___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE #33 Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) June 25, 2003 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #33 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 Mike Roberts REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------- ASCII and the Argonauts A Crimson Spring Escape From Pulsar 7 Heroes Mountain Rat In Control Ribbons Words of Power ###### Review Package: The Frenetic Five vs. Phlegmatic Reviewer ###### # The Frenetic Five vs. Sturm Und Drang # # The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man # # The Frenetic Five vs. The Seven Deadly Dwarves # ####################################################################### ################### Review Package: The Joy of AAS #################### # AAS Masters # # ADVENT # # Cave of Adventure # # Caverns of Doom # # Cloak of Ultimate Darkness # # Dead By Morning # # Fabled Caves Of R'th-nylch # # Office Ahoy! # # Pleasure Palace # # Pride And Prejudice # # Sexual Conquest # ####################################################################### SPECIFICS ========= A Crimson Spring Fine Tuned No Time To Squeal Sunset Over Savannah EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ I guess it's time I faced reality. I won't be entering the third episode of Earth And Sky into this fall's IF competition. My original plan was to write from December to June, beta-test from July through September, and have something good ready by September 30th, but I find myself suddenly at the 23rd of June, with only the first section done. There are lots of reasons for this predicament, some of which have to do with the motivational crisis I talked about last issue, some of which have to do with EAS3's expanded scope and techniques, and some of which are much more beyond my control. It all adds up to a big disappointment, though. I've always hated vaporware. For as long as I can remember, the IF groups have had their share of people who charge in, announce some humongous project, post about it for months on end, and then somehow disappear, never to be heard from again. Perhaps a few of them release part one of their planned multi-game epic, *then* disappear, sometimes blowing smoke about how they've abandoned their plans because the community is just so much more indifferent to their masterwork than it has any right to be. To me, this is highly annoying behavior, and I think that part of what defines being a class act in our field is the ability to unveil a fantastic piece of work without having hyped it for months and months. After all, one great game is worth about a million "I'm working on a great game" posts, trailers, announcements, and advertisements. Now I find myself joining the ranks of vaporware authors. Ugh. I certainly needed to let people know that EAS3 was coming, lest I be strung up for leaving the plot hanging indefinitely, but it leaves a bad taste to have written "coming in Fall 2003" when I now know that no such arrival is imminent. My plan all along was to enter the three episodes in three consecutive competitions. It's some consolation to know that since I won the last competition, entering this one with a sequel to last year's winner could be construed as somewhat obnoxious, but I'd at least like to have had the option of declining entry out of choice rather than necessity. All I can say is this: I am working on it. I will finish it. And in between now and then, I'll try to mention it as little as possible. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR------------------------------------------------------ From: Valentine Kopteltsev
Dear SPAG -- In my review package "Static Story Struggles", published in SPAG #32, I alleged that the game AUGUSTINE by Terrence V. Koch was based on the Highlander series. Naturally, I'm wrong -- I really should have had at least a quick look at the materials accompanying the game. My apologies to Mr. Koch and to everybody who has been deluded by this mistake -- AUGUSTINE is an ORIGINAL work, and one with a GREAT plot. [Thanks for the correction, Valentine. --Paul] NEWS ---------------------------------------------------------------------- NEW GAMES Freshly released games this time around include Emily Short's long- awaited opus City Of Secrets. Nobody's submitted a review of it to me yet, but I sure would like to see one. Hint, hint. But CoS isn't the only game in town -- there's erotica, treasure hunts, z-machine abuses, and a couple of games in Swedish as well. Also released recently was the perceptual experiment Rat In Control, reviewed by Jessica Knoch in this issue, and authored by none other than the subject of the SPAG Interview, Mike Roberts. * The Treasury of Zan by Richard Murchy * Dear Brian by "Choices IF" (erotica, for ages 18+) * ASCII and the Argonauts by J. Robinson Wheeler * Drakmagi by Johan Berntsson (this game is in Swedish) * Rat In Control by Mike Roberts * Z-Tornado by Sophie Fruehling * Dark Forest and Dark Forest II by Paul Allen Panks * City of Secrets by Emily Short * Vanyar by Johan Berntsson (this game is in Swedish) * Shapes by Radical Al MANY MANY MINICOMPS If you're a classical music fan, the Rite of Spring will probably make you think of Stravinsky. For IF fans, though, the Rite of Spring is minicomps, and this Spring we had as many as ever. Detailing the premise, rules, and results of each one is too much for this humble little news section, so I'll just give you some leads and let you have the fun of discovery all to yourself: * IF Art Show: http://members.aol.com/iffyart/ * IF Library Comp: http://www.iflibrary.com/default.aspx?pageid=IFLibComp * Introcomp: http://www.mountainmemoirs.com/ifMUD/IntroComp2003.html * Logic puzzle comp: http://www.eblong.com/zarf/comp/logicpuz * Minigames: http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=BAC9E74E.1A77%25ben%40hayscaplan.org * Spring Thing: http://www.adamcadre.ac/springcomp.html For the most part, all the games are available on the IF Archive under /games/mini-comps. KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE, AND YOUR NMs CLOSER Nick Montfort, known as nm on ifMUD, has established an indisputable position as one of the world's premier academic scholars of IF. Sure, there may not be a lot of competition for the title right now, but Montfort's first book, Twisty Little Passages, may change all that. The book is due in December of this year, but in the meantime, his webpage at http://nickm.com/if/ assauges our appetites with a bushel of articles, including treatments of Adam Cadre's Varicella (http://nickm.com/if/Varicella.pdf) and ifMap, a new mapping system for IF (http://nickm.com/if/ifMap.pdf). SILLY AAS This April, a group of IF wags took satirical aim at homebrewed development systems with an elaborate hoax centered on the Advanced Authoring System (abbreviated, naturally, to AAS), a new development system that purported to have been created by an isolated bunch of IF enthusiasts, but was in fact the brainchild of Iain Merrick and a number of other co-conspirators. And just to prove how far some people will go for a joke, AAS is an actual, working system that you can use to produce games... just not very good ones. Of course, that didn't stop Sam Kabo Ashwell from reviewing every single one of them (except his own) for this issue of SPAG. The AAS web site is http://aas-ta.com -- be sure to check out the Store, which includes marketing masterstrokes like the AAS thong, "made for strutting!" 'N ZINC What if there was one interpreter that could play both z-code and TADS games? What if that interpreter included a mapping utility? Wait! What if it *also* included network capabilties, so that multiple players could see the game screen and map, and control the game session via voting or a "hotseat" mechanism? Now how much would you pay? Wait! Before you answer, check out http://www.bits.bris.ac.uk/zinc/. You might just be pleasantly surprised. PLEA FROM A RELUCTANT SURFER I've noticed that for the past several issues, there's been a sort of crest-and-trough pattern to review submissions. This issue, I'm happy to be riding the crest, with reviews from lots of different contributors and an unprecedented surge in pieces for SPAG Specifics. However, the higher the crest, the more I dread what comes next. I live in Colorado, and I'm a lot more comfortable on high ground than on rough seas -- put me back on dry land (and get me out of this rapidly deteriorating metaphor) by keeping those submissions coming! If you're looking for inspiration on what to review, here are ten suggestions to get you started. SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. City Of Secrets 2. Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. 3. Dutch Dapper IV: The Final Voyage 4. 1893: A World's Fair Mystery 5. Hollywood Hijinx 6. IF Art Show 2003 games (any, some, or all!) 7. IFLibraryComp 2003 games (any, some, or all!) 8. Insight 9. Katana 10. Spring Thing 2003 games (any, some, or all!) THE SPAG INTERVIEW--------------------------------------------------------- Simply stated, Mike Roberts is one of the architects of the IF Renaissance. He's participated in the newsgroups since 1993 and authored several stellar games, including Perdition's Flames, Ditch Day Drifter, Deep Space Drifter, and The Plant. But far and away his most prodigious accomplishment is his creation of TADS, the Text Adventure Development System, which has given birth to an amazing number of top-notch games, including Lost New York, Worlds Apart, Once And Future, the Unnkulia series, Losing Your Grip, and literally hundreds of others. Nowadays he's still active in the newsgroups and still writing games (including the recent Rat In Control), and beyond that he's looking to top himself by creating TADS 3, a next-generation rewrite of TADS, rebuilt from the ground up to make it an even more powerful tool for the creation of great IF. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for this issue. SPAG: First off, the usual opening question: Could you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth? MR: I live in the part of the San Francisco area known as Silicon Valley, which was once well known as the center of a technology industry boom. My day job is writing software, as you might guess, although it's just boring system software that has nothing to do with games. SPAG: Tell us a little about your history with IF. How did you get interested in the form, and what led you to take on a project like the creation of TADS? MR: I first ran into IF back in maybe junior high, just home-brew stuff that someone had probably found in one of those write-your-own-adventure books. There was something about the idea that really intrigued me, and I played around on and off with building little BASIC programs that did the same kind of thing. After a few attempts, I realized that what I needed was a way to factor out all the difficult program code that was always nearly the same in every game -- things like parsing, and managing inventory, and maintaining the map of room connections. Ideally, you'd just have a bunch of data definitions giving the room layout, the names of objects, and so on, and one generic program to run it all. That idea worked pretty well, but it separated things too much. The problem was that you still needed special-case code once in a while, to make a room do something special, for example. It was too hard to tie the special code to the separate data definitions. What I really wanted was a way to put both the code and data together, but I couldn't see how to do that. In high school, I got interested in compilers and programming languages, and I wrote a couple of toy compilers for fun. Later, in college, I discovered object-oriented programming, and I realized it was the solution to my unsolved mystery of how to put the code and data together in an adventure game. That, plus my interest in programming languages, led pretty directly to TADS. SPAG: Your latest game, Rat in Control, is really more of a psychological experiment in spatial perception than a flat-out adventure game, though it does have some clever setting and puzzle elements. Did you think it was a successful experiment, and what were the results? MR: Only a couple of people ever sent me their timing numbers, so it didn't succeed in the sense of producing statistically significant quantitative data. I'm not sure numbers would have convinced anyone anyway, though, since the construction of the experiment was probably a bit hokey. Even so, I think it was successful just as a way to directly compare the subjective experiences of compass and relative direction systems. I actually found it surprising how usable the relative system is -- it's definitely more work for me than the compass system, but it's not as hard as I'd expected. Other people have said they found it harder than they'd expected. I also see it as a sort of informal FAQ contribution. The compass-vs-relative question is one of those perennial raif topics, and it always seems unproductive because everyone talks in the subjunctive about it -- "I think I'd like it more" this way or that way. The next time someone joins the newsgroup and points out how unrealistic compass directions are, and asks why no one's ever thought of using LEFT/RIGHT/FORWARD before, I can point them to this game and let them do the comparison for themselves. SPAG: When I played the game, it seemed to me that lots of other factors could have influenced those results -- not only demographic things like gender and age but also the fact that IF-ers are themselves a somewhat self-selecting group, as people who tend to enjoy wandering around a virtual environment. What are your thoughts on these sorts of factors? MR: That's an interesting point -- self-selection could well be significant, since people who don't find it easy to navigate around an imaginary map probably can't stand IF. If I had been able to get any real numbers out of the experiment, it would have been interesting to see how they'd change with a more extended group that included people who didn't play IF. SPAG: Playing Rat In Control reminded me how much I enjoy your game writing style. What, if any, are your plans for future games? MR: Thanks! Actually, I'm working on a new game right now -- it's a full-sized sample game for TADS 3, analogous to what Ditch Day Drifter was for TADS 1 and 2. I've planned out the game, and I've implemented most of the introductory sequence. Implementation work has been punctuated by detours to work on TADS 3 itself, since working on the game keeps turning up little (and some big) areas that have needed more work in the system or the library. My philosophy about sample games is that they should be real games with published source code, so my goal is to write something that people will want to play even if they don't care about learning TADS 3. SPAG: About the games you've written in the past: how do you view them now? Any memories that stand out as particularly special about the writing of them? MR: I always have mixed feelings about my past games -- each one is such a learning experience, mostly in terms of learning what not to do, but they were all a lot of fun to work on. I feel like they're all terribly flawed, but I also feel like I've been getting better at it, and maybe I'll actually write a good one someday if I keep trying. The most memorable moment writing the games, I think, was when a friend was play-testing Deep Space Drifter. I like to do at least some play-testing in person, actually sitting next to someone while they play the game, just watching what they do and taking notes. So my friend gets to the Cave Maze - if you haven't played DSD, part of it is this truly huge maze, around 160 rooms, with the clever trick that a flood every six turns washes you back to the starting point unless you're on high ground. My friend starts mapping the maze, placing the usual one-inch square at the center of a piece of paper. He maps out a little and realizes that the map is going off the edge of the paper, so he starts over with a smaller scale. After a couple of iterations of this, he's getting kind of exasperated, so he asks if I could suggest a proper scale. I don't usually like to give out hints while watching a play-tester, but this time I couldn't help but show him, from across the room, the original map, which was drawn very carefully on half-centimeter graph paper from the very bottom to the very top. I must have considered play-testing a mere formality at that stage in my game-writing career, because his reaction should have given me a clue about the wisdom of keeping that maze in the game. SPAG: Okay, SPAG is generally focused on players rather than programmers of IF (though of course there's a huge overlap between the two), but we can't do a Mike Roberts interview without talking about your monumental new project: TADS 3. For those not in the know, can you summarize just what it is, and what makes it different from TADS 2, a.k.a. TADS As We Know It? MR: It's really a complete overhaul of the system, so it's almost easier to put it in terms of what hasn't changed. The flavor of the programming language is pretty similar, although it's a bit more java-like and a bit more consistent. The run-time user interface is pretty much