___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE # 16 - "ONCE AND FUTURE" SPECIAL Edited by Magnus Olsson (zebulon SP@G pobox.com) November 28, 1998. SPAG Website: http://welcome.to/spag SPAG #16 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 ----------------------------------------------------- Once And Future EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ This is a rather special issue of SPAG. For the first time ever, the entire issue is devoted to a single game: G. Kevin "Whizzard" Wilson's "Once and Future" (the game formerly known as "Avalon"), recently released from Cascade Mountain Publishing. (There has been one theme issue before, SPAG 5, which was devoted to David Baggett's "The Legend Lives", but that issue contained reviews of many other games as well). The release of "Once and Future", or "OaF" for short, is a landmark in more ways than one. Not only is it the first commercial release of a text-only game in many years, but "OaF" is one of the most eagerly awaited games ever; in fact, it's been discussed on the IF newsgroups ever since Whizzard made the - monumentally premature - announcement back in 1993 that a game called "Avalon" would be released shortly. The name "Avalon", by the way, turned out to be taken (unlike book titles, game titles can be trademarked), so the game had to be renamed at the last minute (so late, in fact, that I had to do a global search-and-replace through the text of the reviews below). So, does "OaF" live up to the expectations? Hopefully the reviews below will begin to answer this question. It should be noted that all reviews except one in this issue were written by beta testers of "OaF". I know that there's been some controversy about beta testers reviewing games - the question is, can a beta tester review a game impartially? Personally, I think so, though there are clearly some problems (which are also pointed out by some of the reviewers). SPAG would therefore like to publish more reviews of "OaF" by non-testers - positive or negative makes no difference. These reviews are advance reviews, based on pre-release versions of the game, so some things may have changed in the published version. Incidentally, this is what was behind all my strange utterances about "secret" material delaying SPAG 15: I had originally planned to publish these reviews in SPAG 15, but had to delay publication until after the release of "OaF". Those of you who feared strange conspiracies behind the secret material that had to be delayed can feel relieved (or disappointed); this is really all there was to it. This issue also sees the return to SPAG of Sean Molley, a.k.a. "Molley the Mage", one of the pioneers of rec.arts.int-fiction, and one of the most prolific contributors in the first issues of SPAG. Welcome back! Footnote: The abbreviation "OaF", which is used freely throughout this issue, is "sanctioned" by Whizzard himself. I mention this because my copy of the Oxford Reference Dictionary defines an oaf as "an akward lout", but I don't think anybody using the abbreviation would think there's anything very oafish about "OaF". NEWS ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Apart from the release of "Once And Future", the big news on the IF front is that the voting in the 1998 IF Competition has been concluded. The results: 1: Photopia, by Adam Cadre 2: Muse: An autumn romance, by Christopher Huang 3: The Plant, by Mike Roberts 4: Arrival, by Stephen Granade 5: Enlightenment, by Taro Ogawa 6: Mother Loose, by Irene Callaci 7: Little Blue Men, by Michael Gentry 8: Trapped in a One-Room Dilly, by Laura Knauth 9: Persistence of Memory, by Jason Dyer 10: Downtown Tokyo. Present Day, by John Kean 11: Informatory, by Bill Shlaer 12: The Ritual of Purification, by Jarek Sobolewski 13: The City, by Sam Barlow 14: Where Evil Dwells, by Steve Owens and Paul Johnson 15: Purple, by Stefan Blixt 16: Four in One, by J Robinson Wheeler 17: Research Dig, by Chris Armitage 18: CC, by Mikko Vuorinen 19: Spacestation, by David Ledgard 20: Cattus Atrox, by David Cornelson 21: In the Spotlight, by John Byrd 22: Lightania, by Gustav Bodell 23: Acid Whiplash, by Cody Sandifer and Rybread Celsius 24: I Didn't Know You Could Yodel, by Andrew Indovina and Michael Eisenman 25: Fifteen, by Ricardo Dague 26: The Commute, by Kevin Copeland 27: Human Resources Stories, by Harry Hardjono The next issue of SPAG will be the 1998 Competition Special, with (hopefully) lots of reviews, interviews, complete results, etc. Until then, you can find more information about the Competition at the official website: http://www.ifcompetition.org The games can be downloaded from ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition98 ERRATA ----------------------------------------------------------------- In SPAG 15, the byline on one of the reviews of "Firebird" was omitted by mistake (mea culpa). That review was written by Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April
. In the same issue, the review of "There's a Hole in your Bucket" stated that "Adventure Probe" is published by Karen Tyers. Karen has written to point out that the 'zine is in fact published by a lady called Barbara Gibb. SPAG apologizes for the confusion. 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 AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 URL: Not available. When submitting reviews: Try to fill in as much of this info as you can. Also, scores are still desired along with the reviews, so send those along. The scores will be used in the ratings section. Authors may not rate or review their own games. More elaborate descriptions of the rating and scoring systems may be found in the FAQ and in issue #9 of SPAG, which should be available at: ftp://ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/magazines/SPAG/ and at http://welcome.to/spag REVIEWS ---------------------------------------------------------------- From: Adam Thornton NAME: Once And Future AUTHOR: G. Kevin Wilson E-MAIL: whizzard SP@G pobox.com DATE: 1998 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: all TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Commercial, published by Cascade Mountain Publishing (sold by mail order only) URL: http://www.cascadepublishing.com VERSION: 1.0 (Reviews based on the final BETA version from July 1998) It's here. The most-eagerly awaited IF event of the millenium, I think it's fair to say, has finally arrived. That event, of course, is the advent of Gerry Kevin Wilson's epic tale: Once and Future. By now, everyone knows the outline of the plot, right? Right? Well, you're Frank Leandro, U.S. soldier in Vietnam. And you jump on a grenade to save your buddies. But instead of finding yourself dead, you find yourself on the isle of Avalon, after a little lecture from King Arthur about using the grail to resurrect yourself and "keep something very bad from happening in the real world." And then there you are in Avalon. And there's quite a lot to do before you even can begin to get on with your quest, since you first have to figure out where Merlin might be, and then get yourself over to Faerie somehow. There's the Lady of the Lake, and a little demon-possessed girl-oracle, and a mermaid with a siren song, and birds and snakes (no aeroplanes) and moles and mice. Not to mention figuring out where the rest of the Arthurian legends come into this and dealing with the demons of your own past. And then you start piecing together what it is you're supposed to do. Not that it ultimately comes as much of a surprise. If you had to pick the turning point where America Went Wrong This Century, I'd be amazed if GKW's choice was not among your top three. And unlike Jigsaw, where you have to protect the past at all costs (and might not the world have been a better place in the absence of the First World War?), here you're given an opportunity to put things right. There are all the usual suspects: Merlin, Galahad, Lancelot, Mordred, the Faery Queen. We have the second appearance in a game this year of True Thomas, too. And Arthur is not the only King to be found in the game. All of these--except the last, darkly alluded to but not specified (find him yourself!)