ISSUE #17 - May 10, 1999

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

             ISSUE # 17  -  COMPETITION '98 SPECIAL

           Edited by Magnus Olsson (zebulon SP@G
                         May 10, 1999.

              SPAG Website:

SPAG #17 is copyright (c) 1999 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 -----------------------------------------------------

Acid Whiplash
Arrival, or Attack of the B-Movie Cliches
Cattus Atrox
The City
Downtown Tokyo, Present Day
Enlightenment: A One-room Absurdity
Four in One
Human Resources Stories
I Didn't Know You Could Yodel
Little Blue Men
Mother Loose
Muse: An Autumn Romance
Persistence of Memory
The Plant
Research Dig
The Ritual of Purification
Trapped in a One Room Dilly

+ an interview with Adam Cadre


It's been a long time.

This issue is more than two months late, and some people have started
worrying that something has happened to it, or that it may be
defunct. But there's no need to worry - SPAG will continue to appear
(if perhaps even more irregularly than before), at least as long as
you people continue to submit reviews. I'm only sorry that it took so
long this time.

SPAG #17 is devoted entirely to the 1998 IF Competition. I hope
you'll find it worth the wait.

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).

COMPETITION 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

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

Andrew Plotkin had a field day at the 1998 XYZZY awards ceremony
(organized by our rival fanzine XYZZYnews,, and
hosted by the IF mud), his "Spider and Web" winning no less than five
awards, including the one for "best game". Michael Gentry and Adam Cadre
won two each, and SPAG founder G. K. "Whizzard" Wilson grabbed the last

Best game:              Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin
Best writing:           Photopia, by Adam Cadre
Best story:             Photopia, by Adam Cadre
Best setting:           Anchorhead, by Michael Gentry
Best puzzles:           Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin
Best NPCs:              Once and Future, by Gerry Kevin Wilson
Best individual puzzle: Getting out of the chair, from Spider and Web
                        (Andrew Plotkin)
Best individual NPC:    The interrogator in Spider and Web (Andrew Plotkin)
Best individual PC:     Little Blue Men, by Michael Gentry
Best use of medium:     Spider and Web, Andrew Plotkin

INTERVIEW WITH ADAM CADRE ---------------------------------------------

SPAG: First of all, congratulations on winning not only the
Competition, but two XYZZY awards (for best writing and best
story). And even apart from the awards, people have liberally heaped
praise on your game _Photopia_. What are your feelings about this

AC: It's hard to know how to feel.  On the one hand, it's certainly
nice to open my inbox and find it full of such effusive praise, but
then it's hard to know how to respond -- "Glad you liked it, thanks
for writing" seems rather inadequate, you know?  So I feel a bit
guilty about that aspect of it.

I certainly didn't expect Photopia to do as well as it has, since it's
so different from conventional IF.  I expected that there would be a
small group of people who'd think it'd be the greatest piece of IF
ever, a somewhat larger group who'd find it unbearably pretentious,
and a still larger group in the middle who'd find it to be a mildly
interesting experiment.  This makes my second IF release in a row
whose reception has far exceeded my expectations.  I suppose this
means that the first time I come up with something I think people will
really enjoy, it'll bomb miserably.

SPAG: For the benefit of those of our readers who may not have heard
of you before, perhaps a short introduction would be in order. Who,
what, where and why is Adam Cadre?

AC: The border guards asked me that when I was driving home from
Canada, and I'm just as stumped by the question now as I was then.

So let's see.  I'm 25 (but look somewhere between 13 and 17.)  I live
in Anaheim, California, at least for the time being.  I'm
straightedge.  I'm multiracial.  I'm overeducated -- was well into a
doctoral program in English until I finally had my fill at the end of
'97 and became the slacker I am today.  I suppose I can call myself a
professional writer now that I've sold my first novel, but it still
seems a bit silly to say that, considering that the book isn't out yet
and as of this writing I haven't received any actual money for it,
though the check is supposedly in the mail.  I suppose I can also call
myself a professional musician, since I'm in a band which has a CD for
sale, but that too seems silly at present since the official members
of the band have never played together all at once.  I feel equally
uncomfortable calling myself a teacher, since even though I work as a
substitute teacher and in-home tutor, I don't have a class of my own.
In any event, I'm not a capitalist and so I suppose that defining
myself in terms of how I make money, as the culture seems to demand,
is bound to feel wrong to me.  I'm just zis guy, you know?

SPAG: What made you interested in writing IF?

AC: I wasn't an IF fan in Infocom's heyday -- the only game I ever
bought was Trinity, and I ended up playing it for a year without even
making it out of the Kensington Gardens.  When I finally found a copy
of the hint book, I ended up developing every clue.

In 1992, I went to the mall to get Star Control II (still my favorite
computer game.)  It wasn't in yet, so I got Lost Treasures of Infocom
II instead.  Then, on the way home, I got into a car wreck with a
wanted felon, but that's another story.  In any event, that was my
real introduction to Infocom.

Of the games on Lost Treasures, I liked A Mind Forever Voyaging the
best by far -- enough so that when I happened upon the Masterpieces CD
about four years later, I decided to pick it up expressly so that I
could play AMFV again (at this point my Treasures disks were,
appropriately enough, lost.)  I loaded up the CD, and noticed that
there was a game included called "A Change in the Weather" which I
didn't remember; I booted it up and was astonished to find that (a) it
was written in 1995, and (b) it was clearly not a commercial effort.
It'd never occurred to me that the Infocom games had been written by
anyone, any more than I stopped to wonder who drew the cartoons I
watched when other people in the IF community were playing Zork and
such.  But "Weather" clearly had an author.  And that got me thinking
-- hey, if people actually write these things, maybe I can too!  In
fact, I bet that'd be fun!

SPAG: What gave you the idea for _Photopia_?

I answered this question in a roundabout way in the Photopia Phaq,
which is on my web site,  Primary sources of
inspiration, in no particular order: a poorly-Xeroxed copy of an old
magazine called "Photoplay"; the film THE SWEET HEREAFTER by Atom
Egoyan (but not the book by Russell Banks); the work of Carl Sagan;
Ojars Kratins's seminar on the fantastic in literature; my sister's

Aren't you glad I didn't say I got it from a mail-order company?

SPAG: The boundary between IF as games and IF as literature is a hotly
debated topic. What do you think of this - is there such a division?
Should there be one?

AC: I haven't been answering these questions in order; as I write
these words, this is the last one left, and I've been trying and
failing to come up with a decent answer for a couple of days now.  Um.

One of the things that's been throwing me off about this question is
that I keep lurching between talking about puzzle-IF vs. story-IF on
the one hand, and "low" IF vs. "high" IF on the other.  I think it's
the word "literature" that's the culprit.  We generally hear it used
to denote high-quality fiction (or at least high-quality narrative);
in the IF world, however, it often signifies nothing more than that
the narrative is the most important aspect of a piece, or even simply
that it *has* a story.  But nearly all IF has a story, in a sense.
It's just that some of the stories are kinda lame: "Some guy wanders
around grabbing stuff and then uses it later to defeat a monster or
something. The End."

But some people don't mind that, I guess.  Some people have fun
spending hours pushing virtual buttons and pulling virtual levers for
no reward other than a message like "You have gained a fabulous
treasure!" or "*** You have won ***".  Then there are the people like
me who like the pleasures literature has to offer -- big chewy ideas
to think about, narrative twists and turns, funny or beautiful turns
of phrase, that sort of thing -- and also like wandering around
someone else's world and knocking over vases.  So, sure, there's a
division there.

That said, I'd point out that of course you can't simply map puzzle-
driven vs. story-driven onto low vs. high.  Story-IF that tries to be
"literary" by adopting a mannered, high-falutin' style is bound to
fall flat; and some of the most (to me) truly literary IF has been of
the more-game-than-story variety.  I don't actually play these; I
watch other people play them, or feed the game a walkthrough and read
the output.  Some people say that's missing the point, especially in a
puzzle game, but not every story ends up looking like the one above --
after all, when you think about it, an awful lot of literature is
about people trying to figure their way out of problems.  It just has
to be done artfully.

SPAG: In the light of the previous question, do you think _Photopia_
should be regarded as a game? And do you think there are any problems
with doing so (for example, it has been suggested that viewing it as
a game would make people more frustrated that they can't change the

AC: It's not a game, of course, but I find myself calling it one
anyway.  That's just the standard term for a piece of IF.  But, yeah,
to the extent that the "goal" is either unattainable or unavoidable,
depending on the way you think about it, it's not a game.

SPAG: _Photopia_ has been criticized for not being sufficiently
interactive. Some people have gone so far as to suggest that it
shouldn't be considered "IF", but just "F". What are your views on

AC: I think I covered this in the Phaq too... let's see... "True, the
player has little power to affect the events of the story.  But it was
crucial to me, was in a sense the whole point of the piece, that the
player *inhabit* the places of the game.  In the "real life" sections,
I wanted to provide the experience of hanging out with this kid, to
the extent I could; in the bedtime-story sections, it was absolutely
vital that the player be the one wandering around in the various
strange locales of the tale.  Quite frankly, there's not enough to
them to be worth experiencing them secondhand.  I came up with these
places, and I wanted to plop the player down in them just long enough
for her to look around, say "Whoa, neat," and then move on.  Rockvil
in the third person would have been a fourth-rate dystopia; being
there was what made it so chilling.  An author can incarnate a place
in IF in a way that's not possible in other media.  If incarnating
places is the point of what the work is trying to achieve -- which, in
this case, the colored sections of the story were -- then IF is the
way to go."

SPAG: Could you comment a little on the use of coloured text in
_Photopia_? What gave you the idea?

AC: I actually came up with the title and the idea of using color long
before I had any idea what the game would be about.  For a while I
considered having objects retain the color of the places they came
from, so your inventory list would end up looking like an ANSI
rainbow, but eventually I decided to keep it simple.  I just thought
it was a nice way to set the mood for each area, and differentiate the
'Hard-boiled' parts from the 'Wonderland' parts (to borrow from

SPAG: Which entries were your own favourites in the 1998 Competition?

AC: Those would be Little Blue Men and, to a slightly lesser extent,
Muse.  I've already reviewed them both, and since the reviews can be
found on my web site and on Deja News { Editor's note: Adam's review
of _Muse_ is included in this issue }, I won't repeat them here.  But
I will mention that the game I was planning to submit to the comp last
spring, and am finishing up right now, is quite similar to both these
games in many respects.  When I decided to switch to Photopia and
enter that instead, I thought it was a risky move -- switching from
what I thought all would agree was a well-done, interesting game to an
experiment that a lot of people were sure to loathe and which would
probably fare about as well as The Tempest.  As it turned out, my
current project might well have prompted protests of, "Another one of
*these*?" and suffered in the comparison to LBM and Muse, so I lucked
out.  We'll see.

SPAG: You're a writer not only of interactive fiction, but also of
conventional, non-interactive fiction. Can you compare writing a piece
of IF with writing a novel? Which is the most satisfying experience?

AC: Well, writing IF is certainly more fun, in that so much of it is
coming up with snarky error messages.  You might say that writing IF
is itself interactive -- it's a conversation with an imaginary player
who tries every possible command.

But writing IF isn't like storytelling, at least not for me.  I write
stories and books from start to finish, the same way I read them.  But
when I write IF, it sort of accretes.  Create a location, compile.
Add a couple objects, compile again.  Add an NPC, compile.  Equip the
NPC with some actual behavior, compile yet again.  And so forth for
several weeks.  Then, of course, there's the fact that English is my
first language, and Inform isn't.  When I'm writing a story, I
sometimes get stuck trying to figure out how best to phrase the next
sentence, but I never find myself needing to learn some grammatical
form I've never used before.  In IF, I'm always getting stuck wanting
to achieve some effect and having no idea how to go about it.  So
while it may be more fun than straight fiction on a moment-to-moment
basis, it also has the potential to be a lot more frustrating.

And then there's the fact that no matter how far above average a game
may be, no matter how many revolutionary advances it makes, it's still
going to seem sort of stiff and awkward to the newbie who tries >GO
BACK TO WHERE I WAS A COUPLE MINUTES AGO and gets an error message,
who types >BEAUFORD, DO YOU LIKE DOGS? and gets a default response.
Even the most robust IF comes off as fragile and inadequate to people
who haven't had their expectations adjusted by playing previous games.
So while in a static narrative the reader can't participate in the
world you've created, she also can't poke around and find that the
walls are made of cardboard and the background's just a mural.  To
that extent, it's sort of like the difference between making an oil
painting of a house on the one hand, and on the other, actually
building a house-- of cards.

SPAG: We've certainly come a long way since the first
Competition. What trends do you see in the development of the IF
genre? Have there been any developments that have surprised you? Or
any developments that you are still missing? What would you like to
see in future IF?

AC: Okay, since my answers have been on the dull side thus far, I'll
give you a deliberately provocative one here.

It seems to me that perhaps the primary trend in IF over the last few
years is that it's become more and more idiosyncratic.  Infocom was in
the entertainment software business, and if you look at some of the IF
from a while back, you tend to find that same mindset.  The early TADS
games, Curses and Jigsaw, Lost New York, Once and Future (which may
have just come out recently, but which belongs to the pre-comp
period)...  certainly they reflect the interests of their various
authors, but they're still primarily entertainment software.  I
suspect that if any of the games I've just mentioned been Infocom
projects, they'd have had no trouble at all getting greenlighted.

Now let's look at some of the more recent successful IF.  So Far,
Sunset Over Savannah, Muse, Little Blue Men, Photopia... these don't
strike me as entertainments.  It seems to me that the primary
motivation for projects such as these is self-expression.  I'm not
sure Infocom would've given these the go-ahead.  Now, to an extent,
this is wonderful.  I mean, I'm certainly glad I didn't have to pass
Photopia through a marketing department before I could release it.  I
cringe to think of Michael Gentry being told to tone down the
misanthropy because it isn't testing well in key demographics.

But the phenomenon of creative works being freed from commercial
concerns is not unique to IF.  The advent of the World Wide Web has
meant that anyone can publish their fiction, just by putting up a web
site.  Even before the WWW, there were the dot-creative Usenet groups.
Has there been a renaissance of freeware fiction?

Well, no.  Sure, there are fanfic authors who've gained popularity,
but really, most anyone who puts up some stories and waits for the
hits to come rolling in is due for a disappointment.  In my years on
the net, I've yet to encounter anyone who really follows web.fiction.
Why?  Because it's mostly dreck.  If you go to your local bookstore
and find the shelves where they keep the reputable fiction, you at
least have the comfort of knowing that for each book before you,
someone who makes a living making these kinds of determinations has
declared it to be of publishable quality.

Now, you may think you know where I'm going with this, but actually,
I'm not really much concerned about an onslaught of games with
appalling spelling and takeable feces.  These games are already
released at a fairly regular rate, and I don't expect that rate to
change much in either direction.  But I'm reminded of a quote I read a
while back by someone in the publishing business that went something
like this: "Prospective authors seem to think that the slush pile
consists of 10% publishable manuscripts, 20% manuscripts that aren't
quite at that level, and 70% abysmal dross.  That's not the case.
Less than half of what we get is abysmal dross.  But maybe one in ten
thousand manuscripts is something we'd consider publishing.  The
majority of the manuscripts we get are presentable, but still, clearly
the work of amateurs."

I don't much worry about people who release entertainment software
that isn't well-received.  Nor am I much concerned about the
fourteen-year- olds and the AGT masterpieces they throw together in an
afternoon.  But there is one trend I foresee that does trouble me a
bit.  IF has a built-in audience of at least a couple hundred people
who play most of the games that show up at GMD.  That may not sound
too impressive, but for someone whose collected works have garnered
three hits in the last five years, that's a vast populace.  And the
word about IF is slowly trickling out.  More and more people are
coming into the fold.  And when they decide to write games of their
own, I'm finding that for the most part they're less interested in
whipping up solid entertainments than in crafting magna opera to
capture their innermost souls.

Most of these aren't going to be very good.  They won't be laughable,
but they'll be mediocre.  I'm thinking about the kind of prose I was
cranking out in my late teens.  I've still got a lot of it squirreled
away in one directory or another: the beginnings of novels I didn't
plan past chapter two, generous handfuls of short stories... the
intentions were good, the grammar is impeccable, but the work
nevertheless makes me wince.  I was quite pleased with it at the time,
though.  And if I'd been writing IF in '92, you could wince along with

But it's not even this that worries me.  If there's a cascade of IF
that looks like it escaped from the creative writing class at the
nearest junior college, so be it.  What worries me is what happens
when the reception for these idiosyncratic works is less exuberant
than that for some of the current big names in IF.  What'll happen
when people who've poured their heart and soul (and effort and time --
writing IF is hard work) into a piece of interactive fiction release
it, and people don't like it much?  When their babies go unnoticed at
Xyzzy time?  It'd be a shame if the IF community were poisoned by
bitterness and resentment as new authors publish their cris de coeur,
only to garner negative reviews, or to watch them get ignored in the
wake of the latest Zarf release.  But I'm not sure what the solution
is.  Certainly pretending that these games are better than they
actually are is not the answer.  And maybe they won't even materialize
-- maybe these trends I think I've spotted are purely illusory.  But
nevertheless, I foresee thin skins and rancor, charges of elitism, and
tears all around.

SPAG: And, finally, what part do you plan on playing yourself in the
future of IF?

AC: Well, I have a bunch of future projects planned.  It's just a
matter of finding the time to do them.  I'd like to release at least
one major-ish project per year for the foreseeable future.  I'm not
sure if that's a realistic goal, but that's what I'm shooting for.

Also, if my novel does okay in the marketplace, I'm hoping that it'll
prompt people to come visit my web site, which has a section devoted
to IF.  So maybe some people who like the book and would otherwise
have never even heard of IF will discover it that way.

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

Consider the following review header:

NAME: Cutthroats
AUTHOR: Infocom
EMAIL: ???
DATE: September 1984
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
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:
 and at

REVIEWS ----------------------------------------------------------------

From: "Paul O'Brian" 

NAME: Acid Whiplash
AUTHOR: Rybread Celsius & Cody Sandifer
EMAIL: rybread SP@G (Celsius), sandifer SP@G (Sandifer)
DATE: September 1998
PARSER: Inform whacked
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

by Rybread Celsius and Cody Sandifer)

   "This is terribly, terribly unfair. I'm really sorry. But I just
   started laughing hysterically, and it's not what the author intended.
   In the middle of an intense ending sequence, I read the line:

   'My blood pumper is wronged!'

   I just lost it. It's a very 'Eye of Argon' sort of line."
                        -- Andrew Plotkin, reviewing "Symetry", 1/1/98

   "It takes guts to do *anything* wearing a silver jumpsuit.
        My point:
   I bet Rybread wears *two* silver jumpsuits while he writes IF."
                                -- Brad O'Donnell, 1/6/98

I hope my title line isn't too big a spoiler. I guess I can't feel too
guilty about giving away something that's revealed in the first 3
seconds of the game. Anyway, it would be impossible to talk about this
game without talking about Rybread Celsius. Yes, Rybread Celsius. The
man, the myth, the legend. There are those who have called him "A BONA
FIDE CERTIFIED GENIUS" [1]. There are those who have called him "the
worst writer in interactive fiction today" [2]. There are even those
who have called him "an adaptive-learning AI" [3]. Whatever the truth
behind the smokescreen, opinion is clearly divided on the Celsius
oeuvre. He appears to have an enthusiastic cult following who look at
his works and see the stamp of genius, paralleled by another group who
look at those selfsame works and see only barely coherent English and
buggy code. I have always counted myself among the latter. Works like
Symetry and Punkirita Quest set my English-major teeth on edge. I have
never met a Rybread game that I've liked, or even halfway
understood. But Acid Whiplash is different.

