___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE # 20 Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) March 15, 2000 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #20 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 ----------------------------------------------------- Christminster Common Ground Deadline Enemies I-0: Jailbait on the Interstate Inheritance Inhumane Intruder Lost New York 9:05 Not Just A Game Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina Perilous Magic Shrapnel A Simple Theft Skyranch SPECIFICS ========= Bliss 9:05 EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ When I was asked to assume editorship of SPAG, one of the first things I did was to read every back issue. Out of those thousands of lines of text, one item in particular struck me, and has lingered in my memory ever since. It was a letter, written way back in 1995 by Gareth Rees (the author of Christminster, reviewed in this issue.) In this letter, Rees argued that most IF criticism, such as the reviews printed here, is great for players, but isn't as useful for authors. This imbalance, according to him, is due to the nature of IF itself, namely the imperative to avoid spoilers. He suggests that when we avoid spoilers, we are forced into talking about IF games in broad, general terms, terms that of necessity exclude some important and fruitful topics. In his own words: "Because adventure games are puzzle-oriented and because the kinds of people who play the games tend not to want the puzzles spoiled for them, extant reviews... have tended to be very coy about saying *anything* specific about the games under consideration." [To see the entire text of this letter, check out SPAG #6 in the "Back Issues" section of the SPAG website.] Rees' letter brought into sharp focus a concern that has vaguely worried me ever since I began to write reviews. Sometimes, when reviewing a piece of IF, I'll find myself wanting to talk about the ending of the game, or about what worked and what didn't for a particular puzzle, or about certain character reactions and what I thought of them. But as soon as I recognize the impulse, I'll stop short, and start looking for ways to skirt the issue. Why? Because I couldn't discuss any of those things in specific terms while still keeping the review spoiler-free. I could still discuss enough aspects of any game that a prospective player could determine whether or not it was her cup of tea, but how useful might it have been to the author, or to other authors, had I been able to dissect in detail some of the specific aspects of the game? The more I thought about Rees' letter, the more I agreed with him that the lack of in-depth analysis in IF criticism is "an unsatisfactory state of affairs." In that spirit, I'd like to inaugurate a new section of SPAG: SPAG Specifics. Unlike the reviews in the main section of SPAG, Specifics reviews can and should contain spoilers. In fact, this kind of in-depth review isn't new to SPAG -- after the first IF competition, then-editor Kevin Wilson provided breakdowns of several games, spoiler-laden reviews which wouldn't have been out of place in SPAG Specifics. I'd like for the reviews in this new section to help further the state of IF criticism by allowing critics to discuss IF games in unambiguous, explicit terms. The section is making its debut in this issue with two reviews by Duncan Stevens, one for the Comp99 game Bliss and another for Adam Cadre's recent short piece, 9:05. Neither of these reviews could discuss what they do if they were bound by the typical SPAG "no-spoiler" policy, and I think they both contribute useful insights to the ongoing study of IF. I'm pleased and proud that SPAG can provide a home for them. Let me be clear about my intent: SPAG's primary purpose has been and will continue to be to provide spoiler-free reviews that help players decide which pieces of IF might interest them. I recognize that it takes some discipline to write reviews sans spoilers, and that the temptation exists to include spoilers, even if one's use of them doesn't particularly serve any kind of incisive analysis. For this reason, I'm only going to accept two or three reviews per issue for the SPAG Specifics section, and those reviews will be required to provide in-depth analysis to justify their usage of spoilers. Note also that even though the reviews in this issue's Specifics section discuss games whose most important element is one of surprise, any and all pieces of IF are eligible for a Specifics review. SPAG Specifics will be included at the end of each issue (after the Readers' Scoreboard) and festooned with spoiler warnings. I hope that both authors and players will find it useful, and that it will help us, in the words of Gareth Rees, to "get beyond the generalities and into specifics." NEWS ---------------------------------------------------------------------- AND THE XYZZY GOES TO... Saturday, February 12, saw the 4th annual XYZZY Awards held in the beautiful Auditorium of Tomorrow on ifMUD (http://ifmud.port4000.com:4001). The XYZZY Awards are sponsored by our fellow IF zine XYZZYNews, edited by the able Eileen Mullin. Though it's been a long time since the last issue of XYZZYNews (there's a "Come On Eileen" joke in there somewhere, but I'm not going to look for it), the zine has faithfully hosted the awards ceremony every year, and it's been a great showcase for spotlighting the best games from each calendar year, both in and out of the competition. For 1999, the victor in the Best Game category was Adam Cadre's Varicella. In fact, the observant among you may have noticed that Adam Cadre and Andrew Plotkin have a bit of a ping-pong match going in the XYZZYs, with Cadre winning best game in 1999 and 1997 (for Varicella and I-0, the latter of which is reviewed in this issue), while Plotkin won in 1998 and 1996 (for Spider and Web and So Far, respectively.) Vegas oddsmakers are looking to Plotkin for the 2000 XYZZYs, but of course, he has to release a game first. Full results of the 1999 XYZZY Awards follow: * Best Game: Varicella, by Adam Cadre * Best Writing: For A Change, by Dan Schmidt * Best Story: Worlds Apart, by Suzanne Britton * Best Setting: Hunter, in Darkness, by Andrew Plotkin * Best Puzzles: The Mulldoon Legacy, by Jon Ingold * Best NPCs: Varicella, by Adam Cadre * Best Individual Puzzle: The Maze, from Hunter, in Darkness * Best Individual NPC: Miss Sierra, from Varicella * Best Individual PC: Primo Varicella, from Varicella * Best Use of Medium: Aisle, by Sam Barlow NEW GAMES I'm so proud of our SPAG reviewers. First of all, this issue remedies some long-standing gaps in the SPAG review record, covering games such as Christminster, I-0, and Lost New York, all of which have languished for years without the benefit of a SPAG review. Not only that, but this diabolical delay between a game's release and its review in SPAG (a delay which I will most emphatically *not* christen "SPAG lag") has been virtually eliminated in the case of two games released just since the last issue of SPAG came out two months ago -- John Menichelli's Not Just A Game and Adam Cadre's Shrapnel are both reviewed in this issue. Other new games since last issue include a couple of pieces of tiny IF, a German Inform adventure, a Z-Machine abuse, and a full-blown HTML-TADS game: * Lost In New York by Mikko Vuorinen (no relation to Neil DeMause's Lost New York, reviewed in this issue) * Starrider (in German), by Max Kalus * Not Just A Game by John Menichelli * Shrapnel by Adam Cadre * Sycamora Tree by David Dyte * Z Trek by John Menichelli (another "abuse of the z-machine") * The Adventures of Helpfulman by Phillip Dearmore THE PARSIFAL MOSAIC Roger Firth had already made a great contribution to IF Authorship on the web with a page that demonstrated the same small demo game as implemented in 9 major IF languages (http://homepages.tesco.net/~roger.firth/cloak/), but he didn't stop there. He's just unveiled PARSIFAL (http://homepages.tesco.net/~roger.firth/parsifal/), a dense and thorough collection of links to many many homepages and web sites related to IF. It makes for fascinating surfing. By the way, in keeping with the IF world's love for acronyms, PARSIFAL stands for People And Resource Summary -- Interactive Fiction Authorship Links. EVERY REVIEW A WANTED REVIEW I couldn't be more pleased with the results that have been generated by the SPAG 10 Most Wanted List. The long-awaited reviews I mentioned above (in the NEW GAMES section) are all items that appeared on the last couple of Most Wanted lists -- many people didn't even realize that those games had never been reviewed in SPAG! This issue's list has a nice mix of the new, old, and otherwise unjustly neglected. Please note that the 10 Most Wanted List refers to regular SPAG reviews, not those intended for the new SPAG Specifics section: SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. The Adventures of Helpfulman 2. Bad Machine 3. Cutthroats 4. Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. 5. Guilty Bastards 6. Lunatix: The Insanity Circle 7. The Mulldoon Legacy 8. Offensive Probing 9. Winchester's Nightmare 10. Worlds Apart KEY TO SCORES AND REVIEWS-------------------------------------------------- Consider the following review header: NAME: Cutthroats AUTHOR: Infocom EMAIL: ??? DATE: September 1984 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 URL: Not available. When submitting reviews: Try to fill in as much of this info as you can. If you choose, you may also provide scores for the games you review, as explained in the SPAG FAQ. The scores will be used in the ratings section. Authors may not rate or review their own games. More elaborate descriptions of the rating and scoring systems may be found in the FAQ and in issue #9 of SPAG, which should be available at: ftp://ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/magazines/SPAG/ and at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag REVIEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------- From: Nick Montfort
NAME: Christminster AUTHOR: Gareth Rees EMAIL: wgr2 SP@G cus.cam.ac.uk [See editor's note after footnote 1. --PO] DATE: August 1995 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware. URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/minster.z5 "Upon this Oath that I shall heere you give..." The seventeenth-century verse that begins Christminster brings on tingles, dropping the interactor directly into an atmosphere of ancient secrecy, a world where mysteries must be unlocked. It becomes smoothly evident that the main character, Christabel, is an outsider: She's come to visit her brother at all-male Biblioll College, which seems rather shut off from the surrounding town and happens to be completely closed today. The situation is more quotidian than the epigraphical quotation suggests, but, being sure of conspiracy inside, the interactor's curiosity is provoked. Christ! How is Christabel to get into Christminster's cloistered college on the Lord's day? [FOOTNOTE 1] More critically, what will she do when she finds that brother seems to have been engaged in forbidden research, and is now missing? The college is populated with particularly rich characters who play their parts well through the usual sorts of text-adventure interactions. There are good excuses to interact with them along the way, too, provided by a plot which twists along past different personalities. Rees has said that his puzzles are contrived for the purpose of drawing the interactor through the story and into contact with different characters, and that is evident in Christminster. Areas of the setting are consecutively unlocked for exploration, but the whole college is worked into the story very evenly, throughout the narrative. That said, the actions required to unlock the college and the secrets within are, as is so often the case in interactive fiction, convoluted. The general nature of the challenges that Christabel faces do fit in well with the situations of the story. The artifice of puzzles is visible, though, and sometimes tugs against the authorial and narrative voice. Although challenging, the solutions to the puzzles are plausible, in the context of current interactive fiction -- and the puzzles are quite well-crafted, as one would expect from Rees's The Magic Toyshop -- but to actually solve them the interactor must shift away from reading and exploration to worry about waiting a number of turns, crossing different-colored wires, and decrypting enciphered text. This is often the case with interactive fiction. The nice thing about Christminster is that, aside from its interlocking challenges, there is some good reading and exploration to be done. In some ways Christminster might be held up against with The Lurking Horror -- the university setting and occult mysteries being the obvious points of comparison. There are important differences. [FOOTNOTE 2] The main character in Christminster is unfamiliar with the campus, which fits in with the interactor actually having no previous knowledge of the fictional college. Importantly, Christminster is more populated than The Lurking Horror. The life of the university is still going on, even if at a Sunday pace. How the revelation of the conspiracy occurs, and what actually happens in Christminster, is most fascinating. The writing in which these events are described does not shine, but the descriptive text in Christminster is clear. Objects in the environment, and the behaviors of those objects, are well-defined and aptly described. A few commands elicit responses that ring a bit false -- ">pet the parrot. Keep your hands to yourself!" -- but the interaction is, overall, well-constructed. For those concerned with allowing more English-like interaction, Christminster does not advance the state of the art. It would help to be able to "leave" a room that has only one exit, for instance. As is conventional, compass directions are required for movement through most locations. At times the objective description in Christminster yields and the emotions of the main character are described. This does little, for the most part -- "Your heart sinks as you look around this room." -- but sometimes it adds a bit of color: "It is a hot summer's day in Christminster, the kind of day that makes you think of strawberries and cream and punting on the river." Rees excellently ties together the acquisition of keys and the advance through locations with quotations from alchemical literature and from Coleridge's "Christabel." Although it may seem a minor element, it links the work to the world of literature strongly, and draws the interactor deeper into the mysteries of the college. The quoted material is not as thematically meaningful as are the excepts in Trinity, but these texts build up the rich and enveloping atmosphere of this work. Christminster overcomes more than a few of the obstacles that keep casual gamers and readers unfamiliar with the form from enjoying interactive fiction. The map in Christabel's bag, for instance, is nicely rendered in ASCII graphics on-screen. This makes pencil-and-paper map-making unnecessary, removing one encumbrance for those who are new to the form. Although some of the puzzles are challenging, the compelling story and fairly well-developed interaction makes Christminster a good work to introduce readers to interactive fiction. [FOOTNOTE 3] Overall, Christminster has both gaming and literary merits. The two halves of the work could, perhaps, fit together better, and particular aspects of the work might have been honed further. Amazingly, though, both the overarching narrative and the puzzle set provided are exemplary. This, along with several important smaller touches, makes Christminster a work of lasting value, of interest to both veterans of Spellbreaker and readers of the conspiratorial Pynchon and Eco. --- FOOTNOTE 1. A major Christ-initial place name and character name may sound contrived, but truth is at least as strange as fiction. Rees's home page [at http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/people/wgr2/home.htm] reveals that he's a fellow of Christ's College at Cambridge, and his wife is named Christine. [Editor's note: After this issue was released, an astute reader pointed out that the web site mentioned above is not for the right Gareth Rees. The Christminster Gareth Rees attended Cambridge but does not teach there. Consequently, the email address provided with this review is also incorrect. The proper email address is . As of this writing (March 2000), Gareth reports that he does not maintain a web page.] FOOTNOTE 2. Christminster is inferior to the Lurking Horror in one respect: MIT students won't find any splufty in-jokes to appreciate. FOOTNOTE 3. Not as ideal, perhaps, as a simpler selection (e.g., Wishbringer, the Trinity preface), but still a good choice. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: David Samuel Myers I'm biased, I'll admit it. But every longtime IF player, I think, must have a special soft spot for at least one game. Even though you know it's probably not the very best game out there, you're very forgiving with these games that live in your soft spot because they worked for you on a level that is hard to replicate. For me, Christminster is one of those games. Games which I have finished get unconsciously compared to 'Minster in deciding whether or not they are worthy enough to reside permanently on my hard drive in dim hopes of being replayed. And yet I have replayed this game twice. Why? For starters, the setting is a rich one. I'm not positive if the game is patterned after Oxford directly, but there is a Christ Church college there, and from pictures that I have seen of it, I can believe this was the inspiration for the surroundings in the game. No room or location is out of place. It all seems in keeping with what you might expect at an Oxford college a few decades ago... er... except for the magic potions and the like. This little academic world provides plenty to do despite only a moderate sized map. Now, there have been quite a few other college games: Save Princeton, Veritas, and PCU come to mind. In each case, the cliche aspects of dorm life are highlighted in a jokey manner, with a sort of jump through the hoops plot. Christminster largely avoids that, using the college more as a backdrop for a web of intrigue than anything else. Your job is to find your brother and save him. There are so many fantastic elements in this game, it's hard to review them all. The NPCs were what impressed me the most. There is the Master of the college, who appears to be a generator of stock replies, but can actually be asked about a host of topics (many of which, ironically, won't be informative enough to help you). There is Professor Wilderspin, who is completely in character in utterly blowing you off until you figure out what will engage his attention. There are the villains, who are plainly identifiable as being the bad guys early on. They do exhibit some complex behavior in attempting to thwart you, generating some good dialog at key moments (many of which are just before you either win or lose the game). But above all is Edward, the student who'll be most helpful to you in your quest. He's chattery in a quaint way, and forlorn in a way that makes you feel pretty smart as the PC at times. The subplot of having to help Edward find his pet bird is ingenious, and gives character not only to him as an NPC, but indirectly to you as the PC. It is one of those puzzles that feels less like a puzzle because it's so integrated into the plot. Part of this is because it recurs a couple of times. Certain key puzzles define almost all games, and leave a lasting impression. Here, one that comes to mind is figuring out the phone wiring. Getting through dinner without any gaffes in etiquette was another, again with a lot of dialog interwoven so that the atmosphere feels less straightforwardly puzzlish. The puzzle most associated with Christminster, though, has to be the street magician from the opening sequence. The magician spews so much text that it's hard to determine what kind of NPC interactions are going to be needed to solve it at first. You have to sit and observe (and unfortunately, restart) to figure out what is going on. The author has said that this was the hardest part of the game to program, and I can't help but wonder if it got away from him more than he wanted it to. This puzzle is just harder than it should have been for being this early in the game. It warped my expectations of how hard the rest of the game would be. Nonetheless, it is a rewarding puzzle in the end-- once you've saved and restored a few (dozen) times to nail down what is going on. Although there are a number of specialized elements in the plot, the results are not overwhelming. Very few cases involve utterly novel situations that send you into guessing verbs. Once you've gained access to the college after the tricky opening sequence, you're free to pursue a number of avenues simultaneously, with no single puzzle being ridiculous in nature. The in-game hint system is reasonably well-developed too. Some tricky puzzles do occur late in the game, with sufficient obscurity as to challenge most any player. But it's engrossing and immersive enough that few players who get that far are likely to quit altogether. It is clear from playing the game that it has been through extensive beta testing that refined the surroundings and ensured that a lot of touches were added to avoid stock responses at virtually every turn. What's more, interspersed with the plot are poetic undertones here and there, taken from various books you encounter in your research in the game. In terms of writing, this game is strong-- despite the absence of a directly story-driven plot (this was 1995). Instead, the plot in this game is uncovered slowly by exploration and sleuthing. Alas, in any game, there are always things that could have been better. There are a few infuriating aspects to Christminster that I could have done without. For instance, after the initial information collection that goes on, there is too much subsequent lookup of books and facts through the library. The indexing feature just seems overused. It's realistic to the story, at least, but in general, I find that if in-game reference materials have to be used more than a few times, I am bored with the device. Also, the story itself begins to get a bit convoluted after a while. Another thing is that there are too many containers late in the game, and they are tough to keep track of without botching your eventual objective. Minor sins, really. The thing I liked the least is that the game can be made unwinnable in subtle enough ways that the player can go on for quite a while unaware of the situation. In this regard, Christminster is probably a bit more fragile than it should be. In all, though, the small cracks don't mar the soundness of the game. The overall game design is as tight and sensible as just about anything I've seen. Christminster certainly makes my top five of all time, and stands as a classic. I suspect it will hold up well under the test of time. One hallmark of such games is that they make it hard to release a new game with a similar setting, plot, or milieu because the author has so well nailed it down. That seems to be the case here for college campuses and Christminster. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Common Ground AUTHOR: Stephen Granade E-MAIL: sgranade SP@G phy.duke.edu DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/Ground.gam VERSION: Release 2 It's not quite true that Stephen Granade's Common Ground goes somewhere that no IF has gone before, because most of what it does has been done in one form or another. Notably, Photopia pioneered the changing- perspectives aspect and, to some extent, the conversation system, Muse and a few others have made the plot turn on relationships more than on any tangible goal, and--well, this is a no-spoiler review, but there are other creative but not precisely novel elements. What's interesting about Common Ground is that the various elements get put together in an interesting way--and that the characters are well enough drawn that we care, at least somewhat, about each one by the end. There are four chapters in Common Ground, though the last chapter is something of an epilogue: the heart of the game (work?) is the first three chapters, each of which adopts the perspective of a different character. The characters are Jeanie, a teenage girl who's as teenaged as they come, her stepfather Frank and her mother Debbie, and the three main chapters are all set in approximately the same time frame. Some of the events are actually depicted twice, though not all of them, and you get somewhat different takes on the relevant people and events in each segment. The point actually isn't to adapt a Rashomon-style trick to IF, wherein incompatible stories are told and the truth lies somewhere between them, if anywhere; figuring out the truth is less the objective here than understanding the characters and why they do what they do. The result is susceptible to a variety of interpretations, in a few respects--the player's sympathies may rest with one of the characters, or all, or none, depending on what he or she makes of the various exchanges. That aspect of Common Ground is particularly skillfully done, in fact: playing the various characters gives a more nuanced look at the situation than playing one character might, and an honest look at the story more than likely leaves the player neither canonizing nor demonizing any of the characters outright, which is as it should be. A somewhat less successful aspect of Common Ground is the conversation system. Granted, no one has come up with a successful IF conversation system as such, but this one--"talk" says something preordained, and continuing to type "talk" steers the character through the conversation whether or not the player understands what's going on--isn't really any more interactive than a cut scene, in that the player's only power over what's going on is to walk away or do something else. In a way, that's significant in this particular story--Jeanie in particular can make statements by refusing to say anything--but as a conversation system, it's more than a little clumsy. It's especially frustrating here because the characters are fairly well developed--there are plenty of things to ask them about-- and the "talk" straitjacket makes the game feel more like reading a script than it should be. I shouldn't exaggerate the straitjacket aspect, though, because there's another aspect of Common Ground that works quite well: when you're done playing Jeanie and you're seeing her through the eyes of the other characters, you'll find that Jeanie does most of what you chose to have her do when you were playing her. That is, the game records the decisions you made and plays them back at you later. The same is true, though less so, with Frank. Obviously, there are some complexities that aren't acknowledged, but on the whole this works quite well and allows for substantial replayability; better still, playing one character differently elicits some revealing reactions from the other two. It's an impressive technical feat--it was done on a reduced scale in Infocom's Sorcerer and Sam Barlow's The City, but this is much more thoroughly implemented, and the various choices available do more for the story (in that both the characters and the perceptions of them can change in a variety of ways). If there's a fly in the ointment, it's that the game doesn't really try to ensure that you did what the other characters saw you do, beyond certain limitations--you can't go wandering around the house, but you have the discretion to avoid certain conversations, whether or not you had those conversations from the other side. Still, on the whole, it's a successful gimmick. Common Ground stands or falls on the character depictions, though, and those depend to some extent on the player's reactions. The characters initially seem a bit cliched--the angry teenager, the solicitous parent, and to a lesser extent the left-out and unappreciated stepfather--and while there's more to each of them than the cliches, that's not necessarily immediately obvious. Moreover, depending on what the player does with each character, the cliches might actually get reinforced; there's enough freedom to allow for that--particularly so with Jeanie and Frank (Debbie is a much less developed character). The details that the author introduces to portray both the characters themselves and the others' take on them are nicely done, as in this example from Jeanie's perspective: As you come down the stairs, Frank looks up at you. "Goin' out tonight too, huh?" Is his speech slurred again? Or this, from Frank's perspective: >talk to jeanie "I hated school, too. Couldn't wait to graduate." "Yeah? Why'd you even bother? Not like you need a diploma to do factory work." Should of known better than to even try to talk to her. Both snippets are revealing, both about the characters and about their assumptions and prejudices, but a player too ready to categorize might not pick up on the subtleties. The point is that while there's much more to these characters than cliches, a given player might not realize that--and if the player doesn't respond to the characters, he or she's unlikely to enjoy Common Ground. In other words, the player should feel some sympathies toward all of the three main characters, and arguably a player who doesn't hasn't really given the story a fair shake, since nothing is as simple as it first appears. Common Ground is an unusual piece of IF, on the whole. There are no puzzles to speak of, and no real objective--the point is to explore the characters and see how they interact. While the result isn't successful on every level, it's certainly a worthy experiment, implemented well, and it's worth checking out. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- FROM: Volker Lanz NAME: Deadline AUTHOR: Marc Blank (Infocom) EMAIL: mblank SP@G eidetic.com DATE: 1983 PARSER: Early Infocom SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports AVAILABILITY: Masterpieces URL: Not available VERSION: Release 27. Deadline was the first Infocom mystery and their third released game (after Zork I and Zork II). Author Marc Blank said that he did not want to do another fantasy game after the Zorks and thought that a mystery was an obvious choice: "I thought it was a great idea because most people, when they read mysteries, are constantly trying to think ahead, what happened. 'Ooh, I would have looked here, I would have done this. I would have been more clever.' So, it seemed to lend itself perfectly." Deadline was also the first Infocom game to come with feelies: In the box were interviews with the suspects, some tablets, a photograph of the murder scene, a letter from the attorney and a coroner's note. The story: Marshall Robner, a wealthy industrialist, is found dead in his locked-up library one morning. He died of an overdose of Ebullion, a medicine he has been taking for his depressions. An apparent suicide... Really? The attorney of the deceased asks you, the detective, to investigate this case to "quash the suspicions" that are inevitable when a wealthy man dies an unnatural death. You have twelve hours to solve this case and you begin your work on a Friday morning at 8 a.m. >From the beginning, almost the complete playing field is accessible to the player, so Deadline is a good choice for everyone who likes wide game designs and non-linear plots. On the other hand, Deadline also suffers from the "you-have-to-know-what's-happening-where-and-when" problem that Suspect later showed (though not as much): By your actions, you are likely to trigger reactions of the NPCs that happen somewhere else. If you don't know that, you are likely to miss crucial points of the plot. Speaking of NPCs: This is where the game really shines. The six main NPCs (not counting the attorney, who only plays a minor role) are really fleshed out; they act reasonable and consistent to their character and motives. You can show a lot of things to them and study their reactions, you can ask them about many topics, you can follow them around, you can accuse them and listen to what they have to say. Only few i-f games have such complete NPCs, I would say. A weaker point of the game is the early parser it uses: It understands a lot of things, but sometimes gets confused or reacts in the wrong way to the player's input. Also, the game is quite buggy if you do things that the author apparently didn't think of (the Infocom Bug List on GMD only shows about a third of the bugs I found). One major problem with the game is how hard it is: Not only do you have to get evidence against the guilty party, you also have to prove that a crime was committed at all. This turns out to be a tough job and can cause the player quite a headache for some time. Some actions you have to perform aren't that obvious (what to do with the holes in the garden; or how long exactly you have to wait before you may interrupt certain NPCs when they are doing something -- too early and you can't prove what they did, too late and they've finished), so players may be tempted to revert to a walkthrough or the hints. All in all, Deadline is a good game that is still worth playing after all these years -- in my opinion the best mystery that Infocom did. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Francesco Bova NAME: Enemies AUTHOR: Andy Phillips EMAIL: aphillips SP@G ma.man.ac.uk DATE: January 1999 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/inform/Enemies.z8 Andy Phillips has a thing for .z8 games. In 3 attempts he's produced 3 REALLY big puzzle-oriented games with varying degrees of success. The one constant has been that with each successive attempt, he's made great improvements in terms of both game design and story. Enemies, his most recent work, doesn't fail to impress in many ways and is certainly more "user friendly" than his first two offerings. The game chronicles the life of Charlie Johnson, accountant and every day Joe, who has unknowingly attracted the attention of an enemy (who it also turns out is a serial killer). The enemy is a person from Charlie's past who has been planning to test Charlie's resolve and intelligence for sometime. The enemy contends that Charlie's had life 'too easy' up until this point and needs to prove his worth. As an added incentive for Charlie to participate in the game, his enemy has also kidnapped his girlfriend. The game is broken into three sections: a prologue section (where initial bits of Charlie's past are revealed); a main story section (which revolves around an obstacle course full of puzzles and memories that take place in Charlie's former college); and an ending section (where Charlie's enemy is revealed and a final battle ensues). There's lots of prose to work through here and the puzzles are many and varied. But with such a cavernous game to review, the question is where do you start? Well, let's start with the positives. The best thing about Enemies is (surprisingly) the atmosphere. I mention the surprise because what had always impressed me about Phillips' work in the past were his puzzles. His storytelling conversely had been a little weak. In Enemies, however, it's his prose that takes the foreground. The writing is generally very creepy and Phillips does a great job of making the player feel that the threat is real and around every corner. There were a few instances when the prose went a little over the top and when it got to be too much it typically fell into one of these two categories: Aggravatingly repetitive "It's quite easy to get caught up in the world of finance and forget about the rest of us unfortunates who never had your chances." "I'd like to see you fail for once, Charlie. You think you're a major player, but in reality you're just a pawn in a very big game -- and it's time to start playing." "Imagine having to write your obituary, Charlie. If they had the decency to be truthful, they'd say what a heartless creep you were, but the ability to lie is second nature to accountants." - This is a sample of Charlie's enemy's dialogue, anytime Charlie's enemy comes within earshot of Charlie. By the end I felt like saying "Alright, either kill me or get some new material because I can't keep going on like this!" OR Cringe-inducing "She never had a chance to say, 'I love you'." - Charlie's reaction after discovering his dead fiancťe. Wait a minute, after dating for two years and proposing marriage, she never told him she loved him? Boy, that upper lip in England gets stiffer every year. :) But it was worth going through that drivel to get to the little gems like this one: "It's difficult to ascertain an age since wet sandy hair covers most of her blistered face, but she can't be much older than twenty. You only see her body for a split second before sheer revulsion makes you look away, but the details are memorable: ankles bound with strong twine, adhesive tape starting to peel off her swollen mouth, tattoos of red flowers on her hips." - A description of one of your enemy's many victims. Most of the victims are done like this and it's quite unsettling when you find them within the fondly described rooms of your former college. Another technique Phillips uses to sustain the atmosphere is the flashback (which is used when Charlie either gets knocked out or stumbles onto something that triggers a memory). Through the flashbacks we learn about Charlie's history - more specifically his college years - and the characters from Charlie's past. The characters are all well done with the usual suspects in full force; we have the bully, the love interest(s), the victim, and Charlie's teachers. From this group, a few suspects with potential motives arise but unfortunately, all of their motives are suspect in turn. Phillips tries hard to create tension between Charlie and the other characters with the flashbacks but what the flashbacks really illustrate is that - contrary to his enemy's ravings -- Charlie was a victim for a good part of his college life, and had it anything but easy growing up. If I feel sorry for anyone in this game it IS Charlie. His past would constitute the lead role in any Shakespearean tragedy. In fact, if any character has a motive for vengeance it's him. Did Charlie make mistakes in his life? Sure. But they were very human mistakes and certainly not intentional. That's what makes his enemy's hatred (and through that any of the supporting cast's motives for wanting to kill him) a little unrealistic. Enemies also tries to convey the feeling that it was Charlie's actions that drove his enemy to (amongst other things) serial killing. Given Charlie's past, this too seems flawed. Maybe it's the case then that Charlie's enemy is a psychopath, and that Charlie is a casualty of circumstance -- a victim, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. If this was the author's intent. however, then the story loses a bit of its effectiveness and the game changes from a battle between two masterminds to that of a lowly victim being hunted by a mindless predator. My jury's still out on this because I don't think that was Phillips' intent. At any rate, it ends up being a minor speed bump on the road through a very chilling story. As I'd mentioned earlier, the focus of Phillips' games in the past have been his puzzles. He's racked up a few XYZZY puzzle nominations already for some of his previous work and with Enemies he continues to impress. I was reading one of the int-fiction newsgroups a while ago and noticed someone making a comment about Andy Phillips' previous game Heist. Their comment was that in many cases it looked like the plot was being built around the puzzle and not the other way around. I had personally never seen it that way (maybe it's because Heist is one of my favorite games or maybe it's because I've always preferred puzzles to plot), but in retrospect I think the author of the post may have had a point. Enemies improves a bit on Heist in that respect with many of the puzzles centering around different college-related courses including chemistry, mathematics, history, and astronomy. The college section is also capped off with an entertaining macro-puzzle (a spin off of the board game Clue) that brings everything together quite nicely. Once you move through the college into the final confrontation with your enemy, there are fairly strict time limits imposed which require a lot of saving and restoring, and in most cases there can't be progress without a little learning by death. I know most players don't view this as a terribly good thing, but in this case I think it supports mimesis. After all, how much time would a serial killer give you if they were intent on killing you? The final battle between you and your enemy is also done very well. It involves both offensive and defensive maneuvers as well as some pre-planned setups. I've always been impressed with good fight sequences in IF because getting the timing done correctly and keeping up the player's intensity is considerably more difficult than with a graphical game. There were 2 puzzles however that I think might really taint the player's perception of this game. The first one in particular ended up being a point where I know a lot of gamers stopped playing, and it's unfortunate because they miss out on a thrilling finale. Without giving too much detail, the puzzle involves an intricate number of steps where each step has to be performed correctly. If one step is missed, the player gets killed. This sort of thing isn't terribly uncommon in IF but the problem here is that the game doesn't give you any clues as to whether you're on the right track or not. To make matters worse, the puzzle is very complex and requires several boatloads of author telepathy to be done correctly. To finally make this puzzle truly horrible, there is a random element to the puzzle that means never producing the same set of information for the same game so that even after reading the walkthrough, I still had difficulty. In frustration, I had to e-mail the author with my set of data and he had to feed me back the answer. My motivation to play Enemies after completing this puzzle was severely diminished, and it took many moons to get my appetite back. Perhaps not as brutal, but equally frustrating was a poorly implemented puzzle revolving around viewing certain pieces of evidence and then confronting your enemy with their existence. Although I did see all the necessary evidence, I never managed to make the connection that I had to see it all in the same saved game, and thus was killed immediately when my enemy confronted me. I actually figured out the enemy's identity early on in the game because of a subtle hint in one of the puzzles (in fact, it was so subtle it may have been inadvertent), so not being able to confront my enemy with the evidence made this puzzle even more frustrating. These were my two main sticking points with the puzzles but there were also a few minor problems with the parser, and some guess-the-verb problems. The problems were so minor, in fact, that they might not even be worth mentioning, but I think I will because I've noticed that these particular problems are quite common in bigger games. There were instances where I had a vague idea as to what I was supposed to do, but the solutions revolved around non-standard Inform actions (i.e., throw (x) over (y), put (x) under (y)). In a game like this, it's tough enough trying to figure out what to do when you're armed with a stable of common Inform verbs, but throw some "not-so-obvious" ones in there, and things get exponentially more difficult. A suggestion to remedy this problem might be to include a piece in the INFO section detailing all the verbs that can be used in the game. A good example of how to do this is Jon Ingold's 1999 release, and similarly puzzle-oriented game, The Mulldoon Legacy. Ingold lists all the potential commands in the game in a special section in the help menu and this makes a very difficult game puzzle-wise, much more enjoyable. Ingold also makes a comment in the help section of his game that guessing what verbs to use shouldn't be part of the puzzle. I tend to agree with him, especially in this case, because Enemies would still be sufficiently hard with a comprehensive verb list. There, that's my last squabble with the puzzles. The truth is that there were at least two or three puzzles in this game that could easily be nominated for XYZZY awards, and the sense of satisfaction I got from completing most of them was very high. A recommendation might be to play this game with a walkthrough close by, and when you hit one of the killer puzzles (believe me you'll know when it happens), you can save both your gaming experience and yourself the grief of trying to plow through them. The ending as I'd mentioned is really well done but one last thing sort of irked me. If you finish the game with a full point score, you're awarded the rank of "Man of Little Merit". Not that I'm sure Charlie ever had anything to prove, but if he did, he at least proved that he was worthy of life. Not a big deal, but it left a bad taste in my mouth when I finished. All gripes aside, Enemies is a fine game and for those of you who like puzzle-heavy games that don't completely sacrifice plot, this may be one to download. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Christian Baker NAME: I-0: Jailbait on the interstate AUTHOR: Adam Cadre EMAIL: ac SP@G adamcadre.ac DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/I-0.z5 When I first started up I-0, I didn't know what to think of the game. It starts in the front seat of your fantastic new car, which has broken down on the way home to celebrate Thanksgiving. The game has a gimmick, or rather, two gimmicks. The first one would be that you can take all your clothes off, and it really is fun to watch the NPCs react to partial or total nudity. This makes you want to classify it as a Leather Goddesses type game, but it isn't really. It's just about fun. I for one would love to see the reaction of other people if I started stripping in a garage. The second gimmick would be the fact that you can take multiple paths. There is more than one way to win. It is quite easy to win, but I don't really think the point of the game was mind-bending puzzles (Adam has shown his love of non-puzzle games with Photopia.) I-0 is a very good (and funny) game, but there are a few things lacking. The NPCs seem a bit stereotyped, but there is a good bit of conversation from Larry, the loveable truck driver. The writing is very good and always shows the funny side of things, as shown here: You'd like to be able to say you're in the middle of nowhere, but that would be wishful thinking. You're stranded at least fifty miles away from the middle of nowhere. The entire landscape is nothing but barren desert dotted with scrub. Being a desert kid, you're well aware of how much danger you're in. The scenery may be beautiful in its own way, but the sun is beating down like it's got a personal mission to melt you into goo, and you're well aware that out in the desert everything is either poisonous or covered with spikes. Not to mention what could happen to a pretty girl all alone on a deserted highway... As for this particular spot, well, a barbed-wire fence lines the roadside, and Interstate Zero itself stretches endlessly to the east and west. There's a sign here, too, and its twin is on the other side of the freeway directly to your north. I thought the inside of Taco Junta could have been used better, as it seemed a pretty useless location to me. The game isn't particularly big, or particularly difficult, but it doesn't give you any "You can't do that here" messages, and everything is very detailed. It lets you roam free, it doesn't let you sit there and have the plot stuffed down you throat. Adam, a darn fine piece of work. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Inheritance AUTHOR: Eric Toth E-MAIL: ericndana SP@G juno.com DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABIILTY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/inherit.gam VERSION: Release 1 (I think--no version number in the game) Eric Toth's Inheritance is a throwback of sorts: it's a house filled with puzzles for the sake of puzzles, puzzles for their own sake rather than for the purpose of a story. While there's an ostensible plot, it doesn't really have much to do with the action besides providing an excuse for the puzzles. On the other hand, several of the puzzles are very clever indeed, and the whole thing is solidly done. It seems that your rich uncle has asked you to come to his mansion to discuss your inheritance, so here you are-- the trick is finding your uncle, who doesn't seem to be around. The mansion is crammed with strange puzzles, though, as noted, and as you might guess, solving enough of them entitles you to fabulous wealth. And off you go, solving puzzles, and eventually you reach the end. The puzzles themselves vary--some are a bit obscure, but all are logical and some are rather ingenious; one relies on an object that the room description seems to dismiss as unimportant, and another suggests that there's a way to manipulate it that doesn't in fact work, but there are worse sins, I suppose. The plot itself hinges on a series of shapes you pick up here and there--plastic circles and squares and such--which go into an device with appropriately shaped slots. There are very few surprises along the way, really--just puzzles. They're not bad puzzles at all, really; several of them span multiple rooms in reasonably creative ways. But they're puzzles for their own sake. The various elements of Inheritance hang together quite well. There are no bugs to speak of, and the few misleading responses aren't game-killers. A few objects go underdescribed, and one puzzle is a bit contrived, but the game design, while not incredibly innovative, is quite adequate for the job. The writing, likewise, is unremarkable but competent; I didn't see any errors or awkward phrasing. (You may miss the final bit of text, however, because the game kicks you straight out to the DOS prompt when you reach it. Play Inheritance from DOS rather than from a window, in other words.) There are attempts at cobbling together a story of sorts--one significant object is described as a gift from your uncle that doesn't really fit, another is identified as incongruous in another respect--but the bits don't add up to a story. There's not much inherently wrong with Inheritance, really, other than the point when it appeared, namely late 1999--as all-puzzle, minimal-story games are hardly in vogue these days. The puzzles would have to be impressive indeed for such a game to be received well--see Erehwon for a puzzle-driven game whose puzzles were good enough to make up for the lack of plot--and while Inheritance's puzzles aren't buggy, they're not all that original either. The shift toward the fiction aspect of IF has raised the playing population's standards regarding what works as a game, and even the most skillfully done crossword will get a tepid response if the narrative doesn't justify it. Here, I'm afraid, the narrative doesn't do much more than provide an excuse for the setting. Nostalgic fans of IF--those who first encountered IF when story was subordinate to puzzles--may well enjoy Inheritance--it's a solid example of its type. But IF as it has come to be known rarely works this way, I'm afraid. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Karen Tyers My attention was drawn to this little gem by a posting on the newsgroup I read, and it was precisely because it was deliberately being under-promoted that made me go online and get it. I can't remember the exact wording now but the responses to the posting ranged from 'if it's that *** bad why should I play it' to 'I played it and loved it'. Anyway I duly downloaded the TADS gamefile and this was the intro that greeted me: "You haven't spoken to your rich, eccentric uncle in several years, but when he asks you to visit his mansion to discuss your inheritance, you gladly agree. His private helicopter picks you up at his office building and flies you to his secluded mansion. The pilot sets down on a roof-top helicopter pad, and informs you that your uncle is waiting for you in the south tower, before flying off into the night. INHERITANCE by Eric Toth (ericndana SP@G juno.com) Developed with TADS, the Text Adventure Development System." So I found myself on the roof of the mansion looking at two towers, one of which I could enter and one I couldn't. Having got down into the mansion, I duly began to explore. It's not a very large game - about 27 locations, excluding the arbitrary maze, which is not large and very easily mapped. Actually I am probably wrong to call it a maze, since the exits are clearly marked and there's no real way to get lost. I soon came across my uncle's laboratory (minus one uncle....), which contained a peculiar device which looked like one of those children's puzzles with slots of varying shapes. At last, I could use the various pieces of plastic I had found. There was also something that looked like a printer attached to it. This is a simple little game, and should be easily finishable in a couple of hours, or as the author says, over a lunchtime, unless you are like me of course. I got totally stuck because I couldn't get a blasted cat to move out of the way. However, a quick email to the author solved that problem, and one other concerning a photo (which was a bit oblique but when you knew the answer, quite logical). This could easily be developed into a much larger game, although I don't think Eric has any intention of doing anything else with it. It's a real shame, because it is a lovely traditional game, and if like me, you are not keen on the way a lot of i-f is going, you will have a lot of fun zooming around this one. There were one or two grammar errors ('a' instead of 'an' and wrongly used apostrophes for example), but I only found one 'proper' bug and that does nothing to stop you playing the game - just try typing 'sleep' when you're sitting in the armchair and you'll see what I mean. It would also have been improved by the addition of more synonyms. Overall this is ideal for beginners - they should only come unstuck in one place, where a more detailed description of a very mundane item could point you in the right direction, but this is really my only gripe. Go download it - you'll have a couple of hours fun. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Francesco Bova NAME: Inhumane AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin EMAIL: erkyrath SP@G netcom.com DATE: when he was 14 PARSER: BASIC adapted to Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/inhumane.z5 Have you ever wondered how some of your favorite interactive fiction authors got started? I can remember playing Jigsaw for the first time and thinking that its author (Graham Nelson) must have been born from an exceptionally intelligent gene pool, gone to an ivy league school, or been raised by alien technology. The game was incredible and I'd always wondered what sort of experience had lead to producing someone with such good programming and writing skills. Well, the game "Inhumane" provides us with a brief snapshot of what one of the better known IF authors, Andrew Plotkin, was up to in his younger years. Inhumane (a game originally coded in basic by Plotkin when he was 14), is a spoof of the Infocom classic Infidel. Infidel was one of the easier Infocom games (I think I won in it in about 2 days), and keeping with that tradition, Inhumane is easily winnable within an hour. No guess-the-verb puzzles, no scenic landscapes, no moral plays. Basically, it's the antithesis of everything Andrew Plotkin has made since. (see So Far, Spider and Web) The game follows the same premise as Infidel (find the buried treasure), but that's where most of the similarities end. Much like Infidel, Andrew has incorporated a few novel traps into this game. Unlike Infidel, the goal is not to disarm or avoid them, but rather to get killed by as many of them as possible. Only then can you attain the ultimate treasure (you'll understand this bizarre logic once you play the game). I'm not really giving too much away here because you should be able to win the game in the time that it takes you to download it. As a game, the traps are adequately programmed and maybe the only real flaw is that the objects you can examine usually don't have any descriptions. This seems to be a fairly small shortcoming considering the age of the author when he wrote it, and the fact that this game was coded in BASIC. All in all, not a bad little game. Certainly better than some other first attempts out there. At the very least, it's interesting from a historical standpoint to play the first offering from one of the premier talents in the interactive fiction community before he became a premier talent. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Intruder AUTHOR: Volker Lanz E-MAIL: volker.lanz SP@G gmx.net DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/intruder.zip VERSION: Release 59 One of the most important advances in recent IF is what might be called player-friendliness, meaning the game's capacity to supply logical inferences. Michael Gentry's Anchorhead was a particularly good example of this: not only did the game have a large rucksack-type object (a trench coat, in that case) that could hold everything in the game, but it also handled the bulk of the item-juggling for you, so that you put items into and take them out of the trenchcoat automatically when you needed them. Likewise, you had a keyring, and when you came upon something you wanted to unlock, the game automatically sorted through the keys on the ring and checked whether any of them were the right one. Not many games do as much as Anchorhead to help out the player and keep annoyance at bay, unfortunately, and while Volker Lanz's Intruder is a good effort in many ways, the frustration factor is very much a problem. It seems you're a private eye hired to break into a house by a woman who wants evidence against her husband for their divorce proceeding--though it's more like coercion than hiring, since the woman threatens to have your creditors start collecting on their loans if you don't help out. At any rate, you do indeed break into the house, and the initial goal drives what you do in most significant ways for about two thirds of the game. At that point, you start trying to find something else, and how you know what you're looking for or where it would be escaped me completely. It's true, of course, that no IF protagonist ever really feels content if he or she leaves doors unlocked, but there's a difference between pure exploration games--fantasy, in particular, where it makes some sense to look under every stone--and others where you have a defined goal that doesn't include playing magpie. It's one thing to have ill-defined motivations throughout the game, but it's another to have very clearly defined motivations that don't in fact shape everything you do. (Well, they explain the importance of what you eventually find, but you get no hint as to why you would start looking for it originally.) It might have been helpful to actually throw in some of your mental processes: "your thoughts now turn to matter X, and you wonder whether it's possible to find object Y." At least, that would keep the plot moving. Complicating your task in addition is a _very_ small inventory limit, a finite light source (which is pretty easy to exhaust), a fairly restrictive time limit, and a puzzle that requires massive amounts of logistical planning and traipsing around. None of it is illogical per se, I should stress--I can't say that logic is advanced by infinitely large rucksacks, flashlights that last all night, and such--but sometimes cold logic and realism are not the friend of an IF designer. One particularly frustrating puzzle in Intruder necessitates either that you walk around turning on every light in the house or wander around in the dark, which is simply irritating, and while there are several clever puzzles (though some are old chestnuts), the annoyance aspect is considerable. Intruder seems to put a premium on having to do silly little things, like locking your car door before breaking into the house, and while it makes sense, these are the sort of gaps I'd rather just have the game fill for me. (Also, the hints only cover the first third of the game, which I found frustrating, since the puzzles for that section are pretty easy.) It's also annoyingly easy to lock yourself out of victory. Technically, likewise, Intruder is a mixed bag. One container object does not suggest that it is openable, another suggests that it's unlockable when it's not, and the syntax for another puzzle was a total shock to me. There are various little things that bothered me--dropping objects down a hole elicits a "you hear a sound as if something's breaking," even if you dropped a key or a bolt cutter, which aren't in fact likely to break. There are some typos and writing errors as well, but the bulk of the problems are design-related, and they diminish any potential for immersion considerably. The frustration factor is all the stronger because there's plenty to like about Intruder in other respects. The backstory is well done--it's rare that you have a PC with such a thoroughly defined set of motivations--and there's an actual reasonably believable plot. The characters--you and the woman who hires you, and to some extent her husband--come across very effectively; the author spends enough time developing each character to make them understandable and not caricatures. The setting itself is well described without excessive detail, and most of the objects and locations make sense. The tedium distracts from the story, unfortunately, and the logistical-planning aspect makes Intruder less a story than a set of tasks. In short, the story of Intruder has plenty of promise, but the implementation of the puzzles gets in the way. Intruder isn't a bad effort, at bottom, and it has its moments. If you can overlook the design flaws, it might be worth a try. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- FROM: J.D. Berry NAME: Lost New York AUTHOR: Neil DeMause EMAIL: neild SP@G echonyc.com (Not sure how current this is) DATE: 1996-1997 PARSER: TADS (Also available in PC format) SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Shareware ($12) (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/lostny14.gam VERSION: 1.4 Start spreading the news Download this today You'll want to be a part of it It's "Lost New York" These time-traveling shoes Are longing to stray Right though the very heart of it It's "Lost New York" Sports aficionados say the mark of a good referee is that you never notice him. He quietly and efficiently does his job controlling the game without seeming to control the players. Lost New York (LNY) is that referee. There's a definite air of professionalism throughout the work, but you may not realize it until after the game. "You know, I don't think the ref blew any major calls." Interactive fiction players think one mark of a good game is when they become absorbed by it. For this to happen, the world not only must feel real but it must be engaging. Now, if you've ever been to New York City (NYC), you know the smell isn't always a pleasant one. But, not only its smells but by its whole atmosphere (good and bad), you KNOW where you are. You're in New York, *&^%$! Remember, though, a game must do more than capture the effect. It must do so in an interesting way. LNY succeeds here too. You never get the feeling you're just walking down each street for the sole purpose of realism. You never get the feeling you are just a tourist. You are part of an unfolding story as well. I love the rich history that permeates the game, often seeping into strange but satisfying places. Your score is compared to a mayor of NYC complete with a small biography. Excellent! This also ties in nicely to the game in general. Even the better mayors were not without their flaws and not without the sense that the city was so much bigger than they were. You, the player, are thrust into the same situation. You control some things, but the city largely has its own say, its own destiny. I must point out that I am neither a patient person nor a master game solver. Thus the complaints I do have about the game may be more accurately pointed at my own flaws as a player. As a reader of the newsgroups, though, I feel some of you may be in the same dock. With this in mind, I think you'll get an idea of how to approach this game based on your strengths and weaknesses. The game can become unwinnable quite easily. For instance, I didn't bring along a certain object because I had already taken the "important" thing from it. Later on of course I needed to use that object for something else. Restoring back so far was quite annoying. If you're the sort of player who has an intuitive feel rather than an expert gamer feel, you may find yourself in these kinds of traps too. Near the end of the game I resorted to the walkthrough. I'm glad I did, because I don't think I would have put everything together no matter how long I had played. But I was able to solve 5/6 of the game on my own. The puzzles and situations were generally very fair, although at one point you will perform an action of questionable morals which is a little out of character for the "average joe" player you are. (The rich man in the park.) Let me quickly finish the remaining other little nits. I had trouble figuring out how to use the future subway. Also, the timing of a subway encounter in another situation frustrated me. Every now and then I had difficulty in communicating what I wanted to do. None of these remotely resembled downright aggravation. If you love detailed and responsive NPCs, you won't find them here. However, this does not take anything away from the game. In the first place, NYC is not the most congenial of places. There are no kindly but knowledgeable grandmothers or entertaining yet clue-revealing minstrels here. The thieves are definitely not gentlemanly. Also, LNY is a history piece. You are dealing with the city as an evolving entity. The NPCs are like little cogs in a bulky, inefficient, black box machine. They may or may not have a minuscule role in city's existence and evolution. They are important only to the degree that they can help you. This attitude may hurt most games, but it works perfectly here. It fits. Lost New York is an engaging work of interactive fiction and even a standard on which all historical pieces should be judged. Bear in mind that its whole is definitely greater than its parts. Each element taken by itself is merely good. The overall effect is very pleasing. Experience it for yourself! -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Michael Macwilliam TITLE: 9:05 AUTHOR: Adam Cadre E-MAIL: ac SP@G adamcadre.ac DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/905.z5 VERSION: Release 1.00 You wake up in bed. A reassuring start and one familiar from several games. You are spared the precision manoeuvring that was required in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy; instead, if you pick up the phone you receive a message urging you to work. It is 9:05 and you have slept longer than you intended... The game plays smoothly with no real apparent problems - something might strike you as strange when you are given a set of keys, but don't seem to be able to lock the front door on the way out, but hey, this is interactive fiction anyhow, and if we are prepared to accept endless magical transportations and interdimensional shifts in other games, then we should be able to deal with that. Also, the author's hand is clearly seen to be pushing you in a certain direction late in the game, where the line "Walk into Bowman's office without the form? Not smart." appears, even though we can easily reach that stage without having encountered the form yet. A petty point which doubtless could be dealt with in the next version - and also one that shows the high standards that IF has reached in recent years: if that's all we've go to moan about, then we aren't being badly served by the current crop of writers. Back to the game: play it once, definitely play it once, just to hear yourself say "WHAT?" when you reach the end screen. Then play it again, and investigate those nooks and crannies that you passed over the first time... things shall become apparent. Play it that second time and reach the best (?) resolution. On the basis of Cadre's earlier piece I-0 (aka Interstate Zero) I suspect that there may still be many hidden treasures (not *TREASURES*) lurking in the background though - I played that one through about eight or ten times and still missed out on at least half the fun. I don't know though - there do seem to be only two ways out of this set-up. In the end, 9:05 is a simple game which could almost be described as puzzle-less one - it does contain one puzzle which does not advertise itself as such until it is way too late. It's a game that is somewhat closer in spirit to Cadre's take on Flowers For Algernon than his other more involved Photopia or I-0. As an end note, it is interesting to see that the whole game can be cracked on the second move (if not completed on the third as was the case for Flowers). -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Not Just a Game AUTHOR: John Menichelli E-MAIL: menichel SP@G pixi.