SPAG
ISSUE #24 - March 24, 2001

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

                         ISSUE # 24

           Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu)
                       March 24, 2001

           SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag

SPAG #24 is copyright (c) 2001 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 -----------------------------------------------------

The Abbey
Above and Beyond!
Dangerous Curves
FailSafe
Fear
Gateway 2: Homeworld
Humbug
Inform School
Jacaranda Jim
The Mulldoon Legacy
The Pyramids of Mars
Small World
T-Zero

SPECIFICS
=========
Heroine's Mantle
The Tempest

EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------

I'm a movie fan, even though I never seem to see as many films as I mean
to. (Come to think of it, I never play as many IF games as I want to
either. Clearly, I need to acquire more leisure time, preferably by
becoming independently wealthy. But I digress.) One movie event I always
try *not* to miss is the Academy Awards -- even though the show is
always long, and sometimes marred by painfully awful production numbers,
I'm a sucker for the suspense and drama of the award presentations, and
I love seeing dedicated artists honored by their peers. So I'll be
tuning in this Sunday, and this time I'll identify with the nervous
honorees just a little bit more, because I recently took part in IF's
own version of the Oscars: the XYZZY awards. My 2000 game LASH was
nominated in four categories, and although it won none, the experience
was a fantastic one nonetheless. In fact, even though there is a
competitive part of me that is disappointed at the losses (and
determined to do better next time!), I treasure the experience of *not*
winning, because it set me thinking about a few important points.

First of all, cliche though it may be, it really *is* an honor just to
be nominated. The company LASH kept in each of its categories was both
awesome and humbling. For the XYZZY voters to assert that it deserved a
place with those games was terrifically gratifying. What's more, some of
my favorite games of 2000, games like Kaged and Dangerous Curves,
somehow received no XYZZY nominations at all. In light of that, I'm
thankful that LASH was recognized as much as it was.

Secondly, there's the fact that each winner was absolutely deserving.
It'd be one thing if LASH lost to something on the level of Detective,
or Space Aliens Laughed At My Cardigan. But it's hard to complain about
the winners when among those winners were such amazing pieces of work as
Shade, Rameses, My Angel, and Being Andrew Plotkin. In fact, it was such
a strong year for IF that with just one exception, each category was won
by a different game. What a great time to be an IF fan.

And that brings me to the third, and most important point: I don't write
IF to win prizes. I write IF because I love it, and I feel pretty safe
in saying that's true for most other authors as well. It's easy to get
caught up in competitiveness, especially when our community gives so
much focus to competitions and awards, but in the end, IF is a labor
of love for all of us. It's as true for me in my role of game author as
it is for my role of SPAG editor, and it's certainly true for all the
SPAG contributors, who won't see any money *or* prizes for their
efforts. After all, there's no XYZZY award for Best Reviewer. But maybe
there should be... nah. 

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

AND THE XYZZY GOES TO...
Last year I mentioned that there was a bit of a ping-pong match going
between Adam Cadre and Andrew Plotkin for the Best Game XYZZY, Cadre
having won in 1999 and 1997 while Plotkin won in 1996 and 1998. This
year, the alternation was finally broken... sort of. J. Robinson Wheeler
took home the Best Game award, but with a game whose title just happens
to mention a very familiar name. Clearly, it's time for someone to start
work on "I Shot Adam Cadre" -- just be sure to release it in 2001! Full
results of the 2000 XYZZY awards follow:
   * Best game: Being Andrew Plotkin, by J. Robinson Wheeler 
   * Best writing: Metamorphoses, by Emily Short 
   * Best story: My Angel, Jon Ingold
   * Best setting: Shade, by Andrew Plotkin 
   * Best puzzles: Ad Verbum, by Nick Montfort 
   * Best NPCs: Being Andrew Plotkin, by J. Robinson Wheeler 
   * Best individual puzzle: Rematch (the whole game), by Andrew Pontious 
   * Best individual NPC: Galatea, in Galatea, by Emily Short
   * Best individual PC: Rameses, by Stephen Bond
   * Best use of medium: Shrapnel, by Adam Cadre 

NEW GAMES
We seem to be in a bit of a drought at the moment, though it gives me
pause to think that I now consider a period in which over 20 games are
released (tiny though some may be) a drought. Still, aside from the
entries in the IF Arcade and SmoochieComp, the only major new release
has been Textfire Golf, by one "J.T. Adams." The real author has never
made any official announcement (that I've seen) stepping out from behind
this pseudonym, but he's been loose enough about the secret, unlike
some of the Arcade and SmoochieComp authors, that I feel comfortable
naming him here. 
   * IF Arcade by various authors
   * Textfire Golf by J.T. Adams, aka Adam Cadre
   * SmoochieComp games by various authors
   * Late SmoochieComp games, including:
      -- Nothing More, Nothing Less by Giles Duchesne
      -- Tale of the Kissing Bandit by Cary Valentino, aka J. Robinson
      Wheeler
      -- Voices by Aris Katsaris

TELNET TO MY HEART
Some mad fiend in New Mexico has been slowly working toward the goal of
making all the IF the world has ever known available on his BBS via
telnet. The address is chungkuo.org, and going there can give you a
taste of Level 9, Magnetic Scrolls, or Infocom games you might otherwise
never be able to try, not to mention the copious amounts of freeware IF
available in its archives. One word of warning: ChungKuo uses a lot of
fancy-schmancy colors and stuff in its communications, so you'll
probably need to find a good Telnet client, or try using their Java
client at http://chungkuo.org. If you're using a client, try a black
background for everything -- otherwise, you may be surprised at what
you're not seeing!

SMALL TIME TERPS
If you own a PsionS5, Revo, Mako, or some other palmtop computer using
the EPOC operating system, prepare to enter palmtop IF heaven. In
addition to the Frotz interpreter that's been available for that
platform for some time, there have just emerged Hugo, Level 9, TADS, and
Magnetic Scrolls interpreters for EPOC. To find them, surf on over to
http://www.shoresystems.net/palmtime.

LAST TRAIN TO ZORKSVILLE
For those of you who haven't yet obtained a Masterpieces of Infocom CD,
currently the only legal way to own most Infocom games, you have one
more chance. The folks at http://www.lacegem.com/ have stockpiled a
bunch of them, and are selling them off for between 25 and 28 English
pounds apiece. Sure, it's more than Masterpieces originally sold for,
but considering how many games you get and how much *they* each
originally sold for, it's still a bargain. According to the emails the
lacegem.com folks have sent me, they still have "several hundred in
stock." Then again, I just checked the Activision website, and they
appear to be selling physical versions of Masterpieces again for 15
dollars American. So take your pick, but don't miss these classic games.
(Man, I sound like a used car salesman. They really are good games,
though.)

O REVIEWERS, WHERE ART THOU?
Several of you are in this issue, but many more are not! A healthy SPAG
means a SPAG with reviews from a broad range of people. Why not write
just one and see how you like it? If you're wondering just what games
need reviewing, consult the handy list below, which as always is listed
alphabetically, not in terms of preference:

SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST
========================
1.  Acheton
2.  Busted!
3.  Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I.
4.  Heroine's Mantle (a non-spoilery review, that is, unlike the SPAG
    Specifics review that appears in this issue.)
5.  Hollywood Hijinx
6.  IF Arcade games (any, some, or all!)
7.  Letters From Home
8.  SmoochieComp games (any, some, or all!)
9.  Textfire Golf
10. Westfront PC

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

Consider the following review header:

NAME: Cutthroats
AUTHOR: Infocom
EMAIL: ???
DATE: September 1984
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2
URL: Not available.

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

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

        ftp://ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/magazines/SPAG/
 and at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag

