ISSUE #43 - January 7, 2006

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

                         ISSUE #43

        Edited by Jimmy Maher (maher SP@G
                       January 7, 2006

           SPAG Website:

SPAG #43 is copyright (c) 2006 by Jimmy Maher.
Authors of reviews and articles retain the rights to their contributions.

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

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

Attempted Assassination
Book and Volume
The Colour Pink
The Corn Identity
Dawn of the Demon
Internal Vigilance
The Lost Kingdom, Brainf*ck Edition
A New Life
Phantom: Caverns of the Killer
The Plague (Redux)
The Snowman Sextet
Space Horror I: Prey For Your Enemies
Space War! ...and the PDP-1
A Sugared Pill
Tough Beans
Whom the Telling Changed


There has been a fair amount of discussion on the newsgroups recently about 
possibilities for bringing IF to a wider audience.  Some want to see IF returned
to commercial viability, and certainly the relative recent successes of 1893: A
World's Fair Mystery and Future Boy! give such folks hope.  Others are more
ambivalent about IF's commercial prospects, at least for right now, but feel 
that there are many potential players out there who could and should be brought
into the fold.  For what it's worth, I count myself tentatively among the
latter  group.  Proposals to accomplish this broadening of IF's acceptance
range widely in scope and feasibility.  Before adding my two cents to the
debate, I want to talk briefly about what might be motivating us to have these
discussions in the first place.

It seems to me that there is a slight feeling of stagnation within our
community.  The excitement of the early nineties IF renaissance, which stemmed 
first from the idea of having new quality "text adventures" to play at all and 
was then largely fuelled by a sense of experimentation, of seeing just what this 
medium might be capable of once freed of the need to conform to traditional 
adventure game tropes, has somewhat run its course now.  Our community is not 
unhealthy by any means, but it no longer really seems to be growing.  I think
some of these subjective impressions of mine are borne out when taking a look
at one of our community's most cherished institutions, the annual IF

The Comp peaked in 2000 and 2001 in terms of number of game entered.  Each of 
these years sported more than 50 games.  It has since shrunk to a relatively
stable 35 or so entries each year.  Now, this is hardly disastrous under any 
circumstances, and judging the overall health of the IF community by the number 
of entries in one competition is of course extreme folly.  Further, others have 
pointed out that a smaller Comp is in some ways a good thing, allowing judges as 
it does to have a reasonable expectation of playing all or most of the games 
during the Competition period.  There is also something of a consensus that, 
while the number of entries are fewer, the general quality has increased 
somewhat in recent years, at least in the sense of there being fewer --
although, of course, still too many -- examples of bug-ridden dreck entered.

Still, perhaps you, gentle reader, will allow me the assertion -- formed from IF 
Comp data, my admittedly subjective personal impressions, and, yes, even the 
size of the average SPAG magazine issue from year to year -- that in terms of 
numbers the IF community peaked around 2000 or 2001, and then shrunk slightly to 
its present level.  Now, our present situation is not a bad one.  Games, and
often very good games, are still getting written, exciting new developments
like TADS3 are still appearing on occasion, and our community remains a more or
less active and vibrant place to be.  I certainly am happy to be here, and
am repeatedly amazed at the generally elevated level of the discourse that goes
on here.  I  hope that some of the shockingly well-written and thoughtful
reviews you will  find in this very issue speak to that.  If we are a small
club, we are also an  exclusive club.  And yet I wonder at times what an
infusion of fresh blood might accomplish for IF.

Now, IF is by its very nature a niche pursuit.  We are never going to rival, to 
pick a few random examples, NFL football, Eminen, or Grand Theft Auto for
popularity.   It does not necessarily follow, though, that are present
community of perhaps a thousand at best active players is the best we can do.  
Consider for a moment another quiet, cerebral hobby: crossword puzzles.  Next 
time you find yourself trapped at an airport, spend a few minutes wandering 
about the terminals observing your fellow travelers.  I can almost guarantee
that you will find, tucked away here and here in various dark corners, 
individuals working crosswords.  Yes, in this day of Gameboys and handheld DVD 
players, a certain tiny segment of the world prefers to entertain themselves 
with a pursuit that is if anything even more austere -- and certainly much more 
low-tech -- than IF.  I would love to find a way to introduce some of those 
folks -- as well as some proportion of the much more sizable population of
book lovers, and maybe even some more pencil-and-paper RPG nerds -- to this
hobby of ours.  These are of course niche pursuits in themselves, and yet the 
number of people engaged in each dwarfs us by several orders of magnitude.  

At this point, I want to note that my agenda here is not to bring hordes of
crossword lovers on the IF scene.  While I will gladly welcome anyone who is or
might become interested in the medium's possibility, I would love to see a
mixture of people, including a fair number with a background in literature and
the humanities.  In other words, storytellers.  The crossword-playing "
community" , assuming it can be defined as such at all, I choose only as a
handy example.

You are probably expecting me to propose a grand outreach program to these other
intellectual (not to say nerdy) communities at this point, and are all ready to
protest that this has been tried on various occasions before.  For instance, IF
was given quite a nice write-up in Games magazine, a journal for crossword-
loving types, in 2004.  That article did bring a few new faces into our 
newsgroups, but it hardly ignited a revolution.  Why?  Well, I don't think it is
due to our medium being inherently too difficult for readers of that magazine.  
Certainly I am a great lover of IF, and even (more due to dogged experience than 
any intellectual brilliance on my part) fairly good at solving the games, yet
many of the logical conumdrums to be found in the typical issue of Games leave 
me frankly baffled and thoroughly out of my depth.  I think the failure of this
article, and many others like it, to generate significant new community members 
has something to do with our own failure to put our best foot forward.  Put 
bluntly, we make it too darn hard to get into IF.

Consider what a prospective IFer who has read about our hobby in Games Magazine, 
the New York Times, or anywhere else is initially faced with.  First of all, we 
have two major systems for writing games, TADS and Inform, each requiring their 
own interpreter download, plus several more less commonly used but no less
viable alternatives.  Once our newbie has figured out that she needs an 
interpreter, there is a good chance that she will end up attempting to navigate 
the IF Archive in search of said interpreter and possibly of games to play on
it. The Archive's organization is... arcane at best, the sort of thing that
might make sense to a techie but that can seem a hopeless mess to someone just
curious about trying out a new type of game.  And then, of course, it's slow.
Boy, is it slow!

There are of course solutions to these problems.  Baf's Guide is a wonderful
resource that eases the migraines that the unfiltered Archive is likely to
induce in even experienced IFers.  Yet Baf's Guide is not much help in getting
started with an interpreter.  There are a fair number of generously donated
Archive mirrors that are generally much faster than their parent site.  Yet the
newbie probably does not know about these, and won't find out unless she takes
the time  to read the fine print on Baf's VERY carefully.

But surely, I hear you say, anyone with the patience and intelligence to 
appreciate IF can overcome these comparatively minor hurdles?  Of course they
can, but I think this response to some extent misses a crucial point.  A person 
who wanders into the realm of IF due to a mention in an article somewhere, or 
who stumbles across it during casual web surfing, is probably idly curious at 
best.  If she is greeted with an experience that, as in our current model, 
manages to be simultaneously archaic in appearance and technologically daunting
in practice, she will most likely just shrug her shoulders and move on to 
something else.  Remember, she doesn't know how cool what we are doing really
is, because she has no experience with it.  We have to make it easier for her
to get that experience and hopefully come to that realization.

There is good news, though, in the form of some projects that might just ease
the way for newbies and perhaps even be convenient for us oldtimers.  Damian
Dollahite has been working steadily on an IF Metadata Standard which could be
the key piece of plumbing to allow a host of cool new automated applications.
Tor Andersson has made considerable strides toward a unified suite of
interpreters  that have an identical look and feel for the user.  Imagine these
two  innovations combined with an iTunes-like front end.  Now the new IFer can
browse  through a database of games based on any criteria she chooses, with
background  information on each game and even reviews from resources like the
one you are  now reading available right there in this iTunes-IF application.
When she finds  something that looks interesting, she clicks a link and it is
downloaded to her  computer and launched, seamlessly.  Sure, oldtimers like me
and possibly you might spurn all of this fancy overhead.  But just imagine if
you could put the whole world of modern IF at an interested but daunted 
friend's fingertips by giving her one application to download and install?
Wouldn't that be just a  little bit cool?

I feel like a bit of a hypocrite in advocating a sleeker, friendlier face for
modern IF, simply because the SPAG web site, and the SPAG delivery model for 
that matter, is anything but.  Thus, in an effort to put my money where my mouth 
is, I plan to begin to change that this year.  First, I plan to begin working on 
a new version of the SPAG site using modern PHP-based content management that 
should make the site cleaner, easier to navigate, and in general much less 1995 
in feel.  After that I want to look into offering SPAG as HTML-formatted emails, 
with pure text of course remaining an option for the diehards.  I have other 
ideas for the future, but we will leave things at that for now.  If you are
experienced with PHP and have the willingness and time to help with such a
project, by all means contact me.  Rest assured that I have no desire to turn
SPAG into a bandwidth-heavy monstrosity.  I just hope to create a more
attractive, professional, and useful version of the community pillar you have
come to know and (hopefully) love.

In the meantime, while you peruse this issue -- one unusually large thanks to 
the generosity of all of you in our community, and absolute proof that in spite 
of the negativity of some of my comments this community has plenty of life in it 
even if the status quo never changes -- perhaps give a few minutes thought to
how we might make IF more accessible to the masses who are not in the know, 
assuming you think this is a good idea at all.  Feel free to send me your 
thoughts.  Should I receive them, I will be happy to publish voices of
agreement or dissension in SPAG's next issue.

IF NEWS -------------------------------------------------------------------

The 11th Annual IF Competition has come and gone.  My congratulations and
gratitude go out not just to the winners but to everyone who completed a game
and entered it, regardless of its final finish.  You are the folks who are
truly, to paraphrase SPAG's byline, helping to keep text adventures alive.
Keep reading for interviews with the three top finishers as well as reviews of
the top ten games plus a few others.  First, though, here are the final

1 Vespers, by Jason Devlin
2 (tie) Beyond, by Mondi Confinanti
2 (tie) A New Life, by Alexandre Owen Muńz
4 Distress, by Mike Snyder 
5 Tough Beans, by Sara Dee 
6 The Colour Pink, by Robert Street 
7 Unforgotten, by Quintin Pan 
8 Snatches, by Gregory Weir 
9 Chancellor, by Kevin Venzke 
10 Internal Vigilance, by Simon Christiansen 
11 Escape to New York, by Richard Otter 
12 Mortality, by David Whyld 
13 History Repeating, by Mark & Renee Choba 
14 Vendetta, by James Hall (writing as Fuyu Yuki) 
15 Son of a..., by C.S. Woodrow 
16 Xen: The Contest, by Ian Shlasko (writing as Xentor) 
17 Gilded, by A Hazard 
18 Mix Tape, by Brett Witty 
19 Waldo's Pie, by Michael Arnaud 
20 Off the trolley, by Krisztian Kaldi 
21 Psyche's Lament, by Now We Have Faces 
22 The Plague (Redux), by Laurence Moore (writing as Cannibal) 
23 Sabotage on the Century Cauldron, by Thomas de Graaff (writing as Thomas de
24 On Optimism, by Zach Flynn (writing as Tim Lane) 
25 Space Horror I, by Jerry  
26 Cheiron, by Sarah Clelland and Elisabeth Polli
27 Neon Nirvana, by Tony Woods  
28 The Sword of Malice, by Anthony Panuccio  
29 Dreary Lands, by Paul Lee  
30 Hello sword, by Andrea Rezzonico  
31 Phantom: caverns of the killer, by Brandon Coker  
32 Amissville II, by Santoonie Corporation  
33 FutureGame (tm), by The FutureGame Corporation  
34 Jesus of Nazareth, by Dunric (writing as dunric)  
35 PTBAD6andoneeighth, by Jonathan Berman (writing as Slan Xorax)  
36 Ninja II, by Dunric (writing as Dunric)

Jason Scott, creator of an earlier documentary about the BBS world of the 1980s, 
is now planning to create a film chronicling the history of IF.

Non-English IF continues to be a growing concern.  The latest evidence of that 
is the First Annual French IF Competition, which sported five entries this year.  
If you are lucky enough to have French, check out the games, and perhaps report 
what you find to those of use who are more linguistically challenged.

On a similar note, check out these six adventures written auf Deutsch, if you
are able to.

Two games of interest to IFers have been selected as finalists for the 2006 
Slamdance Guerilla Games Competition.  One is Whom the Telling Changed by our 
own Aaron Reed.  You will find a review of this game in this very issue.  The 
"interactive drama"  Facade, also reviewed recently in SPAG, is also a
finalist. Congratulations to the creators of both!

If you have already read my editorial, you will recognize this as the sort of 
project that is near and dear to my heart: James Mitchelhill has created a 
single Windows setup package that installs interpreters for all of the major IF 
systems along with the appropriate Start Menu shortcuts and file associations, 
all with the goal of giving newbies a one download entry point into the world of 
IF.  He requests that you try out the installation if you have time, and report
back to him at james SP@G

Jon Ripley has created several custom map templates for all of you IF 
cartogrophers out there.  They are available on his web site as either .ps or .
pdf files.

I'm very proud to note that this edition of SPAG is the largest we have seen in 
quite a while.  This is due to a number of factors, but the principal man to 
thank is Greg Boettcher, who turned his Non-Comp Review Project into something 
of a cooperative effort with SPAG.  Much of this issue's content is due 
to Greg's efforts alone.  If you appreciate the work he puts in for our 
community -- running the Spring Thing, founding the Non-Comp Review Project, and 
of course providing a brand new and much needed Golden Banana of Discord -- drop 
him a line and tell him so.  In the meantime, let's see if we can't keep up the 
momentum and make next issue another big one.  I will welcome "second opinion"
reviews of any of the games profiled here, and of course there are still games 
deserving of a first SPAG review that haven't received one.  To wit:

1.  All Hope Abandon
2.  A Spot of Bother
3.  1893: A World's Fair Mystery
4.  Finding Martin
5.  Dracula: The First Night
6.  Mystery House Taken Over games (any, some, or all!)
7.  Remaining IF Comp 2005 Games
8.  Threnody
9.  2k Competition Games
10. IntroComp 2005 Games

NEWS FROM THE WIDER WORLD--------------------------------------------------

There have been many, many projects over the years to remake one or another of 
the classic Ultima games.  For the first time, one has actually been completed, 
and it looks quite good.  Ultima 5 Lazarus is built on the Dungeon Siege engine, 
and requires that you have that game installed.  Luckily, though, Dungeon Siege 
is quite cheap these days, and Lazarus might just be more than enough to justify
its modest purchase price.

Modern technology has opened up the possibility for doing amazing things in 
interactive storytelling, but its potential has been almost completely 
unrealized until now.  Most video games confine themselves to the cliched and 
simplistic, the bare minimum necessary to justify their gameplay, which usually 
tends to involve killing large numbers of somethings.  Those graphical games 
which do attempt to tell a coherent story, on the other hand, are generally 
built around simplistic point and click gameplay, with little attention given to 
realistic world modelling.  The Indigo Prophecy -- known to those outside 
America as Fahrenheit -- is different though, attempting as it does to tell an 
interesting story in a novel way.  The game has its share of problems and 
frustrations, and its script, while being miles ahead of most video game
writing, is hardly ready to rival the best of cinema, but it is worth checking
out to get a glimpse of what the future  could hold if game developers ever
begin to take the storytelling possibilities of their chosen medium seriously.

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

In keeping with long-standing tradition, I here present interviews with the top 
three finishers from this year's Competition.  Roberto Grassi (one-third of the 
team behind Beyond) and Jason Devlin (author of Vespers) have appeared in 
SPAG's pages before, while the remainder are new to us.  I want to
congratulate all  of them on their success, and thank all of them for taking
the time to share a  little bit about themselves and their games with SPAG's

 Alexandre Owen Muńz, author of "A New Life"

  SPAG: So, who is Alexandre Owen Muniz?  Can you share a little bit about
  yourself with SPAG's readers?  Where you live, how you spend your days, and so

AM: I live in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. I'm either an unemployed programmer
or a bum, depending on whether I find another job soon. I sing in a Renaissance
ensemble. I enjoy Irish céilí and set dancing, recreational mathematics, and
learning languages.

  SPAG: What is your personal experience with IF?  Have you been playing for a
  long time, and if so can you share with us any games or authors that are
  personal favorites for you?

AM: I had the Hitchhiker's Guide game when I was a kid, but I didn't get very
far. After peeking at the solution to the babelfish puzzle I determined that
actually playing the game (as opposed to blindly  following the Invisiclues)
would be an exercise in total frustration, so I gave up, on the game and on IF
in general. At some point in the late '90s I found a set of comp reviews, but
they only convinced me that playing the games would be much less entertaining
than reading the  reviews had been.

