ISSUE #39 - January 7, 2005

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

            ISSUE #39 -- 2004 IF Competition Special

        Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G
                      January 7, 2005

           SPAG Website:

SPAG #39 is copyright (c) 2005 by Paul O'Brian.
Authors of reviews and articles retain the rights to their contributions.

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

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

SPAG interviews the top finishers in the IF Comp who aren't its editor:
   * Chris Klimas
   * half sick of shadows
   * Jason Devlin

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

All Things Devours
The Big Scoop
Blue Chairs
Die Vollkommene Masse
Goose, Egg, Badger
The Great Xavio
I Must Play
Luminous Horizon
Ninja v1.30
The Orion Agenda
The Realm
Square Circle
Sting Of The Wasp
Trading Punches
Who Created That Monster?
Zero One


Some while ago now, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next
in IF. I had just finished LASH, which was very satisfying to write but
also an incredible downer, what with all the research into the horrors
of American slavery. I knew I wanted to write something light and fun,
and for me, the natural choice was something to do with superheroes. I'd
had an on-again, off-again love affair with the genre all my life,
particularly with the kooky mutants and malcontents of the Marvel
Universe. As I was contemplating this decision, good writers and
editorial shakeups were breathing new life into that universe, so the
affair was definitely on again.

I hatched a plan. I would create a series of superhero games. They would
be short and episodic, just like the comics, and each game would itself
be broken into very small chapters, in imitation of the style used by
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the earliest issues of the Fantastic Four and
others. The other great bonus of having the games be episodic was that
they'd be the perfect size for competition entries. I decided I would
enter each episode into that year's comp, which would both provide a
very solid deadline and help me promote the series. I also thought for a
while on the ways in which the flow of interactive fiction, interrupted
rhythmically by the appearance of the prompt, is similar to the flow of
comics, panels strung together by their intervening gutters and page
breaks. The analogy was far from perfect, but I thought that if I kept
it in mind, it could help me capture the exhilarating feel of my
favorite superhero comics.

In some ways, this was a ridiculous thing to be attempting. For one
thing, a huge part of superheroes' appeal is visual, and I wanted to put
them into a pure-text environment. I made this choice not because of
some desire to keep text games unsullied by pictures, but because I
possess a breathtaking lack of artistic skill. I would certainly have
illustrated the games if I could think of any way those illustrations
would enhance rather than detract from the experience. I couldn't.
Secondly, one of the linchpins of superhero narrative is fighting, and
fighting is something that IF isn't very good at rendering. Text is
terribly unsuited to depicting the various subtle adjustments of
position and approach that constitute much of combat tactics, and
besides that, IF's turn-based nature and the long pauses available while
deciding what to type at the prompt work against the sense of urgency
that an action scene needs. I knew that I didn't want to write a
full-fledged CRPG, especially since the superpowers were going to be
trouble enough, packing my game environment with combinatorial TNT --
not only would I have to account for all the normal actions an IF PC
might take, I also had to make sure that the superpowers didn't break
down at any point. I took heart from the fact that similar things had
been done well; for instance, the Enchanter series is essentially about
a superpowered character, and that character even gains greater powers
as the games progress, a problem I wouldn't have to worry about.

When it came to designing the story and characters, I drew inspiration
from two sources: Stan Lee and Emily Dickinson. As I mentioned in SPAG
#31, the game design phase took place at a time when my nightly reading
was alternating comic books with Dickinson poems. Thus, Emily and Austin
are named after Dickinson and her brother, and their superhero names and
powers derive directly from the poet's focus on the grandeur of the
natural world. From Lee and 1960s Marvel comics in general came much of
the story's structure, and some part of its mood. I didn't want to be
all heavy and cosmic, like some 1970s comics, nor grim and gritty like
the 80s, and 90s deconstructionism was right out. Those comics trends
were reacting to what came before, and superhero IF didn't have the same
history, so I wanted my story to retain some feeling of innocence and
wonder. However, unlike Freedom Force (which I love), I didn't want my
characters talking in gee-willickers Cleaverspeak, nor making loud,
unironic declamations. Instead, I tried to apply the old Marvel
philosophy of having characters behave more realistically, like a real
person would if granted fantastic powers. I don't claim that Emily and
Austin are some perfect psychological picture of "superpowers in the
real world", but I hope that on the superhero spectrum, their words and
actions are closer to the realistic end.

The first game was a major challenge, since I was creating the
superpower code from scratch. I'm also apparently quite a bit slower at
writing IF than most other people -- I'm always astonished when authors
say that such-and-such amazing game was something they banged out in two
months. Earth And Sky took me about a year, working approximately a
half-hour per day, which made it a bit disheartening that the main
response to the game was that it was too short. However, I paid close
attention to all the game's reviews, and tried to address many of the
concerns expressed therein while I was designing the second game, which
I decided to call "Another Earth, Another Sky," with inspiration from
Dickinson and from Lee's bombastic issue titles. It was also important
to me that I found some independent and creative ways to improve upon
the experience of the first game. (Actually, I want *each* of my games
to contain innovations that the last one didn't -- I think a big part of
Infocom's success was that they were always trying to outdo themselves,
and I strive to emulate that ethic in my own work.) So at the time I was
designing episode 2, Glulx had gained a foothold as an excellent
platform that could be programmed in Inform but that could accommodate
graphics. Meanwhile, I'd just bought Photoshop, and was excited about
the kinds of art I could create without having to draw at all. The
notion of bright, graphical sound effects appealed to me hugely,
especially since I'd struggled to find ways to make the first game fun
and colorful.

Another Earth, Another Sky was successful beyond what I'd dared to hope.
Winning the competition floored me -- it was a dream come true, and at
the same time, it threw me into a bit of a tailspin. I feared I'd peaked
too early. What would I do for an encore, and whatever I did, should I
still enter the comp with it? In the end, I decided to go ahead and
enter the comp with episode 3, since that had been the plan from the
beginning with these games. Whatever happened with the third game, I'd
subsequently stay away from the competition for a good long while, maybe
permanently. Creating the game, however, was a bigger stumbling block. I
knew that the innovations I wanted it to have were the ability to switch
between characters, and an in-game hint system built into NPC
conversation. People had been clamoring for more teamwork in these
games, and rightly so: the first and second episodes are from one
sibling's point-of-view, and each quickly finds a reason to get rid of
the other person before the superheroics start in earnest. I figured
that perspective-switching and sibling hinting would provide a team feel
that the other games had lacked. What I didn't figure on was how much
freaking work it would take to build a game that could gracefully switch
between two PCs, along with a hint system that took its cues from PC
behavior and expressed itself naturally in conversational form. Even
though my design for Luminous Horizon was considerably more railroaded
than the previous game, the POV-switching still amounted to a huge pile
of work. Besides these challenges (and perhaps partly because of them),
I found myself suffering from a lack of motivation, as I talked about in
the editorial for SPAG #32. After a while, it became apparent that I
wouldn't have Luminous Horizon ready for the 2003 IF comp, which was a
big disappointment to me.

After many self-pep-talks, and many many coding sessions to the
motivational soundtrack of Pretenders II (thanks Chrissie!), I finished
Episode 3. And... wow. I am absolutely gobsmacked to have won the
competition *again*. It's an incredible honor to be voted into that top
spot, especially against such sterling competition. In fact, I'm
actually a little embarrassed about it. Comparing Luminous Horizon and,
say, Blue Chairs is like putting X-Men 2 up against Requiem For A Dream.
They don't even belong in the same sentence, despite what I just wrote.
For that reason, I've decided not to arrange another "self-interview"
for this issue of SPAG. Duncan Stevens interviewed me for the 2002 comp
issue, which was great and a lot of fun, but I don't want or need SPAG
to become the Society for the Promotion of Paul O'Brian. (Plus, SPPO?
That's even worse than SPAG!) So in this issue, we talk with the 2nd
through 4th place finishers in the 2004 IF Competition. I want to extend
my sincere gratitude to the voters of the IF Comp and to everybody who
helped me with Luminous Horizon. It's been great. On to the post-comp

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

From:	Dave Leigh 

In response to David Cornelson's editorial dated in Issue #38...

I think David has thought out his target market well, but I'd like to
make one important point: when you redefine your market, you should also
redefine your terms. By all means, these works should be sold in
bookstores, but they should never be called "programs" or "games". They
are BOOKS. Next-generation books, to be sure, but books nonetheless.

A famous marketing example comes to mind. The ubiquitous ThighMaster
wasn't developed for thighs at all, but was a general-purpose exerciser.
It didn't sell at all. It wasn't until a brilliant marketer decided to
target the use of the product that it sold, and when it did, it sold
big. The endorsement of Suzanne Somers didn't hurt, either.

Which brings me to the second point. In his article I think David has
underestated the value of the high-quality author. "Star power", in the
form of an endorsement through participation, is needed here, just as it
was needed for the Thighmaster. Infocom's Hitchhiker's Guide To The
Galaxy game was a major success (in my mind) because of the involvement
of Douglas Adams, who was already well-regarded outside of the field of
IF before the game was conceived.

To bring such star power into play, what's needed is a good sales job
and collaboration. I think there are many fine authors who would
participate in such a medium were it not for the intimidation of
learning the mechanics of the gaming system. Most works of IF are
written and produced by a single person. I think that, if you're truly
thinking in commercial terms, this is a really Bad Idea (tm). While you
have the rare person who is both technically and artistically inclined,
you'll find that most people are one or the other. So pair a good
technician with a good author. It's what we do all the time in software
development with designers and programmers, and the results are almost
invariably better than what can be done by either alone.

This may hold further attractions for authors in that, in writing their
fiction, they can now stretch themselves to think in non-linear terms.
What is their character doing "in the meantime?" It allows them to think
more in terms of characterization instead of the plain narrative, and
the improved characterization can make for a better story. I think that
many authors (and only one is needed at first) would jump at the chance
to participate in such a project if only they knew how to do it (and
collaboration lowers that hurdle); and that they would be rewarded for
it (hence the business plan).

Finally, in the same collaborative vein, there is one thing that I would
most certainly recommend from a technical point of view. In playing
successful modern games that are the closest to text IF (I'm thinking of
the Myst series here), I find that the one element that does more than
any other to establish a mood is sound. A little well chosen music and
some ambient sound effects go a long way toward commercially polishing
the product without in any way detracting from the playability of the
otherwise text-only product.

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

The IF competition reached its 10th anniversary this year, and maybe I'm
a little biased, but I think this was a very good comp. As usual, heaps
and heaps of credit go to illustrious organizer and all-around Comp
Cheez Stephen Granade. Many, many thanks to him and all who aid him!
Here are the full results of the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition:

1.  Luminous Horizon, by Paul O'Brian
2.  Blue Chairs, by Chris Klimas
3.  All Things Devours, by half sick of shadows
4.  Sting of the Wasp, by Jason Devlin
5.  Square Circle, by Eric Eve
6.  The Orion Agenda, by Ryan Weisenberger
7.  Mingsheng, by Deane Saunders (writing as Rexx Magnus)
8.  Splashdown, by Paul J. Furio
9.  Gamlet, by Tomasz Pudlo
10. Trading Punches, by Mike Snyder (writing as Sidney Merk)
11. The Great Xavio, by Reese Warner
12. Goose, Egg, Badger, by Brian Rapp
13. The Big Scoop, by Johan Berntsson
14. I Must Play, by Geoff Fortytwo (writing as Fortytwo)
15. Identity, by Dave Bernazzani
16. Murder at the Aero Club, by Penny Wyatt (writing as Penny)
17. Bellclap, by Tommy Herbert
18. Magocracy, by Anton Joseph Rheaume (writing as Scarybug)
19. Typo, by Peter Seebach & Kevin Lynn
20. Kurusu City, by Kevin Venzke
21. Blink, by Ian Waddell
22. Chronicle Play Torn, by Penczer Attila (writing as Algol)
23. A Day In The Life Of A Super Hero, by David Whyld (writing as
24. Order, by John Evans
25. Who Created That Monster?, by N. B. Horvath
26. Blue Sky, by Hans Fugal
27. The Realm, by Michael Sheldon
28. Redeye, by John Pitchers
29. Stack Overflow, by Timofei Shatrov
30. Zero, by William A. Tilli
31. Zero One, by Edward Plant (writing as shed)
32. A Light's Tale, by Zach Flynn (writing as vbnz)
33. Getting Back To Sleep, by Patrick Evans (writing as IceDragon)
34. Ruined Robots, by Nicholas, Natasha, and Gregory Dudek (writing as
35. PTBAD 3, by Jonathan Berman (writing as Xorax)
36. Ninja v1.30, by Paul Panks (writing as Dunric)

Normally, comp season is a pretty sleepy time for new games, but this
time around there's a healthy number, fed partly by a flow of teeny-tiny
games in reduced versions of Inform and TADS (see LET'S GET SMALL,
below.) There's also a goofy satire of Dungeons and Dragons, a promising
debut from a new author, and big announcements by major IF authors: Kent
Tessman's commercial release is ready at last, and Andrew Plotkin has
unveiled a new work aimed at newbies and experts alike. 
   * Eric The Power-Mad Dungeon-Master by Mark Arenz
   * Moonglow by Dave Bernazzani
   * Roadside Adventure by Kevin Venzke
   * Catseye by Dave Bernazzani
   * Future Boy! by Kent Tessman
   * The Dreamhold by Andrew Plotkin
   * Isle Of The Cult by Rune Berg

On October 27th, an auspicious gathering occurred. Star C. Foster, Nick
Montfort, Daniel Ravipinto, and Emily Short converged on the Kelly
Writers House in Philadelphia to read from their IF works, with Scott
Rettberg serving as interactor and host. The event was another step in
IF's gradual filtration through the groves of academe, and a description
of it is available at In
addition, Rettberg has written a brief summary of how the event fared at That
summary promises, among other things, that an audio recording of the
show will be available soon! Watch Nick's web page and for more info. 

