ISSUE #30 - September 20, 2002

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

                         ISSUE #30

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

           SPAG Website:

SPAG #30 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. 

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

The Fellowship Of The Ring
Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Presents "A Fable"
Pick Up The Phone Booth And Aisle
Pick Up The Phone Booth And Dye
Tinseltown Blues

###### Review Package: An Unnkul Bunch Of Reviews ######
   GC: A Thrashing Parity Bit of the Mind
   The Horror of Rylvania
   The Legend Lives!
   Unnkulia One-Half: The Salesman Triumphant
   Unnkulia Zero: The Search for Amanda
   Unnkulian Underworld: The Unknown Unventure
   Unnkulian Unventure II: The Secret of Acme


First, the bad news: There's no interview in this issue of SPAG. A
contributor offered to do one, I said "Great!", and then that
contributor flaked. Ordinarily, I'd probably just delay the issue a week
or so, and do the interview myself, but this is the September issue of
SPAG, and the September issue must come out before the comp starts,
because once that day arrives, my IF energies are pretty much all Comp,
all the time. So no interview -- maybe I'll do two in some future issue
to make up for it. Sorry.

Now, let's clear that sour taste away with the good news. As you can see
from the section above, the SPAG review larder is quite well-stocked
this issue! Even more satisfying, our seventeen reviews come from no
less than *eight* different contributors. I think it's a remarkable
showing, especially taking into account that none of those eight
contributors are named Duncan Stevens. I want to thank everybody who
came through with a review for this issue -- it's a great expression of
community spirit, and it really touches my heart.

One batch of reviews in particular caught my imagination: Valentine
Kopteltsev sent me several reviews in one big document, each review
building on its predecessors, with an introduction explaining his point
of view, and a big theme tying all the reviews together. I thought this
was a really neat idea, and it seemed a crime to separate them all and
spread them throughout the issue in the way that SPAG reviews are
normally presented. So instead, with grateful acknowledgement to Mr.
Kopteltsev, I give you SPAG's newest feature: the Review Package!

I'm a music fan, and I nurture an endless fascination for mixed
tapes/CDs and themed sets. I love the notion of putting together a group
of works that all interrelate, that create new levels of meaning by
their juxtaposition, and that are even more fun together than they are
separately. My life is littered with such compilations, and if it's good
enough for my car stereo, I say it's good enough for SPAG! So I hereby
officially invite any and all interested parties to send me their Review
Packages, groupings of two or more reviews united by some common theme
or thread. You can set them up however you like, with connective text,
introductory ruminations, or what have you. If you like, you can even
mix them together thoroughly, in the style of those book reviews you
occasionally see that end up covering all their subjects but in a
discursive, essay-style manner. It's all up to you. I'll put them in
their own separate section of the issue, set apart from all the one-off

Of course, I'm aware that I may be dreaming. It's easy enough to
announce something, but the real test is whether people are interested
in actually writing it. Case in point: SPAG Specifics -- since I
announced this concept, several people have sent in great reviews for
it, but there have also been a number of issues, such as this one, which
have no Specifics section at all for lack of entries. Still, the Review
Package concept got me excited, and maybe that'll be true of somebody
else as well. Time, and my inbox, will tell. In the meantime, enjoy the
bounty of reviews that this issue offers you. 

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

It's been a fairly fallow period for new games, a condition we hope will
be alleviated by the upcoming competition. However, most of the games
we've gotten have been important ones: Peter Nepstad has finally
released his enormous work 1893: A World's Fair Mystery, a mystery
exploration game extraordinaire, and Simon Baldwin presents us with
Glulx/Glk Chess, the next logical step from last year's Z-Machine chess
simulator, Silicon Castles.
   * 1893: A World's Fair Mystery by Peter Nepstad
   * Glulx/Glk Chess by Simon Baldwin
   * Chateu Le Mont by Paul Allen Panks (no, that's not a typo --
     "chateau" is intentionally misspelled.)

The IF community right now is producing more and better games than
Infocom did in their heyday, but the Infocommies still beat us in one
respect: the feelies. For those of you not familiar with this term,
"feelies" are the nifty little items that Infocom used to package with
each game -- you know, the peril-sensitive sunglasses with Hitchhiker's,
the Ebullion tablets with Deadline, the Stellar Patrol ID card with
Planetfall, and so forth. Now, thanks to a crew of dedicated IFers, the
Feelie Gap has been narrowed considerably by the arrival of, offering nifty toys and trinkets for several modern
IF games, and providing feelie fulfillment for interested authors and
players alike! Now you too can enjoy the Lost New York subway token, or
the Fallacy Of Dawn rephasia pill, and if you're an author, maybe can set up some feelies for your very own game...

Speaking of feelies, Emily Short is offering a pre-order for the feelies
to her major new game, City Of Secrets. This game was originally
commissioned to appear on a CD for a San Francisco synthpop band, but
for various reasons the deal fell through, and Short is releasing it on
her own. The game is scheduled to be released by the end of this year,
but you can get an advance look at

David Kinder has been working on it for months, and now the dreams of
PC-owning Frotz enthusiasts have been realized at last with Windows
Frotz 2002. This spanking new software is the first post-Infocom PC
interpreter to be able to handle version 6 zcode files, as well as all
Blorb resource types. (Translation: it plays the music on Moments Out Of
Time, and can handle future authorial attempts at v6.) In addition, it
features full Unicode support for games with alphabets different from
English. Windows Frotz 2002 is available at the IF Archive under

Okay, that may be stretching it a bit, but the fact is I'm going to see
The Who tomorrow and couldn't break my headline mini-theme once it got
started. The point here is that I'm very gratified indeed by the review
turnout for this issue, but one issue doth not a trend make. The
upcoming issue will be the annual competition special, which is
traditionally hard-up for reviews, given that most people tend to post
theirs to the newsgroups. So if you don't manage to get your reviews
written by the Comp end date, or you want to offer a more comprehensive
response that includes other reviewers' viewpoints, or you just want to
make my day, I strongly encourage you to send me your comp reviews for
the December/January issue. I'll still happily accept reviews for non-
comp games, too, and put them in SPAG 32. If you're looking for
inspiration, look no further than the...

1.  Bad Machine
2.  Chateu Le Mont
3.  Doomed Xycanthus
4.  1893: A World's Fair Mystery
5.  Frobozz Magic Support
6.  Heroine's Mantle
7.  Hollywood Hijinx
8.  Katana
9.  The Oracle
10. Unease

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

Consider the following review header:

TITLE: 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.
Authors may not review their own games.

