ISSUE #9 - June 11, 1996

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  The  |___/ociety for the |_|reservation of  |_|_|dventure  \___|ames.
				ISSUE # 9
        Edited by G. Kevin Wilson (whizzard SP@G
			      June 11, 1996.

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


	Here we are again.  Another SPAG, another dollar.  We just recently
hit SPAG's 2nd anniversary, averaging one issue every three months or so.  As
of SPAG #8, we have published just over 100 game reviews.  That's one big ole
hunk of text.  (Not to mention the 17 reviews in this issue)  I'd like to
pause here a moment and thank the most prolific of my steady reviewers:

  Graeme Cree, who has written probably more reviews than anyone else.
  Palmer Davis, who helped out by reviewing all the 1995 I-F contest entries.
  Audrey A. DeLisle, who helped out a lot in the beginning.
  Christopher E. Forman, who has written quite a few reviews himself.
  Molley the Mage, who hasn't been around for awhile, but deserves thanks for
	his early work, and his recent work.
  Magnus Olsson, who maintains SPAG's mailing list and has written some very
	nice reviews, not to mention Uncle Zebulon's Will.

And of course, to the authors of all the text adventure authorship programs.
Without the toolkits like TADS, Inform, Alan, and others, a revival of I-F
would be nigh impossible.  And of course, to all of you who have written or
are writing a text adventure.  Thanks for helping keep my favorite hobby

	Thanks also to all the other contributers to SPAG.  It's been a great
two years.

	I-F has seen a healthy revival since I first got into it.  I hope
that I have been a part of this revival.  Without games like Trinity, A Mind
Forever Voyaging, and Jigsaw, there wouldn't be much around on the game
market that had a serious theme to it, much less any literary merit.  It is
games like these that remind us that not everything has to be a Leisure Suit
Larry or a Doom.
	But besides the fact that text adventures have a history of being
better written than graphic adventures, there's also the noticeable fact that
graphical adventures have ventured further and further from their interactive
beginnings.  In seeking simpler user interfaces, the games have sacrificed an
important element of control that players once cherished.  Text adventures
still hold onto this interactivity in defiance of the mass game market, and
maybe someday we'll have the opportunity to point out this loss of 
playability to the commercial game companies.
	So, text adventures are important in their own ways.  They have,
ironically, become the spearhead of research into methods of interactivity
and characterization, even as outdated as they are claimed to be.  If anyone
figures out how to make an NPC feel totally real, it will most likely be a
text adventure author.
	This issue is chocked full of chewy goodness.  There are many
reviews, loads of updated reader scores, an in-depth analysis on The One That
Got Away, more info on the 1996 Second Annual I-F Competition, and maybe
some other good stuff too.  Apologies to Leon Lin in advance for the
analysis. :)

				G. Kevin Wilson

P.S: As of next issue I would like reviewers to use the new header format
for their reviews.  It changes nothing else, just the review header, scores
will still be done the same.  The new version seem much more succinct and to
the point than the old one.  And, without further ado, here it is:

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

Consider the following NEW review header:

NAME: Cutthroats
AUTHOR: Infocom
EMAIL: ???
DATE: September 1984
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
URL: Not available.

	The new header is shorter and easier to read.  It relegates the
comments on writing, atmosphere, etc. back into the body of the review,
which should not pose a problem.  The sections needing explanation are:

DATE: When the game was released.  Month and year are preferred, but year
	by itself will be accepted.
URL: Where the game can be found on the Internet.  Obviously, Cutthroats
	shouldn't be available on the net, so here's an example for "Shelby's


	This will make the magazine a little friendlier for Web browsers.
My thanks to Gareth Rees for the new header format.  He used it in one of
his reviews, and I liked it so much I decided to make it the official form.

	The EMAIL section is for the e-mail address of the game author, not
the reviewer.  AVAILABILITY will usually have either Commercial ($price),
Shareware ($price), or Freeware.  If the commercial price varies in stores,
then it will just say Commercial.  If it has been released in the LTOI
collection, this line should say so.  Lastly, if it is available on, the line should add GMD.  (Demo) if it's a demo version.  The
body of the review hasn't changed.

When submitting reviews:  Try to fill in as much of this info as you can.
Also, scores are still desired along with the reviews, so send those along.
The scores will be used in the ratings section.  Authors may not rate or
review their own games.

SPAG accepts reviews of any length, letters to the editor, the occasional
interesting article on text adventures (no reprints please), and even just
ratings for your favorite game, if you don't have the time to do a full
review.  Please though, at least send me info for each game you have rated
equivalent to the review header for Cutthroats, above.  All accepted
materials will be headed by the submitter's name and e-mail address, unless
you request that they be withheld, or do not supply them, in which case the
header will read as "Anonymous."

NEW GAMES--------------------------------------------------------------------

	Recent months have seen the release of _SpiritWrak_, a game in the
spirit of the Enchanter trilogy.  It takes place in the Age of Science, when
magic has left the planet, but the Gods remain.  You, as a priest, can call
on them to perform magical feats for you, in a manner VERY reminiscent of a
wizard casting a spell in Enchanter.  SpiritWrak can be found at

	I'm sure I'm missing a couple of recent games, like Lost New York or
Gumshoe, but I've been pretty busy lately, and lacking in time for playing
text adventures in general.  Between SPAG, Avalon, and my other projects, I
could easily work straight through the summer and not finish them all.


From: "Christopher E. Forman" 

NAME: Amnesia                               GAMEPLAY: Infocom-quality parser
AUTHOR: Thomas M. Disch                     PLOT: Good, though done before
EMAIL: ???                                  ATMOSPHERE: Very good
AVAILABILITY: Commercial (Elec. Arts)       WRITING: Excellent
PUZZLES: A variety                          SUPPORTS: C64, Apple II, IBM
CHARACTERS: Satisfyingly responsive         DIFFICULTY: Challenging

        During the reign of Infocom, there were many attempts by other
software companies to follow their recipe for quality I-F, some of them
succeeding and some of them not, the latter occurring largely because of
Infocom's dedication to I-F.  Firms such as Sierra, Mindscape, and Electronic
Arts preferred to branch out and diversify their software products, rather
than placing all their eggs in one basket (which could be another factor
contributing to Infocom's downfall, but that's another article entirely).  In
fact, Infocom and Level 9 were the only two companies focused solely on I-F,
which may account for their stories outshining those of the competition --
very few 80's text adventures that I've seen can even come close to the
gameplay of the average Infocom game.  Thomas M. Disch's "Amnesia", however,
succeeded where many others failed.
        As the player begins "Amnesia", he (and the main character is most
certainly male) awakens in a New York City hotel room, naked and with no clue
as to his identity.  This by itself is by no means unique -- ICOM's "Deja Vu"
begins under the same pretenses.  But the story behind "Amnesia" is so much
more involved.
        Once the most pressing problem of finding clothes is overcome, the
player hits the streets of Manhattan in an effort to recover his lost memory
and find out who framed him for murder.  This, in essence, is the primary
puzzle of the game, although its solution is hampered by a need to find food
and a place to sleep at night.  These things cost money, so earning money
through such means as washing windows and panhandling are necessary.
        "Amnesia's" parser is perhaps the only one to equal Infocom's at the
time.  In many places it surpasses Infocom.  With a vocabulary of about 1700
words and a multiple-sentence parser with plenty of synonyms, you'll very
rarely need to hunt for a word.  The one minor annoyance stems from the fact
that objects' words aren't recognized if you try to use them when an object
isn't in the current location -- for instance, you can't refer to a telephone
if one isn't around, even though there may be one elsewhere in the game.  But
this is minor.  Character interactions are detailed, and range from face-to-
face meetings to conversations over the telephone.
        The game itself is huge, with as many as 4000 locations.  Most of
them are street corners or parts of the Manhattan subway system (both of
these are completely programmed into the game), although there are a number
of buildings and New York landmarks for the player to visit.  A map (among
other things) is included in the game package, so there's no need to draw
your own, but you'll probably need to at least jot down some notes.
        "Amnesia" offers a variety of puzzles, from object and character
interactions to some creative methods of obtaining money, food, and rest.
The game's scoring system reflects this, awarding points for the categories
of detective (how well you uncover clues), character (how well you interact
with the denizens of New York), and survivor (how well-fed and rested -- and
also alive -- you keep yourself).  A good balance of the three is necessary
for victory.
        If there's one major complaint about the game, it's the copy
protection.  The subway and city maps, address book, and street-indexing
code-wheel would have been more than adequate to deter piracy, but "Amnesia"
insists on forcing players to insert the original game disk for verification
each time it loads.  It seems EA didn't think of the consequences of what
would happen when 5.25" disk drives phased out.  You must insert the original
disk -- a backup copy won't work -- or plan to spend several hours doing some
heavy hex-editing, as the copy-protection is malevolently self-modifying (on
par with some of the more evil computer viruses).  Someone out there either
REALLY didn't want this game to be copied (even legally), or REALLY liked
copy protection.
        Once you get past this, though, "Amnesia" is a joy to play.  It was
written by Thomas M. Disch, who won the Campbell Award back in 1980, but this
was done specifically for the I-F medium; it's not an adaption of any sort.
(I've heard of a sequel -- "Amnesia II", astoundingly enough -- but have
never seen it, and would appreciate any info anyone might have on it.)
Disch's prose is vivid and flows nicely, spanning several screens on a few
occasions.  It makes for good reading as well as good adventuring, combining
the best of the two art forms.


From: "Bozzie" 

NAME: Demon's Tomb				PARSER: OK.  Nothing fancy.
AUTHOR: Mastertonic				PLOT: Stop ancient demon.
AVAILABILITY: Commercial(Bargain bins)		WRITING: Very good.
PUZZLES: Average, but logical			SUPPORTS: PC
CHARACTERS: Very, very good (See below) 	DIFFICULTY: Medium

This is an old game, but nonetheless it is a very good one.  It deals with
such important issues as fighting an ancient evil, sacrificing yourself
in order to save the world (don't worry, not a spoiler), and how to keep a
duck from quacking.

The game starts off with you as Professor Edward Lynton, famed archaeologist,
in an important site in England.  Recently, some strange things have
occurred.  Your partner has gone missing.  You have discovered things in the
site which are both more amazing than your wildest dreams, and more
horrifying than your worst nightmares.  You awake in the middle of the night
and smell smoke... 

With no escape outside this recently discovered tomb, you must send a message
to the outside world, before the tomb becomes your own (and it will, no
matter what you do.  That's made very clear throughout the skimpy manual). 
You have only a short amount of time to do what you must do before you are
overcome by smoke.  Despite your actions, after a certain number of moves,
the prologue ends and the game starts.  

You are Richard, the professor's son, in a car lot near the archeological
site.  You are here to talk to your father, but unfortunately, he is in no
condition to talk.  As you learn more about his death, depending on your
earlier efforts, you will find a tale of a centuries old rivalry, of evil
about to be unleashed and that you are the only one to stop it.

The story itself is nice, and immediately reminded me of a Doctor Who story,
Pyramids of Mars (also a text adventure game at /pc/  Somewhat rough
about the edges, but is a fairly good AGT game) .  The story generally comes
in spurts at a time in some wonderful prose.  Notes, letters, documents all
give some great insights at several interesting people who lived in the area.
While most of these aren't necessary for the game, it is well worth your
time to read everything. 

There are few, if any, "real" characters in Demon's Tomb that you can
interact with, and most of those that there are puzzles more than anything. 
However, the descriptions, as I have said above, more than make up for the
lack of interacting agents.  In fact, in some ways, it makes it better.  As
recent debates on r.a.i-f have shown, there is no easy way to make a good NPC
in a text game, and indeed, even if you manage to, there will still be
problems with him/her.  This way, the author manages to show us some
wonderful characterizations without having to code a lot of time-eating code.
This is not to say that the game is simple.  Indeed, the game tries to be
flashy by offering a menu system and some graphics, space which could have
been used more efficiently.  Indeed, I would have liked there to have been a
good developed character.  For example, how about a motorist I could flag
down and warn, and then find him dead later...

The Parser is sub-Infocom, but quite adequate for its purpose.  The puzzles
themselves are fairly simple, but not overly simple, and they are dynamic, so
as not to bore experienced gamers.  But that doesn't deter from the game, it
adds to it.  There are no completely obscure puzzles, and there are a few
interesting ones.  There are certainly no unfair puzzles, and enough of an
area to explore, so that should you get frustrated at one problem, you'll be
able to explore another area.  And if you really need some help, C. E.
Forman has graciously made a hint file of the game on

It is because the story doesn't try to serve complex problems, the author is
able to work on the story, and still throw in a new and interesting puzzle or
two. It also manages to allow freedom to explore, although tends to be mostly
linear in terms of solving problems.  While I could hope for better, in terms
of problem solving and a few other areas, over all, I enjoy this game, and
it's certainly up there on my list of favorite games.


