ISSUE #14 - May 17, 1998

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

                            ISSUE # 14

             Edited by Magnus Olsson (zebulon SP@G
                        May 17, 1998.

         SPAG Website:

SPAG #14 is copyright (c) 1998 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 -----------------------------------------------------

Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur
Beyond Zork
Change in the Weather
Dungeons of Dunjin
Good Breakfast
Lesson of the Tortoise
Losing Your Grip
Madame L'Estrange and the Troubled Spirit
Magnetic Scrolls Collection
Matter of Time
Richard Basehart Adventure
Spider and Web
Town Dragon
Travels in the Land of Erden
Unholy Grail
Unnkulia Zero: The Search for Amanda
Zork Undiscovered Underground
Zork Zero
Zork: A Troll's Eye View (An Interactive Tedium)
Zuni Doll


Finally - SPAG #14 is out, unfortunately about a month late. I hope it
will prove worth the wait!

This issue features an impressive collection of reviews, for a change
divided into three sections. The first section comprises a mini-essay
and three reviews by Bonnie Montgomery, the second contains reviews of
old classics as well as exciting new games. The indomitable Duncan
Stevens (aka Second April) has reviewed nine more of the '97
competition games; these make up the third section.

Observant readers may notice that the "New Games" section has been
renamed simply "News", and has changed its scope a little: Things are
happening so fast in the IF world right now that I find it hard to
keep up with all new releases, so instead of simply listing all games
published since the last issue, this section will contain a selection
of news items that managed to catch my eyes. (There are much more
comprehensive "news services" on the Web; see for example Stephen
Granade's page at

Last, but certainly not least, I've finally conquered the huge backlog
of game ratings and given new life to the Reader's Scoreboard (this
is, incidentally, one of the reasons this issue is late). A promising
fact is that an increasing number of games seem to have received
sufficiently many votes that their scores have begun to stabilize:
when only one or two people have rated each game, scores fluctuate
wildly and are very arbitrary (since each person has his or her own
standards of rating); but now many games have reached a point where
each new rating only causes a small change in the mean score. For the
first time, a non-Infocom game heads the list; it's - no, wait, you'll
have to see that for yourself - better keep suspense up until the very


From: L. Ross Raszewski 

Howdy.  Just thought I'd mention something that occured to me today
while on ifMud.  you can either laugh at it yoourself, or note it in the
next Spag if there's rom and you think it interesting enough...

Version 3 of the Z-machine is called "Standard"
Version 4 of the Z-machine is called "Plus"
Version 5 of the Z-machine is called "Advanced"
Version 6 of the Z-machine is called "Graphical"

Of course, these four formats make up the acronym "SPAG", tying the name
doubly to interactive Fiction.

Just thought you'd be interested.

L. Ross Raszewski


SPAG replies:

Interesting. Inspired by your letter, I of course had to check out
what the numerical values of the letters SPAG (A = 1, B = 2, etc) add
up to. It turns out that the answer is

(drum roll)


"43?" I hear you say. What's up? How come we're just one tiny, lousy
step away from the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and

Well, I have no idea. But maybe you readers have? If you can find up a
"creative" interpretation of this numerological fact, please email it
to me (zebulon SP@G I'll publish the most entertaining replies.

NEWS ----------------------------------------------------------------------

Perhaps the most exciting news on the IF front was the release of HTML
TADS - a new, extended version of TADS that uses HTML to format the
game output. Not only does it support graphics and sound, but the use
of HTML as a markup language gives the author unprecedented freedom of
layout. For more information, see

Two new, ambitious, full-size games have been released since the last
issue: Andrew Plotkin's "Spider and Web" (reviewed below), and
"Anchorhead", a Lovecraftian horror story by Michael Gentry

And then there was the mysterious TextFire 12-pack: despite the name,
a package of 16 demos for new games, released all at once, and all by
totally unknown and previously unheard-of authors. The demos proved to
be, well, unusual. The whole business prompted a lot of comments and
speculation; to add to the confusion, the 12-pack was released on
April 1st... For the full story, see

It's official: the Annual IF Competition will take place this year as
well. The official Web page is at

The May Issue of the British CU Amgiga Magazine includes 23 MB of text
adventure games on its cover CD, plus another 20 MB of interpreters
and tools (all from the IF-archive), and an article about the current
state of the IF scene by rec.arts.i-f regular Jason Compton. While
most of the stuff on the CD is Amiga specific, the IF games are mostly
Inform and TADS (and Hugo and Alan) game files, and the CD is in a
standard format that can be read at least from Windows 95 and Linux
(reportedly from Macs as well).

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:

REVIEWS 1: THREE SHORT GAMES ------------------------------------------------

Short, Shorter, Shortest: Snack-Size IF

By Bonnie Montgomery 

Around the new year, Gerry Kevin Wilson released two small TADS games,
Sea of Night and The Lesson of the Tortoise. On the announcement of The
Lesson of the Tortoise in January, Andrew Plotkin posted this comment:

"You know, I really like this category of short-short games. Something 
which can be written in a couple of weeks. Good for programming
exercise; but *not* so big that you work for months, wrap your soul in
it, and possibly burn out and flee from IF forever. Especially if it
gets a bad review. Someone else do some."

During the first three months of 1998, the IF community responded by
hauling out a load of small games, some suitable for a 5-minute work
break, others completable on a lunch hour. Some are meant as jokes, some
as coding exercises, others as examples of an author's early works.

As Andrew Plotkin suggests, there is much value in writing a small game.
By setting limited goals for a piece, there is a greater chance for
success than in the scope of a large game, in which overweening ambition
sometimes invites failure.

The following three reviews represent recent games of modest aspirations
and small file size that succeed totally within their own boundaries:
Gerry Kevin Wilson's The Lesson of the Tortoise, Matthew Garrett's
Richard Basehart Adventure, and Dylan O'Donnell's Zork: A Troll's Eye


From: Bonnie Montgomery 

NAME: The Lesson of the Tortoise
AUTHOR: Gerry Kevin Wilson (aka Whizzard)
DATE: December 1997
VERSION: Release 1

You're an unlikely IF hero: Wang Lo, a small but persevering and
prosperous Chinese farmer. Your adversaries: a serpent, your faithless
wife, and a disloyal farm hand. Your allies: a tortoise, your strapping
son, a trusting servant girl, and a ghostly ancestral apparition. Quite
a story ahead of you, wouldn't you think? Would you believe that the
game can be won in only 30 turns and contains only 9 locations? With the
economical prose characteristic of a folk tale, Whizzard drops you into
the Chinese folkloric past, sketches out characters and plot, and
delivers a moral, all in a very satisfying 30 minutes or so of play.

Whizzard has streamlined his game in several ways: One is to simplify
interactions with NPCs; verbal interactions are limited to "talk to NPC"
and giving them commands. Carryable objects are few, and ones that have
served their purpose are tidily moved out of the player's reach.

Even with these simplifications, the game does not feel sparsely
inhabited. The game understands most nouns that appear in room
descriptions. Default responses have been nicely handled, often changed
to reflect a more Confucian approach ("That action seems unlikely to
save you, wise one.") than the epistemologically challenged standard
TADS parser responses ("I don't know how to X the Y.").

The puzzles are sometimes a challenge, but Whizzard provides a
progressively more explicit hint system. The game therefore appeals to
puzzle fans and story fans. Puzzle fans can tough it out without the
hints. Story fans can breeze through the puzzles using hints, which is a
nice way to allow the story to flow easily, a great pleasure in this


From: Bonnie Montgomery 

NAME: Richard Basehart Adventure
AUTHOR: Matthew Garrett
EMAIL: cavan SP@G
DATE: January 1997
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Inform ports
VERSION: Release 1

When I contacted Matthew Garrett for his input on this review, his
reactions were roughly shock, surprise, and worry. He wrote, "I'm
probably guilty of wasting several people's time with a fairly simple

The joke of Richard Basehart Adventure is "steal whatever original
creative content exists in an IF game that is itself derivative of a
another game." The game whose creative content is being ransacked is
Detective: An Interactive MiSTing by C. E. Forman, in which the
characters of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" heckle their way through
Matthew Barringer's Detective.

To find a walkthrough of Richard Basehart Adventure, read Forman's
introduction to his MiSTing. MST3K character Gypsy creates a simple game
about her idol, which Garrett brings to life, capturing every nuance.
However, since there are only about three nuances total, actual playing
of Richard Basehart Adventure is, in my opinion, optional.

Is Matthew Garrett guilty of wasting my time? I think not. He pointed me
back to Forman's MiSTing of Detective, a game I had not played since the
1995 competition. A year later Forman released a Silver Screen Edition,
which included an interview with Matthew Barringer (15 years old and
"much cooler" than the 12-year-old self that had written Detective) and
snippets from an abandoned but hilarious second MiSTing, The Caverns of

The worst crime for which Garrett can be accused is not properly using
his Web site as a vehicle for self-promotion. (He might have learned a
trick or two from Forman, who, by his own admission, shamelessly
promotes The Path to Fortune throughout the Silver Screen Edition.) The
page from which Richard Basehart Adventure is available does not offer
any links back to Garrett's home page. If it did, Garrett could have
drawn attention to his other projects, including his "proper" IF work in
progress, which he is offering for download in return for feedback. 


From: Bonnie Montgomery 

NAME: Zork: A Troll's Eye View (An Interactive Tedium)
AUTHOR: Dylan O'Donnell
EMAIL: dylanw SP@G
DATE: January 1997
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Inform ports
VERSION: Release 2

I must say I had my doubts about this game during the first few turns.
The player character is a workaday troll toiling in the underground
world of Zork, unable to leave his post and with only his bloody axe for
company. I worried that perhaps the tedium aspect was the only comment
Dylan wished to make about a troll's work. When the first adventurer
appeared in the room but then retreated, I really thought there might
not be anything more to the game. Then out of nowhere, another
adventurer appeared and unsportingly killed me! I had to have revenge! I
stuck around for the next 100 turns until I killed and was killed at
least a dozen times. Sated, I quit.

If I had stuck to my post for a couple dozen more turns, my shift would
have ended, reported Dylan. I played the game again and was gratified to
receive my paycheck. The game rewards you with extra commands to use in
a replay, including how to cut down on the tedium and maximize the

This game is a good example of how an author can set clear limits for a
small game and satisfy the player within those boundaries. Just about
every possible action is rewarded with a response in this one-location
game.  Several classic Zork commands are supported. Responses vary
depending on whether you are on guard or in combat. While the combat
text is not original (it is taken from the Dungeon source), it
highlights the spurting blood aspects of Zork's sword and axe play.

Shameful confession: I wrote to Dylan praising his text in the combat
scenes and received his reply that the text was not his own. I have
never gotten very far playing Zork or its progenitors. Dylan explained
the retreating adventurer I had first encountered: "The adventurers that
don't stop are the ones that didn't get the sword from the Living Room,
spot a big nasty monster and think, 'Oops. Maybe I'd better try a
different route'; they're back as soon as they find the chimney up and
come back round with the sword." I was the kind of adventurer who fooled
around a bit, got bored, and quit before ever meeting a troll in
battle.  Maybe it's time to go back and try again.

Zork: A Troll's Eye View is billed as a coding exercise by its author,
but I think it serves another useful purpose. Give it to your friends
who might like IF, but who might also find the full-scale Zork daunting.
Whet their appetites with this game, and you may have a new convert to
interactive fiction.


From: Joe Mason 

NAME: Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur
AUTHOR: Infocom (Bob Bates)
EMAIL: ???
DATE: 1989
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
AVAILABILITY: Masterpieces of Infocom
URL: Not available.

PLOT: Standard
ATMOSPHERE: Evocative but inconsistent
WRITING: Fair                                   GAMEPLAY: Good
CHARACTERS: Some memorable, some stereotyped    PUZZLES: Fair
MISC: Graphics - atmospheric
OVERALL: A fun diversion

Arthur is one of Infocom's last games, and like Zork Zero it combines
text and graphics.  The graphics are completely unnecessary to the
story - in fact it is possible to turn them off completely - but they
are pleasant to look at and add to the game's atmosphere.  The
medieval banner styling of the background window is especially well

The interface does have a few flaws, however.  There are several
possible screen modes, with the lower half of the screen devoted to
command entry and the upper half to graphics or description.  One mode
shows a picture of the area, one shows the textual description (which
duplicates details of the pictures), one shows the player's inventory,
one the current score, and one a Beyond-Zork style on-screen map.  A
sixth mode is the traditional full-screen text mode.  The modes
themselves are nice (the map is especially handy) but switching between
them is done using function keys, making it hard to remember what key to
hit for which mode.  Also, the function key support is broken for some
interpreters - it works under Frotz 2.32, but not WinFrotz, for example.

The game itself is of typical Infocom stature.  Despite being produced
in their twilight years, it shows no decrease in quality - quite the
opposite, in fact.  The plot begins promisingly, with Merlin giving
young Arthur a mission to demonstrate that he has all the qualities
required for a good King.  However, it soon becomes a typical treasure
hunt, with the player (as Arthur) required to defeat several evil
enemies in order to gather trophies to present to the Red Knight.  Once
he has done this, the Red Knight will let him past in order to get the
item he needs to defeat the usurper King Lot and claim Excalibur. 
Slightly more depth is given by the fact that the treasures, while
arbitrary, do have a common thread: they all show proof that Arthur has
defeated a threat to the land.  As Merlin explains, "His [the Red
Knight's] life's mission is to rid the land of evil," so there is a
reason for the treasure-hunt quest to be occuring.  Still, it feels out
of place in a game which, at the beginning, seems to place emphasis on
story and character.

In fact, the entire game has a disjointed quality to it.  The built-in
hint file includes a section of notes giving historical background to
King Arthur's time, and explaining several of the references used.  The
section titled "Reality vs. Romance" begins, "There is inherent conflict
built into writing a game about King Arthur. It is the conflict between
history and legend - the way things were, versus the way we wish they
were."  This game unfortunately does not deal with this conflict as well
as it could.  Some locations and characters - such as King Lot's castle,
the poor peasant's hut, or the village idiot - are quite well-drawn and
lifelike.  These characters tend to evoke the atmosphere of the "real"
Arthur, the medieval warlord whose court was a fortress providing his
serfs with protection from barbarian invaders.  However, mixed in with
this atmospheric setting is the "romance" Arthur, with its archetypal
coloured Knights who quest against generic "evil".  The characters
involved in this aspect of the game are much less responsive and seem
stereotypical or comical.  The two halves of the plot sit uneasily
together, resulting in a game that almost succeeds at telling a good
story but ends up feeling more like a string of puzzles linked by

The puzzles are mostly good, but some display the same split.  Some are
character- and plot-driven, but others involve word problems and other
artificial constructs and seem quite out of place.  There is one maze,
which is easy to map once the trick is discovered but still annoying. 
One nice touch is Merlin's gift to Arthur: the ability to turn into
various animals.  Some puzzles require using the special abilities of
these animals, which is a nice touch.  The puzzles are not especially
hard, and the presence of well-written Invisiclues style online hints
makes the game easy to solve.

Arthur, while not an exceptional game, is still fun to play and well
worth a look.  By the time of its writing, Infocom had become adept at
integrating puzzles and story, with the result that it mostly flows very
well.  Its deficiencies are mostly due to confusion over how to present
the Arthurian legend, rather than a failure as interactive fiction.


From: Second April 

NAME: Beyond Zork
AUTHOR: Brian Moriarty
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
AVAILABILITY: Masterpieces of Infocom

Brian Moriarty's Beyond Zork is in several ways unique in the Infocom
library--not only for its use of the Z6 format to do on-screen
mapping, but for its use of a role-playing-game-like plot. Just as
importantly, it gives the player a sense of place in the land of
Quendor that the Zork and Enchanter series had lacked. Though the
role-playing element needs work, Beyond Zork succeeds admirably as a
puzzle-solving game in its own right.

Beyond Zork's title suggests that it continues the Zork series, but it
actually has little in common with the originals--the heavy reliance
on magic suggests the Enchanter series, and the sense of exploring a
populated land rather than a series of caverns gives the game a
different feel. Most obvious of the innovations in the gameplay is the
role-playing game element, an element that produced decidedly mixed
results for Infocom on each try (Quarterstaff, not that this reviewer
would know, and Journey), and while Beyond Zork succeeds, the combat
element is far from the highlight of the game. It's a bit hard to
explain why this is so--like most RPGs, the player can choose between
swordplay and magic to fight the battles, and acquire increasingly
sophisticated weaponry (okay, okay, a sword over a battleaxe over a
shillelagh, maybe not all that sophisticated) to dispose of the

The difference may lie in that opportunities to increase skill
levels--strength and dexterity and such--are rather haphazard in
Beyond Zork, whereas many RPGs increase character qualities with each
level attained, meaning that one can improve one's character without
necessarily getting anywhere in the game. In Beyond Zork, though the
character qualities are occasionally relevant, there are few instances
where the player increases his or her intelligence or strength merely
in order to be smarter or stronger; usually, the increases are
directly linked to solving puzzles. Though that approach seems
preferable, it made the few times when a puzzle's solution was
unavailable because the requisite character attribute was too low a
bit irritating. (In other words, there may be times when the player
needs more of a certain attribute to solve a puzzle, and goes out
hunting for a way to increase that attribute. This sort of thing
strains the idea that the attributes are supposed to measure your
development, since increasing them is an end in itself.) More
fundamentally, though, Beyond Zork is far more plot- and
puzzle-oriented than the bulk of RPGs, and the combat scenes feel like
the game stops while the player tries to get rid of the obstacle.

Another factor separating Beyond Zork from Zorks 1-3 is the NPC
element--there are as many of them here as in the first three games
combined (perhaps more, depending on whom one includes on each count),
and most of them are well developed and coded. (The minx may still be
my favorite Infocom NPC, even though her usefulness in the game is
limited.)  Encounters with the cook, the sailor, the cardinal, and
others help reinforce the feel that the territory is populated, rather
than a deserted maze, and while this lends a schizophrenic feel at
times--does no one care that you pick up everything that isn't nailed
down?--it makes for an intriguing game environment.

