___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE # 19 -- 1999 IF Competition Special Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) January 14, 2000 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #19 is copyright (c) 2000 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 ----------------------------------------------------- Beat The Devil Chicks Dig Jerks A Day for Soft Food Erehwon Exhibition For a Change Halothane Hunter, In Darkness Jacks or Better to Murder, Aces to Win King Arthur's Night Out Lomalow A Moment of Hope On the Farm Pass The Banana Six Stories Stone Cell Winter Wonderland + interviews with Laura A. Knauth and Dan Schmidt EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ Man, I love the annual IF competition. Every year at the beginning of October, it's like Christmas is coming early. I get so excited when I download that big file, unzip all those games into their directories, and fire up the magic randomizer that tells me what present I get to open first. As it turns out, the Christmas metaphor is a very apt one for this year's competition, since the winning game was Laura A. Knauth's holiday-themed "Winter Wonderland." It was followed closely by Dan Schmidt's surreal "For A Change" and Neil K. Guy's multimedia showcase, "Six Stories." The top several games may have had very little in common with each other, but I still think that there was a trend to this year's competition. Those of you who've read my Comp99 reviews probably know what I'm talking about. (By the way, speaking of those reviews, you won't find any of them in this issue. When SPAG was under the editorship of Magnus Olsson, he was kind enough to publish some of my competition reviews, but now that I'm the editor, I'm choosing not to publish any of my own reviews in SPAG. Readers of the zine will get more than enough of me in the Editorial and News sections, and I don't wish to turn the Reviews section into my own little vanity press.) Getting back to the topic from which I seem to have strayed, I did feel that there was a noticeable trend among many of the 1999 competition games: lack of interactivity. Some games restricted player choices drastically, some presented highly linear plots and offered few opportunities to step outside the walkthrough, some were so buggy that players had no choice but to stick to the walkthrough, and one even flat-out ignored player input for a number of turns. I'm not trying to claim that every Comp99 game had a low level of interactivity, but enough did that I feel the topic deserves some examination. It's obvious enough that the main difference between interactive fiction and conventional fiction (like, you know, books) is interactivity. What isn't so obvious is what form that interactivity can or should take, and what values to attach to the kinds and degrees of interactivity. After all, even a book is somewhat interactive; you can't just stare at a book and expect to be told a story -- you must pick it up, turn the pages, read the words, and put it down when you're finished. One of this year's entries, Life on Beal Street, offered a similar level of interactivity: it would output a paragraph, then ask the player whether to output another paragraph, or quit. The thing that distinguished the game from a simple chapbook of paragraphs was that the chunks of writing were selected randomly by the computer, creating an effect similar to drawing paragraphs out of a hat (or a series of hats, to be more precise). Perhaps what we need is a new term: Computer Assisted Fiction, or Computer Enhanced Fiction, or some such. Life on Beal Street couldn't really be called interactive in any meaningful sense of the word, but it was also a kind of fiction which the computer made far more manageable than physical pieces of paper would have been. Even the most drastically non-interactive games from this year's competition would have been quite difficult to deliver in book form. What many of them (the non-buggy ones) did, in fact, was in the best tradition of experimentation: they took the traditional text adventure and tweaked it to their own purposes, emphasizing some aspects and downplaying (or removing) others. The big question, of course, is: is it good? Can interactive fiction still be a fun or artistically affecting experience with the interactivity drastically reduced? The answer, as in so many fields of artistic endeavor, is: sometimes yes, sometimes no. Recent works like Sam Barlow's Aisle (reviewed last issue) and those in the IF Art Shows have demonstrated that IF need not follow the typical Infocom format in order to be worth a reader's time. In fact, one could argue that the boulder that started this landslide was Adam Cadre's Photopia, a game which reduced interactivity significantly but which was, by consensus opinion, highly successful. The important thing, it would seem, is to be as conscious as possible of the choices you're making in crafting your piece of IF, to set up our expectations so that we won't be disappointed by your deviation from the norm, and, of course, to write and design well. Seen in this light, IF doesn't look very different from most other forms of literature. NEWS ---------------------------------------------------------------------- COMPETITION RESULTS The 1999 IF competition was a great ride, as usual. Thanks and hosannas are due to Stephen Granade, who did a marvelous job of organizing the competition this year, and even put together t-shirts to commemorate the occasion. Several outstanding games were produced, and lots of very interesting and innovative work was done. SPAG's reviewers will be taking a closer look at many of the competition games a little later on this issue, but before we do that, here's the full listing of all entrants to the 99 comp and where they placed: 1. Winter Wonderland Laura A. Knauth 2. For A Change Dan Schmidt 3. Six Stories Neil K. Guy 4. A Day for Soft Food Tod Levi 5. Exhibition Ian Finley 6. Halothane Quentin.D.Thompson 7. On the Farm Lenny Pitts 8. Hunter, In Darkness Andrew Plotkin 9. Beat the Devil Robert M. Camisa 10. Jacks or Better to Murder, Aces to Win J. D. Berry 11. Erehwon Richard Litherland 12. Lunatix: The Insanity Circle Mike Snyder 13. Bliss Cameron Wilkin 14. Stone Cell Stephen Kodat 15. Four Seconds Jason Reigstad 16. The HeBGB Horror! Eric Mayer 17. Only After Dark Gunther Schmidl 18. A Moment of Hope Simmon Keith 19. Chaos Shay Caron 20. Strangers in the Night Rich Pizor 21. Lomalow Brendan Barnwell 22. King Arthur's Night Out Mikko Vuorinen 23. Calliope Jason McIntosh 24. Music Education Bill Linney 25. Spodgeville Murphy and The Jewelled Eye of Wossname David Fillmore 26. Life on Beal Street Ian Finley 27. Remembrance Casey Tait 28. Thorfinn's Realm Roy Main & Robert Hall 29. Death to my Enemies Jon Blask Water Bird, The Athan Skelley 31. Chicks Dig Jerks Robb Sherwin 32. SNOSAE R. Dale McDaniel 33. Pass the Banana Admiral Jota 34. Outsided Chad Elliot 35. L.U.D.I.T.E. Rybread Celsius 36. Guard Duty Jason F. Finx 37. Skyranch Jack Driscoll THEY DIDN'T WORK THEN, BUT THEY WORK NOW A couple of the games that placed towards the bottom, Guard Duty and The Water Bird, weren't there because they were poorly written or badly designed, but because their competition versions had bugs which rendered them unplayable. Happily, both games have been updated and their game- killing bugs eliminated. They're both worth a look -- but remember to look for the updated version! BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Not only did the competition treat us to an avalanche of new games, but a number of excellent new works of IF have made their debut independent of the comp. Since the last issue of SPAG, a wealth of new games have been published, including the following titles, listed roughly in order of release: * Break-in & The Mulldoon Legacy by Jon Ingold * Winchester's Nightmare by Nick Montfort * Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina by Jim Aikin * Inheritance by Eric J. Toth * Deephome by Joshua Wise * Worlds Apart by Suzanne Britton * The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man by Neil DeMause * Inform School by Bill Shlaer * Common Ground by Stephen Granade * A Simple Theft, by Mark Musante * 9:05 by Adam Cadre This particular issue of SPAG is dedicated to the competition, but I strongly encourage all our readers to check out non-competition games as well. Many of these games are larger, more intricate, and more polished than the average competition game, and they deserve as much attention as the comp games get as a matter of course. HEY! LOOK OVER HERE! NON-COMPETITION GAMES! In fact, there has been a great deal of discussion on the IF newsgroups lately of how to ensure that non-competition games get the attention they deserve, and a few ambitious members of the IF community have decided to do something about it. Lucian Smith has just announced the IF Book Club (http://textfire.com/bookclub/), whose agenda will be to select roughly one game per month and encourage people to play that game, discuss it on rec.games.int-fiction, and generally give it the attention it deserves. The Club will focus on games that have gotten short shrift for attention in the past, starting with January's entry, Stephen Granade's surreal odyssey "Losing Your Grip." Incidentally, I encourage anyone who writes a review of an IF book club game to submit that review to SPAG, preferably without posting it on rgif as well (I've gotta have *some* original content!) Speaking of reviews, the second branch of non-comp attention has been undertaken by the IF Review Conspiracy (http://www.textfire.com/ifreview.html), which is being run by Marnie Parker, Stephen Granade, and SPAG stalwart Duncan Stevens. The Conspiracy's aim will be to match new games with reviewers -- authors submit their newly released game and the Conspirators will make sure that it gets reviewed and the review posted to rgif. And as long as I'm exhorting people to write reviews, let me suggest that if you're a reviewer with the Conspiracy and you have something to say about a game that *wasn't* assigned to you for review, why not write your own review and submit it to SPAG? Hint, hint. ACHETON? GESUNDHEIT! If you're an American, the word "Topologika" probably holds little meaning for you, but if you're from the UK, you may well recognize it as the name of a company that produced such grand text adventures as Acheton and Philosopher's Quest. Now, thanks to the hard work of Gunther Schmidl, Brian Kerslake, and the original game authors, DOS versions of all the Topologika games have been released as freeware. They reside in the IF archive at ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/phoenix/games/pc -- I encourage you to check them out, and hey, why not review one for SPAG? >OOPS GAMES Several people have pointed out a typo in the last issue of SPAG -- in the URL provided for Varicella, the word "ganes" is incorrectly substituted for the word "games". I sincerely hope that this little typo didn't cause problems for anybody who wanted to download Varicella, because the gane is definitely worth your tine. REVIEW, REVIEW, WE WANT YOU! By this time, you've probably recognized that a recurring theme to this news section is my insatiable desire for new reviews, so it's only fitting that we end with the SPAG 10 Most Wanted list. This time around, the list is dominated by newly released games. It's been a very happy holiday season for Interactive Fiction fans, and you can make the first part of 2000 even happier (for me, anyway) by submitting a review to SPAG. Of course I'm interested in reviews of any and all IF, but the following 10 games are high on my wish list: SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. Christminster 2. Common Ground 3. Deephome 4. Enemies 5. The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man 6. Inheritance 7. The Mulldoon Legacy 8. Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina 9. Winchester's Nightmare 10. Worlds Apart INTERVIEWS----------------------------------------------------------------- For as long as the competition has existed, SPAG has been devoting a special annual issue to it. The competition issue of SPAG not only dedicates itself to featuring reviews of competition games from that year, but also has traditionally contained one or more interviews with authors whose games placed highly. I'm proud to continue that tradition this year with the following interviews. -=-=-=-=-Laura A. Knauth, author of "Winter Wonderland"-=-=-=-=-=-- SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth? LK: Right now, I'm a graduate student in electrical engineering at Stanford University, but hopefully, I'll have my master's degree at the end of this quarter. I really enjoy a lot of variety in my life, but it's been sorely missed this past year because of how time consuming grad school has been. I'm looking forward to starting work at Intel in February as a circuit design engineer. SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF? LK: I remember playing Zork briefly when I was very young and thought it was fantastic. When the Lost Treasures of Infocom came out, I saw it contained the Zork series, so I bought the collection and was hooked! SPAG: What sources, literary or otherwise, did you draw on to create the setting and creatures in "Winter Wonderland"? LK: When I saw the Annalee snow sprite doll (or 'frosty' elf doll as I've learned it's officially called) in a Christmas display two years ago, I immediately had an image of the snowy hills in Winter Wonderland with this little guy running around causing mischief. I knew then that I really wanted to create a piece of interactive fiction that included this character in that setting. I did my research on the Internet periodically for about a year, collecting information about the history of Christmas and reading lots of Christmas stories. The information I found motivated some of the puzzles and added more relevant details. It took me a much longer time than usual to hash out all of the characters, settings, and puzzles until I worked out the final version. But when I finally had some time to code the game last summer, I don't think I changed a thing from that plan. SPAG: I see from your web page (http://www.stanford.edu/~lknauth/) that chief among your many interests is photography. How did your sense of visual composition inform the creation of this game? LK: I think my interest in photography actually runs in parallel with my interest in writing IF. I think both are an attempt to make tangible the images I see in my mind. SPAG: You've been one of the most consistent contributors to the IF competition. What is it about the competition that catches your interest? LK: Well, nothing motivates like a deadline. ;) Actually, entering Erden into the competition was more of a coincidence in timing. And after seeing the comments posted to the newsgroup, I had no intention of ever entering the competition again. I thought my interests in IF were just too different from the emphasis of the competition (I like huge games with big maps). After I gave it some time though, I realized that I did have a couple of ideas that would fit into the realm of competition games, and so I pursued them. SPAG: Having received feedback, is there anything you would change about your game? LK: I wouldn't change anything significantly. I'm actually very satisfied with how it turned out! I do plan to release a second version fixing up some of the little bugs that have been found, and I will remove the line of code that turns on all direction indicators of the compass rose in the ice floes, but that's about all. SPAG: You mentioned in a newsgroup post that "Winter Wonderland" was a fusion of the best elements from your previous two efforts, "Travels in the Land of Erden" and "Trapped in a One-Room Dilly," and I think many reviewers felt the same way. Having successfully achieved this synthesis and reached the pinnacle of the competition, what's next? Do you plan to write any more IF? LK: I think I know now what elements are needed to create a piece of interactive fiction that the majority of people will like. However, I love playing games like Beyond Zork and Zork Zero, and those just don't mesh with the competition. I've been wanting to write a sequel to Erden for a while now, so if I did have the time to write another piece of IF, it would probably be a longer one that I'd just announce to the newsgroup whenever I finished. SPAG: Some people have found it noteworthy that only one woman entered the competition, and that the gender balance in the IF community on the whole seems be heavily skewed towards males. What are your thoughts on this? LK: I would suspect this dynamic stems more from society than the particulars of the IF