ISSUE #12 - December 13, 1997

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The  |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of  |_|_|dventure  \___|ames.

                            ISSUE # 12

             Edited by Magnus Olsson (zebulon SP@G
                        December 13, 1997.

         SPAG Website:
        Contest Website:

SPAG #12 is copyright (c) 1997 by Magnus Olsson.
Authors of reviews retain the rights to their contributions.

All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine
with the traditional 'at' sign. 

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE -----------------------------------------------------

Acorn Court
Bastow Manor
Everybody Loves a Parade
John's Fire Witch
The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet
Mystery Island
The Pawn
So Far
The Space Under the Window
Time: All Things Come To An End
Unnkulia Zero: The Search for Amanda
The Wedding
Zork I
Zork II
Zork III


Finally - a new issue of SPAG. A bit late, I'm afraid; my IF
activities are in a bit of an Avalonish state at the moment. I can
only hope that you will find the contents worth the wait.

Christmas is drawing near, but I'll refrain from dubbing this the
Holiday Issue - if only for the fact that there is nothing
Christmas-related at all in this issue. I will, however, use the
season as a pretext to indulge in something not uncommon at this time
of year: a bit of looking back, perhaps even some nostalgia.

One of the reviews in this issue happens to be of a game called
"John's Fire Witch". This was one of the first games I reviewed for
SPAG (in issue #4, March 1995), and I remember being quite
enthusiastic about it. Why? Because it's a good game, of course, but
also because back then, in the grey mists of antiquity (almost three
whole years ago!), we IF fans weren't exactly spoiled with new
releases. New games were few and far between, and each new release was
quite an event in the IF community.

Things have changed a lot since then. Today, it's difficult to keep up
with all the new IF, especially during the contest season, the
net-wide IF community has grown considerably, and general interest in
IF seems to be re-emerging - an IF Rennaissance after the Dark Ages
that followed the decline and fall of Infocom.

Yes, it's been three great years for us IF fans! And just as European
artists and scientists of the Rennaissance were beginning to realize
that it was possible to go beyond the achievements of the ancients, so
we're beginning to see new IF that's in many ways better than the
Infocom classics.

It is very fitting that this issue of SPAG contains reviews both of
classics, such as the Magnetic Scrolls games; new works in the classic
tradition, such as last year's competition winner "Sherbet", and 
efforts in entirely new directions, such as "Space Under The
Window". And as a final nostalgic end-of-the-year touch, the review
section ends with Duncan Steven's reviews of the Zork trilogy (yes, I
know that we've put up a moratorium on Infocom reviews; but rules are
made to break).

But on to the reviews. The next issue will probably be dominated by
this year's competition and have no space for looking back. I'm
eagerly looking forward to what next year has in store for the IF

				Magnus Olsson

NEW GAMES--------------------------------------------------------------------

For obvious reasons, there aren't many new releases this time - apart
from the competition entries, of course.

Two hardy souls have braved the risks of drowning in the competition
deluge, however, and released new Inform games:

The Zuni Doll, An Interactive Horror Story, by Jesse Burnenko

Kook U, An Interactive Kook Adventure, by sbfaq SP@G

{ To stay impartial regarding the ongoing competition, I'll refrain
  from making any "Editor's Pick" this issue }
SUBMISSION POLICY ----------------------------------------------------------

SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure
games, a.k.a. Interactive Fiction. This includes the classic Infocom
games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the
primary player-game communication is text based.

Authors retain the rights to use their reviews in other contexts. We
accept submissions that have been previously published elsewhere,
although original reviews are preferred. At the moment, we are
reluctant to accept any more reviews of Infocom games (though
exceptions happen).

KEY TO SCORES AND REVIEWS----------------------------------------------------

Consider the following review header:

NAME: Cutthroats
AUTHOR: Infocom
EMAIL: ???
DATE: September 1984
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
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:


From: agt20 SP@G (Alistair G. Thomas)

NAME: Acorn Court
AUTHOR:	Todd S. Murchison
DATE: September 1997
PARSER:	Inform Standard
SUPPORTS: Infocom ports

You start Acorn Court in the courtyard of the title, with no idea what
you're trying to achieve. This early location shows the effort that's
been made to imbue the setting with a distinct atmosphere. A bit
overdone, in my opinion, but I was pleased the effort had been made
and was looking forward to exploring this world. However, 'twas not to
be. There's a reason why you have no idea what's going on - nothing
is. This is a one-location game, containing one relatively
straightforward puzzle, and no plot. I can't really give examples of
the text or sub-puzzles without revealing a fair proportion of the
game. I don't know if this was written as a get-to-grips-with-Inform
exercise? If so it's fine. The one quite complex object is quite well
programmed, and while there's the odd quirk (You are carrying: twelve
tennis balls, six tennis balls and) and the odd misleading response
when you don't quite get the author's preferred wording, there are no
major problems.

Have a look if you fancy a five or ten minute puzzle, or better still,
see if there's larger game by the same author.


From: Yuzo Takada a.k.a. Dark Fiber 

NAME: Bastow Manor (The Secret of Bastow Manor)
AUTHOR: Softgold
EMAIL: ???
DATE: very early 1980's
PARSER: Scott Adams Standard
SUPPORTS: C64 and C64 Emulators (many platforms)

Bastow Manor is one of those old classic Commodore 64 games. In a fit
of nostalgia I hunted high and low for this and a bunch of other
classic games (see the review of Mystery Island as well), some of
which I managed to find with the help of Andrew Williams.  Bastow
Manor is one of those C64 text graphic games where the C64 ASCII
character set is used to its full advantage to draw the graphics.
This form of textgraphic was basically confined to the C64 genre of

The graphics in this game (and the other Mountain Valley and Softgold
games) are some of the best C64 textgraphic ASCII pics you're likely
to ever come across.  Every location has its own individual picture of
about half screen height and full screen width (This changed in later
games to half screen height and half screen width).

 All the Softgold and Mountain Valley games are very reminiscent of
the Scott Adams games.  They are very small sized games with few
locations and objects.  Most every location serves a purpose and every
item has at least one use in the game.  Bastow Manor uses the standard
verb-noun parser.

The story behind the game is err, I don't really know.  You're not
told in any introduction at the start of the game.  Maybe there was a
nice lead-in in the manual or documentation but none of that is
available, so I shall give you what I assume to be the lead-in.  The
aim is to get into Bastow Manor and find its secret cache of gold and
escape!!  Err, yes.  Were you expecting something else?

Text in the game is minimal at best and I suspect the picture is meant
to explain more about your surroundings than the "You are in a shed"
"You are outside the manor wall" descriptions.  Objects have no
description whatsoever.  A knife is a knife is a knife is a knife.  An
interesting side effect of the game is that it was very poorly
programmed, so that you must "look" at an object multiple times to
find out all you can about it.  Take for example the mail box, you
need to look at it twice or you will miss a valuable clue!  There are
a few other examples of this through out the game.

Some of the puzzles in Bastow Manor are logical and some are stupid.
One of the puzzles I'll give away to you here and now, as it's
impossible to complete it without looking at the source to the game
(an error on part of the programmer), in that there is a panel above
the desk in the study.  There is no mention of this panel anywhere in
the game at all, and thats all I'll give away to you ^_^.  Fortunately
you don't have to play guess the verb to complete any of the puzzles.

Like Scott Adams' games, Bastow Manor is small and well designed in
places.  Location exits and the layout of the house are fairly
logical, i.e. the mad scientist's laboratory is not connected to the
upstairs ensuite.  Some of the puzzles are a bit frustrating and death
is quick to follow a wrong move.  If you don't save often before you
try something you will find yourself back at the start of the game.
It IS unfortunate that you have to die once or twice before you
realise that it's a puzzle that needs to be overcome (re: the puzzle
to do with the suit of armour, the apple puzzle).

With exception of one dodgy puzzle (re: panel in the study) the game
is fairly easy and can be completed in a few hours.  The nostalgia
factor is a good reason to play this game, if any, or if you have two
hours to spare.

 If you already have a copy of this game but you did not get it from
the IF archive, I strongly suggest you get the one from the archive as
I have patched and bugfixed it so you can save/load at any point and
some of the more nasty bugs were removed (the knife/clock bug for

Emulator users: PC64 is not a good choice for this game as it gets
the colours wrong, well not wrong just not... right ^_^.  Frodo or
C64s get the browns and greens the correct shades.

In scoring this game out of 10, note that I am using Scott Adams as a
benchmark. I would give this game a 7 out of 10.  The nostalgia factor
gives the overall score a +1 so its really 6/10.


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April 

NAME: Everybody Loves a Parade
AUTHOR: Cody Sandifer
E-MAIL: Dunno
DATE: 1996
PARSER: TADS advanced
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: Release 2.1

Everybody Loves a Parade manages a difficult feat: it's an enjoyable
and rewarding game in its own right, whose puzzles take real thought,
but it also essays an important innovation in IF playing style and
carries it off brilliantly. That innovation will not be revealed here,
as the surprise is part of the value of the innovation and giving it
away would spoil the fun for future players, but I know I was
thoroughly caught off guard at a certain point late in the game. On
the face of it, that development is only a small part of the game and
its effect on gameplay is minimal--but when players who have completed
the game remember it, I think it is safe to say that one particular
moment, more than any other, will remain with them. At first, I
questioned the author's judgment in engineering the moment in the way
he did--but eventually decided that his approach, more than any other
(well, aside from similar strategies), grabbed the reader's attention.

The plot is entertaining and reasonably original. You are an engineer
sent across the country to start a new job, but you bog down in the
wilds of Arizona with almost no gas, stuck behind a parade for a "rock
festival"--and no, Janis Joplin is not in town. The events that ensue
are engagingly cartoony; though most of the parade elements amount to
amusing but irrelevant sideshows, the silliness adds to the charm. (A
gravel float? A tank full of jars of pebbles?) The characters are also
well done, though better developed in some cases than in others; the
humor value of the New Age bikers is considerable, but it might have
been nice to see what they do when you ask them about things like
inner peace, meditation, truth, etc. (Not to nitpick, but the line
"The bikers toss an unruly customer out of the pub and forgive
themselves for their trespasses" is a little silly. Since when do New
Agers care about sin?) The encounter with the bikers does, if the
randomized movements come out right, produce this exchange...

	As the words pass before your eyes, your spirit energies ebb
	and flow between hidden layers of conscious awareness, broken
	judgment, and unspoken truth. Once the trance lifts, your soul
	speaks of love and respect through haiku verse, the natural
	language of inner peace.

	The old man turns his pockets inside out to search for spare

...which one could take as a commentary on quite a lot of things if so
inclined. At any rate, though the characters never lose the feel of
being props or obstacles, they do provide considerable amusement.

Everybody Loves a Parade is not extremely difficult once the first
puzzle is solved -- but that first puzzle involves searching of
scenery that just barely gets a mention, and as such might take quite
a while to solve. Two other puzzles later in the game require a fairly
large intuitive leap, and a willingness to pursue courses of action
that don't seem initially helpful (and which are, well, largely
motivationless), and those moments pose considerable stumbling blocks
among mostly logical puzzles. (Though one solution in particular is
rather clever, and rewards careful reading.)  The quality of the
puzzles can be appreciated once they are solved, but the intuitive
leaps required can be a bit daunting at times. (I'm not sure what it
says about me, though, that the final puzzle -- at least, the way to
get the final 10 points -- seemed like a natural reaction to the
previous line, and it was the first thing I tried.) There is much
amusement to be had in the game even when stuck, though, just from
wandering around and trying things -- it seems safe to say that this
game has the most particularized responses to SMELL [object] in the
history of IF.

Mechanically, Everybody Loves a Parade works well; the TADS parser is
adequate for the job, and there are several synonyms for most
words. The writing is also quite good, though not exceptionally
descriptive--few of the scenes actually came alive from the writing,
though admittedly that would have been difficult given the bizarre
quality of the situations. The author trades absurdity for realism,
mostly, and does quite well with it--but creating absurd scenes is a
different task from creating real ones, and it is therefore hard to
compare the writing to a game that seeks to bring a place or event to
life. Cody Sandifer creates a carnival atmosphere, but a carnival
atmosphere is hard to sustain on repetition--a bouncy or silly room
description fades on the tenth reading in a way that a menacing or
dreary mood does not. All this is not, obviously, to say that
Everybody Loves a Parade is not written effectively, merely that the
intent is more to amuse and entertain than to create lasting
images. Well, actually, as noted above, that isn't true -- there is
one image that does last, and quite well -- but the circumstances for
that are unusual.

Mr. Sandifer clearly spent quite a while writing Everybody Loves a
Parade: it's full of humor that indicates real thoroughness. There are
several irrelevant objects -- "objects", perhaps -- that cannot quite
be considered red herrings because it would be difficult to consider
most of them potential solutions to problems, and which reduce the
feel of "am I done coding yet?" that sometimes plagues IF. (An author
who takes the trouble to code a "pulsing hunk of supernatural
hypermatter" is an author who cares about his finished product.) That
some scenes made me wish for more development is more a testament to
the amusing ideas at work than any laziness about coding; I certainly
can't say that there were many logical responses that went unprovided

Perhaps of my initial objection to the twist alluded to above was that
it didn't fit the game, but when I thought about it more, I revised
that assessment. Only in a romp like this could the author pull the
player up short in the way Mr. Sandifer does -- and there are (at
least, it seemed so to me) very unfunny (as in, not a laughing matter)
issues at stake when it does happen, both within and outside the
game. There is certainly a place for games like "Tapestry," where the
player has to shut his or her eyes and ears to miss the Important
Underlying Message, but the IF world should not underrate the power of
this game's approach in making the player think.

