ISSUE #36 - March 16, 2004

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

                         ISSUE #36

           Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G
                       March 16, 2004 

           SPAG Website:

SPAG #36 is copyright (c) 2004 by Paul O'Brian.
Authors of reviews and articles retain the rights to their contributions.

All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine
with the traditional 'at' sign. 

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE -----------------------------------------------------

Bad Machine
To Hell In A Hamper

The Act Of Misdirection


It's a collection of miscellany that I have to discuss today. First up
is the lamentable absence of an interview in this issue. I'm working on
a few different things, but none of them came together in time for this
issue. As a small consolation prize, I can tell you a little of what's
waiting in the wings, or at least what I *hope* the future holds. I
recently canvassed you all for interview suggestions, and one dynamite
idea I received was to interview Stephen Ramsay. For those of you
unfamiliar with this name, Dr. Ramsay is a professor of English at the
University of Georgia who taught a class last fall called Digital
Narratives. This is the first academic course I've ever seen that
focuses entirely on text IF, and that includes many works created by the
IF community in its required reading and playing materials. If you're
interested in the syllabus, it's available at
Unfortunately, though I tried to contact Dr. Ramsay for an interview, he
didn't answer my email and his phone just rang and rang. If any of you
out there know how to contact him, or if you took part in the class and
want to tell SPAG's readers a little bit about your experience, get in
touch with me. The other thing that's cooking is an interview exchange
between myself and Urbatain, one of the luminaries of the Spanish IF
community. If all goes well, the interview with me will be translated
into Spanish and published in SPAC (Sociedad para la Preservación de las
Aventuras Conversacionales, the Spanish equivalent of SPAG), and the
interview with Urbatain will appear here. Sadly, my Spanish isn't strong
enough for me to interview him in his native language, so we'll just
have to muddle through as best we can.

Another change that's recently occurred with SPAG is in the way it
handles email addresses. This zine was started way back in 1994 (Whoa!
It's almost our 10th anniversary!), and in those simpler Internet days,
attaching email addresses to the names of authors and reviewers was
actually a good thing. It encouraged feedback, made communication
easier, and generally added cohesiveness to our small community.
However, in today's spam-crazed Net environment, putting email addresses
in cleartext out on the web is basically like pinning a sign on the
person that says "Spam Me." Consequently, all email addresses appearing
in SPAG will henceforth be spamblocked by replacing the @ sign with the
string " SP@G ". This change has also been made to all addresses on the
website, including everything listed in the review index and back issues
listings. All mailto: links have also been removed, with the exception
of the links to contact me or Joe DeRouen, SPAG Webmaster. It's
regrettable to be driven to such measures by the bottom-feeders of the
world, but there shouldn't be an overall penalty for being published or
reviewed in SPAG, and for some people, the spam overload was becoming
just that. 

Finally, I want to mention and publicly mull over a situation that
occurred recently. I received a review that would have been great for
this issue -- it was written clearly, specific in its analysis,
objective, and fair. There was just one little concern, a parenthetical
comment where the reviewer mentioned a plot thread that hadn't been
followed, or, as he said, "at least not in the parts of the game I have
succeeded in reaching so far." When I inquired further about this
comment, the reviewer told me that in fact, he hadn't finished the game,
quitting after reaching 50 points out of 75. In his mind, this wasn't a
concern, since he had spent several hours with the game and had plenty
to say about it. Also, to be fair, SPAG's submission policy has up until
now been completely silent on the topic of whether a game should be
finished before reviewing.

Reluctantly, I had to reject the review, since I feel that completing a
game is a necessary prerequisite to reviewing it. It feels a bit odd to
say that, since I've written plenty of reviews of games I haven't
finished, but those are competition game reviews, which is a bit of a
special case, as the comp's rules dictate that a score must be assigned
after playing a game for two hours, finished or not. In my mind, those
comp reviews served to explain the score, not necessarily to provide a
complete analysis of the game as a whole, though of course many times
they serve that purpose as well. It's a thorny issue all around, though.
When reviewing a book, or a movie, or a CD, the lines are rather clear:
experience the entire thing, and until you do so, you aren't fit to
review it. With games, though, there are a variety of different
experiences of "finishing", and it's a much more subjective call on
whether a reviewer has seen enough of the work to be able to review it.
It's murky enough with traditional IF, but with experimental IF that has
no ending, or that has hundreds of endings, or that has a facile "best"
ending reachable in two moves, the lines blur even further.
Consequently, although I've updated the submission guidelines, I've
tried to leave a fair amount of wiggle room for a wide definition of
"completeness." The bottom line is that if you're unsure how much of a
particular game you need to see before reviewing it, ask me. 