First of all, I need to say that I'm going to call it Acid Whiplash, for
several reasons:

  1. I'm not sure what the game's real name is supposed to be.
  2. The other name, while it may be (is!) perfectly true, is just too long
     to write out.
  3. Acid Whiplash is just such a *perfect* name for this game.

I've never dropped acid myself, but I'm guessing that this game is
about the closest text game equivalent I will ever play, at least
until my next Rybread game. The world spins crazily about, featuring
(among other settings) a room shaped like a burning credit card (???),
nightmarish recastings of Curses and Jigsaw, and your own
transformation into a car dashboard. Scene changes happen with
absolutely no warning, and any sense of emerging narrative is dashed
and jolted about, hard enough and abruptly enough to, well, to give
you a severe case of mental whiplash. Sounds like a typical Celsius
game so far, right? But here's the best part: stumbling through these
hallucinogenic sequences leads you through a multi-part interview
between Cody Sandifer and Celsius himself, an interview which had me
laughing out loud over and over. Sandifer is hilarious, striking the
pose of the intensely sincere reviewer, taking each deranged Celsius
word as gospel, and in the process manages actually to illuminate some
of the interesting corners of his subject, and subject matter. And
Rybread is...  Rybread, no more or less than ever. Perhaps being
changed into a dashboard while listening makes the whole thing funnier
-- I'm not sure.

As usual, my regular categories don't apply. Plot, puzzles, writing --
forget about it. Acid Whiplash has no real interaction or story in any
meaningful sense. (There is, however, one very funny scene where we
learn that Rybread is in fact the evil twin of a well-known IF
author). If you're looking for a plot, or even something vaguely
coherent, you ought to know that you're looking in the wrong
place. But if you aren't familiar with the Way of the Rybread, or even
if you are, I recommend giving Acid Whiplash a look. It might shed
some light on what all these crazy people are talking about... but
don't expect to understand the *next* Celsius game.

[1] Brock Kevin Nambo

[2] Me. (Nothing personal.)

[3] Adam Thornton

Rating: 5.2 (This is by *far* the highest rating I've ever given to
Rybread. In fact, I think it beats his past 3 ratings from me put


From: Second April 

NAME: Arrival, or Attack of the B-Movie Cliches
AUTHOR: Stephen Granade
E-MAI: sgranade SP@G
DATE: 1998
SUPPORTS: TADS 2.2.6 and later
VERSION: Release 2

I may not be in the best position to review Arrival, the first game of
consequence written in HTML-TADS, since I'm working with a Stone Age
system that can't deal with HTML-TADS games, and hence all I saw was
the text. But I can say this: even if your system has not been graced
with a port of an HTML-TADS runtime, check out Arrival anyway. It's
easily one of the best games of this year's competition, graphics or

The story: your life as an eight-year-old is enlivened by, why not,
aliens landing in your backyard, except that these aliens clearly have
been reading Calvin and Hobbes, since they're invisible to your
parents. They commission you to run some errands for them so that they
can get on with enslaving the planet, so you carry out some tasks, of
varying degrees of silliness, to Thwart the Evil Plan.

The author titles Arrival an "attack of the B-movie cliches," but that
isn't really fair: Arrival is far wittier than any B-movie, and it's
far too self-aware to be cliched. (Your character's reaction upon
seeing the spaceship: "Oh man oh man, it must be a spaceship!  From
outer space!  Maybe from Gamma Proxima Epsilon Centauri Five B!") The
aliens owe much more to parody than to cliche: they demand Ho-Hos and
grumble about the obnoxious way Earth constantly sends banal radio
broadcasts into space. On hand is a translator that mutates the
aliens' speech into Bill and Ted-speak, with consistently amusing
results (the answer to one question changes from "You are quite a nosy
child" to "Why don't you, like, go play in traffic"). The fact of the
alien-invasion plot should not obscure the amount of wit that went
into the writing of Arrival: for instance, when the alien's translator
fails, he scowls and yells "Universal translator, my anterior
appendage!" Few games can claim the amount of originality that Arrival

The fun of the game is largely in the writing and the amusing asides,
however, rather than the puzzles: some are clever, but a few are
simply obscure or insufficiently clued. There's a hint file to help
things along, and Arrival is the rare game where it's better to turn
to hints than to insist on unraveling puzzles yourself. The fun of the
game diminishes when the player is stuck, and the payoff associated
with solving the puzzles isn't so great that resorting to hints takes
away a sense of accomplishment. The charm of Arrival lies, in short,
more in seeing the aliens' funny responses to different actions than
in solving problems, and it is hence more rewarding to move the story
along, in order to discover more parts of the game that produce funny
responses, than to stand still until you solve a puzzle by your own
wits. The puzzles aren't especially bad or unfair, to be sure, but by
and large (with one exception, a puzzle that turns on a sly joke about
child-proof lids), but they don't match the level of the writing

If there is a flaw in Arrival, apart from the puzzles, it is that your
identity, an eight-year-old, only surfaces intermittently. There's
plenty of humor to be mined from the world as viewed by a
child--Calvin and Hobbes, for one, produced about ten years'
worth. Aside from the occasional response, though (TAKE STICK when no
stick is present: "I don't see no--I mean any--stick here"), you can
largely forget that you're eight years old--and there are several
moments, such as the discovery of a velvet Elvis and a rain stick,
that might be enlivened by commentary from an eight-year-old's
viewpoint. (On the other hand, your eight-year-old self comes out more
clearly in some of the AMUSING responses, suggesting that the author
wanted to mine that vein of humor but didn't get around to
incorporating it into the story much. Moreover, as I understand it,
the graphics appear to have been drawn by an eight-year-old, so
perhaps that changes the game experience for those who can actually
see the graphics.)  It's a minor flaw, though, and testifies to the
general solidity of the game and its coding.

Arrival is a well-crafted game--at least, the text portions are, and I
trust the graphics and sound add to the experience. It's also littered
with in-jokes and funny asides that more than make up for the
derivative nature of the plot, and it plays up the alien invasion for
satiric value, which excuses the cliches (for me at
least). Reminiscent in some ways of Carl Klutzke's Poor Zefron's
Almanac, but much more consistently funny and playable, Arrival is a
worthy effort.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

The Arrival is the first HTML-TADS game I've ever played, certainly
the first competition game ever to include pictures and sound. I was
quite curious as to how these elements would be handled, and maybe
even a little apprehensive. I wasn't sure that a lone hobbyist could
create visual and musical elements that wouldn't detract from a game
more than they added to it. But Arrival dispelled those fears,
handling both pictures and sound brilliantly. The game's ingenious
strategy is to cast an 8-year-old as its main character, which makes
the fact that most of the graphics are really just crayon drawings not
only acceptable, but completely appropriate. Just for good measure,
the game chooses "Attack of the B-Movie Cliches" as its theme and
subtitle, thereby making the cheese factor of the special effects
(which is pretty high) actually enhance the game rather than embarrass
it.  The pictures are delightful -- the crayon drawings evoke a great
sense of childhood and wonder while continuing the humorous feel of
the whole game.  The spaceship (two pie plates taped together) and the
aliens (in the author's words "the finest crayons and modelling clay
$2.83 could buy") are a scream -- I laughed out loud every time I saw
them. The game also includes a couple of very well-done non-crayon
graphics, one an excellent faux movie poster and the other a dead-on
parody of a web page, both of which I found very funny. The sounds,
though sparse, are equally good -- the sound of the alien spaceship
crash-landing startled the heck out of me.  I'm not used to my text
adventures making noise! But a moment later I was laughing, because
the noise was just so fittingly silly.

However, all the funny pictures and sounds in the world couldn't make
Arrival a good game if it wasn't, at its core, a well-written text
adventure. Luckily for us, it is. The game is full of cleverly
written, funny moments, and has layers of detail I didn't even
recognize until I read the postscript of amusing things to do. The
aliens, who bicker like a couple of married retirees touring the
U.S. in their motor home, are great characters. Each is given a
distinct personality, and in fact a distinct typeface, the green alien
speaking in green text while the purple alien has text to match as
well. If you hang around the aliens you will hear quite a bit of funny
dialogue, and if you manage to switch their universal translator from
archaic into modern mode, you can hear all the same dialogue, just as
funny, rewritten into valley-speak. The game has lots of detail which
doesn't figure in the main plot but creates a wonderfully silly
atmosphere and provides lots of jokes. For example, on board the ship
is an examination room, where by flipping switches, pulling levers, or
turning knobs you can cause all sorts of machinery to pop from the
walls and perform its function on the gleaming metal table, everything
from laser beams to buzz saws to Saran Wrap. In addition, Arrival is
one of the better games I've seen this year at unexpectedly
understanding input and giving snarky responses to strange commands,
which has been one of my favorite things about text adventures ever
since I first played Zork. Even if you can't (or don't want to) run
the HTML part of HTML TADS, it would still be well worth your time to
seek out The Arrival.

However, don't be afraid to rely on hints. I had played for an hour
and hadn't scored a single point when I took my first look at
them. Now, once I got some hints I determined that the puzzles did in
fact make perfect sense -- they weren't of the "read the author's
mind" variety and I would probably have come to solve them on my
own. Perhaps the presence of pictures, sound, and hyperlinks threw me
out of my IF mindset enough that I was struggling more than I should
have with the puzzles. That's probably a part of it, but I think
another factor was that all the details in the game ended up becoming
a big pile of red herrings for me. There are quite a few items and
places which have no real use beyond being jokes, and I found it quite
easy to get sidetracked into trying to solve puzzles that didn't
exist. It's not that I don't think those pieces should be in the game;
I actually find it refreshing to play a game where not every item is
part of a key or a lock, and even as it caused me to spin my wheels in
terms of game progress, it helped me ferret out a lot of the little
jokes hidden under the surface of various game items. However, if
you're the kind of player who gets easily frustrated when your score
doesn't steadily increase, don't be afraid to rely on a hint here and
there. Just remember to replay the game after you're done so that you
can see what you missed.  Besides, that pie-plate spaceship is worth a
second look.

Rating: 9.6


From: Adam Cadre 

NAME: Cattus Atrox
AUTHOR: David Cornelson
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters

Cattus Atrox by David Cornelson

Theodore Dreiser has been called the worst prose stylist ever to
qualify as a great writer.  Over the course of my college career I had
to read his SISTER CARRIE no fewer than four different times, and sure
enough, Dreiser's prose is often just laughably bad.  Whether he's
interrupting a paragraph to mention that "It was in August, 1889"
(without specifying what "it" was), or beginning a chapter by
introducing "the, to Carrie, very important theatrical performance",
or lurching into ridiculous archaisms like "Carrie!  Oh Carrie! Ever
whole in that thou art hopeful!", Dreiser's control over the English
language often reminds the reader of a four-year-old trying to steer a
Saturn V rocket.

Still, there's a reason I had to read SISTER CARRIE four times, and
it's not because my professors were trying to get me to break out the
aerospace refs.  The prose, rough as it is, is often startlingly
effective: the railway strike chapter, for instance, is rendered with
a you-are-there intensity unmatched by many a more polished writer.
Which is why Dreiser was very much on my mind as I played Cattus
Atrox.  Cornelson's prose isn't going to impress anybody: it's full of
comma splices and other errors, not to mention such howlers as
"lust-filled orgasms" and a character screaming "LIONS!" into a
telephone and then hanging up.  Nevertheless, Cattus Atrox provides
the most intense visceral experience of any game in this comp.

Now, I'm not one to lose myself in a game the way some people
apparently are: at no point did I myself feel fear when the lions were
smacking the PC around.  But you couldn't tell from the way I was
playing.  During the chase scene, I was entering directions as fast as
I could, running around in a panic, typing N then W then N then E then
S then W then S again without even bothering to glance at the text
flashing by.  Not really the recommended method of playing IF, but,
y'know, I had to get away from those lions.  I mean, they were, like,
eating me and stuff.

And then when I found the crowbar, I mean, forget it.  Here I'm the
guy whose game specifically penalizes the player for being so cruel as
to do violence to an animal, and the second I find the crowbar, I
switch into full-on Neanderthal mode.  I beat that lion cub to death
with the club and then stood there beating its corpse over and over
again even as on a conscious level I recognized that the game was
spitting error messages at me for doing so.  I took that crowbar and
spent the next half hour whacking anything I registered as a noun.  It
got to the point that I half expected that if I threw the crowbar into
the air it'd turn into a spacecraft.

So while the prose is less than masterful, the syntax for some
required commands is often weird, and the ending is silly and over the
top, Cattus Atrox gets high marks for grabbing me by the collar and
yanking me out of detached-observer mode.  This game stuck with me.
Several games later I had to restrain myself from rushing into the
Muse telegraph office and tapping out "LIONS!" on the telegraph.

My score: 7.3 (5th place)


From: Second April 

NAME: The City
AUTHOR: Sam Barlow
E-MAIL: sb6729 SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

Part of the charm of the IF competition is that it brings out
interesting ideas, ideas which might not be suitable for a full-
length game but do something interesting that contributes to the IF
oeuvre in one way or another. The converse, however, is that having a
forum for short games may discourage authors from developing stories
as completely as they might.  Sam Barlow's The City is a case in
point: it has an interesting idea, but in its present form, there
isn't much more than an idea, and the result is rather unsatisfying to

The premise, though suspiciously reminiscent of Delusions, is
reasonably well done. You're trapped in a room with no way out and a
video recorder and tape on hand; the tape shows a man taking a pill;
you accept a pill from a handy assistant, take it, and black out;
repeat. The man in the tape is, of course, you; your goal is to break
out of the loop and see what you find. Unfortunately, you don't find
much, and you certainly don't find much that's surprising, and it
isn't clear that anything you do goes to accomplish anything. (Being
trapped in a nightmare laboratoryish sequence is starting to feel a
little familiar as an IF premise; the IF world may be getting
overloaded with bizarre dystopias, though that certainly isn't
Mr. Barlow's fault.) Now, if a sense of futility is the point here, IF
is ideal for conveying that. Ain't nothin' more frustrating than IF
that goes in circles. However, as noted, Delusions already did that
pretty well, even if the resolution was different. More importantly,
sheer futility generally does not a satisfying experience make, IF
experience included. Likewise, there's a point toward the end where
there's only one action available, and it's fairly obvious that you
don't "really" want to take that action--but there's no way around
it. (Piece of Mind, from the 1996 competition, did something
similar--but, IMHO, much more satisfyingly.) The game keeps you from
doing plenty of obvious things without explanation, which certainly
hits the frustration angle--but it's frustration with the mechanics of
the game, not with the situation depicted. (Okay, you can argue that
it's all one. But merging the character's frustration with the
player's does not produce a fun game.)
The problem is that, really, The City doesn't do enough with its
premise.  The backstory never really shows up, and backstory is what
might have distinguished this from its many predecessors; if there
were some interesting story behind how things became how they are, the
game might stay with the player for more than a few moments after
playing. There's painfully little to do once you _do_ break out; the
"outside" world isn't any more interesting than the "inside." The
futility idea might be more interesting if there were a stronger
illusion of control, but there isn't much; you can't get very far, and
you can't get anywhere appealing. The City needs to be about twice as
long as it is in order to involve the player in the story; as it is,
it ends almost as soon as it starts.  Moreover, whereas Delusions
mixed its futility with a sense of urgency owing to frequent and short
time limits, The City eschews all time requirements--in other words,
you are never required to take a pill--which means frustration is
mixed with, if anything, boredom.

Technically, everything works well enough, apart from the failure to
provide logical choices at certain points. The author disabled undo
and save/restore to no particularly vital purpose, as far as I can
tell; if the idea was to remind us that we're at the mercy of other
folks and can't do much about our own fate, well, we weren't likely to
forget, save/restore or not. Still, there are no technical problems to
speak of, and in fact one rather complicated aspect of The City is
handled well: the tape that records you actually does play back
whatever you did last time around, and describes your actions
reasonably well. (On the other hand, there's not a lot you can do
anyway.) There are some other odd features--none of the rooms have
names, for some reason, though they are distinctly different
rooms. (Perhaps the idea was to suggest that you can't really get
anywhere, but it's rather confusing at first.) There's no status line,
no opening title, no compass directions, etc., and the minimalism
doesn't distract much from the game; in that respect, The City works
well enough.

Still, there isn't much here that anything could distract anyone from,
and besides a few gripping moments--on the roof, notably-- it's a
rather frustrating experience. It's technically sound enough that I
gave it a 7, but it doesn't make much of what might have been an
intriguing game.


From: "david ledgard" 

I played this game once and didn't get very far. So later came back to
it, armed with some hints. The game is quite small, but with a thought
provoking plot, a bit George Orwell 1984ish. Some puzzles were fairly
easy, others not so. It was difficult to work out what you were
supposed to do next and whether the plot had actually advanced. I know
for a fact that I would never have completed it without hints, not in
a million million years.


From: Second April 

NAME: Downtown Tokyo, Present Day
AUTHOR: John Kean, writing as Digby McWiggle
E-MAIL: keanj SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform, altered somewhat
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
URL: archive/competition98/inform/tokyo/tokyo.z5
VERSION: Release 1

Perhaps 1998 was the year that authors gave up on text alone and
resorted to other means of keeping players involved--Arrival and The
Plant used HTML-TADS graphics and sound effects, Photopia used a color
scheme, some others (Enlightenment, Muse) used .gif files external to
the game. And then there was Downtown Tokyo, Present Day, which
featured some dramatic moments rendered in...ASCII art. On the other
hand, the drawings fit the tone of the game nicely, which is a cross
between spoof of and homage to old B movies, and the whole effect is
rather enjoyable.

There's one interesting experiment going on that doesn't,
unfortunately, work as well as it might: the player inhabits both the
protagonist and a movie-theater onlooker, and commands sometimes are
directed to the viewer persona rather than the protagonist persona
without warning. Part of the reason it doesn't entirely work is that
the protagonist's actions are all in the third person--"our hero
enjoys a long slurp of soup"--but some of the library responses
trickle in now and again. To be sure, it's pretty hard to keep that
from happening, but it also doesn't take much of it to break the
spell. (On the other hand, it reminded me of the actual experience of
being in movie theaters--being absorbed in what's happening on the
screen and suddenly having the spell broken, either by a flaw in the
film itself or by some distraction in the theater. If that was the
intent, it's quite well done.) Then again, I'm not sure there's a
better way to keep the viewer and the protagonist distinct, and if
they're not distinct, this could turn into a "you're sucked into the
movie" game, which wouldn't be a tenth as interesting. It's a flawed
experiment, but it's not a bad idea.

