___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE #27 Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) January 4, 2002 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #27 is copyright (c) 2002 by Paul O'Brian. Authors of reviews and articles retain the rights to their contributions. All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine with the traditional 'at' sign. ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE ---------------------------------------------------- SPAG interviews the top three Comp authors: * Jon Ingold * L. Ross Raszewski * Sean Barrett Duncan Stevens looks at Comp01's conversation systems REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------- All Roads The Beetmonger's Journal Best Of Three Carma The Coast House Earth And Sky Film At Eleven The Gostak Heroes Moments Out Of Time No Time To Squeal Prized Possession Triune Vicious Cycles You Are Here EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ I participated in the comp this year. Of course, I participate in the comp every year -- I play the games, write reviews, buy a t-shirt -- but this year I was a contestant, for the first time since 1996. It was a remarkable experience. When I entered the 1996 competition, I was very green as an author, and still pretty new to the IF community. It was the comp's second year, and the year where the number of entries really exploded. The idea that *twenty-six* new IF games could be released at once, some of them good, was staggering. People were stunned, thrilled. Andrew Plotkin wrote, "This is the IF movement I've always wanted." It was exciting to be a part of that momentum, to feel the New Wave in IF gathering force. I naively thought that my game was so good it would surely place in the top three, maybe even win, until I started playing the other entries. This was the year of "Delusions", of "Tapestry", of "Kissing The Buddha's Feet", and of "The Meteor, The Stone, and A Long Glass Of Sherbet", not to mention a host of other worthy competitors. In the end, I was pleased and relieved to land in 8th place. ("In The End" itself landed in 15th place but inspired years of subsequent discussion.) Now it's five years later, and things have changed a bit. Comp01 saw exactly twice as many entries as in 1996, with 52 games entered (though one was later disqualified), and nobody was all that surprised. After all, that number was actually *down* one from the previous year's comp. Not only that, instead of excitement and enthusiasm for all the new games, there was much grousing. People stated publicly that they had quit judging games in disgust, and a brouhaha erupted on the newsgroups with several people announcing their opinions that this comp had the lowest average quality of them all. I don't point this out to lament the passing of some Bygone Golden Age Of IF Enthusiasm; I thought it was a weaker comp, too -- it received the lowest average rating I've given (though only by two tenths of a point), and was the first year I didn't rate any game a 10. However, a little perspective is in order. First of all, last year's comp was *amazing*, perhaps due (at least in part) to the five $200 prizes available in that year's prize pool. It's no surprise to me that this year's games didn't reach that level. Moreover, Comp01, while containing some weak entries, also included some really excellent games, some of which will be quite outstanding once they are debugged for a post-comp release. In addition, even some of the weaker games were examples of new authors stretching their wings, veteran authors experimenting with new forms, and off-the-wall attempts that, if nothing else, were remarkable for their boldness. So was it a bad comp? I don't think so, and I'm pretty sure I'm not just saying that because I hate the idea of the comp with one of my games in it being called a bad comp. It may not have had the strongest crop of games, but it evinced many signs of the continued artistic growth in IF. There's a natural ebb and flow to these sorts of things, I think, and I suspect we'll look back on some of this year's games as the humble beginnings of later greatness. NEWS ---------------------------------------------------------------------- COMPETITION RESULTS I've always been of the mind that reviews tell the tale of comp games far better than results do. Some of the games held as touchstones of particular IF trends have placed surprisingly low, and some rather forgettable games have sometimes done quite well. However, the standings tell their own tale, and this year, it's a strange tale indeed. Thanks are once again due to Stephen Granade for his stalwart work organizing the comp, and to Mark Musante, the vote countin' guy. The official results of Comp01 are as follows: 1 All Roads, by Jon Ingold 2 Moments Out of Time, by L. Ross Raszewski 3 Heroes, by Sean Barrett 4 No Time To Squeal, by Mike Sousa and Robb Sherwin 5 The Beetmonger's Journal, by Scott Starkey 6 Vicious Cycles, by Simon Mark 7 Best of Three, by Emily Short 8 Earth And Sky, by Paul O'Brian 9 Triune, by Papillon 10 Film at Eleven, by Bowen Greenwood 11 Prized Possession, by Kathleen M. Fischer 12 Journey from an Islet, by Mario Becroft 13 Grayscale, by Daniel Freas 14 The Chasing, by Anssi Raisanen 15 The Coast House, by Stephen Newton and Dan Newton 16 A Night Guest, by Valentine Kopteltsev Carma, by Marnie Parker 18 Fusillade, by Mike Duncan Fine Tuned, by Dennis Jerz 20 The Evil Sorcerer, by Gren Remoz 21 The Gostak, by Carl Muckenhoupt 22 The Isolato Incident, by Alan DeNiro 23 Crusade, by John Gorenfeld 24 2112, by George K. Algire 25 You Are Here, by Roy Fisher 26 Elements, by John Evans 27 The Cruise, by Norman Perlmutter 28 Shattered Memory, by Akbarr [NOTE: This game was later disqualified.] 29 Bane of the Builders, by Bogdan Baliuc To Otherwhere and Back, by Gregory Ewing 31 Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country, by Adam Thornton 32 Kallisti, by James A. Mitchelhill 33 Colours, by J. Robinson Wheeler The Cave of Morpheus, by Mark Silcox Silicon Castles, by David Given 36 Timeout, by Stephen Hilderbrand 37 Begegnung am Fluss, by Florian Edlbauer 38 an apple from nowhere, by Brendan Barnwell Stranded, by Rich Cummings 40 Schroedinger's Cat, by James Willson 41 Stick it to the man, by Brendan Barnwell 42 Jump, by Chris Mudd 43 Volcano Isle, by Paul DeWitt 44 Mystery Manor, by Mystery 45 Invasion of the Angora-fetish Transvestites, by Morten Rasmussen 46 SURREAL, by Matthew Lowe 47 Goofy, by Ricardo Dague 48 The Test, by Matt, Dark Baron 49 Lovesong, by Mihalis "DarkAng3l" Georgostathis 50 The Newcomer, by Jason Love 51 The Last Just Cause, by Jeremy Carey-Dressler 52 You Were Doomed From The Start, by Jeremy Carey-Dressler NEW RELEASES SHELF It's typically a pretty dry season for non-comp games, but we saw a few, including one by Robb Sherwin, a frequent entrant to the IF Comp who finished 4th this year with a co-authored game. * Fallacy of Dawn by Robb Sherwin * Comp01ter Game SP@G : N0n C0mp0s Ment1s by Austin Thorvald (aka Brendan Barnwell) * Doomed Xycanthus by Eric Mayer * "Little Pictures Everywhere" (an episode in the LadyStar series) * Vacation Gone Awry by Johan Berntsson, Staffan Friberg, and Fredrik Ramsberg * Lock & Key by Adam Cadre ABOUT FINISHED One sad day in September, About.com decided that it no longer needed about 300 of its guide sites, and the interactive fiction site was one of these. Thus, adventuregames.about.com, once the premier IF web site, now leads only to a lame-o About.com site map. That's the bad news. The good news, and it's very good, is that Stephen Granade, former proprietor of the About site, has set up shop under a new URL, http://brasslantern.org. Stephen's new site has much of the content of his old one (with more on the way), and is also entirely free of clutter, banners, and annoying popup/popunder ads. Yay resurrection! SURVEY SAYS... SPAG contributor Stas Starkov wanted a little more information about the comp this year, so he sent out a survey to the 51 authors who participated. 29 of them responded, and the results are at http:/joltcountry.dreamhost.com/trottingkrips/if2k1-survey.html. They're worth a look, especially the full answers, which often contain more complex and thoughtful responses than the survey's format wanted to allow for. COAX -- NOT JUST A ONE-WORD GEEK TEST SPAG was recently described as "quite successful, despite whoever's at the helm constantly having to coax reviews from people." Yep, that's about the size of it. So here it is again: SPAG's survival is dependent on your reviews. It's all about you. In case you're looking for an assignment, consider one of these: SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. Bad Machine 2. Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. 3. Doomed Xycanthus 4. Fallacy of Dawn 5. First Things First 6. Heroine's Mantle 7. Lock & Key 8. Pytho's Mask 9. Stranded (the one by Jim Bayers, not the recent comp game) 10. Vacation Gone Awry THE SPAG INTERVIEW--------------------------------------------------------- It's a tradition by now, and even if it wasn't we would have to start doing it, because it just works out so well. Every year, SPAG interviews one or more of the authors who placed highly in the competition. This year, we were privileged to receive the words of the top three authors in this year's comp: Jon Ingold, L. Ross Raszewski, and Sean Barrett. -=-=-=-=-=-=-Jon Ingold, author of "All Roads"-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth? JI: I'm a third year undergraduate at Cambridge, reading Mathematics. Currently I have no job, which is great as it leaves me vast swathes of free time in which to write. That's what I do, primarily -- I write, all the time. The desk in my room is littered with drafts of this and that, usually at least three are floating around at any one time. This term alone, along with doing enough maths to get by, I've produced four short stories, a play, and finished the first draft of a novel. I also play jazz trombone in a university band; we used to be rubbish but I think we're getting quite good now. And I watch a lot of films -- I think that's tied to my IF interest as well, both mediums are very concerned with the idea of "location" -- and I review them for the student newspaper, along with interviewing directors, that sort of thing. On quiet evenings I boil up a cup of jasmine tea and relax to some insanely bouncy-happy music in the breakbeat/DJ genre, partly because it cheers me up, but partly because it annoys my roommate. SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF? JI: When I was eight or nine, my family bought a computer. Even then, it wasn't very good; it was a clunky old Amstrad and it came with GEM Paint and little else. So we went computer game shopping, which was disappointing, as we could barely get anything which would run. Until we stumbled on "The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Me and my two elder brothers were all fans, one way or another, so this was snapped up and hurried home. We were lucky enough to get a version with hints, and so completed the game in about three weeks, and enjoyed it immensely. By that time the pocket money reserves had built up again, so we went back off to Mighty Micro to see what else they had, and returned with "Sorceror". We were less successful this time, and in the end, it sat on a shelf alongside "Leather Goddesses of Phobos", unfinished and half forgotten. Then, seven-odd years later, I went into Manchester University where my father worked one weekend, to have a fiddle around on this "internet" thing that he'd just discovered he had, and didn't know how to use. It wasn't very exciting really; there were very few pages around at that time, comparatively, and I soon ran out of things worth searching for; and then, for a joke more than anything, I typed "Infocom". To my great surprise, up came Peter Scheyen's excellent page, containing amongst other things, those vital hints for Sorceror. Once I got one stumbling block out of the way (due to appalling game design, incidentally) the game was quickly finished. And I went back onto the net to see what I could find. From the Infocom site I found Curses, from Curses I found [four years of frustration and] Inform. From the Inform page I learnt the syntax by reading "Balances" and the Alice tutorial, and wrote "Break-In", a now largely-forgotten game about chickens (due to Jenny Dunn-Charltons' flock in the back garden of her house). Once that was out of the way, I started to consider writing something a little more cohesive; I wanted something with a tighter design. I wanted to write some irritatingly hard but worse, irritatingly fair, so that player's couldn't just dismiss it as "badly designed" and get out of being stuck like that. And I went on holiday to Canada, to the Toronto Museum of Modern Art, in the foyer of which hangs (or hung, at any rate) an upside-down Christmas tree on a mechanical button. The Mulldoon Legacy was born, in three notebooks and over about a year and a half. But it was still just a game I wrote because I liked making up puzzles, and I hoped to irritate my elder brother with it. But when it was done (and, I should perhaps add sheepishly, totally un-betatested) I discovered how to upload it to the if-archive, which I did, about two days before catching the train to university. It was a month before I worked out how to read the newsgroup from Cambridge; and when I did -- well, it's still one of the most startling moments of my life when I loaded up rec.games.int-fiction and there were Mulldoon posts _everywhere_. And then I realised I wanted to write more IF. And I had some serious bug-fixing to do, too. SPAG: You've displayed an impressive authorial range, from a sheer puzzlefest like The Mulldoon Legacy to stylistic experiments like FailSafe and My Angel, and finally the sharp plotting of All Roads. What has led you to make these choices? JI: Luck, I suppose. I'm a designer of puzzles at heart; Mulldoon is my favourite of all my games, the writing process was wonderfully satisfying, and if I were to write a sequel to anything it would be "Mulldoon II -- Freeka Monkeys FreakOut!" -- though I wonder if I could catch the same atmosphere again as that game managed any more, being too jaded on ultra-responsive parser's and PC/player considerations! After I finished Mulldoon I began another project, which involved a lot of character-dialogue stuff. I wrote "FailSafe" when I had just discovered how it was possible to make a game do that, I then wrote "My Angel" because I wanted to do something with a character in [I wanted to write a love story] but could not be bothered to do more ASK/TELL dialogue. The game was about a quarter done and still called "Mind's Eye" -- I can't explain how pleased I was when the title "My Angel" occurred, as it was so perfect. "All Roads" is in many ways much more like what I write usually though, in that everything is relevant. But again, that sort of happened as I wrote it, I didn't really get much say in the matter. I rarely do when writing; I only get a veto when it comes to redrafting. Generally though: Kubrick said he wanted to make a definitive film in every genre, and I think that sounds like a good thing to aspire to. I may not succeed, but it's worth a try -- and I think Mulldoon was a pretty good attempt at nailing the "puzzle-game"! SPAG: Do you plan to write more IF in the future, and if so, what are you willing to divulge about those plans? JI: Of course I will, I can't help it any more. I have currently two (well, three) projects underway -- the first is a murder-mystery game, in the style of "Witness" (my second favourite Infocom game, after "Zork 3"). I remember that game fondly because I did actually solve the mystery as I went along, I was really there with the detective, in a way that just didn't happen with "Deadline". And I wanted to have a go at doing that myself. The game is very, very nearly complete; I just need a denouement and a smattering of bells-and-whistles. But I suspect it still won't be done this time next year. My second project is still a lot more of a haze-in-my-head, and it's a puzzle game; and it's going to have to be Glulx if it ever comes out, which is bad as I'd have to learn Glulx. Actually, I have a horrible feeling I'll never finish this one, as time is no longer on my side, with graduation looming. I'm still hoping that somewhere out there is a billionaire who wants an in-house text-game writer, so I can do this sort of stuff and have a job too. If you're reading this Branson, you know you want to. Oh, and then there's always Glulx-Mulldoon, still sat on my harddrive at nearly two-thirds as long again and counting. I hoping to release that in about twenty years time, maybe. SPAG: All Roads is dedicated to Charlotte Holloway. Who is she? JI: The dedication of "My Angel" reads "To C, C, C and C"; and they're all Charlotte, but they're all different -- my first year of university was a bizarre affair measured out by people of that name. (Come June 2000, I had very nearly gone out to get a "Charlotte" tattoo done on my arm). Charlotte Holloway is one of the four who turned out to be a little more significant in my life. (Though, perhaps sadly, not any more; we split up soon after the beginning of the competition: ironic, as we got together the day that last year's finished). Still, the dedication stands -- Charlotte was a source of endless inspiration, and if future text-games don't draw on our holiday this summer (in which we tried to get to Ithaki by every means possible, and failed, almost-too-conveniently) I will be most surprised. It should perhaps be extended: "To Charlotte Holloway, without whom I would never have spent two nights in the house of a witch who was the friend of the mother of the friend of a woman who I couldn't keep a straight face with when she tried to sell us a cruise with some pictures in a family photo-album". I will be very excited to see who I dedicate the next one to. ;) SPAG: I found All Roads' setting fascinating, and several other reviewers did too. Can you talk a bit about what inspired the setting, and what sources you drew upon in creating it? JI: I went to Venice for two and a half days with some friends from University last year; we found a cheap flight and took it, and had a great time. It's a beautiful city, and I was pretty taken by the tight maze of windy streets, and the way they would suddenly bloom into wide church-plazas with no warning; and I toyed it the idea of a game involving a Venetian street maze (which I still cannot wholly believe I left out of "All Roads", given it was there from the inception -- between the Tavern and the Dojo's Palace, if you're wondering). The other thing that rather took my imagination were the clocks in St. Mark's square, and in the Palace; they all have 6am at the bottom. Not unusual you may think, except that the one in the square is 24 hour, which is strange. I never found out why this is, but I rather fondly imagined it was the hand pointing downward at the hour of execution. So as soon as I knew the first scene of All Roads, I instantly knew the setting. I'd best apologise to anyone who's been there, and doubly to anyone who's ever lived there for my horrible misrepresentations, simplifications and fictions. Next time, I promise, I'll go for a month. As for other sources: about half a year before I'd been thinking about writing a story involving a character, living in an anti-metric space. This is a rather dull mathematical idea -- a space in which the line joining two points is the longest path between them, rather than the shortest; and if you think about it, the only ones possible are those with 2 or less points in them -- but made for a rather neat superpower. Then I was watching a bad TV movie about Pirates in