The plot--retrieve the Coconut of Quendor to safeguard the existence
of magic, or, I should say, Magick--is nothing particularly special;
it suffers from the usual disease of a big game, specifically that one
muddles along solving puzzles with very little sense that they have
anything to do with the larger objectives, besides that the game
designers surely wouldn't bother throwing in irrelevant puzzles
(unless they included Steve Meretzky, which they don't here). I can't
say that this bothers me much anymore, but it seems particularly
obvious here--one does not learn anything about the whereabouts of the
coconut until well into the game, and finding it at the end amounts to
stumbling over it. What plot Beyond Zork has is often entertaining,
but it hardly makes a coherent whole. The game takes place
concurrently with Spellbreaker, and it occurred to me that it might
have been interesting to dovetail the plot with that game a bit
more--magic, except for when you find Orkan of Thriff's journal,
doesn't appear to be failing. Certainly, what plot Beyond Zork has is
well beyond collect-the-treasures, but I still wanted something more.

The puzzles are original and entertaining, though somewhat maddening
in a few cases (mild spoilers ahead)...I figured out one of the
solutions to the bridge problem early on, but assumed that I was
solving it "wrong," that the resource I was using needed to be used
elsewhere. (It also seemed like that particular puzzle ignored a
perfectly good solution--the use of the dispel staff.) The time-travel
puzzle is an original variant on a much-used convention, though, and
the butterfly puzzle employs magic in a novel way, and both are among
the Infocom's best--and the multiple solutions to several puzzles are
a refreshing touch. (Though there are some apparently logical
solutions that aren't implemented, frustratingly.)

Most of the puzzles aren't particularly hard, though a few require
semi-suicidal actions for motivations that aren't particularly
obvious--and the final puzzle is so obvious that it hardly deserves
the name. (Tangent: many of Infocom's fantasy games seem to either
have an absurdly easy or an absurdly difficult puzzle at the
end--Enchanter, Sorcerer and Wishbringer (even for an introductory
game) are easy in that respect, and Zorks 2 and 3 are difficult to the
point of unfairness.  Spellbreaker, I think, is just right, and Zork 1
and Zork Zero don't really have ending puzzles as such.) Several of
the puzzles revolve around the combat situations; a few aren't really
combat situations at all, but rather puzzles in disguise, enemies to
be dispatched by ruse rather than by brute force. Those moments
highlight the tension between conventional IF and RPG that's going on
here--and, naturally, the IF element usually seems more compelling.

The writing is, as usual, first-rate--the room descriptions show why
no self-respecting game author should be allowed to get away with "You
are in a are in a are in a forest" for a
series of similar rooms. Consider:

    An ancient oak tree turns the day to twilight beneath the
    impressive sprawl of its branches.

    Pine Grove
    A carpet of amber softens your footsteps between the rows of tall,
    sweet-smelling pines.

    Eerie Copse
    A nameless blight has twisted the surrounding elms into sinister forms
    that creak and groan in the dry breeze.

These and other well-written sequences (an amusing riff on The Wizard
of Oz, for instance--did this have anything to do with the plan
kicking around Infocom to write a full-length Wizard of Oz
parody?--and the visions of other Infocom games in a crystal ball of
sorts) make Beyond Zork much more than wandering between puzzles, even
if the story is a bit weak. The humor vital to so many Infocom works
is plentiful here--playing as a woman and asking the shopkeeper about
the Potion of Might is one of the best Easter eggs in any Infocom
game--and there are lots of entertaining moments: one of the enemies
you encounter is a "cruel puppet" whose form of combat hinges on
creative insults: it twists its appearance into a caricature of yours,
or "accuses your mother of shocking improprieties." This is all the
funnier because it feels like a dig at RPG combat, which usully
requires either impressive weapons or an elaborate system of magic;
battling via insult (it would be even better if you could answer)
comes as a sly "sticks and stones" sort of jab at those conventions.

Experienced Infocom players will recognize many little responses or
objects, from Wishbringer ("A concealed bell tinkles merrily" and the
vapor) to Hitchhiker's (being teased for a typo) to the Zork series
(the sailor, of course), and a sequence involving the Implementors
adds the obligatory element of self-reference. But perhaps the best
moment in Beyond Zork is the archway puzzle and the point of view of
the game's setting that it provides--it puts the game into a
perspective that I found sobering. (Very few fantasy games are endowed
with as much pseudo-historical background as the Zork series, and
Beyond Zork, much more than the original series, puts the history to
good use.)

On the whole, Beyond Zork is well worth the playing; truly difficult
puzzles are few, the game atmosphere is effective, and the
ending--even if it points to a sequel that never happened--is
thoroughly rewarding. Even if RPGs aren't your style, there is plenty
more in Beyond Zork than hack-and-slash; it deserves consideration
among Infocom's best.


From: Second April 

NAME: Change in the Weather
AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin
E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G
DATE: 1995
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 6

PLOT: Small, tightly woven (1.6)       ATMOSPHERE: Remarkable (1.8)
WRITING: Excellent (1.6)              GAMEPLAY: "Cruel" (1.3)
PUZZLES: Very difficult (1.3)         CHARACTERS: One, intriguing (1.2)
MISC: Interlocking parts fit together well (1.6)

Andrew Plotkin's first serious game, as he terms it, is an intriguing
effort: it introduced the IF community to many key Zarfian elements,
notably the "cruelty" of making nearly every move vital and closing
off the game without warning, and the magic realism that dominated
So Far, though it's present here in a much subtler form. Beyond that,
though, Change in the Weather offers a remarkably vivid setting, and
effectively uses small changes in the landscape to advance the plot.

The story, at first glance, is not overly complicated: you wander away
from your companions in a park and get stuck out in the rain on a
steep hillside, and must use what comes to hand to keep a bridge from
washing out. Watching all the while is a fox who seems to understand
the action better than you do; the fox is only relevant on two
occasions, but having it around gives you a sense of collaboration in
your efforts to save the bridge. At any rate, the story is essentially
divided into two; there is a languid opening section that affords a
chance to explore the hill, and a breathless second half where you
have, by my count, precisely one move to waste (out of perhaps 45 in
all). The landscape changes to reflect the onset of the darkness and
the rain, but various events--lightning striking a tree, for
example--also cause important changes. Virtually every detail is
vital; the player is advised to take time in the beginning to observe
everything available.

Change in the Weather is a veritable textbook for authors who want to
know how to create and then change a mood, or infuse a scene with
tension. The changes in the landscape, while important to the plot,
are perhaps even more important for the atmosphere they create. In the
first part, for example, we get this:

   You're standing on a ledge, on a rather steep, overgrown hillface.
   Greenery hides the stream below and the hilltop above, and the
   meadows and sky beyond sweep away into the incandescent west.

Whereas, after nightfall:

   You're standing on a ledge, on a rather steep, overgrown
   hillface. Rain hides the stream below and the hilltop above, and to
   the west is only dark.

The changes in the setting to induce a change in mood recall
Wishbringer, and while Change in the Weather owes less to fantasy than
Wishbringer, the details evoke a similar sense of unease, reinforced
by voices in the distance which seem to be calling your name, and
which become louder as you dash around the hillside. Plotkin is
particularly skillful in using timed events and small details to
heighten the tension: once the protagonist awakens amid the storm,
everything appears to be happening at once--runoff starts flowing,
lightning strikes a tree and a branch falls, the stream rises, and the
voices in the distance persist at the edge of the player's
consciousness. The various events are all separated by line breaks, so
they have the feeling of independent events that are following their
own paths.

Plotkin uses sound as well as visual details to build the tension: a
bush gives way with a "small snap," the tree falls with a "splintering
crash" after the "Crack!" of thunder--and the dizzy rush of detail
among all the concurrent events produces a whirling, desperate
confusion. Though we get little of the protagonist's thoughts, it
seems plausible to support that he or she is somewhat less than calm,
and the author does his utmost to transfer the growing sense of panic
to the player. When lightning dazzles you and leaves you in the dark
again, you "blink furiously, trying to sort out the shadows from
what's really there." That connotes both the sensory struggle--night
vision shattered in a flash of light--but also the urgency; your task
is sufficiently pressing that you try to blink away the afterimages
and keep moving, lest you waste valuable time. For the most part,
Plotkin is content to show the details rather than telling the player
how to feel, and the few exceptions--digging a trench, you "claw
desperately" at the earth--are well placed.

The author notes that this is a "cruel" game, and he doesn't
exaggerate: it is virtually impossible to solve it on the first try,
or even on the first ten tries. Making every move count is one form of
cruelty, and the writing is good enough (and the mood sufficiently
pervasive) that the game doesn't get dull even after many
repetitions. Another form of cruelty--a required action in the first
half of the game which is much less than obvious, and which is clued
rather subtly--is less successful, to my mind, because it weakens the
game's logic: it's one thing to have to make sense of a wide variety
of concurrent events, it's another to make an intuivie leap that a key
object is hidden in a strange place. The sense in the second half,
even when I failed to think of something vital on the proper move, was
that, well, if I'd been really thinking, I would have known that. And
other elements, the "magic realism" feel--the fox's remarkable
prescience, a certain change that the rain couldn't logically
cause--don't break the logic, somehow, because they seem only just
outside the realm of usual possibilities; they seem like the sort of
things we feel could happen easily enough, given a minor incursion of
the supernatural. It's hardly less logical that the interlocking parts
of the game come together in the way they do, after all, but the
player isn't about to question that; likewise, the magical bits
require only the sorts of suspension of disbelief that a player is
happy to make anyway. Moreover, certain bits of the game that can't
quite be put down to magic remain speculative at the end, perhaps
intentionally so; a Zarf game wouldn't be a Zarf game if everything
were fully explained (or even explainable).

The charm of Change in the Weather, for me at least, lies in the way
it infuses a relatively ordinary setting with such a range of
feelings: from pleasant sunset to violent, ominous night storm to
placid dawn, the same locations are rewritten to instill different
moods. Like all good writers, Plotkin is sparing with the adjectives
and more often uses verbs to produce the desired effect:

    You are high on the hill; it rolls downward and off to the
    west. Beyond the trees and brush, meadows glow in the thickening
    sunlight. Behind you stands the last stony lump of hill. A narrow
    trail curves away to the northwest.

The various elements of the scene are given personality by "rolling"
and "glowing" and such, and the impression of a peaceful sunlit scene
is clear enough that more description isn't necessary. Likewise, after

    A wide angular tongue juts out from the hillside. A black expanse
    stretches to the north and west, impenetrable with rain. Every few
    moments, a directionless flicker of lightning tries to pull detail
    from the darkness; but there is only mist.

Again, elements of the scenery get active verbs rather than simply
being described, and the adjectives are placed to convey something
essential rather than simply piling on the description: the
"directionless" lightning illustrates how the flash comes from and
leads nowhere in particular, the "impenetrable" darkness limits the
immediate range of vision. The best atmospheric effects are those that
aren't obviously trying to be, and in that respect, Change in the
Weather succeeds--and, as in Wishbringer, only minor changes are
necessary to convey the developments in the landscape.

Though its scope is more limited than that of So Far, Change in the
Weather is accomplished in its own right. Even if "cruel", it's
successful both as a puzzle-solving challenge and as an evocative


From: Second April 

NAME: Delusions
AUTHOR: C.E. Forman
E-MAIL: ceforman SP@G
DATE: 1996
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 3

PLOT: Complicated but well done (1.6)    ATMOSPHERE: Effective (1.5)
WRITING: Very strong (1.5)             GAMEPLAY: Solid (1.5)
CHARACTERS: A tad hackneyed (1.3)   PUZZLES: Clever (1.6)
MISC: A bit too much story, but thought-provoking (1.6)

One thing about C.E. Forman's Delusions that can't possibly be denied
is that it's got plot. Boy, has it got plot--several stories' worth,
at least. If your head isn't spinning by the end of it (for that
matter, by the time the first few twists come long), you missed a lot
and you should go back and replay it. Moreover, the plot takes on a
variety of guises along the way--part science experiment, part
techno-thriller, part mystery (well, sort of), part, um,
metaphysical-technological thesis, etc. If there's one thing Delusions
isn't, it's predictable.

It's arguable, of course, whether cramming a game full of story
enhances its enjoyability; at bottom, it's a matter of taste, and
depends in large part on whether the player is interested in the story
at hand. It also depends, of course, on how well integrated into the
game the story is, and in this respect in particular, Delusions
shines: the puzzles serve the purposes of the plot, and the challenges
are hurdles that reflect crucial discoveries or roadblocks in the
story. They are, to be sure, far from easy; I doubt I ever would have
guessed a few of them without the aid of the hint menu--but they are
distinctly not puzzles thrown into an unrelated story. The charm of
this is that puzzle-solving and figuring out the plot are usually one
and the same task, so there isn't a sense of "gee, I've got to figure
out how to do this to move the story along"--usually, at least.

To say much about the story beyond the initial premise would spoil it, are part of a research team doing VR simulations, and as the
game begins, you are busy trying to debug one of them, a scenario in
which you play a fish dodging hungry predators. The opening few
puzzles within the simulation are an appealing introduction and help
draw the player into the game, though I was hoping that the fish scene
would play more of a role in the game than it does. At any rate, the
plot thickens appropriately once you've done what you need to do as a
fish, in a variety of unexpected ways.

In one key respect, Delusions has an odd split personality: there are
sections of the game where the plot is more or less told to you via
several screens of text, and there are other sections where the game
gives you virtually no guidance and you're left to piece things
together from some fairly obscure clues. Both parts, to be sure, make
some sense within the plot of the game, but the gameplay is a bit
disorienting as a result (not, of course, inconsistently with the tone
of the story). Early discoveries, furthermore, encourage the player to
view what he's told with skepticism, and yet the plot elements you're
told later are essentially true. In some respects, this can't be
avoided--there's too much story here for the player to discover it all
by himself, without resort to diary entries or some other such tired
device, and certain points simply have to come out via screens of
text. But given that one of the most intriguing plot elements comes
out through discovery, there's still a bit of tension there.

That element bears mention because Babel, a 1997 competition entry,
did something similar, though the author has since said that he hadn't
played Delusions and came up with the idea by himself. Though both use
it effectively, Delusions tries something more ambitious that ends up
slowing things down: the required set of actions has a sequence in
mind (with some, but only some, variation allowed), meaning that, once
the player gets the idea, the process boils down to walking around and
manipulating objects rather than discovering as the plot presumably
intended. It would work better if there were more obvious logic to the
sequence, but there wasn't any that I could guess, and the eventual
conclusion was apparent long before the chain was
over. (Whereas--perhaps I'm just dense--I didn't guess the
corresponding revelation in Babel.) The post hoc explanations for why
you don't tumble to this discovery before seem just a little thin,

This is nitpicking, though, because the plot does work very well
indeed.  Particularly effective, even though frustrating, is the
middle section of the game, which repeats ad infinitum until you find
a way to break out of the loop. The puzzles associated with this are
difficult but fair: everything is put together logically, and the
tension, when it seems like your plan might get foiled, is real. The
nightmarish aspect of this section of the game derives mostly from the
presence of a certain NPC, and it's to the author's credit that the
NPC, though he provides virtually no interaction--he talks to you, you
can't say much back--is an intimidating presence. His dialogue is
well-written and doesn't feel too heavily borrowed from standard
science fiction, though then again I wouldn't know.  Also very
good--and thoroughly coded; I didn't find much that broke the
spell--is a certain change in your environment that you cause in order
to get through the scene. Arguably, the NPC might have figured out
what you're up to, but it's still a memorable moment. The only real
flaw in the middlegame is a repeated message that you really want to
get out of this--it loses its effectiveness after the first time or
so, I found. The endgame, unfortunately, doesn't quite live up to what
comes before--the dramatic confrontation could come from any thriller,
and the final resolution just didn't feel climactic to me. There are
some clever puzzles--though one depends on finding a hidden object at
a time when you weren't aware that you needed it--and the ending does
tie up most of the plot questions, but, as far as the story goes, the
middle part works best.

Technically, Delusions is impressive. I found very few bugs, most
actions have synonyms, and there are several code tricks involving
subtle changes in the game environment, or in the game's responses,
that work well. The writing is error-free and effective throughout, in
a way that moves the plot along without drawing attention to itself.
A computer is thoroughly done, though it's a bit tedious to use--then
again, seeing as it's running a "Windows 2000" system, perhaps that's
design on the author's part. There are very few obvious
illogicalities, even accepting the game's various plot twists; the
game is well-designed, well-crafted.

At bottom, though, Delusions seems to aspire to be more than simply a
well-crafted collection of puzzles, and that's where the difficulty
comes in. There are Bigger Issues at stake in the puzzles you solve,
and while the game does offer some food for thought, my problem with
it is that those issues don't really affect what you do. Delusions is
in many respects a better game than Tapestry, another 1996 competition
entry that dealt with questions metaphysical, but Tapestry did force
the player to weigh the problems and make decisions; here, except for
one moment at the end of the game, you solve puzzles, largely. To be
sure, this is a different sort of game than Tapestry, and it succeeds
on an entirely different level--but in that there certainly are
intriguing questions being raised throughout, and periodically
mentioned in passing by this NPC or that, I wanted them to have more
to do with your actions and decisions.  Put another way, the player
can more or less opt out of the thought-provoking bits of Delusions by
breezing through the text and moving on to the next puzzle.

Theoretical objections aside, Delusions is an outstanding game in
several respects, and if you missed the 1996 competition, this is
without a doubt one of the entries you should check out now. Even if
it gets a few things wrong, it does a whole lot of interesting stuff


From: "Matthew Garrett" 

NAME: Delusions (Release 4)
AUTHOR: C. E. Forman
EMAIL: ceforman SP@G
DATE: November 1997
PARSER: Inform

"Right. Check. Quote from Neuromancer?"
"Main character trapped inside computer simulation and must discover
their true identity?"
"Sinisterly titled 'Project'?"
"Cast of generic cyperpunky NPCs, one of whom will rebel against
said 'Project'?"
"OK boys. Looks like she's finished. Let's roll her out!"

Yes, folks, Delusions is that oft-maligned example of the IF community
- a, for want of a better word (Though, no doubt, I'll be inundated
with mails giving me one), cyberpunk game. And yes, the initial
section of the game doesn't seem awfully original. And yes, the rest
of the game seems to follow much the same pattern. And yes, I am
building up to a completely expected shock-bluff role reversal.
Because, despite this, Delusions is a Good Game.

But first, so that we can build up to an exciting climax, we'll start
with the bad points. Good game though it is, Delusions seems flawed in
many ways. Take the opening. Yes, it may well just be me, but I can't
help laughing every time I read "Reality is so... unreal.". And it
goes on. I'll happily admit to not being a fan of (What I'd tend to
see as) "waffly" writing, but even so Delusions goes further than
most. This seems surprising, considering that the rest of the writing
seems to be of such a high standard. It's obvious that effort has been
put into making the world of Delusions believable. Everything you'd
expect to find in a cramped laboratory/living quarters is there. But
still. Back to that later.

