___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE #34 Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) September 24, 2003 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #34 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. REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------- Doomed Xycanthus Dutch Dapper IV: The Final Voyage Goldilocks Is a Fox Gremlins Heroine's Mantle Hollywood Hijinx Katana SPECIFICS ========= Lazy Gods Of Earth EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ First, the bad news: there's no SPAG Interview in this issue. There are a couple of reasons behind that, though both are pretty lame. The first reason is just that I lacked organization -- this issue's deadline came around before I knew it, and I suddenly found myself up against the beginning of the competition with no interview subject. I'm pretty strict about getting the pre-comp issue out before the festivities begin, so I eschewed the interview. My second reason is that I lacked inspiration. Between comp winners and regular interview subjects, SPAG has interviewed a lot of people now, and I'm not exactly sure where the most interest lies for future subjects. So, in classic pass-the-buck fashion, I'm throwing the question open to you guys. Who do you want to see interviewed in SPAG? Email me at obrian SP@G colorado.edu and I'll follow your leads, beginning with the first issue after this fall's annual Comp special. With that out of the way, I'd like to talk about one way that my experiences with IF have affected my life recently. An emerging rule for IF design is that if the parser knows what it wants you to say, it should just act as if you've said it. For instance, you're in a room with a locked door, and you have the key to that door. You type UNLOCK DOOR. In most IF, the standard response to this command is "What do you want to unlock the door with?" But really, as many people have pointed out, this is not a useful response. The game knows you have a key, it knows that the key unlocks this door, and it knows that you want to unlock the door. It should just say "(with the key)" and get on with things. Even if you say OPEN DOOR, rather than saying "You'll have to unlock the door first," it should just get on with the business of unlocking for you, with just a small acknowledgement that it's done so. In fact, it's even reasonable to argue that if the door is, say, to the north of you, and you type N, the unlocking, opening, and proceeding through should all happen automatically, because the directional travel is much more likely to lead to something interesting than the fiddly small steps of door management. Now, there are plenty of good reasons to buck this philosophy in a particular game situation, and I've done so many times myself. The point, however, is to think through this aspect of interface design, and not simply default to being obstructive for the sake of it. And indeed, more and more modern games are providing this higher level of service for the player. I was talking to a friend about this emerging trend in IF, and it occurred to us that traditional IF's insistence on UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY is a great metaphor for something that happens all around us in the world, in all kinds of areas. She'd find herself doing it in her relationship -- her husband says something vague to her, and she knows perfectly well what he means, but some impulse drives her to ask for clarification, just because she wants him to know that he's being unclear. These aren't proud moments, but they're very human ones, and I'd venture to say that most of us have been the guilty party in that sort of conversation at one time or another. I see it in business interactions all the time, too -- for instance, I work in a college financial aid office where we process a lot of loan promissory notes. Sometimes, students make handwritten changes to their personal information on these notes, and even though they're supposed to initial those changes, they often don't. The UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY part of me wants to return such a note to the student who wrote it, asking that they please initial their changes like they're supposed to. Although it would certainly satisfy my desire for correctness, this response is guaranteed to drive a student crazy. "They know what I wanted to change," a student would reasonably protest. "Why couldn't they just change it?" So instead, I initial the changes myself and just process the note, so that the student can get to the interesting part of our interaction: getting her money. Yes, there's a valid reason behind the requirement to initial changes, but I never want to let the letter of the law lead me away from its spirit -- if in my judgment the changes aren't fraudulent, the right thing for me to do is just make them, whether or not they conform to the initials rule. I think this urge to force people into perfect compliance with an arbitrary set of rules is something that's pretty deeply ingrained in a lot of us. Its appearance in IF is a particularly stark example of how easy a default it is, and just how irritating it can be to encounter. My friend and I couldn't find a word that sums up the tendency perfectly -- the closest we could come is "bureaucracy." It's no wonder Douglas Adams felt inspired to write an IF game about the phenomenon; sometimes playing IF can feel like a long encounter with a particularly obtuse bureaucrat. As the form evolves, though, the best authors try to put our UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY tendencies behind us, and in my brightest imaginings about the world, the rest of humanity experiences a similar growth beyond the pleasures of petty obstruction. Better games, better world. Hmm, maybe there's a self-help series in the making there... LETTERS TO THE EDITOR------------------------------------------------------ From: Vlad K.