the same; the one big chunk of code that's carried over from TADS 2 is the part that interacts with the operating system to display text on the screen and all that stuff, because I didn't want to have to rewrite ten different OS versions. That means, by the way, that the HTML display features are all the same as in TADS 2. The bulk of writing a game still involves defining objects for rooms, portable items, actors, and so forth. One obvious change from TADS 2 is that the parser is entirely implemented in the library now, so you can customize anything and everything. The design of the parser is also completely different; the new parser uses a declarative grammar, kind of like the formal syntax diagrams you sometimes see for programming languages, or the sentence diagramming that I remember doing in elementary school. It sounds a little scary at first, but once you see what's going on, it's amazingly easy to extend the grammar. The other big change is the library. At the simplest level, it provides a lot more in the way of pre-defined classes for the common types of objects that show up in nearly every game. The deeper change is that the execution model and world model are a lot more sophisticated, so they can do more for you automatically. This should all mean it's less work for an author to create a desired effect in a game. The trade-off is that there's more to learn, but my hope is that the design makes the learning curve gentle, so new authors can figure out how to do the basic things very quickly and then pick up the more complex stuff gradually. SPAG: Since we are focused on players, what will be the differences between the two development systems from a player's standpoint? MR: The changes probably won't jump out at you right away, because the interpreter look-and-feel is almost the same as in TADS 2. But players will probably notice a number of things just under the surface. One change that'll affect most games is that the default library messages are very "neutral" in the new library. The TADS 2 messages imitate the early Infocom style, which had a sarcastic parser/narrator "character" that occasionally referred to itself in the first person. I think a lot of the early authors conceived of text games as a teletype conversation between the player and a puppet who carried out the player's commands and reported back. This has changed, though; most authors these days want something a lot more like the modern third-person narrator in static fiction, where the parser/narrator is this submerged, unseen presence. The new library messages aim for that effect, which I think will let the standard messages be used without the risk of clashing with each game's own style. Another thing that players might notice is that the parser can take care of a lot more of the tedious details for you. It's always irritating when a game responds to a command with something like "you'll have to open the door first"; I mean, if the game knows enough to tell you to open the door, why doesn't it just do it for you? Anyone who's written a game knows the answer, which is that it's a lot easier to program the message than the cascading action, since there are all sorts of complications to worry about in the cascading action. Well, the new library has a whole mechanism for this sort of thing, which it calls "implied" actions, and it's very easy to use and control. The result should be that players see a lot fewer of those irritating "you'll have to first" messages in TADS 3 games. There are lots of other little details that players will encounter from time to time. The parser is overall a lot smarter, and it accepts a more flexible range of inputs. You can use possessives pretty consistently to indicate which object you mean, and you can refer to things by location, as in "look in the box on the table." There are little niceties that authors can enable, such as always showing a list of exits in the status line. Hopefully these will all add up to make the playing experience noticeably more convenient and pleasant. SPAG: Why do this project? What are its goals? MR: The initial goal was merely to move the parser out of the interpreter and into the library. The biggest weakness in TADS 2 is that the parser is written in C and embedded in the interpreter, so games can't customize it except at the specfic points where there are customization hooks. I probably could have just "ported" the parser's C code to TADS code and stopped there, and if I'd gone that route it would have been done three years ago. But once I started looking into it, I decided it would be a pain to rewrite the parser without automatic garbage collection in the VM, and that kind of opened the floodgates. Garbage collection essentially required a VM rewrite, and if I was going to rewrite the VM anyway then I might as well fix other things at the same time -- switch to Unicode, add exception handling, add a modular type system, add a modular UI layer, and on and on. Even with all of those changes, it probably would still have been a pretty modest rewrite if I hadn't started talking about it with more people. After I'd been working on the new VM a while, an informal discussion group had formed, so we set up a mailing list. Several very good computer language experts were on the list early on, and they had a lot of great ideas that made their way into the language. They also helped steer me away from some of my more foolish ideas, fortunately. Once the library got under way, there was a strong consensus that it would be a waste of time to just duplicate what was in the TADS 2 library, so the ambitions got raised there, too. Just about everyone on the list has a lot of IF experience and know-how, so the library discussion has been very focused and productive -- not just a bunch of crazy blue-sky stuff that would never happen. That's kind of a long answer. I think the short summary is that the goals have turned out to be to take what we know about IF authoring in the existing systems, and iterate to the next level, so that the common problems that authors have to solve over and over are handled in the system. SPAG: Finally, what's its status? When can we expect to see it in a stable beta form, and more importantly, when do you think it'll be out of beta altogether? MR: I always try to avoid speculating about schedules in terms of the real-time calendar, since I'm impossibly bad at it. I can at least try to give you an idea of the tasks I see ahead, though. The main thing I'm doing right now is working on the new sample game, with detours for library work as I run into things that need fixing or elaboration. The latest library detour has gone on for a few weeks, but this one was probably uniquely large, and I think it's mostly done now. (I'm also fixing bugs as they're reported, but that's essentially always the case. My philosophy is that you have to fix known bugs before you add new code, throughout every stage of a project, because otherwise you're building on a crappy foundation.) The game itself is pretty much planned out, so it's just a small matter of coding. Once the game is finished, I plan to declare beta. "Beta" is kind of arbitrary for non-commercial software, but to me it means that I'll be mostly fixing bugs rather than making functional changes, and that future updates should remain backward-compatible. The next task after the sample game will be to write a new Author's Manual. That's a little more predictable in terms of schedule than writing code, I think, but I haven't really scoped it out yet, so I'm not sure what to expect. It should provide long enough for a thorough beta test, though, so once the manual is done, the official first release should happen. 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: Francesco Bova TITLE: ASCII and the Argonauts AUTHOR: J. Robinson Wheeler EMAIL: jrw SP@G jrwdigitalmedia.com DATE: 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://raddial.com/if/games/asciargo.zip VERSION: Release 2 An issue ago, I reviewed the IF-Classic game Savoir-Faire. Savoir-Faire is a game that illustrated some of the beautifully nostalgic flair of the old Infocom games while also improving greatly on Infocom's parser system and playability. ASCII and the Argonauts is another IF-Classic of sorts, but instead of having an Infocom-based backdrop as its focus, ASCII takes a light-hearted poke at some of the surreally awful Scott Adams games that featured poor punctuation, anemic descriptions, and less than robust NPCs. While obviously not as polished as Savoir-Faire, I found the tribute aspect of ASCII to be more endearing, and the dichotomy of a strong parser in a minimalist-type setting very entertaining. What also makes ASCII remarkable is that it was conceived of and created for a Speed IF competition in about 12-15 hours. Here was the premise for the competition (which was taken from an ifMUD conversation): Trivia question: Which is a famous text adventure? a) Zork, b) Dark Tower, c) ASCII and the Argonauts). Jacqueline says, "Did they make that ASCII and the Argonauts thing up? I've never heard of that, and it sounds scary, but I wouldn't be surprised if it existed." Gunther | Your search - "ASCII and the Argonauts" - did not match any | documents. Gunther says, "of course, now it has to be written in a speedIF. You have two hours. GO!" And with those very broad parameters, Wheeler created a bare-bones tribute to not only the myth of the same name but to many of the Scott Adams games created years ago. So what do I mean by bare-bones? Well, as I've already mentioned, this game follows a very minimalist sort of pattern. The only area where it doesn't diverge too greatly from a typical Inform game is with its parser. Unlike the typical Scott Adams game, the parser was able to handle any of the standard vocabulary you would expect in a typical Inform game. This set up an interesting dichotomy for me because even though the parser was sophisticated, the default responses were not. Wheeler essentially hacked the default response code for most verbs and dumbed them down (i.e. two-word responses, poor punctuation) from their original Inform standards, with the game's default message for just about any action being, "I CAN'T". That's right, "I CAN'T", replete with capital letters and no period. Oh the joy of writing sophisticated sentences such as: PUT THE ROCK IN THE URN only to have I CAN'T spitted back as the response. The minimalist style continued with the game's setting. The room descriptions were non-existent, and were instead summarized at the top of the game's split-screen simply with the room's title and a list of NPCs and objects that the player could interact with. Following the same motif, that list of players and objects was not expanded upon either. They were listed solely by their names regardless of what context you found them in. Examining objects typically provided descriptions as verbose as, "VERY SHINY!" to ones as barren as "NOTHING SPECIAL". Examining NPCs would typically have the NPC give a one-line description about how they'd interact with you, and talking to them had no outright benefit whatsoever as they repeated the same default responses whether you asked, told, or ordered them to do something. Still there was something that felt so right about the simplicity of it all. The game map was fairly small and, with a few notable exceptions, most areas could be traversed without too much death without warning. What impressed me about the map though, was that there were some fairly crafty puzzles buried in its structure. These puzzles typically revolved around strategic inventory management; the net effect of which was that if you solved certain puzzles too early, you could put the game into an unwinnable position. Unwinnable positions aren't new to IF and certainly not new to Scott Adams games, but unlike many of those games, the unwinnable states here were not caused as a result of poor game design choices. Rather, they were caused by what I feel was the author forcing the player to conserve his limited resources in an attempt to come up with a strategy that took into account the entire game as opposed to one individual puzzle. To win, the player has to have a comfortable feel of his surroundings and what the hurdles are before he proceeds. Only then will he be able to envision the best way to use what he has. I found that this process also made the game feel more like a whole gaming experience rather than a string of unrelated puzzles that were loosely tied together, and I obviously enjoyed that. A mite bit deeper than the games ASCII appears to be spoofing, methinks. So anyways, to sum up: I guess for me the bottom line is that a lot of game designers today try to write more impressively than their skill level provides and either overplay their theme, or overwrite their dialogue, or whatever, and it was interesting that I felt just the opposite way about ASCII. As I finished playing, it occurred to me that despite the clunky grammar, skeletal room descriptions, and poor writing, there was an extremely solid structure and a very talented programmer behind its creation and all the wonky game design choices in the world weren't going to hide that fact. If you have an hour to kill or your brain needs a break from its daily grind, I would definitely give this one a shot. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Miguel Garza TITLE: A Crimson Spring AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin EMAIL: beaver SP@G zombieworld.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Hugo SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/hugo/scourgdos.hex (Note: this is the no-sound, no-pictures version of the game) VERSION: Release 1.0.04 I enjoyed Robb Sherwin's A Crimson Spring quite a bit. It is well-paced and enjoyable to read and play. It sucked me in like a good book or a good movie, something I often find myself wishing for in a text adventure game but rarely find. Paradoxically, one vehicle for achieving this end in A Crimson Spring is what is frequently derided in contemporary discussions of good interactive fiction: the game is very much "on rails". For instance, about half of the game is driven by conversation that moves in one primary direction. Conversation progress is accomplished through a TALK TO system, in which the player chooses the number of the conversation-opener the player character (PC) wishes to use. The PC can keep on talking until there are no more openers left. I personally have no problem with this system, because the responses are intriguing and entertaining. They propel the story. I do not feel as if I am reading a dry transcription of a chain of events, but rather that I am participating in those events. I think this is primarily due to the quality and pacing of the writing. By "pacing of the writing", I am referring to the interplay between plot or exposition and player action. In some games, the player is required to discover what the plot is, and this as much as anything is the central conflict and motivating factor for the PC, at least in the beginning. Not so with A Crimson Spring. From the beginning, we are presented with a fleshed-out protagonist with a problem and a goal. This was a boon to me because I do not enjoy wandering around randomly examining things and trying to logically discern what goes with what. Instead, in this game the player is much more limited in terms of where the PC can go or what the PC can do, but it doesn't *feel* limiting, because at any one point in the game there are usually only a few choices that would make any sense for the protagonist to make. At points where there is really only one choice that the PC would make, the choice becomes automated. For example, at one point in the game the PC intends to visit a non-player character's (NPC's) home. At that point, the player doesn't need to manually move the protagonist to the NPC's house by typing in directional commands -- once the player moves the protagonist out of his house, the game takes the protagonist to the other person's house. This is where the quality of the writing comes in: at junctures where events occur outside the player's jurisdiction. Without good writing at those junctures, the player gets bored. The player won't be interested in the PC or his damn problems. Fortunately, Robb Sherwin is a good writer, and I found myself intrigued rather than bored by his descriptions of events occurring outside my control. Despite the fact that the story moves primarily in one direction, the game feels like it is in the player's control. There is more than one ending to the game, and much of the conversation is supplemental, rather than essential, to the story itself, so there is room for experimentation. The author does a good job of treading the line between dictating the story and letting the player find it. That said, there are a few minor qualms that I have about the game. There are some continuity problems, such as that, after a certain point, a certain minor NPC will say the same thing to you each time you meet him, or that an NPC inexplicably knows how to contact you even though only one other character in the game besides yourself knows where you are, and those two NPCs probably have not spoken to each other. This problem shades over into a realism problem. The game is set in a gritty superhero world (I can hear people grumbling, wondering why I am concerned with realism). I gladly accept the poetic conceit of superheroes existing in a modern-day world, but when a major villain and the superheroes get together to duke it out and there are no bystanders, no police, and no discernable threat made by the villain to the populace at large, I find it difficult to swallow. Nonetheless, the aforementioned battle is an exciting and well-written part of the game. I cannot stress enough that the storyline and the writing in this game are both very good. There is a sense of drama evoked by the events in the game that I find lacking in many games which are more open-ended in terms of what the player can do and in what order. The "on rails" quality of A Crimson Spring works because it is not difficult to move forward in the plot, on the one hand, and the plot itself is well-written and intriguing, on the other. The puzzles are not difficult at all, and primarily consist of getting information (by talking to people) so that the PC will know what to do next. I enjoy the easy puzzles because it returns the player's attention to the story at hand. As I said earlier, the game pulled me in. It has a well-paced and interesting story, and that is its shining glory. