SPAG
Game Reviews B

These reviews are in alphabetical order according to the name of the game reviewed. The index also has a few extra features. First and foremost of these is the instant gratification feature. If you see the SPAG button:

Then you can click on it to retrieve the file from ftp.ifarchive.org, or to go to that file's directory on the archive (in the case of competition games).

The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date. All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine with the traditional 'at' sign.


Table of Contents

Babel Bad Machine Balances Ballyhoo Baluthar The Baron Bastow Manor Beam A Bear's Night Out Beat the Devil The Beetmonger's Journal Being Andrew Plotkin Bellclap Best Of Three Betty Carlson's Big Date Beyond Beyond the Tesseract Beyond Zork: The Coconut of Quendor The Big Mama The Big Scoop Blink Bloodline Blow Job Drifter Blue Chairs Bmissfill The Boggit Bolivia By Night Book and Volume Border Zone Break-In Bugged Building Bureaucracy Busted!

Babel

From: Laurel Halbany <mythago SP@G twisty-little-maze.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Babel AUTHOR: Ian Finley EMAIL: mordacai SP@G ix.netcom.com DATE: Competition '97 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware (competition game) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/comp97/tads/babel.gam VERSION: Release 1 Too many I-F games have the irritating habit of being firmly set in a single genre, with clichťd rather than inventive trappings (space games have their talking computers, fantasy games have their dragons). Babel combines science fiction and horror imaginatively, so that the separate elements of each genre support and enhance rather than fight each other. The game begins on an apparently abandoned and nonfunctional space station; you don't know who you are, or how you got there, you're freezing cold, and the lights are off. The mood of vaguely unsettling horror and the tension of the character's investigation are very well presented. The author has done an excellent job of making the descriptions of rooms different when they are lit and unlit; rather than "It is pitch black," a dark room is described in sinister, vague terms, turning from threatening to clinical when the lights come on. The layout of the space station is straightforward without being simplistic, and solving the first problem (getting the lights on) doesn't take much wandering. Most items have been described or dealt with, rather than allowed to fall under the heading of "I don't understand that." The character learns most of the plot through various set-pieces; you find blue glowing fixtures in different areas, and when they are touched, there is a flashback (not necessarily in chronological order) to something that happened on this station, when it was inhabited. These are well-written, and though there are plenty of them, at one point you can obtain an item that will automatically "catalog" them for you. The set-pieces cleverly manage to add the humanizing element of interaction with NPCs, without detracting from the gloomy emptiness of Babel station. The problem with these set-pieces is that the characters, and therefore the story, is a bit hackneyed. There is the Bright Young Man (clearly headed for trouble); the deeply religious researcher who fears human hubris; the older, father-figure head of the team with his own agenda; and the brillant, beautiful female scientist who unsurprisingly ends up having a romance with the Bright Young Man despite the team leader's severe disapproval. (Out of jealousy? Concern for unprofessionalism? A little too much paternal concern? We don't know.) This also tends to ruin the central mystery of the game; by the time you finally solve the puzzle that reveals in fact who the character is, you-the-player have probably long since figured it out; there's not much shock in the revelation. The memory of what happened to the team of scientists is similarly predictable. Most of the puzzles are not mind-wracking, but do take some thought. There are often clues given in how the station reacts to you, or in the set- pieces. Most involve finding an item and applying it, although this is not mechanical. There are a number of locked-door puzzles involving an ID-card slot. It's nice that this is easy to solve, but I found it unrealistic: there were only four scientists on Babel, all of whom had access to the entire station, so why did they need ID cards to open the doors? The final important puzzle of the game, involving synthesis of liquids and manipulating machinery, is forgiving of mistakes but tedious to do. It seems as though the author wanted a difficult final hurdle, but it is mechanical rather than exciting, and not particularly difficult. The last set-piece is, sadly, not as original as it might have been. Overall, I found Babel to be a well-crafted, atmospheric horror game that, while not a classic, is certainly enjoyable and absorbing. From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 PLOT: Outstanding (1. ATMOSPHERE: Very effective (1.7) WRITING: Consistently absorbing (1.8) GAMEPLAY: Fairly good (1.2) CHARACTERS: Quite good (1.5) PUZZLES: Few, nothing special (0.9) MISC: Outstanding storytelling, even if the plot's derivative (1.6) OVERALL: 8.1 In the realm of science fiction, very trodden ground indeed, Ian Finley's Babel does not seem profoundly original; you have an experiment in an isolated lab that goes wrong, an unscrupulous scientist, dramatic confrontations, even a countdown of sorts. But the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, and there is more to Babel than might appear from a thumbnail sketch. The puzzles are few and not particularly remarkable, but for simple storytelling power, this one ranks among the best in the competition. That, unfortunately, means that it's difficult to review effectively without breaking the spell for future players, so this may be somewhat unrevealing. The initial premise is set out before the first room description: One by one, your senses speak to you. There is one absolute: cold. The hard surface you're lying on is cold, the thin gown thrown over your body is cold, the disinfectant-tinged air is cold, the darkness around you is cold. Even your mind is cold and empty. Where are you? Who are you? You feel the warm edge of a memory, but it fades as you approach. Slowly, your joints bulging with ache, you get to your feet and look around. Where you are and who you are become clear through a series of discoveries that begin as cryptic vignettes and only gradually begin to make sense; though the game exercises only limited control over the sequence of your discoveries, the control is sufficient to make your reconstruction of the storyline reasonably predictable. Moreover, the manner of those discoveries amplifies the uneasy feel: relevant facts come out first as offhand references and are only explained much later. A computer that you discover early on supplies some background information, but no more than that; you learn about the course of events that led to your awakening alone on the floor through other means. Helpful in that respect (and for keeping things straight) is a calendar that you find, and in which you note the sequence of events; even if it feels like a device to keep the player from being confused, it's a welcome one. One of the best parts of Babel's story is the believability of the characters it depicts: though you never interact with them over the course of the game, your discoveries about them make them as real as NPCs that are actually present. Mr. Finley's writing deserves the credit for that; the dialogue is good enough to supplement rather than drag down the story (not at all a given these days), and what you see of the way the characters interact both fills out the plot and gives them some life. Admittedly, the scenes you encounter are heavily steeped in science fiction conventions, and perhaps those who read more science fiction than I do will find the whole thing too old to be interesting. But for my part, I found a genuine interest in the characters, as opposed to nifty gadgetry or wondrous discovery, that made the story much more compelling than much of the science fiction I've read. If anything, I was hoping for more development, more plot to discover, though I recognize that Mr. Finley was limited by the two-hour format. The strength and complexity of the story line makes Babel feel more like fiction than puzzle-based IF. As noted, Babel's puzzles are secondary to the story, and what we do get is not especially memorable (though neither are they very hard). One puzzle involving a cabinet strains belief a bit, as does another involving security mechanisms that you defeat, and the beginning presents a bottleneck of sorts that requires both close reading and something of an intuitive leap -- but once a certain barrier is passed, most of the game will come easily to the experienced IF player. But that factor works well here: more difficult or time-consuming would slow down the plot and take away the realism of the premise. As it is, there is almost no need to save and restore: there is a time limit, but it is loose enough to afford plenty of room for wandering around and making mistakes, and all of the ways to die or make the game unwinnable can easily be foreseen. But there is a nice puzzle involving a locked door, and many of the puzzles draw on the development of the plot -- you need knowledge that you discover along the way, for example -- in a way that is all too rare even in good IF. Particularly notable about Babel is that it tells its story in a way that conventional fiction could not -- at least, not as well or as powerfully. Though a short story or novel could in theory be written in the second person, it couldn't put the reader in command of events, and leave the unveiling of the plot to the reader's discretion. A storyline in which discovering your own identity is central works well in a medium where your persona is rarely fixed; in conventional fiction, where using the second person is uncommon, the device just wouldn't work. In an odd way, the usual limits of IF work to the advantage of this game, as the player's expectation of a series of puzzles rather than an identity problem makes the resolution to the problem genuinely surprising; the twists in the plot are effective precisely because of the questions the player doesn't ask of the game. The strength of the writing also helps; to quote much of it would give the plot away, but room descriptions like the following convey the frigidity of the setting: Grey light drips in from an octagonal skylight in the ceiling of this room, making the room look as cold as it feels. To the north, east, and south, doorways lead into unlit halls. The metal door frame of the east hall glows faintly with an eerie blue light. The dominating element of this small cube is the color white. The walls are white, the stiff bed by the east wall is covered in white sheets, the counter sticking out of the wall in the corner looks as though it were carved from snow. Set into the counter is a pale, porcelain sink. Even the air smells as if it has been scoured bare. The atmosphere is effective throughout; the countdown messages, when they come, heighten the tension, and stray details -- shattered mirrors, dead mice -- work to the same effect. There are some gameplay problems that complicate matters now and again. "Search" is never useful, as far as I can tell, and "examine" does what might be expected of "search" in more than one case. One sequence involving a radiation chamber, though put together with admirable realism, feels rather tedious to work out -- and some related actions require rather exact wording. At one point, the game asked me if I wanted to open the east door when it meant the west door, and there are some events and feelings embedded in room descriptions that accordingly recur a bit too often. These are minor glitches, though; bugs are relatively few (and the author has promised that those that do exist will be cleaned up in future releases). There are similarities between Babel and C.E. Forman's Delusions -- in the premise and in some of the plot devices, notably. But Babel works on a much different level; the story is more central to the game here, and is hence better developed and more compelling -- and, naturally, the puzzles are far fewer and less involving. (For my part, I found that the plot of Babel made more sense than that of Delusions, but perhaps that's just me.) There is no reason why playing Delusions should spoil the experience of playing Babel (nor vice versa). I enjoyed Babel, in short -- I gave it a rating of 9 -- and I consider the storytelling equal to that of any recent work of IF. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G colorado.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 Babel is not only one of the best competition games I've ever played, it's one of the best pieces of interactive fiction I've ever seen, period. The game starts from a well-worn IF trope: you awaken alone, with no memory of your identity. Then, Babel unfolds into a breathtaking, emotional story. The work of exposition and plot development is performed through the protagonist's enhanced powers of tellurgy, which the game defines as "the ability to experience past events by touching objects present when the event occurred." The clarity of these visions varies according to the emotional intensity of the event being witnessed. This device, reminiscent of that in Stephen King's The Dead Zone, is the central convention of the game, and it allows a degree of character development very rare in interactive fiction. Certainly other games (most notably Zork:Nemesis) have used this device in the past, but none have brought it about so convincingly and so effectively as does Babel. The tellurgic episodes gradually bring an awareness of the character's identity, and how he came to be in his amnesiac state, as well as tell a chilling story of scientific arrogance and attendant disasters. Another interesting aspect of Babel is the moral ambiguity of its main character. Typical IF heroes (or heroines) have few ethical shades: they are either unambiguously on the side of good, working to save the universe or some version thereof, or basically self- interested seekers of wealth or fame. The hero of Babel falls into neither of these convenient categories. Instead, he appears first as a victim, then eludes that simple assignation as well, becoming a character of depth and complexity very rarely realized in IF. The experience of playing such a character was a powerful one, especially as the story gradually revealed just how willing a participant he was in his own undoing. Finally, I think it's worth noting that two games in this year's IF competition (Unholy Grail and Babel) deal with a metallic research station where the player discovers the frightening results of unbridled scientific inquiry run amok. What is the meaning of this thematic fascination in a community devoted to a form of gaming which has been bypassed in the marketplace by games which grasp to exploit the newest, flashiest technology? It's a speculation for another essay, but I feel safe enough asserting this: Babel is an outstanding treatment of the theme, the best I have ever seen in IF, and one of the best I've ever seen in any medium anywhere. Prose: Babel's prose was nothing short of outstanding. It unerringly conveyed the experience of being stranded in a deserted Arctic outpost, addressing all the senses and the emotions as well. Powerful turns of phrase abounded, and extreme experiences (such as being out in the Arctic winter wearing only a hospital gown) were very vividly rendered. The characterization and dialogue in the cut-scenes of the tellurgic visions were sharp and effective, outlining strongly defined and complex characters. Small touches like tiptoeing across the cold floor in bare feet, or the equation of the cold-hearted scientist's eyes with the Arctic ice (notice the pun), combined with broader strokes for an astonishingly realistic and well-written whole. Plot: The game's plot unfolds masterfully, revealed in dribs and drabs by the tellurgic episodes. The author provides a chronology for all these events with the (rather forced) device of giving the character a calendar on which he "instinctively" jots down the date of each occurrence. As the story develops, the tension becomes greater and greater: the unfolding mystery of the character's origin serves to heighten the power of the story's eventual climax. Some of the Biblical imagery is just a tiny bit heavy-handed, but the whole is strong enough to overpower any objection of didacticism or triteness. Puzzles: The puzzles almost effortlessly achieved the ideal of blending seamlessly into the narrative. There were no arbitrary puzzles, and the artfully gradual revelation of the plot was served elegantly by simple but logical obstacles. There were no puzzles that were particularly ingenious or unique, but that wasn't the point of this game. The puzzles were there to provide some control over the narrative flow, and in this they served their purpose just right. Technical: writing -- The prose mechanics were excellent. I only noticed a couple of proofing errors in this very word-heavy game. coding -- Coding was equally strong. I found a couple of very minor bugs, but there were many, many touches that made it clear that a great deal of thought, foresight, and effort went into the coding of this game. FTP FileTADS file (.gam) (updated version) FTP FileTADS .gam file, hints, walkthrough, and DOS executable (.zip) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file, hints, and walkthrough (competition version) FTP FileMap (.pdf)

Bad Machine

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G mail333.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #36 -- March 16, 2004 [For years I've been wishing for a review of Dan Shiovitz's mind-bending and idiosyncratic work Bad Machine. My pleas must finally have been heard, because recently a little hole in the universe opened and extruded the following piece. I can't vouch for its grounding in reality, but Dan has approved its publication, so publish it I will. Let me put it this way: it's the best Bad Machine review I've ever been sent. --Paul] TITLE: Bad Machine AUTHOR: Dan Shiovitz EMAIL: dans SP@G drizzle.com DATE: 1998 PARSER: TADS Hacked SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/bmch.zip A pseudo-inter-RE-view with Dan Shiovitz ---------------------------------------- I asked for it, and I got it: a cozy arm-chair next to a fireplace, where I can lounge while sipping cold beer and interviewing Dan, who's sitting opposite me in a similar arm-chair. Valentine Kopteltsev: Danny, partner, would you please tell me some background info about your game -- maybe something about its history, the creation process, etc. Dan Shiovitz: No, no. You're going about it from the wrong end. Look, for one thing, I agreed to help you with your REVIEW, which is supposed to be some sort of summary of YOUR OWN, PERSONAL impressions of the game. For the other, would you mind refraining from calling me Danny? I'd appreciate it a lot. V.K.: Well, then, let's begin from the very start. How does it happen that the trailer for Bad Machine is essentially unrelated to the game itself? D.S.: You didn't enjoy it? V.K.: On the contrary, I did; in fact, I thought it was just great. However, I found it a tad bit confusing to discover the main game had nothing to do with it. D.S.: I see no problem with that. Just take it as some sort of epigraph. How many books have you read in your life where the epigraph represented an integral part of the story? V.K.: M-m-m... Sounds convincing. Let's move on, then. The world of Bad Machine, this fully automated warehouse, is astounding, even overwhelming: while it doesn't take too much time to finish the game, one could spend I think at least a couple of hours exploring possibilities, gaining information, and trying to figure out how everything works. And despite its large size, you somehow managed to maintain both its consistency and a high level of detail. Danny, pal, please tell me -- was it difficult to create? D.S.: Could you please stop calling me Danny? You bet it was! You know, your question appears somewhat... inadequate. V.K.: You mean, it's stupid. ;) Sure, come to think of it, I have to admit it is. I mean, considering the dimensions of the warehouse, the number of different robots you had to implement for it, as well as the fact that you rewrote the standard TADS parser almost beyond recognition, one really needn't ask you whether it was a lot of work. Still, during gameplay, I ran into a few bugs, and there also were several things I thought I (or, to be more precise, the player character) should be able to do but wasn't. What do you think of this? D.S. (smiling): I think you're a nitpicker. V.K. (also smiling): Probably I am -- after all, none of the bugs were too critical. Still, there were some issues considering the puzzles and the overall gameplay. While, on the whole, the puzzles were logical and quite manageable (while I'm not the best puzzle-solver, I could finish Bad Machine without resorting to the hints; OK, I used them, but only after solving yet another puzzle -- as some sort of proof I was on the right track), there were episodes where I had to wait quite a few turns for something relevant to happen, and this was a bit confusing. Also, considering the recent discussion in SPAG about how doors should automatically unlock if the PC has a key, it occurred to me that some players (although I'm not one of them) might find the game too pedantic about always getting explicit commands. Danny, chum, please tell me your opinion on that matter. D.S.: Please don't call me Danny. First of all, Bad Machine was released a few years before this discussion, so referring to it here seems a bit inappropriate. Besides, the player is controlling a not too advanced robot in this game; I think that requesting precise instructions is exactly the behaviour most people would expect of a machine, isn't it? As for puzzle solutions requiring waiting for a random number of turns... You already mentioned the action in Bad Machine takes place in an automated warehouse. This structure has its own production cycles, and works strictly in accordance with a certain schedule. If it broke this schedule just to be more convenient for the player, that'd be rather unrealistic, wouldn't it? V.K.: OK, I think I can buy this explanation. However, for me, probably the strangest thing about Bad Machine was its ending. Somehow, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. You know, I've always had trouble understanding deeply symbolic games (Losing Your Grip by Stephen Granade is a good example); I guess that's the reason for my confusion about Bad Machine. Danny, buddy, please give me some clue for better understanding. D.S.: I suspect you also have troubles with your memory, for I have asked you several times not to call me Danny, and you still do. Well, I'm afraid I can't help you with that. V.K.: But Danny, my friend... D.S.: NOW STOP CALLING ME DANNY WILL YOU!!! V.K. (only slightly disconcerted): Er... still, a little explanation would be nice. D.S. (glancing at his watch): Sorry, I'm afraid we have to skip this. I suggest you get right over to the SNATS [Valentine's traditional "Scores Not Affecting The Scoreboard" --Paul] section -- I have another appointment in a few minutes. V.K.: Well, let's have a look at what we've got here... the PLOT is the element of the game that gives me the most trouble (1.1). Then, the genuine ATMOSPHERE of a robot factory (1.6)... WRITING that manages to be computer-like and not to degenerate into binary code at the same time (1.8)... GAMEPLAY with episodes requiring random waiting, but I think the multiple solutions balance it out (1.4)... and BONUSES for the overall consistency, lots of background material, as well as for some responses (in particular, the response to debris manipulation attempts) (1.3). All this results in a TOTAL RATING of 7.2. Considering the theme of the game, the CHARACTERS are almost perfect; however, it must be said that implementing robots probably is easier than implementing people (1.4). The PUZZLES were interesting and logical enough, although I had the feeling the game could use a couple more of them (1.3). As to the difficulty... well, even *I* was able to solve it without resorting to hints (max. 6 out of 10). But Danny, comrade, would you please give me a final comme... D.S. (producing a butcher's axe): HERE! Disconnect performed -- limb (top, left) removed Disconnect performed -- limb (top, right) removed Disconnect performed -- limb (bottom, left) removed Disconnect performed -- limb (bottom, right) removed Disconnect performed -- head removed D.S. (now alone): Time to find someone to bring this to the reclamation area. --- P.S. I honestly hope you play Bad Machine if you haven't already. The game's definitely worth it. FTP FileTADS .gam file and readme

