ISSUE #46 - October 17, 2006

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

                         ISSUE #46

        Edited by Jimmy Maher (maher SP@G
                       October 17, 2006

           SPAG Website:

SPAG #46 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 -----------------------------------------------------

Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies
Escape from the Crazy Place
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
Off the Trolley
Son of a...
A Spot of Bother
Time to Shine


Well, folks, the IF world's equivalent of the Venice, Cannes, and Sundance film 
festivals is on.  Yes, the 12th annual Interactive Fiction Competition is in 
full swing.  I awaited this year's competition with even more curiosity than 
usual, for a couple of reason.  First, I was curious whether the recent beta 
release of Inform 7 and the recent offical exit of TADS 3 from beta status 
would generate excitement which would in turn lead to more games being entered. 
I was happy to see that there was indeed an uptick in submissions this year, 
from the 30-something games of the last few Comps to 43 this year.  Secondly, I 
wanted to see what authors actually did with those systems.  I shouldn't talk 
about this latter too much quite yet, as judging is still going on, but I will
say that I am quite impressed and excited to find that games created with the 
new systems truly do seem to show a higher overall quality in some ways.  
(Standard disclaimer: It is of course still possible to do wonderful work with 
Inform 6, TADS 2, Adrift, Hugo, ALAN, etc., as is proven in this Comp and 

It's interesting to compare the two important new development systems.  Rather 
than being essentially different versions of the same philosophy, as they were 
in the days of TADS 2 and Inform 6, each has move in its own direction and now 
targets a slightly different author "market."

By moving Inform 7 as far as possible from the notational style of conventional 
computer programming, Graham Nelson has attempted to create a more welcoming 
system for those who are better at or more interested in writing than 
programming.  (I am not going to get into a discussion of whether writing with 
Inform 7 is really programming.  Of course it is.  Nor of whether the language 
is as efficient as Inform 6.  Of course it isn't.  Those who argue over these 
things are kind of missing the point of the system in my opinion.)  I'm not 
sure there is anything one can do in Inform 7 that one cannot do in Inform 6 -- 
indeed, I am virtually sure there is not, as the Inform 7 compiler is really 
just an Inform 6 preprocessor -- but the new language nevertheless serves a 
valuable purpose in making that power more accessible and, just as importantly, 
in making it much easier to flesh out one's gameworld with complete 
descriptions of objects and scenery, etc.  And then there is that wonderful 
IDE, which subtly and not so subtly encourages the writer to test and polish her

TADS 3, on the other hand, is a very different beast.  I hadn't spent much time 
looking at the system prior to its recent official release, but already was 
deeply impressed with its conversation model, which I feel gets us as close as 
we have yet come to answering the "NPC question" when in the hands of experts 
like Eric Eve or Mike Roberts himself.  I downloaded the official release
following its announcement, and was actually just as impressed with TADS 3 as I 
had been by my first exposure to Inform 7.  The TADS 3 approach is radically 
different.  While Inform 7 softens the programming blow through its natural 
language interface, TADS 3 embraces it wholeheartedly.  It looks and acts like 
not just a programming language, but a thoroughly modern development 
environment.  The TADS workbench included with the system is wonderful, and 
when I began to explore the language itself I began to realize that here we 
have an out of the box system with a far deeper simulation layer than anything 
we have seen in IF before.  It doesn't coddle its prospective user.  The 
language and even the IDE, with its watches and breakpoints and other technical 
debugging terms, is all business, and likely would be decidedly intimidating to 
the non-techie.  And you know what?  That's fine, because Inform 7 is there for 
them as perhaps the first ever really viable "IF creation without really (in 
the sense of semicolons and squiggly braces) programming" system.  I suspect we 
will continue to see markedly fewer TADS 3 than Inform 7 games, but that those 
games that are released will push the envelope of sophistication more than most 
written with Inform 7.

And so we have a system for writers and a system for techies.  For someone like 
myself, like many of you caught somewhere in between, the choice comes down to 
personal preference and the needs of the project.  If and when I finally start 
my long delayed IF dream work, I am leaning toward TADS 3 at this point, simply 
because it will be a simulation heavy work that I think would be more suitable 
for that environment.  Both systems are wonderful, though, and another type of 
project would send me to Inform 7.  It really is great to be spoiled for 
choice.  IF development has come a heck of a long way in the past couple of 
years, and the community owes quite the debt of gratitude to Mike Roberts and 
Graham Nelson, as well as everyone who has helped them in big or small ways.  
It's good to be spoiled for choice.

And I owe quite a thank you to the community as well.  A week ago I had only 
six reviews for this issue, and it looked like my recent lucky run of fairly 
substantial issues was at an end.  But you folks came through in response to my 
last minute plea, doubling my review count in just a few days.  So, thanks to 
everyone who contributed to this issue.  I think it's a pretty good one, and I 
hope you will agree.  And now, on with the show.

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

The excellent online gaming magazine The Escapist published an article on 
Infocom's company history a couple of months ago.  For us fanatics in this 
community, it's pretty much the same old story, but it is interesting to see 
our favorite defunct computer game company getting such exposure in the 
(relatively) gaming mainstream press.  The same magazine also recently 
published an article on the lost art of computer game feelies, with Infocom 
again mentioned prominently.

Jacqueline A. Lott's Introcomp 2006 is complete.  Now here's hoping the winning 
authors manage to finish their epics and claim their prizes for once.  Said 
winning authors were:
2nd Runner Up: Greg Boettcher with Nothing but Mazes
1st Runner Up: Stephan Granade with Child's Play
1st Place:     Mordechai Shinefield with Southern Gothic

A new forum for IF discussion was recently opened as an alternative to the 
Usenet groups.  Whether it will survive I would say is very much an open 
question, but it does seem to still be seeing at least a little activity.  If 
you want to see it not only survive but prosper, you know what to do.  And if 
you are in the "Usenet or death!" crowd, you know what to do as well.  And if 
you are like me, and just want to see IF being discussed SOMEWHERE, maybe you 
will want to just sit this particular battle out.

David Cornelson has an ongoing request for IF based upon dreams.  Submit your 
games to him, and he will post them on the IF Wiki page he has set up for the 
purpose.  Three titles are available there already.

After literally years in beta, the latest and greatest iteration of Mike 
Roberts' TADS development system has seen its first stable release at last.  
This is exciting stuff, folks, a powerful new system with lots of new ideas and 
never before seen capabilities.  Also wonderful to see is the documentation 
suite, which finally gives TADS an equivalent to the wonderful manuals Graham 
Nelson has always provided for Inform.  Huge kudos for this are due to Eric Eve 
and many others.

In honor of TADS 3's official exit from beta, Nikos Chantziaras has released 
the latest version of FrobTADS, his TADS 2 and 3 console mode interpreter and 
development environment for a variety of systems, including Unix, Linux, OS X, 
and Windows.

The author of Infocom's Wishbringer, Trinity, and Beyond Zork as well as 
Lucasarts' Loom was recently interviewed by the website Adventure Classic 
Gaming.  I was interested to see that Brian still likes to dabble in IF 
development, but doesn't feel his work is worthy of public release.  Gee, I 
wonder how many members of the modern community might be interested in helping 
him out?

