___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE # 22 Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) September 15, 2000 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag 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 ----------------------------------------------------- Adventure All Alone Arthur: The Quest For Excalibur At the Bottom of the Garden Augmented Fourth The Cove Curses Dark Mage Dragon Resources Stories Dragonlord For A Change The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man Galatea Guilty Bastards Rans Rematch Return to Pirate's Island II The Spatent Obstruction Spiritwrak The Town Dragon Winchester's Nightmare SPECIFICS ========= Spider & Web EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ 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 quality. 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 (rec.arts.int- fiction) FAQ. It's at http://www.davidglasser.net/raiffaq/. 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 ---------------------------------------------------------------------- YOHO, YOHO, IT'S BACK TO PIRATE'S ISLAND WE GO 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 http://www.msadams.com 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! NEW GAMES 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 announcements: * All Alone by Ian Finley * Rematch by Andrew Pontious SOMETHING ABOUT LEVEL 9 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 http://members.netscapeonline.co.uk/jeremyalansmith/level9/. In addition, the level 9 novellas have been uploaded to GMD and are available in the directory if-archive/level9/novellas. A TOAST... TO MELBA! ER, MARK! 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 http://www.ministryofpeace.com/if/toaster-comp/, or on GMD at if-archive/games/mini-comps/toaster. BEHIND THE PROMPTS: DITCH DAY DRIFTER 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 http://homepages.together.net/~cerutti/ditchday/history.html. Why not cut classes one day and read it? WE NEED MORE REVIEWS... THE MORE, THE BETTER. YOU DIG? 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! SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 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 ARTICLES------------------------------------------------------------------- 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 think. 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 player. The scene continues, with Brian resisting Keith's invitation to try the game. 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 happening. (Blackout) 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 effective. 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) (Blackout) 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 worthwhile. 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 (www.msadams.com), 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 else? 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" story? 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 AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 URL: Not available. When submitting reviews: Try to fill in as much of this info as you can. If you choose, you may also provide scores for the games you review, as explained in the SPAG FAQ. The scores will be used in the ratings section. Authors may not rate or review their own games. More elaborate descriptions of the rating and scoring systems may be found in the FAQ and in issue #9 of SPAG, which should be available at: ftp://ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/magazines/SPAG/ and at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag REVIEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------- From: 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. --Paul] 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 games. 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 both. 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 aol.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/alone1.gam 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 cute? Yeah. 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, Floyd! "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 hints. 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 agreeable. 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 bigfoot.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: included in the zipped archive at ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/mini-comps/dragon/DragonComp.zip 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 ground. 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 vt.edu DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/Aug4.z8 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 attention. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: The Cove AUTHOR: Kathleen M. Fischer E-MAIL: mfischer5 SP@G aol.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/Cove.z5 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 gnelson.demon.co.uk DATE: 1993 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code v5 (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Free URL: http://www.gnelson.demon.co.uk/ 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 1988. 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. URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/atari-8bit/dm.bin 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. [http://www.netway.com/~hozervideo --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: AS JESTER TO KING ROLAND THE INSANE, YOU'VE KNOWN BETTER DAYS - BANISHED! - JUST BECAUSE YOU HAD TOO MUCH TO DRINK - AND LOST THE BLACK ROSE OF THE REALM IN A CARD GAME AGAINST NEONORE,THE DARK MAGE... Then the player is greeted with: YOU ARE ON A HILLTOP 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 examples. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Francesco Bova NAME: Dragon Resources Stories AUTHOR: Peter Berman EMAIL: pbmath SP@G hotmail.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.iflibrary.org/mcp_dragon.gam or included in the zipped archive at ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/mini-comps/dragon/DragonComp.zip VERSION: 1.2 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 as: "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 threatening?" 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 sprynet.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Home-brewed, Windows-based SUPPORTS: Win 95/98/NT AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.users.uswest.net/~gainaz/ 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. CLICKABLE OPTIONS: 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 text-based. 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 dfan.org DATE: Sept 1999 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code v5 (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Free, Competition 99 entry. URL: http://www.dfan.org/ 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 work. 