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

From: Cedric Knight 
TITLE: The Abbey AUTHOR: Art LaFrana EMAIL: lafrana SP@G genesis.mcs.com ? DATE: 1993 PARSER: Not bad SUPPORTS/PLATFORM: MS-DOS AVAILABILITY: Shareware, $10 URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/pc/abbey.zip VERSION: 1.0 You are a 14th century scholar sent, by no less a personage than the Pope himself, to recover ten treasures after a fire at the Abbey of Montglane. This old-time DOS adventures deserves a SPAG review for its attempts to bring the medieval thriller genre to IF, and for its good puzzles, plot, and imagery. This imagery is achieved despite descriptions which are not surprisingly economic considering that parser and world are condensed into a 51K executable. Thereís a sense of incredulity at certain points as the plot develops, but the denouement is satisfying, providing revelation and resolution of what has gone before. Some pieces recur from LaFranaís earlier and rougher "Hampton Manor", but these are merely in-jokes, and not distracting. Your score proceeds through a series of ranks, which also neatly split the game into seven sections, which although set in the same environment involve different puzzles of increasing complexity. One logical but complex puzzle (perhaps the most complex) eventually results in apparent bloodshed when you dispatch the only NPC of any significance, but since the first time you encounter him heís likely to kill you, it might reasonably be considered self-defence. The parser is claimed to be better than that in "Hampton Manor", and is certainly adequate, but there are still verb problems. As in the previous game, "move" is more effective than "search", contrary to widespread IF convention, and one puzzle early in the game is effectively impossible for non-US English speakers. I do not consider revealing unintentional difficulties to be spoilers, and as this is not the only game with this problem it is worth mentioning. The verb in question is "pry" which as far as I know isnít used in the intended sense outside North America. So here is an appeal to library designers to include "pry" as a standard verb synonymous with "prise", "jemmy", "prize", "jimmy", "jimmi", "lever" and "force". The gameís later stages are genuinely demanding, including one puzzle involving not just a bit of arithmetic but also close observation of scenery. One problem with this is that by the time you get to this stage you may well have forgotten a clue. Worth trying, and, if the author is still collecting it, also worth the registration fee. PLOT: Fantastical (1.4) ATMOSPHERE: Suitably creepy (1.4) WRITING: Evocative (1.3) GAMEPLAY: Guess the verb (1) VARIETY: Unique structure (1.7) OVERALL: 6.8 CHARACTERS: Sparse (0.6) PUZZLES: Tricky (1.4) DIFFICULTY: Hard -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Robin Adams NAME: Above and Beyond! AUTHOR: Michael J. Sousa EMAIL: msousa SP@G efortress.com DATE: January 2000 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/above.gam VERSION: 1.2 Michael says that this game is the first he has written with TADS, but he doesn't make it clear whether it is his first IF game ever, or not. If it is, it is extremely good for a first game; and even if it is not, it's not a bad little game by any means. You play Alex, a programmer newly hired for a software company whose name is never revealed. As you pull into the parking lot for your first day, you realise you've left your ID card at home. Just in case you think the company will be understanding, as you approach the main doors, you witness a man named Bill being fired for losing his ID. And so your first problem is neatly set: how to get inside. As you snoop around outside the building trying to work this out, you overhear a conversation between two FBI agents who are investigating a series of abductions among the employees of the company. Once inside the building, investigating these disappearances forms the main plot of the game. This is not a Deadline-style detective game, though; while there are one or two clues to find or conversations to overhear, most of the problems are of the traditional kind: obtaining objects, getting through locked doors, and all the other activities we IF-ers love so much. These puzzles aren't very many - it's a relatively short game - but most of them are very well polished. As it should be, it is often easy to see what you are supposed to do, but difficult to see how you should do it. They are all perfectly logical and very satisfying to solve, with one exception. (The exception is how to open the prison cell door. I had to resort to the walkthrough for that, and even now, I'm not sure how it was supposed to work.) One problem - how to get past Greg and Ed the guards - reminded me very much of the Babel fish problem in Hitchhiker's (and, despite some people's opinions, that is a good thing). You find the first part of the solution, and a second obstacle is revealed. Beat that, and a third is found; and so on, until you get all parts in place and watch it unfold like clockwork. Great fun. Throughout the game, Michael shows a good instinct for how much of a clue to give the player when you get the answer to a problem `almost right'. If you are wearing an incomplete disguise, for example, you will be told which part you are missing - but not where or how to get it, of course. There is also a very sparse HINT function. It hardly ever gives the complete solution to a problem; most of the time it simply tells you which problem you should be tackling next, sometimes it gives the broad outline of the solution. This is also the first game I have played with a WINNABLE command, which shows whether or not the game has been put into an unwinnable state. This is, in my opinion, a great thing, and I'm glad to hear it's becoming quite common. I should mention that the game is extremely linear. There is never a choice as to which problem to solve next - even on occasions when it would have been easy to do so. There is always something that means you can't get into a necessary area until you've solved the previous problem. This didn't bother me too much, as it fit into the general spirit of the game. You'll know whether it will bother you or not. My main complaint is that the descriptions are so dull. Except for a few pieces of humour (which stick out like sore thumbs), we are told the absolute bare minimum about each room or object. Here are a few samples: Front of Building You're standing in front of the building of your new company. It's a two story building that is shaped like an inverted V. The entrance is marked by two large glass doors. To the east is the parking lot. Paths also lead north and south. Parking Lot You're in the middle of a fairly large parking lot, standing beside your car. To the west is the front of the building. Copy Room You've made your way into a small room used to store day-to-day office equipment. Various pieces of equipment line the wall. >X SHREDDER The shredder is sitting on a small table at the far end of the room. It is currently turned on. >X PEN It's an ordinary pen. And so forth. There's nothing wrong with a few descriptions like this - after all, Zork's "South of House" was hardly the most interesting location ever. But I could have chosen any room or object in this game at all; I honestly can't think of a single exception. Each one is a basic description, then a list of the things you need to know to solve the game. Taken all together, it makes the world seem very, well, grey. This is particularly true once you get inside your office. According to the comments in the credits, the game had a maze at some point in its history which was later taken out. I'm willing to bet that the maze was the office, which consists of about 30 cubicles and offices, and the hallways between. Michael has straightened it out, making it much easier to navigate, but has kept the hallways' and cubicles' descriptions identical except for the name of the occupant. Michael claims the game is based very closely around the office where he actually works. If this is true, he must be one of the most bored people on Earth. Not only are the rooms so monotone, but his colleagues are all clones. Meet one of them for the first time, and he or she will rise, read your name tag, shake hands, and introduce themselves. Examine them, and you will either see: He's your average looking male. or: She's your average looking female. They spend their day alternating between `trying to get some work done', and talking on the phone. They refuse to talk about each other. It would have been wonderful if the kidnappings turned out to be some sinister force replacing people with these soulless androids, but sadly this turns out not to be the case. This especially hits you because you are set tasks where the only point seems to be `See if you can find your way from here to this cubicle' - another remnant of the maze, I imagine. Mazes are dull, but at least there would have been a bit of challenge. As it is, these treks are simply tedious. I think I've concentrated too much on the bad points of this game - mainly because the good points are the puzzles, and I can't describe them too much without giving things away. Don't come to this game for good writing, characterisation, or a good story - the plot is quite simplistic. Do come for some very well designed puzzles, and a satisfying little game that will keep you occupied for two or three days. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Cedric Knight
Intrigued by the sole 8.7 score given to this game and a request for reviews, I downloaded the TADS file and started playing. This was immediately after finishing "Little Blue Men", to which this new game has some similarities, such as being set in a dull and frustrating office. However, whereas "Little Blue Men" was tightly constructed, this new game seems to sprawl a little, and consequently you find yourself wandering through many locations that are essentially the same; itís good to keep a map because many have the same brief description. The premise seems straightforward. You are Alex (a nicely genderless name, but why are all the managers men?), a programmer starting the first day of work at a new company. The first problem of the game is that you have no ID card to gain entry to the building. The first problem *with* the game is that that shouldnít be a problem: for example, why canít you simply talk to the receptionist? This kind of contrivance sticks out a little, and the game continues in this manner for a while, with linear but frequently unlikely puzzle solutions. Of course, all adventures have necessary objects just lying around to some degree, but in Above and Beyond! this arbitrariness is quite conspicuous. I also had to resort to using HINT occasionally to double-check I was doing the right thing. (Despite what the author says about being sparse, these HINTS are about right, subject to the two criticisms here. The game also provides a useful WINNABLE command to check the current position is worthy of saving and that you havenít left any important items behind.) The story develops mostly by eavesdropping, which lends the game an atmosphere reminiscent of a David Mamet thriller, as well as giving a good opportunity for humour. You can also tell some of the authorís interests by references to Page and Plant plus a few IT-based jokes. The plot can be neatly divided into three. The introductory section concerns getting access to the building, and is fairly obvious; I was lucky to find a slightly concealed object first time off, and only had slight problems with wanting to use "drop" instead of "put". The second section involved a light satire of office work, and seemed reasonably intuitive until some shenanigans with "Bob", where the player has to do a lot of waiting and it doesnít seem the puzzle solution is going to get you anywhere. Ideally in IF, I would say that the complexity of the problem should be proportionate to the importance the player is likely to give it. At this one point, I admit to looking up someoneís else solution, but after that it was plain sailing. The final section begins with a nice puzzle which involves dying several times to deduce the complete solution, and then again seemed to me to go off at a tangent, with the solution just out of reach because one useful object has a second, more obscure role. From then on, the game decides you donít need any more hints, and a rapid climax was for me let down by a final confrontation with the villain of the piece which lacked credibility. The game makes up for the formulaic and functional plot in the non-player characters, of whom there are around 30. The office workers are, the author claims, based on real people, but seem to be cut from the same cloth (or class), with superficial details differing in the way the author satirise their frequently bovine mannerisms. My favourite among these is Brian the Guardian of the Library: "Brian is having an in-depth conversation on the pro's and con's of formulating a policy of systematically assigning street names to all city streets using the GPS as a guide. This could, and probably will, take a while." The NPCsí activities may noticeably depend on quite unrelated actions by you, but this does not seriously detract from the game. The writing is literate, but Varicella it is not, unfortunately. "Walking the plank" makes you "giggle to yourself thinking you're on a pirate ship" which I only criticise of because itís the kind of thing I might write. I only found one or two typos ("compliment" where it should be "complement") or minor programming errors. In conclusion, the good puzzles and characters are let down slightly by the plot, and while not worthy of the high score previously given, is a commendable first effort. PLOT: Disappointing (0.9) ATMOSPHERE: Good, filmic (1.3) WRITING: Serviceable (1.1) GAMEPLAY: Repetitious (1.1) VARIETY: Nice set pieces (1.3) OVERALL: 5.7 CHARACTERS: Entertaining (1.3) PUZZLES: Mostly good (1.2) DIFFICULTY: Mostly middling-to-easy -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: David Myers NAME: Dangerous Curves AUTHOR: Irene Callaci EMAIL: icallaci SP@G csupomona.edu DATE: June 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/curves.z8 VERSION: Release 8 This game's been on my mind a while. I just can't shake it. She's like a five-martini hangover that just won't go away. For just about any subgenre of IF, in general, if you wait long enough you will eventually see a game that "nails" the subgenre. For those of you groaning, I assure you that (1) this review is not entirely ranting if-crit, and (2) not a total slobber-fest proclamation that Dangerous Curves is the best detective IF ever made. But let's face it, sometimes a game comes along which makes it really hard for others to stake a claim in the same subgenre for years afterward. And so, when I started playing D.C., a significant question in my mind was "Has the private detective storyline (as IF) been beaten to death (long) before Dangerous Curves came along?" The short transcript to this question (in a more polite form, perhaps) might be: > Is this the game that "nails shut" mystery IF for at least > the next few years? Not quite. > Well, does this game add anything to that subgenre that > feels really fresh? Here and there, yes. > Does D.C. at least provide a satisfying reward as a > competent, mainstream stab at a subgenre that some > might say is already fairly well populated? Absolutely! I can't say so loudly enough. A perfect example to typify my case is the description for one of the prime female characters and suspects: >x jessica Tall, blonde, and cool as a martini at five o'clock. Legs that begin somewhere down around Cape Horn and don't quit till they reach the Northwest Territories. The type of woman other women despise. The type every man falls for. Once. Ok, look, it's not grand innovation on the detective strain, but can you argue that it fails to ante up on the promise of what Chandler, Sam Spade, and Easy Rawlins might deliver? What I believe makes IF so well suited for mystery is that the most tried and true prologues are of the amnesiac genre (e.g. "You wake up in a small white room, noticing that your skull has sustained a sharp blow. Ears ringing, you hobble to the door to find it locked before noticing the small trace of blood on your hospital gown."). This game plays into that theme nicely, with the private eye appropriately grasping at straws early on, and building up his case slowly and naturally. Which brings us to the question of plot. Does it live up? My answer is, "Almost." As far as it goes, I can't criticize the plotting itself, per se. The game grinds out as a pretty decent clue-finding exercise for a while, followed by figuring out just how to corner the culprit. The trouble isn't that the plot doesn't hold together, nor that there are non-intuitive moments, big gaps, or ridiculous leaps that the player must make. The problem, if there is one, is that the storyline winds up more linear and compact than the player will imagine it should be. Based on the first scene, I would have expected more deceptive twists and turns as I sifted my way through the clues. In literary terms, this basically fleshes out a novella, after the opening moments seem to have promised a full-length novel. Imagine seeing the first hour of the movie "Chinatown", and not the full version. A great half of a movie. Really great. Abbreviated in form, minus much of the intrigue of the real deal. But ask yourself, when it comes to IF, how many other works have successfully addressed this? Besides