I stumbled upon the newsgroups in early 2001, and was quite impressed by the
reviews and discussions of the games from the 2000 comp. I had an idea for a
story I wanted to tell that wouldn't work in static fiction, and I started
sketching out the design of an IF game. Unfortunately, it would have required
a huge number of NPCs, and I couldn't come up with  any good puzzles, so I
abandoned it. Then I thought that a bag of bag of holding holding would be a
fun thing to put in a game, and would lead to some decent puzzles, and the
outline of what became A New Life came together pretty quickly.

As a player of IF, I haven't improved significantly since my experience with
Hitchhiker's Guide. Puzzles that should be easy still flummox me, and I
frequently give up on games before I get very far. I'm quite fond of Emily
Short's games, and the fantasy worldbuilding therein. Photopia was quite
emotionally affecting. Rematch is the one puzzle based game I've finished
without relying heavily on hints or outside help. I've yet to finish So Far,
but it inspired me to cram my game world with  metaphorical connections. (This
is an aspect of A New Life I have not seen discussed; I don't know if this is
because players found it too obvious to comment on, or too subtle to notice!)

  SPAG: A New Life appears to be your first full-fledged, polished IF release.
  As such, your second place finish in this year's Comp is especially deserving
  of congratulations.  I do notice you have been entering SpeedIF competitions
  since 2001, however.  Was this valuable experience in the development of A New

AM: It's not so hard to do well with your first game if you put a really huge
amount of time and effort into it. That said, I don't recommend that new
authors write something this big as their first game. There were design flaws
that I made due to my inexperience that I was stuck with long after I had
learned why they were mistakes.

Speed-IFs are fun, and I wish I had done more of them. I tend to be a
perfectionist, and they force you to set perfectionism aside, although I have
taken somewhat longer than the traditional two hours every time I've done one.
But as experience goes, they're really just trifles.

  SPAG: A New Life appears to be the first full-length game to use Platypus in
  place of the standard Inform library.  Can you comment on your experiences
  using Platypus?

AM: Soon after I started coding A New Life I discovered Platypus, and it seemed
to correct the most egregious design flaws in the Inform library, so I
switched. What I didn't understand at the time was that Platypus  was rather
buggy, and that in the absence of a strong community of  users, the only remedy
was to fix the bugs oneself. What made this worse  was that since I lacked
confidence in the correctness of the library, I frequently sent myself on wild
goose chases in the library code looking for bugs that were in my own code.
Since it is still buggy and is no longer being maintained, I cannot recommend
Platypus to new authors.

This is not to say that the benefits of using Platypus were not real. I didn't
realize until I went back to standard Inform for my section of The Corn
Identity how bad the Inform library's handling of indirect objects is.

  SPAG: Did any particular fantasy books or games strongly influence A New Life?

AM: My choice of goblins as a race came from every fantasy game that ever
cribbed from D&D. Goblins are the one common enemy race that is too weak to be
feared, but too strong to be pitied. I wanted to put the player into a world
where racism is accepted as the norm, and the contempt towards goblins that is
implicit in these games was a useful tool for that purpose. Certainly there's
a lot in A New Life that's taken from fantasy literature, but it's mostly
generic tropes that I'd be hard pressed to think of a single source for.

  SPAG: You have obviously put a fair amount of effort into the background
  world in which your game takes place.  Indeed, I will go out on a limb here
  and say that the setting is probably the most memorable single aspect of the
  work.  Did you create this world just for this game, or was it something you
  already had kicking around, so to speak?  Any chance that we will see more
  games from you set in this same world?

AM: I created it for this game. Sometimes an element of the game design would
have pretty far reaching effects on the worldbuilding. ("I have a dish pointing
straight up at a geosynchronous satellite, in a temperate region with normal
seasons? Um, okay, so this must be a cold planet with a narrow temperate zone
centered around the equator, and the seasons must be caused by orbital
eccentricity rather than axial tilt. And the planet's woolly mammoth analogues,
with their much greater range, would survive to become domesticated, and...")
On top of the bog-standard political and cultural fantasy Europe, the flora and
topography are based on that of the Pacific Northwest. The game takes  place in
the Cascades, the PC's hometown is somewhere around Walla Walla, and his
destination is around Corvallis or Eugene.

I have no plans to revisit this world. My ideas for future IF works are too
vague to bear comment, but I expect that in future games I'll follow the same
pattern of allowing each game's system of magical and science  fictional
devices to lead the worldbuilding.

  SPAG: I have to ask about the ability to change sexes at will that
  inhabitants of this world apparently possess.  Where did you come up with
  this rather unique -- to say the least -- concept?
AM: My initial conception of the PC was a nameless, gender-ambiguous adventurer.
Then I decided that I wanted to delve into the PC's backstory, so that was no
longer tenable, but I discovered that e was  still genderless. (Pronouns are a
problem. I managed to mostly avoid using gender-neutral pronouns, but there
was one spot where I couldn't.)  The gender system I came up with fit well with
the theme of the blank  slate running through the game. I wanted the sense that
the PC could  become absolutely anything, and I didn't want gender to get in
the way  of that. John Varley's Eight Worlds stories, LeGuin's The Left Hand of
Darkness and the anime series Ranma ˝ are all antecedents that may have
provided some inspiration.

  SPAG: How long did you spend writing A New Life?  How long debugging? (Your
  beta testers are to be commended, by the way, as the game seems exceptionally
AM: I'd disagree strongly with your assessment of the game's level of polish.
An entire major branch of the game is unfinishable due to a bug,  which is
redeemed only by the omission of hints and clues that would help players find
that branch. (Even the "main" branch of the plot is  too hard to find the
thread of without resorting to the walkthrough.) [Perhaps we can at least agree 
then that you did a good job of hiding the bugs that were present. --ed.]

I started writing A New Life in the spring of 2001. I had testers start
looking at the game before I was halfway done, so the writing process  was not
separate from debugging. Even at the end, I was scrambling to complete the
game as I was fixing problems that were reported by my  testers, and some parts
were never seen by a tester before I submitted the game. With two hours
remaining before the deadline I had to ask Rachel Portnoy (who is a very good
friend and an incredibly diligent beta-tester) to complete the half-finished
walkthrough I had, because my  brain was too burnt out from my last minute work
on the game.

  SPAG: Did you get a chance to play some of the other games from this year's
  competition?  If so, any favorites?
Sadly, I didn't seriously get into playing the other comp games. I looked at
several games, but the only one that held my attention for very long was
Chancellor, in which I frequently got stuck and had to ask  for help. I can't
entirely blame myself, as I thought the puzzle  solutions were often
unintuitive and poorly clued. But I'm a sucker for certain sorts of fantastic
elements, and Chancellor delivered them pretty reliably.

  SPAG: Can you offer any advice to prospective future Comp entrants?
AM: I think it's traditional to have a question asking for the interviewees
advice to future comp authors, for which the response is always, "Beta-test
thoroughly!" But my response would instead be, "Look for ways to score cheap
points with judges." A library extension that puts a  compass in the status bar
takes almost no effort to use, but makes your game look fractionally slicker.
A hint system takes only a little more work, and pays off handsomely in cheap
points. A New Life was not a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but
it scrounged for every cheap point it could get, and managed to tie for second
with a game that, judging by the number of nines and tens received, was
thought by more people to be excellent.  [This is definitely the most unusual 
and amusing response to this rather typical SPAG interview question that I have 
ever seen! --ed.]

  SPAG: Would you like to respond to the reviews or other commentary on your 
AM: I have been accused, somewhat justly, of making up nonsense fantasy names
for things. However, I must state for the record that "palapala fern" was not
one of these. The name (and the game played with them) were shamelessly ripped
off from the native peoples of the Puget Sound and Vancouver Island, as
described in Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, (ed. Pojar, MacKinnon).

 Mondi Confinanti (Roberto Grassi, Paolo Lucchesi, and Alessandro Peretti),
 authors of "Beyond"

  SPAG: Your game is rather unusual in that it has three authors.  Can each of
  you tell SPAG's readers a little bit about yourself?  Where you live, how you
  spend your days, that sort of thing?
PL: I'm 37 and live in Livorno (port city on Tuscany coast). I'm graduated in
Computer Science but I work in naval design. I divide my time between my job
and my family, so I don't have much free time. Apart from computer and computer
games, my interests are reading, writing, playing table-top rpgs and boardgames
and playing bass guitar.

AP: I'm 26, I live and study in Torino. I've always loved fantasy and science
fiction literature and role playing games, but I approached interactive fiction
late (just a few years ago), and thanks to my graphic works, 'cause I'm a
drawing-painting amateur too.

RG: I'm 35. I live and work in Brescia as Project Manager for an ICT
organization. I'm married with Paola and father of Cesare, my two years old
baby. I've been recently interviewed by SPAG so I believe you could read more
about me on SPAG #40.

  SPAG: Beyond is credited to the software house Mondi Confinanti (http://www.  Can you tell us a little bit about this
  organization?  What is the group's "chartar," so to speak, and what are your
  long-term goals?
PL: One of the tasks of MC is to coordinate the efforts of several authors,
programmers and artists to create good quality IFs, with multimedia and, often,
something more: experimental things, we could say.

RG: Mondi Confinanti has been created with the mission to let multiple authors
work together in order to share knowledge, discussions, ideas and so on. The
basic idea is "Why do it alone?". I've been the promoter of the group together
with Paolo Lucchesi and Alessandro Schillaci (the main author of Little Falls).
Then we asked for help and the other five guys joined (Giancarlo Niccolai,
Alessandro Peretti, Paolo Maroncelli and, more recently, Fabrizio Venerandi and
Pierpaolo Colucci). About the 'chartar'. My tasks are mainly plot, design and
music related (and let me say some sort of 'final quality assurance' and
coordination), since i'm a very bad programmer. Paolo Lucchesi, Giancarlo
Niccolai, Paolo Maroncelli and Alessandro Schillaci mainly deal with the
programming side (and they do it very, very well, let me say) but they also do
really great work on the design side. On the graphics side Alessandro and
Pierpaolo provide the artwork (and sketches, in some cases). Fabrizio Venerandi
will help us to improve the quality of writing. Our long-term goals are to
allow for cohoperation of people writing IF, not only italian (infact, we've
recently ask the collaboration for non-italian developers), and overall looking
for new ways and forms of IF in order to revitalize the genre. I think that IF
has still many things that deserve some improvement or, let me say, "evolution".
One of them is the proper use of multimedia or a "movie-like" approach of the
narration. Anyway, the topic is too vast to be treated here. Furthermore, we'd
like to promote and experiment with new forms of IF (to be intended as 'games'
in which narration is the most important part of the game, but interaction
could be completely mouse- or voice-driven, and investigate multiplayer IF in
more detail).

  SPAG: It is my understanding that none of you speak English as your first
  language, yet Beyond reads very smoothly.  I would never have guessed it to
  be the work of non-native speakers.  From one who knows how difficult just
  mastering the basics of a foreign language can be, congratulations on that
  achievement.  Was Beyond written in English from the beginning, or was it
  written in Italian and translated at some point?  Is there or will there be a
  separate version for Italian players?
PL: Well, most of all we have to thank our beta testers, who have done a
wonderful work in polishing our writing. Beyond was written in English from the
beginning, and yes, there will be an Italian version.

AP: At the beginning I was pushing for an Italian writing, English translation
work. But then, because of the time limitations, we went for a should-be-faster
English native writing. The reviewing work was really... Endless! So I missed
the advantages. No, talking seriously, the programming part would have been
more complicated with the translation. I think the next (Italian) version would
be a little more accurate (it couldn't be different, because we three are
Italian), but no significant changes will appear.

RG: There will be an italian version, my estimates are around February. And,
yes, Beyond was written in english from the beginning. I started coding in
Adrift around January of 2004. Then Paolo took over the programming and the
game was developed in Glulx. Anyway, editing and debug phases made by english
players helped a lot. Particularly, I would like to thank David Welbourn for
this particular aspect.

  SPAG: You credit Neil Gaiman as a strong influence on Beyond.  As one who has
  read only American Gods and Good Omens from Gaiman, I perhaps speak from a
  position of ignorance, but I am nevertheless curious what drew you to 
  Gaiman' s work.  What work of Gaiman's would you consider to have had the
  strongest influence on Beyond? PL: Most of all, the "Sandman" comics; the
  presence called SHE is exactly Death. But other parts are indirectly
  influenced by Gaiman's books.

AP: As I'm interested in graphic artwork, I'm very fond of the Sandman comics.
They've been truly a revelation for me, developing greatly my "comics"
conception. So if you ask me, I'll rate Neil's comics much more than his novels,
but Paolo and Roberto like so much all of his works that they wanted to make
some "quotations".

RG: As Paolo said, most of all the "Sandman" comics. Some characters in Beyond
have been inspired by Sandman characters. Rat Angel has been inspired by
Wilkinson, the rat-in-a-trenchcoat. "Death" citation is explicit. I think that
the 'mood' of the story is Gaiman-ian and the fact that a surreal and a real
world intersecates (like in "Sandman").

  SPAG: Your game is lovely to look at, featuring some of the best artwork I
  have seen in the modern IF era.  What tools did you use to create such
  professional work?  Has your artist, Alessandro, been involved in any other
  projects, particularly Internet projects that SPAG's readers could check out?
AP: Hey, stop the compliments please! :D I'm very happy for your appreciations,
but I know I have still much more technical stuff to learn (do you really think
simple black-pencil drawing is easier than colour painting?). The material
involved here is relatively simple: pencils and papers, a scanner, a graphic
tablet, and some basic effects you can find in almost all photo-retouch
programs. The trick is that I negative-drew the images (on semi-transparent
paper mosto of the times) and turned them to positive after the scanning and
colour changing process. For now I haven't done any more works you can find on
the net, but I'm still in the Mondi Confinanti's staff. Although the final
result is a little different from what I had in mind at the beginning, I'm
satisfied by the result and I hope (also thanks to you and this interview) that
Beyond and IFs in general will receive more attention and increase their
popularity, 'cause some of them are really worth playing, as some books are
really worth reading in a man's life.

  SPAG: As I mentioned earlier, collaborative IF efforts are comparitively rare.
  Judging by your excellent results, however, I have to assume that the process
  worked very well for you.  Did you strictly divide the duties of game design,
  technical implentation, and artwork?  Would you recommend this method of
  development to others, and do you have any advice to offer about organizing a
  collaborative effort?  It certainly seems an excellent way to complete larger
  projects more quickly while giving folks who might otherwise find IF
  development daunting a chance to be involved.
PL: The duties were divided between us, but not strictly. Roberto is
responsible for the main concept and plot outline, but the plot details were
discussed between us (as an example, at the beginning the story was placed in
modern times, and in U.S.A.). Implementation details were discussed too (so we
decided together to use a menu based dialog system, to switch between first and
second person, to use a variable layout for graphics). Images were discussed
too sometimes (we have three versions of SHE). And although I did most of
programming stuff, often Roberto and Alessandro helped me coding rooms and
scenery. Infact, all this made the whole creation process slower. But we ended
up with something that we three really liked and, we think, something of good

AP: Surely it's true: duties assignment works good; but since we were just
three people, we were involved in every branch of the work. Paolo and Roberto
told me suggestions and comments, on drawings; they also refused some. I and
Paolo reclaimed modifications on the plot (the original concept was entirely by
Roberto). And my main work, at the end, was not only the graphic part, but the
text reviewing too.

RG: Dividing the tasks is advisable, but most of all, aside from specific tasks,
it is important that someone must have the final word and decide for the group,
in most critical decisions. These aspects can be applied in many fields (design,
plot, technical implementation, and so on...). It is not a 'democratic' way to
work, but when decisions are critical (or yes/no) and the group doesn't come to
an agreement, some sort of decision is preferrable. One of the positive
aspects of cooperation, on the other side, is that new and fresh ideas
strengthen the plot and the design and, if someone is overloaded by 'real life'
commitments, the work still goes on because it's rare that ALL of us are not
free to work on IF.

  SPAG: How long did you spend writing and debugging Beyond?
PL: Something like 18 months, I believe. Yes, it's a very, very long time. But
I have very little time tp spare, and Beyond was seriously changed in the
meantime. At the beginning it was a z-code game, but halfway through the
process we decided to add multimedia.

AP: For me... Not enough! I think it was about a year.

RG: It took around 20 months, considering the first implementation in Adrift 
(the corridor and the first room) from January 2004 to September 2005. Debug
was done concurrently with the development (the fact that the game is in 
'episodes' helped a lot). I have to thank Dan Shiovitz for the help in
debugging and the editing help in the first phases of the project.

  SPAG: I see from your website that Mondi Confinanti has another completed
  game, Little Falls, in the process of translation into English.  Can you tell
  us a bit about this project?  And what can you tell us about Nemesis, the all-
  new project that you have in the works?

AP: Regarding myself, just this: In Nemesis, I should do nothing more than some
artwork. Many more people are involved and for now, sadly, I don't have much
time to spend on IF.

