___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE #32 Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) March 20, 2003 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #32 is copyright (c) 2003 by Paul O'Brian. Authors of reviews and articles retain the rights to their contributions. All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine with the traditional 'at' sign. ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE ---------------------------------------------------- The SPAG Interview with Peter Nepstad REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------- Chateu Le Mont Frobozz Magic Support Savoir-Faire ###### Comp02 Review Package: Static Story Struggles ###### Augustine Eric's Gift Photograph EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ Several years ago, about 1996 I guess it was, I decided that I wanted to make a strong commitment to writing. So on New Year's Eve of that year, I did something I almost never do: I made a New Year's resolution. I decided that starting in 1997, I would spend 15 minutes a day writing. That meant 15 full minutes, in a block, each and every day, no matter what else was going on. I had always heard "write every day" as standard writer's advice, and for me it has worked out pretty well, resulting in LASH, the Earth and Sky games, these SPAG editorials, dozens of comp reviews, and a large passel of fairly crappy short stories. I don't say that last part bitterly; I figured out pretty quickly that I shouldn't stop myself from writing for fear of turning out stuff that isn't very good. "Stuff that isn't very good" is exactly what most inexperienced writers create, and why should I be any different? That's how inexperienced writers become experienced ones. Every year, I've kicked up the commitment by 5 minutes, so that in 2003 I've resolved to attain the rather intimidating target of 45 minutes a day of writing. For quite some time, I've been able to meet these goals without too much angst. Of course, I've relaxed some of the rules a bit. For one thing, "writing" has become "writing or programming" -- it didn't take many days of untangling ugly bugs in LASH for me to decide that even if I don't write a word of prose, working on code still counts as work on the game, and should count toward that day's goal. Also, I no longer force myself to do the work in a block, though I usually do anyway. Finally, I've learned to allow a little leeway, deciding that a missed day here and there isn't the end of the world as long as I'm keeping the spirit of the commitment alive -- in any case, I usually tend to exceed my daily "quota" anyway, just to reach a stopping point or to maintain momentum. Lately, though, I've been running into trouble, and I'm not sure why. Certainly, it's quite true that there's a lot going on in my personal life, but that's been true many other times during the past seven years, and it hasn't stymied me for days at a time the way that I am now. It's also true that I recently received Freedom Force, a fantastic superhero CRPG, as a late Christmas present, and consequently my compter game addiction has been particularly powerful in the last couple of months, but there have been other games, and I've been able to keep them enough in check to make room for the writing. Is it just that 45 minute figure? It's only 5 minutes more than last year, and last year I regularly spent an hour a day or more. I've wondered whether, perversely, winning the competition has had anything to do with it. Could it be that achieving something I've been aiming at for so long has left me deflated, like a rock star trying to record a follow-up to a multiplatinum album? (Hey, now there's a self-serving comparison.) Maybe it's partly that I know my design for Earth and Sky 3 is my most ambitious yet, and I'm feeling overwhelmed by the toil involved in bringing it to fruition by the comp deadline. It was always my goal to enter all three games into three successive competitions, but now I'm wondering whether I can, and as last year's winner, whether I even should. I really don't know, and I suspect that it's probably a combination of all these factors, and probably a few others besides. The only prescription for it, I guess, is to just renew that commitment. Strangely, I think writing this editorial about it has helped a little bit. If nothing else, at least I know that I've put my time in for today. NEWS ---------------------------------------------------------------------- AND THE XYZZY GOES TO... For the first several years of the XYZZY awards, the "Best Game" prize went to a full-length game that had been released outside the IF competition. (The fact that the authors of these games always had the name "Cadre" or "Plotkin" is probably mere coincidence.) In the past couple of years, though, comp games have won the top honors. 2002 brought the XYZZYs back to their roots, with non-comp games winning eight out of the ten awards categories. Since the two remaining were Yoon Ha Lee's "The Moonlit Tower" (winning richly-deserved recognition for its writing) and, well, my own game, can you blame me for feeling like the awards went pretty well? Here are the complete results of this year's XYZZY awards: * Best game: Savoir-Faire, by Emily Short * Best writing: The Moonlit Tower, by Yoon Ha Lee * Best story: Savoir-Faire, by Emily Short * Best setting: 1893: A World's Fair Mystery, by Peter Nepstad * Best puzzles: Savoir-Faire, by Emily Short * Best NPCs: Lock & Key, by Adam Cadre * Best individual puzzle: Lock & Key (setting the traps), by Adam Cadre * Best individual NPC: Boldo, in Lock & Key, by Adam Cadre * Best individual PC: Pierre, from Savoir-Faire, by Emily Short * Best use of medium: Earth and Sky 2: Another Earth, Another Sky, by Paul O'Brian NEW GAMES The flow of new games continues nicely, including a murder mystery with a twist (is there any better kind?) by Jon Ingold. * The Island Of Infinity by Alex Freeman * Red Tag Clearance by Paul Allen Panks * Insight by Jon Ingold * Mountain by Benjamin Penney * Filaments by jibi (this game is in French) YOU GOTTA HAVE ART Marnie Parker's IF Art Show took a year off in 2002, but now it's back, with an all-star panel of judges: J.D. Berry, Stephen Granade, Jon Ingold, Andrew Pontious, Mike Roberts, and Emily Short. In case you're not familiar with the IF Art Show, its emphasis is on the creation of IF that's less about narrative than about creating a rich, interactive implentation of a particular landscape, object, or character. It's given rise to such vibrant works as Kathleen Fischer's "The Cove" and Emily Short's "Galatea", and the entries are always worth checking out. More information is available at http://members.aol.com/iffyart/. EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN... OR