The worst thing about the writing is that, at times, there is so much
of it. Several times when you confront your (apparent) arch-nemesis,
you're left sitting for several turns unable to do anything except hit
z and wait while the conversation progresses. Pages of it, sometimes.
Somehow, it seems wrong to apparently give you a choice of things to
do (It's split up, so you get a prompt. Except that, whatever you do,
you've got little choice except to carry on reading.), and then watch
as your character says things that you don't expect him to. Again. And

Perhaps this is the main problem. The player character ends up in a
situation which would be impossible to end up in in real life, and as
a result it's next to impossible to empathise. Of course, I felt sorry
for him and angry at the way he'd been treated. But in the third
person, rather than the first. (Does that make any sort of sense at

But even so. Sometimes, you are given a choice to influence the future
direction of the game, or so it seems. Because, whenever you get to
this sort of situation, it's obvious that the author wants you to make
one particular choice rather than another. Which leads to my major
problem with the game.

Yes, the big hammer o' morality has been dragged out again in order to
demonstrate that, in the end, we should forgive and forget. When your
character agonizes over whether or not to kill his tormentors, you've
got a choice.
A) Kill them, die instantly and lose all your points.
B) Don't kill them, carry on with the game and gain a point.

Now, which one seems like the "Proper" path?

Choices which influence a game's outcome generally make the game more
interesting, since the player feels that they're having more of an
affect. But the ones in Delusions feel more like "instant-death"
puzzles than anything else. The outcome is based on what the author
thinks, rather than what the player does. If anything, it makes the
game feel more restrictive than if you hadn't been offered the choice
in the first place.

So, then. Why did I say that Delusions was good? To some extent, it's
the attention to detail. The TV in one of the rooms shows Jeopardy.
There's a huge mass of documentation to go along with the VR system.
Everything you'd expect to find, you find. The characters all seem to
have clearly defined personalities, backed up by their personal

And the plot. To begin with, it didn't sound promising. None of the
initial ideas are terribly ground breaking. Come to that, neither are
any of the later ones. But, somehow, there's a fairly engaging plot.
Even if you're not empathising with the main character, you're
interested in finding out what's going on. What motivates the main NPC
becomes clear as the game progresses, and it all holds together

So. Overall then. If you're willing to overlook the basic lack of
originality, the tedious (to my mind) morality bits and the fact that
the bad guy talks far too much, it's a well written and competently
programmed game. The "Big revelation" doesn't come as too much of a
surprise if you've been paying attention to what's going on, but
that's a good thing rather than a bad one.

Out of ten? Seven. Not ground breaking, makes you want to hit people
in places, but still enjoyable.


From: Second April 

NAME: Dungeons of Dunjin
AUTHOR: Magnus Olsson
E-MAIL: zebulon SP@G
DATE: 1992
PARSER: Considering it was built from scratch, not bad
SUPPORTS: MS-DOS (version reviewed), Macintosh
VERSION: Release 4.3

The documentation for Magnus Olsson's Dungeons of Dunjin candidly
admits it isn't up to the Infocom standard of quality, and it's right,
as far as that goes--it's not. But, to judge it fairly, it was written
at a time--1992--before any free-or shareware games had come close to
that standard; moreover, it was written in Pascal, and the parser was
put together from the ground up, as it were. And when judged in its
proper context, it's quite a solid game, with some clever puzzles and
some humor to help the proceedings along.

The plot, oddly, is perhaps the weakest part; authorship system
limitations don't limit a game's story as such, and yet Dunjin feels
like it doesn't know what it wants to be. You're set down outside a
cave and sent off to explore without much of a sense of what you're
doing--the documentation doesn't provide much guidance--other than a
sign nearby advising that you're to bring treasures to the Adventure
Office. Shades, naturally, of Colossal Cave, but that game was content
to be a treasure hunt. This one tries to throw in another plot;
trouble is, you don't really know what it is (though you get a few
hints) until more than two-thirds of the way through, and it hardly
makes sense of what's come before.

For example, one key object is hidden in a place where no one could
get to it without some fairly drastic measures--who put it there?
where was it before? Similarly, you accumulate clues about a certain
crystal you have to use long before you have any idea what the crystal
is, or why you would need it; that comes at the end of the game. The
scoring system makes the extra plot central and the treasures
extraneous--the treasures are bonus points at the end of the game,
essentially--but it's hard to say that you pursue any particular goal
through the bulk of the game.

Disregarding that flaw, though--and it's hardly unique to this
game--Dunjin does manage to be quite entertaining. There are several
very clever puzzles that involve magic, and others that involve
defeating magic in novel ways. One distract-the-guardian puzzle
recalls Trinity, and the premise is much funnier (and appropriate for
the author's Swedish origins). There and at other times, the author
sends up the adventure-quest genre in entertaining ways--notably, in
your interactions with a genie, in figuring out a certain "magic
word," and in your discovery of old beer cans in an unlikely place.

The conflation of locales that was occasionally distracting in
Colossal Cave works better here because it's in the interests of
humor: that a crucial bit of information is written on a candy
wrapper, and that a key clue involves a Beatles song, provides an
element of silliness that feels just right, somehow. In that the plot,
when you discover it, is fairly standard save-the-princess and
get-the-fabled-object stuff, Dunjin feels more like a conventional
treasure-hunt than a parody as a whole, but there are more than enough
funny or offbeat moments to keep the player involved. (My personal
favorite--when you've disposed of a guard dog, the game chimes in to
let you know that the dog didn't actually suffer a nasty fate. A sort
of "no animals were harmed" touch.)

It would take some remarkable writing to make Dunjin feel like a truly
coherent game environment, with computer labs and dragons and
conventional houses and dwarves' mines virtually side by side, and
accordingly Dunjin's writing is best described as competent; virtually
all locations have a few compact sentences conveying the scene. (The
computer lab, with a full screen of text, is the exception--one
wonders whether it was modeled on something in the author's own
experience, given the excess of detail.)  There are mini-settings that
are well done--a coal mine in particular, and some scenes, such as
your view of a valley, are arrestingly described--though others, such
as a series of tunnels, could stand some more detail. A big sprawling
treasure-hunt like this should convey the relevant details as clearly
as possible, though, rather than striving for atmosphere at every
turn, and Dunjin does that quite well at virtually every turn.

Getting through Dunjin is a project. There are many distinct areas of
the game to discover, each with at least 15 rooms to discover and make
sense of, and often solutions involve objects found in obscure places,
far away from the relevant puzzle. The end in particular requires
either lots of foresight about the proper objects or some major
traipsing around--there are some shortcuts provided, but one of them
closes off at a certain moment. None of the puzzles are
extraordinarily hard, and none that I recall require knowledge
obtained by death, but the sheer size and scope of the game make
everything feel a little daunting. Dunjin does strike a nice balance
between linearity and breadth--the various sections of the game that
you discover give you enough of a choice that you have several
different puzzles to work on, but they're not quite big enough to make
the whole thing feel aimless. But there are a few slightly unfair
moments as well where the game closes off with little warning; saving
often is vital.  (And, of course, there are mazes--four, by my count,
none huge but three big enough to require mapping with objects.) All
of the puzzles are logical, though; none bend the rules of the
universe, even the fantasy universe, too much, and the small
illogicalities here and there (a gate that you can close and then walk
through, a key hidden in a somewhat absurd place) don't detract much
from the game.

As noted, the game was written in Pascal, and the system performs
admirably. There are a few disambiguation problems--the game has a few
too many books and pieces of paper, and getting them all in one place
is occasionally not a good idea--but very few and none fatal to
interacting with an object. The 1998 player may miss "undo" and such,
and there was no "script" command that I could find, but the parser
does handle a fairly wide variety of verbs and recognize pronouns as
well. (Wow.) There are some complicated code tasks--timed and
landscape-changing events--that go off without a hitch, and the few
moments that require exact syntax weren't sufficiently clumsy to slow
me down for long. Though it's nothing special, I appreciated the game
not kicking me right out to the DOS prompt when I died or otherwise
ended the game--it's the sort of user-friendly thing (especially in
Windows) that can make a difference in overall enjoyment.  The only
real problem I encountered is that the rooms don't have names as such,
and traveling through them a second time yields "You're in corridor"
and such, often not sufficiently descriptive to remind me of where I
was (particularly in a game this size); I had to switch the thing into
VERBOSE to make sense of the game environment. But that's hardly a
major drawback, and when compared to its AGT contemporaries, the
gameplay in Dunjin holds up quite well.

On the whole, then, this is a diverting (and lengthy) romp through a
rather diverse dungeon; it deals a bit too heavily in fantasy
conventions, particularly toward the end, to appeal to the player who
genuinely dislikes fantasy, but for those who enjoy the genre and like
seeing it sent up in some fairly clever ways, Dunjin is worth checking


From: Second April 

NAME: Losing Your Grip
AUTHOR: Stephen Granade
E-MAIL: sgranade SP@G
DATE: 1998
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: Release 3

PLOT: Intricate (1.7)         ATMOSPHERE: Complex, well done (1.6)
WRITING: Solid (1.5)          GAMEPLAY: Mostly good (1.3)
CHARACTERS: A little sketchy (1.0) PUZZLES: Some excellent (1.3)
MISC: Very rich in symbolism, thought-provoking (1.7)

Stephen Granade's Losing Your Grip is an ambitious effort: the plot
draws heavily on symbolism and attempts to sustain it over the course
of a full-length game. The result, though the symbolic elements are
often a bit obscure, is consistently entertaining and
thought-provoking. Merely figuring out what's going on is, truth to
tell, challenge enough.

You play Terry, in rehab for nicotine addiction, and the game switches
back and forth between Terry's conscious mind in the rehab ward
and--well, it's hard to say, really. You move through a series of five
"fits" that deal with one aspect or another of Terry's mind or
experiences, both discovering and setting right (in some cases) the
neuroses and repressions of his life. This duality sometimes makes
things rather complicated: when the fits delve into Terry's past, the
game wants to present (in heavily symbolic terms) the events that have
stunted or altered Terry's development, but also provide you, the
player, a means of undoing those events (also in symbolic terms),
leading to some fairly tortured plot sequences. One fit depicts your
run-in with some "faeries," a reasonably obvious stand-in for your
imaginative/creative side (at least, I thought so), and, in rapid
succession, the maturation of that imaginative self, its
disruption/negation by an outside force that threatens Terry's
freedom, and the overcoming of that outside force and reliberation of
the imagination. Whew. Bring a scorecard if you want to keep track of
the plot, because there's lots of it and it happens on several levels.

As a game, Deeper Meanings aside, Losing Your Grip is reasonably
successful--there are many challenging puzzles, and they make sense,
for the most part, in terms of the plot. There are, however, many and
varied ways to close off the game, including some "planning ahead"
measures that require considerable foresight. Notably, the way you
transport objects between fits, though clever and even logical on the
game's terms, requires that the player anticipate what the game is
trying to do--not at all likely within the first fit, when the
structure of the game still hasn't become clear. On two occasions,
choices you make send the game down one of two entirely separate paths
(which rejoin later), which enhances the game's replayability --and at
other times, there are multiple independent solutions to problems or
reactions to stimuli that shape what you make of your
character. Generally, these choices aren't between right and wrong as
such, though some have certain moral dimensions; they don't decide
whether the plot will continue, merely the nature of what
ensues. There is one section that devolves into sheer mathematical
puzzle-fest, not inconsistently with the plot but frustrating

Perhaps the most successful part of Grip is the first fit, in which
Terry explores his own mind, thinly veiled as a majestic marble
building. Terry confronts his memories, allegorized into a pile of
spheres that a fellow named Frankie--Terry's powers of introspection,
perhaps--is engaged in counting and categorizing; the parallel to the
process that Terry is undergoing is clear and intriguing. Terry then
reactivates, reopens for examination, various areas of his life that
he had neglected, and deals with the resulting tide of guilt and anger
(in a way that violates the allegory a bit, but let's not get
picky)--and also manages to avert the complete breakdown (or death,
perhaps?) that had been expected. But the author is not so concerned
with hurling symbolism at us that he neglects to make sense of the
ostensible action, fortunately, and the individual scenes in Grip are
enjoyable simply for their playability and writing. But the depth of
the insight that Terry achieves--in realizing how the negative
emotions have tainted and darkened his memories, and how he needs to
open up long-closed areas of his mind--give the first fit remarkable
power. In that light, the limitedness of its effects on the remainder
of the plot--whether you succeed or fail at a certain task, most
importantly--feels analytically wrong; it seems like failing to get
Terry's emotional house in order should preclude further
introspection.  (As in, the plot continues on the same course and you
reach the same ending, which doesn't feel right.)

The ending of Grip, while logical enough, brings up a certain point,
not confined to this particular game but certainly relevant:
increasingly, rather than giving the player the magic McGuffin or
letting him ride into the sunset, authors end games on an ambiguous
note: there's a conclusion of sorts, but it's not an unmitigated
triumph, and there's no satisfying "You have won." The Zarfian ending,
for want of a better term, is a welcome innovation, certainly--it
makes us think about what we've done--but please, all you Zarfians,
signify somehow that the player's _finished_ the thing, done all he or
she is supposed to do.(An "afterword" from the author, or an "amusing"
section, or something like that.)  Particularly in games like Grip,
where it's not at all hard to finish the game without earning all the
points, reading an ambiguous ending just convinced me that I'd missed
something and sent me back to solve puzzles that weren't meant to be
solve. Enhancing replay value is one thing, but confusing the player
about when enough is enough is another. (I should note, of course,
that Grip does have substantial replay value, in the separate paths
and in the intrigue of figuring out what everything means.  I just
wanted to know when I was done.)

Where was I? Oh, right. One of the nicest things about Grip is simply
that it hangs together well: the reappearances of the dark side that
you struggle with, the veiled conflict with Terry's father, and the
ways you drift back and forth between reality and memory/introspection
make a remarkably coherent whole, or so I found it. Once the player
picks up on the structure of the game (which takes a while) and the
significance of the recurring parts, the seemingly unrelated sequences
start to come together. Once I understood that the point of revisiting
past periods of Terry's life was to overcome the negative associations
he had attached to them, figuring out how to do it felt more
rewarding, though it's certainly possible to finish the scene without
thinking in those terms. Perhaps it was just that I appreciated and
agreed with the underlying message (or at least the philosophy behind
it), that Terry's anger at his father is misplaced and ultimately
destructive, but I found that, certain blips aside, the plot both made
sense and rewarded careful analysis--a rare combination. To that end,
though, I was a bit puzzled that an apparent choice between giving up
that anger and acting on it didn't affect the overall course of the
game--again, you end up in the same place with the same text.

I certainly don't claim to understand everything that the author was
driving at in Grip; there are many parts of the game whose
significance isn't clear to me, and may well remain that way. But I
enjoyed the parts of it that I thought I understood, and it kept me
interested enough to play through and think about in order to make
sense of the rest, no small feat for a full-length game. As both game
and story by symbolism, Losing Your Grip deserves praise.


From: The Magnificent Linnard 

NAME:  The Magnetic Scrolls Collection
AUTHOR: Magnetic Scrolls/Virgin
EMAIL:  ???
DATE:  Rerelease 1991
PARSER: Magnetic Scrolls standard
URL:  None available

I managed to stumble across this boxed set in a clearance bin about 2
years ago, and for $10, I've never been disapointed.  This is a
collection of the three 'best sellers' (I assume) from the now defunct
Magnetic Scrolls--Fish!, The Guild Of Thieves, and Corruption, all for
the PC (which contradicts what I've read before about there being only
Amiga and C64 versions).

All three make Infocom look pretty blase by comparision.  The
interface is rather like a Macintosh, with mouse support, backgrounds,
resizeable and moveable windows, automapping, an inventory listing
using some alright icons, and a builtin compass.  Each also features
some degree of graphics for some scenes.  Although most are low
quality, and the animation isn't impressive in the least, it does add
atmosphere when it's on.  Variable fonts also help the text, allowing
you to bold certain types (such as descriptions or game responses),
italicize, or just use different font sizes.  Very well put together.

The help menus are about the same as late Infocom, using levels of
hints for various events in each game.  At times, the details are a
little -too- much, giving away whole solutions step by step.
Unfortunetly, this seems to be necessary.  Certain sequences, such as
Corruption's escape from the hospital, make absolutely no sense unless
you have the help file--there's nothing to tell you what you need to
do or what you did wrong, but if you -did- do something wrong, you're
loading up that last save game.  The save/load is well done at least,
using a listed window like most Windows applications do.

The games themselves vary quite widely, and they're all every bit as
good as Infocom's best in MOST departments.  Fish! sits you in the
role of a secret agent, transplanted into the body of a fish in order
to stop The Seven Deadly Fins from whatever evil deed they have in
mind.  Three different mini-missions place you in other bodies (of
humans, at least) in order to get the parts so that you can head into
the Fish City.  Before I give away too much of the plot, I'll just say
that I was subtely annoyed to finally make it to the end, just to find
a TIME LIMIT on the last sections.  I managed to make it to the very
end sequence, just to find that I didn't have enough time (each move
costs you a few minutes) to do what was required of me.  Painful.

Corruption comes from a different angle.  You've just been named
partner in a law firm, but someone's out to eliminate your presence in
some not-so-moral ways.  The idea is to, before the day is over, pin
the blame where it goes without getting snagged yourself.  It's harder
than it sounds.  The game is timed right to the clock, and if you
aren't in EXACT right places at EXACT right times, events go right
past you.  If that happens, you're starting over--you won't have
enough evidence.  The casette in the box helps some too, but it's not
totally necessary.  This game features possibly the most devious
puzzle in the game, and the cheesiest one I've ever had to deal
with--The Hospital.  I have yet to see how you're supposed to figure
this out without the help window wide open.  Basically, you're in a
hospital, and if you don't get out unnoticed, you'll be given a lethal
injection (boy, those guys are just -everywhere-!).  It's rough, since
a wrong turn will put a nurse right next to you.

Guild Of Thieves is my personal favorite.  The story works like this:
you're an apprentice thief, trying to get into the guild.  You're told
that to get in, you have to rob this country blind.  That night, a
master thief drops you off on a dock and lets you do your thing.  This
is actually loads of fun, trying to cop the many treasures of
whereever you find them.  It's a gas, really, until the end.  Just too
many timing-based puzzles for anyone's good.

All in all, a tres fun set to play around with, if you're lucky enough
to actually -find- the box.