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR------------------------------------------------------

From:	Rich Mellor 

Just a quick update following on from SPAG #34 - All of the adventures
sold by RWAP Software for the Sinclair QL and PC are now available on a
dedicated website:
I should be obliged if you would include this in your next issue of
[Consider it included, Rich. --Paul]

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

It was another fantastic XYZZY awards ceremony this year, held on March
2nd in the Massive Auditorium on ifMUD ( It
was an especially exciting ceremony for me, because for the first time I
was able to be a presenter, though as it turned out, Earth and Sky
stepped into that duty for me. Happily, I've been able to work something
out with the MUD's lawyers so that I won't be billed for the damage my
hapless characters caused. As for the awards themselves, it was
definitely a banner year for Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto's
steampunk comp-winner Slouching Towards Bedlam, which was nominated for
eight awards and won four, including Best Game. The ceremony itself was
just as fun and chaotic as ever, as you can see if you care to check out
the transcripts Stephen Granade has kindly made available at Here now, the
winners of the 2003 XYZZY Awards:
   * Best Use of Medium: ASCII and the Argonauts, by J. Robinson Wheeler
   * Best Individual PC: The PC from Episode in the Life of an Artist,
     by Peter Eastman
   * Best Individual NPC: Triage, from Slouching Towards Bedlam, by
     Daniel Ravipinto and Star Foster
   * Best Individual Puzzle: The Purple Room, from The Recruit, by Mike
   * Best NPCs: City of Secrets, by Emily Short
   * Best Puzzles: Gourmet, by Aaron Reed
   * Best Setting: Slouching Towards Bedlam, by Daniel Ravipinto and
     Star Foster
   * Best Story: Slouching Towards Bedlam, by Daniel Ravipinto and Star
   * Best Writing: Narcolepsy, by Adam Cadre
   * Best Game: Slouching Towards Bedlam, by Daniel Ravipinto and Star

And now that we've seen the 2003 XYZZYs, the contenders for 2004 may
begin to emerge. The new games from the past few months run the gamut of
development systems, themes, and annoyance levels. (Hint: the one called
"Annoyotron" is really, really annoying.) I was happy to participate in
a little pre-game promotion for Callico Harrison's excellent new game,
The Act Of Misdirection, and Emily Short kindly provides us with an
in-depth review of it for this issue's SPAG Specifics section. 
   * Smuggler by Frank Fridd
   * The Gate by Owen Parish
   * The Last Hour by Roberto Grassi
   * The Act Of Misdirection by Callico Harrison
   * Annoyotron IV: Affrontotron by Joe Mason

If the only place you read about IF is on the rec.*.int-fiction
newsgroups, you may not be terribly aware that there's another thriving
IF community that only overlaps a bit with the newsgroup crowd. This is
the ADRIFT community, a group of enthusiasts for Campbell Wild's ADRIFT
development system. Luckily for you, a wealth of information is
available in the ADRIFT newsletter, a monthly publication run by Ken
Franklin. The latest version of the newsletter can be downloaded from Also, if you're interested in becoming a
"drifter", check out the ADRIFT beginner's guide at, in the downloads section

For me, one of the most exciting IF-related events of the winter was the
publication of Nick Montfort's book Twisty Little Passages, the first
book-length academic treatment of interactive fiction. Montfort does his
subject justice, treating IF as a new medium worthy of careful study and
possessing enormous potential. I could go on at length about it, but as
it turns out, I already have. If you want to see the results, they're at If you're interested in
somebody else's opinion (a shocking thought, really), check out
Montfort's own TLP page, which contains links to all online reviews and
discussion about the book. It's at

Finally, a bit of sad news: David Cornelson has come to the end of a
long chapter of IF activism, and is shutting down his IF-related
operations, including the Plover server and the IF Library's publishing
endeavors. Right now, it's looking like another community member will
take up the torch for Plover, keeping the sites it hosts from sliding
into oblivion. As for the Inform Designer's Manual and the Inform
Beginner's Guide, both published by IF Library, the sun is setting on
their printed versions. The IF Theory book is still going forward, and
its editors remain committed to shepherding it into publication. The
latest news on the project is always available at Let me take this space to offer big thanks to
Dave for all he's done for us, and wish him the best of luck in the

I've gotten a nice variety of reviews for this issue, from lots of
different sources, but while SPAG has a pulse at the moment, it's always
touch and go from one issue to the next. Keep this zine's heart beating
strongly by submitting your own reviews of IF games! If you need
inspiration, consider the following list of games that I'd love to see
reviewed here:

1.  City Of Secrets
2.  Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I.
3.  1893: A World's Fair Mystery
4.  The Gate
5.  House
6.  Inevitable
7.  The Last Hour
8.  Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus
9.  Narcolepsy
10. Smuggler

KEY TO SCORES AND REVIEWS--------------------------------------------------

Consider the following review header:

TITLE: Cutthroats
AUTHOR: Infocom
EMAIL: ???
DATE: September 1984
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
URL: Not available.

When submitting reviews:  Try to fill in as much of this info as you can.
Authors may not review their own games.

