___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE # 18 Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) September 15, 1999 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #18 is copyright (c) 1999 by Paul O'Brian. 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 ----------------------------------------------------- Aisle Anchorhead The Awakening Detective Golden Wombat of Destiny Jewel of Knowledge Mystery Science Theater Adventure #1 ("Detective") Varicella Wearing the Claw EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ Interactive fiction has been a part of my life for over 15 years. It's hard for me to believe it's been that long since my Dad brought home a copy of Zork I for the brand-new disk drive of our sleek Atari 400, but it's true. For me, just playing a game that didn't take a half-hour to load from a cassette tape was pretty cool, but this new program that understood what I typed, that challenged the agility of my mind rather than of my fingers, and that transported me into a breathtaking new imaginative vista... well that was downright *magical*. From that time forward, Infocom games were the only computer games I wanted. The most exciting thing about Christmases and birthdays was the prospect of a new Infocom game. Infidel, Planetfall, Sorcerer, Suspect, Trinity -- I remember each one as an event. Back then, nothing could duplicate the thrill of thumbing through each nifty "feelie" and seeing that very first introductory screen of text. I was never all that good at them; I'd get irretrievably stuck at some point, sometimes for months (or even, in one case, years), and would have to find some friend or acquaintance for a hint, or worse yet, break down and buy a hint book (which was that much less money to spend on the next game!). I didn't care, because solving the puzzles was only a small part of the pleasure of IF. For me, it was always more about that feeling of immersion in a fictional world. That was my teenage addiction. I fell away from it for a little while, during my college years. Infocom had disappeared, and I couldn't work up much excitement about the games remaining on computer store shelves. Fast-forward to 1993. I was in the first year of a Master's program in English Lit., browsing in a computer store when a familiar word caught my eye. The package said "Lost Treasures of Infocom." I could barely believe it, but it seemed to be a packaging of *twenty* Infocom games for the same price I used to pay for *one*. Even that money was more than I should have been spending at that dirt-poor student stage, but you see, I had no choice. My love of IF, so long dormant, roared up once again, stronger than ever. Besides, I rationalized, I was in the middle of a literary theory class, and wouldn't it be cool to write my final paper on interactive fiction? I bought it (both the rationalization and the game), wrote the paper, found LTOI 2, and was back in IF bliss. Around that same time, I was working a graveyard shift job in the university's dorms, long quiet nights with just me and the lobby computer. Following my reawakened interest, I looked through various Gophers (remember those?) for information on interactive fiction. That's where I found some vague hints about something called a "rec.arts.int-fiction", a "USENET", and most confusing of all, a "Curses." It took me a little while, but I puzzled it all out, and figured out the most astonishing fact of all: IF is not just an object of sweet nostalgia. It is *alive*! I've been a part of the Internet IF community ever since, posting, writing reviews, and even contributing a game of my own to the IF archive. Around the same time I started reading the int-fiction newsgroups, something else was just starting: a magazine called SPAG. (Wondering when I'd finish talking about myself, weren't you?) Founded by Gerry Kevin "Whizzard" Wilson, SPAG's purpose was to review pieces of interactive fiction, both old and new, and by doing so to advance the cause of the modern text adventure. Whizzard helmed SPAG for over three years before handing it off to Magnus Olsson, winner of the 1995 IF competition (TADS division) and frequent contributor to the IF newsgroups. Now, as SPAG passes its fifth anniversary, Magnus has given the reins to me. I'm honored to be chosen, and grateful to my predecessors for making SPAG an important voice in the IF community. I believe that SPAG's reviews are valuable, and I'm pleased to be able to continue their collection and dissemination. I'll do my best to keep SPAG a vital and invigorating presence, and I believe that this issue is an auspicious start on that goal. We've got reviews from a variety of contributors, including looks at new games Jewel of Darkness and Varicella, re-examination of some older pieces, and contributions from articulate reviewers like okblacke and Duncan Stevens. In short, I'm excited about the contents of this issue, and I hope you are too. Thanks to everyone who has welcomed me into this position -- it's a wonderful feeling when you know that the hobby of your past has a dazzling future too. NEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Normally this section will contain all the news I've collected since the publication of the previous issue of SPAG. However, due to the editorial shift, I haven't been collecting news this time around, so instead I'll provide a Top Five list of interesting and exciting things currently happening in the IF world. For the competitive among you, let me state clearly that this list is in no particular order -- all news items are equal to me! 1) PHOENIX RISES FROM THE ASHES Adam Atkinson, Graham Nelson, and Gunther Schmidl have combined their energies to help resuscitate some very old games. These games resided on the central computer at Cambridge University, which was known as "Phoenix," after its operating system. Schmidl sought and cleared rights to the source code of these games, while Atkinson and Nelson worked on testing the source code and creating a translator program which output z-machine binaries from this code. So far, the fruit of their labor is a trio of cave games by Jonathan R. Partington: Crobe, Fyleet, and The Quest for the Sangraal. 2) HE'S NOT CHOKING, HE'S SAYING "GLULX" Andrew Plotkin is hard at work on the next generation of virtual machine for interactive fiction. For his own always-arcane reasons, he has chosen to call this machine "Glulx." The executable interpreter for this virtual machine is called "Glulxe", and work on an Inform-to-Glulx compiler is proceeding apace. (A beta version is currently available for early testing.) The products are a little rough at this point, but being refined at a rapid rate. The result will be a lifting of nearly every current limitation of the z-machine. 3) KNOWLEDGE AND TREACHERY With the competition nearly upon us, we prepare to be flooded with new short games very soon. In the meantime, we enjoy a couple of recently released longer games, Francesco Bova's "Jewel of Knowledge" and Adam Cadre's "Varicella." One is a traditional cave crawl while the other is a courtly intrigue. Both are reviewed in this issue. 4) I MAY NOT KNOW ART, BUT I KNOW WHAT I LIKE The summer IF Art show has come to a close. The show was a modest one, with only two entrants, but both entries are worth attention. Also rewarding are the reviews from the panel of judges, comprised of David Dyte, David Lebling, Michael Gentry, Marnie Parker, and Mike Roberts. The "Best of Show" award was given to "Statue", by David Clysdale. The web site of the IF Art shows is http://members.aol.com/iffyart/gallery.htm. 5) EVERYDAY HE WRITES THE BOOK Cascade Mountain Publishing (the publishing venture owned by former Implementor Mike Berlyn) is preparing to publish a printed version of Graham Nelson's Inform manual. Graham is hard at work on the revised edition of this book, which will include lots of new sections, exercises, and updated coverage of the latest library and features. These manuals will be sold at cost, so only a limited number will be printed. To reserve your copy, email mberlyn SP@G cascadepublishing.com. Be sure to put "Inform Manual" as the subject of your message. Finally, I'd like to finish this section with another list. The SPAG "10 Most Wanted" list will name ten games which have not yet been reviewed in SPAG, but which richly deserve to be. I plan to make it a regular feature of the SPAG news section. Once again, this is not a ranked list; all reviews are desired equally. In addition, I welcome suggestions for games that ought to be on this list (or better yet, reviews of those games!) SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. BSE 2. Crobe 3. Deadline 4. Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. 5. Frobozz Magic Support 6. Fyleet 7. I-0 8. Lost New York 9. Quest for the Sangraal 10. Spiritwrak 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 AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 URL: Not available. When submitting reviews: Try to fill in as much of this info as you can. If you choose, you may also provide scores for the games you review, as explained in the SPAG FAQ. The scores will be used in the ratings section. Authors may not rate or review their own games. More elaborate descriptions of the rating and scoring systems may be found in the FAQ and in issue #9 of SPAG, which should be available at: ftp://ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/magazines/SPAG/ and at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag REVIEWS ---------------------------------------------------------------- From: Duncan Stevens
TITLE: Aisle AUTHOR: Sam Barlow E-MAIL: sam.barlow SP@G talk21.com DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform standard, with some additions SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABIILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/games/zcode/aisle.