ISSUE #37 - July 10, 2004

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The  |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of  |_|_|dventure  \___|ames
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                  |_|_|nniversary |___/pectacular!

                          ISSUE #37

        Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G
                        July 10, 2004

           SPAG Website:

SPAG #37 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. 

ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------

Whizzard: Ten Years After
The SPAG Interview with Magnus Olsson
Duncan Stevens on Ten Years Of IF

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

Black Sheep's Gold
City Of Secrets
Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I.
The House


On May 15th, 1994, Gerry Kevin "Whizzard" Wilson released the first
issue of SPAG, which at that point stood for "Society for the
Preservation of Adventure Games." In its editorial, Whizzard announced
that "the purpose of SPAG is the advancement of the modern text
adventure." Since that time, SPAG has published 36 more issues, more
than half a million words devoted to discussing interactive fiction.
SPAG's writers have reviewed hundreds of IF games, from tiny jokes like
Richard Basehart Adventure to epics such as Worlds Apart and First
Things First. Over one hundred reviewers have contributed, and we still
continue to welcome new ones -- this issue sees the debut of Mary Kate
Alexander, who turns in a review of Kathleen Fischer's "Inevitable." An
early message from Whizzard celebrated Magnus Olsson's creation of a
SPAG mailing list by noting, "no longer will I have to suffer through
typing 30 names into my e-mail program." Today, the SPAG subscriber list
contains more than 500 people. 

That's the good news. Here's the even better news: SPAG is far from the
only IF success story of the last ten years. 2004 also marks the 10th
anniversary of the IF Competition (also begun by Whizzard), which has
given rise over the years to some of the medium's most important works.
We've seen the first book-length academic treatise devoted exclusively
to text adventures, Nick Montfort's TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES. IF
development tools such as Inform, TADS, and Hugo have enabled amateur
implementors to create new works that far outstrip even the Infocom
classics, and those works have been released completely free of charge.
There's enough great, free interactive fiction out there to keep avid
players busy for years, and thanks to the maintainers of the IF Archive,
all that work is available in a central location. We even changed the
"P" in SPAG from "preservation" to "promotion" as it became increasingly
clear that text adventures are by no means an endangered species.

It's been an amazing decade for IF, and new wonders continue to unfold.
So this issue of SPAG is both a look back and a look forward, but more
than either of those, it's a sincere expression of gratitude. This zine
has always been a community effort, and it will always be one. Whatever
success we've had has been due to the many people who give generously of
their time and abilities to review IF games, write articles, and read
the work of others. In this issue, I've invited contributions from three
particularly important participants in that process. Duncan Stevens, a
stellar IF critic and by far the most prolific contributor to SPAG,
offers a look back at the last ten years of IF. Magnus Olsson, my
editorial predecessor, answers our questions in the SPAG Interview. And
of course, we couldn't have an anniversary issue without a few words
from our founder, Gerry Kevin Wilson.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who's made it such a great ten years for
SPAG and for IF in general. Here's to the continued advancement of the
modern text adventure. 

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

It's always so heartening to have a nice long list for this section, and
this one has the requisite ingredients of exciting, novel, and just
plain weird. The crop includes a hilarious parody of the IF community by
Stephen Bond, several debuts by new authors, one of the most outlandish
virtual machine abuses ever, and long-awaited new games by veteran
authors Mike Roberts and Robb Sherwin.
   * IF Quake adapted by Jason Bergman
   * George Bush And The PDB by Curt Siffert
   * The Cabal by Stephen Bond
   * Solitary by Kahlan
   * The Quest for Waitomo Cave by Paul Panks
   * Curse of the Dragon Shrine by Mystery
   * I'm Gonna Take You To The Video Bar!: A TADS abuse by James Mitchelhill
   * Return To Ditch Day by Mike Roberts
   * 2004 IF Art Show by various authors
   * Necrotic Drift by Robb Sherwin

As we celebrate ten years of SPAG, let us stop to pay our respects to
the end of an even longer-lived zine. SynTax magazine was a UK-based
venture run by Sue Medley and devoted to adventure games, including text
adventures. It started in July 1989 and ended with issue 90 (!) in
May. Sue has temporarily removed her back issue archive, but plans to
bring it back soon. Meanwhile, you can see the proud remains at

Speaking of IF zines, Ken Franklin has been publishing InsideADRIFT as a
monthly magazine since 2002, producing content-filled issues more or
less monthly. He's recently converted its site to a web forum format --
check it out at Hey, issue 16
even has an interview with me! Now *that's* quality!

I've recently been made aware of a couple of new web-based IF
development systems. The first is QuestBasher, at Through basic text entry boxes and JavaScript
buttons, this system allows you to create a rudimentary text adventure
which you can then advertise and share with all your rudimentary-text-
adventure-loving friends. If the QuestBasher system is still too
complicated for you, no problem! Peek over at to see Dan Shiovitz's latest
creation, Snap! Snap programs can be incredibly small -- in fact its
"Cloak Of Darkness" source code is one byte long. No wonder that ever
since Dan announced the system in very early April, it's been the IF
language everyone is talking about!

Previous incarnations of Marnie Parker's IF Art Show have brought us
games like Galatea and A Stop For The Night. The Show is back for 2004,
and here are the results:
  Landscape Category
     The Fire Tower - Jacqueline A. Lott - Best of Show
     Swanglass - Yoon Ha Lee - Best of Landscape
     Last Ride of the Night - Mordechai Shinefield
  Still Life Category
     Flametop - Dave Malaguti - Best of Still Life
  Event Category
     The Battle of Walcot Keep - Steve Breslin with Eric Eve and 
        Lindsey Hair; illustrated by Michael Bechard - Honorable Mention
Visit to download the games and to read
reviews by judges J.D. Berry, Jon Ingold, Mike Roberts, Emily Short,
Adam Thornton, and Chrysoula Tzavelas

As I mentioned above, whatever success SPAG has enjoyed is due solely to
the efforts of those who donate their time and energy to contributing
reviews. For this zine to make it another ten years, or even another
three months, I'm depending on those contributions to continue. If you'd
like a little inspiration for choosing review fodder, I offer the
following list:

1.  Curse of the Dragon Shrine
2.  Dead Reckoning
3.  1893: A World's Fair Mystery
4.  Heist
5.  IF Art Show 2004 games  (any, some, or all!)
6.  Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus
7.  Narcolepsy
8.  Necrotic Drift
9.  Return To Ditch Day
10. Unease

ANNIVERSARY ARTICLES-------------------------------------------------------

And now, a few words from our founder...

From:	Gerry Kevin "Whizzard" Wilson 

Wow, itís been ten years already? I barely even noticed. It fills me
with a sense of pride to know that SPAG and the IF-Comp are still going
strong, and to know that I had a hand in creating them, even if my
grades in college were the worse for it. I apologize that I havenít been
a part of the IF community for some time other than on the ifMUD, but I
plead real life. Here Iíll insert a disclaimer...anyone not interested
in what Iíve been up to for the last decade might as well skip down past
this bit, since thatís what Iím about to talk about.

Okay, for the folks still reading (both of you), after college I bummed
around awhile and finished up Avalon (er, I mean Once and Future) and
then got busy looking for work. Eventually, I came to rest at Alderac
Entertainment Group, makers of fine roleplaying games and collectible
card games. There I stayed for several years before moving on. I spent a
year coding oil truck simulation programs (the companyís client was
Halliburton, amusingly). Iíve since moved on to Fantasy Flight Games,
where Iím the companyís board game developer, of all things. Itís been a
weird trip. I never wouldíve predicted that Iíd be designing board games
for a living. But then, I never thought the IF-Comp would do so well,
either. Shows what I know.

All told, Iíve worked on roleplaying games (7th Sea and Spycraft), card
games (7th Sea CCG and the upcoming Call of Cthulhu CCG), board games
(Arena Maximus and Warcraft: the Board Game, to name a couple), and just
generally passed the years in a haze of activity. Currently Iíve begun
work on a fantasy novel that I hope to get published in a year or two
and Iím designing Doom: the Board Game (ah, sweet, sweet irony). After
that, who knows? Maybe in another 10 years Iíll be selling hula hoops
and marbles, or maybe Iíll be designing video games in a weird sort of
full circle. One thing is certain. I donít think that I ever wouldíve
become a game designer if it werenít for IF. Starting those projects
back in college and carrying Avalon through to the bitter end gave me a
terrific sense of confidence that I lacked back then. Once I saw that I
could make good things if I put my mind to it, I just went out and did
it. I may not be rich now, but I love what I do, even on the bad days.
Yessir, Iíd say that IF has been really good to me.

