___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE #45 Edited by Jimmy Maher (maher SP@G grandecom.net) July 17, 2006 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #45 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. ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE ---------------------------------------------------- A Look at IntroComp 200(?5?) by Mordechai Shinefield REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------- The Amazing Interactive Turing Machine Deadsville (IntroComp version) Finding Martin Ghost Train Glass OMNIQuest Swineback Ridge There's a Snake in the Bathtub Voices of Spoon River EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ When Paul O'Brian passed the reins of SPAG to me a year ago, one of my first goals was to improve the magazine's appearance. While the website might have been cool in that kitschy time capsule sort of way that leads to cinematic remakes of Starksy and Hutch, this wasn't quite the image I wanted to promote for either SPAG or IF in general. Unfortunately, my skills with web design are rudimentary at best, and I always seemed to have others projects that were more pressing. Finally I decided to force myself into action by announcing my plans to the world in my editorial for last January's issue. I also put out a call in that issue for designers who might be willing to donate some of their expertise toward a sleeker, more modern SPAG, even though I was doubtful what kind of response I would receive. Enter Felix Plesoianu. As it turned out, Felix did not just assist me. I was, as usual, bogged down with other projects, and so Felix basically did everything himself over a period of several months, patiently responding to my many requests for changes and additions. And now his work is finally on display for everyone. Personally, I think it looks great, and I hope you will agree. If you do, feel free to send him an email telling him so. You can reach him at felixp7 SP@G yahoo.com. One of the nicest features of the new site is that it makes it much easier to submit reviews. Simply click the "Submit a review" link on the right side of the home page, and fill the form out as best you can, pasting the body of your review into the appropriate field. Of course you can also continue to submit reviews by the old method of personal email to me, if you prefer, and I also always welcome feedback, article proposals, and whatever else IF-related you care to send me. We are not done with modernizing SPAG. Indeed, this is hopefully just the beginning. The individual issues are still not HTMLized, and correcting that is the next project on the agenda. Further down the road, I hope to start sending SPAG out to subscribers in HTML format, and I have vague ideas for plenty more enhancements. Be patient with us, please. We will get there. As excited as I am about SPAG, I am even more excited about the IF community in general. I think many of us have had a sense over the last couple of years that IF needed something, some spark, to galvanize people again. The number of new games released each year was not only not growing, but had actually begun to decline, and we often seemed to be coasting on our traditions rather than acting out of passion. Inform 7, I am gratified to say, has changed everything in exactly the way I had hoped it might when I first encountered it. The number of posts to rec.arts.int-fiction has skyrocketed since Inform 7's April 30 release, and, even more gratifyingly, the excitement in the community is palpable. We have so far seen only a few small efforts created with Inform 7, but I have every reason to believe these are only the first trickles that precede the deluge. I suspect that Inform 7 will be well-represented in this year's IF Competition. And, excitingly for a devotee of epics like myself, many people seem to be have been inspired by Inform 7's power and ease of use to begin long works of considerable ambition. Many of those who have taken up the new system are non-programmers who had previously found traditional IF authorship closed to them. This is exactly the path IF must take if it is to grow. We must attract writers and readers who are not computer geeks at all, who indeed were perhaps never even interested in computers before discovering IF. This is the path to better, more literary works and acceptance, first by the electronic literature community and then by literary establishments in general. Pipe dreams? Perhaps, but stranger things have happened. I get excited when I think of where IF could go, and cannot express enough gratitude to Graham Nelson and Emily Short and everyone who has helped with Inform 7 for opening up a new path by which we might get there. Pipe dreams aside, though, I have some very interesting reviews for you today. Mordechai Shinefield has written a very funny overview of (what he thinks is) last year's IntroComp, just in time for this year's event. Previous SPAG editor Paul O'Brian has contributed two thoughtful reviews, as has IF Renaissance woman Emily Short. Throw in reviews from longtime SPAG stalwart Valentine Kopeltsev, returning contributor Mike Harris, and a couple of much-appreciated newcomers, and there is much to enjoy. And so, without further ado, I invite you to read on and do so. IF NEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------- One Room Game Competition 2006 Francesco Cordella recently hosted a one-room game competition, with games written in either English or Italian being eligible. A healthy nine entries were submitted, although only two were written in English and are thus accessible to Italian-challenged players like myself. However, one of those English games, Sam Gordon's Final Selection, actually won the competition. The other, Sara Brookside's It's Easter, Peeps!, finished sixth. http://www.avventuretestuali.com/orgc/orgc-2006-eng Let's Tell a Story Together For my undergraduate Senior Honors Thesis this past semester at the University of Texas at Dallas, I worked up a fairly detailed introduction to and history of IF. I call it Let's Tell a Story Together, and I have put it online on my personal page. Response has been gratifyingly positive so far, and I plan to correct, update, and with luck even expand the work over time. http://home.grandecom.net/~maher/if-book IntroComp 2006 As of this writing, the 2006 edition of the IntroComp is just underway. For those who haven't participated before, the goal of this competition is to encourage authors to create longer works by allowing them to submit introductory sections of possible longer games to be judged by the community, and thereby to discover whether their concepts are worth expanding into full-length games. This year's competition has seven entries. Take a few minutes to read Mordechai Shinefield's belated but enjoyable overview of last year's IntroComp in this issue to get a feel for how it all works, then download this year's intros and judge away. The voting deadline is August 6. http://www.xyzzynews.com/introcomp Spatterlight Tor Andersson, who seems to have the energy and interpreter-creating skill of dozens of normal programmers, has announced a new multi-format interpreter for Mac OS-X called Spatterlight. Spatterlight can play games in AGT, ADRIFT, AdvSys, Alan, Glulx, Hugo, Level 9, Magnetic Scrolls, TADS, Quill, and of course Z-Code formats. Whew! It is still in beta, but looks very usable, and receives updates at a rather furious pace. http://ccxvii.net/spatterlight/ SPAG NEEDS YOU! So many deserving games are still waiting for reviews. If you have played or plan to play any of these, please think about setting aside an hour or two of your time to write up your impressions. You'll feel good afterward, I promise. SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. Eragon 2. A Spot of Bother 3. 