REVIEWS -------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Neil Butters 

TITLE: Amnesia
AUTHOR: Dustin Rhodes
EMAIL: crazydwarf12 SP@G
DATE: October 2003
SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters
VERSION: Version 1.0 (competition release)

The first line of Amnesia demonstrates what to expect from the game:

   A cool beach where you should have washed ashore and not have been
   able to remember anything because you where supposed to have amnesia,
   which you didn't, which completly ruins the whole storyline this game
   was going to have, so now the auther will have to make a game up on
   the spot, enjoy.

Amnesia is a crude, nonsensical, and often hilarious effort, with an
obvious affection for the genre. It certainly seems as though Amnesia
was made up on the spot. For example, there is no story and the goal of
the game does not become apparent until near the conclusion. The parser
is very limited and there are spelling and grammatical errors aplenty.
Often the exits from rooms are not mentioned. This only became a major
problem in one situation. Consulting the walkthrough file did not help
much -- it is in error. The puzzles make very little sense, but are easy
to figure out anyway. And don't expect to finish the game; there's a bug
near the end. A total waste of time? Not really, because I also laughed
quite a bit. The sloppy and crude design often invoked laughter. The
major NPC's sole purpose seems to be to act strange. Don't bother trying
to interact with him (I don't think you can, despite the author's claim
to the contrary) -- just enjoy his antics. Also contributing to the
game's enjoyability is the author's self-mockery and love of the
adventure game. Often the author (or narrator) will acknowledge the
game's absurdities and invite you to play along. Credit has to be given
for its self-consciousness. 

It is obvious why Amnesia finished in 27th place in the 9th Annual IF
Competition. I can't say that Amnesia is "so bad it's good." It is not a
good game. However, if you have 15 minutes, a sense of humour, and do
not take it too seriously you may have as much fun playing Amnesia as
the author had creating it. 


[For years I've been wishing for a review of Dan Shiovitz's mind-bending
and idiosyncratic work Bad Machine. My pleas must finally have been
heard, because recently a little hole in the universe opened and
extruded the following piece. I can't vouch for its grounding in
reality, but Dan has approved its publication, so publish it I will. Let
me put it this way: it's the best Bad Machine review I've ever been
sent. --Paul]

From: Valentine Kopteltsev 

TITLE: Bad Machine
AUTHOR: Dan Shiovitz
EMAIL: dans SP@G
DATE: 1998
SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters

A pseudo-inter-RE-view with Dan Shiovitz

I asked for it, and I got it: a cozy arm-chair next to a fireplace,
where I can lounge while sipping cold beer and interviewing Dan, who's
sitting opposite me in a similar arm-chair.

Valentine Kopteltsev: Danny, partner, would you please tell me some
background info about your game -- maybe something about its history,
the creation process, etc.

Dan Shiovitz: No, no. You're going about it from the wrong end. Look,
for one thing, I agreed to help you with your REVIEW, which is supposed
to be some sort of summary of YOUR OWN, PERSONAL impressions of the
game. For the other, would you mind refraining from calling me Danny?
I'd appreciate it a lot.

V.K.: Well, then, let's begin from the very start. How does it happen
that the trailer for Bad Machine is essentially unrelated to the game

D.S.: You didn't enjoy it?

V.K.: On the contrary, I did; in fact, I thought it was just great.
However, I found it a tad bit confusing to discover the main game had
nothing to do with it.

D.S.: I see no problem with that. Just take it as some sort of epigraph.
How many books have you read in your life where the epigraph represented
an integral part of the story?

V.K.: M-m-m... Sounds convincing. Let's move on, then. The world of Bad
Machine, this fully automated warehouse, is astounding, even
overwhelming: while it doesn't take too much time to finish the game,
one could spend I think at least a couple of hours exploring
possibilities, gaining information, and trying to figure out how
everything works. And despite its large size, you somehow managed to
maintain both its consistency and a high level of detail. Danny, pal,
please tell me -- was it difficult to create?

D.S.: Could you please stop calling me Danny? You bet it was! You know,
your question appears somewhat... inadequate.

V.K.: You mean, it's stupid. ;) Sure, come to think of it, I have to
admit it is. I mean, considering the dimensions of the warehouse, the
number of different robots you had to implement for it, as well as the
fact that you rewrote the standard TADS parser almost beyond
recognition, one really needn't ask you whether it was a lot of work.
Still, during gameplay, I ran into a few bugs, and there also were
several things I thought I (or, to be more precise, the player
character) should be able to do but wasn't. What do you think of this?

D.S. (smiling): I think you're a nitpicker.

V.K. (also smiling): Probably I am -- after all, none of the bugs were
too critical. Still, there were some issues considering the puzzles and
the overall gameplay. While, on the whole, the puzzles were logical and
quite manageable (while I'm not the best puzzle-solver, I could finish
Bad Machine without resorting to the hints; OK, I used them, but only
after solving yet another puzzle -- as some sort of proof I was on the
right track), there were episodes where I had to wait quite a few turns
for something relevant to happen, and this was a bit confusing. Also,
considering the recent discussion in SPAG about how doors should
automatically unlock if the PC has a key, it occurred to me that some
players (although I'm not one of them) might find the game too pedantic
about always getting explicit commands. Danny, chum, please tell me your
opinion on that matter.