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Sam Barlow's Aisle is without a doubt one of the most unusual works to hit the IF community in quite some time. In no sense is it a game; trying to "win" it is futile, and the suboptimal outcomes aren't bad choices to be avoided as such. Rather, the point is to explore the central character and take a look at the various possibilities available to him from one point in time. That said, however, it's not clear that Aisle is an entirely successful experiment. The premise is simple: the game has one move, and it "ends" after that move and automatically sends you back to your original position. By interacting with what's around you -- and by incorporating knowledge gained thereby into future moves -- you learn about your own character and make sense of his various neuroses, fears, and hangups (to some degree, anyway). In the process, you get a sense -- at least, I did -- that your character, in this one move, is at a crossroads of sorts (or, at least, that the moment can mark a turning point, a change, if treated that way), and you take a look at where various paths might lead. In a sense, it's IF compressed -- while most good IF lets the player decide how a story will come out, to some extent, but draws that input out over several dozen or hundred moves, Aisle limits the input to one turn and tells the rest of the story for you. This structure allows the author to greatly multiply the range of options available, of course. In practice, however, Aisle can be thoroughly confusing--in part because the author both lets the player discover the PC's past and gives the PC multiple pasts to discover. The player might therefore initially assume that the key to understanding the player is piecing together his memories -- but there are too many memories that are inconsistent, incapable of fitting together, to do that successfully. As a result, it's difficult to make sense of what the PC does in the present, given that he has multiple pasts which might or might not explain his actions, and the character splinters into several parts, Sybil-like. The command "think about" or "remember" gives the player access to the PC's past, which is handy -- but the significance of the events recalled is largely a matter of interpretation. Though this may be a product of the assumptions built into most IF (i.e., polite conversations are rare), it also seemed that most of the PC's options at this moment in time are profoundly antisocial; many involve violence, many of the other options are simply bizarre, and your character often treats apparently normal conversational gambits as an excuse to act psychotic. All this has its place, of course -- the PC is supposed to be unhappy and under stress -- but it does make Aisle a bit tedious after a while, when the options for civilized behavior run out. On the other hand, many of Aisle's outcomes are quite effective on an emotional level, product of antisocial behavior or not; there is a strong sense in many of the scenarios that the PC doesn't really know why he does what he does. (Which, of course, puts him in the same boat as the player.) Whether intended this way or not, it's an intriguing take on the player-PC relationship in works of IF, since the player is free to tell the PC to do irrational, bizarre, or suicidal things -- but here the consequences of those irrational actions, and their effect on the PC, are played out again and again. Thus, as unattractive as the PC occasionally seems, it's hard to entirely lose one's sympathies for him. Since most of the story revolves around the PC's emotions, the player's reaction to the PC determines her reaction to the story as a whole, however -- and it should also be noted that the repetitive nature of the game, and the sameness of most of the outcomes, may tax the patience of the player and erode her sympathy for the hapless antisocial PC. The writing, on the whole, is strong -- memories come back to the PC in jumbled, scattered fragments that force the player to cobble together the story (or one of the stories), and the fragments -- a pasta meal, a waiter, an accident -- are vividly rendered, with striking images to carry them along. (It would spoil the game, however, to reveal what the images are.) The technical aspect, though obviously very simplified, is likewise well done; most actions, logical and illogical, are provided for, and those that aren't generally are omitted for a good reason. It's difficult to say, in the final analysis, what Aisle is setting out to do. If the point was simply to experiment with the classical IF form, this was clearly a successful effort. But the introspective nature of the game leads one to believe that the point is to portray a character and paint his emotional portrait, and the effectiveness of that aim turns on the player's reaction. For those who don't care for the PC or for his behavior, Aisle gets old fast, and there isn't much flexibility for the player to try to send the PC in different directions or otherwise change his ways. The lack of any sort of cathartic finale also means that the story always feels incomplete: the player is likely to try a series of options, eventually conclude there is nothing more to see, and quit, with no particularly resonant ending to make the whole thing more emotionally satisfying. Aisle is an interesting idea that has its moments, and it's worth a look for anyone interested in the theory of IF. Its effectiveness depends on whether it makes an emotional impact, however, and without such an impact, it's a dreary experience at best. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Anchorhead AUTHOR: Michael Gentry E-MAIL: edromia SP@G concentric.net DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/anchor.z8 VERSION: Release 5 There's a certain skill to writing horror fiction: the author has to know how to build suspense in such a way that the story is interesting throughout. The challenge is doubled for IF, since the author cannot control the pacing in the same way as a static fiction writer can -- and the puzzles need to be forgiving enough that the player doesn't bog down in a particularly difficult one and lose the rhythm of the story. Michael Gentry's Anchorhead is very good horror IF; the author has a nice feel for the challenges posed by the genre, and the game is consistently both scary and playable, no small feat. Among the challenges is, of course, making the game feel fresh. Lovecraftian horror is a fairly well-explored IF genre -- between Infocom's Lurking Horror, Brendan Wyber's Theatre, Dennis Matheson's Awakening, and Anchorhead, Lovecraft seems to have quite a few imitators. (Most or all of whom, incidentally, write better than he did.) The trodden nature of this particular ground means that the seasoned IF veteran needs more than unnameable horrors and unspeakable rituals to stay interested in a game that borrows from Lovecraft. But Anchorhead is up to the job: the story is more than good enough to overcome the familiarity of the horror devices. Part of the reason is that the story revolves around the relationship between the PC and her husband, which comes alive as much as any relationship between two IF characters in memory -- and much of the progress of the story is marked by changes in that relationship. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The story is that your husband has inherited a family home in the New England town of Anchorhead, and picked up a full professorship at the local university, so you and he are moving in. You don't know much about his family -- in fact, when the story begins, you don't even know the family name (of this branch, at least) -- and much of the first half of the game is spent wandering around gleaning details. It's to the game's credit that you do have to glean the details -- as in, progress is cut off until you've actually found certain bits of information and made use of them in certain obvious ways. Knowledge from prior games, in other words, isn't enough. This makes particular sense given the genre: a Lovecraft fan might well skip straight to the conclusion and cut out the information-gathering, which would throw off the pacing of the story's buildup (and make later events rather confusing for someone who hadn't bothered to collect the evidence). And for those of us who don't know intuitively where the story is heading, the various details heighten the creepiness factor considerably. To be sure, there are improbabilities and coincidences, but such things are inherent in the Lovecraftian universe -- and given the assumptions of the genre, nothing in Anchorhead strains disbelief unnecessarily. The game is divided into three days, but time passes only when certain puzzles are solved; you are only on the