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

From: Stas Starkov 

NAME: Bmissfill
AUTHOR: Tilli Productions, Santoonie Corporation
EMAIL: None given
DATE: 2002
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Warning: I consider this game extremely short, bad, and stupid. I'm
writing this review only to warn you to avoid the game.

Premise of the game: you must escape from a prison. The task must be
accomplished by doing stupid actions, based on a guess-the-verb scheme.
Further features are: deaths-without-warning, bad writing, and a lot of
(intentional, I believe) typos. Example:

   Cell Block H
       The stoned stones of the cell walls are cold and damp, and the
   grey light coming in from the window is striated by the irony iron
   bars which prevent your escape.  A small cottish cot is along one
   wall, and the doorlike door to your south is closed.
       You see a prison window here.

   >x door
   You can't see any way of opning it.

   >x cot
   This is where you sleep.  It's has a worn mattress and a tattered
   blanket on.

   >take blanket

   >x it
   Its age really prevents you from feeling warm, but you put it on at
   night anyway.  Theirs something about having a blanket on when you
   sleep that makes you feel more secure.

   >x cot
   This is where you sleep.  It's has a worn mattress and a tattered
   blanket on.

Despite the game's size (around 120 Kb), it consists of only five rooms
(I think), which almost don't have any objects. The main obstacle that
will stop you from winning in two minutes is the bad implementation of
the game. And it's not funny!

Verdict: trash.


From: J.D. Berry 

TITLE:         The Fellowship of the Ring
AUTHOR:        One of the Bruces (Adam Thornton)
EMAIL:         bruce SP@G
DATE:          2002 (Originally released as an IntroComp entry)
PARSER:        None (menu options)
SUPPORTS:      Atari 2600 emulators

From the "Fellowship of the Ring" manual:

   For starters, on the face of it, an Atari 2600 text adventure is
   ridiculous. An Atari 2600 text adventure that attempts to compress
   several hundred pages of densely-written prose into a 4K ROM image is
   even more ridiculous. It should be obvious even to the dimmest that
   the game is not intended as a serious interpretation of one of the
   most complex works of fiction ever put on paper, although it may in
   fact be about the best one can do given the limitations of the

   Fellowship of the Ring is intended as a gentle spoof of the
   retro-gaming community, the mindset that attempts to produce
   derivative works in woefully inadequate media, fanfic authors in
   general, and the and IFMud communities in

Nothing conveys these sentiments more than the "Fellowship of the Ring"
(FotR) "cover" artwork. Robb Sherwin's magnificently-drawn battle scene
between Gandalf and the balrog could lead a player (if he were born
yesterday, perhaps) to expect an epic of modern cinematography and
Doom-like gameplay. Such a player would be more than a wee bit

This deception follows tradition. The Atari cartridge jacket for
"Baseball" conjured images of America's game that would have made Ken
Burns envious. The actual game featured two block figures and four tiny
bases on an all-green background. The jacket for "Combat" made you run
for cover as jets screamed across the smoky sky and fell tanks overran
your camp. The actual game featured two block figures and four tiny
bases on an all-green background. (Kidding. The background was blue.)

But even Atari wouldn't have had the temerity to release FotR in the
late '70s. Not from any moral qualms, but from a marketability
standpoint. Sure, reduce a work of epic scope to a few blips and doinks.
Go ahead, imply that the spectacular action and grand strategy depicted
on the cover occurs in the game. But, for goodness sake, you gotta have
replay value.

So, can you play FotR? Yes, you can play it. This isn't just a clever
joke, is it? No, it's not. But you must clear some hurdles, first. I had
to download and install an Atari emulator. Then I spent several minutes
tinkering with flicker rates and color, never really getting them to
satisfaction and settling for "close enough." This is not the game's
responsibility, of course, but a prospective player whose system isn't
already wired for hot Atari-2600 action should plan for a few minor
aggravations setting up the environment.

With that accomplished, you assume the role of Frodo, the ring-bearer.
You'll encounter key scenes from Tolkien's "Fellowship of the Ring" with
none of that boring travel stuff. The top of the screen briefly
describes the current situation. The bottom displays one of several
possible actions. You scroll with your joystick (or your keyboard keys
of choice) and when you reach the action you want to perform, you press
the fire button (for my money, nothing says "big red button" like

When your action matches what Frodo did in the book, you advance to the
next scene. Doing the wrong thing results in a "no, silly, that didn't
work" type message and an implied invitation to try again. If you've
read the book, you'll have a fifteen-second head start for each
encounter. You'll finish the entire game in five or six minutes,

Disclaimer: no socks were knocked off in the playing of FotR. But I did
feel a strange beauty with its competent simplicity. The meta-experience
implied in the manual wouldn't have worked without a functioning game
underneath. Adam mixes practical joke with compassion, satire with
devotion. And unlike "Baseball", FotR has no blocky graphics that remind
you you're playing a game. Nope, just text and your own imagination.


From: Stas Starkov 

NAME: I'll
AUTHOR: Sean Barrett
EMAIL: buzzard SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

There are some IF games that can't be narrowly described without
completely spoiling the enjoyment of somebody who hasn't played them
yet. And "I'll" is one of those. So my review will be ultra-short.

"I'll" is very well written from (my) literary point of view, and, while
being experimental and a bit oddball, the game provides a good heap of
enjoyment. It is puzzle-less (sort of). And you may finish the game
in... well, very fast... or you will not.

If you like literature experiments, you should try the game. Absolutely.


From: Řyvind Thorsby 

TITLE: Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Adventure 102, Reel 1
       Also known as: Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Presents "A Fable"
       Possibly also known as: A Fable: An Interactive MiSTing
AUTHORS: Graeme Cree
         Ported to Z-Machine by Stuart Moore
         Based on the game A Fable, by Stan Heller
EMAIL: Unknown
DATE: July 2000
SUPPORTS: AGT/Zcode interpreters
URL: (AGT) (Inform)
VERSION: Release 5

[Note: This review is based on the Inform version.]

Some things you should know:

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is a TV show where a man and two robots
watch actual bad movies and make fun of them. It is approximately the
sixth best TV show ever. C. E. Forman stole the show's concept and
characters and used it to make fun of the game Detective. The result was
my all-time favourite computer game, Detective: An Interactive MiSTing.
Now the concept is re-stolen, this time to make fun of A Fable.

A Fable is a game about a man walking around in surreal places. It has
already been reviewed for SPAG. It was described as "utter drivel", which
seems fitting. The concept of MiSTing has also already been discussed in
SPAG, in several reviews of Detective: An Interactive MiSTing. So all
that is left for me is to say something about the quality of this game.