D.S.: Please don't call me Danny. First of all, Bad Machine was released
a few years before this discussion, so referring to it here seems a bit
inappropriate. Besides, the player is controlling a not too advanced
robot in this game; I think that requesting precise instructions is
exactly the behaviour most people would expect of a machine, isn't it?
As for puzzle solutions requiring waiting for a random number of
turns... You already mentioned the action in Bad Machine takes place in
an automated warehouse. This structure has its own production cycles,
and works strictly in accordance with a certain schedule. If it broke
this schedule just to be more convenient for the player, that'd be
rather unrealistic, wouldn't it?

V.K.: OK, I think I can buy this explanation. However, for me, probably
the strangest thing about Bad Machine was its ending. Somehow, I
couldn't make heads or tails of it. You know, I've always had trouble
understanding deeply symbolic games (Losing Your Grip by Stephen Granade
is a good example); I guess that's the reason for my confusion about Bad
Machine. Danny, buddy, please give me some clue for better

D.S.: I suspect you also have troubles with your memory, for I have
asked you several times not to call me Danny, and you still do. Well,
I'm afraid I can't help you with that.

V.K.: But Danny, my friend...


V.K. (only slightly disconcerted): Er... still, a little explanation
would be nice.

D.S. (glancing at his watch): Sorry, I'm afraid we have to skip this. I
suggest you get right over to the SNATS [Valentine's traditional "Scores
Not Affecting The Scoreboard" --Paul] section -- I have another
appointment in a few minutes.

V.K.: Well, let's have a look at what we've got here... the PLOT is the
element of the game that gives me the most trouble (1.1). Then, the
genuine ATMOSPHERE of a robot factory (1.6)... WRITING that manages to
be computer-like and not to degenerate into binary code at the same time
(1.8)... GAMEPLAY with episodes requiring random waiting, but I think
the multiple solutions balance it out (1.4)... and BONUSES for the
overall consistency, lots of background material, as well as for some
responses (in particular, the response to debris manipulation attempts)
(1.3). All this results in a TOTAL RATING of 7.2. Considering the theme
of the game, the CHARACTERS are almost perfect; however, it must be said
that implementing robots probably is easier than implementing people
(1.4). The PUZZLES were interesting and logical enough, although I had
the feeling the game could use a couple more of them (1.3). As to the
difficulty... well, even *I* was able to solve it without resorting to
hints (max. 6 out of 10). But Danny, comrade, would you please give me a
final comme...

D.S. (producing a butcher's axe): HERE!

Disconnect performed -- limb (top, left) removed
Disconnect performed -- limb (top, right) removed
Disconnect performed -- limb (bottom, left) removed
Disconnect performed -- limb (bottom, right) removed
Disconnect performed -- head removed

D.S. (now alone): Time to find someone to bring this to the reclamation


P.S. I honestly hope you play Bad Machine if you haven't already. The game's
definitely worth it.


From:	Andrea Crain 

NAME: The Most Lamentable and Excellent Text Adventure of Hamlet, Prince
      of Denmark
AUTHOR: Robin Johnson
DATE: November 2003
PARSER: Nondescript
SUPPORTS: Web browser with JavaScript
VERSION: The page says last bug fix was 1/25/04

This game is written with Nondescript, a JavaScript game engine the
author wrote himself. Lots of people tend to shy away from games not
written in one of the big IF languages, but have no fear that playing
Hamlet will leave you battling the engine instead of the game proper.
This is a really well implemented piece of JavaScript. A couple of
conveniences are missing that you might be used to -- you can't pick up
or drop more than one item at a time, for example. Also, NPC's seem
pretty shallow, and are rooted to one spot most of the time. However,
things you can do work consistently, and you can use abbreviations the
way you'd expect.

Some Internet friends and I found this game, and we hadn't played any IF
in awhile. I hadn't played anything since an abortive stab at Enhanced
in 1995, in fact, and before that my IF experience was limited to
Infocom games on a mid-80s Macintosh. The game's interface was fairly
natural to pick up, and it got me interested in playing a lot of new IF
games, which is what I've been doing for the past week or so. Now I know
that I should be able to pick up two things at once, but when I played
this game, I didn't, so the lack didn't bother me. That and the fact
that you don't need to download anything and, since the game runs on any
JavaScript enabled browser, make me think it's a good game to show to IF
neophytes to suck them into your shadowy IF world.

The game itself is a fun, silly adventure. You are ordering around
Hamlet, and his mission is clear -- kill his usurping uncle. You don't
need to have read Hamlet recently to finish the game, although I had,
and it helped in a couple of spots, particularly with regard to the
curtain in Gertrude's room. There are also characters from other plays
thrown in for good measure.

