___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE #35 -- 2003 IF Competition Special Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) December 31, 2003 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #35 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 ---------------------------------------------------- SPAG interviews the authors of the top three Comp games: * Star Foster and Dan Ravipinto * Michael Coyne * Quintin Stone REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------- The Adventures Of The President Of The United States The Atomic Heart Baluthar Caffeination Cerulean Stowaway Episode In The Life Of An Artist The Erudition Chamber Gourmet Internal Documents The Recruit Risorgimento Represso Sardoria Scavenger Shadows On The Mirror Slouching Towards Bedlam Temple of Kaos ############## Review Package: Interactive Reality Show? ############## # The Erudition Chamber # # The Recruit # # A Paper Moon # ####################################################################### EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ Interactive fiction got some great publicity recently with a four-page writeup in Games magazine, thanks at least in part to erstwhile SPAG reviewer Duncan Stevens, who wrote a Games staffer suggesting an IF article might be a cool thing for them to do. For those of you who aren't familiar with the magazine, it consists mostly of, well, games: trivia, wordplay, riddles, and other puzzles, including a big center section entitled "Pencilwise", printed on newsprint and full of crosswords, cryptograms, logic conundrums, quizzes, word searches, and all sorts of other nifty pencil puzzles. However, the magazine also contains reviews of new games (of both the digital and physical varieties) and articles about various aspects of gaming, which is where the IF piece appeared. I bought the issue, of course, and just to get my money's worth, I played through all the puzzles, including everything in the Pencilwise section. I had a great time doing this, which got me started thinking about puzzles. I actually used to subscribe to Games magazine when I was in my teens, and that was right around the same time I was way into Infocom games. I guess I was a real puzzle aficionado back then. I can remember working diligently at Infocom's puzzles, hammering away at games for days, weeks, or even months at a time, trying new things each day as they'd occur to me. On those occasions when I finally did figure out a puzzle (as opposed to breaking down and buying the Invisiclues), the feeling of accomplishment was exquisitely sweet. This magazine brought me back to that experience, and made me realize that I don't do that with IF anymore. I wonder why? At least part of the reason is that now, I have other options. When I was stuck on an Infocom puzzle, there was no Internet to trawl for a walkthrough, and none of my friends were into my nerdy pursuits, so my choices were to either keep working on it or to buy the clues. In those cash-strapped days, it wasn't much of a choice at all. When a puzzle frustrates me now, the answer is often at my fingertips. Solutions are available for almost all older games, whether in the form of actual walkthroughs at the archive or old rec.games.int-fiction discussions preserved in Google's vaults. Even for brand new games, IF-loving friends are now only a MUD login away. I doubt I'll ever again live in a world where hints were as hard to find as they were in the 80's. Still, I don't think the simple availability of help is the only reason why I don't find myself working at IF puzzles for long stretches any more. There are other factors, many of which have to do with the fact that IF is an amateur-driven, community-based enterprise nowadays. For one thing, amateur games don't go through the kind of editing and testing process that Infocom had, and therefore I'm a lot more reluctant to trust that the solution to any given puzzle will actually make sense. The investment of putting weeks of thought into a puzzle turns out to be a bust when that puzzle is completely nonsensical or unguessable, and after playing through enough read-the-author's-mind scenarios, I'm much quicker to suspect that the problem is with the puzzle rather than with me. Also, there's the fact that now, IF games have a sort of time-sensitivity that they didn't before. In the past, nobody but me really cared if I spent a year trying to get the hungus in Beyond Zork to cooperate with me, but now, spending too much valuable time cogitating on a puzzle means missing out on the initial wave of excitement about a good new game, and losing the chance to participate in that first and most vital public discussion. The IF competition is probably the most extreme example of this phenomenon. When you've got thirty games to play in six weeks, and only two hours to devote to each, there's precious little time for puzzle solutions to come while you're waiting for the bus. If I'm stuck on a puzzle in a comp game, I can't afford to work at it for days -- I don't have that kind of time. I'll try for a little while, but as my two hours are running out, I'll definitely turn to walkthrough or hints, at least if it's a game that I care about seeing more of. That means I get through all the games, yes, but I don't get the pleasure of turning a puzzle over and over in my mind until the solution comes to me in a flash. That's a little sad. Of course, this isn't a call to restructure the competition or anything; I think it's just fine the way it is. In any case, it's not just the competition's fault -- my life isn't filled with the abundance of free time I had during adolescence. That's why it's taken me many weeks to complete this Games magazine. Still, I've had enough fun doing it that I think I'd like to try working through a few IF games the old-fashioned way. Even if that means I'm at it for quite a long time. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR------------------------------------------------------ From: Sean Barrett
Although I have no complaint with the SPAG #34 editorial itself, your initial explication of modern IF and keys misses an important aspect of the problem. You wrote: >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. The game must obviously not go too far in anticipating player's desires; to use an absurdly extreme example, the game knows the player is trying to win the game, but it would serve nothing for the game to automatically respond to the first input with an automatic walkthrough and "*** You win! ***". In general, the parser should attempt to map player intent -- the player's *explicit* intent ("open door" explicitly implies unlocking it, but does not explicitly imply going west first to pick up the key). To do this requires the parser have some model of the player's *knowledge*. In other words, the scenario you describe above needs an additional fact: the game knows *you* know the key you have is the right key. Alternatively, the game could try the key that's in your possession, whether it's the right one or not. Or if you have several keys it could mention that it is trying them all. But perhaps if (for some strange reason) you have ten thousand keys, it should not open it automatically for you. How the game knows whether you know it's the right key can depend situationally. If you've used it once, you know it's right (unless it's a strange, morphing lock). If it's a brass lock and a brass key, and the game subscribes to that sort of obviousness, then it could be automatically inferred. But obviously if it's the thing your aunt gave you that you don't know what it is, the game shouldn't automatically use it as the key to the appropriate door without the player first revealing that she knows that's what it's for. Now, you yourself said "there are reasons to buck this philosophy", so it's not like you were denying there were counterexamples; but I wanted to point out that they're not necessarily counterexamples nor bucking the philosophy, but rather that the philosophy is perhaps incompletely thought-through, or at least incompletely stated; with the suggested revision, many more cases are accurately covered (and, in fact, the ideal behavior is better described, even if it is rarely implemented that way). -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: "Glenn P.," In SPAG #34, you wrote: ...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... Well, I disagree with this. I think games will continue to make (or at least to allow) the player explicitly unlock locked doors, and I think it good that they should do so. There are, I think, two good reasons for coding games this way. The first, and purely practical, reason is that the Adventurers' well-known habit of picking up any and every significant-seeming object he can means that in the case of "must-be-carrying-item" puzzles, it becomes possible to "solve" a puzzle without even knowing that the puzzle even existed. To use your own example, if the player is careless about reading the room description and misses mention of the door, a game which allowed him to simply type "N" to go north if the player has the key would permit him to pass the door without ever realizing it was there! You'll have to forgive me, but if you can (so-called) "solve" such a problem without even knowing it, then it isn't really a problem at all. On this point, I scarcely think there can be any really serious argument, especially with no less a luminary than Graham Nelson on my side: From "The Craft Of Adventure", by Graham Nelson: 13. To be able to understand a problem once it is solved This may sound odd, but many problems are solved by accident or trial and error. A guard-post which can be passed if and only if you are carrying a spear, for instance, ought to indicate somehow that this is why you're allowed past. Of course, it would be possible, in the spirit of the above, to construct a response such as this: North Chamber The passageway you are following dead ends here. The passageway continues to the south, and a closed door, large, rusty, and iron, bars you way to the north. >N [Unlocking the large rusty iron door first] [With the large rusty iron key] The lock is rusty and unwilling, but with a great deal of effort, you manage to turn the ancient lock. The door is now unlocked. [Opening the large rusty iron door first] With a terrible screech of its badly-rusted hinges, the large rusty iron door opens. [North] Prison Cell This small windowless chamber is smelly and uninviting. A skeleton lies on the floor, chained to the wall. There is a parchment clutched in its right hand. (Etc.) Whether or not this is easy, it certainly is possible, since one of the very earliest Infocom games, "Zork I", did just this sort of thing. On the very first turn of the story, type the command "OPEN BOX. READ.", and you'll get: The small mailbox is open. Inside you can see a leaflet. (The leaflet) (Taken) "Welcome to ZORK!" (Etc.) In other words, it spares you the responses "What do you want to read?" and "You don't have that!", respectively. Now, suppose, having obtained the above (purely hypothetical) game, you then read on the Internet that it is possible to enter the Prison Cell just by typing "N" from the North Chamber, provided you have the correct key. Would you try it? Of course you would -- who wouldn't? I would! BUT -- and this is the critical question -- BUT -- Would you continue to play it that way from then on? Or, on subsequent replays, would you go right on typing "UNLOCK DOOR WITH IRON KEY", and even OPEN DOOR, although you KNEW you didn't have to? I strongly suspect that the answer to that latter question is, "Yes." I know that I, for one, would be profoundly dissatisfied with the scenario given above. I -- and, I think, others -- would find it very emotionally unsatisfying. This brings me to my second, and purely psychological, reason for preferring the "UNLOCK DOOR/OPEN DOOR" shtick: because the finding of a key in a Text Adventure represents a puzzle solution in the potential. The puzzle isn't technically "solved" yet -- firstly because you're no longer in proximity to the danged door; and secondly, even if you are, the door's still locked -- but for all practical purposes that particular puzzle is all over except for the shouting. But that "shouting" is important: what is needed now is a sense of accomplishment for having solved the puzzle -- particularly if the key was hard come by. The above game fragment, though it does put the key to its intended use, ultimately thwarts the player's sense of personal satisfaction because it denies him the small psychological triumph of typing UNLOCK DOOR WITH IRON KEY, and being rewarded with the satisfying response, "O.K., the large iron door is now unlocked." in return. A related concept to the above involves the sense of STORY that is a well-written Text Adventure. Let's take the example of the Sperm Whale incident in Infocom's "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy". (NOTE: No real spoilers are involved here, because this "problem" practically solves itself, and once you've reached this part in the game there should be really very little doubt about what to do. All the same, and Just In Case, I've carefully refrained from mentioning certain things.) How many of you go through the trouble of playing out the Repair Scene? How many of you actually go to the trouble of entering PUSH THE [COLOR #1] BUTTON, then PUSH THE [COLOR #2] BUTTON, then SHOW THE [ITEM] TO THE [NPC], and finally SHOW THE [TEXT] TO THE [NPC] -- even though (once the NPC is on the scene) you could have shown him the [TEXT] at once, and shortcut to the solution? And after all that, don't you again PUSH THE [COLOR #1] BUTTON to end the scenario? And how many of you go through this whole thing knowing -- KNOWING! -- that it isn't necessary at all, that once you have taken what you need and have stowed it safely away, it's unnecessary to do anything at all, except to WAIT a few turns? Why do you do all this? Because it makes a good story, that's why! And that, basically, is why Text Adventures, *ad aeternum*, will continue to make -- or at least, to LET -- players type UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY, and OPEN DOOR: because it's part of the story! And because, when once you have found that blasted key, the one thing you most want to do next is to march up to that danged door -- and use it! Long may we be able do so! :) NEWS ---------------------------------------------------------------------- COMPETITION RESULTS This year's comp saw fewer games entered and fewer judges voting on them. Happily, what didn't decrease is the quality of the top tier of games, with several outstanding pieces of IF taking top honors. And as usual, Stephen Granade and his crew did a masterful job of organizing and running the whole thing -- a thousand thanks to them! Here are the full results of the 2003 IF competition: 1. Slouching Towards Bedlam, by Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto 2. Risorgimento Represso, by Michael Coyne 3. Scavenger, by Quintin Stone 4. The Erudition Chamber, by Daniel Freas 5. Gourmet, by Aaron A. Reed 6. Shadows On The Mirror, by Chrysoula Tzavelas 7. The Recruit, by Mike Sousa 8. Baluthar, by Chris Molloy Wischer 9. Cerulean Stowaway, by Roger Descheneaux 10. The Atomic Heart, by Stefan Blixt 11. Episode in the Life of an Artist, Peter Eastman 12. A Paper Moon, by Andrew Krywaniuk 13. Sardoria, by Anssi Raisanen 14. CaffeiNation, by Michael Loegering 15. Temple of Kaos, by Peter Gambles 16. Sophie's Adventure, by David Whyld 17. Adoo's Stinky Story, by B. Perry 18. Domicile, by John Evans 19. Internal Documents, by Tom Lechner 