It is not as good as Detective: An Interactive MiSTing, partly because A
Fable has fewer bugs to make fun of. Partly also, I think, because it is
harder to make fun of surrealism. A Fable is also a bit more difficult
than Detective, so after I had explored most of the game, I spent a
short but boring time, with a terrible absence of robot jokes,
completing it. I still thought it was pretty funny though. I laughed out
loud a few times.


From: Adam Myrow 

TITLE: Pick Up The Phone Booth And Aisle
AUTHORS: David Dyte, Steve Bernard, Dan Shiovitz, et al.
EMAIL: Too many to list
DATE: June 2001
PARSER: Inform Standard
SUPPORTS: Any Zcode interpreter
AVAILABILITY: Freeware IF Archive

When several regulars of got together and decided
to do yet another parody of Pick Up The Phone Booth and Die, they
decided to also parody Sam Barlow's Aisle while they were at it. The
result is one of the most side-splitting things to ever be uploaded to
the IF Archive. Not only do we see the two games mentioned above being
ripped to shreds, there are more inside jokes than you can shake a stick
at. This has Sins Against Mimesis beaten hands down.

Basically, you find yourself in the town square with the phone booth
from the original Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die. However, you quickly
discover that like Aisle, this is a one-move game. You have exactly one
move to do something and then it's over. However, unlike Aisle, it
doesn't loop back to the start. You'll have to restart the game by
typing restart or undo and try something else. It's too bad that they
couldn't have done it like Sam Barlow, but that's the only flaw in what
is supposed to be a big joke. Anyhow, every time you make a move, the
response is totally off the wall. Nearly all Inform actions are handled,
and there are few default responses to be had. Most of the responses
bear no relation to each other, so forget trying to make a story out of
it. The point is to have fun and I did. However, there is one set of
responses involving a particular object that are related and I had fun
trying to get them all. For a starter, try >INVENTORY.

Here are a few of the responses to illustrate what I mean by inside
jokes. I've cut out the restart/restore/quit prompt and the initial
description since they never change.

   >kick booth
   The booth's eyes widen as you draw your foot back. "Terry, no,
   please, oh God you can't--" Its cries are cut short as your foot
   slams into it. With the sound of eggshells cracking, the booth
   fragments into countless pieces which are quickly lost in the mud.

       *** You have quit smoking ***

   You inhale deeply, smelling for the background scent of this
   particular location. It smells like broth... no, wait, is that

       *** You have been ruined ***

   >enter booth
   There are 56 fellow MIT students in there already, but one more and
   you get the WORLD RECORD. You somehow squeeze between Misty and
   Muffy, and end up sandwiched beside Mindy. Then the creaking begins.
   Then the cracking. Then the exploding. Fifty-seven MIT students end
   up scattered across the town square, many crippled for life, but
   every single one ends up in the Guinness Book of Records.

       *** You have been recognized ***

So, only if you know something about the history of Infocom, a bit about
Losing Your Grip, and have some familiarity with the Inform Designer's
Manual will all those responses make sense. There are tons more like
that. Be sure to try out your spells from the Enchanter series and of
course, the magic words from Adventure.

The bottom line is that an IF veteran who is looking for something to
kill some time after a bad day should download this and give it a shot.
A newcomer to IF might not understand a lot of the jokes, and if you've
never played Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die or Aisle, you should play
them before to understand why PUTPBAA works the way it does.


From: Stas Starkov 

NAME: Pick Up the Phone Booth and Dye
AUTHOR: Eric Schmidt
EMAIL: None given
DATE: 2002
PARSER: Inform Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

This game is a short one-joke game with a single puzzle. (And the joke
is not very much in the style of "Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die",
which I advise you to play first.) What to say about the game? Well, the
game is quite accurately done. That is, it gives sufficient answers to
player actions, without visible holes in implementation, or missing
descriptions. But the wild psychedelic charm of "Pick Up the Phone Booth
and Die" is not there! The only puzzle of the game is not bad, however
-- and the game has been written to demonstrate the puzzle, I suppose. 

Completion time? From several seconds, to several minutes.

Resume: If you like short-puzzle-one-idea games -- try "Pick Up the
Phone Booth and Dye". It's worth the tiny bit of your time you'll spend
on it.


From: Alex Freeman 

TITLE:  Planetfall                       
AUTHOR:  Steve Meretzky
EMAIL:  Damned if I know
PARSER:  Standard Infocom parser
SUPPORTS:  Practically all
URL: Not available.

Planetfall is one of the greatest adventure games I have ever played!
All the puzzles are logical and have, more or less, the correct balance
of difficulty. It's amazing how the puzzles can be solved once you just
step back and think about them a bit. However, I think a little
background is in order before I move on.

You start off as an Ensign Seventh Class, and the scourge of your
existence is Ensign First Class Blather, who acts like a drill sergeant.
However, as fate would have it, some terrible disaster happens to the
station whose floor you are being made to scrub, and you (should) take
advantage of this opportunity by going into an escape pod. It takes you
to a deserted planet, and you have to figure just what the heck you're
supposed to do there. Along the way, you end up meeting the robot Floyd,
whom every Planetfall player seems to like.

This brings me to the characters. For interactive fiction, the
characters are very well developed, since IF NPCs have the tendency to
have little or no personality at all. Because of this, I feel that
Planetfall's NPCs are big achievements, even though they wouldn't be
considered well developed characters for non-interactive fiction since
they are basically flat stereotypes. Floyd is basically like a cheery
little child whom every player seems to find charming. I have to love it
when he says how he was able to solve all the puzzles in Zork except how
to get into the white house. Blather acts like a stereotypical drill
sergeant, and most of his personality is revealed through your dreams
since you must sleep during the game. I have to love that one dream
sequence in which you refuse to scrub the scenery and throw your brush
at him, only to have him go after "the valuable company property". ^_^

Also, the atmosphere is pretty good. It has humorous touches amongst an
interesting planet. It has a machine shop, some offices, some mess
halls, and also a library. The writing is pretty good too. It gives fine
descriptions of the rooms and is some of the funniest writing I've seen
this side of the Space Quest series (which is remarkably similar in many
ways). As for the parser, it's a typical Infocom parser, so it's quite

Overall, Planetfall is easily one of the best adventure games I've ever
played because of the balanced and logical puzzles throughout the game,
the humorous writing, and the amusing characters. My only complaint
about the game is that the laser wasn't described well enough, making
two puzzles difficult. I thought that the laser was supposed to be like
one of those laser pointers, but it's actually more like a laser gun.
However, Planetfall is definitely one game you should check out!