Some of the puzzles were so easy that I didn't even know they were
there. For example, a ghostly mist stops you from going downstairs if
you haven't gotten your mission from the ghost yet. Since that seemed
like the only thing to do first off, I never encountered the mist. Other
puzzles, one in particular, are fiendish. In fact, the hint system
gloats that the puzzle in question is the obligatory incredibly
difficult puzzle that must be included in any IF game. Unfortunately, I
didn't know I had a puzzle before me when I got to that point. Well, I
was at a loss for what to do next, and the game obviously wasn't over,
so I knew there must be something I was missing. But there were no
clues, as far as I saw, that a certain room existed, so how was I to
know that I needed to get into it? I even looked in a direction that
should have given me some inkling, but it didn't. Maybe that was just my
failing as a game player, but once I looked at the hint page (available
as a link below the JavaScript window) I started to get the picture.

Anyway, this game was fun to play, fiendish puzzle aside. The
environment was described well and, since I didn't notice there was a
save feature until late in the festivities (it's implemented with
cookies), I replayed from the start so many times I could probably
navigate the whole map blindfolded if I were dropped there in real life.
The humor was engaging, and the easy puzzles you start out with make you
feel triumphant, hooking you in and making you want to finish. It's well
worth playing. I'd give it an 8 out of 10.


From:	Felix Grützmacher 

TITLE: Insight
AUTHOR: Jon Ingold
EMAIL: jonnyingold SP@G (as given by the game's help text)
DATE: 2003
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-machine implementations

"Before I've arrived
I can see myself coming."
-- Robbie Williams, from his song "Feel"

From his previous games "All Roads", "Failsafe" and "My Angel", we know
that Jon Ingold likes to experiment with the various possibilities the
medium of IF has to offer. "Insight" brilliantly continues in this
tradition. He is not through with us yet, poor experimental subjects
that we are. Interestingly, the help text states that "INSIGHT is a
standard text-game in many ways." Well, it's non-standard in many

"Insight" is not a puzzler in the sense that "The Mulldoon Legacy" is.
Neither is it a static story in the guise of interactive fiction, like
"Photopia". But it also isn't an adventure game of the old school like
most Infocom classics. This one is different.

The game starts off with the PC interviewing a man who is being accused
of murdering his wife. This interview serves the purpose of equipping
the player with certain pieces of information he needs later on when
investigating the scene of the crime, if indeed a crime it was.

The atmosphere balances precariously somewhere between science fiction
and political thriller, the sci-fi feeling resulting from the fact that
most of the action takes place on Mars. These are two genres which have
seldom been combined in literature (Frank Herbert's Dune being an
interesting exception), let alone in IF. To my mind, the combination was

There are two major puzzles in the game. The PC has a certain special
talent, and one of the puzzles consists of finding out what it is and
putting it to good use. The second puzzle is piecing together what
really happened. You won't find any of the standard adventure game
frustrations such as mazes, battery failures and inventory restrictions.

When I was playing "Insight" for the first time, I eventually felt I had
exhausted every possible way of gaining more information, so I decided
to leave the scene and do something else. The game reacted by simply
telling me my investigation was finished, and asking if I wanted to
restart or quit. Frustrated, I gave it a break. When I came back to it a
few days later, I played with more insight. Don't give up when you feel
stuck, just try again.

As to the experimental nature of this game, I cannot go into any
substantial detail without spoiling the fun. You'll have to find it out
for yourself. But take my word for it, it's worth every second of
download time.
On the technical side, I didn't find any serious flaws. Mackenzie, the
only substantial NPC, has a vast repository of responses, and the
program keeps track of which topics have already been talked about. He
speaks a language foreign to the PC, thus his inability to understand
certain complex questions appears quite realistic. This reminded me a
lot of "Failsafe", "LASH" and "Suspended", where the parser's
restrictions are brilliantly excused with a bad communication channel.

On a scale from 0 to 10, I would rate "Insight" at 8. Difficulty is 3
out of 10. Experienced IFers will probably complete this one in three


From:	Adam Myrow 

TITLE: Shadowgate
AUTHOR: David Griffith (originally published by Icom for the Nintendo
        Entertainment System as well as many other platforms)
EMAIL: dgriffi SP@G
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
AVAILABILITY: freeware IF-archive
     Source code is also available at:

Sometimes, a game grows larger in the mind when it is not played for
many years. This was the case for a game called Shadowgate which was
released by Icom for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989. I have
been totally blind since birth. Thus, I was never able to play the
original game by myself. However, I was able to play it a few times by
having a friend read the text and I would tell him what I wanted to try.
The game was a mixed graphical/text game with a menu of verbs which
could be applied to objects in your inventory. Anyway, I never got very
far, and eventually, lost access to the game.