the plot, there are a pile of little features and touches that make this game more enjoyable, and which should be emulated by others: - Use of keys is handled automatically (no fumbling for the right one outside a locked door.) - There is an in-game notepad. This can be used to avoid mapping the whole world, or for any other data you want to store there. - The GO TO command further obviates the need for extensive mapping, and smoothly handles operation of your car. - The in-game hint system is particularly clever, amusing, adaptive to your progress, and seamless with the plot. All at once. Those are just gimmicks, though. You may be wondering what it IS that makes this game take up the maximal 512K storage of an overstuffed z8 game file. The answer is that the author decided to implement a boodle's worth of stuff that other authors would have considered mere distraction. In short, Irene went a-world-buildin', and did a mostly fine job of it, with a medium-to-large number of locations which each have their fair share of fully implemented items. And, for the most part, all of this mess interacts with all the other mess pretty well. Honestly, how many other IF-towns have you been to recently that had functioning offices, police stations, newsrooms, libraries, service stations, hospitals, bars, pawnshops, apartments, cars, restaurants, banks, etc. Of course, it's all under the illusion of man-behind-the-curtain "functioning", but that's the point. There's even good IF-style humor lurking behind many of the stock answers that grease the wheels behind each the scenes of the functioning world-spaces (example here from the pawnshop): >kiss earl Earl works out at the local gym a couple times a week. You don't. >hit earl Earl works out at the local gym a couple times a week. You don't. >break display case Rumor has it Earl once killed a man for less. You get the picture. Naturally, there are exceptions. Like many games with mandatory sleeping and eating, there are annoyances when you haven't really played along correctly. I tend to explore the locations of a large game pretty randomly at first, without solving puzzles (when I can actually get away with it), and that's hard with sleeping/eating games. And, of course, there is the money handling algorithm, which attempts to help you out by avoiding the need for counting your change too precisely. Some players will agree, and some won't. This shakes out as pretty minor, fortunately. In all, Irene should be lauded for her example of solid top-to-bottom game design. Even better, the spit and polish make the player feel like they are inside a game with has a complete, all-around feel to it. Like a good DVD that has plenty of extras and good packaging, Dangerous Curves has all the right finishing touches (short of hard-copy feelies) that give it a near-professional quality. Returning to the point at which this review began, let's just take a second to survey the scope of private eye IF that has come before, to better put in context how this game should now be judged. Previous IF mysteries include Infocom's Witness and Deadline, Gumshoe, and most recently Guilty Bastards. Given its recentness and degree of similarity, I assert that Guilty Bastards is a key reference point. From my view, G.B. is a competent and engaging mystery. It set a mark for all-around quality as the flagship game of the Hugo system, but didn't quite impose a moratorium on detective IF. If you will allow me a little license: We might say that while the movie {game} Usual Suspects {Guilty Bastards} rejuvenated the atrophying subgenre of suspense {mystery} movies {IF}, and raised the bar, there was and is still room for artistic success by others. Take a look at L.A. Confidential or Talented Mr. Ripley {Dangerous Curves}. Given the thirst for larger, longer, non-comp games Irene has to be greatly praised for producing an enjoyable, well-integrated game of this size. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Adam Myrow NAME: FailSafe AUTHOR: Jon Ingold EMAIL: ji207 SP@G cam.ac.uk DATE: December, 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/FailSafe.z5 VERSION: 1? (no version info shown and version command ignored) This is possibly the strangest piece of IF I've ever encountered. It's fairly short -- in fact, I think even the slowest person could complete it in 30 minutes. The story is confusing. So far as I can tell, you are at a base or something. You get a distress call on an emergency frequency and you have to respond. It seems that a small space pod has been attacked and there is only one survivor who is trying to fix the engines before the ship crashes. To make matters worse, there is a war going on and the enemy is massing for an attack. That's really all I can tell without giving the end away, although really, that's all I'm sure of. The ending is sure to be a surprise, and there are at least three different endings that I am aware of. It's hard to tell if you've won or lost, you just completed the story. The other odd thing is that all of the standard meta commands (score, save, script, version, etc.) are disabled. I think the author is trying to provide tension by making you feel that you don't have much time and you can't save in real life. However, he could have at least left scripting enabled so that it would be easy to provide a transcript of something. The only way you could do this now is to copy and paste. As for the writing itself, it is intentionally choppy. The idea is that the signal is really poor, almost inaudible in fact. If you type an invalid command, the response is to the effect that the other person can't hear you due to the static. Here is a sample to give a taste of this game. This is actually what you get after the opening credits. Bzzt. Crackle. *Static* "...hello? Hello? Can... me? .. Anyone! Hel.... Need.. hello?" Bleep - PLEASE WAIT - Locating/Tuning signal... .. ".. help. Repeat, can anybody hear me? Can you hear me? Hello.." >>yes "Hello? Hello! The .. pretty bad. Are you receiving this? Over." >>yes "Oh, thank God. Thank God.. ..emergency frequency.. We need help. This is the space pod 'Serpentine'. We've been attacked, a small cruiser. They.. they came out of nowhere.. tried to board us.. ...stly dead.. systems are all messed up, we're drifting.. I need help to fix this.." "I'm by the console, there's wires everywhere. The computer flashing something. What do I do? Hello?" Note the double prompt. This makes it obvious from the start that this isn't your traditional game. A poster on rec.games.int-fiction called this game "Suspended for dummies," but I don't see it that way. The only similarity to Suspended that I could see is the fact that you are dropped into the middle of a disaster without much warning. I really don't think there's anything like this in existence. It's certainly a unique way to tell a story, but I am not sure if I like it or not. Perhaps if the multiple endings were a bit more descriptive, but they continue the choppy nature of the beginning with multiple signals being received in some cases. The bottom line is that people who like to fill in stories from bits and pieces will probably like this particular game more than those who, like me, enjoy a rich, detailed world. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Fear AUTHOR: Chuan-Tze Teo EMAIL: ctt20 SP@G hermes.cam.ac.uk DATE: 1996 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition96/fear/fear.z5 VERSION: Release 1.0 One of the forgotten treasures of the 1996 competition, Chuan-Tze Teo's Fear, is subtitled "An Interactive Nightmare"--but though the setting (alone in your house) and apparent initial premise (beginning of opening text: "You are running for your life down dark, labyrinthine corridors, your heart pounding almost as loudly as the heavy boots of your relentless pursuer") evokes horror/slasher IF, this is actually something quite different. The drama is more psychological than literal, and the object is more akin to therapy than to saving your skin as such--and while it's not a perfect effort, it's notable in a few respects. You're irrationally afraid of spiders, heights, sounds, and the dark, and you wake up in the middle of the night, completely unable to move around your house normally because of your fears. You end up conquering your fears in a series of episodes--one of them seemingly a flashback, two others apparently dreams--triggered by various objects you encounter in your house. The way in which the flashbacks are triggered is a bit tortured, but it's a minor sin--the episodes themselves are imaginatively done, with reasonably logical connections to your various phobias. The atmosphere is nicely done: the game doesn't so much portray a scary setting as portray an ordinary setting, with details magnified out of proportion. E.g., "You feel suddenly claustrophobic as you hear a rustling nearby. What lurks in the shadows, waiting to pounce?" Sometimes, the events that set off your alarms are entirely internal: "As you try to compose your mind, dark memories wash over you: explosions, death, the tolling of funeral bells, gloom, isolation." Arguably, this is one of the few works of IF where the PC's mind is as well rendered as the physical setting. If there's a flaw, it's that you don't get much about *how* you became so mentally crippled--there are vague allusions to memories, but nothing concrete. It seems like confronting whatever caused the fear in the first place would be both more effective and more interesting, in terms of characterization. Most of the puzzles take place in the phobia episodes, and they aren't easy; a few of them, in fact, verge on the unfair. The worst case involves an object that you have to destroy in order to use--and it's an object that seems like it would be useful in its original states for solving the puzzle at hand. The solutions are logical, but in a few cases in particular, there isn't much in the game to signal that you're on the right track, so things are harder than they should be. Adding to the difficulty is a guess-the-syntax problem in one episode that may prevent you from realizing that you're on the right track even when you are. The last puzzle suddenly introduces a time limit, and it's a pretty tight time limit at that--you're likely to miss it a few times while you're figuring out what the game wants of you. There's a comprehensive hint system, so the problems aren't intractable, but it'd be nice if the game's execution were as good as its concept; puzzles as hard as these risk requiring so much mental energy of the player that he/she loses sight of the plot, which is the best thing the game has going for it. The concept is good enough to overcome the game design problems, though, and it's not simply an excuse for outlandish puzzle settings. The PC's neuroses are sufficiently real that failing to do certain things to keep them at bay actually kills you; saying "snap out of it" to the PC isn't an option, of course. In that sense, you're forced to be the character in a way that's still uncommon in IF (and was even more so in 1996, before experimental IF was in vogue). The vividness of the setting lies not in what you see but in how you experience it--i.e., through the eyes of the phobic PC. It may not sound revolutionary, but getting the player to focus not on the PC's external goals but on the internal barriers he has to clear represents a real shift in goal-orientation--and even if the puzzle-solving gets projected into external tasks, it's still worth pondering. (That is, you don't actually delve into your own head, a la Losing Your Grip--though one scene comes close. But what's in your head is sufficiently close to the surface throughout the game that your puzzle-solving is almost the same thing.) As a set of challenging puzzles or as an exercise in atmosphere, Fear works, on the whole--well enough to be worth rediscovering five years later. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- [Note: Stas' English, by his own admission, is not so hot. Consequently, this review has been heavily edited -- everything lost in the translation is entirely my fault. --PO] From: Stas Starkov NAME: Gateway 2: Homeworld AUTHOR: Legend Entertainment EMAIL: unknown DATE: 1993 PARSER: Legend standard SUPPORTS: MS-DOS AVAILABILITY: Game is commercial, but I don't know where to get it now. URL: http://www.legendent.com First of all, I must say that "Gateway 2: Homeworld", like many Legend games, has several differences from almost all IF (interactive fiction) games, especially from games available at the IF Archive -- ftp.gmd.de/if-archive. These differences are obvious from the moment the game is loaded, but let's look at them point by point: 1. This game is commercial. I warn you - the following is my opinion, but it is supported by many. I think that people don't value something that they get for free. When you get something without paying for it (with money or with your sweat and blood), you don't expect too much; you don't have the urge to milk as much benefit as possible from the thing. That's life. And life is sometimes very cruel to kind people. (But that's another story, which, by the way, you can read about in "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein, or in the works of a writer named Jubal Hershow [I'm not completely sure about that name - I have only a Russian translation of the book] who said many such wise but cynical things.) I don't know exactly how to express it in English, but in Russian there is a saying: "We value something only after losing it". Again, that's life, man. I really _hope_ that you get the idea. Do you? 2. This game is a professional piece of work. "Gateway 2" was created by Legend Entertainment. The people that work there are paid for their jobs. In the credits you can see about twenty people, including some important figures in IF history. In case you didn't know, Bob Bates -- author of the great games "Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels" and "Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur" when he worked for Infocom Inc. -- now works at Legend and took part in the creation of this game. The staff at Legend is composed of professionals who have proven that they _can_ do good games. This game is indeed very solid work. All events tied tightly, no holes in the plot, good development of characters (NPC and PC), writing without spelling errors. "Gateway 2" has millions of small pieces that help you enjoy the game. Most (thank God, not all) games on GMD have from zero (sometimes less) to only a portion of those pieces -- maybe half a million small hints of talent that ensure the player's pleasure. That's life -- no one is perfect. Dealing with these games is a bit like listening to the Vogon Captain's poetry from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" -- "Enjoy!" And this game got enough beta-testing. I think you know what I mean. 3. This game has graphics. Yes, this game has graphics. Some hate this unnecessary _feature_, some love it and can't live without it. If you're one of the haters, your problem is easily solved -- you can just turn off the _nasty, annoying_ graphics and play in text only mode. The 3D graphics in this game are hardly top notch, but you can ignore them (by pressing ESC). I don't want to explain the interface (see the game's manual) but I must mention that this game _allows_ use of the mouse, and that there are scrolling menus where you can choose verbs and nouns. And don't forget: you can turn off the graphics. Next, I must point out a phrase from the game manual: As you play Gateway II: HOMEWORLD you will encounter several screen interfaces that are different from the standard Legend interface described earlier. These alternate interfaces include cut scenes, dialogue trees, various futuristic computer systems, an alien genetic manipulator, a starship control panel, a robot interface, and other interesting devices and interfaces. And at least one puzzle _requires_ examining and remembering graphic cut scenes. 