of the story, the amount of items you encounter and use in one way or another, and the potential different paths through the game. Very few of the game's items are artificially cut off from each other to save the bother of coding their interaction, moreover, meaning that the combinatorial explosion factor must have been considerable. In light of that, the technical aspect of Anchorhead is impressive indeed (there's a reason why this was the first Inform data file to exceed half a meg in its compiled form). There were some bugs from the first few releases, but they've largely been cleaned up. One of the nicest things about Anchorhead, moreover, is its player-friendly nature: you have a rucksack-like trenchcoat that can carry just about everything in the game, but the game does all the item-juggling for you when you try to pick up something you don't have room for in your hands. Better still, the umpteen locked doors and keys to those doors that you encounter along the way are handled automatically, through a keyring: type UNLOCK DOOR before one of the locked doors, and the game will automatically flip through the keyring and try all the keys. Without this innovation, trying to keep track of which key opens which door would be a puzzle in itself; with it, the player is free to pass through the doors without giving them a second thought. A game as complex as Anchorhead is clearly the product of considerable attention to detail. The best thing about Anchorhead, however, is the writing, which is itself the product of some very careful choices. Horror writing can easily lose its force over the course of a story; the author has to strain to come up with fresh grotesqueries that shock or terrify in new and different ways. There's no formula for avoiding repetition in such writing, but somehow Anchorhead manages -- to the end, I never had a sense of deja vu when reading about my latest gory death. The author also exercises enough restraint to avoid slipping into self-parody, another pitfall of horror writing -- every sight and smell is not, in fact, pronounced the most horrible sight you've ever witnessed or the foulest stench you've ever smelled. Vital on this point is that the author avoids injecting the PC's emotions into the story almost completely; when you're not told that you're terrified out of your wits at every moment (and can infer such things when you care to), the story avoids excessive repetition. Nor, in fact, are you told, with a few exceptions, how you react to your various experiences -- no "you scream in terror" or "you gasp in horror" or equivalents. The emotional reactions are left to the player. Those are some of the things Anchorhead doesn't do that win it points in my book, but the things it does do are just as good. This game won the 1998 XYZZY for Best Setting, and the award is well-deserved: the atmosphere is skillful, particularly in the early scenes: the author conveys a feeling of general gloom and decay without crossing the line into horror prematurely, and without laying on the foreboding and unease stuff too thickly. This is one of the better passages: Pallid gray light trickles in through the drawn blinds. The office is deserted, papers still scattered across the top of the desk. The front door lies west, and the file room lies east. Sitting on the corner of the paper-strewn desk are a telephone and an answering machine. Someone seems to have left a cup of coffee sitting out, half-finished and cold. With just a few details -- the "pallid gray light", the unfinished cup of coffee -- the author sets a subtly disturbing scene; not everything gets a description filled with ominous portents (there is nothing to suggest that the desk was abandoned in haste or any such thing, which might tempt a lesser writer). It is inevitable, given the nature of the materials, that things get a bit over the top now and again, but that's the exception rather than the rule here. Are there flaws in Anchorhead? Yes, but they don't detract much from the story -- and recent releases have cleaned them up. There's a sequence toward the end of the third day with no time limit (after a chase of sorts had already happened) in which the player doesn't really have much direction in figuring out what to do next, and it's possible to wander around aimlessly for quite a while, trying to figure how where to go, and lose the feel of the story. Some points are awarded for nonessential things, which might leave the player wondering what she's missed when she completes the game with less than a perfect score. The one puzzle that struck me as potentially frustrating involved an NPC who would give the PC an object, given the proper prompting -- but it's not necessarily obvious how to prompt him, and it's easy to get on the wrong track. Still, these problems are insignificant given the scope of the game, and most things about Anchorhead work more than well enough to keep the player involved throughout. It's an impressively coded, impeccably written work, one of the best in recent memory. FTP FileInform file (.z8) FTP FileMap in GUEMap format (.zip) FTP FileSolution (Text)

And The Waves Choke The Wind

From: Alfredo Garcia <Five-0 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: And The Waves Choke The Wind AUTHOR: Gunther Schmidl E-MAIL: gschmidl SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Here's a story that starts with the meat. It's a classic 'What the...?' moment for our PC, who awakens to find himself on a lifeboat, floating in an empty sea, bound and (it would seem, rather unnecessarily) gagged. The introductory puzzle is good, as it encourages us to examine the PC down to the smallest details, all of which are implemented well. Here's an ambiguity you don't have to clarify too often: >CUT HAIR USING THE KNIFE Which do you mean, your dreadlocks or your pubic hair? And if you think that's going a shade too far, you'll find that even your anus is implemented - a smuggling puzzle later on, perhaps? At first I thought this all a little excessive; in fact it was totally in keeping with the theme of (at least) this preview - self-scrutiny. The generic theme is more immediately obvious - Lovecraftian Horror. The author does well to create a sense of foreboding throughout the piece, and generally it succeeds in maintaining an atmosphere of dread. This was only occasionally deflated by a poorly chosen phrase ('butt naked' and a reference to 'the enemies you've wasted' seem anachronistic) or an unsuitable quotation (Lovecraft and the Necronomicron are fine -- but Nine Inch Nails?) As we progress, the PC is revealed to us through a series of flashbacks. It sounds like this shouldn't work, but it does. Too much pathos is injected, yet it's nice to feel something for your character by the end of the game, and I did. It's a shame the author didn't enter a more interactive section of his work. All there is to do here is explore. The descriptions are well handled, but I found very little for me to *act* on. I really didn't like the proliferation of talk menus towards the end - but then again, I really don't like talk menus generally. (More on this later) So then, as a game this seems a little uneven, but as a preview it really whets the appetite. Rating: 6 FTP FileInform .z8 file (competition version)

Another Earth, Another Sky

From: Adam Myrow <myrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Another Earth, Another Sky AUTHOR: Paul O'Brian EMAIL: obrian SP@G DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Glulxe interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware IF-archive URL: Directory with hints, release notes, and game VERSION: 1 Last year, Paul O'Brian entered a very short game called Earth and Sky into the competition under a pseudonym. This game introduced us to the fact that he intended to make a series of games based on two newly-made superheroes. The number one complaint about his first entry in this series was that it was just too short. So, this year, Mr. O'Brian makes up for it and produces his most puzzle-filled and detailed piece of IF to date. In Another Earth, Another Sky, you play Austin Colborn. This is the superhero who wears the "earthsuit." This suit gives him the strength of a giant and the capability of jumping over buildings. In part one, you played his sister, with the power to create fog, fly, and shoot electricity. I thought that Emily's powers would be more fun, but I was soon proven wrong. That super strength of Austin's is much more fun than I imagined. How many times have you wanted to break down a locked door only to be told something like "violence isn't the answer to this one?" Well, this time, you get to break those doors down. As for the story itself, there is a lot to learn. You are continuing your quest to find your parents. This search will eventually take you to an alien world that is quite unique. I really thought the descriptions made it easy to imagine. The thing that impressed me about this game is the detail. For example, there is a bedroom with curtains which can be opened and closed despite the fact that the curtains play no part in the story. Nearly every object mentioned in room descriptions can be examined. This is always a good thing to me. Of course, what would a Paul O'Brian game be without doors that can be unlocked from the inside and room descriptions that change as the PC learns about his surroundings? These elements are present and only add to the feeling of being there. So, is there any problem with the game? A few, but they are very minor. Mostly, they are a matter of personal taste. For example, I wanted to see more teamwork between the superheroes. Others have mentioned this, so I suspect we will see it in part 3. Another thing is that I preferred the titles to the sections in Part I over the Emily Dickinson quotes. They seemed more like what should be in a comic book and that is what this story is trying to emulate. As I said, this is personal preferences, and it wasn't enough to make me really downrate this game. It was a pleasure to play after some of the other competition games this year. Mr. O'Brian, a fine piece of work and a well-deserved first place finish! FTP FileDirectory with Glulx .blb file, hints, and readme (competition version)