But enough about me. Hereís to Paul and Magnus and everyone else whoís
helped to carry the torch! Hereís to SPAG, and hereís to another 10
years! And hereís to everyone whoís helped to keep text adventures
alive. Thank you all.


The SPAG Interview with Magnus Olsson

Magnus Olsson was a prominent SPAG reviewer, then took over from
Whizzard as editor with issue #11, and steered the ship for two years.
He continues to administer the SPAG mailing list; if you're a
subscriber, he probably sent you the message you're reading right now.
In addition to helping out with SPAG, he's been a member of the IF
community for more than 10 years, and has authored many games, including
Uncle Zebulon's Will, winner of the TADS division in the first comp. For
this anniversary issue, he was kind enough to answer some questions for

   SPAG: The usual opening question may sound a little odd to you, since
   I believe you actually wrote it, but I'll ask it anyway: Could you
   tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a
   living, and so forth? 

MO: I'm Swedish, in my late thirties, and live in a medium-sized Swedish
city. I used to be a theoretical physicist but found the grass greener
in the software industry. My interests range from linguistics to
aviation; I'm a bit of an SF fan, do some role-playing of the table-top
variety, that kind of stuff.

   SPAG: What first sparked your interest in interactive fiction?

MO: Back when I was in high school, text adventures were pretty much the
dog's breakfast (it's hard to believe nowadays, but text-only
dialog-based interfaces were the state of the art); the big computer
magazines ran reviews of the great new games like _The Hobbit_ and
_HHGTTG_. So I suppose it would've been pretty hard not get interested
in IF.

   SPAG: You've been around the IF community for a long time -- what has
   kept you involved? 

MO: Actually, I'm not very involved nowadays -- for the last few years,
I've been pretty much watching from the sidelines. 

What kept me involved for so long was the wonderful community spirit on
the IF newsgroups -- it's not too much of an exaggeration to say that
r.a.i-f *was* the community, and the community was r.a.i-f. Alas, that
has changed.

   SPAG: Tell me about your tenure as SPAG editor. How did you acquire
   the job, and what are your memories of it? 

MO: I was a regular contributor when Whizzard was the editor, and I
helped with various practical things, so when Whizzard wanted to pass
the torch I was one of the first people he asked.

I'm afraid that I don't have very many memories of my "tenure" - it was
all rather uneventful; there were never any tough editorial decisions to
make or anything like that. It's had two lasting effects: on the
positive side, I've learned to see things from an editor's perspective,
which is very good for an author. On the negative side, I've been unable
to write reviews since I took over SPAG. I've tried, but I never get
more than a paragraph or two into the review before giving up. Of
course, this may also be because people like Emily Short have raised the
level of IF criticism to heights that were all but unimaginable when
SPAG started.

   SPAG: What made you decide to pass the reins?

MO: Lack of time, lack of inspiration. It had become a routine chore to
be done, which is not a good thing for a 'zine like SPAG.

   SPAG: In the geeky spirit of the novel and film HIGH FIDELITY, tell
   us your top five favorite interactive fiction moments. These could
   moments from a game, things that happened on the newsgroups or ifMUD,
   or anything else that seems IFnal to you. 

MO: In chronological order:

* Playing _HHGTTG_ and realizing that I wasn't just playing a game, I
was actually playing a character in a book and experiencing the story
from the inside, as it were.

* Discovering the IF newsgroups. 'Nuff said, I think.

* The release of _John's Fire Witch_ -- for the first time, I was
playing a brand-new, amateur-written IF game that was as good as the old
classics. To me, this marks the starting point of the IF renaissance.

* Beta testing _So Far_. This is perhaps the piece of IF that's made the
deepest impression on me, and being a beta tester gave me the
opportunity to discuss it in detail with the author, and actually to
influence it in some small ways.

* And, finally, a more recent event: the 2003 XYZZY awards ceremony. For
various reasons, I hardly visit the ifMUD, but it was very nice to see
that the friendly community spirit lives on there,

   SPAG: What frontiers do you think still remain to be explored in IF?
   Is there anything you really hope to see done, say in the next ten

MO: There's one problem area with traditional IF that sticks out like a
sore thumb, and that's NPC interaction. We've all played games that
seemed just perfect until we encounter an NPC that's about as responsive
as a refrigerator -- and bang goes mimesis. 

Mind you, this doesn't necessarily mean more intelligent NPCs in the AI
sense -- in the foreseeable future, AI will probably only give us NPCs
that act as more intelligent robots, rather than human beings. It could
very well be scripted conversation, only deeper and better integrated
than today. And I don't think any technical breakthroughs are necessary,
though of course they'll help.

We've seen a few steps in this direction, such as _Galatea_. I'd like to
see a more "traditional", story-based game with that kind of NPCs.

   SPAG: I see from your web page that you're a fan of webcomics. As a
   comic aficionado myself, I wonder if you have any thoughts about what
   IF and comics have in common? 

MO: Artistically, I don't think they really have very much to do with
each other at all, except that both media are used to tell stories.
Comics are static, non-interactive, primarily graphic; while IF is
dynamic, interactive, and -- by the usual definition -- text-oriented.

But there's a similarity in that both comics and IF seem to have found
an "alternative", non-commercial outlet on the Net. In the case of IF,
it's almost impossible to get published commercially; in the case of
comics, it's just very difficult. In both cases, distribution for free
over the Net seems to work really well -- which is not the case at all
for related art forms such as static fiction (with the exception of
fanfic, which again is impossible to publish commercially).

   SPAG: About the games you've written in the past: how do you view
   them now? Any memories that stand out as particularly special about


_Atomia Akorny_: Primitive to the point of unplayable by today's
standard (by *any* standard, actually), but great fun to write, and
quite a challenge to fit an entire text adventure into 10 KB. 

_Dunjin_: Very old school, of course. I wasn't trying to tell a story
until quite late in the development process (when a tester told me that
it needed a plot), but it was an exercise in world-building and, in a
sense, game-mastering; trying to manipulate the player, making him
experience certain things, see things in a certain light. And that is of
course at the core of story-telling as well. It's all very
college-boyish, of course, which is no wonder since I was an undergrad
when I started it. I remember that the parser was a real bitch to write,
since I knew nothing about parser construction at the time. And the
paranoid satisfaction of protecting my precious secrets with clever
encryption algorithms...

_Uncle Zebulon's Will_: It started with the idea of exploring a wizard's
house, and with the blue and green bottles. The rest grew from there.
Until quite late in the process, it was called _Uncle Phil's Will_, by
the way -- which doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it? 

When the other Competition entries had been released, I looked in awe at
all the features they had which _Zebulon_ hadn't, and I didn't think it
would stand a chance of winning -- which shows how difficult it is to
assess your own works. Today, of course, the Competition entries are far
more sophisticated; _Zebulon_ is a trifle compared to, say, _Slouching
Towards Bedlam_.

_Aayela_: Most reviewers see it as an experiment with darkness, but it
was intended rather as a mood piece: the darkness isn't there as an
obstacle to the player but to set a certain atmosphere. It was inspired
by a dream which in turn was inspired by Ursula LeGuin's _Tombs of

_Zugzwang_: A joke, of course: a demo for something that would be
impossible to write. But ever since I learned to play chess as a kid,
I've wanted to use the point-of-view of a chess piece. 

   SPAG: Are you working on anything IF-related at the moment?

MO: Yes, for some definition of "working", but it's very much on the
back burner. Don't hold your breath.


Duncan Stevens has authored more SPAG reviews than any other single
reviewer, and they have all been of a remarkably high standard --
cogent, incisive, and well-written. Real life has diverted his attention
for the past few years, but for the anniversary issue he's done us the
favor of applying his knowledge and intelligence to an examination of
what's happened during the last ten years of IF development.

From:	Duncan Stevens 

So SPAG's been around for ten years now, and what's happened in the IF
world in the ten years of SPAG's existence? Oh, not much. Consider:

1) THE RISE OF FREEWARE IF. Ten years ago, much of what was produced in
the IF community was some variety of commercial effort -- often
shareware or crippleware. Legend was on its last legs (Gateway 2:
Homeworld was released in 1993), the Adventions games saw their last
commercial installment with 1993's Unnkulia Zero, and amateur efforts
like MacWesleyan (1995), Save Princeton (1994), Perdition's Flames
(1993), and Enhanced (1994), were all shareware. Much of what was made
available for free was the leavings of the annual Softworks AGT
competition, about which, honorable exceptions like Cosmoserve (1992)
and Shades of Gray (1994) aside, the less said the better. The 1993
freeware release of Curses heralded a trend of high-quality freeware
games (The Legend Lives! in 1994, Christminster and Jigsaw in 1995,
etc.) that left shareware largely a memory in a few years.