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: T. Henrik Anttonen TITLE: Escape from Pulsar 7 AUTHOR: Brian Howarth & Wherner Barnes EMAIL: ??? DATE: 1983 PARSER: DOS SUPPORTS: DOS AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/pc/pulsar7.zip The reason I wanted to review this old game was that I have a very special attachment to it since it was the very first text adventure I've ever played. The story to that is actually quite sad. I got a package about five years ago that contained some game collection titled 'Big 100' that actually contained 100 games in five floppy disks. Well, we can all imagine the quality of these wonderful gaming experiences, but there was this game titled Pulsar 7. All of the other games were graphic games except this one and when I started the game, I was hooked. I thought it was a revolutionary idea! No graphics, just text! Brilliant, why hadn't anyone else thought of this before!? That was the thing I wondered for about two years without even noticing that the game was released in 1983. Well, enough of my sad story about my first contact with text adventures. I was supposed to review the game, not myself... In Infocom masterpieces collection, G. Kevin Wilson wrote that the reason text adventures still keep a good amount of players and programmers, is because of the stories. Well, this game proves that you can write a text adventure without much story to back it up. Of course, the game is not very good. In the game, you are the only survivor of the galactic freighter Pulsar 7. Apparently, a group of monsters have boarded the ship and eaten everyone else. Now you have to save the character from the ship full of aliens who have an urge to tear you to pieces. Now, this must've been a really original idea in 1983 with only about couple of million other games using a similar concept. As far as actual gameplay, it's at about the same level as the creative force behind the story. The screen tells you where you are without any description. Then follows a list of the items you can see. About half of these are totally useless and you can't even examine them since the parser is at a complete loss if you try to examine those. For example, in the very beginning of the game I can see a warning sign. I wanted to see if the warning sign contained any text, but I couldn't do that since the parser does not understand what 'warning' means. After the list of items follows a list of exits. There is a significant problem there. In the very beginning of the game, the game says that 'Exit: SOUTH WEST'. I spent the better part of my childhood trying to get to southwest. What I failed to realise was that you can go south OR west, not southwest. This was of course my fault as well, but a bit clearer way of presenting things would not hurt. The parser's level is about the same in all situations. There seems to be only one way of presenting the game with ideas, and unfortunately that way has nothing to do with English grammar. At the time it was really hard for me since I am from Finland and English is not my primary language, so the parser's total failure to understand words like 'to', 'the', or 'a' brought me great difficulties. These days I don't have that problem, but sometimes still it gives me difficulties to make sentences that the program would understand. For example, commands like 'use key door' are hard for me when 'to' would come naturally. Then again, commands like 'unlock door' or 'use key' are out of the question since the parser fails to understand those too. In the latter case you would get a message like this: It is no use trying to use KEY Well, as I found out, the parser doesn't understand even 'use key door', because that would result a message like this: It is no use trying to use KEY DOOR So 'use key door' doesn't work either, but it's a good example of the language you have to use in the game. The parser seems to have a language of its own and some of the basic commands we're accustomed to using in interactive fiction are completely useless as the parser does not understand them. That makes the gameplay really hard, especially to someone like me who have only just found the joy of playing text adventures and who is totally helpless in all of them. For example, the parser does not understand the 'look' command. In some games, the 'look' command would work the same way as the 'examine' command except that it's a lot shorter to write. In this game, you have to write the 'examine' command over and over again. If the 'look' command would have different function than the 'examine' command, I would understand that, but it's really hard to understand why there is no 'look' command at all. The danger of the game is to fall asleep. If you do, a MUTANT CREATURE rips your head off and the game makes it clear that 'I have landed myself right in to MANURE this time!!'. Maybe it is the best to let the game stay in there and try to forget it as soon as possible. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Francesco Bova TITLE: Heroes AUTHOR: Sean Barrett EMAIL: buzzard SP@G nothings.org DATE: Oct 1st 2001 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/heroes/heroes.z5 VERSION: Release 1 At first glance, Heroes appears to be another typical D&D-influenced IF game, with perhaps a few novel ideas scattered throughout. For starters, you begin your quest by choosing between five different D&D staples as the player character. You can choose among the following: a dragon, an enchanter, an adventurer, a thief, and a member of the royal family. You then work your way through some puzzles in an attempt to acquire the fabled Dragon Gem and upon your quest's completion, you replay the same scenario but this time with one of the other characters. You then repeat this process until you've won with each character. So, Heroes is typical standard fantasy to be sure, with the interesting twist of multiple and diverse playing experiences. However, what you'll soon realize after completing each player-character's perspective is that there is a macro-story present here that encompasses all five characters and some subtleties in each of their stories. For those not paying careful attention to the storyline, the game's final epilogue (which is triggered once all 5 player character perspectives are completed) will come as a shock and be next to unexplainable. Come to think of it, you might still feel that way even if you followed closely. Still, the macro-story that has to be inferred is an interesting and novel concept, and for the most part, a success. The subtleties in each of the stories about the true nature of the game's chief antagonist are, for the most part, beautifully woven together if a bit obscure. The big picture in Heroes is a complex one and probably won't be easily inferred by many except the most perceptive. The weaving of the story is not direct or blatant. Instead, interesting facts and tidbits are sprinkled throughout each character's prologue and epilogue; the interactions they have with other NPCs; and the various scenery, room, and object descriptions that change with each new player viewpoint. The landscape, although fairly small, is beautifully rendered, specifically because each of the characters' games takes place in the exact same setting (i.e., same locations, same items to be found, etc.) but with each character's personality coming through in the scenery descriptions of their relevant story. For an example, try viewing the garden in the town's square as each character for some unique perspectives. Each individual game will also bring different objects and structures to the forefront of each player's perception. For example, there is a crate leaning up against a building near the entrance to the city, but it is only visible in the scene's description by the thief (which is understandable as he'd be used to lurking in the shadows), and the adventurer (which is also understandable as he's a roughshod mercenary-type who would notice it). The same crate is not in the dragon's description of the same room (because it is understandably insignificant to him) nor the enchanter's (as he views things on a metaphysical and magical level) nor the royalty character's (as the crate is also insignificant to him, albeit for significantly different reasons than the dragon). Although not in the room's description however, the enchanter and royalty character can still interact with the crate and I thought was interesting. Essentially the crate was still in scope, and if you remembered that it was there from a previous character's experience you could still attempt to manipulate it. It was a nice way to maintain mimesis because obviously a crate or any other object shouldn't just disappear when it's not essential to a specific player's storyline. In terms of each character, I found the writing style fairly distinct. The enchanter, for example, notices the magical chemistry and ley lines present in his surroundings, while the dragon perceives things in a way completely foreign to the other characters. However, there was a big difference between characters in terms of how relevant their individual stories were to the story as a whole and their relative levels of playability. The following is a critique of each character and their respective degrees of influence on the story and levels of playability: DRAGON The dragon is a lot of fun to play with because the geography descriptions change dramatically with his viewpoint. He's got very straightforward goals, with some interesting puzzles. Storywise, he fleshes out the relevance of the Dragon Gem, but doesn't do much to add to the mystery of the chief antagonist's motivations. ENCHANTER The enchanter is a great character and has a great story all around. I found I didn't learn much about the overall story in this section, but I did learn a great deal about the world the game takes place in, and about the magic that forms such and integral part of it. The puzzles are wonderful and most are solved with Enchanter-style spells, some of which you start with and some of which you acquire throughout the game. The end game of this story is the strongest of the five (there's a great sequence of puzzles to conclude this section) and provides some insight into the chief antagonist's motivation. This section is, all around, a logical and entertaining section. ADVENTURER The adventurer is a fairly dull character and story in my opinion. He didn't really bring much to the table story-wise and his claiming of the gem is pretty straightforward and mundane. Not much is added to the story as a whole either during his prologue or epilogue and the puzzles here are solved more often through brute force and trial and error rather than by elegant puzzle design. There is some bonus information generated by one NPC that fills in some missing gaps in the story, but approaching him with the relevant conversation topic is neither intuitive nor reasonable, in my opinion. A bit of a filler chapter, overall. THIEF The thief is an interesting character whose relevance to the story as a whole is significant. The gamplay aspect however suffers a bit from some guess-the-syntax and some actions that require more guesswork than is strictly necessary. The thief has an interesting cache of thieving tools, but not all of them have to be used to complete the section. This fact saw me spend a bit too much time wondering what they should be used for. Otherwise, I sped through this section rather quickly except for one bottleneck that was caused by having no real indicator of how to proceed. An interesting story, and the epilogue in particular was quite relevant. ROYALTY The royalty character is another integral character, story-wise, to the entire plot. However, the gameplay aspect suffers more with this character than with any other. For starters, there are some serious problems in this section with guess-the-syntax. For example, ordering NPCs in a certain way yielded a desired result but ordering the same NPC in another way albeit with the same intent, yielded nothing of interest. I struggled with this section for quite a while, convinced that I was on the wrong path while really, I had the right idea but was getting bogged down in the grammar. Also, receiving the default responses "There is no reply" and "I know not of which you speak", while ordering around and questioning various NPCs got to be a bit frustrating. I'm the king dammit! You'd better reply. Other bits of annoyance came from the king/queen's substantial entourage. This section of the game spits out randomly created gossiping noble NPCs that crop up in whatever location you happen to be in. They were amusing at first, but eventually became tiresome as their constant babbling actually got in the way of my reading the text. The author thankfully parsed some applicable royalty-type verbs to get rid of the bothersome NPCs such as dismiss, arrest, and execute (execute in particular was quite unintentionally funny, as the executed corpse remained in the room of its execution), but as soon as you got rid of one NPC, another one unfortunately took its place, so the glee was short lived. Also, because you're a royal, you don't do anything for yourself. This includes various sundry tasks such as picking up objects, turning dials, or pulling levers. You unfortunately have to order other people to do it. This convention maintained mimesis perhaps, but boy was it tedious to have to ask an NPC to pick something up, and then ask him to give it to you. A more fluid method, I would think, would have been to just type in the command and have the closest NPC do whatever it is you asked. One final piece that had me guessing for a while came while trying to acquire one of the game's central objects (an object, in fact, that is featured prominently in each storyline). The problem arose when I tried to acquire the aforementioned object in a fashion similar to one of the other characters. For the most part, the game created good reasoning as to why each character had to interact differently with this object to acquire it. Incidentally, this aspect of the game was one of my favorites, because essentially each character had to interact with the object on a different level which typically related well to their substantially different backgrounds. With the king however, these same rules didn't apply. Following the exact same steps as a previous character I was sure I would eventually acquire the object the same way, but the process yielded no results and even worse, no rationale as to why my efforts weren't successful. So, overall, this section was a bit of a drag to slog through although the prologue and epilogue, as well as some smaller bits within this section, were very important to the story as a whole and integral to having a shot at understanding what the final prologue meant. All in all, I loved this game. I'm a little biased, I suppose, because I love the fantasy genre to begin with, but even the most contemporary IF player will find something to enjoy here. After having completed Heroes, it occurred to me that the writing and subtle hints reminded me a lot of another fantasy series penned by one of today's great static fiction writers, Robert Jordan. His Wheel of Time series (at least the early novels) were brilliant because they incorporated subtle hints amongst the different books that, when combined, could be used to infer the solution to some of the many mysteries present in the series. Heroes, again, follows a similar style although obviously, on a much smaller level. If you don't think you've figured out what's going on after one playthrough, I would encourage you to play it again. Following that, visit the author's website at http://nothings.org/games/if/heroes/story.html and read his take on all the innuendo and intrigue. (Warning: major spoiler at this link.) -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: R. N. Dominick TITLE: Mountain AUTHOR: Benjamin Penney EMAIL: revolutionary_dust