From: Francis Irving 

NAME: A Matter of Time
AUTHOR: Michael Zerbo
EMAIL: Unknown
DATE: Jun 4, 1997 (according to
PARSER: ALAN version 2.5
SUPPORTS: DOS, Amiga, and possibly Alan ports (but without sound/graphics)
AVAILABILITY: Shareware ($10)
URL: (the version reviewed)[123].lha
           (the original Amiga version)
VERSION: 1.0 (according to

Time to try out the most heavily downloaded game in the IF archive...

"A Matter of Time" is another story about saving your Professor from a
land of dinosaurs, where his experimental time machine has gone
slightly awry.  The plot twist?  The Professor is also accused of
murdering a colleague over a funding war.

It's apparently written using ALAN, with calls to external programs to
add graphics and sound.  Unfortunately this means that you have to
wait for each picture to appear and disappear, and for each sound to
finish, before you can get on with the game.  And it happens every
time you do "look".

So, anyone making a multimedia piece of IF, make sure the sound and
graphics are concurrent with the text.  And that you can turn them
off.  (You can in time1 - by deleting or renaming viewer.exe and

Similarly annoying was that every time you die and restart you have to
sit through the whole of the intro (including pictures) before you can
even restore again... Whatever happened to "Would you like to RESTART,

The writing is readable in its simplicity, but needs more imagination.
The puzzles are straightforward item manipulation games which I
couldn't work out; the games unresponsiveness and shaky parser didn't
encourage me to do so. More synonyms are required; you can do "climb
tree" but not "climb vines".

Graphics are varied and made with fractal and ray-tracing programs.
This gives them a certain lack of liveliness and inconsistency of
style.  The sounds didn't add anything much to the game, although they
served well to identify where I was.  Good sound in the background
could make each area of a landscape feel more distinct.

I didn't finish Time, but I did read through the text from the data
file.  I didn't miss much.  It really is only a short work.  I don't
know what you get if you register, but from this demo I don't feel
that it would be worth doing so.

With over 17,000 downloads of Time from the IF-archive via, Michael Zerbo is clearly an excellent publicist, or
there is more interest in IF than we imagine.  Perhaps people like the
idea that it has sound/graphics in it, and are put off downloading
plain text adventures.

When the first quality piece of graphical IF, with an Inform/TADS
standard parser, comes out, it will be interesting to see if it fares
better in the download world.


From: Second April 

NAME: Spider and Web
AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin
E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G
DATE: 1997-8
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 4

PLOT: Multilayered, intriguing (1.6)   ATMOSPHERE: Effective (1.5)
WRITING: Strong (1.6)                 GAMEPLAY: Solid (1.5)
PUZZLES: Logical, some difficult (1.6) CHARACTERS: One, very thorough
MISC: Ambitious idea, carried off with skill (1.8)

Andrew Plotkin posted on a few years ago a list
of implicit assumptions common to most IF, suggesting that
experimental IF works might set about subverting those
assumptions. Plotkin's Space Under the Window pushed the limits of IF,
to be sure, but in a rather straightforward way; there, the author
forced the player to give up the usual mode of interacting with the
game environment. Spider and Web, though no less subversive in its
way, is altogether more subtle--and Plotkin overturns the tropes of
standard IF to great effect.

As it would be altogether too hard to discuss otherwise, I'll describe
the essential structure--the outer layer, as it were--of the game: as
a spy sent to investigate an enemy laboratory, you have been caught
and are recounting your actions to your interrogator. But you recount
them not verbally, but as scenes replayed in your memory and picked up
by a mind probe--and therefore you play out the recreations as
conventional IF narrative, or so it seems at first. Moreover, your
interrogator interrupts you constantly to inform you that you have
gotten the scene "wrong," or to interject comments when you do get it
right, and there's therefore a sense that you're discovering what
you've already done. The confusion of narratives that arises is done
with remarkable skill: after all, the effect of the scene is that the
interrogator is asking you, for the most part, to confirm what he
already knows, and therefore the point of most of the exercise, as far
as he's concerned, is less to learn anything than to have you submit
to his coercion, repeat what he's telling you. (The interrogator
describes it that way: "It comes down to telling stories. You spin me
a story, and I listen....This verse isn't yet right.") Critical theory
meets IF, in other words: the controlling ideology enforces its rule
by forcing the controlled to repeat--and play out, over and over
again--the narrative. The idea, at least for critical theorists, came
down from Marx, but it has a life of its own by now. If Foucault wrote
in this medium, he'd more than likely write something like
this. ("Discipline and Punish" in IF form? Internalized panopticons?
Could happen.) The experience of playing it is unique and vaguely
reminiscent of "1984"--it forces the player not only to accept someone
else's account of a certain truth, in this case his own memories, but
to replay them in conformity with what he's told--and the feeling is
often unnerving.

At any rate, Plotkin uses this premise skillfully, often in ways that
can't be revealed here lest they spoil the fun. Among the more amusing
moments is the opening scene in the city streets, which, like
everything else, you're replaying for the interrogator's benefit--and
you therefore throw in some ingratiating sentiment laced with sarcasm:
"And however much of the capital city is crusted with squat brick and
faceless concrete hulks, there are still flashes of its historic
charm." Later, a subtle dig at the police state: "The alley is quite
empty, bare even of trash. (Your guidebook warned you: the police are
as efficient about litter laws as about everything else they do.)"
Later repetitions of the scene cut out most of the rhapsodizing about
the city's charms, as if in acknowledgment that the interrogator
doesn't want to hear it. The temporal confusions abound: this is one
work of IF where much of the action has already happened at the
beginning of the game, and the story technique works far better than
many "flashback" sequences common in film. The slow-developing plot is
frustrating at times--the player is often reduced to thinking "_why_
would I have done that?", and not all the questions get resolved. But
there is method to Plotkin's madness, as always, and the twists are
calculated for maximum effect.

Spider and Web owes its setting and plot to Cold War spy movies and
novels, in a sense. It gradually becomes apparent that you're after a
mysterious device, a weapon of sorts: they have it, you want it or
alternately don't want them to have it, it's essential to the balance
of power, etc. (And a certain less-than-credible scene toward the end
recalls one of the silliest features of action movies.) There is also
a certain debt to science fiction, though, in the wealth of gadgetry
that you carry around--you bring a toolcase with you--and in the
endgame, which requires that you figure out a whole host of devices at
high speed in a way reminiscent of lots of SF. Particularly since so
much of the plot turns on understanding the properties of gadgets,
it's tempting to make them the real point of the story--and yet good
science fiction, despite appearances, is often less about neat
technology than about the human conflicts that it brings about, and
Spider and Web is no different. At one point, your interrogator--oddly
candid, but I suppose he has to be for the story to go anywhere--
acknowledges that the new weapon, rather than enabling a supposed
"clean war", would actually make the ongoing war even more chaotic and
enable dangerous abuses of power, but then acknowledges that he still
participates in building and developing the weapon. (The tension, in
critical theory terms: the figure who wields the power admits his
doubts about the validity or appeal of the dominant ideology, thereby
deconstructing that ideology's claim to exclusive truth and
legitimating dissent. Well, maybe.) Implicitly, technology becomes an
end in itself, divorced from its desired ends--or, alternately,
avoiding a certain technological advance is more risky than pursuing
it, lest one's side lose the destructive advantage. The latter echoes
Cold War deterrence theory, while the former is an element in most
dystopian visions (Fahrenheit 451, for example). At any rate, the
endgame underscores the importance of the backstory; players should
probably go back to old save positions once they near the end simply
to make sense of some of the earlier speeches.

As a game, Spider and Web works well. The interrogator's comments act
as a sort of hint system for much of the game, since your various
mistakes draw out comments that indicate what he's looking for and
narrow down the scope of your actions through repeated tries. As such,
the game is fairly short and most of it isn't all that hard; it's only
toward the end that the Zarfian side comes out and the player needs
real intuition to keep up. (As with other Zarf works, furthermore, the
hardest points are the most satisfying to solve--they're rewarded in
one way or another.) There are a few points where the interrogator's
responses don't quite seem to match your actions, and it isn't quite
clear at those points whether he just doesn't care about the
discrepancies or whether there are bugs afoot. The ultimate ending is
something of a letdown, at least in terms of spy-novel victory-for-
your-side expectations, though it certainly fits the Zarf ethos. On
the whole, the puzzles are unique and well crafted; there is nothing
arbitrarily thrown in to require puzzle-solving, and the obtacles feel
logical enough. There's even some humor, unlikely as it sounds: the
interrogator is equipped with plenty of sarcastic jabs. (At one point,
if you claim that the guards lied about something: "Ah. They'll be
hurt to hear so.") The atmosphere is likewise effective: the halls are
cold but not obtrusively so. As seems to happen in many Plotkin games,
a key shift in mood is marked by the lights going out and the player's
having to stumble around in "dimness" (the word, in particular,
reminded me of Space Under the Window); though the dimming doesn't
accompany changes in the landscape, as happened in Change in the
Weather, it does serve to heighten tension and set the final events of
the game in motion. Technically proficient, with a well-developed
story, Spider and Web is a solid game.

But Plotkin is not, precisely, known in the IF community for
conventional solid games, and Spider and Web doesn't really fit many
categories. The spy-adventure aspect is subverted by the moral
ambiguities: it isn't clear that arranging for your side to have the
weapon would be an altogether good thing, and it becomes obvious that
the interrogator is driven to develop it more by political necessity--
the regime demands it--than by personal fascination with the
possibilities. Indeed, one event toward the end suggests that the
power game is what really matters, that the technology is expendable;
the real value of the thing lies in simply having it while the other
side doesn't. A development parallel to the story of the weapon,
moreover--call it one of the plot layers--suggests that technology
still can't keep up with human ingenuity, in that a large part of the
game turns on outsmarting a device that your captors rely on.  While
there are science fiction elements, the game turns on the
interrogation and the conflict it masks rather than the technological/
speculative bits; the specter of the omniscient questioner who
manipulates his captives into saying what he wants recalls, among
other things, Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Most importantly, unlike
the bulk of IF, the player cannot identify a clear goal for the
protagonist, or necessarily even assume that he understands what the
protagonist is thinking at any given time; the feeling of discovering
rather than creating a story recurs on several levels. Put another
way, the game sharply limits how much innovation you can give the set
script, sometimes because you have to match the interrogator's account
and sometimes because every move is vital, as in Change in the
Weather. Throughout the story, discovering what you're "meant" to be
doing means discovering what your own character is up to, sometimes in
surprising ways, and the effect is occasionally similar to coming
gradually out of a total loss of memory.

There is much that's worth pondering over the course of Spider and
Web: the various competing narratives keep the player guessing (some
of the techniques reminded me of Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger
Ackroyd, though I'm sure they're not unique), and the game is well-
crafted on every level. Anyone who has enjoyed Plotkin's previous
efforts should without a doubt check this one out.


From: Adam Thornton 

NAME: Spider and Web
AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin
E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G
DATE: 1997-8
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 4

This review necessarily contains spoilers for _Spider And Web_.  If
you haven't played it, I recommend you stop reading here, go out and
get a copy (, and
play it.  It is certainly worth your time.  After you've played it,

It's an excellent game.  If I have to give it a rating, uhhhh, let's
see.  9.0 out of 10.

Now go play it.

_Spider And Web_ is the latest IF effort by Andrew Plotkin.  It
represents a radical departure from his earlier works in that it is
neither an impossibly unfair series of timing puzzles (e.g. "A Change
In the Weather"), nor is it a lyrical allegorical journey (e.g. "So
Far"), nor is it an arcade favorite reborn (e.g. "Freefall"), nor is
it an Interactive Unbelievably Painful Breakup (e.g. "The Space Under
The Window"), nor is it even a Computer Science homework set
(e.g. "Lists and Lists").

Instead, it's a Cold War spy story, and a fairly straightforward one
at that.  When stripped to its essentials, the plot is: break into a
research center, elude the guards, steal the Secret Plans, and escape.
Nothing we haven't seen a hundred times before, right?

Well, no.  This is, after all, a Zarf game.

For starters, the game begins with the player outside a closed door in
a grimy alley, with no means of opening the door.  It's only after
giving up and walking away that we find the real setting of the game:
the player has been captured and is being interrogated.

The player, it turns out, was a spy breaking into this facility.  He,
or possibly she--Zarf doesn't specify, and it's made quite clear that
at least the captors' forces include both men and women; I'm going to
refer to the protagonist as "he," since that's how I imagined the
game--was captured.  His captors have a memory-extraction McGuffin
that allows them to see the scene through his eyes.  The challenge of
the first part of the game is to replay each scene in such a way that
it matches the evidence found by your captors.  It's an awful lot like
the movie _Groundhog Day_ in that you do everything over and over
until you get it right.

Except that, after you're comfortable with that paradigm, about two
thirds of the way through the game, there's a huge shift.  You escape
and are suddenly playing for real.  And that's when you find out that
there were certain things you lied to your interrogator about, and
figuring out what you told him vs. what you really did becomes the
major challenge of the game.

The escaping puzzle has to be one of the best ever seen in IF.  It's
incredibly subtle, incredibly elegant, and extremely satisfying.  But
aside from that, finding out that you were an unwitting Unreliable
Narrator is an amazing rhetorical gimmick, and works beautifully.  It
completely subverts what you thought you were doing; the first part of
the game becomes _Groundhog Day_ except that you're repeating
everything until you get it convincingly and consistently *wrong*.

The remainder of the game, alas, falls a little short.  Most of it
concerns figuring out what you really *were* doing in the earlier
part, and realizing how to use it to get into the Lab.  Once there
it's pretty obvious what you need to do to get enough time to operate,
and what to do.  However, at this point, it *is* pretty much a Cold
War spy story, albeit an exciting one.  The metaphysically neat parts
of the game are behind you.

One object, which you have to use twice, is the hardest part of the
game, because it appears in no room descriptions, and unless you
examine the walls or listen very carefully, there's no indication that
such things exist.  This is, in fact, precisely the point.  They're
ubiquitous and never noticed.  Annoying, but it can hardly be said to
be unfair.

The mechanics and prose are, as in every Zarf game, excellent.  The
one fleshed-out NPC is convincingly drawn, and Zarf's choice to limit
conversation with him to "yes" or "no" works well both in the context
of the game and as a tool so that the amount of coding is kept to a
minimum.  The spy gadgets work intuitively and the interface seems
very believable.  And they're fun to play with.

It's interesting and very refreshing to have an exciting spy story as
the basic premise, and have no one get killed or even seriously hurt
in the game's main action.  The total body count is seven, plus or
minus, unconscious guards, most of them simply stun-gunned, one
poisoned with a temporary neurotoxin, and one interrogator with a bad
headache.  Plus whatever happens to the player's character.

There are some nice incidental touches: words like "night-clumps," the
twin moons seen in the sketch in the interrogator's office, the
marvellously evocative phrase "dawn-tales."  All of these give a
feeling of a fleshed-out background world with a charmingly minimalist
sketch.  They also make the game feel like a sequel of sorts to "So
Far"; if the world of "So Far" was late Victorian (well, the beginning
world, where _Rito and Imita_ is playing), then this is near-future,
maybe a century and a half down the road.

The "web" of the title also plays a nice recurring role.  "Scan-web"
is apparently a metal-detecting metallic woven fiber.  Indeed, maybe
that's all it is: metal passing through it would set up an inductive
current, which could then trigger an alarm somewhere.  It's also used
as some sort of conductive field-generating device in the lab, and, of
course, the whole issue of the game is "Who's the spider, and who's
the fly?"

The interrogator is an interesting character.  He's a thinking man
with a hell of a job.  Zarf says that he tried to create an NPC and
ended up once again writing himself, but with a dirty job.  That's
possible.  But I found he rang very true to the one intellectual
career military man I know, who once described himself to me as "your
basic liberal arts colonel."  He's someone with an artistic side, and
his art reveals a great deal about his personality.  So do his
bookshelves.  I, alas, don't believe Zarf's explanations that I can
see the contents of his shelves from the door--more on this later.

The political setting of the game is interesting.  This would have
been an amazingly affecting game in 1986, the year of Trinity's
release.  It is set in a nasty Cold War, and the Device in the Lab is,
as the interrogator points out, at least the equivalent of the Bomb in
terms of destructive potential.  These days, it's a nice spy thriller.
Back when Balance of Power and Detente actually *meant* something, it
would have been much more relevant.

Half the fun of the game is figuring out what really happened.  The
basic plot (not the one you tell the interrogator) goes something like

{ Editor's comment: The final part of Adam's review contains an
analysis of the game that goes to such detail that I felt I couldn't
publish it here - it would simply give away too much for people who
haven't completed the game. This was a difficult decision to make,
since this analysis is in a way the most important part of the
review. As a compromise solution (approved by the author, of course),
I felt that publishing the first part of the review, while making the
complete text available elsewhere, would still be worthwhile; the
complete and uncensored review is available from Readers without
WWW access may email me for a copy. }


From: Second April 

NAME: Tapestry
AUTHOR: Daniel Ravipinto
E-MAIL: rd70 SP@G
DATE: 1996
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

PLOT: Simple but effective (1.3)         ATMOSPHERE: Not much (1.3)
WRITING: Quite good (1.5)          GAMEPLAY: A bit clunky (1.1)
CHARACTERS: Sketchy (1.1)          PUZZLES: Few (0.8)
MISC: Ambitious, not wholly successful but interesting (1.8)

Daniel Ravipinto's Tapestry is the sort of game that can really only
be done once: any imitation would lose the impact that the original
had. It tries to do something, moreover, that very little IF tries to
do--defend a position--and if the overall experience isn't entirely
successful, the player should at least recognize the novelty of the
ground it's breaking.  Though less a game than a philosophical
position, Tapestry does what it sets out to do reasonably well; it
didn't, however, make a persuasive argument as far as I was concerned.