Dan Shiovitz has been a presence on the IF scene for over ten years now,
and in that time he's written games, tools, reviews and more -- in fact,
his review of John Evans' "Order" appears in this issue of SPAG. His
latest contribution to the community is an essay entitled "How To Write
A Great Game." This essay collects a number of Shiovitz's observations,
with the goal of helping authors "increase the quality of the games
they're writing." It's available at:

The Commodore 32 is a machine that never was: a hardware Z-machine with
an onboard slot for receiving cartridges full of executable Z-code. The
only catch is that these "Z-carts" can only contain 32K of compiled
code. Dave Bernazzani dreamed up this scenario and created a mini-comp
that invited authors to submit games for this imaginary machine. Of
course, having created mInform, an Inform replacement library that fits
the whole parser and world model into 19K, he knows a little something
about fitting good things into small packages. Six authors took up the
challenge, and Samuel T. Denton's winning entry, "Endgame", weighs in at
an amazing 30K. Details on the contest and the winners are on the C32
home page at

I was very gratified to receive so many original competition reviews for
this issue -- I think this competition edition of SPAG has a higher
percentage of original content than any competition issue since I began
as editor six years ago. Now I want to carry that momentum into the New
Year (I'm greedy that way), so please send me your reviews of IF games
for inclusion in SPAG #40! If you seek inspiration for what to review,
find it below:

1.  The Act Of Misdirection
2.  Dead Reckoning (Nick Montfort's translation of Olvido Mortal)
3.  The Dreamhold
4.  1893: A World's Fair Mystery
5.  The Enterprise Incidents
6.  Eric The Power-Mad Dungeon Master
7.  Future Boy!
8.  Isle Of The Cult
9.  Narcolepsy
10. Return To Ditch Day

THE SPAG INTERVIEW---------------------------------------------------------

Every year since the competition began, SPAG has featured interviews
with the authors whose games emerged at the top of the heap. As I said
in my editorial, I'm altering the format a bit this year, since that
editorial probably already provided more than you'd ever want to know
about the Earth And Sky series. I'm proud to present Chris Klimas, half
sick of shadows, and Jason Devlin, and I thank all three of them for
taking the time to be interviewed.

 Chris Klimas, author of "Blue Chairs"

   SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who
   are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth?

CK: I'm just an average Web monkey who was a hair too young to have
experienced the .com bubble. I live outside Baltimore, Maryland and work
for a state agency. In my other life, I co-edit Crunchable, an online
zine ( that's a mixture of a lot of things:
personal essays, reviews, and political ranting.

   SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF?

CK: I got my dad a copy of "Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy" for his
birthday, back when I was a kid and we had an Apple IIgs in the house.
(My mom provided me with the financial backing for this escapade.)

I didn't know a thing about interactive fiction or even Douglas Adams --
it was just something he had put on his birthday list, and I loved
computer games even then. So the night before my dad's birthday, I
decided to check it out before I wrapped up his present. This was the
Solid Gold edition, and somehow the packaging was set up so that you
could browse through the manual without breaking any seals. (Or at least
that's how I remember it.) I read the manual cover-to-cover about seven
times that night -- the sample walkthrough fascinated me. I couldn't
believe that a game like it could exist. It seemed like you could do
anything at all.

   SPAG: After your debut with Mercy in 1997 and your contribution to
   the Textfire hoax, you disappeared from the IF scene for quite a
   while. How did you spend the intervening years, and what brought you
   back to IF?

CK: I did a lot of growing up, and a lot of writing. (I wrote Mercy in
high school, and I still feel kind of awkward about it.) I got
dissatisfied with IF at a certain point: I felt like I couldn't create
the kinds of stories I wanted to with it, or at least that the detail
work that IF requires -- letting the player open everything that can be
opened, writing (hopefully engaging) descriptions for the small,
unimportant things you just threw into a room to make it stand out in
players' minds -- got in the way of the story I was trying to tell.

So for a long time, I just wrote regular old stories. I still played
games -- usually I'd wait for the yearly comp to wrap up, and I'd play
the top five or so.

The fascinating thing was that even though I had more or less left the
community, it hadn't left me. I got emails about Mercy years and years
after its release -- I mean, I even got one message about it early this

It took three games to bring me back to writing IF. Shade is the most
beautiful work of interactive fiction I've ever played. And I knew that
if I were reading a linear version of it, I would finished it, thought,
"Hunh," and moved on. Taking the role of the protagonist made the story
a hundred times more vivid and haunting. It was an effect you could only
get through IF, and it was something I wanted to try myself.

The second game was Slouching Towards Bedlam. I liked it a lot, but as I
played I could feel myself critiquing it -- thinking about where I
would've done things differently, starting to think like an
author/designer again.

And the final was Time Bastard, which was not really a game, but an
entry in the walkthrough comp. It had the same effect on me as reading
Kurt Vonnegut did -- it made me realize I should loosen up and write the
way I really wanted to. You know, have fun with it instead of worrying
about my prose style.

(I'm sure that last sentence will cause people who didn't dig Blue
Chairs to chortle. But it's the truth -- like true love, you'll never
find your voice by looking hard for it.)

   SPAG: What was your creative process for constructing Blue Chairs?

CK: I started on February 29 of this year -- I always write the date I
start on in my source code. I didn't make a detailed plan of how I
wanted the game to go. I had an rough sketch of the story in mind, but I
worked out each section individually.

This lead to a lot of nifty connections. Many of the things at the party
that have resonance later in the game started off as things I threw in
to give things more flavor. I mean, I pretty much knew what purpose the
painting of the desert would serve, but the connection with the sleeping
guy on the porch came in much later.

Towards late spring, I started to lose interest -- but then I realized
that I had already put in enough effort that I owed it to the story to
finish it. I think IF is really killer in this regard. It takes a lot of
effort to reach that point of critical mass.

I had decided I had to give myself a month at minimum to beta-test, so
this fit neatly with the deadline for intent to enter the competition. I
just barely made it.

   SPAG: What's your reaction to the way the game has been received by
   the IF community? Are there any ideas expressed in the reviews that
   you'd like to reply to?

CK: I love the fact that my game got the second-highest standard
deviation in the comp. I don't mind the negative reviews -- I think a
lot of it comes down to personal taste, and what you expect out of IF. I
especially would like to thank everyone who wrote a review on the
newsgroups, good or bad, or wrote me an email about the game. When
you're doing things for love (not money), you live and die on feedback.

The most interesting lesson I've learned from the reviews is that Blue
Chairs probably would have been stronger had I backed off the puzzles a
little bit. When you're playing a game like Blue Chairs, you're in it
for the experience, and not so much the puzzling.

When I was first designing, I was terrified that people would breeze
through the game in half an hour and leave unimpressed. In retrospect,
that was pretty silly. When you're writing a story, you don't think,
"Gee, I'm not sure this is long enough. I'd better make up some new

   SPAG: You recently wrote an essay for Crunchable about Grand Theft
   Auto: San Andreas, and the way that game allows a huge range of
   behavior from its PC. IF works with a single author tend to be more
   restricted, arguably of necessity, so how did you decide where to
   allow player freedom and where to restrict it in Blue Chairs?

CK: There are two kinds of freedom, I think, in interactive fiction. (Or
games that tell stories.) There's freedom in the model world, which is
where GTA excels. Almost any car you see on the street can be driven,
and almost anywhere you can see, you can go to.

But there's also the freedom to affect the plot, and GTA offers almost
none whatsoever. Your only choice is whether to continue the story or to
go be a cab driver for a while instead.

I tried hard to let the player shape the story of Blue Chairs. You get
to decide some of the details of Dante and Beatrice's past relationship,
but more than that, the ending really asks: what do you think of what
you've just experienced? What would you like it to mean? Would you like
a happy ending? What would a happy ending to a story like this be like?
Is one even possible?

   SPAG: Do you anticipate being able to write more IF in the future,
   and if so what are your plans?

CK: Working secretly is really the way to go when it comes to projects
like this. There's nothing like the security blanket of knowing, "Well,
if this doesn't work, I can just junk it and nobody will know any

So... uh... I'm working secretly right now.

   SPAG: Apart from your own plans, what sort of IF would you like to
   see more of?

CK: I would like to see stuff that relies less on genre conventions or
gimmicks and more on telling a plain old interesting story. But that's
just my personal preference.

   SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite

CK: I'm a sucker for the fun but flawed games -- games like
Reverberations or Chicks Dig Jerks. This year, it was Kurusu City. It
had a wonderful sense of style to it, and I loved every word that came
out of the protagonist's mouth. But it was so easy to get stuck!

   SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition

CK: Find a friend you can talk to about what you're working on. It's so
helpful to be able to think out loud, and you'll need the encouragement
when you get bogged down.

 half sick of shadows, author of "All Things Devours"

   SPAG: Your nom de IF is "half sick of shadows." I know it's a
   reference to Tennyson's "Lady Of Shallot," but what does it mean to

TO: I have always liked the idea of having two names. Clearly one must
be chosen at birth by your parents, but it is hard to make it
particularly fit you, since they cannot know what you will become. With
the widespread use of pseudonyms on the net, I thought it was a good
chance to try to craft a new name. I experimented with various
possibilities, rereading many pieces of poetry that are dear to me and
settled upon 'half sick of shadows', which I now use a little on the
net. It feels right to me, but as with poetry in general, it is
difficult to say exactly why. It is a description -- rather like old
names with meanings such as 'Strong' or 'Beloved of God' -- but it is
more finely wrought and more appropriate. It speaks of restlessness,
dissatisfaction with lies or imitations, yearning for truth and reality.
Even the natural abbreviation 'half' tells something of longing and
absence. As with all poetry, it loses something in the analysis, but I
am happy with it.

   SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF?

TO: Playing Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on a Mac Plus as a child. I
(shame) had not yet been introduced to the books and thus needed a lot
of help to get as far as I did, but it was clearly a most ingenious
game. I really loved the level of involvement and the baroque gameplay.

   SPAG: In your "All Things Devours Wrap-Up" essay (posted on, you say you've only completed six IF games:
   Shade, Galatea, I- 0, 9:05, Common Ground, and The Frenetic Five vs.
   Mr Redundancy Man. What drew you to those games to start with?

TO: Well, yes, when I look at them now, they do seem a rather strange
collection. I think a slashdot story reintroduced me to IF and through
that I found Shade and Galatea. They were something of an epiphany,
being much more like small works of art than like games. I had often
reflected sadly on the fact that interactive media was so heavily based
around 'beating' puzzles or tests of reflexes. I recalled that it had
taken film a while to become a medium for art and hoped that we would
see high quality interactive art too. By 'art' I don't mean anything
particularly avant garde, just something that communicates or inspires
genuine emotion. Once I had refamiliarised myself with the parser and IF
conventions (an atmosphere-breaking task if ever there was one) Shade
and Galatea delivered in spades.

I then found the others via positive reviews (Emily Short's site and
Baf's guide?) and because they were quite short. I thought I-O, 9:05 and
The Frenetic Five were very fun and I half connected emotionally with
Common Ground. I think there was insufficient connection with the
characters for the final dilemma to have much punch, but there were many
moments that were very nice. While I never experimented much with it at
the time, the partial recording and replaying of the player's actions
gave me the germ of the idea for All Things Devours.

   SPAG: I'm impressed at the game's intricate design, and even more
   impressed that you were able to complete it in only two and a half
   months. What procedure did you follow for putting the code together?

TO: Once I had the idea of a time travel game I came up with a time
travel dynamic that would make sense and a few appropriate puzzles. I
then planned an environment and map to base them in and got coding. I
guess the fact that I had done a lot of programming in the past helped a
lot with this part and, once I had implemented a version of those
self-opening doors from the lovely DM4, I considered myself proficient
in Inform and started the long process of getting the time travel to
work. Actually, the recording and replaying of movement is quite easy,
but the keeping track of all the objects and actions and bizarre
paradoxes took a while to get right. I had to keep testing it myself and
trying to break it. I also discovered a raft of interesting things along
the way, such as the fact that after time travelling n times, you can
have 2 to the power of n copies of a given item.

Eventually, with the deadline drawing very near I filled out the
descriptions and ending text until I was satisfied and submitted it. I
enjoyed the writing and would have liked to spend longer on it, but
without a deadline I guess it never would have been finished. I do mean
this, for I would not have written it without the focus of a
conveniently timed competition.

   SPAG: Okay, this is a very geeky question about ATD (and maybe
   slightly spoilery too): was the alarm button just a red herring? I
   thought for sure it would turn off the alarm while it was ringing,
   but all it would ever do for me is to turn the alarm on, which of
   course I didn't want. Was there something clever I could use it for
   that I just didn't come up with?

TO: Ah, yes. The alarm button. It was originally added because it is the
type of thing one finds on a security desk, but it soon found a use.
There is a puzzle that can be solved using the alarm button, but it can
also be solved without it. When I release a post competition version
(early this year sometime) it will have a 'difficult' mode in which it
will necessarily play a part, since the other solution will be blocked.
I liked the non-linearity of the puzzles in ATD, and want to make the
more difficult mode partly to bring the more obscure solutions to the
fore. To partly answer your question, the only thing pressing it does is
to set off the alarm (it does absolutely nothing if the alarm is already
going). There is a reason you might want to do this, but I'm afraid I
shouldn't spoil it yet.

   SPAG: I see from your web page [at] that
   you're a graduate student in philosophy at Oxford. Could you talk a
   little about the intersections you see between your academic
   interests and the subject matter of All Things Devours?

TO: I have actually just been writing an essay connected to the
philosophy of time and did read an article or two on time travel during
my research. While I haven't really looked into the issue in any detail
academically, it is quite a luxury to be studying a discipline where
such topics regularly appear. One of the nice things about studying at
Oxford is the wealth of guest lectures. The great philosophy of physics
group here attract equally prestigious visiting philosophers and we end
up with great seminars involving the foundations of quantum mechanics,
space-time, chance and so on. Very fun.

There are many other areas that I have looked at quite closely,
including personal identity over time, non-standard models of
computation and, more and more, moral philosophy. I had never really
thought of getting direct inspiration from any of these areas that I
study, but now that I think about it, there are quite a few
possibilities (especially with the moral philosophy). I suppose All
Things Devours came more from my desire to get to the bottom of an
issue, asking a lot of questions and trying to work out the answers: a
desire that is probably shared by a lot of philosophers and quite a few
IF authors too. I know that ATD is exactly the type of game I would have
loved to play, and it was great to hear the reactions from a few of the
other students at College and from all the reviewers out there in the

   SPAG: In your wrap-up essay, you mention that you don't know whether
   you'll write any more IF. If you don't, where do you see yourself
   focusing your creative energies?

TO: Well, philosophy (and academia in general) offer a lot of
interesting puzzles of their own and I always have a few things ticking
over at any particular time. It also tends to follow you everywhere --
you can be listening to a gig somewhere and mull over some thought
experiment or find a hidden contradiction somewhere. I actually get most
of my original work done out of hours: then there is just the matter of
writing and research...

Oh, and I do quite a bit of photography too. It is something I have
dabbled in for the past few years and lets me try my hand at capturing a
little of the beauty around me. You can see some of it here if you like.


As to whether or not I'll write any more IF -- well, I'd like to, but
I'm just so busy. We'll see.

   SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite

TO: Unfortunately, I have reached the most intensely busy period of my
course and have had almost no time to try them. I did play Mingsheng
though, and thought it was wonderfully atmospheric and marred only by a
little episode of:

The door is in the way.
With what?
You unlock the door.
The door is in the way.
You open the door.