the Caribbean (modern pirates unfortunately, so no swashbuckling or barrels of rum, just dodgy accents and sunglasses); trying to think of a plot. Or more accurately, trying to think of a twist. And I toyed with my idea of Antimetric Man and thought: What if it turns out that's _not_ quite his power after all? Ten minutes later I had a flow diagram for the scenes in the game sketched on the back of an old bus ticket. The film finished, and I began coding. After two days I stood up from my Dad's laptop weak-legged, shaking, pale. I fell downstairs, collapsed on the kitchen floor and begged my seven-year-old sister to turn the kettle on for me, and to empty as much coffee as she could into a mug. A day later -- when I had finally decided on Francesca's name and could find-and-replace away the "Barbie" tag she had been arbitrarily assigned -- I discovered that the game is rather like Memento. That's a great film, and, yeah, I've seen it. So I guess that was floating around in my head. Other sources: the Empty Room was inspired by the locked-cell puzzle of [Jeremiah] Mulldoon. The geography is a simplified section of street near the Basilica (which is entirely absent in my game). The Resistance and their shenanigans are straight out of "'Allo 'Allo", a very funny British sitcom set in WWII France. The name "Sebastian DeLosa" has been sat on a list of names I've had for a year in the "sounds incredibly hard" column (right next to "Goliath Robinson"). Finally, the title is due to Luke Abraham, and I liked it the minute he shouted it to me from one room in an Edinburgh flat to the other at 3am. (Incidentally, the other thing missing is any canals. There was going to be an "escape from guards by jumping off a bridge into a gondola" moment which Luke suggested to me after he'd decided the main character was in fact James Bond. We compromised, and put in two women instead). SPAG: Lots of people have, in the midst of their admiration for the game, expressed some confusion about the plot. I won't ask you to spell it all out here, since that's too much of a spoiler, and no fun besides, but will you offer a few hints to those who find themselves still confused, even after they've finished the game? JI: Heh. Oh, alright, I'll answer properly. I write puzzles. When I wrote "All Roads" I knew there were going to have to be extremely strong limitations on what the player could choose, and even worse, on what the player could feel like he's chosen. There was little room for variation, or for work-arounds; in the end I scrapped the three or four I'd worked out in favour of a more obvious structure, so as not to give anyone the wrong impression of the game being adaptable. (Oh, and I scrapped the alternate ending, because I thought a lot of people would go that way without realising they'd missing something subtler. But it was a cunning bit of double-narrative all the same). But anyway, I felt the need to compensate that with something, and a labyrinthine plot seemed the way to go. So: clues. Well, everything is relevant. Everything. Play the game again. Don't play it on a palm-pilot. Draw a diagram, maybe. SPAG: On a more general level, what lessons have you learned from writing All Roads, and from reading the various responses to it? JI: First and foremost:- if you're going to set a game in Italy, get someone Italian to test it for you. Otherwise -- that all those flaws you know a game has but that you're hoping other people won't notice, are going to get noticed and it's no use pretending they're not there. To everyone who complained about lack of interactivity -- I know, and I should have done something about it. Other reviewers comments I felt very split about -- I was a little worried by the number of question marks people placed by the plot; I became paranoid that I'd left some crucial information out completely and not noticed, thereby setting a completely unfair puzzle (it has since been verified this is not the case, thankfully). I was a little non-plussed by people suggesting that I didn't know how the story fitted -- I'm totally anal about that sort of thing, things have to mesh or I'm not happy with them. And when I get fed up with that then John, my beta-tester and the most pedantic man on the planet, will not let it rest unless they do. Experiences from writing: plan things first. Plan things, and then plan more things around those things. The amount of code I wrote then deleted in making this game is absurd. The amount I wrote, deleted, and then wrote again is even worse. Lessons from the experience of writing: Eat. Eating is really important, and it's not worth forgoing it just because you want to get something finished before you go visit a friend. That's just silly. Sleep is not optional. Computers are not forgiving. It _is_ possible to bruise your fingertips typing. SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite games? JI: I've not played many -- I gave Emily's a whirl, and the technology is truly awesome. I liked "Earth and Sky", but I couldn't possibly comment further, being a beta-tester... ;) I will play Sean Barrett's soon as it looks hugely impressive, and I think I will like it. SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition entrants? JI: Oh. I don't know. I only won by accident. I guess general IF advice -- try to think as a player and not an author. You have to think as a player. So; get it tested and get it tested properly. Find someone incredibly pedantic to play the game and argue every little detail with you. Play the game through lots and lots of times, and try to play it as though you can't remember what you've programmed responses for; and if anything you type isn't covered then go and cover it. Also -- try to ask yourself when you're working it out: why is a player going to enjoy this, or find it interesting? If the best answer you find is "because guessing the right verb to use is fun!" then do something about it. If the answer is "because the coding is neat", think again. Little things: my favourite example is doors. If you're writing a story-game, the code should automatically unlock and open doors you walk through if you have the key; it's just tedious if it doesn't. But if you're writing a puzzle game, then the code definitely shouldn't - if a player has had to work like fury to get that key then let them have the satisfaction of getting to unlock the damn door with it. Otherwise it plays like the game is tapping its watch saying "I've grown grey hairs waiting for you to get on and solve that! Can we hurry up, please?" Try to think and feel like the player, and write responsively. Certainly the main flaws in "All Roads" lie here; way too much of it is way too passive, and I regret that. Specifically for Comp Games -- test the damn thing. If you haven't got time, fine, test it anyway and enter it next year. You have no right to inflict a game that doesn't work on a community big-hearted enough to be willing to play it. If you've spelt Giuseppe wrong consistently throughout, find out in advance (*smack*). =-=-=-=-L. Ross Raszewski, author of "Moments Out Of Time"-=-=-=-= SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth? LRR: In a way, IF is a natural interest of mine; I spent most of my youth jumping back and forth between wanting to be a writer and wanting to be a scientist. Science finally won out -- I'm a recent graduate of Loyola College in Maryland with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science -- but it was a narrow thing (I couldn't entirely suppress my attraction toward the humanities; I have a minor in philosophy). These days, I'm a graduate student -- still in Computer Science -- at the Johns Hopkins University. SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF? LRR: The second computer my family bought was a Commodore 64. At some point, my mom picked up a copy of The Hobbit, and we wasted quite a few hours trying to make any progress at all. We weren't tremendously good at it. Some time later, we moved up to the Commodore 128 and my dad got a copy of Infocom's Sherlock: Riddle of the Crown Jewels. We weren't very good at that either. SPAG: Moments Out Of Time is pretty clearly intended, in part, as a prod to get zcode interpreter authors to include z6 and Blorb compliance. What is your interest in seeing this occur, as opposed to, say, just moving to Glulx or TADS 3? LRR: It really was a fairly tough decision, actually. At least part of it has to do with the fact that when I started to build the screen model for the game, Glulx wasn't really a viable option; V6 already had a very good screen interface library (V6lib, by Jason C. Penney), while, at least with regards to the user interface aspects, Glulx was still limited to "find another game that does something like what and see if you can adapt the low-level code." At the time, I also had some serious philosophical complaints about Glulx and Glk, which I've mostly managed to get over. As for Tads 3, it sounds like a very promising system, but even if it had been capable of producing a releaseable game in time for the competition, I really have too much invested in inform to switch now. Of course, one of the major reasons that I decided to write a game using the z6 format is, in a way, because you felt the need to ask the question. For many years, people have flat out ignored the format, as if it went without saying that it was useless. Before Glulx, people would claim that inform was simply not capable of producing games using, for example, graphics. It seemed to me that there had been a prevailing opinion that z6 was somehow a degenerate, unwholesome "dead end" in the evolution of the Z-machine. Of course, if Infocom had held out a few more years, I imagine that the next versions of the Z-machine would have been much closer to version 6 than to the our version 8. SPAG: You make a particular effort to cite your influences, including The Journeyman Project, A Mind Forever Voyaging, and The Usual Suspects. With some of these, it's obvious how the influence operated, but with others it's quite a bit more obscure -- could you provide some detail on just how some of the influences you list affected Moments Out Of Time? LRR: Let's see... Though The Journeyman Project is probably the most obvious and direct influence, thematically, Moments was inspired an awful lot by Shivers. See, Shivers is a pretty straightforward puzzle game, and normally, I'd have dismissed it right off, but for the setting. The thing that makes Shivers a memorable game isn't the puzzles or what you do -- it's what you find; you're wandering around a cliche haunted museum, but you aren't the first person to have been there, and you keep finding relics left behind by previous visitors -- mostly just little things, an asthma inhaler, a report card, but they go a long way to making people who you never meet seem "real" -- a lot more real than NPCs you actually do meet in many games. That's the main thing I wanted to create in Moments. Most of the other references have to do with the idea of piecing together an idea of "what happened" from limited information; "Cybermen" is a speculative history of an entire civilization, based on clues in a few episodes of Doctor Who. The Virgin Suicides has an "outer" story, which is about a group of boys who become obsessed with learning about the lives of a family of teenage girls, and they do this by piecing together facts from the material objects they leave behind. Now, I've been told a few times that LASH and Trinity also seem to have influenced the game. Now, I hadn't actually played either of these when I wrote Moments, but from what I've seen of them now, I wish I had. SPAG: I found that Moments was so impressively large in scope that two hours seemed altogether insufficient to really appreciate the game. Do you plan a post-comp release of the game, and if so, are you planning to make any changes beyond routine bugfixes? LRR: I'm not entirely sure. I certainly would like to release an updated version, perhaps even an expanded one, but I have always had a lot of difficulty coming back to a work after I've finished. I've changed a lot since when I started writing Moments; I graduated from college, moved to a new house, and, of course, now I have the experience of having written Moments. I'm not sure how much I can change the game before it starts to become a totally different work. SPAG: What was your basis for the 21st century house we see in Moments? Was any of it autobiographical? LRR: Quite a bit of it, actually, though I'm not sure I can say to what extent without bringing down the wrath of my friends and family. The mother is fairly close to my own mother, though my own father is nothing at all like Mr. Wallace. I suppose Jimmy Wallace is, in many ways, a caricature of myself, and some of Jimmy's conversations are fairly close to ones I've had. SPAG: Before Moments Out Of Time, you were perhaps best known as a prolific contributor of library extensions. Did these extensions grow from your prototypical game efforts, or were they created as utilities from the beginning? LRR: There are one or two exceptions, but nearly every library I've released was written out of a direct need. In fact, I suspect one could track my progress in various projects by the initial releases of my libraries. SPAG: Do you plan to write more IF in the future, and if so, are you willing to divulge anything about those plans? LRR: I do hope to write more in the future, and I've got a few ideas on the drawing board. As much as I'd like to talk about them, I find that discussing my ideas ahead of time tends to take the urgency out of actually writing them. On the other hand, if what I said above is true, you can make what you will of GWindows... SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite games? LRR: I'm a little ashamed to admit that I didn't have time to play very many of the games this year. I'm certainly looking forward to sitting down with "All Roads" when I get the chance, though. Of what I did play, I thought "Stick it To The Man" was an extremely promising game, and I was sorely disappointed when I began to run into its fatal bugs. SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition entrants? LRR: You can't have too many beta testers. I actually prefer to start the game in testing well before it's finished, to "debug" problems in the design. It's hard to find someone willing to do that, but it can be extremely rewarding; I'd rather the released version contain a dozen typographical errors than even one major logical breakdown in the plot. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-Sean Barrett, author of "Heroes"-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth? SB: I'm a 34-year-old computer programmer/musician/writer. Well, those are my hobbies, anyway, and they seem to be what matter to me most. I also play computer games and listen to music and even read a little, if you want the other side of those coins. Where I am changed recently: I did some initial work on Heroes while living in Boston, Massachusetts, but I moved to Oakland, California, in September and wrote most of the game while I was between apartments there. For a living, I write computer games; currently I'm working as an independent on a shareware CRPG, doing everything but the artwork all by myself, just like in the good old days of early computer games. More information than even the most dedicated stalker could ever want is available on my website (http://nothings.org). Except for stalkers who are curious about my CRPG, about which very little is to be found. SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF? SB: In 1979 I started playing around with computers at school, and we acquired an Atari 800 at home soon after. Zork was one of the first games we bought, I think. We may have picked up a Scott Adams adventure first; I remember playing the one with the chiggers in the swamp. By the time I was 15 or so I thought IF would be a cool way to make a living, and I toyed around with a game or two in BASIC -- but eventually games went unabashedly graphic, Infocom tanked, etc. I hung around the Usenet interactive fiction newsgroup in the late 80s I think, but it was basically all talk and no action, so I switched to MUDs and pretty much abandoned IF. SPAG: How did you get back into IF, then? SB: I guess I checked back into the newsgroups periodically. One of my coworkers at Looking Glass Studios, Rob "Xemu" Fermier, had registered TADS -- we had a newsletter with employee reports, and he included a little interactive report in TADS one month, so I guess that may have been something that renewed my interest. I started posting some crazy theory ideas to the newsgroups based on some of my mud experiences and started writing a game in Inform, but then the crucial moment was when Dan "dfan" Schmidt asked me to playtest "For a Change" -- after betatesting, I went ahead and played (and reviewed) all the games from the comp that year (1999), and became a more serious member of the community. SPAG: You mention working at Looking Glass Studios, creators of groundbreaking games like Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief: The Dark Project. For all us computer-game fanboys (and girls), can you talk about your role at LGS and the experience of working there? SB: Like many other people, I loved the Ultima Underworlds. They were/are my favorite games ever. I joined Looking Glass Technologies (as it was called then) just as they were starting to finish up the first System Shock. I wrote several minigames for that (Eel Zapper and Wing 0), worked on our real-time squad shooter Terra Nova, and also worked on Thief. I got hired on the strength of my technical chops as a programmer, although I did have some game design experience from my work on MUDs. By the end, I was known as a sort of technology guru, a person programmers could go to if they had a hard problem they weren't sure how to solve or needed somebody to bounce ideas off of. My work itself was primarily graphics engines and related technology; I didn't really do much game design -- which was I think was the most important part of Thief. Looking Glass was a very fun place to work. There were a lot of really smart people, and people who had been doing game design since, oh, 1990; as the years progressed we started to actually learn things that worked and didn't work and began to formulate a vocabulary for how to talk about these things. (See, for instance, http://www.gamasutra.com/features/19990716/design_tools_01.htm for an attempt at sharing some of this vocabulary publically.) When I started there were perhaps 30 people total, and the programmers were all really multiclassed programmer/designers. Underworld didn't have any fulltime designers or level designers, which I think is part of why it was such a solid game -- if the designer of a particular level wanted some special bit of code, he could just go code it himself, something we continue to see in IF. But System Shock had full-time (level) designers; games just got bigger and bigger and more specialization was necessary. I don't think any of us programmer/designers ever kept our hands out of the general design broth, but we didn't build levels. By Thief we had three different programmers doing work on different aspects of the graphics engine alone, and the graphics engine was really only a very small part of the codebase. It wasn't all fun and games; we were pressured to try to be financially successful while trying to not deviate from our desire to do intelligent and novel games. This became really hard as the industry became more hits-driven, where the things publishers are looking for are an existing franchise and proven gameplay -- only being interested in a game if it had a reasonable chance to sell a million copies. In a sense I'm glad LGS went out