___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE #38 Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) September 28, 2004 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #38 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 ---------------------------------------------------- David Cornelson: Build A Business For Interactive Fiction REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------- City Of Secrets Dead Reckoning (David Whyld) Generic New York Apartment Building The Hobbit Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus Necrotic Drift EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ Occasionally, I like to scan the "recently uploaded" pages of the IF Archive and play whatever game I find there. I did that recently, and the game I found was mysteriously titled "w.z5." Inhabiting the current American political climate as I do, I fully expected it to be either a scathing indictment or an indignant defense of George W. Bush. Instead, it turned out to be a little curiosity by Simon Scott called "Get Magazine. Open Magazine. Read Article." The game bills itself as an "interactive article," and was created as a companion piece to an actual prose article of the same title in the British zine God's Rude Wireless, which according to its website (http://www.godsrudewireless.co.uk/) is "distributed at no cost on the first Thursday of every month at The Fitzroy Tavern, Windmill Street, London." I've just finished reading the prose article, and I found it to be witty, well-informed, and generally enjoyable, which was a relief, because the game itself falls rather flat. Various misspellings, punctuation problems, and capricious newline behavior make it feel rushed and sloppy. Also, despite being very small, it's still a bit underimplemented -- for instance, it features the sudden appearance of a "man in a dark red suit" but can't manage to parse "man", "dark", "red", or "suit." Most damningly, it fails in what seems to me to be its main task: providing a pleasurable introduction to the medium of IF for people unfamiliar with it. The game hinges around conversation with a particular NPC, who can be prompted via keyword to disgorge reams of information about the history of the text adventure, but it surrounds this interaction with so little implementation and help text that people new to IF are very likely to be put off. In my opinion, effective newbie-friendliness requires a level of commitment and coding sophistication that this game doesn't demonstrate, and I'm a little frustrated that it's out there as an advertisement for IF, though the quality of the prose article does help to mitigate that feeling. I'm well acquainted with this frustration, and the ambivalence that accompanies it. It's true that IF has received some wonderful, high-quality publicity lately, through such venues as Games magazine and various reviews of Nick Montfort's book TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES. Then again, there are other publicity vectors that don't do such a great job, and in those, the most well-publicized games may not be the best ones. It pains me to think of people encountering substandard IF and taking it as the norm. I even feel ambivalent about that, though -- on the one hand, I love it that there are people with enough passion for IF that they're spreading the word to the world; on the other hand, if what they're spreading is poorly written, badly implemented, or generally unprofessional, they're not helping the cause as much as they think they are. I don't have a solution for this, except to fall back on the old First Amendment formulation that the answer to bad speech is not suppression, but rather more speech. You too can be a representative of interactive fiction to the world at large, and every time you show somebody the best of what modern IF has to offer, you help our culture understand that this medium is still alive and thriving. There are some amazingly professional games out there, and I continue to hope that those are the games that will receive the lion's share of whatever spotlights there are. Meanwhile, luckily for the patrons of the Fitzroy Tavern, no doubt more of them read the article than actually played the game. And luckily for me, I'm well inured to being less than comfortable about what's representing me -- like I said, I'm an American. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR------------------------------------------------------ From: Ethan Dicks
I was just reading the SPAG newsletter and I thought I'd let you know that I am putting the finishing touches on the long-awaited Release 13 of ZDungeon. There are a number of bug fixes including a show-stopper in the endgame. If all goes well, I should be able to throw a copy up on the IF archive in the next week or two, just before the *seventh* anniversary of commencing this work. If this release tests well, I plan to release the Inform source soon after. [Wow, seven years. And I see from the newsgroups that ZDungeon version 13 was just released a week or two ago. Congratulations! --Paul] NEWS ---------------------------------------------------------------------- NEW GAMES As usual, the pre-comp quarter hasn't yielded many new games. Of those I've seen announced, one is a French opus by the author of Filaments, and the other is a game about and for middle-school students, written by one of the most prominent authorities on using IF for educational purposes. In addition, Kent Tessman has released an exciting trailer and demo for his upcoming sorta-superhero opus, Future Boy! * La Mort Pour Seul Destin (in French) by JB * The Enterprise Incidents by Brendan Desilets * Future Boy! demo by Kent Tessman. AND THAT'S JUST FOR STARTERS! IntroComp is one of IF's best teases. The idea behind it is that you submit the beginning of a working, playable game. Your beginning gets judged with a bunch of others, and like in other comps, you can win fabulous prizes if you place well. The one catch is that you don't actually get to *claim* your prize until you finish your game, and you must do so within a year's time of the end of the comp. The winners of this year's IntroComp are: * 1st place: Intro to Jabberwocky, by Gregory Weir * 2nd place: Auden's Eden, by Tommy Herbert * 3rd place: Passenger, by Niall Richard Murphy A complete list of entrants (and all the latest IntroComp news as it arrives) is available at http://www.xyzzynews.com/introcomp. With any luck, prizes and prestige will motivate the successful completion of these games by next July. And if I'm really lucky, once they're finished someone will review them for SPAG! YOU STILL HAVE: NO TEA Astonishingly (at least to me), it's been twenty years since Infocom released The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. In celebration of that anniversary, the BBC has released a flashy new version of the game, where the text window is encased in a Legend-like interface with clickable directions and shortcuts to oft-used commands like CONSULT GUIDE ABOUT. It also contains graphics depicting many locations and inventory items, and they're even sponsoring a contest to supply the remaining illustrations, with the grand prize being a speaking role in the new Hitchhiker's radio series. The game, as well as lots of other nifty stuff, is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hitchhikers/game.shtml. NOW THAT'S ITALIAN! Roberto Grassi is the editor of Terra D'IF, Italy's answer to SPAG and XYZZYnews. Now, with Alessandro Schillaci, he's created the Italian answer to Baf's Guide -- it's straightforwardly titled "The Guide To Italian Adventures", and can be found at http://www.robertograssi.net/at/terradif/guidaifitalia/index.asp. MO' BETA IS MO' BETTA For the second year in a row, Jess Knoch has run BetaComp, the competition for beta-testers. The idea behind this comp is that all entrants receive a copy of the same game, and the ones who provide the most articulate, organized, and thorough beta-testing reports end up taking home the top prizes. Plus, the game author gets an awesome crop of testing reports! This year, first place went to Graham Holden -- congrats Graham! Full details on this year's BetaComp, as well as copies of the game and all the bug reports, are at Jess's website: http://www.strangebreezes.com/if/comps/beta2004/default.htm THE GLORY CAN BE YOURS It's true that writing for SPAG won't fill up your bank account -- it's purely a glory position. You know, the glory of... writing reviews! For SPAG! Wouldn't you like to grab a little of that glory for yourself? To get you started down that bright road, here are ten games that I'd really love to see you review: SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. The Act Of Misdirection 2. Curse of the Dragon Shrine 3. Dead Reckoning (Nick Montfort's translation of Olvido Mortal) 4. 