ISSUE #22 - September 15, 2000

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

                         ISSUE # 22

           Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G
                     September 15, 2000

           SPAG Website:

SPAG #22 is copyright (c) 2000 by Paul O'Brian.
Authors of reviews and articles retain the rights to their contributions.

All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine
with the traditional 'at' sign. 

ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------

* Dennis Jerz looks at PICK UP AX, an IF-oriented play by Anthony Clarvoe
* Joe Barlow interviews Scott Adams

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE -----------------------------------------------------

All Alone
Arthur: The Quest For Excalibur
At the Bottom of the Garden
Augmented Fourth
The Cove
Dark Mage
Dragon Resources Stories
For A Change
The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man
Guilty Bastards
Return to Pirate's Island II
The Spatent Obstruction
The Town Dragon
Winchester's Nightmare

Spider & Web


Along about August 15, I was starting to feel mighty nervous. Two months
had passed since the last issue of SPAG was published, and in that time
I had received only two submissions for the next issue: Adrian Chung's
critical analysis of "Spider and Web" for SPAG Specifics, and Nick
Patavalis' take on "For A Change". This paucity of reviews was a new and
worrying trend -- in all previous publishing cycles, I had received
several reviews per month, on a fairly regular basis. Oh sure,
submissions tended to pick up after I made the formal request for them
on the newsgroups, and the week before the deadline was often
submission-heavy, but I never felt before that I needed to *rely* on
those things in order to have a publishable issue of SPAG on my hands.
This time, though, was different. In response, I posted a rather
desperate-sounding plea on the IF newsgroups, begging shamelessly for
reviews and stopping just short of wondering aloud if I was witnessing
the death of SPAG.

I needn't have worried.

The response to my message was truly remarkable. Greatly heartening
numbers of people emailed me with reviews, commitments to review, and
questions about what needs to be reviewed. Francesco Bova took on the
entertaining project of reviewing as many games about dragons as he
possibly could, catching in his sweep Dragonlord, The Town Dragon, and a
couple of entries in the recent Dragon-Comp. Nick Montfort sent me an
interesting review of Dark Mage, an 8K piece of IF written for the Atari
2600 and allowing no more than 12(!) characters per line. Mark Musante
offered up what may be the most thorough, funny, and complete analysis
of an AGT game ("The Spatent Obstruction") ever to appear in SPAG. And
of course, Duncan Stevens came through, as he always seems to, with
lucid and articulate opinions on a wide range of recent IF.

But there was even more! I received reviews from first-time reviewers,
more reviews from veterans, encouragement from subscribers, and, perhaps
most amazing, actual *articles*, completely unsolicited by me but
offered by ambitious writers. SPAG has never been much of a home for IF
articles, not least because for many years XYZZYNews covered that
territory so completely and so well. XYZZYNews has been dormant for a
little while now, but I haven't talked with Eileen about its future, so
it may well be ready to race into action once again. Either way, I'm
open to seeing a few more articles in SPAG, although I'd still like the
zine to remain primarily dedicated to reviews. Certainly this issue's
articles, Dennis Jerz's response to an IF-oriented play and Joe Barlow's
interview with Scott Adams, were wonderful treats to receive, and I'm
proud to include them in SPAG. If you'd like to submit an article,
please query me first before you write it, so that I can tell you
whether there's a place for it in the upcoming issue.

Anyway, far from seeing SPAG wither and die, I feel like I've been
awarded the exceptional privilege of shepherding it through an amazing
period of strength and vitality, and that wouldn't be happening without
the time, energy, and skill of all the writers who continue to submit
their work to SPAG. I'm continually amazed at how much high-quality work
is done by members of the IF community for no compensation whatsoever,
and SPAG reviews are certainly no exception. The most wonderful thing
about it is that everybody benefits from work freely given, and once a
critical mass of such work is achieved, it generates its own positive
feedback loop, encouraging others to volunteer their efforts, and
spurring them to give those efforts a higher and higher level of

The purpose of this editorial, then, is twofold: First, I want to offer
a heartfelt *THANK YOU* to everyone who has contributed to SPAG. This
magazine owes its existence to you, and I personally appreciate your
time and effort very deeply. Second, I'd like to offer some guidance for
those who are interested in contributing to SPAG. One of the biggest
questions I get is which games I want and don't want to see reviewed.
The answer's more complicated than you might think. There *are* certain
things I'll hesitate to accept. Naturally, games that aren't text-based
are "out of scope" for this zine. In addition, I'd rather not have any
more reviews of things that have been reviewed at least three times
already in SPAG. (Luckily, this is only a handful of games -- see the
"Issue" section of the scoreboard for which ones.) And finally, I'd like
to see SPAG retain its healthy mix of attention to the past and the
present. I wouldn't mind having an issue that focused on all current
games (indeed, the annual competition issue fulfills this criterion by
definition), but I'd be wary of putting out an issue that focused solely
on games that were more than 10 years old. However, don't let that stop
you from sending in a review of such a game. Even if for some reason the
entire pile of submissions lurches towards nostalgia, I'll probably just
put them all out in a "special issue" format and call it "SPAG Classic"
or some such. 

Lest I appear too negative, let me hasten to add that outside those two-
and-a-half caveats lies a universe of games. If you're still at sea as
to which game to review, I'll always feature ten games that I'd really
like to see reviewed in the SPAG 10 Most Wanted list. Beyond that, any
and all works of IF are eligible for review, and I'll be delighted to
get well-written, intelligent reviews of even the most forgettable
games. SPAG 23 will be the annual competition issue, so I'll be looking
eagerly for good, thorough reviews of Comp games, and will still happily
accept reviews of non-comp games for SPAG 24. Oh, and reviewers, one
more piece of advice: you don't have to wait until I announce a plea for
reviews on the newsgroups. I'll accept them any old time. 

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR------------------------------------------------------

From: James V. Anderson 

I'm glad to see that the text adventure movement is alive and thriving!

I was an avid fan of both Scott Adams' text adventures and Infocom's in
the 80's--played on my trusty Atari 800xl... I appreciate the service
your community provides.

I have a question: I would like to write my own interactive fiction
titles. What is the best program used to do this? Please send me any
Url's or programs to get me started.

[James, the first place I'd suggest you look is the raif (
fiction) FAQ. It's at That FAQ
will tell you not only about IF creation systems (in Part 4,
"Programming IF"), but also about lots of other nifty things available
on Usenet and the web. --Paul]

NEWS ----------------------------------------------------------------------

Scott Adams, one of the forefathers of text adventuring, has returned to
the form at long last with a new game, "Return to Pirate's Island 2".
Daringly, he's selling it commercially for $19.95. Check his website at for information on the game, blurbs from users,
and lots of other fun Adamsy stuff. Speaking of fun Adamsy stuff, we not
only have a review of RTPI2 in this issue, but Joe Barlow has also
contributed an interview with the man himself!

Scott Adams wasn't the only one putting out original IF over the past
few months. New game releases have been a little less than usual, no
doubt because many authors are working diligently on writing and testing
(I hope) their competition games, but we still saw some noteworthy
   * All Alone by Ian Finley
   * Rematch by Andrew Pontious

Many players, especially those who lived in the UK and Europe during the
80's, wax nostalgic about the classic works of IF produced by Level 9,
games like Knight Orc, Silicon Dreams, and Gnome Ranger. One of the
unique features of Level 9's games was that they often included a
novella-length piece of static fiction to set the mood for the game,
introduce the setting and characters, and add a handy bit of copy
protection. Now Jeremy Alan Smith has gathered all those novellas into
one place, along with several other pieces of game-related static
fiction -- it's the Retro Reading web site at In
addition, the level 9 novellas have been uploaded to GMD and are
available in the directory if-archive/level9/novellas.

Why is it that the sillier the premise of a mini-comp, the more
successful that mini-comp tends to be? Hmmmm... Well, who cares? Let's
play games about toasters! Yes, Mark Musante (who incidentally makes his
debut as a SPAG reviewer in this issue) took it into his head one day to
organize a mini-competition whose central theme was the humble toaster.
The only rule was that the game had to feature a toaster, and that the
toaster "should have a lever on it (to push down the bread) and a slide
or dial to set the toastedness to." From this simple concept arose a
dizzying array of games, all of which are available on the
toaster-comp's home page at, or on GMD at

For those of you who played Mike Roberts' seminal game "Ditch Day
Drifter" and wondered about things like the history of Ditch Day and how
the term "stack" came about, now you can read an essay by Roberts
himself, expounding on that very topic. Neil Cerutti has obligingly made
this essay available to the world at Why not
cut classes one day and read it? 

As always, I'm providing this helpful list for those who really want to
review something, but don't know where to start. Also as always, this
list is arranged alphabetically, not by priority!

1.  Above and Beyond
2.  The Adventures of Helpfulman
3.  Bad Machine
4.  Crobe
5.  Dangerous Curves
6.  Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I
7.  Gateway 2: Homeworld
8.  The Mulldoon Legacy
9.  Toaster-Comp games (any, some, or all!)
10. Westfront PC


It's quite rare that SPAG features articles, but this time around, two
opportunities presented themselves, and they were simply too good to
pass up. The first article is by Dennis Jerz, an Assistant Professor of
English at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire who has an abiding
interest in IF. Dennis sent me this review after reading the script for
PICK UP AX, a play by Anthony Clarvoe that mines the metaphorical
potential of IF as a medium and as a cultural artifact. 

From: Dennis G. Jerz 

PICK UP AX (1990), by Anthony Clarvoe (Broadway Play Publishing, 1991;
70pg; about $8).

PICK UP AX is not interactive fiction at all; it is a three-character
stage play, set in Silicon Valley around 1980, in which the characters
play an "Adventure" clone. Much as Shakespeare might allude to mythology
or appeal to floral symbolism in order to make a point about human
nature, playwright Anthony Clarvoe uses IF as a vehicle to show the
audience who his characters are and what they want out of life.

Those who are familiar with Brenda Laurel or the Oz Project will already
know that theatre and IF share some common ground: both are about what
happens to YOU as you sit in the theatre or type at the keyboard, rather
than what has happened to somebody else (as is the case with narrative
prose). According to Clarvoe, "The action is driven by struggles for
power fought out through language" (ix). 

The play was first produced in San Francisco in 1990, and (according a
blurb on the book) was anthologized in "Burns Mantle Best Plays
1989-90," which suggests that the American Theatre Critics Association
thought highly of it. Shortly afterwards, Clarvoe was
playwright-in-residence at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in
Washington, D.C. I learned of this play a few years ago, when my wife
mentioned that she had seen it at a Dallas-area community theatre around
1990. An Internet search shows that it is still being performed here and
there; go see it if you get the chance. In the best tradition of Harold
Pinter, the dialogue is rich with shifting allegiances, language and
power games, and (pause) tense moments. 

To recreate the feel of 1980, the script calls for a box of 5-1/4" disks
and sound clips from the likes of The Rolling Stones and Led Zepplin.
Fans of such pop-culture treasure chests as MST3K, Pop-up Video, and the
Shatner-as-Shatner comedy Free Enterprise will enjoy the casual
references to Star Trek, Star Wars, Lost in Space, How the Grinch Stole
Christmas, et al. [Not to mention the fact that all three characters are
named after members of the Stones. --Paul] The script calls for only
three characters, but plenty of lighting and sound effects; these
factors would make it an excellent choice for a black-box drama student
project. Overall, PICK UP AX is worth reading (or attending, or
producing) not merely for its IF references, but because it is a
well-written, funny, and thought-provoking treatment of this vanished
era of Silicon Valley history. In the hands of a skilled director and
accomplished actors, a production could be very satisfying.

Explicating the play's two IF scenes will necessitate a few spoilers,
but I shall give away neither the ending nor the major plot twists that
precede it. Keith is a 27-year-old computer nerd who tries to think as
little as possible about the real world. The play opens with Brian, the
same age, but more business-minded, realizing that a critical business
deal is collapsing. Keith, meanwhile, describes a booby-trap that he
sprang on a reckless player during a recent D & D session. Even though
Brian has more serious matters on his mind, he is nonetheless impressed:
"You run a mean dungeon, Keith." Keith's response to the crisis is to
boot up the computer, presumably to work, but in actuality, to immerse
himself in IF:

   (KEITH taps a few keys and waits for a program to boot up.)
   BRIAN: That's my boy. (BRIAN comes around to read over KEITH's
      shoulder.) "You are standing in a forest clearing near a small
      stone cottage...." Keith, you're playing Adventure?
   KEITH: Different game, same idea. It's where I used to get away to
   BRIAN: Exploring an imaginary maze?
   KEITH: Some people pace.
   BRIAN: Okay, whatever breaks you out of the slump. (9)

Brian immediately recognizes what Brian is doing on the screen. He has
obviously had some exposure to "Adventure," since he mentions it by
name. Some quibbles: 1) considering how close these two men are, I find
it a little surprising that Brian doesn't already know the title of his
friend's favorite game -- unless, of course, this is a part of Keith's
life that he has not shared until now; 2) Brian shouldn't have had to
guess what the game was called, since the title would almost certainly
have been printed along with the opening text (although it is certainly
plausible for an IF game to lack the usual title page). From a
theatrical perspective, however, having Keith explain the game to Brian
is a convenient (and necessary) plot device; the playwright wants to
make sure that the audience will understand the nature and purpose of an
IF game.

Brian describes IF as "[e]xploring an imaginary maze," an assessment to
which Keith (and playwright Clarvoe) seems to assent, although plenty of
RAIF netizens will have a problem with that definition. Since Keith is
both a dungeon master and a software genius, it is sensible to wonder
whether he is actually building his own IF game. He might, of course be
exploring his own maze, but the dialogue suggests that he is merely a

The scene continues, with Brian resisting Keith's invitation to try the

   BRIAN: I've hated this past-time since high school.
   KEITH: You'll get it one of these days. Every time they kill you, you
      get right up again. Come on, it's highly educational.
   BRIAN: Educational, if we did business with swords, I'd learn all
      kinds of useful stuff.
   KEITH: Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi, you're my only hope. Help me, Obi-wan
      Kenobi, you're my only hope. Help me, Obi-wan--
   BRIAN: Keith! I'm in a crisis here! Okay. Maybe I haven't made it
      clear. This company, legally, is a person. Right? A character, like
      in Dungeons and Dragons? Out there, other people are fighting our
      character. Hack and slash. They're trying to kill it, and if they do,
      it'll never get up again. . . . If the company dies, you and I and
      your bright ideas go on down to scrapheap town. Now do you see where
      we are?
   KEITH: We are standing in a forest clearing near a small stone
      cottage. (9-10)

The play presents Brian as Keith's protector and father figure, somewhat
like Obi-Wan; yet in the world of games, the situation is reversed:
without Keith's guidance, Brian is powerless -- as we shall see in a
moment. But first, another quibble: PICK UP AX is "an historical play
set in 1980, give or take a year or two" (ix). If Brian is 27 in the
year 1980, he would have been around 20 when Willie Crowther created
Adventure. It is therefore unlikely that Brian could have "hated this
pasttime since high school" -- unless he was in high school at 20, or
unless he is not referring to interactive fiction when he says "this
past-time." He may mean that he dislikes computer games in general, but
elsewhere he describes meeting Keith in an arcade; further, he is a
regular D & D player. In light of these details, Brian's dislike of
interactive fiction seems contrived, although it does give Keith and
Brian a reason to talk about IF. 

   (Pause. BRIAN looks at the screen.)
   BRIAN: "You are standing in a forest clearing near a small stone
      cottage. Suddenly a dwarf carrying a stone ax runs out of the woods.
      He drops the stone ax, opens the cottage door, runs through, and
      slams the door." Okay. Go through door?
   KEITH: You sure you want to do that?
   BRIAN: I hate it when you say that! Leave forest clearing, go to Taco
      Bell? I don't know.
   KEITH: What do you have?
   BRIAN: A clearing, a cottage, a door, a disappeared dwarf.
   KEITH: A stone ax.
   BRIAN: Aha. Pick up stone ax.
   KEITH: It doesn't know "pick up." Try "get."
   BRIAN: You see? Complex, exotic, pathetically limited. "Get stone ax.
      Enter." Okay. "The stone ax says, >Command me, O Master.'" Now we're

Brian may simply be one of those people who doesn't "get" IF; but more
specifically, the scene quoted above shows Brian's frustration with the
parser. We have already seen that Brian is a talker, not a doer -- he
makes telephone calls, stages a press conference, and delivers boardroom
speeches. Recall that Clarvoe described the events depicted in this play
as "struggles for power fought out through language." Brian's dislike of
the computer game suggests that, rather than adapting his methods to fit
the requirements of the system, he resents the system for not responding
to his preferred methods. After Keith manages to direct his attention to
the magic weapon, he seems more enthusiastic; but without the advice of
a human guide, Brian would rather "Leave forest clearing, go to Taco
Bell." (Note: The title of the play, "PICK UP AX" would not be
understood by the parser running Keith's game -- Brian must rephrase his
command because "It doesn't know 'pick up.'")

Keith says that he turns to his adventure game in order to "get away"
from his problems; thus, his suggestion that Brian play the game too may
seem like an effort to cheer up or relax his friend. Nevertheless, the
virtual lesson of the ax in the forest clearing teaches an important
real-world lesson: don't venture into unknown territory unless you are
well armed. Since Brian has already likened the world of corporate
politics to a different kind of game (D & D), the symbolism is clear and

The lights go out immediately after the magical ax offers its services;
when the lights come up again, Mick enters. He knows nothing about
computers, yet he recognizes that executives at all the other companies
-- including those founded by former members of Keith and Brian's D & D
group -- are making under-the-table deals. While Brian sees Mick as
another kind of magical ax, Keith seems to recognize that Mick -- a
survivor and a problem-solver who is skilled at reading and manipulating
his surroundings -- also has all the attributes of a successful
role-playing character. He puts his suspicions to the test:

   KEITH: Well, as long as it's booted up.... Do you know this?
   MICK: (Reading the screen) "You are standing in a forest clearing."
      What is this?
   KEITH: Sort of a game. What would you do?
   MICK. Get the ax, go through the door. So?
   (KEITH looks at MICK)
   (Cue up: Wild Thing)

Whereas Brian uses language to postpone or work around problems, and
thus distracts himself from self-preserving actions (such as getting the
ax in the first place), Mick thinks in precisely the same blunt,
pragmatic, problem-solving terms that the game demands. 