From: "Christopher E. Forman" 

NAME: Guardians of Infinity                         GAMEPLAY: Windowed text
AUTHOR: Paragon Software                            PLOT: Very detailed
EMAIL: ???                                          ATMOSPHERE: Good
AVAILABILITY: Commercial                            WRITING: Sparse but good
PUZZLES: You'll need the docs                       SUPPORTS: PCs
CHARACTERS: User-controlled                         DIFFICULTY: Hard

        Now this one is different.  REALLY different.  Possibly the most
unique text adventure ever released.  Paragon did "Guardians of Infinity"
near the end of the '80s, about the time Infocom released their graphical
I-F, but "Guardians" has no graphics.  Rather, the player acts as one Adam
Cooper, commander and overseer of five time-travelling agents attempting to
prevent the assassination of JFK (Oliver Stone, eat your heart out).  The
screen is divided into windows for each agent, as well as the player's
command line and other features critical to the mission.  In a way, it's part
"TimeQuest", part "Suspended", part "Trinity", part "Border Zone", and
part...something.  "Guardians of Infinity" simply has to be played to be
understood.  No terminology can quite do the experience justice.
        The game begins on November 15, 1963, and the player's job is to use
the five agents to influence events in order to arrange a meeting between
Kennedy and Cooper, so that Cooper can talk Kennedy out of his visit to
Dallas, which in turn will prevent the assassination and the subsequent
disruption of the time continuum which is threatening Cooper's own world of
2087.  The agents will perform a surprising number of actions, from talking
with those close to Kennedy, to robbing a bank to acquire funds.  The parser
is well-programmed but substantially different from the Infocom tradition.
You can say, for example, "STEIN, GO TO WASHINGTON AND TALK WITH VICE-
PRESIDENT JOHNSON" or even provide answers to your agents' questions, such as
"LEE HARVEY OSWALD IS IN DALLAS."  Walking around, picking up items, and
brute searching are all eliminated, which lends a whole new universe of
flexibility to the story.  It's perhaps the closest thing to "puzzle-less"
I-F, the recent subject of debate on  (Don't get any
ideas, though -- writing such a game would require a complete makeover on all
the existing I-F compilers.)  Still, it takes quite a bit of getting used to.
        Packaged with the game are a 90-page novella providing
characterization for the agents and an exceptionally well-researched 145-page
mission manual outlining the whereabouts of everyone connected with the
assassination during the week of the 15th-27th.  These must have had 1988
software pirates running away screaming, as you can't possibly get anywhere
without them, yet they enhance the game and are plot-related, making for THE
best copy-protection ever developed (with no irreverence intended toward
Sorcerer's infotater).  Disk #3 also contains a graphical slide-show with
more info on the mission.
        The game's internal clock is always running, and news and agents'
reports pop up in their respective windows constantly, leaving a lot for the
player to juggle around.  It's an intense experience, to say the least.
Agents' responses, and most of the game text, for that matter (aside from
some large plot points), are typically sparse, but with a fair amount of
        "Guardians of Infinity" is definitely worth a play, and deserves far
better than the measly bit of recognition it got on its initial release.
Altering history has never been such fun.  (No, I haven't won it yet, but I'm
still trying.)

                                            -- C.E. Forman

        Incidentally, if you're having trouble locating a copy of "Guardians
of Infinity", you may want to give the folks at Centsible Software
(centsible SP@G a mail.  They sell tons of used software, both classic
and recent, at very reasonable prices (although, if you want the original
game boxes, you may be out of luck).  That's where I got my copy of
"Guardians" (among other classics), and I recommend them.


>From "David Seybert" 

AUTHOR: Mike Oliphant
GAMEPLAY: Inform, usual
PLOT: Poor
EMAIL: oliphant SP@G
ATMOSPHERE: well done
WRITING: Disappointing
SUPPORTS: Inform Ports
CHARACTERS: Shallow with one or two exceptions

During the opening sequences of Mike Oliphant's new Inform game "Gumshoe",
I found myself smiling a lot.  With every turn Mike unveils yet another
element from the private eye genre and sets the player up for a twisty ride
through territory well blazed by the fictional likes of Philip Marlowe and
Lew Archer.  The dingy messy office, the caustic secretary, the beautiful
woman who suspects her husband of infidelity, the drunken hangover,
menacing underworld types to whom you, as the hero, owe money; the corrupt
cop who enjoys harassing you; all of these are in "Gumshoe"'s delightful

I've loved the private-eye genre since I was in high school. What makes it
great is the use of the "Gumshoe" set up as an excuse to explore the darker
side of human nature, to guide us through a labyrinth of perversity, dark
secrets, haunted souls and evil that strikes quickly and lasts for
generations.  Inevitably the initial case the detective is asked to solve
is only the tip of the iceberg; the real story lies much deeper.

This is tricky territory to explore in interactive fiction and,
unfortunately "Gumshoe" is not up to the task.  We are asked to prove that
Sandra's husband is cheating on her and that's exactly what we end up
doing.  We encounter no dead bodies, discover no dark secrets buried in
families for generations, rescue no damsels in distress or uncover any
surprising revelations that give us pause.  All do is prove John's
infidelity and that's what we do and rather quickly at that.  In fact, one
of the problems with the game is that we can provide the evidence we need
to convince the woman of her husband's two timing very quickly.  She gives
us the money and that's that.  Of course, there's more game to explore
including a section where we get to prove his infidelity again, but it adds
nothing top the story and feels like unnecessary padding.

All of the elements that are introduced early in the game come to nothing.
The secretary and her delightfully caustic comments vanishes early, the
corrupt cop is quickly dealt with and never reappears, the underworld
figures end up posing no threat and are easily bought off and forgotten.
This lack of development might go uncommented on an another type of game,
but character development and is what private detectives are all about
along with plot development.

Plot development or the lack thereof was the most disappointing element of
the game.  Once I got the goods on her husband, I expected to go to Sandra's
house and find her still warm corpse with a couple of slugs in it,
preferably from my gun.  But she's home and she's fine and the game is over
just when I expected it to take off.  Likewise, when I entered the old
house, I expected to solve the puzzle and find a body.  But all that's there
is the means to prove John unfaithful - again.

Fortunately, actual gameplay is good, if a bit too linear. Everything has
to be done in a certain sequence or you'll spend a *lot* of time sitting
around doing nothing. I spent hours (game time) in one location before I
realized that by acting logically (I.e. calling up my client and presenting
her with the evidence she required) I'd made a mistake.  Puzzles were, for
the most part, logical and easily solved.  I especially enjoyed the
old house puzzle and the scene at the restaurant where you have to get past
the corrupt cop.

If you're looking for a pleasant afternoon's diversion, Gumshoe offers
simple but enjoyable puzzles, and enough solid private-eye atmosphere to
send you off to the video store to rent "Chinatown" or up to the attic to
get out that old dog-eared copy of "The Long Goodbye."

From: "Julian Arnold" 

NAME: Gumshoe                             PARSER: Inform standard
AUTHOR: Mike Oliphant                     PLOT: See below
EMAIL: oliphant SP@G           ATMOSPHERE: See below
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD               WRITING: See below
PUZZLES: See below                        SUPPORTS: Z-machine ports
CHARACTERS: See below                     DIFFICULTY: See below

     Needs a Z-Machine interpreter,

You wake up on the floor outside your office, fully clothed and with a
hangover.  You are Joe Gumshoe, private investigator, and you owe money.

This is the premise upon which "Gumshoe" opens, nearly identical to the
premise upon which so many detective stories and film noirs open, and the
first of many noir mainstays (or perhaps I should say cliches?) which it
adopts.  There is also the sultry femme fatale with the unfaithful executive
husband, the corrupt cop, the seedy bar, the unseen "Mr. Big" (in this case,
one Jimmy Voigt) whose only contact with the player is via the medium of his
bevvy of thugs and a mention in the introductory text, and the flickering
neon.  Sure, we've all seen this all before, but then, this is a genre seldom
reknowned for its originality or inventiveness.  Most, if not all, successful
film noirs (I am more familiar with cinematic examples of the genre than with
those of literature) are based on a relatively small set of standardised plot
devices, and "Gumshoe" makes no attempts to break new ground here.

This is a small game which most players will be able to complete in one or
two sittings.  A little unfortunately Oliphant has tried to incorporate too
much into such a small game, and consequently there are too many loose ends
and stray plot threads by the end of the game.  For example, although we are
told of a frame-up involving the aforementioned corrupt cop and resulting in
Joe Gumshoe's dismissal from the police force (and his subsequent involvement
in his current line of work) this issue is never resolved.  Also, this same
corrupt cop dogs Joe's footsteps during the early part of the game, but
disappears entirely after his first set-back.

The game also suffers from a few missed opportunities: the femme fatale is
not actually fatale; no characters in the game are any more than they at
first seem-- there are no double-crosses and no betrayal; though the plot is
not entirely straightforward, neither does it contain any particular twists
or surprises.  However, the NPCs, of which there are a fair number, are
mostly well done, each one being a believable though stereotypical character.
They usually come equipped with an interesting and not entirely incidental
past, and are able to satisfactorily answer questions on this.

The writing is successfully atmospheric, with the right downbeat quality,
menacing undertone, and emotive turn-of-phrase.  For instance,

	"Well, Mr. Detective, or should I say Mr. Private Investigator, since
	you ain't a member of our well-respected police force no more? It
	seems that we got a problem here. You owe Mr. Voigt a considerable
	sum of cash. From what I can see, your little snoop business isn't
	exactly booming, so we're gonna cut you a deal. You cough up $500 by
	midnight tonight or you cough up a lung. Deal?"
	"Yeah," Morty echoes, "$500 or a lung."

The puzzles are all based around the plot, resulting in a firm and successful
marriage of game and story.  It also means the solutions to the puzzles are
logical and sensible-- the player is never left wondering "what do I do now?"
or indeed "why did I do that?", but rather "I know what I want to achieve...
now how do I do it?"

"Gumshoe" is a short, enjoyable game.  Both plot and puzzles play an
important part in the game as a whole, and have been skillfully interwoven by
the author.  The writing is good, and the genre is unusual in interactive
fiction.  These factors, combined with the unresolved plot elements, left me
wanting more at the end.  This game also has some of the coolest music in IF.

(I was a playtester for "Gumshoe".)

	[This review was posted to, 7th April 1996.]


From: "Christopher E. Forman" 

NAME: Inhumane                         GAMEPLAY: Bare-bones Inform
AUTHOR: Andrew C. Plotkin              PLOT: Parody of Infocom's "Infidel"
EMAIL: erkyrath+ SP@G               ATMOSPHERE: Demented
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD            WRITING: Passable
PUZZLES: Get yourself killed           SUPPORTS: ZIP Interpreters
CHARACTERS: Nope, afraid not           DIFFICULTY: Half-hour session at most

[A spoiler for the ending of Infocom's "Infidel" follows.  If you haven't
solved it, don't read on.]

        I'll start off by saying this: "Inhumane" is not meant to be taken
seriously.  It's a puzzle-less parody of Infocom's "Infidel", written by the
author when he was 15 or so, and translated from the original AppleSoft BASIC
version to Inform.  But it's actually kind of fun, with a few small laughs,
and it brought back some great memories of my own abyssmal (though they
seemed great at the time) early attempts at I-F.  Perhaps more good-natured
sharing of first-try games is in order.  I may even translate one of my own,
if the interest is there.
        What little plot there is begins along the same lines as "Infidel."
You've been abandoned on an archaeological dig, and must find and explore a
hidden pyramid.  Once you get inside (and a couple of notes left behind by
your partner tell you how), you're confronted by a malevolent spirit who
offers to give you the key to the treasure room in exchange for your getting
killed by a series of traps to prove yourself a complete moron.  This aspect
of the game pokes fun at the fact that your character dies at the end of
"Infidel" -- in "Inhumane", you have to get killed nine times to win.  Some
of the traps are rather imaginative, though it's nearly always painfully
obvious when you're going to die.
        For the most part, though, "Inhumane" is just an excuse for a bunch
of incomprehensible inside jokes about high-school geometry class.  Though
you'll get a couple of laughs, it sounds a lot funnier than it actually is.
Far more entertaining is the "History of Infobom" section of the online help,
which describes some of the other Infocom parodies author Andrew Plotkin and
his friend worked on at one time.

                                            -- C.E. Forman


From: "Gareth Rees" 

AUTHOR: Graham Nelson
E-MAIL: nelson SP@G
DATE: October 1995
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Infocom ports

"Jigsaw" opens on the night of December 31st, 1999, at a party to
celebrate the new millennium.  Feeling out of sympathy with the
thronging party-goers, and unable to find again the attractive stranger
in black who has just slipped away, you wander off to explore a
mysterious monument built by the late eccentric millionaire Grad
Kaldecki.  You discover that Kaldecki has constructed - or somehow
obtained access to - a time machine.  In the centre of the monument, the
time machine takes the baroque form of a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces
(once found) give access to turning points in twentieth century history.
Kaldecki planned to alter history, but died with his work barely
started, leaving his acolyte (the attractive stranger, soon capitalised
as Black) to complete his megalomaniacal scheme.  Much against your
will, you find yourself trailing around the century in Black's wake,
trying to restore history to its rightful course, and searching for
hidden jigsaw pieces.  You visit some of the most important moments in
twentieth century history: World War I, the Wright brothers, women's
suffrage, the Moon landings, the Cold War, the Berlin Wall.  (Though not
every historian would place the writing of Proust's novel "A la
Recherche de Temps Perdu" in this list!)  The quest is complicated by a
romance between you and Black, and by hints of metaphysical significance
when you enter a realm called `The Land', whose mist-shrouded locations
are emblematic of the great themes: Art, Science, War, and Nature.

It is often an axiom in time-cop novels that we live in the best of all
possible worlds, and that any kind of interference with history must be
disastrous.  "Jigsaw" rigidly enforces this convention by ending the
game whenever the past is changed.  This extreme historical conservatism
sits uneasily with some of the chapters: it is not clear why eight
million men had to die for the sake of the world as we know it, nor what
is so bad about the world described in the following paragraph that
World War I was preferable:

    You shake your head, confused.  Why did the mad London-born
    architect Kettering build this monument?  Why did the government of
    the Franco-British Republic ever allow Century Park to be built here
    at Versailles?  Never mind: time to go and get a drink of potato
    brandy from the commissars and toast the new millennium.

Sometimes it is completely implausible that the disturbance in the past
could have led to the result you see.  For example, in the Suez Canal
chapter, the wider outcome does not depend on your actions: even though
Black brokered a deal to prevent the Suez Crisis, the powers that be
always intended to renege on the deal.