There is, on the whole, much to like about Everybody Loves a Parade,
and though there are slow points and though the humor slows a bit when
the player has traipsed through the few locations several times, such
is the nature of humorous IF; Mr. Sandifer carries off his ideas
well. It is a testament to the author's skill that the player can look
back on Everybody Loves a Parade as both entertaining and thoroughly


From: Yuzo Takada a.k.a. Dark Fiber 

NAME: Fish!
AUTHOR: Magnetic Scrolls
DATE: Mid-80's?
SUPPORTS: See note below
AVAILABILITY: Commercial (se note)

Fish rocks dammit! Magnetic Scrolls kill Infocom dead! You heard me!
This game is full to the gills with puns. The game is one big pun.
Magnetic Scrolls is a Pommy company and all its games have that Pommy
feel and "English" spelling.

The story concerns you, who are an interdimensional secret agent whose
job it is to warp into worlds and thwart the terrorists of the Seven
Deadly Fins.

The start of the game sees you relaxing inside the body of a fish in a
fishbowl.  Your first task is to solve three mini puzzles of an
"intermediate" toughness, then its onto the "large" portion of the
game in the land where everyone is a fish.

The puzzles are very clever and logical and the text is very "Magnetic
Scrollsish" and makes for a great read.

The parser is probably the best of all the Magnetic Scrolls games and
is as good, if not better than the Infocom parsers.

I absolutley loved this game.

{ Editor's Note concerning Availability:

  The Magnetic Scrolls games were sold commercially. Second-hand copies
  occasionally turn up for sale in the games newsgroups. Reliable
  sources also tell us that they are available from certain well-known
  FTP sites (though not from the IF-archive). Of course, the illegality
  of such distribution channels forbids us from mention them here...

  The good news is that you don't need a semi-antique computer to play
  these games (however you manage to get a copy): Niclas Karlsson has
  written a portable interpreter called _Magnetic_ which runs on a
  variety of platforms. See


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April 

NAME: John's Fire Witch
AUTHOR: John Baker
E-MAIL: baker-j SP@G
DATE: 1995
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Lunchware (buy author lunch to register)
VERSION: Release 1.01

There isn't a lot to John's Fire Witch; it's relatively short (250
moves or thereabouts required, and much of that is traveling hither
and yon) and the puzzles and characters are simple. What's there,
though, is refreshingly well put together, with very few obvious bugs
or gameplay problems; as first efforts go, this is one of the better
ones you'll find.

You, the player, have come to visit your friend John Baker -- who, for
an author included in his own game, takes quite a verbal beating; we
certainly don't get a very good impression of John's habits and
tastes.  There is no sign of John in the apartment, though, other than
junk scattered here and there and a diary left in the bedroom
suggesting that John has stumbled into a confrontation between a Fire
Witch and Ice Wixard residing in his basement. (This suggests to you
about John that "years of heavy drinking have finally destroyed his
mind.") Nevertheless, you investigate the hole in the basement and,
sure enough, find all manner of strange things, none of them obviously
supporting the claim that an Ice Wizard and Fire Witch are in the area
(until the very end) but intriguing in their own right. The best of
the puzzles is one involving a devil and the task he assigns you: the
solution requires an intuitive leap of sorts, but a sensible one, if
that makes sense; though most are fairly clever and rewarding to

There are few moments in John's Fire Witch that break the spell, so to
speak, by drawing the player's attention to the mechanics of the
game. One is a painful guess-the-verb moment, coupled with some
illogicalities on the solution to the relevant puzzle (why one
particular solution to the ring problem is deemed correct, and another
incorrect, is less than obvious to me). There is a puzzle that cannot
be solved until a certain number of turns have passed -- and if you
move through the earlier part of the game efficiently, you may find
yourself a bit puzzled about why there's no apparent way to move the
game forward. (Or simply irritated about having to wait 50 or so turns
for something to happen.)

The inventory limit is fairly small and requires some step-retracing
(arguably, this is more rather than less realistic, since the classic
adventurer seems to have eleven hands, but it does complicate things),
and there are a few situations that require somewhat exact syntax. But
most nouns and verbs have several substitutes, though the game
occasionally fails to fill in logical gaps (for instance, "sleep" with
a bed in front of you puts you to sleep on the floor). Moreover, the
game is free from scenery-object confusion, free from disambiguation
problems, as far as I could tell ("which do you mean..."), and takes
the trouble to code many specific responses to non-useful actions,
lending to the polished feel. In short, even if there isn't much
there, problems that distract from what is there are relatively few.

The writing is mostly good, though it has its rough moments -- the
death of an adversary is somewhat unnecessarily gruesome, something as
unusual as a bridge made of ice gets virtually no description, and the
game takes it upon itself to tell you when you stumble into a crystal
grotto that "the overall effect is quite beautiful." Let me conclude
that, John. You just tell me what's there. Still, most of the writing
is solid, though some of the better descriptions are in the apartment
rather than in the tunnels, which often feel, well, just a bit
generic, and occasionally a tad clumsy.  For example:

	 Long Tunnel (1)

	 This is a long tunnel leading north and south.  It has
	 definitely been purposefully made, being tiled with crafted
	 stone.  It looks like something that would have been created
	 centuries ago.  You can see the Red Crystal Grotto to the
	 north, and a side corridor leads off to the east.

Not awful, certainly, but there are more adept ways to suggest that
the tunnel didn't just come about than "it looks like something that
would have been created centuries ago." Like the rest of John's Fire
Witch, though, the writing is good enough to keep the game enjoyable
(and focus the player's attention on the puzzles, for that matter;
more striking prose would give the game an exploratory feel, which
might mesh oddly with its role as a diversion with some clever
puzzles. And many moments have a certain deadpan charm, e.g. when
you're about to be frozen:

       There is a loud and horrible rushing noise in your ears, and
       the room appears to be filling up with what you would describe
       as steam if it were not so very very cold.

John's Fire Witch was designed as a short diversion, and it fills that
purpose -- and more elaborate descriptions or development of the plot
might distract from that purpose. As it is, the player need only grasp
the essentials of what's going on (actually, not really even that)
before plunging in and starting to solve puzzles -- and the
unobtrusive writing is consistent with the overall feel. The ending
points to a sequel, which may or may not be more elaborate -- but as s
short "snack-sized" game, this one works quite well. Its general
solidity (in comparison to much of what is produced nowadays)
testifies to the undeniable truth that putting together workable,
polished IF is not easy. On the whole, John's Fire Witch is not
especially remarkable for anything in particular it does right, a few
clever puzzles aside, but especially for a first effort, it deserves
recognition for the many things it avoided doing wrong.


From: Steve Bernard 

NAME: Mercy
AUTHOR: Chris Klimas
EMAIL: christopher.klimas SP@G
DATE: August 1997
PARSER: Inform

Your name is Dr. Peter Basham.  Your job is Mercy, if you can call it
that.  There's nothing you or your colleagues can do about the recent
outbreak of smallpox but help people to die as easily as possible.
Once you were a pediatrician; now all you do all day is "euthanize"
(the medical profession's nice term for "kill").

Chris Klimas' "Mercy" is probably my favorite of all the games to be
released this year, including the competition.  It can hardly be
called a game, though.  As the author says, it's more of a short
story.  It's heavily plot oriented, but flexible enough that the
player can still make many choices along the way and take different
branches.  The character is predetermined with feelings and background
supplied by the game, but it avoids the pitfall of simply telling the
player that they feel a certain way.  Rather, the character
interjections fit so well with the plot and the atmosphere they never
seem forced.

The make-it-or-break-it aspect of "Mercy" is its lack of puzzles.
That's right folks, "puzzle-less I-F"...  That isn't to say that your
actions don't affect how the story turns out, but it does mean no
locked doors to open, no odd futuristic machines to operate, and no
"find the smallpox cure in some obscure location" situations.  But to
be honest, I hardly noticed the absence of puzzles until after I was
done.  Seriously, the story and atmosphere are engaging enough that
the inclusion of puzzles would probably take away from the game as a

Flaws?  Well yes, there are a few.  A couple spelling mistakes or
extra typos occur here or there.  There's a verb or two that could be
recognized and a couple objects in room descriptions that the player
might want to refer to but can't.  Honestly, I assume the author has
noticed or been notified of these things already.  I just hope he'll
put out a Release 2.

It's weird, if I just described the game quickly (i.e. No puzzles,
predefined character, clear plot from beginning to end...), it
wouldn't sound very enticing.  In fact, it sounds like it would be a
bad game if you boil it down to just that.  "Mercy" proves that these
descriptions are not bad in and of themselves.  By no means do the
standard I-F conventions need to be adhered to in order to produce
quality work.

Chris Klimas says that he hopes "Mercy" is something new in the
interactive fiction universe.  I don't know if that's true or not, but
it certainly was a breath of fresh air for me to play and it clearly
is different.  I love the feelings it stirs in me, the disturbing
moodiness that hangs over the whole thing, the "love story", as it
were...  I kinda wish he'd kept it until the competition.  It would
have grabbed *my* highest rating.

My Rating: I give it an 8.5.  I felt guilty at first for giving it a
rating comparable to such long, great games as Trinity or Jigsaw.
Thing is, I really did like it that much.  The comparison really isn't
fair, though: you don't judge short stories against novels.  I liked
"Mercy" for different reasons.


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April 

NAME: The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet
AUTHOR: Angela M. Horns, a.k.a. Graham Nelson
E-MAIL: graham SP@G
DATE: 1996
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform ports
VERSION: Release 2

It is virtually a film cliche nowadays: early on, one character tells
another everything the audience might need to know, sometimes in
circumstances justifying such a tale but sometimes not. It's a clumsy
device, but it keeps the audience from having to work too hard, always
a vital element. Graham Nelson's Meteor... preempts that approach by
setting out the plot in menu format, distinct from gameplay, a wholly
laudable move in this particular game -- for the backstory that Nelson
elects to give us is exhaustive enough that it would clutter gameplay
considerably were it thrown in Hollywood-style. But it also catches
the player somewhat off balance to find that the complicated setup is
only minimally relevant to the game -- at least, to puzzle-solving; no
puzzles require knowledge found in the backstory.

Rather, Meteor... reduces the "solve puzzles because they're there to
solve" feel by embedding the motivations for the player's action in
the story, so that the plot makes sense of your actions while not
requiring you to consult the setup constantly as a guideline. The game
gives you an initial plot and set of motivations -- you are an
ambassador from a small province sent to investigate strange doings
while keeping relations amicable -- that provides credible reasons for
your required actions. This is not to say that there are no holes or
improbabilities, but there are remarkably few, considering how
complicated the story become. It may not seem like the most notable
feature of the game, but it's an element rarely seen in IF nowadays: a
reasonably involved storyline that, suitably understood, makes sense
of the game, even though the game is quite playable by itself.

Well, mostly. Considering its authorship (*bow* *genuflect*),
Meteor... is encumbered with a surprising number of gameplay problems,
as in Stuff An Author Really Shouldn't Do. Among the less flagrant is
a puzzle that involves waiting around, by my count, 23 turns before a
solution is possible. Granted, there's nothing to do for those 23
turns anyway, and yes, a few things of some (but only some) interest
happen while you're waiting around -- but given that the relevant
event is not a one-turn happening when it does come along (you notice
something that is henceforth there for the examining until you figure
out what to do with it), it seems like the author could have hurried
things along a tad. Now, yes, the point of the scene in question is to
establish boredom, and it's certainly effective in that respect -- but
mightn't effective writing have the same effect? In short, it's a
questionable decision that risks annoying the player out of the game.

More egregious are guess-the-verb moments -- a few relatively mild,
one absolutely horrendous. (When you get there -- you'll know -- the
relevant verb is "give." You're welcome.) It isn't at all clear what
happened, besides, perhaps, that the author was rushed in putting the
game together. There are other puzzling glitches -- some unlisted
exits (one that made a puzzle's solution a complete surprise to me)
and a description that I found wholly inadequate to convey the
scene. (It relies on a better understanding of the term "scree" -- a
Britishism? perhaps -- than I had, anyway.) One puzzle in particular
toward the end of the game, involving the correct combination for a
dial, is not blessed with huge whopping amounts of sense, and several
other actions involve painfully exact wording that slows down the
game. At one point, you lose some of your possessions unless you take
steps to safeguard them -- but while it doesn't seem so unreasonable
to have them appear again beside you if you've taken the right steps,
the game requires a long circuitous route to retrieve the stuff. None
of this makes the game unplayable or less than enjoyable, but it's a
bit disconcerting in an otherwise strong entry.

The puzzles are excellent; many involve a certain large-scale thinking, an
awareness of how the game environment fits together as a whole, that feels
genuinely fresh. A few, true, involve semi-suicidal actions, but they're
so strongly hinted at by the game that they're more or less reasonable to
try. (And what player really rejects actions on grounds that they're
semi-suicidal anyway?) A few are a bit obscure, true, but not unguessable;
the only one that seemed unfair was the result of a poor setup, as
mentioned above, not the puzzle itself.

The game is a tad inconsistent about what it rewards with points -- I
was initially convinced I was wasting a needed resource on the wrong
puzzle because I wasn't given a point for solving it -- but that's a
minor blip on a set of very good puzzles. The reliance on physics and
common sense recalls the appeal of the Zork series: the puzzles
required understanding and using conventional objects to achieve your
ends, even in fantastic settings, rather than mastering complicated
systems or foreign concepts. In that way, the Zork games were always
accessible -- lack of a scientific bent was never a bar -- and here,
similarly, the puzzles reward logic and logical experimentation.
(Particularly good is the problem requiring use of the stick, and the
way you use the hornet is certainly intriguing.) The game manages to
recapture the magic element of the Enchanter trilogy without making
your puzzle-solving largely magic-based; a few of the puzzles involve
magic, but few enough that trying all your spells in a given situation
is not generally reliable. In short, the puzzles in Meteor... are
generally good, and even memorable in a few cases. As for the format
of magic itself, the "learn spell" routine -- well, it never troubled
me much, but apparently it makes many weep and gnash their teeth. It
fits the feel here, wherein magic is only being rediscovered, but it
isn't, strictly, necessary.