1893: A World's Fair Mystery 4. Final Selection 5. Provenance 6. When in Rome, parts 1 and/or 2 7. Bronze 8. Dracula: The Arrival 9. The Reliques of Tolti-Aph 10. It's Easter, Peeps! A LOOK AT INTROCOMP 200(?5?) ---------------------------------------------- From: Mordechai Shinefield (lubbarlubab SP@G hotmail.com) When I decided to write my own IntroComp submission, checking out past contenders seemed natural. Itís always a good idea to get an idea of the competition before crawling into the ring swinging. Here, though, it was more like watching the video footage from a previous match then scouting out competitors. Fine. Itís what I had to work with. I read that SPAG was looking for reviews of IntroComp 2005, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone. (First the boxing metaphor, now the birds cliche. Iím mixing metaphors like a bartender on acid.) At Witís End Again This is apparently the sequel to another game, titled (surprisingly) "At Witís End." Perhaps that game sets up what is going on with this one. Because Iíve only limited myself to IntroComp games, though, I have no idea. Apparently I have a narcolepsy, which is a total bummer, because I also dream nightmares compulsively. I pleaded with the on screen representation of me to lay off the ambien, but to no avail. To be fair, I donít know that it was ambien that made him like that. Iím just extrapolating from my own experience with the drug. Maybe our protagonist just ate bananas before he went to sleep. I hear those things will screw you up. Anyway, apparently my name is Jake, because when the parser talks to me, it calls me Jake. Maybe Iím the Jack Nickolson character from Chinatown (and The Two Jakes). Maybe Iím having nightmares because of that dame who got the bullet in her head. Iíve been waking up in cold sweats. I havenít taken a case since then. An NPC taps on my shoulder. "Címon Jake, itís only Chinatown," he says. Well, no. He doesnít. Instead I wake up in my bed. Iím in a cold sweat. Iím told "Damn! Another freakin' nightmare. Those sleeping pills are doing absolutely nothing for you." This tells me two things; one, that Iíve had these nightmares before and two, I was right. I totally am on ambien. Score. Much like being on ambien in real life, I have the experience that no matter what I do, Iím on a fixed track. I try to mess with the system. I type "wait" until the game forces me to do things. I talk back to the parser. [>stop moving me around / I don't know the word "moving". / >go to hell / I don't know the word "hell".] Itís like talking to Smarterchild, except Smarterchild totally pretends to understand me. I have an idea: Maybe I can make the parser for my IntroComp submission interact like Smarterchild. [>stop moving me around / SmarterChild: You think I should do that? / >yes / SmarterChild: I should do that, huh? No way. / >go to hell / SmarterChild: I've heard much better insults than that, Jake.] Smarterchild? Total snark. So I finally think Iím awake when [SPOILER ALERT] the elevator Iím in goes into total freefall and the game ends. I wish I could say Iím literally at my witís end, but instead Iím just slightly nonplused. I turn off my computer and go to sleep. For real. Except suddenly a giant leper is attacking me! I go to check out what rating this game got when it was released and notice that I played a game from the first Introcomp, not the last one. This information seriously bugs me. I decide to include the review in the 2005 review package nonetheless and hope no one notices. I realize that announcing this intention out loud is completely sabotaging myself. Apparently though, it was the Second Runner-Up in the first ever contest. Thatís like Ė Bronze medal. I decide to play the winner from the last IntroComp. Deadsville First reactions: A village called Deads? Was there a Mr. Deads who founded the village? Are there ghosts here? Does this star Bruce Willis? [SPOILER ALERT] It doesnít star Mr. Willis. [ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT] Turns out Bruce was dead during the entire duration of Sixth Sense. Apparently the conceit is that youíre a zombie, risen from the dead. Also, the guy who raised you messed up, so you still have free will. Also, youíre hungry. To see if I could die from hunger, I hit the "wait" button about fifty times. Nothing happened. Apparently waiting to die from hunger as a zombie is like waiting in the grave. A lot of nothing. Anyway, I decide to kill and eat the kid. This secretly pleases me as a player. I try to choke him with my zombie hands, but apparently Iím not an indestructible as I once thought. My arms come right off. You know, the kid wants to raise a zombie army to take over his town. Maybe he should have thought about this detachable limbs thing first. I mean, how am I supposed to hunt down townspeople when my bones keep coming off? My entire raison díetre is gone. Why do I be? Who am I? In pitiful rage I clobber the kid with his own spellbook and feast upon his brain. The game claims this is because I am hungry. I know the truth. It is because I am man without purpose. The zombie is merely a metaphor for the modern man. I walk through the New York streets. I am in a city of millions of people and yet I feel alone. I can see why this game won, and yet I am not satisfied. Are we not postmodern men? Am I not a pastiche of influences? My zombie correspondent lumbers into the town and I get a "to be continued." Perhaps the rest of the game will shed light upon these questions. I turn to the second place winner. Weishaupt Scholars Weishaupt is the last name of Adam Weishaupt, who supposedly founded the Order of the Illuminati. The game is either a reference to good old Adam, or to the Weishaupt Corporation, a wholesale distributer of gasoline. (WC recently expanded to over 25,000 square feet. Congratulations WC!) The game is either about studying conspiracies or studying gas companies. I secretly hope for the latter. The game starts by talking about an organization with "secret meetings, a shadowy power structure that stretches throughout the world, and theyíll even pay your way through college to get there." Iím thinking that this is definitely about an oil conglomerate. Well, even after completing the intro, Iím still unsure. I like the multiple characters you can play as, though. Itís like having MPD (which is a serious condition, I mock not), or just being generally fractured. The bulk of the intro involves cultists storming the building, threatening you. I wonder if they intend to eat you. Perhaps they are the zombie army raised in the last game. Hopefully those zombies are all wielding spellbooks, I sigh. I also liked that you canít lose. Screwing up in one chapter effects all the other chapters. In the short intro the implications of that are minor, but they may have greater significance in later chapters. If later chapters ever emerge. I am left remembering that most IntroComp games are never finished. I take a moment of silence for those that donít make it, then load up the third place winner. The Fox, The Dragon, and The Stale Loaf of Bread Awesome. Itís like a Marie de France fairytale. Hopes me before loading it that he wrote the entire game in lai. Inspired, I write the review in form. Free-verse I eschew. Then I reconsider. Do I really want to write an entire review in eight syllable couplets? No. Instead I start the game, and to my surprise it actually is a fairytale! Not only, but it also starts with five quatrains. The poet-geek in me is very excited. It is subtitled "A Bizarre Fairytale Adventure." My heart beats faster. Apparently youíre a bard. A good looking bard. With a blemish in an unnameable place. I find myself in love with my protagonist. Hopeful he lives through the adventure. Last time I fell in love with a protagonist was while reading the Bell Jar. That didnít end well for either of us. Iím confronted with a magic fox who begs me not to eat it. Of course I refuse and eat it. Magic or not, I find the ideal option in any choice to eat whatever is before me. Sadly, I have nothing to cook the carcass with, and I go searching. I find a firepit, but canít light it. I find a cliff, but cannot jump off it. (The game assures me I will be able to in the full version). I realize I have a tinderbox on me, and attempt to start a fire. To no avail! Ď>light firepití doesnít work, nor does Ď>light tinderboxí nor does any combination of the two. Ď>complainí doesnít work either. It just keeps explaining that "That dangerous act would accomplish nothing." It would accomplish eating! Is it my fault that the IF parser if a machine and canít appreciate the needs of a human? Who ever gave the keys to the kingdom to a robot anyway? I go onto IFMud and ask the writer, David, exactly what the proper syntax is. He isnít sure either. A little of me dies inside. I think about writing full reviews for the other entries, but my heart is sad. I decide to express that sadness by describing the last four entries in haiku form. The Amazing Uncle Griswold You I want to play Adrift I donít have installed And I am very lazy The Hobbit I keep groping around Donít sue me for harassment Iím lost in darkness. Negotis: Book 1 There is much to read. The