ISSUE #28 - March 20, 2002

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

                         ISSUE #28

           Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G
                       March 20, 2002

           SPAG Website:

SPAG #28 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 ----------------------------------------------------

The SPAG Interview with Dan Shiovitz

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

Depravity Bites
Fallacy of Dawn
Lock & Key
The Mulldoon Murders
Pytho's Mask
Vacation Gone Awry

Lock & Key


Something's been happening lately on the int-fiction newsgroups, and (to
a lesser degree) on ifMUD -- there's been a sudden and sizable infusion
of new blood. This happens from time to time in most communities, and
the smaller and more insular the community is to begin with, the greater
the shock when all those new voices start jumping into the fray.
Newbies, as everybody knows, can be a real pain in the neck. They ask
questions that have already been answered over and over again. They lack
the shared history that makes for convenient shortcuts in conversation,
and thus need to have those shortcuts (and their attendant history)
explained all over again. Some even come in loudly proclaiming that
they've got The Right Way to do things, and that all those old veterans
are just so stuck in their ways that they can't hear The Truth.

Still, newbies are also what keeps a community living, growing, and
thriving. Everybody wants to bring new people into the fold, and having
them there reinvigorates topics that still have more mileage in them. In
fact, sometimes re-explaining community history and terminology can even
help veterans see those things in a new light. Yeah, I know -- all of
the above has been repeated so often that by now it's achieved platitude
status. We all know it, and in general I've seen newbies get gentler,
friendlier handling in r*if than most anywhere else on the Internet.

This time, though, something else seems to be happening that has me a
little concerned. Somehow, along with our jumbo shipment of newbies, we
got a greater-than-usual ratio of trolls, kooks, and plain ol' jerks.
The kooks and jerks happen to be new, but that doesn't make them any
kookier or jerkier than the ones we already know. They do tend to draw
us out more, though, because we haven't learned to blow them off yet.
After that, two things tend to happen, both undesirable. The first is
that we see massive threads that consist overwhelmingly of arguing,
often escalating into a sort of Mutual Assured Destruction of nastiness.
This sort of thing drives away newbies and veterans alike -- nobody
(aside from trolls) enjoys taking in endless streams of vitriol.

The other bad result is that because it's so easy to lump new voices in
together (seeing as we don't know them well enough yet to
differentiate), innocent and worthwhile newbies can get ignored, or
worse yet, blasted with the emotion generated by one of the jerks. It's
fairly self-evident how this is a bad thing -- not only does it create
and perpetuate bad reputations of elitism and insularity, it also robs
us of the contributions those new people might have made, had they not
been so rebuffed.

All this sounds like I'm winding up to pitch a lot of advice, but I
hardly think that I'm the guy with the solution to all these problems.
Instead, I'll just share my approach. First, for the trolls and jerks:
ignore, ignore, ignore. I think unresponsiveness is like the antibiotic
for a troll infection -- ignore for 30 days, and if symptoms persist,
ignore for another 30 days. Second, for the rest of the new: I take a
deep breath, and if (and only if) I have a productive response to their
ideas, I post it in what I hope is a welcoming and gentle manner. More
often than not, this means I don't post much, but that's OK -- I'd
rather post nothing than get into a fight. 

All this gets a little stickier when it becomes difficult to tell the
difference between a troll and a genuine newbie who may just be
confused, a poor communicator, or have a genuinely new take on things. I
cringe at some of my early postings, some of which were very clueless
and may even have come across as unfriendly. I was given the benefit of
the doubt, and I try to extend the same courtesy to the newbies of
today. It's something we could all use a reminder on every now and then.
Myself included. 

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

This year's XYZZY Awards ceremony was punctuated by several hilarious
moments, including Nick Montfort's reprise of the amazing alliterative
abilities he displayed in last year's ceremony. However, in the end, the
XYZZYs are all about the games, and as usual, the crop of winners is
quite impressive. Six games and five authors were honored, and for the
first time since the awards' 1996 inception, the comp winner and the
XYZZY Best game are one and the same. Below is a full list of the
   * Best game: All Roads, by Jon Ingold
   * Best writing: Fallacy of Dawn, by Robb Sherwin
   * Best story: All Roads, by Jon Ingold 
   * Best setting: All Roads, by Jon Ingold 
   * Best puzzles: First Things First, by J. Robinson Wheeler
   * Best NPCs: Pytho's Mask, by Emily Short
   * Best individual puzzle: The Gostak (deciphering the language), by 
     Carl Muckenhoupt
   * Best individual NPC: Yahoweh Porn in Fallacy of Dawn, by Robb 
   * Best individual PC: Tale of the Kissing Bandit, by J. Robinson 
   * Best use of medium: The Gostak, by Carl Muckenhoupt

Probably the biggest news in this issue's crop of new games is The
Mulldoon Murders, Jon Ingold's puzzly sequel to his really REALLY puzzly
1999 game The Mulldoon Legacy. The game is well-timed, coming on the
heels of Ingold's Comp and XYZZY wins, and it gets its SPAG reviews in
this issue. There were lots of other nifty things as well, both small
and... not so small. 
   * Flamel (in Italian)
   * Photopia 2.0 (converted to Glulx, visual effects greatly enhanced)
   * Mulldoon II: The Mulldoon Murders by Jon Ingold
   * Scavenger Hunt by Gilles Duchesne
   * RomanceNovelComp games
   * There Was A Certain Man Named Bill by Dinky
   * House on Haunted Hill by James Wilkinson
   * IFLibrary Competition games by various authors
   * The Ritual by Kodrik

For several years now, people have been able to enjoy IF on their Palm
Pilots (and other handhelds that use the PalmOS.) The only problem has
been that only z-code games were playable on a handheld. That situation
has been officially remedied by Kent Tessman's release of a Hugo runtime
for the Palm Pilot (Note: the program requires PalmOS 3.5); now you can
hold games like Spur, Fallacy of Dawn, and Will The Real Marjorie
Hopkirk Please Stand Up? in the Palm of your hand. The runtime is at, and pre-converted
games are at Now if only
somebody would overcome that stack space limitation and create a TADS
runtime for the Palm...

Until then, however, we have an equally amazing thing: a Java applet
that runs TADS games. This technological triumph is called Jetty, and
has been created by Dan Shiovitz, the subject of this issue's SPAG
Interview. Jetty is available, along with some snazzy demonstrations, at, and will no doubt soon be
showing up on the home pages of TADS authors far and wide. 

Okay, so just who *were* Thorn's Companions, and what did they do? What
happened to Thorn? What does the Dragon Gem have to do with all this? If
these questions have been bothering you ever since playing Sean
Barrett's excellent comp entry "Heroes", you're about to get your
answers. Barrett has posted two documents on his website, one of which
explains some of the backstory behind the game's fictional scenario,
while the other is a design journal that provides some nifty insights
into the author's creative process. The whole shebang is available at

I'm very pleased to see several reviewers making their SPAG debuts in
this issue, with some old standbys chipping in too, but it's not the
sort of thing that's as reliable as death, taxes, copyright threads, and
so forth. If you've enjoyed what SPAG has given you, I urge you to give
something back by contributing a review of your own. As always, I've got
a list of 10 suggestions ready to spur you on:

1.  Bad Machine
2.  First Things First
3.  Heroine's Mantle
4.  Hollywood Hijinx
5.  IFLibraryComp games (any, some, or all!)
6.  Pick Up The Phone Booth And Aisle
7.  The Ritual
8.  RomanceNovelComp games (any, some, or all!)
9.  Tale of the Kissing Bandit
10. Voices

THE SPAG INTERVIEW---------------------------------------------------------

The subject of this issue's SPAG Interview has been a fixture in the IF
community for many years now, and his contributions have been many and
varied. In addition to providing consistent insight and humor on the
newsgroups and ifMUD, he's also authored Lethe Flow Phoenix (reviewed in
SPAG #9), Bad Machine, and a number of SpeedIF games, including "You Are
A CHEF!", the only SpeedIF game ever to be nominated for an XYZZY Award.
On top of this, he's written excellent reviews, contributed TADS library
modules, and now has achieved the monumental: a Java TADS applet that
also happens to be the first TADS interpreter created from the ground up
by someone *other* than Mike Roberts. I'm proud to present The SPAG
Interview with Dan Shiovitz.


