SPAG
ISSUE #20 - March 15, 2000

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     .\  \               | |             | 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.

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