Another Lifeless Planet and Me With No Beer

From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Another Lifeless Planet And Me With No Beer PARSER: Pathetic AUTHOR: Dennis Drew PLOT: Not very original EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Absent AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, S10 WRITING: Acceptable PUZZLES: Standard, uninteresting SUPPORTS: IBM CHARACTERS: Props DIFFICULTY: Average One of the most important skills shareware authors have to learn, at least if they expect to earn any money, is that of promoting their products - it's a tough world out there, tons of shareware gets published every year, and if you don't promote your program it's not very likely to get noticed. Dennis Drew, the author of this particular game, seems to have learned his lesson well in this regard. Not only the accompanying documentation, but also the starting - and ending - screens of the game itself are full of superlatives describing how interesting, fun, high-quality, professional, and generally amazing it is - as are all of Mr. Drew's programs; one of the documentation files is a catalog listing his entire "astounding software line" "from heavy-duty business programs to incredibly enjoyable games," all described in terms such as "incredible," "astounding" and "terrific". According to the docs, one of his programs was rated by COMPUTE Magazine as "One of the World's Best 101 Programs." I haven't tried that program, but from my experience of this game, as well as of my other sample of his products (included in the distribution was Compu-Nerd, "a highly professional and technical program designed to discover the age-old question, 'Am I a nerd?'," which after asking me some rather leading questions proceeded to feed me a few screenfuls of platitudes like "You are one of the millions of people who have found word processing to be an incredibly valuable computer function," and then rated me as a "Minor Nerd" - thanks a lot!), I can only conclude that Drew is right: it _is_ incredible. But back to the subject of this review: the game, which starts with the friendly greeting "WELCOME to another one of my incredibly interesting and logical adventure games." Does it live up to the great expectations the author goes to such lengths to build up? Unfortunately, any user naive enough to take Drew's documentation at face value is bound to be disappointed. The situation was aptly described 2000 years ago by Horace: "The mountains are in labour; an absurd little mouse is born". This doesn't mean that the game is a failure. Indeed, had it been written in 1979 or so, for the PET or TRS-80 or some other early home computer, it would probably have been a great game. After all, there are quite long room descriptions, a graphic picture for every room (character graphics with the incredible resolution of 15*15 or so), and colour (a particularly tasteful colour scheme in light blue, dark blue, yellow, green, and bright magenta!) However, the game was actually written in 1989 for MS-DOS, so we'll have to apply slightly different standards of greatness. Even by those, more modern standards, the game has a few points to recommend it. The plot may not be very original - you're stranded on an alien planet and have to find a way home - but at least the concept has been proven in hundreds of other games. Just as the author claims, the game really _is_ logical, in the sense that (in Drew's own words) "everything (...) has a logical and understandable purpose behind it." The author clearly knows how to write (i.e. his spelling as well as his grammar are quite flawless). There are even some jokes thrown in - rather a lot of them, actually. Of course, every silver lining has a cloud within it, and the above doesn't quite suffice to make this game as great as the author claims. In fact, it doesn't suffice to make it good, or even worth the time it takes to download it. To start with, the parser is absolutely pathetic - clearly the worst parser I've ever seen in a non-freeware game. It's not only strictly limited to two-word sentences, but its vocabulary is extremely limited as well. There are no adjectives, which explains the fact that the first object you encounter is a "small-stone" that can't be referred to as just "stone." What's even worse is that the parser doesn't understand _anything_ that you can't do in the current game state, so, for example, if you try to go north in a room where the only exit is south, you get the message "I do not understand that. Is that logical?" (of course, the latter question must be rhetorical, since it can only be answered with a resounding "no"). Also, the prose being grammatically correct doesn't make it good, or even interesting. Even though the genre is the cheapest kind of space opera (complete with icky monsters and blaster-wielding aliens) which usually gives lots of opportunities for atmosphere and excitement, both these elements are conspicuous only by their absence. The attempts at humour don't improve things; at their best, the jokes aren't very funny (and, no, Virginia, telling four variations on the same bad joke in the first thirty rooms isn't four times as funny as telling it once). At their worst -- well, let me just quote the response you get when you try to walk north from the initial location, to see what is blocking your way: "Trivia question: Do you know what this is? 8P That's the head of a dead astronaut laying on its side with its tongue hanging out. That's what you look like after a really giant, huge, icky, nasty-looking monster standing there munched the rest of you!! Have a nice day. ;) <---that's a wink and a grin! (munch munch munch munch....) <---- sound effects" So for "Another Lifeless Planet And Me With No Beer" - do I have to continue? I'll just conclude by saying that somehow, I wish that this game had _not_ been logical; then it might at least have been interesting (see my review of Space Aliens Laughed at my Cardigan), and perhaps good for a laugh, too. Unfortunately, it is neither. Of course, if you happen to like humour like the example above, and if you think that good writing, atmosphere and logical coherence only distracts you from the puzzles, then this game may be worth trying. If not, it is best avoided. The prospective IF author would probably also do wisely to avoid Gamescape, "the ultimate stand-alone adventure writing system," "the incredible system that allows you to design and then play adventure games," that was used to create "No Beer" (a fact which is almost impossible to avoid noticing, since every time one exits the game one is treated to two promotional screen pages about Gamescape). The registration fee for Gamescape is $95 + $5 S&H. Considering that TADS is about half that amount, and Inform is free, and even more considering the parser and user interface of "No Beer," the decision about which system to use should be a simple one indeed. FTP FilePC Executable (.zip)

The Apocalypse Clock

From: David Jones <drj SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: The Apocalypse Clock AUTHOR: GlorbWare E-MAIL: Jfs928 SP@G DATE: October 1, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 standard SUPPORTS: Z-code AVAILABLITY: freeware; IF-Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 / Serial number 060801 / Inform v6.31 Library 6/11 S The blurb that came with the competition release of this game goes "You must stop the end of the world. Your tools in this task: A crayon and a cat." You can tell that we're not dealing with a serious work. It starts with 3 boxed quotes. A little over the top, but given the humor in the rest of the game, it's probably intentional. The PC is a lazy wastrel, labeled by others as being paranoid for building an Apocalypse Clock. One day the clock goes off, indicating impending apocalypse and thus the adventure begins. As the narrator puts it: "It looks like you'll have to pull a Duke Nukem and stop the end of the world." "Your Bedroom". I rarely find this a good location from which to start a text adventure. There are spelling mistakes in the opening text which are probably not deliberate. There are a few more punctuation mistakes, includes the classic its/it's confusion, but I found it easy to avert my gaze around them. For some reason the entire game is in a fixed pitch font. I had to read other people's reviews to spot this; it looks just fine in my Spatterlight set up (Monaco 11) and I'm used to staring at fixed pitch fonts all day. Once the surface issues had worn off I found the writing funny, self- referential, and irreverent. X ME gives the knowing response: 'You're just your normal self, "as good-looking as ever", as they say.' Its sarcasm could perhaps put a lot of people off, but I found it genuinely amusing. It's pretty much the only reason I'm reviewing the game. Without its witty writing we would have nothing but a carcass of game, for the mechanics of the game are very poor. Only the very bare minimum of objects are implemented: scenery implied or mentioned in room descriptions will rarely be present. A typical example (from the opening): Your Bedroom (on your bed) You survey your small bedroom. To be frank, it's messy. Your clothes hang in strange places. The carpet is stained with unidentifiable substances. The wallpaper is faded and tacky, the bed is falling apart, and the drywall is crumbly and, inexplicably, rusty, but it's home. >> x bed You look at your awful bed. It's falling apart and kinda smelly, and seems to be upholstered with a towel. The Apocalypse Clock reads 00:00:00:59. >> smell bed You smell nothing unexpected. The Apocalypse Clock reads 00:00:00:58. >> x drywall You can't see any such thing. As well as the bed's smell and the drywall not being implemented, you can see from that transcript that the Apocalypse Clock counts down. Yes, a timed puzzle; you have about 60 turns to play the entire game. That immediately tells you that The Apocalypse Clock is not a long game, and it isn't. It's also quite a big hint that you'd better not hang around doing things like scraping the inexplicable rust off the non-existent drywall just in case you need a source of iron oxide later. You don't. Timed puzzles aren't popular, but in this case it seems pretty fair. It's the game's key device to add tension, you know about it right from the beginning, and it's an overarching time constraint, not one that is used to make a particularly annoying timed puzzle. Note that this is not a one-room game; this might not be obvious from the description of the first room. The exit out of Your Bedroom isn't described; that's a bug, and is frankly typical of the attention paid to describing and implementing the geography. You simply have to use trial and error to guess your way out of the first location. You probably ought to look around for some completely unclued and crucial objects as well, because you won't be able to return to get them due to what is probably an accidental one-way link between the living room and a secret location that you discover. Later on you'll probably discover that the front door is mentioned but doesn't exist; ENTER PICTURE inexplicably garners the response "You bump into your front door." Personally, I didn't find any of these defects a real problem in my playthrough for the competition though I can see that it would cause others to more or less immediately throw the game in the bin. Persevere and you'll discover how to use an aging computer to activate a door that is simply totally undescribed, no description of the door appears whatsoever. The game hasn't been beta-tested and it shows. Deviate from the author's clearly intended (narrow) path and you'll discover bugs, unimplemented things, and more bugs. Almost any puzzle in the game can be solved "in the wrong order", usually with disastrous results. A typical example involves Sara (your cat, more on her later) who starts the game in your inventory. Now, you're clearly not supposed to be able to relinquish Sara, but you can, and if you do, then she still speaks to you later on. Sara is the game's principal NPC. She's your cat; you're compelled to carry her round to save her from the apocalypse. She talks, with a very bad cockney accent. She's the highlight of the show. The opposition between the player and Sara provides much of the humor. Much of the time Sara, like most cats, is content to sleep, but she'll occasionally inject some sarcasm such as "Oh, I see you've discovered the secre' tunnel I built some years ago." It's a bit of a toss up to decide whether Sara or the narrator is the most sarcastic. The rest of the humor is a mixture of the slightly surreal (the "inexplicably rusty drywall"; later in a different location: "its walls gleam with some sort of creepy moisture, with frayed wiring hanging from the ceiling like spooky, nasty- smelling vines."), fourth wall breakers (examples of which would probably spoil), and what I suppose a literary critic would call the narrator's interior monologue (just after a PC is becomes inoperable: "Goodbye, noble computer. Your memory will keep going, and going, and going."). I feel that if you can somehow see past the unpolished writing, the under- implemented features, the badly implemented features, the almost tediously simple and cliched puzzles - if you can somehow see past all that then there's the kernel of amusing, witty, creative, small, game here. Humor is always tricky, but I find the author's style pretty funny. The writing is raw, and it could definitely do with a steadying influence from time to time. Beta-testing, really any sort of testing, would definitely be an improvement. Almost anywhere that code comes into play (puzzles; rules for not being to drop Sara; doors with special opening requirements) the player can poke around and cause things to fall over. You'll probably do it accidentally. It doesn't indicate lack of testing so much as a complete inability to imagine that player might do anything other than type in the walkthrough. The crayon mentioned in the blurb never appears; a pencil is used instead. It placed 31st (out of 43). I scored it 7. I would be very intrigued to see the author produce a work with more craft applied to it, I feel there's a raw wit and imagination that could be successfully harnessed. Please let's have Sara the cat in the next game too. FTP FileZ-code game file FTP FilePlain text walkthrough