--are characters you'd expect to find in a game about Camelot and the Arthurian myth-cycle. And, as you'd expect, they act like you think they ought to. Further, there's a lot of really terrific interaction *between* the NPCs. This is harder than it looks, and I think the reason GKW did it at all is that he'd coded the first bits of it before he ever heard the term "combinatorial explosion." The animosity between Galahad and Merlin is well portrayed and often funny; there are apparently about 600 separately coded NPC responses. But it's not *those* NPCs at all that make the impression. It's the ones that Kevin has made up for his story that really grab my attention. I have a huge crush on Snookums, the brain-damaged mole saved by Jesus. She's a magnificent NPC. She's also a tool for solving puzzles, but she comes across as, well, lovable. The Vietnam buddies that you have to "save" in various ways, too, are well-done. There's a nice subtle "A Christmas Carol" riff hiding in there somewhere, too. The demon you encounter along the way is well-executed: an updated Screwtape, who sounds like a junior partner straight out of a New Jersey law firm rather than a don from the musty libraries of Oxbridge. The NPCs have the most varied topic lists and behaviors I have seen in any game. The only one who comes close to their knowledge is Bob in She's Got A Thing For A Spring, and he doesn't have to follow the player around or interact with other NPCs. However, maybe the best parts of the games aren't the wholly original ones. GKW has taken some very old thematic archetypes and rewoven them into new cloth. The Hunter is not new, exactly, and neither is his Hound; but both of them appear as forceful and terrifying characters. Particularly, the scene at the Crossroad Of Dreams where you're fleeing the Hound is magnificent. Kevin knows what he's doing with the old stories, and for the most part wields them with a practiced hand and delicate touch. The game as a whole is technically very competent. A few unsquashed bugs remain: just tonight I tried a new syntax for filling the buckets in the old lady's house, and got a TADS runtime error (fortunately not fatal), but the prose is well-crafted and free of typos and grammatical errors. This is doubtless due in large part to the game's extensive beta-testing. The prose is uneven, and I, with the betatester's privileged eye, can tell you why: Kevin is a much better writer now than he was in 1993. Those parts of the game's descriptions that come from the early days are not nearly as well-polished or paced as the more recent pieces of prose. As I mentioned, I've been a betatester for OaF. I've been a betatester for a very long time now: I first saw OaF source code in early 1994 when I visited Kevin at Berkeley; I'd been testing it for some months prior to that. I therefore cannot review this game in any sort of an objective sense. I have been playing it for so long that it has become a fixture in my life. I can no longer tell you which puzzles are fair and which aren't. What I can do is to provide a little historical perspective on the game. In short, the question everyone is going to be asking is "was it worth the wait?" In short the answer is "yes" but with a few reservations. And it is those reservations and what they tell us about where IF has gone since GKW began OaF so long ago that make the story interesting. OaF was begun in, I think, the summer or fall of 1993. Possibly somewhat earlier. The earliest cuts might even have been in TADS 1.x, and thus may have predated the 2.0 Great Change. I know Challenge of the Czar, the long-awaited (much longer than OaF, by now--but it's no longer under active development) game from Sean Molley was begun in TADS 1.2. But I digress. In any event, TADS was the only development system for serious IF. If anyone used Inform besides Graham (if Inform even existed) we didn't know about it. We were at what we can now recognize as the end of the Dark Ages: that long period between the death of Infocom and the Renaissance we currently enjoy. AGT is what had been used universally up until the at-that-point quite recent development of TADS; the best AGT games, as we're all aware, fall far short in terms of parser sophistication of even mediocre Infocom (despite what the alt.games.xtrek crowd seems to think). Maybe it's better to think of late 1993 as the High Middle Ages: the first couple Unkuulian games had come out, demonstrating that entertaining and relatively sophisticated adventures were being produced. The dusty tomb of IF had been found, and a few brave souls were sweeping away the cobwebs. IF meant "text adventure" meant "puzzle game." The Horror of Rylvania had just been released, and was one of the first games with much of a moral edge to it. It introduced the player-as-monster theme, and had opened up some of the issues OaF was to confront. And, unfortunately, no one ever played it, because it cost money. And let us not forget, this was long before the release of The Legend Lives, which was the first piece of post-crash IF to deal with religious issues head-on. (Not that the mid-80s commercial treatments were particularly deep and sophisticated). Even such an elementary concept as "mazes suck" had not been finalized (Rylvania, for one, had a gratuitous and annoying maze in it). So, OaF, in tackling heavy-duty moral and ethical issues, was really at the cutting edge of the avant-garde in a field defined by the puzzle game; here was a concept that put an intricate plot under its puzzles; the NPC interaction was far more extensive than anything hitherto seen. Its conceptual scope was humongous; far bigger in terms of locations than anything else since, probably, Time Zone. Let's look at where we are now. The big hits of the year have been Spider and Web, the first game I know of to rely on the Unreliable Narrator as the central feature of the game, Losing Your Grip, a game that happens almost entirely inside the protagonist's own hallucinations and has very little to it besides psychological allegory, and Anchorhead, a Lovecraftian puzzle-solving romp that also manages to be downright scary. Additionally, there has been Firebird, which, like OaF, leaps right into its available pool of myth (although Firebird manages to be a much gentler adventure, perfect for introductory IF), albeit Russian rather than Arthurian. And Big Games? We've seen plenty: Jigsaw comes to mind, although it's not actually all that many locations. Spiritwrak is an enormous game. So is Anchorhead. Not to mention UU0, which is an immense sprawling collection of locations. OaF is big, maybe even huge, but it feels more constrained than, say Spiritwrak. I have not yet drawn up a map for it, but I intend to, to see how big it actually is. Atmosphere? Does anyone else remember how radical Rylvania was in that it stuck to its gothic-horror guns and did not yield to the then near-total temptation to throw cutesy and anachronistic stuff into the game? The random bits of amusing anachronism have a long history in adventure games, of course, dating all the way back to Colossal Cave, but found in most Infocom games as well. OaF has a few goofy moments, but on the whole the atmosphere within each scene is kept remarkably consistent (the Isle of Avalon, having been written first, is the least so). Since the setting and atmosphere change so much between the three major set-pieces of the game (Avalon, Faery, and Stonehenge), it's really a rather impressive feat. And what's happened in the world of IF? The competitions have grown each year since their inception in 1995. And--thanks largely to Kevin--Activision has woken up. GKW *programmed* the first official GUE text adventure released in a decade, for goodness' sake! Laird Malamed honestly wants our opinions on games and what *we* feel Activision should do. Michael Berlyn has started a company to publish, among other things, IF (including, of course, OaF itself). We're routinely turning out games far more technically sophisticated than anything Infocom ever did (for example, the branching tree conversation system implemented in the TextFire hoax); granted, nothing yet has quite come up to the level of _Trinity_, but it's not for lack of technical skill. IF is no longer dead. In fact, it's alive and kicking. It's never again going to be living in that fancy mansion on the hill in Cambridge like it was in 1986, but it's out of the gutter, it's showered off the barf and put on a clean suit, and is once again mentionable in polite company. And much of that is due to GKW's proselytizing. And so, what about OaF? Had it been released in 1994, it would have been an absolutely astounding _tour de force_. It still is an excellent game, and one that makes the player think. But it's no longer all that avant-garde. We've seen games about difficult moral and ethical choices; we've seen games about psychological introspection; we've seen games that self-consciously exploited mythic archetypes for dramatic effect. We've worried about the specified-protagonist versus generic-adventure-game-indeterminate-POV. Heck, we've even seen an ironic deconstruction of the nebulous adventurer in Zork: Grand Inquisitor. After all of these games, parts of OaF seem strangely dated. There are puzzles that are simply too much tedious monkey-manipulation: the Crown of Earth and the flaming braziers come to mind. There, thankfully, are no mazes (there is one place that looks like a maze, but isn't). However, some of the puzzles seem to exist for the sake of having puzzles: fundamentally, the whole underground scene with Snookums exists to get the necklace; now, there's nothing wrong with that, exactly, but Snookums is a wonderful character, and I wish there had been some way to meet her such that it didn't feel like she was a tool of the problem-solving process; I think removing the gratuitous plank puzzle would have helped a lot here. Mordred, too, feels less like a character than like an obstacle; a door with a multi-part key, as it were. In short, OaF suffers from having been conceived at a time when it was assumed that the puzzles were the point of the game. A game that manages to strike a slightly better balance in this department is Stephen Granade's recent Losing Your Grip, which, while having some puzzles that seem like random hoops for the player to jump through, achieves better integration of plot and puzzle. However, OaF's puzzles generally seem to require less authorial mind-reading than Losing Your Grip. This is not to say that OaF's puzzles are all like this. The final showdown with the Hunter is handled with remarkable grace and skill, and is integrated absolutely seamlessly