While the second act does not return to IF again, Keith does find two
additional ways to apply to the real world the mastery he has achieved
over the gaming world. One method is the "mood room" -- a corner of
Brian's office, consisting of sensors that measure a person's vital
signs, a computer that translates the vital signs into emotional data,
and a multimedia system that produces an assortment of theatrical
effects (light, sound, fog, etc.) based on the sensory data. In an
earlier scene, Keith had imagined using this system for a high-tech
theme park: "a building full of offices like this, or a labyrinth of
cubicles, all in motion, each with a different character, it would be
like -- think about it -- it could be like Dungeons and Dragons. It could
be this paradise" (13). While Keith desires yet another escapist
fantasy, Brian sees its potential as a consensus builder that could aid
corporate negotiations. Mick is skeptical, since he says he already
knows how to read people's body language and get them to do what he
wants; further, he has a trick of pretending to be enraged in order to
gain power in business negotiations ' a "mood room" would actually cause
him to lose power. Once again, the playwright uses a technological
artifact to illustrate and comment upon power relationships acted out on
the stage.

The second method by which Keith applies the lessons of the gaming world
involves melding his own software genius with Mick's tactics. I won't
say anything further on this subject, because that would give away the
ending. I'll just say that, after reading this play, I now look very
differently at one of the icons on my desktop.


Our second article in this issue is an interview with Scott Adams,
author of games like "Adventureland", "The Count", and the Questprobe
series. Adams is one of the early pioneers of interactive fiction, and
has recently come back to the genre with "Return to Pirate's Island II,"
reviewed in this issue. And in case you're wondering, no, he doesn't
draw "Dilbert."

From: Joe Barlow 

"YOHO" Strikes Again! -- The Second Coming of Scott Adams

[Few interactive fiction authors are as well-known as Scott Adams, the
creator of "Adventureland" and more than a dozen other classic two-word
parser games. During the late-seventies and mid-eighties, the software
charts were dominated by the works of Adams and the company he founded,
Adventure International; unfortunately, the game-buying public's gradual
shift toward action games forced the company to close its doors in 1985.
August 20th marked the release of Adams' "Return to Pirate's Island II,"
his first text adventure in over fifteen years, and Mr. Adams was kind
enough to talk to SPAG about his new game, his many fans, his current
whereabouts, and his thoughts on I.F. in general.]

Q: Hi, Scott. So tell us, what have you been doing since Adventure
International closed up shop?

A: Well, for three years I worked at a company called SDG (Software
Design Group) in Orlando, where I designed a 4gl language for use in the
insurance industry. For the last twelve years I have been working at
Avista, Inc. in Wisconsin as a senior programmer. I mostly create
Windows C++ applications for Fortune 500 firms, but I've also done work
in embedded systems for avionics.

Q: "Return to Pirate's Island II" is the first Scott Adams adventure to
hit the market in over fifteen years, and it's already earning high
praise from many players. What prompted you to create the game, and why
did we have to wait so long for it?

A: The combination of closing a business after eight years, going back
to work as a full-time programmer, and my divorce all helped to abort
any interest I had in being creative. Then I remarried, moved and
settled down, and life didn't look so bad any more! It was time to see
if the creative juices still flowed.

Q: How long did it take you to write the game?   

A: I started working on "RTPI2" around 1995 or so. [There were] a couple
of false starts while I tried to decide whether to build on previous
BASIC source code or do all new work in C++. After starting in C++, and
realizing that it would be a long time before I could actually start
writing the game, I switched to an old code base and started updating
that instead.

Q: Intriguing! Does this mean that "Pirate's II" is actually an aborted
adventure that was recently completed? I was under the impression that
it was a completely new project.

A: I actually meant the engine itself. "RTPI2" is an evolution from a
previous two-word parser game that was released only for the TI-994/A.

Q: Tell us more about the development of the game.

A: "RTPI2" was a part-time project over the years. Finally in 1998 I
took some vacation time and made a major advancement on the game. Then
work and life intervened and the game sat again. In the fall of 1999 I
started putting some serious time in on it. I also started a beta test
group from fans who have written me over the years (many hundreds and
hundreds of emails!). I actually hoped to finish by winter of 1999, but
one of the beta testers, Andrew, opened my eyes to the less than stellar
quality of the text and interface, and, facing the music, I decided to
do it right. This took another 8 months but at least I had something

Q: How did it feel when you were done? Were you wary of releasing a new
game after such a long absence from the adventure scene?

A: I was very nervous. I felt sure it would be bad-mouthed for being an
old out-of-date text adventure game. Then the emails started coming in,
and I felt a great weight lift. People were playing it and enjoying it!
What a wonderful feeling.

Q: Is "RTPI2" a one-shot deal, or will there be additional Scott Adams
text games in the future?

A: If enough fans bug me, I'll do another. Otherwise I'm not sure yet.

Q: You mentioned that you've received "hundreds" of pieces of fan mail
over the years, and that you assembled your beta-testing team from this
pool of correspondents. What has your in-box been like in recent years?

A: I've received an average of 4-5 pieces of fan mail per week since
1995 or so. That's another reason I wrote a new game. So many people
were asking when I was going to do something! Another interesting side
note is the high number of emails I have gotten in the last five years
from people who say they are in the computer field one way or another
because of my games. There are a number of present day (some very well
known!) game designers who have thanked me for my influence on their
career choice!

Q: Do you still get a lot of requests for hints now that you've
generously released your "classic" adventures as freeware?

A: Most of the hint requests I get now are from people who have not
downloaded the classic games hints. "RTPI2" has a built-in hint system,
and so far only one person has written for a hint.

Q: I don't recognize the "RTPI2" software interface. What's it called,
and why did you choose to program the game with this system, rather than
an established platform like Inform, Tads or Hugo?

A: The engine I am using is the SAGA [Scott Adams Grand Adventure]
system, which I developed. There's more info about it on my website
(, in the FAQ section. I used SAGA because I knew it,
and developed it long before TADS and INFORM. I can easily expand/update
it as I need to, which I did in "RTPI2."

Q: You mention on your website that you are considering the possibility
of releasing the SAGA game compiler as shareware. With so many game
systems (Tads, Hugo, Inform, Alan, etc.) already available as freeware,
do you think there is a market for a purchasable game creation engine?
Does SAGA offer programming features that aren't available anywhere

A: It's a totally different style. It's more compact than the 'C' style
languages like Inform. I also think the Scott Adams name does add value
to the product. I do not know whether SAGA will be well received as a
game creation system, and I am not totally sure yet if I'll release it
or not.

Q: There's been much debate on the interactive fiction newsgroups about
whether text adventures will ever be commercially viable again; indeed,
the only modern publisher of commercial interactive fiction, Mike
Berlyn's Cascade Mountain, closed its doors after shipping only two
games. Yet here you are, selling a new adventure on your website. How
are sales? Are they meeting your expectations?

A: The game has only been out for one week at the time of this writing,
and actually they are. But perhaps I simply have low expectations!
 One nice aspect of web publishing is that my overhead and
production costs are cetainly low! Of course, so is my exposure, since I
have no retail shelf space. It is amazing that for a long time the best
selling game in the country was "Deer Hunter" and then later, "Who Wants
to be a Millionaire?" Neither of these really got the average gamer very
excited at all!

Q: Speaking of gamers and excitement, I understand that one of the
projects you were working on at the time of Adventure International's
demise was an "X-Men" game. How far into the development process did you
make it before the plug was pulled?

A: Preliminary design of the game and some playability. It was to be a
very special maze and, once done, the shape of the maze would be part of
the game's final puzzle.

Q: With the recent "X-Men" film (and the nation's subsequent "X-Mania"),
have you considered releasing the unfinished game to the Interactive
Fiction archive, as a historical interest piece?

A: Since I no longer have the license with Marvel, I unfortunately can't
do this.

Q: "X-Men" would have been the fourth installment of your Questprobe
series, a collection of games based on Marvel Comic superheroes like
Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk. How successful were these games in
relation to your other adventures?

A: They were popular. The comic tie-in was good for sales. In general,
though, my other adventures sold more. But this may due to Commodore
taking on the publishing rights of the games and then not following
through at all. They had to pay both Adventure International and Marvel
a large fee because of their failures.

Q: How did the Questprobe series come about in the first place? Was
Marvel's head-honcho Stan Lee a fan of your work? Were you a fan of his?

A: I met Stan only once, though I always enjoyed both Marvel and DC
comics. I thought it really neat to be able to write adventures for
Spidey and the rest. At one point I was receiving every comic Marvel
published, and I read them all. Most of my dealings with Marvel were
with a marvelous fellow by the name of Joe Calamari, who was actually
running things. He was always looking for good tie-ins for Marvel
products. He had a big closet full of tie-in samples that he liked
giving out to people.

Q: Forgive me for bringing this up, but I simply have to know: an
oft-repeated rumor has it that you were something of a workaholic back
in the Adventure International days -- so much so that your wife once
baked all your floppy discs in the oven to force you to slow down! Clear
it up once and for all: is there any truth to this so-called "oven"

A: Alexis, my wife at the time, did hide my disks in an oven and
threatened to burn them unless I stopped programming so much. Like many
programmers, I tend to tackle a problem and not want to let go of it
until it is solved! One idea was to let her try and write a game with
me. The result was "Voodoo Castle." Many of the elements in that game
came from her, though I actually wrote it.

Q: What's your procedure for designing a game? Do you have everything
mapped out in advance, or do you make it up as you go along?

A: I first pick a theme. I then put in locations and items that fit the
theme. I then start making puzzles with the items or locations I have. I
also like to let others play-test my game and see how they react in the
environments I create, and whether the game can handle things that they
may want to do. I include a few "signature" type things, too. One
example is that you can almost always dig somewhere in my game and find
something. I also want my games to always be G-rated, with no violence
or profanity. I have had many parents tell me they appreciate a game the
whole family can play together. I try really hard to make my puzzles
logical and self consistent.

Q: Do you enjoy playing text adventures now? Are there any contemporary
I-F games or writers you particularly like?

A: I actually haven't played any text adventures since Zork. I am always
afraid of accidentally copying puzzles or ideas.

Q: One final question: you're widely considered to be one of the
founding fathers -- or at least a "popularizer" -- of text adventures,
as yours were some of the first on the market; indeed, Adventure
International was, according to some reports, the industry's first major
computer game publisher. Does it surprise you to learn that these games
are still so popular today?

A: People haven't changed much in that time. Readers still enjoy the
works of Mark Twain, and he wrote over 100 years ago. No, I'm not really
surprised that people can still enjoy my games.

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

Consider the following review header:

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

When submitting reviews:  Try to fill in as much of this info as you can.
If you choose, you may also provide scores for the games you review, as 
explained in the SPAG FAQ. The scores will be used in the ratings 
section.  Authors may not rate or review their own games.

More elaborate descriptions of the rating and scoring systems may be found
in the FAQ and in issue #9 of SPAG, which should be available at:
 and at

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

From: Alex Freeman 

Name: Adventure
Author: Willie Crowther
E-Mail: I don't know
Date: Mid 1970s
Parser: Two-word
Supports: A lot
Availability: Free
Version: Original 350 pts

Adventure is the first adventure game ever. This was played on
mainframes actually. I remember how my uncle would tell how he used to
work on a mainframe with other people, and the only game available to
them was Adventure. Its output was printed on paper rather than on a
screen. They were never able to beat it, though.

I got this game from a friend, and I was really excited about it because
of what my uncle had told me. I got hooked quickly. I would keep on
playing this game and making rapid progress. The only two reasons why I
didn't get to the last puzzle in one sitting are probably because I was
forced off the game by mother a few times and because of the two mazes
in the game. Back then, I wasn't as good at finding my way around mazes
with twisty passages as I am now.

Not surprisingly, the game is pretty simple in some ways. For instance,
the two-word parser. Another is that the characters are really simple
and have basically no personality. Howver, this is not really a
complaint. These two things don't need to be any more complicated than
they are for the game.

As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed this game. The nice thing
about it is that most of the puzzles are logical and not too easy or too
difficult. One of my favorite ones is the one where you have to figure
out how to bring into this dark room. I thought was a really clever
puzzle because you have to use cleverness to do it.

However, there were about two exceptions to this rule. Figuring out how
to get in the cave was pretty easy, and the very last puzzle was
definitely too difficult. [Further comments removed due to spoilers.

Another complaint I have about this game is the random fighting that you
do with the dwarfs. After one of them throws an axe at you and misses,
you're supposed to pick it up and throw at dwarfs when they appear and
start throwing knives at you. Whether you hit them and whether they hit
you is just chance. This simply gets in the way of the game. I think it
would have been better if you had to get rid of those particular dwarfs
by solving puzzles. Of course, the very last puzzle gets rid of all of
them but still.

Another one is that when you die, you don't just die; you can get
reincarnated into a different body and get another. I think it would
have been better to have taken this feature out so as to make the game a
little more realistic and to make players more cautious by saving their

Overall, this is a great game. I recommend it to everyone who is
interested in adventure games. It is interesting to compare this game to
more recent adventure games to see how much things have changed since
then. For instance, in Adventure, you can only look at rooms; you can't
look at objects. In most adventure games written since then, you can do

My points for the game are this:
Atmosphere: 1.7
Gameplay:   1
Writing:    1.2
Plot:       1.1
Fantasy:    1.5 
Total:      6.5

Characters: 0
Puzzles:    1.8


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: All Alone
AUTHOR: Ian Finley
E-MAIL: domokov SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: First release

Ian Finley's IF output has been varied thus far: Babel, his 1997
competition entry, was science fiction of a distinctly dark shade, and
Exhibition, from the 1999 competition, was a puzzleless exploration of
an artist's works through the eyes of four different viewers. All Alone,
his latest effort, has echoes of both: like Babel, it's highly
atmospheric (and dark), and like Exhibition, there are no real puzzles
as such. But this one is from the realm of horror/suspense--the author
calls it "play-in-the-dark-ware" and says that "it MUST be played at
night, in a quiet room, with the lights off"--and to the extent it works
(which, for the most part, it does), it works on a different level.

The plot, by initial appearances, is conventional stalker horror: you're
waiting for your husband to come home, listening to the TV announcer
talk about the serial killer who's on the loose, but then, of course,
the power goes out, and you start hearing noises. The tension builds
nicely, with all the requisite horror touches--a storm raging outside, a
strange phone call, etc.; in fact, the only problem with the plot is
that it doesn't do much that could be considered surprising (with the
possible exception of a cockroach crawling over your foot at a key
moment). The point, it seems safe to say, is to create an atmospheric
game, not to experiment with the genre, but it's also true that the
trajectory is familiar.

On the other hand, All Alone does do one thing that's interesting: it
leaves several details of the plot so murky that you probably won't
catch on the first time through, and you may not even pick up on them
after that. Of course, horror/suspense plots require some degree of
murkiness about what precisely is going on, but usually there's a moment
where Everything Becomes Clear; here, there's no such moment. As such,
the ending of the game may leave you a bit flatfooted, especially since
the game sort of skips directly from the climax to the ending: the
tension builds, the moment arrives, and suddenly it's over, with the
details almost as obscure as they were during the buildup. It's an odd
strategic choice, really--perhaps the author means to encourage replay
to figure out the fuzzier bits, but horror loses a lot on the replay.
Whatever the rationale, it moves the game out of the realm of familiar
stalker horror into something more unusual.

There are no puzzles in All Alone, as noted. You experience the story
differently if you react to the various stimuli in different ways, but
only marginally so, and you can't actually change the course of the
story (at least, as far as I can tell). The author calls it a "mood
piece," and that's how it works: your inability to affect what goes on
actually enhances the mood, since it enhances the feeling of being the
prey. In that respect, it's a good illustration of how interactivity and
player involvement can be achieved without the aid of puzzles: true,
this sort of story doesn't have to be very interactive to keep the
player's interest, but the author does tell it well.

All Alone is a short but well put together effort that adapts the horror
genre to IF nicely, with some unusual elements. Give it a try if you
have a spare 10 minutes late at night.


From: Walter Sandsquish 

NAME: Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur  
AUTHOR: Bob Bates   
DATE: 1989 
PARSER: Infocom Advanced
SUPPORT: Z-Machine 
AVAILABILITY: Secondhand Retail/Auction (Out of Print)
URL: Possibly
VERSION: Release 74

Remember Floyd from "Planetfall?" Remember his wonderfully naive
personality? Remember his charmingly childish antics? Wasn't he sooo


Remember ... uh, remember ... 

Okay, so text-adventure games aren't usually populated with memorable
characters. Actually, they usually aren't populated with characters at
all. Sure, a typical Infocom mystery would have a half-dozen people
sitting around, staring at the walls, waiting for you, the hero, to come
show them something or other. But generally, interactive fiction doesn't
have much in the way of interactive characters. 

That's what makes "Arthur" so special. Despite the fact that it's set in
the wilderness, it is teeming with characters. No. It's teeming with
people. Yes, the people are stereotypes, but this is "Arthur," and
what's a legend without stereo-- I mean, archetypes? Bob Bates quickly
and cleverly etches the kind, but stern, Merlin with just a shade of
menace; each of the variously-colored knights that stand in Arthur's way
has a distinctive personality (my favorite is the Blue Knight, who must
have just wandered over the hill from the filming of Monty Python's
"Holy Grail"); and the evil King Lot is, well... evil. The protagonist
is, as usual, missing, but "Arthur" sports another dozen delightful
personalities that I won't spoil for you. I will, however, tell you that
Mr. Bates found room to pay homage to that first memorable IF character,

"Arthur" is a clever synthesis of a few of the earlier, usually
neglected, legends surrounding Arthur's youth. Arthur must prove to
Merlin that he is ready to accept the responsibilities of a monarch.
Empowered by Merlin's ability to transform himself into different
animals, he slithers, burrows and flies through the wilderness
surrounding Glastonbury. The amount of research that went into this game
is remarkable. You probably won't find a more thorough, yet concise,
Arthurian bibliography than the one found in the "notes" section of the

If the characters and setting are distinctively Arthurian, the puzzles
definitely belong to Infocom. There is nothing mind-breaking here, but
the whole range of Infocom's stumpers was shoveled into this game.
There's a maze (it's mappable), a cryptogram, a riddle, some pattern
recognition, cartoon-logic (read those descriptions carefully) and a lot
of commonsense puzzles. Bob Bates gives us a refreshing change of pace
by forcing the player to think in terms of several animals to resolve
more than a few conflicts. Of course, you'll have to read the
documentation to figure out a couple of the puzzles, but, as usual,
Infocom makes that a pleasure. 