You can argue, of course, that the move away from commercial IF has been
less than salutary for authors, who have lost a chance at even the
meager compensation available from shareware registrations -- but the
freeware revolution has likely broadened the IF audience (in that new
players are arguably more willing to try a free game with no pressure to
register) and diversified the IF available (since the decline of
commercial avenues for IF left fewer constraints on authors'

2) BREVITY, THE SOUL OF IF. Relatively short IF games were all but
unknown ten years ago; Unnkulia One-Half was written in 1993 as a teaser
for Unnkulia Zero, and medium-length fare like Busted! was rare (and
only half-serious.) The advent of the annual competition in 1995, with
its "One Rule" that entries must be finishable in under two hours,
heralded a movement toward shorter games, and popular games like John's
Fire Witch (1995) both followed and pushed the trend -- fast enough that
longer IF is now largely unknown, with maybe a release or two each year.
(Three of the past four Best Game winners have been competition

As above, this is both good and bad. New writers can break into the
IF-writing biz more easily if the median length of an IF release is
relatively compact; if all new games were expected to be Curses-length,
there would likely be many fewer IF authors. At the same time, however,
the trend toward shorter games has lessened players' patience for highly
difficult, epic-length IF on the scale of Jigsaw; it's hard to
reaccustom oneself to devoting months to a single game when the more
common IF experience takes only an evening (and when there are hundreds
more worthy efforts in the archive). The diminished appetite for long
games has in turn made authors reluctant to devote the considerable
energies required, and the spiral proceeds from there. How significant a
loss this is for the IF world is a matter of taste and opinion, of
course, but it's certainly a striking trend.

A somewhat unfortunate example of this was G. Kevin Wilson's Once and
Future, a sprawling Arthurian epic written over the course of five years
and released commercially in 1998. While reviews were generally
positive, interest (at least, as measured by sales) was tepid -- in
part, it seemed, because epic-length IF had fallen out of style to some
extent over the course of the game's creation, and the ample supply of
short, high-quality freeware games narrowed the game's appeal somewhat. 

history, IF has consisted largely of puzzles wrapped in an ostensible
plot premise -- sometimes with obvious set-piece puzzles (see Zork
Zero), and usually with the seams only slightly better hidden.
Aberrations like Trinity and A Mind Forever Voyaging aside, most IF had
so little plot that it was all but inevitable that puzzles would
predominate and largely displace what passed for a story. Many of the
games produced in the freeware IF revolution featured stronger stories,
however (perhaps because, in shorter IF, it's easier to sustain a
narrative arc), spawning a trend toward smoother integration of plot and
puzzle (in other words, fewer locked doors that have to be unlocked
because no IF player can leave a door unlocked in good conscience, etc.,
and more puzzles that the PC might actually want to solve). Notable
harbingers of this trend were Christminster (1995), The One That Got
Away (1995), Delusions (1996), and Kissing the Buddha's Feet (1996); by
the 1997 competition, the plots of the top-ranked games (The Edifice,
Babel, and Glowgrass) had become highly focused, and the puzzles to be
solved would have made little to no sense in any other context.
Increasingly, a plot that both makes sense and drives the bulk of a
game's action has become an expected IF feature, and well-regarded games
integrate their plot and puzzles seamlessly. (Try to imagine the puzzles
in the last three competition winners -- Slouching Toward Bedlam;
Another Earth, Another Sky; and All Roads -- transposed into any other

This is a welcome development in a lot of respects, but in one in
particular: it suggests that the IF medium can be valuable for
expressing ideas and telling a story in new ways, not simply for the
crafting of puzzles (which was, largely, its original purpose). Some
have argued that the ability to not only put the player in the shoes of
the protagonist (as static fiction does with first-person narration) but
actually direct the protagonist's actions heightens a sense of
complicity in the plot as it unfolds and offer an opportunity to make a
statement that simply could not be made as effectively in static
fiction. Similarly, the experience of interacting with characters and
experiencing a setting gives IF a potential emotional impact not
available in static fiction -- and the best writers have found ways to
make such an impact, notably Adam Cadre in Photopia (1998) and Andrew
Plotkin in Shade (2000).

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of the decline of puzzlefests,
of course, a large portion of it by yours truly, but the nature of the
shift has sometimes been oversimplified. Even now, relatively few IF
games eschew puzzles altogether (and even those that do must contend
with players' puzzle-solving expectations; thus, the branching plots of
Galatea (2000) were taken by many as an invitation to find each and
every narrative possibility), and even now there are well-regarded games
that could reasonably be viewed as puzzles with some ostensible story
(Lock and Key). The few genuinely puzzleless games that have been
produced (many in the annual Art Show, a few -- Exhibition (1999), Best
of Three (2001) -- in the competition) have garnered respect but have
hardly set off a stampede. More common are games that use a few puzzles
for pacing (Photopia, All Roads, My Angel), but focus their efforts on
plot and character development rather than complex puzzles.

It's hard to argue, moreover, that puzzle development is a lost art, as
the last few years of IF development have seen some of the best puzzles
ever devised. The language puzzle in The Edifice (1997), the entirety of
Rematch (2000), and a certain puzzle in Spider and Web (1998) all
require persistence, ingenuity, and a bit of lateral thinking. Nor are
full-blown puzzlefests entirely things of the past: recent years have
given us the gargantuan Mulldoon Legacy (1999), Not Just an Ordinary
Ballerina (1999), and First Things First (2002), each crammed with
creative puzzles. The demise of the puzzle, in short, has been greatly

4) NPC INTERACTION: MORE, BETTER. Part of the rise in the storytelling
element of IF has been increased attention to NPC development: while
many NPCs in the early days of IF simply served as puzzle props
(recognize what the NPC wants, give it to him/her, obtain
knowledge/object to solve another puzzle -- or disable/distract NPC
guarding exit/treasure), the latter-day IF revolution has increasingly
offered more complex characters with whom the PC can interact more
extensively. Some of this arises simply from authors giving NPCs more
personality -- both Small World and Kissing the Buddha's Feet in the
1996 competition gave key NPCs a wide variety of one-liners and amusing
reactions to the game's events, making them feel like well-developed
characters even though the PC didn't need to interact much with them.
But the complexity of NPC interactions, in the form of more elaborate
conversation systems, has also played a key role.

At the forefront of this particular development is Emily Short, whose
Galatea (2000) consisted almost entirely of interactions with a single
exhaustively realized NPC, interactions that, both through an ASK/TELL
conversation system and a variety of other means, helped develop a
highly complex NPC personality; different questions or approaches would
elicit different reactions depending on the conversational context and
send the relationship between the PC and NPC down a variety of different
paths. Subsequent Short efforts, including 2001's Pytho's Mask and Best
of Three and 2003's City of Secrets, featured a novel conversation
system that blend the freedom of an ASK/TELL interface with the specific
phrasings (and associated tone choices) of menu-based systems, allowing
for considerably more complex interactions -- and more complex
characters, like Grant from Best of Three and Evaine from City of
Secrets, have emerged as a result. Other notable NPC-centric games were
Adam Cadre's Varicella (1999), many of whose NPCs were vividly rendered
loathsome characters, and Stephen Granade's Common Ground (1999), a
shifting-perspective look at complex family relationships. Both the
tools and the precedents are there for multilayered NPCs, in short,
characters that drive the story rather than merely being cogs in the

5) EXPERIMENTATION. As noted, commercial IF is largely gone and is
unlikely to make a comeback any time soon -- but with the decline of
commercial IF has come a great deal of narrative experimentation with
the IF medium, some of which, of course, has worked better than others,
but most of it has offered something worthwhile.