into the narrative. The sequences involving saving the Vietnam buddies are also smooth and thematically appropriate. There are a dizzying array of times and places presented; most are handled with a great deal of skill. There is the Isle of Avalon, the Land Beyond the Faery Ring, the Crossroads of Dreams, a brief future sequence, a couple different snippets of Vietnam, a simulation of Stonehenge so detailed I still haven't completely figured out the geography, and a well-researched final sequence. In short, there's an awful lot of game here, and not something one will get tired of quickly. Overall, it's an immersive game. I must admit that the final sequence--and the love interest--left me scratching my head and wondering what I'd missed. I found the clues that lead up to it, but I remain emotionally unconvinced; Kevin could, I think, have thrown in a bit more background for that. That's the biggest hole in the game. I buy the central quest, and the subquests along the way are convincing, often riveting. The treatment of the ways in which Frank has to go back and "save" his three Vietnam buddies that he saves from death-by-grenade in the opening sequence is a really interesting look at the nature of responsibility, wrapped up in some well-executed puzzles. As might be expected, the themes of forgiveness and forgetfulness run throughout the work. One of the best time-travel sequences I've yet seen--not as difficult or as satisfying as the time-loop in Sorceror, but really amazing for what it does to your perception of Frank's character when played through by two different viewpoints--is built into the game. In fact, the puzzles associated with this little time-loop are not hard, but they are stunningly effective in drawing a picture of Frank Leandro and what his responsibilities are doing to him, as well as what Frank looks like to the outside world while he's doing this. This game makes you think a lot about the relationship between memory and moral culpability, and manages to do so without being heavy-handed. The theology is slightly worrying and a bit simplistic for my tastes, but effective within the game's context, although given the rest of the game's high-fantastic-mythic-heroic bent the Screwtapish demon seems oddly out of place. All in all, it's a magnificent, enormous piece of work. Is it worth your $25? Absolutely. Is it the apocalyptic culmination of the IF genre we've all been waiting for as a sign that the millenium approacheth? No, probably not. Is it a damn fine story? Yes. One caveat: stick with it. Some of the text describing the Isle of Avalon is pretty clunky; it's four years old and the author's inexperience at that point shows. It gets much, much better. Kevin should be proud. He has written a damn fine game, and brought to a close a story that extends over half a decade. Without his passion for text games, it is safe to say that much of the current Renaissance in IF could not have happened. This is the project that was driving that passion, and I think you will find that the years of effort he has poured into it have paid off handsomely. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: David Dyte Frank Leandro gave his life to save his buddies. For this, he was given a second chance - to save them all over again. And save much more besides. In Once and Future, you are Frank Leandro, charged with a quest that takes you from Vietnam to mythic England to the domain of Faerie to any number of other places, too. No-one said Frank's quest would be easy, and it's not exactly easy for the player either. This game is spectacular, very very big, and has two or three puzzles that may just leave you longing for the simplicity of making a Babel fish appear in a hidden hedge maze location using only the verb 'TAKE'. For all that, it's well worth the effort. Kevin Wilson has crafted some remarkable prose here, with each new paragraph a delight to savour. We've come to expect as much, I guess- it's been a long wait for OaF, punctuated by such gems as Lesson of the Tortoise. But the game has justified the time spent. OaF provides for all sorts of alternative actions and solutions a lesser author may have ignored, has NPCs with real depth and personality, and a plot that kept me hanging on right to the very end. Players can look forward to meeting the likes of Merlin and Galahad, solving the already infamous Mountain King puzzle, seeing Stonehenge in a whole new light, playing a friendly game of bones, being sent on quests within quests by multiple monarchs, and doing some very strange things I'd better not spoil. At $29.95 from Cascade Mountain, I urge fans of Interactive Fiction to leap at the chance and buy this historic game- the first commercially available text IF in some years, and one of the finest it's been my pleasure to play. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Gunther Schmidl After years and years of waiting, it's finally here: Once and Future. And what can I say but that it has been worth the wait? The game opens in a small tent in Vietnam, when you as Frank Leandro, a tiny puppet in this immense war, play poker with your friends. But all is soon to change when a hand grenade interrupts your game, and you give your life for your comrades... Then, the story really starts. After receiving the grail, you are stranded in the gigantic land of Avalon with a mission to save the future. The map is really massive, but thanks to the easy layout, I had no problems of orientation after going everywhere once. Primarily, your task is to find the famous holy artifacts of Arthurian legend, but that won't be so easy: it'll be very long before you can have all of them. During that time, you'll be transformed into a mouse and interact with the most instantly likable NPC since Floyd, a mole named Snookums. She is so unbelievably cute it makes you forget she isn't "real," and I was really sorry I had to leave so soon. You will also be visiting Faerieland, the part of the game that has the very best of the writing. When underways, you are suddenly snatched away by the Hunter, a mysterious being that is after your soul, and whom you have to get away from in dream sequences. And those sequences were the ones that utterly gripped me and didn't let me stop playing for hours at an end. They are so amazingly well-written and stirring they constantly reminded me of "classic" I-F moments like the end of "Losing your Grip" and the unforgotten Floyd Death Scene - only they took longer. Also, all of the puzzles in this scene fit in so seamlessly with the story it seems totally clear what to do at every point. I have since replayed them countless times (and not only because of beta-testing :-). When you finally arrive in Faerieland, you are again presented with a gigantic landscape to explore; don't be afraid, though, most of it is just scenery to show you the wonders of an alien world (succeeding well). Though not very many locations have a use in either Avalon or Faerieland, you're never bored because there is always something to look at. Faerieland is where the main puzzles are, and it also is where the hardest puzzles are. A particular offender is the Mountain King puzzle, which I am still groaning over. But I have to admit it *is* the only puzzle of it's size, and it's not that hard when you know the solution ;-) You also get to meet interesting characters, like the Straw Man (the writing there is absolutely great, as are the morals behind the story - you'll know when you get there), the mischievous elvin queen, and lots of other more or less helpful inhabitants of the land. However, as every game has it's down sides, so has OaF. But I am only nitpicking - there is hardly anything I didn't like (except for that Mountain King puzzle - but I think Whizzard is going to lynch me if I mention it ONCE more). I found some of Merlin's remarks to be a little too "modern" - I wouldn't expect "cool" sentences and the like from an age-old wizard - but maybe that's just me. The endgame is gripping, and highly replayable - I found three different endings at first, then replayed to get the optimum ending. It is *very* rewarding, to say the least. There are also dark endings, which I liked even better, but that *is* just my twisted soul. The best rank you can reach is "Knight of the Round Table", but you'll have to do a lot of optional stuff to reach it. Note that most of that optional stuff came to me just because I thought it would be appropriate at that moment - and I was amazed that the game (or rather, it's author) had expected that. Now *I* felt like the puppet on the string of a master storyteller :-) Note that the transcript of the whole game is 128 print pages in Times New Roman, font size 10. Wow. Hats off to Whizzard! All hail the King! :-) =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Leon Lin Prose The prose is well written, and very atmospheric. Most of the game takes place in a natural setting of some sort, either real or fantastic, and the descriptions of the various forests, caves, and such are beautifully done. The dialogue was quite good, if somewhat melodramatic at times (like when Merlin cries out to God). (See section on NPCs for more.) Difficulty OaF appears to be of average difficulty. Most puzzles are easily solvable with a careful reading of the text and some common sense. As far as I could tell, you can't put the game into an unsolvable state, unless you're going to die very