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 scale. 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 demause.net DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/fren5-2.zip VERSION: Release 1.2 Hah! 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 boot. 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 misfits. 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 mindspring.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/Galatea.z8 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 freedom.) 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 generalcoffee.com DATE: August 1998 PARSER: Hugo (graphics/sound enabled Hugo parsers highly recommended) SUPPORTS: All modern Hugo interpreters (graphics/sound capability recommended) AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.interlog.com/~tessman/guilty.html 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 story. 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 there. 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 TITLE: Rans AUTHOR: Bob Reeves E-MAIL: rreeves SP@G unm.edu DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/rans.zip 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 least. 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 AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/Rematch.gam 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 walkthrough. 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 msadams.com 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) URL: http://www.msadams.com 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 PARSER: AGT SUPPORTS: AGT ports AVAILABILITY: GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/agt/spatent.zip VERSION: 2.55 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 > DRIVER, AIRPORT 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. THE WRITE STUFF 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 frustration. FOR PUZZLES' SAKE 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 rec.arts.int-fiction 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 explanation: 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. STORYTIME 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 Spatents? 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 immodest. 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 it. AND NOW LET'S GO OVER THE FILMS WE'VE SEEN ON TODAY'S SHOW 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 WHAT?!?". 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 mistakes. Bottom line: thumbs down. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Spiritwrak AUTHOR: Daniel Yu E-MAIL: dsyu SP@G holonet.net DATE: 1996 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/spirit.z5 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 placet.com DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition97/inform/tdragon/tdragon.z5 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. >ne You found a secret passage!!! [Your score has just gone up by one hundred points.] >Full 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 media.mit.edu DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/winchest.z8 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 moments. 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 warehouse. 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 player. READERS' SCOREBOARD ------------------------------------------------------- The Readers' Scoreboard is an ongoing feature of SPAG. It charts the scores that SPAG readers and reviewers have given to various IF games since SPAG started up. The codes in the Notes column give information as to a game's availability and the platforms on which it runs. For a translation of these codes and for more detailed information on the scoreboard's format, see the SPAG FAQ. This FAQ is available at the ftp.gmd.de IF-archive or on the SPAG web page at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag. Name Avg Sc Chr Puz # Sc Issue Notes: ==== ====== === === ==== ===== ====== 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 Horror30.zip 3.7 0.3 0.7 2 3 S20_I_GMD Human Resources Stori 0.9 0.0 0.1 2 17 F_INF_GMD Humbug 6.9 1.6 1.4 3 11 F_I_GMD Hunter, In Darkness 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 Magic.zip 4.5 0.5 0.5 1 3 S20_IBM_GMD Maiden of the Moonlig 6.4 1.3 1.5 2 10 F_TAD_GMD Matter of Time 1.4 0.3 1.4 1 14F_ALAN_GMD Mercy 7.3 1.4 1.2 6 12 F_INF_GMD Meteor...Sherbet 7.8 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 (http://www.sparkynet.com/spag). You can also, if you like, send ratings directly to me at obrian SP@G colorado.edu. Instructions for how the rating system works are in the SPAG FAQ, available from GMD and our website. Please read the FAQ before submitting scores, so that you understand how the scoring system works. After that, submit away! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ___. .___ _ ___. ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| / _| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. \ \ .\ \ | | | o | | | | .\ \ |___/ |_| |_|_| \___| |___/ PECIFICS SPAG Specifics is a small section of SPAG dedicated to providing in- depth critical analysis of IF games, spoilers most emphatically included. WARNING! SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE FOLLOWING GAME: Spider & Web PROCEED NO FURTHER UNLESS YOU HAVE PLAYED THIS GAME! THIS IS NOT A TEST! GENUINE SPOILERS TO FOLLOW! LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILAGE! From: Adrian Chung NAME: Spider and Web AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G netcom.com DATE: 1997-8 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/infocom/Tangle.z5 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 mistaken. 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 yielded: 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 didn't. * 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 however: * inclusion of in-game hints tied to the story * allowing the player to explore and learn from mistakes (even fatal ones) * 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. SUBMISSION POLICY --------------------------------------------------------- SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure games, a.k.a. Interactive Fiction. This includes the classic Infocom games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the primary player-game communication is text based. Any and all text-based games are eligible for review, though if a game has been reviewed three times in SPAG, no further reviews of it will be accepted unless they are extraordinarily original and/or insightful. Authors retain the rights to use their reviews in other contexts. 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