community. Up until about a month before I started my undergraduate studies, I didn't know engineering was a viable option for me, and up until about four years ago, I didn't realize that I could author my own IF game, or I would have attempted it much sooner. You have to know something's possible before you can plan to do it, and I think many women don't even know what options they actually have. SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite games? LK: Well, I liked how it turned out. ;) Unfortunately, this quarter of graduate school has been a particularly vicious time drain. It's been difficult even keeping up basic essentials. I've seen a lot of great reviews for many of the games and hope to enjoy many of them over the holidays. SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition entrants? LK: As far as writing games is concerned, I've made it my policy to write games that I would like to play myself. So however the game is reviewed, I feel like I've created something worthwhile. As far as dealing with feedback, I'd recommend trying to glean whatever useful information you can out of the review even though it may not be the same information the reviewer intended. Use what works for you! The two adjustments I've made over the years of entering competition games are to structure the game so the impatient are more likely to keep playing, and to pay equal attention to puzzles and plot. Most importantly though is motivation. Commit to finishing the game, work out a feasible time table, and start writing! -=-=-=-=-=-=-Dan Schmidt, author of "For A Change"-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth? DS: I'm 30 years old and live in Cambridge, Massachusetts; I have degrees in computer science and music composition. For my first six years after college I worked at Looking Glass Technologies (now Studios) writing and designing computer games, and since then I've been at another startup, Harmonix Music Systems, writing music software for non-musicians. Other interests include singing, playing guitar, and writing songs for a rock band, Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives; playing in a Balinese gamelan; playing Go and chess; and reading a lot. SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF? DS: I think I played the mainframe Zork a little when I was ten or so while visiting my mother, who was teaching college. I also remember reading an article in Creative Computing about the Zork parser and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. I played around a dozen Infocom games in high school (and actually bought around half of them!) -- my favorites were Deadline and Planetfall. In 1993 or so, a coworker brought his copy of TADS into work; I browsed through the manual and was very impressed. I've been hanging around the newsgroups and fooling around with IF off and on since then, but For A Change is the first game I've actually finished. SPAG: You've worked professionally on some commercial graphical games, such as Ultima Underworld. How does the creation process for games like that compare to writing IF? DS: Well, the main difference is that there are a lot of people working on them at once. In Underworld, we had a core programming/designing team of three people, and we had a remarkable synergy, considering. In later games we had bigger teams, which made the ad hoc sort of design we used to do more difficult. The creation process for our games was actually rather anarchic, considering that we were doing it for a living. We'd have a basic idea of what kind of game we were making, implement a bit of it, and then see what additional ideas that gave us. It didn't make for a very predictable release schedule, which was a problem on the business side, but we were able to do a lot of creative things. When you write a game by yourself, you're responsible for every last thing, and that can be a bit wearying. But it is very nice to release something and say that you did it all yourself, one hundred percent. SPAG: On a similar line, I know you're in a band called Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives. How does the creative process of musicianship compare to writing IF? How about songwriting? DS: It's nothing like it at all. I mean, I guess there are some general similarities, like trying something out and then playing around with it until it works, but that's so vague as to be useless. I write songs by letting melodies and chord changes infiltrate my head while I'm walking to work; eventually I bite the bullet and finish up the lyrics. I rarely really have to work at it. Writing IF is a much more deliberate process for me. It's a computer program, so you have to get every last thing right. Also, it's much harder to see a project through to the end when it's a text adventure with lots of interactivity, rather than a three minute song! SPAG: You mention a couple of books in the author's notes to "For A Change": Ben Marcus' THE AGE OF WIRE AND STRING and Gene Wolfe's BOOK OF THE NEW SUN. How did these literary sources influence you, and did you draw on any other sources of inspiration to create the game? DS: I had been wanting to write a game with weird language for a long time. Partly this is because I don't trust myself to write memorably enough in a normal vein; writing in a strange style evades that issue entirely. When I encountered THE AGE OF WIRE AND STRING, I knew it was pointing in the right direction. It uses regular words but in an entirely oblique way. The difficult thing was trying to translate that sort of experience into an adventure game, where it's generally very important to communicate precise information to the player. I'll talk a bit more about that in answer to the next question. THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN was mostly useful as validation, as I read it very late in the process of creating For A Change. It uses many odd (generally archaic English) words and expects you to figure out along the way what they refer to. It's a bit different from my technique, since in many cases I tried to do away entirely with referring to a specific concrete thing. Again, more about that in a bit. One standard creative inspiration is the CODEX SERAPHINIANUS, which is effectively an illustrated alien encyclopedia, written in alien. I could easily imagine the handlefish and the songlantern existing in there somewhere. SPAG: Did you use any special technique to come up with the off-kilter language in "For A Change"? I would think it must have been very hard to maintain that slightly alien mindset. DS: Suzanne Skinner, in her review, said, "They're the sort of notions that normally strike one early in the morning, just after awakening from a dream, and then evaporate before they can be written down," and she pretty much got it exactly right. I basically tried to catch groups of words that went through my head when it was most empty. Then I'd say, "Okay, 'songlantern', what can I do with that?" So that's how a lot of the nouns worked. For descriptive language, where I couldn't be completely mysterious because it would leave the player without a clue, I mostly tried to keep one step of metaphorical distance from whatever I was describing. So if something was rising, I'd instead say it was getting larger, or gaining, or something. Then there's language which isn't just skewed but has passed the point of being referential in any meaningful way: The toolman is bright and misty. Thoughts and uses hang from his shoulders like birds. The point is not for the player to try to break the code of the text so he can understand what's actually being referred to; it's to make the text BE the world, in some way. You can meaningfully interact with that description without being forced to reduce it to some particular weird object that's being described in a particular weird way, just by taking in all the words themselves and savoring their connotations. Okay, that's unbearably pretentious, but that's the idea. The problem with that is that it fights pretty hard against a lot of adventure game axioms; how is the player supposed to be able to figure out how to do anything when she has no idea what the world is really like? What I tried to do was describe important things more clearly, or at least the important aspects of the important things. So when you look at the model landscape, for example, you understand what's actually going on there; you don't have to do much decoding. But I don't know how many people got hung up trying to do something with the toolman's thoughts and uses. One of the things I am proud of is that it turned out to be a playable adventure game, in the end; and a nice synergy between the language and the game emerged, in a way I hadn't totally expected. The guidebook also helped a lot. Ben Marcus' book has a glossary, but it serves more to further confuse than to explicate. The guidebook was a way to get across specific information about the world without being heavy-handed about it. It's a standard IF technique, of course, and I think it generally works very well. Some of the text was directly written as you see it; a few times I roughed out areas with normal English and then weirdified it later. I think the former technique worked much better. I had to cut back a bit on the weird language in some places. For example, darkness was originally described without any reference to the lack of light; it was described as the lack of thought, thought and light being somewhat synonymous in the game's world. But that just confused the hell out of people, so I had to take it out. One other thing: I tried to avoid forcing the player to be surprised at anything. One way to approach describing this sort of world is to say, "Hey, it's a lantern, and it's SINGING! Holy crap! What a weird thing! Let's call it a songlantern!" Instead, everything was described in an even tone, as if the player character was not surprised to see it, even if the player was. In fact, the player character already knows it's called a songlantern, arguably; it's the player who has to figure out what that really means. I think that helped to maintain the dreamlike quality of the game. SPAG: I know that some people find text games rough going, and I'd imagine that they'd find a game like "For A Change" even tougher, since a translation process needs to occur to understand the language itself, let alone the interface. Did you try to account for this by adjusting the interface, or did you aim the game specifically at IF veterans? DS: I'm not sure what you mean by the interface. The game does assume you're familiar with IF, just as a postmodern novel assumes you're familiar with the things it's referencing. I didn't include a 'How to play interactive fiction' section in the help menu, for example. I pretty quickly decided that it wasn't going to work well as someone's first introduction to IF, so I didn't bother trying. There are other plenty of other games which are good for that. I was expecting that a lot of people would just not enjoy it at all; that to them, the language would just be a bother. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of reviews said things like, "After five minutes, I thought I was going to hate it, but it turned out to be pretty cool." So in that respect I guess it wasn't as difficult as I might have feared. SPAG: Do you plan to write more IF in the future? DS: I'd like to, but I have difficulty coming up with plots or puzzles. I have this phobia of using 'standard' puzzles, which means that it takes forever for me to come up with puzzles that are original. I have to learn that not all the puzzles in a game have to be incredibly new. I tend to be rather constipated in everything I produce, not daring to release anything unless it's perfect, and the SpeedIF sessions on the ifMUD have helped me with that. It's liberating to be given a time limit of 90 minutes to write a whole game; it obviates the need to get everything exactly right. I did write a game for the 1997 competition that I discarded during beta because it was kind of stupid. Then I accidentally wiped the source off my hard drive last year, so it's not coming back. The endgame puzzle involved being chased by an old man with an axe while having no items in your inventory except a roll of Mentos... it was that sort of game. I have a few ideas, so I imagine one of them will turn into something. I have difficulty believing that I have the willpower to produce anything bigger than comp-sized, though. SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite games? DS: Well, my reviews and scores are on record. [On Dan's web page at http://http://www.dfan.org/IF/comp99.html --PO] I thought that Hunter, In Darkness was clearly the best game of the competition. It just oozed class. And blood. Having just spent a few months trying to get every last detail of my own game exactly right, I was able to appreciate a lot of subtle things in it: the way it responded to almost everything you typed at it, the gentle subliminal pushes towards the puzzles' solutions. It seems to be the general consensus that this was a down year for the competition, but this was the first year that I've played all the games, so I can't really make a comparison. SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition entrants? DS: All I could do is tell them things they know already. Start early. If your spelling isn't so great, use a spell-checker. If your grammar isn't so great, get a proofreader. Do a lot of testing. Keep a record of what you do. Use source control. That's about it. It's not like I'm some IF expert; I've only written one game. 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: Francesco Bova
NAME: Beat the Devil AUTHOR: Robert M. Camisa EMAIL: bredon SP@G hotmail.com DATE: September 1999 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/btd2 Recipe for a slice of tried and true IF: 5 parts Perdition's Flames 4 parts John's Fire Witch (or substitute with Sins Against Mimesis) 1 part Leather Goddesses of Phobos Mix well with some solid writing and logical, if not difficult, puzzles and you'll wind up with the '99 IFCOMP entry Beat The Devil (BTD). BTD was one of the better games written for this year's comp. The premise: The PC, after a long night of drinking, finds he's signed an agreement with the Devil in exchange for the affections of a certain girl. The wager has also landed him in Hell and in order to return back home, he must defeat Lucifer's lieutenants (the 7 deadly sins). Also, Hell turns out to be a shopping mall (as opposed to an unforgiving purgatory) with demon clerks, ATMs, change rooms, and fitness centers. The game flows quite logically and solving one puzzle will often give you an object or some information that you need to solve another. The geography is, well... I guess very mall-like, which is entirely appropriate for the game, and most of the generic shopping center conventions are accounted for (movie theatre, food court, gym, etc.). The author makes good use of the geography (although once you've solved a puzzle in an area, you'll probably never have to visit it again), and the 7 deadly sins are all appropriately placed near areas that are related to their particular vices. The puzzles are of medium difficulty and you'll find yourself stumped quite infrequently. The writing is good and comical with few spelling mistakes, and there's only a few irrelevant bugs (most are cosmetic). There's really not too much to complain about here. The whole thing holds together very nicely. That's why it felt so odd feeling completely unsatisfied once I'd finished it. I was puzzled at first without realizing why, until I played BTD a second time for this review. The reason for my dissatisfaction was that I'd seen almost every element in the game somewhere before. Almost everything from the setting, to the PC's goals, to a few of the game's items had been lifted (granted this may have been done inadvertently or unknowingly) from one piece of IF or another. Let's start with having a modern day Hell as the setting for a game. I'm sure many players thought this was a novel idea when they first played BTD, but the truth is, it's not. This game concept had actually been used before (and with much brighter strokes) in Michael Roberts' game Perdition's Flames. To be fair, Perdition's Flames was a much bigger game (not comp-sized for sure) and I think commercially released at one point. Still, there was a shopping element to Perdition's that was done rather well and BTD didn't really offer anything over the top or incredibly novel in its layout. Similarly, the goal of the game (defeat the 7 deadly sins), has not only been used before (John's Fire Witch), but has also been copied by a previous Comp game (Sins against Mimesis)! It's true that BTD requires the player to