The Inform library really needs to update the default door behaviour...

   SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition

TO: Well, implementing doors nicely will help... If in Inform, just copy
the appropriate bits from the DM4. Reading the reviews from the last
year will also help, as you could then be aware of the clichés and the
classic bugs and player frustrations. Every entry really must pay
attention to these things and have some adequate writing which has been
well proofread. This really is the baseline requirement, but should
guarantee you don't come in the bottom five or so.

Obviously, however, you need some actual positives too: there must be a
reason you are writing it. At this point it gets very difficult to
advise since there are so many avenues to take, but surely going out and
playing/experiencing more works of IF would help. I look forward to
doing so myself when my workload eases off.

 Jason Devlin, author of "Sting Of The Wasp"

   SPAG: For starters, could you tell us a little about yourself? Who
   are you, what do you do for a living, and so forth?

JD: Well, there really isn't much to say. I'm twenty; I live in Nanaimo,
British Columbia. Currently, I'm half-way done my second year of my
bachelor's of science, major in biology, minor in chemistry. But all
this was in the about text of my game, so it really shouldn't be that
interesting. To support myself I have some money from scholarships, and
I work in the lab for a couple of hours a week. Despite the glamorous
title of assistant chemistry technician, all I do is wash dishes (or
"maintain glassware") and add powders to water (or, let's say, "prepare
reagent solutions in known stoichiometric amounts").

And as for my personal life. Well, I really don't have time for one: my
courses have a brutal workload. I am kind of seeing someone, but it's
very casual so if you're reading this Ian Finley...

   SPAG: Have you done other kinds of writing besides IF?

JD: Besides from a couple thousand words of lab reports each week, no. I
don't know, I have a funny relationship with writing and English. When I
was in school I really liked it, but then I left for a few years, and
when I came back I couldn't stand it. Well, couldn't stand it to be
graded on at least. But writing SotW kind of rejuvenated me. At least
now I know I can write something that people will enjoy reading and not
just read because they have to mark it.

   SPAG: How did you first become introduced to IF?

JD: Being born in '84, I was already kind of past Infocom's heyday, and
I never even heard of them until maybe a year or two ago. But my brother
and I did have a pirated copy of Magnetic Scrolls' "Guild of Thieves"
when I was five or six. I remember I didn't quite understand it. For
one, I think Magnetic Scrolls' is British and so some of the words were
really weird. When you start a game on a jetty, and have no idea what a
jetty is, it makes for a confusing experience. Also, I wasn't up to
speed on the whole anachronism-is-cool-thing and so I was bewildered
after travelling for a while through a number of "copses" (I had been
convinced they were misspelling corpses) to end up at a very modern
bank. Still, I loved the game and I tried my best to pass it. Of course,
being a pirated copy, it had a password after 100 turns, and so I would
play through, find the minimum number of steps, and try to do it that
way. It didn't work. So then, I tried to put all my commands on one line
like "west then north then take sack." But that still counted as a turn
per command so I gave up and moved back to Dungeon Master or whatever
other game I had at the time.

I didn't get reintroduced to IF until a few years ago when I was
browsing through the Underdogs (from piracy to piracy, the circle is
complete). I had finished playing through all the "good games" (i.e. the
ones with graphics) and thought what the hell. I went for the least
objectionable of the IF (meaning the one with the most multimedia I
could find) and wound up picking Photopia. I was blown away. I cried
(only Tapestry has made me do that since). Of course, I really didn't
understand it either (ooh, another circle): I thought the Photopia
machine was showing Alley her future or something but I was amazed
nonetheless. From there I went on to find out about r*if, the comp, and
all the other good stuff in modern IF.

   SPAG: What inspired you to write about the dark side of the
   country-club world?

JD: Well, I wanted to write a funny game (it's a lot less disappointing
if you fail in humor than if you pour your heart into a gut-wrenching
drama and fail, or worse, end up with a game people think is humorous).
And then I realized I'm only really funny when I'm talking about sex,
clothes, or drug use. From there, the choice seemed clear. Nowhere is
that stuff more integral than in the upper-echelons of society (besides
high-school, of course). The darkness came into play when I realized
that this was still going to be a game, and the player still needed
problems to face and villains to thwart. Walking around and overhearing
bitchy comments might lose its appeal if there was no driving force
behind it. There was no real social commentary here, as some reviewers
pointed out, but that wasn't really the point. I just wanted to make a
game that other people, and I, would enjoy playing.

   SPAG: Julia, the PC from Sting Of The Wasp, reminded me a lot of
   Primo Varicella in her snooty elitism and her willingness to dispose
   of rivals by any means necessary. Was Varicella among your
   influences? What other games influenced you?

JD: I've heard that a lot, but sadly I never actually played Varicella
through (the puzzles were too hard for my feeble brain and I didn't want
to cheat through it: I said "if I want to play this game, I want to do
it right"). But even reading the intro to Varicella, I can definitely
see the connection. However, when you think about it, a Varicella or
Julia-type character is probably the best way to implement an evilish
PC. The snootiness gives them reasons not to feel bad, the vanity
prevents them from doing anything too physical, and their concern with
social status prevents them from behaving too inappropriately. The
problem with evil PCs is trying to balance their ability to do anything
without moral consideration with your desire to keep the game
challenging. With a good PC, the parser can spit out a "That would make
you feel bad" type answer, whereas with an evil PC that isn't really an
option. You have to find other ways to constrain their behaviour.

Well, that was quite a tangent. Anyway, back to the original question. I
can't say that any games influenced me (consciously, at least). I got
most of my ideas from twenty years of bad television. When I started
writing SotW, Roseanne was just getting to the part of the series where
they win the lottery and start hanging with the upper crust. Sure, that
was the worst season, but it had the attitude I was going for (although
maybe not the class). Also, Kitty Montgomery from Dharma and Greg was a
big help. Whenever I think of any of the characters I picture them
dressed like her. And finally, that episode of the Simpsons where they
join the country club. The bridge players were originally going to be
Rauberta and the gang before I got scared off from copyright threads.

   SPAG: You dedicate the game to Dara Barker, saying that her "sass,
   class, and ass" inspired its PC. Who exactly is Ms. Barker?

JD: No need to make it sound so risqué! Dara's just a good friend of
mine who is a lot like Julia. I can't count the times we've been outside
between classes when she's pointed, cigarette held near the side of her
face, to some tragically-dressed person and made a cruelly hilarious
remark (as a whisper). Also, it was her birthday at about the time I
finished and by dedicating the game to her I saved on a present.

   SPAG: If you were the casting director for a Sting Of The Wasp movie,
   who would you hire to play the various parts?

JD: Hah! Now that's a great question! Well, for Julia, there's only one
person it could be: Kim Catrall. She outstrips even Dara in the sass,
class, and ass departments. For Keith I think I would go with Evan
Marriott, from Joe Millionaire. For Cissy it's got to be Jennifer
Coolidge (the step mom from that Cinderella/Lizzie McGuire movie).
Melissa would probably Andie MacDowell. And Beverly would be a younger
woman-that-plays-Will's-mom from Will and Grace.

   SPAG: Do you anticipate being able to write more IF in the future,
   and if so what are your plans?

JD: I sure hope to, but I'm swamped right now and not sure when I won't
be: maybe sometime this summer. I currently have a number of ideas
kicking around in my head: a sci-fi one, a (semi) historical piece. I've
done a lot of research for the historical one but I'm afraid that might
mean it won't get done. There's so many things I want to include (some
that contradict others, game-wise) that's it's bogged me down.

   SPAG: What did you think about this year's competition? Any favorite

JD: Sadly, I was able to play only one: Blue Chairs. But I loved it. I
went through all the intros when the games came out, more to scope out
the competition than to play, and the one for Blue Chairs totally
grabbed me. I didn't really get it after the start but the writing was
so amazing that I couldn't stop (I didn't even take a smoke break). I
really wanted to play more but, I didn't have the time. I doubt I'll get
to play through a whole comp for a number of years yet, so please guys,
keep it going.

   SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition

JD: Just start. Forget about learning the intricacies of coding or
fleshing out your storyline to a tee, you can do that as you go along.
Basically, just learn how to use Before and After (for Inform), scenery,
and have a general idea of your story and go. I've been thinking about
writing a specific game for a while now and every time I think I've got
it, I realize something in the story has to change. It slows you down
and since you aren't committed you're more inclined to stop. And once
you do get it (roughly) finished, have it beta-tested. SotW went from
140K to 245K (or whatever it's at) after testing and there's still more
to be done. However, once you add all those kilobytes, be sure to get it
tested again just as thoroughly as before. My betatesters were great but
I used them for the first round mainly. I figured the rest would be
fine. Boy was I wrong.

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:	Valentine Kopteltsev 

TITLE: All Things Devours
AUTHOR: half sick of shadows
EMAIL: devours SP@G
DATE: 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

After completing All Things Devours, I was sitting for a while,
wondering: how did a game with such an over-clichéd plot and a rather
nondescript setting turn out to be so exciting? But let's deal with
things one at a time.

You play a young scientist who had been working on a world-shattering
project, but was kicked out of it as the military took it over. Sensing
the fatal consequences the continuation of those explorations might
have, she decides to put an end to them by infiltrating her former lab
and blowing it up with all its contents. Sure, all this sounds (and
actually *is*) fairly generic, although the author hasn't left his main
character entirely without background; he tried really hard to flesh her
out (for instance, I liked the description of the photo on the PC's ID
card). The thing is, the game format doesn't offer much space for that.
The same goes for the room descriptions: although they are by no means
sloppy, a secret research complex consisting mostly of almost identical
(and rather dull) hallways just doesn't give one much of an opportunity
to be elaborate, especially considering how the viewpoint character is
extremely short on time.

Another complaint regards the stretching points in the implementation of
the complex's security system: two of them were so obvious one just
couldn't pass by without stumbling over them, and on second thought, a
few more came up. (On the third thought, however, I have to admit I
hardly encountered any IF games depicting fully plausible top-secret
establishments. On yet another thought (the fourth in succession), this
is quite understandable -- detailed information on access control and
protection system organization for such facilities isn't in the public
domain for obvious reasons, and I suspect that in reality, successful
infiltrations occur much less often than we're shown in films, told in
books and, yeah, in works of interactive fiction. Even *if* an incident
of this kind happens, the authorities in charge try to hush up the very
fact of it, let alone its circumstances and the vulnerabilities the
infiltrator(s) used, never leaving IF-authors any material to learn from
in this respect... Uhm, sorry, I got carried away. ;)

Anyway, after a while, all these issues didn't seem to matter. The
reason for that was, well, let's call it the puzzle framework of the
game. It's mostly based on the idea of time-travelling; sure, there are
enough text adventures using this concept (beginning with the classic
Sorcerer by Infocom), but scarcely any implementing it as consistent and
consequent. And I use the term "framework" on purpose: the whole game is
built around and determined by constructing a sequence of actions
leading to success. (There are multiple paths to victory, by the way.)
While doing that, the player has to account for a number of time-travel
side effects and paradoxes, some of which he can use to his benefit,
while others are to avoid. It was a real thrill.

In fact, it was so much of a thrill that another feature some IF-purists
might consider to be a drawback almost escaped my attention: in order to
reach the winning ending, you'd need a few restarts -- a rather typical
case of "learning from dying". Well, personally, I don't have anything
against such a game device, but since modern IF-standards (whoever wrote
'em ;) generally don't countenance it I've had to mention it here.

Initially, I also was going to nag at the fact that the protagonist
hadn't got a single chance to succeed in such a situation unless she was
a clairvoyant, because a few strategic choices in the early stages of
the game had to be made based on information she only would acquire
later. However, a couple additional test playthroughs convinced me I had
been wrong about it; there actually exists a way to victory that doesn't
require the gift of foresight -- our PC merely has to be blessed with
such abilities as ultra-fast acting and decision-making, an
extraordinary analytical mind capable of calculating several moves
ahead, and a memory as precise as that of a computer, all that combined
with nerves of steel, as well as a thorough knowledge of the research
complex. Of course, this all strains things a bit; still, there's
nothing supernatural about the talents listed above. A more detailed
discussion of the matter would automatically put this review in the SPAG
Specifics section, which hasn't been my intention; thus, I'd just like
to say that, in my opinion, the very existence of such a
"non-contradicting" way to victory represents another proof for the vast
amount of thought and efforts that have flown into All Things Devours. 

To sum up, this is a great game constructed around a very well
thought-out and carefully implemented puzzle skeleton; the combination
with the very original use of time-travelling effects makes it unique
and therefore an absolute must to play.

The SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard):

PLOT: Not very original (1.0)
ATMOSPHERE: Tense (1.4)
WRITING: Terse, but effective (1.4)
GAMEPLAY: Exciting race with the time (1.6)
BONUSES: Now, what do you do about a game you've liked a lot but 
can't give it a decent score, because it's focusing on puzzles, and
puzzles aren't counted in the total rating? Correct -- you rate the
BONUSES a 2;) (2.0)
TOTAL: 7.4
CHARACTERS: None present
PUZZLES: One of the strongest in this Comp (1.8)
DIFFICULTY: (7 out of 10)


From:	Joao Mendes 
[Originally posted on]

Whohoa! I think we have another winner here. After playing though 24
games, and for the second time in this competition, I am duly impressed.
You are a saboteur, armed with a timed explosive device, on a mission to
destroy a research prototype, hopefully without killing anyone. Nothing
new so far, and the story itself really doesn't go that much beyond it.
However, the way events unfold as you play through this game make for a
plot that is simply brilliantly delivered, if a bit on the short side. I
won't go into many more details here, so as not to spoil it, but trust
me, you won't be disappointed.

To be fair, shortness of plot is just about the only way this game would
work. The whole thing has a time limit, and indeed, in the ABOUT text,
the author claims that the game might be unfair, since there are way too
may ways to make it unwinnable. However, because it is so short, there
really is no problem in playing through it quite a number of times, in
search of an adequate solution.

You might wonder if this might not be boring. The answer is no. It's not
boring because it is so cleverly written. Yes, the style is rather
terse, but it is in just the right tone to bring about a sense of
hurriedness, which actually combines rather well with the game's time
constraints, creating a feeling of impending doom. It's almost like you
can't type fast enough to see if you've got it this time.

The technical aspect is where the game really shines. As both a player
and an author, it was easy for me to see the intricate ballet that the
various pieces of code have to participate in, in order to create the
desired effects, and the author pulls it off impeccably. Also, there are
no spelling or grammar errors of any kind, which I could spot. I should
note that the supporting website mentions a known bug, but I didn't come
across it in about an hour's worth of playing and possibly 30 restarts,
so I'm not going to take it into account.