The plot is minimal, and it's to the game's credit that the whole
thing is rather casual about the story--plenty of room for even
time-sensitive actions, and the story essentially stops in the middle
so that you can wander around and have fun. This is the sort of thing
I'd disapprove in most IF but which works just fine here, since
B-movies don't exactly set a high realism standard and it's so much
fun to play with the toys you're given. Indeed, this middle section
(if you can call it that in such a tiny game) is the best thing about
Downtown Tokyo; the beginning and end come off more as quotations,
homages, than as parodies, and the parody is much more fun. The author
provides for plenty of silly actions, logical and not. Still, even if
you're inclined to try those silly things, this won't detain you for
more than 10 or 15 minutes, and there isn't much reason to come back
to it. Adding to the fun is the satire: the author claims never to
have seen a monster movie, but he has a good feel for Hollywood
cliches anyway. At the end, for example, when the hero and heroine are
together, we learn that "their clothes are alluringly torn," pointing
to the way films like to fuse danger and sex. Likewise, when people
fall, they fall in slow motion, so that you have plenty of time to

The only real problem with Downtown Tokyo is that it doesn't work
particularly well as a game. At the outset, for instance, you can do
essentially nothing for about 20 turns; so determined is the author to
make fun of the plot contrivances that he doesn't let you interfere
with them, logic be damned. The controls in the helicopter you end up
flying around are rather nonintuitive--at least, the initial hurdle to
overcome is a little strange. It's also distinctly possible to get
lost in the city--the unimportant locations don't loop back, so you
can wander very far away from the relevant scene. It wouldn't have
broken too much with logic to keep the player from wandering away
("You can't leave now. Your reputation as a hero as at stake."). As it
is, the game provides some cute satirical moments but not much more.

There isn't a lot to Downtown Tokyo, Present Day, but what's there is
pretty funny; the author manages to spoof old monster movies in a
variety of ways. This was intended for the chicken- comp, and it would
have been among the better entries had it been entered. As it was, in
the real competition, I gave it a 6.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

Another very short (TextFire-length) game, Tokyo was originally
intended for submission to Adam Cadre's Chicken-Comp, but the author
didn't finish it in time. All the better for us, because the game is
funny and entertaining, and still finds a little time to be innovative
as well. With a game this short, it's hard not to give away plot
spoilers in any extended discussion, but I'll try to be as discreet as
I can. I'll only say as much as this: Tokyo is a very funny spoof on a
beloved Japanese film genre (and it's not martial arts movies), one
which often features the city of Tokyo (or the rubble thereof) as a
setting. Considering this was originally intended to be a Chicken-Comp
game, you can probably imagine how it works.  There are several
reasons why Tokyo is fun, not the least of which is the
writing. Random description "events", while having no effect on the
main storyline, give the chaotic scenes an antic charm, and the
depictions of movie cliches should bring a knowing smile to the face
of any film buff.

One interesting experiment in Tokyo is its use of a split PC. In other
words, the player actually controls the actions of two characters,
both a rather anonymous individual watching a movie and the hero of
that movie.  This is an imaginative idea, and it sometimes works very
well. At its best, Tokyo evokes the kind of split consciousness that
actually happens while watching a movie. We are present, in the
theater, there with the plush seats, the popcorn, and the people
around us. But once we become immersed in the movie, we are inside of
it as well. We forget about the theater and become part of the story,
at least until the baby behind us starts crying, or the teenagers in
the front make a wisecrack. However, the game is not always at its
best. The split focus creates some confusion as to how commands will
be interpreted -- you can never be sure whether your command will be
executed by the viewer or the hero. This generally doesn't cause a
problem, but it might have worked better if the transitions were
smooth and complete, and the only interruptions happened outside of
the player's control. In addition, the standard library has been
mostly unmodified, so that its messages remain mostly in the second
person voice. When that's the voice of the entire game, this is not a
problem, but Tokyo asks second person POV to take on the special duty
of signaling that the viewer, rather than the hero, is
reacting. Consequently, messages like "You can't see any such thing"
(rather than "Our hero can't see any such thing") can create a little

Finally, I can't review Tokyo without mentioning its graphics. No,
it's not a z6 game, but Tokyo has some surprises up its
sleeve. Finding them provides some of the funniest moments of the
game. Tokyo does a great many things well, and is one of the better
short-short games I've played. Again, it's a bit disappointing when a
game this enjoyable ends so soon -- I think this concept had quite a
bit more mileage in it than was used by the author. Still, I enjoyed
it while it lasted -- it won't entertain you as long as the average
summer blockbuster movie, but it will probably entertain you more.

Rating: 7.9


From: Second April 

NAME: Enlightenment: A One-room Absurdity
AUTHOR: Taro Ogawa
E-MAIL: Taro.Ogawa SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 7

Enlightenment is proof positive that one-room games need not be
one-joke or one-puzzle in style; in fact, they can be quite diverse
and difficult.  In a competition with several of them, Enlightenment
stands out as the most accomplished: there is a certain unity to the
puzzles that justifies the one-room framework, and they are difficult
enoguh to tax the player's mental energy, even within the confines of
the room.

The game also features a take-off on the Infocom "feelies" of old,
with an HTMLized excerpt from Popular Enchanting and several silly but
amusing tidbits. The excerpt reproduces the goofball feel of the
Infocom manuals, and fits with the game's persistent tweaking of
Activision (the darkness is inhabited by g***s, notably, and being
eaten by one is "both g***ling and g***some"). (The prologue also
refers to Frobozz Magic Napalm and a Frobozz Magic Tinning Kit, so
there's not much ambiguity about who we're imitating.) The game blends
traditional fantasy elements with anachronistic bits like
battery-operated appliances in a way that likewise recalls Infocom;
one of the familiar objects is a aerosol can of g*** repellent.

The puzzles, though the solutions are sometimes silly enough to recall
Steve Meretzky, would qualify as among Infocom's more difficult:
several turn on realizing the physical properties of some of the
objects you're holding, properties not at all obvious to the
unscientifically minded. Still, the puzzles are inventive and require
some lateral thinking--and some combining of objects in several
cases--to solve; the difficulty stems less from unfairness or obscure
facts than from the one-object or one-property conventions of most IF
puzzles. The real fly in the ointment is the hint system, which seems
badly broken--one must go through the hints for the concept of the
game as a whole in order to get to those for specific puzzles, whether
or not one has already grasped the goal. There may be a reason for
that--the headings for the individual puzzles might give the game away
for the player who hasn't picked up the point yet--but surely there
must be a way to avoid that problem without such a maladaptive
system. At any rate, in a game this difficult, the hint system is
essential--and beyond the initial glitch, the system works well.

The plot--at least, what can be revealed here--is simple enough: at
the end of a cave-crawl hack-and-slash fantasy quest, you have to
cross a bridge guarded by a troll. Therein lies the excuse for giving
you an inventory full of sundry objects, presumably, which makes
possible difficult and complicated puzzles. But the way you go about
getting rid of the troll is more inventive than the premise suggests,
and suggests an ironic reversal of one of the adventurer's commonplace
tasks. Likewise implied is a jab at the interchangeability of fantasy
quests, since the quest as a whole is clearly generic; you never find
out, after all, what you were after in the first place. The joke, of
course, is that the game sprinkles offhand references to other things
you've already encountered in your quest, as if the premise were
actually worth developing, more than an excuse for the one-room

Enlightenment is a short but extremely solid game: the puzzles are
challenging enough that solving them feels rewarding. If it feels less
like a game than a small section of a larger game, that's presumably
the intent, and while it might be more satisfying to play a full-blown
game, this sort of entry is ideal for the competition. With enough
Infocom references to make fans nostalgic, and some of the feel of
early Infocom, Enlightenment is an unabashed puzzle-fest that boasts
some of the competition's toughest problems. It does what it does well
enough that I gave it a 9 in the competition.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

What is it with all the one-room games this year? There must be some
kind of movement happening in the collective IF unconscious which says
"Plot?  Who needs it? Give me one room, and as long as it's got one or
more puzzles in it, I'm happy." Well, sometimes I'm happy too. And,
more or less, this is one of those times. Despite its title,
Enlightenment has very little to do with gaining awareness or
understanding Zen koans. To say what it *does* have to do with would
probably be a bit too much of a spoiler, but it involves deliberately
placing yourself in a situation that most text adventurers would avoid
at all costs. Because of this, it took me a little while to actually
catch on to how the game is supposed to work -- I just couldn't
believe that deliberately placing myself in danger was the right
path. It is, though, and getting there is all the fun. Like last
year's Zero Sum Game, Enlightenment puts the PC at the *end* of an
adventure of dizzying proportions. Unlike Zero Sum Game, Enlightenment
isn't really an unwinding of the PC's accomplishments -- you get to
keep your score, and even increase it. You've already overcome dozens
of obstacles, collected lots of treasures, and scored 240 points out
of 250; now there's just the little matter of getting past a canonical
troll bridge and scurrying out of the caverns with your loot. But how?
In the game's words:

   If only you hadn't used your Frobozz Magic Napalm on that ice wall...
   If only you hadn't used your TrolKil (*Tm) to map that maze...
   If only you hadn't sold your Frobozz Magic Tinning Kit.
   If only you hadn't cooked and eaten those three Billy Goats Gruff...
   ... or that bear ...

   If ONLY you'd checked the bloody bridge on your way in.

This brief excerpt is representative of the writing in the game: it is
both a very funny parody of the Zork tradition as well as an
enthusiastic participation in that tradition. In fact, as you can see
from the above quote, the game actually features some familiar parts
of the Zork universe, such as Frobozz Magic products, rat-ants, and
even certain slavering lurkers in dark corners. Activision apparently
granted permission for this usage, as they did for David Ledgard in
his adaptation of the Planetfall sample transcript for his game Space
Station. Activision's willingness to grant permissions for such usage,
as well as their donation of prizes to the competition and their
sometime inclusion of hobbyist IF on commercial products, is great
news for a fan community like ours -- their support of IF means that
more people will devote their time to it, resulting (hopefully) in
more and more good games. Enlightenment is one of the good ones, and
one of its best features is its writing. Another way in which it is
unlike Zero Sum Game is that it doesn't take an extreme or harsh tone.
Instead, the writing is almost always quite funny in both its comments
on text adventure cliches (the FULL score listing is a scream) and its
usage of them. The game is littered with footnotes, which themselves
are often littered with footnotes. Sly allusions and in-jokes abound,
but they're never what the game depends on, so if you don't catch
them, you're not missing anything important. Of all the one-room games
I've seen this year, Enlightenment is definitely the best-written.

It even includes some fun outside documentation in the form of the
HTML edition of the latest issue of Spelunker Today: "The magazine for
explorers and adventurers." This kind of mood-building file has been
included with a few competition games this year, and Enlightenment's
extras are definitely the best of the bunch. The writing in the faux
magazine is just as good as the writing in the game, and the graphics
look sharp and professional. I like these little extras -- they really
do help set the mood of a game -- and they definitely add to the fun
of Enlightenment.

The one problem I had with this game was that, although the writing is
funny and clever, it is sometimes not precise enough to convey the
exact nature of a puzzle or its solution. In a heavily puzzle-oriented
game like Enlightenment, this can be a major setback. For example, at
one point in the game you're called upon to cut something, but it
won't work to use your sword on it. You must find something else to
cut with. Well, there is something else, but that object is never
described as having a sharp edge. This is one of those puzzles that
made me glad I looked at the hints -- the only way I would have ever
gotten it is by brute force, and that's no fun anyway. In another
instance, a part of the setting is described in such a confusing way
that I still don't quite understand what it is supposed to look
like. Part of the difficulty, I think, is that the game features a
gate, with metal spikes at its bottom set into the stone floor. Now,
this made me think of bars, like you might see on a portcullis.
However, as far as I can determine the game actually means a solid
wall, with spikes at the bottom, which I wouldn't describe as a
gate. This kind of imprecision is a real problem when the objects so
imprecisely described have to be acted upon in precise ways in order
to solve puzzles. So I used the hints for a number of the puzzles, and
I don't mind that I did, because I wouldn't have solved them on my own
anyway. But imprecision aside, I'm still glad I used them, because it
enabled me to play all the way through Enlightenment, and the trip out
of that one room was well worth taking.

Rating: 8.6


From: "david ledgard" 

This game is based in the Zork Universe. You have just completed your
mission and escaped with a load of treasure, but a troll blocks the
last bridge to freedom, you can't go back because you've booby-trapped
the gate. This is a one room adventure which I find a bit
constraining, with only one NPC, the troll. Your inventory includes a
lot of treasures, and a few other adventurer type items.

I'm afraid I couldn't work out what to do, and was running to the
hints within 10 minutes. I thought all the illuminated objects were
some kind of programming error, probably me being a bit dense. I'm
afraid the level of puzzles in this game was to complex for me, I only
managed to solve a handful by myself, and kept having to use hints. I
could never have completed it on my own.

The game also comes with a mildly interesting HTML web page
set-up. The author would of been wise to include a few subtle hints
here, so people wouldn't have to use the hint system straight away,
and point out it exists in the run file. Once you start using hints it
ruins the game, and just becomes a chore of reading hints, and typing
in what they say.  The game also has a footnotes system, but I never
found footnotes much fun after the novelty value, and the old Footnote
10 - Read Footnote 11, Footnote 11 - Read Footnote 10; and Footnote 20
- we didn't mention that Footnote; jokes have worn off. It's just a
thing to show off one's programming skill, and annoy the player.

This game is well coded - I didn't find any errors - but too complex
for my taste, and I suspect a lot of other people. The author has a
Japanese sounding name, whether he is or not I don't know, but the
game certainly seems Japanese: Ultra Efficient, and Ultra Boring.


From: "david ledgard" 

NAME: Fifteen
AUTHOR: Ricardo Dague
E-MAIL: trikiw SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters

VERSION: Release 7

I quite enjoyed this game although it was very simple. Clearly a first
adventure. The main item in the game is the Fifteen Puzzle which is
implemented like one of those simple text games, you used to see in
computer pre-history a bit like Robots, by Torbjörn Andersson,
available from the IF archive. I remember playing Wrap and Zombies (a
variant of Robots) on a Commodore Pet (yes, computers did once exist
that used Tape Drives, and had memory measured in single 1K units),
kind of nostalgic, showing my age.

The rest of the game is very simple, locked doors, put the treasures
on the table etc... I worked out the remote control program in about
half a microsecond, but then I am a seasoned IF hand. I had a bit of
trouble working out how to use the ladder, a guess the verb problem,
which could be fixed. The game is short on narrative, with a lot of
short room descriptions, which could be fleshed out a bit. Clearly
this game was never going to have a good showing due to it's
simplicity, but it was enjoyable none the less.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

NAME: Four in One
AUTHOR: J. Robinson Wheeler
E-MAIL: wheeler SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: Release 1.0

Playing Four In One, I was in an unusual, unprecedented (for me)
situation: I was playing a game of which I had already read a
complete, winning transcript. Not a walkthrough, but a transcript of
commands and game responses. It seems that the author submitted this
transcript to Stephen Granade's IF Fan Fest, an informal
quasi-competition held at Granade's Mining Company web page. If I had
known this transcript was also going to be a competition game, I
wouldn't have read it, because I hate spoilers.  But I didn't know
that, so I read it, and it made playing the game a very strange
experience -- the whole thing gave me a very strong sense of deja
vu. Now, granted, the transcript isn't an exact one. You can't follow
that transcript and hope to win the game, because the commands are not
all perfectly duplicated, and there are some other differences between
the two as well. However, they have a *lot* in common. Now, the funny
thing about this is that when I initially read the Four in One
transcript, my thought was "It's a funny idea, but it would be far too
difficult to actually turn into a game." Well, I have been proved

The idea behind the game is that you're a film director in the heyday
of the Marx brothers, and you're directing them in their first picture
for MGM. Or at least, you're trying to direct them. Apparently,
keeping all the Marxes in one room, getting along, and working
productively is somewhat akin to herding cats. Consequently, you're
forced into the position of chasing after them, collecting them one by
one, and forcing them to follow you around to their (and your)
considerable annoyance. Even once you've got them all on the set and
rehearsed, there's no guarantee that one or more of them won't go
bolting off to make a phone call, hang out at the catering table, or
read a book. What's worse, you have only two hours to get a good take
on a crucial scene, or you and the picture will both be canned. The
transcript makes this into a hilarious situation, showing the Marx
brothers at their zaniest even when the cameras aren't rolling. In
fact, *all* the comedy takes place when the cameras aren't
rolling. This is the kind of thing that I didn't think an IF game
would be able to pull off, but Four in One is the living proof. It's
not as funny as the transcript, but it works, especially in places
like Chico's dressing room, where more and more people keep entering,
pushing you inexorably to the back wall like the first entrant in a
phone-booth-stuffing competition. Scenes like this can be irritating
as well, and the game sometimes steps across the fine line between
funny aggravation and just plain aggravating aggravation. However,
with the exception of one internal TADS error that I found, the
technical details of the writing and coding are executed superbly, and
this goes a long way towards smoothing out any annoyances.

The place where the game's technical proficiency shines the most is in
its characters. Four In One is a the most character-intensive piece of
IF I've ever played. Almost every location has one or more characters
in it at all times, and these characters are as fully implemented as
they need to be.  The gaffer, for example, is not terribly talkative
-- ask him about the movie and he'll say "A job's a job," but ask him
about the lights and he has an opinion, as he should. Every character
has responses about the things they should know about, though if you
spend much time in conversations with them you will run afoul of the
game's time limit. The Marx brothers can tell you about each other,
the movie, MGM (Groucho says, "MGM stands for 'more godless
movies.'"), and anything else they ought to know about. Four in One
does an outstanding job juggling all these characters, giving them
just the appropriate depth of implementation so that the game really
rewards replay. After I had solved the game, I went back and just
chatted with the various characters, and was delighted with the extent
to which they are implemented. The author's research is quite apparent
in these moments, and it makes a big difference. Four In One taught me
things about the Marx Brothers that I had never known before, and made
me want to go out and rent A Night at the Opera again. That's

Rating: 8.7


From: Second April 

If competition entries got individual awards, Four in One would have
to be recognized as the Greatest Sheer Effort. The game is simply
littered with NPCs--24 by my count, and considering the way the
characters wander in and out, I'm sure I missed at least a few. Some
of them essentially stand still (though all have some dialogue
potential), others have painfully complicated movement daemons, and
just thinking about what it took to code all of them made me want to
cry. (The source code is now available, but I haven't looked at it
yet. Perhaps some day when I'm feeling especially brave.)
Unfortunately, all that elaborate coding doesn't necessarily add up to
a rewarding game--though given how much time the author obviously put
into this, I certainly wish I could say it did.

The premise: you're "Sam Wood," trying to put the finishing touches on
the latest Marx Brothers movie, and you're charged with the task of
assembling everyone on the set so that the last scene can be
filmed. Your clout as director only goes so far, however, and trying
to keep the brothers on the set long enough to film is, even for you,
is like building a house out of Jello. You have a trusty sidekick who,
frankly, isn't much use, and the set is filled with extras and techies
and other actors. Egos being what they are, however, you don't seem to
be able to delegate the task of rounding up the brothers, and so you
scurry around the studio as if you were a lowly assistant.

Since the end of the competition, the cry regarding Four in One has
been fairly uniform: cute but too frustrating. The cry isn't wrong, as
such, but let's be clear about why it's frustrating: it's not because
there are a lot of NPCs to understand and manipulate. It's that so
much of the NPCs' behavior is random, as far as I can tell, that a
given game can be impossible to win if certain random events go
against you often enough. If two certain characters get in a fight,
for instance, another would leave, slowing down the rounding-up
process. Too many fights and you'd lose your power to gather people
together, for various reasons. I don't know whether the fights
happened at random or were related to some other factor, controllable
or not; if there was another factor, it was obscure enough that I
never caught on. Likewise, another character gets bored after a
certain amount of moves and wanders away--and if you don't get him to
do what he's supposed to do before that happens, you've wasted a
chance, and you don't have a lot to spare. To be sure, part of what
makes the game realistic is that the NPCs are not entirely malleable;
to that end, Four in One gets lots of realism points. Getting the
brothers to do what you want is, as someone said, like herding
cats. But all the realism points seem to come out of the fun column.