Hello! I am an audio producer/sound designer, and would like to offer text adventure writers my support with sound effects and music for the horror, suspense, and mystery genres. I know that such writing today is freeware, as text adventures have lost their commercial value, but for a long time I have had a project in mind to make a good text adventure with excellent audio backup, and I am not talking about few sound effects and cheap music, but real commercial-quality stuff. Unfortunately, my writing skills are poor, and I don't have enough time to make an IF programming language that would support MP3 or OGG music and sound effects. Since I am a great lover of text adventures, especially horror and mystery (let alone the Lovecraftian genre), I am willing to offer a completely royalty-free audio solution for new text adventures. I understand TADS has the possibility to play MP3 files, so this would probably apply to TADS writers, though perhaps to others as well, as long as their chosen development system supports MP3 or OGG playback. So, I would like IF writers with serious and quality textual adventures in development, either for the IF competition, or as standalone projects, to know they can get sound effects and music for their horror and mystery games, tailored for their specific needs, not just as another SFX library. NEWS ---------------------------------------------------------------------- NEW GAMES The theme for this summer's new games appears to be "translation." For instance, Nick Montfort has produced a translation of Olvido Mortal, an award-winning Spanish text adventure. And in this corner, David Griffith has translated an NES console game called Shadowgate into text adventure form. Perhaps most astonishing of all, Colin Woodcock's new game Blink has been translated onto ZX Spectrum cassette format, and is for sale at his website (http://www.zxf.cjb.net/). Now if somebody would just translate Unter Hirschen into English for us non-German speakers, our summer would be complete. * Unter Hirschen by Florian Edlbauer (this game is in German) * Dead Reckoning, a translation by Nick Montfort of "Olvido Mortal" by Andres Viedma Pelaez * Shadowgate, a zcode adaptation by David Griffith of the original NES game Shadowgate Classic * Blink by Colin Woodcock AVENTURAS TEXTOS Speaking of translation, a translation thread on rec.arts.int-fiction spurred a brief discussion of the Spanish-language IF scene, and a poster to that thread mentioned that SPAG hasn't done much to promote that scene. In response, I asked for any interested party to send me a brief summary of it. That didn't happen, so I did a bit of research myself. I only grasp un pocito de Espaņol, and even that is muy mal, but from what I can gather, there's a thriving community of people writing text adventures in Spanish. If your Spanish is better than mine, you might be edified by visits to http://usuarios.lycos.es/SPAC and http://conversacionales.cjb.net. The first is home to SPAC, which is SPAG's Spanish counterpart, and the second site contains the results from the latest Spanish IF Comp. SINCLAIR AS CRYSTAL While Colin Woodcock produces new games for the Spectrum ZX, RWAP Software has acquired the rights to redistribute some old text adventures released for the Sinclair QL, with titles including Return To Eden, The Lost Kingdom of ZKUL, West, and The Prawn (a Magnetic Scrolls parody.) In addition, they've ported some of these adventures to PC, and are working on creating a "charityware" CD with some help with modern IF authors. This CD will collect some modern IF games, with all profits going to charity. For more information, check out http://hometown.aol.co.uk/RWAPSoftware/adventures.html. YOU KNOW THE SCORE As some of you may remember, about a year ago I retired the SPAG Scoreboard due to lack of interest. Now, thanks to Chrysoula Tzavelas, a shiny new web-based service has filled that vacuum. It's at http://www.carouselchain.com/if, and in just a few months of operation it's already received over 4000 ratings. Huzzah! If you're a text adventure player, visit the site to see ratings and comments on the best games, enter such ratings and comments yourself, and search by a huge array of variables. If you're a text adventure author, visit the site to inflate and/or batter your ego. HELP ME GET MY ZINE BACK OFF THE GROUND The next issue of SPAG will be the annual competition issue, and traditionally it's always been the hardest one to get original reviews for. Most people tend to just post their reviews to the newsgroups, but if you'd like to offer commentary that is more comprehensive, or that takes into account the general reaction to a comp game, or that just makes me happy, send your comp reviews my way. In addition, I'm still seeking reviews of regular IF games for SPAG 36. If you need a suggestion for what to review, why not pick a selection from the... SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. City Of Secrets 2. Dead Reckoning 3. Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. 4. 1893: A World's Fair Mystery 5. Heist 6. Inevitable 7. Insight 8. Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus 9. Shadowgate 10. Westfront PC KEY TO 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. VERSION: Release 23 When submitting reviews: Try to fill in as much of this info as you can. Authors may not review their own games. REVIEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------- From: David Whyld TITLE: Doomed Xycanthus AUTHOR: Eric Mayer DATE: November 2001 EMAIL: emayer00 SP@G epix.net PARSER: ADRIFT SUPPORTS: ADRIFT Runtime AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, ADRIFT Main Page URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adrift/xycanthus.taf VERSION: Release 2 Eric Mayer's first ADRIFT game, Lost, was a strange one with little or no plot -- playable and even kind of likeable but hardly the sort of thing that was ever going to be remembered. His second, Doomed Xycanthus, is a far different sort of game. It's larger, with more details and a more complex plot, and overall a far better game. As Doomed Xycanthus starts, you are in the midst of a forest with no memory as to how you arrived there and little or no idea of what to do next. Following a brief fight with a "nightmare creature", you discover a gem embedded in your left hand and a brief note from a wizard by the name of Malevol. It appears Malevol has cursed you with forgetfulness and dumped you in the middle of nowhere as payback for stealing his daughter's virtue. So starts the game. I have to confess that after the beginning, I was surprised to find that the aforementioned Malevol the wizard did not make another appearance. I was half expecting Doomed Xycanthus to turn out to be a hunt-the-wizard-and-exact-your-revenge sort of game but instead it turns out to be more a hunt for treasure in the city of the game's title. While this is no bad thing in itself -- the storyline as you wander around the wilderness outside Xycanthus and then subsequently inside the ruined city itself is well written and has impressive depth -- I was anticipating Malevol at every moment. When the game finished and there was no sign of him, I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed. The game reaching a conclusion without any kind of appearance from the evil wizard left me feeling as if matters hadn't been properly resolved. That isn't to say that Doomed Xycanthus is a bad game -- far from it. It has some intricate puzzles -- the one involving the snake and the pool is an interesting one (if a little