And finally, there are the puzzles. For the first time in this
competition, I have found puzzles that are hard and yet fair. They are
all rather deductive in nature. I did have to go to the hints twice, but
I only because I was getting a bit tired of trying so many things in so
many games. If this had been the first game I played, I would not have
needed hints. Also, for the first time in a long while, this is a game
where knowing the solutions is one thing, but pulling them off
successfully is another. And I'm not talking about guess-the-verb, here;
I'm talking about the need for careful planning and detailed execution.
Again, the ABOUT text mentions unfairness, but I have to disagree. The
solutions are plainly there, and no, they are not based on knowledge
from previous lives, they are based on pure deductive reasoning. Kudos.

Story: 3 (a basic premise, with a bonus point for a brilliant delivery)
Writing: 2 (terse, but very well done, nonetheless; combines well with
the game's puzzles)
Technical: 2 (and it would still be a 2, even with the mentioned known
Puzzles: 2 (hard but fair; very imaginative)

Final rating: 9


From: Carolyn Magruder 

TITLE: Bellclap
AUTHOR: Tommy Herbert
EMAIL: cavebloke SP@G
DATE: October 2004
PARSER: Inform altered
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Score: 9 out of 10.

By the brief amount of time spent upon this game (I completed it in 8
minutes), one might presume that I disliked it -- but, much to the
contrary, I enjoyed it a great deal. I spent less time on it because it
was late, I was tired, and I wasn't feeling particularly brilliant,
which means that I hit the walkthrough in doubletime. (If you get the
impression from reading my reviews that I'm a great believer in
walkthroughs... you are absolutely right. I get stuck, I hate being
stuck, and I like being unstuck. Bring on the hints and bring on the
walkthroughs! I do this for the story, not for the frustration.)

I loved the interface! The premise took only seconds to understand, and
it was designed with a wonderful sense of quirky humor. In sum, you are
a deity -- not an omnipotent one, but one who works through
communication and inspiration. The main character is the hapless
Bellclap, a pathetic shepherd who worships you and has taken shelter
from a rainstorm in your temple. The parser is your obedient servant who
relays your entries on the command lines to Bellclap and passes back
information on Bellclap's actions. I don't think I've seen it done
before, and, if it has been done before, I doubt it's been done as well
as it was done here.

The puzzles were a bit more cunning than I was ready to face without the
walkthrough in hand, but they all left me with a delighted "ah-hah, what
fun!" feeling. One command did not occur to me without the assistance of
the walkthrough, but looking at the related object provided a cue for
the command, so I would presume that other people would not have this

The writing was excellent, the PC was memorable, the major NPC was
memorable, and I only found one bug in the whole game. (Admittedly, I
wasn't looking for them, but still!) That bug dealt with an object
failing to change its messaging in a fashion that I expected at the end
of the game, and, while mildly annoying, it really didn't reduce my

Thank you very much, Tommy Herbert! I can't help noticing that you
haven't got any other fiction in the IF Archive... a pseudonym, perhaps?
If so, I look forward to finding out what else you've written. I plan to
play it as promptly as possible if I haven't played it already.


From:	Joao Mendes 
[Originally posted on]

TITLE: The Big Scoop
AUTHOR: Johan Berntsson
EMAIL: johan SP@G
DATE: October 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Wake Up: Disoriented

Well, actually, the wake-up part applies only to the prologue, as you
switch protagonists when the actual game starts. Namely, you start out
as a woman being framed for murder who must escape an embarrassing
situation, then switch over to a journalist who sets out to help her
prove her innocence. Pretty standard stuff. Even the story behind the
murder itself is a bit on the plain vanilla side, and the game even
comes with its own "too-stupid-to-shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later"
garden variety villain. This is not saying that it is badly done, mind
you. Even with such a bland theme, the author does a competent job of
putting together a well-paced story, complete with an action sequence at
the end. Throughout, the game feels like a 50-minute episode from some
80's detective TV show.

The level of writing is rather decent, although there is a distinctive
feel that English is not the author's first language. No glaring errors
or grammar inconsistencies that I could spot, which is nice, but the
whole thing lacks in force in some way. I felt like I was watching the
show, rather than being part of it.

Technically, again, not a bad job at all. I didn't hit any snags, and I
enjoyed the implementation of the NPCs in the story. They all played
their standard parts in the plot, rather flatly if one thinks about it,
but they behaved so much exactly like I expected them to that they
actually felt alive. There were a couple of points where I hit my head
against parser limitations, however. That feeling of knowing exactly
what you want to do but not knowing how to phrase it so the game
understands it can bit a bit annoying.

As for the puzzles, they neither add to nor detract from the story.
Again, much like an 80's TV show, the things the characters do are
rather self-contained, dealing with one problem at a time, and relying
on what I like to call "script-writer luck" to get through some
situations. One particular puzzle has a solution that is just contrived
enough to make sense on TV but nowhere else. I can't go into details
without being spoilery, but if you play it, I'm sure you'll know what I
mean. Also, I confess I had to go to the hints for quite a number of
times, but given the nature of my relationship to puzzles in general,
that is to be expected.

Story: 3 (basic, but bonus points for good pacing and internal
Writing: 1 (competent and solid, but lacking in force)
Technical: 1 (well-rounded and solid, but penalty for making me struggle
against the parser)
Puzzles: 1 (pretty standard stuff throughout, though competently done)

Final rating: 6


From: Carolyn Magruder 

TITLE: Blink
AUTHOR: Ian Waddell
DATE: October 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Score: 8 of 10.

"Blink" is a powerful, compact little game. In some ways, due to its
length, it's hard to review it at all without spoiling it; I have to be
very careful about what I do and don't say. The best summary I can give
is that it involves a situation in which a man confronts the demons of
his past and his morality. If I said anything more, I would run out of

The writing is excellent and the game is very well implemented. Objects
all have appearances, and, though it's menu-based, people have
meaningful conversations and react well to what goes on around them.
There are a few tiny grammar/spelling issues that could have been
clobbered, but nothing I'd complain about heavily.

I only found a couple things that bothered me in terms of parsing,
implementation, and the like. In one case, I couldn't talk to someone
who was talking to me. The game overrode me and provided both "You can't
think of anything to say" and a built-in answer. In another, I couldn't
kiss my own wife! If she's the love of my life, shouldn't I get more
than a "no thanks" when I try? (I couldn't hug my son, either, but that
seemed a bit more reasonable, considering the main character.)

I talked my husband into playing this game, and he encountered a parser
oddity when he tried to sit down on a chair that didn't exist. As a
result, he almost sat on something that he would NOT have wanted to sit
on. Yuck!

This game is 95% puzzleless, but there is one puzzle, which was about to
frustrate me before I had a stroke of luck and got it through chance.
More experienced IF players may not have the same problem.

Other people may find this game preachy. I did not. Others may find it
too short; I did not. For what it was, it was precisely the right
length, and filling it out further would have detracted from it. The
game did promise different paths in its "about", and I didn't find them
despite playing through it four times. (I found different responses, but
not different endings; the different responses did not seem to be
sufficiently different from one another to justify a "different paths"
alert to me.) That was disappointing.


[NOTE: The following review contains a bit of obscene language, quoted
from the game. --Paul]

From: Mike Russo 
[Originally posted on]

TITLE: Blue Chairs
AUTHOR: Chris Klimas
EMAIL: klimas SP@G
DATE: October 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

This game shouldn't work. The literary allusions are forced and don't
really cohere. The balance of realism and surrealism is cock-eyed, so
that after the initial scene the player is swept away on an overlong
wave of dream-logic that ultimately edges towards the monotonous. The
puzzles are a mix of the reasonable, the evocative, and the peremptory.
A central symbolic motif never quite swims into focus. It all wraps up
with the hoariest cliché imaginable.

Yet work it does, with more than enough panache to spare. Yes, all of
the above problems are inarguably present -- the sequence in the
maze-complex or whatever it is does drag on too long, there are some
actions I'd never think to do if the walkthrough didn't tell me to, and
the whole Dante-and-Beatrice angle made me roll my eyes. But man, it
just doesn't matter. I'm willing to concede that a good part of my
goodwill towards this game is a result of its peculiar aesthetic, and
particularly the author's knack for description, which comes off like
Clockwork Orange by way of Freaks and Geeks. Most of my notes for the
game consist of memorable one-liners: the first NPC we meet is
"simultaneously thinking of fucking some cheerleader's brains out and
calculating how many XP a red dragon is worth," while "putting on a
dungeonmaster grin". All of the dialogue at the party manages to be both
clever and absolutely true-to-life, which is a neat trick indeed. The
narration wonderfully conveys the PC's personality -- sardonic,
detached, and yearning for meaning. Even when the prose doesn't need to
do any heavy lifting, the author manages to toss off an offhand gem. I
don't even remember the context for many of the lines littering my
notes, but even on their own they're great: "A miracle of genetic
instinct and secular humanism"; "a faint smell, the kind that ought to
trigger an old memory but doesn't".

The puzzles for the most part live up to the off-kilter yet sharp
aesthetic of the prose. Nothing's more natural than the game's solution
for how to dance better (or at least not notice that you're dancing
poorly), and the sequence where you're forced to assign tag-lines to the
major characters does a good job of forcing the player to recognize some
of the thematic work that's going on beneath the surface. I do think
they get noticeably weaker in the second half -- the entire sequence in
the darkened passageways slows the game down, and the sharp NPC
interaction which enlivened the party is conspicuously absent. Finding a
hidden safe combination and navigating a maze that adds rooms as you go
just didn't seem activities that inhabited the same universe as the rest
of the game.

The sequence in which the player trudges across the desert as George W.
Bush, on the other hand, was brilliant. Possibly my personal beliefs
brought more to this scene than the author intended, but floundering
across the sand, attempting to justify a horrible mistake, definitely
brought to mind the Iraq war, and made me feel the queasy sense of
uncertainty that the PC suffered. I'm unsure how well this scene would
work for anyone else, or indeed at any other point in time, but as far
as I'm concerned it was the single most effective moment of the comp.

Again, I don't mean to elide the game's real problems -- all of those
above mentioned, and it must be conceded that the prose does lurch
towards wordiness on occasion. But there's real ambition on display
here, and the places where everything clicks, it works about as well as
anything in IF can possibly work.


From: Carolyn Magruder 

TITLE: Die Vollkommene Masse
AUTHOR: Alice Merridew
DATE: October 2004
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Currently unavailable -- pulled from comp
VERSION: comp release

Score: 3 of 10.

The premise of this game: you are a teenage female drow who has been
captured by four warlords. You are now a prisoner in the castle, but, if
you "please" (author's wording, not mine!) all of the warlords, you will
be allowed to go free. This sounds significantly more pornographic than
it actually is.

In her introduction, the author notes, "Interactive fiction was just a
stone’s throw for me, being an author by nature." As upbeat as this
approach may be, it is simply not enough. I, too, have written my share
of fiction, but the requirements of good interactive fiction are
significantly different than the requirements of good writing. I cannot
speak to the author's regular fiction, but this was simply not
sufficient. At this point, what "Die Vollkommene Masse" actually needed
was a massive round of NPC-fleshing followed by a lot of beta-testing.

I didn't mind the menu-based conversation system except when it
exploded. Time after time, I found myself stuck with only one option for
conversation and able to enter that option over and over and over ad
infinitum. The major NPCs were all quite active when I was in the room
with them, which I appreciated -- it gave me a very good sense of their
general personalities -- and having one travel from place to place was a
nice touch. However, the NPCs were quite unresponsive when offered
objects, giving me the same response over and over, which left me
failing to offer them the correct objects for the plot because I had no
reason to believe that they would react in any different way than the

Others will doubtlessly disagree with me, but I liked the feature of
listing the exits to the rooms -- it kept me from getting lost. While
realism obviously took a step to the wayside in organizing the layout of
the castle, I didn't mind that, either. I object to getting lost, and I
didn't get lost; I dislike mapping, and I didn't have to map (even
without checking the maps that she rather graciously included.) That was
good. Some of the rooms had very nice descriptions, too; I particularly
liked one line about how moonlight cast a milky glow around the room.
Some of them had virtually no descriptions, or else had no actual
substance save a list of objects (a dresser, a desk, a bed, etc.) That
was annoying.

Red herring objects: there were tons of them. I like the idea of lots of
objects in a game, as it helps deflect the traditional adventurer's
kleptomaniac tendencies, and I don't mind if they don't have an apparent
purpose. However, this only holds true if they are adequately fleshed
and implemented. These were not. As a general rule, the NPCs didn't care
about them, and I couldn't do anything with them. (Why hand me a sword
if you don't want me to kill people with it? At least let me try!)

Serious bugs existed in this game, mostly related to differentiating one
object from another. I wound up carrying around two copies of an object
at one point without any ability whatsoever to affect either one because
the game kept asking me which one I meant and they were identically
named. I also discovered a number of mystery objects when the game asked
me which one I meant in a peculiar fashion -- for example, ">examine
window" led to "Which window do you mean, the window, or the ?" Argh.

There were also a number of serious plot issues, all of which were
heavily linked to the questionable morality and attitudes of the PC. The
premise wasn't bad, but the implementation made me scream. My best (and
least spoileresque) example is this: Very early in the game, I wandered
outside the castle. Although the window of my fifth-story bedroom had
been barred to prevent my escape, there were no guards in sight here.
Super! Let's go! --but, I couldn't leave, because I didn't feel ready.
This made and still makes no sense to me... in fact, the PC's
ambivalence toward her captors bugged the heck out of me through the
entire game. As far as I could tell, this wasn't a horrible prison for
her, but a secret wish fulfillment fantasy in which she was the happy
star as long as she could pretend that she didn't like it. The game
warns in its beginning that it involves mature themes, but it doesn't.
It involves an immature approach to potentially mature themes, which was
quite disappointing. 

The introductory document promises that the game is mind-numbingly
difficult. I will agree, but only because the author did not fully
implement and flesh out her game. Given adequate incentive to explore
and experiment with the NPCs, I could have finished this game quite
swiftly and experienced minimal difficulty with the puzzles, as many of
them were of a fetch-and-carry variety. As it was... no, I could not
have solved it without a walkthrough... because I had no incentive to do

The errors in spelling and grammar may not have been obtrusive to other
people, but I found them annoying ("inticing", "There's nothing behind
the Mbizi's bed"). The references to Mbizi's "shrunk" left me wondering
if English was the author's native language -- the appropriate word
seemed to be "trunk", but "shrunk" was the word repeatedly used instead
by the author. If English isn't her native language, she did cover it
quite well through 97% of the game, but the "shrunk" issue was bizarre.

