ISSUE #23 - December 29, 2000

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

            ISSUE # 23  -- 2000 IF Competition Special

           Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G
                     December 29, 2000

           SPAG Website:

SPAG #23 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. 

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

Ad Verbum
And The Waves Choke The Wind
At Wit's End
Being Andrew Plotkin
The Big Mama
Desert Heat
Dinner With Andre
The Djinni Chronicles
The End Means Escape
Guess The Verb!
My Angel
Planet Of The Infinite Minds
Prodly The Puffin



I've been spending a little more time on ifMUD lately, and recently one
of the denizens there asked me a question: "Why does SPAG have an annual
competition issue?" I'm still turning this question over in my mind. Of
course, there's an obvious, easy answer: tradition. SPAG had extremely
close ties to the comp in its first few years, because the founder and
then-editor of SPAG, Kevin "Whizzard" Wilson, was also the guy who *ran*
the competition. It was only natural that the zine celebrate the comp
with reviews, author interviews, in-depth analyses (precursor to the
modern SPAG Specifics) and such. Since then, SPAG has chronicled the
comp each year as a matter of standard practice.

Still, tradition alone isn't a satisfactory answer to the question.
After all, the zine and the comp are run by different people now. Too,
competition reviews are hardly in short supply. In fact, reviewing comp
games has become so de rigeur that by the time the comp issue of SPAG
comes out, the community has already been treated to opinions from
dozens of different comp reviewers, myself included. This is, of course,
a great thing (as it would be if non-comp games got the same treatment),
but it does tend to call into question the usefulness of an annual SPAG
full of comp reviews.

However, after giving it some thought, I believe there are several
points in favor of an annual comp issue. One, SPAG solicits reviews that
go into greater depth than the majority of the treatments that appear on Looking through the reviews collected on Stephen
Granade's site at reveals that many
consist of just a few sentences, transcribed notes, fragmentary
thoughts, or offhand reactions; many also include spoilers, which make
them unfriendly to people who haven't yet played the game. As the number
of comp games increases, so too does this tendency toward brevity and
skimming. SPAG reviews, on the other hand, try for a bit more cohesion,
a bit more depth, and work hard to avoid spoilers. Even the comp reviews
reprinted from rgif are selected with these qualities in mind. Including
these reprints allows SPAG to feature a selection from some of the best
reviews to appear on the newsgroups in the post-comp review glut.
Reviews are chosen for their insight into particular points, their
humor, or sometimes their sheer enthusiasm for a game that may have been
overlooked by the majority of other respondents.

It's important to me, though, that the comp issue not be dominated by
these reprints -- I've always tried to keep the ratio of new reviews to
reprints at least one to one, if not greater. In fact, I believe that
original content is another good reason for a SPAG comp issue. The
majority of comp reviews come in a massive deluge the day after the comp
ends, and I think there's a value to comp reviews that are written after
that initial flood, and that perhaps even respond to the points raised
by some of those early assessments. Of course, this idea is predicated
on people actually *writing* these reviews, and though fewer people seem
to be drawn to this type of assignment, the output of those few can be
quite valuable. This issue's original reviews were provided by Mark
Musante, Duncan Stevens, and Tina Sikorski. Tina's reviews in particular
are in a format which differs a bit from the traditional SPAG review --
she assigns and explains letter grades for Writing, Puzzles, Plot, NPCs,
Technical skill, and a final factor called "Tilt", which functions
similar to the wildcard points in regular SPAG scores. In addition, she
provides an overall grade and the score she submitted for the game.
Though these reviews aren't SPAG's usual style, I found their
postdiluvian perspective intriguing, and have included a healthy sample.

One last justification: the SPAG comp issue has always contained more
than just reviews. As in previous years, we've interviewed the authors
of particularly successful comp games -- this time around we've got
interviews with Ian Finley, Emily Short, and J. Robinson Wheeler,
authors of the first, second, and third place comp games, respectively.
All three of these authors took the time to give long and thoughtful
answers to SPAG's questions, and their thoughts are likely to be
interesting even to those who are a bit weary of comp game reviews.

In the end, I've decided that the annual comp issue of SPAG is a
worthwhile endeavour after all, but there are ways to make it even
better. For next year's comp issue, I'll be soliciting creative ideas
for comp-oriented material to stand alongside the reviews. This could be
anything from authors' notes to humor pieces to essays looking at the
patterns created by the comp games as a whole. The future of the comp
issue, and the future of SPAG in general, is in the hands of its
contributors as much as mine. I'm optimistic that the energy and
creativity of the IF community will keep that future a bright one. 

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

There's been a general consensus that the 2000 IF competition was one of
the best ever -- not only were a record number of games entered, but an
impressive number of those were significant achievements. As usual, we
all owe a debt of gratitude to organizer Stephen Granade and vote-
counter Mark Musante. This issue is full of reviews that examine the
comp games in depth, but for posterity's sake, here are the final

1  Kaged                            Ian Finley 
2  Metamorphoses                    Emily Short 
3  Being Andrew Plotkin             J. Robinson Wheeler 
4  Ad Verbum                        Nick Montfort 
5  Transfer                         Tod Levi 
6  My Angel                         Jon Ingold 
7  Nevermore                        Nate Cull 
8  Masquerade                       Kathleen M. Fischer 
9  YAGWAD                           John Kean aka Digby McWiggle 
10 Shade                            Andrew Plotkin 
11 Guess the Verb!                  Leonard Richardson 
12 Letters from Home                Roger Firth 
13 Rameses                          Stephen Bond 
14 The Djinni Chronicles            J. D. Berry 
15 The Best Man                     Rob Menke 
16 And the Waves Choke the Wind     Gunther Schmidl 
17 At Wit's End                     Mike J. Sousa 
18 Dinner with Andre                Liza Daly 
19 Planet of the Infinite Minds     Alfredo Garcia 
20 The Big Mama                     Brendan Barnwell 
21 The End Means Escape             Stephen Kodat 
22 Punk Points                      Jim Munroe 
23 A Crimson Spring                 Robb Sherwin 
   Enlisted                         G. F. Berry 
25 Futz Mutz                        Tim Simmons 
26 Return to Zork: Another Story    Stefano Canali 
27 Unnkulia X                       Valentine Kopteltsev 
28 Desert Heat                      Papillon 
29 Got ID?                          Marc Valhara 
30 Castle Amnos                     John Evans 
31 The Masque of the Last Faeries   Ian R Ball 
32 The Pickpocket                   Alex Weldon 
33 The Trip                         Cameron Wilkin 
34 Happy Ever After                 Robert M. Camisa 
35 Prodly the Puffin                Craig Timpany & Jim Crawford 
36 Withdrawal Symptoms              Niclas Carlsson 
37 Aftermath                        Graham Somerville 
38 The Clock                        Cleopatra Kozlowski 
39 Wrecked                          Campbell Wild 
40 Threading the Labyrinth          Kevin F. Doughty 
41 VOID: CORPORATION                Jonathan Lim 
42 1-2-3...                         Chris Mudd 
43 Escape from Crulistan            Alan Smithee 
44 Stupid Kittens                   Pollyanna Huffington 
45 Marooned                         Bruce Davis 
46 On the Other Side                Antonio Márquez Marín 
47 Jarod's Journey                  Tim Emmerich 
48 Infil-traitor                    Chris Charla
49 Comp00ter Game                   Brendan Barnwell
50 Little Billy                     Okey Ikeako 
51 Asendent                         Sourdoh Farenheit & Kelvin Flatbred
52 What-IF?                         David Ledgard 
53 Breaking the Code                Gunther Schmidl

Even though the competition is over, the flow of new games has not
stopped! Among the new arrivals are another fiendish Andy Phillips
puzzler, an innovative storytelling experiment from the 6th place author
in this year's comp, and the first game (to my knowledge) using the SUDS
development environment.
   * The MONDAY Adventure by Mikel Rice
   * Heroine's Mantle by Andy Phillips
   * Hortulus by Florian Edelbauer (a game in German, available at
   * FailSafe by Jon Ingold
   * Snow Night by Chuck Smith

A new website by the name of ifFINDER has recently appeared at This site catalogs a collection of IF-
related pages, sorting them by category and offering a search engine for
those more specific requests. There are currently 109 pages indexed
there, and the site offers a submission form if you know of a site that
should be on there but isn't.

It's been 11 years since the last Infocom text adventure, and in that
time there has been no definitive resource chronicling the rise and fall
of the most important company in Interactive Fiction history -- until
now. A group of students from MIT, the same university that spawned the
original group of Imps, has released a paper entitled "Down From the Top
of Its Game: The Story of Infocom, Inc." Their conclusion: "Infocom did
not fail simply because it decided to shift its focus to business
software... Behind the scenes, the transition created a litany of
problems that hurt both the games and the business divisions of the
company. Combined with some bad luck, these problems -- not simply the
development of Cornerstone -- ultimately led to Infocom’s downfall." The
paper is available at

Have you ever wanted to endorse a game personally, but not felt up to
writing a review? Brendan Barnwell has the solution for you. It's called
Upthumb, a web site at
This site allows visitors to register their appreciation for IF games
and be added to a list of that game's endorsers. 

SPAG lives or dies by the contributions you provide to it. If you want
to review a game, but aren't sure which one to pick, consider choosing a
candidate from the following list of my deep desires:

1.  The Best Man
2.  Dangerous Curves
3.  FailSafe
4.  Gateway 2: Homeworld
5.  Heroine's Mantle
6.  Letters From Home
7.  The MONDAY Adventure
8.  The Mulldoon Legacy
9.  Snow Night
10. T-Zero


In addition to the innumerable hours they poured into their comp
entries, the top three authors in this year's IF competition were kind
enough to spend some time answering SPAG's questions about their lives,
their work, and their opinions. J. Robinson Wheeler even took those
questions and changed the whole thing from an interview to... something
slightly different. You'll see when we get there. SPAG is proud to
present the following interviews with Ian Finley, Emily Short, and J.
Robinson Wheeler.

  -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-Ian Finley, author of "Kaged"-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

SPAG: When SPAG last spoke with you, you were a 17-year-old high school
student living in Bountiful, Utah. Aside from being three years older,
what else has changed in your life between now and then?

IF: Certainly not my maturity level ;) I'm currently studying acting at
the University of Utah with vague hopes of going on to study directing
at Columbia or NYU, and have graduated from a Byronic gay teen to full
fledged glamour boy and queer activist. My focus lately has been on
performance, including a series of original performance art pieces done
as benefit for the Utah Gay and Lesbian Community Center, as well as
playing the Logician in a production of Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" that's
going to tour California in February. Unfortunately neither acting nor
IF quite pays the rent (let alone the tuition) so I've also been
teaching at the university's Theatre Conservatory during the summers for
the past couple of years, which has been incredibly rewarding.

SPAG: Do you do any other kinds of writing besides IF? 

IF: Most of my writing lately has been for the stage (unsurprising,
given the focus of my current studies). In the past three years I've
written several plays and other theatrical pieces that have been
performed around Salt Lake in different venues as I've slowly crept up
the ladder towards competent writing.

SPAG: What's your assessment of the current shape of IF?

IF: Multifaceted. It's rare to find a "niche market" that has something
for everyone. More than ever before, I think IF has broadened its scope
and appeal; producing works ranging from comedy to tragedy, puzzle-based
to puzzle-less, massive to miniature. Authors are beginning to see just
how much this medium can accomplish (and becoming more aware of its
weaknesses) and pushing the boundaries of that. This is an exciting time
to be involved with the IF community.

SPAG: You've been a perennial entrant to the IF competition. Now that
you've won, what's next? Do you plan to write any more IF, and if so, do
you think you'll submit it to the comp? 

IF: Good question. The reason I enter games in the competition is for
the promise of response: I'm an actor, I need direct response to my
craft to really feel it's working. On stage that's easy, (are they
laughing? are they crying? are they cringing?) but with IF you have to
hope and pray that if someone responds they'll be gracious enough to
tell you. The competition greatly increases that chance. At the same
time, part of the purpose of the comp is to encourage new authors, not
glorify old ones, so I am wary of entering again. 

SPAG: Last year, you chose to enter anonymously (in fact, to enter twice
under two different pseudonyms!) This year, you entered under your own
name. What was your rationale for that decision? 

IF: Last year I didn't want people to see the name Ian Finley and think
"Oh, this will be like Babel" and be utterly disappointed or confused by
Exhibition. I also wanted Exhibition to stand or fall on its own merit,
as opposed to people thinking they SHOULD like it because they enjoyed
Babel. On the other hand, I entered Beal St. anonymously for very
different reasons: I wasn't at all sure I wanted my name associated with
it at all! If Adam Cadre and several others on the MUD hadn't figured me
out that game might very well have gone unclaimed by any author to this

Why then did I enter Kaged under my own name? Because I wanted it to get
noticed. ;) People have certain natural feelings going into a work by an
author they know: I sit down to open a volume of Camus in a totally
different mindset than when I settle in to read Oscar Wilde or Jane
Austen. This is neither good nor bad, just different. Repeatedly, I'd
seen with "Hunter, In Darkness" in '99 the remark that if players had
known it was Zarf they would have rated it higher, not just *because* it
was Zarf but because they would then trust the author enough to take
certain risks with him. Instead of "I'm in a maze, I'll quit playing
now," players said they'd be more inclined to think, "This author
wouldn't put this maze here without a reason, I'll keep playing." So, I
figured this time around, since part of my overall concept was to appeal
to as broad a base of players as possible, I'd submit under my own name.
I can promise though that any games I do enter in the future will be
under various cryptic pseudonyms.

SPAG: What gave you the idea for Kaged?

IF: As always happens with me, several different images came together in
a sort of stew. The original idea came from reading some very clever,
very short horror stories, all with one neat little twist and wondering
how many times I could twist a plot, lie to the PC in some way, and
still get away with it. Then I saw an amazing production of Kafka's
"Metamorphosis" at the Lab Theatre here in Salt Lake. That same week I
started studying the German expressionist silent films, most notably the
classic "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." I began wondering how an
expressionistic world-view wedded with Kafka's dark, to the point,
bureaucratic style might work for IF. The visual style of "Cabinet,"
filled with monstrously skewed perspectives and slanting, terribly acute
angles, was one of its most memorable devices, so I began wondering how
I could adapt that to non-visual IF. As a result, the descriptions of
almost all the rooms in Kaged mention their odd angles, acute corners,
and lack of perpendicular stability. After brewing for a bit, these
random images crystallized into the backbone of Kaged. Interestingly
enough, though many reviewers have likened the game world to 1984 or
Brave New World, I have never actually read anything by Orwell or Huxley
(I'm behind, I know, I know) and indeed if I had I may well have been
too daunted or swayed by their worlds to attempt to create my own

SPAG: Some people have noted that Kaged is a more traditional IF game,
and wondered if that's why it placed ahead of more experimental works
like Rameses and My Angel. Did you set out to give Kaged a broad appeal,
or was its form dictated by its content?

IF: There's some truth behind both statements, but my return to a more
traditional form was largely an intentional move to appeal to a broad
audience. After Exhibition, which I felt accomplished the goals I had
set out for it, I felt slightly guilty that I had somehow let the IF
world down, after the popular success of Babel. Moreover, both and AOL, which have distributed tens of thousands of copies
of Babel, both refused to distribute Exhibition, apparently having no
category it fit into. Add to that a seeming trend towards more
completely puzzle-based games that's started to mirror the recent growth
in puzzle-less games and which seems popular among many people on the
newsgroup. For all these reasons, I made a little deal with myself,
saying: "I'll alternate. For each experimental game I write I'll write a
more traditional game with a broader appeal." I figured in this way I
could reach audiences at both ends of the spectrum at one point or
another, produce "games" which wider distribution mechanisms like might be interested in (thus bringing more people into the
IF community), and still have an opportunity to write experimental,
story-oriented works, which are my biggest interest in the area of IF
today. Sure, it could be said why don't I try to integrate both elements
into one game, and I'm working on that (and I hope Kaged has at least a
few unique, somewhat experimental elements to it) but I've not quite
reached that level of proficiency yet. However, now that I have written
a game that seems to have won the popular vote, I do intend on focusing
my energies more towards experimental forms, like Exhibition and like
this year's very unique and laudable experimental entries like Rameses
and My Angel.

SPAG: Of all the conversation systems on display in the comp, the one in
Kaged was arguably the least interactive: the player simply types "TALK
TO " and the game dictates the dialogue from there on. What were
the advantages and disadvantages of using this method? 

IF: This is owed entirely to The Last Express, the finest piece of
interactive storytelling I've ever seen. NPC interaction has always
baffled me, and one of my primary efforts in writing IF has been finding
ways to sidestep the issue. Babel was written to have no NPCs at all the
character could interact with; Exhibition was written about themes
isolation and the impossibility of communication at least in part to
justify the inability to talk with the NPCs in the gallery. Oh, I'd
tried other ways. The first season of Vivaldi, a massive IF epic that I
started right after Babel and has gone down unforeseen and interesting
paths since then, involved a NPC that responded with the usual ask/tell
system. After coding responses on some seventy-five topics that varied
with the given situation, I realized that writing NPCs in this way
wasn't going to work (the fact that Emily Short somehow made it work is
why I consider Galatea to be one of the true landmark games of modern
IF). So, after tearing my hair out and attempting to program menu-based
conversations for Kaged, I played The Last Express and hit upon the most
elegant solution. If the PC is a well defined character, as I was hoping
Aackmann would be, then in any given situation the plot will dictate
what he is going to say if he chooses to talk. Of course, this required
some puppeteering from behind the scenes and led to some slightly
artificial almost-cut-scenes at some major plot points, but I felt that
on the whole it allowed me to keep things under control without
overloading my programming skills or utterly breaking mimesis. It was a
good compromise for this game and may be something I return to,
depending on its suitability, for other works in the future.

SPAG: Speaking more generally, what are some of your thoughts on
balancing the need for interactivity with the need for telling a story? 

IF: It's damn hard. ;) As a storyteller, I feel that I have to remain in
control a great deal for the story to come through and I think that the
best "story" games from this years comp (BAP, Rameses, etc.) were all
fairly tightly controlled. Possibly the greatest "story" game of all
time, Photopia, was a very controlled game, but I think there are ways
of offering interactivity in other ways that don't necessarily
relinquish that control. Level of detail is one of these for me.
Essentially every object in Kaged is described, including the walls,
floor and ceiling of every room, and down to the moss of the tiles in
the showers in the bathroom. Several objects, and every single actor,
has several different descriptions, based on when you look at them. Of
course, there's always room for more detail, but the more you can add,
the more time you're willing to put into that step the richer the world
becomes and the more apparently interactive. There are scenes in Kaged
where you're forced to stand about for several turns, but I felt if I
could at least offer lots of different things to look at and poke at the
more engaged the player would be. I don't think however there's any
"right" balance of interactivity to story, there are just ratios that
are more suitable and less suitable for what you're trying to convey and
the audience you're trying to convey it to.

SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite

IF: SPLENDID competition. It was terrifying to see so many wonderful
games. Shade, Rameses, Ad Verbum, My Angel, Masquerade; these were all
fine and memorable games that have definitely earned a place on my hard
drive. Above all though, I must say that Being Andrew Plotkin (which I
waited for with great excitement since first seeing the title in an
e-mail sent to all the authors) and Metamorphoses (which I waited for
with even greater excitement since Emily first declined to test Kaged
because she was putting together something of her own for the comp)
especially charmed me and I'm honored to share the top rankings with

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

IF: Beta-test! I know this sounds like old hat to everyone by now, but
testing really is what makes a game successful. And I'm not just talking
about cleaning up bugs here, but also cleaning up text and design
errors. Hoooo boy, you should have seen Kaged (or any of my games) on
their first drafts. Doubt you'd even recognize them. Get testers. Get
LOTS of them (I think I sent inquiries off to about twenty people
initially this year). Spend time with them, a period of time at least
half as long as the time it took you to write the game, if not an equal
period. Kaged took two months of steady work to program and another two
months of steady work to test.

And be gracious. These people are doing a tremendous job for you,
absolutely for free, while trying to juggle lives of their own. These
are the people who can really "make" your game and they deserve respect
and gratuitous thanks. ;)

  -=-=-=-=-=-=-Emily Short, author of "Metamorphoses"-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who are
you, what do you do for a living, and so forth?

ES: I'm a PhD student in Classics, which means that I have a teaching
assistantship and go to classes. Whether or not this counts as doing
something for a living is open to question.

I also travel as much as I can, write fiction and nonfiction, teach a
course in writing for home-schooled high school students, collect
Requiem masses on CD, read the occasional romance, cook the occasional
elaborate dinner. I frequently develop passionate fascinations with
topics that have nothing to do with Greek, much to the frustration of my
advisors: being an undergraduate was more fun. The world is an intensely
interesting place and I would like to see as much of it as possible from
as many angles as possible.

SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF?