Karl Parakenings has begun a new column for the eToychest website that will 
feature regular coverage of IF happenings.  The very first edition features an 
interview with IF Comp organizer and Brass Lantern webmaster Stephan Granade.

Peter Mattsson has this year taken over this very worthy endeavor from Greg 
Boettcher.  It is an attempt to secure reviews of every game released outside 
of a competition during 2006.  Non-competition games too often go under-
covered, but their authors deserve feedback as well.  Peter doesn't appear to 
have set up a website for the project yet, but you can reach him via email with 
inquires or reviews at peter.mattsson SP@G  And while you're at 
it, send those reviews to SPAG too, and help both me and Peter out for the cost 
of just one bit of writing.

Greg Boettcher will be running the annual Spring Thing competition again next 
year.  Its rules are considerably different from those of the fall competition, 
and are designed both to encourage longer games and to discourage buggy, 
unpolished games.  It's a great idea that deserves more attention and 
participation than it has gotten in years past, so please check it out and help 
to make it the ying to the IF Comp's yang that it could be.

Andrew Plotkin has updated his Glulx virtual machine specification to fully 
support unicode characters, at last making it the equal of the Z-Machine for 
developers working in languages other than English.  The interpreters have 
already been updated.  Go to the IF Archive to download your favorite.

IF COMP 2006
And of course, the most urgent news of all is that the biggest event on the 
community's annual calendar is now in full swing.  43 hopeful contestents await 
your playing and judging this year.  You only have until November 15, so get 
cracking.  And see next quarter's SPAG for full coverage of the Comp, including 
interviews with the winning authors and as many reviews as I can get you folks 
to send me.

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.

1.  IF Comp 2006 Games (any or some)
2.  No Famous
3.  1893: A World's Fair Mystery
4.  Final Selection
5.  The Retreat
6.  When in Rome, parts 1 and/or 2
7.  Bronze
8.  IntroComp 2006 Games (any, some, or all)
9.  The Reliques of Tolti-Aph
10. An Escape to Remember

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

Consider the following review header:

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

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

REVIEWS -------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Emily Short (emshort SP@G

NAME: Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies
AUTHOR: Oyvind Thorsby
EMAIL: jthorsby SP@G
DATE: August 27, 2006
PARSER: Inform 6
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive

It would be hard to write a very long review of Attack of the Yeti  Robot 
Zombies. This is a short game, and one that deliberately avoids  depth of 
implementation: there aren't many objects in any given room;  moreover, EXAMINE 
is disabled. What you see in the initial room  description is all the 
information you get.

This spareness is in service of an unusual goal: getting the player  to play a 
timed game without restoring any saved files or undoing any  moves. The 
announcement for AotYRZ explained that this was an  "attempt to win on the 
first play" game, an unusual effect for IF.  Since there's nothing to force the 
player to obey these restrictions,  AotYRZ has to rely on player goodwill.

Fortunately, the design of AotYRZ does support that kind of play.  There are no 
puzzles you need to solve by repeated tinkering. The  absence of EXAMINE 
actually helps here, since in any given situation  you know you've seen 
everything you need to see; there's no chance  that you've failed to look at an 
object that carries a critical clue.  Even the puzzles I missed were, in 
retrospect, completely fair.

AotYRZ is also a bit more forgiving than the description might imply.  The 
puzzles all revolve around killing or avoiding bad guys (mostly  the monsters 
of the title); the player character has a limited supply  of ammunition, which 
he can use to circumvent puzzles when it looks  like he's not going to be able 
to solve them in time. So it's not  necessary to get everything right to 
survive the game. Solving a  majority of the puzzles is enough.

When played as intended, AotYRZ achieves a level of tension missing  from most 
IF games. The structure works particularly well in action  scenes: because my 
player character wasn't given the time to dawdle  or the opportunity to examine 
things thoughtfully, the moments when I  had to do something dangerous and 
flashy felt more cinematic than in  other works.

In other respects, this is pretty light-weight stuff. Right from the  title we 
know the game doesn't take itself very seriously. The  premise never gets any 
deeper than that; the setting is cartoonish;  there's not much to the story, 
either. So while I was engaged with  the technical challenge of getting through 
in a single play, I never  felt that the stakes were very high if I failed.


From: David Jones (drj SP@G

Title: Dreadwine
Author: Eric Eve
E-mail: eric.eve SP@G
Date: July 23, 2006
Parser: Inform 7
Supports: Z-code
Availability: if-archive
Version: Release 1 / Serial number 060723 / Inform 7 build 3T38 (I6/v6.31 lib 

Dreadwine was the only entry in the first MC Dream mini-comp.  David Cornelson, 
who organised the mini-comp, says "the premise of this mini-competition is to 
write a game that represents one of your most vivid dreams. The intent is to 
convey the emotion you felt that made the dream so remarkable.".  Should 
Dreadwine be judged as a game or as a conveyor of the author's emotions?  As a 
game it provides little of interest, few interesting interactions and a 
solution that is arbitrary and unsatisfying.  As a vector for emotion it fares 
rather better.

The central premise is that you have to escape the town in order to escape the 
rather unpleasant fate that appears to inevitably befall the town's occupants.  
Naturally your PC won't let you escape without also rescuing a key NPC.

The dream, which is context that the player is aware of but not the PC, and the 
principal NPC, who is familiar to the PC (apparently) but not the player, are 
both used as devices to restrict movements, actions, and descriptions.  That 
the dream provides an explanation for the abstraction and the surreal 
juxtapositions is nice, but more than that it's very nice that the author 
manages to turn this round and use the abstraction and the situations to 
reinforce the fact that one is playing in a dream.  In a way the dream provides 
a solution to the problem of how to restrict what the PC can do.  You're 
playing a dream, why should you be able to do everything that you can do in the 
real world?  Many objects that would demand a more detailed description in 
another game have abbreviated descriptions appropriate to the dream setting: 
"There are other buildings round about, of course, but you are only vaguely 
aware of them".

The restrictions imposed by the key NPC interfere with the gameplay more, but 
they reinforce the characters of both the PC and the key NPC and are therefore 
crucial in supporting the game's emotional content.  An example that draws on 
both the dream and the key NPC: "No, you don’t want to go west, for you sense 
that it leads only to darkness and despair. [KEY NPC's NAME] tugs at your 
sleeve, urging you to turn round and go some other way.".  Now, in terms of 
gameplay this is the just the "you can't do that because I haven't implemented 
the entire universe" response, but the immersive spell remains unbroken by the 
way the author has married the reponse to the situation.

The town has a drab sullen atmosphere suffused with a sense of forboding.  The 
author writes very well and manages to create his dream with economical English 
that is interesting and evocative.  I feel like I shouldn't have to say this is 
a review, but the author's writing is error free.  The author, in ABOUT, 
mentions "one literary influence that will be immediately apparent to a great 
many players", well, it wasn't apparent to me, maybe I'm just less well read 
than most game players.