defeat the sins as opposed to collect or perform them (the goals of both Fire Witch and Sins), but some scenes in BTD seem just a little too similar to the aforementioned games (compare the scenes involving 'Envy' in both Fire Witch and BTD). What's more (irrespective of whose game came first), John's Fire Witch felt just a bit tighter in terms of game design and it left me wanting a bit while playing BTD. The game's objects and puzzles were by and large original and I think probably the best part of the game. There was still one object that sort of irked me, however. BTD's 'un-un' machine had a lot of potential, but alas, it remained unrealized. The machine removes the letters 'un' when they are present in any object and is comparable to the Leather Goddess of Phobos' 'T-remover' machine which worked similarly on objects that possessed the letter T. Again, it was a good attempt at something novel but unfortunately it didn't stand up to the original. The problem was that the 'un-un' machine could only be used on less than a handful of objects. To make matters less interesting, the few items that the machine would accept were each puzzle-related. In contrast, The T-machine in Phobos (which I think was programmed a bit better because it actually took the letter 'T' out of an existing piece of text; even if the resulting word made no sense), had tons of hilarious applications (coon balls anyone?) and only one that affected any of the game's puzzles. I realize that Phobos was a considerably larger game, but even in BTD, there was at least one other object (that I found anyway) outside of the puzzle-related ones that contained 'un'. When I tried to use the machine with this object, it indicated that the machine only worked on objects that began with 'un'; not ones that merely contained it. By defining the parameters for the machine so narrowly, it pretty much railroaded the player into inserting only the puzzle-related objects. The machine served its purpose for sure, but it really wasn't as much fun as it could have been. It's not a big deal (certainly not worth a paragraph's attention), but it's those small touches that make the difference between good games and great games. I don't know, maybe I'm being overly harsh here because the games I'm comparing BTD to were much bigger and their authors didn't have to worry about the two-hour time limit that the IF Comp imposes. They could therefore expand a bit more on their themes, plot, puzzles, etc.. Still, I think if you're going to copy someone else's material (which I have no problem with whatsoever), the goal should be to try and improve significantly on the previous work or spoof the heck out of it. I'm not sure if BTD does either. If you've never played any of the games listed in the recipe at the beginning of this review, then I would definitely recommend Beat The Devil. If you have played those games, then I guess I would probably still recommend it, with some reservations. Like I mentioned in the opening, the puzzles are logical, and the writing and storyline have good flow. As a stand-alone piece of IF it's very solid. Unfortunately, as soon as you take the games that preceded it into consideration, it pales a bit in comparison. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Adam Cadre NAME: Chicks Dig Jerks AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin EMAIL: robb_sherwin SP@G juno.com DATE: September 1999 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/chix Um. So, does anyone disagree that this game contains the best writing of any game in the comp? Oh, you do? Hrm. Well, I think you're wrong. See, I'm not talking about the oh-so-very-hip ranting patter, or the universe of next year's slang, but rather about the frequent turns of phrase that make you say, "Yes! See, this is why language was invented." I'm talking about strings of words that are: (a) new, never before seen by either myself or Ezra Pound; (b) interesting, containing words one wouldn't expect to see together, yet which somehow match; and (c) evocative, creating a very precise mental image. Phrases like: * "bathed in a honeycomb" Bathing in honey is vaguely interesting as an image, but it brings to mind a marquise in the court of Louis XVI reading "Tales of Ribaldry"; bathing in a huge-ass honeycomb, on the other hand, is both fresher and more specific, beautiful in its own way yet bizarre enough to avoid becoming saccharine. * "chunks of desperate bride" "Bride" is a fairly charged word, and "desperate" is on the powerful side in its own right -- putting the two together is a nice afternoon's work, but sticking "chunks of" in front makes for an impressive coup de grace. And it even teaches some valuable life lessons: nothing jams up blender blades like pieces of Lisa. * "enough bad habits to poorly clothe every single nun on the continent" Without "poorly", this is lame. With it, it's freakin' hilarious. And yeah, as that last entry indicates, this is clearly someone who has the goods. Discipline can be learned; much harder to learn is precisely why "yellowjackets" is the only word that will work in a certain spot and "bees" or "hornets" just will not do. Sherwin also has his comedic chops down pat. The early line about the sneezing, the late line about getting out of bed in the morning... these are just a couple lines I'm finding randomly flipping through the TXD dump. There's one on every screen. Did I laugh, as with King Arthur? Nah. It's a different kind of comedy. The King Arthur brand I laugh at, then forget; this is the sort that makes me sort of pause and nod and think, "Hmm -- that's *really* funny. Have to remember that one." Moving outward, what about the game beyond sentence level? Here things aren't quite as strong. The instincts are good: combining disparate elements is usually a reasonably reliable formula for success. Graverobbers have been done; singles bars have been done; but graverobbers at singles bars? That's a new one (and a fricking *great* one.) I didn't even mind the left turn between the bar scene and the cemetery scene. But things do fall apart a bit after the bar scene draws to a close; the cutscene is just ridiculously overlong, and the sequence that follows is sort of a train wreck -- but hey, at least that implies the existence of a speeding train, rather than a Ford Aspire sputtering up a hill. And it is nice that so much of the game is character-based rather than centered around fixing air conditioners and such. The fact that the characters come off as characters rather than switch statements is an especially nice bonus. That said -- you can have all the talent in the world, and you're still not going to turn out anything more than promising slush unless you buckle down and acquire the discipline referred to earlier. I would have loved to give this game a ten, but the sad fact is that it's buggier than a corpse left out in a swamp for three days. I understand the time constraints of the comp, but still, weird time-loop bugs and unfinishable climaxes are just not the sort of things that even a forgiving reviewer can completely overlook. In the end, the author ends up looking like a playground hoops legend: you can dazzle with your talent and jazzy crossover and whatnot, but you've got to put in a whole different kind of work to make the pros. A footnote: this is one of *two* Comp99 games set in Fort Collins, Colorado. New York or Los Angeles or London I could understand as the settings for multiple games -- hell, even Seattle I could see -- but *Fort Collins*?? Score: EIGHT. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: A Day for Soft Food AUTHOR: Tod Levi E-MAIL: jessica1 SP@G ix.netcom.com DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/softfood/softfood.z5 VERSION: Release 1 The IF competition, if nothing else, seems to foster amusing experiments in point of view: 1996 and 1997 gave us Ralph and A Bear's Night Out, viewed from the perspective of a dog and a teddy bear, respectively, and 1999's A Day for Soft Food continues the trend by giving the player the persona of a cat, a common housecat. As with the other two, there's lots of fun to be had in inhabiting the role, and the author has done much to exploit the humor of the situation, and while A Day for Soft Food doesn't have as strong a sense of the limitations of the character, it works well nonetheless. As with the other two, the game begins with a task at hand that's typical of the character's goals; the dog PC was intent on finding a bone, the teddy bear PC wanted to assemble the materials for a picnic, and the cat PC, well, just wants to eat, preferably the canned soft food of the title. Unlike the other two, though, your goals change along the way, on a few levels: you start solving problems as they present themselves, whether or not the problems have a clear connection to the ultimate goal--and you continue solving puzzles even after the original goal has been attained. While the shift makes sense on some level--the goal becomes obvious reasonably quickly--it also makes this a rather different PC from that of, say, Ralph. Part of the humor in Ralph arose from the PC's total fixation on finding the lost bone, to the exclusion of everything else; Day for Soft Food picks up on that in some measure (your Provider becomes steadily more annoyed with your antics over the course of the game), but moves away from it toward the end, and the result is a rather anthropomorphic cat. That's not bad, as such, but it does take some adjustment. Part of the reason for this is that the puzzles are a bit of a mixed bag; some of them suggest rather catlike reasoning (particularly in the way you pester your Provider into waking up and feeding you), and some really don't--you're not finding a solution to an immediate problem so much as you're solving task A to get object B to solve puzzle C with. That aside--again, your cat nature only drives the action to a certain extent--the puzzles also have some fairness problems; a few are misleading, or unhelpful at best, in conveying the scale of some relevant objects (i.e., in relation to you), another is guess-the-syntax, and another requires that the player know something that the PC clearly doesn't. The result is that the PC is considerably less catlike than the PCs in Ralph and Bear's Night Out are doglike and bearlike--the character isn't as fully realized, and the player can too easily forget that the PC has limitations that don't afflict human PCs. (The basic problem, however--that your Provider isn't as good a Provider as he was previously because of an illness, forcing you to take matters into your own paws--fits with the cat personality; events are significant only insofar as they affect your supply of food.) Despite these problems, though, there's lots of fun to be had here, and even though the puzzles shortchange the catty aspect of the game somewhat, the incidental details and fun stuff make up for it. There are various creative deaths to die, for one thing, and the variety and number of untimely ends you can suffer (the game occasionally warns you when an action would end the game prematurely, but usually doesn't prevent you from doing anything dumb) suggests the perverse curiosity of a real cat. (Particularly notable in this respect are the deaths when you jump onto the stump where your Provider is chopping wood, and when you set a trap then trigger it yourself.) Other amusing bits include this description of a chair: "The lumpy mountain is home to some of your finest claw and scratch marks, though your Provider has never shared much enthusiasm for the art." At its best moments, the game allows the player to recognize the significance of, say, the Provider's illness, even while the PC remains oblivious; the serene cluelessness of a cat is the main source of humor here. Even the writing is subtly catlike, as in the following description: Snowy Maw To the east, icicles hang like fangs within a giant maw of snow. A large pair of matching tracks lead out of shadows of the snowy mouth and to the west. A path loops north and south. A cat describes with terms that a cat knows, and therefore icicles are "fangs," the opening is a "maw," and a car's path down the driveway is a "pair of matching tracks." Subtle touches like this help the overall feel of the game considerably. A Day for Soft Food, like Ralph and, to a lesser extent, A Bear's Night Out, is worth playing simply to see the fun things that the author does with the premise. The puzzles have problems, but the overall charm of the game more than makes up for those deficiencies, enough that I gave it an 8 in this year's competition. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Mike Roberts TITLE: Erehwon AUTHOR: Richard Litherland, writing as Josiah Pinkfoot E-MAIL: lither SP@G marais.math.lsu.edu DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/tads/erehwon/erehwon.gam VERSION: Release 1.0 "Surreal" games are, at worst, collections of random locations and characters, each included only for its puzzle value, held together by a tenuous framework. Sometimes these games are classified as surreal only because they're so random, and sometimes the author uses the surrealism as an excuse to avoid having to make things make any sense. Some of the very earliest text adventures fell into this category: locations with no conceivable connection were often juxtaposed, and pointless anachronisms abounded. And after the success of Myst, graphical adventure designers cranked out lots of bad surreal games; it's even arguable that Myst is one of them, although it at least made an effort to justify its contrived settings. At their best, surreal games are just as self-consistent as realistic games, but take place in fantastic settings with their own rules: different laws of physics, perhaps, or different rules of social interaction. Brian Moriarty's Trinity was probably the first adventure to meet this standard, and to many people is still the best surreal adventure game ever written. Erehwon is probably not going to unseat Trinity as the benchmark surreal adventure, but it's another fine example. The game takes place in a kind of meta-universe where different parallel universes can be connected according to complicated rules. The plot is minimal - you have to collect a number of objects so that you can take part in a role-playing game (which is, it turns out, a role-playing version of the text adventure). The setting, though, is varied and detailed, and richly imagined. Erehwon is an unabashedly puzzle-oriented game. Most of its puzzles are reasonable and fair, although a good many are pretty tough. And there are lots of them; the game has five major puzzles, which involve collecting five objects, but each of these has a number of sub-puzzles that must be solved first. The number and difficulty of the puzzles makes the game daunting as a competition entry; within the time limit, I only managed to make it about two-thirds of the way through the game, even after making extensive use of hints. Fortunately, the game has an excellent hint system. Hints are delivered incrementally, so it's possible to get a little bit of help and still feel like you did most of the work. The hint system is context-sensitive, and offers hints only on puzzles that are currently accessible, which avoids giving away upcoming events by showing topics too early. This game is large, with lots of things to see and lots to do. It's also very ambitious in its mechanics; for example, it has a movement system that lets the player mix compass directions with relative movement. All of this works; the game is technically dazzling. If it hadn't been for the hint system, I probably wouldn't have made much progress in the game, and I would have thought it was far too difficult. With the hint system, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the game's clever construction and detailed, imaginative world. Score: 8 (clever and amusing, well-implemented) -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Exhibition AUTHOR: Ian Finley E-MAIL: domokov SP@G aol.com DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/tads/exhibit/exhibit.gam VERSION: Release 1 (NB: the following comments are based on the game as played with a straight-text interpreter, but it does have HTML-TADS features.) How important is it that interactive fiction be, well, interactive? Can the medium--i.e., story advanced by reader/player's prompts--accommodate stories that don't rely on anything the player does, that don't even give the player an objective to drive the plot? These are some of the questions posed by Ian Finley's Exhibition, a remarkably well-written and thoughtful piece that gives the player so little to do that the piece could have worked perfectly well as straight fiction. Moreover, given most players' expectations, the