___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE # 10 Edited by G. Kevin Wilson (whizzard SP@G pobox.com) Feb. 3rd, 1997 /~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~\ < Special 1996 I-F Competition Issue > \__________________________________/ All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine with the traditional 'at' sign. EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------- Dear Readers, The 2nd Annual I-F Competition has come and gone, and I can only consider it a rousing success. This year we had 27 entries! More than twice what we had last year. Some truly great games emerged, and it thrills me to have been a part of that. At first, there were some organizational problems (my fault, naturally) when the betatesting site was inadvertantly killed because I did not regularly change the password. Since nobody ever logged into the account except through ftp, we never received any warnings. Let that be a lesson of some sort to me, I guess. The competition got pushed back two weeks over that little debacle, and then the voting period had to be extended because of the large number of entries. But, it all worked itself out in the end. This issue is a lot like last year's special contest issue (#7), as I was pretty darn pleased with that format. I have material that I received before the contest, but that will go into issue #11, as I like to devote an entire issue to the contest. Everything here will be familiar: author interviews, reader submitted reviews, etc. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I'll have an in-depth look at Delusions in SPAG #11. Right now, I want to get this issue out the door. It's way overdue, as usual. Anyhow, enjoy the issue, make sure to play the contest entries if you haven't yet, and I'll see you in time for SPAG #11. Addendum: Just so you folks know, I'm graduated. I have my BS in Cognitive Science and I'm pounding the pavement for work. But don't fear, I've already got one good prospect at least lined up. That will be in March. Until then, I'm writing a role-playing game source book (on commission), and finishing my fantastically late game, Avalon. So don't worry about your gentle editor, he's got more job opportunities than he can shake a stick at. Why do I mention this in SPAG? Well, there is always the potential for upsetting the scheme of things when a major change like this happens. I will do everything in my power to see that SPAG continues to arrive without interruption, but hey, feces happen. If somehow I am unable to continue on as editor, I will make preparations to pass on the mantle to someone else. But, I doubt that will happen. Oh, one last thing: My new email address is whizzard SP@G pobox.com. I signed up on an internet email forwarding service, so this will be the only time that this address will change. Another Addendum: Sheesh. Just goes to show how late this ish is. SPAG's website has moved and been upgraded. The new site is at: http://www.afn.org/~afn55673/spag.html Go have a look. The reader's score chart is accepting game ratings online (well, on the website), or at least will be as soon as an "Enter Your E-mail Address Here:" box is added. There are some fun links and such on there, and it's basically a lot more interesting than it used to be. Whew. Now go read the magazine. G. Kevin Wilson "Whizzard" CONTEST RESULTS-------------------------------------------------------------- The following entries received prizes from the prize pool: 1st Place: The Meteor, The Stone, And A Long Glass Of Sherbet by: Angela M. Horns, aka: Graham Nelson Graham picked as his prize: $75.00 cash, donated by Martin Braun. 2nd Place: Tapestry by: Dan Ravipinto Dan picked as his prize: A copy of "Zork Nemesis.", donated by Activision. 3rd Place: Delusions by the author, aka: C. E. Forman Christopher picked as his prize: A copy of "Lost Treasures of Infocom vols. 1 and 2. on CD", donated by Activision. 4th Place: Small World by Andrew D. Pontious Andrew picked as his prize: Dinner at a (pretty) fine restaurant in the Washington, DC area, with Andrew Plotkin, plus hours of fine conversation on the art of interactive fiction or other topics as desired. 5th Place: Kissing the Buddha's Feet by Anonymous, aka: Leon Lin Leon picked as his prize: Zork Nemesis T-shirt (L), donated by Activision. 6th Place: Fear by Chuan-Tze Teo Chuan-Tze picked as his prize: One free copy of "Avalon", donated by me. Brave person, eh? 7th Place: Maiden of the Moonlight by Brian P. Dean Brian picked as his prize: A registered copy of "Lost New York", donated by the author, Neil deMause. 8th Place: Wearing the Claw by Paul O'Brian Paul chose as his prize: A copy of the book: "Computer Adventures - The Secret Art", donated by the author, Gil Williamson. 9th Place: Alien Abduction by Charles Gerlach Charles chose as his prize: "Creating Adventure Games on Your Computer", by Tim Hartnell, donated by Matthew Amster-Burton. 10th Place: Aayela by Magnus Olsson Magnus chose as his prize: The original sketch of the "Path to Fortune" map (and a free registration of the game itself), donated by Christopher E. Forman. 11th Place: Lists and Lists by Andrew Plotkin Andrew chose as his prize: A copy of the book: "Computer Adventures - The Secret Art", donated by the author, Gil Williamson. 12th Place: Ralph by Miron Schmidt Miron chose as his prize: A copy of the book: "Computer Adventures- The Secret Art", donated by the author, Gil Williamson. 13th Place: Reverberations by Russell Wain Glasser Russell chose as his prize: A copy of the book: "Computer Adventures- The Secret Art", donated by the author, Gil Williamson. 14th Place: The Land Beyond the Picket Fence by Martin Oehm Martin will receive as his prize: A copy of the book: "Computer Adventures- The Secret Art", donated by the author, Gil Williamson. Further rankings will not be posted here. The authors whose games came in towards the bottom did a fine job anyways, and I don't see the need to spoil that by immortalizing who came in last place in SPAG. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- And the Winner of the Miss Congeniality Award is: Tapestry by: Dan Ravipinto Dan will receive a copy of The Interactive Writer's Handbook for his trouble, donated by me. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- You can reach the authors at the e-mail addresses below if you want to send fan mail, comments, bug reports, or what have you. Entry Author E-mail ============================================================================ Aayela Magnus Olsson zebulon SP@G pobox.com Alien Abduction Charles Gerlach gerlach7 SP@G tam6.mech.nwu.edu Beyond Fence Martin Oehm oehm SP@G diogenes.fb5.uni-siegen.de Curse of Eldor Stuart Allen stuart SP@G perf.no.itg.telstra.com.au Delusions C.E. Forman ceforman SP@G postoffice.worldnet.att.net Don't Be Late Greg Ewing greg SP@G cosc.canterbury.ac.nz Fear Chuan-Tze Teo ctt20 SP@G hermes.cam.ac.uk 1st Stupid Game Daniel McPherson MCPHERSOND SP@G mail.vtls.com Forms Unknown Chris Markwyn MARKWYNC SP@G carleton.edu House of Stalker Jason Clayton White perseid SP@G inxpress.net In the End Joe Mason admin SP@G rmss.edu Kissing Buddha's Leon Lin leonlin SP@G uclink.berkeley.edu Liquid Rybread M. Celsius rybread SP@G cshore.com Lists Andrew Plotkin erkyrath SP@G netcom.com Maiden of Moon Brian P. Dean 73704.176 SP@G CompuServe.COM Phlegm Jason Dyer jdyer SP@G u.arizona.edu Piece of Mind Giles Boutel boutel1g SP@G wcc.govt.nz Promoted! Mike DeSanto desantom SP@G io.com Ralph Miron Schmidt s590501 SP@G tfh-berlin.de Reverberations Russell Wain Glasser rglasser SP@G ix.netcom.com Rippled Flesh Rybread M. Celsius rybread SP@G cshore.com Sherbet Graham Nelson nelson SP@G vax.ox.ac.uk SRH & Orntl Wok Gil Williamson Gil.Williamson SP@G syntegra.bt.co.uk Small World Andrew D. Pontious byzantium SP@G tuna.net Stargazer Jonathan Fry jfry SP@G WOPR.skidmore.edu Tapestry DJR ravipind SP@G linux.kirbynet.lafayette.edu Wearing...Claw Paul O'Brian obrian SP@G ucsu.Colorado.EDU ============================================================================ "And that, as they say, is that." INTERVIEWS WITH THE AUTHORS------------------------------------------------ This year, pressed for time, and unable to think of any really good questions for most of the games, I just interviewed a few authors. I'll probably go back and interview some more for SPAG #11, however. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet, by Graham Nelson >What inspired this game? I noticed that the setting was like Quendor, but >at the same time seemed almost to be some parallel Quendor that we hadn't >seen before. I felt there was still some mileage in the traditional cave game. As the ghost of "Zork" hangs over all cave games, "Sherbet" can hardly avoid bringing back memories: when designing the milieu, I did have the Zork universe in mind, but as something I wanted only the most tenuous connection to. In any event, the protagonist isn't a conventional adventurer and doesn't have the conventional Zork aims, so that's something. The single biggest criticism of "Sherbet" has been that it's too much in the style of "Zork" and artistically suffers from unoriginality as a result. Fair comment, I think, but I wanted to write a cave game and to write it to 1990s standards of craftsmanship, if that doesn't sound unbearably pompous. >Have you made plans for your next text adventure? If so, is there anything >you wouldn't mind telling us about it? I have a fragment of a SF game in my top drawer. It may or may not progress further. >The introduction sets a very different tone from the rest of the game. It >seemed almost like two separate games to me. Was there a reason for this? Well: it's a prologue. All cave games have a fairly sharp division between prologue and middle game -- overground, underground; mundane, magical. The prologue aims to introduce the main character and the third most important character, to accustom the main character to using two tools which will be needed later on and to try to enliven the world beyond the cave. If you can believe the overground exists, so much the better for the underground. Looking back, I think there's something Hollywood cliche about it: first show the ordinary things that happen to Mr X, then throw him into an unexpected situation. In this case, the main character is both a diplomat (as in the prologue) and a secret agent, which ought to make what follows more reasonable. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Tapestry, by Daniel Ravipinto >What were your inspirations for Tapestry? I understand that it reminds >certain folks of a Neil Gaiman comic book called "Sandman" in spots, was >that one of your influences? Gosh. Hold on a second. (random shuffling of papers) Wow. The first mention I have of Tapestry are a bunch of scribbles in my notes for my Psych 101 class, which would place it around...huh...last year's competition. It seems I was throwing around a bunch of ideas. One was a game involving the Fates. Another was a game involving "Morningstar". Another was...hmmm...maybe I can use that next year. :) Anyway, I started doing research on the Fates and Morningstar. I think he originally started as some combination of Asmodeus (from the Devil on Two Sticks, I believe...), Memnoch, from Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil, and Mephistopholes (spelling?) from Faust. I had some vague impressions of how he might act, but nothing really specific. Getting frustrated with that line of research I went on to the Parcae. I knew the general set-up of the Three Fates and their jobs, but nothing beyond that. During my research I read about the Greek thinking on fate, destiny, and hubris. It was an interesting point of view, but to be honest I didn't think anybody now-days would follow that line of thinking... Which started me thinking on what kind of points-of-view DID people have today? The storyline grew out of that. The Roman view of stoicism in the face of an unvaoidable destiny eventually became Atropos' path. She seemed the best choice - the eldest of the Fates, sticking to the philosophy of the people who believed in her and following the fate she created for them. The other two viewpoints actually grew out of the characters. All of a sudden, Morningstar had a place in my "Fate" game. Going back to my original research, I decided to look for inspiration at the source. Lucifer's position is, I've learned, kind of confusing. For example, we have the whole Lucifer-cast-out-of-heaven-and-then-tempting-Adam-and-Eve thing. But then when you get to the Book of Job, good old Morningstar's in Heaven...talking to God about this particular mortal down there. Why? Are they still friends? Is there something going on we don't know? It's very odd. Lucifer, the Angel of Light, is cast out of Heaven. Even the reasoning behind THAT is kind of vague. Depending on your