ES: My mother has held various computing jobs since the early 80s, and I
have dim childhood recollections of watching her play Adventure and
Zork, and then a bit later of trying my own hand at Infocom games. I was
really fascinated by Deadline despite the fact that I had no idea what
was going on or what I was supposed to be doing. Enchanter was another
favorite of mine. I don't think I completely solved one on my own until
Plundered Hearts, though. I even started (in BASIC, heaven help us, with
the most primitive conception of a parser imaginable) a game called
'RingQuest,' about which the less said, the better. I was twelve, so
there may be some excuse.

Then Infocom went under and I kind of figured that was that. I didn't
hear about Inform or the new community or r*if until 1996 or 97, when a
college friend of mine who knew about my old fondness for Infocom games
introduced me to Curses. At which point it became clear that I had to
learn the language and do one of these things myself.

SPAG: So far, you've created a game with a very deeply implemented
character (Galatea) and a game with very deeply implemented objects
(Metamorphoses.) What is it about this kind of depth that interests you?

ES: I'm not very interested in the kind of game that consists chiefly of
a series of puzzles with single solutions. (Especially if the puzzles
are hard. At Wit's End is a perfect example: it's probably quite well
done and very appealing to certain people, but it turned me off
completely as soon as I realized how it worked. I play IF more for
atmosphere and story than for the sake of enjoying the frustration

Better, in my opinion, to set up a system with a set of rules that the
player can learn and then manipulate in various ways to achieve various
goals. In Galatea, there's not even a set problem -- you decide what you
want to try to do. Metamorphoses is a lot closer to being a puzzle game,
but the simulationist element means (I hope) that the player will feel
as though the solutions are a seamless expression of the possibilities
inherent in the world.

I think this issue first came into my consciousness when I played Spider
and Web. There's a two-stage process: figure out how the stuff you have
works, and then come up with ways to use that knowledge. The experience,
it seemed to me, was a lot more satisfying than your average get-thing,
use-thing puzzle, no matter how trickily disguised.

Ultimately I'd like my work to be effective as toy (richly implemented
and fun to play with), as game (actions lead to progress towards a
goal), and as story (actions fit naturally into the scheme of a plot).

SPAG: You've become known as someone whose games are liable to feature a
large number of endings. Tell us a bit about why you employ this

ES: I'm not committed to writing only games where there are multiple
endings; it just happens that both of the games I've released so far
have seemed to demand it. In the case of Galatea, I wanted to keep the
player a little off-balance all the time; I wanted to make a character
who seemed a bit unpredictable. I particularly did *not* want there to
be one "answer" or "explanation" that could be spoiled for people in
advance. And I also wanted the process of discovery to be guided by what
the player was interested in. It's a game designed to be as responsive
as possible to the player's personal approach.

With Metamorphoses I had a plot reason rather than a mechanical reason.
The development of the PC is from slavery to freedom, from restriction
to choice. So I wanted the freedom she gains to be reflected in the
game-play. There's been some discussion, but I think this is the right
choice: different players have liked different endings for the story.

SPAG: What was your process for writing Metamorphoses? I'm wondering
things like how long it took, what inspired it, how you went about
coding it, and the like.

ES: I talk about this a little bit more on my web page
(, but the basic gist is that I
began it as a coding exercise for a materials-simulation library I was
writing, and then it developed a life of its own.

How long did it take? I spent a lot of time during the summer of 1999
writing stuff that eventually found its way into the game -- room
descriptions, objects, most of the puzzles -- as part of a much larger
and more ambitious game under the working title "Practical Alchemy." The
thematic material was broader -- Hermeticism, Kabbalism, Della Porta's
natural magic, some strands of Chinese elemental theory -- a wide range
of the stuff that fed into the alchemical tradition, rather than the
simplified Neoplatonism of the game as it now stands. It was also going
to have an extremely complicated Inquisitor NPC; a demon-possessed cat;
divisible liquids and measurement puzzles; a 'copy' machine that would
let you replicate any of your inventory... it was a mess. There were
some bits for which the coding was cool: I had a mystical book coded up
to produce randomized Latin gibberish that would still consistently scan
as dactylic hexameter, for instance -- but WHO WAS GOING TO NOTICE? So I
threw it out. And I did have the object-copying machine worked out, with
a cute little copy room for it to go in. Along with the parse_name code
that distinguished formerly identical objects one of which had been
modified in size or material.

So all that was there, sitting around, as of last November or so, and I
shelved it to work on other projects.

When it came time for comp registration I signed up without being
certain which of several things-in-progress I'd wind up entering. Around
the beginning of September, I came to the conclusion that none of my
other projects was worthy of notice yet, that I liked the setting for
this game better than anything else I had going on, and that I could
make something workable out of it if I stripped the design down to
basics. From there in it was a month of focused work. I cut extensively,
designed the last couple of puzzles, reshaped the plot, and, as They
say, raced like the wind to finish on time.

The coding is not exotic. Everything difficult -- timed burn routines,
divisible liquids, copied objects, breakables that leave behind shards
sharp enough to be used to cut other objects -- all that got edited out
of this game. I have a class of Changeable objects that have properties
representing their materials and shapes and sizes. Verbs are reworked to
behave appropriately, so that for instance hitting a glass object with a
hard object breaks the glass -- there are some minor complexities
involving containers, but mostly this was all just handled with a lot of
switch statements. And then the puzzles check for the presence of the
right physical characteristics. So instead of coding up a condition as

if (noun == persian_rug) { blah blah blah; }

I have

if (noun.size > 2 && noun.shape == PLANAR && noun.mater == CLOTH)
	{ blah blah blah; }

Then I did a lot of tinkering around -- and had my beta testers do a lot
of tinkering around -- trying to come up with interactions I hadn't
thought of yet. It didn't occur to me that someone might try to hang
cloth objects on the hook, obvious though that is, until it showed up in
my sister's transcript.

This pretty much describes how I seem to write IF in general. First I
get some hair-brained idea for a system (conversation, material
interactions); in the process of coding it up, an appropriate story and
setting suggest themselves; then I play with the game a lot, and have
other people play with it, in order to find the places where the
implementation needs to be deepened. Of the changes I made between
versions of Galatea, a couple stemmed from extra ideas I'd had in the
meantime, but the majority came from looking at people's transcripts and
listening to their complaints about what they wanted to be able to do.

SPAG: Can you talk a bit about the relationship between the PC and her
Master in Metamorphoses?

ES: It's not quite as monolithically dark as some people seem to
believe: he's somewhere between adoptive father, teacher, and
slave-driver. He doesn't hate her; he just considers his ultimate goal
more important than her comfort or his own, which means that he has to
push her harder than is humane. And so far she hasn't done a very good
job of standing up for herself -- *and* she's rather intrigued by this
strange stuff she's involved in, isolating and difficult and painful
though it sometimes is.

SPAG: Do you plan to write more IF in the future?

ES: I am writing more IF currently.

SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite

ES: Kaged, Shade, Being Andrew Plotkin, and Masquerade. BAP and Shade
both earned points for producing a strong personal response: BAP was the
funniest game I've played in a long time, and Shade the scariest. And
Kaged and Masquerade were both engrossing, Masquerade because I wanted
to find out what happened in the plot and Kaged because the atmosphere
was so effective.

I share the general opinion that the competition was a strong one this
year, though there were also some things that I think should've been
left in the oven a little longer. That's always the case, though.

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

ES: Don't submit a game that's not ready. If you can't tell whether it's
half-baked or not, get beta-testers with some experience with IF.
(Showing it to three of your closest friends doesn't help if they don't
know what the state of the art looks like.) This is obvious advice, but
I think it's important.

SPAG: Finally, you have a reputation as a passionate advocate of cheese.
Is there anything you'd like to tell us about what drives this passion
of yours? Are you planning to write the definitive cheese game?

ES: Cheese is a glorious thing. All dairy products partake partially of
this glory, but cheese stands at the apex. For those who are interested,
I have a cheese-centric ratings/review page at

If you look at that page, though, you'll note that there's a sad dearth
of games that explore the pleasure and wonder of cheese in all its
varieties. I'd like to write such a game, but I alone cannot be a
sufficient advocate. Which is why we need a CheeseComp in the very near

  -=-=-=J. Robinson Wheeler, author of "Being Andrew Plotkin"-=-=-=

We sent our SPAG correspondent-at-large, Snappy Von Beakerhead, to meet
up with IF Competition winner Celie Paradis -- or rather, J. Robinson
Wheeler. His previous IF release was the comedy 1998 Competition entry
"Four in One," a game about the Marx Brothers set in the glory days of
the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio. His entry this year, "Being Andrew
Plotkin," another movie-related comedy, placed third and garnered
positive reviews, including a few raves.

Von Beakerhead writes: "I met up with J. Robinson Wheeler, or Rob as he
is familiarly known, in the upstairs section of a coffee house in
Austin, Texas. He arrived about fifteen minutes late, wearing blue
jeans, a blue button-collar shirt covered by a worn flannel overshirt
(in a third shade of blue), and a blue fedora. He made polite apologies
about traffic, and as we chatted he sipped alternately on a pint glass
of coffee with milk and sugar and a pint glass of ice water.

"When we started, he seemed moody, as if the world were weighing down on
him, and he rarely made eye contact. As we talked, he seemed to
brighten. When I asked about his upcoming TADS game, he lit up. I talked
with him about 'Being Andrew Plotkin,' about this upcoming full-scale
text adventure, and about what he sees for IF's future."

SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who are
you, what do you do for a living, and so forth?

Rob: (laughs) These are actually the kinds of questions I have the most
trouble with. The normal ones -- "So, what do you do?" "How are you

SPAG: Why is it a problem for you?

Rob: I think it's that I have to gauge who I'm talking to because
there's a number of ways I could answer, from superficially to very

SPAG: Well, feel free to answer however you like.

Rob: I grew up in Austin, got a bachelor's degree from Stanford, pursued
and then dropped out of graduate film studies at USC, where I also
studied music. I was a cartoonist for a while, and a screenwriter, then
I worked as a sound mixer for independent films, and as a freelance Web
designer. I'm currently unemployed. My main activities this year have
been directing and editing a movie and writing IF. How's that?

SPAG: Fine. How did you first become introduced to IF?

Rob: When I was in fifth grade, which was 1980-81, I had a friend named
Mike Benedict. One day, Mike started raving to me about this "adventure
game" called Zork. Our fathers were both professors in the astronomy
department at UT-Austin, and so we'd walk over there after school, log
into the VAX computer, and go to the games section. Later they took the
games off the university computers because people were abusing the
system resources. But before that, they had "Advent" and "Zork," as well
as ones that are now lost to the mists of time -- one called "Haunt,"
another one called "Aardvark."

SPAG: I think "Aardvark" is on the gmd archive.

Rob: Yeah, I downloaded it recently and sent it to my brother, who was
obsessed with that game for a while. So anyway, after that I discovered
there was a BBS [bulletin board service] in Austin called the Black Box,
and they had Infocom games on-line. You could dial up and play. I
remember playing "Starcross" on that, until we abused it so much they
took the games off. (laughs) Then we used to get Infocom games for
Christmas and birthdays and stuff. And from those earliest times, I
tried writing my own text adventures using BASIC.

SPAG: Did you finish any of them?

Rob: Only one, and it was an end-of-year project for a Latin I class in
7th grade. You wandered around ancient Pompeii and typed Latin
vocabulary as commands. The teacher was impressed, since she'd never
seen anything like it before.

SPAG: So let's cut to the present. You just placed third in the 2000
Comp with "Being Andrew Plotkin." How does that make you feel?

Rob: Terrific.

SPAG: So you're content, or would you rather have placed even higher
than that?

Rob: I'm content. Third place actually feels pretty good. "Kaged" and
"Metamorphoses" were great entries. I still get to be interviewed by
SPAG, so it's all good.

SPAG: You've mentioned that you used some specific techniques to
simulate the Zarfian mode, and also that you employed a different
writing style for each viewpoint character. Can you go into a bit more
detail about how you achieved these effects?

Rob: I'm a little unclear on what you mean by "the Zarfian mode."

SPAG: What I mean is, a Zarfian atmosphere to the game.

Rob: Well, that effect was mostly achieved by cribbing bits of Zarf's
actual writing and sticking it into the game at selected points. The
game starts out in kind of style-neutral mode, with nothing particularly
Zarfian going on. The first hint of it is when you start to move the
file cabinet, and you get a little wisp of cool air -- an effect
borrowed from the beginning of "So Far." I wanted people to think, hmm,
obviously we're about to enter a Zarfian world, the same way you are led
into the strange other worlds of "So Far" from a fairly mundane starting
location. The next thing was to write a very detailed description of the
weird tunnel that you enter. I was trying to describe the tunnel that
was used in the "Being John Malkovich" movie, but with Zarf's diligence
to detail. Evocative adjectives, active verbs. I spent a while writing
that one description. I like the reference to sharkskin that it uses --
it's slick and smooth in one direction and resists any movement against
the grain. I think that it's a metaphor for the way that the game
railroads the player along and doesn't give any rewards for straying off
the track. The game doesn't go anywhere but forward.

SPAG: Did you really mean it that way when you wrote the tunnel room
description, or are you making that up in hindsight?

Rob: I think I meant it but I didn't know it until later. I often find
that there's a part of my brain that's smarter about making connections
than my conscious mind is.

SPAG: About the different viewpoint characters --

Rob: Oh right. Well, it's not true that I used a completely different
writing style for each character viewpoint. The writing style was
basically the same for the Valerie and Peter characters, but being
different people, they would see things differently.

SPAG: For example?

Rob: Oh, for example -- the window in the file room. Peter sees it as a
"measly window letting in one tiny square of sunlight," as if it's this
pathetic thing that aggravates him. It does so little to help brighten
the confines of the room, that it might as well not be there. Valerie
thinks the window gives the room -- which she sees in a positive way,
because it's so tidy -- a sense of openness. She thinks it's a bonus.

SPAG: Okay, but when the player character is Zarf --

Rob: When the player character is Zarf, I decided to have some fun. How
would Zarf see the world? And when I say Zarf, I kind of mean the
mythological Zarf.

SPAG: (interrupting) Who is the mythological Zarf?

Rob: Well, I think it mostly comes from "So Far," which was such a
surreal journey. You get the idea of a Zarfian landscape from there. And
when Zarf writes this game, which is so provocative, and then refuses to
explain what it means at all, that enigmatic silence seems Zarfian. So
the mythological Zarf stems first from this notion of "Zarfian-ness." We
collectively created the mythological Zarf as an attempt to fill in the
blanks. I guess. By his silence he leaves it up to our imaginations, and
we're an imaginative group.

SPAG: The IF community is.

Rob: Yeah. So I thought the mythos was a fun idea. How would this
mythical Zarf see the world? What would be inside his head? The building
blocks that created the real Zarf's creative output. As if to say, he's
written this stuff because it's inside his head. And he puts a lot of
detailed descriptions into his writing because that's how he sees the
world. So that's what my fictional Zarf does. If I hadn't done that,
people might have said, "Aw, I was hoping to see what the world looks
like through Zarf's eyes." A lot of people noted that the
world-through-Zarf's eyes was one of the things that made them laugh out
loud in the game. It played directly to the Zarf mythos that we're all
carrying around despite ourselves -- those of us who have played his
games or have interacted with him on ifMUD, anyway -- and kind of nailed
it. It wasn't even exactly in Zarf's style, but the excessive attention
to detail and use of adjectives was enough of a nod for people to get
the joke immediately. I think it's cool that we have a guy like Zarf in
the community, a guy who has this funny reputation, a sort of public
image that's a shared, tongue-in-cheek joke. Zarf plays along with it;
we all do.

SPAG: BAP is full of allusions and tiny homages. Can you mention a few
that some players might have missed?

Rob: Whew. Let's see. The first ones that come to mind are ones that
people probably did catch. The dinner that Zarf is cooking in his
kitchen is from his 1998 Xyzzy Awards acceptance speech. He had nothing
to say, so he gave a recipe, and at the end he said we'd "better
remember all that, because it's the solution to the endgame puzzle in
next year's game." I couldn't work it into the endgame of BAP because of
the plot structure, but it would have been a double or maybe triple joke
if I had.

SPAG: I think people probably caught that one.

Rob: Well, let me try to get more obscure, then. In the game's opening
text, there's a reference to a "bizarre interview with Human Resources"
-- which was an allusion to "Human Resource Stories," the infamous game
from Comp98, as if you got this file room job by having *that* be your
interview. It mentions that the character Peter entered a previous comp
and came in 16th -- which is an oblique "Four in One" reference.
Melvin's last name, Prufrock, comes from the name of the detective in
the first Choose Your Own Adventure book that I read, "Who Killed
Harlowe Thrombey?" I think it was the ninth one in the series, and you
were Inspector Prufrock. I might be wrong about that, but I think that's
the memory I summoned when I was trying to think of a funny name.

SPAG: Okay, that is definitely obscure. But it's distantly related to
IF, so it counts.

Rob: People might not know about the Zarf Classified/Declassified jokes.
One is that the word "zarf" means a type of cup holder, which is what's
in the Classified folder. The other is that there was this government
document about something called "Zarf" which was stamped "Declassified"
-- meaning only that the existence of some secret government project
code-named "Zarf" was allowed to be known about, not the actual project
itself. So, the code word "Zarf" was moved to "declassified" status.
Zarf had a scan of this on his web page, but lost it in a disk crash,
and unfortunately no one had a backup. I always thought that was sad, so
I resuscitated it for the game. I could go on, if you want more

SPAG: Maybe just a couple more.

Rob: There are others that don't relate to IF at all. If you try to
taste the secret door, it tastes like snozzberries. Which is a "Willy
Wonka" reference. Peter's middle name, "Danielson," is the name of the
female lead in the movie I'm making. For the name "Zefferelli" I was
thinking of the film director who did "Romeo and Juliet" and "Hamlet."
In the endgame, Melvin brandishes these razor claws, which is obviously
a reference to the superhero Wolverine -- but I was also thinking about
Freddy Kreuger from the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies, who had razor
blade fingers and would always end the movie by chasing the heroes
through a twisty dream landscape.

SPAG: Hard on the heels of the competition ending, you announced that
you're in the testing phase of a massive TADS game called "First Things
First." Tell us a little about this game.

Rob: Aha. Well, this is actually the first real IF project I started
writing when I discovered TADS and the IF newsgroups in 1996. All those
years, following that Latin Adventure game, I'd had an itch to write IF.
I don't know why it was there, because it was a strange impulse. Just
this itch I couldn't scratch. "I want to write a text adventure game."
Always kind of there, especially if I had an empty Saturday afternoon or
something. Not to play IF, but to write one. Then my brother bought TADS
-- it was shareware then -- and when I looked at it, I could instantly
understand the language. Suddenly, I was free to unlock my imagination,
because TADS just made perfect sense to me, unlike the other adventure
game languages I'd looked at in those long intervening years. My brother
and I both sat down to test out TADS. He wrote a one-room, one-puzzle
game in about two days. I wrote a few rooms, then some more rooms, then
some more rooms, and then found myself coming up with plot and puzzles.
A few weeks later, he wondered when I'd be done. I told him just another
week or so, but the thing kept growing. Now, four years later, it's
finally almost done.

SPAG: Okay, that's good, but what I really meant was: what is the story?
What's the game about?

Rob: Oops. It's a time travel story. The game is set in basically one
location, outside the PC's house. The PC is a time travel buff who's
always going to the library to read about it, about time travel. When
the story starts, you're coming home one night and discover you've
forgotten your keys and are locked out of your own house. How will you
get in? In the course of wandering around trying to solve this most
basic of IF puzzles, the locked door, the entire plot unfolds, taking
you to the same physical location in five different eras -- twenty years
ago, ten years ago, the present, ten years ahead, and twenty years
ahead. And the future doesn't look as rosy as you might have hoped.
Maybe there's something you can do about it. Or maybe not. Am I spoiling

SPAG: If you stop there, probably not.

Rob: Okay, good. Anyway, the people that are testing it seem to be
enjoying it for the right reasons. I think it'll justify the work went
into it, and I'm really looking forward to having it off my plate.
Finally! Done! I'll do a little dance when I finally release it,
sometime early in 2001 I guess.

SPAG: Are you planning a post-comp update to BAP, and if so, do you
foresee any significant changes to the game beyond bugfixes?

Rob: Actually, I'm not planning a post-comp update to BAP. It was sort
of part of the game that I would take a month to write it, and then I
would be done with it. The bugs that are in it, I knew about them before
I submitted it to the Comp, but they didn't seem essential to fix. The
game kind of works anyway. BAP was never intended to be note-perfect. I
think I just want to let the Comp version stand as the one and only
official release.

SPAG: Each of your newsgroup posts ends with a web address for something
called "The Krone Experiment." What is this?