   SPAG: First off, the usual opening question: Could you tell us a
   little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and
   so forth? 

DS: I'm probably a typical r*if person in that I'm in my mid-twenties and
work as a programmer. In specific, I live in Seattle and work for
Infospace in the search group, which covers,, and various other search/directory things people may even
have heard of (e.g., the AOL white pages). I have been doing IF related
things since '92, I blush to admit. Digging around on google, it looks
like my first post is here:
which says "hey, where can I find ALAN?" 

   SPAG: Looking at some of those early posts, I'm reminded that you
   used to have "The Grim Reaper" in your .sig. What's the story behind

DS: Well, the reason I'm no longer using it is partly because I kept
getting email saying "Are you the famous phreaker of the same nym?" and
I had to embarassedly write back "Uh, no, sorry, I'm just this guy," but
mostly because I am no longer cool enough to carry it off.

Anyway, I poked around with ALAN for a while and then switched to TADS
as the result of a bet with a friend of mine, and a couple years later
wrote an actual game. 

   SPAG: Right, "Lethe Flow Phoenix". That game's almost seven years old
   now. How do you feel about it today? 

DS: It's not bad. I mean, it's no Galatea, but I'm not unhappy with it.
If I had it all to do over again I'd probably make the credits page

And some other things happened after I wrote that and eventually I wrote
the thing we are technically talking about.

   SPAG: I was just getting to that. Okay, so let's talk about Jetty.
   Why did you decide to undertake such a daunting project? Any
   anecdotes to share about the adventure of writing a TADS interpreter
   from scratch? 

DS: For years when people had said "I see there's txd -- is there a TADS
disassembler?" I had always said "no, the source is out there but it's
impossible to actually understand it and there's no other spec or
documentation of the VM format". So a year ago I was saying that to
someone for the umpteenth time, and then later it occurred to me that it
was just *practically* impossible, not *theoretically* impossible. And
of course from there to doing it is a short step (shades of the
invention of the Heart of Gold, I guess).

And after I wrote the decompiler, well, that was the undocumented part,
and there was plenty of documentation for the parser and so on, and I
wanted an applet and if I didn't write it who would? So there you go.

I don't have any amusing stories as such, since mostly it was just, you
know, coding. The main lesson learned is something I should have known
already: no matter how well you think it works, when you actually start
testing on real data (or games, in this case) you will discover it is
totally broken. Losing Your Grip was the bane of my existence for a
couple tense weeks, but without the source code that Stephen
thoughtfully uploaded, Jetty would be even farther from being bug-free. 

   SPAG: Speaking of "tt" (that decompiler), there are some TADS games
   I'd love to crack open, but I don't see tt in the IF Archive. Are you
   planning to make it available, and if not, why not? 

DS: Yeah, um, this is one of those things that I've been going back and
forth on. Obviously some TADS authors have a certain amount invested in
not having a decompiler out there, or at least it's a somewhat different
experience playing a game when you can (say) grab the text out whenever
you get stuck on a puzzle. In practice I plan on putting it out when I
get it cleaned up a little more, as it's not really ready for use by
anyone besides me yet. That cleanup's been stalled because there doesn't
seem to be much demand for the program, but I do intend to finish

   SPAG: While I was on the Jetty web page, I played a bit of Bad
   Machine, and it freaked out my head all over again. What inspired
   that game? How do you feel about the way it's been received? 

DS: I got fairly lucky with this one, in the sense that the idea arrived
more or less fully-formed and all that was left was (the tedious part)
execution. More specifically I am pretty sure this article in the Onion,
"Ask A Worker Bee" (which I would provide a link to, but it seems gone,
so you'll just have to trust me) [It's available in the book "The
Onion's Finest News Reporting, Volume 1" --Paul], was directly
inspirational. Beyond that, well, IF as a medium offers a number of
interesting advantages over static fiction. People are always mentioning
'complicity' as one of those but I don't find that very compelling --
the complicity is generally forced because if you don't go along,
there's no game. But what you can do without forcing is provide the
player a new *perspective*. So this was partly an attempt to give as
different a perspective as possible while not making the game
unplayable. I hope I found some kind of workable middle ground there.

   SPAG: You've done a number of SpeedIF pieces, including the only one
   ever to be nominated for an XYZZY award. What is it about the form
   that appeals to you? 

DS: Well, it's short, see. In theory this means that you can get out a
solid idea and it's out there and bam you have a game without working on
it for months. And this is very satisfying in some ways, particularly
when you're thinking "man, I'm totally incapable of writing IF". 

   SPAG: What was it like working on "Pick Up The Phone Booth And
   Aisle," the game which may have the largest number of co-authors in
   IF history? 

DS: Easiest IF I ever wrote part of; I vote next time we do a
Curses-sized IF game with two hundred authors. 

   SPAG: As an IF veteran, what's your assessment of the current state
   of interactive fiction? 

DS: Pretty cranky, I'm afraid. Or, rather, what it seems to me is that
people are breaking new ground and making exciting new kinds of games,
and at the same time new people are picking up the hobby, both of which
are great individually but in practice what this seems to create is a
growing gap between people just getting into developing IF and people
who have been around for a while. Hence endless debates on topics we've
all seen before: which language is better, why don't we do it all in
C++, I have a great new authoring system that requires no programming
wait where are you all going, etc. 

And that's fine and is something I expect, but somehow that seems to be
a majority of the discussion nowadays, so enh. I guess people are
putting that creativity into writing games, which is fine in a sense
since we get great games out of it, but I am also interested in
theory-as-theory and I'm sorry we don't see more of it. I personally
think that a moderated group would encourage more of the kind of
discussion I'm interested in, but there doesn't seem to be the broad
base of support necessary to make that happen, so we'll just have to
wait and see what happens.

   SPAG: Finally, another nickname question. Last year, Stephen Granade
   revealed that his ifMUD nickname "Sargent" grew from his initials,
   SRG. I've already tried that with "DS", though, and I don't get
   anywhere close to "inky." So out with it: why are you called "inky"? 

DS: It would be a good closer to the interview if I could reveal that
I've been living under an assumed name all this time and my initials are
actually "INK" or something, but all I can do is explain that everyone
else in my immediate family has a name that ends in -y, and ditto for
the dog, the cat, and the turtle, so when I was picking something short
and snappy for an IRC nick, "inky" seemed like a reasonable choice. And
it stuck so I stuck with it. And there we are.

If anyone has read down this far, by the way, I should mention there is
a new release of Jetty, version 1.1, on my page, which has a scrollbar
and some additional font & color support, so if you downloaded an
earlier version you may want to check this one out as an update.

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

Consider the following review header:

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

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

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

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

FROM: J. Michael Bottorff (pika_163 SP@G

TITLE: Akron
AUTHOR: Markus Kolic
EMAIL: markusrtk SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Below Average
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive

We've all seen it in many games, especially RPGs. Your character wakes
up and has no idea who he or she is. Amnesia sets in. In "Akron", this
is also true. However, when your character wakes up, he's in --
surprise! -- Akron, Ohio. It's where you live, you remember that much.
And so you tromp all over Akron (or a certain part of it at least,
because I don't think it's really that small) trying to search for who
you are.

So far so serious. However, when you stumble onto a cornfield, you get
this description:

   You have blundered into a cornfield. Oh my. It looks like this is
   another one of those annoying mazes that the programmer loves so
   much. Well, let me give you a little hint - just go NORTH and you'll
   be out of the maze! You see, I, the computer, have changed this game
   JUST FOR YOU! Or, I can - oh no. The programmer's coming.

The rest of the game follows suit, of course. In fact, the rest of the
game is even *wackier*. (I would give you an example, but that would be

The NPC's in this game are almost lifeless. The only one I could strike
up a conversation with, was the cop, and that was because he was a clue
to the game. Also, the game bugs are few, but drastic (for example, you
can't pick up the library card).