4. This game has music, but there are no sound effects. "Gateway 1" had sound effects, but they were mediocre and low quality. So Legend threw away the sound effects for the sequel, "Gateway 2". As for music - you can turn it off, if you want, also. But before that, maybe you should give the really good MIDI music an opportunity to touch your heart (or stomach if you're a text-only purist). Music (unfortunately mono) for this game was written by Glen Dahlgren, Doug Brandon, and Eric Heberling, and it really helps to evoke the mood of various scenes of the game -- tragedy, triumph, danger, curiosity, suspense. In my opinion, "Gateway 2" has one of the best _MIDI_ music soundtracks of all the games that I've ever played. Well, on to the game! Humanity began to dream of the day when it was not human at all. And that dream (some think that it was laziness) impelled people to want more, to think about a way how to get it and, at last, to do it. All history is based on that dream, in my opinion. Then, through the various forms of fiction, bare dream transforms into science fiction (SF), where wild dreams merge with technical progress, trying to foretell the future. The future is unknown and humans fear uncertainty, but they try to imagine problems hard enough to deal with. That's why SF is full of troubles. ;-) First of all, "Gateway 2" is based on the Gateway novels by Frederick Pohl. "Gateway 2" is an SF adventure of the near (well, almost near) future -- 2112 AD. And I'm happy to say (after playing IF games like "Kaged"), that the future in this game almost corresponds with my visions of the future. It is quite realistic, capitalism with mega-corporations and so on. There are no strange technical things that you're not familiar with from other SF stories. The setting for this game was taken from the Gateway Universe, so a professional SF writer did all the work, and it feels true. By the way, if you're interested in reading all the Pohl novels set in this universe, here is, I think, a full list: Gateway Beyond the Blue Event Horizon Heechee Rendezvous Annals of the Heechee The Gateway Trip Story... well, you're a rich ex-prospector of Gateway (an artifact left by the alien Heechee -- it's a big space station that contains thousands of faster-then-light spaceships). You rest peacefully without troubles, but then... I don't want to tell you more for fear of ruining your interest in discovering the story on your own. I can only promise you that the story is in the best traditions of SF. I can also tell you that you will be traveling in space. Puzzles. All the puzzles are story based (!) and logical! The game gives you enough hints to ensure your attention to detail, and I like it this way. The first part of the game is easy, but then sometimes you need to scratch your head before doing the next turn. You can get in an unwinnable situation, but these (errr...) alternative endings are richly described and even worth playing. So save often and keep old save files. On the other hand, if you want to get a long story, "Gateway 2" turns to be very linear, but it is well done and you don't notice its linearity as long as you don't want Zork-like cave exploring. I must note the conversation system in "Gateway 2". It is menu-based. It is possible to have a good menu-based conversation system -- I really think so, despite the many opinions to the contrary on R*IF. For example, there is another, in my opinion, good implementation -- Legend's "Companions of Xanth". But what's wrong with the conversation system in "Gateway 2"? First, your previous phrases are not removed from the menu at all. Second, I think that the dialogues, as literature, are the worst part of the game. I strongly suggest you pay as little attention as possible to the conversations, but sometimes you need to talk to someone to get useful or necessary information. So just run through all points of the menu, barely reading it, and forget it. This method will make the game more challenging and remove overly straightforward hints. ;-) The game has a huge amount of rooms, but fortunately you only have access to less then ten rooms simultaneously. This is a good way to implement text games. Doing so, the player doesn't need to wander in all hundred rooms and examine every object closely (like in "Anchorhead" by Michael Gentry). And there is an auto-mapping feature -- it makes life (um... the game, I mean) easier. The literature aspect of the game is at least good. I can't say excellent, because I'm Russian and don't understand all nuances. I'll just give you an example from the game. Corridor The corridor is about ten meters long. One end connects to the hull door of your probeship. The other end terminates in a heavy bulkhead. The walls of the corridor and the bulkhead seem to have an underlying structure of rectangular metal plates covered by clumps and veins of lumpy, melted looking metal. The metal glows with a soft blue radiance that is bright enough to illuminate the corridor. A metal door is set into the bulkhead to the north. It is closed. >examine door A closed metal door is set into a bulkhead that blocks further progress down the corridor. The heavy door is a powered mechanical unit, a huge slab of glowing blue metal covered with elaborate patterns. To the left of the door, on the bulkhead itself, is a blue hemispherical protrusion, a round bump that might be a button. >open door Ancient machinery grinds to life and the door slides open. To my mind, everyone has forgotten what a manual is for an IF game. "Gateway 2" has a manual. I own only the electronic version of it, but I can say that this manual will really help you if you're new to IF. There is an installation procedure, explanation of game commands, the story of "Gateway 1" -- all you need to start playing the game. It is clearly written and covers most essential subjects (but bear in mind that this game was written in 1993). The game itself usually doesn't need configuration, but if your sound card doesn't work -- consult the manual. This game goes fine in a DOS box under Windows 9x (not tested under NT and 2000), but I recommend you play in plain DOS. I'm almost finished. One last thing that I can suggest you read -- the copyright notice in the game manual! ;-) You will be pleased. Play this game if you're looking for good solid IF, especially if you enjoy SF. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Alex Freeman NAME: Humbug AUTHOR: Graham Cluley EMAIL: hamrag SP@G cix.co.uk DATE: Aug 1991 PARSER: Quite good SUPPORTS: DOS AVAILABILITY: Public Domain URL: http://members.aol.com/gcluley In this game, you are Sidney Widdershins and have been sent to Granddad's for the winter holidays. When you arrive there after being deposited by a taxi and get in, you find that Granddad is asleep and is holding a document. When you read it, you find that Granddad's neighbor, Jasper, has offered to buy Granddad's home, Attervist Manor, since Granddad is so deeply in debt. Granddad claims that there is hidden treasure in the grounds of the manor, but Jasper apparently thinks he is nuts. Granddad thinks lowly of Jasper and has written a rude word on the document (not shown in the game). However, if Granddad is not nuts and if there really is hidden treasure, you could help him get out of debt. The atmosphere is unique and quite odd. For instance, there is a Viking called Sven whose boat has been caught in the frozen lake nearby the manor. There are also a bar, a hacker, and an octopus underneath the manor. The game also does not always make sense. For instance, what is giant slug doing in the manor? But, eh, who cares? It makes the game interesting. There are other interesting places you can explore, such as the forest maze and the manor back in the Victorian times (via time machine). The NPCs are fairly well developed. You can get to know them better by asking them questions in the format "ask character about subject". Obviously, the characters can't have a special response for everything, so when you ask a character about something or someone he doesn't know (e.g. asking someone who lives in the Victorian times about someone who lives in modern times) the character has a special response to indicate that he doesn't know anything about what you've asked. One of my favorite responses is the one you get when you ask Horace the gardener about something he doesn't know: Horace looks suspiciously at me, but remains silent. I am not sure it is in his terms of employment to actually communicate with sentient life forms. Herbs and vegetables he can cope with, but people give him problems. Another interesting NPC is Kevin the clockwork shark, who is one of Granddad's many inventions and was made by him during WWII. You get this description of him upon entering the pantry for the first time: I am in the pantry. It is a small, dark room - the only source of light being a barred oval window built close to the ceiling in the west wall. A definite niff of seaweed wafts around the shelves. Small mountains of marzipan and icing sugar are liberally scattered across the damp stone floor. There is a movement from behind one of the taller mounds of marzipan and a shark totters around on his hind fins. The shark smiles benignly at me, "Hello my little sugar-plum." The shark paternally pats me on the head with a damp flipper, flamboyantly places a small caddy on one of the pantry shelves. The shark smiles at me again, and waggles his eyebrows in anticipation of my response. There are many other NPCs, such as a Victorian grave digger, Alex the hacker, Jasper, and, of course, Granddad. As you've probably noticed, the writing is quite descriptive. It's also quite humorous. In fact, my wildcard points are for the humour in the game. You also get funny responses if you try do silly actions. For instance, typing DRINK PETROL gives you the response "Heh, heh. I think not." You even get 10 points for it! My only complaint about it is that it contains a few minor punctuation errors (as you might have noticed). The parser is very good. It can understand fairly sophisticated sentences and is easy to use, but it doesn't do some fancy stuff like recognizing multiple sentences (not that I would type multiple sentences if I could but still). However, this game has one serious flaw. Most of the puzzles are either too easy or too hard. For instance, I find a banana and later I find a chimp. Gee, I wonder what to do next. That one is, of course, an example of a puzzle that's too easy. A puzzle that is too hard is how you're supposed to put out the fire underneath the manor. I don't know how anyone is supposed to figure that puzzle out! It is quite illogical. The hint system partially solves this problem, and it is quite good, but it is no substitute for good puzzles. The only problem with it is if you can't solve a puzzle because you haven't solved another puzzle, it won't tell you that. Instead it gives a hint or the solution (it depends on which you choose) of the puzzle whose solution you have requested. I ended up getting solutions to puzzles I probably could have solved on my own in this way because I didn't realize that it wasn't the puzzle I was currently trying to solve that was the problem but some other one. However, don't get me wrong. Not all the puzzles are bad. In fact, almost half are quite good. It's just that there should have been more good ones. I also managed to find one bug in the game. In Humbug, you can EXAMINE objects, or you can LOOK at them in order to get descriptions. You can abbreviate EXAMINE with x and LOOK with l. I am more used to LOOKing at objects than I am to EXAMINing them, so I used the abbreviation l. This abbreviation worked on all the objects on which I tried it out EXCEPT one. During the game, I decided to look at my hair because I thought maybe that would help me solve a puzzle (I won't say how). When I typed "l hair", the game didn't seem to understand the command. I later used the hint system to get the solution to the puzzle that involved my hair. I wondered how I could have solved that puzzle since I figured that I couldn't look at my hair. However, when I looked at a written solution for Humbug, I found out that you're supposed to type "x hair". The hair, apparently, is the only object at which you can't LOOK but still can EXAMINE, which isn't supposed to be the case for any of the objects. This bug effectively prevented me from solving an important puzzle in the game. Anyhow, the plot in Humbug is wonderful! I'd say it's the best part of the game! You are given bits of the story as the game progresses, and there's one major plot twist! The ending is spectacular and was really fun to read! Overall, Humbug is a good game and is worth playing. Just be prepared for some illogical puzzles here and there. It could have been an excellent game if the puzzles had been better. Atmosphere: 1.8 Gameplay: 1.5 Writing: 1.8 Plot: 2.0 Humour: 1.6 Total: 8.7 Characters: 1.5 Puzzles: .8 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Adam Myrow NAME: Inform School AUTHOR: William J. Shlaer EMAIL: shlaer SP@G aol.com DATE: December 1999 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Infocom/Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/School.z5 VERSION: Release 1 I originally downloaded this file because I've always wanted to learn Inform and start writing games eventually. I am somewhat familiar with mainstream programming languages like C and C++, but I figured that it was best to use the tools that are already designed for games. Like any prospective Inform programmer, I had a copy of the Designer's manual, the compiler, latest library, and sample source code. I had a vague understanding of things, but wanted to experiment further and really try to grasp them better. I tried a program called the Informatorium, but found it sorely lacking in tutorial potential. It just wasn't interactive enough although I got a good laugh at its IF references. So, while browsing the index file on GMD, I encountered the entry for school.z5 which proclaimed to be an Inform tutorial. "What the heck?" I thought. It can't hurt to try it. So I downloaded it and discovered that it is much more useful than Informatorium. In fact, the author wrote it to be an improvement on that game and expand on it and make it truly educational. The result is amazing for this purpose. Not only do you get to see source code, you get to write it! That's right, you can try out object creation and even create a simple game within the program and yes, make mistakes. It's an implementation of Inform within Inform. Actually, it calls itself INF, a severely truncated version of Inform, but it lets you do most typical activities. In fact, I suspect that most of the "Ruins" sample in the designer's manual could be created within the context of the game. The program starts out with a warning that it could crash an interpreter and may not work on all Zcode interpreters. After that dismal warning, you have the choice of going to the Inform lab, fully equipped, restore a saved game, or start from the beginning. I started from the beginning and got a lengthy notice about what to try if things didn't work and an introduction about how I decided to take summer classes in a self-taught Inform school. "Ok, whatever," I thought and started to explore and read. It didn't take me long to find a text-book that explained what was up and find a lab where Igor is! He sits around and comments on some of your errors and can be made to give you a demo of how to go about creating objects. From here, you're on your own. You have some assignments in the book that is part of the game and you can read them with simple commands. You can even mark which ones are done and which still need doing. The assignments start out very simple and get harder from there. The first assignment is to create a starting room and then you add objects to that. Next you add doors, more rooms, locked containers, and scored objects. You go into things that can be turned on and off, and finally, get to start defining rules to make something a poison, make it produce sound, and change default responses for taking and dropping. You get to also experiment with naming objects in ways that make it hard to interact with them. On top of all this, you can go to "class rooms" that have the same numbers as the assignments and they have fully implemented answers to each exercise. You can view their source code and the book that you read within the game in some cases, tells you exactly what to type. I haven't really followed the assignments in exact order. I went out of my way to use them as examples to create my own objects. For example, I started out with an airplane, a bag of peanuts, and the tray that you would put food on while in flight. I went from their and defined some other ideas that I wanted to try to implement and now have a HAM radio that if on will generate a description of hearing a conversation through static and if off, is silent. It's fun to create objects without having to compile a complete story file. Actually, I'm trying out ideas for my first Inform game which I may or may not ever write. If I should write it, the game will involve surviving a plane crash and having to get out of the forest. I was thinking of having a HAM radio that you have to repair or make an antenna for and use it to send out a distress signal. Like I said, I don't know if this will ever amount to anything, but I like experimenting and learning interactively at the same time. As for the warnings about crashing the interpreter, it isn't kidding. The program doesn't do real strict error checking, so if you forget quotes where they should be, you may find yourself looking at something like "fatal error: print at illegal address." This doesn't really bother me, as I figure it's part of the learning experience. Besides, if you want error checking, use the standard compiler. This gives you an idea of what would happen if the compiler let you get away with bad syntax. For example, mess up an after rule, and you might make an object untakeable with no response whatsoever if you try to take it. In short, if you want to learn Inform, but are having trouble, give this program a try. It isn't perfect, but it will give you a nice place to practice without having to constantly compile story files. You can create objects and change them on the fly and see how they will behave. It's really worth it for any potential student of Inform and could save a lot of aggravation when you're ready to write a real game. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Alex Freeman NAME: Jacaranda Jim AUTHOR: Graham Cluley EMAIL: hamrag SP@G cix.co.uk DATE: 1987 PARSER: Quite good SUPPORTS: DOS AVAILABILITY: Public Domain URL: http://members.aol.com/gcluley Jacaranda Jim is another game by Graham Cluley. It was actually written before Humbug, but there are many similarities between the two games. In Jacaranda Jim, you are... Jacaranda Jim. You have crash landed on the planet Ibberspleen IV. The game starts with you waking up from a dream. When you do wake up, you find that you are in a dark cave with Alan the Gribbley. In case you're wondering what a gribbley is, it is some strange creature that is a cross between a neanderthal and the aftermath from a night with Malcolm Muggeridge. Alan has a rather disgusting beard also. Anyhow, you don't really know what to do, but you figure (no doubt correctly) that it would be at least a good idea to find some way of getting back to Earth. As you explore Ibberspleen IV, you find that it is a lot like Earth: There are a post office, a zoo, a grocery store, a church, and other Earth-like buildings. While you're doing all this, Alan is constantly at your side even when you're out in the rain, but he leaves when it becomes night (the game goes through the cycle of day and night). The NPCs are generally not as well developed as they are in Humbug, but you get to know them better (or at least the well developed ones) by asking them questions. My favorite NPC is the thief. When you're on the beach, you better beware because he may try to rob you. When he does, he says, "Har, har! Give us yer valuables!" If you ask him about the police he says, "They aren't after me; are they?" Also, don't think that running away from him will help you any because he'll chase after you and smash your head with his mallet. My favorite place in the game is the cave. It contains interesting areas and plenty of puzzles. It also contains one of my favorite puzzles: the wall of fruit. As you explore the cave, it becomes less and less like a cave (it contains stuff like a telephone booth and a safe). Its parser is quite good. It is easy to use and understands fairly sophisticated commands. However, it can't do really fancy stuff like recognizing multiple commands. Like Humbug, it is humorous but not as much. It is still rather witty, and it sure adds to the game, though. My wildcard points are once again for the humour. Its main flaw is its puzzles. Many of the puzzles were too hard, such as the colored buttons one. The hint system solves this problem partially, but it is no substitute for good puzzles. Don't get me wrong, though. It has many good puzzles such as the wall of fruit that I mentioned earlier, but there should have been many more. Overall, Jacaranda Jim is a good game and worth playing, but it could have been an excellent game if the puzzles had been better. Atmosphere: 1.3 Gameplay: 1.5 Writing: 1.5 Plot: 1.2 Humour: 1.3 Total: 6.8 Characters: 1.3 Puzzles: .8 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Mulldoon Legacy AUTHOR: Jon Ingold E-MAIL: mulldoon SP@G ingold.fsnet.co.uk DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/Mulldoon.z8 VERSION: Release 6 Okay, I'm not sure we need Glulx's memory-extending capabilities after all. Not if the Z-machine as it presently stands can produce something as large as Mulldoon Legacy, which is easily the biggest IF game I've ever played. (*Much* bigger, amount-of-puzzles-wise, than Anchorhead, Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, or Varicella, to take three examples of games that recently pushed the Z-code size envelope.) Granted, Mulldoon Legacy doesn't weigh itself down with a lot of NPCs, so there's a clear difference in priorities there, but still--I have difficulty conveying exactly how huge this thing is. (I suppose I could sit down with a transcript and count the puzzles, but that's not much fun.) The initial premise is familiar--explore your grandfather's museum so that you can get your legacy--but it gives rise to a highly convoluted story. Part of the reason that it's huge is that it's full of puzzles--this is, in every way, a puzzle-fest. Moreover, a lot of the puzzles are quite difficult, sufficiently so that you shouldn't expect this to take less than several weeks (unless you have a telepathic connection to the author or are relying heavily on a walkthrough). The length and complexity of the game adds to the difficulty, in fact, since you may be required to connect one puzzle with an earlier event that you might have encountered several weeks before, or with an object that you haven't touched in a month. Similarly, you accumulate quite a few objects by the end of the game, meaning that (a) it's easy to lose track of some in the shuffle and (b) it's easy to overlook the connection between the latest puzzle and one of the objects in your archive. That brings up another point, however, namely that the puzzles in Mulldoon generally don't boil down to apply-the-object. (There *are* quite a few keys and locked doors, but there are creative twists associated with those.) Some of them are set pieces--they could have been wrenched out of the code and plunked down in another puzzle-fest--but many turn on applying knowledge in relatively subtle ways, and even the set pieces are creative. There's an entertaining variant on the Zork III Royal Puzzle, for example, and another scene involving the manipulation of a marble maze that's done in a surprisingly novel way. They come from a variety of genres, too--there's a cryptic crossword clue that's key to one puzzle, a chemistry problem of sorts that features in another, and a math/logic problem of sorts at another point. There are a few old chestnuts, to be sure; you assemble the ingredients for a potion over the course of the game, and collect a set of four related objects as well. But there's enough of the game that doesn't depend on those old chestnuts to make it bearable for the IF veteran. The puzzles themselves--well, a lot of them are hard, and some of them are unfairly hard. Not all, but some--sometimes because they require intuitive leaps that simply don't come naturally, and sometimes because they assume that you're picturing something the way the author is, which ain't necessarily so. (One of the latter moments, unfortunately, comes very near the beginning of the game.) I'd like to recommend Mulldoon Legacy as a game for the puzzle fan to plow through without help, but I can't honestly do that, because there are a few puzzles whose logic is unclear to me even now. In other words, if you don't keep a walkthrough handy, you're liable to bog down, and when you give in and check the solution and find something completely unexpected, you're liable to lose faith in the game. Again, though, they're not all bad, and most of them are good enough to be worth spending some time on before you move on. Adding to the difficulty is the design: the layout is, for the most part, highly wide, so it's easy to get into a position where you have a lot of problems but only have the equipment to solve a few of them. Worse, it's not always clear when an object or room offers more possibilities in the puzzle department (though this is only occasionally a problem). It's relatively difficult most of the time to make the game unwinnable--and usually, when you do, it's obvious--but making any progress at all is at times quite a struggle. These are all standard problems in a puzzlefest, but I think Mulldoon deserves a spot a notch above your average puzzlefest because of the depth and complexity of the story. I wouldn't say it's a chin-strokingly profound story, but there's a lot of it and it's tied into most of what goes on in the game, a few set-piece puzzles aside. Moreover, the nature of the puzzles is often such that they reward attention to the progress of the plot--or, rather, you may find yourself lost if you regard the story as mere background. Some aspects of the story, to be sure, have been done; there's a time-travel angle, for instance, a very familiar trope (one moment comes as something of an homage to Sorcerer) and the framing story seems to owe more than a little bit to Curses. But some of the plot elements really are pretty novel, and the various pieces manage to come out of the blender in reasonably surprising ways. (Part of it may be that there's so much in the game--there are some familiar aspects of the plot that manage to be surprising because they're juxtaposed with familiar elements from entirely different genres.) It's also worth noting that the design is pretty good, even if not especially forgiving--I don't think it's possible to run into events or puzzles out of order (no small feat in something this large), and the pace of the plot development follows the pace of the puzzle-solving in a reasonably natural way. Mulldoon Legacy doesn't appear to have the most vivid setting initially--you're wandering around an old museum looking for your grandfather. But one of the whimsical charms of the game is the way that it keeps pouring more and more incongruous things into that setting--while occasionally transporting you out of the setting, of course; it's my belief that the author intended to try to make the player lose track of what's within the primary setting and what's outside it. The game spends a while teetering on the edge between explore-a-wacky-museum and something between fantasy and sci-fi (before eventually toppling full-bore into the latter), and while it's teetering, the author milks the confounding-expectations game for all it's worth. Not all that notable if you've had the genre bait-and-switch done to you before, perhaps, but still fun if you like having your head messed with. As with most puzzlefests, whether Mulldoon Legacy works is primarily in the eye of the beholder: if you find the puzzles challenging but fair, then it'll work, but I can't say confidently that it will or won't work for any given player. It does occur to me, though, that this is a throwback to the days when people expected IF to keep them busy for weeks at a time, and likely didn't have four or five other freeware releases competing for their attention. That is, you're expected to give an event your attention, enough attention that you can recall it (at least, the general contours) hundreds or even thousands of moves later. Likewise, when there's a plot development, the game isn't going to connect all the dots each time; it's expected that you'll recognize key people and events. Granted, '80s-era IF wasn't this large (excepting, perhaps, Acheton, which I haven't played), but it's the same general feeling: finishing the game takes a real commitment. If you plan to finish Mulldoon Legacy, prepare either to make a similar commitment or to consult the walkthrough more than occasionally. While Mulldoon is at heart more puzzlefest than story, it does a better-than-average job of integrating its puzzles with its plot and of making the latter more than a token effort, and arguably it's notable simply for those accomplishments. If you're not a fan of puzzlefests, you may not get much out of this, but it's a well-put-together game nonetheless. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Cedric Knight
TITLE: The Pyramids of Mars AUTHOR: Patrick Wigfull EMAIL: ? DATE: 1994 PARSER: AGT, sub-Inform SUPPORTS/PLATFORM: AGT interpreters, comes with AGT runtime AVAILABILITY: Freeware?, GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/agt/mars.zip Being a fan of the BBC TV show, "Doctor Who", I was pleased to see this in the archives. The game pays tribute to the show by adapting one popular story from 1976 when the central character was played by Tom Baker. This had a typical plot in that an ancient Egyptian god is discovered to be a powerful alien intent on laying waste to whole galaxies, yet the action centres around a quiet country house in 1911, reminiscent of the H.P. Lovecraft influence common in IF. This particular story might seem a good candidate for adaptation due to the technical puzzles that are solved, but in fact "do something terribly clever" isnít handled well by most parsers. Therefore Wigfull has had to eliminate many of the obstacles of the TV series and replaced them with some plausible alternatives that will work in an adventure game while being in keeping with the original plot. So thereís still plenty of challenge for people with reasonably clear memories of the version released on video, although for people with no previous knowledge there will be challenge in the substantive problems as well as the minutiae. "Mars" is a faithful homage, which only Who obsessives would think of picking holes in. It is unfortunate that some of the new puzzles are very particular in their solution, e.g. "put gelignite on equipment" is legal, but not useful. There are also several ways you can get yourself into an unwinnable situation and have to restart. Most players can cope with this, although when you have explored the environment once, you have to wait for about 50 turns before events unfold enough for you to really start the action. The AGT interpreter for the PC that comes with this package gives a divide-by-zero error probably due to higher processor speeds, but the DA1 file runs reasonably well in AgiliTy except for a few considerations. In particular the hint/help system doesnít work, neither do the cursor and function keys as described in the documentation, and opening the front door (an unnecessary action in any case) generates an infinite loop error. IF has of course moved on considerably since this game was written. One NPC here is very static, and may provide you with some useful information, while the others are of the variety that may flit by for a brief dramatic scene, although they get bumped off very early anyway. The Scarman brothers could be developed much more, instead Laurence unaccountably "sniffs the teapot" or "checks his fly". Most notable by her absence is Sarah, the Doctor's companion in the TV story. Itís often said of the TV companions that they were mostly there to ask stupid questions so the Doctor could explain the plot to the viewer, and Sarah was surplus to requirements here, but it was a shame the author did not take the opportunity to develop the characterís role for its own sake. PLOT: Momentous (1.4) ATMOSPHERE: Good in parts (1.2) WRITING: A few typos (1.0) GAMEPLAY: AGT (0.8) ADAPTATION: Difficult source (1.2) OVERALL: 5.6 CHARACTERS: Single-purpose (1.1) PUZZLES: Sometimes illogical 1.0 DIFFICULTY: Medium -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Small World AUTHOR: Andrew Pontious E-MAIL: [removed at author's request. See game for email address.] DATE: 1996 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/SmallW3.gam VERSION: Release 3 Small World, another largely forgotten gem from the 1996 competition, is a nice effort on several levels--the puzzles are creative and reasonably forgiving, there's a funny and thoroughly implemented NPC, and the game takes whimsical pokes at a variety of targets that should keep even the non-puzzle-solver entertained. You've been transported magically to a tiny world (eight feet in diameter) which has stopped spinning, so your brief is to get things moving again. Along the way you encounter a miniature Adam and Eve, nuclear war, interplanetary conflicts of various sorts, and other problems of various seriousness. The most memorable aspect of the world is the devil that tags along behind you on a pogo stick making snarky comments about most events in the game; as a parody of Satan (in reference to heaven, "Is that powderpuff really where you want to go when you die?") or as general comic relief ("A miserably whistled rendition of 'Can't Get No Satisfaction' assures you the devil is right behind"), the devil is one of the game's main assets. The game itself has become somewhat more user-friendly in recent releases--the competition release made inventory management somewhat excessively cumbersome for the sake of realism. (The cleanup makes sense--insisting on realism in the story of an eight-foot-in-diameter world was probably overkill.) Still, owing to the nature of the beast, it's not an easy game; when so much of what goes on is dependent on whimsy, it can be difficult to tune into the author's brand of whimsy in order to get the puzzles solved. Some of the non-user-friendly aspects are still there, in fact--the game can close off without warning early on if you do certain things out of order. Nor is there an overarching logic to the game that the player needs to acclimate to, really--there's no theme or motif that explains the puzzles. They're not bad puzzles, but they're not particularly accessible, either--and the last one, which effectively plays games with the syntax and is rather difficult to visualize, is even more challenging. There's a hint system; it doesn't adapt perfectly to your situation, but it works well enough. What's interesting about Small World is that it doesn't appear to take itself seriously, and yet the conflicts on the world you inhabit are rendered as actual conflicts rather than as humor. That is, even though the devil appears to be mostly there for fun, you do have to get rid of him, and at a key moment you get the devil rooting against you (and various heavenly choirs rooting for you). When you finally succeed, the devil gives "a great despairing wail, taken up by all his followers, combining the sounds of howling wolves, screeching canaries, hissing snakes, yammering jackhammers," which eventually "trails off to a hollow, echoing moan, then silence." A little heavy for a comedy game, as are the various nuclear warheads hurled at you (you're given a thousand-turn countdown until the inhabitants run out of missiles). In its own way, though, the comic/serious duality works--after all, your role is, in a sense, to play God/savior for the miniature world, and you get a sense of both the comic absurdity and the tragedy of such a role. That is, your perspective permits you to laugh at the world you're charged with saving, but the inhabitants can be forgiven for not seeing the humor in it all. The quality of the writing helps here: generally, when the game's being funny, it does so through understatement, without appearing to try too hard, so shifting into a less whimsical mode doesn't feel like a jolt. Small World is uneven in a few respects, but it's none the less enjoyable for that, and the most recent releases have improved its production values. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- [Note: In the original version of Neil's review, the game's title was maintained in strict lower case -- "t-zero" -- after the game's own fashion of referring to itself. I've changed the case for the sake of readability only. --Paul] From: Neil Yorke-Smith NAME: T-Zero AUTHOR: Dennis Cunningham DATE: 1991 PARSER: Custom SUPPORTS: PC AVAILABILITY: Shareware ($20) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/pc/t-zero.zip VERSION: 1.04 T-Zero is an anomaly of IF. Released in 1991, after the heady Infocom days but before Inform and the renaissance of IF, T-Zero is a surprisingly modern game. Dennis Cunningham's puzzle-based work evokes a rich atmosphere in a land familiar and yet unknown. Cunningham sees himself as a programmer with literary leanings and -- on the evidence here -- succeeds in both. T-Zero runs as a stand-alone DOS game, released in full as shareware. "An Adventure for the Time Being", the subtitle, sums up the story. T-Zero is an adventure game. A literate, immersive piece of IF, but foremost an adventure game. The player-character must locate six objects "scattered across ages and landscapes", objects which are to be transported "somehow...to progressively future time zones where they can right the troubled times." Echoes of other games, such as Level 9's Lords of Time, and premonitions of Nelson's seminal Curses and Jigsaw. (Cunningham had hoped to quote extensively from T.S. Eliot -- compare Jigsaw -- but permission was not granted.) As the subtitle also suggests, time is the motif running through the game. Time and words, although there is much more going on than chronological word-play. A typical example is this extract from the opening: It's just as well that you were dismissed from the museum--your duties as combination custodian and librarian involved either re-shelving books and dusting off clocks or rewinding timepieces and dusting off books. However, you were onto something. An ex-libris librarian, then, the PC has an account to straighten with the mysterious owner of the museum (a museum devoted to time, naturally), Count Zero. Just what the Count is up to, and how the troubled times might be righted, is pieced together as the game progresses. As the game opens, the status-line, in addition to the usual location and score, reads "6:00AM * Day 1 * Present"; there is a strange compass in the initial inventory. It is clear that the PC could be visiting time zones other than the Present. Indeed, once inside the museum, there is time for the Past, Present and Future...and beyond. While T-Zero is not overly large, much more exploration is required than in other games of a similar size. Time is realistically modelled (how could it be otherwise?); each move takes five minutes of game time. The world reflects the current time: the sun rises and sets, hours are chimed, and so on. Exploration is also necessary since some objects do not appear at once and some actions must be performed at the right time -- although precise move-counting is uncommon. The writing is strong, often thematic. Responses defy the conventional, sometimes cheerfully breaking mimesis, but always seem appropriate (try 'g' or 'turn'-ing a fixed object). A favourite is the response to a word not understood by the parser, "That word comes from an unknown realm." Cunningham is not afraid to impose his eclectic world upon the player and the effect can be entrancing: Moebius Strip. The racing strip here twists in on itself to form a continuous band without inside or out. Contenders, defying gravity, adhere to the track whether right-side up or upside down. There are a tortoise and a hare here. The hare is running moebius strips around the tortoise which assuredly continues with measured progress. > get hare You miss by a hare's breadth. T-Zero is impressive technically, particularly considering that it was written without the aid of an authoring system. Unlike some stand-alone games, the parser is well up to Infocom standard, handling full sentences and even genuine adjectives without a murmur. Cunningham appears to have implemented an object system of sorts: the parser knows that poppies and marigolds are both types of flowers, for instance. Most interesting are the meta verbs that become available later in the game: 'find', 'where', 'copy' and 'imagine', the latter which "allows [the] player to 'visualise' unencountered objects or locations." The parser does not pretend to understand more than it does -- which is commendable -- but can lack synonyms and, if rarely, lack objects mentioned in the room descriptions, which is less commendable. It can become confused between verbs and nouns, for instance with 'lever' and 'plant', and plural objects must be referred to as 'it', not 'them'. Version 1.04 of T-Zero is available on the IF archive. The interface has all the conveniences expected: command history, scripting, customisable colours. Function keys are programmable, the arrow keys can be used to enter directions, standard short-cuts (except 'z') and undo all work. Cunningham has added some neat touches, too, like an inline menu for disambiguation and selection, and careful use of colour. The puzzles, on the whole, are not hard in themselves provided the language, time or popular culture references are familiar; the game has built-in context-dependent hints. However, a certain amount of waiting around and verbal dexterity is required, and I found the insight for some of the puzzles slow in coming. When the insight comes, the consequences can be delightful. There is a well-signposted maze early in the game, one which exhibits Lewis Carroll-like qualities. On occasion, I was reminded that the game does not neatly sit in the Infocom tradition. Exits, to take one example, are not consistently listed in room descriptions because an 'exits' verb is provided instead. The descriptions thus seem more natural and concise, at the cost of the repeated use of 'exits' when first exploring. Increases to the score, to take another example, are signalled as default by a small tune, not by a textual message (although of course the status-line changes). There are three main criticisms that can be brought against T-Zero. The first is that the expectations of contemporary IF have shifted from those of the early 1990s. Death, for instance, can occur instantly without warning in the most unexpected ways. While UNDO will remedy the situation, such happenings only irritate. Similarly, some puzzles (to my mind) assume too many Americanisms. And finishing with full points is harder than it ought to be. The player has a Bill of Rights, remember? The second criticism is that sometimes Cunningham's world is too detailed. The PC has a limited carrying capacity, as do all the containers to be found. Objects in or on another object are tediously listed (sand in an egg timer, for instance). The world seems rounded and understanding -- but too easily the parser is seen to be lacking real knowledge. None of these things is wrong by itself but their cumulative effect can become tedious. Finally, on occasion, Cunningham over-reaches himself. While not quite guess-the-verb, the syntax to perform a desired action can be elusive: I found the moebius strip infernally demanding, for example. While often delightful, the linguistic ingenuity can be frustrating and the parser trying (no more trying than Inform or TADS, it should be added). When it works, however, the game works splendidly. It's unclear whether the author is still accepting registration for T-Zero. Various email addresses are given in the documentation, but a search of the web reveals no homepage. Other shareware IF from the time -- see the review of Humbug in SPAG #11 [or, indeed, in this very issue! --PO] -- has now passed into the public domain. T-Zero is an anomaly. Although not to the liking of everyone, definitely recommended: it is, arguably, a piece of modern IF before the modern era, so always lacking the full attention it deserves. An unusual game, unwittingly reflecting its unusual place in the history of IF. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Francesco Bova One day, about 10 years ago I found myself ready to give up on my amber colored IBM XT. Maybe it was the flicker of a screen too old to be any good, or the speed of a processor so slow that words didn't appear until 10 seconds after I was finished typing, but I'd finally had enough and was getting ready to get rid of the old hunk of junk. My real lament was that outside of some word processing and spreadsheet programs, there was really nothing I could do with my old XT. So, I explained my dilemma to a programming buddy and asked for a little help. He promised he would download a few games for me off a local BBS and when the disk finally arrived it turned out to be only one game and something called a "text adventure" to boot. Now I was sort of familiar with text adventure games, as I had played the Zork trilogy way back in the early 80s, but what I was unaware of was that the quality for most shareware games produced during the early nineties was very low (relative to today, at least). It was a stroke of fortune then, that my friend downloaded for me the competently created T-Zero. T-Zero chronicles the bizarre plight of a recently fired and evicted Museum custodian who is charged with figuring out what his former employer and game antagonist Count Zero is up to. The story starts off with you waking from uneasy dreams with the realization that you were onto something incriminating about the Count just before he fired you. The bulk of the game then revolves around you trying to get back into the museum to rediscover what exactly it was that you'd latched on to. It's a simple premise to get started on that eventually turns complex, with bit players galore, conspiracies, plans for anti-utopic world domination, and time travel to a past and future world vastly different from the one you started out in. Confused yet? Well there's more afoot here than a simple time travel game where the same room's locations change to reflect your temporal journeys. The plot goes from the mundane, to the prehistoric, to an Orwellian nightmare with landscapes that are as evocative as So Far's surreal worlds but held together more succinctly, with the common thread of slightly familiar settings that change notably over different time periods. Here for example, is a sketch of a sawmill described in the present, past and future: Present: Abandoned Mill Yellow dew-drenched mushrooms pop through the scattered timbers and redwood sawdust that mark the site of an abandoned mill. Past: Sawmill You've lumbered onto a mill with a conveyor belt that lazily leads under whirring sawteeth. Since all the forests you've encountered in this era have been characterized by immature growth, you vaguely wonder about the purpose of the mill. Future: Gristmill Although nothing is being ground here, a host of befuddled joggers relentlessly power a series of studded treadmills. Their emaciated bodies suggest that they are attempting something more than mere exercise. That's some pretty awesome prose in my opinion. The beauty of Cunningham's writing style is that it's so economical, with nary a word wasted. His room descriptions give the reader enough information to accurately describe the setting and mood, while leaving a good part of the surrounding scenery to the reader's imagination. The only criticism about these beautifully rendered scenes is that Cunningham seldom if ever puts in exit descriptions. I've always found that writing exit descriptions tends to break up the flow of a room description, and certainly, one of the reasons I think I enjoyed T-Zero's prose as much as I did was because of the lack of phrases like "There are exits leading east, north, and southwest," tacked on to the end of each paragraph. Having said that though, take a look again at the text in the preceding sawmill description. Do you have any idea how to exit this location? Yeah, me neither. One of the real drawbacks of T-Zero is that you'll probably have to try all 8 cardinal directions upon entering each new room (until you become more comfortable with landscape), and that can be a real pain; especially in a day-and-age where we would expect exits to appear in every room description. A small quibble however, and it does very little to detract from this game. The prose was also particularly good when it came to NPC dialogue. The NPCs by-and-large tend to be pretty one dimensional in terms of their conversation. More often than not you'll get responses like, " is too preoccupied at the moment." when you ask a question. But when you find a conversation topic that the character has something to say about, the responses are typically witty and reflective of the absurd nature of the NPC and the game's surroundings. Here's an example: > Ask Prufrock about Count Zero "My former Prince seems to be intent upon squeezing the universe into a ball and rolling it towards the future without regard to who's flattened in the process. I'd like to see his head, grown slightly bald, brought in upon a platter." What's more, the principal NPCs, like many of the game's items, are "reusable", which is to say that you need to utilize their skills on an ongoing basis at different points in the game. The fabulous prose also fleshes out what is in essence a big house-o-puzzles-type game, making the substantial differences between the game's diverse surroundings seem, well... almost seamless. The puzzles themselves are genuinely hard. Not many of them are unfair, but there are 3 or 4 incredibly obscure puzzles, that will probably irritate you to no end. One of them revolves around a Nord-and-Bert-style turn of phrase, a culturally biased colloquialism; another two involve some extremely suspect lateral thinking; and finally there's an ultra-obscure puzzle centering on a reference to a Beatles song that I didn't get until I saw Oasis do a cover version a few years back. By and large however, the puzzles are well done and integrate effectively with the story. All the puzzles are clued (Hmmm... I won't say well-clued, because not many of the solutions are exceedingly obvious) in one way or another, with a huge emphasis placed on the way object, dialogue and room description text is worded for some of the tougher puzzles. In fact, word association may be a good exercise when you find yourself stumped. Among the more standard-type puzzles there are some interesting spins, with perhaps the most novel maze I've ever seen (It's actually a pleasure to map out once you find the key), the most original key I've ever encountered, and some great lateral puzzles that involve actions in one time period affecting the landscape of another. The game's objects are also many, varied, and interesting. Some of the more notable ones include items that enable you to look at your surroundings as they're presented in the future and in the past, which results in a few hilarious descriptions like this one: "It's a good thing you're merely looking into the past because if you were actually present, you would be impaled on the sharp point of a... etc.", and objects that speed up, distort, and even reverse the flow of time (the status line in this game takes one heck of a beating!). There's also a huge amount of reusability with the game's items with an adventurer's backpack full of many, apparently single-use, items that can be transformed or broken apart to form other important items. If that isn't enough, still other items have interesting mechanics or physics all there own, and I often found the experimentation process with these items to be as much fun as solving some of the more satisfying puzzles. So, to wrap up: T-Zero is a well-crafted game in almost every sense. In fact, considering the production date of this game (way back in 1991), I was surprised to find how easily I felt it could rival some of today's better games in terms of story, puzzles, and game design. Now, that's not to say that it doesn't suffer from typical problems associated with shareware games of that era, because at times, it most certainly does. I've already mentioned the problems with listing exits in room descriptions and one-dimensional NPCs, but there are also problems with the parser handling very few synonyms, and the parser demanding exact and complex syntax for what should be very easy commands. The game unfortunately can also be put into an unwinnable state in many situations without player notification, and I can't begin to imagine how frustrating it would be for a player to make it all the way to the game's end only to realize that something crucial was rendered unattainable near the game's beginning. Still, there are more than enough user-friendly player aids to make up for these shortcomings. As the game progresses, new verbs may become available to you such as "WHERE" (a command which lists the last place you left an object once in your possession) and "FIND" (a command reminiscent of the "GOTO" verb from Irene Callaci's Dangerous Curves, that effectively puts the parser on autopilot until you've reached the destination you just typed in.) Similarly, the parser is extremely helpful in pointing out where it didn't understand your message, with menus to help choose between ambiguous objects and arrows pointing out the parser's problems with your commands. Here are a few examples: > Get go ^ ^ Please one action at a time > Get xyzzy ^ That word comes from an unknown realm. > Drop book You possess more than one of those. Please choose between them: > Scarlet book. > Tan book. > None. All this, and with a parser that appears to be home-brewed to boot! Wow! All I can say is I was lucky that T-Zero was the first shareware text-game I played. T-Zero spoiled me, with its nifty puzzles, beautiful story, and delicate prose, and in a way I've been looking for that same playing experience ever since (and, I've of course found it on occasion :). You can imagine my chagrin when a few years later, I found the IF Archive and began playing the easily executable crop of AGT games, and found them nowhere near as entertaining, challenging, or playable. On that fateful day when my friend downloaded T-Zero, imagine what path my life may have taken had he instead given me a copy of Space Aliens Laughed at My Cardigan. I'd probably be homeless and penniless on the street as I write this! READERS' SCOREBOARD ------------------------------------------------------- The Readers' Scoreboard is an ongoing feature of SPAG. It charts the scores that SPAG readers and reviewers have given to various IF games since SPAG started up. The codes in the Notes column give information as to a game's availability and the platforms on which it runs. For a translation of these codes and for more detailed information on the scoreboard's format, see the SPAG FAQ. This FAQ is available at the ftp.gmd.de IF-archive or on the SPAG web page at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag. Name Avg Sc Chr Puz # Sc Issue Notes: ==== ====== === === ==== ===== ====== 1-2-3... 