1893: A World's Fair Mystery 5. The Enterprise Incidents 6. Heist 7. Large Machine 8. Narcolepsy 9. Redemption 10. Return To Ditch Day ARTICLES------------------------------------------------------------------- David Cornelson has done a lot of things in the IF community: written some games, managed a minicomp, organized an IF website, run a server that hosted all kinds of IF-related stuff, and probably more that I'm forgetting. Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment was the way he shepherded both the Inform Designer's Manual and the Inform Beginner's Guide into paper publication, so that hundreds of us could order these great books directly from David or through such intermediaries as Amazon.com. When he approached me about writing an article on how IF can intersect with business, I was expecting him to draw on this experience to explain how a little business acumen could produce some great stuff for the IF community. What I got instead was something else entirely -- an audacious and detailed proposal for creating a profitable interactive fiction business in today's world. Any of you readers who happen to be venture capitalists: take note! From: David Cornelson BUILD A BUSINESS FOR INTERACTIVE FICTION Some may argue that the words "successful", "business" and "interactive fiction" were forever forsaken from appearing in the same sentence after Infocom announced Cornerstone. Some may look at Cascade Mountain Publishing and exclaim, "Look, even a successful IF author can't do it!" Some people suggest that interactive fiction is an art form that doesn't translate to commercial appeal. Some people suggest that failure is imminent if you use rec.arts.int-fiction for your business advice. All of those people would have good reason to say those things. It still doesn't prove that a successful interactive fiction business isn't possible. In fact, it's my belief that it is quite possible to build a successful interactive fiction business and that the problems or excuses listed above, if entirely ignored, would have no bearing on an interactive fiction business. The Infocom franchise failed for reasons that have been discussed and debated over the years. Comparing it to what a potential business in today's market would be like is pointless. Today's market is so vastly different from the mid-eighties that there simply is no comparison. My first rule for developing an interactive fiction business is that you must let the past die and create the environment required to make your business successful. For history's sake I'd like to mention Cascade Mountain Publishing. I had a very long discussion with Mike Berlyn a few years ago and without getting into details, CMP failed for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with interactive fiction or its commercial viability. Enough said. Anyway, I was speaking of reinvention. In my mind, the next question is, "How do I define a market that will allow interactive fiction to succeed?" I'm not a marketing or sales expert, but it's my belief that markets are both discovered and created. Look at something like Starbuck's Coffee -- they created a market. Coffee had been around forever and coffee houses with it. But the inventors of Starbuck's Coffee created a market for their products. The development was done for them by the simple fact that coffee already existed and people were already addicted to it. If you had asked a group of coffee-house owners before the "Starbuck's era" what they thought made a successful business, I'm guessing none of their advice would fit into the business created by Starbuck's. Starbuck's reinvented a well-defined market and took it to another level. So the next question is, "What's next? I want to define a new market that will allow IF authors to publish and sell their works and make a buck. What crazy reinvention could possibly appeal to a wide enough audience to would make this even remotely possible?" Damn good question. I can offer one vision; there are probably many others. The first thing about my vision follows the reinvention theme. I don't believe I can release a piece of software packaged as a computer game marketed next to The Sims or Doom III. That isn't my market. It's not even close to my market. It's not even in the same universe as my market. Video games are to IF as SlimFast is to a balanced diet. Not to say that there aren't video games with IF-like qualities, because there are and some of them are well done. I've played Baldur's Gate II and thought it was well done. The problem I have with these games is that at some point, I have to hold a key or joystick button down in repeat mode in order to accomplish some task. It isn't the same as solving an interactive fiction puzzle. Interactive fiction simply is not gaming as it is understood in the current gaming market. Since that seems to be an undisputed truth, there is no point in trying to change that truth. It would be far more productive to find a square hole for this square peg. So the first action in your interactive fiction business plan is to define a new market. Where would you find people with the patience and skills required for an interactive fiction piece? I can think of several places: a bookstore, library, and/or a school. These are the places where I would define my market. All three of these places purchase software and they usually do it on a large scale. So instead of selling a single copy of your game to a single random buyer in a typical store, you sell an unlimited copy license for your software to a chain of libraries or schools. Bookstores are probably closer to the video game market, but I have thoughts on how to define a new market within the typical Borders or Barnes and Noble chain. I imagine a shelf-top kiosk of CD's. The CD sells for less than $10 USD, possibly as low as $.99 USD. Another portion of my reinvention scheme is in the method of software development. It's my belief that good story tellers are good story tellers and the medium doesn't matter. What makes IF difficult to create and burdens the potential time-to-market variable is the medium, not the stories themselves. If we take good story tellers and train them to write their idea down in a script format, we could probably use low-cost labor to implement the stories more rapidly and more cost-effectively. Granted, there are some authors that would refuse this methodology and that's okay. I would develop the market and introduce the more talented authors later anyway. Once I got a foothold and sold a few CD's, I would begin to have a customer base. I could build that customer base by offering heavier content at a higher price. Another form of reinvention is an idea similar to Neil deMause's Frenetic Five series. If I'm developing games to be sold from a small kiosk next to a cash register, then offering a series of smallish, humor-filled games may very well be a home run. If this formula were to work, I could then expand into other genres such as suspense, sci-fi, and mystery, satisfying bookstore customers who have already established their interest in those genres. So I've defined a potential path for newly marketing interactive fiction. I've done a rough sketch of simplifying and speeding up the time-to-market efforts. The next few problems are difficult to articulate, but I'll try. I believe that none of the current IF development systems have the growth potential to successfully launch an IF business. They are all excellent systems for artistic purposes, but they all have a high technical competence requirement for both the author and player. This has to change in order to move interactive fiction into the reinvention phase. The game engine required for commercial development has to be based on a commonly available language (C, Java, or C#) and the resulting games must encapsulate all functionality. The latter is actually possible with the current development systems, but the former is a requirement for business reasons. If I'm to lure investors to my business plan, I'm going to need to sell them on the technical specifications as well as on the marketing model. I just don't think I can sell any of the current systems to a venture-capital firm. It has to be something they're familiar with and can verify through established channels. Some of the other requirements are simply add-ons, such as copy-protection schemes (debatable in today's environment) and a flashy and consistent front end. There are some technical ideas I would like to consider, but I would only do it if I were successful with the