The basic idea is relatively simple: you play a man named Timothy
Hunter who has died, who meets one certain personage offering a choice
and then three others who offer two more choices, distinctly
contrasting, and who is given the option to replay key scenes from his
life and reconsider certain moments. The choices--you discover this
immediately, so I don't feel that I'm giving much away--include your
decision to attend a key meeting to help a client when your mother was
dying, your decision to kill your wife when she was suffering from a
painful disease, and your failure--it's hard to construe it as a
decision--to avoid a pedestrian in the car accident that ended your
life. You are given three choices; I won't spell them out, but they
hinge on changing the events as opposed to changing what you make of

It may fairly be said that the game element of Tapestry isn't
extensive; there aren't really any puzzles, and what there are, I'm
afraid, mostly derive from choosing syntax or figuring out fairly
specific responses that the game demands. There's one moment in the
second scene where I knew perfectly well what I wanted to do but
couldn't figure out the precise wording, and the hint menu didn't
help. In that respect, Tapestry might work better as straight fiction
than as IF: giving the story its own pace, rather than tying its
advancement to figuring out actions, might have made it more
powerful. (Though the game is technically proficient in several
respects--the hint menu adapts to your situation quite skillfully, for
one thing, and the situation changes to block off certain paths in
subtle but effective ways.) At any rate, the game element is good
enough to tell the story/make the argument, which is all that's really

The nature of the paths you're given and of the way the game treats
them makes it reasonably clear that there's a "right" way, and two
"wrong" ways, to go about this; the game locks you into your path once
the choice is made, and the eventual consequences and the terms in
which the games sums up your decisions at the end leaves little doubt
about that. While I don't dispute the logic or philosophical force of
locking you onto your trajectory, on the game's terms, it does limit
the realism element somewhat; in theory, you might have learned from
one experience and want to take a different sort of path at the next
decision point. At the very least, having to play through the thing
when your decisions are foreordained--when the game is simply waiting
for you to input the correct things, not giving you choices as
such--is a bit frustrating; I'm not really sure whether it would have
been better to let it all scroll by than to provide the illusion of
interactivity. It also limits the realism of it all somewhat to
suppose that, if certain key life decisions were changed (and these
are about as key as they get), everything that follows would have
turned out the same, or sufficiently so that your decisions aren't
changed. Even if the game is more an argument than a real-life
depiction, these things affect the persuasiveness of the argument;
when the author is both setting a somewhat contrived scene and staking
out a position that depends on it, it feels like he's stacking the

I bring all this up because, on the terms that the game presents them,
one can't really argue with the "right" choice; the others are laden
with awful consequences and negative adjectives. But it's not clear at
all to me that this is a fair depiction of the choices; at the very
least, I think I could rewrite key moments of the game without
changing the basic plot or structure to make either of the other two
plots the preferable one. The game didn't, in short, convince me that
my choice was actually justifiable or correct, merely that the author
wanted me to know that he believed it was. That's interesting, in its
way, but not very persuasive.

My main problem with Tapestry, in short is one that I can't really
blame the author for, as such, but it impeded my enjoyment of it
regardless: there was no path that actually reflected what I, speaking
for myself, wanted to do. I should probably say that I'm a
moderate-to-conservative Christian with very definite ideas about what
would or wouldn't imperil the state of one's soul, and it's not at all
the author's fault if the game's outlook leaves me a little cold. That
said, though, I found a certain incoherence in Tapestry; the ending
struck me as so nihilistic that nothing that came before really seemed
to matter much. I can't really explain without spoilers, but suffice
it to say that all the endings seem agnostic--if not outright
atheist--about the protagonist's ultimate fate, which made all of the
foregoing feel a little hollow. Put another way, the game stacks the
deck again, by making it seem as if everything depends on your
decisions but not actually giving you much difference in the
resolution. The author is, of course, free to say all this, but
implicit in the nature of the argument is that the player has to
swallow the author's entire worldview, not simply look at the validity
of what he's saying. And as I resisted accepting the author's
assumptions, the story didn't work very well for me.

Tapestry did, I must admit, make me think about the situation it
presented; it was hard for me to give a clear answer regarding what
I'd do (besides "not do the things in the first place") because it's
such a bizarre situation and because the terms aren't spelled out very
clearly.  Am I actually reliving my life? If not (as noted above) how
could it be that I can change parts of it and not change the whole
thing? There are Christian arguments for all of the positions, but I
found that the weakest ones were for the path that the author clearly
preferred, which struck me as interesting. It could fairly be argued
that I should have seen where things were going from the beginning and
qualified my objections, and I did have a sense from the first quote
and from the identity (which I did get, along with the Trinity
reference) of the first NPC. But I still think there's an incoherence
in setting the one figure against the other three, since they come out
of specific traditions that presuppose specific things, and putting
them together just never feels like it makes a lot of sense. More
accurately, I don't think the first character really belongs in the
game, at least not in the role he inhabits; the author is free to
rethink the real nature of that person, of course, but the rethinking
isn't well enough developed for me to buy it. I don't, in other words,
think that the presence of that specific character makes any sense
outside a certain context; it may be a product of my biases, but those
specific biases are not uncommon in the world.

Despite my differences with it, though, I must grant that Tapestry is
a well-written and, mostly, well-crafted work, with plenty of thought
behind it. Whether or not I agree with the views expressed in
Tapestry, I look forward to future works by Mr. Ravipinto.


From: "Lars Jodal" 

NAME: Unnkulia Zero: The Search for Amanda
EMAIL: dleary SP@G
DATE: 1993
PARSER: TADS with many synonyms
VERSION: Version 1.2 (1.0G)

From time to time a review in SPAG has been followed by another review
of the same game because the second reviewer disagreed with the first
reviewer or felt that some aspects needed more comments.  This time
not only the review is about the same game, also the reviewer is the
same person (although I am sending this from another email address).

The first review (in SPAG #12) was done a bit hastily in the middle of
the night after I had finally finished Unnkulia Zero. The deadline for
SPAG was passed, but I hoped to get it through to tell the IF world
about the game, specifically that it had been released as
freeware. The review did get through, but it was less thorough than
the game deserved. So, I'll use the possibilites of IF and do a ...


Background: The unnkulian universe was created along with the first UU
game, "Unnkulian Underworld: The Unknown Unventure" (UU1), by D.
A. Leary. This was a game with tongue firmly planted in cheek, at the
same time writing in the good-old-style of games like "Colossal Cave"
and making fun of most of the traditional conventions. Leary's
excellent writing abilities ensured that the game was not just a
simple parody but instead a very funny game taking place in a universe
of its own.

UU1 was followed by David M. Baggett's "Unnkulian Underworld II: The
Secret of Acme" (UU2), Leary's "Unnkulia Onehalf: The Salesman
Triumphant" (Onehalf), and then Leary's "Unnkulia Zero: The Search for
Amanda" (Zero). Finally Baggett wrote "The Legend Lives"
(Legend). Originally UU1 and UU2 was released as shareware titles,
Onehalf as freeware, Zero as a commercial game, and Legend as
freeware. But few people bothered register the shareware games and
even fewer people would spend money on actually _buying_ a game. Now
Baggett & Leary (together known as Adventions) have done us all a
favour we don't really deserve: They have given all their games out
for free. The URL above points to a file containing the .gam files for
_all_ games released by Adventions. This includes the above-mentioned
games as well as Leary's "Horror of Rylvania" and Baggett's remake of
the original Adventure: "Colossal Caves Revisited". The games are full
versions, patched only to remove any mention of payment. What more
could we ask for? Beware that the file is rather large, about 1.1 MB.

This review is based on the commercial version 1.2 of Zero, which
seems to be the same as the free version 1.0G contained in the file.

The story: The Valley King is furious and desperate. The Unnkulians
have kidnapped his beloved Amanda! He sends you, his most trusted
warrior, out to find her. This won't be an easy task ...  During your
search you will have to face a giant snake, the Valley Patrol, a
salesman from Acme, and your fear of heights. To complete your task
you will also have to travel in time, shut down a nuclear reactor, and
possibly learn more about the ways of Duhda. Last but not least you
must match wits with Wowsa Willy, the great magician of the old days!

The game is rich in many ways. The writing is very good and
imaginative. Spelling errors and typos are nonexistent. Each location
has a description of typically 5-10 lines of text that gives a vivid
impression of the place (in my mind I still have detailed pictures of
very large parts of the Unnkulian world). Much attention has been paid
to details. You can examine almost everything mentioned in the text,
and the descriptions are not just run-of-the-mill "this looks like an
ordinary  to me".

Unnkulia Zero adds immensely to the world established in UU1 and UU2.
UU1 and UU2 took place in different locations but with Zero these
locations are linked together. The opening of Zero takes place in the
same locations as UU1 (and Onehalf), and later the player may see a
bit of the landscape from UU2. I am impressed at Leary's ability to
use the same locations as starting point for several games and then
let the stories evolve in different ways that makes it natural that
some locations of one game cannot be accessed from another. Had I only
played one of these games I probably wouldn't even notice that I was
being restricted from some areas - every game has its boundaries and
most of the boundaries in these games feel natural.

But the landscape is far from the only thing that links the games
together. Right from the beginning (i.e., UU1) hints of a greater
scheme showed up from time to time, and Zero adds immensely to this
game world. Taking place in the days of lore, when the Valley King
ruled, it lets us know about the time that was the past in UU1 and
UU2. Old myths are expanded on, ambiguities are resolved, and new
myths are presented. Even the Amanda mentioned in the game's title is
no newcomer: Her name was found on an old table in UU1 and in the bark
of an oak tree in UU2.

With a game world given such consideration it should come as no
surprise that Leary has chosen to let the player's character be a
fixed one. In the game's own words:

    You're a hulking Valley Warrior, one of the fittest of the Valley
    King's soldiers.

This may annoy people who want to think themself directly into the
story but it allows for more details in the description of the player
character. For instance, the player character of Zero suffers from
vertigo, a weakness the person playing the game may not share. In
fact, Leary makes a vitue of necessity and lets the text comment on
the player character from time to time:

    You're standing outside the Valley King's forest retreat.  It's a
    simple hut where His Regalness sheds the trappings of modern
    civilization and gets back to nature.  You don't entirely
    understand his thinking; you're a warrior, not a philosopher.  But
    he is, after all, the king.  Paths wind through the woods to the
    north, west, and northeast.  The hut is to the south.  Through the
    trees to the west, you can see sunlight glinting off the waters of
    Lake Draounheer.

The game has several NPCs. Some are simply obstacles (e.g., the
snake), others take active part in the fate of our hero (e.g., the
nymph). None of the NPCs are pure cardboard, but they generally have
their own things to do and aren't up to long talks or developed
interaction. In a way the most interesting NPC is someone who strictly
speaking is not a character in the game: Wowsa Willy. You never gets
to meet or see Wowsa Willy, but you will visit Willy's tower, find a
book written by Willy, and possibly hear from Willy himself. An

    You're deep in the heart of the swamp now, in a dismal clearing of
    quicksand and mire.  A gentle old willow tree hangs over the
    clearing, vine-covered branches dipping low.  The only safe path
    is back to the east.
    Without warning, your feet sink into the muck.  You try to move,
    but can't. You're sinking in the quicksand - and you don't have
    much time left!

    >examine wand
    The wand is a thin piece of wood, quite light and flexible.  You 
    can barely make out tiny letters down the side that read 'Wowsa 
    Willy's Wishing Wand - Works When Waved.'

    >wave wand
    "Cretin!"  a voice booms.  "Bother me not with such petty wishes!  
    Escape from the sand yourself!"

How our hero escapes the bog is another story...

This brings us to the puzzles. From a puzzle-solving point the game is
hard, in its own words "dam tuff (7 out of 10)". [*] I am not very
good at solving adventure game puzzles myself and got stuck several
times. The puzzles are generally logical and interesting.  They are
integrated in the plot and not just added as an afterthought. Players
that explore their surroundings are in many cases rewarded by small
hints to the puzzles, especially if they can read between the
lines. The puzzles range from find-the-key (although to find the key
you will have to solve another, more interesting, puzzle) to
complicated and original puzzles. In between are some variations over
old puzzles, like how to deal with the monk (also met in UU1 and UU2)
or how to cross the Stoll Bridge. Most of the variations include new
twists, and none are direct lift-offs.

[*] The spelling reflects the way Acme describes its products in the
UU games. People who played UU1 and UU2 and grew tired of the "cheez"
jokes can relax: Zero is almost cheez-free.

In a few cases "logical" is not the right word for the puzzles. I
cannot decide if this is to be considered bad or not. The world of the
UU games has always had its own rules, and although not logical the
puzzles are consistent with the game setting. The most "nonlogical"
puzzle is related to the burial mound, and since I solved that puzzle
without any help we see that nonlogical doesn't have to mean
impossible or unfair.

Unfair puzzles or not, the game is not without problems: Even the
careful player may end up in a no-win situation without knowing it.
Very few puzzles can be screwed up without giving the player proper
notice, but some objects can be overlooked or lost. The most likely
object to be overlooked is the jade figurine, which is to be found
rather early in the game (and I ain't gonna tell you more!). Other
objects are too easily lost. At one place in the game the player will
have to give up some objects. There are lots of objects to spare in
the game, but as an apparently useless object can turn out to be very
handy it is impossible to be 100% sure _which_ objects can be spared.
This is quite serious, especially since some objects can be lost a
long time before the player realizes they were essential.

The plot of the game is well developed, and the story unfolds without
forcing itself on the player. Some puzzles have to be solved in a
particular order, but that is only natural if we are to expect a
coherent plot. In most parts of the story several independent puzzles
can be considered at a time. Although non-linear on the way the
adventure has one ending. One might think that the games title gives
the ending away right from the start, but one is in for a surprise.
The ending is satisfying but not in the way that is expected.

To sum up, I consider Unnkulia Zero an ought-to-be classic. The game
does have its faults but they are few and heavily outweighed by the
positive things to be said. Getting hints may be a problem, because so
few people have played it (yet!) and Adventions are not going to give
hints any more. My advice to players in need of a hint: Try There are quite a few people out there, and
maybe one of them can help you. If that fails, mail me. I am not very
good at giving subtle hints, but I do know the game well. In any case,
don't rush for hints right away. The game is rich enough to reward
those who take the time on it.

The bottom line can be copied from my original review: 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 is is free!


From: Second April 

NAME: Zork Undiscovered Underground
AUTHORS: Marc Blank, Mike Berlyn, G. Kevin Wilson
E-MAIL: Dunno, dunno, gkw SP@G
DATE: 1997
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Available either as .z5 file or as executable for DOS
AVAILABILITY: Freeware from Activision
VERSION: Release 16

PLOT: Not much (1.0)             ATMOSPHERE: Effective (1.4)
WRITING: Solid (1.3)            GAMEPLAY: Quite good (1.5)
PUZZLES: Not too hard (1.3)     CHARACTERS: Few (1.2)
MISC: Effective, though not really much as teaser (1.3)

Short but entertaining, Zork: The Undiscovered Underground is the
first Zork text adventure to be produced under the auspices of Infocom
since 1987's Zork Zero. Changes in the entertainment world since then
mean that the text game that couldn't exist as a marketable product in
its own right (or so believes Activision) was produced for the sake of
the graphic game Zork: Grand Inquisitor, as a teaser/prequel. While I
can't comment on the worth of ZGI, I do think there's more than enough
in ZTUU to make it an enjoyable game, with or without the larger game,
and the whole thing feels appropriately Zorklike.

That it should, as it happens, because the writing comes courtesy of
original Implementors Marc Blank and Mike Berlyn, while our own (the
IF community's, that is) G. Kevin Wilson did the programming, in
Inform. The mechanics of the collaboration aren't clear--to me,
anyway--but it's skillfully done: there are very few slips that I can
see 'twixt writing and programming (a room description beginning "As
you step through the door...", for example). The game is awash in
references to Zorks of old--there are 69,105 seats in a theater, you
carry an "ersatz-Elvish sword of no antiquity whatsoever"--and there
are several responses that mimic the original trilogy (notably, ZORK
still yields "At your service"), though I missed the variety of snappy
retorts to JUMP. (YELL, unaccountably, yielded nothing at all. I
thought that was in one of the Inform libraries.) At any rate, ZTUU
also reproduces the atmosphere of the earlier games: the setting is an
abandoned "cultural complex" with plenty of details about the Flathead
influence (there is a backstage scrim for Uncle Flathead's Cabin), and
plenty of funny self-reference. The game is set after the fall of the
Empire and the end of the Age of Magic (the Age of Science is now
underway)--the year is 1066--and the sense of rediscovering the
crumbling underground world is just as strong as in the originals: the
game strives more for Zork II-style silliness than Zork III-style
desolation, but there is some of both, for example in the "fifty-story
triumphal arch" leading into the ruined theater.

The puzzles are few and not particularly hard, with the exception of
one toward the end that requires some intuition (though there's an odd
parallel with one of this past year's competition entries.) The main
problem is that the whole thing is a little directionless--your
initial instruction is to "explore, enjoy yourself, and bring back
news," though the objective soon becomes getting out. But you don't
plan your escape so much as solve a series of puzzles, the last of
which happens to give you a rather unlikely escape route (clued, but
not in a way that most would guess). This isn't a huge setback--after
all, it's consistent with the "go-wander-around" feel of Zorks I and
II--but given that the game never really goes anywhere, plot-wise,
it's a little odd to consider this a "teaser." It certainly didn't
tease me into buying ZGI (though that was probably inevitable, since
it would require that I buy a new computer as well), nor could it,
really, since there are no cliffhangers, nothing intriguing that won't
be resolved until the later game. (I was expecting ZTUU to leave me in
some perilous place, or afford me a glimpse of something tantalizing.)

The most interesting element of ZTUU, to my mind, was what it
indicated about Activision's view on the continuing IF community. The
amount and variety of references to the older text games--and the
simple fact that it was produced in Inform by a member of that
community--suggested to me that any promotional effect this might have
for the graphic-adventure crowd was incidental: the point was to hype
ZGI to the die-hard text fans (though, again, I'm afraid it didn't do
that well). After all, those most comfortable with point-and-click
wouldn't be likely to catch on to the parser quickly enough to make
the game worthwhile. (Reinforcing that, when the Implementors make
their obligatory appearance: one of them recalls the "virtues of ZIL,
but offers the opinion that a faster compiler would have been nice."
Cute, and obviously directed to the latter-day programming
crowd. Blank and Berlyn have their fun with the project: the room
where you find the busts of the Implementors goes on at some length
about the "Golden Age of Text Adventures," and then notes that "it is
clear that an attempt was made to commercialize what remains, for now,
above the busts, is a sign reading, 'Consult the Oracles - 10

It is worth wondering, though: if the attention of the latter-day
text-IF community is important enough for Activision to produce
freeware as promotion, even short freeware, might the company secure
the services of Blank and Berlyn for a full-length commercial text
game again? (I know I'd buy it.) Alas, probably not, for a few
reasons. For one thing, piracy would be too easy--data files for text
games are small enough to transfer here and there quickly, and copy
protection in the old Infocom style could be easily duplicated. (As
far as I can tell, the existing community has been reasonably honest
about not giving away copy-protection secrets even for the
Masterpieces games, but that's not exactly something that Activision
can bank on.) More importantly, it's not clear that the market is big
enough to make such a project worthwhile--spending some extra money on
a game likely to make plenty from the graphics crowd is one thing,
relying on text-gamers to make a game profitable on their own is
another. Finally, the sheer size of the free- and shareware IF market
would probably discourage anyone from trying to market a new
commercial game, since text fans don't really need any one new game
for a fix (and those who have exhausted the resources of the GMD
archive are probably few). It'd be nice if there were a way to
convince Activision that enough of us would buy a new text Zork entry
to make it profitable, but I'm afraid it probably ain't so. (And
yet...if there were another freeware teaser that actually worked as a
teaser, except leading to a larger _text_ game...well, one wonders.)