on the overly-complicated side), as well as the letters which allow you access to the ruined city -- and the locations are often lengthy and detailed. The style of writing is overall very impressive, lending the game an eerie atmosphere, particularly during the times when you wander around the city of Xycanthus itself. One aspect of the game I found frustrating -- and something that, thankfully, seems to be getting rarer and rarer in text adventures these days -- is its zeal to kill the player off for making a single bad move. Sometimes there are warnings about what will happen if you go a certain way but more often than not these warnings are subtle to the point that they will most likely be missed, leaving the poor player to have to reload time and time again. Often, after I'd died and started again, I was able to spot the warnings and avoid them subsequent times but it was still frustrating being killed for doing nothing more than moving in the wrong direction. Maybe this isn't such a bad thing as it encourages you to read the location descriptions more carefully than you might normally do and anyone who just rushes through this game without reading where he/she is going is liable to wind up dead more than a few times. All in all, this is a well above average game that suffers from a little too much guess-the-verb (the puzzle involving the statue is an unusual one that it is doubtful you would manage to guess without the hints) but the standard of writing and the atmospheric location descriptions more then compensate for any shortcomings. From the ending I would have guessed that this was the first part in a series of adventures (hints are given that you're going to set off after Malevol the wizard) but as nothing has come out in the months since then it seems unfortunately not which is a pity because this is the sort of game we see too little of. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Emily Short TITLE: Dutch Dapper IV: The Final Voyage AUTHOR: Harry Hol EMAIL: bibberfrob SP@G haha.demon.nl DATE: 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/DDIV.z5 VERSION: Release 11 I never finished either of the Douglas Adams Infocom games, because the same zany humor that made the text so much fun also meant that the puzzles were more or less incomprehensible to me. If you leave out the complete disconnection between cause and effect, though, the Douglas Adams approach lends itself nicely to IF: many of the best bits of Hitchhikers' Guide are descriptions of some strange culture, practice, or creature. IF's emphasis on setting means that there's plenty of room in the average game for amusing satirical descriptions, without it even feeling like a digression. Harry Hol's "Dutch Dapper IV" takes this idea and runs with it. You're hero of sorts, though how and why you got into the business was never entirely explained; you just woke up one morning and found yourself with a mysterious transporter machine. It proceeds along those general lines. Hol's humor isn't as sharp as Adams', so inviting the comparison is possibly dangerous; in particular, some of the things he chooses to satirize are all-too-easy targets, like the fast food restaurant. It doesn't take great originality to mock McDonalds and its ilk. All the same, there were lines that made me smile. And the game has a generally light-hearted tone, doesn't take itself too seriously, and gives the impression that the author was having a good time. It's hard for me to really dislike a game like that. In fact, I'd say the generally good-natured approach made the game more fun to inhabit than the sometimes-caustic Adams worlds. Unlike Bureaucracy or HHGG, Dutch Dapper IV relies on some fairly straightforward puzzles, mostly of the kind where you need to get item x in order to appease person y in order to get into place z. Only one of them caused me any great confusion, and that was largely because I had used the wrong verb and assumed that an action was pointless when, in fact, I was just going about it wrong. On the other hand, there was one puzzle whose solution particularly pleased me, because it fit so well into the humorous logic of the game world. As for plot, there is one, but it doesn't take front stage for most of the game. The majority of the puzzles take place in a plot vacuum, while the player wanders around and tries to figure out what's going on; then you hit a stage where things take off, and suddenly you're accumulating bunches of points every time you turn around, and reading through a lot of plot exposition without doing very much. By this time the game had earned my goodwill, so I didn't really mind, but it does give a bit of an unbalanced feel to the whole experience. The game could also stand to be a bit more polished. There are quite a few points where the game should, logically, assume an action, but it makes you do it by hand. The inventory limit is apparently just there to drive one nuts. There are some synonyms that aren't implemented. (In particular, any hyphenated term should be typed exactly as in the game.) But again, I found myself willing to forgive this, because I was having enough fun to make it worthwhile. I encountered no actual bugs, which was nice. On the whole, I found "Dutch Dapper IV" a pleasant and entertaining way to spend an hour and a half. Once you're done, you can play with the long Amusing list, and read synopses of the first three Dutch Dapper adventures, in case you missed them. (Since they are either in Dutch or nonexistent, it's pretty likely that you did.) -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: David Whyld TITLE: Goldilocks Is A Fox AUTHOR: Jason Guest EMAIL: amazing_poodle_boy SP@G yahoo.co.uk DATE: September 2002 PARSER: ADRIFT SUPPORTS: ADRIFT Runtime AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, ADRIFT Main Page URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adrift/Goldilocks.zip VERSION: Release 2 From the title, you might get the impression that this is a rather silly game. You'd be right, too. Goldilocks Is A Fox is a strange mishmash of various fairy tales: the Goldilocks of the title, a big bad wolf, three bears, a fairy godmother, Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming, etc. References to the three little pigs also pop up from time to time. The story is pretty much nonsense from the word "go", but it's handled in such an amusing and charming manner that I found myself not minding how ridiculous and farfetched it all is. In fact, part of the game's charm is that it's written strictly tongue-in-cheek and isn't afraid to let it show. As the game begins, you, as the eponymous Goldilocks, have just returned from a crazy art party and have decided, as you do, to walk through a dark wood on the way