"Arthur's" biggest weakness lies in its structure. After following
Merlin's lead, the player could find himself wandering aimlessly through
more than half of this sizable game. It's a problem that could have been
easily fixed, and, as a matter of fact, I'll take care of it right now.
After you deal with the injustice Merlin mentions, walk as far southeast
as you can. Listen to what the nice man in red says, and try to be

If structure was "Arthur's" weakest point, then one of its stronger
points was parsing. I kept having to remind myself that I could, and
sometimes had to, use phrasing that most text games would choke on. 

No one, however, should choke on Bob Bates' prose. At times, it reflects
Infocom's tendency to pepper language with a distracting number of
adjectives, but, for the most part, "Arthur" is clear, direct, and
charming. It's a shame that Bates couldn't finish his last couple of
projects for Infocom before he had to move on. 

"Arthur," written in 1989, strongly refutes the argument that Infocom
had lost its way the last couple of years before it was reorganized.
This game definitely belongs in the top quarter of Infocom's graduating
class. It is a "graphic" adventure, but here, graphic means illustrated,
and text-only diehards will be happy to know that they won't need the
illustrations to finish the game and can turn them off if they want. 

But everyone should take a look at the dragon. 


From: Francesco Bova 

NAME: At The Bottom of The Garden
AUTHOR: Adam Biltcliffe
EMAIL: abiltcliffe SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters
URL: included in the zipped archive at
VERSION: Release 1

With a fairly solid structure, a simple premise, and some nice
atmosphere, At The Bottom Of The Garden was probably the 2000 Dragoncomp
game with the most substance. 

You retire to your garden to find 8 pint-sized dragons descending on
your wife's prized rosebush, with a group of people called "the
ancients" (an inside, dragon-related reference I'm not aware of,
perhaps?) set to arrive in 15 minutes to look at your wife's
horticultural marvels. You have to get rid of the dragons before "the
ancients" arrive, as the drakes seem to have a passion for sitting on
your wife's lovely rosebush and their combined weight will eventually
destroy it. 

The time limit is pretty tight (maybe 30 moves or so), so winning the
first time around is quite difficult. In fact, after playing through it
once I was concerned that the game wouldn't give me enough time to
eliminate all 8 dragons. Only after winning did I realize that you had
to kill a number less than 8 to effectively win the game. This ended up
being a little frustrating as I technically would have won a few times
but ended up restoring previous saved games just before my time limit
expired, thinking that I hadn't done enough to accomplish my goals.
The game's few puzzles are nothing special although solid and logical.
Experimenting with scenery and objects is a must and the only real
drawback is finding that there are no alternate solutions to the few
puzzles that there are. I think a few alternates could have been
implemented with little difficulty as there are some parts of the garden
that are richly described but have no apparent effect on the outcome of
the game. That's not to say that every item that's described has to be
relevant to the game somehow, but I found myself pursuing a more
abstract logic when it came to puzzling out the answers because of that
richness. You can't dispose of a dragon the same way twice (something
about the dragons not falling for it again), even though the dragons
appear progressively throughout the game, and therefore technically,
some of them never fell for it in the first place (I know, I know, I'm
being anal). 

The writing is good with little historical descriptions about the
garden's contents, such as this one:

   >examine tree
   Goodness only knows how old this tree is. Suffice it to say that the
   passing of time has transformed it into a broad dark knot of twisted
   wood, topped by a huge crown of leaves high above. One particularly
   noticeable twisted branch sticks out from it about five feet from the

and although all the dragons' descriptions are the same with the
exception of their color, their respective colors (i.e., blue, red,
white) are given adjectives that describe the breath weapon their
Dungeons & Dragons equivalents would employ (i.e., electric blue, fiery
red, cold white), and I thought that was kind of neat.

The only other quibble I guess is that you have to kill the dragons to
get rid of them, and considering they're all described as "wearing an
expression of endearing stupidity", and considering they have the damage
potential of an 8-inch Zippo lighter, obliterating the little guys seems
like... well... overkill. This is especially true, as the ending
suggests some sort of harmony between human- and dragonkind.

I've always got low expectations when it comes time to play these
mini-comps and this game at least exceeded those moderate expectations.
If you have 10 minutes to kill you may want to give this one a try


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Augmented Fourth
AUTHOR: Brian Uri
E-MAIL: llamaboy SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

The IF archive is full of first-time efforts at authorship, many of them
rather inglorious, so prospective players might not necessarily seize on
Augmented Fourth, written by newcomer Brian Uri. Those who pass it by
are missing out, though: this is one of the most imaginative and most
polished games produced in quite some time, and it's a first effort in
name only: the technical aspect is nearly flawless, and the story is
remarkably well put together.

It seems you're a below-average trumpeter who has been unfortunate
enough to incur the wrath of your obnoxious (and astonishingly stupid)
king, and the game opens with you being tossed into a pit. As with
everything else in Augmented Fourth, however, even this unusual premise
is crafted in ways you might not expect: you spend five moves simply
falling into the pit, trying to grab onto things as you fall (and
failing), and listening to the banter of a couple of nasty guards whose
stupidity rivals the king's. Lest you think that all this heralds a
conventional hero-struggles-against-injustice story, the author plays
virtually everything in this scene for laughs, such as the guard's
reading of your sentence: "This I hereby put to paper as my word is the
law when the law is my word, when it is heard. Indeed. Thus I spake. Er,
spoke. Alright, scribe, stop your dictating now." You eventually find an
abandoned underground settlement of sorts, and meet one of its denizens,
and the story that follows is consistently and entertainingly whimsical.

Humor in IF is difficult to do well, since the author has so little
control over how the player approaches the story, and the lack of
control over the course of the story often means that the timing of your
otherwise hilarious jokes may be ruined by no fault of your own. (And
things like funny room descriptions aren't enough, since few
descriptions are funny on the hundredth reading.) Accordingly, the best
humorous IF relies on absurdity and fourth-wall humor rather than jokes
as such, and Augmented Fourth fits that category: the funniest bits rely
on the reliable trope of the Ridiculously Stupid Adversary, and the
world you end up discovering is replete with cartoonish humor. The
humor, in other words, has technically been done before, and yet it
works: this author has an unerring ear for comic style, whether in the
form of simple absurdity or barbed IF reference. (From the opening
scene, when you're in the pit: one of the guards shouts, "It must get
pretty tedious explorin' a room with no exits in any of the four
cardinal directions but it wouldn't be much of a prison otherwise, eh?")

The development of the plot, while competent, isn't quite as good as the
writing; once you get past the intro and reach the main body of the
game, you're essentially given a lot of puzzles to solve and an eventual
goal to attain, and while it's a safe bet for experienced IF players
that solving the puzzles will lead to reaching the goal, there's nothing
to make the connection as such. To be sure, Augmented Fourth has a lot
of company in that respect--not many games really integrate plot and
puzzles more thoroughly than giving you an overall objective and perhaps
an initial nudge--but it's still worth noting for those who crave a real
melding of the narrative and the crossword. On the other hand, there's
plenty of story that underlies the puzzles--i.e., the solutions to most
of the puzzles rely at least in part on information specific to the
game, so you won't get far without taking the time to read and
understand the backstory. That reduces the sense that the game was an
excuse for the puzzles, since the puzzles are specific to that game and
wouldn't make sense in any other context. In short, while the progress
of the plot isn't really related to the puzzles, the details of the
story are, which certainly beats total independence of the two elements.

Augmented Fourth does incorporate a device to reduce the sense that
you've left the domain of plot and entered the realm of puzzles:
periodically (in fact, at key points after you solve certain puzzles),
you're shown cut scenes featuring the obnoxious king. The scenes are
significant in several respects: they explain the premise of the game
and give a basis for several important aspects of the setting, they
develop the king's character (always worth a laugh), and they give your
quest some context. To explain in detail would spoil the game, but
suffice it to say that the cut-scenes turn your overall objective from
saving your own skin to something more generally beneficial. It doesn't
affect the puzzle-solving, but it does make the game feel more fleshed
out. It's worth noting because, as most IFers know, giving a PC a set of
motivations that explain every puzzle isn't easy; the cut-scene
approach, which gives the PC's actions a temporal context (i.e.,
"meanwhile.") and, to some extent, an apparent link to other things that
are going on. Technically, I suppose, it's not a perfect substitute, but
it does create the illusion of involvement in the plot (as opposed to
solving unrelated puzzles). At any rate, even if you don't buy the
illusion, the cut-scenes are hilarious, which is a more than adequate
justification for their presence.

The puzzles themselves are creative, on the whole, and they revive
something akin to Infocom's spellcasting system, with a few inventive
(and amusing) twists. Chief among the benefits of this is the
possibility of trying out your spells on various objects in various
contexts, with accompanying potential for humor, and I'm pleased to
report that the author left very few stones unturned in that respect.
Moreover, not all the puzzles depend on the spells (nor do they apply
the spells in straightforward ways), so solving puzzles isn't simply a
matter of leafing through the spells to figure out which one applies,
which sometimes happened in the Enchanter series. Some of the puzzles
involve rather obscure intuitive leaps, and one relies on information
that an NPC provides only randomly (meaning that you may not hear the
relevant bit unless you wait around for a while), but on the whole
they're both challenging and reasonably fair (and the author has
uploaded a walkthrough to GMD). It's also nearly impossible to make the
game unwinnable (though there are plenty of deaths)--the game goes out
of its way to replenish finite resources and provide multiple
opportunities to solve puzzles.

Augmented Fourth doesn't transcend the limitations of the form or
subvert the player's expectations in any fundamental way. Still, it's
one of the best-written and best-programmed efforts to be released this
year, and it's a good example of what you get when an author really goes
overboard in providing funny responses for obscure actions and filling
out the backstory. It's a polished, intelligent work that deserves your


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: The Cove
AUTHOR: Kathleen M. Fischer
E-MAIL: mfischer5 SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters
VERSION: Release 3

The growing trend away from puzzle-based IF toward--well, toward
non-puzzle-based IF, which has taken a variety of forms--has meant that
an author's ability to convey a scene has become more important. IF fans
have always put a premium on good writing, of course, but in the era of
puzzle IF the point was generally to set the scene and get out of the
way; the writing in many canonical IF games--Zork I and Planetfall, for
instance--was distinctly on the terse side. Now, when simulation is more
prized, writing that does more than convey the basic relevant
information is needed, and Kathleen Fischer's The Cove, an example of IF
whose setting is the raison d'etre rather than an excuse for some
puzzles, nicely illustrates the importance of effective writing.

The Cove won Best Landscape in Marnie Parker's Art Show in the spring of
2000, and the landscape really does take center stage: there are only a
few locations, but all of them are packed with things to experience. In
fact, your score increases not with problems solved, but with things
seen (or heard, or smelled, or felt), though exactly which ones give you
a point and which don't feels rather arbitrary. Interestingly, much of
the interaction is purely sensory--there aren't many objects to
manipulate, and you can't really affect your surroundings much, though
you can certainly be affected by them. The scene itself--a seaside
cliff, a beach, a cave--is familiar, but there are enough unexpected
elements--a sea lion, an otter, tidal pools--to make it feel fresh, and
the game oozes attention to detail. An example:

   Long ribbons of seaweed strewn across the shore mark the leading edge
   of the surf at a quarter of the way up the beach. Additional clumps,
   dried and full of sand, lie tangled amongst the rocks at the base of
   the cliffs -- a warning of the sea's intentions.

   >examine clumps
   Ripped from their holdfasts during heavy seas, the long strands of
   seaweed are pushed along by wind and tides until they are at last
   flung up upon the shore. There they form tangled mophead heaps, a
   haven for the small flies, crabs, and the like who feed upon the
   decaying fronds.

Seaweed you might expect in a beach scene, but not every game would
think to point out what sorts of things eat the seaweed. (Okay, flies
don't really eat the seaweed as such, but that's a minor detail.)
Likewise, the note that the placement of the seaweed indicates the
high-water mark is an effective detail, even if the "warning" is a touch
more obvious than it needs to be. Again, it's not the sort of thing that
rewards extensive poking and prodding--there's nothing you can actually
do with the seaweed. The point is to appreciate the details and recreate
the scene in your imagination, and the game does a good job of giving
your imagination plenty to work with.

The writing, likewise, is quite good. There are some misspellings and
mechanical errors that prove a little distracting--arguably more so than
in your average game, because the descriptions aren't here to be
skimmed, as they sometimes are. But there are also lots of effective and
well-placed images--the "tangled mophead heaps" of seaweed above are one
example, as is this: "A long legged plover chases after the waves,
pecking at the sand as it goes." The scene is littered with small but
vivid details--the cliffs are described as "fractured granite," for
instance--and the author takes care to use verbs rather than adjectives
whenever possible, usually a sign of better-than-average writing.
(Example: "The leading edge of the storm clouds reaches the cove,
blotting out the sun.") The verbs are often passive, muting their
effectiveness somewhat, but it's a minor sin.

Unfortunately, the landscape isn't the only thing here; there's a plot
of sorts involving a dead lover and a pressured marriage and such that
owes much to cliché and adds very little to the game. One of the verbs
that you're encouraged to use is REMEMBER, which tells you the emotional
significance of this location or that sensation in rather, well,
heavy-handed ways. It's not a great choice, on the whole, simply because
it's not easy to identify with someone else and take on her memories
when you've only been in that character's shoes for a few minutes--and
the game is short enough that you can't really put in any more time than
that. It's not impossible, of course, that the landscape element of the
game would be enriched by a story that goes with it, but the nature of
this particular story, and the clichés underlying it, make it difficult
for it to work as planned. Part of the problem is that the author's
skills appear to lie more in sensory description than in conveying your
emotions--at least, the former is more effective; perhaps, had the
author given us an actual flashback that would permit us to experience
the relevant past events for ourselves, we would feel them a little more
keenly. As it is, when the focus turns from the present to the past, the
player tends to feel a bit shut out. It's for this reason that the
ending of The Cove--which has more to do with the plot than with the
landscape-isn't quite as involving as what's come before. It says
something about the current state of IF, I suppose, that the author felt
compelled to add the plot elements rather than merely providing a
landscape to explore-there's not really much precedent for IF that's
both plotless and puzzleless. But there's no inherent reason, to my
mind, why such a thing can't work.

At any rate, The Cove does demonstrate the potential of "art show"
IF--the landscape aspect makes for an absorbing IF experience, well
worth the download. That the story doesn't add much illustrates, in a
backhanded way, the potential of the form.


From: Nick Patavalis 

NAME: Curses
AUTHOR: Graham Nelson
EMAIL: graham SP@G 
DATE: 1993
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code v5 (Infocom/Inform) interpreters

A couple of days ago I solved Graham Nelson's Curses. Before this, my
recent Interactive Fiction experiences were with small and mostly
"experimental" games like "For a Change", "Shrapnel", "Hunter, in
Darkness", "9:05", etc. I was worried that next to these games Curses
would seem somewhat archaic and dusty or even superficial. (Something
like jumping directly from reading Joyce to reading Homer)

Early in the game my worries seemed to materialize: I am asked to play
the role of an English gentleman (an aristocrat, as will shortly become
evident) looking for a map in my mansion's attics. Not a special map,
not a secret map, not a treasure map; just an ordinary tourist map of
Paris. Why am I, the player/character hybrid, then going through all
this trouble? Aren't there any traveler's bookstores open nearby? It's a
Thursday in June 1993 after all! OK, exploring the attics, browsing
through all these forgotten objects of the past brings back memories,
but does this justify plotting against my aunt Jemima just to steal her
gardening gloves? Where is my sense of proportion? Why am I putting
myself in danger going up and down the cellars in rusty old elevators?
Why is it so big a problem to find a fresh battery? Why, after all, am I
playing this game?

But I did keep playing the game.

And before I realized it I was seriously hooked: I started drawing maps,
taking detailed notes, reading carefully, line by line, word by word,
the biographies of the members of the Meldrew family. I even restarted
the game several times, not because I got stuck in a puzzle, but because
I wanted to reread the text to make sure that there was no detail I had
missed the first times through. Slowly and masterfully, Nelson starts
unwinding a strange story, taking you back and forth in time and
speaking about supernatural phenomena, about magic, about ancient
curses, about greek mythology and decay. It does so in such a beautiful
way, always keeping the game open and making the player the center of
the game-world, so that it is the player who writes the story; it is he
who synchronizes the unbelievable chain of events. The writer has
created a beautiful universe, has defined its rules, has filled it with
treasures and miracles and invited you to come and explore it. He
doesn't drag you by the nose with a linear plot. He doesn't even confine
you in the bodycast of a strongly characterized alter-ego. This is not a
novel. This is not a movie, nor a painting: it is an Adventure Game!
Nelson shows this clearly from the very first moment by making the early
puzzles so obviously distanced from the story: There's no doubt about
it, you've turned on your computer to play and Adventure Game. Either
enjoy it or switch it off and do something else.

As the game evolves, the puzzles get more and more woven into the story,
up to the point where they actually become part of it. Solving the
puzzle becomes part of the plot. Overcoming the obstacle carefully
planted by the ingenious author becomes integral part of the
exploration. It is one of the few games where the puzzles and riddles
actually enhance the atmosphere and enrich the dramatic content of the
narative than threaten it. Even the hint-system is nicely embedded in
the game-world. Ocasionally, though, one will find the author devilishly
smiling between the lines as he playfully puts the most impossible
object (like, for instance, a beach-ball) in the most improbable place!