Those experiments have taken a variety of forms, many of which cannot be
revealed here without spoilers -- authors began testing the waters with
puzzleless and puzzle-light IF in 1996 and 1997 (In the End, Tapestry,
Space Under the Window), and have moved on to more radical experiments.
Some of the experiments have included novel PC points of view, from dogs
(Ralph, 1996) to cats (Day for Soft Food, 1999) to teddy bears (Bear's
Night Out, 1997) to robots (Bad Machine, 1998) to genies (Djinni
Chronicles, 2000), and others have taken the form of PCs that prove
unreliable in a variety of ways. An even more striking experiment was
The Gostak (2001), written in a language whose syntax was akin to
English but whose vocabulary was entirely unfamiliar, and the challenge
was to decipher it sufficiently and interact sensibly enough to solve
some simple puzzles. Other notable experiments have included Aisle
(1999) and Rematch, both of which offer just one turn (repeated over and
over) but manage to provide surprisingly varied and deep exploration of
the game's world, and Heroes (2001), where the player has a task to
achieve and can assume any of five separate roles to achieve it. There
have also been attempts at literary adaptation (The Tempest, 1997, and
Nevermore, 2000); surreal/symbolic settings (So Far, 1996, and For a
Change, 1999), IF games in reverse (Zero Sum Game, 1997, and Janitor,
2002), and games where most or all of the challenge is to figure out
what is going on (Shade, 2000, and All Roads, 2001). These and other
successful experiments have helped pushed the boundaries of what IF
authors can do with the craft.

The common thread here is that many, if not all, of these experiments
would have been hard to market (at least, the history of commercial IF
includes little boundary-pushing as ambitious as the above efforts,
which says something); it's reasonable to conclude that the freeware
revolution gave rise to an environment that made innovation of this sort
possible. It's undeniable, however, that things have been done with IF
tools in the past ten years that have expanded the frontiers of the
possible -- at least, in this setting. (No, not Z-abuses.)

6) MULTIMEDIA FOR THE COMMON MAN. While most IF is still text-only,
development tools facilitating the use of multimedia have, if not
flourished, at least achieved a modicum of popularity in recent years,
notably HTML-TADS, Glulx, and Hugo, such that basic graphics and sound
files are now relatively commonplace. Particularly notable in this
regard were Carma (2002), which had fairly polished animations and
well-produced music, and Kaged (2000), which had photographs and a
nicely mood-enhancing soundtrack.

It's not clear whether this represents a significant advance in relative
terms -- the progress of multimedia IF has been slow enough, and the
enhancement of multimedia in commercial games fast enough, that
potential players accustomed to highly vivid graphics and professionally
produced sound are likely in for a rude shock. Still, there are viable
multimedia tools available, which is certainly an improvement on 1994.

7) PARODY/COMMENTARY. I'm not sure how much it says, in these
self-conscious times, that IF has developed the ability to comment on
itself and on its own limitations, but that it has is undeniable.
Arguably the first example was Undo (1995), a peculiar little effort
with no puzzles in the traditional sense, one problem that is solved
with linguistic trickery, a possible score of 86 points but no actual
opportunity to score said points, and a variety of bizarre red herrings.
Zero Sum Game, where the goal was to undo the entirety of a
hack-and-slash fantasy quest and thereby bring the score down to 0 (and
the protagonist caused considerably more mayhem in trying to set things
right than he/she had caused during the "original" game, was another
game that explicitly poked fun at IF conventions, and the list has grown
from there: 9:05 (1999), Shrapnel (1999), Being Andrew Plotkin (2000),
LASH (2000), Guess the Verb! (2000), Voices (2001), and Janitor have all
employed self-reference in one way or another to amuse or inform. All
this suggests that, if nothing else, the medium is stable and defined
enough that critique and mockery makes some level of sense, which is
progress of a sort.

8) GENRE WITH THE WIND. Finally, one of the more encouraging aspects of
latter-day IF development is that most of the better games have
transcended genre limitations in ways that very little old-school
commercial IF managed to do. Whereas much of the most successful IF in
the '80s fell firmly into well-trodden genre categories, much of the
most acclaimed IF of the last ten years has avoided such categories.

Consider the competition winners: over the nine years of the
competition, the first-place games have included an elliptical little
nightmare about being stuck in the rain, an allegory of sorts for
evolution and civilization, a fragmented tale of untimely death that
defies categorization, an medieval-Venice metaphysical-fantasy story
involving political scheming and a narrator who moves into and out of
various bodies, and a steampunk story set in an insane asylum with a
dash of unreliable narrator. Other notables of the past few years
include: an 18th-century France drama with incursions of fantasy-style
magic; a palace-intrigue game in an anachronism-heavy alternate-history
19th century Italy where none of the contenders for the throne,
including the PC, are even vaguely sympathetic; a
delve-into-your-own-head saga arising from the PC's attempts to quit
smoking; a parody of an offbeat indie movie, shot through with IF
reference; and a neo-Platonist story freighted with symbolism and object
transformation. By this point, well-regarded IF games that fall within
genre boundaries at all are more the exception than the rule: Anchorhead
(1998), Spider and Web (1998), and Worlds Apart (1999) could fairly be
called Lovecraftian horror, espionage, and sci-fi games without
stretching the definitions too much, but not many other top-flight IF
games of the last several years could be so classified.

That latter-day IF increasingly ignores genre boundaries is noteworthy
in a few respects. First, it tends to elevate the significance of story
over puzzles, a dynamic discussed above; if the setting and plot are
generic fantasy or sci-fi, the game often becomes an excuse for
set-piece puzzles (since the appeal of the game tends to lie more in the
puzzles grafted into the setting than in a tired plot). If the concepts
and settings are fresh, however, the author is less tempted to play them
down, or ignore them for long stretches, in favor of puzzles. To be
sure, genre does not necessarily mean trite -- but without striking
innovations that stamp a game as somehow transcending a category
(notable examples are Enlightenment (1998), which both inhabits and
satirizes fantasy, and LASH, science fiction that encourages the player
to apply the story's themes on multiple levels), it can be difficult to
make genre fiction feel fresh. (The increasing complaints over the years
about genre IF, particularly fantasy -- without regard for the
cleverness of the puzzles in the genre setting in question -- underscore
the IF audience's increasing dissatisfaction with puzzles as a game's
raison d'Ítre.)

Second, the decline of genre IF -- in particular, the decline of fantasy
and sci-fi -- suggests a growing acknowledgment that realistic and
complex characters and compelling human conflicts matter, as those
genres traditionally have been better on outlandish visions of
alternative worlds, or on bizarre occurrences in traditional settings,
than on bringing characters to life. (At the very least, the rise in
"realistic" high-quality IF that eschews both fantastic settings and
strange/mystical events -- Varicella, Common Ground, Exhibition (1999),
Gourmet (2002) -- indicates more interest in bringing to life the
interactions within those settings than in portraying the fantastic and
otherworldly.) There's nothing about those hallmarks of fantasy and
science fiction that precludes character development, of course, but it
says something that authors, more and more, no longer need to rely on
the outlandish and unusual as a hook. Finally, whatever you might think
of IF's aspirations toward serious literature, going beyond genre --
either by subverting it or disregarding it outright -- certainly
reflects those aspirations.

In short, the past ten years have been quite a time for the development
of IF -- and while the long-sought foothold in the commercial gaming
world, a few heroic attempts to the contrary notwithstanding, has not
yet materialized, that day may yet come. If it does, thanks to the
freeware revolution, the medium will certainly be a good deal more
mature than it was when the market petered out in the early '90s.


This article isn't part of the anniversary celebration per se, but it
does reference a discussion that's been ongoing during the last several
issues, and besides, it was too interesting to pass up. 

From:	Bradley O'Donnell 


Back in SPAG issue #34, Paul O'Brian's editorial examined a design
tradeoff common in IF. The situation is as follows:

The player is in a room with a locked door. The player also has the key
to the door:

	The door is locked.

	What do you want to unlock the door with?

The player winces as precious mimesis breaks; the game _knows_ he has
the right key for the door, so why doesn't it just fill in the details?

It's a good question, and there are many ways of responding to it, each
with their pros and cons. Here are analyses of the three responses I
find the most interesting.

	RESPONSE #1: Implement your way out of it.

You can add extra programming to increase what the game "knows" how to
deal with. The door will now check for the key and unlock itself
accordingly. With some extra work and some object-oriented programming,
you can extend this knowledge to every locked door in your game.

The game now conforms with user expectations, at least in this specific
case. But the player's expectations will rise. Imagine the myriad
situations where it might be convenient for the program to anticipate
the player's intent. Now imagine writing all of that anticipatory code.
On the library-writing side, imagine a complete framework that tracks
the dependency trees of actions and sub-actions and game-state
requirements, filling in the blanks everywhere they are "obvious" or
"trivial". It's a beautiful thought, but if you seriously want to go
down that road, I look forward to playing your game sometime after the
creation of bonafide AI, which you will have developed just weeks

	RESPONSE #2: Design your way out of it.