At any rate, though there isn't a lot there, ZTUU is a charming return
to the Zork universe in text form: those who appreciated the humor
then are sure to enjoy it even more now. With more to do and more of a
plot, further text offerings from Activision might even be
commercially viable.


From: Second April 

NAME: Zork Zero
AUTHOR: Steve Meretzky
E-MAIL: Beats me
DATE: 1988
PARSER: Infocom, advanced
SUPPORTS: Multiple platforms
AVAILABILITY: Commercial (Masterpieces)
VERSION: Release 393

PLOT: Not much (1.0)            ATMOSPHERE: Uneven (1.1)
WRITING: Amusing, mostly (1.4)     GAMEPLAY: Remarkable (1.9)
CHARACTERS: One major one, a bit annoying (1.0)
PUZZLES: Many derivative, some good (1.2)
MISC: Hard to sustain tone over full-length game (1.3)

The original Zork series was probably best described as treasure hunt
with a satirical touch: there was humor here and there, but most of
the plot was straightforward adventure/fantasy, and elements of the
ridiculous were added only sparingly. Not so in Steve Meretzky's
followup, Zork Zero, a "prequel" that subordinated the adventure
aspect to over-the-top camp--and while it works in many ways, fans of
the austere feel of the original series may find it a bit jarring.

As a game that purports to explain some of the confusing backstory
that had swirled around the various Zork entries, Zork Zero is
admirable. The documentation--"Lives of the Twelve Flatheads"--is
extensive and very funny, and the game is awash in amusing details
about Dimwit's excessive tastes. (For example: "This is a small
closet. Well, it's small by the standards of this castle; in a pinch,
it could probably sleep a few regiments.") Though I would have liked a
few more nuggets about how and why various elements of the trilogy
came to be, there are more than enough--including the origin of the
white house--to keep the Zork fan entertained for a while on that
score. The various Flathead siblings and their professions--Ralph
Waldo Flathead, J. Pierpont Flathead, etc.--are also well rendered,
though I was a bit disappointed that there was only one woman among
them, Lucrezia Flathead. C'mon, Steve. Couldn't you come up with any
other notable women in history to parody? (My pick would have been
Joan of Flathead, though I guess the history would have been hard to
rewrite.) Typically of later Infocom works, additionally, the copy
protection is woven into the documentation, which provides several
unguessable actions. (A few of them, though--such as the 400-floor
building with an item on a certain floor mentioned in the
materials--feel a little gratuitous.)

The plot, though ostensibly serious, is largely a romp. The game
tosses you into the fall of the Great Underground Empire, as the
descendant of a witness of Dimwit Flathead's death at the hands of the
wizard Megaboz and Megaboz's curse on the empire, and the heir to a
fragment of parchment that might provide a clue to averting the
curse. 94 years have passed since the curse was imposed and the day
has arrived, and it is now up to you to break the curse by finding two
items belonging to each Flathead and adding them to the wizard's
cauldron. The items have now been scattered to the winds, many in
rather improbable places, though there is some logic to the location
of virtually all of them. You might think that saving the empire is a
grave responsibility, but this is a Steve Meretzky game, and virtually
everything in it is there for laughs. Items you acquire include a
"ring of ineptitude" and an "anti-pit bomb", obstacles come in the
form of whimsical word or logic games, and a central piece of the
geography is a giant brogmoid. Indeed, the player may justifiably
wonder why he or she is bothering to save the empire anyway, since
everyone else has cleared out.

The setting is relentlessly silly: Zork Zero is set less in a fantasy
universe than in a Meretzky world. The bits of swords and sorcery that
pervaded the original trilogy give way to absurdism (occasionally a
tad adolescent; earwax and toe fungus are pivotal in one puzzle). In
one scene, you stumble into an "Inquisition" in which you outwit the
executioner with wordplay; in another, you deal with a massive,
obnoxious talking toad. Centering the action on a castle full of
absurdities is the perfect game idea for Meretzky, but the result is
less fantasy than mock-fantasy--whereas the original trilogy used
fantasy conventions while mocking them, Zork Zero uses only a few of
them and mocks them in such ridiculous ways that it's easy to forget
that it's mockery at all. The result is that the humor is less
effective than that of many of Infocom's earlier games, oddly, since
it's more or less trying to be funny start to finish, while the humor
in Zork I, say, came from an occasional fourth-wall one-liner.

Perhaps the most peculiar element of Zork Zero is the puzzles. There
are some clever and original ones, certainly--particularly one
involving a certain chessboard--but most are classic logic puzzles
cribbed directly into the game. There is, for example, a Towers of
Hanoi puzzle--thoroughly frustrating to wade through for those of us
who already know the idea--and a "lady or the tiger" problem, and a
Hi-Q game, and even a measure-out-the-fluid-with-two-different-
size-vessels puzzle. Suffice it to say that, when you encounter a fox
and a rooster in close proximity, it's fairly obvious that a certain
crossing-the-river puzzle lurks somewhere in the game. The problem
with this isn't that they're poorly done, because most of them succeed
brilliantly (and many are adapted to the context); several games are
represented in full-color VGA graphics, even. It's just that a set of
minds as creative as those of Infocom shouldn't need to copy so many
puzzles from the canon. Still, in that this is a long game with lots
of puzzles--virtually every object of significance, and there are
many, requires some sort of puzzle-solving to obtain--the derivative
aspect isn't as troubling as it might be. Most of the puzzles are
relatively straightforward, though a few require rather exact timing,
and it is sometimes possible to lock yourself out of victory merely by
lack of foresight regarding transportation. (Zork Zero does employ one
of the niftiest transportation devices in all of Infocom, though, and
though the game area is fairly vast, proper use of the device can keep
the player moving around it at a rapid rate.)

Technically, Zork Zero is spectacular. The graphics are not
extensive--pillars framing the screen, most of the time--but there are
more elaborate displays here and there, and the details of the pillars
change with the setting. The games you play require changing graphical
displays, an edition of the Encyclopedia Frobozzica has illustrated
entries, and a mysterious rebus (with a bizarre twist) is a crucial
part of one puzzle--and the graphics are more than adequate for
figuring it out. The parser is up to the standard of Infocom's later
games, with the inclusion of function keys that can stand in for
common commands. (Since this is a Steve Meretzky game, one of the
defaults is "give magic locket to moose.") There is an internal hint
system (non-adaptive) which takes care to preserve the copy protection
and even makes fun of you if you resort to it too often. As if to
showcase the parser's disambiguation abilities, in fact, the game
includes two sets of scaled objects--for example, there is a large
fly, a larger fly, an even larger fly, and the largest fly. Liquids
are skillfully coded several times over, and the transportation system
mentioned above, which offers seemingly infinite bug possibilities,
works flawlessly.

But technical wizardry isn't enough to overcome the game's basic
incoherence: though the finale is impressive and suitably surprising,
the game meanders considerably before that because it doesn't really
have anywhere to go. When your plot simply requires that you pick up
24 random objects, it's hard to develop the plot along the way, and
the one significant opening up of new territory isn't enough to really
draw the player into the game. There isn't, in other words, enough
payoff for most of your accomplishments; usually, you simply get
another item to toss into the cauldron. Zorks I and II, though
treasure hunts as well, restricted the initial area available far more
than Zork Zero does, and conditioned more discovery on solving
significant puzzles. Here, solving three puzzles, all of them easy,
will allow access to virtually every room in the game. In moving away
from the Zork trilogy's conventional-fantasy roots, therefore, Zork
Zero loses something of what makes conventional fantasy compelling:
danger, discovery, the intrigue of what might be next.  Here, there's
never really any question about what you'll find, merely where you'll
find it, and the fun therefore turns to the puzzles--which deliver in
some cases but not all.

Certainly, Meretzky's writing is witty and helps to counteract the
traipsing-to-and-fro aspect; there are plenty of silly things to try
(documented by a "have you tried" section) and funny discoveries. But
over the course of 1500 turns, which is what the average player could
easily end up spending to solve this, even the best writing begins to
pall--and the comic relief in the form of the jester becomes tiresome
long before the end. (The jester has an irritatingly small stable of
jokes, and many of them have annoying side effects--for instance, he
occasionally turns you into an alligator for several turns, meaning
that you drop everything and you have to pick it all up and put on the
items you were wearing.  Alternately, a bat might come along and whisk
you to somewhere distant.  The appeal of all this wanes considerably
after a while, and the spectacular payoff can't overcome the tedium of
getting there. Given the amount of story underlying Zork Zero, it's
strange how little of it comes out in the game (until the finale,
anyway); it doesn't seem that it would have been impossible to
discover interesting things about the Flatheads or about Megaboz that
shape your quest and draw the player into finding out more. As it is,
until the last few moves, what you see is largely what you get.

There are entertaining moments in Zork Zero, to be sure. It's
questionable whether there are enough to keep the average player
interested throughout, though, and to whatever extent it succeeds, it
does so in a very different way from any of the other Zork entries.
Though it has its moments, I found Zork Zero the weakest of all
Infocom's text Zork games.


From: Second April 

NAME: Zuni Doll
AUTHOR: Jesse Burneko
E-MAIL: burnekoj SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

PLOT: Conventional horror-film (1.1)    ATMOSPHERE: Uneven (1.1)
WRITING: Sometimes good (1.0)       GAMEPLAY: Weak (0.8)
PUZZLES: Illogical in places (0.9)  CHARACTERS: Entertaining (1.2)
MISC: Promising beginning, not sustained (1.0)

Zuni Doll bills itself as an "interactive horror story," and its setup
faithfully recalls horror movies: you, the unsuspecting schlump, have
bought a doll associated with a strange legend involving homicidal
tendencies held at bay by magic, and the setup ends with an indication
that the magic has been disabled. What follows is predictable but
entertaining, to a point: you are attacked by the bloodthirsty
foot-high doll and devise various clever means of saving your skin. If
you haven't seen "Child's Play," no need to rent it: Zuni Doll has
roughly the same idea.

Zuni Doll benefits, to some extent, from appearing at a time when
horror movies are in scant supply (well, they're still in video
stores, but they don't get released much)--and to the extent they
appear, they have to make fun of the genre, as in Scream. (Admittedly,
this isn't a horror buff writing, but I'm gonna generalize anyway.) If
it were the mid-'80s, Zuni Doll wouldn't feel remarkable, since the
player could get the same idea far more vividly on screen--but in
1998, there's a nostalgia to playing a game that tries to reproduce
that feel. And Zuni Doll is successful to some measure: the setup is
appropriately ominous, the contrived circumstances that loose the doll
on you just plausible enough to feel real, and several of the
confrontations (particularly when the doll is hacking its way through
a door) genuinely suspenseful even if improbable.

Unfortunately, implementation problems weigh the game down
considerably. A certain device that you throw together to thwart the
doll defies both logic and reasonable syntax--I was forced to resort
to the walkthrough.  (Actions that aren't on the author's mind get
"This dangerous act would achieve little," as if danger were a primary
consideration with a homicidal doll on the loose.) At several points,
hitting the doll elicits "That would be less than courteous,"
hilarious enough (Graham probably didn't have this sort of thing in
mind when he wrote Inform's default responses) but not helpful for the
overall feel of the game, shall we say.  And after a certain point in
the game, the suspense more or less disappears, and you can take as
long as you like to dispose of the doll.  That, unfortunately,
subverts the desperate feel of the earlier scenes--you're out of
danger, and you needn't make every move count--and thereby loses the
aura of the horror movie. Grammar problems and some improbable
coincidences don't help. And, if I may say so, the author humanizes
the doll just a bit too much, in that it seems to acknowledge pain and
takes time to lick its wounds, so to speak--wouldn't a villain intent
only on killing be a little more scary ("it's STILL COMING!")?

There are, to be sure, many things that Zuni Doll does well, and the
author seems to be familiar enough with the conventions of horror that
another attempt might be quite successful. Notably, the MacGyver-esque
feel of turning ordinary household objects into weapons or shields is
well rendered and often very funny, and the ultimate resolution is
satisfying.  The game builds tension well, in the prologue and when
the doll is hacking through the door, though the game might have
benefited by even more of it (after all, the scariest bits in movies
of this ilk are always when the bad guy is lurking somewhere, not when
he's on screen)--perhaps an extended buildup, with ominous noises and
such? Also, there are some fairly clever puzzles, though making time
to figure them out slows the game down--my feeling is that the author
should either keep the puzzles or the horror-movie feel, but not try
to do both.

This is a nice effort that needs some work, in short. If it breaks new
ground in IF--I can't think of any slasher games as such--it should be
noted as such; perhaps it might lead to more polished efforts. As it
stands, it recaptures the feel of horror movies only in fits and

REVIEWS 3: COMPETITION '97 REVISITED ----------------------------------------

From: Second April 

NAME: Down
AUTHOR: Kent Tessman
DATE: 1997
PARSER: Hugo, very strong
SUPPORTS: Hugo executables, available in GMD
VERSION: Release 1

Kent Tessman's Down deserves credit for one of the most original
settings of the competition, and for a plot that's quite
compelling. The implementation of Down doesn't live up to the premise,
unfortunately, but the idea--setting IF in the midst of a disaster
without veering into camp or action-movie yarn--merits another look.

The story of Down--mild spoilers here, since it isn't really possible
to review this without giving some stuff away--puts you, the
protagonist, on a hill near a plane crash with a broken leg and,
apparently, amnesia, since presumably you were in the plane at some
point and you have no memory of it. Or do you, and the game just
doesn't say as much? At any rate, you first see to your leg and then
to the crash. Admittedly, several of your actions are not entirely
logical, but the game is reasonably enjoyable with disbelief
suspended: the writing conveys a degree of urgency, and the plot
devices, even if not wildly original, work the way they're supposed

There are some problems as well, though. While, as noted, you have a
sense of limited time, it isn't quite limited enough--there is way
more than enough time to do everything needed, and nothing of
consequence happens before time runs out to show that you need to
hurry things along. The plot is a little murky in parts, most
importantly in explaining how you got into this mess, though arguably
having to wade through backstory would just slow things down for the
player. Similarly, the scene is a tad underdescribed--you're told
there are survivors around, but not how many, how badly hurt they are,
etc.--and, likewise, while piling on description would have weakened
the tension (since a rescuer typically doesn't bother to examine every
blade of grass), some more would have been nice to make the setting
more vivid. And though most of the illogicalities aren't fatal, the
final action seemed unlikely enough that I needed the walkthrough, and
another key object was described in a somewhat misleading way. Hugo,
for its part, comes off reasonably well, though some of the
disambiguation queries were a tad bizarre.

The appeal of Down, though, lies less in its technical success than in
its good intentions, since it does try hard to do something relatively
new for IF. The puzzles are sufficiently integrated into the story
that they don't disrupt the plot; there is very little sense that the
author decided to slow the story down by throwing in puzzles here and
there. There are several nice touches that reinforce the story,
moreover, for example the couple you find near the plane--some might
see the inclusion as pointless, but it gave the proceedings an element
of realism. Your cracked watch at the beginning presages the rest of
the game effectively. And despite certain improbabilities in the
nature of the ending, it did avoid an easy everything's-fine approach,
certainly a welcome detail, and the general suspense level show that a
little danger and a time limit go a long way.

Even though, as with many suspense-type stories, much of Down is
better experiened than thought about, it's a reasonably solid entry
that does most of what it sets out to do. As with most of the
competition entries, it needs some work--but it's not a bad effort.


From: Second April 

NAME: E-Mailbox
AUTHOR: Jay Goemmer
E-MAIL: ifauthor SP@G
DATE: 1997
PARSER: AGT--game too short to judge parser
SUPPORTS: AGiliTy executables, available at GMD
VERSION: Release 0.3 (beta?!?)

E-Mailbox is without a doubt the shortest entry in the 1997
competition; it's almost impossible to spend more than 15 minutes on
it, even if you try everything there is to try. The plot: you sign on
with an ISP, you send a message, you get mailbombed, you get the
account resurrected, and you get mail. There's a cute real-virtual
sense, in that you get your mail from a "mailbox", but there's not a
lot there. If you do the obvious thing at every juncture, you'll be
just fine with E-Mailbox. There are some mechanical problems, but not
enough to slow progress significantly; most actions that aren't what
the author had in mind elicit "You're wasting your time!" or something

The problem here is not the concept--okay, maybe it is exciting the
first time--so much as the audience. The players of the 1997
interactive fiction competition are, by definition, those people with
the connections, software, and wherewithal to connect to an archive in
Germany, download a series of games, set them up on their own
computers, and play them. In that playing E-Mailbox required locating
and downloading the AGiliTy interpreter, there was another degree of
complication in there. Now, I don't actually think all of that is
extremely complicated, but I do think that those who happen to
play--meaning the IF community, which exists solely by virtue of the
Internet--are not likely to be those still gasping over the wonders of
e-mail. (We may recall the inane AOL commercial wherein a woman says
"Every time I get e-mail, it's like opening a present." Very likely,
for the first few times or so, but most IFers, I fear, are a bit
hardened.) I'm not, of course, saying that Jay Goemmer is one. Very
likely he isn't. But it's a bit of a stretch to ask the player for
whom the Internet is simply a fact of life to exclaim loudly over its

There's another possibility that I'm neglecting, namely that
Mr. Goemmer is poking a little fun at newbies and their "how do I send
e-mail?" ways and inviting us to join in the humor. It's possible, and
sentences like "Smack the Return key--*really* good" do bring up the
image of a frustrated newbie taking out his anger on his unsuspecting
keyboard.  Somehow, though, this doesn't have the air of an insider
chuckling at an outside, if for no other reason than that an account
that actually gets mailbombed has problems that simply reinstalling
the software ain't gonna fix, no how, no way. It's possible that
Mr. Goemmer is mistaking a software bug or some such thing for a
mailbomb; we can't know for sure.  (Though an address that's only just
been created isn't likely to get bombed.) Somehow, though, the tone
doesn't say "parody" to me--the whole things is taken a bit too
seriously--and while I appreciate the enthusiasm, I didn't go into
vicarious paroxysms of joy.