RG: Little Falls was our first game and was released in Italy in June 2005. The
main author is Alessandro Schillaci. I helped a bit on the writing and plot
side. Enrico Simonato did the artwork. It relies heavily on the use of
multimedia (particulary sounds and music but the artwork is very good, anyway).
English translation is on the way and hopefully it will be released in the
first months of 2006 (after a debug and editing phase). Nemesis is our main
title for 2006 and my high hopes rely on that. We're in plot and design phase
at the moment. It's a sci-fi ('a-la Philip Dick') story set in the very next
future. We're considering some innovative solutions for layout and artwork (and,
consequently, how the things can be narrated). It's the first project in which
all of the staff will be involved, so i hope that we'll do a very good work. On
the other side, implementation looks difficult because the plot is evolving
fast and the story is turning to be "difficult to be told". Anyway, we'll see.

  SPAG: Did you get a chance to play some of the other games from this year's
  competition?  If so, any favorites?
PL: I didn't had time to play anything, but I found a lot of unappealing games.
I played Vespers only after the comp end, and I agree with the competition
results; it was very good.

RG: I've had a quick look at "On Optimism", "Escape to New York", "Cheiron", 
"Jesus" and "Vespers". I appreciated very much the last (and i think it
deserved the victory) for the mood and the setting. The beginning of the game
was a bit aimless but later the game turned out to be very interesting. On the
other side, I' m interested to identify which were the weak points of Beyond in
order to improve the quality of our game and studying "Vespers" and "A New Life"
in more detail will help us to improve our games.

 Jason Devlin, author of "Vespers"

  SPAG: Readers of SPAG probably already have an idea of who you are, both
  through the introductory texts of your two games and through the SPAG
  interview you were gracious enough to participate in last year, so I will not
  bore you with too many more "getting to know you" questions.  One thing I am
  curious about, though, is how you balance your academic studies in biology
  and chemistry -- does that add up to biochemistry? -- with your obvious
  talent as a writer and game designer, particularly in that your writing 
  doesn't really feel like the work of a scientist.  Do you ever feel pulled
  in two directions, or does it come naturally to you to engage in two such
  completely different pursuits? 

JD: Reading and writing science is what I do
pretty much every day in my academic and working life, and while I like it,
it gets tiresome: writing interactive fiction is a fun break.  It's nice to
be able to write something completely under my own direction. It's nice to
not have to worry about harsh criticism and maintaining a GPA.  Reviewers in
the interactive fiction community are million times more gentle than some of
my profs.  As for my work not sounding like the work of a scientist, that
makes sense, as my school work doesn't sound like the work of a scientist
either :) .  But really, I just write what I'd want to play, and I'm not
really sure I'd like to play the work of a scientist.

  SPAG: I am always gratified when someone arrives in our community who is NOT
  a child of the eighties, for it reinforces my belief that this is a viable
  artform as opposed to an exercise in retrogaming nostalgia.  It does beg the
  question, though: the nostalgia factor presumably being completely absent,
  what most draws you to write and play text adventures in 2005?

JD: You're right, it isn't nostalgia that brings me to IF: I think it's
probably the independence of the medium. I can write an entire game by myself 
(with the exception of betatesters) that other people can play and enjoy.  I
couldn't do that with anything else.  The world is rife with static fiction, a
lot of which is way better than anything I could hope to write. By writing in
this community, I can be assured that people will actually play my games and
possibly enjoy them out of the fact that there simply isn't that much IF
produced each year. I couldn't expect that with static fiction.  But in all
honesty, if I could draw/design pretty graphical adventures, I'd be out of IF
so quick (well, maybe not).  I like IF, but I'm still drawn to games with
pretty pictures.  As for why I play IF, I think it's because good stories are
really lacking in many games.  I've played a lot of good graphical adventure
games, but I could probably count the number with really great stories on my
fingers.  With IF, there's so much great stuff out there, that it would take me
years to get through even the top 5% of games.

  SPAG: While I recall that Sting of the Wasp was to some extent inspired by
  your own friends and experiences, you yourself mentioned in your introductory
  notes to Vespers that you have little experience with organized religion.
  What drew you to the austere atmosphere of a Medieval monastary as the
  setting for your game?

JD: Well I wanted to write a horror game with a really strong atmosphere.  And
something about real-world settings appeals to me a lot. I think it adds to a
lot to a game if you kind of think it is possible that what goes on actually
could go on in the real world.  While a lot of what goes on in Saint Cuthbert's
is purely fantastic, I think the fact that people in the medieval period
actually believed that Saints could intercede and the Devil walked among them
helps somewhat with the story's believability.  Also, I've always been
fascinated by religion and the way someone can live in a different world just
because of it.

  SPAG: Did any particular works of fiction, interactive or traditional,
  inspire your latest effort?  (I was reminded of The Name of the Rose, A
  Canticle for Leibowitz, and -- strange as it may sound -- Paradise Lost, for
  what it's worth.)

JD: Vespers was originally gonna be more along the lines of slasher horror, so
I was kind of going for a Five Days a Stranger/Seven Days a Skeptic (two great
amatuer graphical adventures by Ben Croshaw) or Enclosure (by Femo Duo) feel.
All those games have a rigid plot based structure where certain events cause
the passing of time.  Also, they have a mounting tally of dead bodies
throughout the game which I find really spooky (and it also removes those pesky
NPCs so you don't have to keep updating their conversation topics).  Other than
that, I can't say much influenced me consciously.  Many people have mentioned
In The Name of the Rose, but it's been so long since I've seen it that I can't
imagine much has stuck.  I think something more along the lines of Tapestry
might have been more influential: choice and morality was a huge theme in it.

  SPAG: The setting certainly seemed very authentic and well-realized to me.
  Did you invest a lot of time in research to make it so?  Did you envision
  Vespers as taking place in any historically particular time and place?
JD: I did a fair bit of research before I started writing, but most of it got
thrown out in the end.  I probably should have thrown out even more. Calling
the sitting room a locutory may add a little atmosphere, but it probably causes
more confusion than anything.  The plague symptoms I found really didn't add
anything to what I already knew: you cough, you get sores, you get a fever etc.
The part that I kind of wished I had found more on was medieval theology.
Originally I had planned to make the sin counter a lot more complex with the
character having to pray at each canonical hour (which is reason for the waking
up to the murderer outside your door on the first night) and do all sorts of
piddling stuff, but I realized it would bog things down a lot and just be
ridiculous to expect people to know unless they happened to have been
researching medieval sins for writing a game. Vespers actually takes place in
Italy (I found the village Rovato by randomly pointing to a map of Italy), but
I pretty much threw out everything to do with regional monastic conventions, so
you could pretty much swap it out if you changed the NPC names.  [Personally, I 
think that there are two approaches to the incorporation of historical detail 
into fiction.  On the one hand, the author can try to throw it all in 
explicitly.  On the other, he can allow his research to inform his piece without 
necessarly incorporating every piece of minutae into his text.  See Neal 
Stephenson's Quicksilver trilogy for an example of the generally coma-inducing 
results of the former approach, and Gore Vidal's American history novels for an 
example of just how well the latter approach can work in the hands of a master.  
I would submit to you, Jason, that you may have engaged in the Vidal approach 
without entirely realizing it, and that perhaps all that research was not quite 
as wasted as you think.  --ed.]

  SPAG: Did you find it difficult to dwell in the starkly desperate world of
  your game during its creation?
JD: Hah. It wasn't so bad when I was writing it, but when I played it a few
weeks after I had finished it, I was kind of grossed out that that kind of
stuff came from me.  I felt a little weird showing it to friends and family, as
it is a little gruesome. I'm just glad that I came out with Sting of the Wasp
before Vespers, so I didn't look too creepy and disturbed (well maybe just as
creepy and disturbed, but for different reasons :) ).

  SPAG: Vespers has a lot to say, but unlike some "highbrow" efforts does a
  good job of balancing its literary ambition with the interactivity that makes
  our field unique.  How did you go about balancing these literary elements
  with the gamelike elements?
JD: I think the reason why the literary and gamelike elements were as balanced
as they were was because it was requirement that they be.  A story about choice
would be pretty lame if there was no choices to make.  And if those choices are
immediately apparent and spelled out for you, then it loses a bit of depth.

  SPAG: Vespers gives the player the freedom to be evil if she so chooses.
  Indeed, it actively tempts the player to embark on that path.  I have to say
  that the scene in the bell tower early in the game, when the game whispers
  its temptations to murder in the player's "ear," was absolutely chilling. Was
  it difficult to not only allow the player the freedom to either
  metaphorically fall or resist temptation, but even to subtly tailor room
  descriptions and the like to reflect the player's actions?
JD: It's not so hard to allow the player the freedom as it is to ensure
everything remains consistent afterwards.  I would have liked to make the game
more responsive to the player's actions, but it would have been too complicated.
Basically, the events remain the same throughout the paths, it's the PC's
perspective that changes.  This is a lot easier to do (by changing descriptions)
than it would be to change the consequences of the PC's actions.

  SPAG: IS choice really better than happiness?

JD: Haha, God no!  I'd much rather be happy.

  SPAG: Did you get a chance to play some of the other games from this year's
  competition?  If so, any favorites?
JD: I didn't play many: a half a dozen or so.  I looked through the
introductions to all the games and only played the games that really leapt out
at me.  I liked Tough Beans for its smooth implementation and good
characterization of Wendy.  I liked Distress also for the smoothness of play
and neat story; I just wish the twist at the end had found itself more in the
game proper.  My favorite game by far though was Chancellor.  I didn't quite
get all the subtleties, but it was a brilliant game nonetheless.  I'm quite
disappointed it didn't place higher (which I'm almost certain is due to the
lack of hints).

  SPAG: Your $500 prize means that you are one of very few people who got paid
  this year for writing IF.  Will you be putting it to any particularly
  exciting use?
JD: I had a rather drunken celebratory bash with a quarter of the winnings,
spent some of it on Christmas presents, and the rest I will spend on eating
something other than potatoes and discount chicken for a few months.

  SPAG: So what's next?  I am sure I speak for all of SPAG's readers when I say
  that I would love to see more work from you.  Any thoughts about your next
JD: I have a couple of ideas floating around but not enough time to do them all
for a while.  I'll probably enter anonymously in next year's IFComp: I just 
don't want anything I release to go completely unnoticed and the reviews of
IFComp games are great incentive.  Now that I've won, I'm not concerned about
placing. In fact, I don't really want to take away any high spots from anyone
else.  So I'm gonna do something a little more experimental: a little more odd.
Something that I'm sure a lot of people will hate, but I hope it will make some
kind of big impact on a few.  More currently, someone approached me with an
idea to adapt Vespers into a semi-different medium. I'm quite interested in
doing this and am gonna take an active part in the adaptation.  I don't wanna
reveal too much, as it's still in the planning stages, but if this pans out, it
could really be quite neat.

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

Consider the following review header:

TITLE: Cutthroats
AUTHOR: Infocom
EMAIL: ???
DATE: September 1984
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
URL: Not available.
VERSION: Release 23

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

MONSTERS!: AN IF COMP 2005 REVIEW PACKAGE-----------------------------------

From: Valentine Kopteltsev 

Have you ever thought about how an IF game author chooses the genre her/his
game's going to belong to? And why certain game themes undergo a splash of
popularity in certain years? This subject is interesting on its own, and
certainly worth a separate study. For now, I just like to state that there were
at least five horror games entered in the last IF-Comp -- a good deal over the
average of a number of previous Comps, as it seems (although I might be wrong).
Two of them could have borne the subtitle "Terror from Ancient Graves", one
tells a chiller-diller story taking place underground, and the remaining two
entertain the player with SciFi-styled horror. Well, a good enough occasion to
write a review package, the more so as it's been ages since I've written one.


Usually, I rate all games (including competition entries) I review for SPAG
using the traditional scoreboard-style system. However, I use a different
system when being a judge in the Comp - a system based entirely on how much
I liked a game (I know, it's pretty subjective). Well, this isn't the first
IF-Competition I participate in, but until this year, it never occured to me
the ratings sometimes turn out to be different depending on the rating
system I use. There are several reasons for that, but I'm not going to
discuss them here. Instead, I'll just adduce both ratings (the usual SNATS
and the score I've given the game as a Comp judge), accompanying them with a
short comment explaining why they're different; I thought this could be
interesting for the game authors.

And one last diversion describing what my ratings actually mean:

1 - couldn't find anything good to say about it;
2 to 5 - seriously flawed game;
6 - solid, but nothing special ("uneven" games - like, if Photopia had a few
show-stopping bugs - also fall under this category);
7 to 9 - excellent games;
and, the (one and only) 10 - my favourite.

And with that off my back, let's proceed to the reviews.

NAME: Phantom: caverns of the killer
AUTHOR: Brandon Coker
EMAIL: grimslade1135 SP@G
DATE: 2005
PARSER: Inform

An example of an unsuccessful attempt at the genre. You play an archeologist
trying to find the burial place of a legendary Egyptian warrior. Most of the
game, you just wander around, collecting artifacts for non-obvious purposes. I
expected them to become more clear later, but in vain -- said artifacts didn't
affect the outcome of the story in any way, only reflecting themselves in the
number of points I received. Although the author demonstrated intentions to
inject atmosphere into his work, and to sorta build up tension towards the
finale, the results turned out to be pretty pathetic. To a no small degree,
this was the fault of the writing, and the many spelling mistakes.

Phantom failed entirely as a representative of the horror genre, and hardly won
any points back even as a puzzlefest. Most of its puzzles could be subdivided
into two categories: (fairly generic) mazes (there were three of them), and 
"choose the right option or die". It seems the author invested a lot of work
into making up intricate clues for the second ones, and believed them to be
fairly challenging. However, he overlooked the fact they could be solved by
brute force (pick option -- die -- undo -- pick another option -- repeat until

I don't want to offend anybody, but, speaking in F1 terms, this is the Minardi
of our today's race.

SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard):

PLOT: Generic (0.5)
ATMOSPHERE: The author did his best to maintain it, but failed (0.5)
WRITING: Clumsy and full of spelling mistakes (0.3)
GAMEPLAY: Pointless treasure hunt (0.6)
BONUSES: None I could think of (0.0)
TOTAL: 1.9
PUZZLES: Rather unoriginal (0.2)
DIFFICULTY: Nearly trivial (3 out of 10)


COMMENTS: OK, I encountered a few games (even) worse than Phantom, and thus 
          had to set it off a bit. Besides, the author's intentions clearly 
          were good, his work didn't take too much of my time, and wasn't 
          meant to annoy me -- all that was worth an incentive in the form
          of an additional point. Wasn't it.

NAME: The Plague (Redux)
AUTHOR: Laurence Moore
DATE: 2005
PARSER: Adrift
     plague/The Plague - Redux.taf

NAME: Space Horror I: Prey for Your Enemies
AUTHOR: Jerald M. Cooney
EMAIL: jcooney_email SP@G
DATE: 2005

These two games have a lot in common. First of all, both of them represent
first episodes of their respective series, implying there's going to be a
continuation, and thus stipulating their stories being incomplete. Then, both
works don't entrust the arduous task of frightening the player to
individualists, employing whole teams of eminently qualified specialists for
those purposes -- Plague benefits from the services of old trusty zombies,
while Space Horror resorts to the help of no less reliable murderous aliens.
Finally, both games represent carefully implemented, solid, and well- polished
efforts -- especially Space Horror, which only contained very slight glitches.
On the other hand, the author of Space Horror probably has had it somewhat
easier, since his work is a CYOA. At this point, it must be said I don' t share
the rather widespread in the IF-community bias against that kind of game.
Especially if it is done as careful as Space Horror -- with several fully
fleshed out plot lines, well-defined characters (although, of course, they 
aren't too interactive), and great illustrations. The author even managed to
squeeze in a couple of puzzles -- quite a feat, considering the game format.
The puzzles are logical enough, and fit well into the story. All in all, once
you let this game play on its home turf and don't cry for the moon, Mr. 
Cooney's work leaves nothing to be desired.

Plague isn't as strong at presentation and multimedia effects -- it's a text-
only adventure, but it possesses its own trump cards, which allow it to stay
abreast. The very first of them is the game name -- with all due respect to Mr.
Cooney, the title "Space Horror" is one of the leading contenders for the top
ten of the Most Generic Names Chart. Besides, Plague has a much more intense
beginning that sets the pace and atmosphere for the rest of the game. In fact,
the atmosphere and the setting make up about 80 percents of it. They're best
described with "bloody chaos". Of course, people could have different opinions
on it, depending on their personal preferences -- some players would find it
disgusting, others would dismiss it as rather hackneyed -- but as for me, I did
like it.

The characters... Now, Stacie, our main hero, was well defined from the
emotional point of view, so that I found it easy to identify with her. Although
the wondrous transformation of a rather inexperienced town girl into a rough
zombie slayer came kinda sudden and thus seemed somewhat unrealistic, I guess
it was part of the genre... or maybe I'm just underestimating inexperienced
town girls (typical case of male chauvinism;). Other characters only have been
good enough for a crowd scene -- maybe they'll hit the big time in the next

Plague is by no means a puzzle-oriented game; the puzzles present are kept
rather easy, and their main virtue is not hampering the story too much. They
cope with this task pretty well, except for one scavenger hunt requiring
careful examination of lots of scenery objects. Fortunately, the walkthrough
helped me to get over this unfavourable design choice without any losses.