playing experience in the interactive medium is rather distancing--and yet the story itself is genuinely intriguing, so much so that the player can almost forget that he has no part in it. It's a simple concept: you're in an art gallery viewing an exhibition by an artist who recently killed himself, and you're viewing it through the eyes of four different people--two of which knew the artist personally, two of which didn't but assessed the exhibition as art critics. That's the story: you look at the exhibition, switching back and forth between the various characters as you please to view all the paintings, and you also get various stray details about the crowd and the design of the museum. In a sense, you discover that the real action of the story has already happened, and you reconstruct it by examining the paintings, by scrutinizing the various characters' reactions to the paintings, and by choosing to credit this assertion about the artist and discredit that. This is similar in a way to Infocom's mysteries, since the point of those games was to reconstruct past events, though the problems there were much more concrete--finding clues that lead to conclusions about a murder, generally. The focus here, by contrast, is on the relationships between the characters, between the artist and his church, between the artist and his country-- well, obviously, plenty is going on here, and much of it is really very interesting. Moreover, the author doesn't take sides on the proper interpretation of the paintings--unlike conventional mysteries, there is no right version to glean, though chances are that the player will feel strongly by the end that a particular view is by and large plausible. There's an inherent difficulty here, though, in that it's relatively easy to involve the player in tangible tasks like figuring out who committed a murder; it's much harder to make him or her care deeply about an artist's relationship with his church. The distinction is simply the difference between having an objective and having a story to read. To be sure, poorly done IF with a concrete objective can be highly uninvolving, and the author here brings considerable skill in writing and character development to bear on the noninteractive story--but, honestly, making a player genuinely care about the characters and relationships over the course of a fairly short work of IF is a difficult feat. It's true that the player may respond intellectually where he or she does not respond emotionally, i.e., warm to the task of getting to the heart of the character simply because it's fun to sift the material for the truth. It's a rather esoteric premise for a game, though, and it's hard to see this as an IF genre with a lot of potential adherents. This may be because the exercise doesn't really have much bearing on anything outside the game--the speculation and debate engendered by the game, if any, focuses on what this fictional artist was like and what his various fictional paintings meant, not on anything broader regarding art or psychology (or religion or sexuality, for that matter)--which makes the intellectual exercise feel more like a logic puzzle than a serious inquiry. Is that asking too much? Perhaps. But let's be realistic here: IF is hardly an art form so divorced from an entertainment aspect that it can avoid the requirement of a hook, something to draw the player in, entirely. (Are there any such media? Maybe not, but the instinct, in dealing with visual art or with music, is that those works need not have a hook to succeed--whereas a medium like cinema, even when it aspires to art, faces somewhat different expectations.) And what Exhibition really lacks is a hook, or anything else giving the story a shape; broader ramifications, perhaps in the form of an argument by the author about something with life outside the game, might have done just that. As it is, Exhibition is easy to appreciate as a well-written and well-crafted piece, but it is difficult to imagine that people will be swept away by its story. This may sound like pandering; I see it as realism, an important aspect of storytelling. (For what it's worth, Babel, by the same author, was absolutely terrific in this respect.) None of this makes Exhibition a bad game, of course; I'd say it does what it does remarkably well. The paintings are richly described, and the character of the speaker comes across vividly in each description (almost too vividly, in the case of one character who insists on filtering everything through her own rather constricted experience, and who becomes rather irritating--but, it seems clear, intentionally so). The characters are designed so that certain people have more or less insight into certain aspects of the artist, but none of them really understand all of him--and the character perhaps in the best position to understand him was in denial about a key part of his life. It all makes for intriguing speculation, and it's possible to develop a measure of sympathy for the artist along the way, though exactly how much will vary with the player and with the way the player approaches the game (for example, getting all the comments of one character at once, or viewing each painting through four different lenses before moving on). Moreover, the depth of characterization is highly unusual for IF, and it struck me along the way that I would find it genuinely entrancing if I sensed that understanding the character would somehow lead me to understand something, accomplish something--even within the game. Exhibition, in other words, may be significant more for what it could lead to--development of a particular character in order to move a story--than for the story it actually tells, where the trials and tribulations of the artist are the plot. There is an obvious comparison here. Adam Cadre's Photopia elicited similar complaints of noninteractivity, from me and from others, after the 1998 competition (though many others felt the interactivity quotient was just right, of course). The difference between Photopia and Exhibition, though, is that the former provided the illusion of interactivity; the player's actions at least seemed to move the story along, even if much of the story progressed without the player's help or input. Here...well, there's no story to move along as such, so it's hard to say there's an illusion of anything, really. More importantly, the story Photopia told was well calculated to leave an emotional mark on the player--too well calculated, some might say, but to deny its effectiveness is to concede that the game did land its punch, so to speak. It is a matter of opinion whether the emotional tug overcame the limited interactivity there, but here the game is over before it starts--the effect of the gallery as a whole is diffused over the course of the explorations, and there is no particular moment that any player is likely to remember. Moreover, part of the reason Photopia's illusion of interactivity worked was that the game put the player in a variety of settings and required him or her to perform a variety of actions--whereas, here, EXAMINE, LISTEN and SMELL will yield just about everything Exhibition has to offer. As those are arguably the most passive verbs that conventional IF has to offer, other than WAIT, the player has almost no power to affect the environment (and doing anything out of line yields a message along the lines of "I don't do that sort of thing," customized for each character). That passivity highlights, in turn, how little the player can do in the story, and how similar the experience is to reading a long series of descriptions of paintings. This sounds more negative than it should be, because I did, in fact, find Exhibition fascinating at many points along the way-- the author plays the various interpretations off against each other very well, particularly when a character makes a confident assertion about the artist that, the player can feel reasonably sure, is entirely wrong. The imagery is rich, and often disturbing; the critic's analyses show that the author has a good sense of how to look at a painting. The stray details, particularly when certain characters comment on people in the crowd, are illuminating, and suggest that the characters viewing the gallery are as much under examination as the artist. In the end, though, I felt like Exhibition would work best as an extended, well-developed aspect of a much larger game, rather than a game in itself, and I gave it a 7 in this year's competition. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: For a Change AUTHOR: Dan Schmidt E-MAIL: dfan SP@G alum.mit.edu DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/change/change.z5 VERSION: Release 1.02 For a Change is indeed a change, and in a way it's a good example of what text IF can be--it manages to leave most of the visual details entirely to the player's imagination by refusing to pin down exactly what the PC is seeing or experiencing, except in the most general terms. The result is either maddening or evocative, depending on the player; if the player isn't willing to do the work of visualizing the scene as it unfolds (and supplying the images where the author declines to), the game more than likely remains elusive, amorphous. Either way, it takes some mental adjustment to appreciate what For a Change is trying to do. The other innovative aspect of For a Change is the syntax, which is fractured, confusing, and fascinating; the author has chosen a mode of expression that makes sense on its own terms, but is quite definitely nonstandard English. Everything can be deciphered with a little thought, of course, and usually the key is realizing that a word, in the game's world, can act as a different part of speech than expected. The effect is very much like reading e.e. cummings (I was reminded in particular of the poem "anyone lived in a pretty how town"); once the reader recognizes how certain words are being used (in that particular poem, for instance, "anyone" should be parsed as a name), the whole thing falls into place. The syntactical shifts in For a Change usually arise from the way the author personifies and animates generally inanimate objects by giving them verbs suggesting conscious action. It's a credit to the author that his work recalls cummings, and that getting used to the unusual syntax is rewarding rather than irritating. Due to the above elements, For a Change is both a challenge and a pleasure to read. The following is typical of both aspects: Lantern Room This subsection of the inset brightens and flickers. The shadows belong to the air more than you do, it seems. They walk the cordstone walls; they move and excite. The shadows look to a wall, to bars in the wall, and the songlantern behind them. Further in is east, further out is west, and a slope obtains up to the south. >examine songlantern The songlantern hums and burbles, circled by brightening words, evading the bars and piercing the silence and darkness. "The shadows look to a wall..." suggests that the shadows converge on the bars, but the reader must first recognize that "look" is the game's way of personifying and giving life to the shadows, rather than binding them to the literal and inanimate reality. As for the songlantern, the reader has no way of visualizing what it is, and the description doesn't help; it merely gives the reader some elements to draw on in coming up with his or her own image. The word itself is evocative, rather than merely cryptic (at least, I found it so)--and the description conjures up a variety of images and sounds in a way that few straight-syntax descriptions could do. Similar is the following: "Then there is a moment of loudness and shock." An explosion? A clap of thunder? A scream? It could be any one, or all three, or none; the language is calculated to allow the player to choose. The fiction aspect of For a Change succeeds brilliantly, then (in my book, at least), but does it work as a game? The bag is a little more mixed on this count. Most of the puzzles require intuitive leaps of one kind or another, some greater than others; there is logic to all of them (logic on the game's terms, at least), but some of them make more sense after the fact. The problem in one particular puzzle is that the game requires a syntactical leap of faith, in a sense--not so much in what you type as in the way you parse a certain object's name, and the properties you ascribe to the object as a result of the parsing. The correct solution is quite consistent with the feel of the game, but getting used to the game's approach to grammar and actually predicting how the game will approach a given word (sufficiently so to make the prediction the basis for a puzzle solution) are two different things. The other problem with the game element of For a Change is that it's a little directionless; the initial directive is this: "The sun is gone. It must be brought. You have a rock," which doesn't exactly give the player much of a nudge in discerning the proper path. Adding to the aimlessness aspect is that the first puzzle isn't solvable until a certain event happens, and it's possible for the player to fail to trigger the event early on and wander around getting frustrated. True, the game is relatively small, and there aren't so many puzzles that the player is likely to remain clueless for long--and the hint system does help. Still, the initial playing experience can be a little daunting--the player's initial reaction might well be "not only don't I understand what anything is, I don't even know what I'm supposed to be doing or how to go about it." Even if it's less than perfect as a game, though, the interactive aspect of For a Change is one of its greatest strengths--because it is through the player's interactions with the environment that he or she generates images, forms an impression of what this elusive world is like. Giving the player a variety of ways to interact with the characters and objects ensures that different players will come away with different impressions, for example in the following: >examine toolman The toolman is bright and misty. Thoughts and uses hang from his shoulders like birds. Or: >give bar to toolman The toolman gently misunderstands. The toolman smiles softly. A player can easily generate an image of the toolman as animate or inanimate, depending on how he or she chooses to approach him (or it), and neither one is clearly wrong or right. This indeterminacy can be achieved in static fiction, to be sure, but interactive fiction can do it much better--an author can deliberately accommodate multiple ways of visualizing the same object or character--and For a Change takes advantage of its medium in some novel ways. Similarly intriguing about For a Change is the way it deals with scale; all measurements are relative ("To your north is a massive transparent cube, perhaps five of your heights on each side"), leaving the distinct possibility that the events are taking place on a microscopic level, or a cosmic level, or somewhere in between. Though, again, it's not for everyone, For a Change is the sort of experimental work that the competition was meant to foster; it's not the most successful entry as a game, but it's certainly well done fiction, and I gave it an 8 in the competition. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens NAME: Halothane AUTHOR: Ravi Philip Rajkumar, a.k.a. Quentin.D.Thompson E-MAIL: stupid_q SP@G my-deja.com DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/halo/halo.