home (well, I *did* say it a was nonsense storyline). The wood is pretty much just a way to get from the start of the game to the three bears' cottage -- where the game begins in earnest -- but it has a few interesting set pieces that add to the humour of the game: Goldilocks' cry of "ooh, I'm so scared" popping up in the location description, the big bad wolf (my favourite character in the game) appearing and mistaking Goldilocks for Little Red Riding Hood (who is, alas, missing from the game). Indeed, the wood is an interesting set of locations in its own right. The game properly opens up when you reach the three bears' cottage and have to figure out just how to get inside and what to do once you're there. Getting inside isn't easy but shouldn't cause too many problems if you try just about everything. One interesting thing I found when I finally got inside the cottage was how much larger on the inside it was than on the outside -- a kind of magic cottage crossed with Doctor Who's Tardis perhaps? Of the various fantasy characters encountered during the game, my favourite had to be the big bad wolf, who was the sort of character you could probably base an entire game on. He mistakes Goldilocks for Little Red Riding Hood and then turns to up at the three bears' cottage demanding to see the three little pigs (for "see" read "eat"). There are several other characters in the game (Prince Charming was amusing) but none left quite the same impression as the big bad wolf. The original version of the game was entered in the ADRIFT Summer Comp 2002 and came in second (a strange occurrence, really, as the game it lost to wasn't half as good). That version of the game came with a detailed walkthrough, which was something of a good and bad idea at the same time: good because it allows you to get past some of the harder puzzles in the game (some of them very hard indeed) but bad because it also spoils much of the enjoyment you get from solving them yourself. Goldilocks Is A Fox isn't an overly large game but the solution is a lengthy and convoluted one, often requiring players to double back on themselves and reuse the same item time and time again; in this way it generally gives the impression of being a far larger game than it really is. Unlike so many comedy games, Goldilocks Is A Fox doesn't just go for the quick humour and forget about the gaming side of things. Take away the comedy and the general silliness and there is a very well constructed game here. There are some quite intricate puzzles (the one with the large chair being a particular favourite of mine) and while not every puzzle is logical or straightforward, for the most part they don't require too much thought on the part of the player to solve. That said, this isn't a game that you're likely to solve in the space of a single sitting, which is probably just as well as there are a fair number of good ideas here that would be ruined if you played the game through too fast. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Harry Hol TITLE: Gremlins AUTHOR: Brian Howarth E-MAIL: Unknown PARSER: Scott Adams Standard SUPPORTS: ZX Spectrums & emulators AVAILABILITY: Commercial URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/spectrum/zx.zip Gremlins is a game based on the Joe Dante movie of the same name. A bunch of ugly, evil little critters have run over the small town of Kingston Falls and you must try to stop them, with the assistance of Gizmo the Mogway. The game was published by Adventure International and employed the Scott Adams engine. This means minimal descriptions and a rather picky "verb noun" parser. Some versions had crude graphics. I don't mind a picky parser, as long as it is fair. The game Gremlins, however, isn't. I started to play it when I was about eleven and never got very far, even though I spent weeks playing it on my C16. I was only able to finish it a couple of months ago, thanks to a walkthrough I found on the Internet. I finally discovered why I never got anywhere. It was bad game design. If I order the parser to "search" something, I expect the game to list all that I have found. The Scott Adams system seems to think it more fair to reveal only one item at a time when you look into something. Now this would make some kind of sense when you dig around in the dirt, or go through a pile of papers. But when I look into a kitchen drawer, I expect the game to tell me all that is in there. The reason I never was able to finish Gremlins was because the game made me search an ordinary kitchen drawer three times to find all three crucial items in there. After I finished solving this "puzzle", more and more bad design decisions became apparent to me. First: the game makes heavy use of timed events, with the Gremlins running around through town. They basically kill you after a random number of moves, but it is impossible to know how much time you have left. Realistic tension? Without an "undo" option, getting killed just after making some progress isn't my idea of fun. Also, the game is devoid of any sense of wonder. The setting is a mundane little town with mundane objects. Some of them invite experimentation, but the vocabulary of the game is so small that the only thing you actually can do with them is the "right" action to solve the puzzle. Any attempt that is not *exactly phrased as needed* is dismissed with "I don't understand". I realize some of my frustrations have to do with the old school way the game is put together. But all that would be forgiven if you as a player had some interesting things to do. Unfortunately, the entire middle section of Gremlins takes place in an anemically implemented department store, and the endgame is a hit and miss affair I did not find satisfying at all. I finally did manage to finish it, as I mentioned earlier. But in the end, I wondered why I bothered. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Jimmy Maher TITLE: Heroine's Mantle AUTHOR: Andy Phillips EMAIL: aphillips SP@G ma.man.ac.uk DATE: December 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Heroine.z8 VERSION: Release 3 Sometimes I think people in our little community take this new literary form of ours just a little too seriously, and games occasionally suffer for it. A case in point is Heroine's Mantle, an ambitious gem by Andy Phillips that came and went with far too little fanfare. Heroine is either a comic book or (bizarre as it may sound) a first person shooter adapted into IF... or perhaps it is both. The player takes the role of one Lisa Flint, a young lady about to be transformed into the Crusader, whereupon she will devote her life to fighting for Good (TM) and Justice! After a prelude, the game is played out over seven chapters, each of them as large as the typical Competition game. In each, Lisa must thwart the evil scheme of a different villain. These villains are one of the highlights of the game, as each is larger than life and possessed of unique powers of their own. Take the Toymaker: "What did you used to play with as a child, Lisa? Colouring books? Lego? Dolls? Plasticine? There was one little boy who enjoyed building his own toys: razored yoyos, acidic crayons, explosive balloons-- yes, a real problem child. He still hasn't grown up yet, despite reaching physical adulthood ten years ago." Stan Lee himself would be proud! I may have been influenced by having played No One Lives Forever and Freedom Force at around the same time, but this game's episodic structure (each chapter featuring a "boss" to kill) reminded me of a more mainstream action-oriented game, and its general sense of good humor and fun reminded me of both of those (wonderful) titles as well. Some of the puzzles are unusual for IF, being more action-oriented than the standard cerebral affairs. Lisa has some very potent powers, and you will have to make use of all of them (often in very creative ways) to solve the game. Be warned that a lot of saving and restoring will be required (especially to work your way through the intricate final battle sequences which climax each chapter), but the game is generally solvable for anyone willing to spend a bit of time and mental energy, and working out the correct next move in these action sequences especially is great fun. I had to turn to a walkthrough for a couple of somewhat dodgy puzzles, but solved 99% of the game on my own. I should mention that there are some suggestive scenes involving Lisa and Mistletoe, a villain who kills her victims by, ahem, "seducing" them to death. These scenes are hardly explicit though, and I found them to be completely innocent fun. Indeed, fun is the adjective I find myself using over and over to describe this game. Yes, the moral universe it presents is black and white to an almost comical (pun intended) degree, but sometimes that's perfectly okay with me. Andy Phillips' writing is occasionally a bit awkward, but his prose is energetic and generally effective. At times you can almost see the "BASH! BANG! POW!" captions surrounding the scene in your mind's eye. Heroine's Mantle is huge, challenging, exciting and ambitious. The more literary and experimental works from authors like Short and Plotkin are fascinating, yes, but sometimes everyone feels like a good comic book... if they know what is good for them. When that time comes, Heroine's Mantle will fill the bill admirably. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Emily Short TITLE: Hollywood Hijinx AUTHOR: Dave Anderson/Liz Cyr-Jones E-MAIL: Unknown DATE: January, 1987 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: ZCODE interpreters AVAILABILITY: Commercial URL: http://www.csd.uwo.ca/~pete/Infocom/hijinx.html VERSION: Release 37 Hollywood Hijinx is a late-period Infocom game, with a cheerfully kitsch theme and a premise of unabashed treasure hunting. You stand to inherit a fortune if you are able to discover an assortment of bizarre B-movie props in a very strange Hollywood mansion -- so off you go to hunt. It contains even more than the usual number of references to Infocom, and at no point does it seem to take itself terribly seriously. There are a few features of the game that irritated me. I might as well get those over with at once. The most severe is the time limit that prevents you from succeeding unless you have completed all the puzzles within an arbitrary number of moves. This is pretty much impossible to do the first time around, so I had to play until I'd earned about half the points, then start the game over. The game's other design sins are comparatively minor: several smaller-scale timed puzzles that seemed a bit unfair, and one puzzle that couldn't reasonably be solved except by discovering something and then restoring an earlier state. Coupled with the inability to UNDO moves, this was somewhat annoying. There's also an inventory limit that gets in the way at times, but since the treasure objects are not themselves useful for anything, one can safely drop them somewhere and keep one's collection of objects to a reasonable size. Finally, one or two puzzles seemed disappointingly trivial, with the solution consisting more or less of walking through a series of obvious actions. On the other hand, there are a couple of neat set-piece puzzles that show the attention to detail at which Infocom excelled: amusing and colorful responses to wrong answers as well as right ones, systems that you can learn how to work, red-herring partial solutions that seem right at first but then turn out to be wrong. If those are overdone, they can be infuriating, but I thought that Hollywood Hijinx hit just the right level of complexity on several of these. There is also one quite elegant puzzle that relies on solution-by-intuition, depending on your memory of how an earlier puzzle was solved and your ability to translate that information to a new context. This game also contains a massive maze. Most mazes in IF are designed to irritate the player by making him go to a lot of trouble to figure out a mapping, and are (relatively) harmless once successfully mapped. This maze, on the other hand, is probably nigh impossible without the map -- indeed, the game warns you before you go inside that you shouldn't even make a try for it. Even when you do have the map in hand, it takes a minute to figure out a good route: in other words, the challenge of this particular maze is like the challenge of mapping out a maze on paper, and not very similar to playing through other IF mazes. It can still be a bit exasperating to play through, especially if you lose your place as you navigate and have to go back to a saved position and start over. If I've talked mostly about the puzzles, it's because puzzles are most of what's worth talking about. The prose style is nothing stunning, and most of the scenery is sparsely implemented; there are plenty of items that don't exist at all, and plenty of others that garner a nothing-special sort of response. Considering the era in which the game was written, this is not very surprising. Many of the location descriptions do offer amusing reminiscences about past events in the house, which is a nice touch, and gives character to some rooms that would otherwise seem very spare indeed. As for the plot, it is fairly contrived, and, as in many Infocom games, most of the actual story occurs either in the prologue or at the very end. Still, putting the treasure-hunt agenda so blatantly in the foreground does, at least, remove any difficulty in explaining why the house is in such a strange condition. If things are