There are some difficult puzzles here, puzzles that will trouble even
the most experienced adventurer. Almost all of them, though, are logical
and staged in such a way that the player will receive enough hinting.
Curses is not a game to be solved in a couple of hours. It is a game to
be enjoyed for weeks. It is a game to create obsessions. If you are of
the type of player that has a walkthrough by your side as you play, then
perhaps Curses is not for you. Running through the scenes of the story,
instead of slowly and carefully exploring, will I fear ruin the effect.
In this game you must stumble, you must retreat, you must visit every
place several times, read the text carefully, read it again, look for
hints everywhere, become suspicious. This intricate little world is for
the explorer, not the tourist!

To cut a long story... long, the more I played the game the more I
enjoyed it. It had "become a matter of pride now not to give up", to
solve it without resorting to hints or walkthroughs. It wouldn't be
untrue to say that the month I spent with Curses included maybe the most
exciting adventuring moments I had since I first played Zork back in

Curses is a classic, and it must be treated as such. Nelson has studied
the great Interactive Fiction tradition from as far back as "ADVENT" and
collected the elements that define the medium. He then blended and used
them in a skillful way to create a masterpiece. Curses is not
experimental. Curses is conclusional. It does not try to explore the
vague borders of the medium; it stays well behind the trenches, ploughs
the rich soil and collects the harvest that feeds the experimentalists'
armies. Experimentation without games like Curses is sterile. If works
like "Shrapnel" and "So Far" expand Interactive Fiction (and they do),
then games like Curses prove it.

I would like to close this review using a quote that appears on the
first page of Nelson's essay on if-authoring:

   Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful
   objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill
   gives us modern art.
         -- Tom Stoppard, Artist Descending A Staircase

If there is something you cannot blame Nelson about, it is lack of
skill. If there is something you cannot blame Curses about, it is lack
of importance. The rest is ALSO a matter of personal taste!


From: Nick Montfort 

NAME: Dark Mage
AUTHOR: Greg Troutman
EMAIL: unknown
DATE: 1997
PARSER: N/A - written in assembly
SUPPORTS: Atari 2600
AVAILABILITY: Software is freeware. Cartridge for sale for $25.

Dark Mage is a unique work. Using bank-switching to achieve the needed
resolution, it is a complete implementation of an original text
adventure within an 8k Atari 2600 program. The creator has gone on to
release a graphical Atari 2600 game, This Planet Sucks. When I tried
Dark Mage a few years ago using an emulator, the emulated display was
the thing that sucked. It was so nauseatingly flickering that even those
with a strong stomach for fuzzy, flickering text would have trouble.

For those who wish to play Dark Mage, I strongly recommend using an
actual Atari 2600. It can be played using the Starpath Supercharger, a
device which fits in the cartridge slot and can be loaded with new games
via a 1/8" audio jack. (The Supercharger originally was used to load
games from cassette tapes.) Sound files in .wav format are available
from non-IF-Archive sources online, ready for use with the Supercharger.
Also online are the .bin ROM image and (again, at other sites) the
source code for an early 4k version of the game. The other way to play
Dark Mage on the 2600 itself is to purchase a cartridge for $25, from
Hozer Video Games. [ --Paul]

Any screen of text displayed in Dark Mage, either responding to actions
or to describing an area, can have at most nine lines. Each line can be
at most twelve characters wide. Before the first room description
appears, there is a four-screen introductory sequence:








Then the player is greeted with:


There are few possibilities at this point. The rubber-coated black
joystick can be manipulated to indicate a direction or (if left in the
center) "LOOK" for a longer description. After LOOKing, there are an
additional few actions possible: GO (returning to the directional
options), TAKE, GIVE, USE, TALK, INVENTORY. TALK is not transitive, and
neither is TAKE. GIVE and USE allow the player to choose objects from
inventory. Often the actions are not productive or fun, and when they
succeed it is often in an unexpected way. This unexpected success of
commands can sometimes frustrate, but it works to the advantage of Dark
Mage at times. In one memorable case, a very funny Hitchhiker's Guide to
the Galaxy reference unexpectedly appears.

The final solution to the game is a good one, appropriate to the jester
protagonist. Even with screens smaller than a haiku, Dark Mage shows
that it is possible to create puzzles that work with the accompanying
story elements and reinforce the overall tone of the work.

Having contemplated doing IF works for the GameBoy, a powerful platform
by comparison, Dark Mage was of special interest. The game did reveal
that (aside from the technological strong-man freak-show value of an
endeavor like this) there are at least a few pleasures to be had in an
extremely spare form. These stemmed mostly from the unusual replies,
with less thrill provided by puzzle-solving. In many places, the
quickest path through solution space may be the exhaustive search
approach: simply doing everything in every location to try to advance.
The occasionally witty subversion of my action into something wacky
provided a good moment here and there, but it was not enough to make
Dark Mage a really fun experience overall. It remains of interest as a
retrocomputing curiosity -- and, to some extent, as a way to learn about
the essence of IF by looking to the least ornamented, most simple


From: Francesco Bova 

NAME: Dragon Resources Stories
AUTHOR: Peter Berman
EMAIL: pbmath SP@G
DATE: 2000
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
     or included in the zipped archive at

Did you know that an interviewer makes something like ten judgments
about you in the first five seconds of an interview? It's probably not
surprising to find that interviewers make judgments on lots of
potentially obvious things like your age, cultural background and
gender. What is surprising, is that they also make judgments on things
like your morals and the income that you made in your previous job.
These assumptions can often lead to one of two things happening (unless
you find an extraordinarily objective interviewer): a halo effect or a
halo error. A halo effect happens when you've made a favorable
impression on an interviewer and he grades your answers in a more
positive light. A halo error is just the opposite and occurs when a poor
impression is made and those same answers are graded on a harsher scale.
Suffice it to say that impressing an employer during an interview has
far less to do with your knowledge than it does with your personal
presentation style, charisma, and luck (no one wants to be interviewed,
let's say, by a person who's wife left him that morning). 

As a result, interviews are one of the worst indicators of future job
performance. Interestingly enough, interviews don't make for
particularly riveting interactive fiction either.

Dragon Resources Stories (DRS) is a spoof on the last place finisher of
the 1998 comp Human Resources Stories (HRS), which was essentially a
multiple choice style interview that gave you a grading and salary scale
based on the answers you chose. As interactive fiction, HRS rated
poorly, and that's to be expected. As a simulation of an interview
however, it also rated poorly, because we never get to see any of the
reactions from the interviewer. Interviews are all about two-way
communication and it's just as important for an interviewee to be
knowledgeable and well prepared as it is for her to be astute enough to
read the interviewer's verbal and non-verbal signals, and adjust her own
communication style accordingly.

DRS takes HRS one step further with a very active interviewer that gives
you some verbal and non-verbal feedback after each of your answers,
thereby letting you know if you're on the right track or not. To make
the premise even more interesting, you're an aging dragon looking for
work. The interview contains some direct competency based questions such

   "So, as a dragon, do you use GOTO?"

Some behavioral questions:

   "You're about to eat a virgin when it begs for mercy, promising aid
   from a powerful family member. What do you do?"

And some nonsensical ones:

   "Do you think this feather in my helmet makes me look less

The interviewer's responses to your answers, although often exaggerated
to implausible extremes, illustrate just how important it is to create
that halo effect. There's everything, from some subtle non-verbal
feedback like the interviewer perking up "slightly but perceptibly", to
full blown rambles about how your answers remind him of how much he
loves his daughter, to the interviewer criticizing you for contradicting
something in your resume. The astute interviewee will pick up quickly on
the interviewer's preferences after playing once or twice and should be
able to achieve an optimal score (an A-rating on both the leadership and
technical scale).

DRS doesn't finish with the interview, however. It smartly takes the job
screening process one step further for those interviewees lucky enough
to make that good first impression.

Your final challenge is a practical test of sorts (incidentally,
practical tests are very good indicators of future job performance),
where you have a finite amount of time to save yourself and the mountain
you stand on from destruction. It's a puzzle that makes you follow
through on one of your answers from the interview and screams out,
"Leave your glossy smile, cheap bravado, and inflated ego at the door.
Let's see what you can do, when it really counts!"

The game at this point breaks away from the multiple choice, decision
tree-style nature of the game and let's the player try a whole host of
dragon-related things to save himself. There are a few possible endings
depending on your actions and each one is implemented well.

Another little bonus in the game is a homage of sorts to the brilliance
behind HRS and the whole decision-tree style of communicating in IF.
It's funny, maybe a little too congratulatory, but in the end correctly
states that, "HRS is no Photopia". 

Other than that, the dialogue is witty and entertaining and particularly
funny for anyone who's been on an interview or ever given one. This game
is a fun 5-minute romp for most of us, and a must play for any career
strategists out there.


From: Francesco Bova 

NAME: Dragonlord
AUTHOR: Mark Silcox, et al.
EMAIL:  marksilcox SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Home-brewed, Windows-based
SUPPORTS: Win 95/98/NT
Version:  3.8

Dragonlord is a new point-and-click type game from the creators of a
company called 4830 Games that uses their Win 95/98/NT executable
homegrown text adventure engine as an interface. 

Let me just start off by saying that I think it's very commendable when
an author (or in this case a team of programmers) tries to not only
write a story on his/her own, but also create their own text-adventure
interface. It's one thing to be able to say something interesting when
you already know how to speak the language, but it's another thing
entirely when you have to create the language first before you can
speak. Unfortunately, as with most home-brewed-parser-type games, the
results are mixed, and understandably so; it's very difficult to produce
a gaming language as polished as Inform or Tads (considering both game
engines have been in development for years) on your first try, and that
will always reflect on the overall quality of the game, regardless of
how good or bad the writing, puzzles, storyline, etc. are.

Dragonlord, with its structured style, reminded me a lot of the Fighting
Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure-style books by Steve Jackson and Ian
Livingston in that you have a description of your situation followed by
one or two alternative paths you can follow. So, not surprisingly, it
rates very high in terms of its story but very low on interactivity. In
most cases there are only one or two options you can pursue, and on many
occasions there are the dreaded <> transitional
options which the author uses to break up longer paragraphs. Here is a
typical example of the game's structured style:

   Some militaristic interior decorator really went nuts in this area.
   Endless numbers of weapons, indecipherable coats of arms and a great
   big suit of armor standing over in the far corner. The suit of armor
   seems to be clutching a pretty huge, sharp-looking battleaxe. You've
   never used one of these babies before, but you can't help but feel
   that it might come in handy.


   Get axe?

   Head back outside?

I can think of a few other things I might like to do in this situation
including examining the axe, putting on the armor, and trying to
decipher the coat of arms, but such is the nature of a point-and-click
interface. You just don't have much in the way of player freedom. 

Although it's fairly obvious that Dragonlord is very structured in its
layout, it was interesting to find that it wasn't as linear as I had
initially thought. The author allows the player to revisit certain
sections of the game so that missing a special item or important piece
of information the first time around doesn't mean you've rendered the
game unwinnable. It was also surprising to see that there were alternate
solutions to different puzzles that were put together quite creatively. 

The game features a role playing, hit point-style system where you lose
hit points every time you're injured (although damage is based on the
paths you choose and not random injuries that occur throughout the
course of battle), and a button you can press that lists your inventory
items (although you have no ability to manipulate those items once you
get to the screen). There is also a quit button you can press that
brings you to an intro screen, which allows you to restart, load, and
save games.

OK. I've talked enough about the game's engine and interface so let's
move onto Dragonlord as a literary and playing experience. Well to start
off, the plot is pretty much standard adventure fare. You're the chosen
champion who has to defeat the fearsome dragon and while on your way to
the dragon's cave, you must also conquer some obligatory,
unrelated-to-the-ultimate-goal-type hurdles. Unfortunately, this
particular storyline isn't very novel. We all know that the dragon genre
has been beaten to death around here so trying to do something different
with it is much more difficult than it would be with other storylines
that haven't had as much exposure. The "surprise" ending is well
telegraphed in advance so the ending isn't really the shocker that the
author may have intended it to be. The writing isn't world class
(although some of the characters like the contemporary dragon and the
troll have their comical moments), but a plus was that there were few
grammatical and spelling mistakes when I played through it.

There are also a few little rough spots here and there with game logic
and ideas that could have been implemented better. For example, the PC
isn't able to read, but plaques, signs, etc. are written in almost plain
English (almost plain, meaning an extra vowel added here, or a missing
consonant there) so what ends up happening is that the player can
understand the message and act on it, even though the protagonist
technically shouldn't be able to. There are a few instances where there
is death or injury without warning (i.e., entering a relative's home --
which I as a player would have assumed was a safe haven -- resulting in
your relative throwing you out and a loss of hit points because of a
previous argument that the player has no idea about), and furthermore a
few instances that were completely counterintuitive (i.e., approaching
characters you assume are friendly and then getting attacked or moving
in directions that sound dangerous and finding out differently). In
fact, it almost got to the point that when I felt something was
counterintuitive it probably was the correct thing to do, and I was
usually right.

Although Dragonlord's plot isn't necessarily novel (as I've mentioned,
it doesn't really broaden the scope of the fantasy/dragon genre), I
still think it's an excellent piece to get beginners started on.
Whenever I've tried to introduce friends to interactive fiction, they
always seem to get hung up on the parser and its limited vocabulary. So,
lately I've been trying to find good story driven games to start people
off on like Photopia and A Moment of Hope. These games require very
little guess-the-verb and fairly simple commands to achieve a result.
Although maybe not as good as the two aforementioned games, I would
definitely include Dragonlord as a game I would recommend for beginners
(especially younger ones, as Dragonlord's theme and storyline aren't
especially deep) as a way to get them used to playing something

Overall, Dragonlord is a pretty good first attempt and like I mentioned
earlier, I'm always impressed when someone creates a text adventure game
with their own text game engine. There is an upcoming sequel that has
been promised and I'm looking forward to seeing what game design and
game engine improvements Mr. Silcox and his team have in store.


From: Nick Patavalis 

NAME: For a Change
AUTHOR: Dan Schmidt
EMAIL: dfan SP@G
DATE: Sept 1999
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code v5 (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Free, Competition 99 entry.

Imagine a certain use of the English language that, while ostensibly
precise, and having perfect internal coherence, is such that the reader
cannot immediately make sense out of it; he has to make (conscious or
reflexive) assumptions as to what every phrase might mean. Combine this
use of the language with an equally bizarre vocabulary that (though
English) the reader has to pick up on the fly. Facing this prose, not
all readers have to (and will not) construct the same mental imagery,
but the internal coherence keeps the various interpretations more or
less "aligned", in such a way that all (or most at least) readers can
sensibly interact with the objects communicated.

The outcome is something deeply bizarre, resulting in a rather dreamlike
quality: everything has some sort of internal logic, even if you don't
know what it is. And in fact, as the author has said in an interview
(published in SPAG #19), some of the most peculiar articulations derive
from fragments of his dreams, or from thoughts captured when his mind
was otherwise empty.

In a sense, this game itself presents a very interesting argument about
the way understanding natural language works: Language is understood
through context. (This is a known fact at least since W. v. O. Quine
showed that "statements about the external world face the tribunal of
experience not individually but only as a corporate body.") When context
is missing, understanding is based on familiarity; we internally
contextualize the language based on our previous experiences. The
description of the Zork house's kitchen is more understandable than the
description of Schmidt's "toolman", because we all have been in a
kitchen. When the bonds to familiarity are weakened significantly (like
in this game), the only remaining shelter for reason is the language's
internal structure (coherence); this is what guides the reader's mind in
its random attempt to establish plausible and familiar metaphors. Think
about it for a while.

This short piece of interactive fiction (together with a few others like
Cadre's "Shrapnel") supports in a very powerful way Adam Cadre's
statement that:

   ...freed from commercial concerns, "text adventure games" have
   morphed into "interactive fiction" -- an increasingly experimental
   medium with every bit as much potential as straight prose...

Schmidt has backed away a bit from the experimental approach outlined
above by making sure that while the reader receives this "odd" language,
he will not have to produce any. Thus any form of interaction will be
done using "normal" verbs and normal phrasing (although sometimes
involving objects which are not "perfectly normal"). I think it would be
interesting to see a game that would require its readers to actively
test their understanding of such a strange universe by verbally
re-creating its inner logic, but I also share the doubts of the author
as to whether the outcome would be playable.

In the Author's Notes (included in the game, but available only after it
is solved), Schmidt mentions the book "Wire and String" by Dan Marcus,
and "The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe as works that influenced the
writing of this game. I was not aware of these books but after I played
the game I looked for them and read them. I deeply enjoyed reading them,
especially Marcus's book. Apart from being interesting works by
themselves they help clarify the underlying intentions of Schmidt's

Closing with a negative remark: The game and the game-world are very
short. I know it is supposed to be so, since it is a competition entry,
but I would really like to see these ideas worked on a much larger

Conclusion: It is a must-play.


From: Francesco Bova 

TITLE: The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man
AUTHOR: Neil deMause
E-MAIL: neil SP@G
DATE: 1999
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: Release 1.2


That was my repeated response as I played through Neil DeMause's second
installment in a series I hope he continues. The Frenetic Five vs. Mr.
Redundancy Man continues on in the humorous tradition that Mr. DeMause
started with his initial episode (The Frenetic Five vs. Strum & Drang),
and makes many improvements on that well-intentioned first episode to

The Frenetic Five's world is covered with superheroes. As long as you
can do something mildly interesting (like, let's say, be forever
encouraging of someone else's actions), you've passed the minimum
requirements needed to play the part. In this respect, the Frenetic Five
pay more homage to the cartoon show The Tick (and its colorful cast of
superheroes like the cowardly Deflatomouse and the rain-man-like Urchin)
than it does to any team coming from the Marvel or DC universe. In fact,
you as the protagonist have no super power per se, just a love for the
TV show MacGyver and an ability to create things out of household
implements. Still, this makes you the perfect leader for your group of

Although the writing and storyline are impressively well put together,
the best part about FF II are the NPCs. Considering the game is
approximately 4 rooms in size, the room-to-well-fleshed-out-NPC ratio is
pretty high. You've got the superhero named the Validator, the clerks,
and the villain from the title Mr. Redundancy Man. You've also got your
teammates, who form your moral support network, and who are hilarious
with their witty banter and comments when it comes time to use their
"super powers". My personal favorite team member is Lexicon, who's
essentially a walking, talking version of Microsoft Bookshelf. That is
to say, he's got the right word for what's troubling you.

