ISSUE #32 - March 20, 2003

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

                         ISSUE #32

           Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G
                       March 20, 2003

           SPAG Website:

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

###### Comp02 Review Package: Static Story Struggles ######
   Eric's Gift


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

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

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

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)

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 

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.

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:

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
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 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 (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, 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, -- 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

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
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
DATE: Fall 2002
PARSER: DOS (homebrew)
URL: (with screenshot!)

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
DATE: February, 1997
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF archive.

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 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
DATE: 2002
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters

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

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!



From: Valentine Kopteltsev 

TITLE: Augustine
AUTHOR: Terrence V. Koch
EMAIL: teviko SP@G
DATE: September 2002
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware IF-archive
     Directory containing game, hints, walk-through, and release notes

TITLE: Eric's Gift
AUTHOR: Joao Mendes
EMAIL: joao.mendes SP@G
DATE: September 2002
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: IF Comp Release

TITLE: Photograph
AUTHOR: Steve Evans
EMAIL: trout SP@G
DATE: September 2002
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
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

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?

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