"Jigsaw" is a huge game, one of the largest text adventures ever
written.  It is made manageable only by its episodic structure: each
time zone can be treated more or less as a separate game, requiring only
those objects that are nearby to solve its puzzles.  (Though there are a
few interconnections between the eras to make life interesting, and
attempts to use anachronistic objects inappropriately are often
amusing.)  "Jigsaw"'s puzzles are hard; often all you can do is collect
the available objects and fiddle with them, without any real
understanding of what your objective is until you've achieved it.
Particularly unfortunate in this respect are the Alexander Fleming,
women's suffrage and East Berlin chapters.  A few other puzzles refer to
classic works of interactive fiction including "Adventure", "Zork" and
"Enchanter", and the novice without this background will struggle.

Some of the puzzles, on the other hand, are inspired.  In one chapter,
you find yourself at Bletchley Park in World War II and have to decrypt
a message encoded by the Enigma machine.  Sweating away at this problem,
I suddenly realised that, whereas the usual derring-do of an adventure
game is only so much make-believe, in this case my task was made no
easier by its fictional nature.  Of course, my 1940s counterparts faced
a more difficult Enigma machine - Nelson's being slightly simplified -
had to succeed without the benefit of information gained by supernatural
means, had no access to high-speed computers, and faced rather greater
consequences of failure than merely an unfinished game.  I found myself
thinking, ``If Turing and Newman could do it, then surely I, with all
these advantages, can do it too!''

The most interesting feature of "Jigsaw" is the way it deals with
Black's sex.  By cunning paraphrase, Nelson manages to avoid ever
stating whether Black is male or female: knowing only that Black is
attractive to you, you are free to project your own preference onto the
situation.  This is a more elegant device than the outright question
``Are you male or female?'' or the various contrivances by which Infocom
games force a decision on you.  Not every reader appreciates this
elegance: at least one person posting to, having
noticed that both you and Black are able to pass yourselves off
successfully in masculine roles, argued that you and Black must
therefore be gay men.  But given the fantastic nature of the piece, and
the famous cases of women who have gone disguised as men for long
periods of time without detection, it is foolish to rigidly insist on
such an interpretation.

"Jigsaw" is Nelson's second game.  His first, "Curses", grew by stages
into a mish-mash of Celtic Druids and King Arthur rubbing shoulders with
classical Greek Gods and the poems of T.S. Eliot.  The effect is
certainly startling, but I imagine that a writer as attracted to
elaborate formal structures as Nelson could not be satisfied with the
outcome.  A new game gave him the opportunity to make amends.  The
result is dominated by structures based on the numbers 16 and 100.
There are 16 time zones, 16 chapters, 16 jigsaw pieces, 16 animals to
sketch, 16 locations in the Land and the game starts with 16 minutes to
go before the start of the new century.  There are 100 years in the
Twentieth Century and 100 points to be scored.  There are also pairings
of opposites: Prologue and Epilogue, Black and White, nature and
technology, the dead Land and the living Land, the party at the end of
the century and the party at the beginning, the chapel unbuilt and the
chapel disused.

At times I felt the correspondences and allegory were too obvious and
too much; Black's schematic role rather overshadows the tentative story
of Black's relationship with the player (and this is not helped by the
flexible order of the chapters).  "Jigsaw" also lacks the excitement and
unpredictability which "Curses" achieved by being so chaotic.

Still, "Jigsaw" is extremely good by the standards of existing text
adventure games, and certainly good enough to be worth paying the
compliment of taking it seriously.  Although it adopts a traditional
puzzle-based style of game-play, and doesn't make any technical advances
beyond the state of the art, it does wonders with the limited techniques
at its disposal.  Everyone who enjoys text adventures should play it.


From: "Magnus Olsson" 

Name: Lethe Flow Phoenix		Parser: TADS standard
Author: Dan Shiovitz			Plot: Linear
Email: scythe SP@G		Atmosphere: Slightly surreal
Availability: F, GMD			Writing: Excellent
Puzzles: Logical, rather simple		Supports: TADS ports
Characters: See review			Difficulty: Below average

"Lethe Flow Phoenix" is one of those works that one approaches without
really knowing what to expect.  On one hand, it's been mentioned as
small and simple, solvable in a few hours; on the other hand, there's
the obscure, almost pretentious, title that implies a mythical
significance.  Add to that various comments - including spoiler
requests - that hinted at great depths, and it felt like a
"must-play".  I wasn't disappointed - it turned out to be even more
interesting than I had expected: "Lethe Flow Phoenix" is an ambitious
attempt to deal with questions not normally addressed in IF, and an
attempt to extend the traditional adventure game to be able to do so. 

At first, you are not very likely to notice much of this.  The
introduction is short and somewhat sinister: memories of a camping
trip, and falling - or stepping - off a cliff, then nothing more until
you find yourself in a slightly surrealistic fantasy world, with no
idea of how you got there or what to do next. 

There is nothing very original about this opening - the sudden
abduction to a strange world seems to be becoming a cliche of IF - nor
about the world you've ended up in.  In fact, everything in the world
is vaguely familiar: it seems to be assembled out of common IF icons
such as gazebos, bird cages and waterfalls.  This is probably
intentional (an explanation is given later in the game) and does not
imply any lack of originality on the part of the author - the puzzles
involving these familiar icons are perhaps not of stunning novelty,
but they certainly don't feel old and worn either.  The atmosphere in
this early part of the game is sweet and idyllic, somewhat reminiscent
of "The Sound of One Hand Clapping", though there are dark undertones
that foreshadow later revelations. 

After having you explore this tiny world (only 15 or so locations) and
solve a number of not too difficult puzzles, all at a rather languid
pace, the author suddenly turns the tables on his unsuspecting
audience.  It is here that "Lethe Flow Phoenix" changes from a light,
innocent puzzle game to rather dark interactive literature, that at
least attempts to touch deep, existential questions. 

It starts innocently enough with a puzzle involving a spider and a
mushroom.  The conclusion of the puzzle is, however, not just an
increased score and a longer inventory, but an entirely unexpected
series of events that plunges you into what first seems like a
nightmare, plagued by ghosts from your past. 

Via a series of essentially non-interactive "cut scenes" - there is
seldom a choice of actions, but either just one obvious thing to do,
which triggers another cut scene, or no option but to watch and listen
as the plot advances by itself - you are led to an encounter with the
central NPC, Daniel, who in a long monologue explains what is going on
and how crucial a role you're actually playing in the scheme of

The encounter with Daniel is the climax of "Lethe Flow Phoenix", and
acts as a centre of symmetry; it is followed first by another
confrontation with your past, and then you are back where you were
before, in a "traditional", puzzle-based adventure game.  The
difference is that after meeting Daniel, you are prepared to do
something about your past, to derive inner strength rather from it
rather than just grieving over lost opportunities.  Similarly, when
you're attacking the puzzles again, you are armed with the means to
manipulate not only the various objects in the world, but the world
itself.  This enables you to go back and finish certain puzzles that
were left open before, thus bringing everything to a satisfying

While not very original, the outer parts of the game are quite well
written, with attention to detail even in objects that would normally
be considered decorations.  People who like red herrings will probably
enjoy this; personally, I find significant-looking objects that turn
out to be unimportant a bit of a distraction, but this is a matter of
taste.  On the other hand, the author sometimes fails to realize the
full potential of the really significant objects.  The gazebo scene,
for example, or the remote control, are wonderful devices with lots of
possibilitites for experimentation and clever puzzles; I was a bit
disappointed that in both cases the intended use for this complex
machinery was quite simple. 

Still, in a game of this small size, it is perhaps just an advantage
to have simple puzzles.  And though simple, the puzzles are not
trivial. In most cases they require thinking in several steps and
solving them gives you that nice feeling of accomplishment that is
perhaps the adventurer's best reward.  There is only one NPC in the
outer parts of the game.  It is very simple and not very interactive,
and anyway, in the case of this particular NPC it's quite in

I had a few parser problems (the most serious one being that you can
enter a cave by typing just "enter" in the right place, but the
command "enter cave" gives the response "I don't see any cave here"),
and the way the magnet is handled is extremely awkward, but my only
major complaint with the outer parts of the game is the very first
puzzle.  Unfortunately, it is of the tired "find food or you'll die"
variety, and, as usual, the time before you starve is far too short,
forcing you to restart from the beginning over and over again until
you've found all the objects necessary to get food.  The puzzle in
itself is quite nice, but the time limit detracts considerably from
the enjoyment.  Perhaps it was put in to give a sense of urgency to
the rather placid early game, but in that case it is almost certainly
not the right method. 

Apart from a this, gameplay flows smoothly and a reasonably
experienced adventurer should be able to solve it in a few sittings. 

The central section is entirely different.  Almost all the action
takes place in the cut scenes, and the player is led through the plot
without the option to deviate from the path, being told what he thinks
and feels, never really given a chance to act.  The centre of the
centre, so to speak, is entirely non-interactive; a story within the
story, told by Daniel in a monologue that must be the longest speech
by any IF character so far, at least outside "The Legend Lives". 

There are no real puzzles in this section, and the NPCs are essentially
non-interactive, although it is possible to extract some interesting
background information by asking Daniel questions after he has
finished his speech.  The author uses the cut scenes very effectively,
gradually leading the player into longer and longer, and less and less
interactive scenes.  The writing is very good indeed, the imagery
evocative, the language beautiful and poetic, without degenerating
into empty effects - and what is being said is important: not only the
background to the entire setting, but the player character's internal
conflicts and attempts to come to grips with his or her past. 

Dan Shiovitz is addressing very deep questions for an adventure game,
and perhaps he has chosen the only realistic way of doing so.  Still,
I must confess that it fails to be really engaging. 

I think one reason for this is simply the enormous contrast with the
outer parts of the game, and especially the differences in time scale.
Solving the first part of the game takes at least a few hours, during
which one gets into the mode of thought appropriate for a puzzle game.
Then one is presented with an enormous amount of text, which takes
perhaps ten minutes to read - only to be abruptly dumped back into the
remainder of the puzzle game, which will take some time to finish.
The effect is that what should be the central part and climax of the
work turns into a short interlude, while the rest of the game, which is
infinitely less important in terms of emotional content, dominates it

Also, although the writing is excellent, I feel that author attempts
too much.  He certainly seems to have given his imagination free
reins; the result is a story that combines fallen angels with alien
invaders, philosophical speculation with battle scenes; a struggle of
enormous proportions - and this is just the background.  The player
character's immediate concern is not this cosmic drama, but coming to
grips with himself and with the ghosts of his past. 

Somehow, this combination of myth and science fiction, legend and
psychological drama, science fiction and ghost story, saving the world
and achieveing personal fulfilment, all presented in just a few pages
of text, fails to have the desired impact just because it is _too_
powerful, too all-encompassing. 

I'm not saying that it is impossible to combine these elements into
one story, just that the author may be making it just a little bit too
hard for himself - and for his readers.  There are limits to the
ability to suspend disbelief.  If the author had concentrated on one
or two aspects of this story, instead of trying to do everything at
once, it would have been much more effective; the message would have
come across much more powerfully without all the fireworks. 

To summarize, "Lethe Flow Phoenix" is a work with strong centrifugal
tendencies - it flies apart into quite disparate components.  Taken by
themselves, these parts are perhaps not perfect, but very good indeed,
considering that this is the author's debut work.  Together, they fail
to yield an artistic unit, partly because of the author's high
ambitions; however, he shouldn't be blamed for failing to achieve
everything but praised for even making the attempt.  Without
experimentation, we would never get anywhere. 

"Lethe Flow Phoenix" is very interesting for what it tries to achieve,
and the ways in which it succeeds or fails to succeed in doing so.  It
contains some pieces of excellent writing, as well as some good work
in the invention of puzzles and intricate puzzle machinery.  IF
authors are advised to study it carefully. 

And for everybody, authors or non-authors alike, it remains a very
enjoyable game. 

From: "Gareth Rees" 

NAME: Lethe Flow Phoenix
AUTHOR: Dan Shiovitz
DATE: August 1995

It is universally acknowledged by writers of fiction that realistic
characters are hard to do.  Any adventure game programmer would add, I
am sure, that maintaining that realism while making it possible to
interact with characters is well beyond the current state of the art.

So what to do?  Keeping the interaction and accepting the loss of
realism is one approach, but a second possibility is to lose the
interactivity and try to salvage the realism somehow.  Infocom's games
often toyed with this approach, from the mysterious gentleman who
occasionally robs the player in "Zork", to the unseen and unsettling
presence of cousin Herman in "Hollywood Hijinx".  David Baggett, in his
game "Legend", experimented with a variation on this approach, by
confining most of the character exposition and major turning points in
the plot to `cut scenes', long conventionally narrated passages which
break up the more conventionally puzzle-oriented interactive action.

Dan Shiovitz's game "Lethe Flow Phoenix" (1995) takes this approach to
its logical conclusion.  In this game, all plot, characterisation and
background is confined to the cut scenes, and the interactive portions
are completely unrelated to the ostensible plot.  The effect is
unnerving and surreal.

The matter of the plot is this: you play an unhappy young man or woman
experiencing an existential crisis.  While travelling in the American
desert to try to make sense of your life, a supernatural force pulls you
off a cliff, and you find yourself in a fantasy world.  After some
exploring, you find a fallen angel called Daniel who explains that the
Earth is being invisibly taken over by alien invaders, and that you are
one of the chosen ones intended to fight this secret war. [Spoilers

It's hard to imagine how an adventure game could get to grips with this
kind of powerful and emotional material, and Shiovitz doesn't even try.
The interactive parts of the story are conventional puzzle-solving
involving a talking tree, a levitating gazebo, a magic mushroom and
other fantastic trappings.  Various aspects seem intended to suggest
Brian Moriarty's game "Trinity" (1986): there are giant mushrooms, and a
sun that moves and casts shadows on a giant sundial.  All very
entertaining, but it seems rather petty when compared to the
Earth-shaking apparatus of the plot.