A game that purports to return to the Zork universe -- given, that is
not Meteor's express claim, and its plot is far more involved than
that, but that is part of its premise -- must understand and recapture
its feel, and in that Meteor... succeeds admirably. The central
location -- an inverted cedar -- is vivid and strikingly written:

	This is a slate-littered shelf high up at the northwest eaves
	of a dark, vaulted cave, from which a meadow-fresh breeze
	blows. The ledge broadens down a slab "staircase" to the east
	but wastes away into a tight squeeze southwest. Natural
	passages extend like tendrils into the rock all around this
	cavern, but only one is accessible from here, back north under
	the lintel.

	Hanging down toward the dim, distant cave floor is a
	flourishing, inverted cedar, its roots grappling the roof, its
	nearest outflung branch a good 10 feet across the abyss from

Moreover, it is fantastic in a way that suits the genre well,
intriguingly unusual but not so bizarre that the player can't imagine
it easily. As with the Carousel Room in Zork II (or, even, the living
room and its various entries in Zork I), mastering the layout means
getting the hang of traveling through that location, and the geography
here makes sense once the player accepts the premise. Just as
successful is the bridge between fantasy and reality, especially since
that relationship is central to the game -- the real-life element is
thoroughly (if tediously) established before you, the ordinary fellow,
are cast into the fantasy side, and the conclusion ties things back
together nicely. As a result, the player need only suspend disbelief
in a few elemental ways -- the existence of magic, for instance --
because the original "ordinary" persona is believable. It may not seem
like much, but it's an element that the original Zork games certainly
never tried to capture. And there is even a sense of perspective on
Zork and its progeny, captured in an encounter with an adventurer's
ghost that concludes thus:

      The Adventurer, having now acquired the whole nearby wealth of
      treasure, spreads his arms around the pile of loot. As he does
      so, he and they vanish like the dawn into the past where,
      perhaps, they belong.

It might be said, therefore, that Meteor... returns you to the Zork
universe but does not send you there as an adventurer, as such, merely
a chance visitor, and even with the variety of Infocom references --
including the living room from Zork I and several of the original
treasures -- the plot given, not "exploring the Zork universe," drives
the story and keeps things moving along.

As noted, the writing is strong, particularly in the way it conveys
the hanging cedar and the surrounding scene; Nelson, as with the best
game authors, paints each scene vividly in just a few
sentences. Particlarly effective is the way the locations that are
intermediate between ho-hum everyday life and the fantasy Underground
Empire hint at the latter -- they point to something unusual but avoid
telegraphing it in overly obvious terms. To wit:

	     Bubbling Pool

	     This is a red-brown earthy bole, a cavity in hardened
	     soil with but a single crawl leading out to the
	     southeast. The ground is covered with autumn leaves,
	     russet and variegated.

	     In the centre is a bubbling pool of spring water,
	     glinting with shades and flickers of green

Intriguing enough on its face -- and why are there autumn leaves
underground? Why is the pool "bubbling"? Nelson draws the player in
through a series of increasingly intriguing discoveries, rather than
throwing the entire Zork universe into one momentous discovery. There
are a few somewhat overwritten moments...

    ...And suddenly, there is the Power! It crackles through your
    whole body, sparking at your fingernails and toenails, sending
    shivers along your limbs. You feel suddenly afraid to imagine,
    afraid that you can no longer tell imagination from reality.

...but only a few, and they don't distract much from the game. Moreover,
the humor integral to Infocom's fantasy efforts is here in spades, with a
wryness that avoids an "I'm being funny now" feel. For example:

	>examine elephant

	The magnificent grey beast is wrinkled and has a wise look
	(but then, after an entire day of Amilia's conversation, your
	average potato would have a wise look). His two great ears
	flap a little up at the front sides of the basket, his trunk
	curls and pokes at the air.

Equally amusing are the dummy spells you can encounter late in the
game, including "gloth," referred to in Spellbreaker (fold dough 83
times), and others to "paint picket fence orange" and "reduce herbs in
over-spiced stew." As Infocom liked to do in its day, these bits help
make magic amusing rather than fearful and awe- inspiring. And there
are the usual Nelson touches -- an Eliot reference here, references to
obscure science fiction authors there -- and there is a spell to "view
the past" that allows perspective on every location in the game, givin
the game a sense of completeness (though the spell is not necessary to
win the game, nor is it even useful).

As is in the case in the best games, there is much more going on here
than the bare plot and puzzles; the wealth of extraneous details give
Meteor considerable explorability and replayability, and allow the
player to keep discovering more about the game on subsequent
attempts. There are no alternate paths -- in fact, no puzzles have
alternate solutions -- but there are many things to ponder along the
way that the initial gameplay might not necessarily reveal. Just as
importantly, though, even when the puzzles are simply there to solve
rather than part of the story, the writing preserves the feel --
ordinary fellow discovers extraordinary things -- and reminds you now
and again of who you are. (For example, upon reading a document:
"Scratchy handwriting adorns this text, and the writing's in a dialect
almost unrecognisable today. But, like any diplomat worth his salt,
you've a way with language..." Touches like this diminish the sense of
puzzles grafted into the game, and help merge plot and gameplay -- not
entirely successfully, but skillfully enough.

In sum, Meteor is a worthy return to, and comment on, the Zork world,
and an entertaining game in its own right. While not as polished as
many of Nelson's works, it certainly stands among the better games out
there (though it was rather long for a competition entry, with more
than 300 turns required). Glitches aside, there is enough Graham
Nelson here to make it well worth any player's while.


From: Yuzo Takada a.k.a. Dark Fiber 

NAME: Mystery Island
AUTHOR: Mountain Valley Software
EMAIL: ???
DATE: I would guess circa 1985?
PARSER: Scott Adams Standard
SUPPORTS: C64 and C64 Emulators (many platforms)

Aaaaah another classic C64 game I remember from my youth.  This game,
reaaally harks back to the Scott Adams days.  Its a treasure hunt,
which for a large percentage of IF players means you should hit page
down to get to the next review.

As with Bastow Manor, this game is by one of two "companies" that
produced IF on the C64 using the text textgraphic format for a good
result.  Graphics in this game are good and if not in some places,
above anything you would expect.  Unlike Bastow Manor and other
Softgold adventures, Mountain Valley Software uses the half screen
height, half screen width for pictures.  The top right quarter of the
screen is used for the room graphic, the top left quarter is used to
display your exits, visable items, etc whilst the bottom half is your
text input area.

Like Bastow Manor, there is not lead-in text or "what do I have to do
to complete the game" type introduction.  I have completed it so I can
give you a rough synopsis.  You are the lone occupant of this island
you find yourself on and the aim is to collect the ten treasures
scattered and hidden throughout the island.

This is a treasure hunting game, the puzzles and items you will come
across are not logical.  The puzzles you do come across are of the
push button, say magic word, store magic item variety.  It plays a lot
easier than Bastow Manor.  There is nothing unique or outstanding in
this game that comes to mind.  What is obvious when you play the game
is that it WAS designed.  It's evident that the author did not just
plonk items willy nilly around the landscape.  Some of the items you
must retrieve are give-me items and some you must work for.  Where the
games planning does fall down is that only one treasure you pick up is
actually used!  The rest of the treasures are just scoring fodder.

Sudden death does not lurk around every corner but every second one.
There are about 10 or so ways you can die in this game and some of
them are only if you really do stupid things, other killing methods
are the standard "do something normal and get killed" type things.
Fortunatly those types of problems are here in a lesser presence than
in Bastow Manor, and if you're good you won't actually die in this game
before you finish it.

Mystery Island does suffer from the same affliction as Bastow Manor in
that you must look at things mutliple times in order not to miss items
and clues.  The puzzles in the game are very easy to overcome and if
you've been taking notes whilst playing, the final "tough" puzzle is
not very tough.  This game is a lot easier than Bastow Manor, it's
also not as bugged (i.e. I completed it without having to make any
fixes to the code).

The island itself is tiny with only about 15 to 20 locations and a few
red herring items.  The game is winnable inside 20 minutes depending
on your typing speed, once you know what's what in the game, otherwise
I'd say it would most likely take an hour or so to complete on your
first go.

A good beginners game.

I will score this game 6/10, some harder puzzles would have pushed the
score up to 7.  Recommended for the nostalgia freaks and people of
limited adventuring knowledge.

Hopefully I will have finished Lost City Adventure and Castle of Mydor
(which I think is Mountain Valley's version of Bastow Manor) by next


From: Yuzo Takada a.k.a. Dark Fiber 

NAME:	The Pawn
AUTHOR: Magnetic Scrolls
DATE: Mid-80's?
SUPPORTS: See review of "Fish!" above
AVAILABILITY: Commercial (see above)

Ahhh, Magnetic Scrolls first illustrated text adventure and, like
Infocoms first official game Zork, is just about as famous unless you
lived in America in the the late 1980's of course, which is a pity.

The story: you have been bushwacked on the way home from shopping at
the supermarket and you wake to find yourself in the land of Kerovnia.

Things aren't all gold and cheese in the land of Kerovnia though, and
you find out why later.  The game starts off by not telling you what
you are supposed to do, and you only find this out by talking to
everyone you meet.  The characters you get to meet are a colourful
bunch, Jerry Lee Lewis (yes, yes, the one and only), Kronos the
Wizard, a horse with no legs, Honest John and a bloody irritable

The parser is quite good but has its niggles. Especially in reference
to English and some objects.  The most noticable bug is the "white"
one: you have in your inventory "you are carriny a white" which turns
out to be a white light.  Kinda dodgy and should have been picked up
in bug testing.

The puzzles are very crafty and logical.  Hands up those of you who
got stuck trying to move the boulder!


From: agt20 SP@G (Alistair G. Thomas)

NAME: So Far
AUTHOR:	Andrew Plotkin
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, gmd
EMAIL: erkyrath SP@G
DATE: December 1996
PARSER:	Inform
SUPPORTS: .z8 compliant Inform interpreters
URL: Story File:
     Invisiclues: http://www.bioc.rice.educ/~lpsmith/IF/sofar.html

So Far has been around for a while now, having been released in late
96, but for some reason it's never been reviewed in SPAG News. Magnus
reckons we're all too daunted by it. Given that it won the awards for
Best Game, Best Writing and Best Puzzle in the 1996 interactive
fiction awards, organised by XYZZY News, I thought it was about time
it was written up here. It's a noteworthy title, for a whole slew of
reasons. IF's traditional features have been handled extremely well,
in that the writing, the puzzles and the coding are as near flawless
as they come. There are further aspects however, concerning the
game-world and the player's place within it, that add new and
thought-provoking elements. I'll go through all of these.

In reviewing any adventure, there's a balance to be struck, between
describing the game and giving the game away... In this case
especially, where so much is so inventive, I really don't want to reel
off the places and events that make up the story. I'll try and
describe the style and the approach, and I'll quote a little, and
hopefully you'll get some idea of what's different about So Far.

On beginning, the first thing to strike you is the quality of the
writing.  Most of the text is in traditional fantasy style,
i.e. plenty of adjectives, plenty of drama, plenty of verbal
swoosh. From a writer of limited ability, this can be fairly
cringe-inducing, but the author here brings it off extremely
well. There are dramatic moments, exotic settings, and strange,
half-understood events throughout this game, and the prose never
flags. I would say this is the best writing, in this style, that I've
seen in IF.

	West Portico

	More people are relaxing here, perhaps because of the kegman
	who sells his beer under the theater portico. The main street
	bakes in sunlight to the south; the front of the theater
	continues to the north, adorned by some decorative potted

	A couple of people nearby are discussing the moons. That's
	right; tonight is the night that the astronomers have been
	going on about. You'll have to be sure to watch. Snuggled in a
	blanket, ideally... if you ever find Aessa.

	You feel the faintest cool breath of air.

	Wait. Wait. What's ever cool in this suffocating summer heat?
	It comes again, slight, smoky, deep with autumn. Impossible.

	>x sky

	You lean out of the shade and look up. The sun scorches you
	from one side of a metal-blue sky. The moons are also
	visible. Warel is already high; Amwal is just rising, but she
	will soon be catching up, approaching tonight's lunar event.

Early in the game, the settings are pretty much fantasy staples, but
they're varied and well realised. The player has no particular idea of
their role, or even their identity, but without giving too much away,
the game is a journey, an exploration of worlds weird and
wonderful. While some of the places to be found are standard
adventure-fare, frozen wastes, castle moats and the like, others are
fresh and fascinating. These tend to be the inhabited stretches. The
author creates the impression of some rich and living cultures, by
virtue of things happening in the background, with virtually nothing
in the way of Ask XXX About YYY. Coming across these people, observing
their strange activities, it's eerily reminiscent of the early Star
Treks, when Kirk was always beaming down to strange new civilisations,
picking his way cautiously amongst the 'aliens'.

These people are a good example, in fact, of the style the author has
adopted throughout the game. The world is not there for the player's
benefit. It does not revolve around him. On seeing a building, a
street, a door, an object, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to
do anything useful with it. It may well be there for some reason which
doesn't concern you. This is not to say these things can't be referred
to, or looked at or under or manipulated, just that they won't
progress the story, or at least, not the story of the
player. Conversely, as you find yourself in strange places, with
strange items to be had, some of these things most definitely are
useful, if only you can work out how to do whatever it is they do.

	>x box

	The box is strange, even stranger for being so simple. Just
	polished wooden sides, trapezoidal, no two faces parallel. But
	the joinings are precise; no seams show. The craftwork is
	exact. No mark shows on the rich reddish wood, except for the
	natural grain; and also a row of paler circles on each
	side. These seem to be inlaid discs of a blond wood, flush
	with the surface, each incised with a deep star-shaped mark.

	>x discs

	The discs are each about as long as the last joint of your
	thumb. They are arranged in precise rows of three discs each,
	one row on each face of the box. Each disc is incised with a
	mark in the shape of a three-pointed star.