In what to me was a bit of flashback to playing City of Secrets, the town is 
"populated" with randomly generated NPCs that pop up in the various street 
location from time to time.  Here, as in CoS, it does a good job of providing a 
bit of background colour.

This isn't a very big game (half an hour of play would typically be enough), 
and there doesn't appear to be much to do.  I found it a bit of a frustrating 
experience struggling to find what little there is to do, because it's never 
entirely clear when you exhausted a line of investigation.  What is implemented 
is implemented well.  I reached two endings, one is obviously unsatisfying, but 
the other doesn't leave me very satisified either.  Whilst wondering if there 
are more endings I rediscover the ABOUT text which proclaims that there are two 
endings. With the hindsight of having found them both it's now clear that the 
ABOUT text also more or less tells you how to finish the game.  You seem to get 
an extra 10 minutes in bed in one of the endings, so that must be a good thing.

Given that there appears to be little to do it would be nice if more verbs were 
implemented.  If only because frustrated players, like me, are likely to try 
lots of things.

I think Dreadwine is well worth dipping into just for the emotional content.  I 
was left wanting more, partly because the endings have no real resolution and 
partly because Dreadwine make it clear that the author could do it so well.  In 
many ways I think Dreadwine could quite plausibly form the introductory chapter 
of a much larger game, in that sense I was reminded of the opening of Trinity.


From: Stephen Bond (stephenbond SP@G

Title: Eragon
Author: Anonymous
E-mail: ??? 
Date: July 2005
Parser: Inform 6
Supports: Zcode Interpreters
Availability: Free, available on official Eragon site
Version: 1

One kind of r*if post I hate (one of many) is the "IF reference at!" variety, where I'm meant to be grateful because some badly-drawn 
comic strip has mentioned a grue on panel 3, or some blog has posted an 
"amusing" "satirical" IF transcript, which has all your favourite commands, 
from >XYZZY to >FROTZ LANTERN, but never my favourite command, which is >QUIT. 
As you might gather, I'm never excited by this kind of exposure; it invariably 
tends to reinforce old stereotypes about the form, playing to a gallery that 
associates IF with dungeon crawls, treasure hunts, mazes and magic words. In 
the unlikely event that anyone's interest is piqued by such stuff, they'll come 
to r*if expecting more of the same.

A recent example of mainstream IF exposure is Eragon, a zcode dungeon crawl 
apparently based on a book of the same name by Christopher Paolini (and because 
it's hosted on his official site with no other attribution, he'll have to take 
the blame for the game as well). Eragon takes its game design cues from the 
homebrewed BASIC Zork knock-offs that padded out coverdisks in the 80s, and so, 
true to form, we have a maze, we have parser problems, we have guess-the-verb 
for every puzzle, we have laughably static NPCs, and we have bad, bad writing.

"A bundle lays wrapped at his feet", we are told early on, and further 
occurrences of the same error reveal that the writer really does think "to lay" 
means "to lie". He splices pleonasms together with commas, writing "to the east 
stands a crude tent, the source of the singing comes from within it" instead of 
"the singing comes from a crude tent to the east." In fact, the prose is 
littered with so many grammatical, spelling and formatting errors that I can 
begin to appreciate why the novel took a year in the writing, and two years in 
the editing. That said, I hope the game was written by some deluded fanboy and 
not by Paolini himself. If this is anything like the published novel, then I'm 
amazed it ever got out of the slushpile. 

Eragon's setting and story are the miserable third pressings of Tolkien, with 
the ancient dwarf stronghold Khazad-Dûm -- sorry, "Farthen Dûr" -- coming under 
attack by orcs -- sorry, "Urgals". It's the kind of place where all the proper 
names suffer from Klingonitis, being peppered with glottal stops and random 
diacriticals. The exception is the incongruous "Angela", an unmoving herbalist 
who is clearly supposed to be a bit of a character, but just repeats the same 
screen-long infodump every time I talk to her. The PC is entirely without 
character and the dungeon is entirely without atmosphere, a state not helped by 
the presence of rooms called "Maze M3" and "Hallway H19". "The northern wall 
appears to be a mycologist's dream!" we are told at one stage, which is an odd 
coincidence, because the rest of the game is a proctologist's dream.

As a game, Eragon is less than worthless, but I suppose the real issue is 
whether it's likely to encourage new people to check out the IF community. On 
balance, I don't think I'd like r*if to be overrun with consumers of EFP, but 
Eragon offers little danger of that. There are no links to the IF community on 
the site, and no credit is given to the development system, only to some 
mysterious and unnamed "open source technology". The Inform banner has been 
hacked away from the start, but the undocumented >SCRIPT ON reveals the game to 
have been written in Inform 6.3. (This also reveals the game to have been 
released in debug mode, so that I can solve one puzzle with >PURLOIN -- my 
other favourite command.) Given the number of default responses left in, a 
chunk of the game's text is actually by Graham Nelson; but rather than 
acknowledge a debt, the game prefers to hide the competition. A dishonest 
strategy, but no doubt the only profitable one when you've got such a duff 


From: Mike Harris (M.Harris SP@G

TITLE: Escape From the Crazy Place
EMAIL: jason.guest SP@G
DATE: August 14, 2006
AVAILABILITY:  Freeware; IF Archive

JJ Guest writes, “I began writing Escape from the Crazy Place when I was 
thirteen years old, and have now finally finished it, aged thirty-six. In spite 
of this I still haven't the slightest idea of what it's about.”  And how.

I can only imagine that the vast stretch of time was spent on the technical 
details of adapting the game to the parser, as the admittedly bug-free play 
reads like something written by a 13 year old.  The game opens with an NPC 
hamburger vending clown named Donald McRonald who eventually “takes two fingers 
and stuffs them up your nostrils for a joke,” and it deteriorates from there.  
The play, the “puzzles” (such as they are) and the illustrations are simple, 
sophomoric and pointless.

If this sort of humor is your cup of tea, have at it; it’s the only thing 
Escape From the Crazy Place has going for it.  If on the other hand you find it 
as irritating and unfunny as I do, you’d be well advised to give it a pass.


From: DJ Hastings (dj.hastings SP@G

TITLE: Gilded
AUTHOR: "A. Hazard"
EMAIL: gilded SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive

Gilded has an interesting idea for a PC: you play a fey with the ability to 
shapeshift and create things. The game opens as you listen to the plans of 
several locals to go on a treasure hunt, and you end up joining them. I thought 
the game did a good job of guiding me through the introduction while giving me 
reasonable freedom of action. But once I got outside with the party and ready 
to set out, the game seemed to give up and say, "OK, it's your turn to guide 
things along for a while."

The party got outside, and we were all ready to set off and find the treasure. 
So I tried to set off- and the game told me that I was "not quite finished 
playing" with my companions. I tried out my special powers (more on them 
below), but my companions seemed to pretty much ignore them. I tried talking to 
my companions, which didn't seem to get anywhere, and I tried thinking about 
stuff, which revealed that I was as empty-headed as they were.

So I went to the walkthrough, found out what I was supposed to do next, and 
scratched my head and wondered how I was supposed to think of that. It looks 
like the author intended me to find it by accident while playing around, but 
that didn't happen with me.