The conclusions. It's true there's nothing groundbreaking about either of these
works -- they don't even try to expand the genre boundaries, and probably
reproduce every cliche existing within them. However, it's no less true both of
them represent solid, competently implemented efforts, and I don't regret any
minute spent playing them. I honestly hope the authors won't be put off by the
relatively low ranks they got in the Comp, and release the next episodes of
their respective works.

SNATS (scores before the slash apply to Plague, after the slash to Space

PLOT: Adequate (1.2)/"Truly" branching (1.3)
ATMOSPHERE: Makes up most of the game charm (1.5)/Exciting enough (1.2)
WRITING: Supports the atmosphere very well (1.3)/Supports the atmosphere
         very well (1.3)
GAMEPLAY: Now that one comes to think of it, it was pretty standard, but when
          playing, I was too thrilled to notice;) (1.3)/Well... CYOA (1.2)
BONUSES: Identifying with the player character (0.9)/Graphics, fake websites
         and other similar stuff (1.1)
TOTAL: 6.2/6.1
CHARACTERS: Rather generic (0.8)/Nice, but not very interactive (1.0)
PUZZLES: Not very remarkable, with at least one unfortunate design choice
         (0.9)/The very fact there are puzzles in a CYOA is a feat on its own
         (not rated)
DIFFICULTY: You should have no troubles completing it (5 out of 10)/
            Again, this doesn't apply to a CYOA (not rated)


COMMENTS: I think no comment is needed. No matter how you slice it, those are
          good, solid games.

NAME: Snatches: An Interactive Horror Story
AUTHOR: Gregory Weir
EMAIL: Gregory.Weir SP@G 
DATE: 2005
PARSER: Inform

In a number of respects, this game is so unusual I haven't been sure how to
start reviewing it. Finally, I've come up with drawing an analogy with a
theatre play.

So, imagine a dark stage, on which, in a circle of light, a fight is going on --
a fight between the main hero and a strange, evil creature. Searchlights start
to flare up in a seemingly random fashion, illuminating various spots on the
stage for short periods of time. Finally, putting the single pieces of this
mosaic together, the spectators get an integral picture of what's going on.

And that's how Snatches is set up. It consists of several episodes from the
perspective of different characters in the game (so that there're many player
characters, but only one main hero), following in a random order. The narration
is threaded by the aforementioned fight, cut-scenes of which occur after each
episode like a refrain. This technique works very well -- to a no small extent
thanks to the catchy writing (I've even considered to imitate it in my review,
but finally let it be, realizing I'm not up to the task). There have been minor
implementation issues regarding overlapping of, uh, let's call it "character
experiences" (in the single episodes, different actors often are able to visit
the same places and interact with the same objects, which sometimes can have
effects unforeseen by the game author), but they are completely forgiveable.

The main problem the work has is (I'm returning to our theatre parallel),
after the searchlights have finished scanning the stage, and the battle has
ended, the director doesn't quite have an idea what to do next, and
effectively just rings down the curtain. Sure, Snatches featured several
endings, but none of them seemed worthy. In my opinion, a "the evil can't be
defeated" type of epilogue (in the style of the X-Files movies) suggests
itself here -- but it's just what I think. Anyway, in my eyes, this is the
only snag that prevented Snatches from being a major challenger for the


PLOT: An appropriate ending would help it a lot (1.2)
ATMOSPHERE: Satisfyingly sinister (1.5)
WRITING: One of the best in this IF-Comp (1.8)
GAMEPLAY: Ragged but integral (1.6)
BONUSES: The unusual story-telling approach (1.3)
TOTAL: 7.4
CHARACTERS: Mostly adequate (1.4)
PUZZLES: Modestly stick to their last (0.6)
DIFFICULTY: Trivial -- except for a couple somewhat tricky points
            (4 out of 10)


COMMENTS: The correlation between the SNATS and the Comp score is pretty
          good. The slight difference is caused by the fact that, when I 
          replayed Snatches for the review, I fished out the technical issues
          mentioned there (somehow, they eluded me during my first

NAME: Distress
AUTHOR: Mike Snyder
EMAIL: sidneymerk SP@G
DATE: 2005

Quite a time ago, I read an article in a sports newspaper comparing the two
German football players, the famous Karl-Heinz Rummenige and his younger
brother Michael. Well, I can't vouch for the exactness of the following
quotation, because more than ten years strolled past since then; however, in
the section dedicated to the brothers' manner of dribbling, it said something
like, "Karl-Heinz can get past a couple of backs after gaining a good speed in
an open space. Michael is an entirely different type of player -- he can make
fools of four or five opponents 'on a handkerchief'".

The latter can be applied to Distress: the game is tiny -- slightly more than
ten rooms, most of which you run by in a rush, but it manages to unwind an
intricate plot with an ending, which manages both to be immensely satisfying
and to neatly tie up all loose ends. And it's not too wordy, either -- but  the
reticent descriptions are just long enough to create a truly creepy atmosphere.
The puzzles also are set up with a minimum of items to manipulate, yet they are
both challenging and logical.

It's been said the game sometimes restricts the player's actions in a manner
that may appear a little blatant to some people, but, to be honest, I only
learned about this issue from other reviews -- the restrictions seemed
perfectly reasonable for me when I was actually playing.

As you may have guessed already, this is my favourite entry in this year Comp.
Finally, I'd like to explain why I ranked it higher than, say, the actual
winner of the contest, Vespers (a disclaimer right off -- it's not my intention
to set anybody at loggerheads or to start a flame war).

Vespers is a splendid, wonderful game -- but it calls heavies into play where
Distress does with minimalist resources. Now, who is greater a commander -- a
general capturing a town by force of a brigade after days of preparatory
bombardment and carpet bombings, or a lieutenant infiltrating it with a small
troop by stratagem, and managing to sabotage the garrison to an extent it can't
put up a proper resistance?


PLOT: Outstanding, with an immensely satisfying ending (1.6)
ATMOSPHERE: Ominous (1.7)
WRITING: Masterfully terse (1.7)
GAMEPLAY: Gripping (1.6)
BONUSES: The ability of being expressive with minimalist means (1.2)
TOTAL: 7.8
CHARACTERS: You can't converse with them -- in every other respect, they are
            faultless (1.4)
PUZZLES: Best in this review package (1.3)
DIFFICULTY: Fairly challenging (6 out of 10)


COMMENTS: Well, this has been my favourite game in the Comp, so I had to give
          it a ten. A typical case of a "normalizing effect" in scoring (I'm
          afraid that without this normalization, hardly any game would get
          more than an 8 from me for a very long time, because of Blue Chairs
          being entered in the previous Comp).

THE IF COMP 2005 TOP TEN --------------------------------------------------

********************************** #10 ************************************

From: Michael A Russo 
(review originally published on

TITLE: Internal Vigilance
AUTHOR: Simon Christiansen
EMAIL: simonchrist1729 SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1

When writing this review, I've continually been aware that perhaps I'm taking
the game more seriously than it wants to be.  I work at a human rights
organization directly involved with issues - U.S. detention and interrogation
policy, the proper role of civil liberties in wartime  - which are very close
to those implicated by Eternal Vigilance.  As  a result, I found the premise of
being put in an interrogator's shoes and turned loose fascinating, if
disturbing, and was eager to explore the dynamics of security.

That the game turned out to be more spy-thriller than political-thriller was
thus disappointing; both main factions appear rather cartoonish, and again,
the struggle is rarefied and divorced from social reality.  The fate of the
poor writer is somewhat problematic, but not especially so - given my job, I
feel like I'm rather more sympathetic to the civil liberties side of things
than are most people, so if I thought his detention and interrogation was bad
policy but ultimately justifiable, I suspect most players would be even less
bothered.  Internal Vigilance employs the rhetoric of the ideological struggle
between liberty and security, but it fails to really address the issues, and
they act more to flavor the plot than  drive it.  This is a valid approach,
certainly, and can make for an enjoyable game - but it wasn't what I was
looking for.

Of more moment is that the game ultimately feels superficial.  All through
high school, my English teachers would repeat that most annoying of mantras:
show, don't tell.  Internal Vigilance presents a 1984-style dystopia, but
doesn't provide any details or specificity on what, exactly, the society does
that's so terrible.  We're told that the Union tramples on individual freedoms,
but the primary example is rather problematic - the writer who's been arrested
on suspicion of being involved with terrorism in fact does have a link to a
terrorist faction dedicated to the overthrow of the Union, after all.

Once the plot picks up speed and the player begins investigating said faction,
instances of government oppression are few and far between.  The interrogation
methods employed by the player are generally unsavory, but not so terrible in
the grand scheme of things - indeed, the game perhaps includes an implicit
anti-torture message, as direct  beating gets you nowhere.  As a result, the
proceedings feel bloodless;  the central dilemma which is meant to give force
to the plot lacks tension, and the ideological struggle is an abstraction
without weight.

All of the above is rather personal and ideological (as opposed to the  rest of
my reviews, the arch reader points out), which is perhaps testament to the fact
that the game doesn't really have any major problems.  A few sloppy mistakes
appear to have slipped through - I  noticed some capitalization errors in the
Investigation section, and the apartment number given for the author's mother
is inconsistent -  but overall the plot proceeds logically, the player has a
reasonable  amount of choice of where to push the story, and the puzzles are
clever and well-clued.  Indeed, the opening interrogation is a highlight -  
it's a conversation puzzle which involves asking probing questions and
researching background intelligence on the subject, exactly what's  required in
actual interrogations.  I would have liked to see more options for ideological
debate - throwing the fact that the  anti-statist author was able to write his
book because he was on welfare, for example - but the options that are there
are fairly  robust.  And while the password puzzle is reasonable enough, it's
almost unnecessary, as I came very close to guessing the phrase without  any
clues.  The game also shows flashes of humor - the record will  show that I am
a sucker for X ME descriptions which work in "as good  looking as ever."

In the end, my objections to Internal Vigilance probably boil down to wanting
something out of it that it wasn't meant to give.  As a spy  story with an
oblique nod in the direction of current political debate, it works quite well.
But the focus on bombing plots and digging up conspiracies causes the social
milieu to recede, and the governmental oppression which theoretically drives
the story isn't sharp or specific enough to be anything but background.  One
advantage of this is that the player is relatively free to decide whether the
Union or the terrorists have the right of it, and act accordingly.  But this
moral weightlessness prevents the game from really engaging with the issues
it raises.

*********************************** #9 ************************************

From: Valentine Kopteltsev 

NAME: Chancellor
AUTHOR:  Kevin Venzke
EMAIL: stepjak SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
Kevin Venzke is the author of Kurusu City, the entry in the previous IF-Comp
that (at least as far as I'm concerned;) would have won the TADS division if
the division rating still was there. Well, the reviewed work is *entirely*
different; the light-hearted atmosphere of Kurusu City made way for gloominess
and mysteriousness, and probably the only thing that remained unchanged was the
player character being a young female.

Chancellor rather brought up reminiscences of two other IF-classics: for one
thing, Dave Lebling's Lurking Horror, from which it inherited parts of the
setting (a deserted college building), along with a couple of characters 
(including a murderous janitor); for the other, Losing Your Grip by Stephen
Granade that lent to it the way of telling the story in several fits, the
switching of the player character between two fairly distinct worlds, as well
as the extensive usage of deeply symbolic (well, maybe pseudo-symbolic) stuff.

Actually, a superposition of elements from other works alone isn't a suitable
tool for creating a decent game, no matter how splendid the "donors" have been.
OK, OK, I probably don't have the right to say such things, because 
Chancellor's inheritance of certain features from other games is entirely my
assumption, and the similarities mentioned earlier might be purely coincidental.
Anyway, coincidence or not -- Chancellor does better than just mixing up
ingredients of other games, and introduces a device personally I quite rarely 
(if at all) encountered in IF: it lets the two game worlds melt together. This
process goes on not too quickly, but steadily, progressing with each episode:
first, items from one world start appearing in the other one; then,
interconnections between the worlds begin to crop up, and finally, the two
worlds become one. It's been a thrilling experience indeed, which has been
enhanced even more by the magnificent writing and the very comprehensive
setting that implemented every object mentioned in the descriptions, and
responded adequately to every action I could think of.

Unfortunately, the game isn't crowned with a worthy end; rather, it shakes off
all the mysterious stuff the player has encountered using a quite battered
excuse. In this respect, it called to mind yet another work of IF -- this time,
Rippled Flesh by Rybread Celsius, where the player, after being taken through a
series of weird rooms and shown a number of scary things, receives an ending
that is essentially unrelated to the game itself, along with an explanation of
all the oddities he encountered (in the vein, "the bloody corpse in the bedroom
was a practical joke of your second cousin once removed... and the hellish
sounds coming from the hall was your dog Berny toppling over the clothes tree".)
Now, Chancellor acts very similarly -- only the explanatory note isn't needed,
and thus (thankfully) absent. That's a pity; while cutting the Gordian knot is
a handy approach for a number of real life situations, it doesn't work half as
well for entangled IF-plots. On the other hand, I can understand the author's
point -- resolving the story properly probably would double the game size, thus
rendering it totally unsuitable for the Comp.

Still, in spite of this not minor issue, Chancellor remains a notable game, even
-- I dare to say it -- a "must play". You just don't see worlds being melted
together every day.

(See the NOTE ON THE SCORING SYSTEM in the "Horror in the IF Comp" review
 package above)

SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard):

PLOT: The ending spoils it somewhat (1.0)
ATMOSPHERE: Galore (1.5)
WRITING: Discreet but effective (1.5)
GAMEPLAY: Unhurried (1.4)
BONUSES: Two worlds blending together (it seems I can't stop saying that
         again and again;) (1.5)
TOTAL: 6.9
CHARACTERS: Quite good, but not the kind I'll remember for the rest of
            my life (1.2)
PUZZLES: Just solid (1.2)
DIFFICULTY: Manageable (6 out of 10)


COMMENTS: Chancellor was one of the few entries in this Comp not providing
          any hints or a walkthrough (the stub of a hint file that was
          accompanying it contained clues for the prologue only). Combined
          with the unhurried gameplay (and it must be said that the rich
          setting practically pleads for not moving ahead too fast and for
          fiddling with the environment instead), this resulted in me getting
          stuck somewhere within the third fit by the end of the judging
          period. At that stage, there was no sign yet of the two worlds
          growing together -- the feature that, in my opinion, makes
          Chancellor outstanding. Thus, I had no other choice than to give
          it a rating corresponding to solid yet non-exceptional games. A
          simple inclusion of a walkthrough would earn it at least one extra
          point from me.

*********************************** #8 ************************************

(See Valentine's review of Snatches as part of his "Horror in the IF Comp"
review package above.)

*********************************** #7 ************************************

From: Michael A Russo 
(review originally published on

TITLE: Unforgotten
AUTHOR: Quintin Pan
EMAIL: expiation SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1

Clearly, I haven't sufficiently internalized the tropes of adventure gaming: I
was stymied for quite a while in the opening of Unforgotten, because after
being told that my friend really didn't want anyone to break into his
belongings and read his diary, my reaction was to respect his privacy.  More
the fool I.  For much of the game, Unforgotten seems primarily about sticking
one's nose into other people's business - the primary action is in unraveling
the secrets of the family of the player's friend.  Unfortunately, the contours
of the central mystery - not its solution, simply the setup - are very unclear
until relatively late in the game, and the author's penchant for twists make
the story more confusing than it needs to be. Underneath the continual Big
Reveals, there's an interesting story, but I felt like the thriller tropes
wound up getting in the way of the interesting relationships.

Unforgotten's beginning is probably its weakest section; after the rather
forced searching of the friend's possessions, the player is thrust into a
conversation which reveals some backstory, but leaves important concepts and
facts unexplained.  Then without warning, the setting abruptly shifts, without
the player being aware of what exactly has happened.  This middle section,
which contains the meat of the game, is clearer, and the player has specific
goals to work towards, but just when I felt like I had my bearings, an NPC -
the aforementioned friend's sister - began launching into exposition whose
relevance wasn't immediately clear.  Soon after, the player is thrust into two
vignettes, widely separated in time and space, which are likewise fairly
disorienting, and cast everything that's come before into doubt.  And then
there's a final big twist at the end (albeit this last one is rather heavily
choreographed).  I do enjoy games which are one big meta-puzzle - Jon Ingold's
corpus comes to mind - but here, the twists just sort of pile up on each other,
yanking the player one way then the other.  Eventually whiplash - and fatigue -
set in.

This is too bad, because the relationships between the three main characters -
the player character, his friend, and the friend's sister - are interesting,
and really drive most of the action. Foregrounding them a little more, keeping
the friend around for a while longer so the player can form an attachment to
him, and keeping the story more focused by more aggressively framing the
problem which the player is attempting to solve, would have made for a stronger,
sharper, more affecting game.  The wall-to-wall twists make the proceedings
feel contrived, and the game doesn't allow sufficient space for the
repercussions of each individual revelation to play out, which really reduces
their impact.