game calls me by my name, Fear for my sanity. Somewhen Much has not been done It feels empty of purpose, Much like Wittgenstein. Postscript: David figures out that the correct syntax is "light the kindling with the tinderbox." It works and I cook the magic fox. I eat it. The game is now unwinnable. David claims Iím the first player to ever try to eat the fox. Though Iíve apparently broken the game, I am satiated from eating the fox and donít bother restarting. I never find out who the dragon is. Life goes on. KEY TO SCORES AND REVIEWS-------------------------------------------------- Consider the following review header: TITLE: Cutthroats AUTHOR: Infocom EMAIL: ??? DATE: September 1984 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 URL: Not available. VERSION: Release 23 When submitting reviews: Try to fill in as much of this info as you can. Authors may not review their own games. REVIEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------- From: Valentine Kopteltsev (uux SP@G mail.ru) NAME: The Amazing Interactive Turing Machine AUTHOR: D. Clemens EMAIL: jdc20 SP@G psu.edu DATE: May 2006 PARSER: Inform AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.math.psu.edu/clemens/IF/Turing/ A Turing machine is an abstract device invented by the British mathematician Alan Turing. It consists of a reading/writing head that moves over an infinite tape in discrete steps (one step at a time), writing zeroes or ones on it as it does so. This movement occurs in accordance with a so-called state table (which effectively represents a program of sorts) containing entries that define, depending on the state of the machine and on the symbol that has just been read by the head, whether a zero or a one has to be written to the tape, which way (left or right) the head has to move next, and to which state the machine should change. I'm not sure the previous paragraph doesn't automatically put my review in the SPAG Specifics section, because, if we assess The Amazing Interactive Turing Machine basing on canons traditionally applied to IF-games, the "find out how this weird contraption works" type of puzzle is the only thing it can offer the player. Seriously, most players probably wouldn't know what a Turing machine actually is, because it's not a concept taught in every school (well, not even in every college, at least in Russia). On the other hand, I think 90 percent of such "uninitiates" would just resort to the Internet. The only reason why I didn't do so myself is, a couple of months ago I accidentally stumbled upon a popular scientific magazine that contained an article dealing with the subject. Thus, as you might have already guessed, the reviewed work is nothing more and nothing less than a fully functional emulation of a Turing machine. As such, it probably represents a useful tool for people active in adjacent areas of science, which can spare them lots of routine paperwork. However, a few enhancements could help making this tool even more powerful: first of all, a point-and-click interface for setting up the state table (although it probably would be a pain to implement in Inform) -- the current editing procedure is pretty tedious. The second improvement would be a command allowing to skip the entire computing session of the machine, hiding all intermediate messages, and only displaying the results of the computation. Currently, the game allows you to skip up to 59 turns; while this really is a blessing, it's not enough for more complicated tasks (that can take quite an extended number of steps on a Turing machine), and the monotonous "The machine churns along" messages become more and more annoying with the time. As almost any computer, the Turing machine has something fascinating about it, so that many people probably will be tempted to fiddle with it. While I'm a dilettante in this field, I couldn't help programming a few semi-trivial problems on it. Thus, this work clearly has a certain entertainment value, at least for a specific category of people; still, it hardly can be considered interactive fiction by any means. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Mike Harris (M.Harris SP@G spi-bpo.com) NAME: Deadsville (Introcomp 2005) AUTHOR: William McDuff EMAIL: wmcduff SP@G mac.com DATE: July 24, 2005 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Deadsville.zip VERSION: Release 3 A short, two-location game, Deadsville is a fun twist on a George Romero premise. Despite a limited palette of one NPC, two locations and a small number of objects itís rich and well written, proving that an enjoyable game does not need complexity. Defeating the NPC and winning the game is fairly straightforward. It can be done in less than twenty moves and took me about 15 minutes the first time. However, thatís not really the point. After the first play I spent over an hour repeatedly replaying the game to find all iterations. A well-implemented hints menu contains a number of amusing suggestions including a command that allows the player to explore all of the losing options without having to restart each time. Even the ďdefaultĒ responses are entertaining and well thought out and there were several times I laughed out loud when I got a response that I wasnít expecting. As for technical details, the game is bug free and well implemented, with no ďguess the verbĒ problems. No ďguess the nounĒ problems, either - the game accepts a surprisingly large list of nouns to refer to the NPC and objects. I only found one flaw - after defeating the NPC character, re-examining an object gives the pre-defeat response Ė and my only objection is that a single sentence within the response refers obliquely to the NPC as though still undefeated and in no way affects the playability. I can only wish that all IF games were this thoroughly debugged. Deadsville is ďhorrorĒ in much the same way the movie ďShaun of the DeadĒ is horror Ė no lurid descriptions of gore to off-put the weak of stomach. You donít have to be a fan of the genre to appreciate Deadsville, but if youíre the sort of person who laughs when the ditzy teenager gets her gruesome comeuppance youíll find it especially entertaining. I look forward to the full game. The atmosphere is dead on and the characters are as fleshed out as they can be (every possible pun intended). Some tougher puzzles might be enjoyable. In any case, if the author takes as much time and trouble with the full version as with the intro, Deadsville could well become a classic. On a scale of 1 to 10 I give Deadsville a 3 for difficulty and 8 overall. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) TITLE: Finding Martin AUTHOR: Gayla K. Wennstrom EMAIL: gayla SP@G qrivy.net DATE: 2005 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/fm.gam (Archive) http://www.qrivy.net/~gayla/ (game home page) VERSION: 1.12 In an era of bite-sized IF, Finding Martin is a 12-course meal. Actually, it's more like one of those progressive dinners, where you go from one house to the next, a different course at each house, for a total of 12 courses in the evening. Except it's more like going to one of those every night for two weeks. Seriously, this game is HUGE. This is the kind of game where you might find an item with ten different modes, many of which can be used to adjust the item to one of its 720 different settings (and some of which do other things entirely), settings which are split into twelve different themed sections, many of which give hints, some of which give red herrings, and some of which perform game functions. I am not exaggerating. And that's just one item out of dozens and dozens you'll find in this game way way way before you get anywhere near finding Martin himself. If you love yourself a big, juicy puzzlefest, Finding Martin is cause for celebration. It's several times larger and more complex than anything Infocom ever attempted, and it's generally quite well-implemented. I encountered a number of glitches in my journey through the game, but they were all minor -- typos, missing synonyms, and underimplemented parsing mostly. There are a few logic errors here and there, but nothing game-crashing, and in fact very little that even caused me any trouble with a puzzle. Moreover, these problem areas are a very small percentage of the game itself, and this is a game that implements some highly complex behavior. A few errors here and there are quite forgivable in a game this ambitious in scope. As for the puzzles themselves, the news is again mostly good. Most of the challenges are