clock at a few select times (and, even then, the timing isn't all that tight). The pacing is therefore fairly leisurely for the bulk of the game, which takes away the scare factor inherent in time limits. In light of that, the author has to ensure that the story does, in fact, move along when the threat of imminent death isn't forcing it to move along -- and he succeeds, mostly; few of the puzzles should detain the player long enough that she forgets what had been going on in the story before she started on the puzzle. From the author's notes, this appears to be a conscious choice, and it's a wise one; repeating the same scene dozens of times doesn't serve any sort of story well, but it's particularly damaging for horror, since there's little shock value in a gruesome death when you're reading it for the twentieth time. As it is, there are only a few scenes where the player is likely to have to replay several times, and the more recent releases have streamlined those as well -- particularly one involving a certain asylum. (Anchorhead is much better in this respect than Lurking Horror, which had some very difficult puzzles and several ostensibly scary sequences that most players probably end up playing through multiple times.) Anchorhead is a _very_ large game -- not so much in the amount of area covered, but in the length and complexity of the story, the amount of items you encounter and use in one way or another, and the potential different paths through the game. Very few of the game's items are artificially cut off from each other to save the bother of coding their interaction, moreover, meaning that the combinatorial explosion factor must have been considerable. In light of that, the technical aspect of Anchorhead is impressive indeed (there's a reason why this was the first Inform data file to exceed half a meg in its compiled form). There were some bugs from the first few releases, but they've largely been cleaned up. One of the nicest things about Anchorhead, moreover, is its player-friendly nature: you have a rucksack-like trenchcoat that can carry just about everything in the game, but the game does all the item-juggling for you when you try to pick up something you don't have room for in your hands. Better still, the umpteen locked doors and keys to those doors that you encounter along the way are handled automatically, through a keyring: type UNLOCK DOOR before one of the locked doors, and the game will automatically flip through the keyring and try all the keys. Without this innovation, trying to keep track of which key opens which door would be a puzzle in itself; with it, the player is free to pass through the doors without giving them a second thought. A game as complex as Anchorhead is clearly the product of considerable attention to detail. The best thing about Anchorhead, however, is the writing, which is itself the product of some very careful choices. Horror writing can easily lose its force over the course of a story; the author has to strain to come up with fresh grotesqueries that shock or terrify in new and different ways. There's no formula for avoiding repetition in such writing, but somehow Anchorhead manages -- to the end, I never had a sense of deja vu when reading about my latest gory death. The author also exercises enough restraint to avoid slipping into self-parody, another pitfall of horror writing -- every sight and smell is not, in fact, pronounced the most horrible sight you've ever witnessed or the foulest stench you've ever smelled. Vital on this point is that the author avoids injecting the PC's emotions into the story almost completely; when you're not told that you're terrified out of your wits at every moment (and can infer such things when you care to), the story avoids excessive repetition. Nor, in fact, are you told, with a few exceptions, how you react to your various experiences -- no "you scream in terror" or "you gasp in horror" or equivalents. The emotional reactions are left to the player. Those are some of the things Anchorhead doesn't do that win it points in my book, but the things it does do are just as good. This game won the 1998 XYZZY for Best Setting, and the award is well-deserved: the atmosphere is skillful, particularly in the early scenes: the author conveys a feeling of general gloom and decay without crossing the line into horror prematurely, and without laying on the foreboding and unease stuff too thickly. This is one of the better passages: Pallid gray light trickles in through the drawn blinds. The office is deserted, papers still scattered across the top of the desk. The front door lies west, and the file room lies east. Sitting on the corner of the paper-strewn desk are a telephone and an answering machine. Someone seems to have left a cup of coffee sitting out, half-finished and cold. With just a few details -- the "pallid gray light", the unfinished cup of coffee -- the author sets a subtly disturbing scene; not everything gets a description filled with ominous portents (there is nothing to suggest that the desk was abandoned in haste or any such thing, which might tempt a lesser writer). It is inevitable, given the nature of the materials, that things get a bit over the top now and again, but that's the exception rather than the rule here. Are there flaws in Anchorhead? Yes, but they don't detract much from the story -- and recent releases have cleaned them up. There's a sequence toward the end of the third day with no time limit (after a chase of sorts had already happened) in which the player doesn't really have much direction in figuring out what to do next, and it's possible to wander around aimlessly for quite a while, trying to figure how where to go, and lose the feel of the story. Some points are awarded for nonessential things, which might leave the player wondering what she's missed when she completes the game with less than a perfect score. The one puzzle that struck me as potentially frustrating involved an NPC who would give the PC an object, given the proper prompting -- but it's not necessarily obvious how to prompt him, and it's easy to get on the wrong track. Still, these problems are insignificant given the scope of the game, and most things about Anchorhead work more than well enough to keep the player involved throughout. It's an impressively coded, impeccably written work, one of the best in recent memory. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= FROM: okblacke SP@G usa.net NAME: The Awakening AUTHOR: Dennis Matheson EMAIL: Dennis.Matheson SP@G delta-air.com (I pulled this off of Deja News. The E-mail listed in SPAG#15 may be better. Dennis_Matheson SP@G compuserve.com) DATE: July 1998 PARSER: Inform AVAILABILITY: GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/awaken.z5 VERSION: Release 1 "The Awakening" is a short-short horror with a clear and admitted homage to H. P. Lovecraft (HPL), complete with elements lifted directly from "The Outsider" and other of that seminal author's works. It's a "first game", too, and taken as such, it's certainly not bad. But the game can be seen to illustrate some of the larger issues that arise when trying to bring the feel of HPL to IF. On the good side, a lack of dialogue and human interaction (which HPL felt to be antithetical to the atmosphere he was trying to create) makes sidestepping classic IF NPC issues easier. On the bad side, the kleptomaniacal, Wile-E.-Coyote-esque aspect of the adventurer doesn't mix well with lurking horrors. In other words, running around with ladders and being chased by dogs present me with comic images--made even more comic by the fact that I knew from the start (as any reader of HPL would) the secret behind the "purple tablecloth". I know the writing worked for a lot of people, but I'm still scratching my head over "storm tossed sky" (not to mention the Zork-esque "storm tossed branches"), concaphony, and the "iron-barred fence" in the initial descriptions. (A fence barred by iron? A fence made of iron bars?) Not to mention prose peppered with "seems". (I'll assume that the adjective-heavy segments in the beginning of the game are an homage to HPL.) Some of the weather effects didn't quite make it for me, either. The frequency of the intermittent hailstorms drew my attention to the fact that I was being fed random weather effects. There was some satisfaction in solving the puzzles, although there is an instant death puzzle at the end (which you can avoid by talking to an NPC). They mostly made sense and some effort was made to avoid having the player get into unwinnable state. (Though the hint system actually encourages the hapless user to get into an unwinnable state, if he's trying to minimize his use of it.) The arrangement of hints is poor: I'd say half the hints are worthless, and they detract from any sense of atmosphere, even ending with "That's All Folks" when they have been exhausted. There are a number of out-of-place messages, some from the Inform standard library (like "Violence isn't the answer to this one.") and one gets the idea that the author hasn't quite patched up all the holes. You can, for example, tie a rope to the limb of the tree, only to receive the message "The broken limb isn't attached to anything" when you try to "untie limb". This is a somewhat harsh review but, as I point out, the game isn't bad. There