Fast forward to late 2003. I was casually browsing
when I noticed a post announcing that David Griffith had just released
an Inform adaptation of Shadowgate based on the Nintendo version. I was
thrilled. After over a decade, I could now finally play this game by
myself and get past the puzzles which had previously stumped me. I
grabbed it immediately.

What I discovered was that this game had become much more exciting in my
mind than it was in reality. First off, as the original was based on a
menu of verbs rather than a parser, the puzzles were rather simple. With
one or two exceptions, one object is used to solve one puzzle. Once the
puzzle is solved, the object is either removed from play or will never
be needed again. There are no alternate solutions, and few hints. Either
you get past the obstacle, or you die. In fact, dying is extremely
common in this game. There are numerous death traps besides the instant
death puzzles. Take an object, go through a door, or attack a monster
with the wrong weapon, and it's curtains for you. As if that weren't bad
enough, there is the light source problem. When you start the game, you
have a torch. You will quickly notice lots of torches lying around for
the taking. Be sure and grab them! Your torches don't last very long, so
you will find yourself constantly lighting new torches and dropping dead
torches. The good news is that there is no inventory limit. This was
fairly minor, as there are more than enough torches to let you finish
the game. I think I ended up with 10 extra torches at the end of my play
session. It's just a nuisance to constantly be told that your torch is
about to go out and having to light one. There are no mazes, and no
hunger or sleep puzzles, so most of the really annoying puzzles of older
games are absent. It's just that learning by death is not much fun.
Here's a typical example of what I mean.

   Tower Prison
   You are in a bare, round room. A beautiful woman is chained to the
   wall. Moonlight streams in from a window.

   You can see a golden blade and a beautiful woman here.

   >x blade
   It's some sort of spike that is made of precious metals. The tips are
   as sharp as needles.

   >get it
   As you reach for the golden blade the beautiful lady suddenly
   transforms into a wolf! With a load [SIC] roar, the wolf pounces on
   you, taking your life! The wolf's powerful jaws rip your throat out!

       *** You have died ***

   It's a sad thing that your adventures have ended here.

Examining the girl gives no hint that she is anything other than what
she seems. So, the only thing you can do is learn by dying, undo, and
try to figure out how to get rid of the wolf. Another even worse example
of this.

   Stone Tunnel
   This hallway is made of large granite slabs. There are exits up,
   west, and north.

   You can see four unlit torches here.

   Without thinking, you jump through the opening and immediately hear a
   loud click. Suddenly, the granite slab above you gives way and
   crushes you beneath it. It breaks every bone in your body.

As for plot, it is the standard save-the-world type of plot. You must
overthrow the evil Warlock Lord before he releases the Behemoth to
destroy everything. Of course, this involves collecting various items
and assembling them into a weapon of great power. In other words,
nothing that hasn't been done before. There are a few spells as well. I
don't know how spells worked in the original graphical game since I
didn't get that far, but in this version, the good old Enchanter system
of using gnusto to copy them into a spell book from a scroll was adopted
probably because it is readily available. This really isn't a big deal
as far as I'm concerned since like everything else, the spells each are
used exactly once.

So, overall, I was a bit let down by the game mainly because it had
grown into an epic in my mind. What it is, in reality, is a very short
little fantasy game with loads of death traps and one-use objects. There
are also plenty of red herrings. However, while the plot is minimal, the
writing is fairly decent aside from a few spelling errors. I think most
of the writing comes from the original game, but according to the
"about" text, many descriptions were made longer to account for the lack
of graphics. So, it's not all bad. As for coding, I found a few minor
bugs, but for the most part, things work pretty well. The torches, while
annoying, have had a lot of work done on them to make dealing with them
as painless as possible. I would suggest that any game developers have a
look at this game's source code even if you don't plan on using Inform.
Bundled with the source code are some transcripts of very early beta
versions of the game with embedded remarks from the beta testers. These
serve to illustrate the sorts of bugs to watch out for and the crazy
things players might try when they get stuck. So, for me, I actually
found the source code and transcripts very informative despite finding
the game to be a little annoying. If you treat it like a game from the
late 1980's rather than a modern piece of IF, I think it will sit much
better with you than it did with me.


From:	J. Robinson Wheeler 

TITLE: To Hell In A Hamper
AUTHOR: J.J. Guest
EMAIL: jason_guest SP@G
DATE: 2003
SUPPORTS: ADRIFT interpreters

This is a short game with a good amount of wit and charm to it, and it
shows that it is possible to make a one-room, one-puzzle (albeit a
layered, Babel Fish type puzzle) game that's entertaining.

The situation is that you are Professor Pettibone, eminent Victorian
Balloonist, on his attempt to circle the world in a balloon. Your
traveling companion has been replaced at the last minute by a Mr. Hubert
Booby, a rather shady character with a suspiciously bulging overcoat.
The puzzle of the game involves throwing enough weight out of the
balloon to clear an erupting volcano, and you have to prise items one at
a time (or sometimes, a half-dozen at a time) from Mr. Booby.