You can restructure your game so that these situations don't occur. The
rule of thumb for this method is to ensure that any action that isn't
intended as a puzzle takes only one command and requires as little
disambiguation as possible. This solves the problem by saying that
unless choosing a specific key for a given door is meant to provide
problem-solving satisfaction, the entire unlocking process should be
discarded in favour of some other means of blocking entry into an area.

That way the game never asks stupid questions, nor makes the player jump
through too many hoops to do non-puzzle tasks. On the other hand,
sometimes a door and a key just make so much sense that any other option
seems ridiculous in context.

	RESPONSE #3: Alter the player's expectations by altering the interface 
   and/or world model.

Each IF experience makes assumptions about the game's interface and
world model. In the UDWK case, the standard IF behavior causes part of
the problem: the door is not just for travelling from room to room. It
is also a full-fledged object in the game world and (ideally) has to be
treated as though the player might do anything to it, including trying
to take it off its hinges.

But the seasoned IF player knows that 99% of all doors are there to
either indicate or block an exit, and so he leaves them alone unless
otherwise encouraged. The seasoned author, knowing that his doors are
not going to be taxed beyond simple ingress and egress, also leaves them
alone. In this way both parties acknowledge the limited purposes of
doors and doorways in a game.

So when UDWK rears its head, the game is saying, "This door's purpose is
to block your way until you acquire its key. You now have the key, but
the world-model insists that you perform two or three obvious commands
to unblock the door." No wonder the player cries foul -- here is this
door, this glorified piece of scenery, giving him a hard time!

One of my favorite IF games, The Haunted Mission Adventure, has an
interface/world model that potentially sidesteps this problem. In it,
the exits of a room are just that, exits, and they're listed in a little
window for easy reference. They don't react to other verbs. I can
imagine this system extended to include locked doors; simply disallow
passage until the key is acquired, and allow it afterward, printing
appropriate advisory messages as the player passes through.

Haunted Mission has a few other, similar user conveniences. A list of
objects in the area gets its own window, as does your inventory. The
only thing missing is a verb list, and even with one, Haunted Mission
would remain far from perfect.

I suppose this constant listing of things directly in the interface
seems very un-mimetic, very un-Infocom (except for Beyond Zork). But
consider another mimesis-breaker, the menu-based conversation. If you
concede (and many do not) that there is merit in spelling-out the
player's speech options and bypassing the world-model to do so
(traditional ASK/TELL relies on the world-model for conversation
subjects), then perhaps the world-model can be bypassed or altered in
other useful ways. Perhaps exits are a good place to start. I'd love to
see object and verb lists.

To those who immediately oppose such ideas because they break mimesis, I
respond that we actually never obtain mimesis more than a negligible
percentage of the time, using the current model of IF as a continuous
stream of conversation between player and game. I think the UDWK
phenomenon shows that mimesis is rare, fragile and (probably)
technologically distant.

If this is the case, then I think the more interesting question is what
aspects -- if not mimesis -- make IF compelling in the first place, and
how do we emphasize them?

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.
VERSION: Release 23

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

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

From:	Emily Short 

TITLE: Black Sheep's Gold
AUTHOR: Driftingon
EMAIL: Unknown
DATE: February 2003
SUPPORTS: ADRIFT interpreters (the ADRIFT runner, MacScare, jAsea)

[Obligatory disclaimer: I played this game on the MacScare interpreter,
and it is conceivable that there were some differences between my
experience and what someone would experience using the ADRIFT runner.
From looking at other people's comments on the game, though, I get the
impression that I am not the only one suffering guess-the-verb issues. I
did not encounter anything in the playthrough that seemed like evidence
of a definite flaw in MacScare.]

"Black Sheep's Gold", by Driftingon, starts as a slice of life piece
about an eight-year-old girl who has to clean the attic; soon, however,
she discovers evidence of a treasure hidden by a relative many years
before, and goes off in search of it.

The young narrator is one of the game's strongest points. Aside from
some character-breaking moments towards the end, she remains perky and
distinctive throughout, putting a personal spin on the rather mundane
house in which she lives. She's obviously a bit precocious, but there's
nothing wrong with that.

The game's prose is also quite decent -- I didn't find many problems or
errors -- and the implementation (except for some parsing issues) seemed
fairly strong and consistent throughout.

The NPCs in the game were varied; most only have one or two (not very
interesting) lines to say, but a few are more interestingly fleshed out,
including amusing in-joke cameos: ADRIFT's creator Campbell Wild appears
as the rather odd owner of an aquatic pet shop, and at least one other
name was familiar to me from the ADRIFT forum.

Other aspects of "Black Sheep's Gold" don't work quite as well. For one
thing, I found myself faced with a number of guess-the-verb moments, and
at a couple of key points could only get through with the help of a
transcript. The game does alleviate some of these problems by putting
correct action phrasings in italics some of the time -- but it doesn't
do this quite consistently enough, and in a few places I was left high
and dry. (It also italicizes the names of any important objects in a
room, which is either a convenience or goofy and annoying, depending on
how you look at it. It certainly draws attention away from immersion
towards the user interface.)

The puzzles themselves (aside from phrasing difficulties) are extremely
simple and obvious, too. Frequently the game quite blatantly tells the
player how to solve them, with suggestions like "If I only had a rope
ladder, I would be able to LOWER THE LADDER FROM THE WINDOW and CLIMB
DOWN!". (Example changed to protect the innocent, though I'm not sure
why I bother trying not to spoil puzzles that give themselves away like

I don't know much about the background of the game, but I found myself
starting to wonder whether it had been designed for younger players.
That would explain the age of the protagonist, the
not-at-all-challenging puzzle design, and the game's tendency to draw
special attention to important nouns and verbs. The experienced IF
puzzle-solver is likely to find most of the puzzles too simple to be
very interesting, however.

One final difficulty was the pacing. A fair amount of time is given to
the prologue and to what I thought were opening stages of the midgame,
so I assumed that the later portions of the plot would unfold at the
same rate. But just at the point of the game when things seemed to be
getting interesting and I hoped for high adventure, I was ambushed... by
infodumps. There comes a point where you find yourself reading pages and
pages of text about all sorts of interesting but uninteractive events.
Then there are a couple more fairly obvious puzzles, and the game ends.
And the ending -- well, it seems to me that the final few paragraphs
break with the narrator's charming personality and go somewhat more
cynical and world-weary than suits the rest of the game. I was
disappointed. A more obvious ending would probably have been trite, but
I still didn't entirely like the effect of this, since most of what had
carried me through earlier had been sympathy for the kid.

So overall I thought "Black Sheep's Gold" showed considerable effort, a
fair amount of polish, and a mostly-charming narrator. On the other
hand, it has some unintentionally frustrating moments, and does not
offer much challenge as far as puzzles go. It might be suitable for
younger players being introduced to IF, but they would still probably
need a little help with phrasing a few commands correctly.


From:	Cirk Bejnar 

TITLE: City of Secrets
AUTHOR: Emily Short
EMAIL: emshort SP@G 
DATE: June 24, 2003
PARSER: Enhanced Inform
SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters

My overall impression of this game was very good. Short's
characteristically strong coding and writing combine for a great
experience, and I found no notable bugs in this release. 

From a purely technical standpoint, the work is a gem. Short has again
used her resource-intensive ask-tell/menu hybrid conversation system.
There are two difficulty settings and various options to set up the
conversation system and the graphics to suit a variety of tastes. There
is an impressive amount of detail in the descriptions with nearly all
first level objects implemented and many second and third level as well.
Such extras as your complementary personal shampoo from the hotel are
fully implemented, which gives the world a solid feeling. The City seems
to be an actual place rather than merely the setting for a game. The
superb map design also contributes to this feeling. The city is
represented as 20 or so rooms, but between the graphical map that you
have available and the intuitive layout of the main thoroughfares travel
is easy. She has also admirably succeeded in giving the different
sectors of the City a unique feel. A quick glance at the room name will
tell you whether you are in Malta or May Street and thus what to expect
from your surroundings.

The writings is, as I said before, also up to Short's usual high
standards. Once the plot got rolling I could see the main twist coming
but resisted it because of my personal convictions. (This also seemed
perfectly in character for the PC.) However, as details emerged I was
slowly won over, against my will, as it were, to the other side. That
Short could pull this off, even while I was aware of it, is a testament
to the immersive effect of the prose and the real emotional impact of
the characters. 