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/njag.z5 VERSION: Release 1 The game in question in John Menichelli's Not Just a Game is the game of Go--the game is set up around a Go board of sorts, and the last few puzzles are simply Go problems transplanted directly into the game. (There's a booklet lying around for the heretofore uninitiated.) Not all the puzzles are Go-related, though; in fact, most of them are conventional IF puzzles, and many are quite clever. The result is a somewhat schizophrenic but overall fairly enjoyable game that even offers some food for thought. It seems your Go teacher has mysteriously disappeared, but she's left behind some clues. The clues lead to a sort of larger-than-life Go board, which you have to navigate, by turns using your Go knowledge and your common sense. The puzzles you encounter along the way are mostly logical, with a few exceptions, and their structure blends symmetry and asymmetry in a way appropriate for the underlying game of Go. If there are problems, they're largely motivational: most of the puzzles are premised on something akin to "here's some stuff to fiddle with, and if you fiddle with it properly, you'll have something that will eventually prove to be useful," rather than actual goal-driven reasoning. Still, Not Just a Game has a lot of company in that respect, and it's hardly a fatal flaw. There's also an interesting blend between chinoiserie/Orientalism and Western culture, in that the bulk of the puzzles that aren't directly related to Go could fit into your average house-setting or fantasy game, and there are certain objects (e.g., chewing gum) that would seem a bit out of place if the game were really striving to be culturally correct. In fact, the game itself calls attention to this contrast--the initial room description puts a Go board "between the sofa and the TV," and the description of a computer mentions that your teacher "doesn't feel comfortable around technological equipment." (Quick disclaimer: I'm not saying technology is Western. Merely that late-twentieth-century stuff like computers don't fit all that well into the chinoiserie setting, as exemplified by Sound of One Hand Clapping, or, for that matter, the endgame of Not Just a Game.) The aspect of the game that requires that you actually apply Go knowledge in more than a superficial way isn't quite as successful, unfortunately. It may be that Go just isn't easy to learn from a few entries in a booklet, but the Go problems that appear at the end of the game were difficult enough that I often didn't understand why the correct solution was correct, even after I'd found it by trial and error. This might be my mental block, but I'm not sure that applied reasoning on this level, even if it's only to learn Go, is well suited for IF--at least, barring a more thorough tutorial process than Not Just a Game provides. The final puzzle, which essentially involves scoring a completed Go game, is tedious in the extreme, moreover--once you figure out the premise of Go scoring, which isn't all that complicated, it's a matter of counting dots on a large grid. Whereas the other puzzles felt obscure, this one just feels mindless--and the game would benefit considerably, I think, if it were removed. The writing is quite good--it's rarely especially evocative (the setting is largely pretty unremarkable, after all), but it also rarely gets in the way of the game, which takes some skill in itself. There's also some humor scattered here and there, documented in an 'amusing' section. There are likewise few technical flaws or game design problems: one section involves a lot of traipsing around, which does get tiresome after a while, but at least it's straightforward traipsing. The story itself requires some disbelief-suspending, but no more than your average fantasy game, to be fair--and the only reason that the suspensions of disbelief here require a conscious effort is that the initial genre of the game isn't clear from the outset, and the setting wanders back and forth a bit between Western suburbs and, um, a vaguely Oriental setting. That may be jarring initially, but it's also rather creative, and it allows for some interesting juxtapositions. For instance, the "Five Elements of Chinese Philosophy" can be found in a poster on a refrigerator, and a baseball bat figures prominently in putting together the Go-related materials. The picture that emerges is one of cultural synthesis, in some respects: your teacher clearly is struggling to retain her own values in an unfamiliar culture, and yet you--and she, implicitly--are surrounded by the trappings of that culture, and draw on them to achieve your ends. The cultures are more complementary than conflicting, then--it's not a question of rejecting one in favor of the other. (I must say, though, that the computer with Z-abuses on it was an odd touch, even under a cultural-synthesis analysis.) In that light, then, it's not necessary to believe uncritically that, as your teacher says, Go is "a reflection of your inner self"--merely that there are many for whom the game of Go really is that important, and that it's worth examining the implications of those values. As a game, then, Not Just a Game is quite solid, if hardly extraordinary. The puzzles are good, and reasonably creative, but nothing particularly remarkable, and the Go puzzles themselves don't work particularly well. But among the subtexts are some rather unusual IF themes, unusual enough to make this one of the more interesting recent works of IF. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Karen Tyers TITLE: Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina AUTHOR: Jim Aikin E-MAIL: jaikin SP@G pacbell.net DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/ballerina102.z8 VERSION: Release 1.02 I downloaded this game from the ftp.gmd.de archive after seeing an announcement on the rec.arts.int-fiction newsgroup and as soon as I read the introduction I knew I was in for a real treat: It's Christmas Eve. Rather late on Christmas Eve. Just this afternoon your darling 7-year-old daughter Samantha announced that fully a week ago she mailed a letter to Santa Claus asking for Sugar Toes Ballerina, the unbelievably sought-after, impossible-to-find fad doll of the decade. Unwilling to see little Sam heartbroken on Christmas morning, you frantically phoned every toy store in town. Miraculously, you found a shop that claimed to have a Sugar Toes Ballerina in stock! But that was two hours ago -- before the flat tire. Now it's getting dark, and icy weather is closing in. The address you were given, on the outskirts of town, has proven to be that of a dilapidated and disreputable-looking shopping center -- not a modern chrome-and-neon strip mall, either, but a hulking two-story structure that looks to be the ill-favored offspring of a fairy castle and a canning factory. The shopping center is tucked well back from the street among brooding skeletal trees. Other than a few dim yellowish lights that show no trace of holiday spirit, the building is shrouded in gloom, and yours is the only car in the parking lot. Although my own kids are grown up now (well, they think they are...) I can well remember the fad toys that were always (and still are) hyped at Christmas, and how kids are made to feel they are missing out if they don't have one. So, with great nostalgia I embarked on my quest for the Sugar Toes ballerina doll. The first impressions are great. The dark, apparently deserted shopping centre, hardly a sound anywhere, and freezing cold. Wandering around, I found I couldn't get very far as seemingly the power was off, and my hands were too cold to do very much. I found a security guard almost immediately but fortunately for me he was sound asleep. Unfortunately his elbow was leaning on a very interesting looking key and I couldn't obtain it straight away as he kept waking up and frogmarching me out of the building. However, there is a way to get hold of it and after much messing about I managed to do that very thing, and then found I could unlock most of the locked doors in the complex. However, that didn't solve the problem of no power, therefore no lighting. One other problem to over come initially was the series of security monitors covering the entire centre from the office where the guard is. Eventually, after much pulling out of hair, I did manage to disable them all and find a power source, so was able to explore at leisure. Perhaps leisure is not the right word here, as there are three floors to the centre, plus the roof, so I found my map sprawling over several pages. There are loads of shops and almost all of them have a unique puzzle attached to them, which in turn relates to another puzzle somewhere else. The difficulty level of the puzzles ranges from easy/medium to oblique/!**! impossible. Well not quite impossible, but some of the hardest I have come across in a very long while. A couple of them put me in mind of Steve Clay's Taxman series some years ago, but don't let that put you off. The game has an inbuilt gradual hint system so if you find you're really stuck you can use that. I have to say here that I am not sure I am in favour of the in-game hint system, as it makes it too easy to cheat if you are weak-willed. I managed to be very disciplined and only resorted to the hints three times, and given the difficulty of the game, I was quite pleased with myself. On your quest you will come across such things as a depressed elf, a homeless man, the security guard and a rather nasty, very large dog, plus one or two others. I have to say I haven't enjoyed a game as much in a very long time. It's one of those that keep pulling you back for just one more try. On more than one occasion I found myself looking at the clock to realise it was past two in the morning, and that doesn't happen very often. The writing is excellent, with very little in the way of errors. Of course, you have to allow for the difference in spelling (eg tire instead of tyre), but I have no quibble about that. The game runs smoothly, and solving one puzzle seems to lead right into another without any let up. I lost count of the number of objects to be found - 63 at the last count, and every one has at least one use. This will give you some idea of the size and complexity of the game. I haven't quite finished it yet. I have found Sugar Toes, but haven't yet managed to pay for it (I'm very honest you see). This last puzzle has me climbing the walls - I know what to do and I have the necessary items (I think), but will have to put a lot of time and effort into solving it. There appears to be no built in hints for this last one (deliberate?) so I may well email the author and ask for help..... To close I would say that this is an unmissable game, and you know me, I don't say that very often. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Duncan Stevens There are inherent mimesis problems in most puzzle-fest IF, since most of us do not live in a world where we need to solve logic problems or math riddles to open doors. One of the most significant mimesis problems is the objects-out-of-place syndrome--since most interesting puzzles involve objects with unusual or striking properties, the game author needs to come up with a good reason why the setting might include the objects that are vital to her chosen puzzles. Jim Aikin's Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina solves the problem in a rather creative way: the game is set in a shopping mall. Not just any shopping mall, of course; this one includes such things as a hair salon, a book bindery, and an antique store, the better to craft puzzles with, my dear. What results is about as unabashed a puzzle-fest as IF has ever seen--and while not all of the puzzles are highlights, the result is still thoroughly enjoyable. You're a parent (the game carefully avoids giving you a gender, though given the limited NPC interaction, this isn't all that remarkable a feat) searching for a doll on Christmas Eve, after the stores have closed; your 7-year- old daughter has her heart set on one Sugar Toes, and you're determined to find it. That's the premise, and it's a good one, but in truth it hardly matters whether you're after a ballerina doll or the Magic Hair Dryer of the Gods, since you can largely forget about your ostensible purpose until the very end. NJAOB is an old-style game: the puzzles are, I think it's safe to say, the raison d'etre, and your daughter and the doll provide a reasonably plausible framing device but not much more. (Perhaps that's not fair--some of the crueler obstacles you overcome could be taken as a wry comment on Christmas shopping and the primitive instincts it brings out in parents who are intent on keeping their kids up with the latest craze--but the game doesn't really do anything with that particular angle.) The result is distinctly reminiscent of Infocom's golden years in several respects; there's an initial premise, and the player is told to go forth and solve puzzles, most of which have no obvious connection to the ultimate goal, in hopes that things will work out in the end. On its terms, it works well--but as the trend in recent IF has been toward the integration of story and puzzles, NJAOB feels like something of a throwback. The puzzles--well, thereby hang quite a few tales. Most are quite clever; indeed, even those that are familiar in certain respects have original twists that help liven up the proceedings. There are some regrettable inclusions, in particular a fifteen puzzle--with a twist, to be sure, but it's still a fifteen puzzle in mechanics, and I dearly wished for a way to skip it--and several mazes, all of which have a twist of some sort, of course, but they're firmly within the maze category. Several are math-based, one (one of the first puzzles in the game) in a rather obscure way--and while some are straightforward, others come perilously close to read-the-author's-mind. On the other hand, most of the puzzles have a certain elegance--none, with the exception of a certain logic puzzle, are needlessly complicated--and a few require rather subtle lateral thinking. The layout of the game is distinctly "wide"--after the player solves the first few puzzles, dozens more are suddenly available all at once, so there are multiple puzzle-solving avenues to explore for most of the game. As with most "wide" games, however, there's an inherent frustration element--there may be many puzzles to solve, but it's distinctly possible (particularly toward the later stages of the game) that only one or two will be solvable at any particular moment, meaning that you may not have the tools to solve the problem you're currently struggling with. There's an in-game hint system that adapts nicely to your progress in the game, however, and which informs you if you're not yet ready to tackle a puzzle, so that's a saving grace. There's even one puzzle that depends on ASCII-art renderings for description-- and while the ASCII art is competently done, it feels like something of a betrayal to have largely textual IF give up on text at a key point. Moreover, as with many puzzle-fest games, the puzzles work only if you don't think about them too much--the technicians who set up the power and security systems for this shopping mall were either math Ph.D's or Games Magazine editors. Puzzle-fest IF has an inherent drawback that Ballerina addresses but doesn't entirely overcome. The problem is that the game can feel like a long slog, a series of Mensa-type puzzles without much in the way of reward along the way; if the story doesn't go anywhere when the player solves puzzles, and the only payoff is an object that's presumably useful for another puzzle somewhere, the whole exercise can turn wearisome after a while. Ballerina tries to overcome this in a rather unusual fashion: there's a subplot of sorts that periodically intrudes on the puzzle-solving in rather unexpected ways, so that now and again