From: Daphne Brinkerhoff 

TITLE: Savoir-Faire
AUTHOR: Emily Short
EMAIL: emshort SP@G
DATE: April 2002 (original)
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
VERSION: 6 (most recent)

(Note: I have recently moved, and my computer is still in pieces in
boxes, so I am not able to replay the game to get exact details. Also, I
played an older release (not sure which one).)

Savoir-Faire is an excellent game, featuring a strong sense of place, an
innovative backstory & magic system, and a protagonist whose
idiosyncrasies are charming in a way that reminds me of Varicella.

Place: The opening "room" is so present and alive that I spent many
turns there before even going inside. Throughout the house, the
furniture, doors, molding, and knickknacks all contribute to a feeling
of really being there. But what would you expect from the author of
Pytho's Mask and Best Of Three -- both games which focus on conversation
and still have room for books, costumes, inlaid tiles...? "Place" also
encompasses the idea of culture. With sausages strung up on the rafters
and seven planets in a model of the solar system, it's clear that we
aren't in Kansas any more. So *this* is "old skool"? I don't remember
Zork and Advent being quite like this.

Backstory: Obviously, I can't say much about this without giving away
the plot. But even the brief opening text raises a number of questions:
Where is everyone? What is your relationship to them? To this house? Who
are you, that you can so blithely gamble away your life savings and
assume someone else will bail you out? Like so many games, Savoir-Faire
has a subplot about discovering your true identity, but it's low-key: no
melodramatic scenes of revelation.

The magic system: Figuring this out is one of those "aha!" moments, so
again I can't go into great detail.

In some ways, though, I felt frustrated -- the magic seemed to be so
powerful that the limitations felt arbitrary at times. The thought "If
action A works, why doesn't action B?" crossed my mind many times.

If I may digress briefly, I think this is a universal problem with
powerful characters in general. It could be called the Commander Data
problem (after the Star Trek character). If you have an exceptionally
able character, plots tend to fall apart. "A heavy bulkhead? Data can
lift it. An encoded password? Data can decrypt it. A rescue in the
vacuum of space? No problem!" So the writer ends up inventing more or
less believable reasons why this power can't be used to solve this
problem. For me, this *mostly* works in Savoir-Faire, but there are
occasions when I just rolled my eyes and went to the walkthrough. Of
course, this can be written off as more of that "old skool" atmosphere.

I should add that another alternative (severely limit your character's
powers) is the more usual way of handling things -- hence the numerous
magic systems with equivalents of "fnord: create illusion of blue
antelope", and similar very specific powers. What Savoir-Faire attempts
is more interesting, and mostly more intuitive -- if I *had* magic
powers, this is how I would both prefer and expect them to work.

Protagonist: A bit prissy, a bit amoral (breaking and entering starts
the game, after all!), a bit noble -- yeah, kinda like Varicella. I
particularly enjoyed being hungry and eating. This guy is *serious* (and
seriously vivid) about his food. Fortunately, he does care about
something other than himself. And there is evidence (especially if you
play it right) that he has a strong sense of humor and self-mockery.
Basically, I enjoyed being Pierre.

Other: I especially enjoyed the memories that pop up from time to time
(they reminded me of an aspect of L. Ross Raszewski's "Moments Out of
Time." My only quibble is that there weren't quite as many of them as I
wanted, and they seemed to cluster in the beginning parts of the game.

And now I've gotten through a whole review without mentioning the
puzzles! Isn't that why people play "old skool" games? I had fun with
some of them (finding a light source and exploring the cellars,
particularly). Mostly the puzzles are tied up with the magic system
described above. If you like the magic system, you'll like the puzzles
(and mostly, I did).

To sum up, while this game may claim to be "old skool", that doesn't
mean Yet Another Dungeon Crawl. There's atmosphere & polish which bring
Savoir-Faire to a higher level than that.


From: Eytan Zweig 

TITLE: Tinseltown Blues
AUTHOR: Chip Hayes
EMAIL: chiphayes SP@G
DATE: June 2002
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters
VERSION: Release 1.1

Tinseltown Blues is nothing more, and nothing less, than a competent
puzzle game. It tells no story -- there is a plot, but that plot is
deliberately paper-thin, and makes sure that it doesn't get in the way
of the puzzles. The game itself has a simple, and well-tried goal: the
scavenger hunt, where you must find objects that have been placed in
totally arbitrary, but always hard to reach, locations. The nice thing
about Tinseltown Blues is that it has no pretensions of being anything
more than that -- it's a game, to be played and enjoyed, not anything
more, and it knows it.

While the game doesn't have a plot to speak of, it does have an
interesting choice of location: Paramount Studios. The choice of a
Hollywood studio, while obviously at least partially motivated by the
fact that the game's author actually works there, is a nice touch --
where else would you expect to find office buildings side-by-side with
mechanical reconstructions of Zork I? At times, however, the liberties
that are taken with Paramount seem so strenuous -- all the NPCs have
totally cartoonish names, and some geography seems to have been tampered
with for the sake of the puzzles -- that I'm not sure the game wouldn't
have worked better in a fictional studio. If there was more in the game
that actually spoke of the real Paramount Studios I may have felt
differently, but other than a reference pamphlet and some celebrity
graves, there really wasn't anything there that had any particular
resonance for me. 

That, however, is a minor quibble, since the real heart of the game is
its puzzles. And, as far as puzzles go, it has some good ones. There are
quite a few of them, most of them in medium difficulty -- not so easy as
to not require any thought, but not hard enough to make me run to a
walkthrough at any point (which was fortunate, since the walkthrough was
written after I won the game, by myself). There are precious few
guess-the-verb situations, and it is very rare to be in a situation in
which you don't know what to do next -- it's usually a question of how.
Some alternate solutions are available, though not to all puzzles. The
puzzles aren't perfect -- there is one particular puzzle (the parrot),
for instance, where it was very clear to me what I had to do, but not
why it would help me -- I had to solve the puzzle in order to discover
why I needed to solve it. It is also possible to lock yourself into an
unwinnable state by missing certain events, but the time window given is
so wide that it's very unlikely that this would happen, as long as you
remember to wander around.

The interface presented a couple of issues, however. The game features
an item bulk system, where some items are too large to brought into
certain places, or to be carried simultaneously. This works quite well
as a way to narrow down the field of possible solutions to one or two of
the puzzles. The problem is that there is also an item weight system --
carrying heavy items tires you, and gives annoying messages and even
more annoying effects. There is absolutely no reason for this and it
doesn't contribute anything to the game.