AT LEAST RE-RELEASED The ever-prolific Paul Allen Panks has been dusting out the game attic lately, and has released a passel of his old Commodore 64 adventures to the IF Archive. Titles include: "Enchanter: West Front to Apse", "Mark...of the Vampire!", "Mystic Castle", "Shinan Road", "Dakon River", and "Westfront II: The Eight Trials of a Warrior". For those of you without a Commodore (which, at this point, is probably most of you), these games can be played on an emulator. I SEE EBB, BUT I'M LOOKING FOR FLOW Not that I'm ungrateful for the reviews I've received for this issue, but really, six reviews isn't very many, especially when three of those are packaged up into one long piece. SPAG depends on its readers to step up to the plate and become contributors, so sit yourself down and write that IF game review that's been buzzing around your head, or get motivated with this list of the reviews I'm really hankering for right about now: SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. Dutch Dapper IV: The Final Voyage 2. 1893: A World's Fair Mystery 3. The Frenetic Five vs. The Seven Deadly Dwarves 4. Insight 5. The Island Of Infinity 6. Katana 7. Mountain 8.
9. Unease 10. Words Of Power THE SPAG INTERVIEW--------------------------------------------------------- Peter Nepstad's game 1893: A World's Fair Mystery was recently recognized with an XYZZY award for Best Setting, and rightly so -- it's one of the most expansive and ambitious settings ever attempted in IF, a full, detailed recreation of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Recently, Erik Langskaill spoke to Nepstad about Chicago, 1893, and what "illuminated lantern" really means. From: Erik Langskaill SPAG: Peter, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions about your game "1893: A World's Fair Mystery." Let's begin with a bit about yourself. Who are you, what do you do for a living, and what are your passions in life? PN: For a living? Er...let's just say I formerly worked for an ill-fated consulting firm that has been in the news quite a bit in 2002, and am now looking for other work, along with all of my co-workers. Which is just as well, since working there certainly wasn't one of my passions in life. Rather, corny as it sounds, I love learning, especially about history and how it has shaped the world as it is exists today. I also have a travel bug like you wouldn't believe. SPAG: What inspired you to write a game based on The World's Fair? PN: Hmmm. Well, I was born and raised in and around Chicago, but it wasn't until I left the country for a year or so that I began to get curious about Chicago history. I would visit London, say, or Kyoto, and visit historic sites and read volumes about their rich history, until finally I thought, "What about where I grew up?" So, when I moved back to Chicago, I began looking into its history. My wife and I would take short trips every weekend to different historic sites, different neighborhoods. Eventually I started reading about the World's Fairs that were held in Chicago (there were two). The first, the 1893 Fair, more and more seemed to me to be the defining moment of Chicago's history. At the same time, I was picking up TADS again after a long hiatus, looking to complete a work of IF. I was inspired to combine my two interests by the game LOST NEW YORK. Not only did I enjoy the game, but it made me feel frankly irritated that there wasn't a work of IF to represent Chicago. Always being the "second city" can be a bit of a drag, you know? So 1893: AWFM can give Chicago some bragging rights, too. Incidentally, Chicago got the name "The Windy City" not because of wind, but because of how much the city bragged about itself in order to win the congressional vote to have the 1893 World's Fair held there. So it all ties together, somehow. SPAG: I believe that this is your first attempt at writing IF, and it's a massive game for a first attempt. Can you explain how you went about learning TADS and any problems you had writing the game? PN: Actually, the first work of IF I wrote was in 8th Grade. I wrote it in BASIC on my APPLE IIe. It was a sort of Lovecraftian horror. It had a very limited parser, but I thought it worked pretty well. Only trouble was, the game would crash after about ten minutes of playing because it couldn't keep all the variables and loops I was trying to run in memory. I submitted it to our schools programming fair anyway. The judges didn't play it long enough to see it crash, and I won fourth place. The first three places went, naturally, to graphic games. Which is just as well, I would have felt guilty winning with a game that didn't work.I downloaded TADS the first time when I was in college. This was a while ago, when TADS was still shareware. I worked on it for a little while, but never actually finished a game, and put it aside for many years.So when I downloaded TADS again, almost five years ago now, I sort of remembered the language, and found it quite easy to learn. But I had no idea of the scope of the project I was taking on -- if I knew then that it would take four and a half years to complete, I never would have started. You would almost have to be a newbie to decide to take on such a project. It came out even larger than I expected -- I'm told it's the largest IF game ever written. SPAG: Where do you get the inspiration for your writing? PN: I don't read a lot of fiction anymore, I read mainly history books. So the writing in the game is the sort I like to read -- none too flowery, rather utilitarian I suppose. I have a fair-sized collection of books written in 1893, and the prose style in those influenced me as well, though a lot of their descriptions were so overloaded with adjectives as to bury a casual reader. Finally I decided to include a tour guide by the name of Shepp whose entire dialogue is lifted from the book "Shepp's Guide to the World's Columbian Exposition." The language was so rhapsodic I just had to include it somewhere. SPAG: The game is very geographically correct. How much research was needed to get the game looking so much like The World's Fair? Did you visit the site? PN: I visited the site of the fair many times. In fact, just last year I moved into the neighborhood, since by coincidence it is one of the more affordable, but still safe, ones in Chicago. I also used maps, photographs, and descriptions of the site, published both at the time and recently, to flesh out the details. I even used the Microfiche archives of the Chicago Tribune to unearth floorplans of every building and the location of exhibits in each -- though the game is not THAT geographically correct, I did use the floorplans as a general guide. Hundreds of hours of research went into making the game, but only a small