The most curious aspect of "Lethe Flow Phoenix" is how well done the
individual parts are!  The puzzles are uniformly excellent and
well-motivated (except for one curious action, which most players will
eventually work out for lack of anything else to do).  There are several
impressively complex interactive mechanisms, which all seem to have been
coded flawlessly, and there are as many synonyms and alternate ways of
expressing actions as a player could want.  On the plot side, the
writing is very fluent and readable despite the weightiness of the
material (although not up to the task of compressing God, angels, alien
invaders, human avatars, a deprived childhood, adolescent angst, family
breakdown and forgiveness into the space of a few screenfuls - as if any
writing could be!).  But the plot and the puzzles make a game bolted
together like a Frankenstein monster: neither side supports the other,
and the result is neither successful as a game, nor as a story.

Still, I look forward to Shiovitz's next game with interest; if he can
produce a game and story which go together to make something greater
than the sum of the two parts, the result will be very impressive.


From: "Molley the Mage" 

NAME: The Light: Shelby's Addendum	PARSER: TADS 2.2
AUTHOR: C. A. McCarthy			PLOT: Darkish science fiction
EMAIL: mlkuehl SP@G (?)	ATMOSPHERE: Excellent!
AVAILABILITY: Shareware, GMD		WRITING: Highest quality
PUZZLES: Obscure, not well done		SUPPORTS: TADS 2.2 ports
CHARACTERS: Richly developed		DIFFICULTY: NP-Complete

"The Light: Shelby's Addendum" is a fascinating piece of science-fiction IF 
from a very talented writer, C.A. McCarthy (a regular contributor to the 
interactive fiction newsgroups as well).  The game casts you as Shelby, 
the "apprentice" (functional equivalent of a graduate student) to the 
Regulators, two physicists who maintain a beacon which is critical to the 
survival of the Earth (in between their studies of subsurface sonar 
phenomena).  When you return home from a trip to find that the beacon
is no longer alight, and no one seems to be left at the project site, 
you must embark on a search for the truth behind the evil 
happenings which have befallen the Lighthouse.  What fate has befallen 
the Regulators?  What's happened to the phase modulator?  And why didn't 
anyone feed the chickens, for crying out loud?

As it turns out, you'll get to know the Regulators quite well before 
meeting either one of them.  Barclay and Holcroft come to life through 
Shelby's observations on the everyday things around him, and through 
other sources (a diary, for example).  You'll learn that something 
sinister is definitely afoot, and that one of the Regulators has placed 
all of Earth's inhabitants in danger by embarking on a dangerous "quest" 
of his own.  His motivations, as well as his methods, must be unraveled 
if Shelby is to succeed.

The first problem, however, is the fact that without the beacon, Shelby 
(and any other living thing) is out of phase with the rest of the world.  
If you do not find some way to prevent it (and quickly!) Shelby will meet 
a grisly death within just a few turns of the game's beginning.  In my 
opinion, the time limit imposed by the game to solve this first puzzle is 
too tight.  You get 100 moves before dying, which may seem like a lot, 
but trust me -- it's not.  This is definitely a "restore puzzle" and one 
which will probably take you several restarts to solve.

Which brings me to my only major complaint with the game: the puzzles.  
"The Light: Shelby's Addendum" contains several puzzles which are more or 
less original in concept.  Unfortunately, they are terribly executed.  
While a genuine attempt has been made by the author to integrate the 
puzzles into the story, the nature and difficulty of the puzzles is such 
that they stick out like a sore thumb.  Not only are some of the more 
important puzzles (like the first one you'll need to solve in order to 
stay alive) just downright obscure, the author has chosen to "hide" most 
of the objects in the game deep within the scenery.  You'll need to look 
under, over, around, behind, and through every single piece of scenery to 
avoid missing vital objects without which you cannot complete the quest.  

In particular, the places where the keys are hidden on the mainland is 
extremely unfair.  Quite frankly, I don't recommend playing this game 
without at least a hint sheet (and probably a walkthrough) or you will 
almost certainly become hopelessly stuck at any of several places.  You 
may consider this "puzzle wimpiness" on my part, but consider that 
Trinity and Spellbreaker are my two all-time favorite Infocom games, and 
perhaps that will put my opinions of "Shelby"'s puzzles into perspective.

This is not to say that *all* of the puzzles are bad: several of them are 
quite clever, and the implementation of all the puzzles is basically 
seamless (with one exception, but it doesn't affect your ability to 
finish the game).  There's one puzzle near the end of the game which 
involves a weight-sensitive elevator and is quite nifty in its 
execution.  In fact, the implementation of the whole game seems 
*very* solid.  I didn't discover any unknown bugs in the game, nor did I 
notice any typos (other than a couple of places where "its" was used 
instead of "it's") and the game mechanics and pacing flowed beautifully.

In truth, despite the incongruency of the puzzles, I hasten to say that I 
enjoyed "Shelby's Addendum" a great deal.  This game is well written.  The 
plot is great, there's a bit of horror (but nothing overboard), the 
characters are well-developed (including the player's character, which is 
unusual in IF but handled beautifully here), and the room descriptions 
and scenery descriptions are vivid and consistently of the highest 
quality.  The "cut scenes" (areas of long text where various central
characters interact) and the original storyline throughout made me think I 
was reading a top-notch science-fiction short story instead of playing a 
computer game.  Did I mention that I think the prose is *really* good?  I 
have to be sure and work that little tidbit into this paragraph somewhere.

There's an undertone of ecological (ir)responsibility in the game, but the 
player is not really "hit over the head" with any kind of great theme or 
moral message.  One does get a glimpse into how far a man might go to regain 
that which he has lost, and a more convincing NPC than Barclay I have not 
seen in an interactive fiction game for some time.  There is plenty of 
material here for your philosophical brain cells to chew on, as well as a 
good amount of technical descriptions and other "futuristic" science.  
The game logic is consistent all the way through, and everything is eminently 
believable.  The author has certainly created a seamless experience as 
far as I am concerned.

However, many players will be turned off by the puzzles.  I know that 
after several hours of extreme frustration when Shelby first came out, I 
was unable to survive the 100-turn limit and put the game away for 
another day.  I just dragged it out today, actually, and pretty much 
lucked into the solution to that first puzzle.  Once you have managed to 
locate the wall safe, however, the rest of the steps needed to 
preserve Shelby's physical integrity should be easier.  However, this is 
only the first of several major frustrations you will encounter.  The only 
word of advice I can give to players is examine EVERYTHING.  And I mean 
everything.  If a noun is mentioned in a room description, you had better 
look at it or you may well miss something crucial.  While I always have 
been and remain a great advocate of the rule that "if a noun is used in a 
room description, the player should be able to examine it", I believe 
that the author has gone a bit too far in making the player search for 
important objects and other pieces of information in unlikely places.

In summary, "The Light: Shelby's Addendum" is not going to make my list of 
the top three interactive fiction games of the year, because frankly it 
wasn't that much fun to play, what with the puzzles being such a mess.  
However, it rates number one for 1996 in quality of writing, 
characterization, story, and plot.  This is a game which begs to be 
*read*.  This is a game which could have been published as a short story.  
This is a game which, if you can get past the first few frustrations, 
will reward you amply.  I've not played any of Colm's other games; (he 
mentions two in the accompanying text file), but I would sure like to 
read some of his fiction -- because his instincts as a writer are right 
on the money.  Some better puzzles and a bit less random searching, and 
this would be one of the best games ever to come down the pipe.  As it 
stands, "Shelby" is much like a lighthouse itself -- brief periods of 
dazzling illumination punctuated by deep darkness.  But the light 
pierces, straight and true.  Give this one a chance, folks.

Also, I have to give a good review to any game which implements a full 
bottle of the finest liquid refreshment on Earth, Guinness Extra Stout.  
Brought a tear to my eye, it did.  The only thing I regretted was that 
there was only one bottle.  :)

From: "Gareth Rees" 

NAME: The Light: Shelby's Addendum
AUTHOR: Colm A. McCarthy
DATE: December 1995

In this game you play Shelby, a young apprentice to the `Regulators',
Holcroft and Barclay.  You live in a remote lighthouse where you
nominally study physics, but actually spend most of your time cooking
and scrubbing floors.  Returning to the lighthouse after an extended
period of absence, you find that things have gone wrong.  An ominous
mist surrounds the lighthouse and Holcroft and Barclay are nowhere to be
found.  It is up to you to find out what is the matter, and to put
things right again.

Most of the fun in this game is figuring out the background to the world
McCarthy has created here, so I won't reveal too much about it.  Suffice
to say that this is a world somewhat like ours, but in which `physics'
is a very different subject from the physics we know.  The how and why
of this world is revealed tantalisingly slowly, a little bit in the room
descriptions, some more in books, magazines and other papers that you
read, and some more that you have to guess for yourself.  The idea of
alternate worlds, and the uses to which they might be put (if technology
were to allow their manipulation), play a strong part in the rationale
for the plot and some of the game mechanics.  (However, it is a bit
disappointing that the working of the plot depends on so many people
being complete idiots!  If the `phase modulator' is so essential that
its removal can threaten the destruction of the world, why does the UN
leave it to be guarded only by two old physicists?)

Although the discovery of the background is interesting, the actual
mechanics of the game are disappointing.  Some of the text is good,
notably the introductpry paragraphs, but much of the rest is rather
lacklustre.  Room descriptions have a tendency towards lists of
furniture and exits, and there are rather too many rooms in which
nothing happens (I counted 25 that could have been removed without
loss).  Far too many of the puzzles require you to read through the room
description, examine every object mentioned and look under every piece
of furniture.  Several locations seem to be full of clutter for the
express purpose of distracting you from the one object you need to

There are a few places where over-enthusiasm on the part of the writer
rather spoils the atmosphere.  There's a submarine trip in which you're
treated to jokey descriptons of characters from television programmes
(Flipper the dolphin, the puppets from "Stingray" and so on).  These
seem completely out of place with the more serious tone of the rest of
the game, and would have been better turned into Easter eggs.  Late on
in the game, with the island crumbling around you and doom approaching,
you are treated to messages along the lines of ``All around you the
earth groans horribly'', presumably in order to instil in you some sense
of urgency.  But these messages appear every turn, and it turns out that
there is in fact no time limit, so after fifty or more repetitions the
effect is ludicrous rather than alarming.

Some of the puzzles seemed completely arbitrary to me, and even after
solving them I still don't understand why the solution worked.  For
example, there's a puzzle with two circles on the ground; if you put the
right objects in the circles, a secret door opens.  As far as I can
tell, there are no clues to which objects to use.  Another puzzle uses
an oxygen cylinder and a pump to make a submarine appear; I might have
understood this if the submarine had been in an underground chamber full
of water that needed to be pumped out, but in fact the submarine
appeared in the open sea.  So what was the oxygen used for?

Some other puzzles are made difficult by programming errors: there's a
trapdoor in the ceiling which is too high to reach, but you might not
realise this because the commands `touch trapdoor', `push trapdoor' and
so on give messages that suggest you can touch it.  A pivoting balance
is implemented so that it only moves when you put an object on one of
the plates.  If you change the weight of an object while it's on the
plate, the balance stays where it is.

However, a few of the puzzles are well done: two cleverly-clued password
puzzles gave me an ``Aha!'' feeling when I got them right first time.

I've been rather harsh in this review; there are good aspects to "The
Light: Shelby's Addendum", and it would not have been out of place had
it appeared as a mid-period Infocom game.  But I didn't enjoy playing it
very much because the moments of excitement were few and far between.  I
had expected the eventual encounter with Barclay and Holcroft to liven
things up a bit, but, when they do appear, these characters are passive
and unresponsive, implemented with the minimum of effort necessary to
carry them from their rediscovery to their disappearance a handful of
turns later.  The one point in the game that really ought to be exciting
- a ding-dong fight between Barclay and Holcroft in an underground
laboratory - was made completely non-interactive, with nothing for the
player to do but yawn as several screenfuls of text scroll by.


From: "Christopher E. Forman" 

NAME: The Multi-Dimensional Thief             GAMEPLAY: AGT or Parser/GUI
AUTHOR: Joel Finch                            PLOT: Escape the Dungeon
EMAIL: ???                                    ATMOSPHERE: Fragmented
AVAILABILITY: Shareware ($15), GMD            WRITING: Not Bad
PUZZLES: A Few Surprises                      SUPPORTS: PCs
CHARACTERS: Unresponsive                      DIFFICULTY: Below Average

        "The Multi-Dimensional Thief," which was a winner in one of the AGT
Programming Contests a few years back, comes in two formats: A text-only
AGT-based version, and a Legend-esque graphical game engine, with command
buttons, clickable text, and mouse input.  Both versions of the game have the
same layout, but I found the latter to be a bit more playable, as the parser
is a slight improvement over AGT's standard, though still far from perfect
(the AGT version is not bad either, merely missing a few nice features).
They're both a bit buggy, though -- I found three or four rather obvious
mistakes as I played through them, but nothing serious.
        The plot is nothing we haven't seen before.  You're a thief, and you
want to become part of the Multi-Dimensional Thieves' Guild.  So you're
placed in a magical dungeon and must escape to prove yourself.  Pretty
standard stuff, but the simple concept serves the game well.
        Throughout your travels, you'll visit a number of different places,
many of which are barely connected to the game world.  That's my primary
complaint about "Thief" -- it seems as if many of the locations are simply
stuck together with no regard for a streamlined overall design.  Travel to
exotic, faraway places works well in I-F if there's perceived spatial
distance and a central logic to it (for instance, the Oracle in "Zork Zero").
But "Thief" puts so many diverse environments in such close proximity to one
another that it tends to make the game appear incongruous and fragmented.
        Some of the puzzles are quite clever.  The portable hole, in
particular (obviously inspired by the classic Warner Brothers cartoon), is
one of my favorites.  A few (some of the Oz puzzles, for instance), require
some inside knowledge from the original sources that inspired their I-F
counterparts.  All in all, though, it's not too hard, and shouldn't take an
experienced player more than a few days to play through.
        The AGT version comes with a set of pop-hints, which in turn come
with a list of fun things to try and some rather amusing bogus topics.  This
is one feature that I missed in the graphical release.  If you detest
graphics, the GUI version isn't going to endear them to you, but it's worth
checking out for the novelty of implementation.  Better yet, show it to your
graphic-crazed friends, and perhaps they'll be willing to give parser
adventures a try.
        (BTW, the graphical version won't run on some older systems -- it
requires a VGA or SVGA video card.  Also, SVGA users need at least a 386.)

