ISSUE #50 - December 3, 2007

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

                         ISSUE #50

        Edited by Jimmy Maher (maher SP@G
                       December 3, 2007

           SPAG Website:

SPAG #50 is copyright (c) 2007 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 ----------------------------------------------------

IF News
The H.P. Lovecraft Commonplace Book Project

INTERVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE --------------------------------------------------

David Cornelson
Michael Gentry
Graeme Jefferis

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

Edificio 25
Ghost of the Fireflies
Lord Bellwater's Secret
Regreso al Eden


SPAG #50 has arrived!  If this were a big, glitzy commercial publication, I 
would feel obligated to fill it with retrospectives, lists, and highlights from 
the last thirteen years.  It's not, though, and the IF community is generally 
not given to such gratuitous back-patting, so I will let the milestone pass 
quietly.  Feel free to reflect amongst yourselves about the community's now 
rather startlingly lengthy history and SPAG's role in that history.

I must in fact confess to having given considerable recent thought to SPAG's 
role, albeit from the perspective of a nervous editor looking to do the right 
thing by the community rather than that of a worshipful fan.  (You ARE all 
worshipful fans, aren't you?)  Things have been changing in the few years since 
I took this gig.  Many, although certainly not all, discussions are migrating 
away from the newsgroups to blogs and forums, and new tools are appearing to 
allow all of us to share reviews and feedback on games more quickly.  The IF 
Wiki, and the IF Rating Site have of course been around for a 
little while; now we can add Michael J. Roberts's rather spectacular new IFDB to 
the list.  That's great.  Buzzword or not, it's time for IF to join the world of 
Web 2.0.  Us old fogeys may shed a tear for Usenet, but we need to reach the 
iTunes generation if we want to make of IF a living, vibrant literary scene 
rather than a relic of the past.

All this does raise a difficult question for me, however: does where does an 
ASCII-based e-zine fit into this brave new world?  I've thought about it quite a 
lot over the last couple of months, even considering whether it might be time to 
retire SPAG gracefully after an even 50 issues, leaving the site alive of course 
for its historical archive of reviews.  I decided not to do that, for at least 
two reasons: 1) I think of SPAG as a community trust, and don't really feel 
empowered to take that kind of a momentous step without consulting you folks; 
and, more importantly, 2) I think the old girl still has something to contribute 
to the community, albeit perhaps something slightly different than what Keven 
Wilson envisioned all those years ago.

As I mentioned, we have plenty of places to go to read and submit reviews now, 
many of them arguably more satisfying for both readers and writers than an old 
dinosaur like this.  What we don't have, though, are other places for in-depth 
articles, for interviews, and for careful, detailed analysises of games, all 
with the editorial supervision missing from the world of Web 2.0.  SPAG has kind 
of been traveling in this direction anyway, with the ongoing series on foreign 
language IF which should conclude next issue with features on the Italian 
community.  I'd like to formalize this change in emphasis at this point, though.
I'm not going to keep pushing for huge numbers of capsule reviews in each issue, 
because frankly I think that's a losing battle.  Other places simply do that 
better in 2007.  What I would like to see are more thoughtful features.  Judging 
from recent feedback, I think many of you feel the same way.  I won't be 
maintaining a reviews wanted list anymore, and won't be pressing for 
reviews of every game that gets released.  I would, however, love to get reviews 
from you, and if you send them to me I'll certainly publish them.  But also 
please think about articles on IF craft, theory, history, or current events you 
might like to write, such as Peter Nepstad's feature in this issue about his 
Commonplace Book Exhibition.  Think about figures you might like to see 
interviewed, and either send me an email telling me who I should be talking to 
or (even better) offering to conduct the interview yourself.  Think abotut 
review packages you might like to put together, covering and comparing games 
from certain competitions or even just on a single theme.  (I'm planning one of 
these for next issue myself.)  And think about longer, more in-depth 
commentaries you might want to write on games that move you positively or 
negatively, or that just intrigue you.  You can do this as a SPAG Specifics 
piece if you like, which affords you the unique opportunity in IF criticism to 
indulge in all the spoiling you want to do on the way to making your point.  
I'll do my part, trying to write or drum up interesting features for each issue. 
I've already got a couple in the pipeline for next time around.  As always with 
SPAG, though, much of the work is up to you.

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

IF Competition 2007
The biggest annual community event has come and gone, leaving in its wake 
another handful of games likely to be remembered years from now.  Check the IF 
Wiki page at for a complete list of 
review sets.  Congratulations to those who placed well... aw, hell, to everyone 
who entered.  You all deserve it.  Look for interviews with the top finishers 
(assuming they agree to do them) in the next issue of SPAG.

1 Lost Pig, by Admiral Jota (writing as Grunk) 
2 An Act of Murder, by Christopher Huang (writing as Hugh Dunnett) 
3 Lord Bellwater's Secret, by Sam Gordon 
4 Across The Stars, by Dark Star & Peter Mattsson 
5 The Chinese Room, by Joey Jones and Harry Giles 
6 Varkana, by Maryam Gousheh Forgeot (writing as Farahnaaz) 
7 A Fine Day for Reaping, by revgiblet 
8 Orevore Courier, by Brian Rapp 
9 My Name is Jack Mills, by Juhana Leinonen 
10 A Matter of Importance, by Valentine Kopteltsev (writing as Nestor 
I. McNaugh) 
11 Ferrous Ring, by Carma Ferris 
12 Deadline Enchanter, by Alan DeNiro (writing as Anonymous) 
13 My Mind's Mishmash, by Robert Street 
14 In The Mind Of The Master, by David Whyld 
15 Gathered In Darkness, by Michael Millsap (writing as Dr. Froth) 
16 Fox, Fowl and Feed, by Chris Conroy 
17 Wish, by Edward Floren 
18 Packrat, by Bill Powell 
19 Slap that Fish, by Peter Nepstad 
20 Jealousy Duel X, by Alex Camelio 
21 Beneath: a Transformation, by Graham Lowther 
22 The Immortal, by Just Rob 
23 Eduard the Seminarist, by Heiko TheiĂn 
24 Press [Escape] to Save, by Mark Jones 
25 Reconciling Mother, by Glenn Engstrand (writing as Plone Glenn) 
26 The Lost Dimension, by C. Yong 
27 Ghost of the Fireflies, by Paul Panks (writing as Dunric) 
IntroComp 2007 Winners Announced
The annual IntroComp competition for introductions to proposed longer works of 
IF is also complete, and I won!  It's all about me!  Me!  (Hey, what's the use 
of being the editor of an amateur publication covering an obscure hobby if you 
can't use it to bolster your self-esteem every once in a while?)

One Room Game Competition 2007
A competition is currently in progress for games taking place within (you 
guessed it) a single room.  There are five entries in English and four in 
Italian, and you have until December 22 to play them and submit your scores.