logical, and some are quite clever indeed. In particular, there's a puzzle (or maybe it would be more accurate to call it a suite of puzzles) toward the end of the game that is astoundingly intricate and deeply satisfying, the kind of a puzzle that would make up the entirety of another game. It's a time-travel scenario that takes the groundwork laid by Sorcerer and expands it by an order of magnitude, asking you to consider the relations between a number of different time-slices as well as to coordinate the actions of multiple past selves with the actions of your current self in order to bypass certain barriers. However, well before you reach that puzzle you'll have made your way through a large number of obstacles that should scratch any inveterate puzzler's itch. Not only that, the puzzles frequently build on each other, and most of the goals require several components to achieve. Finding Martin's world can feel astonishingly layered and convoluted. I frequently found that the discovery of a new item or command would add new dimensions to the pieces of the game I'd already uncovered, and that their interactions would open up new avenues for exploration. Of course, the flip side to this is that such a discovery would often compel me to explore the game's giant world yet again, trying the new key to see if it would unlock any heretofore unseen doors. At time, the gameworld feels like an obsessive-compulsive's paradise, but at least most of the interactions seem logical once they've been found. Unfortunately, not all the puzzles manage to meet the same high standards. There are a number of read-the-author's-mind stumpers spread throughout the game. Some of these just require induction stretched absurdly far, but for several others I still have no idea how I was supposed to come up with the solution. There's another category, too: puzzles whose solution required some kind of cultural referent which I lacked, a la Zork II's baseball puzzle. Finding Martin's pedigree consists mostly of geek lore like Monty Python and Douglas Adams, and that stuff I've got covered, but a couple of puzzles require knowledge of Asian customs that I only learned from the walkthrough. On the flip side of read-the-author's-mind are "puzzles" whose solution is entirely arbitrary but so heavily clued that the game pretty much just tells you what it is. Imagine a dark room with a description along these lines: "It's impossible to see anything in this room -- this must be what a cinnamon roll feels like when it's in the oven!" And lo and behold, you just happen to find a cinnamon roll later in the game, so when you bring it into the dark room and eat it, the cinnamon-oriented olfactory sensors in the walls detect it and turn on the lights, just as they've been programmed to do by the house's exceedingly eccentric and patient owner. That example isn't from the game, but there are several puzzles in there that are cut from the same cloth. The substandard puzzles are a minority, and they certainly aren't enough to ruin the game, but my advice is: don't be afraid to bust out the walkthrough. Yes, sometimes you may find that a perfectly logical solution was staring you in the face, but other times you'll be relieved to just take the rather farfetched solution and move on with your life. Happily, the author is kind enough to provide a walkthrough on her web page that is broken up into 5-point clusters so as not to give away too much at once. However, if I may offer one more piece of advice: download the full walkthrough from that page and tuck it away somewhere on your hard drive. Otherwise, you may find yourself, as I did, stuck two-thirds of the way through the game and panicking because the author's site has gone down. Luckily for me, the page came back up the next day and I found some cached bits on Yahoo in the meantime, but I could have saved a good deal of time and stress if I'd just had the full walkthrough to fall back on. Finally, take heed of the author's advice in the intro text: save your game a LOT. There were quite a number of times I found myself returning to an earlier savegame because I was trapped without a necessary item, or I wanted to undo something I'd done a bit improperly a few hundred moves earlier. Actually, that brings me to one of my chief gripes about Finding Martin: it sets a few arbitrary limits, ostensibly in the name of realism but functionally just to irritate the player. Chief among these is an inventory limit. Let's face it: this is not a game that holds realism particularly dear. Many of its puzzles consist of caprice and whimsy, and its entire plot is metaphysical to say the least. However, for some reason it decided that the player should only be able to carry a limited number of objects, and it failed to provide any kind of bottomless sack-type object to circumvent this limit. Not only that, there's a puzzle component that steals items when they're dropped on the ground. Even more confoundingly, commands like PUT ALL ON TABLE are met with the response, "One thing at a time, please." And of course, there are many many journeys to pocket worlds whose obstacles require that the player has brought a particular item. Frequent were the times I cursed at this game for the way it forced me into numbingly dull inventory management tasks when I wanted to be having fun instead. Also, there are several instances of the game being pointlessly obtuse, along these lines: >READ BIG BOOK First you'd need to open it. Come on. This is 2006 -- we know by now that READ implies OPEN. Such obstructionist world-modeling benefits nobody. I'm not sure if responses like this one and the response to PUT ALL are TADS default behavior. I do know that I sometimes wished this game had been written in Inform, so that I could get certain pieces of the Inform default functionality. Besides the lack of a sack_object, I was jonesing hard for an OBJECTS verb that would let me see all the items in the game I'd found up to that point. Similarly, a FULLSCORE command that told me all the puzzles I'd solved so far would have been most welcome, especially given how many times I had to restore back to an earlier saved game. Finally, having just played Bronze, I really missed conveniences like GO TO that allow me to traverse the game world without rattling off memorized directions to the parser. Okay, I've been complaining for a while, which makes it sound like I didn't enjoy the game. That's not true -- overall I had plenty of fun. It's just a similar feeling to what I had when playing Once And Future, another enormous old-school puzzlefest. Like OAF, Finding Martin provides lots of opportunities to feel that satisfying *click* as logical components snap together, but forces a little too much tedium on the player after that click has happened. It's the figuring-out that's the fun part of a puzzle, not the follow-through of putting twenty pieces in just the right place once you know where they're supposed to go. Several of this game's puzzles would have been much more fun if they'd provided some way of automating that follow-through once the player has demonstrated understanding of the basic concept. Enough about the puzzles anyway. What about the story? Well, actually, the story is pretty much MIA for the first third or so of the game. We begin with a reasonably compelling premise: your brilliant but peculiar friend Martin has disappeared, and his family has asked you to explore his house in hopes of finding him. Why you and not, say, the police? Well, it seems that you may just be close enough to Martin's highly bizarre mindset to understand how to find him when the police wouldn't even be able to get in the door. Strong echoes of Hollywood Hijinx abound as you poke through rooms laden with fascinating devices and hidden exits, but there's not much more story to be had for a while. Finally, the game begins doling out plot in awkward lumps, but about two-thirds of the way through, these lumps smooth out and the story begins to tie together as more and more interconnections between Martin's family and friends, as well as his past, present, and future, reveal themselves. By the time I was rolling toward the endgame, I had felt genuinely moved several times. In fact, a couple of times Finding Martin hits a real IF sweet spot, where the solution to a puzzle not only advances the story but carries strong emotional content about the PC's role in the other characters' lives. I recall one moment in particular that gave me goosebumps, as I figured out