For pretty much the rest of the game, I didn't see any indication of what I was 
supposed to be doing. I couldn't see any motivation for my character to stick 
around at that point, let alone do the things he has to do to advance the game. 
And often it was unclear what those things were. Because of this, I ended up 
using the walkthrough for nearly the whole thing.

Even after I finished, I wasn't sure exactly what was going on. I got the basic 
idea of the plot (I think), but most of it still confused me when I got done. I 
had the feeling that there was a story going on, but that the author had 
forgotten to tell me about it.

Although the story was unclear to me, the writing itself was clear enough. I 
didn't notice any spelling or grammar errors, and the various places in the 
game were well described. I particularly enjoyed the dialog between characters, 
which takes place mostly in the beginning of the game. Some of it was quite 
funny, and it sounded "real" to me, helping give a bit of character to the 

Another area where the author did well is in the amount of stuff he 
implemented. You can pick flowers, climb trees, drink from fountains, and catch 
falling petals. I spent most of the game just following the walkthrough, but 
during the time I was poking around I found a lot of stuff to do. Of course, 
that made it even harder to figure out what needed to be done, but the problem 
was with the lack of direction, not the deep implementation.

Well, I said I'd get to discussing the player's powers eventually, so I'll take 
them each in turn:

The creation ability:

Although your character is supposedly able to create anything out of nothing, 
the help text said that I should stick to things appropriate to a fairy tale 
setting. So I started by trying "create sword", and got a blank line as a 
response. A little later on, an NPC mentioned that we needed provisions, so I 
tried "crate food", and was given a generic failure response. I tried creating 
various weapons, armor, treasures, clothes, and equipment, and all I got for my 
trouble was a single gold coin. Altogether, I counted five different ways to 
fail to create something, including "I don't know that word" and a bug ("do you 
mean the , the , or the ?").

Now, I understand that the author couldn't add responses for everything I could 
think of creating, and I don't expect him to. But when the game tells me that I 
can create anything, it's setting expectations that it can't possibly fulfill. 
In my opinion, it would have been far better to limit the PC's ability rather 
than pretending that he could do things he really couldn't. For example, if the 
game had said "you can create weather effects," then the author could have 
focused on weather and implemented it much better.

Speaking of weather, you are able to create various weather effects- rain, 
lightning, etc. This is probably your most useful ability in the game, but I 
didn't figure out that I could do it until I went to the walkthrough. A more 
thorough description of what one can do with the creation ability would help 
the game a lot.

As it was, using the creation ability felt like a poorly done ask/tell 
conversation: keep typing in guesses until something works.

The shapeshifting ability:

The PC's other ability is the power to shapeshift into three forms: a dragon, a 
bird, and a human. However, the dragon form is too taxing to use until the 
Right Moment, which doesn't come until the endgame, so for most of the game you 
really only have two forms to change between. The problem is, your bird form 
seems to be completely unnecessary.

That's not to say that you can't do things as a bird that you couldn't as a 
man- you can fly and peck NPCs, for example. But these actions did not seem to 
be particularly helpful for solving any problems that I ran across. As far as I 
could tell, the bird form was just there to play with if I felt like it, and 
was more or less irrelevant to the game.

Now, when I play a game that gives me superpowers of some kind, I expect that 
I'll be using them to advance the game. I want to use my abilities in various 
clever (or even clumsy) ways to get around obstacles that I face. And if I 
don't get to, I feel somewhat cheated by the author- and often a little sorry 
for him, because he went to all the work of implementing the special power for 

Unfortunately, Gilded made me feel that way. When I first read about the 
shapeshifting ability I eagerly anticipated challenges that would require me to 
use my various forms together in order to prevail. But there weren't any. 
Although the shapeshifting had a lot of potential, it was, from my perspective, 
completely wasted.


The lack of motivation or direction makes it very difficult to figure out what 
to do in this game, and the PC's special powers only add to the problem. I 
really like the premise, and the author has good writing skills, but it will 
take a lot more to make this a good game.


From: Jimmy Maher (maher SP@G

TITLE: The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
AUTHOR: Jefferson Rabb
DATE: 2006
PARSER: Inform 6
SUPPORTS: Z-Code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Free; playable online

Here we have another example of what seems to be a growing trend: the use of IF 
to promote a traditional novel.  In this case the book in question is The Glass 
Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, which appears to be a fairly 
typical Victorian steampunk fantasy, a genre that is hot on the heels of 
Tolkienesque fantasy for the award of most overused of the past decade.  We 
actually get two separate games, one chronicling the adventures of a jilted 
young ingenue named Celeste Temple as she investigates the activities of her 
erhwhile fiancee, and the other following a killer for hire named Cardinal 
Chang.  Both stories dovetail together at the end in a way that could have been 
clever in the hands of someone with a bit more of a clue.  I am afraid, though, 
that most of what Stephen Bond discussed in his review of Eragon in this very 
issue applies here as well.

I hardly know where to begin describing all the problems with these games, so 
I'll walk you through the first part of Celeste Temple's adventure to give you 
an idea of the sort of experience you are in for should you try these out:  

To begin with, the Inform banner text has been removed, just as it was for 
Eragon.  It's interesting that both authors can't seem to manage to code the 
most straightforward interactions, yet both become experts when it is time to 
file the virtual serial numbers off their creations.  Nowhere on the Glass 
Books website or in the games themselves is credit given to Graham Nelson, 
Matthew Russotto (whose ZPlet Java interpreter is used), or anyone else who 
made the games possible.  This is not illegal, of course, but it is decidedly 
rude and unethical in my book.  Then again, given the quality of the games, 
perhaps Mr. Nelson and everyone else would just as soon not be associated.

The comically sparse description of the opening room (which is of course my 
bedroom, as it must be in all really bad games) describes the shades being
drawn.  A quick check reveals them to be unimplemented, but that's kind of an 
esoteric example, right?  Let's try another room.  One room over is my Aunt 
Agathe's sleeping room, in which the game informs me there is a night table 
with a newspaper upon it.  Let's examine the table. "You can't see any such 
thing."  Oh, no.  It looks like this game is not worth receiving the benefit of 
any doubts.  At least the newspaper works.

Going back to my starting location, I realize that the game states, "In your 
hands, you hold a letter," seemingly within the room description.  I decide to 
experiment.  I return to Aunt Agathe's room and drop said letter, then return 
to my starting location again.  Sure enough: "In your hands, you hold a 
letter."  Sigh.  Next room over, more of the same.  In the room description: 
"On the table next to the mirror is a pocketbook.  You open the bag and find 5 
gold coins and a hairpin tucked in the change pocket."  I'll let you guess what 
happens if I repeat the previous experiment.

This just continues.  The author doesn't seem to have a clue how to describe 
much of anything in Inform outside of his room descriptions.  Major plot 
events, transient actions, entrances and exits, it's all right. there. in. the. 
damn. room. descriptions.