soon, in which case you might as well restore. The game does go to some lengths to prevent you from straying too far off the mark. For example, in the endgame, the game prevents you from wandering all over town by reminding you where the crucial event is supposed to take place. This keeps the player from getting stuck much of the time (as well as lets the author off the hook from putting in any more locations than there already are!) It is possible to die in OaF, but the deaths are for the most part avoidable with some foresight. (Of course, there's that one trick near the end, but thoughtful players will see it coming.) Technical Coding: There were a few bugs in the version I played, but they were minor and overall the game was pretty clean. The author covers a lot of the possible actions by the player, though many of the actions are disallowed on the grounds that the hero, Frank, wouldn't do them. One of the most impressive sequences in the game is the final fight, in which many different things can happen depending on what equipment you've got on. I replayed this sequence many times trying different things. In general, the game encourages experimentation like this, even if it gets you killed. Some of the other impressive technical coding feats in OaF are the transformation of yourself into a mouse, the diamond puzzle, and the interaction between Merlin, Lancelot, and Galahad. There is also a particularly fun Easter egg involving the magic sword, though I have no idea how you'd figure it out without being told. Writing: I didn't catch any grammar or spelling mistakes. Pretty solid. Plot Though it's easy to boil the whole plot down into one sentence -- "Soldier goes on quest to prevent a disastrous event" -- a lot happens between the surprising and shocking beginning to the final confrontation. I didn't catch everything the first time through, and there's some symbolism and foreshadowing that doesn't become apparent until the end. (The relation between you and some of the characters in the game don't become apparent until the final scene of the game.) The plot is somewhat non-linear, with certain major sections of the game blocked off until certain puzzles are solved. The endgame is very linear, though that's appropriate considering the time-dependent situation you find yourself in at the end. Other than the hectic end, the game's pace is easy-going, even in a few places you might expect a greater sense of urgency (like escaping from the demon's chamber). NPCs The NPCs are well done, although most of them have simple purposes and actions. Where they mainly shine is in dialogue, both speaking with you and other NPCs. Merlin is easily the best of the lot, responding to many actions and queries by the player as well as interacting with Lancelot and Galahad. He's full of wit and cynicism, and does many humorous things, like getting chased up a tree by a unicorn and breaking the thunderbolt, which make him seem more human and falliable. His only real fault (and perhaps this is nit-picking) is that some of the technobabble he spouts (like when he opens the time portal) doesn't quite sound right. The two knights are also well done, with definite personality. They don't quite act as expected, with Lancelot acting cowardly in a certain context and Galahad acting snooty and uprighteous, but that adds depth to their characters. The only NPC I felt a little disappointed with was Nina, who popped up once near the start of the game (when you get Excalibur) and suddenly becomes all-important during the final confrontation. Puzzles The puzzles appeared to be divided into two groups: puzzles that advanced the plot and puzzles that were obstacles to advancing the plot. To wit: the player, in solving most of the puzzles, advances the story and learns more about the game's world. Such puzzles include saving Rob from prison and helping to kill the dragon. While solving these puzzles I didn't feel like I was completing a crossword so much as I was participating in the story. Some of the other puzzles are "7th Guest" style puzzles designed to stymie the player and themselves don't add much to the story. The diamond and the Mountain King puzzles are examples. They were challenging and intellectually stimulating, but I got the feeling that most any other kind of puzzle (like a sliding tile puzzle, or a game of Minesweeper, and so forth) could have been substituted in their place. Overall, I felt the game's emphasis was more on the story than the puzzles, but the puzzles were important enough to keep the player involved. Games which emphasize puzzles tend to have flimsy plots wrapped around them, but games which emphasize story over puzzles play like movies in which the gamer has to press buttons in order to advance. I think OaF strikes a good balance. Overall OaF isn't a game you swallow all in one go. It's complex and long. The sheer amount of text may be intimidating to some, and the plot a bit confusing at first, but there's a fascinating story which is worth replaying the game to read. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: M. Sean Molley DISCLAIMER: I have been a beta tester for Once and Future for the last several years, and have watched it grow and evolve through many versions. Those who feel that I am therefore too biased to objectively review it should take note of this fact. TOTAL SCORE: 8.0 (Note: I don't believe in score inflation -- 8.6 is my highest score ever) ATMOSPHERE: 1.7 (Richly detailed, a huge game world, beautiful descriptions) GAMEPLAY: 1.0 (Solid, although several puzzles are non-intuitive or annoying) WRITING: 1.9 (Excellent attention to detail, vivid and powerful prose) PLOT: 1.6 (The "main idea" is brilliant and the subplots are rich) WILDCARD: 1.8 (A labor of love, a compelling story, and a truly epic game) CHARACTERS: 2.0 (The NPC's are the best part of the entire game) PUZZLES: 1.0 (With one or two notable exceptions, the puzzles are only average) When writing about Once and Future, one of the most notorious titles in the history of modern interactive fiction, I hardly know where to begin. This is the game that has tantalized denizens of the Usenet newsgroups devoted to IF for years. Whizzard (Gerry Kevin Wilson, the game's author) has become one of the best-known and most prolific contributors to the IF scene over the last five years. He's contributed numerous short games and stories, founded SPAG and the Interactive Fiction Competition, and offered dozens of articles on game design and other issues over the years. Running in the background of all these contributions has been a consistent promise: "just wait until Avalon comes out!" Well, OaF is finally coming out, contrary to the expectations of many who have seen lesser titles fall by the wayside as their creators moved on to bigger, better, and more lucrative things. Just to save you the suspense of wading through the rest of this review, I'll go ahead and say it now: It's been a long wait, but the wait has been justified. OaF is an excellent game. Kevin has found a publisher, Cascade Mountain (founded by longtime IF stalwart Michael Berlyn, himself a contributor to many great Infocom titles), and OaF will be available by the time you read this. This review was written based on the final beta version, which I am assured is almost entirely identical to the final commercial version with the exception of a few bug fixes and corrections to the text. For those who haven't been following the game over the years, I'll briefly describe the scenario. You portray Frank Leandro, a private in the Vietnam War. Near the beginning of the game, Frank sacrifices his life to save the lives of his best friends, thus launching himself into an adventure that will span time and space, cross the boundary between the "real" world and the world of Faerie, and have a profound effect upon the past and future of all humanity as Frank struggles to right ancient wrongs along his way to rewriting history and redeeming his own soul. If that sounds like a bit much to do before breakfast, let me warn you: OaF is both long -- it takes me about four hours to play from start to finish using an optimized walkthrough -- and incredibly deep. You can expect to invest many hours in this one. All of the great figures from Arthurian legend are here: King Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Galahad, Morgan le Fay, Mordred, the Lady of the Lake, and many others have critical roles to play. Each of these characters is richly detailed, with very real personalities that come out through their innumerable pages of dialogue. The characters are "aware" of one another, and when you are in a room with more than one NPC, they have more conversations amongst themselves than they do with Frank. Many of these conversations have absolutely nothing to do with the story, but are present only to add depth and feeling to the characters themselves. Some of the exchanges between Merlin, Launcelot, and Galahad are truly hilarious, while others are deeply touching. The amount of detail in these NPC's is nearly unprecedented in IF. OaF, more than any game I've seen, is "about" its characters. All NPC's are also highly interactive; in addition to talking with one another, they will also work with (or against) Frank in a staggering variety of ways. Because of the non-linear nature of the game's structure and the sheer number of possible combinations of NPC's and puzzles that