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Story-oriented IF, games that emphasize story over problem-solving as such, is on the rise; after years of the narrative taking a back seat to the crossword, in Graham Nelson's terms, the tables are finally getting turned. Problem is, not everyone has a handle on how to involve the player in the story when the hook is the story itself rather than the puzzles required to move the story along, and if Halothane is any indication, the result can be wildly uneven; it's entertaining and intriguing in parts, but the twists in the storyline don't really affect the play of the game, and the effect is rather distancing. Figuring out what's going on in Halothane is quite a task. At the outset, you're an author who, it seems, decides to dispose of a half-completed novel; from there, the game forces you to interact with the characters and events depicted in your own novel and draws you into a "parallel dimension" (in a way that reminded me of Neverending Story), where you confront the consequences of your actions. That's a bare-bones analysis, mind you, and it disregards quite a few scenes that don't fit into the scheme in any obvious way. There are also some optional scenes with some optional puzzles, and it's quite likely you'll finish the game with fewer than the possible number of points, and without figuring out who all the characters are and how or whether their various stories are resolved. In short, it's a bit of a mess. There's nothing wrong with complicated games; games that require the player to think in order to pull the pieces together after the fact are welcome, and somewhat unusual for IF. But the structure of Halothane--the player marches through the various linear segments, and more than likely has no idea what is going on initially--means that most of the piecing together is done by memory, since the fragments whose true significance might be apparent later on are no longer available when the game makes them understandable. (I.e., the player has to replay to fully understand most of the first half of the game, which doesn't win Halothane any points from me.) There is a character who appears early on and attempts to explain the various connections, but she only recognizes a few conversation topics, sadly. The game also tends to do information dumps--the player doesn't make discoveries so much as do elementary things that lead, in unforeseeable ways, to long, complicated revelations, and the effect is akin to wandering around and picking up pages of a story. (It's appropriate that the game at one point has you tied up in the back of a car listening to people in the front seat talk, since it's not a bad description of the course of the game as a whole--the story goes on, at a rapid pace, and the player mostly goes along for the ride.) To be fair, the story is a pretty good one, and the writing is terrific, good enough that the player can easily forgive the linear structure; the plot may be getting shouted at him, but at least it's a fun plot, and well told. There are numerous IF references scattered around, many of them very funny (including a hilarious dig at Muse), and even those parts of the story that are insufficiently developed are intriguing enough that the player (at least, this player) wishes that the author had given them more space. Perhaps the best example of this comes late in the game, in a peculiar scene involving a mayor who has apparently seized power through unscrupulous means. You set things right, but in a way that leaves so many questions unanswered that the player is unlikely to understand how he or she solved the relevant puzzle. It's a shame, because the setting is disturbing and evocative, enough that a good-sized game could easily have been built on that premise alone--but here's it's just one out of eleven or more chapters, and the player blows through it too quickly to really catch on. Halothane, as noted, is more story IF than puzzle IF, which makes the incursions of puzzle-oriented moments rather jarring; it takes the player a while to figure out that puzzle mode rather than story mode is on, and it doesn't help that some of the puzzles are a bit obscure and require some major intuitive leaps. More importantly, they're about as artificial as puzzles can be-- they feel like they're there to slow down the pace of the game a bit--which is unfortunate, because Halothane tells its story reasonably well, and the pace doesn't particularly need a chance. Even if the story flows by so quickly that it's not all that personally involving, in the way that good IF can be, it's a good mind-bender--and the puzzles don't do anything to draw the player into the story; they simply break up the flow. In short, Halothane would have been better served to diminish its few puzzle elements and play up the story more--for one thing, by giving the player more time in the various scenes to poke around and explore, rather than getting whisked to somewhere else as soon as the obvious task is done. Hmmm--this review seems to have become rather negative. Halothane does, in the end, work passably well, due mostly to the quality of the writing--and while the plot is rather underdeveloped, and throws in references to things that have supposedly happened in the past in lieu of actually developing the story (there I go again), the plot devices are quite effective in science-fictiony kinds of ways. The author has an eye for arresting images--a corpse in a wardrobe, a lake of blood--which makes the settings vivid even when the plot is fuzzy. And it's always nice to find a game that's technically well enough put together that bugs aren't a distraction, not at all a given in Comp '99--and Halothane succeeds admirably in that respect. (It even implements most of its scenery.) The lesson here, then, is that it's possible to have a player enjoy a story even when he or she doesn't identify in any meaningful way with the PC; a work of IF can still be enjoyable even when the interactivity aspect is minimal. Such a story needs to have a plot that is interesting enough that the player wants to see more of it, and is willing to put up with the lack of interactivity because guiding the story to its conclusion is enough. Plots that call for emotional identification with the PC or another character are not good candidates, in other words, because empathy isn't fostered when the player can't interact much with the story; stories that turn on ingenious authorial inventions or breaking down the wall between author and creation--like Halothane--have a better chance of involving the player even without benefit of interactivity. There are some works, of course, where different people perceive the level of interactivity differently; witness Photopia. But if the player is unlikely to get drawn into interacting with the environment (and instead is more likely just to look at it), the story produced needs to be a certain kind of story. Halothane is an imperfect effort, in short, but it's thoroughly done with plenty of wit sprinkled in. I wouldn't call it the most memorable game of the competition, but I did give it an 8. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Hunter, in Darkness AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G netcom.com DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/huntdark.z5 VERSION: Release 4 More than one work of IF has revolved around an in-joke of sorts, a premise with significance to IF veterans or historians but inscrutable to anyone else, and Andrew Plotkin's Hunter, in Darkness is one of them, on one level. It sends up the early-'70s BASIC computer game Hunt the Wumpus, a pre-Colossal Cave relic that offers the player, with almost no description, the following possibilities: killing a Wumpus, getting eaten by the Wumpus, getting attacked by bats, or falling into a pit. A player familiar with the original can therefore begin Hunter... and note in short order that there is a Wumpus, a pit, and some bats involved, and consign the thing to the in-joke category. Hunter... isn't just an in-joke, though; the real joke that it plays on the source material is that it turns one of the most tersely described caves possible ("You are in Room 1. Passages lead to Room 2 and Room 3") into one of the best-described settings imaginable. Not only is the cave vividly rendered, but the PC's experience of it is thoroughly, and harrowingly, done; no "cave crawl" in IF has ever taken such a toll on the PC over the course of the game. As in the source material, you're hunting a Wumpus, but here the player suffers at least as much as the Wumpus over the course of the game, and the cave is just as much an enemy as the Wumpus itself; finding a safe way down a pit and surviving a tight crawl are some of the problems at hand. It's worth noting that the caves of the classic cave crawls were largely innocuous; the danger in Colossal Cave, Zork, and others came largely from sentient enemies scattered around the landscape, not from the geography itself. Here, surviving the cave is most of the challenge. As with Plotkin's previous works, the writing is skillful; most of the five senses are at work throughout the game, and the descriptions often reflect a multisensory experience. The beginning of the game sets the tone: Nearly -- nearly. The animal stink is rank and close. You raise your crossbow, try to peer beyond dark, wet stone. >smell The stink of your prey is all around. Something shifts in the darkness ahead, a great silent bulk. Your prey. As the cave is very nearly a character in its own right, it is appropriate that the level of geological detail is high. ("Needles of yellow calcite spray from the rocks nearby.") Moreover, the layout of the cave as a whole makes sense in ways that most IF caves do not; you find standing water when you descend, for instance, and there is running water at the base of a canyon. Small details like this help make Hunter... such a well-realized setting that it puts most other cave crawls to shame; few cave games since Colossal Cave have given geology even token acknowledgment, after all. As a game, Hunter works quite well. The plot branches and rejoins at certain key points, so there is some replay potential, though the paths don't, fundamentally, differ all that much (at least, not the ones I discovered; I may be wrong). One element of the final confrontation feels somewhat contrived, but not inappropriately so, and the solution to it is nicely subversive--you pit the elements of the cave against one another, in a sense, rather than conquering them yourself. Moreover, the course of the story calls into question the hunt itself, since you find along the way that you are chasing something with considerable intelligence, making the showdown more a battle of wits than an act of violence. The puzzles are well-designed and not too hard; they draw on understanding and being aware of the cave environment, moreover, rather than applying items to problems, which helps them feel part of the story rather than artificial barriers. The technical aspect of the game is admirable, as one might expect from Zarf; particularly good is a maze with randomly generated descriptions that can be infinitely large. Some will object to the inclusion of the maze at all, of course, but this is one of the more creative mazes in IFdom and as such gets a pass from me--no mapping is required, for one thing, and the random generation brings to mind real caves, which aren't limited to a defined number of rooms. Likewise, the disabling of compass directions strikes a blow for verisimilitude, since cave navigation is typically too complicated for anyone to preserve a clear sense of direction; instead, the game provides "forward," "left," "right," and such, and I found I didn't miss my compass at all. But the best thing about Hunter... is the setting. It is worth remembering exactly how many IF games have been set in caves or some equivalent--the answer is "many"--in order to appreciate the way this game brings the cave- crawl genre alive. The nature of a complex underground cave poses many obstacles, only some of which Hunter explores--darkness, water filling a passage, steep climbs--along with predators, of course. A little imagination helps the setting come to life in a way that makes puzzles for their own sake unnecessary, and Hunter... illustrates how much a little creativity can do. By making the cave itself the subject of the game rather than the excuse for a grab bag of artificial puzzles, Zarf reminds the player that a cave is more than an excuse for lazy fantasy storytelling; here, after all, the cave not only is the enemy, it wins most of the battles. Hunter... is therefore less an update on Hunt the Wumpus than an rebuke to the IF that has followed Wumpus but failed in certain significant respects to improve on it by giving the setting its due. It's one of the most vividly written pieces of IF in recent memory, and I gave it a 9, the highest score I gave any entry in this year's competition. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Joe Mason TITLE: Jacks or Better to Murder, Aces To Win AUTHOR: J.D. Berry E-MAIL: berryx SP@G earthlink.net DATE: September 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/jacks VERSION: Release 1 One of the things I've always liked most about adventure games is plunging into another world - learning its rules and background. That's why Jacks was a delight. You play the head of a church with a large bureaucracy whose officers are named A's, B's, and C's. (The lowest rank we see is an E.) Districts are also given letters, leading to characters with names like the B of H. Each B heads a district: you are apparently the one and only A. "Jack" is slang for a hired killer. The goal of the game is to survive and assassination attempt. I've heard the rule "show, don't tell", and frankly I have no truck with it. Neither does the author of Jacks. During the opening text, you are introduced briefly to your character, the world, and the fact that you suspect a plot. Throughout the game, you are handed every deduction which your character makes. I don't see this as a flaw: it kept the story moving, and was a good way to mix the presentation of world background with the narrative. The player is supposed to be someone very experienced in the local politics, and having the game present you with appropriate memories and conclusions as they come into play was a good way to keep this believable. The technique does break down, though. First, the writing is pretty ham-handed at times. Although there are a few great descriptions and some good moments, most of the writing is only serviceable. When descriptions were presented badly, it wasn't too bad, but it was really jarring when the player's thoughts were handled clumsily. This happened more towards the end. There was also a tendency to infodumps. In the opening text, this was excusable (although, "You, the venerable A, are..." is not a very catchy opening), but when a character was introduced later with a long political discussion, it really broke the pace. A second problem is that the ending really isn't up to the rest of the game. It seems to be cut off quite abruptly, and the writing is very clumsy. Right before the finale, a subplot is introduced and resolved in exactly one move (three or four if you stop to examine things). The subplot is bracketed by more infodumps explaining the political importance of what just happened: they gave a good feel for the background, but really shouldn't have intruded in the middle of the game. Cutting the subplot and devoting the extra space to the main plot would have made the ending much better: the subplot could have been expanded on in a sequel. In fact, the game cries out for a sequel. Using this short scenario as a way of imparting background information is a great way to introduce a world and a character which could be developed further. I'd like to see a game with a similar tone which isn't so linear, and with a greater scope for politicking. The church isn't actually fleshed out that well - it feels more like a surface sketch - but its hard to tell whether thats because of the game's length (or lack thereof) or because the author was actually writing it off the top of his head. The pseudo-science aspects of the randomly generated church dogma lead me to feel its the latter, but the world, sketchy though it is, is engaging enough that I'm sure the author could do a game with much more depth there if he wished. The randomly generated church dogma is hilarious, by the way. "Which gets back to what I was saying earlier, if you are serious about our religion, you will account for a positive outlook." "You don't need to be the A to know frequent efforts can put our words into practice regarding life in general." "Clearly, among all things, it's not throwing the baby out with the bathwater to go beyond inertia." Rating: Base: 8 (Really good game, but a few flaws) +1 (A complex setting to dive into) -1 (Prone to infodumps) -1 (The ending loses it) Final: 7 (Should be great, but has many flaws) -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Adam Cadre NAME: King Arthur's Night Out AUTHOR: Mikko Vuorinen EMAIL: mvuorine SP@G cc.helsinki.fi DATE: September 1999 PARSER: ALAN SUPPORTS: ALAN interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/alan/arthur This may seem like an odd choice for such a high ranking, but it succeeded in doing something no other game this year did: it made me laugh out loud. Five times, in fact. Much of the humor derives from the fact that the author has taken a game that could've been set just about anywhere -- more than anything, it reminded me of a Lockhorns strip -- and cast King Arthur in the central role. This leads to the expectation that all sort of elements of the Arthurian cycle are going to pop up... and they never do. Excalibur becomes nothing more than a yardstick to poke around under the bed with. That's *hilarious*. It's exactly the sort of comedy underlying the #2 entry in the Top Ten Things Abraham Lincoln Would Say If He Were Alive Today: "Eeeagh! Iron