source, you can get very conflicting views. You've got the Bible -- which pretty much says that he was thrown out because of pride. He thought he could best his creator, and lead some of the angels in revolt. God put him down. Another source (I can't remember offhand...it's an older Hebrew text, I think) says that Lucifer was put down because he loved God TOO MUCH. Odd, huh? But apparently, God makes the angels, then God makes man. God tells the angels to care for man, to obey him to some extent. Lucifer refuses. He refuses to love anyone and serve anyone but God himself. Some of the views I found put Satan as a sort of prosecution attorney in Yahwey's court. Not evil in and of himself, but still a tester (and tempter) of mankind. So we have a not-quite-perfect-tempter. He's in a job he doesn't really want and he doesn't look the part at all (he's still an angel after all). [NOTE: All of this is off the top of my head. If I'm misremembering (or in fact making stuff up without realizing it) please forgive me.] The latter sounded interesting. A sort of Jesus-in-the-desert scenario. A temptation. The third path grew out of Clotho. The youngest, and hence less likely to go along with Atropos' hardline attitude. She follows a view that's a combination of the Greek idea of hubris and a modern view of understanding one's motivations. So, to answer the question more directly. My sources were: Biblical texts, a few stories involving the Devil, and random scraps of information I found on the Fates and the Greek view of destiny. As for the "Sandman" connection: as I said in my post to r.a.i-f (thanks again to Andrew Plotkin for posting that, BTW), I didn't discover "Sandman" and "The Books of Magic" until several months after I'd started on the game. My response was: DOH! But to be honest, I think Neil Gaiman's Fates and Morningstar are rather different than mine. The only word I can think to apply to his is "modern". The Fates just sit around talking like three normal ladies (look at the opening of 'The Kindly Ones' to see what I mean), and Morningstar ends up owning a nightclub where he plays piano. He talks like an ordinary guy who just happens to be the Biblical incarnation of Evil. I think my Fates stuck much more closely to the original source material. Gaiman does all kinds of weird things like connect them with the Furies and various female trinities (maiden-mother-crone) in different mythologies. And my Morningstar -- other than the similarity of names -- is nothing at all like Gaiman's. (Actually, I think Gaiman tends to refer to him as "The Morningstar"). So while the idea of combining different mythologies (Greek and Biblical) isn't a new idea -- it was to me when I started writing. :) When I DID discover them, I was really intrigued. As I said in my post, Timothy originally didn't have a last name. He was named after a friend of mine who had given me a lot of help in the early design stages. I read "The Books of Magic" and saw the scene that takes place when Timothy Hunter is taken on a tour of various worlds -- one of them is Hell. The quote at the beginning of the game is taken from Timothy's guide. It so perfectly summed up part of the message of Tapestry that I had to put it in. As an added bow to Gaiman, I gave Tim the last name of Hunter. >Why the three paths through the game? Were you after a specific effect >with that or just experimenting? Well, like I just said, the paths grew out of the characters. But the more I developed them, the more I saw patterns emerging. The Paths are essentially three viewpoints on guilt, destiny, and choices. Some people have commented that the story's message of "choices have consequences" is rather ... insipid. But I think there's more to Tapestry than that. Andrew Plotkin really hit the nail on the head with his "story shown in three orthogonal mirrors" comment (gosh, I wish I'D come up with that). The paths and the thinking behind the actions required are what Tapestry is all about. I know it's a lot to expect, but I was hoping that since the story itself was so short, people would have time to play it through three times and see the three endings. Atropos' path is based upon the Roman ideas of fate, destiny, and stoicism. Actually the word "moira" used the way I use it is totally made-up. It's the name the Romans used when they adopted the Parcae. The Greeks believed the Fates wove each man a destiny, for good or for ill. To try to avoid your destiny, to essentially fight against the gods, is hubris. Today it would translate rather poorly as "pride". But hubris, to the Greeks, was actually a GOOD thing. Man WAS meant to fight the gods. Ok, that sounds good enough. But there's more. Man was meant to fight the gods AND LOSE. Take the story of Icarus. His father makes them wings out of wax and feathers so that they can escape the prison that Minos has placed them in. His father warns him not to fly too close to the sun, because the wax will melt off the wings. Icarus begins flying, discovers he likes it, and starts wafting higher and higher. Eventually, like his father says, he gets too close, and he plummets to his death in the sea. By trying to fly so high, Icarus tries making himself like a god, "denying his Moira" as my Atropos would say. He is put down. Hmm...does that sound like anyone else...? Could it be...SATAN? :) I started noticing connections like this between the paths. So perhaps Morningstar's motivation in Tapestry is to prevent Timothy from making the same mistake he did? Well, perhaps. Atropos' path is also dead set against hubris. It appears on her path in the form of the Wraith -- a physical manifestation of Tim's fears and guilt. Her path is the one of the Roman ideal of stoicism. Yes, I should feel guilty. Yes, I should simply accept that guilt and go on with life no matter how bad I feel. Like I said, not many people now-days follow that kind of thinking. I didn't expect Atropos' to be a particularly popular path. But it seemed wrong to have the Fates in the story and not have "their" point of view expressed. Morningstar's path, ironically enough, completely circumvents any questions of hubris or stoicism. It's a kind of 'easy way out'. Let's avoid the guilt entirely. This comes across in Tapestry as a chance to go back in time and change history. It also comes across (in the epilogue) as the philosophy of "it's everyone's fault but mine." This kind of thinking is very prevelent now-days. Just look at the US criminal justice system. I expected this to be the second-most-popular choice. I also expected people who believed Morningstar's every word to reach the epilogue and be horrified that they'd been duped. Because, in my opinion, this line of thinking is a form of self-delusion. Clothos' path is, as a lot of people have said, my favorite path, the one that I think is "best". It's also the hardest to find a motivation to follow. You have to be willing to explore the worlds and find out that Morningstar is, at points, outright lying to you. You also have to be willing to make some rather unpleasent decisions that Timothy made the first time around. It's a path of hubris combined with the modern idea of self-analysis. Why do I do the things I do? Can I accept some of the reasoning behind it, even if I don't accept the action itself? Or are those reasons just another form of rationalization? Sure, a lot of this is buried pretty deep and I don't think a lot of people saw any of this. They just saw this guy and he has these choices between paths (some people even missed a path or two, which is fine). I think if I spelled everything out in really big block letters, it'd totally ruin the story. Like people kept saying in their reviews...show, don't tell. :) Well, that's what I THOUGHT I was doing, anyway. That's another thing about the Paths, and in fact, the whole of Tapestry. You come in at the end of the story and have to deal with the mess. You have no control over Tim's original actions, and you don't REALLY know his original motivations. But you have to stumble along as best you can. That was the impression I was trying to build with the story. You're left in the aftermath of a life that you don't really understand and you have to sift through the rubble and make a decision. Did I expect the reader to identify with Timothy? Maybe. I thought it was more important that the character become involved in the decisions they were making about Timothy's life. To look at the path they chose and ask why they chose it. Andrew Plotkin said in his review that he had trouble typing in one particular command. That was the kind of involvement I was hoping for. >Can you explain to us a little bit about Morningstar? I'm sure we >all have our suspicions, but he and the end to his path are certainly >cryptic. Well, I think I pretty much described Morningstar's point of view, but I guess I could go into a little more detail. When I was thinking about Morningstar and hubris and his own "mistakes" I tried thinking about why he was involved in Tim's life to begin with. Why is he going through all this trouble? There's a lot of deception on Morningstar's part. His identity is pretty well concealed (unless you catch Biblical references the Parcae keep making). He'll admit to being Lucifer and if you refer to him as such, the game makes a little tribute to Trinity in telling you you're right. He outright lies to you when he shows you the panels in the Tapestry. There's also the issue of the medallions. If you notice, there's one around the neck of the doctor, and another on the figure on the sidewalk. They're definitely important and thinking about them might help you understand the end of his path a little better. Morningstar's point of view is one of passing along the blame. 'It's not my fault, I had a bad childhood,' 'It's not my fault, I'm a product of my environment', 'It's not my fault, she was asking for it...' His view, like Clothos', looks for reasons behind actions, but most of them seem to be rationalizations after the fact. By choosing the path, Tim essentially refuses to stand by any of the decisions he made. And, in the end, you're really just exchanging one evil for another. So much for the easy way out. Morningstar tempts the player by making Tim seem to be the most evil person in existance. If you accept Lucifer's description at face value, Tim is. Players who believed Morningstar and didn't look for any of the discrepancies in his story (for example, Doctor Hughes tells you to stop calling because you're getting on his nerves...so much for abandoning your mother) will obviously follow his path. I wanted them to think about that. But none of this really answers the question of who Morningstar really is and what's going on in Tapestry. Is it a story about the life of a man whose fate becomes entangled in a conflict between supernatural creatures? Is it all an internal hallucination Timothy creates in the last moments before he dies? Is Morningstar really the devil? Or is he just a manifestation of that little voice inside all of us that looks back on what we've done and asks "what if?" To be honest, I'm not really sure. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Delusions, by C.E. Forman >Delusions is an interesting game, with lots of mini-games within it. >I found the use of virtual worlds within a textual one rather >amusing, were you trying for anything specific with that? It was the voices. <*twitch*> They told me what to do <*twitch*>, and I did it. <*twitch*> In all seriousness, the purpose of the "game-within-a-game" device -- seen in the fish VR, the lab sim and the GUI -- was intended to give the game a layered aspect, emulating the complexity of reality to add the depth that I felt necessary to make it convincing. "Delusions" is certainly not the first I-F game to attempt this -- David Baggett's "The Legend Lives!" and Infocom's "Zork III", among others, also use this device -- but "Delusions" is the first to make it the central pivot around which the plot is built. Such detail, I think, is important if players are expected to immerse themselves thoroughly in the game and truly become the player character. It seems to have paid off. Despite the terrible flaws in Release 2, I received many reports of players who still desperately wanted to finish the game and see what happened. >Q: What was the hardest part of the game to debug? There looked to me to > be a number of tricky coding spots scattered throughout. "Delusions" was a very difficult game all around. It was difficult to design, difficult to write, difficult to program, difficult to test, and difficult to debug. Obviously the two most glaring flaws were the awareness/Shimada bug and the fractal blade hidden in Shimada's quarters, though they were easily remedied. More difficult to overcome were bugs involving Morrodox (who was sometimes damnably uncooperative), the lightstick (it's still not quite perfect), and most certainly the worst of all, the violin. I wrestled with the code for that awful thing for hours before it started to work correctly. It ended up being the most complex individual object in the game, because the player could play it, but only if it's plugged in and the amplifier is on and the bow is being held, unless the bow is available in the room, but not if it's in the alcove where the player can't reach it, unless the player is already in the alcove, in which case it can't be in the main area of the room, and we need to check the amplifier that way too. Of course, if the player tries to leave the room while carrying the violin, it would normally work without issue, but not if the violin is plugged in, in which case the amplifier needs to be dragged along behind the player, unless the amp is sitting on the shelves or the bed or the lab bench or the gurney, and if that's the case then the player must be prompted to drop or unplug the violin first, but if the amplifier is on the shelves then the player should logically be able to move back and forth from quarters to alcove, but of course we have to check for and disallow dragging the amp down the stairs, and what if the player decides to carry the amp downstairs and then try to drag it UP, damn, better check for that too, and oh yeah, we can't allow the amp to be brought into Shimada's quarters in the endgame because the player is moved around a lot and it's just too much trouble to deal with. All this is summed up in one word: "AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGHHH!!!!" (Sorry to go on like this, but hey, you asked.) All in all, I ended up fixing a whopping 800+ bugs in "Delusions" for the competition release, and another 150 or so for Release 3. Curiously, the real-world/virtual-world shifting (see the next question) worked almost perfectly from the start, as did the GUI interface. Of course, I designed the heck out of both of these problems before typing a byte of their code. (There's a lesson to be learned here, I just know it.) >The way you handled the differences between reality and VR in >Delusions is interesting. Would you mind telling us a little about >that? If I understand correctly, you're referring to the way the game shifts from the real world to the virtual world and back again. The former occurs in the early stages, while the latter marks the start of the endgame. In addition, the virtual world has to reset itself every time the player passes out (which, as some have complained, happens a lot). To accomplish this effect without building two copies of everything in the game (which would have been wasteful of Z-machine storage as well as atrociously poor coding style), I created two routines, EnterLabVR() and ExitLabVR(). The first would store the location, significant values, and attributes of every alterable object appearing in both versions of the lab, using a user-defined property set up as a single value or an array of values (depending on how many aspects of the object could be altered by the player). In effect, it backs up the state of the objects in the "real" lab sim. The second routine reverses the process, evaluating the numbers in the special properties and using them to determine where the objects were in the "real" lab, so that they can be replaced and reset as though the player had never entered the lab sim. Both of these procedures invoke specially-created "fake actions" for each of the objects that get modified. It's a complex and lengthy process, which is why entering and exiting the lab sim makes "Delusions" appear slow when running on some older systems. A third routine, ResetLabVR(), is called when the player passes out, to reset everything in the lab sim the way it is in the game's initial state. (It's also called from within EnterLabVR().) Entering and exiting the fish VR worked on a similar concept, except that the player variable is changed from "QueensRook" to the Fish body, so the only changes necessary involve resetting the state of the VR, which happens whenever the sim is exited. Why go to all this trouble? Again, realism and believability. It was a fantastic piece of code, though, and I learned a lot from writing it. >What was/were the primary inspiration(s) for Delusions? "Delusions" is based on a short story I thought up several years ago, but never actually bothered to write down. Adapting it into a text game was something I'd wanted to do for a long time. Of course, the initial idea went through a lot of revisions before it could be pinned down in a format that was both practical and comprehensible. I'd initially planned to make the game much larger and more complex (!) before deciding to release it as a competition entry. A number of excellent scenes and a few great puzzles had to get trimmed to keep the game manageable. (My favorite was a scene in which "QueensRook" actually gets up to the Executives' suite and faces them down.) Other noteworthy changes: Justy and Morrodox had different names in the original story, though intense embarrassment prevents me from revealing them here. ("Shimada", on the other hand, comes from Yoko Shimada, the Japanese actress who played Mariko in the television adaption of James Clavell's "Shogun.") As far as external sources of inspiration, William Gibson's "Neuromancer" was a definite influence. In addition, anything dealing with reality versus unreality versus virtual reality was fair game. (In particular, the X-Files episode "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'", the "Star Trek" episodes dealing with the Holodeck, and countless short stories provided many an insight.) In addition, I'd always admired the computer puzzles in Judith Pintar's "CosmoServe", and was looking for a way to take them to the next level. I'd be remiss if I failed to mention Steve Meretzky's "A Mind Forever Voyaging". AMFV is my second-favorite Infocom game of all time, but it always bothered me the way Meretzky downplayed the idea of Perry discovering his true identity. It's only mentioned briefly at the end of the accompanying short story, and the only choices the player is given is to accept it or immediately be shut down. I wanted to give the player more of an active role, allowing the experience to develop first-hand. >Q: How does one earn the coveted "last lousy point" in Delusions? The "last lousy point" in "Delusions" will be awarded if you... (...drum roll...) ....play through the entire game without consulting the hint system. Reading the general help menu won't disqualify you, but the instant the list of game sections ("Fish VR", "Lab", "Lab VR", "Endgame") appears, you've blown your chance. Note that you can still "win" the game -- and get the "amusing" info -- with 49 out of 50 points; finishing with the top score merely assigns a special rank. >Q: Are you working on any other IF projects? I have two planned for release this year. One is a small demo version for "Shelton", a post-apocalyptic farce that I've been designing off-and- on for several years, and which is finally starting to get off the ground. The full version will likely be the second-largest I-F game to date (I yield first place to "Avalon"), but won't be released for at least another year, likely two. The second project is due out earlier, though I'm not specifying a date, and is far more dark, sinister and serious. I'll reveal nothing now, but there's a bare-bones scenario buried in the text for Release 3 of "Delusions", if you can find it. When someone finally does, I'll post a pre-release advert on r.g.i-f. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Small World, by Andrew D. Pontious >I'm curious, were you inspired by something specific to write Small World? >It was very well-focused in certain aspects that make me think that there >was some real world inspiration going on here. Not really. I suppose I've had certain influences--I've always liked the whimsy of Calvin and Hobbes, for example--but I wasn't modeling Small World after anything consciously as I was writing it. Also I had some very good help from my friend Mark Abrams in honing some of the images and puzzles. >Do you have plans for another game? If so, mind letting us know what you >have in mind? My next project was originally going to be a way for you to write the script of a thriller movie as you went along. There would be a split screen, with an input line above and below, if your commands were valid, the same actions would be written up in screenplay format. But TADS, the IF language I learned, both can't handle that and seems to be in a kind of limbo, development-wise, and Inform has an intimidatingly steep learning curve. Plus I wasn't sure the result would justify the huge amount of time I'd have to put into it (Small World took about a year, including learning TADS). Instead for now I'm learning Mac programming. And, as with some prominent IF-ers, I've been thinking about how it would be nice to take the superb story potential of IF and translate that into better graphic IF games, where the audience would be larger. I don't know how I'd pull that off, though. >In the scene where the tiny people begin firing missiles at you, does >anything happen if you wait for them to run out? I never had the >patience. I believe this might be a first-time-since-beta premiere. You'll probably be glad you didn't wait it out. They have run out of missiles! Congratulations, you have disarmed this warlike civilization! (No points, though.) [You're right. I'm glad I didn't wait. -GKW] >Now that you've gotten feedback, would you change anything about your >game? You betcha! For version 2.0 (though it may take a while), I'll be getting rid of the gravity entirely--it was a wonderful, tortuous programming exercise, but everybody who mentioned it hated it--and including many more indications in the game on how to solve some of the more bizarre puzzles. I'd like to thank everybody who sent me feedback. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Kissing the Buddha's Feet, by Leon Lin >You mentioned that you had considered an alternate title for your game. >What was it, and why did you go with this one? Two I remember quite well were "Burning the Midnight Oil" and "Benkyou-Suru" (that's Japanese for "studying", and looking back I can hardly believe I actually considered this). "Kissing the Buddha's Feet" was the first title I came up with, the one I thought fit the game best, and the one I personally liked best; I thought of the other titles because I wasn't sure anyone else would like "Kissing." In retrospect, I'm sure I chose the right title. If you're wondering, I first heard the phrase on a family trip to Taiwan in 1989; while we were visiting a shrine, my father told me about the saying. It stuck with me all these years, and I'm glad I could actually use it. :) >You said your last game was inspired by a certain Simpsons episode. >Might there be a similar inspiration at work in Kissing the Buddha's >Feet? Well, the premise does owe a bit to Rumiko Takahashi's comic book "Maison Ikkoku," whose hero, in the beginning, struggles desperately to study for college entrance exams, while being distracted by noisy housemates. As for exactly when the inspiration for the game hit me, it wasn't when I woke up in the morning as with "The One that Got Away"; it was when I was walking to class. I bet the idea for my next game will hit me when I'm in the shower. :) >A lot of folks, myself included, really enjoy the detail you put into your >NPCs. Are you going to write us another, more character-oriented game for >next year, or will you be focusing on a different aspect of the game, >assuming you enter again, of course? I enjoy writing NPCs, so my next game, whether it's for the contest or not, will definitely put a great deal of emphasis on them. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Fear, by Chuan-Tze Teo >Where did you come up with the idea for Fear? I found the plot to be >quite interesting. About a year ago, when I discovered the rapidly expanding "contemporary IF" world, I thought it would be fun to write my own piece. I wanted from the beginning to move into something different from the standard quest idiom. Eventually the idea came to me that barriers in adventure games could be psychological as well as physical. After a while, it became clear that it was impossible to fit several situations where the protagonist was forced into facing his fears inside the cramped house, so the dream-worlds came into being. About the locked front door: on this side of the pond, many houses have two locks- a Yale-type, triangular-bolted lock that has a knob on the inside, and a mortice lock with keyholes at both ends for extra security. Thus, it is quite possible to lock yourself in. I never quite got round to programming it until September '96, but better late than never. I do have plans, and a plot for a new full-length piece, tentatively entitled "In the Image", but I probably won't have enough time to code it until summer '97. It will be radically different from Fear, of course. >It was interesting the way you handled the main character's phobias. >Did you consider other ways to get the feelings that you were trying >for across to the reader? Why this method, exactly? The background phobia messages that pop up occasionally are there provide atmosphere, to keep the player on edge, remind you that the protagonist is a complete nervous wreck, and to provide a sense of accomplishment when a fear has been conquered. It works much better than trying to handle everything through descriptions, I feel. >The Duck. Why the duck? Several people have commented that Fear is a little disjointed. Perhaps it is, to some extent; the puzzles in the dreamworlds had to be chosen to fit the theme of their associated phobia, and I had trouble coming up with suitable puzzles. I also wanted difficult puzzles, mainly due to personal taste- I think progress feels better when it has been difficult to achieve. For a puzzle that involved climbing, I decided on the duck, mainly because it actually existed in the real world and I thought the solution I had devised was satisfactorily elegant. It's still my favourite puzzle in the game, anyway. Implementing it, of course, was a nightmare... ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Let's have a big round of applause for all the entrants! KEY TO SCORES AND REVIEWS--------------------------------------------------- Here is the format for our review headers. NAME: Cutthroats AUTHOR: Infocom EMAIL: ??? DATE: September 1984 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Infocom ports AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 URL: Not available. When submitting reviews: Try to fill in as much of this info as you can. Also, scores are still desired along with the reviews, so send those along. The scores will be used in the ratings section. Authors may not rate or review their own games. More elaborate descriptions of the rating and scoring systems may be found in the FAQ and in issue #9 of SPAG, which should be available at: ftp://ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/magazines/SPAG/ CONTEST ENTRY REVIEWS-------------------------------------------------------- From: John Wood
NAME: Aayela AUTHOR: Magnus Olsson EMAIL: zebulon SP@G pobox.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Below Average SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/aayela VERSION: Version 1.0 After playing Magnus Olsson's acclaimed entry in last year's competition, "Uncle Zebulon's Will", I was expecting a lot from this - particularly when I saw that it was set in the same universe. Unfortunately, this is an experiment in utilising senses other than sight rather than a full game, and it shows - the plot is a standard "quest for the magic mcguffin", and feels tacked on. The atmosphere created by spending most of the adventure in the dark is moderately effective, but the use of other senses is too limited to do the situation justice. As a game, there is not a lot for the player to do. I completed it in under an hour, most of the time spent wandering around because I hadn't spotted what I was supposed to be doing. There is a good selection of alternate endings, but all in all it felt too small and shallow to satisfy. From: "C.E. Forman" Ah, Magnus Olsson is sneaky, using an attention-getting device similar yet opposite to the one used by the (dull) AGT game "Zanfar". "Zanfar" has a name that places it last in an alphabetic directory listing, so that it's the last title a player sees, thus making it remain fresh in his/her mind. Magnus' tactic is the opposite. He gives his game a name that places it FIRST, in the hopes of grabbing the advantage from players who go through all the entries in alphabetical order, thus leaving no prior work for players to compare his entry to. Well, it didn't work on me! I saw through your little plot, Magnus, and I made it a point to play "Aayela" DEAD LAST, so that I could effectively compare it to EVERYTHING!! AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!! *Ahem.* Well. "Aayela" is set in the land of Vyhl, visited by your character at the end of Magnus' 1995 entry "Uncle Zebulon's Will". That said, I guess I expected a more obvious continuation of "Zebulon", in the shoes of the same character, uncovering more of the same mystical land while perhaps getting a chance to meet my eccentric uncle Zeb. Instead I found myself assuming the role of another young (expendable) unknown set off to seek out the standard adventure-game McGuffin, in this case the Stone of Aayela. As in "Zebulon", Magnus' writing shines. (Does so, Gareth!) Like the vanished Zebulon with whom a rapport was forged in "Aayela"'s prequel, the imprisoned spirit of Aayela guides the player forward and develops into a part of him. This is paced nicely, with the unique setting of total darkness for much of the quest. Unfortunately, this mars the realism created by the rest of the writing. The room text is sometimes no more than standard cave descriptions preceded by the words "It's completely dark." The protagonist's sense of direction must be uncanny to allow him to navigate with no light by which to see his compass. There's no threat of danger, either, until the very end, after which I was left with a feeling of, "You mean that's IT?!" I liked "Aayela", don't get me wrong. I simply didn't find it as clever as Magnus' previous work, particularly when compared with so many other outstanding entries this year. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Alien Abduction? AUTHOR: Charles Gerlach EMAIL: gerlach7 SP@G tam6.mech.nwu.edu DATE: October 1996 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/abduct VERSION: Version 1.0 It's hard to believe that this is the very first serious game about aliens. Oh, there have been the pulp sci-fi offerings ("LGOP", for instance), and the typical plot-forming UFO abduction (as seen in "Waystation", "Plague Planet", and "Lost"), but I can't recall ever seeing a work of I-F that deals with the anomaly from a standpoint that does justice to the phenomenon. Overall, the story is quite linear, with a number of plot points slightly less than intuitive. The quality of prose fluctuates. Most disappointing is the interior of the ship, which offers simply a bland description of how you're in a place you never expected to be, leaving few details for the imagination to work with. Other bits, such as the click of an automaton's eyes and the ripping of a wire from your neck, never failed to make my skin crawl. Puzzles range from subtle (the conversations with NPCs, which allow the aliens to adjust their illusion of your world) to blatantly gratuitous (the colored shapes aboard the ship, and the crystal duck in the woods) and a number of tasks which never quite escape the "give to " feel. Most are enjoyable regardless. Particularly enjoyable is the fact that the ending leaves you uncertain as to what really happened, hence the question mark in the game's title. Was it really an alien encounter? Or might you have really lost your mind? Which seems more probable? Also, it's truly creepy how the aliens use your thoughts to build and expand the artificial reality they've trapped you in. I congratulate the author for this inventive work of I-F. And I'll congratulate myself as well. I got through this whole review without even once mentioning "The X-Files." Oop- DAMN!! =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: The Curse of Eldor AUTHOR: Stuart Allen EMAIL: stuart SP@G perf.no.itg.telstra.com.au DATE: October 1996 PARSER: JACL (Homebrew parser) SUPPORTS: DOS runtime AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/jacl VERSION: Version 1.0 A for-the-most-part nice old-style adventure game with the vastness and anachronistic amalgamation of magic and technology. The atmosphere is very Zorkish, as are the puzzles. There's a balloon, a dragon, a retired grue, a magic potion, an eating cycle (not a problem once you find out where the food is), some guesswork puzzles, one suicide puzzle (Is it my imagination, or is there a lot of suicide among this year's entries - "Eldor", "In The End", "Rippled Flesh", "Delusions"?), some clever bits, a dash of guess-the-verb, and an overall quest for curse- breaking artifacts that in the end really amounts to a simplified treasure hunt. A fine example of this type of adventure, though it offers nothing we haven't seen before. The game engine, however, could use some work. Ambiguous verb resolution (that is, the ability to fill in the missing command information) doesn't work at all, there's no "UNDO", no "AGAIN", no command recall, not even "VERBOSE" (for me, the most annoying of all). "Eldor" has some rather glaring bugs as well. Trying to take the amulet from the dragon is a fatal move, but restarting completes the command successfully, eliminating a large string of puzzles. "SAVE" and "RESTORE" also gave me some problems, placing me in a room with all the takeable objects only to kill me off one turn later. This made me reluctant to play through on my own, and eventually I resorted to the walkthrough. A major detriment is the fact that, even ignoring the "RESTORE" flaws, the game is still thoroughly impossible without the walkthrough, unless you're a darn good guesser. Four or five locations contain items or characters that aren't even mentioned! In the very first room, for instance, a historian is waiting with a note for you, but there's no indication whatsoever of his presence! This, along with the crystal in the locked chest, the thief in the dungeon, the goblin in the sewers below town, all make the game a pain to finish, especially since one has to restart the game (because of the "RESTORE" bug) each time the walkthrough is consulted. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Don't Be Late! AUTHOR: Greg Ewing EMAIL: greg SP@G cosc.canterbury.ac.nz DATE: October 1996 PARSER: ALAN standard SUPPORTS: ALAN Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/dbl VERSION: Version 1.0 This is the first ALAN game by someone other than the authors (that I've heard of, anyway). It's a quickie, with a neat bit of self- reference at the end. The ALAN system has some irritations (the acceptance of the verb "TAKE", but not of "GET", for instance), but you'll finish it in perhaps 15 minutes anyway. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, it's just really short and really simplistic. I'd give a higher score if it were a bit more substantial. Hmm. Not much else to say. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Fear AUTHOR: Chuan-Tze Teo EMAIL: ctt20 SP@G hermes.cam.ac.uk DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/fear VERSION: Version 1.0 An imaginative exercise in using memories and symbolic puzzle-solving to overcome your fears of heights, sounds, spiders, and the dark. The puzzles are, for the most part, refreshingly unique, and difficult. You really have to envision the scenes in your mind to win. In particular, the 4-octave chord was very ingenious. These puzzles are HARD, though, and I ended up sneaking a peek at most of their hints in order to finish the game within two hours. Unlike "House of the Stalker" and "Rippled Flesh", "Fear" presents a more psychological, self-confrontational horror, also seen in "Shades of Gray" and this year's entries "Tapestry" and "Delusions". "Fear" isn't quite as gripping as any of these, but it's a creepy, paranoid game with an ending that leaves just enough to the imagination to keep the player slightly ill at ease. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: House of the Stalker AUTHOR: Jason Clayton White EMAIL: perseid SP@G inxpress.net DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/stalker VERSION: Version 1.0 After seeing the title, and considering that Halloween was just around the corner at the time, I had really high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of clumsy phrasing, and the author seems to be unable to decide what style to go with. A sort of snide, smart-alecky, and sometimes downright insulting personality pervades the text, and yet occasionally the game tries to convey a feeling of melancholy in your character's life. The plot is corny, suggesting a parody, but I never felt quite certain about the author's intent. The two styles are often contradictory (in one sentence you're told how much you miss your children, in another the game sighs about how "those dumb kids never made their bed"), which mars the attempt at personality. The atmosphere never feels particularly creepy, as in "Theatre", mainly because the game constantly jokes about the psycho who's probably downstairs right now waiting to kill you. The puzzles deal primarily with doing the right thing to the stalker at the right time, which means there's a lot of "guess what I'm thinking" to wade through. Particularly irritating is the fact that, when you try to kill the stalker before spraying him, tying him up, etc., you get the customary "Violence isn't the answer" message. (So what IS? "Please Mr. Soulless Psychotic Flesh-Rending Organ-Devouring Killer, can't we just learn to co-exist"?) The stalker himself, I theorize, must have been that guy from the music store in "Detective", since he vanishes as soon as you kill him. "Stalker" feels a lot like one of those AGT games where the author didn't implement everything necessary to make the game flow smoothly, and indeed a number of glaring signs suggests that this author didn't completely have a grasp of Inform. These include impossible verb resolutions, the reference to "a electric screwdriver", and several bits lifted directly from other Inform games - the instructions from Inform's port of "Adventureland", the compass rose from the Inform Programming Page, and the games "Robots" and "Freefall" (though I guess that was the point with the last two). Decreasing the score after using the hint system is a clever idea, but unfortunately this effect can be bypassed with the "UNDO" command. I don't mean to sound overly harsh, but I think this one could have been, and should have been, a LOT scarier (even if done as a parody). =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: John Wood NAME: In The End AUTHOR: Joe Mason EMAIL: joe.mason SP@G tabb.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/intheend VERSION: Version 1.0 Well, this was a hard one to score - and it's a hard one to review without spoilers. It's a mood piece, with a brooding atmosphere, which starts at a funeral and doesn't get much more cheerful. The quality of writing is exceptional - possibly the best I've seen in IF, and certainly the best of this year's competition. In style of play, it reminds me of the earliest scenes in "So Far". There are no puzzles, and (somewhat to my surprise) this didn't bother me at all. It is possible to play it through several times in two hours, doing things slightly differently each time. Where the game falls down is in some of the technical aspects. The characters have a limited range of responses (though when they do respond they respond well) - "woman, hello" results in a standard "What are you talking about?". The game also fails to recognise obvious actions - when the woman knocks on your car window, "open door" results in "You see no such thing" - and also fails to provide descriptions for much of the scenery (such as the priest conducting the funeral service). Finally, the game crashed once. All of these things hurt the atmosphere, and they happen far too often. It's a tribute to the writing that the atmosphere is maintained to a large degree in spite of this. One experiment that should be mentioned is the complete lack of compass directions. Most of the time this worked well - you drive between the buildings, then enter and leave them on foot. In one location (the Parking Lot) I was stuck trying to move somewhere ("cross lot") for a while before I realised I didn't need to. Summing up, this is well worth playing in its current incarnation, and will be even more so if the author spends some more time "filling in the gaps". From: "C.E. Forman" The author calls this the first attempt at puzzle-less I-F, though this is debatable (and has been debated). Does it succeed? I'd have to say not quite. But it tries very hard. I think what some people overlook is the fact that, as puzzle-less I-F is so inherently different than I-F with puzzles, two different sets of default messages are needed. Why should you be told "You find nothing interesting" in a game when you're not even SUPPOSED to be searching for hidden goodies? Another response is definitely needed here, as well as with other verbs. Further, a couple of guess-the-syntax problems crept up while I was playing - inside the car, "LET WOMAN IN" works, but "OPEN THE PASSENGER DOOR" or "ROLL DOWN THE WINDOW" fail. Trying to figure out the proper syntax constitutes a puzzle, in my opinion (and a rather annoying puzzle at that). This breaks both the realism and the flowing of the plot, and hence it doesn't quite appear puzzle-less. Even the final move ("KILL ME") wasn't easy to deduce. The funeral was certainly depressing, and I'd had some real disappointments (with Annie, in the convenience store, etc.), but I certainly wasn't contemplating suicide, and the author didn't make me feel the need or desire to. Again, I had to guess at his intentions to figure out how to advance the plot, which makes this seem like a puzzle. One thing I did like was the imaginative method of navigating from place to place. A compass-less game is not a unique thing in I-F, but it's not easy to do, and I applaud the effort there. All things considered, this was an interesting experiment, but, even ignoring the guessing puzzles, it was also very short, and didn't quite convince me of the feasibility of larger puzzle-less I-F games. Maybe I'll give it a whirl myself, though. "A" for effort, "C+" for results. From: "Chris Klimas" "In The End" bills itself as 'puzzle-less IF.' It's right -- there are no puzzles to be found here. Puzzles traditionally have existed to buoy up a sometimes lacking plot in IF -- if the plot was marginal, at least the puzzles were interesting. Of course, if the plot is nonexistent, then an infinite number of insanely great puzzles won't help it. The problem with "In The End" is that there aren't any puzzles to help it out. It begins in a church, where you're attending a close friend's funeral. Never mind that we never learn much about your friend. You leave, you get in your car, you meet Annie, who somehow knew your dead friend, you go to a bar, you go to a convenience store, you go to Annie's house, you go to your house. You don't get it at all and read the walkthrough, find out you're supposed to kill yourself, kill yourself, get a quasi-profound poem, and leave dissatisfied. In each of the locations, there are only one or two things you can do. In the church, you can sit through a sermon. In the bar, you can get as many drinks as you feel like. After you've done that one thing, the location closes up to you, so you're left in your house with nothing to do but to kill yourself. The overall genre and setting of the story is a bit confusing. It seems fairly contemporary; there are touches of the future, like giving your car voice commands (never mind that the 'voice command' thing was covered extensively in the Inform Designer's Manual). It doesn't really make sense why the story is set in the vague future, because the story could very well take place right now with very little work. (my soapbox statement: if you're going to use a special genre, make the story integral to it, and vice versa). There is really only one main character aside from the player; the other two (the bar owner and convenience store owner) don't really interact with the player. Annie, the other character, doesn't seem to have much motivation; she bums a ride off you, but nothing happens after you drop her off. She seemed to be somehow involved with your dead friend, but whenever the player questions her, she breaks down in tears and refuses to answer any more questions, so she is a very nebulous character. The writing itself has a nice quality to it. It's above hack-level, but not up there with the likes of Hemingway and Vonnegut. Overall, then, I was disappointed. Following Chekov's metaphor (if you hang a gun on the wall in act one, make sure it gets fired by act three), lots of guns were on the wall, but none were fired. This is really because the narrative is left in the hands of the player. If you can make a complete story out of fragments, then you and "In The End" will work out nicely. However, the point of IF is not to hand the player a bunch of fragments to sort out, it is to place a complete story in the hands of the player. In reality, the only difference between linear fiction and interactive fiction is the method that a reader uses to access the narrative. "In The End" would make a sorry linear story. I dare you to say the same about "AMFV" or "Jigsaw". So this review is not intended as a condemnation of puzzle-less IF. It is a warning to the fools who would tread lightly: writing puzzle-less IF is walking a tightrope without the net. IF with and without puzzles is equally difficult to write, but if you screw up once in puzzle-less IF, you've screwed up the whole thing. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Kissing the Buddha's Feet AUTHOR: Leon Lin EMAIL: leonlin SP@G uclink.berkeley.edu DATE: October 1996 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/kissing VERSION: Version 1.0 An instant classic. Your goal is to help roommate John study and finally pass that psych class after 12 long semesters. John's friends have a different agenda, though, so you must get rid of them and any other distractions around the house. Every single character is hilarious, from the unresponsive Carl to the eternally drunk Bob, and even your own character exhibits a compulsive cleanliness that rivals Howard Hughes. My personal fave: Evan, the god of thoroughly useless trivia, who follows you around, constantly spouting drivel on anything that strikes his fancy - a pet parrot he once had, the origin of the game's curious title, speculations about what the world would be like if it were like a text adventure, error messages to improperly phrased commands, and so much more. The characters offer a wide variety of optional interactivity to fill the two-hour time allotment, and there's even a trivia game that provides some side-splitting references to other text adventures. The setting, though collegiate, is nonetheless unique. By focusing on the personalities of John's friends, and interlacing them with some extremely imaginative puzzles, "Kissing" avoids the pitfalls and cliches of the college I-F genre and makes for genuine entertainment. This game is bust-a-gut funny and very well-implemented, making it my personal choice for first place. Many of this year's entries are very strong in one area, but flawed in others - "Tapestry" occasionally feels too much like hyperfiction, "Delusions" is buggy, "In the End" didn't offer me enough story, - but this game excels in all areas. Truly fantastic. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. Wait a minute... I guess I can. It was last year, when I played Leon Lin's "The One That Got Away". I'm going to venture a guess that this entry was done by Lin, as it exhibits his talent for superb I-F humor and the same quantity of amusing things to try as "The One". Am I right? Am I right? [Amazingly enough, he was. I guess Leon just has a very distinctive game-writing style. -GKW] =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: The Land Beyond the Picket Fence AUTHOR: Martin Oehm EMAIL: oehm SP@G diogenes.fb5.uni-siegen.de DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Homebrew SUPPORTS: DOS runtime AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/picket VERSION: Version 1.0 Here's an interesting twist on fantasy games. Rather than making you, the protagonist, a denizen of a fantasy world, "Fence" casts you as an outsider from the "real" world, and sends you into the fantasy to accomplish a goal and escape. To me, this lends more appeal to the atmosphere and makes the adventure decidedly charming. The world itself is far more Carroll than Tolkien, and the difference shines through (though there's nothing inherently wrong with traditional I-F fantasy as it currently stands). The perfect length, nice prose, a couple of clever puzzles, and a surprisingly good parser and DOS-based game engine. It doesn't break any new ground, and it's not "Uncle Zebulon's Will", but it carries the same spirit and it made me want to visit the land beyond the picket fence again soon. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Lists and Lists AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin EMAIL: erkyrath SP@G netcom.