Balances

From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G df.lth.se> Review appeared in
SPAG #6 -- July 26, 1995 NAME: Balances PARSER: Inform AUTHOR: Graham Nelson EMAIL: graham SP@G gnelson.demon.co.uk ATMOSPHERE: Nostalgic, slightly surrealistic PUZZLES: Some old friends, some quite original ones AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, Freeware SUPPORTS: Infocom ports WRITING: Very good, rather minimalistic PLOT: Simple, non-linear CHARACTERS: Few and sketchy DIFFICULTY: Below average It is an interesting fact that one of the most talked-about adventure games of 1994, and certainly the one that caused the most controversy, was, according to its author, not intended as a game at all, but just as a demo. Despite this fact, the game/demo did not only become quite popular, but the debate about whether its puzzles are in any way "unfair" or "illogical" reached enormous proprtions, degenerating into the first big flamewar of rec.arts.int-fiction (a Usenet newgroup devoted to the art of writing adventure games). I have seen several people writing very kindly about this game, ranking it among their favourite pieces of IF; it was recently included on the companion disk of XYZZYnews; many people have expressed disbelief in the author's claim that the game is just a demo. [Had our esteemed editor been in the habit of putting more varied headlines over reviews than just the name of the game, this review may have been titled "The Game That Wasn't," or perhaps "The Little Demo That Could" :-)] The game in question is "Balances" and the author is Graham Nelson, of "Inform" and Curses fame. If this game is "nothing but a demo," then it is certainly one of the most ambitious and playable demos ever written; the fact that so many people played it as a game, never noticed the demo aspect, started criticizing it as any other game, and seemed to have difficulty believing the author when he told them it was just a demo, makes a very clear point. On the other hand, some aspects of the game, which would be serious flaws had it been intended as a game, are quite natural in a demo, at least in retrospect - but we're of course all blessed with 20/20 hindsight. Be that as it may: game or demo, "Balances" is in many ways a very attractive piece of IF, with great charm. Any Infocom fan is bound to recognize the setting of "Balances": it takes place in the same universe as the Enchanter trilogy, as a kind of epilogue to Spellbreaker. Not only that, but the user interface is almost identical to those games; spells are cast in the same way, and you'll recognize some of the spells, and even some objects. Indeed, the opening words reflect this: "This transcript is not from the Enchanter trilogy, but it does show most of the usual things you can do in those stories..." If the universe, interface, and general look and feel of "Balances" are almost identical to Infocom games, then "Balances" is considerably less detailed: there aren't many objects, there are very few locations, and neither the object nor room descriptions are very long. This is, of course, quite in line with the game being a demo: if you are going to demonstrate that you can implement certain advanced features of Infocom games, then you don't want to spend too much time designing or describing the rooms and objects that are the necessary framework for those features. Still, however, the author has taken the time to create a coherent, consistent world, albeit a tiny one. The whole game has a sketchy character to it, but that is sketchy in the sense of a sketch by a great artist: Leonardo's sketches are still considered great art. The prose is sparse, but of high quality; despite the small amount of text, the author manages to create a very pervasive atmosphere of nostalgia (a feeling of nostalgia for the golden days of magic before the Change, when seen from the perspective of the protagonist; from the perspective of the player, the nostalgia is for the golden days of Infocom), more than a little surrealistic, of a dreamlike quality that gets a twist in the very concluding paragraph. The puzzles are of varying quality, most of them rather easy. Some are familiar to all Infocom players (how do you open a locked door without a key in Enchanter?), while others are quite novel and innovative. The "lleps" spell in particular is perhaps alone worth the effort to download this game. Some puzzles have been criticized for seeming to require exhaustive exploration of all possible actions - this, however, is only natural for a demo, where you're really expected to try all possibilities just to see what happens. It is maybe unfortunate that a critical puzzle hinges on a pun that may be easily overlooked, but once you've got it, it's quite delightful as puns go. Perhaps the most notable feature of the puzzles - one which elevates this game high above the level of ordinary demos, and even of many serious games - is that many (though not all) of the puzzles not only advance the plot, but actually act to reinforce the mood of the game. I'm referring primarily to the puzzles involving balances - the constant repetition throughout the game of the concept of "balance" in various forms enhances its dreamlike quality quite a bit. If the prose and puzzles are of a quality (though not quantity) comparable to the very best of IF, then the playability aspects of the game are more "demo-like". According to the author, the game (being a demo) didn't go through any playtesting; this notwithstanding, it's more playable than, say, most AGT games, but the parser and vocabulary are not quite up to Nelson's usual standards. The lack of synonyms had me playing the rather more disagreeable game of "hunt the word" for quite some time. Another aspect of the game that lowers playability is the complicated way spells are cast: you must memorize the spell before casting it, you can only cast it once before having to re-memorize it, and you can only keep four or five spells in your memory at once. Of course, Graham Nelson can't really be blamed for this, since he copied the system from Enchanter; still, in a game like this, where you really have to cast a _lot_ of spells (and the demo aspect makes you want to try out all possible and impossible spell combinations just to see what happens) you tire very rapidly of this rather pointless complication. I can only urge current and future IF authors _not_ to use this spellcasting system in their games, but try to find something more convenient, or, if they really want to make spellcasting hard, something novel, innovative and less time-worn. To summarize, is "Balances" really a game or a demo? I'm not certain of the answer, or even if this choice of categories is the appropriate one. As a demo, "Balances" has achieved a state of almost unbelievable sophistication; as a game, it is very enjoyable but rather sketchy and not quite as playable as one might wish. Perhaps instead "Balances" should simply be regarded as a piece of interactive literature. As such, it is orsiginal and very charming; the dreamlike, nostalgic mood is quite memorable - "Balances" is very small and quickly played through, but the mood and the images are likely to stay with you for a long time. Finally, let me just quote one line which might be destined to become a classic quotation of IF; a line that nicely exemplifies the surreal quality of this game: "Tiny in the blue sky, a tortoise flaps across the sun". FTP FileInform File (.z5) FTP FileSolution (Text) FTP FileSource (Text)

Ballyhoo

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G compuserve.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Ballyhoo GAMEPLAY: Infocom AUTHOR: Jeff O'Neill PLOT: Good EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Very Good AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1 WRITING: Very Good PUZZLES: Well Done SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Colourful, Distinctive DIFFICULTY: Standard In Ballyhoo, you begin as a typical circusgoer. While wandering around, you discover that the daughter of the circus owner, Mr. Munrab (Barnum spelled backwards) has been kidnapped. Anxious for a little glory, you decide to look into the crime yourself. This turns out to be fortunate, as the detective Munrab engages turns out to be less than competent (surprise). Your search takes you on a tour through the underside of circus life. When I first played Ballyhoo, I strongly disliked it because of a technical problem. I got stuck about 3/4 of the way through. When I found a walkthrough of the game, I solved the problem, but found that I had done something wrong earlier and had to restart the game. When I did so, I found that I could not get past a part I had gotten through without trouble earlier. I then postulated a completely false idea of what I must have done accidentally the first time, and tried various ways to recreate it. By this time I was ready to throw the game under Monty Python's 16-ton weight. Eventually, I figured out what the problem was. It wasn't a bug, just one of those unfortunate things. It would not give away any part of the game to say that the command "WHIP LION" does not mean the same thing as "HIT THE LION WITH THE WHIP". Seemingly this game is plagued with bad luck, as when Activision put out The Lost Treasures of Infocom 1, they inadvertently omitted one page of the original documentation that gave the frequency for WPDL, an all-classical AM radio station (1170 AM by the way). This information is vital twice; once in the middle of the game, and again at the very end. But if you can get past these glitches, you will find quite a nice little game. There are several characters, all well developed. There are everal amusing little responses and sidelights, such as when you try to get the mousetrap, when you jump off the top of the cage, and when you are standing in line for ice cream. The game captures the circus feel in much the same way that Hollywood Hijinx captures the Hollywood feel. As an added bonus, you get an all text blackjack game in the bargain. Ballyhoo is neither a classic, nor a "must-play," but it is an enjoyable game well worth the time you will put into it, if you can avoid the little land mines surrounding it. FTP FileSolution (Text)

Baluthar

From: Mike Russo <russo SP@G caffeinedreams.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Baluthar AUTHOR: Chris Molloy Wischer EMAIL: breathingmeat SP@G graffiti.net DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/zcode/baluthar VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) The opening Ecclesiastes quote immediately got me on this game's side. The fact that existential apathy prevented me from moving off the bed until I found some motivation was another bright mark. In general, I think motivating the player is a very important and oft-overlooked component of a good opening, and Baluthar's got me to buy into the game almost immediately. Unfortunately, I didn't find the rest of the game quite as compelling as the first few moves. Part of this is due to the prose; it's euphonic and at times evocative, but sometimes drowns in its own wordiness. Take this description of the terrain around the player character's hut: "the vegetation of the forest where you make your home is austere and shadowy, as is typical of plants in your country." Austere and shadowy, that's good, but that last tacked on clause takes the wind right out of the image. Still, this is a minor complaint, and there are some intriguingly creepy ideas on offer -- the skull which reclothes itself in flesh and the ghoul which is the grown-up form of a zombified child are off-kilter and memorable. The dungeon beneath the well could have degenerated into cheesiness redolent of a Hammer flick, but the author does a good job keeping the parade of monsters distinct and horrific. The puzzles are logical and generally quite well-integrated into the game. While some of them are a bit rote (learning the name of the ghost, finding a light source), others are fairly clever, especially the one involving the skeleton's key, where the player is never quite sure if he's doing the right thing or something monumentally stupid. The hint system is complete and does a good job of providing useful nudges before spoiling the whole thing. Where Baluthar ultimately fails is in engaging the player's emotions. We're told of the horrifying invasion from above, but we don't see the immediate effects of their tyranny, and it thus never quite connects. Without this goad driving the plot, Rykhard's actions appear idiotic and foolhardy -- as indeed they're meant to, but instead of sympathizing with the pain that led him to make his choice, we're just frustrated with him. The opening sets us up to expect a tale of existential paralysis, but once in the dungeon the player character is disappointingly heroic. The dread god Baluthar might weigh heavily on the minds of the player character and his son, but we never see his glowering visage driving home the hopelessness of the situation, which drastically reduces the effectiveness of the (thematically quite neat) denouement. Rykhard's mind has been changed, true, but that all happened off-screen; the player character hasn't evolved as a result of his experiences, which undercuts the sense of closure the author is trying to sell. All in all, the fact that I'm nitpicking some details of prose and the mechanics of player investment rather than bemoaning poor coding and broken puzzles argues very much in Baluthar's favor. It's got a good opening and some neat ideas, and while it isn't quite great, it's nonetheless a very solid game. FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file and walkthrough

The Baron

From: Mike Snyder (wyndo SP@G prowler-pro.com) Review appeared in
SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 TITLE: The Baron AUTHOR: Victor Gijsbers EMAIL: victor SP@G lilith.gotdns.org DATE: March 31, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform .Z8) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/springthing/2006/baron.zip VERSION: Release 1 The Baron deserves a spoiler-free review. The difficulty is it's a game that can barely be discussed at any length *without* spoilers. I think this one is as spoiler-free as you'll find, but *anything* said about The Baron might be too much. In other words, reader beware. The author's introductory text describes the story's theme as disturbing, shocking, and tragic. On the surface, it's about a missing girl and the father determined to save her from her captor, the evil Baron. I use the word "evil" because the game does ("x photo" in your bedroom, near the beginning). After that, it's left up to the reader. What kind of monster is the Baron? Can he be redeemed, or should he die? Is he a monster at all? The story (if ever a work of Interactive Fiction wasn't a game, this is it) begins in a cave. You must slay the dragon, because nobody else will. I found no way to achieve this, but later events make it clear that you don't have to. After this, the main quest begins. Along the way - and it's a journey that feels much longer than it actually is - you encounter three obstacles. These are decision points, not puzzles. Each obstacle can be overcome in numerous ways. Not every way is obvious in a first play-through, and some of the multiple-choice decisions won't even make sense the first time. It should really be played at least twice. The second time, your decisions are likely to be wildly different - not because you're poking around for changes to the story, but because you will understand the story in an entirely different way. Before setting out toward the Baron's castle, look around the house first. At the Baron's castle, it also pays to poke around. Even though the story lacks puzzles, it features bonus material for the observant reader. A torture chamber, found through a hatch under a rock at the castle, hints that things aren't exactly as they seem. Well, not so much that, but it's a good indication that the author is relying on symbolism to enhance the story. In relating what has happened at the *end* of the story, the PC mentions nothing of a dragon. It stands to reason that the story's first scene was someone else's experience. If this is the case, it might have made more sense for the dragon to approach from a southern lair, while the PC stands firm. When it ends, the story offers no congratulations. You haven't won. You haven't lost. The final choices allow the player to affirm his or her convictions. The story doesn't tell *you* what's right and what isn't. *You* tell the story. What I expected from The Baron wasn't what I got. In his introductory text, Gijsbers does a good job of preparing the player. Actions should be taken because they're meaningful in the situation, not because they "solve a puzzle". My first reaction was "sure - I've heard this before." I can't help but treat IF as a game - even when the author tells me not to - because every decision affects the outcome. In The Baron, that's not the case. Some decisions affect the PC's dialogue at the end, but none of it affects the experience of the *reader* except to the extent that the decisions themselves are part of the experience. So, even though the author warned me that it wasn't a game, I tried to play it like a game. I expected something dark and sinister. I expected torture, helplessness, suffering, and perhaps victory in the end. The story delivers these things, but in an unconventional way... in a disturbing, shocking, and tragic way. If all of this leaves you wondering just what you might be getting into if you try The Baron, by all means read a spoilery review. Even though this could soften the punch of experiencing it for yourself, you might be doing yourself a favor. You may say to yourself "bah - I can handle blood and gore and text- rendered pain." If that's what The Baron actually had in store for you, a disclaimer would be unnecessary. It's difficult to say if The Baron hits the mark, without knowing what the mark was. The final choices in the walkthrough included with the Spring Thing version (available from the HELP menu) might be how the author imagines it. Most of us won't be able to feel compassion or empathy for the Baron, though - let alone identify (thank goodness) with the story itself. So, are these final decisions meaningful to us, as readers? With precious little else to be said without delving into spoilers, some discussion of the design and craft is fitting. The story file is in .Z8 format, written in Inform. The English translation of the Dutch original (also included) is surprisingly good. Aside from a few typos, not much in the translation detracts from the experience. Even with a second play-through (or read-through) of some of the story, I found it easy to complete in an hour and a half. Certain bits - especially the dialogue - are presented in multiple choice lists. The rest of it, however, manages to maintain the traditional IF- style command system. You move around a map. You get, drop, and examine things. You open doors. You take an active part, just as IF is meant to be. It's hard to describe The Baron as a *good* story, in the way a game can be a *good* game. It's an *effective* story. Appreciating it doesn't mean *liking* it. Even so, I can imagine the opinions of various readers will vary wildly. Some may say it was emotional. Some may say it wasn't. Some may say it was purposely manipulative. Some may say it was an honest and heart-rending story. Some may resent becoming an unwitting participant as the story unfolds. Some may describe it as grim. Some may feel entirely detached from it. Some may say it will receive accolades it doesn't deserve, while others may believe it to be unfairly criticized. Some may even say it's a story that didn't *need* telling. I say... nothing, except that it was an interesting experiment. In the context of the Spring Thing competition, it's far too short (even adding a replay or two). I was moved (I'm a parent - how could I not be moved?), but this alone doesn't make it a clear winner when this year's competition features three other very good games. Scoring it is even harder than reviewing it. After some thought, I have settled on a middle-of-the-road score. It succeeds as Interactive Fiction, and it doesn't pretend to be a game. It fails as entertainment (for me), even though it's more like art for the sake of emotion. In another context, it might be a "9" or a "10". It should prove to be one of the most memorable works of 2006, regardless. My Spring Thing score: "6" ZIP file containing both English and Dutch versions (ZCode version 8)

Bastow Manor

From: Yuzo Takada a.k.a. Dark Fiber <entropy SP@G mpx.com.au> Review appeared in
SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 NAME: Bastow Manor (The Secret of Bastow Manor) AUTHOR: Softgold EMAIL: ??? DATE: very early 1980's PARSER: Scott Adams Standard SUPPORTS: C64 and C64 Emulators (many platforms) AVAILABILITY: IF archive URL: ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/c64/bastow.gz Bastow Manor is one of those old classic Commodore 64 games. In a fit of nostalgia I hunted high and low for this and a bunch of other classic games (see the review of Mystery Island as well), some of which I managed to find with the help of Andrew Williams. Bastow Manor is one of those C64 text graphic games where the C64 ASCII character set is used to its full advantage to draw the graphics. This form of textgraphic was basically confined to the C64 genre of games. The graphics in this game (and the other Mountain Valley and Softgold games) are some of the best C64 textgraphic ASCII pics you're likely to ever come across. Every location has its own individual picture of about half screen height and full screen width (This changed in later games to half screen height and half screen width). All the Softgold and Mountain Valley games are very reminiscent of the Scott Adams games. They are very small sized games with few locations and objects. Most every location serves a purpose and every item has at least one use in the game. Bastow Manor uses the standard verb-noun parser. The story behind the game is err, I don't really know. You're not told in any introduction at the start of the game. Maybe there was a nice lead-in in the manual or documentation but none of that is available, so I shall give you what I assume to be the lead-in. The aim is to get into Bastow Manor and find its secret cache of gold and escape!! Err, yes. Were you expecting something else? Text in the game is minimal at best and I suspect the picture is meant to explain more about your surroundings than the "You are in a shed" "You are outside the manor wall" descriptions. Objects have no description whatsoever. A knife is a knife is a knife is a knife. An interesting side effect of the game is that it was very poorly programmed, so that you must "look" at an object multiple times to find out all you can about it. Take for example the mail box, you need to look at it twice or you will miss a valuable clue! There are a few other examples of this through out the game. Some of the puzzles in Bastow Manor are logical and some are stupid. One of the puzzles I'll give away to you here and now, as it's impossible to complete it without looking at the source to the game (an error on part of the programmer), in that there is a panel above the desk in the study. There is no mention of this panel anywhere in the game at all, and thats all I'll give away to you ^_^. Fortunately you don't have to play guess the verb to complete any of the puzzles. Like Scott Adams' games, Bastow Manor is small and well designed in places. Location exits and the layout of the house are fairly logical, i.e. the mad scientist's laboratory is not connected to the upstairs ensuite. Some of the puzzles are a bit frustrating and death is quick to follow a wrong move. If you don't save often before you try something you will find yourself back at the start of the game. It IS unfortunate that you have to die once or twice before you realise that it's a puzzle that needs to be overcome (re: the puzzle to do with the suit of armour, the apple puzzle). With exception of one dodgy puzzle (re: panel in the study) the game is fairly easy and can be completed in a few hours. The nostalgia factor is a good reason to play this game, if any, or if you have two hours to spare. If you already have a copy of this game but you did not get it from the IF archive, I strongly suggest you get the one from the archive as I have patched and bugfixed it so you can save/load at any point and some of the more nasty bugs were removed (the knife/clock bug for instance). Emulator users: PC64 is not a good choice for this game as it gets the colours wrong, well not wrong just not... right ^_^. Frodo or C64s get the browns and greens the correct shades. In scoring this game out of 10, note that I am using Scott Adams as a benchmark. I would give this game a 7 out of 10. The nostalgia factor gives the overall score a +1 so its really 6/10. FTP FileD64 disk image (.zip)