Unforgotten does do a good job of integrating puzzles into what's a fairly plot-
heavy game.  The initial journal-stealing sequence, for all my grumbling, is
actually well-put together; depending on how exactly the player goes about it,
there are a number of possible outcomes. There's a lot of fairly intuitive
sneaking around, and except for that first sequence, the player usually knows
precisely what he's working towards.  I found one puzzle in particular to be
shaky - lowering a doped pie to attack dogs on the end of a fishing rod feels
far too slapsticky for the rest of the game, and LOWER PIE seemed a much more
natural way of doing this than LOWER ROD - but otherwise the puzzles are well
clued, even when the player doesn't necessarily know what he's meant to be

One sequence does remind me of a comment I made about Tough Beans, to the
effect that too few games depict the player character reacting to events.
There's a scene in Unforgotten where the player is controlling a little girl
who, while hiding, overhears two soldiers talk about raping her mother - this
strikes me as a rather traumatic event, but for all the game discloses, the
girl reacts with stone-faced impassivity.  I'm not lobbying for histrionics
here, but any human being would be really upset in this situation, and the
tension of perhaps calling attention to yourself could make for a more
dramatically interesting scene.

Still, Unforgotten does pay more attention to questions of character than do
most games, and its narrative shortcomings are real but not fatal.  Definitely
worth a play.

*********************************** #6 ************************************

From: Mike Snyder 
(review originally published on Mike's web site,

TITLE: The Colour Pink
AUTHOR: Robert Street
EMAIL: robertrafgon SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1

I love this game.

This is old-fashioned puzzle goodness. You are sent to investigate the
disappearance of a colony, missing from an alien planet. Eating a suspicious
bird egg – for no good reason other than an irresistible urge – puts you into a
surreal, alternate reality. I did something similar way back in the ’99
competition. It was met with mixed reactions.

You must be thinking “Great. Another one. Everything is all random and unreal,
but it’s all just part of the fantasy and that’s supposed to make it okay.”
That’s one way of looking at it. Yes, this does allow for some wacky encounters
in which animals (both real and mythical) talk and ask for help with personal
dilemmas. The puzzles are well-clued and not very difficult (aside from a
carrot-harvesting bit that’s optional anyway), and most importantly, the entire
game is fun. It’s really fun. This is what adventure gaming is all about.

I solved the game along one path (not realizing another was even possible)
without hints. The various endings are picked CYOA-style (following a CYOA
ending in the game I played just prior, Vendetta). I was left missing 5 points,
and a few objects/areas seemed unused. So, a peek at the hints, the after-game
notes, and finally the walkthrough put me onto an alternate path that not only
expands the enjoyment of the game, but actually changes much of the second half,
resulting in two additional endings.

The first two areas are quads that require no real mapping. The next area is
larger, but arranged in a pattern that looks pretty cool on paper. Another quad
underwater reflects some aspects of the “real” world, as does the interior of
the red tower. As was probably the author’s intent, no single ending seems like
the best or the most real, and it’s never quite clear how the things in the
alternate land (either of them, since there are two paths) relate to the
missing people or the lost inventory from the real world.

The writing in The Colour Pink isn’t particularly colorful or clever (although
it is pink in spots), lacking complicated metaphors and dense descriptions.
This keeps it unpretentious and more game-like than story-like. The focus is
always on the puzzles. I have little else to say about this game, except that I
highly recommend it to puzzle fans – especially those who like the easy,
traditional kind, where the gold key always opens the gold door and the carrot-
loving rabbit is always going to give you something good if you feed him.

As for the story, it’s not complicated, but it could be deeper than it seems.
I’m not sure why the pink theme was abandoned mid-way, nor why the love potion
was just a segue to the fantasy world. I’m basing the game at 9.0 on my scale,
skewing +0.5 for an “unofficial” 9.5 because I had so much fun playing.

*********************************** #5 ************************************

From: Mike Snyder 
(review originally published on Mike's web site,

TITLE: Tough Beans
AUTHOR: Sara Dee
EMAIL: saradee123 SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1

All in all, Tough Beans is a fine piece of work. It isn’t often where a
person’s first game (assuming Sara Dee isn’t a pseudonym) is so polished and
playable. “This is Sara Dee’s first game.” I kept thinking, though, that my
entry last year was Sidney Merk’s first game, too. Why didn’t she say “…my
first game” instead? Just semantics? Moving on.

Tough Beans does a better job of describing a day where everything just goes
wrong than does Son of a...(another entry in this year’s competition). The
story hints at something deeper, which remained unexplored up to my 3-point
ending. Was the early elevator scene a premonition of one possible ending 
(mishap with the firework)? Does Wendy have a mental illness, or some kind of
tumor that’s causing her numbness and flashbacks, or is that just for narrative
effect? What was her boyfriend’s motivation, beyond the obvious? The
walkthrough claims there are five endings, with variations to each. Does that
include the firework mishap? If not, then I found only one. I did identify a
key decision early on (it’s pretty obvious – the game tells you it’s a key
decision, more or less). I played briefly into each, and settled on just one.

The puzzles aren’t complicated, but they aren’t always easy. For puzzle experts,
this is probably perfect. The clues are usually just right. I made it to the
coffee shop before feeling stuck enough to peek at the walkthrough. I felt
guilty here, though, because I should have noticed what’s important after Rhoda
broke her pen. Some of it may still walk the border between fair and unfair –
the form goes unnoticed, for instance, even when looking right at the spot
where it’s found. I guess if I visualize the scene, and consider what I might
see walking up to my own desk – the orientation of it, and the angle of
approach – I guess I can see how a form might remain unnoticed until further
action is taken. I guess since it did work, and I found the form, then the
puzzle worked.

The bugs – what few there are – are minor. Looking at the kitchen table reports
a bowl, but searching it states nothing is on the table – that kind of thing.
Errors in the text are almost non-existent. The game succeeds very well as
fiction, where the level of implementation is deep and the writing stands out
as descriptive and emotional.

It’s a story about breaking cycles and standing up for yourself. Some of that
is obvious from a 3-point play-through, but the scoring hints in the
walkthrough make it more clear. I couldn’t quite decide what the story was
meant to achieve, though. Was it meant to be a poignant introspection into
Wendy’s psyche? Should I have felt bad for her, or should I have resolved to be
more assertive? Both? It wasn’t easy for me to recognize decision points aside
from the early one, and it wasn’t easy to think like a weepy 22-year-old
secretary. This game is going to hit the proverbial perfect note with some
players, but I never quite connected with the PC.

Fiction is less about writing main characters that are familiar to the audience
– that’s a playground for stereotypes – and more about writing main characters
that will become familiar to the audience. Games with a deemphasis on the PC’s
identity avoid this almost entirely, except where the PC’s motivations are
concerned. Whether or not Wendy is familiar to the author, she probably isn’t
familiar to many of us. The game succeeds in making her real, but not (for me,
anyway) in making her evolve.

I think more can be learned in the unseen, alternate endings. It’s a shame the
author didn’t include alternate walkthroughs, showing a ten-point ending. I’m
curious about what other actions I might take as Wendy, and how this will
reflect on those endings.

My scoring scale fits Tough Beans in somewhere between 8 and 9, so I have based
it at 8.5. I think it’s a great game even though I couldn’t connect with the
protagonist, and I think it’s going to do very well in the competition. It
deserves a +0.5 skew for great writing and a convincing game world. Unofficial
score: 9.0.

*********************************** #4 ************************************

(See Valentine's review of Distress as part of his "Horror in the IF Comp"
review package above.)

******************************** #2 (tie) *********************************

From: Mike Snyder 
(review originally published on Mike's web site,

TITLE: A New Life
AUTHOR: Alexandre Owen Muńz
EMAIL: munizao SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1

Once again, I have jumped ahead to a game later in my list. This time, it’s
because A New Life was recommended to me. If I really won’t have time to finish
all the games before November 15th, I might as well take them in any order,

I’ll probably go back to the list now. I enjoyed this game, but I found it
incredibly difficult. Maybe it’s just me and my sub-par puzzle-solving
abilities, but I was only able to complete the game down the path set by the
walkthrough. I was already over two hours into the game my own way, using the
built-in hint system more and more, and I had exhausted all of those options. I
may have been in an unwinnable state. I’m not sure.

It’s a very unique story, hinting at parallel realities and mythical races
where a person’s gender can be changed from time to time. While playing, I kept
wondering if the goblins were really humans and vice-versa, but this was never
confirmed. A New Life has a lot going on, and much of it surfaces as memories 
(a “remember” command does this), or as considerations when examining scenery
or talking to the game’s characters. The back-story is an epic tapestry of
magic and mystery. Much of the fun comes from learning more and more about the
unique world in which the game is set, and about the people who inhabit it.

The biggest problem is, it’s sometimes (okay, often times) unclear what to do
without getting pointers from the hints. Even then, it can be a little
confusing. This is the kind of game that would be great outside the competition,
where it might be played over the course of three or four nights without that
two-hour mark looming ahead. I think it would be more rewarding taken at
leisure. I spent three hours on it, and the last of that was just typing from
the walkthrough. My original path might have been interesting, if I had been
able to figure it out. The thing with the three bags and the two staffs was
pretty clever, but even putting them to use, I never quite felt as though I had
solved everything. On my own plot branch, I couldn’t figure out what was
important about the stars and panels, even though I could make them light up as
described in the hints.

This is either a really great game I just didn’t fully understand, or a pretty
average game that does a great job of seeming to be a really great game I
didn’t fully understand. If taken without recommendation, I might have based it
at 6.5 or 7.0 – lower because of the complicated puzzles, and the lack of clear
objectives. This is the trap we fall into when judging a game we know is or
isn’t liked by others. If I’m to trust in someone else’s opinion, I have to
believe the game is better than it seems. And now it’s my turn, to pass my
opinion along to others by way of this review.

The writing in A New Life is excellent. This is one of the few games where the
text just flowed right. It wasn’t forced, it wasn’t overdone, and it wasn’t
choppy. Good writing makes a game seem more real, and when the unique world
seems to be the focus, that’s important. This is the basis for my +0.5 skew,
from a base of 7.5. A New Life may fare well in the competition. It’s a good
enough game: worth the time, but not my favorite. I recommend playing it
without expecting an easy, two-hour experience. Don’t rush, ease into it with
exploration and experimentation (looking, remembering, asking), and you’re
likely to have a great time.

******************************** #2 (tie) *********************************

From: Michael A Russo 
(review originally published on

TITLE: Beyond
AUTHOR: Mondi Conifanti
EMAIL: beyond SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1

I recently made my way through a video game called Indigo Prophecy. Initially,
it looked like a dark and brooding game of psychological horror, but about two
hours from the end the wheels fell off and it devolved into, to put it
charitably, batshit lunacy.  What started out as a compelling examination of
the intrusion of random, terrifying  violence into an ordinary life, dealing as
much with the emotional fallout as with the inevitable whodunit, metastasized
into tripe about Mayan prophecies, Matrix-style kung-fu, Illuminati-style
conspiracies, and sentient AIs.  The transformation cripples the game, making
it impossible to take seriously - one gets the feeling the designers wanted
to pull out all the stops and reveal twist after twist, but didn't realize
that the more stripped-down, impressionistic stuff at the beginning was the
best part.

Don't get me wrong, Beyond certainly isn't crippled by its twists to nearly
the extent of Indigo Prophecy, but I did find that my enjoyment of the game
steadily eroded as time went by, not so much because the writing or puzzles
got less compelling as due to the fact that the slow hints led up to
revelations which seemed disappointingly over-the-top.  The early stages of
Beyond successfully invoke world-weariness, wistfulness for what might have
been, and a compelling investigative urgency, but the endgame turns into
something different, more garish and obvious and inferior to the understated
early sequences.

The opening is very strong, introducing the central mystery and the framing
device which turns it into something other than just a commonplace cop-show
procedural.  The authors manage to evoke real pity for the fate of the central
protagonist, and the complicated way she interacts with the character who the
player guides through most of the game winds up being enjoyable - trying to
solve the mystery of one's own death is a compelling premise.  In the first
viewing of the corpse, for example, the player in his detective-guise is
presented with a young victim of violence, leading to a hint of paternal
feeling, while simultaneously in the child-protagonist's eyes, the body is
that of a lost parent.  The overlapping impressions create dynamic frisson
which very much deepens the experience.  The small Italian village in which
the main action is set is well-drawn, and the characters quickly manage to
make an impression.  Indeed, the detail of the real-world vignettes make for
an effective contrast with the overtly fantasy-based interludes.

One could perhaps complain that these interludes occasionally suffer from
being overly-precious - the Mad Joker's transformations do sometimes feel too
zany for the surrounding narrative - but when they work, they're absolutely
devastating.  The authors managed to make a sequence of chores into the most
compelling thing in the story; this luminous portrayal of a casual domesticity
rendered impossible by violence is far more effective and heart-wrenching than
the late-game reveals on what was going on in the shack's cellar.  There is a
noticeable missed opportunity in this sequence, however - when fetching well
water, DRINK WATER returns a default "you're not thirsty" response.  The
protagonist, a child who's never been born, has never tasted water before;
this would have been a perfect chance to zoom in and bring home the poignancy
of lost possibilities, of the mundane experiences the protagonist will be

The puzzles are well-clued and unobtrusive, which is almost a shame, as the
integrated hint system is elegant and enjoyable in its own right.  Finding the
secret door in the shack is nicely handled, and the initial investigation is
more entertaining than just Xing everything in sight, as the player
demonstrates that he's figured out what the murderer did by walking through
the same steps.  A word should be said about the accompanying artwork, which
is evocative and very successful at setting  a mood of obscure dark fantasy -
again, especially in the opening, where everything is threatening and

So I did very much enjoy most of Beyond, but as alluded to at the top  of the
review, I found the game got decreasingly effective as it wore on.  From the
set-up - a young girl, murdered as her pregnancy becomes obvious - I'd assumed
that the crime was essentially domestic and squalid, arising out of a
relationship which never should have happened, the fruit of desperation and
anger and stupidity.  The  murderer, I imagined, was somebody who acted out of
recognizably human motives - evil, sure, but still essentially a person.  The
authors, however, went in a rather different direction: the killer is a Satan-
worshipping priest who'd been ritually and sexually abusing two different
girls of the town.  This felt disappointingly over-the-top, turning the
villain into a cartoon and rendering everything far too simple and pat.
Besides this aesthetic objection, conjuring up the specter of ritual satanic
child abuse brought to my mind the famous hoaxes,like the McMartin Preschool
case, which further undermined its effectiveness.  Sure, there's something
horrific about discovering that your father is a demon-worshipping sexual
predator, but since the character is so unrecognizable, it's essentially safe.
Presenting the villain as an actual person who did something terrible for all
the wrong reasons would have been far creepier, and more memorable.  I'll
willingly concede that choosing this particular trope isn't by any means
invalid or wrong, and it certainly pops up in fictional portrayals with some
regularity, but again, I think a more humanistic approach to the evil would
have made for a more satisfying experience.  The final real-world sequence
compounds the mistake in my view - the hostage drama, replete with guns and
shouting, lacks the grace and subtlety which are the game's greatest strengths.
In the final sequences, understatement is deprecated in favor of spectacle and
narrative pyrotechnics, but I think the detail-work of the opening is superior
to the broad strokes of the endgame.

Additionally, while the game is quite solid, a few mistakes did seep through -
I noticed misspellings of "chamomile" and "consecrating,"  but these are
forgivable.  Likewise, in one place I saw "e" used in place of "and,"
presumably due to the authors' native language being Italian.  There also
appeared to be some inconsistencies involving the appearance of the
protagonist; during the first interlude, she is supposed to look like a woman
in her twenties, but looking in a mirror returns a description about her being
a child in a pink dress, and X ME gives the newborn response.  And in a few
places, I ran into disambiguation issues.

I feel churlish even mentioning these, though - as is often the case with
games I enjoyed, I think I've spent most of this review harping on things I
disliked, which might give the wrong impression.  To state it baldly, Beyond
is a good game, and has all sorts of highlights - from the moody art to the
artful juxtaposition of fantasy and reality, with plenty of imaginative
flourishes (the discourse on bright and dark inspirations sticks in my head as
particularly clever).  I think the choice of making the bad guy a *really* bad
guy broke the emotional realism of the scenario, but up until that point, I
got as much  enjoyment from the game as from anything else in the Comp, and
even looked at in aggregate, I still think it's one of the very strongest
games on offer.

*********************************** #1 ************************************

From: Michael A Russo 
(review originally published on

TITLE: Vespers
AUTHOR: Jason Devlin
EMAIL: jdevlin1984 SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1

Vespers feels a lot like Name of the Rose.  I know, I promised I'd stop with
the using other works of fiction to make comments, but I'm not so  much drawing
functional comparisons as I am pointing out topical and thematic similarities
here, so according to my head it's all right.  The primary reason why I bring
this up isn't to do something so dreary as to accuse the author (responsible
for last year's Sting of the WASP, an excellent but very different game) of
lack of originality or anything like that - in IF as in every other medium, 
it's all about execution, and the best creators are plunder-happy magpies,
ripping off ideas from wherever they can find them.  I mention the Eco
connection mostly to disclose that I liked Name of the Rose a lot, am a sucker
for Medieval Catholic eschatology, and therefore might be biased towards
Vespers due to an affinity for the subject matter and residual good-will for
works which hoed much the same row.