current form of interactive fiction. Everyone knows I have a certain zeal for discussing explicitly authored multi-player interactive fiction. Now I have the market, the new platform, and some venture capital. I still need some authors. What do they get out of all of this? I have to admit that this is where my business acumen fades and I'm flying by the seat of my pants. I would have to say that the first year or two of developing my business I would pay a flat rate for a game or a series of small games, garnering complete ownership forever and ever. The business plan has to have a steady flow of writing coming in and this has to be a commodity. The emotion and art has to be removed from this part of the business. I still think I can find talented writers to story-board games and have talented programmers code them and come up with something that will sell. I think a successful IF business would require access to these resources. Will these works be as good as an Emily Short or Adam Cadre authored feature? No. That's not the point. Would I try to work with an Emily Short or Adam Cadre on developing a workable relationship? Of course I would. These relationships would have to be outside of the business plan and based on a contractual agreement. In fact it's my belief that once I established the basic business model and had a customer base, I could then introduce quality works at a higher price, which would support offering advances and paying royalties. I would only do this if I first succeeded in building the market with a resource-based development business. Trying to work with the demands of authors, time-to-market issues, and contractual obligations would seem to me to be too heavy a load for my business; taking that path from the beginning is too risky. So I have defined a market, a development plan, writer resources, developer resources, and a plan to grow my customer base. This plan is flawed, though. It has requirements that don't exist or may are arguably unnecessary. Do I really need a new system? I think I do. Many people will argue this point. I'm okay with that. Even if one of the current systems were used it would have to be retooled for commercial development. It would have to be changed so that the freeware version was incompatible with the commercial products. I think in the short term it might be possible to leverage a current system, but in the long run, a new engine would be required. Where is this venture capital coming from? Heck if I know. If someone can get Mark Cuban to play a few games or Tiger Woods to play Textfire Golf, we might have a shot. Outside of a wealthy individual taking an abnormal interest in interactive fiction, I don't see any legitimate access to venture capital appearing. In any case, these are my thoughts about building an interactive fiction business. If you have thoughts, please feel free to share them on rec.arts.int-fiction so everyone can take part. KEY TO SCORES AND REVIEWS-------------------------------------------------- Consider the following review header: TITLE: Cutthroats AUTHOR: Infocom EMAIL: ??? DATE: September 1984 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 URL: Not available. VERSION: Release 23 When submitting reviews: Try to fill in as much of this info as you can. Authors may not review their own games. REVIEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------- From: David Jones TITLE: City of Secrets AUTHOR: Emily Short, Secret-Secret EMAIL: emshort SP@G mindspring.com DATE: 2003 PARSER: Inform enhanced SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/glulx/CoS.zip VERSION: Release 3 First off, an issue that arises, I suspect, because I am using a curses-based text-only Glulx interpreter: the about system is horrible, and so are all the menus in the game. It's probably not the author's fault, but it's her decision to use it. I couldn't work out how to escape the menus and restarted (hurray for Control-C!) resolving never to use the menu. Maybe you'll have better luck if you're not so much of a stick-in-the-mud text-only sort of person. Aside from a permanent display of "Glk library error: set_hyperlink: hyperlinks not supported." it didn't affect the game play (except that I had to resist using the help menu). Be a tourist in a city you never intended visiting. Miss your best friend's wedding. Get a guided tour from one of the native lunatics. Get robbed. Become a secret agent. Flirt with a mysteriously attractive and secretive woman. Learn about magic. Talk to a lot of people. The action takes place in a city. You arrive there on you way to your friend's wedding after the train you are on breaks down. It is a city where technology is fused with magic (or should that be opposed to?). The city is a melting pot of oppositions (or at least, opposites): magic and technology; old and new; autocracy and democracy; austere and opulent. The implementation of the (small) city is incredibly well done. For immersion, I would say that City of Secrets is state of the art. The city bustles. People pass you by in their own conversations, they jostle you, they look in shop windows, they get on and off the city's trolley system (I haven't discovered a way to use the trolley system, you don't have a pass). This is all done with randomly generated descriptions of people and actions. The programming of this is really well done (and must have been a bit tedious at times); various events in the story will change the mood of the city and the way people act and react changes accordingly. A typical example is: "A cheerful lady wanders along, arm in arm with a well-built older fellow." I was initially impressed, and then, after discovering that you can't really interact with any of these people, disappointed. I was impressed again when I discovered how things changed as the story progressed. Obviously one can't hope to provide any accurate emulation of a city, but in City of Secrets we see a pretty good approximation using the technology of today. One or two things (near the beginning of the game) stood out as a little odd, as if programmed on the cheap. In any other game I wouldn't have bothered mentioning them, but because of the depth of interaction that City of Secrets generally gives us, my expectations were raised. There's no opportunity to tip the bell-hop, and "run bath" executes an entire bath sequence (running the water, getting undressed, waiting for the bath to fill, washing, getting out, etc) in one move. I was rather looking forward to a bit of a splash around in the bath (but evidently the PC wasn't). Your mental state is displayed in the lower window alongside the room description, like this: "Outside Train Station, Wandering around, Tired". This initially annoyed me. I found the author's attempts to make me feel the PC's tiredness clumsy. Or at least, displaying it in the status window is clumsy. Thankfully it's not the author's only device. Having arrived at a hotel I examine a travel brochure: "A rather pretty brochure with a map and color pictures. There is writing, too, but it just seems to swim around, thanks to your current state of fatigue." That kind of thing seems spot on and just what it's like to arrive in a place that you never intended to visit. After a while I got used to the display and it didn't bother me at all. After half-an-hour or so, I was asking myself, "What's the point?". I kept on playing for three reasons: 1) it's called City of Secrets, 2) it's by Emily Short, and 3) I had already decided to write a review of it. In the end, I'm glad I did. It took me 3.5 hours on my first play through and I played it through again only to discover that my first play through wasn't an entirely successful one (but it nearly was). It soon becomes clear that there is a conflict in the city, a conflict between the Illuminated Ones and the Gnostics, the city's opposing political/religious sects. You get to play a significant part in this conflict. Initially, your part starts out as a sort of investigation, but as you learn more about the city, its characters, and its magic it becomes clear that you can (and must?) step outside your initial brief. Most of the time, you'll be talking to people and reading things to gain various clues. There's a vast amount of text in this game. I have given up all hope of experiencing the "whole" game. I'm still discovering significant new things on my third play-through. Talking to NPCs is done with a combination of a menu system and a topic. You initiate a conversation with a greeting like "GREET CONCIERGE," and can then either choose one of the conversational options presented on the menu or try a new topic of conversation such as "TOPIC FOOD". It works fairly well. I