Rob: This is the digital video movie I'm producing and directing, one
with an interesting pedigree. It's an adaptation of a science thriller
novel that my Dad, J. Craig Wheeler, wrote. It came out in 1986 and then
in paperback in 1988, and sold fairly well both here and in the UK and
Japan. Since my Dad's an astrophysicist, he paid careful attention to
the science of the science fiction. We collaborated on the screenplay a
few years ago, just after I left the graduate film program at USC. We
sold it to a producer, then the rights reverted back to us. I decided
that I wanted to make the movie myself rather than keep trying to get it
produced by Hollywood. It's coming together well, and everyone involved
is kind of excited, kind of confident that we might have a hit
independent movie on our hands. We'll see. I don't want to get my hopes
up falsely, but there is kind of a vibe.

SPAG: Do you plan to write more IF in the future?

Rob: Definitely. I kind of have to wait for the good ideas to hit me.
There is another work in progress, a collaboration, but it's been top
secret. I just learned that another IF author is working on a similar
game, which is a bummer -- I had always intended to resume work on it
after FTF was released. But there's also a new piece I just started
cooking up a week ago. Maybe it'll end up being my Comp entry next year,
because I can already tell it's going to be slow to develop.

SPAG: Are you going to stick to comedy, or are you planning more serious

Rob: Well, FTF isn't exactly a comedy. It starts out in a lighthearted
mood, that sort of general Infocom style, and then gets darker as the
story progresses. I think it might get too dark, though. I guess I'm
going to keep searching for just the right balance, because that's the
most satisfying for both the author and the player.

SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite

Rob: My three favorites, the ones I voted for Miss Congeniality, were
"Dinner With Andre," "Shade," and "Rameses." After I read all the
reviews, I played a few more games, and I was definitely impressed with
"My Angel." I think it was a great step forward in storytelling IF as
opposed to puzzle IF. I liked "Kaged," too, which I hadn't played before
the judging was over. It gives me a good idea of what I might have to
come up with if I want to place higher than 3rd next time.

SPAG: Is that your goal?

Rob: I would like to place first in the Comp someday, yes. Not just to
have done that, but for the satisfaction of having written an excellent
IF game.

SPAG: What do you see as the future of the IF medium, and what's your
place in it going to be?

Rob: I'm intrigued that there's now the ability to integrate multimedia
into IF with the standard languages and tools, but that not very much
experimenting has been done yet. There were also these teasing
developments this year, what with the notion that there might be a
market for text games on mobile phones and such. I actually had a dream
one night, last year I think, where I foresaw a commercial future for
IF. I flipped open a Wired magazine in the dream, and saw this elegant
advertisement for an IF company. They were marketing IF the way
champagne is marketed, or any luxury item, as this high quality product
for discerning tastes. Not as a broad appeal, but as a niche market, one
with snob appeal. I think that might be one strategy to use if one were
going to try to sell IF on a regular basis. Then again, it was just a
dream. Maybe I ate some cold pizza before going to sleep, and that's all
it was. But if it did go that way, I would love to work for that
company. I'd love for there to be a business model that would work,
where IF authors could at least make some good money on the side even if
it can't ever be their sole income. I don't think it would work if it
were a real company with a corporate headquarters, renting office space,
with all of that overhead. I think it should be a virtual company, an
organized version of the creative anarchy that we've already got in the
community. With elegant advertising in Wired. How we'd pay for the ads,
I have no idea.

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

Rob: Let me see if I can think of something non-generic to say. Like,
besides "Test, test, test your games, give yourselves enough time to
finish," blah blah blah. Here's what I did. I wrote a Comp game,
submitted it, and saw how it did, which was middling. I determined to do
better the next time, so I listened to the reviews my game got. I also
listened to the reviews the top games got. I played the top games. I
then sat out for a year, and just watched the Comp play out from the
sidelines. I read all of the discussions, again looked at how things
did, the way that judges approach games, the way they're often
short-tempered but will walk a mile with you if you give them what
they're hungry for. There's no formula, but you can kind of suss out the
rules of the game. This is assuming you're playing to win, but it's not
crass to do that. It means you're endeavoring to write something good.
By that I mean, there's no way to cheat. You either write something
people like or you don't. And I don't think it's pandering to the lowest
common denominator to please a large number of the judges with your
work, because most of the judges are smart, creative people with good
taste. That's what's been attractive to me about the IF community. So
anyway, I guess my advice is, play to win. Enter the best you've got in
you to enter. Swing for the fences. Oh, and be original.

SPAG: Or be Zarf.

Rob: Right, if you can't be original, be someone else. It worked for me.
KEY TO SCORES AND REVIEWS--------------------------------------------------

Consider the following review header:

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

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

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

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

From: Mark J Musante 

NAME: Ad Verbum
AUTHOR: Nick Montfort
EMAIL: nickm SP@G
DATE: October 2000
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters
VERSION: Release 1 / Serial number 000925

One line summary: Nord and Bert with attitude.

This isn't Nick's second game, but it is the second game of his that is
fairly widely known. The first one was "Winchester's Nightmare" which
took an interesting tack in trying to get the player to be really part
of the story. Instead of the usual ">" prompt, the player is presented
with "Sarah decides to", and you get to fill in what you would like her
to decide to do.

This really made you feel part of the action, but it had the drawback of
eliminating the standard commands we came to know and love over the past
20+ years of IF. Notably, 'i' for inventory, 'n' for north, and so on.
"Sarah decides to sw" doesn't make much sense as a sentence.

"Ad Verbum" takes this into account in a thoroughly amusing and clever
way. If you use commands like 'up' and 'north', the room descriptions
will also use them. If you instead use 'u' and 'n', so do the room
descriptions. Some people might find this off-putting. I found it

But enough of that. The game itself presents the player with a seemingly
simple stint: acquire all objects from a house and dump them in the
Dumpster. The catch is that the house once belonged to the "cantankerous
Wizard of Wordplay", so it's not as simple as going through each room
and picking up the objects. You have to obey the rules.

For example, in one room, you can only use words that begin with the
letter 's', however the only way to leave it is to the north, which is a
word you can't use. You also have to be able to pick up objects in those
rooms, again only using 's'-words.

Naturally, when you're in an 'n'-, 'e'- or 'w'-only room, it's hard to
save the game, so Nick has you read a warning message before entering
those rooms explaining the situation. It's a bit on the defensive side
and it definitely breaks the flow of the game, but I'm sure that
beginning players would find it useful. I, on the other hand, would have
preferred to see that as a puzzle one discovered during the course of

After all, the game is short enough. Too short, really, because these
are the kinds of puzzles I love to see. Reading the text, thinking up
possible solutions, a bright flash of discovery, the eagerness to see
what's next... that's what IF is all about.

The only downside to the game is that it didn't recognize quite as many
words as I thought it ought to. It's frustrating to think of a perfectly
good word ('scarper' to leave the 's' room, for instance) and then have
it not work. I'm sure Nick will be getting plenty of suggestions from
others, if he hasn't already.

That being said, this was the game that made the whole competition for
me. I enjoyed it from intro to quit. Nick, if you're reading this, keep
writing more! I'd love to play a full-size game with this sort of wacky
wordplay and perplexing puzzles.


From: Duncan Stevens 

Infocom, in its heyday, produced some games the likes of which has never
been seen since, either because there's no perceived interest in such
games (the mysteries in particular) or because amateur IF writers don't
have access to the proper technology (the more graphical games). Neither
of those objections necessarily applies to Nord and Bert Couldn't Make
Head or Tail of it, a wordplay game, but Nick Montfort's Ad Verbum is
arguably the first free- or shareware IF game to follow in Nord and
Bert's footsteps. (Dennis Cunningham's T-Zero had some points in common,
but there was more going on than wordplay--pop culture references and
such.) Ad Verbum is a worthy successor: like Nord and Bert, not all of
it is particularly inspired, but the moments that work really, really

The plot, again like Nord and Bert, is simply an excuse for wordplay
puzzles--you're looking through the Wizard of Wordplay's mansion and
moving through various rooms that are devoted to specific types of
wordplay, thereby to collect objects. Many of the puzzles are a bit
obscure, and some are only tangentially related to wordplay--or, rather,
involve forms of wordplay that aren't necessarily familiar to anyone but
the most hardened of GAMES magazine addicts. (One puzzle that involves
moving a sofa down a flight of stairs is particularly baffling to those
not on the author's wavelength.) Another, involving a little boy who's a
dinosaur fan, I found simply misleading--at least, the solution
suggested in the hints was something of a surprise to me.

The heart of the game, however, lies on the "initial" floor of the
house: there are passages lying to the north, east, west, and south, and
going north yields this:

   "LISTEN WELL!" a sonorous voice booms out, in attempted hollowness.
   "Know ye that passage back through here is difficult for some,
   impossible for others! Should you wish to transport yourself -
   without your cherished possessions - out of these constrained
   confines, utter the magic command: NEW!"

   Neat Nursery
   Nice, nondescript nursery, noticeably neat. Normally, nurslings
   nestle noisily. Now, none. No needful, naive newborns.

   Nearby: ... nifty nappy.

The parser, as you might have guessed, has been rewritten to require
that every word of every command begin with N. Violating the rules
elicits "No! No! Negative, novice. Nasty notation." or "No! No!
Nefarious nomenclature. Narrate nicely, now." The NEW command mentioned
above is your only way of getting out of the room: RESTORE, QUIT and
everything else has been disabled. Needless to say, in the rooms to the
east, west and south, the parser has been similarly reworked for the
appropriate letter. You have a goal for each room--extracting some
objects and getting out of the room, using only the appropriate
letters--but even after the goal is accomplished, it's worth hanging
around to experiment with the alliterative parser. The results are more
often than not hilarious, as with the following:

   >nip nappy
   Naughty, naughty! Nibbling nappies not normal.


   >examine effigy
   Enemy effigy. Extreme enormity evident. Execrable evildoer!

There's plenty more amusing stuff in each room: the parser-rewriting was
done with plenty of intelligence and wit. (WAIL in the appropriate room
elicits "Waaaah!", which amuses me no end for some reason.) In short:
nicely notated, Nick! Erudite, esoteric effusions entertain endlessly.
Winsome, witty wizardry will woo wordsmiths, who will whisper "Wow!"
without wearying. Surely, such semantic skill should solicit
stratospheric scores.

There are some variants on the alliterative parser--another S room with
another restriction, and a room with objects whose content suggests that
the proper TAKE replacement for each object will involve
letter-avoidance of one sort or another. (There was a nasty bug in the
competition version of this room that has been squashed--naturally, the
game in the updated version reports a literal squashed bug.) The parser
is not, however, rewritten for each object, so most of the fun of the
alliterative rooms is lost, and only the wordplay puzzle remains. It's a
fine puzzle, of course, but it doesn't have the same effect. The other
puzzles are likewise not nearly as inspired--there's a "twin bedroom"
that requires that all commands be in the form >HAMMER HAMMER, but there
isn't nearly as much room for experimenting there.

To the extent that Ad Verbum works--and it depends mostly, I think, on
the extent to which the player is amused by the alliterative rooms--it
works for different reasons than Nord and Bert worked. The latter called
for all sorts of cleverness from the player, and getting through it
produced a real feeling of accomplishment; some of the puzzles were
quite difficult. In particular, certain scenarios required that the
player deploy various clichés or idioms, often in amusingly twisted
ways, to get through the scene--and not a small amount of creativity was
required. Ad Verbum doesn't ask nearly as much of the player--the most
difficult feat of wordplay is clearly coming up with the appropriate
alliterative words, and in most rooms that's not especially difficult.
(Getting out of the N room is a challenge--sufficiently obscure that if
you go in there without first encountering the fellow who wanders around
dropping hints, you're unlikely to get it--but the others are pretty
straightforward.) But the author here has put his own skills on display,
much more so than the Nord and Bert authors did, and the result is just
as amusing. In other words, the fun is more passive here than it was in
Nord and Bert--the interactivity isn't as important--but there's still
fun to be had.

Ad Verbum is not an unqualified success; without the alliterative
parser, I don't think there'd be much interesting about it. But I got
enough laughs out of those rooms that I can't give it anything less than
a 9.


From: Alfredo Garcia 
[originally posted to Usenet on]

TITLE: And The Waves Choke The Wind
AUTHOR: Gunther Schmidl
E-MAIL: gschmidl SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Here's a story that starts with the meat. It's a classic 'What the...?'
moment for our PC, who awakens to find himself on a lifeboat, floating
in an empty sea, bound and (it would seem, rather unnecessarily) gagged.
The introductory puzzle is good, as it encourages us to examine the PC
down to the smallest details, all of which are implemented well. Here's
an ambiguity you don't have to clarify too often:

   >CUT HAIR USING THE KNIFE                    
   Which do you mean, your dreadlocks or your pubic hair?

And if you think that's going a shade too far, you'll find that even
your anus is implemented - a smuggling puzzle later on, perhaps? At
first I thought this all a little excessive; in fact it was totally in
keeping with the theme of (at least) this preview - self-scrutiny. The
generic theme is more immediately obvious - Lovecraftian Horror. The
author does well to create a sense of foreboding throughout the piece,
and generally it succeeds in maintaining an atmosphere of dread. This
was only occasionally deflated by a poorly chosen phrase ('butt naked'
and a reference to 'the enemies you've wasted' seem anachronistic) or an
unsuitable quotation (Lovecraft and the Necronomicron are fine -- but
Nine Inch Nails?)

As we progress, the PC is revealed to us through a series of flashbacks.
It sounds like this shouldn't work, but it does. Too much pathos is
injected, yet it's nice to feel something for your character by the end
of the game, and I did.

It's a shame the author didn't enter a more interactive section of his
work. All there is to do here is explore. The descriptions are well
handled, but I found very little for me to *act* on. I really didn't
like the proliferation of talk menus towards the end - but then again, I
really don't like talk menus generally. (More on this later)

So then, as a game this seems a little uneven, but as a preview it
really whets the appetite.

Rating: 6


From: Sean T Barrett 
[originally posted to Usenet on]

TITLE: At Wit's End
AUTHOR: Mike J. Sousa
E-MAIL: msousa SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters

TITLE: Dinner With Andre
AUTHOR: Liza Daly
E-MAIL: liza SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 1


Take the PC and put him or her in a situation where everything has gone
JUST RIGHT. The PC is on top of the world.

And then something goes a little wrong. Just a little wrong, not
ludicrous or unrealistic. But, hmm, a tad unfortunate.

And then the player gets the PC out of the situation and things just go
from bad to worse.

AWE starts better: the PC is in a tough situation where things could go
bad or things could go good. (Heck, it may actually be possible to fail
the first puzzle, or it may not, I don't know.) Then by solving a really
easy puzzle, *then* the PC is on top of the world. It's a really nice,
cheesily happy moment--and then trouble starts. But the player got to
participate in hitting that top of the world. You were pretty sure it
was going to happen (although it was possible you'd fail and it would
instead be a redemption story), but even so, it was a good moment. Oh,
and then the accident. It doesn't rob the PC of being at the top of the
world--the PC's achievement isn't called into question or offset in any
way--the PC just starts having a (largely unrelated) misadventure.

DwA does not start quite as strongly--your character is already (almost)
at the top of the mountain, and you don't share in the experience of
having gotten to the top. As well, DwA turns out to be a farce, but
holds off on revealing this until things start going wrong--which makes
it all the more crazy, but can get a player invested in the game the
wrong way. Still, the waiter comes over, and if the player makes the
obvious choice of answer, there's a nice moment of feeling "yes,
everything is perfect" that is triggered by player action. Oh, but then
things start going wrong. And where none of the problems of AWE relate
to the achievement directly (the PC has already climbed back down the
mountain he'd climbed), in DwA its the mountain itself being put at
risk. A tremor, a threat of a landslide, and then wooosh...

I think of these sorts of games as "out of the frying pan and into the
fire" games because at every moment, once you resolve the situation, a
new peril threatens. (The movie "After Hours" pops into mind as well.)
The last half of Kaged was more explicit that way; in some ways it was
more effective, since the peril threatened in Kaged was your life; the
peril threatened in AWE is, well, your ability to return home; and the
peril threatened in DwA is public humiliation.

One of the reasons "out of the frying pan and into the fire games"
tickle my fancy is because they make the character's motivation
explicit. At any moment, I know what I'm supposedly to be accomplishing
in the short term (crucial to being able to play the game) and I also
know why that action fits in with my end goal (not getting humiliated,
or returning home). Far too many games put you in a situation where all
you can do is poke around at suspicious-seeming objects and solve the
puzzles related to them.

To me, this is what storytelling in IF should be about; giving the
player a high-level goal (a story to achieve) and then giving the player
enough information (e.g. a low-level goal) to be able to carry out tasks
*for the purpose of achieving that goal*. Why is this storytelling? When
the player of DwA confronts the challenge of the four waiters at once, I
can imagine the zany British TV sitcom where this exact sequence of
events plays out. Whereas many games, say, The Pickpocket or The Planet
of the Infinite Minds or even Transfer, I can't imagine comprehending
this go by on a screen; the motivations of the protagonist would be
incomprehensible. Or maybe you could imagine it as a mystery where the
audience is left in the dark; but when, in IF, the audience is
controlling the protagonist, that way of looking at it makes little

"Out of the frying pan and into the fire" isn't the only way to achieve
such "storytelling"; when I change the color of an object in Kaged it's
for a pretty obvious reason, to achieve a pretty obvious goal that has
to do with the overall situation; but when I create a library in Planet
of the Infinite Minds I'm just doing it 'cause it's there. In fact, "out
of the frying pan and into the fire" may not be the most effective way
of giving the player lower-level goals; letting the user set her own
pace is probably a better experience most of the time.

In fact, an "out of the frying pan and into the fire" sequence can end
up just feeling like a series of set pieces--the mouse sequence in
Transfer is a fairly good example of a set piece, although it does rely
on one piece of game-specific knowledge--so a game that integrates its
puzzles, rather than leaving them a series of disconnected events, may
turn out to be a stronger work. In the case of DwA, though, I thought
the pieces meshed together really well; they all tie into the initial
scenario, and the pacing is superb: a series of linear puzzles, then the
game "goes wide" with a tough multi-element puzzle, then tightens down
and is at peace briefly, easy, relaxed, everything is going right... and
then BAM, ouch, followed by an easy end game. Perfect. As an added plus,
the elements of DwA end up serving as a bit of a parody of some romantic
genre cliches, indeed with the ending almost coming off as
(unintentionally) mocking Masquerade, which uses those cliches to create
its archetypal romance genre story.

AWE gets off to a rollicking start with simple, tight, timed puzzles,
but then goes much too broad and much too hard, at least for my tastes.
While all the puzzles seemed reasonably logical, but the breadth meant a
lot of time pursuing irrelevant alternatives, and the difficulty would
have required an awful lot of player time to solve without excessively
relying on hints/walkthroughs, which I was unwilling to do. Therefore I
can't comment on how successful the pacing is beyond that point. But up
until it goes broad, it is an amusing alternation of "oh shit" and "ho
hum, what now?" which I quite enjoyed, since at each moment (say,
walking up to the house), I was tensing up waiting for what would go
wrong next. (And the title helped--it was GOOD that I knew I was doomed
to be going into the fire.)

I'll go out on a limb and make a specific design suggestion of the sort
I think is pretty pretentious of me to make, but what the hell: the
spine of the story was trying to return (which generally meant escaping
each situation); as far as I played, *everything* that happened was on
the spine of the story, except having to eat. Having to eat jarred me
horrendously because of that. Realistic? Sure. Related to the story? Not
at all. I'd cut it. (You can argue that it's on the spine if the central
peril of the story is dying, but that was how it felt to me


From: Sean T Barrett 
[originally posted to Usenet on]

TITLE: Being Andrew Plotkin
AUTHOR: J. Robinson Wheeler
E-MAIL: wheeler SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

TITLE: Prodly The Puffin
AUTHOR: Craig Timpany and Jim Crawford
E-MAIL: timpany SP@G, pfister_ SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 1


I don't like Pokey the Penguin.

In fact, Pokey the Penguin ranks right up with jerkcity in terms of
massively annoying me, simply because *several* different people have
recommended it to me, and each time I go check it out, look at it, and
say "I still don't get it". Am I annoyed at other people for thinking
it's funny? Am I annoyed at myself for not getting it? I don't know. I'm
just annoyed.

Like I said in my review of Asendent and Comp00ter Game. Misspelling?
Funny once, maybe. For Prodly (PtP), non sequitur? Funny once.

Ok, PtP is better than Pokey in this regards. I dutifully avoided asking
myself about anything because that led to the stupidity that I fail to
see any humor in. The rest of it was mildly amusing and surreal, along
the lines of "Stupid Kittens", with a few great touches: the mysterious
hovering beak, and the one bit that made me laugh out loud, the "bug in
the menu system" bit.

PtP is, then, a game which is sort of a parody and sort of an homage to
an existing property which is itself (supposedly) humorous, and it
managed to make me laugh out loud once.

BAP is an homage to an existing property which is itself humorous, and
it managed to make me laugh out loud twice. (And no other comp games
made me laugh out loud.)