piece of what I learned actually made it to the final product. The really fun part of the research has been to do some traveling to try and find remnants of the World's Fair wherever they may be. I put this information up, with photographs and travel directions, at http://www.illuminatedlantern.com/1893/1893now.html. It's the beginning of a project that can grow separate from the game itself. SPAG: You decided to release your game as shareware. What was your reasoning behind this? PN: Once I realized the full scope of the game, and the HTML elements, I knew I wanted this to be a game which can be purchased, not simply given away for free. I want the game to eventually have some shelf space in gift shops around Chicago. I want everyone to play it. With around 30 hours of gameplay, it has a good value. I just simply can't believe there is no market for an intelligent, quiet game which requires literacy, while millions of copies of Quake 90 fly off the shelves. Even for 8th graders -- I loved exploring IF when I was a kid, and kids today, given a chance, may do the same. I've hung around the IF boards enough to know that no one believes a commercial IF venture can work, memories of Cascade Mountain Publishing still fresh in everyone's heads. But I have just enough hubris to say, "let me try." On the other hand, one thing I never wanted to do was target the IF community itself as my main customer. That is, I didn't want to say, "Hey, this is my first game, why don't you buy it? And BTW, thanks for writing all those great free games I've been playing all these years." It just wouldn't be right. I feel privileged that these people are out there to play the games, and the fact that they do play the game is payment enough. Which is why I created the text-only version. Otherwise, it probably would have been straight HTML the whole time. But I wanted to create a copy of the game that the IF community could play, from beginning to end, with no catch. Then, IFers would have the option to buy the HTML version, if they want to, but everyone else can still play it for free. Really, I didn't even want to call the text version shareware, I just wanted to say, "Here it is, play, enjoy, no strings attached." But eventually I did call it shareware if only so I could better control distribution. SPAG: The CD version of the game is now available for people to buy from http://www.illuminatedlantern.com/1893 (thought I'd get the plug in there for you.) So have you been inundated with orders? PN: Not exactly -- at this point, other than posting its availability on rec.games.int-fiction, I haven't done any promotion for the game. I am working on a press release, and finishing up the look of the CD case so I can sell it in stores around Chicago. But between IF players and World's Fair collectors (who have been buying the game through e-bay), I've sold a couple dozen. I'm quite happy with the response so far. SPAG: Another question on the CD version -- as it's written in HTML TADS, did you find you had to rewrite a lot of the code or had you always planned to release an HTML version? PN: Once I figured out I could do it I was determined to do so. That was probably two years into the actual coding. That said, I didn't know for sure I could do it until after I had released the text version in July and began the actual coding for the HTML! Very little had to be re-written, but a lot of code had to be added on. SPAG: What's next on the drawing board for you? PN: I don't know, yet. Right now I'm looking for a fulltime job, which is a fulltime job in itself. I also publish a webzine about Asian Cinema, which I have fallen way behind on while finishing up 1893 (It's the main site, www.illuminatedlantern.com -- in case anyone was wondering, Illuminated Lantern actually refers to the Asian Cinema zine, not IF. But it does nicely work out for both). Next projects in Interactive Fiction, I've got about a dozen all percolating in my head (another problem with taking four years to finish a game). I'd like to make a sequel to 1893, which I am researching right now. I have a couple comp-sized games I'd like to complete. And I've got two other TRILOGIES of games which I have outlined in some detail. Good grief. Needless to say, 1893: AWFM won't be my last work of IF. Just pray with me that my next one won't take as long. SPAG: What recommendations would you make to someone who is thinking about writing their first work of IF but does not know where to start? PN: Probably the most important thing is to pick a topic that interests you outside of IF. That is, if you weren't writing a piece of IF right now, would you still be interested in your topic? Would you still study it? If so, it's a good bet. I stopped working on my game for months at a time. But because I was quite interested in Chicago history, I always came back to it, and then back to the game. Secondly, don't write a game to learn TADS. Learn TADS to write a game. The game comes first, not clever coding tricks. Decide what you want to appear in the game, then make it happen. When you're starting, you might just nest dozens of if/else statements to make it happen -- whatever you are comfortable with. Later, you will learn better ways to code and you might go back and change it. Then again, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Let your code be ugly. It doesn't matter, as long as the player experience works. And finally, if you're not sure where to start, just start. Code the first room. Then the next. Put a few objects in it. Puzzles will begin to present themselves to you. You don't need to know exactly how the story will end. I've never been an advocate of mapping everything out first. That's the most certain way I can think of to burn out on a project before it even gets started. Once I started 1893: AWFM, it had a life of its own. I tried a couple times to make it smaller, but it wouldn't let me. SPAG: Several people have mentioned that they thought you would wait and release your game in time for this years comp. Was there any reason for not entering the game for the comp (apart for the time restriction in playing)? PN: The size knocked that out right away. It's practically the length of all of the comp games this year combined! I had thought I might be able to finish a comp-sized game as well this year, but I underestimated the effort required to bring 1893: AWFM to completion, so it never got done. There's always next year. SPAG: Talking about the comp, what did you think of this years comp? Did you manage to play any of the games? PN: I didn't have time to play very many, unfortunately. I tried playing Augustine, but I have a natural aversion to Florida, so I had to stop. The Granite Book was quite good and sort of gave me an Ursula K. LeGuin vibe