Game Reviews C

These reviews are in alphabetical order according to the name of the game reviewed. The index also has a few extra features. First and foremost of these is the instant gratification feature. If you see the SPAG button:

Then you can click on it to retrieve the file from, or to go to that file's directory on the archive (in the case of competition games).

The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date. All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine with the traditional 'at' sign.

Table of Contents

Caffeination La Cara Oculta de la Luna Carma Castaway Catseye Cattus Atrox Cerulean Stowaway Chancellor A Change in the Weather Chateu Le Mont Chicks Dig Jerks Christminster The City City Of Secrets The Coast House The Colour Pink Common Ground Conan Kill Everything Concrete Paradise Constraints The Corn Identity Corruption CosmoServe The Cove A Crimson Spring Crypt The Curse of Eldor Curses


From: J. Robinson Wheeler <jrw SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Caffeination AUTHOR: Michael Loegering EMAIL: loegering SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 0 (competition version) Okay, there are a lot of problems with this game, but I'm going to try to be constructive about it. This is a game where the author is having an enormously good time and the player is having no fun at all. That's a heck of a problem, and it's a sad one to have to point out to someone who's got a big cheesy grin on his face. This author went wrong somewhere along the line, and had no clue he was creating a total misfire, even has he continued to pack in numerous contrivances and clever details and elaborate red herrings and locations and multiple puzzles with multiple solutions. I'm sure he thought it would be a lot of fun. In a way, it reminded me of my first Comp entry, "Four in One," which was packed with all sorts of fun details that only a few players ever saw because the main game wasn't fun enough to warrant exploration. The setting of the game is kind of a limp workplace satire that looks like it fell through a wormhole from the 1999 Comp. Meet your boss, Mr. Norom. Ho ho ho. That kind of thing. First location of the game: a cubicle with a computer. Next sixteen locations of the game: everyone else's cubicles. Sigh. I halfheartedly played along for ten minutes, and felt totally lost as to what to do. The author provided no focus at all. Sure, there was a stated goal: get a big cup of coffee. But that fails to provide any focus when you're rambling around trying to interact with thinly-implemented NPCs and office settings. I found a hidden hole puncher and a coffee maker and some day-old coffee grounds, and I did somebody else's work because a notepad suggested I try that, and then I gave up. I went to the walkthrough file, and, just like I did with last year's limp workplace satire, "BOFH," I ended up just reading the whole thing and quitting then and there, because (just like last year) I could see there was no point to trying to come up with the contorted solutions to each stage of the game on my own. The walkthrough made it clear that I'd have to be the author in order to solve the author's puzzles. For example, I mentioned that I found a hole puncher, which I assumed had something to do with punching the holes on the freebie coffee card I also found. But, that wouldn't work until I also did the following: Escape the office and go to the Buy 'n Blow. Enter and exit the shop until you see a message that the store is being robbed. Go tell the cop about it and go back to the store. You will see the theif being arrested and drop something. It is his knife. Get the knife and cut the card three times. Presto! Instant legitimate coffee card. Can you see the problem with the above? In order for me to be pursuing this goal, my efforts have to be somewhat directed. I could spend two hours wandering around the game map, running through laundromats and bookstores and finding all sorts of items and fighting off rats and never hit upon the idea of waiting for a store to be robbed so that I can tell a cop to arrest the guy so that he drops the item I need to finish the work I started with the hole puncher. The mind boggles. And yet, I can emit a long, slow whistle at the hours the author must have put in to implement all of these nifty ideas of his. You can't let your players flail around trying to read your mind. You have to use the game's text to give them direction and focus. This game was all over the place, even in the smaller section of being trapped in the office. I have a feeling this author is going to be somewhat surprised and very disappointed at how his game places in the final rankings. Because I didn't give this game much of an honest chance and quit to read the walkthrough, I have to decide whether to recuse myself and not vote on it, or just give it a score based on its failure to engage me. I guess I will choose the latter. RATING: 4 FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file and walkthrough

La Cara Oculta de la Luna

From: Javier Carrascosa ("Grendel Khan"), translated from the Spanish SPAC review by Pablo Martinez Merino ("Depresiv") and DJ Hastings Review appeared in
SPAG #49 -- August 18, 2007 TITLE: La Cara Oculta de la Luna ("The Hidden Side of the Moon") AUTHOR: Aventurero KRAC DATE: 2004 PARSER: InformATE SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware URL: April 14th, 1935, in any city in Spain. There is great political upheaval and social instability. The Spanish people don't know it, but there's only one year left before war will ravage their country. And you have your own problems: you're a university student who, with your ever declining income, can hardly finish your studies. The factory where you were recently working has just closed down, so you have lost your job. Eating a late breakfast for the first time in many years, you have a look at a magazine. Almost by accident, your eyes notice a small advertisement: "Prestigious psychologist professor of the University of Salamanca needs subject to study. Experiment consists of a series of questions. Every participant will be paid a thousand pesetas. Details: The Hidden Side of the Moon, Old Way, Km.6." A thousand pesetas! That's a lot of money! You don't think twice before going to the address mentioned in the advertisement. It's an old mansion built many years ago by some rich guy, and thought to be abandoned by everyone around. It now belongs to the psychologist, apparently, and you don't care too much where he does his experiments as long as he pays afterward... (...) Thus begins one of the most difficult adventures of the last few years in the Spanish community. In "La Cara Oculta de la Luna" we play the part of a poor Spanish guy who, spurred by his debts, decides to become the guinea pig of a psychologist. But what we imagined to be a boring session of questions and answers turns suddenly into a hard trial to the death. The protagonist is locked in an old mansion with only a madman for company. A madman who has promised to hunt him down and kill him in a few minutes- unless he finds a way to escape. There are "feelies" included with the game: some annotated images of paintings by "El Greco," and an article on the film "Leave Her to Heaven" by John M. Stahl. This information seems to have nothing to do with the game, because as soon as we play a little we find out that the most important goal is to discover an exit from the house. So the "El Greco" paintings will soon be forgotten... until we find them in the game. And that's when we also find one of the best puzzles I've solved since I started playing adventures, in the painting "El Caballero de la Mano en el Pecho" ("The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest"). The old mansion is a trap for us. We are unable to escape through any window, as all of them are barred. We can try to exit through the chimney, but with no success, and trying to exit through the attic results in death. Exploring the house can be easier with the help of a map. My advice is to draw one with a pencil and paper and take down all the rooms and their connections. Although the hunter will kill us even before we've managed to get to the second floor, there's a little trick to avoid that: don't follow the hunter in the first scene and take your time investigating the house before talking to him. The game would make no sense without the figure of the hunter, one of the best characters I have ever seen in an adventure. He possesses all the qualities of the classical psychopath: a well-mannered and educated gentleman who hides a relentless serial killer inside. All kinds of theories can be outlined about the hunter... Who is he? Why is he motivated to act this way? The fact is that he will inevitably manage to kill us when we are first starting to play. Getting rid of him is a very complicated task, although there are five different ways to do it. This gives us the opportunity of replaying the game to find all the possible methods of defeating the hunter. The difficulty of the adventure is high, although not as high as some other Spanish adventures like "La Torre" ("The Tower") or "La Isla de Tokland" ("The Island of Tokland"). But solving some of the puzzles will amply reward the time you spent on them. Take some time to examine the objects and to find the exits through the floors and ceilings of the mansion. Look for all the "El Greco" paintings. There's a lot to discover. Also, there's a prize: if you manage to finish the adventure, you can access a secret file the author has hidden on his website. That file has the name of a certain object you can see at the end of the adventure. Hurry up before he loses his hosting! Conclusion: La Cara Oculta de la Luna is an excellent adventure that grips you from the beginning with its well cared for setting and superb programming. The hunter is a believable character with whom we can always interact, something to be grateful for in Spanish adventures. The game can be discouraging at the beginning, but as soon as we start moving and uncovering the many details this adventure holds, we find that we can't stop playing. It is inexplicable that this adventure is one of the most forgotten in the Spanish community. My theory on the hunter (Warning: don't read this if you haven't finished the game): The aristocratic figure of the hunter makes me guess that, although the mansion is not his home, it could have been the house of a relative or friend who he had to kill once his secret was discovered. The hunter must have hunted elephants and lions in Africa, and in that continent he must have known other cultures. His passion for hunting probably increased while assimilating the beliefs of some savage African tribe which worshipped a bloodthirsty god to whom they offered their sacrifices. Our man adopted those beliefs and traveled back to Spain to hunt a different kind of animal in its habitat: humans! It wasn't hard for him to find his prey. Famine and misery battered most of Spain and he only needed the lure of an economic profit to attract his victims. The habitat where they would move would be the mansion, appropriately prepared by the hunter: bars on the windows, locked wardrobes, beds without mattresses, tables without drawers... the prey would have no other option but hiding. No other option? No, the hunter always gives a means of escape, and that's where another of his passions comes into play: painting. Our man is a painter; maybe not a very critically acclaimed one, but a good imitator, and an admirer of the work of "El Greco." His house contains many different copies of "El Greco's" paintings, made by himself. His prey need only find one of his most renowned works: "El Caballero de la Mano en el Pecho" ("The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest"). If they are curious, they will be able to discover the key that will lead them to freedom. The hunter is a follower of the Fascist movement, judging by the books in his library, and an initiate in the Dark Arts, judging by the other book we can take from it. That's where my theory comes from that he makes sacrifices of his victims in the same way as the tribes he found in Africa. Even so, the hunter made some mistakes: he didn't consider the possibility of his prey killing him in his own field, did he? The fact is, if we climb to the second floor and look at the lounge from above, we can see whenever he's coming after us. If at that point we are armed with a small table or a stool, we can throw it at his head and get rid of him. We can also finish the game without killing him, though, which is a very advisable option to avoid the remorse of becoming killers ourselves. Zip containing Z-Code game file (in Spanish) Zip containing instructions in HTML format


From: Suzanne Britton <tril SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: Carma AUTHOR: Marnie Parker E-MAIL: doeadeer3 SP@G DATE: October 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 Well, that was a rousing adventure. I refer, of course, to the adventure of getting "Carma" to work on my Linux system. But an hour, 4 source packages, and 2 patches later, I was all set for the full multimedia experience. Hooray! Many thanks to Marnie for giving detailed system-specific advice in terps.txt, so I didn't have to break down and boot into Windows. It was well worth the effort: the graphics, sound effects and music in Carma are absolutely delightful. In particular, the Perry Mason shtick with the jarring chords had me roaring. And if I could stop my evaluation at that, I'd give this entry a 10. Unfortunately, I found little enjoyment in Carma outside of the whizzbang multimedia, and I guess I'm still old-fashioned enough to feel that that's missing the point of Interactive Fiction. The biggest problem was simply the *lack* of interactivity: I felt like I was spending over half my time in cut scenes (note to authors: please make cut scenes skippable!), and the interactive parts were not well-fleshed out. The "strike" scene was particularly tedious--interview X, ask X about X, ask X about sign, ask X about demands, repeat N times. By the time I got to the courtroom scene, the whole thing was growing tiresome, although I perked up a bit at the highly-amusing Perry Mason spoof. This brings up Carma's other major weakness: punctuation, however you slice it (splice it?), just isn't exciting enough a subject to carry one through a mid-sized IF game, not even for other would-be writers. It would have done better as a shorter piece. The programming was competent, and if nothing else, this makes for a great glk/glulx demo. And on a final positive note, I loved the ending. FTP FileDirectory with Glulx .blb file, hints, and interpreter suggestions


From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: Castaway GAMEPLAY: No synonyms AUTHOR: Conrad Button PLOT: Rudimentary EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: None AVAILABILITY: MS-DOS WRITING: Basic PUZZLES: Basic SUPPORTS: MS-DOS CHARACTERS: None DIFFICULTY: Novice In Castaway, by Conrad Button, you are first mate of the cargo ship, Katie Sue (I don't know why, but I suspect that this is Button's daughter. A little nepotism here, hmm?). When your ship is smashed on a reef, you fortunately wash ashore on an island that has a rescue ship anchored a mile away. Your job is to find the fixins' for a signal fire, as well as locate ten treasures hidden on the island. The mixing of the rescue theme with the treasure hunt theme produces some bizarre results. Though you will probably spot the ship a few moves after landing, you will avoid signalling it until you've gotten all the treasures. In real life you'd be much more concerned that the ship might leave. You can get around this problem by signalling the ship but not boarding it until you've gotten all the treasures, but this creates another bizarre situation: the ship sitting in the lagoon waiting around until you feel like being rescued ("Snap it up fella, we haven't got all day!"). In your search, you will encounter the lost city of Pango Tongo, which has several of the treasures you need. We are never told anything about this city like "what is it doing there," and "what happened to the people". It is just there. The game features the traditionally bad Buttonware parser; two-word input and absolutely no synonyms. If you call the "parrot" a "bird," the game will have no idea what you're talking about. The game's difficulty level is Novice, so you probably won't have much trouble solving it anyway, but generally introductory games should be as user-friendly as possible, to encourage the player to play more text games. This one doesn't. One nice feature (that I wish more Introductory games would emulate) is that each room lists the directions that you can travel on a separate line. This is much easier for the novice trying to draw his first map than having to pick all of the directions out of the room description. Castaway is not up to scratch by 1995 standards, but one must remember that it was written in the pre GAGS/LADS/AGT/TADS/Inform days of 1986. Under the circumstances, putting out any shareware text game at all was an impressive feat. FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Mike Tulloch <tarage SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 TITLE: Catseye AUTHOR: Dave Bernazzani EMAIL:daveber SP@G DATE: October 17, 2004 PARSER: Simple (Microform parser) SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware -- Author's site URL: VERSION: 3 A 10k adventure? How good could it be? With visions of Scott Adams' 16k (master)pieces in mind, I began with trepidition. I found the game, converted it to pdb format, and loaded it on my aging Handspring Visor PDA. The intro is concise and informative, and gets you into the action right away. The game possesses a pulp fiction or a Golden age comic book feel. Your quest? Retrieve the necklace of your uncle Xevion from his mysterious house. It's straight-ahead youthful mystery-fantasy. The room descriptions are sparse, occasionally omitting words, presumably to save memory. Some of the error messages are unhelpful because of their brevity. For example, a simple one word response with nary a period in sight shows up quite a bit. Still others are errors, where a blank line displays as the response to your actions. You'll also notice some familiar synonyms missing, the most annoying of which is "get" -- you must use "take". Frustration builds into a claustrophobic spiral, brought on by the small number of rooms, the crippled parser, and the unhelpful responses. Only occasionally do zephyrs of humor lighten the mood. Want to take a breather? You can't, because the game can't be saved. Granted, that's not a problem on the PDA, unless you wanted to play another IF game and resume where you left off. Still, I'm of the opinion that all frustrating games should allow you to save. Catseye consists of one puzzle that starts off simple and rapidly becomes maddening; you have to play "guess the verb" and also "guess the input format for the verb". I finally resorted to r.g.i-f to find enough clues to win the game. I say that to my embarrassment, but to the author's shame. Even when you've won, you feel like the game's getting the last laugh. Your effort is rewarded with a scant two sentences. Unfair! I congratulate Bernazzani for cramming a game into 10k. However it feels like more of a programming triumph than an artistic one. The game is playable, but inordinately frustrating. It has an interesting feel, but not enough to compensate for the parsing problems and lack of feedback (both of which seriously interfere with gameplay). The lack of verbs and missing punctuation are also drawbacks. In short, thumbs down. Score: 3/10.