So with that out of the way, I can now start praising Vespers.  It has
numerous strengths, but I think the most important is how well paced it is.
The introduction slopes in gradually, and while I generally like to have some
idea of what I should be accomplishing from the very beginning, here the more
leisurely approach worked well - knowing that plague was loose and the
monastery was locked in made things more interesting than the standard wander-
corridors-until-something-happens opening, and front-loading much of the
exploration allowed later sequences to play out tauter, since the player knows
exactly where everything is.  The number of NPCs is initially a little
overwhelming, but the author does a very good job of giving each of them a
distinctive feature, so that the player soon remembers which is the crazy one,
which is the terse, practical one, and so on.  Besides,  things pick up fairly
quickly once the player's visited all the important areas - Cecilia's arrival
kicks off a string of clear, well-motivated puzzles, and from there
interaction with her serves to give the player character his next objective.

The narrative doesn't just progress, though - it deepens.  As time passes and
the malady which has laid claim to the player character does its work,
descriptions change quite strikingly, which is a very nice touch - not only
does it effectively convey the character's deteriorating mental state and
effectively underline the thematically central mood of decay, it also makes re-
visiting already-explored areas a pleasure rather than an invitation to tedium.
The player is also allowed to complete major goals along the way, which lead
fluidly on to the next.  The arcs of individual monks are continually resolved
(usually, sad to say, this involves their death), which each add something to
the larger puzzle.  The game also does a good job of unlocking new areas to
explore in a controlled fashion; the player is introduced to a few new
locations at a time, generally already knowing what he wants to do, which
helps create a fleshed-out world without unnecessary disorientation.

Speaking of avoiding unnecessary disorientation, the puzzles are another
strong suit of Vespers.  The player knows about most of the major puzzles 
(finding the hidden diary, gaining access to the cellar)  from the early
stages of the game, which serves to alert him to any tools or clues which might
help with those tasks.  Smaller-scale, more immediate puzzles (the avalanche,
the wolf attack), often confined to one particular area, are introduced cleanly,
usually requiring some quick thinking but no items from previous scenes.  The
prayer system is  particularly elegant, almost serving as get-out-jail-free
cards - I  think in every case, the player can find a solution which doesn't
involve prayer, but if you're having trouble coming up with the answer, a 
saint's intercession will do the job, without forcing recourse to the hints
file. This middle ground of providing the player with a limited number of
expendable puzzle-solving tokens is very good game design,  and evocative too -
before bedding down on the first night, I thought  the good abbot should say
his nightly orisons, and was pleasantly surprised by the fact that this
preemptively solved a puzzle which otherwise might have required a die-and-

So Vespers is already a very good game, before you get to the endgame and the
rug gets pulled out.  Not only is the narrative twist nicely  done - it both
comes out of nowhere and had me slapping my forehead for not noticing it
sooner - there's also a mechanical twist, as this whole time the game has been
keeping track of the sins you've  committed.  It would be very easy to have put
the mechanic front and center and transparently informed the player when he's
moved down on the degeneration track, but keeping it hidden was definitely the
right call, as this way the player isn't even aware he's being judged until
it's too late, and it's never obvious which particular decisions were decisive.
My only objection is that I think the scale might be too unforgiving - my
first time through, I got the "evil" ending, even though of course I think my
transgressions were relatively minor (I'd once prayed to Cecilia, and attacked
the unknown figure I'd tripped down the stairs since I wasn't sure if he was
incapacitated from the  fall).  Still, given the setting, an unforgiving
morality is definitely appropriate.

Flaws?  A few.  The mystery of what Constantin's been up to is a major driver
of the narrative, so the rather hasty reveal felt abrupt and therefore had
less impact than it might have.  The last scene, while a nicely calculated
sucker-punch, also has about it a faint redolence of a heavy-metal album-cover.
And sometimes the header quotes (which are nicely done, by the way, like the
scenery descriptions starting out familiar, almost banal, but slowly growing
strange and threatening as the plague progresses) wouldn't properly erase, so
that bits of earlier quotes would stick around and overlap on the new ones.
But that's literally all I can come up with, which is pretty impressive, given
how much of a stickler I can be.  My notes don't record any disambiguation
issues or typos; they're basically just reminders not to forget how neat
particular elements were.

Overall, Vespers was my favorite game of the comp.

OTHER REVIEWS -------------------------------------------------------------

From: Greg Boettcher 

TITLE: Attempted Assassination
AUTHOR: Matt Slotnick
EMAIL: mslot722 SP@G
DATE: April 16, 2005
SUPPORTS: Quest 3.53
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive

This was the first Quest game I've ever played, and my goodness. I have to
start by telling what I've observed about the Quest system before I go on to
review the actual game.

*The Quest System*

Some people might only barely consider Quest games to be interactive fiction.
Although you can type in commands, the range of commands is extremely limited.
From what I could tell, Quest is used mostly to make adventures that can be
solved by using no verbs other than "look at," "examine," "take," "drop," 
"speak to," "give," the ever-popular "use," and the directional verbs such as 
"north" and "south." To input these verbs, you can type them in, but you can
also input them via a graphical user interface on the right side of the game
window. Also in that part of the screen there is also a list of nearly all the
objects you can interact with. By clicking buttons and dragging various words,
you can do 90% to 100% of everything you need to do to win a Quest game,
without the need to type anything, and without the need to use any verbs not
listed above.

In the game I played, I only found one case where a non-standard verb was
implemented. In the case of one noun, it actually does work to type "open noun."
But this verb was implemented badly. If you try to "open X", where X is almost
any other noun, you get the same response as if you type "asdf X".

Thus, it is not very rewarding to spend much time using non-standard verbs in
Quest games. There is no illusion of being able to try to do anything you can
think of to type. As such, I would expect most people to almost always use the
click-and-drag interface on the right-hand side of the screen. This is IF at
its most rudimentary; in fact, it is barely IF at all.

Aside from verb problems, there was also a tendency for noun problems, at least
in the game I played. If you want to take a beach ball, for instance, "get ball"
might not work; you might have to type "get beach ball." Not very impressive.

As a result, the level of interaction in a Quest game is not adequate. At best,
it feels like a graphical game with a clunky interface. But to me, having a
trimmed-down interface without graphics is like having the thorn without the
rose. And when it comes to interpreting textual input, Quest does a bad job.

*Attempted Assassination*

I keep thinking to myself that, to be fair, I should not ask whether Attempted
Assassination is good, but whether it's good as a Quest game. On this basis, I
have to ignore the game's shallow interactivity, bad parsing of verbs, bad
parsing of nouns, clunky interface where almost all interactive objects are
listed, etc. By Quest standards, is Attempted Assassination good?

Well, the game begins when you wake up at 8:05, already late for work. You run
to the car, arriving there at 8:08. There you find a note that says, "Your car
will detonate at 8:08 this morning. Have a nice day!" So you hightail it out of
there, seconds before the explosion. Then, later, you find out that the bomb
was planted between 8:00 and about 8:02. My, but your guardian angel was quick
at writing that note! Ah, the realism.

In another part of the game, you chase a suspicious man, who jumps through a
window. You follow him until you have him cornered. Finally he says, "I don't
know of any bombing on your car. I jumped out of that window because I dropped
my watch." How do you respond? You say, "Oh, sorry to have bothered you then."

These cornball events might make you roll your eyes, or they might make you
laugh. But even if there's some humor here, how are you supposed to enjoy it
when the game is so sloppy and badly designed? The game contains rooms named 
"room03" and other such things; there are gruesome spelling and grammar
mistakes ("no where in side" should be "nowhere in sight"); there is a car that
you can' t drive, but behaves for all the world like a door; and so on.

No, I can't call this game successful even by the standards of what Quest could
achieve. And even if it was good as a Quest game, that would still make it
pretty far from being a good game.

On the other hand, this was the author's first game. The good news is, there's
plenty of room for improvement.


From: Jose Manuel Garcia-Patos 

TITLE: Book and Volume
AUTHOR: Nick Montfort
EMAIL: nickm SP@G
DATE: November 17, 2005
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 7

It is my great pleasure to write the review of the game that brings back to the
genre one of the best authors and theorists in the IF community. Book and
volume, Nick Montfort's latest work, possesses two fundamental virtues: it is
extraordinarily entertaining and intellectually stimulating. It also has one
problem: it hides these virtues with a lot of talent. The arbitrary deaths, the
large number of ways of getting stuck in an unwinnable position, and the never
too clear statement of the final objective of the game play against it. I think
this can be attributed to the technique employed (maybe unconsciously) by the
author in the design of the game, which could be summarized as: "Trust me. In
the end everything will make perfect sense".

And it's true, for the game leaves, like good wines do, a great taste and a
strange melancholy. Not only because the ending opens the door to multiple
interpretations and passionate reflections, but also because all the crazyness
that wraps it up finally finds its sense -- even though it never ceases to be
just that: crazyness.

I must admit, however, that I miss more literature. Nick is a brilliant writer,
but he seems not to want to demonstrate it here with better descriptions of
places and stuff, or more possiblities of interaction with the NPCs. I think
this was a lost opportunity, because the game is so entertaining that even the
most "arcade inclined" among us would have been delighted to read a little more.
This deficiency reveals itself more notably if we take a look at the list of
games that he recommends for those new to IF, which includes some titles that
even I consider boring and too literary, like Savoir faire, by Emily Short, or
Varicella, by Adam Cadre (about which Nick even wrote a very good essay years
ago). I am afraid that, due to this dryness of its style, some of the people
who decide to try Book and Volume will lose many of the big and little ideas,
suggestions and winks that fill almost every moment and place in it. This game
contains much more than meets the eye, but that's exactly the problem: the
player has to look for everything by himself without any indication from the
author of what he might find if he does. (One example, the title: Probably most
of you know where it's taken from, but do you know where does it appear in the
game?) In a game like this the author should sting the player's curiosity, but
here its own mechanics kind of forbid that, at least the first few times. It is
my opinion that doing that (giving more room to the player for moving,
exploring, interacting) everyone would enjoy it more and they all would be
taking more out of it. What were Nick's reasons for not taking this approach?
My bet is that he did it out of respect for the player. Respect to his freedom
to interpret the game in any way he wants to or to not interpret it at all and
just play and have fun with it.

So, what's the game about? That's a good question. Thanks for asking. Our role
is that of a sysadmin in the city of nTopia. The game begins with a call from
our boss telling us that several of our servers are down. One of the reasons
why we must leave our apartment in the wee hours of the morning to reboot some
stupid servers is that in a couple of days will take place a mysterious demo
which we seem to be the only ones in town who haven't heard about. From this
moment on, things will be getting more and more bizarre, and more and more
complicated, to the point that, almost certainly, we'll end, not just once or
twice, but lots of times, in a snowy white hospital where our only
entertainment will be to play cards with a tall, deaf and dumb indian.

Talking about indians and hospitals, I'd like to mention a detail that I think
is a bug in the game, and it is that after doing (or not) certain actions, we
can be sent to this pillowed white room which you can only get out of to play
cards with the indian. My question is: if you can't get out of the room 
(according to the author's own confession), why should you spend there such a
long time trying to escape or whatever? I'm sure there is an explanation for
this behaviour, as it just seems illogical, but I honestly didn't see it.

Another detail, that others may consider a bug, although I don't think of it to
be one at all, is the measure of time. Time is very important in this game. The
player, as he dies and achieves tasks (in this order), will realize that he's
got a lot of free time. One of the things he must do with it is wander around,
examine every spot of the city. Almost every location in the game has something
interesting to offer, although it's true that you must look a little harder
than usual, and, more importantly, look at the right time of day. As in any
other town, not all places are open 24/7 in nTopia.

From:	Neil Butters 

Book and Volume is a sci-fi/fantasy/techno mind game that could have been much
more interesting and satisfying. It may be entertaining for some but others may
find it tedious. I, unfortunately, fall into the latter category as I found
wandering around the city fixing computers less-than-compelling gameplay. The
game is short and could probably be played in a couple of hours. It opens with
you lying on your couch.  Your beeper sounds and you are then sent on a series
of tasks by your boss that take you into the city. As you perform the tasks
weird things happen and you come to question reality. I think there is only one
conclusion although maybe had I tried a few more things after finishing the
tasks there might have been more to the game.  The conclusion I reached was
obtuse, it didn’t help me to understand the game at all. It should  however
cause you to at least pause and think about the preceding events even if you
may not come up with a satisfying explanation of the game. 	

The game has stripped-down prose that only contains essentials. The interiors
of buildings are in a few sentences at most. For example, your apartment
consists of a couch and some clothes and no other rooms. The NPCs do not
generally stick around to chat and those that do aren’t particularly helpful.
This helps keep you focused on what needs to be done, and you don’t spend time
needlessly performing useless actions.  This terse approach gave the game a
cold, impersonal feel that may or may not be what the author was striving for.
At times this approach was frustrating. The setting is a futuristic city with
some really interesting places that I would have liked to learn more about. The
airport for example is not what you would expect but when you try to examine
objects you get two-word descriptions. 	

The game’s puzzles consist mainly of wandering around the city doing tasks to
get a job done. The tasks are not particularly difficult. There are no hints or
walkthroughs but there is a map available at http://www.xs4all. nl/~rlbos/
bookvol%20feelie%20map.pdf .  On the plus side the growing realization that
something odd is definitely going on is well done. The conclusion fits nicely
with the game’s feel even though it is difficult to interpret and I don’t think
anyone will see it coming. It may have some meaning that was lost on me. The
game is technically sound and I did not find any bugs. I had no problems doing
what I wanted to do and tasks that should not be difficult, ie working with
your laptop, are made simple. 	

I don’t think this game will appeal to everyone. If you don’t know your server
from your waiter you may find the game uninteresting and a bit tedious. But if
you are a techno/ sci-fi enthusiast you may appreciate some of the goings-on
and the general feel of the game.


From: Daphne Brinkerhoff 

TITLE: Building
AUTHOR: Mike Tulloch
EMAIL: poster SP@G
DATE: July 2005 (original release)
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive and author's website
VERSION: Release 15


(Disclaimer: I played an older version of Building than what is currently
available.  So I have not mentioned bugs or typos in this review, assuming that
they're probably fixed.  But if I've criticized something else that's changed
in the newer version, please let me know.)

My friend oh-so-casually remarked, "You know that new game Building?  I hear no
one has beaten it yet."  "I know a dare when I hear one," I said.  I played it
anyway.  My goal was to win without hints.  I didn't quite achieve that, but I
still feel a sense of satisfaction.  Building is a toughish game.  It's not
Curses-level long, or Curses-level tough, but it's no CYOA IFComp entry.  If
you're going to play, be prepared to spend a week or two with it.

The game begins with some nightmarish visions, after which you wake up with
amnesia, standing in front of a building.  I don't think it's giving too much
away to say that it's an office building.  Building is about how office work
turns people into soulless drones.  Yes, we've had Little Blue Men on that
subject, but in LBM your character was angry and still fighting the inevitable.
Here there is just a sense of hopelessness.

The story in Building is minimal.  You're supposed to be figuring out who you
are, but really from the beginning you know everything important about yourself
except your name.  It's an office building, you worked here, and it sucked (one
"remember" will tell you all that).  Gradually you do discover hints that your
bosses might have been doing something odd, above and beyond the usual
corporate evils.

Generally, though, this game is more about atmosphere than story.  Dark, dusty,
uninhabited (mostly), a little off-kilter, with remnants of technology lying
around, seemingly abandoned mid-use...  If I may get all English-majory for a
moment, this just reinforces the artificiality and transience of the office
life that came before.  At least that's how it made *me* feel, especially given
the contrast between your memories and the present disrepair.  Another plus:
the author paid a lot of attention to implementing as many of the five senses
as possible.  I particularly noticed sounds in various locations (the cicadas,
the generator, ghostly voices), but there are smells and textures mentioned too.
This worked for me.

A few people have commented on the purple prose in the game.  It's a fine line
between lush writing and overwriting, and I think this game has examples of
both.   Sometimes the author relies a little heavily on adjectives (emphasis

Second-floor Stairwell
FLUORESCENT lights mounted at ODD angles send down DYING, ARTIFICIAL light that
provides a HARSH, CLINICAL hue for the DINGY carpet and YELLOWED walls. A set
of stairs descends into shadows nearby, and OPEN hallways lead east and west.

Out of 39 words in this room description, 9 of them are adjectives.  This felt
overdone.  In contrast, strong verbs make this room description work better 
(again, emphasis mine):

Authorized Room
The remnants of a COMPUTER CONTROL room, this room now provides a case study in
destruction. SEVEN-FOOT HIGH cabinets lie face down, their GLASS windows
shattered in BRILLIANT LIGHT-REFRACTING sprays of BROKEN glass; cables of every
shape and hue lie severed from the wall as though victims of a BIZARRE type of
autopsy. Computers lie caked in dust with their innards utterly removed and
scattered in pieces across the floor.  Dust covers even these, as though these
acts occurred several generations ago.