for some reason, but it was a bit confusing. And I played Till Death Makes A Monkfish Out Of Me!, which I quite liked. Overall I was a bit disappointed at the small amount of TADS games, but overjoyed that the 'one-room' game genre seems a thing of the past. But time was just not on my side this year, and instead of playing them all, I hope to use the post-comp reviews to pick out and spend time with the best-of. SPAG: Finally can you give us your thoughts on the current state of the IF community and what you feel will happen in the future? PN: The community seems pretty strong, these days. One can assume that the vocal minority (who actually post in the newsgroups) has behind it a lurking majority (who, like me, may only post a couple times a year). The amount of comp games every year pretty much indicates interest is still going strong. As for the future, who knows. Personally, I'd like to see less competitions, and more collaborations: groups of IF authors writing variations on a theme, building a shared world, or contributing to an anthology. Mini-comps, I think, point the way to this kind of collaborative IF. I'd also like to see writers become more aware of branding, and ways of differentiating their offerings from the sometimes overwhelming mass of individual games in the archive. These are definitely not predictions of the future, but rather what I think could be interesting possibilities. 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: Jessica Knoch TITLE: Chateu Le Mont AUTHOR: Paul Panks EMAIL: dunric SP@G yahoo.com DATE: Fall 2002 PARSER: DOS (homebrew) SUPPORTS: DOS AVAILABILITY: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/source/basic/chateu.zip URL: http://www.geocities.com/dunric/westfront.html (with screenshot!) VERSION: 5.75 The latest Star Trek movie, Nemesis, is a great movie. But only if you like Star Trek movies. If, for one instant, you were to view it critically and compare it to a truly great film (an exercise left to the reader), you would come away feeling that Nemesis wasn't worth seeing even if the theaters paid people to see it and threw the popcorn in too. If you *like* Star Trek, on the other hand, and are able to completely ignore any technological problems and gaping plot inconsistencies, you will like the movie. Chateu Le Mont by Paul Panks is a text adventure written in BASIC. If you like BASIC adventures, with their simplicity of plot, the occasional bug, and complete lack of character development, not to mention the amazingly simple one-line room "descriptions," then you will like Chateu Le Mont. All it takes is the ability to recognize the game for what it is, and play it for those qualities. For whatever reason, I was able to get into Chateu Le Mont and really ended up liking it. Of course, a lot of that is because the feel of the gameplay from its "kill everything because it is there" mentality to its plug-and-chug combat to its "pick a spell, any spell" magic system is quite reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons, and I really like Dungeons and Dragons. You have hit points, an armor class, and a level, and you gain experience points for killing anyone or anything. All of the "monsters" are regenerated at the start of each new "day," and that includes any townspeople you might have killed, so feel free to hack away. Hey, that villager has 167 hit points compared to my 100! So, your purpose in Chateu Le Mont is to kill a vampire, who lives south of town. So far, so good. You spend a good bit of time flailing about the town, until you figure out where to get a weapon and some armor, and what happens when you die (you are resurrected every time). This is the point at which you learn you can die from dehydration, and that drinking from the well doesn't help your dehydration, but the fountain does. The dehydration death is just one of many "sins" of Chateu Le Mont, although at least it doesn't have a maze. There's a light problem, and figuring out how to turn on the lantern is a guess-the-verb puzzle all on its own (although it shouldn't be -- I'm just not used to trying the verb "use" -- and that shouldn't be considered a spoiler, it should be called a blessing to modern IFers). Other "sins" include the parser pretending to understand things that it doesn't: WEAR (to give a random example) SHOES gives "You can't wear that" when what it *really* means is "You can't see any such thing" or "You must be holding an item before you can wear it." There are a ton of useless locations that are a little tricky to map at first. There are actions that make the game unwinnable with no logic and no warning. And, last of the major "sins," the player has to depend on randomness (in the form of the fighting system) to win the game. There are a few strange bugs which seem not to affect gameplay much. For instance, whenever you find some gold, the gold remains wherever it was, meaning you can pick it up again, and again, until the limits of your patience run out (or some kind of overflow -- I wonder what the integer limit is?), racking up all the gold you can stand. Unfortunately, there is nothing exciting to buy with the gold except items you brought to the store yourself, and the shopkeeper never marks up his prices, so it's always a straight exchange. Another odd bug that does affect gameplay is that when you save your game, quit, and restore it, you are knocked back to level 1. I think the hit points remain, but upon perusing the source code I found that you must be level 7 before you can go after the vampire in his own house, so the save/restore bug could be an annoyance. The source code really came in handy on this one, by the way, although I was unable to effectively change the annoying inventory limit. Finally, the first time I fought the vampire, the vampire cursed me and made the stake disappear. I can't kill the vampire without the stake, and it was nowhere to be found. I have no idea why this happened, and ended up replaying to finish the game. All in all, this is a fun little game that may amuse, depending on your tastes. The "problems" I've touched on speak for themselves: if you can look past them, and like random combat, go ahead and have a good time with Chateu Le Mont! However, I would recommend just another shot or two of originality from the author the next time around. I mean... a hobbit? And did the vampire HAVE to be named Count Dracula? P.S. I finished with 14932 points. Can you beat that? -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Adam Myrow TITLE: Frobozz Magic Support AUTHOR: Nate Cull EMAIL: culln SP@G xtra.co.nz DATE: February, 1997 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF archive. URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/fmsr4.gam VERSION: 4 Back in 1996, the Internet