Commodore C-40 Contest
Sam Trenholme is running a contest for minimalist IF games, or other forms of 
ASCII-based entertainment.  Entrants must be capable of running on a 
hypothetical Commodore C-40 machine featuring a whopping 40K of memory, meaning 
they must be less than 40K in length and must be in Z-Machine version 3 or 
version 5 format.  2004's C-32 contest, to which this is a succesor, was a lot 
of fun and produced some surprisingly playable little gems.  Deadline for 
sending your games to Sam is December 4, so there probably isn't time to write 
something (unless you work really, really fast).  You can certainly judge, 

Interactive Short Fiction Competition
Mark Engelberg is hosting a competition for short, gentle games designed to ease 
the beginning player into IF.  Entries must be written in Inform 7 or TADS 3, 
and there is a $50 cash prize.  The deadline for submissions is February 15.

Spring Thing 2008
Greg Boettcher will be running the Spring Thing Competition again next year, 
focusing on longer works of IF that must pass a quality control standard to be 
eligible.  It's a great idea that never seems to attract the interest it 
deserves. Perhaps we can finally change that this time.  Authors must notify 
Greg of their intention to enter and pay their $5 US entry fees by March 15 of 
next year, with the finished games being due on April 2.

Mike Roberts of TADS fame has just rendered a wonderful new service to the 
community: the IFDB (Interactive Fiction Database).  Taking the IMDB (Internet 
Movie Database) as its obvious model, the IFDB is place for players to rate 
games and share their recommendations with others.  That's how Mike chooses to 
describe it, anyway, but really he's selling himself short in doing so, for 
there are a host of other neat features to be found there, including a new and 
badly needed system for quickly and conveniently downloading and playing 
interesting games iTunes style, with the correct interpreter being automatically 
chosen or even installed if necessary.  Check this one out, folks.  It well and 
truly rocks.

Inform 7 for Linux
The Linux version of the Inform 7 IDE has matured enough to stand beside the 
Windows and Macintosh versions as an officially supported port available from 
the Inform 7 website.  Great news for those of you using Linux I'm sure.

Textfyre on Gamasutra
The professional game development webzine Gamasutra recently published an 
article on David Cornelson's new commercial IF company Textfyre, along with an 
interview with David.

Command Lines: An IF Dissertation
Jeremy Douglass has made his recently completed IF-focused PhD dissertation 
available online.  The work, entitled Command Lines, makes a good argument for 
recasting the traditional narrative about IF history, treating the commercial 
era as a brief abberation rather than a sort of golden age.  More interesting 
still, though, are his close crtical readings of several works of modern IF.  
There's a lot here (almost 400 pages), so dig in.


I've put together this article based on a recommendation by "Urbatain," who at 
the close of the project recommended that everyone write a little something 
about the project for the different IF magazines, he for SPAC, me for SPAG. The 
Spanish language article, an interview between all participants, is in SPAC #51 
and a great read, if you read Spanish and/or are willing to copy/paste into 
Google Trans:

1. In the Beginning...

To start with, I was working on a series of Interactive Fictions based on early 
fantasy/horror authors who were inspirations to H.P. Lovecraft. I had just 
completed the first two in the series (based on stories by Lord Dunsany) and was 
working on a third, when around mid-February of 2007, I decided I hadn't read my 
Lovecraft in so long, that it was time to re-read those stories, as well. So I 
started with the books I had, and researched ones I didn't. I kept reading about 
Lovecraft's Commonplace Book -- his repository for story ideas that he never 
completed -- and got online to try tracking down a copy.

Using the near-mystical powers of Google, I promptly stumbled onto a site that 
had posted information about an upcoming Lovecraft-inspired art exhibit in 
Switzerland, based on the Commonplace Book. [The site is Monster Brains, and one 
that I have bookmarked and now regularly visit, a compendium of monster art, old 
and new. The posting I stumbled across is located here:]. 
Reading through the invite to exhibit, I immediately noticed two things: One, 
that it looked like a cool project, and Two, that I had already missed the 
deadline for Artists contracts, but the confirmation of artist participation 
deadline was still a couple weeks off. But it immediately struck me that the 
Commonplace Book ideas would make natural jumping-off points for works of IF. I 
mean, take this example:

- "Ancient and unknown ruins, strange and immortal bird who speaks in a language 
horrifying and revelatory to the explorers."

or this:

- "Individual, by some strange process, retraces the path of evolution and 
becomes amphibious."

Great stuff.

So, I did a little research. The exhibit was to be held at Maison d'Ailleurs, 
aka The Museum of Science Fiction and Utopias, which for starters, is a 
completely cool topic to have a museum for. It is located in Yverdon-les-Bains, 
a town in the French speaking region of Switzerland. The website is at, and there you can find additional 
information about the museum, its collection, and the exhibits. The curator of 
the museum is Patrick Gyger, who has his own wikipedia entry here:, and who has worked previously on the 
European Space Agency's ITSF project, which compiled all possible suggestions of 
Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction for space applications. What a 
project! Combing through science fiction books and documenting the best ideas 
for actual engineers and scientists to discuss and think about -- a visionary 
and inspirational project if there ever was one.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be possible to 
contribute a work of Interactive Fiction for the exhibit. And the more I thought 
about that, the more I thought that maybe some other authors would be interested 
in contributing as well. So, I sent Mr. Gyger an email that very same day. I may 
be too late because of the first missed deadline, I thought, but there was no 
sense wasting any more time.


SUBJECT: An Exhibit Of Unspeakable Things: Request to Participate

I have just today discovered your plans for "An
Exhibit Of Unspeakable Things" and am very interested
in somehow participating in the exhibit.

However, my chosen media is "Interactive Fiction." In
short, I write text-based, interactive stories that
can be played on a computer.

I am currently working on a series of stories adapted
from the works of Lord Dunsany. For example, see the
adaptation of THE EBB AND FLOW OF THE TIDE, here:


And so my memo began. A little background, a little explanation, and the Lord 
Dunsany game to give him an idea of what I was on about (note I linked to the 
ifwiki page for the game, which I felt gave the cleanest introduction to the 
work, compared to other sites). I went on to make my proposal: (1) that I write 
a game for the exhibit, (2) that I get other IF authors to write games for the 
exhibit, and that I would (3) provide at least one work in French. At this time, 
I had absolutely no idea how I might pull that off, but it seemed like the right 
suggestion to make for the venue in question. I added a couple links, to JOURNEY 
OF THE KING (my second Dunsany game) and a review of 1893 (so that he knows I am 
not just some completely random person emailing him out of nowhere), and I hit 
send, and waited.

It didn't take long to get a response:


SUBJECT: re: An Exhibit of Unspeakable Things: Request to Participate

Dear Peter Nepstad,

Thank you for your email regarding our exhibition.

These works you link to seem very interesting. The Ebb and Flow is 
great (although I haven't made very good progress in the game, I must 

Your idea is very original and we'd be very happy to pursue this 
further. Something in English + French would be great, so that it 
would somehow be of interest to different types of audiences.

How can I assist you in this project? Also, let me know if I can give 
you more info about the exhibit.


I was very impressed that he took the time to download an interpreter and 
download a game and play it before responding (and also he of course showed 
great taste in his appreciation of the game! :)). At the same time, I had to 
laugh -- of course, my most rash proposal -- sending a game in French -- was one 
he seized on immediately. But it looked like it was a go, so it was time to get 
down to business. And really from that moment on, until the opening of the 
exhibit in October, I spent some time every single week emailing dozens of 
people, working with the museum and other authors, developing my game, running 
the comp, creating a user interface for all the games, making sure they worked, 
and getting them to the museum in time for the opening. So there are really two 
lessons about this project for everyone: First, you don't know if you can do 
something unless you ask. Second, you'd better be prepared to back up your 
request with a lot of work.