[Reviewer's Note: Lexicon actually got me all teary-eyed and nostalgic
for one of the oddest little superheroes to ever come out of the Marvel
comic book universe. His name was Cypher, and he was a member of a group
called the New Mutants (a sort of Junior X-Men squad). His superpower:
the ability to translate any language! As you can well imagine he was
used sparingly. I can just picture it now. The New Mutants are getting
ready to attack Magneto's secret hideout and the call to action goes
something like this...

<< OK Magik, you attack the flank with your magic bolts. Cannonball, you
soar in from the clouds and weaken his defenses. Sunspot, we'll send you
in through the front door because after all, you're super-strong. And
Cypher, you stay behind and make sure no one unplugs the fridge. Those
beers have GOT to be cold when we get back! >>]

Like all the NPCs, Lexicon's "help" in solving puzzles was well
implemented and his super weakness (the equivalent to Superman's
kryptonite), left me laughing for a long time after it was revealed.

The NPCs not only add to the comic flavor of the game, but also provide
you with clues if you need them, thereby providing a built-in hint
system that doesn't break mimesis. In fact, if you're feeling
particularly unimaginative when it comes time for you to solve some
puzzles, the team can act as your "walkthrough" provided you ask the
right team member the right questions. (However, this is obviously not
recommended as it decreases the overall enjoyment of the game).

There are essentially two types of puzzles in the game. The first type
includes puzzles where you have to employ your MacGyver-like abilities,
and the second revolve around correctly using your team's "talents" to
get out of situations. As I'd mentioned previously, every team member
has a hand in solving one puzzle or another, but figuring out which one
you need isn't always apparent without a little thought. (This was
especially true of Pastiche, as I had forgotten her special abilities
from the first game in the series). The fact that the puzzles tend to be
a bit tougher (or maybe more correctly, not necessarily intuitive right
off the bat), is actually a positive as it helps out with the pacing of
the game. 

Pacing, you say? What does pacing have to do with anything? Well, let me
explain. When smaller games have really simple puzzles, it's almost too
easy to progress through them without paying much attention to the
"buzz" in the background (i.e., funny non-default responses, snarky
comebacks, etc.). I know a lot of authors who have gone to great lengths
to "flesh out" their game environment only to realize that players end
up missing most of the extra goodies because there was no motivation to
experience them. One game in particular that comes to mind is Suzanne
Britton's Worlds Apart.

I can remember playing Worlds Apart and thoroughly enjoying it the first
time. What I hadn't realized was how many subtleties there were in the
game until Suzanne posted something on r.g.i-f regarding the richness of
the world she had created. With her post in hand, I played Worlds Apart
a second time and enjoyed it even more than I had the first. The point
is, that if Worlds Apart had one tiny little flaw, it was that Suzanne
didn't slow us down enough to smell the roses if we didn't really want
to, and I know that I for one ended up missing some of the best parts of
the game as a result.

In FF II, the obstacles DeMause puts in front of you should slow you
down enough to hear the "buzz" (specifically the witty banter from the
game's NPCs, and some hilarious object descriptions), and get a real
feel for the warped world your character lives in. This should add
immensely to the game and the player's gaming experience as a whole. 
The ending is too funny for words, and will leave the player feeling
satisfied even if he had to use the built-in walkthrough to achieve it.
There is no way for the PC to die, and with the exception of one nasty
little bug (which should be avoidable for most players) there's no way
to get the game into an unwinnable situation. Even if you're not a big
comic book fan, I would still highly recommend this one as a nice
diversion on a day when you need a good laugh.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Galatea
AUTHOR: Emily Short
E-MAIL: emshort SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

The history of NPC interaction in IF is not overly glorious; it says
something about the development of this area that the XYZZY Award for
Best NPC a few years ago went to a character with whom the PC could only
interact by saying "yes" and "no." (The character was richly developed
in other respects, of course, but the award highlighted the extent to
which authors have chosen to develop NPCs by means other than direct
interaction with the PC.) It's that history that makes Emily Short's
Galatea, the Best of Show winner in Marnie Parker's Spring 2000 Art
Show, all the more startling: it's not only a remarkably detailed and
intimate portrait of an unusual NPC, but it's one without any parallel
in the annals of IF.

Granted, no other work of IF in memory has been structured like this
one. Essentially, it's a reworking of the myth of Pygmalion--which
involved a sculptor who fell in love with his statue, which then came to
life--but done from the statue's perspective; moreover, the time frame is
translated out of ancient Greece right past our own time, to a time
where fully animate and intelligent creations aren't considered
revolutionary. You're viewing the former statue, which is on display in
an exhibition. That's the premise, but the heart of the game is the
statue herself--her views on being put on a pedestal, on the artist, on
the show, on you--and the underlying mythology is important only insofar
as it bears on her psychology. In other words, the NPC is the story, and
there's virtually nothing in the game that isn't interaction with the
NPC. Not surprisingly, then, there isn't a way to win as such--there's a
wide variety of endings, some of which the player is likely to consider
better than others, but the game studiously avoids making any ***you
have won*** sort of judgments.

Interacting with Galatea--or, at least, understanding your interactions
with her--involves gauging some highly subtle psychological reactions,
many of which couldn't easily be guessed in advance. This, in itself, is
fairly novel, considering that the preexisting state of the art
generally limited NPC psychology to the crudest of reactions: gratitude
if given something, anger if provoked, etc. Here, the player must
calculate (or, again, understand) how Galatea will feel when touched in
certain ways and in certain places, when asked about her relationship
with the sculptor before and after certain other questions, when told
about the nature of the exhibit, and in many other situations. To be
sure, the average player probably won't get all the connections, and is
likely to elicit some reactions without realizing what buttons he or she
pushed, so to speak--but that also means that there's always more room
for understanding. In one sense, then, this is puzzleless IF--it's
certainly not puzzle-solving in the usual sense--but in another sense,
there are multiple puzzles, and it's impossible to encounter all, or
even most, of them in a single session. (On a side note, this game also
vindicates those who advocate ASK/TELL as the best conversation system
for IF, since that's the way you speak with Galatea--and the game
translates your ASK ABOUT and TELL ABOUT into natural sentences, so that
you don't sound like a caveman. It's difficult to imagine any other way
to implement such a complex system of interactions that allows so much

Okay, a novel premise; is it done well? Yes, in my book. Admittedly, the
nature of the beast makes it difficult to say that the author has done
it wrong--who are you to say that a given response shouldn't have
followed a certain stimulus (within reason, of course)? That aside,
though, the personality that emerges from the playing of Galatea is both
complex and realistic, and it never feels like the author is being
deliberately obscure. If it's initially difficult to get her to open up,
realism demands as much--since you're trying to win her trust--and your
options for interacting with her are varied enough that you're unlikely
to hit a roadblock as such. (Though she comments on the disconnect if
you run out of things to say about one topic and jump to an unrelated
one.) It's sometimes hard to keep track of where the conversation has
been, though (especially if you've restarted multiple times), and though
the latest release implements THINK (which reminds you about the state
of conversation) and THINK ABOUT (which reminds you of roughly what
she's said about a given topic), they're partial solutions at best. (She
also turns toward and away from you at certain points, though the motion
doesn't really function as a gauge of how she's feeling, as such;
mostly, it opens up different possibilities.) The best approach to
making sense of her reactions to different combinations of inputs is
probably making a transcript and poring over it, admittedly rather
tedious--but, on the other hand, this is one NPC that rewards such
careful study.

Moreover, even if it's frustrating, the ability to close off paths by
doing certain things or asking certain questions is part of what makes
the character realistic. After all, one of the main defects in an
unrestricted ASK/TELL system is that you can move freely from harmless
banter to intrusive probing without the character noticing, seemingly,
and while not every conversational leap is policed here, the game
certainly tries to restrict wildly erratic questioning. Certain topics
yield responses at some times but not at others, for instance, and
sometimes the game just gives you some variant on "Better not ask about
that right now" when a given topic would be inappropriate.

While Galatea is an admirably thorough job of NPC creation, the built-in
biases of IFers make it difficult to see it as a complete work in
itself. One of the hardest things to shake for IF players is
goal-orientation--finding that treasure, etc.--and when faced with as
hard a nut to crack as Galatea, it's easy to become obsessed with
finding every last reaction, reading every last bit of text. (At least,
so it seems from the newsgroup traffic: several people have posted to
ask for lists of solutions and such.) Moreover, it's hard to ask for
help as such if you're not getting anywhere, since you don't really know
where you're going, and a result-oriented approach ("I found ending X,
and here's how you can do it too") is at odds with the feel of the game.
Probing to see how the character reacts is one thing, but probing
because you want a specific reaction is another. The author has put up a
(partial) list of endings and how to get to them on her page, but
perusing that is a spoiler in itself. The best way to go about it, I
think, is to keep experimenting until you've found some endings that
make the interaction feel complete, and then to look at what you missed.
(That, or find someone to give you some nudges, if you really can't get
anywhere.) Starting from a list of endings makes the character a little
too much like a gumball machine.

Is Galatea a model for future NPC creation? Maybe--her already immense
complexity is limited by her relative immobility (at least, she's
confined to one room) and by not having to interact with other NPCs. A
300K-plus Z-machine file that essentially consists entirely of one
character should give any designer pause, if that's the standard for
realistic NPC design. It 's unquestionable, though, that this character
represents a quantum leap--in intelligence and in vividness of
personality--and that the author did it with essentially the tools that
every author has. Designers, consider the goalposts moved.


From: Jason Compton 

NAME: Guilty Bastards
AUTHOR: Kent Tessman
EMAIL: general SP@G
DATE: August 1998
PARSER: Hugo (graphics/sound enabled Hugo parsers highly recommended)
SUPPORTS: All modern Hugo interpreters (graphics/sound capability
VERSION: Release 2.09

Good detective games are hard to write, because the author not only has
to create a tightly wound mystery, but has to leave enough logical loose
ends, and enough reasonably plausible ways to pull them, to allow a
player to experience the story. Kent Tessman's entry, Guilty Bastards,
although certainly written in an affable tone, is not the parody or
joke-laden romp it might appear to be from the trailer: "One of these
four idiots is a killer." Although all of the subjects are indeed people
you might consider dorks in real life, it's not a Keystone Kops-level

You're a down-on-your-luck private investigator in the City of Angels
who has just come off the latest in what seems to be a string of rotten
cases with welching clients. But today may be your lucky day. It
certainly wasn't someone else's--a Hollywood starlet has been offed, and
the studio boss wants you to find out whodunnit fast. It's your job to
discover who the "four idiots" are, each of whom has some reason for
wanting the deceased to stay that way. (Why isn't the studio boss, who
after all has the key to her apartment in his pocket, considered a
suspect? Presumably because the customer is always right!)

Perhaps I'm biased by the crime magazine and smattering of period
dialogue from Witness, but I like to feel the role of the detective, and
apart from a brief introduction that establishes that I, the player
character, am a down-on-his-luck PI with a gambling problem, I just
didn't feel very much a part of the story. Suspects in general seemed
far too accessible and easy to interrogate. It didn't help matters much
when trying to live my character by asking my client what he was going
to pay me turned out to be extremely unsatisfying, as the game doesn't
understand the words "money", "pay", "payment", etc...

There are relatively few puzzles, as Guilty Bastards is mostly a game of
exploration, and figuring out which clue will evoke the necessary
response from which suspect, or provide the next clue to show to the
next suspect. Although there is some freedom of movement, the plot
advances in an essentially linear manner. The puzzles all have pretty
straightforward solutions, and some of the sub-optimal outcomes contain
a clue as to how to better solve the problem the next time around.
Tessman's built-in hints are satisfying and adequate, written very much
in the Infocom Invisiclue style, red herrings and nasty "caught you
peeking!" messages included. Watch for a couple of Infocom tributes in
the story as well.

Guilty Bastards is remarkably light on text for an investigative
story--it was a rare occasion indeed when the [MORE] prompt appeared.
This makes a multimedia Hugo interpreter very important, as Tessman has
included pictures of all of the major locations, characters, and some of
the important objects, along with a soundtrack of sorts. The pictures
appear to be scanned photos that have been run through a watercolor
effect filter-which probably keeps the file sizes down, although after a
while you wonder if your eyes are going blurry. The soundtrack sets the
mood initially but turns out as gimmick, although the disco theme is
good for a chuckle.

In addition to the sparse text, there are a lot of objects that don't
have any sort of description. I don't mind that, but my problem with
such selective description is that, inevitably, the player is lulled
into a false sense of security. After being told "you don't need to
refer to that" time after time about scenery objects that would seem to
be important to a murder investigation (like the sidewalk and balcony
outside the victim's apartment), you start to think that perhaps you
won't need to examine each and every noun in the game, and should focus
in only on obvious objects instead. Then you reach a stage of the game
in which practically every scenery object can and must be manipulated to
move the story along. Frustrating.

From a technical standpoint, I was surprised at the amount of curious
parser misfires I encountered... when the author of the gaming language
writes a game, he is held to a higher standard. In a trash dumpster, for
example, "search bags" doesn't work, while "search bag" moves you
along... but when presented with many bags, it seems reasonable to start
looking in the aggregate. The omission of the "where?" question seems
rather unfortunate for a detective game--especially because there's a
suspect that never seems to show up to be investigated!

I was not very pleased with the way Tessman mixed the use of compass
directions and the "go location" command. In my opinion, authors need to
pick one and use the other in extremely limited circumstances, not
create numerous situations in which seemingly normal locations (like
trying to get to an alley behind a building) cannot be done with compass
directions. Another smirk-inducing design flaw includes the game asking
"didn't you read the sign?" when the command "read sign" doesn't work

Guilty Bastards is a pleasant ride in which the goal is to solve the
game, not connect on a personal level with the situations and
characters. No special insight or puzzle-solving skills are needed to
reach the solution, and some of the hints hold back just enough to at
least let you make the final logical connection. The murder plot and the
ending of the game are extremely Hollywood, but hey, that's what you
signed on for.


From: Duncan Stevens 

AUTHOR: Bob Reeves
E-MAIL: rreeves SP@G
DATE: 1999
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

The combination of good writing and good programming that IF requires
doesn't simply mean that authors need to both be able to put sentences
together and write and debug code; an author needs to be able to both
tell a good story and design the game so that the story comes across to
the player effectively. Rans, by Bob Reeves, illustrates how important
both elements are: it's an interesting story that, suitably designed,
might have been highly involving, but it's told in such a confusing way
that the player has a hard time getting as involved as he or she might.

It seems you're an author trying to complete a novel, and as the writing
progresses, you're repeatedly transported into the world of the novel
for inspiration. That is, when you're in the novel, you act to propel
events forward, and you later record the way those events happened. It's
an interesting spin on the fantasy-coexists-with reality genre, and the
novel itself, while conventional fantasy, is reasonably
interesting-there's certainly enough to it that it doesn't feel generic.
The problem is that there are so many characters that are never, how
shall I say, formally introduced that it's awfully hard to follow what's
going on in the novel's world, and readers are likely to end up
consulting the hints a lot. Likewise, the game seems to assume that you
understand the significance of various events and connections when you
don't necessarily; at least, if there was some bit of text earlier on
that would have explained them, it's all too possible to miss that bit
of text. The problem, in other words, is not that it's a bad story--it's
just not developed in a way that introduces the player to it at the
proper pace.

Exacerbating the confusion is the difficulty of the puzzles, which is
extreme. Some of them simply involve major intuitive leaps, one calls
for some highly tedious mapping and trial and error (along with more
intuitive leaps), and a few are simply guess-the-verb puzzles. True,
some of them are difficult simply because they require that you've been
following along with the story, hardly a given, but many are just
obscure or gratuitously annoying. (The first puzzle in the game--you're
drunk, so you need to make coffee to sober yourself up--is particularly
irritating and doesn't contribute much to the game.) They're not bad
puzzles (with the exception of the guess-the-verb problems)--some of
them are clever and use multiple objects in creative ways. There just
isn't enough there to clue the player into what's going on.

The way that fantasy and reality interact gives rise to another problem,
namely that it's never really clear what you're supposed to be doing
when you flip back to reality (besides adding to the story), so you're
reduced to wandering around until you find whatever it is that will send
you back to the novel, to which there's no apparent rhyme or reason.
Whereas the plot in the novel segments sort of drives itself--at least,
there are obvious challenges to face or problems to solve--the real-life
portions just feel aimless, and the course of wandering hither and yon
trying to figure out what to do next can be frustrating, to say the

And yet Rans is still a very good story, assuming that you can find your
way through it. The endgame ties together the loose ends in a
surprisingly creative way (at least, it was more creative than I was
expecting). The unfinished-novel conceit--often, when exploring the
fantasy sequences, you're told that you haven't fully fleshed out some
element of the book--is a brilliant device; in a sense, you see the
story come together as you play the game, and you see what shaped the
author's choices. There are some howlingly funny moments as well, this
one in particular, when you encounter a lantern: "It's a battery-powered
brass lantern. You can't conceive how it wound up in a fantasy story."
In short, there are more than enough good ideas here to make a
first-rate game-it's just that the game design details aren't all worked
out as well as they should be. Were the game design at the same level as
the writing and world-building, this would be a first-rate game.

Rans is a little too uneven to be a truly successful game, sadly, though
it certainly has its moments; if you can overlook the frustrating parts,
it might be worth a try.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Rematch
AUTHOR: Andrew Pontious
E-MAIL: [removed at author's request. See game for email address.]
DATE: 2000
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: Release 1.0.4

Attention, attention, seasoned IFers, we have a new genre on our hands.
Sam Barlow's Aisle was taken as an only-works-once experiment when it
first appeared (at least, by me), but now we have a second entry in that
category that expands considerably on what Aisle did. The category, of
course, is one-move games, games whose exploration consists of figuring
out the many and varied things you can do with your one move, rather
than building on your explorations through a series of moves. You might
think that would be limiting, since generally it wouldn't allow for
multi-step tasks, but Andrew Pontious's technical wizardry in Rematch
overcomes those limitations, and the result is memorable indeed.