how something I had done in a past time-travel scenario had affected the future, and how someone in that past had sent a message forward in time to me. Remember how I mentioned the game's geeky pedigree? There are a number of references woven throughout the story that are pulled straight from the geek handbook: Star Trek meets Hitchhiker's meets Tolkien. Some of these made me smile, and some made me squirm. At times I felt like saying, "Yes, yes, I get it. You like Monty Python." Also, the writing around these references can sometimes feel a bit flat and ingratiating, as when the PC encounters a used paperback: >x novel It's a book by Douglas Adams, entitled "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish". Apparently this is the fourth book in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy. It occurs to you that publishing the fourth book of a trilogy must be the toungue-in-cheek behavior of someone with a fantastic imagination and an audacious taste for the bizarre. Ho ho ho. Nothing like belaboring that "fourth book in the trilogy" joke. I get it -- you like Douglas Adams. Also, "tongue". Aside from that, though, the writing worked well. Most of the time it was transparent, but there were some clever twists and turns throughout, as well as a few good jokes. Having finished this game at last, and finally found Martin, I have to express my admiration. It must have been an unbelievable amount of work to put together a game of this size and scope, and for the most part it's done really well. If you're hungry for puzzles, Finding Martin should keep you fed for several weeks. Even if you're not a puzzler, grab a walkthrough and explore this game -- there are pleasures here for many tastes. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Gemma Bristow (gemma SP@G helical-library.net) TITLE: Ghost Train AUTHOR: Paul T. Johnson EMAIL: paul SP@G wolfman.co.uk DATE: 2003 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform .Z8) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/ghost.z8 VERSION: Release 6 There's inherent drama in trains, hence their frequent use as a setting for thrillers. Trains move to an insistent rhythm which reminds of the passing of time. They go speeding through dark tunnels and over rickety bridges. They don't stop at the protagonist's convenience. And then there's the romance of the railway in the pre-WW2 era: the trail of steam, the velvet seats and polished fittings of the carriages. This is the world of Ghost Train, a flawed but interesting horror tale that exploits all of these elements. It's Christmas Eve, 1935. The PC is a young man travelling by train through southern England, accompanied by a female friend, to spend the holiday with his family. The journey is interrupted by a terrible accident that derails the train. The PC, seemingly the only survivor, is left to stagger along the track looking for aid. However, he is soon found by a story involving a mysterious signalman, a hidden station and an ancient curse, and it becomes apparent that his friend has met with a fate stranger than death. The first half of the gameplay flows smoothly. The player is guided through the actions necessary to advance the plot without feeling figuratively (as well as literally) on rails. Puzzles are fairly straightforward, and one of the game's many atmospheric objects doubles as a hint system during a particularly risky scene. In the second half, things unravel a bit. One scene can trap the PC in a location, unable to move or do anything unless they ask an NPC about a specific topic; hard to intuit when the NPC delivers a stock response to most other subjects. Then there are a couple of puzzles in the endgame that had me scrambling for a walkthrough. One involved manipulating a piece of machinery that, as it turned out, couldn't be manipulated in the manner I tried because it was already at its physical limit. Unfortunately, the resulting message from the game didn't indicate this physical property of the mechanism. Instead, it was a non-committal refusal which suggested, misleadingly, that the mechanism wasn't the solution to the problem. Better playtesting might have caught these trouble spots. The game's writing would also have benefited from a good beta, since it's marred by punctuation errors and some clunky sentence structure, as well as a sometimes unconvincing tone when narrating action. The opening scene is unfortunately one of the more poorly written. However, the prose overall is suitably atmospheric, and it's in atmosphere that the game succeeds most strongly. The events that first introduce the supernatural, judiciously placed within the storyline, are genuinely eerie. The author makes good use of scenery objects and colours. One sequence in particular, in which the PC walks through a series of railway carriages equipped with graduated, symbolic decor, has a strong visual charge. The non-visual senses are also catered for, with frequent mention of ambient sounds heard by the PC as well as the pervasive cold of the December night. A more subtle effect is the way in which the game employs one potent aspect of the train as an image: that of a journey whose final destination is set and whose course cannot be altered. Where the atmosphere falters, it is due to the game attempting something more graphic. A literal figure of doom that appears in later portions of the game is less dramatically successful than the intangible menace of earlier parts. Ghost Train is worth a ride for players who are in the mood to be unsettled. Some of its images do linger in the mind. If the opening and closing segments are the weakest parts of the game, at least it can claim with some relevance that the adventure is in the journey. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu) TITLE: Glass AUTHOR: Emily Short EMAIL: emshort SP@G mindspring.com DATE: April 30, 2006 PARSER: Inform 7 SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware; Inform 7 web page URL: http://inform-fiction.org/I7Downloads/Examples/glass/ VERSION: Release 1 I've barely begun to explore the capabilities of Inform 7 (I7), partly because its appearance has rekindled my interest in actually *playing* IF. In that vein, I continue to explore the games that were released with I7 as "Worked Examples". Having made my way through Bronze, Emily Short's adaptation of Beauty And The Beast, I came next to Glass, in which she similarly adapts Cinderella. Actually, perhaps "similarly" isn't the right word here -- where Bronze was all about landscape and puzzles, Glass resides on the other side of the spectrum, focusing entirely on character and conversation. There are other differences, too. Although both works are meant primarily as example I7 code, Bronze feels like a full-fledged game, while Glass plays much more like a demo, or perhaps an experimental comp entry. That isn't to say that there aren't interesting ideas embedded in Glass -- there are, and I plan to discuss them -- but the experience of playing it feels altogether more slight than solving Bronze. Not only is it simply a smaller game, it also demands less interaction from the player; "Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z" is a valid walkthrough, though perhaps not to the best ending. Those endings are important. Like some other short replay-cycle games, Glass layers on story elements by making less-than-optimal endings the most easily reachable. There aren't a terribly large number of endings (another factor making the game feel a bit thin), but it's unlikely that most players will reach the best ending first. Along the way, they'll learn more about the motivations of each character, and in fact more about some hidden details of the game's main scene. This information in turn adds meaning to the rest of the paths to be found in the game. It's a variation on the "accretive PC" model of knowledge I discussed in my review of Lock & Key on IF-Review. The difference is that the news gained through these sub-optimal endings doesn't so much help the player better direct the PC or better solve the game, but it does lend additional drama to the other branches of the story. I suppose this game gives us accretive NPCs more than an accretive PC. However, there are some tricks at work with PC knowledge, too. The player/PC knowledge divide is one of the thornier fundamental problems of IF -- a player new to the game will almost inevitably know less about the character and game-world than the PC does, and both the game and the player often start