Cattus Atrox

From: Adam Cadre <adamc SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Cattus Atrox AUTHOR: David Cornelson DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: PACK UP THE CATS Cattus Atrox by David Cornelson Theodore Dreiser has been called the worst prose stylist ever to qualify as a great writer. Over the course of my college career I had to read his SISTER CARRIE no fewer than four different times, and sure enough, Dreiser's prose is often just laughably bad. Whether he's interrupting a paragraph to mention that "It was in August, 1889" (without specifying what "it" was), or beginning a chapter by introducing "the, to Carrie, very important theatrical performance", or lurching into ridiculous archaisms like "Carrie! Oh Carrie! Ever whole in that thou art hopeful!", Dreiser's control over the English language often reminds the reader of a four-year-old trying to steer a Saturn V rocket. Still, there's a reason I had to read SISTER CARRIE four times, and it's not because my professors were trying to get me to break out the aerospace refs. The prose, rough as it is, is often startlingly effective: the railway strike chapter, for instance, is rendered with a you-are-there intensity unmatched by many a more polished writer. Which is why Dreiser was very much on my mind as I played Cattus Atrox. Cornelson's prose isn't going to impress anybody: it's full of comma splices and other errors, not to mention such howlers as "lust-filled orgasms" and a character screaming "LIONS!" into a telephone and then hanging up. Nevertheless, Cattus Atrox provides the most intense visceral experience of any game in this comp. Now, I'm not one to lose myself in a game the way some people apparently are: at no point did I myself feel fear when the lions were smacking the PC around. But you couldn't tell from the way I was playing. During the chase scene, I was entering directions as fast as I could, running around in a panic, typing N then W then N then E then S then W then S again without even bothering to glance at the text flashing by. Not really the recommended method of playing IF, but, y'know, I had to get away from those lions. I mean, they were, like, eating me and stuff. And then when I found the crowbar, I mean, forget it. Here I'm the guy whose game specifically penalizes the player for being so cruel as to do violence to an animal, and the second I find the crowbar, I switch into full-on Neanderthal mode. I beat that lion cub to death with the club and then stood there beating its corpse over and over again even as on a conscious level I recognized that the game was spitting error messages at me for doing so. I took that crowbar and spent the next half hour whacking anything I registered as a noun. It got to the point that I half expected that if I threw the crowbar into the air it'd turn into a spacecraft. So while the prose is less than masterful, the syntax for some required commands is often weird, and the ending is silly and over the top, Cattus Atrox gets high marks for grabbing me by the collar and yanking me out of detached-observer mode. This game stuck with me. Several games later I had to restrain myself from rushing into the Muse telegraph office and tapping out "LIONS!" on the telegraph. My score: 7.3 (5th place) FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough FTP FileInform source code (.zip)

Cerulean Stowaway

From: J. Robinson Wheeler <jrw SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Cerulean Stowaway AUTHOR: Roger Descheneaux EMAIL: rpd SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 standard SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Competition release This comic, old-school science fiction game gave me a bad feeling at the very beginning, with introductory text that ran on for a couple of screen pages before the first prompt. Normally, that turns me off right away. However, when I took the time to read it all, it was fairly amusing. Funny enough to make me feel like there would be some chuckles to be had along the way. I actually had to take more than two hours to finish this game, even though it is not particularly large. It was one puzzle after another, and eventually, despite the in-game hint system, I got stuck. The hint system was welcome, but broke down after a certain point. I kind of got faked out by it, in that I learned to rely on it -- at one point, at the most complicated puzzle, the final hint in the sequence for that area goes ahead and spells out exactly all of the things you need to do -- so that when it thinned out and stopped being specific, I was left flailing around. There's nothing quite as frustrating as being trapped in a very small map with a pretty limited set of objects, and having no idea how to make the game proceed. You end up pacing around, staring at the same sixteen locations and the same inventory of red herrings over and over and over again. In the end, a combination of this and the game's other problem (which I'm about to get to) made me deduct a point from the score I was going to give it just for being a generally entertaining old-school game. Here's an instance of something that, as a player, bothered me: Window Washers' Scaffold Across a small gap to the east is the open hatchway of the Cerulean ship. Falling into the gap would most likely be fatal, but you're certain that you can jump into the spaceship with little difficulty. >jump You jump up and down. It's like being on a pogo stick, except without the pogo stick. >jump to hatchway I don't know the word "hatchway". >jump to hatch I don't know the word "hatch". >jump to ship I don't know the word "ship". >jump into spaceship I don't recognize that sentence. >x spaceship I don't see any spaceship here. >jump to shuttle I don't recognize that sentence. >jump gap I don't know the word "gap". >e Cerulean Landing Vehicle The interior of the Cerulean landing vehicle is made of the same shimmering metal as the outside of it. [...] If an author tells me, "you're certain that you can jump into the spaceship with little difficulty," I expect >JUMP INTO THE SPACESHIP to be implemented. I mean, come on. The nastiest bit of business like this begins when you finally make it to the alien ship. Everything on the ship has a label of some sort. You get some glasses that allow you to read the language. I guess maybe it was because the author wanted to allow for you not having the glasses, and so separated out the reading of things to be handled separately, or maybe it's just a case of TADS allowing READ to be a separate verb from EXAMINE, unlike Inform. (Inform can be made to do this, of course, but TADS comes with a 'readable' class in the standard library.) But it drove me batty, examining things only to be told "It has some writing on it.", forcing me to READ it: >x wax The can of floor wax has some writing on it. >read it Some English writing on the can of floor wax reads, "Floor Wax. Warning: Highly Flammable! Keep away from fire". Highly flammable floor wax? Is that safe? You suspect that they the Ceruleans got a really good price for this at some liquidation center. Why not just tell me what it says when I'm examining it? Gradually, grudgingly, I trained myself to use the READ command instead of typing X, but old habits die hard. I play a lot of IF. I'm used to EXAMINE, you know, printing descriptions of things. Here's a choice encounter with this problem: Security Center A bank of monitors fills most of the north wall, and a huge control console fills the west wall. >x console The control console has three basic panels on it: an output panel, an input panel, and an action panel. Each of these panels has further controls on it. >x output Which output do you mean, the output panel, or the output control dial? >panel The output panel has an output control dial and some writing on it. >read output panel Some Cerulean writing on the output panel reads, "Output panel. Select output location using the dial below". >read input panel Some Cerulean writing on the input panel reads, "Input selection panel. Select input source using the dial below". >x input dial The input control dial has some writing on it. >read input dial Some Cerulean writing on the input control dial reads, [...] >x action panel The action control panel has some writing on it. Three buttons are set into it: one red, one green, and one blue. >read action buttons I don't see any action buttons here. >x red Which red do you mean, the battered red lunchbox, or the red button? >button This button has some writing on it. >read red button Some Cerulean writing on the red button reads, "Stop". It took me too long to figure out that the bulk of the game was all about finding ways to dispatch alien guards one at a time, until I'd offed enough of them to get to the endgame. It wasn't until after I'd hit the two-hour mark that I realized this was the point of it all. Just when I was about to quit, I hit on this idea, so I finally saw what was apparently a winning ending about twenty minutes later, although I only had 126 out of 161 points. The most I ever got was 145 points. I have no idea how you get the last sixteen lousy points, but I don't care to try. Hmm. Writing about this and reliving my gripes has made me deduct another point. This game might have gotten a score of 7 from me in the best possible case: amusing, with some interesting puzzles, but still built from a clichéd set of ideas at the core. That'd be worth a 7 on my scale. However, I got frustrated and stuck a lot, and the READ thing was pretty annoying, and I wasn't able to finish in two hours. Sorry, but that's how it goes, I guess. RATING: 5 FTP FileTADS2 .gam file (Revised version) FTP FileTADS2 .gam file (competition version)


From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 NAME: Chancellor AUTHOR: Kevin Venzke EMAIL: stepjak SP@G DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: TADS 2 AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: chancel.gam Kevin Venzke is the author of Kurusu City, the entry in the previous IF-Comp that (at least as far as I'm concerned;) would have won the TADS division if the division rating still was there. Well, the reviewed work is *entirely* different; the light-hearted atmosphere of Kurusu City made way for gloominess and mysteriousness, and probably the only thing that remained unchanged was the player character being a young female. Chancellor rather brought up reminiscences of two other IF-classics: for one thing, Dave Lebling's Lurking Horror, from which it inherited parts of the setting (a deserted college building), along with a couple of characters ( including a murderous janitor); for the other, Losing Your Grip by Stephen Granade that lent to it the way of telling the story in several fits, the switching of the player character between two fairly distinct worlds, as well as the extensive usage of deeply symbolic (well, maybe pseudo-symbolic) stuff. Actually, a superposition of elements from other works alone isn't a suitable tool for creating a decent game, no matter how splendid the "donors" have been. OK, OK, I probably don't have the right to say such things, because Chancellor's inheritance of certain features from other games is entirely my assumption, and the similarities mentioned earlier might be purely coincidental. Anyway, coincidence or not -- Chancellor does better than just mixing up ingredients of other games, and introduces a device personally I quite rarely (if at all) encountered in IF: it lets the two game worlds melt together. This process goes on not too quickly, but steadily, progressing with each episode: first, items from one world start appearing in the other one; then, interconnections between the worlds begin to crop up, and finally, the two worlds become one. It's been a thrilling experience indeed, which has been enhanced even more by the magnificent writing and the very comprehensive setting that implemented every object mentioned in the descriptions, and responded adequately to every action I could think of. Unfortunately, the game isn't crowned with a worthy end; rather, it shakes off all the mysterious stuff the player has encountered using a quite battered excuse. In this respect, it called to mind yet another work of IF -- this time, Rippled Flesh by Rybread Celsius, where the player, after being taken through a series of weird rooms and shown a number of scary things, receives an ending that is essentially unrelated to the game itself, along with an explanation of all the oddities he encountered (in the vein, "the bloody corpse in the bedroom was a practical joke of your second cousin once removed... and the hellish sounds coming from the hall was your dog Berny toppling over the clothes tree".) Now, Chancellor acts very similarly -- only the explanatory note isn't needed, and thus (thankfully) absent. That's a pity; while cutting the Gordian knot is a handy approach for a number of real life situations, it doesn't work half as well for entangled IF-plots. On the other hand, I can understand the author's point -- resolving the story properly probably would double the game size, thus rendering it totally unsuitable for the Comp. Still, in spite of this not minor issue, Chancellor remains a notable game, even -- I dare to say it -- a "must play". You just don't see worlds being melted together every day. SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: The ending spoils it somewhat (1.0) ATMOSPHERE: Galore (1.5) WRITING: Discreet but effective (1.5) GAMEPLAY: Unhurried (1.4) BONUSES: Two worlds blending together (it seems I can't stop saying that again and again;) (1.5) TOTAL: 6.9 CHARACTERS: Quite good, but not the kind I'll remember for the rest of my life (1.2) PUZZLES: Just solid (1.2) DIFFICULTY: Manageable (6 out of 10) COMP SCORE: 6 COMMENTS: Chancellor was one of the few entries in this Comp not providing any hints or a walkthrough (the stub of a hint file that was accompanying it contained clues for the prologue only). Combined with the unhurried gameplay (and it must be said that the rich setting practically pleads for not moving ahead too fast and for fiddling with the environment instead), this resulted in me getting stuck somewhere within the third fit by the end of the judging period. At that stage, there was no sign yet of the two worlds growing together -- the feature that, in my opinion, makes Chancellor outstanding. Thus, I had no other choice than to give it a rating corresponding to solid yet non-exceptional games. A simple inclusion of a walkthrough would earn it at least one extra point from me. TADS2 executable Hints file