The primary difference between Aisle and Rematch is that, while the
former was purely about exploration of the main character, the latter is
really a puzzle: something happens after your move, and it will happen
again and again unless you manage to avert it. What you do is not at all
simple, and you're likely to spend several hundred moves figuring out
how to do it--but it's a rewarding several hundred moves, and well worth
the time. Part of the reason it's difficult is that there are several
things to set it in motion, as it were, and figuring out what and where
they are and how they interact takes some exploring (one move at a time,
of course). As such, in one sense, it's the ultimate
learn-by-screwing-up game--like Aisle, of course, since in Aisle you drew
on the knowledge you accumulated to explore your character further, but
here the game depends much more on your ability to draw on past lives.

The puzzle you solve is complicated, and as such the action that you
perform to solve it is fairly complicated as well, and the author has
accordingly hacked the TADS parser somewhat to accommodate more complex
input lines than most IF can handle: by my count, the Rematch parser can
handle five nouns in some syntaxes, whereas the Infocom parser (on which
neither Inform nor TADS nor any other freely available authorship
system--had improved, to my knowledge--at least, not in terms of
complexity--until now) could generally only handle three (HIT THE DOG ON
THE HEAD WITH THE HAMMER). The expanded parser isn't perfect, but it's
generally good enough; the real challenge, for the experienced player,
is realizing that the parser has abilities beyond the usual. Once that
hurdle is overcome, however, it's a marvelously liberating feeling to
enter highly complex commands and see them executed more or less
faithfully (in much the same way, I suspect, as the first players of
Zork felt when they realized that they were no longer living in a world
of two-word parsers). It's an impressive technical feat, in short, and
while such complicated inputs might not be necessary in most
games--since games that last longer than one move generally allow the
player to accomplish quite intricate things by spreading them over
multiple inputs--a perfected parser of this scope might well push the IF
experience ever closer to mimesis, always a worthy goal. Larger
possibilities aside, that technical breakthrough greatly enhances the
experience of playing Rematch; indeed, the one-move game as puzzle
wouldn't work nearly as well without it. (At least, it would have to be
a whole lot simpler.)

The puzzle itself is well put together, though it's rendered more
difficult by some enticing red herrings--i.e., there are some things
that seem to be useful when they're not, and the game doesn't do much to
suggest that they are, in fact, red herrings. Likewise, it's initially
tempting to do directly what the game wants you to do indirectly, and
there aren't many hints about the more indirect methods. There are a few
in-game hints, but they're fairly general; if you spend a while trying
to figure out the puzzle on your own, chances are you'll already have
figured out what the hints have to say before you consult them. Not
major sins, but they do increase the difficulty of the puzzle
considerably, even if the solution ultimately proves logical; if you're
not a puzzle maven, you may want to consult a friend or find a

Rematch highlights the real strength of one-move games, in that they
make it easy for the author to provide for absolutely everything the
player could come up with (since the combinatorial factor--objects being
combined in unexpected ways--is limited). In giving you multiple views
and variations on the central event of the game (not revealed here,
since the surprise of it is part of what gives Rematch its impact), the
game enhances its mimetic qualities: you can try just about anything
logical, and the parser will handle just about anything you type. The
AMUSING section at the end is well populated, and in fact there are many
things worth trying that don't, in fact, show up in that list. It may be
objected that limiting the player's freedom to one move is a sort of
backwards--looking way to achieve mimesis, but we take it where we find
it, I guess, and Rematch is plenty immersive even in its one move.

There's an odd disjunction in the playing experience, though. It can
fairly be said without spoilers that the event at the heart of Rematch
is rather grim--it's certainly not something to joke about, and indeed
it's fairly shocking when read for the first time. Some of the various
events that you harness to solve the puzzle, however, can only be
considered absurd, and they would probably fit a little better in a more
lighthearted game. The disjunction isn't as stark as it might be, I
suppose, because the shock of the main event dissipates as it happens
again and again and again, and after a while the player likely sees it
as something to avert, not something grim or tragic. Still, there's a
split personality there, and it's especially acute if the player happens
upon the sillier aspects of the game early in the exploration process.

That aside, though, Rematch is an absorbing experience that in some ways
goes beyond what the seasoned IF veteran might be expecting. Though the
PC's exploration of the the environment is limited to some extent, it's
still a richly interactive game.


From: Joe Barlow 

NAME: Return to Pirate's Island II
AUTHOR: Scott Adams
EMAIL: msadams SP@G
DATE: August 2000
PARSER: S.A.G.A. (full sentence)
SUPPORTS: Windows 95/98/NT/2000  (Mac/Unix ports being considered)
AVAILABILITY: Commercial (US $19.95)

Unlike many text adventure fanatics, I didn't grow up with the games of
Scott Adams. By the time I discovered interactive fiction, Infocom had
already established itself as the undisputed king of the genre, with
detailed room descriptions and state-of-the-art parsers the norm rather
than the exception. As such, the idea of playing "simpler" works did not
appeal to me -- two-word inputs were far too limiting after years of
using Infocom's elegant full-sentence engine, and I gave a wide berth to
these (perceived) lesser offerings.

I'd heard of Mr. Adams, of course: ads for his games lined the pages of
every available computer magazine, and I knew that he had produced some
of the genre's most commercially successful offerings, including
"Adventureland" and "The Count." I acknowledged and respected him as a
computer game pioneer, but to actually *play* a Scott Adams adventure
was, for me, an exercise in frustration: the terse room descriptions and
the minimalistic parser -- which at times verged on "sadistic" -- were
not enough to overcome the admittedly brilliant puzzles and intriguing
story lines ("Voodoo Castle" was the lone exception; to this day, it
remains the only Scott Adams game I have ever solved). What a pity, I
thought, that these clever games were mired in such a poor play system.

Well, Mr. Adams seems to have read my mind: with his first new text
adventure in over fifteen years, the just-released "Return to Pirate's
Island II," he has gone to great lengths to correct many of these
problems. "Pirate's II" contains a number of Scott Adams firsts,
including digitized sound effects, lengthy (and occasionally quite
eloquent) room descriptions, and, best of all, a full-sentence parser.
Will long-time fans be delighted or dismayed at these changes? To a
large extent this still remains to be seen, although the game has
generated positive buzz from many of its early players.

The story's enjoyment does not stem from the plot, which is so thin that
it borders on non-existent: the player's mission is to collect treasures
and deposit them in a safe place. It's a tried and true formula, having
been used in the original Crowther/Woods "Adventure," Infocom's "Zork
I," and many of Mr. Adams' own previous offerings. This game, like the
ones just mentioned, is strictly a puzzle-fest: there are no NPCs to
speak of, nor any character development... nothing but good old-
fashioned treasure hunting. In that respect, "Pirate's II" feels like a
homecoming: many interactive fiction fans have bemoaned the recent trend
toward experimental "literary" games (like Adam Cadre's "Photopia"), and
these players will no doubt welcome the nostalgic feeling which
permeates this work.

It's clear that a lot of time and effort has gone into "Pirate's II":
Mr. Adams has injected his famous sense of humor into the story at every
opportunity (the opening puzzle appears to be a sly jab at Infocom's
"Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," for example), but the resulting game
is nonetheless a mixed bag. While the puzzles are quite clever, and
although the work contains the richest text descriptions ever to appear
in a Scott Adams adventure, the negative traits are unfortunately strong
enough to offset the positive.

One significant drawback to "Pirate's II" is the text. For a game that
had such a large group of beta testers (sixteen, according to the
website!), the work contains a surprisingly large number of typos and
grammatical errors (the use of "to" instead of "too," incorrect use of
ellipsis, etc). It's not that big a deal, but considering the game's
$19.95 purchase price -- and its creator's status as a text adventure
brand name -- I expected a little more attention to detail. It's
particularly frustrating since many of the room descriptions are
otherwise quite lovely.

Another major obstacle is the program's troublesome installation
routine, which is just as difficult to "solve" as many of the game's
puzzles. (I had to install "Pirate's II" three times before I was
actually able to run it. The documentation admits that the user may
encounter error messages, and that he or she should simply ignore these
warnings if they appear). A little more attention to detail would really
have helped the professionalism of this package, but I suppose I should
be thankful that I can play the game at all: "Pirate's II" runs on Mr.
Adams' own Windows-based engine, the S.A.G.A. (Scott Adams Grand
Adventure) system, which leaves a lot of non-Windows users out in the
cold. Mac and Unix ports of the S.A.G.A. interpreter are reportedly in
the planning stages, however, so non-Microsoft adventurers may be able
to play the game in the near future.

My remaining quibble is more the fault of the S.A.G.A. engine than the
game itself: boy, is it ever *slow!* On my 486dx/100, the machine I use
for all my text adventure excursions, there is a pause of approximately
three seconds after I hit the ENTER key before the game prints the
results of my actions; I was reminded of my days playing "Zork I" on my
trusty Commodore 64 back in the late '80s. I refuse to believe that
*any* text adventure needs a Pentium processor to run optimally, and I
hope that Mr. Adams will tweak/optimize the S.A.G.A. engine for slower
systems when and if he releases another game which employs it.

But I don't wish to sound overly harsh. "Return to Pirate's Island II"
is not a bad puzzle game, and marks a welcome return from one of
interactive fiction's founding fathers. The gameplay and interface will
feel familiar to anyone who enjoyed earlier Scott Adams adventures, with
many of the game's features (the lovely room descriptions, the
full-sentence parser, the "Lurking Horror"-style sound effects, and the
built-in hints system) being impressive achievements indeed. But such
innovations should not come at the cost of performance -- the agonizing
slowness of the S.A.G.A. engine, coupled with the alarming number of
typos in the text, may ruin the fun for many questers. Die-hard puzzle
fans will find much to like, but casual admirers of Mr. Adams' work will
have to decide if the game is worth its $19.95 asking price.


From: Mark J. Musante 

NAME: The Spatent Obstruction
AUTHOR: Chris Canavan
EMAIL: ???
DATE: November 1992

Never volunteer. That's what they say in the army, or so I'm told, but
I've failed to follow that particular pearl of wisdom on many occasions
and, at least this time, I would have been better off for it.

This particular volunteering on my part was brought about when Carl
Muckenhoupt was looking for people to help him put together his "Baf's
Guide to the IF archive". In the course of that assistance, I came
across this game. The title intrigued me. What was a Spatent? What was
obstructing it?

It turns out the first obstruction was that the game was written in AGT.
Now the problem with AGT is that, while it's easy to write a game using
it, it's hard to write a GOOD game. Why? Because you have so much more
work to do to get the parser to behave the way you want it to.

Allow me to illustrate with an example. One of the first main puzzles in
this game is trying to take a taxi to the airport. In order to tell the
driver to take you there you have to give him your ticket so he can see
where to go. You can't use
nor can you use
   > SAY "AIRPORT"      
Instead, you just give him the ticket. Unfortunately, if you haven't
given him money first (and I'm willing to accept that I'm in a universe
in which you pay the driver before he takes you anywhere), the game
prints out the confusing
   Don't know how to give here...
Of course the 'give' verb does work... it was expecting 'give money'
first and THEN 'give ticket.'

The fault of this lies in the fact that each eventuality must be
carefully coded for in any AGT game. For TADS or Inform or any
object-oriented development system, there's an easy way to put in a hook
for 'player trying to get ride without having paid first'. In AGT, each
additional combination causes a multiplicative increase in the number of
'commands' that must be written. As a result, AGT appears easy to write
games for but is actually extremely difficult indeed.

While I'm at it, I may as well flag another problem with this game: that
of adjectivitis. Most, if not all, IF authoring systems have the ability
to add adjectives to objects, but it's a peculiar habit of AGT authors
to add adjectives to every object. The canonical example of this is the
legendary Detective's "wooden wood." So we're stuck with gold doorknobs,
and white mailboxes, and wrapped money, and signs tacked up everywhere
of every color imaginable.

One last thing I'll mention that seems to be a hallmark of an AGT game:
room descriptions tend to be devoid of any mention of ways out. Instead,
you must, as a player, remember to type 'show exits' at each location.

When I sat down to play this game, I knew full well that these sorts of
things would probably be present. I bring them to your attention in this
review in case you've heard an undercurrent of disgruntledness about AGT
games but no clear explanation as to why. Rest assured I'm leaving out
many other problems.

So let's ignore the difficulties and quirks of the AGT gaming system and
concentrate on what makes adventures fun: writing, puzzles and story.


One thing I clearly remember when playing early (pre-1985) Infocom games
was that it would be really cool to create a game like this myself. I
think many players would like to become authors, just like many actors
would love to direct some day.

Since it's so simple to slap together an AGT game, many people try it,
regardless of writing ability. Canavan is able to get the point across,
but his use of English could do with grammar- and spell-checking.

However, even that wouldn't be enough. Here's a sample room description:

   Ahhh, the kitchen.  Its beautiful plastic floors and wooden
   cabinets make it look so beautiful.  You remember late night snacks
   and reading the paper on the kitchen table.  It is a very beautiful
   place indeed!

The best that can be said for it is the unintentionally amusing bits and
pieces. When you get a sentence which starts, "He grabs you under your
legs...", it can't help but bring a smile to your face. While these
phrases are rare, they occur often enough to mitigate some of the
deleterious effects of the rest of the writing. It's not in every game
that you see a "forst of lush green ivory" or learn that a robot can
shut himself down "for an infinite number of years with no damage."

Expectedly, this game lacks implementation of detail. In the dining
room, Canavan is very careful to point out that there's a vase on the
table, and nothing on the desk. However, the game doesn't recognise
'vase', 'table' or 'desk' as objects. Early games, pre-mid-1990's did
this because of lack of resources, so it's forgivable. Those more used
to modern games in which you at least get a response along the lines of
"that's not important" would find it to be just another source of


Many beginning authors wonder how to put puzzles in a game. Where do
people come up with their ideas? This question appears often enough in
the newsgroup and most of the time the response is
along the lines of story-integration: make sure the puzzles make sense
in the course of the story. In other words, don't put a 15-puzzle in the
middle of the road and then prevent the player from walking any further
until the puzzle is solved.

In The Spatent Obstruction, Canavan decided to make the living room of
your house dark. So naturally the player explores a bit looking for a
light source of some kind. When I found my way to the backyard and saw
one lying there, I was amused by the fact that Canavan provided an

   This is your back yard.  You are totally surrounded by woods, which
   makes this an appealing sight.  Green light plays through the
   leaves of the surrounding trees.  A small deck and barn are the
   only real things that mark the otherwise perfect grass.  The only
   exit to this area is back through the small, almost invisible,
   path you came from.
      There is an oil lamp here.

   > X LAMP

   This is an old, rusted, oil lamp.  You doubt that it would even
   wortk except for the fact that there is still old oil sitting in
   the bottom.  You remember leaving this here when you cleaned out
   your barn.

However, the next time I started the game, I went to the backyard to get
the lamp and found out that the lamp wasn't there. This caused me to be
stuck for many minutes until I figured out that the lamp only appears
there after you open your mailbox and read the airline ticket which lies
therein. Moreover, you must be holding the airline ticket when you read
it or you will remain lamp-free.

This is a good example of how not to make a puzzle.

This game seems to have been designed with these sorts of puzzles in
mind. You must perform task A before object B will magically appear.
Several puzzles are time-based in that you only have a few turns to
complete a particular part of the game before the game whisks you off to
a new location. If you haven't completed everything you need to (and
there's no real way of telling, save experience), it's time to restore
and try again. In the words of the game, "death is a very possible."

Oh, the game has a maze, but an easy solution, so it's not bad at all.


The game starts innocently enough. You were at a party last night and
your friends helpfully brought you home and left you on your driveway to
sleep off the effects of the alcohol. With friends like these, who needs

The good news is that you've won a free ticket to France. Now all you
have to do is get past a homicidal taxi driver. After working your way
to the airport and hitting on a flight attendant, you suddenly find the
world has changed, and you've acquired a robot sidekick named Lexter.
This is all quickly explained by an expository scientist who never stops
running around.

Apparently you've blorped through time and you need something called a
Spatent Obstruction to hold open a time rip long enough for you to get
back. But, and here's the spice which thickens the plot, they're
illegal. And that's when things get confusing.

The game takes you through a few twists and turns and, at one point, I
was surprised to find myself in the enemy computer room. I was relieved
to discover that it was "the room your supposed to run to if an enemy
attacks." But relief turned to depression when I learned that the enemy
(detection) computer was "about three inches bigger than you are". How

The most disappointing part was when I learned that a bug caused me to
get stuck about 80-90% of the way through the game. If someone is aware
of a walkthrough that works around this bug, I'd be very interested in


I've been sitting here thinking about whether this game could have
anything worth recommending. As you might have noticed, the "feature" I
liked most about this game was the unintentionally funny writing. The
puzzles weren't very clever, nor were they integrated into the game.
They ranged from "read the author's mind" to "I'm supposed to do

Once the game's bug stopped me from progressing any further, I used a
program called 'agtout' to decompile the game's text. At least I got to
read the ending if not actually participate in it. Canavan is nice
enough to set up for a sequel which includes finding your robot sidekick
again and, apparently, recruiting an alien crew to help you fly around
outer space and blow stuff up.

Much to my disappointment, France seems to have been left as a permanent
unresolved plot thread.

I have to come to the unfortunate conclusion that this game really isn't
worth playing. There is nothing here that stands out as fun or
enjoyable. The plot is too basic, the puzzles too obscure. The best that
we can hope for is, if Canavan does write a sequel, he learns from his

Bottom line: thumbs down.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Spiritwrak
AUTHOR: Daniel Yu
E-MAIL: dsyu SP@G
DATE: 1996
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters
VERSION: Release 3

It's hard to discern what accounts for the enduring popularity of the
games set in the Zork universe; that it was the first commercially
available full-parser interactive fiction probably has something to do
with it, but it's still remarkable that a game released in 1980 should
still be inspiring sequels. For Daniel Yu's Spiritwrak is certainly a
sequel--the magic system is suspiciously reminiscent of the Enchanter
series, and the humor captures the Zork style. It's a well-crafted
homage, sufficiently so that, if you liked the originals, you'll almost
certainly enjoy this.