out by scrambling to narrow the gap. There are some workarounds for this, amnesia being the more traditional and popular, while accretive PCs are a more recent innovation. Glass has found another: base your game on a story with which the vast majority of your audience is already familiar. Bronze was an imaginative variation on Beauty and The Beast, but it neither shed a great deal of light on the original tale nor did it require much information about that tale from the player. Our familiarity with the base story helps us get up to speed on who the PC is, but it isn't otherwise exploited. However, in Glass, the player *must* bring to bear knowledge from outside the game in order to reach the best ending. For anyone familiar with most any version the fairy tale, this gambit should work well, though perhaps not right away. Still, it's an ingenious way of bridging the information gap between player and PC -- I'm surprised we haven't seen more of this strategy before. I suppose there are only a limited number of stories with which authors can assume widespread audience familiarity, and an even smaller number of those that aren't still under copyright. With this bridge in place, then, Glass is free to disconcert us a bit as well. For one thing, the player character has some rather surprising qualities (and that's all I'll say...), which are left for players to discover rather than being announced upfront. Not only that, the game's take on the Cinderella tale is less than traditional. In keeping with many modern treatments of fairy tales, its approach to the story's villains is a little more sympathetic, and its portrayal of the heroes is a little more ambivalent. I would have expected Emily Short to bring some subversive ideas to any fairy tale she touched, and she doesn't disappoint here. One more note: in the article I wrote for the long-awaited IF Theory book, I mentioned that it was hard for me to imagine how the basic component of landscape could be extracted from interactive fiction, since as soon as the first room description appears, the game introduces a concept of geographical location. Well, Glass is the game that breaks that model -- it has no room descriptions whatsoever. That doesn't mean it's without a landscape, though. It's just that instead of presenting a landscape of Place, Glass instead gives us a landscape of Concept. The NPCs traverse a conversational terrain with particular goals in mind, and at every prompt the PC can try to steer that travel to influence its destination. It's a compact territory, but well worth exploring. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Michael Martin (mcmartin SP@G gmail.com) TITLE: OMNIQuest AUTHOR: Chris Barden and Chris Ethridge EMAIL: Unknown DATE: March 26, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-Code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/omniquest.z5 VERSION: Release 2 This is a port of a 1988 game written in Commodore BASIC, and it shows most of the characteristics of the old school as a result: no real intro, puzzles that need to be solved because they're there, and a sizable, if inconsistent and sparsely implemented map. This was also a reimplementation, not a direct port, so the parser is full Inform standard. As such, it really needs to be evaluated at two levels at once; as an old game, and as an Inform game. As a game, taken on its own terms, it's not that bad. The map is well-designed, though there's some illogic (most notably a thoroughly modern intrusion into a supposedly ancient cave in an abandoned ruin). Its cruelty rating is "Nasty", and is actually the first game I've seen that operated at that level instead of one of the extremes. Despite this, I actually only ran into a single situation where I wound up actually locking myself out of victory without being able to UNDO my way out of mistakes. Not only is it obvious you've done something irrevocable in OMNIQuest, it's also generally obvious that it was a mistake. One puzzle that I saw has an alternate solution. However, I wouldn't have worked the solution out had I not hit the source code (or looked at the object tree, given that debugging verbs were not disabled in the binary release). As an Inform port, it's sort of interesting in that it is the most deeply implemented sparse game I've seen. That is to say, almost nothing is actually interactive, and the descriptions that actually are implemented are perfunctory at best. Nevertheless, every first-level noun is implemented. It's just that it's implemented as "You see nothing special about the [noun]." Flipping through the source code, I found that each of these props was given its own object, as well, so some effort put into descriptions would put this at the complexity and depth one would usually expect of a competent comp-sized puzzle game. There's also a lot of excitement and circle-of-personal-friends in-jokes in it which I am guessing were ported directly from the 1988 CBM BASIC version. These feel a bit jarring when compared to the rest of the IF-Archive, and would probably do well with being removed. In summary: I rolled my eyes a few times while I was playing it, but I did play it through and enjoyed it. If you can deal with the excesses and the omissions of late-80s hobby games, this is worth playing. A hypothetical Release 3 that removes the excited-high-schooler bits and actually expands the scenery to include descriptions (and possibly some additional interactions) would be recommendable with no reservations whatsoever. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Mike Harris (M.Harris SP@G spi-bpo.com) TITLE: Swineback Ridge AUTHOR: Eric Eve EMAIL: eric.eve SP@G hmc.ox.ac.uk DATE: May 8, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Swineback.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Eric Eve described Swineback Ridge as ďa fairly easy, slightly tongue-in-cheek game that should provide brief amusement for an occasion when you're looking for an IF-Snack rather than an IF-Meal.Ē Itís a well put together little game, no more than a diversion really, with no obvious or glaring bugs and fairly well written text. The puzzles are straightforward and not terribly complicated; objects and functions are well implemented and despite its short length and relatively small number of locations itís clear that it was no throwaway. The PC is a general with a sword and worn battle armor, who must defeat an enemy encampment across the river, and thatís pretty much all you need to know about a slightly hackneyed backstory. The writing is well done which saves the game from clichť Ė ďAs you stoop over him, you recognize General Chorza, your old friend and comrade, who was meant to be commanding the army here until your arrival.Ē That said, such writing and the gameís subtitle - ďA Desperate BattleĒ - is somewhat over the top for such a short game which somehow manages not to convey any desperation whatsoever. To be fair, this may be the ďslightly tongue in cheekĒ part of the authorís description. If itís meant to be taken at face value, however, extremely limited opportunity to interact with NPCs doubtless contributes to this lack of a sense of urgency, as does a lack of progression or ďtime passingĒ based on number of moves, which I half expected based on the premise and subtitle. Nothing changes in the enemy camp except in reaction to the PCs actions. I can only speculate at the authorís intent but the game as it stands gives the impression Ė in its writing at least - that itís a part of a much larger game yet to be fleshed out. The simplicity of the puzzles is slightly disappointing and somehow unsatisfying given such florid verbiage. All in all, Swineback Ridge isnít a bad way to kill an hour or so, but ultimately is no more than a simple object-puzzle game with a needlessly complex backstory. On a scale of 1 to 10 I rate it a 3 in difficulty and a 6 overall. From: Emily Short (emshort SP@G mindspring.com) Swineback Ridge is described by its author as snack-sized and light-hearted, and both of those are accurate. The premise isn't that funny -- you've been sent to lead your country's army in a last defense against the invading enemy -- but when you consider that this enemy worships the demon-god Malodor, it's hard to take the whole situation seriously. The puzzles are of moderate difficulty, and are quite well-designed: objects are reused in inventive ways; physical relationships are described clearly and make sense; there's plentiful feedback on partial solutions; all of the props