A Change In the Weather

From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 Name: A Change in the Weather Parser: Inform Author: Andrew Plotkin Plot: Non-linear Email: erkyrath SP@G Atmosphere: Excellent Availability: F, IF Archive Writing: Excellent Puzzles: Time-critical Supports: Infocom ports Characters: One, simple but memorable Difficulty: Above average During a picnic with your friends, you decide that you'd like some privacy and walk away on your own to explore the nearby hills. Soon, however, the warm, beautiful summer evening turns into the proverbial dark and stormy night (the "change in the weather" of the title), and you find yourself cut off from your friends by a rain-swollen stream that threatens to carry away the only bridge... Although unpleasant, such a mundane situation may not seem like the stuff from which a tale of wonder and adventure is built. That, however, is just what Andrew Plotkin has succeeded in creating. With very small means he manages to increase tension until your attempts to save the bridge turn into a nightmarish struggle against time. The writing is excellent, as are the atmosphere and the changes in mood. As if to demonstrate further how far you can get with deceptively simple means, the one NPC of this game - an endearing little fox - doesn't do very much, but is nevertheless very effective (of course, animal NPC's are simpler than humans since they don't speak). Despite its small size, "A Change in the Weather" is not an easy game. The author himself classifies this game as "cruel," and that is no great exaggeration. The puzzles aren't very diffciult in isolation, but they are very time-critical and you have to perform actions in a carefully timed order to win. You should be prepared to save and restore a lot, even to replay from the beginning, since the tiniest mistake will put the game in an unsolvable state. This kind of game behaviour has been condemned in the debate on, the main argument being that all the restoring and replaying ruins the enjoyment of the game and disrupts the story. Also, of course, it lowers realism if, for example, you have to die five times beofre finding the right way to disarm a bomb; in real life you have to get it right the first time. In this particular case, however, having to save and restore frequently didn't detract anything from my enjoyment of the game; in fact, somehow knowing that the smallest mistake may mean disaster actually enhanced the sense of drama and urgency. It may of course have helped that you can't die in this game (the worst thing that can happen is that you have to wade across the stream to get home). The size of the game certainly played an important part - having to restart from the beginning is less cumbersome in a tiny game like this than in a larger game. To summarize, this is an excellent little game: well written, with a simple goal that isn't that easy to attain, an interesting sequence of logical puzzles and an excellent atmosphere; all of which makes this perhaps the most memorable of all the competition entries. From: Palmer Davis <palmer SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 NAME: A Change in the Weather PARSER: Inform v1405 AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports EMAIL: erkyrath SP@G AVAILABILITY: IF Archive ATMOSPHERE: Outstanding WRITING: Generally well written, though eye slides past in spots CHARACTERS: Memorable PLOT: Mutual exclusion between branches PUZZLES: Nicely done, but with dead ends and save/restore puzzles DIFFICULTY: Moderately challenging Now *this* is more like it. The game starts out rather slowly: you wander away from a picnic to go exploring in the park. After a beautifully described sunset (and an encounter with the competition's most memorable NPC), the idyllic day suddenly turns nasty, and you are forced to seek shelter, eventually thrusting you into a dreamlike race against time and vague, sinister evil. The atmosphere, scenery, and overall sense of immersion in this entry were far and away the best in either division, approaching that of Infocom's better efforts in spots. In one or two spots, the writing is dense enough that the casual reader's eye slides right past (lists of exits, mostly), but otherwise the writing is among the best in this year's field. If there's a weakness here, it's the rather languid pace that the game gets off to at first. That's an unavoidable consequence of the tranquil, contemplative mood that the author creates in the first section, but it makes it difficult to warm up to the game at first. The plot really needs a kick in the tail that it doesn't get until after nightfall; an opening with enough action to make wandering off alone seem a welcome respite (playing volleyball until you get sick of it, perhaps?) might correct this. (The virtues of establishing emotional context through player interaction rather than imposing it by fiat have been discussed at length elsewhere.) Of course, the game flirts perilously with the two hour limit as it is; leaving out such an opening is understandable given the nature of the competition. Furthermore, the contrast between the slow pace of the first section and the frantic pace of the dream sequence works quite well, and is perhaps the sole example of such a mood shift in the contest. The save/restore nature of the section after nightfall is also likely to put off many players, as is the game's ability to be closed off after the player attempts actions that are otherwise perfectly reasonable. While any race against time necessarily runs the risk of degenerating into save/restore, a bit more time between the appearance of the light source and the expiration of the player's time might have been nice; as it was, I didn't get past that part before time ran out. Likewise, a second (possibly more difficult) option for getting into the cave after the destruction of the needed object would also have helped. Still, the game was quite satisfying, especially in contrast to the rest of the division. BOTTOM LINE: Yes. Like that. My choice for the division winner. From: Gareth Rees <Gareth.Rees SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 My second favourite of the competition games, after "The One that Got Away". This was a fun experiment and a deserved winner of the Inform category. I found it very challenging, but it wasn't outright impossible (unlike one or two of the other games in the competition), so I think the difficulty was well-judged. Three aspects of "A Change in the Weather" were excellent: the quality of the writing, the changing descriptions of the scenery, and the way the components of the puzzle interacted. I was reminded of my decision in "Christminster" to keep the player indoors from seven p.m. until ten so that I didn't have to write descriptions of the sun going down! Andrew Plotkin tackled this problem head on and the result was very impressive. What I didn't like was the very short time limit and the way it was incredibly easy to get stuck. To finish "A Change in the Weather" required an enormous amount of patience: going back to a saved game, trying something new, observing the consequences, going back again and trying something else, and on and on. The puzzles themselves were quite elegant, but I didn't appreciate them very much because I was a bit fatigued by the process of solving them. I also felt the game lacked for NPCs (the fox was better than nothing), and the dream was just willfully obscure. From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 PLOT: Small, tightly woven (1.6) ATMOSPHERE: Remarkable (1.8) WRITING: Excellent (1.6) GAMEPLAY: "Cruel" (1.3) PUZZLES: Very difficult (1.3) CHARACTERS: One, intriguing (1.2) MISC: Interlocking parts fit together well (1.6) OVERALL: 7.9 Andrew Plotkin's first serious game, as he terms it, is an intriguing effort: it introduced the IF community to many key Zarfian elements, notably the "cruelty" of making nearly every move vital and closing off the game without warning, and the magic realism that dominated So Far, though it's present here in a much subtler form. Beyond that, though, Change in the Weather offers a remarkably vivid setting, and effectively uses small changes in the landscape to advance the plot. The story, at first glance, is not overly complicated: you wander away from your companions in a park and get stuck out in the rain on a steep hillside, and must use what comes to hand to keep a bridge from washing out. Watching all the while is a fox who seems to understand the action better than you do; the fox is only relevant on two occasions, but having it around gives you a sense of collaboration in your efforts to save the bridge. At any rate, the story is essentially divided into two; there is a languid opening section that affords a chance to explore the hill, and a breathless second half where you have, by my count, precisely one move to waste (out of perhaps 45 in all). The landscape changes to reflect the onset of the darkness and the rain, but various events--lightning striking a tree, for example--also cause important changes. Virtually every detail is vital; the player is advised to take time in the beginning to observe everything available. Change in the Weather is a veritable textbook for authors who want to know how to create and then change a mood, or infuse a scene with tension. The changes in the landscape, while important to the plot, are perhaps even more important for the atmosphere they create. In the first part, for example, we get this: You're standing on a ledge, on a rather steep, overgrown hillface. Greenery hides the stream below and the hilltop above, and the meadows and sky beyond sweep away into the incandescent west. Whereas, after nightfall: You're standing on a ledge, on a rather steep, overgrown hillface. Rain hides the stream below and the hilltop above, and to the west is only dark. The changes in the setting to induce a change in mood recall Wishbringer, and while Change in the Weather owes less to fantasy than Wishbringer, the details evoke a similar sense of unease, reinforced by voices in the distance which seem to be calling your name, and which become louder as you dash around the hillside. Plotkin is particularly skillful in using timed events and small details to heighten the tension: once the protagonist awakens amid the storm, everything appears to be happening at once--runoff starts flowing, lightning strikes a tree and a branch falls, the stream rises, and the voices in the distance persist at the edge of the player's consciousness. The various events are all separated by line breaks, so they have the feeling of independent events that are following their own paths. Plotkin uses sound as well as visual details to build the tension: a bush gives way with a "small snap," the tree falls with a "splintering crash" after the "Crack!" of thunder--and the dizzy rush of detail among all the concurrent events produces a whirling, desperate confusion. Though we get little of the protagonist's thoughts, it seems plausible to support that he or she is somewhat less than calm, and the author does his utmost to transfer the growing sense of panic to the player. When lightning dazzles you and leaves you in the dark again, you "blink furiously, trying to sort out the shadows from what's really there." That connotes both the sensory struggle--night vision shattered in a flash of light--but also the urgency; your task is sufficiently pressing that you try to blink away the afterimages and keep moving, lest you waste valuable time. For the most part, Plotkin is content to show the details rather than telling the player how to feel, and the few exceptions--digging a trench, you "claw desperately" at the earth--are well placed. The author notes that this is a "cruel" game, and he doesn't exaggerate: it is virtually impossible to solve it on the first try, or even on the first ten tries. Making every move count is one form of cruelty, and the writing is good enough (and the mood sufficiently pervasive) that the game doesn't get dull even after many repetitions. Another form of cruelty--a required action in the first half of the game which is much less than obvious, and which is clued rather subtly--is less successful, to my mind, because it weakens the game's logic: it's one thing to have to make sense of a wide variety of concurrent events, it's another to make an intuivie leap that a key object is hidden in a strange place. The sense in the second half, even when I failed to think of something vital on the proper move, was that, well, if I'd been really thinking, I would have known that. And other elements, the "magic realism" feel--the fox's remarkable prescience, a certain change that the rain couldn't logically cause--don't break the logic, somehow, because they seem only just outside the realm of usual possibilities; they seem like the sort of things we feel could happen easily enough, given a minor incursion of the supernatural. It's hardly less logical that the interlocking parts of the game come together in the way they do, after all, but the player isn't about to question that; likewise, the magical bits require only the sorts of suspension of disbelief that a player is happy to make anyway. Moreover, certain bits of the game that can't quite be put down to magic remain speculative at the end, perhaps intentionally so; a Zarf game wouldn't be a Zarf game if everything were fully explained (or even explainable). The charm of Change in the Weather, for me at least, lies in the way it infuses a relatively ordinary setting with such a range of feelings: from pleasant sunset to violent, ominous night storm to placid dawn, the same locations are rewritten to instill different moods. Like all good writers, Plotkin is sparing with the adjectives and more often uses verbs to produce the desired effect: You are high on the hill; it rolls downward and off to the west. Beyond the trees and brush, meadows glow in the thickening sunlight. Behind you stands the last stony lump of hill. A narrow trail curves away to the northwest. The various elements of the scene are given personality by "rolling" and "glowing" and such, and the impression of a peaceful sunlit scene is clear enough that more description isn't necessary. Likewise, after sundown: A wide angular tongue juts out from the hillside. A black expanse stretches to the north and west, impenetrable with rain. Every few moments, a directionless flicker of lightning tries to pull detail from the darkness; but there is only mist. Again, elements of the scenery get active verbs rather than simply being described, and the adjectives are placed to convey something essential rather than simply piling on the description: the "directionless" lightning illustrates how the flash comes from and leads nowhere in particular, the "impenetrable" darkness limits the immediate range of vision. The best atmospheric effects are those that aren't obviously trying to be, and in that respect, Change in the Weather succeeds--and, as in Wishbringer, only minor changes are necessary to convey the developments in the landscape. Though its scope is more limited than that of So Far, Change in the Weather is accomplished in its own right. Even if "cruel", it's successful both as a puzzle-solving challenge and as an evocative setting. FTP FileInform File (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform File (.z5) (competition version) FTP FileSolution (Text)

Chateu Le Mont

From: Jessica Knoch <jessicaknoch SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #32 -- March 20, 2003 TITLE: Chateu Le Mont AUTHOR: Paul Panks EMAIL: dunric SP@G DATE: Fall 2002 PARSER: DOS (homebrew) SUPPORTS: DOS AVAILABILITY: URL: (with screenshot!) VERSION: 5.75 The latest Star Trek movie, Nemesis, is a great movie. But only if you like Star Trek movies. If, for one instant, you were to view it critically and compare it to a truly great film (an exercise left to the reader), you would come away feeling that Nemesis wasn't worth seeing even if the theaters paid people to see it and threw the popcorn in too. If you *like* Star Trek, on the other hand, and are able to completely ignore any technological problems and gaping plot inconsistencies, you will like the movie. Chateu Le Mont by Paul Panks is a text adventure written in BASIC. If you like BASIC adventures, with their simplicity of plot, the occasional bug, and complete lack of character development, not to mention the amazingly simple one-line room "descriptions," then you will like Chateu Le Mont. All it takes is the ability to recognize the game for what it is, and play it for those qualities. For whatever reason, I was able to get into Chateu Le Mont and really ended up liking it. Of course, a lot of that is because the feel of the gameplay from its "kill everything because it is there" mentality to its plug-and-chug combat to its "pick a spell, any spell" magic system is quite reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons, and I really like Dungeons and Dragons. You have hit points, an armor class, and a level, and you gain experience points for killing anyone or anything. All of the "monsters" are regenerated at the start of each new "day," and that includes any townspeople you might have killed, so feel free to hack away. Hey, that villager has 167 hit points compared to my 100! So, your purpose in Chateu Le Mont is to kill a vampire, who lives south of town. So far, so good. You spend a good bit of time flailing about the town, until you figure out where to get a weapon and some armor, and what happens when you die (you are resurrected every time). This is the point at which you learn you can die from dehydration, and that drinking from the well doesn't help your dehydration, but the fountain does. The dehydration death is just one of many "sins" of Chateu Le Mont, although at least it doesn't have a maze. There's a light problem, and figuring out how to turn on the lantern is a guess-the-verb puzzle all on its own (although it shouldn't be -- I'm just not used to trying the verb "use" -- and that shouldn't be considered a spoiler, it should be called a blessing to modern IFers). Other "sins" include the parser pretending to understand things that it doesn't: WEAR (to give a random example) SHOES gives "You can't wear that" when what it *really* means is "You can't see any such thing" or "You must be holding an item before you can wear it." There are a ton of useless locations that are a little tricky to map at first. There are actions that make the game unwinnable with no logic and no warning. And, last of the major "sins," the player has to depend on randomness (in the form of the fighting system) to win the game. There are a few strange bugs which seem not to affect gameplay much. For instance, whenever you find some gold, the gold remains wherever it was, meaning you can pick it up again, and again, until the limits of your patience run out (or some kind of overflow -- I wonder what the integer limit is?), racking up all the gold you can stand. Unfortunately, there is nothing exciting to buy with the gold except items you brought to the store yourself, and the shopkeeper never marks up his prices, so it's always a straight exchange. Another odd bug that does affect gameplay is that when you save your game, quit, and restore it, you are knocked back to level 1. I think the hit points remain, but upon perusing the source code I found that you must be level 7 before you can go after the vampire in his own house, so the save/restore bug could be an annoyance. The source code really came in handy on this one, by the way, although I was unable to effectively change the annoying inventory limit. Finally, the first time I fought the vampire, the vampire cursed me and made the stake disappear. I can't kill the vampire without the stake, and it was nowhere to be found. I have no idea why this happened, and ended up replaying to finish the game. All in all, this is a fun little game that may amuse, depending on your tastes. The "problems" I've touched on speak for themselves: if you can look past them, and like random combat, go ahead and have a good time with Chateu Le Mont! However, I would recommend just another shot or two of originality from the author the next time around. I mean... a hobbit? And did the vampire HAVE to be named Count Dracula? P.S. I finished with 14932 points. Can you beat that? FTP FileDOS executable and QBASIC source code