There are some minor bugs -- a few typos, and one or two places where
items give incorrect descriptions (one locked door has the deadbolt on
the wrong side in the descriptions, though it functions correctly). None
of them seriously impaired my enjoyment of the game. Tinseltown Blues is
not an ambitious game, but what it does it does well, despite a few
minor nitpicks. If you enjoy puzzles, and want some that won't have you
pulling out your hair in frustration, I suggest trying it out.


From: Stas Starkov 

AUTHOR: Dosius Software Co. and Richard Kelly
EMAIL: None given
DATE: 2002
PARSER: Inform Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

Beginning of the game:

   You're on a space station.  This is nothing special in itself, but 
   for some reason, due to your body's genetics, your very presence is
   causing the station to become unstable.  Stay aboard, and the station
   will explode.


   Usocon interactive fiction - a science fiction story
   (C)Copyright Dosius Software Co. and Richard Kelly, 2001-2002
   Release 2 / Serial number 640101 / Inform v6.21 Library 6/10
   Interpreter claims to support Z-Machine Specification 1.0
   PC interpreter version F detected.

   Welcome to WARP!
   Try not to mess up too quickly.

   This is a rather sparse bedroom.  About the only thing here is your
   bed, which folds up into one of the floor tiles.  Exits lead north,
   west and east.

   What should I do now (dare I ask)?
   Well? _

Looks like a jokey game, doesn't it? Well, the truth is: the game is
implemented badly, and no joke can prettify the impression. More

   What next? x bed
   [I don't see that here.]

   What should I do now (dare I ask)?
   Well? w

   This is a modest bathroom with doorways leading east and southeast.
   You can see a sink and a toilet here.

   What next? x sink
   In the sink is a ring.

   What next? get ring

   What next? wear ring
   You can't wear that!

   What next? x ring

   What next? asdf
   I know your waist line has a bigger number than your IQ, but even you can do
   better than that.

   What next? _

I think comments are needless. I mention only one more thing --
instant-death rooms.

Summary: An amateurish work. The premise is not bad, but not enough for a


From: Valentine Kopteltsev 

Let me start with a confession: I don't share the dislike of what's
usually called out-of-date game devices (OGDs), such as puzzles
involving dark rooms, inventory limits, exhaustible resources, and (no,
don't lynch me immediately!) even mazes -- most members of the IF
community seem to have. I see these devices solely as designing tools,
which can't be "bad" or "good" in themselves -- it's rather a matter of
the author's talent and skill to use them properly. Sure, a game
consisting of several dozens "rooms with twisty little passages, all
alike", all of which you need to visit and to map out in order to find
one single secret button that opens you the entrance to yet another two
hundred "little twisty passages" sucks, especially if you've got to
master such a maze with a lantern that only lasts for thirty or so
turns. However, to me, it doesn't prove mazes are faulty -- rather, it
proves that (a) this particular author can't keep within reasonable
limits, and (b) that *ANY* idea can be over-developed to absurdity.

One illustration of the last thesis, just to make my point clear: people
have different attitudes towards long, detailed room descriptions; some
like them, some don't, but no one thinks such descriptions are flawed in
themselves, and should be banished from IF. Now imagine a game that
starts with umpteen screens of long description depicting every item
present in the room, no matter how irrelevant to the game it is, with
indication of each dust particle's exact position in a Cartesian
coordinate system. Well, I doubt you'd bother finishing reading this one
description, much less completing the game.

I'm sorry about such a long preamble, but it had to be. I just don't
want to confuse anybody by praising games packed with OGDs (and most of
the games reviewed here are, with little exception) without explaining

But now, let's proceed to the reviews.


TITLE: Unnkulian Underworld: The Unknown Unventure (better known as Unnkulia 1)
AUTHOR: D. A. Leary
DATE: 1990
AVAILABILITY: Former shareware, now free

Well, considering the aforesaid, we're dealing with a practically
flawless game here;). Seriously, Unnkulia 1 has everything a text
adventure needs to be successful: a nice setting, a memorable player
character, good puzzles... Admitted, it's not as deep as most of its
successors -- but for what it lacks in depth, it makes up in bright
humour, and vividness of descriptions, with "all the recurring themes of
the Unnkulian games established here, from Duhdhism and the obligatory
fried egg puzzle to the Acme Corporation and its vastly inferior
products" (sorry for the quotation from Carl Muckenhoupt's review in
Baf's Guide, but you simply couldn't put it better -- except that funny
reincarnations of the Bridge Troll from ADVENTURE, the obligatory
presence of a bar/lounge, and a couple more things probably should be
added to the list of recurring themes).

One trick David Leary used to make his player character appear more
realistic was especially amusing for me: you see, the game begins with
the death of the man whose slave the PC has been. It must be said the
hero doesn't like his late master, Kuulest, too much. On the other hand,
Kuulest was the centre of his world for quite a long time. And thus,
during the course of the game, the former slave keeps recalling his
master on every appropriate, and sometimes less appropriate, occasion,
referring to Kuulest with words derivative of "geeze" (as in, "The old
geezebreath sure won't need it anymore, so it's yours now.") These
reminiscences form yet another recurring theme -- this time, not for the
whole series but for the game -- which helps the overall atmosphere a
lot. Likewise, the NPCs are worthy of praise: they're probably not the
most advanced ones, in that they don't carry out complex scripts, nor
are they burdened by an AI; no, they've been implemented under the usage
of but the basic animation techniques -- which hasn't kept them from
being vivid, and characterized nicely (the way one of them suddenly
becomes interested in his fingernails when being asked for help still
makes me smile when I think of it).

The only thing one could complain about in Unnkulia 1 is, it's somewhat
straightforward. Somewhere in the beginning of the game, you get your
task -- to save the world by doing this and that -- then, you go and do
it, and that's about it. The whole layout of the game, plot- and
puzzle-wise, seems to insist on the principle formulated by Michael
Roberts in his TADS Manual: "Filling in the details of the plot can
proceed by 'working backwards' from the overall goal  to
the major sub-goals, then backwards to the smaller goals that must be
reached for each sub-goal, and so on." OK, that's not a bad thing in
itself -- I'm aware it's to a very large extent a matter of personal
taste whether you prefer more or less "goal-oriented" plots/puzzles/
games; thus, I'm just expressing my own opinion here.

And one final observation: you know, the whole time I've been playing
Unnkulia 1 I had a funny feeling the game reminded me of something. This
feeling remained latent until recently, as I was reading a book that was
part of the Myth series by Robert Lynn Asprin, and came across a
reference to ACME corporation. At this moment, everything suddenly slid
into place: I realized that, coincidentally or not, the mood in Unnkulia
1 was very reminiscent of the Asprin's humorous works' style (not that
it's a rip-off, mind you). Again, it's entirely a matter of personal
preferences whether to see it as a 'good' or a 'bad' thing; for me,
however, it was as wonderful as meeting an old pal somewhere you didn't
expect to see him.