SP@G hotmail.com DATE: February 2003 PARSER: Platypus standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Mountain.zip http://users.tpg.com.au/penney/z VERSION: 6 Mountain is a game that, like several recent games, plays at being much older than it is. An accompanying "cover scan" indicates a price point of $1.99 and is of a size that suggests ziploc bags and 5.25" diskettes. The in-game help suggests that the game will be arbitrary and guess-the-verbish. I was willing to play along; I even set up Frotz to mimic the display of the Apple][ I originally played IF on back in the day. Unfortunately, shortly after starting to play, I started to actually think about what was going on. The text is sparse, and almost immediately jokey -- the PCs name is Gary Hikerson, he's accompanied by his "lesser, uglier and much shorter companion Biggs". Here's the first room description: Foot of Burly Mountain You are standing amidst the snow covered trees of Burly Forest, looking upward to the mountain you're delaying climbing. None of them get much longer than that. Some room descriptions describe actions you take, which are repeated when you "look" again. Much of the writing in the game is muddled, especially with regard to punctuation. An example: >kick biggs "Oww!", cries Biggs, "Sir, that hurts. Above the waist, please!". Implementation is sparse, perhaps intentionally so. True to the promise in the help text, the game is very arbitrary. Items are hidden in nonsensical places. Things only happen when obscure criteria are met. You can't command Biggs to do anything in the usual Infocom fashion; in one location where you have to ask him to do something, you do so with the command "talk to biggs". There's an item that needs to be "use"d. Points are given out for seemingly random things. You can never tell what items mentioned in text will be implemented and which ones won't; sometimes this is very frustrating, especially when Biggs suffers an injury you can't even refer to. There's a total of 32 points you can score, but you can't possibly score them all in the same game session. As I noticed these things, I kept thinking "Well, that's excusable, because this is a parody of That Sort of Game". As the list grew, though, I began to wonder: wouldn't this be better if the game laughed at these flaws along with me, instead of just actually containing them and expecting the humor to come from that? I disliked games like this back in the day, so why should it be inherently funny to play one now? I grew tired of the arbitrary nature of the game after finishing it a few times in different ways, so I took TXD to it to see what I'd missed. (Please excuse me if you think this is wrong; I had only the best of intentions.) Doing so revealed a few interesting things, best of all a (truly) humorous set of alternate versions of game events apparently tied to the Tandy bit. Unfortunately, setting the Tandy bit in three different interpreters had no effect, leaving me unable to accompany the cranky bear to the Tandy store. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Jessica Knoch TITLE: Rat in Control AUTHOR: Mike Roberts EMAIL: mjr_ SP@G hotmail.com DATE: 10-Apr-2003 PARSER: TADS3 SUPPORTS: TADS3 interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/spatial.t3 VERSION: 1.0 The first thing to note about "Rat in Control" is that it isn't a regular game, at least not as we tend to think of them. Mike Roberts wrote it to gather some statistics on how quickly IF players process spatial directions when using compass words (north, south, etc.) as opposed to relative directions (ahead, backward, left, right). This is an experiment designed to test some theories proposed in a thread on the rec.arts.int-fiction newsgroup -- see: http://www.google.com/groups?th=f07753ec2f847121 for the thread. The "game" consists of finding your way through a simple maze, using either set of directions (although you can switch at any time). The game then reports to you your time, to the nearest millisecond, so that you too can contribute to the statistics-gathering. This might sound a bit boring and dry. It would have been, too, if the author hadn't made the game much more compelling by giving it a fleshed-out setting, a real character, and even a storyline. You play Fred, a lab rat, who has finally had enough of captivity and is ready to escape. Besides conjuring images of Pinky and the Brain, this gives you a valid reason for exploring the "maze" (really the arrangement of furniture in the lab where your cage is) and also for needing to do it quickly (before the humans come back). Rat in Control accomplishes its purpose well. You are given one of the direction sets -- compass or relative -- at the start of the game, chosen at random so that the author can get an even sampling of players using each set on their first play-through. The first stage of the game allows you to explore the room, using your set of directions, and gives you a chance to acquaint yourself not only with the layout of the obstacles, but also with the (potentially unfamiliar) direction commands. After that is complete, the time trials begin. There are three timed sequences, each between a different pair of locations in the room. The game thoughtfully sets the timed sections apart by prompting you to push the space bar when you are ready to begin. In each, you are to traverse part of the maze using the set of directions chosen by the game. The idea is that everyone who plays the game will send their results to the author, who can then compile them and maybe come up with some useful, or at least interesting, information. I was a bit disappointed that my random pick was "compass" directions, instead of the relative directions. I'd been hoping I would get to try the less conventional commands on my first time through. But playing through with compass commands was in itself enlightening. First of all, I didn't make any kind of map of the lab. Some parts of it made sense, but there were a few parts which wouldn't fit in my head coherently. For instance, when I arrived in a previously-visited location via a new route, I had serious trouble taking that new path into account on my mental map. From this I must conclude that it was a map very well suited to its purpose -- straightforward enough to not require a map, but complicated enough to require actual spatial cognition (which was, after all, the point of the discussion). Secondly, the experience revealed that I type the wrong letter for compass directions pretty frequently. For instance, I interchange "e" and "w" a large percentage of the time. I knew I did that sometimes, to see "east" and think west, or to think west and type "e." I also type "u" for north and vice versa. And in the timed race through the maze, my tendency to type the wrong letter was much more pronounced than usual. I also discovered that the first key I hit when under pressure in an Interactive Fiction game is "n." I looked closely at the "n" key on my keyboard -- the letter is practically worn away from the key! I've been playing too much IF. Here's the big surprise: Even with switching "e" and "w," even typing "n" at random times and "u" instead of "n" at other times, my time on the timed sequences was *better* when using compass directions than when I used the relative directions. I finished using relative directions in fewer moves, and longer times, without even taking into account the fact that I should have been more familiar with the layout (it sure didn't feel like the same layout!). Although the object of the game is to test how quickly the brain processes relative vs. fixed (compass) directions, I think there's a lot to be said for familiarity with typing the commands. Using f, b, r, and lf (forward, backward, right, and left) is not only unfamiliar, it's *so* strange as to be a major hindrance. In addition to thinking of which way I wanted to go, I had to think about what letter (or letters) to type in order to move that way. With compass directions, I only have to worry about the former. But having "f" for forward and "lf" for left guaranteed I would type the wrong thing a lot. (Although, I didn't actually type the wrong thing very often -- except for continuing to type "rt" and getting an error. Instead, I froze up while my brain tried to remember what to type.) Another note: using relative directions makes it impossible to scan through a transcript and get any sense of the layout of the place. In any case, this is a fascinating attempt at a community-wide thought experiment. But it's also a short, fun laboratory break-out by a group of intelligent rats with names like Fred and Mr. Tails, and you get to play the one rat who makes it all possible. Somehow, this manages to be funny at times, convey a true sense of urgency, and a satisfying sense of accomplishment upon reaching the end. Download it, play it, e-mail the author with your times, and be a part of the experiment. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Francesco Bova TITLE: Ribbons AUTHOR: J.D. Berry E-MAIL: berryx SP@G earthlink.net DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/ribbons.z5 VERSION: Release 2 Many a newbie author enters the annual interactive fiction competition with dreams of taking first place amidst a plethora of accolades and positive reviews. The reality is that most first-time efforts, with some notable exceptions, tend to lack something, be it cohesive game design, passable prose, or consistent game continuity. This doesn't come as a result of a lack of trying, mind you, but instead is a symptom of the fact the most newbie authors haven't had a chance to perfect and hone their programming and writing skills. The net result is that when it comes time for the piece to be reviewed, newbie authors often have their lofty expectations shattered. Some authors can accept both praise and harsh criticism in stride, while others find the whole process quite difficult, and shrink away from the community with badly damaged egos. This is unfortunate when it happens, as the first releases from most authors, again with some notable exceptions, aren't usually exceptional. In fact history shows that the trick to being a successful IF author is to stick with it, learn from your mistakes, and try again, as future efforts almost always invariably improve in quality. Here are a few concrete examples of how a sustained effort has lead to better results in the past: · Laura Knauth: placed 15th in her first IF Comp, 7th in her second, and took 1st in her third with Winter Wonderland. · J.D. Berry: who took 10th place in his first comp, 14th place in his second, Best of Show in the 2001 IF Art show for his fine work Ribbons, and finally, a whole host of XYZZY nominations for his surreal '02 Comp work, When Help Collides. More than ingenious ideas and perilous puzzles, the real trick, it appears, to becoming a good IF author is resiliency and the realization that all criticism no matter how harsh, should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt and viewed as a vehicle for improvement. The ideas of criticism and perception are the principle theme of Ribbons, an IF Art piece that looks at 4 separate pieces through the eyes of different judges. As a piece of IF Art, Ribbons is interesting, but I'll get to that later. Where Ribbons really shines, in my opinion, is as a commentary on art criticism (and perhaps on a micro-level, IF criticism) and on the way that the preconceived notions we hold often affect the way we evaluate games. The basic message of Ribbons is that we have preconceived notions of what we expect from certain artists (or IF authors, for that matter). What we get when the artist's identity is less than certain is often more representative of our true feelings in most cases, but even those may be skewed because of the newness of the artist. After all, how could a relative unknown create something incredible? Ribbons illustrates this dichotomy by presenting two pieces that are created by the same artist. One of the pieces is signed off using the artist's real name, and the other piece is signed off using the artist's pseudonym (an anagram of sorts). Interestingly, the critics' comments of the pseudonymed art are much harsher than the piece using the artist's real name. This point leads me to another interesting aspect of Ribbons and that is that each critic's comments shape the way you view the piece. For example, viewing a piece before reading a critic's comments will generate a more benign response as compared to viewing a piece after first reading a critic's comments, which will generate a response more inline with the critic's viewpoint. It was a great simulation, as our perception is often influenced by the opinions of those who we hold in great respect. This truth transfers easily to the IF Comp as well. Speaking from personal experience, I've often caught myself playing Comp games and wondering what some of the premier designers in the field would have thought about the game I just played. On occasion, I've even rated a game with a negative or positive bias as a result. So I think it's evident that Ribbons provides a fantastic simulation of the critiquing process, but how does it stack up in terms of playability? Well, Ribbons has a novel approach for an IF Art concept. Each art piece is tactile in a way, and is meant to be experienced through more than just sight. Certain aspects of the art pieces are malleable, and require interaction although often to little or no end. That's to say that the manipulation of an aspect of a certain piece doesn't necessarily have an impact on how you interact with it. It was neat to move stuff around, although there seemed to be no rhyme behind the reason. And I sort of ended off feeling not wholly satisfied, as if I had left some task unfinished. The interesting scoring system, which measures your progress based on how much you've experienced (i.e. looked at, touched, etc.), pushed me to keep trying new things, but when I exceeded the maximum scoring potential I slowed down, because I didn't know when I would hit the ceiling of my experience or if I had in fact passed it. I think that's one of the pleasures of experiencing art, mind you. There's obviously no formula to it, but having played IF for so many years I've gotten used to common parameters, and I found Ribbons' lack of direction a little frustrating. Still, the experiential aspect of Ribbons was interesting and I still enjoyed the different colors shown to me throughout the game on the artist's palette. There really are no puzzles to speak of in Ribbons, although there is a common theme running through all four of the pieces (i.e. use of colors, similar objects). Perhaps there is a puzzle in there somewhere about discerning the linkages between the four pieces. For a while, I even thought that it might be possible that the same artist created all four pieces, but I wasn't entirely certain how the game's author intended for that to affect me. In the end, there is perhaps not enough motivation to delve too deeply into these linkages, as again, you're not necessarily rewarded whether you find something interesting or you don't, so I just let it be, and looked at the pretty pictures. To be honest, a reviewer more knowledgeable in the area of art than I am may be more suited to critiquing this game as a piece of art, because although I enjoyed the experience, I don't know if the right side of my brain can drum up much more in the way of commentary. Maybe I'll just stick with this quote from frequent Homer Simpson antagonist, C. Montgomery Burns: "I don't know art but I know what I hate... and I don't hate this." :) Where I think I can comment conclusively, however, is on how well the critics' comments mirrored many post-Comp comments on r.g.i-f following the IF competition, and to be honest that's where I found the game at its strongest. In fact, I think Ribbons might even serve as an invaluable tool for any aspiring rookie Comp author. The message that Ribbons delivers to any rookie Comp author is this: No matter how great, no matter how revolutionary you think your new piece is, you will have to live with the reality that some people just won't get "it" and that often times the newness of your name may cause reviewers to be more critical of your piece. There. Now that you're aware of that fact, please don't stop writing IF. You'll only get better over time and we need aspiring and creative new talent in the community to keep it thriving. Take the criticism as an opportunity to grow and improve your programming and writing skills and keep a determined focus on creating games. Who knows? Maybe that persistence will help you ascend to the top of the IF world. It certainly worked for J. D. Berry. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Emily Short TITLE: Words of Power AUTHOR: Stark Springs EMAIL: (I wasn't able to find one listed) DATE: 2002 PARSER: Glulxe SUPPORTS: Glulxe interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF archive. URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/glulx/words.zip VERSION: 4 My initial reaction to this game was, to say the least, mixed. It is a Glulx work, with a complicated UI, pictures, and (though I couldn't hear it on my computer) sound: clearly a lot of effort had gone into the production. On the other hand, one of the first things I encountered was a talking cat. My natural allergy to excessively cute cliches kicked in, and I set the game aside for a time. Eventually I came back to it, and I'm glad I did. Stark Springs' game is ambitiously packaged. It comes with two pdf files of background material, which represent reading matter you find during the course of the game; only a password (learned in-game) can unlock them. Considering that there's quite a lot of this material, I appreciated the chance to read that material in the pdf format rather than from the game screen. Having the huge amount to read early in the game reminded me, negatively, of a similar effect at the beginning of Fort Aegea, where I didn't care for it. All the same, having a pdf worked in Springs' favor: I knew that I could always come back and refer to the file later if necessary, and it was also possible to skim it without reading everything, so that I knew roughly what I was going to be in for later. The massive infodump is still not my favorite way of revealing backstory, but if there had to be an infodump, this is as good a way as any. Besides the pdf files, there's a complex graphical interface. Along the right side of the screen is the conversation menu; along the top, the status bar; and along the bottom, buttons representing the Words of Power. The text color and background are frequently changed, a la Photopia, to suggest changes in setting and atmosphere. All this UI gadgetry could have been confusing, but, on the whole, I didn't find it so. The conversation menu looked perhaps a bit awkward crammed into a narrow space where all the sentences had to wrap -- I think I would have designed that differently, and perhaps put the power buttons on the right and the conversation menu at the bottom of the screen -- but I found that I quickly got used to the effect. The conversation menu was also decorated with an illustration of whichever NPC you're talking to, a bit like Fallacy Of Dawn. In a game with a fair number of NPCs, this is quite useful, because it provides a visual hook in addition to the NPC's name to help the player remember who everyone is. Speaking of the conversation menu, conversation in the game uses a technique similar to some I've used myself: the player is allowed to choose a piece of dialogue from the menu, or else to change the topic of conversation to something else. Important bits of dialogue can be repeated ("Tell me again what you know about the forest..."), and the topics available to switch to are listed in the menu as well. I found this fairly effective and easy to use, except that there were a number of times when I would have liked to be able to talk about something that wasn't available: for one NPC I met repeatedly during the game, it would have been nice if additional conversation items had appeared over the course of the plot so that I could have discussed more of my discoveries with him. But it's always a challenge to provide what the player will experience as "enough" conversation in a game, and I understand the limitations that might have prevented Springs from adding more. As for the Words of Power mentioned in the title: Springs has invented a magic system based on combining elements to construct a complete spell. The elements can be verbs, nouns, or modifiers, and they are all represented as buttons at the bottom of the screen, so that there's no need to memorize the vocabulary. This gives the player a nice range of action, using a syntax that is not much different from the standard command structure used to communicate with an IF game in the first place. It's easy to work out new combinations to suit new occasions. As a concept, such magic is more sensible than the spellcasting system of Enchanter and its followers, and it lends itself more readily to exploration or invention by the player. There are a few flaws. I would have liked to see a more interesting treatment of the effects of failure when the magic was cast incorrectly or on the wrong thing; a few inventive messages here would both have helped teach the player how to use the magic correctly, and provided some local color. But even so, I didn't find it particularly difficult to learn to use the Words. In fact, I would have liked to see a larger selection of them -- the system has more potential than this game actually exercised, I think. The number of words available befits a relatively short game (as this is), but I would have enjoyed playing with the combinations even more. The setting is something of a mixed bag. Examining objects tended to reveal no more than was already in the room description. For instance: Stone Road When the path leads you out of the tree cluster, the scene in front of you seems unreal and it takes you a few moments to figure why. A large plain stretches to the west, but you can see no horizon line, only a hazy band, far far away, of a darker blue than the sky. The sun, huge and orange like a basketball hangs low in the sky. A neglected road, paved with round, irregular stones and overgrown with grass makes its way from north to south and its both ends are lost in the same haze that replaces the horizon line. The cat ambles along. >x road The road is paved with round stones and looks neglected. There's nothing to be seen here that we haven't seen already, and I was initially disappointed by the effect. As I played on, I got used to it: this is not a heavily puzzle-centric game, and obsessively examining everything is not the point. Ultimately the game succeeds in teaching the player what sort of interaction is required by politely discouraging fruitless kinds of action. Speaking of the descriptions, the writing is somewhat unpolished in spots -- the sentence that begins "A neglected road" goes on a bit too long, while the phrase "its both ends" seems a bit unidiomatic. For all that, if you look past the form of the writing to the content itself, that content is fairly evocative. Here is a fantasy game (sort of -- there's magic, and a talking cat), but it is set on a planet built like a science fiction planet, with a different diameter and a more distant sun. The effect, an impression of great age and distance, is both beautiful and melancholy. In fact, the whole map of the game is built on the same massive scale, with locations that encompass entire ruined cities and forests. Some elements of the story are a little too familiar, perhaps -- the race of forest-dwellers and the race of miners smacks of Tolkien, and other pieces of the backstory ring a little too familiar -- but not all of them. So on the whole the setting could have been more sharply imagined and better described, but there were enough intriguing elements to keep me engaged. I found that I liked it best if I mentally translated the descriptions into a kind of cinematic treatment, with many desolate landscape shots. The story likewise turns out to be more interesting than I originally anticipated; it takes several bends without ever ceasing to make perfect sense, and it also manages finally to fuse the story and the puzzle system into a bit of in-character decision-making of the kind I like best, where the player has the power to make a critical decision based on the puzzle-solving skills and plot knowledge she's picked up. It's a technique I associate with really great game design, and though the effect here isn't quite as powerful as the effect of a similar juncture in "Spider and Web", it's still in excellent company. Despite some early apprehension, I also found the game extremely playable. The story controls the pacing: I was never stuck at any point, and those few times when I found myself even slightly at a loss soon resolved themselves. There's enough for the player to do that the effect doesn't feel completely linear and closed off, too -- and this is not an easy balance to strike. The final verdict, then: this is a pretty good game in several ways. If it had been sharpened a little on a couple of fronts -- the magic system deepened, the characters given a bit more edge and complexity, the writing polished -- it could perhaps have been a great game. As it is, it falls shy of great, even occasionally slips into mediocre, but there is still plenty to make it worth playing. I liked the magic system quite a lot, and liked the way the UI helped the player with it; if there were to be a sequel or another game using this system, I would be interested in playing it. I have even forgiven the presence of the talking cat. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- ######################################################################### ###### REVIEW PACKAGE: THE FRENETIC FIVE VS. PHLEGMATIC REVIEWER ###### ######################################################################### [Note: Valentine provides scores with his reviews in the old style of the SPAG scoreboard. I've chosen to leave these scores in, since I think they provide interesting and useful information, but they shouldn't be construed to mean that the scoreboard has returned. It's still dead, and these scores won't be added to it. --Paul] From: Valentine Kopteltsev When I decided to review the Frenetic Five series, I suspected it was going to be another ordeal for my objectivity: parody superhero stories definitely are my thing, and a game whose world is inhabited by such personages as the Microwave-Popcorn Boy, the Incredible X-Ray Brain Surgeon, the Human Meteor, and the like, certainly can claim its rightful place in my heart. In the end, these suspicions turned out to be mostly correct -- but I'm getting ahead of the story, for my acquaintance with the first game of the series resulted in... -=-=- A Not Entirely Convincing Storm and Onset TITLE: The Frenetic Five vs. Sturm Und Drang AUTHOR: Neil deMause EMAIL: neil SP@G demause.net DATE: 1997 PARSER: TADS Slightly Hacked SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition97/tads/ frenfive/frenfive.gam (original competition version); ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/frenfive.gam (version 1.1) The opening sentence of the game -- "It's been another long day at the office (they all seem to be, lately), but at last it's over" -- already hints at the fact that a superhero's life isn't as exciting as the general public usually sees it. To begin with, the superheroes aren't freelancers; no, they're mere employees, like so many of us, and defeating evil isn't their hobby but their job. It's not even a very well-paid job, as we can tell from their style of living -- they share their quarters (which are most reminiscent of a students' hostel) with each other, and when another supervillain has got to be overcome in some distant area, there's no Batmobile at their disposal, heck, not even an old Yugo -- they've got to use public transportation. Such a lowered status is partly justified by the exclusive abilities of our superheroes being somewhat... uhm... specific. These powers reminded me of the spells so widespread in text adventures since the Enchanter trilogy -- something like the "Ekab spell: makes a 2.4 square feet large piece of flaky pastry fold into a seven-sided bun". For instance, you as the leader of the Frenetic Five team, Improv, have the ability to "adapt any object into a tool of your wishes", which just means that you're very good at finding the most appropriate, albeit non-conventional, uses for various things (a handy skill for an experienced adventurer, isn't it -- though I hardly would call it a "superpower"). But it's not only inanimate items you're supposed to apply properly; during your mission, you also have to find an appropriate task for each member of your team -- the rather chaotic Pastiche, the dreamy Lexicon, the somewhat languid Clapper, and the omniscient Newsboy. Most puzzles in the game are about using your resources wisely, which makes it fit into the Text Adventure Tradition neatly. The author himself gives a good example of effective use of assets at his disposal; supported by the vivid and humorous writing (on the average, every third or so description made me chuckle silently), the characters (both the PC's teammates and the villains) made a serious effort, and almost managed, to stagger me, and immerse me completely. The word "almost" in the previous sentence represents, to a large extent, the key to my quibbles about the game -- though admittedly I'm getting pretty subjective here. My main grievance is the following: you see, F5 vs. Sturm und Drang is not only the first game of a superhero series, it's also a Comp game, and when playing it, I had the sneaking feeling that the author had had some troubles finishing it in time for the Comp. I'm not saying it's sloppily done, mind you. On the contrary, the writing and characters are great. The puzzles, while not too hard, are well thought-out in a fashion that allows you to use the special powers of each of your comrades to solve them. (I found a couple of them somewhat obscure, though. Also, some puzzles in the later stages of the game only can be solved if you previously made sure to pick up a few objects that have appear pretty useless at the time when they're available -- but since grabbing everything not fixed meets both the traditions of text adventuring and the aforementioned special power of the PC, I think it's by far not as unfair as it seems at first). There also were a few quite ambitiously programmed features (one of them is worth a short diversion -- namely, the way the default TADS reaction to an unknown word has been replaced by "You don't see any here." A tip for all those who (like myself) are fond of cheap, rude jokes of extremely bad taste: this feature provides for a great response if you type that ubiquitous four-letter word in a dark location. Probably jokers like myself were the reason why this message has been replaced by "The word " " isn't important to your mission" in the post-Comp edition). The game's flaws were minor ones that spoiled the impression (inapropriate responses here and there, for instance) -- but still, to entirely and unconditionally win me over, the game either had to be more polished, or somewhat deeper. I'd like to point out once more -- I'm aware it's pretty subjective, and the roots of my criticisms lie, to a no small degree, in my initial expectations of the game being so high. SCORE: PLOT: The plot doesn't seem to have been first priority for the game author... (1.0) ATMOSPHERE: ...however, atmosphere does. ;) (1.5) WRITING: Let's put it the trivial way -- vivid and humorous (1.3) GAMEPLAY: Working puzzle by puzzle towards the overall goal (that's the long way of saying "pretty linear" ;) (1.1) BONUSES: Well, it's one of those "parody superhero stories" that "definitely are my thing";) (1.2) TOTAL: 6.1 CHARACTERS: A wide variety of memorable types (1.4) PUZZLES: Basically of the "find an unusual way to use something/someone" type; some people (not me!) might find a couple of them a bit unfair (1.1) DIFFICULTY: Pretty easy -- except for a few obscure points (5 out of 10) While F5vsSUD wasn't perfect, it worked pretty well as an appetizer for the next game of the series, where I found myself in... -=-=- A Kingdom of Excessiveness TITLE: The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man AUTHOR: Neil deMause EMAIL: neil SP@G demause.net DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS Slightly Hacked SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/fren5-2.zip My first impression of Frenetic Five II was that the world rather sketichly outlined in part one finally got a finished appearance. It's a world with a comically distorted logic; in a sense, it's a reflection of our reality in a funhouse mirror. For instance, one extremely witty manifestation of the peculiar nature of this universe is the shoe phone, which effectively represents a mobile phone disguised as a shoe. Naturally, to make (and answer) calls, our superhero has got to take it off (just imagine, say, Superman hopping on one leg!) At the same time, within these boundaries, the game world is amazingly consistent; each and every one of its aspects complies with the weird rules defined by the game author. One of those aspects is the puzzles. While the core approach of function division between your teammates from the first game still applies, the problems you have to solve (and the ways you've got to do that) receive a hint of craziness, even absurdity. It's difficult to get more specific and to avoid spoilers at the same time; therefore, I'll just confine myself to an example. If you had to win a battle in this world, your only option probably would be to convince the leader of the opposing force that martial art isn't his vocation, and that he should immediately turn to potato cultivation instead. Still, the puzzles themselves are not too arduous -- once you understand the logic of the game world. Personally for me, however, there was a catch: I was playing Frenetic Five II in a period of time when my mind was busy with lots of other rather boring matters of minor importance (like work, etc. ;) Naturally, this circumstance not only negatively influenced on my ability to solve logical problems, but also caused an overall torpor, which, in its turn, had two effects, one bad and one good. The bad one: I didn't enjoy the puzzles as much as I could if I managed to solve them myself. The good one was, I got acquainted with the game's splendid built-in hint system. Its basic principle is quite simple: once you get stuck, you just ask your teammates (or, to be more precise, one particular teammate) for help, and receive more and more directed suggestions. It works (and keeps track of the current situation) pretty well, but such an approach itself doesn't represent a big novelty in IF. What makes this hint system unique is the way the hints are presented to the player. Officially, Frenetic Five II doesn't penalize you for using in-game help (since it doesn't record any score). Still, a certain penalty is present -- don't forget, you are playing as Improv, the head of the team, and by using the hints you practically let others decide for you, and thus in effect make a cat's-paw of them. The comments your teammates make alongside their hints dissipate all your illusions (if you had any) regarding your leading role, and what the others think of it. Great job! (A short disclaimer -- the post-Comp release of Frenetic Five I features a similar hint system; I didn't mention it in the appropriate review because I had played the original Competition version, which provides no help, and only had had a cursory look at release 1.1. My impression was that it didn't work as well as in FF II, but I might be wrong.) This review wouldn't be complete if I didn't mention the writing, which largely determines the appearance of the game. The author outcdid himself in turning the prose into another prop for his work's bizarre atmosphere by making it excessively ornate, and squeezing as many puns and word plays in each sentence as only possible. One of the less refined samples: You've seen her do this trick too many times, so you're unfazed when her hand phases through the blade as she slams it down. Incredibly funny references to other superheroes (like the Stupendous Tweezer-Fingered Girl, The Defenestrator, etc.) not directly involved into the action, which already occured often enough in Frenetic Five I, become even more frequent. The final performance of Mr. Redundancy Man made the supervillains from the preceding game seem like two stutterers. All in all, it was exactly the writing, with its wide assortment of decorations, that helped me to formulate my somewhat subliminal thoughts on this work more clearly. So, if I had to summarize the essence of the game in one word, I'd choose "rococo". This architectural style is known for a wide use of fancy decorative elements, and produced quite a number of impressive, whimsical buildings. However, it had another side: it also represented a certain stagnation, even decadence in architecture, a lack of new ideas. In my opinion, the same is true for F5vsMRM: in a way, it is the acme of the genre, and gets as much as possible out of the basic ideas the author initially has put into the series -- but exploiting this ideas any further would be overdoing it: another game in this vein would be a step back. SCORE: PLOT: The plot still doesn't seem to have been first priority for the game author... (1.0) ATMOSPHERE: ...the atmosphere still does. (1.6) WRITING: (Intentionally) exaggeratedly ornate (1.6) GAMEPLAY: Pretty linear (that's the short way of saying "working puzzle by puzzle towards the overall goal" ;) (1.1) BONUSES: The slightly crazy, yet so consistent and "real" game world (1.4) TOTAL: 6.7 CHARACTERS: As great as in Frenetic Five I (1.4) PUZZLES: Often use the logic of absurdity (1.2) DIFFICULTY: Still quite easy -- once you understand the game world's rules (6 out of 10) For the reasons described above, I wasn't quite sure what to expect of the next game of the series, where... -=-=- Things Got Deadly Serious -- as Deadly as the Dwarves TITLE: The Frenetic Five vs. The Seven Deadly Dwarves AUTHOR: Neil deMause EMAIL: neil SP@G demause.net DATE: 2002 PARSER: TADS More Seriously Hacked SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/fren5-3.zip "I may make you feel but I can't make you think." -- Gerald 'Little Milton' Bostock, "Thick as a Brick" ...And it started pretty much the same way as its predecessor, with the atmosphere made even more grotesque by the PC being quite drunk. The obligatory preface smoothly passed into a light-hearted Zork parody. It was done competently enough, with the puzzles cleverly set up to form a part of the joke; to be honest, I had some problems solving them -- mainly because of my rushed situation I described in the previous review. This time, however, the built-in help, formally based on the same principles as in Frenetic Five II, didn't support me nearly as well -- for some reason, instead of working as a hint-on-demand system, it instead used the "it's me who decide when you need hints" approach, which sometimes became very frustrating. Anyway, one couldn't deny it was a fairly good game, but -- well, it seemed to do the very thing I mentioned in the previous review: it went on exploiting the same idea, and thus started to get somehow too predictable, maybe even repetitive. Then, everything changed. I'm intentionally going to be quite vague here, because this sudden shift in plot and atmosphere represented one of the main attractions of this game (at least, for me); heck, I'm not sure that even mentioning this change at all is not a spoiler already! But here you go -- what had begun as a comedy suddenly turned into something entirely different. Into a "thoughtful piece" maybe? No -- because, for one thing, it'd be a crime to talk about it in such cliches, and for the other, take a look at the epigraph. I'd say, it became a feelingful piece. An emotion-loaded piece. A disturb-your-freakin'-complacency-and- indifference piece, damn it! That'd be the right point to finish this review, but a single final observation is needed. The way Frenetic Five III ends now, it literally cries out for a sequel. The genre requires it, and probably many players will beg for it, too. However, this work is blowing up the boundaries of the genre, and I sincerely hope the author resists the temptation, and lets it be the final game of the series. Maybe I'm totally wrong -- but that's what it made me feel like. SCORE: This game moved me so much that I con't coolly dissect it into single categories, and rate them individually. However, if I brought myself to doing that, the total would be at least an 8. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- ######################################################################### ###### REVIEW PACKAGE: THE JOY OF AAS ###### ######################################################################### [This review package is a little different from the normal SPAG fare, straying closer to satire than to analysis, but given its topic (see SILLY AAS in the news section), the approach seems only fitting. --Paul] From: Sam Kabo Ashwell (for everything but "Dead By Morning") and Anonymous (for "Dead By Morning") Dear Sir / Madam, As a renowned stalwart of the fine art that is Literary Criticism, a pillar of the Text Adventure community and environs and a universally acclaimed arbiter of good taste, it falls to me as an inescapable (though oftimes insalubrious) moral imperative to scour with an all-encompassing eye the vast and fetid squabblings promiscuously spawned upon the World Wide Web like so many lascivious coypu; consequently, it is my lot to engage (at intervals, happily, of as elevated a magnitude as may be deemed prudent) in perusals of your organ. Upon one such occasion I had the misfortune to partake in an observance of such degraded condition as to appall a leprous official gatherer of the waste of donkeys. Upon the list in which you invoke the titles of those works of our elevated Art that you are most desirous to obtain artful reviews upon, an absence, a privation, a gaping abyss to scare small children leapt from the crudely fashioned HTML and tore jackal-clawed at the gusset of my soul. Due, doubtless (for even my opinion of your ability cannot afford such cretinous wrongdoing) to the incompetent fumblings of a concave-witted lackey, none of the games under order of request were members of that illustrious class of mastery known to the world as AAS. Since it seems beyond the realms of the humanly credible to imagine that this scandalous omission was in any way intentional, I have sought to apply balm to this weeping sore of aesthetic injustice by conferring upon you my humble thoughts upon the entirety of this portmanteau of prodigy. Also included is a review of my own trivial effort in the field, Dead by Morning, supplied by my learned colleague and international lady of letters Conchita T. Antyoghurt. If you wish to stave off the righteous indignation of the literary world, I implore you, lest your organ be trampled in the mud, to publish them in their entirety, that the world may hear of the greatness of AAS. Yours, &c, Sam Kabo Ashwell -=-=- TITLE: Sexual Conquest AUTHOR: Gunther Schmidl as Linc Abrahams EMAIL: gschmidl SP@G gmx.at DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/SexualConquest.aas VERSION: 1 Postfeminist contexts are evoked with subtle brilliance reminiscent of the early de Beauvoir. The stark nullibeity of the protagonist's agency (meaningful or otherwise) connects the audience directly to the soul-crushing vis inertiae of an inescapably misogynist society, while the unrelenting, almost sexually dithyrambic counter-rhythm concealed beneath the prose's deceptively terse form calls to mind both the raw sensuality of protoculture and the sexual act itself. The nolus volens treatment of the game's solitary female (and she is solitary; a point that deserves greater consideration than I can afford it here) as an inanimate object speaks for itself; the repeated emphasis on the word 'ravish' both appalls and enthralls us, bringing forth with a few strokes of the pen the demons that dwell within us all. Her disappearance after climax (both of game and protagonist) underlines her role in chilling unambiguity. The hollowness of the phrases employed, the futile lack of purpose pervading the final puzzle reflected in the bitter change of the initial room's description -- 'tonight WAS the night for hot steamy sex!' not only reveals our society for the straw dog it is, but draws forth the image of the night as a metaphor for the dark, sordid nature of life itself. While many have taken the name of the heroine (if she may be considered such) as an indicator of the game's primarily Christian subtext, I contend that the frail inadequacy of the game's ending is intended as a stern warning that while life is bleak, no hope may be sustained to follow it. A hellish masterpiece, guaranteed to turn the stomach and soul of the most heartless Lothario; not for the faint-hearted. -=-=- TITLE: Pride and Prejudice AUTHOR: Iain Merrick as ??? EMAIL: iain SP@G diden.net DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/PrideAndPrejudice.aas VERSION: 1 A witty, piquant and not unfriendly little satire upon Austen's best-known work, P&P delights the heart not only with the gentle barbs for which it is best-known, but also for its evocative and stylish rendering of the setting. Tongue-in-cheek enthusiasm, drifting in a rich gravy of exclamation marks, emulates the best of the naive Austen heroines, while good-naturedly poking fun at the modern consumerisation of a sharp satirist into a prettily becostumed bodice-heaver. In a masterful stroke, the complex gender politics and fiercely competitive marriage market of the day are reduced to a unidimensional 'scoring' system; the knowing nod to early text games does not pass unnoticed. That the percieved aim of 100 points is patently unachievable adds an air of pathos to the otherwise light-hearted mood. Subtle touches -- the whip, the fact that all men violently attack you on sight -- hint at deeper layers of sexual complexity; Jungian archetypes abound. It would be unfair, however, to deconstruct too rigorously an essentially comic work; we stand here in the realm of Wodehouse and Waugh, and should not let our footsteps be dogged by a spirit of gravity. -=-=- TITLE: Pleasure Palace AUTHOR: Storme Winfield as Cindy Phillips EMAIL: stormew SP@G yahoo.com DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/PleasurePalace.aas VERSION: 1 In this engaging, expertly crafted piece, the protagonist is compelled to seduce a triad of Eastern nymphs; from this elegantly simple framework, however, a veritable banquet of enthralling story and monumental emotional force arises. The smouldering coitus that forms the core of this tract is brought to life with almost corporeally organic force, and this reviewer must confess that he personally experienced distinct and prolonged symptoms of arousal upon the reading of the more delicate passages, a phenomenon that he has ascertained to be all but universal among readers of both sexes. The exotic surroundings, described in a level of detail unsurpassed in the entire field of AAS, contribute magnificently to that enchanting paradoxical air of sophisticated animal lust that so characterises faux-Oriental pieces. Echoes of The Arabian Nights are stifled beneath a host of references to the belly-dancer-populated Arabia of dodgy movies of the 1950s-70s, and we are never allowed to play for long without I Dream of Jeannie being called to mind; this basic desire to return to an age devoid of the disquiet of complex moral nuance adds a charming touch of innocence to the heart of the rampant, joyful promiscuity, much as the early misuse of apostrophe introduces a flicker of awkwardness that only heightens the piece's glamour. A sensual tour de force that is guaranteed to cross over far beyond its humble AIF roots. -=-=- TITLE: Office Ahoy! AUTHOR: Storme Winfield as Ken Taylor EMAIL: stormew SP@G yahoo.com DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/OfficeAhoy.aas VERSION: 1 For years the literary community has bewailed our lack of a single, definitive rites-of-passage text from a female perspective. The appearance of Office Ahoy! against the figurative horizon, reflected in a sea of praise, is likely to be seen by history as the answer to our prayers. A veritable feminine Catcher in the Rye has arisen, the seagulls of imitation crowding in its wake as it steams forth into oceana incognita. The discarding of the trappings of immaturity to revert to a state of blankness (represented here by an asexual nudity that reappropriates the Everyman for the voice of women) in order that one may advance to a higher level of existence is universally understood, and so devauled a currency is it that it is easy to despair of any fresh approach; but Taylor regales the imagination with such a tsunami of image and symbol (stabbed through with a staccato of exclamation marks) that one's breath is taken away. The timeless simplicity of a Chaucer or a Coleridge pervades the work; the box, the ship, the garb of office; all these are symbols recognised by every age. But it is not here wherein the mastery lies, but in the game's bittersweet resolution; the tragic conflict with the sailor that suggests we can never realise our dreams without struggling against them. -=-=- TITLE: Fabled Caves Of R'th-nylch AUTHOR: Adam Biltcliffe as Pat Vickers EMAIL: amgb2 SP@G cam.ac.uk DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/FabledCavesOfRthnylch.aas VERSION: 1 In a literary context laden down to the point of exhaustion with recycled pretention and complication for its own sake, R'th-nylch goes straight for the jugular and taps into our most primal fears: of fire, of poison, of beasts from the night; our own screams of agony and the equal horror of those of our foe. Ostensibly a cave-crawl, this game swiftly reveals depths of gory brutality that never strays away from its profound import. The aut vincere aut mori struggles between our hero and his enemies are presented in a fractured and paragraphless stream-of-consciousness format, the typed commands of the player lost in the massed howl of violence and exclamation marks. This work has set an undisputable seal in the hinterlands between genius and conformity, and never has convention seemed so much the poorer cousin. -=-=- TITLE: Caverns of Doom AUTHOR: Iain Merrick as Roddy Ramieson EMAIL: iain SP@G diden.net DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/CavernsOfDoom.aas VERSION: 1 Ramieson has constructed a tautly balanced allegorical humdinger of a game, intended not only to make us question our deepest beliefs, but to drive home with uncompromising force the emotional content of the answer. Ramieson is not above making nods to the ancients; a pseudo-Socratic dialectic is constructed within the conflict between audience and goblin, and the player takes the part of interlocuter, controlling the pace and rhythm both of the prose and of the game's events. The repetitive nature of the focal combat's text conjures up sinister overtones of Zarathustran recursion (reflected in the Judeo-Christian symbol of the flaming sword); condemned always to die of poison even if his foe is defeated, the nameless protagonist dully obeys commands he cannot comprehend, and is constantly returned to life as the player desperately restarts in a doomed attempt to achieve success. This metatexual manipulation is carried out with an adroit and fine touch belied by the apparent simplicity of the prose, creating (if you can find it; it took me several sleepless nights) a striking and detailed system of parallel between the game's plot and its levels of meaning. Subtle changes (the system can handle randomness to an alarming degree) make for a good replay value, as well. A must, if your head can take it. -=-=- TITLE: Cave of Adventure AUTHOR: Stephen Granade as Roddy Ramieson EMAIL: stephen SP@G granades.com DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/CaveOfAdventure.aas VERSION: 1 An audacious attempt to transpose the artistic qualities of the Cubist movement onto an interactive fiction canvas; while there is very little here for anyone not intimately familiar with the subject, for those willing to venture into the tortured world of Ramieson's visual imagination the journey is not without its rewards. The most important clue is the juxtaposition of angular and absolute cardinal directions onto a supposedly natural cave; from this humble beginning one can extrapolate a frenzied hive of half-logic and disturbing beauty. (I won't spoil it for you, though; the joy lies in the mental wrestling). -=-=- TITLE: Cloak of Ultimate Darkness AUTHOR: Iain Merrick as Roddy Ramieson EMAIL: iain SP@G diden.net DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/darkness.aas VERSION: 1 This game has a vampire. Vampires are cool. 