Arrival, or Attack of the B-Movie Cliches

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Arrival, or Attack of the B-Movie Cliches AUTHOR: Stephen Granade E-MAI: sgranade SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS 2.2.6 and later AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 I may not be in the best position to review Arrival, the first game of consequence written in HTML-TADS, since I'm working with a Stone Age system that can't deal with HTML-TADS games, and hence all I saw was the text. But I can say this: even if your system has not been graced with a port of an HTML-TADS runtime, check out Arrival anyway. It's easily one of the best games of this year's competition, graphics or not. The story: your life as an eight-year-old is enlivened by, why not, aliens landing in your backyard, except that these aliens clearly have been reading Calvin and Hobbes, since they're invisible to your parents. They commission you to run some errands for them so that they can get on with enslaving the planet, so you carry out some tasks, of varying degrees of silliness, to Thwart the Evil Plan. The author titles Arrival an "attack of the B-movie cliches," but that isn't really fair: Arrival is far wittier than any B-movie, and it's far too self-aware to be cliched. (Your character's reaction upon seeing the spaceship: "Oh man oh man, it must be a spaceship! From outer space! Maybe from Gamma Proxima Epsilon Centauri Five B!") The aliens owe much more to parody than to cliche: they demand Ho-Hos and grumble about the obnoxious way Earth constantly sends banal radio broadcasts into space. On hand is a translator that mutates the aliens' speech into Bill and Ted-speak, with consistently amusing results (the answer to one question changes from "You are quite a nosy child" to "Why don't you, like, go play in traffic"). The fact of the alien-invasion plot should not obscure the amount of wit that went into the writing of Arrival: for instance, when the alien's translator fails, he scowls and yells "Universal translator, my anterior appendage!" Few games can claim the amount of originality that Arrival offers. The fun of the game is largely in the writing and the amusing asides, however, rather than the puzzles: some are clever, but a few are simply obscure or insufficiently clued. There's a hint file to help things along, and Arrival is the rare game where it's better to turn to hints than to insist on unraveling puzzles yourself. The fun of the game diminishes when the player is stuck, and the payoff associated with solving the puzzles isn't so great that resorting to hints takes away a sense of accomplishment. The charm of Arrival lies, in short, more in seeing the aliens' funny responses to different actions than in solving problems, and it is hence more rewarding to move the story along, in order to discover more parts of the game that produce funny responses, than to stand still until you solve a puzzle by your own wits. The puzzles aren't especially bad or unfair, to be sure, but by and large (with one exception, a puzzle that turns on a sly joke about child-proof lids), but they don't match the level of the writing either. If there is a flaw in Arrival, apart from the puzzles, it is that your identity, an eight-year-old, only surfaces intermittently. There's plenty of humor to be mined from the world as viewed by a child--Calvin and Hobbes, for one, produced about ten years' worth. Aside from the occasional response, though (TAKE STICK when no stick is present: "I don't see no--I mean any--stick here"), you can largely forget that you're eight years old--and there are several moments, such as the discovery of a velvet Elvis and a rain stick, that might be enlivened by commentary from an eight-year-old's viewpoint. (On the other hand, your eight-year-old self comes out more clearly in some of the AMUSING responses, suggesting that the author wanted to mine that vein of humor but didn't get around to incorporating it into the story much. Moreover, as I understand it, the graphics appear to have been drawn by an eight-year-old, so perhaps that changes the game experience for those who can actually see the graphics.) It's a minor flaw, though, and testifies to the general solidity of the game and its coding. Arrival is a well-crafted game--at least, the text portions are, and I trust the graphics and sound add to the experience. It's also littered with in-jokes and funny asides that more than make up for the derivative nature of the plot, and it plays up the alien invasion for satiric value, which excuses the cliches (for me at least). Reminiscent in some ways of Carl Klutzke's Poor Zefron's Almanac, but much more consistently funny and playable, Arrival is a worthy effort. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 The Arrival is the first HTML-TADS game I've ever played, certainly the first competition game ever to include pictures and sound. I was quite curious as to how these elements would be handled, and maybe even a little apprehensive. I wasn't sure that a lone hobbyist could create visual and musical elements that wouldn't detract from a game more than they added to it. But Arrival dispelled those fears, handling both pictures and sound brilliantly. The game's ingenious strategy is to cast an 8-year-old as its main character, which makes the fact that most of the graphics are really just crayon drawings not only acceptable, but completely appropriate. Just for good measure, the game chooses "Attack of the B-Movie Cliches" as its theme and subtitle, thereby making the cheese factor of the special effects (which is pretty high) actually enhance the game rather than embarrass it. The pictures are delightful -- the crayon drawings evoke a great sense of childhood and wonder while continuing the humorous feel of the whole game. The spaceship (two pie plates taped together) and the aliens (in the author's words "the finest crayons and modelling clay $2.83 could buy") are a scream -- I laughed out loud every time I saw them. The game also includes a couple of very well-done non-crayon graphics, one an excellent faux movie poster and the other a dead-on parody of a web page, both of which I found very funny. The sounds, though sparse, are equally good -- the sound of the alien spaceship crash-landing startled the heck out of me. I'm not used to my text adventures making noise! But a moment later I was laughing, because the noise was just so fittingly silly. However, all the funny pictures and sounds in the world couldn't make Arrival a good game if it wasn't, at its core, a well-written text adventure. Luckily for us, it is. The game is full of cleverly written, funny moments, and has layers of detail I didn't even recognize until I read the postscript of amusing things to do. The aliens, who bicker like a couple of married retirees touring the U.S. in their motor home, are great characters. Each is given a distinct personality, and in fact a distinct typeface, the green alien speaking in green text while the purple alien has text to match as well. If you hang around the aliens you will hear quite a bit of funny dialogue, and if you manage to switch their universal translator from archaic into modern mode, you can hear all the same dialogue, just as funny, rewritten into valley-speak. The game has lots of detail which doesn't figure in the main plot but creates a wonderfully silly atmosphere and provides lots of jokes. For example, on board the ship is an examination room, where by flipping switches, pulling levers, or turning knobs you can cause all sorts of machinery to pop from the walls and perform its function on the gleaming metal table, everything from laser beams to buzz saws to Saran Wrap. In addition, Arrival is one of the better games I've seen this year at unexpectedly understanding input and giving snarky responses to strange commands, which has been one of my favorite things about text adventures ever since I first played Zork. Even if you can't (or don't want to) run the HTML part of HTML TADS, it would still be well worth your time to seek out The Arrival. However, don't be afraid to rely on hints. I had played for an hour and hadn't scored a single point when I took my first look at them. Now, once I got some hints I determined that the puzzles did in fact make perfect sense -- they weren't of the "read the author's mind" variety and I would probably have come to solve them on my own. Perhaps the presence of pictures, sound, and hyperlinks threw me out of my IF mindset enough that I was struggling more than I should have with the puzzles. That's probably a part of it, but I think another factor was that all the details in the game ended up becoming a big pile of red herrings for me. There are quite a few items and places which have no real use beyond being jokes, and I found it quite easy to get sidetracked into trying to solve puzzles that didn't exist. It's not that I don't think those pieces should be in the game; I actually find it refreshing to play a game where not every item is part of a key or a lock, and even as it caused me to spin my wheels in terms of game progress, it helped me ferret out a lot of the little jokes hidden under the surface of various game items. However, if you're the kind of player who gets easily frustrated when your score doesn't steadily increase, don't be afraid to rely on a hint here and there. Just remember to replay the game after you're done so that you can see what you missed. Besides, that pie-plate spaceship is worth a second look. Rating: 9.6 FTP FileTADS .gam and resource files (.zip) (updated version) FTP FileTADS Source code (.zip) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file, resource files, and walkthrough