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/lists VERSION: Version 1.0 So THIS is what Andrew Plotkin meant when he announced that his entry this year wouldn't be interactive fiction. He wasn't kidding. Aside from the genie who (sort of) guides you through, there is little prose, not much interaction with an artificial world, and even less storytelling. Players expecting another "Change in the Weather" or "So Far" are bound to be disappointed. Instead, the bulk of this "game" is a stripped-down interpreter for Scheme, a streamlined derivative of LISP. This makes for an intereating use of the Z-Machine, and a nice complement to the likes of "Robots", "Z-Life", and Andrew's own "Freefall", but it's really more for programmers, or persons at least interested in the subject. I've heard from non-programmers who didn't get much out of it, some of whom became hopelessly confused. This is not to fault Plotkin's skills as a writer. Indeed, he has a knack for making this sort of thing fun for players possessing the natural aptitude for it. (Even "Inhumane", his attempt at I-F as a 14-year-old, as its moments.) Although "Lists" barely scratches the surface of Scheme's capabilities, I was surprised by how much functionality was crammed into such a small program, particularly with the ease-of-use features. Even if you complete all of the sample exercises within the two-hour time limit, there's plenty more to come back and investigate afterwards. I'm dying to see the Inform source code for this. Now if only Activision would give us Infocom's ZIL compiler and docs (ZIL being the LISP-like language used by Infocom's programmers), I might have a real-world application for this, and a motivation to learn more about the subjects presented here. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Maiden of the Moonlight AUTHOR: Brian P. Dean EMAIL: 73704.176 SP@G CompuServe.COM DATE: October 1996 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/maiden VERSION: Version 1.0 A haunted mansion story whose plot is revealed through object descriptions as well as room text - sort of "Theatre" meets "Uncle Zebulon's Will" with a dash of "Curses". Some genuine atmosphere and a good deal of backstory despite the fact that some room descriptions are simply lists of exits. It's a pity I didn't get to this one until after Halloween. Simple but clever puzzles, with the only annoyance being the very, VERY forced method of getting the perfume bottle over the fence. (Was this necessary?) I liked having to piece together solutions from the writings, books, and room descriptions, though there's the occasional guesswork. Unfortunately, there seems to be some sort of problem with saved games. Two or three times, the game would hang when I tried to restore, and the save file became corrupt. As the two-hour limit approached, I used the walkthrough to see the game in its entirety. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: John Wood NAME: The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet - The Interactive Memoirs of a Diplomat. AUTHOR: Graham Nelson (writing as Angela M. Horns) EMAIL: graham SP@G gnelson.demon.co.uk DATE: September 28, 1996 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Infocom ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/sherbet This game starts, interestingly enough, on the back of an elephant. Reading the background notes it quickly became obvious that it is intended as a tribute to the Zork games, and this it does rather well, capturing the essential feel of the early Infocom games. The time spent on the elephant is actually a prologue, very different to the main body of the game. This transition feels rather clumsy; the change in style is sudden, but not remarked upon, as you go from bored diplomat to dungeon delver. I did not finish this game in the two hours, despite heavy use of the hints toward the end of that period. It seems to be quite large; if it stops soon after the point I reached, which I doubt, there will be a lot of loose ends. This is basically a puzzle game, in the Zork style. I had quite a bit of difficulty getting into the right mindset for the puzzles - when referring to the hints, it occasionally seemed unclear to me how I was supposed to think of things. Nevertheless, an entertaining work. From: "C.E. Forman" This one's sort of "Zork", "Enchanter", and "Christminster", but sort of not. I can't really decide for sure what to call it. Even the author doesn't seem to be certain about what type of game this is supposed to be. It's identified in the byline as "The Interactive Memoirs of a Diplomat", but aside from the opening procession and the very end, there's little to connect the game to this description. In between, the game is a jumble of unmotivated treasure-hunting, applied spellcasting, and spelunking. Not that this is necessarily bad. All things considered, it's a pretty solid historical-based fantasy, though the author's visions (as seen in the hints) will undoubtedly be lost on many players. "Zork" and "Enchanter" are mixed nicely into the plot, but "Sherbet" still suffers from the problems inherent in Infocom's spell-casting games. I know I've said this before, but having to memorize spells before casting them is a pain. It was great in the 1980s, but like mazes, it's worn out its welcome. If anyone else is planning on a game of this type, please consider a system of casting magic straight from the book or scroll. The spells themselves are sometimes derived from the "Enchanter" trilogy - "gloth" and "azzev" ("vezza" backwards) show up - but "frotz" is replaced by "chiaro", which took a bit of getting used to. There is also one very annoying parsing problem: Typing "X SPELL BOOK" instead prints out an ambiguity-resolution query, asking which spell you mean, while "READ SPELL BOOK" lists your entire repertoire of magic. Trivial, admittedly, but it turned up a lot. The writing, however, is well-polished and flowing, with no grammatical errors and few typos. In fact, the prose is SO good that I forgot about most of the above imperfections until the game was finished, when I found myself feeling a bit empty. I guess after seeing the opening I expected too much political intrigue, but instead received a dungeon crawl. It IS a very entertaining one, but strangely devoid of Zorkish elements, aside from the white house and adventurer. (Where are the grues? The elvish sword? The Flatheads? "Hello Sailor"?) Speaking of finishing the game, that took the full two hours, because this is a hard one with a lot of experimental guesswork required. I doubt it would be possible in two hours without the hints. I'm still a point short of the full score, with no idea how to get it. Anyone? From: "Magnus Olsson" It seems as if any new game by Graham Nelson is destined to be an instant classic. This one is no exception; I had barely played past the title screen when I realized that this was something quite out of the ordinary. The title, to begin with: impossibly long for a computer game, with its slightly bizarre combination of subjects; and the slow-paced, introduction, with its Victorian atmosphere and hints of diplomatic intrigue made it impossible to stop playing. Unfortunately, the game doesn't quite live up to these promises of originality: once one has found the crucial action to upset the orderly progression of events and enter the game proper, the pace of the narrative slackens, and the plot turns into a traditional treasure-hunt. For traditional it is, following the oldest tradition there is in IF: like "Balances" by the same author, "Sherbet" is an Infocom pastiche, set in a copy of the "Zork" universe (though all names have been changed, probably for copyright reasons). Unlike the minimalist, sketchy "Balances", this game is very rich in detail, with some detailed background history and other commentary provided in the hints. But any complaints about the lack of originality are compensated by the sheer joy of playing the game, and of exploring its rich world (which is not at all a copy of "Zork", if my previous comments have made that impression, but rather some sort of parallel universe where things are hauntingly familiar). The writing is excellent and the atmosphere exceptionally vivid - the cedar cave, in particular, has etched itself into my memory as if I'd really been there. Above all, when playing Sherbet I felt the same sense of wonder as I remember from my first contact with "Zork"; a sense of wonder that's often missing from newer games, however sophisticated they may be. The puzzles are good; nothing extraordinary, perhaps, but not trivial either. Unfortunately, there are some "guess the verb" situations, and one or two cases where the room descriptions are a bit confusing. But these flaws are all very minor and do not detract from the general impression. A very worthy winner, and a game that surely will bear to be re-played over the years. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: My First Stupid Game AUTHOR: Daniel McPherson EMAIL: MCPHERSOND SP@G mail.vtls.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: AGT SUPPORTS: DOS runtime, source may be available. AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/first VERSION: Version 1.0 A word of advice: Play this game sometime when you really have to pee. As one speaking from experience, I can say that it adds a LOT. That said, it's an absurd little game with simplistic puzzles - locks, darkness, feeding animals, searching things - and a warped sense of humor which I found strangely appealing. Artistic it most certainly is not, nor is it anything more than a smattering of I-F situations with the most bare-bones plot attached. (In what other form of writing would an author even _think_ of hiding a BEAR in a secret room behind someone's Sammy Haggar poster?) It's nice to see that the alt.tv.barney.die.die.die folks are still alive and kicking. Also, I liked the fact that the final puzzle was optional. But... did I really have to tear up the picture of Barney AFTER I did my business all over it? Eww. Here's hoping the author's SECOND stupid game will be a bit less... well, stupid. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Of Forms Unknown AUTHOR: Chris Markwyn EMAIL: MARKWYNC SP@G carleton.edu DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/forms VERSION: Version 1.0 An attempt to continue the "expressive" I-F tradition of "So Far" - that is, an interactive Bergman film that dwells on exploration, shifting between various areas representing human thoughts and feelings, and old- fashioned puzzle-solving, with little or no genuine plot to tie the experiences together. I'm not sure I like this new trend. To give credit, "So Far" is a very imaginative, ground-breaking new style of I-F, but the derivativeness of "Forms" shows (the author himself admits this). I fear that a glut of this type of game will quickly make it tiresome and unpopular, much like having too many "hunt-the-treasures-and-store-them-somewhere" games. The writing is good, but painfully derivative while lacking much of the depth of "So Far". The puzzles in "Forms" are thoroughly motivationless, and they didn't hold my interest as well as Andrew Plotkin's work did. (Even with Plotkin's work, I felt I was forcing myself through a few parts of it. I guess I'm just not crazy about this type of game.) I was able to figure out most of the early puzzles, but the later ones required delving into the built-in hints to find out, for instance, the right place to dig. The final puzzle exhibits inexcusably frustrating parsing, made more difficult by the fact that the hints are in error - you must turn the _device_, not the wheel, but the hints say the wheel. (I played the original uploaded version, not the revised one that appeared a few days after the deadline, so maybe this is fixed.) Enjoyable at first, but tiresome toward the end. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= NAME: Phlegm AUTHOR: Jason Dyer EMAIL: jdyer SP@G u.arizona.edu DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/phlegm VERSION: Version 1.0 Ever wanted to see "Space Aliens Laughed at My Cardigan" on the Z-machine? Here it is. Enjoy. The scary part is that the author seems to know what he (she? it? none of the above?) is doing -- the writing is for the most part gramatically correct and game is not as buggy as "Cardigan", with the exception of some screwed-up directions and incomplete direction lists, which almost appear to be intentional. It's every bit as incongruous as the great Andre M. Boyle's work, though. One minute you're in Ancient Mayan Ruins, the next at the End of the World. Add a series of blatant, gratuitous rip-offs (the needle in the haystack from "Nord and Bert", the llama food and Restaurant at the End of the Universe from Douglas Adams' works) that don't fit in at all, and some thoroughly motivationless, illogical puzzles -- I'm guessing that NO ONE figured out how to use Leo the lemming to scare away the moose worshippers, right? -- and you've got a great contender for absolute rock-bottom last place. Perhaps "Phlegm" was intended as a satire of the likes of "Cardigan" and "Detective"? If so, it ultimately fails because there is no discernable difference between the parody and the parodied. Good for a number of cheap laughs (particularly Leo), but unlike "Kissing the Buddha's Feet", few of them are genuine. The title itself is also misleading - I found no phlegm anywhere in the game. The author must have forseen all these problems. His/her/its/whatever's name is left off the credits. Wise choice, friend. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Piece of Mind AUTHOR: Giles Boutel EMAIL: boutel1g SP@G wcc.govt.nz DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/piece VERSION: Version 1.0 Now here's a real dilemma. First, let me congratulate the author on a number of things: 1) The switching of tense - from first-person past in the introduction, to first-person present in the main framework, to an omnipresent third-person tense for a sub-"plot" - is a very ambitious hack of the Inform grammar. 2) I thought it was quite imaginative the way you divided one "room" into six different "locations". A neat map twist. 3) The "Outer Files" parody. ROTFL! Glad to see a fellow X- Phile writing I-F. The truth is out there. Trust no one. 4) I was delighted to see the words of evil Professor Elvin Atombender of Epyx's "Impossible Mission" pop up. Even ten years after the fact, I can _still_ hear that digitized voice perfectly, and it never fails to give me a nostalgic shiver. That was a GREAT game! (And companies today think crap like "Phantasmagoria" can hold a candle. Hmmph.) Now some (hopefully) constructive criticism: 1) Typos. Particularly in the revised default grammar messages. Lots of missing periods, misspelled words, missing line- feeds, etc. Double-check these the next time around. 2) Try to give your entry a little more plot and consistency. This year we've seen a lot of entries - "Phlegm", "Rippled Flesh", and "Of Forms Unknown" come immediately to mind - where plots have been thrown out completely in exchange for wandering from one situation to the next. These get old after awhile. The drawn-into-a-book subgame is not as polished as the T.S. Eliot scene in "Curses", and most of the rest feels like excerpts from someone's private life that I'd rather not know a lot about. Most of the situations make no sense, even under the guise of drug- induced hallucination. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Promoted! AUTHOR: Mike DeSanto EMAIL: desantom SP@G io.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Homebrew SUPPORTS: OS/2 only. AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/promoted VERSION: Version 1.0 The biggest drawback to this entry is its interpreter, which runs only under OS/2. I sincerely hope that this isn't detrimental to its vote count, because it's a lot of fun, and deserves more attention than the (relatively) small OS/2 crowd can give it. Essentially, "Promoted!" is a zany satire of life in the corporate world, with a well-established mythos and lots of in-jokes that non- office players probably won't get much out of. The biggest plus is that the setting is not just a bunch of inside jokes based solely on DeSanto's place of employment. Anyone who's worked in a maze of twisty little cubicles (all alike) will be able to relate to the situations presented here. DeSanto's take on corporate culture is amusing and well thought out, and he has a good grasp of what REALLY goes on in an office, though it's not quite up to the level of Scott Adams (and when I say Scott Adams here, I am of course referring to the "Dilbert" Scott Adams, not the SCOTT ADAMS Scott Adams). On the other hand, some of the puzzles could be improved. There's lots of death without warning, a bit too much in a game without "UNDO", and some very text-adventurish situations. The colored tape puzzle, for example, felt exactly like something that didn't quite make it into a "Zork" game. The disguise puzzles, on the other hand, are neat, and quiz the player on the details of the world DeSanto has built. I also encountered some difficulty with Rexx-Adventure itself. It's a neat engine, a snap to grasp, but a bit buggy. Before I'd finished "Promoted!", I'd crashed the engine multiple times, receiving VX-REXX errors when I clicked among the lists a bit too fast, or when I tried to exceed my inventory's capacity. Future bug fixes should eliminate this. One advantage to the interface is the fact that its obviation of guess-the-verb paves the way for some obscure puzzles that wouldn't be acceptable with typed commands (i.e. "STRIP WIRES"). Here's hoping Rexx-Adventure sees ports to more systems. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: John Wood NAME: Punkarita Quest One: Liquid AUTHOR: Rybread Celsius EMAIL: rybread SP@G cshore.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/liquid VERSION: Version 1.0 Well, this one's got it all...unfortunately. Spelling and grammatical errors in almost every sentence. Random instant death. Lots of locations where there's nothing to do, and scenery not recognised by the parser. Exactly one object you can manipulate. On the plus side, the first puzzle's actually quite good if you cut away the misleading responses - I like the idea of dealing with a situation when you (apparently) have nothing that can help you. This, however, is not enough to rescue the game. From: "C.E. Forman" Hooboy. I tried to like this one (I really did!), but even after finishing it I felt I had virtually no grasp of the world the author was attempting to create. It's fantasy, of course, but aside from the introduction, there is virtually no text to help players learn more about the world around them. Most rooms are empty and useless, and many of them have obscure pop-culture jokes that appear hopelessly out of place. The major puzzles are quite illogical, and there's really no way of figuring them out without the walkthrough, as there are no characters to talk to or ancient tomes to consult. The writing is unfortunately quite atrocious, with every kind of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization error imaginable, which makes it a chore to read. The author seems reluctant to add new verbs to the grammar: Help screens, footnotes, and some attempts at background information are stored in a separate text file. (Then again, I did the same thing with MST3K1 last year, so I guess I'm not fit to cast the first stone here.) Perhaps this game might have turned out better in a longer format. It seems the author had a lot more to put into this game, but was daunted by the two-hour limit. I hope he's not overly discouraged by my criticism here. Hopefully the next release will feature better world- building and the use of a spell-checker. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Ralph AUTHOR: Miron Schmidt EMAIL: s590501 SP@G tfh-berlin.de DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/ralph VERSION: Version 1.0 "Ralph" was short (3 puzzles), not too difficult, and fun. I found this one to be very cute, and it just oozes with charm (I smiled at Christopher Robin and Blamant the Teddy, felt a certain sadness at seeing Ralph's unkind owners, and laughed out loud at the fate of poor Benny the Fluff Duck). The writing is good, but sometimes seems geared toward a human's manner of thinking rather than a dog's. The glass sheet puzzle, for instance, seemed slightly out of place in a game about a dog. Further, the descriptions of some objects lend a distinct air of anthropomorphism, rather than a pure dog's-eye view of the world. Would a dog really think of a sheet of glass, or a man's pipe, with the same words as a human? A different approach to vocabulary (perhaps adopting Richard Adams' technique of an animal language as seen in "Watership Down") might have made me feel a bit more like a real dog, but there are still plenty of doggy situations and doggy verbs to investigate. "Ralph" may not be "top dog" this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of the competition's most fondly remembered entries. (Benny the Fluff Duck, we hardly knew ye.) =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Reverberations AUTHOR: Russell Wain Glasser EMAIL: rglasser SP@G ix.netcom.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/reverb VERSION: Version 1.0 Say what you want, but I LIKED this one! The plot - pizza guy gets caught up in battle with mafia and causes earthquake threatening to destroy city while simultaneously building friendship with cute female lawyer - has the look and feel of one of those really bad "Up All Night" movies they show on Fridays and Saturdays on the USA network. At 11:00 and 10:00, respectively. Not that I actually WATCH those awful things. Well, not usually. Oh, okay, you caught me! Happy?! The puzzles in "Reverberations" are full of very text-adventure-like situations, and the room descriptions consist largely of lists of exits, but the rest of the text is just plain fun, and the answerable rhetorical questions and southern-California dictionary provided with the game provide many a laugh. A couple of minor bugs (some of the "amusing" commands don't seem to work properly), but nothing major to gripe at. A really fun way to kill half an hour or so. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Rippled Flesh AUTHOR: Rybread M. Celsius EMAIL: rybread SP@G cshore.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/ripflesh VERSION: Version 1.0 Another horror story that doesn't succeed at being creepy, although it comes close once or twice if you let your imagination fill in the gaps that the less-than-convincing text leaves. There are a lot of puzzles that require guessing the author's manner of thinking, and, though a couple were kind of neat, the game has the same feel of "Punkirita", by the same author, with lots of incongruous ideas slapped together, peppered with pop-culture references that don't seem to fit. (To the author: The first "Alien" movie was good, too. It's only the third one that sucked. And the fourth, if they make it.) The text file with the game explains that the author didn't know how to implement some features, so I have a brief word for potential authors: Don't be afraid to post requests for help on rec.arts.int-fiction. We were all new to Inform at some point. (Even Graham Nelson, sort of.) Finally, let me just urge players to stick with this game to the end. Please, PLEASE don't deprive yourselves of the attempt at an explanation for everything that happened during the course of the game. It's a major (unintentional) hoot, and I loved it so much I gave the game an extra point! Also, if you don't mind my asking: What's the DEAL with disco this year? Both "Rippled Flesh" and "Phlegm" make use of it. Is disco, as those annoying music commercials claim, really "back and hotter than ever"? =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: John Wood NAME: Sir Ramic Hobbs and the Oriental Walk AUTHOR: Gil Williamson EMAIL: Gil.Williamson SP@G syntegra.bt.co.uk DATE: October, 1996 PARSER: AGT SUPPORTS: MS-DOS (runtime included), AGiliTy AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/wok Not a popular choice, this was my second-favourite game of the competition and my favourite AGT game to date by far. You play a drunken knight the "morning after" who has to get the castle deeds back from an evil wizard - not the most original of plots. However, the amusing responses from the game's narrator and the situations you find yourself in more than make up for this. I only used one hint during the two hours, and this was the second game I went on to finish before the end of the competition. The ending is unfortunately weaker than the rest of the game, which would have lowered the score I gave it slightly, but it still remains great fun. From: "C.E. Forman" First off, will someone please tell me whether the last word of this game's title is "walk" or "wok"? The game says "walk", the filenames say "wok". Also, is it "Sir Ramic Hobbs" or "Sir Ramric Hobbs"? The other game starring this character says "Sir Ramric". I'm bumfuzzled. Having never played the other Sir Ramic (Ramric?) Hobbs game, "Sir Ramic Hobbs and the High-Level Gorilla", I can't comment on how this game stacks up to its predecessor. I can say, however, that it explores both extremes of enjoyability. The ability to shapeshift into different animals was a lot of fun, and brought back fond memories of Infocom's "Arthur". It's funny, with clever object descriptions and commentary by the game's parser, which assumes the persona of a wizard who follows you about. His comments are frequently witty taunting, but it's done good- naturedly, unlike "Stalker". This is much more entertaining than the nameless, faceless entity that most adventure game parsers never rise above (though "Lost New York" does come close). The method of travel (via armchair) is amusing. Also, it's impossible to make the game unsolvable. My score was dragged down, however, by a great deal of typical AGT fare: Incongruities, a lack of apparent plot until the very end, obscure puzzles, a maze where one wasn't necessary, odd results when the author didn't anticipate something (entering the library when invisible, for instance, still gets you stopped by the librarian), and of course the almanac puzzle. Ohhhh, do not even get me STARTED on the almanac puzzle. After nearly an hour of wandering about, squinting in vain at the