                                            -- C.E. Forman


From: "Christopher E. Forman" 

NAME: Oo-Topos                                 GAMEPLAY: 1 or 2-word commands
AUTHOR: Michael Berlyn                         PLOT: Strictly rudimentary
EMAIL: ???                                     ATMOSPHERE: A few nice touches
AVAILABILITY: Commercial (Sentient Software)   WRITING: Minimalist
PUZZLES: Not overly difficult                  SUPPORTS: C64, Apple II, IBM
CHARACTERS: Lifeless obstacles                 DIFFICULTY: Medium

[This review is based on the Apple II version of the game.]

        "Oo-Topos" is an oldie but a goodie.  It was written billions and
billions of years ago (to be exact, 1981), during the dawn of the home
computing era.  It was also the very first game written by Michael Berlyn,
before he went on to write "Cutthroats", "Infidel", and "Suspended" at
Infocom.  (Incidentally, to add to the recent "Where Are They Now?" article
in April's "Computer Game Review," Berlyn also worked at Accolade for some
time, where he did the "King's Quest"-like "Altered Destiny" a few years
back, and was also part of a team which created Sega and Super Nintendo games
-- he worked on the original "Bubsy," for instance.)
        The plot is very straightforward as sci-fi stories go: You were
transporting a shipload of scientific equipment and a serum to cure an Earth-
bound plague, when aliens caught your ship in their tractor beam and grounded
it on their homeworld of Oo-Topos.  You begin the game in a cell, having
forced the door open, and must escape the prison, collect the scattered
cargo, and locate the necessary parts to put your ship back together.
        You interact via a two-word parser superimposed on a minimal
interface -- there's no prompt, just a cursor, and the text spans 40 columns,
all in caps.  Still, it looks more like the Infocom format than the Scott
Adams adventures -- "Oo-Topos" has full (albeit rather sparse) room
descriptions as opposed to a simple room name and a list of objects, which
makes it feel less mechanical.  Even so, there's not much of a command set.
There are no synonyms, it's impossible to examine room scenery, and you can't
even examine objects unless you're carrying them.  (There are a few
exceptions to the last one.)
        According to the sleeved package the game comes in (mine has a $32.95
price tag still attached -- wow!), Berlyn spent a year and a half writing and
programming the game.  The writing is passable for such an early effort, but
it's very prosaic, nowhere near the level of Berlyn's books.  (He's had four
science-fiction novels published: "The Integrated Man," "Crystal Phoenix,"
"Blight," and "The Eternal Enemy.")  Players get little sense of wonder as
they wander the corridors of the alien prison, as the text suffers from the
sparse minimalism of early adventures.  The aliens themselves are particularly
lifeless, serving only as obstacles to impede the player's progress.
        The puzzles, though no doubt original at the time, are pretty simple
by today's standards.  A 2-word parser doesn't allow for something as complex
as, say, the Enigma machine in "Jigsaw."  Don't forget that the game had to
fit on a 180K single-sided floppy as well.  Much of the game is derivative of
the original Crowther and Woods Adventure (when you die, you're resurrected,
but your possessions are lost, etc.).  A few bits of text pay humble tribute
to Adventure (such as eating the food -- you're told that it's "pretty tasty
food").  Most puzzles embody the characteristic cause-and-effect logic --
setting up conditions so a solution can occur -- but there's no veil of
atmosphere or plot to conceal the fact that these are simple logic puzzles.
        Sprinkled throughout the game are a number of drop-an-object mazes.
These are hard, no two ways about it.  You'll have to make maps if you expect
to get through them.  Maze-haters will likely become fed up very quickly.
But, considering that the game's date places it in the company of "Adventure"
and the "Zork" Trilogy, I'm willing to let that slide.
        Despite these criticisms (which can largely be excused because the
game is so old), I had a lot of fun with "Oo-Topos," and have scored it
accordingly, breaking several rules of the SPAG rating system in an effort to
keep it from being slighted.  If you can appreciate the adventure game at its
most primitive level, you'll enjoy "Oo-Topos."  I felt a little thrill in
watching the red disk-access LED on my Apple II light up, as I waited for the
next location to be loaded into memory.  "Oo-Topos" is a piece of I-F history,
a nostalgic trip down memory lane, a perfectly preserved relic from an age of
computer gaming whose mystical aura can only be recaptured by those of us who
were there to watch the computer adventure grow up.

                                            -- C.E. Forman


From: "Christopher E. Forman" 

NAME: Quarterstaff                         GAMEPLAY: Combination Parser/GUI
AUTHOR: Infocom & Westwood                 PLOT: Fairly straightforward
EMAIL:                                     ATMOSPHERE: Perhaps a bit lacking
AVAILABILITY: Commercial (quite rare)      WRITING: Not bad
PUZZLES: Not many, in the true sense       REQUIRES: Mac or Mac emulator
CHARACTERS: Pseudo-intelligent             DIFFICULTY: Below average

        For centuries, the various Druid sects have been responsible for
preserving peace and prosperity among the four kingdoms of Rhea.  But when
the Tree Druids, the most powerful sect of all, mysteriously vanish, disaster
threatens the world.  A party of three great warriors was sent to investigate
the disappearance, but was never heard from again.  So a new party has been
selected as the last hope to rescue the Tree Druids and restore their Majik.
(Just in case anyone cares, this is #3 on the list of different Infocom
spellings of the word -- there was the traditional "magic" in the Zork and
Enchanter Trilogies, the archaic "magick" in Wishbringer and Beyond Zork, and
now "majik."  But I digress...)
        "Quarterstaff: The Tomb of Setmoth" is famous for a lot of reasons.
First, it was one of the company's very last releases (if not _the_ last)
under MediaGenic.  Second, unless you count the breakdown of "Dungeon" into
the Zork Trilogy (which I don't), it's the only Infocom adaption of an
already-existing game -- "Quarterstaff" is based on a little-known earlier
FRPG of the same title by Westwood Associates, who also collaborated with
Infocom on "Circuit's Edge", "Mines of Titan", and the two "BattleTech"
games.  Third, it's notorious for being incredibly difficult to find, as only
the Macintosh version was ever released.  (And, contrary to popular belief,
there is _no_ finished-yet-unreleased PC version lurking about the ruins of
Infocom.  David Lebling has denied this rumor several times.)  As a result,
"Quarterstaff" is something of an Infocom Holy Grail, sought by devoted
collectors everywhere.  As an obscure collector's item, it's one of the best
there is.  But how is it as a _game_?
        It took me quite awhile to really be able to learn that for myself,
as the game obviously requires a Macintosh to play.  I'd tried "Executor", a
Mac emulator (available from, but couldn't get it (the
emulator) to load properly on my machine, and finally had to resort to playing
"Quarterstaff" down in the campus Mac lab.  Not being overly familiar with
Macs (I'd never used one in my life), I had to grab the basics of the Mac
operating system as well.  Also, the game has problems loading if you're
not running the right system.  If you don't have System 6.0 and Finder 6.1,
you'll need to boot the game with the System Disk supplied in the game
package.  Just trying to play "Quarterstaff" was an adventure in itself!
        But I'm happy to report that, although it's nowhere near the level
reached by Infocom at their height, "Quarterstaff" manages to be a moderately
entertaining game with a nifty combination of windows and parser for a play
system.  It reminded me of nothing so much as Virgin's Magnetic Scrolls
interface, with perhaps a bit of the old C64 game "Rogue" mixed in.  There
are windows and menus for text, inventory, objects in the vicinity, optional
graphics, maps, and an extensive on-line help and hint system.
        And what of the Infocom parser?  Yes, it's still present, and more
or less up to their regular standards, aside from a few annoying twists --
non-cardinal directions such as northeast and southwest aren't used, the
"UNDO" command is absent, and some of the basic I-F commands have been
altered slightly ("WAIT" is replaced by "PASS" or "GUARD", and "REPEAT" is
used instead of "AGAIN"), with few abbreviations allowed.  Let this serve as
a lesson: NEVER stray too far from the firmly established text adventure
conventions; you'll only confuse and annoy players accustomed to time-honored
I-F tradition.
        At heart, though, "Quarterstaff" is an RPG, not pure I-F.  And in
traditional RPG style, the game puts you in control of not a lone quester,
but a party of adventurers, necessitating a slightly different method of
play.  Members of the party are classified as either leaders or followers,
and behave accordingly -- with a directional move, the followers follow their
leader.  In other situations, the followers can take their own non-directional
actions, and the "Quarterstaff" player types one command for each member.
Special commands include the aforementioned "PASS"; "MIMIC", to imitate the
leader; and "SPLIT" and "JOIN" to disband from the party and regroup,
respectively.  The need to enter separate commands for every member of the
party inevitably leads to a considerably longer play session.
        Unlike most RPGs, this game does not classify characters as fighters,
thieves, magic users, etc.  Rather, all characters are able to use the entire
spectrum of skills to some extent, and their proficiencies continuously
increase or decrease according to the frequency with which the character
practices them.  Other aspects of FRP are incorporated rather realistically.
Takeable items have such properties as size, shape, and weight, and NPCs
wander about of their own accord (some will join your party).  It's necessary
to "WIELD" weapons before using them (a la "Beyond Zork"), and characters
must also provide themselves with food, water, and sleep (interestingly,
lack of sleep will actually cause a character to take damage points).
        The writing is about par for Infocom, good but not outstanding,
although Amy Briggs ("Plundered Hearts") is credited with producing some of
the text.  As for puzzles, well...there just aren't very many in the true
I-F sense.  Your progress depends largely on discovering hidden objects and
keys, unlocking doors, replenishing light sources, and opening secret
passages.  In most cases a little careful observation is all that's needed.
Although the layout is fairly vast, there just isn't much variety, as the
game is primarily combat-oriented ("ATTACK", "THROW", and "SHOOT" are used
ad nauseum...though the "SMILE" command is kind of cute).
        IMO, the most significant "real" puzzle is that of deciphering a set
of magic words using a parchment and wooden coin included in the game
package.  (Apparently quite a few players were stumped by this -- Infocom
actually gave away the entire solution in the very last issue of "The Status
Line."  Refer to the notes at the end of this review for details on how to do
it.)  There is also one critical bug -- the game crashes your entire system
if anything with nested objects (containers and NPCs holding items) is set on
fire.  This causes problems in two areas in particular -- the Charred Room
and the second dungeon level (again, see below for info on avoiding the
crashes).  On the plus side, there are no "fatal mistakes" for players to
make.  You can't screw up the game completely unless your entire party is
killed off.
        How well does all this work when put together?  Sadly, only so-so.
"Quarterstaff" is really neat at the outset, but sooner or later the novelty
wears off and it becomes rather tiresome to play through toward the end (as
did Infocom's other RPG offerings, "BattleTech" and "Mines of Titan").  Once
you've played through, it's doubtful you'll feel much like experiencing it
again.  "Quarterstaff" simply doesn't have the same play value as the
all-text games.
        But then, that's not the reason most Infocom fans want a copy.

                                            -- C.E. Forman


        Now, about that coin and parchment:  The poem on the top of the map
is just a cryptic way of explaining what you're supposed to do.  Basically,
you use the coin, the compass rose on the parchment, and the identify wand
(it's pictured on the parchment above the poem) to decipher and use four
magic words, one corresponding to each of the messages on the bottom of the
parchment.  Each message is used to form the word that can be spoken to
identify unnamed keys, wands, scrolls, and potions (provided the character
who uses the word is actually holding the identify wand in his hands).
        Make sense so far?
        Each message on the bottom of the parchment reveals four things:

                1) The correct placement of the coin.
                2) The starting point for determining the word.
                3) The number of steps (letters in the word).
                4) The direction in which to decipher.

        What you want to do is put the coin on the compass, making sure the
coin's arrow points in the direction specified by the message.  Then,
beginning at the starting point, move the number of "steps" in the direction
the message says, around the circumference of the coin and parchment, writing
down one letter for each step.  Letters alternate between the coin and the
parchment, and can start on either.
        As an example, the magic word for keys is "GURZ", and the word for
potions is "NESOE".  The last two are left as an exercise for the player.

        As for the crashes...
        In the Charred Room, all you need to do is unlock the bronze seal.
Once you've found the key, disband a single member (preferably one with a
high resistance to heat) and send him back to unlock it.
        For the dungeon, the problem area is the region labeled A1-A5, etc.
Stay on the D's and the 5's, and you'll be safe from the mines.


From: "Christopher E. Forman" 

NAME: Spur                           GAMEPLAY: Quirky but not frustrating
AUTHOR: Kent Tessman                 PLOT: Unfolds nicely
EMAIL: as400477 SP@G       ATMOSPHERE: Good
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD          WRITING: Good
PUZZLES: Logical but not obvious     SUPPORTS: Hugo ports (DOS, Amiga, Linux)
CHARACTERS: Fairly convincing        DIFFICULTY: Medium

        Considering the potential for atmosphere and adventure puzzles with a
western theme, it's something of a surprise to me that Infocom never did a
game in this particular genre, not to mention the fact that there is so
little I-F in general set in the Old West.  Kudos are due Kent Tessman, who
has found a relatively unexplored niche in the world of I-F in which to place
"Spur."  The game is full of atmosphere and serves as a good showcase of the
Hugo language's capabilities.
        Since no one has yet done a review of a Hugo game (since there are so
few to begin with), I suppose I should analyze the parser and overall user-
friendliness of the system before examining the game itself.  Relative to the
most popular development systems out there, Hugo's parser is far superior to
AGT's standard, but a number of strange quirks keep it from matching Inform
and TADS for ease of use.  For instance, a number of common phrases aren't
understood -- "OPEN DOOR WITH KEY" as opposed to "UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY" is
one that comes to mind.  To ride a horse, you must first "GET ON THE HORSE"
and then "RIDE" in the desired direction ("RIDE HORSE" won't get you on the
horse in the first place).  "KILLing" and "SHOOTing" someone are two
completely different actions.  Also, I found one that was quite
(unintentionally) amusing:

                >steal the axe
                You'll have to buy the pick-axe first.