of business before it could ruin its name by releasing games of lower quality. (Whether that would have happened or not is debatable, mind you.) I picked the title "Implementor" for my business card. Sadly, I think only two of my coworkers recognized the meaning. SPAG: What do you make of the fact that you, Dan Schmidt, and Carl Muckenhoupt seem to be the only commercial game developers writing IF on the side, and you were all developers at LGS? SB: I suppose there are others out there, but they're certainly not as visible in the community. We all worked on System Shock, but Carl "Baf" Muckenhoupt left before I arrived, so it's not like we were already our own little clique. I hadn't even connected Baf with the "Carl Muckenhoupt" in the System Shock credits until another Looking Glass alumnus mentioned him to me a couple of months ago. But as to the LGS connection, Looking Glass was known for creating "thinking man's" games and for not just doing the obvious game in a genre. I think this cerebral leaning has a lot in common with both the IF-then of Infocom's heyday and IF today. Several other comparisons to Infocom suggest themselves: LGS' final office space at 100 CambridgePark Drive was in the same office complex in which Infocom had once resided, and most of the early employees at LGS were M.I.T. alumni, as were Infocom's. Mike Dornbrook of ZUG/Infocom fame even worked for a short time at LGS, so I think there may be an extent to which LGS unwittingly inherited a mantle that Infocom had left behind. But then again the three of us are very different people. Dan started developing "For a Change" while working at a company that was doing music-based entertainment software that wasn't very gamelike; I started working on IF while still at Looking Glass, perhaps because I had a game-design itch I wasn't scratching there; and Carl is no longer a commercial game developer (except for some web games), although he's been maintaining "Baf's Guide" basically forever. SPAG: On a more specific level, how did your work on the Thief games influence the thief section of Heroes? How did the challenges of creating these two viewpoints differ, and how were they similar? SB: I originally grabbed 'thief' as a character from D&D -- the same inspiration we drew on for Thief. As I was casting around looking for obstacles to put in the game which would play very differently from different perspectives, I thought of the guards in Thief and realized how I could make them be orderable by the royal and sources of information for the adventurer. From that moment on, I used my memory of Thief when I would visualize my world. I avoided cribbing any specific details -- "taffer" or the Hammers -- and avoided the steampunk details, but my sense of how the architecture would look and how shadows would lie and how the game would play were all driven by Thief. I even considered including patrolling guards you'd have to avoid, but I didn't think it would be effective in a turn-based game. I shouldn't overstate the influence of Thief on the world; I also drew some inspiration from the universes of Glen Cook and Steven Brust. The viewpoint question is tricky since due to specialization and my, erm, unique relationship with Looking Glass during that period, I really had essentially no involvement with Thief's game design at all. Many things are responsible for that viewpoint: the story, the cutscenes, the in-game voiceovers from the character, and what you see in the first-person-perspective itself -- which is mostly the artwork created by artists and the levels designed by the designers. The part I worked on was more like making the movie camera for a movie; it's a crucial part that you never even know is there. I think there is an interesting comparison to be drawn between the two, but I'm not sure I have the experience to do it. In all of my IF works, the player character has been a very specific person with a background, emotional biases, and knowledge that leaks out as you play. In Thief and Terra Nova, you played a very specific character who lived out a very specific story. But in my favorite first-person games, such as Underworld and System Shock, you're much more of an everyman; you have the freedom to play the character in different ways. I think that relates to the difference between text and graphics; the strength of the graphical games is in really dropping *you* into the world, not some fictional character as an intermediary -- whereas the latter works well with text, which can never be as effective about making it seem to be you anyway. But then again it's interesting that *second-person* is really the closest equivalent in text to first person graphics/sound/etc. When you play a first-person game, it's *you* seeing these things and hearing these things. So if I want to give you the same experience through text, I have to use the word *you*. If I say "I" it's just you looking over my shoulder while *I* have the experience. So it's sort of like I'm describing this first-person experience to you from your point of view: "if you were in this world, you would be standing in a field west of a white house, and you'd see a mailbox next to you" -- but without the conditional. Language sets up this barrier -- it's communication from one party to another -- so if we want this "first-person" experience, it has to be told through this communication which encodes that in the second-person. It's very strange. I'm not sure where I'm going with this. SPAG: What was this about your unique relationship with LGS? SB: I quit LGS for around a year, then went back to work, then quit again, then went back to work, then it went out of business before I could quit again. SPAG: Uh, why all the back and forth? SB: Next question? SPAG: I thought the multiple-viewpoints trick in Heroes worked beautifully, but some reviewers expressed disappointment that it existed in such a stock-fantasy setting. Do you agree or disagree with this criticism? SB: I think it's an understandable reaction, but it's also disappointing. The opening of the game plays into some stock fantasy _plot_ cliches that the actual game deviates from, and I knew going in that this was a risk; I just hoped people would see it through a bit further before writing it off. This might be a matter of trusting the author; I suspect some people might have given it more of a chance had it been written by a Plotkin or a Cadre, instead of saying "it's a magic gem plot, it must be lousy". But perhaps not. No matter what, it's still not going to be everyone's cup of tea, and I can't really complain, since I'm totally satisfied with how the game did in the competition. But as to the setting itself, rather than the plot: the setting was necessary so that I could do what I wanted to do. Personally, I'm more interested in Interactivity over Fiction, so in "Heroes" I was trying to focus more on distinguishing the abilities and the ways in which the characters interacted with the world. I think one of the neatest things Infocom did was distinguish their PCs by giving them special abilities--like spellcasting for "Enchanter" and the analysis abilities for the detectives. We don't see too much of that in modern IF -- here and there, like the superhero PC in this year's "Earth & Sky" or the PCs in last year's "Djinni Chronicles" -- and "Heroes" was designed to let me explore variations on it in a single game. And for that, the stock fantasy setting was a great thing. The player goes in with a set of expectations about the characters and can step into them straightforwardly; in terms of their abilities, all of the PCs are written 'with type' -- they can do what you'd expect them to do (although they're skewed in a more grim direction fictionally). Two of the characters (ability-wise) are pulled straight from Infocom, and one is pulled from D&D and/or "Thief: The Dark Project", depending on your perspective. The fourth was chosen simply because "ordering characters around" seemed a good fit for the technology. (The fifth was chosen to annoy Adam Thornton.) And of course the opening question of the game is intended to evoke all sorts of classic RPGs and CRPGs, so stock fantasy (though sans elves and dwarves) was a great fit. SPAG: Heroes is labeled "an interactive vice-tainter." Okay, maybe I'm dense here, but what does that mean? SB: Mmm, well. A vice-tainter is a thing that taints vices, so an interactive vice-tainter is a thing that taints vices interactively, as well as distimming the doshes. Seriously, though, I've gotten tired of coming up with those little labels and I'm leaning towards dispensing with them altogether. I thought "vice-tainter" was nice for giving you some hint of warning that the title "Heroes" was ironic, but really it's just a placeholder I never got around to replacing: an anagram of "interactive". A prominent part of my earlier game "The Weapon" is also an anagram, but nobody's figured that one out, either. SPAG: Ah, that explains it -- anagrams are not my strong suit. Speaking of other games, do you plan to write more IF in the future, and if so, what are you willing to divulge about those plans? SB: Hmm, well, hmm. In the past year I've released two serious games, a minicomp game, two SpeedIFs, and an Aisle "parody". Also during the past year, I wasn't gainfully employed. Since now I'm back to work, and that work is working on games and even getting to do game design on them "professionally", I'm scaling back on IF somewhat. I'm more likely to write IF as a testing ground for game design ideas that might apply to non-IF games than to just try to write a flat-out nice work of IF. I do have some old WIPs I would like to finish sometime, although they're a little less compelling now since I stole some of their ideas for Heroes. One's a game I started for last year's SmoochieComp; another is a multi-character superhero game; and then there's always "A Storm Brought About By A Moth's Flapping Wing", which is the first Inform game I ever started and will probably be the last one I finish, perhaps ten years from now. [And of course at some nearer point I hope to release a shareware CRPG that should appeal to some IF fans as well, but that's more than enough hype at this point in time.] SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite games? SB: My personal favorites were "All Roads" for its twisty story, "Vicious Cycles" for its very clever game design, and "Best of 3" for its verisimilitude. All three of them gave me an envious "I wish I had-thought-of/were-capable-of that!" reaction. "Moments Out of Time" looks like it's a very solid game quite deserving of its score; I'm just not personally a fan of that more open-ended exploration a la "AMFV". In general, the comp was rather disappointing; only two games this year broke a 7.0 average. Even with lower scores, usually there will be games that, overall, aren't that great, but still make me sit up and take notice by doing something right. There were a few this year, like "Fine Tuned", but not enough. And there are often games that are flawed but do something I notice as an author--something I'll say that's a great idea" and I file it away to rip off at some future date, and there didn't seem much of that this year. SPAG: What games did you rip off for Heroes? SB: Well, just speaking of comp games, the gossip was partly inspired by the opening sequence from "Jacks or Better to Murder, Aces to Win" by J.D. Berry. The thief's pocket-system was partly inspired by the little nooks in "Shade" that you went into and out of automatically. "Being Andrew Plotkin", of course, for the gimmick of seeing the same room from multiple POVs. I think the gossipping courtiers were also inspired by "Four in One", come to think of it. SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition entrants? SB: Things to do: 1. Work on a game that *you* would want to play 2. Take responsibility for any path a player might take through it 3. Play to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses (or mask them in gimmicks) Things not to do: 1. Do most of your coding in the last week before the comp 2. Do all beta-testing on comp-submission-deadline day 3. Make your backstory excessively obscured in the hopes that people will expend extra effort to decipher it SPAG: You didn't do any of those last three, did you? SB: Next question? SPAG: You don't mind if I abbreviate your name as "SB" in print, do you? SB: No, that's great. Maybe people will get confused and think you're interviewing Sam Barlow or Stephen Bond, instead. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens
CONVERSATION SYSTEMS IN COMP01: A FEW THOUGHTS The reviews elsewhere in SPAG will doubtless discuss specific gamesí approaches to NPC interaction -- indeed, some reviews Iíve written attempt to do that -- but playing through Comp01 also left me with some more general impressions about conversation systems. Iíll discuss a few games specifically, but Iíll heroically endeavor to avoid spoilers. The inspiration for this essay, I suppose, was the proliferation of TALK TO (without menus) as a conversation option; I was trying to figure out whether and in what circumstances this might actually be a good system, as my initial reaction was more or less that the PC must be really unimaginative if only one thing can come out of his or her mouth at any given time. From there it followed, fairly logically, that, hey, a TALK TO-driven system might be fine if the story youíre trying to tell is so linear, and the cues are so obvious, that the player is unlikely to long for more flexibility. Examples from this yearís comp include Fusillade, very much a train ride with a lot of obvious prompting; there, the player poking under rocks is unlikely to greatly enhance the story, as the main incentive in each scene is to see the very basics of whatís there to see and to move on to the next scene, and so TALK TO works just fine. Itís also worth noting that in most scenes in Fusillade, your characterís motivation is reasonably obvious, so ascribing a specific tone or direction via TALK TO doesnít feel like a great imposition. Jump, similarly, has a fairly obvious trajectory (now that's an unfortunate pun) from the start, and while itís not all that satisfying a trajectory, it does make TALK TO feel less confining (as the player is aware of the confinement and isnít trying all that hard to escape). This is less, or only partly, true for No Time to Squeal, which allows for both TALK TO and ASK/TELL (while noting that the latter is not necessary), appropriate considering the genre and style shifts within the game. A game that took this trend one step further was Prized Possession, whose conversation system was simply TALK, even though there was often more than one character present. The limitedness of the conversational options there may have been deliberate, as the PC was a medieval woman with few freedoms and fewer life options, and arguably she doesnít have a lot of freedom to start ASK/TELLing everyone in sight about whatís on her mind -- but the experience, as IF, was a tad wearing. Conversely, however, in games that allow for some wandering and seem to expect progress to come from clue-gathering more than simply picking up on prompts, something broader -- ASK/TELL, ideally -- is more likely to work. In Beetmongerís Journal, for instance, being able to ASK various characters about stuff you come across or hear about helps advance the game, especially since the game turns on learning about an unfamiliar setting; simply putting words in the playerís mouth would make the PC more knowledgeable than the player, or alternatively would require some very complicated knowledge flagging. Likewise, one of the better aspects of Coast House was being able to interrogate the sole NPC with ASK topics that youíd come across in your explorations, and among Triuneís main strengths is that youíre not pushed down any one path, a feeling which TALK TO would certainly compromise. ASK/TELL was useful in a different sense in Crusade, where most of the humor came from Easter eggs scattered here and there, some of them in conversation; obviously, itís hard to see how you can put Easter-egg lines in NPCsí mouths without ASK/TELL. The counterexample (yes, there really is one) is Kallisti (in which the goal is seduction), where the ASK/TELL process at the beginning rambles on and on with no direction (as far as I could tell, infinitely, as I never got past that scene), and with the NPC apparently acquiescing happily to wildly random non sequiturs. Given that the, um, drift of the game was obvious from the start, the obfuscation did not add much to the game; much better to follow a reasonably defined path than force the player to try to figure out what the author considers a logical approach to seduction. Menus appeared occasionally, sometimes to good effect and sometimes not. In Earth and Sky, the tone of voice in the menu options helped bring out the PCís personality (and, not insignificantly, the conversation options were laugh-out-funny, almost never a bad thing) -- and while other systems can do the same by simply putting actual lines in the PCís mouth, a menu tends to get to the same end faster (as you learn more about the PC when you see the array of things that he or she could, or is willing to, say). Earth and Sky also enabled ASK/TELL and TALK TO, so that thereís a dizzying array of ways to advance the conversation; fortunately, the TALK TO conversational direction is pretty logical, and all of the ASK/TELL topics I could think of were covered. On the other hand, in Volcano Isle, there was only one conversation moment in the whole game, and it was singularly odd -- you essentially have to choose a factual statement about yourself, though it doesnít seem to matter much which you choose. There are quite a few menus in Stick it to the Man, few of which produce particularly interesting conversation, but I suppose interesting is in the eye of the beholder. Menus (triggered by SPEAK TO) also showed up in Shattered Memory, but didn't enhance the experience much, partly because they were mixed indiscriminately with ASK X ABOUT Y, with no obvious clues to which is appropriate at a given time. The strange thing about TALK TO is that the better-implemented the game, the less appropriate TALK TO (as the sole system) often becomes. In All Roads, the depth of the worldbuilding leads the player to want to explore the edges of the scenario, learn more by probing for more information, and TALK TO is essentially a blunt reminder that weíll have none of that. Conversely, when the implementation was shaky or the author wasnít confident that the player would be able to follow what was going on, youíd get NPCs prompting the player to "ask me about" or "tell me about" something in less than graceful ways (The Cruise is an example), and there, particularly when the character in question doesnít have a lot to say anyway, TALK TO might conceivably be appropriate. (Making the connections sufficiently logical that the game doesnít have to prompt the player so blatantly would be even better, of course, but letís not be too picky.) Carma, though well implemented on the whole, suffers from similar problems, as the author left nothing to chance; things that the player should ask about are put in boldface. (Itís not wholly inappropriate, as the gameís idiosyncratic attitude toward punctuation and general surrealism make for hard wavelengths to get on, but the cues do feel clumsy.) An odd counterexample is Fine Tuned, which had all sorts of implementation problems but whose ASK/TELL conversation system worked pretty well; major topics were available and most of what the game seemed to expect you to ask about was fairly intuitive. Finally, a discussion of conversation systems wouldnít be complete without a word about Best of Three, even though itís not entirely a fair comparison, as Best of Three consists entirely of conversation (rather than NPC interactions integrated into a broader storyline). There, the system was a blend of ASK/TELL and menus, in that you can choose the general topic and be given some choices within that topic; not every topic is accounted for, naturally, but most of the logical ones are, and the result is both the flexibility of ASK/TELL and the natural language of menus. Is it realistic to expect a conversation system this powerful to be something other than the point of the game it appears in? Maybe not, but itís a nice thought. I should note, by way of closing, that while my initial impression was that TALK TO and menus were on the rise, the numbers are still stacked dramatically in favor of ASK/TELL (though I havenít done an exact count). Iím not too sad about that, surprise surprise, but beyond that Iím not sure whether it reflects authorsí preferences, authorsí beliefs that players prefer that system, or something else, or simply a general feeling that the sort of games that dominate the comp (simple puzzle games, even after all this time) are best served by that system. As it happens, I think thatís true, though I donít deny that other systems may fit other game styles better. As for the examples of games using multiple systems simultaneously (in the Earth and Sky sense, not the Best of Three sense), I suppose I applaud the sentiment and, in Earth and Skyís case, the execution, but caution that each system needs to be fully adequate to get to the objective; see Shattered Memory. To the extent that this heralds more versatile conversation engines, however, Iím all for it. 