For the record, AGT comes off fine--impressive speed, though then
again it should be, running such a small game file. But apart from
reliving the thrill of getting e-mail for the first time, there isn't
enough here to justify the download time, I'm afraid.


From: Second April 

NAME: A Good Breakfast
AUTHOR: Stuart Adair
E-MAIL: stu042 SP@G
DATE: 1997
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

As far as I'm concerned, A Good Breakfast took on something of a
weighty challenge by its very premise--you wake up in your house after
extended drunken revelry and try to find something to eat. An
unappealing and unexciting situation, in short, and it would take some
skill to make such a game compelling--and though there's some wit
here, this entry is only mildly interesting.

The plot is established immediately, and the bulk of the game is spent
at that central task--eating something--since you have to gather the
requisite objects from rather unlikely locales. I foudn that the
actions in many cases were either unlikely or needlessly complicated:
one requires playing a math game of sorts with your friendly robot
Suzy, and the game is absent of explanations why you have only one
said object in the house, or why Suzy would have it. Others are
similarly tortured or unlikely, and too often feel like the author is
throwing in puzzles for their own sake to slow the game down. It's
true, of course, that the plot of the game revolves around a simple
task, and the author has to complicate that task to keep it from being
over in two minutes--but I didn't really feel like the means he chose
worked very well. One object, for instance, is found in a logical
spot, but you can't perform a logical action on it; you have to do
what's required in a fairly ridiculous way, and another is in the
proper room, but in a place that requires absurd lengths to reach.

Moreover--I dunno--I have a problem, realism-wise, with discovering
through a long slow trial-and-error process something about your
personal life or home, something that you're not actually likely to
have forgotten.  Yes, bouts of amnesia would get old as a plot
element. This is really an argument against the whole "you're in your
house" genre of games, which have darn near exhausted their interest
for me. Some of the puzzles are quite clever, though, and all are well
coded (and some represented some fairly complicated coding tricks,
notably the math game); I just didn't like the role they played in the
game. Finally, the game ends with a rather, um, distasteful
development that took the whole thing down another notch or two in the
fun department--basic bodily functions as a puzzle premise were not
compelling in My First Stupid Game, and they're not a whole lot better

The frustrating thing about A Good Breakfast, as noted, is that it's
really very funny in places; the author is clearly a witty fellow who
spent a while injecting some wit into the game. Some of the "amusing"
suggestions aren't, really, like sitting on the washing
machine--perhaps I'm missing something there--but many are. There's
even a game-within-a-game for the last lousy point, welcome because
it's explicitly extraneous to the plot, not dragged in improbably, and
also for its dig at fantasy IF. The multiplicity of references to
British pop music--well, I dunno if this was the idea, but I found
them funny just because they look so absurd written in a pop-up
box. This isn't an indictment of British pop in particular; it's just
that very little pop music actually passes the profundity test when
written down and quoted out of context, and "Karma Police,/ Arrest
this man,/ He talks in math,/ And buzzes like a fridge..." seemed so
inane it was amusing. (Plus, for a non-follower of such things, the
name "Chumbawumba" has a humor value all its own.)

The robot's patter feels vaguely Teddy-Ruxpin-esque ("Mmmm, I love
you!"), though with the benefit of absurdity, and there's one somewhat
funny puzzle involving a next-door neighbor. (It doesn't make a lot of
sense, but it's funny anyway.) And there's a generally wry view of
your messy home that makes the game a little less tiresome than it
might be, I guess--stepping out into your garden, or trying to, was
particularly good. The writing is solid throughout--grammar is
impeccable, rooms are well-described, many responses have the air of a
hung-over person mumbling whatever rolls through his mind. It seems,
in short, like all this good writing should have gone into a better

One might quite fairly defend A Good Breakfast by saying it sends up
the class of games where you save the world, or at least several cute
tearful orphans, by replacing it with a plot where you feed yourself
and then--well, I certainly wouldn't want to spoil the ending. Sure,
true, but lots of folks--in this competition, even--have already
gotten there, and even those who appreciate this postmodern element in
IF want _some_ sort of story. (We're not as thoroughgoing as we might
be about our postmodernism, I guess.) Lots of games subvert this
expectation or that, and some manage to be quite compelling. Here,
though I recognize the author's skills, I must say I didn't enjoy the
whole enterprise much.  There's plenty of humor here, and the author
clearly has plenty of skill in both writing and programming; I look
forward to his next effort.


From: Second April 

NAME: Leaves
AUTHOR: Mikko Vuorinen
E-MAIL: mvuorine SP@G
DATE: 1997
PARSER: ALAN, not great but good enough
SUPPORTS: ALAN executables, available at GMD
VERSION: Release 3

I must say that there were plenty of things about Leaves that I did
like, or at least didn't mind. The puzzles weren't extraordinarily
clever, but they weren't dreadful either, the prose was largely
competent, and the story reasonably compelling though
minimalist. There were some plot holes, naturally, but they weren't
too outrageous, and generally this was on course for perhaps a 4,
perhaps a 5. And then, well, a certain moment happened, and I revised
everything downward several notches.

First, though: ALAN came off reasonably well here. One important
object was hidden effectively--the game didn't recognize the noun
until you'd actually found the object--and though some logical
commands weren't coded and some verbs were a bit clumsy, I doubt that
actually had much to do with ALAN. The most glaring flaw was the lack
of a scripting command--there was no way, as far as I could tell, to
keep a transcript, and no documentation either within or outside the
game that provided advice about such things. (Meaning that all those
ALAN advocates shouldn't bombard me with angry messages saying that,
yes, there's a command, it's "transcriptify." I'm sure there is. No
one actually mentioned it to me, though.) That aside, everything
seemed fairly solid, though there weren't a lot of complicated things
going on either.

The author is a native of Finland, and I'm not sure what his
familiarity with English is, but this is, by and large, well-written;
there are some ungrammatical moments here and there (a tree is "no
more different" from other trees, pointless actions are sometimes
rewarded with "Now that would be the trick"), but on the whole the
writing is competent, and sometimes even wryly funny. (If you try to
chop up a tree with the wrong tool: "Cut a tree with a knife?
Marvellous idea." And kicking most objects elicits "This is not a
football game." ) Though plenty of familiar verbs weren't implemented,
notably "touch" and "climb" and "move", the writing here is adequate
for the purposes--the game isn't long enough, nor are actions complex
enough, for it to feel deficient.

The plot is sorta rudimentary. You're escaping from, er, something--a
prison, a concentration camp? Dunno. But you get out--hence the
"leave" aspect, which actually makes this one of the cleverest titles
of the competition--and just keep going. Incongruities along the way
include a _very_ dense guard, one rather bizarre character, and more
cutting tools and puzzles in which to apply them than you can shake a
proverbial stick at. Still, if you can live with a little absurdity,
the story of Leaves isn't bad; in its own minimalist way, it works
reasonably well. The puzzles are uneven--one conditions your finding
an object on a completely unrelated (and fairly stupid) action, and
one, a maze, is sheer guess-what-the-author's-thinking, but they don't
make the game unplayable; they fit with the absurdist plot. Truth to
tell, I had accepted the game's absurdities early on and wasn't
particularly troubled when I hit on illogical solutions; one thing one
doesn't do with Leaves is take it seriously. (One of the odder bits,
actually, is that certain directions are given but the game prevents
you from using them, sometimes for no obvious reason--e.g., "You
really don't want to go there." It did give the game a certain
tension--what's more frightening than the unknown and
unmentionable?--but it was a strange touch.

And then...for the uninitiated, there's a puzzle toward the end of the
game that is possibly the most blatant instance on record of an author
assuming that the player is a straight male. (Well, okay, I suspect
that things like "Softporn Adventure" do more in that respect, but at
least there the title is a warning.) Now, Mr. Vuorinen was 14 when he
wrote that puzzle, or so he suggests in the notes, and 14-year-old
boys are not known for their maturity regarding matters of sexuality,
and though I doubt I'd look kindly on the 14-year-old Mr. Vuorinen
submitting that puzzle, I might be less annoyed. But 10 years have
passed since then, it seems, and including it in its current form goes
well beyond bad taste. Quite apart from the sheer perversity of the
concept--those are ROCKS you're so excited about--the author insists
on putting everything in schoolboy language and on giving the player a
sort of juvenile fascination about it all. (Plus, well, solving the
puzzle in the first place requires entering the mind of a 14-year-old
boy, since the solution doesn't really jump out at the rest of us.)
This is not the place for a discussion of sex in IF, but I _know_ it
can be done better than this. (The author's preoccupations don't only
come out in this, actually; reading through the data file for this is
not particularly edifying.) As I indicated, this little sequence
brought down the game several notches in my estimation. Sex is one
thing; sex handled in juvenile fashion is another.

Most of Leaves is competently put together, I found, though not always
with much of an ear for logic; there are few glaring flaws. If Mr.
Vuorinen can refrain from severe lapses of judgment, he might help
make ALAN a presence in the IF community; this effort, though, gets a
3 from me.


From: Second April 

NAME: Madame L'Estrange and the Troubled Spirit
AUTHORS: Ian Ball, Marcus Young
E-MAIL: iball SP@G
DATE: 1997
PARSER: Inform, though below average for Inform
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

One of the more puzzling entries in this year's competition, Madame
L'Estrange and the Troubled Spirit is an entry that would probably
work better as straight fiction than as IF. If, as some as speculated,
one of the two authors wrote the story and the other adapted it to an
interactive medium, the adapter needs a lot of work--and yet this is
far from all bad; there's an interesting story here beneath all the

As the title character, you are sent off to investigate, by means of
your psychic powers, two separate mysteries, which before long merge
into one, naturally. And investigate you do; your actions are almost
entirely wandering around and learning things, rather than solving
puzzles. With the help of a well-implemented device for tracking your
investigation--a notebook in which you record people or locations that
you should visit, and which you can visit by means of TRAVEL TO
[place]--you are saved from having to think all that much, even; a few
commands and a minimum of thought will carry you through most of the
story. Moreover, the story is rather intriguing in its way, if a bit
conventional--ruthless scientists overreaching themselves and
such--and the surprising or suspenseful moments are, more often than
not, exactly that.

As noted, though, the strength of the story can only partly counteract
the weaknesses of the implementation. For one thing, the prose swings
wildly back and forth between present and past tense, and between
third person and second person; it seems likely that the writer wrote
the story in third person, past tense, and the programmer didn't
bother to adapt things much. Moreover, the relationship between what
happens in the long text chunks and the actual game is often tenuous,
as in the following...

    during all of this Madame L'Estrange has been taking occasional
    notes on her pad. Then Mr Jones stood up and thanked Madame
    L'Estrange in advance before heading back out into the wet
    Darlinghurst streets.

    Madame L'Estrange's Living Room

    Mr Jones is sitting in a comfy chair

Obviously, grammar problems abound; though the prose isn't awful, it
needs to be proofread in the worst way. (Actually, perhaps that
already happened.) One of the authors brags that he has "never
willingly played a text adventure," which seems an odd claim to fame;
it does, however, explain some of the problems with how this game is
put together. For example, in one location, you carry on a
conversation with someone who, the game repeatedly tells you, is on
the phone with someone; a randomized message outputs the "talking on
the phone" response fairly often, whether it makes sense or not. There
are other problems, including some fatal bugs associated with SAVE.

Whoever did the writing here did a LOT of it; there are several
situations where many full screens of text go by between
inputs. Often, those scenes include fairly complicated dialogue by
your character, handy in a way--since this game certainly isn't up to
much in the way of parsing input--but also a bit destructive of the
interactive element. Most of the characters have a two- or
three-screen spiel to tell you, and once you've found that, you're
generally safe moving on to the next character; the authors did not
conceal the relevant information under a variety of topics. That
speeds things along, I guess, though it does make the whole thing feel
mechanical. Often, you can "tune in" to the spirit world to
communicate with departed souls, a technique that provides an
interesting sidelight but also some rough spots in the writing, as in
this encounter with a fellow who'd passed on:

    "I then realised that it was my body down there and I'd just died,
    but, funny enough, I didn't seem to care. Then I found I could
    just fly about the place and I tried that for a bit. Then finally
    the police came and they looked around and then carted my body
    away. I thought I should see where they were taking it, just in
    case it was important, so I followed them and here I am. But I
    don't think I'll stick around much longer- there must be plenty of
    much better places I can go now I'm dead, though it's funny saying

 If that's all the dead have to say, those of us who don't contact
them aren't missing much. The story is also cluttered somewhat by
irrelevant details and locations or leads that don't offer anything,
certainly welcome in the realism department--but with the amount of
text this game has, more of it for no reason is not a real treat. And,
naturally, there is very little development of your own character; she
has a mind of her own, in that she carries on conversations without
your help, but not much of it actually says anything about her. In
fact, none of the characters in the game feels particularly real,
oddly considering how much space there is for them to develop, and how
freely the author gives several screens of text over to the characters
to let them say whatever they want. There is so much text, in fact,
that it's easy to miss the odd funny moment, such as, after you've
been wandering around in a drainpipe: "If only the sodden and
bedraggled look was in this year!" This all leads to an exceedingly
strange endgame, very time-sensitive and hard to picture in what it
does and doesn't allow you to do. However, it does add another puzzle,
and it does manage to be somewhat suspenseful.

It should be said, though, that the scenes that are well done are very
good indeed, particularly one toward the end when you discover the
fate of a certain villain; from about the three-quarter mark on, the
game sets a pace of sorts and engages the reader very
effectively. That pace is slowed a bit by the puzzles in the endgame,
unfortunately, but as pure thriller, the end of Madame L'Estrange is
quite good; the player can simply follow along rather than having to
do much interacting. An earlier sequence involving the mysterious
beast also brings some excitement, and on the whole the story is more
than convincing enough, as pure story, to outweigh the minimal
interactive possibilities. To that end, the streamlining device of the
notebook works well; it allows the plot to move along without the
player having to worry about irritating things like
transportation. With similar attention to the mechanics of the game,
this might work quite well.

Madame L'Estrange is not a particularly successful effort, but its
enjoyability depends on the standards of the player; for those who
regard a story as an excuse to string puzzles together, this will be a
waste of time, but those who appreciate a reasonably well-crafted
story and don't mind minimal interactivity might find it reasonably
diverting. If anything, this illustrates the difficulties inherent in
detective-story IF- -of which Infocom's are still the best
examples--and in collaborative efforts; I gave it a 6 on the
competition scale.


From: Second April 

NAME: Town Dragon
AUTHOR: David Cornelson
E-MAIL: dcornelson SP@G
DATE: 1997
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

A fantasy quest with a reasonably innovative spirit, Town Dragon is
well-intentioned but plagued by gameplay problems. Several of the
puzzles are painfully obscure, and others rely on examining things
that the game doesn't do much to bring to your attention--and others
require learning by death. A "story" file that the author provides is
virtually essential to understanding what's going on--not a bad idea,
and the story is nice, but it would be good to have it integrated into
the game a bit better. The writing is competent, but overly terse at
points when it would be nice to have some thorough desrciption (for
example, in a dragon's cave).

Despite the technical problems, the underlying story is fairly
effective, as IF fantasy stories go. There is a damsel in distress,
but rather than striding to her rescue, you let others volunteer while
you collect treasure--an amusing send-up of the brave selfless
hero. (Moreover, those that do volunteer are comically stupid, and get
carried off by the dragon in amusing ways.) Even then, the plot isn't
quite what it seems, and though the central motif feels lifted from
the Chronicles of Narnia, it works well enough here to keep the player
involved. The best thing about Town Dragon is that, particularly in
light of its fantasy setting, it doesn't reliably go where the
player's expecting; some of the subversions work better than others (a
maid who speaks Valley-Girl style--"ya know?"), there are signs of
originality here that belie "another fantasy game" complaints. And
some of the writing is quite good--there's a transformation scene
that's drawn out over about 20 moves and works very well.

This, in short, is a good effort that needed some testing. There isn't
enough in Town Dragon as it stands to overcome the technical problems,
but the author shows some promise; some more Inform experience might
yield a solid game.


From: Second April 

NAME: Travels in the Land of Erden
AUTHOR: Laura Knauth
E-MAIL: Laura.Knauth SP@G
DATE: 1997
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Travels in the Land of Erden is situated firmly within the tradition
of expansive heroic fantasy quests--and, to give it credit, it
inhabits that genre much more consistently than any other game in this
year's competition. (Yes, I do consider that a compliment. I like
heroic expansive fantasy quests. Done well, they have a certain
charm.) Though the gameplay has some problems, Erden is an enjoyable
old-style fantasy quest, too long for the competition but enjoyable in
its own right.

The plot is notable because it changes abruptly midstream--you start
out pursuing a dragon, but are told that the dragon has taken a coffee
break or some such thing and that your new brief is to track down a
lost jewel.  You don't seem to mind this--dragons are irritating
things anyway--and, truth to tell, it doesn't exactly affect the way
you go about the game, since you were only nominally pursuing the
dragon and you only nominally pursue the jewel. (I should note,
though, that there are several sources of information scattered
around, some in the form of characters and one an Encyclopedia
Frobozzica-type book, which do help make sense of things.)  What
_does_ happen is that you confront a whole bunch of puzzles, which
eventually lead to the goal, and whether it's a dragon or a jewel
makes little difference. Truth to tell, having a plot that is actually
sustained over the course of the game here would be difficult, because
this is a fairly long game, far longer than the average competition
entry. The game design is somewhat wide: much of the territory is
available at the outset, and figuring out exactly where to start is
something of a challenge, since there's lots of area to explore and
lots of objects to pick up. Even so, the exploration is well-done and
feels convincing, particularly a series of caves in the endgame;
disparage fantasy quests if you like, but this author put plenty of
thought and effort into making the scenery come alive. (At some key
moments, the author rewards solved puzzles with more territory to
explore; I wanted that to happen more often, but when it does happen,
it works.) With a clearer hook, something to push the player into the
plot, this would be a very effective story.

There are some clunky moments, gameplay-wise, though many have been
cleaned up since the first release. Most of the problems are
mechanical, though--the game is well-designed and avoids closing off
in unguessable ways, for the most part. In fact, it's virtually
impossible, unless you do something very stupid indeed, to render the
game unwinnable--most resources can be replaced, and there are no time
limits. There is one notable exception, a problem that still needs to
be cleaned up--one alternate solution to a puzzle that the walkthrough
suggests does not work (at least, not as far as I can tell), and if
you make that solution necessary, as it stands, you're in
trouble. That aside, though (and I'm sure it'll get fixed), Erden is a
reasonably player-friendly game.  (Moreover, there are some nice code
tricks--the author seems to have added a "windy" attribute for rooms,
for one thing, and a landscape transformation is thoroughly done.)