("STEAL" seems to be a synonym for "TAKE" in this case.)  Much of the scenery
can't be examined either.  Don't get me wrong, most major objects such as a
billiards table are present, but tables, chairs, and even Grady's bar aren't
even recognized.
        I'm not trying to be overly harsh here; I merely want to give players
a basic feel for how the parser handles, and Hugo handles quite well overall,
with most of the standard "ease-of-use" features ("UNDO", "OOPS", command
recall, etc.) implemented.  If a particular syntax doesn't work, it usually
takes little experimentation to find another common one that does.  Rarely is
there a need to guess a particular phrase, and if the need seems to arise,
it's more than likely that you're on the wrong track, so it's not too
terribly frustrating.  To perhaps put it more tangibly: I usually score the
AGT parser around 0.7 (with a couple of exceptions), and both the TADS and
Inform parsers around 1.5 or 1.6 on average.  By this standard, Hugo would
come in at 1.3 or so.  (This is Hugo 2.0, BTW.  As no games have yet been
released with 2.1, I can't offer comment.)
        The action begins immediately, with the player thrust into the middle
of a gunfight, and doesn't let up.  The outset is fast-paced, pushing the
player along, but it doesn't force the sort of do-or-die time limit where
you're dead if you don't do everything exactly right (such as the opening to
"Demon's Tomb" or the endgame of "Christminster").  Some events are timed,
but sufficient warning is provided.
        "Spur" has a pleasant western atmosphere to it, with appropriate
situations and puzzles, and some intentional anachronisms tacked on for
humor.  Those more familiar with the western genre (and I for one am not)
will no doubt spot some minor cliches but I found nothing so obvious as to
make me cringe.
        The game is linear overall, and it's sometimes easy to overlook
things.  Quite a few problems rely on the other characters and can't be
solved unless you gain the right information from the right person (much like
"The Path to Fortune").  Reading the sample commands in the online help will
give you some nudges if you're stuck in the early stages.  What's interesting
here is the fact that the Hugo engine prevents you from asking characters
about something if you haven't actually seen it.  This adds a degree of
realism, but has the side effect of being a pain on subsequent playthroughs.
It's a trade-off.
        The characters in "Spur" are quite nicely done, many of them with
reasonable mobility and most of them fairly responsive.  The fact that
they're observing your behavior as well lends to the realism.  Grady the
bartender has a superstitious streak, but you can't trick him by giving him a
fake charm if you create it while he's watching you.  Little Jimmy whines
incessantly if you steal his taffy.  Old Dan, the town drunk, wanders about
on his own personal quest for liquor.  Sheriff Argyle is a constant threat
until you can escape town.
        Your own character is not the typical John Wayne western hero.  The
story reveals that you're not a very good shot at all, and most other
characters don't have a very high opinion of you.  It's also necessary to do
some rather unkind things in order to complete the story.  (The scoring
system reflects this by summarizing your exploits rather than using a point
tally, and the effect is pleasing.)
        Although "Spur" is not a long game, it's a detailed one.  You're more
or less free to do what you choose, with few messages to the effect that
"violence isn't the answer."  Killing off other characters, though fatal, is
a perfectly valid move (shooting Sarah's horse was particularly fun -- gawd
I'm sick!).
        "Spur" is a fairly unique work of I-F, and a fine example of what the
Hugo language can do.  I'm looking forward to more games from Kent Tessman in
the well as more Hugo games.

                                            -- C.E. Forman


From: "Stephen Granade" 

 NAME: The Windhall Chronicles I: Path To Fortune
 PARSER: Inform's usual
 AUTHOR: Jeff Cassidy and C.E. Forman            PLOT: Spacious
 EMAIL: ceforma SP@G
 ATMOSPHERE: Well done
 AVAILABILITY: Shareware, GMD                    WRITING: Slightly uneven
 PUZZLES: From enjoyable to illogical            SUPPORTS: Inform Ports
 CHARACTERS: Static                              DIFFICULTY: Medium+

Path to Fortune (PTF) is the first in the Windhall Chronicles series.  In  
it, you play Aerin, "a simple blacksmith's apprentice, nothing more."   
However, by a bizarre bit of reasoning on your village's part, you are  
chosen to save the village from taxation without representation by finding  
the treasure horde of Kirizith, a huge dragon.

The game begins with most of the world available for exploration, and the  
world is large and complex.  There are many places to explore and many  
puzzles to attempt, which helps if you are stumped by one particular  
puzzle.  It would have been nice had the game not shown its whole hand at  
the beginning; additional areas which you can explore only after solving a  
puzzle hold my interest more than being able to visit (almost) everywhere  
at the beginning.  There were only three areas I couldn't visit without  
solving a puzzle, and all three involved at most two rooms.  After enough  
tromping about Windhall, I was ready for something new to explore.  Of  
course, "enough" is a relative term--as large as Windhall is, it took a  
long time before I was familiar with it.

The open design of PTF weakened its plot somewhat.  At times I felt as if  
I were slogging through endless puzzles, marking time until I could find  
the dragon.  If you ask Denvil the elf about the fish dinner he wants you  
to supply, he says something to the effect that it is just one of those  
sub-plots adventurers are always fulfilling.  A lot of the game felt like  
that--sub-plots I had to finish in order to get to the dragon.  More  
direction towards the end goal was needed.

The initial puzzles' difficulty range from fairly easy to slightly more  
difficult.  However, as time went on, I found the puzzles becoming more  
and more illogical, possibly due to my solving the logical ones early on.   
The puzzle involving a werewolf and ogre locked in battle struck me as  
completely unmotivated, even after I was helped by someone who had already  
finished the game.  Too often I had to resort to the brute force approach  
of trying every object out on every other object; I would have much rather  
reasoned how to solve the puzzles.

The main strengths of the game, its size and number of NPCs, are also its  
main weaknesses.  Due to the size of the game and the number of NPCs, it  
felt as if none of the NPCs were fully realized.  The NPCs reacted to a  
large number of questions, but all were of the "ask xxx about yyy"  
category.  None of the NPCs had a life of their own.  Every day Baezil  
cursed over his unlit stove; every day Mielon and Idah stayed in their  
house.  There are an ogre and werewolf who are fighting to the death, day  
in and day out, for as long as you are willing to watch.  The NPCs could  
have been improved by having motivations of their own.

I enjoyed playing PTF immensely, the above nitpicks notwithstanding.  The  
game is an excellent addition to the growing pantheon of Inform games, and  
well worth the time spent.  I look forward to seeing the next installment  
in the series.


From: "Julian Arnold" 

NAME: Waystation                          PARSER: TADS standard
AUTHOR: Stephen Granade                   PLOT: See below
EMAIL: sgranade SP@G              ATMOSPHERE: See below
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD               WRITING: See below
PUZZLES: See below                        SUPPORTS: TADS run-time ports
CHARACTERS: See below                     DIFFICULTY: See below

     Needs TADS run-time (v2.2 or later),

While driving home from work at night your car's engine dies.  Stopping at
the side of the road you get out to investigate (not because you have the
slightest clue of what the problem is, but rather because that seems the
thing to do).  Moments later you are engulfed in blue light and pass out,
awakening once more in a dungeon-like cell.

The introduction to "Waystation" can be seen as analogous to the game as a
whole-- rarely do you have a reason for your actions, other than that they
seem like the right thing to do at the time-- objects are collected simply
because they can be, and used by the same rationale.

Your goal in the game is not revealed until over half-way through, so for
the majority of the game you are reduced to moving purposelessly from
location to location and solving seemingly arbitrary puzzles.  It could be
argued that you are exploring the environment, but the game-world is not rich
or coherent enough for this to be a satisfactory explanation.  Indeed, the
game is a mish-mash of genres-- Granade has played with many ideas, but
expanded on almost none of them. The introduction suggests alien abduction,
but then you are transported to an all-too-human cell and seemingly left to
rot there; after your escape you fetch up in an Orwellian world of barcoded
and overalled workers, repressive armed guards, and unquestioning order;
later, by way of the waystations of the title (interplanetary teleportation
booths), you visit a garbage-dump planet, and a decaying, war-torn alien city
(in which you find a Roman Catholic church untouched by the bombs which
decimated the rest of the city-- shades of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds"?).
This hotch-potch of genres overflows into the local geography in places.  For
example, one building contains the worker's bathroom, the cafeteria, a
strange museum-cum-library, an armoury, and a rather sensitive computer room
all along the same corridor.

The writing is quite good, the location decriptions are vivid and all the
text is clear in it's meaning.  However, a somewhat juvenile humour pervades
the game, with the produce of the worker's cafeteria likened to school
dinners and the not uncommon trap thrown in which unfairly kills the player
after luring him into considering it a puzzle (the most obvious example being
the slightly infamous exploding toilet "puzzle" early on in the game). 
Equally, the solutions to some puzzles verge on the ridiculous (passing the
laser beams) or are only apparent with foreknowledge gained through previous
failure (protecting yourself from the acid rain, escaping the ruined house,
or using the viscous liquid).  Also, there are a lot of red herrings, both
portable objects and referrable-to, but useless, scenery objects.  Used
sparingly and carefully such red herrings can contribute to a game's
atmosphere and "realism", but here they generally do neither, and the lack of
a satisfactory container (such as, say, "Curses" rucksack) results in the
need for annoying inventory management.

In summary, though the game is not wholly disappointing, neither is it
particularly gratifying or inspired.  If you do not expect too much from it,
in the way of a strong or developed plot, or detailed interactive NPCs (there
are none) the game succeeds reasonably well as just that-- a game.  The
puzzles, many of which seem to exist for their own sake only, as I've
mentioned before, are generally of medium difficulty, and do not noticeably
differ in this respect throughout the game.  Overall "Waystation" is a fun
game, which perhaps offers as many lessons in how not to write IF as it does
in how to write it.

[This review was posted to, 5th April 1996.]


From: "Bozzie" 

NAME: The Witness				PARSER:Infocom
AUTHOR:Stu Galley				PLOT:30's mystery
EMAIL:???					ATMOSPHERE:Very Good
PUZZLES:Few, but well done.		SUPPORTS:Infocom ports.

You've been hired by Freeman Linder, a businessman who is scared for his
life.   After you arrive to his home, he tells you his story, just before he
is shot.  Now you've got a murder to solve, before its too late.

This is an excellent game. But then, as it was the first game I ever played,
more then 10 years ago, I may be somewhat partial to it.  It features one of
the most coherent, realistic mysteries, and possibly one of the most
consistent stories all together.  Mr. Galley worked hard on this one and it
shows.  There are no plot holes, and the game makes complete sense.  That is
one of the vital things about a mystery, and even more so an interactive one,
where you have to consider every possible storyline, and every tangent you
can take.  [For example, try not going to the house one time and see what
happens].  He also is careful to place clues in the writing.  You could just
follow the "obvious" beginning path and get at least 2 clues without
examining or questioning anybody.

Another important step is having good, believable characters, and this is
where Mr. Galley truly shines.  The characters here are as believable as they
have ever been in text adventures.  They lie, bluff, change their minds and
more.  They move around with reasons, and will keep in mind you (The
detective) when considering their actions.  I'll admit, I fell in love with
Monica, despite her calling me a masher consistently.  I would, however, have
liked at least one more character to have had.  Three is never a good number
to pick when making mystery suspects.  I would have liked someone from Mr.
Linder's business, for example.  Still, I won't be too choosy.

The puzzles in this game are standard mystery type.  You question the mystery
suspects.  You read the prose carefully for clues.  You spy on characters and
their actions.  You try to search every room and examine every evidence you
find, with Sgt. Duffy by your side to help assist when you need his help.

The Atmosphere is well done, if sometimes overly cliched.  But, for some
reason, I think Mr. Galley may have wanted that effect.  You were watching an
old 30's mystery movie, not conducting a criminal investigation.  Still,
while most people think that it has the atmosphere of the Maltese Falcon, I
would tend to think it was more like the Charlie Chan movies.  You weren't
heading off everywhere to look for clues, just remaining in a somewhat
restricted area, questioning people.

READER'S SCOREBOARD----------------------------------------------------------


	A   - Runs on Amigas.
	AP  - Runs on Apple IIs.
	GS  - Runs on Apple IIGS.
	AR  - Runs on Acorn Archimedes.
	C   - Commercial, no fixed price.
	C30 - Commercial, with a fixed price of $30.
	F   - Freeware.
	GMD - Available on
	I   - Runs on IBM compatibles.
	M   - Runs on Macs.
	S20 - Shareware, registration costs $20.
	64  - Runs on Commodore 64s.
	ST  - Runs on Atari STs.
	TAD - Written with TADS.  This means it can run on:
                AmigaDOS, NeXT and PC, Atari ST/TT/Falcon, DECstation
                (MIPS) Unix Patchlevel 1 and 2, IBM, IBM RT, Linux, Apple
                Macintosh, SGI Iris/Indigo running Irix, Sun 4 (Sparc)
                running SunOS or Solaris 2, Sun 3, OS/2, and even a 386+
                protected mode version.
        AGT - Available for IBM, Mac, Amiga, and Atari ST.  This does not
                include games made with the Master's edition.
	ADVSYS - Available for PC and Macintosh only, or so my sources tell
                 me.  (Source code available as well.  So it can be ported
		 to other computers.)
	HUG - Written with Hugo.  Runs on MS-DOS, Linux, and Amigas.
        INF - Infocom or Inform game.  These games will run on:
                Atari ST, Amiga, Apple Macintosh, IBM, Unix, VMS, Apple II,
                Apple IIGS, C64, TSR-80, and Acorn Archimedes.  There may be
                other computers on which it runs as well.