Exploring a bit further, I encounter Marie the maid.  Examining her tells me, 
"Marie is a country girl, aged 25 like Miss Temple, but without her education 
or sophistication."  Remember, I am Miss Temple.  These bizarre lapses into 
third person will continue throughout the game.

Soon enough the really big problems set in.  The Inform parser has been 
tortured in horrible ways, leading to constant guess the verb issues.  These 
games are the first I have seen with random, instant death rooms in literally 
years, a situation made all the more frustruting by the fact that they are only 
playable online and thus cannot be saved.  (Well, the clever can of course 
extract the Z-Code by looking at the website's source, but I assume that isn't 
an offically encouraged thing to do.)  And then there's the writing.  The 
website credits one Jefferson Rabb with programming the games.  I really, 
really hope this means he also wrote the text based on Mr. Dahlquist's book, 
and not that he only did the programming (such as it is) and Mr. Dahlquist did 
the writing.  If a published author really wrote some of this... oh, my.  
Perish the thought.

I played Celeste Temple's adventure first, then trudged gamely on to Cardinal 
Chang's game.  I was amazed to find that this one is even worse.  There is a 
fairly detailed plot meant to unfold here, but the problem is that it only 
makes sense if one explores in exactly the order the author intended.  If not, 
everything is scrambled until one finishes the game and can analyze it all to 
figure out which way it was supposed to go.  The fundamental problem is again 
that Mr. Rabb doesn't seem to know how to code anything but room descriptions, 
which kind of limits one's storytelling options.  Also odd and disconcerting 
about this one is its obsession with violence.  You know how IF is sometimes 
praised for emphasizing non-violent problem-solving?  Well, you can throw that 
out when you play Cardinal Chang's adventure.  When considering whether to use 
cleverness or mayhem, know that violence is the answer to this one in almost 
every case.

I am currently playing and reviewing the games from IF Comp 2006.  Everyone 
complains about the number of unfinished, buggy games in the Comp, but I have 
made it almost halfway through the games so far and have found only a few as 
bad as these.  That is not a commendation of the Comp, my friends, but a 
condemnation of these games.

Still, every game deserves at least one positive comment, so here goes: The 
debugging verbs have been left turned on.  This means that when one runs 
headlong into a guess the verb puzzle, or experiences one too many sudden, 
pointless deaths, one can happily "purloin" and "tree" one's way to victory.  
And the website surrounding the games is quite pretty and probably took way 
more time to create than the Z-Code files embedded within did.  Oh, and at one 
time you could win a free copy of Dahlquist's book if you finished either or 
both adventures, but the contest period has unfortunately expired.  Of course, 
whether you would want the book if it features writing and plotting anything 
like these games is very much an open question.

One of the reasons these games frustrate me so much is because what they are 
trying to do could theoretically be such a winner for everyone.  I feel like 
readers of genre literature, searching for immersion as they are, are a great 
untapped market for IF.  A promotion like this one, done well and with just a 
link somewhere to "more games like this," could, affiliated as it is with a big 
novel published by Random House, bring many new people into the IF fold.  If 
the website creators' IF coding chops aren't up to snuff, many in the community 
would likely be willing to help just for the opportunity of promoting IF.  As 
it is, though, readers who try these abominations out are only likely to run 
screaming from any further suggestion of IF.  And really, why can't the 
creators give a little bit of credit to those whose tools they use?


From: DJ Hastings (dj.hastings SP@G

TITLE: Off The Trolley
AUTHOR: Krisztian Kaldi
EMAIL: krisztian.kaldi SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1


That was my first comment upon reading the opening text of Off the Trolley,and 
not coincidentally it was also my final comment after the game was finished. 
The game gave me an overall goal to accomplish early on, but even after 
finishing I can't figure out why I would want to accomplish it. (Or, for that 
matter, why the character I was playing would want to do so.) I considered 
insanity, but there didn't seem to be any indications that my character was 
insane. And *I* feel perfectly normal. So I'm guessing that there was some 
reason the PC wanted to do what he did, and the author just forgot to tell me 
about it.

Basically, you play the part of an old trolley driver on his last day of work, 
who decides to crash the trolley into one of the buildings along his route. 
When I first started the game and saw that I got to be a trolley driver, I was 
expecting it to be pretty dull. But to my surprise, I actually enjoyed 
operating the trolley. The author gave me a variety of things to do without 
letting anything get over-complicated. On the whole, the trolley was a nicely 
designed toy, and I had fun playing with it.

The puzzles were all related to operating the trolley, and none of them felt 
like they were "tacked on". They also had reasonable solutions that stayed 
pretty close to real life. I like this design, where the author gives me an 
interesting toy and spends the entire game having me play with it. Of course, 
this depends on the toy being an interesting one, but since the trolley was, 
the game worked for me.

The PC was also well done. The game really got me to feel like a quiet old 
trolley driver going through the same scenery I'd seen for decades. I actually 
think I identified with the PC in this game more than any other in the 
competition. That was part of what made the conclusion so confusing; I felt 
like I knew the character (at least a little), and couldn't figure out why on 
earth he would want to crash his trolley or destroy the building.

There were a number of minor problems- a few grammar errors, an awkward 
phrasing or two, a couple of bad words (which dropped my score for the game by 
a point), and a couple of very mild "guess-the-verb" and "guess-the-noun" 
problems. But the only major problem I saw was the lack of motivation for the 
PC, and all of these problems should be fairly easy to fix. In spite of needing 
some polish and a few bug fixes, Off the Trolley is a well done game.


From: Jim Aikin (midiguru23 SP@G

TITLE: Provenance
AUTHOR: Corey W. Arnett
EMAIL: coreywarnett SP@G
DATE: July 4, 2006
PARSER: Adrift Generator 4.00
VERSION: 1.12.16 (10 Feb. 2006)

I take it as axiomatic that interactive fiction is an entirely new art form.
It bears, perhaps, the same relation to conventional fiction that film bears
to theatre. Or possibly that's too grandiose a comparison.

One difficulty we face in nurturing this new medium is that, because the
community of enthusiasts is tiny and the forums through which new works can
be discussed are few and unknown to the public at large, every new work
that's released gets tossed into the common pool with all of the existing
works, to sink or swim as best it can.

The lack of stratification or hierarchy in the marketplace (using the term
in a broad sense) puts a burden on novice authors. Where is the interested
novice to get feedback and tutelage from more experienced authors, without
being discouraged by scathing criticism? How are we to be fair and helpful
when discussing the weaknesses of what can only be called student works?

I started thinking about this after I spent a couple of hours wandering
around in Provenance. Cory Arnett's first game is precisely a student work.
The author shows promise, and I hope he'll work hard to hone his skills and
release a more polished, thoughtful game, or several of them. Provenance
itself, however, is unlikely to attract many players, or hold their
attention for very long.

The strength of the game lies in the touches of creepy, ominous atmosphere
and in the grandeur of the scenery at certain locations. Its shortcomings
are just as easily listed: The model world is thin, the story is incoherent,
and the code is buggy.