Often you'll have no idea why or how things do what they do, you just
have to figure out how to make them do it

Moving through things and places, that you know nothing about, but
that you have to make some sense of to move on, gives the story an
eerie, other-worldly feel. In the early stages this feeling, of things
going on that no-one is telling you about, is evoked by impassable
locked doors, streets the locals won't let you enter, arcane power
sources for derelict machinery.

You're reminded of Europe, in the later 19th century, where one of the
influences that produced the Impressionists was the new availability
of prints from Japan. These, shockingly, included pictures of objects
half-in/half-out of the frame, cutting people or scenery in half, with
seeming disregard for the careful composition of scenes characteristic
of Western art until that time. In the real world, whatever you choose
to look at, you catch unconnected things in shot. The author has
achieved that effect here. It's a subtle, quite brave thing to do,
pretty much new in IF.

Later on, things become less conventional yet, and the familiar
traipse round the map, looking for objects, becomes a fond memory.

Read this example. In this dark place, seeing nothing, you're battered
by sound, different sounds as you move around, some so loud that they
block your progress, some deadly. The solutions to these problems
depend on sound as well, but you never know just why or how they work,
or exactly what you've done, or why this place is like this.


   	It is too dark to see.

   	You are nearly deafened by unseen clangor. A thousand bells
   	might be roiling a foot above your head. The noise is dampened
   	to the east, where you can hear an occasional sharp rap, and
   	to the north, where an echoing plipping noise gives the
   	impression of dripping water.

	>listen to the bells

	The noise is a thousand incessant bells, from an ice-sweet
	chime to a fierce, deep gongen. Not one of them pauses, for
	one moment.

	Somewhere behind the noise, there is an indistinct voice,
	chanting: "Hear the tolling of the bells... iron bells..."

	>listen to the bells

	Somewhere behind the noise, there is an indistinct voice,
	chanting: "What a world of solemn thought their monody

	>listen to the bells

	Somewhere behind the noise, there is an indistinct voice,
	chanting: "To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells..."

	>listen to the bells

	Somewhere behind the noise, there is an indistinct voice,
	chanting: "From the jingling and the tingling of the bells."

Metaphysical moments come thick and fast towards the end. You find
yourself drifting among clouds, with vague feelings of attraction and
resistance interfering with your progress. You see shapes acting out
scenes you don't understand; you don't know where you have to be. When
they ask you questions, you don't know what they mean. In most games,
this would mean you'd missed out the bit where you found out the
answers. In So Far, the author has pushed the idea that in a strange
world, the player might well face strange incomprehensible things, and
to pass through that world, he might well have to figure out what they
can do for him. He is not the focus of this world; it has its own
history, its own concerns. The player will not get his hand held here.

The idea that things need not be explained, as long as they exhibit an
internal logic, is probably the defining characteristic of So Far.
Metaphysical choices, vital and incomprehensible objects, whole worlds
which aren't north-south-east-west-strolls: these really require a new
view of the player's place in his world. It asks what IF does, what it
can do, and so what it should do. And this, is Modernism. In IF. If
this carry-on doesn't stop, we'll be a proper grown-up medium before
you know it. Lordy.

But moving quickly on now, um... puzzles.

The puzzles are generally very good. There are only a few problems
which come down to find & use, and even these tend to be unusual
objects and uses. There are also some excellent, more complex
problems, which are imaginative and very satisfying to solve. (XYZZY
News voted the immense gate the best problem of 1996, although I
preferred the bizarre animals. I had to consult the invisiclues for
the light source...) These problems (and there are a few) involve
several stages, and are thankfully well coded, with the possibilities
arising from each step dealt with intelligently.  There's very seldom
a single action which the player has to find. More likely, a range of
choices will be apparent, most of which will end with the player
feeling rather sheepish, with the actual solution requiring quite some
thought. Indeed, the range of things the player can do at each stage
of one of these problems is part of what makes them difficult.

And this is a difficult title. The puzzles are not re-hashes of things
we've seen before, and the stranger ones will definitely have you
scratching your head. The significant freedom the player has can let
him screw things up completely. There is apparently a walkthrough
available, although I haven't seen it, and in fact Lucian Smith has
gone to the effort of producing some online invisiclues, which I had
to use for the later sections, and would recommend above a
walkthrough. Screwing up is generally worth doing a few times however,
just to read what's gone wrong this time.  Black humour, metaphysical
angst... you'll be on the end of it all.

On the technical side, coding is robust enough to deal with even the
complex, multi-stage problems encountered. Basics like spelling and
grammar are just about perfect, and guess the word problems are almost
non-existent, although in some weird situations, you may find yourself
producing weirder suggestions than the parser is expecting.

In conclusion, I'd recommend So Far to anyone. Some of its new ideas
won't be to everyone's taste, but they're certainly worth looking
at. The more traditional parts are imaginative and involving and make
a cracking game in their own right. Go get it.


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April 

NAME: Space Under the Window
AUTHOR:	Andrew Plotkin
E-MAIL:	erkyrath SP@G
DATE: 1996
PARSER:	Inform, thoroughly hacked
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters

Not sure if it's reviewable, but I'll try. Andrew Plotkin's Space
Under the Window is a work of "experimental" interactive fiction, as
part of a project that produced a variety of creative works under that
title -- and it's hard to imagine how the others could have pushed the
boundaries as much as this one does. The point of Space... is to let
the player interact with the environment without conventional IF
commands -- and what, exactly, is the player doing? It's hard to say,
but it's certainly worth trying.

The mechanics are simple: given a block of text, ranging from a
sentence to several paragraphs, you type a word appearing somewhere
within the text, which may or may not affect the narrative. If it
does, the screen clears and you are given a new block of text --
sometimes changed only by a word or two, sometimes with a new
paragraph, sometimes entirely different, and you start once again
trying words. The effect is not quite EXAMINE [object], as the
following shows:

	  The window is open, so you climb down inside. The table is
	  set for two.


	  The window is open, so you climb down inside. The table is
	  set for two -- a surprise; you didn't think you were

No one would type "examine two", but the change manages to elaborate
on the concept, somehow, and suggest that you have learned more about
the idea. The closest analogue in real life might be a storyteller
whom you are invited to interrupt constantly to explain something more
fully, though the storyteller apparently declines sometimes to
elucidate whatever it is. (Sometimes, a word that led to development
may not later, even if that word is still on the screen.) The progress
is thoroughly nonlinear -- most words, if typed a second time, will
reverse the effect of the first input, though that isn't always
true. As a result, there is minimal need to restart even if you've
sent the narrative somewhere you'd rather not, since you can undo the
effects of any command (either with a well-placed word or "undo"), and
a few commands can send the story back to the beginning.

This could be mechanical and fairly dull without some imagination --
it could become conventional IF with only EXAMINE available -- but
Plotkin is up to the task. Many words yield unexpected results, and
trying to manipulate the story to do something in particular is almost
invariably a failure -- it is more accurate to say that you discover
the story as you go along. In that sense, this is closer to
conventional fiction than traditional interactive fiction, since you
only affect what particular story you see -- you are not, really,
writing the story yourself. The levels on which you change the story,
though, are several; there is a wide variety of input by which you can
affect what you "see". One of the more intriguing involves light, and
its effect -- this is one transition:

	   The window is open, so you climb down into dimness. The
	   table is set for two -- a surprise; you didn't think you
	   were expected. The cold shadow lifts a little. Yes. An
	   empty vase, white glass, stands beside a single lit
	   candle. A smile touches you; it feels like the first one in
	   some time.

	   You are arranging your flowers when the door opens.


	   The window is open, so you climb down into dimness. The
	   table is set. An empty vase glows, white glass catching the
	   light of a single candle. The rest of the room shades into

	   You are arranging your flowers when the door opens. (You
	   slip back into the shadow of a corner.) A figure climbs
	   out, and lowers the door closed.

Primary among the adjustments for the seasoned IF player is losing the
"goal" feeling -- the need to type in the right combination of
commands that will produce a "You have won" or some equivalent. That,
to say the least, is not the point of Space Under the Window, and
insisting on it leads to frustration; there are certainly many endings
to the story, but not many of them resolve much, such as who you are
and what you're trying to do.  Moreover, many of them are frustrating
in some respect: they seem to represent failures of one sort or
another. A lost connection here, an ignominious flight from an
encounter there, distrustful silence that never gets broken. Those
that aren't expressly negative are at best neutral, and the player
learns to appreciate intriguing twists as developments in the story
rather than goals achieved.

Space... is superior in that respect to other "experimental" works of
IF, such as "In the End", that never quite lose the feel of
"accomplish something." The mechanics are part of it -- though you
occasionally say things, the player has no control over the words, nor
when they are said, and the effect is sometimes like a novel centered
around a main character who is not always sympathetic. Not being able
to exercise control over the character -- yet playing in the second
person nonetheless -- is a strange and disconcerting feeling, and the
haphazard ways that your input affects events reinforce the sense that
you are witnessing rather than participating in the narrative. The
result is subversive in its way -- it questions the assumption that
you are sent to an interactive-fiction environment to do something
concrete, make an effect, rather than experience what's there. In
effect, it makes the scene itself, and what happens there, more
important than you, the player (though you as the player are distinct
from "you", the character), since your importance is mostly to enter
commands that allow you to see more. In that the setting is almost
entirely fixed in one location, Space... also forces the player to
appreciate the minute details that Plotkin brings out.

There are a few red herrings that I found somewhat distracting. One of
the few choices you can make sends some signals suggesting it will
affect the plot, but in fact it doesn't -- it merely affects a certain
room description. There are plotlines that simply can't be followed --
it looks like they might lead to several-paragraph narratives, but
they simply stop, and all input either reduces the text or sends the
player down a different line. And it is best not to try to understand
the cryptic bits of conversation by cross-referencing between
different storylines, since the comparison yields little insight; it's
ultimately more rewarding simply to regard the exchanges as cryptic
and appreciate the way they change with your commands.

At one point, a certain input will add to a fairly innocuous account
of a woman's movements the following: "(Always careful, and always
quiet. It took months before you saw past that.)" You never discover
what the "months" reference meant, nor enough to say what you "saw",
which certainly intensifies the air of intrigue; it's difficult to say
whether Space... would be more or less satisfying with fewer
unanswered questions. There is certainly intrigue aplenty in the
movements you observe, all the more because they reflect a history
unavailable to you. The above addition also provides a moment of
insight into your own character -- the scorn in the tone of that
statement reminds the player that he or she is not, despite the second
person, dealing with a blank slate.

The writing is skillful: Plotkin makes the scene changes reflect your
input while limiting your ultimate control over what you see. (The
experience is sometimes like throwing a rubber ball in the general
direction of an object -- we know it will change things around, but we
can't reliably predict how.) Sentences and phrases are added to
existing text, with considerable effect:

	 The window is open, so you climb down inside. The table is
	 set for two -- a surprise; you didn't think you were
	 expected. Yes. An empty vase, white glass, stands beside a
	 single lit candle.


	 The window is open, so you climb down inside. The table is
	 set for two -- a surprise; you didn't think you were
	 expected. The cold shadow lifts a little. Yes. An empty vase,
	 white glass, stands beside a single lit candle. A smile
	 touches you; it feels like the first one in some time.

Again, the change is more psychological than perceptual; your
character begins to perceive something differently, and the change
affects later interactions. In the hands of a less effective writer,
this sort of thing could feel clumsy, as if our attention were
deliberately drawn to whatever it is that's affected -- but, here, an
inattentive player might miss the significance of the change and how
it influences later developments. An equally effective example is the
difference between the following two descriptions, depending on a
certain input earlier on:

	"I never dreamed it would." She tosses her head back
	suddenly. "It seemed appropriate, that's all. Here. Finally."
	The flame of the candle flickers uncertainly, but her voice is
	still steady. "...Shall we go?"

	"I never dreamed it would." She tosses her head back suddenly,
	her lips falling one more time into that wry smile. "It seemed
	appropriate, that's all. Here. Finally." The flame of the
	candle flickers uncertainly, but her voice is still
	light. "...Shall we go?"

Not so remarkable when examined side by side, but it takes a good
writer to know when to make changes minor rather than waving flags at
the player that might disrupt the feel of the narrative. Plotkin's
writing almost never intrudes on the structure of the story (the
sequence with the flowers is one of the few exceptions), and it
rewards close attention to the various paths. Perhaps the best thing
about Space... is the spareness of it: the reader is left to infer
details from the way various pieces of the setting flicker in and out
with light changes. And there, as well, the writing is well-calculated
to tell the player just as much as needed to paint the picture.

It's hard to categorize this one, obviously; some will quickly grow
bored with it on ground that not much happens, and some will be
frustrated with how limited the player's control is, as if different
commands opened pages of a novel at random. And the feeling of not
having anything as such to do requires some attitude adjustment,
true. But there is much to appreciate in Space Under the Window,
notably some of the more satisfying or upbeat endings, and even
without a "right" way to play it, finding a previously undiscovered
narrative trail is just as intriguing as any new discovery in
conventional IF. If you can set aside your assumptions for a little
while, give this one a shot.


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April 

NAME: Time: All Things Come To An End
AUTHOR:	Andy Phillips
E-MAIL:	pmyladp SP@G
DATE: 1996
PARSER:	Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 6

As a reviewer should, I took it upon myself to replay Andy Phillips'
Time: All Things Come to an End before reviewing it, thereby to
produce a transcript. The exercise, such as it was, afforded some
insight: when the solutions to puzzles are so illogical or obscure
that they stump me completely -- even when I've _already_ finished the
game once -- something is gravely amiss. When getting through the
first half of the thing, even after I remember the solutions to the
puzzles, takes many, many tries because I forget stupid little items
that prove essential much later on, it says nothing positive about a
game. And when I am unable to keep a coherent transcript because of
all the saving and restoring required to get through the
every-move-accounted-for sections, well, the resulting review will be
less than glowing.