However, this work is not perfect. None are. And in this case, the weakest
link is the plot. It is well written and paced, in my opinion, but more
predictable and linear than I would have preferred. In particular I was
not able to derail it by personal choice, as far as I could tell. My
choices were generally to advance the plot or to continue wandering
about the City. I was unable to find a way to take decisive action
according to my own judgment, only as the story dictated. The exception
to this is the climatic move in the snowstorm. In this case, however, I
was too dense to figure out why my options have the effects they do. I
know that it is supposed to be mysterious but it would be nice if saving
the world depended on more than a guess. 

In summary, City of Secrets is a fine game that demonstrates not only
Short's preeminence in the field but also the way that writing and
atmosphere can carry a game rather than devilish puzzles or
breathtakingly new plot. 


From:	Andrea Crain 

TITLE: Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I.
AUTHOR: Text, script and design by Muffy and Michael Berlyn
        Inform translation by Mark J. Musante and Michael Berlyn
        Hints by Gunther Schmidl.
EMAIL: ???
DATE: May 5, 2000
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF-Archive

The premise of Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. is that you're a student
whose off-kilter physics professor has built a combination particle
accelerator and A.I. computer. The computer needs a human observer in
order to find and view Particle X, a new subatomic particle. Dr. Dumont
asks you to sit in the interface shell, just to take some measurements,
but of course you accidentally activate the linkage and get plunged into
the metaphorical virtual reality the computer creates for you. In order
to get out again, you have to help the A.I. view Particle X.

Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. was originally written for Infocom but, due
to Infocom's demise, was released by another company in the late 80s.
When the Berlyns started their own company in 1999, it was updated and
re-released as a commercial, download-only product. Then they went out
of business, too, and this game was finally released as freeware. The
original manual and "feelies" (artifacts from the game world, including
a kite race flyer you'll need to solve a puzzle) are included as PDF
files in the same if-archive directory as the game file.

Due to its long history as a commercial product, I expected playing this
game to be an extremely polished experience. Unfortunately, there were
some sloppy elements. For example, there is an object you gain at one
point that, when in use, renders you unable to go anywhere or examine
objects because you "can't see much". However, you're perfectly able,
somehow, to see the same room description as always and to read a

Another sloppy piece is that there is an object you need to alter in
order to finish the game successfully. Reading its description carefully
will tell you what it really is. However, when you find it in the room
and when you see it in your inventory, it is named inaccurately, as
though it were already in the state to which you are meant to change it.
This worked to prevent me from realizing that I needed to alter it until
I checked the hints.

A third object needed to be made to turn through some complicated
manipulations of the environment. However, when I tried "turn"ing it
before doing any of those manipulations, I was told it was already
turning. That was very confusing -- if it's already turning, I thought,
then why isn't it making this other thing work?

In addition, the kite race seems not like an integral part of the game,
but a tacked-on puzzle originally meant as a low-tech copy protection
scheme. To win the kite race, you had to have the information on the
flyer. Since the flyer was included in the physical package of the 80s
version of the game (it's now part of the .PDF "feelies" file),
presumably you had to buy the game and not copy it from a friend's
floppy disk. (There is even a jab in the in-game hints section to this
effect.) Because there were no photocopy machines in 1988, of course, or
even pens, you couldn't have just gotten the hint from your friend's
copy. The flyer exists as a game object, including the text that says
instructions on how to win the race are on the reverse, but there is no
in-game way to turn over the flyer and read the reverse side. The game
doesn't even anticipate that we'll try this, and tell us we can't.

Anyway, if you try to play the kite race puzzle without this
information, you will think that you are following the kite, based on
the motions the kite makes in the course. However, the game will tell
you that the kite "takes off to the north, then heads off to the south."
So you will go south, and the kite may not be there, or it may not be
possible to go that way. When you follow the path that using the flyer
hint gives you, the way the game says the kite goes will not always
match the path you take, yet it will be there with you in the next room
of the puzzle, and you will still win. And when you reach the end of
that path, you will expect that something "You've won"-ish should
happen, but it will not until you leave the course, so you may flounder
about thinking you've misunderstood the hint. You haven't. It's just a
weird puzzle.

There are other annoyances. You have to play guess-the-verb with a duck,
and you may not "toss" a ring despite being at a Ring Toss. You will
have to cause something to reach a precise state without going too far,
and even though you should be able to judge it by "touch"ing or
"feel"ing it, you can't. The game will tell you you are standing outside
a building, and then will not allow you to look at that building. There
is a door with no purpose but to make you open it before you walk
through -- it isn't even locked. And in order to get more information
from the game about the puzzles by using the "meditate" verb, you have
to go through a series of three actions, meditate, and then reverse the
steps before you can carry on with the game, every time. It's tedious --
it'd be nice if, once you figured out how to meditate, the process could
be automatic!

But my biggest disappointment with this game was something a little less
nitpicky. This game's premise and atmosphere are very cool. You get the
impression that in playing this game, you're going to be immersed in
particle physics, philosophy, astronomy, metaphysics and the Marx
brothers. In short, you feel like you're about to learn a little
something. The game doesn't deliver. The School of Thought is just a
place to pick up some objects. The Science Art Museum is just a place to
get some objects. The Planetarium is just a place to get some more
objects. The professor NPC's don't know anything about their subjects
and can barely converse at all. The A.I. is waiting for you to solve its
problem for it. You might learn a little about the Milky Way at the
fair, but that's about it. This is a puzzlefest wrapped up in an
Einstein poster. It looks cool and makes you feel smart, but ultimately,
it's just a paper-thin diversion.

The demise of the game publishing house that re-released Dr. Dumont's
Wild P.A.R.T.I. in the late 90s should not be taken as proof that
selling commercial IF is no longer a workable business model. Maybe it
isn't, but maybe if the product they were selling had been an
outstanding, polished, bug-free game, a game that made people think and
talk and tell their friends "hey, you've got to try this," things might
have worked out.

It's worth playing for a couple of the puzzles, and the fun atmosphere.
The prose is lively and engaging, which is why it sets up such
unrealistic expectations. If the careless bugs and annoyances I
mentioned above were fixed, it would have gotten an 8 from me. But as it
is, I'll rate it a 6.


From:	Valentine Kopteltsev 

I've got to warn you -- the chief motive power behind this review is my
spirit of contradiction. It began as I came across the blurb for Dr.
Dumont in Baf's Guide, which contained, among other things, statements
like "one of the most bizarre examples of true IF ever published", and
"recommended for those who found Trinity too tame". I disagree with
these statements, but the Trinity comparison gave me a reference point
to compare Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. with. I'd rather apply the
second of the quotes above to Graham Nelson's Jigsaw, so let's make that
a reference point, too.

Along with the reasons adduced above, using Trinity and Jigsaw as
criteria is justified by the fact that these works all feature a similar
structure: in all three games, the player character starts in his
habitual environment, and then lands, whichever way, in some surreal
place. These places, in their turn, also share a rather similar layout:
a core area (a "central trans-shipping point") that contains several
portals leading to more (fairly varied) worlds. However, there is a
significant difference in game size; for instance, Dr. Dumont manages to
squeeze the prologue, implemented as a mini-game in both classics
referenced, into its (admittedly quite long) opening text, and to shrink
the aforementioned "central trans-shipping point" to a single room. To
avoid rather overused metaphors about meal- and snack-sized games, let's
put it this way: while Jigsaw reminds one of a stretched Bentley, and
Trinity a Jaguar, Dr. Dumont is (let's stay with European cars) a
Volkswagen Passat at best -- the only thing about it bigger than that of
the others is its title. ;)

Sure, a shorter game still can compete with a longer one in toughness --
for instance, by being bizarre. I don't deny that Dr. Dumont's main
theme contains an enormous peculiarity potential; particle physics is
quite a mind-bending matter itself, and all the more so is the idea of
connecting a human brain to a particle-detection-oriented AI -- one
could go off one's head just by trying too hard to imagine the results.
In spite of this, though, the game didn't appear that odd. It rather
reminded me of a draftee attempting to convince the medical board at the
recruiting station that he's crazy in order to avoid conscription into
the army. Yes, there were pretty many grotesque, comically distorted
details and decorations -- and yet, the puzzles had perfectly logical
solutions, and the major subgoals were formulated clearly and
unambiguously, sometimes even a bit straightforwardly. Well, maybe not
that straightforwardly, because some aspects of the game are downright

To begin with, unlike Jigsaw and Trinity, Dr. Dumont allows the player
to get into all the areas accessible through the "central trans-shipping
point" from the very start of the game -- due to its relatively small
size, it can afford to do so without becoming totally unwinnable.
However, the player gets most of the information crucial for success in
only one of these areas, and thus should visit it first, since roaming
through the other areas without having the goals in the game formulated
is rather misleading indeed. As the game contains no hints about in
which order the areas should be visited, one is left to find it out
oneself by trial and error.