IF community was just beginning to take off. The second IF competition had been even more successful than the first, and experimental works were just starting to appear. Still, the majority of the IF produced at this time was either an Infocom tribute or followed the style of an Infocom game. Frobozz Magic Support is a case in point. If the title doesn't make this obvious, this is one of the many games to pay tribute to the Zork/Enchanter games. In fact, it is as if the author was thinking "let's see. References to the Flatheads? Check. Appearance of the Implementors? Check. Game can be made unwinnable by doing actions in the wrong order? Check. Really annoying maze? Check." The only things missing were a sleep timer and starvation puzzle. Well, perhaps the maze would be regarded as creative by some. Let me put it this way, if you enjoyed the maze in the 2002 competition entry called Evacuate, you will be thrilled with this one. I didn't care for either maze. However, as old-school IF, this really isn't as bad as I made it sound. For one thing, the story is original. You are a novice support clerk who goes on calls to help people out of the jams they get themselves into when magic doesn't quite work like it should. This, plus the numerous references to blorple and all the cubes gives me the impression that this is supposed to be taking place at the same time as Spellbreaker. One of the problems you fix, for example, is an Enchanter who has turned himself into a shark with the Snavig spell. The spell won't wear off. Similarly, your companion is a burin that got animated with a malyon spell. Once again, the spell doesn't want to wear off. Perhaps this was the beginnings of the failure of magic which resulted in the great conclave in Borphee. Unfortunately, Frobozz Magic Support doesn't do as much with this plot as I thought it should. Like much older IF, the plot is mostly an excuse for puzzles. The puzzles vary from creative to annoying. As I mentioned, it is easy to silently make the game unwinnable if you don't do things in the correct order. On top of this, the hint system in the game is the worst I've ever seen. I've never programmed in TADS, but apparently, hint systems of any kind are quite difficult to design in that language. I say this because I rarely see a good hint system in TADS. This one is nothing more than a dump of all the hints, which are rather vague. You have no control over what gets shown. You type "hint" and get about two screens worth of little clues. I would have preferred that it be context-sensitive or at least present a simple menu. The other option is to type "walkthrough" which spits out a list of commands which will win the game. Neither was very satisfying. I suggest that if you must resort to hints, download the solution from the if-archive at ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/solutions/frobozz.sol. It explains the logic of the puzzles and is divided into sections. I ended up having to look at this solution more than I care to admit because after I discovered how easy it was to make the game unwinnable, I wanted to make sure I wasn't doing anything to ruin the game. These elements really surprised me because in Mr. Cull's later Glowgrass, they are largely absent. Also, in his interview after the 1997 competition, he talked about how much he disliked puzzles of the very type he programmed in Frobozz Magic Support. As I said, he seemed to be making a conscious effort to emulate Infocom to the point that he ended up exaggerating it a bit. The bottom line is this: if you are a big Enchanter fan, and don't mind the type of game which will require a few restarts, give this one a shot. If you were introduced to IF with Photopia and don't know Belboz from Krill, forget it. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Francesco Bova NAME: Savoir-Faire AUTHOR: Emily Short EMAIL: emshort SP@G mindspring.com DATE: 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/savoir.z8 RELEASE: 6 The type of IF I've always preferred has been more puzzle-based than story-driven, and as a result, I've always enjoyed the old Infocom games because, if anything, they erred on the puzzle side of that spectrum. They typically featured mazes, colour-based puzzles, hunger and weight restrictions, and a whole host of other implements we just don't see in modern IF today (albeit in most of those cases, for very good reasons). With the lack of many truly puzzle-oriented games lately, I have been longing for a big puzzlefest-type game reminiscent of an Infocom classic and I'm happy to say I've found one in Savoir-Faire. Savoir-Faire comes out and blatantly calls itself a piece of old-school IF; a throwback, if you will, to the days of Infocom and perhaps more recently to the days of Curses and Delusions. When a game comes out and patently calls itself old school, comparisons to some of the more popular Infocom classics and early shareware games will be drawn. So the question is, does Savoir-Faire succeed in replicating the old Infocom standard? As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't just succeed in replicating it; it's better in every respect I can think of while still maintaining the illusion that the game could have been created in Infocom's heyday. For example, Savoir-Faire implements many common design strategies used in Infocom games that are now considered designing no-no's (encumbrance-based carrying systems, hunger restrictions, the opening of doors before you go through them), but does so in a much more contemporary and less threatening fashion. There are different light-based puzzles for example, a maze of sorts, and an abundance of locked doors, yet Ms. Short seems to reluctantly (and thankfully) only put a half-hearted attempt into creating an authentic old-school system. The hunger restriction, for example, is only that in name and serves more as a reminder of what goals you should be focusing on as opposed to a rigid hurdle that has to be traversed (which is to say you can never die of hunger). Unlocked doors open automatically once unlocked, and any encumbrance issues are nicely done away with, with a sack that can carry pretty much anything. It probably grated on a game designer as strong as Ms. Short in the first place to have to implement so many old-school faux pas, let alone make them completely unuser friendly. Fortunately for the player, it appears that her innate sense of good game design prevailed. Continuing on with the puzzles, Savoir-Faire again throws up some old Infocom tropes without the typical old school constraints (i.e., unwinnable game states). The credits list the game as cruel, which makes me typically feel that there are many opportunities to put the game into an unwinnable state. Actually, when I see