Some parts of "Akron" were endearing, others just irritating and
mind-boggling. I didn't think this game was very good, but nor very bad.
My advice: Pick it up if you are interested. If you like it, good. If
not, just get rid of it. It's not going to be everyone's cup of meat.

PLOT: A non-structured plot (0.5)
ATMOSPHERE: Good, Ohio-ish (1.2)
WRITING: Insanity shines through (0.8)
GAMEPLAY: A lot of walking (0.9)
VARIETY: Lots of variety (1.3)

CHARACTERS: Few, but lifeless (0.7)
PUZZLES: Completed with the right words (0.8)


[We've got a few more reviews from Stas Starkov in this issue, but this
time around he's enlisted the services of Valentine Kopteltsev to help
him edit his English into a bit more understandable form. Consequently,
I've changed far less than in previous issues. --Paul]

From: Stas Starkov 

NAME: Depravity Bites
AUTHOR: samjones
EMAIL: samanthamisunderstood SP@G
DATE: 2002
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters

My poor knowledge of English has played an evil joke on me. While
searching the IF-archive TADS games directory, I found a file, which was
quite large (so, I expected that it wasn't one of those tiny two-room
games), and released very recently. Thus, I had the bad luck to download
"Depravity Bites". Later, I checked what the word "depravity" meant.

Ahem... I wish I hadn't seen the game.

In short: this game is about perversity. One of the most decent
paragraphs in the game reads:

   Reaching up gingerly you rub circles around both your nipples,
   tweaking them slightly to prepare them for the pegs. Then you take a
   finger full of flesh just over the left nipple and apply the strong
   peg. At first you don't feel anything but then the sting kicks in. A
   sudden flash of discomfort strikes and your first reaction is to
   remove the clip, but that would defeat the object. As the second peg
   snaps its teeth into the plumped flesh of your right nipple you feel
   the full sting of both pegs take effect. Not a dull pain, but a
   constant, high-pitched tingle, making you think to yourself again
   and again, that you should take these off because they hurt. But you

The game explores the darkest corners of homosexuality, sadism, and
masochism. If you think that such a mix is just for you, you can try it.

Technically, the game is also less than impressive: "guess the verb"
problems, bugs, juvenile and very stupid humor, dull room descriptions.
And did I mention tons of dirt pouring from the game's lines? 

How did I find out so much about the game, though I hadn't the nerve to
finish it? Well, I had a look at the source file, which was enclosed
with the game package. It's amazing how low human beings can demean
themselves. I fear that tonight I'll experience horrible sexual
nightmares. Damn you, "samjones".

I don't want to spend any more of your and my time on this crashing
deviancy. Thus, my final word is: if you're not a sadomasochist, don't
even try to download the game. "Depravity Bites" shows very clearly why
such games like "Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country" -- an evil
parody on AIF (Adult IF) games -- are still being written. Compared to
"Depravity Bites", "SM: TUC" is a Christmas story.

Now I'm going to take a shower, and hope that my review won't be taken
as an advertisement for pornography.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Fallacy of Dawn
AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin
E-MAIL: beaver SP@G
DATE: 2001
PARSER: Hugo standard
SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)

One of the more interesting products of the revolution that has taken
place in IF over the past few years is Robb Sherwin. Okay, technically,
Robb (presumably) preexisted the revolution, but the style of his games
didn't, to my knowledge, and somehow I can't see anything he has written
getting created in 1996. What do I mean? Simply, Robb pretty clearly
doesn't write his game for the puzzles, and players familiar with Robb,
I'm guessing, don't play them for the puzzles either; rather, it's the
writing -- the setting, the dialogue, the turns of phrase that he
scatters around -- that makes his games worth playing, and everything
else is an afterthought at best. Fallacy of Dawn, Robb's latest and
longest, devotes more attention to puzzles than had his previous efforts
(Chicks Dig Jerks and Crimson Spring), but the effect is still much the

What's going on in Fallacy of Dawn? Well, it seems you live in a
dystopian city gone even worse and work in a retro video arcade -- your
life's passion appears to be '80s video games -- but you've been the
victim of a mugging that's left you with brain damage of sorts, and you
really need to scrape up cash for surgery. From there, the story careers
wildly here and there for a while, without much intervention from you;
your character has a habit of making important decisions during
noninteractive sequences. The upshot, however, is that you eventually
find yourself with two companions and a weapon, ready to accumulate some
money by any means necessary...

...and that's where things pretty much stop, plot-wise, for most of the
game. As in, you wander around performing random tasks that give you
money, and eventually you have enough, and the plot picks up again. The
middle section is more than half of the game, however, and it amounts to
a long meander. Worse, it's easy to run out of things to do and end up
wandering hither and yon asking for spare change. Not literally, but
close enough; it's not exactly interesting stuff. In that respect,
Fallacy of Dawn is a step back from Crimson Spring -- there's more to
the plot here than there was there, but there at least the plot kept
moving rather than going nowhere for most of the game. It's not even
accurate to call the digression a segue into puzzle IF rather than plot
IF, as there aren't really any puzzles to speak of; the gameplay usually
amounts to doing something extremely obvious, or following someone's
instructions very closely, in order to earn money (or, alternatively,
engaging in randomized combat, which hasn't been anyone's idea of a good
IF puzzle since 1982). Nor, even, is there character development to
speak of in this section -- your two companions tag along and say very
little. The raison d'etre, as far as I can tell, is to force you to
experience the setting in all its grimy glory, and that it does, ad
nauseam. But as gameplay, this is roughly on the level of a Towers of
Hanoi puzzle.

There are more problems. I mentioned above that Fallacy of Dawn devotes
more attention to puzzles than did Robb's previous games, but by that I
mean "has more of them," not "has more creative ones." There's the
puzzle where a vital item is under one of a whole bunch of objects, but
of course you have no way of knowing which one, nor even that anything
is under anything. (There's one thoroughly oblique hint, as far as I can
tell, but that's it.) There's the puzzle that you solve by doing
something over and over again, causing a certain NPC to (for reasons
that aren't wholly clear) act like a loon. There's the puzzle that you
solve when you're entirely incapacitated because the game, for no
particular reason, lets you do one thing. There are the "puzzles" that
amount to "try randomized combat, then try it again until you happen to
kill the bad guy." And don't even get me started on the ending sequence,
which requires insanely exact syntax under a tight time limit.

Nor are the problems only design-related. There's more unimplemented
scenery in Fallacy of Dawn than you can shake a stick at, and fewer
synonyms than you can, um, fail to shake a stick at. The graphics
regularly encroach on the text, and the gauges that are supposed to
represent your health and your need for a drug fix (really) are
represented by some strange high-ASCII characters. Toward the end, the
game appears to forget about compass directions and require an awful lot
of ENTER DOOR and such, for no discernible reason. And it's pretty easy
to run out of things to say (via conversation menus) to the various
NPCs, even when they really should have more on their minds; to some
extent, I suppose, that's par for the course with menus, but when, for
example, you have a romantic interlude -- at least, I think that's what
it was supposed to be -- you really should be able to say more than one
or two things.

But the writing -- ah, the writing. It's probably fair to say that
Robb's writing is an acquired taste, and it's not one that I've wholly
acquired -- the gore, for example, is just a tad too lovingly described
-- but I like it enough that I stick around to the end of a game that
doesn't have much more to offer than good writing. (Well, okay, there's
a plot, and outside sources had given me reason to believe that the
story would start up again eventually, but I doubt that would have been
enough.) Bizarre digressions abound -- this one, for instance, from the
opening text, in the middle of the description of the attack:

   It wasn't a very good showing for either my face or my TLA, in fact
   it brought my knowledge of Vegas handicapping factoids up to two: you
   always bet against the Bills in the Super Bowl, and you always take a
   vapourizer and a pair of fists against my face and my personal
   property. Even if you're getting the points, natch.

Funny one-liners abound (when you realized you failed to follow up on a
romantic opportunity, "How on earth did I mess this up? I need to stop
leaving the house without a personal social calendar assistant"), as do
memorable images (apartments in a certain complex "feel, when you're in
them, as well-crafted and sturdy as a margarine-slathered house of
playing cards"). And it's not a matter of an occasional humorous tidbit
-- there are amusing or memorably loopy lines in virtually every
paragraph. (Pizza that's getting cold "has a half-life of skittish
californium.") Fallacy of Dawn won its Best Writing XYZZY for a reason;
with a less skilled writer at the controls, this would be a fourth-rate
game, and I probably wouldn't have given it more than ten minutes.