have some logical in-game reason to be there. There were perhaps one or two points when it wasn't immediately obvious to me what I should try next, and the game is perhaps a little less perfect at articulating your goal at a couple of points than at prompting you through the puzzles once you've identified them -- but then again, I was never stuck for long, so I can't complain too much. Though I've seen the game described as Fantasy, there's nothing all that fantastical about what you have to do; if your enemies worship a strange deity, well, there's no clear evidence that he actually exists. The player's activities are non-magical; the puzzles can be solved through the application of real- world principles. There are admittedly a few points where, in order to make sure the player doesn't lock himself out of victory, Swineback refuses to allow an action purely on the grounds that the action isn't something you want to do at the moment. This makes the game easier, but diminishes the sense of immersion just a bit. This is a minor and perhaps unavoidable blemish on a charming piece, though. Swineback Ridge may not be terribly ambitious, but it has a focused story and tightly designed puzzles; it is also highly polished, with an adaptive hint menu and plenty of responses to unlikely actions. If you're looking for a puzzle game that you can play in an hour (or a little less), you'll probably find Swineback Ridge quite satisfying. From: Valentine Kopteltsev (uux SP@G mail.ru) (Disclaimer: in this review, I express a few rather daring speculations about the development process for Swineback Ridge, as well as about the motives behind its creation. It goes without saying these speculations are based entirely on my own opinion, and all I do describe is nothing other than my personal thoughts and impressions of the game; I also would like to apologize to Mr. Eve if they have nothing to do with reality.) By pure coincidence (and it really *was* coincidence -- somehow, I managed to remain unaware of Swineback Ridge author's name until I looked at the credits after starting the game) I reviewed another game by Eric Eve, All Hope Abandon, not too long ago. This fact undoubtedly left its trace on my impression of Swineback Ridge: it was as if Rolls Royce produced a subcompact. And by subcompact, I don't even mean a puppet doomed to become a cult object (like the new Mini), but a genuine mass consumption product -- pretty much the way Japanese cars used to be in the 1970/80s. Most of the things a reviewer could say about Swineback Ridge are covered in the game's own ABOUT section. From there, we can learn that this work was intended to a) be an exercise in Inform for its author, and b) provide a few (by my estimation, 30 to 60) minutes' amusement. It seems to succeed in both roles: I'm quite sure IF-authors having the skill and patience to polish their first attempt in an IF development system new to them to such an extent are in vast minority, and the game's entertaining value, albeit relatively modest, can't be denied, either. However, speaking objectively, the game's adequacy with the aims and goals set by its author doesn't save it from being totally unremarkable. Sure, it'd help you to while away an hour or so -- but after a few weeks, you wouldn't remember it. At this point, the reader could ask a completely justified question: so, why did I bother writing this review at all? Well, because Swineback Ridge is the perfect mass product, or very close to being it. To explain what I mean, let me refer to that example with Japanese cars again: they were supposed to transport a handful of people together with some luggage from point A to point B -- and they'd never let down their owners in doing so. Of course, things like the satisfaction of the drivers' ambitions, as well as driving fun were out of question -- but they weren't included in the contract, so to speak. And that's the case with Swineback Ridge: its author seems to have formulated his goals, and then has done everything necessary to reach them -- but not a jot more than that. This approach threads the whole game: for instance, there hardly is an object in the room descriptions you couldn't examine -- but none of the responses are particularly catchy; the puzzles are logical and make perfect sense -- but not a single one would evoke an "Aha!" feeling after being solved... In its current state, Swineback Ridge deserves a place in an IF textbook as a pearl of pragmatic game design. It embodies all aspects needed for a work to be of a high technical standard -- methodical pre-planning, consequent implementation, and thorough beta-testing -- but nothing beyond. Things that hasn't been invested into Swineback Ridge at all, or only injected in homoeopathic doses, are of the kind one can't learn from a textbook, anyway: fantasy, spirit, and ambitions (in a good sense). But hey -- they weren't in the contract. SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: Straightforward (1.1) ATMOSPHERE: The absolutely necessary minimum (1.0) WRITING: Even and solid (1.2) GAMEPLAY: Adequate, but nothing striking (1.2) BONUSES: Thorough implementation (1.2) TOTAL: 5.7 CHARACTERS: The closest approximation were two corpses (-) PUZZLES: Well-clued and logical (1.2) DIFFICULTY: (Intentionally) pretty easy (3 out of 10) =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Emily Short (emshort SP@G mindspring.com) TITLE: There's a Snake in the Bathtub AUTHOR: Edward Griffiths EMAIL: ? DATE: 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/bathtub.z5 VERSION: Release 1 I came across this game largely by chance: it was announced in the usual "recent additions to the archive" post, but I don't think it was mentioned on rec.games.int-fiction or otherwise promoted to the community. So it may not have gotten much notice. Mild spoilers about the structure follow; if you want to avoid all contact, stop reading now, though I think I would have been glad to know these things, myself. The premise of the game is exactly as given in the title: you get home from a hot sticky day, ready for a nice long soak, only to find that the tub is occupied. From there, everything just gets increasingly surreal and out of hand, eventually requiring visits to alternative dimensions and so on. "Slice of life" this is not. There are a number of implementation details that add up to make things a bit frustrating. There's very little here by way of implicit action handling; everything has to be explicitly opened and closed for use, for instance. Disambiguation is sometimes inelegant. There is some mild verb guessing, too. You'll want to read the list of understood verbs (type HELP at the outset of the game), but even then, there is one important command where ATTACH FOO TO BAR works, but ATTACH BAR TO FOO gives a generic failure message, and it's not clear what's gone wrong. Moreover, there are inventory limits, and they do get in the way. A hint system is provided, but it doesn't cover nearly everything one might want hints about, and in most cases it only told me the things about the puzzle that I'd already worked out myself: my notes say "More of a taunt system than a hint system." Well, I was feeling cranky. There are also lots of low-level immersion-breakers (or possibly bugs): for instance, you can fill a bathtub with water, but this doesn't seem to affect the other contents of the bathtub in some of the ways you might expect. Sometimes it's possible to interact with creatures or objects even though they are technically untouchable at the moment. An action that broke an inventory item produced the change only some of the time, and I wasn't able to figure out why (though this turned out not to be game-critical). Likewise, many sensible actions aren't dealt with; you're not allowed to throw things at a certain object, even though that would be my first approach if I were in the same situation. Worst of all, there is an absolutely fiendish 100-move time limit on the whole game. I replayed and replayed, trying to optimize, but without any luck. I was only able to finish the game when -- quite belatedly -- I realized there was actually a way to disable the limit entirely. It might not hurt to have further hinting in the game about that possibility. For all that, "There's a Snake in the Bathtub" is not without charm. Much of the game revolves around defeating various malevolent figures, and it is generally quite rewarding when you finally succeed; in this respect the snake reminded me a little of the lobster in "Gourmet". Many of the descriptions and events are fairly entertaining, and there's pleasure in the sheer absurdity of many of the solutions. I have less to say about this than I do about the game's flaws, because enumerating all the funny moments would ruin them -- but I did find enough here to keep me playing despite the detractions listed. In the end, then, this is an exuberant, slightly old-fashioned puzzle-fest, probably taking several hours to play without outside help. Some of those hours will be spent retracing your steps. Players in the mood for that kind of experience will enjoy this piece. Those looking for a strong story or a deeply implemented setting would be best advised to look elsewhere. "There's a Snake in the Bathtub" is not for the impatient -- though if you find yourself replaying endlessly to make that 100-move deadline, do consider ways to make the deadline go away. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Jimmy Maher (maher SP@G grandecom.net) TITLE: Voices of Spoon River AUTHOR: Creative Learning Environments Lab at Utah State University EMAIL: brett.shelton SP@G usu.edu DATE: June, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://cle.usu.edu/VOSR_r1.22a.zip VERSION: Release 1 Voices of Spoon River was developed by a group of graduate students studying instructional game theory at Utah State University. Its purpose is to illuminate a minor classic of American literature, Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. Before discussing the IF work, perhaps we should talk briefly about the book on which it is based. First published in 1915, Spoon River Anthology is a collection of over 200 short poems. Each is written in the form of a first-person epitaph, describing a citizen of the small Midwestern town of Spoon River. The stories these citizens tell about their lives are not, with only the occasional exception, uplifting, as Masters digs deep beneath the surface of small-town middle American life to reveal the quiet desperation in which even the upstanding and successful live. Although each can stand alone, the poems form a web of interrelationships to be puzzled out by the reader. Thus we see hopelessly dysfunctional marriages from the standpoint of both spouses and sometimes the husband's other woman, and hear from both a criminal and the judge who put him away. The poetry is frankly not very good, but the stories told are often compelling, and piecing together the various plotlines of the town from fragments of testimony is fascinating. Equally approachable in any order the reader chooses, these poems would make a fertile subject of study for students of non-linear, multi-formal literature even if the Spoon River IF work had never been created. But what of that work? Voices of Spoon River begins about where one might expect it to, in the middle of the Spoon River graveyard. All around are tombstones bearing Masters' poetic epitaphs. The player soon learns that she has a task to perform. She must restore peace to these lost souls by performing various actions that will reconcile them to their fates. To do this, of course, she must first determine just what, or in many cases who, is disturbing their rest. Here enters the didactic focus of the work in earnest, for in order to solve the game the player must grapple fairly intimately with the literary world Masters has created. It is quite a clever conceit, actually, and it works quite well. At its best, Spoon River gives the feeling of actually getting inside a work of literature and exploring in a way I have seldom if ever experienced before. One could, however, argue that the IF work is not really true thematically to the original work it purports to celebrate. After all, much of the power of Masters' poems arises from the pathetic futility of all these broken, unsatisfied lives. The game, though, undermines that by giving the player the opportunity to tack happy endings of sorts on top of Masters' miniature tragedies, even though the very lack of tidy resolutions like these is sort of the point of Masters' work. For Spoon River to work as a game, though, perhaps this conceit is necessary. Once she determines what needs to be done to satisfy each lost soul, the player will find some simple puzzles to solve to actually accomplish each good deed. None are particularly creative -- indeed, you will probably not remember the details of a single one five minutes after solving the game -- but, thankfully, none are obscure or unfair. Working out what needs to be done and then solving the necessary puzzles together give a nice glow of accomplishment that keeps the player moving through the game, and that is more than enough. Complicated brain twisters are just not what this one is about. Spoon River's geography is fairly expansive by modern standards. In addition to the graveyard of lost souls, the player will also explore the deserted town of Spoon River itself, full of locations offering further insight into Masters' characters. Of course, one could ask just why the town is deserted. Where are the descendants of those in the graveyard? Still, the emptiness suits the haunted, dreamlike nature of the work, so we will allow it its artistic license. Although implemented widely, Spoon River is not implemented very deeply. Scenery is generally non-manipulatible, and character interaction with the ghosts is rudimentary at best. It does not really matter, though. The implementation is generally good enough to accomplish the game's goals, and the player is never left at a loss for how to phrase a command or converse with others. The game's non-Masters derived prose is similarly workmanlike, being competent but uninspired. On the other hand, Masters' poetic skills are far from his greatest strength, and thus the game's prose and Masters' poetry do not clash horribly at all. One could even attribute to the whole a certain rough-hewn charm. More disconcerting is the game's lack of overall polish. It claims that there are 100 points available to be scored, but I saw no way of reaching even 70. Typos are not overwhelming, but they are there. Worst of all is the game's ending, which seems hopelessly bugged. A secret, "bonus" area is apparently supposed to open up once the player has put all of the souls at peace, but this does not happen. Luckily, another bug means that the player can enter this area at any time, even on the first move of the game, so one need not miss anything. Still, I hope that a cleaned-up, bug-fixed release will be forthcoming at some point, as the game is definitely worth it. My biggest disappointment with Spoon River is that there is not more of it. Only a dozen or so of Masters' 200-plus stories are told here. It is not a particularly small game by modern standards, and will probably give the careful player a good two or three hours of enjoyment, but I wanted to spend even more time in its, and Masters', world. That is perhaps the best compliment I can pay to it. I hope we will see more IF like it in the future, and encourage educators everywhere to give it a serious look for possible classroom use, particularly if some of its rough edges get a bit of polishing sometime soon. SUBMISSION POLICY --------------------------------------------------------- SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure games, a. k.a. Interactive Fiction. This includes the classic Infocom games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the primary player-game communication is text based. Any and all text-based games are eligible for review, though if a game has been reviewed three times in SPAG, no further reviews of it will be accepted unless they are extraordinarily original and/or insightful. SPAG reviews should be free of spoilers, with the exception of reviews submitted to SPAG Specifics, where spoilers are allowed in the service of in-depth discussion. In addition, reviewers should play a game to completion before submitting a review. There are some exceptions to this clause -- competition games reviewed after 2 hours, unfinishable games, games with hundreds of endings, etc. -- if in doubt, ask me first. Authors retain the rights to use their reviews in other contexts. We accept submissions that have been previously published elsewhere, although original reviews are preferred. For a more detailed version of this policy, see the SPAG FAQ at http://www. sparkynet.com/spag/spag.faq. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!
Click here for a printable, plain text version of this issue.