As the story opens you're in your carriage, riding through a forest. Night
is falling and winter closing in. Shortly you reach a Victorian manor house,
and a sinister-looking trail of blood droplets on the front walk leads you
up to the door. As you explore the house and grounds, various momentary
incidents hint that All Is Not Well. In the end, sad to say, these glimpses
turn out to be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

The effect of the brooding atmosphere is undercut by bits of florid
over-writing. Consider this, from the intro: "The sun has breached the
horizon and its fervent intensity warms the land.... Only the sound of your
horse's hooves break up the monotonous silence that permeates through the
solitude." Note the grammatical error: "sound" is singular, so the verb
should be "breaks up." Also, in this passage the sun is rising. A few
sentences later, it's setting.

The game fails to follow through consistently with the gloomy spell cast by
winter: When you enter the garden of the manor house, you'll find roses and
wisteria in bloom, as well as ripe tomatoes and strawberries. Curiously, you
can pick eight varieties of vegetable in the garden (counting strawberries
as a vegetable), but they have nothing to do with solving the game.

The player character's goal is not initially clear, but the game turns out
to be a treasure hunt. Most players will probably find, before long, a handy
list of the things we're supposed to collect. Finding the key that will get
you into the house is more challenging, however. I feel this puzzle is
borderline unfair, because it requires that you examine scenery objects
three deep. Without giving spoilers, you have to 'x abc', then when you
notice a mention of def in the description of abc, 'x def', and finally 'x
ghi' based on an object mentioned in the description of def. This is
borderline unfair because many of the scenery objects mentioned in the room
descriptions can't be examined at all. By the time the location of the key
is reached, the average player may have wearied of examining things and
gotten lazy.

But if you're not lazy -- if you meticulously examine everything in sight,
as you need to in order to get on -- you'll most likely get annoyed by how
thin the model world is. I certainly did.

Once you're inside the house, the scenery is a bit more varied. I found one
way to get killed (without notice), and there's one extremely boring
character I could attempt to talk to. This character wanders from room to
room under the control of a random number generator, but does not respond in
any way when you ask him questions to which he might be supposed to know the
answers. I did find two topics he'd give brief, uninformative replies to.

The author's enthusiasm for Victorian furniture quickly begins to seem
obsessive. Various pieces are described in ways that include their precise
measurements and the methods used to produce those beautiful wood finishes.
Consider, for example, this description of the bathtub: "An amazing display
of Victorian decorating taken to the ultimate limit, the cast iron bath tub
has been painted a sea foam green on the outside with a scene of four sea
fairies riding sailfish on large rolling waves. The inside of the tub has
been painted white. Four gold plated claw feet support the tub." You can't
sit in the tub, and you can't examine the sea fairies, the sailfish, or the
claw feet. Ah, well -- it's certainly pretty.

The writing of room descriptions appears to have been done at different
times, or at least with insufficient thought as to how various descriptions
relate to one another. In the upstairs hall we're told that the master
bedroom, to the south, "dominates most of the upstairs." But when we enter
the master bedroom we're told this: "Although called the master bedroom this
room is no larger than the other small bedrooms. It is cramped, yet cozy."
So much for dominating the upstairs. In a similar gaffe, a character (who
never appears onstage and has nothing to do with the process of winning the
game) is referred to in one document as Jacob, and in a different document
as Jonathan.

There are numerous minor bugs in the printouts. At one spot a sentence
breaks off in the middle. At another a room exit is not mentioned in the
"can't go" message, which usually lists all of the available exits. At a
third spot, the NPC (okay, he's the butler) entered and said something that
seemed urgent, but when I tried to ask him about it, the game reported, "The
butler is not here." Things that don't exist if you try to examine them can
occasionally be used, for example by putting other things inside them.

The most significant bugs seem to be caused by the author's assumption that
the player would perform certain actions in a given order. For instance,
there's a locked box, to which you'll sooner or later find the key, in a
certain location. When I unlocked it while going through the game on my own,
it was empty. Or at least, no contents appeared; the verb 'search' is not
implemented, so I couldn't search the box, only examine it. When I reached
the same box using the walkthrough, I had just performed an action that
caused a brief cut-scene -- and NOW the box had some objects in it.

Even the walkthrough is buggy. The first time a certain map is mentioned is
when you're told to drop it. Apparently the butler is supposed to give it to
you ... but there's a bug in the software that somehow prevented him from
doing so. And without the map, you can't win the game.

The dramatic setup for the treasure hunt is contained in a Last Will &
Testament, which you'll probably find before too long. This document
contradicts itself with respect to the structure of the family that lives
(or lived) in the house, and it contains, as far as I could see, no
information that you actually need in order to win the game, until you reach
the final codicil. All that legal boilerplate is numbingly irrelevant. Later
there's a long and fairly sensible description of alchemy -- but again, it
seems to be irrelevant to winning the game.

At a couple of spots, the author seems to have been unable to figure out how
to move the player back to the house from a remote location, so he simply
puts the player character to sleep and has him or her wake up again in the
master bedroom. No explanation of these transitions is ever offered.

The final phase of the game involves negotiating a very large maze.
Fortunately, the automatic map generator in Adrift makes short work of what
would otherwise be an extremely tedious process. When you reach the center
of the maze and perform the actions you've been instructed (in a certain
document) to perform, the final result is simply, "You win!!!" That's it --
no marching band, no sun bursting through the clouds, no hearty
congratulatory handshake from the Vice President of Adventure Gaming
Virtuosity. It's a letdown, but rather in keeping with the game as a whole,
I'd have to say.

Arnett is capable of moments of startling vision, and he clearly wants to
engage readers by using evocative materials. (Those drops of blood are far
from the only glimpses of savagery in Provenance.) In his next game I hope
he'll trim the number of rooms in half, implement more verbs and scenery,
invent more puzzles that aren't simply keys and locked doors, integrate the
story elements a lot more firmly into the game scenario, give us a few NPCs
with meat on their bones, and arm-twist a few beta-testers to put the screws
to his code.

That's all it would take, really.


From: DJ Hastings (dj.hastings SP@G

TITLE: Snatches
AUTHOR: Gregory Weir
EMAIL: Gregory.Weir SP@G
DATE: October 1, 2005
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1

Snatches is a horror story about a creature that is stalking and attacking 
people in and around an old house. During the game you switch perspectives 
frequently, although you play each character only once. This is because the 
perspective switch usually occurs when the "shadow" bumps off your current 
character. Because of this, most of the game is pretty linear.

In fact, Snatches could probably be better described as an "interactive story" 
until the very end, when there are multiple endings available based on your 
actions. There are clues here and there in the main story that may help with 
the endgame, but no real puzzles until the end.

I actually think that this is a problem with the game. By the time I got to the 
endgame, I was used to doing fairly obvious things and watching the story 
unfold. So when I hit the puzzley bit, it felt like an interruption. I didn't 
*want* to do anything clever at that point; I just wanted to finish the story! 
I found a couple of the less optimal (but more easily accessible) endings and 
then quit. If the final segment had been similar to the rest of the game, I 
would have enjoyed Snatches far more.