you're rewarded with some interesting and particularly well-described events that give your quest--well, not context as such, but something of a contrast. The subplot doesn't really withstand close scrutiny--the hows and whys are never resolved, or even touched, and some of the puzzle-solving associated with it owes more to whimsy than to sense--and yet it improves the game immeasurably, somehow; the incursion of the unexpected (and fantastic) leaves the player feeling like she's experienced something more than a doll-hunt. Suffice it to say that the story element lends the game a touch of wonder--and considering that the premise effectively requires breaking and entering on a grand scale, wonder is exactly what's needed here. The setting is vividly rendered, though the talents of a writer as gifted as this one aren't likely to be appreciated in this sort of game: there are few notable events with which to capture the player's imagination, and even the most skillful of room descriptions gets old after a hundred readings or so. The tone of the descriptions varies from sparing... The heavy structure of the shopping center stretches left and right from here. When you crane your neck the building seems almost to be leaning outward, as if it's in some danger of collapsing on top of you, or perhaps pouncing on you. Doubtless that's only a trick of the light. An arched entryway beckons to the south, above it the inscription FLOGG & GRABBY'S STUFFTOWN EST. 1974 carved in a pigeon-flecked substance that looks more like plaster than real stone. Running along the building above the arch is a covered-over exterior walkway. ...to faintly silly: You've never seen so many lamps in your life. Floor lamps, table lamps, gooseneck lamps, chandeliers, porch lights, track lighting -- when God said, "Let there be light," whoever owns this shop said, "I can make a buck on that." The only exit is the door to the lower concourse on the east. The feel of a slightly seedy shopping mall is well conveyed, for example in the "pigeon-flecked substance" in the first description quoted above, and to the extent that the game has an overall tone, the tawdriness fits it well. Less well developed or apt is the eerie aspect, brought out in the "pouncing" bit here and in various references to shadows and gloom elsewhere; the writing is more than good enough to set a creepy scene, of course, but the tawdry-glitzy aspect and frequent lapses into goofiness (the above is hardly the only silly bit) undermine the effort. Again, though, given that the puzzles rather than the setting and story are the focus of attention here, it's hardly a major drawback. The overall feel of playing Ballerina is hard to convey concisely; there's a temptation to simply ignore the setting and view the game as a set of puzzles, given the number and variety of those puzzles. Most players are likely to initially absorb the well-described setting, but increasingly disregard it as they start tackling the puzzles, and the extent to which the tone and style of the game stays with the player consequently varies. Technically, everything works well here--admirably well, considering the size (a 500K-plus Z8 file) of the game and the vast numbers of objects. The rucksack stand-in, appropriately enough a shopping bag, isn't flawless--I spent more time than I wanted to fiddling with it, and the game doesn't provide for things like automatically taking a key out of the bag in order to unlock a door. The same problem recurs elsewhere; several places where modern-day IF veterans might expect the game to supply inferences don't make such inferences, which can be frustrating. Still, it's good enough, and most of the glitches I noticed were minor details rather than game-stoppers. The hint system is quite well done--the adaptive aspect worked perfectly--and several puzzles have reasonably logical alternative solutions. If Ballerina suffers as a game-playing experience, then, it's less because it doesn't succeed in what it set out to do than because its genre isn't in critical vogue these days, if a field as sparse as IF criticism can be said to have a vogue. The PC is largely a cipher, the story intermittent and largely without momentum, the NPCs fairly cardboard--in short, the game exists largely for the sake of the puzzles, rather than trying to create an immersive experience through the story. It's far more difficult--virtually impossible, even--to make a puzzle-centered game immersive in the same way, and in that Ballerina occasionally requires that the player draw on outside knowledge of one form or another, it doesn't really try for immersion as such. The expectations of IF players in this day and age have been shaped by so many moral ambiguities, unreliable narrators, branching plots, and the like that the puzzle-oriented nature of Ballerina may prove unsatisfying. On the whole, then, Ballerina fits its genre admirably, and the player who doesn't ask it to be more than a puzzle-fest will not be disappointed. The puzzles are difficult, but largely fair, and they boast a wealth of originality. It has some minor flaws, but it's worth checking out. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Francesco Bova NAME: Perilous Magic AUTHOR: David Fillmore EMAIL: Noslwop SP@G Hotmail.Com DATE: June, 1999 ???? PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/permagic.z5 3 rooms, 2 characters, 8 tangible objects, and 1 joke; that's all that there is to David Fillmore's 1999 offering Perilous Magic. Perilous Magic is one of a growing number of 'bite-sized' pieces of non-COMP IF that have become quite popular over the last year. 'Bite-sized' IF is interesting in that there's usually one convention that's being pushed or one joke that's being promoted and the games are typically finishable in a few minutes. Often, these smaller games are a nice break away from the bigger pieces out there that can seem more laborious than fun to finish. Perilous Magic takes place in the Zork/Enchanter universe and is entirely built around a historical reference from the accompanying material in the Infocom game Enchanter. The game actually reminded me a bit of the film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, where the story of Hamlet is told from the confused perspective of the aforementioned bit players. With Perilous Magic, we look at a bit of Zorkian history -- specifically the misuse of a spell resulting in disaster -- through the eyes of the person who caused the disaster. The puzzles are straight forward and the goal easy to attain. The end result is amusing but alas, even for 'bite-sized' IF, the game is a little too sparse with many interesting options left untouched. Most of the problems revolve around not putting enough effort into coding objects. As I'd mentioned previously, there are roughly 8 tangible objects in this game. 2 of these objects are Enchanter-like spell scrolls that are implemented using Graham Nelson's source code for Balances. One of the spells is a stand-alone spell that can't be cast on anything while the other spell can be cast on objects and people with interesting effects. You can imagine my chagrin then, when I started getting the dreaded non-default response, 'The spell fades and fizzles' when I cast the spell on objects that were part of the game's scenery. Considering the scope of Perilous Magic, it left me wondering whether it would really have taken much more energy to implement a few creative results. There were similar problems with the game producing too many default messages for actions that should have had less than ordinary responses. This was especially true in areas where I felt a good snarky comeback would have been easy to come up with. I realize it's tough to come up with good non-default responses for everything, but we're not talking about a game the size of Jigsaw here. We're talking about 8 objects, and 1 NPC. Spells should never fade and fizzle in this universe and towering stacks of paper, precariously positioned on the corner of your desk should not be hardly movable when pushed. I know a few of you readers are probably asking why I'm being so tough on Perilous Magic for its poorly 'padded' objects when it was obviously intended to be nothing more than a small diversion and considering the fact that a lot of smaller games are conceived of, programmed, and released all in the span of an hour or two, and in those cases polish isn't particularly important (take Speed IF for example). Well consider this oddity: If you download the latest version of Perilous Magic, you'll find that you've download version 10 (yes, 10) of the game. How is it a game the size of Perilous Magic has been updated 10 times while larger games like The Mulldoon Legacy and Enemies only need 3 or 4 releases? The point is that after 10 updates of a 3-room game, I expect to see non-defaults for every action I can think of let alone the obvious ones. If I try to squeeze my desk, jump over my co-worker, or kiss my report something interesting had better happen in every instance! Hmmm... that's going a little overboard (well actually more than a little...), but I think you catch my drift. Non-default problems aside, Fillmore seems to have promise as an author because of his good sense of humor. In fact, Perilous Magic's INFO section (much like in his '99 IFCOMP release) is as memorable as the game because of it. Fillmore also seems to grasp the basics of programming Inform well enough and even pulls a few neat tricks straight out of the Inform manual including a little Microsoft Windows sound that goes off when you get points (at least I heard them using Winfrotz). Still, quirky sounds, a good INFO section, and flashy quotes can't disguise the fact that their isn't much flesh on this skeleton and it all left me wondering what might have been had Fillmore focused his attention more on the game and less on the bells and whistles. When you reference your IF heavily to the Zork/Enchanter series there will always be comparisons drawn. The question is then, does Perilous Magic successfully qualify as a new chapter in the wonderful Zork/Enchanter anthology (like perhaps Nate Cull's game Frobozz Magic Support)? Nah, it's more like an extension to an existing footnote, but probably still worth the download if you have five minutes to kill. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Christian Baker TITLE: Shrapnel AUTHOR: Adam Cadre E-MAIL: ac SP@G adamcadre.ac DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/shrapnel.z5 Shrapnel is weird. Really weird. I just want to get that out in the open. Shrapnel seems less like a game, more like an idea that Adam Cadre had been mulling around. The question on r-g-i-f is, is Adam Cadre a genius or a madman. Iím settling for genius, but as Andrew Plotkin said, "If he snaps and starts barbecuing the neighbors, of course, we'll have to pencil in some corrections." Shrapnel starts off outside the classic Zork White house, but itís soon obvious that this is no Zork clone. Or any clone of anything ever made. You go north, you get eaten by vicious attack dogs. I try to quit, seeing that this is just another "One room death" game. I start typing QUIT, and find to my surprise that the game is forcing me to type RESTART. I go north from the original location, and find that another location has opened up. And so on. And so forth. I felt like the game was leading me round the (extremely strange) plot, and it seemed like it was just a matter of time before I completed it. But on the brighter side, the writing and room descriptions were excellent. A good example is: In the pines As you proceed along the path, the light trickling in through the treetops seems to grow brighter, as if it had been sunrise and not sunset when you began. And the trees... this isn't North Carolina anymore. This is, what? Maryland? Pennsylvania? You'd think a man would notice walking two hundred miles, but apparently not. You hear voices in the distance. "Hey, Green," says the first one. Even this is enough for you to pinpoint the accent: Carolina. So you're not caught behind enemy lines. Good to know. "Yeah?" says someone, presumably Green. There was a Green in your regiment, you recall. Common enough name to be coincidence, though. "Have you been helped?" The characters are a bit underdeveloped, but what do you expect from a game you can complete in under 10 minutes? What this game does best is unsettle you. The whole game has an extremely eerie atmosphere, and half of that is due to the strange plot (or lack of a plot, Iím not sure which.) The other half is due to some Adam Cadre writing, and the strange ignoring of player input. It really adds something to the game, and gives the feeling of a total lack of control. All in all, the game is short and pointless, but darn enjoyable for a short while. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Duncan Stevens It's science fiction! It's a split-identity story! It's a war story! It's a parody of Zork! It's a satire! It's Adam Cadre's Shrapnel, the weirdest bit of IF to come down the pike in quite some time, and there are enough things going on here to drive several full-length games (this one takes about 15-20 minutes, though). The ideas are interesting, but there's not much polish here--mostly, we only get the ideas. Still, Adam's ideas are better than most, and the game does has its intriguing moments. To try to describe the plot of Shrapnel would be a thoroughly futile endeavor, because the point is that the story doesn't travel in any discernible path: rather, you come across fragments of story here and there, and what exactly is going on isn't apparent until the end, when a character appears and infodumps all over you. Even then, it may not be fully clear how everything fits together--there are still plenty of hows and whys left unresolved for those who care about such things. Moreover, there are quite a few memorable images and surprising moments, meaning that you might remember and be affected by certain bits of Shrapnel even if you never tried to put the various story pieces together. Shrapnel might in fact be remembered more for its meta-IF elements than its actual story. For one thing, this is the first work of IF to actually ignore keystrokes--not disregard a command, but actually ignore that the player is typing something and show something else as the input. What's shown is 'restart,' no matter what the player types, at the restore/restart/quit prompt, though restart generally continues the story from where it left off rather than starting from scratch. Moreover, pauses are an essential part of the presentation of the text, again a meta-IF function that may catch the IF veteran off guard. Similarly innovative is "talk" as a conversation system: you direct your conversation toward whoever you're paying attention to, usually the person you last interacted with, and you're given a choice between accepting or rejecting a proposed rhetorical sally; if you refuse, your character says something else, something you have no way of predicting. The fragmentary aspect, the variety of apparently unrelated plotlines, is reflected in the text itself, which now and again spits out disjointed words and phrases that have already appeared elsewhere. All these are intriguing, even subversive takes on IF as we've known it up to now, but--I know, I know, this is a hangup of mine--they also reduce the interactivity aspect down to just about zero. In something as short and disjointed as Shrapnel, the immersion factor is minimal anyway--by the time the player has figured out what's going on in the story, the story's over--and when the game commandeers the keyboard, the player is justified in thinking, well, why do you need me here, tapping on the keyboard? Why don't you just let everything scroll by me at once? Certainly, there's interaction of a sort here, even if it's forced: being powerless to stop the course of the story is an integral part of the experience, of course (though it's still possible to quit at prompts other than restart/restore/quit), but, again if you can't figure out what story is being told, it's hard to get all worked up about not being able to stop it. The limited control over the conversation system is similar: if the player's only control over what's said is a veto on one conversational option, the character may as well just start talking. (Admittedly, there are several people the player can talk to, but the choices aren't exclusive--were this rewritten as static fiction and the conversations simply written out, one character after another, the effect wouldn't be dramatically different. There are a few effects that couldn't be reproduced in static fiction: notably, you die repeatedly over the course of the story, and the place is littered with your own corpses by the end--but it's questionable how much impact that has on the story when the player's likely reaction to the deaths is something on the order of "huh?" It's not that there are no choices to be made in Shrapnel, but the choices there are affect the outcome so minimally that the result is closer to F than IF. Still, in its own way, this is pretty good F; the effect may be that of an early draft of a novel, with ideas, themes, and character development all fighting for space, but it looks like it would be a fascinating novel. Notably, the protagonist is split between two separate identities, and piecing together the way those identities is an intriguing challenge. (Of course, given the rampant confusion, the player isn't likely to make much headway in separating out those identities by the end of the story, but there's definite replay potential.) On the figurative level, the numerous violent deaths you experience are a precursor to the pain that your character inflicts, and you could even say that you're desensitized to the violence sufficiently that it doesn't have much effect on you, the player, after a while. (A similar process seems to have gone on with the character himself.) The Zork parody element--Shrapnel is set in and around a white house, and the living room has a rug with a trap door under it--brings out the ho-hum-more-violent-deaths aspect, since one hallmark of traditional fantasy IF is dying violently so many times that *You have died* has zero emotional impact. The core of the story, involving a dysfunctional family and abuse, is vividly and disturbingly rendered: the abuse is sufficiently distanced from you (you hear accounts of it rather than actually seeing it--that your sense of culpability is minimized, which is exactly the effect that the character himself has achieved. The way you seem to find horrific violence around every corner is a direct reflection of the nature of the story: the events that have already transpired have left unsightly secrets everywhere. The science-fiction aspect that appears at the end of the story, in an apparent attempt to make a bit of sense of the demented structure of the story, feels a bit tacked on, but it doesn't diminish the impact of what's come before. In its own way, then, Shrapnel is quite a story, and that it's less interactive fiction than a forced march isn't a major drawback, in the end. It's certainly not easy to make sense of what goes on, nor is it particularly pleasant, but it's still an impres precursor to the paindown to just about zerooff guardfragmentary aspectdemented structureseems to have gone onho-humrhetorical sallytacked onrampantbits of Shrapneldisregard a commandscratchdiscernible pathculpability*you have died* [Hit any key to exit.] -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: A Simple Theft AUTHOR: Mark Musante E-MAIL: olorin SP@G world.std.