PLOT: Rather straightforward "save the world"
ATMOSPHERE: Wonderfully Asprinish
WRITING: Vivid and humorous
GAMEPLAY: Goal-oriented, a bit linear
BONUSES: Rich setting with many Easter eggs, references to "old geezer
CHARACTERS: Non-exceptional, but nice
PUZZLES: Not that hard, but fun to solve
DIFFICULTY: Claims to be (and probably is) handleable (5 out of 10)


TITLE: Unnkulian Unventure II: The Secret of Acme (or, simply Unnkulia 2)
AUTHOR: David M. Baggett
DATE: 1991
AVAILABILITY: Former shareware, now free

When I started playing Unnkulia 2, my first impression was, I was dipped
into the world of Unnkulia 1 again -- which surely wasn't much of a
surprise. However, this was the case of the first impression that's
deceptive: the longer I played it, the more I got the feeling Unnkulia 1
and 2 were quite different. I admit I had to mull over a lot before I
could get at the roots of this difference, but I think I found the

The thing is, David Leary's goal seemed to be the creation of a *game*
that'd be fun to play; by contrast, David Baggett seemed to be trying to
create a *world* that'd be fun to explore. Thus, in Unnkulia 1, you're
given a goal to work towards practically at the very start; in
Unnkulia 2, you are set out into your yard without any particular goal.
Well, closer to the end you'll receive some sort of hint what to do, but
you still won't know what's *really* going on until you make the final
move. Hence, your stimulus not to give up and to keep playing here is
the exploration of the game world. This might appear like a rather
meagre motivation, but the author put enough effort into the setting to
make such "exploring for the sake of exploring" an entertaining pastime.
The game impresses by plentiful, maybe even excessive scenery, lots of
interesting things to do, and loads of... OK, looks like we're in for
another diversion. ;)

It's been said Unnkulia 2 contains loads of red herrings; to me,
however, that doesn't seem true. You see, a red herring is something the
author puts into his game for the sole purpose of misleading the player.
For instance, let's think of a game taking place in an underground
station. Say, a locked trophy case containing a magic wand, that stands
amidst the platform, and for which no key exists in the game, clearly is
a red herring. However, a fully functional control gate is not -- it's
rather a well-implemented scenery object, and remains such one even if
there is no need for the player to ever pass through it. Similarly, all
the "red herrings" (maybe with very few exceptions) in Unnkulia 2 turn
out to be scenery objects, which give the setting even more depth.

And one more difference between the two Unnkulias, which probably also
results from the dissimilar approaches used by their authors: Unnkulia 1
can be mapped out much easier than Unnkulia 2. The latter resembles Zork
a bit, in that it sometimes provides a sudden shortcut between locations
that seemed to be on the opposite ends of the map. Such a layout makes
the place appear more "tight" -- the single locations hang together much

The humorous aspect of the game isn't as obvious as in Unnkulia 1, where
the jokes virtually are hurled at the player; here, they are hidden in
object descriptions and responses. Unnkulia 2 presents a more restrained
style than its predecessor -- which doesn't mean it's any less funny.
One of my favorite moments: somewhere in the game, you arrive...

   On Top of Dawg Rock, West of the River

   Here you are, on top of Dawg Rock. This would sure impress the
   climbers, you think to yourself. Too bad no one's around to notice.
   But no matter. The striking beauty of Dawg Rock and the landscape
   below make standing up here alone a great joy.


   The rocks become trickier here, and consequently the only ways to go
   are east, back to the bridge, and down, which I would highly advise


(Naturally, the first thing I tried was...)

   > DOWN

   I told you, I advise against it.  Must I always nag?

The puzzles in Unnkulia 2 were very hard for me -- to a large degree
because the game wouldn't offer a direction to go; even the built-in
"hint machine" didn't always help. Also, there were three rather
large mazes. Since, as mentioned above, I've got nothing against
mazes as such, and because I'm so fond of Unnkulian games, I'd say
Mr. Baggett was on the verge of overdoing it in Unnkulia 2; someone
less (or more ;) biased probably would say he passed this verge by
far. Still, the puzzles were well-designed and satisfying to solve.

But with all these nice features, the game would fall apart because
of its rather loose construction -- if it wasn't for the plot. At
first, you probably wouldn't see much of it, for the reasons
described above. You'd keep playing because of that feeling there's
something interesting waiting for you around the corner. Gosh, I've
played enough games (and read enough books, for that matter) that
used exactly this device -- and many of them turned out to be a
let-down. But not Unnkulia 2 -- the final twist of the plot nicely
tied up all the loose ends that cropped up during the game, and
secured the whole structure, like a keystone of an arch. Great it
was, just great.


PLOT: Probably appears to give more freedom to the player than it does
      in reality
ATMOSPHERE: Certainly present
WRITING: More restrained than in Unnkulia 1, but not less humorous
GAMEPLAY: Almost totally undirected
BONUSES: Generous setting with LOTS of Easter eggs
CHARACTERS: Not as vivid as in Unnkulia 1
PUZZLES: Well-designed, but a bit illogical sometimes
DIFFICULTY: Claims to be 7 out of 10 (to me, it seemed more like
            10 out of 10)


TITLE: Unnkulia Zero: The Search for Amanda
AUTHOR: D. A. Leary
DATE: 1993
AVAILABILITY: Former shareware, now free

As I played through more games in the Unnkulian series, I got the
growing impression both of the major game authors, Mr. Leary and Mr.
Baggett, influenced each other, so that their approaches to game
design became closer (if you read the previous review, you'd know
what I mean).

Unnkulia 0, for instance, is much less "linear" than Unnkulia 1, the
previous game by Mr. Leary -- although the central goal of the game
still is defined at the very start, the sub-goals don't stand out as

The plot was much deeper than in Unnkulia 1, though its main idea
seemed somewhat moot to me. The atmosphere, however, remained as
light-hearted as in Mr. Leary's previous work, including the
recurring theme -- this time, those are references to the "powerful
wizard" Wowsa Willy.