That's not to imply that I didn't enjoy it. On the contrary, I really liked 
viewing various events through multiple sets of eyes, and piecing the story 
together as I gained more information. I particularly enjoyed playing as the 
family dog and seeing his perspective on things. Even though I knew that each 
of my characters would get killed eventually, the author managed to keep me 
interested in them and their story.

I thought that the story itself was reasonably interesting and creative, 
although I haven't really read any horror fiction, so it could be completely 
hackneyed and I wouldn't know it.  :)  In my opinion, it was well told using 
the character switching.

The game had a number of bugs, mostly small inconsistencies in the text of the 
game. These appeared to be caused by making assumptions about what the player 
would do. For example, one cutscene describes a character's gun going off when 
she drops it. When I played the character, I had fired the gun until it was 
empty, but the cutscene still described it going off when it was dropped. This 
sort of thing could have been ironed out with a little more testing (and 
probably should have been).

There were also a few typos and at least one programming error. But none of the 
errors I saw had any real effect on gameplay, and they were infrequent enough 
not to spoil the story. On the whole, I had fun with this game in spite of its 
problems, and look forward to seeing what else Mr. Weir will come up with.


From: DJ Hastings (dj.hastings SP@G

TITLE: Son of a...
AUTHOR: C.S. Woodrow
EMAIL: ???
DATE: October 1, 2005
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
VERSION: Release 1

SOA is a puzzle game without much plot to speak of. You're stranded on a 
deserted highway and have to find a way to get back to civilization. All of the 
puzzles are well integrated with the story; none of them felt artificial to me. 
The solutions, too, were for the most part things that I might reasonably try 
in the same situation. None of the puzzles made me say "cool!" when I solved 
them, but none of them seemed tedious or boring either.

I mentioned that the solutions to the puzzles were things I might reasonably 
try, and that leads me to the game's main problem: I *did* think up the correct 
answer to all but one of the puzzles on my own, but I often couldn't manage to 
get the game to understand what I meant. In some cases the game failed to 
understand reasonable phrasings of a command (and the phrase it *did* 
understand didn't quite make sense). In others, the game recognized the 
alternate phrasings that I tried but gave a generic failure message, with no 
indication that the correct action was slightly different, leading me to 
believe that my solution was wrong. I ended up going to the walkthrough on 
about half of the puzzles only to find that I had already tried the correct 
solution, but with the wrong words.

The writing is clear and very funny in several places, although there were 
quite a few grammar errors sprinkled throughout. The game would also be fairly 
easy without the problem mentioned in the previous paragraph. I'm generally not 
good at solving puzzles, but I thought up the answers to nearly all the puzzles 
on my own. If the author releases an updated version with some of the problems 
fixed, it could make an excellent game to help introduce new players to IF.

On the whole, SOA just needs a few good rounds of testing to become a solid 
little game.


From: Valentine Kopteltsev (uux SP@G

Title: A Spot Of Bother
Author: David Whyld
E-mail: dwhyld SP@G
Date: December 24, 2005
Parser: ADRIFT
Supports: ADRIFT interpreters
Availability: Freeware
Version: 4.0

In the former Soviet Union, a corny phrase was very popular -- "a city of 
contrasts". Journalists loved to use it in their feature articles about various 
towns of Western Europe and the USA, setting off the lustre of the city centres 
and villa districts against the misery of the slummy outskirts, letting the 
readers make their own conclusions about the reasons for such an inequality.

Since then, this cliche has somewhat fallen into disuse, at least in Russia -- 
I suspect to a no small degree because our own towns developed pretty much in 
the same direction. However, as I played A Spot Of Bother, I couldn't help 
myself thinking of it again; if I had to describe the game using a single word, 
I'd choose "uneven".

The undoubtedly most brilliant part of the game are its characters. The 
exaggeratedly tough PC, Stavros McGrogan aka The Bulldog, the eccentric Mrs. 
Moog he needs to rescue, her no less extravagant, albeit in a different manner, 
husband, and the mean Sergeant Twiddles, Bulldog's immediate superior, who 
isn't even a real character in the game, and only appears in cut-scenes -- all 
of them are depicted with great care and love, and made me smile more than 
once. I'm not getting in much more detail now, but it's not because the 
characters don't deserve it -- I just don't want to spoil the fun for other 

We fairly often talk about puzzle-oriented IF and plot-oriented IF; in my 
opinion, A Spot Of Bother doesn't fall in any of these categories. I'd rather 
call it a character-driven game, and I think it's quite unique in its way.

Now, please don't start showering me with insufficient IF-literacy accusations 
(although they probably are condign). I know there are enough games built 
around characters out there (the most widely-known examples probably are Emily 
Short's Galatea, and Best Of Three), but they all (or, at least the ones I have 
encountered) are more or less experimental works
exploring character interaction, without any real plot or setting. It's 
entirely different with ASoB: in respect to layout, it's a fairly traditional 
text adventure, but all the nominally present game elements seem to serve but 
one purpose -- grotesquely setting off the PC's and NPC's personalities.

The plot, for instance, is in itself a quite standard save-the-world business: 
the old lady who's the head of the British Nuclear Research Facility, Mrs. 
Moog, has fainted in her cottage, and you have to get her out, because a 
nuclear reactor is going to explode, and she's the only person competent enough 
to shut it down. However, this story is just ideally suited to comically 
emphasize the PC's toughness, and Mrs. Moogs nuttiness. The effect is supported 
by luminous writing; a few "glosses" could send a reader less phlegmathic than 
the author of this review down to the floor cringing with laughter. All this, 
as well as the understanding of the secondary role of the plot, helps not to 
pay any attention to a few stretching points. 

But now we get to the "slummy outskirts" or, to be more precise, the "poor 
relatives" of the game -- the puzzles. They also are here mostly in order to 
accentuate what an oddball Mrs. Moog is (according to the game story, she's 
paranoid about security, and has set up several quite fiendish traps against 
burglars in her house; the puzzles as such consist in overcoming these traps). 
However, making the puzzles weird enough to fit with Mrs. Moog's eccentric 
nature, yet fun to solve for a much less eccentric average player at the same 
time seemed to be a task the author wasn't entirely up to. Thus, the player has 
to do enough reading the author's (or Mrs. Moog's?) mind, be very pedantical 
about examining each and every item in each and every room in order not to miss 
something crucial, and formulate her/his commands very carefully.

One example illustrating the remark about command wording (not adopted from the 
game): imagine you get to a room whose description goes like this:


  Here, the doleful monotonity of the planes gives way to 
  rocky terrain. The latter is doubtlessly much more 
  picturesque; unfortunately, it also makes your further 
  progress to the south impossible -- at least if you don't
  employ the shaggy, stocky skewbald pony grazing nearby as a 
  transport facility.


  You can't pass there afoot.


  You can't get on the pony.


  You can't climb the pony.


  You can't climb the pony.


  No, I don't understand that. Try something else.


  No, I don't understand that. Try something else.


  What a lucky guess!, you think to yourself, as you climb 
  onto the pony, and make yourself ready to continue your way 
  to the south.