a cruel rating for a game followed by the word 'unwinnable' I get that eerie chill down my spine that I got so often while playing So Far, where every turn seemed destined to limit my possibilities. Although some of the puzzles were on the tougher side, none were unachievable without a little lateral thinking, and I can't think of one that would be considered truly cruel. On the contrary there are plenty of ways to solve the same puzzle unless you go about willfully destroying things (and even then you might find some possible avenues). At one point, while I was stumped, I attempted an action that involved the destruction of an item (an action which I was sure would lead me to an unwinnable state). To my surprise, an alternate solution that I'd thought of but which I felt unlikely to be implemented, turned out to work. To my further surprise, upon reading the verbose walkthrough, I discovered many other solutions for that particular puzzle and was duly impressed. Once again in defiance of most classic-IF axioms, there is very little linearity in this game. As I mentioned, alternate solutions abound and the puzzle-solving process is aided by a whole plethora of parsed verbs to choose from. Savoir-Faire is a game that understands the following sentences equally: >get water from well with teapot. >fill teapot with water from well. And Savoir-Faire also provides for many rare but useful verbs as well as verb synonyms. Also remarkable are the impressive bits of programming involved in the game. There is a magical set of physics to Short's world that the player learns through flashbacks and bits of backdrop, and the macroparsing involved in setting up this particular magic system is impressive; all the more so as the game was originally released in .z5 format (as opposed to the .z8 of later releases.) When things work as smoothly as they do in Savoir-Faire, you know there's a lot going on behind the scenes that makes the game work as efficiently as it does. For the average author this means adding libraries, extra classes, and more often than not ugly, redundant bits of programming. But for the true artist, efficiency is what's important and nowhere is efficiency more apparent in any recent game in memory, than it is with Savoir-Faire. Sure, in terms of gameplay I guess it ultimately doesn't matter how big or small a game is, but as a hack programmer myself, I really do appreciate the elegance and efficiency with which Ms. Short constructed her universe, as I know how difficult it is to make it so. Anyway, all these positives and I haven't even talked about the writing. Ms. Short, a former winner of an XYZZY for best writing, has an economical and beautifully descriptive way about her prose. It's effective and lasting and brings every piece of scenery to life. The writing is such a pleasure to read that one could still enjoy the game greatly just playing it strictly with a walkthrough and reading the responses the game spits back at you. So to sum up, Savoir-Faire is a great game, and I don't have many complaints about it. Since this is a critique of the work, however, I feel obliged to talk a bit about something I wasn't overly fond of in the game, and surprisingly (when I think back to Short's other works), what I wasn't overly impressed with was the story. Well that's not true exactly. I thought the story and background were great up until the ending, after which I felt differently about the story as a whole. The plot starts off with the PC, a minor noble in financial difficulty, returning to the house of his youth where an adoptive family had once raised him. Upon finding the manor abandoned, the PC decides to ransack it for profit (and so begins a classic treasure hunt, albeit with a lot more backstory than the Infocom standard). The story to this point is fine, but as bits of background became more and more available throughout the game, it seems obvious that the protagonist was treated quite fairly by his adoptive parents and their daughter (who it appears also had a crush on him) despite his poorer upbringing and what you could only assume was a lower status in their household. I therefore found it extremely jarring that he would go back and pillage the home of the people who showed him so much kindness growing up. Other factors contributed to my growing disdain for the protagonist as well. For example, the constant reminders of his hunger (as illustrated by his constant yearnings for different exotic foods) that I had mentioned earlier, while important to the plot as it focuses the player on the task at hand, also reinforced, to me at least, the PC's selfishness. I mean really, worrying about gourmet cuisine when it was becoming readily apparent that a dear friend was in trouble? These are not the thoughts of a modern day IF hero. As a result, by the time the ending rolled around, I didn't have a great deal of respect for the protagonist and hoped all the while that he would receive an 'appropriate' reward for his violations and selfishness. In this respect, the game's PC reminded me a lot of the protagonist from Infidel (an Infocom classic for those who don't know). Infidel featured a protagonist who was a self-centered excavator and treasure seeker, committed to running through anything and everyone in his pursuit to achieve his goals. Fittingly, he receives a 'reward' worthy of his self-absorption upon reaching Infidel's conclusion. I was hoping for a similar result in Savoir-Faire but found none. No ending that befitted the crimes I'd committed, no slap on the wrist, no scolding, no guilt; Just some tacked-on sugary sweetness that completed the fairy tale in a typical and (at least for me) unsatisfying way. Interestingly enough, Infidel's original ending was very similar to Savoir-Faire's. I remember reading an interview with Infidel's author Mike Berlyn, and he alluded to the fact that the game's original ending finished very positively; the way most treasure hunts did at that time. But the ending was changed between the initial beta-tests and the game's final release because of an outcry from testers who disliked the protagonist, and thought he deserved far worse than the ending had provided. Faced with such an overwhelming sentiment, Mike and his team got to work to fix the ending and thus was born Infocom's first tragedy. Looking at the credits for Savoir-Faire, I noticed 4 beta testers to its credit -- a normal amount for a piece of modern IF. Let me start by saying that these four testers did a great job. As I've already mentioned in this review, Savoir-Faire is a technical marvel, and so much more playable than any Infocom game I can think of that it's laughable. But I would hypothesize that one advantage of having tens of testers look at a game (which was the case with the