can be happening at the same time, it is quite possible for two players to go through the game in entirely different ways. The isle of Avalon itself is quite detailed, with many different areas to explore. The structure is mostly non-linear, with only a few puzzles dependent on the completion of earlier actions. Frank must search out and acquire a number of legendary artifacts, including Excalibur and its sheath. With Merlin as companion and guide, Frank will explore fantastic vistas while confronting many dangerous adversaries that will test his mettle. Indeed, Avalon is the strongest area of the game, with every piece of the puzzle fitting together nicely and a series of interesting and entertaining challenges to be overcome. The writing is fluid and rich -- the game reads like a book in many places. Key plot points are amply described with powerful and evocative text that is as good as anything which has ever appeared in an IF game. Actually, when playing OaF I am most reminded of David Baggett's game "The Legend Lives", which also featured a number of scenes where pages and pages of text spilled across the screen. My personal bias is that these kinds of "cut-scenes" add a lot to the story and are well worth the investment; other players might not find them as enjoyable. You will do a tremendous amount of reading before you finish the game. However, Kevin's writing is good enough that I think you'll find it a pleasure. In many cases the game will cause you to laugh out loud; in others, you'll flinch from the power of the imagery created. The game does not shy away from controversial subjects or language; parents of young children might want to be aware that the game does contain some profanity and other disturbing images. However, there is nothing that I would consider "gratuitous" in the sense that it isn't called for by the story. Although the Isle of Avalon is a major focus of the game's action, there is a second major area within the game, reached through a mushroom ring within Avalon itself: the land of Faerie. Faerie contains its own plots -- many of them only tangentially related to the "main" plot of the game -- and has a huge amount of geography to explore. One of the nicer aspects of the game is that Faerie and the Isle of Avalon, while both being large and complex areas in their own right, are basically not interdependent. With only one or two exceptions, puzzles in one part of the game don't require items from the other, and the parts themselves can be completed in either order. Indeed, it's possible to travel back and forth between Faerie and Avalon, working on puzzles in both realms in basically any order you see fit. The whole effect is well done and keeps the player from feeling constrained to a narrow path through the story. Faerie is very different from Avalon, and from the "real" world, just as you would expect. Descriptions of objects and rooms are whimsical, even nonsensical, but with their own internal logic that can be figured out by the clever player. Faerie contains several of the game's best puzzles, which are very challenging to solve but ultimately rewarding once they have been overcome. The room descriptions are beautiful to read: Kevin is a great writer, and has spent considerable time and care crafting the descriptions to convey the sense of utter unreality that is Faerie. Both this area and the main Isle of Avalon are huge, with many rooms to explore. One potential knock against the game, indeed, is that there are so many rooms that travelling from place to place sometimes becomes tedious. The Fairy Queen's castle, for example, is in the absolute remotest corner of Faerie. As Frank must travel there on a number of occasions, moving back and forth over and over again becomes repetitive and annoying. Locating the Queen's castle in the center of Faerie, with the various regions radiating outward from it like spokes around a wheel, would have saved some wear and tear on Frank's poor feet without detracting from the game. Indeed, here I must raise a few important quibbles with OaF. The plot and story are very well done, and the various sub-plots and twists within the game are excellent. As a book, this would probably have been a notable work in its own right. As a game, it suffers a bit in the execution. (Hence the low mark for gameplay as opposed to the other areas of the score). There are many places where the player simply has to wait in a location while the story unfolds; repeatedly typing "Z" is basically equivalent to turning the pages of a novel, while breaking the suspension of disbelief needed to keep the player locked into the game world. In a similar fashion, the vast amount of traipsing about the world that is required as Frank shuttles back and forth becomes irritating (although Kevin's room descriptions are some of the best I've ever seen, they're no better the 20th time than they were the first). This is not to say that the game as a whole is non-interactive; by and large the player is shaping the plot rather than watching it unfold around him. Nevertheless, there are a few places where the pacing could have been tweaked a bit. The puzzles are also a mixed bag, ranging from the sublime to the unpleasant, with the majority falling on the "difficult" side of the challenge scale. The game is difficult, but the puzzles are mostly fair. A few of them are awkwardly done, however, and the potential for "guess the verb" exists in one or two places. There is one puzzle in Faerie which appears to serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever, other than to give the player a simple blob of wax which is needed back in Avalon (this is also the game's only example of a connection between the two realms). The puzzle involves pushing on lighted buttons to cause a particular pattern to appear; much like the sliding tiles puzzle in "Curses", it doesn't work very well in the text medium, and serves no useful purpose other than to annoy the player and slow the game down. This puzzle could have been removed, and the blob of wax put someplace within Avalon itself, without hurting the plot in any way, and doing so would make life a lot easier for the player. Hopefully this will be addressed in a future version of the game. On the other hand, several of the puzzles and areas are nearly flawless; the "mole area" near the beginning of the game and the "reverse rowboat" in Faerie are very memorable indeed. The game's plot is impressively deep, with a number of sub-plots that are extremely compelling. Frank must redeem his own soul and the souls of others along the way to completing his quest. He will revisit Vietnam, do battle with the Master of the Hunt, save his own life in a "Sorcerer"-esque episode, escape from the clutches of an evil witch, and do battle with dragons, demons, and other assorted evildoers. He will be assisted by Merlin, Sir Launcelot, and Sir Galahad, as well as a number of other interesting characters, including a clever mole and a curious cat. In the end it is the player who benefits, as these "side quests" are immensely entertaining and serve to illustrate the richness and depth of Frank's character. OaF is one of the few IF games to really develop the player's character: Frank is very real, and his own comments are sprinkled liberally throughout the game. Some players will find this off-putting, but I found it quite easy to empathize with Frank and get into the role of the main character. He is very believable and a noble character. Once Frank has secured the magical artifacts, purified the Holy Grail, and obtained the assistance of the Queen of Faerie, he and Merlin will embark upon the true quest: preventing a terrible catastrophe in Earth's past which threatens the future of Earth and Faerie both. I won't go into the details, since that would spoil a major part of the game, but suffice it to say that the quest is very appropriate to the overall plot of the game -- indeed, the concept is brilliant -- and many of the diverse threads which the player has unraveled in Avalon and Faerie will be tied up in the end. (A number of other issues are left unresolved by the game's ending; deliberately, it turns out, from reading the author's notes.) The game moves pretty quickly once Frank learns his final quest; you'll rush through the last few stages pretty quickly, as the puzzles aren't too difficult (with the exception of the very last puzzle, which is pretty non-intuitive and hurts the flow of the narrative) and the pace increases, with the final scene played out under a tight time limit as the story builds to the ultimate confrontation between Frank and the forces of evil. Upon completing OaF, I am left to answer the final question: does it live up to the hype? The answer is, "of course not." OaF is perhaps the most-anticipated game of the modern IF era, if for no other reason than Kevin has been building it up and promising to release it for years and years now. Given that kind of buildup, there's no way the game would be able to be all things to all people. And it does suffer from some shortcomings; Kevin is telling a truly epic story here, and it's hard to format such a story to fit the particular requirements of IF. But the player who sticks with it and looks past the game's mechanical flaws will find that OaF is a highly polished jewel of a story, the rare game that tackles deep issues and confronts them head-on. There are so many messages and allegorical themes in the game that it would be impossible to list them all; and I won't even try, because half the fun is discovering them for yourself. OaF is a very literary game; it is a rich and complex tapestry. A few of the threads haven't been tied off quite right, but there are no "crash" bugs and nothing which should prevent a reasonably intelligent and experienced IF'fer from completing the game without needing to resort to a walkthrough. In summary, I would call it a "must-read" as well as a "must-play." OaF reaches for the brass ring by trying to combine such an epic story with a puzzle-based game mechanic; when compromises had to be made, they were made to preserve the story and at the expense of gameplay. It is unfortunate that any compromises had to be made at all, but the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. OaF does not disappoint -- I say again, it was worth the wait. I would place OaF on the same list as "The Legend Lives," Brian Moriarty's "Loom", and Steve Meretzky's "A Mind Forever Voyaging." All of these games share a common trait: they are experienced, rather than played. For me, the experience of OaF has been a wonderful one. I hope that yours will be, too. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Magnus Olsson At last, it's here. For years we waited eagerly for it. Some of use gave up hope of ever seeing it; others probably didn't even know it was for real, but thought it was just a metaphor for something unattainable; "When Avalon is released" became a synonym for "When pigs will fly". And then, suddenly, here it is. Of course, it's not called "Avalon", but "Once and Future", but it's here; the most anticipated IF release ever. Maybe pigs do fly, after all. So does it live up to the expectations? Yes and no: some people have expressed great disappointment that it didn't live up to their expectations, but I wasn't among them. I think it's fair to say, however, that "OaF" has been the subject of so much discussion and - to be blunt - hype (it is, after all, a commercial release), that it can't possibly live up to all expectations. So, in the following I'll try not to compare it too much with what's been said about it before its release. Before starting on the review, let me state that I was not one of the play testetser. I had never seen the game before the review copy arrived, so this review is based on fresh impressions. I have a confession to make, however: I haven't finished the game yet. I ran up against what turned out to be a fatal bug (an NPC who was supposed to provide some essential information, but didn't), and decided to put the game aside for a while, waiting for my "real" copy to arrive (my review copy was a pre-release version), so I had more to look forward to than just the pretty packaging. This happened rather near the end - I've completed most of the game, but I can't comment on the way the plot is finally resolved. I mentioned a fatal bug, so let's deal with a less pleasant aspect of the game first, so we get that out of the way. I can't help feeling that "OaF" could have done with some more beta testing. Fortunately, I found just one killer bug, but I did run into quite a lot of parser problems, mainly missing vocabulary. Let me stress that (apart from the NPC bug) I didn't have any real problems with this - I ecountered no guess-the-verb "puzzles", for example, just some missing synonyms - but still a bit irritating. There's been talk on rec.games.int-fiction about an upcoming patch from the publisher - let's hope it fixes these problems once and for all. OK, so it's somewhat buggy and it may not live up to everybody's expectations. What's it _like_? The main plot outline should be well known by now: you play a soldier who's killed in Vietnam, but brought back to life by King Arthur, and sent on a quest. But this doesn't really say very much about the game, does it? So let me start by characterizing "OaF": First and foremost, it's a classic adventure game in the Infocom tradition. In many aspects, it goes beyond - sometimes rather far beyond - Infocom's achievements, but it's a matter of evolutionary, not revolutionary, progress. I think that this is much a matter of timing: some aspects of "OaF" *would* have been revolutionary if it had been published according to the original schedule, four years ago. It's just that tremendous developments have taken place in the IF scene during those four years, and others have explored this new territory first. I wrote that "OaF" is first and foremost a game. This doesn't mean that it isn't a story, or that the story is just an excuse to string puzzles together, far from it. But unlike many modern works of IF (like, for example, this year's competition winner "Photopia"), it's not an interactive story that uses puzzles just as a way of forcing the audience to participate; it's a computer game that tells a story (or, rather, many stories). Puzzles are prominent, but subordinate to the story: with few exceptions they don't feel extraneous to the plot, and almost all of them don't obscure the underlying themes but serve to enhance them and advance the plot. I suppose that this means that you'll probably be disappointed if you don't like puzzle games, but are looking forward to a "pure" interactive story. But, as I wrote, the puzzles don't obscure the plot, and there's plenty of literary value in "OaF". "OaF" isn't "just a game"; it's a work of art in the form of a game. On the other hand, if you don't care much for the story aspects, and approach "OaF" as a pure game, you'll probably *not* be disappointed. You'll miss a lot if you ignore the story aspects, though. Puzzles are a prominent part of "OaF", and there are quite a lot of them; enough, it seems, for several medium-to-large-sized adventures - "OaF" is a large game. Most of the puzzles aren't too difficult; they're quite logical, with satisfying solutions, Infocom-style. The comparison to Infocom is meant as praise: in fact, I've seen few recent adventures with so many enjoyable puzzles. There are almost none of the "guess what the author was thinking" puzzles that are common in amateur IF. Some of the puzzles are a bit mechanical, perhaps, and some of them feel rather dated in a similar way that mazes feel dated nowadays - one of the signs that "OaF" has been under development for a long time and that our taste in IF has evolved during that time. Unfortunately, none of the puzzles are of the really brilliant variety, the one where the solution feels like a revelation, but on the other hand there are no real bottlenecks that block your progress totally, killing the plot in the process. On the whole, I think the balance between puzzles and plot is satisfying. I mentioned that "OaF" is a large game. In fact, it's very large. The funny thing is that for most of the time I was playing, it didn't feel very large; but several times, when I felt that I had explored everything and the game was stagnating, new vistas opened up, whole new worlds as large as the previously explored parts of the game. This is a rather rare experience - my experience is that most games (new or old - this is true for many, if far from all Infocom games as well) are either rather small, or partitioned into segments that are small games unto themselves, and quite separate from each other. On the other hand, "OaF" never felt so large and open-ended that I was overwhelmed by the task of exploration. "OaF" manages to strike a balance here, with just enough territory to explore that the game world feels large, but not like a huge desolation, and the device of rewarding puzzle solving with new lands to explore is used effectively. The map is mostly connected in a way that allows you to travel freely between the various segments of the game; there are no watertight partitions. Or almost none - because the story takes place on several planes at the same time (or, rather, different times), and at some junctures you're transported to different worlds to face different challenges in a different subplot. Which leads us on to the literary aspects of "OaF". Let's start with genre. "OaF" can, of course, be characterized as fantasy, but it's not the usual, stereotypic RPG-inspired fantasy of most adventure games, but mythical fantasy - Arthurian myth, of course. There's a lot of the fairy-tale elements present in many Arthurian tales - talking animals and such - but, despite this, "OaF" is not the kind of watered-down, trivialized Arthur-as-storybook- character world of "The Sword in the Stone", or Infocom's "Arthur". Like all true myths it addresses the big, existential questions; fortunately, it's not all about cute talking animals or heroic save-the-world quests. "OaF" is neither a children's story nor an action movie. Unfortunately, this isn't very apparent in the first part of the game (after the Vietnam introduction), where you have to explore the isle of Avalon and complete a number of sub-quests before you can begin to figure out what your real quest is about; this part of the game is actually quite conventional, almost shallow, with no strong sense of purpose or direction. This is a pity, because if the player is unlucky (the game is rather non-linear, so it's possible to see different sub-plots in quite different order) he or she will spend rather a lot of time before getting really involved in more than rather standard adventure-questing. There are a couple of quite