As it is, well, it's worth experiencing, though I found myself wishing
for a text-dump utility more than once. The plot is second-rate sci-fi
at best, but even second-rate sci-fi is worth playing along with if it's
memorably written. I can't imagine what sort of IF Robb would write if
he turned his attention to some of the basic principles of game design,
and I wouldn't say that his writing makes up for every sin -- I wouldn't
recommend Chicks Dig Jerks to anyone. As much as Fallacy of Dawn does
wrong, however, I can't in good conscience refuse to give it a chuckle
and a thumbs-up.


From: Jacqueline A. Lott 

NAME: Fine-Tuned
AUTHOR: Dionysius Porcupine (a.k.a. Dennis Jerz)
EMAIL: jerzdg SP@G
DATE: 2001-2002
PARSER: Inform Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)
VERSION: Release 5

"The life of a daredevil adventurer leaves precious little time for
rest. There's always wickedness to thwart, innocence to preserve, and
honour to uphold." ...and with that short yet intriguing introduction,
you find yourself in the shoes (and goggles) of Troy Sterling, a man
well ahead of his time.

Fine-Tuned, in my opinion, is one of the better light-hearted games to
come along in quite awhile. Though early releases of the game were known
for being buggy, release five seems to be free of such distractions, and
is well worth setting aside an evening or two to enjoy. If you're
familiar with earlier versions of Fine-Tuned, release five has some
extra features as well, including enhanced interaction between the
characters, different solutions to some of the puzzles, a modified point
system, and additional implementation in certain areas of the game.

Dennis Jerz, writing as Dionysius Porcupine (a pen name which is
explained in the credits of the game), does a fantastic job of creating
an enjoyable game world, filled with memorable NPCs. As a player, I
normally don't enjoy games which are heavily scripted; I don't feel like
I'm playing the game so much as being dragged along through the plot.
Fortunately, Fine-Tuned is written in such a playful and imaginative way
that the player tends to forget that their fate is pre-determined.
Multiple solutions exist for some of the puzzles, and though each
solution garners the same number of points, the play differs somewhat,
giving the game replay value. Instead of arbitrarily forcing the plot,
chapters serve to break up the puzzles, allowing the player to focus on
the right objects in the right order, without that terrible "Led By The
Hand" feeling. The chapters also give you the opportunity to explore
other characters in the game aside from Troy Sterling, which makes for
interesting twists on how different characters think, feel, and interact
with the situations that are presented to them.

I could go on and on about who will enjoy this game. In short, I think
anyone with a sense of humor will have a fantastic time. If you've
played a variety of other IF titles, or are familiar with some of the
current authors of IF, you'll enjoy it a bit more. Beyond that, I found
that Jerz pulls in varied bits and pieces of real life from all over the
place. I laughed at loud several times because the game hit home on a
personal level, and I don't think I'm alone in this respect.

It is really little wonder that Fine-Tuned received nominations for Best
Setting and Best Player Character for the 2001 Xyzzy Awards. At the time
of this writing, the awards have not yet been handed out, and
Fine-Tuned's nominations wait alongside other deserving nominees.
Regardless of how the awards are distributed, Fine-Tuned is deserving of
both honors. Normally, I prefer to imagine that it's me in the game, but
for once, I really enjoyed playing the part of a highly developed PC.
Troy Sterling is a man of fashion, a hero for the younger generation,
defender of the environment and protector of the weak. He has definite
flair, and it's just plain fun to imagine yourself in his world - a
world with great friends, malicious enemies, fun puzzles, and humor at
every turn. All this, combined with Jerz's well-developed story, make
playing Fine-Tuned a delight.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Lock and Key
AUTHOR: Adam Cadre
DATE: 2002
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF archive)

Say this for Adam Cadre: he doesn't repeat himself. There are darn few
substantive themes that tie any two of his games together, and even
those are pretty abstract (a dash of misanthropy and cruelty here, a
smidgen of mental instability there, etc.). Lock and Key, Adam's latest,
is very much a case in point: the gonzo humor and the queasy feeling
that you're not entirely aligned with the forces of light are familiar,
but the context, namely One Big Puzzle, is new in the Adam oeuvre. It
works quite well, though, particularly if you like that sort of thing
but even, to some extent, if you don't.

You're head of a security company hired to build a better dungeon for a
fairly unpleasant king -- the king's portrayal is largely comic with a
dash of brutality tossed in now and again. You arrange a series of traps
in the dungeon, then stand by and watch as an adventurer overcomes all
of them and lose your job and your head as he escapes. So you try it
again, and again, and again, eventually noting that different traps have
different effects, and at long last, after several dozen repetitions at
least, the adventurer's escape is foiled and you brag to the king that
no one escapes your dungeon (reminiscent of Varicella, of course, where
similar massive repetition was necessary; your character makes a comment
at the end about no one having the chance to go back and try it over

Adam made a comment in his competition reviews this past year about
"participatory comedy" in Fine Tuned, and Lock and Key strives for some
of the same thing. That is, some of the humor here derives from the
player's cluelessness, meaning unfamiliarity with the logistics of the
game. It turns out, for example, that you need to make a path into and
out of the dungeon in a specific way, but you have no way of knowing
what the game has in mind beforehand. Rather than dropping a message in
brackets along the lines of "[You need more doors, dummy.]," the puzzle
does its correcting through the game itself -- sometimes via a trusty
assistant who helpfully points out when you're being stupid, and
sometimes by actually letting you try out your defective dungeon (from
which the adventurer promptly escapes, of course). This is all very
well, and often it is funny, so I shouldn't complain too much -- but I'm
not sure I think it's a great concept (particularly when the mistakes
are beyond the reach of UNDO). It's actually not intrinsically different
from rooms-of-instant-death in Detective and such -- i.e., stumble into
comical suboptimal ending because you have no idea what the game has
around the corner -- and while the writing here is good enough to make
the suboptimal endings amusing rather than simply a drag, not everyone
writes as well as Adam does. This is an idea, in short, that worked okay
for Adam because he actually got me to laugh along at my own/my
character's stupidity (and likewise for Dennis G. Jerz in Fine Tuned)
but the chances aren't that good that the next person to try it will
carry it off with the same flair. (And even so the
figure-out-how-the-world-works section of Lock and Key was not the

The puzzle -- hmmm. It works well, I suppose; there's a certain element
of "why does this work and not that? and why doesn't this affect that?,"
but some degree of that is inevitable and my logical objections were
few. What makes it hard is that the relevant hints are often dropped
relatively unobtrusively into the text, so it's easy to miss them -- all
the more so when you appear to be getting the same old failure message.
This is participatory comedy of another sort, I guess -- you've seen the
adventurer escape from your dungeon so many times that you no longer pay
attention to the details -- but it's not all that howlingly funny.
Still, it's a good puzzle on a lot of levels; it combines resource
allocation, logic, and detail-spotting in a way that goes well beyond
most IF. There are also a lot of technical tricks that serve the game
well -- there's a diagram of the puzzle that helps keep track of what's
where, and a record/replay command that lessens the tedium somewhat.