are some nice atmospheric touches and the author shows more care with the story than one might expect from such a small game. Nonetheless, a game (however short) that is dependent so heavily on atmosphere needs to take impeccable care with the details or risk losing his audience before they get to the "frisson". Plot: 1.2 Atmosphere: 0.8 Writing: 1.2 Gameplay: 0.9 Characters: 1.0 Puzzles: 1.0 Overall: 1.3 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= FROM: okblacke SP@G usa.net NAME: Detective AUTHOR: Matt Barringer EMAIL: Unknown (He probably doesn't want any mail about this anymore anyway.) DATE: 1993 PARSER: Inform AVAILABILITY: GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/detectiv.z5 VERSION: Stuart Moore's Inform Port of an AGT classic! Have you ever had the experience of seeing a movie or reading a book only after a hundred people told you how good or how bad it was? The actual work almost never lives up to your expectations. So it is with "Detective" which is probably the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" of IF. (It's not the worst piece of IF ever written by a long-shot but it may be the most infamous.) I'm not entirely sure of the history of the game, beyond the author uploading it to a BBS and things getting out of hand from there, but if I'm not mistaken there are two ports of the original AGT game and two MST versions. That may be some kind of record for a game held in such loving low esteem. I hadn't ever played it, so when I saw that Stuart Moore had created an Inform version, I thought I'd take the time to play this and the so-called MSTied version. Truth is, it's not that bad. It's not any kind of good, either, because it's basically a puzzle-less IF piece without solid, compelling writing to sustain it. Enough has been said about the program's various faults (the lack of a proofreading, instant death, one way doors, incidents built into room descriptions, near complete non-interactivity, no story development beyond the original idea, incoherency and so on) that the game could serve as a model on how not to write IF. I won't embellish on the game's faults here except to say that, having known what to expect, I can't really share in the frustration that players of the original AGT version must have experienced if they were looking for a game. It's short, arbitrary and pointless, but it *is* short! It may even be historical. (Can you count yourself a true IF afficionado if you don't know of this game?) It's also sincere in its way. If you look at other bad IF, you often find a cynicism, rampant insults to the player, and sleazy bad humor. It's clear that the author's intentions are good. Rating is somewhat problematic because (as outlined by Whizzard) the ratings system deals with "attempts" and "effort" and I believe the attempts and effort were there, just not successful. Nonetheless, I can't really give a high score for "trying" except to bump up the "overall" category somewhat. Plot: 0.1 Atmosphere: 0.0 Writing: 0.1 Gameplay: 0.0 Characters: 0.1 Puzzles: 0.0 Overall: 0.5 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Golden Wombat of Destiny AUTHOR: Huw Collingbourne E-MAIL: huwcol SP@G aol.com DATE: 1989 PARSER: Home-brewed, but adequate SUPPORTS: MS-DOS AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/pc/wombat.zip VERSION: 1.2 The IF Archive is filled with no end of strange stuff, and Golden Wombat of Destiny is one of the strangest. The author is Welsh, I believe; I don't know the circumstances that led to writing this game, nor precisely what language it's written in. But while it isn't up to the technical standards of IF produced now, it's fun in its own quirky way. It seems you're looking for a lost city in the middle of a mangrove swamp, drawn on by vague talk of a mighty civilization destroyed by a plague, a nameless horror, wonderful treasures, and a Book of Knowledge. The swamp serves as a maze of sorts, not at all a highlight; as you have no objects to map with, the approach of choice seems to be wandering around randomly. The game does note your footprints in the mud, but that's your only guidance. Eventually, you stumble on the city, the game proper begins, and you save the game and never bother with the mangrove swamp again. A peculiar design choice, admittedly, and a harbinger of some equally peculiar choices. Once inside the city, you stumble across a giant termite, a skull guarded by an ant, a Room of Lesser Hallucination, a Death Ray Room -- and it gets odder from there. The puzzles are difficult, often unfairly so -- one requires some Shakespeare knowledge, another requires a realization that two machines on opposite sides of the city are linked somehow, and most require startling leaps of logic. The walkthrough in the solutions directory on GMD is handy. On the other hand, there is a certain elegance to a few of the puzzles -- at one point, careful study of the geography of the city is rewarded. And the parser, for the most part, is good enough to recognize a variety of syntaxes, so "guess-the-verb" is never an issue. For a homemade parser, Golden Wombat's is fairly effective -- full sentences are handled well (though not pronouns or undo, irritatingly), and there are no disambiguation problems that I encountered. And the writing, while hardly flowery, is competent -- important events are thoroughly described, while ordinary rooms are simply treated as ordinary. (At one initially confusing moment, you actually encounter the nameless horror mentioned above -- rendered as " ".) As indicated, "quirky" is the name of the game here. Particularly memorable is a funnel buried in the ground (examining it yields "It is extraordinarily funnel-shaped"); when the proper object is deposited in the funnel, you get this: there is a noise of ancient machinery which has become activated somewhere under the ground beneath you...After a few moments, there is a curious rustling sound amongst the vegetation nearby and a tiny sign unexpectedly pops up just behind the funnel. It says: "Thankyou [sic] for your generosity; "You have given that a wombat "May romp again in peace..." There is the sound of tuneless music somewhat like the British National Anthem being played on a didgery-do on a warped cassette buried in the ground. You stand to attention and salute. The upshot of the scene is that a hamster appears -- "looking very bemused and sad - the way that homeless hamsters usually do." A little of this sort of thing alerts the player that this game is not played by your ordinary logical rules. Most of the game is cute, but a good deal of it is just downright peculiar. The plot, despite the rather cursory background given at the beginning, is reasonably well developed, though some things remain unexplained. Central to the story is an empress imprisoned (after a fashion) in the city, whom you endeavor to free--but the consequences upon freeing her are rather surprising, and the ending is a real shocker: just when the player thinks he understands where the game is going, or has gone, the ending pulls the rug out from under him. (The original Zarfian ending, in a sense.) Though most of the story does ultimately hang together, many of the connections are left to be filled in rather than dutifully supplied. The effect is initially frustrating, but it actually fits the enigmatic feel of the game rather well. Golden Wombat of Destiny is obviously nothing like any IF produced recently; it's very much a product of the early days of freeware and shareware, when home-brewed parsers were common and cooperation among authors to develop and test games was sporadic (at least, as compared to today). But it's no less creative for all that, and it's offbeat fun, for the most part, with a thoroughly surprising finale. Though best played with a walkthrough at hand, it's certainly one of the more intriguing denizens of the IF archive. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Jewel of Knowledge AUTHOR: Francesco Bova E-MAIL: fbova SP@G pangea.ca DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/jewel.