touching stories-within-the story here (such as the one about the mole), but they involv you more as a spectator than as a participant. But things get better, plotwise. Once the player is involved in the main plot, he (I'll be using the male gender since I'm referring more to the player character, Frank Leandro, than to the actual player/audience controlling him) has to face not only his quest, but demons from his past, his present and his future - this sends him back to Vietnam in some very powerful sequences - as well as archetypal forces such as the mysterious Hunter. Finally, he'll have to deal with one of the pivotal moments in history; alas, I can't comment on that, since I haven't reached the actual endgame yet. The choice of pivotal moment in history seemed rather strange, almost silly, to me at first. Perhaps it's because I'm not American, and "OaF" is in a sense a very American game (though, fortunately, no knowledge of baseball is required). I can think of a reason for the odd juxtaposition of Arthur, Vietnam, and this historical event, though: Arthur is perhaps the most powerful of Anglo-American myths, and the two other elements, while historical, seem to have become almost archetypical in American culture. (No, Elvis is not involved). There is thought behind the choice of quest, even though it may seem unlikely when you first hear it. As mentioned before, the game is quite non-linear; most of the time, you have a choice of things to do and several puzzles to attack. This means that the plot can't drive events in the way it does in more "literary" IF; rather, the plot - and subplots - form a sort of substratum that motivates your actions and comes back to haunt you from time to time. The drawback to this is that at times there's no strong sense of purpose; you can spend quite a lot of time wandering around and solving puzzles just because they're there, just like in Zork. Unlike in Zork, however, there is a sense of unity; I'm not sure how all the threads are tied together at the end, or if they are - sometimes the plot structure gets a bit out of hand, it seems (I'm not sure that it will ever be resolved exactly what's going on between Frank and the Hunter, for example), but I'll have to pass on this for now. On the other hand, some of the subplots (most notably the Vietnam ones) are quite linear; you're a "prisoner in someone else's story", to quote Espen Aarseth. But these parts of the game are rather short. I did notice some minor problems caused by the non-linearity: some descriptions and plot events seem a bit suboptimal when encountered in the wrong order, but I didn't encounter any real killers. Of course, I can't help thinking that it may be possible to break the game by doing things in the wrong order, but I didn't actually manage to do so, and the author seems to have covered most possibilities. If you look at what the player is actually doing during most of the game in terms of plot, much of the time is spent on sub-quests and in subplots that don't seem to relate directly to the main plot. This can, of course, be criticized; but I think it's actually in character (I'm no expert on the Arthurian mythos - Arthur is not really a central part of my cultural heritage at all - so I may be totally off base here): much of the Arthurian mythos consists of stories about Arthur's knights being diverted from the quest for the grail by seemingly unrelated adventures, which turn out not to be so unrelated in the end. And the subplots in "OaF" all seem to touch on issues that either have directly to do with Frank's personal development, or with the underlying themes and conflicts. In this context, I'd like to point out that "OaF" is one of the few works of IF I've seen that deal with religious issues (though it doesn't really hit you across the face with them). The writing varies from competent to excellent to rather over the top - you can tell that "OaF" was written over a long period of time, and Kevin obviously matured as a writer during that time. Some parts, especially the room descriptions in the early parts of the game, are rather terse (but still expressive), Infocom-like, while others are more verbose and some passages are a bit on the purple side. In some places the author seems to be overreaching a bit, but those are the exceptions. The writing doesn't quite compare to the beautifully poetic "So Far", the haunting dream-like moods of "Losing your Grip", or the polished pefection of "Photopia", but it's quite competent. The author gets his message across, usually very effectively, and there are some very powerful scenes; some scenes and NPC's remained in my memory for quite some time after I stopped playing. Finally, some words about NPCs. One area where "OaF" has been a bit hyped is the quality, number and depth of its NPCs. When it comes to the sheer number of NPCs, this is no exaggeration: there are lots of them. However, the NPCs are rather uneven. Some NPCs are quite sophisticated: they'll follow you around, talk to you, have answers for most questions and spontaneously comment on things you're doing. Some NPCs interact with each other, commenting each other's lines (typically, you do something, an NPC answers, and another NPC comments that). This is all very solidly implemented, but there's nothing really revolutionary going on; no AI techniques, no new conversation strategies or so on, just ordinary TADS actors. But so much effort has gone into providing them with a personality and with things to do and say that they take on a depth few IF NPCs can exhibit. On the other hand, many NPCs are much less interesting than that. One NPC is just a variation on the "lock and key" puzzle, and others play very minor parts: they do a few things, and then exit. What is worse is the unfortunate fact that one of the first NPCs you encounter is quite an important figure in the Arthurian mythos, yet he basically just stands around, has rather limited conversational abilities, and doesn't seem very lifelike at all. You don't encounter the "good" NPCs until quite a bit later. But all in all, the most memorable parts of this game are the NPC: Snookums, Merlin, True Thomas, The Hunter, The Demon, Frank's alter egos. To summarize, "Once and Future" may not be the Great American Interactive Novel. It may not be a revolutionary feat of innovation or a literary masterpiece. But it is a very enjoyable, solidly implemented (despite the bugs - remember that this is a one-person project) game, with an engaging plotline (once you get into it) and some very memorable characters. And what makes "OaF" exceptional is the sheer size of its world, and that's not empty space, but interrelated, interacting objects, locations and characters, all unified by a compelling story. $29.95 will buy you a lot of exploration, puzzle solving, NPC interaction - more than enough for four or five normal-sized games - but, above all, immersion in a detailed world and participation in a deeply engaging story. INTERVIEW WITH G. KEVIN WILSON ----------------------------------------------- SPAG: First of all, our congratulations on not only finishing your great project, but also finding a commercial publisher for it. Could you tell us a little about your feelings, now that your quest is nearing its end? GKW: I think Homer Simpson said it best: Woo hoo! SPAG: I think the last-minute name change took us all by surprise. The legal necessities aside, is it a great disappointment for you to have to change the title of the game? GKW: Well, it was a bummer, but hey, you do what you have to. The new name is pretty good, which takes much of the sting out. SPAG: You've been working on this game for, let's see, at least four, maybe five years. Would you have embarked on this project if you'd known how long it would take? GKW: I really couldn't tell you. I mean, in retrospect, it was certainly worth it. I got to learn a lot about game design and writing. Once and Future (OAF) is certainly a good chunk of what made me what I am today. SPAG: In retrospect, what were the principal reasons it took so long to complete? And why did you underestimate the amount of time needed by so much? GKW: Inexperience and over-reaching ambition, mostly. I never really understood back then what a huge undertaking I was attempting, nor do I realize how much college was going to get in the way. SPAG: "Once and Future" strikes me as a very large game, but how large is it, really? How many rooms, objects, NPCs are there? And how many lines of code? Have you made any comparisons with other large games, such as "Curses"? GKW: Well, here are my estimates, rounded off. I haven't made any comparisons except to note that nothing of Infocom's was as big. Rooms: 300 Objects: 1300 NPCs: 40 Lines of Code: 35,000 SPAG: It is often claimed that the amount of work needed to write a game rises exponentially with the size of the game. Does this agree with your experience? If so, what do you think the reasons are? GKW: Most certainly. The more objects you have interacting with each other, the more effort is necessary. Simply, if you have 15 objects, and add a 16th, you only have to worry about it interacting with the other 15. If you have 500 objects, and add a 501st, you must look at how it interacts with the other _500_. SPAG: One of the most impressive aspects of "Once and Future" is the NPCs. Speaking as a game author myself, I know from bitter experience just how fiendishly