Trashing Andy Phillips has, admittedly, become a trend of late, so I
will try to be as positive as possible in reviewing Time... To wit:
somehow, for some reason, I plowed through this thing to begin with;
it kept me interested enough to forgive its faults and push on to the
end. I can't explain what it was now, and I certainly don't feel
compelled to slog through games I genuinely dislike. But on some
level, for me at least, Mr.  Phillips did manage to craft a game that
held my attention, and he deserves recognition for that.

On, then, to the game. As has been pointed out, Time... is an example
of a heavily linear game, meaning that fairly narrow sections of the
thing are available at any given time -- and, moreover, past sections
become unavailable once apparently disposed with. Handled well, this
sort of game can tell an interesting story and keep the plot moving
along with the game; handled poorly, it can be both frustrating and
dull -- because the confines of the plot can keep the player in a
small section of the game for a long time, with nothing to do but
examine the same objects over and over and beat his head against the
wall. More importantly, if not designed well, the player can lock
himself out of winning the game without realizing it.

And Time..., I'm sorry to say, is linear in just about the worst way a
game can be. Things like manipulating the scenery, holding onto
objects that seem fundamentally single-use, and obtaining objects with
no apparent use -- all are required actions for unforeseeable later
events. Players are advised never, NEVER, to assume an object has
exhausted its usefulness, or to leave a game area -- for the first
quarter or so of the game, you'll be doing that every few moves --
without taking absolutely everything that isn't nailed down. Except,
of course, for those objects that get you killed if you keep carrying
them past a certain point. And then there's the object that you break
in one scene but pick up and use later, and the murder weapon that you
are expected to take with you and use in an unforeseeable way, and, of
course, the many puzzles that you must solve for no other reason than
that there are some strange objects sitting around... I trust the
problems are becoming apparent.

There are many and various puzzles in Time... that require knowledge
obtained by death. The most egregious of them involves an apartment
where, let's see, failing to hide your means of getting into the
apartment (since they are noticed by a search that begins only after
you enter the apartment) and otherwise cover your tracks before anyone
actually starts looking for you, failing to realize that the police
are outside watching the apartment and will charge at the least sign
you are there, failing to realize that the police will kill you if you
are holding certain items when they get there, failing to realize that
another person will kill you if you are holding certain different
items when the police get there, and failing to disable an bomb that
will kill the police when they get there, all result in death -- plus,
of course, there are items to obtain while you're there, and the whole
thing is time-sensitive. If this one section of the game didn't screen
out quite a few would-be players, the IF world is more persistent than
I realized.

The problem with learning by death, quite aside from the realism issue
("I'd better drop the gun because I remember from the last time that
the police will kill me if I'm holding it when they get here"), is
that it makes a game less enjoyable; there's nothing like playing
through a scene 50 times to make it unspeakably boring. The advantage
of linearity is that the author can control the story he tells, but
Mr. Phillips largely sacrifices that advantage by making the puzzles
so obscure that the story does not exactly move along.

How unfair are the puzzles in Time?... There are sections where the
plot resembles an action movie and the puzzles require action-movie
suspensions of disbelief, like, say, that no one notices you stealing
a helicopter, that you can learn to pilot the helicopter instantly
(well, that a reasonably with-it first grader can pilot a helicopter,
I guess), that you can get into a second-floor apartment using the
materials that come to hand -- and these, while a bit annoying, are
part of the genre. But there are far worse moments -- for example, the
instructions at one point are that you should "use the stasis field,"
which I found less than helpful. You miraculously sense that a statue
is actually something completely different in disguise, with no hints
to that effect. You wait seven turns in a location for the means of
solving a puzzle to appear -- though it was there all along; you just
hadn't "noticed" it. Other things are likewise hidden until you type
certain sensory commands, and so on.

The game is largely devoid of helpful hints, requires absurdly exact
syntax in many cases -- notably, getting out of the map room, which
required both a huge intuitive leap regarding the procedure and a game
of guess-the-verb for the final action. Another puzzle involving a
crate is looking for a certain verb that is, in truth, used fairly
frequently in IF these days -- but not in the context you find it
here.  Magical/technologically advanced objects (the line between them
is fairly blurry here) do things that could not possibly be foreseen
-- the same object, even, will have several uses that have little in
common. There is a time-paradox puzzle that, well, seems frankly
absurd -- not only for the objects that cannot logically exist, but
for the reactions to you by someone who, even accepting the paradoz,
could not have encountered you before. (It also serves no real purpose
in the game -- it provides information that could easily have been
provided another way.) One puzzle requires such a ludicrous disregard
of scale that when I saw it in the walkthrough, I assumed I had missed
something important earlier on. And whenever you are under duress --
meaning that someone is about to kill you, which is the case virtually
every moment -- objects in your backpack are unavailable on grounds
that you have more important things to do than "fiddling with"
whatever -- and inventory management before the scenes (requiring
amazing foreknowledge of what you'll need) is, of course, necessary.

And then, of course, there's the writing. There are worse sins than
the occasional comma splice, but the writing here is littered with
them -- e.g. "A fire burns in one corner of the room, its red glow is
highly appropriate to the surroundings." The syntax of many room
descriptions is so tortured that the idea doesn't come across, as in:
"To the north of you is the vast expanse of the park's solitary lake,
looking dull, a reflection of the dark sky and equally dark feeling
about this whole place." Er, what? There is a genuine attempt here to
provide atmosphere, but too often it produces results like these:

	A well-worn road running from west to east, with the park
	gates to the north. Some distance to the east, the street ends
	in a bricked up wall, while it opens up into some kind of
	large square to the west. The area is deserted, almost as if
	the inhabitants have given up on this terrible world.

	You are in what appears to be the central area of the town,
	market stalls lie abandoned and a few people hurriedly walk
	from one area to another, as if in a hopeless attempt to avoid
	this apparent centre of the evil. Most areas have been
	cordoned off, except for the seemingly important stone
	building to the south.

Good writing usually tries to show the reader the scene and let him
infer from there, rather than telling him outright what to feel or
think; the scenes above might have been quite effective if they had
included, say, descriptions of passers-by who walk by with their heads
down without speaking to each other, or if the player had encountered
someone who was clearly afraid of a certain building and nervous about
speaking too loud.  As it is, the atmosphere here becomes
self-parodying, since evil and menace are so obvious and ubiquitous
that they become unremarkable. ("And our weather report: partly
cloudy, with an undercurrent of evil throughout the afternoon.") At
times, the author lays off the brooding menace and dread, and the
results are effective...

	The moonlight casts eerie shadows onto the buildings that
	surround the central courtyard. The western edge is dominated
	by a building seemingly still in use, but the Schloss is
	otherwise deserted.

...but those moments are, alas, all too few. In one region, you are
given the message "Somewhere nearby someone screams with pain, you
don't even want to imagine the horrors taking place in these depths"
so often, with no variation, that it loses whatever power it had to
shock. Ho-hum, more screams of pain. Now and again, the prose turns
deep purple:

	The shocking handiwork of your murderous psychotic enemy is
	evident again, notably from the red marks left by the
	murderous tool on the man's neck.  From the depths of the
	lifeless eyes seems to come a pleading for mercy which was
	coldly rejected by the smiling sadist responsible for this
	barbaric slaughter.

The point of all this is not simply to make fun of the writing,
tempting though that might be after slogging through a game worth of
it, but to show that bad writing can reduce enjoyment of a game by
wrecking the scene it tries to set.

True, many readers will forgive excess -- but when you force a player
to inhabit a small section of the game for a while, and hence
encounter the same descriptions again and again, it behooves you as a
writer to make those descriptions effective -- or, at least, not
ridiculous. The "enemy" is an obvious example here; she is everywhere,
her motivations are wildly unclear, and upon your every encounter with
her, she spouts bad-guy lines from action movies that break whatever
tension had been achieved. ("You fools, did you really think you could
oppose the ultimate race?" "You know, I'm going to have to put a stop
to your interferences.") Said by someone like John Malkovich, things
like this are forgivable; as written text, no. So often did I stop to
chuckle at this or that in Time...that the plot became rather
uninvolving after a while. And a game this big needs to be involving
-- the writing needs to be passable -- to keep the player's attention.

It should be reiterated that there are enjoyable moments in Time... --
one scene involving assumption of another's identity does build up
tension well (even if the situation is a bit oversimplified), and
there is a genuinely clever, if not wholly logical, puzzle involving
the repair and use of a strange machine. And the author is quite good
at the principle of providing payoff for puzzles solved -- virtually
every discovery rewards you with a good bit of text and more things to
explore -- which helps in a game with lots of puzzles. The climax is
suitably climactic (though unfairly difficult -- very time-sensitive
and involving a thoroughly obscure riddle), and even the overwritten
scenes have their interesting moments, notably the segment in
London. On the whole, though, there is more to learn here about what
can go wrong in a game than about what can go right.


From: Lars Jodal 

NAME: Unnkulia Zero: The Search for Amanda
AUTHOR: Dave Leary
EMAIL: dleary SP@G
DATE: 1993
AVAILABILITY: Freeware(!), GMD anytime
VERSION: Version 1.2

Adventions has decided to make their games freeware. Since this should
spur well-deserved interest in Unnkulia Zero (and since I just
finished said game a few hours ago) a review seems due.

The game once more brings us to the landscape known from Unnkulian
Underworld, but this time back in the days of yore when the Valley
King ruled. The king's betrothed Amanda has been kidnapped by the evil
unnkulians, and you, the king's most trusted warrior, is given the
task of finding her.

Unnkulia Zero adds immensely to the universe set up in Unnkuliuan
Underworld I and II, clarifying and expanding on old myths as well as
providing new ones. Compared to most other adventure games Unnkulia
Zero is very rich in text and has detailed descriptions of almost
everything mentioned in the game. The plot may be a bit linear at
points, but not more than should be expected when one wants a coherent
plot. The puzzles in the game are generally tough but in most cases
fair. A few of the puzzles cannot be said to be logical, though. At
least they require the special unnkulian logic that in many cases
turns things upside down. The player is adviced to read carefully,
since the text contains many clues and subtleties.

The weakest point of the game is that even the careful player can end
up in a no-win situation without knowing it. Some objects may simply
be overlooked until it is too late, others can too easily be lost
during the game. In at least one situation you have to give up some
objects at a time when you cannot be 100% sure of what will be needed
later in the game.

All in all Unnkulia Zero is a remarkable game that was fully worth the
money when it was commercial and which is a must now that it is free!


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April 

NAME: The Wedding
AUTHOR: Neil Brown
E-MAIL:	Not available
DATE: 1996
PARSER:	Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 4

Genuinely character-driven IF, as in stories whose plot and puzzles
revolve around interacting with people rather than manipulating
objects, is extraordinarily difficult to realize. Infocom's mysteries
are some of the best attempts at this, but many of the characters even
in those feel mechanical; it is all too obvious that there is a short
list of keywords with appropriate responses. Neil Brown's The Wedding
is not, admittedly, a fully character-driven game, but it does have
that element -- and it illustrates just how difficult a goal it is to
accomplish, even on a limited scale. On the whole, there are many good
things about The Wedding -- but the moments that require interaction
with the various NPCs simply fall flat.

This is not to say that they are bad NPCs; they manage to be
relatively realistic, to respond to an adequate variety of prompts,
and even supply a modicum of humor. But, as so often happens, the
puzzles involving them, though well-imagined, feel painfully
artificial; they reduce the people to robots who will wait 100 turns
for the next line of dialogue, say, or who don't notice notable events
going on around them because they're not told to. One puzzle in The
Wedding, in fact, requires that a character ask you a randomized
question, you wander away surreptitiously and find out the answer, and
then wander back and answer the question as if it were one
conversation. Now, there is an attempt at realism here, in that the
game mocks you if you try to find out the answer on the spot -- but it
trades one silliness for another, in effect, in reducing character
interactions to videotapes that can be stopped and returned to at

The above is a minor absurdity, but there are more significant ones as
well -- for instance, a certain character will (and must) follow you
at a certain point, but not before then, and there is no logical
explanation to the change. Another character's responses to you depend
on your having discovered a certain fact about that character,
regardless of what you do.  The security guard positioned by the front
door is so remarkably dense that it troubles him not a bit that you
come out of that door repeatedly; he simply refuses to allow you back
in. Again, it should be said that these and other flaws in "The
Wedding" illustrate the difficulty of coding realistic people more
than any inadequacy on the part of the author; simple move-the-objects
games are far less taxing. But when it comes to realism (and let's
face it, the major charm of character-driven games is that they can
approximate real life in some measure), there are snags aplenty. It
may be a side effect of building a game around characters rather than
objects that there are quite a few plot holes, some of them
acknowledged by the author in the end credits; one of the main things
that puzzled me was why someone buried something obviously worthless.

The plot of The Wedding is apparently simple: your school chum
Malcolm, due to be married, has disappeared, and you have been called
in to help out -- but, because of family tensions, your mission is
secret, so secret that you have to figure out alternative ways of
getting into the house because the guard hasn't been authorized to let
you in. (My question: if you're such a good friend of this Malcolm
fellow and you're invited to the wedding, why do you have to sneak
into the house?)

After a few elementary clues about what's going on, you commence
solving puzzles in classic "here's a nail, so I'll go look for a
hammer" style; you have a series of puzzles to solve because they're
there, and some are not obviously puzzles at all. (A surly teenager
won't say anything to you? Isn't that just a fact of life, not
something to worry about?) Some of the puzzles are rather clever and
involve use of household gadgetry that, while not wildly inventive in
terms of common sense, requires some steps that few works of IF bother
with. (Put another way: The Wedding is situated so firmly in the realm
of everyday life that it takes some mental adjustment to solve such
down-to earth puzzles.) One hidden item requires an annoyingly exact
command to find, though, and it's possible to bog down and not realize
what's holding you back, and another mechanical puzzle requires
something of an intuitive leap for the proper verb -- but, by and
large, the puzzles are fairly good. Trouble is, as noted, they use the
NPCs in ways that make them little better than props.