20. Sweet Dreams, by Papillon 21. The Adventures of the President of the United States, by Mikko Vuorinen 22. No Room, by Ben Heaton 23. Delvyn, by William A. Tilli (writing as Santoonie Corporation) 24. little girl in the big world, by Peter Wendrich 25. Bio, by David Linder 26. Hercules First Labor, by Bob Brown 27. Amnesia, by Dustin Rhodes (writing as crazydwarf) 28. Curse of Manorland, by James King 29. The Fat Lardo And The Rubber Ducky, by Somebody 30. Rape, Pillage, Galore!, by Kristian Kirsfeldt GET THE PICTURES Last year, J. Robinson Wheeler wrote reviews of all the comp games, and drew cute little icons to go with each review, depicting a prominent scene or symbol from each game. (You can still see these at http://raddial.com/if/reviews/comp02_reviews.html) This year, he outdid himself and drew a full-size portrait for each comp game. Check out his Comp03 Drawings at http://raddial.com/puzzler/comp03_drawings.html, and see if you can match the game with the picture. (By the way, some of these drawings could be considered spoilers, so play the games before you go to the gallery.) NEW GAMES Well, the big event of the Fall was, of course, the thirty new games released in the IF competition. However, there were a few others released outside the auspices of the comp. Namely, these: * The House by Owen Parish * Hamlet by Robin Johnson * Narcolepsy by Adam Cadre and others REIGN OF TERRA D'IF Terra d'IF is a new Italian-language IF fanzine edited by newsgroup regular Roberto Grassi. If you can read Italian, or like to pretend that you can read Italian, or just want to see the wild art that graces the PDF version, check out the first issue, online at http://www.robertograssi.net/at/terradif.asp. I'M LOVIN' GIT! Iain Merrick has written a new Glulx interpreter called Git. In Iain's words, this interpreter's "main goal in life is to be fast." Accordingly, it's about five times faster than Glulxe, and allows plenty of room for authors to write complicated or large games without fear of slowness for actual players. The C source code for Git is available at http://diden.net/if/git, and Brian Kelley has created a Windows version (cleverly entitled WinGit), which can be obtained from http://jura.wi.mit.edu/people/kelley/. LONELY ZINE SEEKS REVIEWS FOR LONG-TERM INCLUSION After a high-pitched plea on the newsgroups, I got a heartening response from SPAG reviewers for the comp issue. For next issue, please consider this your high-pitched plea: I need reviews! Send 'em to me for SPAG 36! If you're looking for inspiration, here are some suggestions: SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. Bad Machine 2. City Of Secrets 3. Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. 4. 1893: A World's Fair Mystery 5. Hamlet 6. Heist 7. House 8. Inevitable 9. Narcolepsy 10. Shadowgate THE SPAG INTERVIEW--------------------------------------------------------- The average scores for this year's top three competition games were much higher than in previous years; the winning game even managed the unprecedented (well, since detailed statistics have been kept, anyway) feat of scoring over 8.0. All three games deserve all the accolades they've gotten, and their authors were kind enough to answer a few questions for this issue of SPAG. These interviews are usually conducted by e-mail, but that becomes a little more complicated in the case of co- authors, like Dan Ravipinto and Star Foster, who co-wrote of this year's winner, Slouching Towards Bedlam. Their solution was to sit down over a pizza, respond to the questions, and send me the transcript; consequently, their interview is a little more freewheeling, while the interviews with Michael Coyne and Quintin Stone follow the more traditional SPAG format. Big thanks to all four authors for their time and thoughtfulness. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Star Foster and Dan Ravipinto, authors of "Slouching Towards Bedlam" -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourselves? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth? And how do you know each other? DAN: Well, both of us live in Philadelphia. I'm a programmer by trade, though I'm currently between jobs. STAR: I'm a marketing drone who fiddles with database stuff. DAN: We met a little over a year ago... STAR: I know, that's so weird. I can't believe it's only been a year. DAN: It was at the showing of a movie which we can't name, because it seems that whenever we do, and mention how horrible it is, the director is somehow within earshot. STAR: We met at the movie, but I think we really hit it off playing Cheapass Game's "Get Out" together at a Game Night and laughing at one of the participants behind their back. I think a lot of our friendship is based on a shared love of mockery and schadenfreude. DAN: And then there was NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month -- which was this insane idea of writing an entire novel in one month. The pain and shared misery really drew us together. STAR: I think so. SPAG: How did you each first become introduced to IF? STAR: I remember my Dad bringing home a copy of INFOCOM's "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," complete with Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses and Microscopic Space Fleet and playing it was this huge revelation for me because I'd read the book and now I was playing it, and that was very exciting. I played other games like Nine Princes in Amber -- I've been a reader and a computer gamer about as long as there've been computer games. IF seemed the marriage of two really cool things: stories and games. DAN: I've been involved with interactive-fiction since the age of eight, when I received a copy of "Wishbringer" for Christmas. The idea of being able to live inside of a story -- an entirely created universe -- captivated me. The game took me ages to play -- just understanding the concept of the parser took me a while. I distinctly remember the day -- sometime in January -- the game told me I could open the envelope that came with the game as part of its packaging. I ran around the house yelling about it until my mom came along to tap me on the head and say, "That's nice dear." I was hooked. SPAG: Dan, you made a big splash in 1996 with Tapestry, then more or less disappeared from the IF community. How have you spent the intervening years, and what brought you back to IF authorship? STAR: It was me. I locked him in a closet. DAN: Uhm. Not exactly. STAR: You ruin everything. DAN: Yes. I do. Anyway, I actually haven't been as far from the IF community as you would think. I've been a lurker on r.*.i-f for a lot of the intervening time and have played a lot of the games that have come out since then. STAR: I let him have internet access in the closet. DAN: *cough* I've tried writing a few pieces of IF in that time, but none of them were completed. Actually, TRIAGE started out as an NPC in one of those works and ended up becoming part of Slouching. In the meantime, I finished my undergraduate work in Comp Sci and went on to a full time job and grad school. I created some card games, wrote a lot of short fiction, and completed my first novel in the aforementioned NaNoWriMo. I decided to enter the competition this year after talking with Star about it and her suggesting a collaboration. STAR: I don't remember who suggested it. DAN: In any case, it sounded like a good idea and so we went with it. SPAG: How did your collaboration work? I see from the credits that both of you did design, concept, and writing, while just Dan did the coding, but can you give us a little more detail on what each of you contributed? DAN: We started out just talking with me taking notes. It was all very vague and nebulous. At some point we pinned down the basic ideas of what we were dealing with -- locations, characters, possible lines of action. We set up a collaborative website to share work and bounce ideas off each other. Then came the programming... STAR: The initial idea was for me to learn programming as we went. But just try taking code away from a programmer... DAN: Unfortunately, that's how it worked out. The closer we got to the deadline, the more panicked I got and when Star went for a week's vacation to Japan, she came back to find me completely wired having spent the last four days in a coding frenzy. STAR: You were scary. DAN: I guess I was. But in any case, things were so far along that trying to share the coding work at that point would have been impossible. So we just went from there. STAR: As for the writing, Dan ended up implementing most of the actual Bedlam building, as well as Smithfield Market. I handled 1428 Fleet Street and Newgate. I also wrote the dialogue and the murder scenes. We ended up sharing the Appendices. DAN: I actually have to put in here and say that I really remember a moment towards the end where Star had written out Alexandra's murder scene and handed it to me and I just got completely creeped out by it. STAR: It's not my fault. You made me kill all those people. DAN: Well, we sort of both did. The idea of 'murder as salvation' came up fairly early. STAR: I was all for it, as long as the murders weren't easy. I just wanted that decision to have weight to it. SPAG: Both of you maintain weblogs. [Star's is at http://www.sarcasmoscorner.com, and Dan's is http://www.peccable.com] As writers, do you find that blogging contributes to your other work, and if so, how? STAR: I do, because I find it keeps me in practice. I find that writing for an audience and getting active feedback helps continually raise the bar. DAN: This is kind of ironic, because my blog sort of died somewhere during the creation of Slouching. I stopped posting sometime in August for various reasons and I've only just gotten back to it. My own writing tends to be very personal and different from my fiction, though I agree with Star that blogging keeps you in practice. SPAG: One of the most arresting things about Slouching Towards Bedlam is its setting. Can you share a little bit about what inspired the game's steampunk universe? DAN: The first thing I remember about Slouching's creation is standing in Star's apartment and saying "I want to do something steampunk and I want to set it in London." I'd just taken a trip to London the previous year and had gone on some historical tours that really fascinated me. One was a Jack the Ripper tour where I learned about the association of the Smooth Field (now Smithfield) with death -- so I guess the whole thing had a dark tinge from the very beginning. I also had the word 'cypherists' somewhere in the back of my head, though we both didn't really know what it meant then. STAR: I think TRIAGE had a big part of it. Dan had written it for something else and he was anxious to use it. DAN: Initially, the history surrounding the game was somewhat vague. I think we settled on the Victorian Era later in the design and we ended up coming up with a complete timeline for both the events that lead up to the game, as well as those in the background (McNaughton's trial, the attempted assassination of Victoria, etc.) and I think that helped flesh out the universe. STAR: And then there was the whole tunnel thing... DAN: The tunnels. A friend of mine and I had a very disturbing conversation about abused children at an orphanage. All the children told the same story -- about tunnels that ran between the walls and under the building -- this seemingly imaginary place where things had happened to them. The tunnels never existed, but it was really creepy that they had told the same story. Why was that? Afterwards, I kept thinking about tunnels that no one could see -- this sort of backside of reality. And while the tunnels themselves never got into the game (we had initially considered writing a section where you 'fell out' of reality into somewhere else), it ended up profoundly affecting our concept of the Logos. STAR: We're both big Lovecraft fans, so I'm sure that had some effect on it. Though, to be honest, I like authors that write in the style of Lovecraft more than Lovecraft himself. The rest of it just sort of grew organically out of our brainstorming process. All of these little connections that we hadn't originally thought of started appearing. SPAG: Your game has attracted a great deal of notice, and mostly rave reviews, but what aspects of it do you feel have been most overlooked in the general community response? DAN: For me it was the fact that the entire game is a pseudo-lipogram. I think I only read one review where someone mentioned this, but the entire piece is written in the second person, but it never once uses the word 'you'. That showed up fairly early in the design. You're in an office, but it's not 'your office'. There's a desk here, but it's not 'your desk'. If you happen to assume that you are Dr. Thomas Xavier simply because everyone refers to you that way, that's not our fault. STAR: I really didn't feel like that was overlooked. I was happy that anyone noticed it at all because it was challenging to write the murder scenes without the word 'you'. Overall I was more concerned with how the story was crafted and received than I was with the game mechanics. DAN: Yeah. The meta-message thing was my idea. Sorry. I still stand by it, though. A huge challenge was rewriting all of the library messages to not include 'you'. That's probably the source of comments about awkward phrasing and such. A lot of the messages had to be written in a passive voice in order to work. But I still really like the subtle effect of it. STAR: We were gratified, though, that people sought out and read all five of the endings. SPAG: Do you anticipate being able to write more IF in the future, and if so what are your plans? DAN: From my experience, anyone who prematurely announces a piece of IF in a public forum is basically damning themselves to development limbo -- ONCE AND FUTURE being one of the rare exceptions. That being said, we're kicking around a few ideas. STAR: Hopefully I'll get to code some this time. And I'd like to do something funny. DAN: I've had this world, basically, in my head for about the last five years. I came close to capturing it in novel form in this year's NaNoWriMo, but it didn't really work out. I'm thinking of perhaps trying to set a small piece of IF in the same universe and seeing how that goes. Currently, I'm focused on starting Peccable Productions -- a sort of umbrella under which I'll be developing all my creative works, though right now that's skewed more towards a card game I've been working on. Slouching and other IF definitely will have a home there. SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite games? STAR: I'm a slow IF player, so I'm still catching up. This was first exposure to the competition and I was really surprised by the skill of the other contestants and the range of genres. DAN: I have to admit I haven't played a lot of the other entries as well. We ended up not voting for the Miss Congeniality award because of that. The ones I've managed to see -- Gourmet, Risorgimento Represso, and Scavenger among others -- I've definitely enjoyed. STAR: We want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was involved in the competition -- our fellow competitors and especially Stephen Granade for organizing the whole thing. We're big IF fans in general and it's good to know that there's a place where it's still being developed and loved. SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition entrants? STAR: Write a development schedule and try to stick to it. DAN: Well we did that. STAR: Yeah, but we didn't stick to it. DAN: Oh. STAR: And remember that it's supposed to be something fun. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Michael Coyne, author of "Risorgimento Represso" -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth? MC: Well, I'm a professional computer engineer, which means I design digital hardware and electronics, and also write a lot of embedded software. I was working for a large US company, designing PDAs and wall- and vehicle-mounted computers for the industrial market, but, well, they decided they no longer wanted a remote design office buried in the Canadian prairies, where (as you'll know if you played Mikko Vuorinen's "The Adventures Of The President Of The United States") we have lots of trees, and that's about it. So, according to the outplacement people, I am now "exploring other opportunities." In fact, in the midst of writing this reply, I've had a very promising phone call. So perhaps things are finally happening. [Note: Michael sent a subsequent email with this update: "The phone call was very encouraging: I've now accepted a position with a small local company. Similar work, similar pay, so life is good." Hooray! --Paul] SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF? MC: *Sigh*It was 1983. I was ten years old, and my family had just purchased an Apple //e. We had Apple Adventure, whose puzzles made no sense to my logical little brain (throwing a bird at a snake?). The two word parser didn't do a lot for me either. But... my older brother then picked up the three Zork games, which had been in the top 10 for goodness knows how long, and I was immediately hooked. I still remember the thrill I got figuring out the placemat/letter opener puzzle in Zork II. Admittedly, if I hadn't been a rabid fan of Enid Blyton's novels, I might still be stuck there, but never mind. SPAG: Okay, let's get it out of the way. Though Risorgimento Represso got excellent reviews, one frequent complaint was that it is too long a game for the competition. Since I was probably one of the loudest complainers on that point, it's only fair you should get to air your side here. How do you respond to the criticism that your game was too large for the comp? MC: By placing 2nd. : ) Well, really, it boils down to a question of timing and exposure (no, I'm not talking about photography, bear with me). My game was largely completed in June, and went through beta-testing up to the end of August. At that point, I had a fairly polished, large-scale game. I could have released it publicly, where it would have been largely ignored, for a number of reasons. First-time author, Comp03 looming, and so on. The competition and the subsequent fall-out really chews up the last 4 months of the IF Calendar, and releasing a game outside the competition during that period just didn't seem reasonable. So, based on the advice of my beta-testers, and my own feelings, I opted to enter, hoping that the quality of the entry would make up for the overall length. In that, I appear to have been largely vindicated, though I can appreciate and understand why some people (no fingers here, Paul) marked it down. SPAG: One of the great things about RR's size is its ability to pack in a lot of fun, optional stuff, as shown by its prodigious AMUSING list. Would you care to mention any other fun tidbits that people may have missed, like the Infocom references? MC: There are references to a number of other Infocom games in RR (yes, I hate typing that full name too). Some are direct references, others are more of a subtle echo. Zork I is referenced in one of the cheese visions, as well as the items for sale in Sorcery Supply. The unclogging of the pipe in the basement, and the subsequent creation of the Plumbers Union background thread, were born out of my remembrance of the Zork I documentation, which discussed the plumber's FIZMO spell. Oh, and trying to look under the rug in search of trapdoors is thanks to Zork I, too. Zork II is paid homage to in a cheese vision, and the feckless Ninario is an echo of the infamous dunderheaded Wizard of Frobozz. Zork III's opening location gets a nod in a cheese vision, too, mainly because once Zork I and II were in there, I couldn't leave Zork III out. And once Zork III was in, I figured, "Why not Beyond Zork?", another of my favourites, so the bearskin rug hearkens back to that, and the old crone at Sorcery Supply is a subtle reminder of the old lady from Beyond Zork's shops. The description of the ratty, red flying carpet was based on the red carpet that the shady rug merchant tries to make you walk off with in Spellbreaker, though my red carpet flies, however briefly. Both getting into the farmyard and getting past the bear were inspired by Hitchhiker's, and my desire to create multi-stage puzzles similar to the infamous Babel fish one... The idea for the dumb waiter in a spellcasting/wizards-type game came from Legend Entertainment's Spellcasting 201 game, which isn't quite Infocom, but pretty close. And if you manage to hang around the market square or Vechlee gate area long enough, you'll eventually see the Leather Goddesses of Phobos tribute. Oh, and on a non-Infocom-related note, the ability to slap the chamberpot (instead of the helmet) on your head and fire yourself out of the cannon is my homage to another favourite game of mine, Monkey Island, where a (cooking) pot is used for the same purpose. And of course, I wanted to throw in a bear, because Adventure had one. SPAG: What was your creative process in coming up with the basic concepts of Risorgimento Represso? Were there any literary (or other) works that exerted a particularly strong influence? MC: I've always enjoyed Paul Dukas's symphonic poem, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", which is based on a Goethe ballad that tells the story of a young apprentice getting into trouble with the sorcerer's book of spells, while the sorcerer is out. It's a story everyone is familiar with, a lot of them via Walt Disney, but that's all right. I thought about turning that clichť of the sorcerer's apprentice on its head. So rather than have the inept student get into trouble and have the sorcerer bail him out, I wanted the inept master to get into trouble, and have the student bail him out. In addition, I went through a big Craig Shaw Gardner fit about ten years ago, and Ninario is certainly heavily influenced by Ebenezum from the "Ballad of Wuntvor" series. Ninario's "Mm-yes" is a direct response to Ebenezum's "Indeed". Of course, as mentioned in the game notes, the opening scene of the lecture hall and Ninario's library were based on the opening of a short story I'd already written along those themes. It wasn't going anywhere as fiction, but I saw some possibilities for it as Interactive Fiction. Most of the rest of the puzzles in the game grew naturally out of the environments I created as I went, and vice versa. I needed a town for the Guild Hall, and I wanted a way to create chaos in the Guild Hall to effect Ninario's rescue. I'm a big fan of foreshadowing, so I wanted an excuse to use the paint stripper again. Thus, I needed a location in town that had an excuse to have paint stripper in it. Hence, the abandoned woodcraft shop. So it all built up rather gradually, in terms of the rest of the game, with different elements feeding each other. SPAG: Several of the game's puzzles seem to indicate a rather strong interest in chemistry. Is that a personal interest of yours, or just something that seemed right for the game? MC: I took a few extra chemistry courses in high school, above and beyond the required, but remember precious little of it, other than a vague sense of enjoying it. However, I do like detail, especially authentic detail, which is why you can touch and examine the walls and floors in every room, and generally interact with the environment in the expected way. Lending verisimilitude to the class notes and the puzzles in the game through detailed use of chemistry was just an extension of that. SPAG: I was astonished to read in your bio that you and your wife have a seven-month-old (at least, as of the comp begin date) baby, and yet you still found the time to create such a polished and professional game. Any time management tips for the organizationally challenged among us? MC: Family? What family? Oh yes, those people who kept making noise when I was working on RR. My advice? If you have a family and want to work on IF, get a second computer. That was about the biggest challenge, the fact that I had the machine tied up most of the time, while I worked on the game. It was occasionally a problem, as my wife was in the throes of a Tropico addiction at the same time. As far as the baby goes, the 4 months I did most of the writing and coding were the first 4 months of his life, so in general, the evenings were available, apart from the Tropico factor. Oh, and he's 10 months old now. I'm sure, like every parent, that he's advanced for his age, but he still hasn't shown any interest in playing IF. The single best piece of advice I can offer, though, is to work to schedule. I worked on RR four evenings a week, for at least an hour, for four months. I didn't always keep what I created, and a lot of it was substantially changed later, but the important thing is to discipline yourself to at least do some of the project on a regimented basis. If you're having trouble with one portion, leave that portion and come back to it later. And by no means was RR written linearly! I found it just as easy to make the starting location the path outside the farm, and code the tree puzzle, before I had any way for the player to get there from Ninario's caer. If you have a general outline of the piece in your head, there's nothing to prevent you stopping work on a sticky patch, and moving to a fresh area for a while. It keeps you generating output, instead of staring at the monitor, and you can come back to the sticky patch later, a little older and a little wiser. SPAG: Along those lines, do you anticipate being able to write more IF in the future, and if so what are your plans? MC: I certainly want to create more IF. It was a very enjoyable experience, and I learned so much creating RR. As I have a keen interest in both writing and programming, I'd like to try some really novel ideas with IF, and try to create something with a more solid plot and storyline to it. I know the game notes for RR talk about a possible sequel and, while I'm interested in doing that at some point, I'd like to work on a different style of game first. I'm just not really sure what. You'll also be glad to know that my plans do not include entering an offensively long game into the competition again. At the moment, apart from helping out a bit with Inform 6.3, I've been fiddling around with game frameworks, finding ways to make life easier in my next game. I've been exploring a few library add-ons for handling scenery and adjectives, and I've also been working on a new model for handling Ask/Tell conversations, which should all cut down on the amount of hoop-jumping in my next piece. SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite games? MC: I loved Slouching Towards Bedlam. It was the only one that really intrigued me, and made me eager to play from the opening few moves. I also enjoyed Scavenger, Gourmet, Shadows on the Mirror and Episode in the Life of an Artist. There were a few other decent games, but I was mostly disappointed with the rest of the crop. We still seem to get a lot of games that are unfinished, untested and unpolished. SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition entrants? MC: 1) Don't enter long games in the competition. Oh. Oops. Okay, not exactly. If your game is too long, make sure that the part of it that everyone will see is really good, as it's the only thing that will save you. That being said, RR and Sophie's Adventure were the only two really long games I saw this year (but I did not play all the games). 2) Get your game tested. Repeat. Repeat. 3) Read Jessica Knoch's IF Comp Primer. Read it again. http://www.strangebreezes.com/if/writings/compguide.htm Oh yes: and FOLLOW it. That's the really important part. 4) If you want to put liquids in your game, don't : ) Or, use a library add-on that someone else has already debugged. 5) If you want to include a rope in your game, have it locked in an inaccessible display case. This makes writing ropes *easy*. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Quintin Stone, author of "Scavenger" -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth? QS: I'm a 29 year-old computer programmer currently living in North Carolina. Happily married to a very patient, very understanding, very wonderful woman. In my free time I enjoy computer and role-playing games while thinking I should do something much more constructive with my time. Which I never do. SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF? QS: My older brother was probably most instrumental in introducing me to many of my hobbies. He'd bring home all kinds of great games for our old Atari 800, including the Zork series, Planetfall, Enchanter, and the other great classics. I was 10 or 11 at the time, so I wasn't any good at solving most of the puzzles, but I had a lot of fun trying. SPAG: On the Scavenger web page, you assure us that Scavenger isn't your first IF game, just the first one you've written with a tool like TADS. Tell us more about those earlier games. QS: Wow, let's see. One that I remember best was for an 8th grade computer class project. It was more or less a direct rip-off of Planetfall: your ship crashed into an abandoned facility and you have to solve puzzles to get off of the planet. It was in BASIC on the IBM PC. Custom parser and everything, just like all of my old games. Another one I did around that time, in Atari BASIC, was eerily similar in some ways to the movie Gladiator. You are captured by a corrupt regime and forced to fight in an arena for the amusement of the emperor and his people. You have to find better and better weapons to fight progressively more difficult opponents until you finally kill the emperor himself. There was also a game I created where your village's sacred sword is stolen by a demon and you have to go and retrieve it. Those are just some of the ones I actually programmed. I have a number that I planned out but never got around to coding. One I designed in high school, heavily inspired by 2001, had you on the first human journey to Alpha Centauri, awakening from cryo-sleep to find your companions dead and the ship's computer trying to kill you. SPAG: Can you explain a little about the "Night's Edge" universe in which Scavenger takes place? What were some of your influences in creating that universe, and in creating Scavenger in particular? QS: Back in college, my friends and I were heavily into online text games: MUD, MUSH, MUSE, MUX, all those funny little acronyms. After college, some of us decided to open our own and we eventually chose to go with our own setting. This was early 1997, a couple years before any of us had played Fallout or Fallout 2, so I think our main inspiration at the time was sort of a mix of Road Warrior and William Gibson cyberpunk. Though our MUSH, "Night's Edge", never officially opened, we put a lot of thought into the structure of the society, the world's history, and its technology level. In 1999, I decided that I could use a lot of that as the foundation for a modification of Unreal Tournament and my team and I generated even more detail. It was mainly background information; no real effect on the gameplay, but it did set up the atmosphere so that all the violence in the game didn't exist in a vacuum. The setting isn't all that complex: one hundred years after a nuclear war, most of the surviving