 - "Drowning sensations—undersea—cities—ships—souls of the dead. Drowning is a 
horrible death."

2. Inviting Other Authors to Participate

I resolved in my mind that the exhibit would simply not be possible without a 
contribution from some French language authors. I thought this was a great 
opportunity for a global project, and excited at the prospect, but at the same 
time was (1) mostly unfamiliar with the French IF scene, and (2) took a couple 
years of French in High School but that was a loooooooong time ago. So it looked 
like I needed to find a bilingual French author at that. I decided to contact 
"JB", because he recently released a high quality French game that included 
graphics, called Ekphrasis, which was favorably discussed. I sent him an awkward 
message soliciting his interest, which is now saved for all to see in the French 
IF forum, located here: 
Again, I was pleasantly surprised at the interest and excitement generated by 
the request. And I knew that we were going to make something happen, when JB 
included in his response:

...I already have written a piece of IF in french about the Lovecraft universe 
called "dreamlands", and it won the 2nd place at the 2006 french comp. Actually, 
I am a big fan of the Lovecraft works...

The proposal generated enough interest among French authors that they decided to 
create a single work by multiple authors, each tackling one entry in the 
Commonplace Book. This was not exactly to the specifications of the exhibit 
(which required each work be inspired by only one entry in the book), but I 
figured it was close enough, and a much more interesting project, as well. The 
"French Team" as I will call them were an inspiration to me for the project as a 
whole. I communicated for a time with JB, and then when other matters began to 
take his time, Eric Forgeot filled the gap. Because they were so pleasant to 
work with, I wanted to expand the scope of the project, and reached out to the 
Italian IF community, via Roberto Grassi, but in his words, they were "sleeping" 
at that time and decided not to participate. I did not know of any other 
languages that had an IF community at that time, or I would have reached out to 
them as well. In the event, a few weeks later, I received a communication from 
"Depresiv" requesting that the Spanish IF community take part, creating a 
collaborative game after the French model. Needless to say, I was thrilled, and 
the end product was quite astonishing in its professional presentation. The 
international contingent of the project was set.

And then came the hard part: getting more English language games! Most authors 
wait for the annual IFComp to submit games, as when you do, you receive much, 
much more by way of feedback and reviews than you would at any other time of the 
year. Other competitions tend not to draw very many participants. But by this 
point, it seemed that inclusion would be the secret to the success of this 
project. So I opened the competition for Interactive Fiction. And I asked David 
Whyld to open a concurrent competition on the Adrift forums. My reasoning for 
having two comps was so that there could be an Adrift "Best in Show" along with 
a TADS/Inform "Best". In the event, David's entry was the only Adrift entry, so 
the two comps were combined. I also solicited the graphics-based gaming sites 
for entries, based on LASSIE, AGS, and other engines. The original announcement 
is online, here:

The competition ran for eight weeks -- too short by many estimates to get a game 
completed, and many who expressed an interest unfortunately could not complete a 
game for the exhibit. For myself, I discovered that organizing a competition and 
trying to write a game myself for it is simply to much. I did manage to complete 
my entry, "Ecdysis", before the deadline, but it did not get properly tested 
until after -- illustrated by the six updated versions I eventually did to clear 
out all the bugs and kinks. I wrote most of the game during a business trip to 
Washington DC, which given the subject matter, somehow seems fitting.

In the end, seven games were created for the project: one in French, one in 
Spanish, three in English, and two that were graphics-based. I had hoped for 
more, but in the event, the small number of entries meant that most of them 
could be featured at the museum, whereas with a larger group, far more would 
have to be cut from the program and alternate venues determined. My biggest 
disappointment with the competition game turnout was that there were no AGS 
games. I feel the AGS community and the IF community could easily cross over. 
Well, there's always next time.

- "Hand of dead man writes."

3. "Best in Show"

I wanted to give IF players a way to participate in the exhibit as well, and 
introduced the concept of voting for the "Best in Show" among the 
English-language games. I was reluctant to implement a more serious voting 
system because I felt that sometimes reviews for games that a player doesn't 
like are often disheartening for the author, and causes the player to 
unnecessarily dwell on games they would rather not. With a "Best in Show" voting 
system, instead, players could just focus on the game they liked the most and 
why and nevermind the others. (I wouldn't favor this system for the annual IF 
Comp, but it worked well here). In the event, all the games had some positive 
aspects, and among the many reviews that cropped up around the web, found people 
favoring each over the other for various reasons. I felt that it was probably 
inappropriate for me to manage the voting of a comp in which I had a game, and 
originally planned to not include my game in the competition, but because there 
were so few, I left it in; also after playing the other games, I didn't worry so 
much about winning, anyway! Jon Ingold's "Dead Cities" won "Best in Show," and I 
highlighted that on the Competition website. I also tried to give the game "pole 
position" in the exhibit and in exhibit materials. In the invite for the 
exhibit, for example, Jon is listed first over the rest of us poor slobs. In 
this way I could honor the votes cast by IF players.

- "Lost winter day—slept over—20 yrs. later. Sleep in chair on summer 
night—false dawn—old scenery and sensations—cold—old persons now 

4. Other venues

In addition to the Maison d'Ailleurs, I contacted every other Lovecraft related 
festival I could find that was running this year, via email. None of them 
responded to my messages, which generally introduced the project and tried to 
look for ways that the project could participate in their fests.

- "To find something horrible in a (perhaps familiar) book, and not to be able 
to find it again."

5. Getting the Games to Exhibit

Once the games were finished, released, and voted on, there was a lot to do to 
get them exhibit ready. First, bug-fix versions were released. Then, my game 
"Ecdysis" and Jon Ingold's "Dead Cities" were updated to exhibit versions, with 
hypertext linking to make it easier to interact with the work in a gallery 
environment. Finally, there was a user interface that needed to be created that 
could launch all the games consistently and easily. This was difficult to 
achieve, but eventually I decided on an extremely low-tech way of launching the 
games: a web page with large, clickable images, one for each game, which ran 
batch files that opened the games in their appropriate players. (I've never 
designed a webpage this way before, but I actually created it in PowerPoint 2007 
and converted it to HTML using its built in converter. Actually, I thought it 
turned out pretty well and took care of a lot of problems that I would have had 
to code around. I especially liked the way the web page it produced would 
automatically resize the graphics depending on the size and shape of the browser 
window. The resulting file was huge, but that didn't matter since the package 
would be installed locally.) By this point it was early October, and I was 
getting a bit nervous that the show would come off at all. After all, we worked 
the entire time without contracts among any of the parties, just by mutual 
agreement and friendly discussion. It isn't a bad way to operate, but there is 
always the chance that it would all amount to nothing. I contacted Emily Short 
and got her permission to include her Introduction to Playing IF guide as a 
printout to have on hand at the exhibit, bundled it together and sent it all 

SUBJECT: Re: HPL exhibit: Interactive Fiction - Final Package Interface

I've completed the interface package, and believe
everything should work. Also, I've included a few
instructional files that you may wish to print out and
have near the computer terminal...