teeny tiny letters on my screen, trying to deduce a compass direction from them, then finding I'd made a wrong turn when I followed the directions I DID find... blur-r-r-r-gh! Half good, half bad, which means... From: "Magnus Olsson" [ Note: There appears to be some confusion about the title of this game: is it the "Oriental Walk", as the title screen says, or the "Oriental Wok", as it's called in some of the docs? "Walk" probably, since there _is_ an "Oriental Walk" in the game, but no wok even in the kitchen :-). I suppose the "wok" is intended as a pun... ] One topic that has been the subject of much heated discussion on rec.arts.int-fiction is that of player characterization. How can you cast the player as a set character, perhaps totally unlike the player's ordinary character, and make him or her feel and act like this character? The prevalent view seems to be that most players hate when the game tells them what they feel and think, and that few things are as irritating as being told that your, perfectly reasonable, action is out of character. It is interesting to see that one of the less sophisticated games of the competition not only tries to do this, but succeeds at it. And, perhaps surprisingly, it does so by casting you in a far from flattering role: that of Sir Ramic Hobbs, an antihero in every sense of the word - or, to be frank, a bumbling, drunken buffoon. Or perhaps this is just why it manages to pull it off. For "Wok" is a farce, and you are the butt of the jokes. Not just you, Sir Ramic, but you, the player. Much of the humour lies in the player being misled, and the game pretending to misunderstand the player's confusion as Sir Ramic's stupidity. In some cases (such as the sudden darkness), the game leads the player completely up the garden path, thereby forcing him to act in character. As the reader may have guessed, "Wok" is a game that talks back to you. It even makes an attempt to explain who is doing the talking by giving a name to the "narrator": Prang, a disembodied wizard who takes orders from the player and guides him along. As a moderately experienced IF player, I found this slightly annoying at first, and then I forgot all about it. However, the documentation says that the game is aimed at beginners, who maybe will find this a help. Despite the fact that the game talks back to you, commenting on your every action, and making fun of many of the mistakes you're making, it is all very good natured (as opposed to a certain other competition game, that apparently made some people feel quite insulted). I never had the feeling that the author was making fun of me, but rather that we were sharing a joke. And Sir Ramic may be a buffoon, but he's quite a lovable buffoon. This is all very skillfully done. Apart from the writing, however, the game is quite unsophisticated. To start with, it has a rather primitive look-and-feel. To avoid fanning the ongoning religious wars, I won't speculate whether this is due to the game being written in AGT; it does have, however, the feel of a "typical, mid 80's, AGT game" - garish colours, rather minimalistic room descriptions, a simple parser, rather underdeveloped atmosphere, NPC's that are just animated obstacles. To be fair, however, these aren't very serious flaws. The parser, for example, is quite adequate (there is one glaring "guess the word" problem, but a better parser couldn't have remedied a lack of synonyms), one of the NPC's (the dog) is at least a bit more developed, and this is not the kind of game one plays for the joy of exploring a detailed fantasy world. The puzzles are fairly standard, but there are some interesting twists (and the series of transformations at the end is quite clever and entertaining). The obligatory maze adds nothing to the game and could have been advantageously removed. The eponymous puzzle, the "oriental walk", is clever, but far too tedious - and this is aggravated by the fact that saving is disallowed while solving the puzzle. Disabling saving is probably a way to prevent solutions by trial-and-error, but an unfortunate consequence of this is that a single mistake means having to start the puzzle all over again, with all the directions randomized. The online hints can be somewhat infuriating, since there is only one hint per room, but fortunately a walkthrough is provided. Unfortunately, the walkthrough is of no help in the "walk" - you'll just have to sweat it through (the endgame is worth it!). In conclusion, "Wok" is a game that lives by its wit and humour, which are more than enough to outweigh its shortcomings in other areas. In fact, I found it one of the funniest games I've played. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: John Wood NAME: Small World UTHOR: Andrew D. Pontious EMAIL: byzantium SP@G tuna.net DATE: October 1996 PARSER: TADS, above average SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/smallwld VERSION: Version 1.0 Idly examining a globe, you find yourself at the north pole of a tiny world which has stopped spinning. You need to start it spinning again. This was one of two games I couldn't help playing to it's conclusion before the end of the competition period. The puzzles were gauged about right for my talents, and the atmosphere sucked me in. Apart from the poles, the locations around the planet are named for the time of day (Gloaming, Morning, Noon, etc) which provide a means of moving from the poles. Indeed, a lot of normal adventuring activities are affected by the small world - dropping things becomes a minor puzzle because of the low gravity. What really makes this game is the way that everything is so neatly tied together. It all makes a bizarre sort of sense, and responses are almost always appropriate. My favourite game of the competition. From: "C.E. Forman" I'm not sure how fit I am to comment on this one, as I didn't finish it completely. Treat my opinion as worthless if you think it appropriate. "Small World" is a nicely-programmed little work (at the outset anyway), with an imaginative map layout and some nice features like the "sack object" (its first appearance in a TADS game, if I'm not mistaken), a "warning mode" like PTF's, and the direct elimination of a great many useless verbs, which ends up saving a great deal of wasted typing (programmers take note). It also has a cute scoring system (earning percentages of a single coveted point), one of the most amusing NPCs of the entire competition (the devil), and some theological issues that got me thinking. Now for the bad part. After my getting about 18% of the point, plot advancement abruptly ground to a screeching halt, reducing the remainder of my playing experience to the following: "Okay, the hint system tells me that I'm making progress simply by moving around. Wandering around... yep, wandering around... no visible progress... >HINT Still says that moving around makes progress... Hoooooo-KAYyyyyy... wandering around some more... la de da de dee... still no visible progress... doot de doot, hmm hmm hmm... nope, not yet... maybe if I wander around in a slightly different manner?... huh-uh, no change... noon, afternoon, twilight, evening, midnight, gloaming, dawn... aaaaaaand back again... dawn, gloaming, midnight, evening, twilight, afternoon, noon... still wandering around... I must be making a LOT of progress now... Damn, time's up." =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Stargazer AUTHOR: Jonathan Fry EMAIL: jfry SP@G WOPR.skidmore.edu DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/stargaze VERSION: Version 1.0 The author admits that this is a prologue for a much longer game, and as that it succeeds perfectly, with easy puzzles to set up Ali for his quest, and a limited area to explore at the outset. The layout (a village with townspeople to interact with) reminded me of my own "Path to Fortune". Some clever, obscure name references, if you can find them (Keraptis, for instance, is the name of a winged beast from the "Pirates of Dark Water" cartoon serial of a few years back). All in all, though, it's pretty standard fantasy stuff, remaining relatively enjoyable without breaking any new ground (or trying to, for that matter). But given the current opinions toward D&D-based fantasy I-F, perhaps it's for the best that the game in its entirety was never finished. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Tapestry AUTHOR: Daniel Ravipinto EMAIL: ravipind SP@G linux.kirbynet.lafayette.edu DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/tapestry VERSION: Version 1.0 This is the first one I played (if that makes a difference). I loved the writing in "Tapestry", particularly the purgatorial prologue scenes. Vivid and absorbing, the prose makes you feel, which is rare for I-F. The author of this game seems to have put the most effort into his writing of any of the Inform entries, as indicated by the fact that it's both the longest Inform entry and one of the shortest actual games. The depth comes from the "fiction" aspect, not the "interactive" aspect. All the interactive scenes are short and small and offer relatively little room for experimentation, since the major choices you must make are limited to one of two paths. Still, I'm a sucker for multiple endings. Most surprising to me: Neither of the paths is decidedly "better" than the other. Doing what the web-weavers say changes nothing, but gives Timothy an impression of strength and willingness to accept what has been done. Doing what Morningstar says is right always ends in someone else's tragedy. Yet the insightful, non-judgmental epilogue makes either choice feel proper in the grand scheme of events, adding depth to the otherwise simplistic plot. All in all, a nicely polished entry, with imaginative characters, and a story that could do with perhaps a bit more overall interactivity. Daniel Ravipinto is either a new author to watch closely, or a pseudonym, and if he's the latter I'm dying to know his true identity. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: "C.E. Forman" NAME: Wearing the Claw AUTHOR: Paul O'Brian EMAIL: obrian SP@G ucsu.Colorado.EDU DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/claw VERSION: Version 1.0 Last but not least. I'm torn with this one. Using the changing hand as a marker for the player's progress is very imaginitive, but this doesn't quite mask the game's overall linearity. Still, there are enough red herrings to keep it from being immediately apparent, and there is a nice re-use of puzzles, building on the previous challenges, particularly with the enchanted coat. The author comments that the claw was inspired by the desire to create a game without a scoring system, as he feels scores make I-F feel too much like a game rather than a story. I'm not sure I agree entirely with the author's intentions here. I personally use the score as a means of reassuring myself that I haven't just botched the game entirely (though of course it's not 100% effective). The truth is, nearly every game I've seen to date has an optimum ending, the "real" ending to the game that closes the story as the author sees best. Scoring is the easiest of a very few ways to let the player know when that ending has been reached. If a game is designed in such a way as to allow plotting without score, that's wonderful, but otherwise I don't think I-F should be penalized for failing to comply with this standard. A lot of games use the scoring system effectively, even artistically. I sort of got off track there, didn't I? Well, it'll give us something more to debate. Overall, "Wearing the Claw" is a nice middle-of-the-road entry. CLOSING COMMENTS------------------------------------------------------------- The following position is available for next year's competition: PR Organizer: This person will be in charge of spreading word of the I-F contest far and wide. He/she will contact magazines, determine which newsgroups to post announcements to, and look for websites that would be interested in posting contest information. In addition, prize donations are welcome year round. Essentially, next year will have a very specific set of rules when it comes to certain aspects of the competition. The actual entries will still remain the province of the authors, but things such as copyrights, talking about entries during the voting time, etc, will be addressed. Hopefully we won't need the ONE HUNDRED RULES to get by with. (Please please please.) On the bright side, I'll be freed up to just manage the competition and keep things running smoothly. Perhaps I'll even be able to wrangle a deal to consistantly publish the contest winners on disk or CD for release to the general public. We'll have to wait and see. -=-=-=-=-=-=- As the great Schnozzola used to say, "Good night, Missus Calabash, wherever you are." ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!
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