Beam

From: DJ Hastings <dj.hastings SP@G wavecable.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: Beam AUTHOR: Madrone Eddy EMAIL: pe8283 SP@G yahoo.com DATE: October 1, 2006 PARSER: Quest Standard SUPPORTS: Quest interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2006/quest/beam/Beam_1_10.cas VERSION: 1.10 Beam is the first game I've played using the Quest interpreter. Quest's interface is similar to the Adrift Runner, with the addition of a panel on the side of the screen. The panel contains lists of objects in the room and in inventory, with buttons for some common actions like "get" and "examine". There's also a panel of buttons corresponding to the standard directions. I don't know whether it's the fault of the author or the interpreter, but Beam doesn't seem to be integrated very well with this side panel. For example, some objects are mentioned in the room description but not in the object list. But you can't just ignore the list, because there are other objects that appear in the list and not in the room description. And a few objects show up both places! As a player I'd probably never use the button interface, but having a list of objects that I can interact with could be handy- if I could trust it. But I can't, and so I have to examine everything in the room description *and* keep an eye on the object list. Instead of saving me time, the object list is wasting more of it. Another Quest feature used by Beam is the ability to have some things occur in real time. Beam includes separate hunger, thirst, and oxygen timers, all of which count down in real time, as well as a couple of doors that close automatically a few seconds after you've opened them. These doors were an irritation more than anything. Several times when I was going slowly I'd open a door only to have it close again before I had gone through it. At other times, I had to wait for a door to close after I'd gone through because I could find no way to close the door on my own. (The doors were part of an airlock, and I couldn't open both at once.) This would have worked much better for me if the doors had closed automatically when I went through, or something like that, instead of operating on timers. Beam contains a lot of empty space. In fact, there are three or four empty rooms for each interesting one! These are mostly hallways- catwalks, actually- connecting the other rooms. Now, I don't mind walking through a hallway on the way from one interesting room to another- but seven of them? That's overdoing it a bit. And even most of the interesting rooms (and by "interesting" I mean "contains something") are unnecessary to the game. In fact, beating the game only required me to enter three such rooms, along with twelve catwalks. The other rooms contain puzzles that can help satisfy the hunger and thirst timers. But since these timers are in real time, you can easily finish the game well before you starve. Since I was using the walkthrough for most of the game, I had no motivation to go solve the other puzzles. Why was I using the walkthrough? Well, I started the game by a tree, and thoroughly explored it. I could climb the tree (to several different levels) and do several things, but I couldn't figure out where to go from there. I couldn't go anywhere from the ground but up the tree, and I couldn't go anywhere from the top of the tree but back down. So eventually, I checked the walkthrough. It turned out that I needed to climb the tree and then go in. Not into a hole in the tree or something like that, but into the tree's top branches! This is not at all an intuitive thing to try, particularly since there's nothing in the text even hinting at the proper action, but that's not the worst of it. Remember the button panel with the various directions? Well, a button is only enabled if you can go in that direction, so the panel acts as a quick exits list. But from the top of the tree, the "in" button is *disabled*. In other words, the game interface told me that I couldn't go in when I really could! This destroyed my faith that the game was going to play fair with me, so I used the walkthrough heavily from that point on. Those were the worst problems that I ran into, but there were also some bugs, a bunch of unimplemented stuff, and some disambiguation problems. (At one point I typed "pull lever", and the game responded "You don't see a doorknob.") As far as I remember, the writing was free of errors. (I couldn't save a transcript in Quest, so I can't be sure that there weren't *any* mistakes, but I'd remember it if there were many.) And most of the game was clear about where I could go and what I could interact with. I did have one problem with the room descriptions, though: I was never told where my current location was in the "big picture." For example, most of the game takes place on a network of catwalks. But I didn't know whether these were suspended in midair in a big warehouse, running through narrow underground tunnels, or balanced on a table in a giant's laboratory. (This last one was my original guess, but eventually I found out that I was wrong.) The lack of context made the game feel extremely artificial and... well, bland. And that's a pity, because the setting could have been made very interesting. In fact, I personally thought that the game's setup was its strongest point. It's an interesting idea that I liked, and could have made for a good game. Unfortunately, the author didn't go anywhere with it, and I didn't even get to find out about it until the game was over. I also liked some of the other ideas in the game, particularly the initial puzzle of figuring out where you are. I had problems with it (like the tree mentioned above), so it didn't actually work for me, but I still think the idea is a good one. Unfortunately, the game's good ideas were overwhelmed by its poor implementation, and I have to advise skipping it. Quest game file Hints (HTML format) Map (JPG format)

A Bear's Night Out

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: A Bear's Night Out AUTHOR: David Dyte E-MAIL: ddyte SP@G cricket.org DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/competition97/inform/bear/bear.z5 VERSION: Release 2 PLOT: Not always consistent, but amusing (1.4) ATMOSPHERE: Not bad (1.4) WRITING: Very good (1.5) GAMEPLAY: Excellent (1.7) CHARACTERS: Few (1.2) PUZZLES: Reasonably clever (1.5) MISC: Central gimmick well done (1.7) OVERALL: 7.7 If 1996's Ralph was a game that managed to be consistently doggy in its outlook -- in that it effectively took on the perspective of a house mutt -- 1997's Bear's Night Out is quite consistently, well, beary; the player is put in the position of a teddy bear that mysteriously comes to life one night and pads merrily about its owner's house. (Actually, given how comfortable this particular bear seems to be with exploring on its own, perhaps this isn't the first time -- the game isn't clear on this point.) It's a genuinely charming premise that author David Dyte carries off with humor, and as with Ralph, that premise shapes both the plot and the puzzles in a way that makes Bear's Night Out feel fresh. Your goal, which you discover on the course of your explorations, is to prepare for the annual Teddy Bears' Picnic, slated to happen the next day, by finding out what you need to bring and assembling it. (The author sprinkles quotes in pop-up format throughout the game, but "If you go down in the woods today..." is not one of them, curiously.) Why you need to do all this yourself rather than leaving it to your owner is not wholly clear, but it hardly matters: the story holds together adequately in setting out a series of problems. The best of them hinge on the problems associated with inhabiting a teddy bear's body -- unlike Ralph, the identity of the central character is in several instances an obstacle to overcome. The writing is quite good, even though spare; most of the settings are relentlessly ordinary, and Mr. Dyte does not try to load them down with special characteristics when they are, in truth, generic rooms in a house. This is not to say he shirks his writing duty, of course, merely that the descriptions of rooms and events are not what makes the game compelling. That said, though, the "bear's eye" view of the house is fairly consistent and well done -- take this example, for instance, part of a room description: Along one wall stands a high bench, featuring a sink full of dirty dishes, next to which you can see a telephone and an answering machine, if you step back and crane your neck a little. The player is virtually never allowed to forget he is inhabiting a teddy bear's body, one of the best things about this game: Mr. Dyte evidently didn't simply have some puzzles that he threw together in a game and grafted a funny plot on, and he clearly took some time making the game environment and gameplay appropriate to the game. As a result, the cute and funny factors are considerable, which makes the game appealing in its own right even without good puzzles. When you climb down from something, for example, you get "You tumble down, but being a soft bear, that's ok." Better still, in response to JUMP: "Full marks for cute and furry, but none for achievement." Though not everything in the game really fits the mode -- how does this teddy bear manage to carry so many items -- the sacrifices are generally in the name of facilitating gameplay and as such are wise choices. (For example, a teddy bear's paws aren't probably up for much in the way of manipulation -- but Mr. Dyte fortunately didn't confine the player's actions to things like pushing or pulling. That would go beyond realism into annoyance.) The puzzles themselves are well constructed and not too hard, on the whole, and some of them even offer multiple solutions -- though one of them, in the bathroom, requires rather exact syntax (and some luck in stumbling on the puzzle in the first place, unless I missed something). There is a hint system included, Invisiclue-style, which provides help for any problem, so difficulty certainly isn't a problem, and most of the puzzles are logical. The one event that isn't particularly logical is funny enough to make it worthwhile (and is also a veiled reference to Sorcerer, better still). The only problem is that the first real puzzle to be solved requires some real exploration, so things can bog down a bit while you try to figure that out -- though, after that, things move along more quickly. This problem might be alleviated with perhaps a hint or two as to the location of a certain object required to solve the first puzzle -- as it is, you discover it, but not because you were looking for it as such. The other main problem is that there is a side plot that separates out from the main plot after a certain point -- and though it is fairly obvious that you need to solve the relevant puzzles, it isn't clear why until the very end of the game (and the reasons are rather thin, I think, as justification for having the side plot). I did enjoy the second plot, of course, quite a bit, but it might have helped to have the reasoning for pursuing the puzzles better incorporated into the story. One of the perks for the seasoned IF player is the wealth of IF references; this one rivals Sins Against Mimesis for sheer IF knowledge. The author claims 32 references to other games, and while I certainly didn't find that many, I can believe that they're in there. (One puzzle even involves finding a "z-chip" that allows you to play interactive fiction.) Excursions into Dungeon, Curses and Adventureland are among the game's highlights -- my favorite moment in the entire game was luring Holly into Adventureland -- and the IF-full environment and barrage of self-reference (the author is present, though asleep in bed the entire time) increase the enjoyability and replayability factors. Along with finding the IF references, there are many funny things to do, quite a few deriving from the limits of your character; the "fun stuff" section is ample, much larger than that of most games, and affords a wealth of alternatives. Bear's Night Out doesn't do much wrong, in short, and what it does do wrong is easily balanced by what it does right. With consistently funny writing, this is one of the best of this year's competition, earning a 9 from me: it's a good idea, well implemented. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with Inform file & solution (competition version) FTP FileInform file (.z5) (German translation) FTP FileSolution (Text)

Beat The Devil

From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G pangea.ca> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 NAME: Beat the Devil AUTHOR: Robert M. Camisa EMAIL: bredon SP@G hotmail.com DATE: November 1999 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/btd2 Recipe for a slice of tried and true IF: 5 parts Perdition's Flames 4 parts John's Fire Witch (or substitute with Sins Against Mimesis) 1 part Leather Goddesses of Phobos Mix well with some solid writing and logical, if not difficult, puzzles and you'll wind up with the '99 IFCOMP entry Beat The Devil (BTD). BTD, was one of the better games written for this year's comp. The premise: The PC, after a long night of drinking, finds he's signed an agreement with the Devil in exchange for the affections of a certain girl. The wager has also landed him in Hell and in order to return back home, he must defeat Lucifer's lieutenants (the 7 deadly sins). Also, Hell turns out to be a shopping mall (as opposed to an unforgiving purgatory) with demon clerks, ATMs, change rooms, and fitness centers. The game flows quite logically and solving one puzzle will often give you an object or some information that you need to solve another. The geography is well... I guess very mall-like which is entirely appropriate for the game and most of the generic shopping center conventions are accounted for (movie theatre, food court, gym, etc.). The author makes good use of the geography (although once you've solved a puzzle in an area, you'll probably never have to visit it again), and the 7 deadly sins are all appropriately placed near areas that are related to their particular vices. The puzzles are of medium difficulty and you'll find yourself stumped quite infrequently. The writing is good and comical with few spelling mistakes, and there's only a few irrelevant bugs (most are cosmetic). There's really not too much to complain about here. The whole thing holds together very nicely. That's why it felt so odd feeling completely unsatisfied once I'd finished it. I was puzzled at first without realizing why, until I played BTD a second time for this review. The reason for my dissatisfaction was that I'd seen almost every element in the game somewhere before. Almost everything from the setting, to the PC's goals, to a few of the game's items had been lifted (granted this may have been done inadvertently or unknowingly) from one piece of IF or another. Let's start with having a modern day Hell as the setting for a game. I'm sure many players thought this was a novel idea when they first played BTD, but the truth is, it's not. This game concept had actually been used before (and with much brighter strokes) in Michael Roberts' game Perdition's Flames. To be fair, Perdition's Flames was a much bigger game (not comp-sized for sure) and I think commercially released at one point. Still, there was a shopping element to Perdition's that was done rather well and BTD didn't really offer anything over the top or incredibly novel in its layout. Similarly, the goal of the game (defeat the 7 deadly sins), has not only been used before (John's Fire Witch), but has also been copied by a previous Comp game (Sins against Mimesis)! It's true that BTD requires the player to defeat the sins as opposed to collect or perform them (the goals of both Fire Witch and Sins), but some scenes in BTD seem just a little too similar to the aforementioned games (compare the scenes involving 'Envy' in both Fire Witch and BTD). What's more (irrespective of whose game came first), John's Fire Witch felt just a bit tighter in terms of game design and it left me wanting a bit while playing BTD. The game's objects and puzzles were by and large original and I think probably the best part of the game. There was still one object that sort of irked me, however. BTD's 'un-un' machine had a lot of potential, but alas, it remained unrealized. The machine removes the letters 'un' when they are present in any object and is comparable to the Leather Goddess of Phobos' 'T-remover' machine which worked similarly on objects that possessed the letter T. Again, it was a good attempt at something novel but unfortunately it didn't stand up to the original. The problem was that the 'un-un' machine could only be used on less than a handful of objects. To make matters less interesting, the few items that the machine would accept were each puzzle-related. In contrast, The T-machine in Phobos (which I think was programmed a bit better because it actually took the letter 'T' out of an existing piece of text; even if the resulting word made no sense), had tons of hilarious applications (coon balls anyone?) and only one that affected any of the game's puzzles. I realize that Phobos was a considerably larger game, but even in BTD, there was at least one other object (that I found anyway) outside of the puzzle-related ones that contained 'un'. When I tried to use the machine with this object, it indicated that the machine only worked on objects that began with 'un'; not ones that merely contained it. By defining the parameters for the machine so narrowly, it pretty much railroaded the player into inserting only the puzzle-related objects. The machine served its purpose for sure, but it really wasn't as much fun as it could have been. It's not a big deal (certainly not worth a paragraph's attention), but it's those small touches that make the difference between good games and great games. I don't know. Maybe I'm being overly harsh here because the games I'm comparing BTD to were much bigger and their authors didn't have to worry about the two-hour time limit that the IF Comp imposes. They could therefore expand a bit more on their themes, plot, puzzles, etc.. Still, I think if you're going to copy someone else's material (which I have no problem with whatsoever), the goal should be to try and improve significantly on the previous work or spoof the heck out of it. I'm not sure if BTD does either. If you've never played any of the games listed in the recipe at the beginning of this review, then I would definitely recommend Beat The Devil. If you have played those games, then I guess I would probably still recommend it, with some reservations. Like I mentioned in the opening, the puzzles are logical, and the writing and storyline have good flow. As a stand-alone piece of IF it's very solid. Unfortunately, as soon as you take the games that preceded it into consideration, it pales a bit in comparison. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file, source code, and walkthrough

The Beetmonger's Journal

From: Cameron Wilkin <camdog571 SP@G hotmail.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: The Beetmonger's Journal AUTHOR: Scott Starkey E-MAIL: scotto SP@G yekrats.com DATE: October 2001 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/tads/Beet/Beet.gam VERSION: Release 1 One nifty aspect of this game is that the player gets to change perspectives as it progresses. You begin the game as Aubrey Foil, the companion to the famous architect Monsieur Lapot, who is being followed by merciless reporters. You stumble into a cave that turns out to be the tomb of Avielle the great beetmonger. You discover her journal and begin to translate it, at which point you become Avielle and essentially write the journal on the fly. As Avielle you attempt to thwart the plans of Prince Radiant, who is turning the populace against beetmongerism. There's definitely a lot going for this game. It's well written, and its dead-serious treatment of a conflict between the general populace and the secret order of beetmongers made for an amusing atmosphere. The treatment of perspective in the game is interesting as well. You start the game as Aubrey, but all your commands influence what Lapot does, and the game responds with Aubrey's interpretation of what happens. Avielle's section is in the past tense, so it seems that what you do is simply what is recorded in the journal Lapot is translating. Those are very nice touches. The game does have a branching story line as well. You can attempt to make a peaceful or a violent solution with the Prince, and that leads to entirely different sections of the game, with different puzzles. I only played through the violent section, so I can't comment on the other, but the fact that the plot branches is a big plus. There are a few drawbacks as well. The author made some odd design choices. At the beginning there is an "instant death" room. Although the game warns you against going there, it just seems unnecessary. It would've been better if it were just an empty room. Also, the map layout was confusing. If you go north from the west concourse, you'll reach the main square. If you go south from the main square, you'll reach the war memorial. I really hated this part. It seems illogical and made me get lost quite frequently. I was never able to build a good picture of my surroundings because of this. There were a couple of bugs too, (you can't show colleen the flags), and there was a lot of scenery you can't refer to (such as the war games). None of this is game breaking, but it's certainly annoying. Also, a lot of the game failed to instill me with a sense of purpose. After hearing the prince's speech and talking to colleen, I had no idea what to do. I had to run to the walkthrough just to find out what the game wanted me to do. Despite these flaws, I enjoyed playing through this game. It has a fun story line. The puzzles (once you figure out what they are) are, for the most part, rather simplistic, but I like them that way. Nothing exceptional, but still quite fun. FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file, hints and walkthrough