'Nuff said. -=-=- TITLE: ADVENT AUTHOR: Iain Merrick as Arthur Tavistock Jr. EMAIL: iain SP@G diden.net DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/advent.aas VERSION: 1 Christian IF in the truest sense of the word has previously been considered to be an impossible and unrewarding task to take on; to express one's faith in a manner that is original, interesting and acceptable to Christians, while avoiding accusations of saccharine, simplistic proselytising from everyone else. The subject's reputation makes any attempt commendable for bravery, if nothing else. Tavistock makes an attempt that, if it fails to achieve the unachievable, is certainly a striking example of how to carry off such a failure with good grace. Adopting the classical medieval model, the spiritual struggle is represented in the form of physical conflict against Blakesque foes, laden with metaphorical content; in this struggle, God is never far away, aiding the protagonist in a manner that I (as an agnostic) found a little overdone, but which would probably not seem so to Tavistock's target audience. Although the game will play adequately in a colourless parser, the mood is superbly supplemented by subtle colour changes, and a great deal of the game's vibrancy is lost without it. A few crucial flaws -- the conversation system could have done with a little more betatesting -- but otherwise a solid piece. -=-=- TITLE: AAS Masters AUTHOR: Stephen Granade as Dr. David Banner EMAIL: stephen SP@G granades.com DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/aasmasters.aas VERSION: 1 Reminiscent of the best of Dumas, this is a swashbuckling tale of concealed identity and duels to the death with erudite noblemen across dramatic landscapes, while the omnipresent hand of Ramieson hovers menacingly over all. Drama abounds as the story builds gradually to its climactic denouement, amid a blizzard of learned literary references that clearly demonstrate Banner's comprehensive intellect. It would be all too easy to characterise as immature the plethora of abtruse references intended only for members of the immediate community; but this would be a churlish and ill-thought-out mode of criticism. The work's central intention, indeed, is to represent the vital dynamic between work and reader, man-as-author and man-as-himself, community and genre. AAS Masters is far more than this, however; it provides the literary context, the creative background, the collective voice which previously the AAS ouevre so bitterly lacked, and both justifies games previous to it and gives those who follow on after a vital frame of reference. Without playing AAS Masters, no enterprising student can truly understand the great body of work that is AAS. -=-=- TITLE: Dead By Morning AUTHOR: Sam Kabo Ashwell as ninjaschlong EMAIL: ska24 SP@G hermes.cam.ac.uk DATE: April 2003 PARSER: AAS SUPPORTS: AAS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/aas/deadbym.aas VERSION: 1 This game is the metaphorical jewel in the AAS canon. Scattering literary allusions around in a profuse and liberal fashion, one might wonder if some of the nuances are lost on the casual player. From the pathos of the opening scene -- reminiscent of some of the most elegant phrasings that Orwell ever constructed -- to the fractured beauty of the fight scenes (almost Joycean in their organic fluidity), this masterpiece is more erotic than Lawrence, more spine-tingling than Shelley, and more packed with hot babes than a pay-per-view porn channel. One might conceivably draw attention to the lavish misspellings with which this game is strewn, but I believe this to be a deliberate attempt on the part of the author to draw the player into the text more fully, for, in the heat of passion and adventure, such trivialities as pedantic attention to spelling melt away to be replaced only with a burning desire to progress further into the heart of the mysterious and bewitching world available. The indefatigable manner in which one is prevented from exploring adds a touch of frustration (at the kind of level hitherto seen only from Yeats in his quest for Maud Gonne) to what might otherwise be an overly simplistic allegory of one's journey through life. An absolute gem, and should be acclaimed as what it truly is: a modern classic. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ___. .___ _ ___. ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| / _| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. \ \ .\ \ | | | o | | | | .\ \ |___/ |_| |_|_| \___| |___/ PECIFICS SPAG Specifics is a small section of SPAG dedicated to providing in- depth critical analysis of IF games, spoilers most emphatically included. WARNING! SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE FOLLOWING GAMES: A Crimson Spring Fine Tuned No Time To Squeal Sunset Over Savannah PROCEED NO FURTHER UNLESS YOU HAVE PLAYED THESE GAMES! THIS IS NOT A TEST! GENUINE SPOILERS TO FOLLOW! LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILAGE! From: Miguel Garza TITLE: A Crimson Spring AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin EMAIL: beaver SP@G zombieworld.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Hugo SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/hugo/scourgdos.hex (Note: this is the no-sound, no-pictures version of the game) VERSION: Release 1.0.04 TITLE: No Time To Squeal AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin and Mike Sousa EMAIL: beaver SP@G zombieworld.com (Sherwin); mjsousa SP@G attbi.com (Sousa) DATE: 2001 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/ntts.gam VERSION: 1.0 Mothers and Whores: The Ambiguous Woman in A Crimson Spring and No Time To Squeal I have played and finished two games written by Robb Sherwin: No Time To Squeal (written with Mike Sousa) and A Crimson Spring. After finishing A Crimson Spring, I was struck by a theme that the two games shared. In both games, the protagonist relates to a woman in his/her life ambivalently, with both fear and longing, and this ambivalence is reflected in the protagonist's perception of the woman. The uncertainty of the protagonist's relationship with the woman becomes a source of discomfort and a motivation for the protagonist to resolve the ambivalence of the relationship. In both games, the protagonist at one point travels through a psyche-space, rather than an actual physical space, while on his/her quest for resolution of the relationship. The protagonist's ambivalent attitude towards the female characters in the games is reflected in the protagonist's perception of them in both the physical reality of the stories and in the protagonist's psychic reality. In No Time To Squeal, the protagonist's mother, normally conceived of as life-giving force, is portrayed in the protagonist's psychic space as a deathless and yet death-dealing prostitute who is indirectly responsible for putting the protagonist, her daughter, in a life-threatening situation. However, it must be noted that the prostitute/mother has not attacked her child; in fact, the mother herself is a victim who has been used to attack the child protagonist. In A Crimson Spring, one of the protagonist's best friends is a woman known as Succubus, which is the name given (in the medieval myth) to beautiful witches who come to men at night and seduce them, taking away the men's vitality in the process. Indeed, in A Crimson Spring, Succubus can read the thoughts of people who are sexually attracted to her. But the protagonist notes that he is not attracted to her and thus she has no power over him, a potentially antagonistic or at least ambiguous attitude on the part of the protagonist towards his friend. Yet it is primarily Succubus who supports the protagonist during the game, and she is among the characters whom the protagonist must confront and judge during his journey through his psychic space. Another female character in A Crimson Spring has been promiscuously and knowingly spreading a quick-acting and deadly STD to her many partners: much like the mother/prostitute in No Time To Squeal, she is a killer who cannot be killed. The protagonist is also asked to judge this woman in his psychic space, and so decide his relationship to her. The resolution of these relationships between the protagonist and the women in A Crimson Spring is crucial to the outcome of the protagonist's life. In No Time To Squeal as well, the relationship of the protagonist to her mother is integral to how the protagonist develops. The protagonists of these games have ambivalent feelings of both fear and love towards significant women in their lives, as reflected in their perception of women as deadly prostitutes or succubi and simultaneously as a source of solace and object of love. In both games, the ambivalent relationship between the protagonist and a woman is a source of internal conflict for the protagonist, and therefore a driving force in the protagonist's actions as he/she struggles to resolve the ambivalence. In No Time To Squeal, the conflict is quite explicit: the protagonist is trying to get out of the woman's body alive, and finishing the game reflects the resolution of this psychic struggle for independence and life. In A Crimson Spring, there are two possible resolutions of the conflict: the protagonist either moves further away from the female characters and relates to them antagonistically, or moves closer to them and relates to them from a more intimate and vulnerable position. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Emily Short TITLE: Fine-Tuned AUTHOR: Dionysius Porcupine (a.k.a. Dennis Jerz) EMAIL: jerzdg SP@G uwec.edu DATE: 2001-2002 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/FineTune.z8 VERSION: Release 8 When "Fine Tuned" appeared in the IF Competition, it was widely considered to be the best unplayable game ever entered. The opening scene was full of humor and style, but once you started rolling down the road there were so many bugs that it was more or less impossible to finish -- in fact, it eventually emerged that no actual ending had been implemented. I thought this was quite a pity, since once a game has been played in the competition, even a bugfixed version has (it seems) relatively little chance of garnering a large audience; so when I heard that Dennis Jerz had released a more polished and complete form of his game, I promised myself that I would try to play it at some point. The good news is that the fixed version is (as far as I could tell, anyway) effectively debugged, and that there's a great deal more to the game than I ever saw on the first playing. The bad news is that this expanded game -- though it does a number of quite intriguing things -- is still a bit shaky around the edges in terms of playability, not always consistent in tone, and still doesn't entirely end. The game is billed as a romance. In the competition version, I didn't get far enough ever to meet the second party of the romance, but I assumed that Troy Sterling was destined to meet and love Melody Sweet. In the expanded version it's clear that that's not the romance in question -- Troy seems intrigued by Melody, but she doesn't return the feeling, and ultimately it's hard to see Troy as capable of really deeply loving anything but his own self-image. Instead, in the last chapter of the game (at least, the last chapter currently implemented), there are sparks flying between Melody and Aloysius Pratt, Troy's self-effacing but much smarter side-kick, who just happens to have a pretty good singing voice. I was charmed by this twist of the plot -- the earlier phases of the game had done a good job of preparing me for Troy and Melody not to wind up together -- but I felt that there was too little set-up for Pratt's side of it, and (even more disappointingly) too little pay-off. The game ends maybe four fifths of the way through the plot, with a "to be continued", and I've rarely been so vexed (though the last episode of "Twin Peaks" comes to mind). What remains of the plot is far too little to make a game of its own (unless Jerz expands considerably on what I had assumed would be perhaps one more action sequence and then some character interaction); without it, *this* game falls on its nose. We've done all the hard work, we've completed the puzzles, and we ought by rights to get a payoff: to gloat over the defeated villain, see the love plot tied off properly, and ride into the sunset. I don't know what Dennis currently plans to do with the game, but I wonder whether it's realistic to expect another game consisting only of the ending of this one. What I'd really prefer is a *complete* version of "Fine Tuned" -- you know, one with all the chapters. (This also makes me curious about the viability of an IF serial, to be released chapter by chapter. The only thing I know of that comes close is the "Earth and Sky" series, but its episodes more or less have their own complete narrative arcs. The first one may be brief, but it does at least address the major problem that arises and has some kind of resolution; "Another Earth, Another Sky" is long enough and complete enough to stand on its own, and this is presumably part of the reason it did so well in the competition. I'm not sure whether there's room in the IF world for a plot that unfolded in several separately-released pieces, no one piece a complete narrative; but if that's what Dennis intended with this game, I hope he still means to write the ending.) A smaller sin, but still one that interfered with my full enjoyment of the game, is the way that "Fine Tuned" becomes humorously self-aware at the wrong times. References to and parodies of older IF works are not infrequent elements of modern games, and the punning name of one of the objects in the professor's cabinet is a just-acceptable entry in that collection. (A groaningly bad pun, but are there ever any really good puns?) What grated on me were the moments of meta-commentary, when the game or its characters became aware of their IF-ness -- as when the professor warns Melody that she is going to have to complete a quest involving placating trivially interactive characters, and so on. It's mildly funny, but, to my mind, too jarring to be worth the humor. The game world, with its melodrama characters and its stylish puzzles, is otherwise so well-constructed that it seems a pity to break the illusion. Having said all that, I'd like to look at some of the ways that the game does succeed -- particularly, at how it succeeds in building up the setting and restrictions on player action that make it so amusing. Adam Cadre, in his competition review (http://adamcadre.ac/calendar/10147.html), commented on "Fine Tuned"'s success at participatory comedy -- slapstick that the player is tricked into performing himself -- and I more or less agree with his analysis of how this works. The player is encouraged to do one thing or another by the explicit goals of the plot; naturally, he charges ahead, and finds himself tripped up by some niggling aspect of the environment. This kind of thing occurs mostly in the Troy Sterling sections: Adam talks about the humor with the parking brake, but similar techniques govern Troy's race with the train (which leads to a breakdown of the car and an embarrassing trek back to the livery stable for water) or with his attempts to break into the professor's house undetected. The game doesn't force the player to screw up in any one particular way, but the deck is stacked against Troy, and he can't win. Even if you have the prescience to bring a full bucket of water with you on the drive north, the bucket will spill when you have to stop the car -- the embarrassing return to the livery stable is unavoidable either way. To some extent, writing IF like this is a bit like strewing a room with banana peels. The author doesn't necessarily know which of various mistakes