Chicks Dig Jerks

From: Adam Cadre <ac SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 NAME: Chicks Dig Jerks AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin EMAIL: robb_sherwin SP@G DATE: November 1999 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: Um. So, does anyone disagree that this game contains the best writing of any game in the comp? Oh, you do? Hrm. Well, I think you're wrong. See, I'm not talking about the oh-so-very-hip ranting patter, or the universe of next year's slang, but rather about the frequent turns of phrase that make you say, "Yes! See, this is why language was invented." I'm talking about strings of words that are: (a) new, never before seen by either myself or Ezra Pound; (b) interesting, containing words one wouldn't expect to see together, yet which somehow match; and (c) evocative, creating a very precise mental image. Phrases like: * "bathed in a honeycomb" Bathing in honey is vaguely interesting as an image, but it brings to mind a marquise in the court of Louis XVI reading "Tales of Ribaldry"; bathing in a huge-ass honeycomb, on the other hand, is both fresher and more specific, beautiful in its own way yet bizarre enough to avoid becoming saccharine. * "chunks of desperate bride" "Bride" is a fairly charged word, and "desperate" is on the powerful side in its own right -- putting the two together is a nice afternoon's work, but sticking "chunks of" in front makes for an impressive coup de grace. And it even teaches some valuable life lessons: nothing jams up blender blades like pieces of Lisa. * "enough bad habits to poorly clothe every single nun on the continent" Without "poorly", this is lame. With it, it's freakin' hilarious. And yeah, as that last entry indicates, this is clearly someone who has the goods. Discipline can be learned; much harder to learn is precisely why "yellowjackets" is the only word that will work in a certain spot and "bees" or "hornets" just will not do. Sherwin also has his comedic chops down pat. The early line about the sneezing, the late line about getting out of bed in the morning... these are just a couple lines I'm finding randomly flipping through the TXD dump. There's one on every screen. Did I laugh, as with King Arthur? Nah. It's a different kind of comedy. The King Arthur brand I laugh at, then forget; this is the sort that makes me sort of pause and nod and think, "Hmm -- that's *really* funny. Have to remember that one." Moving outward, what about the game beyond sentence level? Here things aren't quite as strong. The instincts are good: combining disparate elements is usually a reasonably reliable formula for success. Graverobbers have been done; singles bars have been done; but graverobbers at singles bars? That's a new one (and a fricking *great* one.) I didn't even mind the left turn between the bar scene and the cemetery scene. But things do fall apart a bit after the bar scene draws to a close; the cutscene is just ridiculously overlong, and the sequence that follows is sort of a train wreck -- but hey, at least that implies the existence of a speeding train, rather than a Ford Aspire sputtering up a hill. And it is nice that so much of the game is character-based rather than centered around fixing air conditioners and such. The fact that the characters come off as characters rather than switch statements is an especially nice bonus. That said -- you can have all the talent in the world, and you're still not going to turn out anything more than promising slush unless you buckle down and acquire the discipline referred to earlier. I would have loved to give this game a ten, but the sad fact is that it's buggier than a corpse left out in a swamp for three days. I understand the time constraints of the comp, but still, weird time-loop bugs and unfinishable climaxes are just not the sort of things that even a forgiving reviewer can completely overlook. In the end, the author ends up looking like a playground hoops legend: you can dazzle with your talent and jazzy crossover and whatnot, but you've got to put in a whole different kind of work to make the pros. A footnote: this is one of *two* Comp99 games set in Fort Collins, Colorado. New York or Los Angeles or London I could understand as the settings for multiple games -- hell, even Seattle I could see -- but *Fort Collins*?? Score: EIGHT. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough transcript


From: Nick Montfort <nickm SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 NAME: Christminster AUTHOR: Gareth Rees EMAIL: wgr2 SP@G [See editor's note after footnote 1. --PO] DATE: August 1995 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware. URL: "Upon this Oath that I shall heere you give..." The seventeenth-century verse that begins Christminster brings on tingles, dropping the interactor directly into an atmosphere of ancient secrecy, a world where mysteries must be unlocked. It becomes smoothly evident that the main character, Christabel, is an outsider: She's come to visit her brother at all-male Biblioll College, which seems rather shut off from the surrounding town and happens to be completely closed today. The situation is more quotidian than the epigraphical quotation suggests, but, being sure of conspiracy inside, the interactor's curiosity is provoked. Christ! How is Christabel to get into Christminster's cloistered college on the Lord's day? [FOOTNOTE 1] More critically, what will she do when she finds that brother seems to have been engaged in forbidden research, and is now missing? The college is populated with particularly rich characters who play their parts well through the usual sorts of text-adventure interactions. There are good excuses to interact with them along the way, too, provided by a plot which twists along past different personalities. Rees has said that his puzzles are contrived for the purpose of drawing the interactor through the story and into contact with different characters, and that is evident in Christminster. Areas of the setting are consecutively unlocked for exploration, but the whole college is worked into the story very evenly, throughout the narrative. That said, the actions required to unlock the college and the secrets within are, as is so often the case in interactive fiction, convoluted. The general nature of the challenges that Christabel faces do fit in well with the situations of the story. The artifice of puzzles is visible, though, and sometimes tugs against the authorial and narrative voice. Although challenging, the solutions to the puzzles are plausible, in the context of current interactive fiction -- and the puzzles are quite well-crafted, as one would expect from Rees's The Magic Toyshop -- but to actually solve them the interactor must shift away from reading and exploration to worry about waiting a number of turns, crossing different-colored wires, and decrypting enciphered text. This is often the case with interactive fiction. The nice thing about Christminster is that, aside from its interlocking challenges, there is some good reading and exploration to be done. In some ways Christminster might be held up against with The Lurking Horror -- the university setting and occult mysteries being the obvious points of comparison. There are important differences. [FOOTNOTE 2] The main character in Christminster is unfamiliar with the campus, which fits in with the interactor actually having no previous knowledge of the fictional college. Importantly, Christminster is more populated than The Lurking Horror. The life of the university is still going on, even if at a Sunday pace. How the revelation of the conspiracy occurs, and what actually happens in Christminster, is most fascinating. The writing in which these events are described does not shine, but the descriptive text in Christminster is clear. Objects in the environment, and the behaviors of those objects, are well-defined and aptly described. A few commands elicit responses that ring a bit false -- ">pet the parrot. Keep your hands to yourself!" -- but the interaction is, overall, well-constructed. For those concerned with allowing more English-like interaction, Christminster does not advance the state of the art. It would help to be able to "leave" a room that has only one exit, for instance. As is conventional, compass directions are required for movement through most locations. At times the objective description in Christminster yields and the emotions of the main character are described. This does little, for the most part -- "Your heart sinks as you look around this room." -- but sometimes it adds a bit of color: "It is a hot summer's day in Christminster, the kind of day that makes you think of strawberries and cream and punting on the river." Rees excellently ties together the acquisition of keys and the advance through locations with quotations from alchemical literature and from Coleridge's "Christabel." Although it may seem a minor element, it links the work to the world of literature strongly, and draws the interactor deeper into the mysteries of the college. The quoted material is not as thematically meaningful as are the excepts in Trinity, but these texts build up the rich and enveloping atmosphere of this work. Christminster overcomes more than a few of the obstacles that keep casual gamers and readers unfamiliar with the form from enjoying interactive fiction. The map in Christabel's bag, for instance, is nicely rendered in ASCII graphics on-screen. This makes pencil-and-paper map-making unnecessary, removing one encumbrance for those who are new to the form. Although some of the puzzles are challenging, the compelling story and fairly well-developed interaction makes Christminster a good work to introduce readers to interactive fiction. [FOOTNOTE 3] Overall, Christminster has both gaming and literary merits. The two halves of the work could, perhaps, fit together better, and particular aspects of the work might have been honed further. Amazingly, though, both the overarching narrative and the puzzle set provided are exemplary. This, along with several important smaller touches, makes Christminster a work of lasting value, of interest to both veterans of Spellbreaker and readers of the conspiratorial Pynchon and Eco. --- FOOTNOTE 1. A major Christ-initial place name and character name may sound contrived, but truth is at least as strange as fiction. Rees's home page [at] reveals that he's a fellow of Christ's College at Cambridge, and his wife is named Christine. [Editor's note: After this issue was released, an astute reader pointed out that the web site mentioned above is not for the right Gareth Rees. The Christminster Gareth Rees attended Cambridge but does not teach there. Consequently, the email address provided with this review is also incorrect. The proper email address is gareth.rees SP@G As of this writing (March 2000), Gareth reports that he does not maintain a web page.] FOOTNOTE 2. Christminster is inferior to the Lurking Horror in one respect: MIT students won't find any splufty in-jokes to appreciate. FOOTNOTE 3. Not as ideal, perhaps, as a simpler selection (e.g., Wishbringer, the Trinity preface), but still a good choice. From: David Samuel Myers <dmyers SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 I'm biased, I'll admit it. But every longtime IF player, I think, must have a special soft spot for at least one game. Even though you know it's probably not the very best game out there, you're very forgiving with these games that live in your soft spot because they worked for you on a level that is hard to replicate. For me, Christminster is one of those games. Games which I have finished get unconsciously compared to 'Minster in deciding whether or not they are worthy enough to reside permanently on my hard drive in dim hopes of being replayed. And yet I have replayed this game twice. Why? For starters, the setting is a rich one. I'm not positive if the game is patterned after Oxford directly, but there is a Christ Church college there, and from pictures that I have seen of it, I can believe this was the inspiration for the surroundings in the game. No room or location is out of place. It all seems in keeping with what you might expect at an Oxford college a few decades ago... er... except for the magic potions and the like. This little academic world provides plenty to do despite only a moderate sized map. Now, there have been quite a few other college games: Save Princeton, Veritas, and PCU come to mind. In each case, the cliche aspects of dorm life are highlighted in a jokey manner, with a sort of jump through the hoops plot. Christminster largely avoids that, using the college more as a backdrop for a web of intrigue than anything else. Your job is to find your brother and save him. There are so many fantastic elements in this game, it's hard to review them all. The NPCs were what impressed me the most. There is the Master of the college, who appears to be a generator of stock replies, but can actually be asked about a host of topics (many of which, ironically, won't be informative enough to help you). There is Professor Wilderspin, who is completely in character in utterly blowing you off until you figure out what will engage his attention. There are the villains, who are plainly identifiable as being the bad guys early on. They do exhibit some complex behavior in attempting to thwart you, generating some good dialog at key moments (many of which are just before you either win or lose the game). But above all is Edward, the student who'll be most helpful to you in your quest. He's chattery in a quaint way, and forlorn in a way that makes you feel pretty smart as the PC at times. The subplot of having to help Edward find his pet bird is ingenious, and gives character not only to him as an NPC, but indirectly to you as the PC. It is one of those puzzles that feels less like a puzzle because it's so integrated into the plot. Part of this is because it recurs a couple of times. Certain key puzzles define almost all games, and leave a lasting impression. Here, one that comes to mind is figuring out the phone wiring. Getting through dinner without any gaffes in etiquette was another, again with a lot of dialog interwoven so that the atmosphere feels less straightforwardly puzzlish. The puzzle most associated with Christminster, though, has to be the street magician from the opening sequence. The magician spews so much text that it's hard to determine what kind of NPC interactions are going to be needed to solve it at first. You have to sit and observe (and unfortunately, restart) to figure out what is going on. The author has said that this was the hardest part of the game to program, and I can't help but wonder if it got away from him more than he wanted it to. This puzzle is just harder than it should have been for being this early in the game. It warped my expectations of how hard the rest of the game would be. Nonetheless, it is a rewarding puzzle in the end-- once you've saved and restored a few (dozen) times to nail down what is going on. Although there are a number of specialized elements in the plot, the results are not overwhelming. Very few cases involve utterly novel situations that send you into guessing verbs. Once you've gained access to the college after the tricky opening sequence, you're free to pursue a number of avenues simultaneously, with no single puzzle being ridiculous in nature. The in-game hint system is reasonably well-developed too. Some tricky puzzles do occur late in the game, with sufficient obscurity as to challenge most any player. But it's engrossing and immersive enough that few players who get that far are likely to quit altogether. It is clear from playing the game that it has been through extensive beta testing that refined the surroundings and ensured that a lot of touches were added to avoid stock responses at virtually every turn. What's more, interspersed with the plot are poetic undertones here and there, taken from various books you encounter in your research in the game. In terms of writing, this game is strong-- despite the absence of a directly story-driven plot (this was 1995). Instead, the plot in this game is uncovered slowly by exploration and sleuthing. Alas, in any game, there are always things that could have been better. There are a few infuriating aspects to Christminster that I could have done without. For instance, after the initial information collection that goes on, there is too much subsequent lookup of books and facts through the library. The indexing feature just seems overused. It's realistic to the story, at least, but in general, I find that if in-game reference materials have to be used more than a few times, I am bored with the device. Also, the story itself begins to get a bit convoluted after a while. Another thing is that there are too many containers late in the game, and they are tough to keep track of without botching your eventual objective. Minor sins, really. The thing I liked the least is that the game can be made unwinnable in subtle enough ways that the player can go on for quite a while unaware of the situation. In this regard, Christminster is probably a bit more fragile than it should be. In all, though, the small cracks don't mar the soundness of the game. The overall game design is as tight and sensible as just about anything I've seen. Christminster certainly makes my top five of all time, and stands as a classic. I suspect it will hold up well under the test of time. One hallmark of such games is that they make it hard to release a new game with a similar setting, plot, or milieu because the author has so well nailed it down. That seems to be the case here for college campuses and Christminster. FTP FileInform .z5 file FTP FileInform 5.5 source code FTP FileSolution, point list, and list of objects