Being Andrew Plotkin/Prodly The Puffin

From: Sean T Barrett <buzzard SP@G world.std.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: Being Andrew Plotkin AUTHOR: J. Robinson Wheeler E-MAIL: wheeler SP@G jump.net DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2000/inform/bap/bap.z5 VERSION: Release 1 TITLE: Prodly The Puffin AUTHOR: Craig Timpany and Jim Crawford E-MAIL: timpany SP@G pingus.cx, pfister_ SP@G mindspring.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2000/inform/prodly/prodly.z5 VERSION: Release 1 >SAY "PARODLY IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY" I don't like Pokey the Penguin. In fact, Pokey the Penguin ranks right up with jerkcity in terms of massively annoying me, simply because *several* different people have recommended it to me, and each time I go check it out, look at it, and say "I still don't get it". Am I annoyed at other people for thinking it's funny? Am I annoyed at myself for not getting it? I don't know. I'm just annoyed. Like I said in my review of Asendent and Comp00ter Game. Misspelling? Funny once, maybe. For Prodly (PtP), non sequitur? Funny once. Ok, PtP is better than Pokey in this regards. I dutifully avoided asking myself about anything because that led to the stupidity that I fail to see any humor in. The rest of it was mildly amusing and surreal, along the lines of "Stupid Kittens", with a few great touches: the mysterious hovering beak, and the one bit that made me laugh out loud, the "bug in the menu system" bit. PtP is, then, a game which is sort of a parody and sort of an homage to an existing property which is itself (supposedly) humorous, and it managed to make me laugh out loud once. BAP is an homage to an existing property which is itself humorous, and it managed to make me laugh out loud twice. (And no other comp games made me laugh out loud.) Starting off, I was very worried about BAP (although perhaps not as much as I was PtP after seeing its opening quote), fearful that it would slavishly imitate "Being John Malkovich". And, in fact, it did at first. Worse yet, the initial scene's trivial puzzle is underwritten in an implementational sense: not only do you have no particular reason to push the button (indeed, the game will advance at that point simply because it triggers an unrelated event), but you can open the lid of the copier, and there's nothing in it to copy; and you're not carrying anything to copy, either. The game stayed pretty close to the movie for quite a bit longer, which continued to worry me, along with the questionable decision to make "open drawer" and "pull drawer" distinct commands--is there some other way to open a drawer? Still, it was managing to amuse me, and I stuck with it, and it turned out that the author very carefully both stuck to and deviated from the movie, in exactly the right way so that he could work economical fragments of humor by referencing the movie, and yet deliver jokes all his own. For example, Melvin, the character who maps onto the old lecherly guy with a secret in "Malkovich", is both wimpy and lecherly, but he not only has a different secret, but this secret explains those two behavior patterns in a totally different way--and indeed his POV was the first laugh-out-loud moment for me. "Malkovich" is about a puppeteer who gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance to control another human being. Of any funny movie one might choose to adapt into IF, this one gets the obvious thumbs up for the thematic relevance; indeed, I believe in the very old days some people would explain text adventures to newcomers by describing the PC as a 'puppet' under the player's control. (In fact, the first thing I tried to do after my tunnel ride was type something like "ZARF, DRINK"--and I was disappointed when this was misdirected at an object I was carrying.) In the end, I had so much fun with BAP I couldn't deny it second place of all the games I played (and no, I've never been on ifMUD). Of course it was horribly on rails. Why didn't this bother me? I don't know. Scenes I would have like to have seen: * a puzzle that required typing "x yz zy" instead of "x zy" * the player controlling Peter controlling Andrew Plotkin controlling Zarf, if you know what I mean From: Tina Sikorski <tina SP@G eniac.stanford.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 Walkthrough? Yes Genre: Mixed/Movie tribute/In-Joke/SF +------------------------------------------+ |Overall Rating B |Submitted Vote 8| |Writing B+|Plot B+| |Puzzles C |NPCs A | |Technical B |Tilt C+| +------------------------+-----------------+ *** Initial Thoughts Although I had not ever seen the movie _Being John Malkovich_, I had been fairly certain from the moment I saw the title that it was, in fact, related somehow. Reviewing this from the perspective of someone who doesn't know a -thing- about the movie may change things a bit; if you -have- seen the movie, you're probably better off with someone else's review. You'll notice I had a hard time classifying this into a specific genre. I'm open to other suggestions... *** Writing (B+) Throughout, the writing was consistently good. At times, it was actually far better than that. And what's best is that I often felt like the author was just having a plain old great time writing it, which for some reason always appeals to me. For instance, this line: Valerie plummets into the big hedge with an unladylike ka-thump-krickle. ...was the kind of thing that, had I written it, I would've been giggling a bit to myself when I did, not at my own cleverness but rather at the sheer delight of creating a line like that. I hope I'm right about this; people who have fun creating things tend to create more. Too, there were little bits like this: "There are sweat stains on them. Stifling the urge to make a comment, you adjust your grip to touch only the dry spots." Not really necessary, just color -- but what color it is! I read this and I think "Okay: So, Marvin is a loser, and you really don't care for him; he has COOOOOTIES." [Okay, well, maybe the author wasn't thinking of cooties, but hey, -I- was.] No need to spell it out explicitly; it's all about the feel. I also enjoyed the way things changed a bit when there was a perspective shift, but I'll get into that more under NPCs... *** Plot (B+) To be honest, this would probably have been different if I knew anything about the movie beyond the very, very basic premise. I found the execution of the idea hilarious (and I'm beginning to think I may have to go rent the movie if it's -anything- like this) and particularly with the bits and pieces that let you see the world in different ways (again, more under "NPCs"). To be perfectly honest, I didn't get the optimal ending, and I was in too much of a hurry to try replaying and fixing this, but for some reason that didn't faze me; perhaps just because what I'd experienced up to that point was... cool. The thing is, I can't actually narrow down what about it was cool -- which is a major fault in a reviewer, I admit, but alas, remains the case. Maybe it was just the entire idea of being in ZARF'S head (a scary idea to me). Maybe it was just the whole concept of your boss (I swear I've worked for this "man"). I wish I could explain. Suffice it to say: it was worth doing. *** Puzzles (C) Hmm. My notes don't go into a lot of details on this, which pretty much supports the mid-range rating. Taking a quick look through, the only time I seem to have gotten outright stuck (other than, I'm ashamed to admit, the recursion problem) was because it just didn't occur to me to type "look at mud" -- for some reason I wanted to "look at computer" (which didn't give me any more detail) or "type" (which just didn't work). For some reason, specifically thinking of the MUD as an object just didn't occur to me. *** NPCs (A) This was really, really the big strength of the game. Not only did we have several NPCs, we actually got to -be- some of them. And every time we did, something changed a bit about the perception of the world we were in. I thought -all- the characters were interesting. While they were a bit limited in conversational style, they still feel fully developed, and even better, when they look at -each other-, they see the people they interact with differently. This, to me, is primo stuff. I know that people like saying "Ho, hum, just character switching again, everyone does it", but... folks, not everyone does it WELL. In fact, it's quite rare. Again, as with the writing in general, the little touches are what makes this category absolutely superb, for instance, both Valerie and Peter dislike Melvin, but they still see him differently, and the rooms have some minor differences depending on who you are. *** Technical (B) Actually, in retrospect, I'm not sure I know why I gave this a B. Maybe just the sheer impressiveness of writing x number of different descriptions of each area based on who would visit it and keeping correct track of something on that scale. Too, I found no bugs, which is generally a good thing. So, er... (*fumbles*) Okay! Nothing to see here, move along. Oh wait. One -bad- thing: >go through secret door You can't, since the secret door is in the way. *** Tilt (C+) and Final Thoughts In retrospect, I think this deserved a higher 'tilt' from me. I suspect I was a bit frustrated with not finding the recursion puzzle answer when I handed out the 'tilt' score (which is always my initial score), and not seeing the last bits of the game. And some of it was just that while I enjoyed the game, it really was a one-time sort of joke. Here's a few other things that I have in my notes, for amusement value: You give the stuck cabinet drawer the old heave-ho, and instead of merely opening, it yanks loose from the wall, revealing a strange, small door in the wall! >of course it does That's not a verb I recognize. [I frequently talk to the games. This is probably not something you needed to know.] **** that code (Melvin) for some reason reminds me of COBOL, which is scary. **** No Ikea! Ikea bad! **** I don't WANT To be Zarf! It scares me! FTP FileBeing Andrew Plotkin: Directory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough (competition version) FTP FileProdly The Puffin: Directory with Inform .z5 file (competition version)

Bellclap

From: Carolyn Magruder <carolynmagruder SP@G yahoo.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Bellclap AUTHOR: Tommy Herbert EMAIL: cavebloke SP@G excite.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform altered SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/bellclap/bellclap.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Score: 9 out of 10. By the brief amount of time spent upon this game (I completed it in 8 minutes), one might presume that I disliked it -- but, much to the contrary, I enjoyed it a great deal. I spent less time on it because it was late, I was tired, and I wasn't feeling particularly brilliant, which means that I hit the walkthrough in doubletime. (If you get the impression from reading my reviews that I'm a great believer in walkthroughs... you are absolutely right. I get stuck, I hate being stuck, and I like being unstuck. Bring on the hints and bring on the walkthroughs! I do this for the story, not for the frustration.) I loved the interface! The premise took only seconds to understand, and it was designed with a wonderful sense of quirky humor. In sum, you are a deity -- not an omnipotent one, but one who works through communication and inspiration. The main character is the hapless Bellclap, a pathetic shepherd who worships you and has taken shelter from a rainstorm in your temple. The parser is your obedient servant who relays your entries on the command lines to Bellclap and passes back information on Bellclap's actions. I don't think I've seen it done before, and, if it has been done before, I doubt it's been done as well as it was done here. The puzzles were a bit more cunning than I was ready to face without the walkthrough in hand, but they all left me with a delighted "ah-hah, what fun!" feeling. One command did not occur to me without the assistance of the walkthrough, but looking at the related object provided a cue for the command, so I would presume that other people would not have this difficulty. The writing was excellent, the PC was memorable, the major NPC was memorable, and I only found one bug in the whole game. (Admittedly, I wasn't looking for them, but still!) That bug dealt with an object failing to change its messaging in a fashion that I expected at the end of the game, and, while mildly annoying, it really didn't reduce my enjoyment. Thank you very much, Tommy Herbert! I can't help noticing that you haven't got any other fiction in the IF Archive... a pseudonym, perhaps? If so, I look forward to finding out what else you've written. I plan to play it as promptly as possible if I haven't played it already. FTP FileDirectory with .z5 zcode file and walkthrough

Best Of Three

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G starpower.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: Best of Three AUTHOR: Emily Short E-MAIL: emshort SP@G mindspring.com DATE: 2001 PARSER: Glulx Inform standard SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/glulx/Bestof3/Bestof3.blb VERSION: Release 1 I wrote a while back that Emily Short's Galatea had "moved the goalposts" with respect to conversation in IF, and while I think that was true -- and that subsequent Emily efforts did the same -- much of the focus has been on the format: the blending of ASK/TELL with menus and such. Emily's experiments with format are worth noting, but the content of the conversations bears notice as well -- the games not only make it possible to have interesting conversations, they actually have interesting conversations, and Best of Three, the latest effort, is, in my view, no exception. The premise is both simple and too complex to explain concisely: you encounter an old flame of the unrequited variety, first by chance in the street and then less by chance in a coffeeshop, and repartee of various sorts ensues -- you discuss the past and present, literature, music, and embark on various abstract philosophical digressions as well. The format is the same blend of ASK/TELL and menus that appeared in Pytho's Mask: you have a variety of lines to try on any one topic, but you can also heave a topic entirely and choose to discuss, say, hockey with >TOPIC HOCKEY or >T HOCKEY, and if you have anything to say about hockey, you'll have some menu options. There are some recent innovations as well -- if you've tried some topics that don't turn up anything and you want to go back to the last menu, UNTOPIC sends you back there, and THINK ABOUT doesn't produce any spoken output but occasionally yields something you might want to talk about. The effect, as should be obvious, is to afford flexibility both macro and micro -- you have the ability to ditch an apparently unfruitful topic and start a new one, but also the ability to say a variety of approaches to discussing any one topic. If there's a drawback, it's that you can get a conversation that veers wildly from topic to topic with no apparent discomfort from the NPC, and Best of Three particularly suffers in this regard -- in fact, the menu options that Best of Three prompts the player with often seem to represent major non sequiturs. Still, considering the state of NPC interaction before Emily Short made her contribution, veery conversations seem a venial sin. Most of the negative reaction to Best of Three has focused on the main NPC; people find him an insufferable twit or some variant, or just find talking with him boring. There, I suppose, the player's MMV, but there are also moments where the NPC acknowledges the limits and shallowness of his understanding (particularly with regard to music), which aren't really consistent with a simple portrayal of a self-centered know-it-all. Moreover, I feel compelled to point out that there aren't many NPCs in the annals of IF that were sufficiently developed for the player to actually dislike. There have been annoying NPCs, to be sure, but the aversion to this one doesn't characterize him as annoying -- he's pompous, self-centered, supercilious, or other such things, and creating a character that elicits those reactions is not simple. I'm reminded of an NPC that got a similar reaction from one reviewer, namely Bob of Brent van Fossen's She's Got a Thing for a Spring, the mountain-cabin dweller with responses for anything; Andrew Plotkin noted that he wanted to throw a brick at Bob's head. As Bob was pretty much the pre-Short NPC gold standard, it's not a bad precedent. For my part, I didn't dislike him, exactly -- a few responses struck me as irritatingly self-justifying, and some of his opinions seemed a little sweeping, but listening to him wasn't a chore. (This may be because I went to school with the author and hence know not a few people that resemble Grant -- and, perhaps inevitably, have had not a few conversations that resemble this one -- and by personal taste I don't mind hanging around with someone with too many opinions who's too apt to drop literary references.) His patter is also leavened by a few measures of wit -- not one-liners as much as amusing phrasings, comic exaggerations, and such -- and I suspect I have a hard time really disliking people I find witty. One example, from the prologue, after the NPC concludes that the PC has made him lose his pen: "The karmic repercussions will be severe. Expect to live your next life as a dung beetle." Afterwards, after the NPC takes the PC's pen and then returns it: "All week my conscience has been haunted by the vision of you crouched in a garret writing with a lumpy Bic." I can see why people might find this pompous, but I took it more as mock-pompous, and I'm fairly sure it was intended that way. (The wit is not, of course, limited to the NPC's lines. One of my favorite bits was this: "His whole body scrunches tighter in on itself, as though he were an anemone and you a five-year-old with a pointy stick." Not particularly funny without "pointy," hilarious with it.) Er, what's that, Paul? Write about the game, not about my personal tastes? Oh, okay. As Best of Three consists entirely of conversation, the conversation needs to be compelling for the game to work -- and while it's difficult to write a conversation that every player would find compelling, Best of Three gives it a pretty good try. As noted, the PC and the NPC have a shared past to explore, but they also have individual (and highly unusual) family lives to explain, and all of the conversations tie together reasonably well, despite the veering mentioned earlier. For example: at one point, the NPC mentions his dislike of Dostoevsky, and when the PC presses him on why, he grumbles about how "everyone's emotions run over like a vat of boiling borscht poured into a thimble," both an amusing image and (implicitly) a comment on an event in the PC's and NPC's past. (There's also a dash of self-reference a moment later, when the NPC complains about a lack of "narrative momentum, just people sitting around spewing out ideas," which could certainly be said of Best of Three.) At another point, the NPC remarks of a teacher that made a melodramatic display that "in a peculiar way you have to admire someone who is willing to risk a little ridicule," again a veiled reference to past episodes. (In this case, a negative reference, as the PC doesn't appear to have been willing to risk such ridicule.) And there's another occasion where the PC refers to the lack of communication in her family and describes a dancing-around-the-subject process that mirrors in some respects the game itself. The conversation is not, in short, aimless, even though it covers a lot of ground. It should also be noted that the nature of the conversation is far from fixed -- the PC can handle the interaction in more than one way -- so if the player doesn't care for the NPC and isn't interested in playing along, why, there's no need. True, such an approach doesn't reach what the game seems to consider an optimal ending, but you can't have everything. I don't want to exaggerate this feature -- to an extent, different approaches to the conversation tend to lead to the same elements in a different order, or most of the same elements with perhaps a few missing -- but there is the option to take an unsympathetic view of the whole thing. As implied in the Dostoevsky comment, however, Best of Three needs more narrative pace to genuinely work as a game -- it's more a series of conversational vignettes, some more illuminating than others, that eventually lead around to where you want to go, and the whole thing ends pretty abruptly thereafter. The obvious contrast is with Galatea, where the NPC's psychology, and the difficulty of getting her to open up, gave the story a trajectory of sorts; here, getting the NPC to open up is, shall we say, not a problem. The problem that arose in Galatea (from the author's perspective, anyway) is that seasoned IFers tended to regard the game as a puzzle -- get the Right Ending and Hear the Roar of the Crowd -- which, it's safe to say, wasn't quite the idea. Best of Three certainly avoids that pitfall, but as a consequence it also forfeits some of the involvement the player had with the story in Galatea. It's also true, of course, that there were more conversational options in Galatea, and it was less obvious that you'd run out of things to say on a given topic, as there was no menu system. The challenge, though, is to maintain a storyline that goes somewhere -- in Best of Three, the fluidity with which the subject changes means that there's not much of a feeling that any given topic is inaccessible at any moment -- while avoiding the feeling of goal-orientedness that has long reduced NPCs to locked doors. If Emily isn't there yet, she's a whole lot closer than anyone else. For myself, I enjoyed Best of Three, and it's probably not quite fair to say that its reach exceeds its grasp -- it doesn't purport to be anything more than a complex, meandering conversation, and on that level it works fine. It may not be the apotheosis of NPC interaction in IF, but it's not a bad effort, and it got an 8 from me in this year's competition. FTP FileDirectory with Glulx .blb file