Arthur: Quest for Excalibur

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G; Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Arthur: Quest for Excalibur PARSER: Infocom Advanced AUTHOR: Bob Bates PLOT: Very Good EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Very Good AVAILABILITY: LTOI2-CD WRITING: Very Good PUZZLES: Very Good SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Very Good DIFFICULTY: Average In Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur, Infocom's final text game, you play the part of the boy Arthur. In the space of a few days, you must develop the traits necessary to lead England and challenge Lot, a local chieftain, before he is crowned King. The parser is Infocom's best ever, though unfortunately this is the only game it was used in. You can change your viewing mode with the touch of a function key. The bottom half of the screen is like a standard text game, but the top changes, depending on your mode. One mode shows you a graphic of your area. Another gives you an onscreen map, a third shows you your character's development, another constantly shows you a description of your area, and another gives you a constant report on your inventory. You can change modes without expending a turn. The graphics (in graphics mode) are helpful, but in true text game fashion they are not necessary. No puzzles require recognizing a clue in the graphics, and indeed one of the modes is text-only mode, in which the game resembles one of the Infocom classics. While the overall purpose of the game is to do things that will develop your personal abilities to the point that you are worthy to rule England, the main quest of the game is to acquire certain magical quest items that will allow you to get past the Red Knight to where the Lady of the Lake lies enchanted (Everything you always wanted on a bier...). Only with her help can you recover Excalibur from where Lot has disposed of it. Early in the game, Merlin will give you the ability to transform yourself into a variety of different animals. Many of the puzzles cannot be solved while you are in human form. There are few save/restore puzzles. Puzzles that you would be unlikely to get the first time around generally give you multiple opportunities to solve. There are not many "guess what the author is thinking" puzzles, but there are a few. When you try to read the writing on the wall in the ivory tower (for instance), only a burst of inspiration will help you along. Like several other Infocom games, Arthur has onscreen hints. However, Arthur's have a new twist, in that you are not given the entire clue menu at the beginning. To prevent you from reading them too far ahead, clue questions are added to the menu as they become relevant to your current situation. Sometimes, the clue will tell that you cannot solve a specific puzzle with the information and resources that you have at hand. Arthur was the ideal Graphic Interactive Fiction game, with graphics that helped set the mood and aided gameplay without taking over the game from the text part. From: Joe Mason <jcmason SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 PLOT: Standard ATMOSPHERE: Evocative but inconsistent WRITING: Fair GAMEPLAY: Good CHARACTERS: Some memorable, some stereotyped PUZZLES: Fair MISC: Graphics - atmospheric OVERALL: A fun diversion Arthur is one of Infocom's last games, and like Zork Zero it combines text and graphics. The graphics are completely unnecessary to the story - in fact it is possible to turn them off completely - but they are pleasant to look at and add to the game's atmosphere. The medieval banner styling of the background window is especially well done. The interface does have a few flaws, however. There are several possible screen modes, with the lower half of the screen devoted to command entry and the upper half to graphics or description. One mode shows a picture of the area, one shows the textual description (which duplicates details of the pictures), one shows the player's inventory, one the current score, and one a Beyond Zork style on-screen map. A sixth mode is the traditional full-screen text mode. The modes themselves are nice (the map is especially handy) but switching between them is done using function keys, making it hard to remember what key to hit for which mode. Also, the function key support is broken for some interpreters - it works under Frotz 2.32, but not WinFrotz, for example. The game itself is of typical Infocom stature. Despite being produced in their twilight years, it shows no decrease in quality - quite the opposite, in fact. The plot begins promisingly, with Merlin giving young Arthur a mission to demonstrate that he has all the qualities required for a good King. However, it soon becomes a typical treasure hunt, with the player (as Arthur) required to defeat several evil enemies in order to gather trophies to present to the Red Knight. Once he has done this, the Red Knight will let him past in order to get the item he needs to defeat the usurper King Lot and claim Excalibur. Slightly more depth is given by the fact that the treasures, while arbitrary, do have a common thread: they all show proof that Arthur has defeated a threat to the land. As Merlin explains, "His [the Red Knight's] life's mission is to rid the land of evil," so there is a reason for the treasure-hunt quest to be occuring. Still, it feels out of place in a game which, at the beginning, seems to place emphasis on story and character. In fact, the entire game has a disjointed quality to it. The built-in hint file includes a section of notes giving historical background to King Arthur's time, and explaining several of the references used. The section titled "Reality vs. Romance" begins, "There is inherent conflict built into writing a game about King Arthur. It is the conflict between history and legend - the way things were, versus the way we wish they were." This game unfortunately does not deal with this conflict as well as it could. Some locations and characters - such as King Lot's castle, the poor peasant's hut, or the village idiot - are quite well-drawn and lifelike. These characters tend to evoke the atmosphere of the "real" Arthur, the medieval warlord whose court was a fortress providing his serfs with protection from barbarian invaders. However, mixed in with this atmospheric setting is the "romance" Arthur, with its archetypal coloured Knights who quest against generic "evil". The characters involved in this aspect of the game are much less responsive and seem stereotypical or comical. The two halves of the plot sit uneasily together, resulting in a game that almost succeeds at telling a good story but ends up feeling more like a string of puzzles linked by narrative. The puzzles are mostly good, but some display the same split. Some are character- and plot-driven, but others involve word problems and other artificial constructs and seem quite out of place. There is one maze, which is easy to map once the trick is discovered but still annoying. One nice touch is Merlin's gift to Arthur: the ability to turn into various animals. Some puzzles require using the special abilities of these animals, which is a nice touch. The puzzles are not especially hard, and the presence of well-written Invisiclues style online hints makes the game easy to solve. Arthur, while not an exceptional game, is still fun to play and well worth a look. By the time of its writing, Infocom had become adept at integrating puzzles and story, with the result that it mostly flows very well. Its deficiencies are mostly due to confusion over how to present the Arthurian legend, rather than a failure as interactive fiction. From: Walter Sandsquish <Sandsquish SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 Remember Floyd from Planetfall? Remember his wonderfully naive personality? Remember his charmingly childish antics? Wasn't he sooo cute? Yeah. Remember ... uh, remember ... Okay, so text-adventure games aren't usually populated with memorable characters. Actually, they usually aren't populated with characters at all. Sure, a typical Infocom mystery would have a half-dozen people sitting around, staring at the walls, waiting for you, the hero, to come show them something or other. But generally, interactive fiction doesn't have much in the way of interactive characters. That's what makes "Arthur" so special. Despite the fact that it's set in the wilderness, it is teeming with characters. No. It's teeming with people. Yes, the people are stereotypes, but this is "Arthur," and what's a legend without stereo-- I mean, archetypes? Bob Bates quickly and cleverly etches the kind, but stern, Merlin with just a shade of menace; each of the variously-colored knights that stand in Arthur's way has a distinctive personality (my favorite is the Blue Knight, who must have just wandered over the hill from the filming of Monty Python's "Holy Grail"); and the evil King Lot is, well... evil. The protagonist is, as usual, missing, but "Arthur" sports another dozen delightful personalities that I won't spoil for you. I will, however, tell you that Mr. Bates found room to pay homage to that first memorable IF character, Floyd! "Arthur" is a clever synthesis of a few of the earlier, usually neglected, legends surrounding Arthur's youth. Arthur must prove to Merlin that he is ready to accept the responsibilities of a monarch. Empowered by Merlin's ability to transform himself into different animals, he slithers, burrows and flies through the wilderness surrounding Glastonbury. The amount of research that went into this game is remarkable. You probably won't find a more thorough, yet concise, Arthurian bibliography than the one found in the "notes" section of the hints. If the characters and setting are distinctively Arthurian, the puzzles definitely belong to Infocom. There is nothing mind-breaking here, but the whole range of Infocom's stumpers was shoveled into this game. There's a maze (it's mappable), a cryptogram, a riddle, some pattern recognition, cartoon-logic (read those descriptions carefully) and a lot of commonsense puzzles. Bob Bates gives us a refreshing change of pace by forcing the player to think in terms of several animals to resolve more than a few conflicts. Of course, you'll have to read the documentation to figure out a couple of the puzzles, but, as usual, Infocom makes that a pleasure. "Arthur's" biggest weakness lies in its structure. After following Merlin's lead, the player could find himself wandering aimlessly through more than half of this sizable game. It's a problem that could have been easily fixed, and, as a matter of fact, I'll take care of it right now. After you deal with the injustice Merlin mentions, walk as far southeast as you can. Listen to what the nice man in red says, and try to be agreeable. If structure was "Arthur's" weakest point, then one of its stronger points was parsing. I kept having to remind myself that I could, and sometimes had to, use phrasing that most text games would choke on. No one, however, should choke on Bob Bates' prose. At times, it reflects Infocom's tendency to pepper language with a distracting number of adjectives, but, for the most part, "Arthur" is clear, direct, and charming. It's a shame that Bates couldn't finish his last couple of projects for Infocom before he had to move on. "Arthur," written in 1989, strongly refutes the argument that Infocom had lost its way the last couple of years before it was reorganized. This game definitely belongs in the top quarter of Infocom's graduating class. It is a "graphic" adventure, but here, graphic means illustrated, and text-only diehards will be happy to know that they won't need the illustrations to finish the game and can turn them off if they want. But everyone should take a look at the dragon. FTP FileSolution (Text)

ASCII and the Argonauts

From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #33 -- June 25, 2003 TITLE: ASCII and the Argonauts AUTHOR: J. Robinson Wheeler EMAIL: jrw SP@G DATE: 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 An issue ago, I reviewed the IF-Classic game Savoir-Faire. Savoir-Faire is a game that illustrated some of the beautifully nostalgic flair of the old Infocom games while also improving greatly on Infocom's parser system and playability. ASCII and the Argonauts is another IF-Classic of sorts, but instead of having an Infocom-based backdrop as its focus, ASCII takes a light-hearted poke at some of the surreally awful Scott Adams games that featured poor punctuation, anemic descriptions, and less than robust NPCs. While obviously not as polished as Savoir-Faire, I found the tribute aspect of ASCII to be more endearing, and the dichotomy of a strong parser in a minimalist-type setting very entertaining. What also makes ASCII remarkable is that it was conceived of and created for a Speed IF competition in about 12-15 hours. Here was the premise for the competition (which was taken from an ifMUD conversation): Trivia question: Which is a famous text adventure? a) Zork, b) Dark Tower, c) ASCII and the Argonauts). Jacqueline says, "Did they make that ASCII and the Argonauts thing up? I've never heard of that, and it sounds scary, but I wouldn't be surprised if it existed." Gunther | Your search - "ASCII and the Argonauts" - did not match any | documents. Gunther says, "of course, now it has to be written in a speedIF. You have two hours. GO!" And with those very broad parameters, Wheeler created a bare-bones tribute to not only the myth of the same name but to many of the Scott Adams games created years ago. So what do I mean by bare-bones? Well, as I've already mentioned, this game follows a very minimalist sort of pattern. The only area where it doesn't diverge too greatly from a typical Inform game is with its parser. Unlike the typical Scott Adams game, the parser was able to handle any of the standard vocabulary you would expect in a typical Inform game. This set up an interesting dichotomy for me because even though the parser was sophisticated, the default responses were not. Wheeler essentially hacked the default response code for most verbs and dumbed them down (i.e. two-word responses, poor punctuation) from their original Inform standards, with the game's default message for just about any action being, "I CAN'T". That's right, "I CAN'T", replete with capital letters and no period. Oh the joy of writing sophisticated sentences such as: PUT THE ROCK IN THE URN only to have I CAN'T spitted back as the response. The minimalist style continued with the game's setting. The room descriptions were non-existent, and were instead summarized at the top of the game's split-screen simply with the room's title and a list of NPCs and objects that the player could interact with. Following the same motif, that list of players and objects was not expanded upon either. They were listed solely by their names regardless of what context you found them in. Examining objects typically provided descriptions as verbose as, "VERY SHINY!" to ones as barren as "NOTHING SPECIAL". Examining NPCs would typically have the NPC give a one-line description about how they'd interact with you, and talking to them had no outright benefit whatsoever as they repeated the same default responses whether you asked, told, or ordered them to do something. Still there was something that felt so right about the simplicity of it all. The game map was fairly small and, with a few notable exceptions, most areas could be traversed without too much death without warning. What impressed me about the map though, was that there were some fairly crafty puzzles buried in its structure. These puzzles typically revolved around strategic inventory management; the net effect of which was that if you solved certain puzzles too early, you could put the game into an unwinnable position. Unwinnable positions aren't new to IF and certainly not new to Scott Adams games, but unlike many of those games, the unwinnable states here were not caused as a result of poor game design choices. Rather, they were caused by what I feel was the author forcing the player to conserve his limited resources in an attempt to come up with a strategy that took into account the entire game as opposed to one individual puzzle. To win, the player has to have a comfortable feel of his surroundings and what the hurdles are before he proceeds. Only then will he be able to envision the best way to use what he has. I found that this process also made the game feel more like a whole gaming experience rather than a string of unrelated puzzles that were loosely tied together, and I obviously enjoyed that. A mite bit deeper than the games ASCII appears to be spoofing, methinks. So anyways, to sum up: I guess for me the bottom line is that a lot of game designers today try to write more impressively than their skill level provides and either overplay their theme, or overwrite their dialogue, or whatever, and it was interesting that I felt just the opposite way about ASCII. As I finished playing, it occurred to me that despite the clunky grammar, skeletal room descriptions, and poor writing, there was an extremely solid structure and a very talented programmer behind its creation and all the wonky game design choices in the world weren't going to hide that fact. If you have an hour to kill or your brain needs a break from its daily grind, I would definitely give this one a shot.