Starting off, I was very worried about BAP (although perhaps not as much
as I was PtP after seeing its opening quote), fearful that it would
slavishly imitate "Being John Malkovich". And, in fact, it did at first.
Worse yet, the initial scene's trivial puzzle is underwritten in an
implementational sense: not only do you have no particular reason to
push the button (indeed, the game will advance at that point simply
because it triggers an unrelated event), but you can open the lid of the
copier, and there's nothing in it to copy; and you're not carrying
anything to copy, either.

The game stayed pretty close to the movie for quite a bit longer, which
continued to worry me, along with the questionable decision to make
"open drawer" and "pull drawer" distinct commands--is there some other
way to open a drawer? Still, it was managing to amuse me, and I stuck
with it, and it turned out that the author very carefully both stuck to
and deviated from the movie, in exactly the right way so that he could
work economical fragments of humor by referencing the movie, and yet
deliver jokes all his own. For example, Melvin, the character who maps
onto the old lecherly guy with a secret in "Malkovich", is both wimpy
and lecherly, but he not only has a different secret, but this secret
explains those two behavior patterns in a totally different way--and
indeed his POV was the first laugh-out-loud moment for me.

"Malkovich" is about a puppeteer who gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance
to control another human being. Of any funny movie one might choose to
adapt into IF, this one gets the obvious thumbs up for the thematic
relevance; indeed, I believe in the very old days some people would
explain text adventures to newcomers by describing the PC as a 'puppet'
under the player's control. (In fact, the first thing I tried to do
after my tunnel ride was type something like "ZARF, DRINK"--and I was
disappointed when this was misdirected at an object I was carrying.)

In the end, I had so much fun with BAP I couldn't deny it second place
of all the games I played (and no, I've never been on ifMUD). Of course
it was horribly on rails. Why didn't this bother me? I don't know.

Scenes I would have like to have seen: 

   * a puzzle that required typing "x yz zy" instead of "x zy"                         
   * the player controlling Peter controlling Andrew Plotkin controlling
   Zarf, if you know what I mean

From: Tina Sikorski 

TITLE: Being Andrew Plotkin
AUTHOR: J. Robinson Wheeler
E-MAIL: wheeler SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 1
Walkthrough? Yes
Genre: Mixed/Movie tribute/In-Joke/SF

         |Overall Rating        B |Submitted Vote  8|
         |Writing               B+|Plot           B+|
         |Puzzles               C |NPCs           A |
         |Technical             B |Tilt           C+|

*** Initial Thoughts 

Although I had not ever seen the movie _Being John Malkovich_, I had
been fairly certain from the moment I saw the title that it was, in
fact, related somehow. Reviewing this from the perspective of someone
who doesn't know a -thing- about the movie may change things a bit; if
you -have- seen the movie, you're probably better off with someone
else's review.

You'll notice I had a hard time classifying this into a specific genre.
I'm open to other suggestions...

*** Writing (B+)

Throughout, the writing was consistently good. At times, it was actually
far better than that. And what's best is that I often felt like the
author was just having a plain old great time writing it, which for some
reason always appeals to me. For instance, this line:

   Valerie plummets into the big hedge with an unladylike

...was the kind of thing that, had I written it, I would've been
giggling a bit to myself when I did, not at my own cleverness but rather
at the sheer delight of creating a line like that. I hope I'm right
about this; people who have fun creating things tend to create more.

Too, there were little bits like this: "There are sweat stains on them.
Stifling the urge to make a comment, you adjust your grip to touch only
the dry spots." Not really necessary, just color -- but what color it
is! I read this and I think "Okay: So, Marvin is a loser, and you really
don't care for him; he has COOOOOTIES." [Okay, well, maybe the author
wasn't thinking of cooties, but hey, -I- was.] No need to spell it out
explicitly; it's all about the feel.

I also enjoyed the way things changed a bit when there was a perspective
shift, but I'll get into that more under NPCs...

*** Plot (B+)

To be honest, this would probably have been different if I knew anything
about the movie beyond the very, very basic premise. I found the
execution of the idea hilarious (and I'm beginning to think I may have
to go rent the movie if it's -anything- like this) and particularly with
the bits and pieces that let you see the world in different ways (again,
more under "NPCs"). To be perfectly honest, I didn't get the optimal
ending, and I was in too much of a hurry to try replaying and fixing
this, but for some reason that didn't faze me; perhaps just because what
I'd experienced up to that point was... cool.

The thing is, I can't actually narrow down what about it was cool --
which is a major fault in a reviewer, I admit, but alas, remains the
case. Maybe it was just the entire idea of being in ZARF'S head (a scary
idea to me). Maybe it was just the whole concept of your boss (I swear
I've worked for this "man"). I wish I could explain. 

Suffice it to say: it was worth doing.

*** Puzzles (C)

Hmm. My notes don't go into a lot of details on this, which pretty much
supports the mid-range rating. Taking a quick look through, the only
time I seem to have gotten outright stuck (other than, I'm ashamed to
admit, the recursion problem) was because it just didn't occur to me to
type "look at mud" -- for some reason I wanted to "look at computer"
(which didn't give me any more detail) or "type" (which just didn't
work). For some reason, specifically thinking of the MUD as an object
just didn't occur to me. 

*** NPCs (A)

This was really, really the big strength of the game. Not only did we
have several NPCs, we actually got to -be- some of them. And every time
we did, something changed a bit about the perception of the world we
were in. 

I thought -all- the characters were interesting. While they were a bit
limited in conversational style, they still feel fully developed, and
even better, when they look at -each other-, they see the people they
interact with differently. This, to me, is primo stuff. I know that
people like saying "Ho, hum, just character switching again, everyone
does it", but... folks, not everyone does it WELL. In fact, it's quite
rare. Again, as with the writing in general, the little touches are what
makes this category absolutely superb, for instance, both Valerie and
Peter dislike Melvin, but they still see him differently, and the rooms
have some minor differences depending on who you are. 

*** Technical (B)

Actually, in retrospect, I'm not sure I know why I gave this a B. Maybe
just the sheer impressiveness of writing x number of different
descriptions of each area based on who would visit it and keeping
correct track of something on that scale. Too, I found no bugs, which is
generally a good thing. So, er... (*fumbles*) Okay! Nothing to see here,
move along.

Oh wait. One -bad- thing:

   >go through secret door
   You can't, since the secret door is in the way.
*** Tilt (C+) and Final Thoughts

In retrospect, I think this deserved a higher 'tilt' from me. I suspect
I was a bit frustrated with not finding the recursion puzzle answer when
I handed out the 'tilt' score (which is always my initial score), and
not seeing the last bits of the game. And some of it was just that while
I enjoyed the game, it really was a one-time sort of joke. 

Here's a few other things that I have in my notes, for amusement value:

   You give the stuck cabinet drawer the old heave-ho, and instead of
   merely opening, it yanks loose from the wall, revealing a strange,
   small door in the wall!

   >of course it does
   That's not a verb I recognize.

[I frequently talk to the games. This is probably not something you
needed to know.] 
that code (Melvin) for some reason reminds me of COBOL, which is scary.
No Ikea! Ikea bad!
I don't WANT To be Zarf! It scares me!


From: Adam Cadre 
[originally posted to Usenet on]

TITLE: The Big Mama
AUTHOR: Brendan Barnwell
E-MAIL: BrenBarn SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard, with conversation menus
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 8

I don't think the author was trying hard enough. If you're going to put
the phrase "the big mama" into pretty much every response, why stop
there? Why, it could've appeared in every paragraph or, indeed, every
sentence. (The big mama.) I mean, if it's good ten thousand times, why
not a hundred thousand? Why not write in the style of Henrietta
Pussycat, only swapping in "the big mama" for "meow"? What a missed
opportunity. Also, the big mama.

So, let's see. I do like the idea of a sort of multi-turn AISLE. But the
thing about AISLE was that most of the endings were really well-written
and interesting in and of themselves, not to mention diverse. The same
cannot be said of THE BIG MAMA. There are a lot of games in the comp for
which I scribbled down notes like "rocky prose" or "semi-literate," but
this game proves that you can have an excellent command of the language
and still provoke winces. (The big mama.) Let's see, there was the bit
where a sign warns you about how the next 1.5 miles of beach are
private: "'Stupid imperial measurement,' you mutter." Urgh. Why not just
give the player-character a renaissance flute while you're at it? Oh,
and the little boy. "Almost every day I billa cassel." Throw this kid
into the nearest wood chipper, please. I mean it. Stop him before he
soliloquizes again. Also, the big mama.

Even the less egregious paths all seem to lead to inane conversations
and fairly ham-handed passages desperately trying to hammer home the
theme that the ocean is pretty. Sometimes the inane conversations result
in relationships, but none of these sequences is really even remotely
convincing -- I'm sure every day there are beach encounters that lead to
hookups, but I doubt that any of them have resembled even one of the
paths set forth in this game. Also, the big mama. There are also some
quirks with the way the various characters are programmed: the surfer
alternates between sunbathing and surfing about every eight seconds, and
the teenage girl seems to have no memory whatsoever -- you can scare her
off with some creepy line, watch her wander off, and two turns later
she's back and seems to have no idea who you are. This is the sort of
thing that makes characters look like chunks of code rather than
representations of people. Also, the big mama.

More bugs of note: jumping the rail takes you to the beach, but once you
get there, the game tells you that "You're not up for that kind of
leap." Sounds like some routine is neglecting to return true somewhere
in there. Oh, and while the game notes that "everyone in town speaks
Spanish," I have to wonder -- "las" is a plural article. The only way
that works with "Lorena" is if "Lorena" is a last name and the name of
the town is a reference to a all-female family: "The Lorena Sisters", or
some such. Which I could buy as a novelty musical act from the early
70s, but not as the name of a city. Also, the big mama.

Perhaps my favorite bit: 

   | 0: Say nothing.
   | 1: "Yeah, let's watch a movie."
   | 2: "A walk sounds great."
   | 3: "Let's play a game."
   | 4: ""

Me, I thought it was a bit early in the evening to propose illegal
object number 357, but hey, turned out she was into it. Kinky!

Score: a low THREE. Also, the big mama.


From: Tina Sikorski 

Walkthrough? No
Genre: CYOA/Mixed/Romance

         |Overall Rating        C |Submitted Vote  6|
         |Writing               B |Plot           C-|
         |Puzzles              n/a|NPCs           C+|
         |Technical             C |Tilt           C |

*** Initial Thoughts 

As a few other people have mentioned, I would have expected the sea to
play a larger part in this work, which is basically a choose-your-own-
adventure with no particular focus on the sea. I called it a "romance"
genre game in part because a LOT of the routes seem concerned with
romance, but there are a few other routes that don't contain it.

*** Writing (B)

I can't help but take a moment to compare this to last year's entry by
this author (Lomalow, which I, quite frankly, did not like). Although
the styles are different, there's an element to both of them that is
similar: the attempt to evoke some specific emotions. This year's entry
does a much better job with the writing; it doesn't feel as forced, as
heavy-handed. It's still got some flaws, but overall I feel much less
preached at than I did last year and there were times when there were
hints of excellence. I don't know if you can attribute this to the
different format, practice, or even the different topic matter, but
whichever it is, I'm actually quite glad to see something I like from

If I had any complaint it was that at times it was too long, a hazard, I
think, of the CYOA format choice. I do enjoy longer text breaks than
some people will accept gracefully, but there were a few times when too
much happened on a trigger.

What I enjoyed the most, I think, were occasional clever or cute turns
of phrase, such as these portions of some room descriptions:

   "These little establishments sell everything from shrink-wrapped,
   dessicated muffins to decent hot dogs."

   "The breeze is straight out of some beach-blanket B-movie: salty,
   soft, and refreshing."

But even the more serious writing is honest, and while there isn't a LOT
of substance to this as a game, (see "plot", below), I enjoyed reading

*** Plot (C-)

As with many CYOA games, it's so hard to rate plot. First off, there are
multiple "plots" here... although as I mentioned above, many of them
seem to have the same basic tilt, which is: romance. But what I saw was
a bit... thin. Not quite Calista Flockhart, but definitely thin.

Still, they weren't bad little plots. Just not a lot of substance, much
more the Twinkie of IF than the dinner at Ruth's Chris. [If you haven't
ever encountered Ruth's Chris, they are the most incredible steakhouse

*** Puzzles (n/a)

Due to the CYOA format, I did not rate on puzzles, breaking my "formula"
but, ultimately, I think, being more fair.

*** NPCs (C+)

This game is basically NPC driven, in that it's almost entirely
conversationally driven. So you would hope that the NPCs would have some
depth to them -- and, actually, they do in spots. But you don't really
get a good glimpse about what they're -really- like, mostly because your
interactions with them are so short. Whether this is a shortcoming of
the format or whether they were simply undeveloped is hard to judge;
they DO have personality, but it's pretty focused.

*** Technical (C)

There was certainly nothing in particular that was outstanding
technically here, and only one bug of note, so I gave it an average

*** Tilt (C) and Final Thoughts

I found 4 or 5 different endings before I stopped playing, so there may
be more depths here I have not plumbed. Those of you with more patience
than I (and a CYOA roto-rooter) may discover more.

It was an amusing diversion.


From: Tina Sikorski 

TITLE: Desert Heat
AUTHOR: Papillon
E-MAIL: amethystphoenix SP@G
DATE: 2000
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters

Walkthrough? No
Genre: CYOA/Romance/Bodice-Ripper

         |Overall Rating        B-|Submitted Vote  7|
         |Writing               B+|Plot           B |
         |Puzzles               D |NPCs           B |
         |Technical             C |Tilt           C+|

*** Initial Thoughts 

A lot of people don't like choose-your-owns, so to them, this will not
appeal. In truth, they don't always appeal to me. In this particular
case, however, I actually thought it worked fairly well. I didn't
explore all the possible choices (although I did double up on a couple
paths) so I don't know how flexible the game ultimately was, but it
looked to have at least some degree of freedom in it.

*** Writing (B+)

Despite some perhaps overly-lengthy prose in spots, the writing in this
was rather well-done. I found many of the descriptions quite enchanting,
bringing to mind a definite feel and genre that itself is quite magical,
and one in which it is easy to get drawn in and lost within when it is
(as it was) done correctly.

Take, for instance, this bit from the opening:

   "The sound of windblown sand smoothing the dunes and scouring the
   city walls is the only song nature produces in Hajima." 

With the very first sentence, mood and setting are already firmly in
place, a setting which is only enhanced (and never contradicted) by
further room and event descriptions. And best yet, although the game
does tell you "this is who you are, this is what you can do", it never
seems to do it in a way that felt limiting (to me), though ultimately,
of course, it was rather narrow in scope.

*** Plot (B)

As with all CYOAs (and how many times have I used that phrase, anyhow?),
there is not a LOT of flexibility in plot, but as is more rare, there is
a rich plot here. It is true that it is quite stereotypical. It is also
true that sometimes that's a good thing. (See also NPCs, below.)

Stereotypical stories are sometimes, instead, more -archetypal-; they
use settings, people, and situations that we all are familiar with, and
merely attempt to display the story in a manner in which will appeal. I
believe that this was the author's intent (although don't know for
sure), and if so, it worked quite well for me. Others, looking for
something new and original, will probably prefer to give this a pass,
although I might add that there is not much in the way of either new or
original left in the world. It is merely the skill with which stories
are displayed that, ultimately, determines how people react to it.

*** Puzzles (D)

As a CYOA adventure, it should perhaps not really be rated on puzzles,
but as there are several critical decision points that can make a large
difference, in this case I elected to do so. And that is where things
fall short.

Could it have been done differently and retained the format? Yes. There
could have been more decision points; they could have been presented in
a way that combined both more internal world knowledge with more
difficult choices. When it came to a point where I had to make a choice,
often I felt as if I were presented with choices that the -character-
would understand the implication of but I would not. That, alas, was the
big flaw in an otherwise enjoyable experience.

*** NPCs (B)

Adam Cadre, whose opinion I quite respect but with whom I frequently
disagree, felt offended by the stereotypes in this game. Others saw his
point. I disagreed, because I felt there was no intent to hold up and
portray negative and shallow characters. I felt they were meant to be
archetypes (see also Plot, above). 

So, be warned: there are no terribly deep characters in the game. You
see only glimpses of their true personality, and even those show
something fairly basic and, yes, cliche. But... it WORKS. This is not
the real world. This is the storyworld, where everyone has a defined
role, and everyone has a part to play. And it is the success in -that-
upon which I rated the NPCs highly.

Realism in NPCs is a prized thing, difficult to obtain, but the clever
and careful use of caricature and archetype can result in some lovely
story building. Desert Heat accomplishes this with flair.

*** Technical (C)

CYOA games are not difficult to produce. I found no bugs.

*** Tilt (C+) and Final Thoughts

This is definitely not a game for everyone. Simply the genre alone would
ensure that; I myself have a love-hate relationship with romances, if
you will pardon the potential pun. The format and style as well are both
potentially off-putting. Still, if you have any interest in a richly
told tale, I would suggest giving the game a chance. It was one of the
more enjoyable -- if not one of the longest lived -- moments of the


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: The Djinni Chronicles
AUTHOR: J.D. Berry
E-MAIL: berryx SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

J.D. Berry's Djinni Chronicles is one of the shortest games of the comp,
but it's also one of the densest--there's not much room for exploration
or experimentation without save-restore. There are some game-specific
rules, moreover, that make it likely that you'll have to do some
save-restoring. Still, there are some ideas worth exploring that come
across in those few moves.

You are a djinni, discovered and summoned by various masters, whose
wishes you strive to grant in one way or another--but you also have your
own purposes that are only somewhat compatible with those of your
masters. The nature of your existence is such that you can't stray far
from your "container," the vessel where you reside when you're not about
your business; indeed, the beginning of the game functions mostly as an
introduction to the rules of your world. You learn, for example, that
the tendency of wishes to come with unfortunate side effects isn't
simply djinni contrariness; rather, it's because they don't (generally)
have the power to accomplish the change by their own will, and have to
harness the power of another "undercurrent" with somewhat different
effects. You also learn that some djinni derive power from sources other
than their summoners, and seek to gain enough power to act
independently. The defining measure is known as "Purpose," here
expressed as a number, and maintaining Purpose, one way or another,
becomes your overriding goal. What emerges is an imaginative portrait of
djinni ethics, as it were: the djinni that you play aren't bound by any
particular ethical norms as such other than the desire to gain and
maintain purpose. Arguably, those djinni that aren't bent on destruction
serve their masters' wishes not out of any sense of loyalty, but simply
because they derive no advantage from acting independently. (The
anterior question, why some djinni are one way and some are another,
isn't addressed, but the game is complex enough; there's no need to
introduce another layer of cosmology.)

In a sense, the path of the game is fairly well defined simply because
the character's powers are limited; the player can't really expect to be
able to wander away, since that causes the game to end promptly. The
wishes of your masters also define your goals most of the time, and when
they don't, the game spells out your personal objective. And yet
figuring out your motivations at any given point can be complicated,
particularly if you assume that you feel some inherent responsibility to
your master--and it's not until about halfway through the game that you
learn what you're really doing, so to speak. Once you understand the
larger plot, it's intriguing; the only problem is that you don't have
much part in influencing where it'll go, other than figuring out the
command that will move things along. The linearity factor actually
serves the purposes of the story--the whole point is that your powers
are limited, and your ability to influence events doesn't go much beyond
your master's interests--but it might also be a bit more satisfying to
be able to affect how the plot turns out, not just whether the one
possible plotline progresses.

The end of the game suggests that the point isn't simply to devise an
inventive mythology of djinni and how they work and what motivates them;
rather, the behavior of the djinni suggests something about human nature
and the ways that these particular spirits (with their own motivations)
choose to manipulate their masters. In that respect, portraying the
details of djinni existence serves some of the same function that C.S.
Lewis's elaborate bureaucracy of hell did in Screwtape Letters: to
describe the spirit world in order to provide a context for the way
those spirits tempt and manipulate humans. Obviously, this is a little
different, since the relationship isn't entirely adversarial--you need
your masters to accomplish your purposes, which doesn't exactly describe
Screwtape--but the message is related: suitable manipulation of our
baser instincts can turn them into enormously destructive forces, and
the game suggests that the less noble impulses are considerably more
powerful than altruistic ones (since the djinni that serves a master
with relatively unselfish goals doesn't seem to accumulate much

As a game, apart from the theory and theology that might underlie it,
Djinni Chronicles works reasonably well. As noted, picking up on the
rules takes a while, and the limitations on the character are initially
frustrating when you're used to a great deal of freedom--but it doesn't
take long to adjust and to appreciate your new powers. (For instance,
walls are no hindrance.) The game is quite linear, true, but to some
extent that's inevitable if the author wants to tell a particular story
about the spirit world and human nature: if the player has the power to
put a different spin on the relationship between the PC and its masters,
the result is no longer what the author set out to tell. This sort of
thing might not have gone over well just a few years ago, but linearity,
I think, has come to be viewed as the inevitable price of more
story-oriented IF, and when the story is as intriguing as this one, it's
a price worth paying. There's another advantage to the linearity: the
puzzles are well integrated into the plot, rather than artificial
constructs that distract from the story. That's a feature not directly
related to the breadth of the game, of course, but it's inevitable that
a game with a large field of options doesn't really sustain much of a
story, since the author can't exercise much control over how the game
progresses--and by restricting the options, Djinni Chronicles ensures
that the task at hand is always part of the story. Moreover, the
linearity factor restricts the amount of things that can go wrong; this
is a technically solid game, in part, perhaps, because the nature of the
game prevents players from doing outlandish things that could violate
the game's expectations. The only real fly in the ointment is a lengthy
section that's written in not especially inspired verse; it doesn't
serve an obvious purpose in the game, and it distracts the player from
what was otherwise highly competent writing.