 Name		       Avg Sc  Chr  Puz  # Sc  Rlvt Ish       Notes:
 ====                  ======  ===  ===  ====  ========       ======
Adventure               7.7    1.1  0.7    2     8      F_INF_TAD_ETC_GMD
Adventure 350		6.5    0.0  1.5    1     x      
Adv. of Eliz. Highe     3.1    0.8  0.3    1     5      F_AGT
All Quiet...Library	4.5    0.7  0.7    3     7      F_INF_GMD
Amnesia			7.7    1.3  1.4    1     9      C_AP_I_64
Another...No Beer	2.4    0.2  0.8    2     4      S10_IBM_GMD
Arthur: Excalibur	8.6    1.8  1.7    1     4	C_INF
Awe-Chasm		2.4    0.3  0.6    1     8	S?_IBM_ST
Balances		6.4    1.0  1.3    2     6      F_INF_GMD
Ballyhoo		7.0    1.8  1.5    3	 4	C_INF
Beyond Tesseract	3.7    0.1  0.6    1     6	F_I_GMD
Beyond Zork		8.1    1.5  2.0    3	 5	C_INF
Border Zone		6.7    1.4  1.4    4	 4	C_INF
Broken String		3.1    0.5  0.6    1	 x	F_TADS_GMD
Bureaucracy		8.3    1.8  1.6    3	 5	C_INF
Busted                  5.2    1.0  1.1    1            F_INF_GMD
Castaway		1.1    0.0  0.4    1     5      F_IBM_GMD
Change in the Weather   6.1    0.8  1.1    2     7      F_INF_GMD
Christminster           8.6    1.8  1.7    3            F_INF_GMD
Corruption              6.7    1.4  1.4    1     x      C_I
Cosmoserve		8.7    1.3  1.4    2     5      F_AGT_GMD
Crypt v2.0		5.0    1.0  1.5    1     3	S12_IBM_GMD
Curses			8.3    1.3  1.7    7     2	F_INF_GMD
Cutthroats		6.4    1.4  1.2    5	 1	C_INF
Deadline		7.0    1.3  1.4    4	 x	C_INF
Deep Space Drifter	5.5	    1.4    1     3      S15_TAD_GMD
Demon's Tomb            7.4    1.2  1.1    2     9      C_I
Detective		1.1    0.0  0.0    4     4-5    F_AGT_GMD
Detective-MST3K		6.0    0.6  0.1    3     7-8	F_INF_GMD
Ditch Day Drifter	7.1    1.2  1.6	   1     2      F_TAD_GMD
Dungeon Adventure	6.8    1.3  1.6    1     4	F_SEE REVIEW Issue #4
Dungeon of Dunjin       6.2    0.5  1.5    2     3      S20_IBM_MAC_GMD
Electrabot		0.7    0.0  0.0    1     5      F_AGT_GMD
Enchanter		7.1    0.9  1.4	   5     2	C_INF
Enhanced		N/A		   0	 2      S10_TAD_GMD
Eric the Unready        7.4    1.5  1.4    1     x      C_I
Fable, A		2.0    0.2  0.1    1     6      F_AGT_GMD
Fish                    7.1    1.2  1.5    1     x      C_I
Forbidden Castle        4.8    0.6  0.5    1     x      C_AP
Gateway                 7.5    1.6  1.5    1     x      C_I
Great Archaelog. Race	6.5    1.0  1.5    1     3      S20_TAD_GMD
Guardians of Infinity   8.5    N/A  1.3    1     9      C_I
Guild of Thieves        6.8    1.1  1.2    1     x      C_I
Gumshoe                 6.3    1.3  1.1    2     9      F_INF_GMD
Hitchhiker's Guide	8.0    1.6  1.6    5     5	C_INF
Hollywood Hijinx	5.7    1.0  1.5    4	 x	C_INF
Horror30.Zip		3.6    0.0  0.9    1	 3	S20_IBM_GMD
Horror of Rylvania	7.7		   1     1	C20_TAD_GMD (Demo)
Humbug			7.4		   1	 x	S10_GMD (Uncertain)
Infidel 		7.0	    1.4    7     1-2	C_INF
Inhumane		3.6    0.2  0.7    1     9      F_INF_GMD
Jacaranda Jim		7.0		   1	 x	S10_GMD (Uncertain)
Jeweled Arena, The	8.0    1.5  1.5    1     x      ?
Jigsaw			8.7    1.6  1.6    3     8,9	F_INF_GMD
Jinxter                 6.7    1.1  1.3    1     x      C_I
John's Fire Witch	7.2    1.1  1.6    5     4	S6_TADS_GMD
Journey			6.9    1.3  0.8    1     5      C_INF
Jouney Into Xanth	5.0    1.3  1.2    1     8	F_AGT_GMD
Klaustrophobia		7.3    1.2  1.4    4     1	S15_AGT_GMD
Leather Goddesses	7.8    1.4  1.7    5	 4	C_INF
The Legend Lives!	8.2    0.8  1.5    1     5      F_TADS_GMD
Lethe Flow Phoenix      7.5    1.7  1.5    1     9      F_TADS_GMD
The Light: Shelby's Ad. 8.0    1.6  0.5    1     9      S?_TADS_GMD
Lurking Horror, The	7.1    1.4  1.3    5     1,3	C_INF
MacWeslyan(PC Univ.)    5.6    0.7  1.0    1     x      F_TADS_GMD
Magic.Zip		4.5    0.5  0.5    1     3      S20_IBM_GMD
Magic Toyshop, The	3.6    0.5  1.0    1            F_INF_GMD
Mind Electric, The	5.1    0.5  0.8    2     7-8    F_INF_GMD
Mind Forever Voyaging	8.5    1.4  0.6    4	 5	C_INF
Moonmist		5.9    1.4  1.3    5     1	C_INF
Mop & Murder		4.9    0.5  1.0    1	 4-5	F_AGT_GMD
Multidimen. Thief	5.6    0.4  1.0    3     2,9    S15_AGT_GMD
Mystery House           4.1    0.3  0.7    1     x      F_AP_GMD
Night at Museum Forever 4.1    0.0  1.0    3     7-8    F_TAD_GMD
Nord and Bert		4.8    0.5  1.0    2	 4	C_INF
Odieus': Flingshot	3.3    0.4  0.7    2     5      F_INF_GMD
One Hand Clapping	7.1    1.1  1.3    2     5	F_ADVSYS_GMD
One That Got Away, The  6.4    1.2  0.9    2     7-8    F_TAD_GMD
Oo-Topos		5.7    0.2  1.0    1     x      C_AP_I_64
Path to Fortune		6.8    1.4  0.8    1     9      S_INF_GMD
Pawn, The               6.5    1.0  1.2    1     x      C_I_AP_64
Perseus & Andromeda     3.4    0.3  1.0    1     x      ?
Planetfall		7.5    1.7  1.6    6	 4	C_INF
Plundered Hearts 	7.8    1.4  1.3    2	 4	C_INF
Quarterstaff		6.1    1.3  0.6    1     9	C_M
Sanity Claus		9.0	           1     1	S10_AGT_GMD
Save Princeton		5.8    1.2  1.3    2	 8	S10_TAD_GMD
Seastalker		5.5    1.1  1.0    4	 4	C_INF
Shades of Grey		8.0    1.3  1.4    4	 1-2	F_AGT_GMD
Sherlock		8.2    1.5  1.6    2	 4	C_INF
Shogun			7.1    1.5  0.5    1     4      C_INF
Sir Ramic Hobbs		5.0    1.0  1.5    1     6      F_AGT_GMD
Sorceror		7.3    0.6  1.6	   5	 2	C_INF
South American Trek	0.9    0.2  0.5    1     5      ?_IBM_GMD
Space Aliens...Cardigan 1.8    0.5  0.4    4     3      S60_AGT_GMD
Spellbreaker		8.2    1.2  1.8	   4	 2	C_INF
SpellCasting 101        7.0    1.0  1.2    1     x      C_I
SpellCasting 201        7.8    1.5  1.6    1     x      C_I
SpellCasting 301        7.5    1.4  1.5    1     x      C_I
SpiritWrak              6.6    1.0  0.6    1     9      F_INF_GMD
Spur			7.2    1.4  1.2    1     9	F_HUG_GMD
Starcross		7.0    1.1  1.3    5     1	C_INF
Stationfall		7.6    1.6  1.6    5	 5	C_INF
Suspect			6.2    1.3  1.2    2	 4	C_INF
Suspended		7.5    1.3  1.2    4	 8	C_INF
Theatre			6.8    0.9  1.2    3     6      F_INF_GMD
TimeQuest               8.6    1.5  1.8    1     x      C_I
TimeSquared             4.3    1.1  1.1    1     x      F_AGT_GMD
Toonesia		6.3    1.1  1.2    2     7      F_TAD_GMD
Tossed into Space	3.9    0.2  0.6    1     4      F_AGT_GMD
Treasure.Zip		N/A		   0     3	S20_IBM_GMD
Trinity			8.8    1.4  1.7    8     1-2	C_INF
Tube Trouble		3.3    0.5  0.4    1            F_INF_GMD
Uncle Zebulon's Will	7.6    0.9  1.3    3     7      F_TAD_GMD
Undertow		5.2    1.0  0.8    1            F_TAD_GMD
Undo			1.9    0.1  0.4    2     7      F_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian One-Half	7.0    1.3  1.7    4     1	F_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian Unventure 1	7.1    1.2  1.6    5     1-2	S10_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian Unventure 2	7.2    1.4  1.5    4     1	S10_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian Zero  	9.0 	           1     1	C25_TAD_GMD (Demo)
Waystation		5.7    0.7  0.9    2     9      F_TAD_GMD
Windhall Chron. 1 - See Path to Fortune.
Wishbringer		7.6    1.3  1.3    4	 5-6	C_INF
Witness, The		7.2    1.7  1.2    5     1,3,9	C_INF
Wonderland              7.5    1.3  1.4    1     x      C_I
World			6.5    0.6  1.3    2     4	F_SEE REVIEW Issue #4
Zanfar			2.6    0.2  0.4    1     8	F_AGT_GMD
Zork 0			7.1    1.3  2.0	   2	 x	C_INF
Zork 1			6.0    0.7  1.5	   9	 1-2	C_INF
Zork 2			6.4    0.8  1.5	   7	 1-2	C_INF
Zork 3			6.1    0.6  1.4	   5	 1-2	C_INF


The Top Five:

	I've decided that we finally have enough competitive entries on the
scoreboard to have a Top Five instead of a Top Three.
	A game is not eligible for the Top Five unless it has
received at least three ratings from different readers.  This is to ensure a
more democratic and accurate depiction of the best games.

 1. Trinity		8.8	8 votes
 2. Jigsaw		8.7	3 votes
 3. Christminster	8.6	3 votes
 4. Mind Fvr Voyaging   8.5	4 votes
 5. Curses		8.3	7 votes
    Bureaucracy		8.3	3 votes

	Say, is it just me, or do we really like serious games better than
others?  The more serious games on the list seem to consistantly score better
than the rest.  Both of Infocom's serious games make the Top 5, Graham
Nelson's games are there too, and he writes pretty serious stuff as well.
The only real exception is Bureaucracy, which has done quite well considering
how few copies it originally sold.  Another interesting bit, Spellbreaker is
the next game down the ladder, with an 8.2 and 4 votes, and there's a serious
game in many ways (with admittedly, some silliness, but the theme is deadly


Editor's Picks of the Month:

	My pick of the month is _Lethe Flow Phoenix_.  Dan Shiovitz's work
about alien invaders and biblical allusions is certainly worth a look.  See
the various reviews in this issue for information on where to download it.


Soon, the unlikeliest of heroes will be chosen to embark on the unlikeliest
					   of adventures.../\
                                                         /    \
                                                / \    /     /
                                                \   \/     /
                                                  \      /
         THE PATH TO                              / \   \
         ___________                            /    /\   \
        |  _________|                         /    /    \ /
        | |_________                       _/    /
        |  _________|  ______   _____   __| |__/  _   _   _____   ____
        | |           |  __  | |  ___| |__   __| | | | | |  _  | | o__|
        | |           | |__| | | |    /   | |_   | |_| | | | | | | |__
        |_|           |______| |_|  /    /|___|  |_____| |_| |_| |____|
                       BY JEFF CASSIDY AND C.E. FORMAN

Windhall has fallen upon hard times.  Lord Osrich, ruler of the realm of
Rysch, has threatened to reclaim the tiny village and send its inhabitants
away, unless a great debt is paid.  The town's only hope lies in finding
and recovering the treasure of the great dragon Kirizith, hidden and nearly
forgotten for so many centuries...

Meet Aerin.
A simple blacksmith's apprentice, nothing more.  Certainly not the hero
selected by the village to seek out the dragon's lair...

...Or is he?

Meet the cast.
Fifteen fully-developed characters help and hinder Aerin in his quest:

  Borthur, the dwarven blacksmith, Aerin's mentor and best friend.
  Mielon, the mayor of Windhall (since no one else wanted the job).
  Idah, his wife, the finest storyteller in the land.
  Baezil, preparer of Windhall's finest culinary delights.
  Sir Gunther IX, the most incompetent and tongue-tied knight in Rysch.
  Creston the cleric, master of alchemy...when he feels like it.
  Kytan the thief (guard your gold closely).
  Denvil, the jovial (or is it pain-in-the-neck?) wood elf.
  Midknight, swordsman extraordinaire.
  Kaela, the enchanting young wizardess of Aerin's dreams.
  Mighty Nostrophidius, an ancient sorcerer whose powers are unmatched.
  The ever-rhyming Mire Cat, master of riddles and wordplay.
  The Haughty Chameleon, appearing and vanishing in the blink of an eye.
  Grrarr, werewolf of the Forest of Ansalon.
  And of course, the mighty Kirizith himself.