However, there's an upside to all this: there's lots of replayability
in Four in One, partly to find Easter eggs and partly because there's
lots of extraneous detail to sift through. Most of the characters
respond to a variety of questions--about the movie, other characters,
life, etc.  Because a winning game can vary so much--two different
games can present different challenges: solving the game once doesn't
guarantee that you'll be able to solve it on the next try. (Then
again, the random events might just not be on your side the next time,
as noted.) The game is consistently funny--Groucho has lots of good
one-liners, and Harpo has plenty of amusing antics, even if they
usually impede your progress. The thoroughness of the coding is not
limited to the NPC daemons--different characters have distinct
reactions when they enter certain rooms, for instance, and putting
certain characters in rooms together has unexpected results. In short,
so much of Four in One works so well that it seems rude to point out
that the game itself isn't always a lot of fun, at least if the player
is interested in achieving the goal the game presents. Most of the fun
to be had is extraneous to that goal.

In summary, Four in One reminded me of Tempest from the previous
year's competition--a brilliant idea, thoroughly and intelligently
done, that I wanted to like more than I did. And just as Four in One
arguably worked better as the transcript submitted to the IF Fan Fest,
so Tempest works better as, well, the play, and the literacy of the
attempt to translate it can't hide that. Four in One is quite a
testament to the author's skills; as a game, however, it's flawed, and
I gave it a 7.


From: "david ledgard" 

This is quite an interesting concept, putting a new spin on
IF. Instead of the game being object-centric, it is NPC-centric, with
NO objects of any use what so ever, and more NPC's per square pixel
than any other game I have played, although most of them are thinly
implemented. But basically what happened is NPC's become gloryfied
objects. You are on a film set and only have four remaining takes to
complete a picture (hence the name), or you're out on your ear. The
film includes the four Marx Brothers, I've vaguely heard of Groucho
that's about it, and I thought there were only two. The problem is to
get all the stars and extras in the same place at the same this. To do
this you can TAKE people, to get them to follow you. The trouble is
they keep wandering off while you're finding the others ones,
sometimes after only one turn. There are, however, two NPC's who can
help you locate missing people. Most of the time actors tend to go to
the same places, but some won't follow without overs. Read the special
commands to see how to control them. I'm afraid I couldn't finish this
game, and suspect very very few people actually did.


From: "david ledgard" 

NAME: Human Resources Stories
AUTHOR: Harry M. Hardjono
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Multiple-choice (mostly)
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters

A lot of people pooh-poohed this game, just because it wasn't standard
IF. I think the author was quite brave, trying a different format, and
applying the genre in a different way. I don't think it deserved to
come last. The suspension of the save facility was a bit annoying, but
justified by the game context, I suppose. The game was a lot more
complicated than most people appreciate, with it calculating a
different job grade/wage depending on your answers. Also I think, but
am not sure, the wrong answers changed depending on your previous
answers. Vive la difference.

From: "Jason F. Finx" 

NAME:   I Didn't Know You Could Yodel
AUTHOR: Michael R. Eisenman and Andrew J. Indovina
EMAIL:  I don't know, and frankly I can't really say I care
DATE:   Some time in 1996, apparently (the copyright message at the top of the
        game says 1997, but the copyright message it gives when you get the
        "last lousy point" says 1996, so I'm assuming the earlier one is when
        the game was first created).
PARSER: Better than Scott Adams, but not up to TADS/Inform standard.
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, though the surviving author seems to be planning a
              commercial (or at least shareware) release.  Currently
              available in the contests98 folder of the IF-archive.

"Oh, no.  It can't be."

That was my reaction when I looked at the results from the 1998 IF
contest and saw, near the bottom of the list, the title "I Didn't Know
I Could Yodel".

Why this reaction, you might ask?  Well, about six months ago I
downloaded a game by that title from FreeGames Online
(, and made the mistake of actually playing
it.  This was before I had heard of SPAG or the IF archive, and had I
heard of those, and known how many other, much better text adventures
were available, I would never have slogged my way through this one.
As it was, I probably still wouldn't have were it not for a promise of
some spectacular ending.  I was, at least, gratified to see how close
to the bottom of the list the game had placed (ranking even below a
game coauthored by the infamous Rybread Celsius! ;) ), which meant
that other people had shared my opinion of it.

But no, I later reasoned; it couldn't possibly be the same game.
After all, the 1998 competition rules explicitly state that no game
could have been released prior to its entry to the contest.  Either
this was an illegal entry, or it was a different game by the same name
- which was, I thought, entirely possible; after all, the title came
from a rather old joke.

Then I looked at the file "yodeltxt.txt", and saw the phrase "type 'vanna'
to play hangman", and knew that my worst fears were realized.

It was the same game.

(Before I go on, a few notes about the fact that the game had been
released well before the contest date.  If I understand the rules
correctly, and this does constitute a violation of them, then there
are things which lead me to believe that the rule violation was not
intentional.  The statement in the file yodeltxt.txt that "[a]fter the
contest, I would like to try to release it, if that's ok with you
guys" suggests that the author assumed that "release" means "attempt
to sell for money".  If, as I suspect, the author did equate
"releasing" the game with charging money for it, then his violation of
the rules was not a knowing one.)

[ Editor's note: According to the Contest organizer, David Dyte, the
pre-competition release of the game was made unbeknown to the authors,
and without their permission, and a decision was made to let it
compete despite this. ]

Now, why did I dislike this game so much?  Well, the main problem with
it I can sum up in two words: bathroom humor.  (And I use the word
"humor" loosely.)  More bathroom humor than I've seen in all the other
text adventure games I've ever played combined.  At two different
locations in the game, you find yourself in desperate need of - ah,
emptying your large intestine - or dire consequences result (i.e. your
character dies horribly).  If that were the end of it, well, that
would be that, but unfortunately it isn't; there's also a repulsive
bit after the second time involving... well, we'll all be better off
if I don't go into that.

Actually, toilet humor wasn't even all of it.  The game almost seemed
to go out of its way to be offensive and disgusting at every
opportunity.  There are ethnic slurs, gay jokes, and jokes involving a
certain other bodily secretion (I can't be more specific without
giving away one of the puzzles), and at two different points you have
to kill an innocent character (two different characters, of course).
I think the single section of the game that stands out as the most
repulsive was the Jed's House sequence, but the bulk of the game
wallows in the same filth, if to a slightly lesser degree.

Also, the insult-the-player-character device is getting really old,
and this game takes it to rather extreme levels (which makes the
endgame make even less sense than it otherwise would).  And speaking
of devices that are getting really old, and are taken to extreme
levels in this game, some other games may include their authors as
powerful NPCs, but... well, I can't say more without giving away part
of the ending.  Speaking of NPCs, though (while I'm segueing anyway),
the NPCs of this game - and there are a lot of them - are fairly
typical for old, second-class (i.e. not by Infocom or the other
classic companies) text adventures.  Most of them are only there as
puzzles to be solved; you can't interact with them outside of a few
very narrow possibilities (the NPC, DO SUCH-AND-SUCH command structure
isn't even implemented), and they do nothing on their own; either they
just stay in one place until you get rid of them, or they appear, do
whatever they're supposed to do, and then vanish. The only possible
exception is the comedian, and even he only really has a set joke he
spouts on entering each new room, which isn't even related to the room
itself.  Actually, there was a lot of missed potential with the
comedian - he could have made sarcastic comments on the player's
actions, taunted the player when something didn't work, et cetera -
but no; for the most part he just spouts irrelevant jokes.

Now, to the technical issues.  To be honest, I didn't remember much
about these details, but I figured if I was going to write a review of
this game I'd better play through it again (especially since the
version submitted might have been a later release than the one I
played originally), so I stiffened my lip and subjected myself once
more to its inane repulsiveness.  As it turns out, the grammar and
spelling are far from perfect - there are some misplaced modifiers,
missing ending quotation marks, and words that should be capitalized
that aren't, among other things, and quite a few misspellings (the
most annoying of which was the constant "your" for "you're", though I
found it odd that the authors misspelled "monstrous" two different
ways in the same paragraph!) - but it could have been a lot worse.
The writing is awkward, though; sometimes a simple contraction or two
would help its flow immensely, and in a few places there are obvious
mistakes (usually in the form of omitted words) that the authors
failed to catch, such as "A pudgy cop steps out the vehicle".  The
attempt at poetry in the dogs' challenges in the Lawn is particularly
awful, but at least its awfulness is acknowledged within the game.
(Perhaps it was meant to be _dog_gerel?  Nah, I don't think the
authors were that subtle.)

Most of the scenery objects are examinable, though there are some
glaring omissions.  For example, one room contains dogs with sombreros
and big mustaches, but the game doesn't recognize the words "sombrero"
and "mustache", and despite the fact that the game tells you that you
read the walls of a bathroom stall, and examining the walls tells you
they're "written all over", typing "read walls" gives the message
"There's nothing to read".  Many room descriptions, unfortunately,
neglect to mention the exits (and in at least one place the exits are
listed incorrectly!).

The parser - a homemade one written in Modula-2 - can handle
multiple-word commands - adjectives and prepositions are allowed - but
I got the idea that it didn't really so much parse them as just do a
keyword search.  If there's an NPC you're supposed to ASK about
something, for example, if often doesn't make a difference what you're
asking about, or even whether the NPC is the object or the object of
the preposition!  At the West End of Lawn, for example, "TALK TO
ABOUT WAITER" all elicit exactly the same response from the waiter
(which incidentally has nothing to do with tomatoes or prunes), while
"TALK", "ASK", or even "ASK PRUNES ABOUT TOMATO" yield a different
response from the waiter, even though you haven't said you're talking
to him.  Worse, if there's an NPC around but not one the game requires
you to talk to, the ASK and TALK commands get the response "There is
no one to talk to," regardless of the objects.  Also, such
now-standard commands as "undo" and "oops" are missing ("wait", rather
inexplicably, yields the response "You must supply a noun").
Additionally, there are a few places that could use better support of
synonyms or rewordings: you can MOVE or PUSH a certain body, but not
TURN it OVER or ROLL it OVER (despite the fact that when you push it
it rolls over anyway), and KNOCK ON DOOR works where KNOCK is answered
by the response "It doesn't do any good."

There are a number of relatively minor bugs, but I only found three
that I would consider really disastrous.  First, even after everything
else is done, "ENTER BOAT" makes a voice say "YOU ARE NOT READY FOR
THE BOAT YET!", but "WEST" gets you on the boat just fine, which is
likely to lead players who only try the former command to think
there's something left they have to do first.  Second, when the game
requests a one-letter response, it only accepts lower-case letters,
and in fact entering a capital letter in the hangman game (don't ask;
its connection to the rest of the game is tenuous) crashes the program
with the error "function fell thru the end".  Last, if you go to the
Indian Battle Ground after getting the collar from the dogs, your
collar disappears and you can't get another one, which makes the game
unsolvable unless you've already finished everything in the dogs'

As for the puzzles, well, to be honest, most of them weren't bad, and
some of them were quite imaginative.  There were few that seemed
totally illogical; though I admit I was turned off enough by the
bathroom humor that I cheated on a few puzzles by looking at the code
to get it over with (there was no walkthrough available when I first
played it in August), even for those few puzzles that I cheated on
when I found the solutions I thought I could have gotten them if I
just hadn't given up so soon.  (Granted, though, a few of the puzzles
that I did get without cheating involved little logic and a lot of
guessing.)  One of the two puzzles that involved killing an innocent
person was especially clever and well-done, though I wish they had
made it so the NPC was only incapacitated instead of killed in cold
blood.  Another puzzle (getting past the enraged Injun Simon) had me
stuck for a long time when I first played it, but when I did finally
figure out the solution it seemed blatantly obvious - which I think is
one mark of a good puzzle.

Most of the puzzles were, however, very disconnected, and there wasn't
any plot to speak of (despite the explanation at the end); this again
is fairly typical of many old second-class text adventures which were
just hodgepodges of plotless puzzles.  Also, I seldom like the idea of
riddles in a text adventure, and this one had a lot of them.  They
were readily solvable (well, the last one had me stumped, and even
after I cheated by looking at the code I didn't understand it for a
long time, but after I finally "got" it I thought I should have gotten
it sooner), and the end of the game at least gave some justification
for them.

In fact, for what it's worth, the ending didn't completely fail to
deliver on its promise.  It didn't completely succeed either: the fate
of your character was positive, but far too much so, so much that it
seemed unmotivated (especially given the previous constant emphasis on
your character's stupidity and general worthlessness - what exactly
did he do to earn such a great reward?), and frankly rather
unspectacular by its very superlativeness.  I did, however, like the
idea of the brief descriptions of what later happened to all the
game's NPCs.  Unfortunately, the authors' descriptions of what
happened to the characters were as juvenile and unfunny as the rest of
the game, but the _idea_ of having such a "where-are-they-now" list
was original (as far as I know) and entertaining, even if the
implementation in this particular game left a lot to be desired.

In fact, something similar could be said of much of the game.  The
authors were not at a loss for good ideas.  Subpar parser,
plotlessness, and static NPCs aside, the biggest problem this game had
was simply its authors' fixation on bathroom humor - and that _was_ a
big problem.  There were quite a few positive aspects of the game,
however.  Quite a bit of imagination went into it; it's just too bad
that so much of it was directed toward jokes involving bodily
functions.  There was at least one very nice red herring that I was
convinced I must have to do something about (but, as it turned out, I
didn't).  The geography, if bizarre and illogical, was at least
consistent (with the possible exception of wherever exactly that horde
of desert natives was supposed to be).  The "last lousy point" is
actually given for something that makes sense for a change (within the
context of the game).

In short, these authors aren't completely without potential - well,
"this author", I should say; according to the notes in the
yodeltxt.txt file one (Michael Eisenman) is now deceased.  The main
thing he needs to do is get his mind out of the gutter.  Sadly, in "I
Didn't Know You Could Yodel", the authors' minds were so deeply and
firmly wedged in said gutter that this completely overwhelmed any
positive things about the game.  If Mr. Indovina makes another game
without all the toilet jokes and other objectionable attempts at
humor, it may conceivably be worth looking at (though unless he takes
great strides in a lot of other aspects too it still will be far from
top-of-the-line).  But unless you have the sense of humor of a
particularly snickery preteen, "I Didn't Know You Could Yodel" is
decidedly not worth the download.

My score for "I Didn't Know You Could Yodel":

Atmosphere 0   - None to speak of except repulsive "humor"
Gameplay   0.9 - Not bad for a homemade parser, but far from state
                 of the art.
Writing    0.3 - The writing was pedestrian at best, and far from
                 devoid of spelling and grammar errors, but at least
                 it didn't have as many as some other games.
Plot       0.2 - No real plot, but at least there's some attempt to
                 explain things at the end.
Discretion 0.3 - I didn't like toilet humor when I was 10, and I don't
                 like it any better now.  I didn't give a 0 for the
                 discretionary points, though because I felt the authors
                 deserved some credit for a few unique touches like the
                 "where are they now" bit at the end.
Characters 0.3 - Lots of NPCs, but they're all caricatures you can't
                 interact with
Puzzles    1   - By far the best aspect of the game, but still, few really
                 interactive puzzles, and a few felt like guessing games.
                 Plus, the riddles annoyed me.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

NAME: Informatory
AUTHOR: William S. Shlaer
EMAIL: shlaer SP@G
DATE: September 1998
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Every year I've been writing reviews for the IF competition, I've seen
several games which are their authors' first attempt at learning
Inform.  These usually aren't the better games -- I find that most of
the really good Inform games in the competition are not the first
pieces of code ever hacked together by their authors. Informatory,
however, gives a twist to this tendency -- it is the author's first
attempt to *teach* Inform. Rather than replicating its author's
apartment or dorm room, Informatory instead replicates a number of
familiar scenes and objects from various canonical IF games, and
allows its player to peek at their source code in order to give some
insight as to how Inform could be used to create them. It does this
through a handy device known as the "Codex Helmet" -- whenever the
player character wears this helmet, source code for all objects
becomes visible. Of course, a couple of elementary puzzles must be
overcome in order to gain access to this miracle of technology, but
hints are provided for those puzzles. Once the Helmet is acquired,
Informatory presents a new kind of puzzle: to progress in the game,
you must decipher the Inform source code of its objects so that you
may use their special properties to your advantage.

For me, this kind of puzzle worked well, because it relied on
information I had already acquired through working on my own Inform
creations. However, for someone who did not know Inform and wasn't
particularly interested in investing much time to learn it, I think
those puzzles would be a major nuisance. In fact, if you're not
interested in learning Inform, my advice would be to give this game a
pass. Its interests are much more in helping novices to learn Inform
in a fairly fun and ingenious way than to provide a fun gaming
experience for everyone. This is a perfectly acceptable goal, but it
makes Informatory more educational software than entertainment
software. The game invokes the genie from Andrew Plotkin's Lists and
Lists, and the reference is quite apt -- that game also didn't much
care about entertaining, instead giving the focus to its own
(remarkable) z-machine implementation of Scheme. Informatory didn't
feel quite as oppressive as Lists to me, probably because I'm already
familiar with Inform, an advantage I sadly lacked when it came to
Scheme. However, the two share a common theme: they are not so much
games as teaching tools, and if you're not interested in learning, the
tool isn't for you.

Having thus limited its audience, Informatory does its task rather
well, I think. The author bills it a "not-very-interactive tutorial,"
and I think he's only half-right on both counts. Depending on how you
define the term "interactive", I think Informatory is quite
interactive indeed. It's probably the only game I've ever seen that
actually assigns outside reading to its players so that they have a
better chance at the puzzles. This obviously doesn't work in the
competition context, but someone might find it a little useful when
used as a tool in its own right, especially if that person is already
in the process of learning Inform. Furthermore, Informatory's
source-code-oriented puzzles are *much* more interactive than the
typical tutorial style of "announce the concept, show the concept, now
you try it." Now, this is a double-edged sword too: sometimes the lack
of guidance can really be rather frustrating. I sometimes found myself
wishing for the genie from Lists to keep hanging around, giving me
clues when I needed them. Consequently, I didn't find Informatory to
be "not-very-interactive", but I didn't really find it to be a
"tutorial" either. Instead of teaching Inform piece-by-piece, it
assigns reading in the Designer's Manual, and in fact those
assignments are only reachable after solving a number of source code
puzzles. Informatory therefore isn't much of a teacher, but it's a
good quiz for those who are already learning.  As a competition game,
it's no great shakes: at its best, it's about as much fun as taking a
really interesting test. However, I can see it becoming one useful
tool for people who are beginning to get their feet wet in the sea of

Rating: 6.8


From: "david ledgard" 

The first time I tried this game, I couldn't get in the White House so
gave up. I had another look at it because I was suckered into doing
these reviews, and am rather glad I did. The problem wasn't very
difficult, just took a bit of time and intellectual albow
grease. There are quite a number of humerous jokes in this game
including the leaflet (having written a game myself I totally agree),
and the sink and flame jokes. This game resonates with me, and I'll
wager (a) the Author is British, and (b) has spent several years doing
a computer course. A few minor gripes, toad should have said 'POOP!
POOP!', and the letter Z is not recognised by "crudely" or "carved",
ditto for the journal. I kind of figured I'd find a skeleton key in
the skeleton, comment required for this action. I had thought of
including inform snippets in my Spacestation game as well, but ran out
of time. They'll probably be in the next version. The codex helmet did
get very annoying very fast, though, it was just like looking up
hints, only much more tedious. A FULL command, telling you where you
scored your points, might have been good too.