Infocom games) is that it's easier for an author to notice trends and sentiments with respect to storyline and mood. So if an author notices, lets say, 6 out of 20 people not feeling at ease with a story's direction it's a lot easier to detect a plot concern than if 1 out of 4 people notice a similar issue. I'd also hypothesize that having a smaller number of testers might mean that those same sentiments may be overlooked and that ultimately having a greater number of beta-testers will improve a storyline regardless of who writes it. Having said that though, it's tough to find dedicated beta-testers in the first place these days, let alone tens of them, and again this is not a criticism of Ms. Short's work in any way, just a comment on how the IF scene is different today as compared to the Infocom heyday. Hmmm... I guess the old Infocom games may have actually had an advantage or two in some areas over today's games after all. Go figure. Anyway, my brief quibble with the ending notwithstanding, Savoir-Faire is an excellent game penned and programmed from one of today's IF masters and well worth playing. Download it today! -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- ###################################################### ###### REVIEW PACKAGE: STATIC STORY STRUGGLES ###### ###################################################### From: Valentine Kopteltsev TITLE: Augustine AUTHOR: Terrence V. Koch EMAIL: teviko SP@G softhome.net DATE: September 2002 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware IF-archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/tads2/augustin/ Directory containing game, hints, walk-through, and release notes VERSION: 1.0 TITLE: Eric's Gift AUTHOR: Joao Mendes EMAIL: joao.mendes SP@G netcabo.pt DATE: September 2002 PARSER: TADS Standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/tads3/ericgift/ericgift.t3 VERSION: IF Comp Release TITLE: Photograph AUTHOR: Steve Evans EMAIL: trout SP@G netspace.net.au DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/zcode/photo/photo.z5 VERSION: Release 1 I've rather often heard the opinion that a direct conversion of static fiction to IF is doomed to failure from the very start. The main argument: the attempt to apply the rigid structure of a static plot to a text adventure inevitably results in the gameplay degenerating into either straightforward railroading through the scenario, or random casting around for the "hidden button" -- a "magic" command that will advance the story. It's a strong argument -- but still, I'd rather disagree. In a sense, practically *any* work of IF has some sort of framework -- a prescribed set of commands the player needs to enter to win the game -- and it doesn't seem to make an essential difference whether this framework stems from static fiction, or not. As so many things in our life, it's all a matter of implementation, of how well the author manages to hide the game mechanics, and -- yeah, to cheat the player into believing (s)he's free to do just anything. ;) Furthermore, the degenerating gameplay isn't necessarily a bad thing -- I'm thinking here, say, of Being Andrew Plotkin, the champion in railroading, and of Shade, the ultimate in random casting. If gameplay would degenerate like that in every work of IF, I wouldn't mind at all. (Of course, the two games mentioned above aren't the best examples to demonstrate successful static fiction-to-IF conversion -- since none of them is based on a static story. Sigh. ;) Apparently, I'm not the only one who doesn't share the opinion about the fundamental faultiness of such an approach to writing IF, because games using this very approach keep being released. IF-Comp 2002, for instance, had at least three entries of that kind (it's possible there were more -- I didn't manage to play all Comp-games this year). Let's look how they succeed in overcoming what's considered to be the inherent burden of the genre. Sizewise, our first aspirant, AUGUSTINE by Terrence V. Koch, easily outweighs the other two: it's a full-sized saga based on the popular Highlander series. An important note: I'm not acquainted with Highlander well enough; to be more precise, I only have got knowledge of its general concept, and have seen a few random fragments of the movies. I don't think I'd recognize Duncan McLeod if I met him in the street; heck, I even had got to look up his last name at the Internet to write it correctly... and probably misspelled it, nevertheless! ;) Thus, I can't judge the originality of Augustine, and it didn't affect my rating of the game. The story is about the everlasting fight between Good and Evil, represented by Pallidyr Gaelhawk (the PC), and his vile opponent, Kasil, respectively. After their first encounter, their destinies become as entwined with each other as... as... well, after two hours pondering on objects suitable for this metaphor I've decided to drop it altogether, but let me assure you -- their destinies become pretty entwined. ;) Both enemies hate each other -- but it seems they can't go without each other, either; their paths keep crossing, and sometimes they even become allies. As a result of their opposition, the city St. Augustine is built, the history and development of which both heroes influence over centuries. Though the story is rather complex, it's entirely consistent, too; I don't remember any stretching points. Again, I can't tell whether the author developed it himself, or borrowed it; but if it's original, it represents a major plus for the game. Another important plus is the writing. It'd be a lie if I said it was the most vivid I've ever seen, but it's -- well, solid and monumental, and thus just the kind of writing required for such an epic work. In some way, it's reminiscent of antique Greek statues, and since the author seems to be well aware that the perfect beauty of such a statue can be destroyed by one single speck of dirt, he's made a serious effort to eliminate all misspellings and grammar mistakes (well, very few glitches appeared towards the very end -- probably a territory less explored by beta-testers). The gameplay is mostly of the railroading type, which is acceptable (if you don't mind being railroaded, that is) -- with the exception of a few points where it turns into towing, requiring from you either actions that aren't motivated by anything except the game telling you explicitly you've got to do it, or long sequences of obvious moves (I'm thinking here, say, of the excursion through Augustine). OK, I'm perfectly aware how difficult it is to avoid such situations in a game of that kind, and have understanding for them, but what can I do? They just annoyed me! Probably in order to counterbalance the elaborate writing, the author kept the setting rather ascetic. Sure, decorations