There are a lot of good puzzles on the IF archive, though, and I'm not
sure I would have kept this one on my hard drive if it hadn't been
written by Adam. There are lots of funny snippets, and some priceless
ones -- the sequence involving the gladiator whom you install in one of
the dungeon rooms to kill the adventurer, and who turns out to be a
long-lost friend, is funny enough in itself, but the adventurer's rage
at the king ("YOU'LL PAY FOR THIS!") when the gladiator meets an
untimely demise is hilarious. A significant chunk of the gameplay is
there solely for humor value; for instance, you need to order each trap
individually, which means calling the trap's vendor (in a manner of
speaking). Think about the comic possibilities of deathtrap vendors
(each specializing in a particular kind of deathtrap) -- okay, humor
potential, but trust me, Adam appears to have thought about those
possibilities a LOT. Lots of familiar fantasy tropes -- evil king, mean
guards, etc. -- come in for their share of mockery, of course (vain and
impulsive king, bumbling guards), which isn't new in itself, but Adam
has given the mockery such breadth -- so many ways the guards can
bumble, so many funny lines for the king -- that it goes well beyond the
usual fantasy-parody tropes. As in Varicella (along with other Adam
efforts, but that one in particular), there's an element of misanthropy
to the humor; it's not gentle stuff. And here, as there, your character
is hardly an unequivocal force for good -- getting into the game means
acclimating to the role of aider-and-abetter of evil tyrant, though it's
an evil tyrant with funny one-liners. But for those who can wrap their
minds around the game's worldview, there's fun to be had outside the

Lock and Key works well, in short -- it's not revolutionary, and those
who profess themselves unable to solve puzzles may find themselves
stumped -- but as a puzzle and as another line in Adam's list of
achievements, it's worth experiencing.


From: Øyvind Thorsby 

   Atmosphere  1.0
   Gameplay    1.7
   Writing     1.7
   Plot        1.2
   Wildcard    1.0
      Total:   6.6
   Characters  1.0
   Puzzles     1.5

Lock & Key is set in a standard comedy fantasy world. You start out
without much back-story locked in a cell.

However, for the main part of this rather short game you are trying to
design a dungeon. You get a generous budget to buy traps and critters
with, and a map of the dungeon to place your deadly surprises on. This
is pretty cool. You also decide where the door in the dungeon shall be.

Designing a dungeon could have been very complicated, but quite some
effort has been made to make it easy, like the aforementioned map. There
are some problems; after the first time I tried it I found out there are
strict rules as to where the doors must be placed, so I had to start
over again. Also, some of the functions put into the game to make it
easier did not work as they should. So it is not perfect, but it is
pretty good.

Making the perfect dungeon is difficult, and one is clearly intended to
play the game many times and learn from one's mistakes. Playing through
the game is lots of fun at first, but gets a bit tedious after a while.
There are many hints that you are on the right track, but I think there
could have been more of them, or they could have been clearer, otherwise
you just have to guess what to do. 

When a player is supposed to play through a part of a game many times,
it might be a good idea to make this part as short as possible. There
are parts in Lock & Key where one can not do much, and I think most
players would have to play through these parts at least 10 times to
complete the game. The parts are not horribly long, and it is not a
terrible problem; you can just type z a lot, but still.

The game makes fun of clichés of fantasy in general, and specifically
fantasy computer games. The humour is OK.

All in all this is an original and good, but not great, game.


From: Stas Starkov 

NAME: The Mulldoon Murders
AUTHOR: Jon Ingold
EMAIL: ji207 SP@G
DATE: 2002
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

The last IF Competition's winner, Jon Ingold, is a very productive
author. The Competition has just finished and Jon already has made a new
game. And not just an easy short game, but a long, complex one.

This game is great. This game is big. This game is puzzle-oriented. This
game is detailed. This game is designed tightly. And all this made me

Is it worth your time to play the game? If you expect a semi-CYOA game
where you don't play but turn pages, then probably not. If you prefer
easy puzzles or no puzzles at all, if story is your first priority, and
if you are fond of experiments with IF art forms, then I must advise you
that this game is not for you. But if you're a puzzle zealot, if you
like to exert your brainpower, you'll be delighted in the game.

I have been banging my head against the puzzles in MM ("The Mulldoon
Murders") for a long time. And it was an enjoyable time for me. (Sounds
masochistic, doesn't it?) And the main reason for the enjoyment was: I
love to solve good puzzles. I like to play with various forms of
gadgets. And I'm fond of puzzles wedded with a good story.

As the author of MM says, this game is "an interactive sequel". That
means you're going to like the game much more if you've played its
predecessor, "The Mulldoon Legacy". I confess, I didn't finish "The
Mulldoon Legacy", because its puzzles were too hard for me. So, I'm not
an expert here. Nevertheless, I enjoyed "The Mulldoon Murders" _on its
own _. If you haven't played "The Mulldoon Legacy", don't worry --
you're not obligated to do that.

The game's premise: you, a private eye, are sent to find the protagonist
of the previous game ("The Mulldoon Legacy") in a big and spooky museum.
But could it be said that the whole game is a big in-joke? No -- while
the game's scene of action is the same, the puzzles and the story are
totally different. But of course they're related to the old puzzles and,
which is even more important, to the old story -- and this adds a lot of
fun. In spite of MM being a sequel, its approach to writing is entirely
unlike the previous game's. It's sufficient to say that your protagonist
thinks he's been sent "to find the idiot" -- the classically cynical
point of view of a gumshoe. Is _that_ bad? No, how can classic be bad?!
Jon Ingold managed to mix the cynicism with really good atmosphere. Look
at this:

   >go east
   You crash through the bushes. What a life.

   West of the River
   Suddenly you are hemmed in, by bushes on the west side, the museum
   building to the north, and a tall wall to the south. Your torch light
   flicks around the space, dragging a lit circle which makes your eyes
   sting; flecking on the unkempt grass under your feet.

   Leaning near the river is a metal canister, the side ominously split.

   To the east is the dagger-blade of a stream, running through a low
   arch in the wall under the museum itself. It has frozen solid.

The atmosphere was great. It was the second reason why I loved the game
so much. It was very effective and... gothic(?).

Another aspect where the game meets the highest modern standards is the
extent to which the author intervenes with the player's actions. On one
hand, the game won't allow the player to perform really stupid actions;
on the other hand, it doesn't assume too much of what the player really
wants to do. This way, you never get messages like "You open the door
and shoot at the guardian who appears in the room" in MM. (Well, that's
_almost_ true - there is one exception to this rule in the game.) And
that's how I like it: limited author appearance in the player's actions
gives the game more interactivity and doesn't make it unfairly hard or
unfairly easy.

And now about how hard this game is. Yes, it is quite hard, especially
in the middle part. However, if you've solved "Mulldoon Legacy" on your
own (Wow, you're kind of cool!), you'll find this game _easy_. Most of
the game puzzles are intuitive and realistic -- if your mind is a bit
twisty. And the puzzles don't require you to perform unmotivated (if you
believe that solving a puzzle is a sufficient motivation) and strange
actions. The puzzle realism -- that's why the game has won a place in my
heart. And the realism was deliberate -- you'll see that in the end.

To tell the truth, some puzzles could be solved only the hard way, i.e.
you couldn't just smash a locked door and move further through the game
like a locomotive, using just brute force. But this game is
puzzle-based, so puzzles are there to let the player solve it the hard
way. If you think that puzzles must be solved in all possible ways, this
game is not for you. However, Jon Ingold has limited the manipulation of
objects in such a way that you'll meet a possibility of alternative
solutions quite rarely. Yes, puzzles are deliberately hard, but that's
why the game is puzzle-based.

But as some games have shown, easy puzzles can be made hard when
designed badly. If the player needs to apply twenty objects in his/her
inventory to hundred objects scattered across the map in hundred rooms,
he/she will lose interest pretty soon. Each object in a game should be
thought over carefully -- concerning both the way it works, and its
relevance to the game. If the game has too few complex objects, it's a
Scott Adams adventure. On the other hand, if a puzzle-based game has too
many objects, not only will it turn the author's work into a nightmare,
it also will bore the player to death because he/she hardly will be able
to solve a single puzzle, let alone the whole game. And Jon has shown
that he is a master at creating puzzles -- they are solvable but not
easily. So the game design was well thought-out.

Of course, the game's puzzles were not as trivial as "move the rug", or
"collect four parts of the obscure key". You may ask now, of what type
were the puzzles, then? To answer in short -- Jon Ingold has created
puzzles that lie _a bit_ out of the player's first reaction to a puzzle.
To me, some puzzles were easy, some not. For example, I ran through the
second half of the game quite fast. But before... I asked the author for
hints and Jon gave them to me. I don't think that I'd be able to finish
the game without his help. But I think that soon someone will upload a
hint file to the IF archive. 

Recommended for all puzzle lovers.