Partway through the game, I got tired and fell asleep. (The PC, not me.)
Why? It was apparently night in the game, and I had been playing for
quite some time, so I was willing to believe that the PC would fall
asleep... but there seemed to be no point to it. This interlude could
have been used in a very interesting fashion for a dream sequence or
something similar, but she fell asleep, then woke up. There was no point
to it.

In closing, does anyone understand the meaning of the title? I am at a
perfect loss as to how "The Perfect Mass" (as the author translates "Die
Volkommene Masse") has anything at all to do with the game.


From:	Mike Snyder 
[Originally posted at]

TITLE: Goose, Egg, Badger
AUTHOR: Brian Rapp
EMAIL: rapp SP@G
DATE: October 2004
PARSER: Inform enhanced
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Brian Rapp's game is unique (at least in my not-so-extensive experiences
with modern Interactive Fiction) in several ways. First, the
multi-layered reality, through which you can move forwards and
backwards, is very interesting. Second, the PC has urges in her
inventory, which can be examined for tips on what to accomplish next.
Third, the author uses a design gimmick, which is revealed in portions
of the built-in tips and in the second walkthrough. I probably wouldn't
have noticed this otherwise, and the game would have ranked 8.5 on my
scale. I dropped half a point from the base, because it seems the game
is mainly a vehicle for this design gimmick (the story is secondary),
but because the gimmick appears to be so cleverly integrated beside the
lesser solution (I scored 79 points out of 100 in the path I took), the
implementation deserves the upward skew.

The credits list numerous beta testers, and it shows. I noticed no flaws
in the writing, and very few things that might be considered bugs. My
notes show that the ape covers his ears when I'm singing, even though
sometimes he wasn't there with me (this seemed to be immediately after
finding him, and then returning to the north). It might be nothing. I've
been known to misinterpret things before, seeing phantom bugs. [Note:
This behavior is actually due to the fact that the ape follows the PC
without the game explicitly saying so. --Paul]

Coincidentally, this is the... hmmm, I have no idea how many now... but
it's one of many games to begin with the protagonist waking up. I'm not
the only one to notice it, I think. One guy emailed me about my entry,
Trading Punches, and he made the same comment. Somebody else mentioned
an interesting similarity between many of the entries (on R.G.I-F), and
I bet this is what he meant.

I can't really say much else about "Goose, Egg, Badger." I kind of
thought it would turn out to be an elaborate version of the old logic
puzzle -- take everything across the river one at a time (although the
components don't really fit that). It's a puzzle game, and sometimes the
solutions seem pretty obscure (I requested in-game hints several times).
It's a good game, though, and the innovative gimmicks make it memorable.


From: Jess Knoch 

TITLE: The Great Xavio
AUTHOR: Reese Warner
EMAIL: reese SP@G
DATE: 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters

I got to The Great Xavio late in my list of games for the Comp, thanks
to the so-called randomness of the Comp04.z5. I say "so-called" because
my list had about five mystery games very late in the list. Clearly,
this was the work of a mastermind computer program out to torture my
poor brain. Not that I don't like mysteries! Well, okay, mystery games
can vary in quality quite a bit. Let's talk about this one.

I was a little put off at first by a missing punctuation mark, and the
"about" text, which stated "There are hints available in the game,
though you need to figure out how to find them yourself; WALKTHROUGH is
available for one possible bare-bones path through the game." That set
off some big warning flags in my mind: I normally have a tough time with
puzzles and rely on hints to finish games in two hours for the comp. In
addition, I am a firm believer that the walkthrough included with a
competition game should take me down the best possible path, so that I
can have the best possible view of your game. That is, if you want a
good score. Anyway, it turned out that the walkthrough included with The
Great Xavio is only bare-bones in the sense that it doesn't explain why
you're doing all of what you're doing, or show all the different ways to
solve each puzzle. That's not such a problem, actually, because by the
time I turned to the walkthrough, I was almost completely done with the
game, and just needed to solve one teensy tiny problem before ending it.
I didn't know I was quite that close, but I was.

I never did find the hints.

Surprisingly (at least to anyone who's read other reviews of mine), I
wasn't very upset about this. At all. Normally, I'm a hint junkie, but
with The Great Xavio I found myself slowly making progress through the
game. I had a goal, I had some tools, and perhaps most importantly I had
various people watching me play the game in real life that I could
complain to, who would say something reasonable like "maybe you can find
a ___" and I would pause and think, "you know, that just might work" and
head back to the game. The puzzles were actually intriguing enough to
keep me involved -- especially once I had put about a half hour into it.
The worst part was that what I saw as the first puzzle, finding and
getting into the Great Xavio's hotel room, was actually the hardest and
most-involved of any puzzle in the game. And you don't get any points
until you've solved it. So, I played for quite a long time with "0 out
of 101" points, with no indication as to how long the game would go on
or when I would start earning these points.

Anyway. Enough about puzzles: what about the story? Well, the character
is a pretty interesting one, while still managing to be vague so that
the player can identify with him easily: a grad student with only a last
name, who teams up with a professor (Dr. Todd) to solve mysteries. Or
maybe fight crime. Apparently they've been featured in other stories
before, though this is their first interactive fiction game. The
professor is a bit of a caricature, but amusing enough until he becomes
annoying, which is probably how it's supposed to be. He could have used
a bit more variety in his random actions.

This review is backwards. Normally I start off talking about the
characters and the premise, and move on to the puzzles, but in The Great
Xavio the story is mostly an excuse to solve puzzles -- at least the
puzzles make sense for the setting. The basic premise is that Dr. Todd
suspects something fishy about a magician's performance, and wants to
get to the bottom of it by searching the magician's hotel room for
evidence. Most of the game for me was spent breaking into the hotel room
of interest. From there, the story takes a bit of a turn and moves along
quickly enough to a rather sudden end. 

The game starts with just a few punctuation errors, but as you get
farther into it, a few programming bugs crop up. For example, once
you've broken into the hotel room, you can convey to the professor the
method of breaking in and he will give you the same speech he did before
about what a brilliant idea of his it was. A few little things like
this, and some annoyances with the elevator, and the fact that extra
items get less and less well described as the game wears on, lead me to
wish the entire game had the polish of the first few scenes I saw: the
lobby, the bar, the basement. Towards the end, I even found a few
solutions to puzzles by, more or less, exploiting bugs. 

Overall, The Great Xavio could use a second release (I suspect, as I sit
here isolated from all goings-on in the IF community, it has already
seen one). [It has. --Paul] But the puzzles are entertaining, and each
can be solved in more than one way, giving even me (a pitiful puzzler) a
chance to solve almost all the puzzles on my own. I don't think I would
have gotten that last one even with extra time, so it's a very good
thing a walkthrough was included. And as for the hints... if you make it
a puzzle to find the hints in the first place, what happens to people
who aren't very good at solving puzzles? They never get hints, that's
what, and you risk leaving them out in the cold. Luckily, it worked


From:	Joao Mendes 
[Originally posted on]

TITLE: I Must Play
AUTHOR: Geoff Fortytwo
EMAIL: ifcomp2004Public SP@G
DATE: October 2004
SUPPORTS: TADS3 interpreters
VERSION: 42.00.009

A story of a little kid who sneaks into the video arcade after hours to
play some games while the mean big boys are away. Cute but a bit
pointless, if you ask me. Or not! The very first video machine I try. I
find myself _inside_ a huge game of Tetris! This was a moment of
realization for me, which is always nice.

Unfortunately, once the novelty wears off, this becomes just another
game with puzzles in it, although in its defense, I was able to figure
out all but two of the puzzles on my own, and I only failed one of them
because I have been awake for more than a few hours and am getting a bit
tired. Of course, I think this game was meant to be very easy, and in
that respect, it succeeds. There is one problem, though, and that is
that the puzzles feel contrived. It doesn't feel like they're there to
support the premise, rather, it feels that the premise was attained as a
good means to collate all these random puzzles together.

The writing in this game, though error-free, is rather bland. Then
again, I suppose the author would have to be an absolute genius in order
to manage to be powerful and evocative, given the subject matter. I
mean, there's only so much you can say about Tetris. Also, technically,
the game works very well. TADS3 handles itself beautifully, as expected,
but the author isn't creditless either. Lots of attention to detail, and
all the attempted actions seemed catered to.

Story: 2 (basic, but well-rounded)
Writing: 1 (error-free and gets the job done, but the subject matter
lacks in power)
Technical: 2 (a very competent use of the power of TADS3)
Puzzles: 1 (easy and accessible, but rather contrived)

Final rating: 6


From:	Cirk Bejnar 
TITLE: Identity
AUTHOR: Dave Bernazzani
EMAIL: daveber SP@G
DATE: October 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
VERSION: Release 6

Identity is an amnesia game set in a generic sci-fi setting. Your patrol
ship has crash-landed on an unknown planet and you must unravel the
mystery of its sabotage and find a way to get home. It bills itself as
an Interactive Short Story, but I found the story element to be rather
slight. Though the game told me that my memory was 100% complete at the
end I was still none too sure of my character's name and had seen
nothing to flesh out the backstory hinted at in the opening scene.
Instead, pride of place is given to the puzzles which are generally well
thought out and intuitive. There was one place where, when faced with a
similar goal as in a previous puzzle, I tried the same solution and was
not even given a good reason as to why it didn't work. In another vein,
I couldn't find the radio because I missed an exit and so was in no mood
to deal with its rather involved puzzle solution. 

The coding was strong overall and I found no explicit bugs. There were a
few moments of awkward phrasing (why is attach implemented but not as a
synonym of connect?), but I was able to make myself understood. The
writing is serviceable but does not really shine. The real problem here,
though, is the world. There is nothing strange or interesting about the
spaceship with its standard issue escape pods and a supply closet.
Likewise the planet is normal to the point of oddity. There is a yak in
the mountains and a simple farming village whose friendly inhabitants
converse with you freely. It makes a reasonable frame to hang the
puzzles on, but gripping fiction it is not.

All that said, I enjoyed Identity more than not. I got to figure things
out on my own thanks to the simple puzzles and the planet seemed a
rather nice place whose inhabitants I was happy to help. 


From:	Adam Myrow 

TITLE: Luminous Horizon
AUTHOR: Paul O'Brian
EMAIL: obrian SP@G
DATE: September 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Glulxe interpreters
AVAILABILITY: IF-Archive, freeware
Directory contains game file, readme, and another directory containing a
virtual comic feelie which summarizes parts one and two.

When Paul O'Brian announced that he wouldn't be finishing his third
episode of Earth And Sky in time for the 2003 competition, I was
slightly disappointed. Still, I knew that he would eventually finish.
Well, he did, and once again, won the competition. In short, that extra
year paid off. I said that part two was great, but part three is even

One of the things that I wanted to see in part 3 was more team work.
Well, that wish was fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams. In this, the
final part of the story, you play both Emily and Austin Colborn. You can
freely switch between controlling one or the other at any time. In fact,
it is critical to do this in order to figure out which of them will have
the needed super-power to get past whatever is blocking the path. This
game is much more tightly timed than parts one or two. This is
especially true of the final battle, which is a desperate race against
the clock with little room for error. While the game has been designed
so that it can't be put into an unsolvable state, that doesn't mean you
won't meet a grisly end or fail to stop the bad guys. Most of the time,
learning by dying annoys me, but not in this game. It helped to build
the tension, and made me feel really proud of myself when I figured out
what to do to survive.

This final chapter in the story will bring the player face-to-face with
the enemies they learned about in part two, and there will be a few
surprises in store as well. Winning was a very satisfying experience

More impressive than the battles and such, was the way Luminous Horizon
handles the switching between the two characters. Both Austin and Emily
are very well-developed in parts one and two, and the switches between
them help to reinforce the attitudes of each. For example, Austin is a
bit more level-headed than Emily, and there is both a little sibling
rivalry and affection between them. Austin calls Emily "Em" for short,
and she is occasionally annoyed at how Austin is somehow able to figure
out things that go right over her head. Here are a few examples of room
and object descriptions from each character's viewpoint. I've preceded
each with either "as Austin:" or "as Emily:" to denote which character
the player is in control of at the time of this description.

As Emily:

   High Plains
   You've never been much of a fan of Westerns, but this area just seems
   to cry out for some cowboy to mosey through it. Everything's here --
   the scrappy little bushes, the rocky ground, the mountains in the
   eastern distance, and the sense of barren desolation. All that's
   missing is a lonely ghost town and a tumbleweed slowly bouncing
   across the frame. The air seems unusually still here, as if the
   landscape were holding its breath in anticipation.

   A damaged road sign lies at your feet.

   Austin is nearby, apparently lost in thought.

As Austin:

   High Plains
   Scrub bushes and sparse grasses provide a little ground cover for the
   otherwise rocky, sandy soil of this area. Other than the jagged
   mountains looming a few miles to the east, this spot seems entirely

   Emily is here, watching you.

   A damaged road sign lies at your feet.

As Emily:

   >x vehicle
   The vehicle (assuming Austin has guessed right about its function) is
   large and sleek, roughly rectangular in shape but tapering a bit at
   one end. Its entire surface is covered in a mazy tangle of pipes.
   Pipes wind around each other and down every side and edge, some
   terminating in a flare at the ground and others opening dark holes at
   the ship's untapered end. Except for the fact that its color scheme
   is muted greys and blacks, it looks rather like something that might
   have appeared in Yellow Submarine. No entrance is apparent anywhere.

As Austin:

   >x vehicle
   The vehicle is large and sleek, roughly rectangular in shape but
   tapering a bit at one end. Its entire surface is covered in a mazy
   tangle of pipes. Pipes wind around each other and down every side and
   edge, some terminating in a flare at the ground and others opening
   dark holes at the ship's untapered end. The whole thing looks a bit
   like an unfortunate collision between a shoebox and a French horn. No
   entrance is apparent anywhere.

As these examples make clear, I really enjoyed switching back and forth,
just to examine objects and rooms as each character.

Yet one more feature of this piece of IF is that it actually can show
the player one of several different introductions. At the beginning, you
can optionally answer some questions about how previous sessions with
the other two games in the series turned out, and the introduction will
be customized to reflect your answers. In short, nearly everything has
been thought of already and taken care of.

Lastly, like the previous two Earth And Sky games, this one is broken up
into sections. Each game has used a slightly different method of
dividing itself up. Part one used titles like "Suit Yourself," at the
start of each section. Part 2 used quotes from Emily Dickinson which
were chosen to fit the situation. Part 3 gives the player a peek at what
the villain is up to at the start of each section. This is yet another
way of building the suspense up. Even before the game starts becoming
tightly timed, I felt like I had to hurry to stop the villain.

So, in short, I can't say enough good things about this game. It closes
out the trilogy in style, and shows that taking the extra time to polish
a game is well worth the effort.