The main flaw in Djinni Chronicles, at the end, is that it leaves the
player wanting more--more plot, more character development--but there
are worse sins, I suppose. It's an imaginatively told story--intelligent
enough to earn a 9 from me.


From: Adam Cadre 
[originally posted to Usenet on]

TITLE: The End Means Escape
AUTHOR: Stephen Kodat
E-MAIL: skodat SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

I really liked the first segment of this game. Not only were the animate
objects cool and funny, but the way the player is meant to go about
resolving the situation -- asking everyone about everyone else --
appealed to me much more than if the solution had been to perform some
clever engineering trick. I wasn't quite sure how the stuff I was doing
was getting me any closer to opening the door, but I went along with it
and entered the book...

...and then splat. I didn't get part two at all. I understood how to
manipulate the words -- the hint system told me that much -- but I
didn't have the slightest clue what my goal was, and the hints crapped
out at that point. So I put the game away, figuring I'd give it about a
five. Then I read a solution to part two on the newsgroup -- and I
*still* didn't get it. It was like getting stuck on a puzzle where
you're trying to open a safe and finding out that the combination is
43-49-25... and why? Because it just sort of is. "You turn hard"? Say

And then the third segment... goal, please? I think this says it all:

   There's just some people standing around.

Right. And I was one of them. Maybe there are some people who, presented
with a bunch of playing pieces in a game they don't recognize, would
start messing around with the pieces for hours on end until something
happened; me, I'm more inclined to just leave them alone until I have
some *reason* to play with them, some *objective* I'm using them to try
to accomplish. And "escape" is insufficient. Yes, you do escape, but how
are you supposed to know that X will achieve Y? Doing what the hints
tell you to do with the segments' various playing pieces, and
consequently "escaping," is like the bit in A GOOD BREAKFAST from Comp97
where you're looking for a spoon, happen across a robot, play Lights-Out
with it, and then when you win, the robot randomly hands you a spoon as
a reward. Or, to use an invented example for the sake of clarity:

You're in a cell. You want to get out. The door won't budge, and there's
a guard posted outside. You have a gold coin.

GOOD DESIGN: Get the guard to open the door and let you go free in
exchange for the coin.

BAD DESIGN: Swallow the coin. This randomly causes the door to fall off
its hinges onto the guard, allowing you to make a break for it.

THE END MEANS ESCAPE is full of examples of the latter type of design.
Open up a guy's surgical incision? Why? Just because you can (with
difficulty)? Apparently so -- that's how you advance to the next stage,
though there's no particular reason why that's so. The end justifies the
means? In this game, they rarely seem remotely connected.

Score: a low THREE, and only because I did get some fun out of the first


From: Tina Sikorski 

Walkthrough? No (in-game hints)
Genre: Surrealism

         |Overall Rating        B+|Submitted Vote  8|
         |Writing               A-|Plot           C+|
         |Puzzles               B |NPCs           B |
         |Technical             B |Tilt           A+|

*** Initial Thoughts 

A lot of people really disliked everything but the first section of this
game. I, on the other hand, got more into it the more I played it; I
won't say I enjoyed the first section the least, but neither did I find
it the best of the sections. I believe this will be a narrow appeal
game, which in a way is a pity and in a way is just how things work.

I will note that this was the game that got me to dub this "Surreal
Comp"; between it, Shade, and (to a lesser extent) Planet of the
Infinite Minds, not to mention the Rybread parody, this was probably the
most surreal of the comps ever...

*** Writing (A-)

First off: bonus points for the correct use of "its", something a lot of
authors don't seem to understand.

Any game in which there are word puzzles is probably going to garner
either a rather low or a rather high score in writing. In this case, you
will see it's "rather high". But this was not only because of the
(somewhat difficult, but entertaining) word puzzle in the second
section, but the sheer amount of work that must have gone into crafting
the initial section's NPCs, giving them character and consistency.

Many of the descriptions were simple and unadorned, but knowing when to
do this is as important to writing as elaborate, full, and intense
descriptions of one's environment. Others (mostly later in the game) are
detailed and interesting, but oddly those seem to occur when they are
least important. I don't know if this was a deliberate stylistic choice,
but for me it added to the surreal factor -- and I so enjoy the surreal
factor, so this is a good thing.

Possibly the best use of words was not in the writing itself, but one of
the puzzles (see below). Indeed, until that section, I was actually
somewhat out-of-sorts with the style presented; as I put it in my notes
"This is the kind of HIGH-FALUTIN' High Art thing I dislike, isn't it?"
However, it grows on one...

*** Plot (C+)

Now, those of you who played this game will be saying "Plot? Was there a
PLOT?" Well, yes and no. There was certainly no coherent plot I could
identify, but it seems as if each section contained a bit of one, and
they were internally consistent. On this basis -- rather than that of
understanding and being able to articulate the plot -- I rated it just
above average, consistency being one of the building blocks of a good
plot. So if you're looking for a full-blown story, I'm afraid you are
out of luck; this game does not, so far as I could tell, have one.

There are basically four (five?) little tableaus that are, at least as
far as I could tell, separate, yet each has as its basis understanding
or at least discovering the nature of something. This, I think, is what
ties the game together. I may be the only person getting this out of the
game (other comments certainly suggest such) but... for me it works.

*** Puzzles (B)

Oh GOD, the PUZZLES. They are fiendish! They are evil! They required me
to use the hints regularly...

...and yet...

I'm fascinated by word puzzles. I was particularly fascinated by the one
in part two of this game, where your inventory contains a certain number
of words, the room contains a certain number of words, and you have to
manipulate them in various ways to make certain phrases. In the interest
of leaving -some- surprises to the reader, I shall not reproduce the
entire puzzle, but I will say that:

a) There is more than one (somewhat) sensical "solution", but only one
actually -works-
b) Yes, it did mean something to ME (though not, I gather, to others).

Then there was the puzzle with the basically inanimate people. That one,
I did not like. No. But it wasn't because I felt it was unfair or even
that it was difficult to figure out (aside from being very limited in
solvability). It was just that it was... icky. I suspect it was meant to
be metaphorical, but some metaphors I'd rather not, er, explore.

Still... frustrating at times, but the hints do work well, and... if you
like symbolism and wordplay, you should enjoy this aspect of the game.

*** NPCs (B)

Well, some of the NPCs were a bit wooden and stiff... (that's a joke
only those who have played the game will get).

Many of the Others you interact with in this game are not, strictly
speaking, people. They have personalities, they speak, they react,
but... they're objects. Animate objects. It's quite bizarre. Surreal,

And I loved the way it was done. Each object had a personality that fit
with what it was. Each object had something to say about its
surroundings and fellow objects. Sure, it was simple, a closed
environment, but that's something you can't say about some games: the
NPCs knew about each other and would comment on each other. In fact...
it was vital to the game.

*** Technical (B)

A few little neat tricks gave me reason to up the technical score a bit,
despite a couple really nasty disambiguation problems in one section.
Specifically, I liked the fact that changing state (due to actions
taken) resulted in changing responses (descriptions and reactions),
something that takes some time and care and effort to do, and I enjoyed
the word-inventory puzzle as a purely interesting technical feat as well
as just as a puzzle. It's nice to see a little extra like this.

*** Tilt (A+) and Final Thoughts

Many people started this game, liked it, and then slowly grew to dislike
it. I started out not enjoying the philosophical High Art but grew to
appreciate it once I began to see the full shape of things, and aside
from an "ick" factor at one point, enjoyed the entire experience. This
may say more about me than the game. 

If you can deal with fiendish (if well-hinted) puzzles, surreal
situations, and the sense that you are in an alien landscape -- or if
those things outright appeal to you -- this game is worth checking out.
Even if that is not your usual bag, the first section is possibly worth
taking a look at.


From: Tina Sikorski 

TITLE: Guess The Verb!
AUTHOR: Leonard Richardson
E-MAIL: leonardr SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Walkthrough? Yes (in-game)
Genre: SpecFic (but see below)

         |Overall Rating        B |Submitted Vote  7|
         |Writing               B+|Plot           B |
         |Puzzles               C |NPCs           C |
         |Technical             C-|Tilt           B |

*** Initial Thoughts 

When I saw the name of the game, I said, "Oh, no. NOT a joke game!"

No. It's not. Well, at times it is (it certainly doesn't take itself too
seriously), but it's not the -obvious- joke game. 

I put this under the category 'Speculative Fiction' (otherwise known as
"sf/fantasy") because it contained elements that were (including the
initial premise), but I think perhaps it might also fall into the
category of "comedy".

*** Writing (B+)

Any game in which I can read the description of a corn dog and be
entertained really has something going for it:

   >l at corn dog
   The corn dog is a curious creature. Its life cycle begins when the
   larval corn dog is cooked and put on a stick. The corn dog is dipped
   in batter to form a cocoon and fried. Inside the batter cocoon, the
   baby corn dog metamorphoses into an adult phase which is then
   purchased, slathered with mustard, and eaten. The rumbling of your
   stomach tells you that the end is near for this particular corn dog.
   We will miss you, corn dog.

Much of the game's description, even when more serious than this,
contains elements of this style. It's clever, it's cute (in the good
way), and it is, above all, interesting. 

I did not bestow an A rating on the writing simply because while it is
true that the writing meets my criteria for "good", it never thoroughly
immersed me in the experience. This may be a result of the game's style,
not a reflection on the author's ability; I don't think we were really
-meant- to be immersed.

*** Plot (B)

Really, this should be "plots", plural; these are several stories tied
together solely by method of entry. Perhaps if you complete all the
scenarios there is a larger plot revealed, but if so, I did not find it.

Certain sections were better than others, but all contained a sort of
"Now rejoining your regularly scheduled program in progress" sort of
feel at insertion point, which is another interesting way to tie things
together. Whether or not this was deliberate is something only the
author could answer. 

Some sections might be more interesting to people than others, as there
is quite a range covered by this. 

*** Puzzles (C)

Puzzles were definitely a weak point, not because they were bad but
merely because they were tough and at times very difficult to understand
the context of. Whether this was a function of the fragmented nature of
the plot or the function of poor puzzle design is not something I feel I
can judge. I could not solve several of the puzzles, however, and as a
result never saw the -complete- version of several of the scenarios,
despite the availability of a walkthrough. I think an adaptive hint
system would have been a BIG help in this game; I didn't really want to
ruin other sections by walkthrough-consulting that forced me to read all
of it.

*** NPCs (C)

We never really seem to see enough of any given NPC for it to feel
particularly deep, and there is definitely a problem with
non-responsiveness even in the required interactions. 

*** Technical (C-)

There were at least two points in which directions were not
bi-directional (which is to say, going east does not result in west
returning you to your original point). If this was deliberate, so be it,
but if not, I would suggest correcting this. (One occurs getting to and
from the area behind the booth, one occurs in the college scenario.)

Aside from that, I found no particular bugs and no particular tricks.

*** Tilt (B) and Final Thoughts

Despite the problems I had with the puzzles and the walkthrough, I did
find this an interesting diversion. I think it might be interesting to
see some expansion on this game, some more involved scenarios, in a
post-comp release that didn't have to fit a 2-hour limit, but even as is
the game is worth a look; if nothing else, if you don't get a scenario
you like, restoring to right before you choose is easy enough.


From: Suzanne Britton 
[originally posted to Usenet on]

TITLE: Kaged
AUTHOR: Ian Finley
E-MAIL: domokov SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters

I hope Ian leads a happier life than his protagonists. His games get
grimmer every year. 

"Kaged" is a dystopian tale strongly reminiscent of 1984 (but not
derivative). Like just about everything its author has produced, it is
strikingly original, evocative, well-written, and suicidally depressing
:-) I quite liked it, though it is, in my opinion, not as successful as
"Exhibition" or "Babel". It is more ambitious than either of those
works, which leads me to be somewhat forgiving of its failures. 

As a mood piece, "Kaged" is excellent. Every bleak, oppressive nuance of
the world you live in comes to life in the vivid writing, enhanced by
graphics and sound (the opening picture is especially evocative), and
your own character is well-drawn. As a story, it is ambitious, but less
excellent. I felt that what began as tightly woven threads unraveled
near the end--and not just because of the protagonist's dissolving
sanity. I came out of the experience with no real understanding of what
had happened and why. Many hints, many seeming contradictions, no
certainties. Normally, I like it when a game leaves the player with a
mystery, but this was just unsatisfying. It's hard to pinpoint
why...perhaps partly because I felt I was expected to understand much
more than I did. Certainly, my protagonist seemed to be way ahead of me,
and as a result, I felt less connection with him. 

(Postscript: I've since spoken with Ian, and to some extent "it's
intentional". Apparently, his playtesters kept pushing him for more
ambiguity. Ah, well.) 

The programming was also not quite as polished as I've come to expect of
this author. Again, it was trying to accomplish more than in earlier
works, I think. The world was very fleshed-out, but flawed. I
encountered a number of guess-the-verb problems. Perhaps the most
egregious was the matchbook. It was lazily (and unintuitively)
implemented as a single object, leading me to fumble for awhile before I
simply typed "strike match": 

     >get match
     You already have the book of matches!

     >get match from matchbook
     The book of matches isn't in the book of matches.

     >look in matchbook
     There's nothing in the book of matches. 

Rating: 8 


From: Suzanne Britton 
[originally posted to Usenet on]

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

"Masquerade" is an excellent work of story-based IF in a little-used
genre (romance, specifically, Civil-War era romance). It is perhaps the
most immersive game I've played yet this year. When I started playing,
my mind was still spinning with outside thoughts and residual stress.
Soon, I became utterly engrossed in the well-sketched gameworld and all
else faded to black. 

The setting is impeccable: no anachronisms or oversights. I truly felt
like I was in the 1800's. The protagonist (a feminist before her time)
also came across quite strongly, and I enjoyed stepping into the shoes
of someone so like and yet unlike me. 

Though the plot of "Masquerade" is fairly linear, for most of the way,
there are several forks in the later parts of the game which lead to
different endings based on your decisions. This was a big part of my
enjoyment: of the 12 endings, I've found about a third, and am eager to
go back and find more after the comp. I was especially pleased that
choosing to strike out on your own (sans deed, sans husband) was a valid
option, and though the author didn't quite sanction it as a "winning"
ending (an odd word to use with story-based IF anyway), the outcome was
positive and rewarding (it's my favorite ending of those I found). In
that respect, Masquerade is hardly a "genre" romance. 

In spite of this praise, "Masquerade" didn't quite make my 9-10 bracket.
There are several reasons for this. The first is something the author
couldn't have done much about: the genre is not my usual cup of tea. I
prefer stories with fantastical or SF elements (the story-in-a-story in
"Photopia" counts) to straight fiction. 

The second is implementation: there were enough guess-the-verb and
guess-the-action problems to be annoying. This is an especial
show-stopper in such a linear game, which often halts your progress
entirely, locking you in your current location, until you deal with the
matter at hand. Example: "dance with Jonathan". It sounds embarrassingly
obvious now, but at the time, I assumed that we would go into the
ballroom together, then dance. But "west" returned the stock failure
message about Mrs. Stanford being at the door, and this stymied me for a

Sometimes the problem is syntax, other times it's more a problem of
being expected to read the author's mind. I'm not referring to puzzles
(of which there are a few), rather cases where what I want to do is
obvious, but how to tell the game that is not-so-obvious. Another
example: the only way I've found to get Ethan's attention in the train
is to "get tickets". Until I've done that, I can't talk to him, touch
him, sit with him, or otherwise interact with him. The reason given is
fairly lame ("You wouldn't want to be that forward") and doesn't do much
to point me in the right direction. Worse, if I flounder around like
that for more than a few turns, I'm ejected from the train and it takes

When the game mechanics worked--and make no mistake, they often
did--they worked splendidly. I wended my way through the story in
mimetic bliss, barely conscious of the fact that I was typing rather
than living out my actions. The tight boundaries of the gameworld
remained invisible. But when the mechanics failed, they failed with a
loud crunching halt. 

(One extra positive note on implementation: I was impressed by and
appreciative of the many stock message replacements [in fact, I've been
impressed that way by several games this year]. E.g., when you type an
invalid command: "You mutter something incomprehensible". Or for
disambiguation, "You pause to think,  or ?") 

Third: the game sometimes went overboard in limiting my actions. Some of
this is acceptable--there are things a 19th-century woman simply does
not do--but some of it came across as programming laziness. Whatever the
reason, I was disappointed at not being allowed to give Jonathan a good

Rating: 8 


From: Tina Sikorski 

Walkthrough? No (in-game hints)
Genre: Historical Romance

         |Overall Rating        B |Submitted Vote  8|
         |Writing               A |Plot           B |
         |Puzzles               C |NPCs           B |
         |Technical             B |Tilt           A+|

*** Initial Thoughts 

It's interesting. I'm not a big romance story fan, but I am a fan of
historical romance... perhaps because I'm a big fan of historical
-anything-. And this story is set in a period that I find fascinating.
So right from the start, I was interested.

But it wouldn't have held if the game wasn't so extremely well

*** Writing (A)

Simply put, the writing in this story is first-rate. It was descriptive,
it was evocative, it was thorough without being wordy, it was fun to
read, and best of all, it fit the period the game was set in. If there
-were- any errors, they escaped my notice.

The example I have in my notes -- which I feel is representative -- is
from the interior of a coach:

   "The coach is richly appointed, with two leather cushioned benches
   facing each other and a nice clean smell that marks it as either
   privately owned or an expensive rental. Heavy black drapes have been
   drawn across the windows, casting the interior in a gloom that
   precludes close scrutiny of the conveyance or its passenger."

As someone who is a big fan of (mostly horror) stories written in the
late 1800s, I can say that this actually is the type of writing one
encounters in that period, which, not coincidentally, is when this story
is set.

*** Plot (B)

Although I was disappointed with the particular ending I got and once or
twice felt that things were a bit forced, the overall story in this is
good. It's not simply a boy-meets-girl style romance by any means; the
actual initial thrust of the plot (and, in fact, potentially the
majority of it) has nothing to do with romance.

I think perhaps the complaint some people have of heavily story-driven
IF -- notably, if you've been not reading reviews regularly, that maybe
they would do better as static IF -- would probably apply here, but as
usual, I am not one of those people. There is flexibility here you could
not incorporate into a static work, and while the plot advances are an
unstoppable force, you can change things a bit by your reactions.

*** Puzzles (C)

There were a few. They weren't bad. If that seems a bit short, let me a
note that I was so captivated by the story I didn't really notice them.
I certainly didn't get hung up on them, so that's all that really
mattered to me in the end.

*** NPCs (B)

The NPCs were, for the most part, quite well developed, although at
times the interactions with them were a bit too predestined for my
taste, hence the "mere" B rating.

*** Technical (B)

I have to say that this rating is predicated on two particular biases of
mine: rich, full, detailed story worlds, and alternate conversational
styles (the ask/tell routine is not exactly my favorite, and IMO doesn't
work very well in stories like this). The fact that I could
>smell stranger

...and get a valid response was worth a lot. Too, the fact that standard
library messages were altered to fit the mood and setting was nice. None
of this is necessarily -difficult-, but it does take the type of
forethought and planning that many people do -not- bring to their games.

*** Tilt (A+) and Final Thoughts

I found this game so enticing and so thoroughly enjoyable that I intend
on playing it again to see what alternate endings I get, and expect that
even the parts that repeat will still seem wonderful and fresh. If not
for the fact that I like surreal better than I like romance, this would
have easily been my favorite of the games I played.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Metamorphoses
AUTHOR: Emily Short
E-MAIL: emshort SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard (mostly)
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

As has often been noted, there are many difficulties inherent in telling
a story through the IF medium, and one of the most-remarked-upon is the
difficulty of keeping the player/reader involved (by giving him/her
something to do) while still telling the story that the author wants to
tell. The solutions usually boil down to relinquishing control of the
pace of the story (typically through giving the player puzzles to
solve), or avoiding/minimizing the puzzle aspect of IF and sending the
player through the story with little opportunity to affect it. Emily
Short's Metamorphoses doesn't, exactly, transcend this usual duality in
IF design, but it does do some interesting things that help bring the
poles together, and it's a wonderfully immersive playing experience.

