___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE #30 Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) September 20, 2002 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag 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 ----------------------------------------------------- Bmissfill The Fellowship Of The Ring I'll Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Presents "A Fable" Pick Up The Phone Booth And Aisle Pick Up The Phone Booth And Dye Planetfall Savoir-Faire Tinseltown Blues WARP! ###### 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 EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ 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 reviews. 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 ---------------------------------------------------------------------- NEW GAMES 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.) SEE ME, FEELIE ME 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 http://feelies.org, 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 feelies.org can set up some feelies for your very own game... I'M FREEWARE or SHE WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN 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 http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/CSUpcoming2.htm. MEET THE NEW FROTZ, NOT THE SAME AS THE OLD FROTZ 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 infocom/interpreters/frotz. WHERE ARE YOU? WHERE, WHERE? WHERE, WHERE? 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... SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 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 AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 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 PARSER: TADS Standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/bmiss.gam 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 Taken. >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 fsf.net DATE: 2002 (Originally released as an IntroComp entry) PARSER: None (menu options) SUPPORTS: Atari 2600 emulators AVAILABILITY: IF Archive: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/atari-8bit/fotr2600.tgz URL: http://www.fsf.net/stella/ 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 medium. 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 rec.arts.int-fiction and IFMud communities in particular. 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 disappointed. 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 alt-tilde-F3.) 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, depending. 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. Hey... -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Stas Starkov NAME: I'll AUTHOR: Sean Barrett EMAIL: buzzard SP@G world.std.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/ill.z5 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 PARSER: AGT/Inform SUPPORTS: AGT/Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF-archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/agt/mst3k2.zip (AGT) ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/mst3k2.z5 (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 URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/PUTPBAA.z5 When several regulars of rec.arts.int-fiction 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 *** >smell You inhale deeply, smelling for the background scent of this particular location. It smells like broth... no, wait, is that tortillas? *** 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 AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/boothdye.z5 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 AVAILABILITY: Activision 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 good. 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 mindspring.com DATE: April 2002 (original) PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/savoirfaire.htm http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Savoir.z8 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 attglobal.net DATE: June 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/blues.z5 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 NAME: WARP! AUTHOR: Dosius Software Co. and Richard Kelly EMAIL: None given DATE: 2002 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/warp.z5 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. ... WARP! 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. Bedroom 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 examples: What next? x bed [I don't see that here.] What should I do now (dare I ask)? Well? w Bathroom 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 Taken. 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 _game_. ######################################################## ###### REVIEW PACKAGE: AN UNNKUL BUNCH OF REVIEWS ###### ######################################################## 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 myself. But now, let's proceed to the reviews. -=-=- TITLE: Unnkulian Underworld: The Unknown Unventure (better known as Unnkulia 1) AUTHOR: D. A. Leary EMAIL: N/A DATE: 1990 PARSER: TADS Standard AVAILABILITY: Former shareware, now free URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adventions/adventions.zip 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. SUMMARY: 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 Kuulest" 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 EMAIL: N/A DATE: 1991 PARSER: TADS Standard AVAILABILITY: Former shareware, now free URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adventions/adventions.zip 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 answer. 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 better. 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 against. > (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. SUMMARY: 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 EMAIL: N/A DATE: 1993 PARSER: TADS Standard AVAILABILITY: Former shareware, now free URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adventions/adventions.zip 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 clearly. 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). SUMMARY: 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 EMAIL: N/A DATE: 1993 PARSER: TADS Standard AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adventions/adventions.zip 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 "goat"). 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". SUMMARY: PLOT: Boils down to a treasure hunt ATMOSPHERE: Clownery 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 EMAIL: N/A DATE: 1994 PARSER: TADS Worldclass AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adventions/adventions.zip 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? SUMMARY: 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 EMAIL: N/A DATE: 1994 PARSER: TADS Standard AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/gc-gam.zip 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 in-jokey. 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! SUMMARY: 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 EMAIL: N/A DATE: 1993 PARSER: TADS Standard AVAILABILITY: Former shareware, now free URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adventions/adventions.zip 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. SUMMARY: 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 ########################################################### SUBMISSION POLICY --------------------------------------------------------- SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure games, a.k.a. Interactive Fiction. This includes the classic Infocom games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the primary player-game communication is text based. Any and all text-based games are eligible for review, though if a game has been reviewed three times in SPAG, no further reviews of it will be accepted unless they are extraordinarily original and/or insightful. SPAG reviews should be free of spoilers. Authors retain the rights to use their reviews in other contexts. We accept submissions that have been previously published elsewhere, although original reviews are preferred. For a more detailed version of this policy, see the SPAG FAQ at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag/spag.faq. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!
Click here for a printable, plain text version of this issue.