The gameplay is likewise a bit uneven -- lots and lots of useless
scenery, for instance (for which you get "that's not something you
need to refer to..." messages, mostly), and some illogicalities, like
a supermarket bag that can hold anything and everything, including a
spade. (There is one character who wants a certain food item -- but
once you bring the food, you can drop it on the floor and he'll never
pick it up, or you can eat it yourself without any protest from him.)

The Wedding has the usual Inform benefits, along with a very limited
hint menu (plus other limited sources of hints worked into the game),
and there are plenty of synonyms for most words -- and the game itself
is wide enough that there are at least a few puzzles to work on at any
given moment. (One puzzle (the dungeon problem) that seems to cry out
"I have more than one solution!" does not, though -- maybe in a later
release?) Dialogue is a bit clumsy as well -- "yes" in response to a
direct question doesn't work; you must type "answer yes" or "say yes
to" whoever, somewhat grating in a game where you learn many things
from the various characters.

The writing is mostly good, though it has rough spots -- there are
some things in room descriptions that perhaps shouldn't be. For
instance, when you first reach the front hall, you get this:

	The great entrance hall of D'Arcy manor evokes a twinge of
        jealousy within you -- the grand wooden polished floors and
        staircase, the expensive chandelier hanging from the high
        ceiling, the priceless Compton painting hanging on a wall. Why
        can't you inherit something like this? Leaving aside feelings
        of bitterness...

Fine. Well-written, realistic. Except that you probably shouldn't feel
it the tenth or eleventh time you enter the room -- I mean, you've
probably seen hardwood floors before. Most of the room descriptions
are well done -- descriptive, but controlled -- though I wasn't sure
whether this one was supposed to be straightforward or sarcastic:

	This room offers refuge from the tastelessness that seems to
	prevail around the rest of the house. Framed pictures of
	famous film actresses, Garland, Dietrich, Midler and Streisand
	in particular, hang proudly on the sky-blue walls, alongside
	two extra-large pink and red ribbons. The abundance of style
	extends to the curtains, the most attractive you have ever
	seen. If only the rest of the house, to the south, had been
	decorated as well as this.

Me, I never saw Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand posters as the
epitome of good taste -- nor, for that matter, huge pink and red
ribbons -- but perhaps it's just me. (If this is supposed to be
ironic, it's not well done.) These are quibbles, though, because the
writing here is generally solid and effective -- reasonably
atmospheric and genuinely funny. When you confront one character late
in the game, you get this:

	"Okay, muggins," you say, "spill the beans, squeak, start
	talking, loosen your tongue..." Then you realise that you are
	getting carried away, and drop the tough cop act.

Not laugh-out-loud hilarious, but amusing nonetheless. There are many
such moments -- the game is littered with Easter eggs, some of which
are pointed out in a "fun stuff" file available when the gane is done
-- that illustrate real interest in making the game enjoyable. (A
television has 8 different channels, all with 10-15 randomized funny
scenes depending on the channel -- the soap opera channel is one of
the best, I think.) Brown has a feel for compact but effective room
descriptions, as in the following:

	Considering the high technology that has gone into guarding
	this area, the cellar is surprisingly lo-tech. One very dull
	fluorescent tube casts gloomy light over the brick walls. The
	air is damp; cobwebs line the ceiling. A tunnel disappears off
	into the darkness to the northeast, and a set of stone steps
	lead east up to the passageway.

For a concept like The Wedding to work, it needs good writing -- there
are few things duller than trying to interact with badly written
characters, or inhabiting a small game environment where the author
hasn't bothered to make the locations interesting or believable. And
the writing here is easily good enough to keep the player involved and
prevent the game from becoming tedious even when nothing is going on,
puzzle-wise, though a few too many of the rooms break the description
by inserting your thoughts or reactions. There are many genuinely
funny moments, as noted, and the whole thing is mercifully free from
signs of taking itself seriously.

There is much to like about The Wedding, in short, and its
shortcomings are more due to the difficulty of its undertaking than to
poor writing or programming; there are enough clever puzzles and
humorous asides for the game to be involving despite the shortcomings
in the plot and setup.  Despite its flaws, The Wedding is a solid
entry in the IF library.


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April 

NAME: Zork I
AUTHORS: Marc Blank and David Lebling
DATE: 1981
PARSER:	Early Infocom
SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
VERSION: Release 88

Consideration of the relative merits of Zork I, in 1997, is difficult
to undertake fairly. Infocom's achievement in publishing such a game
in 1981 -- to fit the limitations of tiny microcomputers, in a
language that they had written themselves -- was considerable, and
flaws in the game cannot be considered in the same critical light as
those of games written today. Numerous bugs have been corrected since
the original release, but the game is still essentially the same --
none of the bugs addressed design flaws that affected the plot or
structure of the game; its limitations were not serious enough to
warrant fundamental changes.

Nor was the popularity of Zork I a fluke. Novelty was part of its
appeal, certainly, and the game suffers in comparison to later, more
polished efforts, but the attempt to create a plausible game
environment with only text was sufficiently successful that many, many
people were genuinely absorbed -- by the challenge of the puzzles and
by the story, such as it is.  The versatility of the parser was
doubtless part of it -- to get the true experience of playing
Infocom's games in the early '80s, struggle through some Scott Adams
or the like and its volume of "go tree" and "look rock" commands. The
primitiveness of the game environment of Adams and the like is not an
indictment, given cost and size limitations, but the wizardry of
Infocom in overcoming those limitations should be recognized through
the comparison as near genius.

Graeme Cree's bug list inventories some of the design flaws of Zork I,
some of which have been corrected, some not. My personal favorite,
from the first release, involves "give troll to troll," whereupon the
troll eats himself and disappears. There are some problems that live
on, though -- for example, the player is given an extensive
description of the jewel-encrusted egg upon first encountering it, but
that description can never be reached again once the egg is moved --
it began with "In the bird's nest...", but the rest of the description
relates only to the egg and would be relevant in any setting. Some of
the synonyms are a bit off -- "examine passage" yields "there's
nothing special about the way."

Among the stranger red herrings are the tool chests at the dam, which
"are so rusty and corroded that they crumble when you try to touch
them," and they certainly do crumble -- after that response, the
chests are gone, apparently melting into dust and blowing away. There
are numerous small illogicalities -- how does one raise and lower a
basket up and down a mine shaft from the bottom of that shaft? Remote
control? How does it happen to be that one inevitably happens upon a
small object when digging in a room, without prior guidance? Is the
thief really so clever -- or are you really so dumb -- that he can
steal your light source? Why is it that a room filling up with water
obligingly stops filling and waits for you to return if you leave?

Many of the rules that IF players have come to expect designers to
follow came about as a result of bad experiences with the early games,
and Zork I is no exception. Though the inclusion of alternate
solutions to problems is welcome, some of the alternate paths are a
bit strange -- it is handy to know the shortcut to the thief's
hideaway, but there is no way of guessing that shortcut without taking
the long, arduous route, and players might well feel they have been
put through needless aggravation. There are quite a few save-restore
puzzles -- the "squeaky sounds" are hardly adequate warning for the
bat puzzle, nor is it obvious that you, the player, will be so dumb as
to puncture the boat by boarding it with a sword or other sharp
object. The maze is large and irritating -- and the addition of the
thief to the mix, while an amusing innovation on Colossal Cave, makes
things worse. And most frustrating of all, of course, is the
randomized combat, with no way to improve your chances -- an element
that Infocom largely set aside after Zork I, thankfully.

The writing is somewhat uneven, frankly. There are many rooms whose
descriptions are cursory -- whereas Colossal Cave had clearly drawn on
explorers' accounts of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky in its attention to
geological detail, providing a measure of realism, there are many Zork
I descriptions like this: "This is a circular stone room with passages
in all directions. Several of them have unfortunately been blocked by
cave-ins." Such a variety of settings comes in such a short space --
chasm, canyon, lake -- and with so little description that the reality
of the environment suffers at time. Most room descriptions begin with
something like "You are in a small room," which says little. Like, how
small, man?  Bread-box? Closet? There are moments of fairly thorough
description in largely irrelevant locales, notably the canyon outside,
and there are places where the descriptions are so terse that one
wonders whether the intent was humor:

	Land of the Dead

	You have entered the Land of the Living Dead. Thousands of
	lost souls can be heard weeping and moaning. In the corner are
	stacked the remains of dozens of previous adventurers less
	fortunate than yourself. A passage exits to the north.

Here I am in Hades. *yawn* Wonder if there's a gift shop around. Well,
back to the adventure. Examining the remains elicits the response "You
see nothing special about the pile of bodies." But though Zork I had
little of the atmosphere that would mark later Infocom efforts, the
very spareness of its prose was sometimes effective, as in the Troll

	This is a small room with passages to the east and south and a
	forbidding hole leading west. Bloodstains and deep scratches
	(perhaps made by an axe) mar the walls.

	A nasty-looking troll, brandishing a bloody axe, blocks all
	passages out of the room.

	Your sword has begun to glow very brightly.

Where a more thorough description of blood and gore might have seemed
excessive, the brief reference to "bloodstains and deep scratches"
allows the imagination to conjure up the scene -- and the description
followed by the mention of the troll, while provided to separate out
objects from scenery, heightens the effect of first impression -- the
ominous decor -- and sudden realization of the source of that decor,
as if the player were peering around the room and saw the troll
last. Equally effective is the experience of dying once past a certain
point in the game and wandering around as a ghost -- being told that
your hand passes through objects, finding exits from the dungeon
barred; the feel is reminiscent of Sartre's "Les jeux sont faits."
Though the lack of an endgame seems strange to experienced IF players,
the final reference to the sequel is genuinely tantalizing.

Zork I does work, in the end, though it's hard to pinpoint just why.
Collect-the-treasures as a plot is a weary old device, and it doesn't
only seem that way to IF players -- it had, after all, been the
subject of innumerable fantasy novels and games before IF hit the
scene. But its recurring presence points to some appeal that Zork I
managed to tap into -- the allure of getting rich, and of obtaining
things as diverse as the coffin of Ramses II, a songbird's bauble, and
a dead adventurer's bag of coins, keeps the intrigue of finding the
next treasure alive, somehow.  Vital to the enterprise is, of course,
the humor, even if the barrage of self-reference becomes wearying;
responses like "Only Santa Claus climbs down chimneys" make the game
feel more intelligent than a "You can't do that" response would have,
and moments like the description of the vampire bat and the behavior
of the thief break up the traipsing-from-room-to-room feel that
sometimes plagued Colossal Cave. For my part, I still enjoy this


	At your service!

The variety of responses to "jump" -- a command with, of course, no
practical value in the game -- and the provision for other
nonessential verbs points to the pains that Infocom took from the very
beginning to make the environment genuinely interactive, rather than
the minimum of nouns and commands needed to get the player through the
game. The value of that is hard to measure, but Zork I, with its many
Easter eggs, is a good exxample of a game that felt worth the price
because of its breadth -- much to do, many responses to try.

Playing Zork I now is indeed worthwhile, both to see how far IF has
come and to appreciate its origins, despite the annoyances. It is a
credit to its design that it remains an enjoyable game, well worth its


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April 

AUTHORS: Marc Blank, David Lebling
E-MAIL:	No, 'e don't
DATE: 1982
PARSER:	Early Infocom
SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
AVAILABILITY: Commercial (Masterpieces)
VERSION: Release 48

Zork II picks up where its predecessor left off in many ways -- the
beginning deposits you inside the barrow that had marked the end of
Zork I, your trusty lamp and sword are by your side, and your mission
seems at the outset to be more treasure-gathering. But Zork II parts
company with the first of the series in a variety of important ways as
the game progresses -- that sword is useful, but in a way far more
interesting than hack-and-slash -- and the changes suggest that the
folks at Infocom were interested less in putting out more of the same
than in refining their product and heightening ths challenge.

One way in particular that the designers of Zork II chose to raise the
difficulty level bears mention because it seems to have been deemed a
failure as a game device, and rightly so: the reliance on random
events.  Two major elements of Zork II are random -- the role of the
Wizard and the function of the Carousel Room -- and while each can be
disabled over the course of the game, each makes the normal course of
gameplay rather tiresome while active. An ill-timed Wizard appearance
can actually render the game unwinnable at several points, making Zork
II the only Infocom game I can think of (well, Zork I had randomized
combat, true, but unforeseeable random events -- meaning save-restore
cannot be relied upon in the same way as with combat -- are different)
where one can lose the chance to finish a game through no fault of
one's own. Usually, this happens because his spells disrupt a
time-dependent sequence that only happens once (actually, I just
discovered that becoming the object of a "float" spell in the volcano
spells death, though an amusing death), but there is one spell which,
if cast, instantly cuts off the possibility of winning, in a way that
the player could not possibly be expected to guess. This is a cruel
trick indeed, and later Infocom games eschew unfairness of this sort
-- but first-time players of Zork II should be warned that frequent
saves are in order.

While the plot, as noted, seems at first to be an extension of the
scavenger theme, it turns out to be something quite different; the
treasures have a use that marks a change in emphasis of sorts for your
character, from gathering booty to exploring the deeper recesses of
the cave -- and in that, perhaps, one might say that the plot thickens
slightly over the course of the game. The paragraph at the end of the
game suggests a larger mission, one that will come as a surprise to
the merry treasure-hunter -- and yet it makes some sense, in that it
suggests that the valor tha player has demonstrated in getting that
far points to a more important goal.