The City

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: The City AUTHOR: Sam Barlow E-MAIL: sb6729 SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 Part of the charm of the IF competition is that it brings out interesting ideas, ideas which might not be suitable for a full- length game but do something interesting that contributes to the IF oeuvre in one way or another. The converse, however, is that having a forum for short games may discourage authors from developing stories as completely as they might. Sam Barlow's The City is a case in point: it has an interesting idea, but in its present form, there isn't much more than an idea, and the result is rather unsatisfying to play. The premise, though suspiciously reminiscent of Delusions, is reasonably well done. You're trapped in a room with no way out and a video recorder and tape on hand; the tape shows a man taking a pill; you accept a pill from a handy assistant, take it, and black out; repeat. The man in the tape is, of course, you; your goal is to break out of the loop and see what you find. Unfortunately, you don't find much, and you certainly don't find much that's surprising, and it isn't clear that anything you do goes to accomplish anything. (Being trapped in a nightmare laboratoryish sequence is starting to feel a little familiar as an IF premise; the IF world may be getting overloaded with bizarre dystopias, though that certainly isn't Mr. Barlow's fault.) Now, if a sense of futility is the point here, IF is ideal for conveying that. Ain't nothin' more frustrating than IF that goes in circles. However, as noted, Delusions already did that pretty well, even if the resolution was different. More importantly, sheer futility generally does not a satisfying experience make, IF experience included. Likewise, there's a point toward the end where there's only one action available, and it's fairly obvious that you don't "really" want to take that action--but there's no way around it. (Piece of Mind, from the 1996 competition, did something similar--but, IMHO, much more satisfyingly.) The game keeps you from doing plenty of obvious things without explanation, which certainly hits the frustration angle--but it's frustration with the mechanics of the game, not with the situation depicted. (Okay, you can argue that it's all one. But merging the character's frustration with the player's does not produce a fun game.) The problem is that, really, The City doesn't do enough with its premise. The backstory never really shows up, and backstory is what might have distinguished this from its many predecessors; if there were some interesting story behind how things became how they are, the game might stay with the player for more than a few moments after playing. There's painfully little to do once you _do_ break out; the "outside" world isn't any more interesting than the "inside." The futility idea might be more interesting if there were a stronger illusion of control, but there isn't much; you can't get very far, and you can't get anywhere appealing. The City needs to be about twice as long as it is in order to involve the player in the story; as it is, it ends almost as soon as it starts. Moreover, whereas Delusions mixed its futility with a sense of urgency owing to frequent and short time limits, The City eschews all time requirements--in other words, you are never required to take a pill--which means frustration is mixed with, if anything, boredom. Technically, everything works well enough, apart from the failure to provide logical choices at certain points. The author disabled undo and save/restore to no particularly vital purpose, as far as I can tell; if the idea was to remind us that we're at the mercy of other folks and can't do much about our own fate, well, we weren't likely to forget, save/restore or not. Still, there are no technical problems to speak of, and in fact one rather complicated aspect of The City is handled well: the tape that records you actually does play back whatever you did last time around, and describes your actions reasonably well. (On the other hand, there's not a lot you can do anyway.) There are some other odd features--none of the rooms have names, for some reason, though they are distinctly different rooms. (Perhaps the idea was to suggest that you can't really get anywhere, but it's rather confusing at first.) There's no status line, no opening title, no compass directions, etc., and the minimalism doesn't distract much from the game; in that respect, The City works well enough. Still, there isn't much here that anything could distract anyone from, and besides a few gripping moments--on the roof, notably-- it's a rather frustrating experience. It's technically sound enough that I gave it a 7, but it doesn't make much of what might have been an intriguing game. From: David Ledgard <dledgard SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 I played this game once and didn't get very far. So later came back to it, armed with some hints. The game is quite small, but with a thought provoking plot, a bit George Orwell 1984ish. Some puzzles were fairly easy, others not so. It was difficult to work out what you were supposed to do next and whether the plot had actually advanced. I know for a fact that I would never have completed it without hints, not in a million million years FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and associated text files

City Of Secrets

From: Cirk Bejnar <eluchil404 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #37 -- July 10, 2004 TITLE: City of Secrets AUTHOR: Emily Short EMAIL: emshort SP@G DATE: June 24, 2003 PARSER: Enhanced Inform SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive ( URL: VERSION: 3 My overall impression of this game was very good. Short's characteristically strong coding and writing combine for a great experience, and I found no notable bugs in this release. From a purely technical standpoint, the work is a gem. Short has again used her resource-intensive ask-tell/menu hybrid conversation system. There are two difficulty settings and various options to set up the conversation system and the graphics to suit a variety of tastes. There is an impressive amount of detail in the descriptions with nearly all first level objects implemented and many second and third level as well. Such extras as your complementary personal shampoo from the hotel are fully implemented, which gives the world a solid feeling. The City seems to be an actual place rather than merely the setting for a game. The superb map design also contributes to this feeling. The city is represented as 20 or so rooms, but between the graphical map that you have available and the intuitive layout of the main thoroughfares travel is easy. She has also admirably succeeded in giving the different sectors of the City a unique feel. A quick glance at the room name will tell you whether you are in Malta or May Street and thus what to expect from your surroundings. The writings is, as I said before, also up to Short's usual high standards. Once the plot got rolling I could see the main twist coming but resisted it because of my personal convictions. (This also seemed perfectly in character for the PC.) However, as details emerged I was slowly won over, against my will, as it were, to the other side. That Short could pull this off, even while I was aware of it, is a testament to the immersive effect of the prose and the real emotional impact of the characters. However, this work is not perfect. None are. And in this case, the weakest link is the plot. It is well written and paced, in my opinion, but more predictable and linear than I would have preferred. In particular I was not able to derail it by personal choice, as far as I could tell. My choices were generally to advance the plot or to continue wandering about the City. I was unable to find a way to take decisive action according to my own judgment, only as the story dictated. The exception to this is the climatic move in the snowstorm. In this case, however, I was too dense to figure out why my options have the effects they do. I know that it is supposed to be mysterious but it would be nice if saving the world depended on more than a guess. In summary, City of Secrets is a fine game that demonstrates not only Short's preeminence in the field but also the way that writing and atmosphere can carry a game rather than devilish puzzles or breathtakingly new plot. From: David Jones <drj SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #38 -- September 28, 2004 First off, an issue that arises, I suspect, because I am using a curses-based text-only Glulx interpreter: the about system is horrible, and so are all the menus in the game. It's probably not the author's fault, but it's her decision to use it. I couldn't work out how to escape the menus and restarted (hurray for Control-C!) resolving never to use the menu. Maybe you'll have better luck if you're not so much of a stick-in-the-mud text-only sort of person. Aside from a permanent display of "Glk library error: set_hyperlink: hyperlinks not supported." it didn't affect the game play (except that I had to resist using the help menu). Be a tourist in a city you never intended visiting. Miss your best friend's wedding. Get a guided tour from one of the native lunatics. Get robbed. Become a secret agent. Flirt with a mysteriously attractive and secretive woman. Learn about magic. Talk to a lot of people. The action takes place in a city. You arrive there on you way to your friend's wedding after the train you are on breaks down. It is a city where technology is fused with magic (or should that be opposed to?). The city is a melting pot of oppositions (or at least, opposites): magic and technology; old and new; autocracy and democracy; austere and opulent. The implementation of the (small) city is incredibly well done. For immersion, I would say that City of Secrets is state of the art. The city bustles. People pass you by in their own conversations, they jostle you, they look in shop windows, they get on and off the city's trolley system (I haven't discovered a way to use the trolley system, you don't have a pass). This is all done with randomly generated descriptions of people and actions. The programming of this is really well done (and must have been a bit tedious at times); various events in the story will change the mood of the city and the way people act and react changes accordingly. A typical example is: "A cheerful lady wanders along, arm in arm with a well-built older fellow." I was initially impressed, and then, after discovering that you can't really interact with any of these people, disappointed. I was impressed again when I discovered how things changed as the story progressed. Obviously one can't hope to provide any accurate emulation of a city, but in City of Secrets we see a pretty good approximation using the technology of today. One or two things (near the beginning of the game) stood out as a little odd, as if programmed on the cheap. In any other game I wouldn't have bothered mentioning them, but because of the depth of interaction that City of Secrets generally gives us, my expectations were raised. There's no opportunity to tip the bell-hop, and "run bath" executes an entire bath sequence (running the water, getting undressed, waiting for the bath to fill, washing, getting out, etc) in one move. I was rather looking forward to a bit of a splash around in the bath (but evidently the PC wasn't). Your mental state is displayed in the lower window alongside the room description, like this: "Outside Train Station, Wandering around, Tired". This initially annoyed me. I found the author's attempts to make me feel the PC's tiredness clumsy. Or at least, displaying it in the status window is clumsy. Thankfully it's not the author's only device. Having arrived at a hotel I examine a travel brochure: "A rather pretty brochure with a map and color pictures. There is writing, too, but it just seems to swim around, thanks to your current state of fatigue." That kind of thing seems spot on and just what it's like to arrive in a place that you never intended to visit. After a while I got used to the display and it didn't bother me at all. After half-an-hour or so, I was asking myself, "What's the point?". I kept on playing for three reasons: 1) it's called City of Secrets, 2) it's by Emily Short, and 3) I had already decided to write a review of it. In the end, I'm glad I did. It took me 3.5 hours on my first play through and I played it through again only to discover that my first play through wasn't an entirely successful one (but it nearly was). It soon becomes clear that there is a conflict in the city, a conflict between the Illuminated Ones and the Gnostics, the city's opposing political/religious sects. You get to play a significant part in this conflict. Initially, your part starts out as a sort of investigation, but as you learn more about the city, its characters, and its magic it becomes clear that you can (and must?) step outside your initial brief. Most of the time, you'll be talking to people and reading things to gain various clues. There's a vast amount of text in this game. I have given up all hope of experiencing the "whole" game. I'm still discovering significant new things on my third play-through. Talking to NPCs is done with a combination of a menu system and a topic. You initiate a conversation with a greeting like "GREET CONCIERGE," and can then either choose one of the conversational options presented on the menu or try a new topic of conversation such as "TOPIC FOOD". It works fairly well. I think it provides a good balance between the author's obvious desire to constrain the topics of conversation and the player's ability to pick any topic for discussion. Sometimes you can lose a conversational option for apparently no good reason. EG I had only one option left on my conversation option card (about shopping). I typed "how", a non sequitur, just to see how the game would respond, "(You can think of nothing to say.)", and the option was removed from my card (now empty). Most of the people you meet are prepared to talk about a lot of things though their opinions on some topics, the fortress and food most notably, seem to be drawn from a common pool giving me the impression that some of the lesser characters are punched-out from the same die. The way the conversation progresses influences your standing with the NPCs; you can turn them against you or earn their favour (to some extent). The "AMUSING" section points to some very strange consequences that can happen, only one of which I found before completing the game and none of them I have managed since (not that I've tried that hard). Occasionally this conversation system stumbles; selecting a topic can initiate a conversation about something surprisingly different, but it's a forgivable minor flaw in such an ambitious system. You can recall your impressions of people with "REMEMBER CONCIERGE" which gives you a summary of what you have learned (mostly from other people) about the person in question. I like it. The writing is excellent. I had previously played, and enjoyed, Metamorphoses (also by Emily Short) and was somewhat put off by the excessively flowery language (no, I mean I was overwhelmed by a sumptuous filigree of syntax which sparkled with every twist and turn of the light that shone upon it). City of Secrets has plainer language wielded with the same skill. I found it a change for the better. Occasionally the descriptions are overwhelming -- one simply has too much text to read, and it sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish the set from the game, though I suspect that's rather the point. To my surprise I did find a couple of genuine mistakes: "pier" instead of "buttress" (correct, but obscure. Or is this a feature of North American English?); confusing "glassine" with "glassy" (poetic license? I hope not). The occasional misused punctuation mark. The very few mistakes don't seem to be due to lack of attention more perhaps that the writer is stretching herself beyond her ability. On the other hand, City of Secrets is a much bigger work than Metamorphoses so perhaps it is just down to the problem of proofreading this vast text. There are a couple of dream sequences. I was initially quite excited at the prospect of an interactive dream sequence, but they proved to be less interactive than I had hoped (on a level with Lurking Horror). They're more like slightly surreal infodumps. Still they do add character and they're not just dream sequences foisted upon you because the author wanted you to know something and couldn't think of anything less clumsy. They have a proper part to play in the story and are integrated well. Wandering around the city and chatting to people is quite fun and sometimes almost feels adventurous as you wander into increasingly dilapidated parts of town. There's plenty of people to talk to, and quite a lot of things to read (more and more text!), but not all that much to do (though the "AMUSING" section clearly indicates that I didn't even scratch the surface). Overall the game is fairly easy (which is intended), the puzzles being reasonably straightforward. I discover that there are some nice attempts to help the absolute beginner along. For example, if the first thing you do is press enter at the prompt you receive a little spiel about the prompt and simple instructions. The story branches. I haven't fully explored to what extent, but I'm already impressed at the different branches that I have seen. I strongly suspect that there are different endings (probably according to which faction in the city you ally yourself to), but I haven't had the tenacity or patience to find them. Jumping zorkmids! I just noticed that the download is over 6 Megabytes! I suppose that includes pictures (which I haven't seen as I played it on a text-only interpreter). Overall it's an excellent game. It's not a puzzle-fest; it's not supposed to be. It's a conversation-fest. You can chat to (and "up" to some extent) a large number of NPCs who are all intelligently programmed. The way that the story unfolds is very well done, with different NPCs (and some books) filling in different parts of the canvas with their own style. To be honest it's not my cup of tea -- I prefer puzzles (like Metamorphoses), but I have no problems recommending this game to anyone. FTP FileGlulx .blb file

The Coast House

From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: The Coast House AUTHOR: Stephen Newton and Dan Newton E-MAIL: snewton SP@G and hackmusik SP@G DATE: October 2001 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 1.0 Almost as bad as no lead-in is too much lead-in. Worse yet is if the wodges of text come larded with misused words and misplaced apostrophes. For instance, we learn at the beginning of this game, amid a great deal of family history and implied mystery, that grandpa felt "little remorse" at grandma's funeral; but remorse would only be suitable, really, if he'd offed the old biddy himself (surely not!). The whole of the game is flawed in similar ways: misused words, abused apostrophes, simple game-design carelessness. Descriptive sections include such things as: You see the first photograph, the second photograph, the third photograph, and the fourth photograph here. Why not label them as to content, or introduce them more subtly? I think I detect, in many places in this game, indications that the authors are relatively new to TADS, and that they are comfortable doing the straightforward tasks but uncertain about the customizing nuances that smooth over awkward bits. The puzzles are also generally not very exciting, and mostly consist of finding things and applying them, without that much by way of reward offered for diligence. My strongest puzzle-related memory from this game is that I drove myself crazy trying to get into a certain section which was sort of but not entirely off-limits: I could enter it, but a timed sequence of events would drive me out again. There was, of course, a solution to this, but I didn't know enough about the game to know for certain that the solution wasn't to be found *inside* the area that I kept being forced out of. So I made many frustratingly brief exploratory missions before I finally gave up, consulted the walkthrough, and discovered that the correct way of dealing with the problem lay somewhere else entirely in an area I was not yet aware of. I would complain even more strenuously if the game design *had* necessitated repeated trips into the semi-restricted area; as it was, it was just my own stubbornness and failure to explore another puzzle adequately that had me rushing back in there over and over. But I still don't particularly care for this effect, I'm afraid. Story and atmosphere were likewise mostly unexceptional, with a few standout bits. Some of the most endearing features were things that I assume are accurate observations of the real coast house on which this is modelled. I ordinarily don't care for real-life details when said real-life details are, e.g., a careful implementation of your television and VCR: I know how those behave and derive no joy from manipulating them in virtual form. Perhaps what sets this apart from other implementations of well-known places is that I have not, in fact, ever spent that much time at a vacation house like this one, so it struck me as peculiar and intriguing. I was oddly touched by the Piggly Wiggly bag. The backstory itself, as finally revealed, seemed tonally out of place, or at least to belong to a different mood from the rest of the game. Summary: An unambitious little game with some nice atmospheric touches, lacking a lot in surface polish. FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file, map, and walkthrough