And a few days later, just a couple weeks before opening, Mr. Gyger responded:

Hi Peter,

All this was extremely clear, thanks so much! Not all worked 
completely, but one of our staff is a computer geek and he sorted it 
out in no time... So all works fine. It's really fun and easy to use 
now, and I'm sure people will enjoy this tremendously!


And I hope they are.

- "Ancient castle within sound of weird waterfall—sound ceases for a time under 
strange conditions."

6. A couple final thoughts

Because there were so many different resources working all over the globe on 
this project, it was extremely difficult to project manage. It would have been a 
lot easier if my original proposal was smaller (for example, just me), but it 
just didn't seem as though that would have been very fun. Working on this 
project, for the most part, was. It remained fun because everyone involved was 
respectful, interested, and pleasant to work with. 

There were a couple disappointments: I had hoped to try and get some of the game 
transcripts in the exhibit catalog, but they were too long. Another author and I 
trimmed ours down to tiny little 300 word snippets and resubmitted, but the 
catalog was off to the printer by then. It is a shame, as the catalog as it 
turns out is a nifty little hardcover book! I also at one point hoped to put the 
games together on a CD-ROM. But because I was unable to connect with any 
Lovecraft festivals, there would be no venues through which I could at least get 
a return on the investment. And finally, it is a shame there were so few reviews 
of the games by members of the IF community, though this gap has at least in 
part been filled by bloggers with an interest in casual gaming and Lovecraft who 
have commented on the works.

But these disappointments are small. Weighing this on the other side, we 
successfully completed a project that included Interactive Fiction authors 
writing in three different languages, and I hope future competitions will 
consider setting their parameters to include them as well. (Next time: try to 
get the Italian and Russian IF communities on board, too!). I met some great 
people, including Mr. Gyger, and my correspondents from the various IF 
communities, who I will surely try to gather together for drinks should my work 
ever take me to their cities. And the final result: the games have joined an 
exhibit for which they were never requested in the first place, and a new venue 
for Interactive Fiction has been opened up: IF in art galleries: the wave of the 
future? Who knows. They are there. When working on the project on a day to day 
basis, it always seemed such a simple thing, a commonplace thing, but when 
judged from a distance, it can be seen that, like Lovecraft's Commonplace Book, 
sometimes "commonplace" is anything but.

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

I recently conducted the following joint interview with David Cornelson, Michael 
Gentry, and Graeme Jefferis.  David is of course the driving force behind 
Textfyre, a new company which aims to market commercial IF titles to young 
adults.  David, Michael and Graeme are the team behind Textfyre's first game, 
entitled Secret Letter and planned for release... well, just as soon as it's 

  JM: Anyone who follows the IF community at all is probably familiar with David
  Cornelson from his multitude of projects -- creating the IF Wiki and 
  publishing the Inform Designer's Manual on paper are but two -- and Michael 
  Gentry from his two IF classics Little Blue Men and Anchorhead.  Graeme is 
  something of a new figure on the scene, though.  Perhaps you could tell us a 
  bit about yourself, how you became interested in IF, and how you ended up with 

GJ: I've mostly kept quiet in an attempt to foster an air of enigmatic mystique 
-- really entirely as a ruse to hide the actual unremarkability of myself and my 
everyday life. I'm a 28 year old software developer from Portsmouth, UK; now 
living in Edinburgh with my fiancee, who is a disabled person I care for, and 
her son, who I am of course step-father to.

It sounds terribly corny, but IF really has always been part of my life.  My 
earliest memories involve watching my dad play Melbourne House's "The Hobbit" on 
the ZX Spectrum; and later I graduated to play some of the classic adventure 
games: by Infocom, Acornsoft, Level 9, Magnetic Scrolls. I was lucky enough to 
catch Graham Nelson's series of articles in Acorn User magazine back in the 
mid-90s, so that's how I stumbled across Curses! and the old archive, and 
the then-nascent IF scene.

As for Textfyre, I think I got in touch with Dave right away after reading his 
initial announcement, I was that excited about it. But there's no great mystery 
or magic there either; it was a job I applied for and I'm very grateful to David 
for allowing me the opportunity to come on board.

  JM: David, you have made it clear that you feel that IF that is sold 
  commercially must present a more attractive, professional face to the player 
  than most of the interpreter / game combinations that are currently available. 
  Perhaps you could tell us, in as much detail as you feel comfortable with, how 
  it will feel to play a Textfyre game.  How extensive will be your use of 
  multimedia assets? Will there be shortcuts such as word choice menus?  I am 
  envisioning something similar to the old Legend games of the early nineties. 
  Am I in the ballpark? 

DC: No, I don't think so. The interface we're developing is something entirely 
new. I'll try to give you a visualization as best I can. The user will execute 
our game by clicking on a Textfyre game icon. A glassy window will open with 
highly polished comic book graphic illustrations. The interface will show a 
scrolling list of saved game positions and/or the phrase "The Beginning". The 
user selects one of these and the select-game dialogue will fly or spin out of
the window while the game UI elements spin into the window.

The elements moving onto the screen include:
  - an open book with two panels, optionally switched to a single wide panel.
  - a 3-dimensional hint element that can be manipulated to retrieve hints about
    various topics.
  - context-sensitive help.
  - a 3-dimensional compass rose.
  - a title bar (similar to the status line.
  - a map element that can be manipulated by dragging it to the center of the
    screen or by clicking on it or by using function keys. As its dragged, it
    will expand. A slider control will allow you to alter the opacity.
  - a conversation window, which will be similar to menus, but prettier.

All of the illustrations and text will be the highest quality. So the same type 
of font experience you get with the hobbyist interpreter front-end Gargoyle; 
we're going to have a similar presentation. 

There are a couple of other features we're going to introduce that I'm keeping 
under wraps because they're very special and will coincide with our marketing 

  JM: So, tell us about Secret Letter, the game you are writing.  What's it 
  about? Where is it set?  Genre? 

MG: In Secret Letter, you play Jack, an orphan growing up in the city of Toresal 
in northern Miradania. When hired mercenaries start chasing you through the 
local marketplace, you are quickly swept up into a conspiracy that includes the 
powerful and devious Baron Fossville, your adventuresome best friend Bobby, and 
even the Royal Family. Why is Fossville after an orphan like you? Why is the 
Queen interested in Toresal? Why does Bobby drive you so crazy? It's a mystery 
story, with twists, reveals, and betrayals. It's a lot of fun.

  JM: You have developed a methodology for the creation of IF that is quite 
  different not only from the current freeware model but also from that used by 
  Infocom.  Each game will be created by a team consisting of a designer, a 
  writer, and a coder.  Perhaps you could describe the model in more detail, and 
  each of you could tell us about your role on the current project.  How is it 
  working out, both for the project as a whole and for each of you personally? 

DC: I'm going to give a lot of credit for the process working as well as it has 
to Mike. I started the process with a lot of conceptual elements, started the 
design, but once Mike got seriously involved, he really made the design document 
come to life. Mike and I went back and forth on the design elements and then 
Mike took over to work in the prose. Once we got to a point where we felt it was 
mostly complete, we brought Graeme in to begin coding. He completed the first 
cut of code in less than two weeks. Now the design and writing took over six 
months, but we're fairly sure we can improve on that as we become more 
comfortable with our processes. We're finalizing the last bits of the 
design/story and then we have to do what I call "finishing", which will be to 
have testers play it, and have a few editors go over everything to tighten it 
up, develop the hint tree, the help, and then we're done. Oh yeah, Graeme is a 
great Inform 7 developer.