Here there are 9 adjectives again, out of 82 words, a much more reasonable
proportion (IMHO).  And verbs like "shattered", "severed", and "caked"
strengthen the description.

Although the main strength of the game is its atmosphere, it's not a story-
based game, but instead is packed with puzzles.  The structure is extremely
loose.  There's one opening puzzle (get into the building), and then the game
opens up with multiple puzzles that can be completed in any order.  It's almost
like a treasure hunt -- once you've remembered enough, you can go on to the

For the most part, the puzzles are difficult but fair, requiring intuitive
leaps that are more-or-less well-clued (getting into the corridor of blue light,
finding the Ruined Lobby, even getting a light source).  But occasionally
almost-right actions don't give any hint of the proper solution (I'm thinking
here of getting the ring).

There's also a plethora of red herrings.  I spent quite some time trying to get
into inaccessible places, interact with scenery, and look under immobile
objects.  I rather like red herrings -- they give a sense of a world that's not
just created for these specific puzzles.  However, in Building it's a little
frustrating, since the game doesn't really give you a sense of what you need to
be working on next at any particular time.  So my advice to players is, don't
assume you have to open a locked door just because it's there, or make use of
some unusual room feature because no one would ever put a salsa-dancing Venus
flytrap into their game if it weren't part of a puzzle.

I found the inventory limit imposed by the game to be extremely irritating.
There doesn't seem to be any reason for realism in a game with such a surreal
setting.  And I didn't find any puzzles related to the inventory limit (e.g.,
the kind of thing where you can only take five things with you to the next
stage of the game, choose carefully).  I ended up just dumping objects in a
centrally located room and coming back later.  I also found that sometimes the
game would let me drop an object I was carrying but not pick it back up again
on the next turn -- granted, a bug, but one that wouldn't happen without the
inventory limit.  I'd definitely consider getting rid of the limit in a future

The limit makes things especially hard because of one recurring puzzle of sorts.
I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, so I'll just say that several objects in the
game are keyed to particular rooms.  But it's almost always an arbitrary
connection, so there's no way to know which room unless you bring the object
there.  As an imaginary example, you might think that a dictionary would be
connected to a library, but in this game it's likely that the dictionary would
instead be connected to the bathroom.  This really makes the inventory limit
feel constricting.  You have to make sure you've carried every object into
every room, but you keep having to leave objects behind and pick others up, and
unless you've got a better memory than I do, it's just about impossible.

As you travel through the building and its environs, you gain memories of
yourself a la Babel.  However, unlike in Babel, there's no way to replay a
memory.  Once it's gone, it's gone, and you'd better have gleaned everything
the first time.  You can get the game to list memories with short descriptions 
(an imaginary example: "Grocery shopping with Nyarlahotep").  I would have
liked it if typing "REMEMBER X" with some of the key words in those
descriptions (in this example, "REMEMBER GROCERY" or "REMEMBER NYARLAHOTEP")
would work.  That seems easier for the player than having to go back to the
location of the original memory.  But any mechanism for remembering would have
been useful.

So, do I recommend this game?  My main experience in playing it wasn't
enjoyment but frustration, as anyone listening could attest.  "What do you mean
I can't?...  Oh, great, now what?... Somehow solving this didn't get me as far
as I'd hoped."  But that does go to show that I was engaged in the game.  I
wasn't bored.  And it's also typical of puzzle-based games.  Basically I don't
regret having put in the time to play it, and I'll definitely download the
author's next game.


From: Aaron Reed 

TITLE: The Corn Identity
AUTHOR: The "IF Whispers" Project
EMAIL: mark.musante SP@G
DATE: September 26, 2005
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1

The Corn Identity is a unique experiment in collaborative interactive fiction.
Thirteen authors were each responsible for taking the previous author's source
code and, without having seen the whole story, constructing a new segment
before passing their code on to the next author. The concept is somewhat
similar to the party game "Whispers" or "Telephone," where a phrase is passed
from person to person with increasing loss of fidelity.

The release notes say "It should be obvious that this idea can't be effectively
applied to interactive fiction.  So of course we had to give it a try." But
what emerges is not the muddled mess one might expect: instead, the
conspirators have created a dreamlike pastiche of corpses, puzzles, a
distressingly ballooning inventory, and scenarios alternatingly disturbing and
goofy. It manages, surprisingly, to be entertaining.

Awakening groggy and trapped in a twenty foot steel cube, the player must
explore a sequence of connected areas and solve a variety of puzzles from
simple to middling-tricky, in order to unravel a mystery that seems to involve
corn, murder, shadowy powers-that-be, drugs, and a lot of colorful buttons. As
might be expected, the style of the game varies; in some parts you may die
without warning and need past-life experience to solve puzzles, while in others
you can't die at all and the puzzles are self-explanatory; some parts of the
game feature well-implemented areas while others are bare-bones and empty.
Interestingly, the tone of the story also varies, from deadly serious "X-Files"-
like mystery to goofy self-referential comedy to political satire and back

What's perhaps not so expected is how smoothly the game transitions between all
these states. Any given moment feels self-consistent; it's only when you think
back to fifteen minutes ago that you realize you're essentially playing a
different game. Like a dream or a David Lynch movie, the game hustles you along
through self-contained situations that flows smoothly into each other, almost
succeeding in distracting you from the fact that the big picture is making less
and less sense all the time.

This is often annoying, as items tend to become useless as you move on to the
next segment, and plot threads are introduced and discarded so frequently that
the story slowly becomes a tangled mess. You never know when the game will
throw you a curve ball revealing that the new author has no idea what a certain
plot thread signifies, or rather, used to signify. The ending, in particular,
is unsatisfying, since it fails to tie up the myriad of loose ends that the
hapless final author could not even have known about.

But on another level, the experience is fascinating. Something taken for
granted in interactive fiction is that the game always knows more about its
story than you, and your goal is to figure out what commands will convince it
to give you more of its knowledge. Here, after the first few segments you
honestly know more about what's going on than the author did, and the game is
funniest when it acknowledges this shortcoming:


...  He resembles no one you know, either from your scientific life or your
family life (the two of which you take great care to keep separate).

In a context where the author knows nothing about the character's distant or
even immediate past, and indeed has no idea what the character is even meant to
be doing, this otherwise humdrum line had me grinning from ear to ear.

"The Corn Identity" is by no means a great game, and by many standards may not
even be a good one: it is often sparsely implemented, breaks no new ground in
terms of story, structure, or content, has a poorly-hinted puzzle or two and
enough dead-ends and red herrings for three games its size. For IF novices in
particular, it would be an off-putting introduction to the medium. But for
those familiar with the conventions of IF or the styles of the individual
authors, it's an amusing, sometimes clever, and always surreal adventure.


From: David Welbourn 

TITLE: Dawn of the Demon
AUTHOR: Paul Drallos
EMAIL: pdrallos SP@G
DATE: May 2005
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; Author's website; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 0

Dawn of the Demon is a text adventure set in the world of Infocom's Zork about
a thousand years before the founding of the Great Underground Empire and the
use of G.U.E. dating. It is also a prequel for a graphical game, Zork: The
Hidden Evil, which is being produced by The Zork Library (http://thezorklibrary.
com). In Dawn of the Demon, you play a nameless adventurer in search of the
Demon's treasure which is rumoured to be hidden somewhere in the forest south
of the One River.

Geographically, the game is fairly large with over 130 locations, including the
cities of Pheebor and Borphee, a large forest, a maze, and a sizeable network
of grue-infested tunnels. I was a bit disappointed with the cities which were
portrayed blandly and with few Zorkian characteristics. Pheebor, for example,
does not yet sport the aqueducts or marble spires mentioned in the Encyclopedia
Frobozzica, but instead offers an understated royal palace with guards, an 
"acedemic-looking" library with yet another librarian sporting glasses and a
hairbun, and a coffee shop which somehow isn't called Starbloits or Pheebucks.
The great Arch is being built in the plaza, however, which does help connect
this Pheebor to the ruins seen in Beyond Zork.

Minor touches like this aside, I can't help but feel that several game
locations were unused for either story or puzzle purposes. The forest, for
example, does its best to have enough landmarks to distinguish one part from
another, but there's still very little in there for the player to interact with.
Likewise, Borphee has to have a harbour and marina because it's famous for it,
but it's just filler here and plays no part in your story.

For your Zork nostalgia dollar, the game both hits and misses, not unlike Star
Trek: Enterprise. The hungus, easily my favourite NPC in the game, scores a
bullseye by deftly combining humour, plot exposition, and a puzzle into one
neat package. Instead of zorkmids, which won't be minted until about 1600 years
later, we have zoons, another borrowing from Beyond Zork. There is some clever
business with the grues involving how they perceive the world, but I was less
happy with the portrayal of grues as a people with a primitive culture, as if
they were Morlocks. A more obvious miss is an accidental mention of the
Flathead mountains long before there were any Flatheads; the coffee shop and a
CD-like disk are anachronistic. Some of the events in Hades might contradict
what we think we know about Yoruk, who won't show up for centuries.

It gets tiresome to point out unpolished prose and spelling errors, but darn it,
they're in there. The game also inspired me to invent two new terms to describe
particular style errors -- the "pointless porch" and the "duh-scription" --
both of which are exhibited in the following example:

    Outside the Pheebor Public Library
    You are standing outside the Pheebor Public Library.

A "pointless porch" is a unnecessary location between a street and a building.
And could there be a better example of a "duh-scription" than the description
of the hilt below?:

   >x sword
    The broadsword has a shiney blade and a jewel-encrusted hilt.

   >x hilt
    The jewel encrusted hilt is encrusted with jewels.

Even with these weaknesses, I still liked the game for its attempt to add to
the Zork ouevre. I appreciated the in-game help menus which helped me through
the game's major bottleneck. If you dislike mapping, there is a pdf file of
maps available. Also, the game will detect if you're having trouble talking
with an NPC and suggest topics to ask him or her about.


From: Greg Boettcher 

TITLE: The Lost Kingdom, Brainf*ck Edition
AUTHOR: Jon Ripley
DATE: June 12, 2005
PARSER: extremely crude
SUPPORTS: brainf*ck
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; Author's site

I'm not sure why I like The Lost Kingdom, Brainfuck Edition. Its parser is
crude in the extreme, and when you play it, you spend a lot of time mapping out
mazes. That's not exactly a recipe for success. However, within the modest
constraints of what this game tries to do, it is very well polished and
playable. It's also rather amazing from a technical point of view, and it comes
with an interesting backstory. For all of the above reasons, I think it's worth
a play.

The Lost Kingdom was originally entered into the 1st Annual 1 to 2K Classic
Text Adventure Competition, back in 2004. It took first place out of six games,
and the competition organizer, Paul Panks, called it "head and shoulders above
any game thus far!" This new edition of the game is not just a new port of the
game, but a considerable expansion of it. The new version has new features,
better descriptions, and one or two new puzzles, in addition to the distinction
of being written in an esoteric programming language.

Jon Ripley claims that this game is "probably the first ever piece of
interactive fiction written in an esoteric programming language and probably
one of the largest non-trivial Brainfuck programs ever written." Indeed, the
game is written in brainfuck, which does make it rather remarkable. Brainfuck
is an esoteric programming language, a fully functional language, but one that
is not at all designed to be practical, instead aiming only to be amusing to
programmers due to its extreme minimalism. In Brainfuck programs, there are a
maximum of eight commands, each of which are represented by a single character.
(For more information, see Thus, the
first line of the source code of The Lost Kingdom BFe looks like this...


...and the remaining 29,000+ lines of code look rather similar. The code is
thus nearly inscrutable, and so it is not hard to figure out how brainfuck got
its name. Obviously, Jon Ripley found a way of machine-generating all this code,
but the game is still quite a piece of work from a technical point of view.

The parser in this game is more crude than any I've ever seen. In the game's
documentation, that author claims that a full-blown two-word parser might have
made the program run too slow on some computers, given the very sub-optimal
efficiency of brainfuck. As a result, Jon Ripley has set up a system where all
nouns are referred to not by a word, but by a number. Thus:

   You can see:
     a small wooden box of matches sitting on the table. (2)

To pick up the matches, type "take 2". At first this seems awkward and annoying,
but there is an advantage here. Every verb has a one-letter abbreviation, and
you can issue commands of no more than two characters. "t2" is an easier way of
picking up the matches. Once you get used to the verb abbreviations, the system
has a kind of simple elegance. Nobody will extol the game for giving you a
feeling of complete freedom -- you can't use more than 22 verbs -- but within
its constraints, it works well. By the way, it is worth noting that this
brainfuck edition of this game allows you to save, making it much preferable to
the version in the 2K Comp.

Likewise, the game's help menus are well-designed, as are the menus that
provide the backstory. Speaking of which, the backstory is another of the game'
s great virtues, one that is shared with the original version of The Lost
Kingdom. Although the game itself is very simple, even crude, it is surrounded
by a very interesting backstory that gives the story more depth. (And you
should definitely read the entire backstory if you want to win.) You can read
all this at Jon Ripley's web page for the game's 2K Comp version -- http:// -- or within the game itself, by
using the "!" command.

There is one other technically interesting aspect of The Lost Kingdom BFe. It
is actually two games in one. When you begin the game, you get a chance to play
it with either "short descriptions" or "long descriptions." The "short
descriptions" version closely resembles the original 2K Comp version of the
game, while the "long descriptions" version has much longer and more
atmospheric room descriptions, as well as one or two different puzzles.

That just leaves the game itself. Well, what can I say. You pick stuff up, you
manipulate the stuff with the 22 verbs, you wander into a cave, you map out a
couple of mazes, you defeat the bad guy (albeit a bad guy who is unusually well-
characterized in the game's backstory), that sort of thing. The game itself
says, "This game is intentionally written as a classic model text adventure
game." Either you can get into that, or you can't.

Anyway, in short, this game is pretty bad in some ways. In other ways, however,
it's very impressive. I recommend reading the backstory, and if that sounds
interesting, then this game is probably worth a play.


From: Jose Manuel Garcia-Patos 

TITLE: Narcolepsy
AUTHOR: Adam Cadre
EMAIL: acmail SP@G
DATE: December, 2003
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters
AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Version 1.07

The first modern IF game that I ever played was I-0. I downloaded it because
its description began with the words: Warning: sexually explicit. It actually
wasn't that explicit, but I enjoyed it anyway, and I thought that its author,
Adam Cadre, was someone whose career deserved to be followed. This was the year
2001, or maybe 2002. So suffice to say I wasn't making any new nor slightly
original discovery.

But then there was nothing. I mostly forgot about him and his works. I decided
I wanted to write my own games, so I had to learn Inform well enough as to
accommodate it to the ideas I had. One of these ideas was this story that I
wanted to tell in this particular non-linear way. One day, while I was already
struggling with the program, a friend came home and asked me what I was working
on, an so I told her. She inmediately said: `That looks a lot like Photopia.'
`What's that?' `It's a piece of IF written by Adam Cadre. It's pretty good,
though I missed the puzzles. It's almost puzzleless.' I am the optimistic kind,
so I didn't let that bring me down. `I have another idea. It's completely
different. In this one the PC dies several times before completing the game. I
like it because it's stretching the limits of the genre, you know, the death of
the PC as the real end of the game and all that.' `Oh', she said. `Oh, what?',
I asked, surprised by her lack of amazement at my talent. `That's Shrapnel.'
`Shrapnel?' `Another game by Adam Cadre.' `No shit.' `No shit at all.' `Oh.'
Now I'm glad I didn't tell her about my last idea: a game in which the PC
assumes to be someone that he later finds out he was not. Anyway, that was the
moment when I began to hate Adam. And it explains too why I haven't written any
games to date. I'm still waiting for an idea he hasn't had yet.

Narcolepsy is my favorite IF game. And that's because it is, in a way, the
ultimate game. It's not that I think you can't do any better, I just don't
believe that anyone can make something substantially different with the current
development tools. Adam (with the help of his collaborators) has not pushed the
limits any further on this one, he just has reached them.

So, let me get this straight, are you saying that IF has reached its limits
with this game? No. What I'm saying is that certain development tools are
finally falling short for IF writing.