The Colour Pink

From: Mike Snyder <wyndo SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: The Colour Pink AUTHOR: Robert Street EMAIL: robertrafgon SP@G DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: pink.z8 VERSION: Release 1 I love this game. This is old-fashioned puzzle goodness. You are sent to investigate the disappearance of a colony, missing from an alien planet. Eating a suspicious bird egg – for no good reason other than an irresistible urge – puts you into a surreal, alternate reality. I did something similar way back in the ’99 competition. It was met with mixed reactions. You must be thinking “Great. Another one. Everything is all random and unreal, but it’s all just part of the fantasy and that’s supposed to make it okay.” That’s one way of looking at it. Yes, this does allow for some wacky encounters in which animals (both real and mythical) talk and ask for help with personal dilemmas. The puzzles are well-clued and not very difficult (aside from a carrot-harvesting bit that’s optional anyway), and most importantly, the entire game is fun. It’s really fun. This is what adventure gaming is all about. I solved the game along one path (not realizing another was even possible) without hints. The various endings are picked CYOA-style (following a CYOA ending in the game I played just prior, Vendetta). I was left missing 5 points, and a few objects/areas seemed unused. So, a peek at the hints, the after-game notes, and finally the walkthrough put me onto an alternate path that not only expands the enjoyment of the game, but actually changes much of the second half, resulting in two additional endings. The first two areas are quads that require no real mapping. The next area is larger, but arranged in a pattern that looks pretty cool on paper. Another quad underwater reflects some aspects of the “real” world, as does the interior of the red tower. As was probably the author’s intent, no single ending seems like the best or the most real, and it’s never quite clear how the things in the alternate land (either of them, since there are two paths) relate to the missing people or the lost inventory from the real world. The writing in The Colour Pink isn’t particularly colorful or clever (although it is pink in spots), lacking complicated metaphors and dense descriptions. This keeps it unpretentious and more game-like than story-like. The focus is always on the puzzles. I have little else to say about this game, except that I highly recommend it to puzzle fans – especially those who like the easy, traditional kind, where the gold key always opens the gold door and the carrot- loving rabbit is always going to give you something good if you feed him. As for the story, it’s not complicated, but it could be deeper than it seems. I’m not sure why the pink theme was abandoned mid-way, nor why the love potion was just a segue to the fantasy world. I’m basing the game at 9.0 on my scale, skewing +0.5 for an “unofficial” 9.5 because I had so much fun playing. Zcode executable (.z8) Walkthrough

Common Ground

From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 TITLE: Common Ground AUTHOR: Stephen Granade E-MAIL: sgranade SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 It's not quite true that Stephen Granade's Common Ground goes somewhere that no IF has gone before, because most of what it does has been done in one form or another. Notably, Photopia pioneered the changing- perspectives aspect and, to some extent, the conversation system, Muse and a few others have made the plot turn on relationships more than on any tangible goal, and--well, this is a no-spoiler review, but there are other creative but not precisely novel elements. What's interesting about Common Ground is that the various elements get put together in an interesting way--and that the characters are well enough drawn that we care, at least somewhat, about each one by the end. There are four chapters in Common Ground, though the last chapter is something of an epilogue: the heart of the game (work?) is the first three chapters, each of which adopts the perspective of a different character. The characters are Jeanie, a teenage girl who's as teenaged as they come, her stepfather Frank and her mother Debbie, and the three main chapters are all set in approximately the same time frame. Some of the events are actually depicted twice, though not all of them, and you get somewhat different takes on the relevant people and events in each segment. The point actually isn't to adapt a Rashomon-style trick to IF, wherein incompatible stories are told and the truth lies somewhere between them, if anywhere; figuring out the truth is less the objective here than understanding the characters and why they do what they do. The result is susceptible to a variety of interpretations, in a few respects--the player's sympathies may rest with one of the characters, or all, or none, depending on what he or she makes of the various exchanges. That aspect of Common Ground is particularly skillfully done, in fact: playing the various characters gives a more nuanced look at the situation than playing one character might, and an honest look at the story more than likely leaves the player neither canonizing nor demonizing any of the characters outright, which is as it should be. A somewhat less successful aspect of Common Ground is the conversation system. Granted, no one has come up with a successful IF conversation system as such, but this one--"talk" says something preordained, and continuing to type "talk" steers the character through the conversation whether or not the player understands what's going on--isn't really any more interactive than a cut scene, in that the player's only power over what's going on is to walk away or do something else. In a way, that's significant in this particular story--Jeanie in particular can make statements by refusing to say anything--but as a conversation system, it's more than a little clumsy. It's especially frustrating here because the characters are fairly well developed--there are plenty of things to ask them about-- and the "talk" straitjacket makes the game feel more like reading a script than it should be. I shouldn't exaggerate the straitjacket aspect, though, because there's another aspect of Common Ground that works quite well: when you're done playing Jeanie and you're seeing her through the eyes of the other characters, you'll find that Jeanie does most of what you chose to have her do when you were playing her. That is, the game records the decisions you made and plays them back at you later. The same is true, though less so, with Frank. Obviously, there are some complexities that aren't acknowledged, but on the whole this works quite well and allows for substantial replayability; better still, playing one character differently elicits some revealing reactions from the other two. It's an impressive technical feat--it was done on a reduced scale in Infocom's Sorcerer and Sam Barlow's The City, but this is much more thoroughly implemented, and the various choices available do more for the story (in that both the characters and the perceptions of them can change in a variety of ways). If there's a fly in the ointment, it's that the game doesn't really try to ensure that you did what the other characters saw you do, beyond certain limitations--you can't go wandering around the house, but you have the discretion to avoid certain conversations, whether or not you had those conversations from the other side. Still, on the whole, it's a successful gimmick. Common Ground stands or falls on the character depictions, though, and those depend to some extent on the player's reactions. The characters initially seem a bit cliched--the angry teenager, the solicitous parent, and to a lesser extent the left-out and unappreciated stepfather--and while there's more to each of them than the cliches, that's not necessarily immediately obvious. Moreover, depending on what the player does with each character, the cliches might actually get reinforced; there's enough freedom to allow for that--particularly so with Jeanie and Frank (Debbie is a much less developed character). The details that the author introduces to portray both the characters themselves and the others' take on them are nicely done, as in this example from Jeanie's perspective: As you come down the stairs, Frank looks up at you. "Goin' out tonight too, huh?" Is his speech slurred again? Or this, from Frank's perspective: >talk to jeanie "I hated school, too. Couldn't wait to graduate." "Yeah? Why'd you even bother? Not like you need a diploma to do factory work." Should of known better than to even try to talk to her. Both snippets are revealing, both about the characters and about their assumptions and prejudices, but a player too ready to categorize might not pick up on the subtleties. The point is that while there's much more to these characters than cliches, a given player might not realize that--and if the player doesn't respond to the characters, he or she's unlikely to enjoy Common Ground. In other words, the player should feel some sympathies toward all of the three main characters, and arguably a player who doesn't hasn't really given the story a fair shake, since nothing is as simple as it first appears. Common Ground is an unusual piece of IF, on the whole. There are no puzzles to speak of, and no real objective--the point is to explore the characters and see how they interact. While the result isn't successful on every level, it's certainly a worthy experiment, implemented well, and it's worth checking out. FTP FileTADS .gam file FTP FileTADS Source code

Conan Kill Everything

From: William McDuff <wmcduff SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 TITLE: Conan Kill Everything AUTHOR: Ian Haberkorn EMAIL: haberkornj SP@G DATE: April 12 2005 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 "I hope it is adequately stupid. Comments are appreciated." -- Ian Haberkorn on Conan Kill Everything Fear not, Ian! You game is most definitely "adequately stupid". Which is meant in the best way possible, of course. Though perhaps Ian Haberkorn is a bit confused about which competition he entered with "Conan Kill Everything". When the title placed second in StupidTitleComp (a voting mechanism test for the 2005 Spring Thing) he seems to have thought he entered IntroComp, and created a playable game with that title, possibly hoping to claim a prize before the year was up. Alas, he will win nothing for creating this game other than the renown for creating such an amusing, if small, game. In this game you play the legendary Cimmerian barbarian, Conan, and your objective is simple. Kill everything. No, not every living thing. Everything. The walls of the room only escape Conan's mighty wrath because they "are already dead. Conan suspects that he killed them in an earlier episode." Although a one room game, and as mentioned before, very short, some interesting puzzles exist here. None will stymie a veteran IF player for long, but they puzzles are fair and logical, if progressing to a logical extreme. There's not much of a plot or story to speak off, but given the source of the game, expecting one seems silly. The game itself is technically sound, although more verbs could be implemented as with most games, and what can be reached from the table is perhaps a bit generous. Also, the actions of the fly in the room seem to be a bit too random at times, which can make a long wait. The writing is terse, tight phrasing emulating the 'action, not words' approach of your average barbarian stereotype. This simplistic style actually generates some of the humour, and there are also some great lines sprinkled here and there. Significantly, the game endings take a step back to a director's view of the action as a movie, giving a view that this farce is something of a play within a play. This decision actually helps, as some distance from the absurdity keeps the player from getting too involved and turned off by the stupidity of the main action. Not that these aren't amusing as well. The main complaint against the game is that it is, as I've said repeatedly, quite short, finishable in less than half an hour even if you get stuck at one point or another. More could certainly be added: for instance, Conan's association with beautiful women is a significant part of the mythos, and is missing here. Besides, with such an addition, there's a got to be a joke about the 'little death' that could be inserted somewhere. Still, considering the inspiration, this is an excellent little game. One can only hope that "You Get Transported To Another Dimension and Find This Weird Machine In A Maze And Then Some Other Stuff Happens, It's Really Cool" will be as good if Jacqueline H. decides to produce it. (Though it's certain to be stupid.) FTP FileZcode .z5 file

Concrete Paradise

From: Mike Roberts <mjr_ SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Concrete Paradise AUTHOR: Tyson Ibele EMAIL: ivanisavich SP@G DATE: September 2002 PARSER: TADS Standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: 1.0 / 052202 I'm not sure what this game was meant to be. The story seems to be about a carefree youngster, whose age is never precisely specified but which we can infer must be in the late single digits or early teens, who's sent away to an island prison for life due to an essentially trivial and unintentional crime. The main story takes place three years into the life sentence, and revolves around escaping the prison. The opening of the story is somewhat jarring, in that before the player character gets sent to prison for life, he's portrayed as an innocent kid who's not even trying to get into trouble. We're not really trying to do anything at all, for that matter; there's not any particular goal at this point. On my first couple of tries at the opening scene, I figured the prison sentence must simply be an elaborate "death" scene. In other words, I figured that the game was telling me the equivalent of "*** You have died ***", which is the traditional message an IF game displays when the player character is killed by an incorrect action. I got this impression because the actions in question seem so random and trivial, and because there are lots of them; in some games, such a variety of ways to "die" would simply indicate boundaries of the game, with the deadly consequences meant to guide players away from those boundaries and back to the correct path. (It's not an especially subtle way of marking a game's boundaries, and authors lately tend to favor other means, but plenty of older games use this approach.) However, after a few tries, I realized this must actually be the way forward in the story. Once we're in the prison, there's nothing to do but set about escaping. And here we encounter another jarring plot development: almost immediately, we have to kill a guard in the course of our escape. The player character's original crime is depicted as essentially accidental, with no evil intent, but the murder of the guard is quite deliberate. It's made clear that the player character is no psychopath -- he feels bad after the fact that he had to kill the guard -- but this just means he's become an utterly ruthless pragmatist who kills in cold blood when it serves his goals. So is "Concrete Paradise" a cautionary tale, a meditation on the poisonous consequences of vindictive criminal justice, that turns an innocent youth into a vicious killer in a few years' time? Probably not. As the game progresses, it seems quite free of such serious implications; this is simply a puzzle game that happens to have some rather grim plot elements. If anything, the sensibility is cartoonish, the grimness of the plot just a wild exaggeration for the sake of an interesting story. As a puzzle game, "Concrete Paradise" is serviceable, but suffers from a few flaws. The most consistent is a certain fussiness about command phrasing; in some places, an alternative syntax will reply with a message about the command you should be using (which is annoying enough: if the game can tell me "try this instead," it should almost always just do that instead, instead), but in many others it simply didn't recognize reasonably conventional phrasings for things that could be accomplished with other phrasings. Which isn't quite as bad as the usual "guess the verb" problem, where the only correct phrasing is unusual; rather, the correct phrasing in these cases is perfectly ordinary, but other equivalent ordinary phrasings aren't accepted. Another deficiency in some of the puzzles is insufficient information to motivate the solution. In one place, for example, I think you're expected to simply try different directions randomly; in the location in question, it's clear that you can't see where you're going, so this isn't as bad as an unannounced exit in an otherwise ordinary location, but you're given no reason to think the location would have any exits other than the one you came in from. In other places, objects -- or details of objects -- are found to be unusual only after close inspection, even though they should be obvious at less detailed levels of examination. For example, if there's something obviously unusual about a wall, I shouldn't have to examine the wall to discover that, because an obviously unusual feature of a major room component ought to warrant mention in the room's top-level description. Despite the occasional flaws in its puzzles, and the puzzling thematic intentions, this game is fairly well written and playable. I didn't feel greatly drawn in, mostly because of the unclear motivations of the main character, I think; but most of the puzzles are logical and well integrated into the story, and so are satisfying to solve. FTP FileDirectory with TADS2 .gam file and walkthru