the player will make, but if he lays enough traps, it's more or less inevitable that the player will trigger one of them. The other thing that makes this successful in "Fine Tuned" is that most of these mistakes, though funny, are obviously not fatal; there's no reason to undo them or try to work out a way to avoid them, so they don't feel like puzzles. They're just part of the narrative. Discussions of IF design often touch on intentionality -- teaching the player how to interact with the game world so that he can solve puzzles and push the plot forward while maintaining a sense that he's an active agent in the game. What Jerz fosters here is more or less the opposite -- inadvertency, perhaps? -- which I might define as a tendency for the player's actions to have unintended consequences that nonetheless advance the plot, characterization, and humor of the game. This kind of treatment wouldn't (I think) stand entirely on its own -- giving a player an environment in which to bumble around, with no idea of his goals or the means by which he might achieve them, is a recipe for disengagement and disaster. But Jerz does give the player goals and well-defined puzzles; he just makes the route to solution as entertaining as the outcome. Another interesting point is the way the game handles player-character behavior. Like "Christminster" or "Plundered Hearts," "Fine Tuned" refuses to let its female protagonist do anything excessively unladylike, such as climbing a tree or walking into the bedroom of her sleeping (male) host. But the other PC, the autoist Troy Sterling, is characterized by a more interesting device: a number of odd or inappropriate behaviors are permitted, but if Troy tries them he loses points. Failing to wave to strangers, say, or treating a young lady with disrespect -- these things detract from Troy's decorum score. Soon the player is obediently doing all the things Troy is "supposed" to do, however silly or irrelevant to the progress of the game's larger goals -- in other words, cooperating in the character of someone whose chief concern is how he appears to others. (That he in fact looks like a bit of an idiot is clear not only from the reactions of the other NPCs, but from the view that we have of him when playing Melody Sweet. The player knows that Troy is being silly, but the game shepherds him into playing the character as written, even so. Troy's refusal to drive as far as the length of his own driveway without a full kit of automobile attire is more comical evidence of this same trait.) The segments with Melody are less broadly played. Melody isn't as much of a figure of ridicule, and she's allowed to succeed at more of what she does; there are fewer pratfalls set up for her to take. It is in Melody's portions of the game that the setting is allowed to shine most: the backstory of the artifact fits perfectly into an early-20th-century kind of archaeology, and at times it's somewhat creepy, though for the most part the game's lightheartedness prevails. Still, I was a bit unnerved when, as Melody, I started speaking ominous nonsense. I might have liked there to be slightly more attention lavished on the room descriptions, some of which are little more than lists of exits. Even so, there's enough there to provide interest and serve as a counterpoint to the broader Troy-centric sections of the game. The use of the period song about automobile drivers, for instance, and a few other accurately researched touches do a good deal for the setting; I was reminded of some of the things I like best about Peter Nepstad's 1893. This game, naturally, is attempting something different, and uses its researched details much more sparingly, but they are valuable nonetheless. Also charming were Melody's interactions with Pratt in the final chapter, which work on a similar principle to the Troy slapstick: the author provides a number of opportunities to interact (somewhat flirtatiously) with Pratt. The player's natural inclination to explore the game -- to interact where obvious interaction is available -- leads her into and through these little scenes, without any real sense that her hand has been forced. Though there was actual puzzle-solving to do, I was finding it much more fun hanging around Pratt, and was disinclined to leave until I had to; in the meantime I was content to let Troy bumble around, trying unsuccessfully to solve the puzzles himself. Overall, I see a great deal of potential in this game -- if it were finished, which it still isn't. Until the plot concludes, it will always be a bit unsatisfying. All the same, the author has developed certain aspects of game design to a high art, with excellent characterization for PCs and NPCs alike, and an original premise and setting. And the management of the humor is ground-breaking. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Adam Myrow TITLE: Sunset Over Savannah AUTHOR: Ivan Cockrum E-MAIL: ivan SP@G cockrumville.com DATE: 1998 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/savannah.gam Version: 1.0.3, 3/5/98 Sunset Over Savannah was one of the most experimental games of the 1997 competition, and to my mind, tried something more daring than most games before or since. I honestly can't think of any other game that has you play the role of somebody else so completely. The story is simple enough: you play a person on the last day of his/her vacation. This person has realized that they hate their job and are thinking of quitting. That's it. This is such an ordinary situation that it would take some serious effort to make it interesting. In many respects, the author of this game succeeds at doing that. The method is to have the player go walking on the beach and try to come to a decision. This isn't just any old beach, however. It's Tybrisa Island in Savannah, Georgia. I have a feeling that Ivan Cockrum has been to this place. The implementation is so detailed that I honestly hope it's accurate. I really feel like I've been there. How many games will take the time to let you build sand castles, swim in the ocean, even do dumb things to get hurt? On top of that, it even gives clever responses when you try going up or down in a location where you can't. >d Going to dig a hole to China, are you? >yes But you'd burn up at the earth's fiery core! The status line shows your current state of mind, which serves both as score and as a temporary description of your physical state. My favorite moment was when I foolishly put my hand in boiling water and the status line changed to "boiled." The game is so detailed that it even lets you eat a live shrimp! It's not something I'd do in real life, but the description of it gave me an idea of what it might be like. In fact, I didn't even notice that this passage contains a grammar error until just now! >eat shrimp You look with trepidation at the live, wriggling shrimp. Well, if it's good enough for sushi eaters... You pop the shrimp into your mouth and crunch down on it, shell, legs and all. You're struck with a brief sense of nausea that passes as quickly as it came. The shrimp's juices roll over your tongue and trickle down your throat, at the same both time [sic] sharply salty and subtly sweet. In the end, you decide it's not that bad. Not that bad at all. Yet, with all this hard work, I ended up filling strangely empty after completing the game. I almost feel guilty about it, because it may be the most interactive environment ever to be written. The problem I had with the game was that its environment was so realistic that when something that didn't quite fit with real life occurred, it broke the rhythm. Yet, these events are what makes the game into something besides an interactive art piece. Here's what I'm talking about. Right at the beginning of the game, we get this: A sign advertising boiled peanuts points east, into the pavilion. You see a clam shell here. Your stomach grumbles at the sight of the boiled peanut sign. You realize that, in your agitated state, you've completely forgotten to eat dinner. This was a perfect start. It gives the player an initial goal which fits right in with the introduction. It's perfectly reasonable to imagine that you would have forgotten to eat if you were in the preoccupied state described in the intro. So, my natural response is to go east and work my way to the snack bar to buy some peanuts. Of course, as luck would have it, the vendor is about to close. Well, I was lucky enough to catch him in time and this is what happened. >buy peanuts You clear your throat to get the vendor's attention before asking, "Pardon, could I have some peanuts?" "Oh, sure," says the vendor. "I think I've got a few left... yup, you're in luck. I'm closing up for the night. Another few minutes and I woulda tossed 'em." He takes a pot holder from beneath the counter and uses it to grab a wireframe sieve resting in the boiler. He bends over the boiler, and as he does, a small steel key slides out of his shirt pocket and falls into the bubbling water. Using the sieve, he scoops up the bobbing peanuts. He waits a moment while the sieve drains, and then dumps the peanuts into a brown paper sack. You dig a dollar out of your pocket and hand it over, and he in turn hands you the sack of peanuts. Apparently, he hasn't noticed his missing key. Now, I'm not thinking at all like an adventure game player right now. I'm role-playing. What would I do in this case? I'd say "hey, you dropped your key in the water. You'd better get it out of there." The vendor would get the key with his sieve and be quite grateful. It could be his house key, car key, or any number of other important keys. So, I tried to tell him about the key. >tell vendor about key It occurs to you that you ought to keep that bit of information to yourself. If the vendor recovers the key, you may not get another chance to acquire it. Suddenly, the game has slapped me in the face and said in essence, "Hey, you're an adventurer! Don't you know that you should value any key with your life and not let anybody else have it?" Now, I realize that there had to be something to keep it from being dull, but I think it would have been much better to not have shown the player the key until the vendor left. What this demonstrates is just how hard it is to make an ordinary setting into a game. Compare this to the opening of Lurking Horror. It starts out in an ordinary setting with the player merely being told to write a term paper. I won't get into the specifics, but basically, it becomes very obvious that something weird is going on and the player will become interested in such things as crowbars and keys. In other words, I feel that by prompting the player to buy peanuts immediately and not giving any chance for exploration, there is no motivation for getting the key. Of course, that key turns out to be incredibly important. Getting the key is not a particularly easy thing. After the vendor pours out the boiling water and remaining peanuts, a flock of gulls shows up to fight over the trash. So, you now have to get that flock of gulls out of the way before you can sift through the trash and find that key. This was a fairly natural puzzle. Once I had the key, I was able to open the gate and find a crowbar and two barrels. One barrel was full of aluminum cans and the other was full of glass bottles. With further exploration, I found the glass mites. These are insects which take glass and build their home out of it. I was also now seeing an intriguing flash of light from the water pipes. Something was up there, and I wanted to get it. This was the way the first puzzle should have been handled. Show the player the obstacle first, then he or she will want to solve the puzzle instead of treating it like real life. This also began a second turn from realism into text adventure mode. That is, destruction of property. However, this first act of destructiveness is apparently not expected by the PC. Perhaps, he or she was thinking that by getting the glass bottles near the mites, it would be possible to have them help out in getting that mysterious object. The plan works, but not quite as expected. >push canister east You put your shoulder to the canister again and try to move it further east, fighting the friction of the sandy floor. Sand piles up against the leading edge of the canister, but still you struggle onward, making slow progress. You make it almost to the far end of the pavilion, where the canister freezes in the sand. You brace yourself and try to force it with a good, strong shove... until crash! the canister goes over on its side, and you with it. You look up to find that the canister has begun rolling down the slope towards the ocean. You chase after it, but it's picking up speed. It continues its descent, heading towards one of the pier's cement pylons. You redouble your efforts to catch it, and it looks like you just... might... make it... Crash! The canister rebounds off the pylon and shatters with a hideous cacophony, spewing bottles and chunks of thin blue plastic in a rain of broken glass. Now, it was fairly easy to get the mite into a glass bottle of water and drop the bottle on the pile of glass and plastic. Presto, a castle is built which reaches the mysterious object and we score a first step. So, this was a pretty well-done puzzle. The object turns out to be a scuba mask. Next, we notice an old bottle that doesn't get used by the glass mites. It turns out to have a treasure map in it! So, I thought the game had pulled a brilliant bait and switch, giving me a new goal. Why not? Finding treasure would certainly give the PC more money and they could quit that dull office job without a care in the world. So, how to get that treasure? Well, this involves yet more destruction of property. This time, it's deliberate. It includes breaking a stave on a trash can, ripping a shingle from a roof, and moving benches into a staircase. The staircase thing isn't destructive, but it would sure get some weird reactions in the morning from tourists who saw it. In the mean time, there is a scoring opportunity when looking at the sunset from the roof. We are told of a weird vision where the PC sees himself leaving his body and floating high into the sky to overlook the area. A little strange, but tolerable. I don't know why, but I really thought the destructive things the PC does just didn't fit. For one thing, the default response to violence is to the effect that the PC is at one with the world and not violent especially after the vacation. Ok, so if the PC is so at peace with things, why is he/she tearing the place up? Oh well, back to the treasure hunt. That turns out to be another let-down. After improvising the shovel with the shingle, we dig like mad until, just as we hit something, the hole collapses. Buried in sand, the PC has another vision. This time, it is a vision of being tied up and captured by pirates. When the PC comes out of it, an elderly couple helps him/her out of the sand and asks what he/she was digging for. After brushing off the question, the PC is left alone to wonder what just happened. It also gets another scoring chance out of the way. By this time, the only goal left for the PC is to talk him/herself into quitting their job. I was quite frustrated at this point. It would have been much easier to type "quit my job" at the prompt. However, I had to keep motivating the PC towards that goal. The rest of the puzzles became less and less believable. The destruction of property continues at a break-neck pace. By the end of it, there will be a 200-year-old brick missing from the sidewalk. It is permanently lost in the waves. The PC will have another weird vision of dancing in the 1920's or so just from seeing part of the floor of the old pavilion and later typing "dance." They will finally catch a crab which must be boiled to get it out of its shell. Of course, since the boiler at the vending stand is locked up with a clamp, the PC will just have to rip the lid off with that ever handy crowbar. The shell, once relieved of its occupant, fits perfectly into that sculpture of a dragon. Surprisingly, the sculpture turns into a real dragon and flies off! So, the PC decides to quit their job. The game ends here with the PC ready to write that resignation letter. So, a game which started with great promise of how to make a natural setting into an interesting place had to resort to wild inconsistency to make an adventure out of it. If the game had stuck to things like the glass mites and a coral reef that the PC encounters, it would have worked better for me. It would have also been nice to undo some of the damage. For example, having the brick wash ashore so it could be replaced, and somehow having an optional puzzle to fix the roof. The bottom line is that this game was hampered by trying to be an adventure when the author clearly wanted a work of art. I suspect that it could have been released in the IFArt Show many years later and would have been able to go for pure setting and dispense with the artificial puzzles and fantasy elements. What I learned from Sunset Over Savannah was that while realistic and detailed settings are important to me, believable plot is just as important if not more so. 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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