___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE #39 -- 2004 IF Competition Special Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) January 7, 2005 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag 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 Bellclap The Big Scoop Blink Blue Chairs Die Vollkommene Masse Goose, Egg, Badger The Great Xavio I Must Play Identity Luminous Horizon Mingsheng Ninja v1.30 Order The Orion Agenda The Realm Splashdown Square Circle Sting Of The Wasp Trading Punches Who Created That Monster? Zero One EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ 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 polishing! 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 ---------------------------------------------------------------------- COMPETITION RESULTS 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 davidw) 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 nanag_d) 35. PTBAD 3, by Jonathan Berman (writing as Xorax) 36. Ninja v1.30, by Paul Panks (writing as Dunric) NEW GAMES 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 IF COMES ALIVE! 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 http://nickm.com/if/walkthroughs.html. In addition, Rettberg has written a brief summary of how the event fared at http://grandtextauto.gatech.edu/2004/10/29/if-walkthroughs/. That summary promises, among other things, that an audio recording of the show will be available soon! Watch Nick's web page and http://grandtextauto.gatech.edu for more info. A MAP FOR AUTHORS 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: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans/if/great-games.html LET'S GET SMALL 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 http://www.gis.net/~daveber/minform/c32.htm. IT'S NOT WHETHER YOU WIN OR LOSE, IT'S SUBMITTING A REVIEW AFTERWARDS 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: SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 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 (http://www.crunchable.net/) 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 year. 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 characters." 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 better." 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 games? 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 entrants? 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 you? 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 rec.games.int-fiction), 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 http://www.amirrorclear.net] 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 ether. 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. [http://www.amirrorclear.net/flowers/visual-art/my-photography/index.html] 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 games? 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: >N The door is in the way. >OPEN DOOR With what? >KEY You unlock the door. >N The door is in the way. >OPEN DOOR You open the door. >N The Inform library really needs to update the default door behaviour... SPAG: Any advice you'd care to offer for prospective competition entrants? 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 games? 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 entrants? 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 AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 URL: Not available. VERSION: Release 23 When submitting reviews: Try to fill in as much of this info as you can. Authors may not review their own games. REVIEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------- From: Valentine Kopteltsev TITLE: All Things Devours AUTHOR: half sick of shadows EMAIL: devours SP@G amirrorclear.net DATE: 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/devours/devours.z5 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 rec.games.int-fiction] 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 bug) Puzzles: 2 (hard but fair; very imaginative) Final rating: 9 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Carolyn Magruder TITLE: Bellclap AUTHOR: Tommy Herbert EMAIL: cavebloke SP@G excite.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform altered SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/bellclap/bellclap.z5 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 difficulty. 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 enjoyment. 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 rec.games.int-fiction] TITLE: The Big Scoop AUTHOR: Johan Berntsson EMAIL: johan SP@G microheaven.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/scoop/scoop.z5 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 consistency) 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 EMAIL: ian SP@G the-underdogs.org DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/blink/blink.z5 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 game. 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 rec.games.int-fiction] TITLE: Blue Chairs AUTHOR: Chris Klimas EMAIL: klimas SP@G crunchable.net DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/bluechairs/bluechairs.z5 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 EMAIL: Omega SP@G catandrabbit.net DATE: October 2004 PARSER: TADS 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 default. 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 so. 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 http://www.sidneymerk.com] TITLE: Goose, Egg, Badger AUTHOR: Brian Rapp EMAIL: rapp SP@G boutell.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform enhanced SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/geb/geb.z5 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 reesewarner.com DATE: 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/greatxavio/GreatXavio.z5 VERSION: 1 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 here. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Joao Mendes [Originally posted on rec.games.int-fiction] TITLE: I Must Play AUTHOR: Geoff Fortytwo EMAIL: ifcomp2004Public SP@G g42.org DATE: October 2004 PARSER: TADS3 SUPPORTS: TADS3 interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/tads3/imustplay/IMustPlay.t3 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 gis.net DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/identity/identity.z5 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 colorado.edu DATE: September 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Glulxe interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF-Archive, freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/glulx/eas3 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 better! 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 indeed. 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 barren. 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 climax. 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 rexx.co.uk DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/mingsheng/mingsheng.z5 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 http://www.allthingsjacq.com] 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 yahoo.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Rudimentary SUPPORTS: DOS/Windows AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/windows/ninja/ninja.exe VERSION: 1.30 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 alum.mit.edu DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/order00/order00.z5 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. >N 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. >YES That was a rhetorical question. [Ehm... The guy probably wants to be addressed directly.] >SEVRYD, YES 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 dummies. 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 rec.games.int-fiction] 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 comcast.net DATE: September 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF-archive freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/orion/orion.z5 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 mikeasoft.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/tads2/realm/realm.gam 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 gross. 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 EMAIL: pjf SP@G staticengine.com PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF-archive freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/splashdown 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 anyway. 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. [SPOILER ALERT] 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 hmc.ox.ac.uk DATE: October 2004 PARSER: TADS3 SUPPORTS: TADS3 interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/tads3/squarecircle/SquareCircle.t3 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 hotmail.com DATE: 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/wasp/wasp.z5 VERSION: 1 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 rec.games.int-fiction] TITLE: Trading Punches AUTHOR: Mike Snyder, writing as Sidney Merk EMAIL: sidneymerk SP@G hotmail.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Hugo SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/hugo/trading/trading.hex VERSION: 1.6 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 played. 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 hotmail.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: TADS2 standard SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/tads2/whocreated 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 deathrooms. _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 hotmail.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: ALAN SUPPORTS: ALAN interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/alan/01/01.acd 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. SUBMISSION POLICY --------------------------------------------------------- SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure games, a.k.a. Interactive Fiction. This includes the classic Infocom games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the primary player-game communication is text based. Any and all text-based games are eligible for review, though if a game has been reviewed three times in SPAG, no further reviews of it will be accepted unless they are extraordinarily original and/or insightful. SPAG reviews should be free of spoilers, with the exception of reviews submitted to SPAG Specifics, where spoilers are allowed in the service of in-depth discussion. In addition, reviewers should play a game to completion before submitting a review. There are some exceptions to this clause -- competition games reviewed after 2 hours, unfinishable games, games with hundreds of endings, etc. -- if in doubt, ask me first. Authors retain the rights to use their reviews in other contexts. We accept submissions that have been previously published elsewhere, although original reviews are preferred. 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