From: Second April 

NAME: Little Blue Men
AUTHOR: Michael Gentry
E-MAIL: edromia SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Little Blue Men is, at bottom, a highly bizarre game. It begins in a
ho-hum office setting and abruptly shifts into...well, it's hard to
say.  Sci-fi/horror/dystopia/fantasy, maybe. The result, though uneven
in spots, is certainly unique, and rather disturbing as well: familiar
elements of the office environment are given a sinister cast, and the
game is enlivened throughout by macabre humor.

The game begins with you at your desk doing menial tasks, and it can
end there very quickly as well unless you, the player, decide to put
down your menial tasks at a certain point and go explore the rest of
the office. In other words, the game gives you a quick "ending" after
about five moves and doesn't emphasize that this ending is
suboptimal. In an IF Competition rife with one-room or one-puzzle
games, the size of the story file might be the only thing keeping the
player from missing most of the game. This is an issue mainly because
the game keeps you from wandering away at first, and provides minimal
motivation for you to get up and wander around; it's not clear _why_
you do what you do. The problem of unclear motivations recurs later,
as the game transforms into, well, whatever it is: some of your
actions have no obvious reasons. The author, to be fair, was trying to
explore the idea of a protagonist motivated by evil ends--or, at
least, ends with which the player cannot easily sympathize.  It's an
underdeveloped area in IF, and this is an intriguing stab at it.  But
without some flashes of intuition in that regard, the player is likely
to discover what the character's goals are through the hints, which
doesn't exactly have the same effect.

As the game progresses, though, and the genre/setting becomes more
clear, the author delivers several excellent shock-twists in ways
reminiscent of Delusions, and just as effective. Once the player
accepts the premise (and figures out what it is), Little Blue Men is
terrific sci-fi in a vaguely absurdist way. Some lengthy speeches by
NPCs could have come straight out of schlocky movies or books, but
that just adds to the overall effect here: the author's main satirical
theme is the line between irritating office banality and sheer evil,
and the game plays the dichotomy for all it's worth. The puzzles
largely reinforce that: most involve putting conventional office
objects to new, devious uses, or turning humdrum objects into weapons,
or conquering perennial office irritations (like the blaring smoke
detector or the fickle vending machine). The cross-genre nature of the
game leaves a lot of unanswered questions, of course--more backstory
would help--but the dystopia part is so thoroughly done that it works
well nonetheless.

One of the more interesting aspects of Little Blue Men is its
separation between goal and motivation. The character's goals are not
always clear; it is clear that the character does not anticipate the
ending of the game before it happens. Instead, the goals are more
personal, more centered on the self: your emotional balance is
somewhere between "steamed" and "frosty," and your object at any given
moment is to become more frosty and eliminate those things that make
you steamed. Once the player accepts that premise--that your objective
is to get rid of annoyances--it drives the game, yet the author never
provides any goals larger than that. The result is, in a sense, a
rather narcissistic game--the importance of everything around lies in
how it makes you feel--which is, no doubt, just what the author
intended. One of the questions that Little Blue Men poses is whether
getting rid of those things that annoy you leads to anything better:
the ambivalent nature of the ending suggests otherwise.

In fact, one of the best, and most frustrating things, about the game
is the ending: the effect is both surreal and disturbing. It is not
clear that the player has "won" when he or she reaches the end of the
game; there is good reason, in fact, for thinking that the end of the
story is merely another ending, no better than the "deaths" you can
die earlier on.  This is a Zarfian ending taken a step further:
whereas other games have given a clear resolution without allowing the
player to "win," in the sense of resolving the problem or riding into
the sunset with the treasure, Blue Men raises the distinct possibility
that it might have been better not to reach that ending at all. It's a
unique feeling that, unfortunately, doesn't necessarily make for a
satisfying game experience, assuming the player realizes what's going
on at all.

Indeed, Little Blue Men works somewhat better on the theoretical level
than as a game, though it's still a good game. The author seems to
have set out to demolish certain IF tropes, and, give him credit, he
does. Many of his points are sufficiently subtle that they're easily
missed--after all, not many games attempt such things. The game
itself, though funny in spots, doesn't work as well as the theory
behind it: the unclear or questionable motivations are part of it, but
it's also that the cross-genre feel keeps the player off balance,
wondering where the story will go next, for most of the game. Those
not interested in the theory of game design might well get to the end,
say "what was THAT all about?", and quit. Still, perfect marriages
between entertainment and subversion/experimentation in IF are
rare--Spider and Web comes close; not many others do--and Little Blue
Men does well to get the player through the game and raise some
intriguing questions.

This is, in short, an interesting effort, perhaps best suited for
those experienced in IF and willing to question its
conventions. There's lots of intriguing stuff going on in Little Blue
Men, enough that I gave it a 9 in this year's competition.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

WARNING: Because Little Blue Men uses obscenities in its text, that
language will also appear in this review.

Well, the first thing I have to say is that starting Little Blue Men
right after finishing Human Resources Stories was quite
mind-bending. The game starts with a character who is sitting at his
desk thinking of his job as "another day in the trenches," looking at
his corner as his "own little slice of the shit pie those sons of
bitches call an office." I had this sudden vision of IF authors as
angry loners, driven by their misanthropy and lack of social skills
into highly solitary hobbies like writing and programming, friendless
misfits who hate their jobs, hate their lives, and generally hate
people, and who write supposedly entertaining games that are really
about how much the world sucks. Luckily, the vision passed as the game
underwent a curious transformation. First of all, the game's
disclaimer assured me that "at its most fundamental level, this game
is about learning to love yourself." OK, maybe we're not loving
anybody else yet, but loving yourself is at least a little
positive. Next, I entered a few commands, the first ones that came to
mind, really, and... won the game. Or did I? My final message said
"*** You have learned to love yourself ***", which is what I was told
the game was about. So I won, right? In 10 moves? I wondered how in
the heck a game whose .z5 file was 171K could end up being so short. I
wondered, in the game's words, "What the hell...?!"

It turns out that although LBM may be about learning to love yourself,
if you do the things that help you reach that goal too quickly you end
up missing the entire story. That story consists of scheming ways to
kill or otherwise waylay your co-workers, destroy the things that
aggravate you, discover the secrets hidden behind the bland office
walls, and figure out just who or *what* your boss, "that bastard
Biedermeyer", really is. In short, it consists of getting an
unpleasant character to do unsavory things, in service of a plot that
grows more and more metaphorical and surreal as you progress through
it. When I finally got to the end, I wasn't sure that I was any more
satisfied with the "real" ending than the one I got to in 10 moves. In
his postscript, the author tells us that he wants the story's
structure to help us question to help us analyze some of our
assumptions about IF. For one thing, we should think about what really
is the most "optimal" ending of the game, and whether it's worth it to
actually play through a game if it's possible to reach a positive
ending at the beginning, and/or if the motivations of the character
are twisted and repugnant? Now, these are not new ideas. Andrew
Plotkin's A Change In The Weather offers a similar situation at its
outset -- if you rejoin the picnic, you end up having fun after all,
but you also miss the story. To go back earlier, Michael Berlyn used a
related technique in Infidel by making the main character a shallow,
exploitive greedhead who probably deserves a desert demise, then
asking you to solve puzzles and find treasure on his behalf. Little
Blue Men, though, makes these propositions starker than ever before by
making its main character thoroughly repulsive and an optimal ending
immediately reachable.

Now, my answer to this question in its abstract form is that responses
will vary depending on the player. Some people probably have no
interest in playing a repulsive character, and so will just delete the
game. Others might be driven by curiosity to complete the game even
though they find the experience unpleasant. Still others will view it
as a chance to get a glimpse into abnormal psychology, or to have some
fun playing a villainous character. In this way, playing such a game
is akin to watching a movie like Natural Born Killers, or reading a
book like In Cold Blood -- it may be very well-done, but it's not
everybody's cup of tea, and that's fine.  Consequently, I guess I
don't view the question as all that interesting, maybe because any
assumption I might have had about IF characters having to be good was
eliminated as soon as I finished Infidel (in 1986). But even though I
feel this way, LBM still didn't work for me, not because of its main
character but because of its choices of setting, imagery, and
metaphor. The game invokes the movie Jacob's Ladder a couple of times,
which is a movie I loved. That film was by turns profound, chilling,
and inspiring. LBM only achieves glimpses of these things, and I think
the reason is because I found its imagery muddled and incoherent. The
game is obviously taking place on some metaphorical level, but it was
never at all clear to me what the metaphors were supposed to be
representing, and as they stack up it only becomes more confusing. In
addition, there was basically no connection with reality, which left
the game's symbols floating unanchored. Some flashback scenes, some
glimpses of reality, *some* type of explanation for the heaven/hell
dichotomy the game presents would have gone a long way toward
connecting its symbolism with something more meaningful than just
other symbols. There's a lot to like about this game. It is written
well, and although it doesn't achieve an overall arc, it does contain
moments which can be quite moving or frightening.  Technically I could
find very little for which to fault it, both in its writing and its
coding. Its puzzles may have had some unpleasant content, but they
were clever and engaging, and generally quite well integrated with the
storyline. But for me, it did not succeed as a work of art.
Nonetheless, I respect it for being an ambitious but flawed experiment
-- I'll take that over competent repetition any day.

Rating: 6.3


From: "david ledgard" 

I quite enjoyed this game, although it was a bit vulgar, but not too
vulgar. Basically it's about a guy in an office, trying to get though
the day, with out getting too stressed, by the job, and his
colleagues, and failing miserably. I would probably have given this
game first place. I got about half way through the game before I felt
the need for hints, and then went into hint-o-matic mode and totally
ruined the game, and gave up. I really don't think it's a very good
idea including on line hints, they're too tempting. Maybe people just
want to show off their programming skills. It's much better to have
easier puzzles that you can solve yourself, then you get the
satisfaction of completing the game, and if you do have complicated
puzzles make it difficult for people to obtain hints, so they give
them a go.


From: Second April 

NAME: Mother Loose
AUTHOR: Irene Callaci
E-MAIL: icallaci SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

Though Mother Loose is enjoyable, its premise is slightly
misleading. The game begins alongside Humpty Dumpty, who is perched on
a wall and asking for help, and it might seem that your mission will
be to intervene to save some nursery-rhyme characters or to set their
affairs right. But nursery rhymes are largely tangential to the story,
it turns out; the real goal is to rescue your mother, who is in charge
of this nursery-rhyme-influenced land, so that things return to
normal. In a way, this is better than the alternative; it certainly
allows for more originality than a player restoring a set of scenes to
the pattern set down in the rhyme. But it takes some time to figure
out where the game wants to do, unfortunately, and some parts are
rather misleading. You meet someone named Mary who is indeed contrary,
but her garden is not relevant to anything in the game.  (She also has
a little lamb, but the lamb does nothing of importance, and it
certainly doesn't follow her.) In short, the player may get confused
if he or she takes the texts of the rhymes as controlling or even
illuminating; it is better to view the rhymes as providing a setting
and some characters, but, with one exception, no more than that.

The author wrote this for her granddaughter Jennifer, and in some ways
it's suitable for kids. Its messages are simple and direct, and the
humor is accessible to most ages. Some of the puzzles are difficult
enough that kids are unlikely to get them without help, though--they
rely on connections that children might not make. (The last puzzle is
particularly difficult.)  However, most can be solved more than one
way; in fact, there is much more to do in the game than is strictly
necessary to solve it, giving it lots of exploration and replay
value. Your mother also scolds you for doing things you shouldn't,
meaning that you can go back and try to eliminate those things from
your path. There's a freshness of spirit to Mother Loose that is
unusual--getting points for things like returning objects to their
owners, not because it serves ulterior ends in the game but merely
because the author feels it's a good thing to do, reminds the player
that children are part of the intended audience. Were some of the red
herrings either more fleshed out or eliminated, lest kids get
frustrated, this could be the first genuinely child- friendly work of
IF since Infocom faded from the scene.

Plenty of wit went into the writing of Mother Loose: one character
disparages the wolf as a refugee from fairy tales, not suited to
nursery rhymes at all. Not all the jokes are solely for kids--kicking
a cat elicits "I suppose you pull the wings off butterflies too"--but
the author has plenty of fun with your various naughty deeds. There
are, however, some odd moments--the wolf that follows you around makes
a variety of comments, such as "Hey, what are you doing?", apropos of
nothing at all, for example--and many of the naughty actions have no
effect beyond one turn. (You can, for example, pull a character's
loose tooth and get an angry reaction, but that character will smile
and wave goodbye when you walk away the next turn.)  Though not
seamless, the writing is entertaining enough to make Mother Loose fun
even for those not stumped for long by the puzzles.

Mother Loose is notable, in short, because it represents a rarity in
current IF: a well-developed story environment, thoroughly coded with
humor to boot, whose elements do not necessarily exist for the sake of
puzzles. It's not quite accurate to call it an example of story-based,
rather than puzzle-based, IF, because the story in Mother Loose does
not exactly dominate: indeed, the player is most likely to discover
the entire story at the end of the game. Rather, it's a game where the
setting and atmosphere are its most memorable features, and the author
clearly devoted significant time to fleshing out the setting and
making it real. It's the sort of game that requires thorough and
creative writing to make the environment feel real, and Mother Loose
does have that. In short, this is a well-realized, entertaining entry
that deserves a look from those who didn't judge the competition, and
I gave it a 9.


From: Second April 

NAME: Muse: An Autumn Romance
AUTHOR: Christopher Huang
E-MAIL: xhuang SP@G
DATE: September 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Christopher Huang's "Muse: An Autumn Romance" is unquestionably a
unique IF experience, and it's an ambitious effort. It attempts a
story-centered approach; it emphasizes the characters and the plot
over the puzzles, and virtually everything in the game turns on NPC
interaction. While the writing is good enough to make Muse an
enjoyable story, as story-driven IF it doesn't fully work.

The story is that you're an elderly Victorian clergyman on your way
back to your home parish in England, about to board a boat in a French
coastal village, when you spy a German girl, traveling with her
father, and are smitten. A poor artist named John Austin is also
staying in town, and his looks and artistic ability may figure into
the story--but they may not.  Muse has several different endings, all
of them quite plausible, though some are harder to reach than
others. In particular, one suboptimal ending--one that is
categorically different from the others--is almost impossible to
attain without knowledge obtained by previous playings, in that you
must do certain actions in a rather nonintuitive order. That aside,
though, the alternate endings fit the feel of the story well: the game
portrays your situation as torn between diverging paths; the decisions
you make, it is clear, have a more than incidental effect on the
course of your life. It makes sense to structure the game in such a
way that you try to figure out how to change your life for the better,
not simply how to make it progress. Furthering that aim is the
first-person-singular-past narrative, which reinforces that the story
is happening to a real character, not the player in period costume,
and also conveys the feeling that the story is a reminiscence, not a
happening-right- now tale of adventure that the character has to make
his way through. Setting the story in the past makes it more clearly a

Unfortunately, though story-centered, Muse is not entirely
puzzle-free, and some of the puzzles break the feel of the story. One
in particular requires calculated manipulation of a character to
achieve certain ends, different in process but not in nature from
manipulating objects to pass obstacles, as might happen in your
conventional puzzle-oriented game. It makes your character less human
and sympathetic to have to figure out which of another character's
buttons to push. This is not an atypical IF experience, particularly
in NPC interaction, when many games require the character to fire off
conversation topics until the right one unlocks the door, so to speak,
of the NPC--but Muse stands or falls on its NPCs, and it's
disappointing when they become doors to unlock. (Moreover, in some
situations, the game closed off entirely without warning--the
conversation could progress no further.) Exacerbating that feeling is
the small array of topics available--again, typical, but still
frustrating, particularly when it produces results like these:

    >ask konstanza about mother's death
    Chatting with Konstanza, even on frivolous subjects, was a pleasant
    experience, and it was a while before I realised how far we had

Muse does endeavor to show the limitations on conversation imposed by
Victorian customs, and the feeling of constraint produced thereby is
well done: I was forced to get at what I wanted indirectly, much as
someone of the period would have had to. But so arbitrary seemed the
point that determined whether certain information was available that
it broke mimesis; it made the requirement seem like a programming
flag, not a real turning point in the conversation.

It's a shame because, as observed, Muse has a lot of terrific ideas
going for it. The interactions among different NPCs are complicated
and well-rendered; they don't feel nearly as artificial as those
between the player character and the NPCs because they're not so
obviously controlled.  Muse makes a valiant attempt at bringing out
the psychologies of its characters and making them central to the
game. The reasons for many NPC actions are quite subtle--they may be
doors to unlock in some instances, but they certainly are interesting
doors. (Though only three of the seven NPCs offer much in the way of
psychology, unfortunately--the others are fairly flat.) The game also
relies on your role as a clergyman--your actions make sense from that
perspective, you are constrained by that role, and other characters
see you through your collar--which helps amplify the story element of
Muse. And the story itself is rather moving at many points,
particularly in the various endings, and the various box quotes that
the author uses--Lewis Carroll, T.S. Eliot, Francis of Assisi--are
particularly effective.

The author has seamlessly rewritten the Inform parser for the first
person, past tense, and I could find no technical problems with
Muse. In virtually all respects, it's a thorough, well-thought-out,
effective story. The inherent limitations of IF puzzles put a crimp in
the NPC interaction and make you less a character than a player
pushing through to the end of the story, which is unfortunate because
you really do inhabit much of the story as a character. I enjoyed
Muse, but considered it an idea with unrealized potential, and I gave
it an 8.


From: Adam Cadre 

Muse by Christopher Huang

A few minutes into this game, I scribbled down the following in my
notepad: "I grow old... I grow old... I shall wear the bottoms of my
trousers rolled."  Later on the game quoted those lines back at me.  I
wondered just how aware the author was of all the implications

You see, those lines were written by TS Eliot at the oh-so-elderly age
of twenty-two -- the same age as the author of Muse.  Prufrock
himself, from whose "Love Song" these lines are drawn, is given no
specified age in the poem, but I tend to side with Fred Crews in
believing that he too is somewhere in his twenties, sure that his
prematurely thinning hair indicates that his life is effectively over.
In which case Eliot is mocking those twenty-two-year-olds who would
write unironically from the perspective of a fifty-nine- year-old.
(If not, of course, then Eliot is such a one himself.  But there's too
much implicit mockery in "Prufrock" for me to believe that if Eliot
were to see those lines quoted at the end of Muse he would say
anything other than "No, no -- if the mermaids aren't singing to you,
it's probably because they're picking up that you're the type who
identifies with someone three times your age.  For pity's sake,
Prufrock is not a role model!")

I also couldn't help thinking about a comment I received on an early
draft of my novel, which revolves around a bunch of high-school-aged
kids: "Ninety-nine percent of the manuscripts I read are about
middle-aged people giving up or old people wondering why they didn't
give up sooner.  I can't tell you how refreshing it is to read about
some people who are actually *looking forward* to life!"  This is of
course not the state of affairs in IF: indeed, Muse deserves credit
for introducing a well-realized PC unlike any IF PC I can think of.
But still, considering that a good deal of the fun of IF is to step
into a space where you can do anything -- go ahead, hitchhike naked!
kick that head! scrape that parrot! -- it's rather draining to play a
character who can barely make it up the stairs.