members of the human race have clustered within strange areas of inexplicably low radiation. One of the largest happened to be centered on a pre-war city called Arcadia, so it naturally became a prominent location. It's run by ruthless thugs who hold on to power by collecting and controlling technology while at the same time trying to convince the rabble that they're happy. Not a cheerful setting, but it makes for great conflict. SPAG: Since your game is set in the future, how about a prediction: what developments do you see happening in the IF world over the next five years or so? What would you most like to see happen? QS: I think we're seeing greater trends toward simulationist systems and games. I have the feeling that this will continue. Metamorphoses is a good example of this, where the objects have certain properties (size, weight, material, etc.) and the game recognizes those properties, not so much the objects themselves, for certain actions. From what I can tell, this kind of simulation is prominent in TADS 3, especially from what I've read from the discussions of the liquids library. I also feel we're seeing more games where multiple solutions are possible. If it's reasonable and it makes sense, allow it. SPAG: Speaking of projection, do you anticipate being able to write more IF in the future, and if so what are your plans? QS: Absolutely! Before the 2003 comp, I'd been putting together details for two games I hope to make. One is a gritty mystery with a lot of NPC interaction, the other a humorous and light-hearted puzzlish game. I haven't started code for either one yet. I've also got a whole list of possible ideas for the future (most of which will likely never see the light of day). SPAG: I was very impressed with the depth of implementation you achieved in Scavenger. About how long did it take you to write the game, from start to finish, and what was your process for working on it? QS: I started work on it in September of 2002. I was still working on it right up to the competition deadline in September 2003. So about a year overall, though there were long periods where I'd do little to no work on it, like when I'd be waiting for bug reports for instance. Or if I just needed a break. SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite games? QS: This is the second year I've played through all the games in the comp. I was sorry to see the number of games go down again (as it has since 2000) even though that made the job easier. The impression I got this year was that some authors are ignoring the importance of testers. I can say that Scavenger wouldn't have been nearly what it was without all my wonderful testers. My favorite would have to be Risorgimento Represso (even though for the life of me I can never remember the exact title without looking it up). Slouching Towards Bedlam gets high marks from me for its ability to create a specific mood. SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition entrants? QS: You know how they say the three most important words in real estate are Location, Location, Location? I think the three most important words in IF creation are Testing, Testing, Testing. Programmers just aren't good at thoroughly testing their own creations. It's some kind of mental blind spot, I think. You need a fresh pair of eyes to look at your creation and try some things you just didn't think of trying. Open yourself up to criticism. Testers aren't trying to hurt your feelings, they're trying to help you. 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: T. Henrik Anttonen TITLE: The Adventures of the President of the United States AUTHOR: Mikko Vuorinen EMAIL: mvuorine SP@G cc.helsinki.fi DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Alan Standard SUPPORTS: Alan interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/alan/apus This game only placed 21st in this year's IF Comp, but the name and the Finnish author attracted my attention enough to make me decide that Iím going to try to save my reputation after the horrid review of Pulsar 7 by reviewing this. This is a short game that I think is supposed to be funny, but it doesnít quite achieve its purpose. First of all, I donít find it particularly funny, and second, it isnít very easy to complete because of its technical imperfections. The basic idea is great. You are the (unnamed) president of the United States. But since the White House is such a boring place, allowing nothing beyond the destroying the world as entertainment, you decide to go on an adventure. Unfortunately, an over-protective secret service agent doesnít allow you to go and there you have your first puzzle. The biggest problem of the game is that it seems to be written too hastily. The room descriptions are insufficient and the parser doesnít allow you to look for details except in a few places. That makes the simple puzzles quite hard to solve; I have to admit that I had to consult the walkthrough several times only to find that the solution was right there in front of my face, but I couldn't have known it since it didnít appear in the room description. I liked the idea that after you get out of the White House, rooms are countries. I donít know if it has been done before, but that really gave a refreshing difference to the game. In your journeys as the president you get to visit Mexico, Canada, Russia, Finland and Sweden. In Finland you actually get to learn some Finnish. I didnít like the fact that the player isnít given any purpose other than the need to go out on an adventure. I know that this is one way of designing a game, but Iíve always liked when the player is given a purpose and a goal he needs to accomplish to get on with the game. When a game combines this sort of purposelessness with bad room descriptions, youíre in for a lot of headaches if you donít resort to the solution file. The parser is also quite limited. The author says he tried to avoid guess-the-verb puzzles this time, but unfortunately the parser understands only one way of expressing yourself most of the time and you have to guess a lot while playing. I didnít find any actual bugs though. So, to summarise: The game's basic idea has potential and the room-country design is refreshing, but the game falls to its technical problems. If the author wouldíve given some more time to actual programming and to the room descriptions, this wouldíve been a quite entertaining game. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Mike Russo [Originally posted on rec.games.int-fiction] TITLE: The Atomic Heart AUTHOR: Stefan Blixt EMAIL: flash SP@G df.lth.se DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/zcode/atomicheart VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) This could have been a really good game. The set-up is involving -- you spend most of the game wondering where exactly your loyalty lies, and under nearly constant threat of death -- there are a number of computer interface-based puzzles which could have been entertaining, and while the story deals with some fairly standard sci-fi tropes, there's a welcome sense of horror and desperation beneath it all. Unfortunately, all this promise is severely weakened by inadequate motivation, some questionable design choices, and an incredibly mulish parser. To start with the good parts: the robot revolution is a morally complicated thing for most of the game. While the "correct" side becomes clear towards the end, up until that point I found my sympathies conflicted; while the scenes of carnage wrought by the insurgent machines were terrible enough, the fact that I was playing a glorified appliance who recently became self-aware reinforced the idea that maybe they had a point. The other robots seemed dangerous, of course, but the humans were also shooting everything in sight, rendering them less than sympathetic. This sort of ethical quandary is a pleasant change of pace from the traditional IF conception of the protagonist as a force for all that is righteous. The puzzles also have quite a bit of potential; the use of different interfaces recalls A Mind Forever Voyaging, allowing the player character to control a variety of machinery. In practice, though, things fall down. To start with perhaps the smallest of the game's problems, motivation is inadequate throughout. While the initial section of the game is on rails, once things open up, I was at a loss to figure out why I was still sticking around. Upon moving outside and finding the intertwined carcasses of man and machine, I wanted to run away as quickly as I could. When that proved impossible, I poked around and found the kid I'd been assigned to watch over -- so, time to skedaddle with the tot in tow, right? No; in fact, I needed to make my way into the airbase, where people were hell-bent on shooting me! While the logic becomes clear once the endgame is reached, it all comes off as rather contrived; the only reason I was in the base was because the game wouldn't let me go anyplace else. The game also unfortunately doesn't start out with its best foot forward. The initial section is frustrating and punishingly timed. When confronted with a myriad of new commands and a nonhuman player character, my first impulse is to tinker and experiment; unfortunately, this led to a quick depletion of my charge. It took me several restarts before I figured out everything I needed to do, and I still hadn't really figured out what all the cables drooping out of my body were for. Matters aren't helped by the inexplicable decision to cut to the framing story upon losing the game and not tell the player that he's now in an unwinnable state -- I spent a good long time trying to get my new Air Force persona to do something useful before I realized that I needed to reload. Finally, the custom commands had me tearing my hair out in frustration. Much of this was due to the fact that "ATTACH" and "CONNECT" aren't quite implemented the same way; my first impulse was to use the former, but the game wound up preferring the latter. Descriptions would say that cables were connected to each other when the game wasn't actually recognizing that they were, which led to much anguish. Then there's the Walkdozer, which you spend a good chunk of the game piloting. Unfortunately, getting in and out of the thing is an exercise in frustration, since the door isn't actually implemented. In theory OPEN WALKDOZER, CLOSE WALKDOZER, EXIT WALKDOZER and ENTER WALKDOZER should be all you need, but some synonyms would have been nice, especially since I ran into a nasty bug where OPEN WALKDOZER would return "which do you mean, the Valvo Walkdozer or the Valvo Walkdozer Operating System?" All attempts at disambiguation failed, necessitating yet another restart. It's impossible to leave the Walkdozer without unplugging from the thing, of course, but instead of this task being elegantly handled behind the scenes, the player is forced to go through the process manually, and again, I hit many snags. A sample transcript: >DROP CABLE The GSTS interface cable is already here. >REMOVE CABLE (first taking the GSTS interface cable) You're not wearing that. >EXIT You need to let go of the interface cable before you move. >DROP INTERFACE CABLE Dropped. Oi. I also stumbled across what in retrospect was probably a bug, but which confused me mightily at the time; going west from one of the airfield locations dumps the player in Darkness. At first I thought I had taken too many gunshots and had lost power, which led to much frustrated fiddling and still another restart. In fairness, I don't think the room's description mentioned an exit to the west, but I was trying to get from one side of the compound to the other quickly so I was just typing "W" "[ENTER]" over and over until I stopped. For all my griping, I still wound up liking Atomic Heart; as I said, it's got promise, and the final puzzle has a solution that's at once clever, obvious, and poetic. Any game that leaves me saying "wow, so this is how Jim Jones must have felt!" can't be all bad. Still, it could have been so much more. I'd encourage the author to work on a post-comp release; with a little tweaking, he could have an excellent game on his hands. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Mike Russo [Originally posted on rec.games.int-fiction] TITLE: Baluthar AUTHOR: Chris Molloy Wischer EMAIL: breathingmeat SP@G graffiti.net DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/zcode/baluthar VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) The opening Ecclesiastes quote immediately got me on this game's side. The fact that existential apathy prevented me from moving off the bed until I found some motivation was another bright mark. In general, I think motivating the player is a very important and oft-overlooked component of a good opening, and Baluthar's got me to buy into the game almost immediately. Unfortunately, I didn't find the rest of the game quite as compelling as the first few moves. Part of this is due to the prose; it's euphonic and at times evocative, but sometimes drowns in its own wordiness. Take this description of the terrain around the player character's hut: "the vegetation of the forest where you make your home is austere and shadowy, as is typical of plants in your country." Austere and shadowy, that's good, but that last tacked on clause takes the wind right out of the image. Still, this is a minor complaint, and there are some intriguingly creepy ideas on offer -- the skull which reclothes itself in flesh and the ghoul which is the grown-up form of a zombified child are off-kilter and memorable. The dungeon beneath the well could have degenerated into cheesiness redolent of a Hammer flick, but the author does a good job keeping the parade of monsters distinct and horrific. The puzzles are logical and generally quite well-integrated into the game. While some of them are a bit rote (learning the name of the ghost, finding a light source), others are fairly clever, especially the one involving the skeleton's key, where the player is never quite sure if he's doing the right thing or something monumentally stupid. The hint system is complete and does a good job of providing useful nudges before spoiling the whole thing. Where Baluthar ultimately fails is in engaging the player's emotions. We're told of the horrifying invasion from above, but we don't see the immediate effects of their tyranny, and it thus never quite connects. Without this goad driving the plot, Rykhard's actions appear idiotic and foolhardy -- as indeed they're meant to, but instead of sympathizing with the pain that led him to make his choice, we're just frustrated with him. The opening sets us up to expect a tale of existential paralysis, but once in the dungeon the player character is disappointingly heroic. The dread god Baluthar might weigh heavily on the minds of the player character and his son, but we never see his glowering visage driving home the hopelessness of the situation, which drastically reduces the effectiveness of the (thematically quite neat) denouement. Rykhard's mind has been changed, true, but that all happened off-screen; the player character hasn't evolved as a result of his experiences, which undercuts the sense of closure the author is trying to sell. All in all, the fact that I'm nitpicking some details of prose and the mechanics of player investment rather than bemoaning poor coding and broken puzzles argues very much in Baluthar's favor. It's got a good opening and some neat ideas, and while it isn't quite great, it's nonetheless a very solid game. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: J. Robinson Wheeler [Originally posted on rec.games.int-fiction and on Rob's website at http://raddial.com/if/reviews/comp03_reviews.html] TITLE: Caffeination AUTHOR: Michael Loegering EMAIL: loegering SP@G earthlink.net DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/zcode/caffeination VERSION: Release 0 (competition version) Okay, there are a lot of problems with this game, but I'm going to try to be constructive about it. This is a game where the author is having an enormously good time and the player is having no fun at all. That's a heck of a problem, and it's a sad one to have to point out to someone who's got a big cheesy grin on his face. This author went wrong somewhere along the line, and had no clue he was creating a total misfire, even has he continued to pack in numerous contrivances and clever details and elaborate red herrings and locations and multiple puzzles with multiple solutions. I'm sure he thought it would be a lot of fun. In a way, it reminded me of my first Comp entry, "Four in One," which was packed with all sorts of fun details that only a few players ever saw because the main game wasn't fun enough to warrant exploration. The setting of the game is kind of a limp workplace satire that looks like it fell through a wormhole from the 1999 Comp. Meet your boss, Mr. Norom. Ho ho ho. That kind of thing. First location of the game: a cubicle with a computer. Next sixteen locations of the game: everyone else's cubicles. Sigh. I halfheartedly played along for ten minutes, and felt totally lost as to what to do. The author provided no focus at all. Sure, there was a stated goal: get a big cup of coffee. But that fails to provide any focus when you're rambling around trying to interact with thinly-implemented NPCs and office settings. I found a hidden hole puncher and a coffee maker and some day-old coffee grounds, and I did somebody else's work because a notepad suggested I try that, and then I gave up. I went to the walkthrough file, and, just like I did with last year's limp workplace satire, "BOFH," I ended up just reading the whole thing and quitting then and there, because (just like last year) I could see there was no point to trying to come up with the contorted solutions to each stage of the game on my own. The walkthrough made it clear that I'd have to be the author in order to solve the author's puzzles. For example, I mentioned that I found a hole puncher, which I assumed had something to do with punching the holes on the freebie coffee card I also found. But, that wouldn't work until I also did the following: Escape the office and go to the Buy 'n Blow. Enter and exit the shop until you see a message that the store is being robbed. Go tell the cop about it and go back to the store. You will see the theif being arrested and drop something. It is his knife. Get the knife and cut the card three times. Presto! Instant legitimate coffee card. Can you see the problem with the above? In order for me to be pursuing this goal, my efforts have to be somewhat directed. I could spend two hours wandering around the game map, running through laundromats and bookstores and finding all sorts of items and fighting off rats and never hit upon the idea of waiting for a store to be robbed so that I can tell a cop to arrest the guy so that he drops the item I need to finish the work I started with the hole puncher. The mind boggles. And yet, I can emit a long, slow whistle at the hours the author must have put in to implement all of these nifty ideas of his. You can't let your players flail around trying to read your mind. You have to use the game's text to give them direction and focus. This game was all over the place, even in the smaller section of being trapped in the office. I have a feeling this author is going to be somewhat surprised and very disappointed at how his game places in the final rankings. Because I didn't give this game much of an honest chance and quit to read the walkthrough, I have to decide whether to recuse myself and not vote on it, or just give it a score based on its failure to engage me. I guess I will choose the latter. RATING: 4 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: J. Robinson Wheeler [Originally posted on rec.games.int-fiction and on Rob's website at http://raddial.com/if/reviews/comp03_reviews.html] TITLE: Cerulean Stowaway AUTHOR: Roger Descheneaux EMAIL: rpd SP@G world-nexus.com DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 standard SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/tads2/stowaway VERSION: Competition release This comic, old-school science fiction game gave me a bad feeling at the very beginning, with introductory text that ran on for a couple of screen pages before the first prompt. Normally, that turns me off right away. However, when I took the time to read it all, it was fairly amusing. Funny enough to make me feel like there would be some chuckles to be had along the way. I actually had to take more than two hours to finish this game, even though it is not particularly large. It was one puzzle after another, and eventually, despite the in-game hint system, I got stuck. The hint system was welcome, but broke down after a certain point. I kind of got faked out by it, in that I learned to rely on it -- at one point, at the most complicated puzzle, the final hint in the sequence for that area goes ahead and spells out exactly all of the things you need to do -- so that when it thinned out and stopped being specific, I was left flailing around. There's nothing quite as frustrating as being trapped in a very small map with a pretty limited set of objects, and having no idea how to make the game proceed. You end up pacing around, staring at the same sixteen locations and the same inventory of red herrings over and over and over again. In the end, a combination of this and the game's other problem (which I'm about to get to) made me deduct a point from the score I was going to give it just for being a generally entertaining old-school game. Here's an instance of something that, as a player, bothered me: Window Washers' Scaffold Across a small gap to the east is the open hatchway of the Cerulean ship. Falling into the gap would most likely be fatal, but you're certain that you can jump into the spaceship with little difficulty. >jump You jump up and down. It's like being on a pogo stick, except without the pogo stick. >jump to hatchway I don't know the word "hatchway". >jump to hatch I don't know the word "hatch". >jump to ship I don't know the word "ship". >jump into spaceship I don't recognize that sentence. >x spaceship I don't see any spaceship here. >jump to shuttle I don't recognize that sentence. >jump gap I don't know the word "gap". >e Cerulean Landing Vehicle The interior of the Cerulean landing vehicle is made of the same shimmering metal as the outside of it. [...] If an author tells me, "you're certain that you can jump into the spaceship with little difficulty," I expect >JUMP INTO THE SPACESHIP to be implemented. I mean, come on. The nastiest bit of business like this begins when you finally make it to the alien ship. Everything on the ship has a label of some sort. You get some glasses that allow you to read the language. I guess maybe it was because the author wanted to allow for you not having the glasses, and so separated out the reading of things to be handled separately, or maybe it's just a case of TADS allowing READ to be a separate verb from EXAMINE, unlike Inform. (Inform can be made to do this, of course, but TADS comes with a 'readable' class in the standard library.) But it drove me batty, examining things only to be told "It has some writing on it.", forcing me to READ it: >x wax The can of floor wax has some writing on it. >read it Some English writing on the can of floor wax reads, "Floor Wax. Warning: Highly Flammable! Keep away from fire". Highly flammable floor wax? Is that safe? You suspect that they the Ceruleans got a really good price for this at some liquidation center. Why not just tell me what it says when I'm examining it? Gradually, grudgingly, I trained myself to use the READ command instead of typing X, but old habits die hard. I play a lot of IF. I'm used to EXAMINE, you know, printing descriptions of things. Here's a choice encounter with this problem: Security Center A bank of monitors fills most of the north wall, and a huge control console fills the west wall. >x console The control console has three basic panels on it: an output panel, an input panel, and an action panel. Each of these panels has further controls on it. >x output Which output do you mean, the output panel, or the output control dial? >panel The output panel has an output control dial and some writing on it. >read output panel Some Cerulean writing on the output panel reads, "Output panel. Select output location using the dial below". >read input panel Some Cerulean writing on the input panel reads, "Input selection panel. Select input source using the dial below". >x input dial The input control dial has some writing on it. >read input dial Some Cerulean writing on the input control dial reads, [...] >x action panel The action control panel has some writing on it. Three buttons are set into it: one red, one green, and one blue. >read action buttons I don't see any action buttons here. >x red Which red do you mean, the battered red lunchbox, or the red button? >button This button has some writing on it. >read red button Some Cerulean writing on the red button reads, "Stop". It took me too long to figure out that the bulk of the game was all about finding ways to dispatch alien guards one at a time, until I'd offed enough of them to get to the endgame. It wasn't until after I'd hit the two-hour mark that I realized this was the point of it all. Just when I was about to quit, I hit on this idea, so I finally saw what was apparently a winning ending about twenty minutes later, although I only had 126 out of 161 points. The most I ever got was 145 points. I have no idea how you get the last sixteen lousy points, but I don't care to try. Hmm. Writing about this and reliving my gripes has made me deduct another point. This game might have gotten a score of 7 from me in the best possible case: amusing, with some interesting puzzles, but still built from a clichťd set of ideas at the core. That'd be worth a 7 on my scale. However, I got frustrated and stuck a lot, and the READ thing was pretty annoying, and I wasn't able to finish in two hours. Sorry, but that's how it goes, I guess. RATING: 5 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Virginia Gretton TITLE: Episode In The Life Of An Artist AUTHOR: Peter Eastman EMAIL: None provided DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/tads2/artist VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) Never judge a book (virtual or otherwise) by its title I told myself as I opened up the game. I might be a scientist who thinks chemistry is the best subject on the planet, but a title like "Episode In The Life Of An Artist" does not necessarily mean an arty, poetic, puzzleless offering. The opening scene is a bedroom, which could have been instantly sleep-inducing for the player. Luckily, I was fascinated by the author's choice of quotations and continued. Exploring led me into a pretty run-of-the-mill dressing sequence but at least I wasn't trapped in one room waiting to discover the magic command that would open up the game. And the kitchen was fun for a few turns. A possibly frustrating time is encountered outside the house but it doesn't defeat the intellect to find the key to moving the action along. Entertainment is provided while this section is unfolding its vital pieces of information. And then -- suddenly -- the game began to grow on me. Almost against my will. There is a wonderful sequence after the PC reaches the main game destination, which speaks volumes about his pernickety attention to dress code. The timing is exactly right and the PC's shock at the event is an enduring memory. Yes, there are bugs. Yes, there are times when starting again is the only thing to do. The game still managed to overcome my irritation at its implementation and logic gaps. It made me want to finish. I'm glad I did, because the final screens are worth the playing time by themselves. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Paul E. Coad I really enjoyed playing Peter Eastman's entry in the IFComp, "Episode in the Life of an Artist." This is largely because game contains many references to and is in the style of other works that I have enjoyed. After playing the first section, I nearly quit and moved on to the next game on my list, but I was completely hooked by the second. The game's tone is much lighter than many other of the games in the comp, it's playable in 2 hours, and it's fun. The story starts with the character in bed with the alarm buzzing. The remainder of the initial section is concerned with getting cleaned up, dressed and ready for work. This part is a little dull but serves to introduce the character. Most story-oriented games contain few or simple puzzles, and Episode is no exception. None of the puzzles are very difficult and a few are just tedious. Still, they are not the point; they're just plot devices. The writing is simple but of high quality. The game is segmented into discrete areas. Within each area the player has freedom to explore, but once one of the trigger actions occurs, the character is moved to a new segment. At first this is a bit jarring but it is a relief not be required to, for instance, find the bus stop, right bus, etc. The setting is a skewed version of the intersection between the here and now, Zork, and Daniel Pinkwater universes, with bits of others mixed in. Included in the Zork references is a mention of a "five zorkmid bill" being in the character's wallet. Usually the references to the Zork universe take the form of similar items or locations. On the Pinkwater side, several his books contain variations on the chicken man. His appearance in this game kept me playing when I was just about to quit and move on to the next entry to be judged. More than the chicken man has the Pinkwater vibe. The structure of the story, its simple and childlike main character, and the strange characters/machines/job are all common Pinkwater elements. Also included are nods to HHTG, and likely a few more that I missed. At the end of some movies while the credits are being shown, outtakes from the filming are shown as well. Jackie Chan movies do these particularly well. They show funny mistakes, goof-ups, and occasionally Jackie Chan being taken away in ambulances. They do not add to the story, but they add some extra humor and a peek at the human side of the people involved. We are invited to laugh with the actors instead of just at the characters. Some Pixar movies also contain outtakes at the end. These, however, are obviously scripted, animated, rendered, and artificial. In Episode, after the end of the game the player is given the option to view outtakes. These were mostly well done, but felt more like the Pixar outtakes than the ones from Jackie Chan. The game is not perfect. The beginning is slow. The end is abrupt. Parts of the game are scripted in ways which are a little sloppy. In a few places, long asides are added to room descriptions; these make sense the first time the location is entered, but break the mood when they are shown each time the player enters the location. None of these problems is enough of a problem to really knock off too many points off my score. I rated this game a 7 in the judging. It placed a respectable 11th. Hopefully we will see more games from Peter Eastman. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Virginia Gretton TITLE: The Erudition Chamber AUTHOR: Daniel T. Freas EMAIL: erthwin SP@G cox.net DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/tads2/erudite VERSION: Competition release I came away from this game feeling I would forgive the author anything. Although I'm a non-fan of MUDs -- from which the game derives inspiration -- the opening pulled me in. I am not aware of visualising in any conscious way normally but such a vivid image was conjured by the opening description that I laughed out loud. This (more than any other piece in the competition) reminded me of the heady days when we queued to pay money for adventure games. A time when whole weeks were lost fighting with puzzles and resisting hints from coded clues in the back of the manual. I loved the way situations had multiple and logical solutions. It was compulsive in a self-assessing way because you just had to find out which sect fitted you best. I also loved the way doors disappeared behind you as new areas were entered. I was left in no doubt that I should go forward with the equipment in my current inventory. No fifty-move treks across the map to retrieve an essential object discarded earlier. The central puzzle was a perfect struggle of my intellect against the Maester. I was meant to prove myself and the contrived game world became perfectly believable to me. So what do I need to forgive the author for? Only that The Erudition Chamber ended much, much too soon. I would have happily continued through another five or six tests. Bravo! -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: J.D. Berry TITLE: Gourmet AUTHOR: Aaron A. Reed EMAIL: reed SP@G aaronareed.net DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://aaronareed.net/main.php3?topic=explore&meme=gourmet VERSION: I'm reviewing the Comp '03 release, but there's a Release 1.2 at http://aaronareed.net/memes/gourmet/gourmet.1_2.z5 "My name is James, and I'll be your sommelier this evening. Might I recommend a bottle of Gourmet '03? It's a delightful game with a hint of sitcom in the nose. Bananas repeat on the palate where they are joined by the flavors of panic and pain. Its upbeat character fades with a long, slow finish." Like any method actor, the interactive fiction player will ask throughout the production, "what's my motivation?" Like a director, the interactive fiction author must continually inspire that motivation. A straightforward mission--"you hate this person and will do everything to destroy him"--is usually enough for the director to give to the actor, but it's only a first step for the author to give to the player. If the author wants to ensure player motivation at all times, the author must: * Provide and maintain a fresh, intelligent setting. * Initiate and maintain empathy with the protagonist and his/her/its predicament. * Integrate the setting and predicament through story and/or puzzles. * Set a pace the player can follow, upping the stakes gradually. * Since the story usually progresses only when the player does, entertain when the player doesn't. So, how does Gourmet fare? Reed nails the setting. The Mack n' Geez combines authenticity (I feel like I'm really in a restaurant) with imagination (but I'm not in a boring restaurant). The kitchen displays its practical side with cutting boards, spice racks and dishwashers. But, oh, there's also a pneumatic tube food delivery system -- cool. The dining area has the usual tables and chairs. Yet, there's a band on stage armed with an extremely limited repertoire of big band tunes -- charming. Perhaps to maintain the setting's freshness, Reed might have added a section to the building that was inaccessible for part of the story. One of the sick workers has the only key to -- I don't know -- a reserved wine cellar, and he stumbles in near the end of the story to give it to you. Admittedly this may be my personal Pavlovian thrill of discovering new locations. I like the physical layout of the restaurant. Even though, I, the player, had never been there, I felt like I, the manager, had practically lived there. Reed's descriptions make the rooms' exits familiar and natural: A small doorway north to your office is half-hidden behind the fridge. A set of swinging double doors lead east to the seating area, a back door west to an alley, and an iron-wrought spiral staircase leads down to the wine cellar. The setting merits a Xyzzy nomination in its own right, but also because it illustrates how a setting can strengthen other elements of a game. In this case, it breathes life into the player character (PC) and his motivations. The PC has devoted his life to the culinary arts. There's a mission statement -- own a five-star restaurant. That's all you the player know, and that's all you really need to know. Something like 80% of all restaurants fail. Success demands total commitment and more than a few dashes of luck. You are a chef, indeed, and you wear many other hats as well. There's no time for character-defining choices and angst-ridden soul-searches when there's all this celery to chop. Achieving your vision? Well, you can't just say you have five stars. An eminent personage in the biz must deem you worthy. Luck rained on you this morning -- yes, the noted food critic Vera Davenport will be visiting, and you know about it ahead of time. Better get busy. Er, I mean really busy. So, you, the player character, aren't particularly defined*, but there's no ambiguity or pretension -- you know who you are and what you're about. You, the player, care because somehow the restaurant itself seems like a living entity -- your baby. You must nurture it. It's under your care. Suddenly, here's its one and perhaps only chance to go to college. Better get really, really busy. If the restaurant were generic food joint number five, would I care? Do you want cold fries with that? To satisfy my curiosity after completion, I returned to various saved games. I typed z (the wait command) repeatedly. There aren't any timers. I generated the pressure internally (mostly, though, only early in the game). Here, I credit Reed's game design choices. He wisely omitted a warning daemon telling me every third line to hurry up. He avoided a "you failed to optimize your moves and now you've botched the whole shebang." He handed me the ball of anxiety and let me run with it. Reed integrated the setting and predicament well, especially in the first parts of the game. The "puzzles" were reasonably clued and pitched in terms of difficulty, also more effectively so during the first half of the game. Though some solutions were quite odd, they always fit the game's tone and were usually hilarious. Alas, the pace. Unfortunately, play bogs down as the main course commences. The story structure is fine -- it "ups the ante" emotionally (and physically -- ouch!) The complexity is fine -- it should be more difficult at this stage. However, the player can't (at least this player couldn't) keep the pace. With so many hoops to jump through while the implied timer ticks, the implementation must be flawless and the solutions must be intuitive. But the implementation was shaky in spots, and the solutions were fairly reasonable but not intuitive. The conversation system shows attention and care, but it's still rather sparsely implemented. This is fine when you just have to make small talk (like in the first part), but frustrating when you need to communicate more specifically (like during the main course.) Not only was the implementation shaky at times, but also inadequate feedback from the customers, in the form of complaints and feigned disgust, led to my disbelief that I was under any real deadline. What had been an asset in the beginning was a liability by the main course. The second-half pacing is my only real complaint, although it's a big one. When I like a game, such issues stand out all the more. I was happily whistling along and the tune got away from me. Since Gourmet is an experience, a comic episode, it can afford a misfired joke or a puzzle that stretches reality. It can't afford leaving the player confused and a scene behind. Ah, yes, I'm grumbling too much. I really did like Gourmet. Just eat the steak, and leave the little strip of fat, will you, dude? How about the general entertainment? How was the writing? Excellent. I loved the descriptions of even the most mundane things. I enjoyed Reed's natural and personal writing style, capturing the mood and situation perfectly. >open dishwasher Business has been slow tonight, so there aren't any dishes in there just now. >x kettle This dingy old kettle was one of the first pieces of cookware you owned, a gift from your great-uncle on your eighth birthday. The water in the kettle is steaming and looks close to boiling. Absorb passages like those, over time, and you eventually become immersed in the world and the character "him"self. "You'll have the Gourmet, then? Excellent. Oh, dear, I seem to have spilled it all over you..." --- *The following articles present the advantages and disadvantages of defining the PC: Doug Atkinson's "Character Gender and Interactive Fiction" http://www.xyzzynews.com/xyzzy.3h.html John Wood's "Player Character Identity in IF" http://www.xyzzynews.com/xyzzy.9d.html Duncan Stevens' "The Player Character's Role in Game Design" http://brasslantern.org/writers/iftheory/pcrole.html -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Cirk Bejnar TITLE: Internal Documents AUTHOR: Tom Lechner EMAIL: lechner SP@G ispwest.com DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/zcode/internal VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) At last! A real game! This was the first title the Comp03 randomizer gave me that was neither terminally bugged nor in aid of a specific gimmick. I certainly enjoy text adventures -- that's why I judge the Comp, after all -- but this one was not quite perfect. Firstly, puzzle design. Several of the puzzles require reading the author's mind, but in strikingly different ways. Getting into the estate requires an unmotivated action. Sure I could do that, but why? The basement puzzle has decidedly non-standard syntax. The game accepts *that* phrasing? And using the computer requires that the steps be done in a particular order. I completed it on my own, but the game wouldn't advance until I had gone back and followed the walkthrough. Nothing that can't be cleared up in a post-comp release. Even then, however, this wouldn't really be a ten, for me. I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it has something to do with how the theme of electoral fraud falls flat with me. But I think the real problem is the connection between the story and the puzzles. Both elements are present but they consistently fail to connect. I wanted to learn more about the house, the damming of the river, how Holden got connected to Gov. Blight, but the game just doles out enough to keep the plot moving along. Details are sometimes colorful, but they never add up to a satisfying picture. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Virginia Gretton TITLE: The Recruit AUTHOR: Mike Sousa with J.D. Berry, Jon Ingold, and Robb Sherwin EMAIL: mjsousa SP@G comcast.net DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/tads2/recruit VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) Now here is a game I could get to grips with. Playing immediately after my thoroughly vexing and bewildering experience with Slouching Towards Bedlam (I apologise to Star and Daniel for my ignorance but I didn't discover the story, didn't get the machines to work and was flummoxed by the weird text on certain screens), I spent some of the two hours thinking about the kind of IF player I must be. I finished the game in the allotted time but only because I took a managerial decision to deduct the personality assessment time and restart the clock (shush, don't tell anyone). The opening screen invites you to choose your gender and reminded me of menu-driven role playing games. Don't be put off -- the reason for gender choice is innocent fun and non-MUD in character. I found the game concept fresh but I may just have been in a logic-starved state. Puzzles are the entire point of the piece and a reasonable explanation is given for your presence in this world. The first scene is relatively gentle and (filled with confidence) I launched myself into the second sector. There I spent over 40 minutes in a state of refusing to be beaten. There are only so many things that can be touched or otherwise manipulated; how hard could it be? Later scenes of the game felt very American to this English girl but that is a comment, not a gripe. The purple room was so elegant in its complex simplicity that I found myself applauding mentally. I was slightly disappointed to discover a previously undeclared collaboration of authors. I hadn't noticed changes in writing style, so the final product must have been well edited. The concept is clever and the implementation rewards player effort, but still I felt let down. Surely all that brainpower (the names were of the famous variety) should have produced more game for my money. Is that is a backhanded compliment? I didn't want the game to end so I felt the collaboration could have produced more puzzles and extended the playing pleasure. The description of The Recruit's evolution (accessed at the end of the game) is entertaining in itself. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Mike Russo [Originally posted on rec.games.int-fiction] TITLE: Risorgimento Represso AUTHOR: Michael Coyne EMAIL: coyne SP@G mts.net DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/zcode/risorg VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) This game initially threw me for a loop; given the intimidating title and the scholastic setting of the opening, I was expecting a much more historical take than the one I was presented. My initial notes involved a fair amount of griping about such anachronisms as the use of Mendeleev's periodic table, but once I grasped what kind of game I was in for, I had a much more pleasant time. Risorgimento is a whimsical, well-coded adventure in the Infocom tradition, distinguished by some very entertaining puzzles. The plot is nothing terribly involving -- the player character is a student desperately trying to make his (her?) way back to the modern day -- but that's not really the focus of this offering. Instead, it's the series of challenges facing the player that are responsible for keeping the interest level high, and fortunately, they succeed at this task quite admirably. The author should be congratulated for removing much of the annoyance often associated with IF: doors automatically open and unlock, for example, which makes exploration stress-free. The environment unfolds gradually, with new areas opening up in a logical, manageable fashion; although there are quite a few locations, I never felt lost or unsure of what I should be working on. Although an inventory limit is implemented, the bottomless satchel greatly ameliorates the irritation. Really, the only complaint I had was that reading the notebook cycled through three different passages, only one of which was useful for a particular puzzle (although while writing this review, I discovered that READ CHEM jumps directly to the appropriate section, a thoughtful convenience.) NPC interaction is slim, but what there is works fairly well; one doesn't expect the absent-minded wizard or the bored gate-guard to be very interested in chit-chat, after all. The writing is workmanlike and seemed almost completely error-free. I did run into one coding oddity -- attempting to pick up the iron key Ninario dropped after his abduction sometimes returned a complaint about the difficulty of taking it home