Puzzlewise, the game left me with ambiguous feelings: on one hand, the
author clearly made a serious effort to make it more challenging for the
player; on the other hand, this effort partly resulted in a much larger
possibility to make it unwinnable without warning than in any of the
previous games of the series. Plus, a couple of puzzles seemed to be
loaned directly from Unnkulia 2. Since I doubt Mr. Leary hadn't got
enough fantasy and skill to create good puzzles (as he had proven the
opposite too often), I considered this to be an in-joke I didn't
understand. But it wasn't of a benefit to the game, anyway. And a note
for maze-haters: Unnkulia 0 contains two pseudo-maze puzzles -- mostly
for the purposes of mocking the universal maze-abhorrence, it seems.

All in all, I'd say this work organically fits into the Unnkulian
universe, providing lots of background for it, but doesn't introduce
(m)any groundbreaking ideas. Because of this, it probably would be
wise to try out one of the previous games first; chances are high
that, if you don't like them, you won't enjoy Unnkulia 0, either (and
vice versa).


PLOT: Very solid
ATMOSPHERE: (Sometimes inappropriately) light-hearted
WRITING: Not very different from Unnkulia 1
GAMEPLAY: Nothing unusual
BONUSES: Provides lots of background, funny references to other Unnkulian
         games, as well as ADVENTURE
CHARACTERS: See the comment for WRITING
PUZZLES: Fine for the most part -- the quibbles are listed in the review
DIFFICULTY: The game's statement to be 7 out of 10 seems to be true


TITLE: Unnkulia One-Half: The Salesman Triumphant
AUTHOR: D. A. Leary
DATE: 1993

This game, in which you play, for a change, on the "bad" side -- an
Acme salesman -- has been created as sort of an "appetizer" for
Unnkulia 0; thus, it isn't either hard or deep. It was like in a
circus -- the spotlights went on, the main comedian entered the lit
circle in the arena, and the performance began -- now, who wouldn't
enjoy a clown's show?

Well, *I* didn't.

As the story progressed, and the PC got his prescribed portion of
kicks and socks, I noticed that, instead of laughing, I started to
feel pity for the poor guy. Sure, an Acme salesman isn't the most
pleasant person to deal with, and an intellectual giant he isn't,
either -- but not giving him even a single chance just seemed unfair
to me. To put it simply -- few things in IF are more terrible than a
game author who doesn't like his own PC at all, no matter how bad
this PC is. (Again, that's entirely my personal point of view --
regarding both what's worst in IF, and whether the author of this
game really doesn't like his PC).

Fortunately for Unnkulia 1/2, Mr. Leary's sense of humour (which,
admittedly, remains up to the mark) finds other outlets than derision
of the PC, so that the game had its enjoyable moments, after all.
(For example, try referring to the fabled Bicorn of Radeekal with

And that's pretty much all I can say about the game -- in all other
respects, it's not outstanding; if you like Unnkulia in general, and
aren't as over-sensible as myself ;), you're probably going to enjoy
it. One final warning, though: like in other Unnkulian games, you
sometimes can get yourself killed without warning; however, *unlike*
in other Unnkulian games, you can't undo your last action after doing
that (I don't know the reason why this feature has been removed from
Unnkulia 1/2, but I remember it being an unpleasant surprise when I
played it); thus, "save early, save often".


PLOT: Boils down to a treasure hunt
WRITING: Unnkulian standard
GAMEPLAY: Doesn't differ much from ADVENTURE
BONUSES: Clever embedding into the Unnkulian universe
CHARACTERS: Unnkulian standard
PUZZLES: Not very challenging, but some are nice
DIFFICULTY: Modestly describes itself as being trivial (2 out of 10)


TITLE: The Legend Lives!
AUTHOR: David M. Baggett
DATE: 1994
PARSER: TADS Worldclass

In previous reviews, I've been trying -- I know, with varying success
-- to remain objective, and not to over-praise the reviewed games.
But now we got to a game that can't be over-praised;). I think it's a
true gem among other Unnkulian games (that doesn't mean the others
are bad, mind you), and deserves to be called a classic not less
than, say, Curses!, or Spider And Web.

...And now, I'm going to try digging up some grounds for this rather
daring statement. ;)

Let's start with the setting. The game is set in a rather far future,
with space travelling, and matter moving, and stuff, and it must be
said that the game world is very convincing. It seemed alive alright
-- but at the same time, I got the feeling of being inside a somewhat
buggy program. Well, it must be said that in the last few years, our
*real* world often gives me the same feeling -- very much because of
the steadily intensifying rhythm of life, and the growing amount of
hack-work in all spheres. In this respect, Mr. Baggett's work turned
out to be prophetical -- in 1994, the year when Legend was released,
life wasn't quite like that, though the trends certainly were
present. Let's add that the scenery in Legend is one of the richest
in the whole IF-history -- one could spend a couple of hours just
playing with the gadgets in the game, or watching EV (the Unnkulian
analogue of our TV). The "create a world that'd be fun to explore"
approach clearly rules here; the player is taken through a number of
vastly different worlds -- from a computer centre to a rural
backwater, from a crowded supermarket to jungle -- and yet, all of
them feel like parts of a whole. Furthermore, the author cleverly
uses the opportunities provided by the futuristic technologies (in
particular, matter moving) to consequently continue the war against
linearity he declared in Unnkulia 2. For instance, Legend can't be
mapped out in principle -- only the separate areas of it, because you
travel from one area to another via matter movers. And while the
gameplay is somewhat more directed than in Unnkulia 2, because the
goals stand out much better here, the player still has a lot of
freedom. Yes, there is a prescribed set of puzzles you need to solve
to win the game -- but you can, to a quite significant extent,
determine the order for them to be solved.

Which brings us to the puzzles as such.

At the very start, Legend tries to scare players off by declaring its
difficulty rating is 10 out of 10; but let me assure you -- it isn't
that difficult. Yes, the puzzles are hard, but they are very logical,
too. I'm not very good at puzzle-solving, but I managed to get
through the game using the built-in hints only for three puzzles (of
those three, one was a riddle, which traditionally represents a
stumbling-block for me, and one I'd probably solve without help if I
kept trying for a few more days -- as it turned out, I was working in
the right direction) -- though it took me a few weeks. Take this as a
hint -- I'm not the most persistent person, but I was perfectly
willing to spend so much time on the puzzles. And remember me saying
that most games reviewed here, with little exception, are packed with
OGDs? Well, Legend is such an exception.

Legend has been criticized for not having its NPCs developed enough. I'd
disagree; to me, it rather seemed that Mr. Baggett was experimenting
with animation techniques -- probably because he had got disappointed in
the traditional "ASK ABOUT/TELL ABOUT" method. Among other things, he
used long "cut-scenes" of non-interactive text for those purposes -- but
since references to such "cut-scenes" in reviews of Legend have become
commonplace, I won't say anything else about them. I felt the characters
were quite vivid; one of my favorite moments was asking a visitor at
Terminal Velocity about something (though people with UNIX knowledge
probably will appreciate the response much more).