But let me, like J. Alfred Prufrock, reverse myself yet again.  The
fact that the good reverend's collar felt confining is a testament to
the author's success in creating a world with an atmosphere so
seamless that I did very much feel like I was there.  And since that
may well be what I like best about playing IF -- the ability to walk
around a world born from someone else's mind, and knock over vases
while I'm there -- Muse guaranteed itself a top score from me right
from the get-go.  Not only was the world well-constructed, with nary a
line to break the illusion of being somewhere else, it was exactly the
right size for the story being told: any larger and it would have been
daunting; any smaller and I would have been overcome by
claustrophobia.  This is just one small example of the craftsmanship
involved in this game, which is simply superb throughout.

The idea behind the game gives one pause, though.  Here we have a game
that advertises itself as having been built around interacting with
NPCs -- the hardest thing to do well in IF, especially with an
ASK/TELL interface.  And Huang doesn't quite carry it off.  The
characters are all quite thin: partly because they each only have
maybe a dozen things to say, and partly because what they do have to
say isn't really all that interesting.  It was hard for me to work up
any kind of feeling for my ostensible love interest when she couldn't
have been less exciting had you shot her up with a tanker truck full
of Haldol.  But, of course, that made sense in a way: she *is*

I'm used to getting frustrated struggling with the parser; in Muse, I
found myself in a similar struggle, not with the parser, but with
Victorian protocol.  That seemed to me to be an evocative association:
I wondered how not being able to act naturally even to the extent we
can today, having to fit everything you did or said into the strict
bounds of a rigid code of propriety, resembled struggling with a sort
of "parser" every waking moment of your life.  And then I started
musing (appropriately enough) about Konstanza's character, or lack
thereof.  So she's completely colorless as a character.  This may be
boring -- but is it unrealistic?  This was, after all, a culture where
women were trained from day one to be purely decorative creatures with
nothing to say, no wills of their own... a culture that squeezed the
life out of half the population until they stopped being human and
became -- wait for it -- NPCs.

At this point, Muse's author may be happily nodding, pleased that I
picked up on the fact that his game is in fact a sly critique of the
Victorian era, and hoping that I now realize that his "Prufrock"
reference is another clue that we're supposed to recoil from the world
he presents; on the other hand, he may be horrified at just how
violently I'm reading against the grain here.  If it's the latter, I
can only imagine how he'll take to the idea of me reconstructing the
source code to his game and recompiling it with one little difference:
this time around, the lass with whom the good reverend will find
himself so taken is Tracy Valencia.  (Turn #3: >SUFFER STROKE.)

My score: 8.6 (2nd place)


From: Brian Blackwell 

Christopher Huang's 'Muse - An Autumn Romance' is, as far as I know,
the first ever attempt at a Bronte-esque period piece of interactive
fiction. It's an ambitious undertaking, but thanks to Huang's superb
writing and characterisation, it is, for the most part, a success.

The protagonist is the Reverend Stephen Dawson, a single, middle-aged,
emotionally repressed English clergyman, who, at the suggestion of his
sister Emma, takes a holiday in a secluded French village. In a series
of exquisitely written paragraphs, the Reverend immediately falls for
the beautiful Fraulein Konstanza von Goethe, who happens to be staying
to be staying in the same inn with her father Herr Viktor. A
conversation with Viktor and Konstanza reveals the reason for their
journey to France, and also a certain coolness between father and
daughter. Also staying in the village is an English painter with low
self-esteem who eventually becomes involved in the plot.

The game is written in the first-person past tense - a risky decision,
but in this case it is extremely effective. The emotions 'felt' by the
central character would simply not work in the traditional
second-person perspective. It also makes the considerable restrictions
placed on your actions seem natural and convincing.

The quality of writing is excellent, and is consistent with
19th-century style without ever descending into cliches. For example,
take the Reverend's first glimpse of Konstanza:

    From the corner of my eye, I saw her. Like an angel descended
    from heaven, she stood on the cobbles at the other end of the
    pier. Her head was partially turned away from me; I caught a flash
    of a delicate throat and lustrous chestnut-brown hair....

    Time stood still, arrested by her presence. I had no desire to
    move, lest I lose sight of her. For an aching second, her parasol
    shielded her face from my sight.

The characters are well fleshed out with varied and believeable
responses to the player's questions. The exchanges with Konstanza in
particular are affectionately handled, and the final scene in the
'winning' outcome is a real tear-jerker. I have rarely been so
affected by a scene in a work of IF.

For me, this was the most satisfying game of the competition. It's
great to see 'puzzleless', literary IF becoming more and more popular
with authors.  Criticisms? A few of the actions necessary for the
optimum outcome are rather obscure (fortunately the hints section is
fairly comprehensive). This certainly does not detract from the scale
of Huang's achievement. A highly enjoyable work.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

I've been sitting here for 10 minutes trying to find the right words
to begin a review of Muse, but I can't seem to come up with anything
that speaks as eloquently as the game's own prose. Muse is the most
gorgeously written piece of IF in the competition -- I've still got
several games left to play, but I would be very surprised if any of
them even equaled Muse's marvelous skill with words, let alone
surpassed it. The game is like the IF version of a Merchant-Ivory
movie: quiet setting, stellar production values, highly
character-oriented, and deeply, deeply felt. It's been a long time
since I've been as moved by a piece of IF as I was by the "optimal"
ending of Muse -- even some of the less satisfying endings are crafted
so well that in themselves they can be quite emotional. The game takes
place in a French village in 1886, as viewed through the eyes of Rev.
Stephen Dawson, a 59-year-old clergyman from Barchester, England. It
is not a typical IF setting, and Dawson is hardly the typical IF hero,
but Muse is far from a typical game. It is a story, one of the most
successful pieces of interactive fiction I've seen for pulling off the
*fiction* as much as the interactivity. Its characters feel real,
including its main character; it is the story of Rev. Dawson's own
struggle for acceptance of himself and his role in life, of his
journey past regret and into contentment. Through its masterful
writing, excellent coding, and some clever techniques, Muse creates a
story of someone else's emotional transformation, made all the more
affecting by our direction of that character's actions.

One way in which the game accomplishes its goal is to eschew the
traditional second person, present tense IF voice, settling instead on
a first person past tense narration. A typical exchange looks somewhat
like this:

    I had on my person the following items:
       my pocket New Testament

    I practically knew its contents by heart.

    Oh, but the trunk was heavy! I managed to lift it just high enough
    for the purpose of moving it around, but I was getting far too old
    for this sort of thing.

At first, I was surprised how little a difference this made to me. The
game still felt quite natural, which I think is another testament to
its writing. On reflection, however, I think that the changes did make
a difference. By choosing a first person voice, Muse sidesteps all of
the controversy surrounding assigning emotion to the player
character. In fact, the game is *constantly* ascribing emotions to the
PC, but it never grates because the first person POV assumes this role
quite naturally. Having a game say things like "you practically know
its contents by heart" or "you are getting far too old for this sort
of thing" would cause much more dissonance for me, especially as the
game moved into its deeper emotional registers. The past tense
achieves a similar sort of distancing from the player, as well as
heightening the "period" effect, not that the game needs it. Muse
evokes the Victorian feel extremely well, and the spell is never
broken by any piece of writing, any detail of setting, or any
development of character.

There's only one problem. One part of Muse's realistic, natural
approach is that events go on without you if you aren't in the right
place at the right time. On my first run through the game, I was off
doing text-adventurely things like examining all the objects, trying
to talk to various characters about dozens of different subjects (an
effect which the game also pulls off remarkably well -- its coding is
quite deep in some areas) and exploring the landscape. Even though the
game was giving me gentle nudges to check into the inn, I didn't do
so, because for one thing I couldn't find it right away, and for
another thing I was having too much fun exploring the very rich world
of the game. As a result, one of the major plot points happened
without me, putting me into a situation where, as far as I can
determine, the optimal ending was unreachable. What's worse, I didn't
*know* I couldn't reach the best ending; because it was my first time
through, I didn't realize I had missed anything I could have
participated in anyway. I ended up wandering around, quite frustrated
with my inability to cause the story to progress. When I finally
looked at the hints, it became clear to me that I had failed to
perform an important task, and that as a result the happiest ending
had been closed to me. Now, this is of course very realistic -- we
miss things all the time that could change our lives significantly,
and we never know that we've missed them -- but I don't think it's the
best design for a game, even a game so story-oriented as Muse. The
loss was affecting in its own way, especially when I replayed it after
completing the game with the happiest ending, but I didn't like it
that I had "lost" without having any way of knowing I had done so. I
don't think it had to be that way -- I can certainly envision how the
game might have at least pushed (or strongly nudged) me into a less
optimal ending, so that I might realize more quickly that I had missed
something, or perhaps the game could even have left the optimal path
open even when the plot point had been missed. I would have loved the
chance to complete such an incredible story my first time through,
without having to resort to hints.

Rating: 9.3


From: Second April 

NAME: Persistence of Memory
AUTHOR: Jason Dyer
E-MAIL: jdyer SP@G
DATE: 1998
SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters
VERSION: Release 1.0

I can count the amount of works of IF set in wartime--that I know of,
at least--on one hand, and I wouldn't even need all of that
hand. There have been spy-thrillers that drew on Cold War assumptions,
but Once and Future is the only work to be set even partly on a
battlefield, other than Persistence of Memory. It's not obvious why;
after all, latter-day IF authors appear to be fond of grim, bizarre,
chaotic situations, and not many things fit that description better
than war. Persistence of Memory is an interesting spin on war IF,
though an extremely brief one, as well as yet another in a large
collection of one-location games in the 1998 competition.

The premise: you're a soldier in a nameless war against a nameless
enemy, stuck in a field with one leg on a land mine, with a
malfunctioning radio.  Unlike some other one-location games, the
puzzles are not available at the outset for you to find; rather, they
come to you, one by one, and you have a limited time to deal with each
one. The experience is consequently rather limiting; the game attempts
to make you feel powerless, and it does that quite well, with the
exception of one puzzle solution that breaks the "powerless" feel
somewhat (though there's a good reason for it). Among the obvious
ironies of the game is that the protagonist is forced to depend on the
inhabitants of the country he has been happily destroying, but the
game doesn't do as much as it might have with that idea.

Indeed, it's hard to say what Persistence of Memory is about, other
than the superficial plot. If your encounters with the natives are
supposed to be cathartic, or cause you to Rethink This Whole War
Thing, the text provides only oblique hints to that effect. One
message is that failure to communicate causes waste and destruction, a
point well made, but is that the point of the story? It's hard to
tell. Perhaps it's merely that certain experiences humanize an
otherwise faceless enemy--not all that groundbreaking an idea, but
then again just about any thoughts on war in the IF medium are new, as
noted. Whatever the underlying message, the story works well; the game
changes your motivations and thoughts effectively over its course,
from "getting off this land mine" to more complex goals not
necessarily centered on survival. Or, alternately, one could view your
motivations as still focused on personal survival even as you realize
the consequences of war upon the villagers, and your internal
conflicts are a product of your guilt. Persistence of Memory is
susceptible to a wide variety of interpretations; it is to the
author's credit that he doesn't fill in many of the blanks. The scene
is vividly described: one particularly well-done aspect involves the
various physical discomforts you encounter over the course of the day,
stuck in your awkward position, developing cramps and soreness and
becoming more and more thirsty. (On the other hand, the game doesn't
make as much as it might of your psychological discomfort.)

The puzzles themselves aren't particularly hard; most of the solutions
are fairly obvious. There are no multiple solutions. Indeed, it is
almost impossible to deviate at all from the main narrative path and
still complete the game, meaning that there is no replayability
here. That's not a major drawback, given the nature of the story--the
goal is less to challenge the player than to present some ideas--but
the small size of the game makes it likely that, just when the player
is settling into the character and the setting, the game ends, and
there really isn't much incentive to go back and try again. (The
message of this game and of Photopia, for me at least: if you want us
to care about characters, make us spend significant amounts of time
with them.) To the extent this game works, then, it does as thought
experiment or as a statement about the nature of war; no one should
play it for the puzzles. That's not, of course, a bad thing. But, as
with Photopia, it isn't entirely clear that this story _needed_ to be
set in the IF medium to be effective; this one has somewhat more claim
to interactivity than does Photopia, since there _are_ problems to
solve, but it does lay a rather linear path. The one-room aspect
reinforces that; more so than in the other '98 one-room entries, the
premise is a limitation, a confinement, and you the player do actually
feel confined. That sense of limitation pervades the game and
constrains the available experience considerably.

The Hugo game engine is up to the task, though the task, technically,
isn't all that much. The game does handle one action not easily
translated into IF-speak quite well, though, accepting a wide variety
of syntaxes and synonyms. Moreover, the WAIT command is altered for
the occasion: time passes until something of note happens, rather than
1 or 3 or 10 turns.  This proves very handy, though the player might
find the game unspeakably boring if he or she does not realize that
the action comes to the character, rather than the character producing
the action. This and other functions are handled quite well; the hint
system is minimally necessary but thorough nonetheless.

Persistence of Memory does, I think, what it was trying to do: it's a
short piece of IF set in wartime that raises complex questions of a
soldier's personal responsibility and the needless loss wrought by
war. It does all that reasonably well, enough so to merit a 7; it
doesn't, unfortunately, work quite as well as a game.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

NOTE: Because of the nature of Persistence of Memory, it's difficult
to talk about it without revealing a key secret. Therefore, be warned
that any and all of the following review could be considered a

Memory is a new twist on the one-room game. The setting is war; could
be Korea, could be Vietnam, but it's never really specified, and it
doesn't really matter. It's a war in a foreign land, with villages,
dense foliage, helicopters, rifles, and land mines. Especially land
mines. In the first move of the game, you step on one, and realize
that if you remove your weight from it, it will explode. Thus the
potential paths which the game appears to have at its outset are
reduced to one: wait. This restriction of freedom is a recurring theme
in Memory. In incident after incident, the scope of action contracts
until it becomes clear that there is only one action which will lead
to your survival. Sometimes these actions are rather horrifying, but
the game demands them if you wish to finish. I have mixed feelings
about this kind of forcible plotting. On the one hand, it makes for an
extremely linear game, and it curtails interactivity quite
dramatically. This obstruction seems to fly in the face of the
conventional wisdom about IF -- it violates one of the Players' Rights
in Graham Nelson's Craft of Adventure: "To have reasonable freedom of
action." In Nelson's words, "After a while the player begins to feel
that the designer has tied him to a chair in order to shout the plot
at him." On the other hand, I also think that interactive fiction can
be a very good medium for conveying a sense of futility or
entrapment. Because IF by its nature seems to require at least to a
certain degree freedom of movement and action, and because it also
creates a sense of immersion in the story's world, when a piece of IF
chooses to violate that perceived requirement the player's sense of
identification with the trapped character can be very strong
indeed. Something about the frustration of having so few actions
available to me which would not result in death made the equation of
my situation with the character's feel more intense than it would have
were I just reading a story about this character.

Because of the game's premise, you don't seek out the puzzles; the
puzzles come to you. And each puzzle must be solved if the character
is to survive.  Luckily, all of the puzzles make sense and have
intuitive solutions, though in some of them it's not clear what the
deadly moment is until it arrives, and sometimes I found myself
resorting to a save-and-restore strategy in order to defeat a puzzle's
time limit. I don't think I could have solved the game straight
through, because some puzzles had rather unexpected and uncomfortable
solutions. This is where I found myself ill at ease with the game's
lack of interactivity -- there's a fine line between identifying with
a trapped character versus simply feeling trapped into an action
because the designer allows you no other choice, even though more
options might have been available in reality. It's hard to explain
without revealing more spoilers than I already have, but some pieces
of the plot felt rather forced, as though only one solution was
provided because only that solution would create the game scenario
desired by the designer.  However, the choices worked in the end, and
I found I only needed to look at the hints once, and in retrospect I
think I probably could have avoided that had I spent more time on the
puzzle that was stumping me.

The writing could get a little histrionic at times. Some descriptions
tiptoed along the line between what works and what doesn't. For
example, the mud around your feet is described as "torpid", a word
which usually refers to a sluggish mental state. I suppose the mud's
thickness and viscosity could be compared to slow mental processes,
but it's a stretch.  There weren't too many moments like this -- for
the most part the prose did a fine job of conveying the situation, and
in fact sometimes was quite good indeed. The description of the hairs
rising on the back of your neck as you try to conceal yourself from
enemy soldiers was chilling and engrossing. I found no technical
errors in the writing, nor in the code. Overall, Memory does a very
good job with an unusual choice of subject matter, and when it was
over I felt not triumph, but relief. I suspect this is what the game

Rating: 8.3


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

NAME: Photopia
AUTHOR: Adam Cadre
E-MAIL: adamc SP@G, grignr SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Version B

If there was a prize for "competition game most mentioned on the
newsgroups before the deadline had passed," Photopia would win hands
down. Everyone was quite courteous about it, spoiler warnings and
rot13 and all that, but there was a marked impatience to talk about
this game, recommend it to other people, make it the test case in any
number of arguments. There is a reason behind this impatience:
Photopia is an amazing piece of work. It's also very hard to talk
about without giving spoilers away, so please forgive me if I'm a
little vague in my language. One of the most brilliant aspects of the
game is its plotting. It has what Adam Cadre, in an unrelated
discussion, called a Priest plot, named for writer Christopher
Priest. I don't know if this is a term that Adam just made up, but
it's a useful term nonetheless. It refers to a plot which just gives
you fragments, seemingly unrelated to each other, which coalesce at
(or towards) the end of the story. When the fragments come together,
and you figure out how they relate to one another, the result can
often be surprising or revelatory. When they came together in
Photopia, I found the revelation quite devastating. I won't say too
much more about this, except to say that it wasn't until the end of
Photopia that I realized what a truly incredible, powerful story it
is. It's the kind of thing where when you've played it all the way
through once, you can then replay it and all the pieces fall into
place, everything interlocking from the beginning in a way you can't
understand until the end. I think that this is the game that opens new
frontiers of replayability in interactive fiction -- I needed to play
through Photopia twice in order to see all the text again, knowing
what I knew after the end of the game.

Actually, I hesitate to call Photopia a game, but not because it
failed to live up to a standard of interactivity. It's just so
patently clear that Photopia is not interested in puzzles, or score,
or some battle of wits between author and player. Photopia is
interested in telling a story, and it succeeds magnificently on this
count. Unfortunately this deprives me of the use of the word "game" in
describing it -- perhaps I'll just call it a work. In any case, it's a
work that anyone who is interested in puzzleless IF should try. At no
point was I even close to getting stuck in Photopia, because the
obvious action is almost always the right one -- or else there is no
right action and fated events occur with heavy inevitability. Oddly
enough, this creates a strange contradiction. I was on ifMUD looking
for a word to describe the plot of this work (I couldn't think of the
phrase "Priest plot") and someone said, jokingly, "linear." But
actually, that's true. Despite the fact that it's completely
fragmented, and despite the fact that it jumps around in time, space,
and perspective, Photopia is a linear composition. There's only one
way to go through it, and the player has little or no power to make it
deviate from its predestined course. I think the reason that this
didn't bother me, that in fact I *liked* it, is precisely because
Photopia isn't a game. Because it is a story, the emphasis is taken
away from a teleological model, where the player tries to steer for
the best outcome. Instead, you're really just along for the ride, and
the ride is one not to be missed.