think it provides a good balance between the author's obvious desire to constrain the topics of conversation and the player's ability to pick any topic for discussion. Sometimes you can lose a conversational option for apparently no good reason. EG I had only one option left on my conversation option card (about shopping). I typed "how", a non sequitur, just to see how the game would respond, "(You can think of nothing to say.)", and the option was removed from my card (now empty). Most of the people you meet are prepared to talk about a lot of things though their opinions on some topics, the fortress and food most notably, seem to be drawn from a common pool giving me the impression that some of the lesser characters are punched-out from the same die. The way the conversation progresses influences your standing with the NPCs; you can turn them against you or earn their favour (to some extent). The "AMUSING" section points to some very strange consequences that can happen, only one of which I found before completing the game and none of them I have managed since (not that I've tried that hard). Occasionally this conversation system stumbles; selecting a topic can initiate a conversation about something surprisingly different, but it's a forgivable minor flaw in such an ambitious system. You can recall your impressions of people with "REMEMBER CONCIERGE" which gives you a summary of what you have learned (mostly from other people) about the person in question. I like it. The writing is excellent. I had previously played, and enjoyed, Metamorphoses (also by Emily Short) and was somewhat put off by the excessively flowery language (no, I mean I was overwhelmed by a sumptuous filigree of syntax which sparkled with every twist and turn of the light that shone upon it). City of Secrets has plainer language wielded with the same skill. I found it a change for the better. Occasionally the descriptions are overwhelming -- one simply has too much text to read, and it sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish the set from the game, though I suspect that's rather the point. To my surprise I did find a couple of genuine mistakes: "pier" instead of "buttress" (correct, but obscure. Or is this a feature of North American English?); confusing "glassine" with "glassy" (poetic license? I hope not). The occasional misused punctuation mark. The very few mistakes don't seem to be due to lack of attention more perhaps that the writer is stretching herself beyond her ability. On the other hand, City of Secrets is a much bigger work than Metamorphoses so perhaps it is just down to the problem of proofreading this vast text. There are a couple of dream sequences. I was initially quite excited at the prospect of an interactive dream sequence, but they proved to be less interactive than I had hoped (on a level with Lurking Horror). They're more like slightly surreal infodumps. Still they do add character and they're not just dream sequences foisted upon you because the author wanted you to know something and couldn't think of anything less clumsy. They have a proper part to play in the story and are integrated well. Wandering around the city and chatting to people is quite fun and sometimes almost feels adventurous as you wander into increasingly dilapidated parts of town. There's plenty of people to talk to, and quite a lot of things to read (more and more text!), but not all that much to do (though the "AMUSING" section clearly indicates that I didn't even scratch the surface). Overall the game is fairly easy (which is intended), the puzzles being reasonably straightforward. I discover that there are some nice attempts to help the absolute beginner along. For example, if the first thing you do is press enter at the prompt you receive a little spiel about the prompt and simple instructions. The story branches. I haven't fully explored to what extent, but I'm already impressed at the different branches that I have seen. I strongly suspect that there are different endings (probably according to which faction in the city you ally yourself to), but I haven't had the tenacity or patience to find them. Jumping zorkmids! I just noticed that the download is over 6 Megabytes! I suppose that includes pictures (which I haven't seen as I played it on a text-only interpreter). Overall it's an excellent game. It's not a puzzle-fest; it's not supposed to be. It's a conversation-fest. You can chat to (and "up" to some extent) a large number of NPCs who are all intelligently programmed. The way that the story unfolds is very well done, with different NPCs (and some books) filling in different parts of the canvas with their own style. To be honest it's not my cup of tea -- I prefer puzzles (like Metamorphoses), but I have no problems recommending this game to anyone. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Michael Bechard TITLE: Dead Reckoning AUTHOR: David Whyld EMAIL: me SP@G dwhyld.plus.com DATE: Dec. 2003 PARSER: ADRIFT standard SUPPORTS: ADRIFT interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adrift/DeadReckoning.taf It's pretty tough to write a horror game effectively. More than any other emotion, it is hard to strike true fear into a person sitting at a computer comfortably playing a game. One has to really put the player IN the game, make them develop an affinity for the characters involved, and get them out of the mindset of a typical gamer (piddling around with every little option, restoring saved games at their leisure, etc.) Dead Reckoning comes close to doing just this, but not close enough. The game is set in the town of Morrow and leaves you, Duffy, to unravel the horrors that have come to roost there. You slowly uncover the reason why all the town's inhabitants are missing or dead while trying to rescue your friend Edwin from some unknown danger. The author describes this game as "more of a story-driven game than a puzzlefest," but I would categorize it somewhere in-between. As far as putting the player in the game, I believe Dead Reckoning succeeds, albeit marginally. A thorough implementation of all the objects mentioned in the game's text contributes heavily to the immersion factor. I found I could listen to and smell various things, even examine things that were mentioned as not being there (described, of course, as absent). Very nice. The evocative descriptions were well done too, for the most part. A nice example is: "Well, well, one of the living," says the corpse, its voice a choking rasp. As it speaks, bits of rotten skin flake off from the side of its face and drift in lazy spirals down to the dusty floor. "We don't get many living ones here anymore, do we, my brethren?" Sometimes, however, I got the feeling that the author was trying a little too hard, as in the following exchange between the player and an NPC: "I was the priest here in Morrow until... the bad things happened." "The bad things?" "Lots of bad things. An ancient evil returned to haunt us, to exact revenge for what we did." He shakes his head sadly. Quite a few things are described as "eerie" or "unsettling," when these kinds of feelings should be evoked from the player, not spelled out for them. I never really felt unsettled or afraid while playing because of my lack of affinity for the characters. I never cared about Duffy or Edwin at all during the game. Why? Because I didn't know them as characters, as "real live" people. Dead Reckoning tries a bit in this regard, unfolding bits and pieces of Duffy and Edwin's past as children in the course of play, but it left me wanting more. If I'm running for my life from some zombies, I want a reason why I should even care. On the other hand, some of the characterizations were done very well; I just wanted a little more meat to them, I suppose. As for getting the player out of the mindset of a gamer, the game succeeds. While the plot is a little linear and progress is sometimes blocked by puzzles, the puzzles aren't too hard (or numerous), and multiple endings/deaths are available. When a potential death is near, the game gives you fair warning about it. While some players may be put off by messages like, "You have a bad feeling about doing that," I appreciated the effort from the author to steer me towards the right path. Once a player dies and has to restart or restore, there's a huge break in mimesis. The previous message, while still breaking mimesis, only does so a little, and not nearly as much as restoring your game. In a horror game where the player's situation is deadly, this is even more important. I suppose one could argue that the player should never be in danger of dying in the first place, but that's another topic of discussion... Some other