weren't the main point of this game -- but still, the expediency of implementing, say, a lunch that "doesn't appear appetizing" is questionable at best. (Well, and giving such a lunch to his beloved father doesn't seem very kind of the PC -- though I'd understand if he gave it to his opponent, Kasil! ;) Honestly, I think I'd prefer no scenery at all. To sum up -- Augustine is a typical representative of the genre, with all the faults characteristic of it: it's good as a story, but isn't nearly as good as a game. The other two games fight in a much lighter class -- the class of short (or, rather IF Comp-conforming) story. They have a couple of more things in common: both of them have got a mystical aspect, and are to a no small degree based on reminiscences of the past. The first of them, ERIC'S GIFT by Joao Mendes, represents a genre I used to dislike when I was a teenager: it's mainly about meeting people and talking to them. Since talking is so important here, the game brings up a splendid conversation system. Yeah, I really liked it, especially the way it kept track of topics already discussed. Together with the solid implementation, it made sure the technical prerequisites for a successful game were fulfilled. Unfortunately, those weren't the only preconditions to be met. You see, this was the kind of story without much superficial action, where building up inner emotional tension was of essential importance. The problem of Eric's Gift was, the emotions for such tension just weren't present. An example: if, one day, they tore the Kremlin down (shudder on the thought), and built some of those ugly standard multistory blocks of flats in its place (shudder even more), a guided tour through the area probably would look like this: a small group of trippers would limply follow a tired guide who'd say from time to time in a flat tone, "To your left, the Basilicus Cathedral once stood; this nice department store replaced it. And if the Spassky Tower still was intact, it'd cast its shadow upon that dusty lawn to your right." You can imagine how "exciting" such a tour would be; well, it's a pretty accurate picture of what I experienced when playing Eric's Gift. That is to say, the culmination, which would release the aforementioned (and absent) emotional tension, just wasn't there; instead, the game just told me where it should be. And though the narrator presumably was involved in the events described, his voice rather seemed to belong to a distant (and not very interested) observer. This lack of emotions affected the gameplay negatively. I mean, if the game managed to excite me, I'd probably do the moves it was expecting from me instinctively, and would finish the story at one gulp. The way it was, however, it turned into -- well, random casting around, as described in the opening section of this set of reviews; the cues provided by the game appeared rather gawky, and all in all, it wasn't so enjoyable. I think that's a good example of the interdependencies between single aspects in IF; a more passionate, "intense" writing style automatically would fix most of Eric's Gift's gameplay issues. While PHOTOGRAPH by Steve Evans has got a number of things in common with Eric's Gift, playing it has been an entirely different experience. The author gambled on a rich setting (with the story progressing when the player examined or manipulated certain objects in various ways) -- and it paid off; the main effect was that the gameplay didn't differ much from your "normal" text adventure. (Well, I think it'd work even better for me if the author didn't mention beforehand his game was based on a static story; the way it was, a small but importunate and malignant voice in my ear kept whispering after each move, "Aha! Another plot-advancing trigger!"). In its first stage, the game went on at a measured, pleasantly unhurried pace, like a river flowing through a flat country, and splitting up into many arms (represented by arising plot branches). Unfortunately, as it came to linking all the arms back to a common channel, Photograph didn't succeed nearly as well. At some point in the game (to be more precise, just after the dream where the player was the pharaoh Akhnaten), the decorations suddenly shrank to the "bare essentials", the barely noticeable guiding nudges of the first half of the game turned into rather off-hand pushes and pokes, and the amount of static descriptive text displayed between the player's action started increasing continuously, giving me the strange feel of interaction thinning out like a forest. I don't know whether it happened due to a lack of time on the author's part, or for other reasons (like, say, an attempt to express the intensifying action, and growing emotional tension of the story), but it represented a rather unpleasant change for me; besides, in all the haste, most of the plot branches that had shown up at the early stages of the game, remained unresolved, leaving me wondering about a number things. A pity it is. OK, as it seems, none of the games reviewed was fully able to break the Dreadful Static Story Imprecation; still, some of their aspects (and especially the first half of Photograph) give occasion to hope it will be overcome some time. The recipes for that, as I see them, are rather simple in principle (though implementing them might be tough): a rich, thorough setting that'd give the player a sense of freedom, combined with an exciting plot and writing, which would prevent the player from even thinking of stepping off the main game path. I know, it sounds rather contradictory -- but finding a compromise, a fair balance between conflicting demands is an essential part of any development process. Also, maybe there are other recipes I'm not aware of, as well. Sooner or later, we'll see -- won't we? SUBMISSION POLICY --------------------------------------------------------- SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure games, a.k.a. Interactive Fiction. This includes the classic Infocom games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the primary player-game communication is text based. Any and all text-based games are eligible for review, though if a game has been reviewed three times in SPAG, no further reviews of it will be accepted unless they are extraordinarily original and/or insightful. SPAG reviews should be free of spoilers. Authors retain the rights to use their reviews in other contexts. We accept submissions that have been previously published elsewhere, although original reviews are preferred. For a more detailed version of this policy, see the SPAG FAQ at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag/spag.faq. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!
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