Betty Carlson's Big Date

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G compuserve.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Betty Carlson's Big Date AUTHOR: Betty Carlson EMAIL: ? DATE: ? PARSER: AGT Standard (originally a LADS adventure) SUPPORTS: All AGT Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/source/agt/bigd-src.zip Betty Carlson's Big Date is in essence Zork 1 transferred to a suburban setting. The player goes on a scavenger hunt for items which much all be brought to a specific location in order to win. The player is Betty Carlson, the author of the game, who is preparing to go on a date. Unfortunately, her three kids have gone on a rampage and have scattered the clothing she needs to wear all over the house. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to gather up your clothes and deposit them in your trophy case...er, bedroom. One item needs a little repair work before it is usable. At least Ms. Carlson has come up with a reasonable explanation of why the treasures...er, clothes are scattered in the first place. In Zork 1 I could never understand how all those valuables could still be lying around when the Thief and the Troll got there long before you did. If only she had turned it into a full-blown Zork parody, and cast her kids in the role of the Thief. It would have been very funny to drop an item, make a move, and then hear something like "My, I wonder who left this fine necklace lying here," or something like that coming from the next room. As it happens though, neither the kids nor any other characters appear in the game. The problem with the game is that it just isn't very interesting. Grab a few items, wrestle with the parser a little, and that's it. There is little story, and very few item descriptions. Trying to examine something will usually respond with nothing more than "You see nothing special about the <item>." Even the clothes are nondescript. You can't even wear any of them, they are simply treasures to be brought to the designated area. Part of the problem may be that this was originally a LADS game. I've seen several LADS conversions, but never an original, so I don't know what the capabilities of the language are. The conversions I've seen have usually been not much more advanced than this one. The game may very well be a good one taking the LADS limitations into account. There are no serious bugs, and everything seems to work the way it is supposed to. The main technical problem seems to be a couple of poorly chosen item adjectives, such as the "a glue" and the "some earrings" (shades of Detective's "wooden wood"). It's also unfortunate that you can take the long ladder into your Chevette. Bottom line: there's nothing terribly wrong with the game, but not enough in the way of either story or puzzles to grab the player's interest. FTP FileAGT source files

Beyond

From: Michael A Russo <mar2116 SP@G columbia.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: Beyond AUTHOR: Mondi Conifanti EMAIL: beyond SP@G terradif.net DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/glulx/Beyond.zip VERSION: Release 2 I recently made my way through a video game called Indigo Prophecy. Initially, it looked like a dark and brooding game of psychological horror, but about two hours from the end the wheels fell off and it devolved into, to put it charitably, batshit lunacy. What started out as a compelling examination of the intrusion of random, terrifying violence into an ordinary life, dealing as much with the emotional fallout as with the inevitable whodunit, metastasized into tripe about Mayan prophecies, Matrix-style kung-fu, Illuminati-style conspiracies, and sentient AIs. The transformation cripples the game, making it impossible to take seriously - one gets the feeling the designers wanted to pull out all the stops and reveal twist after twist, but didn't realize that the more stripped-down, impressionistic stuff at the beginning was the best part. Don't get me wrong, Beyond certainly isn't crippled by its twists to nearly the extent of Indigo Prophecy, but I did find that my enjoyment of the game steadily eroded as time went by, not so much because the writing or puzzles got less compelling as due to the fact that the slow hints led up to revelations which seemed disappointingly over-the-top. The early stages of Beyond successfully invoke world-weariness, wistfulness for what might have been, and a compelling investigative urgency, but the endgame turns into something different, more garish and obvious and inferior to the understated early sequences. The opening is very strong, introducing the central mystery and the framing device which turns it into something other than just a commonplace cop-show procedural. The authors manage to evoke real pity for the fate of the central protagonist, and the complicated way she interacts with the character who the player guides through most of the game winds up being enjoyable - trying to solve the mystery of one's own death is a compelling premise. In the first viewing of the corpse, for example, the player in his detective-guise is presented with a young victim of violence, leading to a hint of paternal feeling, while simultaneously in the child-protagonist's eyes, the body is that of a lost parent. The overlapping impressions create dynamic frisson which very much deepens the experience. The small Italian village in which the main action is set is well-drawn, and the characters quickly manage to make an impression. Indeed, the detail of the real-world vignettes make for an effective contrast with the overtly fantasy-based interludes. One could perhaps complain that these interludes occasionally suffer from being overly-precious - the Mad Joker's transformations do sometimes feel too zany for the surrounding narrative - but when they work, they're absolutely devastating. The authors managed to make a sequence of chores into the most compelling thing in the story; this luminous portrayal of a casual domesticity rendered impossible by violence is far more effective and heart-wrenching than the late-game reveals on what was going on in the shack's cellar. There is a noticeable missed opportunity in this sequence, however - when fetching well water, DRINK WATER returns a default "you're not thirsty" response. The protagonist, a child who's never been born, has never tasted water before; this would have been a perfect chance to zoom in and bring home the poignancy of lost possibilities, of the mundane experiences the protagonist will be denied. The puzzles are well-clued and unobtrusive, which is almost a shame, as the integrated hint system is elegant and enjoyable in its own right. Finding the secret door in the shack is nicely handled, and the initial investigation is more entertaining than just Xing everything in sight, as the player demonstrates that he's figured out what the murderer did by walking through the same steps. A word should be said about the accompanying artwork, which is evocative and very successful at setting a mood of obscure dark fantasy - again, especially in the opening, where everything is threatening and unfamiliar. So I did very much enjoy most of Beyond, but as alluded to at the top of the review, I found the game got decreasingly effective as it wore on. From the set-up - a young girl, murdered as her pregnancy becomes obvious - I'd assumed that the crime was essentially domestic and squalid, arising out of a relationship which never should have happened, the fruit of desperation and anger and stupidity. The murderer, I imagined, was somebody who acted out of recognizably human motives - evil, sure, but still essentially a person. The authors, however, went in a rather different direction: the killer is a Satan- worshipping priest who'd been ritually and sexually abusing two different girls of the town. This felt disappointingly over-the-top, turning the villain into a cartoon and rendering everything far too simple and pat. Besides this aesthetic objection, conjuring up the specter of ritual satanic child abuse brought to my mind the famous hoaxes,like the McMartin Preschool case, which further undermined its effectiveness. Sure, there's something horrific about discovering that your father is a demon-worshipping sexual predator, but since the character is so unrecognizable, it's essentially safe. Presenting the villain as an actual person who did something terrible for all the wrong reasons would have been far creepier, and more memorable. I'll willingly concede that choosing this particular trope isn't by any means invalid or wrong, and it certainly pops up in fictional portrayals with some regularity, but again, I think a more humanistic approach to the evil would have made for a more satisfying experience. The final real-world sequence compounds the mistake in my view - the hostage drama, replete with guns and shouting, lacks the grace and subtlety which are the game's greatest strengths. In the final sequences, understatement is deprecated in favor of spectacle and narrative pyrotechnics, but I think the detail-work of the opening is superior to the broad strokes of the endgame. Additionally, while the game is quite solid, a few mistakes did seep through - I noticed misspellings of "chamomile" and "consecrating," but these are forgivable. Likewise, in one place I saw "e" used in place of "and," presumably due to the authors' native language being Italian. There also appeared to be some inconsistencies involving the appearance of the protagonist; during the first interlude, she is supposed to look like a woman in her twenties, but looking in a mirror returns a description about her being a child in a pink dress, and X ME gives the newborn response. And in a few places, I ran into disambiguation issues. I feel churlish even mentioning these, though - as is often the case with games I enjoyed, I think I've spent most of this review harping on things I disliked, which might give the wrong impression. To state it baldly, Beyond is a good game, and has all sorts of highlights - from the moody art to the artful juxtaposition of fantasy and reality, with plenty of imaginative flourishes (the discourse on bright and dark inspirations sticks in my head as particularly clever). I think the choice of making the bad guy a *really* bad guy broke the emotional realism of the scenario, but up until that point, I got as much enjoyment from the game as from anything else in the Comp, and even looked at in aggregate, I still think it's one of the very strongest games on offer. Glulx and Zcode (.z8) executables

Beyond the Tesseract

From: Anonymous <Virus2Wyrm SP@G aol.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #6 -- July 26, 1995 NAME: Beyond the Tesseract PARSER: 2 Word Syntax AUTHOR: David Lo PLOT: Science Fact EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Creepy AVAILABILITY: IF Archive WRITING: Good, but short PUZZLES: Great SUPPORTS: IBM CHARACTERS: Strange, inhuman DIFFICULTY: Hard* Taken from the docs: Scenario: --------- You have reached the final part of your mission. You have gained access to the complex, and all but the last procedure has been performed. Now comes a time of waiting, in which you must search for the hidden 12-word message that will aid you at the final step. But what choice will you make when that time comes? The scenario for the adventure is meant to be vague. Once the adventure has been completed, the scenario will hopefully become clear. ----- Vague is the word for it! At first glance the world is 4 rooms large, but don't worry, soon you'll be popping your stack and collapsing universes, looking for those key words. Also, you'll have a dream, read an IF book <!> and have fun trying to get the improbability. I personally found this game hard...but that's because I'm in 8th grade and haven't had physics or quantum mathematics. These are the refrences the author lists for this game. The Beauty of Fractals. The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary Of the English Language. Mathematics: The New Golden Age. The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary, Encyclopedic Edition. The Penguin Dictionary of Science, Fifth Edition. Roget's International Thesaurus. The Science of Fractal Images. The VNR Concise Encyclopedia of Mathematics. The World of M.C. Escher. Ummmm....I've heard of Escher ;). My favorite part was the dream where if you think, an idea will become an object, but then the hypothesis will come and you'll have to prove it. When in the interactive book, you'll find a machine that doesn't work. Now while you would think from what this game has been like so far, some heavy mechanical skills would come in handy. Nope. The charecters are not human, except the Professor, but he's in the dream. There's a plant that would really like some fluid....could you please fit it in my klein bottle? And of course the party of numerals! Don't worry. They won't hurt you. In fact, nothing will. You can't die or get stuck in this game. The game plays exactly like a Scott Adams game. Room descriptions are short and to the point. He does describe objects better than Mr. Adams though. That brings up another point: VERBS. You'll be doing a lot of popping and _y_ing. Yes, _y_ is a verb in this game. Over all this is a fun game that could take a long time to play, or a very short time to delete. Let it grow on you, and if you're really stuck, there's a solution on ftp.ifarchive.org P.S. The game also comes with a great philosophy on adventure games. Check it out! Tesseract: ---------- /*--------------/* / ' / ' / '| / '| */----'---------*/ ' | '| ' | '| ' | ' | ' | ' | ' | ' | ' /*----'--|--'---/* ' | ' / ' ' | ' / ' ' |' / ' ' |' / ' ' /*/----'---'----/*/ ' ' / ' ' ' / ' ' ' / '| ' ' / '| ' */----'----'----*/ ' | ' | ' | ' | ' | ' | ' |' | ' |' | ' /*-------|--'---/* | ' / | ' / |' / |' / */--------------*/ FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileAtari ST disk image(.arc) FTP FileSolution (Text)

Beyond Zork: The Coconut of Quendor

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G compuserve.com&rt; Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: Beyond Zork: The Coconut of Quendor GAMEPLAY: Infocom Deluxe AUTHOR: Brian Moriarty PLOT: Roller Coaster EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Rich AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1 WRITING: Very Good PUZZLES: Multiple Solutions SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Very Good DIFFICULTY: Advanced Beyond Zork, the first game in the Zork series since the publication of Zork III five years earlier, really owes much more to the Enchanter trilogy than the Zork trilogy The story takes place concurently with Spellbreaker and begins in the Guild Hall of Borphee shortly after your departure. The remaining Guild Heads (still in enchanted form), realizing that your quest in that game will result in the destruction of magic itself, decide that the legendary Coconut of Quendor must be seized from the Implementors and stored away, to be brought out again in the distant future. Considering that the Implementors are literally the staff of Infocom (try to ZIFMIA IMPLEMENTORS in Enchanter to see what I mean) this could present a thorny metaphysical problem if one thought about it too much. In a move reminiscent of Enchanter, they decide that an untrained initiate must be selected for this quest. Beyond Zork was one of the format experiments Infocom conducted during the 1987-1989 period, and certainly contains the best parser of any of the non-graphics games. The function keys could be programmed to represent any input desired, with or without a carriage return. The top left part of the screen contained a box that constantly displayed the room description, while the top right contained a small onscreen map that displayed the immediate vicinity. The game was an attempt to integrate role-playing with text adventures, and was surprisingly successful. While most text games have one or two random elements, Beyond Zork has many. You begin by setting your character's attributes from a pool of points that you are given (or you can select a preset character) as in a proper RPG. Several puzzles cannot be solved unless a certain attribute is high enough, even if you are aware of the proper action to take. Combat is conducted as in normal RPG's, with your attributes being cross-referenced against a computerised die-roll. Even the map changes slightly from game to game. The scale of the map areas vary greatly. Some "rooms" are as small as a tavern's common room, while others are the size of a city. The main playing area spans over several towns scattered through the Westlands, but parts of the game may take you through geological ages of time, or on a trip to the land of Oz (the name is changed in the game of course). Beyond Zork is a game with a great amount of play and replay value. Many of the puzzles have multiple solutions, and will keep players coming back to find more even after they have played the game to a conclusion. From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 Brian Moriarty's Beyond Zork is in several ways unique in the Infocom library--not only for its use of the Z6 format to do on-screen mapping, but for its use of a role-playing-game-like plot. Just as importantly, it gives the player a sense of place in the land of Quendor that the Zork and Enchanter series had lacked. Though the role-playing element needs work, Beyond Zork succeeds admirably as a puzzle-solving game in its own right. Beyond Zork's title suggests that it continues the Zork series, but it actually has little in common with the originals--the heavy reliance on magic suggests the Enchanter series, and the sense of exploring a populated land rather than a series of caverns gives the game a different feel. Most obvious of the innovations in the gameplay is the role-playing game element, an element that produced decidedly mixed results for Infocom on each try (Quarterstaff, not that this reviewer would know, and Journey), and while Beyond Zork succeeds, the combat element is far from the highlight of the game. It's a bit hard to explain why this is so--like most RPGs, the player can choose between swordplay and magic to fight the battles, and acquire increasingly sophisticated weaponry (okay, okay, a sword over a battleaxe over a shillelagh, maybe not all that sophisticated) to dispose of the enemies. The difference may lie in that opportunities to increase skill levels--strength and dexterity and such--are rather haphazard in Beyond Zork, whereas many RPGs increase character qualities with each level attained, meaning that one can improve one's character without necessarily getting anywhere in the game. In Beyond Zork, though the character qualities are occasionally relevant, there are few instances where the player increases his or her intelligence or strength merely in order to be smarter or stronger; usually, the increases are directly linked to solving puzzles. Though that approach seems preferable, it made the few times when a puzzle's solution was unavailable because the requisite character attribute was too low a bit irritating. (In other words, there may be times when the player needs more of a certain attribute to solve a puzzle, and goes out hunting for a way to increase that attribute. This sort of thing strains the idea that the attributes are supposed to measure your development, since increasing them is an end in itself.) More fundamentally, though, Beyond Zork is far more plot- and puzzle-oriented than the bulk of RPGs, and the combat scenes feel like the game stops while the player tries to get rid of the obstacle. Another factor separating Beyond Zork from Zorks 1-3 is the NPC element--there are as many of them here as in the first three games combined (perhaps more, depending on whom one includes on each count), and most of them are well developed and coded. (The minx may still be my favorite Infocom NPC, even though her usefulness in the game is limited.) Encounters with the cook, the sailor, the cardinal, and others help reinforce the feel that the territory is populated, rather than a deserted maze, and while this lends a schizophrenic feel at times--does no one care that you pick up everything that isn't nailed down?--it makes for an intriguing game environment. The plot--retrieve the Coconut of Quendor to safeguard the existence of magic, or, I should say, Magick--is nothing particularly special; it suffers from the usual disease of a big game, specifically that one muddles along solving puzzles with very little sense that they have anything to do with the larger objectives, besides that the game designers surely wouldn't bother throwing in irrelevant puzzles (unless they included Steve Meretzky, which they don't here). I can't say that this bothers me much anymore, but it seems particularly obvious here--one does not learn anything about the whereabouts of the coconut until well into the game, and finding it at the end amounts to stumbling over it. What plot Beyond Zork has is often entertaining, but it hardly makes a coherent whole. The game takes place concurrently with Spellbreaker, and it occurred to me that it might have been interesting to dovetail the plot with that game a bit more--magic, except for when you find Orkan of Thriff's journal, doesn't appear to be failing. Certainly, what plot Beyond Zork has is well beyond collect-the-treasures, but I still wanted something more. The puzzles are original and entertaining, though somewhat maddening in a few cases (mild spoilers ahead)...I figured out one of the solutions to the bridge problem early on, but assumed that I was solving it "wrong," that the resource I was using needed to be used elsewhere. (It also seemed like that particular puzzle ignored a perfectly good solution--the use of the dispel staff.) The time-travel puzzle is an original variant on a much-used convention, though, and the butterfly puzzle employs magic in a novel way, and both are among the Infocom's best--and the multiple solutions to several puzzles are a refreshing touch. (Though there are some apparently logical solutions that aren't implemented, frustratingly.) Most of the puzzles aren't particularly hard, though a few require semi-suicidal actions for motivations that aren't particularly obvious--and the final puzzle is so obvious that it hardly deserves the name. (Tangent: many of Infocom's fantasy games seem to either have an absurdly easy or an absurdly difficult puzzle at the end--Enchanter, Sorcerer and Wishbringer (even for an introductory game) are easy in that respect, and Zorks 2 and 3 are difficult to the point of unfairness. Spellbreaker, I think, is just right, and Zork 1 and Zork Zero don't really have ending puzzles as such.) Several of the puzzles revolve around the combat situations; a few aren't really combat situations at all, but rather puzzles in disguise, enemies to be dispatched by ruse rather than by brute force. Those moments highlight the tension between conventional IF and RPG that's going on here--and, naturally, the IF element usually seems more compelling. The writing is, as usual, first-rate--the room descriptions show why no self-respecting game author should be allowed to get away with "You are in a forest...you are in a forest...you are in a forest" for a series of similar rooms. Consider: Twilight An ancient oak tree turns the day to twilight beneath the impressive sprawl of its branches. Pine Grove A carpet of amber softens your footsteps between the rows of tall, sweet-smelling pines. Eerie Copse A nameless blight has twisted the surrounding elms into sinister forms that creak and groan in the dry breeze. These and other well-written sequences (an amusing riff on The Wizard of Oz, for instance--did this have anything to do with the plan kicking around Infocom to write a full-length Wizard of Oz parody?--and the visions of other Infocom games in a crystal ball of sorts) make Beyond Zork much more than wandering between puzzles, even if the story is a bit weak. The humor vital to so many Infocom works is plentiful here--playing as a woman and asking the shopkeeper about the Potion of Might is one of the best Easter eggs in any Infocom game--and there are lots of entertaining moments: one of the enemies you encounter is a "cruel puppet" whose form of combat hinges on creative insults: it twists its appearance into a caricature of yours, or "accuses your mother of shocking improprieties." This is all the funnier because it feels like a dig at RPG combat, which usully requires either impressive weapons or an elaborate system of magic; battling via insult (it would be even better if you could answer) comes as a sly "sticks and stones" sort of jab at those conventions. Experienced Infocom players will recognize many little responses or objects, from Wishbringer ("A concealed bell tinkles merrily" and the vapor) to Hitchhiker's (being teased for a typo) to the Zork series (the sailor, of course), and a sequence involving the Implementors adds the obligatory element of self-reference. But perhaps the best moment in Beyond Zork is the archway puzzle and the point of view of the game's setting that it provides--it puts the game into a perspective that I found sobering. (Very few fantasy games are endowed with as much pseudo-historical background as the Zork series, and Beyond Zork, much more than the original series, puts the history to good use.) On the whole, Beyond Zork is well worth the playing; truly difficult puzzles are few, the game atmosphere is effective, and the ending--even if it points to a sequel that never happened--is thoroughly rewarding. Even if RPGs aren't your style, there is plenty more in Beyond Zork than hack-and-slash; it deserves consideration among Infocom's best. FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Big Mama