MG: In the writing department, the biggest challenge has been establishing a 
format that is easy for the programmer to convert into code, while not requiring 
the writer to know a lot about Inform. In IF the writing and the
coding are difficult to separate, because the writer must pay attention to not 
only *what* the player will read, but *when* and *in what order* -- and those 
last two things are handled with code. I think we've managed to hammer out a 
good middle ground, where the writing document is structured according to 
certain coding coventions, without making reference to any specific coding 

All that said, the second biggest writing challenge has been hitting deadlines.

GJ: David and Michael have loads of IF experience between them, and so it's been 
remarkably easy for me to take their design and implement it as Inform 7 code - 
and it helps that I7 itself is already so intuitive and feature-rich. I've found 
programming in it to be a pleasure; there's no doubt in my mind that it's been 
absolutely the right choice.

  JM: Tell us about the tools you are using.  Inform 7 for the game, right? 
  Subversion for bug-tracking, I believe?  Tell us how you fit everything
  together into a managable team project.  Any chance that any of your tools or 
  techniques could be released for the use of other IF authors in the future? 

DC: We're using Inform 7, Subversion with Trac, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft 
Visio. We're also going to be developing side tools to help with complex 
conversation systems, but these tools will simply generate Inform 7 syntax. 

It's entirely possible that we will share some of our internal processes and 
tools with the hobbyist community. Now that Jesse McGrew has developed the VM
and I've had a chance to get a working prototype running, it's very exciting
to see and I would love to share our stuff with everyone (when the time is right
of course). We're also going to be developing authoring tools that enhance the
design and writing processes and as those are completed and vetted, I can see
those being opened up for everyone to use. 

  JM: How are you handling the testing process?  Have you already recruited a 
  team of beta-testers? 

DC: Nothing formal yet. We've had a few inquiries, but so far we're keeping 
things pretty closed. We have just recently received some feedback from a few 
eleven year old market testers and the results were actually great. They were 
excited about the idea of being the main character and the parser almost no 
impact on their enthusiasm.  They simply asked direct questions on how to do 
things. When the prototype has the help and hints implemented, these kids will 
probably fly through an episode in a few hours, which is exactly what we're 
targeting. We also received some interesting marketing ideas from the testers 
that we need to move on. They had some ideas that they thought would make the 
whole thing a slam dunk with their age group. For now, those ideas are top 

  JM: Will Secret Letter be the first release from Textfyre?  And can you tell
  us a realistic release date for both it and for your other games in 

DC: Secret Letter will definitely be the first game, but a firm release date is 
still unknown. As I have said in the past, we'll get there when we get there. 
Now: once we get past the first published game, we'll be going full speed on 
every release thereafter and games will be appearing every month or two. I'm 
hoping that we can meet a Q1 release date, but I can't be sure. Maybe we'll 
honor Graham and Inform by releasing our first game on April 30th.

  JM: I would like to talk just a bit about your marketing plans for Textfyre. 
  Your games will be (at least initially) download only, correct?  Have you 
  settled on a price?  What about advertising?  You have stated that you will 
  target the young adult market that made Harry Potter such a success, but how 
  will you reach that market with this new-fangled (to them) sort of interactive 

DC: Download is actually one strategy. We're also going to produce a CD version 
in a DVD case with a comic book. Online and mobile versions will follow soon 
after. One goal is to get Borders and BN to display our games in the young 
readers sections of their brick and mortar stores. Prices are likely to be in 
the $15 to $25 range. We're going to push our online marketing towards parents 
and school teachers. We may spend marketing dollars on magazines that connect 
with that audience as well. I'm also toying with the idea of putting special
editions on smart USB thumb-drives.

  JM: I have a couple of questions that arise from Peter Nepstad's experience in 
  selling 1893: A World's Fair Mystery.  First, Peter feels that the only way to 
  really get IF noticed is to sell it as a physical product in stores again. Do 
  you agree at all, and do you have hopes of getting Textfyre's games into 
  stores at some point?  Peter also found from his survey of purchasers that his 
  game's parser was just about the least-loved thing about it.  Any thoughts on 
  this rather disturbing piece of information? 

DC: We're planning to push physical product, no doubt. I take Peter's experience 
very seriously. On the parser subject, I think kids are a lot more forgiving.
I've already done some testing in this area and kids generally feel challenged
by the parser. Here's the deal. The Infocom parser wasn't all that great and 
they really didn't make a huge effort to provide a lot of assistance. But what 
they did do is create great stories. The humor and game play was fabulous and 
some of those games hold up extremely well, despite the parser. I'm not knocking 
Peter's humor or story, I like 1893 a lot. But I don't think he was focused on 
the same things we're focused on. We're trying to entertain kids. There's a 
sizable difference there. 

  JM: David, you caused a stir of excitement recently when you revealed that you 
  have been in touch with Activision about licensing the old Infocom properties. 
  This won't happen, at least right away, but it does make me wonder what your 
  plans for them were.  To re-release them as is?  To give them a facelift and 
  general sprucing up and re-release them that way?  Or something more 

DC: I'd prefer not to say too much, but Activision was very interested in our 
proposal. We feel we have a chance to close that deal. When that happens and 
what resulting products are published is not something I'm ready to disclose.

  JM: Have you considered licensing other media franchises for Textfyre?

DC: Yes. I have contacted J.K. Rowling's agent. I've also talked to a few 
prominent Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors about their willingness to partner on their 
existing works becoming IF games or on new material. 

  JM: David and Michael, you were both recently interviewed for Jason Scott's 
  forthcoming video documentary Get Lamp.  Can you tell us a bit about the 

DC: Jason came over, set up his cameras, asked a lot of grueling questions, 
packed up, and left into a snow storm. I barely remember what he asked or what I 
said. I'm likely to end up on the editing floor. 

MG: Jason is a formidably intelligent guy who thinks -- and sometimes talks -- 
about a hundred and fifty times faster than anyone I know. He pointed the camera 
at me and I did my best to not come across as a complete doofus. Unfortunately, 
we had to cut our time short because my neighbor's home-improvement project kept 
intruding on the soundtrack. But with any luck, in the final cut of the film 
you'll see a 2-second snippet of me sitting there with my mouth hanging open.

  JM: Finally, I have to ask a purely selfish question just to Michael: what
  does all this Textfyre activity mean for our Special Edition of Anchorhead? 
  Has this been put on hiatus for the time being? 

MG: Yeah, unfortunately I've had to put Anchorhead SE on hold for a while, but 
it's still something I'm excited about and have every intention of finishing. 
When Secret Letter is wrapped and the second game is underway, we should have 
our process organized enough that I'll have time to start working on it again. 
In the meantime, Inform 7 will have had a chance to percolate a bit more, which 
ultimately means more/better/cooler features when Anchorhead SE is finally done.

  JM: Huge thanks to all three of you for taking time from your work with 
  Textfyre to do this interview! 