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.ifarchive.org/if-archive/magazines/SPAG/ and at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag REVIEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: All Roads AUTHOR: Jon Ingold E-MAIL: ji207 SP@G cam.co.uk DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/AllRoads.z5 VERSION: Release 1 (post-comp release -- version apparently not updated) It's occasionally been said that the diversity of latter-day IF makes it difficult to compare games -- when puzzles are downplayed and setting, story, characterization, etc. are stressed, different games often have very few common measures (other than technical smoothness and writing skill) by which to rate them. Instead, games are judged more and more by how well they were trying to do whatever they were trying to do, and as measuring the success of, say, a horror-oriented game is very different from measuring the success of a sci-fi game, it becomes harder to say in a useful way that any given game is better than another. (Was it always thus? Maybe, but I seem to recall some fairly lively debates, a few years back in r*if, over which Infocom games were the best and worst -- despite Infocom's attempts to explore a broad range of genres.) I bring this up not because I have any idea where Jon Ingold's All Roads stands in the IF pantheon; to the contrary, I have no idea, because while it's certainly an enjoyable game in many respects, I cannot divine what the author was setting out to do. The premise is that -- well, that's the problem. The initial text suggests that you're lying in your bed, then abruptly you're standing on a scaffold, about to be hanged, and a few turns later, just as abruptly, you're tied up in a cellar. From there, things slow down a little, but the general "huh?" aura persists throughout -- you jump around in time and space enough that you're unlikely to follow what's going on until the very end. It doesn't, however, matter much that you don't know what's going on, as the game shepherds you along quite firmly -- you can't get very far off the track at any point, nor is there a way, as far as I can tell, to derail the express by dying or making the game unwinnable. (Well, okay, there's one puzzle, and it's a fairly subtle puzzle, sufficiently so that it's not impossible to bog down -- but other than that things more or less roll along.) The plot itself involves political machinations in a sort of alternate-universe medieval Venice, certainly a good setting for not knowing what's going on, and the game plays that aspect to the hilt -- most of the salient facts, such as who's on what side, remain mysterious throughout, adding to the general bewilderment. At a few points, if you don't supply the needed action, the game gives you progressively less subtle hints, so the course of the story is unlikely to stop very often. The result, at the end of the game, is essentially a very odd short story where you supply much of the protagonist s action but very little of the brainpower. Give All Roads some credit, though -- the player does *do* almost everything in the story, as opposed to watching his friend the player character do things in long chunks of text between prompts (a common failing in story-oriented games). Some of the actions are attributable to unsubtle hints, and there's a little bit of unreliable-narrator trickery, but most of the time the game gets the player sufficiently on the story's wavelength that outright prodding is unnecessary, which is nothing to sneeze at. Simple weirdness or absurdity is fairly trodden IF ground, but this isn't that, exactly -- the point is not, as far as I can tell, simply to be strange and confusing. The underlying logic of it all is obscure, but the actions themselves are reasonably apparent. In a sense, though, that's the problem; there are (at least) two narratives in All Roads, one the ostensible course through the game and another the player's progress toward deciphering the game's central puzzle, namely Why The Whole World's Acting So Weird. The game appears to have decided quite firmly that you will begin to get hints on the latter only toward the end of the game; detective work during most of the story is not only not encouraged, it's pretty much impossible. Some common commands are disabled or even given misleading responses. Yes, there are stray clues here and there, but they don't seem to be in places where the inquiring player would tend to look -- they're more like Easter eggs. The most blatant aspect of this is the conversation system, namely TALK TO, which certainly avoids complications but doesn't leave much freedom. It's not, exactly, that the game will break if your strange time-space-jumping tendencies are aired, because you do air them (after a fashion) in your TALK TO conversations, but the game appears to have made a choice -- rather than letting you, the player, screw things up and get some *** You have died *** equivalent, the game simply prevents you from screwing things up. Does this all matter? Yes and no, in my book. It doesn't make the underlying puzzle any less interesting -- and it is a good puzzle, well worth some thought and some poring over the transcript. For my part, though, the railroaded nature of the game took away some of the satisfaction of figuring out the puzzle, since there was no possibility that I'd make a clever guess and be rewarded, and the giveaways at the end really were outright giveaways. (I might have found the process a bit more rewarding if the solution lay more in going back through the game and trying new stuff, thereby to learn more, and less in the exposition at the end.) Accordingly, it's difficult to judge the game -- as pure story, once understood, it's impressive, and the various pieces come together well. The meta-puzzle of the story isn't quite as successful, though, due to the feeling that the player doesn't really have much of a shot at solving the puzzle, and accordingly the extent to which the game succeeds depends on one's assumptions about what the game sets out to do. Those reservations noted, I should add that I did enjoy All Roads; the complexity and depth of the story it wove landed it the top spot in the comp, and deservedly so. For my part, I gave it a 9. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Cameron Wilkin [originally posted to Usenet on rec.games.int-fiction] TITLE: The Beetmonger's Journal AUTHOR: Scott Starkey E-MAIL: scotto SP@G yekrats.com DATE: October 2001 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/tads/Beet/Beet.gam VERSION: Release 1 One nifty aspect of this game is that the player gets to change perspectives as it progresses. You begin the game as Aubrey Foil, the companion to the famous architect Monsieur Lapot, who is being followed by merciless reporters. You stumble into a cave that turns out to be the tomb of Avielle the great beetmonger. You discover her journal and begin to translate it, at which point you become Avielle and essentially write the journal on the fly. As Avielle you attempt to thwart the plans of Prince Radiant, who is turning the populace against beetmongerism. There's definitely a lot going for this game. It's well written, and its dead-serious treatment of a conflict between the general populace and the secret order of beetmongers made for an amusing atmosphere. The treatment of perspective in the game is interesting as well. You start the game as Aubrey, but all your commands influence what Lapot does, and the game responds with Aubrey's interpretation of what happens. Avielle's section is in the past tense, so it seems that what you do is simply what is recorded in the journal Lapot is translating. Those are very nice touches. The game does have a branching story line as well. You can attempt to make a peaceful or a violent solution with the Prince, and that leads to entirely different sections of the game, with different puzzles. I only played through the violent section, so I can't comment on the other, but the fact that the plot branches is a big plus. There are a few drawbacks as well. The author made some odd design choices. At the beginning there is an "instant death" room. Although the game warns you against going there, it just seems unnecessary. It would've been better if it were just an empty room. Also, the map layout was confusing. If you go north from the west concourse, you'll reach the main square. If you go south from the main square, you'll reach the war memorial. I really hated this part. It seems illogical and made me get lost quite frequently. I was never able to build a good picture of my surroundings because of this. There were a couple of bugs too, (you can't show colleen the flags), and there was a lot of scenery you can't refer to (such as the war games). None of this is game breaking, but it's certainly annoying. Also, a lot of the game failed to instill me with a sense of purpose. After hearing the prince's speech and talking to colleen, I had no idea what to do. I had to run to the walkthrough just to find out what the game wanted me to do. Despite these flaws, I enjoyed playing through this game. It has a fun story line. The puzzles (once you figure out what they are) are, for the most part, rather simplistic, but I like them that way. Nothing exceptional, but still quite fun. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Best of Three AUTHOR: Emily Short E-MAIL: emshort SP@G mindspring.com DATE: 2001 PARSER: Glulx Inform standard SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/glulx/Bestof3/Bestof3.blb VERSION: Release 1 I wrote a while back that Emily Short's Galatea had "moved the goalposts" with respect to conversation in IF, and while I think that was true -- and that subsequent Emily efforts did the same -- much of the focus has been on the format: the blending of ASK/TELL with menus and such. Emily's experiments with format are worth noting, but the content of the conversations bears notice as well -- the games not only make it possible to have interesting conversations, they actually have interesting conversations, and Best of Three, the latest effort, is, in my view, no exception. The premise is both simple and too complex to explain concisely: you encounter an old flame of the unrequited variety, first by chance in the street and then less by chance in a coffeeshop, and repartee of various sorts ensues -- you discuss the past and present, literature, music, and embark on various abstract philosophical digressions as well. The format is the same blend of ASK/TELL and menus that appeared in Pytho's Mask: you have a variety of lines to try on any one topic, but you can also heave a topic entirely and choose to discuss, say, hockey with >TOPIC HOCKEY or >T HOCKEY, and if you have anything to say about hockey, you'll have some menu options. There are some recent innovations as well -- if you've tried some topics that don't turn up anything and you want to go back to the last menu, UNTOPIC sends you back there, and THINK ABOUT doesn't produce any spoken output but occasionally yields something you might want to talk about. The effect, as should be obvious, is to afford flexibility both macro and micro -- you have the ability to ditch an apparently unfruitful topic and start a new one, but also the ability to say a variety of approaches to discussing any one topic. If there's a drawback, it's that you can get a conversation that veers wildly from topic to topic with no apparent discomfort from the NPC, and Best of Three particularly suffers in this regard -- in fact, the menu options that Best of Three prompts the player with often seem to represent major non sequiturs. Still, considering the state of NPC interaction before Emily Short made her contribution, veery conversations seem a venial sin. Most of the negative reaction to Best of Three has focused on the main NPC; people find him an insufferable twit or some variant, or just find talking with him boring. There, I suppose, the player's MMV, but there are also moments where the NPC acknowledges the limits and shallowness of his understanding (particularly with regard to music), which aren't really consistent with a simple portrayal of a self-centered know-it-all. Moreover, I feel compelled to point out that there aren't many NPCs in the annals of IF that were sufficiently developed for the player to actually dislike. There have been annoying NPCs, to be sure, but the aversion to this one doesn't characterize him as annoying -- he's pompous, self-centered, supercilious, or other such things, and creating a character that elicits those reactions is not simple. I'm reminded of an NPC that got a similar reaction from one reviewer, namely Bob of Brent van Fossen's She's Got a Thing for a Spring, the mountain-cabin dweller with responses for anything; Andrew Plotkin noted that he wanted to throw a brick at Bob's head. As Bob was pretty much the pre-Short NPC gold standard, it's not a bad precedent. For my part, I didn't dislike him, exactly -- a few responses struck me as irritatingly self-justifying, and some of his opinions seemed a little sweeping, but listening to him wasn't a chore. (This may be because I went to school with the author and hence know not a few people that resemble Grant -- and, perhaps inevitably, have had not a few conversations that resemble this one -- and by personal taste I don't mind hanging around with someone with too many opinions who's too apt to drop literary references.) His patter is also leavened by a few measures of wit -- not one-liners as much as amusing phrasings, comic exaggerations, and such -- and I suspect I have a hard time really disliking people I find witty. One example, from the prologue, after the NPC concludes that the PC has made him lose his pen: "The karmic repercussions will be severe. Expect to live your next life as a dung beetle." Afterwards, after the NPC takes the PC's pen and then returns it: "All week my conscience has been haunted by the vision of you crouched in a garret writing with a lumpy Bic." I can see why people might find this pompous, but I took it more as mock-pompous, and I'm fairly sure it was intended that way. (The wit is not, of course, limited to the NPC's lines. One of my favorite bits was this: "His whole body scrunches tighter in on itself, as though he were an anemone and you a five-year-old with a pointy stick." Not particularly funny without "pointy," hilarious with it.) Er, what's that, Paul? Write about the game, not about my personal tastes? Oh, okay. As Best of Three consists entirely of conversation, the conversation needs to be compelling for the game to work -- and while it's difficult to write a conversation that every player would find compelling, Best of Three gives it a pretty good try. As noted, the PC and the NPC have a shared past to explore, but they also have individual (and highly unusual) family lives to explain, and all of the conversations tie together reasonably well, despite the veering mentioned earlier. For example: at one point, the NPC mentions his dislike of Dostoevsky, and when the PC presses him on why, he grumbles about how "everyone's emotions run over like a vat of boiling borscht poured into a thimble," both an amusing image and (implicitly) a comment on an event in the PC's and NPC's past. (There's also a dash of self-reference a moment later, when the NPC complains about a lack of "narrative momentum, just people sitting around spewing out ideas," which could certainly be said of Best of Three.) At another point, the NPC remarks of a teacher that made a melodramatic display that "in a peculiar way you have to admire someone who is willing to risk a little ridicule," again a veiled reference to past episodes. (In this case, a negative reference, as the PC doesn't appear to have been willing to risk such ridicule.) And there's another occasion where the PC refers to the lack of communication in her family and describes a dancing-around-the-subject process that mirrors in some respects the game itself. The conversation is not, in short, aimless, even though it covers a lot of ground. It should also be noted that the nature of the conversation is far from fixed -- the PC can handle the interaction in more than one way -- so if the player doesn't care for the NPC and isn't interested in playing along, why, there's no need. True, such an approach doesn't reach what the game seems to consider an optimal ending, but you can't have everything. I don't want to exaggerate this feature -- to an extent, different approaches to the conversation tend to lead to the same elements in a different order, or most of the same elements with perhaps a few missing -- but there is the option to take an unsympathetic view of the whole thing. As implied in the Dostoevsky comment, however, Best of Three needs more narrative pace to genuinely work as a game -- it's more a series of conversational vignettes, some more illuminating than others, that eventually lead around to where you want to go, and the whole thing ends pretty abruptly thereafter. The obvious contrast is with Galatea, where the NPC's psychology, and the difficulty of getting her to open up, gave the story a trajectory of sorts; here, getting the NPC to open up is, shall we say, not a problem. The problem that arose in Galatea (from the author's perspective, anyway) is that seasoned IFers tended to regard the game as a puzzle -- get the Right Ending and Hear the Roar of the Crowd -- which, it's safe to say, wasn't quite the idea. Best of Three certainly avoids that pitfall, but as a consequence it also forfeits some of the involvement the player had with the story in Galatea. It's also true, of course, that there were more conversational options in Galatea, and it was less obvious that you'd run out of things to say on a given topic, as there was no menu system. The challenge, though, is to maintain a storyline that goes somewhere -- in Best of Three, the fluidity with which the subject changes means that there's not much of a feeling that any given topic is inaccessible at any moment -- while avoiding the feeling of goal-orientedness that has long reduced NPCs to locked doors. If Emily isn't there yet, she's a whole lot closer than anyone else. For myself, I enjoyed Best of Three, and it's probably not quite fair to say that its reach exceeds its grasp -- it doesn't purport to be anything more than a complex, meandering conversation, and on that level it works fine. It may not be the apotheosis of NPC interaction in IF, but it's not a bad effort, and it got an 8 from me in this year's competition. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Suzanne Britton TITLE: Carma AUTHOR: Marnie Parker E-MAIL: doeadeer3 SP@G aol.com DATE: October 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/glulx/carma/carma.blb VERSION: Release 1 Well, that was a rousing adventure. I refer, of course, to the adventure of getting "Carma" to work on my Linux system. But an hour, 4 source packages, and 2 patches later, I was all set for the full multimedia experience. Hooray! Many thanks to Marnie for giving detailed system-specific advice in terps.txt, so I didn't have to break down and boot into Windows. It was well worth the effort: the graphics, sound effects and music in Carma are absolutely delightful. In particular, the Perry Mason shtick with the jarring chords had me roaring. And if I could stop my evaluation at that, I'd give this entry a 10. Unfortunately, I found little enjoyment in Carma outside of the whizzbang multimedia, and I guess I'm still old-fashioned enough to feel that that's missing the point of Interactive Fiction. The biggest problem was simply the *lack* of interactivity: I felt like I was spending over half my time in cut scenes (note to authors: please make cut scenes skippable!), and the interactive parts were not well-fleshed out. The "strike" scene was particularly tedious--interview X, ask X about X, ask X about sign, ask X about demands, repeat N times. By the time I got to the courtroom scene, the whole thing was growing tiresome, although I perked up a bit at the highly-amusing Perry Mason spoof. This brings up Carma's other major weakness: punctuation, however you slice it (splice it?), just isn't exciting enough a subject to carry one through a mid-sized IF game, not even for other would-be writers. It would have done better as a shorter piece. The programming was competent, and if nothing else, this makes for a great glk/glulx demo. And on a final positive note, I loved the ending. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Emily Short TITLE: The Coast House AUTHOR: Stephen Newton and Dan Newton E-MAIL: snewton SP@G sj.znet.com and hackmusik SP@G earthlink.net DATE: October 2001 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/tads/coast/coast.gam VERSION: 1.0 Almost as bad as no lead-in is too much lead-in. Worse yet is if the wodges of text come larded with misused words and misplaced apostrophes. For instance, we learn at the beginning of this game, amid a great deal of family history and implied mystery, that grandpa felt "little remorse" at grandma's funeral; but remorse would only be suitable, really, if he'd offed the old biddy himself (surely not!). The whole of the game is flawed in similar ways: misused words, abused apostrophes, simple game-design carelessness. Descriptive sections include such things as: You see the first photograph, the second photograph, the third photograph, and the fourth photograph here. Why not label them as to content, or introduce them more subtly? I think I detect, in many places in this game, indications that the authors are relatively new to TADS, and that they are comfortable doing the straightforward tasks but uncertain about the customizing nuances that smooth over awkward bits. The puzzles are also generally not very exciting, and mostly consist of finding things and applying them, without that much by way of reward offered for diligence. My strongest puzzle-related memory from this game is that I drove myself crazy trying to get into a certain section which was sort of but not entirely off-limits: I could enter it, but a timed sequence of events would drive me out again. There was, of course, a solution to this, but I didn't know enough about the game to know for certain that the solution wasn't to be found *inside* the area that I kept being forced out of. So I made many frustratingly brief exploratory missions before I finally gave up, consulted the walkthrough, and discovered that the correct way of dealing with the problem lay somewhere else entirely in an area I was not yet aware of. I would complain even more strenuously if the game design *had* necessitated repeated trips into the semi-restricted area; as it was, it was just my own stubbornness and failure to explore another puzzle adequately that had me rushing back in there over and over. But I still don't particularly care for this effect, I'm afraid. Story and atmosphere were likewise mostly unexceptional, with a few standout bits. Some of the most endearing features were things that I assume are accurate observations of the real coast house on which this is modelled. I ordinarily don't care for real-life details when said real-life details are, e.g., a careful implementation of your television and VCR: I know how those behave and derive no joy from manipulating them in virtual form. Perhaps what sets this apart from other implementations of well-known places is that I have not, in fact, ever spent that much time at a vacation house like this one, so it struck me as peculiar and intriguing. I was oddly touched by the Piggly Wiggly bag. The backstory itself, as finally revealed, seemed tonally out of place, or at least to belong to a different mood from the rest of the game. Summary: An unambitious little game with some nice atmospheric touches, lacking a lot in surface polish. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Emily Short TITLE: Earth And Sky AUTHOR: Paul O'Brian E-MAIL: obrian SP@G colorado.edu DATE: October 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/eas/eas.z5 VERSION: Release 1 This game is too short. It's billing itself as a prelude to something longer, and that's great, but I felt as though I had just really gotten revved up when... it ended. Which was a pity, because I was enjoying this: it's upbeat and chipper and fun, a superhero game with a gentle sense of humor and not too much pressure about Saving the Universe. It gives you cool powers, and it doesn't take itself too seriously. We've seen superhero IF before, but frankly, it's so entertaining that we can easily afford to see more. Earth and Sky begins by establishing backstory about the protagonist and her brother, in which we find out that their parents are missing; presumably this provides the plot arc for the series of games of which this is Game 1. But the game doesn't really dwell particularly on that. I was struck by the contrast with Heroine's Mantle, another superhero game whose premise begins with the vanishing of parents and the introduction of powers: where Heroine was sprawling, dramatic, emotional, and rough-edged in many aspects of its game play, this was a meticulously crafted and entirely lighthearted production. Let me dwell for a moment on that "meticulously crafted" bit. It's obvious that a great deal of care went into making this game intuitively interactive. Several conversation systems are provided, so that the player is free to take whatever approach he likes: this is novel, and possibly overkill, but it expresses a good faith intention to put the control fully into the player's hands. More impressively, perhaps, the game accounts for a wide variety of behavior on the player's part. I don't wish to spoil the game, and it is so small that any portion of it, even the very beginning, is perhaps off-limits, so suffice it to say that there is an opening scene with a number of things to tinker with. A less ambitious game would take steps to make sure that the player tinkered with them in the right order; a less well-programmed one would allow all the variations, but then fail to take them into account in the subsequent stages of the scenario. As it was, I found no flaws. After I played the first time, I went back and tried a number of different configurations of the first scene, and the NPC always reacted appropriately, no matter what I turned out to have done when he showed up. Speaking of the NPC, I'm not sure how I feel about the menus. The game offers you the opportunity to converse via conversation menus, and these menus contain numerous quips. This is fine, even commendable, except that frequently the quips were merely slightly nuanced variations of the same thing and that the choice of one or another doesn't seem to have affected the NPC especially strongly. There are also perhaps too many. I find, in general, that I don't like conversation menus to contain more entries than I can keep in my head all at once; it is perhaps a testimony to my pea-sized brain that this number tends to be four or five at its upper limit (with some variation allowed depending on how complex and lengthy the remarks are.) This is because, when I am playing a game with conversation menus, I regard the menu as representing the contents of the PC's head: as though the author said, Here are the things that immediately pop to mind in response. In a typical conversation I may have several things in mind that would be viable to say; I don't have a dozen at a time. That's a fairly minor quibble, however, and the fact that I reacted to it at all says more about my own interests and the things I pay attention to in a game. Summary: cool, fun, and promising of more to come. One of my favorites of the competition. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Stephen Bond [originally posted to Usenet on rec.games.int-fiction] TITLE: Film At Eleven AUTHOR: Bowen Greenwood E-MAIL: greenwood SP@G lvcm.com DATE: October 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/eleven/eleven.z5 VERSION: Release 1 This game is apparently inspired by I-0, so the first time I played it I spent the whole time doing I-0 type things: I stripped off everywhere and waited to see how people would react. But the reactions were somehow disappointing, and the descriptions were somehow disappointing, and I felt a bit let down. I got the same feeling I get when reading Terry Pratchett -- all very light-hearted, and the author is having a good time, and the characters are having a good time, and everyone involved is having a good time, and... I'm not, really. One difference between this and I-0 is that the latter is much more richly described and imagined. To take a concrete example, I-0 gives me a very good picture of what Tracey Valencia's breasts look like. The description of Betty Byline's boobs, on the other hand, is "You've never had any complaints about them", which is so vague that she might as well be wearing five woolen sweaters. Does "You've never had any complaints about them" conjure up images in anyone's mind? No. And it's not that I'm only slavering after good descriptions of T&A: a lot of the writing here is similarly unevocative. I-0 it ain't. The second time I played, however, I tried to appreciate Film at Eleven on its own terms, and I found it a lot more likeable. In fact I found the whole thing rather sweet and endearing. I liked the PC and her infectious enthusiasm, I liked the quirky small-town inhabitants, and I liked the friendly, gently chiding voice that was narrating. There's nothing particularly memorable here, but Eleven makes a pleasant enough way to pass an hour or two. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: The Gostak AUTHOR: Carl Muckenhoupt E-MAIL: carl SP@G wurb.com DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform-based, with some rewriting SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/gostak/gostak.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Dan Schmidt's For a Change, a 1999 competition entry, had one of IF's most memorable beginnings: "The sun is gone. It must be brought. You have a rock." That signaled some linguistic quirkiness, and sure enough, the ensuing game featured a variety of e.e.cummingsesque innovations, though it was comprehensible with a bit of effort. Carl Muckenhoupt's The Gostak goes For a Change one better: Finally, here you are. At the delcot of tondam, where doshes deave. But the doshery lutt is crenned with glauds. Glauds! How rorm it would be to pell back to the bewl and distunk them, distunk the whole delcot, let the drokes discren them. But you are the gostak. The gostak distims the doshes. And no glaud will vorl them from you. For those who didn't know what was coming from the title itself -- which refers to an old linguistic in-joke -- this is more than a little disconcerting, all the more so when familiar commands like LOOK and INVENTORY elicit "That's not a dape I recognise." (The trick is somewhat similar to the language puzzle in Lucian Smith's The Edifice, where you needed to communicate something in an unfamiliar language where even the pronouns were unknown; here, while the communication problem is much broader, the syntax and word order are familiar and pronouns, prepositions (mostly), conjunctions, articles, and such are all English.) The HELP equivalent (JALLON) gives a list of basic commands, though they're unlikely to be particularly helpful to the IFer who isn't familiar with the basic IF help menu -- the only commands that are familiar are things like QUIT, SAVE, RESTORE, UNDO, and such, and the unfamiliar commands themselves are explained in the same language. Never fear, though -- there are Invisiclue-style hints! (Just follow the menu option for "brolges.") Here's one of the hints on the topic "The tophthed curple": "If only it wasn't tophthed, you could pell in there without being glaked. What can you do about the tophthage?" The net effect is that The Gostak has some pretty severe barriers to entry, so to speak -- the initial 50-100 moves or so are apt to be a painful slog while the player attempts to compile a basic glossary, takes cryptic notes, gets mocked by the parser (>LEIL WARB: "That's unleilable"), and starts to think that Colossal Cave had the right idea. It gets less frustrating, but the learning curve doesn't level off much -- unfamiliar words just keep coming, and there isn't really a point when you simply know all you need to know. The game ups the ante by doing its damnedest to keep many of its words from having any English referent at all (this is the linguistic joke, as detailed at http://www.kith.org/logos/words/lower2/ggostak.html), and while you can choose to assign them referents of your own devising, you can't assume that the game will follow along with the implications. (You might decide that a particular noun means, say, "water," and later decide that a certain adjective means "wet," and then belatedly discovered that your water isn't wet -- because the game doesn't agree that those words have the relation you've assigned.) Beyond that, the puzzle-solving in the game often turns into a scavenger hunt -- you're faced with a creature that has an unfamiliar adjective, say, so you go hunting around aimlessly for something that has a similar adjective. There's a helpful character that might explain what the adjective means, to be sure, but he (it) more often than not explains it using two or three more terms that you don't understand. The effect is occasionally like a game with a million locked doors and a million keys in which the puzzle-solving consists of trying each key in each door; the no-referents trick becomes more of a curse than a blessing. (The problem is exacerbated by a certain object that can produce eight more objects, each with a largely opaque adjective, which heighten the combinatorial problem.) Is all this a Good Thing? Well, it's a certainly a creative thing, and it's done intelligently. Not only do most words lack obvious referents, but familiar words have unfamiliar syntaxes -- or words that you think you've pigeonholed as just like a certain English word turn out to have unexpected connotations or uses. In effect, the game's language works like a real second language, with different assumptions about what concepts go together or how to visualize a certain action, rather than simply tracking English. Quite apart from the technical feat of reworking the Inform parser into an alien tongue, which must have been wearisome, convincing the game to respond sensibly to every verb in every context (which, as far as I can tell, it does) is not a trivial accomplishment. The problem, though, is that I'm not sure the annual competition was the forum where The Gostak was most likely to be appreciated, mostly because of the two-hour rule. Now, it's true that competition judges don't have to finish a game within the allotted two hours, and it's also true that many well-regarded competition entries have been on the long side, and it's also true that you don't need to reach the end of The Gostak to appreciate it. But the two-hour rule does not breed patience, and The Gostak is unlikely to be appreciated by an impatient player. When a judge spends the bulk of the two hours fumbling around and trying to master basic vocabulary, he or she is unlikely to rate the game highly except for pure strength of concept. As it happens, that was enough for me, but not everyone is endlessly fascinated by linguistic wizardry of this sort. The end result was that the scores for The Gostak were almost evenly distributed across the scale -- which surprised me a bit, as I expected a large pileup of scores at the two extremes from some players who were frustrated by the whole thing and others who like this sort of thing. I don't know how much the scores mattered to the author -- my guess is not much -- but even disregarding the scores, I think this sort of thing is better appreciated without a ticking clock. Part of this is that comp entries have gotten shorter in recent years -- in the early days of the comp, it was routine for entries to push the two-hour mark, but lately it's become uncommon -- and hence attention spans may have become shorter; it's certainly an adjustment to play through several games that can be adequately appreciated in under half an hour and then hit The Gostak. All that said, there's something entertainingly goofy about the playing experience that makes up for the frustration. Being told, when you try something useless, that "that wouldn't do anything heamy," or hearing an overprotective character cry "My doshes! All my martle doshes!", or learning that a character who looks you over and is amused "tunks you and smarches" -- I dunno. Well-chosen words, I guess. But I found the game a pleasure to read quite apart from the pleasure of deciphering, and I found I enjoyed the thing most when I assigned a word its rough contours (establishing that a given noun was alive and ate things, say, or establishing that a verb was transitive and caused certain nouns to leave the vicinity) but didn't try to pin it down precisely. Of course, getting somewhere in the game required a little more than that, and there's only so much pure exploration to do, but there's still a whimsical feel to the responses that makes the game more than the sum of its crytographical parts. It's a tribute to the thoroughness of the implementation that the world you inhabit begins to take on some personality; obstacles and helpers don't just serve their functions, they also have connotations, associations -- this one is faintly ludicrous, that one is vaguely chummy, another one is not very bright but trusting -- that suggest that the world-creation effort did not, by any stretch, stop with the bare minimum. Reactions to most IF differ widely, and more so with The Gostak than with most -- but despite the frustration of the puzzle-solving, I was drawn in by the premise and the thoroughness and complexity of the language-building, and I gave it a 7 in this year's competition. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Eytan Zweig TITLE: Heroes AUTHOR: Sean Barrett EMAIL: buzzard SP@G nothings.org DATE: Oct 1st 2001 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/heroes/heroes.z5 VERSION: Release 1 "Heroes" is a game with a gimmick, which is obvious the moment you start it up -- you have a choice of playing the game as one of five very different characters. The characters are standard fantasy fare, though two of them (the dragon and the king) are not often cast as the protagonist in fantasy games. The setting and goal for each character is the same -- the stories are mutually incompatible, since everyone is doing the same thing, though in vastly different ways. And in each of the stories, you get a small hint of the backstory, which leads you towards discovering what is really going on. In order to reach the final scene of the game, you must play through each of the characters. There is much that is good about "Heroes" -- much that is very good. Each location has a totally different description for each character, based on their unique outlook, all well-written. And not only the scenery but also the game objects are different -- guards that know the adventurer by name are just a nameless obstacle to everyone else; a crate that the thief can climb on goes totally unnoticed by the enchanter. Also, the setting is of a perfect size - a large enough collection of areas to be interesting and not feel too cramped, small enough so that no one can get lost. While they are not of uniform quality (more or this below), the different stories are mostly interesting -- especially the well-rounded adventurer and the destructive dragon. And the programming is very good as well -- I didn't notice a single bug, and a second version is out now to fix those that were found. However, despite all that, "Heroes" is far from a perfect game. Some of the stories aren't as interesting as the others -- the Enchanter is rather easy, his spells conveniently suited for the task; there was no place where I really had to think about how to proceed. Of course, easiness isn't bad, but compared to the other stories, it felt contrived. The king was confusing, with too many random things happening at each spot. A worse problem derived from the recycling of locations -- especially the shop, which combined so many functions it seemed totally contrived. Also, some of the obstacles felt TOO easy -- once you finish the game you realize that some of these are motivated, but some are not -- would a magic shop's defenses really be so easy to overcome by a use of simple spells? Also, several logical solutions to some of the problems simply weren't implemented, but this was a minor problem, since once one solution failed it was usually quite clear what would work; no guess-the-verb puzzles here. But the main problem of "Heroes" isn't any of these relatively minor nitpicks -- the main problem, just like the game's main strength, is derived from the overall structure. With five characters all doing the same thing in the same locations, the game simply becomes boring after a while. I found myself resorting to a walkthrough for the last three characters -- not because I couldn't solve the game myself, but because I couldn't be bothered. I wanted to see how certain things worked out, but I had had enough of the setting and the story by that point. Also, the backstory that is slowly revealed didn't work very well -- a lot of it is left unsaid, and it is not always clear what is meant by what is said. This is worst for the dragon, as it is not at all clear how he got involved in these actions (was he too an adventurer once? If so, how come he knows so little about humans?). And the finale is very unsatisfying, partially explaining what's going on, but at the same time opening many more questions that should be explained. Anyone who goes through the entire scenario five times deserves more. But don't let my criticism fool you into thinking it's a bad game. It's a good game, but one that over-reaches -- if it wouldn't have tried to make the player go through all five possibilities, but instead just offered them as alternates, it would have worked much better. And I'd advise anyone who tries it to take it that way -- play the game in your one or two favorite flavors, ignoring the rest. That way, you'll be playing a solid, enjoyable game, that someone worked extra-hard on to provide additional paths to, but you don't need to work extra hard just to see them. I only played this game after the comp was over, but if I had played it in time, I would have given it an 8. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Duncan Stevens Sean Barrett's Heroes is a nicely done implementation of a clever and long-awaited idea -- multiple PCs within the same game, between which the player can switch at will. As proof of concept, it works just fine; as a game, it works slightly less well, as the game makes some unfortunate choices that obscure its most interesting features. The game bills itself "a most traditional CRPG experience," ironic on several levels. For one thing, the game has no RPG features besides the multiple player roles; itís true that the setting and general plot appear to be very RPG and stock fantasy -- a dragon's gem, a nasty warlord-type fellow, a quasi-medieval milieu, large dollops of magic, and other such familiar elements -- but the multiple-PC angle adds a good deal. For example, progress for some of the character depends on knowledge that the other characters have -- sometimes in minor ways, as in itís hard to know where youíre going when youíre one of the characters unless you already know the landscape, and sometimes in more major ways. Some characters have an obvious motivation to go to a certain place; others have no such motivation, but the playerís knowledge that useful objects (for that character) are there replaces that motivation. Thatís interesting in itself, though Iím not sure I call it a triumph of game design, as the game does tell you (in the walkthrough) that you can play the parts in any order. (It mentions that some roles may help you understand the others, yes, but thatís not much help.) The plot involves a certain object that you want to steal, except that there are no less than five of you -- four of you appear to be erstwhile members of a band whose exact purpose (besides general heroism) is fuzzy but which apparently was the bÍte noire of the warlord presently in power. As such, my first assumption was that the five PCs are working together, which, it turns out, is not the case -- theyíre all working toward the same goal, but theyíre not trying to help each other. In fact, only one of them can be considered to exist, in the gameís timeline -- itís not as if you can come across an object as character 1, using your special skills, and surreptitiously pass it to character 2, who has the power to use it. (If that aspect were realized, it really would be CRPG-esque, or at least closer.) Perhaps no one expected this but me, but I spent quite a while wondering when my various compatriots would show up. At any rate, you see essentially the same scenery five times, through five different pairs of eyes, each of which sees what matters most to it and characterizes the setting in ways that might be expected of that particular character. The plot sounds, and in many respects is, pure conventional fantasy; three of the characters are an adventurer, an enchanter, and a thief, who do pretty much what youíd expect. The only elements saving the main story from utter conventionality are the "royalty" character, who accomplishes his or her goal by ordering underlings around, and the "dragon" character, who achieves the desired result much more directly than its human counterparts. (Suffice it to say that "smash" and "burn" are key verbs.) The royal character is followed around by a mob of hangers-on who produce dialogue like this (apparently created by a random patter generator akin to that of Jacks Or Better...): "Baronet Pom says to Knight Thannishessolf, 'Did you hear? Lady Lalla was with Lady Reloppimmib behind the throne in the palace, and they were having a disagreement with Baronet Jurzad!'" This sort of thing palls after a while, but it did keep me amused -- and the notion of accomplishing an adventurerís objective by stomping around with a huge entourage is pretty funny in itself. The dragon is even funnier -- it speaks in first person plural, past tense, which makes it sound oddly grandiloquent, and whenever a human shows up, you get something like this: "We heard shrieks from a man-thing, ĎWuthe-elistha-migodisa-drakin. Dran-dran-dran.í" The dragon has an entertainingly contemptuous view of human affairs -- it remarks about a garden, for instance, that "we perceived fresh plants in a location inappropriate to their origins, with insufficient bare earth." The writing, here and elsewhere, sustains the game and retains the interest of a player who might not necessarily care to keep plowing through a stock fantasy game. Whatís odd, then, is that Heroes isnít really conventional fantasy at all -- at least, thereís a twist that pulls it out of the realm of the archetypal fantasy quest -- and yet the game hides its creativity under a bushel basket, so to speak. Not only is it not apparent until the end that something more might be going on, itís far from clear even then; the clues are so evanescent that the player could easily dismiss them as just an attempt to be vaguely enigmatic. (For my own part, Iím not sure I would have been able to put it all together without some helpful ifMUD input.) This layeredness is not, of course, a bad thing, and it worked in another Comp01 entry, Jon Ingoldís All Roads -- but there the meta-puzzle of the game was right on the surface, and the player couldnít very well ignore if he or she wanted to gain even the most superficial understanding of the game. Here, superficial understandings are in ample supply, and the prodding to probe deeper is a touch too gentle. (If nothing else, however, it became apparent why the collaboration I was expecting didnít happen, as there are nudges in the direction of the larger plot at the end of each chapter.) The deeper problem, obviously, is that apparent stock fantasy is a turnoff for many players, and even the multiple-PCs hook isnít necessarily enough to overcome that; if the tugs at your consciousness, so to speak, hinting that you may be missing something were a little more pronounced, the fantasy-haters among us might be given pause. The other problem is that the puzzles themselves, quite apart from the framing puzzle, are pretty difficult and require some obscure connections (or connections that are only supplied to the other characters, multiplying by five the usual poke-around-and-pick-up-clues problem). Not only is it occasionally not apparent why you want to do something, itís not apparent how to do it either -- and while puzzles are usually bearable if you have either the why or the how, having neither makes things rough. Adding to the difficulty is an ample supply of red herrings--some are irrelevant to everything, and most simply arenít relevant to any particular character, but with so many apparently useful objects to choose from, getting inside the authorís head is often a challenge. Technically and artistically, Heroes succeeds admirably; the few bugs in the competition release appear to have been cleaned up, and the POV-shift is nicely done. The game does commit some design sins, but I appreciated the artistry of the multiple perspectives and the layered plot sufficiently that I gave it an 8 in this yearís competition. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Moments Out of Time AUTHOR: L. Ross Raszewski E-MAIL: rraszews SP@G hotmail.com DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform standard (with modifications) SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters (some better than others) AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/moments/moments.z6 VERSION: Release 1 L. Ross Raszewski's Moments Out of Time works almost despite itself; it appears to promise one thing and delivers another, does a whole bunch of things wrong on the game design front, and is almost certain to have an anticlimactic ending. And yet, for all that, it won my heart with the depth of its implementation and the imaginativeness of its worldbuilding, and I simply couldn't bring myself to dislike it. What's going on? That's a long, complicated question, and primary among the aforementioned game design sins is that it takes a long time to figure it out. It turns out that you're a researcher for some sort of futuristic lab that's developed a time-travel device, and you're going back into the past to poke around and learn what you can learn. This, however, is how your mission is described: Clearance granted for immediate StreamDive. Target is local grid reference 0x1549. Temporal Reference 785278.7 UDC. We will be in phase for StreamDive at 865741.3 UDC. Dive duration not to exceed .5 units UDC (12 hours local time). Stream Capacitance field will be set for auto-recall at this time. Research unit indicates high levels of stream distortion in this zone, indicating that premature extraction may not be possible. Mission Summary: The purpose of your StreamDive is historical research. We have isolated an evacuated area to minimize potential corruption. You are to record all findings, but avoid direct contact with any inhabitants. Records from this zone are fragmentary, so any documents of historical interest should be added to your DataStore. This is called "leaving the player with more questions than answers" -- what's a StreamDive? what's stream distortion? how am I supposed to record all findings? what's my DataStore? and who am I and what am I doing and why? -- and while the questions do get answered, the immediate effect is along the lines of "start taking notes NOW," not the best hook. The description above certainly gets points for having the feel of real scientific gobbledygook, but I'd have traded that for a little more accessibility. Worse, however, is what follows--it seems that in your delve into the past, you can take only a limited number of tools that will help you delve into what you find (one tool that scans for anomalies, another that makes a map, another that allows interfacing with electronic devices, etc.), and you have to choose which you want to take based on, er, not much besides your own intuitions. As in, you don't know much about what's coming, and you don't know how the interactions work, and you don't even know what the game considers important (more on this later), and frankly it's a peculiar game design choice (especially because it's easy to make choices that will severely limit your interaction potential). It's all the more perplexing because there's no inherent reason that I can see why the game had to limit your tool-carrying capacity -- it certainly enhances the replay potential, since it's impossible (or nearly so) to experience everything in the game with only one set of tools, but the tradeoff is likely to be frustration when the player realizes that his options are severely curtailed at move 300 because of a choice he made on move 5. Once the exploration starts, more problems arise. One of the game's most important locations is made inaccessible fairly early on by an unforeseeable event (one that's so reminiscent of a similar device in Zork III that I took it as an homage), necessitating that the player either do what's needed in that area beforehand or prevent the blocking off by being on the spot at the right time with, suffice it to say, a rather incongruous action (necessitating a certain tool, of course). There are umpteen locked doors, each with its own key hidden in a strange and unexpected place, and while there's a tool that helps get around that problem, without that tool progress is slowed considerably. And while you eventually get a feel for the interesting things that are there to be found, and accordingly figure out which rooms are likely to hold things of note, those leads are not at all initially apparent, leading to a lot of frustrating wandering hither and yon poking at stuff. The larger problem is that the game isn't entirely honest about what's going on -- the player is essentially told at the outset that this is an exploration game, so go poke around and see what turns up, and then gets sat down at the end for a debriefing that makes it fairly clear that your character had some goals in mind. (The debriefing is made even worse by a bug that makes it hard to progress at a key point without guessing a certain response; if there was a prompt for that response, I never saw it.) To some extent, the goals dovetail with an ordinary player's curiosity, but not entirely -- you're asked about details of the setting you find, even though there's no obvious reason why the details are important or why you should have noted them. The character may -- indeed, should -- have known about these goals all along, but he didn't share that knowledge with the player. The character remarks on some of the details as significant, to be sure, but not all of them -- and trying to remember small details (or poring over a transcript) so that you can answer trivial questions makes for a deeply dissatisfying ending to the game. It's possible that that was deliberate -- the game may set up a contrast between the wonder of discovery and the tedium and finickiness of the research apparatus -- but I'm not sure that that was a point worth making, if so. Ah, but the wonder of discovery -- for all its failings, the game gets that part down, and the most gripping points aren't so much Big Secrets as surprises and turning points in the life of a certain family. True, the total concentration of drama or intrigue in the stuff you find is a little high -- not all that much of it is as humdrum as you might expect -- but I didn't mind that aspect much, if at all, and the time frame (on the verge of war) tends to bring out drama anyway. What struck me was that I believed in the characters, even though I didn't like most of them all that much; two of them in particular both had enough warts and enough intriguing layers to make me interested in learning more about them. It's a pity, in a way, that the larger background (that of the period in general) is largely told to you up front, as the main thing I enjoyed about digging into the game was piecing together what had happened to the family, and piecing together what had happened to the world in general might have been even more fascinating (though, of course, a lot more work). The writing is good throughout the game, but the best-written parts are in the first person and take the voices of the characters; call me easily persuaded, but I was convinced. I found no false notes in the voices of the characters when they set their own thoughts down on paper -- some unappealing aspects, maybe, but very much true to life. That itís difficult to give a story/exploration-based game any sort of pace or direction is not news, of course, and I donít blame Moments for resorting to puzzles to achieve some sort of structure, keep the game from becoming a big lump of facts. In other words, the game as presently structured does make it likely (though not necessarily guaranteed) that the player will encounter general background introductory stuff first and only later find out the grittier details, and thatís not a bad thing. At the risk of Monday-morning-quarterbacking, however, Iím not sure it was necessary to introduce quite so many obstacles -- the portion of the game that closes off unexpectedly (and hence is unlikely to be found by the player until he or she knows to look for it at a certain time) might, in theory, have opened up after a certain time, or after the player learns certain facts (perhaps with something like "You take a closer look at the east wall. Sure enough, just as you read in the diary, thereís a hidden passage"). Likewise, the replay potential assured by the limited tool capacity might have been achieved by diverging paths of sorts, where alternative story branches offer different information, which would be a little less frustrating than you-see-the-opportunity-for-wondrous-insight-but-damn-you-brought-the- wrong-tool. The content of Moments is terrific, and it deserves friendlier game design. Patience and perseverance reveal Moments to be a worthy game -- well-written and well-imagined -- and itís to the authorís credit, in a way, that I wished that less patience and perseverance had been necessary. As it was, I enjoyed it enough to give it an 8. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Stephen Bond [originally posted to Usenet on rec.games.int-fiction] TITLE: No Time To Squeal AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin and Mike Sousa E-MAIL: beaver SP@G zombieworld.com, mjs SP@G rss.com DATE: October 2001 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/tads/ntts/ntts.gam VERSION: Release 1.0 When I play a Robb Sherwin game, I expect to see loads of ass-kicking dialogue and inspired, crazed imagery. So the opening of this game was quite a surprise: it all seemed strangely calm and muted, and even dangerously close to being boring. But not so close that I stopped playing immediately. As it turned out, the muted style is appropriate for the fairly sombre events of the first section. There is a lot of character-establishing text at the start, maybe too much, but it was effective in drawing me into the role. After a while I really became the PC. I wanted to make that deal, I was genuinely shocked at seeing my wife unconscious, I genuinely wanted to save the baby. That the game was able to make me feel that way shows it was doing something right. But then, after the second section, I stopped playing. Why? Maybe it's something to do with the 'you die, then restart' gimmick. After spending all that time in one character, suddenly I'm wrenched out and thrust into a new one, and I have to go through the whole process of getting to know them again. And that just seems too tiring. On the face of it, the PC-changing in this game is not too different from the PC-changing in Photopia: but in Photopia, the breaks between PCs were cleaner and more fluid than the ones here, and they happened regularly enough that I didn't feel disoriented every time the character changed. Skimming through the walkthrough, it looks like there is a lot of stuff that I missed in this game, though, so maybe I'll come back to it sometime. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Emily Short TITLE: Prized Possession AUTHOR: Kathleen M. Fischer E-MAIL: mfischer5 SP@G aol.com DATE: October 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/possess/Alys.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Given that I've liked Kathleen's other two major releases, I looked forward to this one with some eagerness, expecting another lighthearted and proficient period romance. Well, this could be considered a period romance, set as it is around a medieval woman faced with danger, death, disinheritance -- and the possibility of marriage. Lighthearted -- no. I found it fairly gloomy, actually. Which would not in itself be enough to doom the game, but it did drain some of the entertainment value out of the romance, which was rather vaguely sketched. Kathleen has since said that she did not intend Prized Possession to be a romance per se at all; so I am left to wonder why I considered it a failed one, rather than a successful something-else. Perhaps it's audience expectation, but I'd like to hope that I'm clever enough not to have put Kathleen into a specific niche on the basis of two games. I think the answer is that I found the primary NPC to be one of the driving influences of the plot; that most of the other characters were around for so little time that it was difficult to formulate a sense of my relationship to them. Where I did formulate such a sense, it was a sense that conformed to the stereotypical characterizations of the romance genre: there is, for instance, a character who fits the type of the Sinister and Ill-Meaning Guardian. All the game's clues seemed to push me towards the conclusion that that's what he was; I simply accepted that and went on. The other problem, from my point of view, is that it's possible to die or get a very unhappy ending in this game, not once, but over and over, on almost every turn, by picking the wrong one of two apparently equivalent options or by failing to do something nonobvious in the nick of time. I made a valiant effort, but went to the walkthrough and stayed there after the second scene or so. I never did feel as though I had a clear handle on what was going on, exactly: who everyone was, what they intended towards me, what I was trying to accomplish, or even exactly where I was. The height of my confusion came when I read some line about the curve of the heroine's belly, and presumed, from this clue, that she was in fact already pregnant, through some mischance, and that this was the reason for her apparent disgrace and travails on the road. I eventually decided that I'd misread or misinterpreted that, but it is evidence, I think, of how little the game gives the player to work with. The only aspect of the plot that I felt I really understood was the shadowy, vague beginnings of a romance with the main NPC. Doubtless this also affected my idea of what sort of game it was. Leaving aside all of those considerations, I think the game's choppiness tells against it in another way. I felt that I had no luxury to explore, to enjoy the things that one enjoys in IF. I agree that it would've been a dead bore to experience in full however many days we were on the road, or whatever, but possibly some happier medium could have been found than the rapid chapter jumps, which in places occur every couple of moves. It would be wrong to say that this game was not interactive enough: compared to something like Rameses, it's full of choices. The only problem is that most of those choices lead to disaster. I felt impelled to keep going, because I knew that my PC was in dreadful peril; there was no time to waste, not even on reading the game text more carefully. And then came panic and then disaster, or at least a long lifetime in the local nunnery. Summary: Railroady is not quite the word I want; the experience was more reminiscent of a rickety rollercoaster that started and slowed again unpredictably, and sometimes flung me out of the car entirely. (Litigation ensues.) Nonetheless, it still has the technical cohesion and decent writing one expects from a proven author, and if I was disappointed, it was relative to some high expectations. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Triune AUTHOR: Papillon E-MAIL: papillon_hentai SP@G bigfoot.com DATE: 2001 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.geocities.com/amethystphoenix/triune.html VERSION: Release 2 Triune, by Papillon, begins arrestingly: This time, something snapped. You've seen the danger signs before: the stains on his shirt, the slur of his voice, the smell of his breath, the blood on his fists. He needs to hit something, hit it again and again until it breaks. When he's like this, he destroys the possessions that cost him the most to obtain. Whatever's left that still holds value, still holds meaning, still holds his place in this world. You are almost all he has left. You remember fleeing up the stairs, scrambling awkardly on teenage hands and knees in your haste, the thin fabric of your skirt not enough to shield you from the incipient carpet burns. You ran on bare feet down the hall to the bathroom, locking the door behind you, trusting in the spirit of propriety to keep your father from following you here, your last refuge. Because if he finds you, he's going to kill you. Okay, wow. We have here a hell of a premise -- not a cheery one, no, but it's pretty damn compelling. Almost instantly, I cared about the character and about getting her out of this particular tight spot. Unfortunately, this particular tight spot wasn't really the focus of the game; the PC promptly jumps into a fantasy world with lots of stock stuff like unicorns and castles and princes and stuff, which, initially, I found disappointing -- if I have a real-life conflict, I want to do something about it, not just think about something else. To be fair, however, the fantasy world is more interesting than it initially appears, and it's also related on many levels to the real world. Specifically, the violence that appeared to be imminent in the real world is present, in equally disturbing forms, in the fantasy world, and some of the responses to the violence parallel (in the long term, anyway) what the character might do back in the real world. It's also worth noting that some of the responses are more than a little violent in their own right -- there's a fight-fire-with-fire aspect to the puzzle-solving. Still, the abrupt transition at the beginning of the game sacrificed the game's hook, which is a shame because it was a fairly good hook. The gameplay isn't as smooth as it might be. The author entered a CYOA-style game in the 2000 competition, and while Triune has a fully equipped parser, I was occasionally reminded of the previous game. The action has a way of happening in big chunks -- you do something that, sometimes foreseeably and sometimes not, leads to an important scene, but the scene flows by without any further chance for interaction, almost as if I'd chosen menu option 1 and now had no further opportunity to affect the scene. There's something to be said, of course, for not giving an illusion of interactivity if you're not going to provide any freedom; if what's going to happen is going to happen, there's a case to be made for not taunting the player with the mistaken impression that he or she can do anything about it. But that just raises the question -- why, in those scenes, are those results so inevitable from an early point? Can't the point of no return be pushed back? There's also the larger logical difficulty that the suboptimal endings address only the endpoints in the fantasy world and make no attempt to resolve the more immediate crisis in the real world. (Arguably, that's why they're suboptimal, but the suggestions in the ending texts about why those aren't the best endings don't cite that as a specific problem.) Beyond that, the game's logic takes some twists and turns -- you're likely to figure out before long that fantasy logic doesn't really apply, but it's not exactly clear what logic does apply. This is partly the product of the genre-jump; the player knows very well what his or her motivation in the real world is, but has no idea what he or she is supposed to be doing in this fantasy world, and to the extent that it's not "do the usual fantasy things," things are a little bewildering. In fact, this appears to be deliberate -- twice, you get sent on quests by folks you meet, and each time completing the quest leads to an ending which the game clearly considers suboptimal; the clues that you should deviate from the quest in the precise way called for by the game, while present, are a little subtle. On a third occasion, a character makes you an offer, but accepting it leads to another suboptimal ending, so you're supposed to reject it and solve a puzzle that's hinted at in one room description (but which, natch, you have no independent reason to solve). The story that ultimately emerges from all this is thoughtful and at times powerful, but for me, it emerged mostly because the walkthrough said to do this or that at certain times, not because of my understanding of where things were supposed to go. There are some more gameplay problems. At one point, you're imprisoned, and you effectively get out of your imprisonment before your captors' eyes without much of a protest. Lots of characters don't know much about things that they should know about (or, at least, there's no obvious reason for their ignorance). One puzzle solution doesn't initially work but does later, and while there's a reason for the change, it's easy to miss. Perhaps most importantly, it's largely impossible to put the game in an unwinnable state, except by wasting a certain resource too soon -- and while resource-wasting is something that most IFers know to avoid, it's not quite as obviously stupid as throwing possessions over a cliff, and warnings might have been appropriate. About that story: it's been called feminist-liberationist and such things, and while that's not entirely inaccurate, I'm not sure it captures the spirit. One of the suboptimal endings (and arguably another as well), after all, is pretty close to a feminist utopia, and yet your character doesn't seem wholly content. The game does label each of the suboptimal endings with a female role generally seen as limiting by feminism, but that just made things all the more puzzling for me, as the labels didn't seem to fit what had actually happened in two of the three cases. To be precise, the labels described what your character has become, but not in an all-encompassing way -- your life as described in the ending text was far from completely subsumed with/described by the label, so it didn't seem quite fair to give those paths the conventional feminist spin: "you live that role to the hilt and feel you're missing something." That the other suboptimal ending is entirely consistent with that same conventional feminist spin also suggests that the author didn't set out to comment on feminism either (i.e., the game didn't seem to be saying that there's more to these roles than canonical feminism lets on). To add to the confusion, a few important characters who take steps that track archetypical feminist liberation have thereby caused a good deal of damage in the game's world -- is that unfortunate but necessary, or does it mean that pursuing those goals is destructive, or something in between (e.g., they pursued legitimate goals in foolish and destructive ways)? Multiple interpretations are possible; my main impression was that the game needed to get its theoretical house in order. I should add, however, that a game with lots of ideas but which doesn't manage to keep all its ideas straight beats a game with no ideas every time, in my book, and I did enjoy trying to follow the conceptual bouncing ball (even if I had to do it through the walkthrough a few times). The ending in the comp version elicited some protests; there was a parser trick of sorts which closely resembled a similar trick from the 1996 competition, but which worked much better the first time. (Mostly because the nature of the 1996 game in question was sort of silly and gonzo, and the trick in question, I think, lends itself better to such a game.) At any rate, the post-comp release changes the ending significantly, but while it's certainly an improvement, I was still rather unsatisfied -- not only does the new ending strain credulity a bit (and assume away a lot of things), but it seems unrelated to everything that's come before (one flaw that the original ending, if nothing else, managed to avoid). The point is that, despite my initial reservations, what went on in the fantasy world ended up being sufficiently interesting that an ending that seemed divorced from the rest of game felt anticlimactic, tacked on. Oddly, this is largely a negative review of a game which I mostly enjoyed -- it's well written, has some vividly rendered scenes, and some compelling characters. As often happens, however, its strengths lay in the ideas below the surface and in the questions it posed, and the game itself (particularly the implementation) didn't quite live up to those ideas. Triune could have been better than it was; as it stood, I enjoyed it enough that I gave it a 7. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Suzanne Britton TITLE: Vicious Cycles AUTHOR: Mark Simon E-MAIL: marksimo SP@G hotmail.com DATE: October 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/cycles/cycles.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Sweet. A game that Requires Knowledge Of Past Lives, and gets away with it! The "gimmick" of Vicious Cycles is a real gem, serving as the fulcrum for the clever, interlocked puzzles that form the meat of the game, and deftly flouting the Player's Bill of Rights. There were many pleasant "aha!" moments, and not a single puzzle that felt tacked-on. With the addition of excellent writing and competent programming, the game is well worth a top score. I noticed just a handful of minor bugs (missing synonyms, illogical defaults, etc.) and no spelling or grammar errors. I was struck by the sharp, effective precision of the author's storytelling and mood-setting: very Plotkinesque. I remember particularly the casual mention of "knuckles whiten(ing) around a hand grip". Though the story is full of opinionated characters, the narrator is all "show", no "tell": he gives you the cues and lets you read into them for yourself. The boy and girl were a nice extra touch. I liked the fact that you could talk with the boy, and also that the repair man answered to many more topics than was necessary for puzzle-solving. Mimesis wore thin almost nowhere. All in all, this is an impressive offering by a relatively new name on the IF scene. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Adam Myrow TITLE: You Are Here AUTHOR: Roy Fisher EMAIL: royhome SP@G powersufr.com DATE: October 2001 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: any Inform interpreter AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/urhere (a directory containing a readme and the game itself.) VERSION: Release 1 My competition rating: 7 This game is very odd in many respects. First, it is supposed to be a promotion for a play about an online MUD or multi-user dungeon. Second, it is actually a fairly complete simulation of a MUD, minus, of course, real people. This makes sense as a MUD is really nothing more than a souped up version of a text adventure. Most fall more towards the role-playing and hack'n'slash types of activities than the storytelling Interactive Fiction that most readers are accustomed to. So, I suspect that this and the fact that the game tries to promote a play that few would have gotten the chance to see, turned a lot of people off and resulted in the relatively low rating. However, the thing that makes me rate this game so highly is that I see it as a humorous jab at many of the well-established traditions of IF. For example, the main quest in the game is described by your companion as a "gather a bunch of completely unrelated items Fed-X Quest." I suspect that the author had played games like Arthur, where the plot fell into such a quest. That isn't the only real bit of humor to be found. Virtually all the MUD elements are here. There is a combat system similar to that in Beyond Zork, except that all the monsters disappear in a cloud of black fog. It's clear that the author put this in on purpose. You can use MUD-like commands to list players, and the other NPCs sometimes talk out of character or whisper so you can't hear them. Since the story is that you are a guest player, you naturally are prevented from exploring at will, and this device works well to keep the game small. In this game, you choose your gender near the beginning by deciding which armor you will wear. Like most of the Infocom games, this makes little difference to the plot, but I strongly recommend playing as a female and hanging around the little girl for awhile. There are some really great little Easter Eggs when the other characters see you with her. The remarks from Harrold, the companion you have during the majority of the game, are a real hoot. Since I've mostly written about the humor of the game, here is an actual example. Like any town in an RPG type game, this town has a tavern. The drinks, however, are unusually bad. This little bit of interaction contains one of my favorite responses in the whole game. >ask bartender for mead The dwarf reaches behind him and grabs a seemingly indistinguishable bottle from the shelf. "A drink for northern ponces with horns," he says, pouring a small quantity into a stein and placing it on the counter. "I'll just put it on yer tab fer now." >drink mead It isn't as nice as you expected. It's made with genuine honey--you can tell from the floating bumblebee corpse you fished out from between your teeth--but it tastes more muddy than meady. You can't for the life of you think of why you'd want another. The stein itself disappears, part of a kingdom-wide initiative to "keep our enchanted forests clean!" Well, the game isn't perfect, of course. There are several annoying bugs. The most well-known and most complained about is the Changeling bug. Basically, don't mess with the Changeling until you have an idea of what to do with it. If this creature is attacked too early, the game can be made unwinnable despite the author's claim to the contrary. Yes, this is most likely a bug as Harrold makes it clear that this is a magical creature that shouldn't be able to be killed normally. Another bug is that typing "fill mug" will result in a string of "***programming error***" messages. The author forgot to turn off debugging and strict modes, a common mistake every since they are turned on by default. This makes cheating possible, but I didn't do it. There is no walkthrough for this game, but hints are available by praying at the temple. Other than the bugs, it isn't that difficult and has an ending that fits with the rest of the game quite nicely. So, I recommend this game to experienced IF players who have played both the best and worst of IF and like humor in a fairly easy, relaxing game. 