From: Francesco Bova 

The Mulldoon Legacy is a big game, in fact the biggest I've ever played.
In spite of its expansive and interesting scope however, it's a game
that is seldom if ever analyzed or discussed. Taking a look at the
annals of IF review you see a lot of great games being mulled over like
Photopia and Spider And Web, but nary a mention of the Mulldoon Legacy.
In fact, finding a Mulldoon review is next to impossible (barring, of
course, Duncan's review in SPAG). So the question remains: why is a game
as dense and interesting as the Mulldoon Legacy not being discussed? One
reason might be that with so cavernous a game to review, it's hard to
know where to start. The Mulldoon Legacy has 100+ rooms, many set-piece
puzzles, and countless little subplots that all form threads in an
overall pattern, but deciding which thread to start with is daunting to
say the least. Another problem might be effectively summarizing what all
the threads put together really mean. This was my biggest problem,
because when I'd finally finished the Mulldoon Legacy, although duly
impressed, I found myself unable to articulate my gaming experience.

Well, I'm now glad I didn't hypothesize as to what it all meant because
it appears I wasn't on the right track all along. The Mulldoon Murders,
Jon Ingold's sequel to his mammoth epic of a masterpiece goes a long way
in capping off the Mulldoon Legacy and bringing closure to some
unanswered questions from the original, while opening the doors to a few
others. There's a great story in there somewhere, but I'll take a look
at that a bit later. For now, let's focus on the gameplay.

More an epilogue that takes place a few weeks after the original
Mulldoon than a true sequel, the Mulldoon Murders focuses on the same
weirdly constructed museum we loved plodding through in the original.
This time however, instead of giving us 100+ rooms to explore, the game
focuses primarily on one corner of the museum. 

A smaller amount of rooms also means a smaller amount of items to
interact with, which is significant because the original game in the
series was often bogged down by the combinatorial explosion that comes
with a lot of rooms and hundreds of items. Most of the scenery and room
structures are very familiar with slight twists in the geography; That
is to say, it's not the exact same layout as the original but the
grounds, principal NPCs and some items have taken on mutated, often
darker, characteristics from the original.

Considering the landscape by and large is the same, I found it
impressive that there was very little duplication of puzzles. By my
count, prior knowledge from the original game only helped me in one or
two areas, as Jon implemented some novel and interesting ways to
traverse the same hurdles.

The puzzles tended to be multi-faceted, which is to say you'll need to
do a fair bit of lateral thinking. Almost all the puzzles are
satisfying, and there is plenty of reuse of apparently single-use items
(an Ingold hallmark) in creative and initially unforeseen ways. The
puzzles are mostly fair, with only one or two relying on a blind faith
that rewards you without really knowing why. Having said that though,
the game play is tight enough and the landscape small enough that even
if you get stumped, fiddling around with different objects should help
you find your way quite quickly.

Other nice features include not being able to put the game into an
unwinnable state, and absolutely beautifully drawn out scenery
descriptions. Ingold's descriptions are stark and rarely verbose, with
the odd grammatical or spelling mistake. Interestingly enough I thought
the odd mistake added to the raw feel of the prose. Here's an example:

   Strange Sculptures Room
   This is the western end of a long hallway, and where the rubble of
   your explosion stops, strange sculptures start. But these sculptures
   aren't stone - they're blocks of plastic, bits of cloth, squares of
   foil. The most striking is the large celery stick reaching up to the
   ceiling. A few stairs lead down to the southwest, out of this
   particular exhibit.

So all in all, a great little puzzle game with great scenery. To my
surprise however, it didn't end there. As with the original in the
series, I found myself getting so caught up in the prose and the puzzles
that I rarely noticed the fact that there were Weighty Issues Afoot.
It's interesting that in both Mulldoon games I found myself discounting
Jon's storytelling ability by focusing on the games more as puzzlefests,
only to be ultimately surprised by the endings. 

At the beginning of this review, I had mentioned being glad that I had
not hypothesized as to what was really going on in the original, and
here's why: My initial feelings after finishing the original Mulldoon
were that the final outcome in that game had been mostly *a good thing*
for the PC. The sequel left me with a much more malevolent taste in my
mouth, which in turn made me think differently about the original in the
series and its many threads and subplots. This shifting of assumptions
was in fact the piece of Mulldoon II that appealed most to me because,
like a fine wine that takes on new characteristics with the right
cheese, it left a completely different taste on my palate.

The ending has sparked some good debate on r.g.i-f, and has turned on a
whole new group of players to the Mulldoon series which is great for Jon
Ingold and ultimately good for IF. As for myself, I think I've got a
better inkling as to what's going on but I'm still not sure I have
enough to hypothesize as to what it all means (fortunately, I didn't let
that stop me from reviewing this time). Here's hoping Mulldoon III sorts
out a few more of my quandaries (yes Jon, this is a request).

Finally, in some of the game notes, Jon mentions that Mulldoon II works
as a stand-alone game. Although I agree that prior knowledge of the
original won't necessarily help you complete the game any faster, it
will certainly enhance your playing experience as a whole. As a result,
playing Mulldoon II without giving the original a shot first is not


From: Thomas Smith 

TITLE: Pytho's Mask
AUTHOR: Emily Short
E-MAIL: emshort SP@G
DATE: 2001
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

I want to marry Galatea. This is something that should be got out in the
open, to avoid any later confusion. Galatea is stimulating, engaging,
fun, not to mention one of the greatest -- probably the single greatest
-- technical achievements in IF. And I want to marry her.

Sadly, there is nobody in Pytho's Mask who I want to marry. This is
probably a good thing. On the other hand, I do want to buy the palace
and live in it. These strange desires should probably be a cause for
concern and -- eventually -- expensive therapy; however, they do serve
to point one thing out: the tremendous talent of Emily Short.

There are other things that could point this out, of course. Things like
the bravura opening: a few lines of cryptic dialogue are followed by an
immediate scene-change, at which point you are engaged in conversation.
This is impressive. Not necessarily because of the technical difficulty
-- anyone can script an NPC to say a line -- but because of the sheer
cheek of it: how many IF authors are there who even encourage you to
converse with their NPCs, let alone draw your attention to them? 

Of course, this is done not out of cheek, but rather because this author
-- almost uniquely in IF -- can get away with it; Emily Short's NPCs are
far ahead of anyone else's, both technically and in terms of character.
In fact, that could be said to be the only problem with Pytho's Mask:
the technical aspects of this game represent such a leap ahead that the
other parts of the game seem occasionally to struggle to keep up. The
idea of combining ask/tell and menu-based conversation systems so as to
keep the fluidity of the first but the sense of the second was utterly
brilliant -- but there are many places where either so much has been
implemented that it is possible to simply get lost in conversation, or
others where the crucial topic is mysteriously lacking.

Is it unfair to judge Pytho's Mask like this? By any other author's
standards, the conversations in it are a hell of an achievement -- it's
just that this isn't any other author, this is the author responsible
for Galatea, and indeed the author responsible for this system. Not only
that, but everything else about the game is superb. What seems like a
slightly bizarre fantasy story rapidly settles into a whodunit -- or
rather, whos-going-to-do-it -- with added love interest, both of which
are beautifully written and paced. The writing is good; the
implementation is deep (although with some gaps). The game is shortish,
but that isn't in itself a problem -- there's plenty packed in.
Generally, then, this is not quite a perfect game, but it's getting
pretty close.


From: Stas Starkov 

NAME: Stranded
AUTHOR: Jim Bayers
EMAIL: bayers SP@G
DATE: 2001
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GNU General Public License Version 2)

What would you say if you saw a room description like this:

   Main Street
       This is Odduck's main street which is also Highway 13. Huge elms
   grow to each side, their leaves casting mottled shade on the
   pavement. It's safe to cross as there are few cars. Set in the center
   of the street is a manhole cover. From here, Main Street stretches
   east and west. To your north is the Odduck Diner, home of world
   famous jerked chicken. South of you is a park filled with trees.

What was your first thought after reading the paragraph above? Let me
guess -- you thought, "The author can't write at all". Yes, it's obvious
that the writing is icky, that the sentences are put in the wrong order,
that the sentences themselves are very short and unamusing, that ... but
that's enough. 