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: Maureen Mason (antares SP@G

When the fall 2007 Spanish-language IF COMP was announced on r.g.i-f, I decided 
to be a IF tourist and give it a go.  I'd tried some non-English games from time 
to time but never got far, finding myself defeated by playing "guess the verb" 
and not knowing whether the fault was mine or the game's.  The Spanish comp 
proved welcoming and very fun:  not only did I discover several well-polished 
and original games but also a community of friendly IFers ready to give hints 
and encouragement.  If you're curious about international trends in IF, or are 
just looking for a game that feels fresh, I recommend you brush off that 
language you took in college, fire up a decent online dictionary, be willing to 
ask for hints, and take the plunge.  

The Spanish language comp ("FICOMP") has a different theme every year:  in 2007 
it was science fiction.  The games were discussed on the community's web forum 
( all through the judging period, and authors regularly offered 
hints there and responded to player critiques.  Four games were submitted in 
2007, all quite thoughtful and polished.  The overall winner "Macetas" (Best 
Game and Best Story) by Incanus from Chile, aka Juan Sebastian Armas Maturana, 
is a mystery set on an  asteroid mine and stars a funny, jaded space worker with 
an anti-authoritarian streak reminiscent of Jayne in "Firefly" or one of the 
Marines with Ripley in "Aliens".  The game was a sequel to Incanus' 2006 FICOMP 
winner "Goteras" (see for download links to both 

Two of the 2007 games were entered by a single author, Jarel aka Luis David 
Arranz Perez from Madrid, and for comp entries they were surprising in their 
range and polish. "Edificio 25" was a well constructed puzzle-box, "Regreso al 
Eden" (which won Best Puzzle) an action-packed epic.  They both contained high 
quality, homemade multimedia, including original music and sound fx, and Eden 
had some excellent animation made using layered PNG images and an Inform-Glk 
real-time function.  This is an author who knows how to make a game *move*, and 
both of these stories included some of the best chase scenes I've ever 
experienced in IF.

I've always been drawn to "literary" IF.  I tend to side with the narrative over 
the crossword, and so really appreciate the advances in interactive 
storytelling--evocative writing, branching plot-lines, multiple endings, 
increasingly sophisticated NPCs--that I've seen in the English-speaking IF 
community.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Jarel's games, though 
difficult and puzzle-laden, were just terrific fun.  His immersive action 
sequences and multimedia effects come closer to a good graphical adventure game 
or videogame than any IF I've tried.  His games feel choreographed, or 
cinematic, not only because of the graphics but because timed sequences and well 
integrated puzzles--this author has the enviable ability to just churn out good 
puzzles effortlessly--keep the story and the player in motion.  The effect is 
fun and original and more than a little addictive.  

TITLE: Edificio 25 (Building 25)
AUTHOR: jarel
E-MAIL:  genhag SP@G
DATE: September 1, 2007
PARSER: InformATE 6 (Spanish)
SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive

El Edificio 25, at its core, is a treasure hunt set in a puzzle-box of a mansion 
inhabited by nonconversational NPCs who variously help, hinder or ignore the PC. 
But what a mansion!  The setting is retro-futuristic or quasi-steampunk, spiced 
with a dash of horror, and you are as likely to come across an elegantly dressed 
android servant amid old-world furnishings as a Frankenstein-style talking head, 
dirigibles, vast libraries that violate the laws of physics, groomed gardens, 
high-tech surveillance robots and more.   The atmosphere is enhanced by black-
and-white photos that accompany room descriptions, as well as music and other 
sound effects ranging from echoing footsteps to birdsong to humming forcefields 
to eerie laughter from far-off rooms.

Some IF players can't hear the sound effects in games, or just find them 
annoying.  Jarel's effects are very professionally done, and normally fade out 
to silence, only persisting in a very few situations.  Sounds that alert you to 
possible danger, like approaching footsteps, are also described in the text so 
if you prefer to play without sound, you can just toggle the command "sonido" to 
turn them off.  I recommend trying out the sound if you can.  There are a few 
scenes where it is extremely immersive, including one where you are threatened 
by a surreal, manic character and another where the *absence* of sound suddenly 
becomes very threatening, making you suspect that someone is waiting to ambush 

At first Edificio 25 struck me as overly chilly and spare--the PC is a complete 
cypher ("Citizen 429") and there is only a bare outline to the story--but the 
game drew me in and became quite addictive as the puzzles built up.  The mansion 
opens up to you as you find pieces of what you need in one area and move on to 
the others.  The puzzles are well-clued and interlaced in interesting ways.  
Best of all, many actions and objects are implemented, so you don't have to play 
guess-the-verb (this is really important if you are playing the game in a 
foreign language), and the game nearly always rewards further exploration and 
thought any time you are stuck.  While the house seems rather static at first, 
you quickly discover that the androids who are drifting through it--part of a 
vast number of humanoid workers that were constructed to serve a dwindling and 
now completely passive human population--have agendas of their own.  They may 
ignore you, help you or even try to kill you.  

In fact, you won't enjoy this game if you hate to be killed.  As the game 
progresses, missteps can be fatal and undo (or reload) will be your friend--the 
game's Inform-based parser responds to "undo" even though the stock game-over 
message doesn't offer you this choice.  At first the threat of violence is only 
implicit, or perhaps discovered by accident--e.g., a dignified android playing a 
haunting melody at the piano will, if provoked, stand up and instantly beat you 
to death with a chair!--but eventually you reach a point in the story where you 
must respond with the right moves very quickly, i.e., in one or two turns, or 

Edificio's endgame has a short action sequence that has the feel of a good movie 
or arcade game, and puts to use everything you've learned so far about how to 
avoid being chased down and killed.  Every move counts.  You fumble with doors, 
try to remember which way to run, think about what you might use from your 
inventory--there is no time to waste a turn looking at anything.  Instead of 
being just annoying or artificial, this is actually quite suspenseful and I felt 
a real sense of accomplishment when I *didn't* have to undo or reload a saved 

My one major criticism of the game is that a central puzzle, evading a killer 
android known as a "Narizotas" (apparently it stalks you by smell, using its 
"nariz"), is extremely difficult and game-stopping if you are unable to solve 
it.  The author plans to revise this puzzle in his next release of the game.


From: Maureen Mason (antares SP@G

TITLE: Regreso al Eden (Return to Eden)
AUTHOR: jarel
E-MAIL: genhag SP@G
DATE: September 1, 2007
PARSER: InformATE 6 (Spanish)
SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive

Jarel's second entry in the FICOMP, "Regreso al Eden", is an ambitious space 
opera with the length and quality of an excellent commercial graphic adventure-
-in fact, it was far too long for a comp game and few people finished it in 
time.  Extensive action sequences, punctuated with blocks of text, tell a 
complex and well-written story.  There are long conversational cutscenes, 
beautiful cinematic multimedia and constant video arcade-style obstacles, where 
you have to make the next right move or be killed.  It was one of the most 
original and polished pieces of IF that I have played in a long time.

Here's how the story begins, zooming you in from the galaxy to the middle of a 
firefight.  If you want to try it, type "fuera" at the first prompt in the 
game's prologue.  (Note: Translation and all the ellipses are mine.)  