implausibly scattered around, that's because someone put them there for exactly this purpose. Moreover, the central Hollywood-esque focus, and the emphasis on your history with Uncle Buddy, Aunt Hildegarde, and Cousin Herman, provides a nice thematic unity to the whole thing. The game also has a very satisfying Easter egg; after the game was over, I realized that there was one obvious action I'd never taken, and taking it proved to work out exactly as I might have hoped. It took me only three or four hours to finish Hollywood Hijinx, even with the unavoidable replay of the early parts of the game. I referred to hints only a couple of times. In one case, I needed them because the action in question didn't seem obviously possible, given the descriptions of the rooms; in another, the solution wasn't something I would've thought of ever in a million years. For the most part, however, I felt that they were fair. For me this game didn't provide as much sense of adventure as Plundered Hearts, or offer the atmospheric richness of Wishbringer or Deadline, but it is still an entertaining, solid game of the old school. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: R. N. Dominick Oh, hey, look, it's just after midnight. Two minutes into September 15th. Maybe I'd better think about going to bed... September 15th... hmm... that sounds familiar, for some reason. Oh, yeah. I volunteered to review that old Infocom game for the next issue of SPAG. The review's due on September 15th. Well, um, that gives me about twelve hours to solve the game before Paul O'Brian sends an oh-so-polite inquiry asking what happened... oh... oh, boy... That puts me in exactly the same situation as the nameless protagonist of Infocom's Hollywood Hijinx. As the nephew of infamous B-movie producer Buddy Burbank, you stand to inherit Uncle Buddy's movie business and fantastic Hollywood estate -- if you can prove you're clever enough to handle it by finding the ten mementos from Buddy's career hidden throughout the estate in twelve hours. Released in 1987, Hollywood Hijinx seems to be a deliberate throwback to the desolate treasure hunt period. There are no NPCs or animate creatures in the game (until the end-game, which is a timed sequence seemingly designed to hide the fact that the NPCs are pretty much cardboard ciphers). The puzzles are mostly of the clever mechanical type. The atmosphere is very jokey, and both Hollywood and Infocom in-jokes abound. There are throwbacks other than the atmosphere, however. (One annoyance is just a convenience that hadn't been implemented yet -- 'x' doesn't work, but damn if I didn't type it eleventy million times anyhow.) The game contains a maze. A *huge* maze. A huge sprawling maze it would take forever to map and even then you wouldn't know where you had to do what you had to do to get any value out of the maze. Luckily, you're given a map; unluckily, this doesn't provide any sort of automatic maze negotiation. Even after you've gotten the 'treasure' hidden at the center of the maze, you have to manually navigate your way back out. It takes more than 100 moves to complete the maze section of the game, meaning even with the map you spend an inordinate amount of time on it. Time? Yes, the game is timed. Even though the status line is the standard turns/score format, each and every move you perform in the game costs 1 minute of time -- even 'look' and 'inventory'. You only have 12 hours -- 720 turns -- to complete the game. This puts an exasperating focus on optimizing the solution to a puzzle after you solve it. The game requires you to save rather more often than I'm used to because of this; if you're not careful, restarting will be required. It is also very possible to waste resources required to progress elsewhere in the game or to go to a location too soon or with the wrong items and have to backtrack via 'restore' to fix your error. After getting trapped like this three or four times, I was daunted by the proposition of replaying part of the game yet again and turned to a walkthrough for what turned out to be the last three treasures and forty points. (One blessing, at least, is that you don't have to tromp around and deliver the treasures anywhere; just having had them in inventory at one time is enough for the game to progress.) At the end of it all, nothing in Hollywood Hijinx stands out all that much. The one stand-out treasure-retrieval puzzle (which involves atomic mutant mayhem in a scale model of downtown Tokyo) is marred by two instances of the "wasted resource" problem (if you fail, or if you do something too soon, it's 'restore' for you, buster, or you cannot win). I think the real problem is that even in 1987, Infocom had progressed far beyond the basic dry puzzle hunt this game provides. Already released before this game were much better puzzle-fests (Spellbreaker), much funnier games (Leather Goddesses) and -- much more importantly -- advances in mood, setting and dramatics (A Mind Forever Voyaging and Trinity) that outclassed this game and type of game completely. Other releases the same year included the truly different (Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It), the genre-busting (Plundered Hearts) and the systemically different (Border Zone). Namechecking so many other excellent games may not be quite fair, but those games set expectations that Hijinx just couldn't meet. ... Phew. There we go. 10 hours and 55 minutes. (Only five of those were spent playing the game and writing this review -- I had to sleep sometime!) -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Valentine Kopteltsev TITLE: Katana AUTHOR: Matt Rohde EMAIL: rohdemusic SP@G yahoo.com DATE: 2003 PARSER: TADS Standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/katana.gam VERSION: 2.0 Judge for yourself, Valentina Mikhailovna -- in the 15th century, the Heaven knows who sails up to you and starts speaking Japanese. -- V. Belobrov, O. Popov, "Valentine's Day" Are you tired of IF experiments? Are you looking for an old-school game you could spend a few quiet days with? Then you should give Katana a try. Yes, it's basically a rather conventional text adventure, set in Japan. A disclaimer is needed here: it's difficult to judge the depth of the author's knowledge of Japanese history and traditions by this game; the only thing that's sure is that he knows a whole lot more about it than I do. Likewise, I can't say the game provided me with a comprehensive picture of Japanese culture, in general, or Japanese mythology, in particular, but that didn't seem to be the author's intention anyway. The only purpose of all the Far-Eastern decorations, references, and characters (which, by the way, they served very well) seems to have been the creation of an atmospheric setting -- and it's probably better so. One of the pleasant aspects of such an approach is that one doesn't get the impression that the author plumes himself with his erudition; at least, I never got the feeling of being talked down to because of my lack of certain knowledge, as has sometimes happened with other games. The story underlying this work is a fine match for the setting. Sure, it's not the fanciest I ever encountered, but it's still a pretty good one. The author tells it very competently using the flashback technique. My only complaint about it was that the player character somehow didn't get emotionally involved into it -- he seemed to remain a distant observer. That's all the more paradoxical, since this story concerns the PC's ancestor, and since in the course of the game, the PC makes considerable efforts in order to put right injustices of the past. The puzzles are an essential part of old-school text adventures; in Katana, I'd describe them as "not exceptional, but solid". Their main virtue is the smoothness with which they fit into the story. Let's put it this way: while probably none of them will be an aspirant for the "Best Puzzle" Xyzzy Award for 2003, they do help to create a consistent and well-built structure for the game. Many of them are based on careful examination of your surroundings. There's nothing wrong with that, though I got the feeling that this trick was a bit overused. That's pretty much all I can say about the puzzles, except for an observation of minor importance: the layout of the first major puzzle in the game reminded me of one certain episode in the movie "The Fifth Element" by Luc Besson -- with the only difference that Milla Jovovich was missing from the centre of the composition; I assume that, if she were of Japanese origin, she wouldn't be. ;) In addition to being a traditional text adventure, an atmospheric piece, and a story-driven game, Katana is one more thing: a first attempt. And while it clearly represents a decent one, there're a number of details showing that its author had little or no experience when working on it. I'm not talking about bugs, though there are some; after all, this is a review, not a public beta-test report. (However, I'll be glad to send one to the author if he's interested, and asks me to do so.) Here's an example from the game illustrating what I mean: >x door It's a solid slab of granite that fills the entrance to the tomb. There's a Kanji symbol for fire carved in the granite. There's a Kanji symbol for air carved in the granite. There's a Kanji symbol for water carved in the granite. There's a Kanji symbol for earth carved in the granite. It seems to me that the author followed the path of least resistance here. If he'd had more experience, he probably would have formulated this description some other way -- at the least, he'd have listed all the Kanji symbols in one single phrase instead of using four nearly identical sentences. Other details I implied when talking about first attempts are similar, so that I won't dwell on them any further, except for one feature that significantly affected the gameplay. I refer to the way that the game parser makes extensive use of responses of the type "If you want to do such and such, just say so" (for instance, typing "turn on car", and being told, "I think you mean 'START THE CAR'.") Somehow, I got such responses a bit more often than I'd like to. (After writing this, I remembered how frequently I did the same thing in my own first game. Then, I recalled that game I played some time ago, which had a shimmering curtain of light in the northern wall in its opening scene; it harassed me for at least twenty minutes by rejecting all my attempts to enter, go in, go through, etc. that darn curtain with the message, "I don't know how to the shimmering curtain of light", until I finally happened to type "north"... Well, looks like I'm getting to be an old grumbler. ;) Fortunately for Katana, being a first attempt doesn't necessary consist of disadvantages only. The positive aspects are the genuine fun the author clearly had writing it (this fun shows through, say, in a number of witty responses to weird player input), and the attention to details. And they outweigh the negative ones, despite the fact that you could get a different impression reading all my nitpicking. ;) So, to sum up, if you prefer longer text adventures, and don't mind some minor technical flaws... hey, it's time to look at the beginning of the review again!;) ...and the SNATS[*]: PLOT: Reasonably solid, matches the setting very well (1.2) ATMOSPHERE: Certainly original (1.4) WRITING: Sometimes not emotional enough (1.1) GAMEPLAY: Just what you'd expect of a traditional text adventure -- with minor issues that are listed in the review (1.1) BONUSES: The rich setting and the many Easter eggs (1.2) TOTAL: 6.0 CHARACTERS: Convincing enough (1.2) PUZZLES: Fit into the game structure very smoothly -- so smoothly they don't stand out at all (1.1) DIFFICULTY: An appropriate ordeal for a novice samurai (5 out of 10) * SNATS stands for "Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ___. .___ _ ___. ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| / _| \ \ | 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 GAME: Lazy Gods Of Earth PROCEED NO FURTHER UNLESS YOU HAVE PLAYED THIS GAME! THIS IS NOT A TEST! GENUINE SPOILERS TO FOLLOW! LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILAGE! From: Emily Short TITLE: Lazy Gods of Earth AUTHOR: Stark Springs EMAIL: stark SP@G null.net DATE: 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/mini-comps/library/IFLibComp2002.zip VERSION: Release 4 Last issue of SPAG, I reviewed Stark Springs' "Words of Power". That piece entertained me enough that I went back to try his IFLibrary comp game from last year, "Lazy Gods of Earth". In certain respects the two are fairly similar. Both rely heavily on desolate settings, with a sense of vastness and also, perhaps, great age. In fact, I thought some of the settings in "Lazy Gods" were more captivating than the ones in "Words". Springs uses some typically under-developed places, like the transitional messages when walking between rooms, to convey a sense of the great scale of the terrain. And while the writing often verges on the perfunctory, some of the things it describes are, if you envision them for a moment, quite memorable. Once again I found myself mentally translating everything into cinematic images. At a few points the description in "Lazy Gods" rises to a higher level. At one point, you're told that you see a gnarled root shaped like a beckoning finger. The image is both evocative and functional: it's easily visualized, it suggests an eerie presence in the otherwise uninhabited landscape, but