Secondly, Dr. Dumont comes with a bunch of feelies in the style of
Infocom. And, like some of the Infocom games (though not Trinity), the
player needs to refer to these feelies to win. This could be quite
confusing for people who don't have much experience with commercial IF,
even despite the fact that Dr. Dumont provides quite a clear inkling at
the point where the feelies are needed. One more confusing aspect of the
game is the 'how to play' documentation that accompanies it. Most of the
experienced players probably will ignore this documentation completely,
since it appears to be addressed to novices, and as far as I remember
Dr. Dumont makes no effort to dispel this impression. The thing is, this
documentation describes, along with the usual (and trivial) directives
like LOOK, TAKE, etc., a few less obvious commands, which are crucial
for success. A typical case of RTFM. ;)

Finally, there indeed are a couple of slightly obscure puzzles (like a
quiz requiring some basic astronomical knowledge). But even with all
these issues, Dr. Dumont still isn't half as tough as Trinity, not to
mention Jigsaw: no Enigmas, no careful, turn-precise pre-planning of
your actions, no random hints disguised as gibberish... sheer
disappointment for a true puzzle-fan! ;)

As everybody knows, there is no direct dependence between a game's size
and its difficulty or its depth. For the reviewed game, however, this
relationship is true: Dr. Dumont indeed hasn't got the vast
philosophical background Trinity possesses; in fact, it's entirely
light-hearted. This doesn't mean, however, a quality decrease: splendid
writing, consistently high level of detail, carefully implemented
characters, and a state-of-the-art hint system are a sufficient warranty
against disappointment. In fact, these features work so well that the
game even failed to frustrate me after I had to restart it three times
because I run into an unwinnable state due to bugs. These glitches
really were of the "very difficult to locate" kind; I think 95 percent
or more of the players will never encounter them. This, along with the
realization of my bad luck and the fact that redoing the game from the
start wasn't too torturous thanks to its not so large size, helped me to
avoid fixating on these problems too much.

To sum things up, if it's appropriate to speak about the image a game is
trying to form of itself, so Dr. Dumont doesn't act like a super-epic
breaking bizarrity records, and outshining classics; rather, it modestly
tries to entertain the player for a few evenings with good puzzles and
healthy humour. Quite unambitious, isn't it? ;)

SNATS [Scores Not Affecting The Scoreboard]:

PLOT:       Sufficient for a game emphasizing puzzles, and with clearly
            defined subgoals (1.0)
ATMOSPHERE: Makes the game appear more surreal than it really is (1.4)
WRITING:    The opening text impressed me a lot; later on, I got used to
            the quality of the prose, and took no notice of it, but one
            has got to admit it plays a very important role in
            determining Dr. Dumont's appearance (1.5)
GAMEPLAY:   As you might have guessed from the comment for the PLOT, it
            stresses puzzles, and has got its subgoals defined clearly.
            ;) (1.2)
BONUSES:    Lots of optional stuff to do, feelies (1.2)
TOTAL:      6.3

CHARACTERS: Nice, but fairly conventional (1.3)
PUZZLES:    Range from "very logical" to "slightly obscure" (1.3)
DIFFICULTY: Not without its snags, but manageable (6 out of 10)


From:	Neil Butters 

TITLE: The House
AUTHOR: Owen Parish 
EMAIL: doubleprism SP@G 
DATE: November (?) 2003
SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters
VERSION: Version 1.0 

The House is a short game that represents Owen Parish's first attempt at
IF, and it is fairly entertaining, despite its derivative story and some
technical annoyances. Ostensibly the objective is to get out of a house
that you woke up in, hungover and disoriented. You have heard disturbing
rumours about this house and its occupants. Could they be true? If you
decide to explore the house, other objectives become readily apparent,
and you uncover goings-on that will be familiar to genre fans. The story
borrows from Lovecraft and Frankenstein, but it is underdeveloped, and I
never did get a clear understanding of the House's secrets. This may
have been because I did not get the full score, but I think it is more
likely that the ideas never mesh into a coherent story. Some games can
be satisfying even with an open-ended conclusion (see "All Alone") but
the House doesn't pull this off successfully. There are a few surprises
but they also remain underdeveloped. For example, two possibly
interesting NPCS are introduced but I could not figure out what to do
with them or how to get any useful information from them. The story
should have made it more obvious what I was supposed to do with these
guys. Motivation is one of the glaring problems with the game since it
is often stressed that you want to get out of the house ASAP and it is
possible to do so in five moves without getting any points. Why should I
stick around and explore? The only motivation is curiosity. However, the
game does reward inquisitive behaviour with rooms crammed full of
objects that can be fiddled with or examined. There are some nice
atmospheric touches as well, such as the noisy staircase. 

The gameplay is straightforward for the most part. There are only a few
points in the game where interaction with the world was difficult. The
library and the kitchen come to mind, where searching or reading the
objects, respectively, is awkward. For instance, in the library a
"search the west books" command will result in "which books do you mean,
the west books, east books, north books or south books?" that
necessitates a further "west books" command. In the kitchen, you cannot
read the notes attached to objects but must read the object instead (ie
"read cupboard"). These problems could easily be fixed in future
versions. You have to guess where the exit is in the room you wake up
in, and the maze does not make any sense (although it is easy to do).
Most puzzles are easy to figure out. However, as I mentioned, I did not
get the full score and I am quite sure I missed out on a few things. It
doesn't really matter though, since you can leave the House at any time
without doing anything. 

A stay in the House was worthwhile, largely due to the lack of "empty"
rooms. If you decide to visit don't expect to leave with your curiosity
satisfied. The House keeps its secrets locked within. 


From:	Mary Kate Alexander 

TITLE: Inevitable
AUTHOR: T.L. Heinrich (a.k.a. Kathleen M. Fischer)
EMAIL: mfischer5 SP@G
DATE: 2003
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters

In Kathleen Fischer's Inevitable, you find yourself wandering through a
deserted city, your ostensible goal to find a way to repair your plane
and leave, though it quickly becomes apparent that the player will also
be delving into the PC's past at the same time. The atmosphere and
puzzles in this game are reminiscent of Myst, and the descriptions are
vivid enough to make this work well in a text-based game.

Inevitable has several interesting features. One is the ability to set
the difficulty level to easier or harder than the default (an option
only available at the start of the game). While there are no hints or
walkthrough available, attempting a particular puzzle in the easier
version of the game is a pretty good substitute; the difference in
difficulty between levels is not great, but enough to help a couple of
times when I got stuck in the harder version. The puzzles themselves are
pretty straightforward, with minimal guess-the-verb problems. 

In addition to the score and number of moves, a number of memories is
given at the top of the screen; at various points throughout the game,
something that you see will remind you of the past, and the number of
memories will increase. The command REMEMBER will retrieve these
memories. I found this to be a relatively smooth way bring up things
that the PC knows but the player doesn't. Another set of commands that I
found convenient was LIST PLACES, which gives a list of locations that
you've already visited, and GO TO [location], which lets you jump to
places that you've already visited (the response is, "You make your way
back to [location]"). The map in this game isn't big enough for moving
around in the usual way to be too onerous, but I'd love to see GO TO
implemented in larger games, where moving from one place to another can
get to be rather tedious.

The writing was excellent; as mentioned above, the puzzles require a
very clear visualization of the setting, and the location and object
descriptions were more than sufficient for this. I only caught one typo,
in an object description. The game was well-implemented; most things I
tried to do or look at gave an appropriate response, and the default
messages were altered to avoid breaking the mood (e.g., when you try to
go in a direction without an exit, "After a moment's thought, you
realize that you can't go that way."; or when you try to do something
that's not allowed or not possible, "You scowl at the thought," or "You
laugh at the thought.").

My only criticism would be that there's an interesting (though not
strikingly original) backstory, and well-designed puzzles, but the two
are not very integrated with each other--basically, you end up trying to
get a series of machines working without any good reason why. Overall,
though, I found this a thoroughly enjoyable game; on a scale of 1-10,
I'd give it a 7.