Of course, A Spot Of Bother features built-in hints, but they aren't completely 
thorough, and don't give away the final solution. Thus, although one can't deny 
they are a great help in overcoming the "read the author's mind" and "examine 
everything" issues, they're still pretty ineffective against the too strict 
phrasing requirements. Whatever, after a long but unsuccessful fight with the 
prototype of my pony example, I resorted to a walkthrough I dug up in the 
Internet for the rest of the game, and never regretted doing so afterwards.

Finally, there are a few things that anything but adorn a game with such 
ambitions. I mean minor glitches -- room descriptions unaware of state changes 
they should be sensitive to, items mentioned in the descriptions yet 
inaccessible for manipulations, that kind of things. There are a bit too many
of them, especially considering this is the fourth release of the game. For 
instance, there is an official cheat (!) for one of the puzzles, because the 
appropriate section of the game sometimes doesn't work as it should for 
uncertain reasons. To be fair, I think the problem lies not on the part of the 
game itself but on the part of the interpreter, although it doesn't
really matter from the player's point of view.

To put it short, I think you're going to have a great time in the company of 
The Bulldog, Mrs. Moog, and Sergeant Twiddles. Just don't fix on the puzzles 
too much.

SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard):

PLOT: Grunt (meaning "ideal for setting off the characters' 
      personalities") (1.1)
ATMOSPHERE: Grunt (one of the game's main attractions) (1.7)
WRITING: Grunt (cool) (1.7)
GAMEPLAY: Grunt (well, uneven) (1.0)
BONUSES: Grunt (the troupe) (1.1)
TOTAL: 6.6
CHARACTERS: Grunt (they're what this game exists for) (1.9)
PUZZLES: Frown (I've seen better) (1.0)
DIFFICULTY: Grunt (pretty easy -- once you use a walkthrough;) 
            (7 out of 10)


From: David Jones (drj SP@G

Title: Time to Shine
Author: Sophie Frühling
E-mail: sfruehling SP@G
Date: September 22, 2006
Parser: Inform 6
Supports: Z-code
Availability: Freeware
Version: Release 1 / Serial number 060922 / Inform v6.31 Library 6/11

Time to Shine was the sole entry to David Fisher's CreatureComp.  I'm unaware 
of the premise of the competition, but I assume it is one where the PC is a 
non-human creature.  In this case the PC is a Caputman.

Time to Shine takes place amidst a lot of humans.  The way their behaviour and 
appearance is described does do a good job of making the PC seem very un-human 
but initially in a kind of vague odd way.  This accentuates the chasm between 
the PC and the player.  Normally this sort of thing gets in the way in a game, 
but here it's intended; part of what makes the game interesting is that the 
player has to investigate the PC by having the PC investigate the game's world, 
and thereby acquire an understanding of the PC.  The various actions, and 
responses to inaction, cause the player to form an increasingly refined model 
of the PC as various hypotheses are entertained and rejected.  The resulting 
form that the Caputman's take in this player's mind is deliberately comical; a 
light-hearted theme present throughout Time to Shine.

Quite a large amount of the early game appears to be about exploring the PC's 
nature, so it's important that this be handled believably.  The Caputman PC, it 
would seem, has little knowledge of human behavour, appearance, etc, and is 
suprised by certain aspects of their anatomy (their _feet_ for example).  But 
Caputmans are apparently just as familiar with, for example, PVC as humans are. 
 Is describing something in inches a convenience for me the player or a metric 
norm shared by Caputmans and humans alike?  The game never provides answers for 
such questions.

The writing is good, error free and occasionally knowingly self-referential: "A 
few dustbins help create an original urban back alley atmosphere".  The author 
is milking a cliché here and plainly know that dustbins are not an original 
atmospheric device.  Describing them as such serves only to heighten their 
importance, drawing the player to investigate them.  As if I somehow wasn't 
going to EXAMINE everything I could see anyway.  The writing has a good voice; 
it's funny without being overly comedic, and is consistent from beginning to 

The PC's motivations, to get a key NPC to fall in love with him, pretty much 
have to be taken as given.  Whilst some attempt is made to establish these 
motivations and engage the player along the same lines, the attempts are a bit 
weak: "You could probably get in there unseen, but what good would that do? You 
need a plan to make your beloved love you." Do I?  Oh, okay then.  Similarly, 
one of the early puzzles revolves around acquiring an object (of apparent 
value), but in terms of the plot it's not really clear why the PC would want 
the object; the solution to this puzzle, whilst clued and fair, doesn't really 
seem sensible, though it does enrich the player's model of Caputmans.  Only 
after solving the puzzle does the purpose of the object become clear; an NPC 
provides a blatant opportunity to fill-in some of the background and purpose 
behind this puzzle but that opportunity isn't exploited.  In fact the NPC in 
question appears to be nothing more than a mysterious prop unti!
 l the puzzle is solved.

The key NPC is never described concretely and this one of the reasons why I 
think the player fails to be as motivated as the PC.  The following transcript 
  X HER 
  Words are failing you. Sadly, she doesn’t notice you.
is typical.  I assume the author is deliberately refraining from describing the 
beauty of this person, but I think it would help the player.

Hmm, I did something innocuous but immediately am overcome with a sense of 
unwinnable state.  I restart.  On solving a relevant puzzle it becomes clear 
that I did achieve an unwinnable state (an accident of programming rather than 
deliberate design).  Still, restarting was hardly any trouble at all. Oh, 
sudden death with an attempt at comedy that isn't quite convincing.  Still, the 
action is only an UNDO away.

One early location that is revisited later on changes materially, but the only 
purpose behing the change seems to be to make you solve another puzzle 
essentially isomorphic to the first one.  Which is kinda annoying.

The game is short, very linear, and has about 3 or 4 puzzles (depending on how 
you count).  I expect most players will breeze through it in half-an-hour or 
so, I didn't use the hints.  The ending feels rushed and a bit unsurprising; it 
left me feeling underwhelmed.  To be honest I think some of the puzzles are 
reasonably solvable only because of the relatively few things available for the 
PC to do, so you'll pretty quickly hit upon the solution by trial and error.  
HINT (which is I used for the purposes of review) does indeed provide "cheap 
and easy hints", just as ABOUT avers.

The whole thing, whilst being very small and very linear, is competently done.  
There are a few missing verbs, some synonyms for puzzle-solving actions might 
help the action flow a little more smoothly, but on the whole I get the 
impression that the author knows how to do all this stuff, she just didn't, 
either through constraints of time or laziness.  ABOUT says that "this game 
hasn’t been tested by anyone at all, and it probably shows", but actually it 
doesn't really show.  Sure, some of things I complain about would probably have 
be found and fixed by a bit of testing, but there's no mistakes with the text, 
all the puzzles work technically, and there's no glaring runtime-type bugs.  It 
presents the level of polish and completeness of a playable game as opposed to 
one which is in dire need of debugging.

Whilst Time to Shine is obviously deliberately short and frivolous it does 
leave me with good impressions about the author's ability.  It would be 
possible to clean up Time to Shine a bit and thereby improve it, and this would 
probably be worthwhile for the more niggly things, but what I'd really like to 
see is the author having the confidence to produce more notable works.  I think 
she's clearly capable of it.

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