The plot, in true Enchanter-series style, is save-the-world crossed with
collect-the-objects: you have to retrieve the four pieces of an ancient
rod to defeat an evil demon-type fellow. Just as typically, you don't
set out into the world knowing where to look for the pieces; you just
start solving puzzles and let things fall into place. The puzzles are
unrelated to the plot, naturally; some of them are classic logic puzzles
cribbed into the game (including a variant on the old
some-statements-are-true-and-some-are-lies bit), and some are mechanical
puzzles (the best of them is an elaborate seesaw), and others are just
apply-the-clues or apply-the-magic. There's a twist in the plot toward
the end, but it's not an especially remarkable one--partly because the
plot has so little effect on what you do. Changes in the storyline
barely affect how you tackle the game, after all, so the surprises don't
impact gameplay. One nicely done touch, however, is the fragments of a
manuscript that you find scattered through the game, some of which hint
at the eventual direction of the plot, some of which just impart
background information. The likely sequence of the fragments develops
the story well, unfolding it bit by bit. For a largely irrelevant plot,
in short, Spiritwrak develops it well.

The game design doesn't fare so well. The layout is wide, in design
parlance, meaning that, fairly early on, lots of puzzles open up, so
there's lots to work on at any given moment--though not all the puzzles
you're working on may be solvable at that time. Moreover, there's a
transportation system that requires coins, and coins are a finite
resource, so it's possible to simply run out if you spend a lot of time
trekking around experimenting with puzzles. There are significantly more
coins available than you need, of course, but they're not all available
right away, and it's not at all unlikely that you'll have to go back to
an earlier save position because of the coin problem. It's also just a
nuisance to use the transportation system to travel between areas of the
game. There are other problems as well--for instance, your inventory is
limited, and while there's a rucksack-type object, you'll run out of
inventory space long before you encounter that object. Several other
puzzles involve mind-reading of one form or another, and one logic
puzzle simply doesn't work (fortunately, there's a walkthrough on GMD).
In most respects, the game is forgiving; it's difficult to render the
game unwinnable without realizing it (other than wasting coins, of
course). But it's also player-unfriendly in some ways that were somewhat
more acceptable in 1996 than they are now.

On the other hand, player-unfriendliness along those lines was fairly
standard in the early '80s, and it's not only in that respect that
Spiritwrak follows Infocom's example. Rather than a spell-casting
system, you have a prayer book with prayers that you intone after first
learning them--which almost precisely recalls the approach of the
Enchanter trilogy, and the names of the prayers are suspiciously
familiar. (Along with GNUSTO, FROTZ, and ESPNIS, lots of silly spells
mentioned in the Enchanter trilogy--like FOBLUB (glue audience to seat)
and TOSSIO (turn granite to pasta) are included.) The place names (Gurth
City, Borphee, etc.) are taken from the Zork universe, and to some
extent the same casual blending of fantasy-medieval and modern goes on
(though the modern element has the upper hand here). Absurdist and
fourth-wall humor abounds, occasionally in ways that recall Infocom--at
one point, for example, you have to get past a guard by baking a
cake--and there's even a self-referential Implementor appearance. Not
all the jokes work, and the world-building is sometimes shaky--it's
often obvious that a scene or character was patched in for the sake of a
puzzle. But the whimsy and the gonzo humor are captured nicely, enough
so that this works well as a nostalgia trip.

Expect to spend plenty of time with Spiritwrak--it's long, many of the
puzzles are difficult (and a few are just tedious), and the
aforementioned game design problems may have you backtracking more than
you'd like. If you didn't grow up enjoying the Zork and Enchanter
universe, there's no reason to try Spiritwrak, really; it was a fair
game in 1996, but the IF scene has changed considerably since then, and
there are much better things out there. But the game does succeed more
often than not in recreating the Infocom feel--usually, though not
always, a good thing--and I'm confident it'll push the right buttons.


From: Francesco Bova 

NAME: The Town Dragon
AUTHOR: David Cornelson
E-MAIL: dcornelson SP@G
DATE: 1997
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

The Annual Interactive Fiction Competition has added some notable titles
to the annals of the greatest works of IF ever. There are games like
Sunset over Savannah, Photopia, and Babel, which are just as popular
today as when they were first entered in the competition. These classic
games notwithstanding, however, the annual competition is typically a
place where new authors can experiment with new game ideas and
programming languages on a small scale with a guarantee of roughly 20
reviews (at least that's been the norm of late). The Town Dragon by
David Cornelson is a traditional fantasy game from way back in the 1997
IF Competition that features a veritable plethora of fantasy clichés
surrounding dragons, kidnapped daughters, and corruption. It is
apparently a first time game for the author, one that unfortunately
suffers from a few game design mistakes that undermine the
well-intentioned plot and puzzles.

The goal of the game at first glance seems fairly simple and
straightforward: you must kill the town dragon and save the distressed
damsel, in this case the mayor's daughter. And, as is typical,
recovering the mayor's daughter is a bit more complex than walking in
through the front cave entrance and demanding her return. The problem
here is that even with a fairly small map, it's very difficult to get
focused on where you should be heading. There isn't much linearity in
the game, which is typically a good thing (in fact you can enter the
dragon's lair without facing any obstacles if you really want to) but
this lack of focus, and more specifically a lack of "markers" to guide
you, is actually a detriment to this particular gaming experience. I
found myself halfway through the game with a short inventory list of
items and no idea what to do next. The puzzles are not easy or logical
(although there was a nice bit with some mirrors) and there often is no
incentive for doing certain things that are apparently fundamental in
obtaining a successful outcome. Unfortunately, the game just doesn't
proceed either intuitively or reasonably from one section to the next.
You know you have to save the mayor's daughter, you just have no idea by
what means you should save her. 

The game has a fairly small time limit that's set up in a novel enough
way. You begin the game standing in a line of "volunteers" where one of
you has to put your foot forward to rescue the girl. The unlucky
volunteer who elects to save her will get killed by the dragon in
roughly seventy-five moves or so, after which the mayor spirits you back
from wherever you are to stand in the center of town with the rest of
the volunteers so that another volunteer can be chosen. Being whisked
away while you're in the middle of puzzling something out (like let's
say the mapping of one of the game's 2 mazes) was especially
frustrating, and broke up the flow of my thought process on many
occasions. This happens about 3 times after which you are automatically
chosen as the volunteer and you have roughly seventy moves or so before
the dragon comes after you. There are a few ways to prolong the dragon's
assault, but time really is of the essence here. You want to waste as
little of it as possible.

I got the impression while playing The Town Dragon that the author put
this piece together in relatively little time (which is true of many
pieces released during the annual competition). The writing is not the
greatest I've seen in a piece of IF, with many grammatical and spelling
errors (although, I believe these have been corrected in later versions
of the game). There seems to also be a problem with the way the words
flow, and the scenery descriptions seem disjointed in their structure.
Here is an example of a typical room description:

   South Road

   This road enters the town to the north and leads to a cavern to the
   south. There are rising cliffs on either side of you. It is rumored
   that a dragon resides in the cavern.

Not a big deal, but both pieces relating to the cavern could have been
put together I think.

The author does incorporate a good sense of humor in a few places
however, and a typical mimesis-breaking technique that the author puts
to good use occurs when the player tries to head in a direction where
there is no possible exit. Here was a typical (albeit longer) example.

   You found a secret passage!!!

   [Your score has just gone up by one hundred points.]

   You have so far scored 120 out of a possible 140, in 48 turns

   A group of interactive fiction auditors appear and begin tallying up
   your adventures.

   "According to our records, you were to have found a secret passage at
   some point and time. Hmmm...", one of them peruses various documents
   and looks up at you, "Nope. It was a hoax performed by the author.",
   and they all look at each other shaking their heads. "You'll have to
   return the 100 points given to you under false pretenses."

   The auditors gather up their paperwork and walk away....with of
   course, your extra 100 points, earning you the rank of Dragon Snack.

   [Your score has just gone down by one hundred points.]

This leads to a little brevity and also a little relief, as it's fairly
obvious that the author never intended the game to be taken too
seriously. Unfortunately, it also accentuates some of the problems with
the game. There are a few secret directional pathways to be found, and
the constant comments you receive about "not being able to read the
description sceneries properly" when moving in an inappropriate
direction provides the player with some negative reinforcement when it
comes to trying alternate pathways. There are similar problems with
alternative solutions to some of the easier puzzles. Why is it a certain
NPC will accept payment in one type of currency, but not in a more
expensive type of currency? Why is it physical deformities or important
articles of clothing that should be immediately visible on certain
characters take repeated searching attempts to discover? 

I had actually deemed the game unwinnable until I read another review of
the game in SPAG and realized that there was a built-in walkthrough I
could use if I wanted to. Having given up hope of ever solving the game
on my own, I used the walkthrough and I'm glad I did. In my opinion, the
game is unwinnable without it, and the intuitive leaps the author
requires the player to make are very unreasonable. Here's an example of
some of the "intuitive leaps" the game's puzzles depend on: The player
realizing that people like to take naps after they eat; the player
looking up something in a newspaper without knowing why, when the actual
action of reading the newspaper gives no clue that there's something
relevant inside it; non-standard Inform actions that have to be
initiated without any idea why. It's a real pity too, because through
all the jumble, there is a pretty good story in there somewhere and some
of the puzzles could be rated top notch, provided they were clued a
little better.

Unfortunately, as it stands, the guess-what-the-author's thinking
routine gets a little frustrating by about halfway through the game and
if it wasn't for the built-in walkthrough, I don't know if I would have
wanted to finish it. I'm sorry to say that as a result, The Town Dragon
is not recommendable.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Winchester's Nightmare
AUTHOR: Nick Montfort
E-MAIL: nickm SP@G
DATE: 1999
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

I confess I hadn't heard anyone argue that the various bits of shorthand
that IFers have become accustomed to--one-letter compass directions, Z,
X, G, and such--inhibit realism, but Winchester's Nightmare is a game
built, among other things, on that thesis. Beyond that, the game
emphasizes the exploratory aspect of its world to the point where you
can go very far indeed without encountering any puzzles as such. The
result isn't exactly a roaring success, though it has some interesting

You're Sarah Winchester, wife of the gun manufacturing mogul, and you're
struggling, in terms more figurative than literal, with your conscience
and your family's legacy: specifically, you're wandering two parallel
landscapes, one of them relatively pristine and one, it seems, scarred
by a more violent age. The wandering is the high point of the game,
really, since the author avoids making judgments for you: to what extent
the "after" landscape represents progress or decay, to what extent
you're complicit, and to what extent you can do anything about them are
all left fairly vague. The images are evocative, and the contrasts often
done rather subtly--compare this:

   Sarah is at this island's edge. The wooden platform she stands upon
   runs out from eastern bank, into the Great River, at the brink of New
   City's cluster of buildings.

with this:

   Sarah is at this island's edge. Concrete runs out from eastern bank,
   into the Great River, at the brink of New City's cluster of
   high-rises. A few rusted pieces of rebar jut out, dimly lit from
   nearby streetlamps. South along the water is the entrance to a

Here, things look like they've taken a turn for the worse, but not
everywhere: some locations move from deserted and bleak to populated and
thriving, suggesting that the game isn't interested in simplistic
judgments. The game's world is full of locations freighted with symbolic
significance--a church, a government complex, an oil field, an armory, a
university--but, again, the game doesn't take it upon itself to connect
the dots. In that respect, Winchester's Nightmare is almost akin to a
painting that incorporates two scenes side by side: there's much to be
observed in the contrasts, and hypothesizing about the significance for
the central character of each aspect of the paintings. Cut-scenes of
sorts, involving characters who appear, say something cryptic to you,
and disappear again, heighten the disjointed feel, but the whole thing,
given some thought, rewards analysis.

As interactive fiction, however, Winchester's Nightmare isn't quite as
successful. For one thing, the author has replaced the > prompt with
"Sarah decides to," again presumably in the service of realism; it's not
quite as confining as the disabled abbreviations, but it's still
jarring, and, more importantly, it reduces the comfort level for the
experienced IF player. It's true that, from a strictly literary sense,
the > and the various abbreviations mutilate the flow of the narrative a
bit; the transcript doesn't read nearly as well that way. But the flow
of the story in the player's mind--the feeling of immersion that's
produced when the player can do what comes naturally (and for veteran
players, X and G do come naturally) without thinking about the mundane
details of having to type in commands to prod the program to output
text--is lost. Others may not feel this way, of course, but the danger
of the approach adopted by Winchester's Nightmare is that it lets form
get in the way of content, and risks dragging the player out of the
story every time the game reminds him or her that one-letter commands
aren't allowed.

A separate but just as damaging problem with the painting aspect is that
you don't have much more interaction with the game's world than someone
viewing a painting; there are a few simple objects, and you can examine
most things, but there's very little that you can manipulate in any real
way. I suppose that's inherent in what the author is trying to do-this
is supposed to be a dream landscape-but still, when you wander through
room after room that doesn't permit any action more dynamic than
EXAMINE, it's easy to feel more like a spectator than a participant.

The real problem, though, is that the game has to go somewhere after
you've been wandering around, and the author's way of making it go
somewhere is pretty difficult to figure out; moreover, even once you've
figured out the basic contours of what you're trying to do, actually
doing it is much more difficult than it should be, and you're likely to
be reduced to wandering through the game looking for random objects,
exploratory mood utterly shot. (You do need to gather some objects, and
there's not a lot of rhyme or reason to where you find them.) You may
get lucky and hit on the puzzle solutions immediately, but if you don't,
the game's strongest point--the complexity of its setting, and the
number of rooms that are there simply to fill out the landscape--becomes
a major nuisance, since you'll be wandering through dozens of rooms that
aren't useful for puzzle-solving purposes. It would have been better, in
other words, if this particular story had abandoned puzzles entirely, or
at least minimized their difficulty; having to turn to object-hunting,
after spending so much time just absorbing your surroundings, is a major
wrench. In a way, the puzzles that you solve aren't otherwise
inconsistent with the feel of the game: they're heavily steeped in
symbolism and they involve somewhat nonlinear thinking. Moreover, it
would arguably be a lesser game with no conflicts to overcome, and
puzzles are probably the best (and only) of creating real conflict in
IF. The trick, here, is to give the player a sense of conflict without
impeding the flow of the story, and it doesn't really work here;
perhaps, if you had a strong hint early on in the game about what you're
supposed to be doing and how you 're to go about it, the player could
combine his or her exploration with puzzle-solving in the first place.

There are lots of good ideas floating around in Winchester's Nightmare,
including some rather intriguing ones about ways to explore the
psychology of the PC. (Even if the game doesn't supply much of the
content outright--again, you have to fill in a lot of blanks--the
character of Sarah is far from simple.) They're hampered, however, by
some unfortunate game design choices, and the end result works better
from a purely literary standpoint than as interactive fiction--an
experiment worth trying, perhaps, but not all that satisfying for the

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 IF-archive or on the SPAG web page at