From: Adam Cadre <ac SP@G adamcadre.ac> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: The Big Mama AUTHOR: Brendan Barnwell E-MAIL: BrenBarn SP@G aol.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard, with conversation menus SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2000/inform/bigmama/bigmama.z5 VERSION: Release 8 I don't think the author was trying hard enough. If you're going to put the phrase "the big mama" into pretty much every response, why stop there? Why, it could've appeared in every paragraph or, indeed, every sentence. (The big mama.) I mean, if it's good ten thousand times, why not a hundred thousand? Why not write in the style of Henrietta Pussycat, only swapping in "the big mama" for "meow"? What a missed opportunity. Also, the big mama. So, let's see. I do like the idea of a sort of multi-turn AISLE. But the thing about AISLE was that most of the endings were really well-written and interesting in and of themselves, not to mention diverse. The same cannot be said of THE BIG MAMA. There are a lot of games in the comp for which I scribbled down notes like "rocky prose" or "semi-literate," but this game proves that you can have an excellent command of the language and still provoke winces. (The big mama.) Let's see, there was the bit where a sign warns you about how the next 1.5 miles of beach are private: "'Stupid imperial measurement,' you mutter." Urgh. Why not just give the player-character a renaissance flute while you're at it? Oh, and the little boy. "Almost every day I billa cassel." Throw this kid into the nearest wood chipper, please. I mean it. Stop him before he soliloquizes again. Also, the big mama. Even the less egregious paths all seem to lead to inane conversations and fairly ham-handed passages desperately trying to hammer home the theme that the ocean is pretty. Sometimes the inane conversations result in relationships, but none of these sequences is really even remotely convincing -- I'm sure every day there are beach encounters that lead to hookups, but I doubt that any of them have resembled even one of the paths set forth in this game. Also, the big mama. There are also some quirks with the way the various characters are programmed: the surfer alternates between sunbathing and surfing about every eight seconds, and the teenage girl seems to have no memory whatsoever -- you can scare her off with some creepy line, watch her wander off, and two turns later she's back and seems to have no idea who you are. This is the sort of thing that makes characters look like chunks of code rather than representations of people. Also, the big mama. More bugs of note: jumping the rail takes you to the beach, but once you get there, the game tells you that "You're not up for that kind of leap." Sounds like some routine is neglecting to return true somewhere in there. Oh, and while the game notes that "everyone in town speaks Spanish," I have to wonder -- "las" is a plural article. The only way that works with "Lorena" is if "Lorena" is a last name and the name of the town is a reference to a all-female family: "The Lorena Sisters", or some such. Which I could buy as a novelty musical act from the early 70s, but not as the name of a city. Also, the big mama. Perhaps my favorite bit: | 0: Say nothing. | 1: "Yeah, let's watch a movie." | 2: "A walk sounds great." | 3: "Let's play a game." | 4: "<illegal object number 357>" Me, I thought it was a bit early in the evening to propose illegal object number 357, but hey, turned out she was into it. Kinky! Score: a low THREE. Also, the big mama. From: Tina Sikorski <tina SP@G eniac.stanford.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 Walkthrough? No Genre: CYOA/Mixed/Romance +------------------------------------------+ |Overall Rating C |Submitted Vote 6| |Writing B |Plot C-| |Puzzles n/a|NPCs C+| |Technical C |Tilt C | +------------------------+-----------------+ *** Initial Thoughts As a few other people have mentioned, I would have expected the sea to play a larger part in this work, which is basically a choose-your-own- adventure with no particular focus on the sea. I called it a "romance" genre game in part because a LOT of the routes seem concerned with romance, but there are a few other routes that don't contain it. *** Writing (B) I can't help but take a moment to compare this to last year's entry by this author (Lomalow, which I, quite frankly, did not like). Although the styles are different, there's an element to both of them that is similar: the attempt to evoke some specific emotions. This year's entry does a much better job with the writing; it doesn't feel as forced, as heavy-handed. It's still got some flaws, but overall I feel much less preached at than I did last year and there were times when there were hints of excellence. I don't know if you can attribute this to the different format, practice, or even the different topic matter, but whichever it is, I'm actually quite glad to see something I like from Brendan. If I had any complaint it was that at times it was too long, a hazard, I think, of the CYOA format choice. I do enjoy longer text breaks than some people will accept gracefully, but there were a few times when too much happened on a trigger. What I enjoyed the most, I think, were occasional clever or cute turns of phrase, such as these portions of some room descriptions: "These little establishments sell everything from shrink-wrapped, dessicated muffins to decent hot dogs." "The breeze is straight out of some beach-blanket B-movie: salty, soft, and refreshing." But even the more serious writing is honest, and while there isn't a LOT of substance to this as a game, (see "plot", below), I enjoyed reading it. *** Plot (C-) As with many CYOA games, it's so hard to rate plot. First off, there are multiple "plots" here... although as I mentioned above, many of them seem to have the same basic tilt, which is: romance. But what I saw was a bit... thin. Not quite Calista Flockhart, but definitely thin. Still, they weren't bad little plots. Just not a lot of substance, much more the Twinkie of IF than the dinner at Ruth's Chris. [If you haven't ever encountered Ruth's Chris, they are the most incredible steakhouse ever.] *** Puzzles (n/a) Due to the CYOA format, I did not rate on puzzles, breaking my "formula" but, ultimately, I think, being more fair. *** NPCs (C+) This game is basically NPC driven, in that it's almost entirely conversationally driven. So you would hope that the NPCs would have some depth to them -- and, actually, they do in spots. But you don't really get a good glimpse about what they're -really- like, mostly because your interactions with them are so short. Whether this is a shortcoming of the format or whether they were simply undeveloped is hard to judge; they DO have personality, but it's pretty focused. *** Technical (C) There was certainly nothing in particular that was outstanding technically here, and only one bug of note, so I gave it an average rating. *** Tilt (C) and Final Thoughts I found 4 or 5 different endings before I stopped playing, so there may be more depths here I have not plumbed. Those of you with more patience than I (and a CYOA roto-rooter) may discover more. It was an amusing diversion. FTP FileInform .z5 file (competition version)

The Big Scoop

From: Joao Mendes <joao-mendes SP@G netcabo.pt> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: The Big Scoop AUTHOR: Johan Berntsson EMAIL: johan SP@G microheaven.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/scoop/scoop.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Wake Up: Disoriented Well, actually, the wake-up part applies only to the prologue, as you switch protagonists when the actual game starts. Namely, you start out as a woman being framed for murder who must escape an embarrassing situation, then switch over to a journalist who sets out to help her prove her innocence. Pretty standard stuff. Even the story behind the murder itself is a bit on the plain vanilla side, and the game even comes with its own "too-stupid-to-shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later" garden variety villain. This is not saying that it is badly done, mind you. Even with such a bland theme, the author does a competent job of putting together a well-paced story, complete with an action sequence at the end. Throughout, the game feels like a 50-minute episode from some 80's detective TV show. The level of writing is rather decent, although there is a distinctive feel that English is not the author's first language. No glaring errors or grammar inconsistencies that I could spot, which is nice, but the whole thing lacks in force in some way. I felt like I was watching the show, rather than being part of it. Technically, again, not a bad job at all. I didn't hit any snags, and I enjoyed the implementation of the NPCs in the story. They all played their standard parts in the plot, rather flatly if one thinks about it, but they behaved so much exactly like I expected them to that they actually felt alive. There were a couple of points where I hit my head against parser limitations, however. That feeling of knowing exactly what you want to do but not knowing how to phrase it so the game understands it can bit a bit annoying. As for the puzzles, they neither add to nor detract from the story. Again, much like an 80's TV show, the things the characters do are rather self-contained, dealing with one problem at a time, and relying on what I like to call "script-writer luck" to get through some situations. One particular puzzle has a solution that is just contrived enough to make sense on TV but nowhere else. I can't go into details without being spoilery, but if you play it, I'm sure you'll know what I mean. Also, I confess I had to go to the hints for quite a number of times, but given the nature of my relationship to puzzles in general, that is to be expected. Story: 3 (basic, but bonus points for good pacing and internal consistency) Writing: 1 (competent and solid, but lacking in force) Technical: 1 (well-rounded and solid, but penalty for making me struggle against the parser) Puzzles: 1 (pretty standard stuff throughout, though competently done) Final rating: 6 FTP FileDirectory with .z5 zcode file, readme, and .rec walkthrough FTP File.z5 Zcode file, Swedish version

Blink

From: Carolyn Magruder <carolynmagruder SP@G yahoo.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Blink AUTHOR: Ian Waddell EMAIL: ian SP@G the-underdogs.org DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/blink/blink.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Score: 8 of 10. "Blink" is a powerful, compact little game. In some ways, due to its length, it's hard to review it at all without spoiling it; I have to be very careful about what I do and don't say. The best summary I can give is that it involves a situation in which a man confronts the demons of his past and his morality. If I said anything more, I would run out of game. The writing is excellent and the game is very well implemented. Objects all have appearances, and, though it's menu-based, people have meaningful conversations and react well to what goes on around them. There are a few tiny grammar/spelling issues that could have been clobbered, but nothing I'd complain about heavily. I only found a couple things that bothered me in terms of parsing, implementation, and the like. In one case, I couldn't talk to someone who was talking to me. The game overrode me and provided both "You can't think of anything to say" and a built-in answer. In another, I couldn't kiss my own wife! If she's the love of my life, shouldn't I get more than a "no thanks" when I try? (I couldn't hug my son, either, but that seemed a bit more reasonable, considering the main character.) I talked my husband into playing this game, and he encountered a parser oddity when he tried to sit down on a chair that didn't exist. As a result, he almost sat on something that he would NOT have wanted to sit on. Yuck! This game is 95% puzzleless, but there is one puzzle, which was about to frustrate me before I had a stroke of luck and got it through chance. More experienced IF players may not have the same problem. Other people may find this game preachy. I did not. Others may find it too short; I did not. For what it was, it was precisely the right length, and filling it out further would have detracted from it. The game did promise different paths in its "about", and I didn't find them despite playing through it four times. (I found different responses, but not different endings; the different responses did not seem to be sufficiently different from one another to justify a "different paths" alert to me.) That was disappointing. FTP File.z5 Zcode file (competition version)

Bloodline

From: Jarvist Frost <BOBFROST SP@G compuserve.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998 NAME: Bloodline, An Interactive Coming-of-age AUTHOR: Liza Daly E-MAIL: gecko SP@G retina.net DATE: 1998 PARSER: Slightly below Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z code 5 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/mini-comps/games/bloodline.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Bloodline is a game based abound its NPC's. The entire game takes place in the basement of a friend's house. You (female) are playing a board game called bloodline which involves chasing after the fortune mentioned in a will, battling with all the other relatives. This appears to have been a way of fulfilling the criteria for the mini comp rather than a central game piece. You are playing against the Boy of Your Dreams (tm) and the ultimate decision is to either use your special card and win the game or let the boy beat you. Your decision, either way, ends the game. There is no movement and interaction with the NPC's is kept to a bare minimum (you're too distracted by the boy's eyes to even think of talking to him). I thought that the TV was an excellent touch, the slasher movies caused me to come back to the game time after time. If a Crinkly were to review this then they would complain about the blunt humour, absence of puzzles, obsession with the boy etc. As a teenager I found this to be a fun short piece of IF. My only problems with this game was the way that I had to be female and a few weird parser problems cropped up. In particular I liked the introduction, this is the 'reading of the rules' (essential for all board games). After reading the premise.txt I was expecting a serious game and the introduction confused me for a moment until I realised it was a 'tongue in {his} cheek' game. This game captures the style of teenage sleep overs, right down to the passing of notes. As an example of a parser problem I give you this: >examine randy's game piece I only understood you as far as wanting to examine Randy's game piece. Weird or what? There is no movement and no real manipulation of items. The game will automatically end in 25 moves if you can't reach a decision. The game would generally be solved in 20 moves or under. There are no real actions that you can do, you just have to admire the scenery until you have to make the Ultimate Decision on which your future teenage happiness is based. Apart from examining and reading objects, there is nothing much that you can do. The ending that would appear to bring the most satisfaction to the girl that you are playing seems to give a rather un-feminist view of live, you have to let the male win so that he likes you. All in all, this game was a fun five minute piece of vaguely interactive fiction. FTP FileInform file (.z5) FTP FileInform source code (.inf)

Blow Job Drifter

From: Joe DeRouen <jderouen SP@G sparkynet.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998 { Editor's note: The following review is of a game which will possibly be rather offensive to many people. As with all SPAG reviews, the views expressed in the review are those of the reviewer. } Name: Blow Job Drifter Author: Big Al Email: al_biggone SP@G hotmail.com Date: 1998 Parser: Inform Availability: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/incoming/if-archive/bj.z5 Version: Release 3.0 Plot: Who needs plot? (1.0) Atmosphere: Cinemax soft porn (1.0) Writing: Better than most in the genre (1.2) Game play: Way too much "guess the verb" (0.6) Characters: Typical Penthouse Forum fare (1.0) Puzzles: A good mix (1.2) Overall: Cheesy, but fun nevertheless (1.1) Blow Job Drifter. The name doesn't automatically conjure up great images of Interactive Fiction, does it? This is definitely an "adult" text adventure, but just because it falls into that category doesn't necessarily make it a bad or sloppily done game. The object of the game, if you haven't already guessed, is to "score" orally (and we're not talking about giving speeches here, buddy) with as many different women as you can. The game starts out in your apartment. You're naked and, for some reason that I've yet to fathom, you have absolutely nothing in your home to wear. Your first mission, then, is to find some clothes. After you've managed that fairly simple task, the whole city (and beyond) awaits your lecherous advances. There are over a dozen different female targets in BJ Drifter. Because the game is fairly linear, however, you'll have to go through most of them one by one. Despite way, way, way too many instances of "guess the verb", the game is a fun play. BJ Drifter doesn't take itself too seriously and thus serves as a parody of sorts to the more "serious" adult IF out there. The writing is surprisingly well done, the puzzles clever if a bit off- the-wall (when you get to the fish stuck in the woman's mouth, you'll know what I mean,) and the sex scenes . . . well, those you'll have to judge for yourself. But aside from being obviously misogynist (the game is from a male point of view, after all) they're pretty darned good. This is the first adult IF game I've played in years. In fact, I think my last such game was something called "Farmer's Daughter", which I played on the Commodore 128 way back in the mid-eighties. BJ Drifter is heads (and, dare I say it, tails) above that one, and manages to be fun and "adult" without being too offensive. Of course, if you're easily offended, you're probably better off staying away from BJ Drifter. For the rest of us, though, it's a great Sunday afternoon diversion that just may (bad pun alert!) keep you up all night. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Blue Chairs

From: Mike Russo <mar2116 SP@G columbia.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 [NOTE: The following review contains a bit of obscene language, quoted from the game. --Paul] TITLE: Blue Chairs AUTHOR: Chris Klimas EMAIL: klimas SP@G crunchable.net DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/bluechairs/bluechairs.z5 VERSION: Release 1 This game shouldn't work. The literary allusions are forced and don't really cohere. The balance of realism and surrealism is cock-eyed, so that after the initial scene the player is swept away on an overlong wave of dream-logic that ultimately edges towards the monotonous. The puzzles are a mix of the reasonable, the evocative, and the peremptory. A central symbolic motif never quite swims into focus. It all wraps up with the hoariest clichť imaginable. Yet work it does, with more than enough panache to spare. Yes, all of the above problems are inarguably present -- the sequence in the maze-complex or whatever it is does drag on too long, there are some actions I'd never think to do if the walkthrough didn't tell me to, and the whole Dante-and-Beatrice angle made me roll my eyes. But man, it just doesn't matter. I'm willing to concede that a good part of my goodwill towards this game is a result of its peculiar aesthetic, and particularly the author's knack for description, which comes off like Clockwork Orange by way of Freaks and Geeks. Most of my notes for the game consist of memorable one-liners: the first NPC we meet is "simultaneously thinking of fucking some cheerleader's brains out and calculating how many XP a red dragon is worth," while "putting on a dungeonmaster grin". All of the dialogue at the party manages to be both clever and absolutely true-to-life, which is a neat trick indeed. The narration wonderfully conveys the PC's personality -- sardonic, detached, and yearning for meaning. Even when the prose doesn't need to do any heavy lifting, the author manages to toss off an offhand gem. I don't even remember the context for many of the lines littering my notes, but even on their own they're great: "A miracle of genetic instinct and secular humanism"; "a faint smell, the kind that ought to trigger an old memory but doesn't". The puzzles for the most part live up to the off-kilter yet sharp aesthetic of the prose. Nothing's more natural than the game's solution for how to dance better (or at least not notice that you're dancing poorly), and the sequence where you're forced to assign tag-lines to the major characters does a good job of forcing the player to recognize some of the thematic work that's going on beneath the surface. I do think they get noticeably weaker in the second half -- the entire sequence in the darkened passageways slows the game down, and the sharp NPC interaction which enlivened the party is conspicuously absent. Finding a hidden safe combination and navigating a maze that adds rooms as you go just didn't seem activities that inhabited the same universe as the rest of the game. The sequence in which the player trudges across the desert as George W. Bush, on the other hand, was brilliant. Possibly my personal beliefs brought more to this scene than the author intended, but floundering across the sand, attempting to justify a horrible mistake, definitely brought to mind the Iraq war, and made me feel the queasy sense of uncertainty that the PC suffered. I'm unsure how well this scene would work for anyone else, or indeed at any other point in time, but as far as I'm concerned it was the single most effective moment of the comp. Again, I don't mean to elide the game's real problems -- all of those above mentioned, and it must be conceded that the prose does lurch towards wordiness on occasion. But there's real ambition on display here, and the places where everything clicks, it works about as well as anything in IF can possibly work. FTP FileDirectory with .z5 Zcode file, PDF notes, and walkthrough