Now, this is not to say that Photopia may as well have been a short
story rather than interactive fiction. In fact, it takes advantage of
the capabilities of the medium in some very inventive and almost
unprecedented ways. One of the foremost of these is its use of color
-- each section of the game (oops, there's that word again. Make that
"the work") is presented in a preset color, and these colors also play
a part in the Priest plot. I understood their function by the end of
the piece, and once I understood, I knew exactly why they were there
and how much they enhanced the storytelling. Unfortunately I found the
colored text a little hard to read at times, especially the darker
colors on a black background, but I wouldn't go back and play it in
blue and white. The colors, like everything else in Photopia, worked
beautifully, adding artfully to the overall impact of the story. The
work is interactive in other important ways as well. In fact, in many
aspects Photopia is a metanarrative about the medium of interactive
fiction itself. Again, it wasn't until the end of the story that I
understood why it *had* to be told as interactive fiction. And again,
to explain the reason would be too much of a spoiler. I have so much
more I want to talk about with Photopia, but I can't talk about it
until you've played it. Go and play it, and then we'll talk. I
promise, you'll understand why everyone has been so impatient. You'll
understand why I loved it, and why I think it's one of the best pieces
of interactive fiction ever to be submitted to the competition.

Rating: 9.9


From: Second April 

[Disclaimer: what follows is my own opinion, as always, but it is also
distinctly a minority view. For other views on Photopia, the reader is
advised to consult Deja News, or alternatively to read Paul O'Brian's
review in this issue.]

There is no denying that Adam Cadre's Photopia is a well-written,
engaging work of fiction. (Well, okay, somebody probably will deny
it. But it won't be me.) It tells a powerful story in well-crafted
prose heavily seasoned with implicit allusions to other works, notably
Russell Banks's "The Sweet Hereafter" (and Atom Egoyan's film
thereof), and Carl Sagan's "Contact."  (The power of the story,
incidentally, derives in part from figuring out its nature and
structure, and hence I won't go too much into detail here.)  It
skillfully uses multiple narrators to tell its tale, and carries
themes and images throughout that help give the story life. In short,
it's an excellent work of fiction.

SPAG reviews works of _interactive_ fiction, however, and the
interactivity quotient in Photopia is slight enough that it would
arguably work just as well as a short story. Graham Nelson wrote
several years ago of linearity in game design, noting that the player
comes to feel that "the author has tied him to a chair in order to
shout the plot at him," and Photopia suffers in that regard. No one
would complain of having the plot shouted at him in a short story; the
nature of story-based non-interactive fiction is that the author
dictates and the reader absorbs. But the genius of good IF is that the
player shapes the development of the story, even if the author has a
certain end in mind; choices that the player makes affect the text
recited at him in a material way. Admittedly, many games throw in the
towel with rudimentary or nonsensical plots that serve as excuses to
cobble together puzzles--the victory of the crossword over the
narrative, in Graham's terms. Photopia represents the opposite, and
less explored, extreme, with no puzzles to speak of--and though there
is more to chew on here than past "puzzleless IF" efforts such as "In
the End," the result, for me, was just as unsatisfying.

It should be noted that the game does not simply ignore idiosyncrasies
in the way you play the game; many choices are accounted for. Notably,
one choice regarding whether you bring along a certain object or leave
it behind is particularly clever and well-written. But the result is
that the game achieves precisely the same result-- your "choice"
affects the beginning of one paragraph. (The minimal changes in the
text highlight the noninteractivity; it's almost as if the author were
seeking out ways to keep the player from changing the course of the
story. There is an obvious purpose to that in this particular work,
but it puts a major crimp in the interactive aspect.) The difference
may seem to boil down to quantity rather than quality--the amount of
text that the player's decisions affect--but quantity matters: it can
mean the difference between the player feeling like he has actually
experienced the events described and feeling like he has watched a lot
of text scroll by. Adding to this effect is the sheer amount of stuff
that often happens between inputs--or, in other words, the amount and
type of unforeseeable events that your actions produce; again, it's as
if an existing work of fiction were translated to the IF
medium. Photopia's invention of plastic geography--the player in some
instances may travel in any direction, but the direction chosen will
always lead to a certain location--makes the world seem larger than it
is, and while it does that very effectively, it once again lessens the
player's impact on the story.

Another experiment that the author attempts ends up cutting off the
player from the story even more, namely the conversation trees: rather
than ASK/TELL, the player types TALK TO [character] and is given a
short list of topics (1. TELL PRESIDENT CLINTON ABOUT IRAQ, 2. ASK
PRESIDENT CLINTON ABOUT IMPEACHMENT, or 0 to say nothing). This is, of
course, a matter of taste, but I found the conversation trees the
least successful part of Photopia, because they completely destroy
what illusion remains of interactivity. In one sequence, your
character explains the basics of solar radiation, planetary accretion,
gallium production, and other astrophysical phenomena; it is _very_
hard, unless the player has ample background in astronomy, to avoid
the feeling that you are watching a conversation unfold, not
participating in it. I don't think it's impossible to give the
character more knowledge than the player is likely to have, and then
have the player act on that knowledge. But that requires more
development of the character than Photopia affords: the player's
involvement with the character is so brief that there is no time to
warm to the part before the character starts rambling about the
inverse square law. It is undeniable that the scene plays an important
part in the story; it is also arguable that identifying the explainer
of astrophysics as "you" heightens the emotional impact. But that
scene and others like it give Photopia the sense that the
"interactive" element is only a thin veneer over the "fiction" part.

It is possible that more extensive conversation trees, encompassing a
broader variety of topics relevant to the conversation might help;
perhaps future games will answer the question. Having severely limited
conversation topics is not essentially different from ASK/TELL with
only a few subjects available, admittedly. But most games that
implement ASK/TELL do not put words in the player-character's mouth to
the extent that Photopia does, and leaving to the player's imagination
how he or she would have phrased a question keeps the admittedly
clunky interface from breaking mimesis excessively. In other words,
the presumed advantage of conversation trees, that they give the
character more natural speech (one question in Photopia spawned by
could handle, rather than something like ASK ALLEY ABOUT DAD), assumes
that the player actually imagines the character grunting out curt
questions. But it ain't necessarily so; it certainly ain't for me.

Finally, though Photopia in many ways does what it does brilliantly,
it doesn't do it for very long; one has to be a very, very slow reader
to play a game this short from beginning to end longer than 20 or 25
minutes.  Of course, the player can replay, but he or she will shortly
discover that, as noted, the course of the story alters hardly a whit,
no matter what the player does. This is, of course, a personal
reaction: I can hardly say categorically that the brevity of Photopia
waters down the emotional force when the game clearly had considerable
emotional impact on many. (On the other hand, the two other people I
have prompted to play it were likewise underwhelmed--and I did not
tell them my own thoughts on the game until afterwards.) It is
possible that the story's major twist would be more effective if there
were more preceding it, more time for the player to get to know the
characters. (I also thought the game overplayed its emotional hand a
bit--exaggerated a certain character's traits--but that can be, and
has been, argued.)

Technically, Photopia is outstanding--the abovementioned textual
changes, even if brief, are woven in seamlessly to preserve the
story. A variety of changes in text color didn't work for me when I
tried the colored version on WinFrotz, but clearly the colors worked
fine for others. The conversation trees, whatever their merits, work
just as they are supposed to; the experiment with plastic geography
works brilliantly from a technical standpoint. Many other small things
indicate that the game was exhaustively coded, never a bad thing--for
example, examining a certain NPC while playing different roles yields
a variety of perspectives. There are many other little things that are
done well--transitions between scenes are particularly well done; the
first sentence of each section of the story recalls the last sentence
of the previous one, often in illuminating ways. But Photopia stands
or falls on the player's reaction to the story, and my reaction, for
whatever reason, was tepid enough that I gave it a 7 in the


From: Brian Blackwell 

Few works of IF have caused as much of a stir as Adam Cadre's
'Photopia', the winning entry in the 1998 Interactive Fiction
Competition. It is certainly vastly different from Cadre's last
creation, the raunchy comedy I-0. It is a short, puzzleless, literary
work which packs a powerful emotional punch, despite some

The primary interest in Photopia is its structure - it makes the
fairly simplistic plot seem much more complex than it actually is. The
game jumps back and forth through the chronology of the storyline,
leaving the player to mentally piece together these 'vignettes'. The
different scenes are linked by different colours - red, green, blue,
and so on. These transitional passages provide some truly magical

The very first scene in the game involves a pair of drunken 'fratboys'
(an Americanism, I assume) and a car. Following this scene, we are
immediately thrust onto Mars, taking control of 'Wendy Mackaye, first
girl on the red planet'. This dramatic juxtaposition is confusing at
first, but ultimately makes sense in the scheme of things (I won't
spoil it for those who haven't played it yet).

The story revolves around Alley, a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth
sweetie with an extremely precocious grasp of astro-physics. The
player, throughout the game, plays the roles of various characters in
the story - including her mother, father, a young girl whom she is
babysitting, and a smitten teenage boy - but never Alley herself. The
wide variety of angles from which we see Alley partially makes up for
the fact that she is a relatively one-dimensional
character. Beguiling, yes, but perhaps not as believeable as she could
be. And the astro-physics? In an conversation with her father, the
young Alley - a toddler at this stage - is given an impromptu (and
very lengthy) lecture in 'inverse square law' and 'gallium
production'. All very impressive, but a little over-the-top.

These points, however, still don't dull the sheer emotional impact
when you realise how the story ends. And because of the work's
ingenious structure, this realisation actually comes around the middle
of the game - and of course this will vary from player to player. The
clever part about this design is that the game still continues even
when it's obvious what the eventual outcome is.

Ironically, structure is also the game's main downfall. The player has
no real control over the story at all. This is not a problem in
itself; in fact, all interactive fiction relies on the 'pick a card'
principle - that inevitably the player will choose the author's path,
with the number of choices available giving the illusion of
'interactivity'. It's hard to explain why this didn't completely work
for me in Photopia, but I could never escape the feeling that I was
merely a passenger on the ride. It is not really interactive fiction
in the traditional sense, but I must say that this does not alter the
effectiveness of Photopia as a *work*.

It may seem like I've been terribly harsh on this one, but when a work
of IF has been hailed as 'literature' by the
crowd, it's only fair that it's judged on a similar level. And, at the
end of the day, I enjoyed this immensely. It's certainly one of the
most groundbreaking works to have appeared in ages, and will generate
vigorous debate for some time to come.


From: "david ledgard" 

I personally wouldn't have given this game first place. This isn't
sour grapes, having entered a game of my own, but due to the fact that
the game never really grabbed me. The first scene doesn't have any
puzzles at all, although the multi choice conversation thing was
clever, the usual way you never know what NPC's are going to
understand. The second scene has a simple puzzle of find an item, and
bring it back to a location. Although it had a clever thing where by
which ever direction you went, the next location was created there,
I'm not sure how this was programmed, but I imagine it could be quite
complicated. A lot of people probably missed this entirely. The third
scene, had restrictions on movement that really got my goat, saying
you don't have a compass, so can't use the compass directions. This is
where my patience ended, and I gave up, the game being too fiddly to
play. The rest might have been really good, but I will never know. The
narrative to puzzles ratio seemed very large, i.e. too much text, and
too few puzzles.


From: Second April 

NAME: The Plant
AUTHOR: Michael J. Roberts
E-MAIL: mjr SP@G
DATE: 1998
SUPPORTS: HTML-TADS interpreters
VERSION: Competition Edition

You're a witness to a hijacking. You're seeking a McGuffin in the form
of a strange silver crate. You're investigating cover-ups in your
company.  You're breaking into a strange plant. You're just generally
trying to create mayhem. You're unveiling a government cover-up. All
these things go on in Mike Roberts's The Plant, an entertaining caper
better enjoyed for its sheer daffiness than as a coherent story.

The initial premise is that your boss's car breaks down and you want
to get help, but it's a thin veil, since you promptly witness soldiers
hijacking a convoy of trucks and evidently forget all about trying to
get your car started again, since you decide you want a piece of
whatever action the soldiers are after. Weird coincidences drive much
of the plot from there on: you defeat a security device to get into
this supposedly ultra-secret plant by using stuff lying around, which
seemed a tad absurd.  The puzzle you solve to get into the underground
laboratory area is clever but relies on everyone in the complex being
either blind or thoroughly stupid; other puzzles function on similar
assumptions. As such, the tone varies somewhat; what might have been a
sinister feel, created by the opening section, is subverted by the
story's failure to develop any real sense of menace. The Plant works
better viewed as a series of obstacles to overcome than as a real
story, since the story is not always engaging.  The author consciously
decided to make it impossible to lose or otherwise make the game
unwinnable, a design choice that works well in some contexts but not
in this one. The story, after all, to the extent I could make sense of
it, involves some danger; breaking into heavily guarded top-secret
complexes usually entails negative consequences if caught. But there
are several points where harm should be imminent, logically, and
knowing that the danger will just keep getting closer but never
arrive, Zeno's-paradox style, destroys the illusion of the story and
takes away the tension. This is particularly true at one point late in
the game, when guards see you through a window, carrying out nefarious
acts, and pound on the window. There is, of course, a door right next
to the window, but you can examine everything in the room, take a nap,
make faces at the guards, etc., and they will never, as far as I know,
walk through the door. What might be an exciting moment is fairly
ho-hum. Now, admittedly, with an IF engine that supports UNDO as well
as SAVE/RESTORE, any "death" is but a passing setback--but avoiding
death does affect a player's emotional experience, and knowing that
there was no death to avoid reduces whatever emotional effect there
is. What might be a good choice in another sort of game does not, in
short, serve this one well.

Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy here. The puzzles rival those of
Enlightenment as the best in this year's competition: they are
challenging but fair, with the exception of the one where an object is
discoverable only with the command READ AUTHOR'S MIND. There are also
enough of them for the player to feel like he or she has accomplished
something, but few enough that the game is finishable within two
hours. Several of them involve more than one object, or require
manipulating the environment in creative ways, though a few rely on a
few rely on random scenery-searching. The ones that involve opening
passages or passing obstacles provide short cuts once the initial
puzzle is solved, a great time-saver. The author also fairly
consistently rewards the player for solving a puzzle by supplying more
story, usually via cut-scenes of sorts--the player witnesses something
going on. Some of the cut-scenes actually are cut-scenes--the text all
goes by at once--and some aren't, and the logic of the distinction was
not obvious to me. (The ones that force the player to keep typing Z
don't actually give any potential for difference in how the player
experiences the scene--at least, not obviously so.) The nature of the
puzzles solved does make the player feel like he or she is coming
closer to the goal, and getting glimpses of the McGuffin when
obstacles are cleared reinforces that feeling to great effect. Your
boss, along for the ride, is directly relevant only occasionally,
though it seems like he might provide information about a few things
if asked; still, he's a vaguely comic figure that helps lighten the
feel of the story (another reason why the tone is a bit inconsistent).

The Plant feels well-crafted as a whole; bugs are few, the writing is
outstanding, and objects, even complex ones, largely do what they're
supposed to do. That feeling of polish helps overcome the flaws in the
story--or, more accurately, the flaws in the story don't detract much
from its enjoyment because the game is so playable as a whole. The
best puzzle in the game leads directly to its most ridiculous moment,
but as long as the player can suspend disbelief, it doesn't really
matter--because there's no question whether the moment works as the
author intends it to.  The Plant illustrates how a skillful IF author
can spin an entertaining yarn even with a contrived or silly plot, as
long as he or she attends to the details that matter to the player;
this one works well enough that I gave it an 8.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

You know, by the time I get finished writing these reviews, I'm pretty
tired. It takes a lot of energy to put out twenty or thirty thousand
words about competition entries, and even though my reviews are
shorter than last year's, and there are fewer games involved, they
were also written in a much more compressed judging period, so my
exhaustion level is about the same. However, every year I've been
reviewing the competition games I've gotten a little reward in the
final game of the batch. In 1996, I was playing the games in order of
filename, so the last game I played was Tapestry, an excellent piece
of work by Dan Ravipinto which ended up taking second in the
competition as a whole. Last year I let Lucian Smith's Comp97 order my
choices randomly, and ironically the last game on the list ended up
being Smith's own The Edifice. And true to form, that was another
excellent game to finish on, and it ended up winning all the marbles
in the 1997 comp. So it was with both trepidation and eagerness that I
broached the final game of this year's batch, The Plant. When I saw it
was by Michael J. Roberts, the legendary implementor of both TADS and
HTML-TADS, my anticipation was increased even further. I've never
played one of Roberts' games, having been an Inform initiate when I
started programming, and having entered the IF scene just shortly
before Roberts' departure. And after this buildup, I'm pleased to say
that the Plant completely lives up to my mini-tradition of grand
finales. It was a great game to end the competition with -- the reward
I was hoping for, so that this review wouldn't be too hard to write.

Probably the thing I liked the most about The Plant was its puzzles. I
know there were several other games this year that were focused on
puzzles, and some of the puzzles in those games were
excellent. However, I liked The Plant's puzzles better precisely
*because* the game wasn't focused on puzzles. Instead, its puzzles
were very well integrated into its story, so solving the puzzles
really propelled the narrative. It's much more interesting to solve a
puzzle when it opens the door to the next piece of the story, rather
than being just one of a roomful of puzzles that you have to solve to
escape that room. The Plant was probably the only game in this year's
competition to give me a feeling similar to what I have when I play
Infocom games. I love that feeling of uncovering an exciting story by
cleverly putting pieces together, using items in unexpected ways, or
doing the right thing at just the right time. And the game's story is
definitely an exciting one. It begins as you are stranded on an
abandoned side-road with your boss, marooned by his unreliable
car. It's up to you to find a phone or a service station and get
moving again, but when you go looking you may find more than you
bargained for. I won't give too much away about the secrets that are
eventually revealed, but the game definitely packs plenty of
surprises. The pacing is excellent -- I only felt completely stuck
once. I turned to the walkthrough to solve the problem, just because I
wanted to finish as much of the game as I could in the two-hour time
limit, but if you're playing The Plant for the first time, let me urge
you *not* to check the walkthrough unless you're completely stuck. All
the puzzles are completely logical, none of them require reading the
designer's mind, and many of them are quite satisfying to solve,
requiring several steps or clever combinations of objects, or both.

Now, the story itself does have some flaws. There are some parts that
felt quite implausible to me, and from time to time the fact that your
boss follows you around in your travels doing the same two or three
things all the time starts to feel a little artificial. In addition,
there are one or two minor spelling errors in the game. Outside of
this, the plotting and writing are quite good. The Plant's prose often
conveyed a very vivid sense of the visual. I drive by a plant like
this about twice a month, and the game's descriptions of it, how its
completely industrial and utilitarian networks of pipes and lights can
seem almost like an abstract fairyland when glimpsed from afar, are
right on the mark. I could really visualize most of the places in the
game, and the mental pictures the game's text creates are quite
dramatic and compelling. In addition, the game uses a few small
touches here and there which utilize the power of HTML TADS. No
pictures or sound, but a few well-placed hyperlinks in the help text
and one or two spots with specially formatted text really make the
game look sharp, and add to the very visual quality of the prose. If
you sometimes start to feel a little impatient with all the growing
that the medium of interactive fiction is doing, and long for a good
old-fashioned Infocom-style thrill ride, check out The Plant. I think
it may be just what you're looking for.