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/quick.zip VERSION: Release 1 Mark Musante's A Simple Theft is indeed simple: you're apprenticed to a fellow who wants to retrieve a jewel from a castle, and you're sent in to do the deed--but it's a nice small game nonetheless, with just a few puzzles and a fairly thoroughly done backstory. The setting is fantasy, but magic at this point is not under control--your master is hoping to find something that would help in control it--and the incursion of magic at an entirely unexpected point in the story, and your discovery that a certain object has magical properties, therefore fit the plot nicely: you have no special insight into or control over magic, so you're not expecting it when it appears. The technical aspect, while mostly good, isn't flawless: one puzzle is marred by what I consider a major design flaw (it turns on using an object that you're told you can't pick up), and a key object is rather confusingly described. Still, in a game this small, there's only so much that can go radically wrong, and on the whole the coding is fairly solid. Likewise, the writing is more than good enough to tell the story, and it's pretty funny in spots as well. A Simple Theft feels like an introduction to a longer game--in particular, your boss, who's barely a character in this one, is an intriguing character who deserves more development in a longer, more in-depth game. Indeed, the ending text suggests that there's more to come: the story doesn't feel at all complete. For one thing, most of the names dropped in the introduction remain dropped--they're not explained anywhere--suggesting that the author intends to make something more of the world introduced here. The PC is worth fleshing out as well--it's intimated that you're a thief, but you don't learn anything about how you learned your trade or how you came to be apprenticed to your boss. In short, A Simple Theft is a nice preview of what could be an intriguing full-length game. Should there be a followup, it'll certainly be worth a look. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Robb Sherwin NAME: Skyranch AUTHOR: Jack Driscoll E-MAIL: slackerbox SP@G snet.net DATE: 1999 PARSER: DOS, custom SUPPORTS: AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/skyranch/skyranch.exe VERSION: 1 Professionalism. With over a hundred new text adventures being written every year and excellent libraries, documentation, and newsgroup help available, it's perfectly reasonable to have expectations of the games we choose to play. The thing is, it doesn't always work out that way. Skyranch is completely lacking in professionalism. Many have stated that it did not appear as if the author was a native speaker of English. Valid, perhaps, but there has always been a percentage of the population that simply does not come across as fast, competent and skilled when it comes to the electronic word. We have all seen "the first e-mail" from our otherwise intelligent computer-newbie friends that looks like it was typed by a mentally handicapped, three-fingered snow ape. This is the type of voice Skyranch speaks with. We're actually somewhat lucky that the game is not written all in caps. The game definitely has potential. It's about an experiment in the sky. As a survivalist type, you have signed yourself up to take part in the skyranch project. The real challenge isn't dealing with the lack of oxygen and air pressure as so much as being unable to concentrate on anything other than the dreadful sounds of heavy machinery. One verb will usually do it for Skyranch. If Driscoll was made aware of the concept of synonym he no doubt thought, "bah! Who needs 'em?" Unfortunately, this does not bode well for the player. You absolutely have to go into the game with the understanding that the game's vocabulary is slightly better than Mystery House, second-level verbs are not going to be referenced and guessing the verb won't help you as much as getting a thesaurus and typing in alternate ways to express "exit" one by one. The thing is, it's often extremely amusing to place yourself in a literary world where the author is not a superb writer of English. (The Walter Miller Home Page, or Fat Chicks In Party Hats website, for instance.) Driscoll's game offers this style of appeal. His description for the robot that follows you around ("Lloyd 2.0") ends with the robot telling you, "I will love you always." This apparently sincere expression of emotion in a sea of poor spelling and incorrectly used homonyms is *funny*. No one, short of the author of Annoyotron, really goes out and attempts to make a bad game. The unexpectedness of Lloyd 2.0 can at least produce a chuckle. Realizing that the author does care about the game can shock you into seeing it differently. More, the game's concept, at least, is not completely without merit. Sure, it's no Trinity -- hell, it's not even Punkirita Quest, but Skyranch contains a small bit of style to keep it from otherwise being a *complete* waste of time. Unfortunately, the lack of a decent parser really does damn the game. Exiting the ferry is not accomplished by "exit" or "out" or "get out of ferry" -- it is done by typing "leave." Although making those sort of breakthroughs allow you to continue to play the game, you can't effectively experience it in one sitting unless you are blessed with the gift of telepathy (and, er, have Mr. Driscoll sitting next to you within your effective mental range). Skyranch would be most effective -- and most entertaining -- if Driscoll collaborated with an experienced TADS or Inform programmer. Any sort of spell checking would absolutely ruin the game's charm, but being able to navigate the game's world is a must. Until that time, Skyranch's appeal is limited to the sort of player that enjoyed Space Aliens Laughed At My Cardigan, Symetry, and Human Resources Stories. READERS' SCOREBOARD ------------------------------------------------------- The Readers' Scoreboard is an ongoing feature of SPAG. It charts the scores that SPAG readers and reviewers have given to various IF games since SPAG started up. The codes in the Notes column give information as to a game's availability and the platforms on which it runs. For a translation of these codes and for more detailed information on the scoreboard's format, see the SPAG FAQ. This FAQ is available at the ftp.gmd.de IF-archive or on the SPAG web page at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag. Name Avg Sc Chr Puz # Sc Issue Notes: ==== ====== === === ==== ===== ====== Aayela 7.4 1.2 1.5 5 10 F_TAD_GMD Acid Whiplash 5.3 0.6 0.2 3 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 6.3 0.6 1.0 9 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 6.6 1.4 0.2 7 18 F_INF_GMD Alien Abduction? 7.5 1.3 1.4 5 10 F_TAD_GMD All Quiet...Library 5.0 0.9 0.9 6 7 F_INF_GMD Amnesia 7.4 1.5 1.4 3 9 C_AP_I_64 Anchorhead 8.6 1.7 1.5 16 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 1.3 0.1 0.0 2 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 3.0 0.7 0.7 2 8 S_I_ST_GMD Babel 8.5 1.8 1.3 6 13 F_INF_GMD Balances 6.6 0.7 1.2 8 6 F_INF_GMD Ballyhoo 7.3 1.5 1.5 6 4 C_INF Bear's Night Out 7.6 1.4 1.3 3 13 F_INF_GMD Beat The Devil 6.0 1.2 1.1 3 19 F_INF_GMD Beyond the Tesseract 3.7 0.1 0.6 1 6 F_I_GMD Beyond Zork 8.1 1.5 1.8 7 5, 14 C_INF BJ Drifter 7.3 1.3 1.2 3 15 F_INF_GMD Bliss 5.7 1.2 0.6 3 20 F_TAD_GMD Bloodline 7.2 1.7 1.2 1 15 F_INF_GMD Border Zone 7.2 1.4 1.4 7 4 C_INF Break-In 6.1 1.1 1.4 3 F_INF_GMD Broken String 3.9 0.7 0.4 4 F_TADS_GMD BSE 5.7 0.9 1.0 3 F_INF_GMD Bureaucracy 6.9 1.5 1.3 9 5 C_INF Busted 5.2 1.0 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Calliope 4.7 0.9 0.8 3 F_INF_GMD Cask 1.5 0.0 0.5 2 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 7.6 1.0 1.4 11 7,8,14 F_INF_GMD Chaos 5.6 1.3 1.1 2 F_TAD_GMD Chicken under Window 6.9 0.6 0.0 3 F_INF_GMD Chicks Dig Jerks 5.6 1.2 0.6 6 19 F_INF_GMD Christminster 8.3 1.7 1.6 13 20 F_INF_GMD City 6.1 0.6 1.3 2 17 F_INF_GMD Coke Is It! 6.2 1.0 1.0 2 F_INF_GMD Coming Home 0.6 0.1 0.1 1 F_INF_GMD Common Ground 7.4 1.8 0.8 1 20 F_TAD_GMD Commute 1.3 0.2 0.1 1 F_I_GMD Congratulations! 2.6 0.7 0.3 1 F_INF_GMD Corruption 7.2 1.6 1.0 4 14 C_MAG Cosmoserve 7.8 1.4 1.4 5 5 F_AGT_GMD Crypt v2.0 5.0 1.0 1.5 1 3 S12_IBM_GMD Curses 8.2 1.2 1.7 15 2 F_INF_GMD Cutthroats 5.7 1.3 1.1 9 1 C_INF Dampcamp 5.0 0.8 1.1 3 F_TAD_GMD Day For Soft Food 7.1 1.0 1.4 4 19 F_INF_GMD Deadline 6.8 1.3 1.3 8 20 C_INF Death To My Enemies 4.7 1.1 0.7 3 F_INF_GMD Deep Space Drifter 5.6 0.4 1.1 3 3 S15_TAD_GMD Deephome 5.9 0.7 0.9 1 F_INF_GMD Delusions 7.9 1.5 1.5 5 14F_INF_GMD Demon's Tomb 7.4 1.2 1.1 2 9 C_I Detective 1.0 0.0 0.0 9 4,5,18 F_AGT_INF_GMD Detective-MST3K 5.7 1.0 0.1 8 7,8,18 F_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 5.7 0.8 0.9 4 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 6.0 0.7 1.5 5 3, 14 S20_IBM_MAC_GMD Edifice 8.3 1.6 1.8 6 13 F_INF_GMD Electrabot 0.7 0.0 0.0 1 5 F_AGT_GMD E-Mailbox 3.1 0.1 0.2 2 F_AGT_GMD Emy Discovers Life 4.6 1.1 0.7 2 F_AGT Enchanter 7.3 1.0 1.5 8 2,15 C_INF Enhanced 5.0 1.0 1.3 2 2 S10_TAD_GMD Enlightenment 7.1 1.3 1.6 2 17 F_INF_GMD Erehwon 6.1 1.1 1.4 3 19 F_TAD_GMD Eric the Unready 7.8 1.5 1.6 4 C_I Everybody Loves a Par 7.7 1.3 1.2 2 12 F_TAD_GMD Exhibition 5.6 1.1 0.4 3 19 F_TAD_GMD Fable 2.0 0.1 0.1 3 6 F_AGT_GMD Fable-MST3K 4.1 0.7 0.1 2 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 7.2 1.6 1.2 3 15 F_TAD_GMD Fish 7.5 1.3 1.7 4 12, 14 C_MAG Foggywood Hijinx 6.2 1.2 1.3 3 F_TAD_GMD Foom 6.6 1.0 1.0 1 F_TAD_GMD For A Change 7.8 1.0 1.5 4 19 F_INF_GMD Forbidden Castle 4.8 0.6 0.5 1 C_AP Four In One 4.4 1.2 0.5 2 F_TAD_GMD Four Seconds 6.0 1.2 1.1 2 F_TAD_GMD Frenetic Five 5.3 1.4 0.5 3 13 F_TAD_GMD Frenetic Five 2 6.6 1.5 1.1 2 F_TAD_GMD Friday Afternoon 6.3 1.4 1.2 1 13 F_INF_GMD Frobozz Magic Support 7.2 1.2 1.5 3 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 8.3 1.3 1.7 5 11 C_I Gateway 2: Homeworld 9.0 1.7 1.9 2 C_I Glowgrass 6.9 1.4 1.4 4 13 F_INF_GMD Gnome Ranger 5.8 1.2 1.6 1 C_I 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 4.9 0.9 1.2 2 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 6.9 1.2 1.5 4 14 C_MAG Guilty Bastards 6.9 1.4 1.2 5 F_HUG_GMD Gumshoe 6.3 1.0 1.1 6 9 F_INF_GMD Halothane 6.9 1.3 1.3 3 19 F_INF_GMD HeBGB Horror 5.7 0.9 1.1 2 F_ALAN_GMD Heist 6.7 1.4 1.5 2 F_INF_GMD Hero, Inc. 6.8 1.0 1.5 2 F_TAD_GMD Hitchhiker's Guide 7.2 1.3 1.5 13 5 C_INF Hollywood Hijinx 6.5 0.9 1.6 11 C_INF Holy Grail 6.2 0.9 1.2 1 F_TAD_GMD Horror of Rylvania 7.2 1.4 1.4 5 1 F_TAD_GMD Horror30.zip 3.7 0.3 0.7 2 3 S20_I_GMD Human Resources Stori 0.9 0.0 0.1 2 17 F_INF_GMD Humbug 6.9 1.6 1.4 3 11 F_I_GMD Hunter, In Darkness 8.1 1.0 1.5 4 19 F_INF_GMD I didn't know...yodel 4.0 0.7 1.0 5 17 F_I_GMD I-0: Jailbait on Inte 7.5 1.5 1.3 11 20 F_INF_GMD Ice Princess 7.5 1.4 1.6 2 A_INF_GMD In The End 4.9 0.6 0.0 2 10 F_INF_GMD In The Spotlight 3.2 0.2 1.0 2 17 F_INF_GMD Infidel 6.9 0.2 1.4 13 1 C_INF Informatory 5.5 0.5 1.3 1 17 F_INF_GMD Ingrid's Back 5.6 1.6 1.2 1 C_I Inheritance 5.2 0.5 1.0 2 20 F_TAD_GMD Inhumane 4.4 0.4 1.0 3 9, 20 F_INF_GMD Intruder 6.7 1.3 1.1 4 20 F_INF_GMD Jacaranda Jim 7.9 0.9 1.0 2 F_GMD Jacks...Aces To Win 7.6 1.6 1.3 2 19 F_INF_GMD Jewel of Knowledge 6.3 1.2 1.1 3 18 F_INF_GMD Jeweled Arena 7.0 1.4 1.3 2 AGT_GMD Jigsaw 8.2 1.5 1.5 13 8,9 F_INF_GMD Jinxter 6.1 0.9 1.3 3 C_MAG John's Fire Witch 6.8 1.1 1.6 8 4, 12 S6_TADS_GMD Jouney Into Xanth 5.0 1.3 1.2 1 8 F_AGT_GMD Journey 7.2 1.5 1.3 5 5 C_INF King Arthur's Night O 5.6 1.0 0.9 3 19 F_ALAN_GMD Kissing the Buddha's 8.0 1.8 1.4 5 10 F_TAD_GMD Klaustrophobia 6.4 1.1 1.3 6 1 S15_AGT_GMD Knight Orc 7.2 1.4 1.1 2 15 C_I L.U.D.I.T.E. 1.9 0.2 0.0 3 F_INF_GMD Lancelot 6.9 1.4 1.2 1 C_I Land Beyond Picket Fe 4.8 1.2 1.2 1 10 F_I_GMD Leather Goddesses 6.9 1.3 1.5 10 4 C_INF Leaves 3.4 0.2 0.8 1 14 F_ALAN_GMD Legend Lives! 8.2 1.2 1.4 4 5 F_TAD_GMD Lesson of the Tortois 7.1 1.4 1.4 4 14 F_TAD_GMD Lethe Flow Phoenix 6.9 1.4 1.5 5 9 F_TAD_GMD Life on Beal Street 4.7 1.2 0.0 2 F_TAD_GMD Light: Shelby's Adden 7.5 1.5 1.3 6 9 S_TAD_GMD Lightiania 1.9 0.2 0.4 1 F_INF_GMD Lists and Lists 6.3 1.3 1.1 3 10 F_INF_GMD Little Blue Men 8.4 1.4 1.5 7 17 F_INF_GMD Lomalow 4.8 1.2 0.5 2 19 F_INF_GMD Losing Your Grip 8.5 1.4 1.4 6 14S20_TAD_GMD Lost New York 7.9 1.4 1.4 4 20 S12_TAD_GMD Lost Spellmaker 6.9 1.5 1.3 3 13 F_INF_GMD Lunatix: Insanity Cir 5.6 1.2 1.0 3 F_I_GMD Lurking Horror 7.2 1.3 1.3 15 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 5.2 1.1 1.1 5 7 F_INF_GMD Magic.zip 4.5 0.5 0.5 1 3 S20_IBM_GMD Maiden of the Moonlig 6.4 1.3 1.5 2 10 F_TAD_GMD Matter of Time 1.4 0.3 1.4 1 14F_ALAN_GMD Mercy 7.3 1.4 1.2 6 12 F_INF_GMD Meteor...Sherbet 7.9 1.5 1.6 5 10, 12 F_INF_GMD Mind Electric 5.2 0.6 0.9 4 7,8 F_INF_GMD Mind Forever Voyaging 8.2 1.3 0.9 12 5,15 C_INF Mission 6.0 1.2 1.4 1 F_TAD_GMD Moist 6.8 1.4 1.2 4 F_TAD_GMD Moment of Hope 5.0 1.3 0.3 3 19 F_TAD_GMD Moonmist 5.9 1.2 1.0 14 1 C_INF Mop & Murder 5.0 0.9 1.0 2 5 F_AGT_GMD Mother Loose 7.0 1.5 1.3 2 17 F_INF_GMD Mulldoon Legacy 7.4 1.2 1.8 1 F_INF_GMD Multidimen. Thief 5.6 0.5 1.3 6 2,9 S15_AGT_GMD Muse 7.5 1.5 1.1 3 17 F_INF_GMD Music Education 3.7 1.0 0.7 3 F_INF_GMD Myopia 6.1 1.3 0.6 2 F_AGT_GMD Mystery House 4.1 0.3 0.7 1 F_AP_GMD New Day 6.6 1.4 1.1 4 13 F_INF_GMD Night At Computer Cen 5.2 1.0 1.0 2 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 9:05 4.9 0.4 0.6 2 20 F_INF_GMD Nord and Bert 5.9 0.6 1.1 8 4 C_INF Not Just A Game 6.9 1.0 1.3 1 20 F_INF_GMD Not Just... Ballerina 6.3 1.0 1.1 2 20 F_INF_GMD 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 Offensive Probing 4.2 0.6 0.9 1 F_INF_GMD On The Farm 6.5 1.6 1.2 2 19 F_TAD_GMD Once and Future 6.9 1.6 1.5 2 16 C30_TAD_CMP One That Got Away 6.5 1.4 1.0 6 7,8 F_TAD_GMD Only After Dark 4.6 0.8 0.7 3 F_INF_GMD Oo-Topos 5.7 0.2 1.0 1 9 C_AP_I_64 Outsided 2.5 0.7 0.2 2 F_INF_GMD Pass the Banana 2.9 0.8 0.5 3 19 F_INF_GMD Path to Fortune 6.6 1.5 0.9 3 9 S_INF_GMD Pawn 6.3 1.1 1.3 2 12 C_MAG Perilous Magic 4.9 0.9 1.1 1 20 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 5.2 1.2 1.0 2 10 F_INF_GMD Photopia 7.3 1.5 0.8 13 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 1.4 11 4 C_INF Plant 7.3 1.2 1.5 4 17 F_TAD_GMD Plundered Hearts 7.3 1.4 1.2 8 4 C_INF Poor Zefron's Almanac 5.8 1.2 1.3 2 13 F_TAD_GMD Portal 7.0 1.8 0.0 2 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 1.6 1.2 3 10 F_INF_GMD Remembrance 2.8 1.0 0.1 2 F_GMD Reruns 5.2 1.2 1.2 1 AGT_GMD Research Dig 4.8 1.1 0.8 2 17 F_INF_GMD Reverberations 5.6 1.3 1.1 1 10 F_INF_GMD Ritual of Purificatio 7.0 1.6 1.1 4 17 F_GMD Sanity Claus 7.5 0.3 0.6 2 1 S10_AGT_GMD Save Princeton 5.8 1.1 1.3 4 8 S10_TAD_GMD Scapeghost 8.1 1.7 1.5 1 6 C_I Sea Of Night 5.7 1.3 1.1 2 F_TAD_GMD Seastalker 5.1 1.1 0.8 10 4 C_INF Shades of Grey 7.8 1.3 1.4 5 2, 8 F_AGT_GMD Sherlock 7.0 1.3 1.4 5 4 C_INF She's Got a Thing...S 7.0 1.7 1.6 3 13 F_INF_GMD Shogun 7.0 1.2 0.6 2 4 C_INF Shrapnel 7.3 1.5 1.0 1 20 F_INF_GMD Simple Theft 5.8 1.3 0.8 1 20 F_TAD_GMD Sins against Mimesis 5.5 1.0 1.2 3 13 F_INF_GMD Sir Ramic... Gorilla 5.0 1.0 1.5 1 6 F_AGT_GMD Six Stories 6.2 0.9 1.1 2 19 F_TAD_GMD Skyranch 2.8 0.5 0.7 1 20 F_I_GMD Small World 6.2 1.3 1.1 3 10 F_TAD_GMD So Far 7.9 1.1 1.5 10 12 F_INF_GMD Sorcerer 7.2 0.6 1.6 7 2,15 C_INF Sound of... Clapping 7.2 1.3 1.3 6 5 F_ADVSYS_GMD South American Trek 0.9 0.2 0.5 1 5 F_IBM_GMD Space Aliens...Cardig 1.5 0.4 0.3 6 3, 4 S60_AGT_GMD Space under Window 7.2 0.8 0.4 5 12 F_INF_GMD Spacestation 5.6 0.7 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Spellbreaker 8.5 1.2 1.8 8 2,15 C_INF Spellcasting 101 6.7 1.0 1.3 2 C_I Spellcasting 201 7.8 1.6 1.7 2 C_I Spellcasting 301 6.0 1.2 1.2 2 C_I Spider and Web 8.6 1.6 1.7 11 14F_INF_GMD SpiritWrak 7.1 1.3 1.3 5 F_INF_GMD Spodgeville...Wossnam 4.3 0.7 1.2 2 F_INF_GMD Spur 7.1 1.3 1.1 2 9 F_HUG_GMD Spyder and Jeb 6.2 1.1 1.4 1 F_TAD_GMD Starcross 6.6 1.0 1.2 7 1 C_INF Stargazer 5.4 1.1 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Stationfall 7.7 1.7 1.6 6 5 C_INF Stiffy 0.6 0.0 0.0 1 F_INF_GMD Stiffy - MiSTing 4.5 1.0 0.4 4 F_INF_GMD Stone Cell 6.7 1.3 1.4 2 19 F_TAD_GMD Strangers In The Nigh 3.2 0.7 0.6 2 F_TAD_GMD Sunset Over Savannah 8.7 1.7 1.4 6 13 F_TAD_GMD Suspect 6.0 1.2 1.1 7 4 C_INF Suspended 7.5 1.5 1.4 7 8 C_INF Sylenius Mysterium 4.7 1.2 1.1 1 13 F_INF_GMD Symetry 1.1 0.1 0.1 2 F_INF_GMD Tapestry 7.1 1.4 0.9 5 10, 14 F_INF_GMD Tempest 5.3 1.4 0.6 3 13 F_INF_GMD Temple of the Orc Mag 4.5 0.1 0.8 2 F_TAD_GMD Theatre 6.9 1.1 1.4 10 6 F_INF_GMD Thorfinn's Realm 3.5 0.5 0.7 2 F_INF_GMD Time: All Things... 