Name                    Avg Sc    Chr     Puz # Sc  Issue Notes:
====                    ======    ===     === ====  ===== ======
9:05                      6.2     0.5     0.5    6     20 F_INF_GMD
Aayela                    7.4     1.2     1.5    5     10 F_TAD_GMD
Above and Beyond          8.9     1.8     1.6    1        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     6.2     0.5     1.1   12   8,22 F_INF_TAD_ETC_GMD
Adventureland             4.5     0.5     1.2    4        F_INF_GMD
Adventures of Helpful     7.0     1.3     0.9    2        F_TAD_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                   6.9     1.5     1.3    4      9 C_AP_I_64
Anchorhead                8.7     1.7     1.5   23     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    44,14,22 C_INF
Augmented Fourth          7.1     1.3     1.4    3     22 F_INF_GMD
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                     8.7     1.8     1.3    8     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          7.1     1.2     1.3    5     13 F_INF_GMD
Beat The Devil            5.5     1.2     1.1    4     19 F_INF_GMD
Beyond the Tesseract      3.7     0.1     0.6    1      6 F_I_GMD
Beyond Zork               8.0     1.5     1.8    9  5, 14 C_INF
BJ Drifter                7.0     1.2     1.2    4     15 F_INF_GMD
Bliss                     6.3     1.1     0.8    4     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     21 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               7.0     1.5     1.4   10      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          5.2     1.1     0.7    9     19 F_INF_GMD
Chico and I Ran           7.2     1.7     1.1    1        F_INF_GMD
Christminster             8.2     1.6     1.6   16     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             7.2     1.6     0.4    2     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, 21 C_MAG
Cosmoserve                7.8     1.4     1.4    5      5 F_AGT_GMD
Cove                      6.5     0.9     0.5    1     22 F_INF_GMD
Crypt v2.0                5.0     1.0     1.5    1      3 S12_IBM_GMD
Curses                    8.0     1.2     1.7   18  2, 22 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
Danger! Adventurer...     3.2     0.3     0.7    1        F_INF_GMD
Dangerous Curves          8.6     1.5     1.6    1        F_INF_GMD
Day For Soft Food         6.8     1.0     1.3    5     19 F_INF_GMD
Deadline                  6.8     1.3     1.3    8     20 C_INF
Death To My Enemies       4.4     0.9     0.7    4        F_INF_GMD
Deep Space Drifter        5.6     0.4     1.1    3      3 S15_TAD_GMD
Deephome                  4.0     0.5     0.9    2     21 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           5.8     1.1     0.1    9 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    5     17 F_INF_GMD
Dungeon                   7.1     1.0     1.7    2        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                   8.2     1.5     1.8    8     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        5.0     1.1     0.8    3        F_AGT
Enchanter                 7.3     1.0     1.4    9   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                   6.2     1.2     1.5    4     19 F_TAD_GMD
Eric the Unready          7.8     1.5     1.6    4        C_I
Everybody Loves a Par     7.0     1.2     1.2    3     12 F_TAD_GMD
Exhibition                6.2     1.4     0.3    6     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     21 F_TAD_GMD
Foom                      6.6     1.0     1.0    1        F_TAD_GMD
For A Change              7.7     0.9     1.4    5 19, 22 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     1.0    3 21, 22 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     21 F_TAD_GMD
Galatea                   7.0     1.9     0.5    2     22 F_INF_GMD
Gateway                   8.6     1.4     1.8    6     11 C_I
Gateway 2: Homeworld      9.3     1.8     1.9    3        C_I
Gerbil Riot of '67        6.3     0.7     1.1    1        F_TAD_GMD
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     21 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     22 F_HUG_GMD
Guitar...Immortal Bard    3.0     0.0     0.0    1        F_INF_GMD
Gumshoe                   6.2     1.0     1.1    7      9 F_INF_GMD
Halothane                 6.6     1.3     1.2    4     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        7.4     1.4     1.5   14      5 C_INF
Hollywood Hijinx          6.5     0.9     1.6   11        C_INF
Holy Grail                6.2     0.9     1.2    1     21 F_TAD_GMD
Horror of Rylvania        7.2     1.4     1.4    5      1 F_TAD_GMD              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       7.6     0.9     1.5    5     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     7.7     1.5     1.2   16     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               5.0     0.3     1.0    3     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       7.1     1.3     1.2    3     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                    8.1     1.5     1.6   17    8,9 F_INF_GMD
Jinxter                   6.1     0.9     1.3    3        C_MAG
John's Fire Witch         6.5     1.0     1.5    9  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     5.9     0.9     1.0    4     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.              2.7     0.2     0.1    4        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
LASH                      8.5     1.4     1.0    2     21 F_INF_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           8.2     1.4     1.5   10     17 F_INF_GMD
Lomalow                   4.6     1.0     0.6    3     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     5.1     0.7     1.2    3        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                 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          7.8     1.4     1.5    7 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
Mindwheel                 8.5     1.6     1.5    1        C_I
Mission                   6.0     1.2     1.4    1     21 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                      7.9     1.5     1.2    4     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
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     5.3     0.8     0.9    3     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         6.4     1.4     1.1    7    7,8 F_TAD_GMD
Only After Dark           4.6     0.8     0.6    4        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     21 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                  7.5     1.5     0.6   19     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   12      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     5.6     1.0     1.3    3     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
Rematch                   7.9     1.5     1.6    1     22 F_TAD_GMD
Remembrance               2.7     0.8     0.2    3        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            5.6     1.0     1.3    5      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     1.3    6   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                  6.8     1.3     0.5    5     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      6.0     1.2     1.2    2      6 F_AGT_GMD
Six Stories               6.3     1.0     1.2    4     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                    8.0     1.2     1.5   11     12 F_INF_GMD
Sorcerer                  7.2     0.6     1.6    7   2,15 C_INF
Sound of... Clapping      7.0     1.2     1.3    7      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            8.4     1.6     1.7   15      14F_INF_GMD
SpiritWrak                6.7     1.2     1.3    6     22 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
Statuette                 3.7     0.0     0.1    1        F_INF_GMD
Stiffy                    0.6     0.0     0.0    1        F_INF_GMD
Stiffy - MiSTing          4.7     1.1     0.4    5        F_INF_GMD
Stone Cell                6.0     1.1     1.0    3     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   12      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                 8.0     1.2     1.6    4        C_I
TimeSquared               4.3     1.1     1.1    1        F_AGT_GMD
Toonesia                  5.8     1.1     1.1    6  7, 21 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, 22 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     1.4     1.7   16    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                 8.2     1.6     1.5    9     18 F_INF_GMD
Veritas                   6.6     1.3     1.4    4        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
Water Bird                5.0     1.1     0.8    1        F_TAD_GMD
Waystation                5.5     0.7     1.0    4      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
Winchester's Nightmar     6.9     1.5     0.5    1     22 F_INF_GMD
Winter Wonderland         7.6     1.3     1.2    7     19 F_INF_GMD
Wishbringer               7.4     1.3     1.3   13    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              7.6     1.7     1.4    8     21 F_TAD_GMD
Your Choice               5.5     0.0     1.1    1        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     1.0     1.5   10      14C_INF
Zork 1                    6.1     0.8     1.4   21  1, 12 C_INF
Zork 2                    6.5     1.0     1.5   12  1, 12 C_INF
Zork 3                    6.5     0.9     1.4    8  1, 12 C_INF
Zork Undisc. Undergr.     6.0     0.9     1.1    2      14F_INF_GMD
Zork: A Troll's Eye V     4.4     0.6     0.1    3     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, the SPAG scoreboard has received 120 more votes since last issue,
and far and away the biggest surprise in this issue's top 10 list is the
sudden and amazingly strong showing by a couple of early 90's games
produced by Legend Entertainment: Gateway and Gateway 2: Homeworld. Both
of these games are based on Frederik Pohl's classic Heechee Saga, a
series of sf novels that began with a novel called "Gateway," about
humanity's discovery of a station full of spaceships left by a
mysterious race called the Heechee. Legend's Gateway games were one of
the best adaptations of previously extant source material into IF form,
and for some reason SPAG readers have spontaneously decided to recognize
that achievement. Perhaps all members of the Pohl fan club recently
subscribed en masse?

1.  Gateway 2: Homeworld  9.3   3 votes
2.  Sunset over Savannah  8.7   6 votes
3.  Trinity               8.7   16 votes
4.  Anchorhead            8.7   23 votes
5.  Babel                 8.7   8 votes
6.  Gateway               8.6   6 votes
7.  Losing Your Grip      8.5   6 votes
8.  Spellbreaker          8.5   8 votes
9.  Spider and Web        8.4   15 votes
10. Christminster         8.2   16 votes

As always, please remember that the scoreboard is only as good as the
contributions it receives. To make your mark on this vast morass of
statistics, rate some games on our website
( You can also, if you like, send ratings
directly to me at obrian SP@G Instructions for how the rating
system works are in the SPAG FAQ, available from GMD and our website.
Please read the FAQ before submitting scores, so that you understand how
the scoring system works. After that, submit away!

 ___. .___    _    ___.     ___. 
/  _| |   \  / \  / ._|    /  _| 
\  \  | o_/ |   | | |_.    \  \  
.\  \ | |   | o | | | |    .\  \ 
|___/ |_|   |_|_| \___|    |___/ PECIFICS

SPAG Specifics is a small section of SPAG dedicated to providing in-
depth critical analysis of IF games, spoilers most emphatically


Spider & Web




From: Adrian Chung 

NAME: Spider and Web
AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin
E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G
DATE: 1997-8
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 4

This is not a review. I'm writing this for SPAG Specifics, a section
inspired by IF authors' expressed need for IF *criticism*. There are
already many excellent reviews of S&W (see SPAG 14 and XYZZYNews 16).
Instead, I shall give a personalized critique of why this game worked
for me, with the hope that by its deconstruction, the many talented IF
authors out there may build upon its successes and avoid any of the
potential pitfalls.

I managed to complete S&W without the aid of a walk-through. This is
quite an accomplishment when you consider that, prior to 1999, the last
time I played an adventure game the Cold War was still on. Having a bad
Net connection probably helped to motivate my perseverance. With
broadband, downloading a walk-through would be all too tempting. In
fact, I'm of the opinion that a walk-through, any walk-through, would
ruin the experience entirely. So much so, that when recommending this
game to a friend, I'd implore the player ask me for hints when stuck.

Starting the story with a blatant locked door puzzle leads one to
believe that S&W is a pretty standard get-X-to-open-Y adventure. How
many games begin with a locked or boarded up door in the very first
location? The premise of an ongoing interrogation is revealed to the
player a few turns later, however. There is a recent trend in IF to mask
the underlying game concept in more classic adventure game structures
(treasure hunts, trollfests, amnesiac walking up, etc.); the true nature
being revealed only after the PC has amassed much wealth and slashed
several creatures along the way. The risk is that seasoned IF players
will conclude that there is nothing original to be seen and retire
early. S&W avoids this.

The use of IF interaction to depict an interrogation is quite original.
In absence of this plot device, one would have to implement the entire
exchange via an ASK/TELL interface. In contrast, using a forced
flashback sequence liberates the player and avoids the problems of the
one-room adventure. The story does not go into details of the technology
used, but it is assumed that most players would by now be familiar with
the various virtual reality concepts that often feature in sci-fi. One
fills in the blanks as necessary. This vagueness plays a role in how
different players eventually solved the award-winning "escape from
chair" puzzle. More on that later.

The mechanics of the interrogation, as well as the motivations of the
protagonist character(PC), are introduced in stages. One of my pet
peeves in IF is the tediously uninteractive infodump. In S&W, the locked
door puzzle is given a fresh face, while at the same time the player
familiarizes oneself with the main premise in an incremental manner. One
learns the PC is a spy, has been caught, is being interrogated by the
enemy, originally possessed a lockpick and possibly other gadgets to aid
in the mission, and that most if not all his equipment has been
confiscated. All this over the period of several turns that involve a
variety of actions from the player. This story is well paced.

Since the VR-sim style is adopted for interrogation, the need for a
complicated ASK/TELL interface is mitigated. Almost all dialogue by the
main NPC is designed to accommodate this. Reduction of one's speech to
single words is further reinforced by the voice activated equipment in
one's inventory. This style risks conditioning players to believe that
any and all dialogue with the interrogator is completely irrelevant. I
often just waited through these "interludes". I later found that I was

Once in the building the inventory suddenly overflows with all manner of
secret agent gadgetry. I was overwhelmed at this point because huge
inventories imply a large combinatoric solution space. I also was under
the mistaken impression that there was some sort of time pressure at
this point. In the previous scenes the PC's captor grew impatient with
my lack of progress all too easily, and I naturally assumed the same
rules would apply throughout. In fact, the interrogation had now adopted
"Groundhog Day" rules -- repeat the current scene until you carry out
what is required, with hints courtesy the PC's captor. My initial panic
had been subdued but only after playing around with the equipment. The
sudden change of pace could have been softened more, I feel.

There are many clues that litter the game, many revealed only through
non-fatal mistakes. S&W encourages exploration and experimentation,
which is good. Many relevant events occur at the "Corner At Doors". The
treasure seeking players would surely try collecting every item found
lying around. An inviting metal wrench satisfies this need, and helps
drive home the point about the metal detectors not allowing weaponry
deeper into the building.

My personal game play was influenced by watching too many episodes of
the original Mission: Impossible series (that classic 70's Cold War TV
show that often had Greg Morris' character crawling around in
ventilation ducts). The gap in the ceiling prompted me to attempt
crawling around up there with the minilamp. Enough hanging around

  Your fingertips ache dully. And a nearby ventilator grille seems to
  be hissing directly into your ear.

and later, in a different font:

  The ventilator grille isn't important.

The font helped differentiate this message from the standard "That's
just scenery." type library message. I'm sure that many other players
might have missed these important clues. It is a pity that the M:I
franchise has been corrupted by Hollywood.

In the following scene the second key hint is easier to encounter:

  The metal door to the north isn't important.

again in a different font. This reliance on font differentiation, to
highlight a crucial piece of information, poses an interesting the
question: how does one's choice of Z-interpreter client influence game
play? If S&W were played on a client of very limited text formatting
ability, would the player have dismissed these hints? Hard to say, but
the author has made sure that none of the innocent library responses in
any way resemble "The ... isn't important.".

The scene with the lab door serves two roles:

  * to give the player more opportunities to play with the gadgets,
    especially the acid pack and blast tab. The player should now
    realize that the blast tab would have breached the door yet

  * to give the player further doubts as to what was really going on.
    The interrogator even helps out here, but I suspect that many
    players, including myself, did not explore the effect of answering
    the interrogator unwisely.

The PC shows that his blast tab would blow open the lab door. The
interrogator reveals and inquires why this sequence of events did not
occur. Answering, "No. Yes.", tips off the enemy and leads to an instant
death. The clue here is blatant but most players would have avoided it.
(I am only encountering it on the second play through.)

The "Security Annex" scene is a point about which the whole game pivots.
The previous scenes all prepare the way for it in more ways than one. If
the incident with the lab door fails to ignite one's curiosity, then
experiences here will surely make up for it. I am not in the habit of
keeping multiple saved games, yet sufficient subtle hints kept me,
perhaps subconsciously, from overwriting my snapshots beyond this point.
Among the clues:

  * Entering the "Interrogation Chamber" and confirming this fact with
    the captor.  An instant death that is easily UNDOable.  Denying
    the fact also reveals limitations of the interrogator and his
    technology, prompting the player to question his assumptions
    regarding the trustworthiness of the narrative.

  * Examining the pedestal in the "Interrogation Chamber"

  * Lots of metal around (locker, cabinets, and chair) for
    experimenting with the acid pack.

  * Multiple solutions for getting by the scan web, though the timer
    is difficult enough to master that most players would use the
    scrambler with the voice module.  Familiarity with this important
    piece of equipment is thus ensured.

  * Multiple rooms to visit. One room apparently just a red herring,
    at the very least, and an interesting diversion, at the very
    most. Indeed the term "red herring" takes on a new meaning in this
    game.  Which room was really the red herring and to whom?

I consider this part of the game the most important area to explore
properly. If a first time player keeps getting killed in the chair and
asks me for the solution, I'd first inquire how this scene was played
out. A walk-through would just spoil it. Had I resorted to a
walk-through to get out of the chair, I would have skipped the "Security
Annex" part and read only the solution relevant to the immediate
problem, completely missing out on the whole point.

Subsequent actions at the "Dead End" bring the ventilation grilles to
the attention of all concerned, especially to the player who might have
missed this detail during the first encounter at the "Corner At Doors".
The final clue is the actual inventory of tools found in the vent. The
passing of time is carefully implemented to allow careful examination of
contents on the desk, but the PC has just one chance to speak. 

On first play, I managed to solve the chair puzzle with only a fraction
of all the clues and hints mentioned in this article. The author has
cleverly accounted for many different ways one might infer the solution.
I did have to replay the "Security Annex" scene to pick up sufficient
clues. The "Eureka!" feeling that swept over me was truly unparalleled.
A common complaint made by players on raif is that the ventilation
grilles should have been made more obvious. My enumeration of most of
the in-game hints has convinced me that this is unnecessary. The grilles
are revealed on examination of the walls though this is implied detail.

The game rules change after effecting the escape. One must now
reconstruct a new sequence of events using all the evidence at hand:

  * what the interrogator thought he knew of the PC's actions
  * "The ... isn't important." messages
  * the current state of the PC's tools

The last point is further exploited to lend credibility to the story.
Spy gadgetry that works perfectly as seen in Hollywood films is an
ill-afforded luxury. The timer fails. The remote detonator malfunctions.
All plausible occurrences that support the underlying plot twist.
Another pet peeve I have with major non-linear plot twists is that they
must not overextend credibility. I've seen this fail all too often in
movies (e.g. "The Game"). In S&W the plot is completely plausible:

The PC is aware that waltzing unarmed into a well guarded laboratory is
certain to fail, but cannot get his gun past the metal detectors. He
hides it in a vent by the hole in the ceiling, planning to retrieve it
once he's disabled the scan webs via remotely detonated explosive.
Things start to go wrong. He loses hold of his lockpick when planting
the blast tab. The PC must hide inside the Wiring Closet when the guards
retrieve the pick outside. Change of plan: heads for Security Annex to
find something that might help to open the lab door. Uses the scrambler
with timer to search the adjacent rooms, planting the acid tab as a
precaution. The timer fails before entering the office, and the voice
module lies irretrievable in the Interrogation Chamber. He attempts to
cut the power but the transmitter fails also. Tries to make an escape
and is caught at the Dead End.

All very consistent. The post-escape text in S&W includes vestiges of
events that aid in this reconstruction:

   You slide hastily through the closing door. This time, you are
   careful to keep a firm grip on your lockpick.

The reward for being so clever? A tension-filled shoot out and access to
the lab -- the end game. I have one minor quibble regarding the well
thought out, superbly designed, tightly integrated chair-escape puzzle
-- the end game seems an anticlimax in comparison. The lab puzzle is
somewhat standard: fiddle with unfamiliar machinery and get it to work.
Even the actions of the guards are dumbed down; some of the dialogue is
more in line with the clownish antagonists in "Home Alone" movies -- at
least that's the impression that I got.

  "I bet their equipment never fails just when it's needed,"

Confirmation at least that equipment malfunctions are unbiased.

The original innovations in S&W open up several avenues of exploration
by future works of IF:

  * The use of deceptive, misleading or ambiguous narratives to set up
    a non-linear turn of events.  As mentioned previously, there is a
    recent trend in this area. (To mention examples here would yield
    spoilers beyond the scope of this article.) S&W is unique in that the
    reason for the deception is not contrived, but intertwined in the
    story.  The narrative is, in effect, being eavesdropped with full
    knowledge of PC and player -- a tapped conversation, that lies.

  * The already ill defined relationship between PC and player is
    further muddied, defying all attempts of classification.  The PC
    seems to know more than the player.

  * Use of IF interaction in place of ASK/TELL for long periods of
    questioning/interrogation.  One possible avenue of experimentation is
    to use this gimmick in genres that are traditionally unfriendly to the
    IF format.  Questioning witnesses in a court room drama, or prolonged
    inquiries in an Agatha Christie style mystery could, in theory, be
    tackled this way.

The basic ingredients of adventure games should not be downplayed

  * inclusion of in-game hints tied to the story

  * allowing the player to explore and learn from mistakes (even fatal

  * proper pacing of new information

  * ordering newly acquired information so that particularly hard
    puzzles are not forced upon the player prematurely.

Even at this very basic level S&W excels.

In the HELP message the author writes "In a certain sense, this is my
first conventional game." "Conventional" is perhaps one of the last
adjectives that came to my mind on completing S&W. An ingeniously
designed masterpiece. A landmark game whose innovations raise the bar
for all authors of IF. It will be difficult to equal, and a tough
challenge to surpass.

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