ISSUE #19 - January 14, 2000

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

            ISSUE # 19 -- 1999 IF Competition Special

           Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G
                       January 14, 2000

           SPAG Website:

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
For a Change
Hunter, In Darkness
Jacks or Better to Murder, Aces to Win
King Arthur's Night Out
A Moment of Hope
On the Farm
Pass The Banana
Six Stories
Stone Cell
Winter Wonderland

+ interviews with Laura A. Knauth and Dan Schmidt


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 ----------------------------------------------------------------------

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

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!

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. 

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 (, whose agenda will be to
select roughly one game per month and encourage people to play that
game, discuss it on, 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 (, 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. 

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 -- I
encourage you to check them out, and hey, why not review one for SPAG?

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. 

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:

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


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 ( 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

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

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

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

SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition

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

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

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

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

DS: Well, my reviews and scores are on record. [On Dan's web page at
http:// --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'

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

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

Consider the following review header:

NAME: Cutthroats
AUTHOR: Infocom
EMAIL: ???
DATE: September 1984
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
URL: Not available.

When submitting reviews:  Try to fill in as much of this info as you can.
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:
 and at

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

From: Francesco Bova 

NAME: Beat the Devil
AUTHOR: Robert M. Camisa
EMAIL: bredon SP@G
DATE: September 1999
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters

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
DATE: September 1999
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters


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 

* "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
DATE: 1999
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
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
DATE: 1999
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
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

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
DATE: 1999
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
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
DATE: 1999
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
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.


   >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
DATE: 1999
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
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

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
DATE: 1999
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
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

   Nearly -- nearly. The animal stink is rank and close. You raise your
   crossbow, try to peer beyond dark, wet stone.

   The stink of your prey is all around.

   Something shifts in the darkness ahead, a great silent bulk. Your 

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
DATE: September 1999
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
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

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."


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
DATE: September 1999
SUPPORTS: ALAN interpreters

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

      "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
DATE: September 1999
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 0


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

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

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

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

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
DATE: September 1999
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
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
DATE: 1999
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
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
DATE: 1999
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
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

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
DATE: 1999
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters

"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
DATE: 1999
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
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

   >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

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


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Winter Wonderland
AUTHOR: Laura A. Knauth
E-MAIL: Laura.Knauth SP@G
DATE: 1999
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
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 IF-archive or on the SPAG web page at

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              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                 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
( You can also, if you like, send ratings
directly to me at obrian SP@G 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 ---------------------------------------------------------

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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,
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