Bmissfill

From: Stas Starkov <stas_ SP@G mail.rb.ru> Review appeared in
SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 TITLE: Bmissfill AUTHOR: Tilli Productions, Santoonie Corporation EMAIL: None given DATE: 2002 PARSER: TADS Standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/bmiss.gam VERSION: Release 1 Warning: I consider this game extremely short, bad, and stupid. I'm writing this review only to warn you to avoid the game. Premise of the game: you must escape from a prison. The task must be accomplished by doing stupid actions, based on a guess-the-verb scheme. Further features are: deaths-without-warning, bad writing, and a lot of (intentional, I believe) typos. Example: Cell Block H The stoned stones of the cell walls are cold and damp, and the grey light coming in from the window is striated by the irony iron bars which prevent your escape. A small cottish cot is along one wall, and the doorlike door to your south is closed. You see a prison window here. >x door You can't see any way of opning it. >x cot This is where you sleep. It's has a worn mattress and a tattered blanket on. >take blanket Taken. >x it Its age really prevents you from feeling warm, but you put it on at night anyway. Theirs something about having a blanket on when you sleep that makes you feel more secure. >x cot This is where you sleep. It's has a worn mattress and a tattered blanket on. Despite the game's size (around 120 Kb), it consists of only five rooms (I think), which almost don't have any objects. The main obstacle that will stop you from winning in two minutes is the bad implementation of the game. And it's not funny! Verdict: trash. FTP FileTADS .gam file

The Boggit

From: Christian Baker <lankro SP@G hotmail.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 TITLE: The Boggit AUTHOR: Fergus McNeill and Judith Child (Delta 4) E-MAIL: ? DATE: 1986 PARSER: Quill (a bit dodgy) SUPPORTS: Commodore 64, Spectrum, Amstrad CPC. AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.c64.com/search.php3?sok=boggit&kind=realname The Boggit is a parody of the original Melbourne House adventure "The Hobbit". It starts off in "your round tunnel like hall", although the only difference seems to be that there's a toilet at the end of it. Then things really start to change. Grandalf (or rather "Gandalf") crashes through your window to give you a card and some exploding chocolates, you find out the only reason the dwarves bring you with them is to be fed to Maug (Smaug), and that Thorny's (Thorin) father is in a mental home and thinks Grandalf is his son. The whole game is written in the past tense, and it's also written in a third person perspective. The games writers were about 17 when they wrote this. The room descriptions are fairly dull and below standard, but the rest of the writing is really funny, and will make you want to laugh out loud (Watch out for when Thorny or the dwarves start to sing. It's fantastic!). The game is littered with IF references (one of the puzzles involve the cleaning robots from Hitchhikers Guide), although some objects seem out of place (a credit card on a mountain?). The game has an 80's "home-made" style, which I say just adds to its charm. The characters are very basic, although they do say something funny if you're lucky, but nearly all the characters are just cardboard cut-outs put in there to fit in with the game's Tolkien roots. They may be very funny at times, but most of the time they don't want to talk at all. The best characters in the game have to be the three trolls: Andre, Bernard and Matthew (scary!). Bernard has the occasional slip of grammar (which Matthew promptly corrects), and Andre just grunts. Great fun. The parser is very simple, and if you say something like THROW ROPE at a time when that's not part of the puzzle, the game will give you the impression that you have a made an unfair suggestion. Some of the puzzles just require common sense (the exploding chocolate one, and the Gameshow one), some require knowledge of a subject (a big no-no for IF), and some are just plain weird. Overall, the game is simple, but highly entertaining. Oh, and just for you, here's the whole of the Dwarvish song: Being a merry sort of bunch, the dwarves began to sing: We're dwarves, we're dwarves, all doomed to die We'll probably finish in the dragon's pie So we'll take ol' Bimbo Faggins, a real cement head Hopefully ol' Daug will eat him instead. Sing: Hog the gold! Pass the buck! Split Bimbo's share between us! Across the Wiffy mountains, all through dark Berkwood We'll drag ol' lardball with us, he'll do as dragon food And afterwards we'll celebrate, in Thornys treasure hold. With ale and nosh and diamond rings and imitation gold Sing: Hog the gold! Pass the buck! Split Bimbo's share between us!

Bolivia By Night

From: Eric Woods <ewoods SP@G cocenter.org> Review appeared in
SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 TITLE: Bolivia By Night AUTHOR: Aidan Doyle EMAIL: aidandoyle SP@G rushpost.com DATE: March 9, 2005 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/springthing/2005/bbn.gam VERSION: One Bolivia By Night is a typical mystery-based interactive fiction game and, therefore, there's nothing particularly innovative about it. You play a journalist for an English-speaking newspaper, The Bolivian Herald. Initially you find yourself in an editorial meeting where you discover that David, the head reporter, has been missing for over a week. You also get the assignment of interviewing two Bolivians with interesting jobs, a cook with a nationally televised show and a Ninja master. The game doesn't allow the story to progress until these interviews are completed. The whole game moves along in a similar fashion, giving the player only one course of action at a time. Bit by bit you discover a murder or two, the supernatural background of the motives for these murders, and the only course of action to make everything in the world right. Like I said, it's pretty typical. The author obviously had a political and moral motive in creating this game. There are many interesting geographic, historical and cultural facts about Bolivia woven through the storyline as well as some cracks on Republicans. These cracks often are presented when you touch photos of Presidents after you have been given heightened senses. The political figures making cameos in this story are the Bush boys, Margaret Thatcher, and Reagan. I found it ironic that if you choose to be American at the start of the game you find a photograph of Lincoln in your desk drawer. This is apparently a sign of admiration for Lincoln. I wonder if the author knows that Lincoln was a Republican. The game play is very smooth in Bolivia By Night. The author recommends that players use a multi-media interpreter though I didn't. I didn't notice any difficulties with making progress without those features. The author also recommends that you keep the game in verbose mode which I generally don't like. There were two points where this would have been helpful since room descriptions sometimes change when you return to them and you won't get any of the changed description upon re-entering. This was easy enough to overcome with a simple look command, though. There were some nice features in this game which I haven't seen in others. The C command gets you a list of characters with whom you have already interacted or about whom you have learned something. The a T command gets you a list of topics on which you have discovered some information. These innovations made note-taking during playing unnecessary, which I found to be very helpful. There is also a well-implemented hint file contained within the game, though the game is simple enough that a gamer with experience probably won't need it. There is an Internet cafť which you can enter and check your email. You get some choices as to how you can respond to these emails and the story does a good job of implementing your choice in later scenes. For example, if you decide to order the Rodriguez Twins DVD Volume III you will find it in your apartment, all packaged up, later in the game. You can collect all three DVDs throughout the game if you care to. The puzzles range from very easy to easy. Even those that border on clever are given direction through unprompted statements by your sidekick. Your sidekick, by the way, is a talking T-shirt. Again, due to the linear nature of the game, I didn't find any problem with following the storyline or deciding what I had to do next. I don't generally mind being pushed through a story but a little less of this would have suited my tastes more. By the time you've discovered the nature of the mystery, gained some super natural powers and thwarted the bad guys and their evil plot to return Bolivia back to the days when it was ruled by drug lords you'll have a clear idea of the author's motive for producing the game. It's a good notion, of course, but perhaps a little predictable. Overall I found the game enjoyable though not very engaging or memorable. Certainly it is well written with no bugs, typos, or grammatical errors if you don't include the rare preposition at the end of a sentence. There are also some points where the humor made me crack a smile. While the map able area is relatively small it does a decent job of representing Bolivia though I assume I was supposed to feel more like the people were struggling than I did. Have a whack at it if you have a couple of hours to kill and you aren't overly sensitive about some mild Republican bashing humor. From: "Niz" <snowblood SP@G bigfoot.com> Review appeared in SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 Maybe its just me, as the IF community has not been showering it with glowing reviews, but Aidan Doyle's BOLIVIA BY NIGHT (2nd place in 2005's Spring Thing competition) should have all the ingredients required to sweep the XYZZY awards next year, especially if the author can release a post-competition bugfixed version soon. It probably won't, but hey, that's awards for you. Initial feelings that the author made the game just to say, "Hey look, I went to Bolivia on holiday and instead of boring you with my photo album I'm gonna bore you with an IF game I made about it" are thankfully quickly shaken off as you head off on various reporting tasks for the "Bolivian Herald", investigate a murder, and uncover a conspiracy. The scenery feels right throughout: locations are never a chore to plough through simply looking for nouns to "examine". The writing is plain, simple and funny -- the author is thankfully not a frustrated poet trying to wow you with his turn of phrase. It's refreshingly down-to-earth. The characters feel alive (especially the TV chef and your chauvinistic colleague). The puzzles are just simple enough not to get in the way of the story, and entertaining enough to complement it. The whole thing is reasonably long (several hours' worth for an average player, divided into convenient chapters to allow for short spells of gaming), and the story could easily have come straight out of Robert Anton Wilson's ILLUMINATUS! trilogy of novels (a good thing). Okay, the tone of the game is somewhat silly, but let us compare for a moment with THE CABAL, an XYZZY nominee for best story of 2004: sure, THE CABAL didn't have talking Che Guevara t-shirts, ninjas and the ghost of Klaus Barbie, but it comes from the same "school" of piling on the conspiracies and craziness until you give in and just go with the flow hippy-style... its a style you either "dig" or you don't, and if it was "dug" for THE CABAL, why not here? The locations are fantastic. You can really taste the dusty, dry atmosphere, the slow pace of life, the coffee and cocoa. Every South American cliche is thrown in, from drug lords to llamas to witch-doctors to ancient Incan secrets to Shakira. Best compliment: I'm seriously considering travelling there now. Puzzle-quality is very high, often providing unique spins on standard fetch-quest type puzzles, and incorporating what could have just been storyline-asides into the main fabric of the game. The range and style of these puzzles is very varied: one such fetch-quest is solved rather literally (and gruesomely); another (to derail the bad-guys' actions) is solved by making use of what could have been just a throwaway gag; yet another is solved via a callback to your early reporting missions. As for the climactic "boss battle", any puzzle that involves a sun bed, a racy DVD, and a portable camera could never be considered derivative. Yes there are some technical flaws, in particular an annoying bug with the framed photo in Richard's room, and some awkward syntax requirements at times, but these things can easily be fixed. The tricky bit is getting the story, setting and puzzles right, and there the author has definitely nailed it. I get the feeling the game might be lost in the shuffle before the awards season comes round, as it doesn't feature any amazing new technical innovations or break the narrative conventions of IF. It's just a very solid, very playable, very entertaining romp that does something few other games can achieve: it's fun. FTP FileTADS .gam file

Book and Volume

From: Jose Manuel Garcia-Patos <josemanuelinform SP@G josemanual-gp.jazztel.es& gt; Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: Book and Volume AUTHOR: Nick Montfort EMAIL: nickm SP@G nickm.com DATE: November 17, 2005 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/bookvol.z5 VERSION: Release 7 It is my great pleasure to write the review of the game that brings back to the genre one of the best authors and theorists in the IF community. Book and volume, Nick Montfort's latest work, possesses two fundamental virtues: it is extraordinarily entertaining and intellectually stimulating. It also has one problem: it hides these virtues with a lot of talent. The arbitrary deaths, the large number of ways of getting stuck in an unwinnable position, and the never too clear statement of the final objective of the game play against it. I think this can be attributed to the technique employed (maybe unconsciously) by the author in the design of the game, which could be summarized as: "Trust me. In the end everything will make perfect sense". And it's true, for the game leaves, like good wines do, a great taste and a strange melancholy. Not only because the ending opens the door to multiple interpretations and passionate reflections, but also because all the crazyness that wraps it up finally finds its sense -- even though it never ceases to be just that: crazyness. I must admit, however, that I miss more literature. Nick is a brilliant writer, but he seems not to want to demonstrate it here with better descriptions of places and stuff, or more possiblities of interaction with the NPCs. I think this was a lost opportunity, because the game is so entertaining that even the most "arcade inclined" among us would have been delighted to read a little more. This deficiency reveals itself more notably if we take a look at the list of games that he recommends for those new to IF, which includes some titles that even I consider boring and too literary, like Savoir faire, by Emily Short, or Varicella, by Adam Cadre (about which Nick even wrote a very good essay years ago). I am afraid that, due to this dryness of its style, some of the people who decide to try Book and Volume will lose many of the big and little ideas, suggestions and winks that fill almost every moment and place in it. This game contains much more than meets the eye, but that's exactly the problem: the player has to look for everything by himself without any indication from the author of what he might find if he does. (One example, the title: Probably most of you know where it's taken from, but do you know where does it appear in the game?) In a game like this the author should sting the player's curiosity, but here its own mechanics kind of forbid that, at least the first few times. It is my opinion that doing that (giving more room to the player for moving, exploring, interacting) everyone would enjoy it more and they all would be taking more out of it. What were Nick's reasons for not taking this approach? My bet is that he did it out of respect for the player. Respect to his freedom to interpret the game in any way he wants to or to not interpret it at all and just play and have fun with it. So, what's the game about? That's a good question. Thanks for asking. Our role is that of a sysadmin in the city of nTopia. The game begins with a call from our boss telling us that several of our servers are down. One of the reasons why we must leave our apartment in the wee hours of the morning to reboot some stupid servers is that in a couple of days will take place a mysterious demo which we seem to be the only ones in town who haven't heard about. From this moment on, things will be getting more and more bizarre, and more and more complicated, to the point that, almost certainly, we'll end, not just once or twice, but lots of times, in a snowy white hospital where our only entertainment will be to play cards with a tall, deaf and dumb indian. Talking about indians and hospitals, I'd like to mention a detail that I think is a bug in the game, and it is that after doing (or not) certain actions, we can be sent to this pillowed white room which you can only get out of to play cards with the indian. My question is: if you can't get out of the room (according to the author's own confession), why should you spend there such a long time trying to escape or whatever? I'm sure there is an explanation for this behaviour, as it just seems illogical, but I honestly didn't see it. Another detail, that others may consider a bug, although I don't think of it to be one at all, is the measure of time. Time is very important in this game. The player, as he dies and achieves tasks (in this order), will realize that he's got a lot of free time. One of the things he must do with it is wander around, examine every spot of the city. Almost every location in the game has something interesting to offer, although it's true that you must look a little harder than usual, and, more importantly, look at the right time of day. As in any other town, not all places are open 24/7 in nTopia. From: Neil Butters <NEIL.BUTTERS SP@G SYMPATICO.CA> Review appeared in SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 Book and Volume is a sci-fi/fantasy/techno mind game that could have been much more interesting and satisfying. It may be entertaining for some but others may find it tedious. I, unfortunately, fall into the latter category as I found wandering around the city fixing computers less-than-compelling gameplay. The game is short and could probably be played in a couple of hours. It opens with you lying on your couch. Your beeper sounds and you are then sent on a series of tasks by your boss that take you into the city. As you perform the tasks weird things happen and you come to question reality. I think there is only one conclusion although maybe had I tried a few more things after finishing the tasks there might have been more to the game. The conclusion I reached was obtuse, it didnít help me to understand the game at all. It should however cause you to at least pause and think about the preceding events even if you may not come up with a satisfying explanation of the game. The game has stripped-down prose that only contains essentials. The interiors of buildings are in a few sentences at most. For example, your apartment consists of a couch and some clothes and no other rooms. The NPCs do not generally stick around to chat and those that do arenít particularly helpful. This helps keep you focused on what needs to be done, and you donít spend time needlessly performing useless actions. This terse approach gave the game a cold, impersonal feel that may or may not be what the author was striving for. At times this approach was frustrating. The setting is a futuristic city with some really interesting places that I would have liked to learn more about. The airport for example is not what you would expect but when you try to examine objects you get two-word descriptions. The gameís puzzles consist mainly of wandering around the city doing tasks to get a job done. The tasks are not particularly difficult. There are no hints or walkthroughs but there is a map available at http://www.xs4all.nl/~rlbos/bookvol%20feelie%20map.pdf. On the plus side the growing realization that something odd is definitely going on is well done. The conclusion fits nicely with the gameís feel even though it is difficult to interpret and I donít think anyone will see it coming. It may have some meaning that was lost on me. The game is technically sound and I did not find any bugs. I had no problems doing what I wanted to do and tasks that should not be difficult, ie working with your laptop, are made simple. I donít think this game will appeal to everyone. If you donít know your server from your waiter you may find the game uninteresting and a bit tedious. But if you are a techno/ sci-fi enthusiast you may appreciate some of the goings-on and the general feel of the game. Zcode executable (.z5)