There are many nice things about Erden--the gypsy who looks into a
crystal ball to determine whether you've attacked or hurt anyone is a
hackneyed but nice touch. The writing is quite skillful, and there's
plenty of it--most rooms are thoroughly described, there are very few
grammar problems, and there's even a modicum of atmosphere,
particularly in the pirate-ship sequence. (Erden is proof positive
that well-written fantasy can still be absorbing.) I enjoyed the
setting on the island, and locations I might ordinarily consider
gratuitous were well-written enough that I didn't, in fact, think
that. And even though it gave rise to one of the more frustratingly
coded puzzles, the spell you cast is genuinely breathtaking, and the
author should get due credit for the idea. (And for the subtle effect
after the spell has worn off. Very few games follow logical effects
that way.) I enjoyed the puzzle in the dragon's cave--though figuring
out the proper syntax was, as usual, a challenge, and the required
action for getting there was a bit obscure. Finally, the on-screen
mapping works _very_ well indeed, and often helps considerably.

Given the level of antipathy to fantasy quests of this nature in the
IF community, I suppose Erden isn't for everyone; though there is much
to enjoy about it, it doesn't push the fantasy-game envelope
appreciably. But nor does it simply invoke fantasy cliches, and
there's nothing lazy about the setting (whereas laziness characterizes
the bulk of inferior fantasy games)--and while the plot could stand to
be better integrated into the story, there are enough clever puzzles
to keep this entertaining. Those that skip Erden because of its genre
might be missing something--and, if nothing else, the author shows
some promise.


From: Second April 

NAME: Unholy Grail
AUTHOR: Stuart Allen
DATE: 1997
PARSER: JACL, adequate
SUPPORTS: DOS, Linux and Acorn
VERSION: Release 1

I was unable to play Stuart Allen's Unholy Grail during the
competition, because it wouldn't run on my computer and I didn't have
game-playing access to another one until after the deadline. Such are
the problems, I guess, with building a language and runtime from the
ground up. At any rate, though I wasn't able to cast an official vote,
I did find Unholy Grail, once I managed to play it, a reasonably solid

The JACL engine, for its part, was fairly good; I had read that it was
slow in its past incarnations, but I had no problems with it. The
major problem, to my mind, was that the game only allowed one save
position, meaning that I had to consider my moves extra-carefully
before saving the game. This is one feature which, I hope, will change
in the future. The gameplay was otherwise solid, as far as I can tell;
there were no crashes and no gameplay-complicating bugs. There was a
disambiguation problem with the liquids and the slides--I don't recall
the exact words right now--but TADS is just as vulnerable to those.

The game itself is intriguing. You play a scientist who has been
investigating disproportionate deaths of marine life, and your time is
nearly up with no solution at hand. Your mission is to find out the
truth before the military commanders at the nearby base send you
home--and if you don't think the presence of the military is
important, you clearly haven't been watching enough movies. It isn't
clear why you haven't gotten around beforehand to doing what you
do--your actions seem more common sense than a daring discovery--but
once you get off the ground, as it were, the plot moves along
nicely. It does take a while for that to happen, though, as the game
is crammed with red herrings and it isn't initially apparent just
where to start.

There are a few problems with the playing quality of Unholy Grail. At
one point, you must spend about 80 turns traveling to and from a
place, which seems rather excessive; there must be a way to allow the
player to travel there instantaneously while still requiring that the
player have the requisite knowledge for the puzzle. It is even
possible that the player will get to the right spot and realize he's
forgotten an item, though that does require some stupidity on the
player's part. The nature of the plot requires some suspensions of
disbelief, and the ending fits oddly with the rest of the story. On
the other hand, though, there are some nicely done touches, notably a
chemistry experiment of sorts that you undertake: it's done with few
needless complications and the actions are well coded. One stray
detail you run across in the course of figuring out the mystery is
particularly well done, and in general the game built the tension

Though there are some glitches, they're blips on a generally sound
story.  Even though it invokes lots of science-thriller cliches--
isolated research team, a traitor trying to sabotage things, dramatic
showdowns, hubristic villains--Unholy Grail remains consistently
likeable. The puzzles are a large part of it; those in the endgame are
particularly good, I think, and the microscope problem was rewarding
to figure out.  Most of the puzzles weren't so hard that they slowed
the story down, which was certainly welcome. And I didn't notice any
problems with the writing--no grammar problems--and it built the story
up reasonably well.

The real problem with Unholy Grail in its current form is that it
lacks a hook--the player can spend a long time wandering around
picking up objects before he realizes what to do. Future releases
might eliminate some of the useless objects and work in an
interesting/mysterious/suspicious development early on that might lead
the player in, rather than forcing him to make the first--somewhat
obscure--discovery on his own. Further development on this game might
also develop the character of your lab partner a bit more--as it is,
we don't see much of her initially, and the nature of the player's
relationship with her is unclear. (No, no, not that kind of
relationship. Just how the partnership has worked, or not worked.)  On
the whole, then, Unholy Grail is reasonably diverting, and certainly
worth the download and playing time.


From: Second April 

NAME: VirtuaTech
AUTHOR: David Glasser
E-MAIL: virtuatech SP@G
DATE: 1997
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Captivating visions of the future are fairly old hat in science
fiction, though, like most things, they're not quite as overdone in
IF. The challenge in such stories is usually to introduce the player
to some new technology and make it both impressive--full of exciting
possibilities and dangers--and easily accessible. David Glasser's
VirtuaTech doesn't quite meet that challenge; though it's simple and
reasonably fun, the equipment that the player has to use is not as
accessible as it might be, and the whole thing just doesn't feel all
that enthralling.

You are a college student who must get to class with a copy of your
report in some limited amount of time--though it doesn't seem the game
actually limits the time, unfortunately; it might give the task some
urgency. Your goal, actually, is one of the best features of the
game--it drives all your actions, it gives the puzzles meaning, and
you are never allowed (at least, there isn't much room) to go check
out the sights. Many games simply thrust the player into an
environment--far too often a fairly humdrum one--with a goal only
vaguely defined and not obviously connected to any of the initial
things he or she does. There is much to be said for a small, tightly
plotted game environment. Anyway, you find that the power is
out--though some rather power-heavy equipment seem to work just
fine--and then that your computer has bugs, and you must use the
virtual-reality technology available to solve the problems. There is
an additional puzzle afterwards that I found hilarious, at least in
terms of the images it produced; I wished the author had made more of
it in the writing. (I also wished that the author had explained why
"the world for miles in each direction is cursed with blight and
chill"; that sounds a little overwritten to be talking about winter,
but if not, what is it talking about?)

Among the main problems here is that the technology is such a pain to
use that it hardly seems labor-saving at all. For example, you have a
"scanner" that must be plugged into the phone for the latter to work;
the phone dials whatever number is on the scanner. The number on the
scanner, though, is whatever you last scanned into it, and there is no
apparent way to "save" a number on it and come back to it later, after
dialing other numbers. Worse, you have to pick up the scanner to scan
anything into it, and to do that, you have to disconnect it from the
phone and then reconnect it afterwards--and why those complications
are necessary is beyond me. Actually, I have a guess--the existing
setup prevents the player from going to a virtual site (via the phone)
while still holding the scanner, which would admittedly cause
problems. But it doesn't seem so impossible to either prevent the
player from disappearing into VR while still holding the scanner or
have it fall to the floor when he does. It feels, in short, like the
author should have made it easier by skipping the scanner and allowing
the player to CALL whoever once he knows the number. I mean, there are
programmable phones _now_. Did progress go backwards? The author
can't, however, be accused of laziness, in that the places you access
to finish the game have a wide range of irrelevant options to simulate
the feel of actual tech support; that element, at least, feels real.

Which brings up the other main problem. Tech support? This is a good
way to make your innovation thoroughly unappealing. Mightn't it be
possible to go somewhere else, somewhere fun? It might be in the
course of the given plot--you have to visit your cool friend to get
some sort of information for your report, or go to Bermuda to
investigate something. I dunno. But this is not a vision of the future
that gets me all that excited--I mean, it's barely different from
existing technology, and getting transported to drab little rooms
doesn't feel like much progress. (After all, what happens in any of
the virtual scenarios that couldn't have been done just as easily with
an ordinary phone and computer? And how is the experience any more
interesting?) The interior of the computer is all right (though, like
with A New Day, I wanted to do more with it, like chop down a
directory tree or sift through the trash or explore a dark and spooky
sector), though compass directions break the spell a bit, and the
translation from solid objects in real life to virtual objects-- and
back--is plausible and well done. (And the daemon is cute, I must
admit, even if you can't do much with him.) But you can't really do
enough in the computer for me to get into the idea.

Oddly, it was the last part of VirtuaTech (well, it doesn't have to be
last, but that's how it worked for me and I suspect that most players
had the same experience) that I enjoyed the most, though it required
major suspensions of disbelief about several things. It was just--I
dunno--a funny way to solve the puzzle, though it seemed like there
was another, more obvious way to do substantially the same thing. It
was also something that the player can actually visualize--the other
parts of the game are written so sparsely that they don't exactly come
alive. And, to be frank, it was more interesting than calling tech

VirtuaTech isn't bad; structurally, there isn't much wrong with it. I
just felt like it needed some things--perhaps more things along the
lines of the last puzzle--to spice it up and make it fun to play; had
I read about such a game in the GMD archive, I doubt I would have been
inspired to play it. Though mostly solid, there isn't a lot here to
keep the player's interest.

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

As mentioned before, the scoreboard is now up to date! More ratings
are welcome, especially for the games with a small number in the
"#Sc." column.


        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  Issue Notes
====                   ======     ===     ===    ====  ===== =====
Adventure (all variants)  6.8     0.8     1.1       6      8 F_INF_TAD_ETC_GMD
Adventureland             4.0     0.5     1.5       1        F_GMD
Adv. of Elizabeth Hig     3.1     0.5     0.3       2      5 F_AGT
All Quiet...Library       4.7     0.8     0.7       4      7 F_INF_GMD
Amnesia                   7.8     1.5     1.7       2      9 C_AP_I_64
Another...No Beer         2.4     0.2     0.8       2      4 S10_IBM_GMD
Arthur: Excalibur         8.0     1.3     1.6       4  4, 14 C_INF
Awe-Chasm                 2.4     0.3     0.6       1      8 S?_IBM_ST
Balances                  6.5     1.0     1.4       3      6 F_INF_GMD
Ballyhoo                  7.7     1.8     1.5       4      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               7.3     1.4     1.4       6      4 C_INF
Broken String             3.1     0.5     0.6       1      x F_TADS_GMD
Bureaucracy               7.6     1.7     1.3       5      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     7.3     1.0     1.4       5  7, 14 F_INF_GMD
Christminster             8.8     1.8     1.7       4        F_INF_GMD
Corruption                7.8     1.6     1.1       3      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                    8.4     1.3     1.7       9      2 F_INF_GMD
Cutthroats                6.4     1.4     1.2       5      1 C_INF
Deadline                  6.9     1.3     1.4       5      x C_INF
Deep Space Drifter        5.5             1.4       1      3 S15_TAD_GMD
Delusions                 7.4     1.3     1.5       2     14 F_INF_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                   7.4     1.5     1.6       1        F_GMD
Dungeon Adventure         6.8     1.3     1.6       1      4 F_GMD
Dungeon of Dunjin         5.8     0.7     1.4       3  3, 14 S20_IBM_MAC_GMD
Electrabot                0.7     0.0     0.0       1      5 F_AGT_GMD
Enchanter                 7.1     0.9     1.4       6      2 C_INF
Enhanced                  5.0     1.3     1.3       1      2 S10_TAD_GMD
Eric the Unready          6.9     1.5     1.5       2      x C_I
Fable                     2.0     0.2     0.1       1      6 F_AGT_GMD
Fish                      7.6     1.2     1.7       3      x C_I
Forbidden Castle          4.8     0.6     0.5       1      x C_AP
Friday Afternoon          6.3     1.4     1.2       1     13 F_INF_GMD
Gateway                   7.5     1.6     1.5       1      x C_I
Glowgrass                 6.7     1.3     1.4       1     13 F_INF_GMD
Great Archaelog. Race     6.5     1.0     1.5       1      3 S20_TAD_GMD
Guardians of Infinity     8.5             1.3       1      9 C_I
Guild of Thieves          7.3     1.2     1.6       3      x C_I
Gumshoe                   6.3     1.3     1.1       2      9 F_INF_GMD
Hitchhiker's Guide        8.0     1.6     1.6       6      5 C_INF
Hollywood Hijinx          6.4     0.9     1.6       7      x C_INF              3.7     0.3     0.7       2      3 S20_IBM_GMD
Horror of Rylvania        7.7                       1      1 C20_TAD_GMD (Demo)
Humbug                    7.4                       1      x S10_GMD
Infidel                   6.9     0.0     1.4       9   1, 2 C_INF
Inhumane                  3.6     0.2     0.7       1      9 F_INF_GMD
I-0: Jailbait on Inte     8.0     1.7     1.3       4        F_INF_GMD
Jacaranda Jim             7.0                       1      x S10_GMD
Jeweled Arena             8.0     1.5     1.5       1      x ?
Jigsaw                    7.9     1.3     1.4       5   8, 9 F_INF_GMD
Jinxter                   6.4     1.1     1.3       2      x C_I
John's Fire Witch         7.2     1.1     1.6       5      4 S6_TADS_GMD
Journey                   7.8     1.6     1.3       3      5 C_INF
Jouney Into Xanth         5.0     1.3     1.2       1      8 F_AGT_GMD
Klaustrophobia            6.7     1.2     1.3       5      1 S15_AGT_GMD
Leather Goddesses         7.3     1.4     1.6       6      4 C_INF
Legend Lives!             8.9     0.9     1.6       2      5 F_TADS_GMD
Lethe Flow Phoenix        7.5     1.7     1.5       1      9 F_TADS_GMD
Light: Shelby's Adden     8.3     1.8     0.9       2      9 S?_TADS_GMD
Losing Your Grip          8.2     1.3     1.4       2     14 S_TADS_GMD
Lurking Horror            7.4     1.4     1.3       8   1, 3 C_INF
MacWesleyan / PC Univ     5.6     0.7     1.0       1      x F_TADS_GMD                 4.5     0.5     0.5       1      3 S20_IBM_GMD
Magic Toyshop             4.3     0.7     1.1       2        F_INF_GMD
Matter of Time            1.4     0.3     1.4       1     14 F_ALAN_GMD
Meteor...Sherbet          8.5     1.6     1.9       1        F_INF_GMD
Mind Electric             5.1     0.6     0.8       3   7, 8 F_INF_GMD
Mind Forever Voyaging     8.5     1.4     0.8       5      5 C_INF
Moonmist                  5.7     1.3     1.1       8      1 C_INF
Mop & Murder              5.0     0.9     1.0       2   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
New Day                   5.5     1.3     0.9       1     13 F_INF_GMD
Night at Museum Forev     4.2     0.3     1.0       4   7, 8 F_TAD_GMD
Nord and Bert             5.4     0.8     1.1       3      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         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                      6.5     1.0     1.2       1      x C_I_AP_64
PC University: See MacWesleyan
Perseus & Andromeda       3.4     0.3     1.0       1      x ?
Phred Phontious...Pizza   5.2     0.8     1.3       1     19 F_INF_GMD
Planetfall                7.4     1.7     1.5       7      4 C_INF
Plundered Hearts          7.3     1.4     1.2       4      4 C_INF
Pyramids of Mars          6.0     1.2     1.2       1
Quarterstaff              6.1     1.3     0.6       1      9 C_M
Reruns                    5.2     1.2     1.2       1
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     1.2     0.9       6      4 C_INF
Shades of Grey            8.0     1.3     1.4       4   1, 2 F_AGT_GMD
Sherlock                  7.3     1.4     1.4       3      4 C_INF
She's Got a Thing...      7.6     2.0     1.8       1     13 F_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
So Far                    9.3     1.5     1.9       1        F_INF_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...Cardig     1.6     0.4     0.3       5      3 S60_AGT_GMD
Spellbreaker              8.3     1.2     1.8       5      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
Spider and Web            8.0     1.5     1.6       1     14 F_INF_GMD
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
Sunset Over Savannah      8.3     1.3     1.5       1     13 F_INF_GMD
Suspect                   5.8     1.2     1.0       3      4 C_INF
Suspended                 7.2     1.3     1.3       5      8 C_INF
Tapestry                  6.9     1.2     0.7       2      14F_INF_GMD
Tempest                   5.6     1.0     0.6       1     13 F_INF_GMD
Theatre                   6.7     1.0     1.2       4      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                  6.4     1.2     1.2       3      7 F_TAD_GMD
Tossed into Space         3.9     0.2     0.6       1      4 F_AGT_GMD
Trinity                   8.6     1.4     1.7      10    1,2 C_INF
Tryst of Fate             7.1     1.4     1.3       1
Tube Trouble              3.3     0.5     0.4       1        F_INF_GMD
Uncle Zebulon's Will      7.2     0.8     1.4       5      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     1.2     1.6       6      1 F_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian Unventure 1     7.1     1.2     1.6       6   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
Wishbringer               7.5     1.4     1.3       6   5, 6 C_INF
Witness                   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_GMD
Zanfar                    2.6     0.2     0.4       1      8 F_AGT_GMD
Zero Sum Game             7.5     1.7     1.2       1     13 F_INF_GMD
Zork 0                    6.7     1.2     1.6       4     14 C_INF
Zork 1                    6.0     0.7     1.5      11   1, 2 C_INF
Zork 2                    6.5     0.8     1.5       8   1, 2 C_INF
Zork 3                    6.1     0.7     1.4       6   1, 2 C_INF
Zork Undisc. Undergr.     6.5     1.0     1.2       1     14 F_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.

For the first time since the "at least three ratings" rule was
enforced (in SPAG #4), a non-Infocom game heads the list:

 1.   Christminster       8.8     4 votes
 2.   Trinity             8.6    10 votes
 3.   Mind Fvr Voyaging   8.5     5 votes
 4-5. Curses              8.4     9 votes
      Spellbreaker        8.3     5 votes

Three cheers for the author of Christminster: Gareth Rees!      

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

That's all for this time. See you again in a couple of months' time;
if the current pace of new releases keeps up, there'll be plenty of
interesting reviews to write. Keep 'em coming!


           Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!

Click here for a printable, plain text version of this issue.