From: Tony Baechler <baechler SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Constraints AUTHOR: Martin Bays EMAIL: martin SP@G DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 If I had to describe this game in one word, I would pick "crazy." This game, or series of mini-games, is wacky. Yes, it makes some sort of weird sense, but you will probably only get a headache trying to figure it all out. No, it is not confusing. The stories or sections in themselves are easily understood. Trying to put all of them together and figure out what the author's point is will drive you crazy, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. The fun of this game is not the puzzles or trying to figure out what to do. For example, in "Falling" it is completely obvious what is happening. You are falling and there is nothing you can do about it. The enjoyment comes in trying every weird or wacky response you can think of and watching what happens. I particularly liked "xyzzy." Ultimately, you are forced to go along with the ride but it is short and amusing. After you have finished, try "walkthrough" to see what I mean. In another section, you get a completely opposite response to what you expect. If you type "z," you get "Time does not pass." In fact, no matter what you do, you cannot affect anything. Again, in terms of a puzzle this is rather minimal and boring. The entertainment is in trying everything. I can easily imagine this game becoming an IF classic in its own right. I would definitely not recommend it for new IF players, although it can show off what a really good parser can do. It goes without saying that anything I could think of got a response and I think I never got a default library message. Unfortunately, there were two problems. One is an unnecessary use of profanity. It added nothing and the game would have had just as much charm without it. This is really too bad. The other problem was a very small grammar error. Towards the end, it says "hint's" instead of "hints." This is very small and would normally be overlooked, but for a game which is otherwise so well written it stands out. The final problem is an unnecessary maze. No, this is not a typical IF maze, but a Nethack style maze. I wish I could have found a way to finish it because it would be nice to see the closing text, if any. Oh well. All three of the above brought the game down a point or two. If there would have been a different constraint instead of the maze, this game could rank a 10. It is not that I never give out scores that high, it is just that most games are not worthy. I might give it another point anyway, but I doubt it. This is just a suspicion, but I think Magnus wrote this. It is not his traditional writing style, though. My comp rating: 8 FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file

The Corn Identity

From: Aaron Reed <aareed SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: The Corn Identity AUTHOR: The "IF Whispers" Project EMAIL: mark.musante SP@G DATE: September 26, 2005 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 The Corn Identity is a unique experiment in collaborative interactive fiction. Thirteen authors were each responsible for taking the previous author's source code and, without having seen the whole story, constructing a new segment before passing their code on to the next author. The concept is somewhat similar to the party game "Whispers" or "Telephone," where a phrase is passed from person to person with increasing loss of fidelity. The release notes say "It should be obvious that this idea can't be effectively applied to interactive fiction. So of course we had to give it a try." But what emerges is not the muddled mess one might expect: instead, the conspirators have created a dreamlike pastiche of corpses, puzzles, a distressingly ballooning inventory, and scenarios alternatingly disturbing and goofy. It manages, surprisingly, to be entertaining. Awakening groggy and trapped in a twenty foot steel cube, the player must explore a sequence of connected areas and solve a variety of puzzles from simple to middling-tricky, in order to unravel a mystery that seems to involve corn, murder, shadowy powers-that-be, drugs, and a lot of colorful buttons. As might be expected, the style of the game varies; in some parts you may die without warning and need past-life experience to solve puzzles, while in others you can't die at all and the puzzles are self-explanatory; some parts of the game feature well-implemented areas while others are bare-bones and empty. Interestingly, the tone of the story also varies, from deadly serious "X-Files"- like mystery to goofy self-referential comedy to political satire and back again. What's perhaps not so expected is how smoothly the game transitions between all these states. Any given moment feels self-consistent; it's only when you think back to fifteen minutes ago that you realize you're essentially playing a different game. Like a dream or a David Lynch movie, the game hustles you along through self-contained situations that flows smoothly into each other, almost succeeding in distracting you from the fact that the big picture is making less and less sense all the time. This is often annoying, as items tend to become useless as you move on to the next segment, and plot threads are introduced and discarded so frequently that the story slowly becomes a tangled mess. You never know when the game will throw you a curve ball revealing that the new author has no idea what a certain plot thread signifies, or rather, used to signify. The ending, in particular, is unsatisfying, since it fails to tie up the myriad of loose ends that the hapless final author could not even have known about. But on another level, the experience is fascinating. Something taken for granted in interactive fiction is that the game always knows more about its story than you, and your goal is to figure out what commands will convince it to give you more of its knowledge. Here, after the first few segments you honestly know more about what's going on than the author did, and the game is funniest when it acknowledges this shortcoming: >>EXAMINE MAN ... He resembles no one you know, either from your scientific life or your family life (the two of which you take great care to keep separate). In a context where the author knows nothing about the character's distant or even immediate past, and indeed has no idea what the character is even meant to be doing, this otherwise humdrum line had me grinning from ear to ear. "The Corn Identity" is by no means a great game, and by many standards may not even be a good one: it is often sparsely implemented, breaks no new ground in terms of story, structure, or content, has a poorly-hinted puzzle or two and enough dead-ends and red herrings for three games its size. For IF novices in particular, it would be an off-putting introduction to the medium. But for those familiar with the conventions of IF or the styles of the individual authors, it's an amusing, sometimes clever, and always surreal adventure. Zcode executable (.z5)


From: Walter Sandsquish <Sandsquish SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 NAME: Corruption AUTHOR: Robert Steggles and Hugh Steers DATE: 1988 PARSER: Magnetic Scrolls SUPPORT: Magnetic AVAILABILITY: Secondhand Retail/Auction (Out of Print) URL: Possibly VERSION: Version 1.12 Two schools of thought define adventure games. One school says, "an adventure game is a story whose conflicts have been translated into puzzles," while the second believes, "an adventure game is a puzzle described in terms of a story." The difference is significant. If you look at "Corruption" through the eyes of the first school, you will see a vastly unfair and agonizingly difficult work of interactive fiction. The game cannot be finished, or even understood, without experience gained through player-character "death." What's more, I can predict, a little smugly, that everyone will discover, just before he thinks he is about reach "Corruption's" climax, that he neglected to do something at the start of the story, and must replay the entire game. For instance, I found out that I should have thoroughly searched the toilet sometime before the 15th move. If that sounds absurd, this may not be a game for you. Much of the behavior required of the player character, like breaking into his partner's office, would seem unmotivated -- even paranoid -- in any other storytelling medium. On the other hand, members of the second school of thought will find a mesmerizing, Chinese-puzzle-box of a game. "Corruption" is a giant riddle, and to decipher its meaning, you must play, and replay, each of its parts. Once the player has mapped out the movements of the non-player characters, he will recognize a web of deceit and betrayal, and be able guide his character to paths that lead to a satisfying ending. In this way, "Corruption" is similar to Infocom's murder mysteries, but "Corruption" is an English game, published by Magnetic Scrolls, and it puts the same sort of twist on text-adventure mysteries that the English director Alfred Hitchcock put on filmed mysteries. Instead of a professional detective or reporter, the player character is a naive everyman who becomes caught up in a criminal conspiracy. Unfortunately, conspiracies are difficult to uncover, and while a reporter or detective has an assignment, the everyman in "Corruption" has no immediate goal and will, most likely, wander around aimlessly until the player figures out where and when to look for clues. Fortunately, Steers and Steggles' prose doesn't ramble. It efficiently paints effective portraits of characters, events and locations, making the illustrations redundant. I turned the graphics off when I played. It's not that there was anything wrong with the illustrations, it's just that characters like the brusque secretary, who really tries to be friendly, and the indifferent lawyer, who, nevertheless, offers comforting platitudes to the law's victims, are vivid and honest enough to trigger mental images on their own. In short, "Corruption" is a well-written, bug-free puzzle fest, and the puzzles are strongly related to an interesting suspense story. Remember to save early and save often. FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: CosmoServe PARSER: AGT 1.32 AUTHOR: Judith Pintar PLOT: Linear EMAIL: 76636.2067 SP@G ATMOSPHERE: Unusual AVAILABILITY: IF Archive; Freeware WRITING: Fair PUZZLES: Clever; logical SUPPORTS: AGT ports CHARACTERS: Fairly Flat DIFFICULTY: Easy to Medium In Cosmoserve, you play R.J. Wright, a plumber and freelance computer programmer in 1999. The program you are using to complete one of your assignments has a glitch in it, and you must sign on to Cosmoserve to download a patch file. Along the way you will encounter computer viruses, virtual reality games, lost passwords, online conferences, FBI raids, online stalkers, and Rick's Cafe Americain. I think that Cosmoserve is my favourite non-commercial text game, and certainly the all-time best AGT game. Judith Pintar performs wonders with the AGT parser. You can actually navigate through the hard drive of your 786 computer using DOS commands. When you logon, you are treated to phone dialing and modem sounds. When you are in an online conference the other users' statements come one at a time, as in real life. Maxis could market this game as "SIM BBS". The plot is delightfully interwoven, as the simple task of finding your patch file takes you on a trip through a myriad of forums, file directories, conferences and e-mail encounters. There is limited online help in three places. There is a hints forum (GO HINTS) that will answer a few questions. Also, Ms. Pintar herself makes a cameo appearance in the Virtual Reality game as Judith, the Cosmoserve Hints Sysop. Thirdly, your Aunt Edna will drop by early in the game if you are unable to find your new password. The atmosphere is superb. Watching the debate in the Plumbers & Electricians forum over which profession provides a better metaphor for the human condition (one purifies with water, the other with fire) is frighteningly funny. Tongue-in-cheek games about real life are invariably compared to Infocom's Bureaucracy, and they usually fall far short. This one doesn't. This is probably not a game that can be completed in one pass. You are on a time limit of less than 12 hours, and some things can only be done at certain times. It is likely that you will have to restart the game from the beginning at some point to optimize your time utilization. A couple of points. Although Cosmoserve is available for all AGT ports, MS-DOS users will have a slight advantage, as the game is keyed to simulate a PC. Also, people who have logged on using generic communications software will be better prepared for the game, as there is no "Cosmoserve Information Manager". Incredibly this game only tied for first in the AGT Game Writing Contest. From: Donna McCreary Rodriguez <donnar SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 "CosmoServe: An Adventure Game for the BBS-Enslaved" has a "play-within-a-play feel." You are an absent-minded, self-employed computer consultant/programmer and erstwhile plumber who is trying to beat a project deadline. Solutions to the bugs in your creation may be found on CosmoServe, but--alas--you have forgotten your password, and, what's more, you've got a bbs hacker time-bandit to contend with once you finally logon. Things escalate from there to a fairly engrossing set of subplots and games-within-games. Much of the game is set in a simulated computer/bbs environment, and therein lies its appeal. The novel atmosphere more than makes up for the flat characterization. The puzzles are clever and logically solved, and the plot is tightly written, with only 86 locations. Give this one a try. Hats off to the author, Judith Pintar, who doesn't ask a fee, just that you e-mail her "the meaning of life, in 20 words or less." FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime (.zip) (Final Release) FTP FilePC Exectuable (.zip) FTP FileWalkthrough (Text)

The Cove

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 TITLE: The Cove AUTHOR: Kathleen M. Fischer E-MAIL: mfischer5 SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 3 The growing trend away from puzzle-based IF toward--well, toward non-puzzle-based IF, which has taken a variety of forms--has meant that an author's ability to convey a scene has become more important. IF fans have always put a premium on good writing, of course, but in the era of puzzle IF the point was generally to set the scene and get out of the way; the writing in many canonical IF games--Zork I and Planetfall, for instance--was distinctly on the terse side. Now, when simulation is more prized, writing that does more than convey the basic relevant information is needed, and Kathleen Fischer's The Cove, an example of IF whose setting is the raison d'etre rather than an excuse for some puzzles, nicely illustrates the importance of effective writing. The Cove won Best Landscape in Marnie Parker's Art Show in the spring of 2000, and the landscape really does take center stage: there are only a few locations, but all of them are packed with things to experience. In fact, your score increases not with problems solved, but with things seen (or heard, or smelled, or felt), though exactly which ones give you a point and which don't feels rather arbitrary. Interestingly, much of the interaction is purely sensory--there aren't many objects to manipulate, and you can't really affect your surroundings much, though you can certainly be affected by them. The scene itself--a seaside cliff, a beach, a cave--is familiar, but there are enough unexpected elements--a sea lion, an otter, tidal pools--to make it feel fresh, and the game oozes attention to detail. An example: Long ribbons of seaweed strewn across the shore mark the leading edge of the surf at a quarter of the way up the beach. Additional clumps, dried and full of sand, lie tangled amongst the rocks at the base of the cliffs -- a warning of the sea's intentions. >examine clumps Ripped from their holdfasts during heavy seas, the long strands of seaweed are pushed along by wind and tides until they are at last flung up upon the shore. There they form tangled mophead heaps, a haven for the small flies, crabs, and the like who feed upon the decaying fronds. Seaweed you might expect in a beach scene, but not every game would think to point out what sorts of things eat the seaweed. (Okay, flies don't really eat the seaweed as such, but that's a minor detail.) Likewise, the note that the placement of the seaweed indicates the high-water mark is an effective detail, even if the "warning" is a touch more obvious than it needs to be. Again, it's not the sort of thing that rewards extensive poking and prodding--there's nothing you can actually do with the seaweed. The point is to appreciate the details and recreate the scene in your imagination, and the game does a good job of giving your imagination plenty to work with. The writing, likewise, is quite good. There are some misspellings and mechanical errors that prove a little distracting--arguably more so than in your average game, because the descriptions aren't here to be skimmed, as they sometimes are. But there are also lots of effective and well-placed images--the "tangled mophead heaps" of seaweed above are one example, as is this: "A long legged plover chases after the waves, pecking at the sand as it goes." The scene is littered with small but vivid details--the cliffs are described as "fractured granite," for instance--and the author takes care to use verbs rather than adjectives whenever possible, usually a sign of better-than-average writing. (Example: "The leading edge of the storm clouds reaches the cove, blotting out the sun.") The verbs are often passive, muting their effectiveness somewhat, but it's a minor sin. Unfortunately, the landscape isn't the only thing here; there's a plot of sorts involving a dead lover and a pressured marriage and such that owes much to cliché and adds very little to the game. One of the verbs that you're encouraged to use is REMEMBER, which tells you the emotional significance of this location or that sensation in rather, well, heavy-handed ways. It's not a great choice, on the whole, simply because it's not easy to identify with someone else and take on her memories when you've only been in that character's shoes for a few minutes--and the game is short enough that you can't really put in any more time than that. It's not impossible, of course, that the landscape element of the game would be enriched by a story that goes with it, but the nature of this particular story, and the clichés underlying it, make it difficult for it to work as planned. Part of the problem is that the author's skills appear to lie more in sensory description than in conveying your emotions--at least, the former is more effective; perhaps, had the author given us an actual flashback that would permit us to experience the relevant past events for ourselves, we would feel them a little more keenly. As it is, when the focus turns from the present to the past, the player tends to feel a bit shut out. It's for this reason that the ending of The Cove--which has more to do with the plot than with the landscape-isn't quite as involving as what's come before. It says something about the current state of IF, I suppose, that the author felt compelled to add the plot elements rather than merely providing a landscape to explore-there's not really much precedent for IF that's both plotless and puzzleless. But there's no inherent reason, to my mind, why such a thing can't work. At any rate, The Cove does demonstrate the potential of "art show" IF--the landscape aspect makes for an absorbing IF experience, well worth the download. That the story doesn't add much illustrates, in a backhanded way, the potential of the form. FTP FileCurrent version (release 3) FTP FileArt show version (release 1)