What's going on is hard to pin down, but the heart of it is that you're
a slave/servant girl sent on a quest/errand of sorts by your master,
with whom you have an uneasy and complicated relationship. The literal
content of the quest (to the extent that there is any) disappears as the
setting changes: the game is set in a fantasy world of sorts, though
it's not quite accurate to call it fantasy. The action, so to speak,
lies mostly in the realm of the figurative: you're encouraged (well, I
felt encouraged) to view your quest as important more in what it
suggests than in what it literally depicts. By the same token, when you
encounter puzzles, they have symbolic significance that goes beyond the
"acquire the object" goal. (All the more so since it's not immediately
obvious why you're acquiring the objects.) Since the plot goes on
beneath the surface of the literal action, the game can safely permit
the player to do whatever he or she wants with the pace and order of the
story, since there isn't really a narrative thread as such that can be
broken. For example: one puzzle requires that you give up something
familiar to you to advance the story, an act which clearly has its own
resonances, and another requires that you transform another familiar
object and put it to a novel use. The game comments directly on some of
these points but not all--very little is spelled out.

The world where all this takes place is only indirectly related to the
ordinary physical world, and the relationship parallels other elements
in the plot. Idealized forms play an important part: two statues of a
man and a woman are described in ways that suggest Greek sculpture, and
perfect solids are central to the story. Essences are important as well:
virtually every object is made of a single elemental substance (wood,
glass, metal, etc.), and you have the power to alter those substances in
certain ways. Symmetry is everywhere (in the game's map, and elsewhere
as well), and the multiplicity of mirrors suggests the reflection and
introspection that are central to the plot. (Likewise, the idealized
forms suggest the absolutes that make up the plot.) At the same time,
the game's world is sterile, arid: there's nothing particularly warm or
welcoming about it, and there's no suggestion that you find it pleasant
or comfortable. (Left ambiguous is whether the dryness reflects the
protagonist's life as it has been, or represents some hostile reality
external to her that she's trying to overcome.) The setting itself tells
a story, in other words, in a way not often found in IF.

Not only does the setting play a part in the plot, however, but it's
also beautifully described, with plenty of arresting imagery--some
descriptive, others suggestive. For instance:

   Dome of Broken Light
   A straight white light comes through the hole in the ceiling, but it
   is soon after twisted and bent: mirrors cast it from angle to angle;
   crystal divides it; glass stains it.

The picture is indeterminate: the reader is encouraged to imagine a riot
of reflections and refractions. The only perfection here is that of
perfect confusion. Here, by contrast:

   Glass Grove
   An orchard of glass trees: trunks slender and orderly as the columns
   of the Alhambra, foliage iridescent and frail. No wind stirs, and
   yet, from time to time, a leaf casts free of its branch and drifts to
   the ground. The whole floor of the cavern is deep with them.

The image is more concrete: "iridescent and frail" conveys both the
beauty and the sterility of the game's world. The writing also
underscores the contrasts between the two locations: the (relative)
activity of the first is reflected by the active verbs ("mirrors cast,"
"crystal divides," "glass stains"), whereas the aridity of the second is
suggested by the intransitive verbs ("casts free," "drifts", "is
deep"--and the first sentence has no verbs at all). Most of the writing
is spare, like the game itself--you eventually learn some things about
yourself, your past, and how you came to be in your present position,
but the snippets are small indeed. What's there, however, is well worth

Metamorphoses does an impressively nuanced job of worldbuilding, in
short, but what's noteworthy is that the gameplay is nearly as good. The
puzzles feel reasonably novel, due mostly to the
transmutation/magnification machines you're given and which figure in
all the puzzles. The technical aspect is impressive--the objects by and
large do what they're supposed to do when transmuted or enlarged or
shrunk, and they interact with each other in plausible ways, nothing to
sneeze at considering the complexity involved. Moreover, there are
plenty of multiple solutions that draw on the various qualities of the
objects whose size and essence you can alter, which makes the puzzles
flow by fairly quickly. (This is not, in other words, a "guess what the
author's thinking" sort of game, at least not when it comes to puzzle
solutions.) Not every object in every state and size gets a customized
description, of course, but everything behaves sensibly enough.

Metamorphoses is not a flawless effort--some of its design choices risk
leaving the player cold in certain respects. In particular, the game
leaves so much about the protagonist ambiguous for so long that it's
difficult to connect to her emotionally. Some of the most emotional
experiences for the protagonist come early enough in the story that the
player is unlikely to be as strongly affected as he or she might be with
some more setup and explanation. As always, the tradeoff between story
and puzzle raises the possibility that the player will forget about the
story amid all the mechanical fiddling (particularly here, where there's
so much fiddling to do)--the puzzles are reasonably well integrated into
the story, for the most part, but most of the plot is sufficiently
abstract that it's easy to lose sight of what's supposed to be going on.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are a lot of endings to
Metamorphoses, and many of them don't provide much resolution in any
obvious way; finding an end to the story that adequately brings the
various threads together may take a while for some players. In a way,
that works here; it reflects the general bleakness of the game's world
that the end of the story doesn't tie up all the loose ends or furnish
an especially satisfying conclusion. The game aspect, however, demands
some sort of conclusion, whether optimal or not, and only a few of the
endings offer real conclusions as such.

These drawbacks are to some extent inherent in what Metamorphoses
appears to be trying to do, though; tastes on what constitutes a
satisfying game experience differ--and the latitude for experimentation
provided by the machines helps make up for any other problems. For my
part, the setting itself was enough to make this the only 10 of this
year's competition (and the only one I've given since 1997)--as
worldbuilding, this is a triumph.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: My Angel
AUTHOR: Jon Ingold
E-MAIL: ji207 SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard (mostly)
SUPPORTS: Most z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

The unusual approach to formatting that Jon Ingold's My Angel adopts is
the most obvious of its innovations, but in some ways it's the least
interesting. What works about this story works whether or not the text
is formatted in the conventional way or not.

The game calls the innovation NOVEL mode, and it's a nov--er, it's a
creative idea: your input is moved up to a status line and most of the
program's output occupies the main part of the screen. Parser messages
("there's no such object here" and such) are also on the status line.
The paragraphing on the main part of the screen is handled fairly
well--most of the breaks are logical--so the output does, in most
respects, actually resemble a story written in the first person. It
seems, however, that the main effect would be on the appearance of the
transcript, rather than on the player's experience: the player is still
getting the parser messages, and if they're illogical or indicate bad
programming (failing to recognize a seemingly important object or
failing to understand a logical action), the effect on the player is
still to wrench him or her out of the flow of the story. Put another
way, it appears that another well-done game that strives to accommodate
all logical approaches would work just as well if given a similar
treatment--the point is to minimize those parser messages. (I've
certainly never heard anyone complain that having the input lines right
there in the middle of the output breaks the feel of the story, but
maybe I haven't been listening.) There's also a distraction
factor--whenever you do get a parser message and no output appears at
the bottom of the main screen, you need to look back up at the status
line, which takes some adjustment. (To be fair, the game also gives the
option of NORMAL mode, in which the output is standard
alternating-input-and-output, so if the looking back and forth drives
you nuts, you're not required to put up with it.) I suspect that,
eventually, it wouldn't feel any less unnatural than having the input
lines and parser messages right in the middle of everything, but it's
fairly jarring at first. The point isn't that NOVEL mode is a bad
idea--it's clever in its way. I'm just not convinced that it advances
the state of the art much, if at all.

There's more to My Angel than the formatting, fortunately, and the
reason it works as a story has very little to do with the appearance of
the transcript. The story flips back and forth between the main thread
and some flashback sequences in a reasonably seamless way, and you can
actually interact with the characters and objects in the flashback
sequences. Technically, of course, that has the potential to make no
sense, but the game manages to limit your options to assure that it
controls what actually happens in the flashback sequences while still
providing more interactivity than a simple cut scene. Moreover, since
you only get a few moves in each flashback sequence, and there's more
than a few moves' worth of exploration in each one, there's some replay
potential here. The one aspect of the story that suffers, however, is
that it's easy to get confused about what exactly happened in the
flashbacks--the game throws several names and relationships at you and
essentially expects you to keep them straight (if you want to understand
what really happened at the end). The flashback approach can, in fact,
work well in IF, but there's also an inherent disadvantage that static
fiction doesn't pose--it's harder to flip back to an earlier moment to
check on details that you missed the first time around. Simplicity is
key, and the flashbacks in My Angel are complex enough to push the
envelope. (Babel, by way of contrast, solves this problem by allowing
the player to access the flashbacks repeatedly and at will.)

The relationship at the core of the story is also nicely done with an
interesting innovation: you and your companion are telepaths, it seems,
and THINK ABOUT object lets you know her take on that object and often
triggers a series of brief communications about the object or associated
ideas. The effect is sometimes akin to having two PCs rather than one,
all the more so because the character of the main PC isn't especially
well developed--you don't get much of his personality, just his
experiences. The PC's thoughts tend to be bound up with his companion's
thoughts, in other words, so the player rarely sees either person
thinking or acting independently. As a result, most of the game unfolds
as if there were one mind in two bodies, and when the two are apart--as
they are for roughly the last half of the story--the PC and,
consequently, the player feel bereft, incomplete. The telepathic
interactions don't only come when invited by THINK ABOUT, of
course--they're interjected at all sorts of moments, and the two
characters comment back and forth on the other's thoughts. It's a trick
that works particularly well in IF, since the player isn't necessarily
expecting to find a PC with a persona that's distinct from the player's.
The indistinctness is here, but it's on another front.

The game aspect isn't a total success, however. Some of the puzzles
reflect the story well--your telepathy plays into them in more or less
logical ways--but others just feel like puzzles. The game refers to them
as "optional," but I'm not sure why--it appears to me that the story
won't progress to its ending if the puzzles aren't solved. They're not
fiendishly difficult, but they're not blindingly obvious either, and one
in particular seems rather improbable (or turns on a object property
that's inadequately described). More importantly, they make the flow of
the story feel uneven, since large chunks of the story go by independent
of your input. For instance, there are several sequences of moves where
you're traveling, and while you can interact with the scenery as you go
by, you can't stop the movement. This actually works fairly well--it's a
good balance between keeping the story moving and letting you poke and
prod things--but when you get to the points where the story stops until
you solve the puzzle, the story loses some of its pace. Usually, it's
not so bad--since the first several puzzles aren't all that hard--but
the more difficult puzzles break the mood by bringing everything to a

The writing, for its part, is solid, good enough not to get in the way,
though it does occasionally lurch into total abstraction at times when
the player simply wants to know what's going on. I suppose that fits the
telepathy theme--thoughts don't lend themselves to description, and
experiences whose most important features are the shared thoughts
between you and your companion will inevitably be a little abstract--but
it's also frustrating. A sample:

   The centre of the stone twists around, and it flares with a pulsing
   light - or does it, maybe I see this only in my head, my eyes seem
   nothing to do with it. It is talking to me, gibbering, squawking. No
   - the speech goes beyond me, beyond her, it is talking to the
   distance, to the air. There is a shriek that tells us "HEAR-SPEAK"
   and then my eyes cease to function totally and all I am aware of is
   the black, and Angela there in my mind like an aura. Unbidden, shapes
   loom up from the blackness; things I have blotted and forgotten pull
   at me, whispering.

This is called synesthesia--using sensory language, but associated with
the "wrong" sense--and while it's a good attention-getting device, only
the most determined readers will actually manage to feel like they're
still in the character's shoes; the rest are relegated to observer
status. After a brief flashback, you get this:

   Then slowly, fades light back in. The clearing still, we inside are -
   my mind still spins - the clearing. By the stone, as though a fruit
   dangling from the elm-tree's bent branch, is a darkness. Darkness is
   made an object. Darkness is present, as a - gap - in what is. A rift,
   as though the wind itself were riven. Light falls into it and will
   not return. Angela pictures a passage, passage itself.

This is nicely poetic writing, but it comes at an unfortunate point;
Something Has Happened, and the player (this player, at least) doesn't
want to hear about how the darkness is like a fruit dangling from an
elm-tree. The effect is murkiness to no real purpose--at least, no
purpose that I could discern, because what's there is very much there;
it's not as if the abstract language refers to something that only
exists in the abstract. Much of the game avoids this sort of thing--the
shared thoughts are usually exchanged in terms of images that the player
can grapple with--but there are some unfortunate moments at the end when
the game loses some of its grip, so to speak.

Still, in a competition well-populated by games with flaws much more
significant than insufficiently concrete writing, it's not exactly fair
to criticize My Angel too harshly on those terms. It's a well-told story
that manages to keep the player involved, mostly, and I gave it an 8.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Nevermore
AUTHOR: Nate Cull
E-MAIL: culln SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 10

Literary adaptation is an underpopulated IF genre, and Nate Cull's
Nevermore is a thoughtful and well-intentioned attempt at bringing Poe's
"The Raven" to the world of IF. While what emerges isn't a bad game,
it's less the poem than a series of events in a similar setting with a
somewhat similar mood, In other words, if you're a particular fan of the
poem, you might not well not be a fan of this game.

As it happens, I committed "The Raven" to memory when I was in seventh
grade or so, and I still like the poem even though I've somewhat
belatedly realized that it's not a very good poem. (It's been said that
the popularity of Poe's poems varies inversely with their quality, and
while that's not strictly true--he wrote some lousy poems that remain
thoroughly obscure--the three Poe poems that are probably the best
known, "The Raven," "Annabel Lee," and "The Bells", are far from his
best.) That is, I like it despite its repetitiveness and its tendency to
use 20 words when two or three would do, simply because I like the drama
of it. No one would ever call "The Highwayman" a great poem, but it's
definitely a good ghost story in verse form that's well suited for being
read aloud; ditto, I think, for "The Raven," and I still enjoy being
able to recite it--and "The Highwayman" and others--from memory. So when
I saw the initial premise of Nevermore, my first reaction was something
between "Cool!" and disappointment that I hadn't gotten there first,
because it was an idea I'd been kicking around (very casually). And when
I saw that the game was using snippets from the poem but not binding the
player to the text, I said, aha, perfect--use the poem's story, its
strong point, but don't bind us to the text, which isn't its strong
point. Just use the text for echo effect.

It was about five moves into the game that the author's vision of the
poem diverged from mine, however, and it continued to diverge more and
more over the course of the game. This, in a sense, is good: had the
author felt constrained not to offend fellow fans of the poem and
slavishly followed the text, the result wouldn't have been much
different from reading the text itself. But I had such a hard time
squaring the author's vision with mine that before long I simply forgot
the origin of the game and no longer associated it with my mental images
of the setting as portrayed in the poem; it was just, in other words,
another comp entry. This is partly because the plot of Nevermore
involves elements like alchemy, pagan rituals, and lots of drugs, and it
would have been an odd coincidence if both the author and I had imagined
those things as part of a more fleshed-out story--but it's more that the
mood differed from the mood as I imagined it. To take one among many
examples, the protagonist of Nevermore takes cocaine approximately every
20 moves; if you don't, you're told that "a dull, dark weariness drifts
over you," which leads to death in a few moves if not corrected with
cocaine (at which point "a sense of raw alertness rushes through your
nerves, setting them all on edge"). It's certainly not implausible to
view the mood of the poem's subject as more generally consistent with "a
dull, dark weariness" than a cocaine-fueled "raw alertness," though--I
mean, it's a pretty melancholy poem--and I simply couldn't fit the
protagonist of Nevermore into my preconceived image. (Well, okay, the
poem's subject summons up some energy toward the end, but there's an
obvious cause that isn't cocaine.) In short, the author has his own
rather distinctive vision of who the protagonist is and what the poem's
about, and Your Mileage May Vary.

All that aside, the game works reasonably well, though it's not
flawless. The cocaine habit mentioned about doesn't add much to the
game, and it recurs frequently enough to be irritating after a while.
The puzzles also depend on a set of books that you're required to read,
while is fine except that (a) the snippets in the books are randomized,
so it's possible to miss one even if you've seen all the other snippets
twice or more, and (b) the snippets are written in a sort of
pseudo-medieval English that takes an awful lot of work to make sense
of. (Impenetrable poetry I can deal with; impenetrable puzzle-solving
instructions are more of a problem.) It's also easy to push the game
into unwinnable states, and though there's a WINNABLE command (which
informs you whether the game is presently in such a state), I would have
preferred game design that simply makes it a little harder to screw up
(or, better, is more forgiving when you do screw up). The opacity of the
instructions also had me stumped for a while toward the end--it turned
out that I'd left out a key step in the puzzle-solving and hadn't
realized it (and there aren't really contextual hints that could suggest
what you might have done wrong).

This is sounding more negative than I mean to be, because there were
parts of Nevermore that I genuinely enjoyed. The ending, for one thing,
is terrific--dark and dripping with irony. (In that respect, quite
faithful to Poe himself.) Some of the action turns on flashbacks, which
also struck me as genuinely Poeish--a protagonist for whom the past is
more real than the present absolutely belongs in this game. The writing
is strong--economical and atmospheric--and the box quotes from Edgar are
nicely placed (though, curiously, the last and most dramatic part of the
poem is largely absent). The personality of the protagonist even felt
right--an odd mix of sentimentality and obsessiveness.

Nevermore does a lot of things right, and you could argue that it did as
well as any work of IF could do in adapting this particular poem; it's
certainly a worthy attempt. Through no fault of the game, however, it
didn't really connect with me, and I gave it a 7 in the competition.


From: Tina Sikorski 

TITLE: 1-2-3...
AUTHOR: Chris Mudd
E-MAIL: muddchris SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Walkthrough?  Yes
Genre: Psychological Drama

         |Overall Rating        C |Submitted Vote  6|
         |Writing               C |Plot           C+|
         |Puzzles               D+|NPCs           D+|
         |Technical             C |Tilt           B-|

*** Initial Thoughts 

Okay, I know that some people thought this was terrible, that some were
completely turned off by the very idea, that there were definitely
problems (yes, even I agree) with implementation, and that it may
qualify as the most controversial entry in the comp. But damn it, I
liked the idea, and I gave it a 6 because despite the flaws I want to
encourage people to continue to work in this genre.

*** Writing (C)

Yes, there were some really bad spots in the writing. I will agree fully
with anyone who says that. In particular, the conversational style was
really irritating (but that's really more a technical flaw). But the
game did do a good job on several occasions of evoking the inner mind of
the psychopath, and that's something that I enjoyed.

One of my favorite bits is early on:

   >l at me
   What you see disturbs you, but there is nothing -- absolutely nothing
   -- you can do about it. Something has clicked within you. Your time
   is now.

With two short lines, the game lets you know that something very odd is
going on, and that the person you are playing feels helpless to stop it.
It, along with the first room description in the game, though both very
short, give you chilling atmosphere, a hint to plot, and a bit of
mystery and intrigue all at once. -That- is part of why I rated the game
more highly than many other reviewers did, and why I thought it showed
such potential.

Alas, I will be the first to admit that some of this potential went to
waste, but I do think the game showed promise. If only the
conversational style had lived up to these initial descriptions, I would
have rated it far more highly in this category at least.

I would like to encourage the author, however, to continue developing
and honing that skill, learning to apply it to other portions of the
writing. I think that with some practice, some damn fine games could

*** Plot (C+)

Understand that this score is predicated more on what I felt the author
was -trying- to do than on the actual execution. Had it been executed
properly... well, I suspect had it been executed properly, fewer people
would have been quite so down on the game. After all, movies like
_Seven_ and _Silence of the Lambs_ and _Kiss the Girls_ are -very-
popular. More than that, I would have probably been in love with the
game; serial killer stories, particularly ones that attempt to delve
into the mind of the killer, fascinate me.

The two biggest plot-related flaws were both predicated on timing: the
actual flow of the game (chock full of nose-leading) and the
conversational style, the latter of which I will expand on under NPCs.

No doubt about it, the execution of the pieces of the story left
something to be desired. While I truly enjoyed the perspective shifts,
the method of revealing the storyline was haphazard, seemed unconnected
to the player actions to a great degree, and was, in a word, 'choppy'. I
found myself unable to determine 'what to do next' until I realized that
basically the answer was 'talk to people and wait for scene changes'. 

This works for some games, and it probably even could have worked for
this one, but the attempt to drive the player this way really -did- feel
like an attempt to 'drive' the player. I would hesitate to do more than
speculate, but I wonder if perhaps the author has written static fiction
and was trying to convert it to an IF format; it has that feel to it.

In summary: Good idea that I'd like to see better developed.

*** Puzzles (D+)

Really, there weren't any to speak of, except for conversational choice
puzzles. I found to be 'take woman' fairly obvious given the inner
monologue before then, and of course, every veteran IF player knows to
always check the fridge. That's about it...

*** NPCs (D+)

The conversational style was, in a word, painful. We are not talking
about "I dropped a brick on my toe" painful or even "I just gave birth
to a 10 lb child" painful (unless you are a male, in which case we may
be). We are talking about "I just had every inch of my skin scoured by
sandpaper" painful. So, as you can see, I did in fact have a bad opinion
of a portion of this game.