I turned to the walkthrough rather soon, just to get the game moving,
and relied on it a bit too much thereafter, worried that I was going to
do something out of order and make the game unwinnable. In fact, the
author was sometimes careful in this regard, and made it so that you
couldn't toss some items you still needed over the side. (But some you
could.) I had a few challenging guess-the-verb moments, including
figuring out the syntax for throwing things overboard, and the rather
dodgy necessity of using the non-standard verb 'MAKE' at a crucial
late-game step.

Having gotten that far, I decided to play the rest of the game without
looking at the walkthrough, which turned out to be the one time I should
have used it, because the ultimate turn of the game is a win/lose
scenario. I typed "PULL ROPE" instead of "PULL GAS VALVE ROPE," and I
lost. Since I hadn't saved the game, I had to start all over again and
replay the whole thing just to see the winning outcome, which was

There were a couple of spelling errors, including one in the concluding
text of the winning scenario, and there were some odd tussles with the
parser on occasion:

   > cut buttons
   [...] finally, with a great rending sound the coat bursts
   open, spilling a multitude of diverse objects onto the floor
   of the basket! These items consist of a large framed painting,
   an enormous carpetbag, a bundle of twigs, a boomerang, an
   ear-trumpet, a toy donkey and a sleeping Saint Bernard dog...

   > throw twigs out
   I'm afraid the meaning of your words escapes me. Could you
   possibly rephrase that?

   > get twigs
   Take what?  

   > get bundle
   I pick up the smudge stick.

   > x it
   (the smudge stick)
   A bundle of cedar twigs and sprigs of sage bound together with
   coloured thread. [...]

   > throw twigs overboard
   I'm afraid the meaning of your words escapes me. Could you
   possibly rephrase that?

   > throw stick overboard
   I don't understand what you want me to do with the smudge stick.

   > throw stick
   I don't understand what you want me to do with the smudge stick.

   > throw smudge
   I'm afraid the meaning of your words escapes me. Could you
   possibly rephrase that?

   > throw smudge stick
   I toss the smudge stick over the side of the basket. After all
   I can't imagine what I might have needed it for...

I enjoyed the pop-up introductory picture that set the scene. The
dialogue of the game was very funny, as was the surprise of one of the
last items to be revealed hidden about Mr. Booby's person. If I had run
across this game in the Competition, I probably would have ranked it a 7
or an 8, depending on how charitable I was feeling. Overall, nicely

 ___. .___    _    ___.     ___. 
/  _| |   \  / \  / ._|    /  _| 
\  \  | o_/ |   | | |_.    \  \  
.\  \ | |   | o | | | |    .\  \ 
|___/ |_|   |_|_| \___|    |___/ PECIFICS

SPAG Specifics is a small section of SPAG dedicated to providing in-
depth critical analysis of IF games, spoilers most emphatically


The Act Of Misdirection




From: Emily Short 

TITLE: The Act of Misdirection
AUTHOR: Callico Harrison
EMAIL: calharrison SP@G
DATE: February 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
VERSION: Release 5

Like Paul O'Brian, I am pleased to see work from a new author,
especially released outside the competition. It's also excellent to find
that it's such an interesting game.

The first scene of "The Act of Misdirection" is delightful. Everything I
did had a strange and fascinating result, but I still felt as though I
was a step ahead of the audience. Appropriate actions were well-clued
and became increasingly obvious as time went on. The tricks bore enough
resemblance to traditional magic tricks that I had some sense of what
was supposed to happen, but they were still unusual enough to surprise
and entertain. I was also impressed by the way the tricks themselves
become gradually more sinister -- the relatively innocuous card trick,
then the grapefruit which seems to be slightly *off*, then the
definitely-creepy sword-snake-boa. The descriptions of David and of the
newspaper, and your refusal to remove your jacket, also seem odd at the
time, but the flow of the game keeps you concentrating on other things
until their real significance becomes clear. This is nicely handled.

The scene rewards replaying, too. The second time through the act, when
I knew what I was doing, I really got into role-playing the performance:
showing things to the audience before using them in the trick, making
dramatic gestures with the props, varying the details of the routine. It
was wonderful how well "Misdirection" handled all of this, making the
audience ooh and ahh just as I wanted them to.

Such flexibility and responsiveness is something you can only achieve
with careful implementation. There are a few imperfections, but they're
relatively trivial. I didn't find the later scenes quite as richly
implemented as the first, but they still showed a great deal of care and
attention to detail.

The imagery in "Misdirection" is likewise strong. The intense
descriptions of light and darkness reminded me at times of "So Far"
(Andrew Plotkin, 1996), or of the room with the pigeons in "All Roads"
(Jon Ingold, 2001). Smell and sound are used to good effect. The
sacrifice of blood to the ashes of the dead has all sorts of resonances,
too -- though what bothered me most in that sequence was the capture and
destruction of the rat. It's just so pathetic. I felt much sorrier for
the dead rat than for my dead self. (This is nominally the happy ending,
I suppose, but it seemed sad.)