with me. Just about every object I thought to examine was implemented, and the overall attention to detail was satisfying; the author indicates that he spent almost three months testing and revising, and the effort shows. The meat of the game really comes in the puzzles, and the quality is again consistently high. The second I read the chemistry notes, I knew that I would need to make some gunpowder, but the in-game clues were robust enough that I didn't even need to look up atomic numbers to complete this section -- it was deep enough to be interesting but not complicated to the point of frustration. The misadventures at the farm are another high point -- when you're standing at the top of a tree, wearing welding-goggles, a helmet, and a bear rug, and holding a cannonball, and every step along the way made perfect sense, that's good puzzle design, right there. While some obstacles were a bit hard, some judicious tyromancy was usually good for a nudge in the right direction, and many problems had more than one solution. I might quibble with some of the implementations (a few seem rather difficult without some outside knowledge -- the Greek meaning of arktos, the presence of methane in human waste, etc. -- and it took me a long time to figure out that AIM CANNON AT DOORS was the proper syntax), but overall the puzzles were fair and well-clued. The only thing holding Risorgimento back from a higher rating is the fact that I do tend to prefer my games a bit more plot-heavy, but really, that's merely a minor issue of personal taste. The level of care and conscientiousness that went into this game is impressively high (look at the list of AMUSING actions if you need any more proof!), and I hope we'll have a sequel to look forward to next year! -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: J. Robinson Wheeler [Originally posted on rec.games.int-fiction and on Rob's website at http://raddial.com/if/reviews/comp03_reviews.html] TITLE: Sardoria AUTHOR: Anssi Raisanen EMAIL: anssi.raisanen SP@G cop.fi DATE: October 2003 PARSER: ALAN standard SUPPORTS: ALAN interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/alan/sardoria VERSION: 1.0 (competition release) Normally, I don't play ALAN games, mostly because they're a lot of extra trouble. There doesn't seem to be a way (and I might be wrong about this) of automatically saving a transcript, and that's something I like to do when playing comp games, so that I can refer back to it when writing reviews. [Editor's note: Apparently, ALAN games can in fact generate a transcript when they are started at the command line with the -L switch. This fact does not necessarily overturn Rob's point about these games being "a lot of extra trouble." --Paul] As a result, I ended up doing this very tedious thing of copy-and-pasting a screenful of text at a time from the ALAN terp window into a text editor every twenty seconds. This has served to make me grumpy and irritable and likely to rate the game more harshly than I would have if it had been an Inform or TADS game, which isn't really fair. Maybe I'll add a point at the end to try to compensate, but that isn't really fair, either, I suppose. This is a fairly standard and fairly short old-school type game set in a castle with dining halls, secret passages, a bearded old wizard, and a king who's in trouble. That sort of thing. You start out in a locked room, and figuring out how to get out of there was, to me, the most troublesome puzzle of the game. I went to the hints fairly quickly, and all they did was suggest that something else was hidden in the room with me. Given the extremely limited set of things to interact with, I eventually found it, but it was a total read-the-author's-mind type of situation. The next puzzle after that was equally perplexing. I guess if I'd really taken the time to examine everything (which I was steered away from doing, because it was a kitchen full of knickknacks, the first dozen or so of which yielding nothing more than a note saying that they're not worth playing with), I might have figured it out on my own. Instead, I used the WALKTHROUGH command. After that, things went a little better. I'm an old hand at looking behind things and finding secret passages and so forth. There was a curious cultural gap that made one puzzle here a bit more of a stumper than it was supposed to be, I think. You have a clue sheet of abstract concepts, and then a grid of icons you have to touch, matching the concepts. Two of the concepts were "night" and "wisdom". One of the icons was an owl. The mismatch and the correct solution are left as an exercise for the reader. Later on, I unintentionally found the solution to a puzzle because an NPC blurted out the solution, due to a bug, as if I'd already stumbled on it and was showing him the results. Oh well, whatever works. Just after this, there was something that I guess was a bug -- I was told to proceed through a set of color-coded doors in a certain order, and that order was incorrect: two of the colors needed to be swapped in order for me to get to the end. I don't know what that was about, but it seems like a beta-tester should have found that. Unless it was deliberate, in which case, it was just weird. Right after that, there was a puzzle that reminded me of something I made fun of in one of last year's games. It's the equivalent of going into a room with a gigantic vault safe, with a description saying, "Oh no! How will you ever get this open? Also, there's a note attached to the safe." Examining the note says, "The combination is 59-73-102." Makes you wonder whether it even qualifies as a puzzle at that level. Following one more read-the-author's-mind puzzle, the game suddenly ended, and I had won. Uh -- okay. Well, that was, hmm, brief, I guess. There is nothing especially bad about the game, but nothing especially unique about it, either. Sometimes I like old-school games like this, but this one left me kind of wishing for more in the way of entertainment value. My natural reaction would be to rate this one a 4, but is that because I was grumpy about the lack of a logging feature? Hmm, nah, I think it's because that's the proper rating to give it. RATING: 4 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Virginia Gretton TITLE: Scavenger AUTHOR: Quintin Stone EMAIL: stone SP@G rps.net DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/tads2/scavenger VERSION: Version 1.0 (competition release) This game was well-coded and extensively tested. I was given choices at the beginning, which worried me in case no-win states lay just beyond the horizon. Happily, that was not the case. The setting did not excite me for a long time. And being forced to abandon a child in a hostile world went against the grain. Still, it is a means to an end -- a workman-like way of coding progression. Inside the main location, I was frustrated by clear solutions combined with inability to get the required response. That said, the tension built nicely and crept up on me unawares. The conclusion was satisfying and mollified my buried worries about child abuse. Multiple endings were sufficiently interesting to make me want to try them. In some ways this game achieved more than my favourite entry -- it drew me in and held my attention in a very subtle way. If Scavenger were a book, I would find myself pre-ordering the author's next title from Amazon. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Cirk Bejnar My favorite game of the Comp, this old-school gem combines well-done puzzles with evocative prose to create an intriguing world. You are cast as a scavenger in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, seeking some secret technology of the ancients. This provides a nice explanation for why you go off exploring behind every desk and pick up anything not nailed down. One feature of note is the many alternate solutions that are coded. There is a store in the opening portion of the game where you have a choice of several items. Most of them are optional and they provide the game with a fair amount of replayability. From a technical standpoint, Scavenger is superb. Most actions are anticipated and generate interesting customized responses. In addition, alternate syntax is generously provided. Only once did I have to rephrase a command. There are a few minor bugs in the end game where it fails to properly check state, but nothing that adversely effects gameplay. Personally, I found the gameplay experience of Scavenger to be very rewarding. You are given a goal at the beginning that drives the action throughout. The primary task breaks down nicely into subgoals, how to enter the base for instance, but there are also puzzles which are more of less optional, depending on the supplies you have and whether or not you want a full score. The balance between player freedom and keeping the plot moving was well handled in my opinion. I would also like to mention the writing. It is generally quite good at sketching places or people with a few simple strokes. Details are included with just the right frequency to give you a vivid picture of the world and its inhabitants. The difficulty is not particularly high nor is the game very cruel. And if you do get stuck it features a nicely done hint system to give you a nudge (or a shove if you need it) in the right direction. Highly recommended to all except perhaps very young children. The language and violence would probably garner a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Jessica Knoch [This review originally appeared on Jessica's web page at http://www.strangebreezes.com/if/reviews/comp03.htm] TITLE: Shadows On The Mirror AUTHOR: Chrysoula Tzavelas EMAIL: exstarsis SP@G msn.com DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS3 SUPPORTS: TADS3 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/tads3/shadows VERSION: IFComp ver 1.0 A major part of this game is figuring out who you are, why you're stuck in this car, who the driver of the car is, why you don't want to see your grandfather, and so on. It's tricky; there's a lot to it, and it can't all be explained, even when you play through it several times. But what I have seen of the story and background is pretty intense. There's some supernatural stuff going on, and the PC is in the thick of it, and you get to be cool, and the driver of the car is cool, and there's just a lot of cool parts. But... there is a problem. It's kind of like the third quarter of a really close (American) football game. Sure, the score is tied at 24, but that's what it was at the half, and you're not down to the wire yet, because it's still the third quarter. Or maybe it's like the second to last chapter in a short novel -- all the really good stuff has already happened, and all of the explanations are saved for the last chapter, so even though you're in a great story, it isn't happening now. It's already happened, or it's going to, but everything that happens in Shadows is subtle and under the surface. That said, what you get of the story is definitely worth playing the game to see. I was initially put off by having to repeat actions to get the whole effect, but it's mentioned in one of the "hint" or "about" menus, so I guess I should have known. There are some pretty good liner notes, which is always nice. Hints and a walkthrough are included, so I can't complain too much about the puzzles, such as they are. In this game, "puzzles" are either an action you have to take, or a milestone you can reach in the conversation. In this sort of situation, getting to a "losing" ending and having to replay loses a piece of the game's appeal, but there's nothing to do for it but restart and try again. Shadows makes it worth the trouble. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Jessica Knoch [This review originally appeared on Jessica's web page at http://www.strangebreezes.com/if/reviews/comp03.htm] TITLE: Slouching Towards Bedlam AUTHOR: Star C. Foster and Daniel Ravipinto EMAIL: bedlam SP@G peccable.com DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/zcode/slouch VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) The title recalls the W.B. Yeats poem, "The Second Coming," in which the question is posed: "What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" It is, possibly, the most suggestive and fitting title of any game in this Comp. You play... well, the game starts in some sort of office, where you are listening to a voice on a phonograph talk about chaos, and a secret, and moments of madness. Almost immediately, the game has an eerie tinge to it, resulting from two things: first, if you've seen enough movies, you suspect that it is your voice on the phonograph -- moments of madness, indeed. Second, the text studiously avoids saying "you." You're examining objects, exploring the contents of the office, but the descriptions of things and even descriptions of actions are ghostly, passive: the desk you want to look in is not "your desk," the response to "open drawer" begins with "The large central drawer opens..." Even default responses have been changed, so that trying to take an object you already hold gives "One cannot take what one already has." It all evokes a mystery, and the discovery that the office is in an insane asylum in 1855 only adds to the creepy, disturbing atmosphere. But this is not a scary game: there are no monsters chasing you, no weapons to wield in self-defense. The act of exploration is so natural, after the first scene, that you don't realize for some time that the *PC* is also exploring. There is a subtle lack of familiar references, which you might expect after identifying yourself as Dr. Xavier, who is superintendent of the asylum. Instead, the PC is just as new to all this as you are, which aligns your purposes seamlessly, making the player and the PC one. You are given a powerful tool to aid in comprehension, described in the phonographic diary: the Triage unit. It is a mechanical information assimilator, and it follows you around on wheels. It can identify objects and give you an idea of how things are used. It's also useful for other problems you encounter during the course of the discoveries, and is just about the ideal thing to have along in a text adventure. In the course of exploring the asylum and the town, some odd things start to happen. We start to get into spoiler region here, but you can find a pattern to the odd things, and between that and the odd things you find as you explore, the mystery slowly begins to take a clearer shape. Eventually, gradually, it coalesces until the situation is clear. However, what you will do about it is not clear. There are several options, with five different outcomes, none of which could rightly be called winning or losing. If ever there was a game where not having a score was justified, this is it. As for the other aspects of a game people generally talk about: wonderful. I didn't see a single confirmable error in the text. The actions needed to "solve the puzzles" were logical and intuitive, and figuring out how one of the various machines worked in the game was very satisfying. There are hints: good, extensive, thorough and gentle hints. The pacing is superb: the pieces of the story come at just the right moments, the understanding comes gradually and not too slowly. The size of the game is next to perfect for the Comp, exactly filling up two hours in reaching one or two endings and reading the appendices. There are moments that made me completely forget about the real world, and focus entirely on what was happening in the game. In short: you must play this game. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Cirk Bejnar TITLE: Temple of Kaos AUTHOR: Peter Gambles EMAIL: peter.gambles SP@G admin.ox.ac.uk DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/tads2/templeofkaos VERSION: Version 3.3.1 (competition release) Most of this game's text is written in a rhyming verse that many will doubtless find tiresome, but that I actually liked. The sparse, tortured syntax captured the feel of the piece quite well. However, it did cause a bit of a problem when unaltered library messages were encountered. And even when the messages were altered there was some evidence of sloppiness, as when a message says you're alone even when you're not. But such things remained minor annoyances and overall the text flowed smoothly. The story, on the other hand, often went in fits and starts. The game follows an inverted logic (candles that take in rather than produce light, etc.) that can be maddeningly difficult to unravel. While checking the clues sometimes provides an "aha!" moment, just as often the feeling is more along the lines of "well I wonder why _that_ would work?" On the plus side, the game features a unique (as far as I know) dual scoring system and a simple yet shrouded back story that I found fun to unravel. Overall, your mileage may vary, but I found Kaos an enjoyable pastime and would recommend it to anyone willing to enter its skewed vision. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- ######################################################################### ###### REVIEW PACKAGE: INTERACTIVE REALITY SHOW? ###### ######################################################################### [Note: Valentine provides scores with his reviews in the old style of the SPAG scoreboard, calling them SNATS, for Scores Not Affecting The Scoreboard. I've chosen to leave these scores in, since I think they provide interesting and useful information, but in case the name isn't enough of a hint, 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] In the last couple of years, so-called reality TV-shows became more and more popular in Russia. It all began with a BIG BROTHER incarnation late in 2001. Since then, the TV channel that had started it rested in peace, but several others launched a number of similar projects, accompanying them with extensive promotional activities -- so extensive they managed to make a person as TV-ignorant as myself aware of the existence of all those shows. Sigh. At least they couldn't make me watch that stuff. Of course, I'm not quite sure whether this development in Russia reflects world-wide trends. However, judging by the IF-Competition 2003, it does; I encountered at least three games one could place into the category of reality shows, with the protagonist being put into an unusual environment and given tests to stand and/or tasks to fulfill, while someone's watching how (s)he's handling them. It's always difficult to estimate, on speculative basis, how and to what extent this or that new approach might influence IF, and the "reality show technology" is no exception; the only thing that comes to mind is, it probably would give the authors more freedom to include pretty arbitrary puzzles into their games, presenting them as the aforementioned tasks and tests the player character has got to master. The only option to endorse or disprove this conjecture seems to be having a look at the appropriate entries in the Comp. A few disclaimers are needed here: first of all, I'm certainly not quite frank when I'm speaking about speculative estimation -- before writing this review, I had a chance to analyze the aforementioned games, and thus draw a more informed conclusion; keep this in mind, and just take it as a stylistic device. Secondly, since I haven't played all the entries in this year's Comp, I might have missed a few games based on the reality show technique. Please don't kick me in the teeth too hard for that, because I had got a pretty good reason not to grant this year's contest as much time and attention as I usually do. Finally, I'm presenting here the reality show genre as something new to IF, which isn't necessarily true; the fact I've never played such a game before doesn't mean no such game exists. Again -- please don't get mad at me because of this. -=-=- TITLE: The Erudition Chamber AUTHOR: Daniel Freas EMAIL: erthwin SP@G cox.net DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/tads2/erudite VERSION: Competition release Of all the games reviewed here, The Erudition Chamber probably uses the most straightforward approach to reality show concept implementation. The main character is a novice at some sort of monastery (The Keep, to be more precise), who has got to solve a number of problems under the supervision of the Maesters of the Keep, getting feedback from them after each obstacle successfully overcome. The puzzles the player faces here are essentially unconnected with each other; in this respect, it reminded me of an entry in the very first IF-Competition back in 1995 -- The Magic Toyshop, which had been criticized a lot for being a plotless puzzlebox (to be fair, one has got to admit there were quite a bunch of people who liked it, as well). Fortunately for The Erudition Chamber, the parallel between these two games ends right there: for one, in spite of being pretty casual, the puzzles in Mr. Freas' game hang together much better in the sense of atmosphere (that means, they fit into the environment very well -- there is no "dealing with the Towers of Hanoi in the middle of a cave crawl", as Stephen Granade put it in one of his articles); and for the other (which is even more important), The Erudition Chamber isn't as much about solving puzzles as about the way(s) the player chooses to solve them. The thing is, The Keep houses four different orders, each with its own rules and approaches to problem solving; thus, each challenge the main character is confronted with during the game can be overcome in four different ways. Based on his choices, the Maesters of The Keep decide what order he is best suited for. The setting is done with great care; of course, the fact the puzzles are unrelated to one another has made the author's work easier, but the result is quite remarkable nevertheless. So, in short, The Erudition Chamber is nothing more than a bunch of puzzles with multiple solutions, where the way you solve them matters. No more than that -- but no less, either, and thus, absolutely recommended for playing -- I don't think this kind of game occurs too often in IF. And a final note, put here because the author explicitly asked for such feedback in his game: I played The Erudition Chamber twice (trying to find alternative puzzle solutions during my second session), and both times ended up, with a small preponderance, in the Seers' order. Either this game really can be used for some sort of personality research... or, the "Seer's" solutions just happened to be the easiest ones! ;) The SNATS: (Of course, it's not customary to rate IF-Competition entries in the usual SPAG style, but, as Ms. Papillon said, somebody had to do it;). PLOT: It can't be denied a plot is present, but it forms the background for the puzzles for the most part (1.1) ATMOSPHERE: The best word to describe the atmosphere would be stark (1.3) WRITING: Solid and polished (1.4) GAMEPLAY: Lets the player make lots of choices (1.3) BONUSES: Multiple solutions (1.3) TOTAL: 6.4 CHARACTERS: Not very interactive, but that's determined by the overall game idea (1.2) PUZZLES: Described detailed enough in the review already (1.4) DIFFICULTY: Reaching one ending isn't too hard (5 out of 10); however, finding ALL possible solutions would be quite a feat -=-=- TITLE: The Recruit AUTHOR: Mike Sousa EMAIL: mjsousa SP@G comcast.net DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/tads2/recruit VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) The Recruit manifests its membership in the reality show class even more clearly than the previous game. Here, you are a participant in a beta-testing program for a company that tries to implement "real life text adventures." (By the way, this only becomes apparent after you read the Author's Notes after finishing the game.) This program enjoins you to complete their "product" (which effectively represents a set of rooms with puzzles to solve) while a manager of the company is surveying you, and evaluating your activities -- and that for 50 dollars as a reward. Thus, all ingredients for a reality show seem to be present. However, this concept is implemented entirely differently here: while The Erudition Chamber has got a pretty diffuse structure, The Recruit presents itself as a very, shall we say, tightly-built game. Sure, the general situation itself is somewhat artificially constructed, but within this construct, everything fits together as neatly as the gear-wheels of a well-adjusted clock mechanism: the flawless implementation (well, a nitpicker certainly would find greyish spots even on Malevitsh's Black Square, but I'm honestly trying to defeat my natural inclinations, and not to be one ;); the descriptions (one description in particular was remarkable; well, actually, it didn't make my jaw drop -- rather, it made me think, "Hey, that's a hell of a description!" I was amazed to find it later mentioned in the Author's Notes); the decoration elements (I mean, for instance, the main character's gender choice at the very start -- it doesn't affect the gameplay too much, only becoming visible in minor details, like some responses being changed, but it does do enough to make it a nice addition)... Still, as I finished the game, solving all the puzzles, I found myself (sorry for the bad pun) puzzled: so, the company obviously intends to make money with this stuff, and the manager who's been surveying and supporting me all the time has mentioned that all the (numerous) previous testers had failed to complete the task. Hey, but then, what's the company's potential customer group? Invalids of mental labour? OK, I'm taking a harsh tone here, which really isn't appropriate: the puzzles really aren't bad. They're set up very logically, and represent an integral part of the game structure as much as the other elements I've been talking about earlier; they just were not challenging enough. It was like... well, imagine you are on a trip in a distant, exotic country, and someone tells you you just MUST see, let's say, The Famous Temple Of The Incredible Pillar. So, you take a several kilometres long diversion from your planned route, visiting a distant village where this new object of your interest is located, and climb a steep hill to get to it -- only to find out that the Incredible Pillar is a quite functional yet totally unremarkable prop supporting the ceiling in the central hall of the Temple. It's not that this diversion was a totally useless waste of time -- the landscapes on your way were quite picturesque, and the Temple itself was worth seeing, too. However, you'd undoubtedly feel a certain disappointment. I had got a similar feeling about The Recruit -- just because I expected so much of the element that was supposed to be the central part and main attraction of such a well-constructed game. SNATS: PLOT: A nondescript part that helps holding the game construct together (1.1) ATMOSPHERE: Well, real life text adventure (1.2) WRITING: Effective and intense, just brilliant at some points (1.7) GAMEPLAY: Well, real life text adventure again (1.3) BONUSES: Choosing your gender; Genie the Labrador (1.3) TOTAL: 6.6 CHARACTERS: The usual one(s) found in text adventures + a well-trained dog (1.3) PUZZLES: Not challenging enough for a game focusing on puzzle-solving (1.1) DIFFICULTY: If Mike paid fifty dollars to anyone who completed the game, he probably would run out of money very quickly (4 out of 10) -=-=- TITLE: A Paper Moon AUTHOR: Andrew Krywaniuk EMAIL: askrywan SP@G hotmail.com DATE: 2003 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/zcode/papermoon VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) Although, like the previous games, A Paper Moon is another variation of the reality show theme (and you'll notice it if you play long enough), it rather successfully tries to hide this fact, disguising itself as your standard treasure-hunt-oriented cave crawl. This design choice automatically determined the overall gameplay, as well as the not-too-fancy plot, which even featured at least one episode that, in my opinion, fully deserved the proud title of a stretching point. Thus, it probably wouldn't be worth reviewing at all if there wasn't a small catch: somehow, it managed to become my favourite game in this year's Comp. ;) There were several reasons for that. First of all, it was the game world, and the atmosphere. The main character, a "notorious slacker and beer drinker extraordinaire", wakes up one morning and sees his familiar world has changed in a funny way, becoming a rather wild mixture of real life and fantasy, larded with a good portion of humour. Of course, maybe it's not to everybody's taste, but I think you'll agree it'd be strange if a person so fond of Robert Asprin's works and the Unnkulian games (for those who didn't get it -- I mean myself ;) didn't appreciate such a cocktail. Then, there were the puzzles; while making them pretty arbitrary (the treasure hunt genre is as effective in creating an excuse for insufficient logical connection between puzzles as the reality show genre), the author managed to find a theme uniting them -- namely, the usage of origami paper folding for solving them. Not only is this approach original (the only game that comes to my mind in connection with origami is Trinity by Infocom, but comparing origami-related puzzles of both games really would be like comparing horses to cows), it's also well-implemented, and provides for multiple solutions at some points. And finally, there were a lot of details revealing how much fun the author had had working on his game -- a number of Easter eggs, a "secret" ending, some unusual and thus unexpected interaction with NPCs... I think these merits weigh out the not-very-original gameplay and plot, as well as the somewhat Comp-inappropriate size of the game. Again, this opinion is entirely founded on personal, and thus subjective, preferences. I'm aware there are a number of people thinking differently; judging by the rank A Paper Moon ranked in the Comp, they even form the majority. Fortunately (at least, for me), it's me who's writing this review, not them. ;) SNATS: Well, as I tried rating A Paper Moon categories individually, I was astonished to find the total score turned out to be somewhat lower than I believed this game deserved. Thus, I gave up rating it at all. ;) -=-=- Now, its probably time to return to the problem that has been raised at the beginning of this review package -- namely, the question of how reality show concepts may affect IF games. Of the reviewed games, A Paper Moon makes practically no use of the possibilities provided by this genre. For The Erudition Chamber, being a reality show also seems to play a minor role; I think the idea behind this game could be realized as effectively with help of other techniques. However, the approach used by The Recruit really looks promising, and the fact its potential hasn't been fully exploited because of too easy puzzles doesn't change anything about that. As a suggestion -- maybe a more extensive interaction of the player with the party watching him also could open new possibilities... Still, I won't give any forecasts, because the only thing I can be sure of is this: if interactive fiction was predictable, it wouldn't be half as fun. ;) 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. 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