At The Bottom Of The Garden

From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 NAME: At The Bottom of The Garden AUTHOR: Adam Biltcliffe EMAIL: abiltcliffe SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: included in the zipped archive at VERSION: Release 1 With a fairly solid structure, a simple premise, and some nice atmosphere, At The Bottom Of The Garden was probably the 2000 Dragoncomp game with the most substance. You retire to your garden to find 8 pint-sized dragons descending on your wife's prized rosebush, with a group of people called "the ancients" (an inside, dragon-related reference I'm not aware of, perhaps?) set to arrive in 15 minutes to look at your wife's horticultural marvels. You have to get rid of the dragons before "the ancients" arrive, as the drakes seem to have a passion for sitting on your wife's lovely rosebush and their combined weight will eventually destroy it. The time limit is pretty tight (maybe 30 moves or so), so winning the first time around is quite difficult. In fact, after playing through it once I was concerned that the game wouldn't give me enough time to eliminate all 8 dragons. Only after winning did I realize that you had to kill a number less than 8 to effectively win the game. This ended up being a little frustrating as I technically would have won a few times but ended up restoring previous saved games just before my time limit expired, thinking that I hadn't done enough to accomplish my goals. The game's few puzzles are nothing special although solid and logical. Experimenting with scenery and objects is a must and the only real drawback is finding that there are no alternate solutions to the few puzzles that there are. I think a few alternates could have been implemented with little difficulty as there are some parts of the garden that are richly described but have no apparent effect on the outcome of the game. That's not to say that every item that's described has to be relevant to the game somehow, but I found myself pursuing a more abstract logic when it came to puzzling out the answers because of that richness. You can't dispose of a dragon the same way twice (something about the dragons not falling for it again), even though the dragons appear progressively throughout the game, and therefore technically, some of them never fell for it in the first place (I know, I know, I'm being anal). The writing is good with little historical descriptions about the garden's contents, such as this one: >examine tree Goodness only knows how old this tree is. Suffice it to say that the passing of time has transformed it into a broad dark knot of twisted wood, topped by a huge crown of leaves high above. One particularly noticeable twisted branch sticks out from it about five feet from the ground. and although all the dragons' descriptions are the same with the exception of their color, their respective colors (i.e., blue, red, white) are given adjectives that describe the breath weapon their Dungeons & Dragons equivalents would employ (i.e., electric blue, fiery red, cold white), and I thought that was kind of neat. The only other quibble I guess is that you have to kill the dragons to get rid of them, and considering they're all described as "wearing an expression of endearing stupidity", and considering they have the damage potential of an 8-inch Zippo lighter, obliterating the little guys seems like... well... overkill. This is especially true, as the ending suggests some sort of harmony between human- and dragonkind. I've always got low expectations when it comes time to play these mini-comps and this game at least exceeded those moderate expectations. If you have 10 minutes to kill you may want to give this one a try FTP FileZipped file of all Dragon-comp games

At Wit's End/Dinner With Andre

From: Sean T Barrett <buzzard SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: At Wit's End AUTHOR: Mike J. Sousa E-MAIL: msousa SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 1.00 TITLE: Dinner With Andre AUTHOR: Liza Daly E-MAIL: liza SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 >GET OUT OF THE FRYING PAN Take the PC and put him or her in a situation where everything has gone JUST RIGHT. The PC is on top of the world. And then something goes a little wrong. Just a little wrong, not ludicrous or unrealistic. But, hmm, a tad unfortunate. And then the player gets the PC out of the situation and things just go from bad to worse. AWE starts better: the PC is in a tough situation where things could go bad or things could go good. (Heck, it may actually be possible to fail the first puzzle, or it may not, I don't know.) Then by solving a really easy puzzle, *then* the PC is on top of the world. It's a really nice, cheesily happy moment--and then trouble starts. But the player got to participate in hitting that top of the world. You were pretty sure it was going to happen (although it was possible you'd fail and it would instead be a redemption story), but even so, it was a good moment. Oh, and then the accident. It doesn't rob the PC of being at the top of the world--the PC's achievement isn't called into question or offset in any way--the PC just starts having a (largely unrelated) misadventure. DwA does not start quite as strongly--your character is already (almost) at the top of the mountain, and you don't share in the experience of having gotten to the top. As well, DwA turns out to be a farce, but holds off on revealing this until things start going wrong--which makes it all the more crazy, but can get a player invested in the game the wrong way. Still, the waiter comes over, and if the player makes the obvious choice of answer, there's a nice moment of feeling "yes, everything is perfect" that is triggered by player action. Oh, but then things start going wrong. And where none of the problems of AWE relate to the achievement directly (the PC has already climbed back down the mountain he'd climbed), in DwA its the mountain itself being put at risk. A tremor, a threat of a landslide, and then wooosh... I think of these sorts of games as "out of the frying pan and into the fire" games because at every moment, once you resolve the situation, a new peril threatens. (The movie "After Hours" pops into mind as well.) The last half of Kaged was more explicit that way; in some ways it was more effective, since the peril threatened in Kaged was your life; the peril threatened in AWE is, well, your ability to return home; and the peril threatened in DwA is public humiliation. One of the reasons "out of the frying pan and into the fire games" tickle my fancy is because they make the character's motivation explicit. At any moment, I know what I'm supposedly to be accomplishing in the short term (crucial to being able to play the game) and I also know why that action fits in with my end goal (not getting humiliated, or returning home). Far too many games put you in a situation where all you can do is poke around at suspicious-seeming objects and solve the puzzles related to them. To me, this is what storytelling in IF should be about; giving the player a high-level goal (a story to achieve) and then giving the player enough information (e.g. a low-level goal) to be able to carry out tasks *for the purpose of achieving that goal*. Why is this storytelling? When the player of DwA confronts the challenge of the four waiters at once, I can imagine the zany British TV sitcom where this exact sequence of events plays out. Whereas many games, say, The Pickpocket or The Planet of the Infinite Minds or even Transfer, I can't imagine comprehending this go by on a screen; the motivations of the protagonist would be incomprehensible. Or maybe you could imagine it as a mystery where the audience is left in the dark; but when, in IF, the audience is controlling the protagonist, that way of looking at it makes little sense. "Out of the frying pan and into the fire" isn't the only way to achieve such "storytelling"; when I change the color of an object in Kaged it's for a pretty obvious reason, to achieve a pretty obvious goal that has to do with the overall situation; but when I create a library in Planet of the Infinite Minds I'm just doing it 'cause it's there. In fact, "out of the frying pan and into the fire" may not be the most effective way of giving the player lower-level goals; letting the user set her own pace is probably a better experience most of the time. In fact, an "out of the frying pan and into the fire" sequence can end up just feeling like a series of set pieces--the mouse sequence in Transfer is a fairly good example of a set piece, although it does rely on one piece of game-specific knowledge--so a game that integrates its puzzles, rather than leaving them a series of disconnected events, may turn out to be a stronger work. In the case of DwA, though, I thought the pieces meshed together really well; they all tie into the initial scenario, and the pacing is superb: a series of linear puzzles, then the game "goes wide" with a tough multi-element puzzle, then tightens down and is at peace briefly, easy, relaxed, everything is going right... and then BAM, ouch, followed by an easy end game. Perfect. As an added plus, the elements of DwA end up serving as a bit of a parody of some romantic genre cliches, indeed with the ending almost coming off as (unintentionally) mocking Masquerade, which uses those cliches to create its archetypal romance genre story. AWE gets off to a rollicking start with simple, tight, timed puzzles, but then goes much too broad and much too hard, at least for my tastes. While all the puzzles seemed reasonably logical, but the breadth meant a lot of time pursuing irrelevant alternatives, and the difficulty would have required an awful lot of player time to solve without excessively relying on hints/walkthroughs, which I was unwilling to do. Therefore I can't comment on how successful the pacing is beyond that point. But up until it goes broad, it is an amusing alternation of "oh shit" and "ho hum, what now?" which I quite enjoyed, since at each moment (say, walking up to the house), I was tensing up waiting for what would go wrong next. (And the title helped--it was GOOD that I knew I was doomed to be going into the fire.) I'll go out on a limb and make a specific design suggestion of the sort I think is pretty pretentious of me to make, but what the hell: the spine of the story was trying to return (which generally meant escaping each situation); as far as I played, *everything* that happened was on the spine of the story, except having to eat. Having to eat jarred me horrendously because of that. Realistic? Sure. Related to the story? Not at all. I'd cut it. (You can argue that it's on the spine if the central peril of the story is dying, but that was how it felt to me anyway--tangential.) FTP FileAt Wit's End: Directory with TADS .gam file and walkthrough (competition version) FTP FileDinner With Andre: Inform .z5 file (competition version)

The Atomic Heart

From: Mike Russo <russo SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: The Atomic Heart AUTHOR: Stefan Blixt EMAIL: flash SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) This could have been a really good game. The set-up is involving -- you spend most of the game wondering where exactly your loyalty lies, and under nearly constant threat of death -- there are a number of computer interface-based puzzles which could have been entertaining, and while the story deals with some fairly standard sci-fi tropes, there's a welcome sense of horror and desperation beneath it all. Unfortunately, all this promise is severely weakened by inadequate motivation, some questionable design choices, and an incredibly mulish parser. To start with the good parts: the robot revolution is a morally complicated thing for most of the game. While the "correct" side becomes clear towards the end, up until that point I found my sympathies conflicted; while the scenes of carnage wrought by the insurgent machines were terrible enough, the fact that I was playing a glorified appliance who recently became self-aware reinforced the idea that maybe they had a point. The other robots seemed dangerous, of course, but the humans were also shooting everything in sight, rendering them less than sympathetic. This sort of ethical quandary is a pleasant change of pace from the traditional IF conception of the protagonist as a force for all that is righteous. The puzzles also have quite a bit of potential; the use of different interfaces recalls A Mind Forever Voyaging, allowing the player character to control a variety of machinery. In practice, though, things fall down. To start with perhaps the smallest of the game's problems, motivation is inadequate throughout. While the initial section of the game is on rails, once things open up, I was at a loss to figure out why I was still sticking around. Upon moving outside and finding the intertwined carcasses of man and machine, I wanted to run away as quickly as I could. When that proved impossible, I poked around and found the kid I'd been assigned to watch over -- so, time to skedaddle with the tot in tow, right? No; in fact, I needed to make my way into the airbase, where people were hell-bent on shooting me! While the logic becomes clear once the endgame is reached, it all comes off as rather contrived; the only reason I was in the base was because the game wouldn't let me go anyplace else. The game also unfortunately doesn't start out with its best foot forward. The initial section is frustrating and punishingly timed. When confronted with a myriad of new commands and a nonhuman player character, my first impulse is to tinker and experiment; unfortunately, this led to a quick depletion of my charge. It took me several restarts before I figured out everything I needed to do, and I still hadn't really figured out what all the cables drooping out of my body were for. Matters aren't helped by the inexplicable decision to cut to the framing story upon losing the game and not tell the player that he's now in an unwinnable state -- I spent a good long time trying to get my new Air Force persona to do something useful before I realized that I needed to reload. Finally, the custom commands had me tearing my hair out in frustration. Much of this was due to the fact that "ATTACH" and "CONNECT" aren't quite implemented the same way; my first impulse was to use the former, but the game wound up preferring the latter. Descriptions would say that cables were connected to each other when the game wasn't actually recognizing that they were, which led to much anguish. Then there's the Walkdozer, which you spend a good chunk of the game piloting. Unfortunately, getting in and out of the thing is an exercise in frustration, since the door isn't actually implemented. In theory OPEN WALKDOZER, CLOSE WALKDOZER, EXIT WALKDOZER and ENTER WALKDOZER should be all you need, but some synonyms would have been nice, especially since I ran into a nasty bug where OPEN WALKDOZER would return "which do you mean, the Valvo Walkdozer or the Valvo Walkdozer Operating System?" All attempts at disambiguation failed, necessitating yet another restart. It's impossible to leave the Walkdozer without unplugging from the thing, of course, but instead of this task being elegantly handled behind the scenes, the player is forced to go through the process manually, and again, I hit many snags. A sample transcript: >DROP CABLE The GSTS interface cable is already here. >REMOVE CABLE (first taking the GSTS interface cable) You're not wearing that. >EXIT You need to let go of the interface cable before you move. >DROP INTERFACE CABLE Dropped. Oi. I also stumbled across what in retrospect was probably a bug, but which confused me mightily at the time; going west from one of the airfield locations dumps the player in Darkness. At first I thought I had taken too many gunshots and had lost power, which led to much frustrated fiddling and still another restart. In fairness, I don't think the room's description mentioned an exit to the west, but I was trying to get from one side of the compound to the other quickly so I was just typing "W" "[ENTER]" over and over until I stopped. For all my griping, I still wound up liking Atomic Heart; as I said, it's got promise, and the final puzzle has a solution that's at once clever, obvious, and poetic. Any game that leaves me saying "wow, so this is how Jim Jones must have felt!" can't be all bad. Still, it could have been so much more. I'd encourage the author to work on a post-comp release; with a little tweaking, he could have an excellent game on his hands. FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file, readme, and walkthroughs

Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies

From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006 NAME: Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies AUTHOR: Oyvind Thorsby EMAIL: jthorsby SP@G DATE: August 27, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: It would be hard to write a very long review of Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies. This is a short game, and one that deliberately avoids depth of implementation: there aren't many objects in any given room; moreover, EXAMINE is disabled. What you see in the initial room description is all the information you get. This spareness is in service of an unusual goal: getting the player to play a timed game without restoring any saved files or undoing any moves. The announcement for AotYRZ explained that this was an "attempt to win on the first play" game, an unusual effect for IF. Since there's nothing to force the player to obey these restrictions, AotYRZ has to rely on player goodwill. Fortunately, the design of AotYRZ does support that kind of play. There are no puzzles you need to solve by repeated tinkering. The absence of EXAMINE actually helps here, since in any given situation you know you've seen everything you need to see; there's no chance that you've failed to look at an object that carries a critical clue. Even the puzzles I missed were, in retrospect, completely fair. AotYRZ is also a bit more forgiving than the description might imply. The puzzles all revolve around killing or avoiding bad guys (mostly the monsters of the title); the player character has a limited supply of ammunition, which he can use to circumvent puzzles when it looks like he's not going to be able to solve them in time. So it's not necessary to get everything right to survive the game. Solving a majority of the puzzles is enough. When played as intended, AotYRZ achieves a level of tension missing from most IF games. The structure works particularly well in action scenes: because my player character wasn't given the time to dawdle or the opportunity to examine things thoughtfully, the moments when I had to do something dangerous and flashy felt more cinematic than in other works. In other respects, this is pretty light-weight stuff. Right from the title we know the game doesn't take itself very seriously. The premise never gets any deeper than that; the setting is cartoonish; there's not much to the story, either. So while I was engaged with the technical challenge of getting through in a single play, I never felt that the stakes were very high if I failed. Zcode game file

Attempted Assassination

From: Greg Boettcher <greg SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: Attempted Assassination AUTHOR: Matt Slotnick EMAIL: mslot722 SP@G DATE: April 16, 2005 PARSER: Quest SUPPORTS: Quest 3.53 AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: 3.0 This was the first Quest game I've ever played, and my goodness. I have to start by telling what I've observed about the Quest system before I go on to review the actual game. *The Quest System* Some people might only barely consider Quest games to be interactive fiction. Although you can type in commands, the range of commands is extremely limited. From what I could tell, Quest is used mostly to make adventures that can be solved by using no verbs other than "look at," "examine," "take," "drop," "speak to," "give," the ever-popular "use," and the directional verbs such as "north" and "south." To input these verbs, you can type them in, but you can also input them via a graphical user interface on the right side of the game window. Also in that part of the screen there is also a list of nearly all the objects you can interact with. By clicking buttons and dragging various words, you can do 90% to 100% of everything you need to do to win a Quest game, without the need to type anything, and without the need to use any verbs not listed above. In the game I played, I only found one case where a non-standard verb was implemented. In the case of one noun, it actually does work to type "open noun." But this verb was implemented badly. If you try to "open X", where X is almost any other noun, you get the same response as if you type "asdf X". Thus, it is not very rewarding to spend much time using non-standard verbs in Quest games. There is no illusion of being able to try to do anything you can think of to type. As such, I would expect most people to almost always use the click-and-drag interface on the right-hand side of the screen. This is IF at its most rudimentary; in fact, it is barely IF at all. Aside from verb problems, there was also a tendency for noun problems, at least in the game I played. If you want to take a beach ball, for instance, "get ball" might not work; you might have to type "get beach ball." Not very impressive. As a result, the level of interaction in a Quest game is not adequate. At best, it feels like a graphical game with a clunky interface. But to me, having a trimmed-down interface without graphics is like having the thorn without the rose. And when it comes to interpreting textual input, Quest does a bad job. *Attempted Assassination* I keep thinking to myself that, to be fair, I should not ask whether Attempted Assassination is good, but whether it's good as a Quest game. On this basis, I have to ignore the game's shallow interactivity, bad parsing of verbs, bad parsing of nouns, clunky interface where almost all interactive objects are listed, etc. By Quest standards, is Attempted Assassination good? Well, the game begins when you wake up at 8:05, already late for work. You run to the car, arriving there at 8:08. There you find a note that says, "Your car will detonate at 8:08 this morning. Have a nice day!" So you hightail it out of there, seconds before the explosion. Then, later, you find out that the bomb was planted between 8:00 and about 8:02. My, but your guardian angel was quick at writing that note! Ah, the realism. In another part of the game, you chase a suspicious man, who jumps through a window. You follow him until you have him cornered. Finally he says, "I don't know of any bombing on your car. I jumped out of that window because I dropped my watch." How do you respond? You say, "Oh, sorry to have bothered you then." These cornball events might make you roll your eyes, or they might make you laugh. But even if there's some humor here, how are you supposed to enjoy it when the game is so sloppy and badly designed? The game contains rooms named "room03" and other such things; there are gruesome spelling and grammar mistakes ("no where in side" should be "nowhere in sight"); there is a car that you can' t drive, but behaves for all the world like a door; and so on. No, I can't call this game successful even by the standards of what Quest could achieve. And even if it was good as a Quest game, that would still make it pretty far from being a good game. On the other hand, this was the author's first game. The good news is, there's plenty of room for improvement. Quest game file

Augmented Fourth

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 TITLE: Augmented Fourth AUTHOR: Brian Uri E-MAIL: llamaboy SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 The IF archive is full of first-time efforts at authorship, many of them rather inglorious, so prospective players might not necessarily seize on Augmented Fourth, written by newcomer Brian Uri. Those who pass it by are missing out, though: this is one of the most imaginative and most polished games produced in quite some time, and it's a first effort in name only: the technical aspect is nearly flawless, and the story is remarkably well put together. It seems you're a below-average trumpeter who has been unfortunate enough to incur the wrath of your obnoxious (and astonishingly stupid) king, and the game opens with you being tossed into a pit. As with everything else in Augmented Fourth, however, even this unusual premise is crafted in ways you might not expect: you spend five moves simply falling into the pit, trying to grab onto things as you fall (and failing), and listening to the banter of a couple of nasty guards whose stupidity rivals the king's. Lest you think that all this heralds a conventional hero-struggles-against-injustice story, the author plays virtually everything in this scene for laughs, such as the guard's reading of your sentence: "This I hereby put to paper as my word is the law when the law is my word, when it is heard. Indeed. Thus I spake. Er, spoke. Alright, scribe, stop your dictating now." You eventually find an abandoned underground settlement of sorts, and meet one of its denizens, and the story that follows is consistently and entertainingly whimsical. Humor in IF is difficult to do well, since the author has so little control over how the player approaches the story, and the lack of control over the course of the story often means that the timing of your otherwise hilarious jokes may be ruined by no fault of your own. (And things like funny room descriptions aren't enough, since few descriptions are funny on the hundredth reading.) Accordingly, the best humorous IF relies on absurdity and fourth-wall humor rather than jokes as such, and Augmented Fourth fits that category: the funniest bits rely on the reliable trope of the Ridiculously Stupid Adversary, and the world you end up discovering is replete with cartoonish humor. The humor, in other words, has technically been done before, and yet it works: this author has an unerring ear for comic style, whether in the form of simple absurdity or barbed IF reference. (From the opening scene, when you're in the pit: one of the guards shouts, "It must get pretty tedious explorin' a room with no exits in any of the four cardinal directions but it wouldn't be much of a prison otherwise, eh?") The development of the plot, while competent, isn't quite as good as the writing; once you get past the intro and reach the main body of the game, you're essentially given a lot of puzzles to solve and an eventual goal to attain, and while it's a safe bet for experienced IF players that solving the puzzles will lead to reaching the goal, there's nothing to make the connection as such. To be sure, Augmented Fourth has a lot of company in that respect--not many games really integrate plot and puzzles more thoroughly than giving you an overall objective and perhaps an initial nudge--but it's still worth noting for those who crave a real melding of the narrative and the crossword. On the other hand, there's plenty of story that underlies the puzzles--i.e., the solutions to most of the puzzles rely at least in part on information specific to the game, so you won't get far without taking the time to read and understand the backstory. That reduces the sense that the game was an excuse for the puzzles, since the puzzles are specific to that game and wouldn't make sense in any other context. In short, while the progress of the plot isn't really related to the puzzles, the details of the story are, which certainly beats total independence of the two elements. Augmented Fourth does incorporate a device to reduce the sense that you've left the domain of plot and entered the realm of puzzles: periodically (in fact, at key points after you solve certain puzzles), you're shown cut scenes featuring the obnoxious king. The scenes are significant in several respects: they explain the premise of the game and give a basis for several important aspects of the setting, they develop the king's character (always worth a laugh), and they give your quest some context. To explain in detail would spoil the game, but suffice it to say that the cut-scenes turn your overall objective from saving your own skin to something more generally beneficial. It doesn't affect the puzzle-solving, but it does make the game feel more fleshed out. It's worth noting because, as most IFers know, giving a PC a set of motivations that explain every puzzle isn't easy; the cut-scene approach, which gives the PC's actions a temporal context (i.e., "meanwhile.") and, to some extent, an apparent link to other things that are going on. Technically, I suppose, it's not a perfect substitute, but it does create the illusion of involvement in the plot (as opposed to solving unrelated puzzles). At any rate, even if you don't buy the illusion, the cut-scenes are hilarious, which is a more than adequate justification for their presence. The puzzles themselves are creative, on the whole, and they revive something akin to Infocom's spellcasting system, with a few inventive (and amusing) twists. Chief among the benefits of this is the possibility of trying out your spells on various objects in various contexts, with accompanying potential for humor, and I'm pleased to report that the author left very few stones unturned in that respect. Moreover, not all the puzzles depend on the spells (nor do they apply the spells in straightforward ways), so solving puzzles isn't simply a matter of leafing through the spells to figure out which one applies, which sometimes happened in the Enchanter series. Some of the puzzles involve rather obscure intuitive leaps, and one relies on information that an NPC provides only randomly (meaning that you may not hear the relevant bit unless you wait around for a while), but on the whole they're both challenging and reasonably fair (and the author has uploaded a walkthrough to the archive). It's also nearly impossible to make the game unwinnable (though there are plenty of deaths)--the game goes out of its way to replenish finite resources and provide multiple opportunities to solve puzzles. Augmented Fourth doesn't transcend the limitations of the form or subvert the player's expectations in any fundamental way. Still, it's one of the best-written and best-programmed efforts to be released this year, and it's a good example of what you get when an author really goes overboard in providing funny responses for obscure actions and filling out the backstory. It's a polished, intelligent work that deserves your attention. FTP FileInform .z8 file FTP FileSolution file (written by the author) FTP FileInform source code