bird!" Because, you see, he wouldn't recognize an airplane, being from the 19th century and all... "But why Abraham Lincoln?" you cry. "Of all the things we know about Lincoln, you make a joke about his unfamiliarity with the airplane? You could've picked anyone! Why Lincoln? Why??" Man, I'm laughing again just typing this. Then we come to the language used in the game. This could very easily have been written as an overly-clever Douglas Adams pastiche, but that would've spelled instant doom for this project. Instead, the author chooses a tone not at all unlike the comedy of Norm Macdonald, and it's a perfect fit. (Macdonald, for those unfamiliar with his work, specializes in punch lines that are boorishly blunt enough to stun one into laughter, yet somehow delivered in such a way so that, unlike with Don Rickles, you don't want to punch him in the face. "Magic Johnson has received a $900,000 retainer to write a book on how not to get AIDS. Chapter 1: Don't Have Sex With Me.") But there's such a fine line between stupid and clever -- what makes Rickles's brand of humor the former and Macdonald's (and, here, Vuorinen's) the latter? This is an especially tricky issue where gender politics are concerned: the response to >X QUEEN ("Guinevere is the most beautiful woman in the land. You are lucky to have her as your wife. But she can be a real bitch sometimes.") is a potentially dangerous one. I think that in the end it comes down to the with/at distinction. Comedy in the Rickles mode encourages the audience to laugh at the person being mocked. But here's a sample of a Norm Macdonald joke I find screamingly funny: "In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a man allowed his eight-year-old daughter to take the wheel of his car, and an accident ensued that damaged seven other cars and injured six people. Which once again proves my theory: women can't drive." "Women can't drive" is, of course, a staple of The Lockhorns and its ilk, and is pretty offensive. But is that the point of the joke? Of course not. The reason for the crash is that the driver was eight years old, not that she was female. The "theory" is, therefore, obviously wrong, and therefore funny. We're not laughing with the misogynist and at the girl; we're laughing *at* the misogynist. In the same way, Vuorinen makes it clear that his King Arthur is meant to be a lout, without overplaying his hand by making him a belching idiot: it's the little touches, like Arthur looking forward to a pleasant spell of urination after a night at the bar, that make the game work. And the game does work: I didn't notice any obvious bugs, and thought the size and level of difficulty were just about perfect. Were this an entry in last year's comp, I would've ranked it a touch below the similarly slight and funny but superior DOWNTOWN TOKYO; given how buggy most Comp99 entries were, though, and how this was the only game all year that made me laugh, I found myself feeling very charitable when it came time to slap a number on it. Score: a low NINE. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Suzanne Britton TITLE: Lomalow AUTHOR: Brendan Barnwell E-MAIL: BrenBarn SP@G aol.com DATE: September 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/lomalow/lomalow.z5 VERSION: Release 0 Errrrgh. I really, really wanted to like this game more than I did. It has a fascinating storyline, evocative writing, and an uplifting theme. If the author had turned the concept into a short story instead of an IF work, it probably would have done very well. But despite all this, the best I could give it was a 5: 10 for imagination, 0 for implementation. And that was generous of me--I loved Lomalow's imagery so much that I intentionally placed it a step above the other games that were crippled by bad programming. Technically, Lomalow is poorly done--it abounds with sparsely implemented objects (to the author's credit, there are few "you can't see any such thing"'s), overuse of aliasing (where a bunch of related objects point to the same game-object), one-syntax-only situations (one of many examples: you can go "in" when you're by the cabin, but you can't "enter cabin", "enter door", or "open door"), lack of synonyms, and a few glaring bugs (particularly in the hint system--there's a problem with object names showing up as numbers, making certain hints distinctly unhelpful). Mimesis is shallow at best. Despite the many conversational topics on the two NPC's, they ultimately feel like cardboard, and this is a much more serious matter than it would be for a puzzle-based game. Why don't they make any reaction when I just waltz into their house ("hello"? "who are you"? "you look like you just fell down a cliff"? :-])? Why are they missing some of the most obvious conversation topics? (most grievously, "lomalow", "phoenix", "man", and "woman") Why don't they respond when I give or show various important objects to them (the book, the board, etc.), even though they respond when I ask about the objects? And so forth. The gameworld overall feels sparse and thinly implemented--it takes more than long, detailed room descriptions to bring an environment to life. I can't interact with much of anything. I especially wanted to interact with the strange forces/feelings in the pit, but couldn't find any way to do so (I know it's not standard practice to implement "intangibles", but I feel it's an extremely good idea in a game of this sort). Many of the Inform default responses could use overriding (e.g., "So-and-so is unimpressed" is almost never a good response to "show" in a story-based game). The end result of all these little oversights, and the resulting cardboardlike feeling of the npc's and the landscape, is that when I reached the end of the game, my response was a resounding "huh?". Until then, the characters had behaved almost robotically--reacting to nothing but the magic word ASK, and occasionally moving around after I asked a particular (predetermined) question. Then they suddenly came to life and everything happened at once. The man accused me of thinking him crazy, but I never did--there was never anything, other than a single conversation response, to indicate that he was any more or less normal than the woman. Except for the fact that the man moved around more and the woman said "honey" a lot, they didn't seem all that different. Both spoke in fragments, spoke only when prompted, and didn't do much of anything else. Neither of them seemed very responsive or human until the end. I know IF npc's are robots at base, but it's possible to create a very convincing illusion that they are more. I've done it and I've seen it done! It just takes a lot of work. Gamefile size is one reliable indicator--if it's 80k, you've almost definitely not put in enough code to create humanlike npc's. These are things that are only learned with time and experience, and I understand that a lot of the competition authors are novices (and should be encouraged!)--but it's hard for me not to be demanding when a game aims this high and has such a neat premise. The whole concept of using ASK--almost exclusively--to advance the story, is questionable. The game doesn't need to have more puzzles, but it needs more things to do. Photopia is an excellent example of how to immerse the player in a story without a single puzzle. And it needs a better reason for why everything comes together when it does--one more meaningful than "because you finished asking repeatedly about every topic the author thought to implement". Ideally, it should be the player who initiates those final scenes--as it is, it feels quite jarring and unfair to be shouted at for something the game forced me to do! One final beef: When I read the introductory text from the author (claiming that the only puzzle in the game was to "read all the text that you possibly can"), and saw that the game had no scoring system, I wondered whether it had a formal end. As it turns out, it did (an ending well-worth reaching, despite the above criticism), but I got stymied for a while when I reached a hint that said "if you can see this message, you have already won". It gave no indication that I needed to go back to the cabin, and since I had asked about all the topics I could possibly think of, there was no impetus to do so. I didn't realize something huge was going to happen as soon as I walked in the door! So I presumed that was indeed the end, and I quit. Nagging uncertainty led me to dump all the gametext via Ztools, at which point I discovered that I was wrong. I would strongly recommend: 1. revising the introductory text to make clear that the game has a goal and an end, and 2. adding a final hint, unless you choose to follow the advice above and make the ending more logical. I wouldn't be writing this long a review for "Lomalow" if I didn't have such high hopes for it and its author, so I hope the criticism isn't too disheartening. I would love to see a more fleshed-out version of this game after the comp ends. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Joe Mason TITLE: A Moment of Hope AUTHOR: Simmon Keith E-MAIL: traevoli SP@G usa.net DATE: September 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/tads/amoment/amoment.gam VERSION: 0.258 My definition of successful atmosphere in a piece of IF is one that makes me feel I can type things far outside the scope of the default library. A Moment of Hope has exactly this type of atmosphere. Even though the game hadn't shown any particular flexibility of parser, at one point I felt certain that it would understand "grin at girl" and take appropriate action. Of course, the action wasn't understood, but it's a testament to the quality of the writing that I felt it might be: it seemed like the thing to do in that situation, and I really felt like I was there. Unfortunately, this illusion of freedom doesn't translate into real freedom. A Moment of Hope doesn't really have much interaction: its mostly limited to reading messages and moving around. In fact, there's one scene where you are writing a message, and going through several drafts. There's not even an option to send the "wrong" draft: both "write message" and "send message" will erase the current version and give the next, until your character hits on the right phrasing. The effect is more like a static story dribbled out between prompts than a true interactive story. However, the story is good enough that I didn't really mind that much. One of the best things about the story is its sense of timing. It's told in a series of short scenes, and although it could easily have unfolded in one location, each scene is set in a different place. The locations are very well described and serve to give a different mood to each scene, which otherwise would leave the story hitting the same tone over and over. A lot of the action is internal. There are usually two parallel streams of description - one describing what is happening, and one describing the protagonists thoughts, which are often elsewhere. This occasionally seems a little mechanical, but mostly is effective at portraying someone who is distracted by their own emotions. Some may find that they are told how they feel too much, though. Some may also find the main character a little bit over acted as well. In my case, he reminded me too much of myself in high school to be able to level this criticism fairly. Quickly cutting from scene to scene also allows the story to avoid having two dimensional NPC's: the game will fade out just before a conversation, and the next scene will summarize through the player's musing on the outcome. Other interaction occurs by email. The technique works very well, but I'm not sure how well it could be sustained in a longer game. On the whole, A Moment of Hope succeeds much more than it fails, thanks to good writing and a plot that is about relationships rather than quests and monsters. It's a nice change from the bulk of IF. Base: 8 (Really good game, but a few flaws) -1 (Not very interactive) +1 (Tells a good story) Final: 8 (Really good game, but a few flaws) -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: On the Farm AUTHOR: Lenny Pitts E-MAIL: ten365bye SP@G yahoo.com DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/tads/otf/otf.gam VERSION: Release 1 (I think) Lenny Pitts's On the Farm isn't the most memorable or innovative entry in the '99 competition, but it's worth checking out anyway: it features two of the best-developed NPCs in recent memory, and the premise, helping those NPCs to get along, is based on a relationship rather than a more tangible objective, a highly unusual notion for IF. While the rest of the game is too uneven to live up to the premise, it's still a likable little game. The aforementioned NPCs are your grandparents, and you (you're a small child) have been sent off to stay with them for a few days, and you find them in the middle of an argument--and your objective becomes smoothing things over. Now, admittedly, the way you end up going about this is a little clumsy; what might have been a complex psychological puzzle ends up more like a locked door that's opened with a certain key. In other words, what appears to be a rather subtle objective eventually becomes less subtle when the game turns out to be a series of object-based puzzles that lead to one final object, not unlike IF that takes no notice of relationships at all. Still, On the Farm deserves some credit for the attempt, even if the result is only moderately successful. It should also be stressed that there's more to the game than the obvious goal--there are some incidental facts that flesh out the story but don't help you get to the end. This approach--separating the backstory from the puzzles that lead to the end of the game--worked well for me (much better than making the puzzles turn on some fact you discover somewhere, which often feels rather artificial), but it also raised a problem, namely that gathering the facts was much more interesting than solving the puzzles. That is, the various details you pick up, and ask your grandparents about, bring the story to life, whereas the other puzzles you solve just feel like puzzles. Of course, if On the Farm had consisted only of information-gathering, it probably would have felt distancing, uninvolving; the player needs some sort of objective. But here the objective was so disconnected from the information-gathering that the two parts to the game felt rather unrelated, and the one was markedly more interesting than the other. Part of the reason the backstory and its development is interesting is that the facts you learn help flesh out the NPCs, your grandparents. These are not at all sentimentalized figures--they both come across as stubborn, cantankerous, and thoroughly set in their ways--but they also feel like real grandparents; they're presented warts and all. Your grandfather spits tobacco juice and leaves his dentures lying around, and your grandmother snipes at him behind his back. They both respond to a variety of ASK/TELL prompts, they react to several other cues, and they have responses for most things they should respond to--which is all that can be expected of good NPCs, really. The realism is not complete--they don't comment on your picking up everything that isn't nailed down, for instance--but it's still a good effort. The implementation of On the Farm is a bit clumsy in a few respects, however. For one thing, it is not initially apparent that the backstory is not useful for the main objective of the game, meaning that there are a few puzzles that ultimately end up being red herrings, somewhat confusingly so. One part of a puzzle involving a rope is just flat-out silly, and another relies on your grandparents being rather stupid. The game also can't seem to decide whether it's keeping score--"score" elicits "There is no score in this game," but you'll be told your score anyway (it'll always be 0, as far as I can tell) if you die along the way. There's a cumbersome hint system (each "topic" has only one hint) that provides only the vaguest of nudges for one rather nonintuitive puzzle (though there's also a walkthrough provided), and one key feature of the landscape is rather misleadingly described, so that it's possible to get the wrong idea about what to do with it. (I.e., it initially seems that you need to repair it, but 'tain't so.) More generally, the whole thing initially feels a little directionless, and it takes a good deal of wandering around before you have any idea about what to do. The setting is likewise a mixed bag. The farm is supposed to be abandoned, nonworking, and there are plenty of nicely done stray details that convey decay and neglect, such as a barn door hanging by a hinge, a rusted-out tractor with a dead battery, a groundhog-eaten garden, and a mildewed haystack. In that respect, it's a vivid setting--it's a specific rather than a generic farm. There are also lots of unexplained details, however (notably a huge ball of twine and a metal hook whose presence and function remain mysterious), and the writing is uneven at best--punctuation errors and unfortunate phrasings. For example, a sign says "Ventilation fan must be running to safely enter pit," making the alert reader wonder what will happen to the fan if it enters the pit while not running. More generally, some pieces of the backstory come across well, but some do not--how have your grandparents been supporting themselves on this nonworking farm?