"The human race left the solar system and expanded into the galaxy, flowering 
into two great empires, Napua and Masanai.  In the Uruma system, the ship Tanis 
takes off from the Vegan cruiser Eberrenan and heads towards the Trisolian 
system... Forest creatures flee into the shadows as the Tanis lands.  The ship 
tears at the vegetation with gusts of turbulence, flooding the surrounding 
forest with light and expelling a hot cloud of gas from the reactors.  The 
airlock opens and a group jumps to the ground: four humans and numerous android 
BARP troops... "Ten to the entrance and five here!"  The BARP obey.  Some start 
to shoot their way down the corridor; the rest deploy around the entryway and 
then let go with all of their firepower.  "I think this is it," Gina Lambo says, 
her voice shaking slightly as she holds up one of the discs.  Neka takes it and 
snaps it into a protective case.  "Let's go"...  Debris is falling from the roof 
and walls, burying pieces of the BARP robots th!
at have already gone down...  You press yourself to the floor at the south end 
of the room.  On the other side--to the north--Gina Lambo and Mondur have 
barricaded themselves behind a fallen structure.

You can see a protective case."

All of this is accompanied by beautiful graphics at the top of the screen, along 
with the sounds of the battle.  There is only one move that can save you; all 
other options--including waiting too long to figure out what to do--lead either 
to capture or instant death.

This opening exemplifies both the strengths and weaknesses of the game.  The 
story is overwhelming at times, and it's hard to keep track of the various 
alliances, empires, and character names without taking notes.  On the other 
hand, the game uses the story's large sweep to move you between worlds, and back 
and forth in time, and also between four different major PCs.  For example, 
early on you switch from playing the main character, a mercenary who steals a 
data disc holding the key to a powerful alien technology, and become the 
military commander on Masanai who is supervising the forces trying to capture 
him.  This makes for an interesting story experience as the two characters' 
agendas conflict and, as more treacheries and twists are revealed, begin to 

The other feature which is outstanding is the immediacy of the danger you feel.  
You hit the ground running, escaping one Indiana Jones-like trap only to run 
straight into the next.  Lost that group of bounty hunters who were hot on your 
heels?  Managed to avoid drowning horribly in that tunnel with the water rising? 
You can be sure when you turn the corner you'll find a sentry has just caught 
sight of you, or a vicious pack of alien wolves is running your way.  Together 
with the excellent multimedia effects, this really lets you know you are not 
reading a book.  You are playing a game!

Of course, some people will hate this experience of being chased and harried and 
killed.  After all, in a *bad* videogame it's just boring and frustrating to 
keep failing and dying and having to restart.  You will most likely be using 
"undo" (or save and reload) early and often.  And yes, the story, at its core, 
has a linear plot with puzzle after puzzle that you must solve to advance.  The 
reason I had fun in spite of this limitation was that those puzzles are very 
smart and very fair--even the ones that involve (mercifully short) mazes.  
(Note: I was surprised to find that just about every FICOMP game had a maze of 
some kind.  Clearly mazes do not have the bad reputation in Spain and Latin 
America that they have elsewhere.)  Also, there are often alternative solutions 
to the puzzles.  For example, the mountain range that the fugitive PC must cross 
in the first part of the game has three separate routes through its subterranean 
tunnels, each with different obstacles of its !
own.  Finally, there are in-game hints which are clever and lighthanded and 
never spoil the satisfaction of solving a puzzle (just type "pista" to see if a 
hint is available).  If there is no hint at your location, that's a sure sign 
you are in cul-de-sac and need to search for the solution elsewhere.  

One persistent drawback to this game, however, is that because there are so many 
locations--this game is just huge--you will be getting the "That isn't important 
right now" message a lot.  This is not a game where you can leisurely explore 
scenery, lovingly implemented.  You don't have to let this spoil the immersion 
for you, though.  Just take it as a sign to keep moving. 

My one major criticism of the game is that by the second half I began to get 
impatient with long blocks of text that broke up my interaction with the story.  
There are so many interesting plot twists, hidden identities and double crosses 
in this game that I found myself wanting to *make* some character choices 
instead of just reading about them.  Is that shipmate who is behaving 
suspiciously a spy?  Should I trust an enemy who insists he has changed sides?  
I longed for some agency to act on the conclusions I was drawing, the way I can 
in some of Emily Short's games or in a role playing game, where my choice of 
allies has consequences.   The author seems aware of the difficulty of keeping 
players engaged in such a long linear game and keeps injecting new elements, 
including a brief (and very funny) menu-driven NPC dialog, a chess-based puzzle 
and a space-navigation logic puzzle.  In the end, the fresh puzzles and my 
desire to see how the story came out kept me going.

Overall Regreso al Eden is quite a feat, and Jarel's two games in the FICOMP 
showed a remarkable range.  I really look forward to playing whatever he makes 


From: Michael Bacon

[I was unable to reach Michael to thank him for his review, as the email address 
he provided did not work.  So Michael, if you're out there, drop me a line! -- 

TITLE: Floatpoint
AUTHOR: Emily Short
E-MAIL:  emshort SP@G
DATE: September 30, 2006
PARSER: Inform 7
SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive

"Good" is not high praise. It is praise though, and I praise Floatpoint with 

Puzzles are of little importance or challenge in this mildly short work, which 
is a matter of little consequence, because the focus is on story, artful prose, 
and player choice rather than on player ability. The final "puzzle" is really a 
decision reflective of a particular player's reaction to the primary situation 
portrayed in the story. This sandbox-esque element of the game is rewarding by 
way of its delicate responses to each choice.

Emily Short's prose is good, and her morally-interested science fiction world is 
exceptionally well-developed, mostly by way of careful descriptions, for so 
short a story. Most prominently, several of the endings and player-character 
flashbacks made me want to think more highly of the work than when analyzing it 
as a whole. It impressed some emotions and concerns upon me, as intended.

The overall design of Floatpoint is elegant, as one would always expect of 
Short, but the actual implementation is oddly impaired by several odd bugs which 
do not prevent the completion of the game. One of them, however, starkly 
emphasizes the necessity of disbelief in the fiction before the reader/player 
which had been so well built up by descriptive writing. Now, nearly a year later 
(in the midst of IF Comp 2007), these problems have still not been addressed, 
which confuses me further since it is the fiction of such a productive and 
usually, I felt, meticulous designer.

Floatpoint is not in the same category as the strongest of Emily Short's 
interactive fiction, but its worth is very much equal to the time one puts into 
it. I recommend it to the many who seem to have only completed one or two of her 
pieces, but not as highly as some of her other works such a person might have 


From: Valentine Kopteltsev (uux SP@G

TITLE: Ghost of the Fireflies
AUTHOR: Paul Panks
DATE: September 30, 2007
PARSER: home-grown
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
URL: http://if-archive/games/competition2007/windows/firefly.exe

This review is going to be somewhat unusual, in that it's only going to
describe the positive aspects of the game. The reason? Well, this work's
author is Paul Panks. I think that over the last few years, he had the
opportunity to gain more than enough information on things people *don't*
like about his games; I myself rated the vast majority of them a one. Ghost
of the Fireflies, on the other hand, while still problem-ridden, does
represent a major change. It still hardly can be recommended to most players,
but it shows potential; at the very least, it isn't a slightly modified
version of one and the same text RPG with rearranged locations and
repositioned monsters, as, say, all his entries in the last year's Comp were.
Thus, this review is more for the game author himself than for the players;
FWIW, there is certainly at least one person who'd be going to like his games
better if he took account of my comments in his future projects: me.