From: Adam Myrow <myrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Augustine AUTHOR: Terrence V. Koch EMAIL: teviko SP@G DATE: September 2002 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware IF-archive URL: Directory containing game, hints, walk-through, and release notes VERSION: 1.0 Terrence Koch is a new author to watch out for. While his first piece of IF, Augustine, isn't perfect, it has the right idea. In this story, you play a man who has lived over 600 years. Back in the early 1400's, your family and friends were wiped out in a brutal raid of your village. Though you were still a child, you sought the man who had done this and tried to kill him. You never got to kill him, but vowed that you would never rest until you did. He also made the same oath about you and you are now both cursed to live until one of you kills the other. The story tracks the history between the two of you all the way to 2002, where you meet on a ghost tour set aboard a ship. For some reason, you always meet in St. Augustine, Florida, so that city holds a special place for you. This is where the game gets its title. The author concedes that this game is similar to the TV series and movie called Highlander, but insists he came up with the idea independently. I thought this was a bit defensive, but I can understand where he's coming from. Anyway, I really liked the concept. The game alternates between the present and flashbacks with a few lengthy cut scenes. By the end, I felt like I had participated in a story, which is, to me, the whole purpose of interactive fiction. Granted, the story isn't perfect, especially in terms of spelling and bugs. There are several spelling and grammar problems as well as some parser quirks. Yet, when I played, I found myself overlooking a lot of this. It may have been because I had played a particularly buggy entry just before it and was willing to overlook problems if the game at least made sense and didn't spit out nonsense every few moves. Also, I give a lot of leeway to an author who attempts to tell a story as complex as this in such a short game. Interactive flashbacks, in particular, are extremely difficult to do well -- too much interaction and the whole story has been changed. Too little, and it may as well be a long cut scene. The author strays back and forth across this line. The opening flashback, which details the village raid, is more like an instant death puzzle. How can you die in a flashback? Later flashbacks still have some possibility for ending the game abruptly, and even later, it is practically impossible to change the predetermined course of events. As I said, this is tricky ground, especially for a first-time author. The biggest problem with the way the story is presented is that the flashbacks are too close together. Near the beginning, you take a walking ghost tour which is almost completely non-interactive. You basically follow your tour guide and read long descriptions of the thoughts going through your mind. This would have been a perfect time to place the flashbacks, but instead, they are all bunched together on the ship. So, overall, I liked the story, but the implementation was problematic. I would really like to see a post-competition release of this game. With a bit of cleanup, it stands to be an outstanding first work. From: Mike Roberts <mjr_ SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 When I came to the part of "Augustine" where the player character takes a guided tour of the city of the game's title, I immediately recognized what had been vaguely bothering me about the game up to that point. The guided tour is not just a major chunk of the game's plot; it's at the heart of the game's design. The entire game is, in a way, a guided tour, and has some of the good and bad features of any guided tour. The story opens in the year 1400, somewhere "just outside of Wales," where the player character is a young villager. A cruel warlord rides into the village with his army, and proceeds to kill everyone in the village except the player character. The PC manages to evade the soldiers by hiding; after the raid, the PC vows vengeance on the warlord, and sets out to track him down. From here, the story gives us a capsule summary of the PC joining an army that opposes the evil warlord, training for combat, and entering his first battle against the warlord. In the course of the battle, we encounter the warlord himself; we chase him into a hidden part of his castle, where a magical transformation causes both the PC and the warlord to become effectively immortal, immune to death or serious injury except at one another's hands. That might sound like a lot of story, and it is; but the interactivity through this part is so limited that it takes all of about twenty turns to get this far. I think the author intended this portion as an extended introduction, and couldn't resist the temptation to cram the entire back-story here; but the trade-off is that all of these big events are just sketched out, and you feel like you're being rushed along. The opening scene where the PC's entire family is killed, for example, ought to have a visceral emotional impact; but it doesn't, because we haven't really had a chance to meet any of the other characters or see their relationship to the PC. It also doesn't help that the PC has to just sit there and hide during the whole enemy raid scene; it would have been more satisfying if the PC had tried his best to defend the village but had been unable to overcome the superior force of the raiders. (Explaining how the PC survived in this scenario might have been trickier, but not impossible; he could have been badly wounded and left for dead, for example.) But the PC so willfully keeps his distance from the action that it distances us as well. The story next moves from 1400 to the modern day, where the main action is set. The PC is still alive, thanks to the magical transformation, and is now in the town of Augustine, Florida. Here the plot development becomes less frantic, and we're able to do some more leisurely exploration. Even here, though, our exploration options are limited, more so than they first appear; we can walk through the town's streets, but we can't enter any of the buildings. This is where I first got the feeling that I was in a museum, with velvet ropes keeping me on the approved path and safely out of reach of the exhibits. In fact, this is exactly where we eventually take the actual guided tour; the tour guide leads us around these same streets, pointing out historical events that took place in all of those buildings we can look at but not enter. The guided tour is an interesting device for filling in the back-story, but in this particular game it seems an odd choice. During the tour, as the guide points out bits of history, the PC reminisces about his personal involvement in those events. Why, then, doesn't the PC have anything to say about all of those significant places when visiting them on his own, outside the tour? The PC doesn't even seem to recognize the places before the tour. I can understand why the author wanted to dole out the back-story using the tour, but there's no good reason within the context of the story that the PC shouldn't be able to reminisce all by himself; the tour as a narrative device seems better suited to a static-fiction rendition of the story. As for the writing, it's mostly decent, but I have a few quibbles. The technical polish is a bit spotty in places: there's at least one it's/its confusion, some weird comma placement, and a few spelling errors. The story in one place uses "ironic" to mean "coincidental" (which I hear is the latest direction in the drift of the popular meaning of "ironic", "sarcastic" being the previous one, but this is the first time I've personally spotted this new meaning in actual use). The writing affects a style that I think is meant to evoke the sweeping historical epic; this gives the writing a certain stiltedness in places, but you get used to it pretty quickly. It probably sounds as though I didn't like this game much, given the number of weaknesses I've focused on; but I wouldn't have gone into so much detail if I didn't at least want to like it. I actually didn't warm to the game immediately, partially because I was put off by some of these design problems and partially because the story seemed awfully similar to the film "Highlander" (a resemblance the author acknowledges in the README file, with an explanation that it's a coincidence). However, as I got further into it, I found I was enjoying the game quite a bit. The feeling of running on rails remained, but it was less obvious after the early parts of the game; and more importantly, the story became increasingly engaging as it progressed. There's simply a lot of story here, especially considering the constraints of the competition's two-hour play limit (which the game does a pretty good job of obeying) - and as the plot develops, the resemblance to "Highlander" fades. "Augustine" has plenty of flaws, but its story is interesting enough that it's worth a look. FTP FileDirectory with TADS 2 .gam file and hints

Aunts and Butlers

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: Aunts and Butlers AUTHOR: Robin Johnson E-MAIL: rj SP@G DATE: October 1, 2006 PARSER: Non-standard SUPPORTS: Web-Browsers AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: - (The reader should be informed beforehand that all my oh-so-clever insinuations following came to me as an afterthought. While actually playing A&B, I was just enjoying the ride for the most part, never being distracted by secondary ponderings.) The game has (and the author's blurb for it seems to endorse it) an unmistakable P. G. Woodhouse-feel (reminding of the Jeeves and Wooster series in particular), but as I thought about it more closely, I realized it wasn't *that* Woodhouse- like at all. Why do I think so? Well, remember the original novels: Wooster appears before us not just as a mere blunderer (although this part of his nature usually plays a major role in the story) but also as the nobility in the flesh, a person who very rarely, if at all, pursues one's own ends, and who's ready to risk his own reputation to help out his friend (well, actually, the choice is made for him in most cases, but that's another thing). In Aunts and Butlers, however, we find an entirely different kind of person as a protagonist: a very purposeful man who not only knows what he wants, but is also capable of acting pretty mean at times to reach his goals. If anything, A&B represents a post-Woodhouse setting, where most of Wooster's fortune has trickled away through his fingers (which seems pretty realistic, since he's never been a man too concerned about his revenues, to put it mildly), carrying away most of his aristocratic scruples and complications, and replacing them with healthy cynicism in the process. This personality change did him good in the long run -- by the end of the story, our hero not only gains his wealth back, but also acquires something the original Wooster never could even dream of; I mean the esteem of his valet, who stops treating his master as a mix of a child to be nursed and a marionette to be manipulated, and begins to see him as an equal partner (granted, the last one is my assumption, but it's more or less implied by the game). If I were the game author, I'd provide A&B with the subtitle "Revenge of Bertie Wooster", because the protagonist really pays back the people who's been torturing him in the original Woodhouse novels. The only thing I missed in this respect in the game was a nasty prank on Bingo Little (you know, something like sending him down a smelly trash chute to the feet of his oblivious wife and uncle.) If you aren't as much a fan of P. G. Woodhouse as I am, you'll probably see Aunts and Butlers just as a light-hearted, not too deep work with an unproblematic gameplay, good enough to while away an hour or so. It has a slight general adventuring frosting, which isn't necessarily needed and could be removed without anybody missing it, yet, on the other hand, it doesn't hamper the game, either. Isn't this worth a rating of at least 6 points? Sure it is. There's one more thing, though: A&B hasn't been created with one of the major IF-development systems -- instead, the author employed JavaScript. In itself, this isn't such a rare thing; it's the surprisingly good parser that makes it practically unique. You couldn't find any complaints about it in my review, could you? That's because it's really on a par with the needs and expectations of the modern text adventurer, or at least very close to that. I imagine what an awfully huge lot of work it must have taken to bring it to that quality level from scratch! Well, doesn't this extra amount of work deserve an increase of the game rating by at least one point? Sure it does -- at least as far as I'm concerned;). Competition score: 7 Full game in HTML format, playable in most web browsers FTP FileWalkthrough, HTML format