So, by now, almost everyone who has played this game or read a review
has commented on "Don't you want to ask me about her breasts?"
Therefore, I see no need to revisit that line. What I -would- like to
focus on is the following exchange, which I think fully illustrates my
problem (and most other folks') with the conversation system:

   > ask him about woman
   He smiles an empathetic smile. "Don't you want to ask me about the
   victim, Riessa?" he asks.

Yes. that's why I said 'woman'. She was a woman. Yes? 

Synonyms are very, very much your friend. They are quite useful. I will
grant that the higher the synonym count, the higher the chance of a
disambiguation problem, but in this case I don't believe it applies --
or even if it does, I think it could have been handled far more
gracefully than it was. 

Forcing the player to word questions a very, very precise way (such as
STRIKE AGAIN") with very little in the way of a good feedback system
(hint: telling me precisely how to phrase it really isn't a good
feedback system, honest) is a very, very annoying choice, and should be
discarded and replaced with something else, even if that 'something
else' is a menu of questions, something that would not be my -first-
choice for this particular type of game but which would have been a
serious improvement under the circumstances.

Since the game is driven by completing conversations, this presents even
more of a problem than it looks like on the first glance; you simply
can't go somewhere else and do something (that choice isn't available)
and then come back when you have a new idea. I suspect this lay at the
heart of many folks' frustration with this entry.

*** Technical (C)

I found no bugs; the only real flaw was conversation-style related.
Character and location switching is not a terribly impressive trick but
it at least took a bit of forethought.

*** Tilt (B-) and Final Thoughts

As I mentioned above, I really do enjoy serial killer stories, and
really think that this game has potential. With some reworking of the
conversational style, a bit more depth to the world and the people, and
perhaps a slightly longer path to the solution, I think it could have
been a solid game. Perhaps not to everyone's taste, but then, what is?


From: Matthew Clemson 
[originally posted to Usenet on]

TITLE: Planet Of The Infinite Minds
AUTHOR: Alfredo Garcia
E-MAIL: Five-0 SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters

Er. Um. It's... odd, there's no denying that. It's generally
bug-and-typo free, but it's resoundingly... odd. It's what I'd imagine a
Rybread Celsius game to be like if it was done, well, right. Some great
puzzles, although there's rather a lot of guess-the-author's-mind - I
had to use hints several times - we're back to the oddness again;
indeed, parts of it kept reminding me of Nord and Bert. Indeed, like
N&B, it's at times laugh-out-loud funny - the problems relating to the
end of the universe spring to mind.

Some puzzles, OTOH, are really ingenious, although they are, again,
sometimes let down by the guess-the-author's-thoughts aspects; I
particularly (gasp) *enjoyed the maze*; it was a different approach to
any I'd known, and worked well. Mind you, most people would argue that
it's not a maze :-).

There was one puzzle towards the end which was a little out-of-sorts,
though; and the author admits it in the walkthrough. All-in-all, I
didn't dock a point for it, since I enjoyed the rest of the game so
much; other people might be tempted to, and I'd understand it if they
did. In retrospect, looking at the walkthrough, it's at least nice that
they allowed a cleaner verb than the one I actually used, which probably
says more about my mind than that of the author :-)

It's a little too enthusiastic with 'last lousy points', but they do
seem at least vaguely logical; OTOH, the entire response to Xyzzy is a
whole new and intelligent approach that I've not encountered before. I
didn't enjoy the game from the challenge and puzzle aspect - but from
the entertainment aspect, I was enthralled.

Rating: 7


From: Tina Sikorski 

Walkthrough? Yes
Genre: Speculative Fiction

         |Overall Rating        A-|Submitted Vote  9|
         |Writing               A |Plot           B+|
         |Puzzles               B |NPCs           B |
         |Technical             B |Tilt           A-|

*** Initial Thoughts 

I'm definitely not the only person who liked this game, but I may be the
only person who did not find the library puzzle baffling....

*** Writing (A)

The thing is, the writing was really funny.

It wasn't actually as perfectly technically executed as my letter grade
might imply; there were awkward turns of phrase here and there and the
occasional misuse of punctuation. But it was very, very funny.

One of my favorite bits (quite far into the game):

"All at once you enter the chimney with a sound that can only be
described as a Floop. All around is darkness. Then, with a
Binco-diddy-diddy you career downwards through metal ledges and wire
meshes. There is a resonating Ting as your body crashes against a curve
in the pipe. You slide downward at this angle towards light. The light
becomes brighter and brighter until it finally engulfs you, as you shoot
out of a large fireplace and into a tasteful room."

The subtitle of this game is "an interactive farce", and the author is
not kidding. It doesn't take itself seriously. It doesn't take you
seriously. It certainly doesn't take the protagonist or the NPCs


*** Plot (B+)

It's surreal, but it's cohesive... and that's a neat trick.

Sort of a cross between 1950s sf, a physics major's worst nightmares
(I'm betting the author is or was a physics major), and a comedy (well,
it DID say 'farce'), the basic plot is... nearly incomprehensible, yet,
strangely appealing, much like the sideshow freaks at a circus. Watching
it unfold is somewhat akin to watching that guy in the sideshow who does
terrible things to his own body: you wince, but you watch anyhow because
it's fascinating, and you wonder how it's done.

Whether or not the ultimate conclusion makes any sense isn't the point.
The point is, it's fun to watch the progress.

*** Puzzles (B)

Some people found the puzzles baffling, inaccessible, incomprehensible
on several levels. I used the walkthrough a lot myself. But they do make
sense, and they contain an element of originality...

...and this game has, hands down, my favorite puzzle of the comp. It may
not actually have been terribly original, but I don't recall having seen
a puzzle quite like it before. Without giving away too much, there is a
point at which you have a certain set of objects, and you must
manipulate your environment such to match those objects. I found one of
the things necessary to do this nearly impossible to figure out, but the
rest was definitely a fun exercise.

There was a puzzle at the end I found mildly objectionable, but it was
obnoxious in a way some people might find funny. It involved a toilet.

*** NPCs (B)

You don't actually have a lot of control over your interaction with the
NPCs, but for some reason this did not bother me. I actually found the
characters (or, perhaps, caricatures) rather interesting, particularly
one repeating encounter... poor man. I think most important is that they
provided color that went well with the rest of the game.

*** Technical (B)

The aforementioned favorite puzzle, something I thought was a pretty
good coding trick, was worth an extra point or two in technical score. I
found no noticeable bugs.

*** Tilt (A-) and Final Thoughts

It's possible I enjoyed this game as much as I did because I used to
make a career out of baiting my physics-major ex-boyfriend. (I used to
tell him that physicists were just guessing anyhow, for instance.) Or
maybe it's just that I have a soft place in my heart for 1950s bad
science movies. But I think even without those biases, I would probably
have found the game very amusing. Given the existence of the walkthrough
for people stuck on the admittedly not always straightforward puzzles, I
think I would recommend this to nearly everyone with a sense of humor.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Rameses
AUTHOR: Stephen Bond
E-MAIL: stephenbond SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

If you'd asked me before this year's competition began to envision a
game whose lack of interactivity was among its primary virtues, I'd have
had trouble coming up with an example. My imagination is clearly
lacking, however, because Stephen Bond's Rameses is just such a game,
one that uses the player's inability to interact (in part) to tell its
story. It's an interesting concept that's well implemented here.

Rameses is a tale of adolescence, which, for those who remember last
year's A Moment of Hope, isn't necessarily a good sign; making the
trials of adolescence compelling to those of us who are no longer in
that stage is not easy. But Rameses manages to find the balance between
turning the trials in question into melodrama (by exaggerating them) and
making them too trivial to be compelling. Specifically, you're a
teenager at a boarding school, enduring your two unpleasant roommates
and your own homesickness, or something akin to it--and the roommates
aren't monsters, they're just obnoxious. Nor is your character a
misunderstood saint--he's flawed in many respects. The protagonist
manages to elicit the player's sympathy despite (or perhaps because of)
the game's refusal to demand such sympathy.

How? Several ways. First, much of Rameses consists of conversation (in a
menu format)--and for long stretches of the conversation, your
character's head is bursting with things to say (as evidenced by the
menu), and yet he never says any of the things. There are always
explanations, of course, some of them plausible--nasty insults are
withdrawn with something akin to "You'd rather not start a fight right
now"--but what emerges is a striking portrait of frustration, of a
bottled-up character. It's not, exactly, that he's bottled up by
circumstances, by the Awful Consequences Of His Oppressive Life; that
would push it into melodrama, and this isn't melodramatic. It's more a
picture of a highly inarticulate character whose fear of expressing
himself borders on the neurotic, and drawing out that inarticulateness
by trying a range of conversational options (from the polite to the
highly antisocial), only to have the character reject all of them, is a
nicely done depiction of the character. (It's not exactly
inarticulateness--what's in your head is often quite well put--it's more
a fear of expressing oneself, for which there's no concise term that I
know. So I'm calling it inarticulateness.)

There's more to the character than unwillingness to talk,
though--there's also a healthy dollop of insecurity. A date of sorts is
imminent, and your character is terrified and would like nothing more
than to get out of it--he simply doesn't feel ready for that particular
aspect of adolescence. Most of that particular hangup is captured in a
monologue, but the date itself brings it alive as well: you're with two
girls, and you're at a loss, for turn after turn, for anything to say to
them. The few things you do manage to come up with only highlight the
general futility of the exercise. If there's a better way to make an IF
player feel frustrated and inarticulate than giving him TALK TO as a
conversation option and consistently giving him no menu options, I can't
imagine what it would be. In those respects, then, preventing the player
from interacting is one of the story's greatest accomplishments.

Equally effective for different reasons is the portrayal of the
protagonist's relationship with a boyhood friend named Daniel, a
relationship left behind in the trip to boarding school. The friendship
seems to represent for the protagonist a more secure and less
intimidating world. In particular, the protagonist appears to have been
able to communicate with Daniel easily, naturally, and the interactions
depicted (in the PC's memory) stand in contrast to the rest of his
interactions, most of which amount to awkward mumbling. Naturally,
however, one of the PC's main frustrations is that he's received a
letter from Daniel, and he can't seem to put the words together to

   God, I tried so often to write that letter. Practically every night I
   would stare at a page that was blank except for the words "Dear
   Daniel" at the top. I just couldn't think of anything to say. "Just
   be yourself," I kept thinking, "And write down whatever comes into
   your head." But nothing came into my head.

   A few weeks passed, and I still hadn't written a reply. And then I
   couldn't think of any excuses for my lateness. The longer it went on,
   the more ashamed I became about the delay, and the harder it was to
   write. I must have read and re- read Daniel's letter fifty times,
   looking for inspiration. I still have that letter. I still haven't

The writing, here and elsewhere, is unspectacular but effective--too
elegant or too creative turns of phrase would cast the PC's professed
inability to express himself in a strange light. One particularly well
done passage conveys the PC's sudden mood swing:

   Everything here is so peaceful, so beautiful - why have I never
   noticed it before? Raindrops dance on the river bay beneath my feet.
   Seagulls play in the air above me. Old fishing boats sway gently with
   the lapping of the water. And the air - I always thought the salt air
   was foul before, but now it seems so fresh, so clean, so pure!

   The quay must be the most miserable place in the whole town,
   especially when the rain is pissing down like it is now. Beneath my
   feet, the rain-pelted river flows like sludge, which probably has
   something to do with all the raw effluent that's pumped into it. The
   smell, needless to say, is truly nauseating. A handful of rusty old
   boats lie abandoned against the quay wall, and seagulls scream

The first passage might seem saccharine out of context, but it works as
a contrast with the PC's generally gloomy outlook, and the second
passage likewise works as a return to the status quo. The game is
well-written enough that painful moments for the PC aren't painful to
read, hardly a given.

To add to the feeling of impotence, there's a scene in which two of his
three roommates are picking on the third, and the PC (despite the
player's urgings, of course) fails to step in, lamely explaining
(internally) that "it's no use." Here, there's a variant on the
nonconversational theme--your character will speak up, but only to say
things that make things even worse (joining in the mockery of the third
roommate, in other words)--and after the scene is over the PC addresses
the player directly, explaining that the roommate's gratitude would have
been too great a burden to bear. The scene brings out the ramifications
of the PC's repressed nature--by not saying anything he hurts others as
well as himself--and prevents the player from feeling too much sympathy
for the PC. Nor does the player feel particularly complicit in the PC's
cowardice, since the player can try all he or she wants to help out the
hapless third roommate; the game trades complicity for imprisonment in
the PC's neuroses. Whether it's a good trade is, of course, a matter of

Most of the action, such as it is, in Rameses is internal to the
character, and even then very little of it actually constitutes
action--in a sense, the player spends most of the game getting to know
the PC, and the only significant thing that happens, as far as the PC is
concerned, comes at the very end. Moreover, there's virtually no
deviation possible in the course of the game; replays can provide more
information, in the form of conversation (or non-conversation) options
that weren't exercised before or people that weren't EXAMINEd, but not a
tremendous amount, and the course of the story won't change at all. As
mentioned, that usually indicates to me that the story would work better
as static fiction--but the tension between player and PC sets up its own
kind of interaction that makes this a surprisingly successful game.

Rameses is certainly not to everyone's tastes; there are no puzzles, and
the experience of playing it is more frustrating than fulfilling. But
it's a sufficiently clever experiment that I gave it a 9 in this year's


From: Tina Sikorski 

Walkthrough?  No
Genre: Slice-of-life

         |Overall Rating        B |Submitted Vote  7|
         |Writing               B |Plot           B |
         |Puzzles              n/a|NPCs           B |
         |Technical             C+|Tilt           B-|

*** Initial Thoughts 

Puzzleless IF seems to be gaining in popularity at least insofar as the
comp goes; CYOA and almost entirely conversational-driven works account
for a fairly significant percentage of this year's crop. Alternate view
styles (from the traditional 2nd person) are also gaining in popularity,
although perhaps not to the same degree. Games with these styles tend to
see a fairly wide range of scores, and often some hot debate.

This game goes a step further: the protagonist is not only presented
with a different viewpoint (first-person) in a puzzleless environment,
but sometimes outright refuses to do what the player tells him to. This
ended up producing some fairly interesting and diverse commentary
amongst other reviewers and players.

How well did it work? Well, applying the same standards to it I apply to
other games, it rated a solid B from me, so perhaps well. But let's move
on to some categorical comments...

*** Writing (B)

The writing is solid and has a lot of character -- in some places,
possibly a wee bit too much character. Still, as in several other
offerings this year, the style fit perfectly the mood and environs. It
reads, to my mind, something like those TV shows where a character
chooses to narrate the goings-on would were they in a written format, a
trick that works with the right characters and situations... which this
game has.

The opening -- perhaps not in retrospect surprising -- reminds me highly
of Trainspotting, a movie which I admit to having enjoyed a great deal.
I say 'perhaps not surprising' because it has a similar regional feel
throughout; not precisely the same, but certainly reminiscent.

Much of the description contains interesting little editorials, a
definite plus in a game written in first-person. "Here I see a blah" is
a temptation that would probably be easy to succumb to in such a case;
this game does not suffer from it. Instead, we have this lovely opener:

   "With horror I realise that I'll have to spend another day in St.
   Enda's college. A familiar fact I have to face each morning - but
   four years here have not made it any easier to face. St. Enda's - how
   I have come to despise this place. A decrepit old red-brick shagpile
   which has become the focal point of this filthy little town in the
   arse-end of nowhere. The cheapest boarding school in the country,
   probably, but also surely the most pompous and inflated. A haven for
   the worst kind of social climbers, parvenus, thick, ignorant farmers'

And this is not the only room in which this happens. Descriptions are
definitely colored throughout with commentary (although not always), and
indeed, that's just how a first-person game should be done.

*** Plot (B)

On the surface, this is just another school game. In reality, it's a
meandering through the mind of someone who does not like his life, his
surroundings, the people he deals with, and, most especially, himself.
It is something many works are not: it's realistic. Teens are like this.
Not all teens, sure, and certainly not always to this extreme, but it is
likewise certainly not unheard of.

I don't end up with much sympathy for the schmoe in the game. He is, as
he admits himself, an asshole, and a bit of a whiner to boot. Yet, it
feels right for him to be this way. 

There is a holy-grail aspect to the game as well: The missing friend,
Daniel. Was everything better when our protagonist was younger? Or does
he just think that anything would be better than now? And, of course,
there's a girl -- wouldn't there have to be?

The ultimate ending (or, as someone hinted at, endingS) is not much of a
resolution, when you come right down to it, but then, isn't that true of
everyone's life? Not everyone lives happily ever after.

*** Puzzles (n/a)

Although I believe there are a few choices one can make that subtly or
otherwise alter the game, there are no puzzles to speak of; I chose,
therefore, to not rate what did not exist.

*** NPCs (B)

The conversational style is juvenile, which is not surprising in a game
about, well, juveniles. If it were adult, it would be entirely too
Dawson's Creek for me (a show I watched precisely once). But it never
seems to be juvenile simply for the sake of being juvenile; rather, it
is juvenile simply because it is.

Are the characters believable? Yes, and no. I -have- seen such
stereotypes wandering the landscape, particularly in that stage of life,
but they do seem to acquire the level of 'caricature' at times. But
perhaps this is simply because they're seen through the eyes of someone
who is inclined to emphasize faults as one more away of painting his own
life as shitty.

Perhaps the only reason I did not end up giving this an even higher
rating is simply because your interaction with them is so limited in
many ways.

*** Technical (C+)

I enjoy alternate conversational styles, as I mention elsewhere in my
reviews. Aside from that, there is nothing special to speak of.

*** Tilt (B-) and Final Thoughts

I think this stands on its own merits as a good game -- or at least, a
good work of IF, if not a 'game' per se -- but let me revisit the
complaint some people had about the refusal of the protagonist to
perform certain actions. I do not feel that this is unique. I think this
work is just more obvious about it.

For instance, in most games there are dozens of actions closed off to
the player by what the designer did and did not implement. Some of these
are simply shortcuts to saying "that won't work". Some of them are
deliberate choices to only implement a single solution to a puzzle (and
some are less deliberate). If an author decides to say "this action
won't work", how is that terribly different from the -protagonist-
saying the same thing?

I think it is not. I submit that particularly given the premise of this
game, it makes perfect sense for these actions to be closed off not by
author fiat but by the protagonist's own inability. If anything, I
conclude that this is an additional bit of stylistic brilliance.

I will admit to having in my notes the following:

-Hah. "I can't believe I said that. Why did you make me say that?"

-Well, because everything else I was trying to say you turned down the
-chance to say?

But that was, in the end, part of the game's appeal.


From: Tina Sikorski 

TITLE: Shade
AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin
E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

Walkthrough? No (hints)
Genre: Surreal

         |Overall Rating        A |Submitted Vote  9|
         |Writing               A |Plot           B+|
         |Puzzles               C+|NPCs          n/a|
         |Technical             C+|Tilt           A+|

*** Initial Thoughts 

Mmm. Games that aren't what they seem at first. Except that this one, I
already had a feeling wasn't going to be what it was presented at first,
simply from the quality.

I have to say, with all due respect to Zarf, that I was a bit surprised
to discover he was the author; I generally don't enjoy his games this
much simply because his puzzles are usually beyond me. That is just not
a problem in this game.

It will be very difficult for me to discuss this game without revealing
spoilers, I'm afraid; I'll try to keep it to a minimum.

*** Writing (A)

First-rate, and from the opening paragraphs I was nearly certain that
the pseudonymous author was someone with prior experience. I never
formed a solid opinion about the potential author -- I'm actually not
very good at such things in any event -- but I was sure it would turn
out to be someone whose name I recognized.

Consider, if you will, this bit of description:

   "Odd, how the light just makes your apartment gloomier. Pre-dawn
   darkness pools in the corners and around the tops of walls. Your desk
   lamp glares yellow, but the shadows only draw your eyes and deepen."

This is something well-crafted. Without getting terribly verbose, it
reveals information, sets mood, and (though you don't yet know it) also
firmly sets the plot in motion. Light and darkness are important in this
game (or at least certainly in my view of the game), and they definitely
are properly introduced in the first paragraph.

Beyond that, I could continue to quote, but why ruin your chance to see
the writing develop? The writing is excellent, details abound even where
strictly speaking unnecessary, and responses to your actions are superb.

*** Plot (B+)

This is the thing that is so hard to discuss without giving anything
away, because it is on the one hand so terribly simple, but on the
other, there are some twists. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts
is that there comes a time when you know precisely what will happen (at
least for a while) and yet... there is still this sort of frantic "what
happens next" reaction. It's eerie, it's creepy, it's just plain fun.

*** Puzzles (C+)

This would be the one area the game is a little weak in. Oh, sure, the
puzzles are fairly straight-forward and oftentimes even sensical. There
is an in-game hint of sorts. But... it would be fair to say that the
puzzles pretty much exist to give you something to do while you're
waiting for the next, er, cascade of story, and unfortunately, because
of a few timing problems, it -feels- that way.

*** NPCs (n/a)

Except for possibly once, there are no NPC encounters.