4.2 0.7 0.4 1 F_INF_GMD 9:05 6.4 0.5 0.7 7 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 Ad Verbum 7.4 0.8 1.4 1 23 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 Aftermath 4.0 0.7 0.7 1 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 Alone 9.0 1.5 1.0 1 22 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 8.8 1.7 1.5 25 18 F_INF_GMD And The Waves... 6.7 1.4 1.1 1 23 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 Asendent 1.7 0.0 0.3 1 F_INF_GMD At Wit's End 7.1 1.2 1.3 1 23 F_TAD_GMD Augmented Fourth 7.7 1.4 1.5 5 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 10 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 Being Andrew Plotkin 6.8 1.4 1.0 1 23 F_INF_GMD Best Man 6.3 0.9 1.5 1 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 Big Mama 6.2 1.4 0.9 1 23 F_INF_GMD 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 Breaking The Code 0.5 0.0 0.0 1 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 Amnos 5.5 1.1 0.9 1 F_INF_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 12 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 8.3 1.6 1.6 18 20 F_INF_GMD City 6.1 0.6 1.3 2 17 F_INF_GMD Clock 3.7 0.8 0.6 1 F_TAD_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 Comp00ter Game 0.9 0.1 0.1 1 F_INF_GMD Congratulations! 2.6 0.7 0.3 1 F_INF_GMD Corruption 7.2 1.6 1.0 4 14, 21 C_MAG Cosmoserve 7.8 1.4 1.4 5 5 F_AGT_GMD Cove 6.7 1.1 0.7 3 22 F_INF_GMD Crimson Spring 6.9 1.5 1.2 1 F_HUG_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 Desert Heat 6.0 1.3 0.7 1 23 F_TAD_GMD 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 Dinner With Andre 7.2 1.6 1.4 1 23 F_INF_GMD Ditch Day Drifter 6.7 0.9 1.7 4 2 F_TAD_GMD Djinni Chronicles 7.9 1.5 1.2 1 23 F_INF_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 8.0 1.4 1.8 10 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 End Means Escape 6.1 1.4 1.1 1 23 F_TAD_GMD 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 Futz Mutz 5.3 1.0 1.1 1 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 Got ID? 6.2 1.4 1.0 1 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 Guess The Verb! 6.9 1.0 1.3 1 23 F_INF_GMD 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 Happy Ever After 4.6 0.5 1.2 1 F_INF_GMD HeBGB Horror 5.7 0.9 1.1 2 F_ALAN_GMD Heist 6.7 1.4 1.5 2 F_INF_GMD Hero, Inc. 6.8 1.0 1.5 2 F_TAD_GMD Hitchhiker's Guide 7.4 1.4 1.5 14 5 C_INF Hollywood Hijinx 6.5 0.9 1.6 11 C_INF Holy Grail 6.2 0.9 1.2 1 21 F_TAD_GMD Horror of Rylvania 7.2 1.4 1.4 5 1 F_TAD_GMD Horror30.zip 3.7 0.3 0.7 2 3 S20_I_GMD Human Resources Stori 0.9 0.0 0.1 2 17 F_INF_GMD Humbug 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 7.8 1.5 1.3 18 20 F_INF_GMD Ice Princess 7.5 1.4 1.6 2 A_INF_GMD In The End 4.8 0.6 0.2 3 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 Infil-Traitor 2.9 0.1 0.7 1 F_I_GMD 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 Jarod's Journey 2.5 0.5 0.3 1 F_TAD_GMD Jewel of Knowledge 6.3 1.2 1.1 3 18 F_INF_GMD Jeweled Arena 7.0 1.4 1.3 2 AGT_GMD Jigsaw 8.2 1.5 1.6 18 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 Kaged 8.0 1.2 1.3 1 23 F_INF_GMD King Arthur's Night O 5.9 0.9 1.0 4 19 F_ALAN_GMD Kissing the Buddha's 7.9 1.8 1.5 6 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 6.9 1.3 1.4 5 14 F_TAD_GMD Lethe Flow Phoenix 6.9 1.4 1.5 5 9 F_TAD_GMD Letters From Home 6.4 1.1 1.5 1 F_INF_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 Billy 1.1 0.4 0.0 1 F_I_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 1.4 16 1,3 C_INF MacWesleyan / PC Univ 5.1 0.7 1.2 3 F_TAD_GMD Madame L'Estrange... 5.1 1.2 0.7 1 13 F_INF_GMD Magic Toyshop 5.2 1.1 1.1 5 7 F_INF_GMD Magic.zip 4.5 0.5 0.5 1 3 S20_IBM_GMD Maiden of the Moonlig 6.4 1.3 1.5 2 10 F_TAD_GMD Masque of the Last... 4.7 1.1 0.8 1 F_INF_GMD Masquerade 7.3 1.6 1.0 1 23 F_INF_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 Metamorphoses 8.7 1.3 1.6 1 23 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 8.3 1.4 0.9 13 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 6.1 1.2 1.0 15 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 My Angel 7.9 1.7 1.2 1 23 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 Nevermore 7.2 1.5 1.4 1 23 F_INF_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 6.1 0.6 1.2 9 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 On The Other Side 2.2 0.0 0.0 1 F_I_GMD Once and Future 6.9 1.6 1.5 2 16 C30_TAD_CMP One That Got Away 6.4 1.4 1.1 7 7,8 F_TAD_GMD Only After Dark 4.6 0.8 0.6 4 F_INF_GMD Oo-Topos 5.7 0.2 1.0 1 9 C_AP_I_64 Outsided 2.5 0.7 0.2 2 F_INF_GMD Pass the Banana 2.9 0.8 0.5 3 19 F_INF_GMD Path to Fortune 6.6 1.5 0.9 3 9 S_INF_GMD Pawn 6.3 1.1 1.3 2 12 C_MAG Perilous Magic 4.9 0.9 1.1 1 21 F_INF_GMD Perseus & Andromeda 3.4 0.3 1.0 1 64_INF_GMD Persistence of Memory 6.2 1.2 1.1 1 17 F_HUG_GMD Phlegm 5.2 1.2 1.0 2 10 F_INF_GMD Photopia 7.5 1.5 0.7 23 17 F_INF_GMD Phred Phontious...Piz 5.2 0.9 1.3 2 13 F_INF_GMD Pickpocket 4.1 0.6 0.8 1 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 Planet of Infinite Mi 6.8 1.1 1.3 1 23 F_TAD_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 7.3 1.4 1.3 10 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 Prodly The Puffin 5.4 1.0 0.9 1 23 F_INF_GMD Punk Points 6.4 1.4 1.3 1 F_INF_GMD 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 Rameses 8.2 1.8 0.8 1 23 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 Shade 8.8 1.4 1.0 1 23 F_INF_GMD 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 1.1 1.4 12 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 Stupid Kittens 2.2 0.1 0.1 1 F_INF_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 7.0 1.1 1.3 13 6 F_INF_GMD Thorfinn's Realm 3.5 0.5 0.7 2 F_INF_GMD Threading the Labyrin 1.9 0.0 0.0 1 F_TAD_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 Transfer 6.8 0.9 1.6 1 23 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 Trip 4.6 1.2 1.0 1 F_TAD_GMD 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 0.9 3 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_TAD_GMD VOID: Corporation 3.2 0.4 0.8 1 F_AGT_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 6.5 1.1 1.2 6 10, 18 F_INF_GMD Wedding 7.4 1.6 1.3 3 12 F_INF_GMD What-IF? 1.2 0.0 0.0 1 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 Withdrawal Symptoms 4.4 0.5 0.7 1 F_INF_GMD 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 7.8 1.7 1.4 9 21 F_TAD_GMD YAGWAD 7.0 1.0 1.4 1 23 F_INF_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 6.2 0.8 1.4 22 1, 12 C_INF Zork 2 6.5 1.0 1.5 12 1, 12 C_INF Zork 3 6.5 0.9 1.4 8 1, 12 C_INF Zork Undisc. Undergr. 6.0 0.9 1.1 2 14F_INF_GMD Zork: A Troll's Eye V 4.4 0.6 0.1 3 14 F_INF_GMD Zuni Doll 4.0 0.6 0.9 2 14 F_INF_GMD -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- The Top Ten: A game is not eligible for the Top Ten unless it has received at least three ratings from different readers. This is to ensure a more democratic and accurate depiction of the best games. Well, last issue we had 33 contributions to the scoreboard. This time around, we almost doubled that figure, with 65 contributions. This is great. However, it seems significantly less great when you take into account the fact that 47 of those are one person's attempt to rate every game from Comp00. Also, not to be a downer or anything, but 65 is far short of the three-digit figures achieved in earlier issues. Nonetheless, there was quite a bit of movement in the Top Ten -- guess those of you who *do* submit ratings tend to do it on top-ranked games? Gateway 2 [reviewed in this issue] held on to the top spot, while Anchorhead slithered up two notches to number 2. Other movements include a little do-si-do between Babel and Spider And Web, and the re- appearance of perennial favorite A Mind Forever Voyaging at number 10. 1. Gateway 2: Homeworld 9.0 5 votes 2. Anchorhead 8.8 25 votes 3. Sunset over Savannah 8.7 6 votes 4. Trinity 8.7 16 votes 5. Gateway 8.6 6 votes 6. Losing Your Grip 8.5 6 votes 7. Spellbreaker 8.5 8 votes 8. Babel 8.4 10 votes 9. Spider and Web 8.4 15 votes 10. Mind Forever Voyaging 8.3 13 votes As always, please remember that the scoreboard is only as good as the contributions it receives. To make your mark on this vast morass of statistics, rate some games on our website (http://www.sparkynet.com/spag). You can also, if you like, send ratings directly to me at obrian SP@G colorado.edu. Instructions for how the rating system works are in the SPAG FAQ, available from GMD and our website. Please read the FAQ before submitting scores, so that you understand how the scoring system works. After that, submit away! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ___. .___ _ ___. ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| / _| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. \ \ .\ \ | | | o | | | | .\ \ |___/ |_| |_|_| \___| |___/ PECIFICS SPAG Specifics is a small section of SPAG dedicated to providing in- depth critical analysis of IF games, spoilers most emphatically included. WARNING! SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE FOLLOWING GAMES: Heroine's Mantle The Tempest PROCEED NO FURTHER UNLESS YOU HAVE PLAYED THESE GAMES! THIS IS NOT A TEST! GENUINE SPOILERS TO FOLLOW! LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILAGE! From: Emily Short TITLE: Heroine's Mantle AUTHOR: Andy Phillips EMAIL: aphillips SP@G ma.man.ac.uk DATE: December 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: GMD URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/if-archive/games/zcode/Heroine.z8 VERSION: Release 3 I have a love-hate relationship with this game. It's been a long time since I've played a large puzzle game; I think the last time I sat down and plowed through one was Jigsaw. I started Ballerina, I started Mulldoon, I even started and didn't finish (and may the IF deities have mercy for this hideous omission) So Far; canon it may be, but it's challenging and slow, like a long journey on foot through deep snow, and the sheer beauty of the surroundings makes me want to look closely, but then the looking closely slows my pace so that I stop playing entirely. A bit of a catch-22, that. What Heroine has that keeps one playing is frantic forward movement. The prose is nothing special. There were no signs of Important Symbolism, or Imagery I might want to Savor Later. Just the plot, rocketing onward from near-death to nearer-death to death itself. Somehow this worked for me, as it hasn't with Phillips' previous games. (Heist and Enemies are also on the list of games I started but never finished.) It made more sense to me, at least, and felt better-fleshed-out and more complete, than the opening sequences of Heist; so perhaps Phillips has matured in his game-writing, preserving the velocity of the plot while rendering the scenery just cohesively enough to keep you engaged for the ride, like a comic book. And like a comic book, it draws on elements of both science fiction and fantasy, with rich heapings of cliche for the characters. This has interesting implications for both puzzle and story aspects of the game. The puzzle design was incredibly ambitious. Sometimes this worked brilliantly: I'd see a problem, and a subtle, five-stage plan would form in my devious brain(*), and I would try it, and it would WORK. Nothing builds confidence in a game faster than that. (*especially since it flatters the player into supposing that she is Real Smart.) I was intensely pleased by the sequence in which you pry open the elevator doors and stand on top of the elevator, because this occurred to me organically. And other times I would see nothing, just a bunch of really strange objects I had no idea how to manipulate, with no clear motivation on why to manipulate them thus. NPC interactions were a bit sticky in this regard, since I had to ask people things that weren't immediately obvious or well-cued, but there were also a lot of cases where I needed a vital thing that I'd assumed was scenery, or had to do something because ten turns later it would matter during a timed puzzle (save and restore, boys and girls), or where the situation was simply not described in clear enough detail for my mind to come up with anything. Hence the liberal use of the walkthrough. As far as the story goes, I was less entranced. It does, at some basic, comic-book level, work: it is episodic, but that makes it playable, and the extreme events are, I suppose, appropriate to the genre. The characters are likewise exceptionally unsubtle. This isn't a question of implementation or any kind of technowhizgiggery attaching to the interaction with the characters; it's just writing. Rameses had characters I could believe existed, even if I couldn't do much with them and didn't like them and in fact wished that they would fall into a lake and die. They had nuances of personality. The characters in Heroine's Mantle, up to and including the PC, do not have nuances. They have unique identifying attributes, such as Misogyny, Peglegs, or a Penchant for Abusing a British Accent. This I might also have taken in stride as genre-appropriate, except for two things. One is that there are moments where the story seems to attempt to transcend this extreme broad-brush approach and tries for something deeper and subtler and more complicated; and at those moments I found myself a little embarrassed on its behalf, the way someone might feel embarrassed watching a couple of sixth-graders valiantly trying to play King Lear. Nice idea, guys, but you lack the range. It tries for self-awareness (cf. the comment about the sailor's British effeteness wearing a bit thin) and moments of depth (the self-sacrifice scene, in particular.) And an ending, in particular, that eschews Grand Heroism for Everyday Virtue, after showing us almost no everyday people or situations. The world of Everyday Virtue is not one for which our heroine is equipped, having, it seems, almost no normal ties or relationships (orphaned, alone, with her only friend a dead ex-superhero herself); no wonder she has to die before the New Way can be instated. The second issue is that a lot of the characterization -- a disproportionate amount, really -- seemed to align itself around the theme of gender relations. I don't consider myself particularly fanatical on this topic, but it got kind of hard to ignore the persistence of it. Some was obviously played for ironical effect: male characters who downplay the abilities of the heroine are due for a Shock, ha ha! And certainly Phillips takes numerous overt shots at misogyny. At the same time, I didn't entirely know what to think about the polarization of male and female interests. Men and women are fundamentally different in this game. They have different roles and functions and one must interact with them differently. The fact that the staff works on men but not on women. The business with the different-colored masked in the cultists' compound. The security guard's sneering idiocy. The women may come out looking somehow better, but the schism of treatment is itself a message of a sort. To some extent this belongs within the comic-book genre. Look at Wonder Woman and her island of Amazons. Still, there was something disturbing and uncomfortable to me about Heroine's portrayal of female sexuality as a Snare, now in convenient alsanine form. Like an evil Bond girl, Mistletoe is lascivious and uses her sexuality against people; like a good girl, our heroine avoids and tries to ignore such things. (Though she is powerless against the alsanine, giving rise to a scene of hot girl-girl action straight out of adolescent male fantasy. But, thank goodness, she gets over it. NB. that I am not necessarily opposed to a portrayal of female-female attraction in IF; I just think it could be handled with a great deal more maturity -- and, dare I say it, accuracy.) This is such an old and obvious trope that pointing it out is almost not interesting: what I didn't really understand was what it was doing _here_, in a game that seemed to be trying to eschew the idea of the woman as helpless or constrained to act only sexually. And yet... the pieces are there. The Matriarch and the Maiden opposed to the Whore. Sexual attraction as dangerous and manipulative. Mistletoe as an extension of male power: a tool. So there were moments when I could agree with the ideology of the game, and moments when I could ignore it, and then I enjoyed playing. But there were other moments when the characterization had me gritting my teeth (or muttering "oh brother" under my breath, which may not be much better.) I have the vague feeling, too, that if Andy Phillips is reading this he is either horrified or furious. I guess what it comes down to is this. There's been discussion lately on rgif about whether it's possible to build a game around a Message, or whether the game has to come first and the Message express itself naturally as part of the story. I'd say Heroine's Mantle has a similar problem. In order for any of its possible messages about human interactions to work, they first have to seem to be interactions between real humans, not between puppets and archetypes. Concentrated observation of how people actually behave might give rise to characterization much more genuine and with much more truth to convey. Or else the attempt needs to be set aside and the comic book conventions embraced wholeheartedly. The cognitive dissonance is confusing. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Dennis Jerz TITLE: The Tempest AUTHOR: Graham Nelson E-MAIL: graham SP@G gnelson.demon.co.uk DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform, sort of SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/competition97/inform/tempest/tempest.z5 VERSION: Release 3 Tasking Ariel in Graham Nelson's The Tempest -------------------------------------------- Gentles all, be ye now invited to play Ariel (a tricksy spirit) in Mr William Shakespeare's much-admir'd Comedy The Tempest [Pray depress key, that albeit depress'd Cheerly unlock this our trumpery-chest --] -- Title page, Nelson's "The Tempest" ...but this swift business I must uneasy make, lest too light winning Make the prize light. --Prospero, The Tempest In Graham Nelson's IF version of The Tempest, the player takes on the role of the fairy spirit Ariel, who must perform tricks in order to win his freedom. The game file contains the nearly complete play text, plus an additional 20% of iambic pentameter computer messages of the "You can't do that here" variety. In theory, text-based interaction sounds like a great way to experience Shakespeare's work in a new context. In practice, however, Nelson's program is likely to prove equally frustrating to fans of modern computer games (who are used to a much greater degree of interaction on a broader, shallower narrative field) and "serious" theater people (who will be put off by the interludes of puzzle-solving gameplay that interrupt the dramatic flow of events). Nelson's dramatic experiment is most valuable for the light it casts upon the nature of this particular computer-mediated genre. INTRODUCTION The Tempest seems a natural candidate for interactive fiction -- not only because many IF games in the 1980s featured wizardry (and thus audiences might be attracted to the subject matter) but also because both Elizabethan drama and interactive fiction use language in order to stimulate the senses. Shakespeare and his contemporaries openly wrestled with the limits of Elizabethan stagecraft -- for example, in the prologue to Henry V, the Chorus apologizes for not being able to produce real kings and whole armies, imploring the audience: "Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them / Printing their proud hoofs i' th' receiving earth; / For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, / Carry them here and there, jumping o'er times...". Further, the speech with which Enobarbus describes Cleopatra's barge (Antony and Cleopatra II.i) is not only more economical, but far more elegant than any mechanical special effect the Elizabethan stage might have attempted. Shakespeare's Chorus would need to do a lot of explaining in order to draw audiences into the pictures from Roberta Williams's 1980 "Mystery House" (generally held as the first computer narrative that employed graphics). Infocom's advertising campaigns played upon the notions that text games were more intellectual and did not require expensive computer systems. After a boom in the early and mid 80s, the commercial market for text-based computer games fell before the arrival of inexpensive computer graphics. Nelson -- who created the IF programming language Inform, and also some of the best IF of the 90s, is Marlowe (of the "mighty line") and Shakespeare rolled into one. (His online persona also shares elements of Dr. Johnson, Lewis Carroll, and, of late, J.D. Salinger.) His epic works Curses (a delirious mythological and genealogical romp, 1993) and Jigsaw (a time-travel romance, 1995), did much to rekindle interest in "serious" IF. While Linda Hutcheon, discussing the postmodern tradition of emphasizing the receiver's role in constructing a text, offers interactive fiction as "the most extreme example I can think of" (77), the plots of most IF works are tightly constrained, such that the story does not advance until the player-reader has solved certain puzzles. The puzzles can range from uttering a magic word, to finding the right key, to successfully mastering a complex simulation of a WWII "enigma machine" (from an extremely challenging chapter in Graham Nelson's "Jigsaw"); but owing to the technical difficulty of coding such puzzles, and the aesthetic difficulty of integrating such puzzles into the fabric of the story, the plots of most IF works are tightly constrained. Aarseth's Cybertext is one of few critical examinations of electronic text that looks beyond canonical literary hypertext (see Landow, Moulthrop and Shelly). Montfort and van der Linde are among those who recognize the significance of Aarseth's efforts to expand the horizons of the attempt to theorize electronic literature. PLAYING THE TEMPEST (Spoilers) Playing the game requires knowledge of IF conventions as well as at least some familiarity with Shakespeare. Upon being greeted with the opening screen of text, which includes a reference to "the sharp wind of the north," (which actually comes from I.ii.225), the experienced IF player would try to "go north," which presents the ship carrying the Duke of Milan and his train. A user who knows the play, or who can infer properly from the game's title, would gather that Ariel's job is to create a storm. Simply typing "create storm" yields only the iambic pentameter error message, "That instruction, that verb, doth elude me." But an experienced IF player knows that "blow on" is one of the commands that game authors frequently employ; thus, typing "blow on ship" conjures up the storm. The storm is described via a passage lifted from Ariel's report to Prospero, and the player is awarded one point. The ship (which now "founders on the wave") is still the only object in the vicinity, so the player sends Ariel in for a closer look (typing something like "enter ship" or simply "go in"). This action triggers a cut-scene, which presents Shakespeare's (slightly edited) opening dialogue. The individual speeches are visually separated by the prompt "<--->," which signals the user to press a key. When the scene plays out, and the narrative stops in order to give Ariel a chance to act, the player gets the ">" prompt again. When the interface works, it works well -- as the following transcript, in which the Ariel first opens and then enters the hatches. >open hatches I ope the hatches. >go in What desireth you to go in? >hatches Now on the beak, Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin, I flamed amazement... Who was so firm, So constant, that this coil Would not infect his reason? There is a cry within. <---> Boatswain A plague upon this howling! they are louder than the weather or our office. Lay her a-hold, a-hold! set her two courses off to sea again; lay her off. <---> All but mariners Plunge in the foaming brine and quit the vessel, Now all afire with me: the king's son, Ferdinand With hair up-staring, -- now like reeds, not hair, -- Is the first man to leap, crying "Hell is empty And all the devils are here." The mariners wet cry out, We split, we split, we split! [Your score has increas'd a point.] >_ "The Tempest," submitted under the name "William Shakespeare" to the 1997 Interactive Fiction Contest, finished 27th out of 34 entrants. While it later won the 1997 "Best Use of the Medium" from XYZZYNews, upon its first release, reviewers were both surprised and frustrated by Nelson's respectful adherence to the Shakespearean plot. One of the competition judges, apparently as vexed by Nelson's The Tempest as the mariners he paraphrases, dismissed the entry: What a clever idea! (Which, together with a ha'penny, will buy you a brick.) I couldn't figure out what the hell to do. Even reading the beginning of the original play. I got as far as when the King's party jumped overboard, and then I was stuck. So I split. I split, I split, I split. (Plotkin) The passive act of reading the dialogue far outweighs the interactive elements, as in this extended sequence. The user types several commands which the programmer must exclude from the narrative. In the following transcript, the first several commands ("look," "kiss miranda," "hit prospero," and "throw phial at prospero") do nothing to advance the plot, but they do establish the setting and lay down some of the rules of this fictional world. >look The island, before thy cell (in guise of an airy spirit) Upon the island beach, secret paths run north to south, while thy cell stands here; and a copse lies east. Prospero watches the sloven breakers, leaning upon quarterstaff. Beside him, plucking at sleeves, his daughter Miranda. >kiss miranda No, I must guard my lips for now. >hit prospero Come, you but dally; I pray you, pass with your best violence, I am afeard you make a wanton of me. >throw phial at prospero I have no aim, no, no chance of a palpable hit. >enter cell Prospero's Cell (in guise of an airy spirit) Thy cell is furnish'd with books and caparison'd with strange and sombre hangings: yet it has a kindly aspect, being these many years Miranda's schoolroom, and mark how sunlight strikes through the window. Thy enchanted net hangs from the lintel. Thy magic flute rests on its rough-hewn stand. Prospero and Miranda, yet drowsy, follow. <---> Prospero ...Some food we had and some fresh water that A noble Neapolitan, Gonzalo, Out of his charity, being then appointed Master of this design, did give us, with Rich garments, linens, stuffs and necessaries, Which since have steaded much; so, of his gentleness, Knowing I loved my books, he furnish'd me From mine own library with volumes that I prize above my dukedom. <---> Miranda Would I might But ever see that man! <---> They take bread, and return. >_ Nelson is far too respectful of Shakespeare's text to allow any alteration to the plot. The resulting necessity to close off all other possible actions (except for the one action necessary to trigger the next scene) left many reviewers wondering where the "fun" in the game was supposed to lie. Others pulled out their copies of The Tempest in order to figure out what to tell Ariel to do, and then felt irked when the "reward" for solving a puzzle consisted in having to scroll past lines of online text that replayed the scene they had just studied. One poster, pondering the brave new world of interactive fiction, wondered: Would it be possible to write a story-line exploring other possibilities of the 'Tempest' such as Miranda not falling in love (which I always thought was a litle [sic] too pat), the baddies killing each other... a sort of 'what if?' interactive fiction. (Olive) Nelson himself replied as follows: It might have been possible (for a better author, anyway), except that then it wouldn't have been a performance of "The Tempest"... it would have been more like those 19th-century outings for "King Lear" in which Cordelia lives at the end and marries Edgar while Lear goes off to an old people's home, on the grounds that everybody likes a happy ending. (Nelson, "Re: Tempest: still stuck!") Despite the fact that the game will let the plot progress only towards the end that Shakespeare had already prescribed for it, some of the puzzles are fairly difficult to solve, simply because their solutions are not always clear. (Whereas "blow on ship" was the solution to the opening puzzle, one cannot "blow on flute" to wake Ferdinand, but must rather "sing". Such a restriction may be obvious to anyone who remembers Ariel's songs from this scene, but within the logic of the game, there is no reason why playing the flute, or simply shaking the sleeper's shoulders, wouldn't do just as well.) Although Nelson does not seem to have provided his own hint or walkthrough file, one USENET wag suggested that the full text of Shakespeare's The Tempest should suffice; yet even when the player knows what scene is supposed to happen next, it's sometimes hard to figure out how to tell Ariel to accomplish it. As Prospero notes (in the quote at the top of this page), to make a game too easy robs it of its pleasure; but the "prize" Miranda and Ferdinand stand to win is to live happily ever after. I for one felt silly re-reading a scene in order to figure out what to tell Ariel to do, and then having the game "reward" me by displaying that very same scene! While most IF games permit the player a great deal of local freedom (wandering around a sprawling textual topography, interacting with complex props, and solving puzzles which unlock doors that lead to new exploratory and interactive possibilities), Nelson does not give the reader the opportunity to change the plot. This makes a certain amount of sense; after all, a player who takes on the role of Ariel should feel Ariel's constraints. Whereas Shakespeare's textual world is rich and vivid, Nelson's version -- which used the very same words --feels like a cardboard cutout. I don't see this as a weakness in Nelson's ability, but rather as evidence of the complex layering of textual meanings and interactive possibilities that native IF typically represents. From Duncan Stevens's online review of The Tempest: Certainly, the extensiveness of the Inform hacking is impressive, and the sheer concept of adapting a drama and making it interactive is novel -- but the game does not, in truth, meet all the challenges the task presented..... Though the gameplay limitations of Tempest are considerable, they are there for a valid reason, not simply inadequate coding -- and, as such, I decided they shouldn't count too heavily aganist [sic] the game. Though it doesn't "work" especially well, the concept as put into practice works about as well as it could, and the author should get some credit for a worthy effort. >From Paul O'Brian's online review of The Tempest: The Tempest is entertaining and innovative; it often feels quite magical to inhabit the Prospero/Ariel connection, and to take part in a groundbreaking interactive experience. I think that the game also has great potential as an educational tool, allowing readers to experience Shakespeare's language in a new and thrilling way.... The author's erudition is clear, from the simple choice of subject matter to the deft interweaving of other Shakespearean and Renaissance phrases into the play's text when necessary (for example, to the command "throw x at character" the game responds "I have no aim, no, no chance of a palpable hit.", a phrase echoing Hamlet). Such attention to scholarly detail recalls some of the finer moments of Nelson's epics, especially Jigsaw. WORKS CITED Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997. Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. New York and London: Routledge, 1988. Landow, George. Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Boston: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997. Lawrence, Rich. "WinFrotz 2.32 R5.2b." 32-bit Windows freeware. 1999. Available . A translation of Frotz (Stefan Jokisch, 1995-96). Montfort, Nicholas A. "Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star," [review of Aarseth, Cybertext]. Electronic Book Review 11. 2000? Accessed 8 Jan 2001. Moulthrop, Stuart and Nancy Kaplan. "Something to Imagine: Literature, Composition, and Interactive Fiction." Computers and Composition 9.1, 1991: 7-23. Murray, Jane. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: The Free Press, 1997. Nelson, Graham K. "The Tempest: An Interactive Performance." 1997. Freeware. Available . -----. "Re: Tempest: still stuck!" Usenet posting. 6 Nov. 1999. . "Olive" (olive SP@G studio.ifb.co.uk). "Tempest: still stuck!" Online posting. 6 Nov. 1999. . Plotkin, Andrew. "COMP97: Zarf's comments." Usenet posting. 1 Jan, 1998. . van der Linde, Gerhard. "Text without boundaries." Trans: Internet- Zeitscrhift fu:r Kulturvissenchaften 9 (October, 2000). N.p. Accessed 20 Dec 2000. SUBMISSION POLICY --------------------------------------------------------- SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure games, a.k.a. Interactive Fiction. This includes the classic Infocom games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the primary player-game communication is text based. Any and all text-based games are eligible for review, though if a game has been reviewed three times in SPAG, no further reviews of it will be accepted unless they are extraordinarily original and/or insightful. SPAG reviews should be free of spoilers. 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