The Awakening

From: Chantikell <Chantikell SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998 NAME: The Awakening AUTHOR: Dennis Matheson E-MAIL: Dennis_Matheson SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: all Inform ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Considering that "The Awakening" by Dennis Matheson is a rather small game, I was pleasently surprised by both plot and atmosphere of the game. The game starts out with the player finding himself in an old, decaying churchyard during a thunderstorm, not knowing how he came there nor who he is. But both the fact that he's originally located in an earth pit and the name of the adventure lead up to some suspicions... Besides, the author mentions to have been inspired by the works of Lovecraft, so for me the setting of the game was, if not outright obviously, so at least in all probability, part of the Lovecraftian Universe, with strange and malovelent forces at work. During the course of the game I found this to be true, and by and by learnt more about my surroundings, and the goal I had to achieve, until I was able to defy these forces and win "freedom". The atmosphere, especially during the first part of the game, is quite dense. Especially, once I was inside the church, I felt like an intruder, at a place where some tradegy had already occured, trying to make sense of the remnants. But the end of the game came as something of an anti-climax to me: I had no problems to win against my antagonist, and no final explanation was offered to fill a few gaps I had noticed, just a plain ***You have won*** message. But, as I said before, "The Awakening" is a short piece of interactive fiction, and therefore due to lack some fleshing out that a bigger game perhaps would have had. For its length it's really a fine example of the art, capturing in its story, and convincing in its atmosphere. I've totally forgotten to mention the technical side, and that's probably because I found no flaws there, no bugs or parser problems, which of course heightened the pleasure of playing "The Awakening". From: okblacke <okblacke SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #18 -- September 15, 1999 "The Awakening" is a short-short horror with a clear and admitted homage to H. P. Lovecraft (HPL), complete with elements lifted directly from "The Outsider" and other of that seminal author's works. It's a "first game", too, and taken as such, it's certainly not bad. But the game can be seen to illustrate some of the larger issues that arise when trying to bring the feel of HPL to IF. On the good side, a lack of dialogue and human interaction (which HPL felt to be antithetical to the atmosphere he was trying to create) makes sidestepping classic IF NPC issues easier. On the bad side, the kleptomaniacal, Wile-E.-Coyote-esque aspect of the adventurer doesn't mix well with lurking horrors. In other words, running around with ladders and being chased by dogs present me with comic images--made even more comic by the fact that I knew from the start (as any reader of HPL would) the secret behind the "purple tablecloth". I know the writing worked for a lot of people, but I'm still scratching my head over "storm tossed sky" (not to mention the Zork-esque "storm tossed branches"), concaphony, and the "iron-barred fence" in the initial descriptions. (A fence barred by iron? A fence made of iron bars?) Not to mention prose peppered with "seems". (I'll assume that the adjective-heavy segments in the beginning of the game are an homage to HPL.) Some of the weather effects didn't quite make it for me, either. The frequency of the intermittent hailstorms drew my attention to the fact that I was being fed random weather effects. There was some satisfaction in solving the puzzles, although there is an instant death puzzle at the end (which you can avoid by talking to an NPC). They mostly made sense and some effort was made to avoid having the player get into unwinnable state. (Though the hint system actually encourages the hapless user to get into an unwinnable state, if he's trying to minimize his use of it.) The arrangement of hints is poor: I'd say half the hints are worthless, and they detract from any sense of atmosphere, even ending with "That's All Folks" when they have been exhausted. There are a number of out-of-place messages, some from the Inform standard library (like "Violence isn't the answer to this one.") and one gets the idea that the author hasn't quite patched up all the holes. You can, for example, tie a rope to the limb of the tree, only to receive the message "The broken limb isn't attached to anything" when you try to "untie limb". This is a somewhat harsh review but, as I point out, the game isn't bad. There are some nice atmospheric touches and the author shows more care with the story than one might expect from such a small game. Nonetheless, a game (however short) that is dependent so heavily on atmosphere needs to take impeccable care with the details or risk losing his audience before they get to the "frisson". Plot: 1.2 Atmosphere: 0.8 Writing: 1.2 Gameplay: 0.9 Characters: 1.0 Puzzles: 1.0 Overall: 1.3 FTP FileInform file (.z5) FTP FileInform source code (.inf)

The Awe-Chasm

From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 NAME: The Awe-Chasm (a.k.a The Chasm of Awe, a.k.a. Snatch and Crunch II) PARSER: C Adventure Toolkit AUTHOR: Tony Stiles PLOT: Dungeon Quest EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Very little AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Decidedly unfunny PUZZLES: Generic/pseudo-logical SUPPORTS: PCs, Atari STs CHARACTERS: Unresponsive DIFFICULTY: Painful to play Start with a rather straightforward late-1970s style dungeon quest/treasure hunt. Now add a remarkably crude and unpretentiously juvenile sense of humor. Stir in a frustrating parser and some poorly-implemented, at best semi-logical, puzzles. Blend into this a sloppy overall design, and, to give a slight flavor of anti-logic, top the whole thing off with a dash of sheer incomprehensibility. Following this recipe, the resulting mixture is a serious candidate for the very worst text adventure ever written. In this case, author Tony Stiles has cooked up an unappetizing little dish titled "The Awe-Chasm," a.k.a "The Chasm of Awe," a.k.a. "Snatch and Crunch II." (Personally, I've never seen or heard of "Snatch and Crunch I," but it must have been good enough to justify the making of this sequel.) Snatch and Crunch, the two main characters in this game, are, in the author's own words, a "pokey pervert" and a "monolithic mutant," respectively. For reasons unknown (good old-fashioned greed perhaps?), they're out to explore the many caverns and passageways of the Awe-Chasm in search of treasure. During the course of the game, the I-Fer can type "BECOME SNATCH" or "BECOME CRUNCH" to switch control back and forth between Snatch and Crunch, using each one in tasks for which he is specifically suited -- some puzzles can only be solved using one of our two explorers. Snatch and Crunch can also work together, with Crunch picking up the smaller Snatch and carrying him along on his shoulders. While this may sound promising, the game doesn't really put forth the extra effort necessary to make it work. Neither Snatch nor Crunch seems to have much personality, so it's hard to figure out who can do what unless the game specifically tells you (which, in most cases, it doesn't). Perhaps the player is expected to bring this knowledge over from the first "Snatch and Crunch" game. Further, unless Snatch is being carried, the duo doesn't move around together -- the player must move Snatch and Crunch individually, and having to retrace your steps is tedious. It would have worked much better to have the pair stay together for the most part, providing a special "SPLIT" command for the few times when they need to go their separate ways. Complicating matters is the sloppy overall design of the game. It's very linear at the start, until the player figures out how to buy a lamp. This had me stuck until I stumbled across a walkthrough of the first few puzzles amongst the myriad seemingly useless files zipped in with the game executable. My problems were more due to parser quirks than anything else. Did I talk about the parser yet? Perhaps I should do that now. The author wrote his own adventure design system, called the "C Adventure Toolkit" to create this game. While I must bow slightly to such an impressive feat, the sad truth of the matter is that the parser just isn't very good -- it's barely adequate for the game. There are very few synonyms for nouns -- you can't call a pond a "lake," for instance -- and some commands only work properly if prepositions are used -- "GET EMILY" fails; you must say "GET EMILY FROM POND". (Emily, in this case, happens to be a fish with whom Crunch, the "monolithic mutant," is infatuated, and...oh, just forget it.) For simple interactions (directional moves, two-word commands, etc.) the parser works okay. For longer, more complex sentences, though, it's not even up to the standards of AGT, let alone Inform and TADS. (It's dated 1989, BTW.) But now back to the game, which becomes more frustrating once the player acquires a lamp and descends into the Awe-Chasm ("a chasm of orgasmic proportions," the game shamelessly announces). There are several levels to the chasm, some of which have openings leading to tunnels. What's particularly noteworthy here is that, when climbing between levels, there's a good chance you'll fall to the bottom of the chasm and have to climb back up several levels again. This happens far, FAR too often to even be called infuriating. After five or six times, you'll want to quit right then and there. (I didn't even get a quarter of the way through the 500-point game.) The tunnel openings themselves are equally frustrating to navigate. They are listed in room descriptions as "an opening," but no compass directions for them are given or recognized. Players must type "ENTER OPENING" to go inside, and "ENTER OPENING" again to come back. Doors must be traversed in the same manner. What's so difficult about allowing directional commands? "The Awe-Chasm" showcases an astoundingly juvenile sense of humor. It almost seems as though the author is attempting to imitate the style used by Steve Meretzky in some of his racier titles. But Meretzky's writing exudes personality, and his characterization in "LGOP" and the "SpellCasting" series makes the "naughty" bits more charming than offensive. "Awe-Chasm"'s writing offers little characterization and little personality, and the overall result is decidedly distasteful. On top of all this, the game just isn't very well planned out. The best dungeon adventures (by which I mean "Colossal Cave" and the "Zork" series) employ a degree of continuity between their locations, adding realism to the layout. In "Awe-Chasm," rooms are slapped together clumsily and objects are thrown about with no thought whatsoever. One tunnel, for instance, harbors a band of sex-starved nymphomaniacs to assault our heroes. Yet for some reason, they've never ventured into the throne room a few levels down to visit King Tony (another personal appearance by a game author degenerating into a very tired and unfunny inside joke). Other thrills and chills awaiting you include a slew of locked doors (at least three more than ANY adventure game needs), the "magical mystery maze" (three guesses as to what this is, and the first two don't count), and the "Oh sh*t, all my treasures have been scattered" room (crusaders for fairness in I-F need not apply). The game is not without its cult value, however. Fans of truly abysmal I-F should get plenty of howls out of the flaws inherent in "The Awe-Chasm," but everyone else is better advised to leave the "monolithic mutant" and the "pokey pervert" to fend for themselves. (Both versions are packaged in the same .ZIP file, at /if-archive/games/pc/ FTP FilePC Executable (.zip)
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