Break-In

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G starpower.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 TITLE: Break-In AUTHOR: Jon Ingold E-MAIL: ji207 SP@G cam.ac.uk DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/break-in.z5 VERSION: Release 7 The line between entertainingly silly and annoyingly silly is a fine one, and Jon Ingold's Break-In doesn't always stay on the right side of it: the game strives so relentlessly to be goofy that the whimsy feels a bit forced, and some serious game design flaws don't help. Still, there are some funny moments and a few genuinely clever puzzles amid all the weirdness. It's not unknown for IF to pull a sort of bait-and-switch with its genre--i.e., giving the player an initial premise that fits into one genre, which suddenly gives way to an unexpected development that throws the story into a different genre entirely. Trinity did it, to some extent (well, tourism isn't really a genre, but stumbling into a surreal fantasyesque dimension was a shift), and Once and Future did something similar (with somewhat peculiar results due to the divergence between the feelies--which studiously avoided any implication that the game wasn't all about war--and the manual, which referred, among other things, to a sword suitable for summoning spirits). Break-In takes those precedents and runs with them: there are several genres all going on at once, with no Big Transitional Event to indicate that the initial premise has yielded to something else. (The end of the game returns to the original plotline, with no acknowledgment of the wacky stuff that's gone on.) As in, the game conflates your ostensible mission--as a freelance burglary artist, to break into a home and retrieve some plans--with silly surreal stuff--chicken-dragons and such--and also with conventional fantasy, casually mixing all three together. There are some explanations provided, but they're not particularly convincing, and they're largely provided after the fact--i.e., there are no warnings that the game is about to take a sharp turn. There's nothing inherently wrong with all this, I suppose, but it does sort of destroy the immersive aspect of the story--the player constantly saying "okay, what's going on NOW?" generally is not particularly immersed. Similarly, while pieces of the setting are well rendered, it's so incoherent--things are juxtaposed that can't really be logically juxtaposed--that the player tends to give up trying to picture the scene. The fluidity of the genre boundaries isn't the main problem here, though--it's the game design. It's not all that difficult to render the game unfinishable in unexpected ways--e.g., by failing to properly manage inventory before a change of scene, or by failing to pick up a hidden object before leaving an area that, it turns out, you won't be able to revisit. There's lots more of that than there needs to be, and it makes it difficult to enjoy the silliness of the game--inventory management is about a prosaic a task as IF offers. The hint system, which is helpful in some areas but completely neglects others, doesn't help much. Worse, there are quite a few bugs-- some fatal, others merely irritating. Break-In is not especially polished--there are writing errors here and there along with the bugs--and the rough-edges feel often distracts from the game. There are some clever puzzles--oddly, the one nominated for an XYZZY is far from the game's best; there are others that are much more creative--but some rely on rather large logical leaps, and one in particular is hampered by a lack of alternative solutions. It's a shame because, taken the right way, the game is actually very funny--the implicit premise is that spies after the end of the Cold War are reduced to concocting ridiculous projects to keep themselves busy, and the notion of espionage artists dealing with things like giant chickens is, at bottom, pretty amusing. The game may not be particularly immersive, but it's got a fair measure of wit, as in the following: By the doormat lies a brown-paper parcel, tied up with a length of string. It's probably just one of the Prof's favourite things. Or this: >get shoot The shoot is attached to some kind of model or pendant, which appears to be of an orange alien in a green dress dancing wildly. What a weird thing to have buried in your garden! It has several 'arms' of different lengths all pointing upwards, and each with the same cone shape as the main 'body'. There's nothing in the way of a head, the cone just rounds to a blunt point. Maybe something fell off in the hole. >examine alien No, on second thoughts, its actually just a knobbly carrot. You were holding it upside down. Here, the burglar/spy persona of the PC comes across well--you ascribe suspicious or fantastic properties to everything--and it would benefit the game if that persona were more often in evidence. After all, the beginning of the story sees the PC pondering the course of his career in rather weighty terms--"Still, its not petty thieving. It's for national security, which is different"--and it seems like there's plenty of humor to be mined from the PC's reaction to all the silliness. E.g. (not from the game--just my suggestion): "You reflect sourly that none of your training at M5 prepared you for giant chickens. An oversight, clearly." As it is, if you don't find the chickens funny, you won't find the game funny (and those chickens do get tiresome pretty quickly). Break-In is a game with considerable potential but not entirely successful implementation, in other words. Had the author chosen to make more of the story and PC, and less of the goofiness, the result might have been both funny and intriguing; as it is, there are some nicely done bits (intelligent puzzles, well-described settings) and a lot of mistakes. Try it only if you're in a very peculiar mood. FTP FileInform .z5 file

Border Zone

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G compuserve.com&rt; Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Border Zone GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Marc Blank PLOT: Well Interwoven EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 WRITING: Serious but Light PUZZLES: Very Good SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Good DIFFICULTY: Slightly above average Border Zone is another compartmentalized game, in the spirit of Nord & Bert and Shogun. Unlike Shogun, the chapters don't have to be played in order, and unlike Nord & Bert there is no single concluding chapter that you must earn the right to play. Border Zone involves the attempt to prevent an important assasination in and around the country of Frobnia. In Chapter 1, you play an ordinary businessman, who has been given a document with the details of the assasination, attempting to sneak it out of the country. In Chapter 2, you play the wounded agent who gave the businessman the document, attempting to escape from Frobnia himself. In Chapter 3 you play an American double-agent attempting to prevent the assasination without blowing his cover. All three chapters are played in real time. If you ponder your moves too long, the story may go on without you. This is both good and bad. The puzzles are generally the save/restore type; although they are generally logical and good, they are not the type that you are likely to hit on the first time. You have to learn from several failures before you hit on the correct strategy. This is fine for puzzle fans, but not so good for realism fans (you can't RESTORE in real life). However, the whole idea of doing the game in real time seems to be geared towards pleasing the realism fans, though this may not have been the best game to do it. The second chapter is the largest and seems to be the centerpiece of the game, but I liked Chapters 1 and 3 better. Chapter 1 is small and easily mapped, but rich in detail, and quickly concluded, making it an excellent introduction to interactive fiction. Chapter 3 has some clever puzzles (especially how you figure out which room the sniper is in), and like Plundered Hearts, it has several different relatively successful endings, but one which is clearly better than the others. Blank does a good job of tying in events from previous chapters, creating an interlocking "big-picture". The game is fairly light on gadgetry; featuring only an exploding pen in Chapter 2. I'd have liked a shoe phone and the Cone of Silence myself. Still, this is Infocom's only spy story, and is quite a good game. FTP FileSolution (Text)

Bugged

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G starpower.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #26 -- September 26, 2001 TITLE: Bugged AUTHOR: Anssi Raisanen E-MAIL: anssi.raisanen SP@G cop.fi DATE: 2001 PARSER: Alan (full-sentence) SUPPORTS: Alan runtimes AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/alan/bugged.zip VERSION: Release 1.0 Anyone who's ever tried to slog through a vintage AGT game will get a chuckle or two out of Bugged, where the bugs are deliberate -- you're beta-testing a game for a cousin, see, and the cousin needs a lot of programming help, and the only way to plow through the game is through exploiting bugs (because the solutions your cousin has attempted to implement don't work, due to other bugs). It's no more than a chuckle, but chuckles are important in the IF world too. The bugs themselves are standard-issue: takeable objects that aren't, untakeable objects that are, mostly, along with a dash of verbs defaulting to the wrong noun. Getting into the spirit of things takes a while -- unless you're a long-standing beta-tester, you're unlikely to think of getting rid of an obstacle by simply taking it, say -- and things get difficult toward the end, when you're carrying around all kinds of immobile objects and it's not clear which one of them is useful. (The last puzzle, in fact, turns on a bizarre syntax trick that fits nicely into a buggy game but doesn't exactly spring to mind otherwise.) In other words, the bugs accumulate over the course of the game, after a fashion, and the potential for ridiculous interactions among various unlikely objects becomes considerable. Some of the bugs strain credulity a bit -- it's not clear what sort of coding error would make an object both out of reach and takeable. Likewise, it sometimes seems like every single object that should be takeable isn't and every one that shouldn't be is, suggesting that the "cousin" simply doesn't understand the word "static" (or an Alan equivalent) -- but on the whole it's a plausible buggy game. The joke, I suppose, is that the buggy game is more interesting than the non-buggy one would have been; the puzzles that you would have solved are bog-standard, whereas the buggy version at least requires some thinking outside the box. True enough, though it's hard to picture anyone writing a game that's quite as boring as the one your cousin supposedly tried to write, and in that light it's not hard to come up with something more interesting. For my part, I found Bugged entertaining simply because it's loopy in the usual way of a buggy game; something about picking up apparently huge objects with no comment on your feat of strength is inherently amusing, though the humor would probably pall in a game of any length. As it is, Bugged is quite short, short enough that most players are unlikely to tire of the idea before reaching the end. The main problem with Bugged is the lack of a hint system (and in this case a hint system is even more preferable to a walkthrough than usual, because the puzzles are well suited for nudges but the solutions are usually one-move) -- it's frustrating enough to struggle with a game that's trying to be helpful, but when things are intentionally broken it's even worse, as there are (naturally) no clues that you're on the right track. In fact, since some bugs amount to red herrings, it's possible to get suckered into trying to exploit the wrong bugs altogether. I ended up poring over the data file to solve a few of the puzzles, which is appropriate, in a way -- cheat to finish a game whose premise is cheating to finish a game -- but not especially satisfying. Bugged is a twenty-minute diversion at most -- if it takes you longer, resort to the data file -- but it's amusing enough, and perhaps it's a fitting tribute to/preparation for the upcoming competition. (Shame on this cynical reviewer.) IF veterans should get a kick out of it. FTP FileALAN game files

Building

From: Daphne Brinkerhoff <cendare SP@G hotmail.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: Building AUTHOR: Mike Tulloch EMAIL: poster SP@G aurora.cotse.net DATE: July 2005 (original release) PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive and author's website URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/building.z5 VERSION: Release 15 BUILDING: RED HERRINGS, PURPLE PROSE, AND A CORRIDOR OF BLUE LIGHT (Disclaimer: I played an older version of Building than what is currently available. So I have not mentioned bugs or typos in this review, assuming that they're probably fixed. But if I've criticized something else that's changed in the newer version, please let me know.) My friend oh-so-casually remarked, "You know that new game Building? I hear no one has beaten it yet." "I know a dare when I hear one," I said. I played it anyway. My goal was to win without hints. I didn't quite achieve that, but I still feel a sense of satisfaction. Building is a toughish game. It's not Curses-level long, or Curses-level tough, but it's no CYOA IFComp entry. If you're going to play, be prepared to spend a week or two with it. The game begins with some nightmarish visions, after which you wake up with amnesia, standing in front of a building. I don't think it's giving too much away to say that it's an office building. Building is about how office work turns people into soulless drones. Yes, we've had Little Blue Men on that subject, but in LBM your character was angry and still fighting the inevitable. Here there is just a sense of hopelessness. The story in Building is minimal. You're supposed to be figuring out who you are, but really from the beginning you know everything important about yourself except your name. It's an office building, you worked here, and it sucked (one "remember" will tell you all that). Gradually you do discover hints that your bosses might have been doing something odd, above and beyond the usual corporate evils. Generally, though, this game is more about atmosphere than story. Dark, dusty, uninhabited (mostly), a little off-kilter, with remnants of technology lying around, seemingly abandoned mid-use... If I may get all English-majory for a moment, this just reinforces the artificiality and transience of the office life that came before. At least that's how it made *me* feel, especially given the contrast between your memories and the present disrepair. Another plus: the author paid a lot of attention to implementing as many of the five senses as possible. I particularly noticed sounds in various locations (the cicadas, the generator, ghostly voices), but there are smells and textures mentioned too. This worked for me. A few people have commented on the purple prose in the game. It's a fine line between lush writing and overwriting, and I think this game has examples of both. Sometimes the author relies a little heavily on adjectives (emphasis mine): Second-floor Stairwell FLUORESCENT lights mounted at ODD angles send down DYING, ARTIFICIAL light that provides a HARSH, CLINICAL hue for the DINGY carpet and YELLOWED walls. A set of stairs descends into shadows nearby, and OPEN hallways lead east and west. Out of 39 words in this room description, 9 of them are adjectives. This felt overdone. In contrast, strong verbs make this room description work better (again, emphasis mine): Authorized Room The remnants of a COMPUTER CONTROL room, this room now provides a case study in destruction. SEVEN-FOOT HIGH cabinets lie face down, their GLASS windows shattered in BRILLIANT LIGHT-REFRACTING sprays of BROKEN glass; cables of every shape and hue lie severed from the wall as though victims of a BIZARRE type of autopsy. Computers lie caked in dust with their innards utterly removed and scattered in pieces across the floor. Dust covers even these, as though these acts occurred several generations ago. Here there are 9 adjectives again, out of 82 words, a much more reasonable proportion (IMHO). And verbs like "shattered", "severed", and "caked" strengthen the description. Although the main strength of the game is its atmosphere, it's not a story- based game, but instead is packed with puzzles. The structure is extremely loose. There's one opening puzzle (get into the building), and then the game opens up with multiple puzzles that can be completed in any order. It's almost like a treasure hunt -- once you've remembered enough, you can go on to the endgame. For the most part, the puzzles are difficult but fair, requiring intuitive leaps that are more-or-less well-clued (getting into the corridor of blue light, finding the Ruined Lobby, even getting a light source). But occasionally almost-right actions don't give any hint of the proper solution (I'm thinking here of getting the ring). There's also a plethora of red herrings. I spent quite some time trying to get into inaccessible places, interact with scenery, and look under immobile objects. I rather like red herrings -- they give a sense of a world that's not just created for these specific puzzles. However, in Building it's a little frustrating, since the game doesn't really give you a sense of what you need to be working on next at any particular time. So my advice to players is, don't assume you have to open a locked door just because it's there, or make use of some unusual room feature because no one would ever put a salsa-dancing Venus flytrap into their game if it weren't part of a puzzle. I found the inventory limit imposed by the game to be extremely irritating. There doesn't seem to be any reason for realism in a game with such a surreal setting. And I didn't find any puzzles related to the inventory limit (e.g., the kind of thing where you can only take five things with you to the next stage of the game, choose carefully). I ended up just dumping objects in a centrally located room and coming back later. I also found that sometimes the game would let me drop an object I was carrying but not pick it back up again on the next turn -- granted, a bug, but one that wouldn't happen without the inventory limit. I'd definitely consider getting rid of the limit in a future release. The limit makes things especially hard because of one recurring puzzle of sorts. I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, so I'll just say that several objects in the game are keyed to particular rooms. But it's almost always an arbitrary connection, so there's no way to know which room unless you bring the object there. As an imaginary example, you might think that a dictionary would be connected to a library, but in this game it's likely that the dictionary would instead be connected to the bathroom. This really makes the inventory limit feel constricting. You have to make sure you've carried every object into every room, but you keep having to leave objects behind and pick others up, and unless you've got a better memory than I do, it's just about impossible. As you travel through the building and its environs, you gain memories of yourself a la Babel. However, unlike in Babel, there's no way to replay a memory. Once it's gone, it's gone, and you'd better have gleaned everything the first time. You can get the game to list memories with short descriptions (an imaginary example: "Grocery shopping with Nyarlahotep"). I would have liked it if typing "REMEMBER X" with some of the key words in those descriptions (in this example, "REMEMBER GROCERY" or "REMEMBER NYARLAHOTEP") would work. That seems easier for the player than having to go back to the location of the original memory. But any mechanism for remembering would have been useful. So, do I recommend this game? My main experience in playing it wasn't enjoyment but frustration, as anyone listening could attest. "What do you mean I can't?... Oh, great, now what?... Somehow solving this didn't get me as far as I'd hoped." But that does go to show that I was engaged in the game. I wasn't bored. And it's also typical of puzzle-based games. Basically I don't regret having put in the time to play it, and I'll definitely download the author's next game. Zcode executable (.z5)

Bureaucracy

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G compuserve.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: Bureaucracy GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Douglas Adams PLOT: Great EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Excellent AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: Difficult SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Archetypal DIFFICULTY: Expert In Bureaucracy, you have just moved to a new town and must get your bank to acknowledge your change of address form before embarking on your all-expense paid trip to Paris, as well as untangle several other Bureaucratic mishaps from missed connections to surly waitresses. The game is divided into four parts. In the first, you must cash your check to get money for the cab ride to the airport. In the second, you must get through the airport to reach your flight. In the third, you must escape from the wrong airliner you have found yourself on before it crashes (or does it?). In the final part, you must take care of the computer hacker who is responsible for most of your problems. This game has become the standard by which almost all tongue-in-cheek games about real life are measured, and has been imitated many times, but seldom equalled. The atmosphere is not surprisingly, very much like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but is in many ways funnier since it hits areas that the gamer will have experienced firsthand. By the time this game came out Infocom had abandoned their difficulty rating system, but this game is as difficult as any other Infocom game with the exception of Spellbreaker. Many of the puzzles are intuitive rather than logical and force you to recreate Douglas Adams' twisted thinking to make sense of them (for example, the way you get your check cashed at the bank). Others are logical, but require you to grasp complicated patterns to solve them (i.e., the way you dispose of your Zalagasan Stew on the airliner). There are many well-developed characters that represent a cross-section of the most annoying people in daily life from the llama treat delivery man (who comes up with the brilliant idea that you should get your expired credit card replaced) to the surly waitress, to the survivalist, to Random Q. Hacker himself. One problem with the game is getting to the end of it. The story is so rich in detail that many will not want to remain stuck indefinitely on one of the puzzles. Unfortunately no editions of Bureaucracy contain onscreen hints, and it was included in Lost Treasures 2, which had no hint books enclosed. If you get stuck, your best bet is to download a walkthrough from the archive or the Compuserve Gamer's Forum, or to call Activion's 900 hint number. [I suggest ftp.ifarchive.org:/if-archive/solutions/infocom/ for you ftp capable readers. -GKW] The freebies are some of Infocom's best. One is a copy of Popular Paranoia magazine, which gives you the low down on the conspiracies that threaten to destroy your life. Another is the infamous carbonless triplicate form. Most people sign these daily, taking it for granted that the lower copies are identical to the top one. Activision did this itself, and only reproduced the top copy for their Lost Treasures documentation. But if you look more carefully, you may find that the line for your zip code on page 1 may ask for your wife's weight, or the number of pancakes that you have eaten today on succeeding copies. Too bad Adams never made this into a book... FTP FileSolution (Text)

Busted!

From: Murderous <patch SP@G evilemail.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #25 -- June 20, 2001 NAME: Busted! AUTHOR: Jon Drukman (also did port) EMAIL: jsd SP@G cyborganic.com DATE: July 1993 ADVSYS; 2001 Inform port PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters; unreviewed ADVSYS version AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/busted.zip ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/advsys/busted.dat This is a port of an older Advsys title in order for the author to learn Inform and two things are clear: the game is firmly-rooted in the "old school" of adventuring; and that the author is not yet a master of Inform. You start as a University student with an urgent story-hook: an answerphone message from a friend who has just been ... busted! He has given you enough warning that you can hide all your 'stuff' before the cops catch up with you. You're provided with plenty of locations, but you visit rather than explore; there's plenty of objects, but their placement is so obvious it's fake. 'Random' events (turn-timed or location dependent) range from the disjointed to the outright daft. Nothing subtle here. The introduction was quite effective in bringing the immediacy of the situation to play, but it's abandoned for 'eat in X turns or die'. Thereafter the urgency proved too difficult to resurrect, so it was replaced by a 'get some sleep or die'. Eh? What happened to the urgent starting hook? Tech warning - there are a number of bugs, object conflicts, and the parser is 'functional' at best; but while they can be annoying they don't entirely destroy the game, just keep it simple. It's a plain urban school adventure, on mild drugs. The trump-card of this title is the humour, and if you hate/hated parts of your academic life then you'll find the game all the more funny: the truly appalling food, the space-case friends, evangelical Christians -- BUSTED certainly has its moments. There are funny remarks and cute ideas that break up the otherwise sparse text. It's free. And you start with a joint in your inventory, which is an immediate saving grace, so the game isn't entirely without merit. But with all the brilliant IF in the world it's hard to be enthusastic about it either. PLOT: Strays (0.7) ATMOSPHERE: Suitably rendered (1.3) WRITING: Functional, with humour (1.0) GAMEPLAY: Flat or dips (0.7) SOME HUMOUR AND FUN: Can't deny it (1.3) TOTAL: 5.0 CHARACTERS: Colourful cardboard (1.1) PUZZLES: Arbitary obituary (0.7) DIFFICULTY: Not a brain taxer, but parser and bugs don't help. SUMMARY: Check it out if you're interested in some retro adventuring with a drug twist, but it's probably better st0ned. FTP FileAdvSys file FTP FileInform .z5 file and associated files FTP FileHint file (text -- answers in ROT-13) FTP FileStepwise solution (text)
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