3.9 1.2 0.9 2 11, 12 F_INF_GMD TimeQuest 8.1 1.2 1.7 3 C_I TimeSquared 4.3 1.1 1.1 1 F_AGT_GMD Toonesia 5.8 1.1 1.1 6 7 F_TAD_GMD Tossed into Space 3.9 0.2 0.6 1 4 F_AGT_GMD Town Dragon 3.9 0.8 0.3 2 14 F_INF_GMD Trapped...Dilly 5.1 0.1 1.1 2 17 F_INF_GMD Travels in Land of Er 6.1 1.2 1.5 2 14 F_INF_GMD Trinity 8.7 1.3 1.7 15 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 1.5 12 8 F_TAD_GMD Underoos That Ate NY 4.5 0.6 0.8 2 F_TAD_INF_GMD Undertow 5.4 1.3 0.9 3 8 F_TAD_GMD Undo 2.9 0.5 0.7 4 7 F_TAD_GMD Unholy Grail 6.0 1.2 1.2 1 13 F_I_GMD Unnkulian One-Half 6.7 1.2 1.5 9 1 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Unventure 1 6.9 1.2 1.5 8 1,2 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Unventure 2 7.2 1.2 1.5 5 1 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Zero 8.4 0.7 0.8 21,12,14 F_TAD_GMD Varicella 8.5 1.6 1.5 8 18 F_INF_GMD Veritas 6.9 1.3 1.4 3 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 5.6 0.6 1.0 3 9 F_TAD_GMD Wearing the Claw 6.6 1.2 1.2 5 10, 18 F_INF_GMD Wedding 7.4 1.6 1.3 3 12 F_INF_GMD Where Evil Dwells 5.1 0.8 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Winter Wonderland 7.9 1.3 1.2 5 19 F_INF_GMD Wishbringer 7.5 1.3 1.3 12 5,6 C_INF Witness 6.5 1.5 1.1 9 1,3,9 C_INF Wonderland 5.4 1.3 0.9 2 C_MAG World 6.5 0.6 1.3 2 4 F_I_ETC_GMD Worlds Apart 8.3 1.6 1.4 6 F_TAD_GMD Zanfar 2.6 0.2 0.4 1 8 F_AGT_GMD Zero Sum Game 7.2 1.5 1.5 3 13 F_INF_GMD Zombie! 5.2 1.2 1.1 2 13 F_TAD_GMD Zork 0 6.3 1.1 1.4 9 14C_INF Zork 1 6.1 0.8 1.5 19 1, 12 C_INF Zork 2 6.5 1.0 1.5 11 1, 12 C_INF Zork 3 6.5 0.9 1.4 8 1, 12 C_INF Zork Undisc. Undergr. 6.5 1.0 1.2 1 14F_INF_GMD Zork: A Troll's Eye V 4.6 0.9 0.1 2 14 F_INF_GMD Zuni Doll 4.0 0.6 0.9 2 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. Well, I've received over 250 ratings for the scoreboard since the last issue of SPAG, which sounds great until I tell you that 220 of them were from the same person! Still, that great big passel o'ratings is nothing to sneeze at, and the ratings I've received have been enough to cause a bit of movement in the top ten. Our new champion is Sunset Over Savannah, replacing Varicella in the top slot. The Legend Lives! and Hunter, In Darkness have dropped out of the top ten, with Christminster and Spellbreaker (both longtime top ten residents) rushing in to fill the empty spaces. The fact that both the absent games feature punctuation in their names is purest coincidence, I'm sure. 1. Sunset over Savannah 8.7 6 votes 2. Trinity 8.7 15 votes 3. Spider and Web 8.6 11 votes 4. Anchorhead 8.6 16 votes 5. Varicella 8.5 8 votes 6. Losing Your Grip 8.5 6 votes 7. Babel 8.5 6 votes 8. Spellbreaker 8.5 8 votes 9. Little Blue Men 8.4 7 votes 10. Christminster 8.3 13 votes As always, please remember that the scoreboard is only as good as the contributions it receives. To make your mark on this vast morass of statistics, rate some games on our website (http://www.sparkynet.com/spag). You can also, if you like, send ratings directly to me at obrian SP@G colorado.edu. Instructions for how the rating system works are in the SPAG FAQ, available from GMD and our website. Please read the FAQ before submitting scores, so that you understand how the scoring system works. After that, submit away! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ___. .___ _ ___. ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| / _| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. \ \ .\ \ | | | o | | | | .\ \ |___/ |_| |_|_| \___| |___/ PECIFICS WARNING! SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE FOLLOWING GAMES: Bliss 9:05 PROCEED NO FURTHER UNLESS YOU HAVE PLAYED THESE GAMES! THIS IS NOT A TEST! GENUINE SPOILERS TO FOLLOW! LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILAGE! From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Bliss AUTHOR: Cameron Wilkin E-MAIL: bwilkin SP@G ix.netcom.com DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition99/tads/bliss/bliss.gam VERSION: Release 1.1 Cameron Wilkin's Bliss is well-nigh impossible to review effectively in no-spoiler format, because the most interesting aspect of the game happens in the final few moves; accordingly, the following is more a discussion than a review as such, and it does include spoilers. You have been warned. The initial direction of Bliss is stock fantasy--indeed, with orcs, evil wizards, dragons, and dungeons involved right at the outset, the game fairly screams "stock fantasy." But the real story in Bliss is not at all stock fantasy-- the initial premise and the way it's developed doesn't so much tell a story as it takes a measure of the player. Does the player object to simplistically violent solutions to problems because they're in a fantasy setting? Or does the player gleefully hurt others whenever it serves his own ends, as long as the setting is fantasy? Bliss poses these questions and more. The author's notes indicate that the point of the game is to "ask which is better: the real world or the fantasy world?" With all due respect, I'm not sure that's really what the game asks; no one would contend that the PC's fantasy world is "better," though it's certainly more comfortable for the PC. That is, even the most sympathetic would be hard pressed to see the PC's retreat into his fantasy world as good, or "better" than his maintaining a grip on reality, given what ensues because of it. The player can understand why the PC does it, but hardly condone it. (I hope so, anyway.) To my mind, the more interesting questions are about fantasy itself, as suggested above--does fantasy violence desensitize those who view it, read about it, experience it through IF to real violence? It's much debated these days in the wake of Littleton and such, and generally the arguments produce considerably more heat than light; few can even agree on whether fantasy violence produces violent behavior in any given individual, as opposed to society as a whole. Bliss doesn't purport to address these questions as such, but in giving us a PC whose fantasy life enables him to commit violent acts that, it seems, he would not have been able to commit otherwise (his horror when he discovers what he has done suggests as much, anyway), the author raises some problematic issues. The nature of the masterfully done bait-and-switch in Bliss suggests one answer. Most players, somewhere in the course through the game, probably begin wondering about what's going on--perhaps it's the discontinuities, the brief flashes into the real world, but for me it was the bizarre monotony of the killing. It struck me as strange and disturbing that every single problem the PC has is resolved by killing someone; the ethics of fantasy, so to speak, don't generally allow for randomized killing. Disposing of the guards was one thing, but killing the imp and the bear because they happened to be in the way--that rang false to me; likewise, killing a dragon while it's asleep made me wonder. That, in turn, suggests to me that fantasy does have rules, and indiscriminate killing definitely breaks those rules, meaning that the deadening moral effect of imaginary violence might not be quite so clearcut (and the enabling aspect of this particular PC's fantasy might be the product of a warped fantasy life, one that doesn't abide by the normal rules). Equally intriguing is the problem of complicity posed by Bliss: the marriage of the player's and PC's goals (the player is perfectly willing to help the PC escape from the prison and kill the evil wizard) suddenly breaks apart when the fantasy veil falls away. When the player surveys the wreckage, there should be a sense of participation in the evil--a sense that the player's participation made the carnage possible, and that a more responsible player would have averted the tragedy. In this particular case, of course, the complicity analysis doesn't stand up to scrutiny very well, since there were no alternate paths; the choices were enabling wholesale murder or simply stopping the story. Still, pulling the player up short in this way offers a wealth of possibilities--we may one day see IF in which that discovery of complicity permits and encourages the player to try again, find a better path. The "unreliable narrator" aspect of Bliss is worth exploring as well. Does it make a difference if the narrator is unreliable to himself as well as to the reader? No, except that the complicity aspect diminishes if the narrator is deliberately deceiving the reader, and complicity can be a valuable feeling (particularly in settings like this, where desensitization is a real issue). To be sure, I may be responsible for violent acts even if I'm told they're all right, and it's still possible for the IF player to feel complicit on the same basis. But Bliss, and perhaps variants thereof that give the player a bit more freedom. pose a starker moral problem, in that the PC had no idea what he was doing and the player failed to intervene to set things right. The technique of setting up an "unreliable narrator", and the fun of experiencing it, endures whether the narrator is deliberately or unwittingly deceiving the reader/player, but the moral shock value is different--and if Bliss doesn't have moral shock value, it's not worth the download time. The ending of Bliss allows for a variety of interpretations--is the house episode a fantasy? A memory? Clearly, it helps explain how the PC got to be where he is, but its placement in the story raises some questions about whether the story itself is reliable. (Being locked in one's room by one's father is just as credible a fantasized version of the asylum as the orcs-dragons-wizards fantasy, after all.) If we're not meant to think that (and the ending explanation about how the child fantasy life led to commitment in the asylum suggests as much), the alternative is rather disturbing: the story as it stands seems to suggest that a fantasy life as a means of escape from an unpleasant or painful childhood can lead directly to, well, the PC in Bliss. (The movie Heavenly Creatures tells a similar, though somewhat more complicated, story.) That seems extreme, on its face--but fantasy life takes such a beating in this game that it's hard to see what else to conclude. Though it may not do what the author set out to do, there's much that is thought-provoking in Bliss, and it deserves a spot somewhere in the hallowed halls of IF theory. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: 9:05 AUTHOR: Adam Cadre E-MAIL: ac SP@G adamcadre.ac DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/905.z5 VERSION: Release 1.00 It's more a joke than a game, really, but Adam Cadre's 9:05 is a pretty good joke--all the more so because the joke's mostly on you, the archetypal IF player, and on your assumptions. The principal joke going on involves the problem of PC identity. Conventional modern-day IF has developed a variety of ways for the player to "discover" who he or she is--someone calls you by your name, you find your name written in some obvious place--that make the identity-assumption process less clunky than would a simple "You're Joe Blow." Old-style IF, by contrast, generally never gave the PC a name or any other indicia of identity at all; there was just a task to do. In 9:05, in most significant ways, you're the latter--you don't have an identity of your own other than "burglar"--but everything the game does is set up to make you think you're happening upon your own identity as you wander around. The game does this rather artfully--you see "a wallet" and "a driver's license" rather than "your" possessions, which is unobtrusive enough that most players don't notice it in the ho-hum house setting. You solve the "puzzle" of figuring out where you work by looking at your ID, so the game doesn't need to actually mislead you by calling the office your workplace. And at the end, there you are, suckered into assuming someone else's identity because you found some objects and assumed they were yours. ("I didn't mean it, officer. I've been playing too much IF.") Similarly, what your character does, or rather has done--commit theft and murder--is quite in tune with classic old-style IF, except that the setting is wrong: you're not in a fantasy or sci-fi setting, where it's "okay" to rob and kill indiscriminately, you're in the suburbs. The mundane apparent premise--get dressed, get to work--also helps set this up, since the expectation engendered by such a promise is that you'll discover a plot somewhere along the way (i.e., something will happen to you to make the story less mundane), and the surprise is that non- mundane things are already going on. (In fact, owing to the knowledge gap between the player and the PC, the player mistakenly directs the PC to assume that mundane rather than highly bizarre and dangerous events are going on.) One amusing parallel to this is that one persistent illogicality in house-setting IF--i.e., the game has to tell the PC all about the details of the house he lives in as if he's seeing them for the first time--is remedied: the surroundings actually are new (well, relatively--you saw them the previous night) to both PC and player. The game doesn't really force you to figure out much about the home or anything else, so it doesn't do as much with this angle as it might have--but it's still an interesting sidelight. (It does take away virtually every intuitive shortcut, however--you have to open doors before going through them--which does convey that you're not used to your environment to some extent.) Likewise, the appraising eye of the PC--you evaluate everything, including the comfort of the living room (limited with no stereo, DVD player, or TV, which are in your trunk, of course) and the neighborhood (too much crime, you say) makes little sense in most IF--who bothers to appraise his everyday surroundings on every viewing?--but plenty of sense here. Beyond all that, though, 9:05 says something interesting about the way most players approach IF: give us a task rather than simply a setting to explore, make the task seem urgent, and we'll spend very little time actually poking around. (When "undo" is available, there's no real reason for not at least looking at what's given.) There are a variety of commands other than LOOK UNDER BED that hint that not all is as it appears: SMELL, for instance, and EXAMINE CLOTHING, and EXAMINE ME certainly indicates that something is up. A more-than-cursory look at the setting in 9:05 should suggest to the player that something's wrong, in other words, and yet it appears that most people, goal-oriented by the initial phone call, didn't catch on until the end. At any rate, in the end, it's a good joke. SUBMISSION POLICY --------------------------------------------------------- SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure games, a.k.a. Interactive Fiction. This includes the classic Infocom games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the primary player-game communication is text based. Authors retain the rights to use their reviews in other contexts. We accept submissions that have been previously published elsewhere, although original reviews are preferred. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!
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