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Is the truest/highest purpose of IF entertainment, or art, or a fusion of the two? Is a game that provides an enjoyable playing experience as worthy as one that questions the nature of the form, or slyly sends up cliches or assumptions about its genre? Should the IF community turn up its nose at games that aspire to be nothing more than a collection of puzzles, bound by a tried-and-true plot? Francesco Bova's recently released Jewel of Knowledge does not pose these questions, technically, but playing through it does bring to mind some issues at the very core of IF--because, in its essense, Jewel of Knowledge is a puzzle-fest dungeon crawl in the tradition of Colossal Cave, Zork, and other foundational works of IF. To be sure, it gives the player considerably more backstory than most of the seminal dungeon-crawl works, and your motivations are considerably more developed. But what really works here is what made the canonical dungeon crawls work, namely good puzzles and a well-described setting; the moments where the author tries to question the assumptions of those traditional dungeon crawls are far less effective. Let me be clear, though: there are many intriguing innovations in Jewel of Knowledge that may well catch a Zork veteran off guard. Particularly notable is the opening sequence, which makes the backstory/prologue of the game interactive and forces the player to pay attention to the story rather than ignoring it and blithely jumping into the puzzles. While the plot does not at first glance appear novel--defeat three dragons, obtain the McGuffin of the title--the story follows a rather different path than the fantasy-game aficionado might expect. Other mild surprises include a maze that isn't what it appears to be and a false puzzle of sorts, an obstacle that cannot be passed in the expected way. These are effective in the context of the game because they keep the player guessing. Moreover, many of the puzzles are genuinely creative. Particularly notable is a cloak into which the player can insert other objects (the exact physical process here is left vague); the cloak then assumes the properties of those objects. The game doesn't do as much as it might with the implications of this power--some of the stranger and more interesting results are left sadly underdescribed. Still, it's an interesting idea that gives rise to some unusual puzzles. The maze mentioned above is clever as well and accommodates different solutions, in a sense, and other puzzles turn on recognizing relationships between objects in ways that reward careful reading. It is obvious to anyone who has finished Jewel of Knowledge, however, that the author had more on his mind when writing the game than coding original puzzles and arranging them in a satisfying sequence. There are Weighty Issues Afoot; progressively stronger hints develop them throughout the game, such that the finale is a surprise only for the player who hasn't been paying much attention at all. But while the game does a nice job of developing the PC's character and fitting him into the story, the author overdoes his theme--and what was presumably supposed to be a surprise ending becomes painfully obvious. The loudly moralistic ending is exacerbated by a guess-what-the-author's-thinking game for the optimal ending; even if the player recognizes the action that would lead to the suboptimal ending, she's likely to try it just to get a clue toward what the author _really_ wants her to do. The trouble is partly that the point isn't all that novel--Zork III made it much more subtly--and the alternatives presented at the end are painted in such stark colors that it doesn't actually say much to us. (Admittedly, it may be asking a lot to expect a fantasy game to say anything of note, but a more nuanced set of options might have helped.) There are similar problems with the writing. Parts of Jewel of Knowledge are impressively well-written: the scenes, by and large, are set vividly and economically, and the cave setting comes alive even for players who have already seen thousands of cave settings. There is plenty of geological detail (shades of Colossal Cave) that reduces the feeling that the cave is just a generic setting for the author's House o' Puzzles. (The geology even plays a part in some of the puzzles.) Other descriptions give the setting some atmosphere, though on the whole there isn't much of that. But there are also many awkwardly phrased moments, and, unsurprisingly, many of them come along when the author is reminding us of his Themes. This passage, from a conversation with your companion, is not entirely atypical: "Of course, returning the Jewel to Amylya will provide us with a lifestyle we could have only dreamed of," continues Jacob, "and the omniscience that the Jewel brings would tempt any person." Any person? Conversation isn't easy to write, but jarring moments like these don't help. Likewise, in what is presumably supposed to be a chilling moment, you discover the body of your companion: Oh, the horror! Lying face down on the cold granite ledge is your former colleague Ariana! Looking up through the shaft, you deduce that this must have been the air pocket she fell through a few layers up. The tone wobbles badly--any "horror" the player feels is minimized by the ill-placed observation about the air pocket. On the other hand, in the same scene, there is one particularly well-done line: You feel a lump in your throat as you realise that your nimble friend won't be around to experience the joy of your triumph as you bring home the Jewel. The author makes a rather surprising point here about the essential selfishness of the PC--and while it's jarring to interrupt the player's sympathy for Ariana, it does serve the purposes of the story. The writing isn't world-class, in other words, but it's good enough to be worth paying attention to--particularly in in the way it develops the protagonist's character. Likewise, from a technical standpoint, Jewel of Knowledge is mostly successful despite some rough spots. Some puzzles take more experimenting with verbs and syntax than seems strictly necessary, and others take more manipulation and searching of apparently insignificant scenery than one would expect from the average player. (At one point, moreover, the author seems to have unintentionally created a puzzle involving your escape from a dream or reverie, since the required action is rather obscure.) But there are very few bugs, and the design flaws don't significantly impede the player's progress. There are well-done little bits here and there, such as a warning system when the player is about to render the game unwinnable, and a "practice" puzzle reminiscent of Edifice. Jewel of Knowledge is, in fact, well-crafted enough that the forced ending is all the more disappointing--and yet it does manage to say something, even if unwittingly, about the state of IF. It is not exactly a secret that generic cave crawls focused entirely on gathering treasure are no longer in fashion, but Jewel of Knowledge, it may fairly be said, goes out of its way to avoid that label just a bit too much. No doubt this is the product of envelope-pushing IF that have left the traditional fantasy quests looking unimaginative, but it should still be possible to combine the traditional fantasy game with a modicum of irony; that was, after all, Zork III's approach. Perhaps more importantly, the split in personality between the "game" side of Jewel of Knowledge, which is by and large well done, and the "fiction" side, which is a worthy effort but needs some help, leaves the whole thing feeling a bit schizophrenic. My point, if I have one, is that not all IF needs to be dedicated to pushing envelopes, erasing boundaries, overturning tropes. Certainly, it's fun and a good idea to send up familiar settings or introduce fourth-wall humor to show the player that you're hip to the latest trends. (Jewel of Knowledge does do this in a few spots, and quite well at that.) But IF can be perfectly serviceable as _entertainment_, hardly an illegitimate goal, without beating the player over the head with a message about the limitations or assumptions of the genre. Jewel of Knowledge feels like it wants, in its heart of hearts, to be a Spider and Web, a Losing Your Grip, a Photopia, and it just isn't up to the job. There is plenty to like about Jewel of Knowledge; in most respects, it's a worthy heir to the tradition of fantasy quests, and while it has some problems, they don't detract from the game aspect much. Unfortunately, as interactive fiction, the overall effect is best described as uneven. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= FROM: Karen Tyers Jewel of Knowledge is the first offering by a promising new author, Francesco Bova, and hopefully it won't be the last. It is a traditional dungeon crawl, so for you purists out there, it's ideal. In my opinion (not worth much, but there you are), there are far too few traditional text adventures being written nowadays, and I have to confess I am not too sure that I like the way that interactive fiction is heading. I like to have puzzles to scratch my head over, and the trend towards puzzleless games doesn't appeal to me at all. You might just as well write a book and be done with it. There, now I'll get off my soapbox, and on with the game. When you start, you find yourself deep underground, obviously in the middle of some quest or other, but with very little information on what you are supposed to be doing. This had me stumped at first, but you do have a travelling companion (Jacob), and if you start talking to him about various things, you will find the game soon opens up, and since poor Jacob doesn't live very long, as usual in this type of game, you find yourself alone and very much up the creek without a paddle! I am not giving away anything here by telling you this, since in order for the game to start properly, unfortunately poor Jacob has to go and meet his Maker. OK, so you're now even deeper underground, and you must start to wander round the various tunnels and passageways in order to achieve your object of finding this wondrous jewel which is reputed to give it's owner unlimited knowledge and power. I really don't want to say much about the puzzles since it would give too much away, but there are lots of things to do in a very small playing area. What about that porous wall that you can look through - can you get to the other side of it? What about that shaft above the geyser - are you able to get up there? What about the crack in the roof of one