From:	Jennifer Maddox 

There are two types of games in Interactive Fiction: those that are
puzzle-driven, and those that are story-driven. Luminous Horizon
definitely falls under the latter category, and if you're the kind of
player who enjoys that type I highly recommend this game. It is the
third and final episode of the Colborn siblings' attempt to find their
parents, a mission that has taken them from a quaint University town, to
the Sierra Nevadas, to outer space, and finally strands them in the
middle of nowhere, New Mexico. 

There are a number of good things about this game, one of which is that
you really don't need to have played the prior two installments of the
series in order to play and finish this game. But if you're going into
this game and want a good recap of the story so far, the web comic
feelie that accompanied the game does a great job of bringing you up to
speed without giving away any spoilers whatsoever. It's well written and
quite entertaining, two attributes that are prevalent throughout
O'Brian's works. I'd also like to give kudos to J. Robinson Wheeler for
his artwork. I'd recommend that you read the feelie even if you have
played the previous games - it just ties in so well with the style and
feel of the games. 

The included comic feels especially appropriate, as the characters in
this game could have come straight out of a graphic novel. The banter
and conversation that comes forth when Austin and Emily talk really make
one believe they are brother and sister. I might like to have seen a
little more sibling rivalry between the two, but considering that their
parents are missing I guess this pair of super heroes have had to put
other differences aside and learn to work together. While playing EAS3
you can choose to inhabit either sibling, a great feature and addition
from the previous games. This gives the player different perspectives on
the events taking place, and really allows one to combine the powers of
both the suits to defeat the forces of evil. Speaking of evil, I must
say that the villains are equally well written and nicely wicked.
Throughout the game the player is given glimpses of the pair, giving you
not only a nice feel of what you're up against but also clues at what
this devious duo is up to. This works well for the story; the occasional
clues keep the tension going and leads the player towards the inevitable

Unfortunately, the competition release of EAS3 did contain a few
noticeable bugs. It's good to note though, that none of them render the
game into an unwinnable state and I hope the next release of the game
fixes some of the more obvious bugs. As for the puzzles within the game,
well... I did say before that this game falls under the heading of
story-driven IF. The puzzles are simplistic and are in the "find key,
unlock door" format. That is to say, they are not compounded or
intricate, and the author is clearly more focused on the storyline and
characters. And as for the previously mentioned climax, I must confess
and say I was disappointed when I reached it. I had hoped for more, and
found it easily overcome. 

The hint system in this game is in the format of talking to your sibling
in order to get the help needed to overcome the obstacle. An intuitive
move on the part of the author, but quite a leap from the previous
game's hint system which was a web-based series of questions. It makes
sense, if you think about it, to have your partner-in-crime-solving help
you out as you try to get past the puzzles. I must say though, compared
to the excellent hints from second game in the series I was dissatisfied
by the hints received from the finale. They aren't as helpful -- being
location based it's sometimes hard to know where you need to be focusing
your attention on -- and once you have heard the final hint from your
sibling there's no way to get them repeat themselves. It is therefore
possible to have yourself stuck somewhere, unsure of what to do, and
when you consult your hint source receive only "You've said all you can
think of to say at the moment". It can be quite frustrating at times. I
just felt that the format and quality of the hints from the second
installment were superior, and would hope that O'Brian would continue in
that fashion in his future games. 

Overall Luminous Horizon is a great way to pass the time and nice
conclusion to the saga started by Earth and Sky. While it might not be
the most challenging text adventure you're likely to come across, it is
still amusing and certainly has made its mark in the annals of
interactive fiction. If you're looking for a good challenge, however,
might I recommend that you bypass this game and move onto the runners-up
in the 2004 IF Comp: Blue Chairs and All Things Devours.


From:	Cirk Bejnar 
TITLE: Mingsheng
AUTHOR: Deane Saunders
EMAIL: deane SP@G
DATE: October 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
VERSION: Release 1

Mingsheng is an interactive retelling of the mythical origins of Tai
Chi. The puzzles are not to difficult and are for the most part
intuitive and well clued. Only the last one left me scratching my head. 

The writing is fairly strong and creates a good sense of place, through
the occasional asides about Taoist philosophy were a bit much for me.
The game inhabits a very different metaphysical space from my own and I
found its more didactic moments off-putting. But there was never more
than a temporary annoyance. 

The coding was competent and I found no bugs. The design was likewise
strong with no wasted locations and clear connections between them.
Items were only used once, but locations sometimes had more than one
purpose. Special kudos for the design of the knowledge puzzle. I've seen
several IF games attempt to test learning rather than merely item
gathering but this is the best example that I've seen to date. 

To sum up, Mingsheng is a strong if not particularly outstanding entry.
It is fairly short, even by comp standards and there are one or two
places where additional polish would be nice. Nevertheless, it fully
succeeds in what it set out to do, and does so with style and grace. 


From: Jacqueline Lott 
[Originally posted at]

I appreciate this piece on a couple of different levels.

As a fellow author, I appreciate writing a piece of interactive fiction
to explore a concept, to create a world in which themes can be
envisioned and realized, to develop an atmosphere that nurtures the
quiet that you embrace through your observance of the Tao. This isn't a
game about achieving a goal so much as it's a piece about exploring the
path. My guess is that Saunders wrote this as much for himself as he did
for others (or perhaps more).

As a player, I appreciate the concepts that shone through in the piece,
even if they weren't fully realized: beauty, nature, complement,
strength through peace; though this was not a good medium for what he
was trying to achieve. I'm at a loss as to what method might be better
suited for the task, though... short of experiencing the story in the
real world.

As someone who has spent a bit of time comparing the Tao and Buddhism
(though not nearly enough), and as someone who practices daily
meditation, and as someone who is fascinated and inspired by the
traditional (not necessarily contemporary) Chinese love of nature, as
someone who spends a disproportionate amount of time thinking about and
interacting with nature, I enjoyed the experience as much as I could.
It's difficult to appreciate the quiet of the piece while you're running
about through the woods solving puzzles.

The drive behind the plot will have meaning for some, I think, but not
most. Again, however, I respect the author's reasons for writing this
(though of course I'm only speculating as to his desires). This was an
excellent attempt, but for some reason it just didn't grasp me in quite
the way that I believe was intended. The appreciation of the subject
definitely shines through, but somehow it's jumbled and confused and
tarnished by the medium. It should have affected me more, and I suspect
that I'm probably one of the competition players most open to the idea
of a game like this. 


From: Carolyn Magruder 

TITLE: Ninja v1.30
AUTHOR: Paul Panks
EMAIL: dunric SP@G
DATE: October 2004
PARSER: Rudimentary

Score: 1 out of 10.

I started to write a rather cruel review, which started, "Why? Was there
a point? If so, what was it?" Then it abruptly occurred to me that there
might be a walkthrough, so I went looking for it. There wasn't one, but
the associated text file cued me off to the idea that "enter shrine"
might be different than "go shrine". Sure enough, it was, and I entered
the shrine. Shortly afterward, I won the game. (Trust me... it doesn't
take much.) So there was a point. Sort of.

You start in an ungrammatical, boring room, which includes a shrine that
you cannot enter and mountains that are too far away even to be
examined. Aside from various peculiarities of syntax and parsing, there
is one painfully obvious puzzle to be solved. I solved it. I won, or, at
least, I think I did. It didn't help that the game changed its idea of
what the maximum possible score was each time that I played it. I never
got the maximum possible score, but the part where an object disappeared
from existence after I picked it up may have something to do with it.

As well as the issues that were specific to the game, the system had
some issues of its own. I recommend Inform, TADS, HUGO, ADRIFT, or any
other developed and well-tested system to the author. This home-grown
system has to go. It kept flashing "20" on my input line past a certain
point, and it had lag on my input. Bleah!

I can't recommend playing this game for any reason.


From: Carolyn Magruder 

TITLE: Order
AUTHOR: John Evans
EMAIL: jevans SP@G
DATE: October 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
VERSION: Release 0 (comp release)

Score: 4 out of 10.

The premise of "Order" is an interesting one. You are a spirit summoned
from another place to help a group of wizards, properly armed with the
power of creation. The introduction is strong, and the two NPCs are
well-written and responsive when questioned. Most of the game is
well-written, in fact, or I would have scored it significantly lower. I
only wish the substance of the game stood up to the apparent skill in
its writing.

I found the game's puzzles to have three serious flaws, which I will
attempt to address without spoiling anyone's enjoyment too severely by
giving anything away.

The first flaw: this game turned out to be an almost Diablo-esque
killfest. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy Diablo rather a bit. Killing
random monsters isn't generally what I'm looking for in interactive
fiction, however, and, if killing them is required, I would like it to
be a bit more complex than this. Not necessarily more difficult, but...
more meaningful. I killed a monster, yay... so what?

The second flaw: the one puzzle that is particularly complex relies upon
scenery objects that, as far as I can tell, do not show up in the room
description. I read the hint, and then I read the room description, and
I looked around as much as I could. Without the hint's information, I
could not find any way of determining that these rather significant
objects even existed, and they would both have been rather difficult to
miss if I were actually standing in that location in real life.

The third flaw was an issue of mimesis. I eventually understood the real
idea behind the PC from the context of the introduction, death, and
success messaging, but I would *never* have tried some of the creation
suggestions in the hint menu because they seemed so inappropriate to the
game world. Instead of being further drawn into the game world, this
knocked me for a spin. (One of the more appropriate suggestions in the
hint list didn't actually work when I tried it, too. Phooey.)

This game is also running under a time limit, and it didn't seem fair
not to explicitly warn the player about the time limit in the beginning.
I wanted to hang out and chat with the NPCs, after all, as the NPCs were
the greatest strength of the game and far more interesting than the
puzzles. I suppose it made sense for bad things to happen if I just
stuck around chatting with NPCs, but perhaps the NPCs could have told me
to hurry up or something?

On a final note of disappointment, I had to play through the game twice
to understand the ending. The name of one major NPC is sometimes given
as the first and sometimes as the last, and failing to link the two
confused me utterly.


From:	Valentine Kopteltsev 

Right off the bat, I'd like to apologize to Mr. Evans for this review
sounding somewhat didactic -- it really isn't meant to. I'm quite aware
that a) I lack the necessary achievements in IF authoring to teach
others how to write games, and b) even if I had such accomplishments,
playing IF coach without being asked to would be rather importunate on
my part. What follows is by no means a lecture -- just my personal
thoughts; I honestly hope I managed to express them in such a way
nobody's feelings are hurt. However, if I didn't, please be lenient to
me -- it's not my bad intentions, it's just my clumsy pen.

Mr. Evans is a regular participant in the IF-Comp since 2000, and the
more games by him I played, the stronger grew my impression that a
redundancy of inspiration might sometimes be as much a problem as its
scarcity. I mean, with such a vast amount of creativity longing to break
free, it's really difficult not to give in to the temptation of
expanding a work that's supposed to be a modest two-hour piece into
something monumental. Once the author gives in, however, (s)he
automatically finds him/herself facing a number of serious challenges,
with his/her chances of doing well in the Comp dropping dramatically.
For one thing, it's very likely most players won't be able to complete
such a long game, and thus will rate it lower than it deserves. For the
other, a large work generally requires a lot more efforts to maintain
its consistency, to neatly resolve its story without any loose ends, and
to sufficiently beta-test it than a small one, so that the author takes
the risk of not getting these tasks done properly before the deadline
for the Competition. Which (I mean, not getting the aforementioned tasks
done), in its turn, will impair the game's overall quality.

Well, I had the feeling that all Mr. Evans' entries in the previous
IF-Comps fell victim to the problems described above. In 2000, there was
Castle Amnos, conceived as an epic, yet not completed by the author and
not completable by the player. A year after, Elements followed, which
had a promising (and very stylish) beginning, but unfortunately became
unbelievably obscure in respect to both puzzles and plot later on.
Competition 2002 introduced Hell: A Comedy of Errors, a work possessing
some really quirky and elegant features; however, it was hardly
enjoyable as a game. Finally, the previous year brought up Domicile, a
wild pile-up of essentially unrelated fantasy worlds that I hadn't got
the guts to finish in spite of playing from the hints.

This year, however, fetched positive changes. It seems that with Order,
Mr. Evans has finally managed to restrain his own creative power, and to
produce a game of an appropriate size for the Competition, which is
quite playable (and winnable!) without a walkthrough. But the best news
is, although the obscurity had to go (being replaced by sense of
proportion), the nifty ideas stayed!

Actually, there is one nifty idea behind this game, which, however,
seems more than enough. You play a spirit who has been summoned by a
bunch of wizards to protect their realm. Instead of giving you weapons,
they endowed you with the power of creating various objects.

In fact, the whole story spins around this special ability of the player
character, and it must be said that this aspect of the game is
implemented with great care. All puzzles have to be solved by creating
appropriate objects; even better, most puzzles have got multiple
solutions (where "multiple" often means not just "more than one" but
"more than two" or even "more than three"). There are quite a number of
various objects you can create (including several obscure ones, but
since they're not required for winning, that's no problem at all). Of
course, my morbid imagination also provided for lots of things that
couldn't be created, but this is the case where I perfectly understand
one can't have everything: even my aforementioned morbid imagination
isn't enough to envision the size a game allowing the creation of ANY
object existing in the world would have!

If anything, I'd rather say there were too many objects I could create.
What I mean is the following: Order has a fantasy setting -- and yet, I
found that I was able (and at one point, it even was necessary for
winning) to create things like rolls of duct tape and fire
extinguishers. That'd be perfectly fine for, say, an Unnkulian game, but
Order acted deadly serious for the most part, so that such objects just
didn't fit into the scene.

There was, however, a much more serious problem: it appears that the
author was so thrilled by implementing the main gimmick he more or less
neglected most other crucial game aspects. This neglect showed through,
for instance, in the way most standard responses remained unchanged, no
matter how inappropriate they were (in particular, the "X ME" default
"As good-looking as ever" didn't seem like a suitable description for a
spirit). Also, the setting was lacking (there are barely any scenery
objects implemented; besides, the first four rooms I visited in the game
had descriptions starting with "A small, bare room", "This is a long,
low room", "This is a very large room", and "This is the west end of the
large main hall"). But its most noticeable manifestation certainly was
the characters. To make my point clear, I'd like to cite a short
fragment of the game transcript, with text in square brackets
representing my immediate reactions during playing.


  South Main Hall
  This is a long, low room. Fitted stone makes up the floor, walls and 
  ceiling. The room widens to the north, and south of you is a doorway.
  Gray light filters in through windows to the north.

  A man stands near you, of late middle age; balding, with a long
  grayish beard. He wears a shapeless gray robe, and looks at you with
  distracted bright eyes. "I'm pleased you made it out of our test," he
  says. "Well, I had no doubt, of course. My name is Sevryd." He sighs.
   "Please, will you help us?"