But the coolest thing about Legend is, it makes you THINK. Think
about... er, well, an enumeration probably would spoil the fun for
you. So, why not try to find out by yourself?


PLOT: "Unprecedentedly deep" isn't an exaggeration
ATMOSPHERE: Plenty of it
WRITING: Makes me envious
GAMEPLAY: Thrilling
BONUSES: Too many to be listed here
CHARACTERS: Rather unconventionally designed
PUZZLES: Great, just great
DIFFICULTY: approx. 8 out of 10 (though it claims to be 10 out of 10)


And here, a couple more reviews of "Unnkulia-related" games:

TITLE: GC: A Thrashing Parity Bit of the Mind
AUTHOR: David M. Baggett, Carl de Marcken, and Pearl Tsai
DATE: 1994

This game isn't part of the canonical Unnkulian series, but it's
reviewed here because it's set in the Unnkulian universe. You, a
native of a small Unnkulian village, come to the Acme Institute for
the Less Convincing Sciences to study there. Your goal is...

Well, your *true* goal in this game is to get as much score as
possible, because it has been written for the MIT Artificial
Intelligence Laboratory Olympics, "a competition held between four
teams of about 40 people each, mostly graduate students, professors,
and secretarial staff" (quotation from the intro to GC). And it's
been intended to be, well, a *challenge* for those people;
consequently, the difficulty of the puzzles varies from "very hard"
to "impossible"; the fact that many of them are optional, and the
large number of red herrings don't make things easier. Some technical
background is absolutely needed to at least understand what the
puzzles are about; I received a technical education (though it got a
bit rusty with the time), and it was just enough for me to appreciate
the elegance and the wit of the puzzles -- after I looked up the
solution in the walkthrough. To make *real* progress you'd need a
damn good technical background, knowledge of various aspects of
computer science, and studying/working experience at MIT. The last
one is required, because many puzzles are totally, hopelessly

And so is the whole game. MIT inhabitants probably would split their
sides laughing when playing it; non-insider surely would find their
funny moments there (for me, one of those moments was the "suicidal
robot"), but the overall effect naturally would be much weaker.
Still, the setting is quite rich (especially for a puzzle-fest),
though not the deepest one. By the way, the game comes with a number
of "feelies" -- materials from the original competition distribution,
and a text file explaining some of the MIT-specific things. It'd be
advisable to read them, as well.

To sum up, I'd say the game isn't for everyone -- but it isn't to
ignore completely, either, for it certainly occupies its place in IF
history. Among other things, it probably holds the unofficial record
in having the most NPCs in a single room. It's difficult to say
whether you're going to enjoy playing it, but here's a rule of thumb:
if you have an idea what an imaginary plane is, you probably should
try it. Otherwise, stay away from GC!


PLOT: Just an "excuse" for a puzzle-fest
ATMOSPHERE: Humorous, but many jokes got over my head
WRITING: Wonderfully ironic
GAMEPLAY: OK, for me it was "Follow the walkthrough"
BONUSES: Unnkulian references; "suicidal robots"; vampire bunnies;
         Barbies looking a bit stiff; and many other things
CHARACTERS: Mostly MIT-specific
PUZZLES: Very elegant, but many are impossible to solve


TITLE: The Horror of Rylvania
AUTHOR: D. A. Leary
DATE: 1993
AVAILABILITY: Former shareware, now free

Rylvania is reviewed here, because it's been (like the Unnkulian
games) published by Adventions, has been written by the "father" of
the Unnkulian universe, and contains several references to Unnkulia.
However, it has little else to do with Unnkulia; it's a horror story.
And it left me with mixed feelings.

On one hand, the plot and the atmosphere were great (despite the
Unnkulian references -- they really seemed out of place there). On the
other hand... But let's begin from the start.

Well, the game starts with you and your friend Carolyn being attacked by
a pack of wolves during a trip through Rylvania, a small country
somewhere in the backwoods of Central Europe. Carolyn gets seriously
wounded, and your first task in the game is to help her. It gripped me
at once, and I started to follow the plot enthusiastically. This run for
Carolyn's life went on for twenty or so turns. Then, just as things
really got rolling, I was resolutely grabbed by the collar, pulled back,
and told, "Not so fast, my friend. From now on, you've got to do it the
usual way -- explore, pick up things, and enjoy yourself". This sudden
change alone was baffling enough; to make things worse, it turned out
that one had to be pretty careful, if not pedantic, in collecting items
-- the game is split in two parts, with many rooms in the first part no
longer accessible when you reach the second stage; however, puzzles at
stage 2 often require objects from stage 1 to be solved, so that you're
very likely to lock yourself out of victory, and find out something is
wrong only several hundred turns later (sometimes without a hint what
item is needed, exactly). Also, be prepared for a couple or more
restarts; many decisions in the beginning phase of Rylvania depend on
knowledge you only acquire later in the game. Combined with the fact
that the game sometimes requires actions that seem completely
inappropriate in the given situation, it makes a thorough strategic
pre-planning practically inevitable.

This degenerating into ADVENTURE is all the more a pity as the
puzzles don't seem to be the main focus of the game, and as the
storytelling aspect of the game has got so much potential. I'm not
saying that the puzzles are bad -- they are very solidly done for the
most part, but they're... well, unexceptional. I like creative,
challenging puzzles (though I'm not very good at solving them); here,
however, I'd rather prefer puzzles that'd be easier, but would fit
the plot better: as it is, the plot and the puzzles seem to literally
fight against each other.

Still, the game's plot (which has several interesting twists), and
the scary atmosphere make it worth playing (I'm deliberately not
going into detail here in order not to spoil the fun). However, I
suggest you keep a walkthrough handy for the first stage of the game:
this might prevent you from many disappointments.


PLOT: A high-quality horror story
ATMOSPHERE: Scary, though Unnkulia references spoil it a bit
WRITING: Supports the atmosphere
GAMEPLAY: Requires too much pre-planning
BONUSES: Nice background
CHARACTERS: Don't add much
PUZZLES: Hamper the plot
DIFFICULTY: The claimed rating of 5 out of 10 seems to be correct


Index of sources used:

1.  Several reviews by Carl Muckenhoupt and Duncan Stevens from Baf's Guide
    to Interactive Fiction

2.  The Legend Lives! review by M. Sean Molley, from SPAG issue Nr. 5

3.  Interview with David M. Baggett, from SPAG issue Nr. 5

4.  TADS Manual by Michael Roberts


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