And what would you say if you saw a whole game consisting of such
passages? I can imagine your answer being short -- a four-letter word.

But I haven't told you all the truth. Those stylistic lapses were done
deliberately! Why do I think so? Hmmm... Because it looks _too_ babyish,
_too_ art brut, _too_ simple-hearted. But: "Stranded is an interactive
game for educational use," the game author says. (Have you noticed the
absence of the word "fiction"?) And believe me, he doesn't lie -- the
game was _intended_ for a young, very young player. But the mere
intention is not enough to make a good game, I think.

I don't know much about nurturing children, but when I was a child, I
read well-written books; they were true literature by true authors. And
I've never read a book written by a child for children, but I'm aware
that there can be other approaches to literature for children.
Apparently, the author of "Stranded" took one of those other approaches.
I think, during game creation, he was under the impression a child's
book should express itself in baby-like language. Was he right? Do
children enjoy the same lowbrow language that they talk themselves?
Maybe -- I can't judge: I'm neither a child, nor a schoolmaster.
Nevertheless, I can't disregard the game's language, because it's _me_
who has to express my opinion of it (and the game in general), and it's
_you_ who have to make a decision whether to play the game, or not, on
the basis of that opinion.

However, it's not as easy as you probably think. The game also contains
graphics, which look as if made by a child. The pictures were not drawn
by hand and then scanned -- rather, they were created with the aid of a
vector graphic editor ("CorelDraw", I suspect). They are not ugly, but
they are _intended_ to look like a kid's work: unrealistic perspectives,
askew lines, flat two-dimensional depictions of 3D-objects. But wait --
there is a style of art that uses this very approach. It is called
"primitivism". The disciples of the style think that art must be
uncomplicated and jolly. 

Primitivism is mainly a pictorial art, but when I look at the writing of
the game I notice it's primitivistic, as well. Thus, "Stranded" is a
work of primitivism. See -- the game is a work of art! But not everybody
is ready to enjoy that art style. I wasn't, for instance -- to me, the
writing seemed just ... umm ... not good. But I'm sure somebody will
like the style, at least because it's so unusual.

But let's go into further detail of the game.

As I said, "Stranded" is intended for novice players, so there are not
many puzzles or other challenges. The game is quite straightforward and
easy: your protagonist -- a young pupil -- missed a bus in a small town
called Odduck. Now he/she wants to leave the town to go home, or
get back on his/her bus. And to do that, he/she needs money for a
ticket. In such a situation, the only possibility is ... to find a job.
To be more specific, he/she runs errands. All the errands are easy, and
not very interesting.

From a hardcore IF-player's point of view, the game's dialogue system is
not done very well. It's menu-based, so you can choose one of its
options at a time, but it also lets the player have the same dialogue
again and again and again. Well, the usual graphic adventure features
exactly this type of dialogue system, and children might find it more
convenient; but again, I'm not a child, so I didn't like it.

Some of the puzzles are purely educational, some didactic. That's good
for a young player.

The number of locations in the game is quite large, but the locations
can be accessed easily and they look ... uhm ... bright. And the whole
game is lighthearted. The town the PC gets stuck in is a big, sunny, and
almost trouble-free place, inhabited exclusively by kind people. The
town residents, who are speaking a funny vernacular, lead a peaceful,
happy life. But the PC needs to get home. Like in real life.

Unfortunately, I've found a bug in the game; it wasn't terrible, but it
let me win the game without solving all the puzzles. I sent a note to
the game author saying about the bug, and he promised that it will be
fixed in a next version.

Let me sum it up: "Stranded" is a short cushy game either for young
novice players or for somebody who feels nostalgic about innocent
childhood. Hardcore IF players probably will find the game weak.


From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Vacation Gone Awry
AUTHORS: Johan Berntsson, Fredrik Ramsberg, and Staffan Friberg
E-MAIL: vacation SP@G
DATE: 2001
PARSER: Inform, modified somewhat
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)
VERSION: Release 2

I must acknowledge that Vacation Gone Awry got my attention right away
-- but not with the cleverness of its premise or with a nifty hook. No,
what grabbed me was the copyright notice, which described the game as
"copyright (c) 1988-2002." Not many works of any kind are fourteen years
in the making, and IF has a sufficiently short shelf life that putting
that much time into an IF game is worthy of note. More to the point,
though, the world of IF changed more than a little between 1988 and
2002, and I wondered just how retro Vacation Gone Awry would feel. The
short answer: fairly. But not unpleasantly so.

One of the aspects that makes Vacation feel a little dated is that the
plot is a bit on the ostensible side. You're vacationing with your
family when a big causal event happens, which leads to various puzzles
involving getting into a research lab, which leads to standard
research-lab situations and mildly artificial puzzles, many of the
there-must-be-*something*-important-behind-this-obstacle variety. There
are NPCs, to be sure, but most are cardboard at best; their saving grace
is that most of them do move around without, as far as I can tell,
tripping over any bugs. Most importantly, though, nothing much happens
after the first third or so of the game, besides that you solve puzzles;
most IF of more recent vintage is somewhat more story-driven, in that
solving puzzles will lead not only to more puzzles but also to some sort
of plot development, but in Vacation the plot is pretty much given to
you whole at the beginning. This stuff isn't the kiss of death, I
suppose, but it does give the game a certain flavor.

As a puzzle- rather than a plot-driven game, however, Vacation is a
reasonably good, though by no means perfect, example of the form. Lessee
-- the good: there's a timing puzzle that involves a certain amount of
large-scale thinking (figuring out who's where when) and some advance
planning, though some trial and error is necessary as well. The bad:
that same puzzle requires an astounding amount of stupidity from a
certain NPC; let's just say that most people, when they encounter
someone walking away from a suspicious event, don't just wave them by.
The good: the game's world is built in a way that does a passable job of
modeling a real research lab -- not every locked door can be opened, for
instance, and certain locations are there because realism requires them,
not because they're essential to a puzzle. The bad: some of the red
herrings are simply confusing and don't appear to be driven by realism,
as there's no particular reason why the features in question should
appear where they do (which tends to suggest to the savvy player that
puzzles are at work). The good: a puzzle that involves delving into an
NPC's past. The bad: the way you put that knowledge to use is (a) cruel,
(b) far from subtle, and (c) made unnecessarily hard by the point in the
game -- i.e., very early -- where the puzzle comes up. As in, the game
closes off if you don't take advantage of a specific opportunity at a
specific time, and taking advantage of that opportunity requires
knowledge that you're unlikely to have gathered by that point. The good:
a multi-room puzzle that's an homage of sorts to a pretty good puzzle
from Lurking Horror. The bad: here, unlike there, solving the puzzle in
the way you do really should attract some attention, but the attention
never comes.

You get the idea. The design problems aren't severe by any means, and
most probably wouldn't have been considered design flaws at all in 1988;
a lot of them amount to NPC stupidity or cardboardness, and those things
haven't always been considered major warts. Still, the game simply
doesn't try all that hard in that department -- there are quite a few
things that the NPCs should be able to talk about but can't, and you can
carry around all sorts of suspicious items without any comment from
them. There's also the larger problem that, even though you're supposed
to be working with some scientists in a lab, no one seems particularly
interested in actually working with you, and you can go about your
puzzle-solving business without anyone asking what you're doing. The
puzzles themselves are clever in their way; it's just that the player
who says to himself "but I could never get away with that" may get onto
the wrong track.

The writing is adequate, though largely unexceptional -- most of the
descriptions are pretty workmanlike, but there are flashes of
personality here and there. Trying to charge off into a storm elicits
"Hey! There's a blizzard going on, in case you forgot," and "search
jeans" brings "You figured out the difference between boys and girls a
long time ago. You know what is in the jeans." There are some clumsy
moments as well, though -- for some reason, Inform's default "That's
hardly portable" for stationary objects has been replaced by "That seems
unmobile," not an improvement, and this description of a sound, "There's
that whistling sound again. It does sound like someone whistling," is
simply redundant. This paragraph is representative:

   The corridor, entering from the south, ends at a heavy door made of
   steel. Judging from the temperature, being somewhat lower here than
   in the rest of the building, you jump to the conclusion that the door
   could lead out into the cold (or into a giant freezer, perhaps...)