Magic is prevalent in Zork II, more so than in the original,
appropriately so since it is a wizard's domain that you are exploring
-- and the progress of the game moves you from object and victim of
the magic to its controller, to some extent at least, in that you
outwit a variety of magical traps and learn to use some magic items to
your own ends. The magic is haphazard -- no hint of the more organized
system of the Enchanter trilogy -- but there is a real sense by the
end that you, the unskilled but savvy adventurer, have beaten the
wizard at his own game, and it helps deepen the admittedly thin sense
of a plot. Magic is also played up for humor value, including the
wizard's failed spells ("There is a loud crackling sound, and blue
smoke rises from the wizard's sleeve. He sighs and disappears.") and
such sidelights as the "fudge" spell. (Though I was hoping that there
would be amusing applications of the power you gain toward the end of
the game, and I didn't find many.)

Several of the puzzles are lifted from the original "Dungeon"
mainframe game, though most of that had ended up in Zork I. (Though,
at one point, you see, from a distance, a location that had existed in
Dungeon but had dropped out of Zork I -- slightly confusing to the
uninitated.) One of the puzzles has a drastically different -- and
much more creative -- solution than in the original "Dungeon" game,
though it's more a "wonder what happens if I do this" solution than an
"oh, I know, I should do this" solution. The quality of the puzzles is
uneven: one requires some trial and error, amusing in its effects when
you get it wrong but trial and error all the same. The Bank of Zork
puzzle has drawn some criticism for being possible to solve without
fully understanding, though the rationale behind it is elegant enough
that it seems a minor problem -- and another puzzle requires that one
largely set aside one's knowledge of how liquids work (meaning that
what I suspect was supposed to be among the easier puzzles stumped me
completely when I first played the game).

There is, of course, one notoriously bad puzzle toward the end -- bad
for its "guess-what-I'm-thinking" aspect and for its inaccessibility
to the non-American -- and for pretending to be a maze when not
one. And the final puzzle is, I think, ridiculously hard -- the
required action is motivationless and the game gives not the slightest
nudge in the right direction. Infocom rated Zork II "advanced," but
their sense of how to make a game hard without making it unfair was as
yet not fully developed.

Zork II feels much more polished than Zork I; the geography of the
game is somewhat more coherent, there are fewer illogicalities, and
the layout is less a series of puzzles than a set of locations that
revolve -- literally -- around a central area. The writing --
substantially better than that of Zork I -- confirms that impression;
there are virtually no rooms without a complete description, and at
times the writer manages to paint quite a vivid picture. The tunnel at
the beginning, while otherwise irrelevant, draws the reader in
effectively and provides atmosphere and attention to detail that had
been absent in the first game; it's as if the player has become less
intent on treasure and more apt to notice the surroundings now and
again. There are many locations worth picturing in one's own mind in
the course of Zork II, this among them:

	North End of Garden

	This is the northern end of a formal garden. Hedges hide the
	cavern walls, and if you don't look up, the illusion is of a
	cloudy day outside. The light comes from a large growth of
	glowing mosses on the roof of the cave.  A break in the hedge
	is almost overgrown to the north. A carefully manicured path
	leads south. In the center of a rosebed is a small open
	structure, painted white. It appears to be a gazebo.

And this:

        Menhir Room

	This is a large room which was evidently used once as a
	quarry. Many large limestone chunks lie helter-skelter around
	the room. Some are rough-hewn and unworked, others smooth and
	well-finished. One side of the room appears to have been used
	to quarry building blocks, the other to produce menhirs
	(standing stones). Obvious passages lead north and south.

	One particularly large menhir, at least twenty feet tall and
	eight feet thick, is leaning against the wall blocking a dark
	opening leading southwest. On this side of the menhir is
	carved an ornate letter "F".

Providing the salient details as the player looks around the room
makes the experience more real and adds to the illusion of stumbling
on a world rather than a series of puzzles; many of the most memorable
images or scenes in the trilogy are in Zork II simply because the game
authors gave the settings so much attention. (When I first played this
-- I was 7 -- I had dreams about the Bank of Zork.) Even the
after-death sequence was intriguing, and points to mysteries that
unravel as the game progresses.  Part of the appeal of the writing in
Zork II is that it genuinely felt like a series of caves, with
geological detail noted and occasional references to a natural light

In summary, the appeal of playing Zork II lies less in the puzzles
than in the game environment, and this installment is best enjoyed at
a measured pace, with time to read room descriptions and visualize the
scene. Notable for the way it changes the feel of the series, Zork II,
despite its flaws, points to Infocom's developing skills.


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April 

E-MAIL:	One of the world's great mysteries
DATE: 1983
PARSER:	Early Infocom
SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
AVAILABILITY: Commercial (Masterpieces)
VERSION: Release 17

To say merely that Zork III represents a departure from the first two
entries in the series is to understate the case. Though much in this
game will be familiar to the experienced Infocom gamer, and though it
resolves the series reasonably coherently, Zork III works on a
thoroughly different premise from the first two -- and to the extent
that it succeeds, it does because the player is willing to set aside
expectations built up by Zorks I and II.

This is not, of course, to say that Zork III is a letdown, or not an
enjoyable game, but it is hardly enjoyable on the same terms as the
other parts of the series. The humor, to take an obvious example, is
subordinate to the story in Zork III and appears at odd moments,
Easter eggs typical of Infocom's writing (listening to the guards in
the museum is a good example, or reading the plaque in the Jewel Room
after you solve the puzzle). But there is little humor in the
storyline itself -- nothing, for example, along the lines of cakes
that cause you to evaporate, or wizards casting spells like "Fudge,"
or thieves making sardonic remarks, or a room that mocks mocks your
your syntax syntax until until solved solved. There is one slightly
jokey puzzle, true, but the game doesn't really play up the humorous
aspect as it might; it is the resolution to a problem that is, like
most of the game, thoroughly solemn. The main NPC of the game, when
you encounter him toward the end, offers minimal interaction -- and it
seems that, considering his identity, something amusing could have
been coded in (I certainly never found anything). (No, the bugs
involving what happens when he follows you around don't count.)

Again, this is not to say that Zork III is humorless -- but the plot
feels deadly serious and there is little of the comic in any vital
element to the game. (Compare, for instance, the rainbow and bat
puzzles in Zork I, or the lizard or Cerberus in Zork II.) The reasons
for that are debatable, but my own feeling was that it was a product
of the structure of the game; more on that in a moment.

The writing reinforces the feel; most of the locations you visit are
either on barren landscape or in abandoned rooms evocative of the
decayed empire. Though the quality of writing is similar to that of
Zork II, the mood created is different: where Zork II's images
depicted a mysterious and slightly dangerous cave, with breathtaking
views juxtaposed with cramped caverns, Zork III gives us gloom and
emptiness. In a sense, though there are a few NPC interactions, no one
is there; you are wandering around a region where no one is or has
been for a while, and no one wants to be. For example:

        Land of Shadow

	You are standing atop a steep cliff, looking west over a vast
	ocean. Far below, the surf pounds at a sandy beach. To the
	south and east are rolling hills filled with eerie shadows. A
	path cut into the face of the cliff descends toward the
	beach. To the north is a tall stone wall, which ends at the
	cliff edge. It was obviously built long ago, and directly
	north is a spot where you could climb over the rubble of the
	decaying wall.


	Scenic Vista

	You are in a small chamber carved in the rock, with the sole
	exit to the north. Mounted on one wall is a table labelled
	"Scenic Vista," whose featureless surface is angled toward
	you. One might believe that the table was used to indicate
	points of interest in the view from this spot, like those
	found in many parks. On the other hand, your surroundings are
	far from spacious and by no stretch of the imagination could
	this spot be considered scenic. An indicator above the table
	reads "IV".

	Mounted on one wall is a flaming torch, which fills the room
	with a flickering light.

It is hard to put a label on the mood of Zork III -- "brooding,"
perhaps, but that would make it more ominous than it is. If anything,
it seems like a T.S. Eliot scene, with its barren landscapes and wisps
of mist and enigmatic encounters with unidentified characters. (As I
spent last winter in Scotland -- on the North Sea coast, even -- the
Land of Shadow description above feels familiar indeed.) The adjective
"gray" never appears, as far as I can tell, in any of the room
descriptions in Zork III, and yet there is a grayness about the game
environment that makes the feel of the game far more real, more
coherent, than the other two, even if the scenes themselves are less
picturesque than those of Zork II. The description of the clifftop
captures the study in contrasts:


	 This is a remarkable spot in the dungeon. Perhaps two hundred
	 feet above you is a gaping hole in the earth's surface
	 through which pours bright sunshine! A few seedlings from the
	 world above, nurtured by the sunlight and occasional rains,
	 have grown into giant trees, making this a virtual oasis in
	 the desert of the Underground Empire. To the west is a sheer
	 precipice, dropping nearly fifty feet to jagged rocks
	 below. The way south is barred by a forbidding stone wall,
	 crumbling from age. There is a jagged opening in the wall to
	 the southwest, through which leaks a fine mist. The land to
	 the east looks lifeless and barren.

A vivid scene, indeed -- a glimpse of the life above ground in full
awareness of the bleakness of the setting, and, implicitly, color
contrasting with drabness, the look up toward the hole in the cavern
balanced against the look down, over the cliff. There is much to
appreciate in the writer's ability to accent the pertinent visual

The plot -- well, thereby hangs a tale. Though, as in the first two
entries, you discover what the plot is as you progress, you are given
a sense in the prologue of what you are looking for, and it quickly
becomes clear that no crystal tridents or golden statuettes are at
issue this time around. The scoring system -- you have seven major
tasks to perform and are given a point for each, though the game will
be far from over when the seven tasks are done -- reflects the new
approach. "Seek me when you feel yourself worthy!" proclaims the
figure of the prologue, and prowess is not established by a propensity
for gathering loot. It can be argued that the substitute makes little
more sense, but my own reaction was that I was on the trail of
something more interesting than another chunk of gold -- and Zork III
does try as well, though not very successfully, to put a different
face on the skillful adventurer. (Suffice it to say that your final
encounter gives a touch of Matthew 25:31-46 to the rest of the game.)

There is a tension here between the two sides of what you are
accomplishing over the course of the game, and my own feeling was that
it would have been a more interesting tension with more development of
the second, more subjective angle, the element not measured by items
acquired.  (As it is, there are still shades of the more
tried-and-true scavenger-hunt approach, though the objects sought are
different.) The outcomes in the museum and at the top of the cliff
particularly play up how the player's assumptions must change -- in a
sense, the central puzzles are those of a child presented with a
cookie jar. It is certainly worth pondering how the nature of your
escapade with the ring fits into the character-development angle --
and it seems like the sword-in-the-stone angle might have been
reworked to fit that idea better. To discuss the plot any more
specifically would give away too much of the game, but whatever the
failings of the storyline in Zork III, it does offer food for thought,
and brings the would-be looter, fresh from amassing two games' worth
of bounty, up short. (And the ultimate ending offers, in a sense, the
ultimate twist.)

The puzzles vary widely -- some are memorable, some are nothing
special, and some are just irritating -- and there aren't many. There
is one that there seems little possibility of guessing -- the player
hits on it by chance if at all. One required series of actions is
time-sensitive in a thoroughly nonobvious way; it is easy to lock
yourself out of victory simply by waiting too long to settle a certain
matter. The infamous Royal Puzzle is not the hardest puzzle in the
game; once the player grasps the mechanics, it is a matter of careful
planning more than anything else. But small slips can, again, lock one
out of completing it (and there is disappointingly little payoff to
solving it, other than survival).  Others -- the museum and viewing
room puzzles, in particular -- are rather rewarding, though, and the
latter even explains one of the odder red herrings from Zork II. And
the mirror box, while it takes considerable mental aerobics to picture
and use properly, is one of the more intriguing Infocom contraptions;
mastering its more complicated purpose without help is no small
feat. I found the last puzzle a bit unfair -- I learned later that a
clue to it appeared where no clue had been before, but, silly me, I
didn't think to check. But the novice should be warned that a few of
Zork III's puzzles are difficult indeed, and require some trial and
error -- considerable, actually -- to solve.

There are many small things to enjoy along the course of Zork III,
including the obligatory bits of self-reference; like Infocom or hate
it, it certainly did come up with novel ways to plug upcoming games,
and the advertisement for Enchanter in Zork III is no exception
(though it's something of a bitter taste). Some of the problems
involve Zork in-jokes of sorts, humor appreciable mainly for its
cumulative effects through the first two games -- at the ocean and
south of the lake, in particular, and upon examining the plaque in the
Jewel Room. And there are genuinely riveting moments, in particular
your last glimpse of the hooded figure from the Land of Shadow and
your encounter, successful or not, with the Guardians of Zork. A game
as skillfully written as Zork III need not describe every room
elaborately, simply because the more lengthy descriptions are more
than adequate to set the scene in the player's mind; I know I could
picture the hallway of the Guardians of Zork vividly, though the room
descriptions were fairly cursory. Though the gameplay is sometimes
clumsy -- at one point, "enter the flaming pit" elicits "You hit your
head against the flaming pit as you attempt this feat", and "climb
wall" yields "There's no tree here suitable for climbing" -- the
parser is usually strong enough to smooth things over.

To appreciate Zork III, I think, the player needs to appreciate what
the game authors were setting out to do -- and it was not simply to
end the series, because a final spectacular treasure hunt would have
done that perfectly well. To have solved Zork III is to have looked
critically at some of the cliches of the fantasy genre, some obvious
-- the treasure element -- but some less so, such as the expectation
of spectacular or striking locations. By setting much of the game on
what could be an English moor or heath -- the Crystal Grotto is a
somewhat jarring exception -- or an American plain and mountainside,
the designers subvert those expectations and make your quest, if
anything, prosaic -- at least, prosaic relative to the expectations of
the genre. The many locations that are not significant for any puzzle
reinforce the same effect, as do details like "The ground here is
quite hard, but a few sickly reeds manage to grow near the water's
edge." There are few mighty deeds in Zork III -- no dragon to slay or
gates of Hades to enter; instead, the puzzles involve cleverness or
survival, and using fairly conventional tools to achieve your
ends. Perhaps most interestingly, there is minimal magic in Zork III,
and you have minimal control over anything magical; logic and
mechanics are at issue in the puzzles.