nitpicks I had with the game were a fair amount of typos and some small incongruencies/bugs, but they weren't that noticeable. The typos were, though. Overall, I would compare Dead Reckoning to one of the old EC horror comics; there are some real detailed, spooky descriptions and a nice zombified plot, but it leaves you painfully aware that you're "just reading a comic." However, this isn't really bad at all; I love EC horror comics, and I love horrific art in general, even if it doesn't scare me. Ergo, I liked this game. If it's not a truly chilling, engrossing piece of IF, it is a very solid, entertaining romp through a wonderfully realized, classic horror setting. Final score - 6 of 10 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- [NOTE: The following is a review of an AIF ("Adult Interactive Fiction") game, and therefore contains a bit of profanity and what the TV Guide calls "adult situations." --Paul] From: Anonymous TITLE: Generic New York Apartment Building AUTHOR: New Kid EMAIL: newkid SP@G killingtime.com DATE: March 1999 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/gna.zip Generic New York Apartment Building, which was written by New Kid, is a prime example of the limitations of the genre, and especially the limitations of the sub-genre AIF. In the story, the player assumes the role of a recently hired super in a generic New York City apartment building where the residents are parodies of television characters. The twist to this game is of course the fact that the super is not your average super; he's the type of super that you would find in a cheesy adult film. The only thing that this game did not have was terrible music and the line, "I'm here to clean your pipes." Your goal in the game is to make sure that all of your residents renew their leases, and in order to do that the player must solve problems that the tenants have, and also perform sexual acts with the tenants. The luster of the adult aspect of the game wears off quite fast due largely to the fact that every situation is solved with the same commands. These commands are (kiss, rub, lick, fuck, and then the name of the female organ.) Sex may be fundamentally similar from case to case, but surely there were different situations that New Kid could have come up with. The thing that most drew me to this piece was that it had picture and sound files included with it as well; it was something that I noticed before I noticed that it was listed as AIF. The pictures and sounds that were included in this piece led me to the conclusion that neither images nor sound belong in interactive fiction. The pictures were faked nudes of television characters such as Monica and Rachel from Friends (in the game they were referred to as Rochelle and Monique). By including pictures in interactive fiction, the author steals away the ability to come up with one's own image of the characters. The sound bites are few and far between, and they become so annoying that the reader almost wants to turn off the program. The sound bites included were: a bell for the elevator, a dog bark, and a large explosion sound. The annoyance factor from the sounds and images greatly outweighed anything positive they were meant to bring. As far as puzzle difficulty goes, the game was fairly hard for me. I am a rookie to the realm of interactive fiction and I played for about six hours before I had to resort to a walkthrough for solutions. At one point you're supposed to plug a fax machine in to the wall of one of the NPC's apartments, and I never in my wildest dreams would have thought to do that. Other than that the game was very straightforward. The NPCs would call you and tell you their toilet was broken, you go and fix it with a tool, and that was what went on in the game for the most part. Generic New York Apartment Building was an okay game to play despite its shallow and juvenile story; I suppose though that if you are seriously playing a piece of AIF that you would not really care about the story being too deep. New Kid could have made the game better if he would have left out the faked photos and annoying sounds. The repetitiveness of the commands, especially the sexual ones, is one of the reasons that interactive fiction is not advancing as fast as it could be. It is very tedious to come up with different ways for problems to be solved and challenges to be overcome, but it is what the genre needs to achieve greater depth. I do not think that the problem lies solely with the writer though, machines for IF itself need to be looked at in greater depth, but anyone involved with IF knows that. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: David Jones TITLE: The Hobbit AUTHOR: Veronika Megler, Philip Mitchell EMAIL: ? DATE: 1983 PARSER: Inglish SUPPORTS: Spectrum Emulator AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/spectrum/melbourn.zip VERSION: 1.2 What am I doing reviewing The Hobbit? No idea. I first played it fairly close to when it came out in 1983 on my old faithful ZX Spectrum. At the time it was a major release and was probably state of the art, boasting a parser, NPCs that did their own things and which you could command, and graphics. It has significant nostalgia value for me. Make sure you play the 1.2 version (it has a little 1.2 on the loading screen at the top left). The earlier version is buggy (sometimes hilariously, sometimes just frustratingly) and not possible to complete. I'm playing it on an emulator (which makes typing a whole lot easier). The Hobbit is graphical and I am playing with graphics on (mostly because I don't remember how to switch them off). For its time, the graphics weren't bad. Now they're just extremely simple. In a nice touch, one of the graphics changes as night turns to day. Not all the locations are blessed with pictures, and disappointingly Rivendell, surely one of the most alluring places in Middle Earth, has no picture. The game carries on in real time if you sit around and do nothing. Sometimes with terminal results, which frustrates my efforts to draw a map as I go. The NPCs also wander about on their own, with Gandalf popping in and out and Thorin sitting down and singing about gold. The parser is surprisingly competent, understanding GET SWORD AND ROPE and KILL THORIN WITH SWORD. But then, it also "understands" SWORD DROP AND ROPE so perhaps "parser" is a term too generous. Still, it's an accomplished effort for its time and even in modern times is bearable. Although X and Z are not implemented, words can be abbreviated (I assume to the shortest unique prefix). So EXAMINE WARG can be abbreviated to EX WAR. It tries to be a little helpful, if you have the key then "UNLOCK DOOR" works but "OPEN DOOR" does not. There are some annoying verb problems: in one place SMASH works but HIT does not. The parser sometimes has problems with disambiguation, THROW SWORD AT GOBLIN eliciting the response "WHICH TING?". Talking to NPCs can be achieved with commands like SAY TO GANDALF "GIVE ME MAP" (and a lot of the time, he will.) There's neither ASK nor TELL. As mentioned, the NPCs wander about of their own "will" and will sometimes do helpful things for you, like open a door which you could have opened yourself. They also sometimes do not so helpful things, like take objects from your possession. The NPCs can carry objects and seem to be able to do most of the things that you can, so there's clearly a high level of symmetry in the world model. For example, SAY TO THORIN "READ MAP" elicits the response: "Thorin examines the curious map. There seem to be some symbols on it but Thorin cannot read them." It can be quite amusing to play around with this stuff (you can get Thorin to carry you for example) but there's rarely any point. Frustratingly, when do you need to interact with an NPC, and you do need to in order to complete the game, they can be a little bit stubborn. Many NPCs from the book are here: Gandalf and Thorin (but not the other companions), the trolls, lots of goblins, Elrond, Gollum, Dale, the dragon. Room descriptions are brief, and object descriptions are even briefer. The first time you enter a location its picture will be drawn if it has one. It will also be drawn every time you subsequently LOOK which, since it takes more than a few seconds to draw the picture, can be a bit annoying. It will also be drawn every time you get captured (which will probably happen a lot) -- this is outstandingly annoying. Don't expect to be able to examine everything because you won't be able to. Most of the time you can only interact with the objects essential to the game. For the convenience of the game designer, the distances between adjacent locations on the map are often wildly different. You