A Crimson Spring

From: Miguel Garza <looper SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #33 -- June 25, 2003 TITLE: A Crimson Spring AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin EMAIL: beaver SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Hugo SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: (Note: this is the no-sound, no-pictures version of the game) VERSION: Release 1.0.04 I enjoyed Robb Sherwin's A Crimson Spring quite a bit. It is well-paced and enjoyable to read and play. It sucked me in like a good book or a good movie, something I often find myself wishing for in a text adventure game but rarely find. Paradoxically, one vehicle for achieving this end in A Crimson Spring is what is frequently derided in contemporary discussions of good interactive fiction: the game is very much "on rails". For instance, about half of the game is driven by conversation that moves in one primary direction. Conversation progress is accomplished through a TALK TO system, in which the player chooses the number of the conversation-opener the player character (PC) wishes to use. The PC can keep on talking until there are no more openers left. I personally have no problem with this system, because the responses are intriguing and entertaining. They propel the story. I do not feel as if I am reading a dry transcription of a chain of events, but rather that I am participating in those events. I think this is primarily due to the quality and pacing of the writing. By "pacing of the writing", I am referring to the interplay between plot or exposition and player action. In some games, the player is required to discover what the plot is, and this as much as anything is the central conflict and motivating factor for the PC, at least in the beginning. Not so with A Crimson Spring. From the beginning, we are presented with a fleshed-out protagonist with a problem and a goal. This was a boon to me because I do not enjoy wandering around randomly examining things and trying to logically discern what goes with what. Instead, in this game the player is much more limited in terms of where the PC can go or what the PC can do, but it doesn't *feel* limiting, because at any one point in the game there are usually only a few choices that would make any sense for the protagonist to make. At points where there is really only one choice that the PC would make, the choice becomes automated. For example, at one point in the game the PC intends to visit a non-player character's (NPC's) home. At that point, the player doesn't need to manually move the protagonist to the NPC's house by typing in directional commands -- once the player moves the protagonist out of his house, the game takes the protagonist to the other person's house. This is where the quality of the writing comes in: at junctures where events occur outside the player's jurisdiction. Without good writing at those junctures, the player gets bored. The player won't be interested in the PC or his damn problems. Fortunately, Robb Sherwin is a good writer, and I found myself intrigued rather than bored by his descriptions of events occurring outside my control. Despite the fact that the story moves primarily in one direction, the game feels like it is in the player's control. There is more than one ending to the game, and much of the conversation is supplemental, rather than essential, to the story itself, so there is room for experimentation. The author does a good job of treading the line between dictating the story and letting the player find it. That said, there are a few minor qualms that I have about the game. There are some continuity problems, such as that, after a certain point, a certain minor NPC will say the same thing to you each time you meet him, or that an NPC inexplicably knows how to contact you even though only one other character in the game besides yourself knows where you are, and those two NPCs probably have not spoken to each other. This problem shades over into a realism problem. The game is set in a gritty superhero world (I can hear people grumbling, wondering why I am concerned with realism). I gladly accept the poetic conceit of superheroes existing in a modern-day world, but when a major villain and the superheroes get together to duke it out and there are no bystanders, no police, and no discernable threat made by the villain to the populace at large, I find it difficult to swallow. Nonetheless, the aforementioned battle is an exciting and well-written part of the game. I cannot stress enough that the storyline and the writing in this game are both very good. There is a sense of drama evoked by the events in the game that I find lacking in many games which are more open-ended in terms of what the player can do and in what order. The "on rails" quality of A Crimson Spring works because it is not difficult to move forward in the plot, on the one hand, and the plot itself is well-written and intriguing, on the other. The puzzles are not difficult at all, and primarily consist of getting information (by talking to people) so that the PC will know what to do next. I enjoy the easy puzzles because it returns the player's attention to the story at hand. As I said earlier, the game pulled me in. It has a well-paced and interesting story, and that is its shining glory. FTP FileHugo .hex file with graphics and audio enabled (updated version) FTP FileDOS version of Hugo .hex file (updated version, no sound or pictures) FTP FileDirectory with Hugo .hex file, resource file, and walkthrough (competition version) FTP FileHugo source code


From: Konstantin Yu. Boyandin <mbo SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #3 -- October 26, 1994 NAME: Crypt v2.0 GAMEPLAY: 0.5 AUTHOR: Steve Herring PLOT: Linear EMAIL: N/A ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: IF Archive S12 WRITING: Good PUZZLES: Average SUPPORTS: MSDOS CHARACTERS: Primitive DIFFICULTY: Medium Crypt is a small gothic horror story about an adventurer discovering the mysteries of the old church and its old history. I can only add that I liked the story, but found it a bit straightforward and predictable. The main flaw of the game is a poor vocabulary and the existence of traps one cannot get out of (for example, if you fall into a grave without a ladder). Characters are 'part of the interior' and behave like special places rather than intelligent beings. Nonetheless, the story is impressive and the whole game is worth registering. Alas, I have been unable to finish the game yet. Hope to do that after registering. FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Curse of Eldor

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: The Curse of Eldor AUTHOR: Stuart Allen EMAIL: stuart SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: JACL (Homebrew parser) SUPPORTS: DOS runtime AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 A for-the-most-part nice old-style adventure game with the vastness and anachronistic amalgamation of magic and technology. The atmosphere is very Zorkish, as are the puzzles. There's a balloon, a dragon, a retired grue, a magic potion, an eating cycle (not a problem once you find out where the food is), some guesswork puzzles, one suicide puzzle (Is it my imagination, or is there a lot of suicide among this year's entries - "Eldor," "In The End," "Rippled Flesh," "Delusions"?), some clever bits, a dash of guess-the-verb, and an overall quest for curse- breaking artifacts that in the end really amounts to a simplified treasure hunt. A fine example of this type of adventure, though it offers nothing we haven't seen before. The game engine, however, could use some work. Ambiguous verb resolution (that is, the ability to fill in the missing command information) doesn't work at all, there's no "UNDO," no "AGAIN," no command recall, not even "VERBOSE" (for me, the most annoying of all). "Eldor" has some rather glaring bugs as well. Trying to take the amulet from the dragon is a fatal move, but restarting completes the command successfully, eliminating a large string of puzzles. "SAVE" and "RESTORE" also gave me some problems, placing me in a room with all the takeable objects only to kill me off one turn later. This made me reluctant to play through on my own, and eventually I resorted to the walkthrough. A major detriment is the fact that, even ignoring the "RESTORE" flaws, the game is still thoroughly impossible without the walkthrough, unless you're a darn good guesser. Four or five locations contain items or characters that aren't even mentioned! In the very first room, for instance, a historian is waiting with a note for you, but there's no indication whatsoever of his presence! This, along with the crystal in the locked chest, the thief in the dungeon, the goblin in the sewers below town, all make the game a pain to finish, especially since one has to restart the game (because of the "RESTORE" bug) each time the walkthrough is consulted. FTP FileDirectory With PC Files


From: Molley the Mage <mollems SP@G WKUVX1.WKU.EDU> Review appeared in
SPAG #2 -- September 26, 1994 NAME: Curses PARSER: Similar to Infocom AUTHOR: Graham Nelson EMAIL: graham SP@G ATMOSPHERE: Excellent, Well-Researched AVAILABILITY: Freeware_IF Archive WRITING: Literate, Educated, Amusing PLOT: Excellent PUZZLES: Logical (mostly) SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Often Quite Funny DIFFICULTY: Rather (7 out of 10) This is the finest work of IF which I have played since Trinity, bar none. Curses is perhaps the most "literate" work of IF to come along in years. I really cannot say enough good things about this game, so you have no choice but to go out right now and get a copy for yourself. You can't really make any excuses about it, either, since Curses is completely free and is written using the old Infocom story file format, which means that it's playable on just about any computer in existence with one of the existing Infocom interpreter programs (I recommend Mark Howell's Zip but InfoTaskForce's will also work, as will any of several others). You are an aristocrat who is preparing to go on vacation in Paris. All you want to do is find one lousy tourist map which you KNOW is in the attic somewhere, and then you're off. Sounds easy, right? Right... I can't even begin to describe this game without spoiling the plot, so I'll simply ask: How would you react when a seemingly simple situation in your attic transformed into ancient magic, past and present places and times, a mental tour of your own history, a "chance" to control the fundamental basis upon which the universe is founded, the discovery of ancient powers utilized by Merlin himself, Heaven, Hell, robot mice, and of course curses? I don't know about you, but I reacted by becoming glued to my terminal for about 50 hours straight. Graham Nelson, the author of Curses, deserves the highest kudos for his accomplishment. I can't wait to see what he's going to do next -- if you are going to play one IF game this year, make it Curses. Be warned that some of the puzzles are fiendishly difficult, and one or two are a bit non-intuitive, but there are legions of loyal Curses fans just dying for the chance to help you out anyway just so they will have someone else to talk to about this wonderful game. Go get it NOW. From: Nick Patavalis <npat SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 A couple of days ago I solved Graham Nelson's Curses. Before this, my recent Interactive Fiction experiences were with small and mostly "experimental" games like For a Change, Shrapnel, Hunter, in Darkness, 9:05, etc. I was worried that next to these games Curses would seem somewhat archaic and dusty or even superficial. (Something like jumping directly from reading Joyce to reading Homer) Early in the game my worries seemed to materialize: I am asked to play the role of an English gentleman (an aristocrat, as will shortly become evident) looking for a map in my mansion's attics. Not a special map, not a secret map, not a treasure map; just an ordinary tourist map of Paris. Why am I, the player/character hybrid, then going through all this trouble? Aren't there any traveler's bookstores open nearby? It's a Thursday in June 1993 after all! OK, exploring the attics, browsing through all these forgotten objects of the past brings back memories, but does this justify plotting against my aunt Jemima just to steal her gardening gloves? Where is my sense of proportion? Why am I putting myself in danger going up and down the cellars in rusty old elevators? Why is it so big a problem to find a fresh battery? Why, after all, am I playing this game? But I did keep playing the game. And before I realized it I was seriously hooked: I started drawing maps, taking detailed notes, reading carefully, line by line, word by word, the biographies of the members of the Meldrew family. I even restarted the game several times, not because I got stuck in a puzzle, but because I wanted to reread the text to make sure that there was no detail I had missed the first times through. Slowly and masterfully, Nelson starts unwinding a strange story, taking you back and forth in time and speaking about supernatural phenomena, about magic, about ancient curses, about greek mythology and decay. It does so in such a beautiful way, always keeping the game open and making the player the center of the game-world, so that it is the player who writes the story; it is he who synchronizes the unbelievable chain of events. The writer has created a beautiful universe, has defined its rules, has filled it with treasures and miracles and invited you to come and explore it. He doesn't drag you by the nose with a linear plot. He doesn't even confine you in the bodycast of a strongly characterized alter-ego. This is not a novel. This is not a movie, nor a painting: it is an Adventure Game! Nelson shows this clearly from the very first moment by making the early puzzles so obviously distanced from the story: There's no doubt about it, you've turned on your computer to play and Adventure Game. Either enjoy it or switch it off and do something else. As the game evolves, the puzzles get more and more woven into the story, up to the point where they actually become part of it. Solving the puzzle becomes part of the plot. Overcoming the obstacle carefully planted by the ingenious author becomes integral part of the exploration. It is one of the few games where the puzzles and riddles actually enhance the atmosphere and enrich the dramatic content of the narative than threaten it. Even the hint-system is nicely embedded in the game-world. Ocasionally, though, one will find the author devilishly smiling between the lines as he playfully puts the most impossible object (like, for instance, a beach-ball) in the most improbable place! There are some difficult puzzles here, puzzles that will trouble even the most experienced adventurer. Almost all of them, though, are logical and staged in such a way that the player will receive enough hinting. Curses is not a game to be solved in a couple of hours. It is a game to be enjoyed for weeks. It is a game to create obsessions. If you are of the type of player that has a walkthrough by your side as you play, then perhaps Curses is not for you. Running through the scenes of the story, instead of slowly and carefully exploring, will I fear ruin the effect. In this game you must stumble, you must retreat, you must visit every place several times, read the text carefully, read it again, look for hints everywhere, become suspicious. This intricate little world is for the explorer, not the tourist! To cut a long story... long, the more I played the game the more I enjoyed it. It had "become a matter of pride now not to give up", to solve it without resorting to hints or walkthroughs. It wouldn't be untrue to say that the month I spent with Curses included maybe the most exciting adventuring moments I had since I first played Zork back in 1988. Curses is a classic, and it must be treated as such. Nelson has studied the great Interactive Fiction tradition from as far back as ADVENT and collected the elements that define the medium. He then blended and used them in a skillful way to create a masterpiece. Curses is not experimental. Curses is conclusional. It does not try to explore the vague borders of the medium; it stays well behind the trenches, ploughs the rich soil and collects the harvest that feeds the experimentalists' armies. Experimentation without games like Curses is sterile. If works like Shrapnel and So Far expand Interactive Fiction (and they do), then games like Curses prove it. I would like to close this review using a quote that appears on the first page of Nelson's essay on if-authoring: Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art. -- Tom Stoppard, Artist Descending A Staircase If there is something you cannot blame Nelson about, it is lack of skill. If there is something you cannot blame Curses about, it is lack of importance. The rest is ALSO a matter of personal taste! FTP FileInform File (.z5) FTP FileSolution (Text)
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