of the tunnels? What about that skeleton that seems to be hiding something? The list goes on, and you haven't even met the three dragons yet! Is there any way of getting in contact with the people who sent you on this foolhardy mission in the first place? These are just a few of the questions you will have to find the answers to while playing this game. There are many more of course, and I have to say that although I got stuck in several places, none of the problems were insoluble with a little thought, and a lot of lateral thinking. Just a word of warning, don't be too quick to be destructive and violent - think about things. When I finally got to the endgame and found the jewel, I was quite relieved. I know from messages on the newsgroups that I subscribe to, that several people didn't like the ending, but I have to say that I found it to be a very refreshing change. I won't say more than that, as I don't want to spoil things, but I would be very interested to know what other people think. There are still one or two minor bugs in the game, but nothing that will stop you completing it. The author is aware of them, and they should be cleaned up shortly. I may be a little biased here, since I was involved in the beta-testing, but I would thoroughly recommend this as a smashing little game to while away a few hours. I do hope the author continues to write games like this, for those of us who still prefer a good old 'zorky' type of game. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= FROM: okblacke SP@G usa.net NAME: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Adventure 101 ("Detective") AUTHOR: C.E. Forman, Gareth Rees, Graeme Cree, Stuart Moore ("Detective" by Matt Barringer) EMAIL: various DATE: This version, 1998 PARSER: Inform AVAILABILITY: GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/MST3K1S.Z5 VERSION: Stuart Moore's Inform Port of the original MST3K IF. Having survived "Detective" relatively unscathed, I then went on to play the MST3K version of the game. As a rule, if someone is poking fun at someone else's work, I tend to be more critical and keep a sharper eye out for errors than otherwise, and right off the bat I noticed a few errors in the game. For example, the game has "role call" instead "roll call". Some of the initial jokes don't display any greater creativity than the source material. Also, the printing of the complete opening song from the MST3K TV show is probably a copyright violation. After the initial scenes, however, it's clear that the adaptation is more "good-natured ribbing" than mean-spirited criticism, and it won me over. You don't have to be a fan of the show "Mystery Science Theater 3000" or of bad movies, but if you're not, a fair portion of the jokes will be lost on you, and the introduction (which you can skip) may not make any sense at all. Suffice to say that the text of the original game has been "spiced up" with comments from characters (Mike Nelson and his two robots) who watch as you play. There is considerable creativity here, and the quality of the humor can give you an appreciation for "Detective" that you may miss just playing it "straight" (though I really think you should play it straight to begin with). For example, I knew there were "one-way" doors in Detective, but I never noticed them as the game was positively aggressive in telling me which way I could go. Knowing how bad the game was, I never bothered to do anything other than what the text was leading me to do. But with the MST3K version, it becomes fun to open all the doors and see what various deaths were planned. As they're all instant deaths, you can just undo and go on playing along. Also things like trying to backtrack and go in circles pays off when Mike and the 'bots riff on the "scenery" not reflecting your most recent actions. (At one point, you shoot a guy and his body vanishes, but he's still in the room description.) Personally, I think that any game, movie, or work of literature can be given this sort of treatment. (I've always wanted to see Mike and the 'bots do "Citizen Kane".) But a game like "Detective" gets a new lease on life from efforts like this, and reminds us how to laugh...and love again*. (*A quote from the show and the interview of Matt Barringer by C.E. Forman.) To rate the game, I've used the adapted text wherever possible to influence the ratings I gave detective. Since the MST3K version didn't add any puzzles (an intriguing notion were someone to pick it up), I didn't alter its score. Also, if you don't know the show, the atmosphere, characters and plot will probably work less well, since the game relied heavily on these known characters and spent little time explaining them. Plot: 1.0 Atmosphere: 1.0 Writing: 1.5 Gameplay: 1.0 Characters: 1.0 Puzzles: 0.0 Overall: 1.5 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Varicella AUTHOR: Adam Cadre E-MAIL: ac SP@G adamcadre.ac DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/ganes/zcode/vgame.zip VERSION: Release 1.00 Varicella, Adam Cadre's third game, has almost nothing in common with his first two, I-0 and Photopia--which, in turn, have just as little in common with each other. (One wonders how long Adam can go without producing IF that bears any resemblance to anything he's already written.) "Almost" is operative because Varicella does have a few things in common with Adam's previous works. The writing is terrific, of course; this is one of the best-written works of IF ever, bar none. Beyond that, though, such a wealth of intelligence went into the designing of this game that, even when the playing experience is unedifying, the player can only appreciate the author's artwork. The premise: you're Primo Varicella, the Palace Minister in the palace of Piedmont, a small Italian city-state (and the product of a somewhat reworked history, since the setting is modern enough to include telephones and electronic surveillance). The king is dead, leaving a five-year-old heir, you're bent on seizing power for yourself- -and you have no apparent compunctions about how you get that power. Your primary tool for the purpose is murder; for your purposes, evidently, your rivals are only out of the way when they're dead. Fortunately, all your rivals for the throne are as evil as you, so the player is unlikely to feel any qualms--and all sorts of nasty stuff ensues. Varicella is a black comedy, with the accent on "black"--mayhem and self-aggrandizement are your character's primary objectives. It follows the lead of last year's "Little Blue Men" in making the PC amoral, driven by greed and unimpeded by sentimental things like compassion--but it addresses a factor that Little Blue Men did not, namely the problem of expecting the player to go along with the PC's objectives. All of the rivals you bump off, or arrange to have bumped off, are profoundly evil; most of them seem to enjoy abusing or exploiting those weaker than themselves. (It is arguable whether you, the PC, are just as evil, but certainly your enemies are unsavory folks.) The player can see Varicella as a sort of avenging force, therefore, even if there are no signs that Varicella actually feels that way or cares about the various evils perpetrated by his enemies except insofar as they affect him personally. It's a rationalization, but a useful one. Varicella himself is one of the most intriguing PC's in memory, but also one of the most frustrating. He is fastidious to the point of caricature; the game regularly keeps you from touching or exploring things because the character finds the idea "unseemly." In fact, "unseemly" is Varicella's favorite word; he uses it as a sort of all-purpose denigration, and it gets applied indiscriminately to actions like walking into a wall inadvertently, lying on the floor, or dying messily. His tastes in interior decoration are exacting, and he feels compelled to comment on the furnishings of virtually every room in the palace--in fact, redecorating seems to be among his main objectives in seizing the throne. The persona that emerges is a sort of C-3PO gone Machiavellian, whose main concern in seizing power is ensuring that there are no bloodstains on the carpets. Varicella is an amusing invention, to be sure, but accomplishing his aims while observing his scruples can be aggravating; the verb TELL is almost never useful, as the game invariably returns "You're not about to divulge your secrets to a hysterical female," or with some substitute for the "hysterical female." In fact, though Varicella speaks in the beginning of a "flawless plan," I had the impression that this sort of character would ordinarily fuss over details and never actually dispose of anyone--and that it's the player's intervention that makes him a murderer. If so, it's a disturbing spin on the player-PC relationship. Unfortunately, none of the other characters are nearly as vivid, and most, with the exception of Miss Sierra, the cynical, clear-eyed prostitute, are wearily familiar. There's the dissolute younger brother, the corrupt priest, the ambitious War Minister, and others. To be sure, Adam gives many of them backstories that put their behavior in context, but they don't do much that could be considered surprising. Miss Sierra is the exception, though; she has definite opinions on everything that goes on, and the perspective that she affords on every