Certainly, not everything about the game is fresh -- the overarching
plot is not, after all, especially original -- but the experience of
playing the game yields something unfamiliar to the fantasy
enthusiast. In a sense, the nature of the world of Zork III brings the
person sitting at the keyboard into the game in a way that the Zork II
player was not likely to feel, unless he or she was used to
encountering wizards and unicorns.

In the end, the success of Zork III depends on how open the player is to
the game's peculiarities. The game is less fun in the most obvious sense
than its two predecessors; it indulges in fewer amusing antics and has
fewer rewarding things to do. But it ties up the series in a way that more
of the same would not have; it marks the end of a process that had been
hinted at in Zork II, a process whereby the player's interests and
priorities change, and there is more impetus to see and understand than
simply to secure what is valuable and bolt. The ending provides a certain
perspective on the adventurer that was, particularly in light of the
ending of Zork Zero, and the endgame -- centered around prison cells -- is
appropriately down-to-earth for the feel of Zork III. There are many good
things about Zork III, in the end, and perhaps the best of them is that,
in most respective, it goes against the fantasy-game grain.

READER'S SCOREBOARD----------------------------------------------------------

An apology is in order here: I have _still_ not updated the
Scoreboard. Rest assured, however, that I'm archiving all ratings and
will do my best to update the scores before the next issue.

        A   - Runs on Amigas.
        AP  - Runs on Apple IIs.
        GS  - Runs on Apple IIGS.
        AR  - Runs on Acorn Archimedes.
        C   - Commercial, no fixed price.
        C30 - Commercial, with a fixed price of $30.
        F   - Freeware.
        GMD - Available on
        I   - Runs on IBM compatibles.
        M   - Runs on Macs.
        S20 - Shareware, registration costs $20.
        64  - Runs on Commodore 64s.
        ST  - Runs on Atari STs.
        TAD - Written with TADS.  This means it can run on:
                AmigaDOS, NeXT and PC, Atari ST/TT/Falcon, DECstation
                (MIPS) Unix Patchlevel 1 and 2, IBM, IBM RT, Linux, Apple
                Macintosh, SGI Iris/Indigo running Irix, Sun 4 (Sparc)
                running SunOS or Solaris 2, Sun 3, OS/2, and even a 386+
                protected mode version.
        AGT - Available for IBM, Mac, Amiga, and Atari ST.  This does not
                include games made with the Master's edition.
        ADVSYS - Available for PC and Macintosh only, or so my sources tell
                 me.  (Source code available as well.  So it can be ported
                 to other computers.)
        HUG - Written with Hugo.  Runs on MS-DOS, Linux, and Amigas.
        INF - Infocom or Inform game.  These games will run on:
                Atari ST, Amiga, Apple Macintosh, IBM, Unix, VMS, Apple II,
                Apple IIGS, C64, TSR-80, and Acorn Archimedes.  There may be
                other computers on which it runs as well.

 Name                  Avg Sc  Chr  Puz  # Sc  Rlvt Ish       Notes:
 ====                  ======  ===  ===  ====  ========       ======
Adventure               7.7    1.1  0.7    2     8      F_INF_TAD_ETC_GMD
Adventure 350           6.5    0.0  1.5    1     x      
Adv. of Eliz. Highe     3.1    0.8  0.3    1     5      F_AGT
All Quiet...Library     4.5    0.7  0.7    3     7      F_INF_GMD
Amnesia                 7.7    1.3  1.4    1     9      C_AP_I_64
Another...No Beer       2.4    0.2  0.8    2     4      S10_IBM_GMD
Arthur: Excalibur       8.6    1.8  1.7    1     4      C_INF
Awe-Chasm               2.4    0.3  0.6    1     8      S?_IBM_ST
Balances                6.4    1.0  1.3    2     6      F_INF_GMD
Ballyhoo                7.0    1.8  1.5    3     4      C_INF
Beyond Tesseract        3.7    0.1  0.6    1     6      F_I_GMD
Beyond Zork             8.1    1.5  2.0    3     5      C_INF
Border Zone             6.7    1.4  1.4    4     4      C_INF
Broken String           3.1    0.5  0.6    1     x      F_TADS_GMD
Bureaucracy             8.3    1.8  1.6    3     5      C_INF
Busted                  5.2    1.0  1.1    1            F_INF_GMD
Castaway                1.1    0.0  0.4    1     5      F_IBM_GMD
Change in the Weather   6.1    0.8  1.1    2     7      F_INF_GMD
Christminster           8.6    1.8  1.7    3            F_INF_GMD
Corruption              6.7    1.4  1.4    1     x      C_I
Cosmoserve              8.7    1.3  1.4    2     5      F_AGT_GMD
Crypt v2.0              5.0    1.0  1.5    1     3      S12_IBM_GMD
Curses                  8.3    1.3  1.7    7     2      F_INF_GMD
Cutthroats              6.4    1.4  1.2    5     1      C_INF
Deadline                7.0    1.3  1.4    4     x      C_INF
Deep Space Drifter      5.5         1.4    1     3      S15_TAD_GMD
Demon's Tomb            7.4    1.2  1.1    2     9      C_I
Detective               1.1    0.0  0.0    4     4-5    F_AGT_GMD
Detective-MST3K         6.0    0.6  0.1    3     7-8    F_INF_GMD
Ditch Day Drifter       7.1    1.2  1.6    1     2      F_TAD_GMD
Dungeon Adventure       6.8    1.3  1.6    1     4      F_SEE REVIEW Issue #4
Dungeon of Dunjin       6.2    0.5  1.5    2     3      S20_IBM_MAC_GMD
Electrabot              0.7    0.0  0.0    1     5      F_AGT_GMD
Enchanter               7.1    0.9  1.4    5     2      C_INF
Enhanced                N/A                0     2      S10_TAD_GMD
Eric the Unready        7.4    1.5  1.4    1     x      C_I
Fable, A                2.0    0.2  0.1    1     6      F_AGT_GMD
Fish                    7.1    1.2  1.5    1     x      C_I
Forbidden Castle        4.8    0.6  0.5    1     x      C_AP
Gateway                 7.5    1.6  1.5    1     x      C_I
Great Archaelog. Race   6.5    1.0  1.5    1     3      S20_TAD_GMD
Guardians of Infinity   8.5    N/A  1.3    1     9      C_I
Guild of Thieves        6.8    1.1  1.2    1     x      C_I
Gumshoe                 6.3    1.3  1.1    2     9      F_INF_GMD
Hitchhiker's Guide      8.0    1.6  1.6    5     5      C_INF
Hollywood Hijinx        5.7    1.0  1.5    4     x      C_INF
Horror30.Zip            3.6    0.0  0.9    1     3      S20_IBM_GMD
Horror of Rylvania      7.7                1     1      C20_TAD_GMD (Demo)
Humbug                  7.4                1     x      S10_GMD (Uncertain)
Infidel                 7.0         1.4    7     1-2    C_INF
Inhumane                3.6    0.2  0.7    1     9      F_INF_GMD
Jacaranda Jim           7.0                1     x      S10_GMD (Uncertain)
Jeweled Arena, The      8.0    1.5  1.5    1     x      ?
Jigsaw                  8.7    1.6  1.6    3     8,9    F_INF_GMD
Jinxter                 6.7    1.1  1.3    1     x      C_I
John's Fire Witch       7.2    1.1  1.6    5     4      S6_TADS_GMD
Journey                 6.9    1.3  0.8    1     5      C_INF
Jouney Into Xanth       5.0    1.3  1.2    1     8      F_AGT_GMD
Klaustrophobia          7.3    1.2  1.4    4     1      S15_AGT_GMD
Leather Goddesses       7.8    1.4  1.7    5     4      C_INF
The Legend Lives!       8.2    0.8  1.5    1     5      F_TADS_GMD
Lethe Flow Phoenix      7.5    1.7  1.5    1     9      F_TADS_GMD
The Light: Shelby's Ad. 8.0    1.6  0.5    1     9      S?_TADS_GMD
Lurking Horror, The     7.1    1.4  1.3    5     1,3    C_INF
MacWeslyan(PC Univ.)    5.6    0.7  1.0    1     x      F_TADS_GMD
Magic.Zip               4.5    0.5  0.5    1     3      S20_IBM_GMD
Magic Toyshop, The      3.6    0.5  1.0    1            F_INF_GMD
Mind Electric, The      5.1    0.5  0.8    2     7-8    F_INF_GMD
Mind Forever Voyaging   8.5    1.4  0.6    4     5      C_INF
Moonmist                5.9    1.4  1.3    5     1      C_INF
Mop & Murder            4.9    0.5  1.0    1     4-5    F_AGT_GMD
Multidimen. Thief       5.6    0.4  1.0    3     2,9    S15_AGT_GMD
Mystery House           4.1    0.3  0.7    1     x      F_AP_GMD
Night at Museum Forever 4.1    0.0  1.0    3     7-8    F_TAD_GMD
Nord and Bert           4.8    0.5  1.0    2     4      C_INF
Odieus': Flingshot      3.3    0.4  0.7    2     5      F_INF_GMD
One Hand Clapping       7.1    1.1  1.3    2     5      F_ADVSYS_GMD
One That Got Away, The  6.4    1.2  0.9    2     7-8    F_TAD_GMD
Oo-Topos                5.7    0.2  1.0    1     x      C_AP_I_64
Path to Fortune         6.8    1.4  0.8    1     9      S_INF_GMD
Pawn, The               6.5    1.0  1.2    1     x      C_I_AP_64
Perseus & Andromeda     3.4    0.3  1.0    1     x      ?
Planetfall              7.5    1.7  1.6    6     4      C_INF
Plundered Hearts        7.8    1.4  1.3    2     4      C_INF
Quarterstaff            6.1    1.3  0.6    1     9      C_M
Sanity Claus            9.0                1     1      S10_AGT_GMD
Save Princeton          5.8    1.2  1.3    2     8      S10_TAD_GMD
Seastalker              5.5    1.1  1.0    4     4      C_INF
Shades of Grey          8.0    1.3  1.4    4     1-2    F_AGT_GMD
Sherlock                8.2    1.5  1.6    2     4      C_INF
Shogun                  7.1    1.5  0.5    1     4      C_INF
Sir Ramic Hobbs         5.0    1.0  1.5    1     6      F_AGT_GMD
Sorceror                7.3    0.6  1.6    5     2      C_INF
South American Trek     0.9    0.2  0.5    1     5      ?_IBM_GMD
Space Aliens...Cardigan 1.8    0.5  0.4    4     3      S60_AGT_GMD
Spellbreaker            8.2    1.2  1.8    4     2      C_INF
SpellCasting 101        7.0    1.0  1.2    1     x      C_I
SpellCasting 201        7.8    1.5  1.6    1     x      C_I
SpellCasting 301        7.5    1.4  1.5    1     x      C_I
SpiritWrak              6.6    1.0  0.6    1     9      F_INF_GMD
Spur                    7.2    1.4  1.2    1     9      F_HUG_GMD
Starcross               7.0    1.1  1.3    5     1      C_INF
Stationfall             7.6    1.6  1.6    5     5      C_INF
Suspect                 6.2    1.3  1.2    2     4      C_INF
Suspended               7.5    1.3  1.2    4     8      C_INF
Theatre                 6.8    0.9  1.2    3     6      F_INF_GMD
TimeQuest               8.6    1.5  1.8    1     x      C_I
TimeSquared             4.3    1.1  1.1    1     x      F_AGT_GMD
Toonesia                6.3    1.1  1.2    2     7      F_TAD_GMD
Tossed into Space       3.9    0.2  0.6    1     4      F_AGT_GMD
Treasure.Zip            N/A                0     3      S20_IBM_GMD
Trinity                 8.8    1.4  1.7    8     1-2    C_INF
Tube Trouble            3.3    0.5  0.4    1            F_INF_GMD
Uncle Zebulon's Will    7.6    0.9  1.3    3     7      F_TAD_GMD
Undertow                5.2    1.0  0.8    1            F_TAD_GMD
Undo                    1.9    0.1  0.4    2     7      F_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian One-Half      7.0    1.3  1.7    4     1      F_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian Unventure 1   7.1    1.2  1.6    5     1-2    S10_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian Unventure 2   7.2    1.4  1.5    4     1      S10_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian Zero          9.0                1     1      C25_TAD_GMD (Demo)
Waystation              5.7    0.7  0.9    2     9      F_TAD_GMD
Windhall Chron. 1 - See Path to Fortune.
Wishbringer             7.6    1.3  1.3    4     5-6    C_INF
Witness, The            7.2    1.7  1.2    5     1,3,9  C_INF
Wonderland              7.5    1.3  1.4    1     x      C_I
World                   6.5    0.6  1.3    2     4      F_SEE REVIEW Issue #4
Zanfar                  2.6    0.2  0.4    1     8      F_AGT_GMD
Zork 0                  7.1    1.3  2.0    2     x      C_INF
Zork 1                  6.0    0.7  1.5    9     1-2    C_INF
Zork 2                  6.4    0.8  1.5    7     1-2    C_INF
Zork 3                  6.1    0.6  1.4    5     1-2    C_INF


The Top Five:

A game is not eligible for the Top Five unless it has received at
least three ratings from different readers. This is to ensure a more
democratic and accurate depiction of the best games.

 1. Trinity             8.8     8 votes
 2. Jigsaw              8.7     3 votes
 3. Christminster       8.6     3 votes
 4. Mind Fvr Voyaging   8.5     4 votes
 5. Curses              8.3     7 votes
    Bureaucracy         8.3     3 votes

CLOSING REMARKS--------------------------------------------------------------

That wraps it up for this time. I'm aiming to make the next issue the
Competition Special - provided, of course, that I receive enough
competition game reviews to fill an issue. Keep 'em coming.

And, last but certainly not least:

A Merry Christmas to all SPAG subscribers!


           Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!

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