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.ifarchive.org 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... 4.1 0.9 0.5 3 23 F_INF_ARC 9:05 6.6 0.7 0.5 11 20 F_INF_ARC Aayela 7.0 1.0 1.3 6 10 F_TAD_ARC Abbey 6.8 0.6 1.4 1 24 S10_I_ARC Above and Beyond 7.3 1.5 1.6 5 24 F_TAD_ARC Acid Whiplash 5.2 0.7 0.2 5 17 F_INF_ARC Acorn Court 6.1 0.5 1.5 2 12 F_INF_ARC Ad Verbum 7.4 0.9 1.7 3 23 F_INF_ARC Adv. of Elizabeth Hig 3.1 0.5 0.3 2 5 F_AGT_ARC Adventure (all varian 6.4 0.6 1.1 15 8,22 F_INF_TAD_ETC_ARC Adventureland 4.4 0.5 1.1 6 F_INF_ARC Adventures of Helpful 7.0 1.3 0.9 2 F_TAD_ARC Aftermath 4.0 0.7 0.7 1 F_TAD_ARC Afternoon Visit 4.1 1.0 0.8 1 F_AGT Aisle 6.8 1.4 0.3 10 18 F_INF_ARC Alien Abduction? 7.5 1.3 1.4 5 10, 26 F_TAD_ARC All Alone 8.2 1.3 0.7 2 22 F_TAD_ARC All Quiet...Library 5.0 0.9 0.9 6 7 F_INF_ARC All Roads 8.8 1.6 1.7 1 F_INF_ARC Amnesia 6.9 1.5 1.3 4 9 C_AP_I_64 Anchorhead 8.7 1.7 1.5 29 18 F_INF_ARC And The Waves... 7.9 1.5 1.1 2 23 F_INF_ARC Another...No Beer 2.4 0.2 0.8 2 4 S10_I_ARC Arrival 7.9 1.3 1.4 5 17 F_TAD_ARC Arthur: Excalibur 8.0 1.3 1.6 44,14,22 C_INF Asendent 1.7 0.0 0.3 1 F_INF_ARC At Wit's End 7.1 1.2 1.3 1 23 F_TAD_ARC Augmented Fourth 7.9 1.2 1.6 7 22 F_INF_ARC Aunt Nancy's House 1.3 0.1 0.0 2 F_INF_ARC Awakened 7.7 1.7 1.6 1 Awakening 5.6 0.9 1.1 2 15,18 F_INF_ARC Awe-Chasm 3.0 0.7 0.7 2 8 S_I_ST_ARC Babel 8.4 1.7 1.3 10 13 F_INF_ARC Balances 6.6 0.7 1.2 9 6 F_INF_ARC Ballyhoo 7.3 1.5 1.5 6 4 C_INF Bear's Night Out 7.3 1.1 1.3 7 13 F_INF_ARC Beat The Devil 5.5 1.2 1.1 4 19 F_INF_ARC Begegnung am Fluss 5.6 0.8 1.4 1 F_I_ARC Being Andrew Plotkin 7.5 1.5 1.1 2 23 F_INF_ARC Best Man 5.2 0.8 1.2 2 F_INF_ARC Beyond the Tesseract 5.0 0.8 0.9 2 6 F_I_ARC Beyond Zork 7.7 1.5 1.7 10 5, 14 C_INF Big Mama 5.4 1.2 0.6 3 23 F_INF_ARC BJ Drifter 6.5 1.2 1.2 5 15 F_INF_ARC Bliss 6.3 1.1 0.8 4 20 F_TAD_ARC Bloodline 7.7 1.4 1.1 2 15 F_INF_ARC Border Zone 7.2 1.4 1.4 7 4 C_INF Breakers 7.5 1.5 1.1 1 C_I_AP_M_64_S Break-In 6.1 1.1 1.4 3 21 F_INF_ARC Breaking The Code 0.4 0.0 0.0 2 F_INF_ARC Brimstone: The Dream. 6.5 1.4 1.1 1 C_I_AP_M_64_S Broken String 3.9 0.7 0.4 4 F_TADS_ARC BSE 5.7 0.9 1.0 3 F_INF_ARC Bureaucracy 6.9 1.5 1.4 12 5 C_INF Busted 5.1 1.1 0.9 2 25 F_INF_ARC Calliope 4.7 0.9 0.8 3 F_INF_ARC Carma 8.0 1.9 1.2 1 F_GLU_ARC Cask 1.5 0.0 0.5 2 F_INF_ARC Castaway 1.1 0.0 0.4 1 5 F_I_ARC Castle Amnos 4.6 1.0 0.8 2 F_INF_ARC Castle Elsinore 4.3 0.7 1.0 2 I_ARC Cattus Atrox 4.9 1.2 0.8 1 17 F_INF_ARC Cave of Morpheus 5.4 1.3 1.0 1 F_ADR_ARC CC 4.2 0.4 1.0 1 F_ALAN_ARC Change in the Weather 7.5 1.0 1.3 14 7,8,14 F_INF_ARC Chaos 5.6 1.3 1.1 2 F_TAD_ARC Chicken under Window 6.6 0.8 0.3 4 F_INF_ARC Chicks Dig Jerks 5.2 1.1 0.7 9 19 F_INF_ARC Chico and I Ran 7.2 1.7 1.1 1 F_INF_ARC Christminster 8.3 1.6 1.6 21 20 F_INF_ARC Circus 3.4 0.5 0.8 1 City 6.1 0.6 1.3 2 17 F_INF_ARC Clock 3.7 0.8 0.6 1 F_TAD_ARC Coke Is It! 5.6 1.0 0.9 3 F_INF_ARC Coming Home 0.6 0.1 0.1 1 F_INF_ARC Common Ground 7.1 1.6 0.3 3 20 F_TAD_ARC Commute 1.3 0.2 0.1 1 F_I_ARC Comp00ter Game 0.9 0.1 0.1 1 F_INF_ARC Congratulations! 2.6 0.7 0.3 1 F_INF_ARC Corruption 7.2 1.6 1.0 4 14, 21 C_MAG Cosmoserve 7.8 1.4 1.4 5 5 F_AGT_ARC Cove 6.5 0.8 0.7 4 22 F_INF_ARC Crimson Spring 6.9 1.5 1.2 1 F_HUG_ARC Crypt v2.0 5.0 1.0 1.5 1 3 S12_IBM_ARC Curses 8.0 1.2 1.7 20 2, 22 F_INF_ARC Cutthroats 5.7 1.3 1.1 9 1 C_INF Dampcamp 5.0 0.8 1.1 3 F_TAD_ARC Danger! Adventurer... 3.2 0.3 0.7 1 F_INF_ARC Dangerous Curves 8.6 1.5 1.6 1 24 F_INF_ARC Day For Soft Food 6.8 1.0 1.3 5 19 F_INF_ARC Deadline 6.9 1.3 1.3 9 20 C_INF Death To My Enemies 4.4 0.9 0.7 4 F_INF_ARC Deep Space Drifter 5.6 0.4 1.1 3 3 S15_TAD_ARC Deephome 4.0 0.5 0.9 2 21 F_INF_ARC Degeneracy 8.7 1.5 1.3 1 25 F_INF_ARC Delusions 7.9 1.5 1.5 5 14F_INF_ARC 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_ARC Detective 1.0 0.0 0.0 9 4,5,18 F_AGT_INF_ARC Detective-MST3K 6.0 1.2 0.2 10 7,8,18 F_INF_ARC Dinner With Andre 7.2 1.6 1.4 1 23 F_INF_ARC Ditch Day Drifter 6.3 0.9 1.6 5 2 F_TAD_ARC Djinni Chronicles 7.1 1.1 1.1 3 23 F_INF_ARC Down 6.0 1.0 1.2 1 14 F_HUG_ARC Downtown Tokyo 6.1 0.9 1.0 6 17 F_INF_ARC Dragon Hunt 5.4 0.5 0.5 1 F_HUG_ARC Dungeon 6.2 1.0 1.6 3 F_ARC 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_ARC Edifice 8.0 1.4 1.8 10 13 F_INF_ARC Electrabot 0.7 0.0 0.0 1 5 F_AGT_ARC E-Mailbox 3.1 0.1 0.2 2 F_AGT_ARC Emy Discovers Life 5.0 1.1 0.8 3 F_AGT Enchanter 7.3 1.1 1.5 10 2,15 C_INF End Means Escape 6.1 1.4 1.1 1 23 F_TAD_ARC Enhanced 5.0 1.0 1.3 2 2 S10_TAD_ARC Enlightenment 6.5 1.1 1.5 3 17 F_INF_ARC Erehwon 6.2 1.2 1.5 4 19 F_TAD_ARC Eric the Unready 7.4 1.4 1.4 6 C_I Essex 5.7 1.2 0.9 1 C_I_AP_M_64_ST Everybody Loves a Par 7.0 1.2 1.2 3 12 F_TAD_ARC Exhibition 6.2 1.4 0.3 6 19 F_TAD_ARC Fable 2.0 0.1 0.1 3 6 F_AGT_ARC Fable-MST3K 4.0 0.5 0.2 4 F_AGT_INF_ARC FailSafe 7.5 1.0 1.0 1 24,25 F_INF_ARC Fear 6.3 1.2 1.3 3 10, 24 F_INF_ARC Fifteen 1.5 0.5 0.4 1 17 F_INF_ARC Firebird 7.1 1.5 1.3 4 15 F_TAD_ARC Fish 7.5 1.3 1.7 4 12, 14 C_MAG Foggywood Hijinx 6.2 1.2 1.3 3 21 F_TAD_ARC Foom 6.6 1.0 1.0 1 F_TAD_ARC For A Change 8.0 0.9 1.3 6 19, 22 F_INF_ARC Forbidden Castle 4.8 0.6 0.5 1 C_AP Four In One 4.4 1.2 0.5 2 F_TAD_ARC Four Seconds 6.0 1.2 1.1 2 F_TAD_ARC Frenetic Five 5.3 1.4 0.5 3 13 F_TAD_ARC Frenetic Five 2 6.6 1.5 1.0 3 21, 22 F_TAD_ARC Friday Afternoon 6.3 1.4 1.2 1 13 F_INF_ARC Frobozz Magic Support 7.2 1.2 1.5 3 F_TAD_ARC Frozen 5.5 0.7 1.3 1 F_INF_ARC Fusillade 7.1 1.5 0.3 1 F_TAD_ARC Frustration 5.7 1.1 0.9 1 21 F_TAD_ARC Futz Mutz 5.3 1.0 1.1 1 F_TAD_ARC Galatea 7.4 1.8 0.9 5 22 F_INF_ARC Gateway 8.6 1.4 1.8 7 11 C_I Gateway 2: Homeworld 9.0 1.7 1.9 6 24 C_I Gerbil Riot of '67 6.3 0.7 1.1 1 F_TAD_ARC Glowgrass 6.9 1.3 1.3 5 13 F_INF_ARC Gnome Ranger 5.8 1.2 1.6 1 C_I Golden Fleece 6.0 1.0 1.1 1 21 F_TAD_ARC Golden Wombat of Dest 6.3 0.7 1.1 1 18 F_I_ARC Good Breakfast 4.9 0.9 1.2 2 14 F_INF_ARC Got ID? 6.2 1.4 1.0 1 F_INF_ARC Great Archeolog. Race 6.5 1.0 1.5 1 3 S20_TAD_ARC Guardians of Infinity 8.5 1.3 1 9 C_I Guess The Verb! 6.5 1.2 1.4 2 23 F_INF_ARC 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_ARC Guitar...Immortal Bar 3.0 0.0 0.0 1 F_INF_ARC Gumshoe 6.2 1.0 1.1 7 9 F_INF_ARC Halothane 6.6 1.3 1.2 4 19 F_INF_ARC Happy Ever After 4.6 0.5 1.2 1 F_INF_ARC HeBGB Horror 5.7 0.9 1.1 2 F_ALAN_ARC Heist 6.7 1.4 1.5 2 F_INF_ARC Hero, Inc. 6.8 1.0 1.5 2 F_TAD_ARC Heroes 7.9 1.8 1.6 1 F_INF_ARC Hitchhiker's Guide 7.3 1.3 1.5 16 5 C_INF Hobbit - The True Sto 5.9 1.1 0.8 1 26 S10_I_ARC Hollywood Hijinx 6.3 0.9 1.5 12 C_INF Holy Grail 6.2 0.9 1.2 1 21 F_TAD_ARC Horror of Rylvania 7.2 1.4 1.4 5 1 F_TAD_ARC Horror30.zip 3.7 0.3 0.7 2 3 S20_I_ARC Human Resources Stori 0.9 0.0 0.1 2 17 F_INF_ARC Humbug 7.4 1.6 1.3 4 11, 24 F_I_ARC Hunter, In Darkness 7.3 0.9 1.4 7 19 F_INF_ARC I didn't know...yodel 4.0 0.7 1.0 5 17 F_I_ARC I-0: Jailbait on Inte 7.7 1.5 1.2 20 20 F_INF_ARC Ice Princess 7.5 1.4 1.6 2 A_INF_ARC In The End 4.8 0.6 0.2 3 10 F_INF_ARC In The Spotlight 3.2 0.2 1.0 2 17 F_INF_ARC Infidel 6.9 0.2 1.4 15 1 C_INF Infil-Traitor 2.9 0.1 0.7 1 F_I_ARC Informatory 5.5 0.5 1.3 1 17 F_INF_ARC Ingrid's Back 7.0 1.6 1.6 2 C_I Inheritance 5.0 0.3 1.0 3 20 F_TAD_ARC Inhumane 4.4 0.3 0.9 4 9, 20 F_INF_ARC Intruder 6.7 1.3 1.1 4 20 F_INF_ARC Invasion of... Jupite 1.9 0.3 0.6 1 F_I_ARC Jacaranda Jim 7.5 1.0 0.9 3 24 F_ARC Jacks...Aces To Win 7.1 1.3 1.2 3 19 F_INF_ARC Jarod's Journey 2.5 0.5 0.3 1 F_TAD_ARC Jewel of Knowledge 6.3 1.2 1.1 3 18 F_INF_ARC Jeweled Arena 7.0 1.4 1.3 2 AGT_ARC Jigsaw 8.2 1.6 1.6 19 8,9 F_INF_ARC 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_ARC Jouney Into Xanth 5.0 1.3 1.2 1 8 F_AGT_ARC Journey 7.2 1.5 1.3 5 5 C_INF Jump 3.2 0.5 0.7 1 F_INF_ARC Kaged 6.8 1.0 1.0 3 23, 25 F_INF_ARC King Arthur's Night O 5.9 0.9 1.0 4 19 F_ALAN_ARC Kissing the Buddha's 7.9 1.8 1.5 6 10 F_TAD_ARC Klaustrophobia 6.4 1.1 1.3 6 1 S15_AGT_ARC 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_ARC Lancelot 6.9 1.4 1.2 1 C_I Land Beyond Picket Fe 4.8 1.2 1.2 1 10 F_I_ARC LASH 7.6 1.3 1.0 5 21 F_INF_ARC Leather Goddesses 7.2 1.3 1.5 12 4 C_INF Leaves 3.4 0.2 0.8 1 14 F_ALAN_ARC Legend Lives! 8.2 1.2 1.4 4 5 F_TAD_ARC Lesson of the Tortois 6.9 1.3 1.4 5 14 F_TAD_ARC Lethe Flow Phoenix 6.9 1.4 1.5 5 9 F_TAD_ARC Letters From Home 7.0 0.6 1.2 2 F_INF_ARC Life on Beal Street 5.4 1.3 0.1 3 F_TAD_ARC Light: Shelby's Adden 7.5 1.5 1.3 6 9 S_TAD_ARC Lightiania 1.9 0.2 0.4 1 F_INF_ARC Lists and Lists 6.3 1.3 1.1 3 10 F_INF_ARC Little Billy 1.1 0.4 0.0 1 F_I_ARC Little Blue Men 8.2 1.4 1.5 10 17 F_INF_ARC Lomalow 4.6 1.0 0.6 3 19 F_INF_ARC Losing Your Grip 8.5 1.4 1.4 6 14S20_TAD_ARC Lost New York 7.9 1.4 1.4 4 20, 26 S12_TAD_ARC Lost Spellmaker 6.3 1.3 1.1 5 13 F_INF_ARC Lunatix: Insanity Cir 5.6 1.2 1.0 3 F_I_ARC 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_ARC Madame L'Estrange... 5.1 1.2 0.7 1 13 F_INF_ARC Magic Toyshop 5.2 1.1 1.1 5 7 F_INF_ARC Magic.zip 4.5 0.5 0.5 1 3 S20_IBM_ARC Maiden of the Moonlig 6.4 1.3 1.5 2 10 F_TAD_ARC Masque of the Last... 4.7 1.1 0.8 1 F_INF_ARC Masquerade 7.3 1.6 1.0 1 23 F_INF_ARC Matter of Time 1.4 0.3 1.4 1 14F_ALAN_ARC Mercy 7.3 1.4 1.2 6 12 F_INF_ARC Metamorphoses 8.7 1.3 1.6 1 23 F_INF_ARC Meteor...Sherbet 8.0 1.5 1.6 9 10, 12 F_INF_ARC Mind Electric 5.2 0.6 0.9 4 7,8 F_INF_ARC Mind Forever Voyaging 8.4 1.4 1.0 14 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_ARC Moist 6.4 1.3 1.1 5 F_TAD_ARC Moment of Hope 5.0 1.3 0.3 3 19 F_TAD_ARC Moonmist 6.2 1.3 1.0 16 1 C_INF Mop & Murder 5.0 0.9 1.0 2 5 F_AGT_ARC Mother Loose 7.0 1.5 1.3 2 17 F_INF_ARC Mulldoon Legacy 7.4 1.2 1.8 1 24 F_INF_ARC Multidimen. Thief 5.6 0.5 1.3 6 2,9 S15_AGT_ARC Muse 7.9 1.5 1.2 4 17 F_INF_ARC Music Education 3.7 1.0 0.7 3 F_INF_ARC My Angel 8.2 1.8 1.4 2 23 F_INF_ARC Myopia 6.1 1.3 0.6 2 F_AGT_ARC Mystery House 4.1 0.3 0.7 1 F_AP_ARC Nevermore 7.2 1.5 1.4 1 23 F_INF_ARC New Day 6.6 1.4 1.1 4 13 F_INF_ARC Night At Computer Cen 5.2 1.0 1.0 2 F_INF_ARC Night at Museum Forev 4.2 0.3 1.0 4 7,8 F_TAD_ARC Night of... Bunnies 6.6 1.0 1.4 1 I_INF_ARC No Time To Squeal 8.6 1.6 1.5 1 F_TAD_ARC 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_ARC Not Just... Ballerina 5.3 0.8 0.9 3 20 F_INF_ARC Obscene...Aardvarkbar 3.2 0.6 0.6 1 F_TAD_ARC Odieus...Flingshot 3.3 0.4 0.7 2 5 F_INF_ARC Of Forms Unknown 4.5 0.7 0.5 1 10 F_INF_ARC Offensive Probing 4.2 0.6 0.9 1 F_INF_ARC On The Farm 6.5 1.6 1.2 2 19 F_TAD_ARC On The Other Side 2.2 0.0 0.0 1 F_I_ARC Once and Future 6.9 1.6 1.5 2 16 F_TAD_ARC One That Got Away 6.4 1.4 1.1 7 7,8 F_TAD_ARC Only After Dark 4.6 0.8 0.6 4 F_INF_ARC Oo-Topos 5.7 0.2 1.0 1 9 C_AP_I_64 Outsided 2.5 0.7 0.2 2 F_INF_ARC Pass the Banana 2.9 0.8 0.5 3 19 F_INF_ARC Path to Fortune 6.6 1.5 0.9 3 9 S_INF_ARC Pawn 6.3 1.1 1.3 2 12 C_MAG Perilous Magic 5.7 1.0 1.2 3 21 F_INF_ARC Perseus & Andromeda 3.5 0.4 0.9 2 64_INF_ARC Persistence of Memory 6.2 1.2 1.1 1 17 F_HUG_ARC Phlegm 5.2 1.2 1.0 2 10 F_INF_ARC Photopia 7.4 1.5 0.6 28 17 F_INF_ARC Phred Phontious...Piz 5.2 0.9 1.3 2 13 F_INF_ARC Pickpocket 4.1 0.6 0.8 1 F_INF_ARC Piece of Mind 6.3 1.3 1.4 1 10 F_INF_ARC Pintown 1.3 0.3 0.2 1 F_INF_ARC Pirate's Cove 4.8 0.6 0.6 1 F_INF_ARC Planet of Infinite Mi 6.8 1.1 1.3 1 23 F_TAD_ARC Planetfall 7.4 1.6 1.4 14 4 C_INF Plant 7.3 1.2 1.5 4 17 F_TAD_ARC Plundered Hearts 7.4 1.4 1.3 11 4 C_INF Poor Zefron's Almanac 5.6 1.0 1.3 3 13 F_TAD_ARC Portal 8.0 1.7 0.2 3 C_I_A_AP_64 Prodly The Puffin 5.8 1.3 1.1 2 23 F_INF_ARC Punk Points 6.4 1.4 1.3 1 F_INF_ARC Purple 5.6 0.9 1.0 1 17 F_INF_ARC Pyramids of Mars 5.8 1.2 1.1 2 24 AGT_ARC Quarterstaff 6.1 1.3 0.6 1 9 C_M Ralph 7.1 1.6 1.2 3 10, 25 F_INF_ARC Rameses 8.0 1.6 0.4 2 23 F_INF_ARC Rematch 7.9 1.5 1.6 1 22 F_TAD_ARC Remembrance 2.7 0.8 0.2 3 F_ARC Reruns 5.2 1.2 1.2 1 AGT_ARC Research Dig 4.8 1.1 0.8 2 17 F_INF_ARC Revenger 4.2 0.8 0.5 1 F_INF_ARC Reverberations 5.6 1.3 1.1 1 10 F_INF_ARC Ritual of Purificatio 7.0 1.6 1.1 4 17 F_ARC Saied 4.6 1.0 0.2 1 15 F_INF_ARC Sanity Claus 7.5 0.3 0.6 2 1 S10_AGT_ARC Save Princeton 5.6 1.0 1.3 5 8 S10_TAD_ARC Scapeghost 8.1 1.7 1.5 1 6 C_I Sea Of Night 5.7 1.3 1.1 2 F_TAD_ARC Seastalker 5.2 1.1 0.8 11 4 C_INF Shade 8.5 0.7 1.0 2 23 F_INF_ARC Shades of Grey 7.8 1.3 1.3 6 2, 8 F_AGT_ARC 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_ARC Shogun 7.0 1.2 0.6 2 4 C_INF Shrapnel 7.5 1.4 0.5 7 20 F_INF_ARC Simple Theft 5.8 1.3 0.8 1 20 F_TAD_ARC Sins against Mimesis 5.5 1.0 1.2 3 13 F_INF_ARC Sir Ramic... Gorilla 6.0 1.2 1.2 2 6 F_AGT_ARC Six Stories 6.3 1.0 1.2 4 19 F_TAD_ARC Skyranch 2.8 0.5 0.7 1 20 F_I_ARC Small World 6.2 1.3 1.1 3 10, 24 F_TAD_ARC So Far 8.0 1.1 1.4 13 12, 25 F_INF_ARC Sorcerer 7.2 0.6 1.6 7 2,15 C_INF Sound of... Clapping 7.1 1.3 1.3 8 5 F_ADVSYS_ARC South American Trek 0.9 0.2 0.5 1 5 F_IBM_ARC Space Aliens...Cardig 1.5 0.4 0.3 6 3, 4 S60_AGT_ARC Space under Window 7.1 0.9 0.4 6 12 F_INF_ARC Spacestation 5.6 0.7 1.1 1 F_INF_ARC Spellbreaker 8.5 1.2 1.8 8 2,15 C_INF Spellcasting 101 7.4 1.1 1.5 4 C_I Spellcasting 201 7.8 1.6 1.7 2 C_I Spellcasting 301 6.0 1.2 1.2 2 C_I Spider and Web 8.6 1.7 1.7 19 14F_INF_ARC SpiritWrak 6.7 1.2 1.3 6 22 F_INF_ARC Spodgeville...Wossnam 4.3 0.7 1.2 2 F_INF_ARC Spur 7.1 1.3 1.1 2 9 F_HUG_ARC Spyder and Jeb 6.2 1.1 1.4 1 F_TAD_ARC Starcross 6.6 1.0 1.2 7 1 C_INF Stargazer 5.4 1.1 1.1 1 F_INF_ARC Starrider 7.2 1.2 1.4 1 F_INF_ARC Stationfall 7.7 1.6 1.5 7 5 C_INF Statuette 3.7 0.0 0.1 1 F_INF_ARC Stick It To The Man 6.2 1.8 1.0 1 F_GLU_ARC Stiffy 1.2 0.1 0.2 2 F_INF_ARC Stiffy - MiSTing 4.1 0.8 0.3 7 F_INF_ARC Stone Cell 6.0 1.1 1.0 3 19 F_TAD_ARC Stranded 6.4 1.4 1.5 1 F_TAD_ARC Strange Odyssey 4.0 0.0 1.0 1 Strangers In The Nigh 3.2 0.7 0.6 2 F_TAD_ARC Stupid Kittens 2.9 0.6 0.4 2 F_INF_ARC Sunset Over Savannah 8.7 1.7 1.4 6 13 F_TAD_ARC Suspect 6.2 1.3 1.1 8 4 C_INF Suspended 7.7 1.5 1.4 8 8 C_INF Sylenius Mysterium 4.7 1.2 1.1 1 13 F_INF_ARC Symetry 1.1 0.1 0.1 2 F_INF_ARC Tapestry 7.1 1.4 0.9 5 10, 14 F_INF_ARC Tempest 5.3 1.4 0.6 3 13 F_INF_ARC Temple of the Orc Mag 4.5 0.1 0.8 2 F_TAD_ARC Terror of Mecha Godzi 4.6 0.8 0.6 1 26 S10_I_ARC Test 1.9 0.1 0.4 1 F_ADR_ARC Textfire Golf 7.1 1.3 0.4 2 25 F_INF_ARC Theatre 7.0 1.1 1.3 13 6 F_INF_ARC Thorfinn's Realm 3.5 0.5 0.7 2 F_INF_ARC Threading the Labyrin 1.9 0.0 0.0 1 F_TAD_ARC Time: All Things... 3.9 1.2 0.9 2 11, 12 F_INF_ARC TimeQuest 8.0 1.2 1.6 4 C_I TimeSquared 4.3 1.1 1.1 1 F_AGT_ARC Toonesia 5.8 1.1 1.1 6 7, 21 F_TAD_ARC Tossed into Space 3.9 0.2 0.6 1 4 F_AGT_ARC Town Dragon 3.9 0.8 0.3 2 14, 22 F_INF_ARC Transfer 7.6 1.0 1.6 2 23 F_INF_ARC Trapped...Dilly 5.1 0.1 1.1 2 17 F_INF_ARC Travels in Land of Er 6.1 1.2 1.5 2 14 F_INF_ARC Trinity 8.7 1.4 1.7 18 1,2 C_INF Trip 5.4 1.2 1.1 2 F_TAD_ARC Tryst of Fate 7.1 1.4 1.3 1 11 F_INF_ARC Tube Trouble 4.2 0.8 0.7 2 8 F_INF_ARC Tyler's Great Cube Ga 5.8 0.0 1.7 1 S_TAD_ARC Uncle Zebulon's Will 7.3 1.0 1.5 12 8 F_TAD_ARC Underoos That Ate NY 4.5 0.6 0.9 3 F_TAD_INF_ARC Undertow 5.4 1.3 0.9 3 8 F_TAD_ARC Undo 2.9 0.5 0.7 4 7 F_TAD_ARC Unholy Grail 6.0 1.2 1.2 1 13 F_I_ARC Unnkulian One-Half 6.7 1.2 1.5 9 1 F_TAD_ARC Unnkulian Unventure 1 6.9 1.2 1.5 8 1,2 F_TAD_ARC Unnkulian Unventure 2 7.2 1.2 1.5 5 1 F_TAD_ARC Unnkulian Zero 8.4 0.7 0.8 21,12,14 F_TAD_ARC Varicella 8.2 1.6 1.5 9 18 F_INF_ARC Veritas 6.6 1.3 1.4 4 S10_TAD_ARC Vindaloo 2.9 0.0 0.4 1 F_INF_ARC VirtuaTech 6.1 0.0 1.2 1 F_TAD_ARC VOID: Corporation 3.2 0.4 0.8 1 F_AGT_ARC Water Bird 5.0 1.1 0.8 1 F_TAD_ARC Waystation 5.5 0.7 1.0 4 9 F_TAD_ARC Weapon 6.8 1.1 1.4 1 26 F_INF_ARC Wearing the Claw 6.5 1.2 1.2 7 10, 18 F_INF_ARC Wedding 7.4 1.6 1.3 3 12 F_INF_ARC What-IF? 1.6 0.0 0.0 2 F_INF_ARC Where Evil Dwells 5.1 0.8 1.1 1 F_INF_ARC Winchester's Nightmar 6.9 1.5 0.5 1 22 F_INF_ARC Winter Wonderland 7.6 1.3 1.2 7 19 F_INF_ARC Wishbringer 7.6 1.3 1.3 16 5,6 C_INF Withdrawal Symptoms 4.4 0.5 0.7 1 F_INF_ARC Witness 6.7 1.5 1.2 10 1,3,9 C_INF Wizard of Akyrz 3.2 0.3 0.8 1 Wonderland 6.4 1.4 1.1 3 C_MAG World 6.5 0.6 1.3 2 4 F_I_ETC_ARC Worlds Apart 7.8 1.7 1.4 9 21 F_TAD_ARC YAGWAD 6.7 1.1 1.3 2 23 F_INF_ARC You Are Here 6.0 1.0 1.3 1 F_INF_ARC Your Choice 5.5 0.0 1.1 1 F_TAD_ARC Zanfar 2.6 0.2 0.4 1 8 F_AGT_ARC Zero Sum Game 7.2 1.5 1.5 3 13 F_INF_ARC Zombie! 5.2 1.2 1.1 2 13 F_TAD_ARC Zork 0 6.3 1.0 1.5 10 14C_INF Zork 1 6.1 0.8 1.4 24 1, 12 C_INF Zork 2 6.4 1.0 1.5 13 1, 12 C_INF Zork 3 6.5 0.9 1.4 8 1, 12 C_INF Zork Undisc. Undergr. 5.9 0.9 1.1 3 14F_INF_ARC Zork: A Troll's Eye V 4.4 0.6 0.1 3 14 F_INF_ARC Zuni Doll 4.0 0.6 0.9 2 14 F_INF_ARC -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 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. Like a dinosaur facing an oncoming Ice Age, the SPAG Scoreboard is growing slow and torpid. I received 33 votes since the last issue, and they have been duly included. Movement in the Top Ten is just barely perceptible, with Anchorhead rising two spots (to regain its spot of two issues ago) and everything else remaining stable. 1. Gateway 2: Homeworld 9.0 6 votes 2. Anchorhead 8.7 29 votes 3. Sunset over Savannah 8.7 6 votes 4. Trinity 8.7 18 votes 5. Spider and Web 8.6 19 votes 6. Gateway 8.6 7 votes 7. Losing Your Grip 8.5 6 votes 8. Spellbreaker 8.5 8 votes 9. Babel 8.4 10 votes 10. Mind Forever Voyaging 8.4 14 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 the IF Archive and from our website. Please read the FAQ before submitting scores, so that you understand how the scoring system works. After that, submit away! 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. Authors retain the rights to use their reviews in other contexts. We accept submissions that have been previously published elsewhere, although original reviews are preferred. For a more detailed version of this policy, see the SPAG FAQ at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag/spag.faq. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!
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