aspect of the game is rather disconcerting. (In fact, she seems to function as the author's mouthpiece.) If there is a defect to Miss Sierra, it is that she speaks cynically about everything and initially seems to care personally about nothing, so that discovering something that does touch her personally leaves one wondering why. (It seems, in other words, that she could perfectly well shrug it off as typical of the depraved world she inhabits and understands so well, and it's not clear why she reacts as strongly as she does.) On the other hand, the point of Varicella is served just as well without 10 exhaustively developed characters; the author does what he sets out to do quite well with only a few. Lots and lots goes on in Varicella, and the timing for your required actions is very tight; ascertaining what you need to do requires several games' worth of information-gathering, along with considerable logistical planning so that you can time everything properly. Constant restarting isn't my favorite mode of gameplay, but it's acceptable in Varicella because the game is so short--with less than a hundred moves to replay, starting from scratch isn't such a chore. (There's even an inside joke toward the end of the game on this very subject: Varicella says to one of his rivals, "None of us really has the luxury of going back and trying it all over again until we get it right, now do we?" Varicella, of course, has had that very luxury.) The other reason why repetition isn't as irritating as it might be elsewhere is that, as mentioned, Adam is a hell of a writer, and reading his prose is consistently enjoyable no matter how often it goes by. Notable, but by no means atypical, is the following passage in the prologue: For if this letter you've just received is correct, just such a disease has claimed the life of the King. This leaves the principality in the hands of his son, Prince Charles. Prince Charles is five years old. Piedmont, it seems, will be requiring the services of a regent for the foreseeable future. And you can think of no better candidate than yourself. One can almost see the character rubbing his hands together (in a fastidious sort of way, of course) at the prospect of snatching the regency. The phrasing captures his personality nicely--"requiring the services of a regent" is the sentence construction of a man who has spent most of his life trying to phrase indelicate matters delicately. The mock-serious tone of "you can think of no better candidate than yourself" likewise implies that the narrator has spent lots of time thinking it over, really, and is prepared to justify the conclusion to his superiors as a Palace Minister must. The writing reflects Varicella's personality throughout the game, and is almost invariably mordantly funny. Playing through Varicella is quite an experience; as noted, the player must devote himself to thoroughly unwholesome ends, sought for no particularly good reason, which isn't necessarily such a pleasant sensation. Beyond that, though, the game requires that you unearth all sorts of unsavory details about your fellow aspirants to the regency--and the nature of the things you learn is, by and large, unpleasant. Giving the relevant players their comeuppance is superficially satisfying, but it doesn't address or rectify the evils already done--and the ultimate ending reflects that fact. In that sense, the game is thoroughly depressing; there's such a remarkable concentration of evil in the game's world that the walls practically drip with it. (In fact, in a sense, they do.) Yes, it's fiction, but the story told is unremittingly bleak--part of the game's message is that evil inevitably engenders more evil (and, moreover, a purer and more monstrous evil). It's in the nature of IF that telling a story of dirty deeds leaves the player feeling a bit soiled himself. (Footnote: playing Varicella can also be a tad annoying for those who don't share the author's views, particularly on matters religious: the character who represents religion also emanates hypocrisy and cruelty, and the mouthpiece mentioned above gets to excoriate all religious doctrines as "sugary lies." Subtle.) But Varicella is a well-told tale, and that it's depressing and unedifying is a testament to how well it's put together; it arguably wouldn't serve the author's purposes as well if it were simply malicious fun. The ending pulls the player up short, forces her to reconsider what came before; suddenly, there are consequences to casual cruelty. That point wouldn't come across nearly as well if the player didn't have a sense of complicity in the events of the game (which she certainly should). There is another process loose in the palace--an infestation of a nefarious green substance--that tells its own story: the palace itself is decaying rapidly, though no one seems to notice but you, and if the decay goes unchecked, the whole place will shortly become unlivable. The infestation serves ably as a metaphor for the evil afoot. (The setting is vaguely reminiscent of the end of Hamlet, in fact, when the "rotten" remnants of Denmark destroy each other and what is left is overrun by Fortinbras and his army. The system's internal contradictions cause it to implode. As it happens, there's also an Ophelia-like character in the game who repeatedly quotes Ophelia.) This, in short, is one of the best pieces of IF ever to be produced; it works brilliantly on several different levels, from entertainment to IF theory. As IF, and as fiction, it's quite an achievement. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Wearing the Claw AUTHOR: Paul O'Brian E-MAIL: obrian SP@G colorado.edu DATE: 1996 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/claw.z5 VERSION: Release 3 One of the nice things about fantasy IF is that it's so malleable; rarely will the player complain that he couldn't suspend his disbelief enough to allow the author's innovation to work, because just about anything goes. As such, the fantasy setting serves Paul O'Brian's Wearing the Claw well, as it allows the author to incorporate some interesting experiments with the feel of traditional IF--and while the result isn't flawless, it's certainly good enough to be worth a look. The main innovation at issue is the replacement of the traditional point-based scoring system with something that actually relates to the plot. Specifically: your mission is to rid your homeland of a curse that has turned people's body parts into animal parts, and your own left hand has turned into a wolf's paw. As you overcome significant obstacles in your quest, however, your hand turns more and more human (and, conversely, when you screw up or otherwise get farther away from your goal, the wolfish part of you grows). The changes, one way or the other, are marked by a "tingling" or an "itching" in your hand, and the effect--to keep the player on course without the artificiality of points as a reward--is accomplished nicely. There was one time, however, when my hand became more wolflike even though I had just made progress toward my goal--but it's a minor flaw in a well-conceived experiment. It's true that, since the game was released, other IF has been released with more dramatic revisions of the standard scoring system--Sunset over Savannah, Little Blue Men--and still other games have abolished scoring systems entirely, among them Spider and Web. To my knowledge, however, Wearing the Claw was the first to rid itself of points as an indication of progress, and the author deserves credit for that. The other innovation that the author mentions was to weave the puzzles seamlessly into the plot, rather than having soup-cans-in-the-pantry sort of puzzles that don't fit into the narrative. This, likewise, succeeds, though it should be noted that there aren't all that many puzzles, and what there is isn't all that tricky. Still, given how most IF--then and now--simply tosses out puzzles to solve, with the implicit promise that the game will bestow something useful or interesting as a reward for solving the puzzle, a game that consciously avoids that path is a welcome change. It should be noted, however, that such an approach probably wouldn't be possible in a significantly larger game; it's difficult to provide a predetermined reason for overcoming every obstacle, particularly things like locked doors, other than that you feel a strange compulsion to explore your surroundings as thoroughly as possible. It would, at least, be interesting to see a longer work of IF that attempted to do what Wearing the Claw does in this regard. As mentioned above, Wearing the Claw isn't all that difficult; there is one logical leap toward the end that takes some thought, but most of the game flows by rather quickly. This was an entry in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition, meaning that it had to be short enough to be finishable in two hours--and it does, in fact, fit well within that limit. Though what's here is of high quality, the game does seem to end just as it gets going, and the player may be left wishing for more to do. (The "amusing" list is quite extensive, though.) There are quite a few rooms and objects (in proportion to the size of the game, at least) that play no part in the plot, which helps the game seem larger than it is--but, that aside, this shouldn't take anyone very