hard NPC programming can be. Did you develop any new, revolutionary NPC coding techniques for "Once and Future", or did you just apply lots and lots of elbow grease? Any NPC coding tips to aspiring authors out there? GKW: Elbow grease, and lots of it. All told, the NPCs have about 500-600 'ask x about y' topics between them. NPCs that move around have an array of things to say upon entering certain locations, and encountering other NPCs, and of course, many events have multiple versions depending on which NPCs are currently accompanying the player. NPC coding tips? Hmm. KISS. Keep it simple, silly. Don't add more complexity than your game needs. OAF emphasized the characters a lot, so I needed reasonably complicated NPC behavior. Lesson of the Tortoise, on the other hand, only asked each NPC to do one or two things, so I greatly simplified things in that game. SPAG: Speaking of NPCs, which of the NPCs in the game is your own favourite? Why? GKW: Well, actually, my personal favorite NPC would probably be the Straw Man. As for why, well, that would be telling. If you reworded the question to include all characters in the game, then my favorite would be Frank Leandro, the character that the player controls. He's a very noble figure, and I think he came across quite well, considering that at the time it was seen as stifling the player if you gave the PC a personality. SPAG: Where did you get your inspiration for the game? For example, what caused you to write about the Arthur mythos? And what about the Vietnam angle? Is there any connection between the two? GKW: Well, I've always been into Arthurian myth. I play Dungeons & Dragons, which draws a lot of material from the Knights of the Round Table. As for the Vietnam angle, well, that's hard to say. Maybe I just chose it because there were so many moral dilemmas involved in that war. SPAG: I think that the influence from the classic Infocom games is rather obvious - and how could it be otherwise? But were you inspired by the newer developments in IF that took place while you were writing "Once and Future"? GKW: Sure, to some extent. I really enjoyed "The Legend Lives!" and something of that game found its way into OAF. That was probably my biggest modern influence. SPAG: What do you think of the future of text-based IF? GKW: Looking good, folks. Just keep plugging away at it. SPAG: Any plans for the future? Do you intend to continue writing IF? GKW: I don't know yet. I might. There's always room for improvement. But for right now I'm going to relax awhile and get my career in motion. I'm hoping to get a job writing roleplaying games. SPAG: Finally, what would you like to say to all the people who were, let's say, a bit overly sarcastic about the chances of "Avalon" (as it was known then) ever being completed? GKW: Ahem. HAAA hah. READER'S SCOREBOARD --------------------------------------------------------- NOTE: The scoreboard has been updated with ratings submitted until October 15, 1998. I also have a small backlog of ratings submitted after that date. Unfortunately, the ratings list on the SPAG web page has not been updated since SPAG 14, so it is a bit out of date. Notes: 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 ftp.gmd.de 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: ==== ====== === === ==== ===== ====== Aayela 8.6 1.6 1.7 1 F_TAD_GMD Adventure (all variants)6.6 0.7 1.0 7 8 F_INF_TAD_ETC_GMD Adventureland 4.0 0.5 1.5 1 F_GMD Adv. of Elizabeth Highe 3.1 0.5 0.3 2 5 F_AGT Afternoon Visit 4.1 1.0 0.8 1 Alien Abduction 7.9 1.7 1.7 1 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 Awakened 7.7 1.7 1.6 1 Awe-Chasm 2.4 0.3 0.6 1 8 S?_IBM_ST Babel 8.2 1.7 1.3 2 13 F_INF_GMD Balances 6.6 0.7 1.1 5 6 F_INF_GMD Ballyhoo 7.7 1.8 1.5 4 4 C_INF Bear's Night Out 7.7 1.2 1.5 1 13 F_INF_GMD Beyond the Tesseract 3.7 0.1 0.6 1 6 F_I_GMD Beyond Zork 8.1 1.6 1.9 4 5 C_INF BJ Drifter 7.3 1.5 1.5 1 Border Zone 7.3 1.4 1.4 6 4 C_INF Broken String 4.2 0.5 0.6 2 F_TADS_GMD BSE 6.6 1.0 1.0 1 Bunny 6.6 1.0 1.4 1 Bureaucracy 7.5 1.6 1.3 6 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 Castle Elsinore 5.3 1.0 1.2 1 Change in the Weather 7.4 0.8 1.5 7 7, 14 F_INF_GMD Chicken under Window 6.9 0.0 0.0 1 Christminster 8.6 1.8 1.6 6 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 6.2 1.4 1.2 6 1 C_INF Dampcamp 6.0 1.0 1.4 1 Deadline 6.9 1.2 1.3 6 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 1.0 0.0 0.0 5 4,5 F_AGT_GMD Detective-MST3K 6.1 0.8 0.1 4 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_SEE REVIEW Issue #4 Dungeon of Dunjin 5.8 0.7 1.4 3 3, 14 S20_IBM_MAC_GMD Edifice 7.5 1.5 1.7 3 13 F_INF_GMD Electrabot 0.7 0.0 0.0 1 5 F_AGT_GMD Emy Discovers Life 4.1 1.0 1.0 1 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 Everybody Loves Parade 7.3 1.2 1.3 1 Fable 2.0 0.2 0.1 1 6 F_AGT_GMD Fear 7.6 1.5 1.6 1 F_GMD Firebird 8.1 1.7 1.6 1 Fish 7.6 1.2 1.7 3 x C_I Foggywood Hijinx 7.6 1.7 1.7 1 Forbidden Castle 4.8 0.6 0.5 1 x C_AP Frenetic Five 5.1 1.2 0.2 1 Friday Afternoon 6.3 1.4 1.2 1 13 F_INF_GMD Frobozz Magic Support 8.0 1.6 1.7 1 Gateway 7.5 1.6 1.5 1 x C_I Glowgrass 7.4 1.6 1.5 2 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 7.6 1.4 1.5 8 5 C_INF Hollywood Hijinx 6.4 0.9 1.6 7 x C_INF Horror30.zip 3.7 0.3 0.7 2 3 S20_IBM_GMD Horror of Rylvania 7.5 1.5 1.3 2 1 F_TAD_GMD Humbug 7.0 1.7 1.5 2 x F_GMD Ice Princess 6.2 1.1 1.6 1 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... 8.0 1.7 1.3 4 F_INF_GMD Jacaranda Jim 7.0 1 x F_GMD Jeweled Arena 8.0 1.5 1.5 1 x ? Jigsaw 7.7 1.4 1.5 7 8,9 F_INF_GMD Jinxter 6.4 1.1 1.3 2 x C_I John's Fire Witch 7.1 1.1 1.6 6 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 Kissing Buddha's Feet 8.1 2.0 1.2 1 Klaustrophobia 6.7 1.2 1.3 5 1 S15_AGT_GMD Leather Goddesses 7.1 1.3 1.5 8 4 C_INF Legend Lives! 8.9 0.9 1.6 2 5 F_TADS_GMD Lessen of the Tortoise 8.1 1.6 1.6 1 F_TADS_GMD Lethe Flow Phoenix 6.8 1.4 1.5 3 9 F_TADS_GMD Light Shelby's Addendum 8.3 1.8 0.9 2 9 S?_TADS_GMD Lists and Lists 7.5 1.5 1.8 1 Losing Your Grip 8.2 1.3 1.4 2 14 S_TADS_GMD Lost New York 8.2 1.6 1.6 1 Lost Spellmaker 5.4 1.2 0.8 1 13 F_INF_GMD Lurking Horror 7.2 1.3 1.3 11 1,3 C_INF MacWesleyan / PC Univ. 5.6 0.7 1.0 1 x F_TADS_GMD Magic.zip 4.5 0.5 0.5 1 3 S20_IBM_GMD Magic Toyshop 4.3 0.7 1.1 2 F_INF_GMD Matter of Time 1.4 0.3 1.4 1 14 F_ALAN_GMD Mercy 9.2 2.0 0.7 1 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 8.4 1.3 0.8 7 5 C_INF Moist 8.4 1.7 1.6 1 Moonmist 5.7 1.2 1.0 11 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 Forever 4.2 0.3 1.0 4 7,8 F_TAD_GMD Nord and Bert 6.1 0.8 1.3 4 4 C_INF Odieus...Flingshot 3.3 0.4 0.7 2 5 F_INF_GMD One Hand Clapping 6.9 1.2 1.4 3 5 F_ADVSYS_GMD One That Got Away 6.7 1.3 1.2 3 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 1.6 1.5 9 4 C_INF Plundered Hearts 7.2 1.3 1.1 5 4 C_INF Pyramids of Mars 6.0 1.2 1.2 1 Quarterstaff 6.1 1.3 0.6 1 9 C_M Ralph 7.3 1.7 1.5 1 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... 7.8 1.8 1.8 2 13 F_INF Shogun 7.1 1.5 0.5 1 4 C_INF Sins against Mimesis 7.7 1.7 1.6 1 Sir Ramic Hobbs 5.0 1.0 1.5 1 6 F_AGT_GMD Small World 5.9 1.4 0.9 1 So Far 8.7 1.4 1.8 4 F_INF_GMD Sorcerer 7.3 0.6 1.6 5 2 C_INF South American Trek 0.9 0.2 0.5 1 5 ?_IBM_GMD Space Aliens...Cardigan 1.6 0.4 0.3 5 3 S60_AGT_GMD Space under Window 7.3 0.0 0.0 1 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 8.5 1.7 1.7 3 14 F_INF_GMD SpiritWrak 6.7 1.3 1.1 2 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 Stiffy - MiSTing 4.2 0.1 0.1 1 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 14 F_INF_GMD Tempest 5.6 1.0 0.6 1 13 F_INF_GMD Theatre 7.0 1.1 1.3 5 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 1.3 4 7 F_TAD_GMD Tossed into Space 3.9 0.2 0.6 1 4 F_AGT_GMD Travels...Land of Erden 6.2 1.5 1.5 1 Treasure.Zip 0 3 S20_IBM_GMD Trinity 8.6 1.3 1.7 11 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 7.1 0.9 1.4 8 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 7 1 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Unventure 1 7.1 1.2 1.6 6 1,2 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Unventure 2 7.2 1.4 1.5 4 1 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Zero 9.0 1 1 F_TAD_GMD Veritas 7.9 1.6 1.7 1 Waystation 5.7 0.7 0.9 2 9 F_TAD_GMD Wearing the Claw 6.8 1.1 1.1 2 F_INF_GMD Wedding 8.0 1.7 1.6 1 Wishbringer 7.4 1.4 1.3 7 5,6 C_INF Witness 6.9 1.6 1.2 7 1,3,9 C_INF Wonderland 7.5 1.3 1.4 1 x C_I World 6.5 0.6 1.3 2 4 F_SEE REVIEW Issue #4 Zanfar 2.6 0.2 0.4 1 8 F_AGT_GMD Zero Sum Game 7.5 1.7 1.2 1 13 F_INF_GMD Zork 0 6.3 1.1 1.4 5 14 C_INF Zork 1 6.3 0.8 1.5 12 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. Since the last issue (when "Trinity" headed the list, followed by "Curses" and "Christminster"), there have been some dramatic changes: 1. So Far 8.7 4 votes 2. Trinity 8.6 11 votes 3. Christminster 8.6 6 votes 4. Spider and Web 8.5 3 votes 5. Curses 8.4 9 votes Not only has "So Far" gone from nowhere (that is, less than 3 votes) to the top of the list, but "Spider and Web" by the same author (Andrew Plotkin) has squeezed in between "Christminster" and "Curses"! CLOSING REMARKS ------------------------------------------------------------- The next issue will be the 1998 Competition Issue. We're aiming for reviews of all the competition games. Until then: happy adventuring! ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!
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