  The elderly Sevryd stands here, immersed in arcane manipulations.

  That was a rhetorical question.

  [Ehm... The guy probably wants to be addressed directly.]

  Sevryd has better things to do.


Still, ol' chap Sevryd is the most versatile character in the game: at
least, you can ask him about a number of topics (although the scope of
his knowledge leaves much to be desired). Others are even less inclined
to communication; presumably they "can't leave their tasks to assist
you", even after you master these tasks for them. A fellow who can't be
killed because "he's a little busy right now" tops off this mob of

Uhm, again, I'm not saying I didn't enjoy Order at all. It's still a
decent game, despite all its faults. However, some more attention to
"minor" aspects could make it A LOT better, and possibly turn it into a
gem. Well, there's still hope for Mr. Evans' entry in the next IF-Comp.

The SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard):

PLOT: Fairly generic, but not without an interesting twist (1.1)
ATMOSPHERE: One of the "minor" aspects that didn't get sufficient
            attention (0.8)
WRITING: Certainly not the strongest part of the game (0.9)
GAMEPLAY: Relaxed puzzle-solving (1.2)
BONUSES: The very idea of object creation plus cleverly implemented
         multiple solutions (1.6)
TOTAL: 5.6
CHARACTERS: I know, "a mob of dummies" doesn't sound too nice, but it's
            the truth (0.6)
PUZZLES: Smartly built around the PC's special ability (1.3)
DIFFICULTY: Easy enough, although solving it is fun (5 out of 10)


From: Dan Shiovitz 
[Originally posted on]

Ah, John Evans. He exploded onto the IF scene with Castle Amnos,
described by many as "an interesting fantasy game premise, but with some
nasty bugs -- perhaps you should get some beta-testing." This was
quickly followed with Elements and Hell: A Comedy of Errors, two games
with interesting fantasy premises but in need of beta-testing and a
fuller implementation. Last year he made a stunning break from tradition
with Domicile, a game in need of beta-testing, though with an
interesting fantasy premise, and finally, this year Evans presents
Order, showing he has truly mastered the genre of games with interesting
premises but that are, nevertheless, sadly in need of beta-testing. This
one does have hints and is finishable, at least, even if major objects
are lacking nouns mentioned in the room description. Anyway, Evans can't
take a hint, so I guess the thing for me to do is give his games lower
and lower scores each year from now on until I give up on them entirely.
If you aren't feeling this jaded you may enjoy bits of Order. Then
again, you may not. 


From:	Adam Myrow 

TITLE: The Orion Agenda
AUTHOR: Ryan Weisenberger
EMAIL: ryanwif SP@G
DATE: September 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
AVAILABILITY: IF-archive freeware
VERSION: Release 9 (comp version)

This was one of several games in this year's competition involving space
travel of some kind. It was also the most well-polished game I've ever
encountered from a first-time author. Sure, it isn't perfect, but it's
far better than many competition entries from first-time authors.

The story is told in an unusual way. It starts out in the present, with
you, the PC, waking up in a hole. Then, it flashes back to the past to
explain how you got there. The majority of the game is in this
flashback, and the end of the flashback marks the start of the endgame.
I've run across this technique in books a few times, and I've always
thought it was a great way of getting the reader's curiosity. Last year,
Atomic Heart tried something similar, but because of the many problems
in the game, it didn't work for a lot of players. In this game, the
technique works quite well in my opinion.

As for what the story is, you have recently been promoted to Captain.
Your first mission is to accompany your partner down to the planet Orion
on an investigation. For some reason, communications with the monitoring
station on the planet have been lost. Your job is to find out why. Of
course, there is one important rule. This rule is that you must not
under any circumstances contaminate the alien culture. This is the rule
that Star Trek calls the Prime Directive, and apparently, this
similarity bothered some people. It didn't bother me at all. Of course,
your mission won't turn out to be as easy as you thought it would be.
Otherwise, there wouldn't be much of a story. You must learn about the
people of this alien world, and there are lots of puzzles to solve. The
game does a fairly good job of blending story and puzzles. While some
thought the story was a bit too predictable, I liked it because it's
classic science fiction. Finding out what was going on and doing
something about it was very rewarding indeed.

There are several neat features in this game. First, it's one of those
rare games where your actions have a long-term effect. To say much more
would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say, how you treat other people is
more important than it usually is in most IF. Another thing that sets
this game apart from most others is the fact that it is written entirely
in first-person. While this isn't a new idea, there isn't one single
place that I could find where this first-person point of view is broken.
Again, reactions to this were mixed among the judges. I don't have a
problem with first-person, as long as it is done well, and for that, The
Orion Agenda can't be faulted.

Lastly, this game avoids many mistakes often made by novice authors. For
example, the first time a room is entered, the PC may remark on it, and
those remarks won't get repeated. Sometimes, room descriptions will
change, and those changes will be entirely appropriate. The only things
I found wrong with the game were a few grammar errors and clunky
parsing. However, it's clear the game has been tested, and it will
handle a lot of player input that many games won't. It was a strong
first offering, and I hope to see more from this author.


From: Carolyn Magruder 

TITLE: The Realm
AUTHOR: Michael Sheldon
EMAIL: mike SP@G
DATE: October 2004
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: comp release

Score: 3 out of 10.

The writing in this game varied unreliably between quite good and quite
questionable. One of my favorite lines was in the first room: "Sunlight
filters in through the small window above your bed, casting an
accusatory light on your dirty room." Regrettably, there were two run-on
sentences in the introduction immediately before it, and I swiftly
discovered that my inventory included "a shoes" and "a boots". As well,
most of the rooms were little more than a simple listing of directions
-- a pity, considering the brief flashes of brilliance.

One of the first objects I encountered was a guide pamphlet that
substituted for a HELP command. While the idea was well-meant, it seems
to me that anyone who knows enough to open a chest, take out the
pamphlet inside, and read the pamphlet would benefit much more from a
HELP or ABOUT than from the pamphlet.

The puzzles could have been solved on the brute-force technique of "find
the object, give the object". Aside from using the brute-force
technique, I was at a loss as to how two of the puzzles would have been
solved -- despite solving them with the walkthrough, they simply did not
make sense to me. One puzzle had a rather elegant alternate solution,
but it didn't occur to me to try it. Another of the puzzles was outright
disgusting -- I suppose it was meant to be funny, but I just found it

I wasn't wild about the setting, I wasn't wild about the puzzles, and
most of the writing was dismaying. I only found one bug, but it was an
odd one -- I could ask myself questions and always get back the response
"I don't know much about that." Those issues aside, though, the ending
was very funny. It's almost worth playing the game just to see the
ending... but I would rather see a better version of the game, instead
-- one where the journey is just as pleasing as the destination.


From:	Adam Myrow 

TITLE: Splashdown
AUTHOR: Paul J. Furio
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
AVAILABILITY: IF-archive freeware
directory containing PDF documentation, walk-through, and game.

This was not only one of many games involving space travel this year, it
was one of at least 3 games in which you wake up from cryogenic sleep to
find that a disaster has taken place, and you are the only one who can
do something about it. Why this particular story line was so popular
this year is a mystery, but this is the best of the games to explore
this subject. The game gives credit to Steve Meretzky for inspiring the
author, and the influence is pretty obvious. For example, you will find
lots of broken machines which need fixing, there is a robotic companion
who makes cute remarks and follows you around, and of course, your
companion is necessary to solve some of the puzzles. Of course, if you
have played Planetfall, this will sound rather familiar. Continuing in
the Infocom tradition, this game has several humorous bits. The included
PDF documentation is a side-splitting parody of a travel brochure and an
even better spoof of a legal document. When I discovered the exact
reason for the cause of the disaster, I was left laughing out loud.

As for the story, you are one of several other colonists who are
traveling to a distant planet known as Ayria Prime 6. The trip will take
over 30 years, so, of course, you are all put in cryogenic sleep to
await your destination. So far, so good. However, when you finally do
reach the planet, the ship crashes into the ocean. The computer wakes
you up, and you have to rescue the other colonists. Naturally, you start
out with a very tight time limit, and some obstacles to overcome. Once
you have gotten past the first major puzzle and bought yourself some
time, the game opens up for more relaxed exploration and planning.

While this game is clearly inspired by Infocom, it thankfully leaves out
some of the more annoying features. There is no starvation puzzle, and
no sleep timer. Of course, there is a light with a limited battery, but
it's unlikely that it will be a problem. If the player should get stuck,
there are InvisiClue-style hints to help out. They are even sprinkled
with fake questions, just like Infocom's were. So, for fans of Infocom,
this game will suit them well. However, I'd suggest that they wait to
see if a second release comes out. While the first release is perfectly
playable, there are a few grammar errors, and some parser trouble. It's
not bad, but just not quite at the high standards that it is trying to
pay tribute to.


From: Carolyn Magruder 

Score: 7 out of 10.

This review includes an extraordinarily mild spoiler. If you want to
avoid all chances whatsoever that you will see a spoiler, please leave
this review or make sure that you stop reading at the [SPOILER ALERT]
mark. [It is quite a mild spoiler, so I've left it in, along with the
warning. --Paul]

You awaken in a cryotube only to discover that there is a malfunction
and your ship is in trouble. You have been selected randomly from the
passengers on your sleeper ship to try to save the ship. (This is a
seriously weird backup plan on the part of the ship's designers, but, oh
well, I'll let it go.)

Splashdown is a neat game. Its greatest strength is its setting, which
carries a gritty sense of realism that I appreciate. I can see this
place, with its puddles, its mist, its broken girders, and all the rest
of it. The room descriptions show where to go in
aft/forward/port/starboard notation, but it didn't actually insist on it
-- it would still accept standard north/south/east/west instructions. I
appreciated that, too, although I wound up writing out a paper map
because it helped me with the layout. (I have trouble keeping directions
to about more than six rooms at a time straight in my head, so this does
not necessarily say very much. Your mileage will probably vary.)

As well as having a neat setting, Splashdown had neat puzzles. The
puzzles varied in difficulty, but every one made me say "Oh, I see, that
made good sense" afterward, and none of them involved commands that were
not straightforward and mimetic. Some puzzles required you to twist your
brain intuitively (which I am less good at) and some required you to
think logically through a pattern (which I am normally better at, but I
have a few personal excuses that sum up why I hit the hints so fast,
although I won't bore you by actually writing them down.) Both kinds
were pretty good at rewarding you and making the puzzle matter.

Those who particularly object to resource-rationed games should be aware
that Splashdown has two rationing systems in play as the game begins.
One involves the allocation of the power supply, and the other is a time
limit. Both are logical for the game, and I did not object to either
one. Between the two, however, I doubt that anyone will finish
Splashdown on a first attempt without hitting the hints very heavily (or
the walkthrough.)

What else is interesting about Splashdown? As I play through a game with
the purpose of reviewing it, I take short notes in a Notepad file, and I
refer back to them when I write the review. My first note relates to a
nice touch of foreboding in the opening sequence, and my second note
reads, "That PDF file is bigger than the game itself! What on earth did
he put in there, bricks?" So I opened up the PDF file, and then added to
the second note, "No, he put in a pretty cool intro and briefing. That's
a lot of work for a game that won't be longer than 2 hours. I approve."
And I do approve, and a lot of work was plainly put into the PDF file
(although the cover page could use some smoother, straighter lines on
the ship-- the art didn't seem to match the flavor of the game's actual
setting to me. This is such a minute whine that the author has every
right to whine about me including that whine.) You can play the game
just fine without the PDF, though, which is nice.

In an odd way, Splashdown reminds me of the Fox cartoon Animaniacs.
Animaniacs mixes a strong dose of kid humor with a whole lot of grown-up
easter eggs, and the result is something that you can enjoy at quite a
few levels of knowledge. Similarly, I could enjoy Splashdown without
understanding the easter eggs and in-jokes that are constantly spewed
forth by the game's sidekick, Spider the maintenance robot. As it
happens, I am familiar with most of the in-jokes... and I hated him

Aside from Spider, Splashdown is a beautifully crafted sci-fi piece with
an intense, serious tone. Spider's casual lingo and constant in-joke
commentary is seriously detrimental to this valuable tone. He feels like
he was written for another game entirely, a comic parody of the genre,
and then the author adapted him for Splashdown at the last minute. I'm
sure that isn't what happened, as the author has shown a great deal of
insight and care in all other aspects of the game, but hearing
repetitive references to Planetfall every 20 moves or so left me ready
to scream. In his capacity as an information-producer and puzzle-solving
system, he is super. In his capacity as comic relief, I wish the game
hadn't included any comic relief! (Your mileage may vary.)

There is one more thing I want to touch on, which relates to the subject
of easter eggs and in-joke humor. I thought about getting out of this
review without it, but it did affect my enjoyment of the game.


I hit the hints bright and early, as I've mentioned above. One hint
begins, "Is a colonist missing?" When I spotted that heading, all my
mental bells and whistles went off -- "Ooh! Sabotage! This is going to
be so neat!" When I got farther and farther and farther without learning
more about the missing colonist, I finally looked, and seeing that it
was only an easter egg was pretty disappointing. It was perhaps an
appropriate punishment for checking the hints so fast, but I felt like
I'd been promised something by the game that I never received. This
wasn't fair.

Almost everything else about the game was, though, so that makes up for
it. Right? Right.


From: Carolyn Magruder 

TITLE: Square Circle
AUTHOR: Eric Eve
EMAIL: eric.eve SP@G
DATE: October 2004
SUPPORTS: TADS3 interpreters
VERSION: 1.0 (competition release)

Score: 8 out of 10.

"Square Circle" is a detailed, interesting game with a cunningly
designed plot. Playing it without assistance from the walkthrough would
be a task of several days due to the length of the plot and the
difficulty of some of the puzzles (for me, at least; your mileage may
vary.) The image of the world that it puts forward is both satirical and
chilling. As the game begins, you awaken in a cell with instructions
that inform you that you will only be released from prison if you
successfully create a "square circle." Although "main character has
amnesia" premises are becoming quite time-worn, this game handled it
with elegant flair, and I was caught properly flatfooted by revelations
related to the amnesia (though I suspect that speaks more to my lack of
proper attention than to the game itself.)

That having been said, I should admit that I relied heavily upon the
walkthrough all the way through, which I blame partially upon myself but
partially upon the author. I try not to spoil things in reviews, so I
will be as vague as possible. There was a puzzle in the very first room
that I did not get... and the HINT command completely failed to
recognize it as a puzzle. This seems unfair; I gained points after I
completed it, so I should have been able to get a hint for it. (It
wasn't quite "guess the verb", but I took something for granted that the
system did not take for granted, and confusion ensued.)