step straight out of your house into the lonelands -- there is no Hobbiton or Shire -- and from there another step to a clearing with trolls in. It's a bit bizarre. Sometimes "objects" in locations are not mentioned on subsequent visits unless you LOOK (for example a web.) Also, the description of a location when you first visit it and the (briefer) description on subsequent visits is different, and sometimes sufficiently different to be confusing. The writing is brief, basic, and flawless in spelling and grammar. The opening lines, "You are in a comfortable tunnel like hall / To the east there is the round green door", are fairly typical of the writing throughout the whole game, not even attempting to emulate Tolkien's style (thankfully). The brief style was almost certainly forced on the authors by the constraints of the machines at the time (The ZX Spectrum has only 48 Kilobytes of RAM). The story follows the book roughly, and takes in the major locations and encounters described in the book, but none of the drama and wonder of the book is captured in the game. The encounter with Gollum, the spiders, the dragon are all reduced to rather boring events. The puzzles are, I think, hard. It's a little hard for me to judge the difficulty now, because I solved the game (with one reference to a walkthrough) about 20 years ago now (eek!), so when I was replaying it for the review I was able to draw on those memories. Several of the puzzles are non-obvious, and several of them are time based. Some of the puzzles require an element of chance (or at least perseverance). The game gives no feedback for attempts that are "almost right". One or two of the puzzles would be more difficult without having read the book. Some of the puzzles can be avoided or substituted, so the game exhibits multiple solutions (although no particular puzzle does). It's quite easy to die, often without warning. It's possible to enter unwinnable states, sometimes through your own actions, but sometimes simply because the random behaviour of the NPCs conspires to kill off some crucial character or leave you stranded in a dungeon with no-one to help you escape. The game is mean, unfair, and unpredictable. There is no UNDO, but if you're playing on an emulator then emulator snapshots are a fine substitute. There are _two_ mazes: the mountains, and the goblin caves. Thankfully, in each of them each location has a unique description (its exits). This makes the mountains not so bad to map, but the goblin caves are not only vast (22 locations), but the wandering goblins will capture you returning you to their dungeon. That, coupled with the fact that whilst you're drawing your map the game will insert WAITs (giving the goblins more opportunity to wander round and capture you), makes this segment really really annoying. A bug (or a useful misfeature at any rate) means you can kill the goblins, which is the only thing that makes the whole experience (painfully) bearable. Still, no one would stand for it today. The rest of the, quite large, map is laid out a bit confusingly, which makes navigation stumbling and awkward. Overall I can't really recommend The Hobbit except for historical interest. It requires a lot of patience and random inspiration to solve (even with a walkthrough!) and doesn't offer much in reward. None of the puzzles have any outstanding "Aha!" moments; one of the puzzles might have were it not for the fact that it's in the book. None of the situations are interesting or inspiring. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: David Jones TITLE: Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus AUTHOR: Dan Shiovitz, Emily Short EMAIL: Dan Shiovitz , Emily Short DATE: 2003 PARSER: TADS3, I guess SUPPORTS: TADS3 AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/mini-comps/SpringThing2003/parrots/parrots.t3 VERSION: version 1.0 (SpringComp release) Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus is a great title. This is space opera, in sexy pants. But first I should get a few boring things out of the way. This is a TADS3 game, the first one I've played, so I just had to compile a new interpreter, using a build system that was complicated enough to require configure but didn't use it (and I doubt it really needs to be that complicated). This does not put me in a good mood. But never mind, it does compile, and it does play the file. As ever, I'm playing without graphics. Oh yeah, another interpreter issue: on the interpreter I was using every time a conversation menu popped up it was like going into hyperspace. This is no doubt because tads3 is doing a graceless job of the curses screen management (it looks like it's doing a screen clear and full redraw. Fairly slowly). I discover BANNER OFF which pleases me greatly. That's the icky interpreter issues out of the way; I feel a bit dirty mentioning them in a review. As soon as I start playing my poor mood is dispelled. The humour is already winning me over and I've only typed 3 commands. And two of those were "i" and "footnote 1". In many ways I was reminded of Zucker, Zucker, and Abrahams. And the thing about them is that they never let up -- their humour is fired from a machine-gun. Shiovitz and Short try a similar trick, and they almost get away with it. The corny wisecracks, the cheesy lines, as long as it keeps flowing it works and it's funny. And it does flow. This description of your apparel is typical: "Rocket pants are, without a doubt, the best article of clothing ever invented. It's good to live in the future." Generally the game manages a witty banter whether you're chatting to your partner, solving puzzles, or just being mystified and examining stuff. The writing is spot on (bar a couple of minor exceptions). Speaking of your partner, you can play the game either as Doris or Max, and when they are together you can switch between them (with SWITCH TO MAX). Max is your typical space hero. He's sharp with a blaster, and has unflusterable hair. Doris is a sassy upstart agent trying to out-do Max (and trying not to fall for Max in a cheesy Cubby Broccoli sort of way). The characterisation is funny and comes across well. They're on a mission, something to do with Venusian birds taking over earth, blah blah blah. There are quite a few nice small touches. It has footnotes that are automatically numbered, so you can't tell when you missed one. It tells me about "oops" the first time I misspell something (maybe this is a standard TADS3 feature?). Max and Doris take different tracks through the adventure. Their paths are like a figure 8. They're together and the start, then they separate, they rejoin in the middle, only to separate again, and then rejoin for the finale. So, there is branching. But it's quite a shallow sort of branching. There are two points where being Max or being Doris is significant. For the first one the player has no idea that it will happen. You just get to follow the branch of whichever character you happened to be. At least for the second one you know the branch is going to happen, you just don't know what it might entail. The most annoying thing for me was that I couldn't switch after the branch point. It's not like a game where you have to solve puzzle A or puzzle B, because usually in those situations you can fiddle with puzzle A _and_ fiddle with puzzle B before you solve either one of them. Probably you don't really decide to pick one of them and solve it, it's just a matter of which one you solve first. In Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus you have to pick a path before you know what lies on it. (Damn, that long name really puts me off my urge to write the title out rather than say "this game"). The reality is very linear. Initially as I raced through the introduction on rails I didn't mind, it's okay for introductions to be linear. But the rest of the game is linear too: most of the time there is exactly one puzzle to solve and nothing else to do but solve the puzzle. The linearity is enhanced by the occasional "you can't go that way because it will break the design and the narrative. Really, stick to the path that I've laid down for you" kind of message. This linearity didn't really worry me until I was stuck. Now, being stuck is ordinary, it's the normal mode for adventure games, and in a good game I don't mind being stuck. But in a good game even though I'm "stuck" I will usually have a laundry list of (increasingly improbable) things to try. And there is usually the variety of being stuck at more than puzzle simultaneously which means I can try and solve a different puzzle. Coincidentally the first time I got stuck was also around the time that I started losing faith with the