The "being somewhat lower" phrase is clumsy and "judging from the
temperature" is a little wordy, but "jump to the conclusion" and "giant
freezer" are pretty funny, in a wry way. The writing is also marred by
sprinkling of typos and misspellings that recurs just often enough to be
noticeable. The problems -- e.g., "Suddenly high-pitched alarm signals
start emerging from hidden loudspeakers"; do sounds really "emerge"? --
aren't so awkward that they make things unclear, however, and on the
whole the writing isn't a major flaw.

The technical aspect is okay, on the whole -- the NPC movement daemons
work particularly well, and one complex object in the castle was well
handled. There are also very few library responses, though some of the
replacements are less helpful than the library; one that I found
particularly irritating was, as a generic failure message, "You do. Not
that it seems to change anything," even though more often than not the
action in question had not been "done." I wrestled with the syntax a few
times, but mostly when I was on the wrong track anyway, and synonyms are
reasonably plentiful. The problems lie more in the design.

How grave those problems are is, as usual, a matter of taste. As most of
the puzzles are reasonably well-conceived, some will enjoy this
thoroughly; as the logic is often less than thorough, particularly
around the edges, some will find this annoying. For my own part, I ended
up somewhere in the middle, but a given player's attitude will more than
likely depend on how that player feels about IF created circa 1988.

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

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

Name                    Avg Sc    Chr     Puz # Sc  Issue Notes:
====                    ======    ===     === ====  ===== ======
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                 5.9     1.1     1.1    3  15,18 F_INF_ARC
Awe-Chasm                 3.0     0.7     0.7    2      8 S_I_ST_ARC
Babel                     8.5     1.7     1.3   11     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               7.6     1.5     1.7   11  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               7.1     1.5     1.4   13      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
Eins Swei Spiegelei       5.0     1.1     1.0    1        F_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              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   11     17 F_INF_ARC
Lock And Key              6.6     1.0     1.5    1     20 F_GLU_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                 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               6.5     1.3     1.1    4 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                  7.3     1.4     0.9    6 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              8.0     1.7     1.4   10     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             7.5     1.5     1.6    4     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.

As usual, veeery little activity in the ol' Top 10. To wit: Babel moves
up a spot, from #9 to #8. Consequently, Spellbreaker moves from #8 to
#9. And that's all. Good thing I decided against hiring Casey Kasem to
announce these charts -- he'd be bored out of his skull.

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.  Babel                 8.5   11 votes
9.  Spellbreaker          8.5   8 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
( You can also, if you like, send ratings
directly to me at obrian SP@G Instructions for how the rating
system works are in the SPAG FAQ, available from 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!

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

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

Lock & Key




From: Eytan Zweig 

TITLE: Lock & Key
AUTHOR: Adam Cadre
DATE: January 2002
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)

This is a SPECIFICS review, which means that it contains explicit
spoilers and analysis of the game's puzzles. Worse than that, it is
mostly occupied with mentioning where "Lock & Key" went wrong, and not
on what it did right, even though it did a lot more right than wrong. If
you haven't played it, all I can say is that "Lock & Key" is a lot of
fun, and quite easy - don't deprive yourself of the pleasure it offers
by reading this review first. 

"Lock & Key" is pure puzzle IF, and it's quite clear from the moment you
finish the prologue and start the game proper that the plot exists to
serve the puzzle and not vice-versa. The writing itself is great, with
nearly everything in the game being both entertaining and easy to
understand. The overall plot is basically a parody of old-school IF
conventions, with those conventions arranged as just the way the world
works -- adventurers will have a supply of seemingly randomly selected
items that happen to be just right for the job, every dungeon must have
a way out, every maze just serves as a delaying tactic, and guards are
the most brainless creatures in creation. The player is put into the
position of making a dungeon work with these limitations. 

Unfortunately, the plot quickly starts to become irrelevant, as the
player has to restart the game over and over in order to figure out his
next step. It's not just that the game is a relearn-by-dying game --
Adam Cadre himself wrote "Varicella", which shares that trait with "Lock
& Key" but never loses the plot in the same way -- but that there really
isn't anything in the plot that isn't already told in the first attempt.
Obviously, the player will not restart the game from the beginning each
time, but only from the planning stage -- but even then, he'll be
reading the same text over and over dozens of times before it's over. To
make things worse, once the plans are given, the endgame mostly consists
(with one major exception) of typing "z" repetitively -- about 20 times
are needed to play the whole thing through. Adam Cadre kindly provides
the ability to script the endgame commands and replay them, but that
just further removes the player from the plot, making it harder for to
look for any changing information. Moreover, this is not a fully
effective solution, as some player interactivity is required in the end.

But the way the endgame plays, even though it does so over and over,
isn't Lock & Key's biggest problem. The biggest problems Lock & Key
suffers from are not when the puzzle takes over the IF, but the design
of the puzzle itself, and its interface. The puzzle contains several
elements which don't really contribute anything to it, but merely serve
to make it less interesting. The first such element is the door-laying
stage -- according to the "making-of" notes, this was supposed to be an
opportunity for the player to lay his own mazes, which was then
simplified. Unfortunately, what remains is just tedious and
uninteresting -- the constraints on placing the doors are so extreme
that very few possible configurations remain, and among those, the most
obvious one (use all the rooms) is the correct one. Essentially, this
phase of the game boils down to the player having to type "open
direction", "look direction" 16 times in order to return to the
interesting stuff. The other pointless element is the money limit. It
does not really function as an inhibiting factor to the amount of traps
the player can place -- the dungeon's size does that; unless one tries
buying dragons, it is in fact a lot more difficult to run into the money
limit than not to do so. And the dragon gag, while funny, didn't need
the whole game mechanic there. The money limit also doesn't work well
plot-wise -- the king keeps praising you for staying on budget, but you
don't even have the choice of going over-budget. At the very least, it
would have been more amusing to allow the player to go over-budget and
then face the consequence when meeting the king rather than just block
him from doing so.

But the main problem of "Lock & Key", which all the nitpicks listed
above are really instances of, is that the interface is not suited for
the puzzle. In order to place a trap, you have to go through the double
stage of placing it and buying it. This allows Adam Cadre the
opportunity of writing twice as many entertaining events, but it also
makes the game twice as tedious -- the player has to go through the
events so many times that he will inevitably stop caring about reading
the never-changing text. You need to place 10 traps to win the game,
each of which must be mentioned twice (actually, there is a feature --
the command QBUY ALL -- which allow you to bypass this second stage, but
if it's documented somewhere, I haven't seen it). Worse, once you buy a
trap, you can't move it, which means that if you misplace a trap and
then save the game, you have to restart. So, at best, whenever you
restore the game you then have to buy all the traps. 

In a private correspondence, I asked why the game was designed this way,
instead of just having a single step (with all the text appearing at
once) which was reversible. The answer I received, I think, explains the
source of the problem -- the reason is that, from a story point of view,
planning and purchasing are a different thing; you wouldn't want to
interact with the shopkeeper whenever you look at the catalog. This is
true in life, and would be true if this was an attempt at simulationist
IF. But it's not, it's a puzzle, and as such it is a lot more important
that the puzzle interface be comfortable than that it should reflect the
way things work in real life.

So far, I've been heaping negative criticism on the game, and it seems
like I have a very bad opinion of it. I don't -- I think it's a
brilliant puzzle, and a very entertaining game. But the reason I took
five long paragraphs to list the flaws and only a few short lines here
and there to list its virtues is that I think that the flaws are more
interesting. Many words have been written about how modern IF should
function as a story-telling device, but not as much has been said about
how the capabilities of modern IF could be used for other things, such
as pure puzzles. "Lock & Key" attempts to be a puzzle, but it is
problematic mainly because it does not strip itself from enough of the
trappings of story-based IF in order to be a great puzzle; if a little
less thought was put into making things work "right", and a little more
thought was put into making them work smoothly, "Lock & Key" would be

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


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