Look at books. Real books from your shelves. Do you think we have reached the
limits of them as a form of expression? And they've been here for more than
five hundred years (in their printed form). How could IF, which has been around
for barely thirty, reach its own? I think we need new development tools, and we
need to base them on a new paradigm, because all those that exist today have
not been made with that idea in mind. Most have been designed following this
reasoning: Well, I have Inform, but Inform has this limitation I want to
overcome, so I'm gonna create my own system and it will let me do what I need.
But what you want or need is not the ultimate frontier of IF. It's just 

We need a paradigm, something that clearly defines what IF is and is not, and I
think this should be the book. The real book. Remember some of the surrealists'
works, remember Finnegans Wake. (I'm not talking about Literature here, but
about aesthetics, about typography, about Fine Arts applied to the
communication of the written word. Why can't I as an author place the elements
of a game precisely on the screen and expect that every player could see what I
intended them to see and just the way I wanted to independently of the device
and platform the game is run on? Is it possible to write games in Greek, or
even just words in exotic alphabets? How easy it is to translate a game?) Have
we got that far yet? No. And we still should add the features that come with
interactivity and computing. (Can you easily change the way the parser works so
it can accept, for example, input in a programming language or even in an
invented one?) So how can Narcolepsy be the end of IF? It just can't. It just
can't. It's all a matter of freedom. If you're writing a book, you can't make a
movie, but you still can decide if you want to write poetry or a novel or an
essay or a play. Or mix formats or whatever. You know what you cannot do, you
know your limits, but, inside those, you must be allowed to do what you want
any way you want to and to do it easily. Right?

But I digress, so let's get back to the game. In it you play a narcoleptic, and
this gives the whole thing a surrealistic atmosphere. When you live in dreams
as much time as you do in reality, almost everything that happens to you, no
matter how strange, looks like normal, because your own situation is weirder.
And that's the exact sensation you get when playing Narcolepsy. That you may be
the only normal person in town and all the rest be weirdos, but, at the same
time, if you're the only one who's normal, that means you're the weirdo.

One question: Did any of you identify with the PC? I didn't, and that made me
feel a kind of double-sided estrangement: one between the PC and his world, and
the other between the PC and me. But it was a good thing, because it stimulated
that sense of alienation the author --I think-- wants us to experience. Quick
theoretical note: Is it important to feel identified with the PCs?

On the technical side, the game is outstanding (I especially like the way he
creates a complete and believable world without making the interaction too
complicated, as it did happen --in my humble opinion-- in Slouching Towards
Bedlam, for example). Probably the best thing about it, though, is that it is
fun, tons of, as all his other games; the worst being that it is dumb. That's
why most people will love it while they're playing, but will easily forget
about it afterwards. So what?, you might say. Yeah, I guess it all depends on
what you're looking for in a game. I, for one, would like to see ideas.
Something I could take home, like I did with Photopia. Games with ideas are as
scarce as hen's teeth, and they are not always the most praised ones.
Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why it is impossible to talk about
real IF criticism. Criticism's main goal is to promote discussion based on the
contents of some artwork, discussion that may lead to the evolution of that
form of art or even of our own lives. Something that is made only for fun can't
be discussed, because it is intellectually void. You can't criticise The Da
Vinci Code, because what would be the point? Would it make you wiser? Criticism
is not meant as a recommendation ("Oh, I wanna go to the movies. Let's see what
Roger Ebert says it's good.") just like wine is not meant to get you drunk. In
its ideal form it should be read a posteriori so it could be a dialogue (or a
monodialogue, as Unamuno put it) between the critic and the reader. A
discussion. An enhancement of the pleasure of the game/book/movie/whatever. If
there are no ideas in games, what can we say about them? Yeah, it was fun. I
hope you agree. Yes, I do. Oh, great. Well, bye. Bye. Lack of ideas and lack of
author's freedom. Those are the challenges the IF community (if such exists)
should face in the foreseeable future. That is, if they want to call themselves
artists and not just amateurs.

IF is still in its teens, and we know only people like Mozart or Rimbaud have
done something really valuable and mature in their teens.

As for the author, I'll just say this: John Carpenter used to distinguish
between two kinds of film directors: the Hitchcocks and the Hawks. His point
was that in Hitchcock you can see what he's doing, you can see why he is so
good; Howard Hawks, on the other hand, is just as good, but he's invisible.
Adam Cadre is a Hitchcock. His brilliance is (mostly) in what you see. IF seems
to be for him an intellectual game. What can I do now that hasn't been done
yet? I wish he was not so brilliant, but more profound (what can I say now that
hasn't been said yet?). I wish he was a Billy Wilder.


From: Dan Shiovitz 

TITLE: The Snowman Sextet (Parts 1, 2, 4, and 5)
AUTHOR: Roger Carbol, Jessica Knoch, Josh Giesbrecht, and Tommy Herbert
EMAIL: david.cornelson SP@G
DATE: May 26, 2005
PARSER: TADS2 and Inform
SUPPORTS: TADS and Z-Machine interpreters
AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive

I am totally interested in continuity in IF. I like it intra-game, like in time
travel games where you get to visit a place at different times and see how it's
changed; and I like it inter-game, like how in Unnkulian Unventure II you play
the famous hero of Unnkulian Underworld, or how Paul O'Brian's Earth And Sky
series develops a storyline over three games. The obvious next level of
complexity is to try for continuity involving multiple authors. I've heard
several proposals for doing this -- some kind of shared-world deal, or
different authors working on a single game -- but the most complicated multi-
author setup I've seen is the Snowman Sextet that David Cornelson organized
earlier this year.

Perhaps a little too complicated -- although the name suggests it was to be a
six-part story, parts 3 and 6 never got completed. Nevertheless, there's a
pretty decent story that can be pieced together from the existing four parts,
so I thought I'd take a look at what's there, and see how the different games

The overall setup seems to be some sort of story about a family travelling up a
mountain to make a snowman and coming back again. The individual games are
pretty small -- usually only four or five rooms each -- with one or two puzzles.
Each game advances the plot a bit and the next one picks up more or less where
the previous game left off. None of the games are particularly hard; you should
be able to play all four in an evening.

The first part of the story, But For A Single Flake by Roger Carbol, is set in
your family cabin in the mountains. It seems like Carbol may have expected the
players to know the overall premise coming in, since the game never explicitly
tells it (or even tells the player what their immediate goal is). On the other
hand, the game is small enough that this isn't really an issue -- there're just
four rooms and one puzzle -- so you can pretty much bumble through without
knowing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. In fact, it's small enough
room-wise that I'm surprised that the implementation isn't any deeper: your
wife is in bed asleep in the first room, but you can't wake, kiss, or talk to
her. On the other hand, there are a number of bits of writing that are quite
snappy, and I was evilly pleased to see a response for >PUSH GRANNY.

The second segment, by Jess Knoch, is set on a boat in the middle of the lake.
Just starting this shows a few bumps in the segment-game idea -- the story-so-
far at the beginning of the game disagrees with the previous game over whether
your wife came along, and the boat's suddenly gotten a lot bigger than it was
last game. This segment has the best puzzles of the four, I think: they're not
too hard, but they fit the environment and I had to think about them a bit 
(although there's one thing that seems like a puzzle but as far as I can tell
is just a red herring -- sort of a weird choice to make time  for in this short
a game). The writing is fairly straightforward, but Knoch definitely gives the
impression of having done her homework about boats. Unfortunately, there's no
game three in the series so I was  unable to find out what happened next, but
it wasn't too hard to pick up the plot with game four.

Game four, Josh Giesbrecht's Kaboot's Story, was my favorite of the four games,
and not just because the PC is a hamster. Well, ok, it's *mostly* because of
that, but it's also funny and cute on its own merits. My notes for this game
say "storing things in cheekpouches = awesome", and I don't think I can put it
any more clearly than that. The family seems to have weird priorities if they'
re more worried about building a snowman than freezing to death, but luckily
the heroic hamster is here to save the day. Save the day multiple times, in
fact -- I played through this game in just 22 turns and still had to shepherd
the family through three crises. The puzzles themselves aren't particularly
challenging but they don't slow the game down either, so there's nothing wrong
with them being the way they are. I guess that's really the secret to the
appeal of this game for me: it was about the same length as the other three
games, but had like three times the number of events, and that made it feel
extremely fast-paced and fun, especially with the cheerful writing to back it
up (the thing with gangster chipmunks was totally ridiculous but also pretty

Game five, the fourth and final game written for this project, is Tommy 
Herbert's Fran and Bart Want a Snowman!. Despite the previous game being about
a hamster who fights off a puma, I found this game the least plausible of the
four. Possibly this was inevitable given the premise -- you have to bring the
snowman back down off the mountain, and there's no real way to do that without
pretending snowmen are much less likely to fall apart than they actually are.
The game also feels a little overwritten most of the time, but there are a few
very funny bits -- especially the ending text -- that are noteworthy. The
coding, on the other hand, was uniformly solid: this felt to me like the best-
implemented of the four, despite requiring the most complex commands.
Unfortunately, there was no game six written, so the cliffhanger that game five
ends on won't be resolved, but I'm sure it all worked out happily in the end.

Overall, the Snowman Sextet is a useful look at the benefits and drawbacks of
doing a multi-author series like this. The most obvious issue is, of course,
that if not everyone gets their parts done you're left with holes in the story.
And really, even if they do, you're still likely to have more issues keeping
strict continuity from game to game -- Susan's re-/dis-appearance between games
one and two, but also more subtle stuff like how the characterization of the
NPCs (sulky or cheerful? quiet or loud?) changes from game to game here.
Playing these also pointed out the usefulness of having a story-so-far summary
at the start of each game -- I only got it in game two, but it was really nice
there to re-establish the backstory as the current author understood it.

On the plus side, though, I really think it's cool to have a bunch of games in
the same story. The viewpoint switch on one of the games was especially nice to
provide a different perspective on the story while advancing the overall plot,
but even when authors didn't switch viewpoints, they still provided a unique
style for their games that made the series as a whole better than any part.


From: Greg Boettcher 

TITLE: Space War!...and the PDP-1
AUTHOR: Paul Allen Panks
EMAIL: dunric SP@G
DATE: June 2005
PARSER: Simple

If you played the games in IF Comp 2005, you may have played Paul Allen Panks'
game Ninja 2, which took last place in the comp. It begins with a dragon who is
programming a PDP-1 computer and shouting "Spacewar!" If you looked at this and
thought it was sort of weird and irrelevant, then you may not have realized
that the "Spacewar!" remark was a reference to this game. Well, okay, it was
still pointless and irrelevant. Nevertheless, just in case you're interested,
it was a reference to this game. So what is this game like?

Some people complain that Panks' games are all full of generic fantasy cliches.
If you are among these people, then you should know that this game is not in
some generic castle or dungeon, but is set solidly in the real world --
specifically, on the M.I.T. campus in the year 1962. The goal of the game is to
locate a tape of the then-new computer game Spacewar and find a way ot play it
on M.I.T.'s PDP-1 mainframe computer. Of course, to do that, you have to kill a
dragon that inhabits M.I.T., and maybe deal with the campus werewolf too. But
mind you, such combat is only the means to an end. The main purpose here is to
play Spacewar. In such a way does this game depart from the usual dragon-
slaying conventions of Paul Allen Panks.

Oh yes, and I forgot. In this game, you are Master O'Ryoko, a "ninja of peace."
Also, sometimes another ninja will come from out of nowhere to fight you.
Therefore, let no one say that this game does nothing to escape from the drab,
boring atmosphere often to be found in games set on college campuses.

I wish I could say that this game is better implemented than many of Panks'
earlier efforts, but I'm afraid I can't. Few verbs are recognized, and none of
the items mentioned in room descriptions can be interacted with at all, unless
they are listed individually as something "you see." Basically, if you can't
take it or kill it, you can't do anything with it, with only two exceptions.
This is a step down from the likes of The Golden French Fry, which Panks at
least had beta-testers for.

Maybe the weirdest thing about this game is the scoring system. Sometimes your
score goes up or down based on your achievements, but more often it depends on
verb usage. If you want to boost your score, just take something and drop it
repeatedly. Each time you do, you get ten points for taking it and four more
for dropping it. Taking inventory gets you two points every time, and examining
anything is good for three points (even if you just type "examine asdf" or just
"examine"). However, be sure not to use a verb the game doesn't know, such as 
"wait" or "listen" or "put," because then your score goes down by ten points.

In conclusion, if you liked Ninja 2, you'll probably love Space War!... and the
PDP-1. But, oh wait, based on IF Comp statistics, there is roughly a 0% chance
that you liked Ninja 2. Well, anyway.


From: Greg Boettcher 

TITLE: A Sugared Pill
AUTHOR: Colin Borland
EMAIL: colin SP@G
DATE: December 30, 2005
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; Author's site or IF Archive

Although A Sugared Pill has a few flaws, its story and its puzzles were
interesting enough to keep me feeling involved all the way until the end of the
game. It's worth a play.

As the game opens, you are walking out of a social club, when suddenly a hit
man tries to kill you. This is rather unexpected, since you are more or less an
everyman character (or maybe an "everywoman" character, considering your
character's taste for Whitney Houston). Anyway, your first job is to prevent
yourself from being killed by the hit man. After that, you will naturally want
to uncover the reason for your attempted assassination. By the time you solve
this mystery, you will have gone through both the upper crust and the shady
underworld of modern-day Scotland, and you will be in a position to stop the
plans of your would-be killer.

Certain elements of this game are rather impressive. At the bottom of the game
window, there is an attractive, custom-built set of icons, telling you where
the exits are, and giving you shortcuts for driving, walking around, and
talking to people. Also favorable is the fact that many of the puzzles are well
designed and satisfying to solve, and the story is likely to hold the attention
of anybody who likes mysteries. There's also quite a bit of humor in the game,
poking fun at bureaucrats, executives, security guards, and other components of
modern-day society. For instance:

   The clerk opens a desk drawer and takes out a box of staples. He
   then fills in the relevant form, recording that he has done this.

Unfortunately, the game also has quite a number of bugs. For instance, "open
car" and "close car" doesn't work, while "close car door" actually produces an
error message in some cases. There are also annoying aspects of game play, such
as the fact that, in more than one case, you have to look behind objects in
order to win the game, even though examining those objects gives you no hint
that there is anything behind them.

The worst aspects of the game involve puzzles that are harder than necessary
due to flawed game design. A couple of such problems are created by the game's
conversation system, which is not implemented in a consistent manner, thus
making things harder than they should be. You can talk to characters using a
number of methods, including (1) the traditional system of "ask," "tell," and 
"character, command"; and (2) the command "talk to character," which sometimes
brings up a list of options and sometimes doesn't. The problem is, these two
systems are not interchangeable. There is a case where you need to tell a
character about something, but if you use the "tell" verb, you will never
accomplish this. You must instead use the "talk to" verb. Then, after you've
gotten used to the idea that "talk to character" is the primary format for
conversation, it later turns out that there is a puzzle you cannot solve
without using the "character, command" format; the ability to give the
corresponding command is not available in the "talk to" conversation menu.

Due to these problems, A Sugared Pill can be quite a frustrating game, and I
probably wouldn't have solved it if I hadn't emailed the author more than once.

On the other hand, most of the puzzles are satisfying to solve, and the game
has plenty of funny moments. What's more, the game's story may well appeal not
only to mystery lovers, but also to those who are interested in the author's
ideas about a few things that are wrong with modern society. As far as I'm
concerned, that makes A Sugared Pill well worth playing.


From: Felix Plesoianu 

TITLE: Whom the Telling Changed
AUTHOR: Aaron A. Reed 
EMAIL: aaron SP@G
DATE: March 13, 2005
PARSER: Inform Standard 
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters 
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive and author's site
VERSION: Release 2 

I don't normally review interactive fiction because I'm very picky, not to
mention an awful puzzle solver, and I'd rather not be unfair as well. Often, I
would type quit as the first and only command in a game. Especially when the
work announces itself as experimental.

Not this time around. Whom the Telling Changed begins so... relaxed. You're a
prominent member of a shepherd tribe in the ancient times. Every full moon,
everyone gathers to hear a tale of even more ancient times. Only, tonight the
telling will change the fate of the tribe, and it's up to you to get it right.
The tension, virtually inexistent at first, builds up in perfect gradation. You
can't miss the climax, it's obvious.

Right at the beginning I thought I was facing a guess-the-noun situation but
the vagueness was in fact intentional. At first, I didn't know what I was
supposed to do, either, but it became clear soon enough, thanks to the well-
placed characters, and by that time I was already hooked, anyway. Speaking of
nouns, the writing uses few but effective words, and some of them are keywords;
typing one of these by itself performs the most obvious action for it at the
time, usually ask about. The full command works just as well.

This system showed its strength as the story proper began. My, I love
conversation-based games. It's just that sometimes these are too subtle for me.
Again, not this time around. I really liked how the game decided to convey
important information when I didn't ask about it (here's that command again).
My reactions were probably inappropriate at times, but Telling... weaved them
gracefully into the story. Not that I had many reasons to react: through most
of the second part, the only required command is z. Which was so much the best,
as I didn't quite agree with the player character's views.

Not everything's perfect, of course. At one point, I was told I speak too much,
though I had been silent for most of the time (as another character later
confirmed). At the peak, it finally saw the opportunity to alter the course of
the story, as the author had promised, but choosing the right keyword for the
desired effect required a bit of guesswork; and until the very end, I wasn't
sure I actually made a difference. But the story came out the way I wanted, so
I guess the game works as intended after all.

Telling... is a short, but fresh and satisfactory experience. Play it to the
end, read the afterword, then play it again. You'll have a big (and pleasant, I
hope) surprise. I know I liked it, and I'm waiting for more games in the same

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