it also conveys to the player the idea that one ought to have a closer look at the object. And one does, and it turns out to be a grappling hook. Easy enough to see in retrospect how the grappling hook might have looked like a finger of root. Springs *could* have gone for the standard (and generic) "You see something stuck between the rocks" in order to get the player to have a closer look. But this bit of detailed description is a million times better, because it leaves an impression with the player even after the true nature of the object has been identified. "Lazy Gods" also shares some structural features with "Words of Power". Both games rely on visits to a number of specific NPCs; both involve a geography with important landmarks to the far north, south, east, and west. There's a kind of self-aware tidiness about this arrangement that makes the gameplay easier on the player (because it's usually clear where to go next, and how many more episodes/interactions are required before the game will be complete). At the same time, though, it impresses one with a sense of artificiality, or perhaps of great formality. At the same time, "Words of Power" works better than "Lazy Gods" on a couple of important levels. For one thing, it provides character motivation from the start. "Lazy Gods" leaves the player to wander around, without any kind of goal or stated purpose, until he does something quite drastic just because it's the only thing in the entire game that seems interactive. Then he finds himself in another place, where, again, he has nothing to do but wander around until a plot manifests itself. In fact, as it turns out, your task is to *undo* the stupid drastic thing you did out of boredom at the opening stage of the game. This, it strikes me, is a mildly unfair way to plot your game. First of all, the player feels a bit foolish; if the first step of the game wasn't progress, then why was he herded into doing it? And second, leaving the player without any idea of what he's supposed to be doing, or why, or how, for too long a period tends to result in a certain amount of disengagement. Purely by chance, I wound up not visiting the NPC I needed to visit to receive my infodump about what was going on until quite late in the game; during all the intervening period, I was poking around the various environments looking for something to do and collecting objects that seemed to be put there for me to take. Fortunately (I suppose) there are few enough red herrings that wandering around pushing all the obvious buttons and taking all the obvious objects is, in fact, a reasonable way to get through the game. But it's not a reasonable way to motivate the story. Then there was a second, far more important problem. "Lazy Gods" turns out to be about these meddling immortals who have been steering the development of Earth, but got bored and decided to stop looking after it. Fine. I don't see anything inherently wrong with this premise; it could be taken some quite interesting places. But it's treated with a triviality of implementation that really undermines the effect the premise might have had. It seems to me that if you were to meet a giant boar in the forest, and it were to turn into Aphrodite, and she were to tell you that you had accidentally destroyed, not only your friends and their nice beach house, but the entire world and everyone in it, you'd feel pretty stunned. But no, I didn't get that sense about my character at all. Partly this is because, in general, the PC is given very little shading by the game; his conversation is all fairly straightforward, without a distinctly individual voice. The descriptions are more or less objective as well, and don't tend to concentrate on the PC's feelings about things. This is a valid choice for IF, and I don't have a problem with it, for the most part. But if the PC isn't going to react visibly, then it seems as though the conversations themselves at least need to feel a bit weightier, a trifle less silly. For instance, when you ask one of these deities who he is, he replies: His lips compress in a thin, superior smile. "I am. I don't need a name. But you can call me Conrad." I support the thin, superior smile. The first two sentences of the dialogue are fine. "You can call me Conrad," after that opening, is pure comedy. I laughed, but I don't think I was supposed to; the rest of the game doesn't carry itself in a way that suggests deliberate jokiness at this point. Even worse: Alea sighs. "I know. You managed to destroy your world. Perhaps it's for the best." That's *it*? That's all? "You destroyed the world, but don't worry about it"? My character doesn't show any shock, and the goddess doesn't show any concern; between the two of them, it's hard for me-the-player to be convinced that this catastrophic event really even occurred. I suppose that some of this might be deliberate. A deeper exploration of the topics raised might have made for a longer game, and possibly one with a grimmer tone. And then, these passages could so easily have been horribly overwritten that it makes sense to practice some restraint. All the same: this was too much restraint, I think. With a bit more investment these themes could have been elaborated into something rich and memorable, instead of passing the player by without effect. And I've managed to talk about all these things without mentioning the adaptive aspect of the game. In essence, during the prologue you're given a quiz by one of the characters intended to elicit your feelings about certain plot devices. I gather that the answers affect the way the game plays out, though I didn't explore enough to exhaustively catalog how that might work. This is also potentially interesting, except that I think the device of explicitly asking the player what he'd prefer is too blatant a way to customize the game. As a player, I care more about storytelling than I do about the author somehow managing to guess which scary monster I will personally find the most creepy. It's exactly there that more work is needed. More character for the NPCs, more depth, more of a sense that all these things are important. I raise all these issues because I think, in fact, that Stark Springs is doing progressively better work. His writing is not universally polished, but he has the eye for a memorable detail, and this serves him well. His game design sometimes shows flaws (and whose doesn't?), but I think, on the whole, that it's improving. "Lazy Gods" has some good images; "Words of Power" has those *and* a more engaging set of puzzles and better motivation. So I look forward to what he may do if he continues to write games. 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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