*** Technical (C+)

The way the apartment was implemented was interesting. There wasn't much
else in the way of neat trickage (fairly surprising in retrospect).
There were a couple disambiguation problems, and maybe one bug (but it
may have been on purpose) with the in-game hint provision, but overall
it was fairly bug-free.

*** Tilt (A+) and Final Thoughts

I cannot, without revealing entirely too much about this game, explain
to you just what it was that had me raving about this game for two days
afterwards, including randomly piping up with a particular rant that
would, again, spoil things. Let me just assure you that this is the
case: for two days, I was so haunted by this game that it was constantly
in my head, teasing me... waiting for me in the darkness. In the

In the Shade.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Transfer
AUTHOR: Tod Levi
E-MAIL: jessical SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 9

Tod Levi's Transfer is straight-up science fiction with few real
surprises--the setting (research lab) and plot (experiment goes awry)
are well-used, and the execution incorporates most of conventional
science fiction's strong points and drawbacks. Still, it's entertaining
enough, and there are a few creative twists among all the familiarity.

You and the rest of your research team are trying to perfect transfer of
consciousness between entities, including across species--but the head
of the team seems to be dying. Mayhem ensues when the transferring
technology gets used and it appears that someone on the premises,
naturally, is up to no good. Most of the mayhem, actually, is your
doing--the other characters in Transfer are largely bumps on logs. Not
only is there minimal interaction with them, but they don't appear to
notice much of the havoc you wreak; evading their notice could have been
a puzzle in itself in several cases, but the game doesn't take that
opportunity. (Which makes the one instance when you're told not to
wander around in plain sight a little confusing--it's not necessarily
apparent why the characters who were blind and deaf a moment before
would be so alert now.) Worse still, the few things that they know about
don't appear to change much, if at all, over the course of the
game--they don't comment on the latest development, no matter how
bizarre or noteworthy, or even take notice of something fairly obvious
that' s going on right at that moment. To be sure, the characters are
important in the plot, and the plot is quite complex--but interacting
with them is rarely rewarding.

The main strength of Transfer is the gadget itself, and the variety of
ways you put it to use; the game could plausibly be considered an
extended riff on the central idea of identity-switching, in that the
idea gets used in unexpected (and occasionally hilarious) ways. The
element of the story that revolves around the machine is sufficiently
convoluted that one question in the hints late in the game is,
essentially, "Huh?"--but the story is sufficiently well crafted that the
complexity doesn't feel gratuitous. In this respect, Transfer is classic
science fiction: the gadgetry is intricate and fun to play with and it
leads the story in all sorts of unexpected places, often steamrolling
right over the characters, who end up (naturally) pretty flat. The
presumption, in other words, is that the player is more interested in
playing with the gadget than in plausible character interactions.

The puzzles are entertaining, if sometimes difficult--at various points,
the game leaves you wandering around the research complex with no clear
cues as to what you're supposed to be trying to do next. The most
egregious such example involves one point when you're apparently
supposed to intuit that because two separate documents mentioned the
same date, you're supposed to find out more about that date, thereby to
advance the plot. Fortunately, there's a comprehensive hint system that
helps bridge the gaps, and on the whole the puzzles make sense once the
necessary inferences are supplied. (Meaning that the inferences aren't
illogical, they're just obscure.) Also, the game doesn't become
unwinnable without warning, according to the author' s notes, and as far
as I can tell it never becomes unwinnable at all (aside from death,
which doesn't happen all that often)--there are virtually no meaningful
time limits, and no resources that you can waste. At times this strains
realism, of course--even when you're somewhere that you shouldn't be,
you don't need to rush to get your business done because no one's going
to interrupt you--and it takes the edge off any tension that might have
been produced. But for fairness and ease of play, it certainly works.

The writing, for its part, is competent, though it tends toward the
laconic: not only are there no exclamation points, but the game never,
as far as I remember, imputes any sort of emotion to you, even when the
emotion (e.g., fear when you're apparently about to die) seems pretty
obvious. The emphasis is more on conveying what's going on than dazzling
you with picturesque or evocative settings, though, and from that
perspective, things work fine, writing-wise--there are no errors that I
noticed, and the relevant information is always there. Likewise, the
technical aspect is strong: the various transfers are handled well, and
your interactions with the world in your various incarnations all made
sense, as far as I remember. The only real game design problem I
encountered was that something could be done in one move that I assumed
would take two, meaning that a puzzle solution was a total surprise to
me when I gave up and looked at the hints. That's a product of my
expectations more than a design flaw, though, and it certainly wasn't a
glaring weakness.

Transfer isn't particularly revolutionary, but it's one of the better
examples of its genre (a very crowded genre)--it brings more creativity
to the table than many of its fellows. While unabashed puzzlefests
usually aren't my thing, I enjoyed this one enough to give it a 9.


From: Suzanne Britton 
[originally posted to Usenet on]

TITLE: YAGWAD (Yes, Another Game With A Dragon)
AUTHOR: "Digby McWiggle" aka John Kean
E-MAIL: digby_mcwiggle SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

An utterly conventional and thoroughly delightful adventure game. I was
in a lousy mood when I started playing--I left the computer with a big
smile on my face. That is the highest praise I can give. 

Let's back up. YAGWAD is, as advertised, a game about a dragon. You're
an unlikely hero hoping to rescue the princess from the nefarious beast
and win the king's favor. So why did I love it, when so many games of
this sort merit only a yawn and a shrug? 

There are quite a few reasons. First and foremost, YAGWAD is the
funniest game I've played this year. From the rousing prologue (and
responses to "score" and "fullscore" therein), to the delightful ascii
art animation in the title, to the encyclopedia salesman (insert Monty
Python clip), to the friendly teeth, the troll, the answering machine,
the monks....well, I could go on all day. Suffice to say, YAGWAD kept me
grinning ear to ear from beginning to end. The humor is dead on,
comparable to Steve Meretzky's and often better. 

Programming is very solid. I ran into a few relatively harmless bugs,
and that's it (notable: I can read the diary without picking it up). The
writing is not the lush, purple prose of much story-based IF (don't get
me wrong--I like well-done purple prose!), but it is comfortable to
read, grammatical, and often funny. The room descriptions, in
particular, have an economy of expression reminiscent of Infocom. Few of
them span more than five lines, yet they lay out scenery and evoke a
mood with ease: 

   The forest stops short of this slope of mountainside, where a
   crumbling monastery stands with forlorn dignity overlooking the
   tangled remnants of an overgrown garden. A cracked stone walk winds
   from the forest opening north, through lank beds of herbs and
   wildflowers, and up to the wide stairs and darkened doorway leading

The plot ties together neatly. In fact, figuring out exactly what
happened years ago to leave things in their current state is part of the
fun. It's impossible to put the game in an unwinnable state (a feat
which clearly required some extra programming), and there are no sudden
deaths. Puzzles are relatively simple, but fun to solve, and a few of
them are clever enough to yield that nifty "aha!" feeling when you think
of the answer. I especially liked the hilt-password puzzle, and when I
realized the solution to the final puzzle, I laughed aloud. It was just

Bottom line: YAGWAD is a polished gem. It was written by an author who
clearly knew what he was doing and took the time to do it right. 

"Digby McWiggle": Thank you for reminding this world-weary judge why she
fell in love with IF in the first place. 

Rating: 10

READERS' SCOREBOARD -------------------------------------------------------

The Readers' Scoreboard is an ongoing feature of SPAG. It charts the
scores that SPAG readers and reviewers have given to various IF games
since SPAG started up. The codes in the Notes column give information as
to a game's availability and the platforms on which it runs. For a
translation of these codes and for more detailed information on the
scoreboard's format, see the SPAG FAQ. This FAQ is available at the IF-archive or on the SPAG web page at

Name                   Avg Sc     Chr     Puz # Sc  Issue Notes:
====                   ======     ===     === ====  ===== ======
9:05                      6.2     0.5     0.5    6     20 F_INF_GMD
Aayela                    7.4     1.2     1.5    5     10 F_TAD_GMD
Abbey                     6.8     0.6     1.4    1        S10_I_GMD
Above and Beyond          7.3     1.5     1.6    5        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     1.1    5        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                   7.9     1.3     1.4    5     17 F_TAD_GMD
Arthur: Excalibur         8.0     1.3     1.6    44,14,22 C_INF
Augmented Fourth          7.7     1.5     1.5    4     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                     8.4     1.7     1.3    9     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          7.3     1.2     1.4    6     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                 7.7     1.4     1.1    2     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               6.9     1.5     1.3   11      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                      7.4     1.1     0.8    2     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   19  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                  7.1     1.5     1.3    4     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              8.0     0.9     1.3    6 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                   7.8     1.9     0.7    3     22 F_INF_GMD
Gateway                   8.6     1.4     1.8    6     11 C_I
Gateway 2: Homeworld      9.0     1.8     1.9    5        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 Bar     3.0     0.0     0.0    1        F_INF_GMD
Gumshoe                   6.2     1.0     1.1    7      9 F_INF_GMD
Halothane                 6.6     1.3     1.2    4     19 F_INF_GMD
HeBGB Horror              5.7     0.9     1.1    2        F_ALAN_GMD
Heist                     6.7     1.4     1.5    2        F_INF_GMD
Hero, Inc.                6.8     1.0     1.5    2        F_TAD_GMD
Hitchhiker's Guide        7.4     1.4     1.5   14      5 C_INF
Hollywood Hijinx          6.5     0.9     1.6   11        C_INF
Holy Grail                6.2     0.9     1.2    1     21 F_TAD_GMD
Horror of Rylvania        7.2     1.4     1.4    5      1 F_TAD_GMD              3.7     0.3     0.7    2      3 S20_I_GMD
Human Resources Stori     0.9     0.0     0.1    2     17 F_INF_GMD
Humbug                    7.4     1.6     1.3    4     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   17     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     0.3     1.4   14      1 C_INF
Informatory               5.5     0.5     1.3    1     17 F_INF_GMD
Ingrid's Back             7.0     1.6     1.6    2        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             7.5     1.0     0.9    3        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         7.1     1.3     1.5   11      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           6.1     1.3     1.1    4     13 F_INF_GMD
Lunatix: Insanity Cir     5.6     1.2     1.0    3        F_I_GMD
Lurking Horror            7.2     1.3     1.3   15    1,3 C_INF
MacWesleyan / PC Univ     5.1     0.7     1.2    3        F_TAD_GMD
Madame L'Estrange...      5.1     1.2     0.7    1     13 F_INF_GMD
Magic Toyshop             5.2     1.1     1.1    5      7 F_INF_GMD                 4.5     0.5     0.5    1      3 S20_IBM_GMD
Maiden of the Moonlig     6.4     1.3     1.5    2     10 F_TAD_GMD
Matter of Time            1.4     0.3     1.4    1      14F_ALAN_GMD
Mercy                     7.3     1.4     1.2    6     12 F_INF_GMD
Meteor...Sherbet          7.8     1.4     1.5    7 10, 12 F_INF_GMD
Mind Electric             5.2     0.6     0.9    4    7,8 F_INF_GMD
Mind Forever Voyaging     8.2     1.3     0.9   12   5,15 C_INF
Mindwheel                 8.5     1.6     1.5    1        C_I
Mission                   6.0     1.2     1.4    1     21 F_TAD_GMD
Moist                     6.8     1.4     1.2    4        F_TAD_GMD
Moment of Hope            5.0     1.3     0.3    3     19 F_TAD_GMD
Moonmist                  5.9     1.2     1.0   14      1 C_INF
Mop & Murder              5.0     0.9     1.0    2      5 F_AGT_GMD
Mother Loose              7.0     1.5     1.3    2     17 F_INF_GMD
Mulldoon Legacy           7.4     1.2     1.8    1        F_INF_GMD
Multidimen. Thief         5.6     0.5     1.3    6    2,9 S15_AGT_GMD
Muse                      7.9     1.5     1.2    4     17 F_INF_GMD
Music Education           3.7     1.0     0.7    3        F_INF_GMD
Myopia                    6.1     1.3     0.6    2        F_AGT_GMD
Mystery House             4.1     0.3     0.7    1        F_AP_GMD
New Day                   6.6     1.4     1.1    4     13 F_INF_GMD
Night At Computer Cen     5.2     1.0     1.0    2        F_INF_GMD
Night at Museum Forev     4.2     0.3     1.0    4    7,8 F_TAD_GMD
Night of... Bunnies       6.6     1.0     1.4    1        I_INF_GMD
Nord and Bert             5.9     0.6     1.1    8      4 C_INF
Not Just A Game           6.9     1.0     1.3    1     20 F_INF_GMD
Not Just... Ballerina     5.3     0.8     0.9    3     20 F_INF_GMD
Obscene...Aardvarkbar     3.2     0.6     0.6    1        F_TAD_GMD
Odieus...Flingshot        3.3     0.4     0.7    2      5 F_INF_GMD
Of Forms Unknown          4.5     0.7     0.5    1     10 F_INF_GMD
Offensive Probing         4.2     0.6     0.9    1        F_INF_GMD
On The Farm               6.5     1.6     1.2    2     19 F_TAD_GMD
Once and Future           6.9     1.6     1.5    2     16 C30_TAD_CMP
One That Got Away         6.4     1.4     1.1    7    7,8 F_TAD_GMD
Only After Dark           4.6     0.8     0.6    4        F_INF_GMD
Oo-Topos                  5.7     0.2     1.0    1      9 C_AP_I_64
Outsided                  2.5     0.7     0.2    2        F_INF_GMD
Pass the Banana           2.9     0.8     0.5    3     19 F_INF_GMD
Path to Fortune           6.6     1.5     0.9    3      9 S_INF_GMD
Pawn                      6.3     1.1     1.3    2     12 C_MAG
Perilous Magic            4.9     0.9     1.1    1     21 F_INF_GMD
Perseus & Andromeda       3.4     0.3     1.0    1        64_INF_GMD
Persistence of Memory     6.2     1.2     1.1    1     17 F_HUG_GMD
Phlegm                    5.2     1.2     1.0    2     10 F_INF_GMD
Photopia                  7.6     1.5     0.7   20     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
Pirate's Cove             4.8     0.6     0.6    1        F_INF_GMD
Planetfall                7.3     1.6     1.4   13      4 C_INF
Plant                     7.3     1.2     1.5    4     17 F_TAD_GMD
Plundered Hearts          7.0     1.4     1.2    9      4 C_INF
Poor Zefron's Almanac     5.6     1.0     1.3    3     13 F_TAD_GMD
Portal                    8.0     1.7     0.2    3        C_I_A_AP_64
Purple                    5.6     0.9     1.0    1     17 F_INF_GMD
Pyramids of Mars          5.8     1.2     1.1    2        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     1.6     1.5    7      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.

We've had a paltry 33 contributions to the SPAG scoreboard since the
last issue. I'm willing to give people the benefit of the doubt -- maybe
all of you were dedicating your time to the competition. Well the
competition's over now, folks. Submit those scores! I encourage any and
all SPAG readers to learn the scoring system from the FAQ and then
submit scores for any piece of IF they play. The more contributions
there are, the more useful the scoreboard is for everybody. This time
around, as you might expect, the top ten list has remained almost
unchanged from last issue. The only small differences are a narrowing of
the gap between first and second place, and Babel's drop from 5th place
to 9th. 

1.  Gateway 2: Homeworld  9.0   5 votes
2.  Sunset over Savannah  8.7   6 votes
3.  Trinity               8.7   16 votes
4.  Anchorhead            8.7   23 votes
5.  Gateway               8.6   6 votes
6.  Losing Your Grip      8.5   6 votes
7.  Spellbreaker          8.5   8 votes
8.  Spider and Web        8.4   15 votes
9.  Babel                 8.7   9 votes
10. Christminster         8.2   16 votes

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

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

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






From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Shade
AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin
E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 3

Andrew Plotkin's Shade is a thoroughly creepy game, as you no doubt
already know if you're reading this, but it's also an unusual one--and
part of the reason it's so creepy is that it does things decidedly
contrary to IF players' expectations.

For one thing, there's the
changing-details-without-drawing-attention-to-the-change factor, namely
the hyacinth/spider/cactus. It's a particularly interesting choice
because the plant changes come amid a whole lot of other changes that
you are aware of--so it adds an air of uncertainty to the confusion, to
the extent that that makes sense. My initial impression, in fact, was
that there were more changes going on below my sight line; as it
happens, I was wrong, but the detail of the changing plant is enough to
give the player that feeling (i.e., that not only are things acting
funny, they're doing so behind your back as well as in front of your
nose). The book also gives you slightly different readings at different

There's also that favorite of IF theorists (this one, anyway), the
player-PC relationship, which takes a few odd turns here. For the first
few items that crumble into sand, the player and the PC appear to be in
the same position--something like "huh?" As the apartment disintegrates,
there's an inevitable shift for the player--he/she sees the trend and
says, okay, to get the story's conclusion I'm going to have to seek out
more things to turn into sand, so bring it on. (I actually didn't
realize that the list adapted when I first played the game, so I was
reduced to wandering around the apartment poking and prodding things in
hopes that they'd turn into sand, which obviously heightened the effect
a bit.) What's interesting is that the PC's approach also changes to
follow suit--the PC appears to welcome the disintegration after a while,
find a certain perverse pleasure in watching everything crumble. To wit:

   The toilet? Yes, it's the toilet's turn! You press the handle,
   grinning maniacally. And indeed, the sand rushes down the sides of
   the bowl.

   Carefully? You shove a paper-stack off the desk; it's a shower of
   sand before it hits the ground. Ha! You push another, and another,
   and then sweep the whole mass over the edge. White sand cascades
   everywhere. Laughing, you feel the desk itself give way.

   The cabinet and counter start to groan as soon as you touch them. You
   slam the cabinet for good measure; and the stained pressboard
   crackles white, shivers, and explodes into sand. All right!

There's more than one way to look at this, of course; you could take it
as a sign that the PC is beginning to lose it, or simply doesn't care.
But it's also one of many meta-IF moments--where the game breaks the
fourth wall, addresses the player directly, rather than observing the
usual player/PC distinction. The computer is one example--"right now,
however, there's a game on the screen -- one of the text adventures, or
interactive fictions, or whatever they are this month"--but there are
plenty of others. One of the things you hear on the radio is "Sharp
words between the superpowers," which is the first line of Trinity.
(Naturally, you comment to yourself "there are still superpowers?" An
unremarkable line in 1986, somewhat out of place now.) There's also
this: "The far side of the mirror is just as shadowy as this one. It's
probably meant as commentary; not more space, just more of the same."
"Shadowy" sounds like a So Far reference, but the "commentary" line
yanks the player out of the story altogether by drawing attention to the
author. There are also odd bits of humor here and there--if you read the
list during the move when the kitchen ceiling is about to cave in, the
list will say "stay out of kitchen!" At another point: "Another month of
this and you'll indistinguishable from this apartment -- beige,
featureless, and up for cheap rent." And the songs on the radio, of
course, are mostly comic relief.

Myself, I didn't guess the game's author (though I didn't think about it
much either), but I should have--partly because of the random song
generator (reminiscent of the cave generator in Hunter), but even more
so because of the taxi scene, in which the player opens the door and is
suddenly overcome with a fear of what's outside. No explanation for the
fear, no rationalization of why you'd prefer to stay inside, just--no.
Try to open the door, once you've already opened it and looked outside,
and you get "You do not want that." The parallels to Change in the
Weather seem obvious, in retrospect--nameless horror that the PC won't
deign to put his finger on, inexplicable dread of something you
eventually end up confronting anyway. (Well, sort of, in this
case--there's nothing there to confront other than your own
consciousness, though that's plenty scary in its own way.) Shade is also
classically Zarfian in its opacity--what exactly is going on when the
apartment flashes back to its original state is anyone's guess, and
while it 's easy to simply chalk it up to the general hallucination
(which is fading at that point--you can no longer interact with the
illusory scene), it's also tempting to try to read more into it. Ditto,
of course, for the last scene with the tiny figure. Certain key points
in Change in the Weather and Spider and Web were likewise open to
multiple interpretations, and the author naturally has never resolved
those ambiguities.

I don't really have any good guesses about the ambiguities, myself. My
first guess was that the figure was your subconscious, and the "my turn
again" meant that your mind is yielding to hallucination again--but why
"you win", and why is the figure "dead"? Other ideas have been bruited
about, most of them more plausible than that one. I do suspect, though,
that Shade was written for effect, written to weird the player out, and
that dissection and deconstruction on this level--symbolism and
such--probably weren't the main things Zarf had in mind. It's possible
that the significance of the figure lies somewhere between nothing (more
hallucination), and mere weirdness and perversity (a way of injecting a
memorable/chilling last line). The heart of the game for me, though,
remains the moment when I opened the jar of peanut butter, since that
was a turning point of sorts, when I stopped trying to impute rational
explanations. It was one of the most unsettling IF experiences I can

Had I realized that there was a less cumbersome way to move things along
than prodding everything in the apartment, I might have considered
giving Shade a 10, as it was, it got an enthusiastic 9 and a special
place in my IF library.

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