--and it feels like there could have been much more to the story than there is had the game suggested that your objectives include helping the farm start working again. The introduction, moreover, suggests that the game will be telling you what you think or feel--it registers that you find the prospect of hanging around the farm terribly boring--but nothing else in the game mentions what you think about anything. Nevertheless, there's a lot of charm in On the Farm--it's not the character study it initially appears to be, but it's an interesting effort nonetheless, particularly for the vividness of the NPCs and the farm setting. It's not the best game of this year's competition, but I did give it a 6. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Mike Roberts TITLE: Pass The Banana AUTHOR: Admiral Jota E-MAIL: jota SP@G tiac.net DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/banana/banana.z5 VERSION: Release 1 This disturbing study of a descent into madness is at once shocking and sublime. Yes, the symbolism is all here: candles in a dark-paneled room; a stage representing the subconscious mind with its flickering and fragile consciousness surrounded by the dark sea of the subconscious; the empty trophy case juxtaposed with the full junk closet, a devastating portrait of lost hope and failed dreams; a flaming skull alluding to nothing so much as Death caught in an inferno of alienation pervading modern civilization and ultimately consuming it; a monkey, a non-human animal so human in form as to mock our very identity as human, symbolic of our animal needs and the animal lurking, always lurking just beneath the surface of our rational facades; a robot, a machine in human form, the ultimate symbol of our dehumanization at the hands of our own cleverness; the plentiful seating, symbolizing man's inhumanity to his fellow man; and, of course, the banana, so strident in its symbolism that it paradoxically becomes subtle, like an angry couple at the supermarket whose loud, pointless bickering we try to pretend not to see. But even such powerful symbolism would be empty without narrative, of which we find more than we can handle. We pass a banana, tentatively at first, experimenting: to the monkey, perhaps, or to the robot? And what about the flaming head? Soon we build confidence, just as the hero in the prototypical mythological framework gains confidence from early tests, and start passing bananas more aggressively. Before we know it we are in a banana-passing frenzy - bananas everywhere, coming, going, faster than we can keep track of, just as we lose track of things in our daily lives: this banana an overdue bill, this one a friend we've lost touch with, this one the wreckage of a marriage. And then it stops, suddenly, and we find to our shock that we have no more bananas - but, in a bitter indictment of western society's glorification of hoarded wealth, this is how we win: just as the Japanese gardener considers her garden complete only when she has removed everything that she can remove, this game is not complete until we have no more bananas. Other games in this year's competition might have more plot, more puzzles, or more elaborate settings, but none have more bananas. Score: 2 (there's nothing to it, but what's there works) -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Suzanne Britton TITLE: Six Stories AUTHOR: Neil K. Guy E-MAIL: tela SP@G tela.bc.ca DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/tads/six/six.gam VERSION: 1.0 "Six Stories" is the first full-blown use of HTML TADS I've seen, complete with high-quality graphics (well, "illustrations" feels like a better term), sound effects, and speech. However, these multimedia aspects are used differently than they are in most commercial games. A combination of effects, including subtle background textures that look like aged paper, are used to give you the impression of being inside a storybook. There is your own story, which you are playing out, and five others nestled inside that, each recounted with pictures and a quiet voice like a parent reading at a child's bedside. All come together to contribute to the one puzzle of note (which, though it is arguably an "old chestnut", I quite enjoyed solving). I found the experience, though all too brief, to be thoroughly charming. Puzzlewise, the pieces all fit together with a satisfying little snap. Storywise, there are many insinuations and ambiguities and loose ends--enough that I plan on a second play-through to get a clearer picture of the whole. The author doesn't go out of his way to explain what any of this means and why it's happening. This is obscurity done right--unlike some other entries this year which shall remain nameless. While "Six Stories" has a number of cosmetic bugs, as well as a gameworld which is arguably over-detailed for a game of this size (leading to some unwieldly disambiguations), I found no serious problems. It is one of several games this year that disables compass directions, which normally irritates me, but in this case, there was good reason for doing so. The main reason I'm only giving "Six Stories" an 8 is because it ended just as I was getting warmed up! -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Stone Cell AUTHOR: Stephen Kodat E-MAIL: skodat SP@G blazenet.net DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/tads/cell/cell.gam VERSION: Release 1 Stone Cell is one of the most uneven works of IF imaginable. The game's world is complete and thoroughly rendered--yet many of the most important details either are inaccessible or require information-gathering techniques that I never ran across. Some of the puzzles are clever, but most are also so poorly clued that there is no way to solve them other than looking at the walkthrough. And bits of the writing are colorful and vivid, but long stretches are ludicrously turgid and overwritten. The overall impression is a game with potential for a terrific story, let down by poor game design. It appears you're a young girl, in a medieval village, who has appeared at church improperly attired and is facing imprisonment as a consequence--excessive, it seems, though the game never puts the excess in any sort of context. Beyond that, you understand very little at the outset: the game elects not to explain anything about the setting. This is actually an interesting way to immerse the player in the story, in that the action starts right away without explaining who or where you are, and leaves you to piece together the salient details. Realism suffers somewhat (i.e., when your character asks other people about her own basic biographical information), but not excessively so. And there are lots and lots of things to figure out--the game name-drops left and right, and you accumulate unexplained references much faster than you can ask people about them. The game fairly drips with information: virtually no scenery is left unimplemented, for one thing, and there are lots of doors that you simply cannot get through. The effect is that the game's world seems much larger than it is--you have the sense that you have seen only a small portion of it by the end of the game--which is certainly a nice touch. Unfortunately, the masses of detail available mean that it's easy to fail to discover something important, or to lose an important name in the shuffle--and even at the end of the game, I could not discern how I should have learned a few key bits of information. The author has taken care to make the world of the game complete, but it ends up being almost too detailed, with too many names to keep straight. Still, an excess of detail is arguably more interesting than an underdescribed game, and Stone Cell certainly does put together an interesting setting. Sadly, the puzzle-solving spoils the fun of the setting, by and large, by requiring mental telepathy on a grand scale. Particularly egregious in that regard is the dungeon cell of the title, which the author splits into nine parts, each with a one-line description--and a certain key object is hidden entirely, without even an oblique reference in the description that might lead to it. This is the most peculiar design choice in a game filled with such peculiar choices--the author's powers of description appear to be up to the task of rendering each portion of the cell vividly enough that the scene wouldn't be boring or repetitious. Indeed, it becomes apparent that there are quite a few things worth noticing scattered around the cell, and why the author chose to shortchange the descriptions is unclear. That poses one artificial barrier to solving puzzles, but there are others--you are supposed to sense, somehow, that you can signal a certain person a certain way from a certain spot in the cell, and how you know this remains a mystery to me. There is a measure of logic to most of the puzzles, but usually it's the sort of logic that is apparent only in retrospect--a player is unlikely to hit on most of the solutions other than by blind guess. (Particularly so in the case of the guardians that are distracted by a certain object; it is not apparent why those guardians react the way they do--or in the case of the solution that requires an adversary to be almost unfathomably stupid.) The unfairness of the puzzles detracts considerably from the effectiveness of the story, since most players will wind up relying heavily on the walkthrough. (A few of the puzzles, particularly the one where you open the door of your cell, are rather ingenious, though.) The writing occasionally works and more often is ridiculously overdone, as in the following passage when you emerge from your cell: During your time underground, time has passed as if you were here to witness it; the world has fallen into the drowse of deep night, without the least concern for your whereabouts. At this moment, a realization holds you captive: all shall continue as it always has, long after you have expired and returned to the loam. Or this, from the initial description of your cell: This is a sepulcher for the living. You are ensconced in the tomb where you shall surely perish, with no one to anoint your body, no one to assuage your throes, no one to hear your final lament. The grammar here is fine, and there aren't really all that many unneeded adjectives and adverbs, but the cliche and melodrama levels are painfully high--it really isn't necessary to hand-wring about the awfulness of your prison cell, or exclaim over your sudden discovery that the world goes on without you. The author here can put sentences together, clearly, but knowing when to stop is a problem. Some of the descriptions that aren't supposed to be fraught with melodrama are acceptable: >examine beams Hewn from trees felled on the surrounding hillsides. You used to run wild through those trees, on those rare days you'd complete your chores before nightfall. Nothing special, but it sets a scene and doesn't call attention to the writer unnecessarily. Stone Cell is a little too quick to ascribe emotions to the PC, and to maunder on about those emotions; the more restrained scene that leave the player to make inferences about the PC's feelings work much better. The other problem with the writing is that, in many cases, there's simply too much of it--some descriptions go on for more than 200 words, much more than necessary. Conciseness is a virtue in IF writing, and there's not a lot of it here. The story itself is uneven, in the end--the story ends up being about the feudal lord's family as much as yours, though the introduction made it seem like the focus would be injustice, as visited upon those in small communities who transgress in minor but symbolic ways. It isn't apparent at the outset that you should care about the details of the lord's family, in other words, and the game never really signals that the PC does care about said family. The author seems to have been so eager to develop the various narrative threads that he never got around to making any of them work as a story--why do you care about the internal politics of the castle (as you seem to), when you're a twelve- year-old? Depending on how you approach it, the failure here is either an incoherently written PC (who's a lot more worldly than she appears), or a backstory that didn't fill out the necessary details as it should have. Stone Cell is an interesting mess, in short--there's a whole lot of story running around with very little to tie it together, and the shape of the game is unfortunately provided by several badly done puzzles. There are clearly good intentions at work, though, and the setting was intriguing enough that I ended up giving the game a 7 in this year's competition. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Winter Wonderland AUTHOR: Laura A. Knauth E-MAIL: Laura.Knauth SP@G Stanford.edu DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/winter/winter.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Laura Knauth's Winter Wonderland is unfortunately named--it brings to mind a horrible, insipid song, for one thing--but also accurately named; the genre is fairy-tale, and "wonderland" is the best way to describe the game's gentle, nonthreatening world. Players who don't mind things like dryads and fairies will find much to enjoy in Winter Wonderland; players who do, however, are advised to steer clear. The premise should tell the potential player all he or she needs to know about Winter Wonderland: you're a little girl sent into town to buy a single candle so that your family will have something to put on its tree. You'd really like to buy some shoes for your sickly younger brother Sander, but your family's too poor to afford shoes for both of you. Along the way, you stumble into a magical realm replete with the aforementioned dryads and fairies and other things of that ilk. While everything is quite well done, about as well done as it can be, the nature of the game--where is HTML-TADS when it's needed? we need wailing strings and chiming bells here--is such that it's the ultimate in Not Everyone's Cup of Tea. The puzzles (for there are quite a few of them in the magical realm) aren't anything special, on the whole; they are more akin to artificial roadblocks (bad) than problems seamlessly integrated into the story (good). Most of them boil down to doors to unlock in order to obtain objects that will unlock other doors; the saving grace is that the writing is plentiful and quite good. Some of the doors, to be sure, are unlocked in creative ways, but by and large the puzzles are just puzzles, and there's nothing unifying the puzzle-solving in any meaningful way. It's a shame, and it's a little strange, since the game takes care to develop the framing story--but then dumps you in the magic forest, and you're to assume that if you wander around and solve a bunch of puzzles, things will be all right in the end. Winter Wonderland has a lot of company there, of course, in Infocom's games among others--but IF has been moving away from that model in recent years. It is also worth noting that one puzzle toward the latter stages of the game is simply poorly implemented (and the hints, helpful elsewhere, are no help here), and my enjoyment of the game as a whole waned as I struggled with the poor implementation, I fear. Other than that, however, the game is very solidly implemented; there are no alternate solutions, as far as I know, but the given solutions are reasonably well clued and logical (though a few rely on effects that could not have been anticipated), and there are no major bugs. As noted, the writing is plentiful and generally good enough to overcome the flaws in the puzzles, though there is rather a lot of it; the tendency here is toward more details rather than less. That's not so inconsistent with the overall feel of fantasy, though, where big splashy descriptions are more or less acceptable (whereas real-world-type settings are better served by just a few sentences to bring out the salient details). The main problem with the writing is that there are a few too many adjectives and adverbs, even given the setting, and some of the descriptions are a bit overwritten; the initial paragraph setting the scene (think movie voice-over) is an example: In a far off land, there lies a little village nestled in a snowy mountainscape. As the townsfolk joyously prepare for the coming winter solstice, a young girl living with her family in a humble hut at the outskirts of town gains no comfort in the festivities. Her closest companion, her younger brother Sander Bales, has fallen seriously ill with a fever and can barely lift his head from the bed upon which he lies. Young Gretchen could hardly have suspected that such circumstances would cause the fanciful events that were to occur upon this solstice eve. "Nestled," "joyously," "humble," "seriously," "young" twice, "fanciful", etc. There are also some grammar problems (though the sheer amount of text tends to obscure them), but on the whole the writing is reasonably good. It's just--well, depending on your mood, it might come across as saccharine. Or it might come across as charming. Similar is the dryad who speaks in verse; it's reasonably competent verse, but it verges on being a little much. Perhaps the best way to describe Winter Wonderland is that it fits very snugly within its genre, namely earnest and occasionally heart-tugging fairy tale, and does very little to push that genre's boundaries. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, especially since that in particular is ground less trodden than some areas of IF (et tu, trapped-in-the-research-lab?), but it does require that the reader accept the conventions of the genre and put aside even the remotest vestige of cynicism. Any work of fiction that deals with the holiday-time struggles of a poor family whose youngest child is sick is already toeing the self-parody line; Winter Wonderland does about as well as any game could to avoid crossing the line. Winter Wonderland is also one of the few genuinely child-friendly games since Infocom left the scene, and it's far more bearable for adults than, say, Seastalker--but very few games are universally accessible to and enjoyable by both children and adults, and this is not one of them. I, personally, enjoyed Winter Wonderland quite a bit; perhaps I was in the right mood. But while it's well-crafted IF in most respects, it's not the sort of thing that will necessarily appeal even to all fans of well-crafted IF. For my part, I gave it an 8 in this year's competition. READERS' SCOREBOARD ------------------------------------------------------- The Readers' Scoreboard is an ongoing feature of SPAG which charts the scores that SPAG readers and reviewers have given to various IF games since SPAG started up. The codes in the Notes column give information as to a game's availability and the platforms on which it runs. For a translation of these codes and for more detailed information on the scoreboard's format, see the SPAG FAQ. This FAQ is available at the ftp.gmd.de IF-archive or on the SPAG web page at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag. Name Avg Sc Chr Puz # Sc Issue Notes: ==== ====== === === ==== ===== ====== Aayela 7.8 1.2 1.5 4 10 F_TAD_GMD Acid Whiplash 2.7 0.6 0.1 1 17 F_INF_GMD Acorn Court 6.1 0.5 1.5 2 12 F_INF_GMD Adv. of Elizabeth Hig 3.1 0.5 0.3 2 5 F_AGT_GMD Adventure (all varian 6.5 0.6 1.0 8 8 F_INF_TAD_ETC_GMD Adventureland 3.9 0.5 1.4 3 F_INF_GMD Afternoon Visit 4.1 1.0 0.8 1 F_AGT Aisle 6.5 1.4 0.2 6 18 F_INF_GMD Alien Abduction? 7.7 1.4 1.4 4 10 F_TAD_GMD All Quiet...Library 5.0 0.9 0.9 6 7 F_INF_GMD Amnesia 7.8 1.5 1.7 2 9 C_AP_I_64 Anchorhead 8.5 1.7 1.5 13 18 F_INF_GMD Another...No Beer 2.4 0.2 0.8 2 4 S10_I_GMD Arrival 8.1 1.3 1.5 4 17 F_TAD_GMD Arthur: Excalibur 8.0 1.3 1.6 4 4, 14 C_INF Aunt Nancy's House 1.5 0.0 0.0 1 F_INF_GMD Awakened 7.7 1.7 1.6 1 Awakening 5.6 0.9 1.1 2 15, 18 F_INF_GMD Awe-Chasm 2.4 0.3 0.6 1 8 S_I_ST_GMD Babel 8.5 1.7 1.4 4 13 F_INF_GMD Balances 6.6 0.7 1.2 7 6 F_INF_GMD Ballyhoo 7.6 1.7 1.5 5 4 C_INF Bear's Night Out 8.2 1.5 1.5 2 13 F_INF_GMD Beat The Devil 6.3 1.4 1.2 2 F_INF_GMD Beyond the Tesseract 3.7 0.1 0.6 1 6 F_I_GMD Beyond Zork 8.1 1.5 1.9 6 5, 14 C_INF BJ Drifter 7.5 1.3 1.3 2 15 F_INF_GMD Bliss 6.5 1.2 0.9 2 F_TAD_GMD Bloodline 7.2 1.7 1.2 1 15 F_INF_GMD Border Zone 7.3 1.4 1.4 6 4 C_INF Break-In 6.9 0.9 1.6 1 F_INF_GMD Broken String 3.6 0.5 0.4 3 F_TAD_GMD BSE 5.7 0.9 1.0 3 F_INF_GMD Bureaucracy 7.0 1.5 1.3 8 5 C_INF Busted 5.2 1.0 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Calliope 4.7 0.9 1.0 2 F_INF_GMD Cask 1.8 0.0 0.7 1 F_INF_GMD Castaway 1.1 0.0 0.4 1 5 F_I_GMD Castle Elsinore 4.3 0.7 1.0 2 I_GMD CC 4.2 0.4 1.0 1 F_ALAN_GMD Change in the Weather 7.7 1.0 1.5 107, 8, 14F_INF_GMD Chaos 4.5 0.9 1.0 1 F_TAD_GMD Chicken under Window 7.7 0.8 0.0 2 F_INF_GMD Chicks Dig Jerks 5.5 1.3 0.5 3 F_INF_GMD Christminster 8.3 1.7 1.5 11 F_INF_GMD City 6.0 0.5 1.2 1 17 F_INF_GMD Coke Is It! 6.3 1.0 1.0 1 F_INF_GMD Coming Home 0.6 0.1 0.1 1 F_INF_GMD Commute 1.3 0.2 0.1 1 F_I_GMD Congratulations! 2.6 0.7 0.3 1 F_INF_GMD Corruption 7.8 1.6 1.1 3 14 C_MAG Cosmoserve 8.0 1.3 1.5 4 5 F_AGT_GMD Crypt v2.0 5.0 1.0 1.5 1 3 S12_I_GMD Curses 8.3 1.2 1.7 13 2 F_INF_GMD Cutthroats 5.8 1.3 1.1 8 1 C_INF Dampcamp 5.5 1.0 1.2 2 F_TAD_GMD Day For Soft Food 7.5 1.2 1.5 2 F_INF_GMD Deadline 6.9 1.3 1.3 7 C_INF Death To My Enemies 4.9 1.1 0.9 2 F_INF_GMD Deep Space Drifter 5.6 0.4 1.1 3 3 S15_TAD_GMD Delusions 7.9 1.5 1.6 4 14F_INF_GMD Demon's Tomb 7.4 1.2 1.1 2 9 C_I Detective 1.1 0.0 0.0 74, 5, 18F_AGT_INF_GMD Detective-MST3K 6.1 1.0 0.1 77, 8, 18F_INF_GMD Ditch Day Drifter 6.7 0.9 1.7 4 2 F_TAD_GMD Down 6.0 1.0 1.2 1 14 F_HUG_GMD Downtown Tokyo 6.7 0.9 1.1 3 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_ETC Dungeon of Dunjin 6.2 0.8 1.4 4 3, 14 S20_IBM_MAC_GMD Edifice 8.0 1.6 1.8 4 13 F_INF_GMD Electrabot 0.7 0.0 0.0 1 5 F_AGT_GMD E-Mailbox 3.9 0.0 0.0 1 F_AGT_GMD Emy Discovers Life 4.1 1.0 1.0 1 F_AGT Enchanter 7.2 0.9 1.4 7 2,15 C_INF Enhanced 5.0 1.0 1.3 2 2 S10_TAD_GMD Enlightenment 7.4 1.2 1.6 1 17 F_INF_GMD Erehwon 6.7 1.3 1.6 2 F_TAD_GMD Eric the Unready 7.7 1.5 1.6 3 C_I Everybody Loves a Par 7.3 1.2 1.3 1 12 F_TAD_GMD Exhibition 6.3 1.3 0.7 2 F_TAD_GMD Fable 2.1 0.2 0.2 2 6 F_AGT_GMD Fable-MST3K 5.0 0.1 0.1 1 F_AGT_INF_GMD Fear 6.3 1.2 1.3 3 10 F_INF_GMD Fifteen 1.5 0.5 0.4 1 17 F_INF_GMD Firebird 7.8 1.6 1.5 2 15 F_TAD_GMD Fish 7.6 1.2 1.7 3 12, 14 C_MAG Foggywood Hijinx 6.6 1.3 1.5 2 F_TAD_GMD Foom 6.6 1.0 1.0 1 F_TAD_GMD For A Change 7.6 0.9 1.4 3 F_INF_GMD Forbidden Castle 4.8 0.6 0.5 1 C_AP Four In One 6.3 1.7 0.8 1 F_TAD_GMD Four Seconds 5.2 1.1 1.1 1 F_TAD_GMD Frenetic Five 5.8 1.3 0.6 2 13 F_TAD_GMD Friday Afternoon 6.3 1.4 1.2 1 13 F_INF_GMD Frobozz Magic Support 7.4 1.1 1.5 2 F_TAD_GMD Frozen 5.5 0.7 1.3 1 F_INF_GMD Frustration 5.7 1.1 0.9 1 F_TAD_GMD Gateway 8.4 1.3 1.8 4 11 C_I Gateway 2: Homeworld 9.4 1.7 2.0 1 C_I Glowgrass 7.1 1.4 1.3 3 13 F_INF_GMD Golden Fleece 6.0 1.0 1.1 1 F_TAD_GMD Golden Wombat of Dest 6.3 0.7 1.1 1 18 F_I_GMD Good Breakfast 5.8 1.1 1.3 1 14 F_INF_GMD Great Archeolog. 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 14 C_MAG Guilty Bastards 7.3 1.4 1.4 4 F_HUG_GMD Gumshoe 6.0 1.0 1.1 5 9 F_INF_GMD Halothane 7.1 1.3 1.4 2 F_INF_GMD HeBGB Horror 6.0 0.8 1.0 1 F_ALAN_GMD Heist 5.9 1.3 1.2 1 F_INF_GMD Hero, Inc. 7.1 1.1 1.5 1 F_TAD_GMD Hitchhiker's Guide 7.2 1.4 1.4 11 5 C_INF Hollywood Hijinx 6.7 0.9 1.6 10 C_INF Holy Grail 6.2 0.9 1.2 1 F_TAD_GMD Horror of Rylvania 7.2 1.4 1.4 4 1 F_TAD_GMD Horror30.zip 3.7 0.3 0.7 2 3 S20_I_GMD Human Resources Stori 1.3 0.0 0.2 1 17 F_INF_GMD Humbug 7.0 1.7 1.5 2 11 F_I_GMD Hunter, In Darkness 8.7 1.2 1.5 3 F_INF_GMD I didn't know...yodel 3.5 0.6 1.0 4 17 F_I_GMD I-0: Jailbait on Inte 7.5 1.5 1.3 10 F_INF_GMD Ice Princess 7.5 1.4 1.6 2 A_INF_GMD In The End 5.8 1.0 0.0 1 10 F_INF_GMD In The Spotlight 3.7 0.4 1.2 1 17 F_INF_GMD Infidel 7.2 0.3 1.4 11 1 C_INF Informatory 5.5 0.5 1.3 1 17 F_INF_GMD Inhumane 4.4 0.4 1.0 3 9 F_INF_GMD Intruder 5.6 1.0 1.3 1 F_INF_GMD Jacaranda Jim 7.9 0.9 1.0 2 F_GMD Jacks...Aces To Win 7.5 1.5 1.5 1 F_INF_GMD Jewel of Knowledge 6.4 1.2 1.2 2 18 F_INF_GMD Jeweled Arena 8.0 1.5 1.5 1 AGT_GMD Jigsaw 7.9 1.4 1.5 9 8,9 F_INF_GMD Jinxter 6.4 1.1 1.3 2 C_MAG John's Fire Witch 7.0 1.1 1.6 7 4, 12 S6_TADS_GMD Jouney Into Xanth 5.0 1.3 1.2 1 8 F_AGT_GMD Journey 7.3 1.5 1.2 4 5 C_INF King Arthur's Night O 5.3 0.9 1.2 2 F_ALAN_GMD Kissing the Buddha's 8.1 1.9 1.5 4 10 F_TAD_GMD Klaustrophobia 6.7 1.2 1.3 5 1 S15_AGT_GMD Knight Orc 7.3 2.0 0.5 1 15 C_I L.U.D.I.T.E. 2.1 0.3 0.0 2 F_INF_GMD Land Beyond Picket Fe 4.8 1.2 1.2 1 10 F_I_GMD Leather Goddesses 7.0 1.3 1.5 9 4 C_INF Leaves 3.4 0.2 0.8 1 14 F_ALAN_GMD Legend Lives! 8.6 1.1 1.5 3 5 F_TAD_GMD Lesson of the Tortois 7.2 1.3 1.4 3 14 F_TAD_GMD Lethe Flow Phoenix 6.8 1.4 1.5 4 9 F_TAD_GMD Life on Beal Street 4.4 1.2 0.0 1 F_TAD_GMD Light: Shelby's Adden 7.6 1.5 1.3 5 9 S_TAD_GMD Lightiania 1.9 0.2 0.4 1 F_INF_GMD Lists and Lists 7.5 1.8 1.7 2 10 F_INF_GMD Little Blue Men 8.4 1.4 1.5 6 17 F_INF_GMD Lomalow 4.6 1.3 0.6 1 F_INF_GMD Losing Your Grip 8.5 1.4 1.4 5 14S20_TAD_GMD Lost New York 9.1 1.8 1.7 2 S12_TAD_GMD Lost Spellmaker 7.0 1.6 1.3 2 13 F_INF_GMD Lunatix: Insanity Cir 5.5 1.1 1.1 2 F_I_GMD Lurking Horror 7.2 1.3 1.3 14 1,3 C_INF MacWesleyan / PC Univ 4.9 0.6 1.2 2 F_TAD_GMD Madame L'Estrange... 5.1 1.2 0.7 1 13 F_INF_GMD Magic Toyshop 5.7 1.1 1.3 4 7 F_INF_GMD Magic.zip 4.5 0.5 0.5 1 3 S20_IBM_GMD Maiden of the Moonlig 7.0 1.3 1.6 1 10 F_TAD_GMD Matter of Time 1.4 0.3 1.4 1 14F_ALAN_GMD Mercy 7.3 1.4 1.2 5 12 F_INF_GMD Meteor...Sherbet 8.1 1.5 1.7 4 10, 12 F_INF_GMD Mind Electric 5.2 0.6 0.9 4 7,8 F_INF_GMD Mind Forever Voyaging 8.3 1.3 0.9 10 5,15 C_INF Mission 6.0 1.2 1.4 1 F_TAD_GMD Moist 9.1 1.9 1.8 2 F_TAD_GMD Moment of Hope 4.7 1.3 0.4 2 F_TAD_GMD Moonmist 5.7 1.2 1.0 13 1 C_INF Mop & Murder 5.0 0.9 1.0 2 5 F_AGT_GMD Mother Loose 6.7 1.5 1.2 1 17 F_INF_GMD Multidimen. Thief 5.6 0.5 1.2 5 2,9 S15_AGT_GMD Muse 7.7 1.4 1.0 1 17 F_INF_GMD Music Education 3.6 1.0 0.8 2 F_INF_GMD Myopia 4.7 0.8 0.7 1 F_AGT_GMD Mystery House 4.1 0.3 0.7 1 F_AP_GMD New Day 6.5 1.4 1.2 3 13 F_INF_GMD Night At Computer Cen 5.0 1.0 1.2 1 F_INF_GMD Night at Museum Forev 4.2 0.3 1.0 4 7,8 F_TAD_GMD Night of... Bunnies 6.6 1.0 1.4 1 I_INF_GMD Nord and Bert 6.1 0.7 1.2 6 4 C_INF Obscene...Aardvarkbar 3.2 0.6 0.6 1 F_TAD_GMD Odieus...Flingshot 3.3 0.4 0.7 2 5 F_INF_GMD Of Forms Unknown 4.5 0.7 0.5 1 10 F_INF_GMD On The Farm 6.5 1.5 1.3 1 F_TAD_GMD Once and Future 6.9 1.6 1.5 2 16 C30_TAD_CMP One That Got Away 6.4 1.4 1.0 5 7,8 F_TAD_GMD Only After Dark 5.2 1.0 0.9 2 F_INF_GMD Oo-Topos 5.7 0.2 1.0 1 9 C_AP_I_64 Outsided 1.2 0.1 0.2 1 F_INF_GMD Pass the Banana 3.3 0.9 0.8 2 F_INF_GMD Path to Fortune 6.7 1.5 1.0 2 9 S_INF_GMD Pawn 6.5 1.0 1.2 1 12 C_MAG Perilous Magic 4.9 0.9 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Perseus & Andromeda 3.4 0.3 1.0 1 64_INF_GMD Persistence of Memory 6.2 1.2 1.1 1 17 F_HUG_GMD Phlegm 5.4 1.1 1.1 1 10 F_INF_GMD Photopia 7.4 1.4 0.7 10 17 F_INF_GMD Phred Phontious...Piz 5.2 0.9 1.3 2 13 F_INF_GMD Piece of Mind 6.3 1.3 1.4 1 10 F_INF_GMD Pintown 1.3 0.3 0.2 1 F_INF_GMD Planetfall 7.2 1.6 1.5 10 4 C_INF Plant 7.3 1.2 1.5 4 17 F_TAD_GMD Plundered Hearts 7.3 1.4 1.2 6 4 C_INF Poor Zefron's Almanac 6.4 1.0 1.4 1 13 F_TAD_GMD Portal 7.0 1.8 0.0 1 C_I_A_AP_64 Purple 5.6 0.9 1.0 1 17 F_INF_GMD Pyramids of Mars 6.0 1.2 1.2 1 AGT_GMD Quarterstaff 6.1 1.3 0.6 1 9 C_M Ralph 7.1 1.5 1.3 2 10 F_INF_GMD Remembrance 2.4 0.9 0.2 1 F_GMD Reruns 5.2 1.2 1.2 1 AGT_GMD Research Dig 4.7 1.1 0.7 1 17 F_INF_GMD Reverberations 5.6 1.3 1.1 1 10 F_INF_GMD Ritual of Purificatio 6.7 1.6 1.1 3 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 Sea Of Night 6.4 1.3 1.2 1 F_TAD_GMD Seastalker 4.9 1.1 0.8 9 4 C_INF Shades of Grey 8.0 1.3 1.4 4 2, 8 F_AGT_GMD Sherlock 7.1 1.4 1.4 4 4 C_INF She's Got a Thing...S 7.8 1.8 1.8 2 13 F_INF_GMD Shogun 7.1 1.5 0.5 1 4 C_INF Sins against Mimesis 7.0 1.3 1.3 2 13 F_INF_GMD Sir Ramic... Gorilla 5.0 1.0 1.5 1 6 F_AGT_GMD Six Stories 6.7 1.0 1.0 1 F_TAD_GMD Small World 6.7 1.4 1.2 2 10 F_TAD_GMD So Far 7.7 1.1 1.5 8 12 F_INF_GMD Sorcerer 7.2 0.6 1.6 6 2,15 C_INF Sound of... Clapping 7.2 1.2 1.3 5 5 F_ADVSYS_GMD South American Trek 0.9 0.2 0.5 1 5 F_IBM_GMD Space Aliens...Cardig 1.6 0.4 0.3 5 3, 4 S60_AGT_GMD Space under Window 7.5 0.9 0.5 4 12 F_INF_GMD Spacestation 5.6 0.7 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Spellbreaker 8.4 1.2 1.8 7 2,15 C_INF Spellcasting 101 7.0 1.0 1.2 1 C_I Spellcasting 201 7.8 1.5 1.6 1 C_I Spellcasting 301 7.5 1.4 1.5 1 C_I Spider and Web 8.7 1.7 1.8 8 14F_INF_GMD SpiritWrak 6.9 1.2 1.3 4 F_INF_GMD Spodgeville...Wossnam 5.8 1.1 1.2 1 F_INF_GMD Spur 7.1 1.3 1.1 2 9 F_HUG_GMD Starcross 6.9 1.1 1.3 6 1 C_INF Stargazer 5.4 1.1 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Stationfall 7.6 1.6 1.6 5 5 C_INF Stiffy - MiSTing 3.9 0.6 0.1 2 F_INF_GMD Stone Cell 6.1 1.2 1.2 1 F_TAD_GMD Strangers In The Nigh 4.3 1.0 0.6 1 F_TAD_GMD Sunset Over Savannah 8.7 1.7 1.4 5 13 F_TAD_GMD Suspect 6.0 1.2 1.0 6 4 C_INF Suspended 7.3 1.4 1.3 6 8 C_INF Sylenius Mysterium 4.7 1.2 1.1 1 13 F_INF_GMD Symetry 0.9 0.0 0.1 1 F_INF_GMD Tapestry 7.0 1.4 0.8 4 10, 14 F_INF_GMD Tempest 5.6 1.0 0.6 1 13 F_INF_GMD Temple of the Orc Mag 4.9 0.0 0.6 1 F_TAD_GMD Theatre 6.8 1.1 1.3 8 6 F_INF_GMD Thorfinn's Realm 3.9 0.8 0.7 1 F_INF_GMD Time: All Things... 5.2 1.1 1.0 1 11, 12 F_INF_GMD TimeQuest 8.4 1.2 1.7 2 C_I TimeSquared 4.3 1.1 1.1 1 F_AGT_GMD Toonesia 6.3 1.2 1.2 5 7 F_TAD_GMD Tossed into Space 3.9 0.2 0.6 1 4 F_AGT_GMD Town Dragon 3.7 0.6 0.4 1 14 F_INF_GMD Trapped...Dilly 7.0 0.0 1.5 1 17 F_INF_GMD Travels in Land of Er 6.1 1.2 1.5 2 14 F_INF_GMD Trinity 8.7 1.4 1.7 14 1,2 C_INF Tryst of Fate 7.1 1.4 1.3 1 11 F_INF_GMD Tube Trouble 4.2 0.8 0.7 2 8 F_INF_GMD Tyler's Great Cube Ga 5.8 0.0 1.7 1 S_TAD_GMD Uncle Zebulon's Will 7.3 1.0 1.4 11 8 F_TAD_GMD Underoos That Ate NY 6.2 1.0 1.2 1 F_TAD_INF_GMD Undertow 5.2 1.2 1.0 2 8 F_TAD_GMD Undo 3.2 0.4 0.6 3 7 F_TAD_GMD Unholy Grail 6.0 1.2 1.2 1 13 F_I_GMD Unnkulian One-Half 6.9 1.2 1.6 8 1 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Unventure 1 7.0 1.2 1.6 7 1,2 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Unventure 2 7.2 1.4 1.5 4 1 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Zero 9.0 11, 12, 1F_TAD_GMD Varicella 8.8 1.6 1.7 6 18 F_INF_GMD Veritas 6.9 1.7 1.4 2 S10_TAD_GMD Vindaloo 2.9 0.0 0.4 1 F_INF_GMD VirtuaTech 6.1 0.0 1.2 1 F_INF_GMD Waystation 5.7 0.7 0.9 2 9 F_TAD_GMD Wearing the Claw 7.2 1.3 1.3 4 10, 18 F_INF_GMD Wedding 7.3 1.6 1.4 2 12 F_INF_GMD Where Evil Dwells 5.1 0.8 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Winter Wonderland 8.0 1.3 1.2 4 F_INF_GMD Wishbringer 7.5 1.3 1.3 11 5,6 C_INF Witness 6.5 1.5 1.1 8 1,3,9 C_INF Wonderland 7.5 1.3 1.4 1 C_MAG World 6.5 0.6 1.3 2 4 F_I_ETC_GMD Worlds Apart 8.9 1.8 1.5 2 F_TAD_GMD Zanfar 2.6 0.2 0.4 1 8 F_AGT_GMD Zero Sum Game 7.8 1.6 1.6 2 13 F_INF_GMD Zombie! 6.0 1.1 1.1 1 13 F_TAD_GMD Zork 0 6.2 1.0 1.4 8 14C_INF Zork 1 6.1 0.9 1.4 17 1, 12 C_INF Zork 2 6.7 1.0 1.5 10 1, 12 C_INF Zork 3 6.5 0.8 1.4 7 1, 12 C_INF Zork Undisc. Undergr. 6.5 1.0 1.2 1 14F_INF_GMD Zork: A Troll's Eye V 4.7 0.5 0.1 1 14 F_INF_GMD Zuni Doll 5.3 1.1 0.9 1 14 F_INF_GMD -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- The Top Ten: 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. I'm pleased to announce that I've received over 350 ratings since the last issue of SPAG. Keep up the good work, people! Unsurprisingly, the top ten has changed significantly since last issue due to all the new scores. Varicella retains the top spot, but with a significantly lower overall score than last issue. Only 1 Infocom game, Trinity, remains in the top ten, which is otherwise filled out by worthy entries from Plotkin, Gentry, Granade, Baggett, and, surprisingly enough, a couple of favorites from the 1997 IF competition. 1. Varicella 8.8 6 votes 2. Hunter, In Darkness 8.7 3 votes 3. Spider and Web 8.7 8 votes 4. Sunset Over Savannah 8.7 5 votes 5. Trinity 8.7 14 votes 6. The Legend Lives! 8.6 3 votes 7. Losing Your Grip 8.5 5 votes 8. Anchorhead 8.5 13 votes 9. Babel 8.5 4 votes 10. Little Blue Men 8.4 6 votes As always, please remember that the scoreboard is only as good as the contributions it receives. To make your mark on this vast morass of statistics, rate some games on our website (http://www.sparkynet.com/spag). You can also, if you like, send ratings directly to me at obrian SP@G colorado.edu. Instructions for how the rating system works are in the SPAG FAQ, available from GMD and our website. We've had a bit of trouble with score inflation recently, as well as some people inexplicably giving scads of games a 0.0 for their wildcard score. Please read the FAQ before submitting scores, so that you know how the scoring system works. After that, submit away! 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!
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