Meet the quest of a lifetime.
In a world where magic is the ultimate power of mortals,
           where only the most skilled warrior can survive,
           where only the most clever explorer can uncover the secret,

                           ADVENTURE IS INEVITABLE.

                            "The Path to Fortune"
                   Volume One of "The Windhall Chronicles"

                   Available on a ZIP Interpreter near you.


                        Feeling a little paranoid?

                                You will be.

                           S  C  I  M  I  T  A  R

      A new adventure from the author of "The Light: Shelby's Addendum"

                   You'll never trust your mother again

                                Coming in '96 
                            Illusory Mental Images
                           "We know where you live!"

IN DEPTH ANALYSES---------------SPOILER WARNING! BEWARE!---------------------

	First, I am going to apologize to every author whose game I am taking
apart with tweezers below.  I'm sure you'll all refuse to speak to me for a
month or so after reading my analyses of your games.  I promise you this,
however.  I will endeavor to explain WHY I say the things I say.  There will
be no 'empty' criticism in these articles if I can help it.

		[This space intentionally left blank.]


			The One That Got Away

	_The One That Got Away_ (TOTGA) was my second favorite game from the
1995 Competition.  It lost out only to _Uncle Zebulon's Will_.  The reason is
hard to put my finger on, so I will muse on it below, and perhaps clarify
both to myself and others why TOTGA doesn't quite stand up before Zebulon.

TECHNICAL ASPECTS: The parser was excellent.  Leon did a great job of
both simulating a complicated act (fishing), and explaining to the player
exactly how the simulation works.  The pamphlet in the game that tells the
player how it works is both funny and straightforward.  No complaints on this
front.  Leon thought of many phrasings and synonyms and made them usable.

PLOT: This is one of the two areas where Leon really hit the nail on the
head.  The plot is engaging (if short) and serves to bring out the humanity
in the characters.  It is a gentle bittersweet touch to contrast the comic
effect of the rest of the game.  If television comedy writers could regularly
reach this level of compassion and feeling, then I would start watching
sitcoms.  Perhaps the very weakness of the game, its size, helped in this
area.  Static writers edit, cut, re-write, and cut some more when working on
a story.  They try to distill the literary experience down to its essence.
At least, the good ones do.  Padding out a game is something many of us are
guilty of, and it really shouldn't be condoned, but remains standard practice
both for us hobbyists, and for the gaming industry at large.  We want to find
room for a certain puzzle, or we need to stretch the playing lifespan of the
game just a little more.  But what we usually end up doing is diluting the
	Leon just put in what he needed to tell the story, no more.  When he
was finished, he stopped.  That's the greatest praise I can give him.

ATMOSPHERE: Here he was on some shaky ground.  With only four rooms, and a
very few objects, a sense of the game's atmosphere failed to materialize for
me.  There was some sense of a quiet country lake, but where was the gentle
breeze, the quiet rustling of the grass?  Leon did in some aspects neglect
the senses.  He had the birds, but the sound of the country is a rich and
wonderful thing, very hard to capture in words.  He had the raw fishing
experience, but failed to capture the thrill of a whining reel as the mighty
fish races for the darkest depths of the lake.  There was some good progress
towards a unified feel in the game, but Leon needs to work more in this area.
Atmosphere is a game designer's bread and butter.

WRITING: This is another area that really stands out as exceptional.  The
turn of the comic phrase is everywhere to be seen in TOTGA.  There are many
little references to other works of this vein (Moby Dick, among others), and
the writing seems caring and conversational while still being informative.
I would perhaps rank the writing between Zebulon and A Change in the Weather.
TOTGA's writing avoids the sometimes deadpan delivery of Zebulon, but fails
to capture the truly beautiful phrasings that pop up so often in Weather.
Altogether not a bad place to be ranked, betweeen two 1st place winners.

PUZZLES: I think that enough has been said on this matter.  Suffice it to
say that TOTGA is too short, and the puzzles a bit too easy for most people's
tastes.  However, on a related soapbox issue... ;)
	There are many legitimate reasons to do this, but in a competition
voted on by many die-hard puzzle lovers, a game that attempts it is simply
going to suffer unless the writing is truly, truly magnificent.  It must
capture the attention of the puzzle-goers and draw them into the plot, even
as puzzles do in normal IF.  It's not impossible, it's just a heckuva lot
harder to do without all the smokescreening and handwaving that goes on in a
more traditional IF work.
	This too to consider.  Players have certain expectations about games,
and different ones about stories.  If your puzzles are lean, then expect to
be lumped into the story category, where you will find it very hard to keep
up with static fiction.  Remember, in terms of work alone, you are doing 4-5
times the work that an author of a static fiction work might do, probably
more.  You must read the player's mind and anticipate the player's actions,
then write the myriad plot branches, whereas a static writer only writes one
plot.  The puzzles put the player into a different mindset, where less is
expected of the writing, as the player remembers that this is just a game.
Not a satisfactory situation, in my mind, but a real one, nonetheless.

CHARACTERS: The one main NPC in TOTGA is a truly excellent example of how to
make an NPC that feels like a person.  Due to limitations on parsers and the
author's time, we have come to a certain set of commands that are expected to
work for most NPCs.

>show x to person
>ask person about x
>tell person about x
>person, do x

The NPC in TOTGA doesn't go anywhere, doesn't even do much, but the SHOW and
ASK verbs are very well-implemented for him.  These are fairly key to
bringing an NPC to life, at least until another NPC grammar (or AI) is
invented.  The NPC in TOTGA (Bob of the bait shop) reacts to all sorts of
questions and objects.  He has motivation, a purpose for being, and a
personal history.  This last is too often neglected in IF NPCs.  A character
needs a past, a present, and hopes for the future in order to feel real.  Our
perception of time, and our ability to plan sets us apart from most animals.
A human NPC that lacks all indication of these traits is going to fall flat
on its virtual back.  I personally write a history for any NPC that I create,
unless it is some sort of unintelligent animal.  Even in that case, I still
make a list of traits.  Is it irritable?  Does it have a fear of water?  If
you master the art of getting inside an imaginary person's head, then you
will soon thereafter master the art of the NPC.  And the art of the character
is the art of fiction, because, as many writers will tell you, stories are
about people first, events and places second.

	So, my recommendations to Leon?  Work on a longer game, and practice
bringing a theme, or a more unified feel to your writing.  The puzzles
weakness is a very difficult thing to overcome.  The only help for it is to
practice inventing puzzles.  You get better at it over time.  Knowledge of
first order logic and AI is helpful when you remember that at its heart, any
truly complicated mechanical puzzle can probably be reduced to some form of
Turing machine. So, invent an interesting set of states, a set of operators,
and a start and finish state, and then invent the imagery to go from there.
Mathematics are very helpful in some forms of puzzle design.  But remember
too not to cram your games full of the 'soup can' puzzles so popular in
graphical games today.  There should be logic and careful planning behind
each puzzle.  There must be a reason that the player wants to solve each
puzzle.  The reason can be to get to a treasure that he/she knows about, or
to help an old lady out of the goodness of his/her heart, but don't just put
a strange boardgame in the game and expect the player to enjoy playing it.
Another lesson that I need to learn myself, but I'm working on it, cross my


	That concludes my analyses for now.  I will continue this practice
in future issues of SPAG, unless there is some great demand that I
discontinue it.

CLOSING REMARKS--------------------------------------------------------------

Whew, thanks for sticking with me.  I know that this is a really huge issue,
and I'm glad to see that you plowed your way through it, because there were
some really thoughtful reviews and such this issue.  For those of you who
haven't seen my fairly hastily cobbled together Web Page, it's at:

On that note, I would like it if someone would volunteer to update the game
review pages.  You would have to take issues 7-9 (or as many as you can
handle) and add the reviews in them to the page, converting to HTML as you
go.  Knowledge of HTML is necessary, I reckon, and you need to be able to
check the ftp links you make.  If you are willing to give 'er a go, lemme

Lastly, here is a copy of the more or less finalized version of the
announcement for the 1996 I-F Competition for those of you who haven't heard
about it yet:


      Announcing the Second Annual Text Adventure Authorship Competition
				Administered by whizzard SP@G

      -=The Rules=-

  The text adventure you enter must be winnable in under two hours.  Judges
will be asked to rate it after playing for that long.  Please note that your
game will NOT be disqualified if it exceeds this length, but judges may not
see it in its entirety before rating it.

  The entry may be written in any programming language, including any of the
text adventure creation utilities available (such as TADS, Inform, AGT, or
Alan, to name a few.)  If your game is unplayable, then it won't receive
enough votes to be eligable for prizes.  (See Judging.)

  This year, do NOT post your entries ahead of time.  Jumping the gun is
punishable by disqualification.  Instead, you will need to send me your
entries privately, either through e-mail (as a uuencoded file) or some other
arrangement that you will have to work out with me.  The entries must be
received by September 30th, 1996.  No entries will be accepted after this

  Entries will be sent by me to on October 1st, 1996.  Only
entries uploaded by me will be eligible.

  If you want your entry to be anonymous, then leave your name off it and
email me that it's your entry.  I advise a secret command that pops up the
author and copyright message.  Anonymity is not required, and I hope to be
able to continue to do this in the future.

  Speaking of copyright, all games must be entirely your own creations.  You
may parody established works, but you may not, for example, write a game
based on Sherlock Holmes.  This avoids the entire issue of copyright and the
ethics involved.

  All entries MUST be freeware or public domain.  So don't enter a game
you've worked on for 2 years if you don't want to give it away.  No
shareware, no donorware, no commercial products, etc.  Only clear and free

  Lastly, and this is a NEW rule, somewhat controversial at that.  All
entries must include some sort of walkthrough.  By this I only mean that
somewhere in the game package there must be explicit directions on how to
play the game from beginning to end, and that this info must be available to
the player from the very start of the game.  A walkthrough is fine, as is a
hint system that progresses all the way to blatant spoilers.  If you like,
you could even have an NPC take over for the PC if enough time has been
spent on a single puzzle.  I don't care how you do it, but do it.  Any entry
without something of this nature will be returned to its author, and the
author will be asked to rectify the oversight.


  The judging will be a 'People's Choice Awards' type deal for the most part.
Everyone is able to vote.  All you have to do is play every game that you are
able to (you are bound on your honor to play as many as possible and give
each of them an equal chance.) and then rate each game on a scale of 1 to 10,
no decimal places please.  The site to mail votes to will be announced later
on this year, but it will not be me.  I would appreciate receiving no votes,

  Votes will begin to be taken on Oct. 15th, and must be in by Oct 31st.
Shortly thereafter, results will be announced, and prizes will begin to be
distributed to the winners.

  Any game that does not receive at least 10 votes on it is removed from
prize consideration.

  The winner will be the game with the highest average score.  Each winner
will have a draft pick to choose a prize of his/her choice until there are no
longer any prizes left.  Tied entrants who both select the same prize will be
decided between by a flip of the coin, the loser receiving his second choice.

  Authors and official betatesters may vote, but must head their votes with
the subject: "MISS CONGENIALITY VOTE" so that the counter is able to seperate
them.  These votes will be counted towards an author's best of show choice.
The winner will receive a copy of "The Interactive Writer's Handbook",
donated by me.

	The Prizes This Year Include:

	$75.00 cash, donated by Martin Braun.
	"Creating Adventure Games on Your Computer", by Tim Hartnell.
	  Copyright 1984, donated by Matthew Amster-Burton.
	The original sketch of the "Path to Fortune" map, donated by
	  Christopher E. Forman.
	A registered copy of "Lost New York" (which includes on-screen hints,
	  a manual, and some goodies), donated by the author, Neil deMause.
	5 copies of the book: "Computer Adventures - The Secret Art", donated
	  by the author, Gil Williamson.
	A PC copy of the Magnetic Scrolls Collection which includes Fish,
	  Corruption and the Guild of Thieves, donated by Colm McCarthy.
	"One-of-a-kind deluxe scraps of paper with stuff written on them"
	  registered version of "The Light: Shelby's Addendum", signed, with
	  hint sheets and maps, and a whole mess of scribblings that no-one
	  in their right mind would ever want, donated by Colm McCarthy.
	One free copy of "Avalon", assuming it's done by then, donated by the
	  author, me, as if you didn't know.

	Cecilia Barajas of Activision (Author of Zork Nemesis) has donated
	the following items:

	  A copy of "Lost Treasures of Infocom vols. 1 and 2." (to be awarded
	    as a matched set.)
	  A copy of "Zork Nemesis."
	  A Zork Nemesis t-shirt

	Andrew C. Plotkin (Last Year's Inform Winner) offers the awardee's
	  choice of:

	  A) Dinner at a (pretty) fine restaurant in the Washington, DC area,
	     with me, plus hours of fine conversation on the art of
	     interactive fiction or other topics as desired.


	  B) $20.00 cash (US), plus I'll email you some of my old posts from

	Lastly, assuming that:

        1) We have at least 20 entries in the competition.  (By that, I
           mean 20 valid, on-time, non-disqualified entries.)

        2) At least 5 of the entries are done by female authors. 

	Then Christopher Forman will also award five free registrations of
"Circle of Armageddon", Volume 2 of "The Windhall Chronicles".

	That should do us pretty well for prizes this year.  I think there
are good odds of everyone getting at least a smaller prize.  If not, well,
I'll be thrilled to see a turn-out of over 20 or so entries.

	Thank you to all prize contributors for helping to make this yeat's
contest a reality.  If you offered a prize but don't see it in here, then
I've decided to try and save it for next year's competition.  We have a nice
bonanza of stuff right now, and I'd feel weird giving out multiple prizes to
entrants.  Maybe we'll have more entries than prizes, but considering all the
generousity this year, it'll be a tough feat to pull off.


	Finally, we have enough official betatesters.  If you are entering
and want to use their services to test your game, then you'd better get your
game in to me soon (as in before mid-August).


	   Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!

Click here for a printable, plain text version of this issue.