The peripheral features of the game, such as the help menus and the
startup screen, were nicely handled, and made me expect good things even
before play started.

In short, "Misdirection" is well worth playing; if you haven't already
gotten to it, you should (and certainly *not* read the rest of the
review until you have). But there are a few ways in which it doesn't
live up to its considerable promise.

Chief among these is the writing. My sense of how good something is
depends fairly heavily on how well it fulfills its own ambitions, and
this is ambitious prose. Callico Harrison is aware of the sound of
language, of the possibilities in an unexpected metaphor, and of the
pleasure of using a specific word rather than a generic one. She puns.
She nudges the reader. But she needs more discipline. I read a sentence
like this --

   "You pig-headed imbecile," roars the boar-like man in the blue suit 
   with a smile like fresh hay.

-- and I have to think the author is getting too clever for her own

Or a somewhat different problem, here:

   A cat expunges from the fog and disappears a few feet further.

This does not mean what it is pretending to mean. I've sometimes found
that sort of problem in my own prose (or, more embarrassingly, had it
pointed out to me), and my experience is that this is the result of
writing fairly quickly and concentrating on getting the rhythm right.
You grope for the right word, you find a related word that sounds
better, and you go on without quite registering that you just wrote
nonsense. Possibly Ms. Harrison's experience is different, but this is
how it goes for me. I think the word that she was reaching for was
probably "emerges", but I can also see why she might not have wanted to
use it in this sentence. "Expunge" is a strong word, and a rare one.
"emerge" is duller; worse, "emerges from the fog" is a pretty shopworn

Most people will probably know what the sentence means anyway: many will
hear the sound of "expunge" and understand the sense of "emerge",
through the miraculous capacity of the human mind to fabricate meaning
where there is none. But you run the risk that some players will slow
down, read the sentence literally, and be perplexed -- or think that you
don't know your vocabulary, which is almost certainly not the problem.

There were more misuses like this, lest anyone think I'm making too much
of a single sentence. Admittedly, they didn't make "Misdirection"
unplayable. If I read quickly, I didn't even mind; I caught the energy
of the prose and missed the sloppy bits. But given the talent that went
into the writing, it could have been much better.

I don't know what to suggest to the author. Having been corrected on
these sorts of errors a few times, I now tend to dump all my text into a
file at compile time and proof-read it that way, preferably weeks after
it was originally written. Even so, I find phrases in my released games
that make me wince. The other possibility is finding a beta-tester who
is also a good editor, someone who won't be fooled by the good qualities
of the writing into not commenting on the bad ones. That's probably the
best choice, if you can find someone you trust in that role.

I apologize to the author for going on at such length. If you're feeling
bitter, someone (I don't know who) wrote some fairly unflattering
comments on a similar issue in Metamorphoses, here:

On a completely different note: I appreciate the misdirection that the
game itself performs, distracting the player on the first playthrough
into ignoring the rat. At the same time, the way this is set up seems
almost like cheating. I *tried* to interact with the rat, but I didn't
have the bun; it requires out-of-character prescience for Sarah to
bother collecting one in advance, and I would have found the effect more
pleasing if that were not part of the puzzle.

Also, this one path is the only path that leads to any kind of escape,
while there are quite a few other plausible things to try (walking away
rather than approaching the shop; not following David into the darkness;
emptying or breaking the ash jar; giving the hat away to another
customer; trying to escape or disobey Eduardo) that aren't allowed.
Sometimes they're denied on the explicit grounds that history is already
established, and this is not what you did. But if history's established,
why are you allowed to change exactly one thing? It makes sense from the
author's point of view -- none of the other escapes makes a good story,
therefore the player can't be allowed to use them -- but it's
frustrating for a player. If I hadn't been told, I'm not sure I would
have realized there was any valid escape route at all, and that would
have been a pity.

Finally, I have a question. I understand the bulk of the plot, but the
exact nature of David's situation eluded me. He was bitten by a snake
and was thereby doomed to follow it; very well. Once you put your blood
into the ash, he is doomed to follow you, instead. Does that make you
the snake? It seems that you're more the victim, all things considered.
But then the relationships of the players becomes a bit obscure.

Maybe I'm missing something obvious, but it doesn't make complete sense
to me no matter how I approach it. This is disappointing, because, in a
plot about a horrific mystery like this, I would really like to have a
moment where everything clicks perfectly into place. It didn't, quite. I
still enjoyed the experience of getting there, but I wanted the final
result to be more coherent.

I want to reiterate at this point that I rarely have such detailed
complaints about a game I dislike. If this had come up in an IF
competition I would have scored it high, probably very high. It gets
more right than it gets wrong, and promises quite a lot from a new

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