game. There was a potentially dramatic situation broken by a crack in the fourth wall. I found a nasty "[Runtime error: invalid datatypes for addition operator]". I put the game into an unwinnable state but I couldn't tell if it was a straight bug or mis-design. But it was also at this point that I noticed something cute: Max and Doris notice different things and, when they are together, have to co-operate to solve puzzles. As Max: >x yellow Well, it's a small electronic thingy. With colored stripes. Not to get all technical or anything. As Doris: >x yellow There's a large yellow stripe on the left, and then smaller red, black, and gold stripes next to it. That suggests it's probably a standard-issue networking module; this is probably in there to let the computer make transmissions out into the main network. It wouldn't be hard to pop open and disable, if one were so inclined. The puzzles range from the trivial to multi-hour marathons with a mondo sandwich machine controlled by levers and switches. In fact, some of the puzzles "solve themselves" by virtue of your partner solving them for you. In an easy game this would be no bad thing, but this is not an easy game. The hard puzzles are very hard (and made a little bit harder by buggy clueing) and they don't solve themselves. So having the easier puzzles solve themselves doesn't really help anyone, because if you can't solve those you aren't going to solve the hard ones. There are hints online but in at least one case they fell crucially short of the whole answer. Ordinarily I wouldn't have read the hints, but I had already won the game and was playing through on the alternate track to write this review (see how thorough I am?) and had whacked myself out with the world's most insane lever problem that rated at least two cups of tea. As it happened I needed to do just a little bit more to sneak past the guard but I wasn't up to it and looked at the hints, which didn't help at all. Fortunately that last bit of the puzzle wasn't too hard. The hints, by the way, are as witty as the game and well worth reading and I would say that if you want to avoid banging your head against a problem for 3 hours then you should read them early! Some of the puzzles are good, some are funny, some are lame. It's a pretty mixed bag. The final section includes a timed puzzle, but at least it's totally obvious that it's timed (so you can save) and it's kind of optional and not too hard. At a couple of points I was impressed by a Nethack-like tendency in the game. There is an inexhaustible supply of pills, you can take as many as you like (one at a time; cut-and-paste is the obsessive pill-picker's friend). You can leave piles of pills around in various locations. There doesn't seem to be an inventory limit (not that I would want a limit), so you can carry mind-boggling amounts of stuff. You can find all sorts of problems with the parser. It's amusing (if you're me) and pointless. And it slows the game down, but really that's my own fault for having 40 odd pills and 30 odd novelty beak polishers. Another thing that struck me as being borrowed from Nethack (to be honest I would be surprised if the authors have had any experience of Nethack, but I have had lots so I often think "Oh yeah, it's just like how it works in Nethack") is the epistemic object descriptions. A pill is a "pill" when first discovered, but, when you discover that you can eat it, it becomes a "food pill". Similarly, a different object changes its initial name to become a "screen disruptor". (It's also reminiscent of the mongoose in Pirate Adventure.) All this nonsense with objects changing their descriptions is quite nice, but it is also the source of some unfortunate bugs. At one point I discovered that I could "show max the disruptor," but I couldn't show him the object that changes into the disruptor (it gives a runtime error, oops!) For the first few hours the humour was winning me over, the linearity wasn't bothering me, and I hadn't found that many bugs. I suspect the earlier parts of the game are more polished than the later parts, and as I played more I found more and more bugs. These were things like unimportant objects not being examinable, or it not being possible to disambiguate some object (this is a TADS thing isn't it?), or inconsistent choices of disambiguation. Some of them were more serious, like a TADS runtime error, or a crucial component in a puzzle being incorrectly described, or a plausible phrasing for an action in a long and crucial sequence not working and giving a misleading response. In the end the bugs wore me down and I come away from the game somewhat dissatisfied, despite some great writing which I found quite witty, a pair of appealing characters, and some interesting puzzles. I suspect that the game's length (7 hours of play for me on my first time through as Doris) meant that the quality suffered. The bug-finding and bug-fixing will have been spread more thinly. If I had taken a less thorough look then I suspect that I would have come away happier. So that's what I recommend to you. Play it, have a laugh, read the walkthrough early, and don't poke around too much. You'll have fun. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Sam Kabo Ashwell TITLE: Necrotic Drift AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin EMAIL: beaver SP@G zombieworld.com DATE: 2004 PARSER: Hugo SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/hugo/ndrift.zip VERSION: Release 1 Necrotic Drift contains all the elements you'd expect of Robb -- bittersweet schmaltz, randomised combat, human, sympathetic characters, tangential epigrammatic title, brilliant squick-out humour, big textdumps and a streak of geek a mile wide. There are plenty of references to previous Sherwin games, particularly Fallacy of Dawn and Chicks Dig Jerks. It's his biggest and most skilful game to date. Big, but linear. You have an intro section (near-isomorphic to the Fallacy of Dawn intro), then another intro, then a run-up, and *then* the game proper starts. After that, you have an endgame and an epilogue. At most significant steps, there will be a great big textdump; I don't object to these too much, but they certainly add to the game's apparent size. Nonetheless, it plays relatively quickly; most of the puzzles are pretty straightforward, and the game gives you a pretty good idea about what you should be aiming at next. (Sometimes this is a little heavy-handed, as in the bit where an ally starts clearing a barrier and suggests you look around for items that might be useful beyond said barrier; generally they're pretty good, though). Compared to previous games of Robb's, it's much more technically sturdy; not too many awfully obscure puzzles, no jagged edges a betatester should have caught, better implementation all-round. The old problems are still there, though; the one item you need to use in a room is generally strikingly prominent, scenery objects are often very flat and unresponsive. Of course, the scenery is brought alive very well in room descriptions and so on -- it just doesn't handle interactive poking around too well. One or two puzzles seemed very illogical or badly flagged up, and I underwent a lot of frustrating death at one point before seeking out hints; most were along the lines of 'you just found this item so it must be the one for the next puzzle'. I also note that Sherwin has at last developed his combat system above the 'I attack, but miss, the skeleton! The skeleton attacks and hits me!' level that so thoroughly killed A Crimson Spring, albeit only to add amusingly awkward battle-cries. Of course, since the thing is a D&D parody, formulaic combat descriptions are par for the course. I doubt it'd lose much to audiences unfamiliar with D&D, however; everything that needs to be explained is explained, and there are contextual jokes but not really any in-jokes. The game managed to convey a pretty damn good feeling of the urgency of the situation and the trepidation about moving into unknown areas. On the other hand, when the annoyingly low inventory limit forced you to scuttle back and forth looking for abandoned items at far corners of the mall, this effect was lost somewhat. (This also tended to happen during Dramatic Confrontations, which were kind of undermined by having the ability to run off and come back multiple times). There's a principle in IF theory that, in character-driven games, descriptive writing should convey as much about the character and his world as about the object described; this game goes joyously and superbly over the top with this principle. This compensates for the lack of physical detail to a great extent. The confinement and triviality of the Mall (and the intimate knowledge Duffy has of it) give us a very good idea of how narrow Duffy's horizons are. While in FoD New Haz felt like a sprawling metropolis or at least a very big town, here it feels like a claustrophobic little dead-end. The multimedia works and it doesn't work. The use of images has improved significantly; in FoD, the images were used kind of inconsistently, with some inventory items having objects and others not. In ND they're sharper and better used. There are a great many images, they contribute greatly towards setting the mood and establishing characters, and it's obvious that a monumental amount of care and effort has gone into them. Some images of characters still seems a little awkward and obviously-posed, however. Subject-matter makes things tougher, too -- even if you've got a multi-million CGI and modelling team behind you, if you're depicting the undead you've only got a one in three chance that it won't look ludicrous. Given that, much of this was pretty impressive, and where it was cheesy it was forgivable. The use of music wasn't as good. I found it kept fading out into nothing, and then when a new piece of music was triggered it'd cut in jarringly. I get the distinct impression that Robb, like quite a few other authors, is trying to use IF as a poor man's cinema; perhaps consciously so. The thing is, music is hard to get right with IF. Both are non-static media, but IF's non-static nature is interspersed with static blocks of reading time, particularly in this game. You'll get a dramatic chord and -- whoa, a zombie image! -- but you'll have read down three lines of text before the zombie *actually* jumps you. It's like watching a movie where the dialogue is properly in sync but the music is a few beats off. I think music has applications to IF, potentially, and I can see that this is more or less going in the right direction -- it's aimed at atmospheric background mood-setting stuff, and as such it's well-chosen. Those cut-ins need work, though I don't know how you'd manage that ideally. The Love Interest is, zombies aside, the real focus of the story, and it's handled well. It becomes pretty obvious that undead-fighting -- much like D&D -- is a great excuse for Duffy to ignore his relationship crisis. The relationship stuff isn't deeply original or earthshakingly moving, but it's very human. It works least well, perhaps, at the more tender moments -- much like the protagonist's life-affirming speech to the demon wherein he explains why he plays D&D. Sherwin is eminently comfortable with crafting humour, but it feels that there's less craft in the heartfelt stuff. No shame in that; writing heartfelt stuff is hard. The typical authorial error (thinking heartfelt stuff needs *less* craft because it's heartfelt) doesn't look as if it's been committed here, but I think this is an area that could do with being addressed. Modern audiences have been saturated with tacky pop-culture representations of the subject; it's a cliche minefield. Re-used phrases and sentiments seethe around it. They need to be avoided like the plague. I played in tandem with Jacqueline Lott; she objected vehemently to the unavoidable ending. The problem I have with it is that the emotional guts of the piece are kept at arm's length from the player, either entrenched in the middle of big passages of text or as involuntary actions. For Jacqueline, this was annoying because you couldn't influence the outcome; for me, it was annoying because it made me less involved with the outcome and hence cared less about it. Inevitable outcomes are fine in my book, but the bulk of an IF story (and hence its major developments) should really be interactive. Now, I loved Fallacy of Dawn to bits, and this is clearly a better game, on many many levels, than Fallacy of Dawn. (Sorry for going on and on with the comparisons, but this game invites comparisons, plies them with hors d'oeuvres and wine, and then suggests an S&M orgy to them once they're good and drunk). So why do I feel more indifferent towards Necrotic? Mostly, I think, because it's not enough of a departure. We have crudely wisecracking geeks in a grimy, dystopic future, well-employed graphics, a sassy girlfriend and a crass best buddy who follow us about... to be honest, it feels more like a liberal remake than a sequel. And y'know how remakes are never looked on as fondly even if they're technically superior? Right. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Jeff Howell The first thing a potential player is likely to notice about Necrotic Drift is its size. 38MB is a huge filesize for what we've become used to thinking of as 'text adventures'. It's worth the download if you've got even reasonably fast dial-up, and anyone with broadband shouldn't even be thinking twice about it. Included in this package is a .pdf manual, presented as a copy of 'Which Witch?' magazine. It's a nice feelie, and although the language is needlessly colorful in parts, is good for a chuckle. Instructions for playing the game are included in the .pdf, and integrated nicely as part of the magazine. The game starts off fairly slowly. The opening scenes really don't mesh well with the rest of the game, and some of the dialogue and two of the main character's friends are truly unpleasant. I can see the point to some of what goes on here: it does establish some of Jarret's (the main character) personality and his situation in life. All of this is in retrospect, though. At the time, it just felt sort of forced, occasionally amusing, and largely pointless. The beginning of a game should grab a player's interest, not make them think "I'll give it a few more turns to see if anything more interesting happens." The game does pick up nicely, thankfully. The writing is superior after the slow start, and both the audio and graphical aspects, not normally seen in IF, add a great deal to the experience. At its most basic, Necrotic Drift is Survival Horror in IF style. Jarret can only take so much damage before the game ends, and there are a number of 'surprise' attacks in darkened corridors. But there's a lot more here than blasting everything in sight, primarily because standard weapons aren't in great supply. This is IF, and in IF, puzzles rule. There are specific ways to get past every obstacle, all very logical, but all requiring that the player pay very close attention. There's a lot to notice, many small details that the author has added that really add to the atmosphere of the game, and many of those are important. More than likely, you won't manage to get through on the first attempt, but that makes success that much more satisfying when it comes. None of the puzzles are all that difficult on a second attempt, if the player is paying attention, but that's not really the point of the game. The conversations and encounters drive what is, at it's heart, a story about relationships. There's as much being said here about loss, love, and friendship as there is about beasts that go bump in the night, and that's what really marks Necrotic Drift as a superior game. The plot is linear, and there seem to be some unavoidably tragic parts, but that's okay. The story is a quality one and if there's some sadness to go along with that, well, sometimes a bit of sorrow is necessary to make the happiness seem that much more valuable. SUBMISSION POLICY --------------------------------------------------------- SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure games, a.k.a. interactive fiction. This includes the classic Infocom games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the primary player-game communication is text based. Any and all text-based games are eligible for review, though if a game has been reviewed three times in SPAG, no further reviews of it will be accepted unless they are extraordinarily original and/or insightful. SPAG reviews should be free of spoilers, with the exception of reviews submitted to SPAG Specifics, where spoilers are allowed in the service of in-depth discussion. In addition, reviewers should play a game to completion before submitting a review. There are some exceptions to this clause -- competition games reviewed after 2 hours, unfinishable games, games with hundreds of endings, etc. -- if in doubt, ask me first. Authors retain the rights to use their reviews in other contexts. We accept submissions that have been previously published elsewhere, although original reviews are preferred. For a more detailed version of this policy, see the SPAG FAQ at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag/spag.faq. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!
Click here for a printable, plain text version of this issue.