Rating: 9.0


From: Second April 

NAME: Purple
AUTHOR: Stefan Blixt
E-MAIL: flash SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Not many works of IF are spellbinding or even compelling from
beginning to end; a game with a few memorable moments or some good
puzzles may be remembered fondly and replayed often, even if the rest
of the game is undistinguished. A notable example, to my mind, is
Sorcerer, the bulk of which is rather ho-hum but which features two
brilliant puzzles that most consider among Infocom's best ever. This
is not to suggest that Purple, Stefan Blixt's entry in the 1998
competition, is in Sorcerer's league; it's not. But as with that game
and others, an otherwise undistinguished entry is redeemed by a few
compelling moments and some intriguing ideas.

Nuclear holocaust is imminent, but your brother Karl is planning to
evade the blast and start over in the postapocalyptic world. To reveal
precisely what you do would, I think, spoil the best moments of
Purple: at its best, it has some of the austerity of well-imagined
post-holocaust science fiction, such as Walter Miller's Canticle for
Leibowitz; the way that remnants from the "before" turn up in the
"after" is sometimes rather chilling. Purple is, to be sure, not even
as well written as most average sci-fi, and certain moments go
underdescribed--but the spareness of the prose serves the author well
in spots. Descriptions are concise enough that they convey what
happens and let the player mentally fill in the details. There is one
moment at a turning point in the story that gave me a real chill--the
author handles a certain transition particularly well--and I was
disposed to like the game from that point on, I think.  There are
other things that are done well: a certain hidden object is nicely
clued, and the behavior of a certain NPC is well described.
Disturbing details are scattered here and there, rather than filling
every room description, suggesting a measure of restraint.

As indicated, however, the general quality of Purple is uneven at
best.  The writing hits several potholes, particularly in certain
events toward the end of the game, where it becomes difficult to tell
exactly what's going on. There are plenty of typos and spelling
problems, and a few places where the brevity of the descriptions
becomes confusing. Technical problems abound as well: there are a few
crashes, a major disambiguation problem, and one character who
consistently asks you for something no matter how often you give it to
him. More generally, several plot angles go unresolved--it would be
nice to see Purple extended or followed up to make some more sense of
the story. As it is, it's a little like a trailer: lots of intriguing
things happen, but it would be worth knowing more about them.

There are other problems. After a certain point, Purple's pacing
suffers: there aren't any time limits or even anything encouraging
haste for most of the game, which is a shame because a sense of
urgency might have made the plot more compelling. There are some
points where wander-around-and-explore is a good mood to set, but
after a while the exploratory feel needs to stop. Karl simply doesn't
have enough to say--he has a few interesting responses, but too many
things elicit no response, and his stable of comments is annoyingly
small. (His one major task receives so little description that the
effect is almost comic.) More generally, it's hard to escape the
feeling that the author needed another month to fill in the details of
Purple and clean up the bugs: if you deviate too much from the
author's storyline, the seams start to show.  (Particularly toward the
end, if you do things out of sequence.) Given that the game provides
minimal direction about what to do when, the effect can be a bit
confusing. The author provides plenty of interesting details in his
world, but never manages to make it seem coherent.

But Purple, I think, is greater than the sum of its parts, and the few
compelling moments made up for the many bugs and slip-ups. If lack of
polish bothers you, avoid this one; if you're so used to rough edges
that you've learned to look past them, and you haven't tried Purple,
you might appreciate the pieces of an interesting story that
occasionally appear amid the bugs. Though far from a resounding
success, Purple is a nice effort with some effective moments (and a
huge improvement over the author's Pintown from the previous year),
and I gave it a 7 in the competition.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

NAME: Research Dig
AUTHOR: Chris Armitage
E-MAIL: TheFarseer SP@G
DATE: September 1998
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Research Dig has pieces of a good story, inexpertly handled so that
they don't reach their full potential. In fact, the experience of the
game was a bit like a real research dig -- you have to mine through
some errors, cliches, and unclear writing, but you can come away with
some pretty good pieces. So let me first focus on the positive. The
game has an intriguing premise -- you are a beginning archaeology
student, sent on a minor dig on behalf of your research center to an
old abbey where the groundskeeper has uncovered "something old." When
you arrive, you meet the groundskeeper's daughter, who whispers to you
that the old piece belongs "to the Little People," who live
underground. (Exactly how little these Little People are remains in
question, but I'll get to that in a bit.) From this interesting start
the game lays out a sensible map which delivers mystery and magic in
reasonable proportions, never so much that it seems like a simple
dungeon crawl or D&D knockoff. The writing can be rather atmospheric
in several sections and some of the design contributes to this
feeling, such as some important red herrings which lead nowhere but
help to flesh out the game world. Overall, Research Dig feels like it
was written by a beginner, but a beginner with good ideas and a
passion for interactive fiction.

That being said, it's also important to note that the game has a
number of problems as well. Though the map was logical, it also felt
quite a bit cliched, with underground tunnels, spooky crypts,
mysterious rune-encarved stones, etc. There wasn't anything that felt
very unique once the game got to this point, and it felt like a game
with a lot of potential had devolved into another ho-hum underground
excursion. In addition, the writing suffered at several points from
basic proofreading errors. Spelling and grammar mistakes were not
legion, but there were enough of them to be seriously distracting,
especially since they sometimes turned up in places that would be read
over and over again. For example, from the beginning of the game you
find that you have a "referance book" in your inventory. After 10
times reading the misspelled word, my patience started to wear thin.
It's the kind of error that could have been avoided so easily, I have
a hard time understanding why it's there. The same is true for some
key coding errors, like the key whose short name is "a key labelled
'Shed'."  The problem with a short name like this is that Inform
already provides articles for objects, so in the inventory the key is
listed as "an a key labelled 'Shed'." Compounding the problem, there
are two keys with this same error. The glitch is all the more
aggravating because it comes up almost every time the game tries to
refer to the keys. My favorite example: "Which do you mean, the a key
labelled 'Shed" or the a key labelled 'Conservatory'?"

These mistakes were small, but sometimes small mistakes can make a big
difference, and this game had the perfect example. However, before you
read it, I should warn you that in order to explain my example, I have
to spoil part of the endgame. Read on if you so choose. OK, so at one
point you find an urn in the groundskeeper's house with a piece
missing. Then later on you find a rune-encarved "slab of stone, about
2' square." That's two feet square. That's way too big to be a piece
of an urn. However, at the end of the game, you find out that it *is*
in fact the missing piece of the urn.  Meanwhile, you see the
groundskeeper defeated by "a small person, you guess at about 3"
high." That's three inches high. That's mighty small! However, by this
time you begin to suspect that the game confused its notations, and is
using ' for inches and " for feet. This may seem like a minor error,
but it changes the meaning of the things it affects so completely that
it ruins any possibility of building the mystery. There's something to
be learned here: in some ways writing (I mean creative writing) and
programming aren't so far apart. Just as a missing semicolon can cause
you no end of misery during compilation, so can a very small change
completely deflate your story. Also, in both disciplines the semantic
and syntactic errors are easiest to find, and your work is
unacceptable until it is free of these.  Logic errors are more
difficult to detect, and take much more sweat to ferret
out. Unfortunately for would-be writers, there is no automatic
proofreading service for fiction that provides the error-checking of a
good compiler. You have to do it yourself.

Rating: 6.2


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

NAME: The Ritual of Purification
AUTHOR: Jarek Sobolewski 
E-MAIL: sable SP@G
DATE: September 1998
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

The feeling I got while playing Ritual reminded me of nothing so much
as those old Dr. Strange comics from the 60's, back when the master of
mysticism was drawn by Steve Ditko, himself a master of the
bizarre. The game is full of strange, hallucinatory images: a road
that melts into nothing, an arch with marble carvings on one side and
black decay on the other side, exploding and melting universes. The
whole thing made me feel like I was immersed in a Ditko landscape, and
the fact that the main character is a spellcaster on an astral voyage
didn't hurt either. Of course, some of the scenes in Ritual could
never have taken place in a 60's comic -- at least, not one that
adhered to the Comics Code Authority.  There's nothing really
outrageous, but there are scenes of sexuality, drug use, and gore that
you'd never see Dr. Strange experiencing. I'm not suggesting that the
game is some sort of Dr. Strange rip-off, or that Ditko was an
inspiration for Ritual -- that's just what it reminded me of.
However, one source of inspiration for the game was clearly some of
the more obscure poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. At the completion of
almost every puzzle, the game throws a box quote from Poe, usually one
which has some relation to the obstacle just overcome. These quotes
are well-chosen, digging deep into the Poe archives and highlighting
how much he inherited from William Blake, as well as how much he
prefigured H.P. Lovecraft. At its best, most deranged or sublime
moments, the game evokes the weird, dark mysticism shared by all these
creators. On the whole, the effect is very trippy, and a fair amount
of fun.

Unfortunately, there are some false notes as well. From time to time a
character will say or do something fairly anachronistic, which tends
to break the spell pretty thoroughly. In fact, at one point you can
get a character to whip out a bong and start taking hits from it,
which brings the whole elevated plane of symbolism and wonder
dive-bombing back to earth. The effect is not so much of Alice in
Wonderland's "hookah-smoking caterpillar", but more of Jeff Spicoli in
Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It just doesn't fit. There are also a
few times when the game seems to slip into cliches or "AD&Disms" --
one beast is described as "biting easily through a set of plate mail",
and some of the spells feel suspiciously close to ones I remember from
7th grade basement role-playing sessions. In addition, the game has a
number of grammar and spelling errors, usually minor problems like
missing punctuation or vowel mistakes, but again they break the
spell. Finally, and worst of all, there's a bug in the game which
causes it to not respond at all if a certain action is taken sooner
than the game expects it. There's nothing that ruins immersion quite
so much as when a game just doesn't respond to a command in any
way. Well, maybe not *nothing* -- crashing the interpreter would
probably ruin immersion more, but because of the lack of response
problem I ended up turning to the hints, only to find that I had in
fact given the right command to solve the puzzle -- I just gave it a
little too soon.

The game suffers a bit from the "unconnected symbols" syndrome --
sometimes it feels like all of these dreamlike images are just images,
with no meaning or substance attached to them. However, the game
manages to pull them together somewhat through its title, intro, and
ending -- the bizarre symbols with which the game is littered are all
loosely connected through a theme of purification, of facing inner
demons and the pain & joy of life in order to become a better
person. It didn't entirely work for me -- some of the symbolism seemed
arbitrary or cliched to my mind -- but I think it was a good
beginning. I would really like to play a game with this kind of tone
which had freed itself from shopworn images and RPG
leftovers. Something with imagery like the more arresting parts of
Ritual, but which really cohered to make a powerful statement on some
aspect of the human condition, could really take advantage of IF's
immersive capability to create a remarkable work of art. Ritual isn't
it, but I hope it becomes the jumping-off point for someone (the
author perhaps?) to create something like it but better: no writing
errors, no cliches, no anachronisms, no bugs -- just the Ditko
universes exploding and melting all around us, with meaning.

Rating: 6.9


From: Second April 

NAME: Trapped in a One Room Dilly
AUTHOR: Laura Knauth
E-MAIL: Laura.Knauth SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Laura Knauth's Trapped in a One Room Dilly is virtually the antithesis
of her Travels in the Land of Erden from the 1997 competition--where
that game was sprawling and filled with plot, Dilly is tight, focused,
and almost devoid of plot. But while this is probably a better game
than that one was, it has some deficiencies even as one- room games

From the outset, Dilly more or less declares that it is forgoing plot:
the initial room description states that "ou have no idea how you came
to be in this room or what you were doing just before." You therefore
commence solving puzzles that eventually allow you to get out of the
room--the title adjective "trapped" rightly suggests that being in
this room is a problem. What is missing, however, is a sense of
direction--you fiddle with the objects at hand, which eventually lead
you to a way out, but not in a way that could remotely have been
foreseen when you started fiddling.  (Whereas at the beginning of
Enlightenment, say, the entire concept is apparent from the beginning,
and the challenge is using the materials at hand to solve the
problem.) Dilly is therefore a fundamentally different sort of
one-room game than Enlightenment, or In the Spotlight, or Persistence
of Memory--and while that's not a bad thing, it's a little less
plausible than more unified one-location games. As in, someone had to
put together this bizarre room full of objects that, suitably
manipulated, allow you to get out; why did they do that? To give Dilly
credit, one of the wittiest parts of the game is a bookshelf full of
made-up plots that could answer that question--alien abduction,
government experiments, etc.--but making a joke of it only underlines
the point: stories that could make sense of such a premise require a
strange, contrived plot, with the situation engineered by some malign
intelligent entity. Dilly works better, in short, when considered as a
set of puzzles thrown into one room, rather than as a piece of a story
that happens to fall within one location.

The mechanics of Dilly are not quite as elegant as they might be. The
room is evidently _crammed_ with stuff to play with--and though that
isn't bad, as such, the relative sparseness of Enlightenment suggests
that it needn't be that way. Very few objects in Dilly have multiple
uses, or uses beyond the obvious; there just happen to be a lot of
objects thrown into one room. Dilly could work as a two- or three-room
game without losing its flavor, so to speak; other games, where the
story or the atmosphere are tied into the one-room conceit, would
not. (Such as, say, Enlightenment or Persistence of Memory.) Dilly
might also be a little less confusing if it were more spread out;
there are so many knobs to turn and buttons to push in that one room
description that it is easy to lose something in the shuffle.

Still, let me be clear: Dilly is a well-done example of a one-room
game.  There are some inventive puzzles, particularly involving the
physical properties of common objects you run across and components
you can take out of larger objects. One change-the-environment puzzle
could be clued a little better, but it's a good puzzle
nonetheless. There are several points where you destroy or damage
objects rather than simply working with them, which I found somehow
refreshing: it meant thinking outside the lines, never a bad
thing. (Of course, it can break mimesis to require destructive actions
in some contexts--homes, public places, etc.--but this is not a
setting where such actions would be a problem.) Even the more
artificial puzzles--a dartboard that requires a certain number of
points scored, a "myriad" puzzle--are reasonably well-crafted; the
latter has some unusual patterns, the former adeptly uses the
"practice" dynamic also seen in Edifice. And there are nice
extras--there is a slot machine, and you can play it using coins you
find, though as far as I can tell it is impossible to win
anything. There are plenty of nice touches that help to alleviate the
sense that the author has grafted together a set of puzzles that
didn't fit in other games.

It's not clear what Dilly contributes to the genre of one-room
games. The author ruminated about the possibility of a full-length
one-room game, which may yet be possible--but, I would venture to say,
not the way Dilly does it, not with a room full of stuff and no
guidance given the player.  Much of the relevant material should be
hidden at first to avoid discouraging the player; more importantly,
objects should be involved in more than one puzzle each. Moreover,
goals and motivations should change during the game, to break up the
monotony of staying in one room the entire time. Nevertheless, this is
an intriguing effort, and I gave it an 8 in this year's competition.


From: "Paul O'Brian" 

OK, probably the first thing I should confess is that I'm not hip
enough to know what a "dilly" is. My handy dictionary suggests that it
means "something remarkable of its kind" -- their example is "a dilly
of a movie." Somehow I don't think that's what's meant here. So,
judging from context, I'm going to assume that "dilly" means
"relatively enjoyable puzzle game with good coding and writing, but a
few guess-the-verb problems and sometimes not enough synonyms
implemented." If this is what dilly really means, then Trapped In A
One-Room Dilly has the most accurate title of any game in the 1998
competition. Like many others in this year's competition, Dilly is
very puzzle-oriented. Perhaps what we're seeing this year is a bit of
a backlash against the periodically swelling outcries for "puzzleless
IF." If backlash it is, I don't think that's entirely a bad
thing. Sometimes because literature has so much more cultural capital
than puzzles, we can get into a mindset which tries to shun puzzles in
favor of an elusive brand of literary merit. Don't get me wrong -- I
myself am much more interested in IF for its literary qualities than
its puzzles, but I also think it's important to remember that (for
some of us, anyway) there is also a pleasure in puzzle-solving, the
"crossword" part of IF as opposed to the "narrative" part. I believe
that interactive fiction can cover a very wide spectrum indeed, but
that there will always be a place for puzzle-oriented IF on that
spectrum, and I'll probably always enjoy a really well-done puzzle

Dilly is the closest I've seen yet in this competition to that lofty
standard, but before I talk about the things it does right, I have to
take one step back and talk about a game from last year. The author of
Dilly entered a game in last year's competition called Travels in the
Land of Erden. Ironically, these two games could not be more
different. Erden was a sprawling, gigantic game with an enormous map,
any number of subplots, and a generally broad scope. When reviewing
that game, I wrote about the benefits of focus, and suggested that "if
the author had concentrated her energies on a game perhaps a quarter
of the size of this one, she would have had time for much more
extensive proofing and beta-testing, and the result might have been a
tight, polished gem rather than the rough and gangly work she
submitted." Well, when I'm right, I'm right. Dilly benefits enormously
from having a much tighter focus than Erden. The game narrows its
scope to (as you might have guessed from the title) one room, and the
room is a really *interesting* room, full of enough gadgets and
gewgaws to keep me busy for two hours. At no time in Dilly did I lack
for something to figure out, look at, or do. The game crams about 10
puzzles into this one room, but it didn't feel particularly strained
to me. In fact, Dilly makes a sly gibe about its lack of plot by
including a bookshelf full of books whose plots are plausible
explanations for your situation (Intelligence testing, alien
abduction, the bomb shelter of a wealthy wacko, etc.). The puzzles are
generally creative and fun, and all of the coding and writing is
technically proficient.

Well, almost all. The only times I ran into trouble with Dilly were
when I was close enough to the solution of a puzzle that I should have
received some slight confirmation, but the game didn't provide it. For
example, at one point in the game something is ticking and
vibrating. If you listen closely to this object, you can hear it
ticking. However, if you touch it "you feel nothing unusual." This is
one of those instances where after I found out what was happening, I
felt cheated. If I'm that close, I want at least a little nudge. In
another instance, I had more of a guess-the-verb problem -- the game
wants you to tie two things together with a rope, as in "TIE FROG TO
LOG." (That's not really what you're tying, but I'm trying to avoid
the spoiler here.) However, if you first "TIE ROPE TO LOG" you get a
message along the lines of "That's useless." If I had tried "TIE ROPE
TO FROG" first, the game would have picked up on what I meant to do,
but I didn't make that lucky guess. I don't like to be put in the
position of making lucky guesses. Nonetheless, these are relatively
minor problems, easy to fix. They didn't stop me from enjoying my time
in the one-room...  whatever it was.

Rating: 8.5

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


        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:
====                      ======  ===     ===    ====  ===== =========
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
Awakening                 5.4     1.0     1.0       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
Delusions                 8.4     1.8     1.6       1
Deep Space Drifter        5.5             1.4       1      3 S15_TAD_GMD
Delusions                 7.4     1.3     1.5       2      14F_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 
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 a 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              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
I didn't know...yodel     1.7     0.3     1.0       1     17 F_IBM_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             7.9     0.9     1.0       2      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 the Buddha's      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 Tortois     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 Adden     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      14S_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                 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      14F_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 Forev     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
Ritual of Purification    5.8     2.0     1.0       1     17 F_GMD
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...Spring        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      14F_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      14F_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 in Land of Erden  6.2     1.5     1.5       1
Treasure.Zip                                               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 
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      14C_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

If you've voted, but haven't seen any change in the scores above,
please note that I've received a few votes which haven't yet been
entered into the score list. They will appear in time for the next


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.

There are no changes in the top five list since the last issue:

 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

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

I really hope that you won't have to wait as long for the next issue
as for this one. There are lots of interesting games out there to
review, so keep the reviews coming! We also hope to cover the first IF
Art Show in the next issue.

Until the next issue: Happy Adventuring!


           Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!

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