From: Francesco Bova 

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:

This game is a reimplementation of Shadowgate Classic as it appeared on
the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) presented by ICOM in 1989. It's
an interesting experiment and follows somewhat in the recent IF Arcade
tradition that converts graphical games to text. I played Shadowgate in
'89 and always felt it would transfer well to a text adventure setting,
so I was pleasantly surprised to see this game released in late '03.

In its exactness, the Inform version stays very true to the NES version
(from what I can remember of the NES version). Even the little bits of
background noise and red herrings from the original were completely
implemented, and I have a lot of respect for the painstaking amount of
replaying of the original version that must have happened to get this
done correctly. All of the NES version's written responses were intact
although thankfully the IF version cleans up some grammatical and
spelling errors. For nostalgia's sake then, this was a great walk down
memory lane. Unfortunately, once you look past that, it also highlighted
many of the design errors inherent in many of the early NES games. 

There are unfortunately many things to gripe about here so let's start
with one of my least favorite foibles: author telepathy. Specifically,
there was major death without warning. Seemingly innocuous actions like
picking up items freely available in the scenery, or entering apparently
non-threatening directions often lead to death with no discernible
justification. It was also fairly easy to break certain structures which
always left me wondering whether or not I had permanently made the game
unwinnable or not. I think the game can't actually be made unwinnable,
unless you don't budget your light resources properly (which is another
issue, but I'll get to that later), however death-without-warning
abounds and waits in every corner, which is something we just don't
accept in IF games anymore.

Another issue is a concern that always crops up in my reviews, and
that's the combinatorial explosion of having too many items in your
inventory. Throughout the game, you collect well over 80 items and when
you begin the endgame, it's difficult to remember what each piece does
or the exact details of each item. This leads to a lot of put X in Y,
hit X with Y experimentation, which gets pretty tedious the third or
fourth time around. It also makes the game more difficult than it
probably should be, as your light resources dwindle very quickly -- the
net effect of all this is that every time I somehow made the plot
progress I would have to save, explore, make the plot progress again,
restore to a previous saved game armed with my new knowledge, and
proceed forward. Ultimately, that type of forced gaming experience is a
recipe for disaster.

It's unfortunate, too, because many of the game's structure problems
could have been easily alleviated by loosening its light restrictions a
little. The light issue I keep referencing actually has to do with the
limited life cycle of the torches you find lying around. As I played
through the game a second time with walkthrough in hand, I completed it
with a reserve of only 5 usable torches (having picked up every
available torch I could find). Essentially, I won without wasting a
move. Unfortunately, the game is so cavernous and the amount of author
telepathy need to win the game so great, that winning without wasting a
move is next to impossible, as is completing the game with any usable
torches. There is a spell of sorts that you can find that might help you
with this issue, but it has to be invoked in every new room you enter,
which leads to further tedium. And, considering the tight restrictions
on your time, I'm not entirely sure you'll find the spell before you run
out of torches, so the benefit might be moot regardless.

Still, the torch issue remained faithful to the NES original, as did a
number of other conventions, which have to be commended. For example,
the original Shadowgate loved to bury clues in the scenery --
specifically, the game's walls. The regular Inform parser has a wall
object parsed for each of the cardinal directions, and the author here
did a great job of subtly clueing the player into examining a wall
without blatantly telling us which one. I believe this involved a nice
hack in the Inform source code's wall objects. That is to say: a general
query of X WALL, would still generate a disambiguation request, listing
all the cardinal directions, but if you examine the right wall there
wasn't a simple default response [I am impressed here because I believe
I attempted to parse something similar a while back and made a mess of
it]. Before I started playing the game, I was curious to see how the
author was going to implement the puzzles buried in the room's
constructs and for the most part, I was really happy with the way he did
it. There was only one glaring omission, where a clue of vital
importance was buried in the scenery with no hint as to where or even
why a player should look. I knew it was there from the NES version, but
were I a first-time player, there is absolutely no way I would have
found it.

So, overall the game is effectively parsed, diligently researched and
implemented (the attention to the original game's detail is impressive
and the consistent representation in the face of the original's poor
design choices -- i.e., torch issue -- was commendable), but ultimately,
due principally to the original's shortcomings, it doesn't live up to
the standards we expect in IF nowadays. Despite this, however, I was
surprised by how much I really enjoyed the nostalgia. As a result, you
may want to check this out if you've actually played the NES version,
but probably skip it otherwise.


From:	Emily Short 

TITLE: Solitary
AUTHOR: Kahlan
EMAIL: kahlan SP@G
DATE: April 18, 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-Code Interpreters
VERSION: Version 1

"Solitary" is a short, puzzleless game set in the player-character's
dorm room. The basic point of this piece, as with a number of other
plot-driven/puzzleless games I can think of ("Photograph", "Shade", and
even to some extent "Photopia") is to put together the background that
led to the current situation.

As far as I can tell, this is the author's first game, and it shows in
certain ways. There are some odd glitches in the world model: as, for
instance, when you put on a piece of clothing, but can't afterwards
remove it, and are told that you're not wearing it. Apparently the
author circumvented the normal operation of "wear". Similarly, some
default responses have been replaced with answers that don't really make
sense in all contexts. For instance:

   You jump on the spot, fruitlessly.

   You can't snap that in two.

For the most part, though, the implementation is fine: there aren't a
lot of glaring omissions, or scenery that seems important that you can't
examine. Moreover, I had the sense that the author cared about the game
and about doing a good job -- and that's always a good sign.

Most of the problems I had with "Solitary" had to do with storytelling
technique rather than with implementation. One major challenge of
writing a learn-backstory-through-exploration game is to keep the player
from discovering information out of order -- especially when, as here,
everything is in a single room and almost every object is accessible
more or less at the same time. In this case, there are all sorts of
items in the room that *should* let you discover a critical background
fact, but the player character refuses to acknowledge them until you hit
on exactly the right trigger. It's annoying and manipulative (in my
opinion) to prevent the player from reading some useful document with a
line like "You can't bear to read that.". I certainly *can* bear to read
it, and telling me otherwise does not heighten my feeling of
identification with the player character.

What's more, finding out what has happened is the only goal I-the-player
have in the game. There are no other goals provided. The only way for me
to move forward is to investigate things, so it is irritating to come
across what seems like a juicy piece of evidence only to have the game
refuse to let me look at/read/think about it.

Even so, by the time the Horrible Truth was revealed, I had pretty much
already guessed it. Foreshadowing is a useful technique, but only if it
doesn't completely give away what's coming. Best of all if it leads you
to expect something close to the truth, but wrong, so that the real
revelation still takes you by surprise even though you thought you were

The handling of PC emotion also needs some work. At a number of points
in the game, I'm handed emotions that I have no reason to feel. Being
told that I'm weeping intensely is weird when I-the-player have so
little cause to do so. In that respect, this would work (a little)
better as a story in the first or third person, I suppose -- but I think
it would still seem a bit maudlin and self-indulgent.

My other fundamental problem with "Solitary" is that the background
story is not very interesting. I'm sure the events would be horrible to
live through. But there aren't enough particulars here to make me feel
much of anything about the protagonist or about any of the implicit
NPCs. The player is told that the PC is hurting, that things are bad,
that her love used to be strong, etc., but so what? I need more than
that before I can generate much empathy. Instead of the vaguely-worded
memories, I need specific flashbacks that make me actually feel
something about the PC and the people she interacts with. I need more
examples of what was so great about her relationship with her love. I
need to feel as though they're people I know and would actually care
about, rather than place-holders. This is not easy, but without it, a
story like this falls flat.

Finally, the last line of the game reads as funny in a way that
undercuts what good effects the game has achieved elsewhere.

I should mention a few positives, though. "Solitary" is set in a dorm
room, which is something of a clichť, but I've certainly seen duller
dorm-room implementations. The items here did help to paint an image of
the player character. (She came off as somewhat immature, but I suppose
that's not out of place.) Some of the descriptions showed a nice
attention to senses other than sight: tangibles such as how well a
drawer slides open, for instance. This is a good sign.

"Solitary" also comes with a hint system, which got me through a few
points where I was stuck. That was useful as well. It's not a long game
to play, but there are a few moments where you may need guidance. I
would have liked this system even better if it had adapted itself to
what I'd already tried and suggested only new directions, but it worked
well enough as it was.

I'd encourage the author to write more IF, but also to look into
improving traditional story-telling techniques, particularly
characterization and plot structure. There's promise in the care that
went into "Solitary", but it would be better put in service of a richer
story and more accomplished writing.

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