I stopped using the walkthrough after a bit, and, lacking its advice and
support, I then did something that I thought was a correct course of
action. After a great deal of frustration, I returned to the
walkthrough, and that is when I discovered it is possible to do
something that puts the game into an unwinnable state without warning.
As far as I could tell, I was stuck at that point until I starved to
death. I didn't look forward to starvation. (There may have been a way
out even then -- the author of this piece was obviously more cunning
than I was. I didn't spend too much time looking for it, though.)

Two puzzles seemed telepathic to me -- one was a "guess the verb"
situation, while another required me to abandon the grammar I expected
to need in favor of another grammar structure. (Something like "(verb) X
on Y with Z at A" seemed like the most logical grammar to me, and what
the game wanted was "(verb) X at A". I really needed the game to give me
more information there.) One puzzle in a later sequence seemed
transplanted from another game idea entirely, and it did not seem to fit
with the "feel" of the game world to me. Aside from those objections,
all of the puzzles seemed both fair and intelligent. Many of the puzzles
apparently had multiple solutions, which impressed me appropriately. In
a similar vein, it was apparently possible to end the game in more than
one way, which I appreciated.

Guess-the-verb and trouble with the hint system aside, I liked the
interface a great deal. This game went out of its way to be as helpful
as possible to the player. Among other commendable features, you could
mouse-click your way through the help system, through exits from the
room, and through footnotes. I'm not sure how much of the system was
inherent to TADS 3 and how much was written by the author, but it was
quite nice. The conversation system was both quite powerful and quite
subtle. When I was conversing with the NPCs, the game provided me with
the exact syntax I needed to do the things I already wanted to do
without beating me violently about the head and shoulders with it.
Serious kudos.

Although the NPCs and the setting were quite interesting, there were a
few peculiar flaws in the game world. Considering the game world in
question, I really couldn't understand why one specific NPC hadn't been
taken out and shot long ago, especially considering his proximity to an
area where he would be particularly unwelcome. (I hope that was both
vague enough to avoid spoilers and precise enough to make sense!)
Another major figure in the game world also had an inappropriate name...
to wit, "Dunderhead". I could see the name as a placeholder until the
author gave him a real one, but having this jokey name in such a serious
game was very jarring. Yes, the situation had elements of satire, but
that pushed me past my limit in the issue. Maybe others won't react that
way. I can't be sure.

Despite excellent writing and a chilling world view, there was something
about the game world that I found quite dry. I could certainly picture
the areas described in the various rooms, but that was in large part
because they were so generic in their description and flavor. (You've
seen one forest, you've seen them all?) On the flip side, I have the
feeling that many of the areas were *supposed* to feel dry and generic,
and there were often some remarkably subtle shifts in scene and
situation (for example, an area that changed its room description
depending upon whether or not I was wearing something specific.) I'm
torn between whether or not the generic nature of the area was
intentional. It lessened my enjoyment, but it enhanced the message of
the game. Hrmph.

One last issue: I was disappointed to have the PC remain such an enigma.
I wanted to know what he actually looked like -- "you look much as you
always did" was a serious disappointment. I understood his political
motivations by the end, and that was good, but I wanted to set those
motivations aside and learn some more about the PC as a person. The
hints of emotion were wonderful, but I wanted more! 


From: Jess Knoch 

TITLE: Sting of the Wasp 
AUTHOR: Jason Devlin
EMAIL: jdevlin1984 SP@G
DATE: 2004
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters

Overall: Me gusta mucho. A lot of fun to play, good characterization,
great story, with room for improvement in certain areas.

I think "Sting of the Wasp" (hereafter SotW) is the only "Interactive
Damage Control" that I've played. It certainly seemed like an unusual
premise: you've been caught in a compromising position, and someone took
a picture. You've got to find out who and destroy the evidence before
anyone has a chance to tell your husband.

The game begins with a warning about the strong language and sexual
references. I am almost universally in favor of these types of warnings,
and I much appreciate being told about things like that ahead of time.
The warning also says "Despite the first scene, this is not a
pornographic game." That originally gave me a good deal of pause, but I
decided to try it out anyway. It turns out to be mostly true: the game
is not pornographic, but the first scene *is* -- or at least it's rated
R. But none of that part is interactive, so those who are uncomfortable
with such things can close their eyes until that first room description
rolls around.

The player character, Julia, is not the nicest person in the world -- we
know from the first scene that she's having an affair -- but her
personality is very distinct, and it is shown very well throughout the
game. This description of her clothes says an awful lot about her:

   >x clothes
   Nothing but the best for you. Pumps from Prada, skirt by Yves Saint
   Laurent, a gorgeous silk blouse from the much-coveted Vera Wang
   collection which is currently hanging about your shoulders, exposing
   your three thousand dollar chest.

The setting is the country club that the PC and her husband belong to.
There are suspects everywhere -- apparently none of these people
particularly care for the PC. Everyone is competing for status, snidely
putting the PC down and trying to make each other look bad. Interaction
with the NPCs is pretty thorough -- they even react (usually by making
catty comments) to weird things you do as the PC, like search the
bushes, or try to walk east when there is no exit that way. It's too bad
the game doesn't recognize "talk to ", because that seems very
intuitive and makes sense, especially given the special note in the help
menu -- "talk to  about " *is* implemented.

The hint menu has an attitude, which I like. The first hint I saw was an
excellent one, which really gave me an idea of what I needed to do
without making me feel like I had been told what to do. Unfortunately,
not all of the hints were quite that helpful. For instance, a simple
"Have you talked to Rodrigo" (names have been changed) doesn't do me
much good if I don't remember who Rodrigo is, or know where he can be
found. A different hint might tell me he's on the polo field (places
have been changed), but if the only reference to the polo field I can
find is a location titled "Outside Stable (next to the Polo Field)" with
no mention of how to get there, then I'm still kind of lost. Especially
since the game is pretty consistent about listing the exits in all the
other rooms.

Speaking of listing the exits... that brings me to the part of the
review where I talk about the stuff that doesn't work so well in the
game. There's one location that just flat-out lists the directions to
other rooms wrong. It wasn't too hard to figure out, though. Worse was
trying to figure out what to do when all of the hints said "don't
continue until you've..." and I didn't qualify for any of them. A few
misleading responses threw me off, like when I tried to take an object
that I thought would come in handy (and indeed, was required to solve a
certain puzzle): it said nah, let  take care of that. I
didn't know I had to search for it before I could take it. I had just
assumed if it was there that I would find it.

I had a few troubles finding the syntax required for certain actions,
but eventually (with the help of the hints) I made my way through the
puzzles. And oh, what fun puzzles they were! If I have a choice between
knowing what needs to be done but struggling with the syntax, and
wandering around trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing,
I'll take the former every day of the week. Still, I ran into trouble
again when I needed to use the phone and the hints said "See 'Xavier
won't let me use the phone!'", but I couldn't find any such hint. I
thought I was in an unwinnable state, having missed my opportunity to
use the phone, but it turned out I was wrong. The game was pretty
forgiving, right up until the endgame, and I had plenty of warning that
it wasn't going to be forgiving. I'm not sure how many times it would
have taken me to solve that on my own, but I had the hints, and that
took care of it nicely.

But what about the story? you ask. It wasn't just all running around
solving puzzles, giving x to y and unlock doors, was it? Well, maybe,
but it didn't feel like that because of the characters. You see, in
order to get what she wants, Julia (the PC) has to find out some secrets
of the other people at the country club and exploit them. The parts that
I started guessing ahead of time (like the two people I suspected were
"an item") were very satisfying to confirm! Then I suspected that
someone else was after someone else -- the whole thing was a cross
between a soap opera, a detective story, and some type of show where
you're the criminal and you have to cover your tracks. I can't think of
what that would be. Anyways, I liked it.

Oh, and SotW doesn't get full marks for writing/story because of some
punctuation issues. Not a big deal, just something to clean up. I did
give it full marks for entertainment/puzzles, because it was just that
much fun to play through and figure out. Extra-fun, in fact.


From:	David Whyld 
[Originally posted on]

TITLE: Trading Punches
AUTHOR: Mike Snyder, writing as Sidney Merk
EMAIL: sidneymerk SP@G
DATE: October 2004
SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters

To begin with I was quite impressed with Trading Punches. The opening
graphic gave it a very professional look that is rare in text adventures
these days and it seemed like I might be onto a real winner here. It was
also one of the first games I played in this year's Comp, which was also
a positive thing: finding a game of professional quality so early. Then
the game started and I became less and less impressed with it the more I

Which isn't to say this is a poorly written game. It isn't. The location
descriptions are lengthy and nice for the most part, even if a little
overly excessive in their use of the language. This piece from the first
location was a classic example of excessive:

   Colorful peacrows relinquish their places in the few nearby elmpine
   trees, flying then across the open expanse, beyond the cabin, over
   the hills and away to regions unknown. Others arrive from the west,
   stopping for a moment to rest in the same few elmpines before
   continuing on a similar migratory route across the estate.

While interesting to read, it was too flowery for my tastes and I found
myself wishing for a shorter and to the point description. But that's
probably just me.

The storyline itself seems like a well-thought-out one for the most
part. A race known as the Sheeears seem to have taken over the world and
the human race are living uneasily alongside them. Your father is some
kind of ambassador of the humans with their dealings with the aliens and
this is a role you seem to assume later in the game. It's hardly a new
or original idea but it was nicely done and could have made for a very
interesting game, instead of a very frustrating one.

What quickly rid me of my initial feeling of being impressed with the
game is the way it practically forces you along the path it wants you to
take. Take, for example, the prologue to the game. You and your brother
Thyras are on a river bank. Thyras is throwing stones across the river.
On the bridge are your father and uncle deep in discussion about some
topic or other. The whole point of the prologue is to reach the stage
where a creature known as a dactyl attacks your father, but the way this
is reached is so poorly done you'll probably be aching to attack your
father just to hurry matters on a little. You have to find some rocks
and skip them across the river with Thyras. Several times. Simply
waiting around doesn't do the trick and neither are you able to talk to
any of the characters (or not in a way that I discovered anyway). You
just have to follow a series of set actions which doesn't make for a
very interesting game. Strangely enough, throwing the stones across the
river doesn't do the trick; you have to skip them. Apparently your
father and uncle don't want to start speaking in front of someone who
throws stones instead...

This being forced along a set path seemed to bog down the rest of the
game (or as far as I reached in the two hour time limit anyway) and
while Trading Punches had started off looking as though it might be a
modern classic, the feeling I had when I stopped playing was that the
writer, unfortunately, had become more concerned with the minor details
than the big picture. The second part of the game involves wandering
around a lot of very similar locations and filling several different
glasses from several different punch bowls then giving the drinks to
several different people. As far as puzzles go, this was a desperately
dull one and without the walkthrough to help me I'd have just quit at
that stage. I quit before too much longer anyway, as my initial
favourable impression of the game had become somewhat lost and I was
seriously struggling to keep my enthusiasm. Sometimes, even an
interesting storyline and a compelling writing style just can't compete
with mind-numbingly tedious puzzles.

Despite my misgivings, I think I'll probably return to Trading Punches
again at some point in the future as there's an interesting game here.
But it's one I suspect will require a considerable amount of patience to
get through.


From:	Chris Molloy Wischer 

TITLE: Who Created That Monster?
AUTHOR: N. B. Horvath
EMAIL: nbhorvath7 SP@G
DATE: October 2004
PARSER: TADS2 standard
SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters
VERSION: Release 1 (Competition version)
Who Created That Monster is a satire memorable for its effectively
nightmarish vision of Iraq in the not-too-distant future. It contrasts
an ultra-capitalist state installed by the post-war administration
against a highly regulatory security system, which fails to control the
ongoing terrorist problem. Horvath's Iraq is populated by passers-by
acting out strangely polite little interactions, politicians both weird
and terrible, conspiracy theorists, guards and of course the
aforementioned terrorists. Some of the NPCs are extraordinarily
eccentric, which adds to the bewildering and somewhat unsettling
atmosphere of the game.
The plot, in which an investigative journalist delves into the dirty
past of Western involvement in Saddam's activities, isn't really up to
much, and the central mystery seems to have a completely arbitrary
solution within the confines of the game world. Some of the writing is
rather peculiar, with bits and pieces of geography, history and
speculation showing up as non-sequiturs, sometimes in room descriptions
and sometimes out of thin air.
The programming incorporates a number of imaginative solutions to some
long-established problems. For example, there is plenty of combat, which
under normal circumstances would create an ever-increasing abundance of
corpse objects, cluttering the map and causing parser problems. WCTM
quietly steps around the problem by equipping the characters with
weapons which transform their victims into fleeting clouds of smoke. The
first few times it seems odd and slightly silly, but it does fit nicely
into the almost surreal style of the game.
However, the combat system is my main complaint about the game.
Terrorists pop up like dwarves, becoming progressively more difficult to
kill. Faced with the possibility of getting killed by some unlucky dice
rolls, I very quickly went for the walkthrough in order to get the game
finished before the combat became too threatening. Unless a game is
specifically about defeating monsters and levelling up, I really do not
appreciate combat which has the same overall effect as random
_Who Created That Monster_ is an intriguing jumble with an effective
setting; I gave it 7 out of 10.


From:	Cirk Bejnar 
TITLE: Zero One
AUTHOR: Edward Plant
EMAIL: shed_plant SP@G
DATE: October 2004
SUPPORTS: ALAN interpreters
VERSION: Beta Version 1.2

My first abandoned research complex game of the comp! Well, really it's
more of a prison, but you are an experimental subject so it's close. The
game was written last year just after the comp and the author has been
sitting on it since then. Can I be the first to say, "Don't do this."
Release what you've written! We want to play games all year round, not
just in October! 

As for the game itself, it is pretty slight. The author claims that it
shouldn't pose any problems for the player, yet almost immediately I was
fighting with the parser about disambiguation. This was an issue
throughout the game. The problem was especially severe with not being
able to refer to items by their adjectives. Scope was also handled
poorly, making it easy to refer to things that you can't see and
shouldn't know about. Similarly "take all from drawer" was parsed as
'take all'-including the drawer and my clothes. 

The writing was fine for the most part, though occasionally a bit over
the top. Design was less strong, such as a blocked door that leads back
to where you have already been and a padlock on which you can't try the
keys you find. In addition, I would have liked at least a little more
backstory. Who am I? How do I know the man is named Terry? Mystery is
all well and good but confusion is not.

Overall, Zero One was a competent text adventure, but, for me at least,
not particularly fun. I lacked all but the most basic motivation, and
the contrast between graphic violence and silly humor was off-putting as
well as mimesis breaking.

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