So, first of all, I'd like to concentrate on the technical aspects. Let's
start with *the parser*.

A short digression: I'm not someone who'd complain about the parser just
because it isn't advanced enough. In particular, I can be pretty content with
a two-word parser -- provided it doesn't impede gameplay. In the context of
most Mr. Panks' works, the parser was pretty adequate; in GOF, he seemed to
exceed himself by even making it customizable. Also, kudos for removing the
"feature" that was so annoying in earlier games -- now "EXAMINE" can be
abbreviated to "X". I don't even mind being called a "weirdo", although I
suspect that's partly because Russians generally are more immune against
insults (this last remark has nothing to do with chauvinism -- I believe such
an attitude is just a matter of training; in everyday life, an average
Russian citizen has to deal with rude behavior and offenses a lot more than
most Americans or Europeans).

Another purely technical improvement is *the multiple save feature*. While
it's not free of bugs, it'd certainly help in any at least the slightest bit
advanced RPG -- especially after the problems are sorted out:).

Now, I start crossing the bridge between technical and creative aspects of
the game's design, for *the battle system* can be put into either of these
categories. Panks chose single-step combat for this particular work, allowing
the player (at least theoretically) to select a weapon and/or an action (such
as "hit", "run", "cast a spell", etc.) after each turn. As funny as that
might sound -- it even didn't matter none of those options seemed to work;
such a system is clearly a step forward compared to fully automated fighting
most of his other works sported. I felt the author was on the right track
here; of course, the ultimate answer would be a combination of both
approaches (letting the player switch forth and back between the two modes
any time (s)he wants; say, use step-by-step for developing the optimal
tactics for defeating a specific enemy, then change to automatic mode once
one made sure the tactics works, and then returning back to single-step if
something goes wrong).

Now, to *puzzles*. So feeble they may appear against the ones of any decent
modern game, they represent a great progress compared to previous works by
Panks I played. In particular, I liked the "rainbow wall" puzzle: on one
hand, it's not trivial, on the other hand, it's actually recognizable as a
puzzle (although it's also a bit guess-the-verb'y, and can be solved by brute
force). An approach to keep up (and to improve, of course)!

Finally, I'd like to praise the game's *writing, atmosphere, and backstory*.
The backstory may be inconsistent, but at least (again, contrary to most
other works by Mr. Panks I've seen so far) it's there. The writing is
probably the best thing about the game: it's somewhat uneven, but (oh no, I'm
starting talking in cliches!) it hints at brilliance. I also appreciate the
amount of personality the author gave to the player character and the NPCs.
Yeah, I read in other reviews that the dog who follows you around through the
whole games is one of the most annoying sidekicks in IF-history, and,
speaking objectively, it even may be true (although I for myself didn't mind
having him around at all); but it's still better than having no other company
than primitive monster bots for NPCs. (BTW, the few enemies in the games I
encountered had a personality of sorts, too.)

Now, don't get me wrong: Ghost of the Fireflies is by no means a good game --
it's bug-ridden, it's barely playable, and has lots of jokes most people (me
excluded, though) would find offending. Still, it's probably the first game
by Mr. Panks that made me wish seeing an updated, decently debugged and
polished version of it.


From: Valentine Kopteltsev (uux SP@G

TITLE: Lord Bellwater's Secret
AUTHOR: Sam Gordon
E-MAIL: sam_r_gordon SP@G
DATE: September 30, 2007
PARSER: Inform 7
SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive
URL: http://if-archive/games/competition2007/zcode/bellwater/bellwater.zblorb

All the way while playing Lord Bellwater's Secret, I couldn't help myself
comparing it to the game by the same author I reviewed in the previous SPAG
issue, Final Selection. It must be said LBS gives lots of occasions for such
a comparison. Even more, in many respects it seems to be a downsized version
of the older game, although initially, it hints at a better developed

First of all, both works are essentially one-(Victorian)-room games. The
clever idea with the PC moving to a "sublocation" within the room when he
wants to manipulate a specific item is still there, too; the problem is --
well, I've seen it before. Now, don't misunderstand me -- there is nothing
wrong with the author repeatedly using his own code in later projects; it's
just not as impressive when you see exactly the same thing for the second

Another aspect where LBS clearly loses points (at least, in my eyes) in
comparison to its predecessor are the puzzles. In Final Selection, they were
challenging and creative, with cleverly inserted red herrings. Here, we have
a really great starter (and I do mean it's great -- not too difficult yet not
totally trivial, either, evoking that "aha!" feeling so often mentioned in
reviews), followed by a sequence of "read the instructions carefully and
carry out them directly"-type of problems. The final puzzle, again, might
have been crowning the story decently (although I wouldn't call it
outstanding anyway). However, at this point the game suddenly demonstrated
refractoriness, becoming overly sensitive to the wording of the commands;
well, the fact at least one of the game themes were courts and lawyers
probably showed through here;). Seriously, the game's reactions to my
basically correct, yet inaccurately formulated directives were so unhelpful
they even made me think I was using an entirely wrong approach, so that I
tried a different tactic, which also seemed reasonable in the context of the
story. But no -- pretty soon it became clear the author hadn't had this
alternative path in mind at all, which left me with no other choice than
check the walkthrough.

This issue appears to be especially annoying since in every other respect,
the game implementation shines. For instance, we have a bookcase here with
over 1000 volumes, which can be referred to individually (well, it probably
doesn't really provide an individual description for each book, but at least
enough for the vast majority of players to give up before all descriptions
are exhausted); a similarly implemented diary with entries on each day for
half a year or so; finally, it was amazing to find out (from the game's
"About"-section) how much historical detail the author had to consider to
make his game authentic. However, I'd really appreciate it if he invested a
driblet of these efforts into making the final puzzle recognize a few more
synonyms. LBS certainly would profit from that (well, at least if the author
wasn't trying to make a point here -- in which case, I have to admit, I must
have missed that point entirely).

But enough of this. Now we come to the part where LBS could potentially
recoup itself -- namely, to the aforementioned backstory. Unlike Final
Selection, where the PC basically does puzzle-solving for the sake of
puzzle-solving, here the protagonist breaks into his master's study to find
out the truth about his bride's seemingly accidental death. The author 
chose a very good device for establishing the PC's personality: namely,
sudden remembrances about "his beloved Elsie" that occur when he examines
certain things. Unfortunately, these reminiscences quickly fade out, so that
towards the middle of the story, our hero seems to turn into an impassive
treasure- and secret-hunter. That's a pity; normally, I'm not too
enthusiastic about melodrama, but here, a little more tear-jerking certainly
would help building up the atmosphere.

Considering all the above-said, I rated the game 6 out of 10 (which means
"Pretty solid, but nothing special" on my scale).

My final comment on the game ending may be somewhat spoilery; thus, if you
haven't played LBS yet, you should stop reading here.



I really was stunned by the optimal ending. It seemed to me our PC collected
enough materials any modern court would consider cast-iron proof of him being
the legitimate inheritor. Well, maybe "modern" is the keyword here, and I'm
just underestimating the class prejudices of the XIX-th century.

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