long to finish. The find-the-McGuffin fantasy setting itself is nothing new, though it does allow the author to work with some of the hoary IF tropes--and there are a few twists at the end that do test the player's expectations somewhat. Moreover, the writing is good enough to sustain the game even when the plot feels familiar: room descriptions are economical and vivid, though the style of the conversations owes more to Tolkien than to everyday parlance. (Sample from the protagonist's mother: "I fear for you, dear one, but perhaps you can find on your quest some means of restoring prosperity to our village, which has been too long poor.") It also helps that the plot is largely free of glaring inconsistencies or incongruities, hardly a given even in fantasy settings. Those who genuinely dislike fantasy probably won't make an exception for Wearing the Claw, as it doesn't really push the boundaries of fantasy all that much. As fantasy IF goes, however, it's both thoughtful and imaginative, and manages to entertain consistently--and for those who weren't around for the 1996 competition, it might be worth going back to check this one out. READER'S SCOREBOARD --------------------------------------------------------- Notes: A - Runs on Amigas. AP - Runs on Apple IIs. GS - Runs on Apple IIGS. AR - Runs on Acorn Archimedes. C - Commercial, no fixed price. C30 - Commercial, with a fixed price of $30. F - Freeware. GMD - Available on ftp.gmd.de I - Runs on IBM compatibles. M - Runs on Macs. S20 - Shareware, registration costs $20. 64 - Runs on Commodore 64s. ST - Runs on Atari STs. TAD - Written with TADS. This means it can run on: AmigaDOS, NeXT and PC, Atari ST/TT/Falcon, DECstation (MIPS) Unix Patchlevel 1 and 2, IBM, IBM RT, Linux, Apple Macintosh, SGI Iris/Indigo running Irix, Sun 4 (Sparc) running SunOS or Solaris 2, Sun 3, OS/2, and even a 386+ protected mode version. AGT - Available for IBM, Mac, Amiga, and Atari ST. This does not include games made with the Master's edition. ADVSYS - Available for PC and Macintosh only, or so my sources tell me. (Source code available as well. So it can be ported to other computers.) HUG - Written with Hugo. Runs on MS-DOS, Linux, and Amigas. INF - Infocom or Inform game. These games will run on: Atari ST, Amiga, Apple Macintosh, IBM, Unix, VMS, Apple II, Apple IIGS, C64, TSR-80, and Acorn Archimedes. There may be other computers on which it runs as well. Name Avg Sc Chr Puz # Sc Issue Notes: ==== ====== === === ==== ===== ====== Aayela 7.9 1.2 1.6 2 F_TAD_GMD Acorn Court 3.8 0.0 1.0 1 F_INF_GMD Adv. of Elizabeth Hig 3.1 0.5 0.3 2 5 F_AGT Adventure (all varian 6.5 0.6 1.0 8 8 F_INF_TAD_ETC_GMD Adventureland 3.8 0.5 1.5 2 F_GMD Afternoon Visit 4.1 1.0 0.8 1 Aisle 6.3 1.2 0.0 1 18 F_INF_GMD Alien Abduction? 7.5 1.4 1.6 2 10 F_TAD_GMD All Quiet...Library 4.9 0.9 0.9 5 7 F_INF_GMD Amnesia 7.8 1.5 1.7 2 9 C_AP_I_64 Anchorhead 9.1 1.8 1.6 4 18 F_INF_GMD Another...No Beer 2.4 0.2 0.8 2 4 S10_IBM_GMD Arrival 7.8 1.0 1.4 2 17 F_TAD_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 15 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 6.8 0.7 1.2 6 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 8.0 1.5 1.9 5 5 C_INF BJ Drifter 7.3 1.5 1.5 1 15 Border Zone 7.3 1.4 1.4 6 4 C_INF Broken String 3.6 0.5 0.4 3 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 0.9 1.4 8 7, 14 F_INF_GMD Chicken under Window 6.9 0.0 0.0 1 Christminster 8.7 1.7 1.6 8 F_INF_GMD Corruption 7.8 1.6 1.1 3 x C_I Cosmoserve 8.4 1.3 1.5 3 5 F_AGT_GMD Crypt v2.0 5.0 1.0 1.5 1 3 S12_IBM_GMD Curses 8.5 1.3 1.7 11 2 F_INF_GMD Cutthroats 6.2 1.4 1.2 6 1 C_INF Dampcamp 6.0 1.0 1.4 1 Deadline 6.9 1.2 1.3 6 x C_INF Deep Space Drifter 5.6 0.4 1.1 3 3 S15_TAD_GMD Delusions 8.4 1.8 1.6 1 Delusions 7.4 1.3 1.5 2 14 F_INF_GMD Demon's Tomb 7.4 1.2 1.1 2 9 C_I Detective 1.2 0.0 0.0 6 4,5 F_AGT_GMD Detective-MST3K 6.2 0.9 0.1 5 7,8 F_INF_GMD Ditch Day Drifter 6.7 1.0 1.7 2 2 F_TAD_GMD Downtown Tokyo 5.5 0.3 0.6 1 17 F_INF_GMD Dungeon 7.4 1.5 1.6 1 F_GMD Dungeon Adventure 6.8 1.3 1.6 1 4 F_SEE REVIEW Issue #4 Dungeon of Dunjin 5.8 0.7 1.4 3 3, 14 S20_IBM_MAC_GMD Edifice 7.5 1.5 1.7 3 13 F_INF_GMD Electrabot 0.7 0.0 0.0 1 5 F_AGT_GMD Emy Discovers Life 4.1 1.0 1.0 1 Enchanter 7.1 0.9 1.4 6 2,15 C_INF Enhanced 5.0 1.0 1.3 2 2 S10_TAD_GMD Eric the Unready 6.9 1.5 1.5 2 x C_I Everybody...Parade 7.3 1.2 1.3 1 Fable 2.1 0.2 0.2 2 6 F_AGT_GMD Fear 7.6 1.5 1.6 1 F_GMD Firebird 8.1 1.7 1.6 1 15 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 8.3 1.4 1.7 3 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 Guilty Bastards 8.7 1.8 1.6 1 F_HUG_GMD Gumshoe 6.2 1.1 1.1 4 9 F_INF_GMD Hitchhiker's Guide 7.7 1.5 1.5 9 5 C_INF Hollywood Hijinx 6.4 0.9 1.6 7 x C_INF Horror of Rylvania 7.3 1.5 1.3 3 1 F_TAD_GMD Horror30.zip 3.7 0.3 0.7 2 3 S20_IBM_GMD Humbug 7.0 1.7 1.5 2 x F_GMD I didn't know...yodel 1.7 0.3 1.0 1 17 F_IBM_GMD I-0: Jailbait on Inte 7.5 1.7 1.2 5 F_INF_GMD Ice Princess 6.2 1.1 1.6 1 Infidel 6.9 0.0 1.4 9 1,2 C_INF Inhumane 4.5 0.3 1.0 2 9 F_INF_GMD Jacaranda Jim 7.9 0.9 1.0 2 x F_GMD Jewel of Knowledge 5.7 1.4 0.8 1 18 F_INF_GMD Jeweled Arena 8.0 1.5 1.5 1 x ? Jigsaw 7.8 1.4 1.5 8 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 Jouney Into Xanth 5.0 1.3 1.2 1 8 F_AGT_GMD Journey 7.8 1.6 1.3 3 5 C_INF 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 7.0 1.3 1.5 9 4 C_INF Legend Lives! 8.9 0.9 1.6 2 5 F_TADS_GMD Lesson 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 7.6 1.5 1.1 3 9 S?_TADS_GMD Lists and Lists 7.5 1.5 1.8 1 Little Blue Men 9.1 1.3 1.9 1 17 F_INF_GMD Losing Your Grip 8.2 1.3 1.4 2 14 S_TADS_GMD Lost New York 8.2 1.6 1.6 1 Lost Spellmaker 5.4 1.2 0.8 1 13 F_INF_GMD Lurking Horror 7.2 1.3 1.3 11 1,3 C_INF MacWesleyan / PC Univ 4.9 0.6 1.2 2 x F_TADS_GMD Magic Toyshop 4.3 0.7 1.1 2 F_INF_GMD Magic.zip 4.5 0.5 0.5 1 3 S20_IBM_GMD Matter of Time 1.4 0.3 1.4 1 14 F_ALAN_GMD Mercy 7.9 1.5 1.0 2 F_INF_GMD Meteor...Sherbet 8.5 1.6 1.9 1 F_INF_GMD Mind Electric 5.1 0.6 0.8 3 7,8 F_INF_GMD Mind Forever Voyaging 8.4 1.3 0.8 7 5,15 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 5.8 0.6 1.2 5 4 C_INF Odieus...Flingshot 3.3 0.4 0.7 2 5 F_INF_GMD Once and Future 6.9 1.7 1.6 1 16 C30_TAD 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 6.7 1.5 1.0 2 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 ? Photopia 8.8 1.8 0.7 3 17 F_INF_GMD 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 Plant 7.7 1.2 1.7 2 17 F_TAD_GMD 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 Purificatio 5.8 2.0 1.0 1 17 F_GMD Sanity Claus 9.0 1 1 S10_AGT_GMD Save Princeton 5.6 1.0 1.3 3 8 S10_TAD_GMD Seastalker 5.5 1.2 0.9 6 4 C_INF Shades of Grey 8.0 1.3 1.4 4 1,2 F_AGT_GMD Sherlock 7.3 1.4 1.4 3 4 C_INF She's Got a Thing... 7.8 1.8 1.8 2 13 F_INF Shogun 7.1 1.5 0.5 1 4 C_INF Sins against Mimesis 7.7 1.7 1.6 1 Sir Ramic Hobbs 5.0 1.0 1.5 1 6 F_AGT_GMD Small World 5.9 1.4 0.9 1 So Far 7.8 1.1 1.8 5 F_INF_GMD Sorcerer 7.3 0.6 1.6 5 2,15 C_INF South American Trek 0.9 0.2 0.5 1 5 ?_IBM_GMD Space Aliens...Cardig 1.6 0.4 0.3 5 3 S60_AGT_GMD Space under Window 7.3 0.0 0.0 1 Spellbreaker 8.4 1.2 1.8 6 2,15 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 8.6 1.8 1.7 4 14 F_INF_GMD SpiritWrak 7.1 1.3 1.2 3 9 F_INF_GMD Spur 7.1 1.3 1.1 2 9 F_HUG_GMD Starcross 7.0 1.1 1.3 5 1 C_INF Stationfall 7.6 1.6 1.6 5 5 C_INF Stiffy - MiSTing 4.2 0.1 0.1 1 Sunset Over Savannah 8.3 1.3 1.5 1 13 F_INF_GMD Suspect 5.8 1.2 1.0 3 4 C_INF Suspended 7.2 1.3 1.3 5 8 C_INF Tapestry 6.9 1.2 0.7 2 14 F_INF_GMD Tempest 5.6 1.0 0.6 1 13 F_INF_GMD Theatre 7.0 1.1 1.3 5 6 F_INF_GMD TimeQuest 8.6 1.5 1.8 1 x C_I TimeSquared 4.3 1.1 1.1 1 x F_AGT_GMD Toonesia 6.4 1.2 1.3 4 7 F_TAD_GMD Tossed into Space 3.9 0.2 0.6 1 4 F_AGT_GMD Travels in Land of Er 6.2 1.5 1.5 1 Treasure.Zip 0 3 S20_IBM_GMD Trinity 8.6 1.3 1.7 12 1,2 C_INF Tryst of Fate 7.1 1.4 1.3 1 Tube Trouble 3.3 0.5 0.4 1 F_INF_GMD Uncle Zebulon's Will 7.2 0.9 1.4 9 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 Varicella 9.2 1.9 1.6 3 18 F_INF_GMD Veritas 6.9 1.7 1.4 2 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 7.5 1.3 1.3 9 5,6 C_INF Witness 6.9 1.6 1.2 7 1,3,9 C_INF Wonderland 7.5 1.3 1.4 1 x C_I World 6.5 0.6 1.3 2 4 F_SEE REVIEW Issue #4 Zanfar 2.6 0.2 0.4 1 8 F_AGT_GMD Zero Sum Game 7.5 1.7 1.2 1 13 F_INF_GMD Zork 0 5.7 1.0 1.3 6 14 C_INF Zork 1 6.4 0.8 1.5 13 1,2 C_INF Zork 2 6.6 0.9 1.5 9 1,2 C_INF Zork 3 6.1 0.7 1.4 6 1,2 C_INF Zork Undisc. Undergr. 6.5 1.0 1.2 1 14 F_INF -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- The Top Ten: There being so many worthy games now on the list, I've expanded the former Top Five list to another Top Ten. Note that a game is not eligible for the Top Ten 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. The list has changed significantly since last issue, due in part to Anchorhead and some works of Adam Cadre's finally receiving the baseline three votes necessary to make the list. 1. Varicella 9.2 3 votes 2. Anchorhead 9.1 4 votes 3. Photopia 8.8 3 votes 4. Christminster 8.7 8 votes 5. Trinity 8.6 12 votes 6. Spider and Web 8.6 4 votes 7. Curses 8.5 11 votes 8. Cosmoserve 8.4 3 votes 9. Spellbreaker 8.4 6 votes 10. Mind Forever Voyaging 8.4 7 votes 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. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!
Click here for a printable, plain text version of this issue.